Monday, May 29, 2006

I'm a ....

Rational*, Liberal**, Middle of the Road/It Depends-type Managerio-Democrat***, Individualist***, Hayekian****, mildly Progressive***, Federalist***, Egoistical****** Cosmo-Nationalist***

What are you?

* God help us if we can't resolve political disputes by reason. If we assume - as Subjectivists must - that everything is a battle of wills, we are only a short step away from the use of force to resolve disputes. Not nice.

** See above. Freedom of Speech and Association render redundant the need for violent revolution to achieve your aims. Assuming of course, that you are Rational. I think this is key: if Radicals really did have a good case they should be able to convince sufficient people to their cause to vote them into office and achieve their aims. Resorting to violent revolution in a free democracy is an admission of lack of popular support. If true freedom of speech and association do not pertain, then violent revolution might well be needed to throw out the totalitarian government, but in that case, liberals would/could not achieve anything anyway, in which case the question is irrelevant.

*** errr.... I think. Both systems have their downsides. The answer is to ensure that government power is as limited as possible. But then I would say because I'm a ....

**** ....Hayekian

Basically, if you really are a Hayekian, then your choice of many of the other axes is pre-determined:
Individualist vs Communitarian: It is basically impossible to hold communitarianism without totalitarian state control. Not very Hayekian.
Managerialist vs Democrat: Limit government power and this becomes less important.
Progressive vs Burkean: The less government can stifle individual initiative, the more individuals can control their own lives and make their own decisions. The more individual action there is, the more you will have experimentation. It's just that the experimentation won't be so overtly political. In short, I struggle to see how a Hayekian could be Burkean.
Universalist vs Federalist: Devolve power to the lowest level possible. Let people make their own decisions as to how they want to run their lives and Coase will sort out the rest.
Cosmopolitan vs Nationalist: Until we are all Hayekian, Cosmopolitanism is not really going to work. As long as the state is redistributing other people's money, you can't remove borders: the "social contract" implicit in the welfare state - or any form of redistribution generally - is that we all do our bit to pay into the system when we can. You can't then syphon off money from that system to give to others who are completely outside its remit for collection without straining that social contract, all of which brings to the final point ....

***** that the definition of Altruism is pretty wide of the mark. If it is an obligation, externally imposed, then it is not altruism. Altruism refers to an individual's social conscience. If it is not externally imposed, then it is not politically enforceable. Equally, Altruism is not "Justice". The egoist would ask: "Has this person done everything he can to help himself? Has he squandered the opportunities (or money) he has been given?" If the egoist decides that an individual has been dealt a bad lot, then he may feel compassion to help him, but this has nothing to do with justice. On the contrary, it is manifestly unjust to take from one who has worked hard and struggled and suffered to do the best he can and to give to another who has not.

In effect, Egoists understand the golden rule of economics: incentives matter. So question 8 becomes "Sense of Naivety" , divided between "rationalists/Incentivists" and "Naifs" and question 9 becomes "Scope of Naivety", split between "Hopeless and completely deluded" and "Mildly deluded". If one is Hayekian/Egoist, this distinction is meaningless as the answer is "neither". If the state is not redistributing dosh in the first place, then it doesn't matter how widely it is or isn't.

Friday, May 26, 2006

(Ad) Hominems, Hypocrisy and Harding

Cirdan comments that this post is simply an ad hominem tu quoque. Whilst I am fully aware that I am no match whatsoever for him as regards analytical philosophy, I suspect that this is not the whole truth. I offer the following post to allow my thinking to be tested (most likely to destruction...).

The original post quoted Mr Eugenides as follows:
Being told by China and Algeria that your human rights record is poor is rather like Charlie Kennedy admonishing you for ordering another beer.
I assume that Cirdan highlights the tu quoque fallacy because, well, one can easily see the circumstances in which it would indeed be tu quoque : if a nation is up in front of the UNHRC for breaches of Human Rights, it would indeed be "tu quoque" for that nation to ignore the charge by making such a statement.

