THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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November 2010

Apple, cored.

Apple vs Apple: long-running legal dispute delayed Beatle's iTunes deal - Telegraph.

Apple So Apple, Inc. (fka Apple Computer, Inc.) now owns the wittily-named Apple Corps - the Beatles' corporate vehicle. The computer/media company paid $500 million for the privilege, confirming once more the insanity of Macca's choice to remain a UK taxpayer ("Ta la'", says Gideon) and filling a gaping hole in the iTunes Music Store.

Of course I have every Beatles track (at least once) in my iTunes already. I was mugged replacing my LPs with cassettes and my cassettes with CDs and will not be mugged again. I supose however there may be someone in the world who will think it worth paying again to have a version they can't copy freely.

Apple is pushing hard "exclusive content" that can only be had by paying £125 for the "boxed set" download of the complete works. I guess that might work for some. Shouldn't there be a sexier name for that, by the way? An iSet perhaps? The timing of the long-delayed legal settlement may be a prudent way for the Beatles and their heirs to enjoy the last faint hurrah of a fab financial run, for the attraction of the music finally seems to be fading.

Brits of my vintage were all Stones or Beatles fans (few were both). There was a time, not so long ago, when a day never passed without my listening to their music. Perhaps the 1990s association with a Mancunian(!) tribute act tainted it for me. Or perhaps, unlike the Porsche 911, it was only so far ahead of its time and destined for the fate of Morecambe & Wise (good once, then suddenly not). Perhaps the Beatles were only ever really special for not being the bands that came before them. Still, I will always love "Yesterday" - invaluable if you want to start a sing-song in a remote, language-challenged bar.

I remember mass playground fights (all very amiable and character-forming) between fans of Paul and John at my infants school. The Ringo/George factions were forced to choose sides in this physical debate and of course the girls cheered on the avatars for Paul. Few girls liked John. How else do you think such a rich man ended up with Yoko? At that age however, the boys liked him for the fact the girls found him as yucky as we found them.

We were used to binary choices. Where I grew up, even the (very quiet and well-behaved) Man United fans had to state a preference between Liverpool and Everton. Our Shanklyite head teacher was very hard on those rash enough to choose the latter. Politics was binary too, of course. You could be Labour, or you could be posh Tory scum. Not too long after choosing John and Liverpool FC, I chose Maoism as a way (irony of ironies) to assert my individuality. Thank goodness I escaped to find life's choices are not always either or.

I wonder if Paul and Ringo will thank the clever lawyers who negotiated an end to their 1991 court battle? As part of that settlement, they bound Steve Jobs' company contractually never to go into the music business. 10% of the price Jobs paid for their company might be a reasonable honorarium for the farthest-sighted chaps in the law.

They might even like to apply the iTunes conversion rate for sterling to that.

Pigs flying at the expense of others

To paraphrase the words of a wiser politician than any we have today, no-one would remember the Good Samaritan, for all his kind intent, if he had had no money. Economically our society must be, to use a fine old word in danger of losing its meaning, sustainable. It's worrying, therefore, to reflect upon two pieces about economics I read today. First NickM writes about the EU's economic crisis over at his excellent blog, Counting Cats in Zanzibar. He makes several good points, but none better than this:

The basis of any economy is making and selling things or providing services. It is not and can never be about borrowing huge amounts of money against domestic dwellings which are on a mortgage anyway because at some point reality has to set in. And the simple truth is houses are for living in.

We in the real estate business understand that. While providing accommodation to others is business, our own homes are just to keep the rain off. That millions have mistaken their shelters for piggy banks should not be anyone's problem but theirs. Only the bitch goddess democracy could make it otherwise, as a majority of losers force the minority who should have been winners to disgorge their savings, via taxation or inflation.

