My word

Jul. 8th, 2015 05:18 am
[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

So, who is covering up for whom?

Dozens of witnesses in a massive fraud case in India surrounding cheating at college and government jobs have been found dead, including four in the past two days.
Investigators say thousands of people got jobs or medical degrees from systematic exam cheating that generated millions of dollars in bribes in the state of Madhya Pradesh.
At least 36 people connected to the case in the state, run by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have died since the scam was first brought to light in 2013. More than 2,000 have been arrested in relation to the scam.
Four more people connected to the case have died since the weekend, just days before a Supreme Court hearing and amid opposition accusations that a regional unit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party was protecting the accused.

As someone who has extensive experience of working in properly corrupt areas of the world (although not India) I do get funny looks when I point out quite how uncorrupt the UK is.

It’s a societal, social perhaps, thing. In some parts of the world, if you want to do something, the first question is “Who do we bribe and how much?” I’ve even been in parts of the world where before you decide what you’re going to do you work out who you know well enough to bribe. That being the only way you’re ever going to get inside the network.

In Britain, well, I’ve never tried it, on the grounds that I’m pretty certain that you’re odds on to get dobbed in even for raising the idea of handing around brown envelopes. Several readers here have similar experiences, having worked in odd parts of the world…..although, actually, the real statement here is that it is Britain which is gloriously odd. I have happily bribed my way (yes, back when it was legal) foreign parts and I wouldn’t even know how to start doing so in my native country. It really is a different place.

[syndicated profile] political_betting_feed

Posted by Mike Smithson


Gordon Brown’s 2001 exemption rule has a huge loophole which should never have been agreed

From 1980-84 a big part my then job at the BBC was to deal with the PR and political issues relating to the corporation’s prime income source, the TV licence. None of the challenges that was as sensitive or as problematic as what should be done about the oldies who were required to pay the same fee as everybody else.

There had been a long-standing campaign for oldies to get free licences which at one point in the early 80s saw some pensioners deliberately trying to get themselves sent to prison for non-payment of fines over their refusal to get a licence. The idea was that their incarcerations would be the focus of marches and other demonstrations.

This was dealt with by secretly paying the outstanding fines and licence fees of the would be TV licence martyrs who were then released from jail much to their annoyance.

On its return to power in 1997 LAB took up the cause of free TV licences for pensioners and in the 2001 general election year the current scheme was introduced by the then chancellor, Gordon Brown in a move to offer something to help win the pensioners vote.

His plan was simple – all those aged 75 or more would get free licences irrespective of their financial circumstances. The massive problem was that the rules were drawn up far too widely so that any household with someone of that age living there qualified for the benefit even if everybody else there was younger.

    The result is that we now have the nonsensical situation in which one in six of all TV licences are now paid for out of central taxation irrespective of the incomes of everybody at the address.

Clearly that has to change and the only households which would qualify are those where everybody is 75+.

My reckoning is that Osborne has made his move to make the BBC fund this knowing that there’ll be less political damage to the Tories if the BBC is seen to be be trying to close down the Gordon Brown loophole and not the government.

This is pure politics. Let the Beeb and not the Tories take the flak.

Mike Smithson

[personal profile] yhlee
if my characters ever come to life I AM SO DEAD PLEASE GRANT ME ASYLUM IN THE CULTURE.
[syndicated profile] liberal_bureaucracy_feed

Posted by Mark Valladares

The reports that George Osborne is likely to reduce tax credits for families with more than two children in tomorrow's budget are interesting indeed. Superficially, it appeals to the sort of people who think that you shouldn't have children if you can't afford to keep them - as if children are like pets.

It is hardly worth going through the reasons why claimants might not have control over their circumstances and thus claim for three or more children - change (or more likely, loss) of job, the birth of multiple children at one time, etc., etc. - so I will focus on the concept of retroactivity.

The problem about children, and I say this having had none of my own, is that once you've got them, you can't undo that. They still require feeding, clothing and everything else, and in dramatically reducing the income available to do these things, you increase poverty and deprivation. Alright, it might not be a huge amount of money per household, but at a time when the financial resilience of households is fairly fragile, differences at the margins matter.

