Thursday, February 26, 2009

An American Abroad

Rachel Lucas's blog is excellent. She's from Dallas, Texas and has come over to live in the UK with her serviceman husband. She writes superbly, very funny, sparky and observant. Recommended reading.

Thanks to the Prof for the tip.

Private Frank Lester, 18 February 1896 - 12 October 1918

An email arrived this morning from my mother, who has been researching family history. She's just discovered that one of her father's cousins was killed a month before the Armistice in 1918, in a village called Neuvilly.

The notice in the London Gazette that announced his award of the Victoria Cross ran as follows:

"For most conspicuous gallantry and self-sacrifice during the clearing of the village of Neuvilly, near Le Cateau, on 12th October 1918. With a party of seven men under an officer, Lester was the first to enter a house by the back door, shooting two Germans as they attempted to escape by the front door. A minute later a fall of masonry blocked the door by which the party had entered. The only exit into the street was under fire at point-blank range, the street also being swept by machine-gun fire at close range.

Observing that an enemy sniper was causing heavy casualties to a party in a house across the street, Private Lester exclaimed "I'll settle him" and, dashing out into the street shot the sniper at close quarters, falling mortally wounded at the same instant. Frank Lester well knew it was certain death to go into the street and the party opposite was faced with the alternative of crossing the fire-swept street or staying where it was and being shot one by one. To save their lives, Lester sacrificed his own."
He was 22 years old.

The same day, during the same action, other members of his regiment, the 10th Bn Lancashire Fusiliers won two MCs, one DCM and three MMs.

I don't believe any reflected glory passes down to other members of a family, and in any event he wasn't in my immediate family. But any personal connection with a story like that draws it off the page. After all, when I was a boy I talked with two of this man's cousins, who had also been in the trenches. One described to me how he deloused his clothes, using a candle flame to burst louse eggs laid in the seams. Had Frank Lester survived, I might have met him as well.

So after having spent a half hour thinking about a young man, barely into adulthood, who sacrificed himself for his brother soldiers, and about those two old men who lived through such horrors, I'm going back to work.

What's in a name?

I think Jenny Taylor does cap the rest. But it's a competitive field.

Thanks, Kes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Red Tories

I hate to be so critical, but almost everything about the following is wrong. It's from Steve, and it's discussing an article by Philip Blond in Prospect Magazine:

Phillip Blond argues that the Tories' conversion to free market liberalism has been a disaster for conservatism and for many of the party's core supporters.
Instead of holding the middle ground, the state was deployed in favour of the owner and entrepreneur. The benefits of Conservative liberalisation in the late 1980s accrued mainly to the top. The middle class saw its rise in income partly offset by more debt, while the poor sank relatively lower. New Labour did little to reverse these trends. In short, Britain remains stuck with a contested, class-based capitalism that has done great damage to British life.
As I have said before, free market economic policies often lead to things that a lot of conservatives don't like. You'll find plenty of Tory voters in the anti-Tesco campaigns which are gaining support around the country and, like everyone else, most conservatives are furious about the crisis that lightly regulated banks have created.
If I knock at the doors of these writers and say I'm collecting for children in need, then knock them over the head and steal their TV sets, when they came round they'd condemn people collecting for children in need.

In the 1980s, as a result of argument beginning the previous decade, the Tories started to pay lip service to free market liberalism. That's all. In policy terms, they used Friedman's monetarist ideas to control inflation (with resultant high unemployment) and this made some people think that because Freidman was a free market liberal, then other Tory policies must also be such.

The idea that "free market liberalism" might consist of deploying the state "in favour of the owner and entrepreneur" is stunningly wrong. It would mean the opposite. The state's role would shrink, in part to make it less easy for owners and entrepreneurs to snuggle up in bed with it and less significant if this happened. Every year of Tory government saw an increase in the scope and spending of the state.

Everyone who has pointed out the utility of free market transactions, from Adam Smith onwards, has pointed out the tendency to corruption between government and businesses, and they have pointed out how this undermines the free market. The free market requires power to move to consumers.

About the only thing that Galbraith and Friedman agreed on, last century, was that businessmen and politicians abuse the term for their own advantage - and that businessmen abhor a free market, whatever they might say. Far better a cosy monopoly, the security of anti-competitive price-fixing or, best of all, a government to extract money from consumers by force, then hand it over to them for overpriced contracts.

