Monday 30 July 2007

Passage to Windermere

Back in olden times we pupils of Prestwick High School and then Ayr Academy used to go on the annual "school trip" sometime in June. Usually this involved going by train to Gourock, Wemyss Bay or Balloch from where we would undertake a cruise "doon the watter" or on Loch Lomond.

One year we went as far as Keswick. I'd been many times before as my paternal grandparents lived in the area. I felt quite the teenage cosmopolitan as very few others had been to the Lake District previously and for several pupils it was their first visit to England!

A family birthday took us back to the Lakes this weekend.

We started by taking the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway up to the southern end of Windermere:

Then we sailed the MV Teal from Lakeside up Windermere to Bowness and on to Ambleside:

Windermere - July 2007
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

We enjoyed a nice view of the Langdale range:

Windermere - July 2007
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Things had changed since the days of the "school trip". As well as assorted Brits, I noticed Americans, Japanese, Mexicans, Italians as well as this group of Indians who were enjoying an onboard picnic:

Windermere - July 2007
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Coincidentally, a group of English girls were studying a travel guide to India.

The rest of the Indians stood at the bow:

Windermere - July 2007
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

while some Muslims were at the stern:

Windermere - July 2007
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Back ashore I noticed evidence of some of the Lake District's main languages:

Windermere - July 2007
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

At the end of the day I was pleased to see this reminder of those Ayrshire school trips of old:

(Other photos are here.)

Thursday 26 July 2007

Free market?

You must be joking.

The Plunge Protection Team is out tonight.

Monday 23 July 2007

Someone to watch over you

Here's a fascinating story from Blogdial:
Domestic passengers departing from Heathrow’s Terminal 5, which opens in March, will have to give a fingerprint and have their faces scanned as part of a security check before take-off. The checks are being brought in because both domestic and international passengers will share a common departure lounge and there are fears that those arriving on international flights may be able to bypass immigration control by booking an onward domestic flight to a regional airport.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if other airlines ran ads announcing that, say, flying EasyJet from Luton to Edinburgh or Ryanair from Stansted to Prestwick didn't require such intrusiveness?

But then of course BA would respond by claiming that going from Terminal 5 was safer, wouldn't they?

Well, let's have a real contest. One that would I'm sure appeal to Mr O'Leary. Let BA and BAA have their state-operated "security" measures at Heathrow. But let a rival airline offer no governmental fingerprint taking, no governmental face scanning but passenger profiling using methods that the airline chose, including arming the crew.

Saturday 21 July 2007

The Jockosphere

Welcome to Mr Jock. I've added him to the Blogroll. In the "Whisky" section...

Broken Britain

The Lib Dems are the largest party on Pendle Borough Council.

The Pendle Council has disciplined one of its staff:

A black dustman has been banned from wearing a St George's Cross bandana because council officials say it could be regarded as racist.
The Lib Dems are the largest party on Edinburgh City Council.

The Edinburgh Council flies a Scottish Saltire from the City Chambers.

Say no to a Scottish "Beeb"

Despite reports in our local newspaper, Scotland hasn't yet become independent.

One of those who wish that we were independent is Mike Russell MSP. I've met Mr Russell once or twice and think that he's one of the good guys: he doesn't believe that everything should be done by the state, an opinion that's far from universal in Scotland.

Earlier in the year Mike took part in a BBC programme about the Union. He wasn't entirely happy with Britain's "national" broadcaster:

Yet even so, the whole thing was undoubtedly skewed in favour of the status quo. The choice of non-speaking guests depended heavily on the Scottish establishment who are far from representative of Scottish opinion.
But Mike doesn't come down too hard on the Beeb:
Those problems can be put down to ignorance , and moreover an ignorance that is excusable , even if one would expect that by now the BBC would be aware of such pitfalls and take steps to overcome them (for example by drafting in to any London based production in Scotland some Scottish broadcasting advisers.)
So, if the bias isn't deliberate, what is really going on here? Here's Mike's answer:
Knowing many journalists and broadcasters as I do, however, I think that it is an institutional bias that is at fault. The BBC as a corporate body is part of the British establishment and its thinking is based on the continuation of that establishment as it is. The organisaton simply cannot envisage the validity of other choices, and consequently its actions are dictated by that intellectual blind spot.
Precisely. And that's exactly why the state shouldn't be involved in broadcasting any more than it should be running newspapers.

So will all be hunky-dory when Scotland is independent and that Icelandic building really is an embassy? Not necessarily. Here's Mike again:

I have also made it clear that my own experience as a programme maker left me in no doubt that the BBC was – at one stage – the best and most creative broadcasting institution in the world. Taking its programme making values and enshrining them in a newly energised Scottish Broadcasting Company, which could access the best of British and world output but present it and add to it from our perspective has long been a cherished policy aim of the SNP and remains so
Now I agree entirely that the Scottish license fee payer gets a raw deal from the BBC. Scottish broadcasting output is way below our contribution to the "national" kitty. But that's par for the course in centralised Britain. The question is, though, should we expect a Scottish state broadcaster to be any different? Indeed, a broadcaster with only 5 million home customers might well be even more in thrall to its own local establishment than is the Beeb. And an independent social democratic Scotland certainly would have its own establishment that wouldn't be representative of Scottish opinion.

