Archive for the ‘unspeak’ Category

From yesterday’s Obscurer, a story:

A senior union source told The Observer that it was clear Alexander had jumped the gun as the Treasury attempted to show it was taking a hard line on the burgeoning pensions bill.

“Danny Alexander has been reined in by the Cabinet Office,” said a union source. “What he did was inflammatory and showed no sense of the seriousness of these issues for people’s lives.”

Did the senior union source really? Probably he said the bit that was directly quoted, but I doubt anyone senior in a union would talk about a burgeoning public-sector pensions bill. Because there is no such thing. No. There is no crisis.

They're lying to you

It is not, in fact, burgeoning. It is shrinking. Wilting. It falls year on year for the next forty odd years in the worst case scenario. This is not the work of subversive Bolshevik infiltrators, either, but of the government’s own actuaries.

From today’s Grauniad, here’s Lord “Not the Judge” Hutton himself.

“It’s an uncomfortable truth, but I’m afraid it’s the reality, that the world is changing around us and people are living for much longer, and we have not been paying for those extra years of pensions – the taxpayer has. Strikes won’t make this problem go away, we have to act now. If we don’t act now, it’s our kids who are going to pick up the tab, and it’s not right.”

Well, the problem is going away. Strikes or no strikes.

What bit of this chart don't you get, fucko?

Hutton can’t plead ignorance. It’s in his own report. Iain Duncan Smith commissioned it but he’s not read it either:

He is expected to say: “We’re heading towards an unprecedented burden being placed on the next generation who will have to pay for their parents’ retirement on top of paying for the national debt. It’s not fair. This bill will address the realities of our increasing longevity by sharing the costs between the generations. We will stand by the 2018 and 2020 timetable.”

It’s precedented alright – the precedent is now. It goes down from now on if we do nothing. Doing nothing fixes the problem.

Jesus wept - how many times do I have to say this?

Now, I don’t expect very much from the pundit-wanker types like Patrick “Unseasonably Mild” Wintour or Toby “Toby” Helm. They’re beyond help. But Allegra Stratton is usually worth reading in the Grauniad because she’s a reporter rather than a pundit wanker political editor. However, even she didn’t find it worthwhile to read the report or even just to look at a couple of blogs, or if she did she didn’t think it newsworthy that this whole row is being sold to the public on false pretences, in total and absolute denial of the facts.

In the opinion of the people whose business it is to pay them, public sector pensions will cost less every year from here on in.

Surely, if you’re writing a story about a labour-management dispute over pensions, it’s incumbent on you to say something about the state of the pension scheme involved? It’s as if the Islington Gazette covered Friday night stabbings without mentioning the location, the motive, or even that a knife was used. But national press journalism seems to inject people with some sort of morally fattening and neutralising hormone. And this is the Guardian!

Shall we take it to the bridge? Yeah? Yeah!

There are reasons, of course.

Pensions: the public sector is in denial, from Saturday’s Money supplement. Oddly there isn’t a Poverty supplement.

Ian Naismith, head of pensions market development for Scottish Widows, said although more people were saving adequate amounts towards retirement in the public sector, and the changes will still leave them with reasonable pensions, those in the private sector who are saving towards retirement are contributing a bigger proportion of their earnings — 9.7% compared to 9.3%.

Well, they oughter as they probably don’t get any employer contributions.

Sadly, the Grauniad‘s hack doesn’t mention them at all at any point and you have to rely on one Ken Chu, an NHS sysadmin, who gets randomly voxpopped to raise this issue. But the paper has bigger fish to fry. Scottish Widows’ “head of pensions market development” – yes, really – has to get his sales-driven “research” in the media somehow. No doubt the nice lady from SW will be striding along the beach in next week’s glossy for a sizable payment.

To finish, and repeat:

Public pensions as a percentage of GDP will fall every year for the next forty years.

There is no crisis and everyone in the newspapers is lying to you, personally, quite deliberately.

manufactured controversy

A question, inspired by this ruckus in Jamie Kenny’s comments. Is the notion of a manufactured controversy analytically useful?

