Sunday, 30 December 2012

The EU-funded Duchess

There's plenty of serious stuff on my list of things to blog about, but I can't really face it, so here goes ...

Last night I saw The Duchess for the second time. And I confess that for the second time, I enjoyed it. I guess I'm a sucker for period dramas.

There was a sinister surprise in the credits, though.  Apparently the film had been funded by the EU's "MEDIA film support programme". A 2009 article on their website proudly elaborates:
Seven films funded by the EU's MEDIA film support programme have been nominated for Oscars at this year's Academy Awards: Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (Germany, Uli Edel), Entre les murs (France, Laurent Cantet), Waltz with Bashir (Israel/France/Germany, Ari Folman), Happy Go Lucky (UK/Mike Leigh), The Duchess (UK/France/Italy, Saul Dibb), Slumdog Millionaire (UK/US, Danny Boyle) and the award-winning documentary, Man on Wire (UK/US, James Marsh) (for synopses, see annex).

The EU's MEDIA programme provided significant financial support to these films figuring high on the nominations list of the Oscars Ceremony. The total contribution from the EU's MEDIA programme for these films alone amounted to € 3,028,000, with even more support likely to follow for distributing the film to cinemas.
It's been running for a while ...
The MEDIA 2007 programme will provide €755 million to Europe's film industry from 2007-2013 (IP/07/169). This January the Commission also proposed a MEDIA MUNDUS programme (IP/09/26) that will provide another €15 million of funding from 2011-2013 for projects submitted by audiovisual professionals from the EU and third countries. A clear priority of both the MEDIA and the MEDIA MUNDUS programme is the distribution and promotion of European films outside their original country, across Europe (almost 65% of the total MEDIA budget) and the globe.

The MEDIA programme's overall objectives are to strengthen the competitiveness of the European audiovisual sector by facilitating access to financing and promoting use of digital technologies, to reflect and respect Europe’s cultural identity and heritage, and to increase the circulation of European audiovisual works inside and outside the European. In 2008 the MEDIA programme supported over 1,800 projects with a total €107 million.
Few things are more subtly sinister than government meddling in 'cultural identity'.

Both times I watched this particular film, I watched it uncritically, for escapism and eye candy, but perhaps it's worth revisiting.

There are two main themes in The Duchess: men had extreme and unjust power over women in the 18th century, and the aristocracy likewise had unreasonable and unsustainable power over the ordinary man.

As a libertarian, I don't really dispute either of these points. But I can't resist a couple of observations.

Whereas men once had significant state-granted power over women, the pendulum has swung back the other way. Men and women are not legally equal. Women are entitled to generous maternity benefits. They benefit from positive discrimination in the form of diversity quotas. They fare unreasonably well in custody and divorce settlement decisions, and they are granted absolute power over the lives of unborn children.

If a man gets a woman pregnant, and decides that it would be better to abort the child, he is powerless. He's not even free to walk away. He will be held financially accountable for many years to come.

By contrast, a woman can choose to terminate the pregnancy - to take the life of an innocent proto-human - even if the father is willing and able to take on sole responsibility for raising the child. How do 9 months of discomfort, and a few hours of extreme discomfort, compare with 18 years of financial enslavement?

Of course, I feel that fathers ought to care for their children. I am a father myself. And I don't believe that abortion should be illegal (though he case for state subsidised abortions is questionable).  But there is no disputing the fact that women today are in a legally favourable position. Do we really need to keep harping on about past injustices? A certain group of EU bureaucrats with their hands on your money think so.

Then there's the question of the aristocracy. Despite all their anti-democratic moves, the EU would have you believe that democracy is an unalloyed good. They pay lip service to this grand ideal, which supposedly prevents exploitation.  But look at what's happened to individual liberty as suffrage has widened, eventually becoming universal.

I haven't yet read Hoppe's Democracy: The God That Failed, and for now I'm still inclined to think democracy is the least bad option, but the tyranny of the majority does not deserve to be celebrated.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Victim stop

A few days ago, Daniel Hannan wrote:

There will always be editors who want the mothers of fallen Servicemen to comment on whether we should be in Afghanistan or who want Doreen Lawrence to be the final arbiter of the government’s policy on race. Still, here is a hard thing that needs saying: victims deserve our sympathy and our respect, but they are no more qualified than anyone else to determine what the law should be.

Most of those brandishing the ‘victims test’ in response to Leveson would be horrified at the suggestion that, say, the parents of a murdered child should decide whether the killer deserved the death penalty. They would point out, correctly, that such parents are emotionally involved, and can’t make a disinterested assessment of what constitutes justice.

An excellent illustration was provided on BBC Breakfast this morning by Jane Sherriff of Bottle Stop.

Following her husband's murder, she has called for all glasses and glass bottles to be BANNED in pubs and clubs after 9pm.

Safer than a pint glass

Personally, I think we should go further. Fights can break out in restaurants too, so it would be much safer if we were all required to use plastic cutlery, just like in cattle class on aeroplanes.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Never let a crisis go to waste

Like most Britons (and perhaps unlike most libertarians) I feel instinctively more comfortable in a society where gun ownership is uncommon. Perhaps it helps that our police don't routinely carry weapons (though that's no consolation to Jean Charles de Menezes).

Nevertheless, I'm sickened by the attempts by President Obama and the BBC to exploit the Sandy Hook killings to further the cause of gun control.

Were his tears real?

In a subsequent speech, Obama came out fighting:

We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them we must change ... what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless? In the face of such carnage? ... Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

Perhaps I'm just sensitive to his arrogant and patronising tone, but it all seems very sinister. The warmth of a small child's embrace is indeed a special thing, but I hate to see it abused by Obama's speech writers. today republished an article from 2006 (presumably originally published in the wake of a previous shooting):

Before we even get to the main article, the introduction by Daniel J. Sanchez makes some sobering points:

The heart-rending nightmare that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday was not only a product of the pure evil of one individual, but also yet another complete failure of the State. The precious children lost were victims, not only of an individual monster, but of a collective monster. The State made it incredibly difficult for their parents to avoid sending them to mass camps (modern schools) every day, all day. And once there, the State completely failed to keep them safe. More than that, by making the Sandy Hook mass camp a "Gun-Free Zone", the State actually made it impossible for anybody (staff, teachers, parents) to protect them.
A sign that says, "Gun-Free Zone" serves not as a warning to murderers, but as a welcome mat.

Tragedies and atrocities inspire an intense desire in the human heart for radical action and change. The radical change that follows Sandy Hook should not be to disarm the general public even further, which would only lead to even more atrocities (at the hands of both independent criminals and the State), but a mass rejection of state schooling. In the wake of this tragedy, parents should pull their children out of public schools for the sake of both their education and safety. And they should cry out, with the protective passion that comes with being a father or mother, for the immediate and complete abolition of all restrictions on home-based and private education. It is time for parents to take their children back from the State.

The main article addresses one of the points that I'd been wondering about: what if the teachers had had guns?

in 1985, only eight states had right-to-carry laws — laws that allow a person to automatically get a permit, provided he passes a background check and completed a training course. Today there are forty states that have some version of these laws. Lott's examination of the data showed that "from 1977 to 1999, states that adopted right-to-carry laws experienced a 60% drop in the rates at which the attacks occur and a 78% drop in the rates at which people are killed from such attacks."