Mike writes this:

And the real jewel in the crown – the guaranteed impartial, honest and high quality broadcasting service on which we should rely, and for which we are each as citizens prepared to pay - becomes tarnished , brittle and then broken.
But the BBC's not "impartial", is it? There is no guarantee. Why should we expect a Scottish state broadcaster to be any different? I'm certainly not "prepared" to pay for one voluntarily. If Mike really wants Scotland to be an example to other countries why doesn't he campaign for a totally free market in broadcasting? Let's have a hundred Scottish Broadcasting Companies.

Property "rights"

Here's a sad story:
A FATHER-OF-FOUR who put up barricades and razor wire to save his home from demolition has been evicted after a nine-month stand-off.

Colin Gordon was dragged from the house after sheriff officers broke in through the backdoor as their colleagues kept him talking at the front door.

This is the view of Edinburgh Council:
A council spokeswoman said: "It is unfortunate that Mr Gordon was not able to accept the offers of housing made to him and his family. We had no alternative."
Yes they did. They could have respected Mr Gordon's property rights. Mr Gordon is a victim of state aggression, probably not unconnected with his living in an ex-council house. Does anyone think that a private school - the only kind there should be - would get the Council's support to kick out working-class house owners? I think not.

As a commenter said:

Methinks it wouldn't happen in Morningside or Stockbridge.
Probably true. At least folk in those middle class areas would be likely to get decent compensation. The state is not your friend. Especially for the working class.


Any suggestion that the BBC is soft on terrorism is to be deplored.


Tuesday 17 July 2007

A quiz

Here follows a footnote from a recent book review. Can anyone guess which book is being reviewed? I'll make it easy - the author of the book has an Edinburgh connection...
69. See Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia 183–231 (1974) (offering a libertarian critique of the Rawlsian state); Murray N. Rothbard, For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto (2d ed. 1978) (stating a theory of libertarian political philosophy); Murray N. Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty (1982) (same, in a more academic structure).

Monday 16 July 2007

Glasgow market

Adam Smith may have been a Glasgow professor but the city sadly lacks clear economic thinking these days. Consider Iain MacQuirter in today's Herald:
It doesn't take a genius to work out that if you stop building houses, sell off council houses and give tax breaks to landlords, that you will end up with a housing shortage and skyrocketing prices.
If "you" stop building houses, there'll be a shortage - assuming population growth or smaller family units. But if "you" sell off council houses and "give" tax breaks to landlords the number of houses doesn't change. All that changes is the ownership of those houses. A change for the better, I'd say. Does anyone seriously think that Glasgow's feral gang culture has no connection with welfare dependency, including the widespread belief that one has a "right" to a subsidised home?

All is not lost with our Iain though:

One reason interest rates have been artificially low is that the Bank of England is not allowed to take house price inflation into account when it sets interest rates.
Quite right. But the real question is why is the Bank of "England" (where's your Britishness now, Gordon?) is setting interest rates in the first place. Interest rates should be set by the market, not by a bunch of politically appointed stooges who mug pensioners' savings accounts so as to subsidise house buyers. You see Iain, when we get free markets in money and housing, things will work out just fine.

Sunday 15 July 2007

Googling Ron

Here's a very good interview with Ron Paul:

Dundee and Glasgow

I've added some Dundee and Glasgow photos to Scottish Clouds. (Yours truly in the mirror!)

Dundee - July 2007
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Glasgow - July 2007
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

More hot air

The econuts are at it again:
SCHEMES USED by some of the world's top companies to offset pollution are flawed and failing to save the planet, it has been claimed.

Oil giant BP has also been accused of exaggerating cuts in emissions from pig farms in Mexico, while Sky TV's claims for a renewable energy plant in Bulgaria may prove illusory.

Estimates used by British Airways to offset pollution from air travel were also described as being too low. And trees planted in Britain to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may prove ineffective.

These revelations, to be broadcast in a Channel Four Dispatches documentary tomorrow evening, will re-ignite fears that much of the burgeoning carbon-offsetting business could be a con.

Personally I think that the whole anthropogenic global warming industry is a con.

I look forward to when some of today's industrial leaders have retired and are safely drawing their pensions. Some of them will then freely acknowledge that they went along with lots of unscientific nonsense because politicians were too gutless to criticise popular fads.

Remote access

I've been reading stories like this for years:
THE new operators of the main Inverness to London air service have been inundated with complaints over delays and cancellations.

Flybe, which took the connections over from British Airways in March, has left furious passengers stuck waiting hours for planes.

Inevitably there'll be some local politician demanding that the government "does something about it". And some of those politicians will be claiming that if only the government actually ran the airlines none of these problems would occur. In reality of course things would be much worse and far more costly.

However, I do sympathise with the people in the Highlands who are concerned about the unreliability of transport links to the south, and not only those provided by the airlines. Actually, this problem of "remoteness" affects all of Scotland and isn't limited to the Highlands.

Back in 2002 I wrote this:

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.

