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Tuesday
Feb132007

More EU protectionism

Via India Uncut, this amazing story from the Cato Institute.

In a move that is both remarkable and disturbing, the European Commission plans to file a complaint - and threaten protectionist trade barriers - because attractive Swiss tax policies are supposedly a violation of a free-trade accord. The bureaucrats in Brussels are not arguing that Switzerland is imposing barriers against EU products. Instead, the Commission actually is taking the position that low taxes are attracting businesses that might otherwise operate in high-tax nations.

People in this country need to wake up and understand that the EU is deeply, profoundly, and implacably illiberal. We are not going to "persuade it to change". They are not going to wake up and embrace free trade.

We really are better off out. 

Tuesday
Feb132007

What would a private sector library look like?

Tim Coates, of the Good Library Blog, has posted a manifesto for the reform of library services in the UK. From what he describes (and from my own bitter experience) libraries exhibit all the classic symptoms of state-run industries.  They are not responsive to their users, they are overly complex, they are not available when people want them, etcetera, etcetera. Replace library with passport office, police service or health service and pretty much any of Tim's criticisms remain valid.

I posted a comment along these lines, and was actually rather surprised to get a response that was largely in agreement with me. Where we differ is on whether it is actually possible to get the library service to function properly within the public sector. Tim thinks (or rather hopes) that it is:

Honestly it has hard to argue with what you say. I am just wishing and hoping we can find a way to make it untrue.

This set me to pondering what would happen if an entrepreneur got his grubby capitalist hands on a library, or a chain of libraries. What could be changed to make them more attractive? My own local library consists of a portacabin with irregular opening hours and a startlingly small stock of books. There's only two or three desks for people to sit at, and these are reserved for computer users. The staff are excellent but are hampered from providing the service they want because of pettifogging rules forced on them by "head office" in Perth.

What could be done with it?

For a start you'd need a proper home. Lots of room for reading, lots of books. Armchairs, a coffee shop, a children's play area, all soundproofed so that readers weren't distracted. You would pay for each book you borrowed. If you found you were enjoying it you could phone up and buy it. The library would replace it within 48 hours.  I'm imagining the bookshop and the library almost merging here. Think of all the things innovative bookshops do, like public readings and the like. No reason that libraries can't do this too, and make money doing it.

Book groups would have access to a central list of titles (I'm assuming a chain of libraries here) rather than a restricted list of approved titles like the one we have where I live. They could meet on the library premises at lunchtimes or in the evening. And yes, the library would be open in the evenings too. Every evening, if that's what people wanted. God knows, it might even be somewhere for people to go of an evening to socialise without getting drunk. That would be a turn-up for UK culture wouldn't it?

I've barely even started to think about this. I'm sure if a few people put their heads together they could come up with lots of wonderful and exciting services that a private library could offer. And it's worth remembering that libraries started as private institutions, set up by unions and self-improvement societies and the like.

And then remind yourself that it can never happen because any initiative along these lines would be crowded out by the local council long before it got off the ground. The state is not your friend, as someone once said.  

Sunday
Feb112007

EU crime survey

 

crimemap.gif

This map is from an official study comparing crime and safety across the EU (warning 1.3Mb pdf file). The darker the colour, the higher the probability of being a victim of crime.

A few highlights:

  • Only the Irish are more likely to be victims of crime than the British
  • We are twice as likely to be victims of crime than the Spanish
  • Britain has the worst burglary rate in the EU
  • Our rates for assault and theft are at the top end
  • Our rates for fraud and theft are good
It's also worth noting that crime rates are falling across the continent. So next time a NuLab clone parrots the party line that they are winning the fight against crime, you can point out to them that the EU reckons its more to do with demographics and security rather than policy.
Saturday
Feb102007

More brainwashing

Every so often (monthly? quarterly?) my children are sent home from school with a free magazine with the jaunty title "Whatever!". I've just done an analysis of the contents:

Environmentalism (11 articles)

