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

Finally, a business the Guardian approves of...

Why journalism needs paywalls | Tim Luckhurst | Comment is free |

All my life I have longed for the day when the truth about business would be published in the Guardian. As it happens (no doubt to the horror of some readers) I agree with Tim Luckhurst's basic point. Intellectual property is as valuable and worthy of protection as any other and libertarians should be champions of all property rights. Yes, it's nice to get content for nothing, just as it would be great if Rolex left watches around to pick up for free, but please don't be surprised if supply dries up when creators are not paid. That kind of naivety should be reserved for the Left.

I am not remotely surprised that the media are looking for ways to earn money from online content. I hope they find a good (or preferably several good) business models, so we get some competition. Free content was always going to be a fad that passed as "online" content drove old models out of business. Free online content has of course accelerated that process, cannibalising the print media business.

If you were starting a news business today, the last thing you would do is write a business plan that involved logging and pulping trees for paper, printing on it and distributing it in vans. You would start your business online. Libertarians above all should realise that you would get no investment to do so (even from your Mum) unless your plan explained how you were going to make a profit.

The self-importance of the media is hilarious though. Rather than saying (as is the truth) that "if my boss can't earn any money he will close this rag and I won't have a job," Luckhurst pontificates about the importance to democracy of the news media;

It is time to admit that giving away value is not remotely democratic. In fact it undermines processes that keep representative democracy healthy.

"Giving away value" is not "undemocratic", but plain stupid - and not just in the media biz. The labourer is worthy of his hire, and the capitalist a return on his capital, whatever the business in question.

And when oh when can the poor, benighted taxpayers stop giving away more than half the value of their work, Mr Luckhurst? That's a business model in need of revision too, but I don't expect the Guardian to bleat about it any day soon.

Scent of a Woman

Scent of a Woman (1992).

This film review is 17 years late, but I do not apologise. After all, it's free. Let me explain though. I went to a reception on Saturday; to celebrate the opening of a new office complex in Moscow. The developer is an old friend of mine; a client from my early days in Poland. In fact, I first met him the year the film was released.

It was good to be around success, after another tough week in a very tough market. Over the celebratory drinks and snacks, I met another friend who invited me to have lunch with him and his young daughter. They are alone together in Moscow because his wife/her mother is in Texas, expecting a baby boy.

We talked about a lot of things, but the conversation finally turned to cinema. They are watching all the classic movies together. I guess he's giving her a cultural context as a Russian/American and he could do worse. They are clearly both enjoying it and talked animatedly about the films they had seen. When they asked about my favourite movie, I told them this one and explained why.

As a young man I wanted to be an actor. It was the only artistic thing I was good at and I loved it. When Mrs Paine and I first went out together, aged 17, I had to excuse myself for a month before seeing her again as I was in performance or rehearsal for the next 28 consecutive days. For years I regretted not trying for an acting career, but I had no money behind me and other, incompatible, dreams. You can't raise a family on 11.3 weeks' work a year (the UK average for actors).

As it turned out, lawyering wasn't a bad substitute. There was real theatre in the courtroom when I first qualified, but crime doesn't pay - at least not for the lawyers. If you are going to "sell out", it's important to get full price. So I found theatre instead in the life of a commercial lawyer; particularly in negotiations. I don't claim to know more law than my competitors, but I can stage a better "walk out"  (when the director client wants it).

When I first saw it, this movie convinced me I had made the right choice. Pacino's performance as a blind ex-officer on a "final tour of the pleasures" in New York with young Charlie (Chris O'Donnell), a schoolboy hired to look after him for the Thanksgiving weekend, is monumental. One scene in particular, where he dances the tango with British actress Gabrielle Anwar's character, is superb. Pacino learned the dance for the film. Though the out-of-context clip can't do it justice, just trust me. When you have been set up to watch it by the preceding scenes, it is funny, romantic and touching.

