There was no Kennedy conspiracy

Fifty years ago today  a shooting in Dallas left US president John F. Kennedy dead and Texas Governor John Connally injured. 3 in 4 Americans believe that this was the result of a conspiracy. They are wrong.

In this article for Slate, Fred Kaplan – himself a former conspiracy theorist – argues that the evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone is overwhelming. Even the most apparently convincing evidence otherwise dissolves under proper investigation:

At first, it was assumed that Kennedy and Connally had been hit by separate bullets. But the Zapruder film threw a wrench in that notion. The Warren Commission’s analysts concluded that JFK was shot sometime between Frames 210 and 225 (a street billboard blocked Zapruder’s view at the crucial moment), while Connally was hit no later than Frame 240. In other words, the two men were hit no more than 30 frames apart. However, FBI tests revealed that Oswald’s rifle could be fired no faster than once every 2.25 seconds—which, on Zapruder’s camera, translated, to 40 or 41 frames. In short, there wasn’t enough time for Oswald to fire one bullet at Kennedy, then another at Connally.

The inference was inescapable. Either there were at least two gunmen—or Kennedy and Connally were hit by the same bullet. The Warren Report argued the latter. The “single-bullet theory,” as it was called, set off a controversy even among the commissioners. Three of them didn’t buy it. Under political pressure to issue a unanimous report (preferably one reassuring the American public that there was only one gunman and he was dead), the skeptics stifled their dissent, at least publicly; in exchange, the report’s authors toned down their assessment of the single-bullet theory from “compelling” (the first draft’s term) to merely “persuasive.”

That section of the Warren Report drew the most biting attacks. Critics drew diagrams tracing the absurd path that a bullet would have had to travel—a midair turn to the right, followed by a squiggly one to the left—in order to rip through Kennedy’s neck, then into Connally’s ribs and wrist.

For many years, long after I’d rejected most of the conspiracy buffs’ claims, the “magic bullet”—as critics called it—remained the one piece of the Dealey Plaza puzzle that I couldn’t fit into the picture; it was the one dissonant chord that, in certain moods, made me think there might have been two gunmen after all.

Then, in November 2003, on the murder’s 40th anniversary, I watched an ABC News documentary called The Kennedy Assassination: Beyond Conspiracy. In one segment, the producers showed the actual car in which the president and the others had been riding that day. One feature of the car, which I’d never heard or read about before, made my jaw literally drop. The back seat, where JFK rode, was three inches higher than the front seat, where Connally rode. Once that adjustment was made, the line from Oswald’s rifle to Kennedy’s upper back to Connally’s ribcage and wrist appeared absolutely straight. There was no need for a magic bullet.

But the idea of a conspiracy has an appeal. For all its practical unlikelihood, at an emotional level it still seems more plausiable than the alternative:

As the old adage has it, “Big doors sometimes swing on little hinges.” John F. Kennedy’s murder was a big door—had he lived, the subsequent decades might have looked very different—and Lee Harvey Oswald was a preposterously small hinge. The dissonance is wildly disorienting. It makes for a neater fit, a more intelligible universe, to believe that a consequential figure like John Kennedy was taken down by an equally consequential entity, like the CIA, the Mafia, the Soviets, Castro … take your pick.

Now it could be argued that who was responsible for a shooting half a century ago is now just a historical curiosity like who killed the princes in the tower. Yet it still matters. David Aaronovitch argues in his book Voodoo Histories, belief in a particular conspiracy theory is often a gateway into a worldview riddled with implausible plots. He cites the example of 9/11 truthers who trace their involvement with the movement to their conviction that their was a plot to kill Kennedy. And as Aaronovitch warns this has nasty consequences:

Aaronovitch says conspiracy theories are fashionable across the globe. And while the one your neighbor insists upon — that the fluoride in the drinking water is actually a mind-control experiment by the government — might be a harmless variation, some have serious consequences.

“If you are to travel in Pakistan, for instance, you will find that a significant proportion of the educated Pakistanis believe that George Bush brought down the twin towers,” says Aaronovitch. “And that makes dealing with the [Pakistani] Taliban difficult because they actually don’t believe the fundamental premise on which the war against terror was waged.”

