Broad Oak: your emotional support animal

Thursday, February 27, 2014

That double-faced companion


Above all things he feared imagination, that double-faced companion, friend on one side and foe on the other – friend in so far as one distrusts it, and enemy if one goes trustfully to sleep to the sound of its sweet murmur.
Ivan Goncharov – Oblamov

Spinoza distrusted imagination, seeing it as the primary form of defective and deceptive thinking. However, both his view and Goncharov’s may have been influenced by the absurdly superstitious worlds in which they found themselves.

These days we value our imagination, often equating it to creativity. Yet I think Spinoza and Goncharov had a point and we should distrust its sweet murmur. It seems to me that vast swathes of political reasoning are little more than the sweet murmur of imagination swirling around some more or less nebulous utopian core.

Impossibilities dressed up as possibilities, like a dream where we swoop and soar through fluffy clouds supported by nothing better than the power of the unconscious mind to pooh pooh physics.

One day there will be an app for people who hanker after a more active imagination. An app which knows our habits and limitations will trawl the web to find some imaginative yet personalised possibilities complete with bespoke ads and special offers...

...and that’s enough imagination for one day.

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All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Where our enemy hides


In my view a significant proportion of the public sector generates junk. This is largely achieved by ignoring efficiency and by gold-plating regulations.

The private sector also generates junk via market logic – if the customer can be persuaded to accept it, then junk it is.

So we end up with two broad types of junk and have been conditioned to accept both. This is politically convenient because it generates an endless source of misdirection over those we see as the political good guys and those we see as bad. Good junk versus bad junk.

In order to form an idea of an unknown situation our imagination borrows elements that are already familiar.
Marcel Proust - À la recherche du temps perdu

The real problem seems to be one of power – obviously. If governments, bureaucracies or global companies have too much power then they abuse it by filling our lives with junk. They don’t necessarily abuse it because ratbags are running the show, although that’s often the case, but because there is no adequate opposition. We are insufficiently junkphobic.

So we have far too many regulations, far too many constraints on individual freedom and vast global companies buy their way into the corridors of power and our lives. These trends are obviously not desirable, but the surest way to misunderstand them is to present modern politics as an antiquated left/right dichotomy.

There is no left/right dichotomy except in our political traditions which have long outlived their usefulness. The same applies to traditional political parties.

The only political issue is who has the power, what they are doing with it. If those with the power collude as they now do, then we have power structures which cannot be effectively opposed from a traditional left/right standpoint.

So the only political reality is global trends in political and economic power. The old left/right dichotomy doesn’t even come close to an adequate narrative.

This is not where our enemy hides.

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All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A letter to Mr Nigel Farage MEP

Dear Mr Farage

EU debate with Nick Clegg: suggestions
 
Please accept my congratulations on your accepting Nick Clegg’s challenge – one that, I hope, he will have good reason to regret having made.  May I offer some points to raise in the debate?
 
Not “why should we leave?” but “why should we join?”:  Some argue – and I think they’re right – that the English Constitution cannot be altered without the express consent of all parties, including the Commons speaking for themselves, not through elected representatives. If that is so, then all acts to date of the British Government and Parliament implying surrender of sovereignty in any degree, are ultra vires.  Why not offer Clegg that as a hypothetical starting point, and ask what reasons he could give for us to surrender our sovereignty to the EU? This shifts the onus to him.
 
College of Europe: What exactly did Clegg learn in his year there, and did he make any oaths or give any undertakings that might conflict with his duty as a British MP and Minister?
 
UK Parliament: continuing the conflict of interest theme, should all in either House who have been EU Commissioners or otherwise stand to lose their EU pension and privileges if they fail to represent a pro-EU point of view, not merely declare their interest but recuse themselves from voting or taking part in any debate that has an EU dimension?

Yours sincerely

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All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Frankenjigsaw


Politics has become the art of the impossible.

We have a dysfunctional economy because we have a dysfunctional society, and vice versa. The pieces in the jigsaw box don't match up with the picture on the lid.

The picture shows people providing manufactures and services for each other. Families are holding together through thick and thin, and raising their children with love and discipline. Tax rates are low because money velocity and employment are high and few need to call on the safety net of the Welfare State. After paying for the necessaries of life, there is money left over to save for emergencies and old age, and saving is worthwhile because the currency keeps its value. The country is self-governing and at peace with its neighbours. Our leaders work for our best interests, arbitrating fairly between the demands of different groups.

The pieces we have now don't make that picture, and they don't even fit each other.

Our leaders have given our law and governance to the EU, effectively abandoned border controls, sold our economic base to foreign interests and combined to oppose electoral reform that would make them more answerable to the voters.

So to distract from their comprehensive failure, they select victims to be the lightning-rods for our anger. The recent "life means life" ruling on prisoners is to give us the illusion that our judicial system is independent of Europe; benefit claimants are demonised so that we don't ask why we haven't got jobs for them to do; economic immigrants, because they cannot be excluded, are to be treated as second-class citizens (in terms of social benefits) when they arrive.

