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

Day 2 on the Thames Path

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I was quite proud of yesterday’s effort but before I could blog about it received an email of encouragement from a long-time reader who told me he’d had a similar idea for lockdown and had walked the South Downs Way from Eastbourne to Winchester. That’s eighty-four miles and he did it — not in twelve days as I plan to do mine — but in five! His last day of walking was twenty-nine miles. I feel embarrassed now to describe my paltry stroll, but can only say well done, sir! 

I returned to Teddington Lock, where I finished on Friday, and set off on the sylvan South Bank path. I hoped to make it to Kew Bridge but decided to get to Richmond first and see how I felt. Rain was predicted but didn’t arrive. At Richmond it just didn’t seem like enough of an effort so I pressed on thinking I would stop when I’d had enough. The path had no earlier options to end, however, as it ran alongside Kew Gardens. I’m a member there and could have cut across — if there was an entrance on that side. There isn’t, or at least not until half a mile from the end. Exhausted I sat on a wall and ate my sandwich then pressed on. It was seven and a half miles and (while fit readers may snigger) it was almost beyond me. By the time I got home having taken a bus from Kew Bridge Station, my total for the day including to and from Overground Station and bus stop was eight and a half miles. 

My photos are to be seen here if you’re interested. Even through gritted teeth I found the route beautiful in Autumn colours. 


Thames Path Day #1

Thames Walk 1
During the last lockdown, I gained four kilos. After my heroic efforts losing forty kilos in 2018, I wasn't happy about that. As soon as my health club reopened I stepped up my exercise programme to three hours swimming per week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and got my weight back down. I don't enjoy a second of it. Exercise is medicine. I hate it, but I hate more the consequences of NOT doing it. 

My heart sank when our tyrannical government announced lockdown #2 and my health club emailed to say it would close on Wednesday evening. I had my last swim on Wednesday morning and resolved that I must replace it with something rather than just allow my health to deteriorate. I was a transactional lawyer and respond well to a project, deadlines and goals. So I reasoned that, rather than just walk around the neighbourhood every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I should set myself some objectives. I decided to walk The Thames Path from Hampton Court Palace to Canary Wharf. If I walk on the three days I usually swim, taking the bus or Tube home at the end of each section (and returning there on the next planned day to continue) I reckon I can achieve that during the current lockdown.

At my age, I know my own psychology well (self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom, they say) and so I announced my intentions on my personal Facebook page. I am now ego-involved. My friends will mock me mercilessly if I fail. This ensures I can't backslide.

This would have been illegal during Lockdown #1. The rules forbade travelling to places for exercise. This time however we can exercise as often and for as long as we want as long as we observe social-distancing, only do it with people in our household (plus one other) and observe the rule of six, social-distancing and wear masks when required. 

Today Mrs P the Second and I walked from Hampton Court to Teddington, stopping for a packed lunch in a park in Kingston-on-Thames. A good friend lives in Teddington so we had a socially-distanced outdoor chat with him at our destination before heading  home by bus and Overground.

The picture above is of the beginning of the walk, looking up the river from the bridge at Hampton Court. All the pictures from today are here. As the tyrannical response to COVID19 has prevented me from making (and blogging about) my usual motorised excursions around Europe, this pedestrian trip is all I can offer.  


My political journey

I grew up around clandestine Conservatives behind Labour lines in the North. The North-East of Wales to be precise, but the border was in sight and our TV came from Manchester. My family were old-fashioned Tories; God, Queen, Country and leave business alone (except when it’s foreign and shouldn’t be allowed). I was forbidden coca-cola because there was nothing wrong with dandelion and burdock. My family were mostly that kind of provincial c(C)conservative. 

Apart, that is, from an eccentric great aunt who had been Labour all her life. In 1946 she had voted for her brothers’ transport company to be expropriated. Of course she used the euphemism “nationalised” but she knew - and relished - what it meant. She used to say such endearing things to studious young Tom as “children educated by the state should never be allowed to leave the country - you owe us and should stay to pay your debt.” She was against private education too, so rather insisted on this imprisoning debt. I think the imprisonment was part of the appeal to her controlling nature. Unlike the rest of our family of tradesmen, shopkeepers and truck drivers, she worked as a civil servant and looked down on us money grubbers scornfully even as she grubbed our money.

