Code push in progress

Aug. 29th, 2015 10:00 pm
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[staff profile] karzilla posting in [site community profile] dw_maintenance
We're updating the site momentarily! Once the dust settles, please let us know if anything isn't working as expected. I'll edit the entry here if we confirm any issues.
[syndicated profile] political_betting_feed

Posted by Mike Smithson

If she looks vulnerable it could open up the whole race

In the next five months we are going to hear an awful lot from Iowa which traditionally, with its caucuses, is the first state to decide on choosing a contender for the White House race.

Because this is not a normal primary where people just turn up and vote finding accurate poll samples has proved very challenging in the past. What happens in Iowa is that electors attending attend evening meetings on a cold January/February evening and only those who arrive on time and stay to the end can cast a vote.

The vast majority of people in the state simply don’t attend these events so standard polling techniques do not always work. But the poll in the states’s leading newspaper, the Des Moines Register, has over the years built up a formidable reputation in surveying both the Republican and Democratic party caucuses. In 2012 it identified the huge momentum behind Rick Santorum in the GOP race and he, nor Romney, was eventually declared the winner.

The early states to decide can have an enormous impact and there’s a massive focus on what’s going. The contenders are spending huge amounts of time and effort in them. It was Obama’s success in Iowa in 2008 that provided the springboard for his successful White House bid.

    It had been thought that Hillary would take Iowa easily but would struggle against the 73 year old socialist, Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire. That thinking has changed dramatically overnight with the Des Moines Register poll which shows him closing the gap.

My reading is that Sanders is doing well because he’s the most established non-Hillary contender.

Clinton’s price has been weakening but she’s still a strong odds-on favourite for the nomination. If a serious other contender emerges she could be in trouble.

Mike Smithson

[syndicated profile] crooked_timber_feed

Posted by Corey Robin

My Sunday column in Salon uses the latest campus controversy—the Duke student who refuses to read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home—as an opportunity to take a second look at what these students with their trigger warnings and sensitivities are trying to tell us:

No one knows the power of literature better than the censor. That’s why he burns books: to fight fire with fire, to stop them from setting the world aflame. Or becomes an editor: Stalin, we now know, excised words from texts with about as much energy and attention as he excised men and women from the world. As Bertolt Brecht archly noted of the East German regime’s efforts to control what he wrote: “Where else in the world can you find a government that shows such interest and pays such attention to artists?”

This week, as I head back to the classroom amid controversy — from Columbia toBerkeley to Duke — over what college students will or will not read, I’m mindful of Brecht’s observation. Could it be that the men and women who most appreciate what we, professors of the humanities and social sciences, have to offer are the students who’ve been vilified as coddled and cosseted, demanding trigger warnings on syllabi or simply refusing to read the books we’ve assigned them because those books make them uncomfortable? Could it be that they, like the censor, are the ones who truly understand the power of the books we teach?

That’s why I’m less bothered than some of my colleagues are by today’s students. I see in their fear a premonition of what a book — and an education — can do. We live in an age, we’re often told, where reading has become rote or has simply disappeared. Half our students don’t do the reading; the other half submit dutiful book reports, barely registering the effect of what they’ve read.

Yet here are students who seem to understand, however faintly and problematically, what the literary critic Alfred Kazin called “the raw hurting power that a book could have over me.” They seem like throwbacks, these students: not to the Midwestern evangelism of Elmer Gantry but to the urban hothouse of the New York Intellectuals, those anxious and oversexed minds of mid-century for whom a Henry James novel or Walt Whitman poem was a holy fire. “Writing Was Everything“: that’s how Kazin titled one of his memoirs. In their refusal to read a book, in their insistence that professors warn them of the trauma it may contain, that is what students are running away from: writing that consumes them, writing that’s everything.

Even so, there’s a greater threat to reading and readers, to education itself, than trigger warnings or students objecting to a text. And that is the downsizing administrator, the economizing politician, who refuses to believe there’s any value in reading a difficult text at all. While the media debates Mr. Grasso’s refusal, I, as chair of my department, anxiously scrutinize our daily enrollment reports, knowing I have to defend courses with 12 students from administrative economizers — simply because the intimacy, attention and focus of a senior seminar doesn’t register as a value to men who can only see value when it is expressed as a number on a spreadsheet. Given the choice of defending a book to an aggrieved student or a course to a phlegmatic accountant, I’ll take the student any day: at least she and I agree that the book in question has power, and the experience of reading it, reality.

In this age of the neoliberal university, these students may be our best allies, for they seem to be among the few who understand that what we do matters. The administrator and the politician, the trustee and the pundit, think that we professors are worse than subversive; we’re useless. These students, by contrast, think we’re dangerous. Rather than dismissing them, maybe we should say: Thank you, we thought no one was listening, we thought no one cared. And then turn around and figure out how to use this as, ahem, a teachable moment — about the radioactivity of books and the fact that radiation has its uses.

Read more here.