However, I don't think that that is enough. I offer two defences.

Defence 1: What about Hypocrisy?
The question that immediately springs to mind is this:
Where does a legitimate accusation of hypocrisy stop and a tu quoque fallacy start?
Good old Wikipedia:
Hypocrisy also refers to the act of criticizing others for behavior which one engages in as well, or in other words, not practicing what you preach.
If Cirdan is right, one could not level the charge of hypocrisy, without one's target making the corresponding accusation of tu quoque. That doesn't seem right to me.

I suspect that the line between the two has much to do with the way that the accusation is made.

Charlie Kennedy [looking meek and proffering an AA leaflet]: "P-G, I know from experience from alcohol is a dreadful thing and I can see that you drink too much"
P-G [who has just emerged from a friend's stag party and knows that he will pay for it in the morning]: "You are a right one to talk."
would be a tu quoque fallacy on my part. But:
Charlie Kennedy [tottering uncertainly, looking aggressive and taking a swig from a bottle of buckfast wrapped in a brown paper bag]: "P-G, you drink too much"
P-G [who has just emerged from a friend's stag party and knows that he will pay for it in the morning]: "You are a right one to talk."
would be a legitimate accusation of hypocrisy on my part.

In both cases, the same proposition is made, that P-G drinks too much, but the outcome is clearly different. I offer therefore the general case:

"A" and "B" both display failing "F".

There are (broadly) four cases:
A displays F more/less than B
A, in making the accusation of B, admits/does not admit to F

  1. If A admits to F, any retort from B drawing attention to A's failings is almost definitely tu quoque, as A has already done so.
  2. This is true pretty much regardless of their relative degrees of failing.
  3. But if A does not admit his own failing when accusing B, then things are less clear. If A's failing is substantially worse than B's, B would almost certainly be correct to call A a hypocrite. A's rebuttal that that is tu quoque would be very very lame.
  4. However, if B's failing is substantially worse than A's, then B is on distinctly sticky ground to draw attention to A's failing in order to distract attention from his own. A could accuse B of tu quoque with some justification.
So to go back to the substantive example, substitute Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan for "A", the US for "B" and "flagrant abuses of Human Rights" for failing "F". I think we can be clear that we are in case 3 here. A's failing is considerably worse than B's and there is very unlikely to be any substantive admission of this when trying to haul "B" over the coals. "B" would be correct to call A a hypocrite and A's rebuttal that that represents a tu quoque would be very very very very weak.

Defence 2: Limited Resources
It would be nice if we could right all the wrongs in the world but we can't. We have limited resources. This means that our aim should be to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number. In this context, it would be a better use of limited resources to tackle the most flagrant and persistent abuses of Human Rights where there is clearly not going to be any internal pressure - indeed because of the suppression of Human Rights - to do so.

For "B" to argue that the resources of the UN are not best used in dealing with its problems has some merit. By contrast, tu quoque looks lame against this. It might be true, but it is substantially less than the whole truth.

To return to the very top, I think that Cirdan's original suggestion that my original post is simply tu quoque focusses on the smallest and least important part of it and could be dismissed with a suitably gallic shrug. I am reluctant to do so as much of the reason for my starting this blog was to test out my own thinking.

And if anyone is going to explain why I am completely misguided, I'm pretty sure Cirdan is the man to do it.

Whilst we are on the topic of hypocrisy, and given the definition quoted above, I ought just to mention our favourite moron. He has a simply fabulous post here. Whatever the merits of the arguments listed (or lack thereof) I can see nothing in the post that even begins to explain how or why they are hypocritical. He may not like them and he may not agree with them, but that is not the same thing. I hesitate to say that this smacks of woolly thinking on his part as I strongly suspect that that charge will shortly be laid at my door for the majority of the post above...

It's all Indefatigathingummy's fault

Following on from this, I ought to give a jolly wave to, if not toss vigorously the Marching Bands in the direction of, Indefatigathingummy.

