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Society

Dr Bonham’s case.

A man by the name of Bonham refused to pay for a license to practice medicine from the London College Physicians.

The College pointed out that not only did it have authority granted by a King (Henry VIII) , but also a specific Act of Parliament upheld medical licensing. So it fined Bonham (half the fine going to the college – half to the government, just as the Statute said it should) and ordered him to be imprisoned.

In the modern world that would be it – consumer protection upheld, and the evil “Dr” Bonham shipped off to be raped to death in prison somewhere (to the applause of the media – and the education system, the schools and colleges with their “protect the consumer” and “protect the worker” textbooks). However, this was 1610………

Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke (with his wicked, reactionary “Medieval mind”) was outraged by the whole thing. Not owning a piece of paper (a “license”) was not a crime under Common Law (to the Common Law a crime was an aggression against the bodies or goods of someone else – not failing to buy something). Also how could a body (the college or the government) sell licenses and, at the same time, sit in judgement over the case? This would mean that those who profited from the sale of licenses (had a financial interest in it) could punish those who did not buy them! – Which (to the modern minds of both the college and the government) is replied to by “well yes you Feudal nutcase – THAT IS THE POINT”.

Sadly (in spite of the work of Sir Francis Bacon, the author of the Progressive classic “The New Atlantis”, and mentor of Thomas Hobbes – the great philosopher who spread the enlightened notions that “law” was just the whims of the rulers, and that humans were just machines, not beings – not moral agents). The reactionary Sir Edward stopped the imprisonment of Dr Bonham – and declared that he did not have to pay a fine for refusing to buy a piece of parchment (a “license”) as the Common Law (those DUSTY CENTURIES of Year Books full of cases about one man hitting another man over the head with an axe – or damaging a local church by using its windows for target practice for archery……) knew of no such “crime”, and that it was an outrage that those who sold these pieces of paper could fine (indeed imprison) those who refused to buy them (Sir Edward’s “medieval mind” just did not understand the Progressive modern world……).

Nor did this reactionary bigotry end with Sir Edward Coke.

Chief Justice Sir John Holt (late 17th century – the generation that produced the English Bill of Rights and other hopelessly reactionary documents. with their right to keep and bear arms and so on, that are affront to the modern Progressive world) held to the same view that Acts of Parliament do not overturn fundamental principles of natural justice embodied in the centuries of tradition of Common Law reasoning (in spite of Progressive Legal Positivist Thomas Hobbes “proving” that there was no such thing as natural justice or natural law in a moral way – and that the judges of the Common Law, in seeking justice over the dusty centuries, were just lost in illusions – true law being just the will of the ruler).

Chief Justice Holt – even cited judges as far back as Bracton (did he not understand that only what has been said in the last five minutes matters?) and openly stated that Acts of Parliament do not trump fundamental law – indeed it is the other way round. And that it was possible (although difficult) for legal reasoning to find justice. Not that all judges would always agree (YES – there are other cases in the centuries of Year Books that contradict the cases that Sir Edward Coke cited, he knew that and it does NOT undermine his position), but that legal reasoning (fundamentally reasoning in justice – after the manner of Aristotelian reasoning) was possible – that law was NOT just the ravings of Kings and Parliaments. That fundamental law was different to (and higher than) “legislation”.

Chief Justice Holt even tried to apply this to slavery – which to him (as to the 19th century American lawyer and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Salmon P. Chase) was the Common Law crimes of false imprisonment (dragging someone back if they ran away), and violent assault (whipping someone for refusing to work – no more acceptable in Common Law than throwing someone in prison for refusing to buy a piece of paper, a “license” or an “insurance policy” as with “Obamacare”).

In the United States this reactionary tradition continued with, for example, Justice Pierce Butler of the Supreme Court who held (by dissenting in “Buck Versus Bell”) that a State (even after it passed a “statute”) could not hold down a screaming woman and cut her up for the “crime” of (allegedly) having a “low IQ” out of fear that the women might give birth to babies who also might (allegedly) commit the “crime” if having a “low IQ”.

Justice Butler did not even believe that the government had the right (even after passing a statute) to exterminate “inferior races” – he had clearly never read the noble Progressive writings of the Fabian socialists H.G. Wells (the teaming millions of blacks, browns and yellows must go, forms of gas could be developed and…..) and George Bernard Shaw (every person should be made to justify their existence before a government board, “like the income tax tribunal” and if the board was not happy with them, they should be executed), friends of fellow Supreme Court Judge – O. W. Holmes Jr who wrote the Progressive view of Buck V Bell.

To a Progressive such as Holmes  the old American saying (attributed to Mark Twain) – “no man’s property or liberty is safe – when the legislature is in session” (a much realistic attitude that the deluded British faith in Parliament) is replied to with “and a jolly good thing to!”.

Well where do you stand gentle reader?

With the vile reactionaries such as Sir Edward Coke, Chief Justice John Holt, Edmund Burke (see his writings on Ireland and India), American Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, 20th century Justice Salmon P. Chase (and the others of the “Four Horsemen” who opposed such Progressive things as Franklin Roosevelt “National Recovery Agency” – General Johnson’s Jackbooted “Blue Eagle” thugs who tried to set the prices and business practices of every enterprise in the United States).

