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No such thing as a free lunch

I am prepared to believe that there may be some things (though not many of them) that are of such public benefit that they should be provided at the general expense. That is not to say that I think that if something is good it should be compulsory. Let alone that if it sounds like a good, that is justification for its being compulsory.

But when you are dealing with the state, “free” does not mean ‘free as in free speech’, nor does it mean ‘free as in free beer’. It means ‘compulsory’. If the government is advertising free beer, it wants everybody drunk; prepare to have your head held under if you don’t feel like a tipple just now.

Hence this Guardian headline, a classic of pusilanimity against spin:

Plan to give every child internet access at home

The actual story is somewhat, er… more nuanced:

Parents could be required to provide their children with high-speed internet access under plans being drawn up by ministers in partnership with some of the country’s leading IT firms.


The initiative is part of a major push which could also see the parents of every secondary school student given access to continuous online updates on their child’s lessons, performance and behaviour as early as next year. So-called “real-time reporting”, which was first mooted in the government’s children’s plan last month, could be extended to primary schools within two years.

A sub less versed in the cult of the benign state might have abstracted that as:

“Big business bonanza: Parents must pay for children to be watched at home by online officials.”

62 comments to No such thing as a free lunch

  • Sunfish

    And a half-drunken Luddite crank like me would say: “NuLabor plans to force UK parents to expose children to online sex predators.”

    Because, as we all know, “Do it for the children” is nothing more than evidence of an unhealthy fixation with other people’s kids. Therefore, Megan’s Law should require nanny-staters to stay the hell away from schools, parks, etc.

  • Ian B

    I’m sitting here envisaging that these tough negotiations with the ISP cartel they’re constructing will go something like “We’ll force people to buy your product, we’ll make sure that smaller competitor ISPs don’t get their feet under the table, and you guys cooperate with our next level of internet censorship, which will be necessary to protect the children. Comprende?”

  • countingcats

    And here, in the wonderful land of Oz, we are about to have every Internet feed filtered for government approved content by default.

    “For the Children”, of course. Although, we will, on personal application, be able to opt out.


    Once the UK government begins mandating connection, how long before it starts mandating content? For the Children?

    The Governments job is to govern the country, not run it.

  • Ian B

    I’m also envisaging here that “bringing down the cost” will end up as some kind of subsidy to parents of school aged children; if you’ve got kids you get a lower price, which will of course be compensated for by higher prices for everybody else (or out of the magic free money machine in the treasury, perhaps, the one that printed £30bn for our Darling to give to Northern Rock).

  • RobtE

    Ian B –

    “We’ll force people to buy your product, we’ll make sure that smaller competitor ISPs don’t get their feet under the table, and you guys cooperate with our next level of internet censorship…”

    That’s not as far-fetched as it may first appear to some. It is, mutatis mutandis, more or less the agreement that led to the creation of the BBC. OK, it was a bit more nuanced than that. But not much.

  • Pa Annoyed

    I had a look for where it said “free” in the linked article and couldn’t find it. It does mention applying pressure on manufacturers to provide some “cheaper”, but doesn’t specify what sort of pressure. It may be no more than asking them nicely.

    There are two completely separate issues here, which for some reason seem to have been intertwined as if there was some relation between them. The first is the idea of expecting children to have high-speed internet access at home as one of the basics of a modern education, and the other is providing parental feedback continuously online rather than by annual or biannual report cards and parent-teacher meetings.

    The second one I can’t see any major moral objection to, as such, although it depends how they implement it. The teachers watch and monitor the kids anyway. They report their observations to the parents anyway (and I’d think it more of an issue if they didn’t). Making those records accessible over the internet raises privacy and security issues, but those could be solved with competence on the part of schools. The problem there is IT incompetence rather than openness as such. The main objection I can see is that it probably means another load of form-filling and report-writing for overworked teachers.

    The first issue is in recognition of a genuine need, although I don’t know that making computers compulsory will help. From the few young people I come across, I know that already the internet plays a big part in education and it is standard for homework to be set to gather information on a particular topic from it. Those who have it will do so anyway, and trying to design lessons to incorporate both those with direct access to the whole world’s knowledge and those with nothing but what the teacher can tell them is becoming near impossible. It is, as they say like pens, pencils, rulers, calculators, and so on, becoming a basic necessity. But what to do about those families who, for various reasons, do not see fit to provide their children with pens and rulers and high-speed internet access? Does the school provide them at taxpayers expense? Do the parents of such children get together to organise clubs where they share expenses and access? I reckon the right answer is to dump such children in “special needs” classes where they won’t hold back the other children and they can be taught the twenty first century equivalent of basket weaving. The social stigma and bullying involved will then lead to those parents withdrawing them from school, eliminating the burden on the taxpayer and reducing the footprint of the state.

    Expecting parents to provide for their children is totalitarianism gone mad.

    (PS. I recall operating for many months at school without a ruler or other geometrical equipment. Fortunately, there are many other objects available with straight edges and it teaches considerable ingenuity with regard to drawing the longer lines or to measuring angles and distances. So I am speaking from experience here.)

  • Ed

    Apart from the obviously scary Big Brother aspects of this, hasn’t it been shown quite clearly over the last 10-20 years that electronic teaching-aids are largely useless? Surely better for teachers to be actually giving their pupils homework, enforcing discipline etc.?

  • Andrew Duffin

    “in conjunction with leading IT firms”

    You don’t say.

  • Nick M

    It’s a Royal Nonesuch (aka The King’s Cameleopard) because in the UK everyone is online and if they’re not on ADSL or cable they’re nutters (it’s cheaper than dial-up people!) OK, there’s a few hold-outs (there’s always a few hold-outs with anything) but to say that some parents can’t afford a cheapo PC* and a 2 Gig connection is tommyrot of the highest order. It’s like saying some parents can’t afford to buy their kids shoes… Jebus! (as Homer would put it) Christ do we have calls for a National Shoe Service?

