Sunday 30 August 2009

More from the Book Festival

On Wednesday we went to hear Dan Cruickshank, the architectural guru. Cruickshank certainly knows his stuff but I found his presentation technique a bit wearing after a while. Session chairman Ruth Wishart asked if he would be rendered speechless were his hands to be tied together. Probably yes...

Later on we listened to Lindsey Davis, the "goddess of Roman crime" according to the programme. This was a very good event and was chaired by local crime writer Lin Anderson who lives in Edinburgh's "writers' block" alongside Rowling, McCall Smith and Rankin. Afterwards I told Anderson that someone should write a crime novel in which a publisher gets bumped off by an irate reader fed up with the changing size of books in a series. Watch this space...

Thursday found us at yet another McCall Smith evening. He's a friend of Laura Bush, thought that New Yorkers were "insincere" at his event there, but very much enjoyed appearances in Hollywood, Philadelphia and Texas. McCall Smith writes from 4 till 6 AM, sleeps for two hours, has breakfast, and then starts work again.

Friday saw the appearance of former Labour minister Chris Mullin. An enjoyable performance from this socialist who told some good stories about Blair, Bush and the Duke of Edinburgh. Pity about his politics.

Later on I went to the Beyond Devolution evening in the Spiegeltent in which one can have a bevvy while listening to the politicos... Henry McLeish (second First Minister!) and the three others all more-or-less agreed on a federal solution for Scotland within the UK. I told Tom Brown about the Freedom and Whisky plan. The man was so impressed that he got me a wee dram.

Saturday brought us the Scotland's Future event, with Ming Campbell, George Foulkes, Fiona Hyslop and Michael Forsyth. Hyslop told me afterwards that she thought the Megrahi affair would die down soon but she seemed nervous about the whole thing. The audience was 50/50 on the MacAskill decision.

At noon today it was time to hear Tom Morton and Alan Clements talking about their new thrillers. I've read the Clements one and shall probably get Morton's book too. Clements' wife was sitting just behind me and sounds just like she does on the telly.


This is my reply on an American site to the claims in today's Sunday Times about a Libyan oil deal:
I'm not convinced.

I was born near Lockerbie and vote for the Scottish National Party whose justice minister released Megrahi. I think Mr MacAskill made the wrong decision, but I don't believe that he was motivated by considerations of oil.

The SNP hates the Labour party and vice versa. I can think of no reason why the SNP would do something to favour the UK Labour government. On the contrary, the SNP uses every opportunity it can to embarrass Labour and usually succeeds.

As for oil, Scotland contains around 95% of the UK North Sea oil reserves but has only 8.5% of its population. For 40 years or so the SNP has argued that an independent Scotland with its oil resources would be as rich as Norway. Again, why would the SNP agree to an oil deal that would benefit its main enemy, the Labour party?

I think that what you see is what you get. I've been to several political gatherings in the last two weeks during the Edinburgh Festival. Only yesterday I heard the SNP education minister assure her audience that MacAskill's decision was based solely on Megrahi's health condition. I've heard the same from other SNP politicians. Once again, I think MacAskill made the wrong decision, as do most folk in Scotland.

The SNP is a coalition of of people who favour Scottish independence. Some are on the left and some are on the right. I'd place MacAskill on the left, and a different justice minister from his party might well have come to the opposite conclusion about a Megrahi release.

As for those who think that MacAskill's release of Megrahi was some sort of anti-American move, consider this: the country that lost the highest proportion of its population on that terrible night was Scotland.

Friday 28 August 2009

Book Festival - a quick update

Saturday: Ian Jack (former Granta editor) and Sarah Lyall (London-based US journalist) spoke about Britishness. Mrs F&W bought The Field Guide to the British, or rather the paperback edition, which has been changed to The Field Guide to the English. Jack, a London-based Scot, thought that it was actually a guide to the southern English. He's probably correct.

Saturday evening: McCall Smith again. Still excellent value.

Sunday: Matthew D'Ancona cancelled which was just as well as it clashed with a summer party that I wanted to attend. The party went on so well that I bailed out of the Paddy Ashdown event. Got my money back though...

On Sunday evening I went to listen to Quintin Jardine, creator of the Bob Skinner crime novels. Like Jardine, Skinner lives in Gullane (incidentally, McCall Smith champions the "Gillin" pronunciation). Jardine supports Motherwell, as does Skinner. But Jardine insisted that he wasn't Skinner, seeing himself more as a McIlhenney character. Jardine thought that Kenny McAskill was a "national hero".

