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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?

In a hole in the ground…

…there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats-the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill-The Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it-and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another. No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage. The best rooms were all on the left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden, and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river.

- JRRT, “The Hobbit”.

Sounds OK. I mean apart from the Sky dish and broadband that’s nicer than my gaff – and I like my gaff. So… What is the Mainly Fail on about with Mrs Bilbo. She looks a sight and lives like a scumbag in a way that annoys me (because she thinks herself “righteous”). We clearly all can’t – all 62 million of us Brits can’t afford to live like that – even if we wanted to! I mean I live in a house first built c.1600 but it ain’t Hobbiton (it’s on the outskirts of Manchester which was one of the places modernity was invented). More to the point why consider that living in a mud-hut can be compared to Bilbo’s gaff? Shifty Failish churnalism – again. Yet again.

Soon enough I shall wire-up the TV (downstairs) to the router (upstairs) for internet TV. This will involve an electric drill and language that would put Viz to shame. As I said, it’s c.1600 and I’m c.1973 so God knows what you drill into. Or what ineffable Geordisms may occur. I am no longer taking monies on the frequent use of “buggerated piss-flappery”.

Bilbo lived the most comfortable life imaginable (without electricity) (I can’t imagine life before Nikola Tesla stole lightning from Al Gore* or whomever because Tesla was a nasty man and made us modern.)

Admittedly I don’t have wizards and dwarves coming round with offers of quests. The lack thereof is a bit of a downer about living in the C21st. I would give up my comfort in an instant mind and dash out of my gaff, without a handkerchief, on an adventure (it’s my “Tookish” part). But whilst part of me would love to go into Wilderland with an Elvish blade in the company of dwarves I am still in Bag End. Hell’s teeth I want to be in the first Éored storming the fields of Pelennor. But it ain’t going to happen.

I am up for offers for anything utterly outrageous even if it means missing second breakfast. Usually that means somebody has a buggered Dell which can be fun but it’s not exactly dragon-slaying is it?

It is though civilization and not some sort of (quasi-sexual/quasi-religious?) kick about daubing the walls with horse shit. Because you see I am a Geordie and that means engineering and making life easier and more pleasant. But not just Geordies. Oh, no! Lots of other folk got into engines and abandoned the cute life – look at the “Good Life” – would the Goods have survived without continual help from Margo and Jerry? It is only slags like Drew Barrymore

Barrymore: I took a poo in the woods hunched over like an animal … awesome.
Diaz: (laughing) I’m so jealous right now. I’m going to the woods tomorrow.
Barrymore: It was awesome.

And E.T. told her to be “Be Good”! That’s Cameron Diaz by the way who once plastered the inside of someone’s gaff in Nepal with cow shit – on a show for MTV – whether they asked for this or not I dunno. Do you see a common thread here? I call it “Marie Antoinette syndrome”. You only aspire to play milk-maids and such when you don’t have to. For the really poor of this World in Africa and India and such places motorbikes and mobile phones make the difference not Hollywood A-listers who probably spend more on a set of bathroom taps than it would cost to drill a well for an entire village for people who can only dream of having a bathroom let alone the palatial ones Ms Barrymore and Ms Diaz have in their mansions.

So how does the humble phone and the motorbike help? Well, imagine you are from Kerala and fish for a living. There are several ports you can land your catch at. You got a mate shore-side and he texts you which one is short on fish and he’s got his bike (so he can find out) and your fish will be delivered by him on his bike. It all works out beautifully. It minimizes waste and ultimately forces down prices so it ain’t just good for you and your biker pal but for everyone.That makes a difference. Drew Barrymore crapping in your mango plantation doesn’t. Unless of course the canny owner puts it on EBay quick-smart, as a “Genuine Hollywood Turd”! Some deranged loon would buy it. If the internet has taught us anything it is that there is always one…

Oh, it undoubtedly made her feel good for a certain value of good. But so what? If she really wanted to help she could invest her millions in a Kawasaki dealership in Angola or an Indonesian mobile phone merchant or something.