And whilst it is legitimate to question what responsibility the State has to provide support and to what extent, to withdraw that support when those impacted are unable to do anything to change their situation is questionable in terms of ethics. To do so, when you are already intending to punish larger poor families by means of the benefits cap smacks of being punitive.

Yes, you could decide that, in future, you might withdraw or reduce benefits for those who go on to have third, fourth or more children, although I would be sceptical given the potential circumstances that I outlined earlier. But you might also wonder whether or not such action is wise given the falling birth rate and the need to have young people to look after the rest of us as we get older. There are those, after all, who believe that migration from abroad will be needed to make up for our low birth rate. And you are proposing to create a disincentive to have children?

It is, unfortunately, typical of the Conservative Party that it increasingly appears to see itself as a remedy for the outrage of the ill-informed and the narrow-minded, on migration, on the welfare state or Europe or English nationalism, and so much else. Seldom, sadly, are these ideas thought through in terms of either viability of their likely consequences, and it becomes clearer by the day that not only were the Liberal Democrats a brake on the more ludicrous or unpleasant tendencies of the Conservative Party, but that they were the engine for most of the Coalition's good ideas.

Yes, it was the right of the British public to punish the Liberal Democrats if that was what they thought was best - that's how democracy works, as I understand it - but there must be more than a few people who might now be wondering if that was such a great idea...
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Jul. 7th, 2015 05:46 pm
[personal profile] james_davis_nicoll
Has picked which book I review on Sunday. Have fun speculating which Disco Era book I have in mind.
[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by Caron Lindsay

Yes, you read right. Chris Grayling did say that, not on lobby terms to a journalist but in front of the entire world in the Commons this afternoon. 

His comments came during the debate on the Government’s plans to railroad through English Votes for English Laws secured by our Alistair Carmichael. He used an obscure Commons device to discuss the process rather than EVEL itself. 

The Government basically chickened out of the vote today. They were heavily defeated by 291 to just 2. The vote isn’t binding but the Government’s plans sounded more ill-considered and incoherent as the debate wore on.

A vote is scheduled to take place on amendments to Commons standing orders which would prevent MPs from outside England voting  on matters deemed by the Speaker to be English only. This, Carmichael and many other speakers argued, was tantamount to foisting a massive Constitutional reform on the UK without proper scrutiny. 

The Government is doing it this way because it knows that its plans would come unstuck in the Lords if it tried to do it by primary legislation. 

But back to Grayling’s comments about preferring the SNP to the Liberal Democrats. It’s hardly a surprise. If the Lib Dems had 57 MPs, the Tories wouldn’t have a majority and would not be able to inflict this and many other types of prejudice-stirring measures on us. 

Journalists are finally working this out. In today’s Scotsman, David Maddox wrote:

Those who cursed Danny Alexander and his colleagues before the election may wish to pause to think – maybe they were right, and they really did hold back the Tories.

A bit late, but a welcome recognition that we did some good. 

Alistair’s success this afternoon shows that, as at Holyrood, Lib Dems can still make an impact even with massively depleted numbers.

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

[syndicated profile] el_reg_odds_feed

Posted by Team Register

Wind thwarts cunning Calgary Stampede skydive plan

A high-flying Canuck was cuffed over the weekend after overflying the Calgary Stampede in a lawn chair suspended beneath 120 helium-filled balloons.…

[syndicated profile] millenniumelephant_feed

Posted by Millennium Dome


As a member of an ethnic community (namely white people*), it has been brought to my attention that we're in danger, as a community, of "tacitly condoning" extremist language from my fellows because they are "people like me".

These people prey on young British men and women, trying to persuade them to travel to foreign countries thousands of miles away, to perform acts of terrible violence with high explosives.

I mean, of course, people like Mr Michael Fallon, Secretary of the so-called Ministry of Defence (by which we mean Attack) who thinks we should be exploding things in Syria.

