Sunday, November 30, 2008

A challenge I will not accept

Here's a real treat: a very young Richard Feynman lecturing about the relationship between physics and mathematics. Playlist here.

Quiz time

Consider these two people:


Both consider themselves to be Aboriginal Australians. One is preoccupied by difference, explaining that:

While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have an affinity with Native Americans through similarities in our world views and our experiences of colonised peoples, there are also some strong relationships with African Americans.
While the other asserts that:
The idea that people put forward, I think they forgot a very important thing, that Aboriginals are human beings, they are part of the human race, and they are driven by similar things like every other race in the world is driven by.
Which, would you guess, is which?


Modes of expression

Here are two ways of saying the same thing...

Wikipedia on Jean Baudrillard, and Bill Hicks:

Oh xxxx, Shaun's coming

Here's a YouTube tribute to the Wales coach Shaun Edwards - one of the most respected coaches in rugby, and a man England were insane enough not to recruit:

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Quote of the day

Scepticism is just another word for willingness to entertain the possibility of being honest.
Willem Buiter

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

No change there, then

... and neither will I spin
I don't suppose he reads this blog, but have a good holiday, anyway.

Comment of the day

Via Laban, this:

Dear Mr Brown

Are your debts becoming harder to pay?
Is your over inflated Housing Market in Crisis?
Have your Banks been squandering money at a level that could bring your economy down, but the revenue was good, so you didn?t want to meddle?
Are you up a creek without a paddle?

If so, then:

Consolidate you debts into one easy to pay loan from the IMF?

With IMF loans your can delay the inevitable even further and maybe have enough spare for that holiday you promised yourself.
Normally only available to 3rd World Countries, the IMF is now making available Billions to help world leaders secure re election. Just complete the attached application form and you can turn the ?Spend Now, Pay Later? philosophy of the past 10 years into a ?Spend Now, Borrow Later, Borrow Again, Pay Much Later? Manifesto for your upcoming campaigns.

PS - Choose your free gift from below:
1. All expenses paid ?World Leader Pack?, simply attend a gathering of World Leaders, have your photo taken, read the sound bites and take back to your voters credibility as a Global Influencer. (Please note: No decision making commitments necessary, this activity is a mutually beneficial showpiece to help heads of state retain power)
2. Parker Pen Writing Set

Sensationalism sells

Paul Dacre said this, in support of tabloid journalism:

Sensation sells papers
He was arguing in favour of the sort of journalism that hid cameras to record the sexual exploits of Max Moseley. There are a lot of arguments that could be set against this idea, some from his own speech that extolled the virtues of newspapers from a golden age:
Page 3 of the Sunday Express said it all. The lead article under the title “Meeting People” was an interview - not with the kind of half-baked trollop who passes as a celebrity these days, but with, say, the mother of a newly chosen British Nobel Prize winner.

Next to it was a large cartoon by Giles whose genius for clean, gloriously warm family humour is matched today only by the Mail’s magnificent Mac. Why this genre of cartooning - which combines superb draftsmanship with a timeless universal humour that often contains great truths - is dying out is a subject for another speech. Anyway, underneath was the “You the Lawyer” column addressing the problems of every day life such as fencing disputes and dog bites. What paper today would have such a low-key, non-newsy page 3. Yet all human life was on that page.

Elsewhere in the paper, the Book Editor’s reviews were beautifully crafted digests with barely a nod to literary criticism. Motoring Correspondent Bobby Glenton’s road tests were exquisitely oblivious to the technical qualities of the vehicle he was driving but consisted of glorious chuckle-rich evocations of the joys of life that appealed to even those who hated cars. And in Hollywood, Roddy Mann’s drop-dead intros, magical words and pyrotechnical metaphors transformed the stars into fabulously witty, romantic creatures that they almost certainly weren’t.
During this golden age, the private infidelities of public people were largely ignored.

