Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Happiness Economics

The idea that General Well Being is something the Government should measure has brought the Devil out of Blogtirement for a cathartic rant against the

"crap that our massively fore-headed twat of a Prime Minister seems so keen on..."
But, I think differently. General well being is important. Happiness economics is not only interesting on a political level, It is interesting on a personal level too. It fascinated me long before I read Freakonomics, which applied statistical methods to situations which had not been so measured before. It started when I was commuting (yes commuting) from Northampton to London daily, a journey of over 2 hours, and I read an article which stated that a short commute was equivalent to someone on £30k doubling their income. Not particularly because a short commute is particularly happiness making, but a long-one eats into free time, reducing leisure and increasing stress. The example was chosen to illustrate that above a certain point, income decouples from happiness. Income is an extremely poor indicator of happiness, and seeking extra income is an extremely poor way of becoming happier. However, I knew I hated sitting on the train, so I considered the extra happiness which resulted in my moving to town. So I made a rule - if it takes more than 20 minutes on a bike to get to work, move house. I think I am happier for it. I am also convinced by studies which appear to show strong positive correlations between happiness and marriage; sport; physical fitness regular social interactions and so on. These are NOT the things that government can influence directly. Each individual chooses to commit to a sports team or wife, but they can encourage, provide facilities and incentives and, above all, get out the way.

And there is a lot the Government could do about happiness in those terms. Over to Dan Hannan, who thinks there's something in this happiness economics, and suggests some things that the Government can do to improve happiness.
They can create a climate where we are unlikely to be victims of crime. They can prevent us from being invaded, or defeated in war. They can guarantee that property rights are secure, contracts fairly enforced, disputes impartially arbitrated, the law open to all seeking redress. They can ensure that children receive a decent education, whatever their parents’ means. They can do these things without confiscating any more of our assets through taxation than absolutely necessary.
The point is freedom, or more accurately the upper tiers on Maslow's hierarchy of needs: self actualisation. You're not going to be self-actualised if you're hunkered down on a sink estate, terrified of the local hoodies. So the Tax-payer pays for a police service. What Government can do is ensure that instead of policing comfy, safe middle-class areas, or harassing motorists (which appears to be the police's priority), they get in amongst it in the grotty estates, reassuring the law abiding that they're not alone by patrolling. This is what the public WANT the police to do, but the police would rather stay in their cars (for operational, rather than fried dough confectionery reasons, naturally). Happiness is, in part, the feeling that you are in control of your environment, and directly elected police chiefs will help there. The regular referendums as Hannan suggests in the cantons of Switzerland may help too, but does living in the kind of stultifying social morass such a society often creates, which sees sending someone to tame another's unruly lawn and sending the latter a bill reasonable? I think not.

There is a lot the Government can do to encourage happiness. Very few of them involve spending money. Very few of them involve removing options from people by banning stuff, or making drink & drugs (for example) more expensive or illegal. I doubt it's got much to do with an absence of diversity outreach co-ordinators and other local government prod-noses either. The "cuts" are going to make diversity outreach co-ordinators miserable by making them unemployed, but no-one else is going to give a shit.

The fact is, whilst income isn't correlated with happiness for most people in the UK, it is tightly correlated below about £14,000 per year, this is true world-wide. Leftists make much of the GINI coefficient: that income inequality is what matters. And to a point it does. So why are we taxing someone on £14,000 per year at all? Why are the working poor facing 90% marginal tax rates? The answer there is "leftist redistributive policies". And the left have therefore set a trap for the poor: What matters is not "What am I earning now?" but "if I work hard, do I have the power to earn more?" If the Government takes 90% of everything extra you earn (and for much of the working poor, it does), the working poor are absolutely not in control of their life, there is no way for them to improve their lot - all extra work brings is less time to spend on worthwhile things like spending time with your children. This is MUCH more powerful in destroying wellbeing than seeing "someone has more than me, waaaaa!" The lack of control caused by being poor which actively creates misery, not the straight envy of the rich, as leftists fondly wish. The state is, in the manner it conducts redistribution, keeping a boot on the face of the working poor as they struggle up towards happiness.

Of course, the working poor are a bit happier happier than the most miserable people in British society: the long-term unemployed, who are also screwed by leftist policies. In many cases priced out of the labour market by high employment taxes, and at the margin, by the minimum wage; it just costs too much to employ someone without skills. Without a job, you can't get skills. Reducing taxes like NI on jobs would improve matters. Leftists, though make much of the importance of job security in happiness, arguing for ever greater "rights" (in reality, risks and obligations on someone else) for the employed. Job security does indeed create happiness. The far greater misery, though is unemployment, and by every job saved costs jobs not created elsewhere, because of the increased risk (and therefore cost) of employing a new worker, so fewer, more expensive workers are hired. Freer labour markets lead to higher employment, at the cost of reduced job security. There might be 10% unemployment in the USA now during this recession, but there were decades of 10% unemployment in Germany, France and Spain, where the labour market was divided between safe job insiders and people who would NEVER get a job in their lives.

And let's talk about taxes. If "happiness economics" suggests that raising your income is a poor way to improve happiness, does that not argue for higher taxes? No. Because an average worker might not "spend" the tax cut on stuff, but instead on the need to take overtime. He might, as a result of a tax cut, get home earlier to have a meal with his children, instead of slaving for the Government till 8pm. The Freedom lower taxes brings might be spent on a new car, but it is just as likely to be spent on something worthwhile which isn't measured.

