The Big Idea: Tanita S. Davis

Feb. 9th, 2016 03:21 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

Sometimes people are uprooted and put in new circumstances. How do we adjust, and can we put down new roots that work well enough for us? In her Big Idea, Tanita S. Davis considers this question and how it relates to her YA novel, Peas and Carrots.


There is no super power greater than knowing how to gather friendly, open, likeminded people around us, to use our intention to make our own safe place in the world. But when our relatives are rotten, and intentional choosing isn’t a skill available to us, what do we do then? Eventually, we stop thinking in terms of family, and seek other bonds.

My first teaching job out of college was working one-on-one with students housed courtesy of the State. They were a mixed lot: entitled incorrigibles who had smarted off to a truancy officer one time too many; runaways from intolerable home lives who’d ended up in the sex trade as a means of survival; gang-affiliated kids who looked like hard-faced adults, serving time for being accessories to grand theft and drive-by shootings. They all shared the simple human desire to belong somewhere – for their families to take them back, for the tight group they’d left behind to arrive one day and rescue them from my classroom… Every day that I worked with them, I watched their counselors and therapists and parole officers try to impress upon them the importance of making new connections, of finding different stomping grounds and other things to hold dear.

It was not a message which found a receptive audience. Almost every one of my students had some piece of the past they held onto against all comers, some piece of the world which represented to them all that they’d lost, and all that they would need to make the world right again. And, for almost all of those students, that thing was a representation of family. A location which they defended with fierce neighborhood pride. A faded Polaroid taped to the headboard at every new placement. A ratty old cardigan or piece of baby blanket held onto since childhood.  A tattoo, stick pin applied with charcoal and baby oil; the name of a best-beloved boldly claiming the tender skin of a wrist or forearm. A piece of a past, real or imagined, and long vanished.

Could they realistically be asked to let go of that? Obviously, no. And yet, how could they move into the future if they weren’t willing to let the past go?

What I saw work, during my brief years with these kids, was encouraging them to change perspective. Maybe they couldn’t have the crew they used to run with, but they could find literal running mates elsewhere. Some left the group home and get involved with long-distance running, basketball, tournament teams traveling and learning the feel of that inclusivity in teams. One girl embraced her love of arguing and took a semester to first observe, then begin to participate in her new high school’s debate team. We didn’t always get to see the next chapter in the lives of those with whom we worked, but sometimes we’d get a card or a call, or a social worker would bring back word. The kids who survived the destruction of their networks and didn’t return to the scene of the disaster were those who found and formed new connections, and new ways into what they ultimately wanted the most.

The world can be puzzled by these deliberate connections, these bonds we seek to supplement biology. Your new home may not be where any of you live, and your new family may be made up of what other people would consider strangers on the internet. I remember wheeling my through a crowded Costco shopping center when my sister was less than a year old, and encountering the crooned, “Oh, she’s precious! She looks just like you two!” It was, in this case, both ludicrous and …ludicrously wrong, as my youngest sister is an American of Cambodian ancestry, I’m an American of African ancestry, and my husband’s ancestral leanings are English, Scottish, and Irish. Sooo…maybe not just like us? But, I’m pretty sure that between her eye rolls – she’s nineteen now – and her general mien of disaffected snarkiness, there’s at least a family resemblance.

Peas and Carrots is a book marketed to middle grade/young adult readers and explores intentionally choosing people to love, and accepting each other in spite of our differences. At the end of the day, peas and carrots don’t go together because they grow together –  legumes and umbeliers are vastly different plant families – nor do they look alike or taste alike… They go together because we put them together. And so can we put together a family, too. Maybe blood shapes our earliest parts, but the choices of who we invite into our circles define us further down the road. It’s an absolutely huge idea that we can have some power over our own happiness in finding good, true, family-tested-friends. Love – and family, however we assemble it –  can be a lot simpler than we make it.


Peas and Carrots: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

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Posted by John Scalzi

The Audie Awards are the big award in audio books, celebrating both the words of the author and the performances of the readers. Having won this award myself with Wil Wheaton, I can assure you it’s a thrill to be a finalist with your audiobook reader and even more fun to win.

This year I’m delighted to announce the Audie Award Finalists for 2016 in the category of Fantasy. That’s right! You’re reading it here first!

If for some reason you can’t read the graphic above, the finalists are:

  • Ascension: The Trymoon Saga, by Brain K. Fuller, read by Simon Vance
  • The Cycle of Arawn, by Edward W. Robertson, read by Tim Gerard Reynolds
  • The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin, read by Robin Miles
  • Nice Dragons Finish Last, by Rachel Aaron, read by Vikas Adam
  • Son of the Black Sword, by Larry Correia, read by Tim Gerard Reynolds

Winners will be recognized at the Audies Gala in Chicago on May 11, 2016.

Congratulations and good luck to all of the finalists!

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Posted by Phil Plait

A common claim by climate change deniers is that scientists have been “altering” ground-based temperature data to make it look like the Earth is warming. This claim — which is not just wrong, but exactly wrong, as I’ll get to in a sec — has gotten more traction than most others offered by the forces of anti-science.

Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has been using this false claim as a blunt hammer against scientists in the NOAA, for example, holding hearing after hearing trying to pin charges of conspiracy on them. But of course he’s wrong, and is wasting huge amounts of taxpayer money pursuing a lie. As I’ve written before, the scientists aren’t “altering” the data, they’re correcting them.

A new paper has come out reinforcing this. Researchers from Berkeley, the University of York, and NOAA have looked at the temperatures recorded at stations across the US. They assessed the corrections being applied to the data, and have confirmed their accuracy. In other words, despite Smith’s claims, the techniques the scientists are using to calibrate the data are solid.

The basic idea is this: There are temperature stations all over the US, and many have been in use for over a century. However, over the years, some have been moved, replaced, or their environment has changed. This, of course, changes the temperature they record.

To account for that, scientists apply a correction to the data to make sure that they are comparing apples to apples when looking at modern measurements versus older ones. But how do they know if the corrections are accurate?

Actually, there are quite a few ways, but in the new study the researchers looked at more modern stations that are known to be quite accurate, and compared them to the data from nearby older stations during the twelve-year period where the two different systems were both in operation at the same time. As was expected, the uncorrected data from the older stations didn’t match the newer ones well. However, when the corrections were applied, the older stations did in fact match the newer ones much better. This shows that the corrections being applied are in fact making the data more accurate.

Smith and his allies want you to think that scientists are nefariously altering the data, but that’s not the case. Calibrating data isn’t “altering” it. Think of it more like editing typos and bad grammar. Once those are gone, you get a far better picture of what’s actually happening*.

Interestingly, there are still some residual errors in the older measurements even after adjustments — that’s not too surprising; in the real world it’s almost impossible to completely correct such issues. But what’s funny is what the researchers found: Even after adjustments, the older systems still tend to underestimate maximum (and average) temperature trends compared to the newer systems during the overlap period) — consistent with other research which found the same trend.

This puts lie to Smith’s claims again. If scientists are altering the data to make it look like the planet is warming up, why would they underestimate the temperature trends?

The answer is obvious: They aren’t trying to make the planet look like it’s heating up. The planet is heating up, and they’re measuring that. That’s what the data are telling us, that’s what the planet is telling us, and as long as our politicians in charge are sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling “LALALALALALA” as loudly as they can, we’ll never get off our oil-soaked butts and get anything done to prevent an environmental catastrophe.

* Zeke Hausfather, the lead author on the new study, wrote about the methodology they’re using in an article for Skeptical Science last year, which has the details on all this if you’re interested.

