Monday, 26 January 2009

National society is a fragile human construct

After reading this I am forced to consider some of the challenges facing China as it begins to feel the impact of the global economic slowdown.

What will happen in China if it can't keep up the same level of economic growth and suddenly millions of people find themselves without jobs?

I've posted previously that there is concern about weakening growth rates (recently revised down from 8.9% per annum to 7%), but the demographic shift which has taken place over recent decades has been followed by a seismic geographic shift towards mass urbanisation and I can't see every single newly unemployed worker in the big cities making the reverse migration back to the countryside where their families originated. For starters, many will have broken ties and laid down new roots.

What happens if intra-Chinese ethnic rivalry breaks out, as has sporadically occurred in areas like Tibet or the far western regions?

With tens of million people on the move at any one time massive turmoil can be caused by a simple thing like a train delay... if you think your commute into London is difficult, think again!

Sunday, 25 January 2009

New picture header

Excellent! After a while of searching I've found a picture I like. I hope you do too!

Saturday, 24 January 2009

More Focus, More Occasional, More Sagacious

Skimming through the content of my archive I have to say that I think this blog has some potential and there is value in developing it. But looking at couple previous to this one I get a sense of panic.

Not Good.

So I think it is time for a bit of a (re)-assessment.

Some readers may also be aware that I've also recently started writing for Reading List (which I hope you may care to bother having a look at and about which you might like to share your comments). Each of my blogs are developing a distinctive style so I've decided to separate the content of the two in order to pay more attention to their brands.

So from now on, NYOOTW will function more like a contributing journalist/commentator to Reading List (though everyone is still welcome - I'm not going to close the door on any of you).

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Protection from Crime Virus

In my previous article I wrote about The Evil People and The Lesser Evil People Who Shall Not Be Named (well, not again).

For any reader who is confused and didn't read it before I removed the links to whom these descriptions refer please follow these links 1, 2 and 3.

Apart from the fact that this is clearly criminal behaviour from the people who introduced the law in the first place what does it really matter that insignificant bloggers like myself provide a link, what harm can it do?

Evil is a virus which must be prevented from spreading and the only way to do that it to prevent any contact with the aforesaid disease: chatting about them as a subject may draw attention to my blog as a place for comment, but it makes them the subject of the discussion and thereby raises their profile.

Remember: the purpose of The Evil People Who Shall Not Be Named (again) is to raise their profile by hook or by crook - notoriety is better than neglect; there's no such thing as bad publicity etc...

May I take this opportunity to apologise to all you good people and promise never again to link to The Evil People or their Evil Henchmen Who Shall Not Be Named (again) for fear of further contamination.

The spin that wound me up

It is with amusement that an article with the title 'Squeezing the LibDems' catches my eye. It is from the evil people.

I'm not sure of the overall value of such blatant propaganda in the long run as it motivates opponents as much as it motivates supporters, but after reading several initial analyses of Derek Draper's pet project it becomes clear however that this is the point - The Evil People is not there to show their good side and appease the chattering middle classes who populate the media (though this would be a nice by-product all the same); it is a motivational tool to cement the hardcore of working-class and unionist activists back together, because if it works against Labour with opponents like me then it will also work for them with more those more favorably disposed.

On the other side of the coin, if the Labour party are worried about the foundations of their party cracking up completely that they are resorting to such transparent spin (from one of the original spin-meisters), it just goes to show exactly how deep in trouble Brown now is!

It also shows why Labour are in so much trouble and why they will find it impossible to get out of their self-dug hole - does anybody who wants their own prejudices spoon-fed back to them want it done in such a tedious and long-winded way? Is their target audience hungry for factory-farmed produce of this sort?

So off I trot to the 'open' version of the article on The Lesser Evil People to find out.

A simple comparison at this point in time shows that the loyalist site has attracted 6 favorable comments (and they are fully moderated) to the grassroots site's zero. With all the hoo-hah surrounding the launch of these sites this must be a worrying return on the investment made in both platforms - are the critics so alienated by Brown that they can't even be bothered to voice their criticism? Or are they entertaining themselves with speculation on the unimaginable sums of money being spent by celebrities, football clubs and on bank bail-out over at The Sun?

NB. The Didbury West ward in Manchester Withington is described as 'safe' LibDem territory (does any such thing exist?) with a reported result last time out in May 2008 of LibDem 1283; Labour 620; Tories 451. We will see what happens.

The revolution will not be blogged, the revolution is blogging

This is just to point you in the direction of a moment of seismic proportions.

Of particular note is the quote provided: "the Internet generation expects information to be made available, and they expect to be able to make up their own minds, not be spoon fed the views of others. This campaign was always about more than receipts, it was about changing the direction of travel, away from secrecy and towards openness."

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

After Baby P, Child T

Over on my local site I've been covering developments which have rippled out in the aftermath of the national scandal which first broke in Haringey.

Then came Doncaster.

After that it was Reading's turn.

Next on the list are Wokingham, Birmingham, Essex, Surrey and West Sussex.

