Vir Cantium

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Monthly Archives: July 2011

So #UKUncut Would Rather Starve Galleries and Museums

Vodafone Shop

Where Lucifer gets his top-ups

There was much excitement yesterday among UKUncut members when the Tate launched a consultation on the potential use of apps for visitors and those interested in the gallery.

The interest, you see, was not that the Tate was looking at a potentially useful addition to their offer to visitors, but that the thing was sponsored by Vodafone.

Vodafone, as those who have been following these things will recall, are Evil. Very Evil, because they’ve only paid the amount of tax that they’ve been asked for. A year ago, they negotiated and settled with HMRC, after a ten year dispute over a grey area of tax law, to pay £1.25bn. UKUncut got it into their heads that the sum of £6bn should have been paid. Clearly Vodafone’s conduct is utterly immoral and UKUncut – whose supporters I am sure must make a habit of overpaying the taxman themselves so as not to be hypocrites – have been sniping at the company, much like one might open fire on a tank with a pea-shooter. Using mushy peas.

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Those Crazy Americans on @theJeremyVine Show: Another Balanced Debate from The BBC

Aerial view of the White House in Washington, D.C.

The United States: not European enough apparently ... you can't see a single Greek rioter anywhere.

Yesterday’s Jeremy Vine show had a discussion on “What has gone wrong with the USA?”. Though ostensibly a discussion about the current federal debt crisis, I can’t help thinking that in the programme’s planning the rather broader premise of the question was barely queried.

This could still have been an engaging debate – even with the time restrictions imposed by the show’s easily digestible puréed format which shoehorns four topics and music into less than two hours, leaving little time for the sort of audience engagement that listeners of ‘proper’ (sorry, Jeremy) phone-in shows allow. Sadly, though, one is left distracted by the BBC disease: a lack of impartiality almost to the point of failing to “educate and inform”.

First up was Justin Webb, the BBC’s former Washington correspondent, who quickly settled into a caricature of the U.S. that we have become familiar with from the BBC. Within seconds he had mentioned Sarah Palin and “rootin’ tootin’ huntin’ fishin’” types not wanting anything to do with the federal government. How ungrateful these people are, he opined, given how much the federal government had spent on them. Americans, he said, “don’t really understand the extent to which, in a modern society, you need the government to spend money” … they were not “willing to pay for it”, he lectured.

America needs to become “more modern and European”, said Webb, without a hint of irony or clue that he’d actually been aware of the economic hurricane over the Euro-zone. (Perhaps, like so many, he had been more focussed on the media’s navel-gazing and BBC’s Murdoch gloatfest of recent weeks.)

Then, in a statement that would have struck a sweet chord with so many Marchers for the Alternative, Webb pointed out that the U.S. national debt was not that high, as a percentage of GDP.

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One Day, All This Will Be Coffee Shops

Or in the case of Deptford, bookies, if the delectable Joan Ruddock is to be believed.

LEWISHAM Deptford MP Joan Ruddock is battling to change the law on betting shops taking over the High Street.

(Well, it’s only a local rag. The sub-editor was probably making the tea at the time.)

On July 19 she presented a bill to the House of Commons proposing to change the planning class of betting shops and allow councils to place a cap on the number of them in an area.

Deptford currently has at least 10 bookmakers in the area with seven on the High Street alone.
She told the House of Commons she was not opposed to betting but was concerned about the number of betting shops appearing on the High Street and the lack of opportunity for people to have a say.

House in Deptford High Street

A Deptford Boutique

Hmm. Seven just in the High Street? They sound pretty popular then. My, anyone would think that the local community was rather keen on them. Apparently, it seems, the community ought to know better.

Ms Ruddock told Parliament: “Betting shops are proliferating, squeezing out diversity and attracting antisocial behaviour.

So, diversity in the High Street: good; diversity in, say, healthcare provision: bad. Got it.

“Again and again, when a property becomes vacant, another betting shop chain bids for the premises.

“Such properties have included some of the high street’s most iconic buildings.”

So what use should the most iconic buildings be put to that would gain Ms Ruddock’s approval? (Bear in mind that if you want a nice building looked after, the last thing you should do is put it in the hands of the public sector.)

Ms Ruddock added: “A turf war is now under way, as bookmakers, including new entrants, seek to seize market share.” [Emphasis mine.]

I see what she did there.