[syndicated profile] liberal_bureaucracy_feed

Posted by Mark Valladares

I have to admit that, having only got home on Thursday, I haven't kept up with what's on television. And so, it was only yesterday that I found out that BBC2 are having an India Season, courtesy of Ann, who drives the Gipping North Suffolk Links bus on Friday evenings. She had found the first four programmes, on Indian railways, fascinating, and gave them a strong recommendation. And so, I made plans to watch them over the long weekend. After all, I am, deep in my soul, at least a part-time Mumbaikar.

However, household chores have a tendency to get in the way, and by the time I had picked up my copy of The Times, an opportunity had not yet come. That meant that I got to read Hugo Rifkind's review of the series first...

Now, normally, I have little against Hugo. Yes, he is the son of a senior Conservative politician, which may well have helped him in his career a bit, but life's like that. I tend to think that he is sometimes clever rather than bright, but when you're a columnist, you can"t expect be right all of the time.

But, I have to say that I disagree with his review somewhat. He thinks that the series is poor, delivered with enthusiasm rather than skill. And, I admit, I might not have done it the same way, but the series isn't really intended for people like the two of us, more as a peek through a curtain at a world unfamiliar to most of us.

And, in that sense, Dan Snow, John Sargeant (wearing my hat, I see), Anita Rani and Robert Llewellyn did their jobs well. Dan, Anita and Robert braving the morning rush into Victoria Terminus (yes, I know that it's now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus but I'm an old man and I treasure my childhood memories) demonstrated just how daunting it is for outsiders - I've always found that having a pale skin gives you a fraction of a second to take advantage of the confusion engendered by you being there at all.

Having done that, they then explored how what looks like chaos on first sight is actually an incredibly complex interplay of technology and people which is astoundingly efficient in delivering millions of people into one small area of a city of seventeen million.

In his review, Hugo tells of his year travelling around India on trains, and you sense that he thinks it would have been a far better programme had it reflected a similar experience. The problem is, that's tourism, and there are plenty of programmes already made that do that. Frankly, Hugo, your adventures in Uttar Pradesh are so far removed from most people's lives that they don't resonate, whereas millions of us commute. Seeing what a daily commute looks like elsewhere is interesting, if you're willing to suspend your privilege.

My friend Ann hasn't travelled the world on someone else's tab, she's a normal person doing a normal job, but takes an interest in the world about her, and she thought enough about the programme to want to tell me about it. Perhaps the two of you might like to swap jobs one week - it would give you something to write about, and she might get another experience to tell me about...
[syndicated profile] skepchick_feed

Posted by Rebecca Watson

Support more videos like this at!

Sorta transcript:

The hacking of the cheaters’ website Ashley Madison has been getting a ton of press for various reasons, some of which I care about and most of which I don’t. For instance, most outlets seem concerned with whose name is in the released data. As I mentioned in my previous video, Josh Duggar was one of those names, which is funny because he’s a giant hypocrite. But really, I don’t care. I really, truly don’t care what names are in that database, because it’s none of my business if someone wants to be a giant shit head who cheats on their spouse. And I think that if you search the database to see if your spouse is in there, you should probably go to counseling whether they are or not, because you guys have some serious relationship issues.

What I do find interesting about the leak is the privacy angle: for starters, it’s a huge, disgusting violation of privacy that some assholes got that data and released it. And secondarily, Ashley Madison as a company, it turns out, was charging people to delete their accounts and then still holding on to all their data, which is even more disgusting.

But here’s why I’m finally making a video about this whole scandal: Annalee Newitz over at Gizmodo has just published a fantastic piece of investigative journalism that shows that there were pretty much no women on that site at all. I’m not exaggerating. On its face, the site had 31 million men and 5.5 million women, so about 5 to 1, which is bad enough. But Newitz discovered that of those 5.5 million women, only 1,492 ever looked at a message in their inbox, compared to more than 20 million men. That means women accounted for less than .01% of all active users on the site.

Newitz also revealed that a huge percentage of the users’ IP addresses were loopback IPs, meaning they came from within Ashley Madison’s own servers, and many users also used Ashley Madison email addresses. An overwhelming majority of these were female, which is statistically significant considering that an overwhelming majority of all users are male.

In other words, it seems pretty damned convincing that the vast majority of female profiles were fakes, created to lure men into buying accounts, and then buying a deactivation when they realize nobody is responding to their messages.

Thinking about all that, I’ve had to completely reconsider the way I view Ashley Madison. Previously, I thought of it as a gross business where assholes made money by helping people lie to their partners and put them at risk of STDs.

But now I see I was all wrong: if anything, Ashley Madison was probably instrumental in saving many assholes’ marriages. Consider: a man decides he wants to cheat on his wife. He goes on Ashley Madison, a place famous for helping sexy people fuck around with other sexy people. He sees a bunch of hot women near him. He messages them, masturbates furiously at the thought of all the action he’s about to get, and then he waits. And waits. And waits. And eventually he thinks, wow, all these people are meeting each other and hooking up, and not a single woman will even read my messages. Surely I am the worse piece of shit on the planet. Maybe I should try to just work things out with the one person who actually agreed to marry me.