So, you argue for ever higher taxes to finance education or health services, which raise a poor person's consumption and reduce inequality. And they do, but they do not increase the self-actualisation element of happiness. They could be: A voucher is something to spend on education, this engages the parent and incentivizes the school to improve. It enables parents to select a school reflecting their beliefs (yes, unfortunately even lunatic ones - an important freedom is the freedom to be a twat. Look at it like this: Every creepy and damaged little homunculus who goes to a creationist school is one which is not competing with your spawn for jobs in bioscience), which is a form of happiness-making power over one's environment. An LEA-provided, one size fits all school place does provide the consumption element of inequality-reduction, but it doesn't involve anyone else in the decision making, negating much of the happiness-improvement which could be achieved by such state spending.

Health spending is a subject for another post. It is reasonable that taxes be seen as a form of insurance where the premiums are on ability to pay, rather than need. Most poeple see this as reasonable and are happy to see this funded out of general taxation. But the state-monolithic nature of the NHS is not necessarily the best way to DELIVER healthcare free at the point of delivery. The NHS is not the same as 'healthcare'. Tax-payer funded, but privately provided services will probably be more efficient. What they will certainly be is more responsive to patient needs. Waiting for delayed and cancelled appointments, long, pointless waits for consultant's appointments and generally being treated like an embuggerance by the NHS when you turn up to get fixed are features of the NHS's take-it-or-leave-it structure. The state does not have to DELIVER healthcare, even if it funds it. A more responsive, less dehumanising system would make people feel more valued, and therefore happier with the services, which for most things, except cancer, seem to be pretty good.

So higher taxes could be used to fund heath and education (and funded better), but so much of Government spend is financing an actively misery-making welfare state, and so much is wasted on pointless freedom and self-actualisation-denying Government initiatives that to use "health 'n education" as an argument for higher taxes is intellectually dishonest. To use redistributive GINI coefficient arguments is lumpen stupidity garnished with envy and spite. Rich people don't make poor people miserable directly; rather poor people are miserable because they don't have the choices rich people do. If your solution to that problem is to remove the choices from rich people, you're a spiteful cunt, or a socialist, which is the same thing. HIGH TAXES MAKE PEOPLE MISERABLE, whether they're poor or rich. But especially if they're poor, so stop taxing them! By all means fund health and education properly out of taxation, this seems to be an entirely reasonable use of Taxpayers money, but this does categorically NOT require the Government to take 50% of the national, or any individual's, pie. That is too much.

The fact is that the best thing Dave can do to make the country happier is tax business less, scrap NI, removing the tax on jobs and raise employment; raise the personal tax allowance to take the working poor out of tax; and make the police subject to local democratic control by means of elected sheriffs who respond to resident's needs, and local schools responsive to the people (as opposed to local authority bureaucrats) by introducing a voucher system; decentralise (and probably break up) the NHS, cut useless and expensive state spending on diversity outreach co-ordinators, and thereby eventually lower taxes, when Labour's catastrophic deficit has finally been got rid of. Most of which the Coalition is quietly getting on with. Whilst fanatics on the left are trashing the place & bleating about cuts, and those on the right see betrayal everywhere, the coalition appears to this observer to be imperfectly, hesitantly, introducing some reasonable, liberal polices some of which are actually going to make the country happier. Which when you compare it to the vile panopticon the last lot were creating, is a big improvment.

It would be nice for Dave if he got some credit for it. Which is why he's measuring happiness.

Monday, 29 November 2010

A Myth of Competence?

On some points, I am a tin-foil hatted conspiracy loon, but only when I can apply Ockham's razor to the conspiracy. It must be a simple conspiracy, which isn't subject to events, in someone's interest and fewer than a dozen have to be in on the con. So, I ask myself is there something the State dept REALLY wants someone to believe in Wikileaks' recently published cross between Skynet and Tobermory

For those of you who don't know the short stories of Hector Hugh Munro, Tobermory was a talking cat, whose trainer was eventually killed by an Elephant, (which is no more than he deserved for attempting to teach it German irregular verbs). Tobermoray himself talked but lacked the hypocrisy needed for diplomacy in society and told people uncomfortable truths.

Of course most of Wikileak's revelations are in the "y'think?" category. Putin wears the Trousers and Nigel Farage Medvedev is a puppet, Ahmadinnerjacket is a loon, Quaddafi kaddaffi Gadaffi shags about, Gordon Brown (isn't he dead yet?) was a fruitcake, Silvio Berlusconi parties a bit too hard for a man of his advancing age (but don't we all secretly admire him for it), and so on...

Which brings me to a conspiracy theory. Back when the Thatcher Government was trying to stop Peter Wright publishing "Spycatcher", and granting them masses of publicity in the process, I thought "they can't be that stupid, can they?". Surely there must be something in the book that we REALLY REALLY wanted the Russians to believe, and therefore pursued them through the courts safe in the knowledge that whatever was there was more believably as a result. Such subterfuge is surely possible: The only people who would need to be in on the conspiracy are Peter Wright and a few people very high up in MI5 and Government. No more than a dozen people. All those people in court need not know, the conspiracy was "fire and forget".

Of course, the Berlin wall came down, and all those people in on it would have been publicly patting themselves on the back for being so jolly clever. So clearly, MI5 was indeed "bugging and burgling it's way around London" and Roger Hollis WAS a spy, and I was wrong. Though in my defence, I was 10 at the time. Wikileaks, of course makes the whole process simpler. If the CIA was in the slightest bit competent, it isn't, but pretend for a minute it is, all you needed to do was feign embarrassment and everything in the "leak" would be believed. It's a godsend for misinformation, which could allow anyone with an eye for PR to create any myth they liked. Like that of a competent CIA which was in control of shit...

Ah. QED.

Britblog Roundup #287

Is up at the Blogoir.

