Archive for the ‘demographics’ Category

I bet you thought I was kidding. But try this lede:

Taped to the inside of a Sainsbury’s window in King’s Lynn, a printout of a map reminds teenagers of the town’s restrictions. Next to it, a notice on Norfolk Constabulary headed paper spells out the terms of a dispersal order: within the marked area, groups of two or more youngsters can be broken up by police not only if they have caused intimidation, harassment, alarm or distress to members of the public but also if their behaviour is deemed likely to do so. Initially, the order focused mainly on the area around the supermarket and adjacent bus station, but when groups of young people who were deemed to be behaving antisocially relocated, it was extended to cover most of the town centre. Drinking in groups, verbal abuse and reckless or dangerous cycling are among the antisocial activities listed.

It must be deeply weird to grow up with this stuff. Years ago I blogged that in the future, the government would introduce universal ASBO conscription – everyone would be given an ASBO at birth, and the restrictions would be removed progressively as they demonstrated that they could behave responsibly, in a manner that balanced the rights they were granted.

But in this case, they’ve implemented pretty much that. Of course some idiot will show up to say that they shouldn’t misbehave, but note that the terms of the order give the police essentially total discretion. After all, if you can’t think of a reason off the top of your head why three young people might not potentially, at some point in the indefinite future, annoy any hypothetical citizen, you simply lack imagination and you’ve got no business being on the force.

PS, what would we say if, say, a government in central Europe declared a “Roma dispersal zone” across one of its cities? Probably not much, although the EU was in fact pretty aggressive about it during the accession process and British representatives in it were no different. But you see what I mean.

This paper in PLoS One is fascinating (if heavily blogged already). Basically, BT let some researchers from MIT, Cornell, UCL, and their own R&D division have an anonymised slice through their call-detail record (CDR) pile, the database from which phone bills are calculated. The scientists filtered out all the numbers that only made or accepted calls, in order to get rid of the call centres and spammers, and drew the rest as a massive directed multi-graph network. The conclusions are fascinating; in human terms, Wales isn’t a meaningful unit, and neither is England. Scotland, however, forms a well defined sub-graph.

Instead, Wales splits into three geographic tiers with very little interconnection. These regions don’t respect the border at all – not surprisingly, the northern tier is completely integrated with Liverpool and Manchester and the central tier with the West Midlands. South Wales is clearly identified, with a sharply defined border along the water between it and the West Country. There’s also a well-defined western border to Yorkshire, and interestingly also between the West and South Ridings but not between them and the North Riding. Essex is an extension of London, but Kent is distinct. So is Norfolk.

In fact, England isn’t really identifiable on the maps: surprisingly, the administrative units that fit best to the BT data are the EU regions much hated by ‘kippers. More broadly, if it’s got a recognisable accent, it’s a recognisable presence on the graph – although the big exception is Yorkshire. There’s even a territory for people with no recognisable accent, a sort of motorway crescent to the west of London which is described as a “tech corridor” – in fact, if you were to draw all the Formula One teams’ workshops on the map, they would essentially all fall within it, as would Vodafone, O2, Cable & Wireless, and 3UK’s headquarters, Aldermaston, Eidos, Surrey Satellite Tech, chunks of BAE and Thales, and Electronic Arts UK, so perhaps they have a point. In the end, though, this potentially interesting zone – Ballardia? – gets lumped in with the Cameroonian central-southwest.

I’m trying to tally the uses of the phrase “middle class” in Britain. So far, I’ve come up with:

Synonym for “bourgeois” – which is problematic, because almost as soon as Marxism was invented, the idea that the bourgeoisie *owned* industry rather than managing it became obsolete. The middle class owns houses, it doesn’t own industry, except in the highly abstract sense of insurance or pension fund shareholdings.

And it certainly doesn’t own land. That’s the upper class; look at the circle around the princes, who mostly aren’t aristocratic or even very rich, but they are all landowners. There are as few Vodafone executives as there are asylum seekers. Ah, surely we’re getting somewhere? But isn’t that just a cheap version of the old distinction between the plutocracy and the aristocracy, the iron boss trying to ape the duke, a cliche of 19th century books? However, the top end of the middle class stereotypically buys property in the country as soon as they can afford to.

OK, the reductive sense; they are not the upper class, they are not the rich, they are not the working class. What is left between these lines must be the middle. But then, things that are described as “middle class” (estate cars, detached houses, Sainsburys) overlap the skilled working class and quite a bit at the top too. Politicians and advertisers draw a careful distinction between the C2s and the ABs.

