Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Dead Children in the Mediterranean

The independent leads today with harrowing photographs of a small boy, maybe two years old, face-down in the surf having drowned. You will see this image shared on social media, along with impassioned pleas to "do something", as if opening Europe's borders to the 10m Syrians who are currently displaced is a viable option.

You will hear it said that this is all because of the 2003 war in Iraq. Perhaps that is a part of it. But perhaps a premature withdrawal before Iraq was able to look after its own security is more to blame. But actually this is a small part of the problem. People are fleeing Syria, where the west didn't intervene to topple a poison-gas using dictator (Assad, gassed people around Damascus in 2013) to one where we did (Saddam Hussein gassed Kurds in Halabja in 1988).

The origins of the Civil war in Syria are not due to the coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003, but more down to the self-immolation of a market trader called Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia in December 2010, an event credited with starting the "Arab spring" whereby the populations of several countries, including Syria rose up in an attempt to overthrow their dictatorial leaders. As ever, economics played a part. The rising oil price back then made fuel subsidies unaffordable to non-oil exporting leaders such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Syria's Bashar Al Assad. Removing the fuel subsidies created an environment where the previously content middle classes of Damascus and Cairo decided to throw their lot in with the usual malcontents, the Muslim Brotherhoods and less savory organisations who saw their chance.

But you will see the lazy assertion that the Syrian civil war is "our fault" because of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And certainly the rise of Al Qaeda in Iraq under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi later became ISIS/ISIL/IS under Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was facilitated by the lawlessness of post-US withdrawal Iraq and the incompetence of the Governments.

But ultimately, this is the long-running sore sectarian sore of the middle-east, that various dictators have sat upon, with varying degrees of success, with or without help from outside powers, since the 9th century. The problem, those showing the photo of the dead child on the beach would have you believe, is that "we" caused the problem. "We" did not. The problem isn't that Europe is too "callous", and that the problem would go away if everyone was as achingly moral as they were. There are 10m people displaced around Syria's borders. The brunt is Borne by Turkey Lebanon and Jordan. Iraq too is taking its share. It's just in the UNHCR camps, well run, by the way, there's no work. It's a boring, depressing, but safe existence. There is food and water, from which shit is separated. It is quite understandable that people seek a better life in Europe.

Europe is spending billions, helping people in the camps. That people want to come is understandable. But the idea we're doing nothing to help them, or have an obligation to let them in, is more about the virtue-signalling of the person saying it, that the real moral position. Worse than the vacuous moral posturing, is the complete lack of agency you give to the people in this situation. Millions are waiting patiently in the camps, or in Beirut or Amman to return to their homes should peace return to Syria. Yet some decide to put their children in the hands of people smugglers and unseaworthy vessels and unventilated trucks. These people bear the responsibility for the dead children far more than the "Cameron" whom countless memes exhort to "do more".

 The very people most likely to share these self-aggrandising, shroud-waving memes on social media, are the same ones who're ostentatiously anti-war. Perhaps if any politician in the west is responsible for the success of ISIS it's Ed Miliband who successfully vetoed international military action in 2013, wholly for domestic political concerns in order to wrong-foot the Prime Minister. Perhaps if we'd started supporting reasonable groups in the Anti-Assad forces in 2013 (or earlier, my view it was already by then 18 months too late), IS may not have got such a foothold. Or maybe not. We will never know.

Not "our" fault, those dead kids. We do have an obligation to help Syrians and we are doing so through UNHCR, but that's not the same as playing host to the entire population. The solution in Syria is military. If you want to blame a British politician, blame Ed Miliband. An American one? Barack Obama who brought the Troops home from Iraq prematurely, before Iraq could look after its own security. But ultimately blaming politicians in the west for the complete failure of the middle east is futile.



Jeremy Corbyn.

What fun!

First, I am not a neutral observer. I am a £3 Labour supporter and Voted for Corbyn. I have a £10 bet with betfair at 23:1 (and a few quid on the others to ensure I come out ahead, whoever wins). But it looks like the Labour party is going to do it. A man who's barely spoken to most of the PLP in decades, preferring the company of like-minded trots.

And this is where it's going to get interesting. The hard-left is clannish. They do not tend to mix much. They may have apolitical friends who share some interests, but no-one actively from the other viewpoint. They'd no more be friends with a Tory than with a botulinum bacillus. These people congregate in certain professions: academia (social science faculties), local government and trandes-unionism. And given their concentration, and total unwillingness to befriend people with heterodox views, they're liable to underestimate the support for their opponents, and imagine themselves a majority.

Amongst these people, Corbynmania has taken hold. They flock to hear their man speak, repeating lefty shibboleths in the manner of a Strawbs tribute band. The tunes are the same ones the older ones in the crowd remember, but there's something lost in the delivery. "You can't get me, I'm part of the Union" somehow no longer fits the zeitgeist of this individualist age.


The problem the Corbynistas face is they are few in number, and strikingly poor at arguing. Jezbollah himself is rather thin-skinned, becoming angry when questioned forensically about supporting this terrorist group, or sharing platforms with that despicable anti-semite. Now I am sure Corbynladen is a decent guy. It's just he's spent decades in politics agreeing with those around him about what must be done. Meanwhile his solutions were tried, not just in the UK, and were everywhere found to be disastrous. The world moved on. Politics in successful countries is about the management of liberal, free-market democracy. How much do you tax? what is the most efficient way to administer benefits? Who manages what? It's clear that the state is not very good at managing stuff, even if it's an excellent financer of services. But those who yearn for the state to reclaim the commanding heights of the economy are going to be disappointed, whether or not they get their way.

Tories are currently at 42%, Labour at 28% in the polls, for what they're worth.

