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Courage in Comedy

Courage is not just a virtue; it is the form of every virtue under test. For a kindness or honesty which is only kind or honest while it is safe is not very virtuous. Pontius Pilate was merciful – till it became risky. (C.S. Lewis)

It’s not just virtue that needs courage. Jokes can need a little courage too. On one of Prince Philip’s visits to Australia, a virtue-signalling politico decided he would be asked the same questions as any immigrant.

Border Official: “Do you have a criminal record?”

Prince Philip: “I had no idea it was still a requirement.”

Witty remarks need wit – and timing (the worthlessness of ‘l’esprit d’escalier’ – that clever retort you think of whle descending the starcase after the party – has been proverbial for centuries). Humour cannot survive a too-timid inner censor (“Can I really say that? Dare I really say that?”) stealing the moment.

I’m not just talking about the overt courage some jokes need. That can be very real of course. Christabel Bielenberg fell in love with a German in 1932 and married him in 1934.

‘There can’t be many weddings in which the father of the bride stops the car on the road to the church and says to his daughter, “You can still call it off.”

In the very last days of WWII in Europe, she walked into the mayor’s office in the German community where she lived and noticed that the picture of Adolf Hitler was missing from the wall. Seeing her glance, the mayor explained he had put it in the fire the day before. Christabel thought of a joke about Adolf and his picture, automatically reminded herself not to say it out loud – and then realised with delight that for the first time in many years she could say it out loud, she no longer had to think first whether everyone present was ‘safe’. In the joke, Adolf muses to his picture, “I wonder what will happen to us after the war?” The picture replies, “I don’t wonder – I know: you’ll be hung and I’ll be unhung.” The mayor, like the vast majority of Germans, had never heard it – and till the day before would not have dared laugh at it. He spent the rest of the aftenoon suddenly guffawing and murmering, “hung – unhung”. Despite everything, the new freedom to laugh seems to have been a relief to him too. He – unlike Christabel but like too many Germans – had not had the courage to remain aware of his inner censor during the Nazi years; it had become part of him.

It’s not just the comedian who needs a little courage. The audience can also use a little of it. Prince Philip once joked to a British student in China that if he stayed there too long he might acquire ‘slitty eyes’. Thinking people (people not too scared to think) know that a joke does not mean what it literally says (and that Prince Philip did not imagine that the facial features of other nationalities could be caught through proximity, like a disease). Imagine that, back in 1937, visiting a family funeral in Germany, he had told a British student there to beware staying too long lest his head become squarer. The alleged ‘squareheads’ of native Germans in the first half of the 20th century betokened the too ordered, too obedient, too constrained thoughts within them, as the alleged ‘slitty eyes’ of native Chinese in the second half betokened the deceitful propaganda of the CCP. It should not be hard to get the joke’s point – unless of course, the very idea of thinking about an ethnic slur before condemning it is too terrifying to contemplate. “Do not trust China. China is asshole.” as a chinaman in Hong Kong more recently put it.

Orwell explained that putting the mind in a politically-correct box kills a writer’s creativity. Such cowardly conformity also hurts the sense of humour – the sense of humour.

The courage to joke also helps if your position tends to make others nervous:

“I realised afterwards that all his so-called ‘gaffes’ were quite the reverse. They were masterclasses in putting people at their ease. If he’d kept the royal drawbridge up and encouraged deference, all he would have had in his 73 years as the Queen’s husband would have been a series of terrified, tongue-tied people to talk to at a thousand events. For a serious, curious, clever man, that would have been agony. What he wanted was information, and perhaps a few laughs.” (The Truth about Prince Philip’s Gaffes)

And facing your death with courage will often mean facing it with humour. When the brilliant Oxford mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah (not so long before his own death) told Prince Philip how sorry he was to hear he was standing down from official duties in late 2017, Prince Philip replied:

‘Well, I can’t stand up much longer!’

The freedom to make a joke. The freedom to take a joke. Freedoms worth tending in the garden of your mind.

On the British National Health Service imbalance between lethargic diagnosis and really rather good actual treatment of serious medical conditions

Yesterday I sent out a mass email to a list of my nearest and dearest, as many of them whose names I could remember, telling them that, just before Christmas, I had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and you know, pass it on. I said how bad I thought it was, and it does indeed seem rather bad. And I said what they could all do to cheer me up. Basically, tell me and tell the world what a clever fellow I have been over the years, and what their favourite writings and activities of mine have been. This process is now well under way, and a very gratifying boost to my morale it has already been, morale when faced with cancer being, I surmise, a rather big deal, maybe even a life-saver. My thanks to all those who have already communicated with me along those lines, and long may that process continue.