This is reminiscent of Mao's Cultural Revolution, the cynical sowing of factional discord to secure control at the top. It feels like an era is ending, and those in the know are looting the system before the collapse. If Martin Armstrong's theory is correct, it's all inevitable, part of the long-cycle economic pulse that is bringing both Marxism and representative democracy to an end.

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All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

For Wisley, read the UK

In the latest edition of the Spectator, Melissa Kite is distributing leaflets on behalf of a local action group, about the proposed massive (2,175 houses) residential property development in Wisley. The beneficiaries, she claims, are based in the Cayman Islands (though in 2012 there was also some legal dispute in Jersey, another offshore tax haven) and stand to make a billion pounds, tax-free.

Kite says that she has been warned off her campaign by people who told her they would "wear her down"; Surrey County Council seem to have managed it in the case of another residents' association chairman at the back end of last year.

The nominee company in the Jersey case was Prestigic (Wisley) Nominees Limited Company, whose address appears to be the same as that of Prestigic Holdings Limited (Chairman: Adrian Goldsmith). It also shares that address with a chi-chi Indian restaurant called Gymkhana; the horsey connection might vaguely appeal to an equestrian fan like Melissa.

We in the UK already have to import half our food, and I don't know of any program to convert housing back to arable land. Once it's gone, it's gone, and Heaven help us if we're ever in a food crisis again as we were in the 1940s.

In any case, I have long thought that we don't have a housing shortage. Here is what I wrote two years ago (3 September 2011):

"Panellists on Radio 4's Any Questions? and Charles Moore in this week's Spectator magazine agree (with lots of others, it seems) that there is a housing shortage in the UK and the only question is how to satisfy it. I beg to differ, or at least think we can question the assumption.

1. "According to The Empty Homes Agency, there are an estimated 870,000 empty homes in the UK and enough empty commercial property to create 420,000 new homes", according to the BBC website section on Homes.

2. There are over 245,000 registered second homes in the UK, according to Schofields home insurers.

3. The 2001 census showed that average home occupation in England and Wales had declined from 10 years before, from 2.51 to 2.36 persons.

4. According to the official Housing Survey of 2008/9, 7.7 million households were couples with no dependent children; there were also 6.2 million single person households (up from 3.8 million in 1981).

5. The same survey showed that the average (mean) dwelling had 2.8 bedrooms, rising to 3.0 bedrooms for owner-occupiers. Fewer than 3% of households were defined as overcrowded.

6. According to a 2005 Home Office study, there were 310,000 - 570,000 illegal immigrants in the UK, a figure which MigrationWatch thought to be underestimated by 15,000 - 85,000. This is a separate issue from the 8.7% of the population who are economic migrants to the UK, and whose real net contribution to the economy (after taking into account all benefits to which they and their dependants may be entitled) is a matter of debate.

We are not in the situation we faced in 1945, when soldiers returning home from war squatted on military sites and even caves. The modern "housing shortage" is an arbitrary notion."

Fight on, Ms Kite.

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All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Breaking windows


From Wikipedia

The broken window parable has interested me for years, because much of what we do seems akin to breaking windows.

Much of what we do seems :-

Designed to fail so we can do it again.
Designed to fail so we can buy another one.
Designed to fail so we need regular maintenance.
Designed to fail so we need regular policing.
Designed to fail the vagaries of fashion.
Designed to be laborious so we need more staff.
Designed to be complex so we need more consultants.

And so on and so on. It seems to be a feature of almost any society - promoting wasteful activity once we have a full belly and a warm hut. When we can afford some illusions to keep reality at bay.

Even a Dark Age village may have been able to feed a travelling story-teller in return for a night or two of entertainment - to keep reality at bay.

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All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Byways

AK Haart wonders about the uselessness of much research, calling it "remunerated gossip" (a phrase that might be re-used to describe modern Parliamentary proceedings). 

Yet we never know where a line of enquiry might lead, and how profitably. Look at penicillin: Alexander Fleming was not the first to discover its bactericidal effect, and when he did he soon gave up trying to exploit it

Edward de Bono, the "lateral thinking" man, noted that we come to useful ideas or solutions in roundabout ways and only then build a straight path from A to B. The internet - which itself has developed into something nobody expected - is bound to result in countless fruitful connections being made, by the sort of creative intellectual bummeln that web-surfing allows. 

Granted, there will also be rubbish and (apparent) dead-ends, but if one in a billion notions gets us somewhere, then 2.4 billion users playing with the Net on pretty much a daily basis are certainly going to come up with something.

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All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Blair "has not volunteered for Mars mission"

http://olivierpere.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/mission-to-mars.jpg
 Our sources say that Mr ACL Blair has not yet put his name forward as a candidate for the 2023 expedition to establish a colony on Mars, though it could have certain advantages for him.