    Sheesh… Everybody who wants to be online is online. I have approx 3-5 computers and a semi-wireless network and I’m not rich as Creosote. OK, I’m a little disingenous here because I’m a techie but still…

    As countingcats hints this is suspiciously similar to KRudd’s scheme in Oz. It’s a land-grab on our land-lines and basically they can go fuck themselves**. Devil’s Kitchen BTW has a nice take on the whole “Firewall of Oz” insanity. Oh, it’ll be coming to a PC near you (wherever you hang your ethernet) because the fuckers hate, absolutely hate that they don’t control the ‘net. It is down to the likes of me and y’all to get plum-mad-dog-fightin’ mean over this.

    I really like the Oz “opt-out” thang… Yeah, like that’s not gonna get you on the Operation Ore hit-list** I thought the smoking ban was bad… It’s like 1963 all over again, “Is this a website you’d be happy for your wife or servants to see…”

    What’s the betting that they also just happen to ban sites critical of the welfare state or Islam or AGW? The kiddies must only be exposed to The Truth afterall in order to produce a broad consensus of dunces.

    They are, alas, unmitigated fucking bastards who deserve being boiled alive in pig slurry on Sky pay per view.

    PS. There is a (post hoc) reason for my Huck Finn reference. Last I heard the book is banned in state libraries and public schools in the great state of Georgia. Why? Because it uses a very naughty word beginning with “n”. Does context (antebellum Mississippi) matter to these fools***? Nah, course it doesn’t, they did a course on diversity studies.

    *If you want something real affordable talk to me. It is what I do, afterall.

    ** Now, sir, can you prove all those lovely ladies on your HD were over 18 when the piccies were taken? Jesus Horatio Christ on a solar-powered Segway I’m beginning to hate some bunch of self-felching ass-clowns more than I hate the Greens or the Koranimals.

    *** I don’t pity them.

  • countingcats

    In Australia, there will be no Great Firewall, as there is in China. It will be a list of sites which are to be filtered. And what will be the criteria used to select those sites? Dunno.

    Will it include http://www.domai.com(Link)? Bet it does.

    my Huck Finn reference…banned in state libraries and public schools in the great state of Georgia…Because it uses a very naughty word beginning with “n”.

    And it is, in fact, one of the most wonderful anti-racism tracts ever written, as well as being one of the jewels of the greatest literary canon ever.


    Hell, I have had educated Americans try to tell me the War between the States was over slavery.

    Double plus idiots.

  • Nick M

    I was fortunate enough to have an educated Georgian tell me it wasn’t about slavery.

    I know Domai well and frankly objecting to that is raving mad. In the UK, over the last few years, the biggest campaigner against soft-porn* has been Clare (tug-boat) Short. Who has clearly been paid good money to keep her kit on throughout her life (camera lenses being expensive and all). Oh, for the love of Jeff! What the fucking hell is up with these people! What they gonna do next, confiscate my Ditta Von Teese Calender? They’d best not because it was only through that that I realized it’s Saturday and not Sunday as I had hitherto been lead to believe by my mother.

    *This is neither the time nor the place to discuss Eolake’s concept of “simple nudes” so I’m letting “soft-porn” stand.

  • Evan

    Hell, I have had educated Americans try to tell me the War between the States was over slavery.

    Double plus idiots.

    Well, when you have a government-run education system…

  • Paul Marks

    Oh no – now high speed internet access is another “human right” which all children must have.

    The old idea of “rights” being limitations of government power (not excuses for it) is part of the idea of freedom as being freedom from being aggressed against (robbed or ordered about with threats of violence) – very old fashioned. Today “rights” are nice material goods or services, and “freedom” is access to them.

    I suppose the only debate is whether the internet access should be “free” in the sense of being paid for by the taxpayers, or whether parents should be made to pay for it – “what about poor parents?”, no doubt that will be dealt with either by taxpayers or by mandates on the industry.

    Not that these costs will be passed on by the companies of course…….

    In Massachusetts “Mitt” Romney used the excuse of the mandate on hosptial E.R.s to treat everyone who turned up, to make health insurance compulsory.

    Was the insurance industry deregulated (for example by allowing people to buy insurance over State lines without any absurd mandates about what such a plan should cover) errrr NO.

    Instead regulations and subsidies were supposed to make everything work – oh and fines on people who choose not to buy health insurance.

    Small fines at first, but later…….

  • Nick M

    Is the ‘net a human right? Hell yeah! Does that mean I ought to pay for Mr Marks to connect to the ‘net or Mr De Havilland or vice versa? My wife and I pay under a tenner a month to be wired. I guess food is more important. Perhaps the government ought to pay for that too – afterall we spend more on food in the average day than the ‘net in a month…. Obviously I ought to pay more one way or another so that I don’t see anything unsuitable such as libertarian web-sites. It is only for my own good afterall.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Yeah. And don’t forget pens and school uniforms and rulers. You can’t tell me having a school uniform is a human right, so what is the government doing saying schools can make it compulsory? Or bringing a pen to write with? This sort of thing has been going on for years, it’s about time somebody took a stand on it.

    And we’d all be better off without rulers.

  • Ian B

    Um, pens pencils and rulers are low cost everyday items which, yes, are pretty much required for schoolwork and which schools ask parents to provide. I’m pretty sure that if a child came from a very poor family (especially in past poorer times) schools would have tried to provide these things to them anyway. I’m not aware that there’s a specific government law on the books obligating every parent to provide pens, pencils and rulers, is there? Neither is there any specific legal sanction for not doing so.