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Posted by TSE


A look at the referendum’s salience

Last Monday, UKIP wandered into another of their controversies over gay rights.  Alan Craig, who has in the past called equality campaigners the Gaystapo and described gay marriage as being as bad as the Nazi invasion of Poland, has been selected as a candidate for the London Assembly.  Most UKIP supporters are frustrated by the fuss.  They don’t believe in a relationship between sexuality and meteorology but really don’t see the views of some of their number about gay rights as an important matter when it comes to deciding how to vote.  Hold that thought.

Many of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters sigh at the amount of attention gets given to his contacts in Northern Ireland and the Middle East.  Beyond a general wish to see peace established, they are not particularly exercised by the complexities of the factions or the unsavoury views of some of these people.  They are much more interested in the social justice that he stands for.  Why bother about something relatively peripheral?  Hold that thought too.

Let’s turn to the question of the referendum on the EU.  For many of the politically committed, particularly in the Leave camp, this is the paramount question of the day.  Everything is viewed through this prism.  Members of the public who have yet firmly to make up their minds about the referendum are implicitly considered ignorant.  Politicians who have yet to commit themselves publicly are regarded as duplicitous.  How could anyone not see this as being of vital importance?

Now, return to the two held thoughts.  It should not be a revelation, but apparently it is: different people place different degrees of importance on different matters.  Some people regard respect for other people’s sexuality as of prime importance.  Some people regard it as vital not to associate with those who could be seen as terrorists or anti-Semites.  For that matter, some people regard restricting abortion rights as being of touchstone importance and find the contrary view as being not just unfathomable but wicked.

What of the EU?  Well, here we have a lot of evidence of just how important the average voter thinks it is, courtesy of the long-running Ipsos MORI monthly issues poll.  And as you can see from the table at the top of the thread, it’s hardly a burning concern.  When respondents are asked to name up to three important issues facing the country, concern about the EU hasn’t registered with more than 20% of the electorate in more than 10 years.

You sometimes hear diehard Leavers argue that when respondents name immigration as an issue it’s a proxy for the EU.  There are two problems with that.  First, respondents would be quite capable of naming the EU if that’s what they meant.  And secondly, there is no obvious correlation between the salience as an issue over time of immigration and the EU.

So it’s hard to escape the conclusion that most voters just don’t see the EU as the central subject that many right wing political activists do.

Once that is understood, the actions of those politicians who treat the subject as one to be politicked with also become readily understood.  They’re not being immoral or dishonest, simply acting logically in order to promote subjects of much greater centrality to their political ideology.  Much has been written about Michael Gove apparently agonising about his intellectual belief that Britain should leave the EU and his loyalty to the Cameroon project.  Leavers are outraged that he has anything to consider here.  But if he genuinely believes that the Cameroon project is more important, why would he not swallow his principles on EU membership in order to do his best to protect it?

So for those that do care passionately about the EU, how should they respond?  First, banging on about the EU isn’t going to change many votes.  The target-rich environments are the voters who see other subjects as more salient.  So this week we have seen David Cameron painting lurid pictures of the Garden of England converted into a Hogarthian slum by migrants if we leave the EU.  Leave, of course, have been majoring on the numbers of foreigners coming to Britain for ages.  Expect risks to the economy to be conjured up, existential threats to the NHS and increased terrorist dangers to be bandied about.

None of it will really have all that much to do with the pros and cons of EU membership – the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers from outside the EU, for example, has only a tangential connection with EU membership and in any case at present is operating largely outside the nominal EU rules that have some relevance to such matters.  It won’t stop a lot of people who really should know better huffing and puffing about it at inordinate length.

I expect I’m supposed to sigh and look severely at the poor quality of political discourse in the referendum.  But I don’t.  If you believe that membership of the EU is a fundamental matter, this will be disappointing.  But if you believe that the question of EU membership is about the best means to an end, this focus on other issues that the voters believe are more important is extremely heartening.  So the question now is which side has the more persuasive arguments about these bread and butter subjects.  And which side can most resist talking about qualified majority voting and Eurozone consolidation.

Alastair Meeks


[syndicated profile] skepchick_feed

Posted by Amanda

  • Harassment isn’t just about individuals, it’s about communities – “Someone we know as a “good person” is absolutely capable of harassing others. It does not mean you’re a terrible person for not having seen it or known it happened. But it does no one any favors – not victims, not harassers, not their friends and communities – to ignore or explain away someone else’s problematic, hurtful, and harmful behavior.”

  • Man killed by space debris, possibly first meteorite death in human history – “In what feels like a sudden, tragic imitation of an opening to a disaster movie, the unluckiest man in India was struck and killed by what might very well be a meteorite.”

  • Bernie Sanders tells Berniebros to knock it off – “He told CNN on Sunday that the so-called “Berniebro” phenomenon is “disgusting” and that “anybody who is supporting me that is doing the sexist things — we don’t want them.”” From Courtney.

  • Natural history museums are teeming with undiscovered species – “…biologists in the field often lack the time or expertise to go over everything they grab. They collect first and ask questions later. Vast hoards of specimens end up in natural history museums, overwhelming the dwindling population of taxonomists who could potentially classify them. According to one study, the average specimen languishes for 21 years before it’s formally described; one poor neglected pit viper waited for 206 years.”

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Posted by Tim Worstall

At least, this analysis purporting to show that a $15 minimum wage is economically feasible is not convincing. It’s not convincing because it doesn’t in fact address the arguments that are made about the minimum wage in the first place. Sadly, some will believe it, it’s even possible that the authors of the original paper actually believe their own arguments too. Possible, even though we’d rather hope that professional economists were rather better at economics than this.

The paper is here:

The current state of research on this employment question, however, finds that minimum-wage increases do not produce significant job losses. This then raises an important policy question: Why haven’t there been significant job losses when minimum wages have increased?

That’s not in fact the current finding. Which is, rather, that modest minimum wage increases seem to have modest effects. Which isn’t all that surprising: most modest things do have modest effects. But we can indeed see the effects of past minimum wage increases. We see them in the unemployment rates of teens and other disadvantaged in the American economy.

Here’s a specific, relevant example: Seattle’s 2013 ordinance calls for a series of progressive increases in its minimum wage, up to $15 by 2021 for most businesses. At the same time that the city adopted this new policy, the local economy had been growing (and continues to grow) at a healthy clip. This helps explain why, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal, “six months after the first wage increase to $11 per hour took effect, the fear of soaring payrolls shows no signs of killing the appetite of … the Seattle restaurant world—for rapid expansion.” The title of the article sums it up: “Apocalypse Not: $15 and the Cuts that Never Came.” Employment growth in Seattle’s restaurant industry has not slowed.

Again, not actually so. We don’t quite have the detailed information yet that we would like but we do have something indicative. What we would like is to see the jobs numbers, by industry, for the Seattle (and other places, LA City, and so on) area, that area specifically affected by the minimum wage rise. What we’ve got is the information for the larger area, Seattle and environs. But, in each area that has that higher minimum wage we are seeing slower restaurant wage growth than in areas without that higher minimum wage. Again, we want the more detailed information to be absolutely sure but what we have, for that larger area, is indicative. So their assertion there isn’t correct.

The main point is that if no significant job losses result from minimum wages, then it must be the case that employers find other ways to adjust to their higher labor costs. And, in fact, past research has found that businesses often cover the costs of these higher wages by raising prices, re-directing some of their normal revenue growth into raises for their lowest paid workers, and finding savings from lower worker turnover, as higher wages strengthen workers’ commitment to their jobs.