Moreover, he points out that before 1995, it was possible for teachers to bring guns to campus in many states and that "the rash of student shootings at schools began in October 1997 in Pearl, Mississippi after the ban," (my italics).

I haven't investigated the facts for myself, but it seems plausible enough.

Meanwhile, CNN is looking across the pond:

In a country where the constitution is treated with such contempt - where a War on Drugs is pursued without any equivalent of the 18th amendment - how long before American citizens will be disarmed?

How much of a defence do hand guns or even assault rifles offer against helicopter gunships, tanks, and neutron bombs? Not so much, really. But it does make oppression a little less convenient, and sometimes that's all it takes.


Today's article features a quote from Justice Joseph Story on the 2nd amendment [Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States (1840)]:
One of the ordinary modes, by which tyrants accomplish their purposes without resistance, is, by disarming the people, and making it an offence to keep arms

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The welfare state is going bust. Everywhere.

Another excellent article from Detlev Schlichter:

the markets are slowly waking up to the fact that the social-democratic welfare-state that dominated the West since the First World War is going bust. Everywhere. Faster in some places (Greece, the UK), more slowly in others (Germany), but the direction and the endpoint are the same. This is not a specifically European problem, or even one that is particularly linked to the single currency project, it is pretty much a global phenomenon, and it will shape politics for years to come. It is naïve, dangerous and even irresponsible to dress this up as a design-fault of the euro and thus imply that the problem would be smaller or more easily manageable, or even non-existent, if countries could only issue their own currencies, print money, keep running deficits and devalue to their hearts’ content.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

How will Osborne's tinkering affect you?

BBC News is keen to stress the reduced tax burden that we'll enjoy thanks to Osborne's tinkering:

What's happened to taxes?
...people whose incomes put them on the border of the higher-rate 40% income tax bracket will benefit a bit.

The threshold for the 40% rate will rise by 1% in 2014 and again in 2015, from £41,450 to £41,865, and then to £42,285.

Investors will also see some benefit, with the annual exempt amount for capital gains tax rising by 1% to £11,100.

The inheritance tax nil-rate band will rise from £325,000 to £329,000 in 2015-16 [SP: i.e. 1.23%]

Does the BBC expect that tax bands should remain forever fixed? How else to explain their decision to spin 1% rises as a benefit, despite the fact that inflation is running higher than 1%?

Funnily enough, they remember about inflation later in the article:

How will my benefits change in April?
Millions of people claim state benefits of one sort or another, and many working age benefits will rise by 1% in April.

That is probably going to be a cut in real terms though, as it is below the current level of inflation, which is 2.7% under the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) measure.

It would be a lot more transparent, and thus harder for the BBC to spin, if the starting point for every budget was an across-the-board inflation adjustment.

Of course, what we really need is radically simplified tax and benefits system, with most taxes and benefits disappearing altogether.

Keeping the lights on

The best bit of news from yesterday?

Chancellor George Osborne has approved the building of over 30 new gas-fired power stations to replace the UK's ageing coal, nuclear and gas stations.

The new capacity could produce up to 26 gigawatts (GW) of electricity by 2030, a net increase of 5GW.

The plans will dismay environmentalists who want more emphasis placed on lower-carbon, renewable energy sources.

Unfortunately it seems the government haven't given up on wind power, though they do at least seem to be showing some interest in avoiding blackouts:

In a statement announcing the government's new gas generation strategy, Energy Minister Ed Davey said: "Gas will provide a cleaner source of energy than coal, and will ensure we can keep the lights on as increasing amounts of wind and nuclear come online through the 2020s."

There was also a mention of shale gas:

Mr Osborne also announced a consultation on potential tax incentives for shale gas exploration.

I haven't look into the details yet. Ordinarily I can't condone manipulation through the tax system, but it's possible that the proposed change simply mitigates a previous manipulation against the industry.

What the government really needs to do is get out of the energy business, and stop choosing winners. For now, though, at least the central planners are being slightly less stupid.

Sunday, 2 December 2012


As well as being Movember, last month was apparently Islamophobia Awareness Month:

Here's Pat Condell's take on it:

Hearing about the poor downtrodden muslims as victims of Islamophobia is enough to bring tears to your eyes - tears of laughter at the brazen effrontery of it.

Islamophobia is no more real than Naziphobia. There are very good reasons to beware of both ideologies. And they are the same reasons. Far from being an oppressed minority, the evidence shows that Muslims are a pushy and aggressive minority, and when they are in a majority, they quickly become enthusiastic oppressors.

From what I've read of the Koran, he's right.

That's not to say that all Muslims are bad people. I expect that most Western Muslims, like the majority of Christians, get by fine in modern society by ignoring large parts of their scripture.

Conceivably there were also 'good Nazis', who wanted a strong Germany, but didn't buy into the core evils espoused by Hitler.

What will future historians say?

Friday, 30 November 2012

Globe still not warming

Lewis Page reports on the latest figures from the UN's World Meteorological Organisation:

The 2012 figure for the year so far stands at 14.45°C. If that were the figure for the full year, it would be cooler than 1998 (14.51°C) and most of the years since then (full listing from the Met Office here).
there is now some admission even from the hardest climate hardliners that something may be going on which is not understood. Dr Peter Stott of the Met Office, head of Climate Monitoring and Attribution, had this to say while announcing the 2012-so-far-number:

"We are investigating why the temperature rise at the surface has slowed in recent years, including how ocean heat content changes and the effects of aerosols from atmospheric pollution may have influenced global climate."

Meanwhile, according to some research from Princeton:

At current melt rates, the Greenland ice sheet would take about 13,000 years to melt completely, which would result in a global sea-level rise of more than 21 feet (6.5 meters).

Page provides some context:

Put another way, in that scenario we would be looking at 5cm of sea level rise from Greenland by the year 2130: a paltry amount. Authoritative recent research drawing together all possible causes of sea level rise bears this out, suggesting maximum possible rise in the worst case by 2100 will be 30cm. More probably it will be less, and there will hardly be any difference between the 20th and 21st centuries in sea level terms.
Doha delegates take note.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A small step in the right direction

A tiny bit of good news:

The rebel amendment calling for a real-terms reduction in EU spending was passed after a stormy debate in Commons on the 27-member union's next seven-year budget and UK contributions.

Westminster's most promising MP posted a good article on the subject earlier today:

Only two areas were ringfenced from the current spending cuts: the NHS and foreign aid. The EU is not on the list. Why should it not take its share of austerity? Let’s not forget that because Britain’s public finances are in deficit (thanks to Labour), we borrow and pay interest on the money we give to the EU every year.

After years of rolling over for the EU while in government, the Labour Party are saying they will vote for the reduction. There’s a whiff of opportunism in the air. Knowing that the Coalition could be defeated, no Conservative will enjoy going through the lobby with the spendthrift authors of Britain’s present financial misery. Nevertheless on this occasion Labour are – even if for the wrong reason – helping the Prime Minister. The stronger his parliamentary mandate to demand the EU takes a cut, the stronger his credibility will be at the negotiating table. Other Governments will know the PM cannot deliver a Commons’ majority for a bad deal in the way Balir regularly did.