Friday 21 August 2009

Steve Bloom

Wildlife photograper Steve Bloom was at the Book Festival today:

Thursday 20 August 2009

More from the Book Festival

Yesterday we went to hear Sandy McCall Smith in conversation with James Naughtie. As always, McCall Smith was in good form. He could probably pack in big Edinburgh crowds every week of the year. As always with Sandy there was nothing threatening, nothing nasty. Just quite a few of us thinking that McCall Smith's civilised world is quite achievable once the political class has been sorted out...

Afterwards I listened to Antony Beevor speaking about his new book on D-Day. Or, more precisely, on the Battle for Normandy. His talk was mainly about the fighting after the landings. Having read his Stalingrad and Berlin, this is certainly one to get once the paperback is out.

This afternoon it was time to hear Claire Harman and Charlotte Higgins on Jane Austen and Ancient Greece respectively. A very enjoyable session with both ladies dealing well with the other's speciality. Another sell out - as have been eight of nine events so far.


I posted this brief message on an American site earlier:
I was born a few miles from Lockerbie and know people who were there on the night of the downing of the 747. God damn whoever did it.

I also vote for the Scottish National Party, the folk who want independence for Scotland. That's mainly because voting SNP is the best way up here to defeat Labour, but also because I expect that Scotland will become independent eventually and I'd quite like to be around long enough to see how it all works out.

The SNP currently runs the Scottish Government within the wider UK. Legal matters are under the control of the Scottish administration.

But something fishy is going on here, I suspect. The SNP leader, First Minister Alex Salmond, never misses the slightest opportunity to create division between Scotland and the wider UK in his quest for independence. But not in this instance. As mentioned above, Peter Mandelson (probably the most powerful UK Minister other than the PM - or even more so according to some) has been liaising with the Libyans, as have others. Tony Blair (whose government destroyed Britain's liberties) had meetings with Gaddafi and Blair always has an agenda. Why hasn't Alex Salmond defied the UK government's wish to keep in with the Libyans? I don't know, but I feel sure that there's a lot more going on than simply a stupid decision by the Scottish Justice Minister (who regularly demonstrates stupidity, by the way).

(Conspiracy note: the spell checker can cope with Gaddafi, but not Mandelson or Salmond...)

Monday 17 August 2009


My father spent part of the War training to be a mountain soldier. Or so he thought. Actually, he was being conned, as were the Germans. It was all part of Operation Fortitude North.

The art of military deception was the subject of Nick Rankin's wonderful presentation this afternoon. We heard it all, from the invention of camouflage to Monty's Double. I asked Rankin whether he thought that deception was being undertaken in Afghanistan. He thought it likely but perhaps not as much as should be done. Of course, he'd have to have killed the entire audience if he'd revealed the full story...

I am very much looking forward to reading the book.

Food break

This morning we went along to listen to the stepson of the Duke of Rothesay.

Tom Parker Bowles gave us an excellent talk, which was chaired by Al Senter, a book festival regular who was clearly in his element hearing about food. As indeed were we all.

TPB came up to the land of the deep-fried Mars Bar (yes, Senter mentioned it) to tell us about his new book Full English:

I decided to find out the truth about English food, how it evolved and what went wrong. Girding my belly and sharpening my knife, I would eat my way round the country to find out whether we are at the dawn of a renaissance in English food. Or whether we, a nation eternally uninterested in what we eat, have left it too late.
And that's just what we were served. A pleasant change from the dismal science.

Globalism again

Later on it was time to hear Dan Atkinson of the Mail on Sunday and Larry Elliott of the Guardian. This was a much better event. I'd thought that we would be treated to a right-left battle but they'd actually written a book together. Both seemed to agree on the pattern of the financial crisis. Elliott described the five stages of a boom and bust cycle with stage one being the economic expansion.

During questions I suggested that there was an earlier stage zero and that that was the critical one. I meant of course the creation of the fresh fiat money that drives the artificial boom and is the ultimate cause of the inevitable bust. Both authors agreed, and Elliott told the audience that there were only three consistent explanations for the crisis: the Green one, the Marxist one and the Austrian one. It wasn't entirely clear that the man from the Guardian wasn't a closet Austrian...