I also suspect there are many more cases of systemic failure which are hiding in the shadows such as this one regarding social services support for learning difficulties in West Berkshire.

These are not just isolated cases of accidental mismanagement, they are examples of wide-spread deeply-ingrained systemic maladministration which is the consequence of changes imposed from above.

Targeting and budgetary constraints are a fact of life, but the primary motivation for their imposition and the way they are handled on a day-to-day basis will determine whether real people benefit or suffer as a result.

The current regime is failing.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Drama, tension, anxiety, nerves - stage fright?

Blimey, things are moving fast.

Just a couple of quick links to offer you: Peston and the offical Beeb report .

RBS, the largest company in the world by assets, has fallen over 60% in value in one day. And RBS is not alone - the whole of the sector has been shaken.

Whether this is 'nationalisation under duress' or 'by the back door' is largely immaterial, but the fissures between the words of the politicians and the actions of real world decision-makers are opening wider and wider.

The consequences are becoming plainer and the choices are becoming starker.

If the right balance is struck ordinary people will feel a little discomfort, maybe 4m Britons will be unemployed by the end of the year and the moment will pass, but if not...

...well, if not the consequences could be far-reaching and devastating.

There are many severe tensions which have long remained unresolved and will combine into something truly unholy unless... unless...

I am very anxious about the content of Obama's inauguration speech. It comes at a precise moment in history and could have a massive impact if it resounds around the world. Obama has a reputation as an outstanding orator, so this is already shaping up to be what may be with hindsight the biggest test of his whole presidency.

With all the eyes of the world on him, he will in that speech set the tone for his presidency and for the whole of the next generation - we can forget the Bush years because the challenges are before us - the environment, the economy, Gaza.

For any potential politician this moment is what you would live for, but nonetheless you'd approach it with trepidation. It is uncharted territory. He will need some strong sceptical realism to temper his audacious optimism.

Arboreal delights

There I was, just exploring my part of the jungle, when I discovered an unexpected tree which by all rights shouldn't be standing there - it was a date palm! Tasty!

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Oranjepan recommends: Animal Collective

It's not often I get excited about new music, and it's even rarer that it lasts any longer than it takes for them to be embraced widely, but I was jumping up and down on my branch after being tipped off about Animal Collective, which is perhaps appropriate

They are touring Britain from 22-28 March and I'm buying tickets.

Ammo against Camo

The Mole reports from inside Westmister on Conservative attitudes towards the building of a third runway at Heathrow (in reality on the other side of the A4 and Harmondsworth village, slap-bang through the middle of Sipson village).

Scepticism of the nature of Tory opposition runs high as only 30 Conservatives signed Reading West MP, Martin Salter's Early Day Motion (Salter is a regular user of this tactic, it is pure gesture politics) stating opposition to the scheme.

Michael Portillo's suggestion on the BBC's This Week the Cameron is trying to use the issue of Heathrow as symbolic of the change he has undertaken in his party resonates with stories I hear on the ground of friction between the membership and the heirarchy.

Which means it is a test case for the truth of the matter: Cameron hopes that in Runway 3 (and Terminal 6) he has finally found his 'Clause 4 moment' to fundamentally change ingrained perceptions of his party
after multiple false dawns (Liberator memorably described the 'Clause 4 moment' as "nothing more than a stage managed row where the leader takes on and humiliates the membership of their own party" - or in the Conservative's case, the grandees of their party, nevertheless commentators have long considered it a vital objective along the path to power).

Boris Johnson's promise to use the Mayor of London's office to support a legal challenge also panders to the reactionary
NIMBY lobby, but any environmental credibility he maintains is undermined by his open desire to build a £30bn new air hub in the Thames estuary (completely neglecting any technological restrictions on aircraft pollution identified by both Portillo and Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon).

So it would appear that the Conservative party is split down the middle on this issue and Cameron is picking a fight with his major financial backers in order to appeal to a wider environmental consciousness. The question facing us is whether Cameron will emerge with an enhanced leadership ready to stroll into Downing Street, or does his
recent slide in the polls (from a high of 52% in September to a low of 39% just before Christmas) indicate the damage being done to the core of the party coalition?

Mike Smithson reports on the claim that Cameron is frantically acting to counter charges of inaction and dithering in a time of crisis.

Cameron must be careful to judge this issue carefully, as any failure to keep the competing camps within his party unified will signal the end of his tenure and consign his party to opposition for a further generation: 'Vote Blue, Go Green' may yet show it's true colours.

Update: Liberal Bureaucrat Mark Valladares reports on Cameron's confidence in his ability to outspend Labour.
So is Cameron being hopelessly naive or he is lying?

Friday, 16 January 2009

China now #3

According to this report China overtook Germany as the third largest economy in the world during 2007 and will overtake Japan as the second largest by the 2012 Olympics in London.

This is despite revising growth projections downwards to a still impressive 7%.

This economic change will only increase the pressures for social and political change in China, so these reports are a worthwhile reminder to keep our eyes on the future.

This travesty of democracy is the cause of our economic woe

The consequence of Sir Digby Jones departure from government (see below) meant there was a gaping hole at the cabinet table (well, physically, but obviously not intellectually - we didn't really notice him while he was there) in the trade brief.

