Archive for April 2012

Potential sights of MG in May

For those who are interested in either say ‘Hi’ – or simply knowing where is best avoided at certain times – I shall be at the following events in May:

The End of Online Free Speech?

The Manifesto Club’s Josie Appleton will be discussing the threats to free speech online at this month’s meeting of The Next Generation. With one person recently jailed for making racist comments on Twitter and increasing government crackdowns on offensive speech online, this topic is more important to discuss than ever.

Date: 8th May
Time: 1800 – 2000
Location: Adam Smith Institute, 23 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BL
Further details

Drugs: The War We Never Fought

The Institute of Economic Affairs invites you to attend an exclusive head-to-head debate on Drugs: The War We Never Fought.

Date: 16th May
Time: 1830 – 2000
Location: IEA, 2 Lord North Street, London, SW1 3LB
Further details

I shall no doubt be drinking for several hours after the official part of the evening has concluded…

However I won’t, no doubt to Simon’s dismay, be attending the Libertarian Home drinks on the 3rd. This is not because I’m at the ASI’s Free Market Fairness event but because the early May bank holiday weekend is when the annual Sci-Fi London event is held and consequentially I shall be indulging my inner geek for a few days, as well as sticking my head around the door at the ‘first Thursday’ drinks of the London sci-fi crowd on the 3rd for the first time since December.

No doubt I shall see some of you at some – or all – of the aforementioned.

Compare and Contrast

Leda and the Swan is a story from Greek Mythology in which Zeus takes the form a swan and seduces (or possibly rapes) Leda.

Compare…

During the Renaissance their union was depicted in potentially erotic overtones by many artists including in paint by Leonardo, Michelangelo (a copy of which is shown below), Correggio and in marble by Bartolomeo Ammannati.

Leda and the Swan, a 16th century copy after a lost painting by Michelangelo, 1530

A number of the paintings, including those by the aforementioned artists, ended up in the collection of the French Royal Family. The ones by Leonardo and Michelangelo are now lost, believed destroyed by moralistic family members, whilst Correggio’s had to be repaired after Louis d’Orléans took a knife to it.

Contrast…

A modern day take on the subject by the photographer Derrick Santini (shown below), which had been exhibited in The Scream gallery in Mayfair:

But a Metropolitan police officer who saw the Derrick Santini image from a bus was alarmed.

He alerted his colleagues and two uniformed officers went to the gallery, which is owned by the Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood’s sons, Tyrone and Jamie.

Jag Mehta, the sales director at the gallery, said she spoke to the officers and asked what the problem was.

“They said the photograph suggested we condoned bestiality, which was an arrestable offence,” she said.

“It’s crazy. Perhaps the cultural references were lost on them.”

As the exhibition was already over, they took down the artwork, which shows the animal ravaging the naked woman.

“They stood there and didn’t leave until we took the piece down.”

Ah, the stupidity of the extreme pornography law passed by the our previous, unlamented government.

Leda and the Swan by Derrick Santini

Prudishness is not dead, it has just changed slightly.

There is another kind?

The Army is set to mount high velocity surface-to-air missiles...

The sceenshot to the left is from the front page of The Times. They are picking up on journalist Brian Whelan’s discovery that he is going to have surface-to-air (SAM) missiles stationed on the roof of his apartment complex during the Olympics.

Ignoring the whole business about what use said missiles will be, it is Sadie Gray’s (for it is her name on the byline) opening sentence which has aroused my ire.

All missiles are high velocity, FFS. There wouldn’t a lot of point to them otherwise!

The Talented Mr Shorten

There’s following the party line – and then there’s following the party line.

A half-formed Gift Aid thought

Browsing through the letters page of yesterday’s Telegraph (generally the third – and last – useful thing in the paper after Matt and Alex) whilst at my parents for dinner, I came across this:

SIR – If the Government is considering backtracking on its proposed cap to tax relief for higher-rate taxpayers who donate to charity, it will lose what little credibility remains.