I described the film - and why I loved it - so vividly to my friends that I thought I might have overstated. I have just finished watching it again for the umpteenth time and my conscience is clear. Remade from an Italian original, it is simple and dramatic. The direction is perfectly paced; unhurried, but without a wasted minute. Every shot drives the story forward and pulls you into the characters' lives. If you have a heart, Pacino's performance will be with you all your life. Even the Academy got it artistically right that year. Pacino got "Best Actor," though the film was not a commercial success.

Chris O'Donnell made a great job of his meaty cinema debut, Philip Seymour Hoffman made an early and beautifully crafted appearance. There are also great cameos like Gene Canfield as Manny the limo driver and (in his last movie) Leonard Gaines, as Freddie Bisco, "the grey ghost." Finally, of course, Gabrielle Anwar will go down in movie history for for her nicely understated part in that mesmeric scene.

The final scene when, instead of killing himself as he had planned, Pacino's character becomes so engaged in Charlie's life as to turn up unannounced to speak for him at a school disciplinary hearing would make a stone cry. He delivers a passionate speech about leadership, honesty and integrity that, if I had the Left's approach to education as propaganda, I would want in the national curriculum. I am happy it is safely embedded in "just a movie", where people may happen upon it and be moved.

The film is still not that highly rated by most critics. IMDB has it as only 7.7 out of 10. I am sorry, but the rest of the world is wrong about this. It is my favourite movie and it will take something special to depose it, or Al Pacino, from my awed, respectful affections.

Tory Zac Goldsmith admits he is a non-dom

Tory Zac Goldsmith admits he is a non-dom - Times Online.

Another headline lusciously loaded with malevolent meaning. An "admission" carries the unspoken connotation of guilt, as in this headline we shall sadly never see;

"Labour Gordon Brown admits whole life warped by envy" 

Labour has not learned from Crewe & Nantwich. How could it? It is a party founded on an ideology of class hatred. "New" Labour's only real political innovation has been to create new classes of people to hate. They have added spice and variety to the embittered vocabulary of Leftist hate speech, but they still relish attacking their traditional foes; the successful, the prudent and their heirs. Unless of course, like Tony Benn in his day and the Milliband brothers in ours, they are Labour too. Their family trusts and tax structuring (not to mention their dynastic tendencies) are perfectly fine, of course.

The quality of political debate in Britain drives me to despair. The blogosphere has not really helped in that respect. Given the regularity with which classical liberals are venomously smeared and ridiculed in the mainstream media, it's perhaps not surprising that, given an outlet by blogging, some sought to give as good as they get. Not surprising, but disappointing. It has escalated the war of insults, which increasingly alienates reasonable people from political life, leaving the field to bruisers and back-stabbers.

Much as I enjoy his blogging and recognise the wit behind his delicate use of foul language, I worry about the election of Chris Mounsey of Devil's Kitchen fame as the new leader of the Libertarian Party. I know, like and respect Chris, but I feel he has queered his political pitch with his blogging. Not only will we, his readers, now lose the original (and best) swearblog, but his past writings (of which he has every reason to be proud) will give his opponents every excuse selectively to lower the tone of debate even further.

A recent casualty of the declining standard of public discourse is Anna Raccoon, who has thrown in the towel at her popular blog. I enjoyed her writing very much, but I also enjoy the writing of the gentlemen who stand accused (not by her, but by some or her readers) of "bullying" her into silence. I always enjoyed (though I often disagreed with) both blogs; while always knowing I would prefer to have lunch with Anna.

In her parting post, she wrote;

It seems to me that the world of blogging is fuelled by petty jealousies, vitriol, feuds, unsubstantiated allegations, apostrophe police, and a whole host of people who in another age would have been happy twitching their curtains and writing letters in green ink. I have watched in horror as several new forums have descended into a cesspool of hatred and nastiness, and you know what? I got up this morning and decided that I just didn’t have the energy any more, or the thick skin, to do it any longer.

Save as to the thinness of her skin, as to which she is best able to judge, she is quite wrong. There are many corners of the political blogosphere where civilised debate is attempted. Her bitter words will help mainstream politicians and journalists build their dismissive stereotype of bloggers. As if the professions that spawned Lord Mandelson and Alistair Campbell had any moral standing to criticise.

