Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Religion of Bullshit?

Religion isn't this passage or that passage it is the followers of the faith and what they do with it!
So that includes the nut jobs and extremists?
No, they aren't true followers of the faith. 
So a religion is not the bad parts of its scripture, or the interpretations you don't like?

Is Islam a religion of peace? Is the BNP manifesto a firm basis for a progressive society? Most sane people wouldn't have a problem with answering in the negative for the second question, but for the first, when you include this component known as religion, sane people, well, stop being sane. 
I've always felt that if a timeless, universal God wanted to give out a message of peace and love he could have just made it plain and obvious what he meant, instead of giving out passages like: '' But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)'', only to 'contextualise' them in some form or another later on. It didn't seem to bother him that this would mean that huge numbers of his followers would actually misinterpret his teaching, and do the complete opposite. Context, never has a word been so manipulated and abused than by the pious amongst us.
The good and the bad, or neither.

I often wonder how a Muslim would react if a BNP supporter argued with them, 'but our party is a party of peace!'
But what about this section, that seems a bit discriminatory?
No! You are just picking and choosing the worst parts to suit your agenda! You've taken that out of context etc. etc.
The Muslim would probably quite reasonably reply, if referring to a speech the leader of this party gave some years ago saying he was striving to make Britain all white again for example, that there was no way that any context could justify those statements, unless it was the sentence preceding it that said, the following is bullshit, don't abide by it.

So as an atheist myself when I hear a Muslim trying to justify the following: ''Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued'', frankly I don't care what imaginary or other context he is going to bring up, I'm not impressed.

Harmless Nutter?
So if it is not the religion that is causing people to murder those who disagree with them, or fly planes into towers etc. then what is to blame exactly? The people's stupidity? Well ignoring the fact that if Islam were true then Allah would have given these followers their faculties and is presumably therefore responsible for when they don't perform, can no blame be put on these violent passages, surely it would have made more sense not to include them at all? Even if it is plain stupidity causing this, that isn't enough by itself as something has to inspire it. Before people rush to disagree with this, consider if instead a hateful BNP pamphlet had not directly incited murder but was a bit too unpleasant and inspired someone who read it afterwards to murder someone. Or the recent case of  Byron Williams who conspired to commit mass murder after listening to the lunatic ravings of Glenn Beck? Bear in mind I'm not calling for the Qu'ran or these works to be banned, merely for us not to label them as peaceful and hold them accountable for the affects they have.

The thing that brought my attention to this issue was a recent debate from Intelligence Squared involving my favourite local Neocon Douglas Murray, and the way the debate went. At one point, essentially, one side read out some peaceful verses and the other read out some not so peaceful. For some reason those that were supporting the motion were quite happy to put down the other side for 'telling them what their religion or a certain passage in their religion meant', while apparently not seeing the hypocrisy that they were doing exactly the same by asserting that Islam was a religion of their interpretation (in this case peace). It's pretty simple, when there is no uniform entity in the thing we call Islam you can either refer to the teachings themselves or refer to all forms of interpretation that have resulted from them whether you like some of those manifestations or not. In other words, to be intellectually honest you would have to call Islam, a religion of interpretation. Or unlike the trend of many left-leaning atheists, why not just be frank and call it a religion like all religions, a religion of bullshit?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Mooney, Mooney....

This is an entry I feel slightly uneasy writing. As much I love watching and talking about football, I absolutely hate what the modern game has become today. Conservatives and Liberals often argue about where the boundary should be drawn between nationalisation and commercialisation, and I think that football is one of those industries that should have been kept squarely away from deregulation. Despite these feelings however, I find that football and footballers themselves are always held up to a bizarre standard that isn't applied to any other section of society. This is an article therefore that is actually going to defend the so-called mercenaries of football, most recently highlighted by Wayne Rooney's decision to hold his club Manchester United hostage, seemingly only to receive a larger pay packet.

Having made my feelings clear on what I believe is wrong with football today, we are where we are. Why is it that when a solicitor or a doctor, has successfully risen up the career ladder and 'made something of themselves', by earning a large salary increase or moving to a bigger firm they are lauded by their friends everywhere and are apparently what most people attempt to emulate. It always seemed pretty clear to me from my middle-class upbringing that when parents and friends of parents said to their children 'one day you'll make me proud' it never meant, I hope one day you find what you truly love and enjoy yourself, it meant however it was phrased, I hope you grow up and make a lot of money as that is the barometer we judge a person by when we call them 'successful'. Yet bizzarely when a footballer moves to a different club, most famously in the case of Ashley Cole for money, he is labelled a mercenary. Is it not true that whether Cole had stayed at Arsenal or moved to Chelsea his job description would have been the same, playing with 10 other players on a footall pitch and attempting to win games? Is there some compelling evidence that he is more likely to have got on better with his Arsenal teamates than his new ones at Chelsea? In other words what is the difference between his two situations only that in the second one he earns a higher salary? Wouldn't all of us do that? Don't we all do that on a day to day basis. When a different firm offers you a larger salary do you stop to wonder if your manager might be upset if you left? One of the accusations often levelled at footballers like Rooney, who essentially publicly manufactured a false sense of scarcity to raise his perceived value to Manchester United who promptly offered him a higher salary as a result, is that they are selfish. But does Alex Ferguson go around helping all 18 year olds he can find from Liverpool, or only those that are there to do a job for him? Arsenal did not hang on to Cole as they were developing him as a favour to him, they were doing it to help themselves and there are plenty of other players that they have let go of without a moment's consideration for the players interests and the same applies to Alex Ferguson.

