26 November 2012
Samizdata postings

December 02, 2011
Why I think the euro is going to last for a good while yet

December 04, 2011
The most expensive crash ever?

January 01, 2012
Why “influence” over the European Union probably isn’t worth having

January 02, 2012
What’s wrong with “managed decline”...

January 08, 2012
Who needs trade agreements?

February 04, 2012
The world in 1912 (according to the Times)

February 12, 2012
Why fear deflation?

February 24, 2012
“So, Patrick, over in 1912, how’s Britain’s recent telephone nationalisation working out?”

March 06, 2012
Making predictions about war is a tricky business

March 11, 2012
The War of 1812: two questions

March 17, 2012
Why the Germans confuse me

April 01, 2012
Why the Germans confuse me - a follow up

May 11, 2012
Samizdata quote of the day

July 21, 2012
Well done Bradley Wiggins, ruthless professional

July 28, 2012
Worrying about immigration was wrong then and it’s wrong now

August 02, 2012
What would change your mind?

August 09, 2012
Britain third in Olympic medal table. What a disaster!

October 18, 2012
Governments are stupid Part 3792: Railway franchising

October 20, 2012
A possible explanation for why we are currently getting so many scandals

November 02, 2012
Was Britain right to fight the First World War?

November 23, 2012
Democracy: mother of tyranny or innocent bystander? I record a podcast

November 24, 2012
Gun re-legalisation may mean less crime but it does not mean no crime

December 08, 2012
Samizdata quote of the day

December 09, 2012
Fact checking the President

December 12, 2012
Libel then and now

09 March 2012
To those readers who don’t already read Samizdata…

…(assuming there are such creatures) that’s where I am these days.  While I don’t rule out posting the odd piece here from time to time from now on Samizdata will be the best place to find me.

26 January 2012
London in the Golden Age of Freedom

More here.  Looks grim doesn’t it?  And if so, is that an argument against freedom?  I doubt it.  I think you could probably make an argument about how these people were not only the richest in the world but the richest there had ever been and that no matter how grim it might look to us it was a good deal less grim than had gone before.  Are there other ways of looking at it?

13 November 2011
Quote of the day

“It serves no useful purpose to fight mystical dogmas with reason.  There is no teaching fanatics.”

Ludwig von Mises, Socialism (Liberty Fund Edition), p255.

02 November 2011
How to stop worrying about “contagion”

Just remember that every country in the Western world already has the disease.

The Eurosceptics were right about the Euro but for the wrong reasons

In the days when I was more involved with euro-scepticism than I am today (we’re talking about the time of Maastricht, here) I was always rather puzzled by the arguments being put forward by my comrades about the Euro.  They would complain that Europe was not an “optimal currency area” and that it would lead to a “one-size-fits-all” monetary policy.

And now I realise why I was so puzzled.  They were wrong.

My argument against the Euro (should you be interested) was that freedom had a better chance outside a European federation than inside and so anything coming from the EU was likely to be a bad thing.

Anyway, the crisis that the Euro currently faces has nothing to do with “optimal currrency areas” (which I do not believe exist) and nothing to do with interest rates (at least not the sort set by central banks).

No, this crisis has one very simple cause: Greece (and others) borrowed too much.  Actually, even that isn’t the crisis.  The crisis is that other countries in Europe are worried that if Greece were to go bust their too-big-to-fail banks would indeed fail and disaster would ensue.  Others of us, of course, think that trying to prevent this from happening will lead to an even greater disaster but that is by the by.

Now, getting back to the crisis, you’ll notice that none of this has anything to do with the Euro.

Well, kinda. There is the little matter of the Maastricht criteria.  These were the levels of debt, deficit and inflation that all members of the Eurozone were supposed to meet.  And after a state had received the EU’s imprimatur, it was not unreasonable for banks to think that they (the states) were a good credit risk.

So, there’s sort of an implicit guarantee here although frankly I would be inclined to remind the banks that they are ultimately responsible for assessing the credit worthiness of the people they are lending to and if they lend too much to such sub-prime borrowers then it’s their funeral.

23 October 2011
Croziervision quote of the day

“Their shouting could be heard down the corridor in the concert hall where an orchestra was about to play the EU’s anthem, Ode to Joy,” said an incredulous EU official.

All is not well between Merkel and Sarkozy.

If you were ten times richer would you be ten times better off?  Because I think the answer is “no”.  Which kind of undermines the argument about inequality which seems to be getting quite an airing these days.

10 October 2011
The early days of gun control in New York

From the (London) Times, Tuesday 10 October 1911:

Many respectable citizens are giving up their weapons rather than pay the heavy licence fee, but few of the really dangerous classes are doing so.  Shooting affrays continue to be frequent, burglars and highwaymen carrying pistols as before.


28 September 2011
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Travesty

Went to see the new Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy movie the other day.  It is difficult to watch this having previously read the book and watched the TV series.  The TV series seared itself into the memory.  So, I am not sure if I understood things through watching the film or because I had previously seen the TV series.  So, I won’t talk about how easy to follow it may or may not be.

Things that definitely differ from the book:

  1. The Americans don’t have Karla tortured
  2. Peter Guillam is not gay
  3. Peter Guillam drives a sports car not a saloon
  4. Jim Prideaux is shot in Czechoslovakia not Hungary
  5. Ricky Tarr goes out to Hong Kong, not Istanbul
  6. Ricky Tarr’s secret is not accepting money from the Russians but trying to get his family to safety
  7. Ricky Tarr starts the fight not Guillam.
  8. Irina is not shot in front of Prideaux

Things that probably differ from the book (I don’t have time to check):

  1. There was no Christmas Party
  2. Smiley does not make any promises to Tarr
  3. I don’t think anyone thought Prideaux had been killed.
  4. Tufty Thesinger is not killed
  5. Haydon is not shot. 

Not all of these changes are important but they combine to significantly change the meaning of the book.  Where, in the book, there was a clear distinction made between East and West, the movie manages to muddy that distinction.  This is unforgivable.  Communism was appalling.  It killed and impoverished millions.  Sure, the West wasn’t perfect.  The book acknowledges this in spades but always makes it clear that the West is much, much better.

Other faults:

  • Boy, it drags.  It even manages to feel slower than the 1970s TV series which in terms of running time was much longer.  Way too much effort goes into creating a world of brown, orange and grey and then taking long, lingering shots of it.
  • Ciaran Hands (playing Roy Bland) doesn’t, if I recall correctly, say a word.  Not a word.  What a waste.

Things that I am pretty sure they did have in the 1970s but don’t appear in the movie:

  • Flares

Things they got right:

  • Gary Oldman
  • Colin Firth


24 September 2011
Faster than light?

Just in case you aren’t a Facebook friend of Andy Wood this is what he has to say about those non-conforming neutrinos:

Anyone want to take me up on this bet:

I’ll offer £200 at even odds that before 23rd September 2012, some error will be found in the CERN experiment nullifying the alleged observation of superluminal neutrinos.

I’ll offer £1000 at odds of 1 to 5 (ie I risk £1000, you risk £200) that some such error will be found in the above experiment before 2016.

I’m only offering each bet once.


10 September 2011
“Only in the realm of politics is the belief widespread that reality is optional” - Detlev Schlicter …link
06 September 2011
Ludwig von Mises: not a peacenik

The wars waged by England during the era of Liberalism to extend her colonial empire and to open up territories which refused to admit foreign trade, laid the foundations of the modern world economy.  To measure the true significance of these wars one has only to imagine what would have happened if India and China and their hinterland had remained closed to world commerce.  Not only each Chinese and each Hindu,  but each European and each American, would be considerably worse off.

von Mises, “Socialism” p208 (translation of 2nd Edition, 1932, Liberty Fund)

Don’t anyone tell the Rothbots.

30 August 2011
I am typing this on my brand new Apple keyboard. Seems to be working pretty well. Really, no problems at all. Not sure if it is vastly superior to a normal keyboard but it certainly isn't any worse.

For some reason I seem to be making fewer typos than usual. Surely, a keyboard can't be responsible for that?

18 August 2011
When troops were on English streets
The Times 17/8/1911

Liverpool, 100 years ago:

Rioting has begun again to-night in the “danger zone.” A crowd was smashing the windows of tramcars in Burlington-Street, and troops were sent to disperse them.  The crowd was not disturbed by the mere display of force, but when the Infantry were ordered to kneel in the attitude for firing they hurriedly scattered.

Some thoughts and observations:

  • Amazing how quickly food supplies dried up.  In much the same way plasma TVs did last week.
  • Heartening what Lloyd George has to say about the elementary duties of the state: “to protect life and property”.  Has Cameron said that?  Does Cameron even know that?
  • The parallels are interesting ie a big riot, calls for the troops to be deployed etc but is that as far as it goes?  You can’t blame police incompetence, light sentencing and the welfare state for these riots.
  • A hundred years ago they were bâtons not truncheons.  Also employés rather than employees.

Oh my God, there’s going to be a war in 3 years’ time!  Are these two things related?  War as a way of uniting a divided nation, perhaps?

29 July 2011
Some thoughts on “When money dies” by Adam Fergusson

This book, which even some normal people I know have heard of, was originally published in the 1970s and is about the Weimar hyperinflation of 1923.

It’s a bit fact after fact.  Sure the thousands become millions and millions become billions (or milliards as they said at the time) and the our billions become the their billions. And it’s good at describing how some do badly then most do badly while a small minority who have borrowed at nominal rates do very well for themselves indeed. But there’s not enough space given over to consider the debates of the time or the principal actors.  Thus we never get to find out anything about key figures like Hugo Stinnes, the industrialist or Rudolf Havenstein, the Ben Bernanke of the day.

What is odd is what the Germans do not do.  They do not refuse Reichsmarks.  They do not seriously examine how they got into this mess.  They do not question the existence of a united Germany [Incidentally, why is it that the appeal of German unity has never been dimmed by its rather less than stellar reality?]

Actually, that’s not quite true.  Towards the end there are nascent secessionist movements in Bavaria, the Rhineland, Hamburg and Saxony. It is at this moment the government gets its act together.

The other feature of the final stages was the food situation.  Farmers stopped supplying the towns which led to the towns coming to the farms.  And not in a nice way.

At root of it all was a government deficit.  Fergusson never really explains how this comes about.  One can speculate that it’s the consequence of the Germans having to pay not only for their own war but for everyone else’s (through reparations) as well as propping up inefficient state industries like the state railway and post office.  But Fergusson never does the sums so we don’t know.

[Afterthought.  Actually, he does point out that towards the end even the government had given up trying to do the sums. Another impact of hyperinflation.]

One of the odd things about that time was the virtual absence of unemployment.  But then it struck me - in a hyperinflation you have to keep working.  If you are unemployed your savings won’t last 5 minutes.  Unemployment can be a “good” which hyperinflation denies.

The end is also rather odd.  Normality - or what passed for it in Weimar Germany - came with the introduction of the Rentenmark backed not by gold - they’d run out of it - but by mortgages and rye contracts.  And, bizarrely enough, it worked.

24 July 2011
Two things I don't understand:

1. Why would a failure to raise the debt ceiling lead to default?
2. Why would default be a bad thing?

19 July 2011
When it comes to Somalia: look before you leap

“So, libertarians don’t believe in government.  Why don’t you go and live in Somalia then?”

How often have we heard that one?  [OK, perhaps not that often but it does hover there at the back of your mind.]  And how often have we been able to come up with a decent response beyond some coughing and spluttering?

So, it was good to see Robert Murphy giving it a go.  He starts by making a good point:

The Rothbardian doesn’t claim that the absence of a state is a sufficient condition for bliss. Rather, the Rothbardian says that however prosperous and law-abiding a society is, adding an institution of organized violence and theft will only make things worse.

He then quotes the stats which apparently show rises in life expectancy and adult literacy.  Which alarms me.  How sure can you be that these statistics bear any relation to reality?  Hey, I’m not convinced by our own government’s stats.  But in a war-torn country with a multi-sided civil war?  At very least they have to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Me? I would give them on credence whatsoever.  My test is have any (of the surprisingly many) Somalis I know or have known in recent years expressed any desire to go back?  Answer: no.  Not on your Nelly.

Murphy then says this:

Farah and other advocates of a central state might retort that right now security costs are particularly high for Somali businesses because of the fighting between rival factions (“warlords”) in their attempt to control the government.

So, there are rival factions/armies/gangs are there?  And what, precisely, is the difference between a gang and a state?  I suppose it’s to do with predictability but my guess is that after a few years any gang - so long as it is unmolested by the state - will start to establish rules and thus predictability.

Or, to put it another way: Somalia does not want for government.

This all feeds into my worries for this country.  It is not difficult to see the central government collapsing but while libertarians may hope for a golden age of liberty my suspicion is that they will get gangs roaming the streets.  So long as people believe in the state they will continue to create them. 


07 July 2011
Antoine Clarke and I talk about the occupation of the Ruhr

At least, that’s how it starts. But soon enough we’re talking about the Battle of Jena and all points between, which include the Franco-Prussian War, the siege(s) of Paris and the Dreyfus Affair.

This is the cartoon I mention:

“Above all, let us not discuss the Dreyfus Affair!”

01 July 2011
Podcast: Michael Jennings and I talk about what you can learn from watching TV in bars and cafés abroad

Quite a lot, as it turns out, though not, sadly, in the case of that enigma wrapped up in a mystery that is Australia.

30 June 2011
The Crozier Plan for economic recovery

Up to now, libertarians have been very good at telling the world what the state shouldn’t be doing and shouldn’t have done but not so good (as Brian Micklethwait is constantly reminding me) at telling the world what the state should be doing.

So, at risk of preserving constitutional government in the UK, here’s my go:

1. Abolish all employment, planning and health and safety legislation.

2. Cut all departmental budgets by 25%.  No exceptions.  If contracts get in the way change them retrospectively.  OK, there will be exceptions.  But anything more for Department A means even less for Department B.

3. Re-introduce the 1997 tax code.  If nothing else it will be a lot shorter than the current one.  But the chances are that it will be a lot simpler.

4. Abolish the Bank of England and allow private note/coin issue.

5. Abolish all bank regulation.

6. When banks go bust (as they will) honour deposit guarantees but do not bail them out.

7. Abolish deposit guarantees (when things start to stabilise).

8. Seeing as democracy - or that version that allows representation without taxation - got us into this mess; abolish it.  All voters must be net contributors to the budget.

But won’t there be strikes and riots?

Maybe, but it still has to be done.  The government has made a whole load of promises it can’t keep.  If the population would rather live in a fantasy land and express this preference through rioting then we’re doomed anyway.

24 June 2011
Paul Marks and I talk about everything

“Everything” to include unemployment, the Fairness Doctrine, liberation theology, Guatamalan novelists and banking - a subject that prompted Paul to remark: “If you consider it and think about it too long, you go mad.”

16 June 2011
Podcast: Brian and I talk about the IPL

It’s new and it’s roots are shallow but the Indian Premier League (IPL) looks set to stay. Brian and I talk about why I like it and what is says about India and cricket in general. Some swearing.

31 May 2011
If there's one thing that has come out from Weinergate it's... that I have no idea how Twitter works.

28 May 2011
Sex, Science and Politics - Terence Kealey

Really good and free to me.  And nearly free to you if you can find it remaindered.

Slightly misnamed.  It really should be called “A History of Everything” covering - as it does - history, agriculture, technology and even language. 

Central claim: markets bring forth technology; technology brings forth science.

Fun quote: “..the benefits from doing research do in fact accrue to the researchers because they - and only they - understand other people’s research.”

24 May 2011
Live (Pause) Blogging Chennai v Bangalore - the first semi-final

It’s not do or die time.  The loser gets a place in the second semi-final.  How cool is that?  Actually, for Chennai it’s even better.  The second semi-final (and final) are being played at Chennai.  On the ground where we’ve never lost. But even so, we want to win.

1536 Ravi Shastri’s wearing one of those long Indian shirts.  Normally the commentators wear a branded Western shirt.  What is going on?  Is an element of traditional Indian culture creeping into the IPL?  I think we should be told.

1542 And already all the talk is about Chris Gayle.  Without him Bangalore were bottom of the table.  With him they were top.  He has played 9 games and won 8.  No other player has had that sort of impact on the tournament.  Just as well.  On the other hand, with Chennai every performance is a team effort.  It’s a fascinating clash: the one-man team versus the all-man team.

1555 Simon Hughes is talking about trends in where batsmen are holding the bat.  What an analyst.

1557 Oh hang about, Mark Butcher has out-analysed him.  Low down is more manoeuvrable.  Watch out Mark - he’ll be out for revenge now.

1601 Hughes is backing Chennai to win.

1627 Gayle out, lbw b Ashwin 8.  Game on.  And Hawkeye agrees.  Now what do we do?

1643 Interview with the bowling coach.  While the over is going on.  Not sure how I feel about this.  Team members are guardians of team secrets.  So either they spill the beans - disaster - or they’re so bland there’s no point.

1648 OMG, they’re interviewing the umpire!  Hasn’t he got better things to do?

1743 Six.  Pommersbach.  Amazingly flat. (121-3, 14.50).  So, not such a one-man team then.

1751 Out! Pommersbach.  Bowled.

1757 Ashwin’s just got hit on the head.  I’m amazed he’s concious let alone walking.  He’s left the pitch. Albie Morkel got hit the other day from Chris Gayle.  When I was growing up it was the batsmen who were the vulnerable ones.  Now, it’s the bowlers.

1940 What a game!  Chennai win with two balls to go with the most amazing slogging over the last 4 overs.  Everyone’s exhausted.  Raina’s gone down with cramp.  The worm is amazing: level pegging ball by ball.  Even the wickets fell at similar times.  Gayle should win man of the match for his bowling.  Even so, it goes to show that Bangalore are far from a one-man team.  They’ve clearly got a lot better as the tournament has gone on, Gayle or no Gayle.  And we’ve still got a final to play.  I’m not sure I can stand it.

19 May 2011
The struggle for Irish “freedom” was a waste of time

I think the Queen visiting Ireland is an overwhelmingly good thing.  It suggests that a majority of the Irish and and a large majority of its ruling class no longer hate the British.  Good.

But there was one thing that disturbed me: the Queen laying a wreath at the memorial to the dead of the Irish War of Independence.

Quick analysis time.

What was on offer before the war:
Devolution excluding Ulster

What was accepted after the war:
Dominion status excluding Ulster

Was it worth it?

Even if I were properly, Gaelic Irish and a passionate believer in Irish independence I’d have to say no.

17 May 2011
Do assassinations work?

Lets see:

Lincoln. Didn’t make a whole heap of difference that I am aware of.

JFK.  Ditto.

McKinley.  I believe that did change things quite a lot - his replacement, Roosevelt being quite the interventionist.

I ask because I’ve been watching an excellent documentary on Yesterday about Hitler’s bodyguard.  It seems there were an extraordinary number of attempts on his life over the years.  But would it have made any difference?  Well, one way to find out is to see if any other assassinations made a difference.

Sadat.  Not really.

Rabin.  I have no idea.

Alexander III.  Again, I really don’t know.  Although didn’t the Tsarist pogroms against the Jews start soon afterwards?  And wasn’t the faked “Protocols of the Wise men of Zion” part of it?  And wasn’t that one of the main influences on Germany’s Anti-Semites?  So, maybe.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  Well, you’d have to say the assassins got what they wanted.  At a hell of price but they got it.

Getting back to Hitler, intuitively you feel it would have made a huge difference.  Who but Hitler had the charisma to dominate the Nazi movement?  Who but Hitler would have gambled the way he did?

Further thought.  Hitler and the Nazis are a complete outlier in history.  And therefore we can learn nothing useful by studying them and in fact the lessons we do learn are likely to be the wrong ones.

04 May 2011
(Almost) live blogging the IPL

It’s the Super Kings (that’s Chennai (that’s Madras (that’s my team to the uninitiated) to the uninitiated) to the uninitiated) versus the Rajasthan Royals.  Or, to put it another way MS Dhoni versus Shane Warne.  Or, to put it another way, two of the best teams in the league are going head to head.

In Chennai.

In 44C degree heat.

With 98% humidity.

Albie Morkel looks like he’s spent the night in a bath of spermicide.

Sound quality of the commentary (but oddly enough nothing else) is dreadful.  It’s like watching football via satellite in the 1970s.  India is a long way away.

1226.  Ways to tell you may be watching too much IPL #1: you start thinking in an Indian accent.

1228.  Oh boy we’re having a nightmare in the field today. (56-0, 7.1)

1229.  If you’re going to have the bit after the decimal point in base 6 (or is it 7?) shouldn’t the bit before be too?  32/32 cricket.  Catchy, don’t you think?

1232.  I should perhaps explain why I am such a Chennai fan.  They have more or less the same kit as Watford.  Nothing but the best of reasons for me.

1232.  Can you really be considered a poor country if you have one of the biggest sporting leagues in the world?  Could it be THE biggest?

1235.  Another appeal turned down.  This is turning into a disaster (64-0, 8)

1237.  This is the great thing about the IPL: I can love Shane Warne.  Even when he’s on the other side.  Making the Mumbai Indians look like a bunch of amateurs the other night was class.  And the guy can bowl a bit.  Who knew?

1237.  Isa Guha.  Drool.

1237.  Not quite sure what the story is with her.  She started off as a talking head when they had an Indian Indian bird as co-presenter.  And then, all of a certain the poacher had turned game-keeper and she was presenter.  Indian Indian bird nowhere to be seen.

1237.  Looks like they’ve lost all commentary.  Sorry, my mistake, it’s just got even worse.

1237.  1237 again.  I’m taking my times from the Vista tray.  And it seems to have frozen.  What a piece of garbage.  My phone says 1248.

1250.  Karbon Kamal Katch!  At last!  Not that it’s going to save us (87-1, 10.3)

1252.  Hey, they’ve sorted out the sound!

1253.  Maybe, this is what Obama and Co were watching.  Obama looks miserable.  Reckon he’s a Pune Warrior.

1255.  Switched Vista on and off again.  Time now works.  For now.

1256.  Catch.  (92-2, 12.3)

1257.  Johann Botha in.  Warne didn’t want him apparently.  Why not?

1258.  It must be really tough being a woman sports presenter.  You spend a lifetime proving you know what you’re talking about.  You get to the pinnacle of your career and all of a sudden (if you’re any good) you have to pretend you know no more than the average couch potato.

1309.  At the beginning of the game one of the commentators was saying that he reckoned Dravid was going to score loads.  Sounded like a curse.  Sadly, it wasn’t.  Dravid’s on 61.

1311.  Botha out!  There is hope if not very much. (113-3, 15)

1317.  Dravid out!  Let’s sing the Banana Splits tune.  Tra-la-la la-la-la-la..

1320.  Beautiful stroke from Taylor.  Four.

1322.  First wide of the innings.  No sixes yet.

1327.  Well left!  He he he.

1332.  Mixed cheerleading.  You saw it here first.

1333.  Two wickets in two balls.  More importantly, the Royals’ run rate has been slashed.  Greatest comeback since… er… the last game.

1339.  What IS a Citibank Moment of Success?

1342.  147-6, 20.  No DLF Maximums (did I really say “six” earlier?  I should wash my mouth out with soap.)  Mind you one of the Royals’ coaches did say 148 would be a good score.

1346.  Interview with Jakarti.  In English.  EVERYONE speaks (or at least appears to speak) English.  When did that happen?  HOW did it happen?

1348.  Jakarti has all the platitudes.  Can you really be considered a poor country when your sports stars are masters of platitudes?

1357.  Here we go.  Start of the Chennai innings.

1359.  Boy, it’s quiet.  More Arsenal than Watford.

1401.  If Warne had been Australian captain:  There wouldn’t be a pitch in the country that hadn’t been turned into a car park.  The Wisdens would have been taken from the shelves and burnt.  The word “cricket” excised from the dictionary.  And anyone caught in possession of either leather or willow thrown into a prison hulk and sent to the colonies.

1407.  Raina to the crease.  Go Raina!

1412.  Run out?  No. Hits and then runs on to the boundary.  And I thought we were having a bad day in the field.  Last over, a misfield turned one into four.

1414.  They’ve done it again!  “Every time the ball goes to Binny they’re going to run.”

1418.  Another wide.  At this rate we’ll win through Rajasthan mistakes alone.

1420.  Dropped catch!  Warne’s going to explode.

1423.  They’re interviewing Raj Kundra, owner of the Royals, in mid-over.  Perfect middling Lunnun accent.  As in, I believe he was brought up in London and not to particularly well-off parents.  This is a weird old world.

1426.  Ah, a Maxx Mobile Strategic Timeout.  How did we live without them?

1439.  Raina and Hussey are playing some wonderful shots.  50 partnership. (73-1, 10)

1446.  DLF Maximum!  At last.  Hussey, who else?  Er, Raina I suppose.

1447.  And another one!  Raina, who else?  Er, I’ll shut up.

1455.  100 partnership.  Both have 50s.  Beautiful shot making.  Brilliant.  (109-1, 13)

1459.  So, they’ve got sponsors for the kits, the stumps, the boundary ropes, the grass, the catches, the sixes, the ad breaks, the “moments of success”, the man of the match, the umpires as well as the tournament itself.  And people accuse the Americans of being commercial.  Coming next: the air that we breathe and the thoughts that we think.

1513.  Well, it’s 136-1 and 19 balls to go.  Chennai are going to win.  With serenity.  Never a doubt in my mind.

1520.  Raina skies one and is out.  What a shame.  To be replaced by… Morkel???!!!

1522.  Four and it’s all over with 8 balls to go.

1523.  Stadium announcement ie nothing to do with the telly, seems to be in English.  Hmm.

1537.  Has Warne had a facelift?  He has that look of someone who’s been beamed down from the planet Zarg.

1541.  “Track” as a synonym for “pitch”.  When did that come about?

1541.  Dhoni talking.  I hear him, he says words and I drift off.  He stops talking and I have absolutely no idea what he has said.  Clearly, genius at work.


History in the making
As a colleague put it: “They could be watching a porn movie for all we know.”
28 April 2011
Bad Friday

A packing crate containing an LCD monitor fell from the second floor and landed on my head.  Estimated impact: 470 Joules. 

It hurt.

Went to hospital.  No brain injury.  No broken bones.  Black eye (no idea how that was caused).  Mildest of headaches.  Very sleepy.

Suspect it would have been a lot worse if it had been a CRT monitor.

Some thoughts on libertarian attitudes to politicians and elections

Inspired by Brian’s thoughts here:

Some say to be involved in elections at all - even by voting - is to accept the result and the inevitable state violence.  I don’t know how I feel about this.

One of my theories is that if you do accept that voting is allowable then you can only endorse candidates that make a clear commitment to reducing the size and scope of the state.

Related theory: freedom never comes about in one go.  It comes about slowly, in fits and starts, two steps forward one step back all the way.

Related (and slightly contradictory) theory: you get reeled in.  I sometimes imagine what it would be like if I were in charge and trying to move in the right direction but not completely in the right direction.  That would mean having to take responsibility for and having to justify a lot of violence.  “Violence is wrong, but I’m doing all this violence because I don’t think I’d win an election if I didn’t.”  Not sure that’s a winner.

Getting back to clear commitments to freedom: what does this say about Brown and Cameron?  I agree with Brian that Brown was appalling but Cameron is little better.  And his littebetterness will end up doing all sorts of damage to the Conservative brand.

Could there be an argument that a politician who goes in the same wrong direction but more slowly is better than one that rushes? 

The Republicans are clearly having dreadful problems coming up with a credible candidate.  Could this in some bizarre way be a strength?  In that (some) people stop looking for messiahs.  This is very much a half-formed thought.

17 April 2011

I’m watching Blithe Spirit on the telly.  Seances, trances and ouija boards in the 1940s.  It’s amazing how big a thing that sort of thing was back in those days.  It crops up in Brighton Rock and Agatha Christie.  Probably a few other things too.  Arthur Conan Doyle was a firm believer.  So was Dowding.  It was one of the things they used to get rid of the guy.  I guess the death toll in the First World War was a big factor in its popularity.

16 April 2011
“A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed,”

From an article entitled: Conventional Education Will Go the Way of Farming.  Heh.

Musings on IPL team names

First, from the get-go they’ve had nicknames.  This is obviously the way of the future.  You have been warned English Premier League teams with vapid or silly or non-existent nicknames.  I’m thinking of you Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool.  We’ll be OK in Watford where we not only have a nickname but a nickname for the nickname.

But the (Indian) nicknames seem to have certain stock themes.  They’re either royal:

Chennai Super Kings
Royal Challengers (do royals challenge?) Bangalore
King’s XI Punjab
Rajasthan Royals

or military:

Deccan Chargers
Kolkata Knight Riders
Pune Warriors

Rather remarkable for a republic that tends to avoid wars.

The only exception to this seems to be the Kochi Tuskers Kerala although this could be a reference to war elephants.  Oh, and the Delhi Daredevils.

I do feel that a chance has been missed to incorporate some local/specific flavour. Why not the Mumbai Moneybags or the Bangalore Hackers?  I suspect the Delhi Bellies might not go down well.

13 April 2011
One reason taxes may have been lower in the past

Because if the state taxed the people any more they would starve.  And when people are in danger of starving they get rebellious.

I read somewhere (and it could be true) that as recently as 1900 50% of household incomes went on food.

01 April 2011
German guilt trips

Excellent Cobden Centre interview with Philipp Bagus.  Apart from the excellent economics two facts I wasn’t previously aware of.  One, Bagus is German (I’d had him down as a Spaniard).  Two, the Germans still feel guilty about the war.  I always thought that was a myth and an increasingly mythical myth at that.  Apparently not.

28 March 2011
The Libertarian case for intervention in Libya - and I thought I was the only one. …link
27 March 2011
Croziervision paraphrase of the day

Niall Ferguson (or as close as I can recall) on Civilisation: Is the West History?:

“What you have to remember that in those days racism was cutting edge and was bought into just as readily as some people today buy into the theory of man-made climate change.”


Recession Thought

Assuming I’m right and the economy is headed for a hell of a collapse then the absolute best thing the government could do would be to abolish employment laws.  The easier it is for employers to employ people the more the people will be able to get jobs and the less bad the depression will be.

23 March 2011
Harrowing tales from North-East Japan

If you are feeling worryingly happy, as if life’s going just a bit too well; Top Tip: switch over to NHK’s tsunami coverage.  That will solve your over-exuberance in an instant.  While our MSM is beginning to pack up its bags, Japan’s journalists have no choice.  So we get gems like:

  • The mother who told her daughter to “run over there” only to see her swept away.
  • The old woman who returns to where her house once was to find that her only recoverable possession was a solitary shoe.
  • The woman who all very sensibly toddled along to the disaster shelter.  The tsunami flooded the shelter almost up to the ceiling.  She only survived by clinging on to a curtain rail.  Almost everyone else in the shelter died.
  • The model tsunami defence system that took 30 years to build and turned out to be completely useless.
  • The hospital which flooded up to the fourth floor (of five).  Two thirds of the occupants died.

I’ve just seen a piece on the convenience store, Lawson’s attempts to stock their shops in the disaster zone.  They can produce the stuff but can’t get it there.  The roads are out and the airplanes are full.  At the other end I’ve heard stories that the banking system is up the spout so no one has any money to pay for this stuff anyway.

In comparison, the news from the Fukushima nuclear plant - by the way, as best as I can work out Fukushima means “Happiness Island” (I jest not) - is good.

The combined confirmed death and missing toll is now about 18,000.  Just by way of comparison the British death toll on the first day of the Somme was 19,000.

20 March 2011
Wholemeal bread

I always thought the fad for wholemeal bread was a new thing.  Apparently not:


More than that - it is a cure for constipation and its attendant evils and will do more to maintain health than all the medicines ever sold.


From The Times 20th March 1911.

19 March 2011
Lew Rockwell’s piece on why “we” shouldn’t intervene in Libya



Didnt’ like it.

Why’s that?

Not quite sure.  Too many assertions I guess.  Also, it says nothing about individual rights.  Let me explain.  As, indeed I have before.  I, as an individual, have the right to defend myself.  I also have the right to defend others.  So, presumably, I have the right to defend Libyans against Gadaffi’s forces.  And, indeed, anti-Gadaffi forces should they prove to be less savoury than we have so far tended to think.

Actually, all this introduces a rather troubling idea.  If I am allowed to defend Libyans then I am allowed to run guns to them.  As indeed is my next-door neighbour.  But what if my next-door neighbour takes the view that the best way to defend Libyans is to support the Gadaffi forces?  This could get nasty.

Maybe this is one of the reasons we have states - to stop far-flung conflicts turning into civil wars on our doorsteps.

17 March 2011

I often see the expression “RBS [or whatever] is 83% [or whatever] owned by the government.”  But is that true?  What the government did (if I recall correctly) was to buy preference shares.  Now, to my mind preference shares are shares in name only.  They do not (Lord, let me be right on this) offer voting rights and so do not offer control.

What have I got wrong here?

Political correctness 1911-style

From the judge’s summing up in the Clapham Common murder trial:

People of certain nationalities, if they had a good case, because they were convinced that perjured evidence would be brought against them they, on their side, procured perjured evidence.  If the jury came to the conclusion that the alibi was false they must not judge it so strictly against the prisoner as they would if it had been produced by an Englishman.

Stinie Morrison was found guilty of the murder of Leon Beron and sentenced to death.

The Times, March 16 1911.

15 March 2011
My Perfect Cousin


Best line: His Ma bought him a synthesizer, brought the Human League into advise her.

This is particularly good because the record was released before the Human League were famous.  Or had even split.

Could this Japanese earthquake be a black swan event?

I mean Japan is going to collapse at some point so why not now?  My understanding is that the one thing propping it up is its inhabitants’ propensity for buying government debt.  But what if they no longer have the money?

Losing 25% of your electricity generating capacity.  That sounds a lot.

I think Paul Marks could be on to something with his style of writing. I wonder if it could work for me.

13 March 2011
Earthquake damage in a Tokyo library



12 February 2011
Advice for people involved in internecine disputes

1. Shut up.  Suffer any injustice rather than go public.

2. Do the work.  The winners (I am reliably informed) are the ones who do just that.

08 February 2011
I've just been watching the Dispatches investigation into the shocking, shocking scandal in which journalists hacked celebrities' voicemails.

I tried not to laugh but when Alistair Campbell started whining about it, well, it would take a heart of stone not too...

Is climate science a science?

According to Wikipedia science is “...is an enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the world.”

So, what has climate science come up with that is testable, has been tested and not failed the test?  There seem to be plenty of things that are not currently testable eg disaster in the future and a few things that have been tested and failed eg a new ice age, snow becoming an increasingly rare event.  There are also statements eg that next year will be much the same as this year which have been tested, haven’t failed but at the same time are indistinguishable from the null hypothesis.

I seem to remember that from time to time a warmist will pop up and say if we don’t sort things out in the next five years or whatever we’re doomed.  Presumably, some of these deadlines have by now run out.  Have the warmists involved turned round and said: “It’s all over, disaster is assured there’s no point in doing anything now it’s far too late.”?  It might not prove global warming but it would prove (or, rather, not disprove) warmist integrity.

06 February 2011
"In my living memory, every socialist failure has been blamed on the weather." Jeffrey Tucker …link
30 January 2011
How does freedom come about?

There was a comment on this posting by Brian Micklethwait that annoyed me.

Ian B had written:

...you rarely get liberty at the point of a bayonet.

To which Alisdair had replied:

Magna Carta - signed cuz of good-will on King John;‘s part ? Or at the pointy end of bayonet-equivalents ?

US getting out from under Lord North’s Privy Council ? Generosity on Lord North’s part ? Or at the pointy end of colonists’ weaponry (and rented mercenaries)?

Israeli democracy - Allah being the Compassionate and the Merciful ? Or at the pointy end of Irgun and Hagganah and other probably not kosher ‘persuaders’ ? (Numerous times since (and including) 1948)

European democracy post 1939 - inevitable voluntary stepping-down by Herr Schicklgruber ? Or at the pointy end of actual bayonets and other less-than-gentle persuasions ?

Are you detecting a pattern, yet ?

You see I ask the question how did particular freedoms come about?  For instance, how did freedom of speech come about in England?  Or, how did slavery end, again, in England?  Or the end of serfdom? Or freedom of religion?

The answer is that all these things came about slowly over a very long period of time.  Warfare had little to do with it.  I am not denying that warfare can be essential in defending an existing freedom but it seems to me that rarely does it extend them.

25 January 2011
An apology is an expression of sorrow

The news flash says that Sky sports anchorman, Richard Keys, has apologised to that female linesman for making all those remarks in an off-air conversation with the evil Andy Gray.


An apology - it seems to me - is an expression of sorrow.  How can you possibly feel sorrow for words spoken in private in the full belief that those words would remain private?  If the words were uttered in private then you bloody well meant them.  And how can you possibly apologise for things you mean?  “I believed it ten minutes ago but now I don’t.  I’m so sorry.”

It’s absurd.  And a lie.

I suppose it’s possible the words were uttered in jest but if so it just goes to show how deeply unfunny Keys and Gray are. 

They could apologise for that.

21 January 2011
Brian and I talk about the rise of Austrian Economics

I am hoping to get back into podcasting some time.  But this time round I want to do it using Skype. Recording a conversation down the line means that you can get into editing straight away and vastly increases the number of people you can talk to.

To that end I am phoning up friends on Skype and recording the conversations as a way to get some practice at this.  (So, be warned. Well, not really, I will tell you and nothing will be uploaded without your say so.)  It is a remarkably difficult thing to get right and up until recently I was beginning to think it was impossible - at least on a Mac.

But it isn’t and a couple of weeks ago I was recording a conversation with Brian Micklethwait.  Interesting conversation and Brian and I agree it deserves a wider audience.  So, here goes.

It started with us discussing Brian’s then talk-to-be on the rise of Austrian Economics before moving on to free states, the surprising resilience of Western democracy, greenery and Keynesianism. 

Sadly, it starts and ends rather abruptly.  Hope that doesn’t spoil things too much.

19 January 2011
"To make us decide to be less happy, Hugh is trying to make us feel guilty." Fisher on fish. Also "Nature isn’t something to be in-tune with. It’s something to conquer, before it conquers you." Heh. …link
04 January 2011
The Global Warming Conspiracy

I must thank Bishop Hill for posting a link to the 1990 Channel 4 documentary The Global Warming Conspiracy.  Watching this first time round all those years ago was the watershed moment for me on climate change.  Before I tended to believe, afterwards I never did.

It seems to me that despite being 20 years old now it is rather better than the more recent The Great Global Warming Swindle.  Have TV documentaries gone backwards in that time?

It is also annoying that (unless I am very much mistaken) the presenter, Hilary Lawson, is and was thick with the ex-Revolutionary Communist Party crowd.

18 December 2010
“Germany was never a threat to England.”

This line appeared in a recent round-robin email from Sean Gabb Co-Director of the Libertarian Alliance.

There’s a grain of truth in it.  From what I know Hitler very much wanted to avoid war with Britain.  His aim was to create a German empire in Eastern Europe.  But does anyone seriously think that having achieved his aim he wouldn’t have ended up turning his attentions to Britain?  He was the head of a national socialist regime.  Socialism doesn’t work.  Eventually, this becomes apparent and the regime gets into trouble.  And when regimes get into trouble they start wars.

06 December 2010
What’s stopping England leaving FIFA?

Because if they did they wouldn’t be able to play in the World Cup.  That’s what the argument (see here for an example, right at the end by the way) boils down to.  Maybe, maybe and if that were the end of the story it would be a loss.  But the fun of putting two fingers up to FIFA would more than compensate for it.  And who knows how things would develop.  I doubt if England are alone in being shafted by FIFA and people are going to want to play us FIFA or no.

If I were in charge I think I would be inclined to go ahead and organise the World Cup regardless.  OK, so our only opponents might turn out to be Tibet, Vanuatu and Scotland but it would still be fun.

Hey, we could even take the opportunity to sort out some of the stupider rules.

Authors often complain when their books get turned into films. They get particularly narked when they've sold the rights to someone who they thought would make a good job of it and then didn't.

Which got me wondering. What would happen if an author waived his rights? Just said: "Anyone can turn this into a film, play, tv series. I really don't care and I won't try any legal way to stop you."

Would it be that the wannabe film makers would have to be that much more careful? Because all of a sudden they no longer have exclusivity. If they fuck it all up then not only will the author tell the world what a load of old rubbish it is but the chances would be that there would be a better version coming along in the not-too-distant future.

04 December 2010
Alice is back - to tell us how the housing market is going to collapse …link
01 December 2010
Why this Wikileaks business may be incredibly important

I have this feeling that this whole Wikileaks business is not only significant for what it is in and of itself but also for what it heralds.

Here is my reasoning:

Wikileaks shows that from now on it will be impossible to keep a secret.

The Crozier theory of organisations states that organisations exist to keep secrets.

Therefore, organisations have had it.

27 November 2010
Stuff I learnt in Germany last week
  1. Bi-lingual children become mono-lingual at about the age of six.  At that point fitting in at school is more important than fitting in at home.  Presumably, they never entirely lose the ability to understand or speak the deprecated language.  I hope so anyway.
  2. Germans are not happy at the prospect of being asked to work until 70 so that Greeks can retire at 60.
  3. Only two German states (Bavaria and Baden-Württemburg) are net contributors to the national budget.  The Ruhr ain’t what it was.  This is rather frightening.  Because if every country in Europe is bust except Germany and every part of Germany is bust apart from the South the bailouts are not going to last long.
  4. Women feel safe to walk around Munich at night.
  5. Actually, Munich is a really nice city.
  6. Germans like their training courses.  If there’s an activity and that activity has a training course they’ll have the training first thank you very much.
  7. I would love to comment on the beer but, sadly due to my under-developed taste buds, for the most part it all seemed the same.  But none of it was bad.  So, I guess it was good.
  8. Germans are big on winter tyres. 
  9. Germans smoke in groups.  One of them decides it’s time to light up and so they all get up and go outside.  One out, all out, so to speak.
  10. I still don’t understand the Germans.  Every other country in Europe, yes (well, as well as I can) but Germany, no. It remains mysterious, unpredictable.
Hokey-cokey sectarian!? Who knew?
...this from the same church spokesman who two years ago supported a claim that choruses of the Hokey-Cokey could be regarded as sectarian abuse because of comic references to the rituals of Mass.
All part of the fun of Scottish football. Croziervision respectfully asks readers to try not to laugh.

26 November 2010
Sometimes when I confront the appalling financial mess the UK (see Wat Tyler for some of the gory details) is in I come up with some sort of wizard wheeze for solving it. One of my favourites is the one line bill that states that all government pension promises are hereby null and void. Another is a return to the tax-payer franchise (no representation without (net) taxation).

And then I think: "Do I really want this to be solved constitutionally?" There is so much unpicking that has to be done of taxes and regulations and contracts and international agreements that I doubt it's even possible. I don't doubt the horror, at least initially, of a constitutional collapse, especially with so many members of the population convinced socialists (of one flavour or another) but it seems to me to be the only way of sweeping away the Sargasso Sea of government.

14 November 2010
How depressing was the Depression?

Howard Katz thinks not much:

“The period of the early 1930s was one of the best (economic) times in American history…”

And he has some data to prove it.  What do I think?  I have no idea.

13 November 2010
Why I don’t wear a poppy

1.  I don’t know what these people do.

2.  I am stingy.

3.  I don’t like charity.  This is partly because I am (as I said) stingy.  Partly because I don’t like guilt trips.  Partly because I get nothing from it.  Actually, that’s not quite true.  I rather like the Remembrance paraphernalia.  I like the sight of poppies.  I like the ceremonies, the Cenotaph, the Unknown Soldier, the Two-Minute Silence.  I think they are marvellously dignified.  (I was at Heathrow Airport a couple of years ago when it was called and, blow me down, it was observed!  Any foreigner there must have thought we were nuts.)  I like the collective message that is sent out to the world at about this time: “We had two appalling wars and we have not forgotten.”  Oh and the international confusion: “What are they wearing?” - it causes.  I like the fact that we share precisely the same poppy-wearing business with the Canadians (and probably a few other former colonies too).  Maybe, if the buying of the poppy were separated from the giving to charity I wouldn’t mind so much.

On this subject, Brian made some interesting points about charities a few years ago.  I am not entirely sure if I agree with him.

It occurs to me that he also made a rather good point in a speech to an Libertarian Alliance conference (this time talking about political correctness) about “package deals” (of which this is one): where along with the good stuff (being nice to black people) you get a whole load of bad stuff (speech codes, state violence etc)

4.  The black plastic centre.  This used to bear the words “Haig Fund”.  Because the appeal was in aid of the Haig Fund, the fund set up by Field Marshal Haig to aid veterans of the First World War.  About 20 years ago, at a time when the “Blackadder” school of history had managed to convince the world that the guy was a callous bungler, these words were changed to “Poppy Appeal”.  This has always struck me as an act of appalling cowardice.  And I don’t think I should be giving my money to cowards.

So, if they changed the words back would you buy a poppy?  Probably not.  But if they separated the poppy from the charity I probably would.

But, Crozier, “Haig Fund” is a charity.  How can you have something that mentions a charity but isn’t actually connected to it? Errrrr.  Hmm, yes that is a bit of a hole.

But, Crozier, the Chinese went mental when they saw Dave and Co wearing poppies.  Isn’t that excuse enough?  Almost.  Given that Dave has managed to anger both the Chinese and students in the same week I really should have more sympathy for the guy but the problem is I don’t think he means it.

5.  I am very suspicious of universal conventions.

Do you walk around naked?  OK, there are some universal conventions I respect.  Why this one and not that one?  Dunno.  Because it feels right.  Given long enough I could probably intellectualize it but I can’t just this minute.


14 October 2010
Chilean miner rescue

How do we know it wasn’t faked?

The lack of intellectual property gave the Soviet Union an advantage in the Cold War

Seen in a piece on the AK-47 linked to by Instapundit:

That was how the Soviet Union designed much of its suite of military equipment. Rival teams were given a set of specification and deadlines, and through a series of stages the teams presented prototypes, and contest supervisors winnowed the field. Stalin liked these contests. They created urgency and a strong sense of priorities, and they helped speed along development. This was also a system without patents or even notions of intellectual property, at least as we know them in the West. So design convergence was part of the process—the teams and the judges, as time passed, could mix and match features from different submissions. Think of a game of Mr. Potato Head. Now imagine a similar game, in which many different elements and features of an automatic rifle are available to you, and more are available at each cycle, and you can gradually pluck the best features and assemble them into a new whole. In some ways, this was the process here.

It was always been a great puzzle to me how the half-way capitalist Tsarists managed to lose their world war while the full-on commies won theirs.  My explanation had always been that the disciplines learnt under the Tsar and the extraordinary growth that Russia experienced prior to the First World War, somehow kept going.  But, surely, twenty years of Leninist, followed by Stalinist communism will destroy anything.  Or, maybe, that Allied aid to the Soviets was more than we tend to think.  The explanation that it’s to do with intellectual property seems far more plausible.  And it also explains why the Soviets were good at military stuff but lousy at everything else.

10 October 2010
To our Chinese readers (who celebrate it, which realistically means those in Taiwan and not necessarily all of them) - happy Double Ten.

04 October 2010
Uh oh

Just been listening to George Osborne’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference.

Oh dear.  Oh, fucking dear.  We’re fucked.  Totally and utterly screwed.

The human part of his brain does seem to have some idea of how big a hole we’re in.  Sadly, the politician part - the dominant part - does not.  So, he’s going to protect the NHS and medical research and high-speed lines (I kid you not!).

And next week it will be the Army and then education - he’s already pretty much ruled out any serious welfare reform.  And the week after that: everything else.

The rule with cuts is: no exceptions.

There was a brief period when I was prepared to believe that the Coalition might just have the balls do what was necessary.  OK, it’s not quite over yet but I am not optimistic.

Business sense on the business channel - shock!

CNBC is much better than the BBC.  But that is not saying much.  For the most part it offers up a stream of Keynesians with a smattering of Monetarists.

So, imagine my surprise when I turned on today to hear someone talking sense.  Real, proper, honest-to-Godness, complete, free-market, Austrian sense.  I even spent the next half an hour glued to the show just so I could catch his name.

I succeeded.  The guy’s name is Sean Corrigan and he works for these people.

Oh, and he writes for the Cobden Centre.  Which I would have known if I monitored their RSS feed.

Go Toby!

19 September 2010
On blacks getting breaks

Some time ago James Hamilton mused on the rise of the friendly clubs - clubs like: Watford, Luton and Norwich - in the 1980s.  I wonder if one of the reasons for their rise was their willingness to field black players.  Norwich had Justin Fashanu, Luton Brian Stein and Watford Luther Blissett and John Barnes (and Worrell Stirling if you’re a real aficionado).  We shouldn’t forget in all this Ron Atkinson’s West Brom which fielded three black players at the same time, way before anyone else.  I am struggling to think when the big clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal followed suit.  Late Eighties I would guess.

I was reminded of this today reading about the anniversary of the death of Jimi Hendrix.  Here we have an American who first made it big in Britain.  Apparently, according to one commenter he even adopted some British English aphorisms.  I say “reminded” but on further reflection it occurs to me that there is no obvious connection (at least, not obvious to me) between the phenomenon of small teams being more open to black football players and Britain being more open to black guitar players.

17 September 2010
So, Bloglines is to close. This is awfully sad. Sure, there is, and will be Google Reader, but I just can't get on with it. I suppose it's like having to fly a Spitfire when you're used to Hurricanes. You know it's better but it's all different and new fangled and there are all these features which you don't understand.

Still, it's better than standing on the ground I suppose.

13 September 2010
What are the chances that a hundred years ago cigarettes were regarded as a type of air freshener?

29 August 2010
The seeds of the Second World War?

I’ve always been rather disappointed by 50-years-ago, 100-years-ago-type columns.  They always seem to be compiled by someone who just doesn’t like history.  Or just doesn’t get it and so can’t put it into context.  Or, maybe, does get it but can’t put it into context because in point of fact that particular day’s edition didn’t have anything particularly poignant.

So, I’ve always tended to think of it as a pointless exercise.  Until, that is, a bored few moments a few days ago when I thought it might be fun to look at the world of a century ago through the pages of the Times.  Even if it was the silly season.  A worthwhile exercise as it turned out.

In the silly season of 1910 there was none sillier than the Kaiser.  Here he is inspecting the German colonies in Poland.  The what!?  Colonies.  Sounds awfully like an early version of Lebensraum.

And here (warning: you may need to hit zoom to read it) he is appearing to proclaim the divine right of kings.  In NINETEEN TEN FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE!  Remind you of anything, like the Führerprinzip, for instance?

And here is a by-election in Germany in which the socialists defeat the anti-semites.  Yes, that’s electable anti-semites.  Long before Hitler got going.

Which makes me think you may not be able to see the seeds of the First World War in August 1910 but you can certainly see the seeds of the Second.

Scary graph of the day

Found here.  Look at that fourth bar.  Yes, that’s the UK.  The government owns a colossal amount of soon-to-be-worthless Treasuries presumably bought out of the proceeds from those gold sales.  Brilliant.

24 August 2010
Kevin Dowd: "One recent estimate suggested that a UK citizen born in 2011 will inherit, on birth, a debt of perhaps £200,000, and it could easily be much more."

22 August 2010

The argument against deflation (if I’ve got it right) is that people will hold on to their money in the expectation of even lower prices in the future.  In other words that if they wait long enough they will be able to buy more.  What is the difference between this and having a positive real interest rate?

21 August 2010
"The state is an error log growing out of control." Jeffrey Tucker comes up with an analogy which more or less works.

20 August 2010
Germany caught up with Britain because it had no copyright. Perhaps

14 August 2010

The other day I did something I haven’t done in 15 years.  Yes, that’s right: I watched a play.  The play in question was resting blogger, Peter Briffa’s Siren.  It was staged at the Etcetera Theatre which sounds terribly grand until you realise that it’s based above a pub and sits about 40.  And it’s run lasted 4 nights.  Last night was… it’s last night.  Last of four.  So, that’s about 160 people who watched it. Which means I can say more or less what I like about it without much fear of contradiction.

I had thought it was going to be about a bank heist.  Turned out it was about prostitution.  Hey ho.  And it was presented in flashback. Think of it as Memento meets Pretty Woman

And, as you can probably guess from the setting it had a small cast.  Two in fact.

Did I like it?  Don’t know.  However, I can say it was better than anything the BBC’s done in ten years.  Perhaps, that’s damning it with faint praise.  It was also better than any play I have seen in London since Amadeus in 1981.  That’s probably also damning it with faint praise.  Especially, since I haven’t seen a whole load of other plays in that time.  But I was glad I went.

Peter reckons it’s more or less impossible for an otherwise normal 40-something to get a play put on in London.  What with the setting it rather put me in mind of stories of Soviet Shakespearophiles having to put on Hamlet and Macbeth in private houses.  Yes, in Soviet Russia Hamlet and Macbeth were banned.  Apparently.

06 August 2010
How many men does it take to change a light bulb in Russia? - One. How many steps? 42 …link
05 August 2010
What to do when the Russians come. (History According to) Bob reads extracts from this Cold War classic (?). Not good news if you're a Maoist or a Trotskyite. But if you're a Nazi things are not nearly as bad as they could be. And if you're a psychopath...

02 August 2010
The fun of having your political opponents make your point for you

I was watching Roger Simon’s YouTube piece on Walter Duranty - the New York Times correspondent who covered up the Ukrainian famine in the 1930s.  I thought: “Well, I wonder if the reporting in the (London) Times was any better?”  And so I looked through some old editions online.  And then I found a really interesting letter - one that uses Duranty’s very own words to make the point that - at very least - food was very scarce in Russia.

This is something I have found myself when writing about railways.  One of the best writers around is Christian Wolmar who I am pretty sure is some sort of socialist.  However, time and time again he would come up with the facts to support the libertarian argument.

By the way, in terms of reporting, although there are dark hints, the Times didn’t really come to terms with the fact that there had been a famine until a couple of years later.  We have to bear in mind that it had no correspondents in the Soviet Union, all its reporting was done out of Riga in Latvia and its main source was official Soviet reports.

31 July 2010
If there's one issue with which I disagree with the great Leslie Charteris (creator of the Saint and thus inspiration behind the great TV series of the same name that starred Roger Moore) it is his loathing of blackmail. Here is Walter Block, in an extract from his wonderful Defending the Undefendable, explaining why Charteris was wrong.

When BP turned over $20bn to the US government some (including me) thought it was an appalling example of extortion. Randall Holcombe thinks it might have been a rather good piece of business

After the Sherrod and New Black Panther affairs, one question: when was the last time the US federal government was this racist? I'm thinking Woodrow Wilson here but anyone got any better ideas?

28 July 2010
I've noticed recently that when I surf over to the Telegraph comment page the first thing I do is have a look at the blogs. I hardly ever bother with the op-ed pieces. Why is this? Well, of course, it is because I find the blogs interesting and the traditional op-ed pieces boring. But why is that?

22 July 2010
Crash-avoiding car crashes

Regular viewers of Top Gear will already have seen this but it’s still hilarious.

19 July 2010
Unemployment then and now

In the early 1980s unemployment was concentrated in formerly industrial areas - former steel towns, former mining villages, those sort of places.  Although governments were careful to get rid of actual dole queues any television crew worth its salt could easily find a scene of decay to illustrate the problem.  Such scenes were endlessly repeated on the television with the result that unemployment became a huge political issue.

In the current depression it seems to me that unemployment is much more dispersed.  It is therefore harder to visualise and less likely to be such a huge political issue.