Update: this post initially stated that Governor Connolly had been killed in the shooting. This was drafting error and I had meant to say he was injured. I’ve now corrected the text. Thanks to Paul Walter for spotting this.

Is Myers-Briggs any better than a horoscope?

Myers-Briggs personality tests are widely used, produce appealing results and seem rigorous. There’s just one problem: they have little grounding in theory or practice.

The Force is strong with this test

The Myers-Briggs typology is probably the most popular form of personality testing ever devised. It is widely used in the corporate and educational worlds. An article from the Guardian reports that there are “companies that make a point of putting employee MBTI profiles on the doors to their offices, so people entering know how best to engage with them.” It has evolved into a multimillion dollar industry. And it has achieved enough cultural salience that things like this chart exist:


My personality

According to this online version of the Myers-Briggs test, I am INTJ (Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging) like Emperor Palpatine. And to be fair the supposed traits of this personality would be useful for trying to rule the Galaxy:

INTJs are introspective, analytical, determined persons with natural leadership ability. Being reserved, they prefer to stay in the background while leading. Strategic, knowledgable and adaptable, INTJs are talented in bringing ideas from conception to reality. They expect perfection from themselves as well as others and are comfortable with the leadership of another so long as they are competent. INTJs can also be described as decisive, open-minded, self-confident, attentive, theoretical and pragmatic.

But does my being an INTJ really tell you more about me than my being a Gemini? Would an employer administering a MBTI test to a job applicant be anymore reasonable than consulting their horoscope?

Consistency and clarity

For all its other deficiencies, astrology does at least have the benefit of consistency. I was born in mid-June and therefore will forever more be a gemini.

By contrast, I’ve not always been a Palpatine like INTJ. On previous occasions I’ve taken the test I’ve been Yodaesque INTP. As my one time spirit animal might say: troubling implications has this. If your result is going to be a reasonably useful indicator for long term decisions like career choices you’d expect some consistency in the results.

My flip from Jedi master to Sith lord comes about because of a structural flaw in the test. It work by categorising people according four dichotomies: Extraversion-Introversion, Sensing-Intuition, Thinking-Feeling and Judging-Perception. These are then combined to produce an overall classification. The problem is that what the test presents as distinct categories are actually a scale. Rather than being say a sensor or an intuitor, we all combine features of both.

Myers Briggs works a bit like a weather forecast that instead of telling you the temperature just tells you whether it’s hot or cold. That would be terrible. It wouldn’t make any distinction between a cool day and a snow blizzard. Plus during spring and autumn, you’d constantly be switching between the two categories as small changes in temperature took you over the dividing line.

This is essentially what happens with my test. I don’t have a clear preference for judging vs perceiving, so tend to come out near the borderline. Therefore, it doesn’t take much variation to push me over the boundaries between the categories. Now you might think this is just me and my awkward personality refusing to be easily categorised but in fact that’s pretty standard. As on most scale people congregate near the median, and extreme results are rare. Therefore, the drawing of a sharp distinction is especially inappropriate.

So in terms of clarity and consistency, astrology is our clear winner. So at this early stage it’s 1-0 to Astrology.

Theoretical underpinnings

As Sheldon explains in the above clip from the Big Bang Theory, astrology has no real theoretical basis. How about myers-briggs?

Well, it should raise our scepticism that neither of its creators Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers had a professional background or academic training in psychology. They based their work on the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s book Psychological Types.

Jung is a troubling source. Rather than a psychologist or psychiatrist he was a psychoanalyst. This was one of disciplines that Karl Popper branded as a paradigm example of an unempirical pseudoscience driven by anecdotes and conjecture rather than rigorous testing. Actual attempts to test it tend to fall down. As for Jung in particular many of his ideas were rather strange.

Apart from his alchemy-fuelled notion of the collective unconscious, we have to thank Jung for terms and ideas like New Age, the age of Aquarius and synchronicity, the ‘scientific’ study of coincidence. Frankly, it is all rather fluffy and daffy.

So we have a draw: both horoscopes and  Myers-Briggs come up short on the theoretical front. So it’s still 1-0 to the astrologers.

Putting it to an empirical test

Astrology fails this test so spectacularly that we need not discuss it further.

Myers Briggs does not do much better.

