December 2013

On Duck Dynasty, tolerance and public opinion

An interesting little tale about the intersection of tolerance and public opinion:

Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson will return to work on A&E’s reality show despite his comments about gay immorality, the channel said, reversing its decision to suspend him after facing a backlash and threatened boycott.

In a statement A&E said it was bringing Robertson back after discussions with his Louisiana family featured in the reality series and “numerous advocacy groups.”

Last week, the channel had put Robertson on what it called an indefinite “hiatus” because of his comments in a GQ magazine article that the Bible views gays as sinners akin to adulterers, prostitutes and swindlers.

A&E said it decided to drop Robertson from the show about a wealthy family that makes duck calls because it is part of a company whose core values are “centered around creativity, inclusion and mutual respect.”

Robertson’s remarks were quickly slammed by groups including GLAAD, the gay rights watchdog organisation. But A&E’s move against Robertson provoked a flood of support from those who share his views and others who defended his freedom of speech.

A petition calling for A&E to bring him back reached 250,000 signatures and counting in about a week.

This is, of course, absolutely damn all to do with the First Amendment. That only says that the government cannot limit free speech: it says nothing at all about whether public mores can or should limit it.

It is, however, about tolerance. He’s got some fairly biblical ideas about Teh Gayers including the idea that they’ll not go to heaven if they do what comes naturally. At least he’s not proposing that walls be tumbled over on to them.

But by far the most interesting part of this is that certain people were not willing to be tolerant about his words. And I’m afraid that that’s where the important part of it all is. It’s no damn good calling for tolerance for me but not for thee: that’s not actually tolerance at all.

It’s entirely right to insist that we be tolerant of what other consenting adults get up to. Including, absolutely, two men shacking up with a couple of toy poodles. Or any other variation of gender and or sex that any groups of consenting adults wish to cohabit or share bodily fluids with. But that very same tolerance means that we must also, all, put up with those who shout fire and brimstone about people doing that.

No, we don’t have to put up with incitement to immediate violence. But we do indeed have to put up with people who insist that those who play the todger to the bum game cannot get to meet the sky fairy.

Because, y’know, that’s what tolerance means.

As to the TV station, they’ve just looked at which side their bread is buttered. And there seem to be many more fans of the show who are tolerant of such speech than there are who are not.

Oh well, everyone does indeed say that they want to live in a democracy, don’t they?


A strange business idea

So, streaming music is all the rage these days.

The major costs of a streaming service are the royalties that must be paid. Both songwriting royalties and also the sound recording royalties. These make up more than 50% of revenues at each such streaming service.

So, why not have a streaming service that plays only oldies? Those things that are so far out of date that they attract no royalty payments? One might even arbitrage between the two sets of royalties. Be happy to pay one set of rights on a particular piece, but not the other set. Say, a cover of an old song. Mike Oldfield’s “In Dulce Jubilo” would still attract sound recording rights but not songwriting.

Would be pretty much a minority taste, to be sure, but I would imagine that you could build a pretty good classical and jazz station at least from such.

So, watchcoo think?

A little note to 10,000 Americans I’ve never met and never will


Well done to all 10,000 of you. A very good show there.

An eight-year-girl whose dying was wish to hear carolers serenading her with Christmas tunes passed away in the early hours of Boxing Day morning after attracting warmth and well-wishers from all across America.

On the Saturday before Christmas, some 10,000 people had spontaneously gathered beneath the window of Delaney Brown in the tiny of town West Reading, Pennsylvania to sing Christmas favourites, such Good King Wenceslas and Come All Ye Faithful.

I am a hopeless cynic but just occasionally something happens to make me think that it’s worth having humans around.

That is, just to note it, two and a half times the entire population of that small town of West Reading. Lashings of ginger beer all round I think and that isn’t something that is easy to deserve.

Now isn’t this a big surprise?

You firehose subsidies around the place and end up with products that are uneconomic. Who on earth could have predicted that?

Councils are wasting millions of pounds on wind turbines that are not working or will take hundreds of years to repay because they are generating as little as £13 worth of energy a month.

Local authorities spent hundreds of thousands of pounds installing the turbines in an effort to meet renewable energy targets.

However, some have not produced any energy at all in the last year because of faults, a Freedom of Information request disclosed.