This is probably a good thing as it means that governments will be less scared of the inevitable increases in unemployment that will come when they start to introduce the right sorts of policies.

09 July 2010
What’s wrong with this graph?

This came to me in an email from the Tax Payers’ Alliance referencing this report (the graphic is on page 11).

I do hate it when ideological friends make such elementary errors.

Mind you, it does beg the question: what would I do?  Of course, in Patrick Crozier’s nirvana all roads would be privately owned and whatever rules there were would be up to the owners of those roads.  But what would those rules be likely to be?  I have this awful feeling that they wouldn’t be all that different.  If I owned a road I would like it to be fast - happier customers - but what I would really like it to be is safe - more crashes, less use, lower revenue.

I see there's going to be a spy swap.

It's that word "swap" I find interesting. It implies that what we're giving is broadly equivalent to what we're getting. In other words, those ever so paranoid Russian authorities and their kangaroo courts were right all along: those people they banged up were indeed spies and that the West is indeed spying on them.

08 July 2010
In defence of appeasement

Interesting article in (partial) support of appeasement by Paul Kennedy.  I have long thought that appeasement has had a bad press.  The point about 1930s appeasement is that it clarified the issue.  Had Britain fought in 1938 it would have done so divided.  When it did finally fight it did so united.

Kennedy, however, says something completely different.

30 June 2010
Are any Premiership players having a good World Cup? Obviously we know about the England team but what about the others? Drogba, Torres, Malouda, Evra, Vidic, van Persie: none of them have exactly set the tournament alight. Could it be that playing in the Premiership precludes being any good in international tournaments? Would rather explain the 4-1.

28 June 2010
The significance of Bloody Sunday and the difficulty in tracking down the mistake

Brian comments:

I’ve recently been very struck my EU Referendum’s criticisms of the Paras.

Undoing in a few violent minutes what took years to contrive. Armed thugs. That kind of thing.

Do you agree with him? Or is that kind of thing irrelevant also? (I don’t ask in a snearing way. I genuinely ask.)

Yes, I was very struck by what North had to say too. Especially his piece on Ballymurphy.  Clearly the Paras had form.

However, I’m not sure about this idea of “undoing” valuable work.  The days when soldiers were sharing cups of tea with the locals were long gone.  There was a fully-fledged IRA campaign already in existence.  There were several no-go areas which security forces would not normally enter and were controlled on a day-to-day basis by the IRA.  Almost 200 people had been killed in the previous year.  The situation had got so bad that the government had introduced internment - not a decision that they would have taken lightly even then.  So, the situation was pretty bad even without the Paras.

I can’t imagine they did a lot of good but I’m far from convinced that Bloody Sunday acted as a recruiting sergeant for the IRA - it was pretty strong already.

It think the real significance of Bloody Sunday was that it knocked Britain off the moral high ground.  When Britain tried to make its case the IRA could just turn round and say: “What about Bloody Sunday?”  Worse still, it was very difficult for Britain to admit the mistake.  Loyalty works both ways.  If you want your soldiers to be loyal to you, you had better be loyal to them.  We’ve seen much the same sort of thinking more recently wih the rigging of the de Menezes inquest.  Other readers may remember the day SO19 (Scotland Yard’s snipers) went on strike after a couple of their colleagues were suspended.  In the case of the Paras they clearly believed they (and it is they) could get away with it.  Which implies that that belief was being reinforced by those in authority above them.  That raises questions that governments don’t like to answer. 

The IRA has a fundamental problem: it is a fascist organisation in a democratic age.  If you apply democratic principles through the Wilsonian doctrine of self-determination to Ulster you would have to say that Britain has no business governing the West Bank of the Foyle, South Armagh and West Belfast.  (There are other areas that I could probably mention especially in Tyrone but it starts to get very complicated so I won’t).  What the IRA has been trying to do for 40 years is to use that injustice as a wedge to secure the fascist aim of getting the rest of Ulster into a united Ireland.

So, the answer is to withdraw from nationalist areas?  To my mind yes but there are problems.  Since 1945 states have been incredibly reluctant to alter borders.  That’s one of the reasons Africa is such a mess, with borders crossing tribal lines and bringing together under one governmental roof all sorts of people eg the Shona and Matabele, who don’t get on.  I think this reluctance has something to do with the experience of the 1930s but I’m really not sure.  The other problem is working out what constitutes a “nationalist” area.  Would they include places like the Fountain in Londonderry, Suffolk in West Belfast and Enniskillen? all of them oases of unionism in deserts of nationalism.

27 June 2010
Fact of the Day

Germany has outperformed England in every World Cup since 1966.

23 June 2010
Government science doesn't work. It is something that Terence Kealey has been saying for over 20 years and every time he does it gets that little bit better. This time: why there was no American aircraft industry in 1914, despite the fact that they'd invented it; how they became dominant; and why they went into decline after 1975.

22 June 2010
The Troubles had nothing to do with civil rights

I see in the light of the Saville Report some people have been claiming that the Northern Ireland Troubles were caused by the denial of civil rights to Catholics in the 1960s.  It is a very common claim and has become part of the “official” history.  Unfortunately, it is wrong.

Let us begin with the standard story.  This claims that Ulster’s Catholics suffered from discrimination in jobs, housing and elections.  Occasionally, the issue of the B Specials gets added to the list.  The Catholics protested, their protests were attacked, they responded by rioting and the Troubles started.  Later on the IRA joined the fray.

Unfortunately, there seem to be some inconsistencies even with this story.  First of all, why would anyone want to discriminate on the grounds of religion in the 1960s?  The 1690s maybe.  But 300 years later?  Secondly, even if you did want to discriminate, how would you know what religion job applicants or housing applicants were?

The next problem is that the claim was falsified.  An equal employment commission was set up.  Government housing was taken out of the hands of councils and put in the hands of the British Government.  The voting laws were changed to bring them into line with those on the other side of the Irish Sea.  The B Specials were abolished.  And yet the IRA campaign continued.

The next problem is that large parts of the original claim were untrue.  Or at least, they missed bits out.  Were Londonderry Corporation’s boundaries gerrymandered in August 1969 (when the Troubles started)?  No.  I can say that with absolute confidence because Londonderry Corporation had been abolished earlier that year.  Was there discrimination in housing?  Difficult to say, the only reasonably comprehensive survey I am aware of forms part of Richard Rose’s Governing Without Consensus.  He found some differences but only minor ones.  If you want a fuller account of this have a look at Paul Kingsley’s Londonderry Revisited if you can find it.

So, what’s the real explanation for 30 years and 3000 dead?

Nationality, ethnicity and borders.  There are two nations in Ulster: the Irish and the British.  They don’t get on.  They don’t trust one another.  Sure, on a personal level there are plenty of examples of individual Irishmen getting on with individual Britons but on a collective level?  Hell no.  Each nation wants to live under a state it feels it can trust.  The Ulster British want that state to be Britain.  The Ulster Irish want that state to be the Republic of Ireland.  That’s been true for at least 150 years.

Father Dennis Faul was once asked why all the reforms since 1969 hadn’t made a great deal of difference.  I can’t remember his exact words but it was something like: “The facts don’t matter, the perceptions do.”  In other words the Ulster Irish will think ill of the British no matter what.  Enoch Powell once said: “Nationality is what you feel.”  The point of both these statements is that you can’t change someone’s nationality.  It’s not amenable to reason.

So, don’t try.

But I digress.  The point is that nations and states were always the issue.  Civil rights were simply tactically convenient.

20 June 2010
Another egregious example of vuvuzelaphobia:
The vuvuzela really took off in 2001 when Masincedane Sport started mass marketing a plastic version of it, an act that was called “unconscionable” by people who sell tainted crack to schoolchildren
"Enough!" I say. I rather like them. Though I may be the only one.

19 June 2010
The lessons of Bloody Sunday

Well, the real lesson is that we shouldn’t have states.  No states, no disagreements about which state should govern what territory, no terrorist campaigns, no army deployments.  But short of that libertarian nirvana the lesson ought to be that if you think you need troops to police an area eg the Bogside, then you probably shouldn’t be there at all.  Or don’t try to govern people who don’t want you to govern them.

Also, interesting article on Bloody Sunday over on EU Referendum - all about colonial chickens coming home to roost.  And another one which links to good article by Kevin Myers about the Paras and their extraordinary brutality.

14 June 2010
Nuclear weapons. You thought they were just for preventing Cold Wars getting hot. But no. It turns out they're for ending oil spills too.

Is there nothing they can't do?

It's the FIFA World Cup™. Not the World Cup. No, the FIFA World Cup™. Which tells us two important things:

1. FIFA is very powerful because it can get people to say this. And
2. FIFA is very stupid because it wants people to say this.

Which rather helps to confirm (pace Nassim Taleb) my belief that sports governing bodies are the worst organisations on the planet.

12 June 2010
Why Rothbard was “anti-war”

I was having a chat with Brian Micklethwait the other night about anti-war libertarianism - no, still haven’t come up with a better term for it - and particularly the role of Murray Rothbard.  Brian reckons - and I hope I am not misrepresenting him here - that much of Rothbard’s motivation was down to his study of Lenin.

You see, Rothbard wanted to instigate a revolution - a libertarian one but a revolution all the same.  So, he looked around for successful revolutionaries.  And the most successful of all was Lenin.  Rothbard noted that in the biggest war in history to date, and despite the fact that his country was a whole-hearted participant, Lenin refused to take sides.  So Rothbard - according to Brian and the faulty logic is plain to see here - drew the conclusion that when it comes to war the libertarian revolutionary should always back the opposition to his “own” side.

Rothbard was a New York Jew.  And Brian got used to the idea that in any given dispute Rothbard would inevitably support the side that least resembled New York Jews.

Of course, none of this means that Rothbard’s published views on war are wrong - just highly suspect.

11 June 2010
Why does the BBC think that the World Cup started in 1986?

Some of you may have been watching “The World Cup’s most shocking moments” on BBC3.  I know I was.  It was, as the title implied, a countdown of what the producers reckoned were the 50 most shocking things to ever happen in the tournament.  “Great”, I thought “We’ll get to relive England 0 USA 1; Spain 0 Northern Ireland 1; West Germany 0 East Germany 1, the Battle of Berne and the Battle of Santiago.

But no.

It seemed that as far as the producers were concerned the World Cup started in 1986.  There was not a mention of anything before that - well, apart that is, from Scotland’s 1978 World Cup song (“We’ll really shake ‘em up when we win the World Cup.”) which in my ideal world would be mentioned at all times and everywhere, World Cup or not.

So, what was going on?  It could be that the producers felt that anything before 1986 would be boring and “irrelevant” to a modern audience.  But I doubt it.  If there’s one thing that generates an interest in history in young men it’s football.

I think the real reason is that they couldn’t get permission to use the footage. Which in itself is odd.  I understand that if you want to show anything in Formula One since 1980 you have to get Bernie Ecclestone’s permission.  And I wonder if a similar process was going on here but in reverse.

The other oddity was that they could show every second of the last World Cup final except the one in which Zidane headbutted Matarazzi.  Now, to give them their due they did say they couldn’t show it.  At which I thought “Fantastic.  I’ve kept a tape of the game.  I’ll have to arrange a screening.  It’ll be like Clockwork Orange all over again.”  So, you can imagine my disappointment when I saw the headbutt in all its glory ITV4.  Which rather made me wonder why the BBC chose to lie about it.

10 June 2010
If you have a right to fight you have the right to win.  Discuss.

I am currently rather pre-occupied with what I would rather not call libertarian anti-war theory.  Examples of this include this podcast by Ralph Raico on the First World War, his piece on the Blockade of Germany and this article by Murray Rothbard.

“If you have a right to fight you have the right to win.” is for the time being my riposte.

26 May 2010
Patrick Crozier’s Compleat Guide to Dealing with Media Interviews (Part II)

For Part I, see here.

So, I’m in my live one-to-one, what do I do?

Be on your guard.  I recall the case of an aquaintance who was invited to appear on breakfast TV.  He showed up for the interview and behind the scenes it was all charm and “We’ll just ask some simple questions” etc but the moment he was in front of the cameras it was straight into most aggressive hard-ball grilling imaginable.

Get the tone right.  Stay calm.  Be polite.  Do not raise your voice.  Prove you are a human being not a nutter.  Swear if you want to but don’t expect to be asked back.  And, if you do, make sure it’s of the “Fuck me” rather than “Fuck you” variety.

Be honest.  If you don’t know say so.  OK, it might be a bit embarassing if you’re supposed to be the expert but lying is a far worse.  And so it should be.  I’ve said elsewhere that honesty is hard work.  It sounds odd but it’s true.  For instance, why do you believe what you believe?  Because I bet it’s not for the reason you think you do.  For my part I start from two axioms: one, violence is wrong and two, violence doesn’t work.  Which is why I am happy to opine on issues like DDT even though I know next to nothing about the subject.

Take your time.  You do not have to respond immediately.  Sure, your interviewer would like you to and might well apply all sorts of pressure to make you do so - after all broadcast media hate silence.  But that is their problem not yours. 

Do not tolerate aggression.  Make it absolutely clear that you’d rather walk out than tolerate rudeness and abuse.  If you are on the receiving end of it try: “You’re being aggressive.”  If the interviewer tries to brush you aside, try: “You’re still being aggressive.”  If he continues say: “I’ll give you a minute to regain your composure.”  And in that time, say nothing.  Read a newspaper.  Check your emails.

Do not tolerate error.  The typical interview question comprises, outrageous assumption, dubious fact, dodgy opinion and finally, after all that a question on a largely trivial matter.  If the questioner is stupid enough to enough to leave these hostages to fortune the least you can do is ransom them.  So, try: “Is that the most important question?”; “Your report was wrong.” (if there was a report beforehand); “What makes you think that?”; “You’re wrong.” or, if you’re not quite sure: “I think you’re wrong.”

Keep it short.  If the interviewer can leave hostages to fortune so can you.  The less you say, the less he can pick you up on and the harder it becomes to divert the course of the conversation.  When you’ve said what you have to say, shut up.  It’s what happens next that is fascinating.  Interviewers just love leaving a pause in in the hope that you’ll fill it.  Resist the temptation.  You’ll say something stupid.  One (and possibly the only) admirable thing about Edward Heath was that he would never fall for this.  He would say what he had to say and shut up.  The interviewer would leave in a pause hoping for more and Heath would silently revel in the awkwardness.

Don’t be scared to repeat yourself.  If you get asked substantially the same question give substantially the same answer.

Remember this is serious.  So, no grinning about.  No smugness.

Make the moral argument.  In the unlikely event you actually get an opportunity to outline your opinions lead with the moral argument ie violence is wrong.  Unlike facts, it’s awfully difficult to disagree with and gives you the moral high ground.

Practice.  Perhaps by watching a few grillings and working out what you would say instead.

So, Patrick, have you ever put this into practice?

No.  Not in an interview but I have in private conversations with a few aggressive types.  They don’t like it.

Will you, when the time comes?

I am not optimistic.  Most of this is pretty radical - not the stuff of media training courses.  And the media can be quite intimidating.  My guess is that in the unlikely event I ever got asked for an interview I would start off with all the passionate intensity in the world and end up lacking the slightest conviction. 

But maybe I wouldn’t.

19 May 2010
Patrick Crozier’s Compleat Guide to Dealing with Media Interviews (Part I)

As (sort of) promised.

Why on earth do we need a guide to dealing with the media? Why not, when asked, just show up and answer whatever questions they ask?

Because the media are not your friends.  That’s not to say they are necessarily your enemies it’s just that they do not exist to help spread libertarian ideas.  At root they - and I include the BBC in this - are businesses.  What they sell is sensation.  And they would just love you to help them with that - wittingly or otherwise.

Now sensation is a double-edged sword: it can work for you or against you.  But there are good reasons to think that for the most part it will work against you.  Most journalists have spent lifetimes steeped in a marinade of statism.  They genuinely believe that there is no problem to which state violence is not the solution.  The libertarian message, of course, is the precise opposite.  They don’t like it and so, will take great pleasure in making a fool out of you.

If you let them.

So, your first job is to prevent them making a fool of you. 

Your second job is to demonstrate to the viewers, and more importantly, the interviewer that you are a human being.  I know this sounds a bit odd and it deserves some explanation.  Unfortunately, it’s one of those things I feel instinctively without really being able to explain why.  Just being able to demonstrate that you are cool, calm, that you have thought about what you’re saying and that you have some empathy with the wider public seems to me to far more important than what you actually say.

Your third, and very much final job, is to spread libertarian ideas.

So, how do I go about that?

Well, the first thing is to choose the ground.  There are a number of different ways in which you might be interviewed: one-to-one live; panel live; one-to-one pre-record, door step.  Now door-steps (where the reporter camps outside your doorstep) tend to be reserved for those caught up in scandals and so it is not something we have to particularly worry about here.  But pre-records we do.  The problem with pre-records is that you are at the mercy of the editor.  He can delete the good stuff and keep the bad stuff.  He can separate questions from answers and slice and dice.  Your only real defence (apart from not doing it at all) is to make your own recording and make it available.  I suppose we can make an exception for plain vanilla background pieces such as the one on Guido that Brian Micklethwait spoke to Radio 4 for a few years ago.  Even then…

Panels - where there is more than one interviewee - are almost as bad.  They put an enormous amount of power in the hands of the chairman.  And, boy, do they exploit it.  What particularly annoys me about the process is the way chairmen will invariably ask each panellist a different question.  What are you supposed to do?  If you answer the chairman’s question you don’t answer the first question.  If you answer the first question - which is presumably the more important - it makes you sound as if you are avoiding the second.  You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

The other thing that annoys me about panels is the way that the rude and aggressive almost invariably come out on top.

Which leaves one-to-one live.  If you have a choice this is the one to go for.  This is the one where the media have the least amount of control.  You can say “fuck” and there’s nothing they can do about it.  Not that I advise that you do that.

Part II here.

16 May 2010
I've only just got round to listening to Michael Jennings's interview with James Waterton in Hanoi. And I'm glad I did. So, the Vietnamese are a lot more relaxed than the Chinese? I didn't know that. And Australians move away because Australia's too clean? I didn't know that either.

I even liked all that honking in the background.

28 April 2010
What Chris Mounsey should have said

A few weeks (days?) ago, Chris Mounsey, aka The Devil’s Kitchen and leader of the UK Libertarian Party (or is it Libertarian Party UK?) appeared on Andrew Neil’s TV programme and got torn apart.  As a direct consequence he announced that he was going to give up swearing and that the Devil’s Kitchen was no more.

Brian said: “I told you so.”  Or words to that effect.  Meaning that you can’t mix swearing and party leadership.  But I do find myself wondering if Mounsey could have done better even with the hand he held.

He was asked two main questions.  The first was about the size of his party.  Mounsey immediately went into defensive mode: “Oh we’re growing all the time etc.” and ended up sounding like a dodgy saleman.  Why not say: “Yup we’re tiny at the moment I would like us to be much bigger but we’ve all got to start from somewhere.”?

Or to put it another way: be honest.  Or to put it another other way: you’re not so far in with the Establishment that they’re prepared to ignore your lies yet.

But then came the knock-out blow.  Neil started asking about the swear blogging.  He dug up a particularly choice example most of which he couldn’t repeat but included some line in which Mounsey hoped a trade unionist would bleed to death.

You know what I can’t even remember what Mounsey said in reply but it didn’t come across well.  Yes, I know I could go back and look at the tape but to be honest, I can’t be bothered.  It’s too painful and anyway, I think my impression is far more important than what was actually said.  Anyway,  I think Mounsey backed down.  But he may have been just evasive.  But he looked terrible and the knock-on effects are there for all to see.

But what should he have said?

Again I think he should have been honest.  Which is easier said than done.  The thing they never tell you about honesty is that it is hard work.  Our real motivations can be far from clear.

For instance, I don’t think Mounsey thinks that statists should all be killed.  Not even a substantial minority.  Not even that particular trade unionist.  I think he was simply using colourful language to express his disagreement.  It was not to be taken seriously.  And he should have said so.  This is how the conversation should have gone:

Neil: You’ve said these terrible things.

Mounsey: I was joking.

That is after all, (I hope) the truth.

Neil: Well, I didn’t laugh.

Mounsey: You’re wrong.

Neil: About not laughing?

Mounsey: No.

What Neil is wrong about is the idea that jokes are supposed to lead to laughter.  Some jokes are unserious but not funny.  This is an example.  But there’s no need to tell Neil that.  He’s being the belligerent.  There’s no need to co-operate.

Or perhaps the conversation could have gone this way:

Neil: You’ve said these terrible things.

Mounsey: Had it ever occurred to you that I wasn’t being entirely serious?

Neil: No.

Mounsey: Then you’re a moron.

In the end I suspect Neil did Mounsey a huge favour.  Better to have your disasters early on rather than later.

I may follow this up with Crozier’s compleat guide to dealing with the media.  But I might not.

12 April 2010
Polish economy doing well?

This is a rather striking posting.  It was put up the day of the Katyn crash although it was clearly written beforehand.

Poland is today the most capitalist country in Europe

They kept that one quiet.

Poland’s economy grew at roughly a 5% annual clip until 2008. That’s when – instead of tying its currency to the euro – Poland allowed the zloty to depreciate when the financial crisis hit. As a result, the country enjoyed 3% growth in 2009, and is slated to do at least as well in 2010 and 2011.

Woo hoo.

The budget deficit is currently 2.5% of gross domestic product (GDP), mainly because – at 18% of GDP – central government spending is extraordinarily low by European standards.

Now, if that’s true that really is great news.  The key word in this is “if”.  The author appears to have something to sell so you have to take it all with a pinch of salt.  Can anyone out there shed some light on this?

05 April 2010
Hope for Doctor Who

Watching the revived Doctor Who over the past 5 years has been a dispiriting experience.  All melodramatic mouth, no intellectual trousers.  But Russell T Davros has moved on to be replaced by Stephen Moffatt - of Coupling and Weeping Angels fame and the first episode with him in charge was screened last night.

And the verdict?  Too early to say yet but its certainly encouraging.  Much more engaging.  I almost felt that Moffatt was succeeding in getting Davies’s ideas to work.

15 March 2010
Soak the rich. Doesn't sound right does it? Yes, we know it means tax the rich until... I dunno, their nuts fall off or something. But what has it got to do with getting wet?

I thought I'd do some googling. Which is easy. But actually coming up with an answer proved anything but. Here's the best I could find:

5. Beat severely; slang.

So, that's what they mean.

05 March 2010
League ranking and how well grounds are filled up
Click to enlarge

What this shows is league ranking - ie if you’re first in the Premiership you get a ranking of 1; if you are first in the Championship you get a ranking of 21 etc - versus the percentage of seats occupied.

The blue line is an Excel-generated trend line.  And it would appear to show that the better you are doing the better you fill your ground.

Interesting outliers.  The one furthest away from the line right down there at the bottom is Darlington.  25,000 stadium, restricted to 10,000 due to inadequate roads.  And they can’t even fill that.  The big outlier above the line is Norwich.  No idea why.  Support for Delia Smith or something.

28 February 2010
Podcast: Michael Jennings and I talk about the English Premier League in Asia

In this podcast we find out:

  • that the Premier League is a big deal in Asia
  • that it’s really big
  • how it got that big
  • why the 39th game is going to happen
  • and how it might be done fairly

On a technical note, this was another Skype recording. To me it sounds as if we are in the same room rather than at opposite ends of the internet.

Oh, and apologies for the rather abrupt ending.

This podcast was recorded on Friday, 12 February 2010.

Update Michael sends a picture of a Hawker centre (with Premier League game in progress?)


21 February 2010
What the football attendance statistics tell us

I love this sort of thing: Average Attendance Rankings for the Premiership for the 2009-2010 season to date.

One of the guys in the office - a Liverpool fan - was complaining about, well, Liverpool.  Which got me thinking.  Should Liverpool really be doing any better than, say, Newcastle?  My belief is that the chief determinant of a team’s success - in the long run at least - is its attendance.  So, how do Liverpool and Newcastle compare?  Well, it’s pretty close: 43367 average attendees playing 42199.  My colleague should thank his lucky stars.  Having said that I wouldn’t hold out much for Liverpool’s long term prospects. 

So, what else do these stats tell us?

Well, for starters, attendance is indeed a pretty good indicator of success.

Arsenal must wish they’d built a bigger stadium.  99% occupancy.

I really wouldn’t want to be a Chelsea fan when Abramovitch walks away.

They don’t half like their (not terribly good) football in Sunderland [and the North East generally - see the table for the Second Division]

And they really like it in Cardiff.  So much so that they would appear to watch it sat upon one another’s knees.  How else does one explain a 107% occupancy rate?

I wonder if an ability to get bums on seats is a factor in team success.  Certainly, if I were a player I’d prefer to play in front of a packed audience.  There is something dispiriting about the sight of empty seats.  And it would seem that those teams that have high capicity utilisation like Hull, Stoke and Wolverhampton are doing well this season.  Oh, but hang about, the places with the spaces include Wigan and Blackburn who are doing fine and Birmingham who are doing brilliantly.  So, that would be a “no”.

31 January 2010
Delingpole wants a new Nuremburg - "Now suddenly it has all changed utterly. And you know what? I’m in no mood for being magnanimous in victory. I want the lying, cheating, fraudulent scientists prosecuted and fined or imprisoned." …link
30 January 2010
Guido Fawkes: Bigot

From Guido:

By all means stand Conservative and Unionist candidates, but a readiness to do a back room deal with what [ie unionists] remains a bigoted and sectarian political force is not something of which to be proud…

The Orangemen have played off the mainland parties for decades, trading their votes for favours…

First of all, it has nothing to do with religion.  It is an ethnic/national dispute. 

Secondly, I spent a year working for Unionists as a researcher.  If they were indeed a bunch of bigots (on either religious or ethnic lines) I think I would have noticed.  Mind you, bearing in mind the intimidation unionists have had to put up with over the years (and to the best of my knowledge still goes on albeit at a lower level), along with the fear of what might happen if Republicans ever got into a position of real power I think a certain amount of bigotry is excusable.  Guido’s, on the other hand, is not.

Thirdly, seeing as the year I spent as a Unionist researcher was the year the Major government lost its majority, then if the unionists were indeed adept at playing the parties off against one another, again, I think I would have noticed.  If memory serves the total haul from that year was an extra 200 tons of fish for Down fishermen.  During the hung parliament of the 1970s (again if memory serves) all the unionists got was an increase in the number of seats to bring Ulster in line with England (not even the over-representation of Wales and Scotland).

26 January 2010
“...whose name we can’t report for legal reasons.”

You know that rule about how the names of juvenile offenders can’t be reported?  Well, I thought I’d have a rootle around in old editions of The Times to see if I could find out when and why it was introduced.  The “when” was pretty straightforward: 1933 in the Children and Young Persons Act.  Actually, it seems that the press had ceased reporting names some time beforehand.  The last example I can find in The Times was about 1923.  But the “why”?  Beats me.  It seems there was absolutely no debate on the matter.  Certainly, no evidence of a problem to which it was supposed to be the solution.

List of things that are likely disappear if people stop believing in climate change

In no particular order:

  • Recycling bins, containers and collections
  • Car recycling laws
  • The ban on incandescent light bulbs (incidentally, I will say one good thing for energy-saving ones: they start off dark which is really good when your eyes need time to adjust)
  • Wind farms
  • High-speed rail schemes
  • Some of the fuel duty
  • The law that demands that energy info is displayed on white goods.  (That’s the law not the actual display which I suspect is actually quite useful)
  • Carbon trading
  • All those academics living high off the AGW hog
  • Toyota Piouses

Can anyone think of any others?

23 January 2010
Three cheers for the BBC

You got to like them when they come up with a scheme like this:


Which with any luck will get 60,000 rugby fans going to the wrong place.  What’s not to like?

21 January 2010
Why all the kerfuffle about Greece?

There’s some sort of EU commission into Greece’s finances.  Or is it the IMF?  Or both?  And Greek Prime Ministers and Finance Ministers keep getting interviewed on CNBC.  And the whole issue keeps making the number one slot on the financial news.  And there are ominous rumblings about Greece being chucked out of the Euro.  The sort of ominous rumblings that can turn into ominous realities really quickly in much the same way that that ominous and ludicrous rumbling about sterling leaving the ERM all those years ago turned out to be ominously and ludicrously prescient.

But the deficit is “only” 12.7% of GDP.  And it’s the overall debt level that matters.  When that gets up to 200% then you’re in trouble.  I don’t know where Greece is.  And apparently, neither do they - lots of dodgy statistics and off balance sheet accounting making things very foggy.

But, hey, who cares?  If Greece cannot finance her debts eventually no one will lend her money and she will simply have to stop spending the stuff.  Problem solved.

At least, you would have thought so.  I mean, at least I would have thought so.  But all this activity suggests that something’s up.

I wonder if the fear is that if Greece goes bust, the Italians, Spanish, Portuguese and Irish might start to think they’re next.  When that happens they might warm to the idea of the ECB printing money to pay off their debts (monetizing the debt as it is known) hence creating inflation.  And they might lobby for it.  If you’re German there’s a good chance you don’t want to pay for Greek pensions through inflation and perhaps you feel that now would be the best time to draw a line in the sand.

Thought:  this shows that the real purpose of central banks is to finance government debt.  In normal circumstances that is done by selling bonds.  In extreme circumstances that is done by printing money.

18 January 2010
Apologies for that rather cryptic posting. Let me try to explain.

It was written in response to the decision to ban Islam4UK.

And also the LA's condemnation of it, ie the decision.

I suppose the point is that if you are fighting a war, then the time for talking and debate is over. So banning organisations like this sounds sensible.

I suppose it begs the question why we (or should that be the state?) didn't ban pro-IRA propaganda during the Troubles.

13 January 2010
If you are at war with someone can you allow your enemy to propagandize for his cause even if he does so peacefully?

29 December 2009
The benefits of winter tyres

There’s a motoring forum I like to read and over the past week or so lots of the participants have been singing the praises of winter tyres.  I must admit I’d never heard of such things until last week’s snows but it seems they really do do the business.

Here’s an unimpartial video:

Biggish difference and given the Met Office’s forecast of a mild winter likely to be matched with precisely the sort of conditions they were designed for.  The only obstacles are the cost and finding somewhere to store the summer tyres.

11 December 2009
Climate Change: what would change my mind?

I hate arguments.  Especially political ones.  They almost invariably end up in a slanging match.  Lots of heat and very little light.  Which is why, when I get the opportunity - which is becoming increasingly rare these days - I like to ask the question: “What would change your mind?”  Because it gets to the point.  If the guy I am arguing with can come up with some reasonably plausible answer to this then I know he’s being rational.  If not then it’s a religious belief and there’s no point in continuing.

However, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.  If I demand rationality in everybody else then I have to demand it of myself.

So, let’s try it out.  What would change my mind when it comes to Climate Change? 

What is my mind for that matter? 

I think I am neutral.  I really have no idea whether climate change is happening or not, if it is whether it is caused by man or not or even if it’s a bad thing.  And I have no real way of finding out.  I don’t know enough about the physics, the measurements, the models or the statistics.

I am not, however, neutral on the politics.  The idea that state violence - for that is what it is being proposed - is going to succeed here when it has failed everywhere else, is absurd.

And the fact that I have such a downer on state violence tends to colour my opinions on the science.  Most of that - at least the warmist stuff - is funded by the government.  So I have two problems.  First, that it’s not independent (just imagine what would happen to their funding if they came out saying that everything is just fine).  Second, that it’s done by the state (effectively) so it probably isn’t being done very well - something that the Harry_Read_Me.txt file would appear to confirm.  [Hmm, climate science: the Austin Allegro of our age.  Heh!]

So, there are almost no circumstances in which I would believe the output of government scientists, statisticians and modellers.  However, if it were being done by people with no particular axe to grind and little or no political or profit motive then that would be a different story.  If Steve Macintyre or this guy going through the code or, possibly, Bishop Hill came out and said: “I think it’s happening.” then I might well start to change my opinion.

10 December 2009
Lloyd Doyley scores a goal

It’s a Watford sore.  Lloyd Doyley’s been at the club for 10 years, made 200 and something appearances, had no end of chances but never actually scored. 

Until, that is, Monday night.

Now, I can’t quite claim that I was there when Doyley scored but I can claim that I was there in the pub when Doyley scored.


07 December 2009
Was the bombing of Dresden justified?

Writing about the actions of democratically-elected leaders in wartime with particular reference to the bombing of cities such as Dresden, Robert Higgs says:

Killing the innocent, for example, carries no stigma; nor does wanton destruction of property, unjust punishment or imprisonment, and a thousand other actions that would be regarded as flagrant crimes during peacetime.

Now Higgs doesn’t quite say that Dresden was a war crime but he comes close enough to make me think that he probably does.  Which makes my hackles rise as I’ve never really seen the issue.

Anyway, the only way to work out whether it was justified or not is to work it out from first principles.  So, let’s have a go:

Someone bombs your house.  Are you allowed to defend yourself? 
Yes you are.

Someone bombs your neighbour’s house.  Are you allowed to defend him? 
Yes you are. 

Do you have to? 
No, you don’t.

The enemy drops his bombs on your house and returns to base.  Are you allowed to attack the bomber, the base and its staff? 
I suppose it depends on the threat.  If there are reasonable (I know horrible, slip-slidey term) grounds to believe that you are going to be attacked again, then you have the right to attack the base.  If, on the other hand, he or his representatives immediately apologize and offer compensation, then no.

But if he doesn’t and you choose to attack him the situation we have here is a war.  And oddly enough, a war without a state.

What about the factory where the bomber’s plane is made?  Are you allowed to attack that? 
Well, if you are allowed to attack the plane at the base why shouldn’t you be able to attack the plane at the factory?  Now, if the factory owner has said that he was no longer going to supply bombers to your enemy and he would accept whatever fine was coming his way for breach of contract then maybe you would be wrong to attack the factory.  But if not then I don’t see a problem.

What if the enemy forces the factory owner, his employees and contractors to build planes? 
Intuitively, one feels that anything you may do is the enemy’s responsibility.  He, after all has created the situation.  Not pleasant for the civilians involved, for sure, but an argument for resisting state coercion at all costs.

What if your means of attack aren’t very accurate?  What if those means might mean not only the destruction of the base but also the destruction of the local town? 
I think you can reasonably argue again that this is the enemy’s problem.  He’s put his base near a centre of population.  He has chosen to start a war.  He has to accept the consequences of his actions.

Let me put it another way, if it were wrong under all circumstances to kill civilians what would there be to stop the enemy driving civilians in front of his forces at gunpoint?

Getting back to the collateral damage issue, does the same apply to the factory? 
In that case it has not been the enemy’s decision where to site the factory but the factory owner’s.  But it has been the choice of the inhabitants of the town to live near the factory.

[As an aside, it occurs to me that exactly the same arguments could be made about gun sellers.  So, if you sell a gun to someone you suspect to be planning a murder then don’t be surprised if someone blows up your shop.]

What if you don’t know where the factory is and your enemy won’t tell you?
I think under those circumstances you can pretty much bomb anything you like so long as its either on enemy territory or associated with his war effort.  Which in the case of a total war is pretty much everything - dams, houses, flocks of sheep, marshalling yards, take your pick.

Right, now the fun part.  How, in any way does this differ from the situation surrounding the decision to bomb Dresden?  I am damned if I can see a difference.  Poles were attacked, Britons came to their defence.  Factories were bombed as accurately as they could be (which wasn’t very).  The enemy declined to tell the Allies where their factories were and so the Allies were allowed to bomb just about anything they chose.  Which included Dresden.

There is, however, one difference.  The Area Bombing Directive ordered Bomber Command to attack areas of population.  This was wrong.  But it didn’t make much difference.  Had Bomber Command been ordered to attack factories or likely factories it would have ended bombing almost exactly the same targets.

05 December 2009
"The consequences, in time, could prove catastrophic. But, then again, maybe not." The concluding words of Sky News's first report (and the first news report I have seen anywhere in the UK's MSM) on ClimateGate.

29 November 2009
One of the aspects that I find interesting about ClimateGate - I think we're going to have to accept that FraudAnglia (see comments) isn't a runner - is how increasingly unimportant the actual hack/leak is becoming. There's a good chance that it has already been milked dry. But the story keeps going because it has acted as the catalyst for the airing (or re-airing) of a whole bunch of other climate change frauds and cover-ups.

27 November 2009
Fraud Anglia: a new front gets opened up

Lots of people have been pointing to George Monbiot’s oh-my-god-this-is-really-awful article.  And why not?  Who wouldn’t want to see Moonbat’s mouth full of humble pie?

However, to my mind much more interesting is the second part of the article:

The greatest tragedy here is that despite many years of outright fabrication, fraud and deceit on the part of the climate change denial industry, documented in James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore’s brilliant new book Climate Cover-up, it is now the climate scientists who look bad. By comparison to his opponents, Phil Jones is pure as the driven snow. Hoggan and Littlemore have shown how fossil fuel industries have employed “experts” to lie, cheat and manipulate on their behalf. The revelations in their book (as well as in Heat and in Ross Gelbspan’s book The Heat Is On) are 100 times graver than anything contained in these emails.

In other words: “OK, so we’re a bunch of lying shits but our opponents are even worse.”  I am going to guess that this is the fall back position.  The defence line at Kharkov to ClimateGate’s Stalingrad.  And I think we’re going to hear a lot more of it.

Which got me thinking.  Does it really matter if the warmo-sceptics are a bunch of lying shits?

Let’s look at the case for Copenhagen:

1.  Humans are changing the content of the atmosphere.

2.  The climate is changing

3.  This change is for the worse

4.  The change in the climate is caused by the change in the atmosphere

5.  We can model to a reasonable degree of accuracy both the change in the atmosphere and its effect.

6.  The model shows that this change to the climate, if unchecked, will be catastrophic

7.  The only solution is stop humans changing the content of the atmosphere.

8.  The only way to do that is by the introduction of global socialist economic polices enforced by a global government.

You will notice that 7 and 8 (which are pretty dubious in and of themselves) are entirely dependent on 5 and 6.  But 5 and 6 have (surely?) been blown out of the water.  Hey, they weren’t looking great before the leak but now it is difficult to see how anyone can give them the slightest credence.  And none of this has anything to do with warmo-sceptics.  In other words warmo-sceptics can have been as shitty as you like and it won’t have mattered a bit.

So, George, I’d abandon Kharkov as quickly as you can.  The next stop for you is Berlin.

26 November 2009
This Climategate business all rather puts me in mind of the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion. For those of you who don't know this was a late-nineteenth century Tsarist forgery which purported to show that there really was a worldwide Jewish conspiracy.

If memory serves it was exposed as a forgery fairly early on but that didn't stop people believing it for decades afterwards. With results we all know about.

Let's just hope that history does not repeat itself.

Update. Thought I'd do some fact checking at Wikipedia. It appears I am slightly out on the title - it should be The Protocols of the Elders of Zion - and the date - it was early 20th Century. Oh and some people still believe in it.

12 November 2009
Good News from Zimbabwe
Price controls and foreign exchange regulations have been abandoned. Zimbabwe literally joined the real world at the stroke of a pen. Money now flows in and out of the country without restriction. Super market shelves, bare in January, are now bursting with products.

All this after they abandoned the policies ie printing money, that we in Britain have just adopted. Are we to learn the lessons? Don't hold your breath.

23 October 2009
Michael Jennings and I talk about dead industries walking

Michael’s theory is that one of the consequences of the current recession/depression/end-of-civilisation-as-we-know-it, is that a whole bunch of industries that have been around of donkeys years are going to disappear.  He reckons that this will include: book shops, newspapers and opticians.

This podcast marks a first.  It is the first to be recorded down the line using Skype.  I think it works pretty well.

21 October 2009
How gold preserves its value

I am not quite sure how this came about but you know how it is: you start rootling around in the numbers and before you know it you’ve produced a table with the gold price divided by the GDP deflator for every year the 20th century. 

And then you do a graph (click to enlarge):


Now parts of this graph are easy to explain:

Why is the number for 1900 almost exactly the same as it is now?  Easy, gold preserves its value.
Why the huge upsurge in the 1970s?  Because people were scared of inflation.
But some are not so easy:
If the 1970s inflation caused an upsurge why not the Great War inflation?
What was going on in the 1930s?  Sure there was an initial upsurge after Britain abandoned the Gold Standard in 1931 but after that nothing.
Why the gradual decline after the Second World War?  I offer as a possibility that people had confidence in their currency even though it was slowly but surely losing value.  Actually, that might well explain the post-Great War decline as well.

Now, there is one big problem with this graph and that’s the GDP deflator.  It is, I presume, calculated by the government so all sorts of inaccuracies could have crept in.  I mean how has it been calculated down the decades? - that’s bound to have changed.  And who’s to say that at some point the calculators haven’t been leant on to massage the figures?

But it’s the best we’ve got.  And when it comes to being a store of value gold is the best we’ve got.

Unless I do the figures for silver…

20 October 2009
I've heard of Windows 3.1. I am about to a lot about Windows 7. But I've never heard a peep about Windows 4, 5 or 6. Were they, by any chance, really good versions of Windows that we never got to hear about because the praise for them was drowned out by complaints about 95, 98, 2000, Millenium and Vista?

I think we should be told.

08 September 2009
What should libertarians think about the Second World War?

Libertarians get themselves into a terrible pickle when they talk about the Second World War - or any other for that matter.  I’ve been particularly struck by this this week with articles by Robert Higgs and Sean Gabb - arguing that the US and UK respectively shouldn’t have got involved - and a counter from Johnathan Pearce arguing that they should.

All this is very odd.  Normally libertarianism is so easy - if government uses violence to do it you’re against it.  So when it comes to the NHS - you’re against.  State education - you’re against.  Compulsory metrication - you’re against.  But when it comes to war… oh dear… we find that comrades are at one another’s throats.

I am afraid I don’t really have the last word on this just some observations:

  1. You are allowed to defend yourself when attacked.  I’ve sought of heard it argued that even self-defence is unnecessary but I’ve never heard a libertarian case for pacifism.  Well, not the full beans anyway.  So, I think we can agree on that one.
  2. If you are allowed to defend yourself then you are allowed to defend others.  And what, by the way, is the difference between defending yourself when attacked and a war?  It’s the same thing isn’t it?  So war is allowed.
  3. Some states are better (or should that be less worse?) than others.  Some actually allow you to be a libertarian and spread libertarian ideas.  Some allow you to own property and trade.  As I think those are the principal means by which freedom will spread I think the less bad states are worth preserving.  At least, if the alternative is the really bad ones.
  4. Tyrannies last.  Really, unless they get invaded eg Iraq, Nazi Germany they literally last a lifetime eg Soviet Union, Cuba.
  5. Part of the argument against the Second World War (and the First for that matter) seems to be the idea that there was some way that the horrors could have been avoided.  Maybe, but equally maybe not.  Sometimes all the options are bad.
  6. I hear a lot about what Britons or Americans should have done in 1939 but nothing about what Poles should have done.  And if the answer is that they should have defended themselves shouldn’t we have helped them?
  7. I sometimes hear it said that the Polish government in 1939 was barely nicer to Poles than the German government was to Germans.  Probably true but I suspect it was a damn site nicer to Poles than the German government was.
  8. I often hear the argument that Hitler wasn’t interested in Britain.  This actually holds more weight than you might think.  Underlying a lot of Nazi (and pre-Nazi) policy was the desire to create a German Empire on (a misunderstanding of) the British model.  I mean, really, are the ideas of Lebensraum and the Master Race so very different from the sort of ideas that shaped the British Empire?
  9. However, there is a really big flaw.  Nazi Germany was a tyranny.  Tyrannies use huge amounts of violence.  And violence doesn’t work.  So sooner or later the Nazi regime would have been in trouble.  When tyrannies get themselves into trouble they invariably start wars - think Milosevic’s Serbia or Hussein’s Iraq.  Britain would sooner or later have been attacked.
  10. I also occasionally hear the argument that British state power grew as a consequence of the war - the post-War period seeing the creation of the Welfare State and numerous nationalisations.  I am sure it made it easier but it was a process that was already well underway.  Pensions and unemployment benefit began before the First World War.  Telecoms were nationalised in 1911 and London Tranport in 1934.  It also doesn’t work when you look at the United States.  Sure, state power rose during the war but it collapsed afterwards.  As I understand it as well as many wartime restrictions many of the Depression Era laws were victims of Truman’s economic reforms.
  11. Appeasement works.  No, not in terms of actually altering the behaviour of the appeasee.  But it does allow democracies to make up their minds and wage war with unanimity.  They need that.
  12. Regrettable as it may be the state is currently the only current mechanism for large-scale self-defence.  Perhaps one day it won’t be but for the time being it’s all we’ve got.
04 August 2009
Was that the last of Top Gear?

The other night saw the last in the current series of Top Gear.  And the last item, with Clarkson driving a V12 Aston Martin to the sound of churchy music and being uncharacteristically quiet and downbeat, forced a sad thought to cross my mind.  Could it be that that’s the end for Top Gear?

If it were it would be the latest in a long series of parallels with the career of the Beatles - its nearest cultural equivalent.

Just look at the way the two spanned the decade.  The Beatles’ recording years were 1962-69.  Top Gear’s: 2002-9. The end coming in August both times.

Both were hugely successful, going way beyond their origins.  Top Gear has never really been about just cars in much the same way the Beatles were never just about good tunes.  New ideas attached themselves to both.  Stars wanted to be associated with both.  And the Establishment hated both.

Even the main participants seem to find equivalents in the Beatles.  Clarkson is Paul McCartney,  Hammond: George Harrison and James May: Ringo.

So, who is John Lennon?  That’s easy: Andy Willman, producer of the show and long-time Clarkson associate.

Hey, it’s even had its own “Pete Best” moment in the sacking of Jason Dawe just after the first season.

OK, so what is Top Gear’s “Revolver” - that moment when they were absolutely at their peak?  There was a show at the end of 2007 which had Hammond driving an F1 car, Clarkson and May pratting about in vintage cars and Lewis Hamilton as the special guest.  Car shows just don’t get any better.

But, Crozier, do you really think Top Gear can truly be put in the same category as the Beatles - the very symbol of a profound and dramatic cultural shift?  Well, not really.  At least, not yet.  The change that the Beatles symbolised was there for all to see by 1969.  Top Gear far less so.  But who knows where the ideas - in essence: it’s alright to be a bloke - might go. 

At very least - and I accept it’s difficult to give TG all the credit - there seem to be far fewer speed cameras around the place nowadays.

21 June 2009
The Mullahs will win

I am sure I am not the only one who finds the protests against Iran’s stolen election exhilarating.  They raise the possibility of an end to an appalling regime and the beginning of a liberal, tolerant and progressive Iran and, by extension, a liberal, tolerant and progressive Middle East.  Which would be nice.  It’s just that I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Let me explain.  Ask yourself: what brings down an ideologically-driven tyranny?  In the case of Hitler’s Germany, Hussein’s Iraq and Pol Pot’s Cambodia it was invasion from abroad.  In the case of the Soviet Union (and by extension the Eastern European satellites) it was time.  The ideology had exhausted itself.  And that’s it.  Street protests, as China, Burma and Cuba have demonstrated, just get a lot of people killed.

Ah, you say, but what about Marcos or Apartheid or the Shah?  Just not ideological enough.  And the end of Apartheid - I suspect - had an awful lot to do with the end of the Cold War.

By contrast the Iranian theocracy clearly has a long way to go before it burns itself out.  Which is why it will survive.

So, why do ideologically-driven tyrannies last so long?  Ideas I would guess. Most people are not prepared to kill unless it’s for a cause.  But if you give them the cause…

18 June 2009
How to spot a bogus argument - Part II

In Part I I listed out my 1-6.  Here’s the rest:

  1. Ascribing beliefs to entire groups.  “Libertarians believe that there’s no such thing as society.”  How does that feel?  Annoying I should think.  And should hope.  But watch out for statements that go the other way e.g. “The left believe that there is a fixed quantity of wealth.”  This is a sort of combination of the straw man and the personal attack.  As a general rule one ought to identify the ideas accurately and then debate them.
  2. Pejorative terms.  “Concreting over”, “Gas guzzler”...  The use of any term that includes judgement is an attempt to curtail debate.  And any attempt to curtail debate should get the alarm bells ringing.  This is in effect the flip side of Point 6.
  3. Numbers.  I am suspicious of any argument involving numbers e.g. the speed limit should be 70mph.  Why not 71?  Or 69?  Because you have to draw the line somewhere?  It makes me wonder if the line has to be drawn at all.  Or, who should be drawing it.
  4. What would change your mind?  Does the person express any doubt?  If you asked him: what would change his mind, would he have an answer?  And would it be a reasonable one?  Because if the answer is “no” then he’s being dogmatic and eristic and these people are terrible bores and likely to be wrong.
  5. Confusing intentions, actions and outcomes.  “When I say I want hard working families to benefit from prosperity [intention] you call me a socialist.”  To which I suppose the response should be:  “No, when you advocate socialist policies [action] that’s when I call you a socialist.”
  6. Distance.  This is to do with facts.  How much distance is there between you and the facts being used?  I am not just talking about physical distance, more how hard it would be to verify?  Because, if the answer is very hard then this should set the alarm bells ringing.  That is why I prefer arguments that depend on reason and facts either that everyone agrees or are close at hand e.g. the local newsagent is really good but the roads are really bad.
  7. Subordinate clauses.  At least, I think that’s what I am going to call it.  Anyway, here’s an example: “Field Marshal Douglas Haig, who sent hundreds of thousands of British soldiers to their deaths…” Doesn’t sound very good does it?  Let’s try some substitution: “Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who sent hundreds of thousands of British soldiers to their deaths…” Both statements are absolutely true and serve to reveal the author’s prejudices.  An attempt is being made to steer the reader to a conclusion without having to go to the effort of making an argument.  Not good. 

Anyway, that’s my list.  Hope you find it useful.

11 June 2009
How to spot a bogus argument - Part I

I’ve been meaning to write this for some time.  It started when, for the first time in many years, I was present at a predominantly left-wing gathering.  It was, if nothing else, a rich vein of nonsense.

It got me thinking.  Are there ways in which you can spot that an argument is nonsense or, at least, suspect?  Are there types of argument that should set the alarm bells ringing?  Would it be possible to look at an argument and say: “Well, that’s an X error and that’s a Y fallacy” etc?  I suppose I had it in mind that if enough people were aware of how to separate intellectual wheat from intellectual chaff then, well - because libertarianism is clearly in the intellectual wheat category - they’d become libertarians without the need for any intervention from me or my ideological soulmates.  How cool would that be?

Anyway, I didn’t get very far that time, but recently I started thinking about it again and started compiling a list.

And then I thought: “I wonder if anyone’s ever had a go at this before?”  Hmm, it turns out they had.  Of course, they had.  See, for instance:

A List of Fallacious Arguments
Logical Fallacies: shorter but prettier

Wikipedia also has pages on propaganda and rhetorical techniques etc.  Even so, there were members of my list that I didn’t feel quite fitted into any of these pre-existing categories.  So, here goes:

  1. Vague and shifting definitions.  I hate these.  Shifting definitions - words that are used to mean one thing in one place and another in another are the worst but any word or phrase that could mean more than one thing should get the alarm bells ringing.  “Racist” is a good example.  Do you mean gas-chamber racist or blacks-run-faster racist?  Big difference.
  2. So what?  Can often sound rude but it’s a devastating question.  It’s a useful practice when someone makes a point to ask: “Well, so what?”  For instance, and I’m not making this up, one criticism I’ve heard made of Austrian economics is that it hasn’t advanced since the 1920s.  Well, so what?  Good theories don’t have to “advance”.
  3. Do you understand it?  OK, I don’t understand fluid dynamics but I appreciate that if fluid dynamicists hadn’t got their models right planes would fall out of the sky.  But that does not apply to the average political debate.  If you don’t understand the terms that are being used or the argument that is being made it’s probably nonsense.  Brian Micklethwait holds that when it comes to technology if you don’t understand it that is their problem, not yours.  Much the same applies to politics. Actually, it gets worse.  If you don’t understand it there’s a good chance they don’t either.
  4. Is this the most important thing?  I once read an article criticising the career of Winston Churchill.  Nothing wrong with that - there’s plenty to criticise.  But at no point did the author address himself to Churchill’s actions in 1940.  Which was a shame because if it hadn’t been for his actions at the time he wouldn’t have had a reputation worth criticizing.
  5. Changing the subject.  God, I hate this.  Why can’t people just say:  “That’s a good point, I think you’re wrong but I can’t come up with a good counter argument right now.”?
  6. “Key”, “strategic”, “essential”.  Beware any arguments involving these words.  How would you know if something was key, strategic or essential?  There’s no test.

Part II is here.

05 June 2009
Why is Top Gear so successful?

It is hugely successful.  It attracts a large audience, a big fan base and a huge waiting list for studio tickets.  It has spawned DVDs, a live show and local versions in the US, Australia and Russia.  Satellite channel, Dave, has based an entire business model around Top Gear repeats.  Stars clamour to drive its Reasonably Priced Car and a nation held its breath when one of its presenters was badly hurt in a 300mph car crash.

Jeremy Clarkson even once got a custard pie in the face from an environmentalist.  High praise indeed.

All this for a show based around two elements, namely: cars and blokes - neither of which the BBC, the show’s broadcaster, particularly likes.

So, why is it so successful?  I think it revolves around two elements.

First of all, it brings out the nine-year-old in all of us.  So, it has the values of a nine-year old.  Speed?  Good.  Power?  Good.  Noise?  Good.  Futuristic looks?  Good.  Gadgets?  Good.  Worries about global warming?  Boring.  Sure Mr Megastar you’re a star but how fast are you in a Suzuki Liana?

But it also asks the questions a nine-year old asks:

  • Can you turn a car into a boat?
  • Why don’t you have convertible people carriers?
  • Can you drive to the North Pole?
  • Which is faster, a car or a train?  Or a plane?  Or a boat?
  • What happens if you put Boadicea spikes on your wheels or drive into a brick wall?  In a lorry?
  • Or if you strap a Reliant Robin to a rocket?

Top Gear has at one point or another asked all these questions usually with results that are as disastrous as they are predictable as they are hilarious.  No wonder “ambitious but rubbish” has become the show’s unofficial motto.

Secondly, and this is thing they keep quiet about, Top Gear is clearly the result of a lot of hard work.  Don’t believe me?  Watch any episode and ask yourself where the camera is.  You’ll quickly realise that that it’s in all sorts of funny places.  The other day I spotted that they’d managed to get on the top of a suspension bridge.  Think of the health and safety forms.  But often it’s a helicopter.  Think of the cost.  Oh, and the co-ordination.

One of the sadnesses of this is that you realise that if the races themselves are not fakes, most of the shots are. 

But the hard work continues.  There is frequently a dialogue between narrator and presenter.  Often the same person.  But often it reveals an extraordinary degree of planning an preparation.  Let me put is like this. Top Gear presenters do not simply jump in a car and ad lib.  They write it down first.  Top Gear is quite prepared to put a day’s work into 5 seconds of footage.

Or, to put it another way, you have to be awfully grown up if you want to be that childish.

Top Gear is also remarkable for the way it survives repetition.  I have watched some of the Dave repeats 3 or 4 times.  This is partly because they are very funny.  Watching a man attempt to negotiate his Triumph Dolomite Sprint over a cobbled road with a collander full of eggs directly above his head usually is.  And it is partly because of the in-jokes that you miss first time round.  It took me ages to realise that there’s one running joke about Jeremy believing that for every mechanical problem there’s a hammer-based solution, another involving James May having no sense of direction and another involving Hammond crashing into May.  I don’t believe for a minute that all this isn’t also carefully planned.