Labour's opportunism is truly shameless, but on this occasion I'm happy to see them do the right thing for the wrong reason, and it was heartening to see enough Conservative backbenchers put country before party (many of them, I'm sure, for opportunistic reasons of their own).

What's truly shocking is that there are some MPs prepared to oppose a real-terms cut in the EU budget, but at least things seem to be moving in the right direction.


Here's Daniel Hannan's summary of the event:

For the first time since Britain joined the EU, Parliament has voted in an unequivocally anti-Brussels manner. It won't do to say that Labour's vote was meaningless because its motive was cynical. Of course it was cynical, but so what? The fact is that the party will now find it awkward to back away from its new and popular position on EU spending. Public opinion long since hardened against the EU; parliamentary opinion has at last followed.

Congratulations to Mark Reckless, who has the distinction of being the first MP in 40 years to secure a Eurosceptic majority in the lobbies. Congratulations, too, to all those parliamentarians who did as their electors wanted, on both sides of the chamber – but particularly to those put their constituents before their Whips. The 53 Tory heroes are listed here. Ladies and gentlemen, you are honourable members indeed.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Paine inside the asylum

The idea that a state with a total monopoly on the use of force, control over the national curriculum, control through state funding of a huge proportion of academic research, the ability to propagandise constantly at taxpayer expense etc. is weak in the face of companies only interested in selling goods and services is too ludicrous for words. Nonetheless, it was a constant theme at the event and I cannot tell if those arguing it are genuinely stupid or dishonestly justifying more state control. I suspect the latter. I know Orwell's point that some things are so stupid only intellectuals can believe them, but this just goes too far.

As did Bennett's complaint that the people of Totnes are getting a branch of Costa Coffee they don't want because the planning system is too weak to protect their "freedom". If the people of Totnes don't want their new coffee shop, it will be gone in months. Opening it is a bet the company is making that they want it very much and all the residents have to do to make it lose is not show up. The idea that planning control promotes freedom, when it actually limits the use by an owner of his own property, destroying value in the process, is again, too ridiculous to be anything but sinister. As so often, when a speaker at the event said "we don't want this" or "we want that" I had a sense that the "we" neither included me nor was meant to.

From a truly superb post by Tom Paine.

Do read the whole article.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Beware of the troll hunters

The Register reports:
A young man was jailed for 12 weeks today, after confessing to posting "grossly offensive" comments on Facebook

He posted some bad taste jokes culled from Sickipedia on a support group for April Jones's family and friends, according to press reports.
Woods was handed the three-month jail term for the offence under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. The sentence meted out in such cases cannot exceed six months.
Trolls like Matthew Woods are loathsome creatures, and it's difficult to feel any sympathy for them.  But I'm more concerned about the troll hunters.  Are we really comfortable living in a country where people can be locked away for six months for being unpleasant?

Friday, 5 October 2012

Power shortage risks by 2015

This doesn't feel very 21st century, does it?

Britain risks running out of energy generating capacity in the winter of 2015-16, according to the energy regulator Ofgem.

Its report predicted that the amount of spare capacity could fall from 14% now to only 4% in three years.

But it shouldn't come as a surprise. DK has been warning about it for a long time now, most recently on the 8th of August:

This isn't the 1970s: if the power goes, then so does our entire infrastructure. Banking grinds to a halt, the internet is unreachable (and half of it down anyway), the vast majority of people simply will not be able to work at all.

But even if we do not have to start a series of rolling black-outs, the price of power has been climbing steadily. And power is required for everything these days: as such, as power becomes more expensive then so does everything else.

This government—and its predecessor—have been quite deliberately following a set of policies designed to impoverish everyone in the country. And, throughout all of the other insanities of this time, they have continued to prosecute this war against their own people.

Their aim is simple: to reduce power consumption—whether because of climate change or in order to avoid difficult decisions about building power stations, I do not know (although I have my suspicions).

The government's own report—you know, the one that showed that power would not be more expensive overall—relied on the country using half the electricity that it does now by 2020.

Reducing power consumption may be a laudable aim but it is, frankly, unrealistic in that timescale without a significant down-grading of our current life-style.
I face my ongoing struggle with Hanlon's Razor.

Even if you think CO2 emissions are something worth worrying about, and that reductions here in the UK will somehow make a difference to the global problem, the approach of the British government (first NuLab, now the Coalition) has been sheer lunacy.

The surest way to reduce emissions is to replace coal-fired power stations with nuclear or gas plants. Instead, our politicians have been spunking billions of taxpayers' pounds on ugly, inefficient wind farms which require backup from conventional power sources. Because of the way the backup plants operate, this combined approach is not just staggeringly expensive, but potentially counterproductive:

A study in the Netherlands found that turning back-up gas power stations on and off to cover spells when there is little wind actually produces more carbon than a steady supply of energy from an efficient modern gas station.
Wind turbines only produce energy around 30 per cent of the time. When the wind is not blowing - or even blowing too fast as in the recent storms - other sources of electricity have to be used, mostly gas and coal.

However it takes a surge of electricity to power up the fossil fuel stations every time they are needed, meaning more carbon emissions are released.

“You keep having to switch these gas fired power stations on and off, whereas if you just have highly efficient modern gas turbines and let it run all the time, it will use less gas,” said Ruth Lea, an economic adviser to Arbuthnot Banking Group.

More thoughtful environmentalists are recognising the importance of shale gas. Any sane government would be looking in this direction. Ours, incredibly, seems prepared to let the lights go out rather than confront the irrational demands of fanatical greens.

Future generations will be amazed that we entrusted the supply of energy - the 21st century's most vital commodity - to politicians.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Trouble across the pond

Jeff Randall has a good article in today's Telegraph on the debt situation in the US:

The White House website boldly claims: “President Obama has led the way on structuring the government to live within its means.” This is not even remotely true. By any measure, the US continues to spend way above its income and, as a result, its debt position is deteriorating apace.

These are the facts. George W Bush left behind a set of books that were not so much unbalanced as vertiginous. At the end of 2008, US debt was $9.9 trillion, or 69.7 per cent of GDP, and the ballooning deficit was $683 billion. Since then, all the key indicators have worsened markedly. By the end of this year, gross debt is forecast to reach $16.3 trillion ... more than 100 per cent of GDP, or a rise of two thirds under Obama. The annual deficit is close to $1.5 trillion, 10 per cent of GDP. Worse still, according to official forecasts, US debt is on course to hit $20 trillion by 2016. If this is a country living within its means, one dreads to think what would happen if Washington decided to throw a party.

Of course, $16.3 trillion is just the official figure. As here in the UK, and in every other developed nation, far greater liabilities hide 'off balance sheet'.

In an article for, Gary North explains:

The expert here is Professor Lawrence Kotlikoff of Boston University. His most recent report says that total unfunded liabilities went from $211 trillion a year ago to $222 trillion this year.

The biggest source of future red ink will be Medicare. In second place is Social Security.

How can the government pay off these obligations? It can't. The possibility does not exist. The government needs a spare $222 trillion to invest in private companies. This investment must make a return of at least 5 percent to provide the money needed to pay meet the government's obligations. There is no $222 trillion available, and no capital markets large enough to absorb $222 trillion.

Conclusion: the US government will default.

In this context, 'default' doesn't just mean that 'investors' in government debt lose their money. It means that the government will renege on a wide range of welfare IOUs.