Replacing Jones will be Mervyn Davies (adding to the wholesale underwriting of this government by Standard Chartered bank) as Brown's new 'goat'.

Jones' quote on entering Government that "how I vote is my own affair" lead to questions about the mandate of Gordon Brown's regime, but this was quickly spun with the claim that the wider representative base was a 'Government of all the talents', which was especially needed in times of economic turmoil.

Well, we've still got the economic turmoil (although not according to Baroness Shriti Vadera, aka 'the Shriek'), and Brown has clearly failed to utilise all their talents to solve it.

So we are forced to return to ask questions about Brown government policy mandate again.

Brown derives his power from an amazingly small sample of the population. He won 58% of the votes in his constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, for a party which gained a 35% share of the total cast at the last election under his predecessor, before he was unopposed in his path to become the new leader.

With Lord Peter Mandelson, Baroness Vadera at and now Mervyn Davies replacing Digby Jones in ermine, we have multiple government ministers appointed to their posts who are unable to answer questions from elected representatives of the people.

With such a questionable mandate it cannot also be wise to resist adequate means of accountability for governmental actions, otherwise more controversial decisions (such as the over expansion of Heathrow) will be given the go-ahead without sufficient scrutiny.

So Brown is successively and cumulatively undermining our parliamentary democracy - he has fixed the system so that it is prevented from accounting for its actions in public.

And as every businessperson will tell you, if you don't have to present your accounts there is no way of checking that everything is in order.

Tell me again, why is the economy in trouble under Gordon Brown?

Diggin' a hole for yourself

Amidst the high drama and overblown outrage at Westminster yesterday Sir Digby Jones left office complaining that he isn't sufficiently heavyweight to do the job.

Jones has been in the job for a measly 16 months tasked with overseeing simple things like hiring and firing of staff covering the portfolio of increasing and encouraging business investment, yet it appears he became unhappy that staff refused to listen to him.

As former head of the CBI he would on first glance be ideally qualified for the position and well used to running a representative organisation.

Yet he left with the claim that "...the job could be done with half as many [people]. It could be more productive; more efficient; it could deliver a lot more value for money to the tax-payer."

He added "We don't need more regulation; we need better regulation, properly enforced," offering a hint that the causes of the current economic troubles.

Hang on a minute there, wasn't he charged with ministerial responsible for this mess he was complaining about? Was he delivering a mea culpa? Does he feel the burden of disgrace he is admitting to? No, not a bit of it - Sir Digby Jones complains that the fault lies with the culture of civil service - does the man not know the meaning of the word responsibility?

He left with the 'stinging riposte' that he was "amazed at the number of people who deserved the sack."

Yes, Mr Jones, but did you include yourself in that list?

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Milliband moderates his tone

Apparently, terrorism is not a "simple binary struggle between moderates and extremists, or good and evil" and the "implied... belief [this lead to] that the correct response to the terrorist threat was primarily a military one - to track down and kill a hardcore of extremists" is flawed, according to a new speech from David Miliband.

I'm glad our Foreign Secretary recognises that "terrorism is a deadly tactic, not an institution or an ideology," but he failed to say that lasting resolution is only found in political solutions.

Although he is expected to emphasise 'international cooperation' he appears to offer no new thinking on any means to settle disputes. Perhaps such humility is a welcome change after recent years, but I think it is short-sighted.

Just as terrorism is a wrong-headed and often illegitimate means of expressing some legitimate grievance, difference of opinion is not something which can be simply brushed aside.

So when it comes to negotiating for global agreements on issues like poverty, disease, the environment, humanitarian or natural disasters, or even inter-national disputes, to win over the larger players requires a different method than for a diffuse array of armed multi-national, sub-national or non-national groups. It is not enough to win either hearts or minds - you must secure both.

If there is no successful method of integrating all nations into the international democratic architecture so that consensus in UN Security Council resolutions come by unanimity, rather than with abstentions (as recently was seen in the 14-0 vote on UN Resolution 1860) then the capacity for defiance will be ongoing, the needless death toll will mount and liberty will continue to be crushed in an unending and increasingly futile search for global security.

It is essential that the concert is maintained or it is inevitable that disharmony will encroach.

Miliband may well therefore be sowing the seeds of the next big war right under our noses.

Update: It seems this speech hasn't gone down so well with it's immediate audience, so is it another tilt at the leadership?

That Heathrow decision

Speaking in his capacity as Labour Party Vice-Chairman Reading West MP Martin Salter stated that "Labour's environmental credentials are on the line" in the decision over Heathrow.

Yet it seems a middle way has been found by Transport minister Geoff Hoon, who thinks that a balance can be found between the environmental and economic concerns.

It appears that approval is set be given after the formal decision is made today at cabinet (the real decision already having been made, who knows when?) as limits on noise and air pollution are announced as a concession to the protesters (including limits on the type of aircraft able to use the new facilities).