To sum up, Top Gear is successful because it deserves to be.

28 May 2009
What Formula One should be doing - Part II

In Part I I explained how Formula One’s regulations were ruining the sport…

So, the answer is to get rid of the regulations, yes?  If only it were that easy.  Formula 1 has a secret.  No, not a particularly dirty one, but a secret, nevertheless.  They solved the problem.  About 30 years ago (and we’re talking ground effect here again) Formula 1 teams solved the problem of how to go round corners quickly.  Hooray, you might say, and so might I, on a technical level.  But going round corners quickly creates at least two new problems.  First the potential g-forces are greater than the unaided human body can stand and second, if anything goes wrong when the car is cornering (as it did in Ayrton Senna’s case) the car is going to crash at very high speed.  Such things might not matter if F1 was still a largely amateur sport made up of gentlemen racers but it isn’t and the audience that pays the professionals doesn’t want their heroes to be just people who can stand up to high g-forces.  They want them to demonstrate some skill.  Oh, and stay alive.  That’s also quite important.

So, I have no doubt that cars do have to be slowed down in the corners.  It’s just a question of how to do that without tying up the sport in red tape.  My candidate is a weight limit.  Tell teams that they can have any design they like so long as when it leaves the start line it weighs less than, say, 500kg.  As technology improves and cars get dangerously fast simply lower the limit.  Every time this is done teams will have to work out which bit of their car - whether it be the engine, transmission, suspension, wheels or bodywork has to lose the weight.  Each team will answer the question slightly differently leading to a wide variety of designs.

Another way might be to make the cars behave more like ordinary cars.  This might include demanding that all cars be started by the driver alone (they’re not at present), that they be drivable by amateurs (although I am not quite sure how you’d enforce this), that they make their way to the track under their own power.  It’s always struck me as bizarre that cars are allowed to refuel when they like.  Make each team state in advance when they plan to stop for fuel - it would at least be closer to the situation in real life.

27 May 2009
"Owing to its benign character it was at first, together with its victims, the subject of much good-natured badinage and pleasant writing in the newspapers. To-day the complaint has passed the joking stage."

He can say that again.  And probably did.  This was the first Times report (that I can find) to cover the Spanish Influenza.  At the time (2 June 1918) it had killed 700 people in 10 days and there were well over 100,000 sufferers.

The disease would appear pretty much everywhere over the next few weeks, go away again over the summer and come back with a vengeance with the onset of winter.  It peaked at about exactly the same time as the signing of the Armistice and ended up killing perhaps 20m people.

And people are worried about swine flu.  Call that an epidemic?  This is an epidemic!

21 May 2009
What Formula One should be doing - Part I

Formula One is in crisis.  As the Depression bites many teams are running out of money.  The cars are dull to look at and the racing is much the same.  Up until this year the same two teams (Ferrari and McLaren) dominated.  And now several teams including Ferrari are thinking of quitting the sport altogether.

So, what should the sport do?  The first thing it must do is to understand how it got into this mess.

But before we do this I would like to deal with a red herring.  People often complain that there’s not enough overtaking and wheel-to-wheel racing in F1.  But there never was, apparently.  And when you think about it, why should there be?  Surely, the best car-driver combination should, under almost all circumstances, shoot off into the distance?  The only real reason why this should change during a race would be either through driver fatigue or brake and tire wear.

Having said that there is a problem with overtaking a slightly slower car.  Modern racing car aerodynamics like to take clean (or laminar) air flows and spew out dirty (or turbulent) air flows.  So, the car attempting to overtake finds that it has to deal with the overtakee’s dirty air rather than the clean air it’s designed to deal with.  The result? Appalling and unpredictable handling.  And difficult overtaking.  Perhaps they could experiment with overtaking lanes or come up with a measurement or the turbulence from the back of cars and limit it.  Who knows.  But, as I said, it’s not as big a problem as people tend to think.

No, the real problem in F1 is regulation.  Want a bigger engine?  You can’t, it’s banned.  Or maybe you want to put a turbo on it?  You can’t do that either, that’s also banned.  Hey, there’s even a restriction on the number of cylinders you’re allowed.  Or what about high wings, fans, skirts, more than four wheels, closed cockpits, closed wheels?  You can’t.  Banned, banned, banned, banned.  It’s no wonder all the cars look the same.  The complexity of the regulations eventually forced Gordon Murray, one of F1’s most talented designers and the man behind the McLaren F1, to abandon the sport altogether.

But while it is easy to see why the regulations make for boring cars it is difficult for many to see why this leads to spiralling costs and a lack of competition.

But that’s what regulations always do.  They always help the big guys at the expense of the little guys.  For instance, in the 1970s Lotus came up with ground effect.  Using skirts to control air flow, ground effect “glued” the car to the ground while cornering.  It was cheap and it was banned.  It then took 20 years of expensive computer modelling and wind-tunnel testing to regain the downforce the ban had removed.  It’s not hard to guess which teams were the first to reap the benefits.

But what about this year? I hear you ask.  They’ve changed the rules and all of a sudden it’s the little teams that are prospering.  Just you wait, I say.  Give it a year and the big boys will be back.

See here for Part II

14 May 2009
In praise of Tom Woods’s Meltdown

Topical books, they’re a bit rubbish aren’t they?  Let’s face it, any book written to cash in on an issue of the day is bound to suffer from the need to get it out before the hot topic starts to cool.

Which was pretty much my thinking when I forked out for Tom Woods’s Meltdown, a free market take on what I like to call the Greater Depression.  I wasn’t buying it in the hope of greater wisdom, more in the way you might buy a Watford replica shirt - to show support, to egg the team on.

Well, I was wrong.  “Meltdown” is a triumph.  It chronicles the boom and the early part of the bust before explaining how it all fits into Austrian Business Cycle Theory.  In doing so it manages to to explain that theory better than I’ve ever seen it explained and (I’m pretty sure) expand on it.  Oh, and it’s short.

One bit I was particularly impressed with was Woods’s description of money.  For him, and now me, money is a claim on real resources. Now, Woods is not being particularly original here - Mises said this - but it’s something - and I regard myself as reasonably au fait with Austrian economics - that I hadn’t heard before.  It’s importance lies in the way it explains why any form of funny money - whether in the form of central bank notes based on nothing or fractional reserve bank notes - er, also based on nothing - are so economically damaging - because they deceive people as to what precise resources they can command.

Or, to put it another way - you think you can build the Empire State Building but actually you can only build half of it.

But that’s only one example and “Meltdown” is full of them.  This really is genius.  To have produced a book that combines topicality, lucidity, and theory is a breathtaking achievement.  If Woods didn’t sweat blood writing this I don’t believe he’s entirely human.

12 May 2009
“It would become an object of desire to adventurers of a low class…”


I found this in The Times of 13 March 1906, a time when MPs didn’t so much as receive a salary let alone expenses.  A W.S.Lilly quotes J.S.Mill on the subject:

The occupation of a member of Parliament would thereupon become an occupation in itself, carried on, like other professions, with a view chiefly to its pecuniary returns, and under the demoralizing influences of an occupation essentially precarious.  It would become an object of desire to adventurers of a low class, and 658 persons in possession with ten or twenty times as many in expectancy, would be incessantly bidding to attract or retain the suffrages of electors by promising all things, honest or dishonest, possible or impossible, and rivalling each other in pandering to the meanest feelings and most ignorant prejudices or the vulgarist part of the crowd.


07 May 2009
The Fall of Rome v2.0

The Fall of Rome v1.0 went something like this:

1. They created for themselves a welfare state (think: bread and circuses)

2. They went bankrupt

3. Gazillions of barbarians brushed past the army which hadn’t been paid and sacked the place.

It would appear that in the West we have met Condition 1, are about to meet Condition 2 and have the barbarians (I use the term in its literal rather than pejorative sense) for Condition 3 in the form of gazillions of actual and would-be immigrants.

Can anything be done about it?  Well, if the ideas of Mancur Olsen (I believe it’s pronounced Man-Sir) are to be believed, not much.  Now you understand I haven’t actually gone to the effort of actually reading anything Olsen wrote but I am reasonably familiar with his ideas.  Or, at least what I think are his ideas.  If they are not his ideas then there’s a good chance they are my ideas which is even better.  Anyway, his argument (or, at least what I think is his argument) is that over time societies introduce ever more layers of regulation creating ever more interest groups.  These laws and interest groups form a tight web that not only stiffles progress but is highly resistant to change.  The only way it can be changed is through the total collapse of the state as in the case of the Soviet Union or Rome.

It is not difficult to think of examples of the kind of thing he’s getting at.  I sometimes imagine what it would be like to be a reforming Transport Minister.  Let’s say I wanted to liberate the railways.  I might, for instance, want to close down loss-making lines but I would be greeted with howls of protest - not to mention the considerable bureaucratic obstacles in the way.  I might wish to end price control and would get much the same response.  If I wanted, heaven forfend, to allow train operators to own the tracks on which their trains ran, first the UK would have to leave the EU - which would mean repudiating a treaty. Big stuff.

And so on and so forth.  And that is just an area I know about.  It’s bound to be repeated right the way across government.

So, a collapse of the West seems inevitable.  But is it a bad thing?  The Dark Ages do not get a great write up but that’s mainly because they didn’t get any sort of write up (great or otherwise) at the time.  It is possible that it’s inhabitants were experiencing a land of milk and honey.  Certainly, it is one of the complaints that my immigrant colleagues make that the West constantly claims how free it is but you just try building yourself a house…

The litmus test will come when the barbarians try to feed themselves.  Given the complexity of modern agriculture with its technology, financial systems and distribution networks we can only hope they succeed.

Croziervision, bringing joy and light to the world since 2002.

29 April 2009
Libertarians for Climate Change

Libertarians know lots about economics.

The Climate Change debate is made up of two parts: a scientific one - is it happening? if so, what’s causing it? etc - and an economic one - what should be done about it?

So, why is it that libertarians spend their entire time talking about the science and not the economics?

Let me put me like this.  If you could prove that all the statements about the science - that it is happening, that it is caused by humans, that it’s going to be truly catastrophic etc, - were true, wouldn’t that demand a heavy-duty libertarian approach?  Wouldn’t that demand a huge increase in human productivity and wouldn’t that in turn demand a massive scaling down of the unproductive/state-directed parts of the economy?

Frankly, if people were really taking climate change seriously can you imagine that such brakes on human progress such as the welfare state, the NHS, state education and the whole panoply of labour market regulations would last five minutes?

24 April 2009
The government is about rack up a truly enormous debt. Which in the normal course of events we'll be paying off for years.

Wouldn't it just be easier for David Cameron to say that a future Conservative government won't pay it? Because if he said that right now (and loudly enough) no one in their right mind would buy the government's debt and the problem would disappear in an instant.

15 April 2009
The only attack on Guido in recent days has been that although he broke the story it didn't become important until the MSM took it up.

Which is true.

But it begs the question. Why, assuming that Downing Street's email system wasn't hacked by Guido himself, did the leaker contact Guido? Why not go straight to the MSM? Maybe, he did, of course. But assuming he didn't the reason he contacted Guido was because he knew the story would be published.

Guido: the scandal sheet of last resort. And good thing too.

01 April 2009
Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares

So, the News of the World runs an article claiming that Gordon Ramsay isn’t the saviour of failing restaurants that the TV claims he is.

So, a huge numbers of commenters, many apparently chefs themselves, come to Ramsay’s defence.

31 March 2009
Some thoughts on money

This partly comes from my reading of Murray Rothbard’s “The Mystery of Banking” and a comment I left on Brian Micklethwait’s blog.

Two ideas.  What money really is and what we have come to understand as money.  And the connection?  What we have come to know as money is a perversion of a perversion of that original idea.

The original idea is simple enough.  Money is metal.  Sometimes gold, sometimes silver.  Sometimes cigarettes (which is not a metal at all) but that’s another story.  The point is that a metal like gold is very useful as money: it’s scarce, it’s consistent, it’s durable, it’s divisible.  And that, at root, is all you need.

Until you try to use it that is.  Say, you’re selling Mars Bars and some bloke tries to buy one of your Mars Bars with a lump of yellow metal which he claims to be gold.  How do you know it is what he says it is?  How do you know it hasn’t been mixed with something else, something cheaper?  Sure, there are some tests you can carry out but you need equipment and that is likely to be expensive and bulky and time-consuming to use.  Not really the sort of thing you want to be having to take down to Tescos.

The answer to this verification problem is, of course, coinage.  You take your metal down to the mint, they weigh it, melt it down, add some alloy and stamp it out with some pretty, hard to reproduce pattern.  In other words they brand it, in just the same way that Cadbury’s brand bars of Dairy Milk.  And with much the same effect.  Now everyone knows what they are getting.

At which point we get the first perversion.  Enter the state.  For reasons that are not entirely clear the state has always claimed a monopoly on minting coins.  Roman emperors have their heads on the currency.  It is not difficult to see why.  States always need to raise money.  There are two ways to do this.  The first is taxation.  But taxation is a pain.  You need agents and sometimes people shoot these agents.  The second is inflation.  You take a coin, you melt it down, you add some base metal and you mint two new coins.  Bingo, you’re twice as rich.  And states have been doing this since time immemorial.

The next perversion comes with storage.  If you’ve got a lot of gold you don’t really want to keep it at home - someone might steal it.  So, you take it down to a secure store - known at the time as a goldsmith’s.  And in return you are given a receipt.  Now obviously this receipt is a rather valuable piece of paper, so it has to have many of the properties of a coin - hard to reproduce pattern etc.  The point is that if the receipt is good enough the bearer has a choice.  Yes, he can use it to redeem his gold, or, he can use it as money in its own right.  It is literally as good as gold.

At which point we get the second perversion.  The goldsmith realises that his receipt is now being accepted as money.  This means that year on year only a small portion of the gold in storage will ever be redeemed.  So, he decides to print up some new receipts and lend them out in the hope that there will never be a time when he has to redeem all the receipts (or notes) at once.  On the face of it this sounds like fraud - but your high street banks are doing this every day (or rather were until the credit crunch struck).

Actually, this is a bit of an aside because the really important thing is what happens next.  The government gets involved.  It starts issuing its own notes - in Britain this began with the Bank of England in the 1690s.  Then it bans anybody else from issuing their own.  First by banning the practice within 65 miles of London and then everywhere else.

Now, from the state’s point of view this is not a perfect solution.  The notes are still redeemable for something real - namely gold.  So, what they do is to suspend redemption in time of war eg Napoleonic Wars, First World War, on an apparently temporary basis and then progressively put up ever greater barriers to redemption.  In the 1920s when Britain went back on the gold standard the kicker was that normal everyday citizens could no longer redeem their notes.

And then, as they did in Britain in 1931, they break the link with metal entirely.  The perversion of money is complete.

29 March 2009
In praise of The Professionals

The Professionals, ah yes, Bodie and Doyle, Bonehead and Foil, bubble perms, flares, dodgy leather jackets, Capris and RS2000s (thrashed).

A bit flash when it’s not totally brain dead. Not really our kind of show.

Well, over the last few weeks, with the aid of the repeats on ITV4, I’ve been able to reassess the bien pensant view of the 1970s cop/shy show.

And guess what?  I, and they, were wrong.  It’s brilliant.

Good plots, good characterisation, well acted, well scripted.  And brain dead?  Heck no.  This is a show that is constantly examining the dilemmas and ironies present in the exercise of state power.

The repeats have also provided a good opportunity to reassess the relative acting merits of Lewis Collins and Martin Shaw.

The general view is that of the two only Shaw was the proper actor.  Which is odd because it is Collins who nails his character right from the beginning while Shaw is constantly struggling.  In his defence Doyle - the heavy with a heart - was always going to be a struggle for actor and scriptwriter alike but still…

Anyway, time for those immortal opening titles:

13 March 2009
Sometimes, when I am confronted by one of those thornier political issues I ask myself: "What would happen if there were no government?"

I mention this because that was the question I found myself asking the other day when listening to a radio discussion on civil liberties - specifically about what to do with terrorism. The discussion was between a "civil libertarian" on the one hand - all against snooping - and an authoritarian on the other - all in favour.

I found it a rather confusing debate because while I was in theory rooting for the civil libertarian - a bunch I've never particularly liked - I found myself agreeing far more with the authoritarian.

So, I asked the magic question. What would happen if there were no government?

Answer? Simple. Roads would be privately owned and road owners would have every incentive to ensure their roads were terrorist free. Therefore, they would simply ban anyone they suspected of harbouring terrorist sympathies - not unlike the way the Bluewater Shopping Centre banned hoodies a few years ago. My guess is that this would lead to some lookism plus and ad hoc system of passports and people vouching for one another.

But not a lot of snooping.

27 February 2009
If you saw a line of dominoes falling over you wouldn't blame the second one would you? You'd blame the first. So, why, in the current Depression, is everyone blaming the banks?

Or let me put it another way. RBS, BoS, Barclays, Lloyds, they've all been around for a hell of a long time. Hundreds of years. They've always attracted greedy people - heck why else do people become bankers? And yet they've always survived. What's different about this time?

Now, I think the answer is the government's low interest policy but even if it's not it's got to be something big and unusual.

12 February 2009
The Real Baby Boom

The baby boom.  That’s all the servicemen returning from the Second World War and starting families, causing a huge temporary surge in the population, right?

True, but there’s a bigger one.  Look:

Click to enlarge

The surge in the 1960s peaks at about the same level as the 1940s and is wider - meaning more people.

Just in case you were wondering, I took 1980 as the date because it shows the 60s boom and it’s before the post-War crowd started to die off in any significant numbers (cancer starts to kick in in the mid-50s).  I am assuming that deaths up to this point among the post-War Baby Boomers were largely confined to pop stars.

I, of course, am right bang in the middle of the Real Boom.  I do not expect to draw a state pension.

All this came from here.  Not the greatest source but I’d challenge even them to get this very wrong.

29 January 2009

If Britain was the first country to recover from the Depression last time round, why is it that this time around the British government is seeking to emulate the policies of the United States which was last country to recover?

I’ve noticed that one of the accusations made by the government (and mentioned in this very excellent piece by Sean Gabb) is that those who oppose their (alleged) anti-slump policies would rather “do nothing.”

To which the reply I suppose is that if doing something means stealing from taxpayers, savers and future generations - which after all is what the government’s policies amount to - then “doing nothing” is indeed the better option.

Update The link should now be working.

18 January 2009
John Mortimer, the charming leftie barrister/author, died a few days ago. I remember once (I think it was only the once) tuning into an edition of Wogan on which he was a guest. It was in the late 80s or perhaps early 90s - at least at a time when the early-90s recession was beginning to bite. At one point, he contrasted our then-current woes with the situation in the 1960s describing the 60s as a "Golden Age". At which point something happened which I have never seen before or since.

The audience howled at him.

I mean real rage. I mean real, right-wing rage aimed at a leftie.

Not exactly the sort of thing you'd ever get on Question Time.

01 December 2008
Dude, where’s my misallocation?

I like the Austrian School of Economics. Its theories are simple, logical and almost completely avoid recourse to numbers.  And it also has the best explanation I have come across for the current Depression.

That explanation, incidentally, goes something like this: because interest rates were too low, the money supply increased, bubble activities were encouraged and resources were misallocated. The Depression is the process in which resources are re-allocated but this time to the correct activities.

This is fine as far as it goes.  It certainly goes a long way to explaining what happened in the US where they built too many houses.

But what about the UK?  Here building has pretty much been outlawed.  Sure, there’s been a bit of in-filling going on but was it really enough to cause the downturn?  So, where in the UK is the misallocation?  What activities have been going on in the UK that shouldn’t have been?  I am sure it has something to do with the housing bubble but although prices went up it is difficult to see how activity was altered from what it otherwise might have been.

Since writing those lines it occurs to me that the lack of infrastructure activities: new roads, better railways, power stations etc could be part of it.  They might not be bubble activities but they could well be the other side of the coin: things that should have been done but weren’t.  Also, the huge amount of activity directed by government especially into things like recycling and CO2 reduction.  That looks like a classic bubble activity.

27 November 2008
Why we are getting tax cuts

So the Stealth-Taxer General is all of a sudden cutting taxes.  Did be perhaps take a walk in the general direction of Damascus?  Or did he instead read Taxation is Theft and think “How could I have been so stupid all this time?”

Well…no.  Gordon Brown is not someone who lies awake at night wondering if he could, you know, just possibly be wrong.

His problem is with the Depression and his attempts to avoid the unavoidable.

Assets are not worth what they once were.  So anyone who took out a loan on one of these assets is trying to pay it back as quickly as possible and cut their losses.  On the other side of the lending bargain banks are increasingly reluctant to lend.

All this will lead (for complex reasons) to a contraction of the money supply and, hence, deflation or falling prices.  Hooray, you might say.

Alas, modern-day politicians are slaves to the doctrine that deflation is bad.  So they are desperate to avoid it.  So they need to create inflation.  Under normal circumstances this is easy enough - reduce the rate the central banks charge the retail banks for money and let the money supply rip.

But the banks are increasingly reluctant to lend.  Even the ones partly owned by the Government.

So, we get tax cuts paid for by the printing presses which they hope will cause inflation.

There’s another side issue here. If you inflate your currency and on one else does then your exchange rate goes down like a stone.  So, what you need is for everyone to doing roughly the same thing at the same time.  It’s called co-ordination and is the principal reason for the calling of the G20.

Incidentally, I have grave doubts whether this will work on its own terms - it certainly won’t on anyone else’s.  My guess is that anyone given free money will simply put it in the bank.

25 November 2008
Raico replies

Following on from yesterday’s posting on Ralph Raico’s article on Churchill, Professor Raico was kind enough to reply as follows:

There is no contradiction regarding the welfare state. The beginnings were in the early twentieth century, as set forth. The cradle-to-grave welfare state was initiated following World War II, also as set forth.  None of this is controversial among historians.

Neither is there a contradiction regarding the British empire. As a libertarian, I’m hostile to British imperialism. But Churcill wasn’t, to say the least. To the extent that participation in World War II contributed to the end of that empire, Churchill acted against his own deepest values.

Of course I did not say or imply that Churchill forced Hitler into implementing the holocaust. (You really should learn to read more carefully.) Again, it was a question of World War II, which, as Goebbels wrote, provided the necessary smokescreen.

The comment regarding the deaths of German civilians owing to the naval blockade is incoherent. Leaders of belligerent nations are morally required not to aim at the death of civilians.

Churchill’s embrace of Stalin during the war helped the Soviet Union to dominate Europe following the war.  Such dominance, however, did not mean that Stalin was aiming at limitless expansion or require a cold war.

David Irving’s earlier historical work was praised by Gordon Craig, among others. You might look up Fuller’s works in the catalog of the Library of Congress to get an idea why he is considered one of the great military historians of the twentieth century.

I am not really inclined to reply further as I think all it will achieve is the initiation of a flame war and flame wars are pretty pointless.  Suffice to say his comments leave me unmoved.

But I’d still like to hear from the commentariat. If you think I’m wrong then please tell me where and why.  And if you think I’m right then tell me that too.  I’m nothing if not vain.

24 November 2008
Re-re-thinking Churchill

Ralph Raico wrote an article attacking Churchill’s reputation.  I thought I’d enjoy reading it as I think Churchill’s reputation probably deserves to be attacked.  But I didn’t enjoy the article.  To be frank I thought it was rubbish and wrote a comment to that effect.  This is what I said:

I’m not very happy with this. Not because of any particular reverence for Churchill but because if his reputation is to be taken down a peg or two then it has to be done well. That means that criticisms have to be consistent and well-justified.

For instance, one criticism is that the Second World War allowed the creation of the Welfare State. But earlier on in the essay we have the criticism that Churchill helped create the Welfare State before the First World War. Well, which is it?

Another criticism is that Churchill helped destroy the British Empire. I thought libertarians were generally-speaking against empires. Or did I miss that memo?

Then there’s the complaint that Churchill was an opportunist. Well, golly, an opportunistic politician, who’d have thought it.

Then there is the whole issue of responsibility. Churchill is responsible for Churchill’s actions. Fine. But who is responsible for Hitler’s? Because the suggestion is made that Chuchill forced Hitler into starting the Holocaust. What god has walked among us? Exactly the same mistake is made when referring to the Blockade of Germany in the First World War - the claim being made that this led to the deaths of 800,000 civilians. OK, but what does that say about the Kaiser? If he had cared about his citizens he could have surrendered at any point. But he didn’t. And if the Kaiser didn’t care for the citizens of Germany why should Churchill have?

There is also the whole excursion into the “If Only” school of history. If only this one decision here had been different then all that nastiness could have been avoided. Maybe but equally, maybe not. Sometimes shit is going to happen no matter where you stand. Actually, not a bad metaphor for the 20th Century.

But really Churchill’s reputation rests on two questions: was he right to continue the war in 1940? and was he right to warn of the Soviet threat in 1946?

The latter should be fairly simple as throughout this essay the complaint is made that for most of the wartime years Churchill was being too soft on Russia. So, how he gets criticised when he sees the light in 1946 I just don’t understand.

On the question of the War there is, I believe, a reasonably respectable view that Britain should never have gone to war in 1939 and should have sought terms in 1940. It is possible that (uniquely) Hitler didn’t mean what he wrote about the United States in the Second Book and it is possible that alone among agreements he would have kept those he made with the UK. But what were the chances?

I think the author takes the pacifist view that all war and even self-defence is wrong. Maybe, but it’s a controversial view and I think has to be thoroughly justified every time it is aired.

I notice that Major-General J F C Fuller (member of the British Union of Fascists) and David Irving (Holocaust Denier) get a mention. You know, if I were going to mention either of these two I would do so with a health warning.

As I said, I think Churchill’s reputation deserves to be taken down a peg or two but this inconsistent scattergun approach riddled with inconsistencies is not the way to do it.

So I start off believing X, the article also makes the case for X but does it so badly I end up believing -X.  That’s quite an achievement.

07 November 2008

Somebody has compiled a list of the 10 most irritating phrases and it would seem that I use almost all of them*, “24/7”, which I guess makes me “fairly unique”.

I will make a defence of “I personally”.  A lot of the time in the media people are not speaking personally they are speaking collectively, in other words on behalf of organisations whether it be the government, business or pressure groups.  So, it is reasonable to make the distinction when the views you are expressing are genuinely your views and not those of the organisation you represent.

* The one I don’t use is “With all due respect”.  No prizes for guessing why.

09 October 2008
A rant about the bailout and the The Depression

My thoughts about the current economic situation are so jumbled up I thought I’d do another podcast rather than attempt to write it all down.  I think it more or less works though at times it’s a bit incoherent.  The good thing is that I felt a lot better after recording it.

It cuts off rather dramatically at the end - in mid-sentence in fact.  Fortunately, that’s the middle of the very last sentence and the meaning is fairly clear.

06 October 2008
Why the money men went mad

Oh, this is a goody:

In a time of state-sponsored easy credit all projects get financed by incautious banks with cheap, centrally supplied money. There is no market for cautiously lent money, priced correctly for the risk involved. Why would anyone pay more for funds from a cautious bank when cheaper funds from an easier source are available?

This is why the profits of incautious banks grew, and why their stock prices multiplied.

Meanwhile careful bankers sunk. As Brown (and Greenspan) injected ever more money into the economy the cautious banks began to lose their customers, their managers, their share values, and their independence. This Darwinian extinction of caution is the direct result of a monetary environment which was hostile to cautious bankers; one which favoured those banks with an appetite for cheap money.

Paul Tustain, How Bullion Vault sees the credit crunch (email to Bullion Vault customers)

That is the best explanation I have heard so far as to why the money men went mad: the government made them.  And, yes, I am a customer of these people.

30 September 2008

For some time I have been seeing the current crisis as a showdown between the Autrian and Chicago schools of pro-capitalist thought.  So, I was glad when a real economist attempted to explain the differences.

My money’s on the Austrians by the way.

26 September 2008
Ron Paul rips into the Bailout…

while managing to mention the Austrian School.  Fab.

(via The von Mises Institute)

23 September 2008
Of course this is nothing like the Depression

Instead of furthering the inevitable liquidation of the maladjustments brought about by the boom during the last three years, all conceivable means have been used to prevent that readjustment from taking place; and one of these means, which has been repeatedly tried though without success, from the earliest to the most recent stages of depression, has been this deliberate policy of credit expansion. ... To combat the depression by a forced credit expansion is to attempt to cure the evil by the very means which brought it about; because we are suffering from a misdirection of production, we want to create further misdirection—a procedure that can only lead to a much more severe crisis as soon as the credit expansion comes to an end. ...It is probably to this experiment, together with the attempts to prevent liquidation once the crisis had come, that we owe the exceptional severity and duration of the depression.We must not forget that, for the last six or eight years, monetary policy all over the world has followed the advice of the stabilizers. It is high time that their influence, which has already done harm enough, should be overthrown.

Friedrich Hayek, June 1932

Via The von Mises Institute.


21 September 2008
My take on the bailouts

It would appear that the governments intend to swap fake assets for fake money.

That is all.

12 September 2008

“Comedy shows, like universities, are where ideas go to die.”  Brian Micklethwait.


07 September 2008
McCain’s speech: I thought it was quite good

Reading the reaction to John McCain’s acceptance speech - most of which was pretty lukewarm - I can’t help wondering if I’d been watching the same one.

I thought it was quite good:

He called for school vouchers.  Now, I have my doubts about this as a policy3 but it does at least suggest some regard for markets.  This will be useful as the Depression starts to bite.

He made clear his concerns over Russia.

He said: “I hate war.”  Good1.

I found his obvious discomfort with the autocue rather endearing.

While I find most mentions of his Vietnam experiences vomit inducing I thought he handled it well.  In essence he said he went out a vain, arrogant youth and came back a team player.

There was one passage I found particularly engaging.  He mentioned that he’d been left to die and only received treatment (such as it was) when his captors found out that he was the son (or was it grandson?) of an admiral.  I thought it was gutsy to mention that.  It communicated two things.  First, that he will tell the truth even if it doesn’t make him look that good.  Second, he knows how lucky he was and hasn’t forgotten those who were less fortunate.

Talking of gutsy while McCain’s gutsy choice of Sarah Palin seems to be paying off I was none too impressed by her speech.  Anodyne would be my summary2.

And what’s all this business about her fighting corruption?  She’s only been governor for 20 months.  Surely, corruption - even of the Alaskan variety - is made of sterner stuff?

1.  Mind you the last statesman I know to have used those exact words was Sir Edward Grey.  That was just before the outbreak of the First World War.

2.  Mind you I have good, personal, reason to beware women making anodyne speeches. See Justine Greening MP

3.  See the comments on Going Dutch?

29 August 2008

“Blanchflower is an enemy of the people.”

So says Alice.  And she’s right.

Explanation: Inflation is rampant, interest rates are too low and need to go up.  But Blanchflower thinks they should come down.  Dumbass.

04 August 2008

To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good…

Alexander Solyhenitsyn whose death was announced today.

24 July 2008
The American Revolution Challenge

In a previous posting I asked whether the American Revolution deserved the name.  I asked, if its aim, as is so often claimed, was freedom then, when the dust had settled, what freedoms did Americans possess that Britons did not.

I didn’t get many replies.  A couple of commenters pointed out (citing the French and Russian examples) that revolutions don’t have to have anything to do with freedom to be called revolutions.  That’s a fair point but still, in what way was the American Revolution a revolution?  I often hear the claim that it got rid of the monarchy.  But hadn’t Britain already done precisely that?  Sure there was a guy called George III who was called the monarch but what powers did he really have?  It seems to me that after about 1720 (and the creation of the office of Prime Minister) the British monarchy was something of a paper tiger.

Thankfully, a chap called Maldain took up the challenge:

Well, let’s see at the time.  The average Brit didn’t have the right to free and unfettered speech.  Speaking against the crown was considered sedition and punishable by prison or death.  The average Brit didn’t enjoy a truly free press as the crown could and did shut down the press at will.

The average Brit was not allowed to keep and bear arms. 

The average Brit was required when so ordered to quarter troops in their homes.

The average Brit’s home, business and person was eligible to be searched at any time without showing cause.

The average Brit did not have the right to not speak in court.  In fact was required to give evidence against himself.

That’s much more interesting.  But is it true?  Did Britons genuinely not have these freedoms at the time?  For instance, isn’t the right to keep and bear arms enshrined in the (English) Bill of Rights?  The other thing is that Maldain’s list appears to be a listing of the amendments to the US Constitution.  Fair enough, but what the law says and what the law does are two different things.  Did Americans genuinely enjoy these freedoms after they were introduced in 1791?

22 May 2008

...but funny.

07 May 2008

America is a great country1.  However, it is not a perfect country.  One of the things that gets my goat about it is how Americans commonly refer to the American War of Independence (which is what it was) as the American Revolution (which is what it wasn’t)2.

So, I was rather pleased to come across this (

<1MB) marvellous bit of revisionism from

Russ Roberts’s EconTalk with William Bernstein

The Boston Tea Party as the world’s first anti-globalisation riot.



1.  See America is a great country, by me.

2.  A little challenge I like to set people who think it was a revolution is to see if they can come up with ways in which after the war Americans were freer than their British counterparts.  I get a lot of mumbling and very few answers.

30 April 2008
In defence of Shell and BP

Yesterday, the oil giants Shell and BP announced record profits.  One oil industry analyst put it down to high oil prices.  All the oil companies were doing was watching the money roll in.  Which prompted the usual whining about “obscene/outrageous” profits etc. 

I am against this whining as I believe that profits are good1. However, I have to confess that I am a bit stumped to say why bumper profits are so good in this case.  I find it difficult to see where the value has been created.  I suspect that the value was created a few years ago when these oil companies invested heavily in new capacity (although I really have no idea if they did or not).  The profits they are enjoying now is simply the payback for risks they took then.

If so, then they are richly deserved.

Or maybe, actually, they didn’t invest nearly enough which meant that oil demand exceeded oil supply leading to the increase in price.  Sure, that meant that their profits went up but not by as much as they might have done.


1.  See Profit is good or Profits in a Market Economy, Art Carden

29 April 2008
The horrors of legal drugs
Chinatown in London

One of the things my library membership allows me to do is to read old editions of the Times online.  This is fantastic.  I especially like looking through articles from before the First World War.  Things were so different in those days.

One of the ways things were different was that drugs were legal.  Though that was about to change.  In 1912 the Hague Convention (strangely enough opposed by Germany, Austria and Turkey) committed the signatories to banning the opium trade.  This process was halted by the First World War but the leading states re-committed themselves to the ban in the Treaty of Versailles.

The really weird thing was the motivation.  It emphatically does not seem to have been worries about the dangers of opium to the civilian population.  At least, not in the West it wasn’t.  The whole concern seems to have been with China and the prevention of its use there.

This is a point underlined by this article from the 25 November 1913 edition of the Times in which the author tours the opium dens of Limehouse.

We may call these places “dens” for all that they are so clean and orderly and so little withdrawn from public gaze.  We may deplore the injurious physical effects which follow overuse of the drug however small the proportion of cases of definitely traceable injury may be either to the number of smokers or the Chinese population.

...all the “dens” in these two streets together will not furnish from one month’s end to another any such spectacle of “degradation” or rowdyism as may be seen nightly in almost any publichouse.

Not exactly a problem was it?

25 April 2008
LA Conversion: How to win the libertarian argument

Another classic LA pamphlet.  Another classic Brian Micklethwait LA pamphlet in which the author argues that no one ever wins an argument at the first attempt, that it’s far better to be understood than to be agreed with and by implication that intellectual honesty is always the best intellectual policy.



The first rule for winning the libertarian argument is that you must have it.

That sounds fairly obvious, does it not? Yet how many times must we libertarians listen to self-styled “practical” and “realistic” comrades, who tell us that the way to argue for the abolition of income tax or the legalisation of heroin or the abolition of compulsory education is to start these arguments by arguing instead for the lowering of income tax by two per cent, the legalisation of marijuana, and the introduction of education vouchers. The idea is that having bought these mild and diluted versions of libertarianism, people will then be drawn into accepting the more “extreme” manifestations of libertarianism, as if being enticed into the back room of a pornography shop.

The error embodied in this kind of “realism” is the confusion between someone on the one hand being told an idea, and on the other hand agreeing with that idea. These are two absolutely distinct processes, and understanding this distinction is the beginning of wisdom as a libertarian propagandist. There are, to put the same point slightly differently, two ways of being an “extremist”. One consists of not only expressing one’s views with clarity but also of trying to combine this process with that of immediately being agreed with, of saying what you think and of saying why the person you are talking to has no excuse for thinking otherwise. This is obnoxious and counter-productive. Your victim will simply back away, and make a note to seek other conversational companions in the future. The right way to be an extremist is to say what you think and why, while absolutely not assuming that the person you are talking to has any sort of obligation to think likewise, and if anything while making it clear that you rather expect him not to. You think what you think, and he thinks what he thinks. And if he hasn’t told you already what he does think, then an obviously polite next step would be to ask him to talk about that. The two of you can then try to pin down more precisely how you disagree, assuming you do. It is possible to be an extremist without deviating from good manners, and that is how.

Another obvious way to present an “extreme” idea to somebody, in a form which does not grab him by the lapels and shake him around and generally spoil his day, is to present that idea in writing. Publishing is, you could say, a branch of good manners. No matter how “extreme” is the opinion I may read in a pamphlet or magazine, I am never, so to speak, at its mercy. I can stop reading it at any moment, and so in the meantime I need not feel threatened or even discomforted by it. The number one task of the Libertarian Alliance is simply to get the libertarian case spread around - especially in writing of course -to anyone who is interested in it. Whether any particular reader agrees or not doesn’t matter. The point is to spread the ideas.

This article continues...

21 April 2008
You know things are getting better…

...when even the winos can eat in style:

In the environs of Vauxhall yesterday evening, I noticed two of the local gentlemen of the road, settling down for a picnic on a random street corner near Tescos. And why not enjoy these lengthening evenings, I thought, even if it is still a bit chilly for me to contemplate an al-fresco affair. They had a Tesco bag with them and as I passed I noticed among the usual cans some little round tubs. They weren’t, were they? They were…

Yep, one of them had brought dips. Tesco value, mind you, rather than Tesco’s Finest, but dips all the same. It’s good to know they’re not spending all of it on booze. I’ve always thought that Vauxhall’s tramp population had a certain style…


And three cheers for Tesco.

19 April 2008
The problem with surveys

Some questions to ask next time you see a survey…

Is it measuring what it claims to be measuring?  Usually, there is an input and an output eg number of cigarettes smoked and mortality.  Are both being measured accurately?  Can both be measured accurately?  I heard a report the other day that had claimed to have been able to measure self-esteem in children.  How on earth do you measure that?

Is the thing they are measuring actually as good/bad as the surveyers claim?  For instance if policy initiative X is supposed to have given rise to increase in observable phenomenon Y then is Y as good/bad a thing as the surveyers think it is?  A good example of this, for instance, is museum attendance.  Good, if you like that sort of thing.  Bad, if you’re the seven-year old child who would far rather be playing Nintendo.

Is the sample big enough?  We’re getting into some fairly heavy duty statistics here.  Or, at least we could be, but an awful lot of surveys have pitiful samples.  My rule of thumb is ignore it unless it involves at least 500 people (assuming it’s a people survey).

Is there a control?  Was it done properly?  For instance, one of the earliest smoking surveys pitched a random group of smokers against a group of non-smoking doctors (or so I am told).  Not surprisingly the smokers had shorter lives.

Does correlation prove causation?  If you increase X and observe an increase in Y that does not mean that X causes Y.  Something else might have.  Indeed, Y might cause X.  Look for a time lag.  If X changes and then Y changes maybe there is causation.  Also, look for other likely causes.  Has the survey factored all of these out?

Is it being reported correctly?  Tell tale phrases like “up to” and “as much as” are dead giveaways that the reporters are trying to dramatise things.  Also, is what the report says what was said actually what was said.  Similarly, if the combination of survey and reportage seems to be leading you to a ready-made conclusion (especially one to do with state policy) be very suspicious.  For instance, the other day I heard one claiming that children who wore ethnic dress to school had higher self-esteem.  Conclusion, let Muslim parents foist hajibs on their daughters.  Just a bit too convenient isn’t it?

The most important thing to bear in mind is that scientists don’t always get it right and reporters certainly don’t.  Don’t ever take these things at face value.  It’s also worth bearing in mind that there’s a whole branch of the public relations industry dedicated to raising clients’ profiles and one popular way is by releasing surveys purporting to demonstrate a need for the client’s product or service.

By the way, this is just a list of things that came off the top of my head.  Does anyone out there have some other examples?

16 April 2008
LA Conversion: The Tyranny of the Facts

Yet another classic LA pamphlet rescued from the purgatory of pdf and brought into the sunlight of html.  In “The Tyranny of the Facts” Brian considers how minds are actually made up and how facts are not nearly as important as is normally assumed.

The Tyranny of the Facts
Brian Micklethwait

I was asked a year or two ago by a free market policy institute to do a piece about museums. My commitment to the project was cemented at a free lunch at which Kingsley Amis was also present. The meal was delightful and Kingsley Amis his usual genial self, full of wisdom about The Arts, and about how the Government should stop giving The Arts money.

But as the meal progressed I already began to have misgivings about the project, and these became crystalised in my mind when finally, months later than I had promised, I sat down to write the thing. My problem was that the institute’s boss, Sir Alfred Sherman, had said that I ought to deploy “the facts” about museums. These “facts” were supposed to prove beyond doubt that our collective view of the museums issue was the correct one.

This article continues...

15 April 2008
"Only one country in the world has eliminated the shortage of transplant kidneys. Only one country in the world has legalized financial payments to kidney donors. That country is Iran." …link
10 April 2008
Who actually benefits from the state?

Now, I am not really interested, here, in the normal response: “Oh, we all do.  It provides, education, health, law enforcement…”  Libertarians know this to be nonsense and there’s no point in rehearsing those arguments here(1).  I am more interested in what we libertarians tend to say:

“Oh well, lots of people: welfare beneficiaries, civil servants, politicians…”

But the point is: do they?

I mean, take Tony Blair.  There he was, Prime Minister for a decade, but was it really worth it?  Sure, you can dwell on the trappings of power: the fame, the central London address, the foreign trips, all those people being nice to you, ruining perfectly decent people just because you can etc, but you’ve also got to remember the hours spent in boring meetings and tramping the streets, having to say things you don’t really believe in and, in the end, the public revulsion.  Oh, and I might add having Gordon Brown as a neighbour.

OK, so what about the ones at the bottom of the food chain - the welfare junkies?  Now sitting on your arse and getting someone else to pay for your housing, food and everything else sounds like a pretty good deal.  But the state extracts its pound of flesh condemning you to a neighbourhood full of chavs with an anti-work culture and a crap local school.  What if there were no state?  Sure you’d have to work for a living but you’d almost certainly end up better off, living in nicer surroundings and with better education options.

Well, if top and bottom are rubbish, what about the middle: the civil servants?  Rubbish pay, good pension.  You might manage to wangle some cushy number with next to no work but you might not.  There are plenty of civil servants who have to work pretty hard.

So, who does win?


1.  But if you would prefer to have those arguments rehearsed see What I believe and Why I am a libertarian.

06 April 2008

Academic, Dan Todman has produced a graph showing cumulative British deaths in the Second World War.  Interesting, if macabre, stuff.

26 March 2008
Two rather similar maps

I got a shock the other day.  I was reading the online Telegraph when I came across this:


In case you find this a little confusing it is, in fact, a map of the United Kingdom in which every parliamentary constituency is represented by a hexagon.

And the occasion for the shock?  Well, take a look at this:


Which is also a map of the United Kingdom in which every parliamentary constituency is represented by a hexagon.  A map I drew up over 10 years ago just before the 1997 general election (that’s why there’s so much blue.)  They even both have a hole in Ireland to represent Lough Neagh.

What’s even odder is that the Telegraph was the only paper I ever sent a copy to. 

I wrote to the Telegraph pointing out the similarities between the two maps.  They wrote a nice email back denying any connection - and to be fair, it’s far from implausible that the similarity is entirely coincidental -  lots of people have come up with similar ideas over the years. 

Having said that, it’s an odd, and not entirely pleasant experience, having one’s memory jogged like that.  Drawing up that map hurt.  The idea had been knocking around my head for years but I’d (and I know this sounds funny) never plucked up the courage to actually do it.  When I did, I sweated blood but I am very proud of it.

The fact that years later the Telegraph has taken up my idea and done more or less all the things I wanted to but couldn’t is very flattering.  Clearly, I was ahead of my time.

I’ll try to hold on to that thought next time I find myself wondering whether the Filing Cabinet is really worth it.

24 March 2008
16 March 2008
Linux: not ready for prime time

What is a girl to do? 

For years the only man in town was Gates the Geek, William of Washington, the Seattle Straight.  OK, so his mane was mangey and his clothes didn’t fit but you kind of knew where you were with him and his Blue Screen of Death.  He was Old Unreliable.  But there was one thing you could count on: you’d be compatible.

But now, things seem to be going wrong.  Vista’s Vista seems to be no better than Vesta’s Vista.

Time to check out other suitors?

Well, the’s always beeen Mac.  He’s pretty, he works hard but he’s a bit like the Church of Scientology: culty and expensive.

Step forward Linux - the Finn to Win.  He’s the exact opposite of Mac: he’s culty and inexpensive.

And yours truly is nothing if not a skinflint. 

So, one brave morning, I decided to give Linux a try.  And after a few days I came to one clear and indisputable conclusion. As far as Linux is concerned:


Oh, it claims all sorts of things about itself but getting it to work can only be described as “interesting”.

In the Chinese sense.

For instance:

  • It wouldn’t load onto my disk despite there being plenty of space.
  • When it did finally load the resolution was so poor I couldn’t see the OK
  • buttons
  • The screen had an atrocious flicker
  • I couldn’t connect to the internet
  • I couldn’t get Opera to install
  • I couldn’t get Flash to install on Opera
  • The search facility doesn’t work
  • WINE crashes the whole computer
  • Actually, lots of things seem to crash it.  And they complain about Windows.
  • The text rendering is poor
  • In fact, all the graphics are a bit naff.

Now on the last few points, I shouldn’t really criticise: these are amateurs and it is possible I’ve got a duff version.

But there were a sufficiently large number of problems to make me suspect that it’s going to be a good while yet before Liunux is a true competitor to Windows

14 March 2008
The Green Tax Test

I see there is some uncertainty over whether the Chancellor’s “green” taxes are really green taxes - designed to prevent or mitigate environmental damage - or bad old non-green taxes dressed up in green clothes.

There is a simple enough test.  Will the money raised be used to compensate the victims or not?  Because if it is you’ve got yourself a green tax and if it isn’t you don’t.

OK, there may be no victims as yet (just when is Tuvalu going to sink under the waves for heaven’s sake?) but that’s no reason not to put the money into a fund for a non-rainy day. 

See Also
How to deal with Global Warming

29 February 2008
Prince Harry in Afghanistan

So, the news blackout on Prince Harry’s deployment in Afghanistan has been broken.  But, I wonder, should it ever have been there in the first place?

The argument seems to be that if the Taliban knew that he was there they would make a special effort to try to kill him and that, therefore, his men (who are apparently much more important than him) would be put at risk.

How thoughtful.

Maybe, maybe, but should the Taliban rise to the bait wouldn’t it put their men at risk too?  And isn’t getting the Taliban to bend their whole strategy out of shape exactly what we want?

For all those interested in the travails of Newcastle United I rather liked this piece by James Hamilton.  He reckons it’s being teed up for a sale.

25 February 2008
Fairtrade or Feartrade?

I’ve been enjoying the free-market wonk tag-team ambush of Fairtrade Fortnight as evidenced by the efforts of the ASI and the Globalisation Institute’s Alex Singleton.  OK, so it smacks of co-ordination and planning - precisely the sort of things that free-marketeers are not well known for - but, still: heh!

However, one really shouldn’t laugh.  Alex’s piece in the Telegraph inspired this comment from Henry Cave Devine:

I was the acting Chief Exective of the largest independent coffee and tea trader in the world in the early 1990’s and found all that you have mentioned and even worse to be true. I want to highlight some of your points toward the end of your article to make clear that the mega-growers also ship and sell their lower quality beans into the Fairtrade markets through brokers and receive the subsidized “charity price” from the “socially responsible” rather unquestioning public. This is exactly what was meant to be avoided, and it is done in huge volumes.

Which he then followed up with this:

Three of my field agents were killed in 1991 because they tried to track down illegal shipments. It is a nasty business at times.

Titter ye not.

21 February 2008
Tesco calls for a ban on cheap alcohol

Ho hum.  There’s been a big media campaign7 on this this week.  They seem to want some sort of restriction on the sale of alcohol - although whether this involves higher taxes or a higher age limit I really don’t know.  My guess is that Tesco is simply jumping on the bandwagon before it’s too late - although it must be said this seems a tad out of character for Tesco - usually they’re pretty keen to keep out of politics.

Now as a libertarian I tend to be rather against this sort of thing.  In principle6 I would like to see no restrictions on the sale of alcohol8 at all and in theory I believe that this would make the world a better place.

What’s interesting is the coalition of motivations that’s been assembled.  On the one hand are concerns about public order - teenagers getting legless and causing trouble3 - and on the other worries about an “epidemic”1 of alcoholism.

The second point is easy to deal with.  My health is none of the state’s business.  Except, of course, that it is - by virtue of the existence of a state-funded NHS whose casualty wards groan with the results Chateau Laffite abuse.  For me that’s just another reason to abolish it2.

On the point about public order, well, this is not a simple one.  My guess is that a lot of the problems are caused by the welfare state combined with compulsory education4.  However, I’m not immune to the idea that underneath the surface the British aren’t all that civilised and that drunkenness is simply what they do5.


1. “Epidemic” indeed!  What a misuse of the English language.  Now that’s something that ought to get added to the list.
2.  Yes, that’s the NHS that should be abolished not Chateau Laffite. See Against the NHS.
3.  Yeah, I know, if they’re truly “legless” they’re not really going to be in a position to cause trouble but you know what I mean.
4.  See Brian Micklethwait’s Abolish the Welfare State and restore some Respect.  See also The Trouble With Child Labor Laws by Jeffrey A Tucker which is sort of related.
5.  My understanding is that England was for a long time an astonshingly violent society and that the low levels of crime recorded in the century before 1970 were something of an aberration.  Think Gin Lane in the 18th Century - no welfare state, cheap booze, mass disorder.
6.  See Why I am a Libertarian
7.  In both senses of the term
8.  I think most of the same arguments as used in the drugs debate would apply here.  See Sean Gabb’s A Neither Profound Nor Original Article on Why the Sale and Use of Recreational Drugs Ought Not to Be Illegal.

20 February 2008
LA Conversion: The Inevitability of Prejudice

This pamphlet by Axel Davies (see here for original PDF) is one of my absolute favourites.  Coming at a time when political correctness (can someone think of a better term?) was at is height it was a breath of fresh air, doing exactly what it said on the tin. Is that a mixed metaphor?



You see, Sir, that in this enlightened age I am bold enough to confess, that we are generally men of untaught feelings; that instead of casting away all our old prejudices, we cherish them to a very considerable degree ... we cherish them because they are prejudices; and the longer they have lasted, and the more generally they have prevailed, the more we cherish them. ... Prejudice is of ready application in the emergency; it does not leave the man hesitating in the moment of decision, sceptical, puzzled, and unresolved.1

— Edmund Burke


This article continues...

12 February 2008
In support of the Premier League’s International Round
You can find football fans
in the oddest places

Am I the only one(3) who finds the idea of Premier League teams playing regular season games abroad rather fun? I think it maybe because I see it as a way that capitalism can win over nationalism.  Up to now the ultimate stage has been the World Cup, an event that seems to do little other than serve up sub-standard football, put the process of male evolution into reverse and squander the talents of greats like George Best, Kevin Keegan and Liam Brady.  What if the ultimate stage was something that was actually quite good and something everybody, regardless of origin could buy into?  And it would give FIFA a well-deserved slap in the face - surely something we can all get behind. If I have one complaint it is about the way the Football Association has chosen to sell the idea.  It is all corporate stuff like “promoting the brand” and “exploting new markets”.  Had it never occurred to these guys that exploiting new markets and hence making more money is a good thing in itself(1) and that therefore the thing to do is to stress the benefits?  Why not: “This will give millions more fans the chance to see their football teams.  It will allow the Manchester United fan in Bangkok, the Arsenal fan in Sydney and the Watford fan in Bangalore the unique experience of seeing their favourite team in the flesh.” One of the crazier arguments against this scheme I heard over the weekend was the one that very few ordinary fans (as in, from the place after which the team is named) will be able to get to see their team when it plays abroad.  The irony seemed to be lost on these people.  This was the very weekend when people were commemorating the Munich disaster - a consequence of the pioneering spirit of Manchester United in entering the European Cup and playing in the oh-so-accessible Belgrade(2)Notes 1.  See Profit is Good. 2.  I haven’t looked up the sums but I would guess that is probably easier for the average Manchester United fan to travel to Sydney now than to Belgrade back then. 3.  See my friend Johnathan Pearce for an example of the vitriol this has induced.

02 February 2008
LA HTML Conversions: Political Notes 141

You know that Filing Cabinet I was talking about?  Well, it hasn’t gone away you know.  In fact I’ve even gone to the trouble of re-jigging it (well, creating another one) so that one entry equals one post - previously, one post could contain multiple entries.

Anyway, I’ve started filling it up. I haven’t quite got round to migrating everything over from the previous version but I guess I’ll get round to that eventually.  One article that justified an entry was an old Libertarian Alliance pamphlet by John Hibbs.  Unfortunately, it’s one of the rather annoyingly large number of LA articles that’s only available as a PDF (aargh!)  Anyway, annoyed at this I stumbled across a way of converting it to HTML relatively quickly.  “Ah!” I thought, “Sean will be so pleased.”  But then I thought, well, it might not be in exactly the format he’s looking for and, anyway, why don’t I publish the thing myself - at least that way it’ll get out there. So, here goes…

Town Planning versus the Plans Of The People

John Hibbs

This article continues...

29 January 2008
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: a Croziervision podcast
Buffy (in case you didn’t
already know)

The other day Michael Jennings and I sat down to talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the American TV series, which ran from 1997 to 2003.

Here are some highlights.

Michael is in the enviable position (in that I envy him) of having watched the series when it was first on while I am very much a Johnny-come-lately.  Not that it matters much - we both love the show - as you may be able to tell.

Warning: there be spoilers.  Though I guess anyone who hasn’t watched it yet probably never will.

25 January 2008
Dream house
This is sad. Bloke wants to build his dream home. The government says no. He hides the construstion site behind straw bales (wonder what that must have looked like(1)) builds his dream home and moves in.

A few years later he removes the bales. The government demands the building's demolition. Bastards(2). He may get away with it. Let's hope he does.

1. Actually, I don't have to wonder as there's a photo of the straw-bale castle accompanying the article.
2. As far as I am concerned they shouldn't be able to. See Against Planning. Also see the Filing Cabinet page on Planning.

20 January 2008
Do not card


19 January 2008
Hamish McRae: "One of the great things about Independent readers is their loyalty".

Peter Briffa: "Indeed. The same is often said of people who watch films on Betamax..."

Someone at the Policeman's Blog writes about the Garry Newlove case. This was the man who was kicked to death on his own doorstep after asking some youths to stop vandalising his wife's car.

