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Saturday, 10 January 2009

The Origins of Totalitarianism

The Speccie this week has belatedly cottoned on to a significant revival of interest in Ayn Rand, and all to the good. Although, unlike many, I don't regard Rand as an important philosopher, she had some very prescient insights, one of which makes up some of the words on Old Holborn's blog banner.

Can I offer another generally neglected work? Hannah Arendt's 'The Origins of Totalitarianism' published in 1951 has been regarded as amongst the most influential non-fiction works of the twentieth century. It remains a delight to read. I suggest as an example:
It was Disraeli who had discovered that vice is but the corresponding reflection of crime in society. Human wickedness, if accepted by society, is changed from an act of will into an inherent, psychological quality which man cannot choose or reject but which is imposed upon him from without, and which rules him as compulsively as the drug rules the addict. In assimilating crime and transforming it into vice, society denies all responsibility and establishes a world of fatalities in which men find themselves entangled. The moralistic judgement as a crime of every departure from the norm, which fashionable circles used to consider narrow and philistine, if demonstrative of inferior psychological understanding, at least showed greater respect for human dignity. If crime is understood to be a kind of fatality, natural or economic, everybody will finally be suspected of some special predestination to it. "Punishment is the right of the criminal," of which he is deprived if (in the words of Proust) "judges assume and are more inclined to pardon murder in inverts and treason in Jews for reasons derived from . . . racial predestination." It is an attraction to murder and treason which hides behind such perverted tolerance, for in a moment it can switch to a decision to liquidate not only all actual criminals but all who are "racially" predestined to commit certain crimes. Such changes take place whenever the legal and political machine is not separated from society so that social standards can penetrate into it and become political and legal rules. The seeming broad-mindedness that equates crime and vice, if allowed to establish its own code of law, will invariably prove more cruel and inhuman than laws, no matter how severe, which respect and recognize man's independent responsibility for his behaviour.
A full online text is available HERE for those can comfortably read books on screen.

Indignation fatigue?

There is no shortage of news to be indignant about. A skim through this morning's online editions expose a government without an economic clue, growing popular anger at immigration, new programmes of social housebuilding to house the millions more immigrants expected to demand this from UK taxpayers, residents and police prevented from pointing out that Travellers bring increased crime and disorder, more police corruption, the insane support of the Prime Minister for a third Heathrow runway, the failure of Labour's education system, more intrusive and impertinent spying by government, more political corruption in efforts to hide MP's expenses and more official government mendacity exposed. Any one of which should raise visceral ire and indignation.

Are we becoming inured to the awfulness of all this? Are we suffering from indignation fatigue? Do we accept gross ministerial incompetence, a mendacious and corrupt civil service, the gagging of voices talking talking common sense and the cruelly frustrated striving of our people to maintain their own identity as, well, just normal?

Criminals get away with cautions for previously imprisonable offences. Police officers can be convicted of serious offences and remain policemen. Travellers can get away with anything they like because they're a protected racial group. MPs can steal, cheat and fraudulently subvert the public purse with impunity. Ministers can lie. Civil servants can corrupt and distort the standards of probity we expect them to uphold. And all the while the rhetoric about standards, about zero tolerance, about even more enforcement of petty regulations, rolls over us in a cacophony of control.

The British public are slow, but not stupid. I think we're at the point at which indignation is less externally vented and instead internalised into a building cold anger. Cameron has so far failed to convince the nation that the Conservatives will be very different from Labour. At a time when all the old certainties have been overturned, when previously unthinkable radical measures are being taken in support of the economy, the gates have opened to the possibility for deep political reform. There's a storm gathering, and if we're to preserve all that is good and best about our nation and people without violent social unrest and the bane of anarchy and disorder, our opposition MPs must embrace radical change. We're ready for it.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Naff medals

I don't have that many US or Canadian readers, but for those of you looking at this from across the pond - apologies, nothing personal.

There's a certain British snobbishness about foreign medals. Service personnel have to ask for special permission to wear them. Most don't bother, unless it's the only foreign medal worth having, the
L├ęgion d'honneur. We're also pretty parsimonious in handing out our own, and it's taken sixty years for us to consider whether WWII bomber crews deserve their own campaign medal.

As Tony Blair is discovering, his two US medals - the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom - whilst
rightly highly valued in their own country when awarded to their own citizens, make him appear rather naff here in the UK. And the earl of Wessex, who abandoned the Royal Marines to become a runner for a video production company, is frankly taking the mickey in the first place by taking the Colonelship of the most colourful TA regiment, and compounding it by sporting, in addition to the Queen's two jubilee medals that were issued with the rations, the Saskatchewan Centennial Medal. He draws the sort of mildly pitying looks usually reserved for men who stuff socks down their pants.

