Archive for the ‘wankers’ Category

Mark Ballard of Computer Weekly is trying to get the details of government meetings with the IT industry, and struggling. Among other things, this seems to be yet another use case for an enduring Freedom of Information Act request. It’s also one of the reasons why I like the idea of a central contacts register. Back at OpenTech 2009 I said to Tom Watson MP, just after he resigned as a minister, that it wasn’t just useful for citizens to be able to find out who officials were contacting – the government itself might benefit from keeping track of who was lobbying it, maintaining a common line-to-take across different departments, and the like. Hey, even the lobbyists might benefit from knowing who else was lobbying.

Of course, there’s an argument that the government quite likes having pathological relationships with its suppliers. But that’s one of the points where as soon as you get radical enough to understand the situation, you’re also too cynical to do anything about it. Watson’s been campaigning about this, and the Cabinet Office recently released some data. With the embarrassing bits taken out.

The bulk of it is here, it looks like they’re planning to split the disclosure between departments as this only covers ministers in the Cabinet Office (i.e. the PM, DPM, Secretary for the Cabinet Office, Leader of the Commons and the whips). It’s also on data.gov.uk but it’s going to need reparsing. At least it’s not a PDF. It’s a bit thin, presumably because the bulk of meetings with external organisations go via officials or bag carrier MPs – DEFRA’s is rather chewier.

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Deeply unprofitable Crooked Timber thread produces an interesting point. Not so much “why do libertarians hate Fairtrade coffee?”, but why on earth do they insist on lying? From the link:

By guaranteeing a minimum price, Fairtrade also encourages market oversupply, which depresses global commodity prices. This locks Fairtrade farmers into greater Fairtrade dependency and further impoverishes farmers outside the Fairtrade umbrella. Economist Tyler Cowen describes this as the “parallel exploitation coffee sector”.

Coffee farms must not be more than 12 acres in size and they are not allowed to employ any full-time workers. This means that during harvest season migrant workers must be employed on short-term contracts. These rural poor are therefore expressly excluded from the stability of long-term employment by Fairtrade rules.

The problem here is paragraph two; I’ve not attempted to estimate the cross-elasticity of demand for Fairtrade and non-Fairtrade coffee, and it’s not the kind of thing I’d try unless someone was paying me to do it. But it’s perfectly simple to consult the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation International standardisation documents and see if they actually forbid full-time employment or set a maximum limit on the size of farms. Here’s the standard on the use of hired labour. Requirement 1.5.1.13:

All regular work is undertaken by permanent workers…The objective is that as often as possible, work is undertaken by permanent workers. Only work that is added to usual work levels during peak seasons may be undertaken by seasonal workers.

So – no. Not even close. 180 degrees out, in fact. The point arises downthread that the great majority of work on a coffee farm is seasonal in nature, so Cowan couldn’t possibly have been right even if you let him have his own facts. This is marginally unfair to him; it’s not his prose, but rather something he’s (very) favourably quoting. The original source is here; note the cites back to Cowan and to people at George Mason University, the Koch Industries school.

For some reason, I still followed a link to his blog after this, to this interesting sociological result. Apparently, if you’ve been to jail, you’re more likely to self-identify as black when you leave jail then when you went in. This is interesting, but then numskull racist twit Steve Sailer showed up in the comments. As far as I can make out from his semi-coherent comments, he’s very angry about this, which is odd for someone who believes in biological racism (surely it wouldn’t matter? your DNA, after all, doesn’t care which census box you tick).

Further, Sailer’s freakout reminded me of the old joke about the Wee Free minister who hears that a hippie commune has moved into the next island along. He listens icily as the various novel features are described – the long music, the loud hair, the ruthlessly commercial communists, etc. Eventually they tell him the newcomers believe in free love. “Free love?” he explodes. “That could lead to mixed dancing!” Similarly, it’s clear from Sailer’s comments that he’s opposed to rape in prison because he thinks it might lead to multi-culturalism. And does he think about it. All the time, it seems.