Looking for root causes he says:
For four decades now, we have been living in a test tube while the liberals conduct a huge social experiment with our country.
Which is true enough. Whether it is the whole truth is another matter. I suspect that (as Brian says) the welfare state has a lot to do with it.

15 January 2008
Al Bangura allowed to stay1

As predicted.

1. According to the Telegraph and loads of other people.

12 January 2008
James Hamilton is doing a series (here and here so far) on how to stop smoking and a whole load more. Good.

06 January 2008
The Lethal Lightbulb Scandal

Many readers will have seen the reports on the news yesterday about the banning of good, old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs and their replacement with these new-fangled, all-the-mercury-you-can-eat low-energy ones.

But, as Philip Stott points out3 there’s more to it than that:

  1. They can’t be used with all sorts of light fittings
  2. There are all sorts of people who won’t be able to use them
  3. Councils don’t know how to dispose of them1
  4. In terms of life-cycle costs they may not even reduce energy consumption2
  5. This all comes from the EU

1. So, how come they can deal with traditional fluorescent tubes then?
2. Mind you, if we go all-nuclear then this won’t be a problem.  But then, why ban incandescent bulbs at all?  Lobbying perhaps?
3. On Apple’s evil blogging system

31 December 2007
The downside of the British Empire

I haven’t quite finished Adam Tooze’s The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy but I think it is worth posting an interim review of this monumental3 economic history of the Third Reich while the stuff at the beginning of the book is still fresh in my mind.

The thing that most struck me - and rather unsettled me - was Tooze’s description of Hitler’s underlying philosophy.  The rabid anti-semitism is as well known as it is bizarre - how exactly you convince yourself that Jews run capitalism as well as communism is beyond me.  But it’s the stuff about empire and economics that is was surprising.

Hitler’s Weltanschauung goes like this:

  1. I want Germany to be rich
  2. I look around the world to find examples of rich countries
  3. I find Britain, France and the United States.
  4. They all have empires1.
  5. That’s why they’re rich - certainly not this liberal economics nonsense which is just there to pull the wool over the eyes of the workers
  6. Therefore if Germany is to be rich she must have an empire
  7. We can’t go North, West or South.
  8. Therefore, we must go East.
  9. Sure, there are people in the way but we will treat them just the same way as the Americans treated the Indians or the British treated the, er, Indians.


This article continues...

27 December 2007

So, Will Smith thinks that Adolf Hitler was a good guy?  Actually, no.  What he said was that Hitler thought he was doing good, which is more or less what Solzhenitsyn was getting at when he said: “To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good…”

It is one of the most profound statements I have ever come across.

22 December 2007

So, Time magazine have made Vladimir Putin their Man of the Year.  Well, as Johan Norberg points out this is by no means the first time they have courted controversy in this way.  Take 1938, for instance, and a certain German dictator…

19 December 2007

“I have finally decided to take the plunge. Last night I upgraded my Vista desktop machine to Windows XP…” Coding Sanity

“I never thought I could be so disappointed by a band I didn’t even like in the first place” - Squander Two goes to a Verve concert …link
12 December 2007
At the frontiers of science…

...just asking why people drink, as Squander Two points out, just won’t do.  No, at the cutting edge, the art lies not in finding answers but in finding questions.  Like what happens if you take one of these:


And make it the same size as a human being?

Or, what happens if you hit a journalist with a shovel?

11 December 2007

Today comes the rather depressing news that Al Bangura, a Watford midfielder, it to be chucked out of the country.  This is wrong on no end of levels but I’ll stick to the fundamental one: there shouldn’t be any immigration controls at all.

07 December 2007
What now little man? backy, booze or blow?

When I was fourteen it was a lot easier to buy a block of cannabis than a bottle of vodka.

When I first heard my teenage dinner party co-host utter these words I thought it was a commentary on the failure of the war on drugs - which indeed it is - but it occurs to me that it doesn’t necessarily say great things for government licencing laws either - in that if the government would prefer people (and presumably this includes children) to drink alcohol than smoke cannabis then this is probably the worst of all worlds.  Either make alcohol totally legal - so that it is much easier to obtain than cannabis, or make it totally illegal - so that it is on the same footing - but licencing the product is about the very worst thing you can do.

Watch out for a huge increase in teenage drug taking when the age for buying tobacco rises to 18.

04 December 2007
I've mentioned History According To Bob's series of podcasts before but after listening to Bob Packett's latest offering on the subject of Hitler in the First World War thought I'd do so again.

The main point he makes - uncomfortable as it may be - is that Hitler was a brave man.

02 December 2007
Film Review: Control
Sam Riley as Ian Curtis

Ian Curtis (in case you didn’t already know) was the lead singer of Joy Division.  He committed suicide in 1980 after which the surviving members went on to form New Order.  Control, a biopic of Curtis’s life was released earlier this year.  I went to see it.

Some thoughts:

1. It brings the music to life in a way the albums and CDs never could.  I never went to a Joy Division concert but this film feels like the nearest thing.  I cannot tell if what I am hearing is genuine Joy Division or a soundalike2.  Someone earnt his money that’s for sure.

2. I remember little about Ian Curtis’s death. I knew who Joy Division were.  I knew that all sorts of people in the know thought that they would be the next big thing.  I think I had listened to Unknown Pleasures.  I think I had because while discussing its gloomy content, a schoolmate advanced the opinion that Curtis’s talking about depression could help the rest of us.  It’s not exactly the thing you would say after Curtis’s death.

3. One of the great tragedies of Curtis’s suicide is that it launched Love will tear us apart to a wider audience.  This was a pity as it meant that Joy Division’s weakest track become its best known - giving many a totally false impression of what their music was like.  It would be a bit like basing your opinion of Paul McCartney on The Frog Chorus1.  Or the career of Field Marshal Montgomery on Arnhem.

4. Sam Riley does an amazing impersonation of Curtis.  But - and this is by no means a criticism of Riley - at the end we still have no clear idea why he killed himself.  We understand that he is desperately torn between the family man and the rock star - a tear embodied by the two women in his life - his faithful wife and his rock chick mistress.  In the end we are able to feel sympathy for all of them.

5. The film also fails to explain the origin of his gloomy lyrics.  He does not appear to have suffered from a history of depression.  Unknown Pleasures and to a lesser extent Closer evoke a world of darkness, decay, isolation, fear and desperation.  But I get very little sense of this world from the film despite being filmed in black and white.  Even the constant reminders that Curtis came from Macclesfield fail to invoke the expected feelings of despondency.

6. Samantha Morton as Deborah Curtis is fantastic.

7. Tony Wilson is credited as Executive Producer.  Tony Wilson comes off well.  Surprise, surprise.  May he rest in peace.


1.  Actually, I quite like The Frog Chorus.
2.  According to Wikipedia one of the tracks was indeed recorded by the actors.  Kudos to them.

22 November 2007
England 2 Croatia 3

Boy, was I glad that I decided never to get wound up by this sort of thing ever again.

21 November 2007
Podcast: Brian and I talk about education

There is more to education… than just preparing people to earn lots of money.  Education is also something that prepares you to make do with much less money.

Brian’s Education Blog, if not actually back, is about to be.  So, what better way to celebrate could there be than to do a podcast on education?

In the podcast we talk about sovietisation, compulsion, discipline, the educational impact of Elvis Presley and how teddy bears will go about teaching quantum physics.

Well, that’s the blurb.  Actually, I think it is a bit of a ramble.  An interesting ramble but a ramble nevertheless.  The lesson is that there is a huge difference between being an interviewer and an interviewee.  The last couple of times I have been the interviewee, so I forgot that as interviewer you have to prepare.  Preparation doesn’t have to take very long - all that’s really required is to find out what the interviewee wants to say and tell him what questions you want to ask.  But it’s essential.  Lesson learned.  Until it’s forgotten again.

06 November 2007
Podcast: Brian and I talk about the First World War

In which we cover the Blackadder school of history, tanks, the German character, whether Britain should have fought or not, why Germany lost and Crozier’s Grand Theory of 20th Century History.

Before we recorded this conversation Brian put up a trailer on Samizdata which reaped a bumper crop of good comments.  Sure, there was some wheat in with chaff but a lot of them were first rate.  It was an exercise I suspect Brian will repeat in the future.


Field Marshal Haig (as Blackadder would have it) appears in this clip (it’s the second scene in):

This is General Melchett and Haig’s secret plan:

As funny as they are inaccurate.

Belgian neutrality did indeed date back to 1839.

The late Chris Tame was head honcho of the Libertarian Alliance.

The development of the tank was indeed sponsored by the Admiralty and the Landships Committee.

This is the Bloch we mention, the one who predicted how awful the war was going to be.

This is Brian on DUKWs.

I was right that Haig’s conception of the war included four phases.  The one I missed was the initial clash.

Is it possible to put italics in an Expression Engine title?

Yes, Brian, it is.

01 November 2007
Podcast: Northern Ireland’s continuing “peace”

“I think the counter-terrorist people probably deserve some credit for not topping the IRA leadership.”

“A market among thieves is better than no market at all.”

The continuing ceasefire in Northern Ireland baffles me.  Ian Paisley’s decision to share power with Martin McGuinness even more so.  Brian thought my befuddlement would make a good topic for a podcast so on Monday we sat down to record our musings on the matter - musings that you can listen to by following the link at the end of this post.

I should point out that I am reasonably well qualified (some will doubtless say uniquely ill-qualified) to address the subject of Northern Ireland as I spent a year as researcher to David Trimble and am the author of a couple of pamphlets on the subject.  However, I confess I am rather rusty.

In the podcast we discussed the various theories put forward for this seemingly miraculous peace: the end of the Cold War, the start of the War on Terror, the birth of the Irish Tiger and ageing of the IRA’s leadership.

There were a few things we missed.  We forgot to examine the possibility that in fact things are really quite violent - it’s just that many incidents aren’t being reported.  And there were a few more things I wanted to say about the British-Irish Treaty.

And what is a “switherer”?

Running time: (47 mins)

Update This is the blog post Brian is referring to in the comments.

30 October 2007
Podcast: Bruce Benson on private law

I first came across Professor Bruce L Benson when reading his excellent paper on the history of toll roads in England.  So, when I learnt that he was to be addressing the Liberty 2007 conference, organised by the Libertarian Alliance, I very much wanted to see if I could get him to agree to do a podcast.  Luckily, he did.

We decided to talk about private law enforcement.  While we managed to cover areas like how it would work and how you would prevent next door turning into a pub, time prevented us examining some of the other issues, like how the courts would work and what would prevent the re-emergence of the state.  But even so, I think it works pretty well.

This was my first attempt to conduct an interview with a handheld mike which accounts for some of the rustles and for the difference in the loudness of our respective voices.  I think it’s one of those cases where you live and learn.  I just hope it doesn’t spoil the listener’s enjoyment too much.

24 October 2007
Podcast #7: Brian and I talk about architecture

Particularly “modern” architecture.  Hmm, one wonders if that phrase will ever come to mean contemporary architecture rather than architecture from age that sanity and taste forgot. 

Main points: Modern architecture was, indeed, awful.  It even represented bad economics.  Things are starting to get better.

Brian wanted it to be known that he wasn’t coming to this as a complete amateur and so e-mailed me with the following:

At the start of the conversation I forgot to say what got me interested in architecture in the first place.  The answer is that for two years around 1970 I was, briefly, a failed architecture student.  I confused being interested in architecture with wanting to be an architect.  But I had no talent for architecture, and quite lacked the skill of architectural drawing in any way.  I should have realised sooner, but did eventually, and carried on simply being an enthusiastic observer of architecture.

But, having been an architecture student I did acquire and insider knowledge of how architecture people thought and felt.

I would add that the process of me working out what was wrong with the thinking behind the Modern Movement in Architecture and the process of becoming a libertarian were one and the same process.

That bit at the end could make a jolly good podcast in and of itself.  Some other time perhaps.

In case some listeners were unfamiliar with some of the buildings and structures mentioned here are some photos:

Charing Cross
Lemon squeezer
St Pancras


16 October 2007
Podcast #6: The Rugby World Cup

Croziervision’s first ever panel discussion recorded yesterday features Brian Micklethwait, Antoine Clarke, Michael Jennings and myself chatting about the Rugby World Cup.

Topics ranged from the continuing glory of Clive Woodward and the origin of the word “try” to why you should never allow your prop forward to go skiing.  Best quote: when Brian Ashton gets described as looking like “...an accountant who’s just been fired for being too dull.”

My feeling on panel discussions is that it is vitally important to make it clear who is talking.  So, at the outset I had intended to announce the speaker’s name every time and before he opened his mouth.  Well, that didn’t work and degenerated into announcing the speaker’s name after he’d already started talking, sometimes.  So, I would be interested to know how it sounds to any listeners out there who aren’t familiar with our voices.  Is it easy to work out who is talking at any given moment?

There are also some annoying thumps and bumps which I thought I’d worked out how to eliminate.

On the positive side, all our voices are reasonably audible.  Not bad considering there was only one mic to play with.

Update 17/10/07.  From a “friend”: “Who needs Ambien with stuff like this on the web?”

14 October 2007
11 October 2007
"Apparently a lady rang the BBC and said she heard that there was a hurricane on the way. Well, don't worry, if you're watching, there isn't."

Few readers will need reminding who said those immortal words and when.  Words ever since held up as proof positive of professional arrogance and incompetence.


He was talking about Florida.  And doing so in the afternoon not the evening.  And when he did talk about England he did say: “batten down the hatches.” 

So, what was he doing talking about Florida?  There had been a news item on it just before he went on air and he wanted to set the record straight.  Worse still the news item was wiped.  Something the BBC seems to do a lot of.

08 October 2007
Brown bottles it: Brian and I chat about recent developments in British politics

A week ago it all seemed so simple: we (or rather Brian) had a grand theory of Conservative Party ungovernability worked out.  All we had to do was to watch while the Conservative Party put this grand theory into practice and then podcast about it on the Monday.

Well, that was the plan.  All I can say is that a week really is a long time in politics and no plan survives contact with the Enemy Class.

So, our podcast was a bit of a ramble, starting with the Tories and ending up with Shakespeare via junior flunkeys fourth grade and Jim Callaghan.

At one point Brian mentions the growth of the state over the course of the 20th Century.  This encouraged me to dig out this graph from here (warning: PDF) which illustrates the point.

Tax as a proportion of GDP

Oh, and to illustrate another point, here’s Theo Spark’s take.


Oddly enough, Peter Briffa’s been getting back onto the podcasting bandwagon too, saying more or less the same thing.  I am sure it’s spite.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention.  There’s a bit of swearing.  On our podcast, not Peter’s who is far too prim and proper to stoop to that kind of thing.

Update  Michael Jennings has just rung me up to point out that the podcast seems to end very abruptly and whether it is supposed to or not.  To which the reply is that, yes, it does end abruptly and, yes, it is supposed to.  We had actually run out of things to say.  We had half an idea to come back to it but never did and then I cut out some of our deliberations at the end.  This is one of those things we will get better at over time.

03 October 2007
To the Filing Cabinet #06

This week’s bunch of fileable stuff comes from here, there and everywhere.  In the Blogosphere, that is.


Oil’s Supply and Demand Curves
Robert Smithson, The Oil Drum, 19 August 2007
Although, as the name suggests, primarily about oil, it serves as an excellent primer on supply and demand in general. (Via Pajamas Media)

The Unintended Consequences of Foreign Aid: Theodore Dalrymple on how Western policies have poisoned the water supplies of 70 million in Bangladesh
Social Affairs Unit, 3 September 2007.
It’s UNICEF what done it.

Man of Steel, Re-forged
Andrew J. Bacevich, National Interest, 29 August 2007.
Stalin’s Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939-1953 by Geoffrey Roberts. 
In claiming that Stalin was a gifted supreme commander and a man of peace he has caused quite a stir.  So, we should be grateful for Bacevich’s partial takedown. (Via A&L Daily)

Scrap scalping laws
Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe, 8 August 2007.
AKA touting in the UK (via Pajamas Media)

William D. Rubinstein wonders how a nation came to be enthralled by a belief-system quite as insane as genocidal anti-semitism: The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945 - Saul Friedlander
Social Affairs Unit, 3 September 2007.
He wonders but fails to find an answer.

Blair talks Giuliani’s language but handcuffs cops
Julia Magnet, Daily Telegraph, 21 November 2002.
How they brought crime down in New York

Fight crime by stamping out the seedbed
Norman Dennis, Daily Telegraph, 26 August 2007.
Crime used to be much lower.


The End of Affordability
Save Our Suburbs, 2007
Get this, they’ve put a stop to urban expansion in Australia.  Australia, for heaven’s sake.  Oh and it puts up house prices, and even manages to use up more energy. (Via From the Heartland)

News Items

Canadian woman gives birth to quadruplets at US hospital because there were no suitable beds in Canada.
Tim Blair, 18 August 2007


“To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good…”
Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Yeah, I know he’s a bit of a whack-job nowadays but I think he was right on the money here.


“Guns don’t kill people, doctors kill people”
Something to Ponder, Theo Spark, 28 September 2007.
There’s a flaw in the logic somewhere.  It’s just that I can’t spot it.


A dreadful age
Brian Micklethwait, 30 September 2007
The dreadfulness and precariousness (if that is a word) of life in the time of Shakespeare.  Serves as a reminder (which increasingly seems necessary) that wealth and progress are good.

01 October 2007
Brian Micklethwait and I discuss Victor Davis Hanson's "Why the West has Won: Nine landmark battles in the brutal history of Western victory"

Earlier on today, Brian Micklethwait and I sat down to record a podcast about Victor Davis Hanson’s Why The West Has Won: nine landmark battles in the brutal history of Western victory - the result of which you can listen to by clicking the link at the bottom of the page.

Summary: Yes, the West does win, there are reasons why it wins, and it’s none too nice about it.

Just in case you were wondering, the nine battles were:

Rorke’s Drift

We also managed (amongst other things) to mention Isandlwana.  This was a battle the British managed to lose immediately before Rorke’s Drift.

26 September 2007
Brian Micklethwait’s feed problem and how to get around it

I am not the Supergeek who won’t answer the phone.  In fact, I’m not really a supergeek at all.  I just want to point that out in case anyone should read Brian’s two pieces (here and here) about his return to blogging and put two and two together.  And get to five.

However, I have been doing a bit of work for him here and there - mainly in the way of changing a font here and sorting out a template there.

In doing so I have been trying to get to the bottom of a problem that’s been really bugging a few of us - namely, that when you subscribe to Brian Micklethwait on Bloglines, posts frequently get lost.  Indeed, recently, I haven’t been getting any Brian posts at all.

I had assumed that the problem was at the Brian Micklethwait end but after numerous tests I came to the conclusion it wasn’t.  It is, in fact a Bloglines problem.  It would also appear that it is not unique - although still rare.  Even so, I know of no other blog so afflicted.  Bearing in mind that Bloglines is currently in the throes of moving over to its all-singing, all-dancing new version, I get the impression that it’s not a problem that’s going to be solved anytime soon.

Anyway, there is a workaround.  I’ve set Brian up with a Feedburner account which creates a feed that does (at least for the time being) seem to work on Bloglines.

So, if you’re a Brian and a Bloglines fan I suggest you subscribe to that.

Oh Bloglines!
Yes, it’s Full Feed Fever!

First it was Guido, then Alice, and then Samizdata and Dumb Jon.  Don’t know what I am talking about?  Well, I’ll tell you.  In the space of one miraculous month they have all adopted full text feeds.  This means that those of us who use aggregators to read our blogs are relieved of the hassle of having to work out on the basis of the 40 or so words we are offered by inferior feeds, whether it’s worth clicking the link and waiting, waiting, waiting or not.


This sort of thing deserves to be encouraged.  So, if either you or a blog you know has chosen the path of RSS righteousness, please let us know.

25 September 2007

From Theo Spark

Update And he’s got another good one here.

21 September 2007
Is this what they call guerilla advertising?

Well, it made me laugh.  Especially, the disclaimer.

Talking of which, footie, that is, rather than disclaimers, I think I may have found out the real reason for Chelsea’s run of poor form:

Mourinho managing his last Chelsea game

See here in case you don’t know what I am talking about.

20 September 2007
To the Filing Cabinet #05

Well, there’s been a bit of a delay in getting this latest instalment up.  Can’t for the life of me remember why but it must have been something Very Important.

Anyway, I’ve been continuing my trawl through LA pamphlets that I know and like - the results of which can be seen below.  One thing that surprised me was how few pamphlets concentrated on the fact that libertarian economics works and why it works.  Maybe, that’s because libertarian writers assume that everyone has read von Mises and Hayek.  Or maybe it’s difficult.

So, a request, do you know of any good and short explanations of why free markets work?  Or partial explanations, for that matter?  If you do then please let me know.

Come to think of it, that rather puts me in mind of this:

How hockey sticks explain the relative attractions of statism and of free markets, Brian Micklethwait, Samizdata, 1 October 2004.  Why state enterprises decay and why free markets (eventually) work.

On with the show:


Liberty versus Democracy, Brian Micklethwait, Libertarian Alliance, 1983 (not 1981 as advertised) (pdf).  Democracy is worse than Liberty but better than civil war.

Gun control doesn’t work. Wouldn’t you feel safer with a gun? Richard Munday, The Times, 8 September 2007.

Britain’s Soviet Planning System, Don Riley, Libertarian Alliance, 2000 (pdf).  How planning, stuffs up the building profession, lowers quality and leads to hoarding of building and land.

In Praise of Ticket Touting, Charles Earl, Libertarian Alliance, 1996 (pdf).  Touting - known as scalping in the US.

Why We Should Concentrate on Free Trade and Stop Worrying About the Balance of Payments, Adam Chacksfield, Libertarian Alliance, 1993.  Or dumping for that matter.

The Disaster of the Welfare State, Simon McIlwaine, Libertarian Alliance 1989 (pdf).

State Intervention and Nineteenth Century Education, Max More, Libertarian Alliance, 1986.  It was just fine before the state started getting involved.

How to Win the Libertarian Argument, Brian Micklethwait, Libertarian Alliance, 1990.  You start by having it.

The Tyranny of The Facts, Brian Micklethwait, Libertarian Alliance, 1990. Facts matter a lot less than people tend to think.

Purpose and Strategy of the Libertarian Alliance, Libertarian Alliance, 1979.  Keep it intellectual and be patient.

How Gun Control ‘Worked’ in Jamaica, Tina Terry, Libertarian Alliance, 1998.  Guns were outlawed and only the outlaws had guns.

Lies, damn lies, and bloody idiots, Squander Two, 20 September 2007.  Statistics - especially the ones that get published - are rarely that much of a guide.


Patients ‘have been failed by NHS reforms’, Daily Telegraph, 10 September 2007.  So say the patients’ “tsar”.

BBC staff face sack in cheat inquiry, Daily Telegraph, 20 September 2007.  They even rigged a phone-in vote to name the Blue Peter cat.

14 September 2007
Testing a combined blog and podcast feed

Recently, my thoughts have been turning towards podcasting.  But, if I am going to do it I’d like to be able to set up the feeds correctly so that an aggregator knows what to do with it.  In the case of the Bloglines aggregator, if it recognises a podcast as a podcast, it can do a couple of funky things one of which is to stream the podcast - useful for the listener if the podcast goes into tens of megabytes, which so many do.

Anyway, after a number of experiments and a sharp learning curve, I think I’ve figured out a way of doing it as well as integrating the podcast feed with the regular blog feed.  So, if you’re reading this via RSS you should at least get an enclosure, if you’re reading this via Bloglines you should get a play button below and if you’re reading this all regular like a link should appear below.

We shall see…

The podcast in question is me talking to Brian about Emmanuel Todd.  Which is worth republishing in and of itself.

Update  Well, it works in RSS 2.0 but not Atom.  Not a complete disaster given that not a lot of people subscribe to Atom but still, not good.

12 September 2007
Too easy to turn off the alarm?

Then try this:

What will they think of next?

The alarm clock that rolls round the room, forcing you go to get up…

...and switch it off and go back to bed.

07 September 2007
To the Filing Cabinet #04

I have been continuing to trawl the LA archives for those pamphlets that I remember enjoying the first time round.  For the most part I haven’t re-read them so I can only hope that the say what I think they say.


Abolish the Welfare State and restore some Respect, Brian Micklethwait, Samizdata, 17 January 2006.  The Welfare State causes crime.

I Am A Libertarian Because…, Brian Micklethwait, Libertarian Alliance, 2002.

A Neither Profound Nor Original Article on Why the Sale and Use of Recreational Drugs Ought Not to Be Illegal, Sean Gabb, Libertarian Alliance, 1998.  Good, precisely because it is neither profound nor original.

Arguing About the Welfare State: A Radio Confrontation With Professor Peter Townsend,  July 17 1996, Brian Micklethwait, Libertarian Alliance 1996.  Only tangentally about welfare or even tactics, but fun anyway.

The Success of the Industrial Revolution and the Failure of Political Revolutions: How Britain Got Lucky, Findlay Dunachie, Libertarian Alliance, 1996.  The Channel meant we didn’t need an army.  The lack of an army made it difficult to oppress us.  So, we were free.  So, we started the Industrial Revolution.

Why Guns Should Not Be Illegal, Brian Micklethwait, Libertarian Alliance, 1995.  Another article on guns.  Interesting because of the Jamaican example.

The Inevitability of Prejudice, Axel Davies, Libertarian Alliance, 1995.  This is one of my all-time favourite pamphlets. 

Culture, Virtue and Freedom: How Civil Society in Britain Has Been Undermined and How to Rebuild It, Simon McIlwaine, Libertarian Alliance, 1995.  After a slightly dull start the author takes few prisoners as he lays into the welfare state.

Education still in a mess despite cash injection, Jeff Randall, Daily Telegraph, 7 September 2007.  In the UK, that is.  More money, less discipline, easier exams.


JR East to lift speed limit of Shinkansen to 320 kph, Asahi 27 July 2007

Hospital food fails safety inspection, Burning our money, 13 August 2007.

31 August 2007
To the Filing Cabinet #03

A few more bits and bobs to add to the filing cabinet.  I’ve started to look through some of my old stuff as well as the Libertarian Alliance web site.  There’s quite a lot of good deep stuff there - well, maybe not Croziervision so much but certanly the LA - which is the sort of stuff that’s worth bringing up again and again.


Spot the difference, Guy Herbert, Samizdata, 12 August 2007.  Similar stories, completely different slant.

Progressives against progress. An Investment in Failure, Thomas Sowell, Real Clear Politics, 21 August 2007.  The left would prefer to keep people poor.

Zimbabwe’s horrors, Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe, 12 August 2007.  Archbishop calls on Britain to invade.

Isolated incident? UK Commentators, 25 August 2007.  It’s just, as Laban Tall points out, that there seem to be an awful lot of them.

Gun control’s twisted outcome, Joyce Lee Malcolm, Reason, November 2002.  Britain’s handgun ban hasn’t worked.

Gun Control in Britain, Sean Gabb, Libertarian Alliance, 1988.  More gun laws, more gun crime.

Why the right to armed self-defence against criminals and against tyrants should not have been suppressed…, David Botsford, Libertarian Alliance, 1997.  More gun laws, more gun crime


Junior doctors forced to stay in unsuitable jobs, The Telegraph, 28 August 2007.  They continue to be messed around by the government’s new computer system.

New doubts raised over mobile phone safety, Telegraph, 30 August 2007.  They cause cells to split, apparently.


The reason welfare is bad is not because it costs too much, nor because it “undermines the work ethic,” but because it is intrinsically at odds with the way human beings come to live satisfying lives. Charles Murray.  Quoted by Samizdata on 29 August 2007.

30 August 2007
Things that really matter in life

Japanese pen tricks!

(Hat-tip: Japan Probe)

24 August 2007
"Ulster's sectarian strife costs £1.5bn a year" says the Telegraph. Oh dear. It has nothing to do with religion.

22 August 2007
To the filing cabinet

A few more bits and bobs that might prove useful at some future date:

92% were literate before state education, A N Wilson, Evening Standard, 1 July 2002.  Wonder what it is now?

“Why are we so worried about terrorism when so many more people are dying on our highways?” asks Gregg Easterbrook (Road Kill, Gregg Easterbrook, Los Angeles Times, 5 August 2007 (via Jay Jardine).  You could just as well make the comparison with MRSA or cancer and people - especially people who would rather the war just went away - frequently do.  I think they are wrong to.  It seems to me that there is a fundamental difference between these types of lethal danger but I don’t know what it is and I haven’t heard anyone else explain the difference either.

Chopper Coppers, Burning our Money, 16 August 2007.  Crime used to be much lower because police were on the beat.

Going to the Well Once Too Often, Confederate Yankee, 15 August 2007.  A press photo claiming to show bullets fired into a house in Iraq appear to have been faked.  Badly. (Via Instapundit)

A New Home for DDT, Donald Roberts, New York Times, 20 August 2007.  Argues that DDT isn’t half as bad as was claimed back in the 1970s when it was banned. (Via Instapundit who adds: “The debate over DDT is over. There’s scientific consensus. Anyone who disagrees is a DDT denialist and a mouthpiece for Big Mosquito.”

Hitler’s Handouts, Michael Moynihan, Reason, August 2007.  Review of Hitler’s Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State, by Götz Aly.  Doesn’t think much of it despite the idea that Nazi conquests having an economic motive being one of my favourite theories. (Via Instapundit).

The best thing on television at the moment…

...is Arrested Development, which BBC2 in their wisdom are screening at between 1 and 2.30 in the morning.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on them.  They are actually screening it after all.

Come on Germany.
16 August 2007
To the filing cabinet

I have added a rating system.  I thought I ought to do this as some pages are very short and in future some are going to have nothing at all - serving as placeholders just in case.  Ratings are also colour-coded, so readers will be able to tell straight away which pages are worth reading and which are not.  The eagle-eyed will notice that as yet no page merits even a “Good” rating let alone an “Excellent”. Oh well, early days, early days…

Anyway, here are a few more items for filing:

17,000 scientists deny that pollution will cause catastrophic global warming.  17,000?  Jeez.  OK, it’s been carrying on for a while and the whole Kyoto thing has been lumped into the wording but still…

Confessions of a BBC liberal, Antony Jay, August 12, 2007, The Sunday Times.  Describes the media mindset. (via Instapundit)

To reduce crime, get the lead out, Mark Thoma, Economist’s View, 8 July 2007. Lead in petrol causes crime.

The Big Lie or Many Smaller Lies: The Career and Impact of Communist Propagandist Willi Muenzenberg, Dr Helen Szamuely, Libertarian Alliance, 2007.  Note: this is how the commies did it.  That doesn’t mean that you should do the same.

Reuters Busted by a 13-Year Old, Little Green Footballs, 10 August 2007.  Footage claimed to be of a recent event turned out to have come from a Hollywood feature film. (via Pajamas Media)

“Abject poverty” to be wiped out in India, James Bartholomew, The Welfare State We’re In, 12 August 2007.  Because they adopted free markets?

“This August I’m sorry not to be in Edinburgh. Not because I’ll miss the Fringe. If I want left-wing propaganda masquerading as comedy I can always tune into Radio 4… “Michael Gove, The Times, August 14, 2007. (Via Biased BBC)

A Heated Debate, David Copperfield, The Policeman’s Blog, 16 August 2007.  Do drugs really cause crime?  Mind you this is a long way from saying that drug bans make things better.

Smoking ban hits charities, Chillicothe Gazette, 15 August 2007.

09 August 2007
Patrick Crozier’s Libertarian Filing Cabinet

“This is Patrick.  He sets up blogs at about the same rate other people write blog postings.” 

Perry was only slightly exaggerating and every time I set up a new blog or site I find his words ringing in my ears.

This time it’s Patrick Crozier’s Libertarian Filing Cabinet which is causing the ringing.  It is intended as a store of stuff that I think will prove useful at some later date.  It will include things like libertarian writings, writings by libertarians, things of interest to libertarians along with cuttings, quotes and graphics.

Right now it’s a bit empty.  It’s also not finished.  Some of the panels are missing and some of the runners are a bit sticky.  But bit by bit things like this can be overcome.

31 July 2007
“F**kwit Flambé”

From Theo Spark

18 July 2007
Bob Dylan.  I think he’ll go far
The cover of Blonde on Blonde

Why isn’t Bob Dylan bigger than he already is?  Yes, I know he is a living legend an’ all but… well, it’s only recently that I’ve started getting in to him.  I bought a couple of his albums (Bringing it All Home and Highway 61 Revisited) when I was a teenager - as you do - and although there are some pretty good tracks on them - Love Minus Zero/No Limit is my personal favourite - the dirges, caterwauling and incomprehensible, slash, up-his-own-arse lyrics rather put me off.

Until recently.  Thanks to the wonders of Napster - download as much as you like for a tenner a month - I’ve been able to explore Dylan’s music to my heart’s content.  Oh boy.  If only I’d stuck it out to Blonde on Blonde.  Or given some of the early albums a shot.  And there’s all the 70s stuff still to come, which holds many a gem.  Apparently.

What impresses me is the unpretentious way in which he reveals his genius.  He just sings the songs and lets you discover them for yourself.  Or, as in the case of All Along the Watchtower, lets someone else discover them.  Many has been the time I’ve been vaguely listening to a Dylan song when I think: “This is a bit good” and then find the tears starting to well up inside.

Or maybe I’m just getting on.

07 July 2007
Went to see the Lives of Others the other day. Thought it very good. So did Adriana who has some personal reflections on life under communism.
06 July 2007
The Volga is one hell of a river

I was reading a more-than-usually-depressing article on Russia when I came across this:

THE TVER REGION, which lies two hundred kilometers to the north of Moscow…

(My emphasis).  And then…

The Volga runs through the city of Tver…

“Hang about,” I said.  “The Volga runs through Volgograd.  And that used to be called Stalingrad.  And Stalingrad was in the south.  Surely some mistake?”

No mistake.  The Volga is one hell of a river.

01 July 2007
Can we get rid of the state entirely?

I mentioned Stefan Molyneux’s Free Domain Radio a few times last year.  I gave up listening to the anarchist libertarian’s podcasts after they started to get a bit samey and because of the difficulty in referencing them.  So, I was pretty glad when he took up blogging.


For the most part I am a minarchist - if the state could just confine itself to matters of national defence, keeping the streets safe and running the courts I would be happy.  But I appreciate the contradiction here.  If I accept that the state is useless and immoral everywhere else shouldn’t I also accept it in these areas?

I don’t because I am not aware of any precedents for it.  To abolish the state would be a huge leap in the dark.  So, it helps when someone offers to light the way.  This is why I am particularly grateful for two Molyneux pieces on dispute resolution and private defence. I think I should probably also add in his piece on why non-state defence organisations wouldn’t re-create the state.

All these pieces are well-argued, thoughtful and (most importantly) answer my questions and objections.  And yet… I still can’t quite bring myself to embrace them.  I suppose the reason is that if it were true that if the state were abolished it wouldn’t come back then why doesn’t it collapse right here and now?  To which, I think, the answer is that the vast majority of people continue to believe in it.  Now, if that’s true, then if the state were to be abolished tomorrow those millions of people who still believed in it would probably find a way of re-creating it.  So, if we want the state to disappear we have got a lot of persuading to do.

One, excellent way of persuading people would be to create some experiments.  As I understand it there were a number of attempts at this in the 1970s, in which free-market anarchists would attempt to settle on some remote unclaimed island in the Pacific.  On every occasion one state or another stepped in to crush it.

What were they scared of?

29 June 2007
Do I really go around saying crikey?

Apparently so.


12 June 2007
The Black Dad Phenomenon

Tiger Woods
Michael Jackson
The Williams Sisters
Five Star (for those of you of a certain age)

And now…

Lewis Hamilton

All highly - almost unbelievably - successful.  In each case their fathers have been heavily involved in their success.

Are there any other examples?  Does Colin Powell, for instance, fall into this category?

Is this a black thing?  I am struggling to bring to mind any whites who have had similar success let alone ones with a similarly influential father figure. [By the way, and before anyone points this out to me, I am aware that Lewis Hamilton is as white as he is black and that Woods is as Thai as he is black.  It’s the ethnicity of the father I find interesting.]

Is it the only black thing?  Can you be black and massively successful without an influential father?

Is it a Western Atlantic thing?  I am struggling to think of any Africans who fall into this category.

Whatever the cause, for the time being it is enough to sit back enjoy a brilliant driver and (what appears to be) a smashing bloke continue to rewrite the record books.

08 June 2007
Some conference vignettes

A few little fact- and thought- ettes I picked up from last weekend’s conference:

“Buying health insurance is like insuring against your tyres wearing out.”  It’s going to happen.  Insurance is really there for the catastrophic and unexpected.  Like appendicitis, for instance… —-
In Switzerland a few years ago they made health insurance compulsory.  Prices doubled overnight. —-
They also introduced laws against carrying guns in public.  Street crime rocketed.  Home invasions, where guns and their use remained legal, did not. —-
In a lecture on the EU.  I paraphrase: “European politicians love to be able to tell their publics that the EU has forced them to introduce such and such an unpopular measure.”  Seeing as I’d never heard a British politician say this I had to ask.  Turns out that the British are unique in this.  They will never admit that Brussels has tied their hands. —-
The Berlin government is £40bn in debt.  That’s about £14,000 for each inhabitant.  Makes the Shinkansens sound cheap.

07 June 2007
If one small part of the global warming debate is doubtful what about the rest of it?

At the Berlin conference last weekend Ernst Beck gave a talk on the history of CO2.  In essence what he said was that it was a crock.  CO2 concentrations haven’t gone up at all and there’s nothing to worry about.

I’ve heard this sort of thing before.  There are all sorts of dissenting scientific viewpoints out there stretching from “There is no global warming” to “There is global warming and it’ll be a good thing”.  And then the economists get going with the debate over prevention versus adaptation.  It all leaves me a bit cold.  My problem is that libertarians spend much too much time trying to deny global warming rather than engaging on the level of “What if it’s true…”  It smacks of running away from the debate which to my mind is a sure-fire way of losing it.

So, on the level of conclusions, I wasn’t all that hot on Beck’s talk.  But it did make me think.  It was how he went about his research.  He pointed out that:

  • the leading proponent of the increased CO2 concentration argument carried out his research on a volcano
  • many of the early measurements were carried out incorrectly
  • much data has been ignored
  • CO2 concentrations vary both by time of day and by lunar cycle
  • there are doubts about the accuracy of the ice core record

There were probably a few other problems with the CO2 argument that I have since forgotten.

What struck me was that it seemed that will never be able to pin this stuff down.  And this is in only one tiny part of the case.  If there are doubts here then there are bound to be similar doubts in all the other areas.

For some time I have been arguing that global warming is something that could be dealt with by the courts but I am beginning to doubt if even they would be able to come to any firm conclusions.

06 June 2007
The beginning of the end marks the beginning of (another) end

The BBC screened a documentary on the Battle of Amiens the other day - part of a series fronted by Peter and Dan Snow.  Amiens the British-led battle of 1918 that marked the beginning of the end of the war. Ludendorff described it as “the black day of the German Army” before suffering a nervous breakdown.

The documentary itself may well mark the beginning of the end of the “Donkey” school of history.  This is the school of thought that the British Army was made up of lions led by donkeys who continually ordered their men into futile frontal assaults - a school which has been so intellectually dominant for so long that its views have seeped into the popular culture in the form Blackadder goes Forth and, indeed, last weekend’s, otherwise rather good, Doctor Who.

It is the first time, that I am aware of, that a television documentary has allowed itself to believe that the British Army of 1918 was not just competent but actually rather good.  The Snows talked about tanks (I had no idea that the crews had to be taken to field hospital after a stint in one), creeping barrages and the role of aircraft, but most importantly they talked about how all these elements were co-ordinated.  Perhaps most impressively, they made the point that the modern British Army makes use of exactly the same principles today.

While overall, an excellent documentary there were a couple of things that I wasn’t entirely happy about:

1.  They described Ludendorff as a “strategist”.  That was the problem - he wasn’t.  Indeed, I am pretty sure he’s quoted as denying the need for a strategy.

2.  They spent a lot of time on the Ludendorff offensive but got no nearer to answering my question as to why the Allies found themselves in such a strong position come mid-1918.

3.  No mention of the RAF’s losses.  Apparently they lost some enormous number at Amiens.  “The black day of the RAF” as it is sometimes known.

4.  No mention of the revolution in infantry arms and tactics.  Soldiers of 1918 would have had access to a whole range of equipment - such as Lewis guns, mortars, grenades and helmets that either didn’t exist or only existed in tiny quantities in 1914.

But this is relatively small beer and we have to be aware that in an hour-long documentary there is only so much that you can cover.  The point is that the point is that the British Army knew their business. And that is a good thing.

04 June 2007
I was in Berlin over the weekend for a libertarian conference. Berlin. Yes, Berlin. Is there a name like it? Did anywhere have the 20th Century done to it like Berlin?

I was rather hoping, as you do, that actually being there would give me some deep insights into history and Germany today. But it didn't. It may yet, but nothing right now. In the meantime I may (no promises) blog about some of the things that came up.

30 May 2007

What should we think about immigration?  Whatever the answer may be, the West should make up its mind pronto - if Mark Steyn is to be believed things could get very nasty very quickly.

Let’s start with the existing system.  The UK is the one I know something about but I suspect it’s not that different from those elsewhere in the West.  If you are rich or European it is easy to live and work legally.  If you’re not it’s not.  Not that that stops people.  There have been few news stories that have given me pause for thought but the deaths of 58 illegal Chinese immigrants in the back of truck at Dover was one of them.  It made me wonder how many other trucks were getting through and marvel at the lengths people will go to live and work in this country.  Conclusion: you can’t stop ‘em.

But then again why should you?  Why should people be condemned to live in one place due to an accident of birth? 

What if, when it came to immigration laws, we just scrapped the lot?

Oh, but we’d be flooded.

What does that actually mean?  Lots of people would show up?  Yeah, I guess lots of people would show up.  So what?

Well they’d take all the jobs and they’d push up house prices and we’d all have to live in rabbit hutches and they’d demand free houses on the welfare state and exhaust the NHS and form ghettoes and vote in blocks and some of them would be terrorists and democracy would collapse.  It would be like what it is now but worse.

Well, lets deal with the easy stuff first.  I am a libertarian so in my ideal libertarian world there wouldn’t be any council housing, a welfare state or an NHS. So immigrants would not be able to sponge.  There wouldn’t be any planning either so housing supply would be able to keep up with demand.

The idea that there is only a fixed number of jobs sounds awfully similar to the fixed quantity of wealth fallacy - which I ought to write something about some day.  Suffice to say more people is better.

When it comes to ghettoes, I think there is a point here.  But then we have ghettoes already.  The assumption is that people want to stay.  But it is not true.  By and large people from the Third World - and just about everywhere else - want to earn money and leave.  Of course, they want to go back. They can build a house of their own - something much more luxurious than what they could afford here - and beer and fags are much cheaper and they are surrounded by people they understand.  And as for the weather…  The only reason they stay is, paradoxically, the immigration laws.  Immigration laws provide a massive incentive to stay because if you leave you lose your right to residency.  So you stay until you qualify for citizenship.  But then you want your children to have the same rights.  So, you stay for even longer.

There will be ghettoes - probably rather nice ones - because people of a similar ilk like to congregate together.  But my guess is that they’d be smaller than the ones we already have.

Terrorism.  This is another article that needs to get written.  But essentially, it will say that there is nothing particularly difficult about dealing with terrorism.  The old treason law had a lot going for it.

The final problem is the one to do with voting.  If the Welfare State is to be abolished then action has to be taken to ensure it doesn’t come back.  But on the other hand there is a hell of a close correlation between democracy and freedom.  The answer probably lies in either restricting the franchise to net tax payers or making the franchise tradeable.

29 May 2007
Sarkozy: some predictions

I’ve noticed that Nicolas Sarkozy’s election as President of France has been greeted in some quarters as little short of the second coming.  So, it might be just as well to put a dampener on that whole idea.  My guess is that Sarkozy will be good, but not that good. Here, based on my experiences of not-completely-awful politicians, are my predictions as to how his reign will pan out.

Having won the Assembly elections, almost the first thing he will do will be to provoke a confrontation with the unions and the left in general.  This he will win.  He knows that everything else he does will rest on overcoming this hurdle at the earliest possible opportunity.  Better to do it sooner rather than later - before his placemen forget who got them the job.

He will then make some mild reforms to France’s economy.  This will include a small reduction in taxes, and an easing of the 35-hour week, employment laws and state-employee pensions.  Unemployment will start to come down almost overnight and France’s economy will enjoy some impressive growth.

As for the banlieus he will make some efforts, but no more, to crack down on the current wave of violence.  It will subside but never entirely go away.

The reforms will then end, after which he will become an international statesman - which Britain’s (by then) weak political leadership isn’t going to like one little bit.  He is likely to foster a further deepening of the European Union along with a new, probably less verbose, constitution.  His relations with the US will have moments of frostiness but he will be, generally speaking, on side.  This will cause further difficulties for Britain, finding her stolid loyalty ignored while the US pursues France’s will-she, won’t-she promise.

25 May 2007
A dog by any other name

Guy Gibson was the leader of the Dam Busters, the raid to which Pajamas Media recently dedicated an article.  His dog was called “Nigger” as was the codeword used on the operation to indicate a successful bomb drop.  These are facts that Pajamas Media cannot bring itself to mention.

They’re not alone in such squeamishness.  According to Wikipedia, ITV edits the n-word out when it repeats the Dam Busters movie.

So Gibson was a racist then?  As it happens he probably was - most people were in those days.  But there are racists and there are racists.  He was after all risking his life to destroy the most violently racist regime ever known - risks that eventually got him killed.  There is a big difference between thinking that members of another race are inherently inferior - or just undesirable - and wishing their deaths.

But does his use of the n-word prove it - his racism, that is?  That’s where things get trickier.  You see I am not sure that at the time and the place it was an insult.  Take some British English uses from about the same period.  Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel Ten Little Niggers, for instance.  Or a little vignette I once picked up from a documentary on black American soldiers in England in World War Two.  They found that the natives at first and in all innocence referred to them as “niggers” - a usage that was dropped soon enough after the black servicemen let it be known that where they came from “nigger” was deeply offensive.  I have found other uses in which the term has a neutral meaning, in much the same way that black (in British English, that is) has today.  And I have found others where it implies pity but certainly not contempt.

According to Fowler, the afficionado of all things to do with English usage, writing in 1926, it could be an insult but only when applied to non-blacks.  (Thinks: would I be insulted if called Chinese?)

Another aspect I find interesting is that there is no white equivalent.  “Honky” just doesn’t cut it.  Oh, I guess if I was being called “honky” half-a-dozen times a day in clearly hostile manner it might get to me.  But ordinarily…

I wonder why that is?  Is it because blacks allow it to be an insult?  Is a reaction to this behind the naming of the band Niggaz with Attitude and the Samuel L Jackson character’s extraordinarily frequent use of the word in Jackie Brown - a bit like the way veterans of the BEF referred to themselves as the “Old Contemptibles”?

18 May 2007
In which my words get read by 200,000 people

So, I put up a comment on Samizdata, which gets picked up and made into their Quote of the Day, which in turn gets picked up by Sir Instapundit himself.  Bingo, 200,000 readers*. Sure as hell beats toiling away in this blogospherical backwater.

Many thanks to Johnathan, Samizdata Illuminatus and Glenn.

*Estimate based on Instapundit’s Sitemeter stats and my very own fudge factor.

10 May 2007
TV Alert - Theatre of Blood

Yup, the greatest film ever returns to our screens.  Starring Vincent Price and Diana Rigg at her pre-flying buttress finest.  Jack Hawkins stars in his last ever role.  Non-speaking but then that’s what happens when you have your voice box removed.  And Eric Sykes’s part is simply smashing.

Brilliant despite being partly scripted by William Shakespeare.  Though his bits do feature some cuts.  Quite a lot actually.  Hence the title of the film.

Theatre of Blood, 1.20am, Saturday 12 May, BBC1.

04 May 2007
Wormholes and womance

Should film-makers try to combine chick flicks with sci-fi?  Let Noreen be your guide:

Why fuck about with something that works? Jesus Christ, those Hollywood cunts! No, twice recently, I have bought a film with a picture of two middle-aged people nuzzling each other on the front, the woman looking slightly sad. And I have put the thing on, and it starts off all normal - people going around, the woman a bit scatty or worthy, the man a bit of an old rake, then suddenly the reason they cannot be together is not a sensible reason like one of them having a husband, or a wife, no. It is because they are in different time dimensions - sometimes parallel universes, other times time warps…

...there is absolutely no such thing as a wormhole, and if there were there would be far better things to do with it than use it to get a ride. How about jumping ahead and finding out how to cure AIDS, or going back in time and telling Ghandhi he was a cunt…

I guess that’s probably a “no”.

02 May 2007
This is a public information film

The hidden dangers of threadbare clothing

(Hat-tip: Japan Probe)

01 May 2007
Does it matter if a blog post is on the wrong blog?

Some people don’t half hide their light under a bushel.  Under the title 1888: A More Than Mind Games Film and described by the producer as, “... a rough, experimental one at that.” we get this:


It’s only the first-ever film - all 18 frames of it.  Plus, as an extra special bonus, the similarly succinct second-ever film.  And they’re great.  Three-hour Hollywood blockbuster directors, take note.

Bearing in mind that the film itself has precious little to do with football and James Hamilton’s blog has precious little to do with anything else it does raise the question of whether it should be there at all.  Since the dawn of blogging I have accepted that, just as Ronseal does exactly what it says on the tin, blogs should do exactly what they say in the title and description.

But should they?  The blog EU Referendum never talks about the EU Referendum (not that there’s much of one to talk about) and not even that often about the EU.  But is it any worse for that?  Do I, as a reader, lose out?  Not as far as I can see.  I find their digressions fascinating.

Perhaps it’s time to propose Crozier’s Specialised Blogging Rule: while a specialised blog must start off specialised, it can branch out into any damn thing it likes once the author gets bored.

30 April 2007
Many readers will be aware of the story currently doing the rounds about the conman who managed to convince thousands of Japanese women that sheep were in fact a rare breed of poodle.

It's a hoax.

But the fact that it has been taken up so widely - including, I might add, by the BBC's Have I Got News For You - does serve to illustrate that when it comes to Japan people in the West will believe anything.

23 April 2007
Challenger tank blown up

When I first read in Michael Yon’s article some two weeks ago that a Challenger 2 tank had been blown up in Iraq I was sceptical.  Surely it would have been mentioned on the news or at very least on the MoD website?  But no.  Coupled with a few other things in his report that didn’t ring true I assumed this was a typical bit of journalistic lilly gilding.

So imagine my surprise when it turned out that he was right all along.

The destruction of a Challenger 2 is big news.  To the best of my knowledge it is the first British tank of any description to be put out of action in half a century.  The new-found vulnerability of a vehicle with some of the most advanced armour in the world may - though I can’t be sure about this - I’d be surprised if it didn’t - have all sorts of implications for the way operations will in future be conducted.

So, why the delay?  Did the MSM not know?  Did they know but not understand the significance?  Were they told to keep schtum?  If so why - the BBC tells us that an Abrams goes skywards almost every other week?  If they were told to keep schtum what else has this been applied to? 

In other words, what else don’t we know?

20 April 2007
I have been meaning to mention indie band, The Arcade Fire, for some time but have never quite got round to it. Anyway, today I have the ideal excuse as they are subject to a half-hour special on BBC2 starting at 11.40pm BST.

One little gripe with the write up and Arcade Fire write ups generally. While it mentions their debut album, Funeral, it fails to mention the EP that preceded it. Both are exceptional - how often do you listen to a new work where every track is good? - it's just that the near-as-dammit-to-album-length EP is more so.

19 April 2007
The Telegraph profiles the Wurzels:

On May 5 1974, however, tragedy struck. Cutler was killed in a car crash on the way back from a gig in Hereford. As well as being personally bereaved, the Wurzels were now without their songwriter.

Like Joy Division after the death of Ian Curtis, they elected to keep going.

Words fail me.

Business goes bust - after 1,400 years. They must be feeling like a right bunch of charlies …link
Harry Lime was wrong - Italy was not nearly as violent and Switzerland not nearly as peaceful, or uninventive …link
10 April 2007
Natalie - is back. …link
05 April 2007
A couple of good quotes

“Bill Gates cost me about $3 billion,” Warren Buffett on his attempts to buy LTCM


“[W]hen you work with assholes, you don’t change them for the better, they change you into an asshole.” Bob Sutton

04 April 2007

There have been calls for the British government to apologize for the slave trade.

I think it is a crock but I still find the arguments interesting.

Norm thinks there should be an apology:

Simon Jenkins seems to have trouble with the idea of someone taking responsibility for actions of which they are not themselves guilty, particularly where this is on behalf of an organization or institution. But, as I argued here and here, it’s just because organizations and institutions are real entities - though this doesn’t mean they have metaphysical personalities, or could exist without the human persons that at any given time belong to them, act for them, and so on - that those in a position to speak on their behalf can make apology for wrongs of the past, where the organization or institution was responsible for these but the individuals actually making the apology aren’t. There is nothing mysterious about it.

It’s not as stupid as it sounds.  There are precedents for this.  For instance, who hasn’t heard something like this: “On behalf of South West Trains I would like to apologize for the late running of this service.”?

Medworth points out that there’s no one to apologize to.

Hannan reminds us that we are all descended from slaves.  That should make for an interesting one: “I, Tony Blair, on behalf of the British government apologize to myself.”

Wat Tyler reckons that demands for an apology are being used as a wedge for reparations before going on to suggest that the slave trade wasn’t really worth that much.

03 April 2007
Croziervision Podcast #3: Brian Micklethwait on Emmanuel Todd

Emmanuel Todd is a French historian and anthropologist.  His main achievement seems to have been in making a number of startlingly accurate predictions.  These include predicting the fall of the Soviet Union, the survival of Cuban communism, Nicaragua not going communist and the East Asian economic miracle.

Brian has referred to Todd many times over the years but it was only recently that he dedicated a number of blog postings to Todd’s works. 

At the time it seemed a good subject for a podcast but by the end we both agreed that we’d bitten off more than we could chew.  The implications of Todd’s theories about ideology and literacy are as far-reaching as they are controversial and neither of us felt at the time we had come anywhere near to doing them justice. 

As it happens, listening to it the whole way through, I was forced to revise that opinion.  I thought it was actually quite good.

You can download it here.

02 April 2007
I liked this piece on nurse training (via the BritMeds) in the early 1970s:
They knew exactly how to get the highest standard of nursing care out of us and sloppy habits (how we loved our sloppy habits) were just driven out of existence; humiliation worked a treat and it became pointless not to do a job properly first time. Always the first thing that was pointed out to you was that you had somehow endangered a child's life in the process. Even down to touching a swing door to open it, never touch a swing door, you push it with your backside...
Somehow I don't think it's like that nowadays.

01 April 2007
18 Doughty Street.  Why it won’t work and how it might be made to.

18 Doughty Street (sometimes known as Tory TV and 18DS for the rest of this article) is the attempt to bring some semblance of balance into the world of broadcasting by setting up an internet TV station and spending squillions of quid on it.

It’s been going for a few months now, so they’ve ironed out the early bugs and we can see it for what it’s worth. 

Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re getting value for money - certainly not with the sort of money that they’re spending.

My frustrations with 18DS start from the moment I log on and never really end. 

