Polonius

To thine own self be true

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Religion brings out the worst in people

Posted by Polonius on 10 May, 2010

A few nasty little individuals are gloating over Evan Harris’s election defeat. They’re afraid of science, afraid of anything that puts reason and evidence before a Bronze Age creation myth. It was ever thus, and they’re not even ashamed of it. Not far from here, in Glasgow, there’s actually a school named after the inquisitor who prosecuted Galileo. I struggle to understand the celebration of wilful ignorance. I’ve read Dennett, am reading Boyer and have Atran to look forward to; I’m sure there are sound evolutionary reasons for this stupid behaviour, but it’s still stupid. Dunning-Kruger effect, perhaps?

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Realisation dawns on an idiot

Posted by Polonius on 13 June, 2009

The absurd Hazel Blears regrets her resignation. Of course she does! She was in the Cabinet, thanks to the lunatic Blair. Her resignation is the best thing that could have happened to Brown. The only mystery is why he didn’t get shot of her sooner.

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What is Gordon Brown’s guilty secret?

Posted by Polonius on 17 April, 2009

Obviously Tony Blair was an unprincipled spin-doctor. He decided that the only way he could win an election was by turning Labour into a clone of the Conservatives. The plan worked and the key Daily Mail¬†demographic fell for the same “something for nothing” drivel the Tories had been feeding them for decades. When Gordon Brown came along, he appeared less smarmy, and therefore more honest. But what’s happened since? He brought Mandelson back from the dead, with a seat in the Lords to boot, and now sits idly by while his Home Secretary makes Blunkett look competent by comparison. It seems Jacqui and Mandy have something on him, to make him do their bidding.

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It’s a funny New World

Posted by Polonius on 5 November, 2008

From a UK perspective, Americans are a funny lot. They certainly appear more patriotic than we do, which can be a bad thing, but strengthens their economy and who can blame them for that? I was, until a few moments ago, under the impression that they were more interested in politics than we are, until I checked out Wikipedia on voter turnout – 54% to our 76%!

I thought the Democrats had made a tactical error in choosing Obama. From my own very limited empirical evidence, I fear racism is rife in the US. I don’t speak to many Americans in the average month, but I am disgusted at how many of them feel it necessary to volunteer their appalling views to relative strangers. And I suspect most of the racists are Republicans. So I felt that Obama could win the primaries battle, but lose the election war; that his candidacy would bring out the racists among the Republicans, who simply wouldn’t bother to vote against Clinton. Is tactical racism excusable? The pragmatist in me felt that choosing a candidate to take account of the opposition’s prejudices is unpleasant, but a necessary evil. I was wrong, and it wasn’t necessary.

American election candidates often fight dirty, but even by US standards, Elizabeth Dole is pond-scum. Perhaps the saddest aspect of that incident is the possibility that it might have worked; the idea that Godless Americans are a bad thing. Would you rather have elected representatives who made decisions on the basis of evidence, or ones who believed that the voices in their heads came from the creator of the universe, who takes an active interest in events on this insignificant little planet? The tragedy of US democracy is that the majority of Americans are irrational. The wonder of US democracy is that the framers of the Constitution took great care to limit the power of religious fantasy.

Update: Forgot to mention – it’s a shock to learn that you’re older than POTUS!

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Religion in politics

Posted by Polonius on 30 December, 2007

Religion in UK politics has been much in the news lately with Blair’s Damascene conversion to Catholicism, and Nick Clegg’s revelation that he doesn’t believe in Santa Claus’s grumpy brother. UK politics is a little healthier than the US version in this regard, but it’s still disappointing that Clegg felt obliged to wait until he was elected party leader before coming out with this. Then again, as long as he didn’t lie about it beforehand, if no interviewer ever asked him the question, that’s not his fault.

Of course, no rational person believes that Bliar has really changed. He’s been lying about this at least since 2004. And that’s the important thing. Belief in fairies isn’t unforgivable in a politician, but lying about it is. I may be naive, but I think there is a peculiarly British tradition of honesty, of compliance with both the letter and the spirit of the law. This places us at a significant disadvantage in international trade when UK law is at odds with the practices and traditions of our international customers.

