Friday, 30 July 2010

Markets, Media Bias and Leftish Mythologising.

Douglas Carswell and Dan Hannan have both complained of unthinking media bias in recent days, usually when BBC researchers are clearly looking for, as Mr Carswell puts it, "mr Angry Right-Winger". They are unable to accept that a libertarian may be happy with the coalition BECAUSE of the influence of the liberal democrats. That 'right-wing' does not nessesarily mean lack of concern for the poor, or cheerleading for big business. Indeed it is the smug assumptions about 'the right' which go unchallenged by the BBC, even as the Left propose redistributionist policies which act as a boot on the face of the poor, which drives right-wing hostility to aunty Beeb.

The biggest cheer at the 2009 Tory conference was Cameron talking about "taking the poor out of income tax". This was reported as though Tory activists hadn't been demanding this for years. Indeed this was taken as evidence of how much the Tory party had "changed". Whereas if you'd made this call at any point in the last 30 years, the reaction would have been the same.

The Tories may not be a party of the poor, but as Thatcher's record of the greatest transfer of wealth and power from state to low-income individuals through council house sales, and Iain Duncan-Smith's well thought out and consistent policies on Tax n' Benefits show, we do try to be a party FOR the poor. Labour's record in office is one of stagnating social mobility BECAUSE of their emphasis on redistribution and lack of concern for the incentives they build into the system. Their egalitarian education policies removed a ladder for bright kids from poor backgrounds, either Grammar schools or assisted places, because of spite and dogma rather than a view to what works. Thier opposition to the Tory Free Schools is based on ludicrous and dogmatic ideas of a one-size-fits all policy dictated to the classroom all the way from westminster. They cannot see that in order to raise standards, the tight grip of (whatever the department for education is called this week's proxies: The) Local Education Authorities, needs to relax and parents need to be the ones setting teacher's priorities.

On a more prosaic level, the debates I've had with North Briton 45, both in blog form and on Twitter demonstrate that most lefties, like the BBC assume as set of opinions and policies supported by people they deem as "right-wing". This is a "slavish" devotion to something they call "the market" and a savage lack of concern for the poor. No matter how much you try to educate or inform them on the principles of incentives in the market, they still believe that only the state can provide "fair" services. No matter how often you point to the highly selective education systems of Germany, or the Largely privatised systems of New Zealand or Sweden, they still seem to believe that policies espoused by the right are motivated by malice. The best healthcare systems are mixed finance, and never state-run. They ignore the fact that state finance around the world, is best directed by the consumer through a market. The left are unmoved by statistics that today's "egalitarian" NHS and education system has resulted in one of the most divided societies in the developed world, as House-prices in school catchement areas and heart-disease survival rates divide rich from poor far more effectively than a properly functioning market in education and health services, as exists in those divided, class-ridden hell-holes, New Zealand and Sweden.

This is not just prevalent when talking about politics. I have done 7 or 8 media interviews over the last few days, mainly about the results of the 2 British-listed oil multinationals, Royal Dutch Shell, and BP and mainly on the BBC. The focus is ALWAYS on director's pay, and who's to blame for a disaster. Never was there any amazement that BP was able to mobilise the world's second largest navy to clean up the spill, and it would have been bigger and more effective had Obama the guts to suspend the Jones act. Surprise is always expressed when I point out that St. Barack of O'Bama therfore bears some blame for Oil reaching the Louisiana coast, and state agencies have admitted they got in the way of BP's cleanup effort. Shell and BP gets a grilling for forecourt prices even though they make a loss that far downstream. Every 6 months, Centrica gets a grilling for having the termerity to make a profit, "at the expense of you and me", even if retail Gas margins fall.

You see it's another leftist myth: linked to the idea that right-wingers are selfish and evil, that profit (and indeed directors pay) represents the difference between what you do and what you should pay for a service. It is not seen as the result of delivering a service more efficiently against competing providers, nor is it seen as a reward for the work done in moving, for example, gas from a place of low value: bulk storage, to a place of high value: your boiler. The leftist myth is that profit is a result of "exploitation" by people. Trade, in this view is only of benefit to the vendor, and the profit motive distorts incentives, requiring state intervention to ensure "fairness". This is the fallacy of mercantilism, and it was demonstrated to be idiocy by Adam Smith 234 years ago. But the left, especially in Britain sticks to the old dogmatic, aristocratic distain for "trade".

It's a coherent, but diseased set of opinions which sees exploitation in every free exchange. Tesco "exploits" its customers with cheap booze loss-leaders, and farmers with low prices, and despoils high streets, when it does so by offering food cheaply and conveniently to consumers, who eschew the Butcher and Baker and flock to the supermarket clutching thier hemp bags to carry their conciences. Centrica exploits people in "fuel poverty", Vodafone "exploits" people with cross border tarriffs. It's nonsense. Businesses have to make money, and if something's regulated, like retail banking, then money is made where it's not. Thus because no-one pays fees for banking services, fines are levied on those struggling. Wherever government steps in (natural monopolies like utilites aside) and regulates too closely, you get warped incentives and someone (probably not the wealthy) suffers.

On any measure of economic freedom (not the same as tax-rates), the freer you are the richer.

Trade, the free market, whatever you want to call it, is the best, most responsive and fairest way to deliver any service. Sure if you want the poor to participate, give vouchers, give state subsidies, or even better make everyone free do do what they will with a citizen's basic income, but deliver the services through a market, and leave it well alone. Glory in the simple observation that a million people acting in their own interests will create a system fairer and less intrusive than that created by bureaucrats who only serve their own ends. Celebrate the fact that silk stockings, cars, Healthcare and TVs are within reach of everyone in society: in a planned economy only the planners have access to such luxuries.

