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May 2008

It was s'posed to be so eeeeasy

Philip over at The Curmudgeon is reminding his readers that they were warned.

It seems Gordon Brown has just announced that there is “no easy solution” to the problem of care for the elderly. Because, of course, up until now we’ve all assumed that there was. There’s an easy solution to the problem of care for the elderly, we all thought, and any minute now Gordon Brown will press that button on his command console, labelled “solve”, and all will be well.

I do love that “no easy solution” line. As if running a nation and dealing with the myriad problems that face it, is somehow supposed to be easy. Of course it’s not bloody easy! We don’t need politicians to tell us that. We already know that.

What’s needed is for someone to work out a difficult solution, and then successfully implement it. And if you’re incapable of that, then you have no goddamn business standing for election. Get the fuck out of office and give someone competent a go. Someone who isn’t scared of difficult problems and doesn’t wander off to sulk in a corner because they thought it was going to be easy.

Fracking gits, the whole sorry lot of them.

4 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

May 2008

Reductio ad Stalinum

Tim Worstall is no fool. He’s extremely right wing (in the libertarian, rather than the overtly dictatorial, sense… though in truth, I tend to see the two as being far closer than most right-wingers would admit, but that’s a discussion for another day) and an outspoken champion of free markets. Nonetheless, I am of the opinion that he’s misguided rather than evil, and I believe he has of the same opinion of me (could be wrong, of course). This means that dialogue is possible without it inevitably descending into insults and obfuscation.

That said, because I know he’s not a fool, I tend to get a little irritated when I see him deliberately misinterpret my position in order to make it appear foolish (or if you’re also a right-winger, then perhaps “more foolish than it really is” would be a better choice of words… even the most dogmatic free-marketeer will accept that there are levels of left-wing foolishness and the “moderately foolish” can be easily painted as the “very foolish” given selective quotation and/or the use of insupportable assumptions).

Recently, in response to my Constructivism entry, Tim posted One Way of Looking at the World. Here he takes the following statement of mine:

By “heavily taxed” I do — of course — mean “nationalised”. I do not view non-renewable natural resources as appropriate commodities to be traded for profit.

and asserts that such an approach is “not a very clever one” because, sarcastically, “The Soviets certainly did that really well”.

This is a personal bugbear of mine. Essentially the idea is that by advocating a particular philosophy (in this case the removal of a specific resource, commodity, or set of resources / commodities from the free-market system and placing them into collective ownership), one is automatically advocating the worst historical example of that philosophy.

There’s an obvious logical fallacy there, and it’s an annoying one. But, let’s be frank, we are all guilty of occasionally shielding our beliefs with fallacious reasoning. Those beliefs are precious to us and, as such, we may not always be entirely discriminating when it comes to defending them. However, ultimately we do ourselves a disservice when we slip into this mode of debate. If I object to the principle of private corporations on the grounds that many of them actively supported Hitler’s Germany, I would be rightly lampooned, and the phrase Godwin’s Law would quickly rear its head. Yet seemingly intelligent people see no absurdity in tarring all talk of collective ownership with a Stalinist (or Maoist) brush.

Similarly, when I object to free markets in non-renewable resources, I do not bang on and on about Enron every fecking time. That’s because I’m smart enough to be aware that nobody (well, nobody sane) is actually defending the corrupt and disastrous implementation of free-market principles. When a pro-capitalist* defends the free market in oil (for example) they tend not to use the Exxon Valdez oil-spill to support their position. So objecting to the free market in oil on the grounds of Exxon’s environmental record is not particularly useful (an oil tanker run by an anarcho-syndicalist collective could still end up running aground and polluting the wilderness).

Far more useful is an approach which acknowledges that any general philosophy can be corrupted and subverted and that human error can creep into the best systems. So instead of focussing entirely upon those individual corrupt instances (or, as is often the case, the very worst of those instances), one instead addresses the very claims made by proponents of that philosophy. It is only then that honest debate emerges and progress can be made towards — if not a common ground, then at least an understanding of one another’s position.

But so long as I insist that private corporations are evil because they were willing to trade with Nazi Germany, I will look just as foolish as the capitalist who insists that collectivism can never work because the Soviets couldn’t manage it.