Chairman Iain Macwhirter of the Herald and the Rector of Edinburgh University said to me that the abolition of well-established fractional reserve banking would lead to deflation. There wasn't time for me to explain quickly to a large audience that moderate deflation was a good thing but I did point out that FRB had led to numerous depressions and that only the Austrians had forecast the one that started in 1929. One never knows: the next Mises may have sitting in the audience!

Greens and Reds

On Sunday I went to a couple of events in the Global Economy strand. First off were Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation and Graham Turner of the Guardian. Simms spoke well but had apparently swallowed a green/red random buzzword generating machine. It rapidly became obvious that Simms is a high heid yin in the global warming cult. He mentioned a debate he'd had with an opponent from what was inevitably described as a "right wing" think tank. But these greens rarely describe themselves as "left wing", do they? Simms decried the idea that information can save us from the perceived over-use of stuff. But it's brainpower and imagination that are the key economic resources, not mere information, and certainly not stuff.

Turner told us that he was the preferred economist of the Socialist Workers Party. Some of what he had to say was interesting, for example his belief that the monetary expansion in the west was created deliberately to make workers feel happy with their house prices going up at a time when their real wages were facing downward pressure from China and India. What was depressing was the impression I got that most of this Anglo-Scottish audience had no alternative answers to the challenge from the green and red juggernaut.

And so it begins

It's only Monday morning and I've already managed to get to four events at the book festival.

First off on Saturday was Daniel Depp, brother of the more famous Johnny. This wasn't a particularly interesting talk, but Mrs F&W bought the book and no doubt I'll get round to reading it sometime.

Later on I heard Scottish crime writers Allan Guthrie and Stuart MacBride in a packed Peppers Theatre. This was a lively event chaired by the ever-ebullient Brian Taylor of BBC Scotland. Taylor was almost late as he had been delayed by Edinburgh's tramworks (sic). Guthrie was suitably somber as he read from his new prison novel Slammer. MacBride gave us an entertaining reading, swearing and singing performance. Aberdeen is the setting for MacBride's crime novels and apparently the city isn't as anti-Polish as claimed by some newspapers. Disconcertingly, the extremely theatrical MacBride's physical appearance reminded me of a colleague who is considerably more taciturn.

Saturday 15 August 2009

Have I just read the Scotsman's most ludicrous article ever?

After reading the paper for more than thirty years, I think that I may have done just that.

Steve Glover's piece seems to be connected with the International Television Festival. Let's start here:

But here, unlike most European countries, there's no real difference between the two likely future governments
OK. So far so good. But here's the next bit:
Each passionately subscribes to a form of free market militancy that seems uniquely ill-chosen for the exigencies of the current recession. We're left with a choice between two leaders, each of whom belongs, in world economic terms, to the same faction of the free market Taleban
Can any sentient person think that Britain's two main parties are wedded to the free market? Since 1997 Labour has waged a relentless attack on the freedoms of the British public. The "free market" is simply freedom in action. It's what people do when the government doesn't step in and control things. Just because Labour has sweetheart deals with certain private companies doesn't mean that we enjoy a free market. Just the opposite in fact. And as for the Conservatives, one only needs to see how scared they are of any discussion about the NHS. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives (not to mention the bizarrely named "Liberal" Democrats) have any understanding of what a free market means.

Nor has Mr Glover.

But it gets worse:

The real political power, though, lies not in erasing a conversation but in not allowing it to take place at all. The unlikely father of this technique is surely the Austrian aristocrat and economist Friedrich August Von Hayek. If you've never heard of him, you've seen more than enough of his ideas on television.
Well I have indeed heard of Hayek, and, unlike Mr Glover I suspect, I met Hayek, and I have read all of his books. But I don't recall hearing about Hayek's career as a television producer...

Here's the next bit:

In common with many intellectuals between the wars, Hayek condemned the rise of the new Nazi state. What was unique about his critique was that he felt the Nazis were too left-wing, accusing them of socialism by other means.
Give us a break! Here's a clue Mr Glover: Nazi means National Socialist.

Glover continues:

Hayek, having endured decades of rejection by the political and academic elites as, well, frankly, a headbanger, found a saviour for his theory of monetarism in General Pinochet of Chile, but Pinochet's initiation of the idea resulted in economic catastrophe.
Not quite. Pinochet adopted the "monetarist" policies of Milton Friedman, not Hayek's theories. The term "monetarism" is associated with Friedman's Chicago School of Economics, not with the very different Hayekian Austrian School. Does Glover understand the difference? Besides, what "economic catastrophe" happened in Chile anyway?