Saving seagulls from pollution
Tesco opens Britain's greenest supermarket
2007 will be the hottest year on record
Girl wins competition to create cartoon on subject of energy conservation
Rainforest sponsorship
Planting fruit trees
Edinburgh Woodcraft Folk's renewable energy trailer
The green school awards
What does it mean to be carbon neutral
Erich Hoyt - author, conservationist and whale researcher
Beluga whales in Vladivostok 

 Health (5 articles)

Worried about your weight?
Drink lots of water
Healthy pack lunches
Kitchen hygiene 
Take more exercise

Multiculturalism (5 articles)

Chinese New Year
Rickshaws
Multiculturalism
Highland dress
Chinese New Year (again)

Other (1 article)

Thermopylae

In other words half of the magazine is about environmentalism and a large chunk of the rest is about health and multiculturalism. There is virtually nothing on, you know, educational stuff.

The magazine is produced by a company called Whatever News from Aberdeen. It's pretty hard to find out anything about them. Bizarrely for a publishing company, they don't even have a website. As far as I can tell the magazine is funded by the Scottish Executive and advertising - many of the articles are more like "infomercials" than proper writing. 

Either way, the similarity to the primary curriculum is quite clear. Greenery, health eating, multiculturalism. Greenery, healthy eating, multiculturalism. It's no wonder that children leave school unable to read and write. I really, really have to take mine out of school before it's too late.

Greenery, health eating, multiculturalism. Greenery, healthy eating, multiculturalism. Repeat to fade.

Thursday
Feb082007

New blog

Mrs Bishop has started a blog about our extremely awful Mitsubishi Grandis car, and the jaw-droppingly appalling service of Mitsubishi UK and its franchisee at Fife Mitsubishi.

Thursday
Feb082007

Localism as a substitute for liberalism?

Eaten by Missionaries asks if the Tories are serious about localism. I don't suppose they are, and I'm sure EbM doesn't think so either, although most of the current Conservative party have no association with the centralism of the eighties and nineties, so I suppose we ought to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Localism is a great concept, but it's one that involves considerable courage from a central government. If you decentralise power then at some point a local executive is going to blow the bank on some half-baked vote buying scheme and is going to demand to be baled out by the centre. Facing them down demands the courage and authority of a Thatcher, and this is a commodity which is in short supply these days. A Blair would cave in at the first sign of trouble and would open the floodgates to years of irresponsible spending.

I can't imagine that the LibDems or the Conservatives are going to pluck up the courage to legislate for balanced budgets or the outlawing of bale-outs, so if it happens, localism will probably be a disaster.

Regardless of this, liberals within the LibDems (of whom EbM is one)  need to remind themselves that localism is not the same as liberalism. Shifting power from one branch of government to another is not liberalism. Leviathan will still be in control, no matter which tentacle has you by the throat. Liberalism demands that the monster lets go. That individuals choose for themselves. When that happens we may get our country back. But not until then.

Thursday
Feb082007

Blog spats

Please don't.

Tuesday
Feb062007

Liberalising the gun control laws

There's an interesting post at PC Copperfield's which asks if we should liberalise the gun control laws. As the good constable puts it, the police are now just the administrative arm of the insurance industry and there is absolutely no point in calling them. The number of comments from police officers agreeing with this is startling to say the least.

What struck me about the comments thread was that there were very few people who reacted with the traditional exclamations of horror, accompanied by wailings and knashings of teeth and accusations of insanity. Could it be that the state of the criminal justice system has reached rock bottom and the idea of public ownership of guns is acceptable, or even respectable?

We will see. 

(Hat tip: Outside Story

Sunday
Feb042007

Bugs

Last week, Spy Blog speculated about why the government has failed to publish the Annual Report 2005 of the Interception of Communications Commissioner and the Annual Report 2005 of the Security Services Commisioner. Note the dates on both of those reports - these are now a long, long way overdue. Questions asked in Parliament have signally failed to produce anything other than evasions from the Prime Minister.

So what might the government be hiding? Spy Blog wonders whether current events might not be related:

Is this reluctance to answer simple questions, which have no bearing on national security methods or on individual investigations, due to some political embarrassment e.g. the current Cash or Loans for Honours scandal ?