He would be safe there from attempts by members of the public to perform a citizen's arrest. Nor could he be called back to explain what he meant when advising Mrs Rebekah Brooks to establish a "Hutton style" enquiry that would "clear" her.

However, some say that Mrs Blair might be tempted to nominate him for the one-way trip, should further embarrassing evidence come to light suggesting a romantic link between him and the wife of Rupert Murdoch.

Although Mr Blair would then be aged 70, Mars One sets no upper age restriction. More important are qualities of intellect and character. We are confident that he would qualify in most, if not all respects - "The astronauts must be intelligent, creative, psychologically stable and physically healthy" - and the jaunt would certainly satisfy his well-known delight in travel.

The full astronaut specification can be seen here: http://www.mars-one.com/faq/selection-and-preparation-of-the-astronauts/what-are-the-qualifications-to-apply.

Readers may care to suggest others who might be similarly suited to go, or whom it would suit us to send.

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All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Fishy business



Well, we visited Torcross after all, yesterday.

You can see the sky through the fire-damaged roof of the only recently-refurbished Boat House restaurant; half the windows in the street are boarded up, and one door caved in at the bottom. Not only was the road temporarily beachified, but the beach itself is considerably narrower and is no longer a shingle beach but a bucket-and-spade sand one.

Yet the Start Bay Inn seems completely unscathed. We had half-expected to be choosing our lunchtime fish off the carpet in the lower room, but all was well, and the food as good as ever.

Thank goodness for the 1980-built sea defences; otherwise it could well have been another Hallsands clearout.

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All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Gi’ em what they want

Eighteenth century creamware teapot

A few decades ago we tried our hand at antiques dealing. Those were the days when every leisure centre and church hall held an antiques fair at least once a month and they were usually full because people had seen lots of antiques on the telly.

We were nervous about our first fair because we weren’t sure what to expect on the dealer’s side of the stall. Would the other dealers turn out to be supercilious experts? Well we already knew that was unlikely because we’d been to so many as browsers and occasional buyers.

Our stall was next to a guy who just sold bric-a-brac, anything from vinyl records to toys to bits and pieces of tat nobody could possibly want. Except they did want it and he was busy all day.

“I just gi’ em what they want,” he said almost apologetically after running a doubtful eye over our stall.

It was our first hard knock and a timely one too. It isn’t just a case of buying well, but of buying what people want at a price well below what they might be prepared to pay. It’s no good following your own tastes either – you have to buy what the market likes.

All this is obvious stuff and nothing we didn’t know at the time, but somehow it isn’t as easy to do as it sounds. I found it very difficult to put my interests and preferences to one side. It’s no good finding a piece of china with a rare mark if it just looks like a cruddy old teapot. To the market that’s what it is.

Cruddy old bits of china don’t sell unless there is something seriously special about them such as turning out to be early Ming. Even then it might be a fake and who can tell these days without expensive scientific tests?

It’s a strange and fickle market. For example, today you can buy good solid antique furniture for peanuts. Furniture which will easily last a hundred years.

But it isn’t as fashionable as junk from IKEA made from chipboard or lumpy furniture which looks as it was made by taking a chainsaw to some old railway sleepers. Or faux antique shabby chic which costs as much and is less well made than the real thing.

Gi’ em what they want – it's almost a philosophy.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Monday, February 17, 2014

UK not in EU: Edmund Burke would have agreed

In 1790, while English radicals lost their heads in admiration for the French Revolution, Edmund Burke's "Reflections on the Revolution in France" fought the flames that threatened to reach and engulf Britain: "Whenever our neighbor's house is on fire, it cannot be amiss for the engines to play a little on our own. Better to be despised for too anxious apprehensions than ruined by too confident a security."

Presciently - three years before the killings of the French King and Queen and the Reign of Terror - he warned that the abstract principles and powerful enthusiasms so dear to Richard Price and other progressive thinkers had to be contained and co-ordinated by institutions, lest they become highly destructive:

"When I see the spirit of liberty in action, I see a strong principle at work; and this, for a while, is all I can possibly know of it. The wild gas, the fixed air, is plainly broke loose: but we ought to suspend our judgment until the first effervescence is a little subsided, till the liquor is cleared, and until we see something deeper than the agitation of a troubled and frothy surface. I must be tolerably sure, before I venture publicly to congratulate men upon a blessing, that they have really received one. Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver; and adulation is not of more service to the people than to kings. I should therefore suspend my congratulations on the new liberty of France, until I was informed how it had been combined with government, with public force, with the discipline and obedience of armies, with the collection of an effective and well-distributed revenue, with morality and religion, with solidity and property, with peace and order, with civil and social manners. All these (in their way) are good things, too; and without them, liberty is not a benefit whilst it lasts, and is not likely to continue long. The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations, which may be soon turned into complaints. Prudence would dictate this in the case of separate, insulated, private men. But liberty, when men act in bodies, is power. Considerate people, before they declare themselves, will observe the use which is made of power,—and particularly of so trying a thing as new power in new persons, of whose principles, tempers, and dispositions they have little or no experience, and in situations where those who appear the most stirring in the scene may possibly not be the real movers."