* I use the word “capitalism” as a short-hand for the free-market corporate consumer capitalism as it exists in the world today, as opposed to an abstract text-book definition.

Note: I had planned this piece to include an explanation of exactly what I mean by ‘collectivism’, the extensive — though far from universal — cases in which I would seek to implement it, and the reasons I believe it is the only route towards sustainability. But that deserves a post of its own. This one turned out to be more about the internal logic of rhetoric, than about the specifics of economic systems. It’s safe to say though, that I am not a proponent of Soviet-style quasi-militaristic dictatorial collectivism.

4 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

May 2008

Return to Lisbon (with a "No!")

Well, it’s been a few weeks since I first posed some questions that had been troubling me regarding the Lisbon Treaty and the forthcoming referendum in Ireland. I’m very grateful to all those who took the time to respond and who discussed the treaty, without acrimony, here on this blog. It’s refreshing to see a discussion of European politics that doesn’t end in a slanging match (or maybe I just spent too long in the UK).

Anyways, despite all that, I was still rather confused by the whole thing. The text of the treaty is — in my view — quite deliberately opaque. You can download the PDF here, but I warn you there’s very little point. You see, huge chunks of the text of the treaty (the majority, in fact) actually don’t state very much at all. Rather, they list amendments to existing treaties which are themselves scattered widely and not always easy to track down and cross-reference. Take this (entirely representative) example…


  1. The articles of the Protocol on the Statute of the European System of Central Banks and of the European Central Bank, of the Protocol on the Statute of the European Investment Bank, and of the Protocol on the privileges and immunities of the European Union, as they are amended by the Treaty of Lisbon, shall be renumbered in accordance with the tables of equivalences set out in the annex to this Protocol. Cross-references to articles of those protocols which appear therein shall be adapted in accordance with the tables.
  2. References to recitals of the protocols set out in point 1 of Article 1, or to articles of those protocols, including to paragraphs thereof, as renumbered or rearranged by this Protocol, and which references figure in other protocols or acts of primary legislation shall be adapted in accordance with this Protocol. Such adaptations shall, if necessary, also apply in the event that the provision in question has been repealed.
  3. References to recitals and articles, including to paragraphs thereof, of the protocols set out in point 1 of Article 1, as amended by the provisions of this Protocol and which figure in other instruments or acts, shall be understood as references to recitals and articles, including to paragraphs thereof, of those protocols as renumbered or rearranged in accordance with this Protocol.
Treaty of Lisbon / Protocols / English Language Version / Page 78

From what I can tell, this is a set of instructions for renumbering various paragraphs in several other treaties and protocols. Now, there are clearly plenty of issues on which it is appropriate to consult the people, or vote in parliament. But the paragraph numbering system used within the Protocol on the Statute of the European System of Central Banks, as amended by the Treaty of Lisbon, just isn’t one of them.

This becomes problematic when you’re asked to vote on a treaty that contains page after page after page (after page) of this stuff interspersed with genuinely meaningful clauses and protocols. By burying the relevant information beneath a heavy blanket of bureaucratic fluff, one can be forgiven for wondering what exactly is being hidden from the voter.

I mean, it’s worth pointing out that the section quoted above appears to refer to “point 1 of Article 1″ of The Protocol on the Statute of the European System of Central Banks and of the European Central Bank (PDF file) which itself is no more than a reference to yet another treaty…

1.1 The European System of Central Banks (ESCB) and the European Central Bank (ECB) shall be established in accordance with Article 8 of this Treaty; they shall perform their tasks and carry on their activities in accordance with the provisions of this Treaty and of this Statute.

The Protocol on the Statute of the European System of Central Banks and of the European Central Bank

And I am assuming (because it’s not explicitly stated) that “this Treaty” refers to “the Treaty establishing the European Community”. So to properly understand this tiny section of the Lisbon Treaty which appears to refer to something as genuinely insignificant as a paragraph numbering system, a person needs to track down and cross-reference it with at least two other separate treaties (in fact, it’s more than two).

