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Posted by Andrew Hickey

OK, after too long away from this post series, I’m starting them (and the Time Machine and Cerebus) posts up again, assuming my aching hands allow me to. For those who don’t remember, a few months ago I started a series of posts on what Liberalism is, what direction it needs to go in in future, and what the future direction of the Lib Dem party should be.

I’m starting those posts again now, and I’m going to spend the next few posts in this series talking about how Liberalism is distinct from the current political orthodoxy — as I said in my last post in this series, Liberalism is only in the centre if the top of a pyramid is in the centre of its base, and one of the things I want to do more than anything in these posts is to explain where Liberalism departs from the current political consensus.

So before I go into that, I need to look at what the current political consensus is. I’m going to talk below about what I think both the Conservative and Labour parties — and the centrist, moderate, elements within the Lib Dems, for that matter — have agreed on for at least the last twenty years. Please feel free to disagree or correct me in the comments — what I’m doing this for is so everyone’s on the same page in the future essays.

As far as I can tell, every government in my lifetime, and almost every prominent politician has believed:

    That there is little wrong with the current political system — that we “need to get people engaged”, but that the way we are governed should be tweaked at best. Those tweaks should, ideally, be cargo-cult copies of some out-of-context aspect of the US system.

    That political power should be centralised, and controlled by as few people as possible. Prime Ministers should be de facto Presidents, cities should have elected Mayors with power over Councils.

    That house prices should be kept as high as possible.

    That taxes on wealth should be lower than taxes on income.

    That the highest form of humanity consists of “hard-working families” — family units consisting of two adults, both working more than forty hours per week, and a small number of children — and that any minority groups only have rights in so far as they wish to approximate being a hard-working family.

    That the rights of those minority groups should be decided based on the opinions of self-appointed “community leaders”, rather than on any basis such as equality or fairness.

    That as far as possible economic power should be concentrated in the hands of monopolistic rent-seekers — that lip service should be given to the concept of markets, but that that lip service should never get in the way of the smooth transfer of state assets to monopolists (with state liabilities, of course, remaining with the state). Any laws to which those monopolistic rent-seekers object must be altered.

    That immigrants are the current accepted scapegoat, and thus must be punished at the maximum level possible while still ensuring a steady flow of them.

    That mental illness doesn’t exist in any sense worth caring about.

    That any limits to the power of the government over the individual are irritants that must be removed.

    That the government has a right to all possible information about anyone it wishes to know about.

    That it is the proper place of the government to interfere, not only in behaviours which are actually harmful to others, but in activities which are only harmful to the individual, or which cause no harm whatsoever but which others disapprove of.

    That the primary purpose of education is to prepare people to be workers, with a distant secondary purpose of inculcating “British values”, and that there is no third purpose.

Not all governments have held all these principles to the same extent — the 1997-2001 Blair government went against a couple of them, as has the coalition government to a greater extent than it is ever credited with (largely because for many of the rest of them it’s gone even further than previous governments), but I think that’s a largely accurate description. Next time, in a week or so, I’ll start looking at the Liberal alternatives to some of those positions.


Tagged: politics, the liberal future

Wait

Sep. 15th, 2014 06:35 pm
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[personal profile] james_davis_nicoll
The "no" side in Scotland reinvented the Yvette gambit?
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Posted by Jon

CameronClactonMockupFast forward to 2017, and somehow David Cameron is still Prime Minister, and the UK (or rUK?) is facing its referendum on remaining in the EU. The polls show a clear lead for keeping the UK in the EU (the NO side), led by Cameron, until Nigel Farage calls upon Alex Salmond style tactics, the polls narrow, and in the last week the Westminster political class panics. YES to leave the EU could win. Cameron dusts down his speech made on 15th September 2014 in Aberdeen, runs a find and replace, and gives it again, this time about the European Union, at Clacton-on-Sea in Essex.

The find-replace was run as follows:

“country” replaced with “continent”
“United Kingdom” replaced with “European Union”
“UK” replaced with “EU”
“Scotland” replaced with “United Kingdom”
“Scots” replaced with “British”
“Scottish” replaced with “British”
“Brit” replaced with “European”
“Edinburgh” replaced with “London”
“London” replaced with “Brussels”
“British Parliament” replaced with “Westminster”

So here’s the speech. The Aberdeen original is here. The idea to do this came from tweets between @alberto_cottica @adrianshort @dominiccampbell @svaroschi and I.

OUR CONTINENT AT STAKE
We meet in a week that could change the European Union forever.
Indeed, it could end the European Union as we know it.
On Thursday, the United Kingdom votes, and the future of our continent is at stake.
On Friday, people could be living in a different continent, with a different place in the world and a different future ahead of it.
This is a decision that could break up our family of nations, and rip the United Kingdom from the rest of the EU.
And we must be very clear.
There’s no going back from this. No re-run.
This is a once-and-for-all decision.
If the United Kingdom votes yes, the EU will split, and we will go our separate ways forever.
When people vote on Thursday they are not just voting for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren and the generations beyond.
So I want to speak directly to the people of this country today about what is at stake.

European Union
I speak for millions of people across England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and many in the European Union, too…
…who would be utterly heart-broken by the break-up of the European Union.
Utterly heart-broken to wake up on Friday morning to the end of the continent we love…
…to know that British would no longer join with the English, Welsh and Northern Irish in our Army, Navy and Air Force…
…in our EU-wide celebrations and commemorations…
…in EU sporting teams from the Olympics to the British Lions.
The European Union would be no more. No EU pensions, no EU passports, no EU pound.
The greatest example of democracy the world has ever known, of openness…
…of people of different nationalities and faiths coming together as one, would be no more.
It would be the end of a continent that launched the Enlightenment, that abolished slavery…
…that drove the industrial revolution, that defeated fascism…
…the end of a continent that people around the world respect and admire…
… the end of a continent that all of us call home.
And we built this home together.
It’s only become the European Union because of the greatness of the United Kingdom.
Because of the thinkers, writers, artists, leaders, soldiers, inventors who have made this country what it is.
It’s Alexander Fleming and David Hume; J.K. Rowling and Andy Murray…
…and all the millions of people who have played their part in this extraordinary success story…
…the British who led the charge on pensions and the NHS and on social justice.
We did all this together.
For the people of the United Kingdom to walk away now would be like painstakingly building a home – and then walking out the door and throwing away the keys.
So I would say to everyone voting on Thursday, please remember.
This isn’t just any old continent. This is the European Union. This is our continent.
And you know what makes us truly great?
It’s not our economic might or military prowess – it’s our values. European values. Fairness. Freedom. Justice.
The values that say wherever you are, whoever you are, your life has dignity and worth.
The values that say we don’t walk on by when people are sick…
…that we don’t ask for your credit card in the hospital…
…that we don’t turn our backs when you get old and frail.
…that we don’t turn a blind eye or a cold heart to people around the world who are desperate and crying out for help.
This is what the European Union means. This is what makes us the greatest country on earth.
And it’s why millions of us could not bear to see that country ending – for good, for ever – on Friday.