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Looking Back Along Michael Fish’s Family Tree…

… We get to 1900 and Galveston, Texas:

14 years before the storm hit, residents floated the idea of building a sea wall to protect themselves. The city’s chief weatherman pooh-poohed the idea, promising, “It would be impossible for any cyclone to create a storm wave which could materially injure the city.”

Which has given me cause to reflect that anyone under 30-ish probably doesn’t much remember the events of October 1987 and so I will resume advance planning of my mid-life crisis.

(h/t Ambush Predator)

@RichardJMurphy Bemused By Display Of Principles

I won’t say that Richard Murphy, the black sheep of the accountancy profession, has lost it: for as any regular reader of his (or indeed any follower of Tim Worstall will realise) that train left the station some years ago, the track has since been ripped up on Dr Beeching’s orders, the platform has now gone to grass and even the railway preservation societies aren’t interested.

However, this morning we have yet another reminder of just why only the likes of the BBC among the mainstream media still seek his opinion on anything.

Are the Tea Party the political equivalent of suicide bombers?

Yes, that really was the headline. No attention grabbing there then.

Let me stress, straight away, I’m not suggesting the Tea Party are physical terrorists.

Fear not, I wasn’t about to fall into that elephant trap.

Suicide bombing changed the whole environment of terrorism. Suddenly we faced people for whom what had been presumed to be the ultimate deterrent – risk of their own death – held no threat….

The Tea Party may be politically similar.

Wipe the coffee off your screen, you’ll have to get used to this sort of thing.
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#UKUncut: A Study in Brand Toxicity

So in a heartbeat, a UKUncut member turned the select committee hearings yesterday from something the Murdochs simply endured and survived, to a propaganda coup for Rupert and James.

Predictably, as happens whenever one of their number gets convicted for violent behaviour, other UKUncut supporters circle the wagons and deny that culprit was ever a member of that ‘organisation’; airbrushed, almost as a homage to the best traditions of left-wing despots. “UKUncut is a non-violent cause”, they say, “so by definition if someone is violent they aren’t one of us”.

The Murdochs & The Browns

Mr & Mrs Rupert Murdoch and friends

While this does suggest some understanding of the concept of a toxic brand, it is neither credible or practical, because sooner or later someone inextricably linked with the organisation will overstep the mark.

And so it was yesterday, when one of the founders of UKUncut threw a fake pie in Rupert Murdoch’s face. It was non-violent, say some of the loonier fringe, because Rupert Murdoch wasn’t hurt – and even if it was, it was only Murdoch ffs. It would be interesting (though I wouldn’t wish it) to hear their reaction if the shock of the attack had brought on a heart attack.

“It had nothing to do with UKUncut” tweeted the assailant Jonathan May-Bowles, apparently an “activist” and “comedian”*, later yesterday. Oh yes it did. You are UKUncut, and so what you do is UKUncut. That is how the news agenda works; just as, say, a Tory MP pranging their car would be ‘Tory MP crashes car’ instead of the more accurate ‘Man crashes car’. Or, indeed, asking whether ‘former Cameron press officer’ Andy Coulson was involved in ‘phone voicemails, when the alleged crime actually took place some time before he had any connection with Cameron.

A central part of UKUncut’s strategy is to embarrass companies who ‘dodge’ tax and so harness some resulting consumer ‘disgust’ to force them towards UKUncut’s way of thinking. In other words, to threaten those companies with their brands becoming toxic.

For UKUncut, and their fellow travellers such as the touchingly naive Laurie Penny, to claim that yesterday’s attack had nothing to do with them and that we should focus on the real issues, belies a staggering ignorance of how the media operate – something that is central to their campaign (financially, legally and economically illiterate though it is).

Or, to the contrary, does it actually demonstrate a lurking fear on the Left, slowly being realised, that UKUncut is becoming a toxic brand itself?

* Updated: I’ve just seen a couple of his ‘comedy’ acts, and so have made the necessary amendment above.

Again We Say, “What About the BBC?”

It’s heartening to know it’s not a lonely furrow I’m ploughing. Far more respectable names than I have been writing about the double standards being demonstrated by those challenging News International’s ‘dominance’; Murdoch’s bad empire needs dismantling, says Ed Miliband for one, while a far less accountable (to their consumers) media empire is left untouched in the form of the BBC.