Or do you stand with the noble Sir Francis Bacon (of The New Atlantis), Sir William Petty (the creator mathematical “economic planning” in the mid 17th century), Thomas Hobbes, the Bowood Circle of the late 18th century (funded by Lord S.) with such lovely people as Jeremy Bentham – with his 13 Departments of State controlling every aspect of life (as it is the duty of government to promote pleasure and oppose pain – and natural law and natural rights are “nonsense on stilts”, law being simply the will of the rulers), and with the Hobbes lovers among the “Westminster Review” crowd of the early 19th century (with their “land question” – i.e. the view that the state could plunder the ancient estates, overturning “feudal” notions going back to the ninth century, as David Ricardo had “proved” that….. let us ignore the fact that Frank Fetter refuted David Ricardo on land a century ago, the Ottoman Empire, and Eastern Despotism generally, rocks, it is “Progressive” to attack the estates of “feudal” Western land holders). And the “New Liberals” of the late 19th century, and the Fabians and the American Progressives and………….

Ignore the warnings of old reactionary Common Lawyers such as Sir Edward Coke and John Holt that Progressive Francis Bacon stuff is really the dark side of Roman Law – the “Civilians” with their doctrines that the will of the ruler has the force of law, and that no law binds the government (because the government can change the law as it likes).

After all such warnings are repeated in the speeches of reactionary (and “corrupt”) President Warren Harding and reactionary (and “stupid”) President Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s (see the Politically Incorrect Guide to the Presidents) when they pointed out that  such things as the Progressive “New Freedom” of Woodrow Wilson which claimed to “evolve” beyond the principles of the Constitution of the United States, are (in fact) a product of German collectivist political philosophy (see J. Goldberg “Liberal Fascism”) going back as far as the 18th century philosophy (see the works of Hayek on this – for example the “Constitution of Liberty” and “Law, Legislation and Liberty” – although Hayek can never free himself from the general philosophy of the very people whose political ideas he attacks – and, contrary to Hayek, their politics comes naturally from their philosophy) and that this political philosophy is (in turn) a return to the ideas of the “civilians” – the Roman Law scholars with their doctrine that the government is limited by no law (as it can create any law it likes – and change any existing law) and that one must hope for wise rulers to promote the happiness of the people… The reactionary Harding and Coolidge claiming that those who seek to “evolve” beyond “vulgar” or “primitive” views of freedom (the property rights view embodied in such things as the British and American Bill of Rights) actually collapse back into the darkest tyrannical despotism.

Surely no one (but the most hardened and bitter reactionary) would deny that governments should promote pleasure and prevent pain (prevent the little darling people, children really, hurting ourselves) – without letting any silly “old right” stand in their way?

Two Spoons and a Rusty Farming Implement…

Is this Britain’s most feckless father? Meet unemployed Peter Rolfe who has had 26 children by 15 women and says ‘it’s just unfortunate so many of them have fallen pregnant’

Apparently he has cost the UK GBP500,000 over the last 20 years in bennies. Well, I guess he has to buy a birthday present at least once a fortnight.

Now, as a married man with an A-level A-grade in biology women do not “fall pregnant”. It takes two to tango so to speak. Or 1+15 (15!) in his case. Let us have a look at this veritable Adonis of the Isle of Wight…

He’s not exactly George Clooney is he? They must be gagging for it in the Solent!

The Mail story quotes heavily from an up-coming (no pun intended) C5 doc about “Benefits Britain”. Now obviously they take the outliers (and outright liars) but is this really about bennies? There is something sicker underlying this. Now I am socially liberal but you can take something so far and this is taking the piss and vinegar. The total lack of any form of sexual morality or taking any responsibility for personal actions is shocking. Having sex with someone is an active choice. It is about agency and without agency we are mere flesh robots chained to our baser urges. Now I’m not saying this geezer who looks like the sort of department store Santa you wouldn’t let your kid near shouldn’t have an active sex-life but… in an age of cheap, widely available and reliable contraception… Anyway, he’s objecting to having a four bedroom house off the council and claiming he needs six bedrooms to house his… er… tribe. My wife and I live in a two bed house. She uses the second bedroom as an office. We also have a cat who sleeps where he pleases because he is a cat. Hell’s Teeth he’s neutered. Can we claim? I don’t want kids (never have), my wife is ditto and Timmy lacks the mandatory equipment. Nah! course not. But if the Isle of White Council wants to bung me expenses for a trip South then I’m up (never been around there). I can furnish my own two spoons and indeed the rusty farming implement. Plenty of them around here. We even have mole traps and they are technically on dodgy ground legally I think. Vicious things. Well capable of preventing #27. Or moles, obviously.

Some observations of foreign types in crowds

There was some strange behaviour outside my hotel this evening, instead of the usual languid European-style pavement restaurant with a few, mainly elderly residents enjoying their café under an iridescent evening sun as a few blonde haired goddesses drift by aimlessly on bicycles, there was a massed throng of unruly teens and drunken men filling the square in front of my hotel.