CONSEQUENCES
Now I know that there are many people across the United Kingdom who are planning to vote Yes.
I understand why this might sound appealing. It’s the promise of something different.
I also know that the people who are running the Yes campaign are painting a picture of the United Kingdom that is better in every way, and they can be good at painting that picture.
But when something looks too good to be true – that’s usually because it is.
And it is my duty to be clear about the likely consequences of a Yes Vote.
Independence would not be a trial separation…
…it would be a painful divorce.
And as Prime Minister I have to tell you what that would mean.
It would mean we no longer share the same currency.
It would mean the armed forces we have built up together over centuries being split up forever.

It would mean our pension funds sliced up – at some cost.
It would mean the borders we have would become international and may no longer be so easily crossed.
It would mean the automatic support that you currently get from European Union embassies when you’re travelling around the world would come to an end.
It would mean over half of British mortgages suddenly, from one day to the next, being provided by banks in a foreign country.
It would mean that interest rates in the United Kingdom are no longer set by the Bank of England – with the stability and security that promises.
It would mean – for any banks that remain in the United Kingdom – if they ever got in trouble it would be British taxpayers and British taxpayers alone that would bear the costs.
It would mean that we no longer pool resources across the whole of the EU to pay for institutions like the NHS or our welfare system.
This is not guesswork. There are no question marks, no maybe this or maybe that.
The Nationalists want to break up EU funding on pensions, the EU funding of healthcare, the EU funding and comprehensive protection on national security.
These are the facts. This is what would happen. An end to the things we share together.
And the people of the United Kingdom must know these facts before they make this once-and-for-all decision.
To warn of the consequences is not to scare-monger…
…it is like warning a friend about a decision they might take that will affect the rest of their lives – and the lives of their children.
I say all this because I don’t want the people of the United Kingdom to be sold a dream that disappears.

CHANGE
Now I know that some people say: we’ve heard about the risks and the uncertainties…
…but we still want change.
Look. The European Union is not a perfect continent – no continent is.
Of course we must constantly change and improve people’s lives.
No-one is content while there are still children living in poverty.
No-one is content while there are people struggling, and young people not reaching their potential.
Yes, every political party is different.
But we are all of us – Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, Nationalists – on a constant mission to change our continent for the better.
The question is: how do you get that change?
For me it’s simple.
You don’t get the change you want by ripping your continent apart.
You don’t get change by undermining your economy and damaging your businesses and diminishing your place in the world.
But you can get real, concrete change on Thursday: if you vote No.
‘Business as usual’ is not on the ballot paper. The status quo is gone.
This campaign has swept it away.
There is no going back to the way things were.
A vote for No means real change.
And we have spelled that change out in practical terms, with a plan and a process.

If we get a No vote on Thursday, that will trigger a major, unprecedented programme of devolution with additional powers for the Westminster.
Major new powers over tax, spending and welfare services.
We have agreed a timetable for that stronger Westminster: a time-table to bring in the new powers that will go ahead if there is a No vote…
…a White Paper by November, put into draft legislation by January.
This is a timetable that is now agreed by all the main political parties and set in stone…
…and I am prepared to work with all the main parties to deliver this during 2015.
So a No vote actually means faster, fairer, safer and better change.
And this is a vital point: the United Kingdom is not an observer in the affairs of this continent.
the United Kingdom is shaping and changing the European Union for the better – more so today than at any point in the last three hundred years…

…and will continue to help shape the constitution of our continent.

And British people can enjoy the additional powers its Parliament gives without losing the EU pension, the EU pound or the EU passport.

Real change is the United Kingdom’s for the taking.

The power to set your own course and make your own decisions…

…with the security of being in the EU…

…without the risks of going it alone.

It’s the best of both worlds.
the United Kingdom’s identity is already strong…
…strong British culture, strong British arts, a strong Church of the United Kingdom…
…and in the last 15 years you have built a strong Westminster…
…not a fleeting institution but a permanent one.
So the vote on Thursday is not about whether the United Kingdom is a nation.
the United Kingdom is a proud, strong, successful nation.
The vote on Thursday is about two competing visions for the United Kingdom’s future.
The Nationalists’ vision of narrowing down, going it alone, breaking all ties with the EU.
Or the patriotic vision of a strong British nation allied to the rest of the European Union…
…with its own stronger Westminster at its heart…
…and with the benefits of working together in the EU on jobs, pensions, healthcare funding, the currency, interest rates.
It really is the best of both worlds…
…and it’s the best way to get real change and secure a better future for your children and grandchildren.