Meanwhile, over at the Losers' Gazette, official publication of those who regard it as high morals to make others pay for their mistakes, another point of view is proclaimed;

Public sector workers are in the firing line. Find out how much they contribute to your economy

The article goes on to tell us that;

In South Buckinghamshire, only a mere 6.7% of the work force rely on the public sector for employment. But in Newcastle-upon- Tyne over 53,000 people work in the public sector – 30.5% of the workforce. In Copeland, Cumbria that number is 14,200, or a significant 50.4% of the workforce.

Where to begin? Firstly, let's answer the question about economic contribution. Public sector workers contribute, give or take a few basis points of GDP, nothing. That, at the risk of causing offence to decent people, some working hard, is the kindest possible interpretation. It's not to say that all of them contribute nothing of any kind of value, but economically they quite simply create no wealth. It is wealth creation, not good intentions or diligent attendance at an office, that ultimately pays for everything, including public services.

The Guardian may see jobs as an economic benefit, but they are more like a by-product. In economic terms, they are a cost. That anywhere is so forsaken by all gods as to be 50.4% dependent upon the state (more so if you add those on the dole, the sick or otherwise "economically inactive") is a matter to be mourned, not celebrated. Such places are economic zombie-towns. At that level, it's very likely that most "private sector" jobs are merely providing services to public authorities or their workers.

That its fleas are plump, glossy and breeding freely does not, as the Guardian seems to think, speak well for the health of a dog. The wealth-creating portion of the population is now such an oppressed minority that it may be time for Trevor Philips to add them to his little list. Certainly the way they are treated smacks of "hate crime".

Higher house prices or a bail-out from the Germans are just not going to cut it now. The one economic question no-one seems to be asking at present is this:

What can we make or what services can we provide that the rest of the world will buy?

Sadly, as NickM points out, that's the only question that matters.

Old news about the Devil

The Devil's Knife: Sound The Last Post...?.

Chris-mounseyYou will already know that former chairman of the UK's Libertarian Party, Chris Mounsey has announced an end to his blog, The Devil's Knife (formerly known as The Devil's Kitchen). Regular readers may wonder why I didn't immediately join the chorus of pleas for him to reconsider.

I owe many of my readers here to links from the Kitchen. In the middle days of The Last Ditch, Chris was generous in his support of a far less entertaining blog than his own. Through our blogging connection, I had the pleasure both of meeting Chris socially and working with him professionally. He is an intelligent, articulate and politically passionate young man. I admire his virtues and have great hopes for his future. I think he has more to offer than he knows himself. I also think someone should note, given his devilish persona and taste for shock comedy, that his concern for the common weal gives the lie to leftist slurs about heartless libertarians.

In truth, I wanted to be sure it wasn't a false alarm. The boy has form in this respect and we may still hope that his righteous anger will haul him back, fulminating, to the keyboard.

Chris, aka DK, aka The Devil, was - on form - one of the most entertaining bloggers around. He has rarely been on form since his mauling at the hands of Andrew Neil, but Mrs Paine and I (Mrs Paine is a big fan of his sense of humour) had hoped he would get over it. Embarrassment and reticence little became a man who adopted "The Devil" as his blogging persona.

The fates sent us DK as the very necessary antidote to the most dangerous woman in Britain. He was not so much the Devil as the Anti-Toynbee. His attacks on her were his nadir in terms of taste and his zenith in terms of wit. He will not be able to watch her promote her destructive political agenda while knowing that she knows she saw him off.

So, at least, we must hope.

That Twitter crime wave. Who is to blame?

Twitter anger over airport conviction - Crime, UK - The Independent

There is much anger about the ludicrous conviction (recently upheld on appeal) of Twitter user Paul Chambers. Frustrated at the prospect of not being able to fly to meet a girlfriend, he tweeted (with clear comedic intent):-

Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!

