Monday 29 June 2009

Where's this?

We've been away for the weekend. Where were we?

No Googling!

Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Friday 26 June 2009

The end of civilisation?

In Scotland anyway, according to my colleague Neil Craig:
I previously quoted an SF writer on how nations decivilise & it seems appropriate. Scotland's parliament has unanimously voted for barbarism.
Neil's writing about the recent the unanimous vote at Holyrood:
SCOTLAND yesterday made itself a world leader in the battle against global warming, as MSPs gave unanimous backing to a bill enshrining a 42% cut in carbon emissions by the year 2020.

It means that Scotland will be lauded as the most forward-looking nation in the world in the run-up to the Copenhagen environmental summit later this year. But behind the rhetoric at Holyrood it was accepted that there were many caveats to the commitment.

Behind the subscription wall, the Scotsman's Bill Jamieson is in fine form, calling our new law "complete twaddle".

Bill points out that the man-made global warming theory is certainly not universally accepted by scientists. I'm not a scientist but I've been around long enough to recognise a probable scam when I see one. It's no coincidence, as the Marxists would say, that most of the scientists calling for more environmental laws owe their livings to the state.

But the really scary thing is that unanimous vote. There wasn't a single MSP willing to oppose the fashionable consensus even though that consensus is so last year and is under rapidly growing attack.

You know there's going to be a libertarian point here, don't you? And here it is.

There is a good reason why market solutions beat statist ones. When the state lays down the law, that's it. Everyone must act the same way. Choice is not allowed. The market on the other hand allows choice. There doesn't have to be one "correct" solution; there can be dozens or hundreds. And that's why the state should be kept in its box. That's why we should decentralise decision making away from politicians. When MSPs agree on everything, we should be on our guard. It's scary to know that no one at Holyrood bothered to look into the actual climate debate that's going on. Or worse, did so and were too afraid to rock the boat.

Wednesday 24 June 2009

24th June

The Berlin Airlift started on 24th June 1948.

The C47 (Douglas DC3) did much of the lifting:

Tuesday 23 June 2009

I am offended

Here's another of those "offensive" flag stories, this time involving the National Library of Scotland:
... a member of staff was told to remove several Saltires, a Lion Rampant and a red tartan chair from his work station.
Fair enough in certain circumstances, I think.

Like this:

According to Martyn Wade, National Librarian, "We merely asked a single individual to remove what we considered to be an excessive display of large flags from a desk in a shared, professional work area, and we would have done so regardless of what the flag was or indeed any other adornment."
That sounds fine - it's just a regular matter of common sense rules in the workplace.

Or is it?

How about this:

It was, according to Director of Customer Services Alex Miller, a nationalistic display "more appropriate to the football terraces."

Ms Miller's concern, she said, was that the display might intimidate non-Scottish colleagues.

For goodness sake. This is the National Library of Scotland. If someone is intimidated by a display on the grounds that it is Scottish they shouldn't be working in our National Library. More to the point, why on earth are there so many managers in the public sector who have no loyalty to those who pay their wages?


Lesley Riddoch's Scotsman pieces are behind the registration wall.

I quote from yesterday's dead tree version :

... Fred Goodwin, who retreated to Europe before offering surrender terms - £4 million for public acceptance and reintegration into Scottish society. It's interesting to note that boycotts still work so effectively, and that Sir Fred values a hassle-free walk to the Morningside shops so highly
That's a very important libertarian point.

In an earlier post I mentioned the widespread belief that "there ought to be a law against it" whenever some social problem arises. Of course, we only need two laws at all:

(1) Don't initiate force or fraud

(2) Keep your agreements.

It's not clear to me that Sir Fred broke either of those two "laws", although that's not to say that he shouldn't have been fired by his employers for incompetence. Subject to contract, needless-to-say. Assuming that Sir Fred didn't break either of the two legitimate laws, and that his employers have dealt with him according to their own rules, any action on the part of outraged third parties should be in the form of boycotts and not in calls for state action. Boycotts are an appropriate way for civil society to encourage compliance with generally accepted modes of behaviour.