I can see that the ideas of fake consensus, or fear-uncertainty-and-doubt, are useful. But manufactured controversy presumes that someone is manufacturing the controversy. Presumably they are doing this to make a point of some sort, unless they are simply trolling. They want their side of the manufactured controversy to win. Isn’t that, in fact, controversy? The climate-change deniers are full of crap and funded by the coal industry, but they exist.

Arguably, manufactured controversy is a bit of an unspeak concept; if there is no real controversy, therefore there is no real opposition, and my views embody the broad consensus. In some ways, it’s a delegitimiser; in others, a tranquiliser. I don’t need to worry about the opposition – it’s all froth.

Shouldn’t this story be getting just a little more air? So the editor of the News of the Screws is found by an employment tribunal to have bullied one of his reporters to the point that it seriously affected his health, to have tried to exert influence on his doctor, while both the sports editor and the deputy managing editor lied to the tribunal. Had it been any other kind of tribunal, this would have been the stuff of a perjury conviction.

Yer man is now, of course, the director of communications for the Conservative Party, and Rupert Murdoch’s representative on Earth (David Cameron Department). Does the party endorse this sort of conduct? Is he a fit and proper person? It would, as they say, be irresponsible not to speculate.

Also, what kind of a sick internal culture does that rag have? First you have violent binge drinker Rebekah Wade, then school bully Coulson and the pair of liars Dunn and Nicholas. It’s astonishing; I always assumed they ran on massive hypocrisy, but in fact the content of the paper exactly represents the way they behave in private. The personal, it seems, certainly is the political at the News of the World.

On the other hand, don’t imagine that the story from the Guardian actually ran in the paper. Instead of the wealth of detail given above, the print edition slashed it down to a one-paragraph nib in the depths of the paper; I suppose we should be thankful they didn’t say Coulson had been the editor of “a newspaper”, as their Robert Napper case coverage did to avoid naming names about the Sun‘s disgraceful police-sponsored smear campaign against Colin Stagg. Why can’t you get a cab outside a newspaper office? Because of the double yellow streaks.

OK, so I’ve been off line quite a bit due to a weird perversion called “moving house”. This means that my constituency MP is no longer Philip Hammond, which almost makes it all worthwhile by itself. Hammond was one of the most annoying features of living in wonderful Runnymede & Weybridge; an immensely self-satisfied and superbly mediocre greaseball who was invariably unhelpful on every occasion I had any dealings with him.

For some strange reason, Hammond has risen to a mysterious prominence in politics as Shadow Chief Secretary of the Treasury. Now this is no small thing; the Chief Sec is probably the most-underestimated job in government, being the gatekeeper for the Treasury’s dealings with all other government departments. So it is a sad comment on the shallow Conservative talent pool that it is filled by a waxwork like Hammond; in more normal times, he would no doubt botch the job and be dropped, but for various reasons entirely beyond his or anyone else’s control, the economic and more importantly financial climate has left him with an open goal. If you’ve seen Kes, it’s his Brian Glover/Bobby Charlton moment.

As far as I can make out, the only reason for Hammond’s success apart from the desperate shortage of alternatives is that he can be relied upon to repeat predetermined talking points without stumbling over often. He is, as the essay at the end of Nineteen Eighty-Four would say, literally a doubleplusgood duckspeaker – one who quacks out the party line without the least deviation. This may not be much of an achievement; you could, after all, replace him with a simple Python script without much trouble. But he’s done well with it.

The problem is the content of the duckspeak; after all, duckspeakers will always be with us. Hammond insists on reciting that “Gordon Brown failed to repair the roof while the sun was shining”; this appears to mean that the budget deficit ought to be lower, or something. Leaving aside that everyone, always, believes that if only they were in charge the budget deficit would be lower; it just isn’t true. Public debt as a percentage of GDP is significantly (about six percentage points) lower than it was in 1997. If the roofing is not complete, then Brown at least put on quite a few new slates.

National Debt as % of GDP, 1997-2008

National Debt as % of GDP, 1997-2008

But the problem is worse; what on earth is the Conservative proposed macroeconomic framework? What would they consider as sufficient roofing? Indeed, what on earth was it all these years? I can’t remember that the Tories ever promised to run a primary surplus during the period 2002-2008, and the only policy of theirs I can think of that was explicitly intended to reduce public debt was William Hague’s half-bright brainwave of using radio spectrum sales to fund the universiti….hold on, that wouldn’t have reduced the public debt, would it? Hague came up with it because he didn’t agree with the Government using the UMTS 2.1GHZ band auction to reduce the public debt.