She was a terrible advocate for her party; far too openly authoritarian and far too liable to speak of the masses as cattle. She was a snob too. Even as a Socialist young man, I thought her ideology sprang more from contempt for the masses, than from love. They had to be helped, poor dears, because they were so obviously bloody hopeless. How lucky they were to have her. Recognise the type? It's not new.

My teachers were more effective recruiters. Of all those who taught me from the age of 4 until I left University at 21, I think only two were Conservative. I can’t even be sure about the first one - a French teacher at secondary school - as it was scarcely a safe admission to make so far inside the Labour heartlesslands. There was just something about her demeanour that suggested it. As for the second one, he was an eccentric homosexual law lecturer; about 500 in gay years. He tucked his shirt into his underpants and pulled them up above his trousers. He was in advance of hip hop fashions, perhaps, but the overall effect, when combined with a tendency actually to drool in the presence of attractive male students, was off-putting. Perhaps he was a double agent making Conservatism as unattractive as possible? He said sensible stuff about the Berlin Wall at Debating Society though - to jeers from Leftist students. After the fall of the wall, leftists affected always to have opposed the totalitarian excesses of the USSR and Warsaw Pact but believe me it was all “our socialist brothers” back then. There were leftist opponents of the Soviets in my university — the Trots who thought the Revolution had been betrayed and should be continued ferociously forever. Over at Oxford at the time, Tony Blair was one of those.

By the age of 12 or 13 I thought I would vote Labour when the time came. By 14 I was reading a grovellingly flattering biography of Marx. By 15 I was reading the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital in translation. I heard the siren words “from each according to his ability; to each according to his need” and — for a while — I was lost. As an earnest young intellectual bathing in big ideas, I thought I was going to change the world. Of course as an adolescent male seeking to assert his independence from his father, the fact that my Marxism made him a villain was a bonus. Poor Dad. How he worried about me. How embarrassed he was when I was suspended from school for my revolutionary activities (selling Free Palestine and The Thoughts of Chairman Mao on school premises and being Welsh chair of the Schools Action Union, which organised the only school pupils strike in British history under the slogan “Don’t take the cane, break the cane!”). It was all from love of the masses of course. I didn’t see that I would be delivering them into servitude to a grim regiment of people like my steely-eyed great aunt — merciless and free from doubt or moral restraint. 

There was one good consequence of this nonsense. The late Mrs P. was no communist herself but, years later, she said she was first attracted to me because I was the only boy she knew “who was at least trying to think”. If I had never been an aspiring Maoist thug, there would be no Misses P today.

If Ricky Tomlinson, his band of thugs and their pick-axe handles had not turned up on the building site where I was working in my school holidays I don’t know if I would have continued on that path. I have compassion for my deluded enemies partly because I think “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” I hope I would have read myself out of the foul swamp I’d read myself into but had I arrived at University a leftist, I might well have been lost forever. There were many clever fellow students there who read nothing that challenged their Marxism and I could well have become their mindless comrade.

Just as my daughters owe their existence to Mao Tse-Tung’s sociopathic violence so I owe my classical liberalism to Ricky Tomlinson’s rough thuggery. It's funny how these things go.

To be continued...

 

 

 

 


An hour well spent

I don't normally go for podcasts, as I can take in information faster by reading and don't spend much time in traffic these days. This however, is worth your time.

My last post was, I confess, a bit defeatist. I certainly felt defeated. Douglas Murray does not. On the contrary he is optimistic that the forces of evil are vulnerable and makes convincing arguments for going on the offensive. Rather than bemoan "cancel culture" he thinks it's overstated and urges the "silent majority" to speak up.

Referring to Kay Burley's ludicrous smears in relation to former Aussie PM, Tony Abbott, he is hilarious. He points out that she once grabbed a female fellow journalist by the throat in anger, squeezing so hard that she left a bruise. Playing her own game, therefore, it's possible to say that Kay Burley once grabbed a woman by the throat and injured her. Anyone who appears on her show is condoning the strangulation of women. By her own logic, she should be cancelled!

