Friday, 31 August 2012

Bradford Council should pay for photographs...


Rock snapper and occasional civil liberties campaigner Nick Pickles explains that Bradford Council is using 'licensing' to get top photography for free:
The issue of ‘rights grab’ contracts is one I’ve blogged about before, and the issue doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.

In essence they are contracts that you sign to photograph a band and as a condition of that contract you transfer your copyright to the artist, often without limitation. A milder version is where the contract requires you to license your work for free, while you retain the copyright. Not a huge difference in practice - the root of it is they get to use your work for free.

This is wrong. These photographers are not filthy rich paparazzi but mostly semi-professional and self-employed folk. And Bradford Council is ripping them off by requiring:

 7. I agree to forward to the Bingley Music Live organisers a copy of all photographs taken by my organisation at Bingley Music Live 2012. Images to be supplied in JPEG format and at not less than 300 dpi
Bradford Council should pay for photographs and respect the livelihoods of hard-working photographers.


Why we're conservatives...


It's pretty simple really but sometimes someone captures the heart of it with a little story. Here's Marco Rubio:

Many nights growing up I would hear my father’s keys at the door as he came home after another 16-hour day. Many mornings, I woke up just as my mother got home from the overnight shift at Kmart. When you’re young and in a hurry, the meaning of moments like this escape you. Now, as my children get older, I understand it better. My dad used to tell us — (SPEAKING IN SPANISH) — ‘in this country, you’ll be able to accomplish all the things we never could’. A few years ago, I noticed a bartender behind the portable bar in the back of the ballroom. I remembered my father, who worked as many years as a banquet bartender. He was grateful for the work he had, but that’s not like he wanted for us. You see, he stood behind the ball all those years so that one day I could stand behind a podium, in the front of a room.

It's not about elites or privilege. It's not about government or administration. And it's not about banks or capitalism.

It's about people, about opportunity and a world where, if we take responsibility for our future, we have the chance to succeed. Even if that success is just seeing our children get a better start, a higher score on the dice. Rubio's little story doesn't mention the government, it doesn't weep about ill-luck or carp about poverty. Instead it tells of the human spirit and the pleasure of knowing that our achievement stands atop the broad shoulders of family and community.

It's why I am - and you should be - a conservative.


Thursday, 30 August 2012

The problem that isn't a problem - alcohol in Bradford


It seems that (according to the very latest statistics) Bradford doesn't have much of a problem with alcohol:

Local Alcohol Profiles for England provides data for a total of 326 local authority areas, across 24 health, crime and prevalence indicators, and ranks them in order of performance with one being the best and 326 the worst.

Data for the Bradford district places it 18th out of 326 for the number of abstainers and 27th for the percentage of higher-risk* drinkers – both in the top ten per cent in the country.

The number of binge drinkers, alcohol-specific hospital admissions for under-18s and alcohol-related crime are all also lower than average.

*Pretty sure this should read 'lower-risk' btw

So drinking isn't a major problem for the city so perhaps the public health folk will prioritise other public health problems? Seems not:

Despite a higher-than-average number of abstainers and low-risk drinkers, alcohol misuse continues to cause harm, especially to the health of people in the district and remains a priority for action...

And we get the usual gibbering nonsense - this time from Andrew O'Shaunessey, Bradford's top public health doctor about 'hazardous' (ie drinking more that two pints of lager on any given evening in a week) and 'harmful' (doing that on three nights in any given week).

When will these folk shut up?


Wednesday, 29 August 2012

How come we're living longer?


Poor old nannying fussbuckets. After an unremitting torrent of statistical garbage about booze, fags and burgers and how they're killing us. Despite dire warnings of the "obesity crisis" and "alcohol pandemic". And following endless uncritical coverage from the BBC and national press... seems us English are living longer, healthier lives!

Healthy life expectancy (HLE) increased by more than two years in the period 2008-10 compared with 2005-07.

The proportion of life spent in good health has increased in England and Wales, but fallen in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The ONS figures also show that more than four-fifths of a lifetime in the UK is spent in good health from birth.

Bit of a pity for the fussbuckets, eh? However, I'm sure they'll be back tomorrow with their calls for bans on this and new controls on that - all to to tune of "it's for the children."

A pox on them!


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Nannying Fussbucket of the Week: Oliver Kamm and the world's first 'libertarian ban'


I find it quite humorous that Mr Kamm lays claim to being a 'libertarian' yet, in the same breath, can support proposals to ban smoking. That's right folks, dear old Oliver proposes the world's first 'libertarian ban.

It seems that our friend Mr Kamm is quite taken with the idea - proposed by some nutty local politician in Tasmania - that we should ban the sale of tobacco to people born after the year 2000, forever.