Not that telcos in 2001-2 would, or even could, have bid that kind of money for spectrum; they didn’t have it. They never will bid that kind of money again, either, as anyone in the trade could tell you. Which is a pity, given that I think Hague’s brainwave is still part of the Tory platform. The Tories do not appear to have any idea what fiscal rules they will use, if any.

Complaining about the Tory legacy (if the roof needed fixing, perhaps it had something to do with the PSBR running between £28-46bn for each of the last three years up to 1997? Just a thought) is widely held to be a pathetic tactic; but you’d be wrong. It was only this spring that a government warehouse – the so-called Work in Progress Store – that had held the backlog of unresolved immigration files since 1994 shut down without fanfare, as Michael Howard’s legacy was finally processed and transferred to the archives.

But they are very good at repeating utter bollocks over and over again.

I didn’t grok the significance of “Debi Jones”, a Tory councillor quoted by the Sindy‘s latest WLAN pseudoscience scare piece, until I checked in on this row at the Ministry. In a box-out that doesn’t appear on their website, Jonathan Owen quotes “Debi Jones, Tory councillor for Hightown in Somerset” as saying that:

“It seems strange that these stories are only coming out now and seem to coincide with the proliferation of mobile phone masts.”

Well, except that they aren’t and they don’t. It turns out Debi Jones is a Cameron/CCO top list candidate and ex-TV presenter, so presumably the Tories have OK’d this as a campaign issue, despite Dave from PR’s tendency to use the word “digital” at every opportunity. How dreary.

BTW, can I propose a rule of political discourse? Can we all agree that any politician who wishes to use the words “digital” or “analogue” first publicly define them? They do not mean “new” and “old”, nor do they mean “good” and “bad”.

I didn’t grok the significance of “Debi Jones”, a Tory councillor quoted by the Sindy‘s latest WLAN pseudoscience scare piece, until I checked in on this row at the Ministry. In a box-out that doesn’t appear on their website, Jonathan Owen quotes “Debi Jones, Tory councillor for Hightown in Somerset” as saying that:

“It seems strange that these stories are only coming out now and seem to coincide with the proliferation of mobile phone masts.”

Well, except that they aren’t and they don’t. It turns out Debi Jones is a Cameron/CCO top list candidate and ex-TV presenter, so presumably the Tories have OK’d this as a campaign issue, despite Dave from PR’s tendency to use the word “digital” at every opportunity. How dreary.

BTW, can I propose a rule of political discourse? Can we all agree that any politician who wishes to use the words “digital” or “analogue” first publicly define them? They do not mean “new” and “old”, nor do they mean “good” and “bad”.

So Dave from PR’s got a vlog, then. Well, that’s only realistically going to be crap, isn’t it? It almost amounts to a definition of blogging that, if you issue a press release to the nationals before you start, that’s not it.

May I recommend, instead, one of many fine British blogs? Daniel “Dsquared” Davies on the disease of Crap Government IT, managerialism, and statis (it’s the new change). The Ministry on John Reid, Tony Blair and the word “radical”. Forceful and Moderate on the desperately shit nature of jobcentres – why do they have computers in them that are guaranteed not to have access to the majority of job adverts, and why should you be forced to use them?

Any one of these is certain to beat Dave’s efforts, and might even make you think. And if that happens to you, you’ll just have to read Chris Dillow.

So Dave from PR’s got a vlog, then. Well, that’s only realistically going to be crap, isn’t it? It almost amounts to a definition of blogging that, if you issue a press release to the nationals before you start, that’s not it.

May I recommend, instead, one of many fine British blogs? Daniel “Dsquared” Davies on the disease of Crap Government IT, managerialism, and statis (it’s the new change). The Ministry on John Reid, Tony Blair and the word “radical”. Forceful and Moderate on the desperately shit nature of jobcentres – why do they have computers in them that are guaranteed not to have access to the majority of job adverts, and why should you be forced to use them?

