Sunday, 19 December 2010

Question That

Question That has been closed since January 2009, however I have left a sample of the posts up to give people some idea of what was here.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Presumed Consent Redux

I originally wrote this in January, but it has become topical again so I am re-posting it.

As predicted by Polly Toynbee in her column in today's Guardian, commentators are up in arms about Gordon Brown's backing of a proposal to move to a 'presumed consent' model for organ donation (Link). For once, I am on her side.

Donation rates in the UK are much lower than in other Western iq option countries, and the gap between people who state that they would be willing to donate organs in a survey (~90%) and those who actually sign up to the register (around 24%) is tremendous. In an opt-in system such as we have at present in the UK, only those 24% could possibly donate, and in fact because registration is not legally valid (i.e. relatives can veto it) a smaller proportion still of the medically fit recently-deceased actually do so.

Most of the arguments against moving to the opt-out model hang on the concept of presumed consent. Typical of the expressions of discontent at the proposal is this statement by Joyce Robin of Patient Concern (quoted in the Times):

"They call it presumed consent, but it is no consent at all...They are relying on inertia and ignorance to get the results that they want."
The antipathy to the opt-out model at several libertarian blogs run along slightly different lines, focusing on the issue of ownership (e.g. Perry de Havilland's furious 'statement' at Samizdata).

Generally, I would see Gordon Brown and Polly Toynbee backing something as a fairly reliable indicator that it's not a good idea. But in this case I have to beg to differ. I do not comprehend the reasoning behind the strength of opposition to this proposal that I'm seeing. As far as I am concerned, everything she's said today just makes sense.

Once you're dead, you're dead and you don't need iqoption your organs any more; they may be of use to another individual (not the State. The State here is just the mechanism - it's not like ID cards!); many potential life-saving transplants aren't happening most likely because of inertia (perhaps up to 70%, see above); and it is possible to opt-out under the proposed system if you (or your relatives) sufficiently disagree with donation to do so.

The costs are zero (because the donor is dead - unlike in other potentially comparable situations, such as participation in medical research or uploading of confidential medical data to a centralised database). The potential benefits to others (transplant recipients) are direct and of course highly significant in terms of their lifespan and quality of life. I do not see any reason to believe (as posited by Longrider) that abuse would be any greater than under the current system, particularly since relatives will still be consulted (Link).

Finally, the argument regarding 'presumption' is lost on me also. The way things work at present, we are presumed to want our organs to rot when we die. This is simply a pragmatic switching of presumptions that will help overcome inertia.

People who disagree:

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Straight In At Number 71

After less than a year of blogging, Question That has cemented its place in the British blogosphere by being voted 71st in the Total Politics Top 100 Right-of-Centre blogs for 2007-08.

I also sneaked into the overall top 200 - QT finds itself at #199 in that chart.

Roll on 2008-09!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Why Support The Windfall Tax?

Calls for the imposition of a windfall tax on energy companies have been one of the hottest topics of debate on the domestic politics front over the past month. Divided roughly along typical left-right lines (with some exceptions), the proponents of the tax include the social democrat think-tank Compass, Polly Toynbee, and Cath Elliott. The most vociferous opponent (at least in blog-land) is Tim Worstall, a classical liberal who has consistently opposed the measure, with convincing economic as well as libertarian justifications for his position.

This afternoon Conor Foley, writing on Liberal Conspiracy, posted in support of Tim Worstall's view that the windfall tax is a bad idea that will have counterproductive implications.

"Taxing energy production to subsidise energy consumption – which seems to be the way that the current campaign is being sold – is just daft." - Conor Foley
As you might expect, I am in agreement with Tim Worstall and Conor Foley. Aside from the worrying implications of the government introducing what is in effect a retro-active tax on the basis of an arbitrary determination of 'too much profit', the proponents of this idea appear not to take into consideration the law of unintended consequences.

Tim explains pretty clearly why this is so important in his article for Comment is Free. Taxing energy profits will have the effect of reducing supply (by reducing the incentives to search out and start exploiting new sources; an expensive process) and increasing demand. The more cynical your view of how the business world works, the more obvious this should be, surely - so why are so many lefties falling for this bad idea?

