Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Has the Telegraph been dumbed down?

I guess it has:
Video: New Year's Eve celebrations begin in Aukland

Revellers in the New Zealand capital have watched a colourful display coming from the top of the Sky Tower.

"Aukland"?

"capital"?

Oh dear...

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Do the Scotsman's journalists pay income tax?

Do unions mislead?

Now here's an interesting story:
SALARIES in Scotland are lagging £3,000 behind the average British wage and are more than £18,000 less than pay packets in London, a survey reveals today.

The research found only workers in Aberdeen and Edinburgh earned more than the £31,323 average taken home by full-time workers across the UK.

No that's not what's "taken home", it's pre-tax. There is a difference.

At least the Scotsman picks up on this bit:

However the GMB's UK national average of £31,323 is far higher than the ONS average of £24,908 as it refers to the "mean" average – a basic division of all salaries by the number of full-time workers – rather than the "median" preferred by the ONS, which effectively ignores extremely low and high salaries.
But let's look at the GMB Union's figures a bit more closely, in particular that £46,462 "average" for London. That seemed extraordinarily high to me, even accepting that the Union doesn't use the normal "median" wage but instead quotes the very misleading "mean".

Here's what the GMB says:

These figures are from a new analysis by GMB, Britain’s general union, of the recently published Table 7.7a of the 2008 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings by the Office of National Statistics. These are the most recent figures from the survey in April 2008. GMB’s analysis ranks the average gross annual pay for full time men and women workers from the highest to the lowest for each region and area of the UK and expresses the pay in each area as a percentage of the average annual pay of full time men and women in UK. The figures are for jobs in the area. What is shown is an average of the gross pay of the higher and lower paid jobs.
I couldn't work out where the GMB got its figure from but according to table 7.7a the mean gross salary for London is £40,354, not £46,462, and the median, that's to say the typical salary with as many people earning above and below this figure, is £29,260 PA.

So why would a union present London salaries in this misleading way? Could it be because they want to discredit capitalism? Surely not...

Monday, 29 December 2008

Route 66

I was having a look at Propliner Magazine at lunchtime today when I came across an article by Gordon Reid.

Gordon, or Nodrog as he was known in the good old days, was one of those aviation enthusiasts who came down from Glasgow to Prestwick at the weekends. Another frequent weekend visitor was the late Wilf White. I'm sure that you'll all be buying a copy of Wilf's photographic book, not least because yours truly makes an appearance on pages 16 and 17, although the year quoted on page 17 seems to be a bit out...

Nod, who is on page 17 of Wilf's book, later worked at Heathrow and then emigrated to Australia. His Propliner article describes a recent trip to the US:

After a 14.5 hour direct flight from Melbourne I arrived in Los Angeles on the morning of July 17th. I was en-route to EAA Air Venture 2008 at Oshkosh, Wisconsin and on arrival at Los Angeles my usual means of transport to Oshkosh is a connecting flight to Chicago. This year, however, I had decided that I was going to drive across the USA from Los Angeles to Oshkosh and back to see how many Propliners I could find.
Fair enough, I thought.

Nod's concluding paragraph goes like this:

The return journey from Oshkosh to Los Angeles took me 10 days and added a further 4,400 miles to my car hire thus taking it to 9,541 miles. In total 150 airfields were visited with 157 Propliners being noted. The main types being 81 DC-3s and 44 Convairliners, supported by 13 DC-4s, one Carvair, two DC-6s, two DC-7s, three C-46s, three Martin 4-0-4s, two L-749/1049s, two Viscounts and four YS11s
There are two lessons to be learnt from this:
(1) The younger generation couldn't cope with this kind of workload.

(2) Sell your shares in car rental firms that hire by the week.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Don't Tread on Me

I see that the SNP's been having a go at Westminster's inability to protect data:
THE SNP today hit out at the UK Government's "appalling" data loss record, claiming more than 13 million records were lost this year, equivalent to 25 every minute.
And Pete Wishart's certainly got this right:
Mr Wishart said Labour's record on data security was reason enough to abandon ID cards.
But as one of the commenters puts it:
I really do think the Scottish Nationalist Party are tempting fate - it's not as if those elements of the public sector for which they have responsibility don't handle personal data!
That's exactly what I thought when I first read this piece. Abandoning ID cards is certainly a start but that doesn't deal with the fundamental issue here. What really needs to be addressed is why governments (including Scottish ones) need to collect so much information on us in the first place. And the answer of course is that they've strayed far beyond what could be said to be the only legitimate function of government: protecting us against those who initiate force or fraud.

Full stop.

For those politicians who don't understand this and who might wonder what's in store for them I recommend watching Channel 4's excellent new production.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Friday, 26 December 2008

On my recent silence

There's been no blogging here for a couple of weeks. And there are two reasons for this.

First, I've been unwell. My chest infection returned on the 8th of the month and has still not completely gone. I've had no energy to do very much of anything at all, including blogging.

But there's something else.

Readers may well have noticed a distinct reduction of the number of posts over the past year or so. I guess I've become somewhat "blogged out".

This whole thing started way back April 2002 with these words:

Welcome to this new blog. The title Freedom and Whisky links the two themes of this blog: libertarianism and Scotland. The libertarianism will, however, sometimes extend beyond events in Scotland and I shall also be covering non-political news of interest to me north of the border. I have therefore included links to a variety of Scottish sites which I often use.
The plan was to introduce libertarian ideas to readers in Scotland but also to help libertarian-leaning folk elsewhere learn a bit more about this rather strange land.

Most posts have had something to do with politics but I've always believed that it was a good idea to throw in some other pieces that dealt with whatever simply struck me as interesting.

Back in 2002 I was probably the only libertarian blogger in Scotland and indeed one of the very few Scottish bloggers of any sort. I think it's fair to say that we now have quite a few Scottish blogs written by people with distinct libertarian leanings, even if they can't necessarily quote their Mises and Rothbard chapter and verse. The same is so down south. Almost every day I discover a new libertarianish blog written by someone who gets it but whose name is quite unknown to me. How different from the old days.

I joined the Libertarian Alliance way back in 1972 and have looked after its money (such as it is!) ever since. Back then meetings took place in someone's flat and half a dozen was a good crowd. I well remember sitting on someone's floor listening to Harry Schultz going on about gold and money. Was he mad? No, it turned out. Later on we graduated to draughty meeting halls and the numbers rose - perhaps by seven or eight in a good year. I recall being inordinately proud when I met Andrew Alexander of the Daily Mail at some gathering of suit-wearing Young Conservatives and Alexander telling me that I must be the token "real libertarian" because I was wearing blue jeans, a black polo-neck sweater and a Taxation is Theft badge!

Eventually the Alternative Bookshop opened in Covent Garden, managed by LA founder Chris Tame who was later assisted by Brian Micklethwait. Brian was usually to be seen crouched over his highly advanced Osborne computer, churning out an endless stream of LA publications. On paper of course: there was as yet no Internet. The shop saw regular visits by Hayek, Friedman and other prominent writers. Back then we probably knew all British libertarians in person. But now, as I said above, they seem to keep popping up all over the place. There's a veritable anarchy of new libertarians out there and I like to think that this justifies Chris Tame's firm belief that the intellectual battle is what matters, not day-to-day political skirmishes.

So why so few posts here recently?

Partly it's just being "blogged out". How many times can one rant on about the idiocies of politicians? How often do we need to tell the Bank of England to just stop printing the money?

Another reason is connected to the vast expansion of Internet output from libertarians and from others writing about just about everything else that interests me. Take a look this. Click on the folders to expand if necessary. It's a full time job just trying to keep up with other sites!

