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Saturday, 6 September 2008

A generation that doesn't know

A few years ago you could have looked in any understairs cupboard and found a box of candles. Every kitchen cupboard had a small store of stand-bys. Every teenage girl knew how to make a simple soup or cheap vegetable stew with a few pence worth of veg and some cupboard stocks such as split peas, pearl barley or lentils. Boys knew how to build a fire or extemporise a garden bread-oven. Now there's a generation who would starve if the microwave didn't work; cooking means heating a frozen pizza, or grilling fish fingers and oven chips. And what's more dangerous, they rely wholly on the television to tell them what to do. In the event of a power outage, they'd be as helpless as babes.

Boaty folk are if anything over-provided in the stand-by stakes. Paraffin lamps, calor gas, alcohol stoves, baking bread in a saucepan over a pressure stove, always having a full tank of drinking water and tins of emergency food in the bilges (believe me, it's a rule that every manky auld boat must have at least five illegible rusty flat tins in the bilge that contain perfectly edible Fray Bentos steak pies), we're also used to using our radios, co-ordinating ourselves, keeping dry, warm, fed and ready to deal with medical emergencies. I suppose the bulk of the population, those who haven't had military training at least, lies somewhere between the two.

So I was chuffed today when I not only remembered how to light the pressure lamp but when it fired up first time. With a wind-up radio, and a vodafone £15 a month broadband dongle thing for the lappy, I'm almost ready for a winter of power and service disruption. The store cupboards are full and I've brought the spare cooker back from the boat. Just half a ton of coal next week to come.

Farewell the Colony Room

Ben Hoyle in the Times today writes a nice piece about my club. Yes, I'm one of the 240 members of the infamous Colony Room. And we're about to close. Now this isn't a swear blog, but reader I must share with you that Hoyle paints a slightly bowdlerised version of the conversation in the club. Apart from misnaming Ian Board as Ian Beard in the piece, he omits an essential adjective from Board's legendary riposte to a request for salted peanuts.

In 1997, celebrating the club's 50th anniversary, we gathered in an obscure east end gallery hung with members' works; Damien did some ducks in formalin. Patrick Caulfield did something jolly and Bavarian. Lisa Stansfield submitted a small square canvas bearing the term in common use for the act of Onanism. It was sponsored by some vodka firm whose name I cannot now recall, but whose generosity with the product I can. At one point I took refuge in the rough east-end pub next door to escape the relentless celebrity for a few minutes, only to find Anita Pallenberg on the stool beside me trying to do the same. Anyway, the time came to pour Ian Board's ashes, his mortal remains, into a bronze bust sculpted by Kate Braine. Hands were unsteady. The table was crowded. Much of Ian missed the small hole in the bust and fell into puddles of spilt vodka on the table, forming a sort of gritty grey spooge. It was, I thought, what he would have wanted.

Hoyle mentions Damien's naked stint behind the bar, but neglects to mention the chicken bone stuffed in his foreskin (apologies to those who have just spluttered their tea across the keyboard). Too many of my Colony anecdotes are just not suited to the harsh light of the written word; they're convivial late night stories, shared with warmth and whisky, a fire crackling in the grate and the air fuggy with tobacco smoke.

And now that familiar walk up those narrow creaking stairs in Dean Street will be a thing of memory. But what memories.

Don't recycle, burn

For those of us with chimneys, the answer to any move to charge us by weight for refuse collected was always obvious. Those of my generation in particular, who grew up in households that barely filled one tiny galvanised dustbin a week with waste, will have been used to their parents disposing of anything flammable by throwing it on the open fire. The legend 'no hot ashes' no longer seems to be engraved on newer wheelie bins, but for many years what went into household bins was just that; ashes, and old tins.

The difference between then and now is the volume of plastic packaging in our waste. Burning plastics generates dioxins, which are bad things. The Mail reports on a suppressed government report that predicts the obvious; many people will burn their rubbish rather than pay extra for it. The pay as you throw scheme is always going to be unworkable anyway; fine for the coping classes who pay Council tax by direct debit, but how are they going to get the cash from the transient and underclass populations with no bank accounts and credit meters?

And with the exception of dioxin-producing wastes, there's nothing wrong with burning your waste and a great deal right. Instead of the Council burning tonnes of diesel and employing scores of men to shift your waste paper, burning it is not only carbon-neutral but actually saves a great deal of carbon - not only transport and handling carbon costs, but a saving in fossil fuels equivalent to the joules of heat produced. Without plastic packaging, and recycling everything else recyclable, I reckon the only stuff that need go in my refuse bin is ash.

