Subjective Objectivity – The Blog of The Reasonable Man

November 29, 2010

Secrets are terrible things. Except when they’re not.

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 10:25 pm

I can’t really post objectively on Wikileaks because for reasons I’m not actually sure of, I’m very one sided as to the merits of that particular organisation (SPOILER ALERT: I fucking hate the presumptuous holier than thou pomposity of Julian Assange and his crew of self-appointed moral arbiters). So, I’ll just go ahead and agree with everything that Mark Kleiman says here:

The notion that governments should have no secrets sounds attractive until you run the game back one step: if there can’t be any secrets, then you can’t write down anything you don’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times. That’s a sure formula for making executive-branch deliberations as content-free as Congressional debates.

The choice is not between a world with secrets and a world in which all the citizens know whatever the government knows. The choice is between a world in which officials can share information and carry out reasoned debates with one another and a world in which nothing can be written down. Really, that’s a not a hard choice.

Reasonable people can disagree with that. But for me, listening to the self-serving justifications of those newspaper editors who got the scoop was kind of nauseating. 

Cross-posted at Something Quotable


November 28, 2010

Breath of a Salesman

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 11:49 pm

I don’t know what it is about this interview with a vacuum cleaner salesman that fascinated me so, but it’s worth your time if only because I guarantee the story is unlike any you’ve heard before. It’s like a low rent Glengarry Glenn Ross turned up to eleven.

Via The Awl

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

A few observations about the student protests

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 1:06 am
The following are stray thoughts. 
  1. I’ve not heard, among any of the protesters, any substantive manner of plugging the cost gap of higher education whilst increasing participation in said institution.
  2. The violence is getting a lot more coverage than it should be. To wit, the Telegraph are making it seem like every student is a violent sociopath, and the Guardian are making it seem like these kids are protesting against the Corn Laws.
  3. “Kettling” has taken on Orwellian overtones. It’s kind of pathetic to see the comfortable baby boomers who put us all in this position basically wank over their hey-day protest memories and project them on this generation.
  4. If you were to poll most protesters, I reckon the majority would not know that the new system means that tuition fees are not payable up front. Or that it’s likely that most fees will be doubled, rather than tripled. Or that the Browne Review is a document that someone could have read. 
  5. My current student debts are roughly what most three year course attendees will be facing, and are far less favourable terms than theirs will be. Far less. If am to spend more than a few months unemployed, I will have to declare bankruptcy. In other words, I am not unsympathetic to the notion of student debt.
  6. Concerns that (A) the commodification of higher education is a bad thing and (B) higher education should be an engine for social mobility, are not really compatible.
  7. I’m not certain the current Opposition, who introduced both tuition fees, top-up fees and the Browne Review, would have done much differently, as much as like Ed Miliband would like to fantasise about “talking to” students.
  8. If you celebrate “Tory Scum” as a political viewpoint, then I am afraid your commitment to our shared reality is somewhat wanting. Similarly, if you excoriate a political party whose modus operandi  was opposition to government for abandoning one of their most utterly populist viewpoints once actually presented with the responsibilities of government, then you are so naive I might question the value of your university education. 
  9. Higher education has almost nothing to do with the welfare state. A “right” that has entry qualifications is not a right – quite the opposite! That we are pretending that university education used to be some sort of socialist utopian ideal is utterly ahistorical.
  10. From the annals of irony: A graduate tax would be spread across all graduates regardless or else it’d be roughly unworkable, in essence becoming a regressive form of taxation. The proposed method of paying back kicks in over £21,000 a year, and is payable on the basis that you continue to earn that for 30 years hence. In other words, it punishes success more so. Yet the latter is favoured by a conservative coalition and the former a Labour opposition. The mind boggles. 

Again, I’d like to hear anyone’s ideas for expanding higher education participation while keeping the costs the same (or making them less!) for the consumer. Oh, and they need to be politically realistic.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

November 24, 2010

More Security Theatre

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 11:44 pm

I also wholeheartedly endorse what James Fallows says. It’s hard to simply extract the best bits, but here’s an attempt:

Every society accepts some risks as part of its overall social contract. People die when they drive cars, they die when they drink, they die from crime, they die when planes go down, they die on bikes. The only way to eliminate the risks would be to eliminate the activities — no driving, no drinking, no weapons of any kind, no planes or bikes. While risk/reward tradeoffs vary between, say, Sweden and China, no nation accepts the total social controls that would be necessary to eliminate risk altogether. 