Labour clearly has no problem with concreting over more green fields and is not worried about the ever-increasing congestion on the road and rails - for them this is a pure debate between the country's coffers and the changing climate (they're obviously not lobbying for support from the Campaign to Protect Rural England).

All other parties appear united in opposition to these plans and even the Conservatives have pledged to prevent the expansion of the airport if they win at the next General Election, as work on the new runway and terminal is not expected to be complete before 2019 at the earliest (given that sort of timescale, shouldn't the LibDems also be making a formal pledge?).

Update: the go-ahead has been given.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Here we go again - a new dodgy dossier?

The words 'dodgy dossier' immediately springs to mind.

With hindsight it is obvious to identify Mumbai (as the home of Bollywood) as a centre of international life and culture with a large muslim population at its' heart, similar to New York and London.

The immediate damage to the current internationalism caused by the attacks could be seen in how it affected the English test team on their cricket tour of India (they were actually staying in one of the hotels at the time of the attacks).

Add this to the reports of Osama bin Laden being harboured in Waziristan , arms trafficking across the ill-definied and uncontrolled NW Frontier Provinces, the 7/11 Mumbai train bombings, assassination of prominent politicians (Benazir Bhutto, among others) and continuous political agitation and all this feeds into a 'narrative' of Pakistan being at the heart of the nexus of international terrorism.

Barack Obama was forthright on the subject during his election campaign and new Secretary of State Hilary Clinton then announced that:
"If we had actionable intelligence that Osama bin Laden or other high-value targets were in Pakistan I would ensure that they were targeted and killed or captured,"

So I'm very worried by the statement given by UK foreign secretary, David Miliband. It appears like a license to punish has been issued, with a strong hint that it is expected to be fulfilled.

This raises some serious practical questions:
-Is Pakistan willing and capable of catching the plotters?
-Does this mean international intervention in Pakistan/regime change may be justifiable on the grounds that they cannot prevent or catch terrorists?
-Does this mean historical rival, neighbour and fellow nuclear power, India, would have western support in an invasion and take-over of Pakistan?
-Will India now increase it's visible efforts in fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, which have previously been restricted to protecting Indian recontruction efforts there?
-What then Bangladesh or Burma?

-if possession of nuclear WMDs prevents direct military action against Pakistan, doesn't this support Iran's argument for attaining such capability?
-does integration of India into the free international (English-speaking) alliance set a collision course with China?

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

A green field at its' heart.

I like this aerial photograph and plan of the proposed Heathrow expansion. It really gives a sense of what all the talk is about, so much so that I thought it deserving of it's own post and split it from my comment on the politics of the plans.

Several celebrity supporters have bought a plot at the heart of the development area in order to try and create an additional means of resisting the development if the plans are given the go-ahead.

Title to the area of land, which is about half the size of a football field, has been shared between multiple different high profile protesters including Susan Kramer MP and Justine Greening MP, of the LibDems and Conservatives respectively.

If the plan is accepted such a move is an effective bulwark against the development giving the protesters a means to play for time as negotiations for the purchase of the land can be protracted almost indefinitely.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Do you remember Concorde, Mr Wilson?

Those were the days when you could set your watch by the flight to New York and any other noise was totally insignificant by comparison.

A decision on the proposed expansion of Heathrow is due this week (Thursday probably), and protesters on both sides are mounting their high and low horses for the final symbolic clash to show their sympathies remain strong and the war will go on even though the main action of the battle has already passed.

Environmentally-concerned/anti-capitalist/anti-development protesters Climate Rush have headed for Heathrow to cause disruption to the mainly domestic traffic at Terminal 1 (what a cheery name that is!).

The pro-expansion camp has been equally active with the founding of the 2M Group covering local councils which claim to represent the 2 million people who will be most affected by the plans (as though all those 2m would all be in favour) and a raft of contingency plans in the event that the development is halted.

My local borough isn't included in the 2M Group (I ask why not? was it charging too much?), but it certainly is on the western end of the approach path to Heathrow, so whatever complaints I have about the noise or pollution the airport generates they will surely multiply as you approach the nearer vicinities of Heathrow.


It is with interest therefore that I read the imaginatively-titled Westminster Diary blog of Reading East MP Conservative (and former SDP-member) Rob Wilson.

Mr Wilson is worried that his constituents (read: voters) will see the quality of their life badly impacted (read: the tranquility of their large suburban homes disturbed). Now it's not like conservative voters in this part of the world (who just happen to be people with the largest, leafiest gardens and thickest hedges) are the worst effected by any aircraft noise, but I fully accept they are more likely to notice the difference considering they are more sheltered from the general intrusion of noise (primarily from cars) regularly suffered by most who live closer to the burgeoning metropolis of Reading.

The irony is that those who notice the difference and complain loudest about it are those who are often the main creators of it.

Of course, Mr Wilson is not really worried about his voters - ahem - constituents, he is worried about the electoral chances of his local party and is therefore trying to match his opposite number in Reading West stride for stride as they auction off their granny's morals in an attempt to keep their grasping clutches on the privileges of office.