Gift Aid is morally dubious. By what right am I forced to donate my taxes to a charity which I might disagree with?

George Osborne, the Chancellor, should show courage in facing down the pressure groups that represent these charities.

Joseph Adam-Smith
Patna, Ayrshire

Little comment is required about the first paragraph except to note that I’m fairly certain that the credibility of this government has already long since disappeared.

It was the second paragraph though which caught my attention. Whilst Mr Adam-Smith is quite right to point out that, with Gift Aid, some money is more then likely to go to causes which he might not agree with, he doesn’t appear to have followed this thought through to its logic conclusion.

Anyone familiar with the fake charities concept will already know that millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money has been shovelled into the hands of groups such as ASH, Alcohol Concern, CASH (amongst others) which do nothing but lobby the government on ‘our’ behalf.

All of which though is peanuts compared to the amount of money which the government steals from us each year in order to fund its own bloated existence. If Mr Adam-Smith can’t find something in that to complain about I would be very surprised.

Thus he would, I feel, be far better off worrying about the approximately £750bn elephant standing on his chest rather than the £1bn spider riding on the elephant’s shoulder.

Smaller Government?

There is a rumour going around, apparently first articulated in the media by Harriet Harperson in a column for the Standard, that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) might be shut after the end of the Olympics.

It probably isn’t true but on the off chance that it is, I for one would welcome it as but a small step on the road to smaller government.

Being a minimalist libertarian, I obviously don’t think that this goes far enough.

My ideal, for starters, would be the closure of every national governmental department with the exception of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The rest can all be devolved down to nothing higher than county or city level. Once their powers have been pushed down that far then the local populations can decide what they want to keep, what to scrap and what can be done independently of government (much of it I believe). This should encourage trade and healthy competition between the regions to the benefit of all.

Why though spare the FCO and the MoD? Because so long as the concept of the Nation State still exists, they have a role which I’m not sure can be dealt with at a lower level*. I’d like to see the end of the Nation State – and thus the elimination of the need to have the FCO and the MoD – but until such time as this happens I’ll put up with them. The income for this rump of national government can be paid by the counties/cities on a fixed amount per head basis with the Prime Minister/Foreign Secretary directly elected with mandate to do no more than protect our interests internationally**. If s/he wished to change this, it must be put to a vote – as must their annual budget before any money is handed over.

The only other possible exception – i.e. I’m undecided about it – is some form of trans-county/city crime agency but its powers would have to be limited least we end up with an FBI/Homeland type agency.

Updated: to add the acronyms at first use and another footnote.

* No doubt there will be an anarcho-capitalist (Obo?) along to tell me I’m wrong about this. :)

** And not launching wars of aggression, obviously.

Welcome to Nanny Town

Don’t let the theft of intellectual property by our sorry excuse for a government go unresisted.

Register – or else!

According to the papers over the weekend, some parts of our increasingly pathetic government are considering the idea making registering to vote compulsory with punishment for those drones individuals who fail to comply.

The MP with his grubby fingers on this illiberal idea is one Mark Harper, Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Cabinet Office, reporting to Nick Clegg, and having responsibility for Political and Constitutional Reform.

In September 2010 he informed the House of Commons that he was planning on scrapping the current system of registering to vote by household in favour of individual registration:

At present, there is no requirement for people to provide any evidence of their identity to register to vote, which leaves the system vulnerable to fraud. Household registration harks back to a time when registration was the responsibility of the head of the household. Access to a right as fundamental as voting should not be dependent on someone else. We need a better system of keeping up with people who move house or who need to update their registration for other reasons. Individual registration provides an opportunity to move forward to a system centred around the individual citizen.

That the current system has, in recent years, been widely abused by some is – if not backed up by convictions – backed via anecdotal evidence and there is logic to the idea of requiring people to do so on an individual basis instead.