FAMILY OF NATIONS
And speaking of family – that is quite simply how I feel about this. We are a family.
The European Union is not one nation.
We are four nations in a single continent.
That can be difficult….
…but it is wonderful.
the United Kingdom, England, Wales and Northern Ireland…
….different nations, with individual identities…
…competing with each other…
…even at times enraging each other…
…while still being so much stronger together.
We are a family of nations.
Why should the next generation of that family be forced to choose whether to identify only with London or only with Brussels…
…choose which embassy they want to go to when they are in trouble abroad…
…or pack their passport when they’re going to see friends and loved ones.
A family is not a compromise, or a second best, it is a magical identity, that makes us more together than we can ever be apart…
…so please – do not break this family apart.
In human relations it’s almost never a good thing to turn away from each other, put up walls, score new lines on the map.
Why would we take one European Union and turn it into separate smaller nations?
What is that an answer to?
How will that help the ambitious young people who want to make their mark on the world…
…or the pensioner who just wants security…
…or the family relying on jobs make in the EU?
Let no-one fool you that ‘Yes’ is a positive vision.
It’s about dividing people, closing doors, making foreigners of our friends and family.
This isn’t an optimistic vision.
The optimistic vision is of our family of nations staying together…
…there for each other in the hard times…
…coming through to better times.
We’ve just pulled through a great recession together.
We’re moving forward together.
The road has been long but it is finally leading upwards…
…and that’s why I ask you to vote No to walking away.
Vote No – and you are voting for a bigger and broader and better future for the United Kingdom…
…and you are investing in the future for your children and grandchildren.

PLEASE STAY
So this is our message to the people of the United Kingdom. We want you to stay.
Head and heart and soul, we want you to stay.
Please: don’t mix up the temporary and the permanent.
Don’t think: I’m frustrated with politics right now, so I’ll walk out the door and never come back.
If you don’t like me – I won’t be here forever.
If you don’t like this Government – it won’t last forever.
But if you leave the EU – that will be forever.
Yes, the different parts of the EU don’t always see eye-to-eye.
Yes, we need change – and we will deliver it.
But to get that change, to get a brighter future, we don’t need to tear our continent apart.
In two days, this long campaign will be at an end.
And as you stand in the stillness of the polling booth, I hope you will ask yourself this.
Will my family and I truly be better off by going it alone?
Will we really be more safe and secure?
Do I really want to turn my back on the rest of Britain, and why is it that so many people across the world are asking: why would the United Kingdom want to do that? Why?
And if you don’t know the answer to these questions – then vote No.
At the end of the day, all the arguments of this campaign can be reduced to a single fact. We are better together.
So as you reach your final decision, please:
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be a proud Brit and a proud European.
Don’t lose faith in what this country is – and what we can be.
Don’t forget what a great European Union you are part of.
Don’t turn your backs on what is the best family of nations in the world…
…and the best hope for your family in this world.
So please, from all of us: Vote to stick together… Vote to stay…
…Vote to save our European Union.

(yes, some of it is a little odd – the EU Pound FTW! – but you get the idea)

Vid: Butterfly (Roseanne)

Sep. 15th, 2014 09:31 pm
happydork: A graph-theoretic tree in the shape of a dog, with the caption "Tree (with bark)" (Default)
[personal profile] happydork
Title: Butterfly
Fandom: Roseanne
Pairing: ROSEANNE/DAN OTPPPPPP
Rating: G
Content notes: None

Summary: Love is like a butterfly
As soft and gentle as a sigh

With thanks: To [personal profile] such_heights for the beta and support, to [personal profile] purplefringe, [personal profile] raven and [personal profile] shinyjenni for audiencing, to my Parks & Recs loving coworker for lending me the first three seasons for Roseanne on DVD, and to [personal profile] thingswithwings, who taught me more about vidding than I can hold in both hands.

Download on Mediafire (72MB, .mov)

Watch on YouTube here

Watch streaming here )

Lyrics )

Any and all feedback adored!

She said a mouthful

Sep. 15th, 2014 04:08 pm
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[personal profile] supergee
Black dentist in trouble at her practice because her colleagues snooped on her private Facebook posts and didn't like what she said about the Ferguson shooting. (That bites.) So she quit. Anybody want a good dentist who doesn't keep her mouth shut?
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Posted by Daniel

The second stage of my travelogue finds me and the family in the French Alps, heading to the Italian lakes. Shortly after finishing this, I set off for Venice to take a ferry down the Adriatic …

1.Men in Tweeds

We left Switzerland to go to Chamonix, via the Swiss railways and the Mont Blanc Express. You need the right kind of weather for Chamonix to be special, and when we arrived the big peaks were all in the clouds. But we passed by the statues on the Rue Whymper and explained what they were all about to the kids. My wife’s grandfather climbed Mont Blanc in the 1930s, wearing a tweed suit and hob-nailed boots and carrying ropes and pitons. My uncle reached the top in the 80s, with Gore-Tex weatherproofs and blocks and wedges, the practice of banging spikes into rock faces having rather gone out of fashion as rock climbing became a mass market sport. The town was busy with extremely fit people; it was a five-day festival of what the French apparently call “Ultra Trail”, and I’d call fell-running. The runners were going to cover tens of kilometres of distances and thousands of metres of vertical ascent, but they weren’t going to get near any of the major tops.

The biggest Alps are not really all that big in the scheme of things; even Mont Blanc would be a big, but not exceptional peak if it were located in the Rockies or the Himalayas. But there’s a real sense of menace to the high European mountains; everything about them tells you to take them seriously. The danger on a mountain isn’t related to its height – Helvellyn in the Lake District is under a thousand metres high but people often die on it, while Pike’s Peak in the Colorado Rockies is over 4000 metres high but has picnic tables at the top. It is the route (and, massively, the weather) that makes the danger, and the big high Alpine peaks tend to have very few safe routes and a lot of dangerous ones. Twenty people died in the Haut-Savoie the summer we were there, and the regional mayor had to give a scathing interview about a man who tried to take two of his children (aged 11 and 9, almost the same as my kids) up Mont Blanc. He gave up shortly after having posted a video of them being swept off their feet by a small avalanche in the “Corridor of Death”.

2. The Methods of FFEs

I have a little bit of experience with the French engineering caste, as so many of them take their mathematical skills and go into equity derivatives these days; the Ecole des Mines and the Ecole des Ponts et Chausees are about forty per cent business schools these days. In some corners of the financial markets, they are ubiquitous, to the extent that “FFE” (the last two letters standing for “French Engineer”) is a recognised acronym. And FFEs have a particular way of dealing with you. They start of with, always with perfect politeness and usually in perfect English, something like;

“Hi Dan, I realise you say that it is basically impossible to get good data on this, but maybe you could help us out with a rough estimate?”

A few weeks later, they will come back; sometimes it’s the same one, sometimes a different member of the team (FFEs always work in teams). The question will now be;

“Hi Dan, I understand that these numbers are just a rough estimate, but is there any way you could help us to make them more precise?”

