Taking a stand


This is a post that I should have written long ago.

About a month or so back, I posted a link to an xkcd cartoon. It was inspired by an incident around that I was going to write about. However every time I tried to write the article another incident came back to my mind, and threatened to swamp the piece I was trying to write. It’s obviously something I need to get out of my system. I keep alluding to this incident time and time again, so I think it’s time I got this off my chest.

I’m going back ten years now. I was a member of an association within the Liberal Democrats aimed at improving the use of information technology and the internet. A key committee member of this group was a problem. The person would respond to any perceived slight against people who lacked IT skills with a level of aggression that was totally inappropriate and out of proportion to what he was responding to. In addition he would be incredibly snide about technically skilled people, seemingly thinking clever people needed taking down a peg or two. I put up with it for a while, but the constant sniping got too much.

Firstly, I tried politeness. I sent a friendly email, pointing out that he was being a bit over the top. I received an unexpected response, “Are you always this nasty”. Shocked that my tone had been so badly misinterpreted, I pointed out, that no, I wasn’t being nasty, I was trying to be helpful. More aggression. I called him publicly on the group mailing list over his behaviour. I was threatened with legal action for standing up to him!

I tried to address the problems directly by writing a philosophical article addressing people’s perspectives toward technology. This was met with public aggression and my conduct was falsely described as abusive.

So I wrote to the chairman of the group, expressing my concerns about the culture of aggression, and disrespect. And was ignored. Friends and acquaintances promised that the problematic behaviour that I was concerned about would be brought up at the next committee meeting. However I never found out if this happened or what action, if any, was taken. I tried to find if there was a complaints procedure for low-level bullying within the Liberal Democrats. There wasn’t.

By now I had a thing about low-level online bullying. I championed the case of a slightly autistic acquaintance who was being given a bad time on a private members forum. Again, the mods I messaged didn’t even acknowledge that I’d contacted them or reassure me that they were on the case.

Things have, thankfully, changed. The Liberal Democrats have introduced new codes of conduct. Not because of me, or anything I have written about here, I hasten to add, but because of more serious incidents of an altogether different nature that have come to light. While the seriousness and the nature of these incidents and complaints was far different to what I was dealing with, the new code of conduct is broad enough to define what I, and those I stood up for is unacceptable. It also makes it clear that complaints and concerns should not be simply ignored.

Was the behaviour I stood up to that serious? No, not really. But even though it wasn’t a serious one, it was a real problem, and I was right to stand up to it. While it was ultimately futile, and has remained with me for far too long, I remain proud of taking a stand.


I’m over half way through a masters in renewable energy.

I keep reading or hearing comments like:

“Wind farms are NOT the answer to our energy needs.”

And I think, “Yes you’re right”. No serious proponent is suggesting wind power can in the near future supply all our energy needs. It is theoretically possible for the UK to extract enough energy from the wind to cover our entire energy budget. But there are practical difficulties- not least the fact the balancing of supply and demand. However there are already mechanisms and strategies in place to balance power on the grid, and cope with expected and unexpected spikes. Estimates are that the grid with these existing measures can cope with up to 20% penetration- that is 20% of our total energy use could be supplied by wind.

We are nowhere near that. There is not a rampantly aggressive and uncontrollable drive to build more and more wind farms to the point of our energy system relying too much on them.

The other thing I hear is:

“Wind farms don’t work”.

And I think, “Er in what sense?” Newspapers like The Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph simultaneously complain about how wind power is highly subsidised and that it also doesn’t generate very much electricity. These complaints are contradictory if you’re talking about the same wind turbines. There are financial mechanisms to balance the playing field between old, established technologies like combustion, with newer technologies that have not been around so long that experience has honed the designs and reduced the costs. But these mechanisms, call them subsidies if you must, only work if you are delivering useful energy to the grid. If your wind farm is not working, you are losing money, and the companies developing and investing in wind farms are not in the business of losing money.

The problem is that despite energy efficiency messages, our energy use per capita keeps on rising. And our generating infrastructure is ageing, at its heart is a bedrock of decades old coal-fired generation that must be taken out of service some time soon with little prospect of an economically viable upgrade.

Energy efficiency and responsibility should be playing a key role, but there already a lot of effort spent on encouraging this that falls on deaf ears. Part of the problem is that people read and hear messages on energy use with words like “our”, “us” and “we”, and read it as a lecture from someone using words like “your” and “you” with a superciliously holier than thou attitude. Requests for people to take a little responsibility and care are often received as if they are being asked to make unreasonably herculean efforts, or drag our lifestyles back to the stone age.

Wind power cannot be the answer, it cannot solve all our problems. But it has a role to play in moving us to a more sustainable future.