We could save so much water if we all “hunched over like an animal”. It would make dog-walking perilous mind. “Watch out Rover! Charlize Theron is taking a dump behind that bush!”. Oh, and we’d have endemic cholera. Which of course they have in the poor countries. There is nothing noble about being a savage. And there is nothing decadent about having indoor plumbing. If you want a suggestion for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square how about Joseph Bazalgette?

Or Drew Barrymore squatting. I shouldn’t have said that because that is precisely the sort of thing the Arts Council would fund. Not a distinguished white, male, be-whiskered Victorian engineer. Oh that would never do! The Bazalgette sewer system still works for an enormously larger London. He built quite a bit of slack into it. Basically he based the diameters on the maximum expected and then doubled them. His argument for this is they were only going to do it once so… And that is how we have the magnificent city we call our capital. Because of people who had vision beyond shitting in St John’s Wood and calling it “awesome”. Joseph Bazalgette lived a large chunk of his life in St John’s Wood and God alone knows what the great engineer would have thought if he’d found a Hollywood starlet “in the position” whilst out surveying. A sewer system for the (at the time) largest city ever on the planet is an awesome achievement. An arboreal defecation, less so.

And Bilbo wouldn’t approve. He liked his comfort (who doesn’t?). He liked a well-stocked larder and a mug of ale with his pipe by his front door. He was, in short (which he was), disgustingly middle-class. And fair play to the fellow. He was (is?) what half the World aspires to be and what a very vocal, though considerably less than half the World, aspires to demonize.

To put it bluntly. I suspect that a huge swathe of enivro-mental do-gooders want Africa and (other places) to remain “authentic”. They don’t want ‘em to develop because that means they can’t go over and patronise them and feel good about it. And of course development means certain people will make loads of money which is clearly evil unless you make loads of money from being one of “Charlie’s Angels”. Of course that is fine. Digging sewers in Lagos or putting Wifi into Mumbai is obviously evil. You know in much the same way the greatest philanthropist (and he does look a bit Hobbitish) of all time is an evil man. That would be Bill Gates. Of course he was never as cool as Steve Jobs who never even flicked a dime towards research into the cancer that killed him (look it up – it’s 2:32am by this Win 7 machine here). But he wore jeans and a black polo-neck so he must be cool and therefore good.

I am now going to sit down with a pipe of Longbottom and discuss roots with The Gaffer…

The opposite of camouflage.

Almost all serious warships defend themselves with CIWS guns and missiles and also with chaff and flares. Tanks trundle around firing off smoke to confuse IR seekers. Aircraft also deploy chaff and flares and have done since at least Operation Gomorrah – the RAF’s complete destruction of Hamburg. It was codenamed “Window” at the time.

Guns and missiles target things. Chaff and flares do something else. They are in a sense the opposite of camouflage. Camouflage is about not being seen. Launched counter measures and some of the electronic types such as used by the Luftwaffe’s Tornado ECR or the USN’s EF-18 Growler are about making your-self super-visible. Yes, the other side will see there is an armoured column but the smoke will obscure the individual vehicles. The radar reports when chaff is deployed and will result in ther othe guys seeing something wicked this way coming but individual aircraft – forget it!

And that is what I think Savile did. It is entirely imaginable that a seemingly perfectly normal man is a sexual predator of kids. He hides behind normality (camouflage) of I dunno, reading the Telegraph, having a wife and kids, a Ford Focus and a dull but respectable Job. He wears M&S clothes and is the sort of bloke you could walk past in the street without batting an eyelid. We all know such people. Some of us are such people. Very, very few of us are kiddie-fiddlers. That’s the point about camouflage. You know the credit sequence from “Dad’s Army”? They have foliage in their helmets. Now we all know most foliage doesn’t shoot back. That is how camouflage works.