Whether or not football should have been opened up to the free market or not, a lot of the general public seem to be in denial about what a free agent in the rest of private sector actually entails. For example a lot of people during the Rooney saga insisted that he did not have to bring the situation about himself in such a public manner, but by doing so Rooney increased has salary by an estimated £50,000 a week. Peolpe that say he shouldn't have done it, are essentially asking someone else to forgo £50,000 a week instead of briefly upsetting a club that is itself there for profit, and wouldn't have pumped that money if retained back in to the community but merely pocketed the cash. These are absurdly unreasonable standards that I don't think anyone in the real world would do themselves if given the opportunity, even if it was the allegedly small amout that Cole left for of £5,000 extra a week.

Members of the public often seem to only apply this higher sense of moral standing at selective moments. If the public is right that money should not be a primary motive and that there are other more important things in life, than actually surely a footballers life must be fairly empty and difficult and worthy of sympathy. I'm sure most people would not enjoy travelling a lot, being away from the family, constantly being satirised and picked on in the media, never allowed a moment of privacy etc. and yet whenever any of these hardhsips are brought up they are sneered at, and the footballers described as pampered and their wage packets referred to, essentially contradicting the idea presumably that money doesn't buy happiness. Take the case of Carlos Tevez a man who seemingly embodies some of these morals that footballers are accused of lacking. Tevez has often made it clear that he is thinking of retiring from football because he does not like being away from his family amongst other things and is therefore willing to forgo a few extra years earning millions of pounds for his work. Instead of fans congratulating him on getting his priorities straight, he's derided as someone that is pampered and he should try working in a factory for little money, as if that will somehow mean that only then is he allowed to be a family man. The irony of course is that while calling these players selfish, the fans only care about themselves and their entertainment as they want the best players at their club and they don't care about what sacrifices might be made for that to happen.

Football, definitely should not have been left unregulated, but while it is, members of the public need to accept that from the players to the managers to the clubs themselves, everything is about profit maximisation in a way that is no different from how they themselves behave when earning their wage in the free market. Instead of only bringing up this notion of soulessness and materialism when it affects them and their football club, it would be much be more commendable if the general public applied the same standards towards unchecked capitalism to wider society and thought less about how much money a footballer should be forgoing a week for their pleasure on a saturday, but how much they could be forgoing by donating to a local charity or taking the profit motive out of other more important aspects of society. Until then I find it hard to deride a player doing what anyone else would in his situation.

Monday, 25 October 2010

In Defence of Elitism

If I needed to go to hospital for an important surgery I would want the most elite, and the most qualified surgeon to operate on me. If I had a problem with one of the tyres on my car, had I opted for someone that was more in touch with the common man instead of someone actually qualified I would not have done the right thing as I swerved off the edge of a cliff grinning stupidly knowing I'd 'stuck it to the man' I would be an idiot, and a soon to be very injured or dead idiot. When it comes to the most important job of all, that of running the country where literally millions of lives are depending on well informed, intelligent decisions and the people in charge have their hands on the nuclear codes I similarly want the best people for the job.

The charge I seem to hear a lot when looking over the pond in relation to Sarah Palin from the American right is one of 'elitism' by a liberal clique. How do I as an Atlanticist, Liberal Bashing, Neocon, Special Relationship spouting, American apologist react to this charge as someone who could loosely be said to agree with Palin on most of the important issues as an outsider? I think the so-called clique needs to be about a thousand times more elitist and utterly eradicate the perceived defensibility of the notion that this woman is a viable Presidential candidate. What is described as elitism (grilling Palin on her knowledge and understanding of basic aspects of government), is essential to discovering whether or not someone is worthy of office. It is hard to imagine Margaret Tatcher baulking at the prospect of being asked what the Bush Doctrine is or on basic queries to do with the economy and then turing around and playing the victim card. No longer could I as a defender of the American right from a broadly Anti-American base in Europe, harbour the notion that right-wingers are any less prone to stupidity and bias having seen so many people I respect defend this imbecile. I have watched with amusement as Fox News has moved from a starting base of, 'oh no she is really qualified' to 'forget the elite snobs, she may not have everything but she is a woman of the people'. It seems silly to list any of the damning incidents to do with Palin (brought on by herself, not by any clique) as no well informed person could have missed these by now, and as such no reasonable person can argue that Sarah Palin (without addressing her intelligence) was remotely qualified or knowledgable enough to be the Vice President at the last election. And to try and paper over these deficiencies with the stupid line that she represents the people is frighteningly reckless. Just as not anyone can be a surgeon or a nuclear physcist, governing is equally a difficult task with a specific set of skills that not everyone can do and as such requires an elite.
Andrew Sullivan: Not blinded by partisanship.