Harper gave the following time table:

Individual registration will be made compulsory in 2014, but that no one will be removed from the electoral register who fails to register individually until after the 2015 general election, giving people at least 12 months to comply with the new requirements, and ensuring as complete a register as possible for the election. From 2014 onwards any new registrations will need to be carried out under the new system, including last-minute registrations. We will also make individual registration a requirement for anyone wishing to cast a postal or proxy vote.

Again, I can’t disagree with the desire to do prevent the fraudulent use of postal voting – a practice which is acknowledged to have increased sharply since the previous government relaxed the rules in 2001.

However the changes were subject to criticism by opposition MPs that thousands (or possibly millions) of people would be left off of the register and this is probably true. It seems to me that those who are likely to vote will ensure they are on the register and those who have no intention of bothering (either though general apathy or not seeing the point given how indistinguishable the main parties are these days) won’t.

In what might appear to be an attempt to respond to these critics, Harper has apparently sent a letter to the cabinet, part of which read:

I propose that we should introduce a civil penalty for individuals who fail to make an application to register when required to do so.

And this is where Harper and I part company. Yes, in the democracy (such as is left) in which we live, everyone* has the right to vote. The flip side of this is, of course, that we have the right not to bother. That can take the form of abstaining, spoiling the ballot paper or simply not even registering in the first place. Yes, the politicians will ignore you but as they tend to ignore everyone anyway once they have secured another term of office, I struggle to see the difference.

What Harper proposes is nothing more than a tax on those who choose the latter path; a stick to use against reluctant members of the population who have chosen to opt out of the system. It is an ill-conceived, illiberal idea and it therefore comes as no surprise to learn that the leader of the so-called ‘Liberal’ Democrats is believed to approve of this plan:

The Liberal Democrat leader is understood to have been convinced that some form of sanction will be necessary to force potential voters to register.

Hopefully this idea will be buried (along with all of the rest of the bad ideas that have come out recently) else I fear the next step could be compulsory voting – another awful idea which would be only slightly palatable if a ‘None of the Above’ option were to be included on the ballot paper with the proviso that if this option picked up the most votes, the election would be re-run with a completely new set of candidates!

* Yes, I know there are exceptions to this but the general principle is correct.

A drink free university?

University. A place to study and – in many, many cases – a place where you find yourself drinking until your liver begs for mercy. Of course, you don’t have to but many do and probably every campus in the country has a subsidised bar or three which will sells gallons of cheap, nasty lager as well as plenty of other alcoholic products on a nightly basis. And if you fancy something which isn’t watered down then there are no doubt plenty of licensed establishments close by.

At the university I attended there were, as I remember, a total of two places on campus which sold booze (both within the union building) and no shortage of places which didn’t – including much of the union. Assuming that this is not an uncommon arrangement, I am somewhat befuddled therefore as to why the vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University*, one Prof. Malcolm Gillies, is

…considering banning the sale of alcohol from some parts of the campus because a “high percentage” of students consider drinking “immoral”

Unless London Met is different from what I experienced, the vast majority of the campus – including the refectories – will not be used for the selling of alcohol. Indeed I’m almost certain that it is possible to do everything a student might wish to do, with the possible exception of consuming alcohol, without setting foot in that small percentage of floorspace where the sale of alcohol is permitted.

So, who are these students that the good professor claims to be speaking for? The clue it seems is in the make-up of the student body: one fifth are Muslim and most of that 20% are women.

Oh, and as he admits himself he is

…not a great fan of alcohol on campus.

Therefore I see two possibilities here

  1. the professor is using the Muslims as an excuse to enact up his prohibitionist tendencies, or
  2. the Muslims have found a willing ally in promoting their wishes.

and in the crazy world of prohibition and cultural appeasement in which we live, either option is possible and Alaa Alsamarrai, the vice-president of student affairs for the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), was quick to jump on the passing bandwagon:

“We want our universities and unions to be inclusive – where students from all walks of life can come together and share experiences.

“Alcohol is a barrier to many Muslim students participating in freshers events and often in society activities – so we’re in support of moves to have some alcohol-free zones and events.