For starters, there’s no TV on the front page. Why not? Is this a TV station or not?  There’s none on the second page either.  That’s reserved for a blog.  Now, modesty is a good thing in many ways but this is getting close to hiding your light under the grain production of Saskatchewan.

Eventually, after a bit of moderate hair pulling you land on the TV page.  And then your problems really start.  The navigation is atrocious.  There is little indication as to what you should or might want to be watching.  Eventually, you give in and just click a link in desperation.  TV starts. 

Oh, but woe betide you if you are using a decent browser ie, Opera.  The controls don’t work and even if you’re using IE7 they’re not that much use.  For instance, where’s the bar which lets you to jump around the clip?  It’s as if someone somewhere is saying: “I have composed this wonderful televisual symphony and now you’re going to listen to it all - the rubbish bits along with the good.  Peasant.”  Haven’t they heard of YouTube?

It’s not all bad.  I like the set - although they could do with looking into some echo reduction - and Iain Dale is a star.  He could just be the best host/interviewer in the country.  OK, so I’m pointing out a bright star in a dim universe, but he does ask the right questions and let his guests talk.

But the real problem is… well… that it’s television.  I - and I am far from alone in this - have more or less had it with television.  I can’t stand the demand that I give something my undivided attention without being able to add my tuppenny ha’penny.  Actually, it’s an effort tuppenny ha’penny or otherwise.

When I think about how 18DS could be made better I am reminded of Julie Walters in the title role in Educating Rita: “I’d put it on the radio”. I mean, think about it - what is the value of the visuals on 18DS?  Almost nothing.  It’s not as if they’re covering bombs, bloodshed or Something Actually Happening.  This is the Moral Maze without the advantage of darkness.

I see Al Gore (registration required) is trying something similar.  OK, so he’s made the category error of putting his internet TV on cable - you can kind of see why he lost that election to George Bush - but he does, at least, seem to understand that you need to draw upon a larger range of potential contributors.  This is, I would guess, the thinking behind a third of content being reserved to citizen-generated “pods”.


As you’ve probably noticed I’ve been doing a bit of tinkering to this site over recent weeks.  It was never the plan to swap the burgundy for this sort of metallic blue, but that’s what has happened.  That’s the problem with tinkering - when you start it becomes difficult to stop.

30 March 2007
The Algerian War. There's an insurgency, the French pile in, kill lots of innocent people, plug the rest into the mains and then lose. About the only positive to come out of it being the background to The Day of the Jackal. Yes?

Actually, no. The French were winning. So too, according to this article by Arthur Herman, were the Americans in Vietnam. And the strategy used in those two wars is pretty much what is being tried out in Baghdad.

Will it be third time lucky?

(Hat-tip: Pajamas Media)

29 March 2007
Guido wanders into lion’s den.  Gets eaten.

Guido was on Newsnight last night.  Seems he had been offered his own slot along with panel discussion and he took it.  Big mistake.

I’ll come to Guido’s pre-record later.  It was the panel discussion, with Jeremy Paxman in the chair and Michael White of the Guardian as guest, that did the damage.  Guido’s attempts to conceal his identity have always been amusing.  I think I managed to work out who he was in about five minutes.  But to persist with it on the show when everyone knows who he is was ludicrous. 

You have to imagine the scene.  Guido is in shadow with the exception of his trademark flash of Dickie Davies-like grey hair.

“Why do you conceal your identity?”, asked Paxo.

“So that people can’t recognise me.”  Or something like that.  Yeah, that flash of grey is so common that I have to dredge out a TV personality from the 70s to illustrate who I am talking about.

Two minutes later White had spilled the beans anyway.  Guido is Paul Staines.  Golly, who would have thought it?

All along the Paxo/White tag team managed to make Guido look petty and inconsistent.

Now the pre-record was sort of OK but its central argument - that journalists are far too cozy with ministers - while true enough, was insipid.  Here was his opportunity to go on national television and give the world the hardcore libertarian line - that politicians are a bunch of good-for-nothing parasites and the sooner that they find alternative employment sweeping streets the better - and he didn’t even attempt it.

But the real problem was always with the panel discussion.  The golden rule with panel discussions - a rule that until yesterday Guido understood and does once again today - is don’t do them.  They give the producers much too much power and allow them to claim balance while giving the debate a slant rarely seen since the final moments of the Titanic.

Ah, Guido agrees.  Sort of.

28 March 2007
Public v. Private

Wat Tyler:

Project One- “Construction on the £4.3 billion Heathrow Terminal 5 complex began in 2002. Since when, the project has successfully moved 9 million cubic metres of earth; erected the roof of UK’s biggest free-standing building; transported the 900-tonne top cab of a new 87m high control tower 2km across the airfield; bored over 13km of tunnels for rail and baggage; diverted two rivers; and installed over 30,000 sq metres of glass facades. All T5’s footprint is contained within a former sewage works at the western end of the existing airport, situated between the two runways, adjacent to the M25.

With 366 days to go (leap year in 2008), over 90% of construction-related work is complete and the project remains on time and on budget.”

Project Two- The £800m Wembley stadium finally opened for business. It’s nearly seven years since the last game at the old stadium. The project has been delivered a year late, and around £200m over budget.

Actually, it’s even more than £200m.

25 March 2007
Time for a change

Did you put your clocks forward today?  Did you perhaps take your life in your hands as you mounted a rickety chair in order to retrieve that hard-to-reach electric number?  Did you thumb through rarely consulted manuals in search of that seemingly magic sequence of key strokes that will allow you to once again record CSI?  In doing so, did you teach your children some new words, words that they really oughtn’t to know?  And do you have that haunting feeling that somehow, somewhere there’s one that you missed, a figurative time bomb with literal ticks, whose temporal eccentricity will do dreadful things to you at some unspecified date in the future? 

Well, I thought about it and decided to give it a miss.

I’ve had enough of this biannual nonsense of knob twiddling, button pressing and showing up late for Sunday lunch. From now on, or until such time as I lose my job, I’m going to be sticking to good old Greenwich Mean Time, or, as I shall henceforth be calling it for the purposes of clarity: Patrick Mean Time.

If we really need to enjoy long, summer evenings then our employers will have every incentive to provide us with an effective pay rise by bringing normal working hours back by an hour.

But what we do not need is a law that has its origins in the need to increase munitions production during the Great War.

So, the CrozierWatch will keep its time as all those around it lose theirs and its owner will have the added benefit that should he ever find himself chronologically embarrassed over the next few months he can always blame it on PMT.

24 March 2007
Still ill

Squander Two’s accounts last year of his wife’s never-ending string of illnesses and the appalling treatment she received at the hands of the NHS were, at times, heartbreaking.  I was kind of getting used to the idea that things might be getting better.  As it happens they are getting better.  But there’s still the odd setback and the NHS hasn’t changed a bit.  See here and here.

23 March 2007
In defence of Al Gore

I notice that not a few bloggers have taken a look at the gargantuan emissions associated with Al Gore’s house, air travel etc and accused the climate change campaigner of hypocrisy.

Now, much as this is fun, knockabout stuff and helps silence a man who could benefit from a few moments of quiet reflection, there’s just one small teensy-weensy problem with it.

It’s not hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy means saying one thing and doing another.  But that is not what the former Senator is doing.  What Gore is saying is that emissions should in the future be cut by the use of coercive measures such as tax and regulation.  Presumably, he would be happy to accept the consequences of such measures even if they affected him personally.  Judging by the energy consumption of his house this could end up being quite expensive.  But seeing as those measures are still some way in the future he can hardly be accused of hypocrisy in the here and now.

Now, if he were to be, in some way, opposing emission controls on the quiet or seeking to avoid having to personally pay the price, then he would, indeed, be a hypocrite - but to the best of my knowledge he is doing neither of these things and I have no reason to think that he is.

Frankly, Al Gore, in this case at least, is no more of a hypocrite than I am for using the NHS or state-regulated trains.

UpdateBrian makes the point, albeit in a roundabout, you’ve-got-to-follow-the-link kind of way, that Gore is not quite as white (or should that be green?) as all that.  Gore talks about dealing with climate change as a “moral imperative”, and therefore an individual responsibility.  So, he’s guilty as charged and I take it all back.

22 March 2007
How I love EU (at 50), let me number the ways…

The BBC comes up with 10, which Rob Fisher fisks.

The Indie comes up with 50, which Tim Worstall, for the most part, fisks (hat-tip Comment Central).

Scott Burgess also has a go.

21 March 2007
"Don't fight the police", says The Copper.

He's right. I know: I've tried. Adonis, my ex-copper colleague, was very kind enough to give me some lessons a few weeks back - or perhaps that should be that I was kind enough to give him some practice, I am not quite sure. Either way, I learnt my lesson pretty quickly: the police know how to take care of themselves.

One of the fun techniques he showed me was how to deal with a sit-down protester in five seconds flat. Using one knuckle. I'm not going to forget that in a hurry. It may go some way to explaining why sit-down protests are something of a rarity these days.

18 March 2007
I am very much enjoying History According to Bob, Professor Bob Packett's series of historical podcasts. Here he is on the evolution of the calendar.

No round-up this week - I'm going to wait until I have a bit more material.

17 March 2007
Another challenge to Steyn

It’s taken a while but at last people are starting to put up some serious challenges to Mark Steyn’s Europe-is-doomed theory.  Johnathan Pearce had a go last week.  This week it’s the Social Affairs Unit’s Marc Sidwell.

He takes the view that numbers don’t really matter all that much:

The triumph of the West is one long refutation of [Steyn’s] argument. As Exhibit A, just take a look at 300, the new blockbuster remake of the Battle of Thermopylae as envisioned by graphic novelist Frank Miller. Once more, we see all the slave armies of the East marched out upon tiny Greece - and humiliated by the sacrifice of three hundred free men.

Don’t think it quite happened like that.  Thermopylae was, after all, a defeat.  But point taken.  And with Trident you don’t even need 300 men - one index finger will do just fine.

So long as someone has the will to use it, that is.  And you’re not aiming it at your own major population centres.

16 March 2007
Party on dEUde

Never thought I’d see Richard North write this:

A few years back, the EU dominated our thinking but now, as my co-editor observed, over a meal in our favourite London restaurant, it seems a distant irrelevance. It is merely a noxious irritant, filed under “unfinished business” that sooner or later must be sorted out, when our politicians finally realise that it offers nothing and costs us a fortune.


No amount of rhetoric or freebies is going to restore the drive afforded by the vision of its original founders. This is an organisation that has nowhere to go but down.

You can almost smell the (CAP-subsidised) cannabis fumes.  For what it’s worth, I’ve been lolling on the bean bag of indifference on the whole EU thing for some time.  But I’m not sure I want North and Szamuely to be joining me.  There needs to be at least somebody keeping lookout.

Not that I think we need to worry too much.  Like a bucket of iced water poured over the head, the EU is bound to do something stupid soon and snap our watchdog out of his stupor.

But it’ll be fun while it lasts.  Man.

15 March 2007

Adriana addresses a worthy but is still in no mood for taking prisoners:

Individuals often have more control over the online environment than off-line. Paradoxically, many commentators bemoan the fact that people online are self-obsessed, they talk about the echo chamber. At the same time, they also complain about the lack of awareness, sophistication and professionalism of online interactions. Both may be (and are) true but this points to something else that is going on - people are learning something. They are learning self-determination and unlearning decades of one-way communication and mass broadcasting. The ability to express and respond to things on their own terms and their own way is what this is about.

“...unlearning decades of one-way communication and mass broadcasting.”  Yes.  Yes, indeed.

11 March 2007
In case you haven’t already…

I don’t think I’ve ever used one of these round-ups to link to Samizdata before.  My guess is that anyone who comes here also goes there.  And also because - for various technical reasons - Samizdata articles tend to slip through the net, round-up wise.

But I think there is a principle here.  If this is to be any good as a round-up I should be giving space to articles I like even if every single reader has already read them.  This is where to find the best articles in the Blogosphere, n’importe quoi.

Anyway, Samizdata is always good but this week I particularly liked:

Thaddeus Tremayne’s piss take of David Cameron’s Europe policy; Brian Micklethwait on that global warming documentary and Johnathan Pearce’s challenge to Mark Steyn on the subject of demographics:

...as people get richer and no longer have to rely on big families to support parents in their dotage, birth rates fall. It seems to happen pretty much everywhere, including in those countries with very different religious and cultural traditions.

Right, enough of Samizdata.  Now for what has been going on elsewhere:

  1. Adriana doesn’t think much of television:
    I stopped watching TV a few years back soon after I started blogging on Samizdata.net [did I speak too soon?]. These days when I switch it on for whatever reason, it feels oddly one-way and restrictive. You can’t choose what and when you are watching something you are interested in, the controls are pathetic compared to what I am used to online.
    That’s exactly how I feel about television these days.  Who else one wonders?
  2. Christopher Hitchens writes on Ayaan Hirsi Ali and “bogus equivalences”.
  3. Douglas Murray reviews Nick Cohen’s new book and picks out this gem:
    I feel like a class traitor when I say it but the first lesson from the “heroic” age of the Left in the Thirties is that it never works like that in a conflict in which your own society is involved. You can be a critical friend of one side or another, a very critical friend as often as not, but you have to choose which side you are on, and those who don’t usually end up as the biggest villains of all.
  4. And finally… Latvia: they do things differently there image
TV Alert: The Trap: What Happened to Our Dreams of Freedom

Uh oh, this looks bad:

Individual freedom is the dream of our age. But if one steps back and looks at what freedom actually means for us today, it’s a strange and limited kind of freedom.


It will show how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today’s idea of freedom. This model was derived from ideas and techniques developed by nuclear strategists during the Cold War. It was then taken up by genetic biologists, anthropologists, radical psychiatrists and free market economists, until it became a new system of invisible control.

They’re taking our word.  The bastards.  I suppose it is a compliment to the 19th century liberals that the Marxists had to take their word and make it mean something quite different.  Confucius may or may not have said: “When words lose their meaning, people lose their freedom.”  But what happens when freedom loses its meaning?

The Trap: What Happened to Our Dreams of Freedom, Sunday, 2100-2200, BBC2


07 March 2007
Croziervision Podcast #2: Antoine Clarke on elections and the internet is now up.

06 March 2007
Global warming and why libertarians should never say “never”

I see Channel 4’s going to broadcasting an Equinox special on Thursday challenging the consensus over global warming.  I also see that leading dark age economics campaigner, George Monbiot, has been getting in his retaliation first.  Somehow, I doubt if he’ll be alone.  The really stinging criticism (from my point of view, at least) is that the producer of the programme is mixed up in the Spiked (formerly known as the Revolutionary Communist Party) crowd.

Might be an idea for libertarians not to nail their colours too firmly to this particular mast.

For other reasons too.  Although I am a global warming sceptic (largely, ahem, as a consequence of a 1991 Equinox documentary), I have the attitude of “Never say never”.  It could be happening.  It could be a bad thing - it’s bound to be bad for somebody.  It could be caused by humans.  Not that I think that’s a problem.

Update 9/3/07  Brian Micklethwait says something very similar but better.

04 March 2007
In case you haven’t already…

Here are a few of the items I enjoyed this week:

  1. Tony Blair holds a summit on gun crime but somehow fails to invite Rob Fisher: “I know the solution, and it is really very easy and straightforward. Drum roll please. Are you ready? Legalise drugs.  No-one ever got shot over cigarettes, alcohol, or anything you can buy for £2.99 from Boots.”
  2. Jeremy Black has a couple of good articles on the First World War.  Here and here.
  3. Also from the Social Affairs Unit, William Rubinstein offers an historical perspective on the current cash for honours scandal.
  4. Live Aid: “Fund-raising event which helps needy African dictators enlarge their fleets of Mercedes, while simultaneously enabling white, midole class people to demonstrate conspicuous compassion.”  Harry Phibbs reviews How to be Right: The Essential Guide to Making Lefty Liberals History.
  5. Stewart Brand, environmentalist heretic. (hat-tip: Instapundit)
  6. Want to get ahead in the USA?  Easy: brag.  OK, so that’s a bit of an over-simplification of a thought-provoking, if long, article.  (Hat-tip: Instapundit)
  7. An academic bemoans the state of British education before the Guardian journalist interviewing him proceeds to prove it: “It’s superficial stuff, fine for the general populous,...” Oooh.
  8. “At last, a machine fully compatible with Windows Vista.” Heh.


25 February 2007
Croziervision’s first podcast: Michael Jennings on sport in Australia

When about a year ago Brian first mooted that he was planning to get into podcasting I thought this was definitely something I should have a go at.  I’d always rather fancied myself as an interviewer.

Why it has taken a year to equip myself with a microphone is another matter but I’ve finally got around to it and my first interviewee/victim was my good friend and fellow Transport Blogger, Michael Jennings talking about sport in Australia.

As a first stab at a podcast (or should that be padcast?) it’s not too bad.  The quality is pretty good, although it could do with a few less thumps and bumps and I need to think a bit about my positioning.  I think Michael sounds very good, but I am a bit too far away from the mic and sitting in front of a rather echoey wall.  These are the sorts of things that you get better at with practice.

As far as the interviewing itself goes, all I can say is that it isn’t as easy as it sounds.  I was lucky in that Michael is a good interviewee who is happy to talk but I may run into trouble with a more taciturn subject.  My intention had been to get Michael talking and say as little as possible myself.  In the end, I still think I said too much.  And there were a few other don’ts to carry over to next time.  Such as:

Don’t laugh
Don’t mumble… or stumble
Don’t go “Uh, huh”
Don’t divert the conversation into irrelevant matters

Actually, the whole mumbling and stumbling business is a bit of an issue.  Until I started recording my own voice I had no idea how much I did it.  It’s amazing I have any friends at all.  It’s certainly something that needs to be addressed pronto.

In case you haven’t already…
  1. ‘Vietnam troop commander William Westmoreland gruffly announced during one commission hearing that he was not interested in leading an army of “mercenaries.” Friedman coolly replied, “Would you rather command an army of slaves?”’  From a Reason bio of Milton Friedman (hat-tip: A&L)
  2. “In the first government defeat, the Lords voted to rule out using sexuality, criminality and cultural or religious beliefs as grounds for diagnosing a mental disorder.”  Yes, you read that right.
  3. Squander Two fisks Tony Blair.  At some length.  He also defends Blogger from the techno-snobs.  I am inclined to agree with him.  The days of the permalink crisis are long gone.
  4. Jackie reviews an Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison, a psychiatry professor who also suffers from manic depression.  Jackie also manages to get to the root causes of gang culture in a sentence:
    One of the girls made a good point about the fact that lots of the boys who have these guns are more afraid of those around them than they are of the law…
  5. The other week I linked to some colour photos of Russia from the 1900s.  Here are some (coloured rather than colour, I suspect) from the 1890s.


18 February 2007
In case you haven’t already…
  1. Harry Hutton considers the issue of smoking inspectors:
    If we can raise a fighting fund of £500,000 we can probably drive many of them into exile, arranging for gangs of hoodlums to break their windows, drag them from their homes and tar and feather them.
    Ha! Unlikely, for sure, but looking to the future, is it really beyond the bounds of possibility?
  2. Just when you thought it was safe to surf free of pop-ups, WordPress (of all people) bring them backJackie isn’t too impressed either.
  3. Free market think tank sets up school.  Or does it?
  4. The standard version of the Madrid train bombing is that the government tried to pin it on ETA when, in fact, it had been carried out by Islamists.  John Chappell begs to differ.
  5. A photo of Roman Abramovich from the 1980s.  Seems there’s nothing new in the blank expression, even when, as it would appear here, he has plenty to smile about.
  6. Helen Szamuely feels the need for a German national identity.  Which begs the question, if they don’t already have one, what is it that is keeping them together?  Also check out Helen’s article on Willi Munzenberg - Josef Goebbels’s propaganda nemesis.
  7. France’s Socialist Party has selected a good-looking woman to be its candidate in the up-coming Presidential election.  This has implications.  But only an economist can tell us what they are.
  8. Don’t fancy yours much… Mark… Anthony.
  9. I know this item is called: “If you haven’t already…” but I have never made it clear what you may not already have done - read it, or seen it.  For instance, while I have read this article on bullying in the Russian Army I haven’t seen it and I am not sure I want to.  The British Army, of course, is so much better.  While we’re on the subject of English Russia don’t forget to check out, well… everything.

Toodle Pip!

16 February 2007
Never lend your car to Al Gore


If only the truth weren’t so mundane.

Ésprit d’escalier Hmm, that should really read: “If only the truth weren’t so inconvenient.  Oh well, too late now.

12 February 2007

It would be difficult to describe Tim Evans’s Putney Debate held on Friday as being particlularly well attended.

It had an audience of one.


Which was a shame because it was a really good talk. The subject (for the main part) was privateering.  This was practice of allowing private concerns (privateers) to become licensed pirates and do your warfare for you.  They would be allowed to capture the merchant vessels of any hostile power around and keep whatever loot they found.  They played a large part in the fighting of Britain’s wars up to and including Napoleonic times.

Tim took no small pleasure in outlining the havoc privateers wrought on enemy shipping as well as how efficient and technologically advanced they were.  While the Royal Navy had to press men into serving, the privateers wanted the best men available and paid them accordingly, ensuring that they were well looked after while on board.

He also admired they way they avoided destroying property.  Whereas a typical navy has no incentive to preserve property intact, a privateer has every incentive.  No loot, no return.

Privateering disappeared as the era of the big state emerged.  But according to Tim that era might be about to end.  Already the SAS is suffering severe problems with retention as its soldiers get lured away to the private sector on three times the salary.  Who knows, maybe in future President Clinton will be issuing Letters of Marque entitling a new generation of privateers to deprive Iran or Saudi Arabia of the odd oil field or two.

No one else - least of all its subject - seems to have mentioned Radio 4's profile of Guido Fawkes. So, I will.

Big contribution from Brian Micklethwait.

11 February 2007
In case you haven’t already…

... here are some of the items I’ve enjoyed reading/listening to over the past week:

  1. Ann Althouse describes her podcasting technique as putting nails into a rice pudding although you may find her distinctive style puts you in mind of a quite different dessert. (Hat-tip: Instapundit)
  2. Hydrogen.  It’s a hoax.  I particularly liked Zubin’s description of how difficult it would be to transport.  (Hat-tip: Pajamas Media)
  3. When I first saw Apple’s latest Mitchell and Webb advertising campaign (the one in which the guy with the job is the PC and the layabout the Apple) my immediate thought was: “Well done, you’ve just lost a potential customer.”  I was not alone. (Hat-tip: Tim Hall).  Charles Pooter agrees.
  4. Mark Steyn takes a break from his own prophecies of doom to diss the climate change competition.  Nothing particularly new, just good knockabout stuff.
  5. David Farrer blogs about Bavaria’s parallel currency, one of many to have emerged in Germany since the introduction of the Euro.  Yeah… but… isn’t it just a teensy bit illegal?
  6. “In my darker moments I think guns should be not just legal but compulsory for sane, law-abiding members of the public.”  David Copperfield outlines a multi-agency approach to crime prevention.
  7. And finally… this week’s link to English Russia: the rebuilding of Moscow. When I see photos like this I can almost believe that the Putin clampdown is only temporary.


Or maybe not.

08 February 2007
Green Belt to go, reports the Telegraph. We can but hope...

04 February 2007
In case you haven’t already…

What do you think of the new title for the spot formerly known as “Weekly Round-Up”?  Cool or what?  Anyway in case you haven’t already read them, here are a few of the items that caught my attention this week.  Let’s start with a few quotes:

  1. “But what does freedom mean if I can´t slaughter my own pig in my back yard?”, a Romanian farmer learns about the downside of EU membership.
  2. “‘Global warming’ does indeed present a grave threat; as a tool of political power it is a threat to freedom, prosperity, trade, progress and all the health, wealth and happiness that those things make possible.”  Thaddeus Tremayne vents the finest spleen in the blogosphere.
  3. ”...if I may generalize about all computer geeks - is that they really like to overexplain the fucking shit out of everything.”  Jackie adds that this also applies to hist and pol geeks.  Warning noted.

And now for the serious stuff:

  1. Squander Two wanders into the abortion debate, makes some not entirely unreasonable remarks and ends up being called a misogynist, a wingnut and a Jew-hater.  I knew he was the guy to do the Transport Blog redesign.
  2. McDonald’s, bad for agenda-driven documentary makers but, thankfully, not for normal people.  And their coffee, apparently, tastes better than Starbucks’.
  3. Boris Johnson’s article on why women aren’t marrying these days - he thinks they’re all too well-educated (what, in state universities?) - is creating a bit of a buzz.  For what it’s worth I think the answer is a lot more prosaic: housing is just too expensive, meaning that very few men can support a family on their own income.  No prospect of a family = no point in being married.  Abolish planning - that’s what I say.
  4. Harry Phibbs wonders if Doughty Street is the future of TV.  Well, if it is, I’m a dinosaur.  But he does at least give us this:
    One irony was that among the coverage 18 Doughty Street launch was given was a hostile item on Channel 4. Krishnan Guru-Murphy declared: “They won’t have any obligation to be impartial or accurate.” This is astonishing audacity. Does anyone really imagine Jon Snow votes Tory?
  5. Chilling news on global warming.  Scientists must say what politicians tell them to.  In a similar vein (or should that be vain?), Al Gore agrees to an interview with his fiercest critic and gets a mysterious bout of cold feet.
  6. Oh dear, what a mess we free marketeers get into when trying to explain away highly-taxed Sweden’s economic success.  Here’s Johann Norberg predicting disaster tomorrow.  It’s always tomorrow, isn’t it?  My best guess is that Sweden is just a bit odd.  Whatever the case may be it’s an experiment that no one else has ever been able to repeat.
  7. Just to prove the virility of their continuing intellectual self-confidence, the former democracy of Belgium and that great model of Europeanism has banned the number 18.
  8. And finally… do check out these colour photos from Russia in the 1900s.  For example:


28 January 2007
Weekly Round-Up

There was no round up last week due to that sodding talk which took up rather a lot of my time.

  1. Laban reprints Paul Dacre’s Hugh Cudlipp Memorial Lecture.  I am far from a fan of Dacre’s Daily Mail but anyone who points out that:
    ...when The Times’s Ms Sieghart, the very embodiment of modern free-thinking women, holds forth on feminism, she does so courtesy of the topless girls in the still vastly profitable Sun.
    ...can’t be all bad.
  2. At risk of turning this into a Crozier-Micklethwait Appreciation Society I would recommend that you take a look, if you haven’t already, at Brian’s first piece (there will be more) on the French anthropologist philosopher Emmanuel Todd.  Anyone who, in 1975, predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade or so later deserves attention.
  3. “Anti-Americanism has acquired the status of Western Europe’s lingua franca.“According to The Chronicle. To paraphrase Fred Boynton: I think it’s well-known that anti-Americanism has its roots in impotence, at least in Europe. (Hat-tip: A&L Daily)
  4. It would be far better to lower - rather than raise - the school leaving age, argues Theodore Dalrymple.  ‘Nuff said.
  5. Don’t learn Japanese.  No really.  I can say this from personal experience.  It’s as mad as a box of frogs.  (Hat-tip: Rob Fisher)
  6. Can we really compare Iraq’s insurgents with the Werewolves, the Nazis’ attempt to start an underground campaign against the Allies?  Michael Ledeen thinks we can.


27 January 2007
Reviews and revolutions

Brian Micklethwait has a theory.  He hasn’t actually written it down yet and he may not so you’re going to have to put up with my version which may, in all manner of ways, be wrong.  If it is then, well, Brian, my apologies.

Brian’s observation is that while in the past everything got an average of three stars, these days everything gets four and a half.  His theory about this is that in the bad old days newspaper reviewers got sent a lot of things they didn’t want to review but had to anyway.  But these days reviewers are amateurs, they only encounter things they are probably going to like, so their reviews tend to be good ones.

This has a parallel in my own life and probably yours too.  I have noticed recently that unless I make the mistake of switching on the telly, I hardly ever encounter an opinion with which I don’t heartily agree.

The point about this is that the online world is fragmenting existing societies.  We are starting to form into our little groups which have almost nothing to do with one another.  Instapundit readers have little to do with their IndyMedia or Kos counter-parts.  There are for all I know, Muslim discussion groups out there in which the participants earnestly but politely debate the merits of killing infidels by hanging or boiling.

What I find interesting (and indeed alarming) is the apparent contradiction between the physical and virtual worlds.  In the physical world the Dhimmi-boiler could be living next door.  We would be sharing the same streets and (more worryingly) the same polling booth.  In the virtual world he might as well not exist - at least not from my point of view.

The frightening thing is the historical parallels.  It is not as if this hasn’t happened before.  During the Reformation, as new religious beliefs started to spread, many people must have found themselves totally alienated from their neighbours.  The lucky ones, like the passengers on the Mayflower, were able to up sticks and found their own settlements, the unlucky found themselves imbroiled in the mother and father of all religious wars.

Is it to be the same again?  If so, is there any way to escape the carnage?

Update.  Seems I have prompted Brian into writing down what he actually thought rather than what I thought he thought.  So, you didn’t have to hack your way through the foregoing screed after all.  Sadly in his review of my review of his thoughts he only gives me four stars.  Not the extra half? Oh well. As he says: “On the internet, if you get grumpy, you aren’t doing it right.”

22 January 2007
The First World War: The Just War?

This is the text of the talk I gave to Christian Michel’s 6/20 Club on Saturday which Brian Micklethwait has been kind enough to mention.


This talk comes out of a conversation that Christian and I had shortly before Christmas.  He wanted me to do a talk and I suggested the First World War.  He asked me which particular aspect and I said that while I could talk about the origins my real expertise was how it was fought.  He suggested that perhaps I could combine the two which I thought would be difficult.  The argument was solved when he casually remarked that as he understood it the Germans didn’t want war in 1914.  My howls of protest down the phone convinced both of us that perhaps the origins talk was the one to go with.

To say the First World War was a huge event in world history is to imbue the word “huge” with a scale it does not entirely deserve.  10 million lost their lives.  2 empires disappeared.  4 emperors lost their thrones. A whole host of new states were created. The war also saw the creation of the first communist state.  To Britons, who suffered far less than most, it created a collective nightmare image of mud, wire, machine guns, cemetries and poppies that persists to this day.

It is a depressing war.  All wars are depressing but most wars have moments of dash and heroism.  The Second World War had its Battle of Britain with its brave young Spitfire pilots.  The Napoleonic Wars had their thin red lines.  But the First World War has nothing to compare.  It’s colour is brown.  There was almost no opportunity for the individual to excel or make a difference.

Mind you, relieving war of its heroic side is probably no bad thing.

Perhaps the most depressing part to it was that it didn’t really solve anything.  With the exception of the Soviet Union it marked (until the founding of the EU) the end of multi-national super-states.  But otherwise it didn’t solve the question of what boundaries industrial states should occupy and how they should be governed.  In that respect it was only the first in a succession of conflicts that didn’t properly end until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

So.  What was it about?

Standard Version

The standard version - the one I was taught in school - goes something like this: Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne was assassinated, by assassins who were probably under the control of rogue elements of the Serbian government but no one is quite sure.  Austria declared war on Serbia, Russia (for reasons unclear - though probably to do with Serbia being an ally) mobilised her armed forces. 

At this point the Schlieffen Plan enters the fray.  Russia and France were allies.  Thus, if Russia attacked Austria, Germany would be obliged to attack Russia and France to attack Germany.  So, Germany would be facing a war on two fronts which had long been the ultimate nightmare.  So, Germany needed to knock one of her enemies out of the war as quickly as possible.  Russia was too vast to be defeated quickly, so it had to be France.  The plan was to go on the defensive in the south while sending the bulk of her Western forces through Belgium, then south through Northern France to attack the French army from two sides.  If everything went to plan, France would be defeated in 6 weeks.  The plan hinged on the assumption that the Russians would be slow to mobilize in the event of war.  This would allow Germany the time to send the bulk of her forces westwards, to defeat France and be able to send those forces back East to fend off the now-mobilised Russian forces.

But what the plan did not allow for was for the Russians to have mobilised before they went to war.  So, for Germany, Russian mobilisation meant war.

War with Russia meant war with France.  War with France meant the invasion of neutral Belgium and the invasion of neutral Belgium meant war with Britain.

There is usually some mention of railway timetables, the idea being that they made the Schlieffen Plan rigid to the point that there was no flexibility.  Germany could not simply have a war on one front.  War with Russia meant war with France.

Variations on the standard version will also tend to mention the tensions of the time: Germany’s industrialisation but lack of empire, the naval arms race and Alsace-Lorraine.

The overwhelming impression given is that it was an accident.  I have never quite bought that.  I find it difficult to believe that such a huge event could be brought about by accident.  Not impossible, mind.  The death of Princess Diana was clearly a huge event in all sorts of people’s minds and that was an accident.  So, not impossible but unlikely.

The Kaiser did it

So, what theories are there out there?  One, I know well, not least because I have blogged about it, was that the Kaiser did it.

When he stepped down as Chancellor in 1890, Bismark left Germany a golden legacy.  It was united and industrialising.  It had friendly relations with Britain because he had kept Germany out of the hunt for empire.  And it had made deals with Russia and Austria to keep the peace in Eastern Europe.

The deal in question was a couple of (I believe) secret treaties which said that if Austria attacked Russia, Germany would side with Russia.  If Russia attacked Austria, Germany would side with Austria.  Seeing as Germany was by far the strongest of the three powers it made no sense for either Austria or Russia to go to war.  So, they didn’t.

The only real worry for Germany was France who wanted to regain Alsace and the parts of Lorraine she had lost in 1870.  But France was the weaker power and lacked allies so there was precious little she could do about it.

And then William tore up the agreement (I believe it was known as the Re-insurance Treaty) with Russia.  Russia now lacked an ally and was soon making alliances with the French.  Why William did this is not clear.  But what is clear is that it created a huge headache for the German Army.  Its doctrine had always been to avoid a war on two fronts and now this was precisely the scenario it had to deal with.  So, it came up with the Schlieffen Plan - the idea being to defeat France in 6 weeks and then be able to concentrate all its forces on Russia.  Only one problem - it was barking mad.  It had no slack.  It was entirely dependent on nothing going wrong: Britain not intervening, Russia mobilising slowly, Belgium being a pushover, soldiers being able to stay on the march for over a month and at the end of it: France losing.

But that wasn’t the end of it.  Just to make matters even worse, Germany built itself a Navy.  A German Navy can only used against the British Navy.  But Britain wasn’t even an enemy at the time.  It was a hostile act towards a power that wasn’t hostile.  The only argument for it that makes sense - or rather makes sense in the fantasy world of the German court - is that they were running out of aristocrats.  Running out of aristocrats meant that if they wanted to expand the army they would have to allow all sorts of hoi polloi into the ranks of the officer corps.  This they did not want to do.  So rather than do that they restricted the size of the army and put the money into the navy instead.

This expansion was wrapped around Tirpitz’s doctrine, the Risk Theory.  The idea was that if Germany had a large navy, although it couldn’t defeat the Royal Navy it could weaken it to the extent that it would be vulnerable to the navies of France, Russia and, possibly, the United States.  So, the British would avoid conflict.

This, again, was barking mad because it made no allowance for what Britain ended up doing.  What the British actually did was to cut a deal with the French in the form of the Entente Cordiale.

Having done that in 1905, a year later, in 1906, the British upped the stakes by launching the Dreadnought Class of battleships.  These rendered all other battleships obsolete.  Had Germany been sensible it would have folded at this point.  Instead it started to build dreadnoughts of its own.

It’s a neat theory that the Kaiser did it.  But it’s wrong.  At key moments the Kaiser was placed in a very weak position.  He did not want to see the end of the treaty with Russia but his Chancellor, von Caprivi, threatened to resign.  It came in the very week that William had sacked Bismarck.  To lose one chancellor might be regarded as misfortune would look like carelessness.  At the height of the July crisis in 1914 he tried to prevent war with France but was told by von Moltke, the Chief of Staff, that war plans were so reliant on complex railway timetables that they could not possibly be changed.  This, incidentally, was a lie.

David Fromkin

David Fromkin in his book “Europe’s Last Summer” makes a number of points and suggestions.

He points out that alliances rather than encouraging war tended to act as a brake.  France did not want to go to war over Serbia.  Russia did not want to go to war over Alsace-Lorraine.

In a similar vein, Germany did not want to go to war over Serbia.  I can’t remember the exact numbers but between 1908 and 1913, the Austrian Chief of Staff, Conrad von Hotzendorf had proposed war with Serbia over 20 times.  Each time he was turned down.  Part of the reason he kept on being rebuffed must have been Germany’s reluctance to get involved in a Balkans dispute.

In a similar vein he makes much the same point about monarchies.  Nicholas II may not have cared much for his cousin William II but war would have made all sorts of things inconvenient.

But the main thrust of Fromkin’s argument is that August 1914 was the tale of two wars.  Austria wanted to crush Serbia.  Germany wanted to crush France and Russia.  The sooner the better.  Germany wanted war in 1914 because her already desperate strategic situation was getting worse by the day.  Russia was industrialising.  That was threatening to shatter both parts of the already fragile Schlieffen Plan.  It would shatter the first part (defeating France) by allowing Russia to mobilise faster.  It would shatter the second by holding out the prospect of a one on one defeat.  For the German High Command it was now or never.  That was why the Chief of Staff, von Moltke went to the Kaiser and told him bluntly that rigid railway timetables meant that war with Russia meant war with France.

It was a lie.  We know this because the then Director of Transportation went on to write a whole book debunking it.  But it was a lie that worked and one that managed to overcome the Kaiser’s usual (when it came to the crunch) pacifism.

Perhaps Fromkin’s best evidence is the paper trail - or rather lack of it.  Von Moltke destroyed most of his papers.  By and large people do not destroy documents unless they have something to hide.

Fromkin’s is an explanation I like.  It suggests method in their madness.  It suggests that the war was no accident.  But what it doesn’t do is to explain how the system of alliances that were essential to creating those conditions came about.  It explains how leaders reacted to the situation that they found themselves in but not how they got into that situation in the first place.

States do not go about randomly making alliances.  They do so for reasons.


So, let’s have a look at some of these alliances to see what clues they yield.

The Anglo-French Entente isn’t really an alliance at all and for about a day in August 1914 this created all sorts of ructions when France found itself at war while Britain hummed and hawed.  It’s creation was a direct response to the creation of the German High Seas Fleet.  Britain saw in this a threat to trade and a threat to empire. 

So, why does Germany have a navy?  As Winston Churchill remarked: “For Britain a navy was a necessity, for Germany it was something in the way of luxury.”  I’ve already mentioned the meritocratic/aristocratic conflict in Germany as one of the drivers.  And I’ve also mentioned Tirpitz’s Risk Theory.  Another argument that occasionally gets raised is that it had something to do with the idea of getting an empire but it is difficult to see how.  The scramble for Africa is pretty much over.  All that’s left is scraps.  The only real means of gaining an empire is to seize somebody else’s.  But to even think about that would be to undermine the Risk Strategy - which aims to keep Britain at bay and relies on the presence of a French navy.

Going back to Germany’s class conflict - this is still big.  Germany is in the bizarre situation of having the institutions of a democracy but not the reality.  If I recall correctly, the Reichstag was elected on a broader franchise than that in Britain but it had a lot less power.  Germany’s aristocrats, who dominated the army, were desperate to cling on to power and the idea that you could send the best of the lower orders off to sea must have had quite an appeal.

France was simply happy to have an ally in its attempts to regain Alsace-Lorraine.  At this point it is worth thinking about the basis of France’s claim.  It was partly historical: Alsace-Lorraine had been part of France so should it again.  And partly democratic: Most people in Alsace-Lorraine are French, therefore its should be part of France.  This is not quite as clear cut as it is sometimes presented.  To the best of my knowledge there was no great re-unification movement in Alsace-Lorraine.  At the end of the war Alsace-Lorraine declared independence before the movement was crushed by France.  German immigrants were expelled.

I can even add some personal observations to this.  While waiting for my cousin’s wedding ceremony to start at Colmar Town Hall I looked at the (I assume) World War Two War Memorial.  I counted 36 names.  More than 30 of them were German.  Of course, a German name does not imply a German speaker does not imply a would-be German but it doesn’t contradict it either.

Of the France-Russia alliance little has to be said beyond what has already been said.  It owes its origin to Alsace-Lorraine and Russia’s nervousness over the end of the Re-Insurance Treaty.

That in itself was caused by Germany’s decision to back Austria over Russia.  Why they decided to do this beats me.  Although Austrians might speak German most of the empire’s subjects did not.  And while Russia seemed to be a coming power, Austria was anything but.  “We have shackled ourselves to a corpse” was a frequent German comment.

Could ethnic or racial tensions be at the root of all this?  I have this vague idea that nationalism (which was in the air at the time) arose through industrialisation and the spread (and perversion) of Darwin’s ideas.  But if so, you’d be looking for growing German suspicion/hostility towards Russians and other Slavs.  While anti-semitism was growing (on both sides of the border) and hatred of Slavs was a big deal for the Nazis, I can’t find much evidence of it before 1914.  That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t there - just that I can’t find it.

The German hostility and suspicion towards Russia is central to the outbreak of the First World War and yet it is difficult to see where it was coming from.  It’s not as if the two had a territorial dispute to keep them at one another’s throats.

It’s a puzzle.

How to govern industrialised societies

There is another way to think about it and that is in the context of the 20th Century.  The idea is that the conflicts of the 20th Century were attempts to answer the question: how should industrialised societies be governed?  At the beginning of the 20th Century the options were: liberal democracy, imperialism, nationalism and socialism.  The First World War saw imperialism drop out of the running, the Second World War, nationalism, and the Cold War, socialism.  It left liberal democracy, albeit in a heavily-modified form.

It’s a neat theory and it fits the facts of the 20th Century, but does it fit the facts of 1914?  While Britain and France might fit the bill of liberal democracies, their empires certainly don’t.  And France’s claim to Alsace-Lorraine is dubious.  Indeed, if lack of empire were the yardstick, then Germany was about the least imperial power in Europe.  But it isn’t.  The yardstick is how institutions are elected and what powers they have.  In that context, Britain and France undoubtedly come out on top.

But that doesn’t quite get them off the hook.  Although they were the better powers, they still have to have acted correctly.  Liberal democracies should not involve themselves in aggressive wars.  But while Britain and France were clearly preparing for war there is very little evidence to suggest that they were seeking to provoke one.

Liberal democracy is not perfect.  I decry its injustices on an almost daily basis.  But it’s a lot less imperfect than the alternatives and it holds the best chance of something better emerging in the future.

17 January 2007

It’s been pretty much impossible to ignore the news that France proposed a merger with Britain way back in the 1950s (here is a typical blog posting on the subject) - but what has been overlooked is that this was not the first time the idea was aired - well, in modern times, that is.

So, using your skill and judgement - or knowledge - can you guess who first came up with the idea and when?

Answer in the comments.

15 January 2007
The Weekly Round-up

Looks like this is going to become my main means of blogging for the next few months.  Oh well.

Islam is evil.  As he points out, this is not the first time Brian has said this.  He also points out that Christianity is equally nuts.  The difference is that with Islam some of its followers take it seriously and do what they’re told.  My take: Why? and does it matter, ie even if we knew why they were acting in such a stupid way would it make any difference to how we would deal with them?

Praise for the new Bond.  I liked it too…

...but brickbats for recent Agatha Christie adaptations.  Quite.

Freedom does not make you depressed.  I get the feeling that that meme is going to turn out to be a hardy perennial.

Why do American academics hate America? asks VDH.  More to the point why do American parents and alumni keep paying their wages?  My guess is that it is because when it comes to employers, reputation (which relates to ability and contacts) counts for more than what is actually taught. (Hat tip: Pajamas Media)

Multi-culturalism doesn’t work. My worry is that the debate on the left will go like: “if multi-racial societies can’t work with all this state intervention then they can’t work at all.” (Hat tip: A&L Daily)

07 January 2007
Weekly Round-Up

Hmm, haven’t blogged anything for a while.  But I have been reading plenty.  Here are some of my favourites:

Healthcare in the US.  Specifically, the hassles involved in buying health insurance.  Scrolling through the comments, abounding as they are with acronyms like HSA and HDHP it becomes abundantly clear that US healthcare is far from the free market that it is portrayed as on this side of the Atlantic.  Which is, of course, half the problem.

How to improve democracy.  The Olive Blogger thinks we should have lots more referendums.  Perhaps this will encourage me to come up with some of my own thoughts on the matter.  Or, maybe not. (Hat-tip Pajamas Media)

How I learned to stop worrying about the trade deficit.  Don Boudreaux’s arguments will have a familiar ring to many but they’re well put. (Hat-tip Tom Palmer)

Do prostitutes need pimps?  Seems with pimps they get more work and fewer beatings.  They still get the beatings mind, just less of them.

How good is Wikipedia?  For some time I’ve been happy to believe that it’s great on the done and dusted but when you get to controversial topics best to proceed with caution.  But is the storage of hydrogen peroxide really so controversial?  There’s a follow up.

There are too few women bosses because there are too many women bosses. Heh. (Hat-tip A&L Daily)

Cash for honours.  Except these gongs are for money wasted.

And finally, this is so cool, courtesy of the ever wonderful English Russia.  The wooden skyscraper of Archangel.


22 December 2006
The NHS Supercomputer

Wat Tyler looks at the NHS Supercomputer:

We’ve blogged the disastrous NHS supercomputer so often, it hurts (start here). And by now we all know the grisly numbers- £6bn originally declared, now officially £12bn (except for Health Minister Lord Warner who blurted out £20 bn), and anything up to £50bn actually predicted by industry insiders.

Sounds like yet another NHS horror story.  If we’re lucky it’ll just be cancelled.  If we’re very, very lucky.

20 December 2006
Brian Micklethwait and Leon Leow produce an excellent podcast

I have just finished listening to Brian Micklethwait’s podcast with Leon Leow.  A bit late in the day, admittedly - it was recorded about a month ago - but none the worse for that.  Actually, it’s rather better than that.  It’s really very good.  The centre of their discussion is Leow’s research into what makes countries rich and what makes them poor.  Make that statistical research.  What is interesting is that Leow sticks to the statistics even when it leads to conclusions he would normally disagree with.

The big one is tax.  Tax rates have no effect on prosperity. Bad news for me.  But that’s OK.  It only removes one of the props of my argument.  But, still, interesting.

The other big surprise (sort of) is education.  Now, while I am against state education I am by no means against education as such.  But it turns out that it either (I can’t quite remember what he said) doesn’t matter or actually makes you poorer.

A nice surprise was that race makes no difference.

The biggest factor in prosperity is the rule of law.  Get that right and you should be OK.  That was no surprise to me at all but it’s always nice to hear.

One of the amusing parts of the discussion was the way Leow managed to keep his temper in the face of Brian’s frequent enthusiastic interruptions.  London libertarians are used to the idea that Brian’s Brain runs considerably faster than his mouth (which itself runs quite fast enough) but it can be quite disconcerting at first.  So congratulations to Leon.

Update Oh crap, I’ve spent Louw wrong the whole way through.

Is the Tim Worstall who blogs here the same as the Tim Worstall who blogs here? I think we should be told.

How to make cocaine

If nothing else it goes a long way to explaining the price of oil.  (Hat-tip - I jest not - The Magistrate)

13 December 2006
Pinochet again

One of the good things about someone dying is that you get to hear all sides of the debate.  I can’t say this has changed my view of the guy but it has clarified it:

  • He was right to launch the coup
  • He was right to champion free market policies
  • He was wrong to torture and kill unarmed opponents

The trick is to avoid falling into the trap of backing everything he did just because you agree with some of what he did.

Having said that - and this is mostly an intellectual exercise - is it possible to justify the torture and murder? Well, put as starkly as that, obviously not.  But is it possible that this was a package deal: that Pinochet could not have launched the coup in the first place had he not had the support of some pretty unsavoury characters ie, people who got a kick out of torture and murder?

12 December 2006
Although it is not all about the problems of the NHS, Brit Meds (a sort of Britblog roundup for the medical profession) makes for depressing reading nevertheless. I think it makes a pretty good addition to my list of NHS horror stories because it gives such a good snapshot.

Why do people want to believe conspiracy theories?

Saturday I read about the theory that Litvinenko was killed by his own side.  Sunday I watch a BBC documentary on the Diana conspiracy.  Monday, I hear that a man has been denied entry to Iran for Holocaust denial denial.

Why do people believe this stuff?  More to the point, why do they want to?  Is it because they want to be initiated into some sort of secret society - those who know the truth - and thus feel special?  Is it because they distrust their governments?  This worries me because they simultaneously believe their governments to be all-powerful.

Is it just sheer boredom with being rich? a desire to smash up the system that underpins prosperity so that something more “interesting” can come along.

Is it because people have read too many Agatha Christie novels and got used to the idea that the answer is not the easy and obvious one right in front of your face?

I probably shouldn’t let it bother me - it’s just that I have an uneasy feeling about it.

11 December 2006
Of course the Russians did it

“Alex Deane - formerly Chief of Staff to David Cameron…” is a not a good introduction to any article but his rant at dinner party tittle-tattle on the Litvinenko affair rewards persistence:

Then there’s the fatuous - “we can’t be sure the Russians did it”. You think someone else, with no motive but framing the Russians, got some dedicated agents, got hold of this stuff and then, rather than taking up the career in world class chemistry that beckoned to them, smuggled it into the UK to kill someone who was… erm… one of the best attackers of the regime they must clearly hate if they wanted to do down Russia..?

Indeed.  Not that that’s the end of the affair:


Worst of all the responses so far, there’s the pseudo-diplomat doing real politique at the dinner table - “Ah, but the Russians have all the oil - we can’t mess with them”.

To which I suppose the response should be: “We have all the money - they can’t mess with us.”

Read the whole thing, as they say.

08 December 2006
You are Pinochet
Pinochet (seated).  Definitely not a PR man’s dream.

What with the death of Milton Friedman and his own health problems, Augusto Pinochet has got the odd name check in the last couple of weeks.

[Just as an aside - why is it that the media persist in getting the guy’s name wrong?  It is Pee-no-chet, not Pin-no-shay.]

Anyway, what name checks he’s got have tended to be rather negative.  But should they be?  Put yourself in his shoes in mid-1973.  This, as I understand it, is the situation: 

  • the president is a communist.
  • the economy is falling apart.
  • your predecessor has been fired.
  • there are stories of clandestine arms shipments from Cuba.
  • Congress has declared Allende’s rule as unconstitutional.

In other words, it looks awfully like the end of not just democracy but of freedom itself.  Under those circumstances don’t you have to act?  Sure, the outcome may be far from a libertarian paradise but it’s going to be a damn sight better than the alternative.

Update 11/12/06 He’s dead now.  Paul Marks has similar opinions to my own - just better informed ones.

06 December 2006
How to avoid rows

We (libertarians) have all been there.  Someone you know says something stupid, you pick them up and before you know it you’re in a shouting match.  Now, you could just keep your counsel but that lets the argument go by default.  And as Brian Micklethwait pointed out if you want to win the argument, first you have to have it.  So, how do you stick to your guns without losing all your friends?

Here are a couple of approaches I try to take. Ask:

1.  “What makes you think that?”
2.  “What would change your mind?”

Question 1 is a goody because if repeated often enough it quickly exposes the weaknesses in your opponent’s argument without exposing the weaknesses in your own (not, of course, that there are any).  Unfortunately, you don’t usually get that far - people have annoying habit of changing the subject but you can at least point this out to them.

Question 2 determines if they can change their mind.  Because if they say “Nothing” you know it’s a faith and you can have some fun pointing that out to them.  However, it is not without it’s dangers.  You do have to apply it to yourself from time to time which can be an uncomfortable discipline.

Of course, in all these arguments you have to bear in mind that political beliefs are strongly held and rarely changed.  And that people rarely change their minds unless they want to have them changed.  All you can really ever do is plant some seeds of doubt.

Smoke and mirrors

I was watching BBC Breakfast, I know, big mistake.  There was an item on healthy school dinners or, at least, what the government thinks represents healthy school dinners.  Now, I switched on too late to see the start but the gist was that here was a school that had contracted out its catering (golly would you believe that I proposed the very own thing to my own school some 2x years ago - precocious or what?) The outcome (according to the pupils interviewed) was much better choice and quality, the implication being that here was a scheme that could be rolled out to the rest of the country.

Hmm.  The assumptions were that:

  • safety/being healthy is the only thing - they aren’t
  • the government knows what is healthy
  • the pupils were being entirely straight and honest.
  • the government could roll this out to other schools around the country

I think I disagree with them all.


So, lying, dissembling 16-year olds?
You’ve kind of answered your own question.  Plus the desire to get on the telly (best to say what the nice TV people want to hear).  Plus the desire not to piss off the head teacher in exam year.  Plus, the sort of feeling that most us labour under: “I know I ought to eat lettuce but I want to eat Mars Bars.”  - the difference between what we say and what we do.

And rolling it out?
The more I watched the more I was reminded of those Potemkin villages where everything was wonderful which Eastern Bloc countries kept going to show off to anyone who questioned the wonders of communism. What are the chances that this school had been given all sorts of carrots and sticks unavailable to others to make the switch?  High, I should think.

01 December 2006
Polonium-210 found on Olympic chiefs' jet.

Police have 8 million suspects.

Procedure for dealing with Australians over the course of the next couple of months

Australian: What about the cricket then?
Human: Huh?

A: You know, the cricket.
H: Which one?

A: The one in Australia.
H: Why on earth should I be concerned about the well-being of a single, solitary Antipodean insect?

A: No, the game, mate.
H: What game?  And I am not your mate.

A: The game of cricket.
H: I have no idea what you are talking about.

A: It’s in all the papers.
H: No, it isn’t. [Hands over newspaper]

A: [Scratching head] I don’t get it… You’re right…  It’s not here.
H: [Relieved at successful national conspiracy to eradicate all knowledge of bat and ball games] Now, where’s my pint.

28 November 2006
What if tyranny worked?

I was having a chat with some of my libertarian friends at the LA conference over the weekend.  We were talking about Hayek and he said something along the lines of: “There’s always the suspicion with him that if socialism was any good at producing fridges and washing machines he would be a socialist.”  The implication being that Hayek was wrong.  (And, indeed, that that was what he believed).

I didn’t say so at the time (because my brain works far too slowly) but it occurs to me now that if tyranny was capable of producing the good things in life wouldn’t you have to support it?  Because, even if you wanted to live in your wonderfully-free-but-poor part of the world you wouldn’t get the chance.  If a tyranny is capable of churning out the fridges and washing machines you can sure as hell bet that it can churn out the tanks and fighter jets.

And it would just invade you.  Bye, bye freedom.

Luckily this is not a conclusion I often have to draw.  Usually, or so it seems to me, freedom and prosperity (in all its forms) go together.  Indeed, almost every argument I make on InstaPatrick includes both a moral case and a practical case.

But what if the practical case is far from clear cut? - intellectual property and compulsory purchase - are a couple of examples that spring to mind.  What if in these cases freedom was objectively worse than compulsion?  I think even then I would support freedom partly because it works in so many other areas of life that we can afford to induldge it once in a while and partly because once you’ve started to let a little bit of coercion into the world you find that more follows.

But it’s worth bearing in mind.

22 November 2006
Lewis Page’s “Lions, Donkeys and Dinosaurs”

While travelling by train yesterday, I looked up from the book I was reading: Lewis Page’s Lions, Donkeys and Dinosaurs to look at the new Wembley Stadium.

Or to put it another way: while passing one gargantuan waste of money I was sitting on an even bigger one while reading about another one even bigger than that.

