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.

Relocating Edinburgh

In a comment on my previous post Richard Havers says:
Part of out problem in Scotland is having two airports too close to one another with not enough passengers to go around
My reply:

Yes the two airports are a problem.

I used to live in Prestwick. What we need to do is relocate Edinburgh to somewhere like Girvan. Turnberry can replace Muirfield. Culzean already has the castle. After this, Prestwick can take its rightful place as the Central Scotland Airport, midway between Edinburgh and Glasgow. And think of all the work this would make for the builders, Polish or Scots...

Tax, trains and planes

Richard Havers has written an excellent response to all the hand wringing that's been going on over BA's Scottish flight reductions.

From Richard:

Reading the attacks on BA in the paper’s comment column you’d think that they were a part of a Unionist alliance against Scotland. People are calling for the Scottish Government to do something – it's a case of welcome to the real world!
But, and yes there's always one in the blogosphere, isn't there?

Back in 2007 I wrote about this very subject referring back to what I'd written in 2002!

Here's the 2002 quote:

The UK is probably the most centralised of all modern countries. Even after devolution, 87% of our taxes are levied at the national level. In the US it's 18%. In the rest of Europe taxes are levied roughly half by the national governments and half locally. Where the taxes are collected goes economic and political power. I remember reading some years ago that Washington DC had the highest per-capita wages in the US and that most of them were dependent in some way on the federal government. That's in a country levying a mere 18% of taxation at the centre.

A very large part of London's economy is there precisely because it is the capital city of a country whose government spends some 40% of our GDP and whose London-resident ministers channel almost all of that expenditure through the London-based civil service. This in turn means that London hosts the national press (English, not British actually), the BBC, commercial TV, media-associated industries like advertising and PR, the political parties, almost all lobbyists, charities, trades unions and professional organisations. This centralisation of decision makers and influencers in turn makes London the natural location for the head offices of companies whose operations are spread throughout Britain. All of this is why the South-east dominates our economy and why it is impossible to solve the imbalances in housing and transport.

If we want to see a more economically balanced Britain we can either reduce government expenditure to, say, 10% of GDP, or we can spread government more evenly throughout the country. I support the first option. I suspect that neither will be implemented.

And what's changed since then? Well, the state probably spends more than 40% of the economy. But the UK remains just as centralised, and that's a big reason why so many Scots need to go to and from London. Fix the centralisation and we can worry less about the flights. Of course, when I'm dictator of the universe we'll be bringing back DC-3s and Stratocruisers, not to mention LMS and LNER steam trains...

Problem fixed.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Scottish Roundup

This week's Scottish Roundup is now online and was contributed by yours truly.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Number three in Scotland

Thanks to the voters.

Another one bites the dust

Oh dear.

You know, I suspect that either Obama or McCain will be glad that the other guy won...

No laughing matter

But will Cathy still be smiling when she reads this?