Thursday, November 30, 2006
The IPPR Event today featured Rt. Hon. Charles Clarke MP and Lord Anthony Giddens, alongside the New Economics Foundation. Much discussion revolved around the recent 'Stern report' - a report on the environment by an economist. This point was emphasised further by both Clarke and Giddens: that green issues can hopefully be rescued from the Greens - who they deem too often anti-progress and dogmatic.
Clarke was in favour of green taxes, but only as part of a new 'social contract'. This is the idea that citizens must take up their full responsibilities, but on the basis of certain promises from the State. For example the State might improve public transport, but then expect people to give up their cars. Or it might ring-fence revenue from green taxes to fund green projects. I think this is a useful concept here.
I still feel though that all three speakers might be missing the point. All started with the premise that the Stern report shows conclusively that climate change is happening; that something must be done and that it will make a difference. Whether true or not (I'm yet to read it), the point is that the general public is not convinced. Can you blame them? Scientists assured us bird-flu would wipe us all out a couple of years ago. Before that, BSE was not transmittable to humans. And then it was. Occasionally they say asteroids are about to hit.
Maybe we've only avoided each of those by a whisker and in no small part thanks to the scientists. But the public perception is that they were just wrong. Until that changes, Clarke and Giddens may be arranging deckchairs on the titantic?
The Stern Report
Info and audio from IPPR here.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
"A document ... was said to have been prepared by the Met's assistant commissioner, Tarique Ghaffur, who has previously advocated banning flag burning. The proposal also admitted that that a new law outlawing religious hatred, which was passed in February but has yet to be implemented, may prove useless.
"Virtually all activity by protesters could constitute insulting or abusive language, behavior or banners towards particular religions, but would fall outside the remit of inciting religious hatred," it said."
So the law on religious hatred is not 'useless': it is doing exactly what it set out to do - and all it should aim to do.
It appears I was optimistic. Things took a step in the wrong direction in the last couple of days, with the police approaching the Attorney General for the right to ban offensive remarks during protests.
Banning the statement of opinions that might cause offence?? And enabling the Police to decide when something is sufficiently offensive??
While I have the utmost respect for the police, I am certain they are not the people to defend civil liberties, protect democracy or defend other freedoms. That's the job of the politicians, on behalf of the citizens. The Police have become increasingly powerful in an - I'm ashamed to say - Labour administration. Remember the idea of a 90-day detention rule?
Back to causing offense. Understand: I'm not in favour of 'Kill those who insult Islam' placards. But that's not wrong because it causes offense: it's wrong because it incites violence, that being a criminal offence.
Let's leave aside causing unintentional offense. I reserve the right to cause intentional offense to anybody I deem deserves it. If somebody says to me "The moon is made of cheese", I should say to them "The moon is a rock.". Perhaps they are offended by my lack of respect for their view. I don't care. They are wrong and I am right.
By the same token, I must allow someone to say to me "You are homosexual. So I hate you". I'll argue against the opinion of course; but I'll disagree with what they say while defending to death their right to say it. (What I could not permit is for their opinion to influence whether they employed me or saved me from a fire or protected me from violence).
It's a constant surprise to me how the lessons learnt over centuries are so consistently ignored by those in power.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
I think most people at 7 years old, at 16 or even at 26 blithely assume that they'll at least make it to 65. The state charges you for a pension, so most people must get there, right?
Around 25% don't. That's a big number, huh? Specifically: on mortality rates in 1980, the chance of a newborn boy e.g. me getting to 65 were 74%. The good news is that the figure has now risen to 84%. Women fare better overall, living 4-5 years longer than guys. Interestingly, the gender-gap is narrowing.
But still. I have a 1 in 7 chance of not getting to 65.
I was playing roulette the other day. I thought I'd be safe, betting on red mostly. Ah.. green zero might come up once in a while. Maybe I'd see it once that night? Four times it came up. Once when I'd bet half my cash on red. The odds on zero are 1 in 37.
At least life expectancy for men has increased by 4 years in just the last 20. That's pretty stunning?
A final thought. You ever have those days where you want to sell everything you own and put it all on red?
Watch a guy from London try it.
Stats taken from the Office of National Statistics. Roulette info from Wikipedia.
(*I love it)
Sunday, November 19, 2006
But let's analyse the argument.
If consumers in the market had the choice to buy their Class As from ethical suppliers, I should think they would. The reason they don't have that choice is because they are highly illegal. And whose fault is that? It's the government(s) and the police themselves. The argument of the police is self-defeating.
I suspect that the sourcing of coffee, tobacco and even legal drugs causes similar pain in their origin countries. Does the NHS have an ethical drugs-sourcing policy; should one refuse the opium from the nurse until she finds an accredited supplier?
There are many good arguments against the use of illegal drugs. This isn't one of them.
(A related story on NHS inethical sourcing of surgical equipment is here.)
Saturday, November 18, 2006
"Tonight I am presenting both halves of Newsnight. That should prevent the technical problem I encountered the other week.
Kirsty was down the Review end and I was rounding up the papers. At the end I was supposed to make a quick getaway so the director can get a certain kind of wide shot. But the floor manager forgot to warn me so I was still attached to the desk with the microphone cable. She came running over and shouted to take cover on the floor. So there I lay while Kirsty read her introduction, praying that I was not appearing on national television, flat out on the studio floor."
Since arriving in London it's amazed me the number of clever, well-informed and hard-working people working in politics. I was kinda hoping to arrive and blow all the cobwebs away with my brilliance - but I've been humbled by the sharp wits and honesty of spirit already here! However, that is not the broader perception.
I've only realised it by attending the wonderful IPPR events, the LSE and others such as GALHA, where I've met MPs like George Galloway or Jack McConnell (First Minister of Scotland), intellectuals like Christopher Higgens and Richard Dawkins, policy advisers and journalists. If I'd have stayed in either the online bubble or even the Manchester one - I'm not sure I'd have made the step towards the understanding that - actually - politics is not full of self-serving, stupid or uncaring snobs that secretly hire rent-boys.
Mr. Taylor is perceptive in identifying that perhaps the Internet will lead to wider and deeper popular involvement in the decisions for our country. I wonder.. can the Internet make an Athenian City-state of the whole world?
He's right to point out that this means citizens 'growing up'. If the 'end of deference' is the 'right', the 'responsibility' must be to provide constructive criticism and ideas - not childish hissyfits of the kind promoted by popular media.
While citizens grow beyond their infantile habits, the government - and politics in general - must do more to demonstrate it's true colours; to show everyone what I've learnt only via physical attendance of its mechanics.
At the end of the article, there's something of an explanation for the clarity of thought: he's ex-head of IPPR! Damn them and their bright ideas.
(I hope the criticism of blogs as negative and unconstructive don't apply to this post!)
Here's a further post on the City-state idea that's worth a quick read.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Monday, November 06, 2006
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
After the talk about the book and some interesting personal insights into Castro's personality and achievements, there was a lively Q&A session with the 50-odd audience. I grabbed the book and had it signed while talking to Mr. George about the Cuba Solidarity Campaign of which I'm a member.