It is not state action that created the internet for example but millions of users who took something conceived for academics, soldiers and spies and made it the most powerful force in economics and politics. Had bureaucrats been running that, it wouldn't even be rolled out to every university. Where Labour and the British left have failed, is in their support for the bureaucratic and producer interest; at the expense of the market, which puts consumers in the driving seat. The British left has taken a dogmatic position that the man in whitehall knows best, and that profit is the great distorting evil. Argue for an activist state if you like, who funds services is open to debate. But if the left wants to be relevant, it needs to accept that Markets are better than Bureaucrats at delivering everything from Silk stockings to Healthcare. There are no exceptions to this rule. If you could tell the BBC this, that too would help.

So in short, I am open to argument that the state should FUND services. I am not open to argument that the state should have much of a role in delivery. Because states are incompetent, and bureaucrats are self-serving obstructive cunts.

So. NorthBriton45, and trots everywhere from Bob Piper, to Terry Kelly, if you want to tell me why free exchange in a market of competing services won't work for education and health as they do in ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING ELSE (and I will rule offside any use of the word 'fair' it means all things to all people). You will need to explain why our current system isn't as disadvantageous to the poor as the statistics suggest; and why Gove's school plans or any future breakup of the NHS into a system of competing mixed financed, but privately run providers, won't work. And you'll have therefore to explain why the Health and education systems of Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, France, and Germany are awful compared to ours.

Good luck.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Britblog Roundup #277

Is up over at Mr Eugenides' place. There's 2 weeks of great stuff, so go an have a look.

Monday, 26 July 2010

I Want A Pub, not a Drinking Barn.

Regular commenter and all-round socialist nutcase, NorthBriton45 has written a post with which, broadly I agree. I feel soiled and might have to go and lie down. Of course he has a broad and deep knowledge of pubs as befits a man in his profession, and this expert knowledge of the watering holes of the west end shows.

As he's a socialist there's an inevitable turd on the lawn, in the form of a call for Government action, inevitable in a post lamenting a failure of the one piece of New Lab legislation I agreed with. He's arguing in favour of minimum pricing, though only against supermarkets - why should responsible drinkers not benefit from supermarket loss leaders? But his comments on the way noisy drinking barns have been able to benefit from late licenses when responsible pubs without loud music have been denied them are absolutely spot on.

Knickers in a Twist

Late last year, an unfortunate 20-year old teaching assistant, Sarah Lyons was pictured with a pair of knickers round her ankles, and became the "face of booze Britain". Though I think the defence that the knickers weren't hers (they were given away in a drinks promotion) raises more questions to the tabloid mind than just shutting up, the defence that she wasn't drunk is, however, important.

Here was a girl just joining in the fun, only to have a snapper splash her across tomorrows papers without so much as a by your leave. Anyone can be snapped pretending, playing, dancing and in that moment, you can depending on your facial expression for an instant, appear violent, drunk, aggressive, slutty, whatever. The truth may be very different. The camera can, and does, lie regularly. What's more the, widespread publicity has genuine and serious effects on individuals. In Ms Lyon's case, she was suspended from her teaching job. No-one seems interested enough to find out whether she lost it in the end to publish a news story about it.

What's worse is that some people who should know better think that this is reasonable. "How can she set an example to the kids?" they bleat, "when you've made an exhibition of yourself. The children will never respect you". Well if you cannot laugh off such tabloid nonsense with a lesson on the third estate's power, then you shouldn't be a teacher. And if a blameless 20-year old gets caught doing nothing illegal, dangerous or even immoral by the press, a Head Teacher should show some leadership and loyalty to staff and stand by the poor girl, giving a lesson in the right thing to do. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

This isn't about moral decline. Tacitus thought we were a bunch of piss-heads who liked fighting. Hogarth, 2,000 years later depicted depraved Gin lane next to the virtuous Beer alley. Booze is part of the fabric of national life. Everyone from the lowliest Cardiff teaching assistant to the most exalted New Labour panjandrum or Bishop of the church of England uses booze as an excuse. Posh Students get pissed and act up:

every bit as much as the boy from the sink comprehensive. Nothing has changed since the Roman Invasion: booze is the one thing that unites this nation.

What's changed is the ease with which images are captured and disseminated. The length of time they hang around on the Internet and the damage they can do. Because anyone Googling "Sarah Lyons" will get that image. And anyone Googling "Knicker Girl" will return Sarah Lyons. I'm lucky. I have this blog, and a twitter account, some sports results and the Cambridge mind-games Olympiad and an article In the Wall st Journal, should you google my name. Though Student Jackart + Alcohol = nudity, I have yet to have my image splashed across the Sun, mainly because I am not an attractive 20-something girl and facebook didn't exist when I was an undergraduate. Men are titillated by a pretty girl, apparently with her panties off, and women judge other women and love to purse their lips about them. It's what they do. So I get away with mooning in the street. And Ms Lyons gets the order of the boot from her job.

And of course this brings to mind the most staggering hypocrisy: Women are judged harsher than men, and the poor and disadvantaged are judged more harshly than the rich and privileged, who don't, by and large get ASBOS. My favourite drinking song, It's the same the whole world over, makes this very point.

It's the same the whole world over,
It's the poor that get the blame,
It's the rich that get the pleasure,
Ain't it all a bloody shame.

