THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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August 2009

MoD ‘missing’ £6.6bn of hardware / UK - MoD ‘missing’ £6.6bn of hardware

In answering a comment recently I wrote that I would not trust the British government to clean my shoes, let alone be responsible for critical aspects of my healthcare. I pointed out what a bad job it did of running other institutions, including the army.

Some readers may have thought me harsh. Yet, in the linked story, we read that one-sixth of the British Army's equipment (including weapons) could not be accounted for by auditors. The Ministry of Defence has "lost" a whole year's worth of defence spending; the best part of £7 billion. How many cities full of Britons worked for a whole year to contribute such a sum?

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the organisation you trust to educate your children, provide for you in sickness, unemployment and disability. You may hope that it will (more or less) support you in your old age. If it were, say, a bank or an insurance company, would you trust it? Of course you wouldn't, but in this case you have no choice. The money you give is extracted by threat of force. You are, in effect, its slaves for months of every year. See how much it values your labour!

Of course, this is beyond mere incompetence. Those valuable items still exist somewhere. Who has all those guns, grenades and other lethal kit? Our enemies, of course; whether foreign terrorists or native criminals. Who else would want them? They have stolen them or bought them from corrupt government employees. Trust me. £6.6 billion of military hardware is not down the back of a sofa. So, not only has "your" government lost your money, it has delivered your foes the means to kill you - at your own expense.

Still inclined to trust it? Still inclined to vote to extend its sphere of activity? If so, you deserve all you get.

Bra story

Bra story | Prachatai English.

I have recently subscribed to Global Voices a feed of blog posts from around the world, translated into English. The linked article is a good example of the sort of thing to be found there; a gentle, informative, thought-provoking piece about factory workers in Thailand. Sentimental readers will no doubt feel like boycotting the brands mentioned, forgetting the even harder lives these women would have if they did not have these highly-prized jobs. Still, it illustrates the realities of globalisation.

That Top 20 list, in full

Well done to Constantly Furious for linking to all 20 of the top Libertarian Bloggers. He has requested that the other 19 do likewise and who am I to disoblige him? Here they are. I seem to have slipped another place, or perhaps I misread the list the first time. Hey ho!

  1. Guido Fawkes
  2. Devil's Kitchen
  3. Old Holborn
  4. Obnoxio the Clown
  5. Underdogs Bite Upwards
  6. Tim Worstall
  7. Samizdata
  8. Boatang & Demetriou
  9. Dick Puddlecote
  10. LPUK Blog
  11. The Last Ditch
  12. Constantly Furious
  13. Anna Raccoon
  14. Freedom to Choose
  15. Rantin' Rab
  16. Plato Says
  17. Charles Crawford
  18. An Englishman's Castle
  19. Frank Davis
  20. Oxford Libertarian Society

Tom's day out in China

Hangzhou - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


No politics today. Your blogger is working in Shanghai at present and took the opportunity to explore some of China, taking a 380km round trip to Hangzhou. I knew of the Chinese saying...

Above is Heaven, Below are Suzhou and Hangzhou I was expecting some kind of rural idyll. Instead I found a city of six million souls; two-thirds the size of London and half the size of Moscow. Ms Chen, our guide, considered that small. By comparison with Shanghai's twenty-one million, so it is.


For three hours I wondered if I had made a mistake. The route from Shanghai, a toll motorway, was surrounded by electricity pylons and road construction works. Communist countries used, in the old days, to be havens from advertising, but huge concrete pillars supported enormous billboards every few yards. Rural China rather resembled rural Poland, in the early 1990s. Even the buildings lacked oriental detailing.

Nor was I much impressed when we arrived at the fabled West Lake. It's a large shallow body of water with three artificial islands on it; divided by causeways into five sections. We took a boat ride. I decided not to worry about the elderly boat, when I learned that the lake is 1.8 metres deep. I could have actually stood up in it with my head clear.
But when when we landed on the other side and managed to escape the enormous crowds, we found charming scenes. We watched families feeding the rather spoiled-looking Koi carp that the Chinese (who think nothing of chickens' feet and pigs' faces) would never dream of eating. The waters teemed with them; solidly orange. A large beautiful courtyard house (though the courtyard was part of the lake) proved to have been built only in 1940 as a private residence in classical style. It is now part of the park.
After a pleasant lunch we moved on to the Ying Lin Temple, which is 1,700 years old and the largest in the city. There were Buddhists in our party and it was interesting to watch them at their devotions as we explored. It was embarrassing to watch a large, noisy group of Italians ignoring the restrictions on photography inside the buildings. The gentle monks did not protest, despite the distracting flashes. It's a shame they were not from Shaolin. The largest indoor Buddha in China was there (pictured). Seated, he is more than 18 metres tall.

The detail here is from the temple wall. 