Yet when it comes to dealing with terrorism, politicians know that they will not be judged on the basis of an “acceptable level of risk.” They know that they can’t even use that term when discussing the issue. (“Senator Flaccid thinks it’s ‘acceptable’ for terrorists to blow up planes. On Election Day, show him that politicians who give in to terror are ‘unacceptable’ to us.”) And they know for certain that if — when — a plane blows up with Americans aboard, then cable news, their political opponents, Congressional investigators, and everyone else will hunt down any person who ever said that any security measure should be relaxed. 

This is the political tragedy of “security theater.” In reality, we do accept a greater-than-zero risk of death from terrorist attack. Otherwise, we’d never fly — or would strip everyone nude before boarding, do cavity searches, and carry no cargo. We accept the bargain for efficiency reasons (I’m not going to get to the airport six hours early to be searched). We accept it on “price of liberty” grounds (I’m not going to strip naked). But politicians can’t come out and say that any risk is acceptable. Nor can they take the risk themselves of saying that security-theater rituals should be dropped, because of the risk of being blamed when the next attack occurs. Thus security-theater is a ratchet. You can add it, but you can’t take it away.

Read the whole thing. And also Fallows’ blog.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

Security Theatre – A Play in Three Acts

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 1:57 am

Over at Balloon Juice, John Cole and E.D. Kain have excellent points to make about the whole molestation security procedures that one has to go through in order to board a flight in or around the United States. For those who can’t be bothered to click through, John makes the point that the Republicans, who are all of a sudden born again liberty lovers, were the ones who introduced the whole thing. 

E.D. (for the record, a decent and reasonable conservative for whom I have a lot of respect) accepts all that, but notes that the Democrats haven’t exactly reversed that course either. He’s entirely right, and notes that this is the sort of bipartisanship that the US can (sadly) believe in.

I read the other day, and I don’t know who said it, but politicians in America are more concerned with not presiding over a terrorist attack than they are about upholding their Constitution. And that’s correct. But it’s something that everyone seems to have accepted, despite the stupidity of the notion. And two wars have come out of it. And we’re still fighting an eminently pointless one, and having to take our shoes off at the fucking airport.

The paradigm has been struck nonetheless, despite the warnings of this chap.

Let me put it this way to E.D. – there’s only one party that would accept a person who uttered those words in political speech, and it isn’t the party that Eisenhower belonged to.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

November 20, 2010

This made me chuckle

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 1:15 am

Loving as I do a bit of the ol’ Obama/Lincoln comparisons, I was trying to figure out who Sarah Palin’s 1860s equivalent would be in terms of idiocy and general obnoxiousness. I eventually landed on the Ohio Democrat* and “wily agitator” Clement Vallandigham, an outspoken Copperhead** who imposed himself upon history as a martyr of the Lincoln administration. 

What sealed the deal was the almost comedic circumstances of his death. Per Wikipedia:

Vallandigham died in 1871 in Lebanon, Ohio, at the age of 50, after accidentally shooting himself with a pistol. He was representing a defendant in a murder case for killing a man in a barroom brawl.

Done deal! But then I read on…

Vallandigham wished to prove the victim had in fact killed himself while trying to draw his pistol from a pocket while rising from a kneeling position. As Vallandigham conferred with fellow defense attorneys in his hotel room, he decided to show them how he would demonstrate this to the jury. Grabbing a pistol he believed to be unloaded, he put it in his pocket and enacted the events as he imagined them to have happened, shooting himself in the process. Vallandigham proved his point, since the defendant, Thomas McGehan, was subsequently acquitted and released from custody.

Fantastic!*** There is nothing in this world so rich as an ironic death. 

*The Democrats were the “bad guys” back then. Not all of them, but the vast, vast majority.

**A Copperhead was a Democrat who not only supported peace with the so-called Confederate States of America, but advocated treason against the government of the United States.