That third argument there doesn’t work either. Because increased job attachment comes from, as Henry Ford knew, paying higher wages than other employers. And if it’s the minimum wage which rises then there is no increase over the wages of other employers and thus no greater attachment. Thus training and recruitment costs do not fall with a minimum wage rise.

Even though past minimum-wage hikes have been more modest than the $15 minimum of today’s political campaigns, we can use the existing body of research to develop a well- informed view of whether it’s feasible for businesses to adjust to a $15 minimum wage without shedding jobs.

And that’s just an absurd thing for an economist to state. Because, of course, all economics happens at the margin. We cannot therefore insist that if small changes have little effect then that large changes will also have little effect. It’s a violation of the very insight at the heart of the subject.

And they even manage to contradict themselves.

The fall in demand due to these price increases, however, is small enough that it can be more than offset by the rise in demand for fast food furnished by a healthy, expanding economy. Consumers tend to consume more fast food as their income grows. Over the past 15 years, industry sales have been growing at a slightly faster pace than the overall economy, or about 2.5% per year. As a result, even with the price increases, the fast-food industry should grow and add jobs, just at a somewhat slower pace.

A higher minimum wage will lead to slower job growth. Which is, of course, exactly the same thing, economically, as the statement that a higher minimum wage costs jobs. Because there will be fewer jobs in the future with a higher minimum wage than without one.

So, no, this report does not convince on the subject of a higher minimum wage. And as ever, no, we shouldn’t have a minimum wage at all, or if we must have one then the rate should be $0 an hour. Messing with markets, price fixing, it just doesn’t work.

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Posted by Tim Worstall

Yes, OK, so it is indeed election season and thus we don’t expect all that much in the way of truth telling and details that can be checked. But this is really quite lovely: Gerald Friedman is the economist who costed out Bernie Sanders’ health care plan for us all, insisting that moving over to single payer would save us all a fortune. A slightly unfortunate prediction that as it didn’t address the major reason that American health care is so expensive. No, it’s not the drugs, it isn’t the insurance companies and it’s not even the tax deductibility of employer paid health care insurance. American health care is, at root, expensive because the people who work in American health care earn good wages. Very much higher than their counterparts in other nations. And until that is addressed (if anyone actually wants to address it) then there’s not going to be all that much change in the costs of American health care.

Friedman has gone one stage further and tried to tell us all the effects of Bernie’s economic policies:

A respected economist who has been cited by the Wall Street Journal has released a new analysis of Bernie Sanders’ domestic policy and economic programs, and his findings are frankly stunning: Median income would increase by $22,000 and 26 million jobs would be created — bringing the unemployment rate to 3.8%.

Specifically, the analysis estimated that the median income would rocket to $82,200 by 2026, far higher than the projection of $59,300 currently estimated by the Congressional Budget Office. Poverty would drop to 6%, compared to 13.9% under the CBO’s numbers, and the economy would grow by 5.3% compared to 2.1%.

Well, isn’t that just super? It is not entirely certain that this would actually happen:

Sanders’ plan to pour $14.5 trillion into the economy — including spending on infrastructure and youth employment, increasing Social Security benefits, making college free and expanding health care and family leave — would juice GDP and productivity.

Friedman’s own piece on it is here. And it does lack a certain something.

Apart from any benefits these programs would bring directly, their cost would be reduced in four ways: Two operate by offsetting current spending and tax policies—either replacing existing federal spending or reducing tax breaks currently subsidizing private spending. The other two, which account for over 70% of the cost reduction, are the “dynamic effects” of increased economic growth—boosting tax revenues and reducing federal safety-net spending when the economy expands.

That’s just peachy of course. Because when we discuss any of the Republican (or even, and this is not the same group at all, coherent) tax plans we’re told that we cannot include any of those dynamic effects because that’s just voodoo economics. For, as we all know cutting taxes doesn’t boost the economy but more spending does. So, we’d probably want to reject this particular evaluation of the tax and spending plans for that reason alone. It’s simply making large and entirely untested assumptions about the amount of economic growth which will happen as a result of the plans. Just as everyone rejects the Cruz, Rubio, Trump and so on plans for the same reason.

Well, we would if we were being consistent of course.

But there’s another more detailed reason why we might not want to believe these rosy numbers. Which is that Friedman has simply assumed all of the good effects of whatever changes are planned without adding in any of the bad effects. For example, sure, we might say that a $15 minimum wage will reduce inequality, it might even put a bit more (although not all that much) spending power into the pockets of the poor. But it’s not actually going to increase the number of people in employment. We do actually know that a minimum wage that high will have unemployment effects: heck the CBO says one of $10.10 will cause 500,000 job losses. Similarly, he looks at how the financial transactions tax will be used to pay for college (or is it pledged to health care as well now?). But does not add in the fact that it will make capital more expensive and thus reduce investment and so future growth.

In short, don’t believe this analysis. Both because it depends so heavily on that dynamic effect and also because it’s just not counting the costs of all of these plans properly. It counts the possible benefits and entirely ignores all of the known costs.

Are recessions predictable?

Feb. 9th, 2016 01:59 pm
[syndicated profile] chris_dillow_feed

Posted by chris

Amidst all the talk of a recession, this chart presents something of a puzzle. It shows that there’s a decent correlation (0.57) between annual changes in the All-share index and in UK industrial production*. Asiip

The puzzle is that this correlation is contemporaneous. If stock markets anticipated recessions and booms, we’d expect to see the blue line move in advance of the red one. But this isn’t really the case**. Sure, the strongest correlation (of 0.68) comes if we lag industrial production four months. But such a short lag might exist simply because the stock market is a “jump” variable whereas output isn’t. Shares can respond immediately to bad news (such as the collapse of Lehmans in 2008), but because output takes time and must be planned in advance, it can be slower to respond.

For longer lags, the correlation is weak – for example, it’s only 0.23 between price changes and output changes 12 months later.

This lack of a significant lead between share prices and output is especially surprising simply because you’d expect one simply because changes in share prices can cause changes in output – via cost of capital or wealth effects, or because share prices should send signals about future economic conditions.

So, what explains it?

I don’t think the story here is about equities: my second chart shows a very similar relationship between output and sterling’s trade-weighted index. Recn£

Instead, all this is consistent with a simple possibility – that stock markets just don’t see recessions coming (or at least don’t anticipate the things that trigger recessions). We know that economists have consistently failed to foresee recessions. Perhaps this isn’t (just) because of their own inadequacies. Maybe it’s because economic fluctuations are inherently unpredictable.

This could be because recessions are the product of complex emergent processes. But there might be a more mundane reason. If some recessions were predictable, policy-makers would loosen policy in advance, thus preventing them***. The only recessions we ever saw would then be the unpredictable ones.  

The message I take from this is that we should be humble about our ability to foresee recessions coming, especially when others aren’t expecting them.

* Given that UK equities are correlated with overseas ones, and UK industrial production with global output, I suspect a similar pattern is true generally.

** The chart is also inconsistent with Samuelson’s quip that the stock market has predicted nine of the last five recessions. If this were the case, we’d expect to see some falls in share prices which aren’t followed by falls in output. However, except in 2003 (and maybe now!) we haven’t.

*** They would then be criticized with hindsight for loosening policy unnecessarily!

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Posted by Annie Curie

Dunkirk refugee campAs a child in school, I remember learning about human failings throughout history and wondering repeatedly: how did so many people effectively neglect the problems they faced? So many years later, I still have the same question swirling around in the recesses in my mind. Last week simply brought this to the forefront of all I think about, thanks to the rude awakening that was our office’s fact-finding mission in Calais and Dunkirk. These failings of humanity to pay attention to and help fellow human beings in a humanitarian crisis are still prevalent today. What’s worse? This problem is right in our backyard. With this horrific realisation, I am left wondering once more: how do we fix it?