Sarah Palin's so called grass-roots appeal will count for nothing when the American economy is tanking and she doesn't know what to do with it, or when she blows Ohio off the face of the map when she accidentally sets of a nuke while looking for her lipstick. As an outsider it is hard to get a grip on how many supporters of the GOP would seriously consider voting for this woman, but I seriously hope that more Republican and Conservative voices like David Frum and Andrew Sullivan will come out and put this woman to the real test that she needs before it is too late.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Cuts and Heuristics

Before I start I have a question for the reader which I shall come back to later. If you are British, what do you think of the cuts currently being undertaken by the Coalition government, and do you think they will work? Think of your answer, and hold on to it.

When across the country people get together in pubs and living rooms to discuss the various topics affecting them, such as for example the subject of a new Tesco superstore opening nearby and the affects it will have on their village, is it likely or even expected that when discussing this topic, general members of the public will have read Rousseau's 'The Social Contract' to consider the relationship between the individual and the state, before studying Adam Smith's work on 'The Wealth of Nations' to understand the rise and nature of free market capitalism and the concept of the invisble hand as a backdrop to inform their conclusions on the tender balance between state intervention and the rampant free market? Probably not. It is understood that public opinion is at no time fully informed, fair or carefully considered on any topic, but on the topic of fiscal expenditure against a backdop of international financial markets, coupled with the dilemma of understanding the Banking Crisis and how it specifically affects Britain all common sense and hesistation is thrown completely out of the window.

A suitable comparison I've always thought of is as follows; a Physics student is sitting in a library trying to comprehend an article by Stephen Hawking on black holes, when a friend comes up and asks what he is doing. The student explains brielfy to his friend who is not a student of any kind, who in response raises his eyebrow at the complicated nature of the question the student is trying to solve and says he cannot help as he doesn't know a thing about it. On a table adjacent to this boy however, is a Politics student who has spent hours and hours going over complicated articles on the intricacies of welfare reform both those rooted in the theory and the ideology of welfare, and those based on pragmatism and what works best. The same friend goes up to him and asks what he is doing, upon hearing that it is on the topic of welfare, the boy goes into a pre-programmed diatribe about how the scroungers of Britain are bankrupting the country, or alternatively that the ghost of Thatcher is back and the Conservatives are trying to cleanse all of the poor from society depending on his particular bias. On any topic at all people talk a lot of nonsense but nowhere is this worse than on the topic of politics, where an ignorance of the topic discussed isn't so much a handicap but a prequisite for day to day discourse.

There are many things that strike me about the current debate on the cuts currently taking place. Most  people seem to be caught between a fairly extreme dichotomy where the Labour party are either the saints that selflessly took from the rich and gave to the poor or those that took us to the brink of annihilation, and simlarly the Conservatives are either looking forward to winter when many of those affected by their cuts will freeze to death or are saving the country from the black hole of the past government's debt. Has it not occurred to people that they might both be well intentioned, or both equally reckless?

Whatever one's political affiliations, all policies have a limit. While I support some form of a welfare state, welfare that is spent on borrowing is unsustainable. Firstly, because welfare based on borrowing isn't welfare at all, it is theft, from those later generations that will have to pay it back, and the fact that it has to be paid back means that it is short-lived and can't go on forever. Even if one considers the Labour party as the lesser of two (or more) evils, there is no question that it was outrageously irresponsible in regards to its spending (well before the Banking Crisis) which would have had to have been stopped at some point regardless of mitigating factors. At the same time just because it is agreed that cuts have to be made, many more disagreements can arise over where those cuts come from and how much should be taken, and hence it is still possible to believe cuts are necessary and dislike the specifics of the coalition's current policy. It is perfectly reasonable to be suspicious over which areas the Conservatives have decided to cut, but that is no excuse to jump back into the pockets over those who put us in this mess. There needs to be a middle ground. The Labour party has had the luxury of benefiting politically from all of its spending while at the same time shifting the political capital to the Conservatives for the consequences of that borrowing. What's more as they are now in opposition they are able to oppose the cuts without actually articulating any of their own alternatives.