“Though if a student wants to drink in their lifestyle, we of course don’t want to ban that.”

How nice of him to include that last line…

Yes, students drink but unless you are joining those groups which specifically include the consumption of alcohol (wine, beer etc societies) then I don’t think anyone will care if you aren’t a drinker – even the Athletic Union will more than likely tolerate a teetotaller in their midst if you are any good.

Understandably the idea didn’t go down well with the University’s Student’s Union, with their president calling for him to apologise:

Claire Locke said Malcolm Gillies had “offended” Muslim students by generalising about their beliefs. There had been no calls from students to create alcohol-free areas on the London Met campus, she said.

Ms Locke argued that London Met’s Muslim students were “respectful of other people’s cultures”. Muslim students’ union officers were currently fighting for a new student bar to be opened at the university’s City campus, she added.

Ms Locke said it was not true that Muslim students did not drink, and that in the previous academic year three out of the four Muslim students’ union officers had drunk alcohol. “He should retract the comments and apologise to the students he has offended,” she said.

The unrepentant vice-chancellor then apparently chose to widen his net of those who might agree with his stance:

…some students, particularly Muslim women, would feel uncomfortable attending university events in a pub, for example, and that the concerns he raised could apply to other groups such as American Protestants or Buddhists.

It seems that in his desire to be a good little prohibitionist, the professor isn’t adverse to using minority groups as cover.

From a personal perspective, having worked along side a few Muslims, met one or two others socially (in a pub) and currently having one as a lodger, none of them have cared that I’m a consumer of alcohol – or, indeed, bacon.

Certainly at home I haven’t stopped eating bacon, drinking booze and wearing clothing considered decent by Western standards but probably positively shocking by Pakistani standards. Yes, it might be my gaffe, my rules but, because I have a small modicum of common sense and can sometimes demonstrate a tolerance for the foibles of others, I’m not going to ask him to join me for a drink and some pork scratchings. Indeed he is free to leave anytime he wants*** but has, as yet, chosen not to.

Thus once again I come to the conclusion that if the Prof Gillies’ and Alaa Alsamarrai’s of this world just left well alone we’d all manage to rub along quite happily and the world would be a better place for it.

* If one can call something which was formed in 2002 from the merger of two former polytechnics a University.**

** Yes, I’m probably being snobbish here. :)

*** Like with any lodger, there are times I’d be quite happy for him to up sticks and leave but his religion is not the problem.

More NMW Thoughts

Following on from the government’s (now launched) scheme to bribe employers into taking on unemployed youngsters, the Welsh ‘government’ – in an effort not to be out done – has gone one step further and will subsidise the entire cost of employing someone under 24 for a period of 6 months:

The Jobs Growth Wales programme commences in April 2012 and will create 4,000 jobs a year for job ready young people throughout Wales. The programme will cater for young people that are job ready but have had difficulty securing employment. Participants will be paid at or above the national minimum wage for a minimum of 25 hours per week. Young people will be employed for the duration of the programme and the jobs created must be additional to, and not replace, positions that would otherwise be filled.

Whilst some may no doubt see it as admirable that the State has stepped in to cover the cost of employing people who have otherwise been unable to get a job, my reactions can be summed up thusly:

  1. By insisting on these being new jobs, the tax payer is going to be subsiding jobs in the private sector that probably otherwise wouldn’t exist. Are we going to find ourselves with a glut of experienced paperclip shufflers from October onwards?
  2. By subsidising the entire cost, the Welsh ‘government’ appears to be saying that the actual value of the labour involved – and thus the value of the job done – is zero.
  3. This is further proof – as if it were needed – that the rate of the National Minimum Wage (£6.08 for those over 21) is far too high and that people (and the private sector) in Wales would clearly benefit from it being (if it is to continue to exist) set at a rate more commensurate with the costs of the local area.

Further food for thought comes in the shape of potential legal action from those who are 25 and over on the grounds of discrimination.

Does anyone, outside of the most deluded, still think that government interference is a) properly thought through and b) in any way useful?