I put the entire text of that email up at my personal blog, and should you now wish to, you can read it there.

What else to say? Many things, not least that this diagnosis has concentrated my mind wonderfully on what really matters to me. During the last few years, I have found myself writing more and more about trivia and esoterica, of the sort that intrigues me but lacks general appeal, at my various personal blogs, rather than trying to grab the world by the ears here at Samizdata. Although I promise nothing, I now feel that this is liable to change. My life now looks like being too short to be postponing the final bits of ear-grabbing that I now want to try to get done, before I depart. Famous last words are hard to contrive, but some rather more impressive ones than would have happened had I merely died suddenly now seem worth attempting.

I’ll make a start by writing about a phenomenon I have become very aware of during the last few days and weeks, which is the imbalance between the effectiveness of Britain’s National Health Service when it comes, on the one hand, to the diagnosis of a disease, and on the other hand, to the treating of it.

Basically, the NHS does the first very inefficiently and in particular very slowly. But, it does the second really rather well, often just as well or better than the private sector, and often with the exact same equipment and staff.

My understanding of this contrast may be distorted by the fact that I am now being treated, at the expense of the NHS, at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital in the Fulham Road, which has a global reputation for its cancer treatment. But, in not a few of the sympathetic emails I have received from friends and relatives, this same story has recurred, of slow and unsatisfactory NHS diagnosis, then followed by a vigorous, urgent and targetted response to the problem, once that problem was properly understood.

The email which explained this best came from my sister, who was an NHS General Practitioner for all of her working life until she retired.

The problem faced by the NHS in diagnosis is that the NHS is confronted on a daily basis with an ocean of complaints about aches, pains and general misfortunes which can be anything from very serious to hardly counting as real medical problems at all. NHS general practitioners provide a service which stretches all the way from trying to spot something like my lung cancer, to just lending a sympathetic ear to a person who is being tormented by her husband or children, or just generally feeling glum and run-down. The service is free at the point of use. If you are having a miserable life and could use some pills to take the worst of the sting out of that life, and if you would positively welcome waiting in the queue at the doctor’s, thereby enjoying a little moment of blessed relief from the disappointments or even torments of the rest of your life, well, you would visit your doctor, wouldn’t you?

The National Health Service doubles up as a sort of National Friendliness Service. At which point, how is the doctor supposed to decide who he or she should spend serious time with, in this vast and varied queue, and whom he or she should shove to the back of the queue? How is the doctor supposed to spot the serious medical cases, in among the vast throng of the merely unhappy and unfortunate? I’m not blaming these NHS doctors for their problem. They’re doing their best. It’s just that their best is liable not to be that good.

So it is that the NHS takes a huge amount of time to identify the serious cases, such as mine is. A pain in your pelvis, you say? Quite bad, you say? Well, I suppose you could have a test, towards the end of next month. Maybe an appointment with a bone doctor, in January? Would the 21st be convenient? Our budget is rather limited, as I am sure you realise, and time slots soon get taken.

Faced with this interminable process, while my aches and pains gradually got that little bit worse as the weeks went by, I eventually sought the informal help of medically expert friends. Who immediately advised me to go private to find out what the problem was. Sounds like it’s serious, they said. They recommended a trusted private sector GP, who talked my sufferings over with me on the phone within about one hour, and immediately steered me towards an esteemed colleague. I put myself in this colleague’s hands. I did not and still do not have any private medical insurance scheme. Nevertheless, for the price of a cheap second hand car, I then learned the bad news of what was happening to me in a matter of days. In no time at all, or so it now feels, I began to be treated at the Royal Marsden, for the immediate threat to my spine, which is just next to where the tumor is.

I soon realised that what I had paid for was not just a diagnostic expert, but also an advocate for me, within the NHS system. That advocate could lay out the evidence in front of the NHS. Look, this is serious. Treat this, and you won’t just be chucking money at nothing. You will be curing or at the very least seriously treating a serious condition.

I am not trying to make a partisan political point here. I know I know, NHS equals socialism, yah boo hiss. But I think the distinction is a bit more subtle than that. As I say, the serious treatment of serious conditions bit of the NHS seems, if my experience and that of other emailers to me in recent days is anything to go by, to work rather well.

I think the distinction concerns what in other contexts is referred to as “moral hazard”. It is one thing to exaggerate an ache or a pain in order to have a nice little conversation with a nice doctor and to get hold of a few prescription anti-depressants or some such thing, without having to part with any money you do not have because payday is not until tomorrow. But people don’t fake lung cancer merely to get the sympathetic attention of a doctor. I mean, how would you even do that?