Hypocritically, despite his reverence for this age of gold, Dacre argued that a print version of tar and feathers is now a public good, and had the logical inconsistency to backdate his claim:
Since time immemorial public shaming has been a vital element in defending the parameters of what are considered acceptable standards of social behaviour, helping ensure that citizens – rich and poor – adhere to them for the good of the greater community. For hundreds of years, the press has played a role in that process. It has the freedom to identify those who have offended public standards of decency – the very standards its readers believe in – and hold the transgressors up to public condemnation. If their readers don’t agree with the defence of such values, they would not buy those papers in such huge numbers.
Nearly thirty years ago, a News of the World reporter put it differently, saying that his newspaper provided the material for its readers to slip away with to the lavatory, and indulge in a quick "J Arthur" (Rank - rhyming slang). He was more honest than Dacre, but dishonesty is the least of this man's sins.

Michael Totten, months ago, explained how this drive for sensationalism is destructive not of private lives (people exposed by the tabloids have killed themselves, but this wasn't Totten's subject), but rather of our whole political and social world:
More than one fourth of the population of Lebanon demonstrated in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on March 14, 2005, and stood against the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis that has been sabotaging their country for decades. When I lived in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Beirut, the overwhelming majority of my neighbors belonged to that movement. The international media gave them lots of exposure, but moderate, liberal, secular, and mainstream conservative Muslims elsewhere rarely get any coverage. They are almost invisible from a distance, but it isn’t their fault.

Journalists tend to ignore moderate Muslims, not because of liberal bias or racism, but because sensationalism sells. At least they think that’s what sells.

And reporters often assume extremists are mainstream and “authentic” when they are not. Somehow, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been designated the voice of American Muslims. But CAIR is, frankly, an Islamic wingnut organization with a minuscule membership that has declined 90 percent since September 11, 2001. (More people read my medium-sized blog every day than are members of CAIR.)

The coalition of Islamist parties in Pakistan got three percent of the vote in the recent election. Pakistan’s radicals have made a real mess of the place, but they can’t get any more traction at the polls than Ralph Nader can manage in the United States.
The public disgrace is not Moseley, whose private sexual predilections are not our concern and who had the courage to take the fight to his persecutors despite the embarrassment that would obviously involve. The public disgrace is rightly that of Dacre and his fellow tabloid editors, who will glorify criminals when it suits them, excoriate them when they sell their stories to others, and poison the well of public discourse, even in such a serious matter as Islamism, if it will sell papers and therefore make them money.

Bacon chocolate

As you'd expect, Selfridges sold out in just 48 hours.

Monday, November 24, 2008


A letter published in the Ely Standard:

Dreary Presentation But I Made My Point About Wicken Vision

15:58 - 18 November 2008

I HAVE just sat through another dreary presentation from the stubborn National Trust regarding its ideas for these Wicken Fens. Thanks to East Cambridgeshire District Council's public participation procedure, I was able to put the following points and questions to a key committee:

The National Trust preaches conservation and practices it with public approval in most parts of the country. The so-called Wicken Vision (a plan to expand the existing Wicken Fen to some 15,000 acres) appears contrary to the principles of conservation in that it seeks to destroy that which is good and worthy of conserving.

Therefore, would it not be better to:

* Promote the conservation of first-class food producing Fen land that has been drained and maintained at vast expense for upwards of 400 years? The Trust's proposals will produce areas of stagnant water and an unkempt jungle of elder bushes, ragwort, stinging nettles and thistles, and the only beneficiaries of an expanded Wicken Fen will be mosquitoes and flies.

* Promote the conservation of Conservation Areas within the Fen edge villages of Wicken, Burwell, Reach, Swaffham Prior, Swaffham Bulbeck and Lode and Long Meadow, as well as those within the Fed edge villages of south Cambridgeshire - Stow Cum Quy, Fen Ditton, Horningsea and Waterbeach - all of which will be affected adversely, if the plan is allowed to proceed and to be 'successful', by an extra influx of cars, buses and tourists? The Trust plans a new car park of some six acres on Green Belt land between Lode and Bottisham. Other car parks are also on the cards.*

* Promote equally the conservation of the non-conservation areas of all of the above villages on the grounds that all of the residents of all of the villages deserve protection from an extra influx of cars, buses and tourists?

