Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Sensible migrants v. stupid drunken Brits

The Guardian (who else?) has an interesting piece on an LSE study that suggests some types of crime are reduced in areas with a lot of European immigrants.
Places that had attracted large numbers of eastern European immigrants enjoyed a "significant fall in property crime", a category of offence that also includes theft and shoplifting. The report, to be published later this year in Harvard University's Review of Economics and Statistics, also found that the relationship between the arrival of thousands of foreigners and levels of violence was "close to zero and insignificant".
This is not surprising. Well, not to me. I've fallen victim to violent crime just twice in my fifty-odd years, and on both occasions it was down to assaults by drunken Brits. I have never met a foreign-born person who was mildly impolite, let alone menacing.

My elderly, working-class parents are - sadly, but predictably - half-brainwashed by the right-wing media line on immigration. Yet the only occasions they have ever had to call the police in their entire lives have been to deal with very obviously white British neighbours indulging in vandalism, burglary, incessant loud partying etcetera. I've given up pointing this out.

Other choice quotes:
"Most violent crime is associated with affluence. Most immigrants are not affluent so it's not surprising that immigration has no impact on that large proportion of total violence which is a function of affluence."

"Globalisation through the internet, through media images has meant that there is a greater intolerance to violence. There is more of a global acceptance that inter-personal violent crime is something that we should not be engaged in."

"Historically, people who move from one nation state to another are the kinds of people who are more entrepreneurial. Far from coming to live off benefits, the people who tend to want to move are the ones who want to get a job and get ahead," he added.

While I don't find the second point entirely convincing. What about all the callous imbeciles posting videos of cruelty to people and/or animals on YouTube? And what about mental violence, such as online bullying? But the other points are well-taken. 

Meanwhile, here's another UKIP candidate you wouldn't want to live next door to. You just know what kind of neighbour this guy must be. The more we find out about UKIP's band of patriots, the more obvious it becomes that these ranting arseholes represent a far worse social problem than any number of Romanian migrants. (Even if the Romanians were all vampires.) Can't we make UKIP candidacy a criminal offence? I'm sure if we banged them up, levels of drunken thuggery in our cities would plummet overnight.

You're supposed to Sieg Heil with your right hand,  you unutterable racist fuckwit

UPDATE: To be fair, the chap in the picture above claims he was not giving a fascist salute and that racist remarks attributed to him are down to Facebook hacking. He claims police are investigating. We shall see.

Support from all parties? Well, yes, but...

Monday, 29 April 2013

A Rose Bigger Than England

The eye of Saturn's North Polar Storm. It's 2,000 km across. Puts things in perspective.

I originally claimed this was bigger than the Earth, but that's not so. The eye of the storm is merely continental in scale. The entire north polar storm of Saturn is, however, bigger than the Earth. It's also hexagonal, which is cool by an standard.

The Somewhat Tetchy Red Planet

On Saturday I got drunk on cheap South African shiraz and watched some bad sci-fi. Yes, I'm living the dream. The two movies on LOVEFiLM I chose to 'enjoy' were The Angry Red Planet and Horrors of the Red Planet. I'm a sucker for Martian stuff. I expected both movies to be terrible. But each, in its way, served to remind me that even a bad film can have its intriguing - nay, even downright good - points.

To begin with 'Horrors', a film noticeably lacking in horrors other than the script and performances - it's alternate title is Wizards of Mars (1965), and this synopsis pretty much sums up its campy weirdness.
In 1974, four astronauts, silver shoe-clad Dorothy, overweight Doc, goofy Charlie, and wooden Steve, crash land on Mars when taking readings, with only four days of supplies. They must try to survive on the surface, which is barren except for some canals with huge maggots with fins. After embarking through a golden igneous cavern, braving a storm and finding an unmanned Earth vessel, they discover a golden road which leads them to the unchanging ruins of what was once a beautiful Martian city. The Martians are modeled on the Flatheads of Oz, and their collective consciousness, the "Wizard," forbids them to leave until they perform a very small task...
Forearmed with this knowledge, I expected something truly laughable. But as it happens, much of what occurs is rather engaging. The spaceship sequences are pretty poor, but most were in those days. And the ship interior isn't too bad. Note how carefully the characters are delineated from the very start.