I was persuaded by two dear friends in particular that there was almost certainly something or other seriously wrong with me, and I was willing and could afford to reinforce my question with a stash of quite serious cash. I bought my way to the front of the diagnosis queue, and I do not apologise for this one little bit. I bought my way past various merely unhappy and somewhat discomforted people, and well done me. I now have a fighting chance. It turned out that I did indeed need serious medical attention and I needed it fast. My one big regret now is that I did not start waving my money around sooner.

As I say, it was the way that this original surmise of mine was so strongly confirmed by the experiences of others that made me sure that this was something worth me writing about, at the internet outlet I have at my disposal that will reach the greatest number of potential readers. What I’m saying is: Learn from me about how to throw money, in particular, at the diagnosis stage of a potential illness. If your problem proves to be no big problem and is easily corrected, well, fine, you’ve checked it out. Panic over. But if it is a serious problem, chances are you don’t want to be wasting time, and if you have the money, you should spend it and save the time.

Another way of explaining this is to point out that testing for things like cancer can get decidedly expensive, if it is to be done well. Soon after consulting my private sector diagnostic expert, I had about three different tests, each of them costing well over a thousand quid each. It makes no sense to give tests like that to people who are merely unhappy with their lives and their lot in life, and are telling you they have a tummy ache merely to get a little bit of your attention.

Or to put it yet another way, I look forward fondly to the time when such tests get much, much cheaper. Cancer care itself, I have been learning, is massively better than it was even a few short years ago. Well, likewise and one day, I’d like to think that instead of spending half an hour on some unwieldy and expensive space age contraption at the Marsden, there will come a time when all those complaining of bodily misfortunes, however slight, can just step through a gadget no more complicated than an airport metal detector. If the hit rate for serious conditions is a mere one per two hundred, or some such number, well that’s fine. Cheap at the price.

And don’t get me started on Brunel, which is the Marsden’s even space-agier device which has been giving me my first doses of actual treatment. Brunel is really something.

Like I say, my treatment looks like it’s state-of-the-art.

If this blog post saves or merely prolongs just one life, then good. Mission more than accomplished. This has not been that important a posting, and I certainly claim no originality for it. I’m sure many others have noted the same things as I have just been noticing. But, maybe for just one reader or friend-of-a-reader, it just might be the straw, so to speak, that saves one human camel’s back, if you get my drift.

This posting has been written in some haste, hence its rather excessive length. Brevity tends to take longer, I find. Also, I dare say there’s the odd typo or two, which I will correct as and when I or anyone else spots them. But I am sure you understand my haste. I have lots more things I want to say here before I make my exit, and it looks now like I have far less time to waste than I had earlier been supposing.

The equal oppression of the laws

“… nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” (14th amendment to the U.S. constitution)

Americans, especially right-wing ones, object if laws that protect them are applied unequally – if, for example, it is a crime for government emails to be held on private servers, but not when Hillary does it. But of course, right-wingers, especially American ones, believe that many laws don’t protect; they oppress. (And it is a point of honour in those who call themselves libertarians to believe that even more of the laws are like that.)

In the US, they seem to understand that these two beliefs support each other. The right dislike Obamacare – and were angry when Obama gave some Democrat constituencies waivers and deferrals when introducing it. No-one called them hypocrites for complaining about the unequal enforcement of a law they never wanted passed in the first place. Similarly, no-one seems to have missed the Logan Act during the centuries when it went unenforced, but did even the most fanatic NeverTrumper write “We should be above that” when Trump supporters pointed out that if the act was back in use then John Kerry should be prosecuted under it? Washington’s lobbyist class honours the Foreign Agents Registration Act far more in the breach than the observance, but the MSM seem keener to understate that fact than to denounce as hypocrites those right-wingers who say that now unregistered Republicans have been charged, prosecute some unregistered Democrats.

This attitude, I believe, extends to the first amendment. Legal exceptions to the first amendment (‘fighting words’, ‘clear and present danger’) are few, and the right wants it kept that way. But so long as those exceptions apply to them, the right also want them applied to any left-wing violator. They see that as defending free speech – not betraying it.

Here in Britain, by contrast, confusion reigns. Right-wing blogger Sargon of Akkad jokes about not offering violence to a left-wing politico – and the police visit him. Left-wing BBC comedian Jo Brand jokes about thowing acid rather than mikshake over Farage – and the police do not visit her. Whereupon Brendan O’Neill (who has written freedom-supporting articles in the past) writes in the Spectator (of which the same can be said) rebuking Mr Farage for suggesting that they should have.

(A PC gang once visited a pub where Nigel Farage, his wife and their children were dining, eager to cause harm. And he knows the drycleaning cost of getting mikshake off your suit. So I have a bit more sympathy for Nigel than for any other party leader, even Boris, when he yields to the temptation to wonder whether, despite Brand’s claims, it was not quite only a joke. But let us take it that it was just a joke.)