And, Feminzazis, don't try to pretend that we men are to blame for this hypocrisy. Most men, apart from pant-wetting hypocrites like Quentin Letts, like sluts (though I am not suggesting that the blameless Ms Lyons is one). Other women are the ones who do the judging. It's not men who think that women are "asking for it" because of a short skirt or a glimpse of tit, It's women. Female jurors are far more likely to let an accused rapist off because some women hate other women. Most men are taught from an early age that "no means no" and would happily lock a rapist up for life and cut off his balls while we're at it. Rape and rapists disgust men. Many Women seem to blame the victim. Look at the Daily Mail where the savage misogyny of women is most apparent, where rape is barely reported apart from women who made it all up. Look at the magazines like 'closer' and 'heat' for whom women are too fat/thin and therefore disgusting; or too promiscuous/frigid and therefore deserving of public humiliation. Men wouldn't be seen dead reading that drivel. Women, you see, hate each other and keep each other down with jealous, prurient and spiteful judgementalism.

So girls. Don't wear a party dress in town and get out of a taxi. Don't attract male attention with a flash of cleavage or thigh. Remember at all times your sexuality, and your body is public property. Don't have a few drinks with the girls and have fun. Don't get seen kissing in public. Don't ever get drunk or hang about with people who are, just in case someone sees you and takes a picture and makes you a face of the nation's moral decline. It's for the chiiiiildren, you know.

The Dawn Herald

If anyone feels like helping an author, your comments on the First chapter of Mara's children's book, 'The Dawn Herald' would be much appreciated, especially if you're a CS Lewis or Terry Pratchett fan!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

How to lie with a Graph

One of the irritations of the Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, aside from the new post every 10 minutes clogging up the Reader, is the fact that comments are not allowed. In this instance "chart of the day" demonstrates how to lie with a graph, and I would love to make this comment over there.

This would look VERY different on a logarithmic scale as it shows incomes of an order of magnitude's difference. It starts at the bottom of a boom i n1979 and it stops at the top of a boom in 2007. I wonder what happened between then and now?

Finally of course, who cares how many millions have the top 1%? They've always been mega wealthy. The top 1% is, by its nature self-selecting. The people who were in the top 1% in 1979 may have done extremely badly, and are now only in the top 20% and new players have joined the ultra rich. This is distorted by selection bias not prevalent in larger cohorts.

Comparing a top 1% with the middle 60% is not therefore comparing like with like. A graph showing each of the deciles' incomes over that period would be informative. What would that show? The answer is that you cannot see on this graph, because the scale is of insufficient resolution to answer it, but it appears that the bottom 80% are all going roughly the right way at roughly the same rate. But as charts as dishonest as this one are all you ever see from leftie blogs, then I suspect the 10 lines representing 10 income deciles do not show the picture the inequality-obsessed left want you to see.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Who is David Selbourne?

When I picked up this week's Spectator, you expect a range of interesting, well argued pieces which inform and provoke, by people of note. This week's contained one by a "political philosopher and theorist" called David Selbourne who argues that Britain is a country in steep moral decline. If he is, as Lord Carlile of Berriew described him, "perhaps the leading political philosopher and theorist of our day", then I don't know about the morals, but Britain is certainly a country in intellectual decline.

You expect "lights out, it's time to go" nonsense from the right: we've just endured 13 years of economic lunacy under a spendthrift government which tripled an already oleaginous tax code and heaped more ill thought out regulation on business and inposed a new crime a day on the benighted people of this country; more than any regime in its history. As a result, I made plans for a new life in Gibraltar should Labour have won the election. But to see this opinion from a man of the left surely can be marked as an admission of defeat for the leftist vision?

But that's making a serious point, and I would like to indulge in a bit of ad-hominem first. He's a political philosopher, and clearly thinks in terms of morality. Yet he spends the first few paragraphs demonstrating his profound lack of understanding of economics: "Britain" he says

"has been impoverished by the mismanagement of the National Economy"
that's true,
"the running down of manufacturing"
which is false,
"and the voraciousness of free-market ethics"
which is arguable.

Manufacturing output has not shrunk since the recession of the early 90's in the UK. What he means is that Manufacturing has shrunk as a share of GDP. Well so's agriculture, the sector stupid, visionless people thought was the ultimate root of wealth in the 18th century as people left the land for jobs in factories. The shrinking of manufacturing is a mark of progress. What once took 50 people now takes one and some machines, just as farming used to employ an army of labourers now employs tractors. Quite why hammering things together is seen as noble is a mystery to me, though it is surely the same notion as the Romantics had of the pastoral idyll. Making something you can drop on your foot is not, as common wisdom would have it, any better an economic activity than designing the thing or selling the thing.

So we come to Selbourne's notion of "Free Market Ethics" which he blames for the atomisation of society. This is arguable and I argue that he's as full of shit about the morality of markets as he is of the economics of them. There is nothing moral, or indeed immoral, about a free market. The market is a statistical collection of the decisions of millions of moral agents: you and me. What Selbourne is clearly hankering for is state direction of the economy so that less is directed to paying bankers which are "bad, m'kay" and more is directed to nurses and teachers who are "good, m'kay". However the most cursory glance at the 20th century's bloody history would show that free markets are vastly superior to state direction in every way. Command economies turned themselves into vast prisons rather than let their people escape, and succeeded as in turning a Nation populated by Germans into a poor country. The relative economic performance since the war of Germany, east and west should give you a clue about the utility of state control of the economy - one's a mass-murdering prison with an astronomical suicide rate, and one the most successful economy in Europe. Or if that isn't enough evidence there's North and South Korea, Cuba and Spain (which had similar GDP per capita before the Cuban revolution), and so on. To suggest a market has "ethics", though is facile.