Consider this finding by a researcher at the University of Indiana:

In summary, it appears that the MBTI does not conform to many of the basic standards expected of psychological tests. Many very specific predictions about the MBTI have not been confirmed or have been proved wrong. There is no obvious evidence that there are 16 unique categories in which all people can be placed. There is no evidence that scores generated by the MBTI reflect the stable and unchanging personality traits that are claimed to be measured. Finally, there is no evidence that the MBTI measures anything of value.

Or this:

A number of studies have found that personality types said to be most appropriate for certain professions, notably nursing or teaching, turn out to be no more prevalent among that profession than among the general population. The Army Research Institute commissioned one such study to determine if the MBTI or similar tests could be used to improve the placement of personnel in different duties, and firmly concluded that the results of such tests did not justify their use in career counseling.

However, this round has to go the Myers-Briggs test because the following research while almost entirely rejecting it does not do so completely:

Consistent with earlier research and evaluations, there was no support for the view that the MBTI measures truly dichotomous preferences or qualitatively distinct types, instead, the instrument meastires four relatively independent dimensions. The interpretation of the Judging-Perceivmg index was also called into question. The data suggest that Jung’s theory is either incorrect or madequately operationalized by the MBTI and cannot provide a sound basis for interpreting it. However, correlational analyses showed that the four MBTI indices did measure aspects of four of the five major dimensions of normal personality The five factor model provides an alternative basis for interpreting MBTI findings within a broader, more commonly shared conceptual framework.

So we’ve come to a draw overall: 1-1.

For fun but nothing more!

I concede that Myers-Briggs has a certain intuitive appeal. It feels right to me that the two Star Wars characters I should be most like are Yoda and the Emperor! And as Myers-Briggs typology is so well known it is ideal for exercises like classifying fictional characters.

However, something of such flimsy scientific merit has no place in serious matters like choosing careers, degree subjects or partners.

It is only good when it is treated as a bit of fun. Rather like horoscopes.






The Bank Basher’s Dilemma

Populists may have to choose between taming banks and taxing them

Senator Elizabeth Warren

Senator Elizabeth Warren

The victory of the left-wing Bill De Blasio in the New York Mayoral election has led to a considerable interest in the increasingly populist direction of the Democratic Party. One well respected journalist has gone as far as arguing that the anti-Wall Street crusader Elizabeth Warren might be the next president.

has identified a problem with this movement. Essentially, he identifies two objectives it has. First, of all it wants to reign in the behaviour and size of large financial institutions. Secondly, it wants increases in public spending funded by higher taxes on the financial sector and the super wealthy (who typically work in finance). These two objectives seem of a piece but as Yglesias explains they are actually contradictory:

Suppose that President Warren rides to town with a raft of new legislation and tough regulators and a set of U.S. attorneys firmly dedicated to prosecuting financial wrongdoing with the utmost rigor. Well if it works, the pretax income of Wall Street types is going to plummet. And while that might well be good for the country and the middle class broadly, it would cause the tax base in New York and California and other politically blue high-inequality jurisdictions to fall. Rather than hiking rates on the rich to pay for new programs and more generous wages, these places would find themselves either needing to tax the middle class (a much tougher sell politically) or else shift into a neoliberal efficiency-seeking mode. By contrast the Tim Geithner philosophy—regulate Wall Street but don’t seek to transform it or displace the sector from its leading role in America’s political economy—is a great match for the politics of progressive taxation to finance public-sector social democracy.

Which is to say that the alliance between labor unions and bank bashing is a very effective and powerful one as long as it doesn’t actually win. A big-city mayor doesn’t have the authority to crack down on Wall Street, so he or she is ideally positioned to tap the rhetoric of bank bashing in service of an agenda of progressive taxes and high spending. But a president really could take on the fat cats—not just taxing them but making their underlying businesses less lucrative, leaving less in the way of tax revenue to scoop up.

This is a dilemma that plays out in British politics too. Take the issue of a financial transaction tax. The main campaign group that promotes it does so as a revenue raising measure: “Robin Hood supporters believe that banks, hedge funds and the rest of the financial sector should pay their fair share to clear up the mess they helped create.” But that would shrink the financial sector, which would reduce the income, corporation and other taxes it pays. However, it would have the welcome effect of cutting down banking’s oversized role in the economy.

