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Saturday, 31 December 2011

For what we are about to receive ......

There has been a sense that this break has been the last leave before the big offensive. A feeling that rather than being the raucus, uninhibited celebration of the end of the old year and the starting of the new, it has been a time of rest and recuperation, of checking equipment and buckles, making good defects and preparing to go over the top. There are very few to whom I've spoken over the holiday who don't believe that 2012 will be a year like few others. Just as August 1914 marked the end of the nineteenth century, 2012 could mark the end of the twentieth. 

The advice I'm giving myself is to be prepared for anything, to learn from the Jews who left Germany in 1938. Lives and the bonds of family are infinitely more important than wealth and property. Change can come suddenly, violently and unpredictably and we will need one another, will need to rediscover the benefits of mutual assistance, once the realisation comes that governments will be as powerless and insecure as a fishing shack before a Tsunami. 

There's also been a shakeout going on around the world in which the division is marked not by politics or ideology but but by morality. Those who would follow the Archangel Michael and take a spear to the Devil, who would oppose sleaze, peculation, jobbery, corruption, fraud, deception, nepotism, inequity, selfishness and the compassionless exploitation and use of others please line up this side. We're going to be fighting hard against a determined enemy in 2012. 

As for currencies and economies, the Euro will collapse in 2012 of course, as will the economies of Greece, Italy, Japan, Ireland, Spain, Belgium, Portugal and probably France. Yes, Japan. And intergenerational conflict will loom large - and not as simple as generations X and Y versus the boomers. We boomers must really learn that life is about quality, not quantity, and that sucking in the resources of the planet to extend our lives by another quarter-year really isn't the most equitable use of resources. Frankly, we need to start dying in larger numbers. Then X and Y can have our stuff whilst they're young enough to enjoy it. 

There will be destruction and disorder; our traditions, our honour, our kinships will be thrown down as much as our churches and our council halls. We must rebuild. We must make an alliance between the generations that uses the strength of the young and the wisdom of the old together to build anew our communities and culture. 

Over Christmas a memory has returned of something I've forgotten for forty years - the late-night service of Compline we used to celebrate in the school chapel. It's always been my favourite text in the breviary (well, the pre-1974 version, anyway) not least because my Latin at the time was good enough to realise that 

Hostémque nostrum cómprime,
Ne polluántur córpora

Didn't quite mean the same as the sanitised version sung by the monks;
Our ghostly enemy restrain,
Lest ought of sin our bodies stain.

But mainly I loved the line "Brethren, be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour".

And if I've any advice to impart for 2012, that's it. 

Thursday, 29 December 2011

The State fails, so the people pay

Shifting the responsibility for licensing pubs and clubs from magistrates to the State has been the most colossal failure. Magistrates had a fair degree of discretion as befits those to whom we devolve such powers and although a licensing refusal could be appealed it rarely was; once the bench had decided that a landlord or landlady was no longer a fit person to hold a licence, then time was up. The State's petty functionaries could be allowed no such discretion, and licensing decisions based on a tick-list designed to ensure that Moldovan lesbians were treated equally have given us instead High Streets clogged with half-clothed drunks as they spill from places the old magistrates bench would never have permitted.  

But rather than admit defeat and retreat the limit of the central State, the government in a move so incomprehensible it must be genius has decided that this 'binge drinking' nuisance will be best solved by imposing a minimum alcohol price on supermarket wine. "Yes, I admit that it hasn't worked and that we've got it wrong. But by leaving it as it is and charging you an additional £700m in tax instead will at least ensure our chums in Diageo continue to do well even if it cripples the micro-brewery in your village" 

It stinks like rotten Mackerel. 

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Shoplifter's Charter

The post-Christmas sales on Oxford Street are traditionally the time when the 'bridge and ferry' gangs of South London catch up on their shoplifting. They have several factors in their advantage;
1. Going 'possed up' means the one or two security guards on duty are much less likely to detain you, and that the detainee can be freed by force if required
2. The huge crowds provide good cover, especially if six or eight of you hit a store at the same time
3. Security guards aren't heroes. They know you carry knives, and they know their hi-vis vests aren't made of Kevlar.
4. Most police are still on leave, and those on duty won't even respond to a shoplifting incident
5. Even the kind of legitimate shoppers who use the same shops you target are unlikely to be from that cohort of society who will intervene to stop you. 
I've no idea how much stock Oxford Street loses to shoplifters at this time of year (Bill Quango might know) but clearly it's still profitable. And Oh yes, there's a point number six;
6. Don't target the same shop at the same time as a rival shoplifting gang ...

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The town of two Christmasses

As 'banned' commented on a map of the Austro-Hungarian Empire I used to illustrate a post a couple of weeks ago "They've missed out Trans Carpathian Ruthenia. They always do that". 

It's hardly surprising. This tiny Statelet has a population that speaks four different languages, descended from fourteen distinct ethnic groups including Bogomil, Lemko, Slovak, Hutsul, Romani and Rusyn. It's spent so much of its history being owned by someone else that the canny Carpathian-Ruthenians have given up completely on the idea of independence, only seeking a certain degree of internal autonomy from whichever State at the time happens to be ruling them. At times they've even tried to hedge their bets, as in the 1920s, when they fought equally for both the Communist and anti-Communist armies around them. 

The capital is Ushorad, or Uzhhorod, Uzhgorod, Unhvar, Ongvar or Ingver. They've never really decided. They don't get much mail, being connected only by rail to the nearest noteworthy place, Chop. The city has an airport of international size, but with only one terminal and flights to just two destinations, Kiev and Budapest. But more importantly, they have two cathedrals, orthodox and Catholic, and a religious identity utterly ambivalent between the two. Thus the people of this town of Trans Carpathian Ruthenia will all celebrate Christmas twice this year, once on 25th December and once on 7th January. And such is the delicate diplomacy of maintaining such a fissured cultural identity, they all seem happy to celebrate both, whatever their personal faith. 

The snow is lying in Uzhhorad now, deep and crisp and even. Aunt Olga and Aunt Natasha are making their way across for first Christmas with gifts of knitted foot-cloths, whilst Aunt Irina and Aunt Julietta are still knitting their nose-scarves for second Christmas. All is quiet at  Uzhhorad  International Airport, the last flight having left last week, but gliding down the approach path can be heard the sound of faint bells and the glow of a ruby-nose light .....

Have a fastastic Christmas all.  

Friday, 23 December 2011

History is too important to be left to the Political Class

In a naked attempt to appeal to Metropolitan France's million voters of Armenian descent, Sarkozy is introducing a law making it illegal to deny the Armenian 'genocide'. As a result, Turkey is enraged and history is distorted. One man's genocide is another man's pogrom or massacre or internecion. It's as if Ed Balls proposed making it a crime in the UK to deny that the potato famine was a deliberate attempt at destroying the Irish. And if that, then why not the Indian famine of 1897 - 1900, when millions died as we did nothing? Of course man alone is rarely solely responsible for the scale of the greatest depridations. El Nino caused the conditions for the Indian famine, an oomycete blighted Ireland's potatoes, and Typhus, Cholera and Diptheria always claimed more victims of displacement than murder and rapine. But scholarship, balance and academic honesty have little place in the minds of politicians, crude creatures of deception and trickery that they are.

Of course our own cadre of school leavers and graduates will be unable to take part in this debate, history teaching in England for the last decade or so having been restricted to the Romans, Slavery and the Third Reich. If It's not Hitler, Hannibal or the Hottentots they won't have heard of it. But as the current spat between  France and Turkey shows, it's desperately important to understand your history. Our children should be given the opportunity to understand ours.  