It seems that Oliver thinks it OK - and 'libertarian' - for one individual grown up to be allowed to buy something while another individual grown up isn't. Now leaving aside the need to require ID for purchases (another great 'libertarian' idea), Oliver seems to believe this is a remotely enforceable policy. Nobody is going to buy cigs legally and hand them across to someone else, there's no chance of anyone smuggling cigarettes into Tasmania in boats and trucks and planes. And the cops have so much spare time they can add another endless (and pointless) battle against the crime of personal choice.

Somehow, I think Oliver Kamm fails on the 'I'm a libertarian' front. He's just another nannying fussbucket.


Monday, 27 August 2012

Rambler gets pleasure from rambling but does he pay?

Looking after stiles is the landowners responsibility. That is when they're not fretting about the ramblers dogs worrying the sheep or the fallen stone wall (where some walkers have decided it's a short cut) that means he can't graze cows in that field. Or filling in interminable forms rained down upon him from assorted parts of national and local government. Nope, the priority is to fix a stile so Mick Melvin doesn't rip his anorak:

The president of a Bradford rambling group has called for action on “dangerous” stiles on walking routes in the district.

Mick Melvin, of the Bradford CHA Rambling and Social Club, said on an average day walkers would have a problem with up to five per cent of the stiles they came across.

He said many stiles in the district presented a danger to walkers, young or old. He said he wanted to see landowners take responsibility for problem stiles on their land, and for the Council to take action if that did not happen. 

What Mick means, of course, is that those landowners should pay - in time and money - to ensure he can have his walking pleasure. A walking pleasure for which Mick doesn't pay and has no intention of paying. Despite this Mick and his walking buddies are prepared to pay £200 for a waterproof jacket, £150 for a pair of boots, £30 or so for those funny ski pole things and so on through rucksacks, nice warm hats and a host of other items.

What Mick isn't prepared to pay towards is keeping the place he walks spic and span, fixing those stiles, mending walls, cutting back weeds and shoring up paths worn out by the passing tramp of boots. Perhaps he should consider that as an option? Somehow I fear Mick and his mates will still turn first to the Council and then moan to the local paper. Sad really.


The case against euthanasia...

**** a practical argument not one wrapped up in specious argument about life's purpose or value. To allow euthanasia is to licence the killing of another human. And that person may be in such a pit of despair and mental anguish that the mutter those terrible words: "will someone rid me of this misery and end my life".

For all the agony of seeing someone's pain dragged out before the courts and in the columns of the newspapers as the seek the 'right' for someone else to kill them, there still is that problem. A risk eloquently put here by Chris:

A few months ago, curled up around the toilet bowl, chest sore from dry heaving for days on end and every single fibre in my muscle aching from low potassium levels, those words have left my lips. “I wish someone would put me out of my misery,” I moaned. As my intestines failed, so did my strength to bear the pain and indignity of nausea, constant vomiting, pain and the side effects of heavy medication to control my symptoms (and cause new ones). It is difficult for me to live with those words in retrospect, but they made sense at that very point. I understand, perhaps not the depth, but the kind of emotion that can lead us to wish for death.

Every day people who work with the elderly, with the mentally ill and with those suffering painful disability hear these words. And rather than a tidy little injection and an end to it, they give comfort, provide an ear of understanding. We can write a million words of justification for creating a rule allowing someone to kill another but we can never bring back a life ended on the justification of words cried out in anguish. And that is why the so-called 'right to die' is really just a 'right to kill'.


Sunday, 26 August 2012

Seems that being good at bridge doesn't free you from believing in nonsense


The Telegraph reports - without once raising its literary eyebrows or even saying; "you what?" - on the triumph of the English women's bridge team* which is, it seems, down to lavender oil:

Mrs Smith, the daughter of Nico Gardener, the celebrated bridge author, devised the lavender tactic three years ago.

She insists on using only the lavender oil she buys from the medieval hilltop village of Tourrettes-sur-Loup, near Nice, in the south of France.

“It has to be high-altitude lavender, grown in the mountains – the stuff lower down is cheaper, but not as good. I am a great believer in alternative medicines, and our lavender oil definitely helps the concentration."

Now it's fine that this woman believes this and I suppose it's harmless. But why does no-one look Mrs Smith in the eye and tell her that it's utter nonsense? And why does the Telegraph publish this twaddle without pointing out that is isn't true?

*As an aside, why is there a woman's bridge team and a men's bridge team? I can see nothing in the game that suggests one or other gender has an advantage qua gender.


I'm not sure social media do 'nuance'...


How on earth can we include uncertainty, conditionality and nuance in an instant gratification medium built around popping 140 characters into a box on the Internet? Twitter isn’t an equivocal medium, it is a place for the definite, the certain.