    Presumably this obligation will be enforced by legal sanction (not much point in it if you don’t). What will be the penalties for not buying a broadband from the ISP cartel? What punishments can a government rationally and decently apply to parents too poor to replace a broken computer or buy some internets every month? This PC I’m typing on here is 5 years old and, honestly, if it goes futz I haven’t got the money to buy a new one. If the government obligated me to own a functional computer with internets, what would they do to me if I didn’t have one? Prison? Child snatching?

    So the only practical outcome of this, if they pursue it, is going to be government buying computers for parents, so even at its most benign it’ll end up as yet another state subsidy to the ensprogged. If it’s means tested, much of that subsidy will go to recent immigrants, further inflaming anger and distrust between the indigenous and migrant populations, and to the underclass, further inflaming the anger of the wealthier. If it’s not means tested, it’ll be another handout to people who don’t need it to help pay for that second holiday in Provence and Toby’s cello lessons and Jemima’s ballet classes. Either way, antagonism between class/ethnic tribes increases. The law of unintended consequences reigns supreme.

  • The thinking behind this is obvious… Broadband internet is already cheap and take-up is already massive. This has been achieved by the market in spite of, rather than because of, the involvement of the state.

    The whole point of making it mandatory is so that the state can claim credit for it. People already believe the state propaganda that it was state education which brought widespread literacy to Britain. Likewise people actually believe that the alternative to the NHS is no medical care system at all for most people. Fifteen years from now, people will have accepted that without state mandates, there would be no internet access for most people.

    And all of it is/will be, a complete and utter lie.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Ian B,

    “Presumably this obligation will be enforced by legal sanction”
    I don’t think that’s a safe presumption at all. What was said was: “We need to get to a point where in the same way when they start school the expectation is you’ve [the parent] got to find a school uniform, provide them with something to write with and probably these days a calculator, and in secondary school some sports gear – well, you add to that some IT.”

    Now, I don’t know what that means. It might mean going to jail for twenty years and being beaten by sadistic guards wearing mirror shades every day if you don’t get a sufficiently broad broadband (“What we have here, is a failure to communicate…”), or it might mean exactly what it says: that it will be compulsory in the same sense that school uniform is compulsory – a matter for school rules, not criminal law. People do so like to assume the worst, when it comes to government interference, though.

    Like you said, “not much point in it if you don’t” – but since when does what a politician say have to have a point? Could it possibly be cheap-and-cheerful press statement nonsense that sounds dynamic and technologically ‘with it’, without being either feasible, useful, or any of the politician’s business? Could a responsible politician ever do such a thing?!

    Computers are still expensive, but not outrageously so. I can remember my father paying more than he could reasonably afford for three sets of school uniforms – and what would he have done if we’d wrecked them? So lack of broadband is not really about the imposed cost, but about people’s attitudes to the essential necessity of IT. Now personally, I don’t think schools ought to be able to mandate uniforms or some of their other bloody stupid rules either, and would be firmly against making home internet provision compulsory (although I don’t have a problem with teachers setting homework assuming it – if you don’t have one, you just fail), but neither is this the introduction of either a new human right of welfare free computers handed out to teenage delinquents to be sold off for drugs, nor a Big Brother monitoring and political indoctrination system. I’m not sure what it is about, but I suspect the most likely answer is ‘nothing significant’. Some of the reactions to it have been quite funny, though. 🙂

  • Ian B


    History tells us we must always expect the worst from the State, and that whenever the thin end of a wedge is in evidence, the fat end will be far bigger than one could ever have imagined. The Statists have an agenda, and it always moves forwards. It begins with recommendations, then advice, the incentives, then compulsion, an inevitable progression. This is because Statists live in a mental fantasy world. Their core belief is that whatever they believe isn’t just a Good Thing, it’s the only possible correct belief. Ergo, they believe that once presented to the public, the public will see sense and agree with them. When the public doesn’t do this, the Statist presumes he “hasn’t got the message out enough” so ramps up the propaganda. When this inevitably fails they start the incentives- trying to manipulate via price fixing, subsidies etc. When this doesn’t work either, the compulsion, restrictions and bans are seen as unavoidable, because the people are too stupid to know what is good for them. Never apologise for or underestimate the malignity of the State.

    Imagine telling somebody twenty years ago that by 2007, it would be illegal to smoke in a pub or bus shelter or your own vehicle or that there would be £80 fines for dropping cigarette butts, or that the words “tequila slammer” would be illegal or the government would mandate what angle a drinker’s head in an advertisement may be tipped at, or that it would be illegal to criticise religions or homosexuality, or rewire your own house, or that having sex after a few drinks would be classed as rape or that the State would be confiscating children for being overweight. Imagine telling them the government would be contemplating ration cards for fuel and even foods, that every citizen would be required to carry an ID card filled with private information which could be withdrawn at the state’s whim. They’d have thought you a paranoid loon.

    Good people do good, and evil people do evil. But it takes religion an authoritarian ethical system based on a belief in collective responsibility to make good people do evil.

  • Ian B

    Come to that, imagine a society in which everybody’s heating thermostat is controlled by the state! It could never happen. Could it?

  • Pa Annoyed

    I take your point, but I follow the same principle of free speech that I do for other topics: that statists can express whatever opinions they like; I’ll only voice my opposition (as opposed to mere disagreement) when it comes to them taking actual action. When they do finally introduce legal compulsion, I’ll join the protest. Until then, there’s enough real abuses of power to complain about without having to invent future maybes and hypotheticals. Whether it’s justified or not, to outsiders that just looks like paranoia, and weakens the libertarian case substantially.