***I don’t celebrate the death of my political enemies, and do not wish Sarah Palin a similar fate, but Vallandigham was a man who essentially agitated for compromise with a belligerent force of treason who fought ultimately for the right for one class of men to hold property in the lives of another class of men. But when you’ve spent as much time studying a war that claimed the lives of over 600,000 men as I have, one dickhead’s idiot fate ain’t really a big stake in things.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

November 14, 2010

From the Department of Tenuous Links…

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 2:40 am

Headline from the newspaper increasingly trying to establish its relevance The Observer:

NUS starts campaign to oust leading Lib Dems

Which contains mostly dumb NUS boilerplate combined with avid speculation about unrealistic political aims. (Seriously, did anyone who has ever attended a University think that the NUS was ever anything other a blowhard talking shop for the worst sort of student politician? Aaron Porter’s going to be tedious presence in our national discourse for the next few news cycles is all I can predict.)

When I saw the headline, I was going to write a post on the stupidity of this premise, but what’s weird is when the piece takes a turn for the dystopian:

As police face continued criticism for failing to control the march, the Observer has learned that defence firms are working closely with UK armed forces and contemplating a “militarisation” strategy to counter the threat of civil disorder.

The trade group representing the military and security industry says firms are in negotiation with senior officers over possible orders for armoured vehicles, body scanners and better surveillance equipment.

The move coincides with government-backed attempts to introduce the use of unmanned spy drones throughout UK airspace, facilitating an expansion of covert surveillance that could provide intelligence on future demonstrations.

Derek Marshall, of the trade body Aerospace, Defence and Security (ADS), said that such drones could eventually replace police helicopters.

He added that military manufacturers had discussed police procurement policies with the government, as forces look to counter an identified threat of civil disobedience from political extremists.

Meanwhile police sources say they have detected an increase in the criminal intentions of political extremists and are monitoring “extreme leftwing activity” in light of last week’s student protest.

The office of the National Co-ordinator for Domestic Extremism (NCDE) said it was feeding information to Scotland Yard’s National Public Order Intelligence Unit, which holds a database of protest groups. NCDE, which in turn works closely with the Confidential Intelligence Unit that monitors political groups throughout the UK, said it had already recorded a rise in politically motivated disorder.

An NCDE insider said: “Over the past year there has been an increase in the criminal activity committed by such individuals but this is committed by a very small minority”.

An internal Metropolitan police report is expected to be completed this week into why senior officers failed to anticipate the violence during last Wednesday’s student demonstration.

Ok… isn’t this an entirely different story? Or is the Observer trying to conflate the student protests with some sort of jack-booted authoritarian response to said protests? There’s actually four entirely different stories in the extract above, quite aside from the NUS storyline. Let me spell them out:

  1. Defence firms are working with UK armed forces to counter the threat of civil disorder
  2. Increased use of unarmed drones
  3. The domestic extremism watchdog notes an increase in the incidences of “extreme left-wing activity”
  4. The Metropolitan police are filing a report on their relatively passive response to the violence on Wednesday, which ties back into the opening sentence of story number one.

The conclusion we are invited to draw is: Tory Fascism!

Story one, by the way, has no basis beyond a trade group responding to orders for things that any law enforcement group worth its salt might want in the event of civil disorder. The word “militarisation” is not directly attributed to that, or any other source. The trade group is not named (maybe we should all know what “The” trade group for that industry is called. Sorry. Forgive my ignorance). Nor is the length of time that this co-operation has been going on. It could have been a legacy of the last government. Who knows? Probably the mysterious trade group.

Story two is old news. Unmanned drones have been in use over London for a couple years now. Now, unless you correctly fear the Robot Apocalypse, they are no more obnoxious in principle than the helicopter surveillance that they are replacing. The trade group here is named and there is a direct quote, which just adds the curiosity of story one and its lack of these crucial elements. You can tell this is a different story to number one, because of the use of the word “coincides”. 

Story three is really just a flipside of the sort of rather tame political extremism that have garnered attention over the last few years (BNP, EDL anyone?). If this had come first, I’d have accepted it as context, but it’s place here is really just paint a picture between the preceding “coincidences”. In fact, I’m surprised the story doesn’t use scare quotes in the same way. No, this part of the story is placed here simply to imply that the first two parts are a response to it. 

Story four should actually blunt fears. Remember the GSomethingOrOther protests where that guy died because of overzealous policing? Remember how everyone thought the police ought to take a more hands-off approach to protests, lest some similar shit repeat itself? Remember how that’s precisely what they did on Wednesday? There’s even an investigation into how light handed the police response was? This should be an encouraging, if clumsy, development on the part of the police, but that really wouldn’t suit the Narrative. 