The answer of course is for the supermarkets to substitute card and paper packaging for plastic so that we may burn it. And with stoves coming on line such as the Yorkshire Stove that can be used legally even in London and other Clean Air Act areas, there's no reason not to. Eighteen quid will buy one of those nifty paper log makers and every day the postman, the pizza leaflet delivery teams and the free local ad-papers will drop free fuel through your letter box.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Farage is shaping up nicely

Nigel Farage won the hearts of many back in June 2006 when he so effectively punctured Blair's balloon as Teflon Tony ended his six month Presidency of the EU. I'll have to wait a week before treating myself to it again on YouTube but please go ahead. Over the past couple of years, Farage has done rather well; he gives good soundbite, has established a trademark and distinctive look and sound and is becoming well recognised by the general public.

The country realises I think that we need to renegotiate fundamentally our relationship with the EU. We don't want to sign up to Lisbon, and we don't want to be part of a federal Europe. At the same time, I think we recognise that we are European. European history is our history. European culture is our culture. We share two millennia of cultural cross-fertilisation; Roman roads, gothic arches, neo-classicism, the effects of the renaissance and the enlightenment, arts, science and technology, the whole bunch and bundle. We can't be anti-European because we are European. But we can be anti-EU federalist, and with feeling. Farage's keynote speech to the UKIP conference is wise enough to recognise this; he's absolutely right in that we must define positively a new relationship with the rest of Europe, based on freedom of trade and commerce, freedom of movement (with limits) and close multi-lateral diplomatic links. But without costing us £40bn a year, our fishing grounds or our sovereignty.

If Farage can build on this by 4th June 2009, UKIP has my vote for the European election. And I suspect I will not be alone. If Labour's disastrous recent run of by-elections has proved anything, it is that we have entered a new era of post-tribal politics. Anti-Lisbonism runs across the political spectrum, and if UKIP can manage to stand enough candidates across the country I suspect they will do very well.

PETA cranks up the Bass

This hasn't been my best Sea Bass season ever. The score is Bass 1 Raedwald 0. That old warrior from another place, Major Catastrophe, must have been casting his Bass Exclusion Zone over the waters. Still, PETA would be happy. 'Fish have feelings, too' was a recent campaign of theirs; we anglers are cruel monsters, and if only fish could speak they'd tell tales of brutal hooks and a violation of fishy rights. And they haven't even started on the associated horror of worm-drowning ...

At least when these cranks are 'defending' fish or worms they're not wasting the time of defence ministers. The Canadian government cull around 10,000 black bears a year on sound environmental grounds. The British government buy 20 or 30 skins a year from these to make headwear for the sovereign's regiments of guards. The skins would doubtless otherwise be shipped to Chinese soft-toy factories to make thousands of cute furry things for the infants of the far east.

Right. Must go and reset the squirrel trap - the first half of tonight's supper has just arrived.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

EU doesn't understand the internet shock

The EU still seems to me to fundamentally misunderstand the internet. They're so locked in to a top-down, centralist 'push' view of information dissemination that they can't seem to get their heads around a world in which individuals make their own choices about which sources of content to 'pull' information and opinion from.

Iain Dale picked up Dan Hannan's Telegraph blog in which he describes how the European Parliament are set to vote on a report that proposes regulating blogs. Reading the report (see Dan's link) it's actually a report 'On concentration and pluralism in the media in the European Union'. Yes, they really, seriously, fail to see any difference between 'push' publishing media of the commercial kind and private blogs. Which is astonishing. The media are regulated, they argue. Blogs are part of the media. Therefore blogs should be regulated.

The report was born from the concerns of a single MEP - Estonian Socialist Marianne Mikko (you wouldn't have guessed, would you?). It was adopted by the Culture Committee, chaired by Greek Socialist Katarina Batzeli (PES). Mikko expands on her concerns HERE.

The blogosphere has so far been a haven of good intentions and relatively honest dealing. However, with blogs becoming commonplace, less principled people will want to use them

What, really? You mean the interweb isn't full of saints and sane normal people? Go on!

we do not see bloggers as a threat. They are in position, however, to considerably pollute cyberspace. We already have too much spam, misinformation and malicious intent in cyberspace. I think the public is still very trusting towards blogs, it is still seen as sincere. And it should remain sincere. For that we need a quality mark, a disclosure of who is really writing and why.