Bam. Marriage saved. Thanks Ashley Madison, for apparently conning a bunch of assholes out of money and maybe into couples counseling.

[syndicated profile] skepchick_feed

Posted by Daniela

“Two sisters who have been told they will be repeatedly gang-raped as a “punishment” for the crimes committed by their brother have pleaded with the Supreme Court to be protected.”

“Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Around 29 percent of girls are married before the age of 15, and 65% of girls are already married by the time they turn 18.“ American photojournalist Allison Joyce went to rural areas to photograph young brides and a wedding between a 15-year-old girl and a 32-year-old man.

Francisco Franco ruled over Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975. His nationalist, authoritarian regime had a brutal grip on the country’s political and cultural life—but also on science, according to Education, science and ideology in Spain (1890–1950), a recent book published in Spanish. In it, Manuel Castillo Martos and Juan Luis Rubio Mayoral show that Francoism smothered research and relied on Opus Dei, a conservative Catholic institution, to police academic life.

“The mayor of Venice, who this month had a public row with British rock star Elton John over family values, has said he never wants to see a Gay Pride parade take place in the lagoon city while he is in charge.”

“Italian book that explores different family types including same sex was banned by mayor of Venice, but pontiff becomes unlikely supporter.”

“Authorities in Nigeria’s financial capital Lagos have shut down churches across the city after a glut of complaints over noisy worship.”

GERMANY (from Mary)
‘Merkel’ has become a verb in German youth vernacular. “It’s a verb which, according to the German dictionary publisher Langenscheidt, means ‘to do nothing, make no decisions, issue no statements.’”

“A group of United Nations human rights experts expressed alarm after a female Sudanese student, Ferdous Al Toum, was sentenced to public flogging and a heavy fine for charges of ‘indecent dressing’. Another student, Rehab Omer, received a hefty fine for the same charges. “Public flogging of women is a continuing practice in the country, and the offence of modesty and the penalty of flogging are disproportionately used to punish women,” they noted.”

Are Pakistan’s female medical students to be doctors or wives? More than 70% of medical students are women, but most don’t end up practicing medicine.

“Former Australian PM Julia Gillard has dropped her opposition to gay marriage, revealing she would now vote for it.” “Her back flip has sparked criticism on social media and from some politicians who say she could have taken action when she was in power.”

Featured image: Girl on the day of her wedding (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

Why you should vote

Aug. 29th, 2015 03:18 pm
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[personal profile] commodorified
Because we're headed into a federal election, and I'm already cranky about lefties and their infinite capacity for coming up with reasons why marking a ballot for the NDP is incompatible with their personal philosophy.

Also, I voted last week, because I'm going to be travelling in October.

1) Because whatever your other political activities and options are, there is absolutely nothing about voting which is going to interfere with them. Really. You can vote on the 19th, write letters on the 20th, march in the streets on the 21st, and organise a program to assist children living in poverty on the 22nd. Maybe take the 23rd off, in that case.

If you feel like casting a secret ballot for a party you think will do a somewhat better job than the Conservatives at looking after the vulnerable and assisting the struggling, so that more Canadians can lead decent lives of reasonable comfort and basic dignity, is going to eternally stain your soul, I invite you to consider that it is perhaps not the business of a person to save the shining purity of their own soul at the expense of others' lives. You can go after dark, if you're really concerned.

2) Because First-Past-The-Post and Parliamentary Democracy may be broken, but they are presently the systems on which we have conferred legitimacy. You don't have to like it, but this is the deal. As a private citizen, this is one of the most important ways you can affect how Canada is run, and it is not an endorsement of how either presently work. Really. Operating realistically and sensibly under the current deal does not constitute giving up your right to fight for a better one, and in fact will probably improve your odds:

3) Because voting actually does make a difference. Why do you think the Conservatives have enacted legislation to make it harder while kneecapping Elections Canada? If voting were pointless, the Conservatives would be tryng to get their opponents to do more of it, not less.

4) Because low turnout favours the right. "It has been well established that a low voter turnout will benefit the Conservatives. Duncan Cameron writes, "The 25/60 rule says when only 60 per cent of Canadian citizens go out to vote, 25 per cent of the voters can deliver a majority government." Elections Canada says there were 24.2 million eligible voters in the last federal election. The Harper Conservatives received their majority with just 5.8 million of those votes. But more than 8.8 million Canadians voted for other parties and 9.4 million Canadians did not vote. 5.8 million Conservative votes from 24.2 million eligible voters is 23.9 per cent. Cameron says, "The disengagement from the electoral process is the key to the success of the Conservatives in Canada and of right-wing politics elsewhere."

And the right knows it. They get their vote out religiously. Whatever you think you're doing, if you don't vote you're improving the Conservatives' position, and I do not think you want to do that.