Why people drive like twats

A post by the increasingly excellent cycling blog, at war with the motorist discusses how good a driver most people are: Good enough to stay alive, but nowhere near as good as they think they are, the same is true of people's perception of themselves as lovers and investors. The reason is that there is no feedback when driving is concerned. You don't notice, as a car driver, when you drive too close to a cyclist, pull out on an approaching car, change lanes on a motorcyclist or otherwise discombobulate another road user. Therefore, you have no data points which cause you to conclude that you're a fucking liability.

By definition, if they did not see or did not recognise, the driver will never have been aware of the situation. They will reach their destination assuming that they had done a great job, oblivious to the bad driving that had been recorded. That’s probably what happened in 52 out of the Monash group’s 54 “events”.

And when the driver does finally notice that they have just been in a near collision, they can congratulate themselves for having the skill to have avoided an actual collision.

Thus reassured of their own driving skills, on the few occasions when they do get some feedback, they find ways to dismiss it.
This of course tallies with my experience as a cyclist, in which I've found the two most consistently dangerous classes of driver: Women in big cars and men in white vans. The former just look blankly when you tap on the window to ask "do you realise you nearly killed me back there?" (perhaps they're paralysed by the justifiable fear that I'm about to kill them); and the latter are just ignorant thugs who don't like having their aggressive incompetence pointed out. there is always the same reaction "Get a car". Such wit. Funnily enough the "Boy racer" cares about his car enough to not want it bent, and thinks about his driving a lot. I've never been scared of or by them when cycling, and the oft-cited London Taxi driver is fine, so long as you give them a wide bearth and assume they're always about to throw a U turn.

I know I'm a crap driver. I detest driving. That's why, most of the time, I'm safe and when I'm not, I apologise.

Friday, 26 November 2010

North Korean Intelligence

He bankrupted his country, destroying jobs and a future for his people. He sends his troops off to war with decrepit and obsolescent kit. He organised show parades and summits to surround himself with the trappings of power, and to stroke his giant ego. His government has destroyed the nation's agricultural industry. He surrounded his role as head of government with a bunch of vacuous yes men with whom he demanded total obedience and loyalty. He has caused massive emigration as people fled his failing state.

Could Gordon Brown have been a North Korean agent?

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Students "Riot"

I have to laugh regarding these students protesting. Over in France they actually give a shit. “Quelle Horreur, les Students ne work pas. Oui must remove ze government, to ze barricades in solidarity”. Over here its “the students aren’t working –who the fuck notices, do they ever actually work?” I’ve covered this before, so it’s nothing new. But quite frankly the lack of 19 year olds in Che tops clutching their genitalia after being struck with Baton rounds is disappointing. I’m no supporter of a Police state, but gosh darn it, a student being knocked off his feet with a water canon is 100 times better than re-runs of The Simpsons.

Has anybody ever notices this shit only happens when Conservatives try to restore fiscal sanity. Where were these fuckers smashing police vans when Zanu Labour was announcing 48 day detention without trial, or raising taxes. These whiners are only available when somebody is asking them to pay something towards their own future. £9k a year works out at £173.07 a week – show me where you can pick up a private tutor for that.

As always Travelgall has a solution. Get rid of 50% of all university courses. Then there will be enough money for everybody still at university, and the students won’t have £50k worth of debt for a piece of paper. Goodbye “Media Studies”, farewell “Women’s Studies”, so long anything that ends in “ology” that doesn’t involve Test Tubes.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Labour: Shameless & Despicable

Tony Blair, when arguing in favour of the authorities being allowed to lock terrorist suspects for three months without charge, made the case, over and over that the move was vital for "security". Three months was a bit much, even for Labour and this was eventually knocked down to 42 days pre-charge detention.

The police demanded it, he said, and the police are all-knowing. They never fit up the local suspicious dusky-looking odd-ball for high profile murders, and would never, ever use flawed intelligence to allow them to lock up, or even better, shoot the local suspicious, heavily bearded religion enthusiast. Intelligence, especially in the hands of those tireless and incorruptible public servants is always faultless, and the police cannot therefore be denied any power they ask for. It's for the public's own good, and of course, if you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear. Despite the Government's watertight case, Parliament in one of its occasional fits of contrariness, disagreed. The "compromise" was for suspicious-looking dusky types to be banged up on the police's whim for a mere 28 days without being told why, if a nod from a judge could be obtained. 28 days is of course many, many times longer than in any other free democracy.

This was of course, never about "security". Indeed the powers were never used. The plan was transparent. To create such an outrage against civil liberties that the Tories would be compelled to oppose it, thereby allowing Labour to campaign against them as "soft on terror", because in Labour's white working-class heartlands, "terrorist" means, "dusky, bearded religion enthusiast" and definitely not "us" or "people like us". This case would be handy in a fight against the BNP, as the subtle difference between being locked up and being locked up WITHOUT CHARGE is lost on the majority of Britain's spectacularly stupid electorate.

Now, in opposition, Labour need back their wet-arsed, mewling, pinko former supporters who hated the Labour government's outrageous and savage assault on civil liberties. When in opposition, there are no "difficult decisions" just voters to placate, and lefties, who are so brainwashed into believing that Tory=Evil, and Labour=Righteous that they have forgotten, and forgiven Labour in a mere 6 months, whilst not seeing any irony in still blaming Thatcher & the Tories for everything else wrong with the country. At best, this is naive, at worst dumb, lumpen tribalist stupidity. Labour has admitted its mistakes, and the thuggish Ed Balls has said he MIGHT support a move to drop the detention without charge to the still-outrageous 14 days, which is still much longer than in any equivalent free democracy.