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Consumption or investment?

The Speccie offers a provoking thought on why 'starving the beast' (lower tax rates) has not led to smaller government in the US; the government simply resorts to borrowing against the future. Now, it suggests, "Requiring the American people to actually pay for all of the government they receive is, as Niskanen and others have convincingly argued, the most effective way to limit its growth". 

This may be fair enough as far as government services that are consumed as soon as they are produced are concerned - policing, teaching and so on - but what about government investment? Should the costs of a new school with a 60 year life be charged wholly to taxpayers during the two years it takes to build? Should the government undertake investment at all, or leave this to the market and rent the school, so that all spending is consumption? And what of R&D at Aldermaston and GCHQ that will benefit this nation ten years hence? 'Serve the check' may seem a simple and attractive mantra for we anti-Statists, but I fear it's hardly as simple as that.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Monbiot rant

A vintage piece of Monbiot polemic in the Guardian today damns libertarianism;
Modern libertarianism is the disguise adopted by those who wish to exploit without restraint. It pretends that only the state intrudes on our liberties. It ignores the role of banks, corporations and the rich in making us less free. It denies the need for the state to curb them in order to protect the freedoms of weaker people. This bastardised, one-eyed philosophy is a con trick, whose promoters attempt to wrongfoot justice by pitching it against liberty. By this means they have turned "freedom" into an instrument of oppression.
To a point, Lord Copper. Monbiot names the TPA, the Adam Smith Institute, the IEA and Policy Exchange as leading a libertarian movement that robs the freedoms of the masses, accuses libertarians of being in bed with the big corporates, and imagines that a Big State will curb them. What trite nonsense. We've had a Big State since 1979, and since then the corporates have enjoyed an unprecedented period of growth in complete synergy with government; nothing could be more antipathetic to libertarianism than the oligopolistic corporates that smother free market capitalism, yet government over-regulation skews the advantage in favour of the corporates who can devote entire departments to complying with regulation and against SMEs and mom-and-pop businesses for whom it's an often unsustainable burden. Central Statism and Corporatism are bedfellows. 

The protection of the freedoms of the weak has never been on the agenda of a Big State that has consistently sought to destroy and disempower the horizontal ties of self-help, mutual support, local institutions, the family and community. It's the State that destroyed the Friendly and Provident Societies and mutual insurance by the weak, and a State fearful of the independence of the working class as an alliance of the weak that has systematically destroyed every authentic grass-roots working class movement in the country. Freedom comes through Burke's 'little platoons' , not an authoritarian Rousseau-esque central State that seeks to abolish all ties of blood and belonging in favour of a direct relationship between the State and every powerless individual. 

George, the Leviathan State is not good, is not benign. And as for Clare's Elm, no farmer ever denuded the land as much as a wartime State rapacious for timber for trench props and shell boxes and armed with the power to requisition and destroy without recourse.   

Monday, 19 December 2011

The Death of the Euro part 17

The death of the Euro could have been orchestrated by Puccini. In La Boheme, a tubercular young seamstress named Mimi dies - but her death is necessarily prolonged whilst Musetta, Schaunard and Rodolfo sing some songs. The poor ex-soprano spends a long time unconscious as the orchestra and voices around her enjoy themselves. No doubt if Angela Merkel had written the libretto, Mimi would then have risen from the sickbed four dress sizes smaller and would have embarked on a vigorous round of cleaning and cooking. 

Today, Jeff Randall in the Telegraph pulls together all the coherent seasonal predictions of the death of the Euro, terming it inevitable. And so it is. But like Mimi, it's taking an awful bloody time to get there. 

Stilton can't market, er, Stilton

For early risers, this lovely little scoop was claimed by R4's 'Farming Today' this morning. A cheesemaker in the village of Stilton is actually making the traditional cheese of that name - the creamy blue-veined Goddess of British cheese, best taken in scoops from the round with a white Port, to my mind - but cannot market it because the name is protected under EU legislation. Some half dozen dairies in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire nabbed the exclusive right to the name by registering it as a PDO; no cheesemakers in the Cambridgeshire village of Stilton were active at the time. 

Contrary to expectations, this isn't going to provoke an anti-EU rant. PDO status is a Godsend to those of us concerned more with substance than name; I can buy a hard grating cheese exactly equivalent to Parmesan for half the price, likewise for fine sparkling wines made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay and second-fermented in bottle but not called Champagne, and air cured ham not called Parma. Now I shall doubtless be able to fill the larder with a fine blue-veined cheese not called Stilton. 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Luvvies in a lather over livers

At a time of crisis, one can always rely on the nation's luvvies to rally around the cause. In response to unimaginable levels of hostility from the perfidious French following Cameron's snub, a green-room alliance including Joanna Lumley, Ricky Gervaise, Bill Oddie and Roger Moore have launched a boycott of foie gras. With an impending downgrade of French AAA status, you may think a fall in goose-liver exports will hardly register in Bercy as an economic threat, but even this minor trade spat could signal the start of the very last thing we need in Europe - a trade war. 

I urge you therefore to get your order in now for the new year; I commend Thomas Maieli's home-made foie gras terrine, best available in London through French Click (no connection). Foie gras, I am told, helps repair the damage caused to your own liver through festive good cheer, and thus can be almost classed as a medicine. Though one to be taken in the English, rather than in the French, manner.  

City thieves should have their nostrils slit

On the face of it, there was nothing wrong with the idea of an Endowment Mortgage. Instead of paying off capital directly, you diverted the same monthly sum to buying equities. Over the long term - say two or three full economic cycles - the rise in the values of equities would comfortably pay off the capital sum. Several things went wrong, most of them attributable to the greed of the fund managers. First up was a hefty commission paid to the Estate Agent who arranged the Endowment, then punitive management fees every year, and finally they managed to mis-invest the money in equities and funds that performed significantly worse than the FTSE 100. As a result, they killed-off the Endowment Mortgage. 

Now of course the Observer reveals they've been doing the same to our pension pots. A saver who made contributions of £70,000 between 1994 and 2009 would have seen the entire £46,000 profit in the rise of the FTSE 100 swallowed in fees and charges by the financial sector. The UK financial sector currently makes 3.2% a year out of our investments, most of it fat salaries and bonuses enjoyed by traders and fund managers. 

Frankly, this makes me want to see their nostrils slit with a rusty gutting knife, with ear-cropping for a second offence. 

Friday, 16 December 2011

MPs lobby for a return to peculation, sleaze and corruption

After trying an utterly novel expenses system based on honesty, integrity and transparency for little over a year, MPs are fed up and eager to return to the old ways of peculation, sleaze and corruption. Many younger MPs in particular are complaining that they only entered the House to get rich at the public expense, and the new systems simply don't offer them the opportunity to do so. Labour MP Barry Sheerman in particuar has stirred them up; pointing at the older and longer serving members of the House who grew wealthy and bloated from the public purse, Sheerman asks "Where are your weekend cottages in the New Forest? Where are your 52" plasma televisions? Why, your families even have to buy their own food from your meagre sixty-five kay salary whilst they should all be dining at public expense."

In particular, MPs want to return to a system of almost unlimited expenses with no public accountability whatsoever. "It's outrageous that we should have to account to the hoi polloi for every new canteen of cutlery or new carpet; expenses are private and should go back to being secret" said one. "We are not like ordinary people" said another "and we deserve not only different standards but all the privileges that reflect how special we are". 

The next election is in 2015.  