The electorate, when he's elected, will look at him, give him the benefit of the doubt for a bit. I dare say Labour may enjoy a Corbyn bounce, as people remember what great tunes were played in the 1970s and 1980s. Then the reality- the months-long wait for a telephone or washing machine from state-run stores, British rail as a by-word for inefficiency and delay, waiting lists for cars, the rubbish piled in the street, the dead going unburied and an attempt by hard-core marxists to assert that a country should be run not from the ballot box, but at the point of production.

Corbyn will spend his time as leader answering questions about his relationship with, and comments about organisations most people in the country regard as our enemies. He will be torn to shreds. If you think the "Tory smear machine" is working him over now, they've barely started. As for the Tory party itself - it's a studied example of masterful inactivity. Never interrupt your enemy when he's making a mistake.

So what will Labour do? That depends whether Working Class Eyebrows, Mrs Balls, Liz Magnolia-Paint et al. can regain control of the party. But I suspect the rot has gone too deep. The influence of the unions in the constituency parties is too all-pervasive. The whole party has been attracting hard-leftists since Miliband won his leadership battle. These people are going to try to retain their grip the party. As the hard left see Labour as THEIR party, and they're not going to give it up.

There's going to be a battle, not for the soul of the Labour party, that's always belonged to people who still describe themselves as "socialist", but for the brand. Will the next electable centre-left politician to be put before the British people be under the Red Rose of Labour, or will Labour's grown-ups split to form a Social Democratic party, perhaps a take-over of the Vacant Liberal Democrats? The question is who gets the Labour brand: the hard-left or the modernisers? Labour's problem is the Germ of socialism in the party's DNA leaves them vulnerable to exactly what has happened: a takeover by socialists who've kept the faith.

My guess is that this time, the Labour party will not be able to kick out the loonies. Parties are weaker, smaller and so more beholden to people with *ahem* excitable views. So there will probably be a split. The next non-Tory prime minister in about 2030 will likely not be from Labour.



Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Immigration: Some is good, More isn't Necessarily Better

The reason the UK is attracting migrants from all over the world is, thanks to our Empires, our Language is the word language. Migrants are more likely to speak English than French (which is why Algerians and Senegalese tend to stay in France). There are a huge number of people from all over the world already living here, so migrants can plug into existing communities.

Thanks to the invention of free-market, liberal democracy in the 19th and 20th centuries, and especially since the rejection of Socialism in 1979, the UK has a vibrant and diverse economy, that can absorb near-enough everyone who wants to come and play. The UK is richer than Poland, and despite Labour's best efforts, remains a better place to live than Eritrea. We have secure property rights, which means foreign oligarchs can stow their looted wealth in the form of London property, where the likes of Putin cannot confiscate it.

The UK is a prosperous country, with an open economy, secure property rights and a relatively liberal society. British people are tolerant of immigrants and the UK enjoys good community relations.

We do not have ID cards, and the police cannot stop you on a whim. Thus "illegal" immigrants find it easy to find work in the grey economy. Because we have a relatively generous welfare state, there are a lot of jobs - fruit picking, cleaning, domestic labour, care etc out of which the UK-born have priced themselves. The prize - indefinite leave to remain - is within reach of almost anyone who can get here, and work undetected for long enough.

That is why people cling to the axles of lorries to leave France, and it is mostly something of which we can be proud.


People, self organising in Calais, for the right to cling to the axle of a Britain-bound Lorry.

Immigration is good. It does not follow that more is better. That tolerant and open society requires that the majority in it are born, and steeped in it from birth. The main fear the native population has from immigration is communities - the Bradford Pakistanis for example who come to dominate an area, and then cease to integrate. Integration into mainstream British life is vital, if that open society is to be maintained. The Ugandan asians and the Afro-Caribbeans who came over in the 50s and 60s have integrated. Sikhs and Hindus do. Arabs and Eastern Europeans do. Nigerians do.

Despite our success in integration, we cannot take the millions waiting to cross the mediterranean, though in practice we do end up taking most of those camped at Calais. In making it hard to come (sales of wetsuits, and the discovery of corpses in Holland and Norway are indicative of the risks people are willing to take) we limit the number prepared to try.

We cannot allow too many people brutalised by war, ignorant of how to survive in a liberal society to come, lest they are tempted create their own ghettos like Bradford. Too many people, and the incentive to learn English properly, and the imperative to integrate that comes with it, is lost. And it is the Ghettos that people object to, not immigration. It's not race, it's the compatibility of culture and the rate of change of a society; a rate of change that many of the people neither asked for, nor want. When a majority of children in the local school are not British, people question the change: Is this for the best?

So. Net migration to the UK is running at 1-200,000 a year. We add two million people every decade or so. This is why the UK is climbing the charts of National GDP, not falling. We've even got Germany in our sights. UK to be the 4th Largest economy (US$ Nominal terms) on earth in the not too distant future. Immigration is at such a level that the UK has halted its relative decline. Whatever the economic benefits, there are limits to immigration consistent with a liberal, tolerant and free society, especially from countries without a tolerant, liberal and free culture.

Labour, in office openly sought to "rub the right's nose in diversity", hoping immigrants would vote labour in perpetuity. The risk comes when the electorate never bought into the plan. When it was suggested there were limits to migration, people were told they were "racist". The idiot poujadism of UKIP was the result: leading to the return of openly Nativist politics to the mainstream of British politics. The contempt Labour have shown for the electorate on this issue, is one of the main reasons they are facing oblivion now. The mixing up of Migrants with refugees and asylum seekers to suggest "we" have a moral duty to take people, is just continuing this ignoble tradition of contempt.

People want to stem migration of illiterate spouses from Pakistan, but these people are coming to join relatives already here. People want to limit Lithuanian bricklayers, or Polish plumbers but these people are covered by EU free movement of people (and in any case are vital to dealing with the shortage of housing...). We and the EU need to do much more to stem the flow, humanely, of very poor people from Africa, Afghanistan and Syria, and this includes aid and intervention to put their countries back together. So this leaves skilled migrants from outside the EU such as Nigerian doctors, Malawian nurses or Chinese people coming here to study, all of whom are particularly helpful to the UK economy, if there is to be any reduction in the number of Net Migrants.