Labour, having run for 13 years one of the most savagely authoritarian regimes in the free world in which they systematically and comprehensively demolished most of the safeguards protecting the people from the misuse of executive power, cannot be taken seriously when they say "whoops, sorry! Our Bad!". I would need to see a lot more evidence of a change of heart before I forgive the party. I suspect Labour's U-turn is as transparently political as the policy when they were in Government. Their U-turn is welcome, but I don't trust them nor should anyone who claims to have any love of freedom, until they expunge anyone who voted in favour of 42-day pre-charge detention.

Yes, that means you, Mr Balls. I make much of Labour's catastrophic economic mismanagement, but it is the profound destruction of freedoms that will be the legacy of the Blair & Brown years long after we've paid the financial bill.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Gordon Brown: The UK's Saviour?

Is there anyone who still thinks it would be a good idea to abandon Sterling and join the Euro? Of course we euro skeptics are enjoying saying "I told you so" to all those who thought disparate economies would all suddenly become Germany simply by adopting the D-Mark. For that is what the Euro is - the D-Mark, and if your economy is running up too fast with unsustainable asset bubbles and construction booms (Spain, Portugal and especially Ireland) then you cannot use monetary levers to calm your boom, unless Germany is too, which means the bust, when it comes is especially painful. Ireland is a case in point. Having lost control of the monetary levers, they lost control of their economy.

Ireland ran a surplus in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006, and deficits in 2003, 2005, 2007 so from 2002 to 2007, during the boom, the Irish budget can be said to be broadly balanced, erring on the side of a surplus. Whereas Britain's deficit was a direct result of idiot policies by a spectacularly venal and incompetent government, Ireland's was due to a collapse in tax revenues as the boom came to an end and was replaced by an epic crunch. Tax revenues fell from €47 bn in 2007 by 30% to €33 bn in 2009. Expenditure of €41bn in 2007 rose by a modest 9% to €44bn in 2009. Financial services and construction, mainstays of Ireland's (and Britain's) boom were especially hard hit.

Spend, spend spend.

Compare this with the UK where tax revenues from 2007/8 to 09/10 fell by 9% whereas expenditure rose by 16%. Remember Britain was running a Maastricht-defying deficit of 4% of GDP in 2007, prior to the 'credit crunch'. Despite this the response to the crisis was keep spending. Our deficit is as a result of spending. The Irish, a collapse in revenues.

The Irish Government were persuing a reasonable, low-tax, high growth strategy with a balanced budget. Reganomics, this was not. Of course they were unable to do anything about thier boom, nor were they able to devalue their way out of the bust: the Euro remained stubbornly high hurting the Irish badly during the bust. The bust was as bad as it was because for a decade, the Irish economy was subject to inappropriately low interest rates: The bigger the party, the worse the hangover. What happened to Ireland was EXACTLY what the Euroskeptics said would happen to the UK were we in the Eurozone, and for the same reason: Our economy is not aligned to that of Germany.

As it happened, we had an idiot chancellor, who spent a decade firehosing money unsustainably at the public sector, running insane deficits at the top of a boom; but because we are a large country able to borrow in our own currency, and with one of the few flawless track records in repaying debt left in the world, the Government got away with it. Imagine if we were borrowing in Euros. Imagine if we couldn't devalue our currency in responce to a catastrophic financial crisis.

Leftists will look at that data and conclude, self-servingly, that it was the "stimulus" (by which 'punk keynsians' mean 'a big deficit') which kept Britain's economy, broadly afloat. The fact is that confidence in the UK government's ability to maintain its AAA rating hung by a thread in 2009, and this was maintained largely due to the expectation of a Conservative victory in the May 2010 election. UK bondspreads were correlated to polling numbers. Had the Labour party won, the markets may have lost confidence in the Government's plans to bring the public finances under control; there would have been a run on the pound, interest rates would have risen sharply and people would be feeling more like Ireland now, and less like a country pulling steadily out of recession, as Britain is. Where the multiplier effect of government spending works is in a gold-standard country with a small state. In Gordon Brown's UK the state was already consuming half of GDP, and was already crowding out private sector employment. Ricardian equivalence and the lack of availabitily of credit saw to it that consumers (70% of UK GDP) snapped their wallets shut and deleveraged at an astonishing rate during the crisis. There was therefore no overall stimulus from Government spending, not in the UK, where the effect was more likely to be negative, as people hunkerd down and waited for the inevitable tax-rises. Extra state spending PREVENTED an equal and possibly greater amount of private expenditure.

The "stimulus" didn't save us; the pound's moderate decline in 2007-09, the continued confidence ability of the British Government to borrow and repay in its own currency saved the UK from a catastrophic financial crisis. We euroskeptics were right, and you federasts were wrong. Keeping the UK out of the Euro will remain the only positive contribution the Rt. Hon. Dr. James Gordon Brown (Ph.D from Edinbrugh on James Manxton & the History of the Labour party) made to his country in a carreer of self-serving ambition, bullying, hypocrisy, willful ignorance, arrogance and socialist lunacy. The real reason for Brown's opposition to the Euro is probably control freakery: he just did not want to giva anyone else a say. History may just be kind to him for his right decision for the wrong reasons, but it will have to have forgotten his insane (and almost certainly corrupt) fiscal recklessness by the time it does.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Farewell to the Devil...

...So the Devil has joined Mr Eugenides in throwing in the Towel.

There's still all manner of socialist lunacy to oppose at all levels of Government. Even if I am broadly in agreement with this Government's approach, there are councils, there are celebrities, there are unions, there are people who've lived high on the fat of a profligate government now bleating about "cuts". They are parading the bleeding stumps of the poor, in many cases kept poor by those policies they're bleating about cutting. These are the people who need opposing - the needlessly entitled client state that Labour built - help the Coalition smash it.