No right-thinking person wants Kay Burley silenced of course. Her bluster turns people off every argument she tries to advance and she serves a useful function in exposing the weakness of Tory ministers, but it takes Douglas to pierce the pompous veil so elegantly. I commend him to you.

 


A disappointed idealist speaks

The Misses Paine once said "Dad is not a cynic. He's a disappointed idealist." This may be so. Equally, it could be said that a man who reaches his 60s without becoming somewhat cynical has simply not been paying attention. There are some things in Britain I can still trust. The way the Common Law develops itself quietly, sensibly and practically (when not over-ridden by statute) for example. The jury system, for another. I would still trust a panel of British jurors over any tribunal known to Man if I were charged with a crime of which I was innocent.

Sadly I can't trust Parliament any more. John Bercow saw to that. Nor can I trust British Democracy more generally, alas. The past few months have shown us – even more than the long years of defiance of the popular will over Brexit - that the self-selected, self-serving members of the permanent apparatus of the state are far more important in practice than our elected representatives.

Our rights were not quashed because our politicians exercised scientific judgement. People who act on science they don't understand are every bit as blindly faithful as the religious and our MPs are a particularly ignorant bunch. Not only, by any means, on matters scientific. They possess precious little knowledge of anything useful and usually no great experience of the real world. Apart from a brief honourable spell as a DJ, my own MP (for example) has never received a penny of income freely paid under contracts with people who had other choices. Before she was a Marxist trying to foist Communism on us by stealth in Parliament, she was a tax-funded sociology lecturer trying to indoctrinate our impressionable young.

We have had one scientifically-knowledgeable Prime Minister (the first major political figure in the world to pay serious attention to the problem of climate change by the way) and she is now universally despised by the liberal arts-educated bureaucracy and most of her political successors. Even to say her dread name with approval is to mark yourself out as an untermensch. There have been many times since the pygmies drove her out of office when I have wished she was in Number 10 still. Never more so than in the past few months.

Lockdown (a horrible euphemism drawn from the prison system) happened because the apparatchiki of the Deep State decided it was necessary to close the useful parts of society. They have deprived the productive citizens who pay for everything – private and public, of their livelihoods, because they saw an opportunity to reassert their power after their embarrassing setback at the peoples hands over Brexit. They saw the chance to take an extended holiday on full pay from jobs (often non-jobs) that already pay more (on average) than those of the productive and which yield pensions substantially greater than those the private sector taxpayers who pay them can ever dream of. "Serve them right", our Deep State masters no doubt thought while trashing our lives, "for we are their moral superiors because of our [well-paid, over-pensioned] lives of 'public service'". They service us, in my personal view, more in the agricultural sense than any other.

My respect for the teaching profession in principle is great. No more important group of workers exists in a well-organised society. I personally owe a great deal to one or two conscientious teachers among the throng of idlers, wasters, lead-swingers and intellectual under-achievers who staffed my bog-standard comprehensives. But it would take a greater idealist than I have ever been to keep on rose-tinted spectacles now in viewing British teachers. They have shown themselves (with honourable exceptions who should really find a profession with worthier colleagues) to have absolutely no concern about the education or welfare of the young people in their charge. They have used COVID 19 both as an excuse to idle and a political stick with which to beat a government they consider to be their political enemy. "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach" was always (I thought) a rather unfair assessment. Now it seems generous. Those who can't be arsed, teach, might be closer to the mark.

I made some of these points in conversation with a fellow-photographer at a shoot I attended today – pointing out that Woodstock and the Isle of Wight Festival were staged, the worlds economies continued to function and social and sexual lives were unaffected globally during the just as deadly Hong Kong Flu pandemic of the Sixties and that the UK death toll this year will likely be greater from untreated cancers and other serious diseases because of the "save the NHS" strategy than from COVID 19 itself. "It's one of those situations," he opined, "when the politicians can't do right whatever they choose." He has a point. The cynic in me agrees and even perhaps feels sorry for our politicians. They have, after all, seen voters (scared senseless by outrageous propaganda from Deep State agencies everywhere) back the apparatchiki in opinion polls. The Great British Public is, it seems, a bunch of submissives clamouring for more not less of a spanking from their government. The battered idealist, from some deep crevasse in my soul, cries out that leadership should still be a thing and that they could have stood up to their advisors – if they only had a single ragged principle to their sorry names.