The least I can do in recompense is to take up his meme:
I am the law. At least as regards the Splitting of Infinitives.
I want for remarkably little
I wish those tosspot Parking Attendants that lurk around the Music School on Saturday morning to nail people dropping off and picking up their kids would just sod off: this is pure gouging and has nothing to do with traffic flow: it's a f*cking cul-de-sac.
I hate those tosspot Parking Attendants that lurk around the Music School on Saturday morning to nail people dropping off and picking up their kids
I love my wife, my children and logic problems.
I miss
skiing holidays.
I fear
that we won't realise just how much liberty we have lost until it is far, far too late and that a Conservative government will not have the guts to put things right.
I hear
that Raymond has been drinking heavily again.
I wonder what this button does
I regret

  • not having got (or got for myself) a good grounding in Philosophy when at school, when I had both the time to read and access to the material (and teachers),
  • not having learnt to play a musical instrument as a child
I am not really that fierce in "real life" and don't really advocate the death penalty (Seuaaeuuameuaus notwithstanding - he badly needs his neck stretching )
I dance:
  • Scottish Reels with no persuasion needed, alacrity, gusto and style
  • everything else under duress
I sing far too loud, far too often and flaaaaaaaaaaaat.....
I cry when listening to certain unbearably beautiful passages of music, particularly this, this and this (and particularly "To Love Is to Bury" on that album).
I am not always
so jolly and talkative
I make with my hands excellent paper aeroplanes
I write
rather elegantly, even if I say so myself.
I confuse more or less everyone I meet.
I need
300 kilos of white mice! No time to explain! Seriously, if that's what it takes to keep material of this standard flowing, it is a very small price to pay.
I should:
  • organise my bank statements,
  • buy a gun cabinet,
  • re-write our wills,
  • work out how the hell we are going to pay for school fees or (failing that) give the boys the education that they deserve/need to allow them to be everything that I know they can be,
  • sort out the staggeringly large pile of boxes in the study.
  • pay a bit more into my pension
I start too fast, then fall apart after a couple of miles.
I finish very few of the things I start. Apart from su doku.

I am not a Trident submariner

but I know a man who is (or was)....

Your Famous Last Words Will Be:

"I dunno, press the button and find out."

The scary thing is that this probably applies to him as well.

A mistaken delivery

Oh my goodness.

In the manner of all good gushing - nay profoundly embarrassing - Oscar acceptance speeches, I would like to thank my producer, my director, my parents and all my readers without whom, of course, I would be nothing. To think of the outstanding quality of some of the other nominations, I am humbled to be here, holding the golden envelope, yadda yadda yadda

In fact, to be brutally honest, I do actually think this. As I made clear at the top of the post itself, all the hard work had already been done, by Scott Burgess and most especially by Tim J. Continuing in the vein of brutal honesty, to me, this article was simply an opportunity to invoke the war cry of Pedants-General of old:
and this was as good an excuse as I was likely to see for a while.

But to place me in the Fisking Hall of Fame, in the same batch of nominations as Scott's "Sassy" fisk - which actually claimed the scalp of the offending fiskee - and in place of the man who did the real historical legwork, is perhaps an injustice to the continuing good work of the Reptile.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

How to be a good PM

No, not that type. Project Manager, for it is Project Management that concerns us, and indeed Mr FM, today.
My understanding is that almost all projects in the real world conform to six distinct phases:
  1. Enthusiasm
  2. Disillusionment
  3. Panic
  4. Search for the Guilty
  5. Punishment of the Innocent
  6. Praise and Honour of the Uninvolved
Actually, looking at the way that the other type of PM goes about the business of Cabinet reshuffles, it would appear that he is applying this technique as well.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hairy Haggis

Gah! I've been conned into running a section of the Edinburgh Marathon.

Still, it's about the best excuse I can think of to convince Lady P-G to lift her embargo on my buying a natty little wrist-mounted GPS receiver...