    Interesting link about the proposed Sacramento building codes. I once heard someone talking about our UK building codes – apparently they put everything they could think of in, on the basis that the civil servants would chop out the usual 30% as being just silly (and to be seen to be contributing), and therefore leave the stuff that would save lives and they really wanted in there alone. This time the civil servants knew nothing about electricity, and so passed it all into the regulations. I wonder, is this some engineer with a pointed sense of humour seeing how far they could push it? I shall be interested to see how the voters react, if the joke backfires and it really does get past the review.

  • Ian B

    I once heard someone talking about our UK building codes – apparently they put everything they could think of in, on the basis that the civil servants would chop out the usual 30% as being just silly (and to be seen to be contributing), and therefore leave the stuff that would save lives and they really wanted in there alone. This time the civil servants knew nothing about electricity, and so passed it all into the regulations.

    I think believing that our current condition is a result of some kind of bumbling incompetence is naive. The heinous Part P of the building regs is a direct result of years of lobbying by the electrical contractors’ trade organisation, the NICEIC. (I’m interested in this subject as a former electrician myself). As ever, the intention was to form a government supported cartel which funnels money into the cartel’s pockets. The significant point is that to legally do electrical work of all but the most very trivial sort, you must have a “certificate of competence” for your business. You have to pay (the NICEIC and fellow travellers) for your certificate. This achieves two things- (a) more money for selling the certificates (b) more work for certificated firms at the expense of everybody else.

    The significant point is that the certificate of competence doesn’t measure competence. Once a firm buys one, they can appoint the most hamfisted unqualified moron to do the actual work. Meanwhile, the cost makes it unfeasible for anyone not doing a lot of domestic installations to buy one. A retired electrical engineer can’t do work on his own house, for instance. A friend of mine works for a major maintenance firm doing regular work on high energy installations, but because they don’t do domestic work he’s not certificated to rewire his bathroom either. Neither can I, even though I’m a fully qualified electrician with years of experience on everything from houses to office buildings to large entertainment supplies. And so on.

    Additionally, many sole traders either can’t get certificates (because they don’t do complete installations, only repairs and small works etc, so have nothing to show to gain the certificate) or are severely financially affected- for a sole trader earning 18 grand, nearly a grand for a certificate is crippling. Thus, the effect is to concentrate wealth in the large firms in the NICEIC (which is effectively their trade union, at a business level). Thus a classic entry barrier has been raised by a cartel. Need I add that there is no rational need for Part P?

    This is standard stuff in the statist society. I really think it’s wrong to blame it on some kind of amusing image of confused bunglers.

    The other issue is it’s another deliberate step down the road from our traditional free society- in which you may do anything which is no specifically against the law- to the one the technocrats desire, in which you may do nothing for which you do not have specific permission.

  • Ian B

    The other point I’d make is–

    I’ll only voice my opposition (as opposed to mere disagreement) when it comes to them taking actual action

    By then, you are already far too late.

  • Pa Annoyed


    I was talking about building codes, not the requirement for certificates of competence.

    Free speech isn’t conditional. If racists and holocaust deniers can express their opinions, and have the right to be judged on what they actually say, rather than stuff we made up ourselves and then claimed was what was ‘actually meant’, then so can statists. When the government actually say they’re introducing legal penalties, I’ll condemn them for it. Not until.

    If by “too late” you mean you think your advance opposition has any effect, well… I’ll say no more about that. 🙂

  • Midwesterner


    In a past life, I was a contractor.

    In the US (and from what I understand the method is the same in the UK) the trade associations write the codes, the government then says “Yeah. What they said.” And the real piss-off d’resistance is that you have to pay these private companies to even see what the code is.

    And to also add to Ian’s point, in the US to get a license requires serving several years at several levels underneath someone who holds a license. It’s grad students for elecs and plumbers.

    I heartily affirm everything Ian said at 12:13. There is nothing inept about it. It is calculating and premeditated.

  • Ian B

    Sorry, I got slightly confused what you were talking about; nonetheless the certificate of competence is Part P of the UK building codes (regs). 🙂

    My advanced opposition has no effect, but then opposition at any stage has no effect as things currently stand. I’m not sure where freedom of speech comes into this, since surely objecting to government plans isn’t affecting freedom of speech. Whose?

    I said you’re too late once the plan is formally announced, because while you were getting on with your life and not worrying about it until it happens, the statist coaliton were organising, commissioning research to support it, flinging scare stories and op-eds into the press to justify it, manufacturing “grass roots” campaigns and so on. This is why the Right/Libertarians/Conservatives etc have lost on every single issue of any importance. Some libertarians/conservatives delude themselves that the state has been pushed back in some areas, or at least we’ve “held our ground”. This is palpably untrue. They’re actually trying to in some way play fair, dealing with things on an issue-by-issue basis, while the statists ruthlessly push forwards, negating any opposition preemptively. The actual government action/regulations etc come at the culmination of long campaigns. As such, I believe anti-statists need to be far better organised and much better prepared.

    At the moment, it’s as if we have a basement full of termites, we delude ourselves that they probably won’t do much more damage, we complain down the pub about the creaking noises, and then feel sad when the timbers are crashing around our ears while talking about how much better it would have been without the termites.

  • Lee Kelly

    “Imagine telling somebody twenty years ago that by 2007, it would be illegal to smoke in a pub or bus shelter or your own vehicle or that there would be £80 fines for dropping cigarette butts, or that the words “tequila slammer” would be illegal or the government would mandate what angle a drinker’s head in an advertisement may be tipped at, or that it would be illegal to criticise religions or homosexuality, or rewire your own house, or that having sex after a few drinks would be classed as rape or that the State would be confiscating children for being overweight. Imagine telling them the government would be contemplating ration cards for fuel and even foods, that every citizen would be required to carry an ID card filled with private information which could be withdrawn at the state’s whim. They’d have thought you a paranoid loon.” – Ian B

    Oh, and don’t forget the lightbulbs, the government is planning to phase out incandescent lightbulbs over the next few years, and force us to use those horrible energy saving alternatives. Hopefully, there will be an ironic undergound market for lightbulbs.