Then, and this is the really horrifying bit, they will start to iterate. Step by step, every little source of uncertainty is chipped away at, with a series of “just a rough estimate”, then returned to with a “can we work on making this a little more precise?”. And they know no cease; they will appreciate that you are busy, understand that this is annoying, never want to cause too much trouble, but never stop. Often, the initial enquiry will come with a strong instruction from their or your boss that you should not spend more time or effort on the question than it is worth, but this is meaningless; for an FFE, there is no such thing as too much trouble, and any imprecision is worth a literally infinite amount of time and effort to remove. The process might be terminated by the physical death of the parties involved, but I strongly suspect that this would merely trigger the first of a long series of contingency plans. And always with the subtle implication, unsaid of course under the skin of perfect politeness, that the question is actually quite simple, and that the real reason why the FFE does not have an immediate answer to a satisfactory level of precision is the laziness, slapdash attitude and failure to prepare of the people he has to work with. It’s one of the vestiges of the military culture that shaped the Grandes Ecoles, I think, and so stretches back to the order and organisation that Napoleon Bonaparte brought to the French Army.

3.Mont Blanc tunnel memorial

We took a bus through the Mont Blanc tunnel, another piece of engineering that set new standards in its time. There’s a monument outside the French side, which I thought might commemorate all the workers who died in building it. Actually, it’s a monument to the 39 victims of the Mont Blanc tunnel fire of 1999, which was the occasion for a lot of reappraisal globally of the kind of safety precaustions that it’s appropriate to take in long tunnels. You can see that the Mont Blanc authorities are still very sensitive to safety issues today – the bus had to radio ahead and check in, and we had to wait up for a minute or so, because they were preparing a convoy of trucks, which goes through with a safety car at the front and another at the back.

As regards workers dying in construction, though, I can’t find any record of there being any. There were a small number of fatalities in the construction of the Aiguille du Midi cable car, but in general, these projects were carried out with attention to detail, and as a result, they were built well and nobody died unnecessarily. I’ve made an argument in financial contexts a lot of times in the past to the effect that the “risk return tradeoff” is often a very bad way of thinking about the two concepts. Most financial risks, from Enron to CDOs, weren’t the natural and inevitable concomitants of chasing higher returns. They were just, purely and simply, failures of quality control – stupid, unrewarded risks which came about because something wasn’t being done properly. Drilling a tunnel through Mont Blanc, or stringing a two kilometre wire hundreds of feet above a glacier, is in some senses a risky thing to do, but the people who did these things didn’t treat it as ineivitable that some workers would die doing it.

4. Cranes that never build anything

As we passed the outskirts of Milan, I was surprised to see cranes sticking out of the horizon everywhere I looked from the motorway. I thought this was a bit odd; the North of Italy has been affected less than the rest of the country by the Euroland crisis, but I didn’t think that anywhere was really in any sort of state to be supporting a construction boom. It took an embarrassingly long time to realise that the “crane-count” indicator for monetary policy wasn’t going to work here; these were loading cranes, for moving metal containers round yards and on and off lorries. Of course, when you think about it , it’s obvious; Milan, Bergamo, Turin – there’s a string of cities across Lombardy that are perfectly placed to be hubs of a logistics operation even if they didn’t have a load of manufacturing of their own. Anything going to or from Italy, and quite a lot of stuff just generally wanting to make its way between France and Germany, is going to find an easier path going around the Alps rather than over them, and the A4 autostrade effectively serves as a bypass for the country of Switzerland. I saw something similar in Denver, every time I took the journey from the airport to the business district; a massive loading yard that apparently handles some large percentage of the trucking logisitcs of the Safeway supermarket chain.

5.Trucks along the way

There is a firm of refrigerated lorries based in Lambach, Austria, which is called the Gartner Group, and which advertises itself on the sides of its trucks. Tess was a consultant in the technology industry, and thus enjoys following these trucks at confusing intersections, declaring “this is the only time in my life I have been happy to follow a Gartner Group recommendation”. The trucks all seem to be carrying agricultural produce back and forth along the road from the Alps to the Adriatic, and as a result our decision to give up on thinking for ourselves and blindly follow them works better than anyone dared hope.

6. Birds on the lakes

The Italians don’t swim in the lakes, as far as I can see – they sail boats, they sometimes windsurf, and one or two of them appear to be, painfully slowly, teaching themselves to kitesurf. But, despite the posters up all round the lake shore, posting evidence of a comprehensive, EU-financed water quality testing programme, and making it totally clear that the water is indeed as perfect and crystalline as it looks, there are only a few sunbathers and literally nobody in the water. Maybe we’re late in the season, or it’s the wrong lake, or something, but this was what I saw – the Italians don’t swim in the lakes.

I do though and it’s fantastic. The water’s not as warm as a swimming pool or the ocean off Palm Beach, but it’s degrees warmer than the British seaside or Llyn Peris in Snowdonia. We share the beach with a gaggle of ducks – this family have a distinguishing mark of a single feather on each side that’s coloured white and blue, standing out from the usual mallard in a way that makes them look almost exactly like they’re wearing military insignia. There’s also a swan with her half-grown cygnets, who strut up and down the path hissing and preening, and leaving behind the most extraordinarily large green turds.

In the water, though, we are all calm, me and the birds. A few strokes out from the shore, you’re on your own to an even greater degree than if you’d walked up a path a hundred yards from the gift shop. The ducks and the swans politely glide away from me; they seem much less inclined to defend territory when they’re out on the water than when they’re on land. I can swim front crawl with my head out of the water, about the only thing left from Bronze Medallion life-saving classes, and it gets me across the bay quickly enough to not really realise how far out I am. And just as I’m ready to turn back, a bird – I thought it was a heron, but it couldn’t have been, possibly a grebe – pops up from below the surface, throws its head back to swallow a fish, and then struggles once, twice and it’s up, flying away toward the mountains.