Uhm, isn't the definition of 'pollution' somewhat subjective? I mean, there may be those who would think that the EU's use of a €200m a year PR budget to flood cyberspace with dishonest propaganda is 'pollution'. And does the 'misinformation' in cyberspace include the suppression of any enquiry into the gross theft of millions of Euros in expenses by MEPs? And your concerted campaigns to villify, marginalise and dismiss any EU whistle-blowers who lift the lid on your cesspit of graft, corruption and malfeasance could also be termed 'malicious' in many eyes, could they not? The sheer arrogance and duplicity of this risible EU crap should be exposed across the entire blogosphere, shouldn't it?

German Liberal Jorgo Chatzimarkakis joined Mikko in the call to regulate blogs. Ah yes, fine German name. That would be the Saxony-Anhalt Chatzimarkakis family, I guess. He said;

bloggers cannot automatically be considered a threat, but imagine pressure groups, professional interests or any other groups using blogs to pass on their message. Blogs are powerful tools, they can represent an advance form of lobbyism, which in turn can be seen as a threat. Any blogger representing or expressing more than their personal view should be affected by this report.

Ooh! Pressure groups, eh? Like groups of WI chutney makers protesting against EU requirements to label their jars in full compliance with the Food Labelling Directive? Or EU citizens protesting about some further insanity imposed on them from Brussels? So 'lobbyism' of this kind is a 'threat' is it?

I just cannot begin to comprehend the utter, barking and howling, screaming at the moon, carpet-chewing insanity of these morons.

The fact that a sufficient number of MEPs feel their foul fetid Federalist project to be under threat from ordinary blogs such as this one tells you one thing only; it's not blogs they're scared of. Its the truth.

Politicised justice

The independence of our judiciary is the strongest safeguard of our liberty. Oh, for sure their lordships can be maddeningly frustrating, as in their refusal to deport Abu Qatarda to Jordan, or in their agreement to deport UFO geek Gary McKinnon to the US, but they're working within the crazy laws that Labour have so muddled over the past decade. It's the government, not the judges, that agreed to fast-track extradition for bankers terrorists to the US, signed up to the European Human Rights Convention and are about to extend the jurisdiction of every stubbled little haemorrhoid of a Greek magistrate into mainland Britain to extradite our plane spotters.

Labour have done more than any other government in history to politicise the judicial system, to turn judges into civil servants no different to any others, responsive to ministers' short-term whims and a tool for gaining votes. To their credit, the judges have put up a bit of a fight. Lord Phillips, who steps down as Lord Chief Justice at the end of the month, wrote an unprecedented circular letter to all English and Welsh judges and magistrates in May 2007 opposing the creation of a new Ministry of Justice from the separate courts and prisons departments. I blogged at the time that:
The issues are these. The government has designed a new Ministry of Justice on the back of a fag packet and brought it in virtually overnight. The intention seems to be to amalgamate the budgets for courts and prisons, so that if the civil servants need more money for prisons they can close courts. Or vice versa (but unlikely). It also seems to be strongly suggested that judges should consider the availability of prison places when passing sentence - a consideration wholly absent from English law. Overall, the government's intention seems clear. And it is bloody serious. It is, in my view, to utterly undermine the constitutional position of the judiciary as a separate part of government, make judges into civil servants answerable to and appointed by the executive and thereby to politicise justice in the United Kingdom.
This was strongly denied and repudiated by Jack Straw at the time, and of course it has therefore proved to be true. Courts are being asked to cut their budgets by £90m to pay for prisons.

Straw is an evil little rat with the talents of an accomplished con artist. These days I disbelieve anything he says on principle as soon as he says it; it saves time. When Parliament sits again next month, expect him to bring forward his party funding bill. This will have the sole effect of saving Labour's financial bacon at the taxpayer's expense, although, I have no doubt, Straw will strongly deny and repudiate this.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Blogging will be s l o w

The stress of moving house is as nothing compared to the stress of changing broadband ISP. Two and a half hours today on the phone today trying to get my old broadband back and my new ISP screwed up and estimates a fortnight. So I bit the bullet and bought a £9.95 dial-up modem just to get back on line in the meantime ...

So slow blogging and email for the next week at 50kbs unless I get really fed up and decamp to (hissssssss!) Starbucks; look out for a bloke with a wifi lappy and a frightening scowl .

Thanks all, and thanks Iain

I was genuinely astonished this morning to find Raedwald at number 34 in Iain Dale's list of the Top 100 Right of Centre blogs. Like many single-handed blogs, there's a lot of boilerplate, a few stupid errors, and the occasional nugget. Thanks all for your votes, and for coming back, and I'll try to keep the nugget count up.