Brendan appears to be saying the true lover of free speech should not demand “the equal oppression of the laws”. Brendan wants an equal liberation from hate speech laws – Jo Brand must have the right to joke about throwing acid at Farage and Count Dankula must be free to film his dog doing a Nazi salute. I would like that too, but meanwhile,

“It is a settled rule with me to make the most of my actual situation, and not to refuse to do a proper thing because there is something else, more proper, which I am not able to do.” (Edmund Burke)

By criticising Nigel for resisting the double-standard (that Brendan also hates), Brendan implies that Farage’s demand for legal equality, not just Brand’s exploitation of left-wing privilege, is what stands in the way of that equal liberation. I think he is making a mistake – and confusing his mistake with the meaning of ‘free speech’.

I would much rather live in a Britain where neither Sargon nor Jo had a visit from the police – but I don’t. I’d criticise Farage if I thought Jo Brand dissapproved the police visiting Sargon – but I don’t (this pertinent hint merely confirms things I’ve heard her say). Unequal enforcement of the hate speech laws has been an essential part of maintaining them from the start. You don’t fight them by protecting that inequality. Free speech means the state shall not control what we may say. The state has yet more control when it does not just ban speech but bans it arbitrarily. So when people try to end that arbitrariness, they may not be failing to “disagree with what you say but defend your right to say it”, as Brendan claims; they may be defending free speech.

For clarity, let me illustrate with an example programme. Imagine (but don’t hold your breath for it) that PM Boris (radicalised by how he’s been treated, and heading a party purified by defections, internal deselections and/or external Brexit Party rivals) announces a bill to roll back the attack on free speech (e.g. repeal every such law since 9/11). However, he also announces that, while this bill slowly works its way towards the royal assent, his government, to protect equality before the law, will prosecute a backlog of unlawfully-suppressed cases from those years – remarks that were ever so woke, but were also hate speech as defined by the equitably-phrased laws, uttered by people who had also demanded the laws punish far less hateful remarks of their opponents.

– To Brendan (I would guess if I had only the Spectator article as my guide), these prosecutions would be no better than evil revenge, discrediting the cause and making the return of laws against ‘hate’ speech more likely.

– To me, they would be a good way of educating the public about what was wrong with those laws, and also a way to make the left think twice about reimposing them the moment they got back in power. But, beyond these tactical points, they would also uphold the principle of equality before the law.

We will not lack for mind-broadening frenemies to defend even after tolerating ‘equality before the law’ arguments against the loudest “I can say it but you can’t” enforcers of the double-standard. The woker-than-thou of today love purging the woke of yesterday – they will supply.

Equality before the law is good in itself. Demanding equality of oppression before the law is a way to expose a dishonest process. Think carefully before judging it a betrayal of our war against the hate speech laws’ evil goal, rather than a way – that can be both honest in itself and effective – of waging it.

Destructionism – with a few British examples

The last part of Ludwig Von Mises great work Socialism is entitled “Destructionism” and is not, formally, about socialism at all.

In the main body of “Socialism” Ludwig Von Mises proves that it is impossible (yes impossible) for socialism to equal capitalism economically, let alone to exceed capitalist economic performance (as socialists had been promising for over a hundred years) socialism must always produce inferior results. Now the language of Ludwig Von Mises may sometimes suggest that he believes that socialism can not function AT ALL (i.e. that it can produce nothing – no goods and services), but that is a misinterpretation of the position of Mises (which is partly the fault of Mises himself – who sometimes lets elegant language get in the way of fully stating the correct position, as I detest such things as “grammar” I do not make this mistake). By copying the prices of the capital goods in “capitalist countries” socialist countries can make a crude approximation of “capitalist” economic activity – never very good, but certainly not no economic activity at all.

However, in the last part of his work “Socialism” Ludwig Von Mises turns to “Interventionism” government spending, taxes and regulations which (supposedly) improve on the work of voluntary cooperation. “Market forces”, of supply and demand, are as my friend Mr Ed often points out – partly a matter of physical reality (weather and so on), but mostly a matter of human choices (voluntary interaction).

Government intervention (by spending, taxes and regulation) far from improving economic and social outcomes can (as Herbert Spencer pointed out in “Man Versus The State” in 1883) only make things worse than they otherwise would be. Ludwig Von Mises takes great pains in “Destructionism” to show that the fashionable polices of his time (and our own time) of government spending, taxes and regulations make things worse, not better, than they otherwise would be. And that the supposedly new idea of interventionism – is, in fact, a return to the absurd fallacies of past centuries that the Classical Economists of the had exposed.