Even those who have managed to order the system so as to create doubt and an open-ness to other positions cannot buck the medium. The reader – or most of the readers – arrive perceiving twitter as a place of absolute certainty: “god is dead”, “abortion is wrong”, “Tories are scum”, “Arsenal are shit”. A veritable cacophony of conviction, a place where “I’m not so sure about that can you explain” doesn’t really have a place.

This soup of competing but equally unconditional truths worried some folk. Here’s Peter Beaumont writing in The Guardian:

Because of the measures of success in the new online world, including how many comments are attracted and the number of page views, it has been inevitable, some argue, that the loudest and most partisan voices seem attractive. Which leaves a burning question unanswered. How to quantify what all this means for those engaging in public debate, including bloggers, writers, journalists and commenters.

Part of Patrick Ness's argument was that the often brutal nature of the online world has started to impose a culture of self-censorship as some have sought to avoid inevitable flame wars. Other writers have remarked the opposite to me, describing how, in reviewing his writing, he had gradually used fewer qualification in his arguments.

We see here two competing responses: “I don’t like the game in that sandpit, so I’m not going to play there any more” and “I don’t like the game in that sandpit but everyone I want to play with is there so here goes”. Both are correct but define the person – there is no requirement to ping out tweets all the live long day, to record every last second of your life on Facebook or to scribe angry little pieces on a blog read by seventy people (on a good day). Yet in the discourse about the Internet – or more specifically the social aspect of the Internet – no-one states the obvious: you don’t have to be there.

At the same time, we should be able to distinguish between styles of communication and how places (if we can truly call Twitter and so forth: ‘places’) change the nature of our speech. The way I talk to a bunch of mates down the pub will be very different from the manner in which we talk at work. How often have friends and family rung you at work and been surprised by your ‘posh work voice’? And have you ever been shocked at bad language from someone (like a teacher or local councillor) you’ve only ever heard in a formal context?

Places like twitter are growing up as the users get to understand them. The etiquette, the behaviours and the language evolve. Not from some heavy-handed set of rules but from the manner in which that community polices its own behaviour and defines its own boundaries. Indeed, when heavy-handed rules crash into social media we get the nonsense of the ‘twitter joke trial’ or the lunacy of arresting some kid because he offended a celebrity.

The other part of Peter Beaumont’s worry is equally confused – sectarianism. By this he means, I guess, the tendency of humans to cluster into idea-reinforcing and like-minded groups rather than Orange Order marches or Glaswegian football violence. Beaumont suggests – in referring to the work of US academic, Cass Sunstein:

...while the internet was efficient in bringing together virtual communities of interest, it also encouraged participants "to isolate themselves from competing views... [creating a] breeding ground for polarisation, potentially dangerous for both democracy and social peace".

In other words, virtual communities, unlike physical communities that are under constant pressure to compromise, are at risk of a tendency to organise around confirmatory bias.

It seems to me that this is perfectly normal human behaviour. For sure, the Internet provides more opportunities for that ‘confirmatory bias’ but we have always sought out places and things that confirm our position, that affirm our world view. Perhaps the liberation lies in the fact that a young conservative in Grimethorpe (there may be one) or the budding Marxist in Steppingley can engage with respectively other young Tories and emerging Marxists. The assumption that on-line engagement means a new universalist idea evolving from some primeval internet soup may indeed appeal but surely it is nonsense?

Finally – and this really is important – there are more people on-line who prefer chatting about the X-Factor, football or the simple minutiae of an ordinary life. Perhaps Beaumont’s assumption that on-line activity is all about politics and media is simply his own form of confirmation bias?  While there was plenty of robust debate around Julian Assange on assorted social media channels, I’m prepared to bet that there were more pictures of cute puppies and kittens posted on various social media sites than coruscatingly insightful remarks about wikileaks. And this is how the world should be.


Saturday, 25 August 2012

Wink at the moon...


I remember sitting on the floor of my primary school watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. In modern parlance is was, like, wow! Indeed those moments were to an eight-year old boy, a true wonder. We won't lose those memories.

Now Neil Armstrong has died his family have created the most poignant of memorials in an act we can all do to recognise his achievement - and the achievements of all those others who made it possible for him to make that great leap for mankind:

For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink." 

I know I'll be winking at the moon when I next see her.

.... about that ban on selling playing fields


The enthusiasm for banning the sale of school playing fields continues - there's even a petition - today the Telegraph reports that 80% of people surveyed support such a ban. Lots of shouty news coverage talking about how we'll never win anything ever again in any sport because those nasty Tories are flogging off the school fields. But let me tell you a little story. One that reminds us that total bans are usually a pretty daft idea.

In Cullingworth there's an area of land that is defined as school playing fields. This land used to be attached to the primary school and was used for the purposes of play so I guess that definition is a good one. However, a few years ago a new school was built (complete with a nice new playing field) on a site that used to be allotments.