This may sound like a daft question (one person I asked this to immediately responded "because leftists are idiots?"), but I contend that it's one worth asking. When something that just a pinch of critical thinking and economic realism would tell you is nonsensical is promoted so enthusiastically, one has to take a moment to consider the reasoning, flawed as it may be, of its proponents.

The first dubious conviction (aside from the arguments countered in Tim's article) that becomes apparent on reading the articles in favour of the windfall tax is that the money raised in this way will go to people who need it, specifically those who have found themselves struggling to pay electric & gas bills as their costs have increased, owing to higher oil & gas prices. This is a variation on Kip's Law* - "Every advocate of central planning always envisions him/herself as the central planner" - just because, say, Neal Lawson would make sure that all of the re-appropriated profits made their way to the elderly and poverty-stricken does not mean that Labour can be trusted to do the same. This kind of woolly thinking can be observed over and over again in the writing of leftists if you know what to look for.

Even if that were not the case, and somehow the promised redistribution of the money were to materialise, the second problem overlooked by tax proponents such as Cath Elliott (repeating something claimed by Polly Toynbee the day before) is that the windfall tax as currently advocated is surely likely to be anything but a one-off.

Unless you think that the cause of the energy price increase has nothing whatsoever to do with a reduction in supply coupled with an unchanged or increased demand - if so, a decidedly unconventional and counterintuitive position - all that your proposed measures are going to do is store up problems for next winter and the winter after etc.

This is a decidedly short-termist view of the situation. An easing of the energy cost burden in 2008 will come at the cost of crisis in future years, as efficiency has not improved (since inefficient energy use was subsidised by the windfall tax), new sources have not been identified (since profits that could have been used for R&D were taxed away) and demand has stayed at its present high level. Crazy. So why propose it?

It's because in the parallel universe inhabited by Toynbee & co, being 'on-message' is all that matters, and damn the reality. Profit-making businesses and those who run them are by definition bad; always making "obscene profits" - defined however you want in order to best demonise the usual suspects; since the Marxist mindset never quite went away.

According to said mindset, the windfall tax makes perfect sense, or so it seems at first glance, until you learn to read between the lines. I for one am damn glad there are people like Tim around to tell it like it is and counter this nonsense. I just wish there were more like him.

* Credit to Tim Worstall for pointing me in the direction of Kip's Law; I predict that this is the first of many times it will warrant a mention here.

Monday, 7 July 2008

This Comment Has Been Removed

From here (Comment is Free) exactly as was written (apart from one typo I corrected):

Oh, come on. This is getting to be beyond a joke.

How many pro-feminist pieces, making sweeping anti-male statements that wouldn't be tolerated were any other group the subject and often containing all kinds of mis-uses of statistics in support of their arguments, have there been on CiF?

How many times have there been articles in opposition to the feminist viewpoint above the line here?

You have feminist spaces (like 'The F Word') where you can control the discussion, every comment that appears, so nothing too strongly-worded in its disagreement with the feminist line can be published. Elsewhere, in uncensored venues, if you attack people, they'll attack back. And rightly so.

UPDATE (08/07):

Mr. Godwin enquires "Why [do] otherwise intelligent men seem to find perfectly reasonable pieces of feminist theory so threatening/intimidating/frightening?".

Those aren't the right words - I'd prefer to say "insulting and bordering on/crossing the line into offensive" (see here for some examples of the type of rhetoric I'm talking about).

However, in response to that question I don't think I could put it better than commenter sealion (on Dave Hill's thread at CiF) has (bolding mine):
My problem with a lot of feminists (not feminism) is that they often berate men for holding onto a lifestyle that they do not have. Like most men, I go about my life peaceably, going to work, socialising with male and female friends, trying to do a little bit to help others if I can, busting my arse to make a living, that sort of thing. I do my best to treat people fairly and with respect, whoever they are, and generally find that most other people do the same.

Then I turn on my computer and get told that I contribute to violence against women, that I'm a possessor of 'invisible male privilege', that 'my kind' need to confront their own attitudes and behaviours, and give up my privileged position of power.