Blond is not describing the consequences of liberalism, but of that old corruption that infects every government of every complexion.

The measure of whether or not people like Tesco is not whether they join an anti-Tesco campaign, but whether they shop there. Conservative and Labour, they all do. Steve is lamenting, it seems, the fact that a tiny minority of very affluent people (as anti-Tesco campaigners tend to be) can't stop the rest of us, including the working class and the less well off, shopping at Tesco. After all, the anti-Tesco campaigners shop at Waitrose.

The idea that light regulation was behind the banking crisis is... I'm groping for a polite way to describe it... it's the idea that it's understandable that the structural problems that became apparent could have been overlooked by a regulator. That's cool. More of the same would have fixed it.

This wasn't light regulation, it was ineffective, crony-based regulation. Regulators and bankers swapped jobs, set each others' salaries as non-execs, gave each other bonuses as they played musical chairs.

People who make these kinds of arguments make no attempt to define their terms, and seem oblivious to the possibility that, like the doorstep mugger, there might be a difference between what people say and what they do. They just throw terms like "free market" (and "neo-conservative") around as insults, without reference to whether or not they're talking about the free market (or neo-conservatism).


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A guest post

At Harry's Place, by Yusuf Al Qaradawi.

Must read.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Quote of the day


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Security at the Financial Times

Thanks to Anonymous in these comments. If you're not registered with the Financial Times, click this link. Then in the location bar of your browser change the word "false" to "true" - do nothing else. Hey presto, you're in.

That's a basic mistake, guys. Never heard of Session variables?

Songs that amuse me

Don't Touch Me There was one. Bobby Brown is another.

The Bullshit Recycling Test

Sunday evening viewing from Penn and Teller.

I'd watched it before (there are loads of excellent P&T videos at YouTube) but the sinisterly anonymous J.F. Beck reminded me.

The Liberal Test

The Libertarian Party has added a multiple choice quiz to their website, so people can measure how liberal they are. This is because, as they explain:

To be a liberal basically means you believe in individual freedom. And that you accept the responsibilities that this entails. As is clear, this outlook is worlds apart from the collectivist ideologies of those on the left.

Therefore the Libertarian Party — which is a truly liberal party — asks you to take our Liberal Test. And to see if you really are a liberal...
Liberalism does place a high value on individual freedom, but libertarians are not liberals. There's some common ground, but there is also common ground between liberals and progressives, and between liberals and neo-conservatives.

Liberalism coalesced into something like a coherent political philosophy in the eighteenth century, the time of the Enlightenment and of the great liberal revolution in America. It's reasonable to take two of the most prominent figures from that time, Adam Smith and Tom Paine, and compare their views with those of the Libertarian Party. On a couple of points, I think the Libertarian Party gets it wrong.

Incidentally, to see what the explanations would say I deliberately gave the "wrong" answers to every question in the test and the page returned was headed as follows:

You scored 0%
Are you one of the individuals below?

This sort of hyperbole, ranking Gordon Brown alongside Stalin and Hitler, immediately disqualifies those responsible from serious political conversation.

I had answered "yes" to the following:
We should raise taxes on the rich so we can redistribute wealth to the poor?
The question is badly put (increase taxes? Levy them?) but I took it to be about progressive taxation. It was. Here's the explanation why my answer was wrong:
It is illiberal for people to be taxed at a different rate based on their income. Also rich people are the most mobile members of society. If they are over-taxed they will simply move themselves, their assets and capital offshore. Which will in turn decrease investment in the country.
This is misplaced (progressive taxation has nothing directly to do with individual liberty) and factually incorrect (we have progressive taxation, rich people have not moved all their assets offshore). But what of the principle? Here's Adam Smith on the subject:
A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be anything very unreasonable. It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.
Smith was in favour of progressive taxation. Though Paine had a great deal to say about taxation, especially excessive taxation, I'm not aware that he said anything on its distribution according to wealth.

Much can be said about tax from a good liberal point of view: it should not be too high, income tax requires unacceptable intrusion into a person's private affairs (unlike Smith's tax on house rents, or a land value tax). But if the issue of progressive taxation is used as a measure of liberalism, especially when it is remembered that liberal thought is no friend of the rich, then it is support for it that marks the liberal.