Which seems to be a concern of the police too, according to this report in the Independent on Sunday:

The paranoia has become so feverish that some in the police even fear that the investigators' phones may have been tapped by the security services, to allow the Government to stay one step ahead.

"It's quite easy to tap phones, you know," said one source. "But it's also not too difficult to find out if you have been bugged. I expect the phones are bugged."

Is that another nail I hear, being hammered into the coffin of the Labour party?

 

Sunday
Feb042007

Germany

I've got friends in Germany. As a student, I had a German roommate with whom I shared some wonderful times. I like the Germans I've met. Once I understood it, I like their sense of humour too.

But my God, when I read things like DK's report on the German Presidency's plans for a law on holocaust denial I am horrified by what their government is up to:

[I]t requires member states to prosecute violations, as defined in the document, it requires them to do so under the methods of corpus juris; that is the Continental system whereby you must prove your innocence, a concept that goes against one of the most fundamental tenets of the British justice system.

The Framework also deals with what it calls "Legal persons", which includes companies, charities, etc. Under these provisions, if one of your employees, for instance, says something racist that is reported, your company can be banned from "commercial trading", banned from "receiving public funds" or even compulsorily wound-up.

Or this report (HT: Carlotta) about a German girl who was being home educated, a practise which is illegal in Germany.

She has been removed from her parents' custody, and placed in the Child Psychiatry Unit of the Nuremberg clinic, her father, Hubert Busekros, told the homeschool group.

It's surprising, to say the least, to find anywhere that is less liberal than Blair's Banana Republic. It may just be that Germany is it. The Euro-enthusiasts in our three main parties need to explain what it is about our European colleagues way of doing things that they find so attractive.

Thursday
Feb012007

Regaining control of the news agenda

Blair questioned again, Brown's pretendy charity under investigation, Lord Goldsmith in the doo-doo in the upper house. How's a spin doctor supposed to regain control of the news agenda?

How about a year old story about an assasination attempt on Jack Straw?

Yes that would probably do it

Update:

Nobody else seems to have picked up on this story. I can't find it on the Sky site either. Perhaps it's a mistake? 

Wednesday
Jan312007

The three kinds of liberal

The fundamental principle of liberalism is that decisions are better left to individuals. Chris Dillow quotes Mill's defining statement that

"over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign"

And I think it's true to say that any liberal would go along with that. The problem is that these same people are all too willing to forget this basic principle when there are controversial issues at stake. The circumstances in which they are ready to drop their principles are different from individual to individual, but it's possible to identify three distinct groups.

The first kind can be characterised as the "bad thing" liberals. They believe from the bottom of their hearts that the individual is really, genuinely sovereign over their own body and mind....except when we're talking about a "bad thing". This may well be something that affects only the individual, but because our bad thing liberal thinks it's, well, bad for them, he feels that the full force of the law should be used to stop them doing whatever they want to do. There was a good example today when LibDem DCMS spokesman Don Foster made what Stephen Tall correctly described as an eeyore-ish response to the government's announcement on casinos, demanding that there should be no further increase in their number.

The second type is the "good thing" liberals. As you might expect, "good thing" liberals believe that decisions should be left to individuals except where something is so good that they must be forced to have it. I was treated to a demonstration of this in a comments thread over at Inner West when the author, James, explained his support for the extension of the school leaving age as follows:

In very broad brush terms as a liberal I suppose I see education as a 'good thing' because it broadens an individual's life choices.

It's not liberalism at all, of course. It's thoroughly illiberal, but this kind of thinking is now very much the norm, and the Liberal Democrats (party of Mill) and the Conservatives (party of freedom) are no exceptions.

The last kind, is of course the "all things" liberal. The one who can make himself retain his principles even when they disapprove of the action that the individual is taking, or when they thoroughly approve of something. Devil's Kitchen is one:

[I] defend the Catholic church's right to make certain decisions, but I won't necessarily support the Church or those decisions per se.

Chris Dillow is another. His typically eloquent defence of the freedom principle which is linked to above is called Losing the Culture of Liberty. But if a large proportion of self-declared liberals are going to drop their liberalism if something is good, and many more if it's too bad, perhaps the culture might as well be gone already.