There seems to be something about Syria that EXEMPTS politicians from remembering what actually happened. If it's not Mr Milipede claiming he "stood up to President Obama" (when in fact he and Mr Balloon basically cancelled each other out with very similar "let's bomb Syria" motions) then it's Mr Fallon saying we should "think again" about attacking people who we were never thinking of attacking and defending the people who we WERE thinking of attacking!

I think there's a name for how this happens: it's called "lazy journalism" – "Oi! Newspapers! Look at the record and CHALLENGE people when they MAKE this STUFF UP!"

Of COURSE things are more COMPLICATED than just "bombing people bad".

Our history – in the last ten years, or a hundred years, or a THOUSAND years(!) – is one of sticking our fluffy noses into the Middle East and making a mess. So we've got RESPONSIBILITIES and AMENDS to make.

And the Not-Islamic Not-a-State terrorists (should we call them NINAS to keep the Prime Monster happy?) are, as far as I am able to judge from their actions, among the most horribly evil people on the face of the planet, and if they come anywhere near us then we would be quite right to fight them off with the full might and power that the West could deploy.

But they AREN'T anywhere near us. And we certainly do not seem willing to deploy enough might and power to defend the people in the region that we say are our friends. And deploying only the tiny fraction of the full might and power that we can be bothered to send – while still fully capable of flattening large areas of any Middle-Eastern country – doesn't half badword off the survivors!

If you want to intervene, then (a) get a UN mandate and (b) send enough troops actually to do the job. Lobbing bombs in the general direction of people you don't like just so you can feel better… that's what TERRORISTS do!

We have in the West an "ultimate weapon" that for all the undoubted impressiveness of all that might and power is INFINITELY more successful than ANY amount of ordinance: it is called PEACE. Sometimes it is called prosperity.

It is why Ukraine is willing to stand up to Vlad the Bad. It is why hundreds of thousands are willing to throw themselves in leaky boats to cross the Mediterranean.

So I KNOW it's COMPLICATED, but can we at least START from a position of HUMBLY accepting that we keep messing up and that SWAGGERING around THREATING to EXPLODE people is, to say the least, not helping.

Today is "7/7". We should remember. And we should do BETTER.

*white ELEPHANT people, thank you.
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Jul. 7th, 2015 07:20 pm
[personal profile] ninetydegrees posting in [site community profile] dreamscapes
Name: Pattern
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Image info: all images used come from Subtle Patterns (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License), Backgrounds ETC ("Free for use in both personal and commercial projects") and The Noun Project (CC Attribution 3.0 Unported or Public Domain).

A spin-off of Trifecta designed for pattern lovers. Due to this style's narrower width I suggest using the site style for comments, or decreasing the content margins.

Themes: each theme is presented in two versions because I liked both designs and couldn't pick one. :)

* Cubes => Preview (one column split)
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[syndicated profile] political_betting_feed

Posted by Mike Smithson

Screen grab of Betfair GE2015 outcome market timed 2.26am May 8th

Two months to the day after the election and people are still talking about the outcome which I would argue was a bigger shock than what happened in 1992. Then there was just one poll that was showing a Tory lead. In the run up to May 7th quite a number of the phone polls had reasonable CON margins including a couple which had a blue lead of 6%.

The betting is also something that people still talk about particularly the fact that so few were predicting a CON majority. The screen shot above shows the state of a CON majority on Betfair at 2.26am nearly four and a half hours after the exit poll. Even then a CON majority was an outsider. You could have got the equivalent of 5/2.

I didn’t take that but I know that one leading PB poster, Tissue Price, got bets of 10/1 and more on Betfair AFTER the exit poll. Well done to him.

Over the past couple of weeks on Twitter I’ve had a few arguments over betting being a good predictor of political outcomes. The most that can be said in relation to GE15 was that the Tories closed as favourites to win most seats.

Mike Smithson

Age of 40,000 Sigmars

Jul. 7th, 2015 04:57 pm
[syndicated profile] quaequam_blog_feed

Posted by James Graham

I’ve been watching the launch of Game Workshop’s new game, Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, and its backlash over the last few days attempting to decide what to make of it all. For those who don’t know, Games Workshop have discontinued their long established and original flagship miniatures war game Warhammer Fantasy Battle and replaced it with a new fantasy war game, Age of Sigmar.