The alternative of making yourself very big indeed works rather differently. I am sure many rapists and peadophiles go to extraordinary lengths to hide their preversions behind a veneer of normality verging on dullness. Jimmy Savile clearly didn’t. The bamboozle. It’s an alternative tactic. To put it in crude and approximate military terms. If you want to count the birds all out and all back to home plate for a big raid you can either make the enemy radar show nothing (stealth) or light-up their screens like a Christmas tree (EW aircraft, chaff, flares, whatever). The difference between the two is the stealth raid is invisible* and the alternative is very visible but amorphous and utterly confusing. It’s like this, “Major, we have something enormous coming in from the West”. “Sergeant, can you give me plot lines and numbers?” “Er.. sorry Sir, no. It’s everywhere!”

A completely white screen shows no information in the same way a completely black screen does.

Jimmy Saville was the white screen, the Christmas tree. I always thought his “confirmed batchelor” status and nothing coming out about his sex-life meant that like many celebs of his generation he was gay but didn’t want to come out. Also of course he was such a pantomime grotesque that the very idea of him having sex at all was enough for me to puke. He certainly wasn’t ever anyone’s Brad or Angelina. So he throws up the absurd smokescreen – the cigar chomping, more jewellery than Mr T, marathon runner who does lots of work for charidee utterly weirdo persona. And just like the armoured column with their smoke rockets or the aerial armada with it’s Window he gets away with what he is really up to. And in the same way such a stratagem can be very effective. The RAF did that over Hamburg in WWII and the IAF did much the same taking out that apparent nuke site in Syria a few years back. The opposite of camouflage is frequently very effective. Lots of people thought Jimmy Savile was hiding being gay behind his smokescreen so we didn’t look because we just assumed. This covered the fact he was abusing his charity work to rape spinally injured children. Here Savile was channeling another very bright and very evil man, Goebbels. You recall his dictum about lies? Whoppers are the way forward.

Well, sort of. It’s a bit cleverer than that. Your smokescreen makes people suspect the assumed little white lie so that is where they look so the great lie is not even looked for. And what is really clever is that if there is no little white lie anyway journalists and the like just give up. Especially when the real truth is from the bowels of Hell itself. If 1/10 of the accusations against Savile are true then he was a grotesque human being. We frequently use that adjective to denote extreme horribleness but it is worth reminding ourselves perhaps of the dictionary definition…

gro·tesque   [groh-tesk] Show IPA
adjective
1.
odd or unnatural in shape, appearance, or character; fantastically ugly or absurd; bizarre.
2.
fantastic in the shaping and combination of forms, as in decorative work combining incongruous human and animal figures with scrolls, foliage, etc.

Savile was grotesque (common parlance) and hid behind grotesque (dictionary definition). It worked for five decades because the hideous truth was so obfuscated behind a screen of studied weirdness that it was almost unbelievable. Yes he played the loveable English eccentric card as well as the Goebbels one (how can anyone believe he is sexually abusing these kids he raises money for – you’re just saying it because he looks odd – and how dare you cast doubt on a National Treasure!)

It’s a strange cognitive dissonance that someone wily and evil can use to great effect. Consider Michael Jackson. I have no idea if he was a peadophile. Partly because I have no idea how his mind worked. Maybe he was and if so his smokescreen of weirdness was even more effective than Savile’s. I suspect not in Jackson’s case. I think he was just a genuinely very odd man made so by bizarre circumstances (note the difference of the influence of family between the Osmonds and the Jacksons). .

Consider also the case of Gordon “Prudence” Brown, the Iron Chancellor. He spent money like water but hid in clear sight because no grim, humourless son of the manse could spend money like a drunk sailor could they? Now that was camouflage and it worked for a time.

We all for good or ill hide (to an extent) hide behind creations, deceptions, personae we wittingly or unwittingly create (or at times have forced upon us). Some of these are camouflage and some are the opposite. The later often works better than the former. It is misdirection rather than hiding. Ask any accomplished stage magician about that one.

*I’m talking in broad terms for the analogy here.

Question time ~ where are you politically?

