January 27 2009

 

Bullshit

 

In response to criticism of the lack of consultation on the relocation of Milford Haven library to Havens Head, Cllr Rob Lewis (Cabinet member for culture) told the Western Telegraph: "There were issues of commercial confidentiality which meant this [the Cabinet meeting where the decision was taken] was the first opportunity to discuss the matter publicly".
I understand he has now written to Milford Haven Town Council informing them that consultation on the relocation couldn't be carried out earlier because of 'commercial confidentiality'.
The fact is that PCC was negotiating with Milford Haven Port Authority for a lease of Cedar Court.
It didn't involve competetive tendering, or trade secrets, so how the publication of such information could be said to 'prejudice the interests' [the Information Commissioner's test for commercial confidentiality] of either party is beyond me.
The fact is that 'commercial confidentiality', like its close relation 'sub judice', is simply a device by which those in power seek to bamboozle the public with the aim of keeping them in the dark.
A quote from Princeton philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt in an essay entitled 'On Bullshit' describes the process.
'It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. When an honest man speaks the truth, he says only what he believes to be true, and for the liar, it is correspondingly essential that he considers his statements to be false.
For the bullshitter, however, all bets are off: he is neither on the side of the truth nor on the side of the false.
His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says.
He does not care whether what he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.'


Straight talking

 

Old Grumpy is too old and cynical to fall for all the hype surrounding the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
The idea that if you install a new man at the top all will be well is for the seriously delusional.
Think Kevin Keegan, Kevin Pieterson and Martin Johnson.
And were you one of those who sang "Things can only get better" in May 1997?
However, despite my reservations, I am impressed by the memo President Obama sent to all his staff on freedom of information.
It reads:

A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires
transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, "sunlight is said to be
the best of disinfectants. " In our democracy, the Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA), which encourages accountability through
transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national
commitment to ensuring an open Government. At the heart of that
commitment is the idea that accountability is in the interest of the
Government and the citizenry alike.

The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear
presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government
should not keep information confidential merely because public
officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and
failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract
fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the
personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those
they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA,
executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a
spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of
the public.

If he is as good as his word, I may have to reconsider.
As for the three mentioned above, only Johnson remains standing and if he can pull it off on Feb 14 he must be immediately sent to sort out the Middle East.
Not that I am feeling too confident about the game in Cardiff.
Indeed, on current form, Johnson will have his work cut out to maintain England's record of being the only home country never to have lost to Italy.
Or to Samoa, or any part thereof.
Just thought I'd mention that.


Half truths

This is the time of year to be on the alert for Independent Political Group spin about Pembrokeshire having the lowest council tax in Wales.
For the purposes of political propaganda this statement has the virtue of being true, but it is one of those true statements which is misleadingly incomplete.
For instance it is true to say that Grumpette's cousin was a Commonwealth Games 10,000 metre runner.
In the interest of completeness, I should add that he was representing the Isle of Man - population roughly 50% of that of Pembrokeshire.
And while on the subject of the family's sporting prowess, I might mention the day I marked Welsh international Jim Shanklin in a Pembrokeshire Cup Final.
Not only did I play him out of the game but I scored the two tries that helped my team to carry the day.
For the sake of accuracy I should tell you that this was the junior union cup, contested by St Davids, Fishguard and the second XVs of the other clubs.
Oh! and I almost forgot to say that Shanklin was a 17-year-old schoolboy at the time.
PCC has the lowest band D rate of council tax in Wales, but does that necessarily mean, as we are supposed to believe, that Pembrokeshire taxpayers get the best value for money?
The answer is: we simply don't know because we have no comparative figures for what other councils charge for services.
Clearly, the more a local authority can screw out of its residents in charges the lower its council tax requirement will be.
Take a town with only two licensed premises A and B which charge £1 and £2 for a pint of beer respectively.
Clearly, A can boast of "The cheapest beer in town" but if it charges a £10 entrance fee while B charges nothing it is only the cheapest night out for those who drink in excess of ten pints.
In the example of the two pubs anybody can work out which option provides the better value for money, though it might be advisable to make the calculation before you drank the ten pints.
With the county council the arithmetic is not so simple because, under the heading of income, charges, grants and all manner of other things are lumped together and it is almost impossible to distinguish one from the other.
Now it might be the case that PCC offers better value for money than the other authorities in Wales, but anyone interested in the truth of such a claim would surely want to know exactly how much charges for services contributed to the budget.
Anyone who chose to ignore this fact would seem to fall within Professor Frankfurt's definition.


Toothless tiger

 

A couple of years ago it was quite common to hear my colleagues on the county council urging us to follow the example of Ireland.
They had usually been on a freebie to Wexford or Waterford and had come away impressed by the apparent wealth generated by the Celtic Tiger
Unfortunately for our cousins across the water the big cat's teeth have fallen out and their country is in an even worse state than ours.
One part of the Irish solution is that public servants should take a pay cut to ease the budget deficit.
I am not expecting to hear the county council's Irish fan club suggesting we should follow that example.
Much of the blame for Ireland's troubles can be laid at the door of the European Central Bank (guardian of the Euro) which set interest rates to suit the German and French economies but which were too low for Irish purposes (and Spanish, Italian and Greek).
I remember writing about this one-size-fits-all problem in the Mercury at the time of the Euro's launch.
This followed a speech by the, then, Bank of England governor Eddie George - a renowned Eurosceptic - in which he admitted to the difficulty of setting an interest rate that suited both the booming south east and the depressed north and western parts of the country.
As many commentators pointed out at the time, what was difficult in a small currency area like the UK was likely to prove impossible in one the size of the EU.
And so it has proved.
Whatever we think of Gordon Brown, we should be grateful that his insistence on the famous "five tests" steered Tony Blair away from Euro membership.
The UK is already in deep trouble due to the excessive lending and borrowing that resulted in what former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan labelled "irrational exuberance".
How much more irrational and how much more exuberant might we have been if interest rates had been a couple of points lower as they were in the Eurozone?
And this is not a matter for theoretical conjecture: you only need to look across the Irish Sea to find the answer.
An American politician has described President Obama's 800 billion dollar bail out package as "The largest intergenerational transfer of debt in history".
Who can doubt he is right because it is our grandchildren whose taxes will eventually have to meet the bill.
The President will argue that the cost of not bailing out the banks would be even higher.
We can only hope he is right.

Arranged marriage

I read with great interest that Prince Harry has fallen out with Chelsea.
In the old days, when the Monarchy sought to direct all its energies into promoting the interests of the British state, it was common for the marriages of Royal offspring to be used to cement our relations with foreign allies.
Given its importance in the war against terror, could I suggest that the Queen uses her influence to persuade Harry to marry a nice girl from Pakistan.

Rabbit pie

I am going to have to stop Grumpette watching this Victorian farm stuff on TV.
After last week's show she is now asking if I know how to build accommodation for a ferret.
It'll be a pair of lurchers next.


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