Wednesday, 28 September 2011

I really didn’t say everything I said

Bullfighting is now in the process of being banned in Catalonia, people far more knowledgable about Spain than I am claim this is at least partially driven by a desire to differentiate themselves from mainland Spain than anything else. So instead I'm going to fearlessly march in to a small detail that's tangentially related to it all.

Whenever bullfighting (or that old fun internet war about whether motor racing is a sport or not) there's one quote that gets dragged out more than any other.

"There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games" Ernest Hemingway

And the thing is, it's absolute bollocks. As far as we can tell Hemingway never said it. Not only did he not say it, it isn't something he might have said.

A quote from him that has the benefit of being real is that bullfighting "is not a sport but a tragedy" (from Death in the Afternoon). And goes on at length to talk about it as ritual, art, and all kinds of other things but explicitly not a sport.

The title quote is from Yogi Berra who while being very quotable with his yogi-isms, often found all kinds of other quotes being assigned to him. With good lines we seem to want someone famous to have said them and they get attached. Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde are two serial sufferers (or beneficiaries?) from this affliction.

Or as goes around in various forms on facebook every so often.

"The problem with quotes on the internet is you can't trust their accuracy"- Abraham Lincoln.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

What are you paying for?

One of the commonest mistakes made by top level sports teams (especially in the USA where salary caps make such things more damaging) is to pay a player on the basis of what he has done rather than what he will do.

So that a player in the latter part of an excellent career as a top player expects to get an eye-watering contract, but simply viewed forwards smart teams will let them walk since their probable future production doesn't warrant it.

The same should really apply to governments. The point is not who caused the financial crisis, but how to move on from it.

So when complaints are made that the government is still helping "bankers who caused the financial crisis" then they are committing the error of looking backwards rather than forwards.

Of course considerations need to be made about this, if bankers always expect rescuing then it removes a brake on how risky they are prepared to be in their actions. But that's how it should (and I hope is) viewed. In terms of future effects.

Reward and punishment makes for good politics but bad government (and sports teams).

Friday, 23 September 2011

Saturday Quote

"You cannot spend your way out of recession"

James Callaghan at the 1976 Labour conference.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

A blank sheet or a bare canvas

Much is often made of Ed Miliband's alleged (and I use the word because I don't want to get into the area of the truth of the allegation or not) lack of policies, particularly on the economy. The blank sheet of paper that is so often referred to.

This is neither a surprising or bad tactic for him. It's very hard to sustain interest or a narrative over any length of time particularly in opposition because there's little to sustain it. It gets stale very quickly however good it is. It's an obvious point, but you can't spell news without NEW. Anything he launches now will fade and become played out well before the next election, not to mention if the situation changes it won't fit the situation as well and changing it will open him up to charges of flip-flopping.

Secondly he doesn't want to talk about Labour's economic policy because that comes dangerously close to talking about Labour's economic record and he really wants to stay away from that at all costs. When it's the economy he wants to do nothing but attack the Coalition and the current state of affairs, always on the attack. A foggy policy is one that's hard to hit.

He's got the basic theme which is less cuts and more stimulus and needs no more than that, particularly in the modern era of politics (the long decline of long speeches in favour of soundbites has leaned politics towards this notion). Specific policies just give the coalition to hit. There's a quote I've seen attributed to several people is

"The very first law in advertising is to avoid the concrete promise and cultivate the delightfully vague."

and what is politics but advertising. Ed will and should stay away from getting anywhere near specific about what he should do. At least until a general election is in the foreseeable future when he can start putting things together and be seen to be offering an alternative. An alternative that can be painted new as Ed's policy with no questions of altering past policy. If asked he can point to the vague statements and say "I've argued for more stimulus".

If you believe in the honourable contest of ideas, principled arguments, and alternatives being offered then you'll be disgusted at this tactic. If you're interested in politics you'll acknowledge the sense of it (and that Ed is very far from the first to tread this path).

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A rather ruthless tea party

I watched the Tea Party debate the other night, not much changed from last weeks but perhaps notable was this moment.

Moderators always try and bait Ron Paul into these sorts of questions (it gets rather tiresome at times since they're so one-track and unsubtle about it).

In short he's (eventually) asked if society should leave someone with no medical insurance but a serious health issue to die.

He leans towards the personal responsibility but steps back (we'll give him the benefit of the doubt that it's through belief rather than political savvy) from saying let him die by suggesting churches and charities would step in.

It's a position I'm skeptical of but it is at least one with some compassion. Out of the audience you can hear enthusiastic shouts (unrepresentative individuals, can't generalise, etc etc) of "yeah", "yes". I understand the theoretical position, but it is one I find sadly short of compassion. I've never liked ideological purity, I find it leads to worrying places, and there should always be room for compassion.