Correlli Barnett,
writing in the Mail, reckons Blair should wear his medals in the dock at the International Court at the Hague. But since he now appears to spend his days lounging around Sir John Gielgud's old house in a shellsuit, perhaps just having them embroidered on his blouson would be theatrical enough.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Ken Clarke: four out of five isn't bad

The 'Diary' in tonight's Standard tries to add to the whispering campaign against Ken Clarke:

Ken’s opponents point out that he is in favour of the Euro, rebelled against Tory whips to support the Lisbon Treaty, is a cigar-smoking deputy chairman of British American Tobacco, was a junior member of Ted Heath’s government, and will be 70 in July next year.

"Any of these things should disqualify him from the front bench," says a Tory MP
Right. In favour of the Euro? Prat. Rebels against Tory whips? Excellent. Cigar smoking board member of BAT? Brill. Is an experienced minister? Superb. Will be 70 this year? Why not? Isn't 70 the new 50?

Four out of five ain't bad, as they say.

And to that tight-arsed prissy little dung-eater of an unnamed 'Tory MP' - grow up, you repulsive little toad.

I for one would be more than happy for Ken to join the front bench. But I'd also offer to take him to a discreet 'shabeen' jazz venue I know where the sounds are sweet and low and the audience smokes its head off. To talk some sense into him about the Euro thing, you understand.

Madoff and the kings of bling

It's comforting to have your prejudices reinforced. For years I've followed the belief that the flashier the watch, the more worthless the man. News that Madoff has attempted to thwart liquidators by smuggling his bling out to his family has just confirmed me in my belief. The FT reports gold and diamond encrusted Cartier and Tiffany watches amongst other tat.

Me? I've worn only one watch for the past eight years. It cost then, and still costs, less than £20. It needs a new battery every four years or so, and because it only gains about a minute a year, a twice-yearly adjustment when the clocks change keep it as accurate as anything costing a hundred times more. It's been covered in cement, antifouling, sea water many times, and has been knocked, cracked, struck and dropped times beyond count. It's easily readable in poor light and is as valuable a sea-watch as one can find. It's made out of plastic and was designed, of course, by the Americans. MWC, who made it, have just manufactured another batch and even though the original shows no sign of flagging I'm about to order another two; even in the worst circumstances, these will see me out until they coffin me.

So before you entrust your life savings to a plausible investor, take a good look at his watch.

Hitchens gets a taste of Gordon's CRS

Peter Hitchens got caught up in the State Militia's attack lines on his way home and writes about it in this morning's Mail:
This horrible development, the transformation of our police into a state gendarmerie, has many causes. One of them is the way in which our politicians - and much of the public - have simply forgotten, or never even knew, the intricate arrangements made to ensure that we did not suffer this fate. Parliament at the beginning of the 19th century resisted the foundation of a Metropolitan force precisely because such bodies had invariably become engines of repression all over the continent. Sir Robert Peel only got the measure through by ensuring that our police force was subject to law, policed by consent, and was not allowed to become a militia.
One again, we call for a Royal Commission on policing. It's nearly too late to rescue the police forces we all want and value, policemen who are our allies, police who are citizens in uniform. Labour have corrupted this most precious asset as they have corrupted everything else with their malevolent Statism.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Pointless authoritarianism

Back in April 2007 I witnessed two trainspotters being roughly treated by police as they tried to take a photo of a Victorian manufacturer's plate on a bridge. I thought at the time this was a bit of overzealous silliness that would calm down. Some time later, a colleague and his wife, eminently respectable middle class professionals, were harshly prevented from taking a piccy of their daughter departing on her gap year from a London mainline station.

Today the papers report that Tory MP Andrew Pelling was stopped and searched under terrorist legislation for taking a photograph near East Croydon station.

A parliamentary question by Lib Dem MP Norman Baker has revealed that about 160,000 people have been stopped and searched on railway property in the year to September 2008, many of them, one assumes, for attempting to snap an innocent photograph.

Because each incident happened at a busy station, it will have been witnessed by many more people. Even if ten or twenty people see the police acting harshly and unreasonably, that's millions of people each year that will become further disillusioned with the state of policing in the UK.

For a start, the policy is pointless. Every station platform and concourse is filled with people holding mobiles, most of which can now take photographs without it being obvious. Ironically, the photo above is of the big screen at Charing Cross station exhorting mobile users to 'Shoot it'. To leap only on people with cameras is quite pointless. Secondly, the web is filled with photographs of stations and railway property; these are public places and have been ever since they were built. Thirdly, real terrorists are quite capable of carrying out a recce and sketching up layouts without obviously taking photographs openly with a camera. Whilst dressed in a purple anorak with a thermos flask.