It's all counter-productive. Cameron deserves blame for setting a silly target on a whim, and Labour deserves blame for encouraging the boil to fester for a decade and creating the problem of legitimacy immigration now faces. Any attempts to control immigration mean putting bureaucrats in control of whom a Bradford Pakistani can marry, or whether a Somali can work as a Taxi driver. It's going to throw up hard cases and inhumanity, as any bureaucratic system inevitably must. This sticks in my libertarian craw. There are going to be Canadians and Australians not granted leave to remain despite holding down decent jobs and living with British people. And all this because of silly targets, and the failure of some communities to integrate. We cannot stem the immigration people do have a problem with, so we're abusing immigrants who're going to accept our norms and be accepted.

We cannot take them all. The right-on left should stop the sanctimonious moral preening of pretending we can. We cannot stop them all coming. The idiot right should stop demonising people who're mostly just trying desperately for a better life for themselves and their families.

We are lucky to have been born here. Part of our duty is to protect the legacy of good governance and social harmony we're bequeathed. This legacy needs protecting from immigrants who won't ever share our values, if too many come at once as well as from idiotic populists on the right, dog-whistling to racists and from left-wing extremists who hate our society and way of life, and who wish to see it swamped to spite an falsely concious electorate which repeatedly failed to vote socialism. Net migration is running at 1-200,000 a year. We can cope with that, just. Especially if they come from a variety of places, both terrible and less terrible. But not much more than that, really.

There you have it: An unsatisfying fudge, like so much of the democratic politics that have created the society immigrants are prepared to risk so much to join. Much more fun to read a moral absolute - a Guardian editorial telling you how brave and noble the immigrants are, or the Daily Mail's dehumanising sub-fascist rhetoric. But the extreme position is almost always wrong, and the unsatisfying fudge of democracy works, despite appearances.



Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Calais Migrant Crisis

Thousands of people are camped at Calais, and are trying to board lorries as they cross the English channel on the Eurostar or Ferries. Most of these people are from Somalia, Eritrea, Syria and Afghanistan. The tone of the debate is ghastly. On the one hand you have UKIP and the Tabloids suggesting "sending in the Army", describing the people pouring into Europe over the mediterranean hoping to reach Northern Europe "cockroaches". This is just grotesque lack of concern for a dehumanised outgroup of desperate people. On the other, you have people saying "let them all in", which is just vapid moral posturing.


They aren't coming because our benefits system is a soft-touch. They'd probably find the French system easier. They're trying to cross the Channel because of the Language - they're more likely to have some English than French, and they believe (rightly) it will be easier to find work in the UK than in France.

We cannot let the millions (yes, millions) who'd come, were the UK to open its borders, settle at will. Why not? Because to let such a huge number in would be disruptive to the society the migrants want to join. Liberal, free-market democracy is a fragile thing, and if you let millions, with a limited grasp of English, brutalised by war, and completely unprepared to cope in a sophisticated market economy, you risk destroying the thing that brought them here in the first place. Government has a duty to the people who're born here, to manage the flow of people so that it minimises the disruption to society and culture. People feel "swamped" by the flow in certain parts of the country as it is, by people who are pretty similar. The country can absorb lots of people, and doing so will be good for the country, but it cannot be a free-for-all. The differentials in wealth between the UK and Somalia (for example) are just too great, and travel too easy for people to move at will. Lovely though the thought of a world without borders is, borders remain an unfortunate necessity.

Free movement for Poles and Czechs isn't a problem because they share most of our cultural assumptions, come from up-and-coming countries limiting the 'push', and are sufficiently educated to find work in the UK. Yet even the few hundred thousand Central and Eastern Europeans who've moved here are vastly controversial. The number of potential migrants from Syria, Eritrea, Somalia and North Africa is an order of magnitude greater. Poles are pretty well educated, and find work easily. This is not true of most Somalis and Eritreans. There isn't enough low-skilled work for our own British-born morons, without importing desperate africans to compete with them for what little there is. Poles haven't been brutalised by decades of war, and so don't tend to form violent Criminal gangs. Somalis do. And so forth. If you pretend to not see a difference between a Polish graduate, and a Somali goatherd because it troubles your left-wing, right-on moral bubble then you need to grow up. Immigration is a good thing. It doesn't follow that more is always better.

But then we cannot let people die of hunger and cold in "jungle camps" outside calais. Nor can we let them drown in the Mediterranean. So what are the destination countries to do? First admit the problem around Calais, whilst acute, is as nothing to that on Lesbos or Lampedusa. The Greek and Italian authorities are swamped by the tide of humanity moving north over the sea. This is a whole-Europe issue, and it requires a European solution. Unfortunately that means confining and processing migrants, and repatriating those who fail to gain the right to enter. It means shouldering our share of the burden. This needs to be robust, but humane and if there's to be anything like a solution, rather than booting the problem into the long grass, it will probably involve a vast migrant camp or camps, built and administered by the EU, on a mediterranean island, or somewhere on the North African coast.

This is an issue with no easy answers. But if your solution involves shooting migrants, or, on the other hand, letting them all in, you're not part of a serious attempt to solve the problem.



Wednesday, 29 July 2015

How to make Him/Her Fall in Love With You

US Glamour magazine has found itself under fire from the perma-outraged social justice warriors of Twitter and facebook for its guide to women who want to make a man fall in love with them. Outraged, single women have been sharing this list with the words "Wow! I can't even...". The scale of the outrage is directly proportional to how long they've been single.

Women, who think men want "strong, independent" women will probably stay single, because they're guilty of projecting. "I want a strong, independent man" the thinking goes, "so he must want a strong, independent woman". We mostly want a kind, stable, supportive woman. We like strength and independence, but they're not first on the list as they are on a woman's list for her ideal man. A thought developed more here.