These IOUs were unsustainable long before Obamacare. As with our own National Insurance scheme, they made the mistake of paying out immediately - out of current contributions rather than past savings. There's a term for this sort of scheme:

The welfare state's Ponzi scheme economics will catch up with the politicians. It will catch up with everyone who is dependent on the welfare state. All over the Western world, this is statistically inevitable.

We wonder why people begin Ponzi schemes. The schemes always blow up. They cannot survive. The numbers tell us that. Why don't the initiators see what must inevitably hit them?

The financial world was amazed at Bernie Madoff. How did he fool smart rich people for so long, and for so much money?

Simple. He copied Congress.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Should people be forced to take long lunch breaks?

Another classic BBC article:

Nothing excites the BBC more than the 'mandatory'.

Except Obama rallies, perhaps. And melting sea ice.

Am I drinking too much in old age?

Just as I finished reading Christopher Snowdon's latest article, BBC Breakfast began promoting Panorama's upcoming prohibitionist propaganda.

Spurred on by a viewer's email about a grandfather who (shock!) enjoys whisky, Louise Minchin felt obliged to ask: "perhaps we should leave the elderly alone".

Of course, this was just an excuse for her interlocutor, Joan Bakewell ("the government's former voice of older people") to explain why we shouldn't. A small amount of social drinking is ok, you see, but we mustn't drink every day, and never alone and never in excess of the government's unit limits. She herself was guilty of everyday drinking.

Snowdon's article is well worth reading. As well as the Panorama programme, he considers a BBC 'news' piece from yesterday Drink firms 'target young online', Alcohol Concern Cymru claims.

You might assume ... that some sort of research has been published to support allegations of wrong-doing (for it is forbidden to target the 'young' with alcohol advertisements). Alas, there is no mention of it. Instead we get a bunch of quotes from Alcohol Concern which spread unsubstantiated claims designed to advance their campaign for a total ban on alcohol sponsorship. As is typical of the nation's broadcaster when the temperance movement is involved, there are no balancing quotes from drinkers, the drinks industry, freedom-lovers or anyone else who might object to neo-prohibitionism.

Marx the sponger

Volume 2, chapter 10 of Rothbard's An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought (1995) contains this little gem, featured in yesterday's Mises Daily article, Marx's Path to Communism:

An insatiable spender of other people's money, Marx continually complained about a shortage of financial means. While sponging on Engels, Marx perpetually complained to his friend that his largess was never enough. Thus, in 1868, Marx insisted that he could not make do on an annual income of less than £400-£500, a phenomenal sum considering that the upper tenth of Englishmen in that period were earning an average income of only £72 a year. Indeed, so profligate was Marx that he quickly ran through an inheritance from a German follower of £824 in 1864, as well as a gift of £350 from Engels in the same year.
As in the case of many other spongers and cadgers throughout history, Karl Marx affected a hatred and contempt for the very material resource he was so anxious to cadge and use so recklessly. The difference is that Marx created an entire philosophy around his own corrupt attitudes toward money. Man, he thundered, was in the grip of the "fetishism" of money. The problem was the existence of this evil thing, not the voluntarily adopted attitudes of some people toward it. Money Marx reviled as "the pander between … human life and the means of sustenance," the "universal whore." The Utopia of communism was a society where this scourge, money, would be abolished.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Fixing finder

Although it is superior to Microsoft Windows in almost every way, there are some very annoying things about OSX that Apple have been slow to fix.

For over a decade, it was only possible to resize windows using the bottom right hand corner. This was finally fixed last year with 10.7 ("Lion").

Another long-standing weak point is Finder, the OSX file browser. It was unspeakably bad in 10.3 (my first version of OSX), and it has progressed only gradually.

Today I discovered that one of its most annoying features can now be fixed through a preference:

"When performing a search ... Search the Current Folder"

You'd think it would be obvious. Instead, OSX defaults to searching your entire computer!

Now if they'd just prevent windows from stealing focus, and force them to have a maximise option that really does maximise, I'll be a happy man.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Mencken on government

Two quotes from H.L. Mencken featured in the latest issue of Edelweiss Journal:
All government, in its essence, is a conspiracy against the superior man: its one permanent object is to oppress him and cripple him. If it be aristocratic in organization, then it seeks to protect the man who is superior only in law against the man who is superior in fact; if it be democratic, then it seeks to protect the man who is inferior in every way against both. One of its primary functions is to regiment men by force, to make them as much alike as possible and as dependent upon one another as possible, to search out and combat originality among them. All it can see in an original idea is potential change, and hence an invasion of its prerogatives. The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are.
Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

The most "leftie" opening ceremony ever?

As my tweets and retweets show, last night's opening ceremony was a mixed bag, with a number of high points and some shocking lows. You can find it without the inane commentary on iPlayer.

The treatment of our industrial past was ambivalent, but that's not entirely unfair. It was great to see Brunel feature, and one of the most impressive scenes was the shower of sparks from the glowing Olympic rings.

The cauldron was also a thing of beauty:

In other parts, the the ceremony was less impressive. The medley of British pop music could have been brilliant, but it was spoiled by a desperate attempt to appeal to the yoof of today.

As with the Jubilee concert, I was left feeling very sorry for the Queen.

Even the national anthem was given a politically correct treatment, performed as it was by the Kaos Signing Choir for Deaf and Hearing Children.

I'll hand over to Christopher Snowdon:

You may well have seen the Olympics opening ceremony. Insofar as these things are about whipping up patriotic hysteria and selling Great Britain to the world, I think Danny Boyle did a pretty good job. Certainly he ticked all the boxes, and with £27 million to spend he damn well should have done.

Yesterday I predicted that it would be a "politically correct propaganda-fest" and it did indeed turn out to be something like that at times. If all you knew about Britain came from watching the opening ceremony, you would imagine that at least 40% of the British population were ethnic minorities and another 10% were in wheelchairs. A tribute was paid to CND. Perhaps the most politically contentious part involved the National Health Service which was portrayed—as per liberal left orthodoxy—as the envy of the world. The audience was treated to the sight of dozens of happy children being treated in lovely, clean, MRSA-free hospital beds by attentive and caring nurses. Suddenly, apropos very little, sinister figures in black appeared and attacked the children. (Something to do with Harry Potter. I don't know what they're called. I haven't seen the films or read the books. I'm not ten years old). A hoard of Mary Poppins saved them from the evil intruders. It was that kind of show.

It has been suggested that this was a none-too-subtle allegory for the NHS reforms which the evil Tories are trying to introduce. Within minutes, the following graphic was circulating on Twitter (the words 'NHS' which were beamed up from the stadium during the ceremony—to the bemusement of most of the world, presumably)...

Do read his whole post.


Tom Paine was more tolerant of the political correctness, but he too was angered by the NHS bit:

The only real tragedy is that Britain's greatest mistake - the NHS - was given massive prominence. Its hospitals an archipelago of filth, generating new diseases. Its staff forming a producer cooperative on Soviet lines, above all criticism and routinely killing patients without fear of disciplinary action or even much by way of rebuke. Yet, it is a sacred cow. It is supported by all parties, including those that should know better. So it was sort of inevitable. Having lived in other countries where people are mystified by Britain's attachment to so obviously deficient a model of health care, I guess they just smiled at our eccentricity.