A sad week then. One more reasonable voice falls silent, enemies of libertarians are licensed by the party to call us all c***s, and the political charlatans mob the toff de jour as if it were still the 1950s. I have been both poor and prosperous in my life and I can't correlate the contents of my bank account to my wisdom or morality at the time. The only remarkable part of Zac Goldsmith's story is, though even better placed than Anna to kick back and enjoy life, he is prepared to give up his non-dom status to become an MP.

Even those who envy his wealth certainly can't fault the man's enthusiasm.

An inconvenient lame excuse

David Adam on controversy over leaked climate change emails | Environment |

I am reserving my view on the "climategate" emails. Frankly, I am still finding it hard to believe that the University of East Anglia is as important as the furore suggests. Would anyone really jeopardise the global economy on the basis of research from such a - let's be polite - backwater of academia? Shouldn't someone from a proper university be checking this stuff, at least?

More seriously, while there was clearly unscientific zeal to suppress inconvenient evidence, it seems to have been driven by a conviction that the Anthropogenic Global Warming theory is true, rather than merely a good source of government funding. Scientifically, that's no excuse. I don't see how the academics in question can possibly stay in their jobs. They have been caught rigging their own data and conspiring to suppress or rubbish that of others. They are very clearly not fit to keep their salaries or the letters after their name. They are not worthy of the noble title of "scientist." Still, I have not yet seen the "smoking gun" the conspiracy theorists hoped for. They were zealous idiots, not frauds. The analogy is with over-enthusiastic policeman planting evidence on a guilty man to "make sure" of a conviction. Indefensible, but the man's still guilty.

Still, Environment Correspondent David Adam's explanations/excuses in the linked Guardian podcast are remarkably lame. They do seem to justify a much more critical stance in future when evaluating press coverage of Anthropogenic Global Warming theory. If AGW theory is true, we are therefore in real trouble now. The public had already sensed the dishonesty of the coverage. Having cried "wolf" so often, a real wolf could now stroll right in. Our press is just as much of a disgrace as East Anglia's academics. If we suffer all the horrors AGW theorists suggest, our last bitter thoughts may be of such fools as David Adam.

Too much information? / Columnists / Lucy Kellaway - When too much information harms the office.

In the past, books were a rare luxury. Even a wealthy man's library consisted only of a collection of classics to be re-read at intervals. English language publishers today produce more books in a day than any of us can hope to read; most of them - to be kind - never destined to be classics. So we read our favourite reviewers and listen to our friends with good literary taste. Then we select our intellectual nourishment from this cornucopia. Are we nostalgic for the era when a well-read gentleman had actually read all there was to read? Of course not.

Likewise, in business, there can never be too much information. There can only be too little analysis. As the tide of data continues to rise, we will need increasingly to employ analysts to dam it and channel it usefully. The most successful companies will be the ones best able to manage that. Would it really be better if there were only trickles of data and therefore no need for such efforts? Besides, won't the same technologies that make publishing so commonplace, also develop to allow us to extract better information from data chaos?

I disagree with Lucy Kellaway when she writes that:

The trouble with the information age is that there are so many people talking simultaneously. Leaders surely need to do not more listening but more ignoring.

In a literal sense, she is right. No-one can absorb all the data out there. We all "ignore" almost all of it. But the data a leader relies on had better be the best. His team must trawl the seas of information with big nets, before bringing him the choicest specimens. The temptation will be to present them delicately filleted, poached and garnished to his taste, but his success will depend more on them being representative than tasty.

Ms Kellaway writes that leaders in business need; find a way of dealing with the many beastly things that are written about them on the internet.

Is that so difficult? Few rise to the top without developing a thick skin and those few will not last long. The way for leaders to deal with "beastly things" written about them is to treat them as data to be filtered. As mass publishing becomes a commonplace, the weight of the written word will gradually decline. Postings on Facebook, blogs and Twitter resemble newspaper articles only in being written. They carry only the emotional weight of chatter in the public bar. A splash in a torrent of little-read writing should be of no great concern. Only over-reaction by those written about can make it more.