Don't mention the V-E-T-T-I-N-G

Love the fact that UKIP's leader, Nigel Farrago (Family Motto: Not Actually Racist, Just Popular With Racists), thinks it's impossible to vet all his party's candidates. Nigel, it's perfectly possible. What you need are the following:

1. A database of UKIP candidates. (You must have one. It's probably next to the national membership list. You know, the membership list? Nigel...?)

2. A computer linked to the intertrons. (A computer is a data-processing machine, Nigel. No, they're not big enough to fill a decent-sized room nowadays. No, they don't use miles of magnetic tape. From that description you're probably thinking of Joe 90. Yes, BIG RAT - you said it.)

3. A teenager (that's a young person - try to find someone in 'jeans' and a 'tee shirt' if you're not sure) who knows what 'Google' does and can spend a week trawling Facebook and Twitter (or 'doing investigative journalism').

There. Fixed that for you, Nige. Bit surprised that you and your high-powered team of Britain-savers couldn't figure it out for yourselves, to be honest.

And it's a pity that I wasn't there to advise Nigel before we discovered that UKIP really does contain people who hold somewhat unfortunate opinions, such as:

Sterilise the English lower orders to stop them breeding so prolifically.

Wear sterile face masks to prevent catching TB from Slavs.

Keep women subordinate to men.

And, Wagnerian timpani please - Holocaust Denial.

Then of course there are the Ukippers who think homosexuality is vile, and that gays are involved in some kind of 'conspiracy' to destroy our British way of life. That is pretty much what Tory Christian types think, so - as with racism, sexism etc - there's quite an overlap. No wonder Cameron and his buddies are worried about support draining away. (Tory Christians, by the way, are the guys who think Jesus should have joined the money-changers in the Temple as an unpaid intern.)

There's something almost touching about the Farage outrage over the way these stories have appeared in the Tory press, with the Mirror and the Guardian struggling to keep up. Of course the Tories are smearing UKIP - smearing is what they do, and the Ukippers are just getting what Labour got - completely one-sided 'reporting'. But it is, above all, heartening to see two parties of the far right tearing into each other. Farage may claim that UKIP takes votes from Labour and the Lib Dems, but we all know what his party is really about - recruiting mostly ignorant white men with a narrow-minded view of Britain's past, present and future. And that means undermining the Tories.

And that's not even the best part. Consider: less than a month after Maggie Thatcher was laid to rest her snobbery, her bigotry, her smiling arrogance, her shabby jingoism, has resurfaced in UKIP. And it's going to spoil things for the Tory party that betrayed her and ended her career as Britain's first de facto president-for-life.

The Ukippers are Zombie Thatcherites, cruder in their political ideas and more openly prejudiced than the original version. And they are on  the march to the ballot box.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Knowledge is powerless

Weekend trivia quiz answers:

1. The Rann of Kutch

2. Virginia Woolf

3. The Crown Jewels

4. Wombat

5. The speed of light

The questions are intriguing, believe me.

Meanwhile, in the land of the free and the home of the brave...

Parents are buying their kids bulletproof school uniforms and armoured backpacks. Really. Tell me this is not a culture in a decline at least as bad as that of poor old Western Europe. What else can be said about a nation where legislators deliberately ensure that schools need to do stuff like this?

Barry Tull, headteacher of Worcester Preparatory School in rural Maryland, has 80 ballistic shields deployed in his classrooms disguised as whiteboards and clipboards. Some teachers use them to assign homework, others lean them up against the wall, but most of Worcester's middle and high-school children know what they are for. 
"Our teachers were concerned to begin with about whether they were expected to be first responders, but at least they feel they have something now as opposed to cowering in the corner with their kids," says Tull. "The former secret service trainers we had in showed us how they can deploy them; how to hold them in front of their body defensively or use them offensively where the teacher charges at someone with the shield as cover."

Some would say these are counter-terrorism measures. I mean, that's what they seem like, right? But when a white man shoots a bunch of kids and their teachers it can't be terrorism, because that would make rational gun control laws counter-terrorism measures! So, by the power of logic, terrorists may well be crazy brown guys with pressure cookers, but are never, ever, white men with guns.