All in all I was relieved that we did not disgrace ourselves. My French/Swiss hosts in Mauritius congratulated me and told me to be proud, so I guess we pulled it off.

Friday, 27 July 2012

The arbitrary games

If you were to describe the Olympics in one word, what would it be?

Corrupt? Wasteful? Overblown? Corporatist? Jingoistic?

The Olympics is all of these things, but for me the word that always comes to mind is 'arbitrary'.

Consider triple-jump, a contrived sport if ever there was one. Would it be any less ridiculous to have a 100m hopping race. Too far? 42m would be just right, I'm sure.

Racewalking, on the other hand, is clearly a 50km affair. It would be one thing to choose an arbitrary long distance and leave the style of motion to the atheletes, but this bizarre sport specifies that "the athlete's back toe cannot leave the ground until the heel of the front foot has touched" and that "the supporting leg must straighten from the point of contact with the ground and remain straightened until the body passes directly over it". Perhaps one day David Beckham can hope to captain the British Olympic walking football team.

Or take boxing. As early as 1904 the competitors have been divided into several weight categories. The range is staggering:
  • Light-Flyweight -48 kg
  • Flyweight 48-51 kg
  • Bantamweight 51-54 kg
  • Featherweight 54-57 kg
  • Lightweight 57-60 kg
  • Light-Welterweight 60-64 kg
  • Welterweight 64-69 kg
  • Middleweight 69-75 kg
  • Light-Heavyweight 75-81 kg
  • Heavyweight 81-91 kg
  • Super-Heavyweight +91 kg
How can these divisions possibly be justified? Why does the best 90kg boxer get a gold medal while a superior fighter who weighs 2kg more goes home empty-handed? We may as well replace the names with numbers, and have categories for each kilogram increment from 1 to 634. Or maybe that's not granular enough. Perhaps we should expand the number of medal winners further by using 100g increments.

If it's reasonable to divide boxers by weight, should we divide high-jumpers by height and swimmers by lung capacity?

This year we'll be treated to women's boxing.  Which sports deserve separate categories for women, and why? If women don't need protected status in the equestrian events, why do they need it for shooting and trampoline? According to the BBC, "London 2012 will be the first Summer Olympics with no sports exclusively for men", but "there are two disciplines which are still women only - rhythmic gymnastics and synchronised swimming".  Then there's the case of transsexuals - read those rules and weep.

If women deserve separate categories, why not old people. There's a problem of how many categories to have, and where to draw the boundaries, but this is no worse than the boxing situation.

And what of the terrible injustice in the 'main event', the 100m meter sprint? According to Wikipedia:

Nearly all the sprinters who have beaten the 10-second barrier are of West African descent. Namibian (formerly South-West Africa) Frankie Fredericks became the first man of non-West African heritage to achieve the feat in 1991 and in 2003 Australia's Patrick Johnson (who has Irish and Indigenous Australian heritage) became the first sub-10-second runner without an African background. Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre became the first white European under ten seconds in 2010 (although Poland's Marian Woronin had unofficially surpassed the barrier with a time of 9.992 seconds in 1984). In 2011, Zimbabwean Ngonidzashe Makusha became the 76th man to break the barrier, yet only the fourth man not of West African descent. No sprinter of predominantly Asian or East African descent has officially achieved this feat.

Surely we need a separate category, or several, to give the non-West-Africans a chance!

Amateurism is another great source of arbitrariness. It was supposedly introduced to stop gentlemen from being upstaged by the plebs. According to Wikipedia, "the 1912 Olympic pentathlon and decathlon champion Jim Thorpe was stripped of his medals when it was discovered that he had played semi-professional baseball before the Olympics", though "his medals were posthumously restored by the IOC in 1983 on compassionate grounds".

Different sports relaxed their prohibitions at different times. In basketball, professionals were notably allowed for the first time in 1992, when the American 'Dream Team' dominated.

In football, "only three professional players over the age of 23 are eligible to participate per team in the Olympic tournament". And of course boxing remains an officially amateur Olympic sport, though this may change after 2012.

There are plenty of other examples of arbitrariness, from the choice of sports to the rules on drugs.

I'm sure I'll watch some of the events - it'll be hard to avoid over the next 16 days - but I can't say I'm excited about any of them (except the beach volleyball, of course).

Enjoy the arbitrary games if you can. I'm switching over to ESPN 8 to catch some dodgeball.

Weimar beckons?

Things are bad, and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reckons they're about to get a lot worse:
As Britain tanks by 0.7pc in the second quarter (much worse than Spain at 0.4pc), it is worth keeping a close eye on the very ominous turn of events in the US.

The Richmond Fed's twin indices of manufacturing and services – a very good indicator at the onset of the Great Recession – collapsed this month.

They are now falling at a steeper pace than in early 2008. Current activity in manufacturing fell 16 points from -1 to -17. That is a major shock.

Westminster's most promising MP recently published an illuminating blog post on Britain's 'surprise' bad news:

On 24 May 2011, I intervened in a debate on the economy to say:
I would say gently to my hon. Friend that only a few years ago the banking crisis was not foreseen, and the same people who did not foresee that are still giving us advice. We are probably in far worse trouble than is generally accepted.
I’m optimistic about humanity’s potential to make progress but, as I have said, I think economists and politicians have taken us down the wrong path.

In an article for The Jewish Chronicle back in June, he set the lack of recovery in a rather disturbing context:

In their April 2012 Economic Review, the Office for National Statistics showed us that the recovery now compares badly with the Great Depression. In newsrooms and the corridors of power, commentators are beginning to wonder what they have been missing. There are three things:

Firstly, we based our economy on reckless consumption funded by deliberately cheap debt. It was a phenomenon which could never last. After a tripling of the money supply through new lending, there can be no return to those days without accelerating inflation.

Secondly, in their July 2011 report “Thinking the Unthinkable”, inter-dealer broker Tullet Prebon highlighted that six of the eight largest sectors of the UK economy were dependent on private borrowing or public spending.

Finally, when production is directed by the choices of politicians and officials, we cannot know how the public values it. Only the language of price determined by families’ free choices, individuals and firms can convey the relative value of things. With government spending at about 45 per cent of GDP, GDP itself is fictional.

Some businesses are doing well but the problem of the GDP figures runs deeper than is commonly understood. Ours is a great country founded on that essential element for prosperity, the rule of law, but its hope lies in little short of a revolutionary commitment to entrepreneurship. Our society must be based on private production, saving and investment. That requires sound money and a commitment to lower spending, lower taxes, flexible labour legislation and an end to economic interventionism. There’s no other way out.
AEP, by contrast, recommends a fresh flow of newly-minted cash:
Needless to say, I will be advocating 1933 monetary stimulus à l'outrance, or trillions of asset purchases through old fashioned open-market operations through the quantity of money effect (NOT INTEREST RATE 'CREDITISM') to avert deflation – and continue doing so until nominal GDP is restored to its trend line, at which point the stimulus can be withdrawn again.
But if he's a little bit mad, he is at least self-aware:
And the Austro-liquidationists (whom I love during bubbles, and hate during busts) can all hurl shoes at me. 

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Fit to drive?