Thursday, 15 December 2011

A sucker for Tallis

For some weird reason, London is warm and pleasant tonight. After our regularly stressful but organisationally healthy meeting in EC1 I declined the pub and elected for a relaxing walk through the City. A lit church porch and open door prompted the thought for a few minutes of quiet contemplation but my mistake was evident as I sidled quietly into a rear pew. They were rehearsing Tallis.

Tallis has about the same effect on me as Kryptonite to Superman. Ninety seconds of Spem in Alium reduces me to a wet mass of snot and tears, utterly humbled and filled with love for Christ and Man. There's no defence. My response to Tallis is hard-wired. So I thought Uh-oh, and as that first impossibly sweet note hit the baroque piers and spiraled up to the vault my inner heart opened like a blossom to the Sun  and I scrabbled in the Barbour for anything that could be used as a tissue. 

Now it feels like Christmas.


Political union between a wealthy and developed industrial North and a backward and blighted South is nothing new for Europe; the Risorgimento that united the states of the Italian peninsula into the State of Italy in the nineteenth century is an example that lives today. The conventional story has heroes - Cavour, Garibaldi, Victor-Emmanuel - and its villains - the Papacy, the Austrians, Francis II of Sicily - and a valiant struggle after which Italy emerged against the odds as a proud and confidant State. 

Not quite so, it seems. A carrelry of British scholars has for some years been challenging the conventional wisdom. The Mezzogiorno might actually be substantially worse off under an Italian State than it would have been ; the South was always a centre of rebellion against the State, and the fact that 100,000 men, half the Italian army, were needed to put down insurrections in the South in 1864 gives lie to a popular revolution that created the State, that after 1861 fiscal policies and customs duties were designed specifically to subjugate the economy of the south. Sicilian scholars are also contemptuous of the way in which Italian history has been purged, censored and bowdlerised in favour of the 'patriotic uprising' story. 

Any in the Mezzogiorno who were foolish enough to believe that the Lire and fiscal union with the powerful and wealthy north would make them better off were rapidly disillusioned. The lessons of history are before us. Simon Jenkins writes in today's Guardian:
Already governments in Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Italy that sought outside help and austerity in return have been toppled by their electorates. Under the new "treaty" such disciplines will be doubled and trebled, and blamed on one country, Germany. It must be likely that electorates will refuse to submit. Bond markets will seize up, public spending collapse, unemployment and emigration soar and streets descend into chaos. It has already happened in Greece. Pro-treaty Europeans may regard such alarmism as "swivel-eyed". But such passions in European history should never be taken lightly. 
Last week's summit saw a panic rush to political union, offering nothing beyond "more discipline" to alleviate the euro's existing straitjacket. This discipline seems certain to mean political crisis in many European capitals, where economic salvation can lie only in managed default and devaluation. Ever closer union has not brought stability to western Europe, any more than it brought stability to eastern Europe under the Soviets. It is quack constitutionalism.
He forbears to state the obvious - that both the Risorgimento and the Soviet Union achieved stability only with force of arms - are France and Germany prepared to do likewise?

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Perfect knowledge

There's a whole internet-savvy generation that uses the High Street as an opportunity to examine and test goods before returning home to find the best deal in the internet. The poor retailer maintaining expensive frontage and high staffing is increasingly doing so for the benefit of the manufacturers of the goods he stocks. This doesn't apply to time-limited or quality-critical goods such as cheese, fresh meat or flowers as much as for white goods and electronics, but nevertheless the 'imperfect knowledge' that previously gave the High Street a living is fast disappearing. If local retailers can't compete on price, what else can give them competitive advantage?

For the vendors of cheese, fresh meat and flowers the killer is not price but parking. Rapacious councils desperate to rake in every penny are killing their own High Streets with sky high parking charges and the rationing of parking opportunities. Again, what can such retailers do?

This is a hard one for economic libertarians who would generally rather the State didn't intervene to distort markets, but in the case of High Street parking charges one could argue they already were. Also in the case of a planning system that favours the giant corporations (whatever their complaints). 

I'm not sure that Mary Portas has the right answers, but it's the start of a useful debate.  

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

A Very Stupid Plod

H/T the Magistrate

Inspector Fish is a Very Stupid Plod. He now joins Sergeant Smellie and PC Wilie (who arrested a student 'for making a snow phalus' [sic] ) in the Raedwald Hall of Shame. 

Monday, 12 December 2011

Slavonia, Slovenia, Slovakia

Just north of Krakow, as the single-track rail line turns East for the airport, I thought I caught a glimpse of a Vauban fort. Some later searching on Google earth revealed it in all it's pentagonal glory - lunette, caponiers, ravelin, glacis, bastion and sally ports - but Fort Kleparz was not by Vauban, or even 17th century, but built by the Hapsburgs in the 19th. Most of it is derelict and collapsing, but the enterprising Poles have turned the old barracks and magazines into a nightclub.

Central Europe is covered in such things, of course, and many more have fallen into ruin or been robbed of their 4m-thick brick structures to construct surrounding dwellings, only those with some continuing use such as a military stores surviving today. The reason for the position and orientation of the fort is clear from the map of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire below (clicky to make big); it was on the front line with Russia. 

All those ethnic groups that made governing the Empire such a headache for the Hapsburgs haven't gone, of course. Mostly they are now separate nations. Mostly they are either in the EU or want to be. The Hapsburg Empire was no fly-by-night affair; it lasted, more or less, from 1804 to 1917. Economically, the peoples within it did well, with GNP growth exceeding both Britain's and Germany's during the 19th century, free trade within the Empire, the economies of a common security and defence system and a prototype Equal Opportunities policy ahead of its time in reserving civil service posts for quotas of ethnic minorities. 

Norman Stone quotes Albert Sorel in saying that Austria-Hungary had not a government but a diplomatic service that also administered. Within that pithy observation lies the clue as to the Empire's fundamental weakness; that so much energy was spent keeping it together. It was the same for the Soviet Empire in its last few years. And ours. And so will it be for a Republic of Europe, if such a thing ever takes flight (imagine more Howard Hughes' 'Spruce Goose' than a Hercules). And so history circles all again, like a snake biting its tail.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

5 Reasons to be cheerful

If this is the beginning of the end for the UK's membership of the EU, here are 5 reasons to be cheerful and damn the miserable Aunt Sallys on the Guardian who foresee nothing but doom and gloom:-

  1. We get to keep our own seat on the UN Security Council while France has to give hers up to Mr Von Rumpy
  2. Our 200 mile EEZ gives us exclusive rights to the most productive fishing grounds in Europe 
  3. English has 375 million native speakers throughout the world and a further 1.4 billion for whom it's a second language; German has only 90m native speakers and another 90 million for whom it's a second language
  4.  The UK has had 120 Nobel Laureates; Germany, despite her far larger population, has only has 102 and France a beggarly 58
  5. It's been 945 years since we were invaded compared with 70 for anywhere else in Europe
Any others you can think of?

"26 to1; er, 22 to 1 sorry oh it's 18 now, for certain"

As far as exactly what the UK vetoed, or didn't veto, Richard North's latest post offers a clear and succinct analysis. Both he and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard are spot on, though, in their assertion that the complex reality of treaty amendment negotiations has lost out to the way in which events at the Council are being spun. The "26 to 1" meme is being repeated by news organisations throughout Europe with some glee; EU Parliament Chief Jerzy Buzek confirming source-credibility for this by announcing that there was an EU26 agreement to go ahead, but with a few countries needing to consult national Parliaments. "Twenty six versus one. That is a very good result" he said, and that's clearly the line that suits France and Germany, determined to push the UK from restraining their Euro-ambitions. 

