June 2005

29 June 2005
“A milestone in the history of the internet” - Microsoft embraces RSS …link
23 June 2005
Why isn’t there more teleworking? - asks Chris Dillow …link
“One of my worries was that I couldn’t get a case…” - the trials (or rather lack of them) of a bobby in the 1920s …link
Free trade = cheaper rice = bankrupt Ghanaian rice farmers + - better fed Ghanaians …link
Union Jack banned for being offensive - an unusual example of first-hand blog reporting (via Blognor) …link
Government is hiding the truth about the NHS - In some respects it is getting worse, says James Bartholomew …link
“Can I be compensated for my slower bus journeys caused by the compensation culture?” - I don't see why not …link
Technorati gets interesting

When I first heard about Technorati I didn’t see the point.  Yes, all the bloggerati were getting excited about it and filling in their Technorati profiles but it didn’t seem to do much.

Now it does.

This is because in recent weeks they have added searches and categories aka tags.  This means it is much easier to find out what is going on in the blogosphere something which has long been one of my bugbears.

It’s not quite there yet.  For instance, there are too many tags with different names that mean the same thing eg Great War, First World War, World War One, World War I.  A tag search will bring up the most recent posts first, so there tends to be a lot of junk.

But I think they are on the right lines. This may well end up supplanting feed aggregators as the first port of call.

20 June 2005
Blue Pullman - as reviewed by Tim Hall …link
Pub smoking ban “bad” - keep thinking like that Harry and before long you'll be calling for the aboltion of the welfare state …link
The Czechs could be having a referendum -  …link
Britblog Roundup #18 - is up …link
19 June 2005
Gammon’s Law

Gammon’s Law (named after an NHS consultant who first noted the effect) states that in a state system the more you put in the less you get out.  This is because the money goes to bureaucrats. 

James Bartholomew gives an example.

Are the left winning the blog war? - Phillip Chaston wonders …link
“Charity concert my ass” - The eBay affair shows Geldof in his true colours …link
Croziervision Quote of the Day

Harry Hutton:

...England is on the cusp of the Chav event-horizon, after which it will be irrecoverable. The rest of us will go the way of the red squirrel, in my opinion.

18 June 2005
How to write like Orwell

George Orwell, as Scott Burgess demonstrated this week, was a great writer.  When he wrote he followed rules, the most important being:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These are not new to me.  I first read them in 1990 in the introduction to the Economist Style Guide.  Ever since I have tried my best to follow them.  Sometimes I have succeeded.

The rules are found in this essay from 1945 (warning: reading someone pointing out that you can’t write hurts).  What strikes me about Orwell’s writing is how up-to-date and clear it is.  It is 60 years old and it still feels fresh.  The rules work. 

Update The above took me about an hour to write.  Writing good English (and I am not claiming it is) is hard work.

17 June 2005
“Europeans are big whingers” - why they (we?) are rubbish at innovation, Reason #2 out of 11 …link
“Winston Churchill was Britain’s greatest ever warmonger” - Christie Davies looks at some cartoons …link
Market research? - Exterminate! …link
So, how did Canada’s Governor-General get tagged?

Someone (who clearly ought to get a real job) has followed the trail.  As he says:

“Mysterious. It seems to have come over from the UK, entered into the sex-blogosphere and then was picked up by Catholic bloggers. From there it went to Libertarians, then lefties, and now the GG.”

Via Jay.

“Show me a rugby player and I’ll show you a big fruity yoghurt” - strawberry or fudge? …link
“Without one you’ll be a practical nonentity - it is the card that proves you have a national identity." Heh (via DHYB) …link
Debate is great

I was struck by a comment made by Ralf Goegens in response to Brian Micklethwait’s post on the EU:

“One example, Britain has never signed up to the Schengen teraty, but I can tell you that is a huge relief not to have to show your papers at every border you come to, and move your property across them without a hassle. That is a huge increase in individual freedom.”

Or to put it another way: we can’t do it on a national basis because we can’t convince the electorate, therefore we need to do it on a super-national basis because there the electorate don’t count.