The Telegraph reports:
Drivers will have to declare every 10 years whether they are medically able to get behind the wheel, according to proposals to be set out early in the new year.

For the first time, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) will issue a series of minimum physical and mental requirements motorists must fulfil including eyesight performance and reaction times.

Tests, costing up to £80, will be offered to drivers to check whether they are fit to drive.

Anyone who chooses not to take the tests but declares themselves able to take to the roads will be committing a criminal offence if they fail to meet the established standards.

Pass your test at 17. Waste money and time at 27, 37, 47, and probably 57. Fail to comply, and you risk a criminal record, even if nobody has been harmed.

I'm all for ensuring people are fit to drive, and as long as the roads are public, it is natural for this responsibility to fall to government.

But I can't help but think that the imposition on younger drivers is calculated to avoid charges of "age discrimination". And though it's not mentioned anywhere in the article, I wonder if there's an EU angle to this.

EU-inspired or not, there does seem to be something sinister about it, as Tom Paine explains:

I have absolutely no desire to survive my driving licence. Life without driving a car is unthinkable to me. It's bad enough that the government claims the right to decide who may operate this particular type of machine at all, but imagine the scope this will give the nanny statists given their constant redefinition of the word "health".

Do you drink more than their made-up safe limit per week? Do you smoke? Are you (like most of the England rugby team) in excess of their stupid BMI ratio? Do you believe the British state your greatest foe? You are clearly unhealthy in body, mind or both.

Of course, just because life for Tom is unthinkable without driving, it doesn't follow that he should be allowed to drive, regardless of circumstances. But proactive, preventative measures are always prone to abuse. We should be wary of victimless crimes. And we know that, in the absence of competitive pressures, the nanny statists always err on the side of caution. Just look at Oxford's ridiculous 20 limits.

Aside from the potential for inappropriate redefinition of 'health', there is the prospect of a shortened inspection interval. If checks every 10 years are a good idea, why not every 5? We are already forced to have health checks for our cars every year, so why not have a yearly 'MOT' for the driver? We can't discriminate based on age, of course, so this would apply to all of us. What a wonderfully docile people we'll be when we regularly submit ourselves for approval by government functionaries.

Recall the words of A J P Taylor:
Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman.

Do no wrong, and you will be left alone - your personal responsibility and good intentions will be assumed, until there is cause to doubt them. A country of grown-ups, getting on with their lives. How far we've come.


It turns out the Telegraph article was from 2008. I'd like to think that the idea died with New Labour, but I'm sure it's sitting in a drawer somewhere, waiting to be resurrected by our Glorious Coalition (aka Continuity NuLab).

As for the EU connection, a bit of googling turned up this from 2003:
The European Commission has put forward a proposal to amend the existing Directive on driving licences (91/439/EC) which would mean that it would be mandatory for driving licences to be renewed every 10 years. At present the majority of countries either have no time limit (Austria, Belgium and Germany) or a set time limit (eg: up to 70 years of age in the UK).

By 2008, the 10 year renewal requirement was reported without a hint of EU involvement:
The Department for Transport hopes to use the introduction of photocard licences, which will need to be renewed every 10 years, to change the system.

Wikipedia has more about European Driving Licences:
In March 2006, the Council of Ministers adopted a Directive proposed by the European Commission to create a single European driving licence to replace the 110 different models currently in existence throughout the EU.
Some categories like C and D will be issued for five years only. After expiration, a medical check-up is necessary in order to renew the licence for another five years.
The directive stipulates that members states should adopt laws implementing the directive no later than 19 January 2011. Those laws should take effect in all EU members states on 19 January 2013. All licences issued before that date will become invalid by 2033.

It might seem reasonable for lorry and bus drivers to have health checks, but it's a slippery slope, and because the rules are handed down by the EU, there is very little we can do to stop them.

Tim Yeo

A good article from James Delingpole:
the job of the Energy and Climate Change Committee is to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and its associated public bodies.

And the man who has been appointed chairman of this committee, Tim Yeo, charges up to £555 an hour for his green side-projects, makes upwards of £100,000 a year from his green investments, and is chairman of the Renewable Energy Association.

Tim Yeo has been using his position of influence to argue vociferously for more taxpayer subsidies for the renewables industry, despite copious evidence that it is damaging the economy, blighting landscapes, destroying property values and making the lives of those unfortunate enough to live near the wind farms he so heartily endorses utter misery.

Conflict of interest, anyone?

Shocking. Except, sadly, it isn't.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Salted bread, anyone?

More fair, balanced, and completely un-sensational reporting from the BBC News health desk:

Kate Mendoza, head of health information at WCRF, said: "Stomach cancer is difficult to treat successfully because most cases are not caught until the disease is well-established.

"This places even greater emphasis on making lifestyle choices to prevent the disease occurring in the first place - such as cutting down on salt intake and eating more fruit and vegetables."
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "We already know too much salt can lead to conditions such as heart disease and stroke. That is why we are taking action through the 'Responsibility Deal' to help reduce the salt in people's diets. And we are looking at clearer... labelling on foods as part of our consultation on front-of-pack labelling.

Are more aggressive government measures justified?

Let's have a look at the data (assuming for now that we can trust the stats from Cancer Research UK) ...

Despite the salt content of our foods supposedly rocketing, stomach cancer rates have been falling:

We really don't know what level of salt consumption is best for us (it is certainly dangerous to have too little). But even if a link between excessive salt intake and stomach cancer was firmly established, the chart shows that things are getting better - falling stomach cancer rates cannot provide an excuse for ever-more stringent labelling requirements.

And as with most cancers, we find that stomach cancer mostly strikes older people:

No amount of nannying will make us immortal. We're all going to die, and if it's not from stomach cancer, it will be from something else.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now deceased

A few weeks ago I watched the first few minutes of Australia.

Tonight I caught the first few minutes of Jindabyne.

Both carried an absurdly politically correct warning to "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people" about their depiction of Dead People.

It is one of the curious features of the Left that despite their (understandable) contempt for Christianity they feel compelled to pander to such ridiculous minority superstitions.

Friday, 20 July 2012


BBC News reports:

Microsoft has swiftly fixed an embarrassing gaffe which saw a chunk of code labelled "big boobs".

The hexadecimal string 0xB16B00B5 was discovered lurking in code that helps a Microsoft program work with Linux open source software.

For the BBC this couldn't possibly be a bit of harmless fun ...

"Puerile sniggering at breasts contributes to the continuing impression that software development is a boys' club where girls aren't welcome," Dr Garrett wrote.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Saturday, 14 July 2012

How far down the slippery slope?

Chrisopher Snowdon reckons we'll see "plain packaging for alcohol in about three years".

I can't see it myself.  As I commented on his blog:
Although it was predictable that "health" campaigners would try to take us down this road, and that some hateful government ministers would go along with it, the public will only tolerate so much.

Our FPTP system makes this difficult, but people will vote for a party that calls a stop to this nonsense before we see plain packaging for alcohol.

Or so I hope. Time will tell.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Corporations versus The State

Another great article from Christopher Snowdon:

A mere five weeks after it happened, Michael Bloomberg's ban on large sodas has attracted the attention of Oliver Burkeman of the Guardian, who thinks it's all a fuss over nothing because the corporations are more powerful than the politicians, man.