He tries to hide his obvious leftism by pretending to balance.
Moreover the truth about these matters is not in the exclusive possession of either left or right but lies between them: you cannot strengthen "social cohesion" while privatising public institutions which hold civil society together...
...why not? Who owns what is less important than whether it works...
...or by slashing public provision in order to pay for the harms caused to the polity and economy by unbridled private interest.
Which is pure Marxist hatred of any sort of mutual or private provision. It's just as easy to argue, especially now, that excessive public interest in the form of a decade of excessive state spending has damaged the economy more than the private interest.

So let's look at the individual people who make up the market, and here, you'd think Selbourne was on surer ground. However this part of his essay is a long rant about the teaching of History in schools, which went tits-up with the abolition of Grammar schools, a policy a "man of the left" like Selbourne probably supports axiomatically. Indeed the one place you can still have knowledge of Britain's history transmitted to the next generation is the fee-paying sector, whose alumni decorate the higher echelons of the professions, politics and indeed celebrity to a greater extent than at almost any time since education became universal.

As for the idea that the country has "coarsened"; anyone of any sense knows that Aristotle had the same complaint. There is nothing new under the sun.
"The difference between freedom and license has been unlearned"
and to cut a long story short, has led to a profound moral collapse, or so he says and therefore we should find "somewhere happier".

Of course "society" of the great unwashed are always looked down upon by the intellectuals who have always espoused socialism as a way to "improve" the people. The desire to improve has led the Fabians in the past to support euthanasia, condone Gulags and deliberate famines Here, it leads the likes of Selbourne to support policies around welfare and education which have condemned millions to a life rotting on benefits bereft of the skill necessary to secure gainful employment. The majority however still do pretty well, despite the state education system Selbourne describes. This is because people, in all their variety pass on values and knowledge, not just state indoctrination centres Selbourne calls 'schools'.

I, for example, don't care whether one family gets round the TV to watch Big Brother with a plate of Pizza, or whether they eat organic rocket and discuss Proust. Whether you inculcate your offspring with the...
"...talent and stamina carefully to record, and to analyse, the travails of this country in a philosophical spirit..." up to you. Whilst there are people of culture and interest, and the blogosphere will show you most eloquently that there are from all walks of life and it is up to you to seek out their company. By indulging in the free movement of people and the free exchange of ideas, we can each seek out our own interpretation of this most excellent collection of islands.

You see, Selbourne fails to understand what the market is. He expects the society of erudite philosopher kings to be laid at his feet by the benign action of an all-seeing state, but the state, or "Society" whatever that is, cannot deliver that any more than it was able to deliver guns AND butter to the Soviet empire. Your choice of your society - your friends and family is every bit of a market decision as that informing the car you drive or the breakfast you eat. Markets are indeed the only freedom, properly regulated with respect for property rights and trades descriptions where appropriate do not represent
"self-degrading moral and market free-for-all",
but the triumph of freedom of choice. The fact that he bemoans that some people choose not to indulge in philosophical discourse is merely evidence of the universal leftist loathing of the people their dishonest rhetoric seeks to serve.

Now we have a Government which is seeking, however imperfectly, to return power to lower and more organic echelons of decision making, I think there's a hope that freedom from an oppressive state will lead to a renaissance of learning and a "big society". But I don't care, because in my home, and amongst my friends, we don't need a renaissance of learning or of hope and ingenuity. It never went away.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Drug Decriminalisation, again.

Another day, another sensible person in the public eye bravely puts his head above the parapet and says "isn't it time we decriminalised recreational drugs for personal use?" In this instance, it's Chairman of the Bar Council, Nicholas Green QC. I wonder if he's to suffer the same fate as the unfortunate professor Nutt.

A growing body of comparative evidence suggests that decriminalising personal use can have positive consequences. “It can free up huge amounts of police resources, reduce crime and recidivism and improve public health. All this can be achieved without any overall increase in drug usage. If this is so, then it would be rational to follow suit.
In the Telegraph's report, we get the same facile rent-a-quote arguments against this sensible proposal. First up is savagely illiberal Labour crypto-facist and serial Hypocrite, Keith 'I cannot believe I'm still an MP after the shit I've pulled' Vaz, who offered the "message" argument:
I am shocked by the suggestion that drugs should be decriminalised for personal use. The legalisation of drugs would simply create the mistaken impression that these substances are not harmful, when in fact this is far from the truth
There's a law against procuring malfeasance in a public office, Mr Vaz, you corrupt little maggot, and that didn't prevent you accepting a peerage to vote in favour of locking your co-religionists up for 42 days at a time on a Governmental whim, did it? So you're shocked that someone expresses an opinion, mr Vaz? I'm shocked you're not in gaol, fuckwit.

OK, so I'm playing the man, not the ball there, but the law is about setting the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, and the savage penalties for drug use are out of all proportion to the harm they do, especially when compared to Alcohol. The law is not there for public health, and shouldn't seek to protect people from themselves. It should certainly not be used to "send a message", because the law is a powerful, but blunt tool that can bitterly oppress. The law creates victims if overused. It should not be used to express disapproval.

Next up we've got the "slippery-slope" argument from Tory MP James Clappison.
There seems to be a very strong link between recreational drug use, leading to drug addiction leading to crime fuelled by drug addiction. I would have thought the chairman of the Bar Council would have seen that for himself.
How many people have tried Canabis and never tried any other illegal drug? The answer to that question blows the slippery slope argument out of the water. Some 25% of young people enjoy a joint. Fewer than 10% report use of anything else, though the article linked seems to claim that this does show a slippery slope! If that won't wash, try anecdotal evidence: How many people were enthusiastic tokers at University and then don't touch anything else afterwards? The slippery slope argument is facile.

