The British Elections and Electoral Reform

In Dutch there is an expression which loosely translates as: “when two dogs fight for a bone, the third will run off with it”. When the Conservative Party under their ‘modernist’ leader David Cameron challenged their major opponents to the first ever televised leader’s debate in Britain, they would have done well to remember this. They counted on the slick appeal of Cameron easily putting the jaw-munching tactlessness of Prime Minister Brown in the shade. But they forgot that the Liberal Democrats, doomed to be the perpetual third party in the UK since the Armistice, had a charismatic figure and an excellent debater in their leader Nick Clegg. The effect has been remarkable: for the first time anyone living can remember, the Liberal Democrats are now leading the other parties in the popular vote in some polls, and are equal contenders in others. The Labour share has dropped to levels lower than those of Michael Foot in the disastrous election of 1979, but the Tories too have not managed to beat their equally bad poll results of the days of New Labour ascendancy in the 1990s. All the remainder of the vote seems increasingly to be moving collectively into the Liberal Democrats’ camp. Now one can debate to what extent this is entirely the result of the impact of modern mass media like television on political campaigns; there are good, if anecdotal, reasons to assume that much of it is also driven by an electorate tired of Labour but equally repulsed by the Tories, looking for a way out. Be that as it may, British elections have not been as exciting and not had as uncertain an outcome in many decades, with everyone now expecting a hung parliament to result for the first time since 1974. Continue reading “The British Elections and Electoral Reform”

Bolivian Prospects

The Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS) of the reigning President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, has won the regional elections held on April 9th of this year.(1) Morales is the first elected President of Bolivia to be fully Native American, despite the great majority of the Bolivian population being Aymará or Quechua. For most of its history, the country has been governed by a swift succession of military dictators, vassal oligarchs of the United States and assorted strongmen. Universal suffrage was only introduced in 1951 by the reformist MNR party, which was subsequently overthrown by a series of juntas.

Much of the conflict has revolved around the main economic products of Bolivia: its enormous tin mines (it is the world’s largest tin producer) and the coca leaves grown as export crop by the country’s many poor farmers, which forms the basis for the drug cocaine. Continue reading “Bolivian Prospects”

Races and Brains

An important aspect of the newly emerging folk psychology, if that would be the right term, in America is the notion of a racial ladder: one which extends from ‘Asians’ at the top to ‘whites’ in the middle and ‘blacks’ at the bottom. Sometimes the argument is based on studies of IQ scores, other times the argument is based on anecdotal experiences about American colleges and universities, or about supposed Asian special aptitude for mathematics and natural sciences. These ideas are fairly widespread, and not limited purely to bar talk: even such supposedly hip ‘leftist’ magazines as Slate have contributed to it, and they are fairly prevalent at American universities too, including with the admissions departments.(1)(2) As in the Slate article, often these views are defended from accusations of racism by appealing to the fact that the folk psychology does not place whites at the top. Needless to say, this is not much of an argument, but it is commonly believed to be justified. Because of the nefarious nature of this notion, it is time to confront it with a basic understanding of statistics, which will quickly dispel most ideas of this kind. Continue reading “Races and Brains”

Two Minor Notes on Job Creation and Atheist Policy

The mirage of ‘creating jobs’

In this time of crisis, unemployment is once again high on the public’s agenda. In the United States, even official unemployment has reached figures as high as 10%, and in many Western European countries things are not much better. Hundreds of billions in public debt have been piled up to combat this, because every politician knows that their continuance in office depends first and foremost on satisfying the constituents’ demands, and what they demand is jobs. But here as always the limits of the liberal understanding of the world show themselves immediately, namely in the way they go about defending their employment policies. Everywhere in the Western states the emphasis is on the process of ‘job creation’ by the capitalist market system. Everywhere the one criterion for a measure or bill is whether it will or will not make the market ‘create jobs’.

A recent article in Time magazine illustrates the issue quite well. Continue reading “Two Minor Notes on Job Creation and Atheist Policy”