Disappointingly, glamour has taken it down, which is a shame, because it's actually a pretty good list. Far from being a "parody of a 1950s housewife", If you do these 13 things it means you're thinking about what your man wants, not, as women are encouraged these days, to think about what you've been brainwashed into thinking men should want. No-one's suggesting this  list should form a daily routine, but that you should try to think about the list from time to time, and surprise your other half. And when you think about it, you could write a list aimed at men, and it really wouldn't look all that different.

The list is as follows:

1. Stocking the Fridge with his favourite drinks. Bonus points: Bring him back to his fraternity days by handing him a drink as he steps out the shower.
Honestly, This works for ladies too. Bringing a glass of prosecco as she steps out the shower isn't going to piss her off on a Sunday morning, is it?
2. Make him a snack after sex. Simple It doesn't have to be a gourmet meal: Grilled cheese or milk and cookies will do.
Women don't get hungry and sleepy after sex in my experience. I guess chaps, aftercare: cuddle her until your arm goes dead and long after you're bored. Don't check your twitter feed while doing so. No, nor watch telly. Think about whatever you want while you're stroking her back, but when she asks say, "how in love I am" or something, not "whether Hamilton's disastrous performance at the Hungaroring means he's over-rated" or whatever it is you're actually thinking about. That would piss her off.
3. E-mailing him the online gossip about his favourite TV show. You don't have to have a BFF at HBO, just share applicable links from your twitter feed and pat yourself on the back.
It's called taking an interest in the other person's interests, and works for chaps too.
4. Bragging about him to your friends and family, the stranger on the street corner, whomever. Proclamations of pride will make his chest puff out and his heart swell.
Exactly the same for women. I mean really, what's to be offended about here? If you're going to fall for someone, you'll be proud of them, and want to show them off to people important to you.
5. Answering the door in a neglige, or better yet, naked.
Yes. We chaps do like this. A LOT. Don't you ladies like to be swept off your feet as soon as you walk through the door, and carried off to the bedroom by your chap too?
6. Be open to what he wants to try, in and out of the bedroom. An open mind is attractive whatever your playground.
Yes. Same goes for chaps: if (s)he wants to try public sex, sky-diving or a cookery course, even if it's not your thing, try to enjoy it together. I don't think my girlfriend is that into cycling. But she's agreed to come on a 3-day battlefield tour of the Normandy beaches by bicycle with me.
7. Let him solve your petty work problems. Many men don't do gossip, but they do like to fix things.
This is the best piece of advice in the list. Nothing makes a man feel better about himself than solving a problem for you. The flip side is Chaps! Shut the fuck up and just listen to her occasionally. She doesn't actually want a solution; she want you to listen, agree and support.
8. Spitting out sports stats for his favourite team. Showing an interest in his favourite players will earn you points on and off the field.
Taking an interest in your other half's interests is sexist is it?
9. Making a big deal out of his favourite meal. Does he like hotdogs cut up into his boxed mac n' cheese? Serve it on a silver platter, and see him smile.

That sounds disgusting, but chaps! Bring her comfort food on a silver platter, with an ironic smirk. Really, doing thoughtful things for your other half will certainly not hurt the relationship, will it.
10. Treating his friends as well as you treat your own. If you win their affection, you'll win his heart.
This would probably appear unaltered in an equivalent list for men. Nothing sexist to see here. Move along.
11. Sitting side by side while he vegs out to TV. It may not feel like quality time to you, but it's the best time to him.
Yes, ladies. Shut up from time to time. We'll marry the one who doesn't need to fill every second with ceaseless prattle. The chaps list in this spot would probably say something like 'turn the TV off and talk from time to time. It'll make her feel special'.
12. Give him a massage. Happy ending optional. In fact a foot-rub works just fine.
Women don't like a massage? Honestly "give her a massage" is on every "how to make her fall in love with you" list from FHM/GQ/Loaded/Nuts. Nothing sexist to see here. Move along.
13. Take him back to third grade with a gentle tease over how you'll dominate him on the basketball court, to the weird way he just styled his hair.
Playfulness and teasing are important in relationships. You need to be friends as well as lovers and friends tease one another. It shows you're equals.

The response to this list just shows how far from reality perma-outraged, petty-minded internet feminism is. The fact is men and women are, on average, different, and like different things, and this seems to offend them. Men like movies about explosions, whereas women like movies about people crying over relationships. Women like drama, men like sport. Men like great slabs of meat, women like salads, for some reason. That's not to say men cannot like a watching a TV drama about relationships, while eating a salad; but women should remember that's not what most men would choose, were they still a bachelor. And Vice Versa.

Stepping outside your preferences, and into those of your other half, is what makes a relationship work, for men and women. That perma-outraged internet feminists think men's preferences should be the same as women's, which shows hubris, arrogance and a staggering lack of self-awareness. But as this will lead them into a life of celibate cat-wrangling, it's their loss not ours. Every feminist going on about how "strong" and "independent" she is, is one fewer to compete with for ladies who're prepared to empathise with the other Gender.

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.



Thursday, 23 July 2015

Supporting Labour as Virtue Signalling.

Imagine you're not very politically engaged. You're reading this blog, which probably means you can name the whole cabinet. Most people could probably recognise the PM, Chancellor and Home Secretary, but only name two of the three confidently. This isn't stupidity, it's rational ignorance. The reading necessary to keep up with the day-to-day doings of politicians chases out other, potentially more worthwhile activities. Sport for example. Or spending time with the kids. Being knowledgeable about politics simply isn't much use. We political animals find it very difficult to put ourselves in the minds of people who don't immerse themselves in issues.

Right?

OK.

So imagine now the issue in question is "benefits", specifically cuts to them. Do you wish to signal that you are a nice person? Then you loudly opine that "how could you increase poverty?" You're against the benefit cuts because you care about people less well off than yourself. Therefore anyone who does support benefit cuts is a bad person. Stands to reason.