Now in the world of the total ban on selling playing fields can we change the designation of the land at the old school (now converted into apartments)? It seems not or that's what our friendly neighbourhood planners suggest. So the land has sat there empty, unused and unloved.

However, we know that given the right development, we can write and nice letter to that kind Mr Gove who can say to Bradford Council that they can sell the land. And this is precisely what we plan (in a roundabout sort of way) in order to get a new village hall with associated parking and such.

If there was a total ban on selling playing fields we'd be stuck with an unused piece of land that can't be developed (it's playing fields after all) and can't be sold. I can hear you saying that, of course, it isn't playing fields any more. But once you introduce such flexibility (probably by allowing that nice Mr Gove to determine whether or not it still is playing fields) you can't have a total ban.

As always with bans there are consequences. Things we didn't expect or anticipate and that mean we can't do the good things we wanted to do. By all means protect playing fields, certainly apply stringent rules for their redevelopment but leave off with the talk of bans.


David Orr knows this is nonsense. Most people in social housing aren't working.


Perhaps it's just doing a favour for his pals in the Labour Party but David Orr from the National Housing Federation shouldn't be saying things he knows aren't true:

“However, the idea of selling off social housing in 'high value’ areas to build more in cheaper areas is fundamentally flawed.

“It could effectively cleanse many towns of hard-working people who simply can’t afford the high prices of buying or renting privately.” 

I know this statement is nonsense because the houses of Nat Fed members are filled mostly with people who aren't working. I've sat in meeting after meeting where I've heard the words "most of our tenants live on benefits".  Take a look:

Not only does this show how things changed from 1981 but it also reveals the lie in David Orr's statement. Three-quarters of social housing tenants (in 2006 but I can't believe much has changed since) are not working. So selling off social housing in high value areas clearly won't "cleanse many towns of hard-working people". It might mean fewer old people, fewer single mums and fewer folk who are too ill to work but it won't mean fewer hard-workers. For those hard working people are living in private rented housing since the allocations system gives preference to those with particular vulnerabilities. And David Orr knows this.


Why grow up to be a taxpayer when you can be a tax spender?

From Steve Baker MP, I discover this (cute in that painfully American child way) pertinent little video about crony government and crony capitalism.

Yep. ....

Thursday, 23 August 2012


Sometimes we forget. Not in that absent-minded, oh dear, oops sort of way but really forget. No matter how hard we search, wandering into the dustier corners of the mind and to the backs of the brain's cupboards it's not there. You must have stored it away somewhere but can you find it?

"Now what was 'my favourite place' four years ago when I first signed into that system? Or for that matter the name of 'my favourite teacher' or the first pet?" Nope, it's gone, there is only dust and an echo of laughter as you have to start again at the beginning.

I put this down to the simple fact that life's too short to spend it filling in the endless forms of government - often for them to tell you that you aren't qualified or that you've filled in the wrong form. Combine this with the obsession with security and we have a recipe for the inevitable forgetfulness.

I suppose someone might want to hack into the system and alter the details on a student loan application? This is just possible but, I suspect, highly unlikely. For sure, there's some personal information but I can't see that this unlikely hacker discovering just how little I earnt in a particular year gains him (it will be a him, I'm sure - women don't waste their time with such silliness) much if anything.

So why all this obsession? Today I signed into a spam filter at work - had to register and, you've guessed it, provide an answer to one of those 'secret questions' as well as a password. All this so I can access spammed e-mails sent to me at work - in the main e-bulletins and such like (for some reason the system dislikes the Manchester Evening News).

Why? It just makes for forgetting. It simply annoys. And I can't see what is gained?

Maybe I forgot?


Motorists already fund all of public spending on transport...


The IPPR have taken to the airwaves calling for motorists to be taxed until the pips squeak (or something like that). However, the true picture is that taxes on motoring - fuel duty and road tax - already provide every penny that the government spends on transport. Yes folks that's the money spent on looking after roads as well as all the subsidies to keep trains and buses going.

Fuel duty raises around 4% of total government revenue - for 2010/11 this was some £27.3 billion.

The vehicle excise duty (road tax) raised some £5.8billion in the same year giving a grand total of £33.1 billion.

I haven't included a proportion of VAT - on new vehicles, on the maintenance of vehicles and on fuel - but we can guess at a few more billion from this source. Motorists are - with smokers and drinkers - a grade one cash cow for the government.

And, of course, it all gets re-invested in the roads!

In the same year that the £33.1 billion was raised in income from motorists, the total budget for transport was £23 billion - the treasury is clearing a cool £10 billion from motorists!