Next up, we've ex-Asda checkout boy and wet-back Tory MP Phillip Davies who offers the "well why don't we legalise crime argument":
It is a ludicrous argument to say let’s legalise drugs to take pressure off the police and the courts. That is an argument to legalise everything.
No it isn't because one chap selling another chap something he wants does not create a victim. Why are we policing something that thousands of people take regularly the vast majority of whom do not cause problems? Why are we prosecuting people for possession of small amounts for personal use, when moderate canabis, extasy or cocaine use causes less problems than Alcohol, which leads to blood and vomit on every high street in Britain every friday night?

MPs shouldn't ask "why should we legalise"? they should ask "why are we banning when we allow people to get pissed". An absurd percentage of the court's time is taken up with "drug-related" offences. Legalising the trade would remove a hugely profitable industry from organised crime, remove profits which are fought over by rival gangs, remove the introduction to criminals by otherwise law-abiding users and allow users to be confident in what they are taking. Legaised drugs would be safer, less harmful, create less crime AND help the exchequer. The Governmnet would have lower enforcement costs (by some billions a year) AND have a revenue stream they could tax.

Inevitably when this subject is covered in the papers we get some Mother who's son (usually it's 'died', but in this case it's merely) developed "severe personality changes" when he started smoking canabis at 14. First, is there any evidence that Canabis causes mental health problems. Yes, but it's not certain that Canabis is worse than Alcohol in this regard. But Post hoc Ergo Propter Hoc - find me a teenager who doesn't develop "severe personality changes"! Of course no-one's going to pretend recreational drugs are good for you. But it is a personal choice. And in this instance, a developing brain is more likely to be kept from dope, were it legal and the trade regulated. This is NOT an argument against decriminalisation, but an appeal to the emotion of the reader.

Every argument against decriminalisation falls down because the assumption is that banning has any effect at all on supply, and a negative effect on demand. It doesn't. If you're in a town in the small hours, illegal drugs are easier to come by than legal alcohol. If you're 14, illegal drugs may be easier to get than booze. There are many pieces of evidence that if you want to reduce USE, especially amonst the young, then legalisation or decriminalisation are the way to go. I've dealt with this in more detail here, but principally it boils down to the fact that the easiest way to sustain a habit is to become a dealer. This leads to a highly efficient pyramid marketing and distribution scheme.

If you want to reduce harm, then safe, legal and regulated drugs are the way to go. If you want to reduce crime, then remove the profits from THE MOST PROFITABLE TRADE THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN from organised crime and give it to businesses which pay tax and produce safe, reliable products. As well as improving the health of the users, This will reduce enforcement costs, which can be redeployed elsewhere, and the create revenue. Much drug related crime is fighting over the profits. Remove the profits, remove the crime.

Anyone who cannot see this is an idiot. Anyone who thinks there's a moral issue here about what should be allowed in the face of these utilitarian arguments is a cunt. It really is that simple.

Friday, 16 July 2010

The Dance of the Dutch Skimmers

For anyone who didn't hear it last night, I was on Radio 4's the World Tonight yesterday, talking about BP, though there's only so much you can get over in 2 minutes!

Right about the time Tony Hayward faced the shakedown from the House Committee, I mentioned the Jones act. This piece of 1920's pork-barrel protectionism was preventing sophisticated Dutch skimmer ships, 4 of them, apparently with sufficient capacity to clean up 146,000 barrels of oil per day (the flow before the well was capped last night was around 50,000 barrels per day, of which about half was being recovered) from dealing with the Macondo spill because they are not US registered vessels with American (unionised) crews.

In addition, American environmental legislation aims to prevent ANY spill of oil, means the best is the enemy of the good. The skimmers are about 97% efficient, which means as they pump sea water back into the ocean there is a trace of oil left in it. This means anyone taking 100 barrels out of the water and putting back in 3 would be guilty of putting 3 barrels of oil into the water and be fined anywhere between $1,000 and $4,300 per barrel.

Both the ridiculous Jones act and the tight environmental protection legislation which is not designed to cope with desasters could have been eased by presidential fiat and these ships could have been skimming oil from the water BEFORE it reached shore, a week after the blow-out preventer failed. Instead we had dither and delay.

Having technology like the Dutch skimmers should also allow us to feel more comfortable about allowing deepwater drilling. If the skimmers work then it greatly lowers the environmental risks from future oil leaks in deep water. One advantage to deepwater wells is they are typically very far from shore, giving a long response time to clean up the problem. There would be no need to have a moratorium on deepwater drilling and having 50,000 people loose their jobs
Of course, it might not have been incompetence. It may have been a political calculation: Obama cannot defy the unions, who like the Jones act; he cannot defy the environmental lobby and suspend some environmental regulations for expediency; and his party's left wing (of which he is a part) wants to end Offshore drilling anyway. This is of no political concern to him: Oil Workers don't tend to vote democrat, and it's all concentrated in red states, so who gives a shit about the red-necks Appalachian-Americans anyway? The deepwater horizon disaster gave the president an opportunity, and in taking it he revealed himself to be the chippy, left-wing union bitch his detractors always thought him to be. Perhaps he sacrificed the louisianna shoreline to create a stick to beat "big oil", and pay off some of his backers.

However 3 days before the well was capped the legal changes were made on the quiet and the Ships are now cleaning up oil. It's a bit late, and smacks of arse-covering.

This isn't over: whilst for the first time in 3 months, there is no oil floating from the sea-floor in the Gulf of Mexico, but BP are still merely testing the well to see if it will leak under pressure should the valve be turned off. There is just a few feet of rock between the bore and the relief wells. There is still much that could go wrong and capping the well now is and remains a risk - the safe option would be to do nothing to jeapordise the releif well operation, and increasing the pressure in the well certainly doesn't help. Should the well-head crumble there would be much more than 25,000 barrels a day of oil going into the sea, and almost nothing BP could do about it until they can kill the well hopefully in 3 week's time.