Some idiomatic intricacies

Perusing, as one does of an idle moment, one's sitemeter results, I came across this fascinating referrer. It is a rendering of this article into French.

Although your insular and xenophobic Pedant-General, Lady P-G's exotic provenance notwithstanding, would never claim to be anything other than profoundly monoglot, his command of the written language of Molière and Balzac stretches far enough to see that this is a pretty reasonable stab, particularly for a machine translation.

But can anyone explain to me quite what those nice gentlemen at Google must have been smoking? Their translation copes admirably with the phrase
"other meaningless flim-flam" ("tous autres conneries sans signification")
and yet, seems unable to find a suitable translation for
Is there no thing such as an adverb in French? I always thought this result was a little suspect.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Today's Recipe

Mr Eugenides, to whom I must instruct a brace of loyal underlings to add a link, reviews the composition of the newly elected UN Human Rights Council and concludes that it ...
... is a sick joke. Apparently this is a revamped version of the old, "discredited" HRC. Well, they're off to a flyer. Being told by China and Algeria that your human rights record is poor is rather like Charlie Kennedy admonishing you for ordering another beer. They will be ignored, and rightly so.
Ah, yes, the UN Human Rights Council.

At the time of the election of [suppress urge to scream "what in the name of arse did you think you were doing?"] Zimbabwe, there was recurrence of the rather quaintly naive view that mixing some nations with, errmmm..., "room for improvement" with the more civilised nations would have the effect that the civilised bit would spread and those with a poor record would be "pulled up".

I am reminded of Mark Steyn's rather pithy cooking analogy:
"It's a good basic axiom that if you take a quart of ice-cream and a quart of dog faeces and mix 'em together the result will taste more like the latter than the former."
It would be funny if it wasn't so serious.

The English are moral, the English are good, And clever and modest and misunderstood

The Tory Reptile suggests a suitable anthem for this year's Football World Cup, fed up as he is with general whining from North of the Border.

Curiously, he omits to quote the middle eight, which sums up the attitude of English Footballers rather more accurately than he might wish:
"And all the world over, each nation's the same,
They've simply no notion of Playing the Game:
They argue with umpires; they cheer when they've won;
And they practise beforehand, which ruins the fun!"
Southgate's Penalty anyone?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Better Dog Biscuits through Blogrolling (And Others)

Your arrogant and dismissive Pedant-General is aware that few of his readers have IQs greater than their shoe sizes. He knows this because otherwise they wouldn't be reading this nonsense. This post is therefore something of a Public Service Announcement: Your up-to-the-minute Pedant-General, forged as he is in the "white heat of technology", has managed to get those nice people at bloglines to keep his sidebar blog links up to scratch automatically. Hurrah!

Along with some desperately overdue linking [nods in the general direction of the inimitable ninme], there are some little gems that might require to be brought to your general attention.

Tim Worstall gets frightfully hot under the collar about the gender pay gap (or lack of it as the case might be). He might have something to add to this. I have added a link to Scott Adam's Dilbert Blog for a number of perfectly exemplary reasons:
  1. He posts regularly
  2. He writes fluently
  3. He is fabulously politically incorrect
  4. He goads people mercilessly to make fools on themselves in the comments threads.
  5. There are some cracking stories/urban myths in the comment threads
In short, it is a proper blog. FYI, BOCTAOE means "But Of Course There Are Obvious Exceptions". It is a "feature" of that blog that commenters attempt to use specific examples to counter assertions of population averages, hence the need to remind everyone that that tactic cuts no ice. Still, it is fun to see the morons try.

Gaah! New Technology Baffles Pissed Old Hack.
Your incompetent and technophobic Pedant-General takes the view that the Blogger interface is frankly appalling. This is, indeed, the whole point of this post and the move to a bloglines blogroll. It will come as no surprise to you that I have resorted to posting via email. Except when you are a biff (for my Scots readers, read "numpty") and hit "send" instead of "save draft". Drat.