Yes this woman is actually using Greece to suppot spending through borrowing.

This brings me to my point on how we as members of the public should judge the cuts. I refer back to the question I asked on the cuts previously. Did you give a positive answer, or a negative? In other words did you give any answer other than I really have no idea. If you didn't say that, do you know what PPF stands for, or what the Modern Portfolio Theory is? What do you think of Friedman's reinterpretation of the Keynesian consumption function in the 1950s? If you don't know the answer to these questions then I am impressed that you could address such a complicated topic, while knowing so little about it. Especially because those people who do know what those terms mean and are educated in these topics can't agree on a damn thing themselves either. Of course we all have our own opinion on the role of state intervention and how much people should rely on themselves or the state and through these we have our own inclinations, but on the hard-line topics of one fiscal policy against another I'm going to present an alternative to the mainstream partisan voices we hear from the Question Time audiences:

We don't know. It isn't as sexy, and won't get you as much loud and vociferous applause as a boneheaded laconic statement treating the issue as if it was obviously black and white, but at least it's intellectually honest. I leave the reader here with the best critique of the Coalition's economic policy I've seen yet, from Niall Ferguson. Niall is an Empire excusing, Free-Market lover who should be inclined you would think to slavishly support the Coalition's cuts. Instead he gives some cautionary indicators and concludes that no-one can know and the best thing to do is wait and see.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Lazy, Drunk and Irresponsible Backbone of the Economy

Having just watched the latest Question Time on BBC iPlayer, I came across a concept that I have started to hear a lot since the start of the coalition, that of the betrayed student Lib-Dem Voter.

The average student in this profile is portrayed as the following; when they aren't squeezing out spare time from their long hours at the library to help under-priveleged children and saving money for charitable donations instead of wasting it on alcohol, they are faced with a new burden to shoulder comparable to the recent miners ordeal in Chile, and that is overcoming the ultimate betrayal from the Lib Dems who recently came into power. This betrayal involves the party scrapping their plan to abolish student fees for University. The scandal is worsened when we are reminded that these students are the backbone of the economy, without which we would be in big trouble.

This idea embodies two naive assumptions. First of all it is to assume that any concession made by a party that received under 75% of the vote and entered into a coalition with a party that received a far larger share of public backing are not necessary compromises that are to be expected when you enter into coalition (especially as the junior partner), but instead are the ultimate acts of betrayal comparable to Judas. It's pretty simple, either you receive a clear majority of the vote and get to put your entire manifesto to action, or you enter a compromise to put some of them into fruition (or in most cases whatever your vote, put none of it into action).
Charles Kennedy. Worse than Judas.

The second assumption is that the majority of students that have been brought up under New Labour's years of excess that voted for the Liberal Democrats are hard workers with a deep concern for their ability to contribute to society. The truth is a little different. New Labour rightly believed that it was unfair that the elite of society should be based on privelege, but instead made the mistake of thinking the solution was not to increase accessibility to that elite, but to dissolve that elite, and thus devalue the very thing that they were providing access to. That elite core still exists in our vastly inflated student body and still works very hard, but simply isn't too concerned about paying back their debts, partly because they will actually go on to get degrees and jobs that justify them, but also thanks to New Labour's policy, they now need to get a second degree to distinguish themselves from the thousands of others with degrees, which no loan is available for, which naturally pools the elite again from the wealthy in society that can afford to fund it themselves and so don't worry about debt.

While no generalisation can be 100% accurate, what is left around that core, amassed from a system of easily acquired loans, and 'all must have prizes' culture is a generation of students who go to University, not for their degree but as the next step on the academic conveyor belt they started at the age of 5, under the category called 'life experience' which involves blowing most of their loan on alcohol and worst of all entails the arrogant expectation that someone else should pay for this waste of time. In order to accommodate this large increase in demand new Universities and new courses have been created (but no new jobs), producing sub-standard degrees for an increasingly sub-standard student body. In the job market, demand produces supply, yet regardless Labour recklessly added a huge quantity of supply while the demand remained the same, meaning we are now in a situation whereby in the UK alone we produce more students with photography degrees than there are photography jobs available in the entirety of Europe, and those with degrees of any worth need to be bought once by the state then again by their parents. No wonder recent surveys have shown social mobility to have fallen in Britain.

The Backbone of the Economy
There is no question that we have moved on from the Industrial Revolution and University education is essential to compete in todays global economy, and that there is still a huge number of hard-working committed students who are going to University for the right reasons. But to keep suggesting that the majority of the student body, the huge number of lazy, drunk and irresponsible, debt riddled graduates are contributing rather than draining the British economy and further, that they have been betrayed by not having their debauchery paid through the taxes of people that actually are working hard, is offensively out of touch with reality.