Monday 31 December 2007

Too many university students

That's according to the CBI:
THE drive to expand university education has produced a generation of poor-quality graduates that employers do not want to hire, the head of the country's leading business organisation has warned.

In a stinging criticism of both the UK and Scottish Governments, Richard Lambert, the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, claimed many employers believe "more means less" in terms of increasing student numbers.

My gut reaction is to agree with Mr Lambert but how can we really tell? The only way we'd know for sure would be if all higher education were to be privatised and if students (or parents or sponsors) had to pay the full fees. Then find out soon enough if too many (or indeed too few) graduates were being produced.

At the moment the education system is a producer-run cartel with all that implies. Here's a good example from the school world:

SCOTLAND'S largest teaching union will today call for action to cut class sizes. The Educational Institute of Scotland says all local authorities must do their bit or risk a class-size "lottery".
Actually, it's state-provided education that's more akin to a "lottery". The unions want smaller classes so as more of their members get jobs. Why don't they demand privatisation of education thus allowing good teachers to prosper?

Wednesday 26 December 2007

Back to the presents

I got five books yesterday with more to follow when I spend my book tokens. (Thanks to Mrs F&W and my sisters.)

At long last I've got a copy of Radicals for Capitalism by Brian Doherty. Published earlier this year, Doherty has written a "Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement." He gives special attention to the "Big Five" - Mises, Hayek, Rand, Rothbard and Friedman. I met numbers two, four and five. Indeed, I photographed Hayek at Buckingham Palace, chauffeured Rothbard in my car and first met Mrs F&W at a dinner addressed by Friedman. Doherty's book will be one to savour and in the latest issue of Economic Affairs it was highly praised by Dr Tim Evans, President of the Libertarian Alliance.

Next is The Triumph of the Political Class by Peter Oborne. I started this book last night and it is a cracker. Oborne makes the essential libertarian point. The ruling class doesn't consist of capitalist free marketers but of their opposite - a group of exploitative individuals who live by the state and in a just world would die by the market.

Scotland the Best is, well, the best guidebook to Scotland. Every two years Peter Irvine's book is updated with essential information on where to find the best ice cream, the best Indian restaurant, the best scenic drive, the best old-fashioned pub, wherever you are in the country. Don't worry - it also covers the likes of Loch Lomond and Edinburgh Castle...

I also now have a copy of Iain Dale's Guide to Political Blogging in the UK featuring yours truly.

The name R A Saville-Sneath conjures up an impression of a World War II RAF fighter pilot. Close. In fact, he wrote a book about aircraft recognition and it's been reissued by Penguin. Spitfires and Hurricanes, Dorniers and Heinkels - they're all here. The original book wasn't aimed at hobbyists. It was to make sure that we shot down the right planes!

Sales but no buys

I was rather pleased with myself by finishing Christmas shopping almost a week before the 25th. Like most men I don't really think that Christmas shopping should start before the 24th...

Last year I went to "the sales" a couple of days after they'd started. Big mistake. In the new spirit of non-procrastination I went down to Princes Street at around 10.30 this morning. First the local paper shop was shut so I couldn't get my copy of the Scotsman. Then there was a very long wait for a bus - normally they're every minute or so. Eventually I reached the target and went into Jenners. No suitable shirts, no suitable sweaters and no suitable hats. Why oh why did they sell out to House of Fraser? There ought to have been a law against it! (Oops!)

Then I went to Austin Reed, Crombie, Moss Bros and Brooks Brothers. Nothing!

I'd been to Brooks Brothers once before - in the Mall of America in Minneapolis, where prices were quite reasonable. Not so in George Street. I was about to depart when I saw what looked like a familiar figure. I nodded. He nodded. Ming Campbell, unless I am very much mistaken. (He lives nearby.) "Ming" bought a tie. I made my excuses, left, and went to the pub. And I found a copy of the paper.

Monday 24 December 2007

Bangers and cash

Here's some interesting information from Money Week.

A Greggs sausage roll costs 90p in London but only 50p in Leeds (according to the Sunday Mirror). That seems reasonable to me, considering the difference in rents and wages.