  • John Steele

    Hell, I have had educated Americans try to tell me the War between the States was over slavery.

    Double plus idiots.

    Odds are they are Democrats. To a man liberals believe that was what it was about.

  • Maybe the nannycrats could be dissuaded from socialized Internet access if someone could convince them that the children would be visiting Samizdata 🙂

  • kathleen

    Full Nanny Statism is coming to the USA as well. We’re just a little “slow,” but it will happen.

  • SC USA

    Southern American here…we have several names for those who prefer to characterize the War of Northern Aggression as a conflict over slavery. Liberal is the broadest most suitable term, but double plus idiot seems to work as well. Twain, by the way, is one among thousands who have been effectively censored by the ever expanding power of the left. The world is indeed turned upside down.

    However, I must say I find it fascinating that you Brits would ever be surprised by the latest over reaching of the nanny state. It begins and ends, as it did in the US, with the socialist machinery of the welfare state, NHS, etc.. Once the camel gets his nose in the tent, the path is set, all that remains to be determined is how long it will take before the society morphs in to a full on totalitarian nightmare. I fear we are perilously close to that point here, within 25-30 years, and judging from international response to the threat of Islamo-Fascism, there is no bright light in the world elsewhere. (Inability/unwillingness to defend ones self and the basic principles of freedom begins with domestic issues, but eventually spills over into the international arena.) There are far darker days ahead to worry about than the advent of the latest nanny state grab on the internet, but for the record I stand with you in opposition.

  • guy herbert


    It’s a Royal Nonesuch (aka The King’s Cameleopard) because in the UK everyone is online…

    They’re not, you know. And a fair chunk of those who say they are don’t know how to work email, or have only sporadic access via hotmail/yahoo. (How do you think all the cybercafes stay in business?) Take it from someone who tries to communicate with the general public a bit.

    However it is beside the point. Access is sufficiently cheap that almost anyone who wants to can be online. The PC is the expensive bit and the main financial inhibition – which this particular govt initiative neglects.

  • countingcats

    John Steele

    Odds are they are Democrats.

    Yep, you nailed it.

    Tell me, given that Lincoln was a Republican and Jeff Davis was a Democrat, doesn’t this cause some sort of cognitive dissonance amongst the real nutters?

  • Nick M

    I went on to say that those that aren’t online are “hold outs” – i.e. willfully anti-net. It’s a bit like me and golf. You could turn up with a coupla grands worth of golf rackets and give ’em to me and it wouldn’t make me Tiger Woods in a million years…

    The first part of your second paragraph I agree with. The second part, well, depends what you mean… If you want to play Call of Duty 4 at a decent frame-rate then no a PC ain’t cheap but 100 notes should get you something acceptably dreadful second-hand for a little light email and web-surfing. The entry bar is now very low.

    I do take your point about Yahoo/Hotmail but… I don’t think that’s what keeps ‘net cafes going. They are hang-outs for recent(ish) immigrants and also get used by tourists (and the likes of me when the printer is bust)… I don’t think they’re a big deal in the UK but they are in other countries and it’s a cultural thing. They’re huge in South Korea and that’s not because John Q Kim can’t afford a Dell of his own. From my experience (which is wide) the reason for the widespread continuance of Hotmail is that lots of folks can’t face setting up POP or IMAP or whatever. I know folks with a desktop, a laptop and no “fixed” email address.

    I appreciate your perspective from your NO2ID work (hell coz of you Guy, my shed sports a pic of Tony Blair with a barcode ‘tache) but it’s the hold-outs you’re dealing with and it’s nothing to do with money. Some of them might claim it is but anyone who even vaguely intuits where their next meal is coming from can afford a PC and ADSL/Cable. You underestimate the capacity of a sector of the general public to be willfully pig-ignorant. I used to man the phones at BT so I know. “So I have to connect the modem to the phone line”, “Yes sir, you do”. That’s how I responded at the end of a twenty minute call which involved inter alia a diatribe against the Labour Party, veiled threats against Tesco and a number of references to “political correctness gone mad”. The latter was, apparently, the cause of his modem not working. The fact the daft bugger hadn’t plugged it in to the phone line was less important. Well we got there in the end.

  • countingcats


    Yep, there are just some people who are not interested in various aspects of society.

    Some people choose not to have a net connection, I spent most of my years in London sans automobile, and I have no interest in a gym membership, things which others I know regard as bare civilised essentials.

    As far as ignorance goes? I remember the bloke who rang wanting the Internet, but did not want to buy a computer. There was the one who wanted the Internet (the whole Internet) sent out to him on a floppy disk, and the one, pace Nick, who was pissed off and blamed us, because he didn’t want to have to switch his modem on every time he wanted to access the net.

    Hell, these guys could have been brain surgeons and QCs for all I know, but they just had no interest in computers, and why should they have had?

  • RAB

    I could have sworn that back when Blair was our Master, there was a proposal to “give” every child entering school, a laptop. That seems to have faded into the mist. Not much use giving them laptops if they are not going to get online I suppose. Hence this new wheeze.It is contol of the net by the back door folks!
    As for the lightbulbs. I find it outrageous that Hillary Benn is busy banning incandesant lightbulbs, but it’s true. I read a piece in the Telegraph about it only yesterday.
    This cant be legal surely? However 150WT bulbs are already being fazed out and 100WT ones will be gone by this time next year.
    If I was a bulb manufacturer I’d tell Hillary to fuck right off! This is not happening in Europe by the way. So there will be another nice black market created just like the baccy.

  • ian

    but to say that some parents can’t afford a cheapo PC* and a 2 Gig connection is tommyrot of the highest order.