It's probably in the wonderful United States Constitution, somewhere. Right alongside the bit that said everyone was free except for the slaves. And that's not not an entirely unrelated issue...

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Caravel and Airship

Original image found here. And no, it's not a fake - this was taken in 1957.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Exploding a myth

Fake bomb detector bloke is guilty as charged. He was indirectly responsible for the deaths and injuries of a lot of people.

The entrepreneur in question, James McCormick, seems to have the moral sophistication of the average tapeworm. Like many of our finest greedy sociopaths, I'm surprised he wasn't knighted before they nabbed him, because he showed true business genius. He bought novelty golf ball detectors for a few quid a pop, jazzed them up slightly, and claimed they could detect explosives, drugs, guns, people. He sold each 'unit' for up to $40,000 to a number of Middle Eastern countries.
Iraq spent more than $40m (£26.2m) on 6,000 devices between 2008 and 2010. 
Haneen Alwan needed 59 operations after she was injured in a bomb blast in January 2009. She was two months pregnant at the time and lost her child. 
"When people passed through checkpoints using these devices, they thought they would be safe, but they are useless. The man who sold them has no conscience. He is morally bankrupt. How could he sell them just for money and destroy other people's lives?" she told a BBC Newsnight investigation into the case.
Naive soul that I am, I was baffled as to how any government could buy worthless junk on such a scale - even the Iraqi government. Oh.
The investigation revealed that senior Iraqi officials knew the devices did not work and received bribes to ensure they were purchased. 
General Jihad al-Jabiri, the head of the Baghdad bomb squad, is currently serving a jail term for corruption, along with two other Iraqi officials.
Not sure if this case represents a triumph for investigative journalism and the rule of law, or a rather harsh indictment of the kind of 'democracy' we put in place up Baghdad way.

'How could he sell them just for money and destroy other people's lives?' 

Oh dear, you people have got so much to learn about Western civilization.

Giraffes on skis? Possibly

More here.

Happy Al-Khidr Day!

Yes, we all know that St George was a Palestinian by birth who never came near England. England is not, of course, the only or indeed the first nation to have him as a patron saint. He put himself about a bit. According to Wikipedia:
Many Patronages of Saint George exist around the world, including: Georgia, England, Egypt, Bulgaria, Aragon, Catalonia, Romania, Ethiopia,Greece, India, Iraq, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Serbia, Ukraine and Russia, as well as the cities of Genoa, Amersfoort, Beirut, Botoşani, Drobeta Turnu-Severin, Timişoara, Fakiha, Bteghrine, Cáceres, Ferrara, Freiburg im Breisgau, Kragujevac, Kumanovo, Lebanon, Ljubljana, Pérouges, Pomorie, Preston, Qormi, Rio de Janeiro, Lod, Lviv, Barcelona, Moscow and Victoria, as well as of the Scout Movement and a wide range of professions, organizations and disease sufferers.
So, George is pretty much the patron saint of globalisation. And Preston. But did you know that he is also venerated by Muslims? He is identified with 'The Green One', a shadowy, mystical figure possessed of great wisdom and knowledge.

I wonder if a Palestinian going by the name of Al-Khidr is quite what the flag-waggling brigade have in mind for England's saint.

Al-Khidr (aka George) is one of the two blokes praying. The other is Elijah, apparently

Monday, 22 April 2013

Don't tell anyone, it's a secret

There's this huge mosque in Brighton...

The English Defence League. A small barrel crammed with dimwitted fish, just begging to be shot.

If you don't know Brighton, that's the Royal Pavilion, built (rather slowly) from 1787 to 1823. It is not a big mosque. But apparently being in the English Defence League doesn't require any detailed knowledge of England. 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Running Down a Dream

It was nice to see 36,000 runners and half a million spectators in London this morning to demonstrate that there is such a thing as society.

I've been trying to find an estimate of how many people turned out in London on Wednesday for Maggie's funeral. No dice. The Metropolitan Police website expresses thanks to those who informed them about protests beforehand (which is about as conventionally British as you can get) but seems to offer no estimate of crowd numbers. The Mail refers to 'tens of thousands' lining the route of the cortege, but offers nothing more. The Sun said 5,000 thronged the area around St Paul's  The BBC carefully referred to 'thousands'.