Given that there is a tension between the two policies, I’m inclined to make rebalancing the economy the priority. Cradling the financial sectors while using the tax revenues it generated to expand the welfare state was essentially what the last Labour government did and that didn’t end well. Not only does it squeeze the real economy but it also ties the public finances to the fluctuating fortunes of the City. In short, it’s an anti-austerity proposals that risks creating a requirement for austerity next time the banks run into trouble and start paying less tax.

The National Liberal Party was not what Nick Bowles thinks it was

The planning minister Nick Boles wants to revive the National Liberal Party. This breakaway faction of the Liberal Party formed in the 1930s and survived (in theory at least) till 1968, when it merged with the Conservative Party. Boles seems to believe this would represent a severing of classical liberals from the ‘statist’ Liberal Democrats.

However, were that to be the case Boles’ new party would not be quite unlike the original National Liberal Party. Far from being more free market than the rest of the Liberals, they were actually the Liberals who stayed in the Tory dominated National government when the rest of the party walked out over proposals to levy import tariffs. That was not to say that the Liberals outside the National Government were to the right of the National Liberals. This was after all a movement that would soon count amongst its members Beveridge and Keynes. Rather because the Conservative party is hardly a paragon free market party, it is possible to oppose it from both economic and social liberal standpoints simultaneously.

The history of the National Liberal Party does not look like an appetising precedent for liberals. Not only did they find themselves opposing cherished liberal values like free trade, they were subsequently disappeared without a trace into the Conservative Party. While this happened officially in the 1960s it was de facto the case long before that. The inference for present day liberals is that any alliance with an illiberal party like the Conservatives will not be a meeting of political souls. Rather it should be a temporary measure entered into pragmatically to achieve specific goals before getting the hell away from Tories.

Ruby Wax: ‘your pets are happier than you’

A few years back at a talk for new students at Kellogg College, I turned round and looked at the students sitting behind me. And the thought that struck me? “Wow, that women looks remarkably like Ruby Wax.” It turns out it was. She was studying a Masters in mindfulness based cognitive therapy.

She gave a TED talk recently about mental illness. She’s a brilliant guide to the subject. She combines her skills as a comedian with the knowledge gained both from her studies and being a bipolar sufferer to produce a funny, enlightening and profound talk.

Rescuing Hayek from the Hayekians (and himself)


We (belatedly) finish Conservative Week with a look at Margaret Thatcher’s favourite economist and philosopher: Friedrich Hayek.

The Austrian economist FA Hayek has long been a staple of free market thinking. Margaret Thatcher read him as an undergraduate and cited him as a major influence on her premiership. And in 2010, professional right-wing scaremonger Glenn Beck devoted a whole episode of his TV show to Hayek’s book the ‘the Road to Serfdom’ and in the process launched it to the top of the US bestseller charts.

Given Beck’s use of Hayek as a tool for creating hysteria, it’s worth reflecting on what kind of free market thinker Hayek really was.

In order to argue that the (purported) expansion of the state under Obama threatens American democracy, Beck focuses exclusively on a single work of Hayek’s: ‘the Road to Serfdom.’ It’s a polemic about how economic planning leads to tyranny and it’s an excellent book. Hayek shows with chilling precision that there is no clean division between the economy and the rest of life, hence the state cannot takeover one and not the other.

Hayek and Beck both argue that combining liberal democracy and socialism is impossible. But they are talking about different socialisms. Beck’s scarcely deserves the name; at one point it extends to the government hiring people to conduct the census. By the contrast Hayek was writing Serfdom in the 1940s as Stalin’s Soviet Union was devouring Eastern Europe and many people in Britain were advocating keeping wartime planning in place even after hostilities had ceased. Hayek had more sinister things on his mind than Obamacare.

In fact it seems quite possible that Hayek would have been ok with a welfare state. In Serfdom Hayek wrote that:

Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance, where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks, the case for the state helping to organise a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong. There are many points of detail where those wishing to preserve the competitive system and those wishing to supersede it by something different will disagree on the details of such schemes; and it is possible under the name of social insurance to introduce measures which tend to make competition more or less ineffective. But there is no incompatibility in principle between the state providing greater security in this way and the preservation of individual freedom.