Rule of law, or rule of men?

MPs' expenses: Scotland Yard chief says more MPs could face investigation - Telegraph.

To me, this story is a litmus test. Do we have the rule of law in Britain in the sense of Thomas Fuller's splendid words "Be you never so high, the law is above you," or not? The files are going to the Crown Prosecution Service, the creation of which I am on record as saying might have been the worst "reform" of my lifetime. The CPS is headed by a political appointee. As the Telegraph reports:

Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, is expected to decide whether to prosecute the politicians as early as January, before a general election

Consider those words carefully. I mean no disrespect to my learned friend, but here are the facts. A political appointee is to choose whether members of the ruling Party that appointed him are to be prosecuted, just before a general election. Much hangs on his decision; not least public confidence in the rule of law. Not least (to me), whether I can continue to hope for the return of justice (as very much opposed to "social justice") to my country.

Why Normblog isn't

normblog: Bow - wow - ow!.

I read every post published on "Normblog" with interest. Generally, it is intelligent, well written and wrong. Occasionally it's intelligent, well-written and right. Sometimes it's about cricket and I can't judge. But it's never a blog. I am not being a purist. Nor am I deriding Norm's considerable efforts or writing talents. It's just that a blog provides the opportunity for readers to comment. And today (for the first time) I really wanted to. And I couldn't.

Norm defends Obama for bowing to foreign potentates and says it doesn't matter. Yes it bloody well does. America is a beacon to the world, not just for (relatively) unrestrained capitalism, freedom of speech and rock n roll. It is a republic founded on the views of Tom Paine and others who believed that (until he proves otherwise) one man is of as much value as as another. It was founded on a word I hardly dare utter because - like "liberal" - it has been hijacked, deformed and repackaged into meaninglessness. That word is "equality."

Equality before the law. Equality in the face of state power. Equality in everyday dealings between people. Not the fake equality of the Socialist, but striving for equality of opportunities. America has strived and has succeeded, not completely, but enough for a boy from an Arkansas trailer park to become President. The whole point of America, in short, is the much-derided (by "liberals" and believers in "equality") "American Dream."

As an Englishman, my first political thought was the realisation that I could not aspire to be head of state because my father was not the "right" guy. That's the opposite of the American Dream. It is disempowering. It undermines ambition. It inclines the nation's heads to the ground, not the horizon. Though Queen Elizabeth II is a good woman who does her best, the institution of monarchy is damaging to the national psyche. Of course an Englishman can do well and an American can do badly. But the American Dream makes the reverse more likely.

The Original and Best Tom Paine believed America should leave the bowing and scraping of monarchies and aristocracies behind. He wanted to build something better in fellowship and freedom. He was right to set such goals. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and the rest understood as well as old Tom why an American should bow to no man. Still less should their President, who symbolically stands (unbowed) for them all. Every president since has understood it. Oddly and shamefully (for a man who professes to worship equality) Obama does not.

If Bill Clinton had so much as inclined his head, his own followers would have muttered. There is something sinister about the inability of Obama's supporters to recognise a mistake on his part. Norman is wrong. More wrong than usual. He is even more wrong because, while calling his web page a "blog" (twice in the heading alone) he does not allow his readers the facility to say so.

The fine art of ignoring elephants

Home alone: the house where binge mother left children | UK news |

Oh, the drama. The Guardian is so much more subtle than the Sun or the Mail, but the journalistic craft is just the same. Look how deftly placed the word "binge" is in that headline. Look how neatly all the real issues behind this story are ignored. Everything you need to know is in the reference to drink and drugs. Nothing else to see here comrades. Move along now.

Even The Guardian nods though. Some faint trace of human spirit is to be read between the lines. How my heart warms to those poor neglected children. They have never read the Guardian so tried, misguidedly, to look after themselves. Two girls, aged four and three, with more maternal feeling for their baby brother than the woman who - true daughter of the Labour heartlands - farms them all for benefits and a free council house.