When we took up our posts, Lord Roberts asked us to try and address the refugee crisis which Europe was just beginning to recognise. None of us could have possibly understood the immensity of the problem when we first began research. It seemed like something in another place, another time, so distant and far removed from us that its tangibility faded to nothingness. Then, we began speaking to those people who had been working tirelessly on the ground to try and stem the seriousness before it escalated out of control. Meetings between our office and NGOs helped to uncover greater barriers to solutions than any of us could have ever imagined.

A few months later, after countless briefings, questions, and attempts to put greater pressure on Her Majesty’s Government to act, it became apparent that our office needed to explore the situation on the ground for ourselves. We arranged travel to Calais and Dunkirk with a grassroots organisation and an international non-governmental organisation, both of whom took us around the camps and provided insights from their differing perspectives.

We arrived in Calais unsure of what we would find there. At the train station, grassroots organisers picked us up in a volunteer taxi they arranged and took us to Dunkirk. As we were driving along the motorway, I was staring out the window at the grey skies and vast, flat fields of France. This is when I saw a line of two dozen refugees traipsing through the mud next to a small canal, heads bowed against the fierce wind that was bending even the largest of trees. One of the young men had stopped and was staring at the road, his scarf billowing violently and his hat pulled low against the frigid air.

The next sight from the shuttle was even more compelling. There were police vans parked with blue lights flashing and sirens hushed, visible in their haunting form as we drove past in silence.

Once we arrived in Dunkirk, we were shown to a muddy field in a barren forest filled with tents. These tents house thousands of people – Kurdish families who have fled Northern Iraq because of the violence. As we walked into this camp, I looked down in the mud and spotted a small baby’s welly. It was nearly buried, barely visible through the dense, quicksand-like mud. As we were shown around, the volunteers explained to us how the French authorities have prevented all construction materials from entering Dunkirk. The reasoning? Fear. Fear that these materials, intended for shelter and safety, might encourage more people to join the camp. Inherent in this assumption is that this is a desirable state of living, yet one long look around the camp is enough to understand that nobody wanted this. Despite such attempts at deterrence, upwards of a hundred new arrivals show up on the metaphorical doorstep of Dunkirk every day, where they are relegated to tents when any are available. These are the people who need help the most, even as they are categorically ignored.

Within the camp, there are an incredible number of dangers faced by refugees each and every day. The conditions (low availability of daily sustenance, freezing cold conditions, poor shelter, and difficulties with showers and drinking water) are burden enough on their own, yet these are not the only hazards faced. Those who fall ill have access to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), but there is no doctor allocated to the site outside normal working hours. Volunteers are thus faced with the challenge of guessing what to do in case of medical emergencies when no doctor is accessible. Another danger families face is the ease with which traffickers and smugglers may enter the camp. They are matched with little resistance from authorities. A little over a week ago, three refugees were shot dead in the camp. Even though there was an enormous police response to the incident, it appears that there will be no further investigation into the incident. The police turn a blind eye.

After leaving the camp in Dunkirk, the grassroots group we were with took us to their warehouse. This is the place where donations for both Dunkirk and Calais are sorted, boxed, and organised for distribution. From donations alone, this organisation manages to feed 5,500 people each week. As we walked around, it became apparent that this is thanks to the many volunteers bustling around, some peeling vegetables and stocking donations while others load prepared food into vans to deliver to refugees in the camps. Upbeat music plays in the background, seemingly in rhythm to the clanking of pots and pans in the industrial kitchen. Despite the constant urgency motivating their work, spirits in the warehouse were high and productivity was incredible. As we looked on, I could not help but be amazed by the dedication of both donors and volunteers in helping the people of Calais and Dunkirk.

Calais church being destroyedOnce our group finished having a look around the warehouse, we continued on to the ‘Jungle’ in Calais. When we arrived at the camp, a mosque had just been destroyed and a church was being mowed down by French authorities. Our group looked on as the pastor of the church clung to the cross, and members of his congregation stood around with overwhelmingly forlorn expressions on their faces. These holy sites, promised protection by the authorities, were torn down punitively after a clash between xenophobes throwing stones and refugees who defended themselves. This has created a greater sense of distrust between the refugee communities and authorities, whom refugees fear will tear down the newly built school next.

As the armed guards pushed us away from the barren site where the church had stood minutes before, we decided it was time to move on and see more of the conditions. The first thing I noticed is that there is graffiti all around the camp. The majority of this is filled with messages of love, hope, and optimism as written by the refugees themselves. Yet in some places, swastikas have been drawn on their tents – a clear threat from right-wing, xenophobic groups. We saw one which the refugees had attempted to obscure with a bit of orange paint and a message of love, yet it still glared through the covering paint ominously. Who could miss such blatant symbolism?

These groups have done more than paint threats, however. Refugees have been victimised by brutal attackers, who come in the night with metal pipes and hearts filled with hate. Only recently have the authorities begun to take notice of the dangers these vulnerable people face.

As we walked around, we came upon the newly-built shelters sanctioned by French authorities. These white, sterile units are surrounded by a fence, and their presence has instilled fear of internment in many of the refugees. Some of the people we talked to feared that they would lose their ability to be free, to have community spaces, and to have basic human dignity. The authorities have built enough of these units for 1,500 people, yet there are an estimated 6,000 people in the camp. Where will the rest of these vulnerable people go? This is a problem that cannot be solved by simply pretending the numbers are not so high and bulldozing the only shelters available for so many.

Another problem within the camps at Calais and Dunkirk is the information deficit. Many of the refugees are not able to access well-presented options of where to go next. Because of this, many feel confused about where they can or should turn next. They are then stuck in these deplorable conditions, with little access to legal recourse.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 12.33.29As we walked around the camp, learning of these problems and seeing the conditions first-hand, my colleagues and I also had an opportunity to speak with a few of the refugees themselves. One man came up to me, eager to tell his story. It was heart-breaking, especially when he finished by gesturing to the rubbish heap and broken tents next to us with a sigh and then explained, ‘this is my life now’.

Many of the refugees were coughing, though the cause could be anything from cold and flu to lungs filled with tear gas. These people we encountered were desperate, that much was apparent. There were doctors and nurses and economists in the camp, who had fulfilling lives before this civil war upset their equilibrium.

After returning home from this fact-finding mission, at first I was speechless. Then, I sobbed. I wept in the way a grassroots organiser did as she stood in a muddy field surrounded by tents and hopelessness. The situation in Calais and Dunkirk is incredibly dire for thousands of people, yet little is being done. Grassroots organisations are overwhelmed with the scale on which they are expected to work, while international organisations have their hands tied by bureaucracy and legal hurdles. As one young woman told us, ‘…this is not a refugee camp. It’s a camp filled with refugees’. That was unmistakably shown as we looked around. Another of the aid workers, who has previously worked as a crisis respondent in many different refugee camps across the world, informed our group that this is substandard compared with any refugee camp she had been in. Due to the lack of camp management, paired with the French government’s rejection of various resources and Britain’s feeble claims of not being involved, basic humanitarian needs are not being met.

Even in the face of hopelessness, there are symbols of hope around the camp. Makeshift restaurants serve food and love, while spray-painted messages of hope conceal hate. There is a firm belief that our societies will not ignore these people forever. Let’s prove them right.