Of course if your demands are "dismantle the entire edifice of the state by next tuesday" you're always going to be dissapointed. If you cannot see any benefit from the EU, and think it THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE, and see plots and betrayal where I see a pragmatically skeptical Government which has more important things to do than tilt at the EU windmill, you're always going to be angry. The election, as far as I am concerned produced a result which may, in time, result in a good government. So I too am losing the rage and throwing rocks at opposition politicians (metaphorically speaking I don't want to end up prosecuted for "threatening communication") is less fun than it was when they ran things.

The oppositional mindset of the Blogger prior to May was about the savage assualt on civil liberties. Now, its about whining that you have to stand on your own two feet once more as the state removes the comfort blanket. The blogosphere is going to be a much diminished thing if Liberal Conspiracy is in the vanguard and all it is bleating about is 'cuts'.

Of course, I will miss the Devil's cathartic ranting ond forensic foul-mouthed fisking. He's a good mate in meatspace too. However as someone somewere said "Blogging is like the Hotel california: you can check out, but you can never leave". The devil will return, of that you can be sure.

Some of you may have noticed a drop off in the volume of posting here. Of course when I am inspried, I write, when I am not, I don't. At the moment I am busy and Travelgall is away for a couple of weeks. Rest assured, we will stay in harness at least until the Labour corpse stops twitching. I may not be directly opposed to the Government, I am, after all, a card-carrying Conservative. I am, and always will be opposed to "the state" insofar as it affects me and my life, whether by enabling corporate fuckwittery, or by rapacious taxation, or by poor, illiberal law-making.

The Government is not libertarian. The state is still consuming over 50% of GDP. Tax is over 40% of GDP. The civil liberties outlook is, like the country's finances merely getting shittier at a slightly reduced rate. There is still much for the Libertarian blogosphere to do.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

On Armistice day...

...Don't mythologise the guys who did and are still doing the fighting. Treat soldiers fairly instead. Remember it's tough young men who are bearing the brunt of war, and they "don't grow into plaster saints". If you're of a left-wing, pacifist bent, remember soldiers don't have much say in where they get sent, and they're (at the moment) enduring the dust of Afghanistan, in part so that we have the freedom to bitch and whine about whatever is the 'ishoo du jour'. Protect our freedoms at home, make it worth fighting for abroad.

Roll call for the 'Glorious Glosters' after the battle of Imjin River 22-25 April, 1951

Sunday's the day we say "thank you" to those who paid the ultimate price, and think about those maimed in body and sprirt, from all Wars, not just the great conflagrations of the 20th Century, and there are a lot of them from sixty-five years of the savage wars of "peace". A British soldier has died overseas in almost every year since the Army was founded in 1666. With no WWI veterans at the cenotaph, and WWII providing a dwindling band there remain a lot of veterans. Perhaps it's time for politicians to ponder the true cost of their discretionary wars, and for the boys to come home for a bit?

Above all remember them at other times of the year, an Army is for life, not just a few days in November. Unfortunately, Kipling's 'Tommy' is as true now as it was in 1890.
I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, 'We serve no erd-coats 'ere.'
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed and giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again, an' to myself sez I:
Oh, it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Tommy, go away':
But it's 'Thank you, Mister Atkins,' when the band begins to play -
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
Oh, it's 'Thank you, Mister Atkins,' when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Tommy, wait outside';
But it's 'Special train for Atkins' when the trooper's on the tide -
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
Oh, it's 'Special train for Atkins' when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?'
But it's 'Thin red line of 'eroes' when the drums begin to roll -
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
Oh, it's 'Thin red line of 'eroes when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that , an' 'Tommy, fall be'ind,'
But it's 'Please to walk in front, sir,' when there's trouble in the wind -
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
Oh, it's 'Please to walk in front, sir,' when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Chuck him out, the brute!'
But it's 'Saviour of 'is country' when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool - you bet that Tommy sees!

The Student Protests

I'll defer to someone who was there or thereabouts: Guido sums it up well, but in offering my opinion, I'll ask 'will everyone stop being so po-faced about it'.

Of course the NUS routed the march past Millbank, and of Course the NUS was involved in the violent as well as the non-violent bits of the protest. So I take the Student leadership's condemnation of the invasion of CCHQ with a pinch of salt. It's about as credible as those coming from Gerry Adams - and for the same reason, if rather less lycanthropic and scary. The political process must maintain the fiction of non-violence, but you get further with a kind word and a gun, than you do with a just kind word. The NUS knew the green-haired rock-chuckers of Class War and others, the same idiots who attend evey climate camp, G20 summit and protest would tag along yesterday too. The student leaders have a hard-on for the Soixant-huitards, and they need serious rioting to be taken seriously. "There are, like, you-know, some SERIOUSLY angry people, actually."

Finally, the police, facing cuts of their own, were only too happy to be "overwhelmed" by a bunch of limp-wristed Celia & Tarquins as they gained access to the building where police budget cuts were decided, hence the rather paltry police numbers.

Face it, this was a good result for all concerned: Fighting is fun. The crusties got to kick off, the police got to break some white, middle-class heads for a change, whilst allowing the Conservatives in their HQ to suffer a bit of criminal damage, which can't hurt when the home office budget is discussed. The Labour party somehow have got away with their policy being essentially identical (and staggeringly hypocritical). Finally the Government gets to say "we don't give into violence".

No-one was killed, and apart from the couple of dozen who were arrested, and the Liberal Democrats, everyone goes home for tea and medals feeling very satisfied with themselves following this rather predictable piece of political theatre. Who says violence doesn't solve anything?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Corruption, Or why I'm not fussed about SpAds

You'll notice Bitching about Alastair Campbell was absent from this blog back in the day. OH... I may have bitched about his EFFECTS, but that's bitching about a successful enemy. I never denied his right to do the job he did, and have grudging respect for his ability.

