Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Hesq descends on the Fluffy Economist

A big welcome to FE's new writer Hesq, a few of whose comments you may have read recently. He brings a much needed philosophical and poetic dimension to the Fluffy Economist, as evidenced by his debut post . I hope you enjoy.

On the Arts, Politics and Power.

"Man is not the lord of beings. Man is the shepherd of Being. Manloses nothing in this "less"; rather, he gains in that he attains thetruth of Being. He gains the essential poverty of the shepherd, whose dignity consists in being called by Being itself into the preservationof Being's truth." (Letter on Humanism, 1964), Martin Heidegger.

Maybe too then, men are not the lords of their art, their politics or their power, nor are they capable judges of another man's art, politics or power; the only role that they can aptly play is that of Shepherd, guiding a flock of ideas down a particular path, leading their ideas to drink at fresh waters and eat from the spring-time budding grasses of soft cool valley passes leading to mountains and treacherous slopes eloping into the night huddling about the fire's dancing trickling lights where smelling senses the warmth that rides the thick smoke that whirls around...but never, ever, is man thelord of his art, politics or power, and never can he truly choose whether he and all that he leads shall live or die, be forgotten or transcend this beehive of live.

We are called by our arts, politics and power to maintain/create/affect change in the fundamental Being of this world’s essences, but this does not give us vast unlimited rule over it, no, not so, this rathe rgives us a glimpse at its source, the most magnificent of all sources, like blinding light, blindingly true, bindingly addictive but never "our own", never an answer but only the trigger that pulls for another question, another inspection of the source and also of the hopes that rise in our throats when we see it form, to be followed we know by the gut wrenching belly aching stench of the pain left by temporal things.

The poverty of the Shepherd reminds me of Jean Genet's "The Theif's Journal" - which is a towering work of mighty - albeit painful/shaming - truths. The purity of poverty is like a desert island in the sea of capitalist dreams, but who has the balls to reach for that - only great men like Genet, maybe Jesus, maybe that guy who sits by the cash-point not giving a flying fuck? Who can know, and who has the RIGHT to say for sure?


Clarke should stay - Ramsbotham

David Ramsbotham comes to the conclusion that Clarke should hang on. By doing so he ignores the Machiavellian ploy, used so competently by the PM, of using a crisis to tighten his grip on power with claims that he must 'finish the job'. Otherwise the post is well argued - as it would be from the former chief inspector of prisons - bemoaning the prison service's lack of accountability and the government's obsession with innovation over good management.

Ming for a day

One could make the usual excuses that being a third party gives one a freedom not conferred on the government. Nevertheless, one can only admire the grace with which Sir Menzies Campbell has unequivocally and unconditionally apologised for getting his facts wrong. Mssrs Blair and Clarke would do well to take note.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

AUT still striking

With 3 days before my exams start (the reason of course, for the recent increased blogging activity) it looks like my exams will be going ahead as planned. In Scotland, however, we are lucky that the exams were submitted in December, so that the actual lecturer doesn't turn up for invidulation doesn't matter a bit. I have heard that this is not the case in England and Wales, however, where the AUT's examinations and assessments boycott (more on which here) began before many lecturers submitted their papers (can anyone correct me on this?).

The problem however, is the marking. For me this doesn't really matter as my plans for next year are not dependent on my immediate results (thank God!). For others going into post-graduate courses or jobs that require a specific grade, it is more distressing and the lecturers are certainly testing the patience of this group.

The view amongst the student body, as far as I can gauge during tea breaks outside the library, is still largely on the side of the lecturers, with the attitude that the University cannot afford to write off a whole year of graduates. As graduation nears, however, this assertion is getting more and more high-pitched.

My prediction is that exams will (mostly) go ahead with the result that grades will be released a little late. The chance of a marking backlog is very slim: what lecturer would wait for the boycott to end before they waded through reams of essay, dissertations and exams?

Any lecturers care to contradict me?

