Archive for the ‘Asides’ Category

Ken Loach on plans for Margaret Thatcher’s funeral.

April 10, 2013

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Shareholders are not investors.

March 18, 2013

Professor Brendan McSweeney (Royal Holloway, University of London) recently reminded readers of The Guardian that shareholders are not investors and that a “shareholder’s relationship with a company is, in effect, the same as that of a punter on horse races with the owners of the horses.”

Mistrust Wikipedia? You should..

February 20, 2013

Under the heading of  How Paul Krugman broke a Wikipedia page on economics, Salon has just published this story:

There’s a lockdown on the Wikipedia page for Austrian economics and wouldn’t you know it, one or way or another, it all seems to be Paul Krugman’s fault.

Broadly speaking, Austrian economics, for those who have not yet had the pleasure of being introduced, are characterized by an extreme distrust of state intervention in markets, a distaste for statistical modeling and a general confidence that markets, left to their own devices, will avoid booms and busts and nasty things like inflation. From a political perspective, Austrian economics tends to lurk to the right of even such conservative icons as Milton Friedman.

For more detail, you can go, of course, to the Wikipedia page for Austrian economics. But until at least Feb. 28, if you do so, you will find that the page “is currently protected from editing.” An “edit war” has been raging behind the scenes. Two factions were repeatedly deleting and replacing a section of text that had to do with a description of a critique of Austrian economics made by economist Paul Krugman.

The closer you look, the more the whole affair appears at first to be a demonstration of Sayre’s Law, which holds that “in any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake.” One side, which seems from the Talk page chronicling the argument to  be just one very stubborn person, is objecting to the inclusion of Krugman’s critique on the grounds that what Krugman describes as Austrian economics doesn’t actually represent the reality of Austrian economics. In other words, it’s as if Krugman was saying “the problem with blue is that it is red.” Therefore, his views should not be included as an example of a valid critique. The other side is basically saying that Krugman is Nobel Prize-winning economist whose opinion is well worth including according to the standards of Wikipedia. So there. And back and forth the argument went, with lots of torturous discursions into the process weeds of Wikipedia editing policies, until it got too heated and provoked a lockdown.

On one level, it is amusing that Paul Krugman, a man whose Nobel award (technically, “the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred”) was lambasted by one Austrian school acolyte as “the worst decision in the history of the prize” and caused another to sigh “that those of us who believe in liberty are in for a long time in the intellectual wilderness,” is indirectly responsible for a Wikipedia Austrian meltdown. But there’s also a serious issue at stake.

The Krugman critique in question pointed out that many self-styled Austrians had declared that a dire, disastrous, Zimbabean/Weimar Germany outbreak of hyperinflation would be the inevitable consequence of the stimulus spending and other federal policies expanding access to credit in the wake of the financial crash. But that didn’t happen. One can argue that just because some people who are affiliated with the Austrian school made terrible economic predictions doesn’t mean that Austrian economics are wrong. Financial writer Tim Carney makes exactly such an argument at CNBC, going so far as to argue that Austrian economics actually predicted exactly what ended up happening since the financial crash. And sure, such reasoning seems to be at the heart of the Wikipedia dispute — Krugman, argues the leading dissident, is wrongly characterizing Austrian economics as guaranteeing high inflation after a big credit expansion.

Personally, I would have been quite surprised to see Austrian economists explain in 2009, that, as Carney puts it, it would have been “entirely in keeping with the Austrian approach to economics … [for] … a combination of a growing fiscal deficit and an accommodative monetary policy … [to help] prevent the housing slump and financial crisis from depressing prices generally.” I certainly can’t imagine any of the founding fathers of Austrian economics, such as Ludwig von Mises, saying such a thing.

For five years conservatives, including many Austrians, warned that stimulus spending and expanded credit would lead to disaster. But hyperinflation is nowhere to be seen, and the economy is slowly recovering. Paul Krugman was right. No wonder there’s trouble in Austrian-school-Wikipedia land.

I asked Krugman if he was paying attention to the Wiki-kerfuffle, and the dispute over whether his characterization of Austrian economics was correct. He declined to plunge in too deep, but did say this: “That is my experience with the Austrians: whenever you try to pin them down, they insist that you fail to understand their profound ideas. And they have indeed been predicting runaway inflation for years now; it’s interesting that they can neither explain why they were wrong nor admit that this poses a problem.”

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

Now what’s interesting here is that shows all too clearly the weakness of Wikipedia,  and it not just that interested parties can edit in or out the material that suits them, but, evn more importantly, it’s that there is no one with the editorial authority to say what can or cannot  be included in the final version of any of its  pages.

Cameron, the Duchess and the rest of us.

February 19, 2013


 Our busy Prime Minister, David Cameron has criticised Hilary Mantel, the Wolf Hall author, for describing the Duchess of Cambridge in a speech rprinted as an essay reprinted in the current issue of The London Review of Books, as ‘machine-made’ and ‘designed by committee’.

Mr Cameron was asked about the comments during a trade visit to India. “I think she writes great books, but I think what she’s said about Kate Middleton is completely misguided and completely wrong,” the Prime Minister said

Like Freddy Gray of The Spectator, I believe this

David Cameron should have read Hilary Mantel’s essay before criticising it.

And while we are on the subject, we might want to ask why it is never move to thinks that some of things his own ministers have been saying about people who will be less readily defended may be just a little “misguided” and on occasion “completely wrong”

Actively Seeking Employment ?????

February 11, 2013

The reduction or withdrawal of benefits as a penalty for not “actively seeking employment” from claimants by Jobcentre Plus is widespread and sometimes done on what must appear to them to the whim of an uncaring, self-serving bureaucracy.