It is a pity that Beck does not go beyond Serfdom and look at the rest of Hayek’s work. His macroeconomics are mostly junk but his political theory is enlightening. Of particular benefit to Beck might be The Constitution of Liberty. It’s an argument that prosperity rests on the rule of law, and it might teach Beck that it’s not just the size of the state that matters. Whether it is accountable to the public and courts matters too. This is why despite Sweden and Venezuela both have economically interventionist governments, life in these two countries couldn’t be more different.

Progressives too often forget that freedom includes free markets. People who call themselves Hayekians need to remember that there is more to freedom than free markets.

Cultural Atheism

We have Cultural Christians, Cultural Jews and Cultural Muslisms. Am I a Cultural Atheist?

In Britain and America at least, we’re witnessing a steady decline in faith. This is not, however. an even process. For many a belief in a deity ebbs faster than does the desire to participate in its rituals, uphold the morality of and belong to a particular faith community. As a result there has emerged a significant group of people, who do not believe in the supernatural aspects of the faith they were raised but who still claim allegiance to it. So for example, there is a now a Jewish Cultural Centre in London for people who still feel Jewish but who would feel out of place at a synagogue.

I’m the reverse and therefore a rarity: someone who has raised a non-believer yet converted to a faith. Neither of my parents were believers, and while scouts and Christian friends meant I spent a fair amount of time around churches, I always did so as an outsider. It wasn’t until I started university that I began exploring Christianity and I did that in a rather cerebral manner. I have therefore wound up with a Christian belief system superimposed on top of secular cultural assumptions. I am I suppose a ‘cultural atheist.’

For me at least this seems rather more apt that the usual way to describe converts like me: ‘Born Again Christians.’ Not only is the latter label almost always applied to evangelicals, it’s also inaccurate. My old self was saved rather than obliterated, and it continues to shape me and my faith.

While the stereotypical Born Again Christian is more devout because they don’t take faith for granted, I find the experience of being a convert somewhat akin to being an immigrant. No matter how welcoming my spiritual home is, it’s not effortlessly mine in the way it is for someone who was born in it.

This leaves me somewhat alienated from the rituals of Christianity. I’m pretty ignorant of the hymns. Prayer comes easily when it is spontaneous but bowing my head at an ‘appropriate’ time in a service is usually a prelude to my mind wandering. And any demonstration of faith I consider vulgar awakens my inner Christopher Hitchens.

However, I don’t think this distance from my new faith is a problem. I’ve found that still speaking in an atheist idiom allows me to present Christianity in a way that makes it seem reasonable to unbelievers. It seems that like any other form of migrant, spiritual migrants find ourselves having to straddle two worlds without ever being wholly comfortable in either. But as a compensation for that have the opportunity to bridge that divide.

Democracy needs political parties and they need activists: A response to Mark Thompson

The Liberal Democrat blogger Mark Thompson is a Liberal Democrat no more. He explains that this is not because he’s disenchanted with the Liberal Democrats per se but with political parties in general.

The impetus for me to leave is really because politics is broken. The Westminster Village is obsessed with who managed to shout the best for 5 minutes and get their friends to jeer and point at the other side just after midday on a Wednesday. They genuinely seem to think it matters. I very rarely even bother watching PMQs any more. They insist on speaking in sound bites and clichés and point-blank refuse to answer questions thinking that their “clever” evasions can’t be seen for precisely what they are. The tribal nature of much of what goes on drives me nuts. Labour have been the worst for this in recent years castigating the current government for doing things that they would almost certainly have done themselves and in a number of cases were actively planning to. But none of the main parties are free from this sort of thing. It reduces politics to a bunch of silly games where tiny nuances are picked up on and there are a million hidden rules that only highly experienced practitioners of the “art” of politics are aware of. That’s one of the reason so many of them are now former SpAds. It is only by immersing yourself in this culture for decades that you can learn these rules. People who may have spent most of their lives doing something else much more worthwhile aren’t aware of them and thus struggle to become part of the inner circles of real power being seen as ingénues who have little to offer. Sarah Woolaston, a woman who spent most of her life as a doctor is an excellent example of this.

None of this is specifically the fault of the Lib Dems. But they are complicit in it. They have 57 MPs. They are part of the government. They have tried to change some of this but on the constitutional and political reform front they have utterly failed. Again I am not blaming them particularly. The forces of conservatism in Labour and the Tories closed ranks to ensure AV (what would have been a very minor, positive change) was a failure and they killed Lords reform too. Those who sneer that the Lib Dems are to blame themselves for all of this fail to recognise just how far the status quo will go to preserve itself.