I was just thinking right now about a rather odd turn of phrase. It turned up as a comment on an article about gaffes by Prince Philip.

Not gaffes, he is just not a signed up member of the PC Brigade.

Now while Prince Philip’s faux pas tend to raise a smile with me rather than anger or annoyance, I still recognize them as such. It wasn’t the suggestion of support for Philip’s behavior that rankled rather than the phrase “PC Brigade.”

It’s a widespread idiom, calling a group of people a “Brigade”. It usually seems to me to be a turn of phrase used by people describing a nice, positive form of behaviour or viewpoint that they don’t subscribe to. It seems to be an attempt to portray that nice, widespread quality as unusual and problematic. The use of the phrase “brigade” is almost always scathing, and an attempt to portray people that someone doesn’t like as a noisy and problematic minority. The brigade labelled is often trying to deny the fact that the attitude they despise is both positive and mainstream.

As Stewart Lee observes, Political Correctness is just a form of institutionalized politeness. Yes it can be done unthinkingly by idiots, but on the whole it is a positive thing that does more good than harm. Yes, I think there is a case to be made for humour that rises from offensive behaviour. But not for trying to make out that offensive behaviour isn’t offensive, or that those that are offended are kiljoys.

Using phrases like “The PC Brigade” and “The Human Rights Brigade” doesn’t make you look witty or down to earth, it makes you look like a loony and an idiot.

Yesterday, Saarland went to the polls. Saarland elects by a proportional list system, with the state split into three areas, any party gaining over 5% gets a share of the 51 seats.

As the opinion polls predicted the FDP Liberal party were wiped out, losing all five of their seats and going down from 9% of the vote to  1.2%. Their former partners in the coalition with the CDU, the Green Party were down 0.9% to 5% losing one of their three seats, and The Left were down 5.2% to 16.1% of the vote losing two of their seats.

The winners are the Christian Democrats- Angela Merkel’s party, who went up by 0.7% meaning they retain their 19 seats and their direct rivals the SPD (Social Democratic party) who didn’t do as well as the opinion polls predicted, but nevertheless went up by 6.1% to 30.6% giving them 17 seats. The big winners being the Pirate Party who went from nowhere to 7.4% gaining themselves 4 seats.

The Pirate Party in Saarland is a very young party, in terms of the time established, outlook and membership. Their leader is Jasmin Maurer who is 22 years old.

The CDUs leader in Saarland, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer now has to find coalition partners from their opponent groups.

Meanwhile the leader of “The Left” is blaming their losses on the pirates of stealing their votes, and the leader of the Free Democrats is putting their electoral collapse down to internal divisions.

(For a full list of all 11 parties competing see my post here).

Saarland, where I live, is just about the smallest state in Germany apart from the city states. In terms of population it’s actually smaller than Hamburg.

In January the ruling “Jamaica” coalition between Merkel’s CDU, the FDP, and the Green party  in the state parliament fell apart, meaning we have elections on Sunday 25th March. So every time I go to town I get pestered by political people, and have to say in my best German that I’m a foreigner and can’t vote.

There are *ELEVEN* parties contesting the election.

  • CDU
  • SPD
  • DIE LINKE (The Left)
  • FDP Liberals
  • BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN (Green Party)
  • The Family Party
  • NPD (I think the German BNP)
  • FREIE WÄHLER (Free Voters)
  • Direct Democracy Initiative
  • Die PARTEI
  • The Pirate Party

What I’m noticing is that they all have an allocation of A0 Posters on lampposts and on those posters only the FDP is going for negative campaigning. Well the Greens have a cartoon of a nuclear power station with the slogan “Tick tock tick tock” but it’s not a direct swipe at their opponents, it’s all about what they would do. The negative campaigning doesn’t seem to be doing the FDP any good, they’re on 1% of the vote, while the greens are only slightly down on 5%.

The other noticeable thing (to a foreigner) is The Pirate Party which here appears to be a sort of home for the more alternative people who in the UK would be members of the Lib Dems, is gaining votes. They’re actually polling higher than the Greens. And their slogans are nothing to do with IP, but more to do with votes at 16, family having multiple shapes (picture of a toddler with 2 dads), and the environment. And their best: “Don’t trust posters, inform yourself.”



There should be a word for what people mean when they say disinterested and don’t mean disinterested. Disinterested means something similar to impartial- you don’t have a view and can arbitrate the debate fairly. What people seem to mean is that they have an extreme form of negative interest in a subject. Uninterested doesn’t quite cover it, that seems to be to the concept of interested what amoral is to moral.

I’m talking about a vehement anti-interest that leads people to complain about the thing they lack interest in existing, and leads them to resent and despise people who are interested in it.



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