Confession; back in the dim and distant days of my youth, when politics was something I first became aware of, I was a socialist.  I quite happily believed that the state should organise society ‘fairly’ and coercive taxation was absolutely fine to that end.

 

To be fair, I was just finishing my time in a state comprehensive gulag where obedience to the state and authority was inculcated with North Korean vigour.  We were taught straight lies such as how FDR’s wise statist policies helped bring about an end to the depression and any independent thinking or action was beaten out of you by a sadistic deputy head.  Combine that with the ever-admirable BBC being the only easily available news source pre-internet and satellite TV days and my youthful stupidity and it’s not too surprising perhaps.

 

Francois Guisot is attributed with the original version of “If you are not a socialist when you are twenty you have no heart, but if you are still one at thirty you have no brain”

 

Anyway, by the time I had arrived at my early twenties, I was beginning to notice that despite all the flowery prose, I couldn’t quite seem to find a society which was successful and a shining example of what socialism could deliver.  The East Europeans were just vile and even the Swedes seemed to have taxes at such a level as to make any kind of independent life tricky.  So being confronted by evidence, I concluded that if I wasn’t a socialist I must be a conservative right?  Certainly the low-tax rhetoric and limited intervention seemed to make more sense if we wanted to get rich as a nation and by the mid to late 1980’s despite the Beeb doing it’s best to ignore or obfuscate matters, it was clear that the Thatcher experiment was economically more successful than anything in Eastern Europe. 

 

It was kind of uncomfortable, realising I was something that I had been taught to hate, but the rationalist inside me was not suppressed despite all the propaganda.  As I looked at the economics more and more I began to think I was a really right wing conservative believing in lower and lower taxation and fewer and fewer rules.  Even under Thatcher and later Major I thought taxes were way too high and the petty meddlesome nonsense was simply government by personal preference (which of course it was). 

 

On discovering Ayn Rand I began to see conventional politics as the violent, coercive lie that it really is, viz pick your slave master and I’ve gone from the libertarian position of minarchist watchman-state to more or less the full-on anarcho*-capitalist view of Murray Rothbard and others.  If you’ve never seen him on Youtube, kick out the TV for an evening and watch a few lectures.    

 

So to the question.  In what (if any areas) do you think the state is justified?  Please explain your thinking.  Some things like foreign aid seem obvious candidates to close the book on, others perhaps trickier.  So tell me where you accept the state gun and where you prefer the heady atmosphere of freedom.

 

 

(*this is obviously not the ‘smash-up McDonalds’ position of a few arsehole socialist worker types, but actual voluntaryism).  

 

Alan Davies is Right…

for once. He usually isn’t on QI. [These are my interjections].

Davies, an Arsenal fan, said that Liverpool’s refusal to play this Sunday, April 15 [anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989], was “ridiculous”. [It is.]

The club’s stance has forced their semi-final against Everton to be played on Saturday, pushing back the Chelsea versus Tottenham semi-final to the Sunday, only three days before Chelsea play Barcelona in the semi-final of the Champions League.
Speaking on his football podcast, The Tuesday Club, he said: “What are you talking about, ‘We won’t play on the day’? Why can’t they? My mum died on 22 August. I don’t stay in all day on 22 August.”

“Do they play on the date of the Heysel Stadium disaster? How many dates do they not play on? Do Man United play on the date of Munich? Do Rangers play on the date when all their fans died in that disaster whatever year that was — 1971?”

Davies suggested that the priority should have been to give Chelsea an extra day to prepare for Barcelona.

Well that is a point and Chelsea and Barca is a big match. More to the point should such maudlin sentimentality influence anything? I mean we’re British for fuck’s sake!