I joined the Lib Dems over 5 years ago in the hope that I could be part of something that would advance electoral reform, move the government’s drugs policy in a positive direction and improve civil liberties. On the first two we are further away than we were when I joined*. The third one has been a case of two steps forward in some areas (e.g. ID cards) but two steps back in others (e.g. secret courts).

I have become convinced that real change needs to come from outside of the three main parties now. I’m not calling for a Brand-esque revolution or telling people they shouldn’t vote. That was totally irresponsible. I will certainly be voting at the next election and I may well vote for the Lib Dems. I have been interested in some of what the Green Party has to say although some of their more statist policies turn me off. I am also interested in the nascent Pirate Party philosophy. But the truth is I have had enough of being a member of a party for now. I only joined at the age of 34 having spent the previous two decades as a highly politically engaged lone wolf. Perhaps that is my natural state.

I think that love them or loathe them groups like 38 Degrees and the TPA have shown how much outside groups can influence things. The power of political parties is waning. The financial crisis has shown the limits of business as usual and yet nothing his really changed yet. We have a political system that was designed hundreds of years ago and it is utterly unfit for the world we now live in. But I see and hear very few people agitating for the sort of fundamental change we need. And I include myself in that criticism. I have on occasion bemoaned one or other aspect of it but being a member of one of the main parties, attending the conferences, speaking on the media as a member, posting leaflets, canvassing for them and generally doing all that a good party member should has made it difficult for me to say what I really think and has ultimately become untenable for me.

There is little there that I disagree with. However, it misses the bigger picture. There may indeed be advantages to campaigning outside parties rather than within them. Though it should be said that pressure groups are hardly immune to closed mindedness or triviality – a point that Thompson’s example of the Tax Payers Alliance illustrates rather well.

The more important point though is that whatever its deficiencies we still need party politics. In fact, efforts to promote democracy in the developing world include promoting political parties. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy explains why:

Political parties are central to representative democracy and to the process ofvdemocratisation. They connect society and the state. They aggregate and represent interests. They recruit political leaders. They disseminate political information. They socialise citizens into democratic politics. They manage conflicts of interest and, very importantly in societies that have recently experienced violent conflict, they can offer a forum for social and political integration, a tool for nation-building. Democracy in the modern world is inconceivable without healthy parties and an effective party system. Such a system exists where the number of genuine parties is neither too small (a highly polarised system) nor too large (highly fragmented). It offers meaningful choices to the electorate. The relations among the parties display a responsible attitude towards the practice of political competition. And the parties connect with society.

The presence of an institutionalised party system means that society can hold elected politicians to account for their performance in office and their role as the people’s representatives. The public standing of the political parties – and of politicians themselves – benefits when the parties and the party system are in good health. Strategies to establish and consolidate democracy that ignore the central role of parties cannot hope to be successful, no matter how much attention they pay to other vital matters such as building civil society and the institutions of good governance.

So while I understand and respect Thompson’s reasons they seem misguided. If we need political parties, and they need activists and members if they are going to mean anything

Want to understand UKIP? Look at their bike policy

Not beloved of UKIP

Not beloved of UKIP

Conservative Week continues. Having looked at the philosopher who represents the best of conservatism, we look at the party that represents the worst of it: UKIP. I argue that their policy on cycling is microcosm of their ugly worldview

Ummm…wouldn’t their policy on Europe be the key one?

Not really. It’s not the most salient issue for UKIP supporters by any stretch.

Ok but bikes certainly aren’t either

No but it’s a microcosm for their wider attitudes.

So what do they say about bikes?

Their 2010 manifesto had the following to say:

10.2 We believe that there needs to be a better balance of rights and responsibilities for pedal cyclists, with too much aggressive abuse of red lights, pedestrian crossings and a lack of basic safety and road courtesy.

10.6 UKIP would consult on the desirability of minimum third party liability insurance cover for cyclists – a simple annual flat rate registration ‘Cycledisc’, stuck to the bicycle frame, to cover damage to cars and others, which are currently unprotected. The Cycledisc should also carry clear identification details, which will help counter bicycle theft, and deter dangerous cyclist behaviour. We support provision of cycle parking at
reasonable charges.