So what now for Freedom and Whisky? I'm not sure really but I'm not going to go away. Maybe there will be less day-to-day party political stuff and more to do with the more important long-term ideas. Perhaps that takes me a bit more away from Scotland, but not necessarily. I voted SNP back in May last year but they've turned out to be big-statists just like the rest of them. There's plenty of material there. And how will Scotland recover from the near disintegration of its financial services industry? Will part nationalisation make us more afraid of independence or will the inevitable loss of control to London have the opposite effect? It could go either way. But what's certain is this: like everywhere else on the planet Scotland needs the ideas that were pioneered here during the Enlightenment. Libertarian ideas.

A Happy New Year to all my readers.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Saviour of the World

I can't see why there's all this fuss about bridges over the Forth so that folk can get back home to North Queensferry.

Can't they just walk on the water?

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

That German Market again

I wasn't going to write about it again but then this has cropped up:
A RETIRED lawyer has claimed he was stopped from taking pictures of Edinburgh's Winter Wonderland by an event steward who told him it would "breach data protection laws".
There are plenty of comments and almost all are sensible.

The restriction seems to be on what the organisers call "long lens cameras". But as this chap points out, modern compact cameras often have zoom lenses that are considerably more powerful than the lenses used by the typical DSLR user. It also occurred to me that the more recent "full frame" DSLRs that have larger sensors than is usual are clearly bulkier than the "cropped sensor" DSLRs that most people use. Presumably the security operatives will find these large cameras to be especially threatening. But the larger sensors reduce the telephoto effect of any particular lens. Indeed, that's why the tiny sensors on compact cameras can produce such powerful telephoto effects.

As Mr Elder said:

There should be a clear notice displayed, explaining the rules.
And the rules would seem to be: powerful telephoto zoom lenses are fine unless the camera is large.

New Site

Welcome to Scottish Libertarians.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Blogs

I'm pleased to see that Arthur's Seat is active again. No, not the volcano. The Blog.

And a warm welcome to The Steamie, a proper blog from the folks at the Scotsman.

What's in a name?

When I get fed up with politics I can always return to my love of photography, despite the current threats.

One of my favourite publications is Outdoor Photography. Nothing political there surely.

But what's this? In the current issue's Reader Workshop one of the featured photographers goes by the name of Karlmarx Rajangam.

I really do feel sorry for this chap.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Living beyond "our" means

George Kerevan is one of the Scotsman's best writers. But he's dead wrong on this one:

The article is behind the subscription wall but this is from the dead tree version:

Of course, a fall in sterling still means an implicit wage cut – it's just that we don't see it in happening in our wage packet. A cheaper pound means the imported plasma television is more expensive, as is everything else that is imported, including food, so our real standard of living has been cut. The charm of this approach is that the pain is spread equitably.
No, no, no.

There's nothing equitable about this at all. The financial crisis has been caused by imprudent citizens, by incompetent bankers and, above all, by central banks acting under the control of economically ignorant politicians.

My mother's lifetime savings are being used to fund her increasingly expensive residence in a nursing home. Mr Kerevan thinks it's equitable for her savings to be depreciated in order to bail out spendthrift citizens and politicians. Perhaps she should have blown the lot.

I'm in a somewhat similar situation. I have no debts and a bit of savings. And it took a lot of hard work to get to this position. I can well remember when my total wealth was about £50.

To sort this mess we need to have a massive cut in public expenditure and a return to sound money.

My friend Brian agrees.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Is Damian Green a photographer?

It's not just opposition MPs who have to watch out. Here in Edinburgh the war on photography continues.

You'd have thought that the disasters that have befallen HBOS and RBS would have made the City Council all the more determined to protect our tourist industry, especially in the run up to the busy Hogmanay season that's so important for the winter economy. Tourism is probably now our biggest single private sector industry. But oh no, there's no innocent activity that escapes the attention of Big Brother:

I have spoken to Mr. John Paul Murphy who is in charge of the Edinburgh Winter Festivals and the German Market falls under his jurisdiction. He has informed me that we will be required to be "accredited" with a pass. Once we are in possession of the pass, we will have unlimited use of the site to take photography. To this end, he has asked me to gather full names of those wishing to attend on Saturday. If you are uncomfortable printing your full name in this forum, I fully understand and in that case, please mail me your full name in order that you may be granted a pass.

As a sub-note I am not entirely satisfied with this situation and fully intend to delve further into the violation of photographer's rights and will most likely call upon Jacquiline Smith (Home Secretary) and my local MP

The German Market takes place in Princes Street Gardens, one of the most photographed places in the UK. But the Council goons now want the names of local photographers so they can be "accredited" to take photographs in a public space in the centre of our capital city.

One of the bizarre things about the war on photography is the attention paid to SLRs, or "professional cameras" in goonspeak. I'd be astounded if more than one percent of SLRs go to professionals. The vast majority of them are bought by keen amateurs. Normal law-abiding and tax-paying individuals. The people who pay the Council employees' wages. The irony is this: lots of compact cameras that don't seem to worry the camera Gestapo in the the least have longer reaching zoom lenses than are used on most SLRs.

I bet that Damian Green was an amateur photographer and that's really why he was arrested.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Oh dear...

...it's happened again:
Hearts have confirmed their players have not received their wages on time for the second time this season.

If the players don't get paid they aren't going to win, are they?

But on the other hand:

Hearts extended their winning run to five matches with victory over Rangers at Tynecastle.

Do we actually need to pay them?

Seriously though, and writing as a former finance director, the one thing you avoid at all costs is not meeting the payroll on time.

More photos...

...are up on the other blog.

They're from Dumfries and Galloway

and Melrose.

James Clerk Maxwell


James Clerk Maxwell
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Here are some photos from the James Clerk Maxwell statue unveiling.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Will General Motors file for bankruptcy on Monday morning?

Probably not. I expect that the politicians will bail GM out. But maybe its time is up.

If you accept the Austrian view of economics - as I do - then this whole financial mess won't resolve itself until all of the world's malinvestments have been liquidated. By malinvestments I mean everything that's been spent on business ventures as a direct result of all that monetary expansion that wouldn't have occurred in a free market.

Bailouts by Bush, Brown and the rest may delay the day of reckoning for a while but can't change the ultimate end game. The world watches. Gold was up 7.66% on Friday despite the manipulation.

(UPDATE: there's going to be a lot of anger before things are resolved. I bet McCain's glad to be out of it.)

Friday, 21 November 2008

Off the rails

So, train fares are going up again:
Train passengers in Scotland face a 6% rise in the price of most tickets from January - almost 2% above the current rate of inflation.
Hang on a moment; this implies that inflation is around 4%.

No, it's not. Inflation is actually running at 15.1%. The price increases will follow.

And we ain't seen nothing yet...

Last Tango in Clarkston

I note that the Secretary of State for Scotland has joined in the Strictly Come Dancing row:
"The fact is the judges don't know what this programme is all about.

"I watch the programme with my family."

Mr Murphy said it was "family entertainment and good fun and John is emblematic of that, rather than taking himself so seriously".

"I think we need to get rid of the judges rather than John."

What Mr Murphy has realised is that most people like to make their own judgment as to what they like. Yes, experts have their place, but when it comes down to it we like to have the final say and if the "experts" don't like it, then tough.

So why on earth is Mr Murphy in the Labour party? The whole purpose of that organisation seems to be to pick the most useless experts it can find and ram their opinions down our throats.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Do banks want our money?

One of my clients tends to have several hundred thousand pounds on deposit at any one time. I suggested that it might be a good idea to spread the cash around three banks instead of one. The Board agreed and back on Tuesday 4th I wrote to HSBC, Barclays, Nationwide and the Clydesdale to see what terms they could offer. So far only one bank has responded. The Clydesdale replied by phone the next day and sent a follow-up letter. There's been nothing from the other three. Do they need our money or are they totally incompetent?