There are sound pragmatic reasons for lawyers to take a more professional, even cynical, view of the law. It is appropriate that they should strive to fight their clients’ cases, employing every trick they can (within the law). But when lawyers become politicians, it demeans the entire establishment when they try to play the system. Sometimes they get away with it: Bill Clinton’s reputation seems to have survived his bizarre testimony to the grand jury. Sometimes, they come across as very silly indeed, like the absurd arch-hypocrite Jonathan Aitken.

There is a long tradition of religion in the military. There are a couple of reasons for this. One fairly obvious one is that it’s relatively easy to recruit someone to risk death in the course of their employment if they don’t believe death is final. Another more subtle one goes back at least as far as Clausewitz, if not the more cryptic allegory of Sun Tzu. Military commanders must be prepared to make decisions and stand by them. When those decisions are based on incomplete data, they may turn out to be right or wrong. Dithering is always wrong. Military commanders must have the self-confidence, even arrogance, to stand by their decisions. Sometimes that self-confidence is boosted by prayer.

Politicians, like military commanders, make important decisions. Like military commanders, they operate on less than perfect situational awareness. Unlike military commanders, they often have days or months to make their decisions. While in principle senior military commanders have access to advice collated by senior analysts informed by hundreds of specialist experts, in practice time constraints rarely allow them this luxury routinely enjoyed by politicians.

We may pragmatically accept that military commanders often need mythological support when they act on our behalf. It is dangerous, but danger is inescapable in split-second life-or-death decisions. When politicians rely on supernatural guidance to inform decisions that they, and their army of civil servants, have had months to consider, those politicians present a danger that we could well afford to do without.

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Diplomatic relations

Posted by Polonius on 21 September, 2007

Mattel has admitted that “flaws in its own designs were responsible for high levels of lead paint” in toys made in China. Do they seriously expect anybody to believe that those toys were designed to have levels of lead paint that are illegal in the US, the UK, Ireland and other countries? Doubtless those in the US responsible for the design will soon be in court.

Bollocks! Nobody believes that. It might just stand as a defence in a criminal trial but, as OJ Simpson, Bill Clinton and Rodney King’s assailants discovered, lies that might withstand refutation “beyond reasonable doubt”, don’t always stand up in a civil court, with a more equitable threshold of proof. It seems unlikely that anyone will be taking Mattel to court over this one, but it would be amusing to see.

Sadly, Mattel seem to feel obliged to grovel to their Chinese suppliers in much the same way that the UK government kowtowed to the Saudi government over the Al Yamamah deal. Much to the embarrassment of the UK government, that one just won’t go away.

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Last week’s opinion

Posted by Polonius on 27 November, 2006

I’ve only just come across this piece by Simon Jenkins in the Grauniad last week. What’s perhaps more remarkable than the article itself is the enormous number of, and near unanimity among, the comments that follow it.

It’s worth mentioning that I was pointed towards the article by Rachel from north London, who writes some good stuff herself.

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US and us

Posted by Polonius on 7 November, 2006

I’ve been following the build-up to the US mid-term elections on various blogs and it’s fascinating how different politics there is from the UK variety. I’ve long known that US politics was quite vicious, but I never really understood how the personal attacks related to policies. In recent years, Labour and Conservative politicians have tried to lower the quality of debate to US levels, but they’ve missed an important factor. In the US, there are policy differences between the two major parties; since Blair turned the Tony party into a clone of the Tory party, all they’ve got to argue about is personalities.

The other thing I didn’t understand about US politics was the importance of religion. In the UK, the influence of religion is more subtle, more insidious. I was surprised to learn that a really significant proportion of Americans actually believe the Old Testament creation story; in the UK, that would count as the lunatic fringe. Obviously I’d heard the term “religious right”, but I had no idea there was such an alignment between the Republican party and these religious nuts.

Knowing what I now know, the story of Ted Haggard is even funnier.

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