I presumed that it was some form of political protest as they were uniformly dressed alike, but apparently not, it was in fact an opportunity to get utterly paralytic on Heineken served in plastic cups while watching a giant TV screen erected at the end of the not-so-very-grand place. I initially presumed they were there to watch the local version of “America’s Next One Hit Wonder” or whatever it is called in The Land of Clogs.

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A Word from Kropotkin

With hat-tip to Bryan Caplan*, of all people!

Parents and schools should be at great pains to see that the children learn this, take it to heart, learn to apply it productively. (I mean, you might know that the horses are leaving piles on the roadway, but the DIY method of taking care of the problem is not to kill all the horses.) It’s one of the main points which libertarianism, the Tea Party movement, and any other sensible political or philosophical group should stress.

In existing States a fresh law is looked upon as a remedy for evil. Instead of themselves altering what is bad, people begin by demanding a law to alter it. If the road between two villages is impassable, the peasant says, “There should be a law about parish roads.” If a park-keeper takes advantage of the want of spirit in those who follow him with servile obedience and insults one of them, the insulted man says, “There should be a law to enjoin more politeness upon the park-keepers.” If there is stagnation in agriculture or commerce, the husbandman, cattle-breeder, or corn-speculator argues, “It is protective legislation which we require.” Down to the old clothesman there is not one who does not demand a law to protect his own little trade. If the employer lowers wages or increases the hours of labor, the politician in embryo explains, “We must have a law to put all that to rights.” In short, a law everywhere and for everything! A law about fashions, a law about mad dogs, a law about virtue, a law to put a stop to all the vices and all the evils which result from human indolence and cowardice.

–Peter Kropotkin,
“Law and Authority”

*Bryan Douglas Caplan is an American economist, a professor of Economics at George Mason University, research fellow at the Mercatus Center, adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and blogger for EconLog. Wikipedia

He contributes to econlog.org.

Libertarianism and Conservativism – foes or friends?

F.A. Hayek at the end of his “Constitution of Liberty” (1960) wrote “Why I am not a Conservative” – which is odd as Hayek had (perhaps without knowing it) a good grasp of what actually is a positive conception of conservatism, and a poor grasp of libertarianism.

Hayek rejected the word “libertarian” as “artificial” which is just as well as he was not a libertarian – philosophically or politically.

Philosophically Hayek was a determinist (like so many 19th century and early 20th century thinkers, he assumed that “science” mandated determinism). Hayek took David Hume literally (whether Hume should really be taken literally is a hotly contested issue), the “I” (the human person) is an illusion, as is human choice – a thought does NOT mean a thinker (a reasoning “I”) and as there is no agent (no human being – no reasoning “I”) there is no agency (no free will), actions are predetermined by a series of causes and effects that go back to the start of the universe – and humans (who are not beings) can do no other than we do (we could not have done otherwise – as choice is an illusion).

Politically Hayek claimed to an “Old Whig”, but is hard to see how his philosophical views are compatible with the Whig point of view – which was based on the MORAL value of human free will (it is not an accident that David Hume was not a Whig) . The determinist (such as the Thomas Hobbes) holds that “freedom” is just an absence of external restraint – for example when a dam fails the water is “free” to rush out and destroy towns and so on. “Freedom” (in the determinist view) is not a matter of moral choice (remember choice is an “illusion”) so “freedom” is like taking one’s hand off a clockwork mouse and letting this clockwork mouse go around on the floor. It is hard to see how this “freedom” can be of any moral importance at all – if any view of politics can be based upon it would be a politics of tyranny (exactly the politics that Hobbes did base upon it), after all walls of water from broken dams (and so on) does not sound very nice.

Still does Hayek say anything else about his politics? Yes he does – again in the “Constitution of Liberty” we are told that he supports the “limited state” not the “minimal state”, because (according to Hayek) the minimal state can not be defined and the limited state can be defined.

Hayek is just wrong – the minimal state is easy to define (although very hard to achieve or maintain – an anarchist would argue impossible to maintain or achieve). The definition of a minimal state is one that just uses force only against the violation of the non aggression principle (attacks on the bodies or goods of people or groups of people). It is actually the “limited state” that is hard to define. Limited to what?

Hayek does make some vague efforts to define the “limited state” – for example he says that such a state applies “general rules” that apply to everyone.

O.K. then – everyone is to have their head cut off. Is that a good example of a “limited state”?

Hayek also says that a limited state does not seek to have a monopoly of any service.

O.K. then – everyone but the children of Mr Smith of 25 Silver Street to go to a state school?

Unfair example? O.K. – how about the state hands education and healthcare “free” (at the expense of the taxpayers), but you are free to pay twice (i.e. pay again on top of taxation) to go private? Is this the limited state?

How about you can go to any doctor you like and send your children to any school you like, but the state pays the bill (no matter how big it is), is that the limited state?

Such a state (one that seeks to provide or pay for education, healthcare, old age provision and on and on) will end up spending half the entire economy (and still fail). That does not sound very limited or sustainable – and Hayek (in his attack on the Welfare State) shows he understands this. However, his “limited state” is not defined in a way that prevents it.

Oh dear this post seems to have turned into “why Hayek is crap” which is unfair as anyone (even the best of us) looks terrible if one just concentrates on errors and weaknesses. I will leave the above out if I ever give a talk on this subject (because it sounds terribly negative) – but it needed to be put on record.