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

GM's performance

General Motors has been a bit down recently but it's gone up again today.

Now we know why...

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Blogged out...

... at the moment and have a chest infection.

Back ASAP.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Glenrothes

Earlier today I decided to go out for a drive. Perhaps inspired by this photo the silver Hyundai headed out on the A90, over the Bridge and into deepest Fife. Yes, I was on my way to Glenrothes.


Saltire
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

The first thing I noticed was the compete absence of posters on lampposts. Here in Edinburgh elections mean party posters on virtually every lamppost to be seen. I noticed the same phenomenon in Glasgow during the recent by-election over there. Turning off the main road I drove through the village of Cardenden, home place of Ian Rankin and, inevitably, Inspector Rebus. I saw one window poster - for the Labour candidate Lindsay Roy. That was your lot.

When I got to Glenrothes proper I had a wee drive round the town and then parked by the main shopping centre. I paid my £1 for all day parking and went into the overheated mall. You could have been anywhere in the UK judging by the shops. At the far end I did see a TV cameraman talking to a couple of press photographers but there was no sign of any action. Back nearer the car I spotted some yellow balloons outside. I was handed a leaflet, which contained an attack on "greedy bankers who bet everything on black and want bailed out when it comes up red." Aha! Some libertarians? Sadly no: they were from the Scottish Socialist Party, and also called for "free" school meals, "free" public transport and "free" prescriptions. "Free" at the point of consumption I presume. Where's Adam Smith when you need him?

Then I spoke to a lady at the SNP stand.

"How's it going," I asked.

"Fine, and you are?"

"David Farrer, I blog at Freedom and Whisky."

"And I'm one of your readers, she replied"!

It turned out that I was speaking with Tricia Marwick, the local MSP.

I was told that the lamppost laws are different in Fife. We chatted about the campaign and also about the American election. Obama reminded Tricia of Tony Blair. That wasn't a compliment. I defended Sarah Palin on the gun question and was reminded that politicians here haven't yet realised that crime goes down when law-abiding folk are armed...

Ms Marwick pointed me in the direction of Markinch, which is a pleasant little village on the edge of Glenrothes itself. There I found the SNP headquarters. I parked the car and just walked right in. It occurred to me that I'd have been shot by now had I been at the Obama or McCain campaign offices without an appointment. After explaining that I was a blogger, a media lady was called to speak to me. We had a nice chat and I heard that there was no sign of any "Brown Bounce" in Glenrothes following his recent career move to become saviour of the world's finances. Quite the opposite, if anything.

I was told that there was to be a "photo opportunity" in the nearby Carlton Cafe and that I was free to go along. I sat down and ordered a coffee. A few minutes later in walked Peter Grant, the SNP candidate, together with the First Minister himself. They sat down at the next table where they had a televised and photographed chat with two "switching" voters. A small group of protesters were also in the Carlton and they were objecting to the SNP's lack of funding for their group. Salmond offered to talk to them later. After taking a few photos, I left.

Afterwards it occurred to me how lucky we are that an unknown member of the public can walk right into an election campaign office, without producing any ID, and then sit in a public cafe at the table next to the country's First Minister with no vetting whatsoever.

Of course, the young mother and father with the two children at the table to my right were probably from the SAS...


Alex Salmond
Originally uploaded by David Farrer


Peter Grant
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Pepe

Here is Mrs F&W's mother's award-winning guard dog in action:

Friday, 31 October 2008

Talking of banks...

... here are some photos I took in the City last Friday.

Note the window cleaner:


The way we were

One of my grandfathers was Provost of Annan. He served on the Audit Committee of the Annan Savings Bank, which was founded back in 1835. In 1875 the Annan Bank incorporated the remaining 28 accounts of the neighbouring Ruthwell Parish Bank, which was the world's first savings bank.

I recently dug out my copy of the 1967 Annual Report of the Annan Bank. Let's have a look at an extract from the Auditors' Report:

We have examined the Depositors' Accounts in the Books of the Savings Bank and have checked the same with the List of Depositors' Balances, which amount with interest to £1,678,456. A copy of this List certified by us is open to inspection at the Savings Bank by Depositors for the purpose of comparing the amounts in their Pass Books with their balance shown on the list.

During the year we have visited the Savings Bank in business hours and have compared 2,321 Pass Books with the relative Depositors' Accounts in their Ledger and found them to agree.

In all 6,216 accounts were open, so over one third of customers' Pass Books were actually verified individually by the Auditors. Not quite like today, I think.

And what about the Bank's investments, which totalled £1,828,753?

Certificates or other evidence representing the whole of the Investments held by the Savings Bank as at 31st January, 1967, have been produced to us and found to be in order.
The Bank's investments were extremely conservative. There's no mention of derivatives or the like, although one does wonder whether it was wise to have as much as £1,000 tied up in "Office premises, furniture and equipment."

Isn't it time for prudent and cautious local bankers to make a comeback?

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Back Again

Here are my photos from the Libertarian Aliance Conference that was held at the weekend.

The two star speakers:


David Friedman
Originally uploaded by David Farrer


Hans-Hermann Hoppe
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

No Win situation...

I see that Oprah may be the next US ambassador in London. Not a good idea, I think. These days we need someone who is knowledgeable about economics.

Now, I fully understand that President Obama will want to appoint some fellow persons of colour to key positions. Who we need in Grosvenor Square is Thomas Sowell. Not only is Sowell one of America's greatest economists, he is considerably blacker than Obama. And he's a keen photographer.

It's a no-brainer. And Tom can moonlight by teaching economics to Mr Brown and Mr Darling.

Should Sowell be unavailable, Alvin Hall is the obvious second choice.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Small world

Back in 2005 I was at an Edinburgh event attended by David Cameron. The soon-to-be Tory leader entered the room and worked the crowd. He shook my hand and said: "Hello, I'm David Cameron." "Hello, I'm David Farrer," I replied. The chap to my left looked at me. Cameron turned to my neighbour and once again said: "Hello, I'm David Cameron." And my neighbour replied: "Hello, I'm David Purdie." I stared at my neighbour.

As Cameron moved on Messrs Farrer and Purdie said simultaneously "St Quivox Road?" And yes, we had both lived a few doors apart in that street in Prestwick around forty years earlier.

I knew from my mother that David Purdie had become a doctor but not that he was now a prominent public speaker. Anyway, he's now on the blogroll and having heard David speak at the Adam Smith dinner I can confirm that Dr Purdie is indeed a successful practitioner of his new calling.

Too few banks?

Here's an interesting comment from "Ben Franklin" (post number 73) on the Belmont Club:
The only other thing I would add is that I am in the advertising industry and most of the ads for sub-prime loans had dried up before the recent bail-out bill. As soon as that went through the volume for these ads went up 10 times. Whatever the government did to “fix” the problem ain’t working because all they did was just give everyone who didn’t make money the first time around another shot at the craps table.

The small business community that I am a denizen of is absolutely livid at the bailout because they see very clearly what has happened. They have good noses for how to make money and can see how the government system could be exploited by people less wise or scrupulous than they are. It seems funny this should be the case when all of the Harvard MBA’s in Washington and on Wall Street drove right into it.

So the sub-prime lenders haven't learnt and the spending goes on. But why not if the taxpayer will bail you out? I see that the American small business community opposes the US bailout but I get the impression that bank bailouts are more popular here in the UK. So why the difference?

