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Saturday, 1 November 2008

BBC reprised

The papers have come to their own conclusion on the BBC this morning; I stated mine in July and at the risk of boring anyone with a long memory, I wrote;
In an age of personalised choice and pay-on-demand, the BBC's monopoly is very difficult to defend. Many of us resent deeply not only the millions paid to those whose 'talents' we regard as mediocre at best, but the outrageous salaries that the BBC bureaucrats have decided to pay themselves. The BBC has become just another public trough, and Mark Thompson (salary £816,000 in 2007/2008) is amongst those whose snouts are thrust deep in the swill.

Many accuse the BBC of political bias to the right or the left. This is not the case. It's biased towards big centralist corporatist government and against personal human responsibility. It's long been part of the problem in creating an expectation that it's the government's job to 'do something' about every minor ill that ails the nation. This is pernicious.

No, though I loved the BBC of Reithian principle and listen to little else but Radio 4, it's no longer a national institution of any great value. The Monarchy costs us £40 million a year, the BBC costs £4,300 million a year, £3,100 million of which is collected from licence payers. It's past its sell by date and should go.
I haven't changed my mind.

Defence of the Realm

Richard North over at Defence of the Realm has done more than anyone in the UK to highlight the MOD's ineptitude in procuring the right armoured vehicles for our forces. An authoritative and informed voice, his is the blog that the shiny-arsed cretins at the MOD most fear.

The resignation of Maj. Morley, o/c D squadron 23 SAS, over the continued use of the 'snatch' landy prompts North to call for civil service heads to roll over the many deaths.

Bill Jeffrey has been Permanent Under Secretary at the MOD since November 2005, and must take the can for his departments utter failure to respond adequately to the danger from the insurgents' IED campaign from that time. The sums involved in putting the wrongs right are relatively modest; the MOD has over 100,000 civil servants - one civil servant for each regular soldier - and proper armoured vehicles could be paid for by freezing civilian recruitment for two years. Budgetary excuses won't wash. It's incompetence and a total failure of leadership, and for these reasons Jeffrey must go.

UK returns to healthy drinking levels

There's a reason why Nanny always quotes our current drinking levels against those in the 1960s; the '60s were the lowpoint of British drinking, and as our consumption slumped so we lost our national moral fibre.

Alcohol consumed in decent quantities - a litre a month per person on average, which is only 20 litres of strong lager, or 10 litres of wine a month - is intrinsic to our national character. I do as much as I can to keep the national average up, but the rest of you seem to be falling behind.

So c'mon everyone. Let's make a big effort over Christmas that will see January headlines proclaim 'UK returns to healthy drinking levels'.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Morality and Libertarianism

Libertarianism means not restricting individuals from doing what they want to do, so long as it doesn't harm others. And it's that second part that's important and that often gets forgotten. Restricting men from raping women isn't 'authoritarian'; forbidding people from taking things that belong to other people isn't 'authoritarian'. For Libertarianism to exist there must be a society and a moral framework within which individuals can make free choices about those things that may benefit both the individual and the society but may cause harm only to the individual.

The moral framework is not a static construct. For us it's based on the ten commandments and Christian theology continuously modified as time goes on. Three hundred years ago we hanged men for buggery (and quite a lot of them) and a hundred and fifty years ago we hanged boys for stealing a watch. Stealing a watch continues to be prohibited whilst consensual buggery is not. That is sound Libertarian change.

However, there's a world of difference between not prohibiting certain actions and activities and using the common wealth to promote them. Just because something's legal doesn't mean it's regarded as moral; sado-masochism is to an extent legal, but few would claim it as 'moral'.

So for all those actions and activities that lie in this grey area it's right that public funds aren't used to promote or encourage them. Individuals must be equally free to use their own funds to do so - that's their free choice. If advertisers want to fund a commercial radio channel that broadcasts puerile filth, fine. If advertisers won't pay, let listeners subscribe. If listeners won't pay and advertisers won't pay don't ask the rest of us to do so.

The same goes for bastardy. Women must be entirely free to bear bastards, but here there is enough evidence that bastards do cause harm to the rest of us that we must be especially careful not to spend our common pot on promoting or encouraging it.

I wouldn't dream of prohibiting indolence, fecklessness and idleness but I'll be damned if I'll pay for it. And folk may destroy themselves with narcotics, but so long as they're not destroying anyone else I wouldn't prevent them - but don't ask me to fund it. And spare me from your zealous nonsense about 'equality'; women who as a population cohort spend years out of the workplace having babies shouldn't command a share of my rewards for my greater ability and experience.