Photo credits: Mark Lavender

* Annie Curie works for Lib Dem Peer Lord Roger Roberts

Socrates as Mary Sue

Feb. 9th, 2016 12:42 pm
[syndicated profile] crooked_timber_feed

Posted by Belle Waring

The genuinely Platonic way to discuss The Just City would be to not talk about it at all after the introductory section of the post, and instead use it as the springboard for a discussion about something tangentially related. Additionally, we should go Unfogged style: the post should be short and all the action should take place in the comments, in which I will be kind of a dick to everyone (“how would this be different than the usual?” you ask!) and, more controversially, cut out the content of everyone’s replies and paste in slightly weaker arguments that suit my purposes better. But this doesn’t seem like a very good idea, even if it is a very Platonic idea.

John says, it’s proof that Republic is science fiction! Because what happens when your characters set out to build the city which that one part of Plato’s Republic describes, plausibly only for the purposes of drawing an analogy to the well-ordered soul? You get SF. And maybe you learn something about being a good person? Maybe not, though.

I’m interested in what makes a character a Mary Sue. It’s a useful term (though problematic as I will say below). Some characters really are Mary Sues to the point that the way they effortlessly overcome all obstacles becomes an obstacle to reading. I love Anne McCaffrey, but Dragonsinger, fails as a novel due to the improbably perfect, talented, totally in the right, musical genius Menolly who has NINE fire-lizards. The first book in the trilogy is excellent, making one even more annoyed. On the other hand, every fantasy novel involves wish-fulfilment at some level, or characters who overcome all odds. Harry Potter is a Mary Sue if we put things that way, and yet it’s not a helpful or interesting thing to say about the Harry Potter series. Can Socrates be thought of usefully as a Mary Sue? I would say yes. His many straw enemies make for a lot of unsatisfying triumphs.

The Just City made me consider how various characters or storylines might be or not be wish-fulfilment, and also to question myself as a reader. Am I more willing to read a book about Napoleonic naval battles that one that faces the agony of childbirth and post-partum depression? Having experienced the latter set myself I know it is terrifying, and even if we find Medea’s ‘one child to three battles’ ratio overstated I think we’ll end up with at the very least a one to one ratio of terror and looming death. Is Horatio Hornblower’s strategic genius and physical courage any less an inviting space to be inhabited by a day-dreaming reader than Walton’s Classics scholar freed from the crippling sexism of her day and set loose in the field of politics?

There isn’t an educated woman alive who hasn’t thought about her sisters in the past and then thought about the various life prospects available to them and then felt miserable. It is in all likelihood a personal character failing, combined with having read an excess of 19th-century novels, that inclines me to think of well-read early Victorian women with these pangs of pity rather than, say, lots of actual women alive right now in southern Myanmar, whom I could in principle help. Or I feel sad for Japanese noblewomen who learned poetry through the wall when their brothers were being taught on the other side. Paper walls for the unlikely win! (It’s funny to think how much easier Japanese would be to learn if they had gone all the way using ‘inferior women’s’ syllabary and not left 70% of the written language in Chinese characters. But the only way to do that sort of thing when the weaker sex is associated with phonetics is to have a benevolent despot—a philosopher-king if you will—just sort stuff out.) I realised that I’m inclined to think of the project which is part of constructing the Just City, namely the part in which women and girls are redeemed from the straitened circumstances of the past, as a kind of wish-fulfilment. But is this only because it is a pre-existing wish of mine?

Any wish-fulfilment in SF is often derided as the creation of “Mary Sues.” When this term was coined it was immediately obvious to many readers and writers that this is…strangely gendered at best and suspiciously misogynist at worst. If people throw the word around only in the context of female characters, or with the implicit notion that women in fantasy and SF are the main locus of ‘Mary-Sue-ness’, then something has gone very wrong. The term comes from one Paula Smith, who wrote a story in 1973 as a satire of Star Trek fanfic (maybe life before the internet wasn’t that different after all?!). The wikipedia entry linked above actually does a good job interrogating the notion, and also contains more than a few things liable to induce a rage stroke.

At Clippercon 1987 (a Star Trek fan convention held yearly in Baltimore, Maryland), Smith interviewed a panel of female authors who say they do not include female characters in their stories at all. [the whole panel was composed of such authors? I think not and that this is sloppily redacted—Belle] She quoted one as saying “Every time I’ve tried to put a woman in any story I’ve ever written, everyone immediately says, this is a Mary Sue.” Smith also pointed out that “Participants in a panel discussion in January 1990 noted with growing dismay that any female character created within the community is damned with the term Mary Sue.

Do not…include female characters…at all. Great way to solve the problem! Why not simply create male characters who seem to embody this same problem, with their invulnerability to weapons, panther-like agility, handiness with a nuke-grenade when the bugs come after you, and more! Wait, that’s most every fantasy and SF book ever, already. (“He will know your ways as one born to them.”)

We need a more appropriate monicker. I propose ‘Louis Wu’ in lieu of ‘Gary Stu’ which (along with ‘Marty Stu’) is often proposed as a more useful replacement for Mary Sue. Useful in the sense that it has a wider application. I yield to no woman in my love of Ringworld, but let’s face facts. (And Ringworld spoilers!) Louis Wu bangs his way to freedom with a woman who, though biological, is like Pris in Bladerunner—“your basic pleasure model.” And that’s before he saves everyone by dragging their ship into a hole in the ringworld punched by an errant meteor. The failure of imagination exhibited in so many classic SF novels is of a peculiar kind. You can imagine ringworlds and aliens and nano-weapons that destroy super-conductive materials to bring about the crash of hostile civilizations, but you somehow can’t get all the way to women doing space jobs? We don’t want dudes to be bored on spaceships while they do space jobs. Hmmm. Better include women doing space jobs and also having sex if they feel like it because they have autonomy sex toys! Gnurggh [this is the noise I make when attempting to turn my face inside out in irritation, as John can tell you].

In The Just City, quite a number of my favorite subjects for daydreams get a look in. What would we be able to get if we could rush into the Library of Alexandria a day before the fire? (ALL THE THINGS.) How would ancient scholars of Plato react when confronted in a visceral way with the gender equality proposed in Republic? (NOT WELL. That no one can convince Cicero to change any diapers seems veeeryy realistic to me.) Wait, how would dudes born before 1950 react? Also not well, is how. And within the frame of the story’s would-be-Platonic city, how would people react to the noble lie, or to having their infants torn from their hands as soon as they gave birth? (Honestly I am almost surprised that everyone didn’t revolt right then.)

And this is what I thought when I began to read The Just City: what will be interesting about this is how the disaster comes about. Because attempting to create an actual polis using Plato’s Republic as a guide is pretty much the worst idea ever. I won’t entirely spoil the plot for those of you who haven’t read the book yet. It is fitting that even with many changes, running the experiment “how will those in power react to Socrates’ incessant interrogation?” yields the same results as the one in Athens. Getting stung by gadflies hurts, nor is actually beneficial to those getting stung, pace Plato. (I assume they are exactly like horseflies, no? European readers who have been stung by both, please enlighten us.)