Bull-dozing to win the battle

Yesterday the Independent published an edited version of the furious 14-page letter by Charles Clarke, who got rather upset by an article by Simon Carr, which outlined Carr's fears of the implications of Citizen's Emasculation Act. Now it seems Carr got a little carried away with his paranoia regarding fishing on the River Tweed without government scrutiny but one of Clarke's quotes simply takes the biscuit:
And let me conclude with one of the more ridiculous statements: “The presumption of innocence is no longer a fixed legal principal”. This is complete nonsense. In this country that you are innocent of an offence until proven guilty.
Is that so Charlie, wasn't it just the other day your boss was saying quite the opposite about harrying, hassling and hounding suspected criminals from the country? As Charlie Whitaker muses:
When we say that we don’t have confidence in the continuance of the rule of law and fundamental rights such as the presumption of innocence, can you see where we’re coming from?
Clarke's complete removal from anything approaching reality is summed up in this paragraph
Don't let us confuse the presumption of innocence with the urgent need to prevent acts ranging from antisocial behaviour to terrorism. Ordinary people also have the right to be protected. [my emphasis]*
I think this just about sums up the government attitude: as long as you are agnostic or Christian, pay your taxes, don't spit on pavements, don't heckle the Foreign Secretary or have never wanted to bring down the government (even non-violently) then you're fine.

If you are Muslim, disagree vocally about the way the government is running this country (and others), have any pretensions to creativity which threaten the government's primacy then you will be mugged, gagged or detained until you have learned your lesson.

This is a government so obsessed with control that it cannot allow its cossetted core voters to be exposed to anti-government propoganda or events that are simply unfortunate. Of course security is important, but there is a firm line between security and impinging on personal freedoms. Distressingly, it is a line the government is all too ready to cross.

*interestingly the version on the home office website does not include this sentence and the independent has not released the full letter - obviously some heavy editing from one or both parties. The Indepdent at least makes this clear, the home office does not.

UPDATE: And look what turns up in the Guardian today! Clarke accuses the media is being 'simplistic wilfully misleading'. The world is changing Charles, there are independent bloggers now who read your legislation and your quotes and, guess what, we're coming to roughly the same opinion as the mainstream media. Is this an anti-government conspiracy from the people, or an anti-people conspiracy from the government?

Monday, April 24, 2006

"You have to take it on the chin, like my chin..."

Fighting talk from Martin Jol after Saturday's bust up with Wenger:
“What happened was a bit disappointing because he called me a liar and that was a bit strange,” Jol said. “You have to take it on the chin, like my chin. And people don’t know how strong I am, otherwise they wouldn’t approach me with head-butts and everything.

“I haven’t seen Wenger since the game and I think managers should not be acting like this. I’ve not had a drink with him and don’t know if I will. I hate it when I’m right and I give somebody a handshake and he does this (gesturing walking away). I did well because I held myself back and I really don’t think he knows how strong I am.”

Taking the moral high ground, sounding rock hard AND making Wenger look stupid puts Jol in pole as my Dutchman of the year.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Fluffy Beats the Economist!

Just try googling 'freespeech' and 'economist'. So what if it's a typo, this is a major achievement!

Innocent until...oh sorry, just guilty

And so it was that a leader of 'steely integrity and subtle discernment' became an outright demagogue:

'I would widen the police powers to seize the cash of suspected drug dealers, the cars they drive round in... I would impose restrictions on those suspected of being involved in organised crime. In fact I would generally harry, hassle and hound them until they give up or leave the country.'

Hooray! Yet more powers to the police. Another eye-gouge for the due process of law and a veritable castration for the notion of innocent until proven guilty. Perhaps more depressing was my own apathetic greeting to the news. These incursions on our liberties risk becoming so much background noise, Blair/Clarke issue a decree, Shami Chakribarti pipes up, the same old bloggers get in fits (with, I might add, not a small amount of eloquence).

It is most pleasing, therefore that the Tories are getting their act together by creating Conservative Liberty Forum. The more civil liberties become an election issue, the greater our ability to give Blair a bloody nose - even if it's only by consigning him to the history books as 'the man who sunk labour'. It will, of course do nothing to damage his speaker's fees.