Further, the suburbs are middle class, but so is London; most of the London so described is actually quite poor. The middle class is supposedly worried about private school fees and always votes Conservative, but statistically neither of these statements can possibly be true.

The middle class is sometimes used as a derisive term for what other European countries call the intelligentsia. At the same time, it supposedly doesn’t care what the intellectuals think. It is a national cliche that the middle class is a fearsome lobby, but also that it is incredibly surprising, faintly comic, and rather touching when its members are moved to protest.

My conclusion is that the phrase means everything and therefore nothing and should be decommissioned in an orderly fashion.

I’m increasingly annoyed by official-media consensus that young people will suffer more than anyone else from the recession. Not that I especially doubt this; I doubt the reasoning, which appears to be that they’ve all gone soft and they’re not like we were in my day. As a general principle, I believe this is usually wrong, being unfalsifiable and all, and also being a projection of one’s own fear of death.

But on the specific case, I dispute the facts. It wasn’t a great time to be young; by definition, when you’re young your only source of income is wages, and the labour share of national income has been flat for years. Indeed, real wages have been flat for donkey’s years. A personal example; I was offered a job at Euromoney Institutional Investor on a salary of £16,000 per year, but on a six-month contract. Even at Mobile Comms International, it was a while before I was earning more an hour than I had been Pritt-Sticking the flaps of substandard envelopes whilst waiting for Bradford City’s second season in the Premier League. However, it improved, and I’m well aware I learnt a hell of a lot there. I spent around 20% of my post-tax income on my railway season ticket.

At the same time, both rents and house prices shot through the roof. This was crucial; the whole idea that home-owners got rich from the rise in the value of their property was dependent on someone buying it from them. People retiring and trading-down was a factor that had to match people trading-up; at bottom, there had to be first-time buyers, who are generally young. The net effect of right-to-buy and the great property bull run was to transfer wealth from first-time buyers to sellers; in the aggregate, the Bank of Mum and Dad was borrowing from the kids.

And, of course, there were tuition fees, top-up fees, and for a cohort including me, both the fees and no student grants. Meanwhile, we were told we ought to consume and keep the economy going, take part in the creative industries and volunteer, but do this while joining the job market, to borrow heavily to pay for further and higher education, to accumulate savings on deposit, to save for retirement (or in other words, to pay others’ pensions), that we were a bunch of unserious greenies, that we were politically apathetic, that we would face the consequences of climate change (after it became respectable to worry), that we were all drug fiends and music characterised by repetitive beats was against the law, that we weren’t getting on the housing ladder, that we were borrowing too much money (this from the people who brought you Citigroup) and that people who were slightly younger ought to be punished for playing hooky in order to demonstrate against the Iraq war. To cap the lot, we were told we were drinking too much. If we were, who could guess why?

Actually, if I was younger, I think I’d be delighted by the crisis. I’ve got plenty of schadenfreude and indeed klammheimliche Freude as it is. Things I need (somewhere to live, somewhere to do interesting things) are likely to get cheap, and me minus five years doesn’t care about the cost of huge cars or Vertu mobile phones because he doesn’t have any money but does have more sense. The strength of ideological drivel is reduced; there has been a catastrophe in the intellectual environment, a meteorite has plunged into the credibility of the market monkeys, and as usual, this is followed by an adaptive radiation, a blossoming of new species into new or newly unoccupied niches.

Even when me minus five years starts working for the clampdown, at least he or she gets to save for their retirement in a low asset price world, and to bore me minus ten years with tales about how they staged bio-hacking parties in abandoned bank C-level offices, and how this gets them off inevitably joining the Conservative Party, or functional equivalent. Which is, after all, the claim to intellectual legitimacy of most of the people who spent all that time ordering me to simultaneously save, work, borrow, volunteer, spend, rebel, invest, and obey.

I suppose they must have meant one of those.

Oh yes, gleeful leftie hacker tournament after the BNP did a 0.16 megarecord datafart. My effort contains absolutely no personally-identifying data; it’s made with this guy’s count by region and population data from National Statistics, to show the number of BNP activists per 100 citizens in each UK region. People kept asking for that kind of information, so I made it. Note that the g-spreadsheet guy used classifications that don’t quite map to NatStats’ regions, so I decided to assume that his “South Central England” was the West Midlands and “Midlands” was the East Midlands, and total Yorks & Humber and North-East to match his “North East England”.