So, to the topic at hand: I admit that the "dog biscuits" link to Scott Adams is at best tenuous, but there is no such problem with this. The canine author seems to have undergone some kind of Buddhist reincarnation, having been a bear in a previous life. I am mindful of Churchill's quote to the effect that
"Dogs look up to us"
but in this instance, I am afraid that this particular dog appears to be looking down on me. I may be the exception that proves WSC's rule however: I am listed under
"Buried Treasure".
Truly an accolade from a dog.

In which Mr FM advertises for a flatmate

Though, in this instance, there was a stipulation that the flatmate ought not to be, errr..., exactly "flat"...

Simply superb. Mr FM's command of our great language is exemplary. One can almost smell the bathroom and sweaty sock corner from here.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Left? Right? What a Disgrace!

"Or it may go straight up and fall flat on its face..."
So sang the unsurpassed Michael Flanders.

We are all - at least anyone with half a brain - aware that the traditional Left/Right political spectrum is entirely meaningless. There is a little bit of a song and dance about this topic with, amongst other things, the publication of the Euston Manifesto.

At the very least, we need two dimensions. The Political Compass test does this nicely by measuring attitudes to economic freedoms (the traditional left/right axis) and social freedoms (broadly "authoritarianism" vs "liberalism").

OKCupid, ghastly though that organisation undoubtedly is, also has a version of it here and my results of that test - and which are unlikely to cause much surprise - are here. For what it is worth, my view is that the nice touchy-feely type Socialism (which purports to combine lots of Social Freedom with no economic freedom at all) is a blatantly and obviously unstable system. Individuals are unlikely to be happy to be denied the freedom to choose how to run their lives if they are completely free to say so. You might start with social freedoms and that might be your nice touchy-feely intention, but it won't last long.

But I digress. What really irks me is the insistence on the "Left" to ascribe political nastiness and authoritarianism in general as being solely a "Right-Wing" phenomenon. Enter [Stage Right] Lord Tebbit in a letter about the BNP:
I have carefully re-read the BNP manifesto of 2005 and am unable to find evidence of Right-wing tendencies.

On the other hand, there is plenty of anti-capitalism, opposition to free trade, commitments to "use all non-destructive means to reduce income inequality", to institute worker ownership, to favour workers' co-operatives, to return parts of the railways to state ownership, to nationalise the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and to withdraw from Nato. That sounds pretty Left-wing to me.

Certainly the BNP poses as a patriotic party opposed to multiculturalism, and it has racist overtones, but there is no lack of patriotic Left-wing regimes; opposition to multiculturalism is now mainstream and racialism was not unknown even in the Soviet Union.
Put the BNP through the Political Compass test and they will come out in very much the same place as the Communists: no social freedoms, no economic freedoms. That Dave Prentis should miss the point entirely and advance no argument whatsoever other than - to paraphrase him - "racism is right wing" is very much to be expected.

I am much more distressed to see Toby Roberts do so in his opinion piece in the Torygraph on Sunday:
"Lord Tebbit, when you say the BNP are not an extreme Right-wing organisation, if I may say so, you're a putz. Forget the BNP's reassuring smiles and nice suits and oh-so-reasonable manifestos: just open your nostrils to the smell."
Except of course, Lord Tebbit was not making any comment on the degree to which the BNP are extremists. Had he done so, he would indeed be "a putz". He maintained - correctly - that the BNP is an extreme Left-wing organisation.

The desire of almost everyone who campaigns against economic freedom (for that is the lowest common denominator of the "Left") to ascribe all authoritarianism to the "right" is pernicious. It is both morally and historically wrong. It is part of a systematic, wilful and dogmatic insistence that the "left", because its motives are supposed to be pure, can do wrong. It is consistent with the disgusting apologia for the crimes of 20th Century Communism. It is consistent with the cognitive dissonance required to hold such self-contradictory views. It is consistent with the fact that the BNP stands to gain more from traditional Labour voters than from Conservatives. It is consistent with the appalling and naked anti-semitism of the likes of SWP and Respect.

It will not do.