Now of course the funeral was on a working day in a busy city. But if there are, say, seven million people in the Greater London area, you'd think one million should in theory have been able to make it, if only for part of what was a long send-off. That's not counting all those ardent Thatcherites from other parts of the UK and indeed the wider world.

If the London Marathon can get half a million, why couldn't Thatcher get about a tenth of that number? Has the whole thing has been a colossal misjudgement by Cameron and the Tory elite? Has Ed Miliband been laughing up his sleeve and mulling over Napoleon's great maxim, 'Never interrupt your enemy when he's making a mistake'? Will millions of sensible voters remember ten million quid blown on a political stunt when they go to the polls next time, and maybe the time after that?

Oh, I do hope so.


To some people, evolution is to blame for everything. Which of course it is, considered in rather general terms. If we'd evolved from moles instead of monkeys, playgrounds wouldn't have climbing frames but would be tunnel-rich environments.

See what I did there? I indulged in the sort of wanton, evidence-free speculation that often counts as 'evolutionary science' in the media. Hence BAH!, a proposed festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses: 'The major criticism for evolutionary theorists is hyperadaptationism, "over-the-top" evolutionary ideas that try to explain too many of an organism's features as adaptations'. So, from a scientific point of view, this sort of thing can lead to a laff-riot.

"Please note," the guidelines state, "Being funny is not a good defense. We want to see you actually defend your terrible, terrible theory!" 
The winner of BAH! Fest, chosen by a panel of bona fide scientists, will earn a 3D-printed version of the trophy first imagined in the SMBC comic — a "depressed-looking Darwin,"(...)

Sad to note, though, that one of my favourite ideas in my younger days, the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis, is cited as a classic instance of a duff brainwave.
First proposed in the 1940s, the theory imagines that human ancestors went through a sea-based stage, which would explain things like the species' relative hairlessness and greater ability to digest fish compared with other primates.  
Despite seeming coherence, though, that theory has very little (if any) support from serious evolutionary theorists. "Clearly, it's crazy," Weinersmith said. BAH! Fest just takes that craziness to the extreme. And, serious satirical intent aside, the event has captured the enthusiasm of scientists and science fans alike.
Is it 'clearly' crazy? Well, the AAH is certainly seductive to non-scientists, and that is often one of the warning signs. And it's not just ordinary members of the public who've been won over. Check out Desmond Morris and David Attenborough, both being very pro-AAH, here.

You can still find references to it all over the place. I searched for it on the BBC site and got a few hits. This one is a passing, properly sceptical reference. This one from BBC Wales is understandably respectful of the feisty Elaine Morgan, who promoted the idea as part of a broadly feminist agenda, and has just been honoured for her writing. And she's a damn good writer, which in part explains the idea's tenacity.

Anyway, the BAH! event is clearly a fun idea that has survival potential. Sadly, though, it didn't take place last week because it was to be held at MIT in Boston. I think it's reasonable to conclude that some very bad ideas were responsible for the whole city being on lockdown.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

In the City

Over here you can find a transcript of a talk by a chap called Jeffrey Sachs. He is controversial, but he is also very much an insider on Wall Street. He knows whereof he speaks, and is not some leftist hippie wanting to bring down capitalism (if those exist any more). I find it hard to believe that the things he says about Big Greed in the US don't apply to our own dear City of London. Anyway, the interview he gives is boring and complicated, as always with financial matters. But the gist of it is interesting and depressing.

These people are out to make billions of dollars and nothing should stop them from that. They have no responsibility to pay taxes. They have no responsibility to their clients. They have no responsibility to people, counterparties in transactions. They are tough, greedy, aggressive, and feel absolutely out of control, you know, in a quite literal sense. And they have gamed the system to a remarkable extent, and they have a docile president, a docile White House, and a docile regulatory system that absolutely can’t find its voice. It’s terrified of these companies.
(....) It really doesn’t have anything to do with right wing or left wing, by the way. The corruption is, as far as I can see, everywhere. But what it’s led to is this sense of impunity that is really stunning, and you feel it on the individual level right now, and it’s very, very unhealthy.
I have waited for four years, five years now, to see one figure on Wall Street speak in a moral language, and I’ve not seen it once. And that is shocking to me. And if they won’t, I’ve waited for a judge, for our president, for somebody, and it hasn’t happened. And by the way it’s not going to happen anytime soon it seems.
Replace a few terms and you've got a pretty accurate description of the UK's witless, gutless coalition's non-response to the banking crisis.