10.7 UKIP believes that basic cycle and safety training should be made mandatory, and be funded in schools or via local authorities. UKIP supports the campaign work of national cycling organisations.

10.9 Local authorities should be given additional powers to enforce a ‘cyclists dismount’ or ‘no cycling’ regulation where there are safety concerns – such as on busy roundabouts, junctions or bus lanes, or where the road would be too narrowed by cycle lanes and cause
unacceptable delays to traffic

So they don’t like bikes?

Apparently not.

Indeed one UKIP candidate accused cyclists of “thieving from paying road users” and of being “by far the most undisciplined road users” who were deserving of “more police attention.” By contrast “cars are not a danger to other road users.”

So what does this tell us about UKIP?

I’ve already argued on this blog that the Conservative party is essentially about defending the interests of “our people” and that UKIP is essentially the Tories on steroids.  And cyclists are not UKIP’s people.

UKIP’s support is concentrated amongst older voters. By contrast, cyclists tend to be young.


UKIP’s to be hostility to cycling is founded on misapprehensions.

They worry it’s dangerous but this looks at it the wrong way. The evidence is that far from being dangerous – the benefits of the extra exercise dwarf the risk of accidents.

Nor are cyclists a particular menace to others. Between 2001 and 2009, cyclists caused just 18 deaths, while drivers were responsible for 434 3,495.

And the ‘road tax’ that cyclists supposedly avoid was abolished in 1937. Now roads are funded out of general taxation that cyclists pay just like everybody else.

In short, UKIP’s attacks on cyclists – like those on immigrants – represent the irrational anger and resentment of “their people” against everyone else.

Saturday Suggestions: the global LGBT split, America’s mad censors and its radical youth, and Paul Krugman’s European errors

Our weekly series sharing some of the more interesting things I’ve read this week

The LGBT Global Values Gap by Christian Caryl (Foreign Policy)

There’s one aspect of the controversy [over the Sochi Olympics], though, that hasn’t come in for much discussion. There’s every indication that the fight over the Olympics merely dramatizes a much longer and deeper split between the nations of the West, where citizens are growing increasingly tolerant towards their LGBT compatriots, and a large bloc of other countries where anti-gay sentiments are, if anything, becoming even more entrenched.

Don’t get me wrong: This is not to discount the forces of intolerance that, goodness knows, remain strong in various parts of the United States and Europe. But the trends are fairly clear: young people in the West, many of whom increasingly have openly LGBT friends or acquaintances, steadily demonstrate less of an inclination to demonize their peers on the basis of their sexual orientations. A remarkable 2011 study of international attitudes by the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles Law School tracks the evolution quite clearly: from 1991 to 2008, the number of Americans who described homosexuality as “always wrong” dropped from 67.4 percent to 53.6 percent. (Polls that have tracked American sentiments on the issue over the past five yearsshow even more dramatic movement toward tolerance.)

The shift is increasingly finding expression in laws excluding discrimination and allowing for equal civil rights, up to and including single-sex marriage. (Just this week, on Nov. 7, for example, the United States Senate passed a law dramatically upgrading workplace protections for gay and transgender Americans — another big step forward.)

Yet the situation is starkly different in other parts of the world. When, according to the Williams Institute study, pollsters asked Russians in 1991 if being gay was “always wrong,” 58.7 percent of them agreed with the sentiment; by 2008, that percentage had gone up to 64.2. It’s hard to see how this number is going to improve, given that the recently passed law will likely make it even harder for LGBT Russians to be open about their preferences, thus diminishing the already small number of Russians who have personal contact with (as Russian officials grimly refer to it) “people of non-traditional sexual orientations.” The increasingly prominent political role of the Russian Orthodox Church, which propagates unapologetically homophobic views, is also a factor. And I question whether younger Russians — who make up the bulk of the participants at the nationalist rallies like the one we saw in Moscow earlier this week — are necessarily more tolerant than their elders.

These Films Prove Why Movie Ratings Are Insane by Jordan Zakarin (Buzzfeed)

One movie that comes out next weekend features a sweet old Catholic lady who goes searching for her long-lost son. Another is about a war-torn dystopian hellscape that celebrates and makes sport of children murdering each other. Which one was originally rated PG-13, and which film had to put up a public campaign to get that rating?