5) Because voting for a candidate does not constitute a ringing endorsement of their party's entire platform, nor an agreement to support them or refrain from putting pressure on them. Come October 20, we are going to have a government. They are going to need their asses kicked. The question is not, is there a leader whose ass won't need any kicking. The question is, which party do you think you have the best chance of persuading of the rightness of your cause?

6) Because political parties respond to their base. If you make it painfully clear that nothing on earth will compel you to vote, nobody is going to chase your vote. If you consistently vote for the candidate who comes closest to reflecting your views, you send a message. If you actually talk to that candidate, or their representative, about said views, you send a larger one.

I am sorry to tell you this, but if you feel like the NDP is chasing the middle too much? They are doing so because the middle is avaiable to be caught. Making it clear that the left is even more available to be caught - because currently underrepresented - is your best possible move. Hell, you don't even have to vote NDP, though if you're in a heavily-contested riding I strongly urge you to. Vote Green. Vote Communist. Vote Liberal, if it's obviously a Liberal-Conservative race in your riding. But make it clear that your vote is out there, available to be gained.

Just vote. It's important. Just get on the bus, or on your bike, or power up your chair, or get in your car, and vote.

Code push!

Aug. 29th, 2015 01:12 pm
karzilla: a green fist above the word SMASH! (Default)
[staff profile] karzilla posting in [site community profile] dw_maintenance
[staff profile] mark and I are planning to do a code push tonight! We will start working around 7pm Pacific time but since it's my first time, the actual push to the site probably won't happen until closer to 8pm Pacific time.

Here's a partial list of changes that will go live with this push:

  • Rename swaps will accept rename tokens purchased on either account.

  • OpenID community maintainers will be able to edit tags on community entries.

  • Adorable new mood theme called "angelikitten's Big Eyes".

  • Username tag support for

  • Embedded content support for and

  • Additional space on the user profile page to list your Github username.

And as usual, many tweaks, small bugfixes, and the occasional page source rewrite.

We'll update again to let you know when the code push is in progress!
[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

Quick recap: John Scalzi Is Not A Very Popular Author And I Myself Am Quite Popular is a parody of an ebook by an obnoxious bigot who is obsessed with me, and I said (full details here) that if people raised $2,500 for Con or Bust, which funds science fiction convention memberships for people of color, I’d create an audiobook version of it. That happened. Then I said if we hit a stretch goal of $10,000, I’d also commission a song about me not being very popular. And that just happened! Whoo-hoo!

It will take me a bit to organize the song, but because you lovely people got us to an amazing $10,000 for Con or Bust in under 48 hours, I decided not to make you wait any longer for the audiobook. Here it is, with my love and appreciation.

First, the complete book, in one 40 minute chunk!

And now, the individual chapters:



Chapter 1: How it Begins


Chapter 2: John Scalzi’s Blog is Not That Interesting and No One Reads It


Chapter 3: John Scalzi Does Not Understand Satire as Well as I Understand Satire

(Note: This chapter contains reference to a piece I wrote about rape, and despite its humorous nature as parody, may be triggery for some folks.)


Chapter 5: John Scalzi Did Not Get Me Thrown out of the SFWA


Chapter 5: John Scalzi’s Deal With Tor is Not a Very Good Deal


Chapter 5: John Scalzi is Not a Very Popular Author






And for those of you who want to download the files: Complete Book|Prologue|Chapter 1|Chapter 2|Chapter 3|Chapter 5(a)|Chapter 5(b)|Chapter 5(c)|Afterword|Appendices

(Update, 9:09pm: Kate Nepveu of Con or Bust has created an Audible-like audiobook file of the complete book, which you may find here.)


And if you did enjoy this, and have not already done so, may I suggest you donate to Con or Bust, and help people of color attend science fiction conventions? That would be awesome. Thank you! And song to come!

[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_forbes_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

Steve Keen is a fellow contributor here at Forbes so this isn’t a declaration of all out jihad upon his ideas. Rather, it’s to show that one of his contentions about economics and the economy might still be true but it isn’t as important as he tends to make out. That contention of his being that since no part of the market is a truly free market then we shouldn’t be using the standard neoclassical models that assume the existence of and model free markets. That there isn’t that truly free market is, at the sort of level of exquisite detail that Keen insists upon, probably true. But that doesn’t mean that the assumption is imperfect: and it most certainly doesn’t mean that we should be having a great deal more government intervention as Keen thinks we should to deal with oligopolistic markets.

Keen’s essential contention is that we don’t in fact have those completely free markets of the neoclassical models. No one is ever truly a price taker: there’s not an infinite number of people in the world, there’s not an infinite number of producers of anything, so therefore say a wheat farmer does, however infinitesimally, change the global wheat price by the decision to plant or not. That contention is undoubtedly true.

But we’re interested in something else really, which is the assumption that large parts of the economy act pretty much as free market theory would predict correct? In other words, how many producers and consumers do we need interacting to say that the free market model is good enough, and certainly more accurate than the various models of oligopolistic competition? If we only need three players for the free market model to fit the evidence better then that’s obviously different if we need a few million. At either extreme we’d find that different models fit the real world economy. And if it is millions then perhaps Keen’s idea would be right.

