Subjective Objectivity – The Blog of The Reasonable Man

December 23, 2010

For The Record

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 2:17 am

I supported the Iraq invasion. Aggressively and wholeheartedly. I was wrong. So very fucking wrong.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable


For Nick

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 2:11 am

Happy Christmas brother

80s music videos were the best.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

December 22, 2010

A Recommendation

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 7:15 pm

If you have three hours to spare (don’t lie to me, you DO have three hours to spare), you can do a lot worse than spending it watching Adam Curtis’ documentary series “The Trap”. It’s not particularly ground-breaking in terms of the conclusions it draws, if only because they are rather… inconclusive. However, it provides some useful context for analysing the world in which we currently exist, particularly that of modern Britain. 

Given that it’s overtly critical of the New Labour experiment (roughly as critical as it is of Thatcherism), it’s probably not for everybody in terms of its core message. But I think its a useful summation of the post-war experience. 

Here’s the first ten minutes. Warning: There Will Be Cynicism

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

December 18, 2010

Bob Ainsworth is Correct

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 1:49 pm

Dispatches from a pre-9/11 world, courtesy of the Economist:

Removing these harms would bring with it another benefit. Precisely because the drugs market is illegal, it cannot be regulated. Laws cannot discriminate between availability to children and adults. Governments cannot insist on minimum quality standards for cocaine; or warn asthma sufferers to avoid ecstasy; or demand that distributors take responsibility for the way their products are sold. With alcohol and tobacco, such restrictions are possible; with drugs, not. This increases the dangers to users, and especially to young or incompetent users. Illegality also puts a premium on selling strength: if each purchase is risky, then it makes sense to buy drugs in concentrated form. In the same way, Prohibition in the United States in the 1920s led to a fall in beer consumption but a rise in the drinking of hard liquor.

The War on Drugs has been a spectacular failure, a product of hypocrisy and moral midegtery that has been institutionalised and sold to the public as a metric of success without results. It’s depressing that there isn’t even a sliver of daylight between the leading parties in this country on it. Ed Miliband’s denouncement of the idea that we should have a grown up debate was particularly depressing, in the wake of a non-shift by the Coalition on the matter. 

We should call it what it is: Prohibition; a “cure” worse than the disease. And to prohibition advocates, know this: I am dogmatic on the issue. You can throw me a million stories about lives destroyed by drugs. I do not care one bit, and the very fact that such stories exist almost prove the failure of the policy. That you might repeat such stories in support of the policy without a sense of irony is close to insanity.

Unfortunately, no politician with any ability to change things ever admits it while in office, to wit:

My departure from the front benches gives me the freedom to express my long held view that, whilst it was put in place with the best of intentions, the war on drugs has been nothing short of a disaster.

Emphasis mine. Alex Massie puts it well:

That said, it’s a shame that so many politicians only decide – or admit – that the Drug War is a grotesque, immoral, unjust failure after they’ve left office. Their conversions would be more powerful if they occurred in office – even if one can understand why they are reluctanct to speak their minds while they’re receiving the Red Boxes each night.

Watch the The Wire, or read The Corner. Seriously. I’ll lend you either.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

December 17, 2010

As if the past ten years never happened, courtesy of Science

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 1:02 am

I’ve been roughly wondering my relations with my fellow human beings have taken a turn for the retrograde:

The brain does not stop developing until we are in our 30s or 40s – meaning that many people will still have something of the teenager about them long after they have taken on the responsibilities of adulthood. The finding, from University College London, could perhaps help explain why seemingly respectable adults sometimes just can’t resist throwing a tantrum or sulking until they get their own way. The discovery that the part of the brain key to getting on with others takes decades to fully form could perhaps also explain why some people are socially awkward well past their teenage years.

Via Alex Balk at the Awl, who, never failing to come up with a dark take on matters, says:

Still, I have mixed feelings about these findings. The idea that I still have the irrational, self-defeating impulses of a teenager is incredibly depressing, because, my God, what an awful time. On the other hand, the fact that we’re all still teenagers totally explains why nobody understands me and how sensitive and brilliant I am and they just don’t get it and it’s so unfair. I knew there had to be a reason.

I’m doing the rumblings a long-form piece for the new year kind of roughly on this theme. Until I complete that 4000 word (at least) monstrosity, you could do worse than browse Balk’s back catalogue. I’ll leave you with this wonderfully dark piece of prose from the beginning of the beginning of Winter:

We all have our reasons for why we drink: We’re depressed. We feel as if we haven’t succeeded in even the modest goals we’ve set for ourselves. We’re nervous. We over-analyze the most rudimentary aspects of life, imbuing each detail with imagined tragedy when the sheer facts of living are tragic enough. We feel awkward. We are sad and alone. We like the taste. Reasons, we have plenty.

