Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The future is bright; the future is Apple

A while back I wrote about my problems with Orange.

Reception is still terrible at home and at work (both within the Oxford ring road), despite the deal Orange struck with T-Mobile.

Thankfully, now that my wife has an iPhone 4s, we can take advantage of iMessage and FaceTime. Whereas the mobile network results in missed calls, annoying static, and text messages that refuse to send, the magic of the interwebs delivers high resolution video calls with crystal clear sound, and messages that send instantly and reliably.

How very 21st century!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Minimum price? Yes, Sir Jeremy.

Charles Moore writes:
the government wants to impose a new and oppressive tax on the poor — a minimum price for alcohol. It is always in the name of health that the working class are attacked. But what struck me most about the story was how the decision was taken. According to the Sunday Times, ‘The decision to go ahead was made at a meeting chaired by Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, and attended by [Andrew] Lansley, Theresa May, the home secretary, and Vince Cable, the business secretary … it was not put to Cabinet.’ This is yet another example of the unacknowledged change in our constitution by which civil servants are put in charge (see also Crown appointments, honours forfeiture, IPSA, the Information Commissioner etc) of their elected political masters. ‘During the meeting,’ the report went on, ‘Heywood is said to have overruled Lansley’s objections.’ By what right?
I hadn't heard of Heywood until last Thursday, when I read a Spectator article by Quentin Letts: Sir Jeremy Heywood is the man who really runs the country:
Sir J. Heywood is a backstairs Bertie, a smudger, a whisper-in-the-PM’s-ear sort who shrivels from public view. The worry for Conservatives, and the rest of us, is that this shrewd murmurer, this eminence grease, has acquired unprecedented power over not only the Prime Minister but also Nick Clegg, Cabinet, the coalition and much of the rest of the state apparat. There is talk of Heywood obstructing secretaries of state, shafting Cameroons and organising Downing Street to his own convenience. We have gone beyond ‘Yes, Minister’ and now have ‘Yes, Sir Jeremy’. Worryingly, no one seems more in hock to him than our soigné, someone-take-care-of-that PM.

When Heywood sat before the Public Accounts Committee it was striking that he had acquired many of Clegg’s vocal tics — repeated ‘y’knows’ and ‘sort ofs’ and stuttering checks of a metallic voice. Yet he was unable to disguise entirely the self-satisfaction when he detailed his new responsibilities. ‘Cabinet agenda, Cabinet sub-committees, Cabinet sub-committee membership, Cabinet sub-committee minute-taking — all that falls under me,’ he said. ‘I am in charge.’

Indeed he is. Much though we mock the Greeks and Italians for being run by unelected technocrats, can we truthfully say that we are any better?

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Tom Paine despairs

A characteristically brilliant, if melancholy post from Tom Paine:
When I lived in Russia and China I kept quiet about local politics out of courtesy to my hosts. I seem to have fallen into the same approach here under the sheer weight of apathy. The neglect of their civil rights by the British - who only ever seem to get excited when demanding others' freedoms be repressed - is an insult to the brave peoples I once lived among.

I miss the hope of the Labour days. Not the hope that they would ever cease (they won't) to be freedom-hating miserablists, but the hope that one day change might come. The only change provided by the current government is in the tone of Polly Toynbee's screeching.
He elaborates in the comments:
Once you start dealing with rational men and women on the basis that they are acting under the influence of their "lizard brain" (however interesting that might be to help understand themselves in therapy) you are in trouble. All laws should assume us all to be rational actors (unless actually proved insane).

Statists love to think of us as automota acted upon by the forces of history or psychology; the hapless products of our background, environment or society. Both disciplines are important means of analysis and understanding of human actions, but should neither be instruments of control nor excuses for wrongdoing.

Accept the view that we are not rational, independent actors in relation to the rest of society and you open the door for the all-wise and all-knowing state to answer all your (imagined) problems. Of course, the human actors who make up that state have neither lizard brains, nor social/historical determinants. They are the perfectly rational beings they deny we can be. Funny that, eh?
In reply to MickC, he writes:
It's not ennui on my part. It's despair. When I thought we had the wrong politicians, I could hope to change them. What hope is there if (after years of indoctrination) we finally have the wrong voters?
What hope indeed?

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

More equal than others

BBC News reports:

A US student accused of using a webcam to spy on a homosexual encounter involving his room-mate is not a criminal, his defence lawyer says.

Steven Altman told jurors in closing statements that Dharun Ravi never recorded the encounter and that he did not act out of a hatred of gays.


In her closing statement, prosecutor Julia McClure told jurors there was abundant proof that Mr Ravi had a problem with Clementi being gay.