Has the penny dropped, do politicians (and the public) yet understand that government spending, taxes and regulations make things worse (not better) than they otherwise would be? Sadly no – most politicians and most of the public do not understand.

→ Continue reading: Destructionism – with a few British examples

Globalisation is very weird.

The above picture is the most commonplace thing in the world. There is a gift wrapped car in a shopping mall. Obviously, this is a prize in a competition, designed to encourage people to visit the shopping mall and spend money in the shops. The car is first generation Daewoo Matiz – later known as the Chevrolet Spark – an old design now but one of the cheapest cars in production in the world. It’s an utterly awful car to drive, but it is A NEW CAR!. If you are a shopping centre owner, then the main thing is that it is a new car. That it is the cheapest new car in existence is not the point. The point is that the prize in our competition is A NEW CAR! It’s a city car, also. If you are in a place where the traffic is bad enough, a lack of acceleration and an inability to drive above 80km/h matters less, anyway.

Well, yes. And no.

There is, of course a story.

I live in London by myself. My family are in Australia. London is cold, dark, and deserted between Christmas and New Year, and it can be depressing to be here by yourself. Although I don’t need much of an excuse to go travelling at the best of times, I particularly try to get out of town, ideally to somewhere where there is no Christmas. Last year this led to my finding myself in Tehran, Iran. I didn’t quite entirely escape Christmas – there was still a Christmas tree in the lobby of my hotel – but I mostly escaped Christmas. Certainly, the traffic gridlock on December 25 was horrendous, as indeed the traffic gridlock is horrendous in Tehran on most days. There is a metro in Tehran, but Tehran is a sprawling city which makes it only so useful, a little like the metro in Los Angeles. Tehran is a sprawling city of multi-lane freeways and horrendous traffic in a basin surrounded by mountains, a little like Los Angeles. In the expensive suburbs of north Tehran, it’s not especially hard to find yourself in achingly hip cafes that might almost be in Silver Lake, too, but let’s go there some other time.

The whole “enormous, car-centric sprawl with an immense freeway system” makes Los Angeles a polluted city by American standards, but in all honesty it is much less polluted than it used to be. Modern cars are more efficient and have more advanced emissions control systems than was the case even a few years ago, and like all developed world cities, the air in Los Angeles is much cleaner than it once was.

In Tehran, though, imagine a rapidly growing city, that despite sanctions is getting richer. Demand for cars is high, but due to those sanctions Iran is unable to import cars from many industrial countries. Cars stay on the road longer, which means the pollution will remain worse for longer than in many other cities of similar levels of development. Sanctions are uneven, so it is much easier to do business with carmakers in certain other countries than others. When you look around, you find that most of the cars are Korean, or French, or will be oddly familiar things or brands you haven’t heard of.

This gets us back to the overtly Korean car in the shopping mall.

→ Continue reading: Globalisation is very weird.

#GamerGate – the canary in the coal mine

Looking back, it’s hard to overstate the cultural significance of GamerGate: it marked when the Post-Modern Left suddenly and unexpectedly lost control of social media, right at the point where the influence of social media actually started to matter. In a sense, it was the second wave of discontent that started with the arrival of anti-MSM blogs in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but within a very different internet environment compared to ‘The Golden Age of Blogging’ 2001-2010. As has often been the case in military campaigns, when one side becomes greatly overextended, they only realise they have lost the initiative when they seek to advance and experience a completely unexpected reversal: a result that may seem obvious and perhaps even inevitable to a historian looking back, but which was far from obvious to the people on the ground at the time.

So certain was the Left that they had won the culture war, so confident with the established media under their effective control that ‘truth’ was theirs to declare, that they gave up on any pretence of objectivity. After all, their enemies had been swept from both airwaves and print (I sometimes cannot tell the difference between the Times and the Guardian and the Economist). And so they began to manoeuvre with the assurance and arrogance of an army under an umbrella of complete air(wave) supremacy, a supremacy that suddenly proved to be illusory because opinions had moved on-line.

I could just as easily be talking about Brexit or Trump, for it was a widespread tone deaf lack of introspection by establishment folk that made those things possible (albeit for very different reasons)… but the way I see it, GamerGate was the canary-in-the-coal mine. And almost no one on the Left noticed that particular canary had fallen off the perch and dropped dead. I imagine when the history of Brexit and Trump are written, GamerGate will probably be a forgotten footnote (and it is indeed a mere footnote), but I think it was (and sporadically still is) a more significant series of protracted skirmishes in the culture war than a lot of us Old Farts realise, a very successful clash that radicalised many younger people in ways that horrify the Tranzi Left.