Melanie Philips and John Redwood, among others, have made much the same point as I did last week. No-one is suggesting that the BBC were guilty of some of the more despicable acts that the NOTW or other titles (within and without News International) got up to, though in the not too distant past the Beeb has hardly acted like the pinnacle of quality and ethical journalism it would like to think it is. However, if you’re going to set a threshold for what is ‘too powerful’ then it has to be consistently applied, for who is to tell if power that is currently wielded for ‘good’ will not be turned to ‘bad’ in the future?

(Update: A deserved link to Bill Quango MP’s effort at Capitalists@Work)

‘A picture paints a thousand words’, so here’s some pie:

Not to Grauniad Datablog standards, but you get the idea.


Why Should Religion Trump Politics? Thought For A Sunday

Suppose someone worked for an organisation that asked you to hang up an EU flag. As a sound Euro-sceptic you refuse on principle. (For our purposes, we will assume the organisation hasn’t taken the EU shilling and thus agreed to display said dirty rag – if so, more fool them.)

Now suppose a colleague is asked to help put up the Christmas decorations; the tree, some tinsel and – uh oh – some cards that have been received with the baby Jesus on. He refuses, because he is (say) a devout Muslim.

Now, finally let’s suppose that both cases had been the last straw and your employer dismissed both of you. Which case, under equalities legislation, would (a) even be considered by the courts and (b) benefit from the support of the EHRC (headed by Trevor “our business is defending the believer” Phillips)? Yup, not the Euro-sceptic, even though his views could be as strongly held as the Muslim’s.

Adam Smith; engraving

Adam Smith, or any excuse for a picture of the great man.

The fundamental question is this: why should religious beliefs get any more protection than political ones? Discrimination on grounds of race or gender – qualities that the subject has no control over – is another kettle of fish entirely. Yet what of religion and politics, those twin taboo subjects of polite conversation? In truth (though the more devout would dispute this) they all are about choices of belief. There is also choice about how such beliefs are practised and demonstrated. Both are philosophies of sorts, but the one difference is that religion, by the very definition of “faith”, is not necessary based on any process of logical reasoning or sound evidence. Political beliefs, however, flawed though one side may think the other’s are, are often drawn from experience, reality-based thought processes and/or theories as to what is practically feasible in making the world a better place. Communists may revere Marx, and free-marketeers will hold Adam Smith in similar esteem, but few on either side would ‘worship’ their respective historical leading thinkers.

Yet base your views of the world on a belief in a supernatural power and suddenly your lifestyle choices become near-unassailable and benefit from protection under the law of far greater weight than, and trumping that of, freedom of speech and association. What’s with that?

Perhaps the separation is a more modern phenomenon. For centuries, religion and politics have been so intertwined that the distinction has been moot. Even within our own shores political divisions can closely follow sectarian lines, even though the religious element has become largely irrelevant in the ‘Irish Question’ other than as a synonym for the Nationalist/Loyalist divide (indeed, it could be argued that it always was a primarily political issue, right back to the plantation of Ireland under Elizabeth I and the struggles against Papal power).

No Comment

Is the difference in treatment a function of how far followers are ‘willing to go’? Many wars and genocides have been – and still are – carried out on religious grounds but, equally, political genocide is hardly unknown: we’ve seen 45 million killed under Chinese communism, 20 million under Stalin, around 1.5 million under Pol Pot and of course the 6 million under National Socialism (though the motivation behind the latter could be seen as a grey area between religious and political). On the flip-side, most political beliefs would not lead followers to murder any more than ‘true’ or ‘ordinary’ Christians, Buddhists or any other religion might.

Maybe it’s all just a little more mundane. Political views are by their nature open to argument; criticism, testing, cross-examination, subject to variation in the light of experience, and so on. With religion, criticism can simply be dismissed as blasphemy, and followers can be motivated without any remotely ‘legal standard’ of proof. If religion cannot be subject to a legal process of examination, perhaps the law shies away from testing it at all.

I rather think that the solution is to offer no legal protection to either, beyond that of free speech, association and the norms of a civilised free society.

* You know this, of course, so although you don’t like the idea, you otherwise like working there, so you do as asked, holding the flag like a dirty nappy and washing your hands thoroughly afterwards.

(H/T The Heresiarch, who came at this from the thought-provoking ‘believer/non-believer’ angle.)