So why is Hayek (perhaps without knowing it) insightful about Conservatism?

Hayek’s own definition of Conservatism (given in “Why I am Not a Conservative”) is not good. He just defines it as being opposed to change – so (for example) a North Korean conservative now would be a socialist (or that is the system they have) and a British conservative I (say) 1870 would be a free market person – as this was the system of the time.

Whatever Hayek may have believed that is not a serious definition of Conservatism. But Hayek (again perhaps without knowing it) does give a description of Conservatism – in “Constitution of Liberty”, “Law. Legislation and Liberty” (and other works).

Cosmos not Taxis – spontaneous order (evolved over time) not top down planning. What Hayek called the results of “human action not human design” (it would be have been better to say the results of voluntary action not forced action – but Hayek had philosophical problems with even voluntary design).

Or (in the language of the conservative writer M.J. Oakeshott) a Civil Association not Enterprise Association, a Societas not a Universitas.

Institutions and customs that evolve over time often without people knowing the reasons they are useful – till they are broken.

As Tolkien’s (Tolkien being a Catholic Conservative) character “Gandalf” puts it in the “Lord of the Rings” – “he who breaks a thing to find out what it is, has left the path of wisdom”.

This is what Conservatism is about – a preference for evolved custom and ways of doing things (ways of living) over imposed “rational” planning by the state.

The state (in the Conservative view) is like the Thrain of the Shire (Tolkien’s) and the Mayor.

The Thrain does nothing in peacetime (in war it is different) – he just farms his estate. And the Mayor is the leading figure at formal dinners (like those of the old Closed Corporations that were the only “urban local government” before the Act of 1835 in England and Wales), he does not order folk about. Families govern their own affairs and do not attack each other (police forces were not compulsory on the counties of England and Wales till 1856). There is plenty of (moral – traditional) authority, but little naked “power”.

I think it is obvious show this view of Conservatism is close to libertarianism (hence “Tory Anarchist”) – a friend not a foe. But is it tied to Hayek and his philosophical opinions?

No it is not – which is why I mentioned Oakeshott and Tolkien (two Conservatives with very different philosophical opinions to Hayek). Both Oakeshott and Tolkien believed in free will (agency – moral responsibility, the ability to choose to do otherwise).

Even in the 18th century Conservatives did not follow the philosophical opinions of David Hume (again IF they were his opinions – I repeat this is hotly contested). Neither the Tory Conservative Dr Johnson or the Old Whig Conservative Edmund Burke (a real Old Whig – unlike Hayek) accepted determinism and the denial of human personhood (moral choice – the ability to choose to do otherwise). Edmund Burke and Dr Johnson (the Whig and the Tory) both believed in free will (agency – moral responsibility, the ability to choose to do otherwise) and were moral universalists (not just Dr Johnson – but Edmund Burke also, for the T. Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson view of his is totally wrong, to Burke it did not matter if something happened in the Middle Ages or right now, in India or America – right was right and wrong was wrong).

Is this the only view of Conservatism?

Of course not – there are other views of Conservatism. For example the statism of Disraeli (with his life long commitment to “social reform” – yuk).

However, that is hardly “doing nothing” (against those who do not themselves aggress against others). The Tauist Old King Log sitting in the shade – rather than Young King Stork “helping” his subjects by eating them.

Ken Ham takes his dogma for a walk

Bill-Nye-vs.-Ken-Ham-Debate

Periodically, the intellectual conflict between science and religion comes to a head in the form of a debate and the results of such debates are often quite interesting and lead into areas of enlightenment that are surprising. Those who say scientists should not take part in such debates are fascists, morons and idiots.

I classify myself a lapsed-Catholic agnostic atheist (that is someone who fundamentally does not believe in god, but as a good scientist cannot prove or disprove his/her non-existence, it’s a very good form of rhetorical macramé), as such the debate between Bill Nye, the Science Guy and Ken Ham CEO of the Creation Museum piqued my interest.

At 2½ hours it is quite a long debate, but you need to go through it all to get a real flavour of the thing, the excerpts simply do not do it justice. As you would expect, neither side expected to win over their opponents, but this was a genuine debate for serious stakes, with the minds of children in classrooms at stake.

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The consequence of bias in divorce

Walking Away

I had an interesting conversation with my friend Jon in the UK the other day, in which he sat down to have a heart-to-heart with his nephew and essentially told him “Don’t get married“.

Although this was in the context of a particular, rather neurotic young lady, his argument was in a wider sense that it is no longer in the rational self interest of a man to enter into marriage with any women as the consequences of making a bad decision are catastrophic for both parties, but more so financially and emotionally for the man due to the inherent bias of Western divorce laws.

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The Overhead.

The Internet c.1800s...

That was the semaphore system built by Claude Chappe in France around the time of the French Revolution. If the idea of big semaphore machines connecting a nation (indeed internationally) reminds you of the “Clacks” on Discworld then you are in the right ball-park – almost. There is a key difference which we shall come to though and it is a biggy.

Anyway, this is the size of the network…

... and its reach.