Which brings us to the Federal Reserve and their recent note on Bitcoin:

Our estimate of the aggregate daily profit of bitcoin miners dropped below zero for several days in mid-January 2015. The average hash rate over the two-week period following the realization of negative profit was noticeably lower than the average hash rate over the preceding two-week period. It appears that diminished profit may have prompted some miners to exit the market or to reduce their mining efforts. This lower average hash rate caused the network difficulty level to adjust downward at the next retarget, and the relative increase in the ease of mining attracted additional hashing power to the network.

This is to look at the problem through the other end of the telescope. Instead of counting the number of players and seeing whether it’s enough, look for behaviour that would indicate that there’s enough players as theory would predict. So, if Bitcoin producers stop mining when prices fall below their ability to profit from mining, then that’s evidence that Bitcoin miners are acting as price takers. They’re not got market power over the price of their output. Now no, I do not know the number of Bitcoin miners out there. But in terms of miners of any size it’s not a large number. With the existence of pools and so on it would surprise me if the number were up in the hundreds in fact. And yet we do very obviously see that in aggregate the producers are price takers. Thus some hundreds of producers is enough for the standard free market models to be useful descriptors of the world we inhabit.

And thus Keen’s point, that we don’t have perfectly competitive markets is right at the level of detail he insists upon. However, it’s not important: because we don’t need to have all that many producers in a market for it all to behave as that free market model would and does predict.

There’s many things in economics which are like this: correct but not important. And this idea that it’s not a pure free market out there is one of them. It’s close enough that the free market model is the correct one to be using most of the time.

[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_forbes_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

What with the Chinese government intervening heavily in the stock markets these past couple of weeks this might not be quite the politic time to suggest that the real answer to their problems is to completely deregulate finance in that country. However, deregulation is indeed part of what they should be doing for it is indeed at least a partial solution to their problems. And no, this isn’t some way out there neoliberal buffoonery of a plan either. This is straight down the middle of the road mainstream economics. We could get pretty much every non-comatose economist to agree that it’s a good idea. Although I admit that rather fewer would think it’s quite as good an idea as I do.

The basic problem is that China still practices pretty heavy financial repression. No, that doesn’t mean that the bully boys beat up capitalists in the streets (that’s a story from many decades ago), rather it means that they deliberately limit the savings options of China’s citizens. Yes, they have been loosening those regulations but they need to go a lot further.

The basic point is that the Chinese banking system is entirely dominated by state owned banks. And these have their interest rates set for them by the centre. And those interest rates have been consistently negative in real terms for a few decades now. That is, the interest received is less than inflation. Saving in cash or in a bank is thus a way of losing money. These regulations have been loosened in the past couple of years and companies like Alibaba and Tencent are doing very well offering money market funds (and certainly some analysts think their long term hopes are tightly bound to the success of their financial arms). These pay much better interest than the state banks because they then lend on to the private sector, where interest rates are higher. The state banks tend to lend to the state owned enterprises (SOEs) the subsidy of which is the entire point of the system of financial repression.

Which is a problem for the overall balance of the economy:

Their angst poses dual problems for China’s leadership. The ruling party bases its legitimacy on delivering high rates of growth and employment. It also hopes to encourage consumer spending as a new engine of growth as the manufacturing sector slows and to nudge the economy away from an investment-driven model. Eroding confidence threatens both goals.

Household savings rates can be as high as 50% of income (by comparison in the US it’s perhaps 5% or so) and saving and or investment has in recent years been 40-50% of the entire Chinese economy. And the thing is, those low interest rates paid to Chinese savers help in making the savings rate that high.

Yes, I know, we don’t normally think of it that way: surely people will save less if they lose money by saving? And if interest rates rose they would save more? True in many circumstances but almost certainly not this one.

For there’s something called the lifetime income hypothesis. We save in order to be able to smooth out our income over our lifetimes. China has a small to non-existent pension and welfare safety net, so people need to save large portions of their income in order to do such income smoothing. But, and here’s the catch, if you lose money by saving in the bank then you’ve got to save more in order to be able to do that income smoothing. Meaning that if risk free returns on saving at the bank went up then people would almost certainly save less, and would thus consume more of their income. Which would neatly switch the Chinese economy over from the savings and investment heavy model of the moment to the consumption driven one the leadership says it wants.

And thus do we reach the end point of the idea. By deregulating interest rates, as the US did in the late 70s, early 80s, we should see the savings rate fall and thus have more consumption in the economy. And since a consumption led economy is what the leadership says they want therefore China should deregulate interest rates.

In a strange land

Aug. 29th, 2015 02:56 pm
[syndicated profile] political_betting_feed

Posted by TSE

UK Border

Antifrank looks at The politics of immigration and asylum

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  These are words which find absolutely no purchase in Britain in 2015.  Fully 50% this month see immigration as one of the three most important issues facing Britain in Ipsos MORI’s regular poll for the Economist and it’s a safe bet that few of them are concerned that Britain isn’t getting enough foreigners.