From this it's logical to conclude that, if there is any genuine economic growth in the next few years, it will simply be taking us along the road towards the Next Big Rip-Off, not towards lasting prosperity.

Friday, 19 April 2013

The Right to Bear Nukes

Since the American right-wing gun fetish that kills lots of kids is seldom out of the news, this bit of serious textual analysis will always be relevant. Well, unless there's an outbreak of sanity on the issue. I find constitutional arguments and legalistic malarkey somewhat tedious, but this one has a great payoff. American citizens may well be allowed, under their constitution, to own nuclear weapons. Fortunately the expert who penned this piece regards that as absurd. But...

Surely, we can come up with reasonable limits on the right to keep and bear arms. To impose these restrictions correctly and legitimately, we would need to enact a Twenty-Eighth Amendment that fleshes out the Second. Perhaps we could limit the right to keep and bear arms to those weapons with destructive power equivalent to the best heavy weapons of the late Eighteenth or early Nineteenth Centuries. This would permit citizens to arm themselves, but not with weapons so capable of killing vast numbers of other people that the risk would outweigh the benefit. This framework might draw the outer boundary at, say, a mid-size howitzer, a backpack sized flamethrower, a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile, or an anti-tank mine. Such weapons are destructive, to be sure, yet still comparable to the power wielded by a militiaman of two hundred years ago, standing behind an artillery piece or on the bridge of a privateer’s ship, firing at a crowded enemy troop vessel. Therefore, these weapons should be suitable for private ownership.

So, in conclusion, every US citizen should be allowed to buy one of these, if s/he can afford it. I'm sure I can't imagine why the American right is a universal target of mockery.

(HT Primly Stable on Twitter)

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The wrong sort of equality

This, exactly. Robin Ince nails our lousy UK media and its deliberate tearing down of scientists who have the temerity to know more than the average ignoramus.
We should not trust people just because they are experts, but if we are not prepared to put the time and effort in to understand something, to take a step beyond that column we read in The Guardian or “what my friend Phil told me”, than we are placed in a position where must defer and try and make the best decision we can as to who we should defer to. If you are really interested in an issue, then you must take time to read and investigate it, to learn how to ask the best questions, to interrogate with interest, open-mindedness and rigour. A good society, a healthy democracy, is not based on complacency and whining.
The absence of this clear-headed thinking in our far-from-professional media that puts Andrew Wakefield, notorious autism fraudster who is no longer allowed to practice medicine in this country, on the front page of a national paper during a measles outbreak that was the direct result of his greed and dishonesty. Because he has a fucking 'opinion'. And ooh, look, it's all controversial and stuff. Great.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Three Little Words

North. Sea. Oil. The so-called Thatcher Revolution was a fake, a fraud, a thing of smoke and mirrors. She was a consummate politician, but all she loved was power, and she resorted to many interesting - if, at times, nationally destructive - gimmicks to get it and keep it. Far from genuinely turning Britain around and ending a period of post-imperial decline, all Thatcher achieved was the appearance of rather patchy economic growth in some English regions, while consigning others - like much of the North of England, much of Wales, much of Scotland - to permanent welfare-dependent stagnation.

And it's all down to a windfall. North Sea Oil came on tap in the late Seventies and government revenue from oil peaked in the Eighties. It was at the beginning of the Thatcher that the UK became, for the first time in its history, a net oil exporter. This means hundreds of millions of pounds of 'free money' for every Thatcher Chancellor. No comparable economy in Western Europe was so lucky. To compare the UK to France or Italy and say: 'Oh, look how badly those irresponsible foreigners are doing' is rather like a man who's won the lottery decrying his neighbours' lack of fiscal prudence.