    Two points

    1. – there are families in this country for which such expenditure is simply out of the question. Saying it isn’t so doesn’t change that. Why that happens and what to do about it are different issues, but they exist and I know many.

    2 – to get a 2 gig connection it has to be available. It may surprise you that there are still people in the UK living in places where no broadband connection at all is available and many others (me included) with connections that rarely get above 1gig. I know that is still cheaper and faster than dial up, but if you are going to make a point get the facts right.

    The biggest problem though is basic technical ignorance. I still see shiny web sites referring to things that happened 2 or even 3 years ago. I see businesses with a website, still using AOL or somesuch for e-mail. These days, basic knowledge of how to set up a PC and internet connection surely counts alongside basic maths and english as the minimum for survival in the developed world. Until that happens however much compulsion Uncle Gordon wants to apply, it will be useless – which of course doesn’t mean he won’t do it anyway.

  • Nick M

    Ah the energy efficient light bulb… Oh, where the fuck do I start. Hg, that’s where. What’s so Green about a consumable product that is loaded with mercury? No 100W lightbulbs? It looks like Nick M will be typing in the gloaming but [FN]+[PgUp] turns the built in light on my Thinkpad on so…

    You do of course appreciate that all energy “lost” is lost to heat (that is generally true) and that lightbulbs that produce more heat than light play a role in heating our homes and places of business and that they tend to be used more at night and in winter…

    Is there anybody in the cabinet with any knowledge of science whatsoever?

    RAB, you know why the “give every kid a laptop” schtick failed… Too many would go, er, missing. I don’t require the government to chat to you or Mid (6 time zones away) and they hate that.

    They hate what they don’t understand (which is a hell of a lot) and can’t master. They even (in the 70s) gave Maggie a slagging for being a chemistry graduate – lacking the “subtlety” that Law/PPE allegedly grants. Oh, my stars! BTW I think chemistry is shite but then I’m a physics grad so I have the right to call ’em on it.

  • guy herbert

    … there are families in this country for which such expenditure is simply out of the question

    Indeed. One more reason why this whizzo scheme for making parents pay money to the government’s friends among the ISPs in order to ensure their children are compliant with the latest diktats for appropriate behaviour is so repugnant. Being made to pay for something you don’t want in is bad enough. Being made to pay for something you don’t want when the money will come out of your budget for basic food, heating or clothing is something else.

  • guy herbert

    …with connections that rarely get above 1gig…

    That includes me. Barely quarter of a mile from the Post Office tower, BT’s advertised 2Gb is currently 368 kilobits per second. Would I pay them extra money to go a little faster? Not on this showing. And I did once have a job that paid me less in nominal terms than I’m paying BT now.

  • RAB

    Good point Ian.
    As our wunnerful socialist Comprehensive schooling has guaranteed that a quarter of the population is functionally illiterate, being broadband connected is neither here or there in education terms.
    It is, as Nick says, the control and censor of the net they are after, but they cant come right out and say so like China, so they use the “It’s for the Children” ploy.

  • Paul Marks

    Along with other local councils Kettering is going to have to spend a fortune to deal with the tiny amount of mercury from cremations – even though the filling material that contain mercury is no longer to be used.

    And at the same time hundreds (indeed thousands) of times this mercury is to go into the environment (and the home environment, when one breaks) from the new light bulbs.

    Nick it is not that individual Civil Servants, Local Government Officers, or politicians do not understand science (or just basic reason – which is all they would need). It is that the SYSTEM does not work.

    It is not a matter of the wrong people being in charge.

  • Andrew Duffin

    Lee Kelly (et al):

    The lightbulb thing is actually an EU regulation (what else!).

    And it is happening in “Europe”. UK is part of Europe now, remember? They make 80% of our laws, including 100% of the stupid ones.

    The only difference is that some EU member states are introducing the regulation more slowly, unlike the UK which always gold-plates them and pushes them through as soon as.

    So there will be a market for real lightbulbs, for a while. And thanks to the single market, you’ll be able to import them from France or wherever without any problem. For a while.

  • Lee Kelly

    “They make 80% of our laws, including 100% of the stupid ones.” – Andrew Duffin

    Now come on, Andrew. I think our honourable members of parliament deserve a little more recognition than that for all their hard work, and I am sure they will do their best to show you otherwise in the near future.

  • RAB

    Lee 😉
    Now on these goddam lightbulbs.
    I need the scientists here.
    I bought some for my mum cos she was worried about all this global warming stuff (well 85 yr olds get worried about a lot of things that aint nessessarily a REAL worry).
    They lasted six months before she threw them out because she couldn’t see anything anymore!
    Seeing things in properly illuminated light is a bit of a priority for old folk, and these crappy little things dont make it.
    Apart from that. And as far as my mum was concerned, equally important, they are esthetically unpleasing.
    They just dont fit any known table lamp. They always stick out over the shade and make the whole point of an occasional light UGLY!
    How much energy are we actually saving here?
    Because I am going to spend a lot stocking up on the old ones before the fascist hammer comes down!

  • Ian B

    I’m actually quite a fan of compact fluorescents. Maybe because of my electrician and maintenance engineer past. All commercial buildings now use exclusively fluorescents, compact fluorescents, discharge lamps etc, except in poncey areas like receptions with heaps of dichroic/capsule halogens. Saves a fortune in lamp changing.

    The general thing about dimness is to buy a sufficient rating. I’m not sure why, but the manufacturers tend to overstate the GLS equivalence. If you want to replace a 60W GLS, don’t get the one that says “60W equivalent”, get at least the next one up. Ooh, I’m getting old, can’t remember. I think they say 11W CF is equvalent to 60W GLS, so get a 13W or preferably 15W lamp. Also, people tend to prefer warm light colours, but they look dimmer. Get cool white instead (higher colour temperature). It looks bluer and subjectively brighter. A 23W cold white looks dazzling in a normal room, it also makes you into a total babe magnet.