On the whole I think Walton did a very good job with the thought-experiment-cum-novel. I liked the way the multiple narrators allowed us to see things from the children’s perspective and then also from that of the adults. Thus we learned (eventually) that anarchy prevailed for a while as the badly-outnumbered adults tried to tend to an army of ten-year-olds, something that wasn’t apparent to the children. I think Socrates could have done more damage in his final argument than he did. I appreciated the way that the combination of people with varying sexual mores produced a depressing and plausible result: that women might judge it best to keep rape quiet and not rock the boat. One thing which derailed my reading at times was a too-thoroughgoing feminism among the children of the city (John talks about this also). These children were slaves or peasant farmers or whatever before coming to the city, and had plenty of time to imbibe all the sexism in the world. Further, the vast majority of the adults come from times with deeply entrenched sexism. That one or two exceptional girls might ‘get it’ right off the bat seems fine, but that all would seemed strained. The thing which I found most difficult to imagine was the teenage heroine Simmea deciding not to have sex with Apollo. Having chosen to live a life and learn from experience, he is human, but he’s perfect and beautiful and numinous. Simmea’s first pregnancy nearly killed her, so it’s not hard to imagine shying away from the certainty of another pregnancy (since he’s a god she’ll definitely conceive, and be the mother of a hero). The thing is that she’s very likely to get knocked up the following day, on which she’ll be assigned a sex partner by lot (or so she thinks) so that she can fulfil her reproductive duty to the city. Further, she has been in love with Apollo since forever, and she knows that he genuinely loves her for the person she is, and for the mind within her body—- not for her physical self, which she knows to be unprepossessing.

What follows is an excellent example of my poor judgment. One day, when I was eleven, I was wandering in the alley behind my grandmother’s house in Georgetown, in D.C. I remember it quite vividly; hot but not yet oppressively so, and smelling of tar and the clots of mulberries staining the concrete all at one end of the alley. Tempting yet insipid, is really all you can say about mulberries. I would go to the trouble of climbing the chain-link fence by the tree, even though mulberries taste like you’re being haunted by a now-dead blackberry. The sky was very blue, so not summer yet. I thought to myself how I wished the Greek gods were real (fine so far!) but particularly that it would be very satisfying if Apollo were to notice me at that moment. My daughters actually laughed at what a terrible idea this was. And it wasn’t like I hadn’t read enough stories to know what happens to mortals when they get involved with the gods in any fashion, howsoever obliquely! The humans get wrecked up, is what. If you’re lucky you’ll be flayed alive like Marsyas and it’ll be over in a hurry, but you might end up suffering the torments of the damned in a religion where there isn’t even a non-Hell area to advance to after death! But what will children do besides daydream? And that even about sexual power, which we might feel ambivalent about. Certainly adults fantasize all the time, especially about sexual power. Reading this book made me ask myself, am I more willing to read Oh John Ringo, No! write a detailed account of creating a tribal nation than I am an account of how post-partum depression can be dealt with in the ancient world? Do I consider military SF to be non-Louis Wu-ish? If I think that I’m dumb and wrong, clearly. Has internalized sexism made me regard some kinds of imaginary world-building as less legitimate than others, more feminine than others? A book about a philosophical city may not seem a likely place for this to arise, and yet I needed to think about the areas I found less satisfactory and then ask, is this something about the novel, or about me?

I’ll close by noting something I had intended to talk more about. “Socrates” would serve just as well as “Louis Wu,” if you think about it. Socrates is a giant Mary Sue philosopher character for Plato. Lucky in his choice of interlocutors, pleasantly unsurprised when he elicits geometry from slave boys, the object of unreturned sexual affection from the hottest guy in Athens, an initiate into a variety of mysteries he can only allude to because reasons…like I say, he’s a dream come true. A dream Plato can conveniently claim came true in such a way as to validate everything Plato believes? Like many a young philosopher I turned away from philosophy as an undergraduate just because Socrates was so damn annoying. He’s Louis Wu, I’m telling you.

[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by The Voice

Today saw the annual Shrove Tuesday pancake race at the House of Commons in aid of the charity Rehab. You can read all about it and find some amazing looking pancake recipes from the likes of Paul Hollywood, Rick Stein and Gino D’Acampo in the official brochure here. Apple pancakes with Apple Brandy Custard is the one I want to eat most.

Here, courtesy of Terry Stacy, is the Lib Dem contingent of Kate Parminter, Rupert Redesdale, Susan Kramer and Dominic Addington in action.

Lib Dem Peers Pancake team


Where’s the pancake?

Kramer pancake race


Kate still has hers, though

Parminter pancake race


Addington pancake


Looks like fun. Twitter has much more here.

Gosh, this is fun, isn’t it?

Feb. 9th, 2016 11:58 am
[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

It was a boom business. That is, until Universal sued in 1929, accusing Winkler­Koch of stealing its intellectual property. With his domestic business tied up in court, Fred started looking for partners abroad and was soon doing business in the Soviet Union, where leader Joseph Stalin had just launched his first Five Year Plan. Stalin sought to fund his country’s industrialization by selling oil into the lucrative European export market. But the Soviet Union’s reserves were notoriously hard to refine. The USSR needed cracking technology, and the Oil Directorate of the Supreme Council of the National Economy took a shining to Winkler-Koch – primarily because Koch’s oil-industry competitors were reluctant to do business with totalitarian Communists.

Between 1929 and 1931, Winkler-Koch built 15 cracking units for the Soviets. Although Stalin’s evil was no secret, it wasn’t until Fred visited the Soviet Union, that these dealings seemed to affect his conscience. “I went to the USSR in 1930 and found it a land of hunger, misery and terror,” he would later write. Even so, he agreed to give the Soviets the engineering know-how they would need to keep building more.

So, if you’re a right winger then by 1929 Stalin was obviously a monster. If you’re a leftie then you get the Pulitzer in 1932 for saying it was all just great.

Isn’t this fun kiddies?

[personal profile] miss_s_b
I have some ideas for some of the categories, but the problem is I will not nominate anything I am not personally familiar with, and there are some categories I have not read/seen/etc enough things in. So, I have nearly two months till deadline; I am going to ask for recs. What do YOU think ought to win awards in the following categories? Rec me stuff, I shall try to check it out, and then if I like it, it might get a nom from me:
Best Novella (between 17,500 and 40,000 words)

Best Novelette (between 7,500 and 17,500 words)

Best Related Work

Best Graphic Story

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

Best Semiprozine

Best Fanzine

Best Fancast

Best Fan Writer

Best Fan Artist

The John W. Campbell Award for new writers (1st published 2014 or 2015)
The categories I have left off are the ones I think I have enough things to nominate in without crowdsourcing stuff I might not have seen, but if there's an novels or short stories you genuinely think I might have missed, do drop those in the comments too. Obvs I might not get chance to check everything out, but I'll do my best.

Over to you lot! :)
supergee: (football)


Feb. 9th, 2016 07:15 am
[personal profile] supergee
Fantasy Football Is Not Dungeons & Dragons for Jocks. It’s wargaming for jocks. And it’s for jock sniffers, rather than jocks, although there are actual NFL players who also play fantasy.

Thanx to [ profile] andrewducker
[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by Caron Lindsay

On Sunday, Peter Black, AM for South Wales East, a man with almost as many portfolios as there are days of Christmas, gave his keynote speech to Welsh Conference. He called on both Wales’ Labour Government and the UK’s Conservative Government to do more to help the Tata steel workers set to lose their jobs. He also unveiled the Welsh Lib Dems’ plan to tackle the housing crisis by building 20,000 more houses and implementing a rent to buy scheme. He also touched on political reform, devolution of power, the arts, broadcasting and sport. That’s quite something in just 15 minutes. Here is his speech in full:

Chair, I have been privileged to have served as a Welsh Liberal Democrats Assembly Member for nearly 17 years, representing my adoptive City of Swansea, Neath, Port Talbot and Bridgend.

There are some key issues for me as a local representative, which also go to the heart of Liberal Democrats policy. These include the future of the Tata steel plant in Port Talbot, where job losses will have a devastating impact on the local community and on the economy of South Wales.