"But", you might say, "there are incentive effects: look at the increase in low-waged unemployment. That is, in the long-run a much better route out of poverty than generous benefits which merely trap people into state dependency. Much better to give people the habit of work and the hope of long-term advancement it brings".

Your non-engaged audience lost you at "incentive effects", and their take home is you want to take money out of the pockets of poor people because "blah blah blah". It is much easier and safer in an online world to say the easy, left wing thing. We live in an online world where your every utterance can be dug back up, taken out of context, extrapolated to the point of ridiculousness, more or less forever. Saying "benefit cuts are evil" isn't going to lose you supporters. Saying "The Tories have a point, actually, perhaps tax-credits should be cut" will. Liberal economics is harder to express in a tweet than socialist economics. Liberty's benefits are distributed and harder to point to. Socialism offers solutions that are easy, simple to understand, and wrong.

However out in the real world, people see benefits recipients, and resent paying for them. And down the pub, where conversations, rather than tweets happen, you don't need to signal virtue by trite political opinion. You can do it by standing a round. People aren't morons. They know how people work and with a bit of thought, the Tories make sense. Down the pub, cuts to benefits are popular.

Labour's mistake is to take the lazy virtue-signalling on social media as what people actually think.



Thursday, 16 July 2015

On Foxhunting

Taking the great whales out of the southern ocean led to less Krill, their principle food. Whale shit is rich in iron; iron is the limiting nutrient in many ocean ecosystems. So whale shit was a major source of iron for Phytoplankton, which is eaten by Zooplankton, which is eaten by Krill and Fish. And Whales eat Krill and Fish. Fewer whales, less shit, less plankton and you've reduced the carrying capacity of the whole southern ocean.

The southern ocean is the world's shortest food-chain but the same is true (though with many more complex feedback loops) in richer ecosystems. When wolves were removed to from the Yellowstone ecosystem, the elk overgrazed the riverside foliage, which led fewer willow trees, which meant the beavers disappeared too, leading rapidly to a much less diverse ecosystem than the Beaver-dam Willow wetland that was there before. The effect, like that of removing great whales from the southern ocean, was the carrying capacity of the whole ecosystem was reduced.

No-one seriously thought the fox population would increase because of a fox-hunting ban; killing foxes isn't the primary purpose of fox hunting, and the hunt takes too few in any given year to be a significant cause of mortality. And so it turned out. Indeed there's some evidence the fox population actually fell following the ban. But hunting was still part of the management of the ecosystem, but in more subtle ways. It's also, by the by, the centrepiece of a rural way of life.


The English countryside is a wholly man-made environment. Even places like Dartmoor look nothing like they did before people got here. In the English countryside, Humans are the top predator. In the Autumn, "pre-season" or "cub" hunting the summer's litters of fox cubs, by then fully grown, were sought out, and scattered. Many, the weakest individuals, were killed. This reduced local concentration of foxes in individual coverts, meaning they don't over-predate their territory. It's the starving fox that usually goes after livestock.

Add to the lower likelihood of healthy foxes going after livestock, there's the rural taboo about shooting the landlord's quarry. Fox hunting made the fox valuable to farmers, while ensuring a higher fox population was less likely to take lambs. (You'll always need to protect your chickens). This meant that thanks to Fox-hunting, a much higher fox population can be found in England than in comparable ecosystems.

Foxes keep rodents down. Rodents eat birds' eggs. Higher fox population (thanks to hunting) means more song birds in the hedgerows, and a healthier ecosystem right down the food chain.

Fox hunting isn't cruel. While Lord Burns concluded a single shot from a rifle was the optimum kill, foxhounds never wound. Even the best marksman sometimes leaves a maimed fox. Furthermore shooting foxes doesn't discriminate between old, weak and ill animals; and healthy ones. Fox hunting does, mimicking the effect of lost, larger predators such as wolves and lynx which would once have carried out this role. Healthy foxes usually escape, weaker animals are killed.

Fox-hunting generates hysteria mainly because it's seen as a posh person's passtime. People feel uncomfortable at the idea of "taking pleasure in killing animals for sport", and the people who do it are in 18th Century fancy dress. It's easy to lose sympathy with people you don't understand. The fact is you'll hear more regional accents out hunting than you will almost anywhere else. There are toffs too, speaking with Marked Received Pronounciation, but they are not the majority. Most of those riding to hounds are the rural people who are closest connected to the land, retaining forms of speech long swept away elsewhere by the march of estuary English. But amongst them you'll find people from all walks of life. A passion for equestrianism is their uniting characteristic.

The "Sport" to most people riding to hounds is going hell-for-leather cross-country on horseback. It is extremely dangerous, exhilarating and primal. Watching the hounds work is also part of the enjoyment, something I found fascinating when I carried a whip for a pack of Basset hounds. I've followed hounds in pursuit of various quarry on horse, foot and by bicycle. Few if any people I've met out hunting enjoy the kill.

When people talk of "toffs" hunting, it's just evidence of ignorance and prejudice. Such a person could never have actually gone to a meet and still believe that. When people speak of "cruelty" I think of the barbarism of factory reared pork or chicken, not something remarkably similar to what would happen to foxes, were England returned to its primal state. If you think fox-hunting should continue to be banned, you might as well admit it - it's class war, not foxy-woxy that motivates you. Distaste for fox-hunting is rarely motivated by fox welfare, but by what people think the motivation of the those doing it might be. This is nothing more  than brute, outgroup prejudice, given added justification by a mawkish sentimentality towards Vulpes vulpes. Issues of animal welfare are just window dressing for mere bigotry.