To us, that last sentence may serve equally as a warning against the (supposedly ex-) Communists and other cabalists influential in the modern European Union, as about the Robespierres and Napoleons who were then still bubbling their way to the top of the French Revolutionary froth.

Richard Price's "A Discourse on the Love of our Country" (4 November 1789), to which Burke's book was a riposte, claimed that the Glorious Revolution of 1688 had established the principle that we could arbitrarily choose or depose our rulers. Burke countered that although it was true that William had not been first in the royal succession and so it appeared that we had then instituted a new Constitution, yet the link with our ancient Common Law had not been broken, and had been amended by statute only so far as was necessary ("to the peccant part only") to correct the malfunction in the British body politic caused by James II's Catholicism and its concomitant threat of ceding power to persons and entities outside the kingdom.

"Though a king may abdicate for his own person, he cannot abdicate for the monarchy. By as strong, or by a stronger reason, the House of Commons cannot renounce its share of authority. The engagement and pact of society, which generally goes by the name of the Constitution, forbids such invasion and such surrender. The constituent parts of a state are obliged to hold their public faith with each other, and with all those who derive any serious interest under their engagements, as much as the whole state is bound to keep its faith with separate communities: otherwise, competence and power would soon be confounded, and no law be left but the will of a prevailing force. On this principle, the succession of the crown has always been what it now is, an hereditary succession by law: in the old line it was a succession by the Common Law; in the new by the statute law, operating on the principles of the Common Law, not changing the substance, but regulating the mode and describing the persons. Both these descriptions of law are of the same force, and are derived from an equal authority, emanating from the common agreement and original compact of the state, communi sponsione reipublicæ, and as such are equally binding on king, and people too, as long as the terms are observed, and they continue the same body politic."

The people, it should be unnecessary to remark, are an essential "constituent part of the state" and their part is an inalienable element in "the engagement and pact of society". Burke's stress on the continuity of the Common Law means that he could not possibly have approved of the surrender of national sovereignty implied in our unconstitutional (and therefore unlawful) entry into the Common Market in 1972, much less of the considered deceit and treasonable collusion by high officials whereby they usurped the immemorial social pact of the nation.

Though a Whig (progressive) himself, Burke is viewed as the founder of modern political Conservatism. (The Tories, believers in absolute authoritarian rule, supported the 1715 rising that tried to reinstate James on the throne; so to be a Conservative is to be opposed to Tories.) Today's Conservative voters and MPs, if they do indeed stand in the line of Edmund Burke, should be against EU membership to a man and woman.

"You will observe, that, from Magna Charta to the Declaration of Right, it has been the uniform policy of our Constitution to claim and assert our liberties as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity,—as an estate specially belonging to the people of this kingdom, without any reference whatever to any other more general or prior right. By this means our Constitution preserves an unity in so great a diversity of its parts. We have an inheritable crown, an inheritable peerage, and a House of Commons and a people inheriting privileges, franchises, and liberties from a long line of ancestors."

"Though a king may abdicate for his own person, he cannot abdicate for the monarchy." Nor may a Parliament, or treacherous Ministers, Prime Ministers and civil servants abdicate our sovereignty for us. Our "entailed inheritance" of national freedom and self-determination is to be "transmitted to our posterity" and cannot be sold, mortgaged or gambled away.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Blogging is not dead, but evolving

AK Haart regrets what seems to be the decline of the blog - but what are we regretting?

Are we after numbers of readers (millions would be nice) or quality? Popularity, or influence? Number of visits, or average length of visit? Number of comments, or content of comments?

In the battle between the MSM and the Internet, Goliath is still pulverising David: Martin Langeveld estimates that, even though readership has declined in recent years, 96 per cent of newspaper reading is done in relation to print editions, with only some 3 per cent online.

Similarly, Paul Grabowicz says, "A visitor spends an average of a little over 1 minute per day on a newspaper website. Compare that with the 27 minutes per day that newspaper readers say they spent perusing the print product on a weekday, and 57 minutes on Sundays, according to a 2008 survey by Northwestern University's Research Institute."

But, as Grabowicz observes,  you can offer more online: "More in-depth stories and richer content can be published on a website than in the relatively short snippets of information distributed to people via mobile devices, on YouTube and Flickr, or through blogs and micro-blog postings. Providing deeper content fulfills the public service function of journalism and can help form online communities at news websites where people can gather to discuss issues of importance to their communities, both geographic and topical."

This reminds us that people read in different ways, and for different purposes. In 2006, Holsanova, Rahm and Holmqvist studied eye-movements of a group of readers to test assumptions about types of readership and concluded, "there are three main categories of readers: editorial readers, overview readers and focused readers."