I'd guess that it's because there are far more banks per-capita in the US than in this country. Effectively we have only five banks that cater for almost all business customers. If even one goes down the contagion could destroy any or all of the other four. In the US there's a greater likelihood that your bank is sound. So what is the British government proposing? A merger between Lloyds and HBOS reducing the total to four! Or even fewer if nationalisation continues. This is the opposite of what we should be doing. It would be far healthier if we had more banks that competed vigorously and under such a regime the failure of one bank would be less likely to be systematic.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Oh, the inhumanity

How about this?

GMAC to limit car loans to buyers with good credit

Money and Credit

Here's Brian Micklethwait's latest podcast on the current crisis. This one takes the form of a discussion between Brian and fellow libertarians Antoine Clarke and Michael Jennings. Listen to this and be assured that there are some people who understand what's going on and what needs to be done, and not done.

I saw that Guido (another long-term libertarian) is showing a picture of The Theory of Money and Credit by Ludwig von Mises. Mises was the most prominent of the Austrian School of Economics that was briefly mentioned in Brian's podcast. I looked out my copy last night and was rather shocked to note that I'd bought it in 1973! Such a pity that none of our politicians today would spend time reading Mises. How different things could be.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Day of reckoning?

It's becoming almost impossible to keep with events at the moment. I phoned a colleague at around 9.15 this morning to tell him that RBS shares had been suspended. That turned out to be a false rumour but since then both RBS and HBOS shares have lost 40% of their value. This evening it's being reported that all British banks will be partly nationalised. Bank of America is down 19% at the moment but who knows what'll be the situation in ten minutes' time?

Meanwhile I read that Iceland has arranged for a 4 billion Euro loan from Russia.

But read this:

The government of Iceland is using the threat of a €4 bn loan from Russia in exchange for a 99-year lease on the airport at Keflavik - a former American air base - as leverage to obtain financial support from the West.
So perhaps it's not yet a done deal. I suppose one advantage of a Russian takeover of Keflavik would be a cut in the outrageous price of beer in the terminal. That's a joke by the way. More seriously, I recall reading a thriller in which WW3 starts with a Soviet "container ship" running aground on Iceland and out of it emerges troops and tanks who promptly defeat the Americans and take over the US anti-submarine base. Needless to say the good guys won in that case. Now? I haven't a clue, except to say that von Mises must be laughing in his grave.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Tom Burroughes on the crisis

Brian Micklethwait has done another of his interviews; this time it's with financial journalist Tom Burroughes. Like Brian, Tom is a long-term member of the Libertarian Alliance and he also writes for Samizdata as Jonathan Pearce (we can now reveal!)

And from the USA here's another video that's as scary as any I've seen:

Monday, 29 September 2008

Dems and Reps

I was fascinated to read this thread over on the Housepricecrash site. The thread author writes:
Democrats Want The Bill, Republicans Don't, I'm confused.

I would have thought that the Republican Party would be the ones crying out for the Bill to go through, but it seems to be the Democrats.

Can anyone explain why?

A few of the contributors sort of get it but not properly. What "Jimothy" seems to think is that the Democrats are the party of the downtrodden working class while the Republicans are plutocratic, top-hatted bankers who flick cigar ash at the masses from the windows of their Cadillacs as they speed by on the way to Wall Street. Ah, the perils of trying to understand America through the prism of the BBC...

Maybe fifty years ago the Democrats were the party of the industrialised and unionised white working class. But there aren't too many of them left these days: those jobs are now in Shanghai. Nowadays the Democrats represent a coalition of rather disparate groups:

1. The minorities, especially blacks. And this isn't really anything to do with Obama: blacks vote overwhelmingly for the Dems at every election.

2. The intelligentsia. This is where most of the Democratic activist base is to be found. I'm thinking of teachers, professors, lawyers (especially lawyers), journalists, television folk and almost everyone in the entertainment industry - one of America's biggest. Subsets of this group are the gay and feminist lobbies.

3. Other government workers of all types, although not including too many members of the military.

4. Wall Street. Yes, and why not? Top bankers generally live in the same cities and neighbourhoods as the leading members of the liberal intelligentsia - in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. They socialise with the entertainment elite. I note that even the Republican Paulson seems to have actively donated to typically leftist causes. People like to fit in.

What all of these groups have in common is the desire to use the state for their own class interests. Minorities want abominations like the Community Reinvestment Act that seems to be directly implicated in the current mess. Most of the intelligentsia hates the West and wants to bring it down by brainwashing future generations. Government workers have everything to gain from government expansion. And the Wall Streeters operate in an industry with extremely close links to the state. They all understood that their dodgy CRA loans would be bailed out by Fannie and Freddie and, if necessary, Ms Mae and Mr Mac would themselves be "saved" by the taxpayer, exactly as we've just witnessed. And I've not even mentioned the whole rotten system of GOVERNMENTAL central banking that empowers the Wall Street crowd who wouldn't know a free market if it hit them on the head.

And what of the Republicans?

The Christian fundamentalist element isn't that important, despite what the BBC might tell you. Essentially the Republicans are the millions and millions of normal middle class Americans who live in the suburbs and small towns and who work predominantly in the private sector. They do include professionals and business owners who are often wealthy but, unlike all too many rich Democrats, they've made their own way in the free market without any "help" from the government. It's hardly surprising that these cautious, taxpaying Republican voters bitterly resent being asked to hand over their lifetime savings to bail out the profligate. And that's the message that's been given to members of Congress today. Good and hard.

How Brown may dish the Nats

Suppose the government decides to nationalise all of the banks. Brown then announces that the new People's Bank will be based in Scotland. In the interests of decentralisation, of course. I suppose he'd base it in Edinburgh, but a huge back office operation could go to Glenrothes, could it not?

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Fractional Reserve Banking

A couple of weeks ago Knirirr wrote this comment:
Is money really made out of thin air? This article makes a good case that it is not, and that fractional reserve banking is not against libertarian principles. Click here. I agree with you about the state meddling, though. knirirr | 09.15.08 - 12:55 pm | #
The article's concludes:
In brief, I do not find any of the libertarian arguments against fractional-reserve banking compelling. The charge of fraud can be handled by clear deposit contracts and proper labeling of notes, while the other two charges I address are either empty or irrelevant. It may be that bank customers would reject fractional-reserve banks if fully informed about their operation—although, again, I doubt that is true—but that is only an argument for full disclosure, not for banning the practice.
In general I agree with Callahan's analysis. If I go out to my local shop and hand over a "Farrer Note" that's been crafted and signed by myself there is no fraud so long as I don't claim that the note is something other than what it is. If I sign the note with the word "Rembrandt" it seems clear that I have committed a fraud. The problem is that today's fractional reserve banking system is rather more complicated than a marketplace containing rival Farrer Notes, Bush Notes and Brown Notes all of which people take their chances with when accepting them. We have to consider the role of the central bank.

As always, Rothbard hits the nail on the head:

Indeed, Rothbard does no less than portray the Fed as a cartelizing device that limits entry into and regulates competition within the lucrative fractional-reserve banking industry and stands ready to bail it out, thus guaranteeing its profits and socializing its losses. Rothbard further demonstrates that not only bankers, but also incumbent politicians and their favored constituencies and special interest groups benefit from the Fed's power to create money at will. This power is routinely used in the service of vote-seeking politicians to surreptitiously tax money holders to promote the interests of groups that gain from artificially cheap interest rates and direct government subsidies. These beneficiaries include, among others, Wall Street financial institutions, manufacturing firms that produce capital goods, the military-industrial complex, the construction and auto industries, and labor unions
The Bank of England is unlikely to bail out any unlucky holders of "Farrer Notes" should it become apparent that are only worth the paper they are printed on. As we are seeing right now the Bush and Brown notes are being bailed out. So expect lots and lots of inflation, at least in terms of Bushes and Browns. Banks advance loans on a base of government issued money that gives them an unwarranted degree of credibility. Without a central bank I have little doubt that a fractional reserve bank wouldn't last very long in an unsubsidised marketplace.