Brown mouthed a load of guff about 'fairness' recently. It struck no echo with the people of Britain who know that Labour is wholly unfair in its policies, and unfair because it's deaf to our common sense of fairness and morality. Columnists often quote the final couplet of Chesterton's 'Secret People' but the penultimate verse should never be forgotten;
They have given us into the hand of new unhappy lords,
Lords without anger and honour, who dare not carry their swords.
They fight by shuffling papers; they have bright dead alien eyes;
They look at our labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.
And the load of their loveless pity is worse than the ancient wrongs,
Their doors are shut in the evening; and they know no songs.

We hear men speaking for us of new laws strong and sweet,
Yet is there no man speaketh as we speak in the street.
It may be we shall rise the last as Frenchmen rose the first,
Our wrath come after Russia's wrath and our wrath be the worst.
It may be we are meant to mark with our riot and our rest
God's scorn for all men governing. It may be beer is best.
But we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.
Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Excuse me, but I'm enjoying the Crash

Those of you who follow county cricket will have noticed by now that Suffolk and Norfolk aren't amongst the iconic cricketing shires; Hampshire, Worcs, Yorkshire, the home counties and even Glamorgan have deep cricketing roots that have completely failed to grow in Anglia proper. There's also a deep genetic contrast between my old friends from the West and my older friends from the East; in Hereford it's cider, the mullet and who cares. In Diss it's ale, short back and sides and take care. No surprise then that East Anglia's heart was with Cromwell's roundheads whilst the zider drinking cricketers went with Charles. Cricket is somehow frivolous, you see; not a serious job of work as we say. Our boom was over by the fifteenth century, and we went quietly back to sleep until the industrial revolution and the coming of the trains. Even the industrial revolution left us pretty well untouched. We saw Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham grow from villages to cities and collapse again and nodded sagely and muttered "I knew that wouldn't last".

Drive through Suffolk and in almost every village where there's a mediaeval church, you'll find a Methodist or Dissenters chapel. Building historians who scour our mediaeval parish churches in vain for traces of gilded saints or lachrymose virgins conclude that the Puritan iconoclasts must have done a good job, neglecting the possibility that we never had them in the first place, preferring our places of worship to be clean and austere.

Ours too is a shire of solid virtuous Yeomen; the local grammar or minor public school, redbrick uni or local agricultural college (RAC being a debauched Satanic temple not worthy of the scions of decent Suffolk growth) and keeping a decent distance from the 'county set', a racy and cosmopolitan crowd with their Etons and Oxfords and Beerage nobility.

You can see where I'm going with this by now. There's something in my bones that's very Anglian and is actually enjoying the prospect of hardship, collapse, ruin and apocalyptic destruction. From the fire of suffering comes purity and that sort of thing. I'm actually looking forward to the prospect of baking my own bread from hoarded flour supplies in a wood oven in the garden. In winter. When it's raining. During a power cut. I'm sorry. I really am. But when the FTSE falls below 3000 or Waitrose goes into receivership or Easyjet goes bust there'll be something deep inside that smiles in deep satisfaction. It's wrong. It's immoral. It's irrational. It's the sort of desire for catharsis that led to the mud of Flanders in 1914. Is it just me?

Copper comes good

Boaters have become familiar with the deterrent effects of Copper; ever since TBT was banned as an antifouling because it caused lady Dog Whelks to grow penises we've depended on copper as the active substance to keep slime and barnacles at bay. Now hospitals have found that copper pipes kill superbugs, too.

So sorry to amateur push-fit plumbers everywhere; it's back to the Yorkshire fittings and the brazing torch for peace of mind. And throw out those plastic chopping boards that Nanny told us all to use a few years ago; they breed bacteria that are killed by the old wooden 'unhygienic' ones. And Silver kills bugs, too - which is one of the better reasons to keep using Silver cutlery and that Silver lined sauce pan.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Taste, decency and integrity

From the BBC's 'Brand Manual':
The BBC brand (or logo) is our badge of honour. It says to our audience that they can trust our content and can rest easy in the knowledge that anything that carries our logo will uphold the BBC core values of taste, decency and integrity.
Transcript of Ross / Brand:
Andrew Sachs's answerphone: "Sorry I can't answer at the moment, but please call again or leave a message. Speak after the tone, thank you."

RB: "Hello Andrew Sachs this is Russell Brand. I am a great appreciator of your work over the decades. You're meant to be on my show now mate, I don't know why you're not answering the phone, it's a bit difficult – I'm here with Jonathan Ross."

JR: "Hello Andrew..."