And so the authoritarian Narrative is born. Sunny Hundal, for whom I increasingly losing respect, leaps all over this. Honestly, I’m going to need more than “The Observer has learned” followed by an incoherently strung narrative with minimal sourcing and zero attribution. Much like George Bush’s assertions on the efficacy of torture, I’m afraid you’re going to have to show your workings out before I lend any credence to this. 

I guess my point is – what the fuck does all this have to do with the National Union of Students’ political campaign strategy? Sheesh. If I’d known journalism was going to be this shitty I would have voted Labour to save myself the hypertension. 

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

November 12, 2010

A fifty minute distillation of my opinions on the news media

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 8:52 pm

I’m the guy on the right (Jon Stewart):

I also like the lady on the left, she does some good work. My favourite line is where Stewart says something along the lines of “I think there’s a greater division between people who have kids and those who don’t than between the left and the right”. 

His point about partisanship vs ideology is also good, and it hits home with the UK media – virtually every paper I read has someone on their books who is or was of the opposite side of the spectrum to 

It’s not quite as bad in this country as FOX and so forth, but read Comment is Free and the Telegraph Blogs on any given day, and you get a sense of just insanely different two ideological viewpoints can digest the exact same set of facts. I’m not giving the two any sense of equivalence, but still. 

The way newspapers, especially in their online incarnations, make money is to frontpage their most combative opinion pieces to ramp up pageviews. If all they did was report the news and give some analysis, then they’d be the BBC website. It’s why the Independent went to its crazy movie poster style frontpages a few years ago, and essentially put me off for life. I despise provocative statements that appeal to our base emotions, without context and when there’s no apparent irony. It’s one of the reasons I really can’t stand Polly Toynbee, as she essentially writes entire columns in that manner. It’s one of the reasons I despise roughly two thirds of the Telegraph bloggers. 

And so on…

Fun fact – I used to hate, hate Jon Stewart. Watch the whole thing. 

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

November 9, 2010

Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men. Men with waterboards

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 2:31 pm

James Delingpole, reading from Decision Points, memoirs of George W. Bush, notes this paragraph:

Of the thousands of terrorists we captured in the years after 9/11, about a hundred were placed into the CIA program. About a third of those were questioned using enhanced techniques. Three were waterboarded.

The information the detainees revealed constituted more than half of what the CIA knew about al-Qaeda. Their interrogations helped break up plots to attack American military and diplomatic facilities abroad, Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf in London, and multiple targets in the United States.

Perhaps this is sloppy writing and maybe he goes on to underscore the point in a later passage, but I don’t see Bush actually drawing a straight line between the waterboarded terrorists and the information that supposedly saved lives. The “detainees” as I read it, refer to the group detained as a whole”. Maybe it’s implied, but if one of the biggest critiques of my Presidency was that I engaged in torture, and that it was either ineffective or unnecessary, I would be advancing a positive case that it actually worked. In other words, the above paragraph would read something like:

Of the thousands of terrorists we captured in the years after 9/11, about a hundred were placed into the CIA program. About a third of those were questioned using enhanced techniques. Three were waterboarded, and one [or more] of those three provided crucial intelligence that prevented an attack on a high value target.

Again, maybe it’s a simple omission, but you’d think a guy who got all emo and defensive over a rapper dissing him would be slightly more assertive here in defending this part of his record. And no one can accuse Bush of being particularly nuanced but then nor will anyone accuse Bush of being the only person to have had a hand in writing that paragraph.

One of the reasons why I never came close to believing the 9/11 conspiracy theories (aside from the fact that nearly such theories are usually batshit insane) is that if there was evidence that could prove the case being made, it would be probable that it could be proferred. Those raising the assertions ought to be required to adduce that evidence, or else their assertions can’t be proven and shouldn’t be accepted, especially when there’s overwhelming evidence and testimony to the contrary. The same obtains here, and I think the reason why no such assertion has made its way into print, is because it cannot be backed up by evidence.

Of course, George W. Bush doesn’t believe that waterboarding is torture. I didn’t think that either, though that’s mostly because at first blush it sounds like a watersport. But these days, I’m happy to call a technique used by the Spanish Inquisition, the Gestapo and the Khmer Rouge, usuallly designed to force confessions, “torture”.

(The preceeding was my main point, but please read on if you want a lengthy rebuttal to James Delingpole…)


November 6, 2010

Re: Jon Snow and Poppies

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 2:47 pm


Also, what Michael White said

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

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