However, as EU Observer reports, it's not quite that clear cut. There is no certainty that Ireland, Austria, the Netherlands, Romania and Denmark can be part of a new treaty without Referenda, and given the current right-wing and nationalistic mood across Europe, considerable doubt that their respective Federasts will win the vote. There are additional hurdles to Finland, Latvia and the Czech Republic signing up. Hungary says it was misunderstood. Suddenly those 26 are melting away to 18. Over the next weeks and months we will see the spectacle of the domestic Federasts in each trying to steamroll through domestic opposition, and all this whilst the Euro continues to fail.

For my money, the odds are still on a collapse of the Euro before a new treaty is signed. 

Still, the "26 to 1" meme has touched a national nerve and one can forgive a certain joie amongst those of us who delight in the Guardian's deep mourning. The Englishman's Castle sums the mood up with the 1940 Low cartoon "Very Well, Alone" and others of a military bent tot up the potential Order of Battle (what chance now a shared carrier?). But consider the real potential of the way this might shake-out;  the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland together as a low-regulation, high productivity, outer-Europe, with the  UK (as Coney Island mentioned in previous comments) as a sort of Hong Kong, linking Europe to Asia and the Americas as an even stronger and more powerful financial centre. 

It's worth playing for, isn't it?

Friday, 9 December 2011

Celebrate the Commonwealth

Well, I guess as we haul down those those old EU flags we'll need something to replace them with; no need to look too far, though .....

Euro still headed for collapse

German history has a way of playing itself out like a film loop. When defeat is all but inevitable comes the final counter-attack, the forlorn-hope assault, with everything thrown into the battle. It was so in 1918 and in 1945, and is so today with the proposed treaty of the 23 that will clear the way for a final ditch throwing of liquidity into the Euro markets. After this, despite this, the Euro will collapse. 

The fact is, Britain isn't alone, isn't the maverick outsider that France is painting us as this morning. When the people of the nations of southern Europe and of Ireland realise the extent of loss of sovereignty that their politicians have signed away the fires will flare again. 

Still, it's a marker that we're now into the final phase.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Two minds on museum charging

We were fortunate in having enlightened and dutiful parents and as a consequence there wasn't a holiday that didn't involve a day in South Kensington, Bloomsbury or Kennington. Once in, we couldn't be shifted until closing time, parking Mum near the cafe and checking back every hour or so. Our national museums were vast treasure houses crammed from floor to fourteen-foot ceiling with objects. Not here the solitary Ushabti that languished on the shelf of the Ipswich Museum, but a high Mahogany case crammed with a thousand, classified into Old Kingdom, New Kingdom, Theban Recession, Romano-Graecian and thence by stylistic form and convention. In just one case one learned taxonomy, art history, religious schism and the life-long basis of being able to discriminate. The great museums were all free, of course; intended as philanthropic gifts for the education and enlightenment of the English, a few foreigners being permitted to enter and gasp in wonder at the wealth of our culture. 

From the foregoing you may imagine I'm wholly in favour of maintaining free admission to our museums. Not quite. You see, curatorially  our museums lost their way sometime in the 1980s / 1990s. All these objects, the thinking went, discriminated against the stupid, those who couldn't be bothered to follow up a visit by buying a book or catalogue, or as I did, spending hours in the reference library self-teaching. What the stupid needed, they decided, was interpretation - aimed at a backward twelve year-old. The Mahogany cases packed with Ushabti disappeared to be replaced by a display panel and a single exemplar figure. From now on, the museum would decide what you learned and what objects meant - we were no longer to be allowed the opportunity to do so ourselves. 

And so our great cultural treasure houses hid 95% of their collections away in store and replaced them with graphics panels, video screens and unconvincing mannequins. Worse was to come. Under New Labour, they adopted an attitude of abject apology for cultural hegemony; the museums became a giant apology for slavery, colonialism, European expansionism and for ever thinking that our cultural achievements were superior to those of a naked tribe of goat-keepers scratching in the dirt with sticks. The most sickening and kitsch exemplar of the New Museum came from the National Maritime Museum, with an utterly meretricious little tableau depicting two eighteenth century ladies taking tea at a Pembroke table perched incongruously over a ship's deck grating from which protruded a pleading black hand. Really. It was indescribably awful. 

From that point my commitment to free museums disappeared. They had abandoned academic integrity for politically driven sycophancy; let them then stand or fall without my tax keeping them open. I even found a loophole; if you introduced yourself as a researcher, then the entire treasure-house was open to you on a bespoke basis. Many a blissful afternoon did I spend in the Norman Shaw building at the V&A being brought box after box of prints and drawings I had ordered up from the store, each day being a personally curated exhibition in which I got not only to choose the exhibits but could spend as long as I liked seated at a comfortable desk gazing on each as I held it my hands for as long as I wished, and without a single interpretive label in sight. And it was free. Sometime soon I shall ask the British Museum to produce a few score Ushabti for my personal delectation, and I shall spend a pleasant afternoon arranging them on the desk according the long-remembered taxonomy of my youth. Without a single interpretive label in sight.    

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The sound of Europe disintegrating

Please try to find forty minutes to listen to "Greece - Broken marble, Broken Future" - not sure if it's available on iPlayer after tonight or if you need to wait until Sunday, but this is the sound of Europe disintegrating. 

A postcard from home

I'm in a Christmas mood this year unlike the past few and reminded that amongst the log-fired wonky pubs and bleak brown lanes that make up my home County live some of the weirdest creatives known to man. Any County that can host both Neil Innes and Brian Eno is really something special. As a seasonal treat, here's Innes' 'Accountantsea Shanty' ;

Cameron's bluff called on Europe

Such brave words we've had from the Prime Minister on Europe; not one step further, a real repatriation of powers, a treaty re-negotiation, even the threat of a referendum if the UK doesn't get what its people want. And what audacious mendacity. Not a word of it the truth. It's now clear that Cameron will go along with whatever Sarkozy and Merkel have decided without anything in return for the UK, and will wriggle and dissemble and squirm his way out of any threat of a referendum. 

In this not entirely unexpected betrayal of British interests, Cameron has proven himself responsive not only to pressure from the Franco-German alliance but from the US, which has been leaning heavily on the British government to do nothing that would rock a potential Euro settlement. The UK, it seems, is to pay the price for American financial stability. 

Cameron is a politician very much in the mould of Chamberlain, ever ready to see the grievances of others as justification for appeasement. The Germans were angry about the Versailles settlement, so they must be allowed to recover the Sudentenland, the Rhine, Alsace, Danzig to calm them down; Hitler would become a benign Euro statesman, visiting the King at Windsor, taking tea at Balmoral, and fairies would play at the bottom of the garden. 

Of course it's high time we ditched the Chamberlains and Halifaxes from our government. But this time, there's no Churchill waiting in the wings.  

Monday, 5 December 2011

Bastardy and Crime

The August riots were a God-sent opportunity for the nation's army of Sociologists and Statisticians, who have been seriously under-employed since the government halved the number of fatuous studies commissioned. First on the scene was the Ministry of Justice, with a statistical analysis that showed that 76% of those charged following the riots had a previous conviction, and they were likely to be in receipt of Free School meals or benefits, were more likely to have had special educational needs and be absent from school. 

Next up was the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel, a brand new Quango set up by Nick Clegg to report on the riots. In a weasel conclusion, they announced that  "Lack of confidence in the police response to the initial riots encouraged people to test reactions in other areas." or in other words when it was clear that the rioters were getting away with it, others were encouraged to join in. 