* Promote the conservation and continued maintenance of the Cambridgeshire Lodes? It is factual that the future of the Lodes is inextricably intertwined with the National Trust's plans to raise water levels and thereby to flood lower lying land in the Fens. The lower lying land is adjacent to some of the Lodes and flooding will undermine and destabilise the Lode banks.

* Promote the conservation of 'The Little Chapel in the Fen', a non-denominational place of worship and harvest celebration built in 1884 near Upware, the foundations of which will be undermined and made unstable by a rise in the water table in Swaffham Fen?

* Promote the conservation of the country's resources by opposing the construction of a 'Bridge of Reeds' over the A14 at a cost of £20 million?


Concealed carry

There's a petition at the Number Ten website, asking for the law to be changed to allow citizens to carry concealed handguns in the UK:

The problem with banning weapons is that criminals don't obey laws, so when guns were banned criminals ignored the law and kept their weapons, and decent law abiding people were left defenceless, as is the case now. This is simply because guns, in the right hands, are a serious deterrent against acts of violence. An example of this is the US state of Vermont, which has virtually no laws against gun ownership, and a crime rate which is a fraction of that in Britain. The simple fact is that by disarming honest citizens, Britain has actually helped criminals, who now go about their business without fear.
It's been signed by at least one elected representative, Councillor Gavin Webb. It has also, apparently, been signed by "tonyblair". And now it has been signed by me.

Who put the Cialis in Socialist?

Internet filters have their uses, after all.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Amen corner

One would hope all criminal offences are morally wrong - because if not, why would they be criminal offences? But the converse does not hold - the idea that something is immoral, ergo it should be illegal. The law should set a floor for human behaviour, not a ceiling. This has nothing to do with moral relativism - it's just a recognition that for liberty to endure, a distinction can and must be made between what is a crime and what is a sin. To go beyond this is to go beyond even traditional authoritarian conservatism and enter the proto-totalitarian world of Calvin's Geneva.

I’m a Libertarian. I believe fervently in freedom of speech and of association. For everyone: Left, Right, Indifferent and for the BNP. Liberty isn’t divisible. If one group can be freely persecuted then so easily can another when someone different is in charge. The only real protection against persecution of minorities is liberty for all.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Oh, I know not everybody shares my taste in this, but here's Cash impersonating Elvis:

And then there's Tommy

Sometimes it's time

For some flamenco ukulele.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Quote of the day

John Fuller, Police Community Engagement Manager for Cambridgeshire Constabulary said that police based at Ely put Burwell high on their priority list but that Cambridgeshire police were often needed in places where a greater number of more serious incidents were reported. It was simply not possible to provide police coverage in the village 24 hours a day seven days a week.
From the first (print only) edition of the Burwell Bulletin.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I wish I'd been in the crowd at this match.

Pythons get it

The Monty Python team react to YouTube piracy...

Outright barbarous

Taking two of the many who have expressed outrage over this issue, Longrider and Tim Worstall think the question of presumed consent to organ donation is a question of principle: whether or not we own our own bodies.

Dissenting opinion is rare on the Liberal and Libertarian front and more pragmatic. A system of presumed consent would save lives and might actually be a better reflection of the majority of the wishes of people whose organs are up for grabs, as it were, but who have not got around to expressing a clear intention to donate (up to 90% of people surveyed say they would like to donate their organs, far fewer sign a consent before they die).

Tim goes further:

Accept that people do own their own bodies and allow them to sell them. This is the system in Iran and no, it isn’t a coincidence that Iran is the only country in the world without a shortage of kidneys for transplant.
The BBC implies this system exploits the poor and desperate:
Mehrdad lost his job on the railways and now faces mounting debts. He wants to sell a kidney to fund a new job as a taxi driver.
But if the poor are overwhelmingly sellers of kidneys, at least one study of recipients of kidneys suggest that the great majority of those receiving kidneys were also poor:
The majority (73%) did not have a high school diploma, 15% were illiterate, 85% were below the poverty line, 52% were from rural areas...
And here's the critical point:
... 98% were covered by insurance
Poor people, many illiterate, most rural, had made private provision for their health care. The BBC's piece seems to have been unable to find space for this piece of information, suggesting instead that if you couldn't find the money, you couldn't get a kidney. True enough, but the implication is that few poor people benefit from transplants, and that seems to be the opposite of the truth, to put it delicately.