The former Rutgers University student could face up to 10 years in prison. However, in order to secure the maximum sentence prosecutors must prove he acted out of anti-gay sentiment.
So much for equality before the law.

Mug a man in the City out of anti-banker sentiment, and you will not face any special penalties. Foster anti-tycoon sentiment, and you will be cheered by Liberal Democrats. Voice anti-white sentiment or anti-male sentiment, and nobody will pay much notice. But speak ill of one of the groups favoured by the state, and the Thought Police will come knocking.

Daniel Hannan put it well in a recent article:
Part of the problem is the determination of lobbies and interest groups to keep themselves in business by fabricating new rows. Hence, for example, the ludicrous demands for hate crimes and other forms of separate legal categorisation. It is depressing to see pressure groups which spent decades honourably campaigning for the right to be treated equally now demanding the right to be treated differently.

UPDATE - 16 March 2012

It seems the Thought Police have secured a conviction:
A US student who used a webcam to secretly film his room-mate in a gay encounter has been found guilty of hate crime and invasion of privacy.
His room-mate, Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death from a bridge in 2010.

The case attracted national attention, including comment from President Obama, and prompted anti-bullying measures.

Ravi was found guilty of 15 counts as a whole, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, which is a hate crime.
More details are available in a linked nj.com article:
4th Degree Invasion of Privacy, related to Tyler Clementi: GUILTY
4th Degree Invasion of Privacy, related to Clementi's guest, M.B.: GUILTY
(Observed Clementi/M.B. in sexual contact without their consent on Sept. 19)
Fair enough.
3rd Degree Bias Intimidation
(For 4th Degree Invasion of Privacy charge on Sept. 19)
Invasion of Privacy, under circumstances that caused Tyler Clementi to be intimidated, and considering the manner in which the offense was committed, Clementi reasonably believed that he was selected to be the target of the offense because of sexual orientation: GUILTY
There are any number of reasons why a person may be selected as the target of an offence. What if instead of being anti-gay, Ravi was actually gay himself, and invading Clementi's privacy for his own gratification? What if he was acting out of jealousy or disgust at some aspect of Clementi's character or background? Perhaps Clementi was rich, poor, Republican, Democrat, libertarian, communist, pro-abortion, anti-abortion, intelligent, mildly dull, attractive, ugly, tall, short, humble, arrogant, sporty, or nerdy. There are plenty of foul motives for invading someone's privacy, but the state of New Jersey singles out certain categories for protection: "race, color, religion, gender, handicap, sexual orientation, or ethnicity" (NJSA 2C:16-1).

The indictment goes on ...
3rd Degree Invasion of Privacy, related to Tyler Clementi: GUILTY
3rd Degree Invasion of Privacy, related to M.B.: GUILTY
(Activated webcam so other people could view Clementi/M.B. in sexual contact on Sept 19.)
2nd Degree Bias Intimidation
(For 3rd Degree Invasion of Privacy charge on Sept. 19)
Invasion of Privacy, knowing that the conduct constituting invasion of privacy would cause Tyler Clementi to be intimidated because of sexual orientation: GUILTY
Invasion of Privacy, under circumstances that caused Tyler Clementi to be intimidated, and considering the manner in which the offense was committed, Clementi reasonably believed that he was selected to be the target of the offense because of sexual orientation: GUILTY
If Ravi had broadcast the encounter knowing that Clementi would be intimidated for having a small penis, or for being a premature ejaculator, or for simply being awkward in bed, he'd face no further penalty. If he'd been hoping to expose his roommate's masturbation, his preference for heterosexual S&M, or furry fandom, he'd only have to worry about the invasion of privacy charge. But because Clementi was a member of a favoured group, a 2nd degree offence is slapped on top of a 3rd degree offence ("bias intimidation is a crime one degree higher than the most serious underlying crime" - NJSA 2C:16-1).

None of this is to suggest that Ravi's behaviour was acceptable. It was clearly reprehensible, and most people would say it was especially so because of the element of discrimination. But it can't be right for the state to single out certain groups for special privileges and protection.

Justice must be blind.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Propaganda 2012

Most people assume that propaganda is purely a wartime device - something that was inflicted on generations past. But it continues to this day, and nowhere more obviously than in the field of 'public health'.