My first thought is usually: "What the f*** did I do?"

There is often an accusatory tone to articles on here, and when people get defensive its assumed that its because their privileged position is being attacked. That may be the case sometimes but think its usually because people feel that they are being held commonly accountable for something that they would never do.

Holding a group of people collectively accountable for the sins of some is wrong - whether its a Richard Littlejohn type doing it, or a feminist like Julie Bindel.

UPDATE 2: Want an example of another, separate reason I have a problem with many feminists? Have a read of this.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Ken vs Boris on the Issues (4): Local Environment

The fourth issue that I am taking a look at as part of this assessment of the relative merits of Ken's and Boris's policies is really more of an umbrella category. Basically, 'Local Environment' covers everything (apart from those things that fell under the previous 3 issues) that determines how pleasant a city London is to live and work in. That ranges from major planning decisions through to street-sweepers.

What I'm deliberately not covering here is global environment, particularly climate change. Both candidates have policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions as part of their manifestos (some, such as opposing the Heathrow 3rd runway, are shared). However, one candidate (Ken) has made tackling climate change a central part of his campaign, whereas the other has not. Regardless of which approach you prefer, I am not taking these views, or criticism of same, into account.

Both candidates have Environment Manifestos available for download. Ken's, entitled 'Greener & Cleaner' (G&C), can be downloaded here (PDF). Boris's, entitled 'Protecting Our Local Environment' (PoLE), can be downloaded here (PDF).

Boris has focused on the city's parks and open spaces in his environment manifesto, pledging the protection of all of London's green belt land and gardens by introduction of tougher planning rules to ensure that housing is not built at the expense of green spaces. Additionally, Boris promises the renovation of parks and open spaces, introducing a £6 million 'Priority Parks Programme' (PoLE, pg5) to provide boroughs with more funds for parks improvements. Ken's manifesto, on the other hand, relegates parks to page 12 of 16. Here he promises the creation of a 'Green Grid' of parks and waterways as part of the Thames Gateway development, something that is not mentioned in Boris's document - perhaps because one of Boris's more far-out ambitions is the development of a new airport in the area!

Trees are the second plank (pun intended) of Boris Johnson's local environment policy. He has promised a £1 million scheme to bring about the planting of 10,000 street trees by the end of his first term. Ken, in the final paragraph of his manifesto (C&G, pg15), promises the establishment of a rather ambitious scheme, 'Trees for All', with a target of planting a million trees. However the manifesto is lacking in funding details or a timescale and Googling doesn't elicit further informations of how Ken proposes to proceed with this.

Ken pledges to tackle air pollution (C&G, pg11), continuing the implementation of the Low Emissions Zone and other incentives for reduction in pollution from traffic; as well as introducing the £25 congestion charge for the most polluting vehicles. Boris opposes the latter, suggesting that it will have a counter-productive effect by resulting in an increase in congestion(PoLE, pg14), but gives his backing to the Low Emission Zone (PoLE, pg15), although he has made statements attacking it. Noise pollution is named by Ken as a problem in need of tackling, but neither he nor Boris provides specific policy to achieve a reduction here.

Litter, graffiti and fly-tipping are important environmental issues at local level. As might be expected from his emphasis on 'broken windows', Boris has pledged to increase prosecutions of offenders (PoLE, pg8) and make the offences easier to report. However his proposals are lacking in detail, particularly with regard to dealing with the problem of litter. Ken emphasises litter enforcement and educational programmes (C&G pg13-14).

Boris pledges to support recycling, making it easier and more convenient and thereby improving recycling rates (PoLE, pg9). A headline policy is his proposal to reward Londoners with vouchers for recycling. However, the feasibility of this plan has been questioned. He has also expressed support for a ban on plastic bags. Ken proposes simply to support councils in helping Londoners raise recycling levels (C&G, pg13), a much more down-to-earth pledge but perhaps a more realistic reflection of the role of the Mayor in this area.