Who's to blame?

Why, leftist politicians of course.

Unfortunately this video tells us the John McCain is the answer. I doubt that McCain would sort out the fractional reserve governmental monetary system about which only Ron Paul among politicians seems to have a clue.

The British press has been strangely quiet about the Community Reinvestment Act. Does anyone expect that David Cameron will tell the Conservative gathering in Birmingham about its contribution towards the sub-prime crisis? Will Cameron attack the fiat money system? Will pigs fly?

Enjoy the video:

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Were the short sellers to blame?

It seems very unlikely. Apparently they comprised 3% of the participants during Wednesday's collapse of HBOS shares.

Adopted Domain lays bare the economic ignorance at Holyrood:

Why did HBOS go down? If you listen to the Holyrood debating chamber led by the SNP, the recent blamestorm pointed almost unanimously toward the short-sellers - the spivs and the speculators - who took a one way bet against the public purse. Andy Cochrane and Holyrood Chronicles are surprised to see politicians from all the main parties lining up to have a populist dig at the short sellers, with the exception of the Greens, Patrick Harvie, who seemed to be the only one with any financial literacy whatsoever. This, despite the fact that many of the same short sellers who allegedly brought down HBOS, will have lost a great deal of cash when the market rebounded at the end of last week, largely led by financial stocks.

The act of shorting stock does not bring banks down, a lack of trust in the business model does. It seems much more likely to me that the fact the growing perception in the city that HBOS had become too dependent on the wholesale money markets, just like Northern Rock, and the fact that it had the biggest exposure to the bust balloon UK property market, may well have been much bigger factors in their demise. Yet no criticism from Labour, the SNP, the Tories or the LibDems on the management of HBOS. And Gordon Browns solution to the crisis? Make a yet bigger bank.

I wonder whether MSPs really are as financially uninformed as they appear to be. Perhaps they just hope that spouting off about "spivs" will appeal to the electorate, no matter how nonsensical that theory may be. I have the horrible feeling that they really are ignorant and that doesn't make me too optimistic about what the political class will get up to in the future. Needless-to-say there's no evidence of any greater sophistication at Westminster.

As for HBOS itself, here's a marvellous quote from today's Mail on Sunday. It's about HBOS chairman Lord Stevenson:

Awarded the CBE in 1981 and made a life peer in 1999, he likes to describe himself as "an unreconstructed 1960s Guardian-reading liberal."
If Stevenson had been an unreconstructed 1860s (Manchester) Guardian-reading liberal none of this would have happened.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Courts! How very quaint

Readers may know that some of FDR's New Deal legislation was challenged in the American courts on the grounds of being contrary to the Constitution.

How much more civilised things are today:

Sec. 8. Review.

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

From the LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL FOR TREASURY AUTHORITY TO PURCHASE MORTGAGE-RELATED ASSETS

Libertarian Alliance

The Libertarian Alliance's Annual Conference is coming up shortly. Note the presence of Hans-Hermann Hoppe and David Friedman.

And here are the thoughts of LA Director Dr Sean Gabb on the current financial crisis.

Will we see the end of ageism?

When I was a simple Finance Director I'd face an audit every year.

You say there's £258,784.18 in the bank; naturally we'll write to Lloyds just to confirm that balance.

We see that you claim to have 30 company cars; let's pick these three at random and actually look at them.

According to the accounts your clients owe the company £2,396,148.69. It's OK if we write to the top five just to get their confirmation, isn't it?

This invoice for a new computer. Which one, exactly, is it? And who authorised its purchase?

And your balance sheet claims that there's £3,253.26 in the petty cash box (this was an ad agency!); you don't mind if we count it right now, do you?

Etc. Etc. Etc.

The problem as I see it is that the people running all too many of today's financial institutions remind me more of the copywriters and art directors with whom I used to work rather than my fellow finance guys. Now those creative types were very nice people and, despite what some may think, earned their money through hard graft. But I'd never dream of trusting them with the company's money.

How on earth can anyone audit the fearsomely complicated financial products that are now falling to bits all around us? Actually, Enron showed that we couldn't.

It's time for a return to simplicity. To the days when one had to save for a few years before (perhaps) being offered a mortgage of 2.5 times evidenced income. And perhaps it's time for the banks to keep on board some of the oldsters who remember previous hard times.

Good Evening Comrades

Following the US financial nationalisations I thought this might be of interest:

John McCain's Top 5 Contributors, 2003-2008

Merrill Lynch $293,010
Citigroup Inc $251,851
Goldman Sachs $223,995
Morgan Stanley $212,821
AT&T Inc $187,673
Barack Obama's Top 5 Contributors, 2003-2008
Goldman Sachs $689,280
University of California $531,070
JPMorgan Chase & Co $449,671
Citigroup Inc $411,504
Harvard University $407,452
Rep. Ron Paul's Top 5 Contributors 2003-2008
US Army $78,255
US Navy $60,226
Google Inc $57,901
US Air Force $56,955
Microsoft Corp $49,323
From Mike Shedlock's blog

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

United We Stand

Who'd have thought that we'd see Newcastle United sponsored by the Bank of England and Manchester United by the Federal Reserve?

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

HBoS and RBS

Shares in HBoS and the Royal have been severely hit in the last two days. Along with Standard Life and Scottish Widows, these companies comprise the cream of Scotland's financial sector and are two of the largest employers here in Edinburgh.

I have no idea what the real underlying strengths and weaknesses of these banks may be, but I am certainly worried. I have an ISA with HBoS although I withdrew 40% of it a year ago when the last panic took place. That money was subsequently invested in a Euro deposit account that's done quite well since then.

I don't really expect that either HBos or the Royal would be allowed to go under: such an outcome would lead to a collapse in the British economy from which recovery would be extraordinarily difficult. But what if either company were to be taken over? Perhaps by HSBC who seem to be the soundest bank in the UK at present? Surely the Edinburgh economy would suffer. Loss of top jobs is always a problem and just how much back office work would remain? Some, but perhaps not all. The knock-on effect would be huge.

Then there's the political question. Would the loss of one or both of Scotland's banks benefit Labour or the SNP? Surely Labour would argue that such an event showed that the Union was all the more necessary. A Scotland that was unable to keep its major financial institutions would need to look to London for its security. Or would Scots blame Labour for what had happened and be even more likely to want to go it alone? I don't know but the situation sure is interesting.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Crisis of capitalism - you must be joking

But that's what millions of fools will be told and will believe.

Vox tells it like it is:

This isn't a failure of free market capitalism. It's precisely the opposite, it's the failure of government-controlled faux market capitalism.
Exactly.

Mises explained what's now happening decades ago. Rothbard put it in easy to understand terms:

Rothbard not only argues for the gold standard; he shows how it can be restored in a practical, step-by-step plan. No other system will stop the seemingly endless monetary inflation of the Federal Reserve system. He also makes his strongest case against fractional reserve banking. This essay was written in 1962 and this edition includes Rothbard's sweeping introduction from 1991, in which he argues that the true gold standard is more viable than ever.
It really is quite straightforward. Any banking system that allows the creation of money out of thin air will go bust eventually. And such a regime is always the product of a socialised central bank. Capitalism is based on property rights that relate to real assets and that's exactly what we need right now. We should no longer allow the predator class to use the state to steal from those who produce real wealth.

Financial News

A good site to look at for financial news is Calculted Risk.

This post has an amazing 658 comments...