I cringe now as I remember all the times I told colleagues, clients and friends in the post-Communist countries where I worked for twenty years that "Brits would never accept" the various impositions that their governments, administrations and police (conditioned by decades of totalitarianism) were still inclined to attempt. All my proud talk of "yeoman spirit" and the ghost of Hampden, seems to have been so much embarrassing nonsense now as I angrily watch my fellow-citizens drop all claims to freedom while clamouring for more discipline from stern Father State. The only winners here will not be us or our politicians but the staff of the state apparatus that rumbles on regardless of our votes. Unless a party emerges that promises to do to the entire state apparatus what Ronald Reagan did to America's air traffic controllers, I shall probably not be voting again. It's not a matter of not encouraging the politicians. It's just recognising that – as things stand in modern Britain – they don't matter.


Pandemic, or catastrophic government failure?

 

This is one Australian journalist’s take on the situation in his home state of Victoria.  It’s the kind of voice I grew up with; thoughtful and robustly sceptical. It’s the kind of voice that belongs to, nay is essential to, nay forms a free society. It’s the kind of voice that — with honourable exceptions — I am not hearing in Britain.

In a dispiriting conversation with an old friend this week I was barraged with “official” information and accused of callous indifference. The social media ban on criticism of official messaging on the pandemic (even where it’s self-contradictory) is apparently redundant. The population is policing itself; sending to Coventry anyone who dissents. I’m beginning to feel like metaphorical Coventry is my home town.

If you try to research the issue on Google you will find yourself steered to the state’s agitprop (sorry “official information”). I distinctly recall reading an article reporting a study by medical researchers at Oxford University, which estimated that 63,000 life years will be lost in the UK to cancers undiagnosed/untreated because of the “save the NHS” focus on COVID 19. I remember the detail that twenty years of a young cancer patient’s life could be lost to a late diagnosis. I remember mentally contrasting that with the weeks or months of life of those most vulnerable to coronavirus that might be “saved” by lockdown. Or rather might have been saved if it had not been combined with sending infected old folk back to their care homes. I should have kept a link because that article has vanished into the search engine’s sinister, algorithmic “memory hole”. 

The old-fashioned blogosphere comes into its own here (though weakened by search engine manipulation). This excellent post makes several important points, for example, and I suggest you add the blog in question to your regular RSS feed or bookmarks. Unless, of course, you’d prefer to take the blue pill and be happy in the carefully-crafted search engine matrix of мистификация (Russian for “mystification” or what we call disinformation)  

If the criterion is severity of the pandemic or likelihood of death from the disease, this disease is not unprecedented at all — and not even within my own lifetime. In 1968-69 we had the so-called Hong Kong flu. Look up how many people died of it, and you will find a figure of “approximately” 100,000. They didn’t even try to keep exact track of the figure; but of course the seeming precision of today’s number is an illusion anyway. The 100,000 may sound like a lot fewer than the recent Covid-19 numbers, but remember that the U.S. population was much smaller — under 200 million, compared to today’s 331 million. Gross up the 100,000 figure for today’s larger population, and you would have had about 165,000 deaths, which is approximately the same as the worldometers site is reporting today as the number of U.S. deaths in the current pandemic. Then there was the so-called Asian flu of 1957-58. U.S. mortality for that one is given at about 70,000, but this time with a population of only 172 million. Grossed up for today’s population would give close to 140,000 deaths.

What was different about the Asian flu and Hong Kong flu pandemics was not the severity of the disease or likelihood of death, but that governments and bureaucrats had not taken on the arrogance of power to think that they could make the disease go away by scaring everybody out of their wits and locking down the economy and throwing millions of people out of work. We went about our lives as normal. People went to work. Children went to school. Social events and plays and concerts continued. Indeed, the Woodstock festival was in 1968, just as the Hong Kong flu epidemic was cranking up.

Our Western leaders put us all under house arrest. Our leaders in the 1960s never thought to stop their “flower children” going to Woodstock or the Isle of Wight. Consider how different our cultural history would have been if those “happenings” had been prevented. Quite apart from economic impoverishment and (for the most unfortunate among them) lost years of life, what Woodstocks has this generation lost? What moral right did our political leaders have to make these choices for them? What does it say about us that, not only did we allow it, but most of us ostracised or even demonised those who questioned?