And their response every time has been to double down as if nothing has changed, eventually stripping words like ‘misogynist’, ‘racist’ and ‘nazi’ of any meaning in the process.

Piketty and the Shoe Event Horizon

In Douglas Adams famous non-fiction series on galactic economic history, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, we are presented with a description of the tragedy of the planet Frogstar B.

On Frogstar B, for a time shoe production increased faster than the rate of overall economic growth. As a result, with time, shoe production became a larger and larger fraction of the economy, until finally the Shoe Event Horizon was hit, at which point nothing but shoes could be manufactured, and lacking any other goods or services, their civilization collapsed.

Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” describes a similar tragedy that lies inevitably in our future, the point at which the only economic activity left is investment, all money is held by a tiny minority of wealthy people, and our civilization permanently ends.

Will we be wise enough to learn from the people of Frogstar B, and place a heavy tax on capital before our doom is reached?

I hope not, because of course Douglas Adams was writing comedy, not an economic history. Sadly, Piketty appears not to be a parodist, and presents the claim, in all seriousness, that something like a Shoe Event Horizon, in this case the Investment Event Horizon, could actually happen.

Normally, I would ignore such a book, but numerous commentators (all of whom, by strange coincidence, were already enthralled by the idea of expansions state power) have responded to Piketty’s call for heavy wealth and income taxation with rapturous reviews, driving Piketty’s work to the center of much of our current political discussion.

It is therefore, sadly, our duty to seriously to consider his arguments and the effects of his proposed remedies…

→ Continue reading: Piketty and the Shoe Event Horizon

It’s not the economy…

In all the discussion about the Greek exit from the Euro I see a lot about wealth and poverty; about whether more damage would be done to the economies of Greece, Europe and the world by “austerity” within the Euro versus a default and a return to the drachma.

These are the questions of cost and benefit that it is respectable for world leaders to discuss. Discussion gets heated, I hear – voices are raised and cheeks flushed with anger. But the thing that really sends the blood rushing to a Prime Minister or a Chancellor’s cheek is pride, not money. Pride matters. Pride, shame and “face” in the oriental sense set billions of Euros coursing this way and that in a way that mere economics could never manage. Greek pride finds German diktats hard to bear – but not so unbearable as facing the fact that Greece did not join the Euro but rather was let in by condescending officials who turned a blind eye to obvious lies, like a university turning a blind eye to plagiarism in order to keep up the diversity quota. The Germans were proud of their Deutschmark, prouder still of their own nobility in giving it up for the greater good (with a little frisson of shame at the sinful pleasures of that export boom), and this is the thanks they get?

Bitterest of all is the wounded pride of the Eurocrats. Their sure touch was meant to gently shape history as the potter’s touch shapes the clay. Only the clay slid off-balance on the wheel and it has begun the trajectory that will end when it hits the wall with an almighty SPLAT.

Shapers of history really hate almighty splats. Hurts their pride, you see.

I really hate shapers of history.

A few thoughts on Climategate.

A few weeks ago, we were having one of many conversations on this blog about the subject of climate change. In the comments, I said the following

The climate is clearly changing. There is nothing unusual about this. The climate is always changing. I’m happy to concede that the trend in recent decades has been to hotter temperatures. Again, nothing unprecedented about that. The world has hot periods and cold periods. The trend seems to have slowed or reversed over the last few years. This is not a short enough period of time to prove anything, but it does make you wonder how strong the trend is. Some of the data analysis that purports to show the trend has been presented in ways that deliberately or otherwise state the data in such ways that appear to indicate the trend is stronger than it is, and/or choose starting points and data series lengths that appear to show the trend as more abnormal than it is, in my opinion.

Again, with the impact of human activity, I am happy to concede an impact exists. There is a lot of human activity – it must have some impact on the climate. Whether it is a significant impact is another question.

Having those two thoughts, you look for a correlation, and find one between CO2 in the atmosphere and average temperature. One can be found, although it is not clear whether it is a causal relationship (CO2 levels vary historically before significant human activity existed, and a lot of the time CO2 increases seem to trail temperature changes rather than the other way round).

So how much are higher temperatures caused by higher CO2 levels, and how much of the increased CO2 level caused by human activity? The answer to the last question is clearly “quite a lot”, but that is not an answer to the question “How much?” Is it “70%? 90%? 100%? 120%? To be able to come up with a meaningful model, we have to have a good numerical answer, and we don’t remotely.

As to what impact increased CO2 levels have on average temperatures, there is much greater uncertainty. Basically you have to enter a fudge factor into your model, see how well it models the past, and hope you can then model the future successfully. A few people have created models that can just about model the past, but that doesn’t mean you have the mechanism right – it just means you have found a mathematical function that fits the points on your curve.