Monday 22 June 2009

Why are lawyers being made redundant?

It's not just older lawyers who are suffering during the recession:
DOZENS of young lawyers are being cast adrift at the end of their training contracts, The Scotsman can reveal.

As the recession bites into some of Scotland's biggest law firms, one legal recruitment agency has reported a threefold rise in the number of newly qualified solicitors on its books.

The truth is that these youngsters are victims of our monetary system. When money is created out of thin air the inevitable result is an artificial boom, especially in capital goods industries. Read here for details. In Britain and the US this means housing and commercial property. And guess what lots of lawyers spend their time on. Yes: property.

The artificial property boom caused more people to choose to become lawyers than would otherwise have been the case. And now they're suffering the consequences. And if the boom is restarted by the political class the resulting bust will be even bigger.

We need to weed out all of those "investments" that were made erroneously. Until that's done we won't see a proper recovery. Only then will we know how many lawyers are actually required.

Why is it all so difficult?

On Saturday 13th the Internet was working fine as mentioned here. But there was no connection at all from Sunday until the new router arrived on Wednesday. That's the router that was ordered on the Friday night and which the UK part of Demon knew nothing about but the Indian part did. The new router didn't actually work as promised but an efficient lady in India managed to get me back online during what was my 39th phone call to Demon. Answering the questionnaire that was sent out afterwards I recommended that she be made managing director of Demon or at least get a huge payrise. She's probably President of India by now.

Next: I took out two insurance policies against identity theft - one for myself and one for Mrs F&W. The policies arrived the other day but got Mrs F&W's name wrong. And this is about identity theft...

Next: A few weeks ago Barclaycard phoned up to say that they had identified possible fraudulent use of my card. Full marks for this - the transactions, some of which were going through as we spoke, were indeed fraudulent. My card was immediately cancelled but I had to wait a few days before Barclaycard could confirm that the items in question had been caught in time. Fortunately they were, my next statement was OK and a new card was received a few days later.

So far, so good.

Last Saturday I received a communication from Barclaycard asking me to sign an indemnity form. But the "fraudulent" items listed were what were genuine transactions on the new card and not the actual fraudulent ones on the old card. In fact, they were for the purchases of the two identity theft insurance policies! And, "Had I cut up both cards?" - err, no, only the old one. Incidentally, the new card worked fine earlier today for an enormous purchase of tickets for the Edinburgh International Book Festival...

When I phoned Barclaycard this morning I failed the security check because I couldn't confirm which "catalogue" I had ordered from (none), nor which "photographic studio" I had patronised (none). Presumably these were some of the items caught earlier by Barclaycard but whose full details are unknown to me. I was advised to go to a local branch and speak to a "personal banker". When I suggested that Barclaycard paid for me to do this at my normal hourly rate the conversation came to a rapid end. I phoned back again and this time managed to pass the security check, which was now about genuine items on my old card. It was totally impossible however to get Barclaycard to understand that the items on the new card were genuine but that I couldn't give an indemnity covering all of the fraudulent items without knowing what they were. Needless-to-say I was unable to get the phone number of any of the Edinburgh branches from the Barclays call centre.

So, should there be "a law against it?"

In other words, is all this inefficiency the fault of capitalism?

No, although it's partly the fault of some capitalists who don't train their staff properly. But state owned operations are at least as inefficient and aren't subject to market forces that will eventually weed out the useless companies.

And there's another thing. I can't help wondering if the real problem isn't the catastrophic decline of state education in the UK. Back to that Demon lady in India. I've no idea where she went to school but I do know that many of the poorest parents in India manage to send their children to private schools. We in Britain should do the same.

Saturday 13 June 2009


On Thursday evening my internet connection had broken down almost completely. Every site would partially load but never quite finish. It was just about impossible to do any meaningful surfing! How on earth did we cope in the old days?

At first I thought that my new iMac was at fault - and I hadn't even received the credit card bill...

