Quote of the day: A beautiful, flexible, powerful mess

The web thrives on diversity. It’s the diversity of the web that sustains it and it’s the thing that will mean it’s still around long after all the monocultures, whether they be browsers or Facebooks or Googles, have long since vanished from the online ecosystem.

Scott Gilbertson on the value of diversity and why Firefox still matters

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Herd immunity saves lives

From the WHO Fact Sheet:

  • Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available.
  • In 2015, there were 134 200 measles deaths globally – about 367 deaths every day or 15 deaths every hour.
  • Measles vaccination resulted in a 79% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2015 worldwide.
  • In 2015, about 85% of the world’s children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services – up from 73% in 2000.
  • During 2000-2015, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 20.3 million deaths making measles vaccine one of the best buys in public health.

In 2015 the Italian populist 5 Star Movement started circulating scare vaccination scare stories. Inevitably, this has led to a measles epidemic in the country:

In the first quarter of 2017, there is a six-fold increase in registered cases, with Health Ministry officials reporting 1,500 registered cases, up from 840 in 2016 and 250 in 2015. The United States Center for Disease Control issued a warning to tourists about the potentially fatal disease, Reuters reports.

No-one has died. Yet.

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Theory and practice

While Belgium is a secular state, the government recognises a number of religious and Humanist groups which receive taxpayer-funded subsidies. This has come to the fore recently as the Government is in the process of withdrawing recognition from the Fatih mosque in Beringen over its links to the Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs.

This has led to Open VLD president, Gwendolyn Rutten to call for an end to these subsidies. This is a position I happen to agree with — the only way to to guarantee a fair and consistent approach to all people, regardless of faith, is to not favour any religious (or non-religious) group.

Of course the churches disagree, but I was a bit surprised to see the reaction of Sylvain Peeters from the Union of Humanist Associations:

“In theory I am in favour of a strict separation of church and state,” he said, “but if you extend this idea to education, care institutions and political parties, then you touch the whole of society.”

Surely that’s the point. It’s because religion embeds itself in the whole of society that society needs to ensure that no group (or groups) is able to claim special treatment.

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Rolling back

I noticed that the Twenty Seventeen Theme that I installed on this blog at the start of the year wasn’t playing too nicely with Epiphany. Having lots of links in a post is a bit pointless if you have to hover your mouse over them in order for them to be highlighted.

So I have rolled back to the previous theme which, if I’m honest, looks a lot nicer than all this new-fangled modernity,

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The inevitable election post

So I returned from lunch yesterday and, while waiting for my coffee, I quickly glanced at Newsthump. It seems appropriate, somehow, that I learned of Theresa May’s snap election from a satirical article.

I was surprised. Given the number of times that May has ruled out a snap election, along with her delusion that no Brexit deal would somehow be better than a bad deal, I was expecting her to go into the 2020 election having “delivered Brexit” and worry about the consequences once the Labour Party were gone and forgotten. So there is a possibility that it has finally sunk in that extricating the UK from the EU will be a lot more complex than the bonkers wing of the Tory Party keep claiming, and that having everything done and dusted by the middle of 2019 might not be as realistic as she had led herself to believe.

Of course, with the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, May can only have her snap election if two thirds of MPs vote for it. Will the Labour Party vote for its own demise. Of course it will. I have to admit, though, that I was surprised when only 9 Turkeys voted against Christmas (the other four belong to other parties).

Brexit is, of course, the big issue for this election as the New Statesman’s Helen Lewis notes:

On the steps of Downing Street, the prime minister said that her decision was driven by Labour and Lib Dem “threats” to vote against the final deal on Brexit.

… which also says a lot about May’s dislike of Parliamentary democracy. It’s the government’s job to convince Parliament to support, not demand that MPs blindly rubber-stamp every decision like some North Korean politburo.

On a related note, Tom McTague and Charlie Cooper in Politico observe that a larger majority would also enable May to push through a domestic agenda that is far more statist than many in her own party would like:

She has no manifesto of her own to deliver reforms such as an industrial strategy supporting struggling sectors, an increase in the number of selective schools, and tighter rules on big business governance.

An election that delivered a larger majority would make it less likely that a relatively small number of Conservative MPs could derail government policy, as occurred when the Chancellor Philip Hammond was forced to reverse tax increases on the self-employed in last month’s budget, to ward off a backbench revolt.

Although how much of a domestic agenda she can implement while Brexiting the economy to pieces remains to be seen.

And then there’s Scotland. The SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon has called the election a ‘huge miscalculation’ and framed it as an attempt to finally kill off Labour in England:

That means that this will be – more than ever before – an election about standing up for Scotland, in the face of a right-wing, austerity obsessed Tory government with no mandate in Scotland but which now thinks it can do whatever it wants and get away with it.