There was never any question that you’d be able to get into The Hunger Games: Catching Fire without a problem. But, until Wednesday afternoon, if you were under 17, you were going to need a parent or guardian to accompany you to see Judi Dench in the new dramedy Philomena……the MPAA, which employs 10 anonymous ratings board members whose rulings dictate what most American theatergoers can and can’t see, initially decided that the film is ill-suited for the ears of anyone younger than 17…all because the word “fuck” is used twice throughout the film’s two hours. It is, technically, one utterance of “one of the harsher sexually derived words” too many.


Going by the MPAA’s guidelines, there are strict tripwires for language and sexual content that trigger the R ratings, while the interpretation of how much violence is too much violence is left to subjective deliberation. The official guideline for a PG-13 film is that the violence is “generally not both realistic and extreme or persistent.” But over the years, the limits for the kind of carnage permitted in PG-13 movies have been pushed further and further. There has been no similar slack when it comes to the restrictions on language and sexuality; only on appeal do these movies have a chance of becoming PG-13.

Why the discrepancy? It is no coincidence that the film industry has self-segregated over the last decade, with the six major studios largely relying on big, violent franchise movies, and independent production companies focusing more on dialogue-heavy films.

The Rise of the New New Left by Peter Beinart (Buzzfeed)

It is these two factors—their economic hardship in an age of limited government protection and their resistance to right-wing cultural populism—that best explain why on economic issues, Millennials lean so far left. In 2010, Pew found that two-thirds of Millennials favored a bigger government with more services over a cheaper one with fewer services, a margin 25 points above the rest of the population. While large majorities of older and middle-aged Americans favored repealing Obamacare in late 2012, Millennials favored expanding it, by 17 points. Millennials are substantially more pro–labor union than the population at large.

Most striking of all, Millennials are more willing than their elders to challenge cherished American myths about capitalism and class. According to a 2011 Pew study, Americans under 30 are the only segment of the population to describe themselves as “have nots” rather than “haves.” They are far more likely than older Americans to say that business enjoys more control over their lives than government.  And unlike older Americans, who favor capitalism over socialism by roughly 25 points, Millennials, narrowly, favor socialism.

Paul Krugman’s Blind Spot by Anders Aslund

Krugman’s most spectacular failure has been his prediction of the dissolution of the eurozone. As Niall Ferguson has noted, Krugman “wrote about the imminent break-up of the euro at least eleven times between April 2010 and July 2012.” Well, that didn’t happen. Not only did the eurozone remain intact but in 2009, Slovakia joined, as did Estonia in 2011; Latvia is set to join in January 2014.

While anyone can make a mistake, Krugman’s error was more profound, indicating a lack of understanding. He treated the eurozone as primarily a system of fixed exchange rates, ignoring that it is a currency union with centralized clearing of payments. As the euro crisis evolved, uncleared payment balances piled up. The best way of dissolving these imbalances was by restoring confidence in the euro system, which the European Central Bank (ECB) has done, sensibly, since July 2012. A breakup of the eurozone, on the other hand, would have resulted in large debts and claims of the various members, leading to major financial destabilization.

In the last century, three multi-nation currency unions in Europe have endured disorderly breakups — namely the Habsburg Empire, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union. In each case, the outcome was multiple hyperinflations from which several countries have still not recovered two decades later. To my knowledge, Krugman has never mentioned this aspect in print. Nor was it self-evident that the EU and its single market would survive if the euro system broke up. This was truly unchartered territory. However, ECB President Mario Draghi did understand the dangers, and in July 2012 he declared that ECB would “do what it takes” to save the euro. And while Krugman advised against saving the euro, he had (rightly) praised the “do what it takes” philosophy.

When it comes to fiscal policy, Krugman is single-minded in his focus on aggregate demand rather than supply, seemingly unaware of how constrained supply has been in the EU, not least because of overregulated labor and service markets. He has persistently favored fiscal “stimulus,” larger budget deficits, and slower fiscal adjustment. Today, the record is clear. The countries that have followed his advice and increased their deficits (the South European crisis countries), have done far worse in terms of economic growth and employment than the North Europeans and particularly the Baltic countries that honored fiscal responsibility.