And now the Guardian's joint study with the LSE has been published, and reveals that most rioting was opportunistic, a chance to steal and get away with it, that activity was orchestrated via Blackberry Messenger, and that many of the rioters disliked the police. With 76% of them at the time being convicted criminals, you may think their last prejudice a not unreasonable one. 

There is one question that no-one has asked of the rioters so far to my knowledge; "did you grow up with your biological father?" You see, I think I know the answer to this already - that an overwhelming majority of them will be growing up or have grown up with an absent father - but it would be nice to see the figures. 

Sunday, 4 December 2011

BBC pensions - It's what we do

For anyone who joined the BBC before 1996, the Television Tax provides a generous pension:
Example Retires at 55 after 30 years service on final salary of £60,000
30/60ths x £60,000 = £30,000 at age 60
4% reduction for early retirement at 55
You get £28,800 a year
After decades of overmanning, gold-plating, empire-building and staggering inefficiency, the vast bloated Soviet bureaucracy that is our national broadcaster has accumulated a terrifying pension liability on the most generous of terms - with some 17,000 staff in the pipeline entitled to this 'old' pension. The pension fund is forecast to be £2bn - £3bn short. With a freeze on the TV Tax and a falling payroll, the ability of current staff to pay for previous staff diminishes alarmingly. In fairness, they can't apply cuts retrospectively. Thus it's looking more and more likely that these obligations can only be met by diverting broadcasting budgets.

It may be that the only longer term option is to form a vehicle to inherit all the pension liabilities of the BBC, and sell-off most of the rest of the broadcaster to the commercial sector, retaining only World Service radio and News 24 / Parliament TV, to boost the pension fund.   

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Europe trades freedom for comfort

Domestic peace and union were the natural consequences of the moderate and comprehensive policy embraced by the Romans. If we turn our eyes towards the monarchies of Asia, we shall behold despotism in the centre, and weakness in the extremities; the collection of the revenue, or the administration of justice, enforced by the presence of an army; hostile barbarians established in the heart of the country, hereditary satraps usurping the dominion of the provinces, and subjects inclined to rebellion, though incapable of freedom. But the obedience of the Roman world was uniform, voluntary, and permanent. The vanquished nations, blended into one great people, resigned the hope, nay, even the wish, of resuming their independence, and scarcely considered their own existence as distinct from the existence of Rome. (Gibbon, Chapter II)

These first Europeans as a result became soft; avoiding military service, they relied on foreign mercenaries to defend the Empire. Immured in the comfort of trade and modest prosperity they were content to put aside local allegiances and bonds of culture and nation, prepared to unlearn the ancient legends that defined them as separate and distinct peoples, and in the process lost the clarion that would rally them together in their defence. They burned their colours as symbols of superstition. Their identity was further diluted by mass immigration, as every aspirational would-be came to claim a share of the wealth and comfort;

A perpetual stream of strangers and provincials flowed into the capacious bosom of Rome. Whatever was strange or odious, whoever was guilty or suspected, might hope, in the obscurity of that immense capital, to elude the vigilance of the law (Gibbon, Chapter XV)

As a result, Rome fell not after brutal conquest, not after some epochian battle, but with a gentle shove at the border barrier by the barbarians. It was an uncontested walkover. And Europe plunged into its first dark age.  

Next week, much of Europe is set to surrender its sovereignty and democratic freedom in exchange for the mess of pottage that is technocratic rule from Brussels. The prospect of financial hardship has frightened them in a way the unimagined prospect of democratic non-being has not. Comfort has triumphed free will. As slaves they will be fed, housed and cared for, more or less, whereas as free men they would have to fight, struggle and face failure and destitution. There are also many on our Island who would embrace the comfort of slavery over the hardship and uncertainty of freedom. For the sake of our descendants, and in obligation to those our ancestors who have shed a thousand years of blood in defence of our realm, they must not prevail.

Friday, 2 December 2011

EURO going, going ....

Another day, and the Euro will become even more endangered. "In 30 years, I've never heard such talk from a bank chief" quotes the Mail, as the Bank advises us all to take cover as the imminent end of the Euro approaches. Meanwhile, in the Brussels bunker, Von Rumple calls on non-existent divisions and corps to move to his aid, but all he's got defending the Eurocapital are a few insane boys and some decimated BB rated banks. The Reich gold is in the alpine redoubt, as Generalfeldmarshall  Merkel prepares for the Fifth Reich, jealously guarding the wealth that will back the new NordReich Eurozone from the ruins of the Berlaymont.. 

It's time to let the Eurobanks fall as they will. Apart from the banks, firms are strong and cash-rich and asset-rich; these will not diminish as the banks crash, and will enjoy a bounce and a recovery in share values once the drag of the bankrupt Euro financial sector is removed from the markets. 

We're not going to move on out of recession without this major catharsis. It will be a huge hammer blow, but suddenly the chains and shackles will have been shattered and fall away, and the economy will rise. C'mon. let's get it done. 

Thursday, 1 December 2011

RIP King Leka I

RIP Leka Zog, Son of King Zog the First, who didn't rule as Leka I. His son, born in 1982, also won't rule under the title Leka II. The House of Zogu goes on.  

Ford, British Leyland and Fleet St Print Chapels

The 1975 Employment Protection Act obliged employers to allow paid employees time-off to carry out Trade Union duties. This actually just recognised and enshrined in law the position then obtaining at the vast Midlands auto plants, and in Fleet Street, where the papers paid 'protection' money to the print chapels that included many TU officials drawing full wage packets without doing a stroke of work. 

Folk forget it was the much-despised Murdoch who broke the back of these practices when he moved NI to Wapping. The car plants just became insolvent and disappeared. The law is an anachronistic little bit of Socialist legislation way beyond its sell-by date and needs to be quietly scrapped. 

Cameron's announcement yesterday that it was to go in the public sector (and presumably the private sector, too) was just common sense. 

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Government fails to protect Britons

The British people have a pretty highly developed idea of what's fair and what isn't. And it's nowhere near the idea of State-enforced inequality that Brown called 'fairness' and miles away from anything that Blair imagined, if his vacuous thought-process gave any attention to the thing at all. For it was Blair of course and his risible and narcissistic efforts to ingratiate himself with the US administration who signed the UK up to a grossly unequal extradition treaty with the US, intended to tackle terrorism but used in practice to extradite Britons running online betting sites or scamming UK banks. It was also Blair, of course, who signed us up to the European Arrest Warrant, which condemned Britons to automatic extradition on the writ of any semi-literate stubble-chinned Balkan police kapo

If you've accidentally driven away from an Italian filling station not knowing that Benzene theft carries a 12 month prison sentence in Perugia, no defence. If you've photographed a Greek military helicopter, an offence carrying a five year sentence in the home of democracy, no defence. If you've inadvertently received a stolen mobile phone from Poland, no defence. If you've given the gamblers of Arkansas and Kentucky the option of placing dollar bets on the geegees on your UK website, no defence. That ignorance of the law is no defence may be fair enough when it's only the UK's own laws involved; to avoid offending now, Britons have to be aware of the laws of twenty-eight other nations - and they don't even have to leave the UK to break them. And don't imagine that our tradition of free speech is any defence; several Euro nations have laws making it a criminal offence to be rude about their President or politicians, so something I write on this blog today about the Mayor of Transylvania may see me extradited within 90 days.