There are essentially four major complaints about this game.

  1. The very explicit move away from a war game to a skirmish game, with fewer minatures per side and (shock!) round figure bases instead of square ones (although you can still use square ones if you have old figures with them).
  2. The core ruleset is basic at best and in particular replaces the existing system for building armies by spending a fixed number of points, with each miniature costing a certain amount, with a much simpler system of just counting the miniatures. A tiny goblin is worth exactly the same amount as that enormous dragon you own which takes up a quarter of the table.
  3. The “war scrolls” which GW have created to enable Warhammer Fantasy Battle gamers to play the new system with their old miniatures contain a number of, er, odd rules such as giving specific bonuses to players who opt to dance while rolling their dice or, my personal favourite, whoever has the most impressive moustache.
  4. The setting, which has abandoned Warhammer Fantasy’s Old World in favour of eight “realms”. I’m not entirely clear how these realms are supposed to interconnect – are they like planes of existence or parallel worlds or planets floating in space? – but it is certainly strongly implied that the world is much more vast and not simply set on one planet. It is all very vague (White Dwarf #75 was apparently meant to provide people with some details but having read it from cover to cover I can tell you that it reveals virtually nothing), but it all has a kind of “Tolkien in Space” vibe which, er, was the original idea at the heart of their “science fiction” miniatures game Warhammer 40,000. In the starter set, even the Sigmarite warriors look remarkably like 40,000’s Space Marines[TM].

I’m not especially interested in getting into all that per se. I pretty much walked away from Games Workshop in around 1990. Already annoyed by the changes to the company in the mid-80s, I’d grown sick of the way they would inconsistently release new games and then abandon them, their abandonment of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, the way White Dwarf had become a promotional tool which you paid for the privilege to read and the fact that the only thing they were consistent about where the price rises. Since that time, I’ve watched as every few years the company does something to alienate a big chunk of their customers. It has looked like a company dying on its arse for some time now. Yet it seems to keep going and enjoy a core customer base who stick by them through thick and thin.

The thing that they have fundamentally got right is the Warhammer 40,000 game, which has always been a skirmish game. It works because it is a good match between setting and game. The scale of the miniatures makes more sense for a skirmish game than it does for a war game (it has always felt a bit odd calling a game in which a few hundred combatants go up against each other a “war game”). The setting, whilst the epitomy of “grimdark” doesn’t lose believability despite it’s emphasis on “total war” because it is set across the entire galaxy. There’s a fairly clear idea about what they are fighting for. At it’s heart is a really good, extremely metal idea: that humanity has united behind a god-like Emperor who is waging an eternal psychic war against daemonic forces and is the only thing that stands between the human race and extinction.

The problem with Warhammer Fantasy has always been that its setting was never quite as strong. In its original incarnation, the setting was a fairly generic mashup of Tolkien, Lovecraft and Eric von Daniken; ancient alien race settle on a planet, terraform it, create the sentient races, usher in a golden age, but the warp gates they use for interstellar travel collapse, ushering in the forces of Chaos. That was fine as far as it went, but the setting only really came alive when they released Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and its developers decided to focus on a setting based on the Holy Roman Empire, with a dash of Lovecraft and Monty Python. Suddenly the setting had politics, and a real sense of a pervading menace. Chaos wasn’t just something you fought in the woods and the chaos wastes; it was a pervading menace at the heart of society. It suddenly had a groundedness that it lacked before.

But two things have happened since then which the WFB has struggled with ever since. Firstly, the roleplaying game was abandoned. There have been three separate attempts to revive it over the last 25 years, but always as an adjunct to the war game rather than a core part of the world building. Since then, the focus of the fiction and fluff has always been almost exclusively focused on war and fighting. The other thing that happened is organised play. In recent years, GW has opted to develop a metaplot which players are encouraged to contribute to by playing their own games enacting battles that spring out of the storyline.