Then we get this:

Hayek argued that all western civilisation as we know it advanced from the ownership of private property. This is an impressive and persuasive thesis. Indeed, the only thing it lacks is any evidence whatsoever to support it.
"Persuasive" but without evidence! Look around the world Mr Glover.

Here's the next bit:

Nevertheless, its assumptions underlie the Thatcherite slogan, "The Property Owner's Democracy". This is a phrase that becomes ever more oxymoronic the longer you think about it, but it inspired our hard-of-thinking television programmers to launch an entire genre.

The intemperate rush into heavy debt, and subsequent tragedy fuelled by Location, Location, Location and its endless imitators that saturate our television schedules, has slowed.

And what precisely has this to do with Hayek? Austrians believe in the abolition of state-created fiat money, which is the root cause of the property boom and bust.

Let's ignore Glover's Alabamaphobia * and his blaming Hayek for "Dragons' Den" and "Gok Wan", but consider Glover's odd theory that connects Hayek with neo-conservatism. I suspect that Glover doesn't have a clue about what the term neo-conservatism actually means. Nor does it seem likely that he's read one of Hayek's most famous essays: Why I am Not a Conservative.

(* America's third blackest state)

Saturday 8 August 2009

Is Sunderland the Scotland of England, so to speak?

I went out for a quiet Saturday lunchtime beverage today only to find the local packed with football fans wearing red and white tops. They were Sunderland supporters up here for a friendly against Hearts. I doubt that I've ever heard such loud and continuous singing from any group of fans before. What was fascinating was that every song seemed to be about local rival Newcastle and not about Sunderland itself. I raised this point with one of the visitors and he confirmed that the destruction of the Geordie team was at least as important as any success for the Wearsiders. Just like how many Scots think about England I suggested. The smaller team agonizes about the bigger one (historically in the case of Newcastle!) who, most annoyingly, doesn't reciprocate.

Friday 7 August 2009

Libertarians and the police

I see that the much talked about (though yet to be seen) public sector spending cuts will probably affect the police:
SCOTLAND'S police forces have issued a stark warning that they will have to cut the number of officers unless more funding can be found.

The largest police force, Strathclyde, is facing an "absolutely dire" funding gap of up to £34.7 million in 2010-11, it said. By 2013-14, it could hit £66m.

One proposal is to charge for policing the likes of Orange Order parades:
The cost, which cannot be recovered from such organisations as they are non-profit-making, was compared with the £60,000 bill for the three recent Take That concerts at Hampden Park in Glasgow, which the event promoters met.
There's a certain degree of philosophical confusion here: everything humans do is designed to improve our lot. I fail to see why the police should differentiate between activities in which the expected benefit is expressed in monetary terms or otherwise.

In an anarcho-capitalist society things would be very straightforward. The owners of streets would decide the terms of entry, of use and of any additional charges that may be levied to police any unusual events that may be allowed.

But we don't live in an anarcho-capitalist society, unfortunately. In our state-controlled society I'm very uncomfortable with the police having powers to charge some people for their services and not others.

What we should be looking at is levying financial charges against those who break the law. Charge criminals (properly defined) with the costs of their arrest, trial and any necessary restitution to victims.

Sunday 2 August 2009

Saviour of the Labour party!

Could this really be genuine?
The document lists Obama's parents as Barack Hussein Obama and Stanley Ann Obama, formerly Stanley Ann Dunham, the birth date as Aug. 4, 1961, and the hospital of birth as Coast General Hospital in Mombasa, Kenya.
Perhaps Obama is really British. If so, could he not take over as leader of the Labour party? As prime minister? Peter Mandelson is so last week...

Libertarian Party in Scotland

I went along to this event at Cloisters Bar yesterday. At one point I counted a dozen attendees, which seemed a pretty good turnout. I formed the impression that the younger generation of libertarians had got the message in a different way from how it was in the good old days.

Back in the 70's and 80's one read Rand, Mises, Rothbard and Hayek, went to a few meetings in smoke-filled rooms, and gradually realised that Libertarianism was correct, but also that there were only around ten of us in the country. Nowadays the Internet is what matters and the conversion rate is much faster. I still think the youngsters should read the libertarian classics though.