Incidentally, I am not quite sure what to make of Page’s book.  His central claim is that the MoD keeps on spending money on systems that are late, over-budget, and either don’t work or, if they do work, don’t work as well as existing systems, or are irrelevant on the modern battlefield.  Which, if true, is fairly damning stuff.  And I would like it to be true - it fits in pretty well with my Government is incompetent line.

But I am dubious.  It’s all a bit too neat and tidy.  His prescriptions could be summed up as: abolish the RAF, buy more planes, buy a lot more helicopters, buy some proper aircraft carriers and buy American.  Oh and abolish the five most senior ranks in the two remaining services.

If the history of warfare tells us anything it is that strategy, tactics and procurement are messy affairs.  There’s never a silver bullet.

19 November 2006
The camera does lie

We now regularly spend time after video shoots checking studio’s lavatories (with very thick gardening gloves!) for discarded needles, wrappers and makeshift crack cocaine pipes, not mentioning how much time we spend cleaning up same lavatories with disinfectant and bleach.

Julian Taylor, on what it’s like dealing with stick-thin models while they’re still alive. 

But I wonder if there’s more to it than that.  I have run into a couple of TV presenters in real life and they were much thinner than they appeared on screen.  The camera really does add a few pounds.  There’s a definite incentive there to be thinner than is healthy.

08 November 2006
James Bartholomew tells us why he doesn't trust school league tables for the "value-added": schools make sure the initial scores are as low as possible. Another reason not to trust statistics.

05 November 2006
Croziervision Quote of the Day
"War does not reward temporizing and half-measures -- or, rather, it rewards them, but with more war."

Instapundit doesn't really need much of a boost, least of all from me, but it's a sentiment I've felt so deeply for so long that it's nice to hear from someone else.

03 November 2006
PFI hospitals cost £45bn more, says Wat Tyler quoting the Guardian. OK, so it's from the Guardian, which is hardly the best source in the world but I am inclined to believe it. Yet more evidence that contracting out doesn't work.

02 November 2006
Croziervision quote of the day

This is a beautifully produced book - including some beautiful photographs of very well looked after pigs which unsentimental animal lovers will both appreciate and look forward to eating.

Harry Phibbs reviews the Duchy Originals Cookbook.

Safety is dangerous

Doctor Crippen describes the latest safety-inspired madness.  Junior doctors have been banned from prescribing.  But because learning how to prescribe has always been an on-the-job business it means that in future none of them will be able to prescribe.  And so, in the name of safety, the world is about to become a more dangerous place. Again.

Possibly.  It’s by no means certain.  Of course, they might realise their folly, introduce a training scheme and the nurse practioners that the good Doctor so fears might well do a perfectly good job.  Might.  But, then again, this is the government so the likelihood is that they’ll just screw it up as usual.

Incidentally, while I have a great deal of time for Doctor Crippen when it comes to his hatred of nurse practioners I think he’s barking up the wrong tree.  It all smacks rather too much of wanting to preserve a closed shop.  Which I am against.  That’s not to say that I support the government here.  While it might be perfectly sensible to have nurses (and others) doing work normally performed by doctors this is a government scheme and it’s bound to screwed up.  See above.

28 October 2006
Stalin only killed 7 million - well that's all right then …link
If you post nonsense onto a Wiki page how long will it last? Not very it would appear.

25 October 2006
NHS kills diabetics

Jackie links to Squander Two’s Kafkaesque tale of diabetics being put in danger by the NHS’s blind adherence to procedures which I think I can add to my list of NHS horror stories, further evidence that the NHS isn’t very good which, in turn, confirms my belief that the NHS should be abolished.

It’s not conclusive, of course.  It is quite possible that other countries have similar problems, indeed, I should think it is a certainty - any system is going to have its cock ups especially when it comes to something as complicated as healthcare.  Just not as many.

23 October 2006
If you want to get ahead in football, get a suit

Look at this lineup of the Premiership’s most successful managers:


And now look at the lineup of the least successful:


Spot the difference?  There’s no doubt about it - a quick trip to Burtons can make all the difference.  Just ask Gareth Southgate whose sartorial conversion took place only a couple of weeks ago.

From zero…


...to hero


21 October 2006
The other night Tonight with Trevor McDonald was all about the lengths young people will go to to get on and stay on the property ladder. I could hardly bear to watch and so didn't. I don't know if the programme tried to analyse the problem or not though I suspect they made a hash of it if they did. It's all very simple. High house prices are caused by planning. The answer is to abolish planning.

11 October 2006
"I seem to be the only person left in the world who hates Jamie Oliver." bemoans Noreen, "I really, really, really fucking hate him...", before more than redressing the balance.

Book review: Alanbrooke’s Diaries
Alanbrooke by Karsh

I read this recently.  General Alan Brooke, later Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke was Britain’s Chief of the Imperial General Staff during the Second World War and Winston Churchill’s most senior military advisor.  He kept a diary (in defiance of King’s Regulations) from almost the beginning of the war.  When the diaries were published in the 1950s he added some extra notes.

A few observations:

  • Diaries aren’t all that informative.  They chronicle what was uppermost in the writer’s mind, not necessarily what was most important.
  • Brooke’s main achievement seems to have been in preventing Churchill from losing the war.  On almost every page (certainly after Brooke became CIGS) Churchill is backing some madcap scheme or other.  Although Brooke stops most of them it was an exhausting business.
  • He spends a lot of time dining out.  At one point in the diary he adds a note explaining that although it sounds as if he was having a whale of time in fact all this time meeting and greeting was extremely useful.  Sadly, he doesn’t explain whether the Chief of the Imperial General Staff was subject to the same wartime restrictions as everyone else.
  • He certainly knows his mind when it comes to strategy: win in North Africa, pin down as many Germans as possible in Italy and then, and only then, invade France.  Much of his thinking on strategy comes down to mundane matters such as shipping, landing craft, railways and spare parts.
  • While he might have been clear in his own mind about strategy he had a devil of a task persuading anyone else.  At least formally, he did, for although no one ever actually agrees with him it’s his plan they (and this includes the Americans) follow.
  • A lot of people (including Churchill) are exhausted and get ill.  It isn’t just the soldiers who don’t get any sleep. A lot of people die.  One of them was his hero, Dill, who is the only foreigner ever to have been given a state funeral by the Americans.

Update This has now been picked up by Samizdata so, hopefully, there’ll be some interesting comments.

06 October 2006
The Dissident Frogman celebrates Ramadan as only the Dissident Frogman can. Warning: not for the squeamish.

Was the Nazi economy inherently unstable? Yes, according to a new book which argues that the Nazi regime lived off the plunder from the countries it had conquered.

This is not an entirely new theory. I've heard it before and it made me wonder if (at least) one of the Nazi motivations for going to war in 1939 was that they had run out of things to steal from the Jews.

05 October 2006
It ain’t over

Tony Blair thinks that Northern Ireland’s troubles are over.  He is wrong.

What makes you think that?
Because the core issue at the heart of the conflict has never been resolved.

And that issue is…? 
Not so much where the border between Ireland and the UK should be but how it should be determined.  The Irish nationalist viewpoint is that the island of Ireland should form one political unit.  The unionist viewpoint is that the border should be determined on the basis of self-determination.  Or to put it another way, with the nationalist approach you determine the border and then ask the people what state they want to be part of whereas with the unionist approach you ask the people what state they want to be part of and then determine the border.

But I thought it was all about religion? 
Oh goodness, no (warning: short).

So, if the conflict is still on-going how come the shooting’s stopped?
That is something of a mystery to me.  My guess is that it’s a combination of 9/11, the concessions that the IRA secured from the British government and the belief that an Irish nationalist majority is not far off.

So, everything is fine and dandy then?
Until there’s an Irish majority in Ulster.

And then what happens?
Well, according to the British-Irish treaty Ulster becomes part of the Republic.  The fly in the ointment is that there will still be a sizeable British majority in Eastern Ulster.  They would be quite entitled to demand self-determination.  It could easily start to look like a re-run of the Home Rule Crisis.

If, that is, the Ulster British are prepared to fight.
Which is, of course, the big question.  If demographics are against them, if they get no support from the mainland, if the Republic no longer seems that threatening and if, after defeats like Drumcree, they no longer believe they can hold out then, maybe, they won’t.  And Blair will have been right all along.

24 September 2006
Why do we have the tapping-up rule? Gary Lineker, for one, can't see the point.

21 September 2006
Wiki progress

I am still moving over pages from my Wiki to what I am currently calling my Library.  The latest conversion is Against rail safety regulation.

You would have thought it was relatively straight forward to do these conversions but unfortunately it is not.  Firstly, direct conversion is altogether more fiddly than you might think.  Secondly, a lot of the pages really aren’t good enough and so, are undergoing something of a re-write.  This is particularly true of the rail-related pages which I am going through at the moment.  These were in many cases amongst the first pages I ever wrote and so lack many of the refinements and techniques I later developed.

09 September 2006
Oh yeah…

In 1883, we are told, a stall in Petticoat Lane was selling condoms decorated with the heads of Queen Victoria and Mr Gladstone.

Noel Malcolm reviews The Middle Class: A History by Lawrence James.

03 September 2006
Once more unto the breach

I appreciate that things have been a bit quiet on the Croziervision front recently but that should not be taken for a lack of activity.  Far from it.  I have been giving a lot of thought to the Wiki and a few other things and I have, more or less, arrived at a conclusion.

The main one is to abandon MediaWiki as the software.  MediaWiki, while being marvellous in all sorts of ways, is designed for collaborative projects.  The Croziervision Wiki is anything but collaborative.  There were some neat features with MediaWiki, such as versioning, but I have come to the conclusion that while neat they are not absolutely essential.  The really big drawback was the difficulty in commenting.  So, it’s back to Expression Engine, which can do all sorts of clever things including commenting even if it does mean porting the 100 or so existing Wiki pages to EE.  What fun.

All this begs a question about the name.  Now that it’s no longer a Wiki it doesn’t seem right to keep calling it a “Wiki”.  But then again it doesn’t seem right to call it anything else.  Well, it wouldn’t if it were not for the fact that during this hiatus I did indeed start calling it something else - “The Croziervision Library” as it happens - and even went to the lengths of using the name for the banner,  the templates, the directory and the blog.  So now I have two names for whatever it is, neither of which I am entirely happy with.

“Call it what it is.”  I keep telling myself that and end up with Patrick Crozier’s reasonably up-to-date, reasonably comprehensive, library of pre-prepared viewpoints.  Hmm, thinks: “That’s not a bad description.  Think I’ll use that.”

02 September 2006
Can somebody explain to me the mysterious popularity of Magner's Irish Cider? Let me explain. Cider is made from apples. Apples come from apple trees. But in Ireland trees of any description, let alone apple trees, are about as common as snakes.

What, exactly, are they making this cider from?

Bad Lads’ Army

So we come to the end of yet another series of Bad Lads’ Army - British TV’s most subversive programme.

While the massed ranks Establishment would have us believe that there is nothing that can be done about the current crime wave, Bad Lads’ Army drives past delivering a well-aimed two-fingered salute. 

The programme (originally Lads’ Army) starts from the simple premise that there is nothing wrong with today’s youth that could not be solved by a month of 1950s-style National Service.

What happens every year is that some of the 30 or so recruits get chucked out but that most make it through to the end.  Along the way, a regime of physical exercise, kit inspection, psychological challenges, instant punishments, paltry rewards, ill-fitting uniforms and lots and lots of cold water tame their initial arrogance and cockiness and replace it with team spirit, pride and a respect for others.  For many of them passing out from Bad Lads’ Army is the first thing they have ever seen through.

Whether what the viewer sees is a true reflection of what happens (I think yes) and whether the effect lasts (I suspect not) is debatable - TV is such a liars’ medium.  But ITV is to be congratulated for devoting an hour of primetime to the idea that no one is irredeemable.

28 August 2006
"...the Congo (four million dead but, as they haven't found a way to pin it on Bush, nobody cares)..." Mark Steyn in an article on the not-so-noble savage.

22 August 2006
Watford FC then and now

In 1982, as in 2006, Watford Football Club was promoted to Division 1 (yes, that’s Divsion 1 - we’re not going to have any of this “Premiership” nonsense around here thank you very much).

Then, the ground had a capacity of 28,000.  Now it is 22,000.

Then you could stand in the rain and jump about like crazy when we scored.  Now you can’t.

Then, the whole place looked run down.  Now, it looks incredibly modern.

Then, the average gate was 15,000.  Only Liverpool or Manchester United could hope to fill it up.  This season I expect it to be near capacity - they’ve already sold out their 13,500 season tickets.

Then, newly promoted clubs could expect to do well - in 1983 Watford finished runners-up.  Now, well, staying up would be fantastic.

Then, the best seat in the house cost a fiver.  Add in inflation and that’s probably a tenner.  Now, the cheapest ticket is £35.

Then, Watford was a natural Division 3 team.  Now, it spends most of its time in Division 2.

The stand that was then the best is now the worst.

Then, Elton John and Graham Taylor had a plan to build a brand, spanking new stadium on a greenfield site.  They were laughed at.  Now, to all intents and purposes we’ve got one.

Then, there was a problem with football hooliganism.  Now, to the best of my knowledge that is confined to the national team.

What does this all mean?  Probably, that football is much more popular than it used to be.  Or, that its fans got richer.  Or older.  And more Southern.  Whatever it is it’s quite dramatic.  I don’t think there was anything like the same kind of change in the quarter century prior to 1982.

09 July 2006
"So the correct criticism of Eriksson is that he has made England too exciting and free-scoring and not boring and defensive enough."

Candidate for the funny farm? Perhaps, but would you still think that when told that before the tournament began the same person backed France to win? He wasn't the only one by the way.

08 July 2006
The Somme: From Defeat to Victory

I was intrigued by the BBC’s documentary on the Battle of the Somme on Sunday night.  I can remember watching a similar documentary some 30 years ago which was very much of the “Donkeys” school of Great War history.

But this one was very odd.  The first part was very much the usual kind of thing: brave men, idiot generals etc.  But the second was quite different: brave men, some not-so-idiot generals and an army that was learning its trade. 

Some thoughts:

  • Equal billing with the “Donkeys” is a huge victory for the revisionists
  • Boy, does it take time
  • I think the claim about Morland was probably nonsense
  • The “Donkeys” history is badly skewed.  They overplay some aspects and completely miss others.
  • It is amazing how long it takes to come up with an even remotely balanced picture of what happened.

So, this Morland claim?
The claim is that on the morning of July 1916 with his left-hand side division having succeeded and his right-hand side division having failed, rather than using his reserves to attack on the right Morland should have have sent them to the left to have attacked the Germans on the right from behind (if that’s not too complicated)

I think this is preposterous (although I would bow to anyone with superior military knowledge).  A Great War division has about 20,000 men.  It is not an easy thing to move.  It takes weeks to prepare them for an attack.  To ask them to change their plans on the fly seems absurd.  How are you even going to get them to the new start line?  They won’t have maps.  Even if they did they would constantly be bumping into each other.

So, what do the “Donkeys” overplay? 
They are forever going on about how the British crossed no-man’s land in waves.  Or “walking slowly towards the enemy” as Blackadder would have it.  I think this misses the point.  If your enemy has unsuppressed machine guns behind uncut wire it doesn’t matter how you advance towards him - you’re going to get massacred.  You can run but then you can’t carry much.  You can crawl but what you gain in terms of silhouette is lost in terms of speed.  You are less of a target but the enemy has more time to shoot you.

Why would you want to carry much over No Man’s Land? 
Because of the difficulty of resupply.  No Man’s Land is still a dangerous place even when you’ve captured the opposite trench.  It can be swept by enemy machine guns in front and to the sides and by enemy artillery.  Attacking infantry have to have enough food, water and ammunition to hold out until help arrives.

And what do the “Donkeys” underplay? 
The real reason 1 July was such a disaster.  At Neuve Chapelle in 1915, the British Army stumbled on the formula for destroying an enemy position.  It was essentially, a certain weight of shells in a certain amount of time.  In the initial plans for the Somme, Rawlinson - the General in charge - kept to this.  And then, under pressure from Haig, he changed it - halving the weight of shells to accommodate the greater depth of frontage that his commander demanded.  So, neither the wire nor the trenches were destroyed.  The tragedy of the greatest bombardment in history was that it wasn’t great enough.

So, you don’t think that we had a balanced picture until recently? 
Well, perhaps balanced is the wrong word.  Detailed would be nearer the mark.  No, that’s wrong too.  Clear - that’s the word.  In the 1920s people were still in shock.  In the 1930s, the Donkey-bashing started.  Although, the BBC’s Great War documentary series from 1965 is balanced, it gives you little idea of how the war was actually won on the Western Front.  After that the “Donkeys” had a field day - culminating in the 1976 documentary I remember so well.  It was only after that that the “revisionists” started to look into the difficulties that the British Army faced and how it (eventually) overcame them.

So, what were the difficulties?
Well, they include the sorts of things: trenches, barbed wire and machine guns, that we all know about.  But they also include things like communication - there wasn’t any.  The small starting size of the British Army was another.  It meant that it lacked experienced men.  Counter-bombardments.  Artillery tends to get overlooked because it is difficult to visualise.  But if you attack the first thing that the defender does is to bring down shell-fire on you.  Artillery was responsible for 60% of casualties on the Western Front.

So, how did it solve them? 
Artillery mainly.  More guns, more shells, new types of shells, better shells, better techniques.  It’s not glamorous stuff or the stuff you can easily put on celluloid but it was a war winner.  Of course, other arms and other techniques had their part to play, and we shouldn’t neglect the impact of the Blockade, but artillery was overwhelmingly the most important.


07 July 2006
TV Alert!. Mike Judge's classic Office Space is on tonight (Friday) at 11.50pm on BBC2.

01 July 2006
I've just been pissing myself with laughter listening to the Telegraph World Cup Pubcast. Is it just me?

30 June 2006
More than mind games

I have been hoping to find some really good World Cup blogging this time round and had been rather disappointed.  That was until I found James Hamilton (I think I’ve heard of him, hang about, he left a comment here recently, well at least someone called James Hamilton did, and it was about football, so I think it’s the same one)‘s More Than Mind Games.

He sweeps up a lot of the hype and chucks in the bin, leaving us (essentially) with the following: England are playing better than ever before; that includes Beckham; the difference is Eriksson.


Update.  I’m still reading and have found this little gem:

Passion is the resort of those who know that their skill isn’t up to the job

Quite.  Again

22 June 2006
Huh? - "An orthopaedic consultant has found that [Noel] Edmonds is suffering from repetitive strain injury in his right elbow from lifting the telephone too often on his new television game show, Deal or No Deal."

There be racists

Andy Wood was joking about supporting England and being run out of his (Scottish) town.  Seems for some over the border it’s not quite so funny:

A boy aged seven and a 41-year-old disabled man were attacked in separate racist assaults in Scotland for wearing England shirts.

Interesting, as in inaccurate, use of the word “racist”.  Last time I looked Scots were pretty much the same colour as Englishmen.  If these assaults were what they are claimed to have been then, surely, they are nationalist assaults?

19 June 2006
War of the World

It’ll be interesting to see what Niall (pronounced Neil, I believe) Ferguson will be saying in his Channel Four series which starts tonight.  According to the ads for the show his theory is that the wars (hot and cold) of the 20th Century represented one, continuous, century-long struggle which the East won.  Which makes me wonder what he means by “East” - East Europe, Middle East, China or (surely not) India? 

It’ll be interesting for me because I, too, believe that the wars of the 20th Century represented a continuous struggle.  But for me that struggle was an attempt to answer the question: how should industrial societies be governed?  The answer, incidentally, being more or less the one we started off with: democracy.

12 June 2006
"The only catch is that you need to first install hundreds of feet of railway track to wind around the garden." But if it's the only way to get round the hosepipe ban...

11 June 2006
Wearing make up at night does not make you look older, says Squander Two. Wonder what Jackie will have to say about this...

10 June 2006
England have a 5% chance of winning the World Cup, according to Danny Finkelstein. Something to bear in mind when we go out in the quarter-finals.

Here we go again but this time is the last time

Another World Cup. And once again I will be cheering on the lads.  Eventually.  It usually takes a little while for my anger at the boorish antics of my fellow England fans to subside sufficiently to allow me to support the team.  In the case of a game against Germany, the chances are that that little while will last the full 90 minutes.

Even so, boorish fans and boorish tabloids notwithstanding, I will scream and shout, cheer and cry and generally attach my emotions to the efforts of the men wearing the three lions.

But this is the last time.

I mean, it’s nonsense isn’t it?  Getting excited about football.  I mean really.  What on earth have the exertions of eleven men wearing red or white got to do with me?  Nothing that I can see.  And even if I could find a positive answer to that question, what would be the point?  Right now, we’ve got the players, the manager, the weather and the venue.  But, it’s all downhill from here.  Never again will the omens be so good.  Even the FA, by appointing an Englishman to be future manager, have tacitly accepted that the game is up.

So, it’s going to be one last hurrah from Beckham and one last hurrah from me.  And that’s it.  Never again.

09 May 2006
This is just to let my regular readers know that I am taking a breather from blogging. I appreciate that it may not seem so very different from my regular blogging output but just in case you were thinking I was on the verge of producing a really great post or something.... Well, I'm not.

03 May 2006
Why we are hearing about government scandals now

I see the Charles Clarke scandal is still rumbling on.  Along with the Prescott thing it’s been a pretty bad week for the government.

All this puts me in mind of a pet theory of mine: you only get to hear of the scandals when the press is really pissed off.

Well, it was something I noticed in the dying days of the Conservative government.  It was every week a new scandal - think: Archer, Aitken, Mellor, Yeo, Lamont’s basement - usually, though not always, a sex scandal.  Actually, all this started more or less immediately after Black Wednesday and it never stopped.  The point was that Black Wednesday had demonstrated in the clearest possible terms that the government was both dishonest (the ERM was not essential to our well being) and incompetent (they couldn’t keep us in it). My guess is that it was at that point that the scales fell from the eyes of the press and it was at then that they decided to publicise all the stories that they had long known about but hadn’t so far bothered to print as well as going after new ones.

But why don’t they print sleazy stories as soon as they get them?
Well, I think it’s a matter of timing.  There have been plenty of sleazy stories flying about New Labour over the years - words and phrases like Powderject and the Queen Mother’s funeral spring to mind - but these have had little impact.  Certainly not enough to force a resignation.  My guess is that the reason is that there just hasn’t been the market for it.  So long as the press and public are prepared to give the government the benefit of the doubt these stories don’t go anywhere - but when things change, things change…

Ah, but hang about.  There have been scandals before like Mandelson and Parkinson.
Obviously, if you do something completely outrageous you are in a lot of trouble but I think with Mandelson and Parkinson it was more that the press were just out to get them.  I am not quite sure about Parkinson but my understanding is that Mandelson was universally loathed by journalists.  They only tolerated him for as long as they did because they wanted a Labour victory.  As soon as that was achieved old scores could be settled.

So, what is the present government’s Black Wednesday?
Obviously, there hasn’t been anything nearly as spectacular.  It’s more of a drip-drip effect.  The realisation that the government isn’t going to sort out the health service or education or anything else for that matter.

Update. Since drafting this I have noticed that Brian Micklethwait is saying more or less the same thing.  But with better words and more swearing.

27 April 2006
Competition time

Here’s a little challenge for you should you feel so inclined:

Name a Scottish professional footballer

I am damned if I can.  In the Seventies it would have been difficult not to what with Bremner, Dalglish, Wilson, Gemmel, McQueen, Jordan etc all playing.

Just to prove that the boot can be put on the other foot:

Name a successful English manager

I am talking serious silverware here ie League Championship, European Cup or managing a serious football team for a reasonable length of time.  For the League I think Howard Wilkinson (in 1992) is the most recent.  For the European Cup I think it’s Joe Fagan (1984) and for the serious football team the nearest I can get is Kevin Keegan in his Newcastle days.

Just blips or signs of deeper truths?

Update Aargh!  Turns out that Bob Wilson wasn’t/isn’t Scottish.  Not that that stopped him playing for the national team.  Ditto his successor.

26 April 2006
The NHS may be better but how would you know?

The Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, is claiming that the NHS has had its best year ever.  Not entirely surprisingly, her remarks have generated quite a hoo-ha with all sorts of people saying that far from being good the NHS is, in fact, rubbish.

Now, although I would tend to agree with Hewitt’s critics, the question, to my mind, is: how would you know?

In the free-ish world the answer is very simple.  A successful enterprise is one that I choose to do business with and can pay its bills.

Now, while the NHS, with its £80bn budget, or whatever it is, can probably pay its bills (hmm, thinks:“maybe, even this isn’t true”), it is not true that I or any other potential NHS patient chooses to do business with it.  If, by some miracle, the NHS were suddenly privatised and its entire budget handed back to the people who had paid for it, I can’t imagine that the NHS would see much of that money ever again.  No, my guess is that most of that money would be going straight to BUPA.

22 April 2006
Against Compulsory Purchase

A correspondent recently asked me what my views were on compulsory purchase. Although it was the topic of quite a few discussions on Transport Blog and I did reach a conclusion, I never quite got round to stating what it was. So, here goes: I am against it.

I am against it because:

  • it involves force which I am against
  • it encourages corruption and abuse
  • I believe its absence wouldn't be that great a loss

But how would you build roads or railways without it?

The fear has always been that without compulsory purchase then along the line of a proposed route there will be "hold-outs" ie landowners who will demand a much higher price than the prevailing market rate (not least because without their sale the road or railway cannot be built), and that therefore, for the most part, roads and railways would be too expensive to build. Now, for all I know this may be true - it's not a theory that has ever been tested to destruction - but there are grounds in both theory and practice for believing that this may not be the case.

So, the theory?

Well, more ideas than theory. One way might be, say, if you were trying to build a railway, to survey the route, ask the landowners along the route at what price they would be willing to sell and take out an option to buy. A more sophisticated way might be to survey a couple of routes and to take out options on both of them. That way "hold-outs" might be discouraged from holding the railway company to ransom.

And the practice?

  • Pipelines - my understanding is that these, typically, don't need compulsory purchase
  • Two of the earliest modern highways in the US were built without compulsory purchase (see p172)
  • The Stanhope and Tyne railway (apparently) was built without compulsory purchase

Why so few examples?

Well, one possibility is that it is very difficult (though clearly not impossible) to build a road or railway etc without compulsory purchase. But there are a couple of other possibilities:
  • Crowding out. If the possibility of state action exists people might be less inclined to look into other, potentially more expensive options.
  • There may be other things going on. At the dawn of the railway age all joint stock companies needed an Act of Parliament to establish themselves. In more modern times all road or railway schemes have required planning permission from the state (another thing I am against), so there is little point in buying the land without the permission and difficult to get the permission without knowing what land is involved.

What makes you think it causes corruption and abuse?

I've heard of a few examples and, no, I've got nothing to hand right now but I guess 5 minutes Googling the terms "eminent domain" and "Wal-Mart" should turn up a few examples.

Assuming that corruption and abuse do occur, why do you think they happen?

I think the abuse occurs because the state can't help itself. If it has a power it will abuse it
As far as corruption goes whenever the state is given a power which can make others rich, money is going to flow in the direction of the people with the power to influence decisions.
20 April 2006
How should you fisk a podcast?

As I have mentioned before I have been listening to Stefan Molyneux's series of podcasts. Most of them have been pretty good although one or two have made me hum and haw a bit. But the one on 9/11, in which he gives credence to the claim that it was organised by the US government (link to follow), set the alarm bells ringing.

Now, I think the claim that 9/11 was anything other than what it appeared to be, is absurd and I could write a whole long piece about conspiracy theories and falsafiability, but it is another issue that interests me: how should you even go about fisking a podcast?

Well, couldn't you just go through it line by line?

You could, but think of the effort involved and especially the effort involved in comparison to fisking a blog posting. While, it is easy to scan and take excerpts from a posting it is much harder to do this with a podcast. Meanwhile, it is much easier to produce a podcast (once you've got the right equipment) than it is to write a posting (something that Brian Micklethwait has mentioned - here, I think - see what I mean about how difficult it is to track things down in podcasts?). There is a severe imbalance here, in terms of effort, certainly if one is attempting to balance verbal podcasts with written blog postings.

In that case, isn't the obvious answer to do a verbal fisking?

Yes, but there are a number of difficulties with this. Not necessarily show-stoppers but things that will slow you down:
  • Linking. How do you put an html link into a podcast? The only way you can do it is by creating a blog posting with the links to the original podcast and your fisking. Cumbersome.
  • Excerpting. You still have to find, cut and paste the bits you want to excerpt.

So, what is the answer?

Well, maybe, the answer is to do nothing. Maybe, you have to accept that podcasts are not really fiskable and because they aren't they shouldn't be taken too seriously. Exactly, the same, of course, is true of all other forms of broadcast media.
16 April 2006
How's this for a scheme? You aim to take one red paperclip and then through a succession of trades end up with a house. The guy's up to a year's rent on a flat. I wonder how long it'll be before some clever marketing people start making offers. (Hat-tip Marginal Revolution)

New Earth

So it’s happened again.  Not for the first time I have dreaded the return of Doctor Who only to be pleasantly surprised by the first episode.  OK, so I spent most of the time hiding behind the sofa in fear of some victimist moralising but apart from one ugly moment we were largely spared.  Otherwise, what we got was pretty good stuff.


  • This would have made an excellent two-parter.  There’s a lot of mileage in the idea of stem-cell research going too far.  You could have had one of the stem-cell people (SCPs) escaping and all sorts of odd things going on with the hospital trying to recapture him.  Actually, that was a general criticism of the first (new) season.  A lot of good ideas were given far too short a shrift.
  • Is it just me or was the Cassandra Rose preferable to the Rose Rose?
  • How did the SCPs learn to walk, talk and think?
  • Who thought it was a good idea to place the control that opens all the doors in a corridor and make it that easy to operate?
  • And what was that last bit with Cassandra-Mick going back to see Younger Cassandra?  Oh, I know, to tell her that she’s so beautiful so that she doesn’t turn into the self-obsessed megalomaniac she does turn into.  But hang about, doesn’t this violate the “don’t change history” rule?  Talking of which, aren’t all points in time somebody’s history?
  • Liked the cat make-up.  At least, I assume it was make-up. 
  • David Tennant is a fantastic doctor.

Update: Much more here.  Oh, and the SCPs learnt to walk/talk etc by osmosis.  Was it worth it?

15 April 2006
So, the "second" (actually 28th, or something) series of Doctor Who starts tomorrow night. I suppose I'll watch it. This time last year I thought it would be a disaster. After Rose, the first episode, I thought it was going to be wonderful. But as the series dragged on, my original fears were confirmed. Except that it wasn't a disaster. It was a huge success. I might not have liked it. I might have found the silliness, the tacked-on politics, the sexual suggestiveness and the lack of explanation jarring, but plenty of others didn't. So, I guess it'll be more of the same this time around. Oh well.

Light blogging

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last week or so.  The reason is that Stefan Molyneux’s series of podcasts have provoked rather more thought than I had expected.  I am currently working on a response (see here) but it may take some time before it’s ready to be posted.

07 April 2006
Corporations again

About a week ago I put up a posting on corporations.  In it I mentioned that Chris Dillow of Stumbling and Mumbling didn’t like them but that I wasn’t quite sure why.  Suitably prodded Mr Dillow sought to explain himself.

And failed.

For the most part I just don’t understand what he is saying.  Well, that’s being polite.  Readers are welcome to speculate on the precise meaning of: “Markets are democratic”, “the cult of the CEO”, “the ideal-type big business”, “statistically significant alpha” but I can’t be bothered.  If it sounds like gobbledygook it probably is.  Actually, that’s not quite true.  He did provoke me into finding out what “rent-seeking” means.  It means getting the government to put your competitors out of business.

The few bits I did understand, I have either dealt with or don’t seem terribly important.  Some corporations spout gobbledygook.  Apart from being a bit rich, it doesn’t seem to be any big deal.  If they spout gobbledygook to me I simply take my business elsewhere.  Corporations are hierarchical.  Again big deal.  If they are big enough, they seek to put their competitors out of business.  Again big deal.  It is a characteristic of all big institutions.  The problem here is not the institutions as such, but the power of the state.

02 April 2006
01 April 2006
Are corporations a bad thing?

Are corporations ie limited liability companies, a bad thing? Stefan Molyneux (who has a pretty good series of MP3 talks) thinks so (hat-tip Jay Jardine). So, it would appear, does Chris Dillow, although I can't quite be sure because while he's in favour of the market and against "business", he hasn't (as far as I know) elaborated on the matter.

Molyneux's argument seems to boil down to this:

  • Corporations ie limited liability companies, are creatures of the state
  • They enjoy privileges ie limited liability, that other organisations don't have
  • They are efficient at what they do
  • They are easy (for the state) to tax and (because they are efficient) bring in enormous revenues
  • They are very powerful, using that power to get what they want out of Congress (in the US example)
  • What they want, usually, is to exclude the little guy
  • This they achieve by getting Congress to approve subsidies and regulations that aid corporations and harm sole traders

I am not quite sure where medium-sized corporations fit into Molyneaux's scheme of things.

For good measure I could also chip in the argument that the real problem with corporations is that in a world dominated by corporations states are reluctant to allow anything else.

My thoughts:
  • It can't see anything philosophically wrong with corporations
  • It may be possible that corporations could exist without the state
  • It seems to me that corporations have achieved a great deal
  • This is really an issue of size rather than type
  • The real problem is the power of the state

So, you can't see anything "philosophically" wrong with corporations?

The state may allow them to exist but ultimately no one is forced to deal with them, so it seems to me that I can hardly object to them

Corporations without the state?

All you actually need for limited liability is an agreement with your creditors that your liabilities are limited. The list is probably not that great including, for the most part, banks, suppliers and employees. All of these people already have contracts with you - usually written - so, it wouldn't be all that difficult to write in a clause to all those contracts on liability in the event of insolvency.

But who would deal with you?

Well, you'd have to offer something in return. Independent auditing of the accounts might be one. Higher prices (in the form of higher wages or interest rates) might be another. Presumably, these things exist right here and now - assuming, that is, that creditors have some reason to doubt whether they will get their money back or not.

But you say only "possible"?

Well, the big fly in the ointment is that (to the best of my knowledge) no corporation has ever existed without the state's say-so. Of course, it is possible that the state (normally) banned corporations - or in some other way made it impossible to create them - and so special legislation was needed. The other possibility is that people did try to create them and failed.

The great achievements of corporations...

Oh, railways, drugs, computers, cars, cheap food etc. Just a few things.

So, it's size rather than type?

Yes, it's the big ones that are the worry - no one is particularly worried about the political influence of the local panel beaters. Anything big, whether it be a religion, a media organisation, a paramilitary organisation or a trade union will attempt to throw its weight around. Corporations are no different.

So, the state should attempt to keep things small?

It can try but I doubt if it'll succeed and even if it does succeed that is likely to be a bad thing. Size has its uses. There are such things as economies of scale and there are other advantages. I rather like the fact that as a consumer I can walk into a McDonald's on the other side of the world and order something familiar.

But you doubt if the state will succeed?

Government action seems to me like squeezing a tube of toothpaste. Sure one part will go down but the tube will pop up somewhere else. For instance, in the UK campaign donations above a certain size were banned so all of a sudden political parties started accepting "loans".

So, what can be done?

Not much. A separation of powers and a written constitution help but ultimately the price of freedom is forever making the case for it.
Medworth recommends this essay on Islam and the West. It's long but it's worth the effort.

24 March 2006
Did you catch that dodgy BBC documentary on estate agents the other night? Well, so did Rob Fisher who gives it a well-deserved fisking.


I liked this photo of Chris Tame who died this week. I found it on the web site of the Libertarian Alliance which he founded. It shows him in front of the Alternative Bookshop which he also founded. What I particularly like about it is that he's clearly very proud and clearly very fit - that mattered to Chris. He's probably got Elvis blaring away in the background.

The unabridged version of Sean Gabb's tribute to Chris is here.

When I linked to a set of aerial photos of Mexico City I did so partly because they seemed to indicate that things were going right for the place. Seems the numbers are also going right.

22 March 2006
"Why is the bread in Paris better than any that I can find in Washington?" asks Alex Tabarrok, initiating a wonderful comment thread.

20 March 2006
Home care

The government is planning to save money on casualty by giving better health advice to patients with chronic diseases - the idea being that, armed with this advice, said sufferers are less likely to clog up casualty in future.


  • I sighed when I first heard this.  While, for all I know the aims of the scheme might be entirely laudable they will almost certainly fall victim to the law of unintended consequences.
  • Then it occurred to me that this really might be quite devious

So, the unintended consequences?
Well, who knows.  This is always the fun aspect of government policy - predicting where it’s going to hurt.  There’s bound to be more bureaucracy.  There may be inappropriate pressure put on doctors to dissuade their patients from going to casualty when they really need it.  There may be cases of patients being poorly advised and ending up dead.

The story right now is that there is a cash crisis in the health service.  At the same time there is a policy of trying to turn nurses into doctors.  It strikes me that the former may be being used as an excuse to introduce the latter

What makes you think that?
For starters the time lag.  The cash crisis is here and now.  An advisory service what with all the recruitment and training involved is going to take months if not years to make an impact.  Then there is the track record.  Rail privatisation being used as cover to introduce vertical fragmentation.  The War on Terror being used as cover to introduce ID cards.

Update 22/03/06
Dr Crippen also has some thoughts

19 March 2006
Some readers may remember me banging on about Vashti Bunyan's Just Another Diamond Day some time ago. They may also remember that I was very grateful to the hardcore fans who kept the flame alive by passing around the half-a-dozen or so vinyl copies in existence amongst their friends. So, you can just imagine my shock when I found out that Laban Tall was one of these clog-wearing wierdos.

17 March 2006
A cartoon
To any Muslim readers who should stumble across this I am sorry if you find my re-publication of one of the Danish cartoons offensive.

But I have to do it.

I am doing this solely because some people are trying to stop me. If freedom of speech were secure I wouldn't bother. But it isn't, so I will.

Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of modern Western civilisation. Without it, Western civilisation (which I think is a good thing) is doomed. But that freedom is currently under threat. It is, therefore, up to me and anyone else who values freedom, to show what we will not be bullied.

14 March 2006
Japanese People Pushers

If, for some reason, you can’t or don’t want to watch this video it shows some railway staff pushing passengers on to a train in Japan.

I was rather surprised by this.

Yes.  Although many of us have heard tales of passenger pushers (and a colour supplement photo of them from 20 years or so years ago remains seared into my conciousness) I have, despite moderately enthusiastic efforts, never actually seen them in action.  Nor have I heard people pushing described by a reasonably reliable commentator as an on-going practice.  I had started to think that it was something that had died out since privatisation, once again demonstrating the superiority of the free market both in general and on the railways.  But, no.  Worse still, the train is a Keio train.  Keio has never been state-owned.

So, on the railways, state=good; private=bad, then?
Well, not quite.  It may be a privately-owned train but that does not necessarily mean that it is on a privately-owned line.  And, anyway, I still have a couple of fall back positions should the need arise.

Keio (along with several other private railways) runs trains through the state-owned Tokyo subways.  However, the train’s livery looks a bit odd (to me) which tends to suggest it is not the sort of train that would end up on one of Tokyo’s subways (I know what those ones look like).

Subways with an “s”?
Yes, there are two of them (networks not lines).  One, Teito, owned by the Japanese Government and another, Toei, owned by the Government of Tokyo.  Don’t ask me why, I don’t know.  Mind you, for the best part of a hundred years the Waterloo and City line was not part of the London Underground, so the situation is not entirely without precedent.

So, your fall-back positions…

  1. It’s possible that the Japanese don’t mind being packed in a crowded train as much as we Westerners do - though I doubt it.
  2. But if they do, the chances are that it’s all down to fare control, which I am against

So, why did you think passenger pushing had died out?

  • Despite looking for it I didn’t see it on either occasion I was there (in 2002 and 2005)
  • JR have clearly made efforts to create more space on their trains
  • The Yamanote Line seemed less crowded than it did before
Seat folded out of use

Who are JR and what efforts have they made?
JR East, to give it it’s full name, was one of the companies created when Japan’s national railway was privatised (properly) in 1987.  Since then it has introduced 6-door carriages and carriages in which the seats are folded out of use at peak times.

What do you mean by “properly”?
I am trying to distinguish between the sort of privatisation in which you create a free(-ish) market and the sort of privatisation eg British rail privatisation,  where most things end up contracted out.  Contracting out and the free market are not the same thing.

So, how do 6-door carriages help increase passenger space?
They are quicker to load.  That means less hanging around at stations which, in turn, means that journeys times can be cut which means that more trains can be slotted into the timetable.

Yamanote Line in the peak

What made you think the Yamanote Line was less crowded?
Compare a report I wrote in 2002 with the photo (right) I took in 2005.  Mind you a (Japanese) railwayman friend was rather surprised when I told him what I’d seen.

What makes you think there is fare control in Japan?
See here

13 March 2006
The NHS Fast Track scheme

Last week, on his BBC programme, Sweeney Investigates, John Sweeney was looking into the government's Fast Track programme. This is the scheme in which NHS patients are treated by outside contractors. Sweeney, reckoned they weren't doing a very good job. Although he didn't say it in as many words the implication was that private enterprise can't deliver health care.

My take:
  • It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if there were all sorts of problems with this scheme. However, it would be wrong to think that this undermines the case for the free market

So, what sorts of things were going on?
Botched operations caused by surgeons brought in from abroad who didn't know what they were doing because they were unfamiliar with the language, procedures and equipment and, in some cases, hadn't been screened properly

How can this not undermine the case for the free market?
  • the thing being examined is not a free market; it's an example of contracting out (or out-sourcing as it is sometimes known). They are not the same thing even if they both get tagged with the same "private" label. In a free market the supplier is paid by the customer. Under contracting out the supplier is paid by the state which gets its money - lest we forget - by force. I am in favour of the free market but because I am against force I am also against contracting out.
  • the private ie real free market sector, is still very good.
What makes you think that the private sector is still very good?
The thing that really does it for me is NHS Blog Doctor. He is an NHS GP who blogs. He tells everyone he knows to take out private medical insurance. As he says:
When I started as a doctor, I could genuinely say to patients that they really did not need private health insurance. Better bed and breakfast perhaps, but the NHS still delivered. Now I tell people to keep up their BUPA payments whatever the cost. Sell your daughters into the slave trade if necessary, but do not forgo private medical insurance.
That's one hell of a recommendation

12 March 2006
Just in case there are any readers out there who haven't read about this already, apparently the Telegraph has taken down an article by Patrick Sukhdeo in which he made some (mild, if I recall correctly) criticisms of Islam, citing "legal reasons" …link
The NHS stiffs long-term patients. Another reason to be against it.

11 March 2006
They wanted to end selection by ability but ended up with selection by wealth. Another example of the Law of Unintended Consequences
10 March 2006
Thanks to Natalie for the thumbs up to my Q&As. I wasn't quite sure if they were as easy to read as they were to write, so it's nice when they are described as "exhilarating". Natalie is also quite right in thinking that they fit in with the Wiki. The idea is that by breaking down points in this way they can easily be copied and pasted into a new Wiki page should the need arise. At least, that's the theory...

06 March 2006
China headed for a crash? Tyler Cowen thinks so
04 March 2006
High-rise living - fine so long as the state keeps out

A McC ponders housing policy.  He thinks the tower blocks of the 1960s were dreadful but he has doubts about both the affordability, suitability and durability of the “luxury” appartments that seem to be going up all over the place.  He thinks there will come a time when people once again want spacious houses.

My take:

  • like most people I agree with him that the tower blocks of the 1960s were, in the main, dreadful
  • they were dreadful because, in the main, they were built and funded by the state
  • I rather like “luxury” apartments
  • The affordability argument is a red herring
  • I really don’t know if it is true that lots of things are being built to a poor standard these days or indeed to a poorer standard than in the past.  It would be interesting to find out
  • Apartments do not have to be rabbit hutches
  • I don’t know whether people want to live in spacious houses or not (I suspect they do)
  • The way to find out is to abolish planning

So, it’s all the fault of the state?
There are plenty of perfectly nice privately-owned and customer-financed high-rise blocks in the world.  Perhaps not so many in London (I wonder what the status of the Barbican is?) but plenty in North America.  There are also plenty of rotten low-rise estates owned or funded by the state

So, why is state housing so bad?
For much the same reason that most state enterprises are bad

So, why is the “affordability” argument in respect of luxury apartments a red herring?
Because although few can afford luxury apartments by increasing supply they help to reduce prices.

So, apartments do not have to be rabbit hutches?
No, according to a friend, in Singapore the average appartment is the same size as a 3-bed semi over here.  Probably doesn’t have a garden, though.  Even so, Singaporeans seem to find them perfectly adequate for bringing up families

How would abolishing planning help to find out what people want?
Because the abolition of planning would create a market in housing.  Developers would be free to experiment with all types of building in all kinds of places.  The varying profitability of these developments would tell them what was the best compromise between what people want and what they can produce

Why would profitability tell us what people want?
Because profit is good


Last night Channel 4 screened Downfall, the film about Hitler’s last days.

My thoughts:

  • It’s a great movie
  • It goes someway to explaining why the Germans followed Hitler for as long as they did
  • It demonstrates (for the first time I know about) the devastating effects of artillery
  • (I feel) it is at times a bit stilted.  (As I understand it) there are good reasons for this
  • It’s tempting to think: there but for the grace of God go we.  In other words, that it would have been, (indeed could be) quite easy for us to go down a similar path
  • That’s no reason to indulge in self-loathing
  • How did Traudl Junge get through Soviet lines?  She was (obviously) a woman and she was wearing an SS uniform - either of which (one would have thought) would have put her in line for a pretty hard time.

So, why did they follow Hitler for as long as they did?

  • He could sell them dreams.  For most of Downfall, Hitler is demented but on at least one occasion he calms down and convinces those around him that there are all sorts of secret resources that he can call upon and that all will be well.
  • (believing in his specialness) many had sworn oaths to him personally, which they felt honour-bound to obey.  Why, I don’t know.
  • The “stab in the back” myth of 1918.  This was the (laughable) idea that had the German Army kept on fighting it would have won.  The consequence was that this time around many were determined not to repeat that “mistake”

The devastating effects of artillery?
For example:

  • 60% of First World War casualties were caused by artillery
  • I have been told (here, I think) that a high explosive shell has the same energy on detonation as an express train travelling at 90mph - though not, sadly, the number of carriages
  • An HE shell will blow a man apart to such an extent that not a trace can be found.  That would have been the fate of the most of the 50,000 missing in action whose names are listed on the Menin Gate memorial at Ypres

Why the temptation to think that we could go the same way?
Because (it seems to me) that the British are not that different from the Germans

But that shouldn’t force us to question ourselves?
No, because:

  • No other civilisation has ever done any better
  • The economic forces that made the Second World War so destructive are the same ones that gave us the extraordinary prosperity (of all kinds) that we enjoy today. 

Stilted?  Why?
It seems to me that the film is entirely based on eyewitness testimony.  The upside is that we know that this is what actually happened.  The downside is that it jerks about a bit depending on which eyewitness supplied the testimony.  I am rather glad the producers avoided the temptation to make things up.  It is just too important that everything we see is true, or, at least, as near to the truth as we are ever likely to get.

The man who saved the world - when the Soviet Union's missile strike early-warning system developed a glitch …link
01 March 2006
Peter Briffa is having a go a George Monbiot. He thinks Monbiot it getting a bit too steamed up over global warming and the contribution made to it by aircraft. For what it's worth I have no idea if climate change is happening or not but if it is then there are fairly straightforward ways of dealing with it and they don't involve banning people from flying.

Incidentally, if climate change is happening then surely there ought to have been some victims by now? I seem to remember being told almost 20 years ago that micro-nations like Vanuatu and Tuvalu would soon be history but still they stubbornly hang onto their above-sea-level status.

Against the nurse assault law

Yesterday morning, GMTV was leading with the government’s plan to introduce a £1,000 fine for assaulting NHS staff.

My thoughts:

  • I’m sure there is a problem
  • This won’t solve it
  • The root cause is a lack of will to enforce the law (except under certain circumstances)

So, there is a problem with assaults on NHS staff?
Apparently so.  On one level it is difficult to believe - why assault someone who is trying to help you?  On another, I can believe just about anything is possible when the welfare state, nationalised medicine and a weak criminal justice system combine

So, what’s the Welfare State got to do with this?
I am not quite sure but it seems that wherever it goes, trouble follows.  Brian Micklethwait has some ideas on the mechanism

And nationalised medicine?
Queues - the curse of the NHS.  So bad they have to lie about them.  An acquaintance of mine spent 7 hours in casualty when his 1-year-old daughter broke her leg.  I think he could be forgiven for getting a bit emotional

And you reckon the criminal justice system is weak?
Well, less effective than it used to be.  How else could crime have gone up?

So, this new law won’t solve things?
We already have a law against assaulting NHS staff or anyone else for that matter.  It’s called criminal assault.  If the state is incapable of enforcing the existing law what are the chances it will be able to enforce this one?  And if it were capable of enforcing the existing law it wouldn’t need this one

But, isn’t there the argument that these types of “targeted” laws are more effective?
There may well be statistical evidence to back it up.  Unfortunately, one of the iron laws of politics is that as soon as you start using a statistical relationship to guide policy the statistical relationship starts to break down.

The other problem with laws like this is where it leaves the rest of us.  With a lower level of protection, one assumes

What makes you think that statistical relationships break down?
The classic example is the Phillips Curve.  Actually, that is the only one I can think of off the top of my head but it is a bit of a corker.  Some time in the late 1960s, someone (Phillips presumably) noticed that there seemed to be a relationship between inflation and unemployment: the higher the inflation, the lower the unemployment.  So, politicians increased inflation in the hope of lower unemployment - at which point the relationship broke down and they got both higher inflation and higher unemployment

What laws does the state have the will to enforce?
Any law that can be applied against people with money.  Taxes, smoking bans, planning laws, health and safety, for instance

Why does the state lack the will?
I am not quite sure.  My best guess is that for a good 40 years now, the state has been gripped by victimitis - the belief that people who do bad things are in fact victims of the (apparently) law-abiding and respectable.  Perhaps the result of reading too many whodunnits, who knows.  Anyway, the result is that the state will do almost anything to avoid arresting, prosecuting, convicting or punishing the perpetrators.  Instead it spends most of its time trying to convince criminals to become better people, not that this has been noticeably successful

Parking spaces more expensive than the cars parked in them - golly …link
28 February 2006
If you are in the early stages of a Mishima infatuation, my advice is to quit now

I was struck by this book review (via A&L) by Victoria James.  She says:

For most of 1998, I read nothing but the works of Yukio Mishima. The following year, having consumed everything available in English translation, I moved to Tokyo to learn Japanese, the better to read the rest: 40 novels, 20 volumes of short stories and almost that number of plays. I stayed in Japan for five years, as did Christopher Ross, the author of Mishima’s Sword.

Some thoughts:

  • I may not have gone quite that far but at about the same time I did pick up a fair number of his novels.  I eventually came to the conclusion that his writing was pretty much worthless.
  • I think there are all sorts of reasons why so many are fascinated by him in the West.  Mainly due to the manner of his death.
  • We probably shouldn’t be so fascinated.

So, who is this Mishima guy?

  • Japanese novelist and playwright.  On 25 November 1970, he and four colleagues entered the headquarters of the Tokyo garrison of Japan’s Self-Defence Force, taking its commander hostage.  Having failed to induce the garrison to rebel, Mishima and a colleague committed suicide by ritual disembowelment (seppuku)

So, why are so many fascinated by him?

  • I think it is largely the nature of his death.
    • Western democracy is (thankfully) rather dull and predictable.  Those who think they can inject some drama into proceedings (Tejero is another example) are few and far between.
    • He committed ritual suicide.  That takes a lot of guts (so to speak) - especially when you don’t have a superior or some sort of code of honour to encourage you.  One tends to think he must have meant something by his actions.
  • He also managed to inspire a great movie

  • I can’t help but think that the date of his death is in some way significant.  1970 was the year the Sixties ended, culturally as well as numerically.  Idealism was giving way to disillusion.

So, did his death have meaning?

  • I’m sure he meant something by it but that doesn’t mean he was right.  History is littered with the corpses of men who were both brave and wrong - Adolf Hitler, Patrick Pearse, Guy Fawkes, Mohammed Atta just to name a few.

By the way, what did he want?

  • Difficult to say.  He didn’t exactly leave behind a detailed manifesto.  It was something about Japan regaining its soul.  Anyway, it may not have been an entirely political act.  One of his worries was growing old and ugly.  He may just have wanted to check out before it was too late.
The wonder of RSS

Blithering Bunny has been on hiatus for ages but that’s just fine because he’s still right up there near the top of my Bloglines feed list.  And so, when he does decide to show up for duty once again I am amongst the first to know about it.  Which is good.  It would be even better, mind, if he had a full text feed but, I guess you can’t have it all.

Dies Irae has been running a poll to find out who was the best President of the 20th Century. And the winner, with an astonishing 4 votes is Calvin Coolidge. Quite right too.
This week Behind the Sofa are reviewing Unearthly Child, the very first episode of Doctor who which has recently been cleaned up and (along with other things) been released on DVD. They reckon it's a bit of a classic.
27 February 2006
The abolition of Parliament.  Is it really such a bad thing?

I notice quite a lot of people have been getting steamed up over the Abolition of Parliament Bill (not real name).  They seem to think Parliament is a Good Thing.  Which begs the question: is it?

The truth is that Parliament doesn’t matter all that much.  It is no longer the place where the issues of the day are resolved.  That role is now fulfilled by means of the mass media, opinion polls and elections, occasionally supplemented by referendums and insurrection.  And because it is not the place where issues are resolved it can no longer attract talented people to fill its benches.

There are good reasons why Parliament is so weak.  Almost every MP knows full well that he owes his seat to his party and its leader which is why he toes the party line.  He owes his seat to his party and leader because elections are fought on a national basis.  They are fought on a national basis because the media is national.

Now, I am not saying that the executive shouldn’t be held to account - far from it - but perhaps it is time we accepted that Parliament isn’t the way to do it.

The Conspiracy

Ken Windschuttle (via A&L) talks about the modern left:

For the past three decades and more, many of the leading opinion makers in our universities, the media and the arts have regarded Western culture as, at best, something to be ashamed of, or at worst, something to be opposed.

Meanwhile Eric S Raymond talks about the damage done when the Soviets stated reading Gramsci:

The Soviets consciously followed the Gramscian prescription; they pursued a war of position, subverting the “leading elements” of society through their agents of influence. (See, for example, Stephen Koch’s Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals; summary by Koch here) This worked exactly as expected; their memes seeped into Western popular culture and are repeated endlessly in (for example) the products of Hollywood.

And RottyPup (noting how Gramsicians and Islamists seem to be best buddies nowadays) supposes that:

To most Gramscians, the bearded crazies are simply next in line for an extinction-event after all those pesky rich, white males have been dealt with.