Proving anything with statistics

If one were just to look at statistics, it isn’t immediately obvious why this should be such a high concern right now.  From the most recent figures available, net immigration appears to have risen (for the year to March 2015 it was estimated at 330,000).  This is a record high, but not out of all proportion with previous years:


It certainly doesn’t account for the recent jumps in the level of concern currently being expressed (only 34% named immigration as one of the three most important issues facing Britain as recently as January).  And it doesn’t seem to be a matter of personal experience.  For example, 47% of the Welsh named immigration as the single most important issue facing Britain today but barely one in twenty Welsh residents are not British citizens.

Asylum seekers are broadly static according to the latest figures, just under 26,000 for the year to June 2015, up 10% on the previous year but far lower than the 84,000 in 2012.  Decisions on these applications are speeding up, running at three times the rate of a year ago.  Nor are they being waved through – the refusal rate for initial decisions for the first quarter of this year (64%) is almost exactly the same as it was in the first quarter of 2014.  Only applications from Eritrea, Iran, Syria and Sudan are normally succeeding.  Appeals are also running at a steady 66% dismissal rate.


Migrating anxiety

So why are the public so worked up about the subject?  In short, the media.  This year we have been treated to many pictures of boatloads of migrants crossing the Mediterranean and the Aegean and to blood-curdling accounts of throngs of migrants at Calais (and consequent disruption to Channel Tunnel services).  News has percolated back of the wall that the Hungarians are erecting on their Serbian border.  More recently, we have seen chaos on the Greek/Macedonian border.  The British public are concluding, correctly, that Europe is seeing an unprecedented wave of asylum-seeking and believe, incorrectly, that Britain is in the frontline of this.  With this conclusion floating on top of a general sense that Britain does not have a grip on more general types of immigration, the public fear the worst.

This sense is remarkably pervasive in some groups.  47% of over 65 year olds and 47% of red top readers named immigration as the single most important issue facing Britain today.  66% of Conservative voters and 82% of UKIP voters named it as one of the top three most important issues facing Britain today.  Make no mistake, having a clear policy on immigration that commands public confidence is going to be vital for all political parties in this Parliament.  So far none of the parties seem to have come anywhere near giving the public confidence in their policies.

In this respect, the British public are remarkably European (though with far less justification than much of their fellow EU citizens).  Britain is mid-table in the EU in terms of the percentage of residents who are citizens of other countries and Britain is now accepting around just 4% of new asylum applications in the EU.  Hungary detained as many migrants in a day this week as Britain this year has been averaging for asylum applications in a month.  50,000 arrived in Greece in July alone.  Germany is expecting 800,000 asylum applications this year.  These numbers give some context to the British immigration figures cited above.

This pressure on the EU is not likely to subside any time soon and the UN is urging EU member states to share the burden equitably.  Jean-Claude Juncker is also looking for an EU-wide solution (he might have better luck if he didn’t gratuitously insult the Prime Minister of one of the countries whose co-operation he is now seeking).

So Britain is going to come under renewed pressure from the rest of the EU to take more asylum seekers.  This is unlikely to go down well at home, to put it mildly.

Staying a step ahead

The Prime Minister has a short term problem of calming public fears, which are mostly unjustified.  He has a medium term problem that the EU is going to be pressuring Britain to take far more asylum seekers, which most British people see no justification for.  And he has a long term problem that he has no clear public message to give about the level of immigration that Britain can expect and deal with, nor of how to stem the influx into Europe of refugees.  Right now, he does not obviously have a plan to deal with any of these.

Against this background, you would expect the Conservatives to be suffering in the polls.  Far from it.  Labour take a more pro-immigration approach than the Conservatives, so are poorly placed to benefit (Jeremy Corbyn believes that migration is a “global phenomenon” and that non-EU immigration into the UK “is mainly family reunion issues”).  Despite UKIP having majored heavily on immigration control, UKIP’s poll ratings haven’t flickered in the last few weeks: perhaps Nigel Farage’s post-election antics have put some off; more likely, UKIP’s absence from the airwaves has left voters not making the connection between their concern about immigration and UKIP.

In the absence of any meaningful opposition, the Conservatives’ poll ratings are buoyant.  This will not last if the public conclude that they are out of their depth on what they regard as the number one issue confronting Britain.  Anti-immigrant parties of different degrees of nativism have been polling well in countries as diverse as France, Sweden, Hungary and Denmark.  With UKIP angling to fill that space in Britain, the Conservatives probably only have a short breathing space.

How should they use it?  Their great difficulty is that the Prime Minister’s past commitments on immigration have been comprehensively broken so his word is going to be disbelieved by many on this subject.  So they need to concentrate on actions rather than words.  The increased urgency at an EU level could assist the Prime Minister.  If he can get substantive movement on intra-EU migration, he may well be inclined to agree to take more asylum-seekers (he could triple the annual number and still Britain would have fewer asylum seekers than it had in 2012).  But the progress would need to be in that order to make it saleable to the British public.  And it assumes that David Cameron is looking for substantive change of the EU rather than something cosmetic.