Some turbines generate so little energy they would take hundreds of years to repay their original value. Experts argue that the failure of some wind turbines to recoup their value shows how small wind turbines are a poor way to generate renewable energy.

In Eastleigh, Hampshire a turbine costing almost £30,000 was installed in 2005. Last year the turbine generated 520 kilowatt hours of energy (kWh).

It’s just such an unexpected result, isn’t it?

In Derbyshire, a turbine costing £89,000 was installed in 2004 but has failed to produce any energy since September 2011 due to a fault.

The council said it was “disappointed” adding that the company which supplied the turbine no longer existed.

No one could ever have thought that such a thing could happen.

So here’s a religious question

For 2,000 years, pilgrims and archaeologists have hunted for physical evidence of Jesus and his family, without success.

But now an ancient burial box claiming to contain the earliest reference to the Christian saviour is about to go on public display in Israel after its owner was cleared of forgery. It has not been seen in public since a single, brief exhibition in Toronto in 2002.

The modest limestone burial box, known as an ossuary, is typical of first-century Jerusalem, and is owned by Oded Golan, an Israeli antiquities collector. Chiselled on the side are the words “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”

James the Just was the first leader of the Christians in Jerusalem after the Crucifixion. He was executed for apostasy by the local rabbinical court.

There’s various bits and pieces about whether Jesus had brothers and so on. Whether Mary had more than the one child etc. And no, I’m not worried about all of that.

Instead, a different question. The name Joseph was very common in that time and place. James too. John, etc.

Jesus… that a unique name? Is it even a name at all or is it more like a title?

An interesting Christmas lunch

So, yesterday morning I scribbled a little piece at Forbes gently mocking David Cameron’s porn blocker. Noting that it blocking Claire Perry’s site was a better joke than I was likely to get out of a cracker later in the day.

In between my sitting down to the soup and my nipping out for a fag after the second plate of turkey that got picked up by Reddit. Leading to 300,000 people reading that little post while I was having my lunch. Given that I am paid there by traffic that’s a couple of thousand £s. Which is a nice little Christmas present when you think about it.

Yes, lunch was indeed good and festive as well…..

In which we continue to discuss morality

There are arguments along Rawlsian lines that a certain degree of inequality is justifiable, because it is necessary to reward those gifted individuals who can improve the collective human condition to such an extent that even the very poorest are made better off than they would be in a more equal situation. But these arguments only enter into consideration after we have established the idea that the first and fairest way of distributing humanity’s finite resources is equally. Equality of resources should be the baseline, and any deviation from that equality should be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Not being all that up with Rawls or any other philosopher I would actually change the argument being put forward there. We do not reward those with greater gifts. Or perhaps I should say that we should not. The logic of a market system does not work that way. We do indeed reward those who have improved the collective human condition though. This difference is rooted in the same unfairness that is being complained about. To steal an argument from Chris Dillow, Rooney’s abilities at playing football would have made him £25 a week 50 years ago. And nothing at all 150 years ago. It is simply pure blind luck that his talents evinced themselves in a generation where people are willing to pay him so much. Exactly the same is true of a philosopher born now, or in hunter gatherer times, a whizzo apps programmer today or 20 or 200 years ago.

So, it’s definitely unfair that people have the talents that the particular technologies of the day enable them to excel. And we could indeed call that unfair: but we do it not to reward those with those talents. We do it to encourage the next group of people who might be able to improve the human condition. It’s a matter of incentives (recall, in economics the first thing is that incentives matter). Simon Cowell is not rewarded for the work that has been done by Simon Cowell. He is rewarded in order to encourage the next moron with a plan to entertain the proles with pap.

But that’s not going to change the real point here:

And this brings us back to charity. If you accept that chosen inequalities are morally objectionable, then any situation where one person has surplus wealth that they can choose to give to someone in need of that wealth, in turn becomes morally objectionable. Charity becomes an issue of private virtue and public vice. On an individual basis, charity is laudable, but when politicians start praising charity or calling for a ‘big society’, we should be more condemnatory. Politicians should be in the business of making a better society, not in perpetuating the inequalities of existing society. The better society is one with robust and non-voluntary social supports, not soup kitchens.

But what if private charity works better than the bumblings of the politicians? For example, the RNLI: does it work better or worse than the Coastguard? Hospices: why does the NHS leave to the private charitable sector this part of health care? Food banks: some to much of their food comes from the supermarkets themselves shifting on soon to be out of date stock. Have we seen politicians manage to achieve this as yet?