The BBC: Never Mind the Facts, Stick to the Script

If I were to highlight every bit of bias I hear or saw on the BBC it would take a whole separate dedicated blog. Fortunately there already is one, and the team there are doing a far better job than I could manage. Even so, I’ll add my two penn’orth here.

Today saw the release of the latest unemployment figures. Overall, unemployment was down, but the dole count was up. A mixed picture, to be fair, and thus the room for biased interpretation is greater. However, and critically, the government has started shifting people who can work from incapacity benefit to jobseeker’s allowance, so a rise in those signing on would be expected, and this would certainly go a long way to explaining the apparent discrepancy between the two statistics.

So, how have the BBC fulfilled their role to educate and inform in an impartial fashion? In their usual modern way, which is to say they have abandoned all pretence of impartiality.

The line on most BBC radio bulletins today, so far, has run thus:

– Unemployment is down

– But the numbers claiming jobseeker’s allowance are up

– Here’s a clip of Liam “There’s no Money Left” Byrne saying this is terrible and shows how the government’s economic and fiscal policies aren’t working.

– [next news item]

What’s that? Someone from the government side to provide balance? Sorry, no time, have to fit in more about News International’s and The Mirror’s involvement in ‘phone hacking. Anyway, public spending cuts are bad for the economy and this proves it, it’s all in the script, right there, the bit in Ed Ball’s handwriting…

Contrast to one of those dreadful commercial stations, like Planet Rock, whose news bulletins (syndicated from the evil Sky) included Chris Grayling explaining the point about incapacity benefit claimants.

In other news, politicians, the BBC and left leaning media continue to work hard to ensure that one single organisation cannot exert too much control (and, thus, potentially dangerous biased influence) over too large a share of the media market, because that would be very bad.

Equality At Any Price?

Brian Gould was one of the key architects of New Labour, and thus from a tribal perspective I am not a fan. The impartial political anorak in me does recognise, though, that he was very effective in his role; something not to be forgotten in any assessment of Blair’s rise and of the other players (Mandelson, Campbell, et al.)

Putting politics aside, I have found his story of his own battle with cancer of great interest, and naturally I hope he pulls through.

The Royal Marsden Hospital - Sutton. This is t...

The Royal Marsden Hospital

One point that caught my political eye, though, was buried in part two of that story, published today by those evil Murdochians at The Times (£). Here, Gould is comparing the culture of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the U.S. anti-cancer hospital in which he underwent part of his treatment, with the Royal Marsden, itself a specialist in cancer care:

The Marsden is, of course, an NHS hospital, and although it gains 30 per cent of its revenue through private patients (of which I am one), this does not fundamentally affect the character of the institution. Patients feel less empowered than in the United States, and patients are probably treated with more efficiency there, but the culture at the Marsden is warmer, less transactional and much more egalitarian. [Emphasis mine.]

So, the lack of efficiency (which, let’s face it, means that we’re not getting the maximum value of care and treatment from every pound) and lack of empowerment (adding to the sense of helplessness felt by the patient and their loved ones) is made up for by a warmer culture and … egalitarianism? Do all the architects of Labour’s success in the late Nineties and Noughties genuinely think that equality is worth the sacrificing of such core elements of any healthcare system?

Treatment available to all, free at the point of delivery, is fine – that’s describing any decent insurance system. However, I’m sorry, but to regard egalitarianism in healthcare as an end in itself smacks of warped priorities, particularly (though I appreciate this probably wasn’t the interpretation intended) in an area where by necessity some will need greater resources per head than others. The trouble with the egalitarian mindset is that it is subject to the ideological equivalent of ‘mission creep’ (viz. the recent ECJ ruling on women’s insurance premiums).

Let’s take, as an example, another field dominated by state provision: education. It’s as if we mustn’t applaud the success of one school or type of school, or in any way promote them, because that would be to talk down – nay, condemn – the others. So as long as everyone is equal, then we can take comfort that we are all subsisting at the same level of mediocrity. Really?

Sadly, in the case of grammar schools at least, it seems that the blind pursuit of equality at all costs is an ideal that still runs deep, even on the other side of the political spectrum to Lord Gould’s.

The third and final part of Lord Gould’s story is tomorrow. Again, tribalism aside, here’s hoping for a good outcome.

(Pic. credit: Jean Barrow CC Sharealike 2.0)