Mind you, the same study also suggests that they needed renal treatment in the first place because of the indirect effects of poverty:
We conclude that patients with CKD in our study had acquired this condition possibly due to negligence and lack of basic health care in the lower socioeconomic class.
George Orwell's sixth and last rule for writers was:
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Replacing the word "say" with "do" seems an equally good rule of thumb when it comes to the application of principles to the world we actually live in. However strongly we might hold a principle, it should be broken in any given case if, in that given case, the result would be "outright barbarous".

It's interesting to apply this rule to arguments like this one. Especially with issues of health, it can cut through a morass of debate like a razor. Should people be allowed to pay for drugs privately while receiving treatment for diseases like cancer and Altzheimer's? To refuse this would be to condemn people to unnecessary death while improving the condition of absolutely nobody at all: outright barbarous.

If there's a conflict between property and life, property should normally take second place. If, for example, I were driving a hired car and saw another car out of control, heading for a group of pedestrians, would I be wrong to place the hire car - not my property - in the way and so save lives? No, the consequence would be to value a replaceable car above irreplaceable lives. It would be avoidable broken limbs and torn bodies: outright barbarous.

But take that to its extreme and we'd have a situation in which nobody were entitled to refuse to donate their organs. This would cause significant upset to people who worry about wandering an afterlife with bits of their immortal bodies missing. Or something. I'm at a bit of a loss to understand what the objection might be.

Nevertheless, people are entitled to do even deeply strange things to their property - as a visit to any DIY store will confirm. It's their property. It's up to them.

So, should there be a market in kidneys in the UK, as there is in Iran? Should poor people, as well as the less poor, be able to make private provision for their healthcare and thereby obtain prompt transplants when needed?

The alternative would be people living through the pain, dialysis and debility endured by my brother in law at the moment, quite unnecessarily, while others are unable to go into business as taxi drivers. The latter isn't as frivolous at it might sound, as anyone who has stood helplessly, gazing up at the bottom rung of the ladder could testify. All these outcomes of our present arrangements - unnecessary debility, avoidable death, an inability to make decisions and trade-offs for oneself in order to get a start or a restart in life - are outright barbarous.

Should the state claim sovereignty over our bodies? Of course not - as any Republican will tell you, that is outright barbarous.

But what of the actual proposals we see today? These are simply a matter of presumption. If anyone has made it clear what they wish for themselves, then these wishes will be observed. What if they haven't?

At the moment, we presume we cannot presume. It isn't really true to suggest that this proposal just exchanges one presumption for another. It seeks to swap an absence of presumption for a presumption.

But what of the consequences of the proposed change - given that people would retain an absolute right to express a view about what should happen to their remains and that any such views that have been expressed will be honoured.

What happens today is that even though most people say they want their organs to be used to help others, most people get buried intact and others die for want of donor organs.

To refuse to exchange that for a situation in which, quite realistically (especially if a market is also allowed) NOBODY would die for want of a donor organ, and some dead bodies will be buried or cremated with bits missing even though a minority of their previous occupants would have preferred that not to have been the case, though not so much they actually bothered to do anything about it...

To refuse to exchange dead and dying men, women and children for a country in which those lives are saved, while the wishes of everybody who expressed a view about the disposal of their remains are respected...

To refuse that? Would that not be outright barbarous?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sometimes I get a great notion

A scene from Ken Kesey's other masterpiece:

Friday, November 14, 2008

Second life

Ruth emailed me a link to this story yesterday. As she pointed out, these people are plugging themselves into the Matrix.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Land fit for Heroes

Tim Worstall went to the Cenotaph today, and came away from the Remembrance Parade consumed with rage:

How did we get here? That the things which our forefathers fought and died for, the freedom and liberty of themselves and their descendants, are tricked away from us as if we are children too naive to be able to handle the rights and responsibilities of being a free people?
Unfortunately, I don't think those were the things our forefathers fought and died for. If they fought for anything, it was a form of security the modern Labour government offers, supported by David Cameron's Conservatives. In this, there is a strong echo of the 1918 General Election.