But in weather like this, yes, we drink. Have you noticed how dark it is in the mornings now? You lay there in bed, coaxing yourself to give it another shot while totaling up the happinesses and disappointments in your time on this earth thus far. The disappointments never come up short, and the ledger is always balanced in the favor of sorrow. You sigh, you pull yourself up, you turn on the light, and it starts over again. It’s all gray and the dusk comes early. Some days it rains. It’s hard to even try.

Daylight Saving Time ends this weekend. I can’t ever figure out whether we lose an hour or gain an hour, but this is the one where you turn time back. In the end it doesn’t make a difference: That hour will catch up with you one way or another. So will the darkness. That’s how life is. That’s why we drink. Anyway, don’t forget about the clocks.


Cross-posted at Something Quotable

December 14, 2010

Oh why the hell not – let’s have a 2012 US Presidential elections speculation post

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 1:49 am

Nick drew my attention to this piece from the guys at Crooked Timber, in this instance a chap called John Quiggen*. Here’s the basic sentiment:

On the information we have at present, any Republican candidate other than Palin will have very good odds of winning. But there is also a fair chance that Palin will get the Republican nomination, despite her high negative ratings outside the Republican base. That would give Obama his best chance, but still no guarantee.

He links to a piece over at the Huffington Post by Jeff Madrick, whose core thesis is hit upon in these two paragraphs:

He had better start preparing far bolder action than he now contemplates. Place the onus for high unemployment on his political opponents. Talk up the need to invest in the economy, including an infrastructure bank. Establish more aggressive jobs programs. And so on.

Some think he just has to talk back to Republicans. Confront them. Don’t give in on lower tax rates for the high-end earner. That will help. But this is a mountain he faces, not a hill. Obama may not know that, but it seems most Democratic analysts don’t know it, either.

In other words, the key is unemployment, as far as re-election prospects go. Fair enough, that’s going to be a key metric by which the President’s prospects will stand in two years time. However, Madrick’s piece is a somewhat boilerplate statement of old school liberal wing thought pervasive in Democratic party politics. Its value is little more than re-stating an obvious concern, whilst simultaneously committing the Pundit’s Fallacy. For those unaware of said fallacy, Matt Yglesias, coined it thus:

The pundit’s fallacy is that belief that what a politician needs to do to improve his or her political standing is do what the pundit wants substantively. So progressive populists think that Barack Obama would have higher approval ratings if he acted more like Ed Schultz while establishmentarian centrists think his ratings would go up if he acted more like David Broder. The truth, of course, is that he really needs to hew more closely to my preferences politics doesn’t work this way.

Madrick’s piece also ignores the basics of what the President can do. More aggressive jobs programme? Awesome! Why didn’t I think of that? By the way, have you met the Senate, and its annoying cousin, the Filibuster? If you stick around for another month I can introduce you to the Republican controlled House of Representatives. And if you think that those upstanding institutions will allow anything resembling a jobs package past their hallowed halls, then I am going to have to ask you stop smoking crack cocaine in my presence, as it brings down the property prices.

Frankly though, the US economy must improve. It simply has to. Say what you will about the tax deal that was just brokered with the Republicans, but it will at least have something of a stimulative effect (albeit an entirely imperfect one). If unemployment is still roughly the same in two years time, then the problems of two (or three) little Presidential candidates won’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. It will strongly suggest that the US economy’s malaise has metastasised into something far more worrying. And unlikely, despite our bleak and weary December outlook.

From the Crooked Timber piece, you’d think that Sarah Palin is the only candidate that Obama can beat. I strongly disagree with this sentiment. The GOP field is weak generally; to the extent that they can thank the Tea Party for the extent of their gains (in the House at least) in November it makes them less likely to nominate someone who isn’t tarred with a fair bit of the crazy. I think a Sarah Palin candidacy for big a downfall for GOP credibility, regardless of her eventual success. Any credible candidate will have to tack so far to the right and stake out positions that are at least on a par with Palin’s that the entire debate will be toxic as far as Independent voters are concerned.

It is to hoped, if you are a Democrat, that seeing this debate will also energise your voters. I think it will. It’s going to be an utterly putrid affair as each candidate tries to outdo the next with their callous disregard for minorities, poor people, civil liberties and any sense of nuance or intellect. The only reasonable candidate is Mitch Gary Johnson, Governor of New Mexico, a guy with so little name recognition that I had to Google and correct it midway through this post. He’s like Ron Paul, less of a crank.