Since the policy is so obviously pointless, the only conclusion I can reach is that it's being pursued as a very public display of police authority from which none of is immune. And that the authors of the policy are quite conscious that they're further driving a wedge between the police and the law-abiding public.

What business is this of government?

The way in which I light my home is entirely a matter for my own choice; candles, Tilley lamps or incandescent lamps. This is no business of government.

Thankfully the free market remains more powerful than either the EU or the Labour government, who have implemented this absurd ban. I may, in time, need to convert my ceiling fittings to Edison screw rather than bayonet cap to continue to use 150w and 100w GLS lamps, but this is an inconsequential price to pay to dismiss this impertinent interference.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Glad to see the world catching up

Being English, I don't really like to direct attention to 'I told you so' prescience on this blog, but a couple of snippets today have tempted me out.

First is Christopher Meyer's very sound piece in the Times today. He propounds the wisdom of agreeing, as did the Congress of Vienna in 1815, spheres and zones of influence. As the Ukraine, once the darling of Euro hawks, is prompting indignation at its refusal to pay $250 a unit for gas that we pay $450 a unit for and thus making Euro gas supplies a little wobbly, Russia's position appears both benign and reasonable.

Meyer, a diplomat of great experience, comments:
Something similar is needed today, based again on spheres of influence. Nato must renounce the provocative folly of being open to Georgian or, worse, Ukrainian membership. This strikes at the heart of the Russian national interest and offers no enhanced security to either Tbilisi or Kiev. As for Russia, it must be made unambiguously clear where any revanchist lunge westwards would provoke a military response by Nato.
And as I commented here on 9th August last year:
Europe's purblind expansion into the Caucasus is mistaken. Europe's eastern boundary is a line that runs from the Baltic to the Aegean. Anything east of that is either Russia's natural fiefdom or needs to be strong enough to stand on its own feet without NATO and we should leave them to it.
The blogosphere strongly disagreed at the time. I suspect a few may have come round to mine and Sir Christopher's view since.

Second is Robert Key's question in Parliament to the Chancellor (H/T Iain Dale) on the cost to the nation of Brown's sale of half our gold reserves. Which featured here on 27th October.

The loss isn't quite as large as the Parliamentary answer makes out - one needs to apply the GDP deflator, as I did, to get a true comparison - but it's nice to know they're catching up.

Morris dancing for the 21st century

Concerns that the brand of rather gay gingham skippy Laura Ashley Morris Dancing of the type that appears in Midsomer Murders is dying off are misplaced. Let it go.

To see the future of English subversive folk display, visit the Rochester Sweeps Festival this May.

Imagine Christian Bale's dark, brooding Batman. Imagine teams of men big as Shire horses leaping their way down the street, the smash of heavy sticks hitting the cobbles in unison, the gutteral shouts, flying black plumage like so many psychotic crows diving at the crowd. This is folk display with attitude. Even the policemen's grins fade from their faces and they look slightly nervous as the bands pass them. Small children hide behind their mothers' skirts. The heavy thud of war drums keeps the rhythm, and not all of the anger is feigned.

Imagine 'V' masks .....

Gordon's cesspit morality

I don't normally agree with much of what Melanie Phillips writes, but this morning she is spot on the money:

If ever one needed proof that this government has ripped up the moral rule book of the original Labour movement, it is surely provided by its apparent obsession with liberalising Britain’s gambling culture.

In the long-lost days when Labour owed more to Methodism than Marx, gambling would have been viewed as a scourge which - along with drinking and sexual licentiousness - stood to destroy in particular the lives of the poor.

Instead of curbing such activity, however, this government has given a green light to sexual irregularity (of which today’s news of a sexual health clinic in every school is but the latest grotesque example), relaxed Britain’s drinking laws and hugely expanded the gambling culture.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Winter comfort food

As far as Winter comfort food is concerned, I'm in my element. Not for me a scrape of salady bits flown in from Kenya, but honest, cheap, traditional dishes using cheap cuts of meat and cheap winter veg. The thing about tonight's Lancashire Hotpot is that the lamb fat must percolate through to the sliced potatoes and make them at the same time both crisp and sticky. This is essential and non-negotiable. The stew beneath is covered in shimmering golden yellow globules of fat, the meat exactly between chewy and flaky and the plate crying at the end for bread to mop the last of its rich coating. Very simple, truly delicious.

...and if you didn't have enough to worry about can watch the live seismic recorders around Yellowstone Park in the US as they monitor the 'swarm' of earthquake activity that started over Christmas, on 27th December. HERE.

Doom mongers in the US are fearful the dormant volcano could blow, sending several square miles of dust into the atmosphere, endangering life on Earth etc.

I'll bet the train operator already has a pre recorded announcement ready

"South Eastern trains apologise for the cancellation of this service due to apocalyptic volcanic activity and regrets any delay or inconvenience this may cause to your journey ..."