 

POST SCRIPT

Encouraged by David Bishop's comment (below) I went back to Google and managed to track down if not the article (behind the Daily Telegraph paywall) that I was remembering, then one very like it referring to similar research. More helpfully I found the article in The Lancet Oncology that it was referencing, along with this alarming chart (click to enlarge). The number of "life years" lost seems to be more than I remembered, when you add up all their careful calculating, cancer by cancer (the effects of delayed diagnosis vary).

Image 10-08-2020 at 18.20

My "memory hole" point stands in that Google puts lots of approved data in your way when you are trying to find something specific. There are clearly algorithms that detect searches looking for such things as "lockdown causing cancer deaths" (which is what I searched for). Back at the beginning of this self-inflicted "crisis" I said I would not be surprised if measures to "fight" coronavirus caused more deaths than the virus itself. Given that these stats refer ONLY to cancer (and there will be lots of heart patients and others who failed to present for diagnosis because of the corona-panic) it's sadly beginning to look like I may have been right. I take no pleasure in that, but I do think heads should roll among the apparatchiki. With great power, as I believe someone's Uncle Ben once said, comes great responsibility. They must take responsibility for the way they abused the great powers we should never have granted them.

POST POST SCRIPT

This tweet links to the actual article I was remembering. I mis-remembered 63,000 as 68,000 and have corrected that above. 


A short, racist post about education

I cannot be sure and must beware of the post hoc fallacy, but I think I may once have done some good in the field of public education. I asked a question of Trevor Philips, former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission at the "Battle of Ideas" conference at the Barbican in 2012. He had wondered aloud why boys and girls from Chinese and Indian families do so much better in Britain's schools than white children, whereas black boys do far worse. I ventured to suggest that, whatever else it proved, it showed the Left had been wrong for decades in accusing teachers and/or "the education system" of racism. What kind of racist, I wondered, favoured Indians over Pakistanis, or Chinese over whites? He asked me, "if it's not racism what is it?" and (as the crowd shouted me down) I said it was culture. I said I had lived in China, where education was regarded as the most valuable of goods and I suspected the same was true in India. "If black British mothers treat their boys like Indian and Chinese mothers treat their children, they will get the same results,"  I said to howls of derision. That may be the least racist sentence I have ever uttered, but the cries of "racist" didn't abate until I retreated into my happy obscurity.

At that point Trevor was a lifelong, much respected member of the "Labour movement". Now he is discredited, spurned and has been denounced as an "islamophobe". I hope I helped him on his way that day. I was reminded of that moment when reading Hans Rosling's book "Factfulness" recently. This passage in particular brought it to mind;

In 1972, as a fourth-year medical student, I studied at the medical school in Bangalore. The first class I attended was on examining kidney X-rays. Looking at the first image, I realized this must be kidney cancer. I decided to wait awhile before telling the class, out of respect. I didn’t want to show off. Several hands then went into the air and the Indian students one by one explained how best to diagnose this cancer, how and where it usually spreads, and how best to treat it. On and on they went for 30 minutes, answering questions I thought only chief physicians knew. I realized my embarrassing mistake. I must have come to the wrong room. These must not be fourth-year students, these must be specialists. I had nothing to add to their analysis. On our way out, I told a fellow student I was supposed to be with the fourth-years. “That’s us,” he said. I was stunned. They had caste marks on their foreheads and lived where exotic palm trees grew. How could they know much more than me? Over the next few days I learned that they had a textbook three times as thick as mine, and they had read it three times as many times. I remember this whole experience as the first time in my life that I suddenly had to change my worldview: my assumption that I was superior because of where I came from, the idea that the West was the best and the rest would never catch up. At that moment, 45 years ago, I understood that the West would not dominate the world for much longer.

Rosling tells the story against himself and dates his understanding of the outdatedness of "Western" ideas about "developing countries" from that moment. It's a good illustration of that, certainly, but it's also an explanation of why, for example, there is a higher proportion of both Indian and Chinese doctors in British hospitals than of their respective ethnicities in our general population. It's a disparity that literally no-one is attributing to "structural racism" and there is something to be learned from understanding it.