Not to worry. There's time yet. Their human instincts can be educated out of them as they were from their mother. A combination of perverse incentives and Guardian-reading teachers will sort them out.

Soon they too will be dependent; and not just on drink and drugs.

Patrick McGoohan explains "The Prisoner"

YouTube - Patrick McGoohan "The Prisoner Puzzle".

I am grateful to reader Peter Gardner for drawing my attention (in a comment to my recent post) to these YouTube videos of McGoohan being interviewed about The Prisoner. The past really is another country. Two grown men having an intelligent conversation (over cigarettes!) in front of a polite audience asking intelligent questions! And no shrieking harpy of the left denouncing their thought crimes. When I enter a modern office building, fretting and fussing at the airport style security (or indeed as I regularly experience the security theatre at airports), I shall smile at the memory of McGoohan complaining about merely having to sign in to the studio before the interview. Enjoy.

An ideological train crash

Mentally disabled actors are victims of modern 'blacking-up', says campaigner | Society | The Observer.

Nicola Clark, mother of an actress with Asperger's, thinks its "offensive" that healthy actors should play the parts of the mentally ill. When did Britons become so prone to take offence? Ah yes, that would be when they worked out that the left was prepared to frame laws to prevent their "offence." Laws that privilege them vis-a-vis the dwindling "communities" of the independent-minded, the contented and the brave. Mrs Clark's daughter comments;

It is not just mentally disabled actors who lose out when non-disabled people are employed to act them. Audiences think they are getting an authentic portrayal of a mentally disabled person, but they're not. It's not like putting on a different accent or learning what it was like to be raised in a different era. You can't understand what it is like to have a mental disability unless you've really lived with it. When non-disabled people try to portray us, they tend to fall back on stereotypes that have done our community so much harm in the past.

That, dear girl, is called acting. It is an art that requires, above all, empathy; the ability to put yourself, in imagination, inside another personality. Acting is not about the audience "learning what it was like to be raised in a different era" or indeed, necessarily, about learning anything. Acting is an art and, like all art, is about the human condition. You don't have to be authentically fey to play Tinkerbell or to have experienced Auschwitz to portray a victim of the Shoah. As someone suffering with an illness of which a key symptom is "limited empathy", you can be forgiven. Your mother however, by your own logic can't understand your point and is, therefore, merely on the make.

Al_pacino3 That it is now considered offensive for a white actor to "black up" is ridiculous. Acting is about portraying artistic truths about humanity. Only the simple minded, or the craftily malicious exploiting the simple minded, could confuse that with banal truths about the actor. Olivier's Othello was a triumph;  a triumph these idiots would have prevented. Having killed those opportunities for artistic expression they are now determined to ensure there is no repetition of my favourite performance in the history of cinema; Al Pacino as blind ex-serviceman Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman. Not to mention Dustin Hoffman's performance in Rain Man.

As always, when you have accepted one piece of leftist pseudo-logic (perhaps out of kindly, if sickeningly condescending, concern for some group or other's hurt feelings) they stuff more down your gentle, kindly throats. Wake up people! They will not stop until your every thought is bound like Gulliver in Lilliput. Stir now, before myriad threads of insubstantial logic allow them to restrain your every action.

There is no idiocy the Guardian would not advance if only slotted into their banal template of "X-ism giving offence to the X community." It gets worse.

In another sign that Clark has launched her campaign at a turning point, Channel 4 will next week launch Cast Offs, a comedy drama about the making of a Survivor-type reality TV programme featuring physically disabled characters. Created by Jack Thorne, who has written for Shameless and Skins, Tony Roche, who has written for The Thick Of It, and Alex Bulmer, the programme features thalidomide victims, dwarfism and the face-disfiguring cherubism, a rare genetic disorder.

Well done, the British left. You have revived the freak show. I am sure the participants will feel the same gratitude their predecessors had for those kindly Victorian entrepreneurs. At least, when turning their misfortunes to profit, they didn't ghettoise them as a separate "community".