Monday
Jan292007

Product blogging

Jackie Danicki has just scored a notable victory over the Figleaves omisnline lingerie site, forcing them to remove restrictions on their UK customers buying from the US site. The power of the blogosphere is quite remarkable in cases like this. I remember Jeff Jarvis doing something similar with his laptop a year or so ago, also with good results (IIRC).

It all seems pretty easy for the big guys. I wonder though if an unterblogger such as myself can acheive the same effect. I'm minded to start a blog about my Mitsubishi Grandis, which has been, frankly, a dog. It's spent longer in the garage in the first six months of my owning it than all my previous cars put together. And it's still not right.

I'll give Mitsubishi a few more days, and if I get no joy, I might just have to try it out. 

Monday
Jan292007

UKIP

UKIP has been in the news on several occasions recently, having picked up a number of notable defectors in the shape of Lords Pearson and Willoughby de Broke, followed over the weekend by the Earl of Dartmouth. Today, they gained another significant supporter in the shape of the blogosphere's very own Peter Briffa. The tipping point seems to have been David Cameron's idiotic support of the government's position on Catholic adoption agencies. As the Briff says, the sensible thing to do would have been to give everyone an exemption. And now he's riled:

Right. That'll do me. I am no longer just a sceptical supporter of the Conservatives, I am now postiively hostile. Not quite Peter Hitchens-like in my hostility, I don't mind them surviving as a party. Total destruction might not be necessary. But equally, it would be a major disaster if they were to win the next election. Cameron must be humiliated. Even a loss by say twenty seats won't be enough. He's got to suffer big time, so the whole Liberaloid/Big Government experiment collapses.

 Quite right too. What struck me though was the comments of the UKIP chairman (whose name I don't even know) which Briffa quotes:

This entire situation has come about because of State intrusion into matters that should be left to private conscience. “It is a consequence of contradictory legislation that tries to protect rights to religious beliefs at the same time as preventing actions that stem from those beliefs. “This Government is constructing a State morality backed by legislation. Not only is this wrong in principle – it is a practical impossibility as this situation demonstrates.”

It's strking because, as far as I know, UKIP is the only party to adopt a liberal position of the issue. Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats are all solidly behind the big state, coercive position of the Prime Minister. And let's face it, Tony Blair has only adopted this position because he fears the gay lobby more than he fears the Catholic one, a fact which is pointed out in this excellent leader by William Rees Mogg in the Times.

I am starting to wonder if the time is now approaching when I shift my allegiances on domestic issues to UKIP. (I had already pledged my support for European elections). The festering swamp of big government, in which the big three parties wallow, needs to be drained. Perhaps, now we seem to have a party that believes in it, a liberal society will have a chance, albeit a small one, of flourishing again.

Monday
Jan292007

Governing for the government

Governing is meant to be done on behalf of the people, isn't it? You know, for their benefit. There are some people who actually think this happens too. Socialists, mainly - the few who haven't been disabused by the record of the current incumbents. Many more probably think that it's just a matter of getting the right socialist government in place. "Perhaps if Gordon Brown ran the country, he'd do things for our benefit. Or what about that nice Hilary Benn, he'd look after us wouldn't he?"

Back in the real world, there was an interesting article in Scotland on Sunday over the weekend which briefly revealed something of the true nature of government. By politicians, for politicians.

SCOTLAND is on the brink of a power crisis after an accident at one of the country's biggest electricity plants massively reduced supplies to the national grid.

Emergency legislation will be rushed through the Scottish Parliament early this week to allow Longannet power station, Fife, to burn gas as well as coal in a bid to stave off potential blackouts.

At first glance it's an extraordinary state of affairs that parliamentary legislation is required to allow a power station to burn a different mix of fuels. Talk about micro-managing the economy. Why can't they just let the power company decide?

Well, it's not hard to guess is it? Unions are in favour of coal. Unions fund Labour. Labour legislates to stop power company using gas. Public choice theory in action.