And - as we know - much of that £23 billion budget goes on subsidising public transport - about £12.5 billion. Which - once you've taken out the bits spent on cycling, air transport and assorted oddities - leaves about £9.5 billion for the roads.

So next time you hear some self-righteous greeny from a think tank saying we should tax motorists more, tell them politely to go away.


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

More livelihoods that plain packs will destroy...


Corner shops are going to close and people who work in corner shops are going to lose their jobs if the nannying fussbuckets get their way:

Almost one in 12 independent corner shops could be at risk of closure or reducing staff due to tobacco smuggling and cross-border shopping, a survey revealed today.

The findings, published by the Tobacco Retailers Alliance (TRA), show that almost eight per cent of shop owners were considering ceasing trading directly due to a rise in the sale of illegal and counterfeit cigarettes.

A further 26 per cent of the businesses questioned in Yorkshire and Humber admitted they were contemplating cutting staff as a result of a decline in tobacco sales.

But I guess the New Puritans and prohibitionists don't care. They will crow and cheer at the demise of these jobs and the closure of these businesses. Another nail in the coffin of community banged in by the righteous and their desire to pass judgement on our personal choices.

It won't stop the smoking of course. That'll carry on, supplied by the man with a van. Unlicensed, unregulated, unchecked and uncaring. He's there already - nearly half of the top twenty "tax dodgers" named by the Mirror are wanted for dodging duty - millions of pounds of duty - on cigarettes. And just as we won't be winning the war on drugs any time soon, we won't be stopping the man with the van selling smuggled fags and illicit booze. It's only a matter of time before he's selling burgers I guess!


Nannying fussbucket of the week: Councillor Gordon Castle


You see the folk running Northumberland have spotted a business opportunity. Thousands of Scots cruising across the border to buy up supermarkets full of cheap booze once their especially stupid and puritanical government has introduced a minimum price for said booze. For the Northumberlanders there's a worry:

"Shops in Berwick, Alnwick and Morpeth with easy access to the A1 should be preparing to accept a huge increase in trade but I expect, without an advertising campaign, Carlisle with its easy motorway access will win this race."

So, to stop this lucrative, economy-enhancing trade going to Cumbria a campaign is proposed. Cllr Castle thinks this irresponsible:

 "We want to promote Alnwick, we want Scottish tourists, but we don't want booze tourists,"

Nor, one guesses does Cllr Castle want the jobs and businesses that come with this lucrative trade (at least until our own daft government falls from its tree and introduces a minimum price itself).

However, Cllr Castle may be something of a fussbucket - only wanting the right sort of tourist - but the Scottish government are complete loons when they say this: is highly unlikely that a minimum price, that will only affect a proportion of alcohol sales, would make it worth their while to travel as it would cost people in terms of fuel and time."

How much beer and cheap vodka can you get into the back of a transit? Let's say 1000 bottles of mid-strength lager at 35p per unit (roughly a quid a bottle) - that's 15p per unit cheaper than in, say, Edinburgh (perhaps 40p per bottle). If I sell out of the back of my van at £1.20, I'm clearing £200 per trip. It's a roughly 160 mile round trip. Looks like I'm in profit.


Tuesday, 21 August 2012

I thought about writing about the recession but...there's a NATIONAL CAKE WEEK!

There really is.... 8th to 14th October. So pfft to the doomsayers, away with you gloom-mongers, begone foul economists-  we shall all have cake!

Gather your friends and family together, have a Cake Party, catch up on family goings on. Knock on the door of your neighbour invite them round for a cup of tea and a slice of homemade cake. Sit in the garden with your friends, a slice or two of cake and a big pot of tea.
Have a cakey gathering and raise ‘loads o’ money’ for your favourite charity.
Bake, Bake, Bake that cake and have lots of fun.



"International evidence proves..." ....that you're probably making it up!


How often do we here this or one of its variants: "European research shows..." or "Evidence from Australia indicates..." or "Studies in America reveal.."  Often these sweeping statements are made without any referencing - I had this on twitter recently in an exchange with Stella Creasy MP who claimed that evidence from Europe supported her contention that capping lending costs leads to lower (rather than higher) incidence of illegal lending. I did ask Ms Creasy to point me to this evidence but, to date, she has failed to do this preferring instead to prattle about a legal lender sponsoring a prime time ITV game show.

However, I'm not here to have a go at Stella Creasy despite believing that her campaign against Wonga and other down market lenders is well meant but mistaken. What I'm asking is that 'campaigners' stop using evidence from foreign places without letting us doubting folk have the chance to see that evidence.