At the end of the First War, Lloyd George called an election declaring his intention, if re-elected, to build a "land fit for heroes". His faction of the Liberal Party was in coalition with the Conservatives, and their manifesto stated (transcription errors come from the linked site):
The principal concern of every Government is the must be the condition of the great mass of the people who live by manual toil. The steadfast spirit of our workers, displayed on all the wide field of action opened out by the war - in the trenches, on the ocean, in the air, in field, mine, and factory - has left an imperishable mark on the heart and conscience of the nation. One of the first tasks of the Government will be to deal on broad and comprehensive lines with the housing of the people, which during the war has fallen so sadly into arrears, and upon which the well-being of the nation so largely depends. Larger opportunities for education, improved material conditions, and the prevention of degrading stndards of employment; a proper adaption to peace conditions of the experience which during the war we have gained in regard to the traffic in drink - these are among the conditions of social harmony which we shall earnestly endeavour to promote.
That's very New labour, even down to the moralistic concern about drink. Although the manifesto promised to hold down taxes and mentioned the Empire in approving terms, there were other passages that seem contemporary today:
The war has given fresh impetus to agriculture. This must not be allowed to expire. Scientific farming must be promoted, and the Government regard the maintenance of a satisfactory agricultural wage, the improvement of village life, and the development of rural industries as essential parts of an agricultural policy. Arrangements have been made whereby extensive afforestation and reclamation schemes may be entered upon without delay. A systematic improvement in the transport facilities of the resources of the soil, and the Government are preparing plans with a view to increasing these facilities on a large scale.
Protectionism was there too:
It is the intention therefore of the Government to preserve and maintain where necessary these key industries in the way which experience and examinatino may prove to be best adapted for the purpose. If production is to be maintained at the highest limit at home, security must be given against the unfair competitino to which our industries may be subjected by the dumping of goods produced abroad and sold on our market below the actual cost of production.
And they would have approved of the European Union:
Our first task must be to conclude a just and lasting peace, and so to establish the foundations of a new Europe that occasion for further wars may be for ever averted.
The coalition that stood on this platform won a resounding victory.

A similar thing happened after the Second World War - a Labour Government was returned vowing also to build a land fit for heroes, and they founded the modern welfare state. The "the rights and responsibilities of being a free people", as Tim put it, were deeply undermined. But Labour won by a landslide; this was what people wanted. Hayek had been warning of the dangers - and the stupidity and the irony - of trying to build a National Effort in support of National Objectives in the heat of a battle with the Nazis who had been doing just that, albeit with some deeply evil accessories. But Hayek was ignored and that's what we did. The consequences have been inevitable.

I'm going to draw a parallel with the events of 1845 in the Fenlands of East Anglia. This year saw the start of the Irish Potato Famine, but hunger was known all over the British Isles at that time, it's just that the Irish were more dependant than most on a single crop that suffered a blight. It has been suggested that English landlords had the comfort of distance from their starving Irish tenants but in East Anglia landlords had no such comfort, and no greater concern for the welfare of starving people.

My small library includes a copy of a fascinating collection of oral history called Tales from the Fens (thanks to Kes for showing me this book). One of the chapters - Hunger in the Fens - describes how people tried to find food during the general starvation, eating rotten meat, grating acorns into broth, how moorhen eggs could be cooked even when rancid and how, if someone got lucky and managed to get the head of an old cow that had been slaughtered where she stood, it was shared with everyone, including the old veteran of the Napoleonic wars and his wife. A day or so later, this starving, weakened elderly couple died. Meanwhile, the Bishop of Ely - in scenes straight from Robin Hood - was so fat his carriage could hardly accommodate him, and the local squires sat in alehouses, carousing and eating until they could force no more food down.