Perhaps his mate Anthony Browne from PolEx could offer him counselling as part of the Big Society?

Laura Rozen takes us to meet the Iranian government’s loyalist bloggers.

The hardliners have fielded hundreds of pro-regime bloggers, most writing in Persian, emphasizing particularly the importance of supporting the Supreme Leader. The bloggers range from students to clerics, with many claiming to be members of the Basij and children of war veterans or martyrs. Virtually all are hard-line or extremist in their views. Some bloggers appear to be popular and often draw many comments from their posts.

You bet they do. It would be offensive to speculate exactly who we all know would end up doing this job in a hypothetical fascist Britain. I’ll leave it up to you, although I will point out that at least two bloggers who would be regulars on Newsnight and in the British Gazette‘s opinion pages in that scenario…already are regulars in the MSM.

I don’t know if they’re doing anything technical to favour their bloggers and their trolls over the other guys; if the loyalists are more likely to be hosted in Iran, the policy of slashing international bandwidth while leaving the networks up might help. But that’s not what interests me right now.

What role, politically, do trolls play? On one hand, it’s clearly possible to use the Internet as a mobilisation tool for good, or at the very least, for nihilistic shit-flinging. Examples; this slightly disappointing interview with the Obama campaign’s CTO, and this blitz on a bunch of bigots’ facetwitspace accounts, respectively. Or this scientific paper; oddly, when a random Internet person actually did some climate science they didn’t find that it was all made up.

But on the other hand, there’s a great towering mountain of drivel, a spuming, stinking Eyjafjallajökull of bullshit – an Icelandic or Hawaiian eruption, one that keeps burbling on without working up enough pressure to explode, but does keep belching toxic gas.

Personally, I suspect that the use of Internet pond life in politics is that it’s a way of tapping the energies of people who otherwise wouldn’t get involved, just as lefties tend to hope it might be the same thing. I just differ on which group of people are being mobilised. It’s hard to get The Authoritarians to initiate anything; they’re obsessed with leaders by definition. And it’s also unlikely that you’ll get people who are convinced of the futility of collective action to start a movement. Further, this guy wasn’t going to take to the streets, was he?

Get them in front of a keyboard, pass them some talking points, though, and they’re happy to bombard selected targets with abuse. I further observe that we have about three major examples of this – one is the US, and specifically the Bush re-election campaign, another would be Russia in the early Putin years (Andrew Wilson’s classic Virtual Politics (I reviewed it here) is good on the importance of the temnik talking points system), and the latest would be Iran today.

wind

This year’s EIA Electric Power Annual shows that the majority of new electricity generation in the US is now accounted for by wind. And there’s a great paper from Stanford University here on the alternatives for powering the transport sector.

The shorter is that electric vehicles using wind power are the best possible alternative, but the bit that surprised me was just what a thrashing the producers of Gay Electricity give to all the other options. There has been a good deal of handwaving about how much land wind power uses, multiplied by even handwavier figures for Indirect Land-Use Change CO2 emissions; but yer man estimates that powering the US transport sector that way would use six orders of magnitude less footprint than biofuel and three orders of magnitude less than nuclear.

The others gain something back when he considers the space between the turbines, but even then, it is far from enough to save the day. The energy payback time is as little as 4 months in a design life of 30 years. It’s hilarious, in a grim way, that so many people who should know much better think wind is some sort of weird caprice invented by Gordon Brown to annoy them personally.

Ah yes, the summer and autumn of 2004. The beaux jours of rightwing horseshit, back when an actual neocon disinformation job was targeting a short who’s who of blogging. It seems to be time for some of those years’ shit to float up to the surface. Here’s Dan Rather, suing CBS.

Rather contends not only that his report was true – “What the documents stated has never been denied, by the president or anyone around him,” he says – but that CBS succumbed to political pressure from conservatives to get the report discredited and to have him fired. He also claims that a panel set up by CBS to investigate the story was packed with conservatives in an effort to placate the White House. Part of the reason for that, he suggests, was that Viacom, a sister company of CBS, knew that it would have important broadcasting regulatory issues to deal with during Bush’s second term.