Which leads us to ask, how much of what we write is actually read? In 2008, Jacob Nielsen found that "on the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely." Grabowicz's article (linked above) also observed an increasing tendency to skim and hop about: "while the total number of unique visitors and pageviews at the newspaper websites has been increasing from 2004 - 2009, the average time spent by each person on a site declined." This jackrabbit reading was turned into a very funny Radio 4 series in 1999, called "The Sunday Format."

Writing can take into account readership tendencies, so WikiHow shows us the art of composing adverts (for example, don't use punctuation in headlines, as this encourages the reader to stop).

But unless you're doing it for money, is the reader you whore after the one you should be concerned to attract? Perhaps we need to worry more about why and what we write, and less about who and how many are reading. Posterity and the estimation of one's peers outweigh meretricious éclat.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Why the UK is not in the European Union

U.S. Supreme Court

Norton v. Shelby County, 118 U.S. 425 (1886)

Norton v. Shelby County
Argued March 24-25, 1886
Decided May 10, 1886
118 U.S. 425

Following the decision of the highest court of the Tennessee in Pope v. Phifer, 3 Heiskell 691, and other cases, this Court holds that the Board of Commissioners of Shelby County, organized under the Act of March 9, 1867, had no lawful existence; that it was an unauthorized and illegal body; that its members were usurpers of the functions and powers of the justices of peace of the county; that their action in holding a county court was void, and that their acts in subscribing to the stock of the Mississippi River Railroad Company and issuing bonds in payment therefor were void.
 
While acts of a de facto incumbent of an office lawfully created by law and existing are often held to be binding from reasons of public policy, the acts of a person assuming to fill and perform the duties of an office which does not exist de jure can have no validity whatever in law.

An unconstitutional act is not a law; it confers no rights; it imposes no duties; it affords no protection; it creates no office; it is in legal contemplation as inoperative as though it had never been passed.

The same principle, that the Constitution overrules local and national law, means that until the people have spoken, the United Kingdom remains wholly outside the EU.

Hat-tip to Karl Denninger for the legal reference.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Australia goes easy on tyrannical Fiji government, plans to dump asylum seekers there

- that's David Robie's anaylsis of the current rapprochement between Australia and Commodore Bainimarama.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Love, Chinese-style

Like the Elizabethans, the Chinese are conscious that the fires of romantic love are dangerous. Roseann Lake's cultural and scientifc report suggests that the lessons are: love carefully, and refrain from criticism.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Plus ça change

"The potentates of this world are [...] apt to consider themselves as possessed of an inherent superiority, which gives them a right to govern, and makes mankind their own; and this infatuation is almost every where fostered in them by the creeping sycophants about them, and the language of flattery which they are continually hearing."

Richard Price, "A Discourse on the Love of Our Country" (4 November 1789)

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Storms and man-made disaster

"We are apt to believe that today we experience more violent upheavals of Nature than in past generations, but this is not so. Heavy storms and exceptional weather phenomena occurred much the same in past years as now."

Reginald M. Lester, "The Observer's Book Of Weather", Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd (1955)

But we can make things worse, whether it be the EU-directed failure to dredge rivers that has exacerbated the flooding this year or the late-19th-century dredging of the pebble beach at Hallsands that led to the sea's destruction of the whole village in 1917.

We've been planning to revisit possibly the best fish and chip restaurant in England (the Start Bay Inn at Torcross in Devon's South Hams), but fear the worst after the recent weather:





Some think efforts to stop coastal erosion at Slapton Ley are ultimately doomed, anyway.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

I like ice cream

From Wikipedia

Back in the seventies when Big Questions were generally sorted out at the pub over a game of darts, a philosophically-minded friend said something to me I’ve always remembered.

“In the end you have to say I like ice cream.”

What he meant was obvious enough – we have our preferences and allegiances and in end we have to admit that’s all they are. We usually pad it out with reasoned argument, but may as well admit what’s behind it all – a liking for our own conclusions.

Most of us are not open to verbal persuasion and although the arts of argument can be good for the soul, it is worth remembering why we like ice cream. Or whatever else takes your fancy.

I like that cheap synthetic swirly stuff with a chocolate flake shoved in. I’m not so keen on proper ice cream full of genuine dairy products.

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A piece of human soliloquy

A quote from Santayana on the systems framing our ideas.

No system would have ever been framed if people had been simply interested in knowing what is true, whatever it may be. What produces systems is the interest in maintaining against all comers that some favourite or inherited idea of ours is sufficient and right.

A system may contain an account of many things which, in detail, are true enough; but as a system, covering infinite possibilities that neither our experience nor our logic can prejudge, it must be a work of imagination and a piece of human soliloquy. It may be expressive of human experience, it may be poetical; but how should anyone who really coveted truth suppose that it was true?