Of course the economics and politics forced BP to take this calculated risk - $4,300 per barrel (does anyone think BP will get away with anything other than the maximum fine?) and 25,000 barrels per day, that's $107,500,000 per day or a Billion dollars every 9 days in fines alone. With BP's partners Mitsui, Anadarko and Moex refusing to pay their share of the cleanup costs, and Halliburton all being allowed to deny any responsibility; as Transocean continues to pay dividends to its shareholders whilst Exxon lies through its teeth saying "of course we would NEVER have done this that way..." BP shoulders the burden of this spill, not entirely of its own making, alone. And nothing the President has done has served to cap the well quicker or keep the black stuff of the Beaches of Louisiana. For Obama read everyone in American politics who is up for election in November. The US media has been hysterical on the issue, and as a result, every politician in the house, 34 of 100 senators and 36 Govenors are all having a "let's beat up BP" mainly to avoid attack ads "Bob J. Clusterfuck III let BP drill in the Gulf... Don't vote for him". Everyone's just serving his own base politics.

It's about time BP had some luck. I hope the cap works and this is over (except for the cleanup) by August, and I hope American politicians grow up on November 3 and remember the little thing called the rule of Law.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Guess who:

Sir Winston Churchill was a "Drink sodden certin (SIC)" whereas Fidel Castro is "a Giant of history". Yes... you guessed it: It's Wendy Alexander's disgraced election agent and elected representative of the people of Renfrewshire for the Cooperative and Labour party: Councillor Terry Kelly.

I haven't prodded the good Councillor with a stick for a while, and I forgot how much fun it was. Over you go to his site. Have fun.

And it's over to Rothbury where Raoul Moat is Still Dead

I watched about 5 minutes of a 24-hour news channel last night. I occasionally tune into journalist-led shows or discussion programmes, but I find the 24 hour news media facile beyond toleration. I can just about cope with the Today Program and PM on BBC radio 4, because they often have a variety of stories, but they too lose perspective when a "big story" hits. Raoul Moat, like Derrick Bird before was just such an event where perspective is lost.

The story is simple: Man goes mad, gets a piece, and starts shooting.

Beyond the "who" and "where" it doesn't really require much analysis - not the sort that can be done at the time. A 30-minute segment summarising the police investigation after the event would be interesting and informative. While it's still going on, I am not interested in the opinions of Moat's mother's florist, or of someone whose kids attend a Rothbury school, just because the police have not yet released any more information. Yet the media persist in emotion-mongering amongst people who, by and large, are just getting on with their lives. Sure the people of Rothbury had every right to feel slightly nervous with all those armed police about - armed police being more dangerous to unarmed civilians than most psychos. But I am sure that I am not interested in hearing them tell us how they FEEL. No am I particularly interested about the Facebook groups which spring up after the event. This is NOT NEWS it's light entertainment dressed up in a syrupy veneer of morality and cant.

In this instance, the police did a good job though they made a meal of it. Moat was found. It seems that every effort was made to take him alive, but he shot himself. No further members of the public or police were killed or hurt. That should be the story, interesting as it is. It does not need to be dominating the news days later.

I remember the aftermath of the Cumbrian spree killing: A policeman waffling on about how it was a "local community" Derrick Bird had "shattered". Utterly meaningless bollocks. Give us the information and shut up.

The piece which made me turn off last night and vow NEVER to bother with a 24 hour news channel again was about the Gurkha rifles soldiers killed by a rogue ANA soldier they were training. It's a terrible story, and one which demonstrates that the ramp ceremonies won't end with the end of direct British involvement in combat missions. I was interested in the words of the 1RGR's Commanding Officer praising the men, and making the point that even training missions have their risks. Perhaps the ex Gurkha local councillor had a valid opinion in speaking for the 'regimental family'. I wasn't interested in the opinion of the journalist who kept referring to something called the "Gurkha Regiment". I was even less interested in the opinion of the newsagent who ran the shop nearest to the gates of the camp where 1RGR were based.

It's padding. Waffle. It's infantilising. It's stupid. And yes. It's offensive. desist stopping ignoramuses in the street and asking for an opinion on the basis of geographical proximity. Instead seek someone who knows what they are talking about and ask them. But that would require journalism and research the story rather than engage in facile quote-mongering from passers by. But that would never do. It would give a lie to the idea that John Q. Mong who happens to be walking past has an opinion as valid as someone who ACTUALLY KNOWS WHAT THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT and has ACTUALLY THOUGHT ABOUT THE ISSUE A BIT BEFORE BEING ASKED.

And there's another thing. There's a big, wide world out there, BBC and News international. You've got 24 hours to fill, and the largest news gathering operations in the world, which employs thousands of Journalists. Seek more than three stories a day. Just a thought. Until you do, I'm DONE with 24 hour news TV.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The future is here.

A commentator recently asked "where's my Jet-pack".

Well AlJahom, the answer's here. And the FAA have granted special exemption for a flying car too.

The future is truly here, friends.

Monday, 12 July 2010

To Sell out, or not to sell out?

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money"
a bon-mot attributed as all such quips are to Mark Twain Samuel Johnson. As I am "the Chap" in question here, go over to Mara's Musings and answer her question in the affermative for me would you?

Britblog Roundup # 276

Philobiblon is the Host for this week's Britblog roundup.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

In Praise of the Chinese in Africa

Africa's hope?