But then I read that an investigation by the Greater Manchester Police into an incident in which a 12-year-old threw a cocktail sausage at a neighbour cost £20,000!

I suppose it's just as well that the "incident" didn't happen in London. Presumably an investigation by the Met would have cost around £36,000, although perhaps less for the non-cocktail variety.

(It doesn't seem possible to order sausage rolls online, but fortunately Mrs F&W is cooking Cumberland sausages tonight...)

Sunday 23 December 2007

One of Scotland's greatest economists

And he's treated quite inappropriately in a reply to this entry on the Telegraph's blog:
I suppose Brown didn't want to be remembered as a Douglas Home character
I've always distrusted people who can't explain financial and economic matters simply. For example, in finance: the debits must equal the credits. In economics: you can't have your cake and eat it.

Alec Douglas Home understood these truths:

"When I have to read economic documents, I have to have a box of matches to simplify and illustrate the points to myself."

And so cartoonists pictured the Prime Minister working out balance of payments problems with matchsticks.

The cartoonists were wrong and Douglas Home was right.

I like to think that Douglas Home spread out his matchsticks on a table in his local pub. The smoking ban probably explains Gordon Brown's economic illiteracy...

The blogging urge has returned

And first a link to the Laird of the Urals:
I do love the Scots - interesting from an English Nationalist, isn't it? Except for Brown. He should be sent to Elba.

I think not. Here in Scotland we like the Italians. What's wrong with Mars?

Saturday 15 December 2007

Scottish Engineering

We enjoyed nice light for photography today:

Forth Bridge
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Falkirk Wheel
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Friday 14 December 2007

The Scotsman

I got a little nervous when I read this advance warning from Doctorvee:
Am I the only one who thinks the new design of (currently in beta) is absolutely dire? It’s all the more upsetting because in my view it was just about the only newspaper website out there that wasn’t in dire need of a redesign.
I agreed with the Doc's appraisal of the new design, and now sadly it's gone live.

Here's the story in today's paper:

THE Scotsman today unveils a new look for its award-winning website.

Changes to will make the site easier to use and more responsive to breaking news.

Those of us who pay for the Premium Access service have been locked out today. OK, we know that glitches happen when new systems are set up but it's unforgivable for management not to respond to angry customers. Why hasn't anyone from the paper replied to this thread, especially to those of us who've paid for extra benefits?

UPDATE: When I returned home this afternoon there was a letter from the Scotsman about the changes. Why wasn't it sent out in advance? The letter told me that I had to re-register for the Premium Service (which includes a free copy of the printed paper) and gave a web address for "the quickest way" to do so. "The page cannot be found" was the clever response to that attempt. I then phoned the Scotsman. The lady at customer services took my credit card details but phoned back to say that my MasterCard had been rejected. I then gave her my VISA number. She called back again and told me that the MasterCard had now been accepted after all! Apparently there's a problem with Edinburgh addresses - this is with the Scotsman!

I suggested that someone in the Scotsman's management team should have been reading the complaints from the customers and responding. All that's needed is something along the lines of: "We know there's a problem and we're working on it". But nothing.

As for the design itself, I have to agree that it's far worse than before. I accept that it's early days yet and things may improve. But in this day and age screwing up the launch of a new website can be the kiss of death for any business.

And another thing - I used to have a feed from the Evening News that I would read on the phone while enjoying my post-work pint. But now there are about 100 separate feeds to choose from! Give me strength.

I always thought that I'd buy the Scotsman business when I'd made my first billion. There's going to be a big clearout coming...

Wednesday 12 December 2007

Still here

James asks: Anyone home?

Yes, I'm still here but very busy.

When I moved back to Scotland I thought that I'd take things easy and enjoy the benefits of downsizing. But instead of having one job I now find myself with three.

Anyway, after the pre-Christmas rush, I hope to get back into normal blogging mode real soon.

In the meantime here are a couple of photos taken with my ancient Yashica 124G film camera that's once again come out of retirement. One was taken at Crail Harbour and the other in Edinburgh last Saturday. At least I think it was on Saturday but as it's not on digital you won't be able to catch me out if I got the day wrong!

Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Playfair Steps Edinburgh
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

A few more from the big camera are over here.

Tuesday 4 December 2007

Sustainability in Aberdeenshire

The Trump affair has been big news here and has now moved onto the next stage:
The Scottish Government has intervened and called in Donald Trump's application for a £1 billion golf resort after it was rejected by local planners.

The objectors to schemes like this always talk about "sustainability" as if that trumps (!) any other consideration. But what is meant by sustainability? I never hear any of the green lobby acknowledging that mankind sustains itself by relentlessly altering the environment. If we didn't, few of us would survive beyond adolescence or indeed birth. I remember reading some years ago of a golf course development in (I think) Ayrshire being rejected by the local planners on the grounds that it would "intrude onto the green belt"! That says it all I think.

The Farrer family

I note that my relative Paul Farrer has made it into the Daily Mail:
The 34-year-old musician, who thought up the four-note ditty in just five minutes - and owns the copyright to all the show's music - receives an astonishing £700 every time The Weakest Link goes out in Britain on BBC2.

But in the U.S., the rate rises to a whopping £5,000 per programme.

Since developing the theme music seven years ago, he has earned enough to never have to work again.

I especially liked this bit:
"I've met Anne (Robinson) a few times and funnily enough, had a bit of a run-in with her at last year's BBC Christmas party.

"Somebody had told her how much I earn per episode and she gave a speech saying how livid she was about the fact that I was earning more money than her.

Monday 3 December 2007

The new Libertarian Party

Hat tip to DK for this news:
A new force in British politics has been born. A new party to work for the interests of the United Kingdom and its people.

The Libertarian Party will be mounting its official launch in the New Year, along with a raft of actions and policies to roll back the draconian and authoritarian style of Government of the past 10 years.

On this post I expressed my general agreement with Neil Lock when he wrote this:
To sum up. A libertarian political party, in my view, is not the way forward for us lovers of freedom. For the state and its politics today are failing. To get ourselves deeply involved in politics would be exactly the wrong thing to do. Instead, we should continue to promote the ideas and values of individual liberty. We should aim to change the mental climate in favour of liberty. And, when we can, we should give the failing political system a helping hand in its self-destruction.
Way back in the early days of the Libertarian Alliance some of the comrades wanted to start a Libertarian Party but it never happened.

Wisely though, we took the view that In our Movement's House are Many Rooms. There was never any "party line" in the Libertarian Alliance for or against political activity. Some members pursued political action in various ways (*) and others chose the path of changing the culture.

Good luck to the new LP. Perhaps its time has come.

(* I myself got a mighty 199 votes in Hampstead for the Campaign to Abolish the GLC!)

Saturday 1 December 2007

Scots Law: What's that?

As the Inland Revenue might ask:
This issue also focuses attention on the fact that some professionals in Scotland believe HMRC does not fully understand the differences in the country's legal systems.

James Aitken, senior associate with HBJ Gateley Wareing and a member of the Law Society of Scotland's tax law committee, said he has come across this situation several times, for example when discussing stamp duty land tax (SDLT) and possible changes to capital gains tax (CGT) with HMRC.

Aitken said: "When SDLT was introduced in Scotland, it only worked because the Scottish legal profession made it work. And only last week when I was discussing CGT with HMRC, some people didn't seem to know about the differences in partnership law in Scotland.

"I just feel that HMRC and the Treasury are becoming less and less knowledgeable about Scotland."

How about them forgetting altogether about us? Let's face it: if there aren't any taxes they won't have any discs to lose...

Wendy begins to get it

Wendy Alexander (Scottish Labour leader at the time of writing but it's so difficult to keep up) has started down the road that will lead to fiscal autonomy for Scotland:
The controversial 29-year-old system for the Treasury granting money to Scotland would be replaced by significant new powers for Scotland to set levels for some taxes and to be assigned a share of other taxes set in London.
I believe that English opinion will force financial autonomy on us whether we want it or not. We may as well get used to it.