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Posted by John Scalzi

You may recall that musician William Beckett created a fantastic song for my novel Lock In (and if you didn’t, here, have a listen). The song, also called “Lock In,” really captured the mood and tone of the novel in a way that I hoped it would, and I’m happy to say that even if it were a song utterly unassociated with my book, I would still love its anthemic vibe. It’s fantastic.

I’m happy to say that William and his label Equal Vision Records have now made the song available as a single to download. You can get it through iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and through Equal Vision’s Bandcamp page. It’s also on streaming services including Spotify and Rhapsody.

My advice: Get it! One, because it’s great and worth getting on its own merits. Two, because William needs to eat, and buying the single is a way to encourage that whole crazy “eating” thing. Three, because did I mention it’s a really good song? It is.

Once again, thanks to William for making this song. It’s amazing to have it inspired by something I wrote. I never get tired of hearing it.

[syndicated profile] uk_polling_report_feed

Posted by Anthony Wells

The Kent Messenger are now reporting the voting intention figures from the Survation/Unite Rochester & Strood poll. Topline figures with changes from the previous Survation Rochester poll right after Mark Reckless’s defection are CON 33%(+2), LAB 16%(-9), LDEM 1%(-1), UKIP 48%(+8), GRN 2%.

As with the ComRes poll a week ago it shows UKIP with a solid lead. While there will always be some underlying churn, the obvious implication of the changes since the start of October is that the Labour vote has been significantly squeezed, and is breaking heavily in UKIP’s favour.

[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_forbes_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

Google appears to have an interesting little legal problem on its hands. The European Union is insisting that the “right to be forgotten” should apply to all versions of Google, not just those aimed at Europeans. Meaning that the insistence is that European law should prevail anywhere in the world. Given the rather more robust insistence upon free speech rights in the US this does pose something of a problem. For which set of laws should Google bow down to when preparing search results for Americans? There’s no obvious answer to this conundrum, not even as to what public policy should be, quite apart from working out what Google should actually do:

Google’s argument that its .com domain is not relevant in so-called “right to be forgotten” requests in Europe will not stand up in court, according a senior legislator at the European Commission.

Speaking at the Academy of European Law’s data protection event in Paris on Thursday, Paul Nemitz, the outspoken director of the European Commission’s justice department, said he did not believe it was legally right for the search engine monster to exclude Google.com from its connection takedowns.

The point being that the .com domain can still be seen from Europe and thus, in one sense, whatever is done to the European domains (.co.uk, .fr and so on) should also be done to .com. But as the Googlers at the conference pointed out the laws on privacy and data are really very different in the US. And almost all of the sorts of things that have been attracting takedown notices over here would be entirely protected speech in the US. So which set of laws is it that Google should be attempting to follow? When presenting results on the .com domain that is?

Tricky really: for there’s a close analogy here with the libel laws and the way that those work is very similar to the way the EU is currently insisting the right to forget ones do. Imagine, for a moment, that I libel someone in the UK here on this Forbes site. It’s a US site, hosted in the US. I’m in the Czech Republic. But the way that libel law works is that if someone in England reads that libel then I (and Forbes) can be charged with libel under the laws of England and in an English court. This isn’t hypothetical either: Dow Jones settled a case in Australia over exactly this. And it’s long been a tenet of the law that only one copy (of a book, a magazine etc) needs to enter the legal jurisdiction of England for that to create the potential for libel in that jurisdiction.

So the EU would seem to be within their rights in their request. What matters is what is shown to someone within the EU’s jurisdiction. Meaning that results shown to someone in the EU should be cleaned of those items subject to takedown notices under the right to forget. Yes, even if it’s on the .com domain.