The money that Coke spends on advertising and sponsorship surely shape that architecture far more powerfully than anything Bloomberg could ever do.

Er, no. Bloomberg can have the police bust a place and arrest its owner for selling a drink, just like he has the police arrest bar-owners who allow their patrons to smoke. Coca-Cola, by contrast, can put up adverts trying to persuade people to drink their drink. Corporate advertising and state power are in no way commensurate. As big a corporation as Coca-Cola is, its executives do not have the power to caution, fine, arrest and jail citizens on a whim. Bloomberg does, and by God does he use it.

As usual, the whole article is well worth reading.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A rusty super-tanker lumbers on

Mike Farrar of the NHS Confederation [1] says:

The NHS is like a super-tanker heading for an iceberg. The danger is clearly in view and looming ever larger.

Super-tanker is right! Super-sized, loaded with inertia, and impossible to steer.

But having recognised the nature of the beast, Mr Farrar suggests we steam ever faster ahead.

It is frankly absurd to suggest that important services can only be maintained by increasing spending even faster than the Coalition government has planned. After 13 years of New Labour bureaucratic expansion, there is plenty of fat to be trimmed, and the NHS provides plenty of non-essential procedures, from gender reassignment to IVF.

Even our Soviet-style healthcare system would be sustainable if properly managed, but it seems that today's politicians lack the resolve to reject idiotic demands from the Guardian and the BBC.

Far better, though, to let the free market work its magic. We don't have a National Food Service. Why do we need a National Health Service.

[1] "the membership body for the full range of organisations that commission and provide NHS services" - nicely unbiased, then.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

BBC cheers the demise of cash

A fluffy little piece from the BBC about David Wolman, an author who "says cash is dirty, expensive and should just be pushed off the cliff":

Top quote: "here in the city today I'm not going to buy any pot and I'm not going to visit any strip clubs ... so I should be ok".

No such naughty transactions in the nice clean cashless future!

Let's hope, for his sake, that Wolman never becomes an enemy of the state.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Quisling Clarke

A referendum on our membership of the EU is an irrelevance. It is the demand of a few Right-wing journalists and a few extreme nationalist politicians. I cannot think of anything sillier to do than to hold a referendum.
So said The Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke QC MP on Radio 4 recently, according to an email update from The People's Pledge. They also supplied an amusing photograph:

It's hard to escape the conclusion that Clarke is not simply misguided, but actually a Very Bad Man - England's answer to Vidkun Quisling.

Who but a traitor could dismiss as 'silly' the notion that the British people have a right to democratic self-determination?  Who but a traitor could characterise as 'extreme nationalist' the view that laws affecting the British people should be made in Westminster rather than Brussels?

37 years ago, on the 5th of June 1975, British voters were asked
“Do you think that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (The Common Market)?”

Today's EU is far from a simple "common market". Many of those who voted for membership in 1975 have regretted their choice, and nobody under the age of 55 has had any say in the matter. An in-out referendum is long overdue.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

From bad to worse for France

BBC News reports:

President Francois Hollande's Socialists and allies look set to emerge with a majority after first round voting in French parliamentary elections, final results show.
When you look at the left bloc as a whole, they have more support than the right, they will have a majority in the new parliament and that will ensure that Mr Hollande can force through the ambitious tax and spend policies that he has set out.

I wonder if M. Hollande has even heard of Frédéric Bastiat, who explained the folly of tax-and-spend in 1850:

When James B. gives a hundred pence to a Government officer, for a really useful service, it is exactly the same as when he gives a hundred sous to a shoemaker for a pair of shoes.

But when James B. gives a hundred sous to a Government officer, and receives nothing for them unless it be annoyances, he might as well give them to a thief. It is nonsense to say that the Government officer will spend these hundred sous to the great profit of national labour; the thief would do the same; and so would James B., if he had not been stopped on the road by the extra-legal parasite, nor by the lawful sponger.

Arguments in favour of government spending have become more sophisticated since then, thanks largely to Keynes, but tax-and-spend is still a bad idea even if 'James B.' or 'the thief' are less inclined to spend than their political masters.

For one thing, the government spends money very badly: it gets poor value-for-money on projects that benefit a small minority of the population.

For another, investment is the key to lasting prosperity, not spending. Wealth is generated by developing more efficient ways to produce goods and services that customers actually desire.

For naive Keynesians and socialist demagogues, boosting GDP is all that matters. C + I + G is the magic formula, and it doesn't matter how things are split, as long as the total rises. Ghost cities and military campaigns are just as good as fusion reactors, and much easier to deliver.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Snowdon: That non-existent slippery slope again

Another excellent post from Christopher Snowdon:

Simon Chapman, 2011:

"The tobacco industry and its stooges played the same slippery slope arguments over advertising bans, sports sponsorship bans and pack warnings . Ad bans started 35 years ago. No alcohol advertising ban and no momentum I’m aware of other than breaking the sport/alcohol nexus. So the slope ain’t very slippery folks …."
Deborah Arnott, 2012:
Thirdly, the “domino theory” i.e. that once a measure has been applied to tobacco it will be applied to other products is patently false. The same argument was used against the ban on tobacco advertising, but 9 years after the tobacco ban in the UK, alcohol advertising is still permitted with no sign of it being prohibited.
The Sunday Telegraph, today:
Doctors call for ban on TV adverts for alcohol

Thirty leading medical bodies and charities have called for a total ban on advertising for alcohol on television... If the demands of the alliance are met, they would have a major impact not just on TV advertising but also on sport sponsorship.
Fancy that!

As usual, the whole article is well worth reading.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Register: Gov fights itself over your money

A report from The Register that would be amusing if it wasn't so depressing:

An NHS Trust is disputing a record fine the Information Commissioner's Office has levelled on it for leaving tons of data on patients and staff on hard drives that were sold on eBay instead of being destroyed.

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust was served a civil monetary penalty of £325,000, the highest handed out since the ICO got the power to lay financial smackdowns in April 2010. The Trust said it didn't agree with the ICO's findings and was appealing the fine.

The ICO claims that the private data of tens of thousands of patients and employees was left on the sold hard drives, including information from the HIV and Genito Urinary Medicine department, which included personal identifiers like dates of birth and occupations as well as sensitive medical data on their STD test results and diagnoses and sexual preferences. The database also held the names and dates of birth of 1,527 HIV positive patients.

While in this case the NHS hasn't actually killed anyone, their incompetence is truly staggering.

There are three obvious, quick and easy steps they could have taken:

  1. Delete the files - your average office admin should be capable of this much.
  2. Securely wipe the disks - standard practice for any competent sysadmin (at work we use standard Linux utilities that repeatedly write random ones and zeros over the disk).
  3. Take a hammer to the hard drive.

Not very difficult. Not the sort of task you need to contract out.

To this depressing but sadly familiar story of government incompetence we add the farce of the ICO fine. It's hard to see what possible good could come of this.

The Register subtitle sums it up nicely: the government fights itself over your money.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Reasons to be cheerful

From the Rational Optimist:

15. We can solve all our problems

If you say the world will go on getting better, you are considered mad. If you say catastrophe is imminent, you may expect the Nobel Peace Prize. Bookshops groan with pessimism; airwaves are crammed with doom. I cannot recall a time when I was not being told by somebody that the world could survive only if it abandoned economic growth. But the world will not continue as it is. The human race has become a problem-solving machine: It solves those problems by changing its ways. The real danger comes from slowing change.

