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.



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