"Just about this time," the narrator tells us, "when most people were keeping their miseries to themselves, some chaps came into the Fens and told us we were a lot of silly fools to put up with things." I think these agitators might have been Chartists, it's the right time but, unfortunately, the narrator didn't mention what their platform was. In any event, these activists met with deep hostility and ended up being dragged through a stagnant pond, tarred and feathered and sent on their way.

The next day, Squire Bagge turned up at the local pub, where almost everybody was sitting without drink, and without having been able to afford any beer for weeks, and bought forty four pints for the men who had done this, then another round, then offered some work - which was gratefully accepted. The men walked, many of them for many miles every day, to earn what money they could and they spent three months on estates where the pheasants were "so thick in the woods on those squires' estates that father said they nearly trod on them. But the men never touched one of them, because a dog doesn't bite the hands of the one who feeds it".

The last phrase haunts me. What free men liken themselves to dogs?

What does this have to do with the two world wars? The town and villages around East Anglia have their war memorials, engraved with the names of the farm labourers and shopkeepers who volunteered or were conscripted. They fought because they felt they had to, because they really did have to (they were conscripted), because they signed up in a blaze of patriotic fervour. It varied.

But just like their fathers who tarred and feathered the agitators half a century and more earlier, they were not fighting to be free of masters. They just wanted better masters, masters who would be kinder to them. Those of us who agitate, today, for freedom need to be realistic about this. We haven't won the argument, there isn't some vast silent majority fuming along with us, anxious to be free.

This urge to be subservient is the driving force in our polity and it has been for centuries. And if you get into political conversations in the burger bars, pubs and cinemas of the country, you might start to realise that it isn't even that we haven't won the argument. We haven't even started to have the argument. And any libertarian or Liberal - classical Liberal - viewpoint is contaminated by the poison of conservatism, indeed of Toryism: the complacent advocacy of aspects of the status quo because it benefits us and our prejudices personally. Or, bizarrely, because it benefits our masters.

P. J. O'Rourke just let his fury free upon the Republicans who lost the recent election to Obama. Here's a small portion of it:
We railed at welfare and counted it a great victory when Bill Clinton confused a few poor people by making the rules more complicated. But the "French-bread lines" for the rich, the "terrapin soup kitchens," continue their charity without stint.

The sludge and dreck of political muck-funds flowing to prosperous businesses and individuals have gotten deeper and more slippery and stink worse than ever with conservatives minding the sewage works of legislation.
Anyway, a low tax rate is not--never mind the rhetoric of every conservative politician--a bedrock principle of conservatism. The principle is fiscal responsibility.

Conservatives should never say to voters, "We can lower your taxes." Conservatives should say to voters, "You can raise spending. You, the electorate, can, if you choose, have an infinite number of elaborate and expensive government programs. But we, the government, will have to pay for those programs. We have three ways to pay.

"We can inflate the currency, destroying your ability to plan for the future, wrecking the nation's culture of thrift and common sense, and giving free rein to scallywags to borrow money for worthless scams and pay it back 10 cents on the dollar.

"We can raise taxes. If the taxes are levied across the board, money will be taken from everyone's pocket, the economy will stagnate, and the poorest and least advantaged will be harmed the most. If the taxes are levied only on the wealthy, money will be taken from wealthy people's pockets, hampering their capacity to make loans and investments, the economy will stagnate, and the poorest and the least advantaged will be harmed the most.

"And we can borrow, building up a massive national debt. This will cause all of the above things to happen plus it will fund Red Chinese nuclear submarines that will be popping up in San Francisco Bay to get some decent Szechwan take-out."

Yes, this would make for longer and less pithy stump speeches. But we'd be showing ourselves to be men and women of principle. It might cost us, short-term. We might get knocked down for not whoring after bioenergy votes in the Iowa caucuses. But at least we wouldn't land on our scruples. And we could get up again with dignity intact, dust ourselves off, and take another punch at the liberal bully-boys who want to snatch the citizenry's freedom and tuck that freedom, like a trophy feather, into the hatbands of their greasy political bowlers.
Now, the modern Conservative Party isn't going to make those kinds of arguments. This is because (like most Republican politicians) they don't believe in those kinds of arguments. They want to be the better type of master the people have been fighting for, one way or another, for centuries.