In one case I have heard of, a person who had accepted a full-time place on a retraining course (therefore actively seeking work through training, one would think) was told that benefits would be withdrawn if the daily job-search was abandoned while waiting for the course to begin, or during the training period.

In another I have read of, a man who was given a job, which would begin a fortnight after the offer was made, had benefits withdrawn for not seeking work in the intervening 14 days.

Do people at the receiving end of such treatment understand why they  are being treated in this way? I doubt it. All of which makes me glad that I do not have to be subjected to such treatment any longer.

An adieu to the philistinism of New Labour.

May 23, 2010

Robert McCrum has written a rather good epitaph for New Labour in today’s edition of The Observer

 In retrospect, New Labour was a largely philistine movement with no interest in history (treacherous) or literature (elitist). Its epitaph must be Shelley’s on Ozymandias: “Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

……………. An administration committed to closing down our civil liberties had no interest in opening up the people’s imagination with freshly minted words 

New technologies & our politicians.

January 4, 2010

Now that electioneering appears to be up and running,  here’s a little piece advice from today’s edition The Guardian that politicians of every hue would do well to heed:

Following Barack Obama’s successful use of social networking, British parties have redoubled their rush on to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. A few engaged MPs use such sites not only to broadcast their views but also to listen to their constituents. However, too much political effort online simply mimics traditional marketing-driven campaigning – treating voters as little more than shoppers, and policies as slickly packaged products. The overlooked lesson of Obama’s campaign is that it treated voters as citizens with active roles in a democratic society rather than passive consumers swayed by party marketing.

Waste (news)papers

November 10, 2009

For a quite number of years now, I have been buying my local “rag” – The Coventry Telegraph – merely to find out what’s happening – in the theatre, the cinema and so on – in and around the area in which I live. To me it’s a What’s On? nothing more or nothing less.

 There was a time when – as The Coventry Evening Telegraph – it had a set of columns and columnist worth paying some attention to. No any more. The time when a reader could turn to its pages and find half-way intelligent commentary on what is happening on the political scene, in the theater in our art galleries, with music or indeed anywhere is long gone.

Would I now care if the paper were to close tomorrow? The answer is: not really.
As George Monbiot shows in his column for today’s edition The Guardian, Coventry is not the only city to have a newspaper that has become so irrelevant that it has no longer got the right to survival.

They are the pillars of the community, champions of the underdog, the scourge of corruption, defenders of free speech. Their demise could deal a mortal blow to democracy. Any guesses yet? How many of you thought of local newspapers?

But this is the universal view of the national media: local papers, half of which, on current trends, are in danger of going down in the next five years(1), are all that stand between us and creeping dictatorship. Like my colleagues, I mourn their death; unlike them I believe it happened decades ago. For many years the local press has been one of Britain’s most potent threats to democracy, championing the overdog, misrepresenting democratic choices, defending business, the police and local elites from those who seek to challenge them. Media commentators lament the death of what might have been. It bears no relationship to what is.

Join the army and see the classroom.

October 8, 2009

The announcement, at yesterday’s Tory Party conference, by schools spokesman, Michael Grove, that his party, if elected, intended develop a Troops to Teachers programme which would see military professionals becoming teachers draws some caustic comments  from Simon Hoggart in his sketch for today’s edition of The Guardian.

Grove’s avowed intention, which Hoggart considers to be one example of one of  the “stark staring bonkers”  ideas the party can come up with from time to time,  is  “to get the professionals in the army who know how to train young men and women into the classroom where they can provide not just discipline, but inspiration and leadership.”

In other words, he wants to send the army into our schools. Men and women in battledress dashing down the corridors, yelling “cover!” as they race to secure the playground! And he announced it without any preliminaries, or indeed any explanation, as if it were something perfectly obvious to everyone, an ambition the whole country could unite behind, like healthier school dinners and better facilities for sport.

What on earth did he have in mind? Just a single NCO per classroom?

“Jordan Blenkinsop, you’re a horrible little girl. What are you?”

“A horrible little girl, sarn’t!”

And what did he mean by “providing discipline”? “Now then, what I have ‘ere in my hand is an SA80 standard issue rifle. If I don’t get a bit of hush, you’re going to be looking down the wrong end of it, and I hope you bleeding well catch my drift, you shower.”

Will there be military classes too? Laying down ground fire? Landmine dispersal? How to conduct a field amputation with a Stanley knife from the art room? None of these matters was addressed. And how will it change those recruitment ads they run on the television? “Could you fly a £15m jet aircraft at twice the speed of sound? Could you drive a Centurion 2 battle tank into the heart of the action? Could you cope with 9C in the last period on Friday afternoon?”

Seán Cannon at Coventry Central Library

October 1, 2009

Make for Music at your Library

Saturday 17 October.

Seán Cannon

Seán Cannon

Robbie, Hank, Elvis and me – by Seán Cannon

Seán, who began his singing career in pubs and clubs of Coventry during the late sixties and became internationally recognised as a member of The Dubliners, will be answering questions about, among other things, his long career, and his love of the songs of Robert Burns, Hank Williams, and the young Elvis Presley. He may also sing a song or two that he’s not recorded.

Events take place at the Central Library, Smithford Way, Coventry, CV1 1FY.

All events are Free and start at 11.00am.

Limited places – booking advisable

To book please phone 024 7683 2314

 

Click below for: 

Seán Cannon @ Coventry Central Library pdf

The Dubliners  featuring Seán Cannon – The Newry Highway Man (Album Thirty Years A’Greying RTE CD 157-302, 157-301/Castle Communications ESD CD 423 1992)