I have my disagreements with democracy but the thing that makes me cleave to it is that it enshrines debate.  The ability to debate issues is the primary reason for Western success - especially military success.  To lose it would mean jeopardising everything.  Debate and democracy does not always lead to the right answer but it is a lot more likely to succeed than any of the forms of government available.

So, sorry Ralf but there’s no quick fix.  You have to get out there and make your point.  It’s tedious and time-consuming but ultimately, it’s worth it.

15 June 2005
Best wasn’t - Adams was …link
The quickest way to internet insolvency - is a sensible name …link
This book tagging meme is going far - it's reached its first head of state …link
Is there something wrong with internet advertising?

Is there something wrong with internet advertising?  I ask because I notice that I pay precious little attention to internet ads.  I don’t pay that much attention to normal ads but it seems to me that ads on the internet grab even less of my attention than the more traditional variety.  For the most part, whether they be on blog sidebars, above blog banners or on newspaper web sites I simply don’t notice.  If they are those annoying pop-up types I make a mental note to blacklist the advertiser for forever and a day.

Is it the internet, the advertising or just me?  I don’t think it’s just me.  I note some of Tim Worstall’s frankly desperate attempts to generate click-throughs which suggest that most other readers aren’t paying much attention either.  (Note to Tim: it’s not you that I am having a go at but the situation.)  Also, while it is easy to name publications that have retreated behind paid-subscription walls eg The Spectator and The Independent it is difficult to name publications that have moved the other way.  It implies that readers aren’t noticing the ads, or at least, not in the way the advertisers would like (I am thinking click-throughs here).

I hope it isn’t the internet as a medium.  As I have said before, all this content (well not all of it but certainly a lot of the reportage and the professionally written commentary) has to be paid for.  I don’t mind paying for it as such but I do object to paying for it on a publication by publication basis.  I want to be able to access everything, from the Times and the Independent to Peruvian Railways Monthly, for a flat fee, perhaps on the same sort of basis as Napster To Go.  It’s just that I don’t see how that is going to happen, at least, not in the short term.

But if pay-per-view won’t work that leaves advertising which, as I said, doesn’t seem to be doing well.  It could be that the internet and advertising just don’t mix.  Why that should be I do not know.  The internet seems to me to be very similar in terms of distance from medium, content, size (more or less) to the daily paper.  But dead-tree newspapers make a fortune from advertising while their live-electron cousins do not.  Is it because the albeit slight, size change makes all the difference?  Or is it, perhaps, because internet advertisers demand click-throughs when actually they should just be concentrating on getting their name known in much the same way they do when the sponsor sporting events?  Or maybe, they are quite right to concentrate on click-throughs but have yet to work out a way of making those click-throughs happen.

14 June 2005
RSS again

This is really worth a category all of its own.  Jackie once again raises the issue linking to this guy who makes most of the points I made but better.  I particularly liked the quote from Robert Scoble:

‘[...] If you don’t have an RSS feed, your site is lame because you’ve told the connectors (er, superusers, er influentials) that they don’t matter. When I see a site that doesn’t have an RSS feed I see a site that says “Mr. Scoble you aren’t welcome here and we don’t ever want you to come back again.”’


Update.  And now it does have a category of its own.

Miserable people watch more TV - cause or effect, and what does it say about our motivations? …link
The history of English - Samizdata book review …link
Taiwan got rich because it lost its aid - I would so like that to be true …link
Croziervision Quote of the Day

“If the reason for contracting out is that public prisons are run poorly, why should we expect government to do a better job at writing contracts?”

Alex Tabarrok.  To which one commenter suggested outsourcing the contracts.