Among those CBS considered for the panel to investigate Rather’s report were far-right broadcasters Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

I had an interesting experience with CBS after that, which may bear repeating. Quite suddenly, some time in the early summer of 2005, I was contacted by a CBS Correspondent, regarding the Viktor Bout-to-Iraq issue. We discussed it by e-mail; they read huge quantities of the blog from a wide range of locations that presumably mapped onto the organisation chart of the CBS journo-octopus.

Could they see primary documents? Surely they could. I shot over a gaggle of DESC fuel contracts. CBS e-mail didn’t eat more than 500KB at a go; we did it again. We conspired in pubs. They were delighted to learn I was….an actual journalist, not some anarchist drug-chimp off the interwebs. Better, a trade journalist, so not someone on the nationals… Credit and cash were offered. Lunch was called at Villandry, conveniently not far from my office.

A top CBS was summoned; I hauled in a box of docs on the train and the tube and my desk, as well as all the digital. Unlike MI6, I didn’t lose them. He came supposedly direct from Iraq, with photos of various aircraft at Baghdad Airport. I identified them, wondering what the point was – there were plenty of VB jets photographed there?

There was a brief period of expectancy, before the correspondent eventually called back to say that after the Rather/Kerning Krisis they couldn’t do anything like it, for political reasons. Perhaps they needed a signed statement from Viktor? I had a similar experience with the pre-Murdoch Wall Street Journal, without the lunch. Now, it all makes much more sense.

food

While I’m randomly abusing the government, what about this?

The document classes 1.6 million families with children aged between two and 11 as “high risk”. It states: “Food has become an expression of love in ‘at risk’ families.

The horror. Food should be an unpleasant necessity shoved down because authority says so. Everyone knows that – it’s how it works in the most expensive private schools, and in the most expensive state institutions as well. And they can’t be wrong – they’re too expensive.

Of course, later in life it can be an opportunity to display merit through consumption, as long as you make amends by reading the Thoughts of Madeleine Bunting. But an expression of love? That’s like those perverted Arabs and their erotic desire for women.

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.

The Rude Pundit has a very good point.

You can’t even picture Obama pardoning a fucking turkey. Sure, he’ll probably do it. But unlike Bush, who approached such obligations with dunce-like glee, for Obama it’ll be like a kick in the groin.

As usual with Rude, there’s a serious point here, sneaking past the guards while all the noise and snark and chainsaw dust draw their attention. Pardoning a turkey is, let’s face it, exactly the kind of stupid crap most British people look at as just the kind of stupid crap Americans get up to. Can you imagine a British prime minister trying this? He or she would be laughed out of the country; probably they’d end up doing a John Profumo and choosing a life of deliberate monkish obscurity.

But it’s not just ridiculous; it’s morally repellent and politically more than dubious. After all, what is the turkey’s crime? Being a turkey? Pardon implies that you committed a crime, and also that you were punished by some legitimate authority, which has now offered you mercy out of the goodness of its heart. It’s a sort of reversed sacrifice – rather than killing a goat to expiate your sins, it’s not killing a turkey so as to go off and eat millions of ’em with a clean conscience.

Pardon is also interesting because it can’t be separated from executive power. To pardon someone means that the head of state decided, whatever the law happened to be, whatever the judiciary thought of the case, whatever the jury thought of the evidence, just to intervene and make an exception. It’s only possible, after all, because the executive has the power to execute. It also means that the executive agreed to all the other executions; what, after all, would happen if the president pardoned everyone? That would be about as likely as pardoning all the turkeys. Executive clemency is the flip side of executive cruelty. (Note, of course, that a British prime minister isn’t the head of state.)

It’s therefore a profoundly anti-rational, authoritarian custom; no wonder it’s a holdover from absolute monarchy. And this, I think, is what worries me about this ceremony – it’s the sacralisation of the executive branch. Like the King’s touch for scrofula. (He can even un-turkey a turkey!) No wonder, as Rude so wisely points out, Bush loves it.