    I totally oppose the ban on libertarian grounds. On practical grounds, I use CFs almost exclusively. They’re particularly good for old people, I fitted my mum’s house with them to stop her teetering around on chairs over the stairwell changing bulbs.

    The real fun of this ban though is it only covers GLS, that’s the traditional bulb shaped bulbs. It doesn’t cover halogens. Now dichroic halogens, very swish, they’re a little bit more efficient in lumens/watt, and laughably are marketed as “energy efficient”


    …vasty numbers of people, to look with-it and modern, have had their living rooms/kitchens etc kitted out with them. I must have installed hundreds when I was housebashing as a sparks. Thing is, they’ve replaced a single 100W GLS with, on average, about 600W of halogens; because halogens only produce a narrow beam, so you need them all over the ceiling. No ban for them though.

    Of course, one can’t help but note that heaps of halogen downlighters are most likely to be seen in the salons of Islington, whereas a 100W bulb in a shade is associated with the tasteless proles. Which class do our glorious leaders come from?

    Banning GLS is a complete arsey waste of time, an entirely symbolic sacrifice for Gaia. But it warms the cockles of the elites, as they sit in their farmhouse style kitchens under 1000W of dichroics saying how selfish the commoners are, so that’s all right then.

  • Didn’t Orwell say something like, “Everything that is not prohibited is mandatory”?

    Or in this case, that which is allowed is mandatory.

    I still don’t see why the British put up with all this nonsense.

  • Nick M

    Well RAB,
    One of my hats is as a warden of a religious building (yeah, I know!) and I had to replace the outside light. I got a Compact Flurescent in TESCO (where all good things come from) because this mob are eco-nuts and would personally accuse me of feeding baby seals into a shredder if I’d gone with an incandescent. Fortunately it looks just like an oversized bulb and gives a rather good “natural” light. It was made by GE and if you want to know more you can bloody well come up here and get the sodding step-ladder out.

    Ian B,
    From my experience with CFs… Well obviously they overstate the equivalence. That’s marketing (or lying). More importantly I don’t believe they last anywhere near as long as the makers claim. Dichroics – ah, well my major beef with them is the hum of the transformer. Yes I know that can be done properly but it so often isn’t.

    I specifically called the cabinet on their lamentable lack of science and technology knowledge. There’s what 23 of them and they’re all (I’d guess) graduates. Is any of them a graduate scientist or engineer? I appreciate that lower down the food chain there are folk who know how to make things and do stuff. I would respectfully disagree with you on one thing. Whilst I, like you, think the system is wrong I also think the wrong people are in charge. Double plus ungood. This is from my experience at the IR & DEFRA where the management were not fit to lick the boots (much less change the lightbulbs) of the temps.

    In general,
    What does the lightbulb symbolize? Whether they like it or not, whether they know it or not they are banning the universal symbol of innovation. In anycase CFs are not a solution. If anyone in cabinet read even Computer Shopper they’d know that display technology is moving in leaps and bounds. It’s becoming cheap as chips and LEDs are the way forward. Of course government never lets tech mature before deep-sixing it for an easy answer to a (generally imaginary) problem. Hence the demise of the the lean burn engine which wasn’t compatible with catalytic convertors, CFs (which are going to be a nightmare in terms of mercury disposal) and building sodding windmills when solar is just about to get real good and real cheap. Oh, I shouldn’t carp so. I hated Solid State Physics but hats off to the lads and lasses who do it because it just keeps on giving. I was more into fluids at university. Hell, there are five phases of matter and only one is solid, why restrict yourself?

  • Nick, what you may be missing is that a wrong system tends to attract the wrong people, at least more so than the right system.

    We built our house ourselves, and installed CFs everywhere, (except for a few halogens). It’s been 4 years, and I never had to change one (halogens are a different story). I was not aware of the mercury problem at the time, though.

  • Nick M

    That has been argued over for thousands of years. The fact that in all that time no one has ever solved it beyond the simple expedient (so rarely observed) of not voting for complete gits. The problem is that great God democracy and as you know very well, just next door, you’ve got Hamas as a result. Hell, Hitler was elected democratically (sort of).

    Building your own gaff! You must be very proud. That’s the sort of thing to give someone a real sense of achievement. I’m not being sarky here. I just have to point that out because I so frequently am sarky on SI. I wouldn’t worry too much about the Hg. It’s more of a collective than individual problem. By which I mean it’s more of a problem if everyone has ’em which is one of the reasons I object to Mr Benn’s current insanity.

  • Nick, I never said that democracy is the best system, at least not to the extent that it attracts the best people.

    Easy there: it’s not as if we built it with our own four hands – we had an architect and a contractor, for god’s sake. what really happened was that it was supposed to be a renovation of a foreclosed house we bought. As we started the various changes, more and more walls have been moved, ceilings raised and so on, to the point where by the time it was finished, it was a brand new house. The same happened to the yard. Obviously, we were very much involved in all stages of planning and construction, so we did build it in that sense. I have been meaning to send you guys some pictures, but have been too lazy to look for the flash card they are on. I am not very good friends with my current camera…As to Hg, call me a greeny, the collective problem does bother me, although it is by no means the deal breaker for me, and in any case, what’s done is done.

  • countingcats

    Completly off topic but –

    it’s not as if we built it with our own four hands

    When they got married at the beginning of the fifties my father dumped my mother onto a vacant block of land and built a house around her.

    That was a fairly standard practice in Oz in those days.

    Actually, thinking about it, they started a market garden in the back yard. Dads brother bought the block next door, and they spread the market garden into that as well. One day my father bought a cow, came home on his bike leading the cow behind him, and they made money selling cow juice to the neighbours every day.