13 June 2005
Germans make the best drivers - because they have few rules. They make the best beer because they have lots of them …link
BritBlog Roundup #17 - is up …link
12 June 2005
More books

Seems I have managed to start something off in our corner of the Blogosphere (never thought of myself as a trend setter before).  Mark and Jackie come out as fellow shelves-are-too-precious-to-be-sacrificed-to-books-ers while Andy Wood and David Farrer don’t.  I liked Andy’s description of one of his favourite books:

“University Physics, Francis W. Sears, Mark W. Zemansky, Hugh D. Young. I read this when I was fourteen and thought “this relativity malarky isn’t as difficult as everyone pretends”. At that moment, I decided I wanted to be a physicist when I grew up. And so I became one.”


Protectionism started the Great War - Jim Powell chronicles Napoleon, the growth of free trade, its decline and the pre-1914 arms race …link
“You don’t like it, don’t come back.” - An Arizona prison governor explains the concept of consumer choice to his prisoners (via Blognor) …link
Message to all atheists - Christians are not (necessarily) irrational morons …link
11 June 2005
Books, schmooks

Well, even I’ve been tagged (by Tim Hall should you want to know) so here goes:

How many books do you own?

Maybe 30.  In my lifetime I have perhaps owned 200, most of which were textbooks.

Here’s the shallow explanation.  I have had to move a fair few times over recent years and often I haven’t had that much space.  On one occasion I had to throw some books away.  I didn’t miss, them.  I couldn’t even tell you what they were.  Since then, I’ve been pretty ruthless about throwing books away when space is getting short.  I cannot recall an occasion when I have regretted it.

But that’s not the whole story.  I never had that many to start off with.  In truth I don’t really like books.  I cannot see the point of fiction.  They say there have been no good books published since 1960.  What they neglect to mention is that there were precious few published before.  God knows I’ve tried.  Dickens, Shakespeare, Hardy, Bronte.  Utter, incomprehensible rubbish one and all.

So, that leaves us with non-fiction books.  I don’t really like them either.  They cost a fortune, they’re filled with padding and when you’re finished with them, then what?  All they do is take up shelfspace.  This is one of the principal reasons why I will take my chances with libraries.

It is one of my great hopes that the internet will finally put paid to the great book con.  So, Amazon are making money hand over fist, today but tomorrow is another day…

Last book read

Plumer, the Soldier’s General by Geoffrey Powell.  Great general, lousy archive (he destroyed all his personal papers).  So, the author has to scrabble around for bits and bobs.  And when he fails he puts in filler.  Oh well.

Last book(s) purchased

Plumer (see above)
All the Kaiser’s Men, Ian Passingham
The Voluntary City, Independent Institute
The Welfare State We’re In, James Bartholomew.

Name five books that mean a lot to you

Let’s change that.  Five books that have meant a lot to me:

Animal Farm, George Orwell
The Guiness Book of Records
Battle Tactics of the Western Front, Paddy Griffith
How I found freedom in an unfree world, Harry Browne
Smiley’s People, John Le Carre

Five people to tag

Like they’ll respond.  Brian Micklethwait, Michael Jennings, Jackie D, Scott Campbell, Andy Wood.

“Uninsured Americans are not left on the street to die.” Shock - and the treatments are better and the floors cleaner. …link
If you don’t have an RSS feed you won’t get read - and if it's not complete you won't get linked to. Phew, I'm not alone …link
10 June 2005
Markets in roads?

Jackie asks:

Is there anywhere where the government has created an internal market in traffic? By that I mean allocating (or selling) people credits (based on mileage, I guess) and then letting them buy, sell, and trade them amongst one another? So if someone like me, who doesn’t own a car, is allocated X mileage per year, I can flog it to someone else in my local area on an eBay-like bidding system (online and by phone).

Er, no.  The nearest thing is Singapore where electronic charging applies to the central business district and some main roads and where rates vary by time of day and type of vehicle.

Who was the greatest mass murderer of the 20th Century - Hitler, Stalin, Mao or Carson? Yup, you've guessed it, Rachel Carson for getting DDT banned …link
Is a warmer climate a bad thing? - last time round we had vineyards in Herefordshire …link
09 June 2005
The Conservative Mission

There’s a real battle on for the soul of the Conservative Party at the moment.  Here’s Albion Blogger:

The conservative mission then is not to convert itself to the centre ground but to convert the centre ground to conservatism.