Update: Well, in the end I used his numbers by county to create a table that matches the regions. Here’s a new and correct visualisation that shows Yorkshire where it should be, in the lead. Ernst Wilhelm Bohle lives!

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You are unlikely to find anything much better to read than Nir Rosen‘s report from Afghanistan. It’s the journalism we’ve been yelling at the professionals to do for years. There’s far too much to summarise, but one thing that strikes me is the sense of a world of tiny, hyperlocal, byzantine conflicts, with sudden interventions by people who may as well be on the moon – Taliban chieftains based in the UAE phoning in to say whether or not to kill the journalist, staff officers in Combined Air Operations Centres doing much the same thing, like gods in a Greek play.

Relatedly, Abu Muqawama deserves thanks for not swallowing idiotic red-baiting about “embedding with the Taliban”. Whilst you’re over there, don’t miss the excellent series on Darfur and the complexity of a situation where the insurgents in one part of the country are effectively the counterinsurgents in another, the importance of missing one stage of student radicalism, and just how close they came to overrunning Khartoum.

Also, Dan Hardie is back.

Says Bryan O’Sullivan in his bookmarks:

Kevin Myers, the ne plus ultra of ballbag Anglo-Irish reactionary hacks, surprises us all by writing what might be an essential close-up of the Troubles. Maybe his lunatic, protean nature was a perfect fit for the time.

This was the upshot of this post. I promised, I think, to review Myers’ book once I got it, and here goes. Well, for a start, O’Sullivan isn’t wrong – the young Kevin Myers this book portrays is no reactionary, but he is certainly a ballbag, a hack, and occasionally a near-lunatic. It’s good to read a journalist memoir which isn’t wildly self-glorifying, and a major theme of Watching the Door which runs in parallel, in politics and in life, is shame. Myers admits that his younger self, the RTE journo in Belfast, was at worst little better than a war tourist getting off on the bang-bang, the gangster glam of the paramilitary underworld, and the sexual opportunities the war provided. Not just that – but he admits that he happily let actual journalism slide, in favour of attending to his own self-obsession.

On the other hand, though, what are the accepted moral standards in a society like early-70s Belfast? The city Myers describes is one where several of the forces that keep civilisation going have failed – shame is one, and another is scepticism. People are willing to do appalling things, and also to believe anything, so long as it’s about themmuns. Killers shoot a teenage boy and then give his younger brother, abducted with him, tenpence for the bus fare. This kind of perverted kindness recurs throughout, as the original structures of morality and authority collapse. Similarly, the traumatised seek comfort in other forms of religious bullshit, like the cultist charlatan Oliver Cromwell Whiteside – the sections of the book involving whom are desperately painful.

Not even primarily the official ones of law, the state, the church; one of the most telling moments in the book is Myers’ encounter with a legendary dockside brawler, once a feared enforcer throughout the North, who never hit a man again after a fifteen-year old boy pulled a gun on him. His version of order was hardly desirable, but what came after was infinitely worse. It’s a vision of the classic northern working-class town gone rotten, its social networks re-organised around the new class of mini-warlords and the new war economy based first on extortion and fraud, and later on heroin imports, rather as the process of scarring re-organises the skin’s cellular structure. Peace was impossible so long as the British and Irish governments were still talking to the shells of the old society, rather than the people who controlled the war system.

It’s also a book about youth; when you’re young, shame, scepticism and responsibility are not particularly big concerns. They weren’t for Myers, for his many girlfriends (like the one who let the IRA know his car registration after an unsatisfactory threesome), or for the new men of the paramilitary world. One thing that stands out is how many of these people were enjoying themselves – the transition from ordinary routine, Catholic morality or Protestant propriety, to intrigue, violence, and nervous hedonism was clearly a liberation for a lot of people. In many ways, it was yet another version of the 1968 generation; just conditioned by history to be a peculiarly horrible one. Here, under the combined influence of sectarianism, a particularly dense conservative power-structure, and an existing thug culture, the liberation turned out to be the liberation from freedom that militarism has always offered directionless young men.

In a sense, the great divide wasn’t even so much between the loyalists and republicans, but between a kind of unified paramilitary subculture and everyone else. Other divides were the class divide, between the players, the fans, and the targets on one side, and the garden centre unionists and castle Catholics on the other out in the suburbs, and between the old and the young, those who were quite content with a frozen conflict and those who either wanted to win or end it.