The Labour party wants to be that better kind of master too. It's just that they don't feel the separation from the people that the Tories feel, and so give a damn about how we all behave in the pub, or when walking our dogs, and think they should guide us in those areas of our lives too.

They all think they should guide us in what we say, or when, or how; who we sleep with, or how; all think they should form an elite subject to different rules, paid for by the rest of us.

There's no groundswell of sentiment against them, not appreciably. There hasn't been since 1775, and before that 1642, and before that 1381. These groundswells are infrequent. The masters are in tune with their subjects, just as their forebears were when they sent our forebears to war.

We might not be able to win this argument. But if we assume we have a silent majority in our favour we don't stand a chance. There's a mountain to climb but the first step is seeing the mountain. The second step is recognising with humility, and with PJ, that most of the things people will associate with the advocates of freedom are profoundly tainted by Toryism.

Individual liberty has never been a conservative aim. It's deeply radical. As Friedman said, it's a state of affairs that man has almost never even approached. It isn't the thing people fought for in the past. It's the thing we need to fight for now.


The website.

(Thanks, kes).

Friday, November 07, 2008

Quote of the day

The child crying over a fear of hell is exactly what is intended by the plain language of the scriptures.
Shirley Phelps Roper, in the first comment to this piece.

The slow death of Microsoft

Firefox is now the most-used browser visiting this site, and it's accounting for almost 50% of page reads.

I can't remember the last time Microsoft made the news in anything other than a "their new product doesn't suck much" way.

But remember, nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.

People can't wait...


Jacqui Smith says public demand means people will be able to pre-register for an ID card within the next few months.

The cards will be available for all from 2012 but she said: "I regularly have people coming up to me and saying they don't want to wait that long."
Daily Mash:
MOST British people are looking forward to having a policeman stand on their windpipe, the home secretary said yesterday.
I refuse to carry an ID card.

US Climate Czar?

Some American environmentalists are suggesting that Obama might appoint a Climate Czar. I guess climate realists will be able to heave a sigh of relief if this happens. The appointment of Czars seems to have dropped every other issue they've been tried with into a vortex of ineffective, if pork-wrapped, rhetoric.

Ricky Gervaise sighted

He's looking well, though. Seems to have lost weight.

Election reactions


As a self-interested columnist, I would hope Obama reassumes his natural hard-left position of his 1996-2005 period that would provide both plentiful column topics and prove counterproductive to his I fear scary agenda. But as an American, I surely hope he doesn’t, and so wish him personally well, and success as a possible centrist commander-in-chief that advances American interests.

Right Wing Prof:
I am an American conservative because I believe fervently in American Exceptionalism, and in the principles upon which this nation was founded. Whether or not an election goes my way does not change that. We held an election yesterday, and the voters spoke.

Barack Obama is my President.

And finally, Iowahawk:
I don't care whether you are a conservative or a liberal -- when you saw this inspiring young African-American rise to our nation's highest office I hope you felt the same sense of patriotic pride that I experienced, no matter how hard you were hyperventilating with deep existential dread.

Great apes

The EU is proposing a ban on experiments on the great apes - gorillas, orang-utans and chimpanzees.

Good, and not before time. With this issue, I don't even care that it's the EU suggesting the ban.

The Swedish model

Swedish prosecutors have brought charges against a 15-year-old boy accused of ripping another boy's bag of chips.

Be Home Secretary for a day

At least, as far as forensic evidence is concerned.

If you haven't already seen this, Guido reports that her fingerprints have been obtained and are now being cloned.

The Home Secretary's fingerprints were taken from a glass she used while giving a speech assuring the British public that biometric data will be secure, when identity cards are introduced.

Support No2id.

Fascists having fun

You might find it interesting to watch the enjoyment on the face of the man on the right, in this video clip, as he sings about Jewish children being murdered in WWII concentration camps. These men have won elections in Belgium.