7.Roads carved out of cliffs

For something like a year (I think, although the telescoping effect of memory seems to stretch it out to my whole childhood), there was blasting every evening outside our village, as they constructed the tunnels and cuttings that were needed to expand the A5, bypassing a few notorious traffic bottlenecks along the North Wales coast. So I tend to notice when the roads we’re driving on have been built into a mountainside, and how it’s been done. It is a hell of a lot of work, making any sort of even reasonably direct route, and the whole of the French, Italian and Swiss Alps are covered with them. It gives you a new perspective on development – there are dozens of countries in Africa and Asia where the economy has stagnated for years, simply because there is not much point making things if they can’t be transported to somewhere for people to buy them. But if you drive through the cols and passes, you begin to appreciate that these are multi-year projects, not the sort of thing that anyone would bother starting unless they had sufficient confidence in whoever was commissioning them to see the building through to the end. The big motorways have tolls on them and are generally privatised these days, but frankly when you look at the toll roads, they’re not that impressive; anyone can lay down miles of blacktop, and you can produce a project like that a kilometer at a time. The real economic secret of this prosperous belt of Europe is the network of little, perfectly maintained cuttings into the rock and stone. This sort of thing won’t pay back for a long time – like the Swiss railways, it’s something that has to be done by a community that doesn’t need a quick cash return on its money – and a mountain pass, unlike a motorway, can’t be half-finished and start paying. This kind of road is basically useless until it gets over the top to join up to a different network.

8.Jungfraujoch in the rain

The true “roof of Europe”, in the sense of the probable owner of that trademarked phrase, is the Jungfraujoch, apparently the highest railway station in Europe, or possibly the highest point you can get to using non-cable-car travel or some such; I didn’t do the research because I was just hanging around in Interlaken station having locked a mobile phone in a hire car, then waiting for my train. It looked like kind of a tourist trap though, so I didn’t go. The railway is basically a status symbol for the regional railway aimed at showing what they can do; it doesn’t serve any actual town, just the station, a restaurant and a massive great terrace sponsored by Piz Buin sun tan lotion. I could imagine thaat it would be a great sunbathing spot on the right kind of day, but when I passed through that part of Switzerland it was cloudy and grey in the valley; there’s a webcam down in the station showing what it’s like at the top, and fair do’s to the Swiss, they took it on the chin and broadcast us the images of pissing rain lashing the Piz Buin terrace as a few disconsolate tourists walked back and forth in front of the cameras, zipped up to the neck and presumably trying to convince themselves they hadn’t just wasted their money. At one point I seriously thought that the site owners had put a cut-out silhouette of a tourist up, to make the place look less deserted. On our return from Grindelwald, the sky was a beautiful clear blue, but I had already decided, ne vaut pas le detour.

9.The little things of Italy

Trains across the north-west of Italy, going from our Alpine campsite to pick up a hire car in Como Vineyards give way to apple orchards as we progress from the mountains into the valleys, but the Italian railways are perfectly serviceable. The rolling stock isn’t as spiffily maintained as the Swiss system (we only travel on one train which is noticeably new, and this turns out to be an SBB service going back toward Lugano), but it works well. And it makes sense to me that this line would have the older trains; like the North Wales line of my youth, this railway is all breathtaking mountainsides and short tunnels. I hardly speak any Italian at all, but I’m confident that there is a heated regional debate on the vital need for electrification, and that the national system is highly reluctant to shell out the cash. Meanwhile, everyone kind of knows that the bullet will be bitten one day, so nobody in their right mind is going to order new diesel kit.

But diesel is pretty cheap in Italy, and the old trains work well, and there doesn’t seem to be much freight on the lines, so the trains run nice and regularly. We roll past Banca di Bergamo, and Credito Valtinese, and Poplare di Vincenza and Banca Cattolica, as well as the conglomerates of UBI and Unicredito and Intesa SanPaolo. I would guess that if I’d been trainspotting bank brands (I mean, doing so more systematically than I actually was), I could probably have identified as much as 25% of the European Central Bank’s balance sheet – these Italian small business lenders were the main users of the Long Term Refinancing Operations which helped to save the euro. These little Italian lenders deserved help from Frankfurt – they basically never set a foot wrong, they didn’t get involved in speculation, their loans were not exactly risk free (small Italian manufacturing companies) but certainly not irresponsible, and all that went wrong with them is that the funding markets had a massive panic about the Italian state. Now they own large portfolios of Italian government bonds, bought with cheap ECB financing, and this props up their profitability and economic viability so they will still be around when the business cycle picks up again. I hope nobody starts to unwind the scheme before time – there is rarely a shortage of commentators in the Financial Times or its epigones to point an accusing finger at European banks, but these smaller Italians are the ones I really feel sorry for.

10.The real roof of Europe, and how it was built

A tourist trap that has to go down in my book as “totally, totally worth it”, though, is the cable car ride up from Chamonix to the Aiguille du Midi. My parents took me up when I was 16, but I hadn’t remembered how special it was; you just can’t keep something that intense in your mind at its full value. They keep adding bits to the top, but the original stop (although slightly lower than the new bit, which includes the “Step Into The Void” cantilevered glass box attraction) is still the most stunning. You go up about 6km of cable car in two stages, the last one being the longest single cable span in Europe at just under 2 kilometres. And then you come out, and you’re right on the top, and it’s a difficult top too; although the summit was first achived in 1818, the difficult south face was only completed in 1956, by Gaston Rebuffat, a legend of the Alps. Without the cable car, the Aiguille is quite serious Alpinism; from the observation terrace, you can, flask in hand, stand and watch tiny rows of climbers, roped up, make their way slowly up the glacier.

The views are indescribable. Bright, scorching light reflected off the snow, sharp granite ridges and points everywhere, and the clouds spread out a few thousand feet below you. And the constant amazement – how did they make this thing? Work started on the cable car shortly after the end of the war, and finished in 1955. There are black and white pictures of the men who built it, at work in overalls and cloth caps, drinking wine with their lunch and holding hammers in fur mittens. Swinging out to the pylons, feet on the traction wire and hands on the supporting wire. I doubt I know more than a dozen or so people who would be capable of climbing the Aiguille at all, and these guys packed cement up to the top, and steel bolts, and kilometres of wire. They’re still expanding the site and building a new terrace, so you can still see people standing bolted in, swinging picks and welding.