UPDATE: For those who need a spoonful of vitriol with their politics, go to the Fiskmaster General for a whole shovelload!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

My most related blog

I've recently been using blogflux, a relatively new service designed to get make blogging easier. However, their related blogs page still has some way to go, as you will see below

A good example is Citizen Phil - top o' the table
"... the Pentagon and the Administration have long argued that terrorists and enemy combatants should not be funneled through our normal criminal court system. And here we have the perfect case in point, why the court system is the absolute wrong place to resolve these issues"
That case being Zacarias Massouai, and how the judge is considering whether to declare a mistrial or drop the death penalty option, after it was discovered several witnesses hhas been coached. This doesn't wash with Phil:
"These people are mortal enemies of the United States of America, her people, her government, her way of life. They do not belong in her judicial system, where civil and criminal laws are adjudicated for U.S. citizens."
It's a shame they never adjuducated you, Phil.

"There is far too much at stake, to allow the whims of Judges to affect the outcome of these cases...This is the war on terror and when you fight a war, you kill your enemy. Judges in our court system are not war fighting machines. They do not kill people in defense of our very country, and are not equipped to deal as harshly and mercilessly as is required in such circumstances."
The whims of the government and intelligence services being much more reassuring. I'm sure we'll hear a lot more from Phil in weeks to come.

Monday, April 17, 2006

This post starts in London and ends with Armageddon

Here's a thoughtful and well-researched article by James Meek on the habits of London's super-rich, who have been enjoying something of a purple patch in recent years. In it we learn that 0.3% of Britain's population own almost half the country's liquid assets and that this group is, on average, 66% richer than it was five years ago. Meanwhile 30% of the country do not possess any liquid assets at all. Meek, incidentally, is also author of The People's Act of Love - an entrancing novel on the Russian revolution, which I wholeheartedly recommend.

London is chosen as a base for its pre-eminence in topend financial and legal services; something of a competitive advantage we should exploit, many would argue. This attitude is based on the idea that it's better here than over there and let's take what we can in the process.

There are no billionaires sitting in a room staring at their wealth stacked, liquid, in bundles of dollars around them. The bulk of their wealth is always in motion, breathing, expanding and contracting. Only by the sparkly feathers that flutter to the forest floor, the golden spoor on the trail and the remnants of its prey can you tell that there was a billion and that it passed this way.

The billions never stand still for long. Those who hope to catch a piece of them as they race by have to be adept at slicing bits off them as they pass, or by helping them to pause and feed, or by providing a nice rough bit of bark for them to scratch on. And London is very good at that.

But what of the institutions needed to service the needs of the rich? Surely it's a fine hope that they are compatible with an equitable outcome for the poorest? Apparently not.
...the direst Marxist predictions of the consequences of rampant capitalism have not come about - inequality, says Hamnett, isn't the same as polarisation. There aren't more poor Londoners now than there were 30 years ago; but most Londoners are poorer relative to the very richest residents.
With an increase of fortunes on this scale - that 0.3% average £76m each in liquid assets - inequality indeed becomes something of an irrelevance. What matters is that the welath is trickling down, not sloshing around the stratosphere It would be interesting to delve deeper and look at how wealth accumulation has changed for the broader population - if for instance the assets of the poorest 10% have increased substantially in real terms over the last decade. I imagine that house price rises would not have benefited this group, nor would the one million employed in money managemnet be belong to this group. One would imagine the provision of luxury services raises employment the chains of causality from hereon become so complicated as to escape any empirical analysis, and the debate becomes one of conjecture.

The other question is how much do the Mittals and Abramoviches actually shape institutions to their own advantage, and the impoverishment of others. Are they gusting by with their billions without effect or is Britain, kowtowing for fear of losing what little it can take, evading its opportunity for an equitable society?

A question of more far-reaching implication is whether Britain, by dedicating swathes of its expertise to increasing the stock of the mega-rich, is helping to entrench current international structures which leave the majority of the world impoverished.

There is a transition in financial instruments which may be encouraging. The market for hedge funds has become so saturated that many are moving now into private equity deals - many of which are in the third world. If a large number of these are used to establish new businesses, then jobs increase, helping some to work thmeselves out of poverty. However, the nature of private equity is that it is efficiency obsessed Takeovers with the aim of increasing margins will have little regard for the consequences of their actions and governments, with far less power than Britain, will be even more reluctant to scare off such investment.