And thanks to Iain, who always does more than he has to.

It's Europe, stupid

About the best commentary I've found this morning on Brown's attempted intervention in the housing market is from Simon Jenkins in the Grauniad. Simon repeats the call for the government to scrap HIPs that appears elsewhere:
At the same time Gordon Brown should have cleared some of the bureaucratic clutter that now infests house purchase. Chief is the home improvement pack, a costly and redundant gimmick from a former housing minister, Yvette Cooper (now at the Treasury) eager to meddle. It has merely imposed another transaction tax on house purchase.
The fact that the energy performance certificate at the heart of the HIP is an EU and not a government requirement - blogged by EU Referendum on 1/9 - tends not to get a mention in the press.

The cost of HIPS though is a drop in the ocean compared with the total costs of EU membership; an analysis by Civitas in 2004 suggested a likely net cost of £40bn a year to the UK economy.

The costs of domestic red tape, including the 'gold plating' of EU directives, has been an increasing burden on business during Labour's tenure. Where two or three civil servants are gathered together, the first thing they do is to develop a form for someone to fill in. Regulatory costs will only be trimmed with a freeze on all non-critical public sector recruitment.

The OECD's highlighting of the UK as the only one of the G7 to face recession this year highlights the end result of a decade of Labour's economic mismanagement:

This concerns me less than other factors. The opportunity for a bit of hysteresis in the productive economy is overdue. Not having an economy locked into ECB rules gives us a bit more freedom to react to our own advantage, unlike Spain, Ireland and Denmark (ERM II), also suffering badly from a housing downturn. All we need is a Conservative government.

It is thought that late 2009 is the earliest possible date for a second Irish referendum on the Lisbon constitution treaty, but serious consideration is being given to ways in which Ireland can ratify the constitution without another referendum. Our hope still remains in holding a Cameron government to his referendum commitment before all EU states have ratified. The collapse of Brown's government and an election as soon as possible may not be Cameron's first choice, but it's certainly mine.

Our economic woes may be filling the front pages, but the real answer remains 'Europe'.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Like farting in a gale

OK, there's not much comment about yet on Brown's announcement of a £1bn package to help 'rescue' the housing market, and I could be wrong, but I'm dubious it will have any real effect.

The 'Standard' comments that:
The new mortgage market by some measures has shrunk by more than two thirds since last summer. Possibly as much as £80 billion of lending that was previously available for house purchase has disappeared thanks to the credit crunch. So this limited package will achieve little.
Edmund Conway writes in the Telegraph that the banks have already issued £45bn of mortgage-backed bonds in the quarter to June - and that it's likely the £50bn Special Liquidity Scheme launched by the Bank of England is probably already exhausted. RBS, Barclays and HBOS have also already raised £20bn of new equity capital. Brown's £1bn package is therefore not much more than a fart in a gale.

I still think there are still too many banks and too little money. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I wonder if we wouldn't now be mush better off if the government had allowed Rock to collapse? Some commentators reckon at least one of the big four - HBOS, Barclays, RBS, HSBC - will have to go before things start to get better.

Just picked this story up. At 4.15 Monday before last, 5 minutes before the 4.20 deadline for inter-bank loans, Barclays asked HSBC for £314m. It takes 3m to do the transfer, leaving HSBC only 2m to make the loan decision. It was seconds late. Barclays immediately went to the Bank for the £314m. Cock-up or Barclays playing silly buggers? You decide.

In defence of Christian faith schools

Why do so many ordinary people try so hard to get their kids into faith schools? Well, many enjoy good exam results but many don't. Few are populated by the children of a devout community of churchgoers. They follow the national curriculum and are obliged to approach issues of race, faith or sexuality in the same balanced and non-judgemental way as non faith schools. Even their enemies can't find much evidence of 'religious indoctrination'. One parent's view that "The actual education is not really any different. They have the same hours per day in which to teach Maths, English, Science, History. Geography etc, to KS3, GCSE, AS and A level the same as any secular school. Like I've said, one notable difference is discipline, manners, respect. Now if that isn't apparent in the local schools, then why knock the faith school? Surely we need more?", and that I think gets to the nub of their popularity.

At the heart of Christian theology is personal moral responsibility, a clear moral distinction between right and wrong, a strong sense of social obligation, a belief in the authority of the family and of intermediate institutions, a healthy scepticism about the size and limits of the role of the State and the virtues of other than material rewards. All things that every good Conservative should hold dear.