On the minimum wage, they have this to say:
The minimum wage is an illiberal restriction on free trade. It also places an artificial value on the cost of labour which makes it more difficult for low skilled workers to find work, and therefore gain experience and training.
That's true. But there are other distortions on the free trade in employment. State benefits for the low paid provide a subsidy to bad employers which the minimum wage in part counteracts. Why isn't the Libertarian Party worried about that? On balance, they seem to be more Tory than Liberal.

In the answer to a question about climate change, there is this sentence:
In a liberal society the state will not force any law abiding person to behave in a certain way as this is an infringement on freedom of thought and action.
I don't think people should be forced to alter their behaviour because of climate change, but this is a sweeping statement that owes far more to libertarian thought than to liberal. Liberalism places great importance on individual freedom, it doesn't fetishise it. In a state of emergency (which is what climate alarmists try to say we should declare) there can - plainly - be constraints on behaviour.

The explanation why the answer to this question:
It is wrong for democratic nations to overthrow foreign dictators?
should be "no" runs as follows:
It is illiberal, and a sign of gross arrogance, for one state to impose their will on another in this way. These issues are for the people of said state to resolve themselves with their leader(s).
The man from Thetford who went to America and fomented rebellion, then to France to take part in revolution, then who worked - now an American - for rebellion in Britain, Tom Paine, might have had something to say about that.

But even were this not the case, it is fatuous to suggest that Iraqis, say, could have overthrown Saddam. If we place the greatest weight on individual freedom then it is incumbent on us to help others free themselves. The LP position places greater weight on the autonomy of states than of individuals, which is incoherent with their other views, and is far easier to reconcile with the isolationist conservatism that has characterised modern libertarian thought.

The final question - "Free market capitalism should be forced on other nations to help create a better world?" brings us this explanation:
It is illiberal for one state to impose their way of life on another. A liberal foreign policy involves free trade with all willing participants. It does not involve forcing states to behave in a certain way if they do not wish to.
A state is not an agent in the free market, individuals are. A liberal foreign policy is not a trade policy. Arguably, there should be no trade policy. But a liberal foreign policy would be aimed at seeing the greatest possible weight placed on individual freedom in everything that involves overseas contact, like travel and trade. At the very least, a liberal foreign policy would encourage free trade with countries with free markets. The LP answer is incoherent, again, but to the extent that it coheres, it is wrong.

I want to support the Libertarian Party. I haven't been able to so far. This hasn't helped.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

He'll be right

... now the fire's gone. An Australian firefighter giving a Koala a drink.

My sister Ann emailed me from Sydney with a screenshot of this. Some gender confusion, but it's still touching:

This is some of what the firefighter whose name is David said

"I could see she had sore feet and was in trouble, so I pulled over the fire truck. She just plonked herself down, as if to say 'I'm beat'," he said.

"I offered her a drink and she drank three bottles.

"The most amazing part was when she grabbed my hand. I will never forget that."

UPDATE: Here's the screenshot:

Monday, February 16, 2009

The death of the Free Market

P.J. O'Rourke, in the FT (free registration required for full article):

The free market is dead. It was killed by the Bolshevik Revolution, fascist dirigisme, Keynesianism, the Great Depression, the second world war economic controls, the Labour party victory of 1945, Keynesianism again, the Arab oil embargo, Anthony Giddens’s “third way” and the current financial crisis. The free market has died at least 10 times in the past century.

Conservative Watch

I ought to make this a regular feature. From, of course, the BBC (emphasis added):

Another influential preacher, Abdurraheem Green, whose internet lectures receive hundreds of thousands of hits, preaches that "Islam is not compatible with democracy" and that to prevent a wife committing "evil" a husband has the right to "apply some type of physical force... a very light beating" - though he says this should not leave any marks.

Despite these conservative views the Metropolitan Police has sought Abdurraheem Green's advice recently.
Perhaps in the tradition of John Brignall's warmlist, I should start the Complete List of Things Caused by Conservatism with wife beating and an incompatibility with democracy.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Eugenides' Law

A politician's idea of "honesty" is passing the buck rather than pocketing it.