(Though he thinks the crazies may have other plans)

A few thoughts:

  1. I am pretty sure there is a conspiracy out there and that it is aimed at the destruction of Western civilisation.  It helps explain a lot of what the left say and do.
  2. I don’t think it’s the sort of conspiracy carried out in hushed tones in dark, smokeless rooms.  No, it’s more one where the actors, having read a bit of Gramsci don’t have to be told what to do and when to do it.
  3. I am never quite sure whether to mention it or not.  It’s really for internal (right-wing) consumption only.  I rather feel that arguments have to be won on their merits.  I am also aware that the Gramscians get a lot of support from people who have never read Gramsci - people who are convinced by the arguments - or whatever it is that they are convinced by.  I am not sure it’s helpful to tell these people that they are nihilist cat’s paws.
  4. Gramsci was jailed by Mussolini.  Say what you like about the bald Italian dictator but he knew a bad ‘un when he saw one.
26 February 2006
Metrication’s been in the news this week - I have some thoughts …link
24 February 2006
Shenzhen Ren is getting a touch cynical:
This concept is called “customer service” and will one day be a normal part of daily life in China. At present, having to get up and walk three feet is considered a major inconvenience, but at some time in the future, in a dusty dungeon of an office piled high with learned and obscure manuscripts by long forgotten authors, a Chinese professor will write a paper which will enshrine his name forever in the annals of Chinese trade. He will put forward the hypothesis that a customer that goes to a place to transact business should be treated as an asset and not as a problem. He will suggest that people in the business actually help the customer. He will suggest that by making the customer happy, they will return and do more business. Only then, when it has been “invented” by the Chinese will customer service become something which the rest of the world can look to and attempt to emulate.
He was only trying to pay his electricity bill.
The Wembley hoax

So, Wembley’s going to be delayed again, eh?  Yeah, well, I’d lay some pretty heavy odds on it being delayed again and a few more times after that.  For, I think it’s about time we revealed the truth.  There is no Wembley Stadium.  It’s a hoax.

You see, the reality is that Wembley Stadium is an 80-year-long, three-card trick played on unsuspecting foreigners.  First we put it up.  Second, driven mad with envy at this symbol of national virility, and at massive cost to their bedraggled taxpayers, insecure foreigners (you know: Aussies and Frenchmen) build their own.  Third, we tear ours down thus demonstrating that national stadiums are a complete waste of time and leaving Johnny Foreigner to admire his folly.

Don’t believe me?  Well, just look at the success of the England Road Show, in which the team have travelled up and down the land and had a whale of a time. 

Ah, but what are all these photos, then?  A six-year old, a Meccano set and a bit of Photoshopping.

But, what about all these head honchos at the FA getting all steamed up?  All part of the plan.  It’s World Cup year and the last thing anyone wants is the FA putting their fingers into the team’s pies.  Best to keep them occupied.

Let’s face it, who in his right mind is going to spend £120m on a national stadium?  That would be stupid.

22 February 2006
Mexico City from the air

There’s a whole bunch of these here


Hat tip: Freedom and Whisky

20 February 2006
How essential is freedom of speech?

Oh , it’s essential to me, of course, but then I am a libertarian.  But what about Western civilisation in general?  I ask because it occurs to me that freedom of speech has had a hard time of it over the years.  If one thinks back to the Medieval period it was not pleasant to be a protestant in a Catholic country.  And then, during the Reformation, it wasn’t so hot to be a Catholic in a (by then) protestant country.  Hey, it wasn’t so great to be the wrong sort of protestant.  During the 1820s all sorts of efforts were made to suppress seditious publications.  And, as recently as the 1970s, Gay News was prosecuted under the blasphemy laws.

And yet, despite all this Western civilisation has gone on.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am four-square behind the publication of the Danish cartoons.  I think this is likely to be the defining moment in the clash of civilisations.  I very much hope that someone will explain to me that, yes, in fact, freedom of speech, or something pretty close to it, really is essential, but, well, you know, sometimes it’s worth playing Devil’s Advocate.

52% of NHS trusts have temporarily closed wards - I have some thoughts …link
16 February 2006
More appendicitis

A couple more entries to Appendicitis Central.

Andrew Duffin writes:

I NEARLY had a really really bad one on the NHS. They’d realised what was wrong, and were going to leave it overnight “to see how things develop”.

Then I said I was insured, and an hour later I was in the theatre and the job was done.

Reader - it was gangrenous, it would have ruptured overnight, and I might therefore not now be telling you this tale.

Not quite sure how to categorise that one.  NHS bad for sure, but does it also get entered in the (so far) non-existent UK private column?  It sounds as if it is even more complicated than that as it was an operation carried out by the NHS but paid for privately.  Does that still happen?  And, more importantly does it count as NHS or private?  I am going to say private for the time being.

The other one comes from Akiko who tells me about a friend who had a perfectly good appendectomy in Cambridge in the early 1990s.

So, the scores:

UK (NHS): 2 good, 3 bad
UK (Private): 1 good, 0 bad
Japan: 1 good, 0 bad
France: 2 good, 0 bad
Italy: 1 good, 0 bad

14 February 2006
What do you do if you're organising industrial action but your members are all too busy to take part? Why, you hire yourself some pickets
10 February 2006
'“Unfortunately, on this occasion, my client let his frustration get the better of him” = He is a violent thug.' The Magistrate lists some of the more common excuses he has to put up with

I guess just about everything that can be said about those cartoons has already been said but I think this article by Medworth is well worth taking in. 

As he says:

Many people, in this country and elsewhere, seem to have grasped on some level that our response to this issue is the latest in a series of defining moments for the future of civilisation.

He goes on to say:

Showing backbone ... would have many good effects: it would renew the confidence of our people in their rights, and it would show our enemies that we have the moral confidence, as well as the physical power, necessary to win the battle in which we are currently engaged.

Before putting the boot in:

What the militants realise, which the moderates may not, is that once you inject any Enlightenment values into religion, its days are numbered.


“It is now over 60 times bigger than it was 3 years ago” - and there are 25 26 27 million of us at it …link
04 February 2006
They’re not comparable (probably)

In a posting from sometime ago and almost in passing Clive Davis reminds us of a fairly common argument:

How long was it before I overheard the standard comment that, you know, more Americans die on the roads in a year than perished in the towers? How long? A day or two. That’s all.

I find that line of reasoning so irritating.  But I don’t know why.  I am sure it’s a fallacy, a real whopper, but I can’t demolish it.  The only thing I can think of is that the comparison being made is between something that was intended by human being ie the result of human wickedness and something that was the result of human error which is entirely normal.  But I am not happy.  I am missing something here.

02 February 2006

So, there I was wondering why France and Britain are so different and then, almost by magic, a half-way decent explanation comes along:

First, France is under normal circumstances an immensely disciplined country: disciplined by manners, social custom, law, protocol, taxes. A phrase you will hear almost every day, if you live in France, is ça ne se fait pas, meaning, that is not done; these words are a key to understanding French culture. France is far more disciplined, on a daily basis, than the United States; it is also more disciplined than almost any other European country, save perhaps Germany. (This is a point, by the way, that I stress in the chapter of my book titled “The Hell with Europe”. ) It is entirely natural that this discipline exacts a psychological cost, one that is paid regularly every few years in riots, anarchy, lawlessness and a great eagerness to get into the streets and do damage. This has been a feature of French life for centuries.

Claire Berlinski via Instapundit

01 February 2006
So the pint of milk is about to be banned, eh? Actually...no …link
Jonathan Wilde wonders if Google has done anything wrong in trading with China. It's about time someone did …link
"Lanarkshire tops British league for generating ‘affordable’ businesses" Huh?  …link
31 January 2006
The doctoring of the school league tables - I have some thoughts …link
28 January 2006
Quote of the Day

All men pay for sex, often with ear-ache, or with dinner, dresses, jewelry or just jobs around the house. The distinction between explicit prostitution and these transactions is one of fine degree only.

Chris Dillow.  Discuss, as they say.

26 January 2006
France and Britain: why did one revolution succeed and the other fail?

A recent Samizdata piece by Johnathan Pierce on the dreadfulness of the French Revolution got me thinking.

In the French Revolution you had an absolute monarchy, a cash crisis, the recall of an (apparently) defunct parliament, radical politics, regicide, terror and restoration; all of which elements were present in the English Civil War.  What I find curious is what happened next.  While Britain entered a period of (by most standards) internal stability, France went through the most amazing internal political chaos, with republic after empire after republic after monarchy.

So, why after their respective convulsions, did things go so well for Britain and so badly for France?

Was it geography?  Being a continental power is never easy - as the late Findlay Dunachie pointed out it means you need a large army and all the knock-on effects that entails.  But how would that explain France’s instability?

Was it something in the French character?  I don’t much care for explanations like this and, anyway, if true, where did it come from?

Was it, perhaps, nothing to do with the Revolution, as such, but bound up in the simple fact that France lost the Napoleonic Wars?  Could repeated failure on the battlefield explain repeated attempts at getting the politics right; in much the same way that unsuccessful football teams keep changing manager?  Perhaps, but how does that explain the events of 1830, 1848 - occasions where defeat was not present?

Could it have been the absence of a proper all-out Civil War - the theory being that such things resolve issues?  I could believe that if the English Civil War had actually resolved anything but it didn’t. 

Any ideas?

Strange Fact. Iranian President Ahmadinejad's surname means "oh, but he is drunk" in Flemish …link
25 January 2006
Quote of the day

As for the paucity of economic statistics for the colony, Cowperthwaite explained that he resisted requests to provide any, lest they be used as ammunition by those who wanted more government intervention.

From the obituary of Sir John Cowperthwaite, father of Hong Kong’s economic boom

Announcing Appendicitis Central

While out on Friday I came across some more appendicitis stories - maybe I’ll turn this into Appendicitis Central after all.

First up, what happened to an American friend of Michael Jennings at the hands of the NHS.  Once again, they missed it and by the time they got to it they had to hack quite a lot of his gut away meaning that for quite some time afterwards there were only certain types of food he could eat.  That pretty much put him off the idea of socialised medicine.

Secondly, what happened to a friend of Samizdata’s Philip Chaston.  This was in some out-of-the-way place in Italy.  They couldn’t speak a word of English but, yet, everything went fine.

Finally, what happened to our host, Christian Michel, in France.  It was near Christmas, and (I guess) about 40 years ago (Christian was 16 at the time).  Nobody wanted to operate but by Christmas Eve they had no choice.  The operation itself was unremarkable.  But when Christian came round it was midnight mass - all smells, bells and wafers.  In his drugged up state it took him a full 30 minutes before he realised that he was in fact still alive.

Anyway, if I am going to take this Appendicitis Central thing seriously I may as well do it badly and completely unscientifically.  So, have you, or do you know anyone who has had their appendix out?  I am particularly interested to hear from people who had their operations in the US or other exotic locations.  I would also be interested to hear from anyone who has a “good” appendectomy on the NHS (there’s got to be one).

The score so far:

UK: 0 good, 2 bad
Japan: 1 good, 0 bad
France: 2 good, 0 bad
Italy: 1 good, 0 bad

Update  I knew there had to one (good NHS appendectomy - see comments).  Seems rather similar to my own.  I also have a pretty large scar (two actually), so it looks like keyhole surgery isn’t being practised everywhere.  So, the updated table reads:

UK: 1 good, 2 bad
Japan: 1 good, 0 bad
France: 2 good, 0 bad
Italy: 1 good, 0 bad

In praise of Sven

What is one to make of this Sven business?  He saves our 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign and leads us to an unprecedented run of results which include victories over Germany and Argentina (twice).  Now, in a normal, rational world that should make the guy’s job secure. 

But this is no normal world.  This is FAland.  “Oh but, Sven is the Scandalmeister”, they say.  Until, that is, you look at what he is supposed to have done.  Banging Ulrika Jonnson and Faria Alam?  Hey, FA bods that’s what single men are supposed to do.  Claiming that managers take bungs?  Fuck me, you don’t say.  Or that David Beckham is unhappy at Real Madrid?  Ditto.

And now, for the pièce de résistance - they want to replace him with an English manager.  Now, I might understand if the Great One were still available but he’s not.  Hey, FA guys, take a look at the top of the table.  See any English-managed teams there?  No? I didn’t think so.  Hmm, thinks, maybe there’s a reason for that.  Hmm, like maybe the English are rubbish at managing football teams.

Really, the sooner the FA is parcelled up and sold to the Glazers the better.  They couldn’t do any worse.

Update  Seems that the FA is prepared to look at foreign coaches.  Don’t you just hate it when the facts get in the way of a good rant?

23 January 2006
Rail fares to rise? - I have some thoughts …link
22 January 2006
"So what does the Orange Book actually say?" asks Harry Phibbs. Quite a lot it would seem.
20 January 2006
I got into Grand Rounds (that's the weekly roundup of medical stories) last week but forgot to give them a name check. So, a week late, here we go.
18 January 2006
Three cheers for the robber barons …link
Poverty may not cause crime - but ugliness does. Oh boy, we're going to have fun with this …link
Quote of the Day

Personally, I think that “Terry and June” is very, very funny. I also like “Only Fools and Horses” and “The Paralympics”.

Noreen, working up to an attack on Fawlty Towers

17 January 2006
Intelligence, or lack of it, in politics - Chris Dillow on why smart people don't get ahead …link
“The party is now over” - UK taxes now higher than in Germany …link
15 January 2006
At risk of turning this blog into Appendicitis Central…

...here is a brief summary of what Jackie’s boyfriend, Antoine, told me (or, at least, what I think he told me) last night about what happened when he got appendicitis way back in 1985.

After spending ten hours waiting in Hampstead’s Royal Free Hospital’s casualty department he got to see someone.  It then took three doctors (one of whom got it wrong) for him to be diagnosed with appendicitis after which he had to wait another 12 hours for an operation by which time his appendix had burst.  He then spent another month in hospital recovering.

Boy, am I glad I got ill in Japan.

Wiki feedback

Due to an outbreak of Wiki spam I’ve turned off the ability for just anyone to create an account which in turn means that unless your name is Jax or Kieran you will not be able to leave a comment on any of the Wiki pages in the Talk/Discussion section.  The only alternative I can see is to create a special blog posting which will act as a sort of catch all for comments on the Wiki.  And this is it.  And, yes, I will link to here from there though it will be a slow process.

14 January 2006
Tony’s “Respect Agenda”

I have some (belated) thoughts.

Meanwhile, The Longrider is positively fuming, concluding:

...I look back at the euphoria of the 1st May 1997 - and realise now, that the best thing for Britain on that day would have been a Major victory.


11 January 2006
Croziervision Quote of the Day #2

I have rarely met a more obvious sign of a real estate bubble than when my [Shanghai] taxi driver explained that he owns four flats to speculate on increasing prices.

Johann Norberg before the Shanghai property crash.

Croziervision Quote of the Day

The overwhelming majority of patients are responsible about calling out a doctor. A persistent minority are not. Some people put more thought into ordering a take away Pizza than they do into calling a doctor. Of course you have to pay for the Pizza.

NHS Blog Doctor

08 January 2006
Normally, I link to the post rather than the blog, but as NHS Blog Doctor has, for the last hour, been making me laugh and scream in equal measure, I think I'll make an exception. (Hat-tip A Tangled Web)
07 January 2006
Cameron makes a mistake

According to the papers and what I’ve read, David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party wants to keep the NHS.  This has led to some pretty negative comment from, amongst others, Stephen Pollard, David Green, Melanie Phillips and Samizdata.  Their view (with which I agree) is that healthcare will never get any better so long as the state runs the show.

In other words, it’s poor economics.  But, I believe it also makes poor politics.

Why?  Because, I think the penny is beginning to drop with the British public about the NHS.  For the whole period of the Thatcher/Major government they were prepared to accept that the NHS’s failings were all down to something called “underfunding” which in turn was down to something called “those bastard Tories”.  However, for the last nine years we have had a government that is not only committed to the NHS but has had oodles of money to spend on it.  If there was ever a time when the NHS’s problems were going to be solved it was now.  But, they haven’t been solved and everyone knows it.  I get the sense from the people I talk to - and, yes, it is pretty unscientific - that the public are beginning to give up on the NHS.  Not its principles - people still like the idea of free-at-the-point-of-use and everyone being equal.  But they are beginning to despair of those ideas ever being combined with something remotely resembing quality.

I believe by the time of the next general election, the public will be prepared to listen to a politician who is prepared to tell them the truth about the NHS: it is bad, it is bad because it is run by the state and the only way it is ever going to get any better is if the state gets out of the picture.  So, by making his remarks now, Cameron has effectively boarded a political Titanic.  Oh, it’ll look and feel good for a while but eventually it’s going to take him to the bottom.

06 January 2006
I quite enjoyed my stay in a foreign hospital - but Noreen didn't …link
05 January 2006
Steyn on Sharia - and how it's coming to Europe. I have some thoughts …link
04 January 2006
The Japanese healthcare system

I went through my treatment in complete ignorance of Japan’s healthcare system.  Since then I’ve done a bit of research.  This is what I have been able to glean:

  • There is a mixture of public and private provision.  They all charge (in the first instance) full whack
  • Health insurance is compulsory and must be purchased either from the government or through one’s employer.  And it only covers about 70% of the cost.  In the Ishikawas’ case it is only 35%.  Their employer pays the other 35%.  The insurance costs themselves (according to the Ishikawas) are crippling.  This is because it is not proper insurance.  It is more of a Pay As You Go system like our beloved state pensions.  And like our state pensions they are paying for the older generation.
  • It takes twice as long to get discharged in Japan as it does in the West.  I can vouch for this.  At almost exactly the same age as I am now my father also went down with appendicitis though this time it was in France (we Croziers don’t do anything the easy way).  He was out in four days: I was out in eight.
  • Japanese doctors have a reputation for haughtiness - you know, not listening to the patient, not telling him what is going on, having a poor bedside manner etc.  This was not my experience.
  • The system is (apparently) starting to creak.  On the one hand, Japan has an aging population which means the bills keep going up.  On the other, because it is paying the bills, the government won’t pay for some of the more modern treatments.  Remind you of anything?

See here for more details.

03 January 2006
Rikugien, Tokyo - 3 December 2005


01 January 2006
There's a story in the Telegraph today about overcrowding on Britain's trains. This is precisely what you get when you have fare control. Answer? Get rid of it.
29 December 2005
In which I put myself at the mercy of the health services in London and Tokyo

Last week I discovered that untreated appendicitis does not always lead to a burst appendix, peritonitis and death.  Apparently, it sometimes goes away. 

This is important because this may have been what happened to me back in April.  I think this because the symptoms (stomach cramps, vomiting, fever) were almost identical to those I had in Tokyo, although they came along in a slightly different order.  They were even the same down to the stomach cramps being across my stomach rather than being on the right-hand side as they “should” have been.

On both occasions I ended up in an ambulance.  Over here, on arrival in hospital, they took a fairly cursory look at me (blood test, if that, I can’t quite remember) reckoned I just had constipation and sent me on my way.  Now, no one knows for sure what I had first time around (though it definitely wasn’t constipation), and I do have an axe to grind (if it were up to me I would abolish the NHS tomorrow), but by comparison to what happened in Tokyo the NHS’s performance doesn’t look good.

Staff at the Urayasu Ichikawa Community Hospital.  The bloke on the centre-right saved my life

In Tokyo, on arrival at hospital (in the early hours of Sunday morning) I was given a blood test and an X-Ray.  The doctor reckoned (in excellent English) that if I was lucky it was colitis but it was probably appendicitis.  He couldn’t operate there so he sent me to a second hospital.  The second doctor, looked at me with ultra-sound, showing me the display.  I couldn’t see a sausage.  He could see a dead-cert appendicitis.  He explained that although they could do operations at the second hospital they couldn’t do emergency operations.  I would have to move yet again.

By this time, I was getting rather used to travel by Japanese ambulance.  They seemed to have pretty much the same equipment as in London even down to that annoying clothes peg thing they attach to your finger to take your pulse.  The only difference was that it was a bit more pristine.  Oh, and for some reason, despite it being the middle of the night and the roads being empty, they had the siren on the whole time. 

At the third hospital, they gave me another blood test, another X-Ray and a CT scan.  I wasn’t quite sure why they were doing this when the second doctor had been so adamant but the answer came back the same.  The doctor, Dr Kitasato, explained what he was going to do to me and gave me some sign-your-life-away forms for signature.  By this stage I had spent about 7 hours in the company of Japan’s health services which seemed rather leisurely to me.

And then, a general anaesthetic, of which I remember not a thing.

I came round in what they called “High Care” (= high-dependency care?) after which I drifted in and out of sleep.  I can’t remember all that much about it other than being given periodic doses of “pain-control medicine”.  I must have slept a lot because I was very surprised when they wished me a good morning on the Monday.

I was taken to a normal ward later that day.

So, what was the care like?  Obviously, it is difficult for me to say, I am not a health professional and the only comment I have had so far from a health care professional is that the scars were in an unusual place. So, I can only judge on superficialities.  Not that I think that superficialities are unimportant - I think they can tell you rather a lot about the general health of an organisation.

The building itself was about 25 years old.  It had the sort of wear and tear you would expect over that time but everything seemed to be reasonably well-maintained although the automatic talking urine sample collector had clearly seen better days.

Unlike the NHS signs were on sign boards and notices were on notice boards.  I mean, really, every time I wander into an NHS building there are hastily cobbled together notices strewn all over the place.  You don’t get that in Tescos.

Oh, and it had spare beds.

People of Britain: this is what spare beds look like

The nurses were fantastic. Well-turned out, charming, efficient, responsive, (dare I say it) pretty.  Every time they managed to hurt me (not difficult, given the two tubes going into and three tubes coming out of me) they would always offer a strong apology.  Totally unnecessary, of course, but it all added up. 

The routine rarely wavered.  The cleaner, the checks, the dressing changes, the ghastly brown tea and the meals always turned up at the same time every day.

Mind you, I may have been getting some special treatment.  As one nurse explained to me: “Mr Patrick, we are really into you.”  Yup, I had become the David Beckham of the Fifth Floor.

The meals themselves were pretty unexciting but then Japanese food on the whole is pretty unexciting.  But there was more food than I could eat and the meals were always served nice and hot.

I got the impression that the doctors had a plan and that I was expected to follow it.  Therefore, I did get to my feet on the Monday, the drip did disappear on the Wednesday and the stitches were removed on the Sunday.  I reckon they probably kept me in about a day longer than strictly necessary.

It was not quite faultless though my only serious criticism was with the filthy drip stand.

Oh, and the bill?  Well, if my insurers get any change out of £4,000 they’ll be doing well.

Update 11/01/06 A warm welcome to Grand Rounds readers

24 December 2005
Domo arigato gozaimashita
The Ishikawas

(That’s Japanese for “Thank you very much.”)

A few years ago I was sitting on the platform at Chippenham railway station minding my own business when a petite Japanese woman approached me to ask where the second-class carriages would pull up.  I explained as best I could that the likelihood was that she was in the right place but with our trains almost anything could happen.

She sat down on the next bench which was an invitation even I couldn’t ignore to try out my recently-acquired Japanese language skills.  I said: “Nihonjin desu ka” which means “Are you Japanese?”  She reacted by leaping about three foot in the air.  I guess she wasn’t expecting to be spoken to in her native language.  When she recovered from the shock we got talking.  Akiko Ishikawa and I have been in contact ever since.

To say I was glad of our friendship when I fell ill is (my) understatement of the year.  Although, I tried to keep a stiff upper lip about things eventually even I could see I was going to need help.  Akiko then phoned for the ambulance, acted as translator between me and the ambulancemen and nurses, bought all sorts of supplies, lent me her phone so I could phone home, “persuaded” the nurses that a shampoo and blow dry are in fact right up there with dressing wounds and taking blood pressure readings, got her husband to clear out my hotel room, booked me a new hotel when I was discharged, (quite rightly) bullied me into looking after myself and did a hundred other things many of which I can only guess at.  I am not sure if I should mention this or not but she even (in the first instance) paid the (not insubstantial) bill.

And every time I said “thank you”, which was a lot, she just replied: “It is my pleasure.”  (Bet it wasn’t.)

I do not know (as in, I really don’t know) what I would have done without her and Kazuhiro.

So, Mr and Mrs Ishikawa, I thank you again.  I just wish I had the words that could express how desperately grateful I really am.

21 December 2005
Apologies for the lack of blogging but I do have an excuse
Tokyo: as I saw it

The plan was simple enough: go to Tokyo, take a shufti, come back.  Unfortunately, at about the same time as I had been planning to take a leaf out of the Michael Jennings Book of Gratuitous Offence I was instead lying on a hospital trolley listening to a doctor explaining to me how he was going to whip out my appendix. 

Not that I was worried.  I was in far too much pain for that.  Nor should I have been.  Let’s face it, when it comes to slicing open bellies the Japanese are the universally-acknowledged experts.

27 November 2005
Buffy 1 - Doctor 0.  But why?

I have recently started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  About bloody time you might think but, as I think, better (eight years) late than never.  And, needless to say, given that it was a huge international hit, it’s brilliant.

While watching it I couldn’t help noticing some extraordinary similarities between Buffy and the new series of Doctor Who:

  • the 45-minute, story-in-one-episode format
  • Rose seems heavily based on Buffy even down to the special powers
  • Eccleston’s Doctor seems to have more than a whiff of Angel about him.  Even down to the leather jacket
  • Deaths off-screen (usually) - an apparent break with the Doctor Who tradition

They both have elements of mystery, spectacle and terror.  So, why does Buffy work while (for me, at least) the new Doctor Who doesn’t?  Why is it that Buffy seems perfectly paced while Doctor Who seems rushed?  Is it just bad writing?  That doesn’t seem to ring true.  Russell T Davies can certainly write.  And, if anything, his scripts were the weakest in the series.  Is there, perhaps, a problem with the settings?  Doctor Who has a new setting each week, Buffy, is always right there at the Hellmouth.  Could all the time spent setting the scene be taking away from the mystery?  Perhaps, but you wouldn’t have thought it would be that difficult.

The only thing I can think of is that in Buffy, the writers deliberately slow things down and allow the characters to mull things over in scenes that usually take place in the library.  This allows, us, the viewers, to get involved with the plot.

I like contrived plot explanations.

26 November 2005
Quote of the Day

From the Telegraph:

A multi-million pound campaign to boost Germans’ low self-confidence has backfired after it emerged that its slogan was first coined by the Nazis.


23 November 2005
Croziervision Quote of the Day

Liberty 2005.  From the floor:

Why should we do anything for posterity?  Posterity has never done anything for us.

Disuss, as they say

19 November 2005
“Alex Singleton is the high priest of globalisation” - says some UN bod. Well done Alex  …link
18 November 2005
Internment and the Social Contract

Natalie has batted the ball back into my court which has prompted me to create a Wiki page for my views on internment and another for my alternative which I modestly call the Social Contract.

I would like to point out that I don’t particularly like either of these schemes it’s just that I can’t see an alternative.

Talking of alternatives Natalie proposes one of her own.  A couple of questions: a) what if people don’t declare themselves and b) what if they lie when they do?


I was watching BBC2’s Scandal the other night.  From what I can make out in each show they take a decade and describe the scandals of the time with the aid of contemporary media coverage.  Last night was the 1980s featuring Janet Cooke.  Now, I’d never heard of Janet Cooke but it turns out that she was a US journalist who faked a report and got sacked.  And the irony?  Well, guess who was fronting the TV footage.  If it wasn’t our old friend Dan Rather…

Also in the programme, and rather brave of the BBC I thought to bring it up, was the Belgrano Affair.  Older readers will remember that this was the scandal that erupted when the BBC and others attempted to claim that there was something wrong with sinking an enemy warship in wartime.

17 November 2005
“...the story of toys is the story of everything…” - hmm …link
The Somme, Channel Four, 9pm, Monday 14 November

Some observations:

  • Good special effects.  I especially liked the battle sound effects and the whizzing sound of the bullets.  OK, so we’ve heard it a fair few times over recent years (starting with Private Ryan) but it’s still good.
  • One gets the feeling the Blackadder Goes Forth school of history is having a hard time of it.  Although this was still very much of that ilk one got the impression that they were drawing in their horns.  There was a lot less of the walking in rows, generals were buffoons of the sort I can remember from the 1970s.  The revisionists are starting to win the argument.
  • War is awful.  Yup, message received loud and clear.  Several times.  But so what?  Ok, try to avoid it.  Splendid.  But what if you can’t avoid it?  Answer came there none.  Now, I suppose I might be being a tad optimistic to hope for a discussion of how the British army improved its ammunition, fire plans, gun registration, infantry tactics secrecy and reconnaisance but I would expect something…
  • The real problem is that although they mentioned most of the key issues: Verdun, Britian’s tiny pre-War army etc, the producers failed to join up the dots.  What was the impact of Verdun on the Somme?  What was the effect of Britain having such a small pre-War army (an army that got a lot smaller by Christmas)?  Their biggest failing was omitting to state what the Somme was for.  It was not to gain territory.  It was to relieve the pressure on the French at Verdun and to wear out the Germans.  It achieved both of these things.  Within days of the opening of the Somme the Germans went on the defensive at Verdun.  The German Official history describes the Somme (not Verdun) as the “muddy grave of the German field army”1.
  • Then a real howler.  At the end, they stated that very little ground was gained at the Somme.  Wasn’t it?  A few months later the Germans withdrew up to 30 miles in operation Alberich.  Intelligent readers might like to ask themselves why.

1. All the Kaiser’s Men, Ian Passingham, Sutton (2003), p127


A follow up on the Guns2Thugs case - his mother has left a comment. She thinks it's a miscarriage of justice. Maybe, maybe …link
13 November 2005
“The greatest danger in politics is people who try to do things” - P J O'Rourke …link
Internment and a possible alternative

Natalie and I have been arguing about internment.  She doesn’t like it and was against the government’s proposals for detention without trial.  One of her reasons for opposing internment is that she believes that we haven’t needed it in the past.  I e-mailed her to let her know that we have used internment rather a lot over the years.

That it has been used, of course, does not prove that it has been needed.  Natalie certainly makes a compelling case against its use in World War II.

She may be right, though I think had I been German at the time I would have been rather grateful to have been removed from the native population.  From what I know there was a lot less of the sort of anti-German mob violence that we got in the First World War.

Anyway, this is all rather by the by.  My central point was that internment is essential when dealing with terrorist groups who can find refuge in unassimilated populations such as the Ulster Irish or (as may turn out to be the case) British Muslims.  In the case of Ulster the rule seems clear enough; if you use internment (resolutely) you win: if you don’t you lose. 

That does not mean I like internment.  But given a choice between losing a few liberties and becoming part of the Caliphate ie losing them all, I know which I would pick.

That is, of course, assuming that that is the choice.  There are others.  Unassimilated populations tend to be, for reasons I don’t entirely understand, geographically concentrated.  One could give these areas a choice: either assimilate eg don’t harbour terrorists, don’t allow pro-terrorist sentiment, accept the status quo OR have your area removed from the UK.  The area would then become a separate sovereign state and would be subject to the same arrangements that all sovereign states are subject to ie the border remains closed until we’re happy.

Incidentally, I was against the government’s proposals.  Not because I am against internment (clearly) - I would have gone much further - but because I have doubts about Tony Blair’s commitment to the cause.  If you are going to use something as draconian as internment you’ve really got to mean it.


Croziervision has been down for a couple of days.  A very odd error (aren’t they all).  In the end it was a fairly simple solution - repairing the database - but sounds a bit scary.  Anyway, if you are using Expression Engine and your site suddenly gets replaced with an “Error 1016” this is probably the reason.

12 November 2005
Three military campaigns, all sorts of similarities, but does it all add up to anything?

I am currently reading a book on the Battle of the Atlantic.  Before that it was one on the Bomber War.  And before that, and for several years now, I’ve been reading up on the Western Front.  It struck me how similar these campaigns were. For instance they:

  • had no great decisive engagements - it was not possible to lose the campaign in an afternoon
  • went on for a long time - the whole length of the war, in fact
  • had appalling casualty rates
  • had few really well-known characters.  Sure everyone has heard of Haig and Dönitz but try asking yourself what they actually did?  An exception can probably be made for Bomber Harris
  • were all battles of attrition
  • were won by the side that got lots of little things right - technical and tactical.  On the Western Front it was creeping barrages, predicted barrages, air superiority and secrecy.  In the air it was things like Gee, H2S and the Mustang.  In the Atlantic it was hedgehog, Leigh Light, convoys.  All boring (but essential) stuff.
  • (for a long period) seemed to be even-steven and then - all of a sudden - one side started to carry all before it.
  • were (and are) controversial.  I guess this is probably because they drew people into the firing line who had never previously been so drawn. 

Whether this means anything, and whether someone has pointed this out before, I don’t know.  Maybe these are the defining characteristics of industrialised warfare.  Maybe, the Cold War was the ultimate refinement of this.  But who can say?

06 November 2005
Brian takes me to task - over my interpretation of his The Tyranny of the Facts. I had prepared a marvellous response but then I re-read the key passage in TTOTF and realised that he was right and I was wrong. Drat. However, there are a few points that I think are worth making and I hope to make them at some point. …link
30 October 2005
No work today - Brian's found an addictive new game (even if he's lost his own site) …link
29 October 2005
‘Guns2Thugs’ website owner jailed over illegal imports - only one problem: he hasn't actually done anything wrong …link
25 October 2005
Being a propagandist while remaining solvent.  How it might be done.

Scott Burgess wants your money.  Blogging is taking up many a waking hour that could be spent on, yerno, earning a living. And he’s running a bit short.  So hallowed is the Daily Ablution in the Croziervision Blogroll that I may even resort to the extreme, nay rash, measure of brushing the cobwebs off my wallet and honouring Scott with a Stephenson or even a Nightingale.

Scott’s pledge drive illustrates a key dilemma in politics: whether to be an amateur or a professional.  As an amateur you can stay pure.  As a professional you can stay solvent.

For precisely that reason I prefer my propaganda to be produced by amateurs.  Professional propaganda, whether it bear the imprimatur or the British Broadcasting Corporation, Pravda or the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages inevitably serves the interests of its paymasters.

But (up until now) amateur propaganda has been difficult to do.  Researching the facts, thinking through the arguments, working at times when you’d rather be down the pub or asleep, is difficult and slow.  In comparision, the professionals hold all the aces.  See Brian’s The Tyranny of the Facts.

Up until now?  Well I hope so.  This is why I perservering with my Wiki.  At its heart is the idea of tens, if not hundreds, of like-minded souls each making their small, unpaid and gloriously amateur contributions to a greater whole: a store of arguments and counter-arguments that is constantly being kept up to date and can be employed at a moment’s notice.

It’s not there yet.  Who knows, maybe it never will be.  But if it is possible it’s worth keeping up with. 

And then maybe even Scott will be able to go out and get a job.

24 October 2005
John Keegan reviews General Rupert Smith’s The Utility of Force - this has been getting quite a lot of attention recently and I don't know what to make of it. The central idea is that modern armies aren't really all that powerful anymore. I suspect it's nonsense or, at least, only part of the story but I really don't know. …link
23 October 2005
Can you measure freedom?

I have run into a problem while writing my Wiki (yup, I’m still at it).  My central argument is that freer is better and this applies to the railways as much as anywhere else.

But “privatisation” has been worse than the nationalisation that preceded it.  As nothing can be less free than nationalisation ie complete control by the state, surely, this disproves my thesis?

It is by no means fatal.  I could take a step back and argue that freer is usually better.  But I would rather not. 

I could argue that if regulations are bad enough they can amount to a tyranny far worse even than nationalisation.  But how would I know?  It’s easy to tell after the fact.  If everything is great then things must have become freer and if they are even worse then they didn’t.  But that smacks of the sort of tricks communists get up to - praise the revolution up until the moment the bodies start floating down the river and then claim it was capitalism all along.  What you have to do is to be able tell beforehand.  But how do you measure freedom?

How to succeed without really trying -  …link
22 October 2005
Zero tolerance works - Scott Burgess exposes the "demographics reduce crime" myth …link
Trafalgar: why we fought

I received an e-mail today.  It read:

As is it is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar what about a piece on your Blogspot (Crozier Vision) about The Battle of Trafalgar and Admiral Lord Nelson????

A hero if there ever was one.

Normally, I would ignore such an attempt at blatant editorial interference but this e-mail happens to come from my boss and seeing as I would like to continue in my post as deputy dogsbody for just that little bit longer, I can’t.

But what is there to be said that hasn’t been said about Trafalgar?  It was a great victory and saved us from invasion.

Well, actually, there has been something missing from the coverage: the nature of the threat we were under.  After all, there are worse things than invasions.  Had I been a western German in 1945 I think I would have been rather glad to see the sight of Sherman tanks chewing up the asphalt.

When we contemplate the prospect of being invaded by Napoleonic France, we think that the worst that could have happened was that we might have forced to learn French or weigh apples in kilos.  But seeing as both of these things have come to pass, it doesn’t seem so bad.

But that wasn’t the worst that could have happened. Napoleon has, over the years, got a ridiculouly good press.  He was, in reality, the perfect and inevitable product of revolutionary France: a vicious, blood-soaked tyrant.

Our ancestors did well to fight and well to win.

21 October 2005
What the MSM wants the MSM gets

David Cameron smokes.  You may not have known that.  I only knew it because it was buried away in a rather unimportant profile piece about him in The Times.

Personally, it doesn’t bother me that he smokes - that would, after all, be rather hypocritical - but it might bother some.  Moreover, it might be made to bother some.  The MSM could, for instance, mention Cameron’s name over footage of him taking a few surreptitious puffs.  They could ask whether it would be appropriate for Britain to have a smoker as Prime Minister.  They could pose questions like: “Aren’t you encouraging children to smoke, Mr Cameron?”

But they haven’t and I don’t think they will.  Why?  Because I think the MSM has decided it wants Cameron as Conservative leader.  Not in the sense that they’ve been conspiring in smokeless rooms presided over by the MSM’s very own Doctor Evil.  No, more that the MSM have identified Cameron as one of their own and have decided to give him an easy ride.

19 October 2005
A few home improvements

As you can see if you’re using the old-fashioned technique of actually going to the site rather than have the site come to you via the magic of RSS, I have made some changes to the layout.  I have got rid of the In Brief column and integrated short items á la Instapundit into the main body.  I was beginning to feel that it squashed up the main column a bit too much.  Plus there were all sorts of technical niggles with such a non-standard approach.  The other big change is centering the blog on the page.  I’ve wanted to do this for a long time but it’s a rather time-consuming thing to do.  Anyway, the time has now been consumed.  And we have a new banner.  Hope you like it.  I do.  If you don’t like it, now might be the time to mention it - I’m in the mood for being all technical.

17 October 2005
Test - This is a test …link
02 October 2005
Doctor Who and the missing episodes.  Another state failure?

They found a couple of Doctor Who clips and the (Doctor Who) world goes nuts.

Found?  Yes.  The BBC wiped the original tapes, so it’s a big thing in the Doctor Who world when they find even clips (these ones seem to be no more than about 12 seconds in length).

Wiped them?  Why? It’s a long story and there is more than one version of it knocking about.  One involves simple incompetence.  Another involves a far more convoluted and elevated variety.

Further evidence that the state is useless, then?  Maybe.  But we should always bear in mind that commercial TV managed to wipe almost (if not all) of the first season of the Avengers.  Though, that was in the very early 1960s.  The Who episodes that the BBC wiped stretched from 1964, through to 1973.  We should also, perhaps, bear in mind that Doctor Who might not exist at all if it wasn’t for the nationalised broadcaster.

So, why the nuttiness?  Coz we care.  Actually, I don’t get all that excited.  It just serves to remind me of how sad and angry I am that the episodes were wiped in the first place.

So, they were really good then?  Ah.  Not necessarily.  The Power of the Daleks (from which these clips were taken) is a classic.  I think it is my absolute #1 favourite Who serial of all time.  It’s almost Shakespearean.  Actually, you can understand it, so in that respect it is rather better than Shakey.  But others, hmm, well…dodgy sets, dodgy accents, dodgy acting, dodgy scripts, dodgy sound.  Mind you, seeing as they were pumping out something like 48 episodes per year I think some leeway has to be given.  By comparison, this year’s series ran to a grand total of 13 episodes.

Hang about.  How come you know all about the Power of the Daleks if it has been wiped? Ah, through the wonders of reconstruction, string and sealing wax.

So, if they weren’t all that good, why are you so upset?  It’s because I trusted them.  It’s because all through the Seventies I thought: “One day, I will, if I choose, be able to see all the old episodes.  The good ol’ BBC is keeping good care of them just for me.  I am so glad we have a nationalised broadcaster.  Wouldn’t happen if we were all commercial like the Americans.”

Wrong, Crozier.  Wrong.

18 September 2005
Croziervision Quote of the Day

Dom gets nostalgic:

In 1984, on a demo protesting the proposed abolition of student maintenance grants, I slung a chunk of paving slab through the window of a GLC building without even realising we were supposed to be on the same side. The fact that I was cheered for doing so rather suggested that my cluelessness was far from unique.

From Mugged by Reality

17 September 2005
Croziervision Quote of the Day

Via Clive Davies:

Among British progressives, who included so many opinion formers, writers and journalists, the ideological sentiment was overwhelmingly pro-American. Indeed, from the 1790s to the end of the 1860s, America was the favourite country of virtually all British intellectuals on the Left of the political spectrum, just as the Soviet Union was to be for Western intellectuals generally in the period 1918-45. Children of progressive parents were brought up to admire America…. Liberals like Byron were so enamored of the general system of government in the United States that, like the political pilgrims to Russia in the 1930s, they were prepared to overlook or justify shortcomings which, in any other context, they would have deplored.

Paul Johnson, The Birth of the Modern.

No to state railways

Norm Geras quotes Guardianista Phillip Pullman:

The more I travel on the squalid, run-down, gimcrack, unreliable, privately owned [sic] trains we have now, with their filthy toilets and windows you can’t open in the heat and penny-pinching knee-room, the more I look back with admiration at the nationalised days of British Railways, which seem a haven of democratic comfort, dignity and respect for the passenger.

Oh dear.  He is, of course,  right that the trains are privately owned. He is also right that privatisation has been a failure.  However, he also, presumably wants us to believe that the private ownership was the source of the failure (it wasn’t), that things were so much better before (they weren’t) and that therefore the state should run the railway (it shouldn’t).

15 September 2005
Can this week get any better?

On Monday we win the Ashes.  On Wednesday Natalie publishes her RSS thingy.  Hooray.  Now, all we need is for her to publish a full-text feed… oh, and for England to beat the Aussies at football… Well, I can dream can’t I?

11 September 2005
Against Planning

The Independent says: “Creeping urbanisation ‘could destroy rural England in 30 years’ “

To which Stephen Pollard replies: “At least there’s some good news around.”

Now, I suspect that Stephen doesn’t really mean this.  I think what he actually means to say is that he doesn’t like planning.  I don’t either.  I also suspect he has doubts about the “concreting over” propaganda (me too) but just finds it easier to be offensive than to list out the whole counter-argument in all its complexity.

10 September 2005
TV reporters in New Orleans

The questions I would like them to ask:

  1. Who?
  2. When?
  3. What?
  4. Where?
  5. Why?
  6. Why not?
The questions they actually ask:
  1. How do we pin this on Bush?
  2. See 1.
State failure in New Orleans and the free market alternative

My argument is that freer is better.  So, how might that apply to New Orleans?

I should begin by stating that I don’t think that individuals and companies acting in the usual way would work.  Every landowner building his own levee could get rather expensive.  And what’s the use of a great levee if your neighbour’s property turns into a foul-smelling toxic swamp?  No, you’re going to need some kind of super-landlord.

Imagine that New Orleans had never existed.  Imagine also that the state chose to do nothing other than enforce contracts.

New Orleans Inc (NOI, the super-landlord) is created.

It asks the question - is it worth it?  Let’s assume the answer is yes.

It buys the land it feels it needs.

It erects levees

It then sells leases on the land inside those levees.  The contract will be something along the lines of: you pay us a sum of money (a ground rent) each year and in return if your land floods we will pay you some sum in compensation.

What happens?

NOI will make damn sure that the levees are fit for purpose.  Why?  Because the costs of compensation will be enormous and a huge deterrent against getting things wrong.

Oh, but they’re insured.  Yes, they will be but on what basis?  Insurers are going to look into this carefully.  They don’t insure for free.  If they do, they go bust.  They will ensure that their likely pay outs are less than their premiums.

But what if NOI gets it sums wrong or conditions change like, for instance, as happened, the Mississippi started to rise?  You would have to write into the leasehold contracts some sort of clause stating that if the ground rent ever increased NOI would offer to buy back the property at some sort of market price (that being the market price before conditions changed, of course).

But who would decide this market price?  Initially NOI would make an offer.  The leaseholder would be free to accept or reject it.  If he felt it was too low he would be free to pursue his case through the courts on the grounds that NOI was in breach of contract.  That’s the state’s courts, by the way.  Remember, enforcing contracts is the only thing the state does.

But that would be far too expensive for most landowners, wouldn’t it?  Not necessarily.  Not if they go down the class action route.

But all this is assuming that New Orleans hadn’t already been built.  Would this still work under current conditions?  I don’t see why not.  Again it is a question of buying up the land.

But what if someone won’t sell?  NOI doesn’t have to buy everything - just enough to make a reasonable profit.  There may well be a few hold outs but they’re not that big a problem.

But if there are a few hold outs won’t that encourage everyone else to hold out in the hope that they get a free ride?  Possibly.  What NOI would have to do is to buy options to buy (if that is not too confusing).  They would approach every landowner and ask them at what price they were prepared to sell.  They would then draw up an option to buy the land at that price.  Obviously, they would have to pay out some money for this privilege.  Then, having got all the options, NOI could decide which properties they wanted to buy and whether it was still worth it - in just the same way they would have done if New Orleans had never existed.

OK, that’s the theory but what about the practice?  Er.  I am not aware of too many examples either of success or failure.  Why?  Probably because the state never leaves alone for long enough to allow these sorts of things to develop.  The Voluntary City gives the example of the Chicago Central Manufacturing District.  There are plenty of privately-run gated communities in the United States.  It would be interesting to know how the reclaimed parts of the Netherlands and Eastern England were organised. 

21 August 2005
What is the Croziervision Wiki contributions policy?

I unveiled the Wiki on Thursday and by Friday night I had two contributions.  Thank you Jax and Kieran.  Especially to you, Kieran because by making the odd contribution and by asking me outright: “what is the policy on contributions?”, you have forced me to consider something that really does need to get considered.

First of all, I do want contributions.  In theory this is a massive undertaking, never ending and practically limitless and there’s no way I can do it all on my own.

But, at the same time, no two libertarians think alike.  I don’t want turf wars where A and B compete to edit and de-edit the same page.  It’s going to be bad enough when some trot does it - as they will - so, I don’t want it happening amongst friends.

Here’s a potential answer:

1.  Only edit your own pages.
2.  If you really can’t stand what someone has written create a page of your own

The owner is the creator unless he assigns ownership to someone else.  Ownership is assigned by making a statement to that effect on the page in question.  Anyone can contribute to the Discussion/Talk pages.

So, that means that anyone can create a page?  Yes, I guess it does.  And the eagle-eyed will notice that this radically alters the nature of the Wiki.  It’s not my exclusive show any more and I will have to link to pages that other people control.  So, perhaps the name ought to change - not that it actually has an official name just yet.

18 August 2005
Introducing the Croziervision Wiki

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago I have been working on a little project recently.  And this is it – the Croziervision Wiki.

I’ve long wanted something that goes into greater depth than the average blog posting, something that could explain what I think and why I think it, and something that could be updated in the light of new thoughts (or old thoughts long forgotten) and new information.  The only problem has been the lack of suitable software.  MediaWiki isn’t quite perfect but it is near enough to test the concept, which, in case you were in any doubt, I think is a goer.

It’s far from complete – indeed, I doubt if it ever will be – there’ll always be something to add, but the key thing is that the structure is there and it can be built on.

Do feel free to leave comments either here or on the discussion pages (warning- you’ll have to log in first but that’s easy-peasy).  If I use anything full credit will, of course, be given.  You will discover that it is possible to edit pages but it’s probably best if you don’t unless you can live with having every last comma deleted.

26 July 2005
The Somme was a victory

A chap called Neil Hanson uses a review of Peter Hart’s The Somme to do some spleen-venting in the general direction of Field Marshal Haig.  He says:

The traditional view of the battle as a blood-soaked catastrophe has been challenged in recent years by revisionist historians, claiming that the grinding, attritional strategy of Haig (as Peter Hart notes, even his birth certificate omitted his Christian name) was the necessary, indeed the only means to ultimate victory.

But later on (in not a particularly long piece) he says:

Hart’s attempts to defend Haig’s much derided obsession with cavalry are no more plausible;


Attrition by artillery, “pinch and hold” attacks and the ever-widening disparity between Allied and German war production would have achieved the same ends for a much smaller loss of life.

So, is attrition good or bad Mr Hanson?  Because I do not see how those two statements can be reconciled.  What is “pinch and hold” (usually referred to as “bite and hold”, by the way) if not “grinding”?  The best you can say is that Haig did not know himself as at various times he was both predicting a “wearing out fight”1 and seeking a “breakthrough”.

He goes on:

Haig ignored the brutal lessons of the Russo-Japanese war and Britain’s own colonial wars, describing the machine-guns that were to wipe out tens of thousands of his men as “much overrated”, and his failure to learn from the disasters of Neuve Chapelle and Loos caused the same errors to be repeated on the Somme.

Now, I appreciate that this is a short piece but it is still tremendously vague.  Perhaps he did (at some stage) think the machine-gun “overrated” but does it matter?  Firstly, for the lion’s share of the war the Germans were defending and the British attacking.  A heavy machine-gun, of the type available in the First World War is very useful in defence but not (because, as its name suggests, it is heavy and therefore not very portable) much use in attack. Secondly, it was under Haig that every platoon got its own Lewis gun section.  Thirdly, he does not appear to have minded the existence of the Machine Gun Corps (born in 1915).  Hardly the actions of a man who thought little of automatic weaponry.  Fourthly, the British Army of 1914 had machine guns in exactly the same proportion as the German Army2.

And then there’s this stuff about “failure to learn from the disasters of Neuve Chapelle and Loos”.  If I recall correctly, the lessons of Loos included the need for secrecy, proper planning, neutralising machine guns, cutting wire and proper placement of reserves.  But most of these things were at least tried at the Somme.  They didn’t always succeed but that is the nature of warfare. 

He goes on:

Haig did not trust the civilian “Kitchener army” recruits “in any tactic that needed either brains or skill”. They were, therefore, ordered to walk in ranks across no-man’s-land and were cut down like corn.

Oh dear, we really are deep into the Cliché Jungle.  Machine guns, attrition and now this.  And because it’s all cliché one is forced to wonder how much Hanson really knows about the First World War. While it is certainly the case that men on occasion walked in ranks across no-man’s-land, it is far from clear how often it happened and who ordered it.  I do not know if every single division that attacked at any stage in four-month long battle adopted this tactic but crucially, I doubt if he does either.  The precise nature of infantry tactics in battle tends not to be recorded.  And anyway, I very much doubt if specifice infantry tactics, such as this, had much to do with Haig.  Haig was a “hands off” commander3.  And what would Hanson have had them do?  Run headlong into a creeping barrage?

And was Haig wrong on the brains and skill front?  We know New Army musketry was not up to much.  But what about the rest?  There are only two ways armies get good: training and experience.  Up until the Somme, the New Army had almost no experience.  So its (military) brains and skill depended on its training.  But who was doing this training?  The BEF suffered 90% casualties in 1914 and was hanging on by its fingernails in 1915.  There weren’t that many instructors around.  This was particularly felt at the NCO and junior officer level.

Hanson’s conclusion is hardly any better:

There was nothing efficient or essential about the meat-grinder of the Somme; as one Australian officer remarked in a quote that has eluded Hart, “Let us not hesitate to confess that strategically the battle was a failure. We are now threatening the communications of Bapaume, Vely and Achiet after four months. We had meant to do that in as many hours.”

This is utter drivel.  The aim of the Somme was not to gain territory, it was to wear out the Germans and relieve the pressure on the French at Verdun4.  The Germans paid a terrible price on the Somme.  According to Ian Passingham, the Somme marked the death of the old German Army.  Meanwhile, Verdun as a battle, began to peter out.  The Somme, ghastly as it was, was a strategic victory.

In 1914 Britain was (by today’s standards) relatively free.  If that relatively free society did well that suggests that freedom is a good thing.  On the other hand, it can be shown it did badly, it provides a pretext for statism.  Regrettably, First World War history still matters. 

Footnotes to follow.

1.  This is mentioned in John Terraine’s biography of Haig.  And here.
2.  p131 “Mud, Blood and Poppycock”, Gordon Corrigan
3.  It’s an on-going theme in Terraine
4.  p257 Corrigan

21 July 2005
Light blogging

Apologies for the sparsity of posts over the last couple of weeks.  This is because I am working on a little project that is taking up a lot of my time.  Hopefully, you will see the fruits of this before too long.

17 July 2005
Do car seats save lives?

Maybe not (registration required).  Hat-tip Marginal Revolution

08 July 2005
There is no reason to think that Britain will stand up to terrorism

Over the last few hours I have heard it said from several quarters how Britain will stand up to and defeat the perpetrators of yesterday’s atrocities in London.  Which staggers me.  I find myself wondering what on earth makes them think that.  All, and I mean all, the evidence is that British politicians will talk tough before conceding.  Here is a list (by no means complete) of British acts of weakness in the face of the IRA, every single one of them made after earnest speeches championing the virtues of democracy decrying the vileness of terrorism and claiming how we would never, never give in:

  • the creation of no-go areas
  • the abolition of the B Specials
  • 1972 talks with the IRA
  • the abolition of Stormont
  • Sunningdale
  • the weakening of internment
  • the abolition of internment
  • the introduction of religious discrimination laws
  • allowing the Irish government a say in Ulster affairs
  • concessions to the hunger strikers
  • 1993 talks with the IRA
  • negotiations without disarmament
  • allowing the IRA into government without disarmament
  • the release of IRA convicts
  • the rerouting of Orange Order parades
  • the abolition of the RUC
  • the destruction of army bases
  • the abolition of the right to self-determination

The last few were all made by Tony “we must never give in to terrorism” Blair.

It is, of course, possible that for once the British government will demonstrate some backbone.  There are significant differences between the IRA and al-Qaeda.  The IRA’s aims are limited - as yet it has no claims on the British mainland.  The IRA’s propaganda is more effective.  The IRA has never done something so outrageous that the government has had to act.  But that can change.  Al-Qaeda can learn.

The British government has a lot to prove.

Mark Steyn seems to agree with me.

Update 09/07/05.  Bearing in mind the comments a couple of further points:

1.  You should never make concessions to terrorists even if those concessions are perfectly sensible.  It only encourages them.

2.  We would all like to live in a world where we can be nice and win - just like in Hollywood.  But what if that isn’t an option?  What if the options are a) be nice and lose and b) be nasty and win?  Me?  I’ll take b) every time.

07 July 2005

Remember: no amount of French misery can compensate for the waste of money and human effort that this will involve.

06 July 2005
Let’s go to Birmingham - in the driver's cab of a Blue Pullman in 1962, marvellous …link
03 July 2005
You know you are in trouble when maths gets political

Sometime ago, I was watching some BBC Educational programme.  It was about education in Nazi Germany and featured a chap called Harry Mettelman who was a schoolboy there at the time.  His parents, who were very much not Nazis, told him never to believe anything that was opinion but that maths was fine.  Little did they know that the Nazis had managed to sneak their propaganda into maths lessons as well.