George Santayana - Winds Of Doctrine Studies in Contemporary Opinion

My reading of this is that experience is one thing, but framing into some kind of congenial narrative is another, much more problematic matter.

On the whole I am a data man. The data of experience may not be entirely trustworthy, but generally it is often more trustworthy than data framed by some prior allegiance, especially those covert allegiances of self-interest.

Not only that, very often the art of life lies in allowing the data of experience to tell its story, especially where the subject is complex. Unfortunately, as complexity increases so does the commercial, institutional and political value of those framing narratives. Leviathans to which we hand over our allegiance without so much as a whipped whimper.

Yet there are many times when data does tell a story if we are prepared to listen. Many folk seem to know this instinctively. They live life from day to day, being wary of confusing the data of experience with airy speculations.

I can’t help thinking it’s a good policy, but then another airy speculation comes along and off I go a-framing.

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Monday, February 10, 2014

What is climate science?

One of my minor ambitions has been to settle on a promising area of climate science and study it in depth. Downloading papers, data, plotting my own graphs and calculating my own stats – that kind of depth. However a problem arose.

What to study?

The more I look at the climate sciences, the more convinced I become that we are not even close to articulating the main climate drivers with their timescales and uncertainties. Well maybe we are getting to know more and more about the uncertainties, but that's the problem.

Although we are accustomed to speak and write of climate science and climate scientist, there are no such beasts. We use the terms as established norms of verbal behaviour, but in my view they do more harm than good. Our global climate is far too complex to be studied within a single discipline and it's time we acknowledged it.

In much the same way we speak of chemistry and chemists when what we really have are specialist chemists working in related areas we place under the umbrella of chemical science.

Unfortunately, sticking with the chemistry analogy, climate science has yet to discover its periodic table. Without something of the kind, some overall theory to justify the term climate science, there is not enough coherence to stitch the various climate sciences together. It is also possible that some climate sciences such as dendroclimatology may become obsolete.

I think a good deal of confusion has arisen from a perception that the climate is a cluster of known scientific laws so the stitching together is already done by those laws. There seems to be a largely covert assumption that all will become clear if only climate scientists select the appropriate data and build models to encapsulate known scientific laws.

This is essentially philosophical assumption – that it must be possible to resolve climate behaviour into known physics. However, with numerous failed climate predictions and the current warming hiatus, it is obviously not so. The current state of the game is that climate behaviour cannot be resolved into known physical laws.

So I haven’t found an area promising enough to be worth studying in depth because so far there isn’t one. That may be one reason why the public domain is saturated with embarrassing falsehoods, emotional rhetoric and appeals to authority. For those who must persuade and those who must be persuaded, there is nothing else on which to base the arts of persuasion.

The climate is fiendishly complex on all timescales. We need much more data and a huge flash of inspiration, but in any event there are no experts with a grasp of the whole subject.

As yet there is no such thing as climate science.

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Sunday, February 09, 2014

Plenty more fish in the sea - and they're storing carbon for us!

From The Conversation website, a report suggesting that we may have massively underestimated the quantity of sealife in the middle levels of the ocean. It may not be catchable, but it could be helping sequester carbon and so reduce the threat of global warming.

http://theconversation.com/fish-in-the-twilight-cast-new-light-on-ocean-ecosystem-22987

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A letter to Mr Christopher Booker

Dear Mr Booker

I read your latest piece on the origins of the EU (“The 100-year plot”, 8 February) with interest and would like your opinion on the implications of the English Constitution for the UK’s membership.

Some months ago, I ran a series of posts by a man called Albert Burgess, who claims that Ted Heath and others (some still alive today) knowingly and surreptitiously committed treason in 1972 (and later acts) by surrendering our national sovereignty without the public’s informed consent. Burgess is therefore pursuing the matter using the criminal justice system, and he and his colleagues have reported the alleged crimes to police stations around the country, obtaining crime numbers and pressing the police to investigate further.

A vital element of his argument is that that in choosing to change how we are to be governed, the English people, as Commons, must give their assent with their own voice and not merely via elected representatives. Yet we have never had a referendum on the fundamental issue.

If Burgess’ reasoning is correct – and I find his logic and history persuasive – then since the appropriate consent has never been obtained, surely this must mean that all acts of the British Government and Parliament implying surrender of sovereignty in any degree, are in that respect ultra vires and so have no force or effect . So rather than arguing for exit from the EU, we should be saying that we are not in it now, and we are ready to listen – skeptically, but politely - to arguments for our joining.

What do you think?

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Booze and bloody murder

Does the demon drink make people more likely to kill each other? The answers are ambiguous to say the least.

I looked up tables of adult (age 15+) annual alcohol consumption per capita here, and intentional homicides per 100,000 population here. Sifting out countries where data was not available under both headings, I was left with 184 nations for the purposes of statistical correlation.