I have been pushing the Welsh Government to set up an urban regeneration company for the area, to work within the proposed enterprise zone, and also to cut the business rate burden for the plant.

But we also need the UK Government to step up to the plate and to reduce energy costs, and to take action within the European Community to prevent the dumping of cheap steel from China and Russia.

The UK Government also need to step up to the plate on the Tidal Lagoon planned for Swansea Bay. I believe that the company has now made an acceptable offer to the Treasury on the subsidy they will apply to this development and I urge Ministers to make an early announcement that this scheme can go ahead.

The tidal lagoon ticks all the boxes in our manifesto. It will produce clean, alternative energy, it is an investment in infrastructure that will bring employment to the area and it will also feature as a major tourist attraction.

As my friend, Denis Campbell would say, giving the go-ahead to this scheme is a slam dunk and it is time UK ministers recognised this.

In the time I have been in the Assembly I have worked hard to ensure that liberal values and policies are central to the governance of Wales. It has to be said, with mixed success.

What I am clear about though is the impact that we have had in that Assembly as the smallest party. Throughout the four terms of the Assembly we have hit above our weight.

I have been involved in negotiations that have secured an additional £283.5 million for Welsh schools since 2012 in the form of support for the poorest pupils through the Pupil Deprivation Grant.

The latest two year deal, secured an increase in the Pupil Deprivation Grant for next year so that from April each school will receive £1,150 for every pupil eligible to receive free schools.

We have secured an extension of the Pupil Deprivation Grant to include under 5s, worth £300 per pupil on free school meals.

We got the Welsh Government to implement a policy brought to this conference by IR Cymru, namely a Young Persons’ Bus Pass for 16-18 year olds worth nearly £15 million.

We secured funding for around 5,000 new apprenticeships, £95m worth of capital investment in infrastructure, which will provide a strong boost to jobs and the economy, and an agreement that no construction of the M4 relief road will start before the next Assembly elections alongside a detailed Environmental Impact Study.

In addition we got an agreement for extra childcare investment for further education students in Wales who are parents, investing in a pilot scheme promoted by the National Union of Students.

Those budget agreements are not just about implementing Welsh Liberal Democrats principles and policies, but they are also about refocusing the Welsh Government, trying to make devolution work for the people of Wales, and going back to basics to restore this devolution project to its original vision of an accountable, transparent government delivering made in Wales policies tailored to Welsh needs.

And there is no doubt in my mind that Welsh Labour have lost their way.

Labour has dominated the governance of Wales since we first walked into the converted computer room that served as our chamber in 1999.

Despite that they have failed to deliver on the promises and dreams of those of us who campaigned for a yes vote in the original referendum.

The Welsh Labour Government has been as unaccountable and as opaque as the Welsh UK Ministers they replaced.

Despite the hard work and professionalism of teachers, nurses, doctors and other public sector workers Wales is trailing behind the rest of the UK in educational attainment, key targets are being missed in the health service and our economy is falling further behind.

Nowhere can a government’s level of ambition be measured more so than in housing

Professor Holmans’ report into Housing stated that if future demand for housing in Wales is to be met, there needs to be “a return to rates of house building not seen for almost 20 years”

“Not seen for 20 years”

17 of those years have been under the Labour Government

There is no other way to look at it: that 17 years has left Wales with a housing crisis

As is often the case in politics, we see the two main parties fighting it out over ideological dogma

The Tories want to extend the Right to Buy

Labour wants to end it

Neither party says anything more than that

That is simply not good enough

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are the only party in Wales willing to talk about housing

And why?  Because it meets two of our key objectives: fairness and ambition.

According to the Homes for Wales campaign, house prices have risen by 16 per cent since 2008, more than six times the average person’s income.

Because of this, 27 per cent of young people still live at home with their parents, struggling to get on the housing ladder.

Over 5,000 households were accepted as homeless last year, and an estimated 90,000 households are on social housing waiting lists.

There are 8,596 families who have been on the housing waiting list since before the last election, with a further 2,000 waiting since the election before that.

And to meet current demand, 12,000 new homes are needed each year.

Wales needs a government that will invest in a house building programme so everyone can have a roof over their heads.

I assure you that social housing will be a priority for the Welsh Liberal Democrats so that there is quality, affordable housing for those who need it

We will double the current Social Housing Grant budget of £35million per year to £70million per year and set a target of 20,000 new affordable homes over the same period. This would be double the Labour Government’s target.

Housing is important to the Welsh Liberal Democrats because we believe in supporting people’s ambition

Why work hard, why innovate, why contribute to our economy if all of this doesn’t lead to the simple business of owning your own home, rather than paying a fortune in rent your whole life

Again, Labour almost have a sneering attitude to the idea of home ownership – as if this is some sort of crass wish list

In contrast, we the only party in Wales offering real solutions and ideas so people can access their own home.

The 16 per cent in house prices since 2008 has resulted in an increasing proportion of young people still living at home with their parents for longer and longer, because they are struggling to get on the housing ladder.

The average age of a first-time buyer in Wales may be younger than elsewhere in the UK, but this figure hides the more worrying fact that home ownership has plummeted for the under-35s.

Just 36 per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds now own their own home, down from 59 per cent ten years ago. It is an extraordinary decline.

Prices have simply got too far out of reach for too many young families, with some first-time buyers saving for 15 years to get onto the housing ladder at all.

Under the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ ‘Rent to Buy’ policy, young people in Wales would be able to buy their own home without a deposit

We would help young people onto the housing ladder by allowing them to build up a share in their home through monthly payments equivalent to rent – this will work just like a mortgage in the way that they will eventually own the house outright

This policy is not a replacement for affordable rented properties or social housing, which we would also seek to expand, but we would aim to deliver at least 2,500 newly built specific-to-the-purpose, rent-to-own homes over an Assembly term, through the social housing grant mechanism.

This is about ambition and fairness.

Under our proposals, it doesn’t matter what your background or family circumstance is, if you can afford your rent then we will help you own your home – something nearly everyone dreams of.

For too long Wales hasn’t been seen as a place for young people where they can fulfil their dreams and ambitions: We want to change that

Wales can reach its potential.  We want to make the best of Wales’ strengths: our culture, our resources and most of all, our people

And for that to happen, we must convince people to be part of it – especially our young people

We will support people’s ambitions so that people know that if you live in Wales, were born in Wales, have moved to Wales, work in Wales – then you are part of our project to revitalise Wales.

While the supply of housing is vital, we must also ensure that we do more to support those who are renting by protecting tenants from unfair practices and improving the quality and safety of poor private rented sector homes.

There have been big improvements over the last Assembly term. The Housing (Wales) Act 2014, the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 and the introduction of the Rent Smart Wales scheme will help raise standards in the private rented sector.

However, standards are still not good enough.

Over the last decade, the private rented sector has expanded rapidly and currently houses as many people as the social rented sector.

Shelter Cymru highlights that nearly one in ten private tenants with dependent children said that their children’s health had been affected in the last year due to the landlord not dealing with repairs and poor conditions.

That means up to 10,000 children a year may be suffering worse health because of poor conditions in privately rented housing.

Furthermore, too many tenants are still being ripped off by excessive letting agency fees.

According to Shelter, one in four of those who’ve used a letting agency have been charged excessive fees, and more than one in three have been charged over £200 in administration fees at the start of their tenancy.

The legislation that we’ve passed in this Assembly has helped, and has made progress, but there’s still a lot of work to be done and scope for further legislation in the next Assembly.

In Government in Westminster, we forced letting agents to be up-front and transparent about the fees they charge.

We believe that letting agency fees on tenants should be prohibited and replaced with a schedule of set charges for specified services to ensure cost transparency.