But that of course creates huge problems for Google. For they don’t want to drop those results from searches presented to people in the US, or Canada, or anywhere else in the world outside the EU. It’s possible to think of a technical solution: perhaps Google could check the geolocation of the enquirer and thus show research results based upon whatever is legal in that place. But while that could be done (at some unknown and possibly very high cost) that wouldn’t actually be a whole solution. Entirely apart from the fact that this would create many versions of the .com index, one for the EU, another for the US and perhaps others for places where the laws differ again. That problem being that it’s very simply to start using a VPN to spoof that gelocation information.

Thus, if there are different versions of the index which show different results based upon assumed location it would still be possible for people to gain access to versions and information that they’re not supposed to see. Unless EU law really does prevail over the .com domain and thus all those takedowns apply to that index and set of results.

It’s not possible for Google to perfectly segregate results dependent upon the law of where the user is although something to stop all but the determined could probably be managed. The only other solution is that the EU’s laws and views on privacy etc become applicable worldwide. And while that’s not hugely and wholly terrible given what the EU’s laws actually are it’s a very much larger problem if everyone tries to start asserting such extra-territorial legal jurisdiction.

It’s entirely unclear to me whether there’s actually a way out of this. And it’s also very difficult indeed to see what the public policy on it should be. Should the US be insisting that Google can do as it pleases in the US, as long as it accords with US law, or should  Google start making its US results accord with EU law?

There’s something similar happening with Microsoft and the release of some stored emails at the moment. The emails are in Ireland and a US court is insisting that Microsoft, as an American corporation, must release them. Microsoft is insisting that it’s actually an Irish company, in Ireland, that has the emails and the EU law on data protection means they cannot and should not be released to a US court. It’s simply not within the jurisdiction of the US as to what the legal status or release of that information should be.

No, I don’t know either. All we can really say is that the legal system of different national jurisdictions doesn’t seem to have caught up yet with the increasing internationalisation of data and information.

[syndicated profile] markpack2_feed

Posted by Mark Pack

As with other books in the Biteback series, especially Jeremy Browne’s one on the Liberal Democrats, Nick Herbert’s case for voting Conservative is not the ‘official’ line, containing strong traces of the author’s own personal views. That both makes the book more interesting yet also not such a sure guide for a floating voter, unless you are in Nick Herbert’s own constituency.

Why Vote Conservative - by Nick HerbertHe makes, for example, an eloquent case for why action is needed to tackle climate change both at home and abroad, rooting his interest in the rest of the world both in humanitarian terms and also economic self-interest of a tradition nation. But it’s very much Herbert himself speaking when he says, “too much of the right has taken refuge in denial of climate science … too many of the right’s thinkers have preferred to sweep the problem under the carpet”. Many Conservative MPs and candidates speak otherwise.

In some respects, too, the book is written as if the reader is not a floating voter but already fairly committed to the Conservative cause.

Most notably, Herbert points out the long-term gap between government income and expenditure in Britain, with extra pressure in the future from an ageing population. But he assumes with only the most cursory supporting argument that the answer therefore is to cut other spending rather than looking at whether higher taxes or charges for more services are an option.

It’s not just that he doesn’t agree with higher taxes; he doesn’t even take the time to dismiss this alternative approach as if he assumes the reader would obviously reject it too and doesn’t need any persuasion.

(One fallout from this peremptory rejection is that Nick Herbert’s book doesn’t get into the sort of interesting debates over the evidence about how much taxes do or don’t damage economic growth and what sorts of taxes have the biggest effects that former Lib Dem MP David Howarth has articulated, with conclusions that don’t neatly fit on any points of the political compass.)

Likewise, when it comes to the Adrian Beecroft report which recommended introducing ‘fire at will’ and other employment law changes, and which has been heavily criticised for the lack of evidence presented to back up its recommendations, Herbert’s response is just to praise Beecroft, blame the Lib Dems for blocking it and not present any argument to counter the critics. If you’re an unthinking Tory a bit of ‘ooh Lib Dems are horrible’ doubtless does the trick, but if you want persuasion? Then there’s no case there for you to chew over.