This may seem like an insignificant point. And I’m well aware that such “bureaucratic housekeeping” is required when complex treaties are amended. But when you hear that somewhere within the 294 pages of the Lisbon Treaty is a clause that denies Ireland representation on the European Commission for five out of every fifteen years (one third of the time). And given that the European Commission is tasked with such minor issues as European Tax Harmonisation and European Energy Policy, I think you can be forgiven for becoming suspicious of the motives of those who decided to bury such important details within a blizzard of administrative irrelevance.

But being suspicious of the motives of the authors of the treaty still wouldn’t be enough to make me vote against something I don’t really understand (as opposed to merely abstaining). After all, when it comes to those who have sought and achieved positions of power, my default position is one of suspicion. Don’t get me wrong, it kind of goes without saying that some politicians are better than others. Bertie Ahern for instance — for all his faults… his many, many faults — would still get my vote if he was standing against Joseph Goebbels in an election. But that doesn’t mean I’d trust Bertie to look after my wallet, let alone the nation’s tax revenue.

The Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community

Here though, we unearth something I am more than willing to vote against. The first thing to point out is that The Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (link) is an existing treaty which came into effect in 1958. This was prior to Ireland joining the EU, but when we did join (the EEC as it was then) in 1973 we nonetheless technically became signatories to the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community.

I’m more than willing to cut the voters of 1958 and 1973 some slack with regards to nuclear energy. The issues of sustainability, Climate Change and the overwhelming importance of energy policy weren’t part of popular consciousness back then. The arguments against nuke power, though just as valid then as they are now, were far from well-understood.

This is no longer the case.

The simple fact is that whatever else the Lisbon Treaty may say; whatever good it may do; if given the opportunity, I am compelled to vote against a treaty that explicitly promotes nuclear power as a central pillar of European energy policy. I want Ireland to be at the forefront of renewable energy development. I want us to be vocal advocates of wind and wave and tidal (and solar in southern Europe) and to be at the vanguard of the anti-nuclear tendency. A vote for Lisbon is a vote against this position.

Which means I’m forced into a corner I didn’t really want to be in. But every Irish vote for Lisbon is a vote against a sustainable European energy policy. So I must use my own vote to counteract one of those. I’m voting ‘No’ to Lisbon, and I urge other Irish voters to do the same.

7 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

May 2008

Something for the weekend…

A big thankyou to Michael Greenwell for pointing me towards this wonderfully laid-back live performance of Bob Marley’s Stir It Up. As I think I’ve mentioned before, The Wailers were the very first band I saw live. It was the mid-80s and Bob had sadly moved on by then, but it was a thoroughly amazing evening and live music has been a huge passion of mine ever since (I can only imagine how different my life would be if I’d skipped that gig and gone to see a football match or something else instead!) Not long after the gig had begun, a massive rastafarian in the audience (and there weren’t many of those in Athens at the time) handed a joint to a friend of mine who in turn passed it to me. It wasn’t my first toke, but it was an influential one………

Anyways, let’s Stir it Up why don’t we.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Media » Audio, Video

May 2008


Justin at Chicken Yoghurt has made some suggestions as to how the British Labour Party might reconnect with the electorate in the wake of the sound kicking they received in the local elections this week. His ideas are good ones in my opinion, but they wouldn’t save Labour even if the party was far-sighted enough to implement them. Which it’s not.

In reality, nothing’s going to prevent a Tory victory at the next general election. Well, nothing beyond the wildly implausible. Britain is fed up with Labour. And what’s more, Britain doesn’t like Gordon Brown. The poor bloke is on a hiding to nothing; he’s got no charisma and he’s leading a government that people don’t feel they can trust. In our ultra-mediated world, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Plus the economy won’t be kind to him between now and the next general election. Every Labour soundbite that followed the meltdown this week insisted that the poor result was due to a downturn in the economy. I have news for them… no it wasn’t. The electorate gave you a thrashing because they don’t like you any more. Get your heads around that and you may not spend quite so many years in the wilderness after the next election. That said, the economy will be a major factor at the general election. And not in a good way.

Smart Labour strategists (I assume there are a couple) are already thinking about how best to exploit the predictable mess of 2010 from the opposition benches.