It works like this:
  1. An anti-tobacco fanatic publishes an absurd report, with claims that aren't supported even by their cherry-picked and carefully-massaged data
  2. The findings are promoted by the BBC News website under the headlines 'Smoke ban: Premature births down' and 'Fewer premature births after smoking ban in Scotland'
  3. BBC Breakfast reports "from a maternity ward in Scotland, where the smoking ban has had an effect on the size and delivery dates of babies"
  4. Ordinary decent people take the BBC report at face value
  5. Any articles questioning the prohibitionist claims reach a much smaller audience. When forwarded to ordinary decent people, the debunking articles often confuse rather than convince. Conflicting claims! Who to trust? Best to err on the side of caution.
  6. The public has been softened up for the next draconian measure:

According to the British Heart Foundation, there are more than nine million smokers in the UK, and smoking remains the UK's biggest cause of avoidable early death.

It says the focus should now shift to the effect of smoking in the home and confined spaces, such as cars, especially where children are present.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We are continuing to build upon the achievements made to protect future generations from the devastating effects of smoking such as bans on cigarette vending machines and the displays in shops.

"We are committed to ensuring a new comprehensive robust tobacco control strategy for Scotland is developed this year. This strategy will focus on prevention and cessation and include ambitious targets for reducing smoking across Scotland."

Do read the whole BBC News article, but especially read Christopher Snowdon's excellent blog post on the subject.

On the "drop in the number of babies born prematurely or with low birthweight", the BBC article notes, in passing, that

The investigators believe both are linked to the smoking ban, even though these rates started to go down some months before the ban was introduced and smoking incidence started to creep up again shortly after the ban.

while their work suggests a link, it is not proof that one thing necessarily causes another. As with all retrospective studies like this, it is impossible to rule out entirely all other factors that might have influenced the finding.

This is balance, BBC style. The intended message has already been conveyed forcefully in the headline and first eight paragraphs, and it is hammered home again in the concluding paragraphs (quoted above). Even their qualifications stress that "the investigators believe both are linked to the smoking ban" and that "their work suggests a link".

Here, from Christopher Snowdon's article, are the relevant graphs:

And here's the data from the report itself:

Are the BBC headlines justified?

Smoke ban: Premature births down

Fewer premature births after smoking ban in Scotland

Make up your own mind.

Should we fear deflation?

From another excellent article by Detlev Schlichter:
After the United States joined Britain on what became the Classical Gold Standard in 1879, prices declined on trend for the next 19 years at an annual average rate of just over 1 percent. This compares with a still positive inflation rate of 0.3 percent in Japan over the 20 years after that country’s money-induced real-estate bubble burst in 1990. Japan is today regularly cited by mainstream economists as an example of the evils of persistent deflation. Yet, the United States, during its two decades of gold-standard deflation, experienced solid growth and rises in income and wealth. In fact, even prior to joining the gold standard, the United States had gone through 12 years of almost no money supply growth and had experienced an almost halving of the price level from the elevated levels that prices had reached during the Civil War inflation. But still, U.S. economic performance was vibrant during this time, causing even such prominent advocates of state-paper money and central banking as Milton Friedman and Anna Schwarz to conclude that this constellation ‘casts serious doubts on the validity of the now widely held view that secular price deflation and rapid economic growth are incompatible’.” (Paper Money Collapse, page 136, 137)
Gradual price deflation is a good thing - the natural result of technological progress (think of the falling cost of computers and other electronic equipment).

A much scarier form of deflation is possible under our system of debt-based elastic money. If debt repayments outpace borrowing, in the absence of significant expansion of the monetary base (money printing by central banks), the money supply will fall, the purchasing power of money will increase, and debtors will be left in a very difficult position.

This is not to say that quantitative easing is justified. A much better solution would be to move to a system of inelastic, apolitical money.

But anyone who conflates secular price deflation with a catastrophic collapse of the money supply, or who claims that price deflation is incompatible with economic progress, is being thoroughly disingenuous.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

What's the cause of widespread pub closures?

BBC News reports:
The rising price of beer, fuelled by increases in taxation, has been blamed for widespread pub closures - the Campaign for Real Ale says 14 are shutting down each week. In response, Forsyth says, consumers have taken advantage of cheap supermarket offers and switched to drinking at home.
I suppose we should be grateful that they mentioned the impact of tax rises, but has it not occurred to the author that the smoking ban might have something to do with people switching to drinking at home? Or has he considered this, and decided not to mention it?

Thursday, 1 March 2012

30s redux?

You know things are bad when even the thoroughly statist FT runs articles like this:

there remains considerable faith – even, or perhaps especially, among people who hate bankers – that a financial solution, involving firewalls, bazookas, leverage and improbable amounts of money, can “solve” the euro crisis. It can do no such thing. It can buy time, as the European Central Banks’s deftly enormous interventions are doing by flooding the banking system with cash – but the purchase of time is not costless.