Moneyed interest = moneyed irrelevance

Ryan Sagar:

The entire point of the Internet—or at least the reason for its success—is that it takes money about as far out of the equation as it can get. Tens of thousands of blogs can reach as many people as are willing to listen for dollars a month. Sure, not every one of these blogs has the capacity to create fancy videos, animations or other bells and whistles. But a lot of them do—and not just those in league with moneyed interests.

For TechCentralStation.

Monkeys taught to use money - they use it buy anything and I mean anything …link
Nationalism did not cause WWII - totalitarianism caused WWII. Europeanism is plain wrong …link
Hall against sprawl - he thinks we should spare a thought for those who don't drive. Update This has come up before. …link
06 June 2005
The Belgrano Affair explained

By Dom:

Even at the time (and when I would chant Maggie, Maggie, Maggie: OUT! OUT! OUT! at the drop of a hat) I couldn’t understand the controversy over this one.  There was a war on, the Belgrano was an enemy warship and it got torpedoed. End of story.

BritBlog Roundup #16 - is up …link
How to make it so there are no more jams ever again

The government’s announcement that it is thinking of introducing satellite-based road charging, oh, sometime in the next decade or so (how often have we heard that announcement?) has certainly stirred things up in the blogosphere.  Both Andy Wood and the ASI have pointed out the dangers inherent in the state having so much information at its disposal.  Snafu rejects the idea entirely and thinks we should all get used to jams.  VOTF thinks that fuel tax is all you need.

I think jams are bad and charging the cure.  One way of achieving this is to wait in the hope that the state, which owns the road gets its act together.  Another is privatisation.  We already have one private road in this country: the M6 Toll.  It charges and traffic flows freely.  And you don’t have to have your details recorded by the state.

Our main routes, the motorways and A-roads could probably be privatised very quickly.  While some might find that they are priced off the road others might well find that new bus and coach services price them right back on and others might well find that employers are willing for them to change their working hours so that they can get in when rates are lower.

However, this is dealing with a situation where there is a finite quantity of main routes.  Why should that be?  Whoever owns the M25 is likely to make a bomb.  But why shouldn’t they suffer a little competition?  Of course, if we were to allow people to build new roads we would have to relax the planning laws.

That’s the main routes.  Urban routes, alas, are a different matter.  Try as I might I have never been able to imagine how you could privatise urban roads without recreating something very similar to the state which is precisely what I am trying to avoid.

Urban areas are built with the right level of road space for their time.  I bet riding down Fleet Street was a pleasure in the 17th Century.  Unfortunately, no one predicted the rise of car ownership.  One answer to this is congestion charging.  We are trying this in London but is far from clear whether traffic speeds are picking up.

The other alternative is, if the old urban areas are found wanting, to build new ones.  This is the big idea of South California academic, Peter Gordon.  As he points out: people like sprawl (to use the pejorative term).  They like it domestically and, as jobs move out of city centres, they like it economically.  And because they are new developments they tend to have the right amount of road space.  Only today he points out that the cities that have grown the fastest in recent years tend to be those with relatively insignificant centres. 

But if we were to do it in Britain we would, once again, have to relax the planning laws.

05 June 2005
They said: “Vote yes or the markets collapse” - they were wrong …link
Russia in figures - for instance "9 - the number of years in prison you get if you contemplate running for president against Putin"  …link
Higher taxes = lower revenue - as they observed 600 years ago …link
Eavesdropping to become thing of the past - says Adriana via whom I get to this really excellent site written by a tailor. Bespoke and "made-to-measure" are not the same it seems …link
79% of aid wasted - says poll …link
Scot meets slayer of the EU constitution - and still doesn't buy him a drink …link
Pissing on the Koran - desecration or modern art? Join the debate …link
Is pre-emption justified? - normally, no but nukes may change everything …link
03 June 2005
The death of Ulster moderation - an American perspective …link
Croziervision Quote of the Day

Albion Blogger:

A refusal to try to be popular will actually make them popular.

on the Conservative Party

BBC indoctrinates children - with make poverty permanent propaganda …link
The BBC Walk

Do the BBC know when I am about to watch them and as quick as a flash whip out the good tape and switch it for the bad one or are they crap all the time?  I am forced to ask because on the three occasions this week I have been tempted to watch the BBC each time they have managed to wind me up within seconds.