Enemies and friends

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'
Alice Through The Looking Glass

Or, to put it another way:
Let's make no mistake, that is what the word 'totalitarianism' should describe...
Peter Ryley

This is a review of a review by Peter Ryley of a review by Nick Cohen of Jonah Goldberg's book Liberal Fascism. It's also a belated addition to the debate I had last year with Peter on the meaning of the word 'totalitarian'.

Peter criticises Cohen for giving "qualified praise to a book that was written to oppose everything he has ever stood for". That's a strange and revealing criticism. The book is bad not because its arguments are flawed, but because it contradicts a previously held position. The first casualty of political partisanship is the ability to consider arguments on their merits; this is not a partisan point, conservatives and libertarians are just as guilty of this as socialists.

That he has not read the book does not prevent him from characterising it as "an attempt to justify a conservative ideological position by the use of some dubious, anachronistic history". This is justified in terms of context:
the theme of a close relationship between fascism and socialism is a familiar one, especially if you have any knowledge of right libertarian thinking. This discourse, in its modern form, originates from Hayek's assumption that state planning and collectivism are steps on the road to totalitarianism. However, some of the literature extends this further and suggests that social democracy is in itself totalitarian. I have engaged in debates before on what I see as the over-extension of the term here and here.
Hayek in fact argued that collectivism is totalitarian, not that it tends towards it:
The various kinds of collectivism, communism, fascism, etc, differ between themselves... But they all differ from liberalism and individualism in wanting to organise the whole of society and all its resources for this unitary end, and in refusing to recognise autonomous spheres in which the ends of the individual are supreme. In short, they are totalitarian in the true sense of this new word which we have adopted to describe the unexpected but nevertheless inseparable manifestations of what in theory we call collectivism.
(The Road to Serfdom)
That Peter resists this definition does not mean Hayek did not suggest it.There are great problems with another definition, in this debate, that of the word 'liberal'. When Peter wrote:
I would always approach a book that links two mutually contradictory terms, such as liberal and fascism, with extreme suspicion. Liberalism is not fascism and fascists are not liberals.
He was using the word in a way that is not incompatible with a definition given last month, during a speech in Oxford, by Samuel Brittan:
A liberal is someone who attaches special value to personal freedom, just as a socialist or social democrat does to equality and a conservative does to authority.
But this is not what Goldberg means by 'liberal'; he means socialist or social democrat. Goldberg is, of course, suggesting that socialism and fascism are linked. Peter acknowledges that they are:
There is a perfectly respectable school of thought that sees fascism emerging from the early socialist movement and even, at a stretch, being a malign form of socialism. This position can be maintained in that fascism shares a statist, anti-capitalist, collectivism with some parts of the socialist movement.

However, common roots do not make a common ideology.
Hayek would have agreed with that last sentence - see the quotation above: "The various kinds of collectivism, communism, fascism, etc, differ between themselves". If we are able to lay to one side political tribalism (rather as Cohen did in his review) we can see there is far less disagreement than might seem to be the case at first sight. But it will not get lain to one side by Peter. He considers the claim that Woodrow Wilson used the First World War as an excuse to impose:
a militarised state... arrest dissidents, close newspapers and recruit tens of thousands of neighbourhood spies. Wilson began the overlap between progressive and fascistic politics, which continued for the rest of the 20th century.
And seems to think it is sufficient rebuttal merely to say that "this is a persistent trope amongst American conservatives".