No doubt some were better-educated elsewhere from a textbook three times as thick that they read three times as often. Others had mothers not yet fully assimilated into our culture who would have taught them at least to read the thinner text book more times. Just as I am optimistic that Pakistani-origin Muslim girls in Britain will be easily lured from misogyny into the local way of thinking about women, I am pessimistic that - in a generation or so - Anglo-Indian/Pakistani/Chinese boys and girls will have dumbed-down like everyone else in our state-organised schools and colleges.

Dumbing down our education system to protect our coddled young from “pressure” was not a good idea. As Rosling's story (and my own sad experience of "mixed ability teaching" and "Cuisenaire rods" in my bog-standard state schools) tells us, it’s been going on for a long time now. We now have coddled students taught by coddled teachers who were themselves taught by the first of the Western coddled. Without the "tiger mothers" in our immigrant populations we Brits whose parents couldn't afford private education would have no collective memory of what it is to be taught with rigour, free from concern for our fragile "self-esteem." The tiger mothers have been distant enough from local culture throughout to resist and so continued to demand more – thus scoring all those boast-worthy offspring in white coats and lawyer suits.

The young lawyers I worked with in China were the product of a culture that has valued education above all other things for millennia - since the power of the Emperor was first quietly supplanted by a mandarin class appointed by competitive examination. A Chinese mother, however humble, could see her son (admittedly only her son at that stage) rule the greatest nation on Earth if she pushed him hard enough at school. That kind of ingrained notion dies slowly. When I visited India for the first time to meet the parents of Mrs PII before our marriage, I was struck on my six hour road journey from New Delhi to their home by the sheer number of roadside advertisements for educational institutions – far more than for consumer goods. She tells me that many of them are scams and rip-offs preying on the hopes and dreams of poor parents, but the fact remains the demand is there.

The educational success of Chinese and Indian children in our system is due to the sheer bloody vigour (going on ferocity) of their parenting. We all, black white and beige, need to learn from that. If the post-war changes in Western education have proved anything it's the wisdom of the old adage "Spare the [now of course metaphorical] rod and spoil the child." Spoil too many of your children and you may doom your civilisation. Would legislators with any intellectual rigour have passed this resolution in the California State Senate? Would anyone educated with any rigour be committing the crimes against history, commonsense and reason occurring daily on the streets of Britain and America?

I say to any parents reading this – your children are neither fashion accessories nor playthings; they’re humanity’s future. Get on their case and give them no damned slack at all. For all our sakes.


Some consequences of Margaret Thatcher's mistakes

I joined the Conservative Party as a young man (having recently recanted my teenaged Maoism) because of Margaret Thatcher. She was not headed to the same destination as me, ideologically, but she was at least pointing in the right direction to be my fellow-traveller. She was socially-conservative in a way that I was not (I led my University Conservative Association on a gay rights march, for example and supported the Federation of Conservative Students' policy on legalising drugs that led her to shut us down) but she was clear-sighted, principled and above all moral.

Her morals were not entirely mine, but I would rather be led by someone with morals than without and she was the only moral Prime Minister of my lifetime so far. Most, like the current incumbent, were amoral going on sociopathic (fairly usual for high-achievers in most fields, to be fair) and some, like Gordon Brown or John Major, were actively immoral. Once she was hounded out, I left the Party. I was, for some years, a Thatcherite but I was never a Tory.

So I am not blind to the lady's faults. Leaving aside her inclination to use the state as an instrument of her personal morality, she also made some policy misjudgements and we still live with their consequences. 

She misidentified the key threats to liberty in Britain. Hindsight is cheap, I know, but the trade unions in mining and other productive industries were already on the way out. The real threat to our future was in our schools and colleges, where children were already being consistently taught a warped view of history and a contempt for economics in general and the market system in particular. In my education during the 1960s and 1970s I may perhaps have had a Conservative teacher. It's possible, but even then their discretion was by far the greater part of their valour. I can only surmise because no possibly Conservative school teacher dared say so. My Socialist teachers, of course, never shut up about it and when I studied Law at university, there was not even one discreetly-silent lecturer I could optimistically imagine to be non-Left.

Margaret, as Education Minister, should arguably have grasped that generation after generation of our youth could not be processed through such a thoroughly infiltrated, ideologically-monochrome system without lasting damage. Such was her own strength of character that I suspect she simply didn't understand the problem. She was not weak and pliable. No leftist teacher impeded her ideological journey. Why should others not see through them too? She was also focussed on achieving one of the great offices of State, and probably regarded the Ministry of Education as a "woman's job" with which she had been fobbed off. She may even have had a point. For myself, I regard education as supremely important – all the more so for having had to get so much of mine from independent reading, in spite of (and it really was quite often for the perverse pleasure of spiting) my would-be indoctrinators.

I recently finished reading the excellent book "Factfulness" mentioned in my last post. The research that was the life's work of its author Hans Rosling demonstrates that leaders in both public and private sectors waste much effort addressing problems that no longer exist. Like many people achieving power or influence in late middle age, Margaret was often focussed – at best – on the problems of her own youth, and – at worst – on those of her teachers' youth.

Arguably, a consequence of another of her errors is in the news this morning. Focussed as she was on reducing the state's area of operations, Margaret was resisted at every turn by the Deep State. As a leader who wanted a smaller state apparatus her main advisers throughout her premiership were the leading members of that apparatus, whose success in life was not gauged by their productive contribution to society but by the size of the department under their control.

So when the trendy idea of "care in the community" came forward it must have been a relief to have some advice that was consistent with her small state ideology – or at least that could be made to seem so. There was an undoubted need for reform of mental healthcare. There are well-documented cases of people who were unable to escape from what used to be called "lunatic asylums", despite having fully-recovered from the problems that led to their admission. In some cases, people were trapped in them for decades on the basis of a misdiagnosis. So the radical idea of closing them down and entrusting the care of the mentally ill to their families, local social services and other community institutions must have seemed attractive – especially as the real estate boom of the time (in which my career as a property lawyer was incubating) offered good returns from the large buildings in larger grounds that would be "liberated."

In fairness to the Deep State Leftists behind the idea, her government seized mainly on the "close and sell off the mental hospitals" idea and less on the "build community resources" part. If she had implemented the policy as they had wished (and I don't know why I bother to say so as it's true of everything they ever propose) it would probably have cost much more than the old system and would certainly have added to the Deep State voter-farm of public sector workers who can be relied upon to vote Labour in order to secure an ever-growing state for them to feed on.

According to Jonty Bravery's prosecutor

“He said he had to prove a point to ‘every idiot’ who had ever said he did not have a mental health problem; that he should not be in the community.”

I do not blame my local council's social workers for this psychopath's misdiagnosis, even though evidence was given during his trial that he told them he intended to kill to make his point. People say crazy things and, sadly, it's best that they are not taken too seriously unless and until they act on them. With hindsight we can all wish the poor Ealing employee (who must feel terrible right now) that Bravery told his plan had acted differently. So differently that his poor child victim and his family had been spared their insufferable horrors. In truth if they had made a fuss they would more likely have been criticised for it. I doubt it would have affected the outcome. I am not known for my empathy with state employees, but social workers do a job that, mostly, can't be done. They're often on a hiding to nothing whatever choice they make.

Yes, it's now clear that Jonty Bravery is a psychopath. He's crazy but he's not stupid. Yes, he was prepared to kill if it served his purpose. That's what differentiates psychopaths from the often high-functioning sociopaths I worked alongside in my profession and the various businesses we served. His essential point seems to have been (and in this respect he was right) that given his condition he could not be expected to live "in the community". He was one of those monsters Nature occasionally sends among us and well beyond being socialised. He needed to be in permanent, secure, residential care away from the community and under the supervision of trained carers.

Now he is.

From his tragically-warped perspective, everything is working out precisely as planned. It's horrific and scarring for his victim's family, but it's no surprise that he has smiled his way through his trial. His sentence is no punishment. He now has what he wants for the rest of his life. My point is that – without the Thatcher government's mistake in seizing upon a crazily misguided Deep State policy proposal, he could have had it without killing anyone. Maybe she should have stuck to her principles even more strictly than she usually did?


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.