Western aid budgets are generally tied to arms deals commitments from third-world governments to behave as far as environmental destruction or human rights are concerned, and to spend at least some of the moolah on their people rather than their wives's shoe collection or at the Mogadishu Mercedes Benz dealership. The Chinese are criticised for plundering the natural resources of Africa without requiring such sops to the conscience of the affluent, but at least their engagement in Africa can be called "investment" and is refreshingly free of leftist cant.

I've argued before that the CAP is responsible for more human suffering than the Second World War, and whilst Europeans and Americans are feather-bedding their farmers, they are preventing Africans getting their cash-crops to rich-world Markets. This means that roads and infrastructure to get cash crops out aren't built and when the crop fails, there are no roads to distribute the food aid, and everyone dies because they are still subsistence agriculturalists or pastorialists rather than steadily specialising and developing in a productive economy. Famines are rarely about failures of crops, they are usually about failures of distribution. They are also about incentives, as Communist ideologically inspired famines of the 20th century showed.

Chinese engineers are overseeing the building of a Road network and railways that are designed to get raw materials to the market. Plundering Africa of its mineral wealth if you like. But nothing's going to stop those roads distributing aid in time of famine or allowing farmers to distribute surplus in times of plenty. Likewise mobile phone networks are cheap to build and allow communication by farmers about prices for goods in various nearby towns. These networks will follow the mining engineers' roads too. This allows, paradoxically, farmers to benefit from higher average prices, and consumers from lower average prices. The difference being lower wastage. Roads also allow medicines, and and effective cold-chain to deliver vaccines to the poor (A rare genuine good done by NGOs and development aid) more effectively.

Much Western development aid does not seem to realise that economic activity is like water, it flows down the path of least resistance. You cannot just give clean water if there is no economy to sustain its infrastructure in the long-term. You just create dependency. A road is only going to be maintained if there is an economic rationale like a mine or cash crop to sustain it.

If western governments spent less time worrying about their aid budgets as a percentage of GDP to appease ignorant hand-wringers with their Guardian editorials and allowed the third world to sell food to us instead, there would be an economy in the poor parts of Africa to develop with in the first place. Without the primary industries giving the rationale for basic infrastructure, there will be no economy, and people in parts of Africa will remain miserable supplicants of western charity. If William Kamkwamba and his family were able to sell stuff in a productive economy, they wouldn't need to scrape together the resources for a solitary windmill and Poppy Spalding wouldn't be able to bleat about "the world's poor" after her gap year of misery tourism. If Africa was allowed to trade on equal terms with the west rather than suffer from dumping of Agricultural produce destroying local markets, and were instead allowed to sell maize to us, then NGO wallahs wouldn't be cruising around in Air-Conditioned Toyotas distributing largesse like a feudal baron's consiglieri. But I think the NGO wallahs like being the big man, because (with one or two exceptions) they don't seem to argue for free trade.

So. China raping the continent for its mineral wealth is likely to do more good for the people of Africa than the entirety of western Aid budgets (which in the case of the British Coalition exists behind a budget ring-fence for reasons of political expediency rather than the greater good). It is ironic that Communist China realises that Trade not Aid is the way to develop Africa and raise its people out of poverty. Whilst America and the European Union subsidise agriculture to the tune of twice African GDP, the holocausts of famines and Malaria in Africa will continue.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

On Banning the Burqua

It's not a Burqua.

You almost never see a Burqua in the UK. A Burqua is an Afghan garment with a mesh covering the face, and I have NEVER seen one.

Burqua: Self-propelled blue marquee.

Whereas this filthy strumpet is showing us her eyes and will surely be cast down by Allah. What we see are the post-box ladies wearing a Niqab, in the persian Gulf style as modelled above.

Now the issue is simple. I hate seeing these medaeval forms of dress, because I believe they demean women to subsurvient roles and suggest that male sexuality is so uncontrollable that a mere glimpse of hair or leg will lead to rape. Both genders are dishonoured by the practice of veilling women.

However the state should have no say in what is a private decision of what to wear. If the woman is coerced into going veilled, then banning the wearing of it will lead to her being housebound. You make the situation worse for those you are trying to help and cause more suffering to those who are already opressed. Making illegal for men to force "their" women to wear veils enshrines in law the concept of women as chattels, will be difficult to enforce and will probably have the same effect. The incidence of suffering is not always the same as the law's target. Culture is not amenable to law, only to moral pressue and cultural assimilation. The 'crime' of forcing one's wife to do anything is already dealt with in laws against false imprisonment, rape and domestic abuse. And finally if a woman freely chooses to wear these Garments, then why should she not?

We have no right to allow or disallow any form of dress, however absurd, but if we allow the full face veil, then Stephen Gough, the Naked Rambler (SFW) should be left to his own devices rather than being arrested every time he goes out of doors dressed as nature intended. Perhaps Mr Gough and his missus should be encouraged to naked walk through "muslim areas" (another unpleasant concept creeping into english law)?

Any law regulating what people can and cannot wear will be fraught with problems of definition, and lead to absurd prosecutions. Society can effectively regulate what people wear, by custom, ridicule, ostrasism and suspicion (try wearing a very comfortable and practical sarong in public if you're a man, if you think that I'm condoning racism) That's up to each individual, to jeer, holler and take the piss. By all means allow people to wear what they want, but allow people to discriminate on the basis of the choices people make about what to wear. Society is NOT the same thing as the state.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Torture Enquiry.

Some people don't think this New government is much better than the old one.

Yesterday Britain's Tory prime-minister did what Barack Obama has so far failed to do. Live up to campaign promises and hold an enquiry into allegations of Torture: specifically that British officials looking the other way while other country's agents (ahem, American agents) did unspeakable things to potential terrorists. It's to be a judicial enquiry to ensure maximum public confidence in the outcome. The US insisted on Trials for the leaders of the third Reich, because America then stood for something. Now some Pakistani goatherds are apparently so dangerous that the rule of law needs to be suspened rather than let them out. Now most of the people who think Obama's the best thing since slice bread are turning a blind eye to his staggering hypocrisy.