Then he goes entirely off the rails. Cohen had written:
It is undeniable that the best way to have avoided complicity in the horrors of the last century would have been to have adopted the politics of Jonah Goldberg. Much can be said against moderate conservatives, but it has to be admitted that their wariness of grand designs and their willingness to place limits on the over-mighty state give them a clean record others cannot share.
The rebuttal of this runs as follows:
Actually, most of the horrors of the last century could have been avoided if almost anyone else had been in power other than Hitler and Stalin.
The idea that history is determined by the characteristics of individuals is absurdly simplistic; it is the nursery school "Kings and battles" view of history. The twentieth century is more reasonably viewed as the aftermath of the First World War, the unravelling of the world as it had been during roughly the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries: the collapse of empires and challenges to rigid social and sexual demarcation.
However, in history we can't deal with ifs. Hitler came to power and it actually was conservatives of Goldberg's stamp who formed the governments of the Western democracies and who had to deal with him. What did they come up with? Isolationism and appeasement. Neither can be described as a howling success.
Goldberg, a supporter of military intervention overseas, is neither an appeaser nor an isolationist. More importantly, it was not conservatives of any stamp that came to power in Germany, it was those (not just Hitler) whose ideology forms part of the many-branched river of socialism. It was not conservatives who took power in Russia and China. That's the fundamental here. To argue that the failings of opposition to horror are worse than the failings of those who produced the horror is just bizarre. Yet even these criticisms of conservative opposition to socialism are unbalanced. Isolationism is a conservative fault, but not exclusively so. Appeasement was embraced by all sides of the political divide.
What about more recently? The colossal failings in former Yugoslavia was one of theirs, as was the decision to allow Saddam to stay in power and murderously crush the risings against him after the first Gulf War. They are also the ones who would leave the Afghans in the hands of the Taliban.
There was significant support for Serbia and opposition to intervention on the left, a legacy of Yugoslavia's communist past. Conservatives were also at fault, but to blame them entirely is partisan to the point of absurdity. Saddam was left in power after the first Gulf War because some members of the coalition, especially the Gulf States, vetoed what would have boiled down to an American invasion of an Arab country. The "anti-war" movement is overwhelmingly of the hard left. They would leave the Taliban in power, in fact some of them have actually allied with Taliban-like clerical fascists, and their intellectual justification derives from the hard-left rationalisations of cultural relativists. Isolationist conservatives would also leave the Afghans to their fate. Both are at fault, but the heavy lifting has been carried out by the left, not the right.
Nick, they have produced the journalism of Simon Jenkins.
Not journalism! Not someone earnestly writing things with which Peter disagrees! The horror of that certainly ranks alongside that of the schoolgirl-beheading Taliban.

It just continues in this vein. Conservatives had nothing to do with the defeat of fascism. Post War democracy has had nothing to do with conservatives:
Let's get the relationship between social democracy and fascism right. It didn't borrow from it, it defeated it. It defeated it militarily, economically, socially and morally. Fascism only re-emerges where social democracy is diminished. Social democracy is the success story of the 20th Century. Nick, comrade, we do not need "a plea of mitigation" for "the undoubted crimes of the left". We need to celebrate the success of the democratic left in reconstructing the post-war world and to resist the dismantling of its achievements.
There is absolutely no attempt to justify any of these assertions. Fascism is resurgent in Britain today, from the BNP's disturbing electoral improvements to the Let's Have Another Holocaust demonstrators on the streets of London. This is true after more than a decade of social democratic government. It's less true of the USA, after a long run of conservative government. Personally, I think the contemporary rise of fascism has little to do with either conservatism or social democracy, and it is opposed by an odd coalition drawn from both schools of thought. I think Peter Ryley and I, along with Nick Cohen and Jonah Goldberg, all stand on the same side of this divide. Tribalism of the kind displayed by Peter in his post can only undermine this coalition.

He said something similar in a post about totalitarianism:
If we were ever faced by an existential threat from a totalitarian state waging total war against our imperfect democracy, I think that Peter [Risdon], Harry [Barnes] and myself might find ourselves puffing and panting away in the Home Guard, 'doing our bit', however futile. We would be comrades because we would understand the threat posed to our fragile liberties and the horror that would be unleashed by defeat. I don't think then we would be calling each other totalitarians. We would be facing the real thing.
But, as I was trying very hard to explain, I wasn't name-calling when I wrote about totalitarianism. I was making the point that any and every political idea that claims sovereignty over the totality of citizens is totalitarian, even if it means well, even if it wants to use those powers to reduce oppression and improve equality. Totalitarianism isn't a measure of niceness; you don't have to be a totalitarian to torture, murder or invade. What's more, as I argued some time ago, even those who do murder, torture and invade are well-meaning, that is they do not consider themselves to be monsters and feel driven by greater moral imperatives.