Likewise the army of SPADs, spin-doctors, parachuted Lords and others who made up the last Government's Sofa cabinet, and the same creatures who look like making the coalition's sofa cabinet. Party political workers joining the Civil Service to serve the Government seems to me natural; as do experts and wonks serving in the Lords to have access to ministerial appointments. Guido disagrees, and calls it "naturalisation" of the Coalition.

Devil's Kitchen will no doubt call the "new coalition overlords" the "same as the last Government". However the sofa cabinet was not the root of the corruption of politics. The real corruption of British politics is the power of patronage over MPs. The force that sees MPs surrender their duty to hold the Government to account, to act as a nodding dog and Lobby-fodder in order to please the whips sufficiently to serve in ministerial office one day.

What we get therefore is an executive drawn from a shallow Gene-pool of 650 (plus a few Lords), and a Legislature supine before the executive which holds the only route into Government for its members. Neither branch works very well, so this is why we've handed all oversight to the judiciary, which ain't exactly democratic. What we really need is a stronger parliament, and greater, though not total separation of the Legislature and executive. I would encourage the Government to pull whomsoever it wants in Government into the Lords, and give them offices of State pretty much at will, save for a few of the Great offices of State. Service in the commons should therefore be all about being an effective constituency representative and standing for your beliefs without the imminent prospect of a Call from #10.

The new intake of Tory MPs is showing admirable independence, but they too will soon be "naturalised" too, unless the system and conventions change. The truth is, the conventions don't need to change much, the glory of our unwritten constitution is its flexibility. Unfortunately, plans to elect peers will put them on exactly the same footing as MPs, and will make them subject to the whips in exactly the same way.

'Idiocy' is trying the same thing again and expecting a different result. Which is why I strongly oppose an elected Lords.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Britblog Roundup #286

Good morning and welcome to the on-time and on budget Britblog #286. A lot has happened this week, but by far the most important development was that of the blogging retirement of Britblog host and all-round good-egg, Mr Eugenides, to tributes from all round the Blogosphere, including mention from Comment is Free. The observation that the catharsis of blogging is a medium best suited to oppositional politics isn't new, which explains the resurgence in the Left-wing blogosphere. Before May, a strike, especially in the public sector, was an embarrassing family argument. Best not spoken about, you know... pas devant les enfants. Now of course, a strike is a glorious battle against the hated neo-thatcherite enemy. Dave Osler gets stuck in by suggesting that Strike negotiation is a game (once more?).

Of course, one group who will, thankfully be in oppositional mindset forever, and will therefore NEVER feel the need to throw in the towel is the Feminists. You cut, we bleed, says the F word. Philobiblon tries to be more upbeat by reviewing "Rethinking Contemporary Feminist Politics" by Jonathan Dean which can be yours for £54 on Amazon. Those long winter evenings will just fly by. I'm more drawn to The ever quirky 'Early Modern Whale' who brings us the tale of John Allen, author of Judicial astrologers totally routed, and their pretence to Scripture, reason & experience briefly, yet clearly and fully answered, or, A brief discourse, wherein is clearly manifested that divining by the stars hath no solid foundation ... published by J.A. for publick good, Printed for John Allen (1659). Back to the sisters, Progressive Women brings us the news of the 2010 "Feminism in London" conference. Men were allowed, apparently. No, I couldn't make it either.

More seriously, 'Too Much to say for Myself' brings the harrowing story of a seemingly preventable murder, as the Victim's mother contacted the police no fewer than 102 times about her ex-husband, but was dismissed as having 'a tendency to over-react'. Of course, the problem is taking every complaint seriously would lead to intrusive policing as every vindictive, vexatious complainant attempts to get their enemies' collars felt by the fuzz. It is to prevent this super-surveillance dystopia that Crash! Bang! Wallace jokingly calls for a "buffoons register" to list those calling for intrusive government intervention. Of course in the Chanelle Sasha Jones case, or indeed the better-known Baby P or Victoria Climbie, better, or more intervention may have averted tragedy, but then no-one would want to live in the kind of society where Every tragedy could be averted. It really is the difficulty about using individual cases to highlight failings: the counter factual is not available. How many men would you deny access to their families at the behest of a potentially hysterical woman (or, indeed vice versa) to save one life? The policeman's job is not an easy one.

Of course libertarian, feminist, socialist or some combination, the joy of the blogosphere is not in the ranting, entertaining though that is, nor in campaigning whatever your axe to grind, but in the enlightening posts by people who really know what they're talking about, for this is the one area where the Blogosphere really beats the Mainstream media, hands down. Former diplomat, Charles Crawford points us to a shameful episode in Britain's history, and suggests that the EU fund a significant search for the mass graves and in identifying all the bodies where possible, go a little further than "regret" way of reparation for the complicity all nations have in the mass-murders of the 20th century.

On an entirely different subject, but another guest post from an expert, A Place to stand brings us an idea to ameliorate congestion on the forth road bridge (the one that doesn't need painting all the time) at considerably lower cost than the (several, and climbing) billions a new bridge is projected to cost by building a 'tidal' fifth lane in the middle instead.

Of course, as any traffic management expert would tell you, building more capacity on the roads merely generates more traffic. This is especially true in London, so the cyclists behind "at war with the motorist" have some good points on encouraging cycling. People don't cycle because it's horrible and scary sharing the road with fast-moving traffic which isn't expecting to see you. By building the cycling infrastructure, you encourage cycling, which means motorists are more likely to expect cyclists, which makes cycling more pleasant in a virtuous cycle which has been achieved by the (equally cold and wet) Germany or Holland. The problem with cycling infrastructure is that, yes, it's local, and therefore ends up, after being filtered through town-hall incompetence forming a half-arsed attempt to meet Government targets, and therefore ends up looking like this pathetic, dangerous and counterproductive effort in Hitchin.