So, you can guess how I felt when I read this:

In a comparison of a 1973 algebra textbook and a 1998 “contemporary mathematics” textbook, Williamson Evers and Paul Clopton found a dramatic change in topics. In the 1973 book, for example, the index for the letter “F” included “factors, factoring, fallacies, finite decimal, finite set, formulas, fractions, and functions.” In the 1998 book, the index listed “families (in poverty data), fast food nutrition data, fat in fast food, feasibility study, feeding tours, ferris wheel, fish, fishing, flags, flight, floor plan, flower beds, food, football, Ford Mustang, franchises, and fund-raising carnival.”

Uh oh.

A Guide to Freedom - how it might be done and how Wiki can help

Blogs are great.  They allow us to get things off our chests and to be read.  But they lack depth.  As a friend likes to put it: “I have met many people who have changed their minds from reading a book but never from reading a blog.”

What would be good is a guide to libertarianism.  Something that describes what it is and why it would be a good thing.  Something that has all the arguments and all the facts (or, at least, as many as possible).  Something that answers the reader’s questions.

Describing libertarianism is easy but assembling the facts and arguments difficult.  Brian Micklethwait described this in the Tyranny of the Facts.  He argued that it was pointless for libertarians to indulge in fact fights because our opponents were simply too numerous and too well-funded.

That was before the age of the internet which changes everything.  In theory, the internet allows every libertarian in the world to collaborate with every other one to create a guide that is thorough and constantly up-to-date.

But how?  Blogs don’t really cut the mustard.  Although collaboration is possible, editing (pretty much) is not.  Once a post is up that’s it.  Wikipedia, on the other hand, postively welcomes editing.  Watch this online lecture (hat tip Adriana) about the evolution of the Wikipedia page on the heavy metal umlaut.  See how it evolves from one line (a stub as it is known) to a comprehensive page.  See how it resists attempts at vandalism.  See how good it gets and remember that every single word has been written by volunteers.

Wikipedia’s only real problem is when it strays into controversy.  Everyone in the world can edit a page - and they do.  Victory goes to the biggest bully.  This is a problem for libertarians.  Firstly, there aren’t that many of us.  Secondly, we have better things to do than take on those who make up with persistence what they lack in rationality.  Fortunately, there is a solution: membership.  And Wiki software (yes, they have that too) allows you to do this.

Looks like I’ve just given myself a job.

02 July 2005
Goodbye, Richard Whiteley, great man

I was saddened by the death, earlier this week, of Richard Whiteley, normally best known as the presenter of Channel Four’s gameshow, Countdown, though sometimes as the presenter who got bitten by that ferret.

For many years I have mentally referred to him as the “Great” Richard Whiteley.  This is not because I particularly liked seeing him on the screen.  In the days when I used to watch Countdown, before they moved its timeslot (bastards) I used to switch off the sound when he was on.  No, I used the term “Great” to refer to his ability to just keep going.  Countdown was an island of charm and civility in a sea of Johnny Vaughan. Producing bad pun after bad pun day after day, year after year while retaining your good humour couldn’t have been easy.

I wonder what Top Gear is going to make of it this Sunday.  For some time Whiteley has been propping up their Star in the Reasonably Priced Car leader board.  I suppose they’ll say that this is proof that slow speed kills.

Last night a friend and I were speculating on who would replace him.  Part of the trouble is that he and Carol Vorderman were very much a double act.  So were Morecombe and Wise but Carol is no straight man to Whiteley’s genius.  I guess they’ll end up promoting someone from Dictionary Corner.  At least that way there’ll be some element of continuity and also the element of keeping it in the Countdown family.  Geoffrey Durham, Martin Jarvis, Phillip Franks, Nicholas Parsons would all be good candidates.

29 June 2005
“A milestone in the history of the internet” - Microsoft embraces RSS …link
23 June 2005
Why isn’t there more teleworking? - asks Chris Dillow …link
“One of my worries was that I couldn’t get a case…” - the trials (or rather lack of them) of a bobby in the 1920s …link
Free trade = cheaper rice = bankrupt Ghanaian rice farmers + - better fed Ghanaians …link
Union Jack banned for being offensive - an unusual example of first-hand blog reporting (via Blognor) …link
Government is hiding the truth about the NHS - In some respects it is getting worse, says James Bartholomew …link
“Can I be compensated for my slower bus journeys caused by the compensation culture?” - I don't see why not …link
Technorati gets interesting

When I first heard about Technorati I didn’t see the point.  Yes, all the bloggerati were getting excited about it and filling in their Technorati profiles but it didn’t seem to do much.

Now it does.

This is because in recent weeks they have added searches and categories aka tags.  This means it is much easier to find out what is going on in the blogosphere something which has long been one of my bugbears.

It’s not quite there yet.  For instance, there are too many tags with different names that mean the same thing eg Great War, First World War, World War One, World War I.  A tag search will bring up the most recent posts first, so there tends to be a lot of junk.

But I think they are on the right lines. This may well end up supplanting feed aggregators as the first port of call.

20 June 2005
Blue Pullman - as reviewed by Tim Hall …link
Pub smoking ban “bad” - keep thinking like that Harry and before long you'll be calling for the aboltion of the welfare state …link
The Czechs could be having a referendum -  …link
Britblog Roundup #18 - is up …link
19 June 2005
Gammon’s Law

Gammon’s Law (named after an NHS consultant who first noted the effect) states that in a state system the more you put in the less you get out.  This is because the money goes to bureaucrats. 

James Bartholomew gives an example.

Are the left winning the blog war? - Phillip Chaston wonders …link
“Charity concert my ass” - The eBay affair shows Geldof in his true colours …link
Croziervision Quote of the Day

Harry Hutton:

...England is on the cusp of the Chav event-horizon, after which it will be irrecoverable. The rest of us will go the way of the red squirrel, in my opinion.

18 June 2005
How to write like Orwell

George Orwell, as Scott Burgess demonstrated this week, was a great writer.  When he wrote he followed rules, the most important being:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These are not new to me.  I first read them in 1990 in the introduction to the Economist Style Guide.  Ever since I have tried my best to follow them.  Sometimes I have succeeded.

The rules are found in this essay from 1945 (warning: reading someone pointing out that you can’t write hurts).  What strikes me about Orwell’s writing is how up-to-date and clear it is.  It is 60 years old and it still feels fresh.  The rules work. 

Update The above took me about an hour to write.  Writing good English (and I am not claiming it is) is hard work.

17 June 2005
“Europeans are big whingers” - why they (we?) are rubbish at innovation, Reason #2 out of 11 …link
“Winston Churchill was Britain’s greatest ever warmonger” - Christie Davies looks at some cartoons …link
Market research? - Exterminate! …link
So, how did Canada’s Governor-General get tagged?

Someone (who clearly ought to get a real job) has followed the trail.  As he says:

“Mysterious. It seems to have come over from the UK, entered into the sex-blogosphere and then was picked up by Catholic bloggers. From there it went to Libertarians, then lefties, and now the GG.”

Via Jay.

“Show me a rugby player and I’ll show you a big fruity yoghurt” - strawberry or fudge? …link
“Without one you’ll be a practical nonentity - it is the card that proves you have a national identity." Heh (via DHYB) …link
Debate is great

I was struck by a comment made by Ralf Goegens in response to Brian Micklethwait’s post on the EU:

“One example, Britain has never signed up to the Schengen teraty, but I can tell you that is a huge relief not to have to show your papers at every border you come to, and move your property across them without a hassle. That is a huge increase in individual freedom.”

Or to put it another way: we can’t do it on a national basis because we can’t convince the electorate, therefore we need to do it on a super-national basis because there the electorate don’t count.

I have my disagreements with democracy but the thing that makes me cleave to it is that it enshrines debate.  The ability to debate issues is the primary reason for Western success - especially military success.  To lose it would mean jeopardising everything.  Debate and democracy does not always lead to the right answer but it is a lot more likely to succeed than any of the forms of government available.

So, sorry Ralf but there’s no quick fix.  You have to get out there and make your point.  It’s tedious and time-consuming but ultimately, it’s worth it.

15 June 2005
Best wasn’t - Adams was …link
The quickest way to internet insolvency - is a sensible name …link
This book tagging meme is going far - it's reached its first head of state …link
Is there something wrong with internet advertising?

Is there something wrong with internet advertising?  I ask because I notice that I pay precious little attention to internet ads.  I don’t pay that much attention to normal ads but it seems to me that ads on the internet grab even less of my attention than the more traditional variety.  For the most part, whether they be on blog sidebars, above blog banners or on newspaper web sites I simply don’t notice.  If they are those annoying pop-up types I make a mental note to blacklist the advertiser for forever and a day.

Is it the internet, the advertising or just me?  I don’t think it’s just me.  I note some of Tim Worstall’s frankly desperate attempts to generate click-throughs which suggest that most other readers aren’t paying much attention either.  (Note to Tim: it’s not you that I am having a go at but the situation.)  Also, while it is easy to name publications that have retreated behind paid-subscription walls eg The Spectator and The Independent it is difficult to name publications that have moved the other way.  It implies that readers aren’t noticing the ads, or at least, not in the way the advertisers would like (I am thinking click-throughs here).

I hope it isn’t the internet as a medium.  As I have said before, all this content (well not all of it but certainly a lot of the reportage and the professionally written commentary) has to be paid for.  I don’t mind paying for it as such but I do object to paying for it on a publication by publication basis.  I want to be able to access everything, from the Times and the Independent to Peruvian Railways Monthly, for a flat fee, perhaps on the same sort of basis as Napster To Go.  It’s just that I don’t see how that is going to happen, at least, not in the short term.

But if pay-per-view won’t work that leaves advertising which, as I said, doesn’t seem to be doing well.  It could be that the internet and advertising just don’t mix.  Why that should be I do not know.  The internet seems to me to be very similar in terms of distance from medium, content, size (more or less) to the daily paper.  But dead-tree newspapers make a fortune from advertising while their live-electron cousins do not.  Is it because the albeit slight, size change makes all the difference?  Or is it, perhaps, because internet advertisers demand click-throughs when actually they should just be concentrating on getting their name known in much the same way they do when the sponsor sporting events?  Or maybe, they are quite right to concentrate on click-throughs but have yet to work out a way of making those click-throughs happen.

14 June 2005
RSS again

This is really worth a category all of its own.  Jackie once again raises the issue linking to this guy who makes most of the points I made but better.  I particularly liked the quote from Robert Scoble:

‘[...] If you don’t have an RSS feed, your site is lame because you’ve told the connectors (er, superusers, er influentials) that they don’t matter. When I see a site that doesn’t have an RSS feed I see a site that says “Mr. Scoble you aren’t welcome here and we don’t ever want you to come back again.”’


Update.  And now it does have a category of its own.

Miserable people watch more TV - cause or effect, and what does it say about our motivations? …link
The history of English - Samizdata book review …link
Taiwan got rich because it lost its aid - I would so like that to be true …link
Croziervision Quote of the Day

“If the reason for contracting out is that public prisons are run poorly, why should we expect government to do a better job at writing contracts?”

Alex Tabarrok.  To which one commenter suggested outsourcing the contracts.

13 June 2005
Germans make the best drivers - because they have few rules. They make the best beer because they have lots of them …link
BritBlog Roundup #17 - is up …link
12 June 2005
More books

Seems I have managed to start something off in our corner of the Blogosphere (never thought of myself as a trend setter before).  Mark and Jackie come out as fellow shelves-are-too-precious-to-be-sacrificed-to-books-ers while Andy Wood and David Farrer don’t.  I liked Andy’s description of one of his favourite books:

“University Physics, Francis W. Sears, Mark W. Zemansky, Hugh D. Young. I read this when I was fourteen and thought “this relativity malarky isn’t as difficult as everyone pretends”. At that moment, I decided I wanted to be a physicist when I grew up. And so I became one.”


Protectionism started the Great War - Jim Powell chronicles Napoleon, the growth of free trade, its decline and the pre-1914 arms race …link
“You don’t like it, don’t come back.” - An Arizona prison governor explains the concept of consumer choice to his prisoners (via Blognor) …link
Message to all atheists - Christians are not (necessarily) irrational morons …link
11 June 2005
Books, schmooks

Well, even I’ve been tagged (by Tim Hall should you want to know) so here goes:

How many books do you own?

Maybe 30.  In my lifetime I have perhaps owned 200, most of which were textbooks.

Here’s the shallow explanation.  I have had to move a fair few times over recent years and often I haven’t had that much space.  On one occasion I had to throw some books away.  I didn’t miss, them.  I couldn’t even tell you what they were.  Since then, I’ve been pretty ruthless about throwing books away when space is getting short.  I cannot recall an occasion when I have regretted it.

But that’s not the whole story.  I never had that many to start off with.  In truth I don’t really like books.  I cannot see the point of fiction.  They say there have been no good books published since 1960.  What they neglect to mention is that there were precious few published before.  God knows I’ve tried.  Dickens, Shakespeare, Hardy, Bronte.  Utter, incomprehensible rubbish one and all.

So, that leaves us with non-fiction books.  I don’t really like them either.  They cost a fortune, they’re filled with padding and when you’re finished with them, then what?  All they do is take up shelfspace.  This is one of the principal reasons why I will take my chances with libraries.

It is one of my great hopes that the internet will finally put paid to the great book con.  So, Amazon are making money hand over fist, today but tomorrow is another day…

Last book read

Plumer, the Soldier’s General by Geoffrey Powell.  Great general, lousy archive (he destroyed all his personal papers).  So, the author has to scrabble around for bits and bobs.  And when he fails he puts in filler.  Oh well.

Last book(s) purchased

Plumer (see above)
All the Kaiser’s Men, Ian Passingham
The Voluntary City, Independent Institute
The Welfare State We’re In, James Bartholomew.

Name five books that mean a lot to you

Let’s change that.  Five books that have meant a lot to me:

Animal Farm, George Orwell
The Guiness Book of Records
Battle Tactics of the Western Front, Paddy Griffith
How I found freedom in an unfree world, Harry Browne
Smiley’s People, John Le Carre

Five people to tag

Like they’ll respond.  Brian Micklethwait, Michael Jennings, Jackie D, Scott Campbell, Andy Wood.

“Uninsured Americans are not left on the street to die.” Shock - and the treatments are better and the floors cleaner. …link
If you don’t have an RSS feed you won’t get read - and if it's not complete you won't get linked to. Phew, I'm not alone …link
10 June 2005
Markets in roads?

Jackie asks:

Is there anywhere where the government has created an internal market in traffic? By that I mean allocating (or selling) people credits (based on mileage, I guess) and then letting them buy, sell, and trade them amongst one another? So if someone like me, who doesn’t own a car, is allocated X mileage per year, I can flog it to someone else in my local area on an eBay-like bidding system (online and by phone).

Er, no.  The nearest thing is Singapore where electronic charging applies to the central business district and some main roads and where rates vary by time of day and type of vehicle.

Who was the greatest mass murderer of the 20th Century - Hitler, Stalin, Mao or Carson? Yup, you've guessed it, Rachel Carson for getting DDT banned …link
Is a warmer climate a bad thing? - last time round we had vineyards in Herefordshire …link
09 June 2005
The Conservative Mission

There’s a real battle on for the soul of the Conservative Party at the moment.  Here’s Albion Blogger:

The conservative mission then is not to convert itself to the centre ground but to convert the centre ground to conservatism.


Moneyed interest = moneyed irrelevance

Ryan Sagar:

The entire point of the Internet—or at least the reason for its success—is that it takes money about as far out of the equation as it can get. Tens of thousands of blogs can reach as many people as are willing to listen for dollars a month. Sure, not every one of these blogs has the capacity to create fancy videos, animations or other bells and whistles. But a lot of them do—and not just those in league with moneyed interests.

For TechCentralStation.

Monkeys taught to use money - they use it buy anything and I mean anything …link
Nationalism did not cause WWII - totalitarianism caused WWII. Europeanism is plain wrong …link
Hall against sprawl - he thinks we should spare a thought for those who don't drive. Update This has come up before. …link
06 June 2005
The Belgrano Affair explained

By Dom:

Even at the time (and when I would chant Maggie, Maggie, Maggie: OUT! OUT! OUT! at the drop of a hat) I couldn’t understand the controversy over this one.  There was a war on, the Belgrano was an enemy warship and it got torpedoed. End of story.

BritBlog Roundup #16 - is up …link
How to make it so there are no more jams ever again

The government’s announcement that it is thinking of introducing satellite-based road charging, oh, sometime in the next decade or so (how often have we heard that announcement?) has certainly stirred things up in the blogosphere.  Both Andy Wood and the ASI have pointed out the dangers inherent in the state having so much information at its disposal.  Snafu rejects the idea entirely and thinks we should all get used to jams.  VOTF thinks that fuel tax is all you need.

I think jams are bad and charging the cure.  One way of achieving this is to wait in the hope that the state, which owns the road gets its act together.  Another is privatisation.  We already have one private road in this country: the M6 Toll.  It charges and traffic flows freely.  And you don’t have to have your details recorded by the state.

Our main routes, the motorways and A-roads could probably be privatised very quickly.  While some might find that they are priced off the road others might well find that new bus and coach services price them right back on and others might well find that employers are willing for them to change their working hours so that they can get in when rates are lower.

However, this is dealing with a situation where there is a finite quantity of main routes.  Why should that be?  Whoever owns the M25 is likely to make a bomb.  But why shouldn’t they suffer a little competition?  Of course, if we were to allow people to build new roads we would have to relax the planning laws.

That’s the main routes.  Urban routes, alas, are a different matter.  Try as I might I have never been able to imagine how you could privatise urban roads without recreating something very similar to the state which is precisely what I am trying to avoid.

Urban areas are built with the right level of road space for their time.  I bet riding down Fleet Street was a pleasure in the 17th Century.  Unfortunately, no one predicted the rise of car ownership.  One answer to this is congestion charging.  We are trying this in London but is far from clear whether traffic speeds are picking up.

The other alternative is, if the old urban areas are found wanting, to build new ones.  This is the big idea of South California academic, Peter Gordon.  As he points out: people like sprawl (to use the pejorative term).  They like it domestically and, as jobs move out of city centres, they like it economically.  And because they are new developments they tend to have the right amount of road space.  Only today he points out that the cities that have grown the fastest in recent years tend to be those with relatively insignificant centres. 

But if we were to do it in Britain we would, once again, have to relax the planning laws.

05 June 2005
They said: “Vote yes or the markets collapse” - they were wrong …link
Russia in figures - for instance "9 - the number of years in prison you get if you contemplate running for president against Putin"  …link
Higher taxes = lower revenue - as they observed 600 years ago …link
Eavesdropping to become thing of the past - says Adriana via whom I get to this really excellent site written by a tailor. Bespoke and "made-to-measure" are not the same it seems …link
79% of aid wasted - says poll …link
Scot meets slayer of the EU constitution - and still doesn't buy him a drink …link
Pissing on the Koran - desecration or modern art? Join the debate …link
Is pre-emption justified? - normally, no but nukes may change everything …link
03 June 2005
The death of Ulster moderation - an American perspective …link
Croziervision Quote of the Day

Albion Blogger:

A refusal to try to be popular will actually make them popular.

on the Conservative Party

BBC indoctrinates children - with make poverty permanent propaganda …link
The BBC Walk

Do the BBC know when I am about to watch them and as quick as a flash whip out the good tape and switch it for the bad one or are they crap all the time?  I am forced to ask because on the three occasions this week I have been tempted to watch the BBC each time they have managed to wind me up within seconds.

Yesterday morning on BBC Breakfast, it was no different.  The item was on parking.  My beef this time was not what was said nor indeed how it was said but how they filmed it.  The item started off on an urban street with the reporter interviewing two interviewees.  She finished interviewing them and then, along with the cameraman, walked ten yards up the road where the next interviewee was standing waiting and proceeded to interview him.


I have seen this done before and it winds me up every single time.  The thing is I can’t work out why.  Is it because they are attempting to turn current affairs into a branch of the entertainment industry?  Is it because they are humiliating their interviewees in some way (oh, look at us we can keep people waiting around on our beck and call)?  I just don’t know.  But it is bad.


01 June 2005
Freedom brings equality

Chris Dillow asks why it is that it is so difficult to shrink the state.  He goes through the usual public choice arguments before examining the argument that free marketeers simply haven’t made the case very well.  And, he thinks he knows why:

My theory is that they’ve failed to address the case for egalitarianism. Rather than show that small government is consistent with equality - because it allows tax cuts or higher benefits - they have preferred to rubbish the notion of equality. In doing so, they have given the impression - which is wholly incorrect - that limited government is merely the self-interest of the rich.

One of the main reasons I believe in freedom is because I believe it leads to equality.  One of the real world observations that sustains me in this belief is the comparison between some cleaners I know and any member of the upper-middle class.  The cleaners are well-fed and well-clothed.  They own lots of modern gadgets.  They jet off to exotic destinations and they drive a new car.  All things provided by the market.  The areas in which they don’t do so well are things like education and housing things either provided by the state or heavily influenced by it.

Having mentioned cars, I thought I’d mention the thrust of an article (sorry, can’t remember where) I read some time ago.  The article was making the point that being rich doesn’t make you that better off.  Compare, say, a £100,000 car with a £10,000 car.  A Mercedes S-Class is only marginally better than a Ford Focus and in some ways, such as fuel bills, considerably worse.

EU delays MRSA cure - via their clinical trials directive …link

Norm doesn’t like Sudoku.  He says there are only three possibilities:

1) You fill in the possible numbers for each square until the information you have enables you to eliminate, to narrow the possibilities, and this eventually and more or less smoothly leads to a successful completion.

2) Exactly as in 1), except that you get stuck somewhere; but not too badly stuck, so that a little reflection finds the breakthrough and you get there.

3) You get stuck permanently and after a while throw the thing away. It’s not very rewarding, not in any of the modes.

So, what’s the difference between this and any other puzzle (he says blissfully ignorant of mode 3)?

Bob Geldof is wrong

Well, once again it didn’t take long for the BBC to wind me up today.  This evening’s BBC News at 6 o’clock’s leading item was the Live 8 announcement.  Now, I can’t say I watched the whole thing - the Simpsons was on the other side but I did a fair amount of flicking back and forth and at no point did I get any indication of scepticism let alone that Bob Geldof might be wrong.

Which is odd, because it’s not as if it’s that hard to find people who think just that.  Here’s Robert Whelan of Civitas:

Of course, we would all like to have less poverty in the world, and you don’t have to be a genius to see how that could be achieved. We need to have more capitalism. Capitalism is the system which, for the first time in the history of humanity, took human societies way above subsistence level and made them rich – rich beyond the dreams of avarice, as Dr Johnson used to say. The world is now divided into those countries which have capitalist economies and trade in the global market, which are rich, and those which don’t, which aren’t.

Hmm, I think I might keep a score.

BBC Bias

Left 2 - 0 Right

Britain will get a referendum - because our "partners" will force us to …link
31 May 2005
Planning puts house prices up - yup, the iron law of supply and demand is still with us …link
Why do charity and terror go together? - never occurred to me that they did but, well, the guy's clearly thought about it …link
Blair shafted Chirac - Pollard thinks Chirac has been the victim of a political three-card trick. Well, it's a theory …link
Croziervision Quote of the Day: Politicians

EU Serf:

I always respect a politician who is strong in the face of Democracy. After all its far less risky than being strong in the face of Terrorism or Dictatorship.

on the reaction to the “non”.

Could the British vote yes? - Richard North delves into his vast reserves of reverse psychology and paranoia to imagine the scenario …link
30 May 2005
The Normblog definitive list of cool names - is up. My fav is Djamolodine Abdoujaparov or is it Evonne Goolagong? …link
Is the Conservative Party regaining some faith? - James Bartholomew thinks so. Maybe, maybe …link
Time Management for Anarchists - pretty good advice even if you're not an anarchist (via The Hole) …link
The destruction of Doctor Who continues - this time they're turning into a Marxist history lesson …link
28 May 2005
Why are Ford and GM in so much trouble?

David Farrer suggests:

The widespread trashing of the education system by politicians that has resulted in pinko-victimological-media studies being considered superior to engineering.

[Or at least he did on my Bloglines feed but the article does not seem to have made it to the actual blog.  So, if you’re reading this David, you have some work to do, unless the idea was to keep this under your hat for a while, in which case - too late.]

Update  Aah (see comments) - mea culpa.  I’ve noticed this too - Bloglines bringing up a post from way back.  I’ve always assumed it was something to do with updates but apparently not.

Why hasn’t the US Constitution travelled? - because it makes life difficult for politicians …link
“Then I remembered the thousand and one obscene names I’d called five hundred people…” - Jackie suffers caffeine withdrawal symptoms …link
Croziervion Quote of the Day

From James Bartholomew:

The Inspectors are laughably ignorant about the actual work, literally, I once had to leave the room because I had a fit of the giggles.

The quote is actually about care homes but it could be about anything.

More BBC inaccuracies - £3bn and they can't afford an atlas …link
A slogan for the EU - Worstall's running a competition. My favourite so far: "Are EU being serfed?" …link
Is the EU becoming more free market?

Last night, I attended an excellent talk by Antoine Clarke on the French EU referendum at one of Brian Micklethwait’s regular “Last Friday of the month” evenings.  (By the way, if you would like to come along to one of these please drop me an e-mail and I will forward it to Brian).

These events are at their best when you get to hear big, new ideas.  Yesterday, was no exception.  Antoine’s big idea was that EU is becoming more free market.  His evidence was that the French left has turned heavily against the EU because (to them) it is too “liberal”.  As Antoine pointed out they can’t all be wrong.

This is quite surprising.  It certainly doesn’t feel like that from over here.  Fed on a diet of the Booker column for the last decade, the EU has seemed anything but liberal.  I have also lost count of the number of times that our politicians have claimed that “the arguments are going our way” when they patently haven’t.  But maybe, finally, they are.  Stephen Pollard seems to think so and I even heard a rumour last night that the Constitution may lead to the abolition of the NHS.

Someone else chipped in (I think it was Brian) that this is not entirely incredible.  The EU’s purpose is to abolish the nation.  So far it has employed socialist and social democratic methods but should liberal, free market methods prove more effective (and there’s every reason to think they might) then they will be the ones to be adopted.

So, should free marketeers start to embrace the EU?  Not so fast.  First, the EU might turn into a liberal despotism but it would still be a despotism.  Second, while EU-wide liberalism might be better than EU-wide socialism, competing jurisdictions with their ability to make mistakes and to learn from them would (as David Carr pointed out) be better still.  Third, my great worry about the EU is its ability to create war-inducing disputes.  A liberal, free market EU is just as likely to create those sorts of disputes as a socialist one - just think about the row the abolition of the NHS might cause.

The BBC and ramblers

Recently I have been toying with the idea of switching on the BBC, seeing how long it takes them to annoy me and then blogging about it.  I feel that it might prove therapeutic.

I wasn’t really intending to start today, but I lazily switched on the telly far too early this morning and more or less straight away they were demonstrating why they should be closed down.  It was News 24 and they were doing a piece on the “right to roam”.  So, we got five minutes of puff for the Ramblers Association saying how wonderful it was, 10 seconds of the wimpy Country Landowners Association saying “be careful” and absolutely no time at all to the prospect that property rights are the basis of prosperity, that this is legalised theft and how would you like it if the local chavs were allowed to roam all over your property.

27 May 2005
“Just before Liverpool scored, their chance of winning was 0.2 per cent (1 in 500)” - what would we do without the Fink Tank to put things in perspective …link
The last SWT MkI - leaves Waterloo …link
Scott Burgess is on form

Here he is on the great philosophers of our age:

Understandably unwilling to leave the great moral questions to rival Chris Martin of Coldplay (who, readers will remember, recently identified “shareholders” as “the greatest evil of the modern world”), fellow theologian/ethicist Thom Yorke of Radiohead ventures to disagree. Mr. Yorke maintains that ultimate evil is instead represented by “people denying that climate change exists,” as the Indy’s “5-Minute Interviewer” puts it (not online).

and here he is on the dangers of leftism:

For just as repeated and prolonged exposure to radiation in a physics lab can weaken and kill the body, so can the similarly toxic emanations of a cultural studies department pollute and ultimately destroy the mind, rendering it incapable of expressing ideas as intended - or, often,  in a manner even comprehensible by those not similarly afflicted.


Why has crack produced so much crime? - asks Tyler Cowen …link

Beijing not Peking; Newcassell not Newcastle; Me-hi-co not Mexico.


Paris not Paree; Vienna not Wien; Dublin not Baile Ath Cliath.

Why asks Don Boudreaux.

Excellent fisking of the case for ID cards - by Mark Ellott …link
26 May 2005
The dangers of technology

Squander Two gazes into his crystal ball:

And then the practical jokes would start. Some bright spark would hack the thing, changing the factory destination settings so that they could piss on chavs remotely.

Ah, but what technology is he thinking of?

Butterballs, hot oil and Mentholatum - instruments of siege warfare? No, childhood remedies …link
I have a post up at the Globalization Institute - it's ostensibly about transport infrastructure but it's actually a free market economics 101 …link
The EU has not prevented war and may actually create one

I have always been rather dubious about the claim that the EU and its predecessors have prevented a war in Europe and so I was looking forward to reading Helen Szamuely’s take down.  Unfortunately, I didn’t understand it so I thought I’d have a go myself.

Wars start because states find issues on which they disagree.  The First World War started because Britain thought Germany was too powerful and Germany thought she wasn’t powerful enough.  Ditto the Second World War.  The Iraq War started because the Allies didn’t like the look of Saddam Hussein.  Saddam Hussein, underpants aside, thought his looks were just fine.

The Big Dispute in Europe between 1945 and 1989 was over communism.  The Warsaw Pact thought that it should expand.  NATO disagreed.  That dispute could have escalated into a real war at any time but it didn’t.  Two possibilities: the ever present threat of instant annihilation posed by nuclear weapons or the EU (oh, hang about that didn’t come into being until 1992, I mean the EC, oh hang about that didn’t come into being until 1986, I mean the EEC, oh hang about that didn’t come into being until 1958.  No what I mean is the European Coal and Steel Community.  Yes, that’s what Euro-fanatics would have us believe kept the peace between 1950 and 1958.  That we didn’t get vapourised in the five years before was just good luck. )

No prizes for guessing which one I would plump for.  But, hey, let’s give them a chance.  Maybe, there was indeed a conversation in the Kremlin that went like this:

Boris: Let’s invade Western Europe.

Vladimir: No, Boris.  They have the Common Agricultural Policy and a Common External Tariff.  We’d never stand a chance.

OK, well that gets up to 1989.  What then?  Well, the problem is the absence of a major dispute between the major European powers.  France doesn’t grieve over Alsace-Lorraine.  Germany doesn’t want to invade Poland.  No disputes, no war.

The funny thing is about the only disputes that do exist are the creation of the EU itself.  Britain doesn’t like the Common Fisheries Policy.  France doesn’t like Spain’s wine.  Danes don’t like German immigrants.  No one likes Britain’s rebate or Greece’s budget deficit.  So far, they are survivable.  But what if they got really serious, like a demand that Britain fund the Continent’s pensions?

I don’t remember the period before 1973 (when Britain joined the EEC) that well but I am not aware of any disputes we had with our neighbours.  Nowadays, thanks to Europeanism we have them aplenty.  How long before one of them starts a war?

23 May 2005
University gets tough on plagiarisers - but only if they're women …link
Croziervision Quote of the Day

God made the world in seven days, but it was a fairly bleak and hopeless place full of volcanoes and sharks. On the eighth day, however, man got cracking and as home improvements go, did a monumentally good job. He created light, warmth, the potato crisp and the dishwasher.

Jeremy Clarkson praises engineering.

Some searched for El Dorado - and some for contemporary writers worth reading. Let's just hope he has an exit strategy …link
Britblog Roundup #14 - is up …link
21 May 2005
US soldiers abuse prisoners - because they've been watching too many Hollywood movies, says S J Masty. That should stir things up a bit …link
Bad news from Germany - "While in the 1970s and early 1980s the British largely blamed themselves for their poor economic performance, the Germans tend to blame the free-market system..." Uh oh …link
Three cheers for social exclusion

Brian Micklethwait thinks that the government’s new committee on school discipline won’t work.  He contrasts the “all must attend” ethos of state schools with what happens in shops:

I mean, shops who are subjected to customers whom they take against just get a couple of extremely big men in uniforms to escort them to the door. They do not waste their time blaming the parents or setting up committees – sorry, task forces – to make detailed recommendations, or for that matter demanding for themselves any new and draconian powers. They have all the powers they need.

Which is exactly what the Bluewater shopping centre decided to do this week and as DumbJon points out it has already seen a 25% increase in the number of customers.

Who says social exclusion is a bad thing?

More on RSS feeds

Tim Worstall has his own reasons (see comments) for not publishing full posts to his RSS feed:

I know none of us britbloggers are anywhere close to making money out of this yet but the time will come when some are and it will be advertising driven. Got to get people to come to the actual site.

I suppose it depends on why you blog.  I blog to get my ideas across and to be read.  But if were paid to do it then I would be able to blog more and, therefore, get more ideas across and be read more.  So, I could be in a bind here if it weren’t for my naive belief that if you make it as easy as possible for people to read you then the money (if there is any) will follow.

That is why I am such a big advocate of RSS feeds - they make it easier to be read.  And that is why I believe they will be the future.  Indeed, I think the day is not far off when RSS feeds supplant blogs altogether.

Strangely enough, only yesterday, Pejman Yousefzadah, writing for Tech Central Station was suggesting that not long from now bloggers will get paid for their RSS feeds as aggregators share the proceeds of advertising.

20 May 2005
7% of the working age population are on incapacity benefit - the number has quadrupled since the 1970s …link
RSS Update

Respoding to my post of a couple of days ago Alan Little suggests that it isn’t always such a good idea to include the full text of a posting especially if that posting also includes lots of images.  Which is a fair point but if the consideration should apply to the RSS feed then it should also apply to the original blog posting.  In other words, the content of the RSS feed should be exactly the same as the front page blog posting.  If part of that posting is placed in a “Read More” section (something I am usually against) then the same should apply to the RSS feed.

Incidentally, I understand that Brian Micklethwait’s archives will be up and running Real Soon Now.

Another victim of the split infinitive hoax

How else can one explain this abomination:

But, frankly, if the Prime Minister cannot be expected to raise successfully other people’s children…

Just in case you didn’t already know: there is nothing wrong with a split infinitive.

18 May 2005
Killer fact - "...Castro's gulag held more political prisoners, as a percentage of population, than pre-war Hitler's and --yes--even Stalin's." …link
Croziervision Quote of the Day

...most of the people the government is relying on to defeat yob culture are conscientious objectors in the war on crime.

Dumb Jon expresses an uncharacteristic cynicism.

“...I prefer my racism upfront and in-your-face. It’s much more compassionate.” - Peter Briffa explains why he prefers to live in Bethnal Green …link
A request to all bloggers out there with RSS feeds

This is a request to all of you out there with RSS feeds. Please ensure that they contain the full text of each posting.  Why’s that? Because, if, like me, you read blogs via aggregators such as Bloglines which in turn rely on RSS feeds then there are few things more frustrating than only being able to read the title and a couple of sentences of the entry.  Even if the entry looks good (and frankly, few do at that stage) there is a period of hesitancy while the reader weighs up the pros and cons: “...well, it looks good but then again I have to click and it opens up a new window and then I have to wait and then there’s the slightly disconcerting change of font, colour and background and after all that the entire article might only last five more words.”  It’s the sort of debate that often ends with: “Nah, can’t be bothered.”

Anyway, I guess there are some bloggers reading this who while pretty much accepting the argument are unsure of how to make this happen or even if this is a problem for them.  If you are one of them then to you I’ll make this rash promise: if you are prepared to give me a log-in with administrator privileges then (if I can) I will make the necessary adjustments, assuming they have to be made.  Can’t say fairer than that now, can you?

Update 22/05/05

Interesting comment from Phelps - he prefers extracts - and there I was thinking I was doing readers a favour.  Golly, hadn’t expected that (expect the unexpected, Ed).

So, that means I now have to produce two feeds.  Easier said than done - Expression Engine doesn’t do word-limited extracts - they have to be done manually.  Talk about being hoist by your own petard.

What we really need is aggregators that do the extracting for you though that would only work for web-based aggregators.  Maybe those clever people at Bloglines will come up with something.

Mind you, it does illustrate a general rule that (in a different context) I’ve remarked upon before: the web experience is very diverse.  Surfers use different operating systems, different resolutions, different browsers, different connection speeds and different chips.  In the context of RSS feeds, different aggregators.

17 May 2005
They don’t make Japanese the way they used to

Mark Ellott has been reading up on the Amagasaki rail crash:

Whatever errors there are in our management systems in the UK, at least we do not require drivers who make mistakes, such as overrunning platforms or even passing signals at danger to undergo what the Japanese Railway calls “day-shift education” where senior staff berate the employee and where they are made to write reports reflecting on their errors. This is nothing more than ritual humiliation and several members of staff apparently have been so demoralised they later committed suicide.

The implication being that the driver in the Amagasaki crash preferred to take a ludicrous risk (one that ended up killing him and 100 others) rather than face “day-shift education” again.

But there’s something rather odd about this.  As Mark says this is “prehistoric”.  In other words it’s been going on for some time, probably decades.  But (to the best of my knowledge) nothing like this has ever happened before.  When Brian Micklethwait and I had a chat about this the other day he concluded that: “They don’t make Japanese like they used to”.  Which tends to corroborate a story I linked to the other day plus bits and pieces of anecdotal evidence I’ve picked up over the last couple of years.

Japan is changing.

[Incidentally, I think after JR West and others have gone in for their usual heavy-duty navel-gazing, we’ll see a massive effort to introduce the sort of technology that is already being used on the Shinkansen bullet trains and which automatically slows a train that is travelling too fast.]

Remembering World War II - Victor Davis Hanson doesn't have much time for the revisionists either (via CSW) …link
Barroso scandal latest - seems some people want to hush the whole thing up. You could almost believe the guy has something to hide …link
16 May 2005
BBC is biased - OK, you knew that, but this time it's coming from one of their former reporters …link
The Japanese are getting ruder and ruder - some of them are even using umbrellas to practise golf swings. Tsk, tsk (via A&L Daily) …link
Croziervision Quote of the Day

I like old Jeremy Clarkson. He’s an unapologetic “bloke” just like many guys I know who make up the hard working backbone of this land. So what if we attempt to wear 10 year old jeans built for our ten years old waistline, like 1970s rock music, enjoy war films where the plucky Brits and some swarthy Greeks single handedly give battalions of bosch a right good licking, read tabloids, work 8 ‘till 4:30 and have fun whilst driving?

Mark Holland carries a torch for the Britbloke.

“It’s simple. If Glaser cocks it up he loses his 800 million. Let him get on with it.” - quite …link
14 May 2005
Introducing the Lucas - the new way of measuring crimes against celluloid …link
NHS intensive care is - rubbish …link
Proud to be British

Mattias Matussek, Der Spiegel’s London correspondent and brother of the German ambassador, certainly knows how to put a cat among the pigeons.  In an article (via A&L Daily), to coincide with the 60th anniversary of VE-Day he makes a number of charges:

  1. That we still think that the Germans are a bunch of Nazis
  2. That we overestimate our contribution to victory.
  3. That in taking pride over our achievements in World War II we tend to gloss over things like Dresden, the failure to do anything about the concentration camps and various other imperial crimes.

I have to say, on Charge 1 I tend to agree.  This attitude is most apparent at England-Germany football games.  I find the boorish behaviour of England fans so embarrassing that it has not been unknown for me to find myself supporting Germany.

Having said that I do find myself wondering how this came about.  It doesn’t seem to happen in the States and it doesn’t seem to have been present at the 1966 World Cup Final.  I can’t help thinking it is at least in part related to the British establishment’s self-loathing and to the left’s take-over of the history curriculum.  Unfortunately, I’ve never quite been able to join the dots on this one.

As far as overestimating our contribution well, who can say?  There are no parallel universes where counter-factuals are allowed to play themselves out.  I will say this though: I do not see how freedom could have returned to Western Europe had Britain been knocked out of the war in 1940.  And without the bomber campaign and the threat of an invasion of France the balance of forces on the Eastern Front might have been quite different.

However, the part of his article that I find most disturbing is the accusation of glossing over.  For starters it’s a complete mismatch.  You cannot usefully compare actions (such as the Holocaust) which were primary policy with actions like Dresden which may or not have been mistakes committed in the pursuance of primary policy.  The killing of Jews was intentional, the killing of German civilians was incidental.

But what is really alarming about this charge is its motivation.  By dragging up things like this Matussek is effectively saying: your ancestors were no better than ours.  Now whether this is an attempt to rehabilitate the Nazis or to belittle the World War Two generation I can’t say but I can’t help but think this is somehow wrapped up with Europeanism and the desire to eliminate national feeling.  Whatever, the case may be he’s wrong.  Our ancestors were a great bunch.  And so long as we honour and preserve the culture that made them we can be proud of them.

“...Mr Blair is a busted flush” - how the wheels came off the project …link
The imagination of the First World War general

I was watching an otherwise excellent BBC Timewatch documentary today about the establishment of trench warfare in 1914.  It made the point that all sorts of otherwise unrelated inventions from the machine gun to barbed wire to canning contributed to making trench warfare possible.  Unfortunately, the BBC in their wisdom marred the whole programme by one line at the end.  It was something like: “…a war characterised by mass slaughter and a lack of imagination from senior commanders.”

Lack of imagination? What an extraordinarily ignorant remark.  Senior British (and I assume French) commanders made enormous efforts to find technical and tactical solutions to the problem of trench warfare.  In Britain, an entire department spent the war commissioning and evaluating inventions proposed by the public (most of which were completely useless).  They tested body armour, body shields, helmets, periscopes, sniperscopes, rifle batteries, mortars, Bangalore torpedoes, wire cutters,  automatic weapons and much more.  Weapons such as the Stokes mortar, the Lewis gun, the tank, gas and smoke shells were all introduced.  In artillery, sound ranging, flash-buzz (not quite sure what it is but it was apparently very useful) were adopted.  It has been said that the 105 (or was it 109?) fuse (again I am not quite sure what it did) was a war winner all by itself.

Tactically, the British army experimented with creeping barrages, Chinese barrages, machine-gun barrages, night attacks, predicted firing, mines, camouflage and air re-supply.  As the war progressed the British army became extraordinarily good at keeping build-ups of men and material from the enemy.  There was a huge expansion of the air force along with the introduction of both tactical and strategic bombing.

Much of this willingness to experiment can be traced to that supposed butcher Douglas Haig.  There is some extraordinary tale of him ordering 1000 tanks sight unseen.  He also engaged in a lengthy correspondence in the search for effective body armour for his troops.  But perhaps Haig’s greatest strength was his willingness to allow his commanders to command.  In some cases eg Hubert Gough his trust was misplaced.  But in others eg Plumer and Monash it was rewarded in spades.  After Monash’s highly successful attack on Le Hamel in July 1918, Haig ordered his battle plan to be widely circulated.  All this effort was in the end rewarded.  By the end of 1918 the British Army had restored a level of mobility to the battlefield that (as Paddy Griffith points out) would be regarded as perfectly acceptable by its Second World War heirs.

It is not an unnatural human desire to search for someone to blame for disasters on the scale of the First World War.  But the truth is that there is no one to blame.  It was just bad luck that the war was fought at a time when defensive technologies were so much more superior to offensive ones.  It would take another couple of decades before the internal combustion engine and the wireless had developed to a stage where they would render trench warfare obsolete.  In their absence senior commanders pursued just about every avenue available to them and it is about time their efforts were recognised.

[Incidentally, should you wish to read further you might want to take a look at the following: Battle Tactics of the Western Front, Paddy Griffith; Dominating the Enemy, Anthony Saunders; Douglas Haig: the Educated Soldier, John Terraine; Forgotten Victory, Garry Sheffield.]

13 May 2005
What is wrong with Man U fans?

At last they’ve got someone in charge who looks like he might sort out their underperforming management and get them back into contention for major trophies and what do they do? Complain about it.  Unbelievable.  Relegation is too good for these people.

Update  Laban Tall points out that football clubs aren’t like other businesses.

Why don’t ethnic minorities support free markets? - because they ought to …link
More outsourcing - now it's operations …link
11 May 2005
Fox for leader

“Freedom is not a slogan. Freedom is not just a means to an end. Freedom is our essence. Freedom is our core. Let freedom reign.”

That was Liam Fox speaking at Politeia yesterday.  But did he mean it?  Well, he also said this:

“Despite the heroic work undertaken in the past 18 months by Michael Howard, we have done too little work in previous years establishing the Conservative brand - not just what we would do but why we would do it,”

Which is encouraging.

The mystery of 1918

I caught the end of an episode of the Great War on BBC2 this afternoon. They’ve got up to 1918 and the Lundendorff Offensive which got me wondering: how come the Allies went from a situation in early 1918 where they were on the defensive to a situation in late 1918 where they were carrying all before them?

Was it the entry of the Americans?  Frankly, I doubt it.  I don’t see how it could have been.  The Americans simply didn’t mount anything big enough.  Nothing on the scale of the Somme, Passchendaele or the Hundred Days.  This is hardly surprising.  When Britain entered the war it had a tiny army.  It took the best part of two years before it was able to make any sort of serious contribution.  When America joined the war it, too, had a tiny army and there’s no particular reason to think that it could have ramped up its size any faster than the British.

Was it that the Ludendorff Offensive was more costly to the Germans than the Allies?  Possibly, but all the figures I’ve heard quoted suggest the opposite: that the Allies lost more men.  In other words, the Ludendorff Offensive strengthened the position of the Germans.  But, if that is the case, why did it stop?  The only conclusion that makes any sense is that the Ludendorff Offensive was much more expensive than the Germans let on.  The only way their figures could be correct would be if their losses included a disproportionately high proportion of their best troops.

There is one other possibility (and one you won’t hear that often) - and that is that the Allies had better tactics.  What us, better tactics?  We of the “get out our trenches and walk slowly towards the enemy” brigade of popular imagination?  Surely, not.  Well, Blackadder myth-making aside there is plenty of reason to think the Allies would have been better on the offensive than the Germans.  The principal one is that they had been doing more of it.  From September 1914 the Germans had been content to sit tight while the Allies had been seeking to eject them.  Up until 1918 the Allies had had little tangible success but they had learnt a lot.

There is a widespread myth that the Germans were better than the Allies.  But it seems to me that a simple examination of the observable facts indicates the precise opposite: the Germans lost because they weren’t as good.

10 May 2005
Want to be smarter? - then power up that Nintendo. Popular culture is making us clever. (Via A&L Daily) …link
“F**king up really doesn’t mean anything in Blair’s Britain, does it?” - Blair reappoints another failure …link
09 May 2005
Crozier for leader

OK, so I am not an actual member of the Conservative Party but nothing ventured nothing gained (not that I am actually venturing anything except opinions).  But anyway, if I were in the ring this would be my pitch:

“Fellow Conservatives, we seem to be in a slightly funny mood at the moment.  We have gone down to a third straight landslide defeat and yet because we picked up a few seats we seem strangely light-headed.  Almost joyous.  Just in case any of you are still feeling like that I would bring you back to reality: we lost and we lost badly.  Again.  This is a wholly unprecedented run of bad results for the Conservative Party.

So, what do we do about it?  Modernise, radicalise, change our tone/look/tie widths?  No.  First of all, we work out why we lost.  Then we work out what, if anything, we need to do about it.

The principal reason why we lost is because we do not come across well on television.  We do not come across well because we are not allowed to.  We are not allowed to because the broadcast media despises us.

They despise our values.  They despise free enterprise, they despise tradition and they despise personal responsibility and the idea of free will.

So, what do we do about it?  Well, we could say all the things they want to hear.  We too could go round blaming Bush, Thatcher, profit underfunding,  McDonalds, the banks, the oil companies, the drug companies, the chemical companies, food lobbies, gun lobbies, tobacco lobbies and SUVs in that lazy way so many do because it beats thinking.

But it wouldn’t be credible.  We are Thatcher’s Children.  We are the heirs to her belief in low taxes, low inflation and free enterprise.  For many of us Margaret Thatcher is the very reason we joined the Conservative Party.  And the electorate know that.  Even if we all had a sudden Damascene conversion and became right, proper politically-correct drones, the electorate still wouldn’t believe us.  We couldn’t change our spots even if we wanted to.

Incidentally, the reason Labour changed and I believe it was a genuine conversion was because their core beliefs were proved wrong.  In contrast our beliefs are still standing.  That is because they are right.

So, if we can’t change, then it has to be the media that changes.  Either they have to be persuaded of the merits of our beliefs or they have to be bypassed entirely. 

Change the media?  Yes, I know, they look all-powerful and all conquering and up until very recently I wouldn’t have given us much hope.  But things are starting to change.  In the the United States the internet is starting to become a significant factor in national politics.  This has been especially true since the rise of the so-called Blogosphere.  And the internet is now starting to challenge the the mainstream media, or MSM.  And about time too.  For years, just as over here, the MSM has been drunk on its own power.  Objectivity, accuracy and open-mindedness have been thrown out of the window to be replaced by sloppy, slanted and selective reporting inspired by a rigid liberal world view.  They could get away with it because there was no competition.  No one to point out their mistakes.  But now there is.  This was shown most dramatically in the Rathergate Affair.  CBS produced an appallingly sloppy attempt to smear the President.  Within hours the Blogosphere was pointing the many inaccuracies in the story.  The fallout continues but up to now it has included the resignations of several senior CBS executives.  And Bush, as you may recall, was re-elected.

This is still early days but I believe we will only see more of this.  The MSM is losing power in the US.  And if it can lose power in the US it can lose it here.  And when it starts to it will lose a lot of that arrogance and with that will come some genuine reporting and with that a fair hearing for Conservatives.

So, to Conservatives out there I say this: change nothing.  Stick to your guns, have faith in your beliefs.  Things can only get better.”

Justine Greening MP

“Justine Greening…Justine Greening…Have I heard that name before or am I just imagining it?”  That was the question I found myself asking when then news came through that she had won Putney for the Conservatives on Election Night.  The face seemed familiar but it did occur to me that that could just be because I wanted to believe that I had at some point bumped into the attractive blonde who has hardly been off the TV screens or out of the newspapers since.

Then I read the paper and saw that, like me, she had been at Southampton University in the late 1980s.  Still didn’t ring any bells though.  So, I did some Googling and got the shock of my life.  Seems I had bumped into her before.


  • Still doesn’t ring a bell.  All the other people mentioned on that page I remember very well and in some cases rather wish I didn’t.  But her?  Not a sausage.  I must be gay.
  • I don’t remember a thing about the debate either although clearly Tim and I won.  What can you say in defence of being poor?
  • What sort of person posts up details of debates that took place almost 20 years ago that even the participants can’t remember much about.  And why?
  • Of all the people participating in the debate that day, including the chairman, she would have seemed the least likely to have become an MP.  Indeed, I cannot recall her having any involvement in the Conservative Association at any time in the course of the next three years.  And yet, to my knowledge, she is the only Southampton graduate currently sitting on the Conservative benches (or any other for that matter). 
  • There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
I’m back

Apologies to regular readers for the lack of posts over the last couple of weeks but I haven’t been very well.  Anyway, I am a lot better now and hopefully, I will soon be back into the swing of things.

26 April 2005
How to ruin Doctor Who

Natalie Solent’s getting all steamed up about Doctor Who over at Biased BBC.  Personally, I’m not all that bothered.  Doctor Who has always been profoundly political.  The Daleks are the Nazis.  Davros is Hitler.  The Sun Makers (a Tom Baker-era story) was all about sky-high taxes.  The Sea Devils is all about the Ulster Troubles.  It is one of the great strengths of science fiction that it is much easier to discuss political issues than it is with straight drama.  That an episode might try to make an (apparently) left-wing point should come as no surprise.  You can’t expect it to go all your own way.

But having said that, Doctor Who is beginning to bother me.  I thought the opening episode (and I said so at the time) was a triumph.  But with each successive episode I have become less and less enthusiastic.  I am becoming ever more convinced that I was right first time: this is going to be a disaster.

I hadn’t quite been able to put my finger on why (and still haven’t) but I feel that Joe Newbery’s “How to ruin Doctor Who”, an essay I recently came across, comes very close to it. Newbery’s basic point is that the Doctor is an Enlightenment hero.  His dominant characteristic is his rationality.  Not for nothing did Richard E Grant describe Doctor Who as “Sherlock Holmes in space”.

Just as an aside isn’t it interesting how almost all the great fictional detectives: Holmes, Poirot, Marple, Fletcher, Morse are single?  I don’t think it’s coincidence.

Now, the leap that the author makes is to list all the ways eg. make him more human, give him a love life, make it action-orientated, have him dressed in normal clothes, to make the Doctor less rational and therefore ruin the show.  I think I’m with him here though I am not quite sure why.  Suffice to say the new producers have done most of these things and are ruining the show.

The more I think about it the more I think the destruction of Gallifrey is hugely significant.  It was not just any old plot device but something far more malicious sending out the message that the old Doctor Who is dead and it’s never coming back.

The odd thing is that I can’t work out what possessed them to do this.  I believe it’s a political act but why should the left be so opposed to reason?  I thought they were all in favour of it.

Of course, it might be commercial.  But by destroying Doctor Who’s roots, they will lose the hardcore fans and I don’t see the new programme being distinctive enough to generate the audience they need to justify the enormous budget.

Anyway, I’ll cling on but I’m beginning to lose hope.

Update Natalie has even more thoughts.

Andy Wood has some more thoughts on low turnouts - he reckons they make coups more likely and has some interesting stats …link
24 April 2005
State schools are crap - and so are the unions …link
Croziervision Quote of the Day

Jörg says:

I think the English (as well as the Scottish, Welsh and Irish) have a lot to be proud about. I’m German and I’ll be eternally grateful for the Allied Forces ridding us of Hitler and his henchmen. In actual fact Sir Winston Churchill is my greatest hero. If it hadn’t been for Hitler we probably wouldn’t have been in the politically correct mess we are today. Maybe we’d all be communists though, you never know. I just wanted to say thanks to all the servicemen and -women from the UK, the US and the rest of the Western World who risked and often lost their lives in the spirit of freedom. Maybe I should stick my cross of St. George (which I’ve got for footballing purposes) to the window. Rule Britannia!

Seen in a comment to this piece on St George and the BBC dragon.

Mark Ellott has lots to say on Railtrack - interesting, not least, because he was there at the time. Warning, it's makes depressing reading …link
Low turnout and why it’s not a problem

This evening, while with some of my libertarian friends the conversation turned to the upcoming general election and the expected low turnout. 

This is an issue that seems to vex all sorts of people but it occurs to me that maybe it shouldn’t.  Maybe what we are in fact seeing is the triumph of market research.  In their efforts to garner as many votes as possible the parties have spent a lot of money on polling, focus groups and other forms of market research.  Consequently, they have ended up with remarkably similar agendas.  Choosing between them is a bit like choosing between Daz and Ariel and about as important.  So, for most people it doesn’t much matter whether they vote or not.

So, they don’t.

It also occurs to me that what we have seen in recent years is the separation of the business of politics from the business of opinion forming.  Not that long ago politicians believed they could shape the debate.  Churchill, Thatcher, Powell, Benn all fell into that category.  Try finding a politician who thinks that nowadays.  They just don’t exist.

23 April 2005
“...privation for a purpose brings its own content” - Theodore Dalrymple on why people enjoyed WWII. Really? (via Notts Blog) …link
NTS thinks about resigning from the 1952 Committee - but still can't bring himself to vote Conservative …link
20 April 2005
It’s not an incident - it's suicide, for once …link
Let’s hope they invent immortality soon - because we're only two popes away from Armageddon …link