What if private charity is actually more efficient at alleviating human suffering?

At which point to trump Rawls I offer you Burke. It is the little platoons that make society work. The Boy Scouts is a better organisation that the Young Pioneers or the Hitler Jugend.


On charity versus welfare

I am attacked:

Tim Worstall asks:

And what the fuck’s wrong with voluntary collective action rather than State enforced collective action?

Answer: charity presupposes a condition in which some people have stuff which they can do without, and some people lack stuff that they really need. This inequality (which, like all inequalities, is morally objectionable on the face of it) is only sustained by the actions of the capitalist state in enforcing property rights through its monopoly on the legitimate use of force. In a more just world, there would be no need for charity because you would not have a situation in which some people have, whilst others need.

That’s interesting. All inequality is immoral? That I have an IQ above my shoe size while Polly T might well not is immoral?

Aside from this obvious point, I honestly don’t see any moral difference between a spontaneous, voluntary urge to do good on the part of certain individuals, and a reflective, truly collective urge to do good as manifest in a legal requirement to provide support to those in need through the existing system of taxation and welfare.

And that’s even more interesting, isn’t it? There’s no moral difference between the actions of an individual unforced and the forced actions of the same individual? Forced by the monopoly on violence of the State?

And do note that we actually have good evidence that the taxation and welfare system is not in fact voluntary nor freely entered into. For there’s that what, £120 billion, tax gap we keep being told about. Pure and clear evidence that some to many people do not in fact agree with that State system. For by their actions they, at risk to their liberty, deliberately avoid it.

Modern feminism

Sorry, but I really just don’t understand it:

2013 has been a bumper year for the celebrity feminist. There was THAT video by Lily Allen, and THAT performance by newly proclaimed women’s libber Miley Cyrus. Policymic’s 28 most iconic feminist moments of 2013 featured 11 celebrity feats. Jennifer Lawrence refused to lose weight, bootilicious Beyoncé came out of the feminist closet, sampling Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s anti-patriarchy talk, and TV star Mindy Kaling, who plays a ditzy doctor desperately hunting a boyfriend, claims the title by dint of being plump and brown. This year feminism cloaked celebrity culture like a new mink and shifted units in the process – 80,000 in three hours in Beyoncé’s case.

But before we get our girl power twerk-on, it must be noted that most of these modern-day feminists are infamous for growing the canon of formulaic depictions of femaleness rather than challenging it. So why the PR about-turn? Why has an organised movement that seeks to dismantle the systems that block equal rights for women been reduced to a soap-box for the media-sanctioned to protest their right to exist? Might this watered-down feminism serve the very system that feminists should be fighting to dismantle?

Let’s look at another moment of musical resistance that took place this year that didn’t feature trembling booties or dancing teddy bears, so went unnoticed. The gap between these promoted and unpromoted acts of resistance proves why it is more important than ever to strengthen feminism’s roots and not weaken them.

Setting the scene, back in 2002 I watched multi-Grammy winner Lauryn Hill stand on a stage armed only with a guitar. Between songs she confessed that due to the crippling control the music and media industry was exerting over her career, she was bowing out. She feared the effect that the manipulation of her image, lyrics and performance was having on her artistry and her largely female fan base. The show was unscripted and heartfelt and often made for uncomfortable listening. After this tour, Hill stopped performing, stopped making music and stopped paying taxes, releasing an open letter in which she labelled the music industry “a media-protected military industrial complex”.

So while Cyrus was proclaiming, “I feel like I’m one of the biggest feminists in the world because I tell women to not be scared of anything”, Hill, this year, faced the very real fear of working out a three-month prison sentence.

What? An industry which makes women fabulously, dynastically, rich because they can warble attractively is anti-feminist? And asking Hill to pay taxes on the many millions (and it was indeed many, many, millions she made) she made is anti-feminist?

I think I preferred it when it was “All men are scum” because at least there was some evidence that some indeed are.

A Guardian question we can answer

Could rationing hold the key to today’s food crises?

No, fuck off.

Contrast that with food banks today: obviously the situation is slightly different, since the scarcity is not of food but of money, and it has been wilfully created by the government by unjust benefit sanctions and maladministration. Nevertheless, people are hungry, and rather than answer that with a call to act collectively, to sacrifice collectively, we are asked to maybe give a tin of kidney beans as we pass through Tesco,

And what the fuck’s wrong with voluntary collective action rather than State enforced collective action?

