I am back where this blog began, in Moscow. My first post was from here. I'm speaking on a panel of "experts" at the Moscow Urban Development Forum and hoping to catch up with lots of my old friends. Blogging may be light, but I hope there will be some photos for you, if too much vodka is not consumed.
I used to like New Year's Eve. I remember a party in the Welsh wilds many moons ago. I thought it had gone well, but the late Mrs P. disagreed. Apparently alcohol had somehow flushed my schoolboy Welsh from my memory's trash can and I spent much of the evening chatting in that ancient tongue to an attractive young lady. This had somehow displeased my better half.
Recalling little of this, I took a while to get over the very notion of an attractive Welsh girl. My family had lived in the Principality for many centuries with only English women in our family tree. Without border raids, we would have died out long since. Nor had anything in my youthful experience in Wales suggested my male ancestors had erred in their judgement. You can navigate around Swansea by signage on places graced by Catherine Zeta-Jones, so extraordinary is the notion of Welsh beauty.
I tried to explain that, though I recalled little of the conversation, my Welsh vocabulary could not possibly have led in the directions she imagined. Much of it would have been derived from the national anthem and the hymn 'Calon Lan'. Once I had complimented the cleanliness of her young heart and stated my undying respect for her old tongue, I would have been at something of a loss; however well-lubricated my larynx.
Apparently, however, the young lady had found me suspiciously amusing. Mrs P. could never imagine a woman laughing at my witticisms without ulterior motive. [Yet I distinctly remember her finding me funny in our younger days. I can only now conclude her own motives were then as questionable as those she later imputed to others.] I explained, convincingly I thought, that the young woman's laughter was more likely to have been brought on by my linguistic errors than any desire to charm me.
So dark was her view of woman-kind she remained unconvinced. So much then for female solidarity. I have long since sadly concluded that many of the nastier aspects of feminist theory arise from women falsely imputing their own dark view of each other to men. We like them far better than they do themselves, if only they knew. Not that it's too hard to compete with what they think we think.
It has all been downhill from there. During my ambitious middle years, unreasonable expectations of career progress let to a New Year's Eve score card as depressing as that of a current Fulham fan. As my career crested, it became a time to notice the fading of even those glories. Mrs P's insistent desire to celebrate in high style merely led to evenings of expensive misery and well-dressed matrimonial rows.
I have come at last to see Hogmanay as something, like all primitive excess, best left to the Scots. Christmas, I love, but New Year is not for me. Tomorrow will make today its yesterday as usual, regardless of Pope Gregory's bull of 1582. Frankly, it's all bull to me.
A new beginning is available to any of us on any day, without the need for an auspicious date or a preparatory hangover. We can make a change, or be forced by circumstance to make one, on any date - odd or even. Numbers simply don't come into it. Enjoy your parties though, gentle readers. I know I am as contrarian in this as in so much else and no more likely than usual to be right.
A very happy new year to you all. May 2014 bring to you the realisation of every hope that does not infringe on the freedom of your fellow man.
It is two years today since Mrs Paine died. I visited her memorial this morning and reflected a little on that sad time. I don't think I fully appreciated then, in my grief, just how blessed I was to be so well supported by family, friends and even by my readers here. I was not able to give much attention at the time to all the kind comments you made on my post announcing her passing, but I can assure you I have read them often since and taken comfort from them. When statists say that people of our persuasion are unkind and uncaring, I know better. Thank you.
Quite a few readers have kindly told me how much they missed my trip updates since I returned from the USA. Some of them however only started to read this blog to follow my American journey and would be surprised and perhaps even shocked if I returned to my old subjects.
I rather embarrassed myself at dinner at a friend's house last week. Another guest was a retired senior civil servant and now a substantial London rentier on his savings from the money extorted for him over decades from taxpayers. Predictably, I laid into him about how out-of-control the British State has become.There was some satisfaction, when citing the scandal of the wasted billions at the Ministry of Defence, to find that he had been in a responsible position there - perhaps even (though he was reticent on that point) at the time. However, it's always bad manners to talk about religion, sex or politics at a British dinner party and I spoiled the evening for my hosts. I wrote a sincere apology to my hostess and have felt much chastened since. I like to think I am a pleasant enough chap, but it seems I have become unfit for polite society.