That would probably see David Cameron’s term as Prime Minister out.  If he does not achieve something on this front, he could rapidly find his second term unravelling.  He tends to get tripped up by subjects that he’d not been focussing on.  This could be his downfall.

In the long term, the EU is certain to continue to face a continual trail of huddled masses.  This is not a function of the world becoming more disordered (the opposite is true) but of increased mobility, enabling wealthier asylum seekers and economic migrants to seek out their preferred destination to make a new life.  They cannot be blamed on an individual level – we would probably do the same ourselves in their shoes – but the social consequences and the levels of asylum seekers and migration that we and our European neighbours can live with as a society will need to be addressed and readdressed for many years.  This is a discussion that has barely started in Britain.


[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_forbes_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

More on the economic fantasy games being played out in British politics currently. Jeremy Corbyn looks certain to win the leadership of the Labour Party in the current election. And a major plank of his economic plan is what is called Peoples’ Quantitative Easing. This is the invention of one Richard Murphy, a retired accountant from Wandsworth, and has about the same economic validity as you’ve expect from a piece of monetary economics dreamed up by a retired accountant from Wandsworth. What he’s really done is reinvented the magic money tree in the guise of the monetisation of fiscal policy. This is what led to the delights of the Weimar inflation, the post WWII Hungarian pengo going up in flames and more recently Zimbabwe’s errors. There they just kept printing the money until what they printed wasn’t worth enough to buy the ink to print the next run. There’s really nothing new about this idea although Murphy not having studied much economics he doesn’t realise this.

What is interesting about Corbyn and the Jezzbollah hordes talking up this idea is that it’s now getting rather more attention from the adults in the room than it did when it was just a wheeze floating around the more ignorant parts of the political left. And that attention isn’t greatly complimentary about it we really do, in the interests of truth telling, have to point out. Which leads us to this particular observation about why it wont’t work.

It’s on the blog of Frances Coppola who also writes here at Forbes. I should point out that she’s taken seriously in monetary economics circles: Paul Krugman has been known to quote her approvingly over at his New York Times gig. And the writer of this piece is a Paddy Carter, a post-doctoral economist in the UK. And he points out that:

And here’s why People’s QE (PQE) is snake oil. So long as the BoE is still targeting inflation, it will still be pushing and pulling money in and out of the system, as required to meet demand for money at the interest rate it has set. If the BoE is still targeting inflation, then whatever money PQE puts into the economy on one hand, the BoE is going to be taking out with the other. Or, if the BoE happens not to take the money out, that implies it would have been putting it in, anyway. And that means that over the long run the rate of seignorage, or the extent to which the government is able to spend without borrowing, is not affected by PQE.

This is the same underlying logic as Scott Sumner’s argument as to why fiscal policy doesn’t work with an independent central bank. There, whatever government does to change fiscal stance is simply offset by the central bank changing monetary policy to accommodate it. Here Carter is simply saying that whatever government does about monetary policy will similarly be offset by the central banks changing other monetary policy to accommodate it. That is, PQE simply won’t work.

Murphy, as should be obvious, isn’t all that keen on people pointing out the flaws in this little plan:

To contextualise: he is then a man who has taught the basics of macroeconomics under the influence of a man who left the Bank of England some time ago and who now thinks he is the spokesperson for ‘the Bank view’ of PQE, to whom it has provided an opportunity for comment the likes of which he has never enjoyed before. I think we get the drift: Paddy’s a man who, like Prof Tony Yates, appears unable to appreciate that there might be a need for new fiscal tools to deal with the next economic crisis given that all the monetary ones we now have available have failed.

In other words, who is this nobody who would dare critique my plans?

Give Paddy Carter his due: he’d get a good 2:1 for that on any course he taught. He’s followed the rules of the great and good of macro really rather well and as a result to his own satisfaction, and no doubt that of Prof Yates, proved his case beyond all reasonable doubt.

Quite marvelous condescension there. The problem here being that Carter is right on the economics of this and Murphy is not. But then as with most of Murphy’s attempts at economics, we know that it’s going to be wrong, our task is to work out where he’s gone wrong this time. And here the answer is twofold: firstly that it is the straight monetisation of fiscal policy and secondly that the central bank, in the course of normal operations, will simply neutralise the effect of it.

All of which makes this Corbyn election extremely interesting. For it is increasing the scrutiny to which these ideas are subject and more and more people are finding out they are just castles in the air, built upon foundations of sand. That then leading to the certainty that none of these policies are ever going to be put into action: even if Corbyn became PM they still wouldn’t be as no one is mad enough to allow him to enact them. It’ll be a lovely example of the checks and balances in a mature democratic system.