Rolls Royce bribery allegations

I’m not sure about this at all:

The Serious Fraud Office has launched a formal investigation into allegations of bribery and corruption at engine maker Rolls-Royce that could lead to criminal prosecutions.

Sure, I know that bribery is illegal now. Can’t remember the name of the damn fool law but I know that it is.

Britain’s fraud-busting agency has spent more than a year examining claims from a whistleblower over Rolls’ use of middle-men in winning multi-million pound contracts in Indonesia, China and elsewhere, dating back more than 20 years.

Among the claims from whistleblower Dick Taylor, a former employee, was the allegation that the engine maker had handed a $20m (£12.2m) bribe and a blue Rolls–Royce car to Tommy Suharto, the youngest son of the late Indonesian dictator.

It was for his help, it was claimed, in persuading the country’s flag–carrier Garuda to buy Rolls’ Trent 700 engine for Airbus A330 aircraft in 1990.

But I’m also pretty sure that bribery, in foreign of course, was not illegal under UK law back then. Might well have been illegal under Chinese, Indonesian law, but the UK attitude back a while was that that’s just what happens in these sorts of places so as far as we’re concerned, fine.

So, does anyone know whether I’m recalling things correctly?

Ritchie and the middle class

I think this is just great. We’ve sociology professor insisting that the middle class really ain’t so middle. He defines it as the top 10% of households by income. OK, linguistic bit but I would call that the upper middle class or the haute bourgeoisie. And they’re all lackeys of the plutocrats at the top of course. And Ritchie enthusiastically bobbles his head in agreement:

In deciding who are the middle class (Letters, 18 December), one crucial source of information is the Office for National Statistics data on household incomes. This shows that in 2011-12, the top 10th of households with the highest incomes received 27% of all income both gross and after tax. (The UK has for households what amounts to a flat tax system other than for the poorest tenth of households who pay a higher proportion of their income in tax than any other decile.) This was far more than the next 10th down, who received about 16% of all gross and net income. The decile below that, the eighth highest, received about 13% of gross and net income. From the lowest 10th to the ninth decile, the difference in income levels rises in a smooth line, but between the ninth and 10th deciles incomes rise by nearly 70%. It is precisely these very much higher incomes, post-tax as well as pre-tax, which fund most private education in the UK, the main route by which the privileged pass on privileges to their offspring.

So if we think about household incomes, then we have an upper class of plutocrats who do not really appear in the relevant data set and who by the way pay very little tax because of their systematic use of the tax avoidance industry, a middle class of those in the top decile of households we know about, although they also often legally avoid tax, and the rest of us below them.

This is very much a return to the way in which the 19th century thought about a middle class, not as a statistical average but as a group between the great owners of property and the rest of the population. These days the middle class understood as the 10th of households with the highest incomes we know about contains those who assist the plutocracy by managing the rest of us on lower pay and conditions in work, and pensions and benefits when out of work, across the whole of the public and private sectors.

Professor David Byrne Durham University
Dr Sally Ruane De Montfort University

I have a strong suspicion that this analysis correctly explains behaviour and as such resonates.

And here’s what I like so much about this analysis. To be in the top 10% of households by income in the UK these days you need an income of some £80k or so. That’s the pre-tax gross income from all sources.

Professor Byrne is at Durham which pays full professors an average of £72,100. Add in a bit of money from his writing (extensive) and we might assume a wife who works for a bit of pin money. And thus our Professor is part of that 10% who are lackeys for the plutocrats. I’m not in that 10% every year but I am this: another lackey. And Ritchie, what with a GP wife on half time pay (c. £50k) and his own £35 k from Rowntree plus writing and report income from elsewhere….so is he.

We’re all lackeys for the plutocrats because we’re all in the top 10%.

Either that or the original analysis is total cock, your call.

No wonder Julia Gillard got fired

Evidence is already available: plain packaging works. Smokers are more likely to consider giving up, and they’re also more likely to think the quality of their cigarettes has diminished.

There’s not actually been any reduction in smoking. So plain packaging doesn’t work, does it? And the black market in ciggies has expanded.

So good on Oz for throwing such a shameless liar out of office.