Cameron's government are in no hurry to remedy any of this, of course. What is antithetical to traditional Conservatism - constraints by foreign powers on the freedom of the British citizen - means nothing to the young Dave and his party HQ cabal. However, the case of Gary McKinnon has galvanised backbenchers into forcing a debate at least. The US-UK agreement may even be subject to change. But the EAW? Don't hold your breath. Implementation is a treaty obligation - and as long as we're ruled from Brussels, Britons are wholly subject to the whims and caprices of the many deeply corrupt and primitive legal systems of those lesser nations beyond the Pale.  

Monday, 28 November 2011

Planning for the collapse of the Euro

The weekend papers carried such a number of articles on a single subject - how the UK is contingency-planning for the collapse of the Euro - that one suspects this was no journalistic coincidence but the result of a quiet piece of Treasury spin. If so, one wonders who it was aimed at - those European Finance Ministries who refuse to recognise the possibility of Euro-collapse, the financial markets, UK business and industry or you and I. But clearly the break up of the Euro is no longer 'unthinkable' in government circles, though it's taken a year of bloggers and commentators united views on the inevitable collapse of the currency to get there. And whichever way you look at it, it will cost the UK something. 

It's the tendency of governments and more importantly of the mandarinate to pursue an economic creed long after its sell-by date that's interesting. Kinnock - in the sole achievement of a lifetime in politics - convinced his party to drop Clause Four on the basis that economic power was no longer about ownership, but about regulation. Only to see the most spectacular failures of regulation in the newly privatised / de-monopolised transport, energy, telecoms, financial and technology sectors. Gordon Brown even took the idea to the point that the nation no longer needed to own Gold, on the basis that it could regulate instead. Don't get me wrong - I never want to see the return of a State telephone service that rations copper lines, and the GDP boost we've enjoyed from the privatisation / liberalisation process has been important - but the wave of popular benefits doesn't include better pension provision or a lower national debt. 

Now of course there's not much left to privatise except one huge gleaming asset - the road network. London's already demonstrated that road pricing can be lucrative; a capital investment of £160m produces a net annual profit of £90m (excluding the massive capital premium a private firm would pay for say a 25 year right to charge). Private Toll roads have a long history in the UK, being nationalised only in 1888. Perhaps it's time to flog off the Motorways? 

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The evil of Pankaj Mishra

You will not have heard of Pankaj Mishra; he is a non-entity, without academic or serious literary credentials, undeserving of fame through his single claim to notoriety - having had an essay published in the Guardian. Niall Ferguson comments that 'it seems to be becoming de rigueur for mediocrities to build their fame on attacking those more successful than them', and this is the root of the matter. Ferguson, who holds a chair at the LSE and a professorship at Harvard, has suggested in his several books, lectures and TV programmes that colonialism was not an unalloyed disaster for the colonised nations. Mishra, unable to refute the point academically, and without the literary ability to do so otherwise in print, has resorted to the last refuge of talentless scoundrels and rogues by accusing Ferguson of racism

By doing so, Mishra places himself intellectually firmly back in sixteenth century Europe amongst a people for whom neither the first or second enlightenments was even on the horizon, and where any departure from orthodoxy, every advance in science, cosmology, engineering or scholarship, could be denounced as 'heresy' and earn the heretic a place at the stake. Mishra is like a Dominican Inquisator, unable to refute or argue the passage of the Earth around the Sun or the impossibility of a literal Genesis, whose sole response is limited to an accusation that Ferguson refuses to accept the given word, that his arguments are unorthodox. But 'racist' is every bit as damning today as 'heretic' was in the sixteenth century, and Ferguson is absolutely correct in not allowing the matter to lie.

Mishra would drag us back to an intellectual dark age in which men of talent and vision would cower afraid of the Inquisitor's knock at the door, an age in which human advance in knowledge and scholarship is suffocated, writers afraid to write, historians fearful of drawing any conclusions contrary to Mishra's blinkered and bigoted orthodoxy. Just as the actions for 'heresy' are now rightly seen as sins against Man, and thus intrinsically evil, so must we now classify the denunciations by these new Inquisators of those they would label 'racist'.      

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Party funding insanity

Sir Christopher Kelly's Committee has consulted comprehensively, deliberated and cogitated, and after all that has gone back to Hayden Phillips' corrupt and anti-democratic party funding proposals like a dog to its vomit. It is a conclusion that defies sanity. The electorate are to be deprived of any choice in the matter, and the three big parties are to be established as fixed and permanent State political parties to carve Westminster up between them evermore. Sinn Fein will get oodles of State cash, UKIP will get none, despite the party now running neck to neck with the Lib Dems in the opinion polls. Even the Speaker - a 'Party' of one MP, according to Kelly - is set to gain £67k of taxpayer's money. 

The only option a voter has to deprive the State parties of cash is to cast a vote for a party that holds no seats in the Commons, like, erm, UKIP. For many voters, a vote against Kelly's corrupt and sleazy proposals will be more important than traditional ballot box loyalty. 

Commentators have suggested that Kelly's proposals are already dead, that the proposed £10k limit on donations has effectively killed the report at birth. Perhaps so. But we shouldn't underestimate the cupidity and vice of our Parliament; MPs could still vote for a much higher donations cap, and keep the State funding proposal intact. Let's see where this goes, but I've said before I'll never consent to compulsory State funding of these private clubs in my name - and that this is the one issue that will propel me onto the barricades. And I'm damn sure I'm not alone.  

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Krakow concluded

In Britain, the rail station coal-yards became car parks at about the time that diesel electrics replaced steam trains. One presumes that space heating for the station buildings was converted at the same time to gas or electric. Not so in Krakow. As Winter approaches, the main station coal-yard is alive with workers reducing a stack of fat tree trunks to uniform split logs. Alongside the wood piles are the huge heaps of coal, in a line from a heap of large, engine-block sized pieces that will need hammer-breaking to heaps of smaller, graded fuel. 

All must be destined to be burned in the station's boilers and stoves over the next few months, and indeed it must have started already, for Krakow is one of the few heated mainline stations I've yet encountered. The entrance atrium, the ticket halls, the waiting rooms, the station restaurant, the shops and lavatories all pleasantly warm. This brings its own problems. I watched a station official exercising a sort of time limit on the elderly destitute, around half of them couples, who sat around on the oak benches of the waiting room as inoffensively as possible, sheltering from the bitter cold outside. A group of four men had reached their time limit; the official clicked over to them and few words were necessary. They picked up their bags and filed out to the square. I guess it was like our short-term parking restrictions; maximum two hours heat with no return within one hour or something similar.   

You can tell a lot about a country by its rail stations. Unlike the shopping malls. Right bang beside Krakow's is the now ubiquitous Euro Mall; the same steel, the same glass curtain walls, the same layout, the same terazzo flooring and the same tenants as the Euro Malls I found in Budapest. It was Carrefour here instead of Match, but the Zaras, the H&M, the Swarovski, the McDonalds and Burger King, the Hackett and the rest were all the standard Euro-tat. I'll bet I can go to Bucharest, Warsaw, Bratislava or Belgrade and find exactly the same. Hugely popular with the locals, of course, but I found it profoundly depressing. I loathe homogeneity. And I'll bet the Mall's security staff won't even let the destitute past the door - my somewhat ragged and travel-battered Barbour came under disapproving scrutiny from a crop-headed blond boy in uniform and for a moment it was touch and go whether I'd get anywhere near the Zara frocks myself. 