Then I connected the old iMac. Just the same. My Advent 4211 notebook (Windows XP system) showed identical symptoms when connected to the router. Time to phone Demon, but as we all know getting through to a call centre is easier said than done.

After several attempts and after developing a hatred for the same canned music I reached for the nuclear button so to speak. I called the main switchboard and asked to be put through to the Chairman of Cable and Wireless, Demon's parent company. In the past this tactic had worked with Southern Electric, BT and American Airlines. Cutting a long story short I was eventually called by a tech guy. He was extremely competent and eventually diagnosed the likely cause. My router wasn't designed for the Demon system upgrade that had happened on the very day that things had gone haywire. As advised I then logged onto Demon's website and ordered a free updated router which should arrive in a few days.

But here's a strange thing. More or less immediately afterwards I made one more attempt to connect to the web. Everything worked - and at probably double the previous speed.

The question is:

Is this because I signed up for another year when ordering the new router?

Or, is this because I phoned the Chairman's office?

Or, is it because I told the tech guy in Bangalore that I was about to order a curry?

Him and Her

Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Sunday 7 June 2009

Firsts among equals

According to the Sunday Times:
External examiners will be given the power to force universities to lower the grades they award students in England but not in Scotland under plans to address concerns over falling standards in higher education.

David Willetts, the shadow universities minister, said a Conservative government would act in response to fears that degrees are being devalued, but the SNP has no plans to introduce similar measures.

Are the fears of Mr Willetts justified?

I think so. I don't believe for a moment that university (and school) standards are rising as claimed. What we see here is a producer class (that word again) manipulating the statistics to serve its own interests. The solution is to put power in the hands of the consumers of education. All universities should be privatised, as should all schools. If education is to be subsidised by the taxpayer, not that it should of course, let it be by means of vouchers. It's essential to get the state out of the production of education.

We'd then see just how much one of Mr Willetts' own bizarre proposals would be worth in the real world:

As well as being awarded a degree classification, students would also be given an achievement report, listing strengths and weaknesses in particular modules, qualities relating to project work, presentations, group work, dissertations and timed examinations. It could also include details of extracurricular activities, volunteering, work experience and professional recognition.
An "achievement report" produced by the current education establishment would almost certainly include compulsory Gaia-worship and render almost all students unemployable for life.

Light blogging again

I'm probably just about the only UK blogger to have more-or-less ignored the recent fun. One reason is that although I'm now supposedly semi-retired I seem to get ever more work to do. Perhaps I should just assume that all my extra savings will be inflated away and not bother with the additional work.

But there's another reason for the light blogging.

At the end of the day what matters is the underlying political culture and not which particular bunch of corrupt politicians holds power at any given time. The best thing about recent events is the widespread realisation that there is a distinct political class. That's to say a group that derives its wealth through the political process and not through the voluntary interactions of the market.

As far as Scotland is concerned it seems clear that the political class is at least as well ensconced here as anywhere else.

So here's a modest proposal that would give Scotland an economic advantage.

The UK has a terrible reputation as the home of libel tourism:

American politicians are pushing through free speech laws to protect US citizens from libel rulings in British courts that have been accused of stifling criticism of oligarchs and dictators.
And this is how America is fighting back:
Congress is also considering a bill that will allow defendants of foreign libel suits to counter-sue for up to three times the damages sought by a claimant if their right to free speech, enshrined in the First Amendment, has been violated.
But look at this comment from Jacqueline Hyde:
I think, Mr Watts, you mean "English" courts - not "British"!

Pursuers must always establish that a Scottish court has jurisdiction as an essential part of any litigation - and usually this entails proving that the defender has a place of residence or business within that court's jurisdiction.

Jacqueline Hyde, Inverness,

So to some extent this appears to be more of an English problem than a British one.


I'd like the Scottish parliament to build on this. Let Scots law become more friendly to the interests of the people and less so to those of the political class and its wealthy friends. The ultimate aim is to get rid of the political class altogether. The first country to achieve that will lead the world in happiness and prosperity.

Where I was yesterday

Here: Perth Airshow

Originally uploaded by David Farrer