In his recent Oxford speech, Samuel Brittan made a similar argument:
The substantive point is that if I cannot afford to fly to Greece, it is one sort of evil; and if my Government forbids me to travel there irrespective of whether I can afford to or not, it is another sort of evil. That is an act of coercion. Indeed one way of distinguishing between a liberal and a social democrat is that the liberal accepts the force of this distinction.
Socialism and social democracy are totalitarian. They are related to fascism. Jonah Goldberg drew out the links. As Nick Cohen put it:
[Woodrow] Wilson began the overlap between progressive and fascistic politics, which continued for the rest of the 20th century. Avant-garde Nazi philosophers - Heidegger, Paul de Man, Carl Schmitt - are venerated by nominal leftists in the postmodern universities, who love their contempt for traditional morality and standards of truth. Nazism was the first example of modern identity politics. All that mattered was whether you were German, Slav or Jew.

Beginning with the Black Panthers, multiculturalism has also placed racial and religious identity above all else and beyond the reach of rational argument. Fascism was a pagan movement, whose mystic tropes are repeated by new age healers, vegetarians and greens.
Peter made no attempt to address any of these arguments. Cohen also points out where he thinks Goldberg goes too far, or is otherwise unconvincing:
By the end, I began to weary not of his argument, but of his habit of protesting too much. Repeatedly he insists that he does not want to allege that, for instance, Hillary Clinton’s admittedly sinister desire for the state to take the place of the family makes her a totalitarian, merely that her ideas come from the totalitarian movement.

But he clearly does want to be able to accuse the Clintons of fascism and his disavowals lack conviction. Like the leftists who abuse him, he is in danger of shouting “fascist” so often that he will miss the real thing when it appears. And miss, too, the better side of his enemies. I dug out George Clooney’s full quote - which Goldberg doesn’t give - and discovered that the reason he thought that liberals had been on “the right side” was that they had “thought that blacks should be allowed to sit at the front of the bus and women should be able to vote, McCarthy was wrong, Vietnam was a mistake”. For all the undoubted crimes of the left, is that not at least a plea of mitigation?
Clooney there was using 'liberal' in its classical form, not as a synonym for socialism. Martin Luther King was a Republican; women's suffrage was a triumph, in the English speaking world, for the Women's Christian Temperance movement, which was not a hotbed of socialism. In fact, it wasn't especially liberal either. It's hard to find consistent patterns, and that's because conservatism and socialism are broad churches that include both liberal and illiberal strands.

Cohen wrote a balanced appraisal of a book that seems to have strayed sometimes into overstatement while making what is a fundamentally accurate case. Ryley simply protested that this was disloyal to the socialist movement. But tribalism is a debased and harmful type of loyalty.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Don't touch me there

The smell of burning leather, from The Tubes:

Scorn not his simplicity

Luke Kelly and the Dubliners.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Quote of the day

The Telegraph:

There will be a few in the Millennium Stadium this evening. Edwards is among his own. Nfflclcls niii tiii Biiitlsh-bcckxd Siiirrc Liiinx giiixr niiint hiiix biiin siiicllng tiiis niii miiillnns niii piiinds wiiith niii diiimnnds, tiiixc tiiilng tiii siiiblllty niii tiii wiii

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Obama boycotted

Diane McDaniels, whose son was killed in the Cole bombing, also declined an invitation to meet the president, saying she was too disillusioned with Obama for dropping the charges.

"My son was blown up along with 16 others. I buried body parts for three years," she told FOX News. "I'm still suffering and now he's withdrawing the charges?

"There's nothing he can say to make me feel better," she explained, adding that Obama is sending the wrong message to the American people. "He may be the president but he's wrong."

It's magic

Search for the phrase "magic shop" in the Queensland White Pages, and this is what you'll see:

Via Tim Blair.


The playgrounds in Sderot come equipped with bomb shelters, decorated with kid-friendly art. When the alarms sound, the youngsters have 15 seconds to dash, tumble or waddle into a shelter before impact, or risk being torn asunder.

Earsplitting detonations, spewing searing hot steel, must be terrifying for the kids. It is truly sad to imagine that a ten year-old can have more experience diving for cover than many combat experienced soldiers.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Christopher Booker Prize

George Monbiot today announced a new award he plans to present to:

whoever manages, in the course of 2009, to cram as many misrepresentations, distortions and falsehoods into a single article, statement, lecture, film or interview about climate change. It is not to be confused with the Man Booker Prize, although that is also a prize for fiction.
And the first winner is Christopher Booker. Ironic, no?