Dick Puddlecote presents a wonderful example from the Scottish government today:

"International evidence shows minimum pricing will reduce consumption and reduce alcohol-related harm"

As has been the case throughout the minimum pricing debate, the campaigners - and now the government - fail to present evidence to support their contentions about the effects of the policy. This is mostly because there isn't much of this 'international evidence' and it is mostly inconclusive or equivocal on the subject (mind you there at least is some evidence unlike in the case of  plain packs for cigarettes).

The problem, it seems to me, is that those who report on these matters - the newspapers, the broadcasters - fail time and time again to challenge, to say to Stella Creasy; "show us the evidence you speak of, where were the studies conducted, what did they show, have the been replicated". The so-called journalists never say to the spokesman of the Scottish Government; "come on laddie, you can do better than that, let's be having confirmation of that international evidence".

Perhaps (indeed I think this a likelihood) the 'campaigners' know that us doubters, faced with their confident assertion about 'international evidence' or 'studies in Europe', struggle to locate the studies. Look at the evidence from Europe says Stella. We do that, we find studies (they show German illegal lending at three times the levels in the UK - Germany has lending cost controls in the form of interest rate restrictions) and the Stella Creasys of this world say; "not that evidence, studies you know, from Europe."

Why do I think that quite often these 'campaigners' are simply making these sweeping claims knowing that no-one's going to look (other than the industry attacked who can easily be deflected with "they would say that wouldn't they"). And that there's probably some evidence somewhere that, in that equivocal academic way, can be cited in support of the campaign.

Or maybe they're just making stuff up?


Monday, 20 August 2012

"Bad sexual ettiquette" - George Galloway is becoming an embarrassment to Bradford


OK, George Galloway is a contravertialist, ever willing to say the unsayable, to defend the undefendable and to march fearlessly into the corridors of power shooting from the hip. But this might just tell us rather more about George, and it ain't good:

I mean not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion. Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you're already in the sex game with them.

It might be really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder and said, "do you mind if I do it again?". It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning. . .

I don't adhere to the tedious "all men are rapists" argument heard too often from feminist agitators but it does seem to me that having "another insertion" without the woman's agreement is rape. George Galloway is entitled to take the view that the women in the Assange case weren't assaulted (although we'd know the answer to this if the dear old chap would pop over to Sweden for his trial) but to describe penetrative sex without the woman's consent as anything other than rape is quite appalling.


The public aren't so keen on nannying fussbucketry after all!


A little glimmer of hope. A small break in the dark New Puritan clouds. It seems that the British public - or a large proportion of it - aren't so very keen on nanny:

There is little support for nannying.  Asked if Government should provide advice on what foods to eat and how much to drink, 48 per cent disagree and only 22 per cent agree.

I'm guess that the fussbuckets will carry on - after all they know so much better. Shame then that that British public rather doubts that they do:

Asked if politicians and civil servants are well-equipped to make personal decisions on their behalf, nearly two out of three Britons (65 per cent) disagree, versus only 9 per cent who agree.

Perhaps, in the light of these findings the Church of Public Health will back off a little especially given that the good old British public things their latest wheeze, plain packs for fags, won't work and is an imposition.

Just a quarter of people in the UK (28 per cent) think that selling cigarettes in plain packaging would discourage younger people from taking up smoking, the stance that health organisations are currently taking to push the law in this territory. Only 25 per cent of smokers agree that plain packs would put children off trying cigarettes.

And all the evidence suggests that the British public have got it right.


Sunday, 19 August 2012

Humpty Dumpty and the damage of political correctness


I read an exchange on twitter in which two correspondents tied themselves into angst-ridden knots over the proper terms to use when discussing the paralympics. We scuttled about different phrases - "able-bodied", "people with disabilities", "the disabled" and "not disabled" - with, it seems some of these being 'offensive' and others not.

There is perhaps a whole thesis to be written about the evolution of non-discriminatory language and perhaps it will explore the fuzzy boundaries between giving respect to others and political correctness. How often do we read of some or other person causing 'offence' while not intending to do so - usually by using the incorrect iteration in the evolution of language to describe a particular minority.

There are two problems with this approach to language. Firstly it gives the power of the bully to those who are appointed (usually through some unspecified and undemocratic role as a 'representative' of the minority concerned) to police the language. By not being up with the latest 'approved' terms of description we expose ourself to causing 'offence' - even if we are using a term that is not disrespectful and has been in common and polite usage in the recent past.

Secondly, it removes context. The speaker is always exposed to the risk of challenge - regardless of intent or of context - simply for failing to use what we might call the "Approved Politically Correct Term" (APCT). The result of this is that language's subtlety is destroyed - the games of wit and pleasure we play with words are closed off because the guardians of the APCTs watch over us prepared to be offended. And to use their duly appointed bully pulpit to punish.