As I said before, Warhammer 40,000 can cope with this sort of thing because it is spread across a galaxy. Warhammer Fantasy is set in a world which is actually smaller than our own. This doesn’t work because basic economics would make such eternal war utterly impractical. So to explain away this, the focus has had to shift increasingly towards higher and higher fantasy. Everything could just be explained away by magic. When you attempt to get your head around the fiction it becomes less and less clear why anyone is bothering to fight these battles at all and they increasingly sound like the fanfiction written by a demented thirteen year old.

I would argue that it is this lack of groundedness that has lead to the steep decline in Warhammer Fantasy’s popularity over the last few years. Fantasy only really works when it is grounded in some way. Magic and monsters are all very well, but if a fantasy world doesn’t feel like a real place, it is hard to care. And there has to be a mix of hope and darkness, not just unrelenting grimness.

All of which is a fairly long way of saying why I don’t think Age of Sigmar is going to save Warhammer Fantasy. The solution is not to create a fantasy version of Warhammer 40,000 but to make it less of a retread of Warhammer 40,000 in the first place. Based on what GW has released so far, Age of Sigmar contains none of the groundedness that 40,000 has to prevent it from seeming unplausible. The setting is extremely lightly sketched out, none of the protagonists and antagonists seem to have any real motivations besides wanting to fight for its own sake, even the precise nature of these “realms” has been glided over. Maybe this will all be revealed in the starter set’s rulebook, or in the numerous overpriced novels that they are set to publish. But where is the hook to capture the imagination of the average punter?

GW are remarkably unsentimental about their product lines. If it doesn’t sell in sufficient quantities, a game is swiftly cancelled, often never to be seen again. Over the years we have seen them produce and abandon many loved lines such as Bloodbowl, Space Hulk, Epic, Battlefleet Gothic and Mordheim. I could be proven wrong here but I suspect that Age of Sigmar is in a similar precarious state. If it doesn’t sell well enough, it won’t be around for long and that will be the end of Warhammer Fantasy. The good news is, as fans of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay can tell you, killing a product line doesn’t necessarily kill off the game itself. Despite GW’s strict rules on intellectual property, fan produced material can and does continue to flourish. I just hope the company is bought up by another company soon that will put their IP to better use. Fantasy Flight/Asmodee: since you’re in the business of buying up games companies anyway, you might want to take a look.

[syndicated profile] markpack2_feed

Posted by Mark Pack

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[personal profile] andrewducker
I don't care how we got here*.

I don't care who's to blame**.

I care about how Greece can get from here to a situation that's sustainable, and in the long-term can lead to them being a prosperous nation.

This _does_ mean reform. A country needs to be able to manage its debt levels, raise enough taxes to pay for its welfare systems, invest in its infrastructure, etc. But it may also mean large quantities of aid if the other eurozone countries want it to remain in the Euro.

Eurozone countries cannot use deflation to make debt payments easier - if the UK had been in the Euro then we would have been much more fucked than we were. And the countries in the South are disadvantaged by the common exchange rate, just as German is advantaged by it.

Areas with a common currency need to move money from the parts that this helps to the parts that it hinders - and either Europe is going to have to learn this, and make allowances for it, or it's going to lose Greece, and then other countries the next time that this happens***.

In any case - if Europe can come up with a proposal that means that Greece can both stay inside the Euro _and_ have debts that it can manage, then I think it's probably in its interests to stay. And if it cannot (or will not) then it's definitely in Greece's interests to go, and so they should****.

*Well, I do. But only because understanding the past is useful in knowing how to get to a decent future.
**Well, I do. But blame is so nebulous that it's very easy for people on all sides to cast it wherever they like.
***This will happen again, and Europe really needs to have plans in place for it next time.
****So far, I haven't seen any signs that Europe has any proposals that will do this. If I've missed one, then please do point it out to me.
[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by Darren Grimes

NormanLambBritain’s young liberals aren’t only more liberal than their elders, they are more liberal than any previous generation before them. That said, they are a liberal cohort not yet identifying as Liberal Democrats – this could and should change.