Now here is the big difference. What is the modern, electronic, internet as we know it used for? It is a chaos of chatter and (in)sanity, logic and weirdness, bank transactions, Christmas greetings, pornography, blogging, tweeting, facebook, gaming, terrorist plots and how to build a bomb or how to cook a risotto. It can be anything from an interview with One Direction or a seminar on quantum entanglement. It is humanity in toto.

The French clacks wasn’t (that is the “biggy” I mentioned) and neither could it technically be nor was intended to be. The inventor had this rather disingenuous thing to say,

“Chappe once claimed that a signal could go from Toulon to Paris – 120 stations across 475 miles – in just ten or twelve minutes. But he could not make that claim for a full message, even a relatively short one. Three signals per minute was the most that could be expected of even the fastest telegraph operator.”

In modern terms that is 1/20 bit per second (roughly – the Chappe code had a signal space of 98 symbols (2 beam positions and 7 positions each for the “arms” = 2x7x7=98) which is near enough the size of the standard 7 bit ASCII code – 128 symbols – to compare with allowing a bit of wiggle on human factors). Difference is the first common(ish) home modems worked at like 2000 bps or 40,000 times that speed. Sending a signal as simple as, “Advance at noon, reinforcements will meet on your left flank by 1pm.” would be nightmarish. And that is assuming absolute accuracy in transcription at all stations along the way. It need not be said that 2000bps is dismal. A slow ADSL line is over a thousand times faster and if BT Reach-Around has deemed fit to bother with laying fibre even ADSL on Cu is laughable. Sky (my broadband, TV and landline provider keep on trying to get BT to get us into the C21st – to no avail so far). There are always BT vans prowling and doing nowt. I’m not surprised. I used to work for BT and trying to get them to do anything to the porpoise is like assaulting Broadmoor with soft fruit. They might technically be private but they still behave like a state monopoly. Utterly complacent Bertram Blunts plus ultra.

Anyhoo, back to those old French folk. Not only was the system technically very limited (in that it was fast but with abysmal bandwidth) and therefore unsuitable for general communication but it was never intended for such use. Chappe again,

“…took it for granted that the telegraph network of which he dreamed would be a department of the state, government owned and operated. He saw it not as an instrument of knowledge or of riches, but as an instrument of power. ‘The day will come,” he wrote, ‘when the Government will be able to achieve the grandest idea we can possibly have of power, by using the telegraph system in order to spread directly, every day, every hour, and simultaneously, its influence over the whole republic.”

Chilling but not a million miles away from how our Lords and Masters see the internet. Fortunately they don’t really understand TCP/IP and all that jazz and I don’t think they understand the importance of a technology they simply don’t understand (they don’t understand much tech stuff). But they try, hence such things as the unbelievably poorly thought out violent and extreme pornography bill or assorted attempts around the globe to make pornography an “opt-in” service (for the sake of the children, naturally). And will it stop at porn? Does it ever stop? No, of course not!

Now obviously, there is a difference here – almost an inversion. The old French mechanical “clacks” was a way to govern and the modern internet is a way to keep tabs on the governed. This morning for the first time ever I used my bank card contactless (I’ve forgotten my PIN!!!). Some bugger at the NSA or GCHQ now knows what toilet paper I buy, the brand of ciggies I smoke and that I drink semi-skimmed milk. And yeah, I know they could harvest that from the chip anyway but… as a true believing physicist I find action at a distance, “spooky” ;-) That’s a quote from Einstein by the way though Newton himself was not 100% happy with gravity working like that. General Relativity is at least a locally realistic theory. It may be (usually) more mathematically complicated but Relativity makes far fewer metaphysical assumptions than did Newton. Newton has a fair few mad old dears stashed in the attic clad in their wedding dresses. But I digress…

The simple truth is that by hook or by crook any advance in comms will be seen by our Lords and Masters as a potential means of control. Whether it is owning the entire shooting match or just spying on it is a mere matter of tech to the L&M. Tech they will, thankfully, cock-up profoundly but they do try, bless ‘em.

All quotes from “The Information” by James Glieck.

National Pride – Singapore style

I don’t do winter in Europe (a bit too cold for my liking, especially the forecast for winter 2013/14), so I booked my usual November ticket back to Penang, Malaysia and headed home.

The middle seat in rear economy on an A380 is actually a pretty comfortable ride and comes with a full catalogue of movies to watch on the in seat TV as well as power supply to recharge my two laptops and my Kindle, so I was tired, but not crippled 12½-hours later when I disembarked at Singapore’s Changi airport.

Now a lot of people have some funny ideas about Singapore, some viewing it as a capitalist paradise on earth, others as an autocratic totalitarian state, the truth (as usual) is somewhere in the middle and changing. Certainly the congestion caused by the never-ending construction of the Singapore MRT is a sign of purpose, but also very frustrating for those who drive there.

Singapore - the rise and rise of a modern city

Regardless of this, I had an interesting experience when I visited on Thursday morning, which says something about the character of the place.

I was sat in the T1 departures area abusing their free wifi, when I noticed a crocodile of kids go past (probably 5-7 year olds), led by their teacher. A few minutes later another gaggle of high school kids (around 12 year old) each of them being shown around the airport, about how it worked and about how it was very important to Singapore as the gateway to Asia.