The books is certainly an interesting read, and if you’re already a signed-up modernising Conservative you’ll find much in it to agree with. If you want a better understanding of the roots of Conservative philosophy, there are also some good, clear sections. But if you’re a floating voter looking for material to convince you, there’s too much assertion and assumption for the book really to have a shot at doing the job.

If you’re interested in this book, you might also be interested in the companion books Why vote Liberal Democrat? by Jeremy Browne and Why vote UKIP? by Suzanne Evans.

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

Buy now from AmazonBuy Why vote Conservative? The essential guide by Nick Herbert here.

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

Why vote Conservative? The essential guide by Nick Herbert
Puts its case briskly but at the cost of too little evidence to persuade doubters
My rating (out of 5): 3.0
Mark Pack, 31 October 2014 |

Who ordered THAT?!?

Oct. 31st, 2014 03:42 pm
[syndicated profile] charlie_stross_diary_feed

The Scottish Political Singularity is not only far from over, it's showing every sign of recomplicating, bizarrely.

From The Guardian:

a new poll by Ipsos Mori for STV showed that a record 52% of Scottish voters would vote SNP if there were an immediate general election, implying the SNP would win 54 Westminster seats - a nine-fold increase on the six seats it currently holds - leaving Labour with just four. Carried out in part after Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont's sudden resignation last Friday, the poll put Labour at just 23% - its lowest figure in over six years, with the Tories cut to 10% and the Lib Dems down to 6%, tying with the Scottish Green party.

What does this mean?

Firstly, it's important not to read too much into this poll. It's been criticized elsewhere, and the timing (coincidental with the Scottish Labour leader and deputy leader's resignations) is iffy.

However, Scotland runs on first-past-the-post, like the rest of the UK, in general elections (of which one is due next June). And even if we knock 10% off the SNP voting intentions across the board, Labour is going to take a very deep, very cold, bath—punishment by their voters for running an unremittingly negative campaign during the referendum. Lots of Scots didn't actually want to leave the UK, but deeply resented being told that they were too wee, too poor, and too stupid to go it alone: this is the payback.

How crazy is it going to get?

Well, if the SNP pick up on the order of 50 MPs, they'll be the third largest party in Westminster (replacing the Liberal Democrats, who are in meltdown as voters desert them—the LibDem core are mostly centre-left, and the coalition with the Conservative party was pure poison for that base).

Alex Salmond, the former SNP First Minister of Scotland, has been rather coy when asked if he was going to run for Westminster in next summer's election. But he's been an MP before, and he'd be a shoo-in for a safe seat as party leader if he wanted one. In the wake of a "No" vote on independence, a Westminster seat would give him a good base on which to campaign to hold the UK party leaders' feet to the fire over promises they made during the campaign.

There are (still) going to be 650 seats in play at the election. A number will go to independents and minor parties: one or two Greens, a handful of Ulster Unionists, an indeterminate number (5-15) Liberal Democrats, plus independent MPs and maybe even a few UKIP. (My sticking-my-neck-out prognostication is that UKIP will get lots of votes, but distributed thinly enough that they win relatively few seats.) The Conservatives and Labour would, as before, each win roughly 250-300 seats. With 50 seats, the SNP would be the turd in the punchbowl: it would literally be almost impossible to form a stable government without them (unless we look at the apocalyptic scenario of a Labour/Tory coalition, which in the past has only happened during a World War government of national unity). It would be hard to spin Alex Salmond smirking and demanding Devo Max as being tantamount to Hitler! so quite possibly some sort of deal would be done. As the SNP already firmly ruled out a pact with the Conservatives (it'd be a political suicide pill for their base in Scotland), that leaves two likely options:

  1. A full formal coalition with the Labour Party. (I think this is unlikely, although Labour might have learned a lesson from the consequences of Brown's refusal to compromise with Nick Clegg in 2010: Labour and the SNP are natural rivals for the governing party/centre-left niche in Scotland.) Terms would be: the SNP get Devo Max and some ministerial posts, and in return they vote in line with Labour policy on any items that the parties don't actually disagree on, and abstain from voting on purely English non-budgetary matters.