I can understand how it got done though. There was a head engineer, a graduate of one of the military schools. And he stood up there, as the site grew around him, smoking a Gitane and making notes in a ledger in precise handwriting, with a steel propelling pencil. And people would come to him with problems and explanations of why things couldn’t be done. And he would say “thank you so much for this information. Now, can we try just a little bit harder to get this done exactly right?”. And men, wiry men who had faced death on the glacier every day, many of whom would have been veterans of the resistance, would shuffle off and lose fingers to frostbite and risk their limbs once more, all to avoid having to meet that withering gaze again. Yeah, I know how things get done in France.

11. Roads made for motorcycles

Everywhere you go in the Alps and the Lakes, you see motorbikes. It’s not at all hard to see the almost sensual appeal of the roads themselves – you could take all the scenery away and hide it behind a screen wall (something which the planning authorities in my home town actually had to do once; there was a truly stunning sweep of the A5 Expressway over a viaduct which revealed a gorgeous bay which tended to attract drivers’ attention just at the point where, it transpired, they really needed to be looking out for a slightly tricky junction) and those roads would still be great fun to drive on a big motorbike. The bikes are in general big tourers, American or American-styled, and a lot of the cyclists are clearly members of clubs, but they don’t seem to be wearing patches or colours, so I presume they’re for the most part not outlaws. Some guest houses advertise that they are receptive to motorcyclists, though, which I would guess is not a thing that you would bother to advertise if it wasn’t teh case that most of them aren’t.

On the Italian side of Mont Blanc, there is a smaller monument than the official one to the tunnel fire victims. It commemorates Pierlucio Tinazzi, nicknamed “Spadino”, who was a security guard who essentially functioned as a motorbike cop, patrolling traffic in the tunnel. On the day of the fire, he took a breathing apparatus and rode into the blaze five times, pulling people out – in general, the ones who died were those who tried to stay in their cars. He saved as many as ten people from otherwise inevitable death, and died himself on his fifth journey into the furnace, after pushing a trucker into a fire refuge. His motorcycle melted into the tarmac. Every year in late March or early April, there is a ceremonial gathering of bikers, who ride through the tunnel, in convoy, in his memory.

[syndicated profile] political_betting_feed

Posted by TSE

The Guardian ICM phone poll is out. It confirms what the suspicion that last month’s ICM with a Labour lead of 7% was an outlier.

The Greens are up to 7%, only 3% from being third in a Westminster VI poll! whilst the Lib Dems  are equalling their worst-ever performance over the last two decades. It maybe the Greens are receiving a boost, having just held their conference.

For those anticipating swingback, well, there may not be much scope for that between the Blues and the Reds, the Guardian notes

The small print on the voting intention figures suggests that the trenches of the general election 2015 are already dug very deep. There is almost no direct movement between the main Labour and Tory blocs, with just 2% of David Cameron’s 2010 voters saying they will turn out for Miliband next time, and only 1% of those who voted for Gordon Brown making the opposite journey. Instead, 88% of 2010 Labour voters are staying loyal, as are 81% of 2010 Tories.

The relative standing of the two depends much more on Labour’s success in attracting disaffected Liberal Democrats from 2010 – 36% of whom now plump for Labour, against a mere 33% who plan to stay put – and the Conservatives’ ability to stem leakage to Ukip, which this month is attracting 9% of 2010 Tories.

To put this ICM poll into context, “Martin Boon, director of research at ICM, cautions that the opposition should not assume that this slim lead is secure. “At this stage of the last political cycle, David Cameron stood some 17 points clear of Gordon Brown, and looked set to barnstorm No 10. He ended up in a hung parliament situation, and with a mere two-point lead Ed Miliband looks considerably less secure than that.”"

There have a been a couple of other polls out today, both showing the trend of Labour’s lead shrinking/being wiped out in recent days, it makes the Opinium at the weekend with a Labour lead of 8, a bit of an outlier. But all said, I think the polling is consistent with where it largely has been for the last several months, a Labour lead of around 2-3 points.

ICM inevitably had some questions about the Indyref. From this polling the most striking thing was, the Sovereign will of the people of England & Wales is clear. “63% of voters in England and Wales believe that the UK should “refuse to negotiate” over a common currency area if Scotland becomes independent, more than twice as many as the 27% who would favour such talks beginning. This makes for a total contrast with Scotland, where 62% believe that a currency union should be negotiated.”

TSE

[syndicated profile] skepchick_feed

Posted by Rebecca Watson

I’m so incredibly excited to announce that Quiz-o-Tron, the World’s Greatest Science/Comedy Panel Quiz Show Hosted by Rebecca Watson, is taking over the beautiful Castro Theatre in San Francisco on Saturday, October 25 as part of the Bay Area Science Festival!

As always, I will be your host, and my illustrious panel will include physicist/Survivor contestant Yau-Man Chan, io9 editor Annalee Newitz, local comedians Caitlin Gill and Matt Gubser, and returning Quiz-o-Tron champion Phil “The Bad Astronomer” Plait! More as-yet-to-be-named special guests will be joining us, and of course the audience will also join in with a chance to win fabulous (or terrible, depending upon your perspective) prizes!

Tickets are only $10 when you purchase in advance, so get yours now!

You can find out more about Quiz-o-Tron, including photos from past events, here!

And if you want to make a full night of it, don’t forget to pick up tickets for BAHFest, Zach Weinersmith’s mini-con that’s taking place at the Castro immediately prior to Quiz-o-Tron!

SO MANY EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!

[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

Complete with a couple of construction workers. Groovy.

Tonight: I’ll be at Brookline Booksmith, doing my thing at 7pm. Won’t you come by? And bring every single person you’ve ever met? I would be deeply appreciative!

Tomorrow: I’ll be at Gibson’s, in Concord, New Hampshire, for my first trip into the state since that one time at Dartmouth. Oh, there’s a story there, I’ll tell you!