Finally, I was very politely accosted by a group of giggling school kids (around 15-16) who were doing a survey of non-Singaporeans to see what people liked and didn’t like about Singapore and Changi airport in particular.  Afterwards they asked me to pose in a photo, so somewhere on some school wall this week there is probably a picture of John Galt looking bemused and surrounded by smiling teenagers. Let’s hope the Daily Mail doesn’t find out.

What the experienced demonstrated to me was that it doesn’t matter about who you are or where you come from, if you can manage to instil a certain amount of pride and optimism in your children, even about something as mundane as a visit to an airport, then you’re doing well.

Compared to the negativity of their peers in the UK, the difference was palpable.

They may tek our lives but they’ll nivver tek us seriously!

The BBC News is leading on the story that in exactly a year the pale folk up Norf get to vote on dissolving the Union. Well, like, whatever. I don’t care. If King Alex of Pies wants his fiefdom then so be it as long as the rest of us don’t have to pay for the woadsters (is the woad even historically accurate?) to create a Socialist Celtic Wonderland. In any case it is utter gesture politricks (not an sp) because NewScotland(TM) will of course be de facto be as economically tied to England as ever – even though they have pandas. You simply can’t sever those ties easily and they are the real ties that bind – between individuals and companies and such. It’s like imagining Norway can be truly independent of Sweden, or Canada from the USA.

Now don’t get me wrong. This post is not really about Scottish Independence which is a bizarre idea in an increasingly globalised planet (or maybe not – the only branch of government I trust is my parish council – so, perhaps smaller political entities is the way ahead) but this blanket coverage of what is in many ways a non-issue (we’re not going to get “Checkpoint Alex” in Berwick or rebuild Hadrian’s Wall (don’t tell Micky Gove – it’s the sort of deranged thing he’d like – teaches Classics and gets the proles doing something)).

No, this post is about something deeper. It is the absurd attention that the TV News (I’ll betya Sky weren’t better) pays to politics. And it ain’t just us. I was last in the USA in 2006 and a certain chap I’d never heard of was everywhere on the TV. You might know of him – he’s now the President. He was being hyped more than two years before the election. Now regardless of your feelings about Mr Obama that is ridiculous and so is this. As I said, this is irrelevant. We have a Scottish contributor here, Sam Duncan. Now we, obviously, don’t agree on everything but I’ll bet you dollars to donuts if we met we’d probably talk more about the late and lamented Commodore Amiga computer than who pays for prescription charges in Fife. Shallow? No. Real. We hear a lot in the blogosphere about stringing ‘em up etc but the cruelest and most effective treatment for the political class is to ignore them. They’d rather be flayed over a gun-carriage than have me or you just go, “Yeah, like, whatever…” You can argue the Midlothian question or whether there ought to be a separate Scottish team at the Rio Games in 2016 until you are blue in the face but, “Sam, do you think Atari would have developed the Amiga better…” is more interesting. The really big questions are the small ones. Politicians only make their stuff important because we let them. And the mirage of Scottish independence is a prime example. Note it is exactly a year from now that Scotland goes to the polls. It will be the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. Now if that isn’t gesture politics then I’m a Dutchman!

Does anyone care? Hell’s teeth! When I was in the USA in 2006 I visited amongst other things the Capitol which the Redcoats torched (using the contents of the Library of Congress as kindling) during the War of 1812. Like who cares anymore? I didn’t do it – honest! It’s quite possible ancestors of mine fought at Bannockburn though I neither know nor care upon which side. This is not to dismiss history but to put it into context and not keep on trotting it out like Basil Fawlty with German guests.

And here is something that barely scrapped the news yet really puts our minor squabbles over flags and such into genuine context – this summer our species achieved something remarkable and in the grand scheme a much bigger deal than arguing the toss over the EU-specified meat-content of a haggis or whatever excruciating minutiae the pols raise to rarefied heights of significance. Voyager I passed the Heliopause. There is now a man-made object in interstellar space. Now that is important (and more to the point cool) and makes the ambitions of Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon (why so fishy?) look utterly petty. Or to quote John Nance Garner* (he was speaking about the US Vice Presidency – that he held), “It’s not worth a pitcher of warm piss”.

Similarly, I have never for the life of me understood Ireland and it’s “troubles” (how delightfully euphemistic). I guess they were “solved” by giving Gerry Adams** a ministerial Jag rather than a cell in the Maze Prison which of course says much about the venality of politicians. No, I never did understand Ireland. If we consider one substantive issue (i.e. not the colours flying over Stormont) like, say, abortion then surely there would be a meeting of minds between staunch Catholics and staunch Presbyterians? So why the agro? Neither of them were up on birth-control or queers so they ought to have gotten along like a house on fire which I suppose in a twisted sense they did. I know many, many people died (frequently horribly) in Ireland over the decades but this anecdote sums it up for me. I gleaned this gem from a documentary many years back. Apparently you set off a fertilizer bomb using sulphuric acid and the best thing to keep that in is apparently a condom which is then ruptured for the kaboom! OK. I’ll take their word for it only ever having used condoms for the more traditional reasons but being “good Catholics” debate erupted amongst the IRA as to the use of “immoral objects” to achieve their moral goals such as indiscriminate killing and maiming. The lack of seeing the big picture here is astonishing. As a side-light it is also illuminating as to assigning morality to objects. I can’t help but feel there is some sort of connexion with the gun-control nuts. A gun is neither moral nor immoral. Going on a rampage in Mumbai is immoral. Shooting a rabid dog in the way Atticus Finch did is the right thing to do. Morality is not about means but desire. With a box of matches you can burn a Rwandan village (and its inhabitants) to ash but you can also light a cooking fire for the refugees. Nobody said life was about easy decisions. Nobody but politicians anyway. They are far too eager to legislate and then call the problem a done one. Just look at the “War on Drugs”.