Finally we sampled "Dragon Well" green tea at the plantation where it is grown. This is also known as the Emperor's tea, as the producers used to send the choice first growths to their rulers as their "tax." As there is no Emperor to claim the best of the crop, I was able to buy two kilos for myself and Mrs P. Pictured is Lu Yu, the "father of tea". He's the man who wrote the book (literally) that taught the Chinese how to appreciate their cure-for-all-ills. The lady at the plantation had us bathing our eyes in the steam to relieve soreness, recommended smearing it on with egg white and honey as a sun cream and more. I also bought green tea candy and green tea marshmallows, as consumed by the local children, as well as dried fruits added to the tea by the locals to ward off diabetes and heart disease. Worth a try; and they tasted good anyway. So does the tea itself, by the way. We were told that the Chinese say "eat tea", rather than "drink tea" and, if it's high quality stuff like Dragon Well, it's not only tasty but healthy.


I confess I had some political discussion with my companions today; roundly denouncing Prime Minister Brown and President Obama for the undoubted scoundrels they are. Eventually though, the tranquillity of the day got even to me. I contented myself with giving them my blogging "business card," so they could read my views at leisure.

I hope the photos give some impression of what beautiful places these were. Your humble blogger is feeling very relaxed, despite the 3 hour return journey into a rush hour of returning weekenders.

Normal ranting service will now be resumed.

Thank you

Top 20 Libertarian Blogs.

I would like to pretend I don't care but my readers have seen through me anyway. Thank you for your votes, which just kept the Last Ditch in the top ten. I am not surprised to slip a couple of places, given the arrival on the scene of the most excellent (if rather ripe) Old Holborn and the immodest (albeit with good cause) Boatang & Demetriou, both of whom I sincerely congratulate.

All in all, it's good to see so many excellent representatives of the libertarian point of view. Well done to all 20. How long before the word "libertarian" can be pronounced by mainstream broadcasters without gestures to avert the evil eye, I wonder?

PS: I ought also have mentioned highest new entry Obnoxio the Clown, another fine libertarian blogger you might not recommend to your maiden aunt. Apologies, sir. I commend him to all the broader-minded among you.

The last word on the NHS debate?

Dizzy Thinks: Grow up you morons.

I tend to think Dizzy overrated, not least by himself. That may be because I met him once and was delighted to do so for a few seconds, until he uttered - all unprovoked - a sneering personal remark. One doesn't like to be small-minded, but it's hard to like a chap who so clearly dislikes oneself.

Nonetheless, I doff my hat in admiration to the linked post. I have nothing to add but "Hear! hear!"

Proud of the NHS?

The Conservative Party | News | The Blue Blog | We are proud of the NHS.

David Cameron sent me an email today. Click the link above to read it in full. He wrote;

One of the wonderful things about living in this country is that the moment you're injured or fall ill - no matter who you are, where you are from, or how much money you've got - you know that the NHS will look after you.

Why does the leader of the Conservative Party praise the world's largest socialist institution? Why did he denounce Conservative MEP Dan Hannan for the interview he gave on Fox News recently? If Conservatives really believe the NHS is an efficient way to organise the provision of healthcare, why do they not advocate the same system for the provision of food, transport or housing?

Look for the #welovethenhs "hashtag" on Twitter, and you will enter an alternate universe of sentimentality and denial. If a single state provider of healthcare from general taxation were the only alternative to the American system,  the NHS would not be the second largest employer in the world. Not only is it not the best alternative to the American system, it is not even a better one. If it were, cancer survival rates in Britain would be better than in America, not worse.

Why won't the British open their eyes? Why won't they compare their system with those of healthier countries? Why is support for the NHS so widespread? Why are politicians of the right so in favour of it?

In truth, they are probably not. The employees of the second largest organisation on Earth are too big a bloc vote to take on. Labour has engineered a political deadlock, which only it can break. At one point it looked like Tony Blair might have the nerve to do it, but Gordon Brown prevented him. So we continue with the worst of all possible models for universal healthcare.

As Dr. Eamonn Butler, Director of the Adam Smith Institute, said;

If a privatised health service had made many of its patients wait for 18 months for their operations, put them on trolleys in corridors when they arrived, given more than a quarter of them an illness which they did not have when they arrived, and confiscated the organs of their dead babies without bothering to seek their permission, or even to tell them, people would have blamed privatisation. For that matter if one of its practitioners had murdered 150 of his patients, or one of its surgeons had removed healthy kidneys instead of diseased ones, or one of its teams had conducted smear tests so incompetently that operable disease was not treated, while healthy women were unnecessarily subjected to distressing operations, all this would somehow have been put down to the reckless pursuit of profit, or to putting shareholders ahead of patients

Dan Hannan is right. Americans would be mad to base their system on anything that resembled the NHS. They don't need to create a producer collective to ensure healthcare for all. A better system would involve no state hospitals or public-employee doctors or nurses. Provision of healthcare would be private from the hospitals to the local general practitioners. There would be a compulsory system of private insurance from qualified, competing companies. Policies would be provided under a regulated system which prohibited, for example, exclusions for pre-existing illnesses or differential premiums based on age. They would simply have to price their premiums accordingly. The government's only role would be to provide, from taxation, the means to pay the premiums of those too poor to pay. This is essentially the system in France and many other countries in the civilized world which enjoy better health than Britain or America.