16. This depression is not depressing

The Great Depression of the 1930s was just a dip in the upward slope of human living standards. By 1939, even the worst-affected countries, America and Germany, were richer than they'd been in 1930. All sorts of new products and industries were born during the Depression. So growth will resume unless prevented by wrong policies. Someone, somewhere, is tweaking a piece of software, testing a new material, or transferring the gene that will make life easier or more fun.

17. Optimists are right

For 200 years, pessimists have had all the headlines-even though optimists have far more often been right. There is immense vested interest in pessimism. No charity ever raised money by saying things are getting better. No journalist ever got the front page writing a story about how disaster was now less likely. Pressure groups and their customers in the media search even the most cheerful statistics for glimmers of doom. Don't be browbeaten-dare to be an optimist!

Read the entire list.

As regular readers will be aware, I'm prone to pessimism!

I have high hopes for technology, but great scepticism about religion and politics.

If the world is a better place in 50 years' time, it will be despite governments, not because of them.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Simon Jenkins on HS2

Simon Jenkins is one of the few Guardian columnists worth reading.

Here's what he had to say about HS2:

The case against HS2 should never have been left to lovers of countryside, rather than to other transport users or taxpayers in general. This has played into the hands of the construction lobby, which has shrewdly allied itself with the naive left in depicting opposition to HS2 as confined to Tory nimbys. They can be dismissed by Cameron's macho urban court as effete and "anti-enterprise".
The HS2 lobby has been led by contractors and consultants who manoeuvred themselves into what has become almost an arm of government. They promised ministers and officials untold glory in return for contracts. The lobby was actually set up by transport officials in 2009 to press their case, largely with the Treasury.

Since then the HS2 project has been allocated an astonishing £750m of public money – enough for how many schools or hospitals? – without a single spade being turned and before any decision was made to go ahead. As with Crossrail, the scale of spending and interests at stake banished reason and made the project unstoppable, besotting one transport secretary after another. The latest, Justine Greening, gasped over her plan today like Ahmadinejad over his latest nuclear enrichment plant.

According to Jenkins, things are even worse now than when the railways were nationalised:

This is money beyond all sense. It could have supplied trams to every big city in Britain. The truth is that railways, since their pseudo-privatisation in the mid-90s, have been consuming subsidy at five times the rate they did when nationalised. They take 20 times more bureaucrats to oversee them, while fares have risen to as much as 10 times the European average. Rail oversight has been one of the great failures of modern British government – without a word of inquiry or remorse.

Service quality is at the mercy not of professional managers, but of passing politicians with no knowledge of transport economics, besieged by company lawyers, the Office of Rail Regulation and the Health and Safety Executive. They all pore over hundred-page contracts and risk assessments, measuring costs against subsidies and fines, hiring and firing subcontractors with abandon.

The answer, of course, is not a re-nationalisation, but full privatisation.

It's incredible that most people believe we have a free-market economy.

As Westminster's most promising MP was moved to wonder, did we win the Cold War then suffer a Communist takeover?

The would-be superstate and the ex-superpower

BBC News reports:
EU officials are expected to press Russian President Vladimir Putin to take a stronger line on the crisis in Syria during a summit in St Petersburg.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton are among those attending Monday's summit.

On Sunday, Mr Putin invited the EU leaders for dinner ahead of the talks at a lavish estate on the outskirts of the city.
It's bad enough when the likes of William Hague go swanning around, meddling in the affairs of other countries.  But how much worse to have these little-known, unelected eurocrats dining at a lavish estate, purporting to speak for 500 million Europeans!
Baroness Ashton, who met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before Sunday's dinner, said in a statement: "Russia's role is crucial for the success of Annan's plan."

She said the EU wanted to "work closely with Russia to find a way to end the violence".
Who empowered Ashton to speak on our behalf?  Who decided that foreign policy should be handled by the EU?

The British people were denied their say; our Queen signed our sovereignty away.

Posts by Daniel Hannan and Norman Tebbit celebrating the Jubilee have drawn many comments supporting the Queen. They say she has no choice but to sign whatever treaties 'her' government puts before her. At a practical level, this is clearly false - nobody is holding a gun to her head, and she could achieve a great deal by refusing to sign and forcing a referendum. But if, legally, she has no right to refuse, let's end the charade, and have the PM do the signing.

Peter Schiff on the US recovery

Peter Schiff is unimpressed by the 'recovery' in the US:
From 2008 to 2009 our national GDP (of around $14 trillion) contracted by $212 billion. To prevent any further dips, the government aggressively spent, borrowing heavily to do so. To the relief of just about everyone, these moves did stop the nominal contraction. From 2010 to 2011 the U.S. GDP expanded by $502 billion, and from 2011 to 2012 it added an additional $508 billion. All told, from the end of 2008 the U.S. economy added a cumulative $798 billion in GDP. But those gains came at a very high price.

The combined federal deficits for the same time frame come in at a staggering $4.2 trillion! In 2009 alone the feds chalked up a chart breaking $1.4 trillion in debt (the deficit was a mere $161 billion in 2007). In other words, we borrowed five times more than we grew. This “strategy” for growth is no different from an individual who loses half his income, but continues to spend by running up credit card debt. Could this be described as economic growth?

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Google WTF!

Google, what were you thinking?

I'd just like a nice simple search screen, thank you (holiday-related adornments are superfluous but tolerable):

1930s photos show Greenland glaciers retreating faster than today

The Register has an interesting article from Lewis Page about photos taken by the seventh Thule Expedition to Greenland led by Dr Knud Rasmussen in 1932:
There's much scientific interest in the Greenland ice sheet, as unlike most of the Arctic ice cap it sits on land: thus if it were to melt, serious sea level rises could occur (though the latest research says that this doesn't appear to be on the cards).

It's difficult to know exactly what's happening to the Greenland ice in total and very different estimates have been produced in recent times. However Professor Box says that many glaciers along the coasts have started retreating in the past decade.

It now appears that the glaciers were retreating even faster eighty years ago: but nobody worried about it, and the ice subsequently came back again. Box theorises that this is likely to be because of sulphur pollution released into the atmosphere by humans, especially by burning coal and fuel oils. This is known to have a cooling effect.
While sulphur emissions in North America and Europe have been reduced in recent decades, due to concerns about acid rain, it's possible that catastrophic warming of the Earth by evil CO2-belching Westerners has been mitigated by evil sulphite-spewing Chinese.  Some scientists speculate that "rapid coal- and diesel-fuelled industrialisation in China is serving to prevent further warming right now".

Alternatively ...
Still other scientists, differing with Prof Box, offer another picture altogether of Arctic temperatures, in which there were peaks both in the 1930s and 1950s and cooling until the 1990s: and in which the warming trend which resulted in the melting seen by Rasmussen's expedition actually started as early as 1840, before the industrial revolution and human-driven carbon emission had even got rolling. In that scenario, variations in the Sun seem to have much more weight than is generally accepted by today's climatologists.
The truth is that we don't understand the mechanisms behind glacial melting, in Greenland or in the Himalayas.  The story isn't nearly as simple as the global warming propagandists would have you believe.