Friday, February 24, 2006

P&O and the US Ports

George Baker, the US Editor in the Times wrote an interesting piece on his blog today regarding the bizarre reaction to the Dubai Ports buyout of P&O.

Baker argues that the comments many politicians have been "opportunistic populism that enables, exploits and empowers the very worst instincts of some Americans. It has no basis in economics or in concerns about national security. It is chauvinism and pandering of the most contemptible sort."

Full piece here

Baker's spot on in my view.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Lies. Damned lies. And statistics

Benjamin Disraeli famously said that there are three types of lies. Lies. Damned Lies. And statistics. The Labour Government do a marvellous job of ensuring that Disraeli's observation continues to be a truism. Today though, the Sunday Telegraph also did its part to prove Disraeli correct yet again.

The paper lead on an ICM poll of British muslims and screamed out on the front page that "Four out of 10 British Muslims want sharia law introduced into parts of the country". In other words 6 out of 10 don't. But it got better, the next sentence said that the poll "also indicates that a fifth have sympathy with the "feelings and motives" of the suicide bombers who attacked London last July 7, killing 52 people".

A fifth? Would it not have been fairer to say that 80% of muslims didn't have sympathy with the "feeling and motives" of the suicide bombers? I'll give the Telegraph its due, it did go on in that sentence to state that "99 per cent thought the bombers were wrong to carry out the atrocity", but its the editorial spin on the stats that bugs the shit out of me. Yes, I know that politicians have been doing this with statistics for years, and they always will to make a political point I guess, but it doesn't mean I have to ignore it when it happens.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Moderate Islam Speaks

Today there is going to be a very large protest march in London by Muslims outraged by the now infamous Danish cartoons. Now it should be understood that this march is being organised by the Muslim Council of Britain (who are generally considered a mainstream organisation) so it is expected to be a very peaceful protest and will be void of placards calling for people like me to be beheaded.

This said I do find this whole protest thing bizarre. After all, this is not a Muslim country, this is a western and largely secular nation (even more so for Denmark) and the idea that there should be limits to freedom of speech that go further than outlawing incitement to violence and/or racial hatred seems to me to wrong in principle. If we were a Muslim country with an Islamic history I may think differently, but we are not. Satire, however offensive, is a necessary part of political discourse in a western civilisation.

The original cartoon in question in Denmark was pretty poor in my opinion and not particularly funny. However it was making a specific legitimate point about the warped view of Islam that drives extreme acts of terrorism. Of course, there is the view that the cartoon is essentially saying “all Muslims are terrorists”. However I disagree with that view, I think there is a more important message underneath the cartoon that the vast majority of moderate Muslims ought to acknowledge. That is an exclusive minority that shout a lot louder than they do has hijacked their faith.

The protest today - whilst officially being against the cartoons – can be seen as the mainstream shouting back (albeit unintentionally I think). Today they will send a signal to Britain (and hopefully the wider world) that they are far greater in number than the crazy fuckers who bear the real responsibility for the presence of the cartoon. At the end of the day the cartoon may have actually done moderate Islam a favour.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Ideas for Council Tax relief?

As there was a by-election in Scotland a little gem of news about ideas for Council Tax relief (originally floated on BBC Breakfast on Wednesday) seems to have been largely ignored by the mainstream media. My guess is that the idea came straight from some "blue skies thinking" policy wonker [sic].

Basically the idea goes like this. You offer relief on Council tax bills based on environmentally driven objectives, for example, if you recycle you get a reduction in your bill. On the face of it, it does sound fair, but practically and operationally how exactly will something like this work?

If it's just going to mean having a blue-lid wheelie bin then everyone will do it and what's to stop people putting just one item in it a week? Unless they're going to check and weigh the rubbish that is being "recycled" how can the system not be open to abuse? What will examining rubbish and recording it per household cost? My guess is that it will require an increase in local taxation to administer such a scheme. What local taxation could that be I wonder? You see the problem?

Practical problems aside there is also the more philosophical issue of information gathering. Do we really want to go down the route of having legislation authorising “Benji the Binmen” operations on all our homes just to save a few quid in Council Tax? One of the other ideas that was floated was to offer reductions based on power and water consumption. The problem of course is that water, electric and gas supplies are privatised. So it either means re-nationalisation (unlikely) or worse, legislation obligating private companies to share yet more of our personal information to Government.

I expect these ideas to re-surface when Sir Michael Lyons publishes his report on the future of Council Tax (coming soon apparently). In fact, these suggestions are probably a trail to that report, and the lack of negative reaction to them will probably be taken as tacit approval.

Fun for all the family?

It's got suicide bombers, political kidnaps and intercontinental war. It's got filthy propaganda, rampant paranoia and secret treaties ... War on Terror The Board Game

Lib Dems turn over Labour

It seems I have truly taken leave of my sense and am going to endeavour to ramble on here as often as possible. In the news this morning the shock story is that the Lib Dems managed to win Dunferlime and West Fife and overturn an 11,000+ Labour majority. Personally - as a Tory - I have to say I laughed rather hard when I heard the news. There are of course some out there that think that because the Tory share of the vote went down by 2.4% it bodes badly for Cameron. That is of course - quite frankly - complete and total bollocks. We were never going to win the seat and were in fourth place already behind the SNP. The very idea that we were going to increase our vote there was risible. The seat's been a Labour seat since the dawn of time and it was never going to shift that radically.

The Lib Dems however played a good game and were always the main challenger anyway. That game involved promising to represent issues in Westminster that Westminster has no control over because of devolution. Personally I think that the success of such a campaign just goes to show how ignorant people are about the allocation of power since Scottish devolution.