Any one of these is certain to beat Dave’s efforts, and might even make you think. And if that happens to you, you’ll just have to read Chris Dillow.

Now it’s all over, what was all the shooting about?

To answer that question, we’d first need to know something of each side’s aims. Hezbollah’s were reasonably clear, at least as far as the decision to take the two soldiers prisoner went: put pressure on the Israelis to release their remaining Lebanese prisoners, and not incidentally demonstrate they were still Gangster Number One. After all, Hamas had managed to pull off the capture of Gideon Shalit and the destruction of a tank only days before, so something needed doing to maintain respect.

What they didn’t reckon with, basing their perceptual framework on Ariel Sharon’s 2004 decision to exchange prisoners, was the Israeli freakout that followed. Once that began, Hezbollah’s aims were to hold on to as much as possible whilst keeping their army in being, and score prestige triumphs like rocketing Haifa harbour and flying drones into Israel. Simple enough.

What were the Israeli aims, though? Just get the soldiers back? Negotiation would have done that. And, in the end, it doesn’t seem to have worried them very much. The Israelis seem remarkably unconcerned that two of their soldiers are left in Hezbollah hands – still! Demolish Hezbollah? Well, they seem to have liked the idea. But, if you look at the situation maps, their actions do not correspond to such grandiose goals. Quite simply, they did not go very far into Lebanon, ever – despite the talk of going to the Litani, they only went there as a token presence. Secure the north from rockets? This would have meant going well beyond the Litani, perhaps to the Awali river line, which would have put the great bulk of the rockets out of range for as long as they stayed. But they spent so much time talking of a two mile deep security zone – which would help not a jot.

There are a couple of explanations. One is that they would have marched to the Litani but Hezbollah (and the Shia Amal, and the Communists) beat them. I’m not sure. They certainly put up an impressive defence, but whether they could have prevented Tsahal from breaking through if it had been bent on doing so is another matter. In all, four Israeli divisions were employed, and at no time was a manoeuvre bigger than brigade strength launched except perhaps at the very end. Another is that the Israelis were trying to avoid the 1978 scenario, where Hezbollah just retires behind the Litani in an affair of outposts, by trying to draw them on to their positions in the south. Another is that they were conflicted and unsure of aims, and that there was effectively no overall strategy. If 1982 was a war for psychotics, with its obsessive blitz ever further north and climatic massacre, this was one for neurotics.

The drawing-on tactic is possible, I suppose, but for an army as tank-oriented as the Israelis against an enemy made up of small mobile ATGW teams, very unfavourable. It would have amounted to parking a lot of tanks in southern Lebanon as targets. It might have had some appeal to a command torn between the will to wound and the fear to strike, though, unwilling to plunge north but under pressure to confront the enemy. It might also have appealed to the airpower theorist, Halutz, as a way of flushing Hezbollah fighters so his aircraft could attack them – but three-man rocket teams are not good targets, and the decision not to charge north meant that they wouldn’t collect at the bridges like good little sheep. (This may be the result of learning the wrong lesson from Kosovo.)

That the IDF simply didn’t have a strategy is perhaps supported by the fact a key commander, the head of the northern command, was sacked. Everyone will now draw whatever conclusions they want from the war – the 4th Generation Warfare crowd will point to the rocketing of the Haifa port and the village reserve groups with their rockets as more evidence for their side, the neo-cons will cry Iran, the Quai d’Orsay will positively purr, and the Lebanese will in all probability conclude that the more tank-hunters between them and the Israelis, the better.

I prefer the Colonel’s analysis, which is that Hezbollah is just at the turning point from a guerrilla force to an army in Maoist revolutionary war theory. They are known to have studied Vietnam extensively, after all. For the laughs, meanwhile, Col. Lang described the Hezbollah first line of defence as the Tabouleh Line, with the next being the Shawarma Line. I disagree. I think the talk of bunkers and tunnel complexes is overrated – every front-line account I’ve seen speaks of small groups of tank hunters shooting and moving, hiding out in the open, and practically all the Israeli losses came from them. It’s more accurate to say that Hezbollah drew the Israelis into a hoummus.