    A market garden and a dairy operation on two residential blocks. So, tell me, how many laws and elfnsafty regulations would they be breaking today?

    How many guild backed tradesman would they be required by law to support rather than act to house themselves?

    Hmm, maybe this post wasn’t so far off topic after all.

  • When they got married at the beginning of the fifties my father dumped my mother onto a vacant block of land and built a house around her.

    I have a neighbor who did the exact same thing about 13 years ago (that’s when he started – he has finished it about 10 years ago or maybe even less). And they had a small baby at the time. But this is very different, because where we live is very expensive, so he only had money to buy the land, and could barely afford the actual building materials. He did it as an investment more than anything else. Obviously, the regulations here are not half as bad as they are in the rest of the “civilized world”, but I am sure that we are doing our best to catch up.

  • Ian B

    Talking about free==compulsory, Brown’s Bastards have just announced the official inauguration of compulsory health screening. It’s a “service” of course.

    Note how one of the spurious risk factors that’ll get you on the hitlist is “postcode”.


    We are so very close to the edge now.

  • Sunfish

    From Ian B’s link:

    Speaking to an audience of health professionals in London, Mr Brown also announced plans to make key diagnostic procedures such as blood tests, electro-cardiograms (ECGs) and ultrasounds available in local GP surgeries, to help cut waiting times.

    ECG’s should be in the back of every last freaking ambulance already. And the other stuff…if a hospital can’t ultrasound or run a blood test, then what exactly do they do there? Or why don’t the clinics at least have access to imaging or serology labs? Christ, over here they’re in the phone book.

    Oh, wait, none of them are government-owned.

    He outlined moves to meet the Government’s target of a maximum 18-week waiting time from diagnosis to treatment.

    ..by diagnosing everything as a condition that will either kill the patient or be treated in 18 weeks. Not to suggest that NuLab might pressure it’s practitioners to misdiagnose in order to alter the health stats. Surely the mere fact that they ALREADY DO EXACTLY THAT with crime figures shouldn’t lead to such unhealthy cynicism.

    Didn’t see where it was compulsory to go into the office yet. I don’t have a problem with believing that they’ll get there at some point but I think I missed it in your article.

  • ian

    As far as I know ECGs are in most UK emergency ambulances – at least they were in the one I went in. It may vary by ambulance area of course.

    Also what about this (via Tyler Cowen(Link))

    People who suffer a life-threatening alteration in heart rhythms are more likely to survive if they are in a casino or airport than if they are in a hospital, researchers have reported.

  • Ian B

    Sunfish- this has been floating around for months, an earlier incarnation was to be lifestyle screening for every male over 40. The Health ‘Crats are determined to get everybody into a screening programme and ideally everybody into some sort of permanent medical regime (statins, diet control, etc), there’s been a steady pressure building in the journals and thinktanks.

    While this is being described as a service, I think it’s safe to say it’ll be de facto compulsory, in that one can predict that it’ll work so as if you refuse to be screened you’ll find yourself sans GP. That doesn’t mean it’ll be compulsory for everyone, at least initially. Postcode targetting is in there so they can get at the untermenschen with it, who are the primary targets in all these things.

    So yes I sort of overstated the case but I believe it’s safe to say that’s what’ll happen, in line with the original point of this thread- under statism, Free is a synonym for Compulsory 🙂

  • ian

    The state has to be seen to be busy, it has to create what Thoreau called the ‘din’ of activity otherwise people will start wondering what its role is. Of course the bigger and more complex the edifice it constructs, the greater the need to tinker just to keep it from falling over.

    I read recently (in a book by British anarchist Colin Ward) about the ‘political surplus’ – the idea that the state always does more than it needs to (whatever your view of how big it should be). Unfortunately, Western states seem to be getting better at generating that particular surplus.

  • Sunfish

    As far as I know ECGs are in most UK emergency ambulances – at least they were in the one I went in. It may vary by ambulance area of course.

    Not knowing how EMS works there. Here, every ALS (meaning: paramedics on board) bus has a twelve-lead ECG. In plain English, they can’t roto-rooter the blocked artery but there’s not much else they can’t do for the cardiac patient, assuming that they’re called in time.

    Even the average BLS bus here has an ECG on board, although the EMT-Basics on the crew will do a lot less with it. For the Basic (my own level of training), what we do is limited to giving baby aspirin, nitroglycerin, oxygen, and then driving really fast. Okay, and then defibrillating if the patient’s heart actually stops.

    People who suffer a life-threatening alteration in heart rhythms are more likely to survive if they are in a casino or airport than if they are in a hospital, researchers have reported.

    Not sure how to interpret those results. Was that US or UK? Over what time period?

  • ian

    Not sure how to interpret those results.

    Neither am I! – Research was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine and so far as I know relates to the US.

  • Midwesterner

    ian, Sunfish,

    That possibility would not surprise me at all. Most shopping malls, cop cars, transportation hubs, whatever seem to be stocked with AEDs (automatic external defibrillators) with pretty good, simple instructions. My mother wore a cardiac monitor while she was in the hospital and many times the staff came panting into her room only to discover the leads had come loose. But had she not been wearing the monitor, it could have taken quite some time for someone to notice.

    On the other hand, collapse in a busy place and my impression is that most American groups contain a high number of useful people.

  • Sunfish

    I suspected that the presence of AEDs was part of it, at the reference to casinos and airports. When the price dropped below $1500, the city put them into several of our cars. Hell, I think the gym I use is the last place not to have one.

    I’d just forgotten how little monitoring there is in some parts of some hospitals.

    Maybe HRC and Obama should announce plans for nationalized health care to be taken over by Donald Trump or Harrah’s or the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey? “Yeah, I got your emergency thoracocentesis right here!”