Nothing's changed since then except that the size of the state has got even bigger. Until we face up to the centralisation problem Inverness folk will continue to feel neglected and Britain's transport system will continue to creak.

Tuesday 10 July 2007

Honest Guv, I only read about it in a book

I got eight out of ten correct in a quiz about Nazi Germany.

This was my response to my apparent promotion to " Ubergruppen Fuehrer":

I thank my family, my agent and, above all, Ian Kershaw whose biography of the Austrian Corporal I read about a year ago.

As for my new rank, presumably I get to reach for my revolver whenever I hear the word "culture"? It'll be carnage here next month during the Edinburgh Festival...

Monday 9 July 2007

Politician with portfolio

I see that there's been a bit of a fuss about an MSP's "property portfolio":
A NEWLY elected SNP MSP runs a huge Edinburgh property portfolio worth more than £2 million, it emerged yesterday.

Stefan Tymkewycz, who was elected for the first time in May as an MSP for the Lothians, declared his empire in the latest register of members' interests, which was published yesterday.

Although we've got plenty of the usual anti-capitalist outrage about an actual businessman being in the Scottish parliament, it's quite reassuring to see that not every commenter shares that view. Even in the Herald there was some support for Mr Tymkewycz.

The real question is this: why shouldn't all politicians be self-supporting? Why should any of them receive a penny from the taxpayer? If they were doing their job properly, politicians would only need to meet for a few days a year and they should all be taxpayers, not tax consumers.

Monday 2 July 2007

Gaun yerself, big man!

If Scotland ever becomes independent we have our first defence minister.

(With acknowledgements to Mr Eugenides.)

Sunday 1 July 2007

The Glasgow incident

I don't propose to say too much about the attack itself - that's been widely covered elsewhere, including by others in the Scottish blogosphere. I particularly liked this observation from J Arthur MacNumpty:
We will defeat the terrorists by giving them nothing, not caving in; by holding onto our freedoms, not giving them away in an attempt to create a false sense of security; by going about our lives as we would every day, not changing our routine fundamentally 'just in case' - which, incidentally, we don't do to prevent the risk of heart disease or lung cancer, and we've shown reluctance to do in terms of reducing our emissions in the face of climate change.

No, giving up our freedoms won't make us stronger against any threat: it will simply show our willingness to give up what we claim to hold dear in a futile attempt to protect ourselves. Those who make the call for extended detention, for ID cards, for all the rest, they are the cowards, they are the weak ones. The rest of us will not give in so easily.

Instead, I'd like to consider the response of the authorities. I've noticed a lot of criticism on the web about passengers being held onboard planes at Glasgow airport for many hours after the event itself. On report talked about a departing EasyJet plane being kept shut with its passengers locked in for eight hours. I've also read about several passengers being taken ill during their long waits.

I know it's easy to criticise at times like this and we need to consider what might not be apparent to the layman. Certainly, passengers couldn't be let off planes to go back into the terminal until it was properly examined but surely they could have been bussed a bit sooner from the planes to hotels or wherever. Again, aircraft crew, air traffic controllers and firemen are subject to legally restricted working hours. But, perhaps, all the more reason to let those planes already loaded to leave ASAP, if only to get them to Prestwick or Edinburgh and await new crews.

I think part of the anger I heard from passengers on the radio this morning was tied up with the increasing feeling that the police in this country aren't primarily there to help us - their paymasters - but to serve the state. I wonder if things would be different if police chiefs were elected. Actually, I know things would be different.

I did hear a nice story though. When the attack occurred a MyTravel plane had no passengers onboard but it was fully stocked with food and drink. After a while the crew on the empty flight warmed up their own food supplies and sent them over to nearby British Midland and Loganair planes whose occupants had nothing left to eat. Being Glasgow, I suspect that the odd bevvy was consumed.

Heartless capitalists...

Chris's children

I noticed Thursday's announcement about the opening of Libertarian UK and decided to send an e-mail to my fellow Libertarian Alliance directors letting them know about the new organisation. LA President Tim Evans welcomed the new arrival and the LUK folk have responded.

So what, you may think. Well, I'm sufficiently ancient to remember the old days of the LA. Back then, we met about once a month in a series of draughty halls in which the half dozen or so who made up the British libertarian movement gave speeches to each another. A new member was a big event. It went on like that for years, kept going by the never-ending enthusiasm of the late Chris Tame. Communication between us was rudimentary; some comrades didn't even have phones. We couldn't possibly have imagined the Internet.

Now the web is enabling millions of people to be exposed to libertarian thought. Even those who don't understand economics are often resolutely in favour of civil liberties. Of course, free speech can only be maintained in a free economy and it's up to us to keep hammering on about that point. I know that Chris Tame became more pessimistic as the state continued to grow and I recall once asking him why should we bother. Let the world go to hell. Chris's reply was: "A man's got to do what a man's got to do." And now there are thousands of us doing "what a man's got to do." Will we succeed? I don't know and I still get very pessimistic about the future of liberty. But, as was once said in a very different context: "We aren't going to go away, you know."

Back again

First, may I say how nice it was to meet Bill Cameron last Wednesday - the day of Blair's departure.