This brings me to one of the most important passages in English literature, a passage where the magic of words is revealed and where we are given permission to be in charge of the language rather than supplicants to some approved order:

    "I don't know what you mean by 'glory,' " Alice said.
    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't—till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!' "
    "But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument'," Alice objected.
    "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
    "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
    "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master      that's all."
    Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. "They've a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they're the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That's what I say!

The liberty that Lewis Carroll tells us about through the mouth of a nursery rhyme character is the very opposite of political correctness. It says that context is everything and that the author of the words sets the context. Rather than APCTs we have laissez faire language - joyous, challenging, exciting and - on occasion - offending. It is this that the deadening debate of precise minority descriptions destroys and the political correctness damages. The edge is taken away from communication, we concern ourselves more with the potential for offence that with the purpose of the communication - it's not just that people are offended by 'niggardly' and 'nitty-gritty' for no good reason but that when we use words, the word police ensure that they don't mean just what we choose them to mean. They mean what the politically correct have determined is their meaning.

All this kills language as we tippy-toe around certain subjects, eschew huge chunks of the dictionary and adopt a bowdlerised, dumbed-down language so as to avoid that moment of 'offence'. And the saddest thing is that, far from recreating sensibility and politeness, such political correctness makes for upset where there should be no upset and offence where there is no offence.

Perhaps we should take Humpty Dumpty's words and put them on big posters - make people realise that the language belongs to all of us. That we can wreck it as we wish, meddle with its meaning, love it and hate it as we wish. Maybe we should say to the bullies of language that we've had enough - respect is a reflection of character not a form of words. Political correctness is damaging, dangerous and joyless - it is time to get those words back under our control.


How we'd snigger at the Very Proper Gander!

We would. Snigger that is. After all we're so much more sophisticated than in times past.

Not so very long ago there was a very fine gander. He was strong and smooth and beautiful and he spent most of his time singing to his wife and children. One day somebody who saw him strutting up and down in his yard and singing remarked, “There is a very proper gander.”

An old hen overheard this and told her husband about it that night in the roost.

“They said something about propaganda,” she said.

“I have always suspected that," said the rooster, and he went around the barnyard next day telling everybody that the very fine gander was a dangerous bird, more than likely a hawk in gander’s clothing. A small brown hen remembered a time when at a great distance she had seen the gander talking with some hawks in the forest. “They were up to no good,“ she said.

A duck remembered that the gander had once told him he did not believe in anything. “He said to hell with the flag, too,“ said the duck. A guinea hen recalled that she had once seen somebody who looked very much like the gander throw something that looked a great deal like a bomb.

Finally everybody snatched up sticks and stones and descended on the gander’s house. He was strutting in
his front yard, singing to his children and his wife. “There he is!“ everybody cried. “Hawk-lover! Unbeliever! Flaghater! Bomb-thrower!“ So they set upon him and drove him out of the country.

Yesterday, a twitter fury erupted because the on-line, human equivalent of that old hen misread or misheard the word "snigger" turning it into a terrible racist slur. And I guess that the only thing is for us to take the 'moral' from Thurber's modern fable to heart - having told the Very Proper Gander's tale, our James concludes:

Moral: Anybody who you or your wife thinks is going to overthrow the government by violence must be driven out of the country.

Or off twitter!


Saturday, 18 August 2012

...of course atheism isn't a religion even when it acts like one

It seems that this terrible thing - the cross - is making some atheists ill:

Kelly challenged Silverman’s assertion that many atheists were suffering from “dyspepsia” and “headaches” because of the cross. Silverman said that he had members who would testify in court that this was the case. 

Do you not find this the most bizarre of statements from someone who leads American Atheists? It seems that the decision to incoporate a cross in the 'Ground Zero' development is causing both controversy and illness among the USA's atheist community. This Mr Silverman suggests will be resolved is they are allowed to incorporate a symbol as well.

Problem is that there isn't an atheist symbol - that would be all too religious!


Liberal Democrats? You're kidding - nannying fussbuckets more like


Not content with proposing to rob public sector pensions to build "social" housing, the Liberal Democrats have opened up a new front in the attack on personal choice and freedom:

The plans to levy charges on drinks like Coke, Pepsi and others will be debated at the party’s annual conference and could become Government policy, party officials said.
A motion, to be debated on the Sunday 23 September, says the party should call for “fiscal measures such as the taxation of heavily sugared drinks”. The motion is "quite likely" to be passed, officials said, although it could be amended

That's right folks, our Liberal Democrat partners are starting the 'denormalisation' process for pop. And at the front is this woman:

Prior to her elevation,Baroness Parminter worked as a freelance consultant advising charities and companies (including Lloyd’s, the City of London Corporation, Mencap & Age Concern) on charity issues, campaigning and corporate social responsibility. From 1998 to 2004 she was the Chief Executive of the conservation charity the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Between 1990 and 1998 she worked for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, rising from public relations officer to become Head of Public Affairs. She also chaired the Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals, which helped to ban hunting, between 1997 and 1998.