There is an uncomfortable truth here. Being good and decent is not about law as such (would you rape, rob or murder even if there were no laws against such acts?) it’s about being good and decent and whether you get that from a holy book or just knowing (I suspect there is a large cross-over) morality is not legality. It is not statutes, laws nor all the rest. It is generally fairly basic and obvious***. And that is what is uncomfortable. Like Voyager I in the interstellar cold we have to let slip the surly apron-strings and no amount of politics and minimum booze prices or smoking bans or warnings on fatty food or campaigns against sexual harassment shall do that – just plain decency out of the creche – and yeah it’s a tough one to wave nanny goodbye.

Arguably such laws are counter-productive but the simple truth is that being fair, decent and honest is internal because if we are worth anything we are moral agents, not subjects. It is that simple and that hard. It is why (and I’ve lived in some rough areas – but not here, not now) I implicitly trust my next-door neighbour with my keys and we have hers. Perhaps politicians don’t get this simple truth. Laws can’t force the “good” whether it be a ban or a nudge or whatever. You just are good. Or not. Or most likely a “bit of both”. Yes, the morality of actions can be difficult to judge. That is partly why such judgements matter. Morality matters because we aren’t just Skinner’s pigeons. Politicians don’t understand this. They have the hubris to believe they can perfect the human condition. They can’t (clearly) and neither can we but we can get much closer than they because in a sense we don’t believe. Politics is almost entirely grand-standing. If I were ever in a position to employ folks then would I give a toss about whether or not they were gay, straight, male, female, black, white, Muslim, Christian or Jew… No! If they could field-strip a Dell and tell me what was wrong with it then bingo!

That wasn’t as much of a digression as I had feared.

I regard myself as a libertarian almost not as a political position or even an anti-political position but as orthogonal to politics. The title of this post (despite wrapping itself in a second-hand version of a third-hand Scottish flag – must be a bit tatty by now…) has nothing really to do with Scotland. It’s about the bigger picture. It’s about what freedom really means. Nationalism (of any form) is just a crib-sheet for freedom devoured by politicians. We know better. Don’t we?

We are star-dust that has just started to flirt with the Galaxy and the BBC witters on about Scottish Independence? I like Scotland (when it isn’t raining****) or I’m being eaten alive by midges and it will still be there however the vote goes. It is obviously of supreme importance to the sort of people this sort of thing is of supreme importance to but if, for example, I asked Sam to recommend a Linux distro would it matter? No. Of course not! -

See how irrelevant this is to us all? And see how nasty making it so is?

And Voyager I just projs on!

It’s like the final scene in “Antz” where the CGI pans out to show the anthill is just a little mound in Central Park in NYC.

*A contrary sod but let one of his enemies extol his virtues. In Congressional testimony, union leader John L. Lewis described him as “a labor-baiting, poker-playing, whiskey-drinking, evil old man”. Gets my vote!
**Perhaps the most bizarre graffiti I ever did see was in the gents of the George Green Science Library, University of Nottingham, “I’d sleep with Gerry Adams but I’d be thinking of Martin McGuinness”. God knows!
***Yes, I appreciate there are complexities here. Especially in terms of things like IP and contract law and such and such.
****Living near Manchester that is very important.

Nathaniel Branden on Self-Esteem and Libertarianism

A talk by Dr. Nathaniel Branden in which he considers a couple of possible reasons why Libertarianism is unappealing to many people today (“today” being, I believe, in 1999 or 2000; he’d have been about 70 at the time).

[Dr. Branden is probably the single most successful publicizer of the Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. He is a psychotherapist whose work has largely been focussed on the importance and the practical building of (genuine, not hoked-up) self-esteem.]

Unfortunately, the 32-minute video does not include the Q&A.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LURSc-PwRyU

Lying in the Age of Obama

Victor Davis Hanson, for those who have the misfortune to be located in the Provinces *g*, is a military and classical historian who is a highly-regarded columnist on current affairs here in the States.

Below are the major headings from his piece on the current vogue for and acceptability of lying as a way of life, with a sentence or two from the start of each. There are many more links throughout the piece, at the source:

http://pjmedia.com/victordavishanson/lying-in-the-age-of-obama/?singlepage=true

Victor Davis Hanson:

Lying in the Age of Obama

July 23rd, 2013 – 12:02 am

A Nation of Liars

The attorney general of the United States lied recently to Congress. He said he knew of no citizen’s communications that his department had monitored. Lie!

But why pick on the president?

The media routinely peddles “noble” untruths. ABC manipulated a video to show George Zimmerman without much injury to his head.