This award has been granted for:
his latest column for the Sunday Telegraph, Booker manages six and a half clangers: pretty good going in fewer than 900 words.
Let's have a look at these clangers:
Claim 1:
"[James Hansen of Nasa] was last week publicly disowned by his former supervisor Dr John Theon, who said that Hansen's unscientific claims had been an embarrassment to Nasa ever since he joined Al Gore in whipping up panic over global warming back in 1988."
Theon was not Hansen's supervisor in any reasonable meaning of the word, as blogger BigCityLib and Gavin Schmidt of NASA have noted.
BigCityLib quoted the words used in this post, where the story started, on the blog of prominent, climatically sceptical Senator Inhofe:
NASA warming scientist James Hansen, one of former Vice President Al Gore’s closest allies in the promotion of man-made global warming fears, is being publicly rebuked by his former supervisor at NASA.
The claim that Theon was Hansen's supervisor was then watered down, in this same post, as follows:
“I was, in effect, Hansen's supervisor because I had to justify his funding, allocate his resources, and evaluate his results. I did not have the authority to give him his annual performance evaluation,”
That's a lot weaker. Clearly, this was not Hansen's supervisor in any formal sense. The lead paragraph is hyperbole and Booker repeated it and not the subsequent, more accurate description of the role of Theon with respect to Hansen.

Even so, Theon's role was prominent, as he describes it:
“As Chief of several of NASA Headquarters’ programs (1982-94), an SES position, I was responsible for all weather and climate research in the entire agency, including the research work by James Hansen, Roy Spencer, Joanne Simpson, and several hundred other scientists at NASA field centers, in academia, and in the private sector who worked on climate research... This required a thorough understanding of the state of the science”
BigCityLib has posted that By the numerical system used to denote rank in NASA, Hansen ranked higher than Theon. He adds that Theon's whole career was spent working on the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission while "Hansen became the premier expert on climate change."

This is the sort of bickering you meet when you read about climate change. So far, it's been about what Theon's role was in NASA with respect to Hansen. Nobody I've quoted has said what it was that Theon said about climate change itself. He plainly worked in NASA, in an area related to climate, and he has expressed a dissenting view. But the view isn't mentioned; the debate is over whether or or he is qualified to have an opinion. One of the reasons for doubting his opinion, according to BigCityLib, is that:
He's a geezer, and therefore fits the standard profile of a climate change denier.

...and he's a geezer that seems to have had some kind of conversion to AGW skepticism well after his retirement. In 1991 he seemed to be entirely comfortable with the line of Hansen's thinking as well as the use of climate models in general.
He's a geezer? Profile of climate change denier? This means, if you click through, you'll see a gallery of photographs of middle-aged and older men The last photo of all is of a Bigfoot. Climate deniers, you see, are old geezers, and:
... nobody working in the sociology/history of science has ever suggested that the goals of science are best advanced by the Old Timers League, which is essentially what we have above.
These people are not likely to be right, because they're old. So... we ignore them? We ignore old people? Because they're old? We don't even look at what they're saying?

Really? Is this what "The Science" tells us?

What is wrong with climate alarmists?

But it's basically one out of one for Monbiot. Theon wasn't Hansen's supervisor. Next:
Claim 2:
"Nothing was more laughable than the sequence showing a huge poster of the infamous 'hockey stick' temperature graph being driven round London on the back of a lorry, without any mention of the expert studies which have made the 'hockey stick' one of the most comprehensively discredited artefacts in the history of science."
Far from being discredited, the hockey stick graph of past temperature reconstructions has been supported by a large number of further studies, as you can see in this graphic and on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's site. Those who claimed to discredit it have been comprehensively rebuffed. You can read more about this on the A Few Things Ill Considered blog and on Real Climate.
Here's the graphic Monbiot linked to:
Here's the hockey stick (taken from the linked post at A Few Things Ill Considered):

And here's one of the hockey stick superimposed on the first, with the axes roughly adjusted to match:

The hockey stick is displaced downwards on the last graphic because it is hard to see its shape on the top of all the other lines. The comparison is one of shape, and they're not very alike. On the multi-forecast graphic the years around 1000 BP were similar to those in the second half of the twentieth century. On the multi-forecast graph Monbiot linked to, there was a Little Ice Age and there was a mediaeval warm period. On the hockey stick there were neither. Monbiot's own illustration contradicts the model, the hockey stick, that he is defending.