Whatever the arguments in England, the election in Scotland will inevitably be about whether or not the SNP has a mandate to call a second independence referendum. As Alex Massie notes:

The case for independence itself remains unproven, of course, but that is a matter of secondary importance right now. Right now the argument is over whether or not there is a case for a second referendum. Until now, Unionists had on the whole the better of that argument, not least because a referendum inspired by Brexit could not sensibly take place until such time as the impact of Brexit is felt and understood.

Theresa May burnt that argument this morning. She did so as a Conservative, not as a Unionist. That is her choice, her prerogative. But it remains something she did not have to do.

I have a blog and an opinion which clearly qualifies (if not obliges me) to offer up my predictions. So here’s my take on what happens next.

The Tories will be returned to power with a three digit majority.

Labour will haemmorage seats across the country, but will still be the second largest party after June. Regardless of the size of the defeat, Corbyn will cling to the leadership of what remains of the Labour Party. Assuming there are enough moderates left in the party to prevent the McDonnell amendment from being inserted into the rules, Corbyn will refuse to resign and will probably lead them into another glorious defeat in 2022. If the far left do pass the amendment, then the Labour Party will cease to exist as a poilitcal organisation.

2015 was probably the high point for the SNP and they will probably lose a few seats, but will still send at least 50 MPs to Westminster. That said, I’m not sure who wll take seats off the SNP — maybe an unashamedly pro-Union, pro-Brexit Conservative Party will see a continued upswing in their fortunes.

The Lib Dems will do phenominally well in terms of votes and will increase their number of MPs. That said, for a party that currently has 9 MPs, doing well means double figures. The number of MPs the party gains will depend largely on how their share of the vote is distributed and I expect them to remain the the forth largest party in the Commons

In the aftermath, we will finally see what sort of Brexit Theresa May really wants. Scotland will see another independence campaign — and quite frankly, I don’t think anyone can blame the Scots if they do decide to leave the UK.

And, if I’m really optimistic, the fact of the Tories’ overwhelming majority will encourage the sane wing of the party to grow a spine develop the same sort of rebellious streak that the anti-EU Tories have displayed for so long. And then maybe, just maybe, it may be possible for a combination of Moderate Tories, LibDems and the SNP to reign in the worst excesses of the Brexit Delusion.

We live in hope.

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Quote of the Day: The opposite of populism

Properly understood, liberalism has at its core a profound belief in the empowerment of, agency of and respect for every individual. It is not a license for individuals to do whatever they want. The social and economic liberal order has not been merely imposed by a decadent elite who have been its sole beneficiaries. It is a philosophy that has helped to enrich, emancipate and improve the lives of the overwhelming majority of people in the west.

Ryan Shorthouse

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Quote of the Day: Her Majesty’s Craven Opposition

By going along with hard Brexit now, Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer have torpedoed Labour’s ability to oppose the government’s approach when it fails later on. This is not acting in the national interest.

Nobody would claim that Brexit is easy to navigate politically, but Labour has rendered itself impotent on the most important set of issues facing Britain in most peoples’ lifetime. Setting a series of belated “tests” for the government will hardly reverse the damage.

Peter Mandelson

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Freedom to tinker

Talking about the way in which his embrace of Free Software has changed his attitude to computers, Bruce Byfield reaches a conclusion that rings very true for me.

All unknowing, I had wandered into the world of do-it-yourself. Originating in small groups of hobbyists who had few resources except themselves, free software naturally required more independence of its users. Far from discouraging users from tinkering, free software actually encouraged it with text configuration files and scripting so simple that it could be learned without taking classes. Because there were so many choices, it encouraged me to explore so I could make informed decisions. Just as importantly, because free software was a minority preference, the necessary compatibility with proprietary operating system sometimes required considerable ingenuity.

As a result of these expectations, I gradually lost my learned helplessness. I can’t say exactly when I shed the last of my conditioning, but after a couple of years, I realized that a major shift in my thinking had occurred. I still didn’t — and still don’t know everything about free software, but I no longer panic when a problem strikes.

Although I was using a number of open source applications before, I didn’t really start to delve into GNU/Linux until early 2007 when I installed Ubuntu on my PC alongside Windows XP. And, over the past ten years I have gone from being excessively cautious to (probably) a bit too casual.

There was never a sudden shift but, the more I have poked around the more I have found — all documented and backed by a helpful community. I have moved from really not wanting to do anything that might cause any sort of problem at all to being willing to break my install, safe in the knowledge that if the worst comes to the worst, I can just reinstall the operating system without even risking my data.

I am far from being able to claim any expertise but the openness and availability of information surrounding Free Software means that for any problem I am generally able to understand what the issue is and find or figure out how to fix it.

And that’s freedom.

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Statistical abuse

Many publications are guilty of this and I’m not trying to have a go at New Europe specifically here. But seriously:

Fillon dropped half a percentage point…

This is an utterly meaningless statement. Half a percent is well within the margin of error and is simply not worth mentioning.

If Journalists want to treat elections as horse races, they could at least spend a bit of time gaining some statistical literacy.

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