Some of the ex-mandarin's arguments were routinely ridiculous. The "social contract" and "consent to taxation" are the crumbliest of political figleaves. It's a simple lie to describe as "a contract" something even one party never chose to be bound by. His suggestion that I consented by not fleeing these islands did not help. That's just smug leftist code for '**** off if you don't like it' and that's all I hear when they say it. To say my living in Britain is itself 'consent' is like saying the stag I saw being devoured by a flock of vultures in Louisiana consented by not running away from the truck that had hit him.
He had no answer to my simple thought experiment of asking, if legal obligations to pay tax were suspended for a year, whether takings would go up or down. Statists never want to answer that question because it exposes the myth of "consent". The only material group of people who consent to taxation are those - like him - whose loot from others' contributions exceeds any they make themselves. The vultures, in short. No matter how many more vultures there may be than stags, it's never going to make it right.
He was right though when he said that there is no appetite among the majority of my fellow-citizens for scaling down the state. When I blogged from Russia and China I felt sorry for the British people as I thought they were being exploited by cynical politicians. Since I have returned to live amongst them, I rather feel sorry for the politicians. Their voters don't want to hear truths, even arithmetical ones, and their careers therefore depend on palatable lies.
I was also affected by the arguments of another new acquaintance I made last week; a businessman friend of a friend. He told me he aspired to make a billion because that would allow him to make a political difference. Money changes its nature when it is owned in such quantities - as the power of a state with a budget of many billions darkly demonstrates. It ceases to represent pints of beer yet to be bought and becomes raw power. As I was not successful enough to accumulate transformative amounts, why should I mess about fruitlessly arguing for change? Better perhaps to cash in my beer tokens happily in the company of friends, while hoping my ambitious new acquaintance needs a speech writer when he achieves his goals.
As you may have detected, I was a happier man on my US Tour. I was fully enjoying my life for the first time since Mrs P. died. Not because justice and reason had returned to Britain, but because I was thinking about something else. I accept a duty to oppose error for the good of my fellow-man, I really do. But only if my opposition has some hope of making a difference. There is no point in complaining powerlessly as smug, arrogant bastards like my dinner party companion - cheered on by would-be parasites like our resident statist Mark - continue to rape us economically, destroy our liberties "for our own good" and laugh at those of us who see through their claims of benevolence.
There is certainly some demand for a libertarian political rant as witness the 20 places The Last Ditch slipped in the blog rankings while I was happily chirruping about the fun I was having in the States. But there's nothing in it for those of us meeting that demand. The social-democratic state will collapse eventually under the weight of its debts. Those debts must mount if you punish those who create wealth and reward parasitism - as Britain has done since 1946. I would love to spare my fellow-citizens the horrors that will attend that collapse, but nothing I can say or do will achieve that. So why not, as the USAF Chaplain I was talking to in New Jersey recently has done, invest on the worst assumptions and just enjoy life while awaiting the inevitable?
I don't want to stop writing, however. I enjoy the process and the mental stimulation it brings. I also enjoy the social aspects of blogging and have missed my readers' contributions as they fell silent during my trip. So perhaps I should just blog about other things?
I have started to write a book about my tour; a frothy travelogue with a magical realist twist. It will have some political commentary because that's in my nature, but I will keep it as light as my skills permit. I also have seriously in mind to make other such trips in future, especially if I can secure some sponsorship to cover the considerable costs.
I could blog about writing, about photography, about my trips or about travel in general. I could blog about things I love, in short. That was really what I intended when I started The Last Ditch, but the things I loved were liberty, the rule of law and the economic democracy of the free market. Most of what I have actually written has been about things I hate; the vile forces destroying those treasures.