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Breaking News: Sitemeter buys Lehman Brothers

Why not? The world has gone mad.

First they came for the smokers...

And then for the horizontally challenged:
A TEAM of NHS nurses is patrolling Scotland's streets to target pot-bellied members of the public and tell them how to lose weight.

Armed with measuring tapes to check waists and equipment to test blood pressure, the "Street Nurses" are policing busy shopping centres, supermarkets and community centres.

Any man with a paunch, or woman with an "apple-shaped" body whose waist measurement is higher than recommended limits is given diet and lifestyle advice or referred to local slimming classes.

What can one say? Why did my father fight against the Nazis?

But some useful idiots are quite relaxed it seems:

People are generally OK about us talking about their weight
But some of us aren't. Not because we've had a few too many pints but because our size is none of the government's business. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we are approaching a total breakdown of civilised life in the not too distant future. Whether a Hayekian spontaneous order will be allowed to evolve I don't know. But it's certainly exciting to sit back and watch the endgame.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

The Joy of Film

I imagine that everyone's seen Gordon Brown's Downfall courtesy of Guido.

Here's another one for those of us old enough to remember film cameras:

Scots Law and the economy

I'm in the middle of reading The Legal Foundations of Free Markets, which is the latest book from the IEA.

One chapter is by Cento Veljanovski and is titled The Common Law and Wealth.

He concludes:

Some laws are more efficient or more conducive to facilitating economic activity and growth than others. It appears that the common law may do this better than civil law systems, at least in some areas and in some jurisdictions.
Under "Europe" the author lists Cyprus, England, Ireland and Wales as common law jurisdictions. Scotland isn't mentioned and has a mixed system with less use of the common law than elsewhere in these islands.

The question is this: Does Scotland's legal system harm economic growth?

I honestly don't know.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Fannie and Freddie

The Daily Mash puts it this way:
US BECOMES WORLD'S BIGGEST COUNCIL ESTATE
Not quite, but not that far off.

This is one of those bailouts that attract the "socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor" comments. I'm not too comfortable with that expression: a government bailout of western banks and eastern governments isn't an example of "capitalism" but it is the sort of thing that gives capitalism a bad name. Fannie and Freddie should have been allowed to go bust. That's what the market said. Instead we see the shares of British banks (they're heavily involved in this mess as well) leaping up today, especially the ones most into the mortgage market. All this will end in tears and the more these bailouts continue the worse the final crash will be.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Is oil peaking?

I don't know, but I think that it may be. Of course, the peak oil concept doesn't mean that there isn't going to be any more but that that production has reached its maximum level and that severe consequences will follow.

I recommend listening to this broadcast from the excellent Financial Sense Online. The first half is an interview with James Howard Kunstler. That's followed by Paul Mladjenovic, an Austrian School financial advisor.

Here's Kunstler:

Some regions of the country will do better than others. The sunbelt will suffer in exact proportion to the degree that it prospered artificially during the cheap oil blowout of the late 20th century. I predict that the Southwest will become substantially depopulated, since they will be short of water as well as gasoline and natural gas. I'm not optimistic about the Southeast either, for different reasons. I think it will be subject to substantial levels of violence as the grievances of the formerly middle class boil over and combine with the delusions of Pentecostal Christian extremism.

All regions of the nation will be affected by the vicissitudes of this Long Emergency, but I think New England and the Upper Midwest have somewhat better prospects. I regard them as less likely to fall into lawlessness, anarchy, or despotism, and more likely to salvage the bits and pieces of our best social traditions and keep them in operation at some level.

There is a fair chance that the nation will disaggregate into autonomous regions before the 21st century is over, as a practical matter if not officially. Life will be very local.

These challenges are immense. We will have to rebuild local networks of economic and social relations that we allowed to be systematically dismantled over the past fifty years. In the process, our communities may be able to reconstitute themselves.

Now Kunstler is a bit of a leftist. He sees government solutions that I don't think are right or that would work. But that doesn't mean that there isn't a problem. Whether oil is peaking or not is an empirical matter but solutions are subject to a priori considerations. Libertarianism is a philosophy of private property rights and such rights are inherently conservative, with a small "c" of course. I see no contradiction between libertarianism and solving of any challenge from peak oil; indeed property rights are the only possible way forward.

What I find really interesting is how this would affect Scotland.

At first sight it doesn't look too good. Declining oil production would adversely affect Scotland's finances, whether independent or not. On the other hand an independent Scotland might chose to reduce production so as to conserve an increasingly valuable capital asset. But there are other considerations.

Peak oil is terrible news for airlines (listen to Kunstler) and Scotland is way out on the edge of Europe and even of the UK. Would Edinburgh's financial industry be as robust if air services to London were cut back? And what about tourism?

But there's more isn't there? Here's Kunstler again:

The economy of the mid 21st century may center on agriculture. Not information. Not the digital manipulation of pictures, not services like selling cheeseburgers and entertaining tourists. Farming. Food production. The transition to this will be traumatic, given the destructive land-use practices of our time, and the staggering loss of knowledge. We will be lucky if we can feed ourselves.

From this point of view Scotland comes out quite well. We can certainly feed our population of five million from local production should that become necessary. And water and non-oil energy resources are plentiful. England, especially the South, may be quite another matter.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Targeted tax cut

Guido notes that the stamp duty holiday isn't going to benefit many in the southeast of England.

Quite.

But what about Glenrothes?

The exploiters and the exploited

Almost a year ago I opened a Euro deposit account. So am I happy to read that the pound has now plunged to an all-time low against the Euro? No I'm not.

I see this morning that my Euros have made a gain of 17% since last October and despite some recent turbulence my gold shares are worth more than double what I paid for them. Am I some kind of mini-Soros figure whose aim is to bring down the pound and the government? No, I'm just a guy who is trying hard to protect his savings against a rapacious political class. Unlike some, I don't have a gold-plated, inflation-linked pension guaranteed by the government taxpayer. I have to rely on my wits and that means spreading my investments around a bit.

Writing on a possible housing bailout, Alice Cook has this to say:

The title is very telling: "Government must act on property market now". The RICS didn't say "sellers must act", or "Estate agents must act". It didn't even point to themselves and say perhaps we, the RICS should act. No, the RICS said that the "housing market on its knees, the RICS is calling on the Government to act swiftly and decisively on a range of proposals to help the buying and selling process - now and in the future - for both consumers and business."
What this demonstrates is that the political class that I mentioned above does not consist solely of MPs, MSPs and the like. It also includes well-heeled professionals - in this case the surveyors - who use the state for their own private ends. The real class struggle is between those who live on the free market and those who look to the state to further their own private ends. The enemy class extends far beyond the politicians.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Sunday, 31 August 2008

The next Vice President?

Sarah Palin
State Governor: check
Mother of five: check
Ice fisher: check
Lifetime NRA member: check
Eats mooseburger: check
Owns floatplane: check
Son in Army: check
Definitely a US citizen: check
Pro drilling: check
Protector of polar bears: check
Beauty Queen: check
Did inhale: check
Corruption buster: check
Ethnic husband: check
Ethnic husband is an Eskimo: check
The question is this:
If the ethnic husband is an Eskimo doesn't that mean that he has an igloo and that Sarah already lives in the White House?

Book Festival - Part 8

Saturday afternoon saw us going to an event hosted by local author Paul Johnston. His guests were Italian crime writer Giancarlo de Cataldo and Spanish colleague Domingo Villar. A worthy enough event I suppose, but we didn't buy any of their books.

Sunday morning meant that it was time for Alistair Moffat on Hadrian's Wall and (taking a risk in Edinburgh!) Marc Morris on the Hammer of the Scots. Morris survived, but again we didn't buy the book. Mrs F&W already had the Hadrian tome.