The SNP were going to veto a change to England and Wales law until it was pulled by the Government. This wasn't vicious Tories alone, it was supported by Plaid Cymru (not known as a party of the upper classes) as well as a handful of Labour MPs (including the only one I've ever voted for, Vauxhall's Kate Hoey). Despite the fact the change to the law was to bring England and Wales in line with Scotland, and didn't affect Scotland at all, the SNP opposed it. The SNP will be pleased to have linked 'English Votes for English Laws' to the divisive issue of Fox-hunting, and to have discomfited the Tories. But I think in the longer run, the breathtaking hypocrisy they have shown will yield a greater loss to their credibility. Their previous abstention on England's (and Wales's) legislation was an honourable self-denying ordinance which reduced the pressure for EVEL. Now the Tories will hammer it through, and will have the support of more of the house, because of the SNP's opportunism. The Ban of Fox-Hunting, never about the welfare of the fox, is the ultimate political football. No-one. Not farmers, not huntsmen, nor the fox benefits from this.



Monday, 13 July 2015

How Syriza crashed Greece.

Consider a single-currency area, like the UK. There are bits of it that are doing well. London and the South-East for example, that subsidises the rest from its excess taxation over expenditure. Only London and the South Eastern regions are net contributors to the UK treasury, but it is barely questioned there that it is reasonable for taxes levied in Reading be used to build roads in the Rhonda or Rothesay. Thus the Welsh for example are compensated for having an interest rate not quite suitable for their economy, as interest rates are set for the economic centre of Gravity, which in the UK probably lies somewhere around Oxford.


Now consider the Eurozone. There are no fiscal transfers, because Germans, who didn't mind subsidising other Germans upon unification, baulk at subsidising Greeks whom they regard as feckless layabouts (erroneously - further discussion here). But the centre of Gravity of the Eurozone probably lies somewhere around Frankfurt. Thus the Germans, and their associated northern European countries have an appropriate interest rate, and the Spaniards and Italians do not. The Spanish Government, denied monetary levers in the run-up to the crisis, sought to cool an over-heating economy by running a fiscal surplus. You cannot accuse the Spanish Government of being "profligate". The same is true of Ireland. Portugal's situation wasn't quite as clear-cut, but their debts were not out of control. 

Obviously, the asset price bubbles built up in Spain and Ireland, and the subsequent bust took out their banks, which required bail outs. Denied the stimulus of looser monetary policy, by an excessively hawkish European Central Bank, who's setting rates effectively for Germany, the only other option to these economies is a devaluation in place - cutting wages and living standards until they're competitive with Germans.

The falling tax revenues mean deficits. Lack of EU fiscal transfers mean Austerity, and meanwhile the ECB is still not responding with interest rates. For the periphery, even Governments like those of Spain or Ireland who sought so, so hard to be prudent in the good times, the Euro is massively pro-cyclical. There will be booms, there will be massive busts and there's little, if anything any Government in Madrid or Dublin can do about it. This was predicted by economists from the notorious pinko Paul Krugman to arch-"neoliberal" Milton Friedman.

Added to this, the Greeks were not prudent. They near-openly lied about their debts and deficit to get into the Euro, hoping lashing themselves to the mast would encourage some degree of fiscal sanity. But the problems were too entrenched, and sorting them out meant unpicking the settlement of a civil war. The result is that while the Spanish and Irish have endured a savage recession, the Greeks "devaluation in place" was a depression costing 25% of GDP. A grinding, seemingly endless round of austerity and reform that left 50% youth unemployment and an economy in tatters.

The ironic thing about the election of Syriza in January 2015 is that Greece had done the hard work and by mid 2014 was the fastest growing economy in the Eurozone, and had a primary surplus (meaning they were balancing the books before debt service was considered). Given the bailout terms, Greece's debt service took a smaller proportion of GDP than did Ireland, Spain, Italy or Portugal. By 2014, Debt to GDP in Greece was actually falling. All they needed to do was keep up the reform, and "Austerity" - continual tax rises and spending cuts would no-longer be necessary. The Germans would get their money back, eventually. Greek growth would take over the heavy lifting from austerity after years of tax rises and spending cuts. Economies emerging from such depressions can often grow fast.

Then, in January 2015, they elected a bunch of hard-left Yahoos, who encouraged a bank-run, shattered what was left of business confidence, and were forced to introduce capital controls because of a childish and unreasonable petulance wrought by economic fantasy which could only have come from a Marxist academic "economist".  Privatise state assets? The horror! Make civil servants turn up to work, and don't let them retire on 80% of salary at 58? The inhumanity! The Greek people may have been sick of Austerity. But if they'd just seen it through, they'd be heading up now, rather than enduing a 3 week bank-"holiday" and queueing up at ATMs for their daily ration of cash. Syriza have probably cost Greeks another, entirely unnecessary, 10% of GDP, and the resultant continuation of Austerity that comes with it. This makes Yanis Varoufakis (the "minister of Awesome" according to twats on Twitter) the most unsuccessful finance minister in history.

All the pointless yes/no referendum on the terms of the bail-out did was make a Euro exit, something Greeks apparently don't want, much more likely. As it happens, Alexis Tsipras, after sacking Varoufakis, looks like a man who's about to capitulate completely. It would've been better had he done so much, much earlier, and not caused such a catastrophe for the ordinary Greek citizens.

*slow hand clap*

There is a theory that all this was deliberate; a means to build socialism in the ruins of post-Euro Greece. But this assumes skills and ability "anti-establishment" parties almost never possess. Never ascribe to malice that which can be put down to incompetence.

This crisis is ultimately the fault of Generations of Greek governments, especially the ones who conspired to get Greece into the Euro by all means fair and foul. It's the fault of the designers of the Euro who ignored all economic advice and wanted Greece in for silly, romantic reasons: Hellas is mythologised as the birthplace of a European idea of democracy. But the current acute crisis was not inevitable. And the blame for that is the hard-left morons of Syriza and the Greek people who voted for them.

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." HL Mencken

If you elect the hard-left, you get a financial crisis. Every. Single. Time. Basically because capital is faster-moving than the people who want to confiscate it. Greece was warned. They did it anyway. The only thing people like Syriza and their supporters are any good at is shifting blame onto anyone but themselves. 