Life is short and I don't have the genes reasonably to expect many more active years of it. I have spent most of mine so far serving the interests of others - either for love or for money. Maybe it's time to serve my own?
Speranza cleared customs today, as planned. Here she is just before being unloaded from the container in which she crossed the Atlantic.
I am sleeping tonight at my designated start point in New Jersey and will begin the great American road trip after breakfast tomorrow. I must first take Speranza in for a New York State-mandated inspection. That can be done at the local car wash (!), will take 15 minutes, cost precisely nothing and will bring my US motor insurance fully into force.
I have also acquired and successfully activated a US smartphone. You can now call or text me (for the duration of the tour only) on +1 (862) 485 7250 as well as tweeting me @tompaine or emailing me via the link in the side-bar.
I look forward to many interesting encounters along the way.
I am looking forward to spending time in the company of liberty-minded students this weekend. With a bit of luck it will give me hope for our country's future, while no doubt also making me feel very old. If you are going too, I look forward to seeing you during the Liberty League Freedom Forum at the UCL School of Pharmacy tonight, tomorrow and Sunday.
Today is the eighth anniversary of my first post on this blog. Since then, there has been a whole lot of expostulating here against the British State and its wicked ways. I am not sure the first post received even a single hit. If things have livened up around here since then, gentle reader, it is all thanks to you.
Blogging will be light to non-existent as I am off to France for a week. I drive from London to Dijon today and then on to the Cote d'Azur tomorrow. I am attending the MIPIM property event in Cannes (as I have every year since 1991). It will not all be business though. I am looking forward to catching up with lots of friends - many of whom are former clients and colleagues.
Of course there is also the pleasure of about twenty-four hours in the company of Speranza to look forward to on the autoroutes there and back. I do love to be on the road!
I am not quite sure how I missed the linked article back in September but I am glad I found it via Chris Snowdon's review of the year at his excellent blog, Velvet Glove, Iron Fist. The authoritarians of the medical establishment are in many ways our best hope for liberty. This may seem paradoxical, but bear with me.
The greater the State becomes, the more authoritarians it attracts. Wormtongue types are drawn, as so many of them already have been, by the chance to subvert legitimate authority to their own ends while living on the state's plunder. The more they succeed, the more arrogant they become. They see no legitimate boundaries to their control of their fellow men. Our corrupt political class will offer no defence against these parasites unless and until popular resistance threatens their own power. We cannot count on their principles, if indeed they have any. We can rely entirely, however, on their self-interest.
Where, however, is this resistance to come from? State education, state broadcasting and the generally emasculating effect of the Welfare State have much weakened the yeoman spirit that made England, for most of its history, delightfully ungovernable. The unthinking majority of voters will never rebel - until it's far too late - against threats to freedom of thought. Attacks on their lifestyle however are another matter. Cromwell fell not because the Monarchy won a rematch of its debate with republicanism, but because, having weakened his appeal by forbidding dancing, aleing and Christmas, his hypocrisy in having his son succeed him (just like a King) tipped the scales of popular feeling.
The state can beat up as many anti-statist intellectuals as it likes and no-one will protest. Let it beat up the smokers, drinkers and pie-fans however and popular resistance can be expected - even from those usually too idle to move further than to the nearest Greggs. Doctors with God complexes may therefore be our best hope. Perhaps as we enter the final phase of end-of-year excess, we should be campaigning for votes to be proportionate to BMI, units of alcohol per week or fags per day?
It is the first anniversary of Mrs Paine's death and I won't be blogging today except to say this. Among the unhappy memories of that time is also the recollection of the kindness shown to me and my family by the readers of this blog. Your comments on the linked post touched me. I read and re-read them in the days that followed and marveled at the kindness of (mostly) strangers.
I am not sure I thanked you properly at the time. Everybody says there's nothing they can say to help in the context of such loss, but it's not true. What you said (or more precisely the fact that you wanted to say something) helped.