  2. An understanding (like the Lib-Lab Pact of 1977) whereby a minority Labour government operates with SNP support contingent on them not pissing in the SNP's wheaties. This might work, if Labour are willing to cut a deal over Scottish powers. Otherwise ...

I could be wrong.

The most unpredictable alternative would be a landslide in the direction of UKIP. I find it hard to imagine UKIP picking up more seats than the SNP, because while they may have more voters across the UK, the SNP's are concentrated in constituencies where they stand a chance of winning: but if UKIP were to pick up 50 or so MPs, roughly matching the SNP's showing, then we're into total terra incognita in British politics. I don't think we're going to get into "rainbow coalition" territory in just one election—Labour and the Conservatives—aren't going to completely crumble just six months from now—but the number of possible combinations that could form governments in Westminster just exploded. And so did the outcomes. UKIP appear, ironically, to be intensely hostile to Scottish nationalism and devolution in general (they're a vastly stronger party in England than in Scotland, where they are out-polled three to one by the Scottish Greens). So we have the prospect of two historically ideologically polarized major parties (neither of whom can form a government without external assistance), and two ideologically polarized minor parties (one or both of whom might enable one or other of the larger parties to govern, with a tail-wind and some independent help).

Anyway: I can't be sure of the outcome, but as far as I can tell British politics is about to go sideways, very fast, next June—largely as a delayed consequence of the Scottish independence referendum. Order up the pop-corn: this is going to be interesting.

[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by Joe Otten

Labour have retained the post of Police and Crime Commissioner, following the resignation of Shaun Wright, with 50.02% of first preferences ahead of UKIP on 31.66% with a turnout of 14%. The Liberal Democrats did not stand a candidate.

The campaign was dominated by the issue of the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham, with UKIP accused of crassly exploiting the issue for their own political ends, and Labour accused of being responsible for the authorities that failed those children. Both accusations have merit, though in my book failing to protect 1600 children is worse than crass politicking. I’m not suggesting that Labour’s policy was to fail these children, but any virtual one-party state is likely to fail its people and needs to be voted out.

The decision of local Liberal Democrats not to stand a candidate is an unusual one, notwithstanding the discredited nature of the post and the fact that we obviously weren’t going to win. It was a little strange to be knocking on doors talking about next May’s elections during a by-election campaign. Very few voters brought it up though.

Then there was the question of how to vote in an election where none of the candidates inspire much confidence. Some Liberal Democrats spoke of spoilt ballot papers. Nick Clegg said he wouldn’t vote.

There is a logic to not voting when you are seeking the put the final nail in the coffin of a discredited post that will inevitably attract a low turnout. However I believe you should always vote, and always vote for the best candidate irrespective of how bad they are. Given Labour’s grotesque failures in Rotherham – and to be clear I’m not saying that Labour believes in abusing children, but I do think that the buck has to stop somewhere – that couldn’t be the Labour candidate. So it had to be the Conservative. Ouch.

The pain didn’t stop there because I also had a second preference. As a supporter of STV it would be inconsistent for me not to use it, giving it to the least worst of the remaining candidates. Discounting the English Democrat, this gave me a choice of Labour or UKIP. I knew the UKIP candidate and I always thought him a decent bloke before he joined UKIP.

However if in order to punish Labour for their failures of the past I had to impose a UKIP police commissioner on South Yorkshire in the future, that would surely be replacing failure with greater failure and injustice with greater injustice. A deontologist version of myself might have thought otherwise, but as a good consequentialist, my second preference had to go to Labour. Double ouch.

Unpleasant civic duty done, I feel I need to do penance. Suggestions welcome.

* Joe Otten is a councillor in Sheffield, and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Sheffield Central

How My Week Went

Oct. 31st, 2014 04:39 pm
[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

Bruce Willis stares out from a studio wall on the Fox lot.