While we're on local issues, I wonder what would happen in the independent People's republic of Yorkshire?

One thing that is going to be harder in the future is for Mainstream media organisations to get away with untruths - people now have a means to get another side of the story out. In this case, The BBC being forced to apologise to Bob Geldoff. Brian Barder doesn't think this is enough. Nor does his son Owen Abroad. Both these guys have an interesting perspective on the issue.

Camden Kiwi (one of the few I know of who won't be rubbing it in about the Rugby) reviews Tenessee Williams' Two-Character Play at the Jermyn Street theater for us. Diamond Geezer doesnt think much of One New change, (nor was my Brother with Jamies MeatFeast restaurant there earlier this week).

Tim Worstall enlightens us as to where "Posh" might have come from: Persian. Virtual Economics reckons the Times' paywall is about News Corp, not The Times.

As any discussion about politics always ends up about a discussion about economics, A Place To Stand brings us his Growth Plan. It starts 1) cut the deficit, then... before suggesting a lot more Nuclear power, followed by a British Mars shot. A view with which I have some sympathy. Transition culture reckons the Economics of Happiness is more important than building huge national penises to get to Mars, and recommends downshifting to prevent burnout and save the planet. And I have some sympathy there too.

The Blogosphere is a glorious cacophony of voices, all with their own magic, quirks, and individual ideas, as anyone who has attempted to weave a narrative around the disparate posts which appear in the Britblog inbox will tell you. At present the libertarians are waning, the left is rising. What the future holds, no-one knows. The only thing I am sure about is that Blogs are often more informed and informative than Newspapers. They are also more varied. Democracy is stronger when everyone has access to a voice.

So there we have it. The end of the weekly roundup. Next week, we're with Mick Fealty at Slugger O'Toole. Please send him the best stuff you find this week to Britblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Somme offensive 1916 and 'Pointlessness'

The Somme offensive, "a gargantuan effort by Field Marshall Haig to move his drinks cabinet 6" closer to Berlin" and with 1.5 million casualties over the 3 months of fighting vies with Leningrad, Stalingrad and Verdun as the bloodiest battles in history, and is consistently held up as an example of the futility of war. What was the point, people ask, of throwing all those men, thoughtlessly over the top, which achieved nothing. To which I always reply, it wasn't thoughtless, nor did it achieve nothing. The image of men marching into machine guns an inaccurate caricature of the first day, not the whole battle. Indeed contrary to popular imagination of thoughtless Generals piling ever more men into ever more murderous offensives, enormous thought was put into the battle as many approaches to end the stalemate which had existed since 1914, were tried. That many failed should not reflect badly on the men desperately seeking solutions. Whether the objective was worth the cost, you decide. Those making the decisions, and those obeying the orders which flowed from them at the time clearly thought the cost was 'worth it', and thought it 'worth it' for a further two and a half years.

First, the strategic point of the battle was a little more sophisticated than that parodied in 'Blackadder'. It was to relieve the French on the Meuse, who were at that point being bled white by a massive German offensive at the fort of Verdun. The French Army was close to collapse which if it occurred would see the British Army surrounded, cut off from the channel ports, and nearly a million men would have been captured. The war would have been lost, and the British Empire would probably have been carved up between Germany and Austria-Hungary, to the detriment of, I think, every citizen of the Empire. France would have been over-run. The light of democracy in Europe would have been snuffed out. The British Army HAD to relieve the French and the only way to do it was to launch an offencive themselves. In this ultimate strategic goal, the battle was a success, despite hasty preparations. The German army immediately ended its offensive at the Meuse to concentrate on reinforcing the Somme front to the North-West. The French stayed in the war.

Second: the tactics. This was the first major offensive involving Kitchener's citizen soldiers, many of whom were hastily trained. They were not the "Old Contemptibles" who so surprised the German Army on the Marne two years earlier with accurate rifle fire of such a rate that the Germans thought every man was armed with a machine-gun. Complex small-unit tactics such as section and platoon fire & manoever were just not possible with such raw troops. So the army tried a new tactic, one still in use today the Creeping, or Walking Barrage. Prior to this, the enemy were to be annihilated by a massive bombardment lasting several days, that it was hoped, nothing could survive. And if they did, the still new mine warfare led to detonations under the German Lines 2 minutes prior to the men going 'over the top' would finish off the survivors. The attacking British wore full kit, because they were expected to occupy positions they took, perhaps without resupply. These were new tactics: The troops following on day one were too far behind their own gunfire (to protect from self inflicted casualties) allowing the Germans to come out from their dug outs and man the Guns before the British troops got into the German lines. The mines weren't numerous or big enough.

Blackadder, set in 1917 has the guns fall silent before they go "over the top", because it's "more sporting" to let the Germans do the killing. A gag, but telling about the world-view of the writer, and ultimately inaccurate. The heavy guns would have switched to depth postions o prevent reinforcement and still be firing, and the ligther guns would be raining fire down ahead of the advancing troops, who would, by 1917, be taking more casualties from "dropshorts" than enemy action: 10% casualties from your own guns was thought better than 15% casualties from the enemies'. It still is.

The German defences were hard, and well-constructed. And the German soldier is always tough. And this has led to the idea that the pre-bombardment didn't work. It did, in places: the Germans who faced the French to the south of the British, for example faced an army much better equipped with really heavy artillery (and with the right shells, see comments). As a result, the French bombardment of the Germans worked. The Somme is not seared into the french consiousness as it is the British because they achieved all their day one objectives, and more and at much lower cost. The popular image of the futility of the pre-attack bombardment is false. The British guns were just not big or numerous enough. Lessons were learned.