The range runs from 1.0 (perfect correlation, so that as one figure increases so does the other, in every case) to -1.0 (perfectly negative correlation, so that as one increases the other reduces).

Overall, the correlation between the two factors for this list of countries is, surprisingly, -0.1. That is, virtually no connection at all.

What if we are more selective in our survey?

Boozer countries

If we look at the top 30 countries by alcohol consumption, ranging from Moldova's 18.22 litres of pure acohol down to Spain's 11.62 litres (UK: 13.37 litres), there is a significantly negative correlation with homicide: -0.29.

Yet when we narrow down further to the top 10 toping nations, there appears to be a positive correlation: 0.48. Having said that, within those ten countries the level of alcohol intake is pretty similar: 18.22 to 15.11 litres; whereas the murder rate varies widely, from 0.7 to 7.5. Perhaps all this shows is that with too small a sample you get erratic results.

Killer countries

The list of the 30 most homicidal countries starts with Honduras (91.6 murders per 100,000) and finishes with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (21.7 murders per 100,000). The annual alcohol intake ranges from Guinea's 0.36 litres of pure alcohol up to Uganda's 11.93 litres. In this violent subset of countries, the relationship between drink and killing is pretty much random: 0.09.

But narrowing down further to the top 10 most homicidal nations, starting with Honduras again but finishing at the Bahamas (36.6 murders per 100,000), we see that their range of alcohol consumption(3.61 - 9.43 litres) is about the same as the variance in the murder rate (i.e. max = about 2.5 * min), yet the two factors are negatively correlated: -0.39. (Too small a sample, again?)

Conclusion

The conclusion is that there is no definite conclusion, though we can suspect that other (perhaps political-economic and social) factors may have a more direct influence on the propensity to kill, than the average quantity of alcohol consumed.

If you had a "session" last night, you can at least endure your thick head today with a fairly clear conscience on that score.

If you want to know a bit more, here are the four lists, followed by the long list of 184 countries. Compare the UK with the USA, for example!









 
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Saturday, February 08, 2014

Cameron's "Cauld Fecht" speech

From The Encyclopedia Europeana (2083 edition):

When the Prime Minister returned to the Velodrome in January 2020, the audience had been expecting a speech oriented towards the coming General Election, but Cameron had a surprise for them.

After graceful compliments to his hosts and the assembled dignitaries, he turned unexpectedly to consider developments in Scotland, now fully independent as a result of the Scottish Nationalists' resounding referendum victory five years earlier. In an electrifying oration, he warned of the centralisation of power north of the Border:

From Wallsend in the North Sea to Bowness in the Irish, a tartan curtain has descended across the British mainland. Behind that line lie all the ancient dukedoms of Scotland. Lennoxlove, Inveraray, Drumlanrig, Blair, Auchmar, Floors, Mertoun and Gordon, all these famous seats and the populations around them lie in what I must call the lairdish sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to lairdish influence but to a very high and, in some cases, increasing measure of control from Holyrood.
The address has since become universally known as the "Cauld Fecht" speech.

Opinion is divided as to its long-term merits. One the one hand, it served to alert the world to the dangers in many countries of intensifying nationalism, insularity and political repression and corruption; on the other, by isolating the Scottish leadership, it can be said to have accelerated Scotland's descent into full-blown tyranny.

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Thursday, February 06, 2014

Poor Tim – deselected by the web

When I’m chatting with my better half over a glass of port with the log-burner flickering away and the wind whistling round the chimney, she often has to look up bits and pieces of information on her phone.

Nothing unusual in that, but this tiny gadget gives us access to more information than we could ever have imagined just a couple of decades ago. What difference is it making to our lives?

A few centuries ago there were chained libraries and books with locks because books were expensive and not for the common people.

Today, the ancestors of the common people are able to access anything they please from an unimaginably vast repository of information, news, comment and entertainment. Most of it dross of course, but how many of us would care to read the contents of a chained library anyway?

It changes the balance of power in subtle and not so subtle ways.

We assess the capabilities of our political leaders more easily and don’t have to rely on establishment media to do it. We bypass the genteelly selective BBC and look around for sources we trust and visit them as often as we choose.

Social status is far less important as a route to sound information. A good example is how far behind the curve our leaders are on fracking. Many of us knew about the benefits long before they did, just as we have known for years that climate science is an unholy mess.

It’s impossible to be completely sure of all this, with our political class being so untrustworthy, but their mendacity is something we are aware of too. We don’t suspect – we know.

We know some of them are thick, some dishonest, some personally unreliable, some sexually deviant, some arrogantly aggressive and a few may be good eggs but the good eggs don’t usually get anywhere. We may know all this in some detail, where years ago it was all glossed over by compliant pundits.

Is it likely to make a difference though? I don’t see how it can fail. Narratives are multiplying and for every item of establishment pap there is a more reliable, less ameliorative source of information readily available.