Two years on, he's still not closed the Git'mo camp.

"In war, the Moral is to the the physical as three is to one" Naploleon Dyanamite Bonaparte.

As yet Obama has not had the guts to stand up to the Savage loons who STILL think Guantanamo bay is anything other than a massively counterproductive recruiting sergeant for global Jihad. He apparently regards this concentration camp for people against whom we have insufficinet evidence to bring a prosecution as being a price worth paying for "security", and practices like waterboarding as not being a standing retort to the rule of Law, and so deserving of punishment.

If we are not better people than the people we're fighting, then what are we fighting for? Let's shine some sunlight into the darker things done in our name, and see if the Public like it. Let's hope the light's bright enough to reach into the oval office, and persuade Obama to come clean about the abuses perpetrated under his predecessor.

What... you mean it's still going on? You mean Obama's no better than Bush? You're shitting me! There are still 181 people in Guantanamo bay, and he's been shipping people about to avoid the rule of Law, at potential cost to his alliances.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Road Pricing rears its ugly head. Again.

Following my courting of the opprobium of fashionable libertarian opinion by suggesting that there IS a place for black boxes in cars (though not, and I dealt with this in the post, the enforcement of speeding offenses) I will now be less controversial.

The RAC has suggested that some form of road pricing is "inevitable", but that this should come with a cut in fuel duty and road tax. Fair enough, and I think this Government could pull such a reasonable compromise off. However I WOULD have privacy concerns if records had to be kept about where and when I had been, and that is my principle concern about road pricing. True, most of the public care not a jot about their privacy in such matters, but I do. But there are practical concerns too: The administration of this would require technological deployment on a vast scale nationwide, and a huge bureaucracy to administer it. There would be inevitable errors as someone is billed hundreds for a journey on the other end of the country they couldn't have taken. There will be a massive increase in car cloning.

The only advantage is that road pricing reflects the usage of the road at different times. And as a believer in markets, I have some sympathy with this. But given people's commute is already miserable, and councils' track record for parking offenses, do we really want to give another opportunity for profiteering? The problem is not the principle, it's the complexity of administration, and there are likely to be arbitary injustices as a result of simplification. It will also inevitably contain exemptions for favoured groups. Teachers HAVE to face the school run. Nurses work odd shifts which may coincide with rush hour. Does anyone think the police will pay?

We already have a tax, paid by everyone except farmers that reflects the distance driven, the speed you drive and the engine you use (and yes, eco-weenies, the carbon-dioxide you produce). This tax is called fuel duty. It may not reflect rush hour, but that is more than made up for by the simplicity of administration: from the point of view of Government: it collects itself. It's fair. It's unambigous. We don't need separate road taxes. Cut everything, except fuel duty.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Intelligent Vehicles

Both Longrider and The Englishman's Castle are worried about the deployment of data recorders in cars, and the development of "intelligent cars" which will take over to prevent you doing something stupid like drive up a one-way street.

Black boxes will record data in the event of a crash or near airbag deployment event, covering the few seconds before the incident. This will be used to ascertain who broke first and the speed each party was doing by the police and insurance companies. The Englishman says "You are being watched as you drive". As part of the continuous montioring of the motorist, I have some sympathy with this view. However I've little problem with evidence from the cars being taken to see who's lying in their insurance claim: "I was only doing 30mph..." well your car's data recorder says you rounded that bend at 60. Do you want to reconsider your account before you get done for insurance fraud? Because liars cost us all in extortionate insurance premiums.

Obviously I oppose continuous monitoring which would see data from the cars leading to speeding tickets, but in the event of an accident, clearly it's in everyone's interest to be accurate about what happened. If an option to have a recorder would lead to a lower premium, would you take it? The roads are already a benthamite panopticon, so who cares?

Intelligent cars is another issue. Longrider doesn't like the concept:

I don’t care how intelligent these cars are made, ultimately, it is the driver who is best placed to make decisions about prevailing conditions and the appropriate action to take in the event of an incident – including a mistake on their own part. A car that suddenly takes over is potentially highly dangerous.
He offers no evidence for this assertion. Cruise control is becomming more sophisticated, to the extent that new Mercedes are almost able to drive themselves on motorways. The DARPA Grand Challenge has been won, which means that autonomous cars are approaching the market. Within a few years, you may be able to get into a car, type a post-code into the dashboard shut your eyes and have a snooze until you get to your destination. Longrider again mistrusts the insurance companies, but if they accept the technology, they will do so for a reason: that one day cars will drive themselves better, safer than we can.

I hate driving. Actually that's not true. I've driven on empty roads in summer, and I've driven on tracks. That's fun, when you have a car set up for the purpose. However the daily grind to work or schlepping accross the country to see family or friends is miserable. I long to be liberated from the chore of driving. I long to be allowed to have a drink and get into a car which drives itself home. And that WILL require some form of black box, because you will need to know what happened when the technology fails and there are crashes. Insurance companies will bet that machines are better at driving than we are, but they still need to apportion blame, for that is the nature of insurance.

There is a difference between a black box used to answer questions in the event of an incident and a monitoring system which can be used against you when there hasn't been an accident. The former does not impinge on your liberty to do as you wish (without costing anyone, and that includes the insurance company, anything) and the latter which WOULD be a gross intrusion into privacy. The former is also vital to the development of autonomous vehicles, which would be a great step forward.

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