I found the bars last night after all. In a district called Kazimierz, between the old walled city and the Vistula. None of them truly old, but many the product of the interior decorator's imagination of what a brown bar should look like. In Winter, they told me, Krakow goes down to the cellars in Kazirmierz as the pavement cafes are disassembled to make place for the Christmas Market now under construction in the old town. The street corner bar, so familiar an adjunct to every residential city block from Zurich to Hamburg via Lille, Brussels and Amsterdam, is unknown here. I know. I walked twenty blocks around the back of the hotel trying to find just one. Instead are plenty of 24hr off-licences with shelves of cheap vodka and great floor stacks of cans. It can't be that Poles are unsociable - they're not - and must be result of some historic quirk. Still, it's a minus point. 

The EU rag was far less apparent here than in Barcelona, Porto or Budapest; I didn't actually spot a single EU flag anywhere, though the Polish Bicolour was everywhere in evidence.  The ghastly EU symbol was confined to something the size of a postcard on a few civic projects obliged to acknowledge funding, but there was no pride or belief in it - in complete contrast to Budapest, which revelled in EU membership as a Labrador revels in cowshit.   

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Darwin and Polish chickens

Krakow is the only Shengen airport I've been to with beautifully messy smallholdings complete with crowing fowl  within 50m of the Arrivals lounge. You come out of the airport onto a farm dirt track and a 200m walk to a rail-halt, a bus shelter on a square of bitmac beside a single rail line, that glories in the name of 'Krakow - Bilice'. There are more chickens here, too, just over the track. These are no ordinary chickens, though - these are Polish chickens.

Poland is bang in the middle of a thousand-year war zone. It's pretty flat, which means armies roll across it with ease, from Mongols going West, the French going East, the Russians going West, the Germans going East and so on. Now, there is nothing that poses a greater danger to Gallus Gallus Domesticus than soldiers. It's an observable fact that as armies advance, the chicken population in the path of the advance shrinks to somewhere close to zero. But perhaps not quite zero; chickens who have learned to roost in minefields, to refrain from vocalising the fact that an egg has been laid, and who can remain hidden and still in very small hard-to-reach places will survive. 

As I watched the flock at lunchtime as I waited for the little thump-thump two-coach Diesel Unit for Krakow, I realised that these birds were at the peak of evolutionary development. They could hear the squeal of tank-tracks at thirty km, smell cordite at twenty miles and recognise military dress instantly. They would have tunnels and escape routes ready, a secret hen network across Poland that would pass them from farm to farm out of the path of invading armies. They were good. They'd survived a thousand years of being chased and eaten by soldiers. I watched the brave little cock erect his blue-black fan of tail feathers at me and saluted in respect. 

I've been in Krakow for four hours now and I can tell that it's small. It also seems to be utterly bereft of the small warm brown bars full of companionable topers that exist everywhere else in Northern Europe; I've just recce'd at speed the entire old city and couldn't find a single one. So I'm back in a Soviet steam heated hotel resting my feet before a further explore tonight. It's about freezing outside, but dry, and the pavements are unforgiving. 

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The political class and corporate class are one

On a day when no one is arguing seriously against the condemnation by the High Pay Commission of the naked corporate greed by the parasitic bloodsuckers who siphon the profits from your savings and pensions to fund their lavish lifestyles, only the Guardian seems to have got it right on the Spanish election. And the preceding paragraph doesn't make me some sort of Trot - I'm still the One-Nation Conservative I always have been. But the biggest threat to my core ideologies, to Adam Smith, laissez-faire capitalism and a Burkean Britain, comes not from the left but from an unholy Statist alliance between the political class and the corporate class. 

And they will fall together. The scrawls of 'Vote Here' on the ATM machines in Spain, and the almost universal cries of 'they don't represent us' and 'they're all the same' are not manifestations of anarcho-trotskyist protest but of the Wisdom of Crowds. 

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Winter of the World

Half the population of Egypt is under 24, and half the population of Syria under 21. Half of the population of Gaza are under 17, and of Yemen 16. In other circumstances, this 'bulge' of a prime working-age cohort entering the labour market would presage economic boom, but outside of the BRIC nations if economies are stagnant and opportunities limited what it produces is a lot of angry young men and a market for assault rifles. Back in February, when the shoots of Spring were stirring, I wrote
What they have in common in their demands is not ideological; this isn't a war of competing ideas. What they want is a bigger say in their nation's conduct, an end to nepotism and corruption and a fairer go at prosperity. Much like our own young people, really. They want the rewards of a globalisation process that depends on the expansion of a global middle-class for economic growth; jobs and salaries, secure homes and consumer goods. The great sadness, and the great threat, is that they've probably missed the boat.

The twenty-first century will be utterly different from the post-war bureaucratic age we've known in the West; what it will bring we simply don't know - there are just too many variables, one can't model chaos. We can be sure that we can't stand immune from the tectonic shifts now in motion, and with no assurance that the tensions now manifest in the Mahgreb won't play themselves out here in the UK. All of which makes it even more urgent that we deal once and for all with the corruption of the political class, the denial of popular democracy by a repressive European Union and its domestic dags, and the growth of a fair and equitable society free of Socialist inequalities, distortions and jobbery.
Of the three objectives I stated for our own polity, the corruption of the political class is as entrenched as ever, with them now proposing to establish themselves as State parties at the taxpayer's expense, the EU is more repressive than ever, rolling nascent democracy into the dirt, and the unfair and unequal grip of Socialist ideology on our nation and society remains untouched. We face entering the Winter of the World with all the evils of Statism still in place, and unless we deal with them, we'll regret it eternally.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Britain is good for Europe

A peaceful, prosperous Europe in which the rule of law prevails has ever been Britain's key foreign policy aim. Europe is a key market for our goods, and key customers of our legitimate financial services (insurance, brokerage, commodities, exchange rather than the buccaneer bankers who have screwed our entire economy) - why wouldn't we want a wealthy and stable Europe? Ever since we traded wool for Burgundy wine we've aimed to maintain a balance of power in Europe; between France and Spain, Germany and Austria, France and Germany, until recently by manipulating a series of bilateral or trilateral treaties but since the EU by playing a powerful broker role under a plenary treaty, always aimed at preventing any one Euro nation getting too powerful. By and large, our influence has been good for Europe. It's encouraging that Handelsblatt as reported in Der Spiegel recognises this; 
But Germans have a better memory than the French of the complicated outsider role played by the Brits and its importance in European history. Would it be prudent to marginalize them and to eschew their weight in foreign policy? And what would Europe's defensive capabilities be without Britain? Without the Brits, would we have the European common market that we have today? And what position would Germany be in if its last closest major partner was the French?
Keeping the Hun Down, Ivan Out and the Septics In has been British foreign policy since 1945 and so far Europe has done pretty well out of it. Let's not shirk now. 

Friday, 18 November 2011

Funeral in Berlin

Cameron is in Berlin today to attend the funeral of his own words. Such brave rhetoric about using the UK's veto to wring fundamental changes out of Europe, the naive hope that the Euro 17 would give way before our shiny-faced boy, even a referendum over treaty changes, perhaps. Nein, Nein, Nein. No veto. No treaty changes for Britain. And no referendum. They won't permit it

Of course it doesn't help that Cameron still comes across as a dilettante playing at politics; gravitas and the mantle of Statesmanship elude him. In opposition to our lightweight, Merkel is about as heavyweight as a Tiger II. And Germany takes this crisis deadly seriously, almost as an existential matter, and is prepared to play as hard and dirty as it takes to win. We're not. The entire German civil service is ideologically committed to a federal EU and every ounce of their talent and commitment is being thrown into this battle. Our own civil service is also at heart pro-EU, and no lights will be burning late in Whitehall to counter German moves. The ammunition they will feed Cameron will be dud. They really don't care - all Cameron needs to do is enough to assuage domestic discontent. Silly words will do.  