It’s Not Really the Cover-up

Our current scandals are predicated on lies. No one believed the official White House version that the IRS miscreants were rogue agents from a Cincinnati field office.

Is There Anyone Left Who Doesn’t Lie?

Why do they lie? Because they can. Or to paraphrase Dirty Harry, they like it.

The Cover-up Pays

We repeat the nauseous canard that “it is not the crime, but the cover-up” that gets you in trouble in Washington. But that too is often a lie….

Why Do Our Best and Brightest Lie?

There are both age-old and more recent catalysts for lying.

One, lying and plagiarism are forms of narcissism.

So Why Not Lie?

I end with three reasons to tell the truth.

“We always lose,” says Chris at the end of the The Magnificent Seven after he did the right thing. Or to paraphrase the cinematic T.E. Lawrence about Auda Abu Tayi, we will not lie, as do our elites, because it is simply “our pleasure” not to.

Gracchus knew the reality of it

Reaction to the departure of David Milliband in the media was mixed.  The Guardian/BBC axis treated it like the death of Nelson Mandela, whereas Peter Oborne in the Telegraph described him as a greedy failure.  I suspect the wider populace collectively shrugged, if they noticed at all.  I fancy one or two front benchers in the Labour party maybe secretly very pleased.  Oddly enough, my mind went back to a scene from the 1960 version of Spartacus.

It was the part where Glabarus, the beaten commander of the garrison of Rome is explaining to the Senate how he managed to lose six cohorts fighting slaves.

Gracchus: This is no time for a man of honour to withdraw from public affairs!

Senators: Shame, shame! – Sit down.

Gracchus: This sort of heroic public behaviour is nothing new!  I’ve seen it before– we all have– and I know the meaning of it!

Senator: Crassus acted on a point of honour! – Patrician honour!

Gracchus: No matter how noble this looks from the outside…I don’t like the colour of it.

Senator: Crassus is the only man in Rome…who hasn’t yielded to republican corruption, and never will!

Gracchus: I’ll take some republican corruption along with some republican freedom…but I won’t take is the dictatorship of Crassus and no freedom at all!

That’s what he’s out for and that’s why he’ll be back.

Now I am not suggesting Milliband would like a Roman style military dictatorship of course, neither am I suggesting he is a man of honour like Crassus.  What I mean is, he’ll be back, and I’m not suggesting that would be a good thing either.

Incidentally, when reading the script, I came across this gem.  I think it rather neatly explains socialist politicians these days.

Crassus: For Gracchus, hatred of the patrician class is a profession…and not such a bad one, either.  How else can one become master of the mob and first senator of Rome?

What I did at 8:30am…

At 8:30am I was shoveling from the council gritter into a wheel barrow. Now I don’t mean the kind of crappy ball-jobbies that lilac-shirted maker of crap vacuum cleaners (give me a Henry) James-Bastarding-Dyson designs but a proper agricultural wheel-barrow. One that I had just previously tipped-out of snow and something vaguely organic that I can only call “matter”. I may have killed an advanced microbial civilization. I frankly don’t care.

Now, the gritting of the path (and we had a collection of biddies and codgers in today and I seriously doubt if one of them fractured a hip they’d easily get an ambulance up the road so I grits the path). I subsequently have fielded two phone-calls from folk turning-up asking for advice on getting 4x4s up the road. My neighbour has a Land Rover and he told me he wasn’t driving anywhere for “Love nor money”. But I had to get a full wheel-barrow – one-wheel drive (powered by a single Nick-Power engine about 100 metres up a 45 degree slope, through the snow, in the wind.

It was emotional. At one point I stopped. At this point I learned the true meaning of the phrase, “Adding insult to injury”.

Because a dog-walker happened by. A twinkly middle-aged bell-end and Gore-Texed to the hilt – looked like Ranolph Fiennes exploring his Southern Pole and he asked me, “If I was having fun”?

Rapidly, three options presented themselves…

In order…

1. Cut his head off with my spade and hurl it into the river. Advantage: instant gratification! Disadvantage: 20 years in Strangeways.

2. Say something really sarky like, “Yeah, the last time I had this much fun I was having an umbrella drink on a private Carribean island whilst an oiled-up Halle Berry and Scarlett Johanson were wrestling over who got to give me a blow-job – oh, and I was also watching NUFC beat Sunderland 25-0″. I just couldn’t be bothered.

3. Do nothing. Say nothing. Shove that barrow up the road! Proj on!

I did #3.

There is a moral to this tale. It is that there is one born every minute and they are mainly cunts.

Oh I don’t mean Chairman Mao class-cunts! I mean the common or garden variety of cuntishness. Just the casual twattish version of cuntery. I didn’t even want him to get me a bit of momentum up. No. I just didn’t appreciate having the piss taken by a bloke who wasn’t pushing a heavily laden barrow through the fucking snow up a steep hill. Just a little empathy for your fellow traveller on life’s pathway. Just, actually, not saying anything.

Israeli Elections 2013.

The balance of power will be held by a political party headed by a television presenter (the son of a another media type) who has promised everything (education, health, housing) to everybody – and who is known (even to his actual supporters) as “Pretty Boy”.

Anyone want to explain how Representative Democracy is a good thing?

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