There were examples of inflexible behaviour from officers, as there are in any war, sticking to the plan at all costs, but there were also examples of excellent leadership successfully exploiting local successes. You only need to look at the survival rates of officers compared to their men to see that the British officer led from the front. These were not "lions led by donkeys", but brave men doing their best in all ranks. The myths of the first world war do disservice to the men who fought.

The first day of the Somme was Britain's bloodiest day, seared into the folk memory of the communities who were ripped apart by the losses suffered by the pals battalions which went over the top. Newfoundlanders, Ulstermen and men from the New Army formations, mainly from the Midlands and The North were shattered in a way hopefully never to be repeated.

As the battle wore on new tactics were tried, new technologies rushed into service, such as Landships (codenamed 'tanks' to fool the Germans that they were mobile water supply vehicles). This was not an organisation which was throwing men's lives away lightly. Nor was it without point.The citizen-soldiers facing each other across the Somme in 1916 were not victims of stupidity. They were soldiers fighting a total war of a sort that perhaps, if we are lucky, the likes of which the world has seen the end.

Those men died so France would remain in the war, eventually so that the Democracies of Britain, France, the Dominions, and later the USA would triumph over the totalitarian monarchies of Central Europe. Their legacy, and that of their Children who fought for the same goals 23 years later, is the basic human freedom we still enjoy to this day. Our freedom to say what we will to those who would rule us did not come free.

Wear your poppy with pride, and protect dearly that for which they fought. For that is the best memorial to the young men who died 94 years ago.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Jury Trials should Remain an Absolute right.

It's simple. Declaring someone to be a criminal is not cheap or easy for the state. That IS AS IT SHOULD BE. Of course the system gets gamed, of course people try to get away with naughtiness, but the important thing is that an innocent man evven one accused of a "minor" crime, like shop-lifting gets the protection of a Jury trial, if necessary.

It's not "just" a shop-lifiting conviction, because a shop-lifting conviction affects a life. You wouldn't get the best university, you're denied some vocational courses. You certainly couldn't do what I do for a living with a "crime of moral turpitude" on your rap sheet. People are still pretty relaxed about narcotic possession and Drunk & Disorderly but for how long?

I've no problem with rewards for early guilty pleas, most people that get to magistrates are guilty, and if the process can be expidited more easily then great. But innocent people HAVE to have the opportunity to clear their names in front of a Jury. The "Victim's Comissioner" is plain wrong. Jury trials are and should remain an absolute right, whatever the cost.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Why do we change the clocks?

10:10 (remember them?) whitter on about having lighter evenings if we maintain British Summer Time (GMT+1) all year round. Because this would cause people to use less lighting, this would apparently save energy. It's wasteful to sleep through daylight in the morning, they argue. Such a policy would also, RoSPA claim save lives by having lighter evenings. They believe we should be on Central European time, GMT+1 in the winter and GMT+2 in the summer.

Aren't we missing a trick here? The reason there is a "rush-hour" is that apparently, most jobs start at 9am (Though I've never had one that started so revoltingly late). Wouldn't it be better if we could, instead of faffing about with clocks twice a year, break the tyranny of the "working day"? Flexibility should be the key: If you need daylight for your job, farmers for example, get up earlier. If you want, as BST Campaigner, William Willett did, a round of Golf in the evening, go in to work at 6am, and leave at 2pm. If you're the kind of lazy slug person for whom Mornings are not your thing, arrange for your lie-in with your employer but stay on at work later. This would mean less congested roads as people's commutes are spread out over several hours rather than a rush at 8:30, resulting better use of infrastructure, lower energy costs (if that's your fetish), and a happier work-force, because flexibility increases happiness, as does cutting commuting times.

Schools, for example, should be free to change their working day to maximise daylight so the kiddies can be seen on the way to and from school, if needed. Why does a school have to start at 9am? Why not 8am or 7am? I would expect organisations in the far North of Scotland to make the most use of this flexibility, because they have the least daylight to play with sunrise at around 9am, and sunset at 3:30, you could either have no travel in daylight, or one commute in daylight by starting before or after dawn. I don't know, and crucially neither does the man in Whitehall at least not for everyone.

The "working day" is a fairly modern phenomenon. Before the industrial revolution, people were largely paid piece work: they earned depending on how much they produced. Most manufactures where done by hand. However with the mechanisation of process, industrialists needed regular hours to keep the machines served. This led to the weekly wage, and the culture of presenteeism: your productivity was defined by the machine you served, your job was to be there to serve it, on time. This culture of presenteeism has survived the demise of the industries that produced it.

The clock should reflect natural phenomena the one thing even the most hardened bureaucrat would not argue he could do anything about: I would like noon to be when the sun is at it's zenith. Otherwise it's confusing to our circadian rhythms, another subtle cause of stress in the modern world. Instead of adapting our clocks to the requirements of Industry, why not adapt to the requirements of industry to our biology and the natural world, and give people greater autonomy over how they live their lives into the bargain? We do not live in an industrial, factory-centred world any more. Most people have jobs in the service industry in one form or another. Perhaps some people would like to go shopping at 7am, perhaps others at 9pm. With flexible staffing, this could be achieved with an overlap between the "early shift" and the "late shift" in the middle of the day benefiting not only the employee, who gets to structure the day more flexibly, but the employer who gets his shop/factory/call-centre/whatever open for longer. The customer benefits for the same reason.

Here's my campaign: freedom to organise your life as you and the organisations you're part of see fit. GMT all year round.

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