Gordon's 100,000 lies

Let's look at Gordon's latest promise of bringing forward £10bn of public sector projects and 'creating' 100,000 jobs. First, the bigger the projects, the longer the lead times. Big infrastructure projects need years of planning, planning enquiries, and often involve land acquisition and assembly, legal appeals, huge design and project teams, extensive site investigation and so on. So little chance of getting big projects to deliver on site within three years, by which time the worst of the slump is forecast to be over.

OK, so take a smallish project - say £10m. Say a new ward block for a hospital, or a VIth form block for a school. Delivered by a public authority and built on land it already owns. And let's say the project idea was approved and the cash allocated on 1st January 2009. Here's how it might happen.

1. Mid February
- Project team decide on traditional build rather than modular build; using the Treasury's Green Book options appraisal methods, this provides the optimum return given the economic life of the alternatives.
2. Start of July 2009
- Architect appointed. Writing and getting approvals for the design brief has taken 8 weeks, and as the fee will exceed the EU threshold for public procurement, they have had to spend 13 weeks advertising the job in OJEU and in internal procedures in appointing the designer.
3. September 2009
- Sketch designs, layouts and building performance criteria agreed. Design team proceed to detailed design.
4. January 2010
- Detailed design completed, planning consents (8 weeks) applied for
5. March 2010
- Production information and tender documents completed. Must go through EU tender procedures as exceeds construction threshold, so in
6. June 2010
- Contractor appointed. Contractor needs 6 weeks to mobilise, so work starts on site in
7. August 2010 - Groundbreaking ceremony; Chair of Health Trust presented with silver plated spade.
8. The contract is worth £8m; the rest of the £10m budget is contingency and design team fees. The contract period is 50 weeks.

9 - October 2011
- Building completed. Delays due to specified window manufacturer having gone bust, poor weather, unknown obstructions in ground.

So, apart from the design team, the temporary construction jobs that will have been bought will have lasted for about a year from Autumn 2010 to Autumn 2011. The permanent jobs that could come out of the new facility - nurses or teachers, cleaners, a few extra managers - won't come on stream until the start of 2012. By this time the IMF will have imposed swingeing cuts on UK public sector expenditure, so it's likely the new facility can not actually afford to open.

So who will benefit? Well, desi
gn firms, quantity surveyors, structural and M&E engineers and the like, if they can hold on until mid 2009 when appointments are made. And by how much will economists reduce their forecast of the unemployment totals for 2009 / 2010? Nil. Nada. Nothing. Zero.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Who are the extremists?

I am grateful to Iain Dale for bringing to our attention the Stasi's Met Police's google ad asking us to report 'Right Wing Extremists' to them. Iain is correct in pointing out that they offer no guidance in how to identify one, so I suppose we'll have to make our own judgements.

However, just to be on the safe side I have completed their online form and have reported both Peter Hitchens and Simon Heffer as being considerably to the right of me. Let's see how quickly they act on this valuable information.

Brown's corrupt government falsifies consultation

The Devil's Kitchen carries a disturbing tale HERE of the way in which Brown's corrupt government falsified the results of a consultation into retail tobacco displays.

Read it and then tell me honestly that the entire bunch of them aren't shameless chiselling little crooks who will lie, and distort, omit, invent, and misrepresent the facts to suit their chilling social engineering agenda.

Brown's recession tour in full

The news that Brown is to embark on a tour of Britain's recession blackspots this week prompts me to reveal his itinerary:
  • Monday - Guildford, Croydon
  • Tuesday - Reading, Slough
  • Wednesday - Sevenoaks, Maidstone
  • Thursday - Colchester, Chelmsford
  • Friday - Docklands, Rotherhithe, Bermondsey
As many commentators have pointed out, this is a middle-class recession that will hit the financial and service sectors, including retail and distribution, in the south-east of England particularly hard, completely unlike the last recession that took a toll of industry and manufacturing in the midlands and the north.

Actually, I have to tell the truth. Gordon will be visiting none of the above. You see, he's not visiting any of the places hit by this recession. Oh no. He's visiting the Labour strongholds hit by the last recession. As the Mail says:
The ‘recession recce’ will take in the East Midlands, the North West, the Midlands, the South West and Wales, all of which were badly hit by unemployment in the early Eighties. The visit to some of the areas worst hit in previous slumps comes amid reports that the Prime Minister is considering a second bail-out for banks after the first £37 billion package of taxpayers’ money failed.
Now to many people this may sound like party electioneering at the public expense.

And many people may consider that Cameron would be perfectly justified in dispatching his own front bench at public expense to visit the people who will really be bearing the brunt of Brown's economic folly. So how about it, Dave?