My liberty loving generation cannot comfortably sit within statist parties like Labour or the Conservatives, which is why the Liberal Democrats need to prove themselves to be the party offering this generation a truly liberal voice in British politics. We need to be more radical in our thinking, we need intellectual evidence-based liberal policy that grabs the attention of the electorate and exasperates right-wing media like the Daily Mail and Breitbart. We must be the defining intellectual powerhouse for British liberalism, and there is only one candidate who throughout this leadership election has offered just that.

With radical drug policy reform, prisons reform and other liberal solutions to traditionally ignored problems – Norman Lamb offers himself as the candidate who can inspire a generation otherwise disenchanted by the political process. Whilst campaigning is important, we can deliver all of the leaflets in the world and it still not be enough – if it is not married with the intellectual, radically liberal content and a coherent message that we will need in order to be heard and taken seriously again by a marred electorate.

I took my 14-year-old brother along to the hustings we had in Newcastle, I wanted to ask him what he thought after he’d listened to the two candidates, as a young person who identifies already with our liberal values. He told me afterwards that, “Tim is a very good public speaker, but that was all I took away from him. Norman had more suggestions we can use and that we need, as liberals moving forward.”, I beamed with pride after he’d said it and felt prouder than ever to have decided to support Norman Lamb, it is important to myself and all of us in the Liberal Democrats that British liberalism flourishes and becomes the main vein of our politics once again, by attracting young people and putting them at the heart of our movement we can do just that. I truly believe that from the activists to the average joe who shares our liberal values in the electorate, Norman Lamb is the man who can give us the intellectual, radical policy we need to shout loudly and proudly about our party once again – and actually be listened to.

* Darren Grimes is a 21-year-old fashion with business student in Brighton, with a Geordie accent; classical liberal and occasional blogger/graphics creator.

[syndicated profile] skepchick_feed

Posted by Amanda

Please Sir, Can I Have A Hugo Award?

Jul. 7th, 2015 03:29 pm
[syndicated profile] andrew_rilstone_feed

Posted by Andrew Rilstone

What religion is the pope?

Put another way, what metaphysical creed does the pontiff subscribe to? What are the theological underpinnings of Jorge Mario Bergoglio's world view; what organized collection of beliefs and cultural systems does the Bishop of Rome use in order to relate humanity to a higher order of existence? What symbol-set does the Holy Father use to explain the origins and meaning of life?

Hold onto your hats, because I am about to say something that may shock you. 

The Pope is a Catholic. 

But obviously, you can't say that sort of thing nowadays. "The Pope is a Catholic." The self-appointed guardians of morality; the people who elected themselves to safeguard our ethical well-being — who like the President, want to repeal the Second Amendment and make marijuana compulsory — won't let you. The Pope is a Catholic. The Pope is a Catholic. When was the last time you heard someone come right out and say it? 

But when the message falls on your ears even for the very first time; if thou art truly a being of humanity and not a professor of humanities, thou wilt discern the truth in thy most very heart of hearts; like the joyous relief  thou feelest when thou divesteth thyself of thine diaphanous undergarments to facilitate thine all-too-human need to defecate: the Pope is Catholic. The Pope is Catholic. Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh mine dearest reader, how couldst it ever have been otherwise?

And what of caniform mammals of the genus ursidae? What do they do when they experience that all-too-human (or as I must eftsoons say, an all-too-ursoid) need to relieve themselves? Do they demurely turn the lock to "engaged" in a small "water closet" cubical; or trudge down the garden path to a neat, earthy outhouse; do they perchance call for the necessary women and squat coyly over a ceramic chamber-pot; have they mayhap been trained to use a strategically positioned tray replete with what shall here be referred to only as kitty-litter; or does weather permitting a human companion walk a step or two behind them gathering their stool with a pooper-scooper and placing it in a bin, thoughtfully provided by the post-modernistic anarchist socialist liberal marxist municipal authority (that fully supports the murder of countless thousands of helpless babies every week.)

No; nay; never; it shall not, nay, it will, and if I might be permitted to say so against the riding tide of relativism which denies the whole concept of truth, it cannot be so.

For most truly is it it said that bears shit in the woods. 

matgb: Artwork of 19th century upper class anarchist, text: MatGB (Default)

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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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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