Overview: Boris has clearly made local environmental concerns central to his environment manifesto, whereas Ken emphasises tackling climate change. The result of this here is that Boris appears more determined in almost every area I have discussed. Both are suspected of coming up with proposals intended to grab headlines rather than be put into practice, such as Boris's Thames Gateway airport plan, and Ken's seemingly tacked-on plan to plant a million trees. Boris in particular appears to perhaps be overstating the amount of authority he will have over the boroughs if elected Mayor, making his lack of a litter policy all the more puzzling. All in all, local environment is a mixed bag from both candidates with neither standing out as clearly the better choice.
Verdict: Draw

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Jahongir Sidikov: List of Supporters


Remember back in September, when the threat of libel action from Alisher Usmanov, Uzbek tycoon and would-be buyer of Arsenal F.C led Fasthosts to take down the blogs of Craig Murray, Tim Ireland, Boris Johnson and several others? Remember how over 300 of you came together to spread the word and defend our freedom?

Now, as I write, there's another man who is at serious risk from the powers that be in Uzbekistan. His name is Jahongir Sidikov, and he is a dissident, a member of the banned opposition party Erk. He has lived in the UK since 1999. Full details of what has happened to him since can be read here. Suffice to say he is now in a detention cell at Heathrow airport after a failed attempt to deport him to Uzbekistan yesterday (21/11/07).

If the British authorities succeed in forcing him onto a plane to Uzbekistan, there is a very high likelihood that he will be tortured there. He may be executed. This deportation is therefore illegal under the UN Convention Against Torture (article 3) which states that no-one should be expelled or extradited to a state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture. Human Rights Watch's most recent report on Uzbekistan indicates that torture is completely endemic in the Uzbek justice system (PDF).

I implore you to speak out in this case and spread the word about what our Government is knowingly prepared to allow to happen to this man. The media is strangely silent.

Just imagine, for a minute, what it would be like to be put on a plane, knowing that when you reach your destination you won't be heading for your hotel or friend's house - you'll be dragged off to a torture chamber. Blog this, write to your MP, contact whoever you know who might be able to help. Each of us is only a small voice, but together we will make them sit up and listen when we say this is wrong.

"To sit in a condemned cell awaiting a relatively quick death must be awful.

But to await the kind of things the Uzbek security services will do to you - and to be awaiting them in England - is unthinkable." - Craig Murray

Here as was done by Justin McKeating and Tim Ireland in response to the Usmanov incident, I will list all the bloggers who have posted in support of Jahongir Sidikov and link to the pertinent post(s):
Craig Murray1,2,3,4,5,6,7; Areopagitica1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8; Obsolete1,2,3; Turbulent Cleric1,2,3,4,5,6; Postman Patel1,2; Beeston Quakers; kllrchrd1,2,3; Kathz Blog1,2,3,4,5; Crimes & Corruption; My Whine in Silence; Signs of the Times; Bloggerheads1,2; Chris Paul:Labour of Love; Politics in the Zeros1,2,3; Jailhouse Lawyer; Surreptitious Evil; Ten Percent; John Angliss; Geoff Coupe; Ordovicius; The Sideshow; A Splendid Duck-billed Platypus; Neon Bubble; Quaker fencer1,2; Crooks and Liars; Liberal England; Global Voices Online; Toblog; Zeropointnine; Bartholomew's Notes on Religion...
UPDATED: 8/12 11:00PM

Finally, here is a sample letter for you to send to your MP (use the website WriteToThem):

Dear MP,

I am writing to express my concern regarding an urgent human rights matter.

An attempt was made yesterday to deport to Uzbekistan a member of an opposition political party in that country, Jahongir Sidikov. This deportation has been fast-tracked by the Home Office (Home Office ref. – S2185191) and approved by the FCO, despite serious concerns regarding the human rights record of the Uzbek regime.

Craig Murray (ex British ambassador to Uzbekistan) and Human Rights Watch believe there is a very high likelihood that Sidikov will be tortured, and that he may perhaps even be executed on return to Uzbekistan. Hence, that the deportation is illegal under Article 3 of the UN Convention Against Torture. Read more:

I hope that you will be prepared to raise this man's case and do whatever you can to prevent the deportation.

Yours sincerely,

Areopagitica provides an alternative letter to the same effect here.