[syndicated profile] uk_polling_report_feed

Posted by Anthony Wells

As well as the Ashcroft and Populus polls earlier today we also have the monthly ICM poll for the Guardian tonight, reported here. Topline figures with changes from a month ago are CON 33%(+2), LAB 35%(-3), LDEM 10%(-2), UKIP 9%(-1), GRN 7%(+3). It shows a sharp narrowing of the Labour lead, but it’s almost certainly a reversion to the mean: the previous ICM poll had the Labour lead jumping up to 7 points when it had been previously showing Labour and the Conservatives pretty much neck and neck.

The poll also asked about English and Welsh attitudes to the Scottish referendum and to further devolution. As we’ve seen elsewhere, there is little support for a currency union with an independent Scotland amongst the rest of the UK – 27% of people say the remainder of the UK should negotiate a currency union, 63% they should not. Asked about more devolution in England, via regional assemblies or an English Parliament 45% think it would help their area of England, 42% that it would not.

azurelunatic: Azz and best friend grabbing each other's noses.  (Default)
[personal profile] azurelunatic
There is a thing that sometimes people do, to be funny or for emphasis or whatever. It is the thing where they substitute the letter L for R in words, such as "VICTOLY" for "VICTORY".

There are many possible places and reasons to have picked up doing this, including the ever-popular "somebody I know was doing it and it seemed like fun".

The roots of this substitution is making fun of people with no distinction between R/L sounds, which is common when people whose first language is Chinese learn to speak English.

Which is why I cringe every time I encounter it, and would prefer that people not do this around me.

The Stone Boatmen by Sarah Tolmie

Sep. 15th, 2014 02:05 pm
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
[personal profile] james_davis_nicoll

It is a sad truth that a life spent reviewing books, particularly genre fiction, particularly fantasy, involves reading a lot of terrible books. Worse, reading variations of the same terrible book, over and over. There is a benefit, which is that a gem of the first water like Sarah Tolmie's The Stone Boatmen stands out against the rest that much more.
[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by Maria Pretzler

In my recent article on devolution policy, I highlighted the problem with accountability in the context of devolved power. This is an issue which needs to be pursued further, particularly because our ‘devolution on demand’ policy (F14 on pp.54-56; lines 70-76) appears to have been drafted without considering the necessary conditions for effective scrutiny.

LibDems often take it for granted that devolving power to the most local level will automatically make politics more relevant, and more democratic. But why should this be? Democracy is at its most effective if voters are able to hold politicians to account, and increased geographical proximity alone is not enough – you have to make sure that voters know what is going on at that particular level. If it is difficult to find out what politicians are doing, indeed, if it’s even hard to be sure which level of government is responsible for what, then voters simply have no chance to give a useful verdict.

For these ends, politicians’ leaflets are necessary, but definitely not sufficient. A properly functioning democracy needs the ‘Third Estate’ – media able to report without interference from politicians; in fact, it takes a whole media landscape to ensure proper accountability. Ideally, this means a combination of public media outlets obliged to strive for impartiality and a range of opinionated voices, all in lively, sometimes perhaps annoyingly shouty, contention with each other. For democracy to function we need journalists who keep themselves informed about the goings-on in government, who know the people involved and who have the time and expertise to scrutinize the information available on the surface, and to dig around for more behind the scenes. In Westminster we take this kind of political journalism for granted, and we may well find it intensely annoying – but you only realise what you are missing when you are confronted with government which enjoys significant powers without proper scrutiny. I would argue that in Wales we are witnessing a situation where the lack of an adequate media landscape has serious implications for the quality of government.

If we want to devolve power to new regional entities, we have to ensure that the new centres of devolved power can be held to account by their electorate. How do voters get independent information about the goings on in their devolved regional government? If we devolve power to areas without a developed media landscape, how do we make sure that they get one, and that people will engage with journalism at this specific regional level? It is not enough just to cross your fingers and assume that it will simply happen. If Wales has difficulties developing an appropriately inquisitive media landscape, how will new, relatively artificial entities do?

Giving away power to new sets of politicians is not, in itself, democratic: we need to give this power to the voters, and this can only happen if we make sure that they actually have the tools to use their power effectively.

* Maria Pretzler is a Lecturer in Greek History at Swansea University. She blogs at Working Memories , where ancient Greekery and Libdemmery can happily coexist.

[syndicated profile] political_betting_feed

Posted by MikeSmithson

justyouwait (1)

A new poll of Canadians by Leger for the Association for Canadian Studies has just come out and finds Scottish IndyRef YES is supported by 32% to 29%.

Interestingly amongst those sampled who are from Quebec the split was 44% YES to 24% NO.

The independence referendum that took place in the Province in October 1995 is is the closest comparison to Thursday’s big election in Scotland.

Back then YES went into polling day with a lead but voters in the Province rejected the move by a fraction of 1%. Interestingly the demographic splits that we are seeing in Scotland at the moment – women and the old being the most opposed to change, happened in Quebec.

  • If you would like to purchase one of Marf’s prints or originals, please contact her here.
  • Mike Smithson

    2004-2014: The view from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


    [syndicated profile] robinince_feed

    Posted by robinince

    I am cautious.
    This is a polite way of saying, I am a coward.
    I have never been keen on physical jeopardy. There are so many ways of dying that I have no desire to increase my chances by going up high things or crawling through crumbling limestone without a purpose.

    I could understand potholing if I was told, “and after crawling through the ribcage tearing, elbow shattering enclosed, pitch black cavities, we come across the vast opening where the underground rock lions live”, but not if it’s “we crawl through ever tightening spaces and, after what seems like days, we get out the other side of a hill”.
    Even some stalagmites and stalactites of breathtaking geological beauty wouldn’t have quite enough allure, I think I’d need there to be dragons.

    I have never liked any form of spinning thing or rackety coaster that allows my mind to conjure up a variety of images of gruesome death. I know they should be safe and the vast majority of people do not die on end of pier rides or cavern expeditions, but with no hope of heaven in my head, I’ll keep trying to cut down the death risks to those that are most essential.
    I did a mini potholing trip on my son’s weekend activity outing. I looked at the diameter of the pipe, rued the day I hadn’t become clinically obese and thus found an alibi of girth, and stood by as the 6 year olds put on their safety helmets.
    “I want you to come, Daddy”
    And with that, a parent’s fate is sealed. A refusal to partake in crawling through concrete pipes now could lead to a lifetime of my child going through Freudian psychoanalysis.
    Actually, it was fine. Uncomfortable, and with one tight squeeze where the angle of turn seemed to require a folding pelvis, but I remembered not to swear.
    After the crawl, I imagined a longer potholing expedition or prison escape scenario, where the man in front of you suffered a heart attack and the convict behind died too. Trapped in the tunnel, no way forward and no way back, the man tries to tear the corpse impediments into smaller pieces. He then thinks that cannibalising them will mean he can squeeze through, but with the act of eating, he becomes too swollen.