The tragedy of all this is the fact that the electorate don’t have the imagination to look beyond the tories when it comes to choosing a replacement. And they certainly don’t have the imagination for what’s really needed… to look beyond party politics entirely.

I’ve just realised that, despite the title of this post, none of this is very constructive really. But the trouble is — as Burroughs says in Interzone

We have a new type of rule now. Not one-man rule, or rule of aristocracy or plutocracy, but of small groups elevated to positions of absolute power by random pressures, and subject to political and economic factors that leave little room for decisions [...] The rulers of this most insecure of all worlds are rulers by accident; inept, frightened pilots at the controls of a vast machine they cannot understand, calling in experts to tell them which buttons to push.

… and I really don’t see much room for constructive improvement until we’ve shrugged off this foolish way of running our affairs.

All the same, in the spirit of constructivism in its broadest sense, and having already ruled out any real likelihood of saving the British Labour party, here’s some ideas that I believe should be implemented by the people of all industrialised nations (and if they insist on going through the party-political system to do so, then so be it). Oh, and I don’t vouch for the popularity of these policies, merely their urgent necessity…

  1. The fundamental philosophy that public transport needs to be given priority over private car ownership should inform all relevant policies. Car ownership should be made more expensive and less convenient, while public transport should be expanded.
  2. All new buildings must be built to passivHaus standard, or equivalent. Profits from fossil fuels should be heavily taxed* and the revenue used to upgrade the energy efficiency of current building stock.
  3. The building of new fossil-fuel and nuclear power plants should be halted. The question must cease to be “how do we supply our demands with renewables?” And it must become “how do we modify our demands to meet the supply from renewables?”
  4. Airport expansion projects should be halted. Aviation fuel, like all fossil fuels, should be heavily taxed. Plane tickets should be taxed and the money used to subsidise train tickets.
  5. An examination of the food production and distribution system should be carried out. This should be done with an eye to optimising it based on two priorities; (a) the physical health of the population, and (b) the environmental impact of that system. Financial profit is not to be considered a priority, and questions of raw production efficiency (units per hectare, for instance) should not over-ride health and environmental concerns.

Oh, and there’s plenty more where that came from. Stuff about limiting property ownership and about fundamentally restructuring the way political decisions are made. It’s real nightmarish fringe stuff, I guess, when viewed from the modern political mainstream.

But that can change too, you know. And sometimes faster than you’d think.

* By “heavily taxed” I do — of course — mean “nationalised”. I do not view non-renewable natural resources as appropriate commodities to be traded for profit.

4 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

May 2008

Did I dream it? Or was it on telly?

It’s roughly two years since I moved away from London, and it appears — to paraphrase Ripley from Aliens — that IQs have dropped sharply since I’ve been gone. Seriously London… Boris Johnson?! What the hell is that all about? Did they open the polling booths at 2am and you all voted in the midst of a late-night ketamine binge? Or is this some kind of subversive plot to discredit the tories in the long-run; y’know, let them wreck your town and hopefully it’ll stop them wrecking the country…? If so, then let me be the first to say that I admire the nobility of your sacrifice.

But the thing is; that’s not what happened, is it? What happened is that Londoners turned out in relatively large numbers to support Boris Johnson because they think he’s the best person for the job of running their city. I’m sorry, I need to say that again because it’s still not sinking in… Boris Johnson is now running London.

That’s just mad.

The only reason everyone knows Boris Johnson far better than they know Patrick Cormack (Tory MP for South Staffordshire, in case you’re wondering) is because Boris Johnson is the blithering idiot MP who can be relied upon to act like a fool on telly. It’s not his rapier wit that gets him on Have I Got News For You? It’s the inherent absurdity that this upperclass twit actually holds a position of power. He’s there to laugh at. And it’s funny because he’s only one MP out of hundreds, and the only people voting for him are the wealthy residents of Henley.

Until now. It’s really not funny any more, London. You’ve voted for a man who has pledged to “scale back the congestion charge”. Let’s not mince words here, he wants to make it easier and cheaper to drive a car into the city. In a world of record oil prices, of a potential peak in production, a world in which Climate Change threatens catastrophic consequences; you’ve given the job of running Europe’s largest city to a man who actively seeks to encourage private car use? You fucking idiots!

3 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion