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

Stop being a pessimist. Stop being a sap.

I am reading an excellent book at the moment, "Factfulness" by Hans Rosling. I remember enjoying this, his  first, fantastic TED talk in which he turned statistics into entertainment to great effect.

   

I am enjoying the book and recommend it to you. I have already taken two graphs from it and put them on my smartphone so that I can produce them at a moment's notice. They are updated versions of the amazing "bubble graph" with which he opened that famous talk. They refute most of the assumptions of my friends when they talk about the world and what should be done to make it better.

Here is global life expectancy in 1965. The developing world has "big families and many children die".

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Here is the same graph from the latest figures, in 2017. All Rosling's statistics are from sources (the UN, the WHO, national statistical agencies) that people on the Left usually choose to believe. He was an expert in his field and I trust him, even if I don't always trust them.

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It's a different world, but our public policy on such matters as overseas aid is still based on the first graph. Why? because the "facts" most deeply seated in our minds are the ones passed on to us by our parents and teachers. We in "the West" (a concept with which Rosling has a lot of fun in the book) behave, with squirearchical condescension, as if the world was still that way. Worse, we cling to the binary; us vs them, black vs white, rich vs poor, views of the world that the first of the graphs coloured, but which the two of them – taken together - disprove.

We cling to our familiar world-view not just because we don't see new data but because we like simple patterns; ideally with binary choices. We survived in the wild as early humans by making – and instantly acting upon – rapid and necessarily crude evaluations of our surroundings. Fight or flight depended upon an immediate decision based on imperfect data often acquired from peripheral vision. That's why we like our action movies, with unblemished heroes and irredeemable villains. Simple binary choices are what we are comfortable with – and the more important and frightening the choice – the more we crave them. That may be the reason for the appeal of political ideologies based on struggles between opposing forces. It may be why in the present pandemic we have formed into two rival factions between freedom and safety. That kind of dialectic appeals to us.

On that same theme, to the extent it doesn't confirm our ideological stances, we tend to ignore new data This is the lethal "confirmation bias" that prevents intelligent discussion and makes us cling to the apron strings of the familiar ideas we grew up with. I have changed my mind a few times in my life. I have been a member of left, centre, right and liberal parties before I reached my present view that they're all parasites on the make and to be avoided like lepers. That may suggest more open-mindedness than the average, but I don't delude myself. It only involves a few extraordinary moments of my life. Most of the time, I cherry-picked the available data to support my current thinking just like most people. If I am honest, when my mind did change, it was not as a result of study or academic debate. It happened because of personal experiences that so shook me up as to cause me to read different books and listen to different experts. The change of heart came before the change of mind. The new reading then came in search of academic underpinnings for my new view. I may worship at Reason's altar, but I am as unworthy as any.

Child mortality and life expectancy are good, reliable indices of human progress. Judged by those indices, the world is unarguably a better place than it was in 1965. The old West got richer during this period but that didn't stop the Developing World from living up to a name originally given to it, let's be honest, as a euphemism. In fact, it has advanced relatively faster. Given the low base from which its people started, those advances have also meant much more to them than ours have to us. Conversely the pie-slicing, economic illiterates among us like President Trump are wrong to believe that the developing world could only get richer by impoverishing us. All those newly-rich Chinese did not pick our pockets and we don't need to pick theirs. We can all get richer by delivering the goods and services to each other that we are best-placed to supply. Adam Smith is still right.

We get richer either by having more money with which to buy more things, leisure or experiences or by them becoming cheaper so that the same money buys more. We can also get richer by having stuff that our predecessors couldn't have at any price. If (God forbid) forced to choose between them, my smartphone is now probably more valuable to me than my beloved car. Yet my grandfather never heard of such a thing and my father still doesn't value it at all. To go further back, King Henry VIII considered himself one of the wealthiest men in the world, despite having fewer material goods, leisure, healthcare facilities, cultural opportunities and scope for travel than a poor person on benefits in his Kingdom today.

We are all getting richer by combinations of all those things and more but the point is we are getting richer and our world is getting better. The dark, Guardian- or NYT-reader narrative in which the world is becoming a steadily nastier and more divided place is both stupid and malicious. At some level they must know their narrative is false. They advance it not for the noble reasons they state but because it justifies political changes that will give them more power.

We must therefore try to get past what people say they want politically and judge them by the fruits of what they actually do. Calling yourself "anti-fascist", for example, counts for nothing. It's how you would behave that counts. Asking me to support "antifa" because of what they named their movement is like calling a bullet "nourishment" and asking me to expect a tasty meal when you shoot me. Handsome is as handsome does and all else is what a late Polish friend called – when faced with biz-speak – "piramidalna bzdura!" (a great pyramid of shit).

I miss Hans Rosling and I am glad he left us this book. I don't know what his politics were and I don't need to care because, whatever they were, he did good science well. He dedicated his last years to writing this book in an attempt to finish his life's work, which was "...to show more people, more convincingly, that their opinions were no more than unsubstantiated feelings." If we can all read it, and then wrench ourselves away from exchanging those "unsubstantiated feelings" nastily with each other on Twitter and elsewhere, perhaps we can help Humanity do even better?


Checking my privilege

Racism is stupid. Humans come in different shades for obvious biological reasons to do with the intensity of sunlight where their ancestors grew up. Apart from calculating intake of Vitamin D when living in cold climates, it shouldn’t matter. Yet people keep on making it matter — for all kinds of reasons; few if any of them good. 

America’s race relations problems arise from its shameful history with slavery. Black Americans clearly feel a sense of solidarity based on that history. I can understand the magnificent language of the Declaration of Independence or the majestic ideas behind the US Constitution are tainted for black American students knowing, as they learn about them, that they didn’t apply to their ancestors. It must be hard for them to take the same pride in the foundation of their great nation as white classmates. I get that “Plymouth Rock landed on us” idea. 

Many White Americans do feel a corresponding sense of shame but it’s daft to feel guilty for stuff people who share some random attribute with you did. Short people are not to blame for Napoleon and nor (fun though it is to tease them about him) are French people. No doubt we all do feel pride and shame about our ancestors’ achievements and sins, but it’s nuts to base law or policy on those irrational feelings or to allow them to taint relationships today. 

Even if we were to go down the mad road of punishing people for the sins of the fathers, we’d have to find out what those ‘fathers” actually did, person by person. To do it skin tone by skin tone would itself be racist. It would involve, for example, some British people being heroes because their ancestors sailed with the Royal Navy squadron detailed to suppress the Slave Trade while others are villains because theirs crewed slave ships. There would be no way of knowing if you were hero or villain until you played that historical lottery. 

As I told a Jewish American friend who teased me one Fourth of July about losing the American Revolutionary War, “That was a dispute between two sets of my ancestors — yours were in Germany at the time. Stay out of our family quarrels.” That’s a good joke but it would be dumb to base a social science on it. Yet America’s “grievance studies” types have done something remarkably similar in creating the wicked notion of “white privilege”.

In a purported response to the evil stupidity of racism its proponents attempt to justify the punishment of innocents for the past sins of their race. My Jewish-American friend has white privilege even though his ancestors had nothing to do with the historical oppression of black Americans and even though his family arrived as refugees from oppression themselves. This wicked idea’s proponents say having privilege doesn’t make you bad per se, but then go on to tell whites that, simply because of the colour of their skin, they must be silent when a person of colour speaks, they cannot join their race-based movements and can aspire to be no more than an ally — and not an equal one at that. For the sins of their race they must pay — perhaps even actual financial restitution. Solidarity of a black man with his brother is a good thing. A white man thinking of another as his race brother is racism. In truth, both are racist. Both are stupid. Both are lethally divisive. 

An interesting sidelight on this insanity was cast when, during President Obama’s first election campaign some black Americans argued that though American and black he wasn’t a black American. This, because his family arrived as voluntary immigrants from Africa and had not been shaped by the history of slavery. By this logic Obama enjoys some kind of black privilege and can never hope to be more than an ally to black Americans. It’s not how most think I am sure — indeed many black Americans seem to take a pride in Obama’s presidency that would be sinister if white Americans felt it on the same basis for a white President. Still, it’s a self-inflicted reductio ad absurdam on an already absurd idea. 

A definitive proof of the evil of social “science” is that — faced with the real problem of racism — it has come up with the insane idea of racist post mortem justice; demanding that living white people compensate living black people for what some dead white people did to some dead black people. If you question the logic of this then — boom — you confirm the whole crooked theory because it’s your “privilege” that blinds you to its truth. It’s like the ducking stool as a test for witchcraft. Guilty or not, you’re done for. Oh and by the way, you can’t just ignore this piffle and quietly get on with your harmless life because “white silence is violence”. 

This very American problem is poisoning the world through the dominance of US popular culture and the influence of the wealthy US universities.  On this side of the Pond we have our own problems. We really don’t need a whole raft of America’s too. But white privilege is such a wonderful tool for creating and exploiting division that our leftists can’t leave it be. It’s a social A-bomb just lying there waiting to be detonated.  

The Left is an immoral political movement. It seeks to divide. It seeks to promote hatred between classes and other groupings in society in order to create problems that can only be “solved” by employing legions of leftists with no otherwise marketable skills to direct us to the “correct” path. The extent to which it’s already achieved its real, unstated aim of creating a well-paid cadre of apparatchiks is visible in the present pandemic. The only jobs that are safe are of those employed by the state and rewarded by reference to almost anything other than economic contribution. Those thus paid for are “essential workers.” Those who pay for them are not. Anyone who points this scam out is monstered by a leisured army of social “scientists” and their graduates in the media — also paid for by us “inessential” saps. 

Judge them by the outcomes of their policies and governance and the theorists and politicians of the Left are clear failures. The squalor in which poor black Americans live is almost invariably presided over by them just as a Labour council in Britain is a promise of continued poverty for all but its apparatchiks. If the poor are your voters, the more poverty the better. If the oppressed are your voters, the more (real or imagined) oppression the merrier. 

The perfect symbol of Leftist politicians in this respect is the character of Senator Clay Davis in “The Wire” — perhaps the greatest TV show ever made and (among many other marvellous things) a searing indictment of American racial politics. It’s a show that couldn’t be made today because it reeks of white privilege. By the way, the fact that this concept would have prevented The Wire being made is by itself a small proof that it’s a wicked one. 

This post is clearly prompted by the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota but I have neither mentioned his name nor expressed any anger about that. Why? If the facts are as they now seem, his killing was a crime. The policeman who killed him was immediately fired and is now being prosecuted. If found guilty he will be punished. I feel sorry for Mr Floyd and his family just as I do for other victims of crime and their families. If his killer is the criminal he certainly seems to be, I’ll hate him just as I hate all criminals — white, black, uniformed or not. 

There are many unlawful homicides every day and this is probably one of them. A jury will decide. There are many injustices every day but this isn’t (yet) one of them. It is a crime and it’s being prosecuted. As for the storm of hatred, robbery and destruction — cheered on by witless celebrities and evil, exploitative politicians — that has followed it; that involves thousands of injustices. The wicked doctrine of white privilege makes it dangerous for anyone but black Americans to call them out as such. All praise to Mr Floyd’s family, they have. I thank them for that. All shame to the race-baiting vermin of the American Left, they haven’t and they won’t. The looted, burned-out shopkeepers of America (or, if they’re lucky, their insurers) are in practice making involuntary campaign contributions to the real Clay Davis’s who will protect the looters and thugs in return for their continued loyalty at election time. It’s an insult to decent black Americans. It’s an insult to humanity. 

So, if I unfollowed you on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram in the last week it’s not because you mentioned poor Mr Floyd. I still follow many who did — expressing the sympathy for him and his family that all decent humans feel. It’s because you mentioned white privilege. it’s not because I’m a racist, it’s because you are. 


Where we are and what we see

Nine years after I gave up legal practice, I have stopped calling myself a lawyer. If you ask me now, I would say I am a photographer. I devoted my professional career to words and now I am trying to develop my visual sense. I don't do it professionally. I don't need to. I just love it and enjoy the challenge of trying to be good at it. It's a wonderful craft to open ones eyes to the world and to see it differently. Armed with a camera, I have noticed details of both my neighbourhood and the places I have travelled that I would otherwise have passed unseen. These days, I generally just won't go where my camera isn't welcome.

Visual literacy comes from "reading" lots of images – as many as possible by the Austens and Dickenses of the photographic world. In my morning feed of my favourite sites on the web, there are now as many photographers as writers. They seem to be mostly of the artsy-luvvie tendency. I remember a portraiture workshop with an eminent photographer (several of his portraits are in the National Portrait Gallery) who directed his model to adopt the expression of "someone nice, like a left-wing politician". He was not being provocative and seemed genuinely puzzled when I bridled. When it came to my turn to have a go, I asked her to give me her "most evil, grasping look" while making a clenched fist salute. I pointed out to my eminent tutor that there is nothing "nice" about the people who had taken most of my life's work by force to bribe their voters to keep them in parasitical idleness.

Lily

This low-octane, mostly lowbrow wingnuttery applies despite (or perhaps because) of the fact that photographers work in a hard-fought, competitive market. The ubiquity of camera phones means there are now few full-time newspaper photographers, for example. Television killed the photo magazines where the "greats" of photography mostly earned their crusts. The rise of Getty Images and the like has destroyed residual income from stock photography. More images are being generated than ever, but less money is being earned for making them. Their main problem is like that of actors, however. It's a fun, creative job that many people want to do but there are too few customers to pay more than a minority of them. If they were not so disdainful about economics, both professions would find the outcome of that predictable. Mostly they just see it as "wrong" however.

There are playful souls among them but they tend to be more than averagely earnest. There's an historical reason for that. In the early days of photography it was derided by fine artists as mere mechanical trickery. Painters and sculptors thought of photographers as the Church had once thought of them  - as low class artisans unworthy of respect and to be cheated of their pay wherever possible. In consequence photographic pioneers longed to be seen as artists too and paid a lot of attention to "serious" subjects and "social" issues.

An art form needs to be well-established and respectable before its practitioners can have fun with it. The headspace of many photographers is very much in what I call "Magnum World" – a dark, miserable oppressed place plagued by manifold injustices, as portrayed by the members of the Magnum Photo Agency. If Earth feared invasion by hostile aliens, our best defence would be to broadcast electronic slideshows of Magnum photographs. The invaders would react like the Roman legions on reaching Scotland and advance no further, leaving us poor miserable Earthlings to our poverty-stricken suffering and oppression behind a galactic Hadrian's Wall.

In amateur photography, the comfortable pensions of teachers and university lecturers mean there are far too many of them in a leisure field that requires a certain amount of investment in kit - adding further layers of pseudo-intellectual pomposity, musty from a lifetime of never being challenged. I am a member of the Royal Photographic Society, but though I enjoy a few of its workshops from time to time, mostly find its members smug and insufferable. I hesitate every year before renewing. Its beautifully produced magazine, for example, unquestioningly peddles the conventional thinking of the BBC class. I have learned to appreciate the images while ignoring the priggish text around them. 

You may think I would find this milieu uncomfortable, but I rather enjoy it. I am missing my photographic comrades during lockdown. Exchanges like the one I mention above are rare. I don't pick fights. I concentrate on their skills not their views, learn from them and move on. They are no worse than most of my rich, West London neighbours – and at least the photographers have a job description that makes sense and occasionally bring some beauty into the world.

Finally, in my last post I wrote of confirmation bias among journalists and bloggers. I have noticed the same thing among photographers. The camera doesn't lie, but photographers can and often do. Their choice of lens can make the same group of people look rashly hugger mugger or responsibly social-distanced, for example. Their choice depends on how they want you to see the world – and who doesn't want others to see the world as they do themselves? The photographer is sometimes consciously deceiving his viewer but more often is first lying to himself. Attending many photo workshops has proved to me repeatedly that photographers standing in the same location with similar equipment will produce very different images. That difference seems to depend just as much on their metaphorical point of view as their literal one.


What have we learned from coronavirus?

I have not blogged about Coronavirus. Why? Because I have no relevant scientific knowledge or skill and this is a scientific problem, right? Everyone says so. Epidemiology is certainly not my subject and humility (not always my strong suit, to be honest) is definitely in order. So I have been all ears and no mouth. Thank goodness there are people who don't find epidemiology as boring as I do. I doubt I'd enjoy their company, to be honest, but right now I am ready and willing to love them. 

From the outset, I worried that the governments of the world were caught up in a kind of mass hysteria. Leaving aside the totalitarian states (including the one whose vicious incompetence has probably given the world this learning opportunity) the response of the world's democracies has been fascinating. Firstly, our leaders played it down. It was just another flu. Then they realised they faced something that might kill voters on a scale comparable to Spanish flu, leaving grieving relatives disinclined to vote for them again. They acted on scientific advice to implement some sensible control measures. So far, so reasonable.

Then the press asked (as is its job) if the measures were enough. Discussion about how far the measures should go became a pissing contest and hysteria mounted. Opposition parties everywhere suggested they would (of course) do more and better. Popular pressure built until the current draconian measures were implemented. Even libertarians like me can't just blame the vicious statists here – our fellow-citizens cried out to be roughly dominated like the submissives they apparently are.

Governments anxious to be seen to "do something" (the curse of democratic politicians everywhere) made grand dramatic gestures – building hospitals in days that would normally have taken years. To hell with whether they were needed or not (the much bruited London Nightingale reportedly has just 19 patients) Look! We are doing stuff. Stuff you could never do yourselves!! The State and its hordes are heroes.

Now we face the risk of the worst economic crisis in centuries. Even citizens of those countries whose leaders did not stampede with the global panicked herd of brute beasts (h/t Sweden, Iceland and Portugal) will be badly affected by what is happening now. Those of us retired and living on our investments face ruin. Those earning a living by selling their labour face it too.

I have read what I can on the subject, noted the conflicting opinions, been amused by the fact that they are coloured by personal animosities between the scientists, and tweeted links to those writings on the subject that made sense to me. So what have I learned? Not much science, to be honest. Just that the laws of economics – a science every bit as imperfect as epidemiology – don't go away and nor do political divisions.

Even that learning is doubtful, affected as it no doubt is by my confirmation bias. The internet is awash with people (at times including me) using the greatest information resource in human history to prospect for nuggets of information that "prove" their opinions to be true. I try to be alert to that bias, but I must acknowledge that it exists. It draws my eye to every example of entrepreneurs developing solutions to the threat of the virus and every state agent behaving like a thug. The confirmation biases of Leftists, on the other hand, draw their eyes to noble agents of the heroic state solving problems and grasping capitalists profiting from tragedy.

Human knowledge in science advances, it seems, along as crazy a zigzag path as in other fields. Every new fact is seized upon to confirm views that are hard to shift. Extremely powerful forces are required to change human minds. The mind of Professor Neil Ferguson, for example, does not appear to have been much changed by his own scientific failures. In 2005 The Guardian ran this story;

Last month Neil Ferguson, a professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, told Guardian Unlimited that up to 200 million people could be killed. "Around 40 million people died in 1918 Spanish flu outbreak," said Prof Ferguson. "There are six times more people on the planet now so you could scale it up to around 200 million people probably."

Actually fewer than 500 people worldwide died. Amazingly the experience of being so bone-crushingly wrong does not seem to have impacted Professor Ferguson's self-esteem at all. There is something admirable in that. Being wrong once, doesn't mean you always will be any more than winning one bet guarantees you'll win the next. That it hasn't disinclined HM Government to take his prophecies of doom with a pinch of salt however, is not admirable at all.

What have have learned is that, as Bastiat told us long ago, problems arise when people prioritise the seen over the unseen. Professor Ferguson and his clients in government are not setting out to hurt anyone. I accept their sincere attempt to try to save lives. Their extreme focus on one seen epidemiological issue however may well cost more lives than they save when all the unseen issues they are ignoring emerge. As a commenter on this article at the Ludwig von Mises Centre's site said;

“If we want to stop traffic fatalities, we could ban cars. That’s a solution that would ‘work’. But it only ‘works’ if our sole benchmark is the number of traffic fatalities. What about liberty, moral agency and economic rights?”

Exactly. Stay safe, gentle readers, as no doubt everyone is advising you, but also stay calm. This too will pass and when one day we are looking back at it, I predict only that it will prove to have been a very different story than it seems at present. In the meantime, I commend you to this blog for a different perspective.


The truth about the Shrewsbury 24

Private Eye reports that the Criminal Cases Review Commission will send the case of the 1970s “flying pickets” back to the Court of Appeal. Six of these violent thugs, including the actor (and former member of the neo-Nazi National Front) Ricky Tomlinson, who intimidated construction workers into voting for a strike they had previously rejected were convicted in the nearest Crown Court to where I grew up and rightfully imprisoned. There were many more than six and the only injustice in the case is that they were not all imprisoned — and for longer. 

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It is one of many lies accepted as fact in Britain’s leftist academia that the Shrewsbury pickets are innocent victims of Tory injustice. They are not. They were found guilty after due process of law by a jury of their peers. They had legal representation and every opportunity to defend themselves. Politics didn’t come into it but for the record this happened under a Labour government.

Justice was done. How can I be so sure? I was there. I blogged about it further here.

This strike, the most violent in British history before the miners’ strike led by Tomlinson’s friend Arthur Scargill, changed my life. I was a teenage Maoist — an advocate of violent revolution to establish a totalitarian Stalinist state. Like many young intellectuals (and a disturbing number of older ones) I craved the certainty of H.L. Mencken’s sarcastic observation that;

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

After my encounter with Tomlinson’s thugs, I told my Maoist mentor and school friend (still a friend and still a Maoist) about it. I expressed my disgust at the violent intimidation of my friends on the building site but he told me I was wrong.

Your friends are from the lumpen proletariat. The pickets were of the proletariat — the organised working class. What you saw was the dictatorship of the proletariat. It was Marxist, it was right and you should have been proud to be there.

It’s to my shame that I was ever mug enough to fall for communist ideas. I take comfort that, confronted with the violence I was stupidly advocating, there was something in me that was repelled. I asked the local librarian who had been dishing out Marxist books to me for something from the other point of view. My journey to becoming firstly chairman of my university’s Conservative Association and later a classical liberal/libertarian and a follower of the Austrian School of Economics began. 

Private Eye is supposed to be a satirical publication but its naive acceptance of the Left’s agitprop speaks volumes as to how far it has fallen. The campaigners probably know the pickets were guilty as charged, but don’t care. Their violence was class violence, it was good violence, it was “struggle” against the bosses’ class. Violence is only wrong to them when it’s directed against them.

They are well-organised and relentless in their lies. Tomlinson is rich from his later show business career. The working men they intimidated won’t want to waste their retirement or jeopardise their financial security by opposing them. I fear we shall live to see Tomlinson and his cohorts rewarded for their violence with hard-earned taxpayers’ money.


Life in the time of Corona

My conventional-thinking, main-stream media reliant friends sneer at the blogosphere; dismissing it all as "fake news". Yet at present they are furiously emailing, Facebooking, Whatsapping and Tweeting coronavirus disinformation by the shedload. Clicking on and deleting all this "fake news" from them affords me some amusement in a dark time. I do worry about the effect on the nation's morale however.

Humans didn't survive to become this planet's dominant species for lack of risk-aversion. We take in our stride the risks we are used to (e.g. driving) without worrying about the death rate but our instinctive response to novel risks is to over-react. Ex abundenti cautela, as lawyers like to say when lawyering an issue to death at great expense. 

What scientific knowledge I have is – at best – that of a dilettante. It was gleaned from the basics I learned at school before dropping every science I could at the first opportunity. That has been supplemented by casual reading of science articles in generalist newspapers and magazines. Quite a lot of it came from my boyhood reading of super hero and sci-fi comics, so I can tell you more about the properties of Kryptonite than of any virus. So, unlike my friends on social media, I shall not be commenting on the medical risk. I have nothing to add and anything I do say will change nothing, so mum's the word.  Actually, those theorising without data or expertise would do better (if they're lucky enough still to have her) to use that time to call their mum.

The only observations I have in the context of the present pandemic are to do with economics and political history.

Most economics errors (like the "broken window fallacy" first explained by Frederic Bastiat) stem from prioritising a seen effect over the unseen ones. In an emergency like the present one, governments – eager to be seen to "do something" – are likely to act forcefully on the seen economic effects of the crisis, while ignoring the unseen. Keeping their heads while all around are losing theirs and blaming it on them is hard for politicians at the best of times. Tending to narcissism or sociopathy anyway, they have less difficulty than the rest of us in seeing themselves as saviours. 

There is danger here. This article by Chris Edwards at the Cato Institute explains the danger well and I commend it to you.

Classical Liberals and the dryer kinds of Conservative feel threatened in such crises because we seem to lack the bold answers offered by authoritarian statists. Even Britain's classically-liberal Prime Minister, who is otherwise acquitting himself quite well in the circumstances, has promised state intervention on a scale and at a cost that might give Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders pause for thought. I predict that ten years from now it will be clear in retrospect that government actions to "save" the economy did more harm than good – even without taking into account the way such measures are bound to be gamed. Were I still practising law, I would be strategically positioning my clients under every tap of government aid that is about to be turned on. The lawyers, accountants and lobbyists of the big corporations will be doing just that.

As to political history, it teaches us that authoritarians love the opportunities presented by a crisis. I scoff at the conspiracy theories poisoning minds on the internet. No government (not even the monstrous Chinese regime) would cause such a pandemic on purpose, but all of them will seize the opportunity it presents to expand their power. Income Tax in Britain was introduced as an emergency measure to fund the Napoleonic War. Napoleon is no longer a threat, but still the tax bills keep on coming.

Any emergency measure should expire. If it doesn't, it's a fraud. Emergency laws (actually, I would argue all statute laws) should have "sunset clauses" so they expire unless specifically renewed. Parliamentary scrutiny is essential and any reader who has the ear of his or her MP should press these points home. As for the rest of us, let's just listen to the credible advice on offer, take what precautions we can and be kind to each other – especially the elderly and other vulnerable people who are most at risk. I hope all my gentle readers will come out of this pandemic unscathed. Here's wishing us all luck.


The Last Ditch Blogiversary

The Last Ditch (Archives): The opening shot.

Fifteen years ago today I uploaded the first post to this blog. The link above will take you to it. Almost no-one read it then and you may well think they were wise! I had fewer than 25 hits and remember being rather miffed. In truth, I completely missed the point of "social media"at that stage. Just as many MSM journalists still do, I made the mistake of thinking a blog was direct competition for them. Months later, a reader gently explained to me that it was far more like a conversation in the pub than a leader column in The Times. He advised me to engage humbly with other sites and to ask questions on my own blog – to join in the conversation rather than just "pontificate" like a golf club bore. 
 
Image 13-03-2020 at 16.43
Fifteen years on, I have written the equivalent of a novel or two on these pages. I have found my modest place in the information eco-system. This is a backwater of the internet's great flow but my circle of online friends means a lot to me. The Last Ditch is all I could reasonably have hoped it to be fifteen years ago (had I understood what I was embarking upon). It is my internet home. 
 
Years ago, the British Library contacted me and asked for permission to archive my posts for the benefit of future historians who won't have letters or diaries to read. They'll have so much other data online, however, that they'll need a lot of AI to sift it! If the worst happens, at least future historians can say there were a few of us warning against the legal, economic and societal wrong steps that were leading our civilisation to potential disaster.
 
I began blogging because I was angry about the assault on liberty in Britain by a Labour government led by a third-rate lawyer who didn't understand the key principles of the Common Law. Specifically the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2005 had upset me hugely. The MSM didn't seem to "get it" either and hundreds of editorials positing a false dichotomy between liberty and safety had exasperated me so much that I felt I had to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. Over the years, I began to blog about a wider range of subjects, but Liberty is always the theme.
 
It proved great therapy, if nothing else. It made the late Mrs P. a little happier. "You've found someone to share your concerns with other than me and that's great" was her take on it. I have missed her as my proof-reader and editor since she passed on. She was good at deflating a tendency to pomposity that my readers are too gentle to take on.
 
It's odd that, with all the leisure retirement brought 9 years ago, I have posted so little. When I was a Stakhanovite labouring on the front lines of international capitalism, I found time to post every day. Now it's once or twice a month at best. "If you want something done, ask a busy man" they say, and perhaps they have a point.
 
It's not that I care less than I did. I still worry that the Rule of Law, habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence (the "Golden Thread that runs through English Law" as Rumpole said at every fictitious opportunity) are little understood by the narcissistic, rent-seeking wretches inevitably drawn to power. I simply know that, at 63 years old (as I shall be next week) the responsibility has passed to the next generation. At best I can offer the odd word of advice, but if they take our society to constitutional and economic Hell, it's now their shout.
 
I worry, but I certainly don't despair. The next generations are no more a single unit than mine was. For every mouthy "woke" person there are 99 or more hard-working youngsters taking care of business and looking after themselves, the people they love and their communities. One of my daughter's school-friends has dedicated her working life to free market think tanks, for example. She's young but she's already done more to educate people about free market principles that I – who have lived my entire life by them – have ever done. The Misses Paine themselves, educated to the gills at the greatest single expense of my life – are contributing to the economy. Their generation certainly has a lot of leftists and identarian idiots in it, but so did ours. The number of idiots amongst them will wane as their lives progress. I was a young Maoist before I became first Chairman of my University Conservatives and then a Classical Liberal. I was a Welsh Nationalist before I came to despise people who attack others because of their prehistoric ancestry. I have been all kinds of idiot in my youth and have no locus standi to judge youthful fools now. I believe in the human spirit and its essential aspiration to be free, even if it doesn't always immediately understand the best path to that freedom.
 
The more young people have to conserve (not just economically but in their key social relationships) the more conservative they tend to become. Even the Leftest of the Left (e.g. Diane Abbott) make conservative choices about their own children's' education. We can view that cynically, or (as I prefer to do) we can smile at how the market works – not by force but by the gentle persuasion of Smith's "invisible hand". In the end, wisdom is at least partly the ability to reconcile our past idiocies, errors and hypocrisies with the reality of our lives.
 
Thank you to all of you, my gentle readers, in the past decade and a half. You have educated, inspired and encouraged me far more than I have been able to do for you. I am fond of you all (even my pet hostile who seems to have deserted me lately). Today, I have repeated my original error by pontificating rather than conversing. Despite that, please feel free to share in the comments what blogging, tweeting etc. has meant to you. 

Book Review: “How to survive the most critical five seconds of your life”, by Tim Larkin and Chris Ranck-Buhr

The late Mrs P was a rational pessimist. She used to say;

”Pessimists like me live a life full of pleasant surprises. Optimists like you live a life of unpleasant ones”

As I blundered around places in Eastern Europe whose dangers I didn’t even trouble to evaluate, she used to tell me off about it. I’m a big guy - 2 metres tall and 140kg - and though I’m gentle by nature and have no fighting experience it was always a fair bet potential predators would choose softer targets. So I never had a problem and used to pour scorn on her loving concerns. She used to say that such thoughtlessness would get me in trouble one day when the predators began to evaluate me as “big, yes, but old and slow.”

I remembered those warnings as I read interviews with dangerous criminals in the last book I reviewed. They took place in places I pass frequently as I wander around London taking photographs and otherwise enjoying my leisurely life — places I never considered dangerous. I also now subscribe to various local news services and to the Metropolitan Police’s OWL messaging service These also tend to give a darker picture than is apparent to my still-optimistic eyes.

In consequence, as I advance into my sixties, I have started to look around me nervously as I make my way home at night. I bought this book in response to that unaccustomed feeling and frankly it’s made things worse.

It encourages the reader to forget all morals, to dispense with any lingering sense of John Wayne-style fair play, and to be prepared to respond ferociously to threats. It encourages the law-abiding to assume that any attacker will be a ruthless sociopath and to act (if there’s no option to escape) with unhesitating and relentless violence. All this, in order to mitigate the criminals’ advantages of surprise, youth, strength and endurance. 

By way of encouragement, the authors assure us that, if we cast off our fears, we all have it in us to act thus. They scorn the study of martial arts and methods of self-defence that are inherently rules-based because the criminals know no rules. They use violence thoughtlessly, naturally and in keeping with humanity’s essential nature. The authors insist we can (if we shed our scruples) do the same. A key advantage of that is the more respectable we are, the less our attackers will expect it.

Consider these words of “encouragement” for example;

“You are a predator born, with stereovision for hunting prey and teeth for ripping and tearing flesh. You are a member of the only species that makes an art of war. The average human body is an awesome engine of destruction, driven by the most dangerous thing in the known universe: a human brain. You are a survival engine, the descendant of winners; your ancestors didn’t get you here by laying down and giving up. They made the losers do that. Violence is your birthright.“

Call me a sissy, but I’d rather believe my “birthright” is (a) the Rule of Law and (b) the protection of the police force here where policing was invented. The authors’ scorn for that rather echoes the long-ago warnings of the late Mrs P.; far gentler soul than them though she was. 

I hate this book or rather in my naivety or high ideals (you decide) I hate that it needed to be written. It forces me to look at a world I don’t want to be real.

In many other countries I could carry a concealed weapon to give me a chance if attacked. In Britain (though the criminals have all the guns they need and more — a young man was shot outside an East London hospital only yesterday) that would make me the criminal.

As for the police, I am more likely to hear from the world’s first police force for having written this incendiary review, than at any time I actually need them. I don’t want to accept the authors’ advice as to how to act in the face of danger but I can’t argue with their assessment that the cops likely won’t be there until it’s far too late. I’ve never seen one in the nine years I’ve lived in London. Apart from at football matches, demonstrations I’ve attended or happened upon, I’ve never seen a Met Officer at all other than in a car passing by.

I accept the bona fides of the average London constable without hesitation but I know in my bones that the Met’s leaders don’t give a damn about the likes of me. Their most likely involvement in my life story would be in offering hypocritical “thoughts and prayers” over my corpse, while telling the press that the incident in which I died was a “one off” and “untypical”. 

I don’t want to think of the pampered body that carries my brain (and camera) about as “a survival engine.” I don’t want to evaluate every passerby as a threat and assess how I would gouge out his eyes with my thumbs if he attacked me. I really don’t. But as I age and London remains more dangerous than New York, the late Mrs P.’s warnings are in my mind’s ear.

Are they true? Are they wise? The optimist in me resists the authors’ answers. Gentle readers, what do you think?


Book review: This is London - life and death in the world city

I have been too delicate (or is it fearful?) to comment much on how different the London to which I returned to live in 2011 was from the one I worked in twenty years earlier. To friends I’ve remarked that the monastic silence I used to enjoy on public transport has been replaced by a bazaar-like Babel. I’ve mentioned that Londoners no longer make way politely for each other in the street or on the Tube. Most remarks I could have made however would have exposed me to allegations of “racism” and those are best avoided in casual conversation. If I’m going to say something dangerous, I prefer to do so in writing that I can take care about and revise!

A remark between friends in a bar that “it doesn’t feel like home anymore” or “it’s not at all like an English city” could get one into hot water — however harmless (and true) such observations might be. So, cyber-warrior for free speech that I would like to think I am, I keep (mostly) shtum. Who needs censorship when we are all self-censoring so assiduously?

This book, by Ben Judah, has no such concerns. It tears into those issues and does so without qualms. It does more than merely put statistics on such observations, though it certainly does that too.

“There is a whole illegal city in London. This is where 70 per cent of Britain’s illegal immigrants are hiding. This is a city of more than 600,000 people, making it larger than Glasgow or Edinburgh. There are more illegals in London than Indians. Almost 40 per cent of them arrived after 2001. Roughly a third are from Africa. This is the hidden city: hidden from the statistics, hidden from the poverty rates, hidden from the hunger rates. They all discount them: a minimum 5 per cent of the population.”

The author, a journalist, takes his readers into the parallel universes that make up modern London; universes that know little of each other and share one major truth — to them my London is a legend and Londoners like me (and the few of our descendants that still live here) are fabulous beasts. They are as likely to know a unicorn as us.

“Between 1971 and 2011 the white British share of London’s population slumped from 86 per cent to 45 per cent. This is the new London: where 17 per cent of the white British have left the city in the first decade of this century.”

He spends time with street people around Hyde Park. He hangs with a Nigerian policeman and a Nigerian teacher. He visits with the pampered wife of a Russian minigarch. He hangs with the drug dealers who serve my part of West London in a market I pass most days. He smarms and lies his way into the company of people who probably shouldn’t open up to him. At times I worried for the safety of his subjects such as the prostitutes talking about their murdered friend. Sure, he changes their names but the details are so specific that their identities are only protected by his assumption that no one connected to them will do something so “old London” as read his book. 

The pace of the change he documents statistically (he’s a recent arrival himself and has no emotional baseline against which to measure it) is phenomenal. The new arrivals have had little chance (even if old Londoners had reached out to help them — and we didn’t) to absorb the local culture or adapt to our customs. Not only do they keep themselves to themselves - they remain in the siloes of their specific identity group.

“There is a whole African city in London. With more than 550,000 people this would be a city the size of Sheffield. And it has grown almost 45 per cent since 2001.”

The cheery slogan of our age is “diversity”. It’s as real as slogans usually are. A black teacher in an East End school observes (having first asked to adjourn to an offsite location where she feels free to speak):

‘They say this is a multicultural school. But it’s not. The school is dominated by Bangladeshi and Pakistani Muslims, with some blacks, a few whites and EUs coming in. I went to a Muslim school in Nigeria, so I can recognize this.’

Asked if the children she teaches are becoming English, she answers

‘With black children they do. But with Asian children they try not to. The Muslims I don’t think they will ever be English. They don’t want to be at all.’

As the Guardian’s review of the book says (casually smearing Nigel Farage as a racist with its usual disregard for truth or justice)

It’s easy to imagine how Nigel Farage or the Daily Mail might exploit his material.

but someone should be exploiting this material, surely, in order to address the issues it raises? God knows the Guardian never will because these poor exploited people are cleaning its readers’ lavatories and keeping down the costs in their Mayfair restaurants. The native workers who might best be hoped to sympathise with their plight are too despised by Guardian readers these days to be listened to. 

The lost souls living in misery amidst London’s wealth have been drawn here by lies. Not ours but those of people traffickers who hold many of them in near slavery among us; making them pay off at 100% interest the debts incurred to get here while threatening to harm the families back home they came here to help. Or their lies and those of compatriots who came here before them who make up success stories to “protect” their families from the squalid truth.

They dared to come here illegally because of half-truths about our respect for legal rights — portrayed to them as weakness. Yet those rights — pace the Daily Mail — are not the problem. It’s the weakness of the enforcement of our laws that leaves them here in legal limbo.

The book is not well-crafted. A good editor could have made it more pleasurable to read but this is not literature but journalism. It’s the literary equivalent of a visit to Auschwitz — a moral duty from which enlightenment, not pleasure, should be expected. I commend it to you not for your enjoyment but for the benefit of your soul. 


A great weekend

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Brexit Day went off well. I arrived early at the pub on Whitehall to find it crammed. I bought a drink and made like a hawk. Eventually a seat became vacant and I swooped. I held that perch until my friend joined me and it was time for the official party. 

The mood was not triumphalist at all, though it was jolly. My table companions, Deirdre from Wales, Chef Matt from Bristol, the Rev Simon Sideways (resplendent in Union Jack suit, tie and tie pin) and others were more than anything else relieved that our democracy had shakily worked so that things had not turned nasty. Only one Remoaner made an appearance — a cyclist who went by as my friends were smoking outside. He jeered and a Leaver from the North said “come on mate, shake our hands”. He declined, sneering in a German accent, “no, you’re all racists”.  

Rev Simon and his friend had worked security during the European elections for Sargon of Akkad and he told me stories of militant leftists charging them in numbers but stopping, spittle-flecked but impotent, when the two of them (sturdy lads) faced them.

Where I grew up if you start a fight you finish it”, he told me, “but these guys had been lied to. When faced with someone who stood their ground, they had nothing.”  

Revolutionaries with no fight in them are the best kind. I remember foaming Trots at an NUS Conference when I was a student threatening to throw Sir Keith Joseph off a balcony. Sue Slipman, I and others linked arms to protect him but, though they had the numbers to throw us all off, they lacked the testicular fortitude. They were public school poseur revolutionaries to a man — for all their fake Estuary accents — and like Rev Simon’s modern Momentumites, they had nothing. Many modern problems flow from taking such lightweights far too seriously. They are few, loud and ultimately ineffectual. 

The celebrations in Parliament Square were charmingly amateurish. It was the biggest church fête ever. The sound system sucked. The stage was too low and the big screen mostly obscured by flags. We chatted to the people around us and they were lovely. We watched a slideshow about our EU history. We booed every Labour face but Barbara Castle and Tony Benn. We booed every Tory face but Margaret and Boris. We booed every LibDem face without exception. Most of all (and this was interesting) we booed our greatest enemy the BBC. More so even than Guy Verhofstadt (who would like to be our greatest enemy but is too paltry a human to qualify). The BBC has lost the public’s confidence. It’s time it was shut down. A free nation simply does not need a state broadcaster, funded by force. 

Please have look at more pictures of the event (if you are interested) here. My friend and I went back to mine after the magic moment and downed a celebratory bottle of 2007 Nuits-Saint-Georges. He, his good lady and I have spent the weekend at the Barbican’s “Beethoven Weekender” hearing all nine of his symphonies. Typical ignorant, uncultured “Little Englanders” eh? Mrs P the Second will join us for dinner this evening to round off the festivities. 

My personal heartfelt thanks to all who made this victory for democracy possible.  Now for the hard part of Brexit — unity, economic progress and of course eternal vigilance. Good luck to us all!