Of course saying that Britain simply struck it lucky in the Eighties thanks to a geological accident doesn't fit the Thatcher myth. But it's true. If Ted Heath and/or Harold Wilson had had vast amounts of spare cash to play with from 1970 onwards, does anyone doubt that the UK would have avoided most of the industrial unrest of that decade? In the end, 'stopping their mouths with gold' may seem crass, but it's a proven method.

Oh, and good housekeeping? Thatcher didn't believe in it. Her government didn't do as the Norwegians did. Those pesky social democrats across the North Sea took a hefty slice of their oil fortune and invested it for a rainy day. A few years ago that rainy day came, and Norway has done rather well. By contrast, Thatcherism pissed Britain's oil billions up the wall. Much of the cash went on putting millions on the dole, then more went on putting a sizeable chunk of them on long-term sick benefit so as to reduce the dole figures. It was utterly irresponsible, and pure Thatcherism - it got the jobless total down.

Then of course there's democracy - the thing Thatcher advocated for foreigners and socialists. But democracy was just another weight in the handbag she wielded. She had no interest in promoting it within the Tory party. When she became leader, it was because elusive, sober-suited men decided she should be given a chance. And when the same men decided she was going, frankly, a bit barmy over the Poll Tax, the same men quietly drew their plans against her, and threw her out. Oh, the irony. If only she'd really cared about giving people a say, giving people a vote. But she didn't. She loved power, had no life outside politics, and believed herself to be infallible. She was the living embodiment of humourless hubris.

Imagine if every Tory party member - the members who paid their dues, put up posters, delivered leaflets, held fundraisers - had had a vote in a leadership election. She would not have been ousted - the rank and file loved her. But she never extended the franchise to her most ardent supporters. Throughout her leadership the Tory party remained a thoroughly traditional institution - a classic instanceof Us and Them, in which the common ruck have no say in the doings of people who really matter. And so, in a coup that left the poor old dear understandably baffled and bitter, she was unceremoniously ejected from Number 10.

The myth of Thatcherism is that she changed many things for the better, when in fact all the real, measurable changes were for the worse. The thuggish, politicised police, the fantasy that house price inflation equals real economic growth, the absurd belief that Britain would become resurgent through deregulating the City and forcing millions into low-skilled, low-wage, and therefore welfare-dependent service industry jobs...  None of the nation's real problems were tackled, or even acknowledged. Most notably, Thatcherism set the corrosive precedent for making state education the plaything of misfit ideologues with axes to grind. Small wonder state schooling generally fails to produce model citizens or a skilled workforce.

'Oh well, at least she broke the power of the unions.' Yes, she took on greedy, irresponsible men who had (supposedly) held the country to ransom. Unfortunately, thanks to her, a bunch of greedy and irresponsible bankers recently held the country to ransom - and got away with it. The same goes for all those nationalised industries. In the Seventies, they were money pits - badly-run, failing businesses. How very bold and wise of Maggie to close the shipyards and steelworks and so forth. But quite a few banks were also badly-run, failing businesses, and yet a whole generation post-Thatcher politicians say that throwing taxpayers' money at the problem is the only solution. Perhaps if bankers had broader vowels and ate chip butties our leaders would have favoured sending mounted police to break their heads instead?

I could go on. I could point out that her triumph in the Falklands would never have happened if Thatcher's government had not blundered into war by showing weakness in the run up to Galtieri's invasion. Oh, and she made drastic cuts to our armed forces immediately after the war, because her flag-waggling was just another bit of opportunism. Her recognition that climate change is real and dangerous is as nothing compared to her absurd, short-term, and entirely political decision to dispense with clean coal technology along with coal resources we will probably, one day, be forced to start extracting again.

Overall, far from breaking the mould of post-war politics, Thatcher was the apotheosis of that era. Like Wilson or Heath, she was a chancer with no long-term solutions or genuinely radical ideas. Unlike them she enjoyed good luck; luck that she rode with great skill. She benefited not only from North Sea Oil, but from a demoralised and divided opposition, and of course the support of the right-wing press that peddled lies and distortions most effectively on her behalf (as in the case of Michael Foot's 'donkey jacket'). Add to all those advantages the fact that the Tories always have more money to spend on campaigns than any other party, and it would have been truly remarkable if she'd lost an election in the Eighties.