It went very well, I thought. As I’ve noted, I went to Los Angeles in order to meet with TV and film folks and to pitch them some stuff (and also, well, me). Some of the things I pitched are even things I haven’t put into books yet! You can do that, apparently. I’m happy to say that contrary to the general opinion of LA types being smarmy and insincere, all of the folks I got to meet, at least, were smart, engaged and very much the sort of people you would want to do business with, and I’m not just saying that because I would like to do business with them.

I also met with the folks at Legendary, who I am, in fact, doing business with (they have the option on Lock In), and come away from that meeting very optimistic about the future of that book as a TV series. There’s not much I can talk about publicly there — I just told you everything I could tell you about it, actually — but I can tell you I think the Legendary people get it, with regard to the novel. And, well. That’s always a positive.

This is where I could caution any of you from reading too much into anything I’ve noted above. Most meetings in LA are just that: meetings. You go in, you have 20 minutes of someone’s time, it’s generally pleasant, and what comes out of it is usually nothing other than getting into the room with interesting people who might do business with you at some point, if the stars align correctly. That’s valuable in itself for reasons that are largely intangible in the short term. I would love to have something immediate come out of the meetings this round, of course. But my feeling about it is: Let’s see what happens next.

(It helps that I do things with my time other than making movies and TV series, mind you. I still get to eat no matter what happens in Hollywood.)

So, in all: A useful trip to the City of the Angels.

I capped the week yesterday by heading to the Cleveland doing a morning keynote for Ohio librarians, in which I talked about science fiction, my career and various other topics. Librarians are some of my favorite people — they are almost by definition deeply engaged in the lives of books and authors — and it’s always nice to spend time with them.

And now I’m home. And I have nowhere I have to be other than here for the rest of the year, which if you’ve been keeping up with my travel this year, is kind of amazing. My plans for the rest of 2014: Write. And write. And write some more! And then, when doesn’t seem possible that I could even write another word — write again. It’s my plan and I’m sticking to it.

Yuletide planning

Oct. 31st, 2014 04:11 pm
rmc28: Photo of me shortly before starting my first half-marathon (Default)
[personal profile] rmc28
Because my spare time is miniscule, so I should actually try scheduling this.
lists, I love lists )

November's Theme

Oct. 31st, 2014 11:31 am
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
[personal profile] james_davis_nicoll
All sponsored reviews and no two week digressions! The list of to-dos isn't super-long but long enough. I mean, anyone wants to commission more reviews, go ahead but

Phoenix Guard (own)
500 Years After (own)
Fire Logic (own)
Ancillary Sword (own)
Rivers of London (sigh)
Something Norton (part of the 50Ni50W, if that is OK, so beginning the week after Podkayne)
"The Reunion At The Mile-High" (atomigeddon coda) (own)

Did I miss any?

Also, to give my editor reasonable lead time, no review tomorrow so that I can reset to a one-day lead.

Why Atheism Needs Philosophy

Oct. 31st, 2014 02:51 pm
[syndicated profile] skepchick_feed

Posted by Olivia

Atheism and science are bros. Everybody knows they belong together, just like Troy and Abed. For most of the reign of New Atheism, science has been right hand man, directing New Atheism’s trajectory and enjoying the privilege of being considered totally awesome by most atheists. I have yet to meet an atheist who doesn’t whole heartedly support scientific exploration and scientific understandings of the world.

But sometimes bros need to be willing to let a new friend join the party. Or, if we’re using metaphors aptly, sometimes bros need to be willing to let their old bro back into the fold. That’s right atheists, I’m talking about philosophy. Last week Salon published an interview with Jonathan Sacks about the downfalls of new atheism. It’s not as if articles about what’s wrong with atheism are new, but there was a particular passage of this interview that stuck out to me as half incredibly truthful and important, and half utter bullshit.

“Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts them together to see what they mean. And I think the people who spend their lives taking things apart to see how they work sometimes find it difficult to understand the people who put things together to see what they mean.”