There are problems with the hockey stick model. The UN IPCC stopped relying on it, a second version was produced, but it too was criticised on material and detailed grounds. It isn't a good fit with the data. And the process of obfuscation and obstruction that prevented attempts at peer review were discreditable. This is a point against Monbiot. Interestingly, that means he's in the running for his own prize. The score is one all. Next:
Claim 3:
"As late as August 28 this year it [the BBC] was still predicting that Arctic ice might soon disappear, just as this winter's refreezing was about to take ice cover back to a point it was at 30 years ago."
This is complete trash. See the latest results from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. It reports: "Average Arctic sea ice extent for the month of December was 12.53m square kilometres (4.84m sq miles). This was 140,000 sq km (54,000 sq miles) greater than for December 2007 and 830,000 sq km (320,000 sq miles) less than the 1979 to 2000 December average." And: "Average ice extent in December was well below average and very close to that measured in 2007."
Booker's claim was that ice cover in the Arctic is approaching the same levels as thirty years ago. Monbiot talks about an average, which doesn't answer Booker's claim. It's a non sequitur, but the extent of sea ice in 1979 and today can be seen here and as you can see, there was more ice in 1979:

Booker pulls ahead with two points to Monbiot's one. Next:
Claims 4, 5a, 5b and 6:
"The BBC couldn't wait to publicise the recent study claiming that Antarctica, far from getting colder over the past 50 years (claim 4), as all the evidence suggests, has in fact been warming (5a). It didn't, of course, explain that the new study is based on a computer model (5b), run by the creator of the "hockey stick" [Martin Mann], which (6) in the absence of hard data, allows for inspired guesswork - what the study's authors call 'sparse data infilling'."
4. All the evidence suggests nothing of the kind, as Real Climate's Gavin Schmidt explains.
5a. The study is, in fact, based on satellite data and air temperature records from weather stations, as you can see in this letter.
5b. Michael Mann is one author of some of the past temperature reconstruction studies. He is only the fourth of six authors of the Antarctic warming paper.
6. As you can see in this joint letter, there is a good deal of hard data as well.
4. Booker claims the BBC were eager to broadcast this news, Monbiot links to a piece by Schmidt that states "Mainstream media coverage was widespread and generally did a good job of covering the essentials". Monbiot contradicts himself with his own link, again: two all.

5a. That the study is based on certain data, which you'd expect for correlation if nothing else, does not contradict Booker's claim that the "study is based on a computer model". The letter Monbiot links to supports Booker:
Simulations using a general circulation model reproduce the essential features of the spatial pattern and the long-term trend...
That sounds like modelling. In this case, both Booker and Monbiot are correct, but because Monbiot set out to contradict Booker but instead just came out with a non sequitur, Monbiot gets the point. Three two to Monbiot.

5b. Yes, the attack on Mann for his association with the hockey stick model is inappropriate. Mann, just like the old geezers, is entitled to be judged by his work. Three all. The decider:

6. Another non-sequitur. Booker says the study used "inspired guesswork" which the authors called "sparse data infilling". Monbiot says there was data. Booker didn't say there wasn't, he says there wasn't very much. Monbiot does not deny the suggestion the study's authors used "sparse data infilling".

Final Score: Christopher Booker: 3 points, George Monbiot: 4 points

Congratulations, George.

UPDATE: Marc Morano, from Senator Inhofe's office, has asked me to make the following correction:

You wrote: "BigCityLib has posted that By the numerical system used to denote rank in NASA, Hansen ranked higher than Theon."

While BigCityLib did write the above, it is not accurate information. The chart and coding system BigCityLib is heralding is not applicable to Theon and Hansen.

The chart appears to be a chart of the Goddard Space Flight Center, not NASA Headquarters!!!

NASA HQ is not a part of Code 613 or 613.2.
I'm happy to do so, though I don't think it alters the scoring. Monbiot wins his own prize, but the margin remains just one point.