Friday, 10 July 2015

Budget 2015 - it's as if Gordon Brown never left.

So, the laws of supply and demand have been suspended for a Tory chancellor? Because his "living wage" of £9 an hour by 2020 will (by his own admission) cost jobs. 60,000 of them, according to the OBR. Just as the minimum wage cost jobs for young people. (yes, it did - youth unemployment started its inexorable rise in 2000) so will Osborne's living wage. But the people it hurts most will be the loudest to cheer it. Osborne isn't even pretending this is anything more than a shameless political reach into Labour territory. It won't make people much better off, because tax credit cuts (long overdue) mean the extra money is clawed back by the Government, and it means more tax revenue. Gordon Brown used this trick a couple of times.

Inheritance tax changes further privilege property. This is a policy I once endorsed. But it's the privilege of property in the tax system which is, along with its shortage, responsible for Britons seeing their home as an investment, not consumption. I've no problem with raising the inheritance tax threshold, but make all capital equal.

Hypothecated taxation is the politics of the moron down the pub. We need roads. It doesn't follow that Vehicle Excise Duty (a bad tax anyway -much better to get rid of it and raise more from fuel) should be spent on roads, so to put its proceeds into a "road fund" is idiocy. US roads are funded from petrol taxes, and petrol taxes are unpopular in the extreme. So politicians won't raise them, so US roads don't have enough money, and so bridges crumble. And that's before the "you cyclists don't pay road tax" nonsense. Words cannot describe how bad this policy is.

There were a number of measures I approve of - the changes to dividend taxation seem sensible and make ISAs valuable to basic rate tax-payers once more and the moves to build more homes. But this was a political budget. Osborne has got the big questions right over the past 5 years, and this budget was his reward: Its purpose wasn't the good of the country, but to plunge a knife into the twitching corpse of Labour, by stealing their identity and parking Tory tanks on Labour's working class lawn.

The difference between him and Gordon Brown? Osborne is a politician of Tony Blair's class. It's a privilege to watch such a master of the liars' craft at work.



Saturday, 6 June 2015

On the UK, Russia and the EU

The Centrepiece of this parliament will be the in/out referendum on British Membership of the European Union. It will probably define the UK's very survival as a nation, and define the UK's place in the world over the next few years. I am sceptical about the EU project, I regard the parliament as a risible cargo-cult democracy. It lacks a 'demos' so any attempt to give someone like JC Juncker 'legitimacy' are a fig-leaf. It's bureaucratic, pumping out regulation and diktat, pouring glue into the economies of Europe. It's a costly vanity project for politicians who've either come from very small countries and need supra-national bodies to contain their egos, or for Politicians who've been rejected by their domestic electorates. But none of this really matters.

Because the EU has been a stunning success. Several countries, Spain, Portugal, and the former communist East were dictatorships in my living memory. And while it's the Atlantic alliance which beat communism, it's the EU which ensured Poland is a country where a return to autocracy is as unthinkable as it is in Spain by entrenching free-market liberal democracy and building institutions. Money, too was poured into the post Fascist south and again into the post Communist east. Nothing says "we're friends now" like building roads and hospitals. The world east of the Iron Curtain, and south of the Pyrenees, is immeasurably better, freer and safer thanks to the EU.


YES, because the EU is bigger than a Cost Benefit Analysis for the UK

Of course the stupid, hubristic, economically illiterate, clumsy vanity project, the single European Currency has undone much of the good work in Spain and Portugal. But this isn't a post about the Euro, which the UK will never join, but about the EU.

The UK is not a small country, unable to survive outside a big trading block. So any argument from Europhiles which suggests the UK will be a great deal poorer outside simply won't wash. The EU would be forced to treat with the UK, a nuclear-armed UNSC permanent member with the 5th largest economy on earth, (and rising we will probably overtake Germany some time this century) with slightly more respect than they show Norway (which is, as an aside, the country with the world's highest living standards) or Switzerland (not known as an economic basket-case). What this means is 'Brexit' is unlikely to be as disruptive as many imagine.

The flip-side of this, is there simply aren't many benefits from leaving. Much EU regulation comes from world bodies, and the EU, as the World's largest market has enormous influence in the WTO and the like, and the UK working with likes of Germany and Poland in favour of Free Trade against the French, mean the EU is more likely to deliver the world trade Environment made in the UK's image.

The EU is a bulwark, alongside NATO against autocracy. Putin is creating an odious personality cult. He's spent his oil revenues building a highly effective military with which he threatens his neighbours. He's tearing up the rule-book, annexing territories under a doctrine not dissimilar to Hitler's  'Heim ins Reich' by which he justifies aggression with the rights of Ethnic Russians in neighbouring countries. And it should be remembered that 'neighbouring countries' include EU and NATO article 5 members.

At present, the Baltic states are indefensible against the forces Russia can bring to bear right now. NATO is enervated, divided and indecisive. And Putin's philosophy sees NATO and the EU as organisations that threaten his regime. And he's right, but not in the way he thinks. When Yanukovych suspended laws necessary to implement the EU-Ukraine association agreement, thereby giving in to Russian threats of trade sanctions, and outright bribery, the people of Ukraine stormed Maidan square in Kiev. The people of the Putinist world want a better world, even as oligarchs and governments try to crack down on dissent. And it is the duty of the Free world to stand up for the vast majority of people who rather like democracy and freedom. They vote with their feet in vast numbers, as soon as they get the money and leave the hell holes their countries have become for bolt-holes in London, Spain and Cyprus.

At about the time of the Maidan protests, Russia started planning the annexation of Crimea. Putin's military is dependent upon Ukrainian uranium, and several strategic resources - the gears for his armoured forces, and avionics for his aircraft for example are made in Ukraine. So the EU association agreement heralded a Ukraine looking west. And made Russia even more vulnerable to EU sanctions than they are now.