We have reached a stage where no intelligent person takes the BBC as reliable on any subject with an establishment narrative. This is new and unless the BBC changes, its authority has gone for good.

The deselection of Tim Yeo may have had a number of causes, but one of them was surely the persistent wash of negative information telling us about the man, the games he plays and how effective he is as an MP.

It isn’t merely that the negative information on Yeo exists, but it is far more pervasive than it ever could have been in the comparatively recent past. The web seems to keep issues alive in a way which in pre-web days was rare.

Pressure could be brought on newspaper editors and stories would disappear if indeed they ever appeared in the first place. Now anyone may launch a story and if it spreads there is little others can do. Even court injunctions have been circumvented.

The world has changed and I’m sure we have yet to see the full consequences. Although Tim has had a taster.

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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Oh, what a surprise!

When things go wrong, the modern meme is to blame the “Law of Unintended Consequences”, which is the modern way of saying “it’s just God’s will”. However, in all too many instances, the “unintended” consequences could be easily predicted.
 Case 1: Most stocks are now owned by mutual funds. The fund managers are interested in fees, which means waiting for price increases, and selling the stocks. Their sole interest is short-term price gains. The CEO’s are hired with bonuses for price increases, and the only oversight is the Board of Directors (consisting of CEO’s of other companies), and the annual stockholder meeting (dominated by the fund managers). Then there is general surprise that many companies are managed for short-term stock price increases, and not for long-term performance!
 Case 2: Most US school systems have curricula which are dominated by methods courses, and very light on the content that they will teach. We put those ill-educated teachers into the field, and give them the message that any failure of a student means that the teacher is incompetent (I was told this by an education professor recently). We then test students and blame the teachers for every bad result. Why are we surprised at grade inflation and cheating on tests?

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Monday, February 03, 2014

Electric cars - a long gestation

Arnold Bennett clearly liked electric cars. They must have been the coming thing and maybe they were also seen as a hint that the machine age could produce more than dark satanic mills. Here are a few quotes.

Advantages.
Richard’s car ran through the cutting — it was electrical, odourless, and almost noiseless.
Mounting
He crept back to his own car, found it unharmed in the deep shadow where he had left it, and mounted.
Dismounting
Richard directed the car gently through the gate and then stopped; they dismounted, and crossed the great field on foot.
Range
This vehicle, new and in beautiful order, and charged for a journey of a hundred and twenty miles, travelled in the most unexceptionable manner. The two and a half miles to the North-Western station at Dunstable were traversed in precisely five minutes, in spite of the fact that the distance included a full mile of climbing
Teresa of Watling Street (1904)

Intimacy
The electric brougham was waiting. I gathered up my skirt and sprang in.
 Oh, the exquisite dark intimacy of the interior of that smooth-rolling brougham! 
Sacred and Profane Love (1905)

Notice the reference to a range of a hundred and twenty miles. There are a number of explanations as to why electric cars were ousted by the internal combustion engine after an auspicious start, but are any of them satisfactory?

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Sunday, February 02, 2014

The Condom Mission

Sex education, Danish-style...

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Bombing Man Friday

Over at the New Zealand-based Cafe Pacific blog, a story about a documentary film that has been kept off-air for two years so far:

"Nuclear Savage is a recent documentary film that explores American nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands, 1946-1958 - and particularly the secret Project 4.1: an American experiment in exposing Pacific Islanders to overdoses of radiation – deliberate human radiation poisoning – just to get better data on this method of maiming and killing people." (My emphasis.)

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Saturday, February 01, 2014

Wi-Fi sky-spy eye on you - all the time!

Not only does your car spy on you and constantly report your whereabouts, so (if you've ever used free Wi-Fi) does your smartphone or portable computer - and the tattletale goes back in time to when you bought the thing.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Did Lloyds Bank have a heart attack last week?

Last Sunday, "hundreds of thousands of customers were left unable to use debit cards and 7,000 cashpoints" (Daily Mail).
 
The BBC News website said the cause was "a hardware failure" but - perhaps in an attempt to reassure us - the bank told them "the faults were not caused by any external upgrade work or cyber attack."

Funnily enough, Sunday was also the day that Lloyds borrowed an extra c. £766 million, according to the Wall Street Journal:

Source: WSJ
Just in time - or very nearly so, anyway?

As it happens, our current account is with Lloyds and earns 0% interest. This Harvard economist has just withdrawn $1 million from Bank of America for exactly that reason: the odds against a collapse, though presumably small, are not zero, so the risk to a depositor is underpriced.

Weekends seem to be bad for banks: on Saturday, September 13, 2008 the Federal Reserve was in talks with Lehman Brothers, Barclays backed away from making an offer (as reported in the NYT next day, Sunday) and the bankruptcy filing came on the Monday - at 1.45 in the morning. Not much chance for the likes of you and me to queue up at the counter.

Shoebox or bank account, bank account or shoebox? So hard to decide.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.