As it is, we have a few extremely crude mathematical / computer models that suppose mechanisms that go from human activity to CO2 release to global warming. They don’t agree with one another, and they are incredibly crude. (The Earth’s atmosphere is an extremely complex system. These models only have a tiny fraction of its complexity). They have a poor record of predicting the future.

The science of global warming ultimately boils down to saying that “The level of warming is unprecedented”. “Human releases of CO2 into the atmosphere are unprecedented”. “Therefore, the second causes the first”. This isn’t an inherently ridiculous thing to say. If climate change really is unprecedented then we would look for other unprecedented things as likely causes and human activity would be the likely one. We could then look for mechanisms and solutions, but we would largely be doing so with our eyes closed.

I will listen to somebody who more or less says this and that the risks of global warming are so great that we must do something about them, but somebody who simply states that the science is settled and beyond discussion is frankly not even worth arguing with.

In response, I received a mocking reply from a true believer, saying more or less that if I knew so much about it, why didn’t I publish papers in a refereed journal myself, and he was sure that a Nobel Prize would be beckoning. There was no attempt to address anything I said – merely an observation that what I was saying did not have the approval of the clique controlling the argument.

In a way this was odd, because I was not actually claiming to know anything about the workings of the climate: only about the likely limitations of the methodology of climate scientists.

As it happens, once, in another life, I was a research scientist. → Continue reading: A few thoughts on Climategate.

Looking back in anger

It’s been twenty years since my firm belief in a better way of life was vindicated. 17th November was the beginning of the end of an era shaped by collectivism, brutality and industrialised inhumanity. I have written about my experiences of communism on Samizdata before. Today I’ll use someone else’s words to describe the wasteland communism leaves behind.

In 1992, Peter Saint-Andre has written a disturbing, brilliant and accurate description of what communism does to the soul:

…the hunger that I found most disturbing was not of the body but of the soul. […] The socialist state cared nothing for the life of the individual, and this was driven home in innumerable ways.

Yet the overall effect was not merely physical — it was a deeply spiritual degradation. It is difficult to put that degradation into words. To me, the most striking sign of it was what I called “Eastern eyes”. I could see and feel the resignation, the defeat, the despair, in the eyes of people I knew. It was an all-too-rare occurrence to come upon a person with some spark of life in his or her eyes (the only exceptions were the children, who had yet to have the life beaten out of them). If it is true that the eyes are windows onto the soul, then the Czech soul under socialism went through life all but dead.

It is tough for me to come up with something to say 20 years on that is not tinged with bitterness and disappointment and if not for the significant anniversary, I would have left this memory unturned. Despite the amazing change 1989 and its aftermath brought to my life I feel no closure over the past and a sense of proportion in the way the fall of communism has been ‘handled’. Today we should be looking back at the last 20 years counting the many communists who died in prison or are still rotting there… I can only hope that future generations will revisit the past and will have far lower tolerance of collectivism and totalitarianism. It may be a futile hope as today’s teenagers have little knowledge of the world my generation grew up and my parents lived in. And so I am bitter and disappointed that people can say the word “communism” without spitting. → Continue reading: Looking back in anger

Vote green – go blackshirt

Rob Johnston has produced a very interesting essay on the true soulmates of Green Politics in Britain

  • Forbid the purchase of corner shops by migrants
  • Stop people from inner cities moving to the countryside to protect traditional lifestyles
  • Grant British citizenship only to children born here
  • Boycott food grown by black farmers and subsidise crops grown by whites
  • Restrict tourism and immigration from outside Europe
  • Prohibit embryo research
  • Stop lorry movements on the Lord’s Day
  • Require State approval for national sports teams to compete overseas
  • Disconnect Britain from the European electricity grid
  • Establish a “new order” between nations to resolve the world economic crisis

These are the policies of one of Britain’s most influential political parties: a party that has steadily increased its vote over the last decade; a party that appeals overwhelmingly to whites; and a party that shares significant objectives with neo-fascists and religious fundamentalists.

Perhaps – the BNP? Despite its attempts to appear modern and inclusive and the soothing talk in its 2005 General Election Manifesto, of “genuine ethnic and cultural diversity” [1].

Or UKIP? It harbours some pretty backward-looking individuals – but would they stop Britain buying electricity from France if necessary?

Or, maybe, the Conservatives? Could that be a list of recommendations from one of Dave’s lesser-known policy groups – chaired by the ghost of Enoch Powell – quietly shredded to avoid “re-contaminating the Brand”?

Actually, affiliates of the progressive consensus may be surprised to learn that all the reactionary policies in the first paragraph are from the Green Party’s Manifesto for a Sustainable Society (MfSS) or were adopted at the party’s Autumn Conference in Liverpool over the weekend of September 13-16, 2007 [2].