After the Tuesday Club Garden Party (guest speaker Sandy Stoddart, sculptor of the new Adam Smith statue), it was back to Charlotte Square for a talk on Scottish independence. This event was chaired by Joyce McMillan of the Scotsman who always makes me think that she is our own homegrown version of Polly Toynbee. The speakers were Paul Scott and Harry Reid, authors of The Independence Book and Murray Pittock who along with Reid expressed interest in the blogging world when we spoke after the session. I bought both books.

My final event on Monday morning was Dr Terrence Kealey, Vice Chancellor of the UK's only independent university. He gave a fascinating talk on Sex, Science and Profit: How People Evolved to Make Money. After two weeks of the Book Festival I was too far-gone to remember what my cutting edge comment was when the time came for questions. So I went to the pub.

Book Festival - Part 7

On Friday morning I went to hear Neil Blain and David Hutchinson discuss their book The Media in Scotland. This was an interesting session that concentrated on broadcasting and the press. The Scottish Six was brought up. Inevitably. As was the ownership of the Scottish press. We were told that the owners of the Herald and the Scotsman demand unusually high rates of return thus precluding proper investment in the papers. I wonder; and if so does that not create an entrepreneurial opportunity? I asked a question about the Internet and blogging in Scotland and chatted to Blain about this later. He agreed that the mainstream press were a bit slow on the uptake. According to Blain his students regard e-mails as something akin to the quill pen. They all communicate through social networking sites. Now, where's my ink well?

Later on Friday it was time for Robert Kagan to speak about his new book The Return of History. Kagan, a neocon and McCain advisor, got a respectful hearing from the normally slightly left of centre Book Festival audience. I pointed out that the US was founded as a constitutional republic and not as a democracy and suggested to Kagan that the US should concentrate on spreading liberty rather than democracy. My question received some applause from the audience! Kagan said that constitutional purity was on the way out even by the time of Andrew Jackson. Quite so, but still a mistake. I'm currently half way through the book but have yet to find any deep new insights.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Book Festival - Part 6

On Thursday afternoon I went along to hear Simon Hoggart, parliamentary sketch writer for the Guardian. Despite my approval of Bertie, Hoggart was good value. Apparently sketch writers were concerned back in 1997 when New Labour came to power. What on earth could be written about this bunch of boring managerialists? But along came John Prescott! Hoggart gave excellent impersonations of a couple of Prescott speeches. And of course Labour did give the press corps plenty to write about and criticise.

WARNING: naughty word alert.

An elderly Labour MP is sitting in a bar in the House of Commons. He's an ex-miner and retired union official, given his seat as a reward for service to the party. He never speaks in the House, votes as told by the whips, and spends most of his time drinking the subsidised Federation Ale.

Two newish Labour MPs come in and start chatting at the bar.

"You know, the trouble with working in this place is that it's full of c*nts," says one of these MPs to his friend.

The ex-miner pipes up: "Lads, there's plenty of c*nts in t'c*ntry and I feel they deserve their own representation."

Book Festival - Part 5

Last Tuesday we went to hear Alexander McCall Smith. He's made at least three appearances at the Festival and could probably have filled the 500-seater big tent with his fans a few more times. We were rather shocked to hear that the next Number One Ladies' Detective book was just about to be started and would be finished by the end of October! He's contracted to write 14 of these novels. In addition, McCall Smith writes an Isabel Dalhousie and a 44 Scotland Street book every year. Everyone's favourite character from "44" is Bertie, the six-year-old, Italian speaking and saxophone playing prodigy. When once lost by his mother in Paris Bertie earns money busking and ends up out-arguing the professor at a Sorbonne lecture. Bertie is undergoing psychotherapy for having set fire to his father's copy of the Guardian. That's always good for a laugh. Bertie for Prime Minister.

In an incident in the latest book Bertie meets Ian Rankin, a near neighbour of McCall Smith. Bertie announces that he'd just seen one of Rankin's books in a second hand bookshop priced 25P. On being shown the first draft Rankin declared: "25p! Make it a bloody quid!"

Now, where was I?

DK has tagged me with one of those meme things. This one is about "where were you when?"

So, here goes:

Princess Diana's death—31 August 1997

I was sound asleep when I was awakened by a very early phone call. It was Mrs F&W who was over in the US visiting her family. "Have you heard the news?" she asked. "Err, no, I was asleep. What's happened?" So on went the TV and I watched what was going on. I went to the pub at lunchtime to read the papers and everyone was talking about Di. Although I was shocked at the later mass hysteria I do confess that I drove the mile up to the A40 to see the hearse make its way from Northolt into Central London.
Margaret Thatcher's resignation—22 November 1990
This occurred on the day that the future Mrs F&W arrived from the US to stay with me for six weeks. I remember driving home from Gatwick and explaining how it was possible for the UK to have a new PM without there being a general election.
Attack on the twin towers—11 September 2001
That morning I had some serious dental attention that required penicillin. I'd scheduled the rest of the day off work and asked the dentist whether it was OK to have a beer on the way home. "Sure" he said, "I always like a beer after work." He was from south Asia and I said, "So you're a Hindu then and not a Muslim?" "No, I am a Muslim, but most of us don't pay any attention to that alcohol stuff. Have your beer." I took the tube back to Ealing, had my pint and went home. Turning on the Teletext I saw that a plane had hit the WTC. I assumed that this was something small like a Cessna but clicked on the item. The whole story was just starting. I phoned Mrs F&W at work and everyone there had heard about it. A couple of builders were working on our driveway and I called them up to see the news on TV. People just wanted to talk about the event.
England's World Cup Semi Final v Germany in—4 July 1990
I haven't got a clue! Although I was born in Scotland and now live here, I did live in London for more than thirty years and am both English and Scottish by parentage. I do support England at football. Unless they are playing Scotland that is...
President Kennedy's Assassination—22 November 1963
We'd just moved to London and I was at a photographic club meeting. It ended late and I phoned home to say that I'd been delayed. My mother told me the news but I don't think that I really understood the significance at the time especially as there was speculation that the Russians had done it. I can vaguely remember the events of the next few days.
Over to the following:
Neil Craig

Bill Cameron

Shuggy

SNP Tactical Voting

Martin Kelly.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Book Festival - Part 4

Last Friday we went to the Stories in Stone: Literature and Landscape event, which dealt with Edinburgh's position as a Unesco World Heritage Site and City of Literature. There was a preview of some of EWH's podcasts.

On Sunday I went along to listen to Roy Hattersley. I've never been a great fan of the Tub of Lard but I thoroughly enjoyed his confident presentation. A "chairman" briefly appeared on the stage and introduced Hattersley and then disappeared for the rest of the hour. Hattersley spoke without apparent notes on his book about the inter-war years. Short version: Ramsay MacDonald has been wrongly traduced by subsequent Labour supporters and Baldwin once said that Churchill wasn't in the cabinet as it was important to keep him fresh for whatever might happen in the future...

On an exceedingly dreich Monday evening I contemplated not bothering to turn up to hear Tom Devine speak about Scotland and Slavery. Just how much political correctness can one stand? But I'd paid my money, so off I went. The rain fell but the big tent was full for what turned to be another worthwhile visit. Short version: Scotland didn't play much part in the slave trade itself but many Scots were heavily involved in managing slave plantations, especially in the West Indies. That's why there are so many "Macs" in the Jamaica phone book. According to Devine the earnings from this and also from the tobacco trade with the 13 colonies is what funded Scotland's unusually rapid subsequent industrialisation. Sort of funny story: there was an island off the African shoreline that acted as a slave transhipment centre. You could tell that it was run by Scots - it had a (two hole) golf course and the caddies wore tartan loincloths...