RB: "That's Jonathan Ross speaking now. Anyway, we understand.. anyway.. we can still do the interview to his answerphone..."
(The two presenters exchange banter)

JR: "He fucked your granddaughter!" (laughter)... I'm sorry I apologise. Andrew I apologise... I got excited, what can I say. it just came out."

RB: "Andrew Sachs, I did not do nothing with Georgina – oh no I've revealed I know her name! Oh no it's a disaster. Abort, abort. Please watch that show. I am out of The Bill, starring Andrew Sachs, I'm out of The Bill... Put the phone down, put the phone down, code red code red. I'm sorry Mr Fawlty I'm sorry, they're a waste of space..."

JR: "... How could I carry that round in my head like a big brain blister all day? I had to pop it and let the pressure out... Like it's really bothered us though, he's the poor man sitting at home sobbing over his answer machine... If he's like most people of a certain age he's probably got a picture of his grandchildren when they're young right by the phone. So while he's listening to the messages he's looking at a picture of her about nine on a swing."

RB: "She was on a swing when I met her. Oh no!"

JR: "And probably enjoyed her."

Jonathan Ross' salary: £18m a year.

Some taste. Some decency. Some integrity.

It'll be a good trick if we can pull it off

Norman Tebbit writes in this morning's Telegraph advocating a two-tier Europe, in which an independent UK would co-operate with a new republic made from melding France, Germany, the Netherlands and the like into a single political and economic unit;
The task for the Tory leadership, the euro-sceptics, the "Better Off Out" supporters and Ukip is to crystalise the vision of Mrs Thatcher's Bruges speech into the architecture of a new European treaty, one that would constitute a framework within which sovereign states would co-operate with a European Republic formed of those nations willing to enter a complete political union of their own - what we might call their 1707 moment.
It'll be a good trick if we can pull it off. The reality is that a Euro republic will rapidly become a gigantic Belgium; the reason 1707 worked in the UK was because England was a large powerful nation that had just bailed Scotland out from a financial crash caused by their own greed and speculative imprudence (ahem HBOS and RBS) and that English was already a common language. If a handful of Flems and Walloons can't co-exist in Belgium, imagine the far greater challenges in Corsicans and Prussians pretending they're one nation.

However, Norman is right on one point; a broad alliance of all British anti-federalists, across party boundaries, needs to design something positive to replace Maastricht and the new Constitution rather than just carping about it all. Fear over 'Party split over Europe' headlines is stifling debate, but the parties must realise that Europe, like the death penalty or abortion, is an area in which MPs must be allowed to act without being whipped into obedience.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Trains and boats and toilets

The toilets on the first BR trains I knew in the '60s were primitive affairs; the bowl emptied directly onto the tracks, and relying as they did on speed to disperse the contents there were urgent pleas never to use the toilet whilst the train was standing in a station. In the early '70s continental trains were a delight of discovery; not only did the bowls empty on to the tracks, but if you held the discharge lever open you could, in the right conditions, stand mesmerised as the clearly visible track ballast whizzed past beneath you. These days they all have holding tanks and the ballast is cleaner than at any time since the running of the first railways.

Of course, vacuum toilets and holding tank systems have their downsides. When the first Inter City 125s were introduced to the UK, the high air pressures created at speed in tunnels caused an unfortunate 'blow back' that left many passengers covered in ... confusion. And at the weekend a French chap had his arm sucked down the bowl of a new TGV while trying to retrieve his mobile phone.

Boats can still discharge toilets straight into the sea. My own is equipped with the ultimate in boat toilets, the Lavac. It's never failed, despite the efforts of all womankind to jam it's 1.3/4" outlet with profligate swathes of bum wipe and even more unmentionable articles. It's as reliable and maintenance-free as the BR train toilets of the 60s.

This cannot last. Already all boats on inland waterways must have a holding tank and 'pump out' their waste at designated stations. Soon, the fingers of regulation will seek to extend this to sea boats, thus depriving thousands of oysters and mussels of their sustenance and causing inconvenience to owners. But like the smoking ban at sea - a nonsense which even Brown's State can't enforce - this measure is doomed to failure.

I have spent years persuading my fishing guests to pee in a bucket and rinse it over the side rather than just leaning over the gunwales and unzipping (men always scorn the Lavac for some reason). Particularly on the Thames through central London. However, if the holding tank becomes compulsory, the terrace at Westminster may be greeted by bare buttocks precariously hung over the side and worse. Only some MPs would be interested, I suspect.

Goldfinger's £3bn blunder

Gordon Brown, exhibiting his towering intellect and in defiance of the Bank's advice, instructed shortly after Labour took power that some 395 tonnes of the country's gold be sold. The sales took place between 1999 and 2002, with the bulk of the sales during 2000/2001. Exchange rates back then were around $1.45/$1.50 - not much different to today.