    And it is those kind of thoughts that stop me doing proper potholing.
    I had something akin to a near death, or at least witnessing a near death, as a toddler, and it has made me a cowardy custard ever since (that is what my homunculus therapist who lives near my parietal lobe told me anyway). I risk smashing my ego to pieces every night on stage, isn’t that enough. My risks are doing highly unsuitable TV shows when offered them and then fearing Germaine Greer’s derision.

    Put me in an MRI for a brain scan anytime, now that I like. And yet I meet people who had to press the panic button. I like the sound of magnets far more than the heavy breathing of crawler.
    So I won’t be parachuting for charity quite yet, but I’ll make you a cake if you ask nicely.

    I am on tour – Aldershot to Newcastle, Nottingham to Belfast, Barton upon Humber to Cardiff and many more. dates HERE

    latest DVDs HERE


    There's nothing quite like

    Sep. 15th, 2014 12:51 pm
    james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
    [personal profile] james_davis_nicoll
    Opening a pdf of a novel one was looking forward to discover it's a pdf of the cover.

    New Books and ARCs, 9/15/14

    Sep. 15th, 2014 04:00 pm
    [syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

    Posted by John Scalzi

    Unpacked some of the books and ARCs that arrived while I was on the second leg of the tour; here they are for your delight and perusal. Of particular interest, I think, are Ancillary Sword, the sequel to the multiple award-winning Ancillary Justice, and Last Plane to Heaven, the official final story collection of Jay Lake.

    What do you find interesting in this collection of works? Share in the comments.


    [syndicated profile] markpack2_feed

    Posted by Mark Pack

    Jenny Woods speaking at party conference

    When it comes to civil liberties and the internet, Jenny Woods is regularly a well informed and liberal source of expertise within the party, which makes this news very welcome:

    Liberal Democrats have chosen Dr Jenny Woods as their Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Reading East. She was selected following a meeting of local party members this week.

    Jenny has campaigned locally on issues of importance to residents in Reading and Woodley, such as transport, education and provision of leisure facilities. Nationally, she has a high profile in civil liberties campaigning, particularly around online communications, where she was part of the Lib Dem team that successfully threw out the “Snoopers’ Charter.”

    Jenny lives in the heart of Reading East. A scientist by profession, she works in the university sector connecting policy-makers with academic researchers. She also coordinates a national network of scientists tackling the global problems faced by society, like sustainability and health.

    Jenny Woods, Reading East PPC said, “For me, being involved in politics is all about helping people make the changes that are needed to improve their lives. I’m proud to stand here in Reading East, fighting for the Liberal Democrat values of freedom, fairness and equality, and working to improve our community by putting power into the hands of local people.”

    [syndicated profile] markpack2_feed

    Posted by Mark Pack

    Margaret Thacher and Ronald Reagan meet. Photo courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Thatcher#mediaviewer/File:Reagan-Thatcher_cabinet_talks.jpg - some rights reserved

    Charles Clarke’s edited collection is an interesting read – as long as you don’t expect it to deliver on the book’s title. The book’s twenty-seven chapters are by a series of senior figures from politics and the public sector, each addressing one major policy area. They are inevitably of variable quality, but the best are very good and the worst are not too long. Anatole Kaletsky’s on banking is especially fine.

    The Too Difficult Box edited by Charles ClarkeHowever, the chapter are by no means all areas that are too difficult for politicians to tackle. In several cases, the areas have been tackled – and it’s just that the author doesn’t like the answer politicians have come up with. Or even areas that have been tackled and the author likes the outcome, which makes a bit of a mockery of the ‘too difficult’ tag.

    For example, one chapter is on the BBC’s funding – an issue to which politicians have repeatedly provided an answer. The chapter’s author, Adam Boulton, works for a rival broadcaster and doesn’t like the answers. Fair enough, and he’s not alone in that, but this is hardly the stuff of big long-term issues our political system can’t cope with.

    Likewise, another chapter is titled “Defending the UK”. Have politicians really failed to defend the UK over the years? Perhaps I missed the years of Soviet occupation or the military victory of the IRA. Again the author, former army chief Richard Dannatt, is critical of what politicians have done but, again, this hasn’t been a case of them failing to face up to long-term issues. It’s been rather a case of them making decisions on how to deal with them that he disagrees with.

    Moreover, other chapters are really about the successes of politicians in dealing with thorny issues – such as David Lipsey’s on social care which culminates with the Dilnot recommendations being implemented, and Shirley Williams’s chapter on nuclear weapons which (rightly) praises that to an “extraordinary extent we have managed to restrain nuclear proliferation [and] … the fact that we have had neither nuclear war not even a major nuclear explosion [since 1945] is something few would have believed possible”. That is a story of political success with the two major contemporary exceptions – North Korea and Iran – not for want of politicians willing to try something. The problem is finding the right thing, not those issues being locked away as ‘too difficult’ with no action taken.

    Those chapters are still interesting, but they do therefore rather get in the way of the analysis of why there are some issues that politicians do indeed keep on putting off dealing with, sometimes with disastrous results.

    Think then of the book as an entertaining primer on a range of major issues rather than an effective analysis of the issues that are consigned to the ‘too difficult’ box.

    Got a view on this review? Then please rate it on Amazon.

    Buy now from AmazonBuy The Too Difficult Box: The big issues politicians can’t crack, edited by Charles Clarke here.

    Note: a review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher.

    The Too Difficult Box: The big issues politicians can't crack, edited by Charles Clarke
    An interesting read – as long as you don’t expect it to deliver on the title
    My rating (out of 5): 4.0
    Mark Pack, 15 September 2014 |

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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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