Much cyber-ire has been directed at the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the judge about this case. It is all misdirected. This "offence" was not created by them. The Common Law is incapable of such imbecility. Craziness of this kind requires Parliament. Frankly, I doubt anyone involved believes this was an appropriate use of the hammer of criminal justice. They are simply enforcing the ludicrous, play-to-the-Daily-Mail-gallery, Terrorism Act.
Bully Nor should you blame the policemen who arrested a Tory Councillor for suggesting in jest that the infuriating Yasmin Alibhai-Brown be stoned to death. No sane person believes this was an appropriate, still less a just, response to a bad joke about a bad joke. The officers of the law were enforcing the ludicrous "hate crime" (as opposed to "I really really like you crime") legislation of - you've guessed it - the idiots lately ejected from office.

Blame those who complained, by all means. Blame those who should know better who fall for the student union-grade idiocy of criminalising speech, not actions. Blame above all the Party that devised these laws. Blame increasingly, with every day they remain un-repealed, the coalition government that allows them to remain in force. But don't blame the foot-soldiers of the law who are - I am confident - embarrassed and humiliated by their roles in these farces.

These laws are wrong. They are unjust. They disrespect the tradition of free speech that so much defines who we English are - or should be. I can understand why people are angry. But let's direct our anger accurately.  Pity the policemen and judges. Hate the politicians. And please don't forget to despise vigorously the un-English cowards who cry for "protection" from the "offence" harsh words may bring.

£1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of this man and his accomplices

£1,000 Reward Offered for Extinguisher Thugs - Guy Fawkes' blog.

Libertarian blogger Guido Fawkes is living up to the "order-order" bit of his blog's URL by offering a £1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of those involved in throwing a fire extinguisher from the roof of the Conservative Party headquarters building this week.

Guido's initiative gives the lie to those who conflate libertarianism with anarchism or Statist Toryism. Libertarians believe in having only those few laws necessary to protect life, limb and property - rigorously enforced. We also understand (as those who debase the currency of law by using it for social engineering do not) that respect for the Law tends to vary inversely with the number and scope of the laws.

Had the extinguisher hit someone (as to which those throwing it were at best reckless) there would undoubtedly have been a death. Unless witnesses can confirm it was aimed at the policeman it just missed, I doubt a jury would agree with those bloggers who call this attempted murder. I have no doubt however that a serious crime of violence was committed. This is not ASBO territory. These people belong in gaol.

If you have a blog, please spread the word. One of your readers may recognise him.

Man enough for the job?

Stafford Hospital scandal: former boss claims he's a victim too - Telegraph.

Until the enquiry ends I don't know if he was to blame, but he was certainly meant to be responsible. That he shelters now behind claims of post-traumatic stress disorder (usually acquired on a battlefield, not in an office) suggests he wasn't nearly a responsible enough person to have had such a job in the first place. He should be compelled to appear by subpoena. As should whoever appointed him to a job for which, by his cowardice in the face of the public inquiry, he seems already to have proved himself unfit.

Call them fees. Call them taxes. Call them bananas, if you like.

Scrap tuition fees? Yes we have | John Hemming | Comment is free |

Had this proposed new system applied when I was 17, I doubt I would have been the first member of my family to go to university. As my life has turned out, that would probably have been a bad economic decision, but I could never have known that. At that age, given my background, I didn't even know my career - as a partner in a City law firm - existed. The only lawyer I knew was a shiny-trousered specimen who practised family and criminal law on the high street of my impoverished Northern town. I doubt he earned as much as the skilled tradesmen in my family. I thought I was going to be him.

Had I chosen a building trades apprenticeship instead of a redbrick law degree, I would have thought my earning prospects just as good. Deploying even my untutored intelligence into small business, I might actually have earned as much or more as I have. I could certainly have been confident of earning as much as I expected to earn from a degree-enabled career. The prospect of paying an extra 10% (over and above already progressive taxation) on earnings above 21k would therefore have been a deciding factor.