Listening to our local representatives you might think that there is universal opposition to the expansion of Heathrow, yet in almost the same breath they both support plans to extend the western terminus of Crossrail to the town, primarily to encourage enhanced, easier (read: increased) access to the airport, so they argue.

To be fair to Mr Wilson, he has asked for a wider debate on the issues, but stories reach me about how his more populist stance is flowing against the tide of business opinion supporting his party, especially now that the economy is in a downturn and everyone is looking for any boost they can get.

Salter, however, is a different kettle of fish. He is a skillful exponent of the syncretic school of politics - appearing to speak for all sides while upsetting everyone equally. The man guards his feifdom jealously - he is as slippery as a fish and will steal your thunder in a flash if he sees any attempt to challenge him. He hasn't come out in favour or against any of the proposals, rather he tries to pacify opposition to the Labour government by 'urging a re-think', which is about as Brownite as you can get.

To Salter it doesn't matter that support for the expansion may force the government into breaking legally-binding commitments on environmental targets and undermine the legitimacy of Labour's regulatory and legislative regime (sound familiar?), just so long as his regime survives.

In the midst of all this arguing I think the two major points are being lost.

-Expansion of Heathrow is the cheap option: it builds on the existing infrastructure of the already conjested area.
-Expansion of Heathrow is the most controversial option: it is in the most developed and most heavily populated part of the country.

A third runway at Heathrow will not solve any transport issues alone, and may actually create new problems on the roads and rail.

Ultimately whether or not expansion of Heathrow does go ahead, plans for a second runway at Manchester, Gatwick and Stansted are still on the table, while completely new hub (4-runways+) remains an option at Cliffe in the Thames estuary (estimated at an initial cost of £30bn).

So, as far as I'm concerned fighting tooth and nail against incremental change is an admission of strategic retreat in the face of an irresistible argument.

If the environmentalists really want to change public thinking then they must reconcile the economics through argument rather than through assumption: the environment is not a passive victim; airports and airlines are businesses which do not overstretch their capacity except out of necessity; it is a fallacy to claim that capitalists are intrinsically rapacious. And they will lose the argument if they continue resorting to insulting our intelligence.

When capacity is reached (Heathrow regularly tops 99% capacity) there are limited options - expansion, diversion or rationalisation.

The voluble opposition to expansion has clearly drowned out the alternatives, they would do well to pick them up and make more use of them... all in the spirit of reaching a concord.

BTW If anyone is in any doubt I am strongly against the published proposals. Major additional development in the area is likely to have a disproportionately large negative effect for any calculable benefit. If additional runway space is required, then the alternatives should be considered first.

Why Oranjepan?

This one is for Asquith who asked me why I took this name.

Now obviously I wasn't born with the name, nor was I christened with it (like most great apes shared human religious culture anyway) - it certainly isn't your most obvious pen-name!

So what combination of factors inspired me? (some of these get a bit tenuous or tendentious, so bear with me).

-A 'true believer' in Liberal Democracy (ie Orange) and inclusivity (ie pan:- "Including everything or everyone, especially in relation to an whole of a continent, people etc.")

-It's vaguely similar to Orang-utan
-If you're not yet down from the trees, we're not yet out of the woods

-A vaguely dutch heritage (ie Oranje)
-My real name begins with a 'J'


-Occasional sagacity
-An affinity for fruits and nuts
-A barely concealed wild side
-Champion tree-climber
-Concern for endangered species

-A love of rum-based desserts (almonds, apricots and vanilla are nice, but secondary)
-A split personality representing the two ape species of the genus pan, Pan troglodytes (Chimpanzee) and Pan paniscus (Bonobo)
-Eternal youthfulness (as in Peter Pan)
-An artistic corruption of the mythological greek god Aegipan, who may or may not have been identified with Pan, an important deity in the romantic movement.
-Pan is identified with the satyr or faun (similar to Saggitarius, the satyr or centaur, which is also my starsign most years)
-Pan is recognized as the god of fields, groves, and wooded glens (thus, not yet out of them)
-The name enables me to draw analogies based upon non-human constructs
-And finally, this name gives me some latitude to be depreciating about myself (you wouldn't believe me if I told you someone recently said I looked like Johnny Depp...)

Pseudonymity is a good thing as far as I'm concerned as it forces readers to engage with the content of the arguments and removes the temptation for endless ad hominems (or in my case ad hominids).

Most commenters who've decided to engage in discussion on the topic have tended to assume a directly political connection between my Libdemmery and the Orange Bookers in the party. While I'm not opposed to some of the aims expressed therein, I think it is important to make a splash with our ideas even if there is always room for improvement: even if we were already in government I'd still be saying we're not yet out of the woods.

I also like to think that the choice of name says something about the psychological character of the person who chooses it, as though there is a code encrypting a deeper sense of self which only others on the same wavelength can decypher - in which case how many could you guess? how many would you agree/disagree with? Are there other subconscious clues to my character my choice of name suggests to you (go on, I dare you, you have my permission to be mean)?


If you've got this far then you'll probably want to know what the photo is. Well, it is a beach-front slave hut on the beautiful island of Bonaire.