For those who believe market efficiency is an unqualified good, this does not seem such bad news. The consequences for social welfare, however, could be dire. Religious extremism, French protests, rural protests in China and fascism - such separately complex phenomena but all, I believe, explained by society's reaction to the marginalising effect of market reform. A world economy governed by the whims of private equity would be one so disassociated from social need as to cause unparalled damage to the world's most vulnerable. If Europe's correction was World War II (the lessons of which have been forgotten in our Washington Consensus world), the consequences of another correction, this time on a far larger scale, would dwarf anything expewrienced by humanity before. Our post-Thatcherite consensus could do with a little correction of itself to ensure this does not happen.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Rumsfeld torturer?

My brain is fried from having done too many matrix inversions today. However, this deserves a mention. Rumsfeld has been accused of being "personally involved" in Guantanamo interrogations which Human Rights Watch claim carried out practices that "amounted to torture".

How bad are the allegations? The 'personal involvement' bit includes monitoring the interrogations of Mohamed al-Qahtani by phone, and being in contact weekly with Major General Miller, the commander of Camp Delta in 2002. Rumsfeld has not been accused of ordering the more "creative" methods - such as ordering al-Qahtani to wear a bra on his head and to wear a dog's leash - but it seems his policies did little to discourage such treatment.

Will any of this shit stick? It's unlikely. Guantanamo's existence should be reason enough for Rumsfeld's sacking, and it's improbable this evidence will do much more to damage him. However, one can never anticipate the propensity for an issue to snowball, especially with hackles raised over the Libby situation. At the very least it shows just how close Rumsfeld is to these barbaric acts, and should give more reason to the yanks to oust deny Republican candidate in whise administration Cheney and Rumsfeld will no doubt be involved.

Like Libby, however, the situation extends beyond political prospects of the accused. As Human Rights Watch points "The question at this point is not whether Secretary Rumsfeld should resign, it’s whether he should be indicted." Here's hoping.


Monday, April 10, 2006

A problem of Economics

Out of all my previous posts, this one still rankles the most. Glancing over the comments there can be no clearer case that economics needs to get fluffier and it needs to do so now.

The post set out my reasons why free trade and unbridled foreign intervention might not always be a good thing. The main reason for this is that companies may use their power to manipulate legislation for their own ends but to the detriment of the wider populace (the fate of Sao Tome provides a salient example). Those opposed got on their high horses about how my example contained a fatal error: I had messed up my criteria of national income accounting.

Can there be a stronger example of how many economists are barking up a bloated,
pussy and very wrong tree? A point is made which affects the very lives and welfare of millions and the only thing to point out is that I've messed up my national...income...accounting.

When I started this blog, it was as a crusade against this abstract economics that prizes market efficiency over an economy that provides for real human need. This was clearly wrong. The economics of the mainstream will never be set right until pig headed morons who blindly follow its doctrine realise just how damaging it is. National income accounting is an artificial construct, at best an indicator, not of human welfare, but of aggregate amount of cash flowing through an economy over a period of time. That its calculation has become a measure of human achievement is a thought so depressing as to crush any who stop to think about it long enough.

The wallpaper which the men of science have covered the world of reality is falling to tatters. The grand whorehouse which they have made of life requires no decoration; it is essential only that the drains function properly. (q*)

*The whole Tropic of Cancer online! WTF???!!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Scoot's shot at Dubya

So the Libby case hots up!

Our old friend Scoot has been quoted in court papers as saying that Bush ordered him to out the CIA agent Valerie Plame. The tactics from the Bush camp, however, are extremely. Far from the usual denial, they've all but admitted that the command to grass came from the top and have set about defending the decision, arguing that the leak was "in the public interest" and the prez can declassify what he wants.

It's a pretty bold line, but rather flimsy. Firstly why has it taken this long to come up with the declassification excuse and leave everyone with the misapprehension that Libby was in the wrong all this time. Secondly, the only public this leak served was a very small one around the White House.

This administration has baffled, bemused and stunned its opponents by using the seemingly most naive of tactics to wrongfoot their opponents. It will therefore be fascinating to see how this one turns out. It seems likely that Bush, who'll be out of the picture in a couple of years, may have been sacrificed to protects the long-term interests of Cheney. While embarassing, circumstances are far from warranting an impeachment (as some suggest), so why not let Bush take the bullet and Cheney march on unbowed, or at least unbeheaded?
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