[syndicated profile] liberal_bureaucracy_feed

Posted by Mark Valladares

Three weeks away from home, without the never-ending cheerfulness that is the British media, has ended, and a conveniently timed Bank Holiday weekend allows me to catch up on all of those things that pile up in one's absence. E-mail, post, laundry and party-related tasks, for example.

So, I've written a report to my Local Party's Executive Committee for the upcoming meeting in my capacity as Treasurer (we have money - I'm terribly excited!), ordered some books of tickets for the Liberal Democrat Christmas Draw (I won two years ago, so it was well worth it), opened up a bunch of post and paid the bills that were amongst it, and laundry is currently going through its cycles. I feel vaguely virtuous, and a mite more organised than usual.

Apparently, the Labour Party is still trying to elect a new leader, politicians are behaving badly, the weather's been pretty miserable and a bunch of people are doing something that the Daily Mail doesn't like. On social media, people are continuing to insist on behaving like idiots in the face of all the evidence that it doesn't help. In other words, life is as normal.

Here in rural mid-Suffolk though, it all seems like it's a long way away, which allows me the time and space to make a few minor changes to my lifestyle, avoid things that cause me stress and give some thought to a few projects that I have in mind.

In other news, my local Tesco is already promoting Christmas tins of assorted chocolates. Remind me, it is still summer, isn't it?
[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by Paul Walter

The Times (£) has reported the death of Walter James, who was the Liberal Party candidate for Bury in the 1945 General Election. As such, he is thought to be the last Liberal candidate from 1945 to pass on, leaving, it is believed, just two candidates surviving from that election, both of them from the Labour party: Denis Healey and Jeremy Hutchinson, now Baron Hutchinson of Lullington.

A journalist, Walter James was on the editorial staff of the Guardian in Manchester from 1937 until 1946. He was a highly distinguished editor of The Times Educational Supplement from 1952 to 1969, doubling its sales. He worked for The Times from 1947 to 1971. He is described by that newspaper as a “lively defender of grammar schools”. Mr James wrote an article for The Sunday Times (£) on his 100th birthday.

Wikipedia records:

Both James and his first wife, Elisabeth Howroyd were active in politics for the Liberal Party in the Manchester area. He took a particular interest in the Liberal policy of Profit sharing. He was Liberal candidate for the Bury Division of Lancashire at the 1945 General Election. After the election he was re-adopted by the Bury Liberal Association to contest the seat again and remained PPC through to 1947 when he moved to London. Following boundary changes, the seat was abolished and he did not stand for parliament again.

We extend our sincere sympathies to Mr James’ family and friends.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist in Newbury and West Berkshire. He is part of the Liberal Democrat Voice team and blogs at Liberal Burblings.

[syndicated profile] badastronomy_feed

Posted by Phil Plait

I’ll be honest: Every episode of Crash Course Astronomy has been fun to write, edit, and shoot. They all really have. But the past few episodes, and the next few to come, deal with one of my favorite topics in astronomy: What happens when a star decides to give up the ghost.

When stars die all sorts of fantabulous things happen: They explode, they leave behind bizarre ultradense objects, they fling gas into space that creates amazing and breathtaking shapes and colors.

This week, CCA is about what happens after stars like the Sun die: They become white dwarfs, and in the process blow out a series of winds that become one of the most beautiful sights in the sky: planetary nebulae.

I studied the planetary nebula NGC 6286 for my Master’s degree at the University of Virginia, investigating a giant circular halo of gas around it from the star’s original red giant wind. I had to simultaneously learn about planetary nebulae, the physics of interacting colliding winds, how gas radiates light, how the digital detector on the telescope worked (this was when such cameras were brand spanking new, so every thing about them was a learning experience), how to use the telescope, and how to write code to analyze the data. It was… interesting. Very difficult, but in the end I got results that were worth publishing.

My advisor, Noam Soker, is the man I mention in the video. I have never met a harder working astronomer in my life; he published a ridiculous number of papers, covering one small topic very well in each, and then moving on. I remember talking to him about why 6826 had an elliptical inner region, and he suggested it could be from a Jupiter-like planet orbiting the star. The problem was it would have to be very close to the star to be enveloped when the star became a red giant, and I thought that wasn’t possible — our Jupiter, after all, is over 700 million kilometers from the Sun, way too far to get swallowed up! And you can’t form a planet that big that near a star anyway.

Oh, me. This was five years before the first “hot Jupiter” was found, and now I wish we had emphasized this even more in our paper instead of just adding a single line about it! It turns out they may be quite common; they form farther out from the star and migrate inwards over time. I was pretty shocked when 51 Peg b was discovered, and seriously my first thought when it was announced was, “PLANETARY NEBULAE! OF COURSE!”

Yes, I think in all caps sometimes. It’s very funny to me that planets and planetary nebulae are in fact connected, especially since, despite their names, they are very, very different objects. But in science you find that everything’s connected in one way or another. It’s a tapestry, and every thread counts.


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Mat Bowles

August 2015

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Stuff and nonsense

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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