This one was built for white slaves to ensure segregation between races even when they were indentured. Nevertheless it does also show that slavery is a issue which is an issue of human rights, not just racial identity.

The slaves at Oranje Pan worked on the evaporation basins to produce salt for the local population and for trade. While it might be nice to visit desolate, sun-baked locations such as this for a couple of weeks as we seek temporary escape from our industrial lifestyles in the west, it is a place where fresh water is hard to find and only a meagre existence is to be had.

Alternatively, here is a map placing the location of Oranje Pan. And here are some webcams in the region to show you just what it is like.

Employment incentives - a different tack

Conservatives have rushed to criticise Labour PM Gordon Brown for stealing an employment initiative designed to help the long-term jobless.

Apparently the tories have been pushing for tax-payer support to companies which help the less employable since last Autumn (though whether this is because conservative employers are incentivised by protectionist subsidies rather than free markets they unhelpfully don't mention).

So what we have here is two equally wrong-headed party perspectives fighting to claim credit for a policy which will only make the problem worse.

Exactly how is it beneficial to the economy that one section of jobless are favoured over another? It is just madness - it is socially divisive and the sums are highly debatable.

While any action on employment is to be welcomed this smacks of expediency and the irresistible build-up of undesirable bureaucratic complications: there is nothing to stop a company taking the handout without providing any demonstrable benefit - all to shift an unpopular statistic from their account books.

And when the money runs out what then (£2,500 equates to about 2 months pay at the basic income tax rate)? Do they just lay off the workers? Is there anything to stop the company playing the system to cycle through one set of workers after another?

I accept that the biggest hurdle to long-term jobless finding secure employment is the length of their inactivity, but the Conservative/Labour proposals amount to a perverse incentive which doesn't address underlying questions of productivity. Meanwhile it also undermines the incentive for employers to keep fully-trained workers on their books.

In every way this announcement is bad news.

So what is the alternative?

My personal preference would be to look at the most successful labour-market model out there, and yes, it is the football industry.

Introducing transfer fees into workplace contracts immediately creates a positive incentive to maximise the value from each agreement while also fixing the terms under which it may be broken. Workers benefit from being valued more highly, employers benefit from the higher value placed on their workforce, the government benefits from the taxation on the fees involved while everybody has an interest in raising their value.

The plain difference between a subsidised labour market and an open market for your labour is simple: people are valued on an individual basis and there is a direct link to their productivity.

Of course this suggestion represents a major threat to the ingrained vested interests of time-servers and yes-men, but it also represents a serious way to liberate the talent of everybody in society.

Requests taken: submit here

I notice that I've received a spike in visitors over recent days.

While I'm grateful to all of you who have visited I also hope that you can help me in responding to your interests, queries and concerns.

So if there is any subject on which you wish to know my unreliable opinions, or a subject thread you want me to kick off discussion about then please comment below.

This blog is relatively new and is still establishing itself. I really think a good blog depends more on it's readership at least as much as the author, so in the interests of fair and open-mindedness I'm giving you the opportunity to help shape the direction it takes...

...if you've got a request, here's where to make it.

Remember, a good idea is a good idea wherever it comes from.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Blogaholism, Twitteritis, RSS Dependency and Status Update Disorder

Once you blog it's hard to stop!

Apart from the sore chin I've got from scratching it so much lately, I know I'll soon be seeking extra soothing help from the Night Nurse...

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Libertarians advise:

This thread is not for me to ramble, but for others to give some advice.

Over at Charlotte Gore's place you can often find a lively and serious level of discussion from the anti-statist/anti-collectivist camp.

Now, there are a number of questions that their comments raise in my mind and I'd like to see if they can settle some answers.

Is state power a necessary evil? Must the use of power result in necessarily evil outcomes?

What is 'envy politics'? Is it envy which forces 'have nots' to pay their bills? Or is envy what you get because people can't pay their bills? Isn't this just code to stigmatise any form of interventionist redistribution?

If it is impossible to consider making any alliance with anyone with 'statist' sympathies, how can they consider engaging the machinery of state from a position of government? What are the minimum limits of government?

Is it a realistic ambition for the Libertarian party to win MPs within a decade and be in government within two decades, when the current membership is less than that required to form a full list of candidates for parliament?

Who are the Libertarian party (LPUK)? What are the names of their leading spokespeople? What policies can one expect from a LPUK manifesto? What track record of delivery/implementation and holding to account have they got?

Anyway, Charlotte also writes of creating a linked network of discussion thread where digressions and new lines of inquiry can be explored.

I hope the above 5 points are enough get a response started... now it's over to you.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Escalating conflicts

Fighting on multiple fronts is a tactic which has defeated innumerable forces over the years.

During the 20th Century opening a second front was for Britain a key requirement to changing the course of conflict from defence to attack in both the world wars. For Germany and the Central Powers negating this potentially devastating development proved beyond their capability and the loss of territorial integrity led to the ultimate demise of their war ambitions.