It’s true that much of science is about breaking things down into constituent parts, about understanding the functionality of the world rather than the purpose of the world. What isn’t true is that religion is the only method we have for putting things together into larger pictures. In fact for most of history, that was philosophy’s role. While many scientists tend to view philosophy as just science lite or “science without any actual observation or evidence”, philosophy actually takes a different approach than science, and it’s one that pairs incredibly well with scientific exploration.

Here’s how I like to think of it: science gives us the raw pieces. It tells us what things are and how they work. Philosophy is the lens through which we view those pieces, the paradigms we build out of them, the larger pictures we try to understand through the evidence we have. It does that with rigorous logic (at least if it’s done well. I am the first to admit that many a first year philosophy student just makes it all up). Philosophy helps us build back up the why when we’re building our own meaning and purpose.

And while some scientists will assert that we don’t need philosophy for this (coughSamHarriscough) because we can easily find the way to the best possible human life through science, what those scientists miss is that they’ve already done their philosophy. They’ve already decided that the best possible human life (one which maximizes flourishing) is what we should be aiming for. But that’s a huge assumption that isn’t shared by everyone and isn’t self-evident. We need other ways to talk and think to try to figure out what we should be doing. The options here aren’t “science or make believe”, but are in fact “science and logic or just science”. It’s a good idea to have the logical, more abstract, larger systems perspectives because they do minor things like give us the scientific method (thanks Francis Bacon, you philosopher you!)

Similarly, philosophy is also an important part of reaching atheist conclusions for many people. Things like the cosmological argument or the ontological argument can be dismantled using logic and philosophical techniques. For those of us (even the laypeople who unknowingly used philosophy to fight these arguments) who relied on philosophy and philosophical arguments to reach our atheism, it would be disingenuous to say that we no longer need it now that we have decided to be skeptics.

Skepticism itself is a philosophical position that requires philosophical tools to keep up. We have to be equipped to dismantle logical fallacies, dissect arguments, and have an epistemological framework that allows us to understand when we’re justified in believing something.

There are things missing from New Atheism if all New Atheism means is science and a lack of God. Those things aren’t enough to create a community or provide the support that many human beings feel they need in the pursuit of larger questions about purpose and meaning in the world. But where many people think the only way to get these things is through religion, we do actually have other systems of knowing that can support us: the humanities, philosophy, social sciences…all of these give us more information about how to connect and build community and get through life in a way that feels good to us.

So hey atheism, I think it’s time to remember how cool that old friend philosophy is and welcome it back into the fold. You’re way cooler when you’re not being exclusive, and there might be a few useful things it could teach you.

[syndicated profile] markpack2_feed

Posted by Mark Pack

Regular readers will know my scepticism about much of what passes for housing policies in current politics, based on four main concerns:

  1. The talking of building new homes at unprecedented levels* on the basis of policies that are only a relatively small tweak on the past, failing to match the scale required to push housebuilding off the graph.
  2. The failure to take private renting seriously, despite its growing role.
  3. The acceptance of the myth that private rents are soaring.
  4. The silence over falling average household size, which has added huge pressures to the demand for properties and yet is rarely mentioned.

But on that fourth point, praise indeed is due to Liberal Democrat peer Dick Newby:

Lord Newby, a Liberal Democrat minister, said that more than half of people aged over 55 years old had spare rooms and suggested the Government should take action to help them move.

He pointed to Government trials in which taxpayers’ money had been used to help cover the costs of moving and to help arrange mortgage financing for so-called empty nesters…

He told peers: “One of the key challenges for us is that research shows that almost half of all over-55 households have spare space in the house. If we can facilitate downsizing where people genuinely want to do it, society as the whole will benefit.”

The peer added: “For older people, the major constraint to downsizing is often the lack of appropriate alternative accommodation.

“We are committed to increasing the flow of such housing on to the market, for example through the care and support specialised housing fund.”

Of course, such moves won’t suit everyone, but these pilots look promising at helping to free up housing for those people who with a little help are happy to move.