Really, the GOP field deserves a post of its own, and it deserves it in eight months time, not right now. But my point is Quiggen is far, far too generous to that particular rogue’s gallery. My larger point might be that it’s kind of crazy to make predictions two years ahead of the actual elections. Remember when Rudy Giuliani had a chance in hell? Yeah. He really did. Similarly, I first called the race for Obama around this time in the last Presidential election cycle. I do not dare look back at odds you could have got placing a bet in his favour for the Presidency in December 2006, but I have little to no doubt it would make my eyes water. 

There are concerns however, as Sabato and Abramowitz recently noted:

Despite his upset victory over heavily favored Hillary Clinton in the ’08 Democratic contest and his easy win over a much more seasoned John McCain in November two years ago, Barack Obama lacks the political skills necessary to adjust to the new realities of divided government. Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama is an inflexible liberal who couldn’t find the center with both hands, even if his career depended on it. And there is no chance at all the new Republican leadership in Congress could over-reach and repeat the errors of Newt Gingrich and his allies. The GOP legislative caucus contains no core of rigid ideologues that might go too far and create an opening for Obama.

Historically, incumbent presidents who have sought another term have won them by a two-to-one margin. Those aren’t impressive odds. How many of us would bet on a horse with minimal chances like that? Since 1900 only one incumbent president whose party captured the White House from the other party four years earlier (Jimmy Carter) has been beaten. The other incumbent losers—Taft, Hoover, Ford, and the senior Bush—were from a party that had held the White House for two or more consecutive terms. But the key is that Carter and Obama are practically twins; both won the Nobel Peace Prize. Enough said. Moreover, the present moment is unprecedentedly perilous for an incumbent president. There’s really no comparison in the existence of the American Republic, save for about a dozen crises like the Civil War, economic panics, the Great Depression, world wars, and 9/11.

Read the whole thing. It’s a profitable supplement to the whole discussion of “One Term Barack”.

*I don’t know the Crooked Timber lot all that well, so can’t tell if this an outlier of opinion, or the community POV

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

December 8, 2010

Last word on Tuition fees etc

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 8:10 pm

Some final points, before we’re forced to rename this blog “Something about Tuition Fees or Wikileaks Probably”:

Nick links to a pretty good Crooked Timber piece. It’s a good read, and sensibly makes the case for the prosecution, something that rarely happens in this debate (one of my bugbears about the student protesters). My main quibble with it is that it’s lacking in substantial discussion about the tenability (or even desirability) of an unfettered increase in the proportion of school leavers taking part in higher education. I personally don’t think you can have the debate without questioning this point, but maybe I don’t know anything and the rise is sustainable. History suggests otherwise, but what has that ever taught us? This is actually crucial, as the author falls in the “anti-commodification” camp on education (a perfectly fine camp) rather than the “Social mobility by any means necessary” one. 

Here’s the key paragraph:

This self-persuasion may also be easier for people who have bought into a “social mobility” interpretation of what social justice requires, promoted by NuLab and now enthusiastically endorsed by Nick Clegg. If you see universities overwhelmingly through the optic of access to labour-market advantage and you think that social justice is about opportunities for this, then a scheme that loads the costs onto the direct beneficiaries can start to look plausible. In my view, a conception of social justice that confines itself to equalizing opportunties to get a better position in a system of radically unequal outcome is a radically deficient conception. A scheme where higher educatation conferred fewer differential benefits because fewer such benefits existed would be a superior one. In any case, intergenerational equity clearly also matters for justice, and the current proposals have the further downside that they shift the costs of higher education from those who themselves enjoyed free education (such as most current higher-rate income tax payers) to the coming generations.

The problem is, once the left-wing party of the country started making this argument (and it hasn’t really stopped) the author’s interpretation is essentially doomed. And while yes, intergenerational equality does matter for justice, it’s never historically been seen as one capable of trumping the other concerns. Thomas Jefferson’s views on the national debt essentially came to nothing. It was an article of faith for both Gordon Brown and George Bush that deficit spending is an appropriate way of running a country, even during prosperity. In other words, the entire consensus is against such sentiments. 

The fact is there is no generational concern for those who are to follow. If times are good, the current ruling generation will assume that will continue in perpetuity. If times are bad… “well, we got through the Great Depression/Second World War/Cold War etc – these young folks don’t know what hardship is” (actually they kind of have a point there). Any instinct to bequeath a benefit on our progeny is done on an individual basis, not a societal one, or at least rarely so. Obviously legacy achievements like the welfare state do have that effect, but they also benefit the people in the here and now. Imagine proposing expenditure on that if it would only be implemented in fifteen years time. Your government wouldn’t last half that time.

But I digress. I laud the Crooked Timber attitude, I really do. I just wish it obtained to our current state of affairs. It does not. Can it? Well, let me ask you is “vote for me and my government will attempt to overhaul our higher education system to the extent that in 10-15 years time it is once again sustainable to the extent of being free?” a particularly catchy or effective manifesto pledge? Are there any incentives for keeping such a pledge when compromise breaks down?