Bear in mind I was considering a vocational degree in law, not archaeology or some other such impoverished, noble field. As a non-graduate entrepreneur the opportunities so to structure my life as to minimise other taxation would have been greater. Without the benefit of a degree in petty quibbling, I doubt if I would have worried quite so much as commenters to John Hemming's linked piece whether the cost was labelled "loan repayment," "graduate contribution" or "graduate tax". To the young, intelligent but unindoctrinated me, it would just have been money I would get to work for and not keep.

My own life might have been more or less economically rich. I don't, and can't know. I do know however, that I would have created far fewer jobs, touched far fewer business lives and paid far less tax. I might personally have done better or worse. The wider economy would have done worse, because my talents would have been wasted. That is why this proposal is so very wrong.

It may seem harsh, but the best way to finance higher education is for students (and/or their families) to pay full economic fees; especially if that harshness is mitigated (as in the United States) by privately funded scholarships for the intelligent poor, as well as student loans. One of the best-educated men I ever worked with was the Harvard Law School grad son of a Polish-American janitor. He got the real Ivy League deal on a scholarship. No taxpayers were harmed in the making of his high-powered career. I got a half-arsed redbrick education from a shabby bunch of Marxists who spent three years trying to persuade me that ambition was immoral.

Don't try telling either of us that European-style socialism extends opportunity to ordinary boys and girls

My view has nothing to do, however, with the envious, Vince Cable-ish, nastiness informing the current debate. Nor has it very much to do with the (highly uncertain) economic returns to students as individuals of most (non-Harvard Law) degree courses. It's about allowing the market to do the one thing it's good at; pricing economic choices. Of course, I hope lots of them would choose to study archaeology, Mandarin Chinese and other noble things that don't lead to high earnings. Nor would I mind if they made ignoble, economically-stupid choices like "media studies". I would just like them to make their choice as rationally as possible, in the full understanding that they can't expect others to pay for it.

Call them fees, call them taxes, call them bananas if you like. It's not what they are called, but the effect they have on our life-choices that matters. Of course no mechanism can price the wonderful uneconomic benefits to an individual of higher education. Of course people should (and would) study stuff for the love of studying it. Economic benefits, however, can and should be priced. The bill should ultimately be delivered to the person who chooses to buy, and he or she should keep the benefits, if any, of the purchase.

Since the average British graduate only earns 75,000 pounds more in a lifetime than the average non-graduate, I suspect (as the Socialists never take into account) that the universities would face more pressure on their pricing from the market than from any government.

Someone please rescue Henry Porter

The freedom bill will mean nothing if we keep repressive measures like control orders | Henry Porter | Comment is free | The Observer .

How can Henry Porter, sound as a pre-Labour pound on liberty, write for that authoritarian rag, the Observer? In the linked article, he explains again why control orders - the abominations that brought me into blogging - are a disgrace to any nation; and still more so to the one that invented the rule of law. I enjoyed the tale of Ken Clarke turfing the head of MI5 out of his well-wallpapered office. Leaking stories of Ministerial manliness is not nearly enough though. If this government is to retain any shred of credibility on the subject of civil liberties, it must repeal this offensive law. Every day of delay is an affront.

Astonishingly today it's not just Henry who's saying it. It seems that the Labour Party's Sunday Pravda now agrees that control orders are unconscionable. In the words of today's Editorial (the paper's party line):

If there is really no evidence that a suspect has committed any offence under this comprehensive regime, the law should treat him as a free man. Even if charged, he is innocent until proved guilty.

Control orders violate those principles. Either a crime has been committed or it hasn't. But Britain's anti-terror regime tries to carve out a new grey area in between. The implication is that government assumes some people are likely enough to become criminals that their rights as citizens should be pre-emptively restricted. That is not measured anti-terror policy, it is abuse of power. David Cameron should put a stop to it.

So he undoubtedly should. Indeed, his very first act as Prime Minister should have been to cleanse this legal stench. But with the honourable exception of Henry, where were the leftist hacks when it was their beloved Labour Party's "abuse of power," eh?