The song goes:

My little Jewish girl is in Dachau.
She is in unslaked lime.
She has left her ghetto, to be burnt alive.
This video was released by the wife of one of these men, during divorce proceedings. More detail here (machine-translated from Flemish into English here).


Tuesday, November 04, 2008


This is the most topical speech I've listened to during this whole American Presidential election:

Obama on his grandmother

The transcript, copied from the Daily Kos:

Obviously, this is a little bit of a bittersweet time for me. We have had a remarkable campaign. And, you know, when we started 21 months ago, I didn't know how it would turn out. And no matter what happens tomorrow, I'm going to feel good about how its turned out because all of you have created this incredible campaign. Some of you have heard that my grandmother who helped raise me passed away early this morning. And look, she has gone home. And she died peacefully in her sleep. With my sister at her side. And so there is great joy as well as tears. I'm not going to talk about it too long because its hard, a little, to talk about.

I want everybody to know, though, a little bit about her. Her name was Madelyn Dunham. She was born in Kansas in a small town in 1922. Which means that she lived through the Great Depression, she lived through two World Wars, she watched her husband go off to war while she looked after a baby and worked on a bomber assembly line. When her husband came back, they benefited from the GI Bill and they moved West and eventually ended up in Hawaii. And she was somebody who was a very humble person and a very plainspoken person.

She was one of those quiet heroes that we have all across America who, they're not famous, their names aren't in the newspapers, but each and every day, they work hard. They look after their families. They sacrifice for their children and their grandchildren. They aren't seeking the limelight. All they try to do is just do the right thing. And in this crowd, there are a lot of quiet heroes like that. Mothers and fathers, grandparents who have worked hard and sacrificed all their lives. And the satisfaction that they get is seeing that their children and maybe their grandchildren, or their great grandchildren, live a better life than they did. That's what America is about. That's what we're fighting for. And North Carolina, in just one more day, we have the opportunity to honor all those quiet heroes all across America, and all across North Carolina. To bring change to America to make sure that their work and their sacrifice is honored. That's what we're fighting for.
Three comments:
  1. I'm sorry for his loss.
  2. The second emboldened part of that quote - why did he put his grandmother in play during this election?
  3. The first emboldened quote - if Palin had said this, there'd be a media-fest

The left for McCain

Democrat women for McCain, including a couple of NOW organisers:

Marco Atilla Hoare:

So for me, it boils down to a choice between the man who will capture the world’s hearts and the man who will fight the world’s enemies. While there are strong arguments to be made for each, I would always support the candidate who, when the chips were down, defended a small nation against a brutal aggressor, against the candidate who has supported an aggressor against a fragile small nation.

Monday, November 03, 2008

McCain, Obama and gay marriage

Oddly enough, I feel strongly about gay marriage - I think it should be a given that the State's definition of marriage is blind to sexuality, and that religions can take whatever approach they see fit provided that the State and all religions are as separate as the State and the bowling clubs of that nation.

Religions rubber-stamp marriage in a way that is important to adherents of those religions but a matter of indifference to those who are not. That's an important issue for, say, gay Christians but it's not an argument someone who isn't a Christian can get involved with in a meaningful way. After all, as an atheist, I feel that all religious laws have to stand on rational and not dogmatic grounds, and so I wouldn't have this problem at all.

If a state confers different status for married people to singles, which it should*, then it isn't entitled to exclude anyone from marriage. All of a State's laws and measures should apply equally to all citizens of that State.

These two clips are indicative of the difference between Republican and Democrat candidates. McCain and Obama are actually saying the same thing here, but in different ways. But they are saying the same thing, and it's mealy-mouthed, please-everyone waffle in the case of Obama, and it's a far more honest approach from McCain, though he is of course trying to please a broad constituency that includes people who, on this issue, should be displeased or confronted. The whole character of the American constitution reserves decisions to as local a level as possible, and the only relevant level for marriage consists of the people involved and nobody else:

*That's a different argument to the that of this post so I'm going to set it to one side because even if you disagree with it, the point of this post stands.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Alaskan exports

Sarah Palin isn't the only one.