As the expansion of the scope and range of weaponry and warfare continued so the diplomatic arena has now become the target for this form of outflanking manoeuvre. Deftness at diplomacy is the ability to manipulate news analysis through propagation of sympathies and is vital to the successful management of a campaign.

So it is no surprise that Hamas has apparently drawn Hezbollah into the current Middle-eastern hostilities.

Whether or not this is a good idea for any of the parties involved really quite depends on the outcome of it, but it does provide us onlookers with an indication that the situation has reached a sufficiently critical period that allies can now be called upon.

The Lebanese extreme Islamist faction may have until this point felt that the advantages of intervention didn't outweigh the disadvantages of supporting the extreme Palestinian Islamist faction against their common enemy, but with the conduct of Israel percieved as having undermined international support for their position (with the latest deathtoll at 700:11) it is clear that they may now feel free to act provocatively.

But no life can be measured against another, so I still prefer to be wary of ploughing in and shouting condemnation of either side at the exclusion of the other and would like to look at each event as it occurs. Right and wrong are easy to forget in such circumstances, but the context has changed irrevocably: more people are going to die.

So rather than asking how we can freeze the conflict by calling for a new ceasefire (last night a 3-hour ceasefire was held) in the futile hope of reaching a longer term solution through negotiations designed to satisfy nobody on the ground and which will keep the vicious cycle spinning, we should be considering what measures we need to take to resolve the deeper questions.

The memory of Israel's botched 2006 war in Lebanon may be motivating their action today, and their claims that they are being successful in stopping attacks from the north make make them feel confident in their current plans. If so, then every missile launched by Hezbollah will have echoes far into the future.

Both sides are gambling on their ability to control sympathetic news reporting of events, but they both seem consciously oblivious to the consequences of escalation.

Update: Spokesmen from Israeli and Lebanese governments have both played down the impact of the explosions in the north. One wonders how many explosions are required for Israel to try to appear consistent, as it currently seems they only follow their own precedents when it suits them.

Expect the Lebanese militants to continue to agitate and worry about where the conflict will spread to next - will extremists in the West Bank take action? will
public commemorations in Muslim nations descend into rioting? Just don't expect a spontaneous outbreak of peaceful demonstrations. The Gazans would be well advised to organise a stoic show of solidarity and resistance, but could they pull it off without losing control of the crowd?

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

The news of today

Blimey! there's always so much going on that it can be hard to take in.

So here is your quick and handy guide to what's going on as my little way to try and make sense of it all.

There's a big ruckus going on in Gaza. Israel has sent it's tanks in to sort out the terrorists in Hamas. It's causing quite a controversy due to the imbalance of forces on either side and both sides like to play hard-ball while milking as much sympathy as they can get.

This conflict has deep roots, but essentially it represents the problematic relations which come into confrontation with each other at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and Europe.

A dispute over gas supply is threatening the relations between Russia and most of eastern Europe.

The tense relations over natural resources has long been characteristic of behaviour between larger and smaller countries. This is just one more occasion where the dominant player is trying to flex some muscle and gain influence as it integrates more fully into the global environment.

The economic downturn continues to bite, becoming so serious that more countries are joining the rush to stimulate their economies.

After more than a decade of continued growth the economic cycle has finally turned - recession is on everyone's lips and a potential depression is on everyone's minds. Pressure is mounting for governments to grasp the levers at their disposal and make effective use of them as the relationship between state and society is reevaluated (yet again).

And finally, in the sports world, turmoil reigns among the England cricket team as both capitain and coach resign simultaneously.

A power struggle between the egoistic star player and technocratic coach reached impasse, forcing administrators to take drastic action to maintain team unity.


The basic cause of all of these ongoing stories is the inequality of relationship between those caught on either side of (or straddling) the dividing line.

But it isn't quite as simple as that (it never is... ) - there are different measures of inequality in each instance. This enables all parties to feel like aggrieved innocent victims even as they perpetrate what looks like shocking injustices and idiocy from the opposing viewpoint.

The three 'serious' items raise questions of the legitimacy of sovereign action, while the sporting story gives a contrast by showing how the dynamic of fluctuating authority and responsibility must remain subordinate to the overall well-being of all within it.

In each case the potential exists for sanity to prevail or for it to spiral out of control. So what we learn along the way about maintaining or restabilising the balance of power relationships will be vital for us to assert the existence of any semblance of order.

Why the LibDems?

A couple (here and here) of recent posts discuss why it is worth being part of the LibDems.

To add to this discussion I think I should add my point of view.

It's simple really. The Labour and Conservative parties have failed, failed and failed again. Wherever and whenever they get elected they may accidentally latch onto a good idea, but even then they can't help but mess it up.

Two examples: -

*racks brain to choose most appropriate Labour initiative*

The NHS was a great idea, but it's there to ensure a basic standard of universal primary health, not to provide additional services to selected groups. Prioritising the provision of other social services makes it unmanageable and unaffordable (secondary health is a private matter as far as I'm concerned). Meanwhile the Baby P affair demonstrates how the collective irresponsibility of state bureaucracy enabled different departments to neglect their principle duties to the person or patient and thereby allow individuals to fall through the gaps.