Yesterday morning on BBC Breakfast, it was no different.  The item was on parking.  My beef this time was not what was said nor indeed how it was said but how they filmed it.  The item started off on an urban street with the reporter interviewing two interviewees.  She finished interviewing them and then, along with the cameraman, walked ten yards up the road where the next interviewee was standing waiting and proceeded to interview him.


I have seen this done before and it winds me up every single time.  The thing is I can’t work out why.  Is it because they are attempting to turn current affairs into a branch of the entertainment industry?  Is it because they are humiliating their interviewees in some way (oh, look at us we can keep people waiting around on our beck and call)?  I just don’t know.  But it is bad.


01 June 2005
Freedom brings equality

Chris Dillow asks why it is that it is so difficult to shrink the state.  He goes through the usual public choice arguments before examining the argument that free marketeers simply haven’t made the case very well.  And, he thinks he knows why:

My theory is that they’ve failed to address the case for egalitarianism. Rather than show that small government is consistent with equality - because it allows tax cuts or higher benefits - they have preferred to rubbish the notion of equality. In doing so, they have given the impression - which is wholly incorrect - that limited government is merely the self-interest of the rich.

One of the main reasons I believe in freedom is because I believe it leads to equality.  One of the real world observations that sustains me in this belief is the comparison between some cleaners I know and any member of the upper-middle class.  The cleaners are well-fed and well-clothed.  They own lots of modern gadgets.  They jet off to exotic destinations and they drive a new car.  All things provided by the market.  The areas in which they don’t do so well are things like education and housing things either provided by the state or heavily influenced by it.

Having mentioned cars, I thought I’d mention the thrust of an article (sorry, can’t remember where) I read some time ago.  The article was making the point that being rich doesn’t make you that better off.  Compare, say, a £100,000 car with a £10,000 car.  A Mercedes S-Class is only marginally better than a Ford Focus and in some ways, such as fuel bills, considerably worse.

EU delays MRSA cure - via their clinical trials directive …link

Norm doesn’t like Sudoku.  He says there are only three possibilities:

1) You fill in the possible numbers for each square until the information you have enables you to eliminate, to narrow the possibilities, and this eventually and more or less smoothly leads to a successful completion.

2) Exactly as in 1), except that you get stuck somewhere; but not too badly stuck, so that a little reflection finds the breakthrough and you get there.

3) You get stuck permanently and after a while throw the thing away. It’s not very rewarding, not in any of the modes.

So, what’s the difference between this and any other puzzle (he says blissfully ignorant of mode 3)?

Bob Geldof is wrong

Well, once again it didn’t take long for the BBC to wind me up today.  This evening’s BBC News at 6 o’clock’s leading item was the Live 8 announcement.  Now, I can’t say I watched the whole thing - the Simpsons was on the other side but I did a fair amount of flicking back and forth and at no point did I get any indication of scepticism let alone that Bob Geldof might be wrong.

Which is odd, because it’s not as if it’s that hard to find people who think just that.  Here’s Robert Whelan of Civitas:

Of course, we would all like to have less poverty in the world, and you don’t have to be a genius to see how that could be achieved. We need to have more capitalism. Capitalism is the system which, for the first time in the history of humanity, took human societies way above subsistence level and made them rich – rich beyond the dreams of avarice, as Dr Johnson used to say. The world is now divided into those countries which have capitalist economies and trade in the global market, which are rich, and those which don’t, which aren’t.

Hmm, I think I might keep a score.

BBC Bias

Left 2 - 0 Right

Britain will get a referendum - because our "partners" will force us to …link