Worse, from Putin's point of view is the threat posed to Russia's oligarchic kleptocracy by a stable, uncorrupt, westernising Ukraine on Russia's border. Eastern Poland and western Ukraine were mostly part of the same country almost in living memory. Those regions which formed the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Poland are the rich, western-looking bits of Ukraine (they are the poor bits of Poland - the rich bits used to be Prussia - History runs deep). And they had the same living standards as their cousins in Poland in 1990. Now the poles are three times richer, and Ukrainians are looking at Poland and saying "I want some of that". The fact is, unless there is a stunning military success, Putin has already lost. Kiev will probably be an EU city within a decade; The people of Ukraine, West of Donetsk and Mariopol at least, certainly want that. Putin cannot sustain the unrest in Ukraine indefinitely as it costs vast money which in a years' time, he simply won't have.

None of this makes Putin's gamble in Ukraine valid or reasonable, and those who argue that it does are despicable quislings.

History doesn't repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes. Russia is in the same place as Germany was in the 1930s. A once-great power, humiliated by defeat, who elected a demagogue promising to restore Russia's Glory, who rebuilt a mighty military, and who sees the world in zero-sum, ethnic terms. That demagogue enjoys total control of the media, and near total public support. Like Germany (and Japan) in the 1930s Russia faces enemies awakening to the threat, and who are slowly reacting and re-arming. (Yes we are: an Army can be built in a year or two, Notice how the Navy is getting the Lion's share of defence spending right now - Carriers, world class destroyers and frigates, and in the Astute class, the finest Nuclear subs asink?). And Like the axis powers, there is a calculation that can be made that they possess the power to sweep all aside RIGHT NOW, but know they will inevitably lose any protracted war. Russia will run out of Foreign exchange reserves this year, absent a rise in the oil price above $80. The demography means they cannot fill their establishment of conscripts, and the health of recruits is not good. Russians have long been breeding below replacement rate, and this is reflected in future cohorts being smaller than Putin deems necessary. Russia's economy is broken. They export oil, money and people. The population is falling. Male life-expectancy at 55 is worse than much of Sub-Saharan Africa, worse even than eastern Glasgow. Putin has created a hellish society, capable only of suffering for mother Russia, despite the talents and education of her people. If Russia is to defeat NATO, he must go NOW or be slowly squeezed by sanctions and demography, and see the EU and western democracy advance to his Border with Ukraine. There will be no "buffer" protecting Muscovy from Europe.

For there is only one possible result of a protracted war between NATO and Russia, and that is Russia's total and complete defeat. But what Putin (and his quisling cheerleaders in the west) might calculate is that the Article 5 defence of Estonia for example is a paper promise. If Putin can annex a chunk of Lithuania or Estonia, and it doesn't trigger a massive response from NATO, then NATO' s broken. And Putin is busy making the mistake of Dictators through history: mistaking the slowness of decision-making in democracy for weakness. But Britain Germany and France together spend more than Russia does on Weapons. The USA is still mighty beyond compare. And the People of the EU will simply not accept Russian aggression. Would I as a (still, just, semi-detached) soldier die in a ditch for Estonia. Yes. I would. Indeed this is the one issue keeping me in the reserve forces. When Yamato launched the assault on Pearl Harbour, he said "all I fear I have done is roused a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible desire for vengeance". The Sleeping giants are in this instance, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Germany, France, Poland, Finland, Norway, Italy, Spain. The world's 2nd Largest economy, the World's largest economic bloc. Anyone think the Australians wouldn't help? And China would not tolerate an aggressively expansionist Russia, with whom they have territorial disputes. A total Russian defeat would suit China quite nicely. I would make the same warning to Putin. You think you're surrounded by enemies? You ain't seen nothin' yet.

Ukraine is not an Article 5 NATO country. Ethnic Russians in the Donbass, long dependent on Russian Putin-toadying media, will believe the lies about Nazis in Kiev. And Putin's aim is to ensure there is sufficient unrest in the East that it exists below the NATO threshold of action, but above which the EU will be comfortable taking Kiev on Board. I don't think Putin desires war with NATO, but we're in a situation where miscalculations like MH-17 when (probably) separatist rebels used Russian-supplied kit to shoot down a Malaysian Airliner. Would NATO have been so phlegmatic had a British Airways airliner been shot down?

Given the geopolitical risk, now is not the time to break up the institution which offers millions of Ukrainians hope there's a better way than Putinist Kleptocratic oligarchy to which they're condemned, and the instability it threatens for the world. Ultimately, a victory of the West, Kiev, Minsk, and Moscow one day becoming EU cities, will be a victory for the Russian, Belorussian and Ukrainian people over the oligarchs and governments which blight their lives and keep them poor.

The same is true of the UK. A broken UK will effectively remove one power with potential to make a meaningful contribution to stopping Putin and Putinism, leaving a greatly diminished rump UK. And 'Brexit' will trigger another Scottish referendum, and probably destroy the country I most care about. Mine.

The world stands on the cusp of war, in reality closer to global thermonuclear war than at any time since the 1960s. Now is not the time to start breaking up our alliances. Rather than break up the EU, I want to see it expand further. Free movement from Vladivostok to Lisbon, from Helsinki to Gibraltar, maybe, hopefully including Istanbul one day. That is a libertarian view. Imagine all those Russian engineers, capable of putting men into space using slide-rules and duct-tape working for the general good in a liberal free-market democracy. The EU has its faults, and those faults are mostly French. But it is overwhelmingly a force for good, with a better track record of entrenching democracy than any institution on earth (with the possible exception of the British Empire). Even if the narrow cost-benefit analysis of EU membership is marginal for the UK, Think big. British European Policy has been consistent on 'Europe' for 500 years: if the Hegemonic power in the Continent cannot be England, then we will ensure no-one is. Let's reform, and thereby strengthen the EU, thereby defend the UK, and vote to stay in the European Union, not wholly for our sake, but for theirs.

I will be grumpily voting Yes.



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