Using the figures from the Treasury's report on the sales, and the Treasury's GDP deflator, I come up with the following:

2000/2001 2007/2008
Ounces of gold 12712000 12712000
Price $ / oz 274.92 692.5
GDP inflator 1.2041 1.0000
Net current value ($ millions) 4,208 8,803

Gordon's blunder ($ billions)
(current Gold price Friday's fix not 2007/08 average)

Brown's gigantic blunder has cost us some £3bn at current prices. Who would trust this man to manage a whelk stall?

Norman Fowler cracks open the door on State party funding

Last year Labour's plans to secure a quiet cross-party deal on State funding - a deal to be agreed between the London headquarters of the central parties, you understand, without reference to you or I, the electors who will pay for it - collapsed when Cameron refused to play. Today in the FT, Norman Fowler carefully cracks open the door to prepare the way for these negotiations to continue.

The parties need money because as they have abandoned their roots and clustered to suckle around the teats of the central State, we the electors have abandoned them as irrelevant and unnecessary. Labour's membership may fall below 100,000 in the next few years, and the Tories have no hope of recovering the million members lost since 1979.

Fowler argues that State funding is necessary because it will prevent corruption. Whoo-whooo. On this basis we must pay burglars because it will prevent theft, pay fraudsters because it will prevent fraud and pay muggers because it will prevent robberies. There is a simple answer to political corruption; jail more politicians. This is undoubtedly Norman's position on any other crime, so why make an exception of political corruption?

The main parties are dying. They have committed slow suicide by becoming central corporations, 'brands', rather than building their strength as local associations. If they are to survive it must be by reversing this process, not stealing the cash from our pockets to prolong their hospice stay.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Osborne: At the mercy of the picture editors

The NOTW's picture editors have been particularly cruel to George Osborne in today's edition. Firstly posed with a 'vice queen' who seems to have been more of a low-rent hooker than an upscale madam, Osborne relaxes with fag in hand. Whether or not there was cocaine on the table as referred to in the text is hard to see, but we're encouraged to believe there might be.

Secondly is a full face portrait of Osborne looking like a sulky rent-boy; indeed, bearing a striking resemblance to Norman Scott (he of the arse antics) for those of us with long memories. Not good.

And finally a badly photoshopped group photo of Bullingdon Club members, that looks as though it's been made from three separate group images, with Osborne preening like a dyspeptic duck.

You don't have to read the words. The images do as effective a demolition job as possible. I wonder how much longer Cameron can stand by his chum given the damage Osborne is doing to his party right now.

Simon Jenkins' last column for the ST

Simon Jenkins' final column for the Sunday Times before taking up the chairmanship of the National Trust is a reasoned plea against the ever-encroaching grasp of the State. He concludes;
In all my years of writing this column, from which I am standing down, I have been amazed at the spinelessness of Britain’s elected representatives in defending liberty and protesting against state arrogance. They appear as parties to the conspiracy of power. There have been outspoken judges, outspoken peers, even outspoken journalists. There have been few outspoken MPs. Those supposedly defending freedom are whipped into obedience. I find this ominous.
Of course, a large part of the reason is the growth of central parties since 1979 as the central State has grown; the castration of local associations, Labour and Conservative, and the rise of blow-ins, those apparatchiks selected by central parties to contest elections. MPs owe a greater allegiance to the central State than they do to their constituents.

Simon will soon no doubt soon be writing to the 3.56 million members of the National Trust. In contrast the Labour Party, with probably no more than 0.15m voting members, or the Tories with some 0.23m voting members, still claim an oligopolistic stake in democratic legitimacy which if the National Trust were a political party would appear risible.

As the roots of the parties have been abandoned by their quasi-State London headquarters, defending the freedom and liberties of we the people is nowhere on the agenda of our MPs. Our Parliament is filled with party tools, obedient polished turds, more mindful of their own interests than of ours. It took the Lords to quash 42 days. Parliament has become not fit for purpose.

It was not until the upheavals of the 1840s that British democracy adapted to make the necessary transition from the world of the 18th century to that of the 19th. The reform we so desperately need now is every bit as important as the abolition of the Rotten Boroughs and the extension of the franchise; it is not the boroughs that are rotten in the 21st century, but Parliament itself, and Parliament is rotten because the parties, Labour, Conservative and LibDem, have made it so.

The coming global storm may exact a heavy toll from us all, but if those gales serve to blow away the filth, corruption, jobbery, cronyism, avarice and self-serving abuse of power from our political system it will be worth it.