Before we go on, here’s a video from Talking Points Memo in which you can see both Bush doing the turkey thing and also Sarah Palin’s now-notorious performance in which she pardoned a turkey while a worker slaughtered turkeys in the background. It will help your comparative turkeyology to watch closely.

Now, what about the well-known cockup in Alaska? A couple of points come to mind. For a start, as befits an anti-rationalist movement, neoconservatism has no culture of competence. They never run anything; their natural habitat is the thinktank, the university campus, the elite circle. Hence the Schlamperei that follows them around, like a drugfuddled burglar in a darkened room full of gym equipment. Of course they’d fuck it up – even in Washington, Bush managed to grant the bird a “full unconditional unconditional pardon”.

The second is that perhaps they aren’t trying. Looking back, when did they lie convincingly? The case for war was based not on lies, but on the unwillingness to confront the lies. Later, on things like torture and mass surveillance, they moved beyond this and simply admitted the facts while denying the form. Yes, we waterboarded the guy and pulled your call-detail records – are you with the terrorists? Of course, we do not support torture or illegal surveillance. In a very real sense, they were pardoning turkeys in front of the slaughter live on TV all the time.

I’m not so sure about this; arsewit wingnut blogger runs out of money, goes bankrupt, various people who should know better jeer.

The whole point of everything from some way to the right of centre – Bismarck or thereabouts – leftwards is that IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good christian, a loyal subject, a committed rebel, if you work harder, if you’re especially competent. Even if you’re rich; European history is littered with the monuments of elites who thought they could buy their way out at the last. We survive if everyone else does.

Poverty and misfortune are not, generally, held up by individuals’ decisions; they roll over the landscape, driven by shifts in huge statistical aggregates and channeled by tiny ripples of random chance, just as a flood begins with a rise in average rainfall and ruins one street that’s six inches closer to the water. When you think that so-and-so went bust because of their own immorality, and therefore they join the undeserving poor, you’re signing on with the other side. They will tell you that the system is entirely OK; it’s the ones who failed it who are the problem. They didn’t believe in it enough.

As the case of Kim du Toit makes clear, this won’t help you one bit when it happens to you. Yes, he’s an arse of the first water and a troll of epic proportions. No, mocking people because of their poverty is always and everywhere wrong.

Shorter Tim, Energy Edition:

Commodity prices always come down in the end; except when I really want the price of steel to stay at 2007 levels because it harms the economics of wind power. Further, supply of manufactured goods always responds to price signals except when I have a bizarre ideological opposition to some particular technology. And nuclear power is magically proof against the price of materials, the cost of labour, the rate of interest, and the planning process.

Tim – nuclear power stations are made from reinforced concrete. What is reinforced concrete reinforced WITH? Perhaps this is why he doesn’t go on about his metals trading business so much these days.

Actually, the article he’s drivelling about is fairly sensible and much more optimistic than either Timmeh’s deranged take on it or the Obscurer‘s headline; it is here. Basically, the worldwide boom in wind power is putting the industry under capacity constraints; like, say, the semiconductor industry in the PC boom. They can sell’em for almost any price as fast as they come off the line, and they’ve built up a huge order book. Of course, what will eventually happen is that the wind turbine makers will expand and probably eventually end up flooding the market in a few years’ time. This will, however, definitively not happen with nuclear, because a nuclear power station is essentially a working definition of one-off job production; it’s a hell of a lot easier to make something cheap when you’re making thousands of it on a production line.

Further problems mostly centre on the planning process; both for turbines and for grid interconnection.

Of course, in Timmehworld this shouldn’t be happening, because wind power is a bizarre plot organised by British socialists, which no-one else in the world would possibly use. But Tim lives in Portugal, one of the world’s biggest and fastest wind developers; and as far as I know, the hens haven’t stopped laying, the skies have not darkened, and the rain has not become chubby there. This doesn’t change the essential issue, though; his problem is that it’s gay electricity.