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Not so wild

I wonder just how sound is David Cameron's knowledge of history:
David Cameron: Binge drinking is turning Britain into 'Wild West'

We libertarians know that the "wildness" of the west is a bit of a myth:

Economic activity on the U.S. frontier during the nineteenth century took place in an environment where government was largely absent. Nevertheless, the West, as described by Terry Anderson and P J. Hill, was not nearly as "wild" as has been depicted by some historians and by Hollywood. According to Anderson and Hill, the key to the successful and, by and large, peaceful enforcement of contracts, as well as the generally peaceful exploitation of what at the outset were common access resources, was the emergence of a set of rules, both formal and informal, that assigned property rights to agents operating in this new economy.
Quite so. But if we were allowed to protect ourselves against violent neds (drunk or otherwise) and develop the institutions of civil society without the "help" of the state then what exactly would politicians be for?

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Vlad the Invader speaks

Comrades,

Congratulations on your stunning victory. The motherland salutes your achievements.

You have bravely restored order on our southern flank. The imperialists have been vanquished. Workers of the world salute you.

But now I must ask you to undertake another task. And an even greater challenge awaits you.

Your next campaign will take you far to the West. To a country that has been a thorn in our side for decades. But comrades, take heart. For the way has been paved for another swift victory.

For a long time now our agents have been at work. The enemy has been under constant attack by internal Gramscians working on our behalf. It is now several decades since the Farringdon Pravda exhibited any signs of liberalism. The once robust broadsheet of the capitalist bosses has also fallen to our people. And, needless-to-say, the state owned broadcasting organisation remains under our firm control. The latest “A Level” results show just how well we have undermined the enemy’s schools. And the universities have been ours for a generation, as have all local authorities.

Comrades. Soldiers.

Prepare now for the liberation of Britain.

Book Festival - Part 3

No, not another reference to Gordon Brown's visit. Anyway, isn't he Mr Bean nowadays?

Yesterday lunchtime we went to hear Simon Sebag Montefiore talk about his new novel Sashenka. And, inevitably, we heard Montefiore's views on current events in Georgia.

The Scotsman's review encapsulates the talk very well:

He (Montefiore, not Stalin!) speaks with passion, wit and that effortless eloquent self-deprecation of the true English toff, no notes in sight, but striding confidently about the main stage emitting a compelling blend of anecdotes, history and hard sell.

So while you're being treated to his memories of Georgian dentist warlords or how he gatecrashed a coup d'├ętat in the presidential palace, or how he got landed with a seven-year-old interpreter thanks to a Chechen homicide detective who'd never caught a single murderer – while all these anecdotes come pouring out with practised perfection, there was far more in the mix too. It's hard to imagine anyone explaining the historical context to this week's re-emergence of Russia as a regional superpower quite as well

I thought that Montefiore's talk last year was one of the best and he was at least as good performing in the "big tent".

But, note this:

For as soon as Sebag-Montefiore sat down, his first questioner stood up. She was quivering with anger.

Talking about Stalin like this, she said, with Solzhenitsyn just in the grave, was just glamorising him. "The guy was sick, sick. What he has done to people like my grandfather… In a normal world, he'd be sectioned. I'm almost having a heart attack listening to the way in which you're talking about him…"

The questioner was sitting immediately to my left and was fully justified in making her point. Montefiore handled this challenge well and I noticed several people congratulating the questioner when the talk had finished.

Never forget.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Book Festival - Part 2

After Mr Brown, I was back at the Book Festival on Sunday.

First off was sociologist Richard Sennett, a name that was vaguely familiar when I bought the ticket. I later found this on my shelves.

Sennett was talking about his latest book The Craftsman. I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation in which Sennett made the case for craftsmanship in work. He was clearly a bit of a leftist but one who could become "one of us" with some effort... Sennett had lost all of his early enthusiasm for New Labour. He partly agreed with my suggestion that Germany's retention of craftsmanship was more to do with culture than politicians. Apparently, having an "ology" doesn't necessarily make one a nutter

Next on was the Undercover Economist Tim Harford. I enjoy reading Harford's Dear Economist in the FT on Saturdays. I wasn't surprised to find Harford a competent and confident performer but I thought that his talk was a bit too much show business and not enough economics. His heart's in the right place though.

In today's lunchtime break I went to hear Anthony King of Essex University and well known to viewers of television election programmes.

King was another competent presenter but, I thought, a little too much of an establishment figure. He generally favoured the changes made to the British constitution over the last fifty years. Sheena Macdonald asked King (a Canadian) about the American constitution. I was saddened to hear the usual and erroneous stuff about the Florida vote in 2000 as well as an attack on the Second Amendment.

King's "solution" for the West Lothian Question was to reduce the number of Scottish MPs below our population share but to keep full Westminster voting rights. Wrong on both counts, unless of course he is an agent of Alex Salmond.

La lutte continue

You know, sometimes I wonder what's the point. I'm impressed by just how many British bloggers seem to understand at least the basics of libertarianism but as we blog away about loss of liberty the state just marches on.

As one gets older it's tempting to say: What the hell? It's all a lost cause. Why not just enjoy one's hobbies and watch the collapse of civilisation from the sidelines? The problem is this: even my hobbies are now under attack.

I'm a keen photographer, but I now find that even that activity is under relentless state harassment. There's an excellent article in today's Scotsman although it's behind the premium window.

Macdonell writes:

The right to report and photograph is a fundamental right of any democratic society. This is even set out in the police-press guidelines laid down by the Association of Chief Police Officers.

It states: "Members of the media have a duty to take photographs and film incidents and (police officers) have no legal power or moral responsibility to prevent or restrict what they record."

But the police don't seen to care about mere abstractions like "the law". That's why Austin Mitchell MP, a keen photographer, has introduced an Early Day Motion in Parliament:
Austin Mitchell MP (pictured) is canvassing the support of fellow politicians following growing reports of police stopping innocent photography enthusiasts taking pictures in public areas.
Good luck to Mitchell. I'd go further of course. I'd favour a law that says that all police officers who make up their own laws should be instantly dismissed from the force along with all of their superior officers right up the chain of command to the Chief Constable. With loss of all accumulated pension rights.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Book Festival - Part 1: Man in sports jacket

Yes, this morning we went to hear the Prime Minister. He was the special guest at the opening event of this year's Book Festival. Brown was interviewed by author Ian Rankin (of Inspector Rebus fame) in front of a respectful but not adulatory audience.

In this relaxed environment Brown came across far better than I've ever seen him in more formal settings on television. Mrs F&W thought that he was better looking and seemed younger and slimmer than when on the box.

Most of the event was taken up with discussing his book on Courage. Unfortunately the PM wasn't available to sign books for individuals - I was looking forward to having him dedicate one to Freedom and Whisky...

A lady sitting in front of us asked him about the nanny state. He clearly didn't think that such a thing existed. Other than that, we didn't learn much except that he writes his books first thing in the morning, uses a computer but doesn't pay too much attention to the spellchecker.

(DISCLOSURE: shocking though this may be to younger readers but I too wear sports jackets. It's about the only thing that I have in common with Mr Brown.)

Monday, 4 August 2008

Margaret Curran: friend of the SNP?

Thanks to James Buxton for alerting me to this article in the Financial Times by John Kay.

Here's the punch line:

Scottish government cannot protect the country from the vagaries of the global economy and should not try. The need is to develop and exploit the competitive advantages of Scottish businesses on an international scale. If Scotland seems to be drifting towards independence, it is not because of the economic logic of that outcome but because, like Ms Curran, opponents cling to a tradition of Red Clydeside that values heroic failure above pragmatic success.