Blower in the Telegraph has it about right. The Big Freeze is on.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Smoking in Cars

Like those of the climate change liars, the 'scientific' assertions about cigarette smoke in cars just don't hold water. It's a fact that ambient levels of carcinogens in the air on a Westminster pavement are four times higher than those in a sealed car in which a smoker has just consumed a ciggie. 

I did the numbers in a post back in March HERE

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Why Vickers must happen now

Just occasionally the toxic liabilities hidden by common consent in the depths of the UK banks surface. I'm talking about the $10 trillion of worthless derivatives, of course. As UK banks' direct exposure to Greece was discussed, there didn't seem to be a problem; direct loans of some £1.6bn were outstanding, and at risk. Pfft. Our banks are big enough to swallow that. Then came the 'but' - in addition there were worthless derivatives of some $60bn linked to Greek activities, which a Greek bank failure would expose. Ah, that's different, then. 

Until we insulate the working economy from these liabilities, until the Vickers reforms are implemented, we will all be held liable for these toxic assets. 2019 is far too far away. We need separation by the end of 2012 at the very latest. As the Euro zone disintegrates, as surely it will, so will European banks start to fall and like a Fred West Open Day, the bodies in the cellar will start to surface. The buccaneer banks with their toxic derivatives must be allowed to collapse and go if trade, manufacturing and the real economy, all of which are robust, are to survive. 

Monday, 14 November 2011

Youth unemployment timebomb

Europe's youths aren't working. Youth unemployment in Spain is close to 45%, in Greece 40%, 30% in Ireland and Italy. In the UK some 20% can't find work. Yet modern Europe is a continent based on consumer consumption; the TV ads haven't changed since 2008. A snappy little Fiat, the latest iPad, a DFS sofa, financial products, designer coffee, a home and cat - all dangled as aspirational should-haves to two-thirds of a generation. The workless third are expected to be patient and wait, I guess. 

That last sentence wasn't a throwaway. 30% youth unemployment can mean either that all youths can expect to be employed 2/3rds of the time or that 2/3rds of youths are employed all of the time and 1/3 for none of the time. Surprisingly, Spain, with employers who as a body avoid giving a permanent contract and its obligations to the young, is among the job-sharers; all young people tend to have some work, albeit short-term, with gaps between contracts. The UK is among nations that should be wary of creating the opposite, a cohort of adults who have passed through youth without having ever worked, for here lies a timebomb.

Those who have had work experience, albeit a series of short-term and insecure contracts, will settle into full-time permanent employment as soon as they have the chance. Those who have never had work experience by the time they hit 35 are unlikely ever to work during their working lifespan. This timebomb is the result of well-meaning but actually destructive employment protection measures of the kind promulgated by the Labour Party and the EU.   

Let's ensure we're in the former group; if young people have to share flats (and costs) to even-out short term contracts, if they have to learn to live for twelve months on nine months' earnings (and both short-term tax breaks and better hourly rates would help here) and if they have to take the iPad this year and defer the new Fiat to 2013 this is infinitely better than creating a deadweight cohort of unemployable, unfulfilled and wrecked lives. The more flexible and less secure our youth labour market, the better the long term chances of all our young people. 

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Even 'bad' democratic decisions are better than this

A warm welcome back to Richard North, who has returned to find that commentators all over the place, including in a Telegraph leader, are waking to the fact that our rule by a Rousseau-esque technocracy, an elite Euro Commissary, is a tad anti-democratic. These are people who tell us we must sacrifice democracy and liberty in order to be truly free; who tell us they know best, that they have the solution for a Utopian continent, and that everything they do is for our own good. And neither are they lying. These people really do believe the truth of their 'project', believe that riding roughshod over nations and democracy will somehow produce something universally good, fair and equal for all the peoples of Europe. However, as Janet Daley points out in the Telegraph this morning 
What the architects of the dream, and even those of us who are caught in the backwash, will have to accept is that capitalism is probably incapable of producing enough wealth to cover the cost of limitless “social protection” programmes as well as providing uniform levels of prosperity for all working and non-working citizens.
It's all about trust, and the Euro-elite simply don't trust voters to make the 'right' decisions. They're blind to the greater truth, that even 'bad' decisions made democratically are better than 'good' decisions made by a dictatorship. 

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The £1.47 security-tagged Chop

Last year for the first time the local supermarket started tagging roasting joints, which at the time I found extraordinary. Well, it seems meat theft has reached endemic proportions; everything now bar mince and sausages now bears a security tag that must be de-activated at the till. Including the £1.47 chop for last night's supper. 

And overnight the parking meter some ten metres from my front door was 'done'. And I didn't hear a thing. Oh well, off to the station. And just hope they haven't stolen the copper signal cables again this morning. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Either the Hun shits gold or France is next

Maybe Spain, maybe France. But until the constipated Hun shits out gold, the Euro-rot won't stop.

Time to lynch the clown

Italy has something of a history of being led by posturing clowns, or at least by corrupt and evil men who hid their vice under a mask of clownish buffoonery. Yes, the priapic Berlusconi was such a one, as was the absurd Mussolini, but also Andreotti, a Mafia stooge convicted of murdering a journalist and Craxi, mired in graft and corruption, within the recent past. Some had a jackdaw-like compulsion for geegaws, like Francesco Cossiga, who scrounged sovereign orders from just about every State on Earth, including our own Bath, to the point where his entire torso from neck to groin was not big enough to wear them all. None have failed to provide the average Englishman with an innate sense of moral superiority and greater worth.

Hatfield Girl has remarked that the wealth ghettos are intact; the streets are filled with gleaming new cars, the women are beautiful in their Autumn fashion, the restaurants are full, the sparkling shop windows bursting with actinic lamp glare and expensive goods. In fact just as I report the state of the City here - just the same. In fact what we're both seeing is the financial crisis itself, in which financial sector profits have been privatised but losses nationalised. We're looking at the privatised gains and not the socialised pains. 

No doubt Berlusconi will manage to avoid jail, like Andreotti before him. Perhaps he is already suffering from Saunders' Syndrome, an Alzheimer's-like condition brought on by judicial proceedings. Italians haven't used the Gadaffi  solution since Benito and Clara were hung upside-down like rabbits in the game larder. 

Monday, 7 November 2011

Coal, the greenest fuel

The insane obsession with both wind and solar PV technologies, both hugely expensive and producing tiny yields of power, ignores the greenest technology of all, one for which we have massive existing reserves, and one that can be developed locally at relatively low cost - coal pyrolysis. Simply, this is heating coal without allowing it to burn, and capturing both the volatiles given off and the hard waste remaining. One of the UK's last coal pyrolysis plants, at Carrickfergus, is shown below. Even non-engineers can see how simple it is. 

About half of the gas output is Hydrogen and 35% Methane. Hydrogen is the real vehicle fuel of the future, and Methane can go straight to existing domestic supplies. Carbon monoxide is also produced; this can be hydrolised with Hydrogen to make Methanol, used to produce biodiesel. By-products include coke and coal tar. Coke can be burned as a smokeless fuel in domestic fireplaces, and coal tar can be further distilled to provide a range of useful products. There are small amounts of Sulphur (Sulphuric acid for batteries) and Ammonia (fertilisers and explosives) produced. Pretty much everything can be used.

Coal. The greenest energy source.