*racks brain to identify any major tory initiative*

Privatisation of national utilities was a necessary way to improve working practices and stimulate growth, but the sales were done too cheaply and in a way which meant service levels quickly became less important than profits. The 2009 train fare rises mirror those in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and look likely to continue until at least 2015. The legislative precedent they created also paved the way for the regulatory collapse which has forced the credit crunch.

To some extent both of these initiatives were Liberal ideas, and they may well have worked better/been less open to distortion had Liberals been responsible for their enactment.

Between them Labour and Conservative may make for progress of a sort, but the damage caused by continual overshoot and correction is lasting and tangible.

A stop-start society is disenchanting, disillusioning and discouraging; it is the cause of endless frustration and friction; it polarises relationships and it causes just as many problems during transition as it eventually solves.

For me, beyond any philosophic reasons, on purely practical grounds the LibDems are the only party vehicle which can deliver the stability, consistency and coherence for a positive future.

So if you believe that your participation can be of benefit in any small way, then we are the only real choice to get involved with. I do and I've seen how we make a massive difference to people's lives by changing a little bit of the world at a time.

And on a personal level I also find I enjoy the company of open-minded people far more - which you have to be to be one!

Y'see I'm a LibDem, and I'm lovin' it!

Disclaimer: Of course if your politics are merely an intellectual exercise non-mainstream parties also provide a necessary forum to help develop and channel your ideas until you feel ready to try putting them into action. Don't let me discourage you, everyone needs all the help we can get.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Something to chew over

Today I am eating some very nice rum & raisin fudge.

Monday, 5 January 2009

There are no taboos

Commentators have started up again (this time from Peter Oborne) discussing potential advice for our beleaguered PM.

James Graham gives a pretty good run down of the LibDem position towards coalition and cooperation, but I do have something to add.

The recent changes which have seen all the leader positions of the LibDems replaced (Nick Clegg, Tavish Scott, Kirstie Williams and Ros Scott as party leader, leader in Scotland, Wales and party president, respectively) have all been framed by a need to forge a new attitude towards questions of coalition.

Now that we have a taste for office we are no longer so desperate for it that we will take it at any cost. We have found to our cost that it is sometimes a poisoned chalice.

Practical experience has proved once again that we have fundamental differences with Labour and we are more aware of the need to be protective of our independent identity than ever. No longer is it being asked which side of the fence we would fall when the wind starts blowing because we will not merge with either Labour or tories.

But unless we are open about this any potential voters have a right to be suspicious about our motives. And only by being open about it can we demonstrate our feelings on the subject.

And just like in every other arena when flirting, make yourself available without appearing desperate and play hard-to-get without burning your bridges.

All four of our new representatives at federal level symbolise a new attitude in which any implicit suggestions have been eradicated.

This change of personnel represents a change of strategy at the highest level which is more in tune with the general membership (at least as far as I'm concerned, but I would say that). Whereas the lingering hangover from the 70's, 80's and 90's meant there was a tendency to favour Labour over the Conservatives, this started to be balanced out as we've become more mature as a party.

To some quarters it looked like this tendency had reversed, but now the top team appears to be active in preemptively scotching any favoritism.

Because it is the source of ongoing controversy disproportionate column inches are guaranteed to be spent on it, it is both a vital political tool to be used in getting across our message and a strategic method to use to extract concessions at the heart of the political machinery.

So let's use this tool to talk about what we want and why we want it.

We want a better world; and for that we think we need political reform: and that demands thoroughgoing and widespread reform - electoral reform, tax reform, regulatory reform, social reform, education reform, prison reform.

We want transparency, accountability and honesty. We want to be more ethical and more economic.

And we want it to protect our identity, our peace and our prosperity.

That is liberty.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

My resolution for 2009

Yes it's that time of year again...

Nothing spectacular to promise, but I think I should commit to writing this blog for the year and see where it takes me.

I've started others in the past and been a regular commenter on others' sites (they'll know who they are), but now I think I ought to allow myself to be held accountable for the things I say.

Party animals

Have you ever been to a party when you were the only person who isn't drunk?

This was the situation I found myself in last night and it was odd indeed!

In years past I would often be the first person to start making a fool of myself by falling over or by saying something gauche and ridiculous. But yesterday I stood on the sidelines entertained by the others around me, happy for once to avoid being the centre of attention.

I've seen gatherings get out of control as the crowd becomes intoxicated by the atmosphere - even to the extent where the shyest wallflower has run outside to jump on the roof of the neighbour's car and start everyone else off dancing in the street.

The same principle holds for political parties when usually sensible members feel empowered to do things which they would not be able to justify on their own terms.

So it was interesting to reverse positions for once and gain a new perspective on the happenings. It also lead to a fun outcome as I got into conversation with a fascinating person whom I'd otherwise probably not even bothered to speak to, let alone find out anything about... sometimes we don't even consider the alternative outcomes if we make different choices.

So today when I was watching the most quotable Casablanca I was reminded of this and wistfully reminisced of what might be/have been: this could be the start of a beautiful friendship!