His comments provoked a wave of criticism and abuse on Twitter [#whatever!], a medium he uses regularly and on which he later apologised. One Twitter user said he was glad that Davies’ mother had died, while another wrote: “You made fun of dead people so the logical thing to do is make you one of the dead people.” [No he didn't make fun of the dead but if that's Scouse logic I'll stick to the other... er... logical logic] Davies retweeted many abusive messages, including one which said: “Absolutely shocking comments from you all respect lost. —- just try going to Liverpool now you will —-ing die.” [from my experiences of Liverpool that's a kinda toss-up isn't it?] The comedian has since made a £1,000 donation to the Hillsborough Justice Fund [the what?] but Sheila Coleman, spokesman for the justice campaign, said they would return his money. She said that, while they accepted his apology for the “crass and insensitive comments” [they were neither], they would prefer that he “educated himself about why people are so sensitive about this” [because they are Scousers who are unbelievably thin-skinned - and "educated"? What is this the Scouseacaust?] rather than make a cash donation. Davies made matters worse by also insulting Liverpool’s manager, Kenny Dalglish. He said: “Every interview he’s given this season he looks like he wants to headbutt the interviewer.

“This tight-mouthed, furious, frowning, leaning-forward, bitter Glaswegian ranting: ‘Liverpool FC do not play on April 15th.’ ” [Fair comment from Davies. Mr Dogleash always sounds to me like a wasp chewing a bulldog. What is it about Scottish former Liverpool players - that's you Hansen - that makes them such profoundly, almost existentially miserablist?]

Davies, also famous for his role as Jonathan Creek, added: “Hillsborough is the most awful thing that’s happened in my life, in terms of football. It’s one of the worst tragedies in English peacetime history. But it’s ridiculous that they refuse to play on that day any more.”

Precisely. It’s like saying nothing should ever be built over New York’s Ground Zero. Great cities rebuild. And if we’re on about panic and crush deaths in England it might be worth considering the 1943 Bethnal Green Tube disaster that resulted in 173 deaths. When I lived in London I used that station a lot and saw the memorial plaque many times. Did it stop me? No. Did it stop other London residents? No. Our histories are built over such tragedies. A great city has a capacity to regenerate – that is what makes it great. What about Warsaw or Hamburg or Hiroshima? What even of Troy or Jericho? Or Atlanta?

The final example is why I am now thinking of the REM song Cuyahoga. I have seen that river and it is red and that’s both geology and metaphor – “This river runs red over red”. I am also reminded of King Theoden, “What can men do against such reckless hate?”. Theoden, with a little coaxing, came to the correct conclusion.

He also received support, with people highlighting that Liverpool supporters and the city as a whole had such a penchant for introspection that has seen it labelled the “self-pity city”.

That’s putting it very politely. The contrast between Mancunian swagger (which can, admittedly, be annoying at times) and Scouse bathos is staggering. If we go back to the Munich air-crash there is a similar thing going on with Leeds fans. When I lived in Leeds I met LUFC fans who were generally despicable. They didn’t celebrate Leeds winning games but Manchester United losing them. Dismal. I recall them singing a song, “How many bodies in the snow?” about that crash n Germany. Many, many years after the event they still “celebrated” that dreadful incident. I bit my tongue (having no desire to end-up at the Leeds General Infirmary) and contented myself by thinking just one word, “cunts”.

But back to the Mersey. a lad I once temped with had done a degree at Liverpool University (a fine institution – motto, “Fiat Lux”). One night he and all but one of his flatmates (who was behind on an essay or something) had gone out for a drink and came back to find the house ransacked and the lad stark naked, gagged and tied to his bed. There was no sexual motive here. A bunch of Scouse scrotes had just taken everything including a student’s underpants (they’d also taken everyone else’s clothes and even the tinned food unto the cans of Tesco Value tomatoes). In the long and lamentable chronicle of complete and utter human scumbaggery that is well up there. I mean it’s hardly suave international art theft material with George and Brad capering is it? They stole the socks he’d stood up in as well.

In his apology, he conceded that the “tone I take on the podcast was inappropriate for this subject.”

Davies shouldn’t have apologised. That was his mistake. Never apologise if you’re right. It’s just like those Motoons of Doom. God alone knows what Scouse Muslims are like for taking offence…

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