That black rogue Rousseau would have separated children from their fathers lest the authority of the family challenge that of the State; socialists, as Rousseau did, want no intermediate or countervailing authority between the State and the individual. Faith schools achieve exactly the opposite.

Typically, Polly Toynbee screeches against faith schools in CiF today. Her naked hatred of them confirms me ever more firmly in my belief that it is right to support them. She still really doesn't get it; she writes "Years of Labour handwringing over community cohesion hardly squares with dividing children by religion". Polly dear, communities are no longer cohesive precisely because the State has eroded local authority and institutions; it's the churches, the community groups, the parish councils, the families and local individuals with moral stature - the 'little platoons' - that create cohesive communities and it's the Leviathan of the hateful central State that destroys them. Faith schools don't divide children - they unite them. Long may they flourish.

Balls, Brown and Socialist Jihad

Ed Balls is a pathological ideologue in a post-ideological political age. Whilst the rump of Blair's New Labour and the Cameroons shuffle uncomfortably together on the crowded middle ground, one look at Balls tells you he would rather that Labour went down with red banners flying in a raft of legislation that would force the Nirvana of socialism onto the reluctant nation. As ruthless as any Stalinist functionary, truly Brown's Lavrenti Beria, Balls would have little conscience about slaughtering the first-born of the UK if the Fabian Society produced evidence that this would advance the cause of socialism. As with Islamic fanatics, he sees the imposition of socialism on we kuffirs as a Jihad or holy struggle; the end justifies the means. "So what?" at the pain; the end justifies the means. His present frustration with Brown's vacillation is palpable. Labour have a majority in Parliament and nothing to lose. Like Beria, Balls would no doubt declare "Let our enemies know that anyone who attempts to raise a hand against the will of our people, against the will of the party of Kier Hardy, will be mercilessly crushed and destroyed".

Balls is not alone in the Labour party. To many of the comrades, Blair's New Labour was always supposed to be a Trojan horse, a means only to obtaining a Parliamentary majority. They're still waiting for the belly of the horse to spring open and the red battalions to spring out and do battle with the post-ideologues. Make no mistake; Balls is a central Statist even more radical and more ruthless than Brown. The reason the tsunami of cash that flooded the poor has failed to create equality of wealth is not that it was not enough (as Brown thinks) but that the State had insufficient control over people's lives to impose it. Anything that encourages meritocracy and individualism is to be crushed; quotas will replace equality of opportunity, and it's not enough that that the less-able are advantaged, the more-able must be disadvantaged if they are not to accumulate more wealth than others.

Well, we'll soon see if Brown reshuffles his cabinet. Will he, in a last desperate fling, cry 'havoc' and let slip the dogs of socialism from the belly of the Trojan horse, or will he let Labour go down, perhaps for ever, not with an ideological last stand but with a whimper?

Monday, 1 September 2008

Crisis? What Crisis? Britain in the 1970s

Crime and the Market

Funny old thing, the free market. A leaked Home Office letter predicts a rise in crime - acquisitive crime in particular - as a result of the recession. This will mean more burglary, vehicle thefts and, in London in particular, street robbery as well as a plague of shop thefts. The people hardest hit will be the poorest living in the most deprived areas - traditional Labour voters. As supermarkets raise their prices to pay for theft losses and increased security the poor again will bear the brunt. Crime is an irritation to the insured middle classes, but a curse to the poor. Heroin addicts tend to burgle within a 400m radius of their council flats to feed their habits - and it's the plasma TVs, wiis and Christmas presents of their fellow council tenants that are most at risk.

Heroin itself of course is so far bucking the inflationary trend; prices are reported to be low and stable, the UK's 35 tonnes a year of heroin imported to be steady, and stockpiles at healthy levels. Some 90% of UK heroin is from Afghanistan. Curious that the most effective action the Taliban could take to destabilise the UK would be to cut off the heroin supply. Curiously also, it has been reported that in the longer term the UK's heroin supply could be at risk not from government intervention but from high oil prices; the demand for biofuels has rocketed the price of wheat to the extent that it is becoming an economically more attractive crop to Afghan farmers than opium poppies.

It would be strange indeed if the push to renewable fuels led to an increase in burglaries in the UK that impacted disproportionately on Labour voters already hardest hit by benefit increases below the increased costs of fuel and food, and a strangling of available credit, and by rates of crime already increased by the government's incompetence.