However, I find another strand of the book less compelling. Myers insists on his own complicity in a number of violent incidents I really don’t think he bears real responsibility for. I MUST RECOGNISE MY GUILT!! can be a form of self-dramatising, self-important bollocks too. And insisting on some sort of duty of journalists to cooperate with the authorities…well, that’s reactionary, hackish, and rather Decent.

Az-zaman, via Cole reports that the Iraqi government “honoured” SCIRI…sorry…ISIC militiamen for their role in the Basra fighting, and that some 10,000 of them were officially signed up to the Government’s own forces (I thought they already were). The reason for this step is apparently that large numbers – thousands – of men in the Iraqi Army and other forces deserted rather than take part in the offensive. There is more here; supposedly two regiments did so in Baghdad, but I’d warn that what they call a regiment may just be an example of unit inflation.

Now, over at Kaboom! (officially the Colby Buzzell of 2008), here’s some corroboration.

Day 2: I stand in the streets, looking at a building with a sloping roof and two cannonball-sized holes in the middle of it. We have spent many hours zigzagging through the various Shi’a neighborhood cores in Anu al-Verona, but it is only now, with the light of the morning, that the full scope of JAM’s resurgent spectacle is comprehended. The aforementioned holes are the gift of an Iraqi Army’s BMP (armored personnel carrier) main gun, and the aforementioned building is the local Sawha headquarters. The one Son of Iraq who bothered to show up for work today expresses his displeasure with the situation. I thank him for his devotion to duty and ask him where his coworkers are. He looks at me like I have a dick growing out of my forehead and says, “they are at home, of course. It is not safe here.” I ask him why he isn’t home then. “Because my father kicked me out and told me to go to work and I have nowhere else to go.”

My bold. OK, so not only did some members of the Iraqi Army go over to the other side, but these ones took their BMP with them – and immediately turned its guns on the ex-NOIA guys, with the result that they made themselves scarce (or possibly set off for the nearest concentration of Shia for some revenge). There have been reports scattered around of the Sadrists capturing armoured vehicles from the government, but most have referred to Humvees and such; this is the first heavy armour to be mentioned.

It can be pretty heavy, too; the BMP-3, despite ranking as an infantry fighting vehicle, carries a 100mm gun. I don’t know which version we supplied to the Iraqi government (I think the armour came from Hungarian stocks). Meanwhile, Des Browne says:

At one point, he said, British tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and ground troops were deployed to help extract Iraqi government troops from a firefight with Shiite militiamen in the city.

Extract; as in “cover the retreat of”, “aid in escape of”, or just “save” them. It’s Sadr’s move, it always has been; as far as I can see, the only meaningful exit strategy has always been to recognise the people with actual mass support, so NOIA in the Sunni sector and Sadr in the Shia sector. Half of this has actually been done, although nobody wants to admit it; the problem is that their territories overlap. Lieutenant G’s area of responsibility is exhibit A; he’s far enough north to have 1920 Revolution Brigade NOIA on his side, but this doesn’t mean he doesn’t also have a major Sadrist presence.

Extra points: did anyone else spot Chalabi claiming credit for the ceasefire?

Well, this is quite the incoherent rant; words fail me to comment suitably, which is a pity because it would have been better for all concerned had they failed him. My substantive comments are in this thread at Aarowatch.

The key point here is that by examining Amis’s bullshit we can form conclusions about his intellectual diet; claiming that the “indigenous” population of Spain will fall by 35 per cent every decade and that the people concerned will be replaced by Muslims is not only wrong in particular (Spain’s population is rising and something like 90 per cent of immigrants are from Latin America) but wrong in general.

Clearly, he hasn’t just drunk the kool-aid; he’s lifted the tub and drained every last drop before hollering for more. Having passed through the Decents, he’s become a full-on Conrad Black Club member; impressive.

John Redwood has a secret plan to solve the pensions crisis and boost the economy; change the fire regulations so you can cram more codgers per square foot into your “care home” (Orwellian of the decade; they don’t and it’s not).

Given a brief to banish Teh Curse of Regulation, this is what he comes up with – even less in the way of hire’n’fire restrictions (are there actually any to get rid of?), abolition of the European Working Time Directive (John either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that for most jobs where this is an issue, you get told to sign the waiver or leave), and the notion of “loosening health and safety regulations on care homes to free more places for elderly people”. Oh yes, and none of those home information packs.

To put it another way, the essential liberties the Tories have picked as a top priority to defend are those to lie about the condition of your house in order to sell it at a higher price, and to keep old people in rather worse conditions. ID cards? Road pricing surveillance? Truly, I can’t begin to guess how anyone would think of them as the Nasty Party.