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.

Mises.org 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.

UPDATE

Today's Mises.org 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 na├»ve, 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

Islamophobia

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?