Of course, the Green Party will protest against the accusation of reactionary politics. However, in an article critical of the G8 leaders in June, George Monbiot, (capo di tutti capi of the green movement) advised readers to judge politicians for “what they do, not what they say”.

For example, as well as supporting ethnic and cultural diversity, the BNP says it accepts:

“… the right of law-abiding minorities, in our country because they or their ancestors came here legally, to remain here and to enjoy the full protection of the law against any form of harassment or hostility…” [3]

But, use Monbiot’s argument, disregard the rhetoric and look at what the rest of the BNP manifesto promises would actually do and it remains a party of racist and neo-fascist ideology – internationally isolationist and domestically reactionary.

The trouble for Greens is that their manifesto pledges would result in many of the same outcomes as the BNP programme.

You will not find the words “Boycott food grown by black farmers and subsidise crops grown by whites”, in the Green Party’s manifesto, but consider Monbiot’s advice about the effects of these policies:

“The Green Party recognises that subsidies are sometimes necessary to protect local, regional and national economies and the environment, and we will support them in these instances” [4].

“Controls such as tariff barriers and quotas should be gradually introduced on a national and/or regional bloc level, with the aim of allowing localities and countries to produce as much of their food, goods and services as they can themselves. Anything that cannot be provided nationally should be obtained from neighbouring countries, with long distance trade the very last resort” [5].

The paradox of arguing for Fair Trade while refusing to buy African vegetables because of “food miles” has been noted many times, but it is a paradox the Green Party simply ignores. According to the Guardian, Britain has two black farmers [6], so any policy to subsidise domestic produce and erect barriers to outsiders will, ipso facto, support white farmers and disadvantage black farmers. Even if supplies are “obtained from neighbouring countries”, white European farmers benefit at the expense of poor farmers in Africa and the developing world.

On agricultural policy in general, Greens will agree with the following sentiments:

“Britain’s farming industry will be encouraged to produce a much greater part of the nation’s need in food products. Priority will be switched from quantity to quality, as we move from competing in a global economy to maximum self-sufficiency for Britain, sustainable agriculture, decreased reliance on petro-chemical products and more organic production” [7].

However, those promises come from the BNP 2005 General Election Manifesto – in a section indistinguishable from the Green Party manifesto:

“To be able to fulfil all our basic food needs locally. To grow as many other products as we can to meet our basic needs (e.g. for textiles, fuel, paper) on a local or regional basis. To enable all communities to have access to land which can be used for growing for basic needs. To ensure that all growing systems use only natural, renewable inputs and that all organic waste outputs are able to be recycled back into the soil or water system” [8].

Perhaps this is why, according to the BNP:

“We are the only true ‘Green Party’ in Britain as only the BNP intends to end mass immigration into Britain and thereby remove at a stroke the need for an extra 4 million homes in the green belts of the South East and elsewhere, which are required to house the influx of 5 million immigrants expected to enter the country under present trends over the next twenty years” [9].

Greens agree with the BNP about migration and the green belt. They promise to: minimise the environmental degradation caused by migration; not allow increased net migration; and end the pressure on the Green Belt by reducing population and stopping growth-oriented development [10]. Reduction in non-white tourism and immigration would be an inevitable consequence of government restrictions on air travel. Few refugees from Iraq, Darfur, Zimbabwe manage to get all the way to Britain without a large carbon footprint, neither can tourists from beyond Europe. → Continue reading: Vote green – go blackshirt

Echoes of the Fourth Century

I was talking to a friend this evening who noted that a bank had sent him a letter promoting a loan; confounding the pessimists who think that the days of easy credit are completely dead. He observed that the letter contained the phrase “The mill that produced this paper supports sustainable forestation”.

It is hard to believe that the bank really cared that much about the source of their paper, but banks, being creatures of the market, are sensitive to their customers, and make efforts to please them. The small but noisy minority of ‘environmentally friendly’ customers that would have approved of the bank’s effort to be eco-friendly would be appeased, and the rest of the client base would care not a jot.

But we are seeing more and more of these nods to the environment being enforced with the power of national governments. It is rather like what happened to ancient Rome in the Fourth Century. The first Christian Emperor, Constantine the Great, lifted restrictions on Christianity in 312, and Christianity backed by the power of the state made slow but steady gains at the expense of the old pagan faiths before the Vestal Virgins were disbanded by Imperial order in 394.

I am not sure what will really qualify as comparable milestones in the rise of environmentalism as the official faith of the West, but for those of us of a skeptical nature, I think it does rather have a feel of being like a Pagan in 4th Century Rome.