Evidence by Shelter Scotland demonstrates that after abolishing letting agency fees for tenants, landlords in Scotland were no more likely to have increased rents since 2012 than landlords elsewhere in the UK.

Tenants should not have to suffer poor standards, poor maintenance and weaker rights than home owners.

We have the residential property tribunal in Wales, but we need to make it more effective to help resolve housing disputes and offer a more balanced forum where tenants are able to stand up for their rights.

We would empower this tribunal to act as a housing court dealing with challenges to rent increases.

It would adjudicate and mediate in disputes on fitness for human habitation, succession rights, failure to supply contracts and discrimination.

We would work with landlords to ensure energy rating targets are met to improve the standard and efficiency of homes, and work with student unions and tenant groups to ensure tenants know their rights.

We would also expand the remit of the Welsh Tenants Federation to include representation from private rented sector tenants so as to strengthen the representation of those renting privately.

These are all practical measures to help protect tenants from unfair practices and improve the quality and safety of poor private rented sector homes.

This election will rightly focus on key policies around the economy, education, housing and health. Like all of you I will be on doorsteps telling people about our unique offering in these areas.

However, my responsibilities as a party spokesperson cover many more areas. In some ways I have got the subjects nobody else wanted.

In addition to Housing, Communities, Social Justice, and Finance I also speak on equalities, on broadcasting, sport, culture and local government.

Many of these areas speak to our identity as Welsh citizens, as members of our local community and as individuals.

The importance of local culture to local communities, and developments such as the Bay Studios in Swansea and the S4C development in Carmarthen to the local economies, cannot be understated.

Our culture, our history and our heritage all act as powerful attractions for tourists from the rest of the UK and around the world. At least 100,000 people are employed in the industry in Wales. That is around 9% of the workforce. When you add jobs in retail and the purchasing power of tourism-based business in Wales, the impact is absolutely huge.

Some of the proposals we will put before the electorate in this area in May include reinstating the Culture Ministry with responsibility for Culture, Tourism, Heritage and Broadcasting, and creating a cross-cutting cabinet sub-committee to raise Wales’ international profile.

We will give Councils a statutory duty of care for the cultural infrastructure and organisations, sport, leisure provision and youth provision.

And we will continue our campaign to reduce VAT on Visitor Accommodation and Attractions from 20% to 5%.

We will establish a Cultural Enterprise Agency with economic development funding to give grants, advice and mentoring to those with small enterprises in arts, publishing, media and cultural retailing.

And we will protect the Welsh Arts Council grant.

We will push for the Welsh Government to be responsible for appointing Welsh members of the BBC and Ofcom and ask for the devolution of community radio licencing to the Assembly.

The u-turn by the UK Government on funding for S4C this week is very welcome but there is a need to secure longer term funding for that station so as to guarantee its future, enable it to invest in HD and other new technologies and allow it to develop a quality programme of productions which builds on the success of Hinterland.

As a season ticket holder at Wales only premier league football club I am keen to see what can be done to advance soccer as well as many other sports.

Specifically though we will work with the Sports Ground Safety Authority to prepare guidance under which domestic football clubs may introduce safe standing areas, to create a better atmosphere.

And we will work with major sporting bodies and local councils to maximise investment in grass roots sports facilities as well as in elite sports men and women.

I have been a member of Swansea Council now for nearly 32 years.

I would get a lesser sentence for murder.

But what that lifetime of work has taught me has been invaluable as an Assembly Member.

In particular, it has taught me the value of local democracy, of communities taking responsibility for themselves and determining their own future.

It has also taught me that process and structures do not improve service delivery, that Ministers based in Cardiff have no idea what local communities need and want and should keep their nose out and that local accountability improves transparency and gives us better services.

That is why we have fundamental problems with the Williams Commission report on local government and specifically the proposal by Labour to institute a top-down reorganisation of local government that will produce eight over-large councils, remote from the people they serve and with no clear community identity.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats believe in devolving power from Cardiff Bay into our communities, giving councils the tools to be able to properly deliver services for local people.

Wales does have too many Councils, many of which are too small and are underperforming.  However, if councils are going to be larger, then it is essential that they reflect the way that people voted.

Without introducing a fair voting system and without the devolution of powers to local communities, any reorganisation process is pointless.

The boundaries of new Councils should not be drawn by politicians. That is a job for the independent Boundary Commission.

They should be tasked with coming up with proposals that balance the interests of effective strategic management and service delivery with local accountability, that reflect community identities and which have demonstrable public consent.

We do not agree that major cities should be merged with large rural hinterlands, as neither community will find their needs met.

We do not agree that the return of Dyfed or Gwent meets any recognisable definition of local.

Nor can we sign up to Plaid Cymru’s super-structures, keeping 22 councils but imposing a further seven bodies on top with responsibility for health as well as education and social services.

I do not want Swansea’s hospitals run from Cardiff, as Plaid Cymru propose and I am sure that my colleagues in Ceredigion and North Wales feel the same with regards to their health services.

Instead of playing with lines on maps the Welsh Government should be empowering councils to do the job they are elected for.

Giving them more responsibilities.

Responsibility for public health;

A strategic role in transport provision:

Devolving budgets for community regeneration and tackling poverty to people who understand how best to spend it in their own area.

That is a liberal agenda for local democracy.

Conference, the opportunity for introducing Liberal Democrat policies and principles into the next Welsh Government is in front of us.

We can campaign with our heads held high that we have improved the lives of many people over the last five years through our interventions and our successes out of all proportion to our size.

But we know that if devolution is to succeed then the Welsh Government needs to better connect with people and start to deliver the key services that we rely on day-in day-out.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are best equipped to succeed in that endeavour, both in terms of what we have already achieved and in the policies we are putting in front of voters on May 5th.

Now is our time.

Now is the time for Wales to move forward and realise its potential as a self-governing country.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

supergee: (book)


Feb. 9th, 2016 06:18 am
[personal profile] supergee
Books where characters react to each other. (Ignore clickbait title.)

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[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

And those “studying” under Richard Murphy.

The section of this blog you want is “Ragging on Ritchie“.

And we would be hugely amused to see any class notes, instructions and so on that Murphy has handed out as part of his teaching. To, please.


Feb. 9th, 2016 10:35 am
[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

The UK is ahead of the game here, but the £50 note still needs to go. The £20 I can see use for but it is amazing that 18% of all UK cash is a note I never see.

The argument seems irrefutable.

The UK’s largest banknote should be smaller than the cost of a tank of petrol? Really?

I am not proposing the abolition of cash

But no one legitimately needs these notes


Murphmonster questions we can answer

Feb. 9th, 2016 10:27 am
[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

In other words, the IoD who want to get rid of all taxes on capital to increase inequality in the UK get a voice but the supporters of the positive role tax has to play in society do not.

Why is that?

Because they decided to ask people who actually knew something about tax.

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British Liberal, house husband, school play leader and stepdad. Campaigner, atheistic feminist, amateur baker. Male.

Known to post items of interest on occasions. More likely to link to interesting stuff. Sometimes talks about stuff he's done. Occasionally posts recipes for good food. Planning to get married, at some point. Enjoying life in Yorkshire.

Likes comments. Especially likes links. Loves to know where people came from and what they were looking for. Mostly posts everything publicly. Sometimes doesn't. Hi.

Mat Bowles

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October 2015


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I'm the Chair of the Brighouse branch of the Liberal Democrats & the membership secretary for Calderdale Lib Dems and run the web campaign for the local candidates. I have a job, a stepdaughter and a life.

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