But for all Thatcher's political success, her era was a shoddy one and its legacy seems more threadbare by the year. And that is because she was simply a self-absorbed egotist and no real patriot - she didn't make any serious attempt to fix 'broken Britain'. She instead adopted a very familiar approach, and bodged together a few superficially impressive repairs. All bodged jobs fall to pieces in time, of course. I'm not sure I want to be around when we have to call in a real professional, at considerable cost, to fix the place up properly. His first question is bound to be: 'What cowboy did this, then?' I think I know the answer.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

A plague of dangerous parasites

This is satire, I think. Probably. 

Harold’s police service has been swamped with residents demanding that they be arrested because they are scroungers and moral degenerates who refuse to work and have no moral compass. 
‘I had winter fuel allowance and a cold weather payment,’ Ruby Butler (83) told the Evening Harold. ‘Now I’m part of what A.N Wilson called “the bleak and often grotesque world of the benefit scrounger” along with most of the rest of the Mothers’ Union. Please take me off the streets before I start selling crack.’

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Capital Ships and Wasting Assets

You know that the British government is spending a lot of money on aircraft carriers? There's been a bit of fuss about them not actually carrying any planes for the first few years of their service lives, which seems a tad wasteful. Well, here's another interesting fact that isn't being so well-publicised. Aircraft carriers are useless against any real opposition. Let the War Nerd explain:
The truth is that they have very feeble defenses against any attack with anything more modern than cannon. I've argued before no carrier group would survive a saturation attack by huge numbers of low-value attackers, whether they’re Persians in Cessnas and cigar boats or mass-produced Chinese cruise missiles. But at least you could look at the missile tubes and Phalanx gatlings and pretend that you were safe. But there is no defense, none at all, against something as obvious as a ballistic missile.
So it doesn't matter one god damn whether the people in the operations room of a targeted carrier could track the Dong Feng 21 as it lobbed itself at them. They might do a real hall-of-fame job of tracking it as it goes up and comes down. But so what? Let me repeat the key sentence here: “Ships currently have no defense against a ballistic missile attack.

Interesting. You might ask, quite reasonably, why the most powerful nation the world has ever seen spends such a lot of money on carriers, given that they are, apparently, useless in 'proper' naval warfare. The War Nerd (aka Gary Brecher) has that one nailed. It's because the US elite love their Top Gun jets, even though the planes they fly them off are just floating targets. Rich boys must have their toys:
The most obvious example is European heavy cavalry trotting into longbow fire again and again. Crecy demonstrated that knightly charges were suicide against the longbow in 1346. But the French aristocracy had so much invested in prancing around on their damn steeds that it took another demonstration, at Agincourt in 1415 to even start to get them thinking about it. I’m no math wiz but I think that 1415 minus 1346…yup, that’s 69 years between catastrophes. Lessons learned? None. 
These dodos always have one thing in common: whether it’s knights charging with lances on very expensive horses or top gun brats like McCain zooming onto carrier decks in history’s most expensive aircraft, you’ll always find that the worst, most over-funded services are always the ones where the rich kids go to show their stuff. Seriously: why are there aircraft carriers? For asses like John McCain to crash on. Why do they keep getting funded long after they've been shown up? The same reason knights were galloping around pretending that the longbow hadn't turned half their friends into pincushions: because it was a way of life for the richest and dumbest people in the country and they weren't about to let it go.
One think of the British cavalry generals of 1914 and the geniuses who, at the start of both world wars, decided that convoys - a concept of proven effectiveness since the year dot - simply weren't needed. We have a very long tradition of chinless wonders in fancy uniforms making stupid decisions.

Obviously there are quite a few rich, dumb pilots in the Royal Navy (and RAF). I mean, seriously, our armed forces are as meritocratic as the rest of the British society, aren't they? And that means, pretty much class-based, with posh boys getting most of the plum jobs. But I suspect the main reason we are spending a fortune on flashy carriers we'd never dare send into a real war zone is simply this: that instead of having a coherent defence policy of our own, we try to copy the Americans. We can't afford to copy them well, so the Royal Navy of the future is going to be what the US Navy of today would look like if it lost a battle with China. And if that's upholding a great naval tradition, I'm a Dutch East Indianman.