* The numbers are even larger than appears when compared to the past, as the post-Second World War housing construction boom went along with the demolition of huge numbers of houses in slum clearance. When it comes to net new building, much of the talk is well above what was achieved even then

[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

Over here. Highlights include:

Quoting the opening line of a Jeremy Clarkson piece in the Sunday Times proves I’m a racist.

I attack Ritchie because he’s got more Twitter followers than I do.

My references to being the head of the shadowy international scandium oligopoly are taken seriously.

And so on. And this is cute too:

Questions, questions.

He may be just another angry ranter. I really don’t know. But I’d like to know a couple of things.

Question 1: is someone paying him to write his stuff? If so, who?

From an interview with Worstall back in 2006.

Normblog: What would be your ideal choice of alternative profession or job?

Worstall: Over the past couple of years, since I started blogging, I’ve been changing my profession, from vaguely unsuccessful businessman to vaguely unsuccessful writer. I’m still astonished that people wish to pay me to tap on a keyboard and I think I’ve found my ideal alternative.

If he’s changed his whole profession towards being a ‘writer’ then he sure won’t make enough from the likes of Forbes. His 3,500-odd Twitter followers – rather feeble, given the attention-seeking headlines – suggest not much potential for advertising revenues. His book rankings place him currently in 2.7 millionth place on Amazon for his climate change book Chasing Rainbows, and he’s at 1.2 millionth place for his more recent 20 Economic Fallacies.

That ain’t how he keeps himself afloat. If there are people paying him to write his outpourings, who are they, what do they get out of it, and what form does this payment take?

Our anonymong here doesn’t seem to know quite how much Forbes pays. I get paid by editors to write things for them: at Forbes, The Register, the ASI and so on. No grants, no secret payments, no salary, none of that and that freelance income amounts to three times the median UK wage or a bit above that. Yes, sorry about this, but I am successfully earning a good living as a freelance writer.

And, of course, I do also run that shadowy international scandium oligopoly.

Be fascinating to find out who it is that has spent time and effort piecing all of that together really.

[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by Caron Lindsay

We’ve always had great fun at Hallowe’en in our house. We love the guisers (none of this new fangled Trick or Treat stuff, if you please). My husband loves carving the pumpkin even if he isn’t as elaborate as some. My Facebook timeline has been full of everything from Pumpkin Daleks to the delicious irony of an actual Cinderella carriage. I have some very creative friends.

The Teenager is spending Hallowe’en with her friends and will be headed out in vampire dress leaving us to greet the scores of little devils, ghouls, zombies, fairies, princesses, ghosts and animals who will come seeking tooth-rotting treats.

There comes a point where things go too far, though, and perpetuate damaging stereotypes. Last year several retailers had to withdraw costumes which depicted people with mental health conditions in scary fashion. You have to wonder how on earth these things got to the shelf in the first place. A concept like that involves a lot of people from the manufacturer to the buyer to the staff in the shops seeing it first. Perhaps the fact that nobody stopped it is indicative of the power of these prejudices and stereotypes.

Liberal Democrat Health Minister Norman Lamb recognises this and says so in a speech today as the Lancashire Evening Post reports:

Mr Lamb is due to tell the conference: “For me it is horrendous that, this Halloween, a young person experiencing a mental health crisis could easily come across someone in a ‘psycho ward’ or ‘schizo patient’ costume – complete with handcuffs and ripped restraints – as much as they could see someone in a Dracula costume.

This Halloween culture is dangerous. It conditions all of us to fear mental illness – to see people as ‘psychos’, or ‘schizos’ or ‘freaks’. It makes us believe that mental illness is something other worldly.

We have to tackle this damaging stigma which prevents young people from seeking help when they need it, or talking about any problems they might be having.

Everyone should be able to enjoy Halloween but I urge all retailers to behave more responsibly – don’t demonise mental illness.