If we changed there would be problems, but not the ones we fear. Our medical professionals have been entirely trained in the NHS for 60 years. They are generally not of the calibre needed to run a private system. Businesslike people in Britain currently don't choose to go into medicine. The few who train in the NHS without realising its nature from the outset, tend to leave the country when their training is done. It would take time for the culture to change. New generations of doctors would be more like other professionals; not just technically competent, but capable (as their distant predecessors were) of running a business. Those who didn't make that grade would be employed, as is right and proper, by those who did. Just like the less worldly or energetic lawyers, surveyors or engineers.

There would be transition problems. Socialists would point the finger and say it proved the NHS was right. But steadily things would improve. Fewer people would die prematurely. Patients would be treated with respect. Standards of health would rise. Cancer survival rates would pass those in the United States.

No, I certainly don't love the NHS. Neither should you.

Farewell to M'Learned Friend

TheFatBigot Opines: Why I'm no longer here.

There's no facility to leave a comment there, but I am sad to see that the Fat Bigot (who must be very thin, if his name is internally consistent) is giving up blogging. His reasoning is honourable, as any regular reader would expect, but I suspect he underestimates the level of interest in what he has to say. You will be missed, sir.

I note you say;

I can still make any points I really want to in comments elsewhere

I am sure that's true, but there is a guest slot for you here at the Last Ditch any time you like. Just drop me an email.

Justice -vs- Social Justice

Groucho Marx said that military justice bore the same relationship to justice that military music bore to music. One might also say that social justice bears the same relationship to justice as social housing bears to housing (or social security to financial security).

Individual justice has always been about equality "before the law". The history of English Law has had much to do with ensuring that - as far as practicable - the law applied equally to all. It may be that the affection in which "equality" is held in Britain has much to do with this history. But there is a big difference between treating individuals equally and trying to equalise relationships between social groups.

Women earn less than men. Tall people earn more than short people. Both statements are true, on average, but unless you understand why, you are in danger of doing profound injustice if you try to rectify the inequality group by group. It is certainly a mistake to assume - as social justice merchants always do - that the group at a disadvantage was put there by the other.

I am tall and I conform to the group stereotype of being a high earner but I don't oppress short people.  I don't even laugh at them (much). Equally, I am a man and I have never knowingly oppressed a women (though I have been oppressed by one or two). Attacking the "social" injustice by punishing me as part of an "oppressor" group is to do profound injustice.

So often, that is precisely what governments focussed on "social justice" attempt. Having identified an "oppressed" or "vulnerable" group in need of help, they look for a relatively better-off group to characterise as "the oppressor." Then they penalise that group in order to "equalise" it with the other.

The results of this simple-minded thinking have been catastrophic. Consider the following examples. Would you describe them as just?

  • A heterosexual man is murdered on his way home from the pub. A homosexual man is murdered on the same route the next day. Both killers are caught and prosecuted. The second murder is deemed a "hate crime" and so the punishment is more severe. The first is presumably, as Gene Hunt put it, "an I really, really like you crime."
  • A nurse offers to pray for a patient and does not press the matter when the patient declines. She is subject to disciplinary action for "failing to show a commitment to equality and diversity." The logic appears to be that she is part of an "oppressor" religious majority from whom "oppressed" religious minorities must be protected.

In the first example, in effect, society values the heterosexual's life less than the homosexual's. Presumably the justification is that the homosexual belonged to an "oppressed group" but no regard is had to whether the dead heterosexual or his grieving family belonged to the "oppressors." Both men are equally dead. As individuals, it seems to me that both were equally important and that both killers were equally bad. It is nothing less than evil to treat the murder of one as "worse" than the murder of another.

In the second example, I am at a loss to understand why what the Christian nurse did was any worse (or to put it sensibly) any less kind, than if a Muslim nurse offered to pray to Allah for me. If that happened, I would not be offended, I would be touched. In my recent family crisis, friends from all over the world offered to pray to their various Gods for me. Atheist though I am, I was moved. Who in their right minds would not be? They were expressing concern for me and my family and their intent must, in any sane world, count for something.

It seems to me that social justice is a very long way from justice and that "social" is a prefix generally to be regarded with suspicion.