Nope, for you see, what the protesters ultimately want is for themselves not to have to pay. They (mostly) don’t give a shit about the next generation any more than the one before them did. They want the benefit now, or they may as well not have it at all. Don’t believe me? The most comprehensive reform to the US healthcare system in a generation is still not particularly popular, even though it benefits more than 30 million people. Why? Because the main provisions don’t come into force for another four years. In the meanwhile, political opponents are chomping at the bit to derail the plan, because when people do get the benefit, the party that gave it to them will reap the political rewards.

So do I support the fee increases? I suppose I do, given those political realities (as I see them). If they change any time soon, let me know and we can talk. I support the fee increases because no-one has shown me a just or workable alternative, given said realities. If the best the Labour benches really have to offer is the graduate tax (and I assume that it is, because why would they bring their “B” Game to a crucial battle in their war on the Liberal Democrats?) then I’m left wondering if such a thing exists. 

Of course, the root cause of injustice in this arena is that of primary and secondary education, and the disparity between those publicly and privately educated… but that’s a whole different debate.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

Re: Wikileaks

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 12:29 am

Watch this:

Someone in this video will remind you of Julian Assange.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

December 4, 2010

Student Fees, a rejoinder to a rejoinder

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 6:02 pm

Nick helpfully fleshes out the student fees debate and challenges some of my points. He also cites this piece about student activism from the Guardian, which I have a number of issues with as a piece of reportage, but I could write an entirely separate post on that. Herein my responses.

My original points in blockquotes, Nick’s responses in bold. Hopefully this won’t get too messy, in a formatting sense.

  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.

I suppose the main way would be by increasing taxation or channelling funding from elsewhere.

As I’ve written in the comments, I’ve some sympathy to this. I actually think the whole tax system needs an overhaul to maximise simplicity and revenue. What I meant is that the protesters don’t seem to have much beyond a wholesale rejection of the very notion of fees and some non-sequiturs about bankers. But to be plain, further tax burden in the name of higher education would be a tough, if not impossible, political sell. Maybe if we weren’t intent on deficit spending as a method of government financing, then we might have some money for this.

I guess I really think that the big issue that no one is really tackling is the assumption that more than half of school leavers ought to be entitled to degrees at the expense of the state. To call bullshits on this notion is usually to be labelled an elitist, but no one’s really questioning it, and it’s a shame, because it’s pretty much the cause of tuition fees and reduced maintenance grants. Back when only 10%, 20% or so of the population went to university, this a workable and good idea. As we tip 50%, it’s utterly unsustainable. But having crossed that particular Rubicon no party is willing to contemplate the reduction in participation. Indeed, the Labour Party Manifesto committed to 75% of people going into higher education. 

 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.

Agreed, this is the way the media want to frame it. 

To be doubly clear I was pretty cynical about student activism when I was myself a student. It’s not really built into our national DNA. You can point to students “leading the revolution” on the continent all you want, but they were usually protesting against… you know, actual injustice.

 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.

I think I agree, though I’m not really sure what point you’re making about “kettling”. “Kettling” is pretty bad, by all accounts, and is part of the police treating all protesters like criminals. I was under the impression that this government was going to relax the illiberal laws on things like peacful protest. 

I wasn’t really making a point, just getting annoyed by the constant use of the phrase as if it was a akin to tasering. My understanding about the objections to kettling is that it deprives those in the “kettle” of access to toilets, food and water. This is how and why it’s been challenged in the courts. I also understand that on this occasion, portable toilets and water were being provided by the police. I also think there’s a distinction between laws on protest and the discretion afforded the police in how they control such protests. To the latter, the swathes of criticism they got over the first protest led to a sterner approach on this occasion. To the former, the protests have been going ahead, there have been observable criminal elements in the past and there were again. As I understand, not every protester everywhere was kettled, it was confined to the rowdiest part of the demonstration in Whitehall and was deployed only after things started kicking off and the rumour spread that they were going to attack the Lib Dem HQ. Where protests were peaceful, no kettling occurred. To read the Guardian, New Statesman and so on, you would have assumed that anyone under the age of 18 in London that day was subject to the Peterloo massacre.

Let’s be clear, when you have kids as young as 13 going to Westminster, where all the violent pricks will be going as well things are not going to end prettily. Is this “police violence used against children?”. If you’re a headline writer, then I guess it is. For me the story was “Poorly planned protest ends with moderate injury to van, no others”

December 2, 2010

A Genuine Question Re: Tuition Fees

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 11:54 pm

If you think that university education participation ought to be extended, but oppose tuition fee increases, what is your solution?

I’ll need some basic figures to back it up as well as a statement as to why it is more equitable than the proposed system.

Serious question.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

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