Norman is right to say so. There are also some pretty questionable costumes that reinforce other prejudices and very practical reasons why they should be challenged. I quite like the idea of a Calgary group of feminists taking back Hallowe’en. The organiser told CBC in Canada:

Really the event is going tot be so much fun…. We’ll have puppets, songs, stage fighting, imagining a future of feminist Disney princesses — so there is something for everybody. Awareness doesn’t have to be a drag and that’s really important to us, so we want it to be an exciting night for people.

There will also be a patriarchy haunted house that highlights some gender issues in a fun scary way.

What’s scarier than the gender gap, you know? I’m missing out on 26 cents an hour,” said Rocker.

The politicians that maybe aren’t the biggest fans of equality may jump out at you at any moment.

We at LDV are looking forward to celebrating Hallowe’en with our readers. Please feel free to tweet us your photos of pumpkins or costumes or email them to voice@libdemvoice.org and we’ll share the best and funniest. We hope you all have a great time.

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

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Posted by John Scalzi

Go on. It’ll be fine. I should note that she will want to kiss you directly on the brain. And she might chew through your skull to do it. But that’s okay! Look, she’s doing it to me right now and I have toj syabbgt that it asgbn’t effackebted meb at allygueruyreuiyrer;;;bieur’=-



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Posted by Amanda

Against evidence-based policy

Oct. 31st, 2014 01:19 pm
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Posted by chris dillow

What is the case against evidence-based policy? This is one question prompted by David Cameron's refusal to legalize drugs in the face of evidence that criminalization of them doesn't reduce their use.

The question, of course, generalizes. Many of us would argue that fiscal policy and immigration policy are also less than perfectly based in the evidence - and no doubt you can think of other examples. There must, therefore, be something to be said against evidence-based policy. But what?

One answer lies in something we know from financial decision-making - that greater knowledge doesn't necessarily improve the quality of decision-making. It might instead merely increase people's overconfidence and so magnify their mistakes.

This matters because in a complex world there is inevitably a lot that cannot be known about effects of policy, particularly in the long-run and about the possible effects of policy upon social norms. For example, whilst there is good evidence that immigration doesn't reduce wages on average, and might even increase them, there is - as Diane says - rather less hard evidence about their long run effects. Might it be that, in the long-run, a more ethnically heterogenous society would lead to greater tolerance of inequality? Or take tax policy. There might (pdf) be some evidence that higher taxes on top earners would, in the short run, raise revenue. But what about the possibility, stressed by Assar Lindbeck, that redistribution might in the long-run erode social norms in favour of work?

There's a lot that cannot be known about policy effects. Stressing the need for evidence might therefore cause us to overweight partial knowledge and so lead us astray.

I'd add three other arguments:

 - Evidence-based policy is, necessarily, conservative simply because there's no available evidence one way or the other about the effects of truly radical policies. For example, would a high citizens' income or market socialism work? As they've not been tried, we can't know.

 - If we are to base policy upon evidence we will have to override the public's preferences in many policy areas, simply because these are founded upon egregious errors. Whilst there is a case for doing this there is also a danger. Excluding the public risks increasing elitism and undermining the democratic spirit. Ignoring people's preferences might lead to a slippery slope in which governments eventually ignore people.

 - Instrumental rationality is not the only rationality. As Robert Nozick said, there is is also symbolic rationality; we do some things not because they fit a narrow cost-benefit calculus but because they symbolize who we are. We might want to criminalize drugs to express our abhorrence of wasting lives to addiction; or we might favour minimum wages even if they destroy jobs to symbolize our distaste for low pay; or we could subsidise inefficient green energy to express our concern for the climate. And so on. Whatever you think of these examples it would surely be rash to dismiss symbolic motives entirely, given that it is otherwise hard to understand why people vote or protest.

Now, I'm not sure how strong these arguments are. I mention them because both main parties attitudes to (say) immigration and fiscal policy are not based in evidence. Which must mean that there is some sort of argument against evidence-based policy.


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Mat Bowles

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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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