A professional nannying fussbucket if ever there was one. And quite prepared to make stuff up to support her unpleasant, illiberal ideas:

“I am concerned by the timebomb that we have of obesity – particularly among children; we have 500,000 children who have liver disease because of obesity."

This is a lie. A complete untruth. Indeed, if the good Baroness shut her mouth for a second and engaged her brain, she'd work out that liver disease would - on these figures- be the only childhood illness! The figure comes from a (pretty questionable) claim by Professor Martin Lombard, National Clinical Director for Liver Disease, in July last year:

From this sample of two year groups, Professor Lombard has estimated that for all children between 4 and 14 there are half a million who could be at risk of developing fatty liver disease either now or in the future.

This is based on the revelation that around 22% of reception children were overweight or obese and about a third of Year 6 children were "above a healthy weight" (whatever that means). More to the point the explosion in obesity simply isn't taking place. Here's the statistics from the National Child Measurement Programme:

In Reception, the proportion of obese children (9.4%) was lower than in 2006/07 (9.9%). The proportion of overweight and obese children combined (22.6%) was also lower than in 2006/07 (22.9%). The proportion of underweight children (1.0%) was again lower than in 2006/07 (1.3%).

In Year 6, the proportion of obese children (19.0%) was higher than in 2006/07 (17.5%). The proportion of overweight and obese children combined (33.4%) was also higher than in 2006/07 (31.6%).The proportion of underweight children (1.3%) was lower than in 2006/07 (1.5%).

I'm not saying we shouldn't be concerned about obese children - being very overweight is pretty unhealthy - but the figures tell us this isn't a worsening problem and may even be a diminishing problem. What the Baroness Parminter's of this world are doing is judging other people's choices as wrong - she doesn't approve of fizzy drinks just as she didn't approve of hunting and doesn't like the thought of working class people being able to live in the countryside.

How on earth she can lay claim to the title "liberal" defeats me - surely it breaks the trade descriptions act?

What she is is a nannying fussbucket.


More on that money stuff...

I was scrabbling around looking for something the other day and I stumbled across this book. I'd forgotten about it - which is odd given how much I'd been burbling about money recently. Flicking through I was again reminded why the case for competing currencies is so strong:

"We have always had bad money because private enterprise was not permitted to give us a better one.  In a world governed by the pressure of organized interests, the important truth to keep in mind is that we cannot count on intelligence or understanding but only on sheer self-interest to give us the institutions we need.  Blessed indeed will be the day when it will no longer be from the benevolence of the government that we expect good money but from the regard of the banks for their own interest.”

Government through force has prevented private money. In doing so (and once the inconvenience of money having any link to value was removed in the 1970s) those governments opened up the floodgates of state squander. We need a check on those governments, a means of preventing another grand economic debauch, something to prevent the deranged myth of valueless money from taking hold. And competition is the best check of all.


Friday, 17 August 2012

Do you believe?


I remember, in what seems almost a previous life, a quite attractive girl asking me whether I had seen the light. Because it was a quite an attractive girl asking and I was fifteen, I didn't give the glib answer - "just flip that switch over there, love".

If I remember correctly this quite attractive girl was talking about god. Although the rather damp church hall on Bingham Road in Addiscombe seemed an unlikely place for damascene revelation, I persevered (unsuccessfully) with talking to this quite attractive girl. Which led to the next bit of the induction - "do you believe?"

Tricky thing believing. We can be like Thomas and believe only when we stick our hand in the gory reality or we can be Mary Magdalene and believe on the flimsiest of evidence.  Belief has become more important than truth - indeed, that I might believe has become truth revealed.

All this brings us to politics, to the manner in which political communications now manifest a sort of religious fervour, an appeal to belief rather than any attempt to analyse, assess and decide. Politicians will say things they know to be nonsense merely to press a little belief button among their followers:

"Some of you may be cynical and fed up with politics. A lot of you may be disappointed and even angry with your leaders. You have every right to be. But despite all of this, I ask of you what has been asked of Americans throughout our history. I ask you to believe.”

Take this statement at its face. Is it not the most cynical, exploitative and deceptive of observations? We are cynical and fed up with politics because it has failed us or because we sense its vacuity, its amorality - yet we must believe. Just as half starved European peasants were asked to believe while watching bishops and friars living high on the hog, we are expected to believe in 'politics' unequivocally - our suffering (not theirs, never theirs) is for a greater good, for that belief.

Well I don't believe. No politician deserves support on the basis of "believe" for this is a con - we have tested to destruction the idea that elected representatives can magic us a better life. In the end the sorrow falls on our shoulders not theirs, we'll hear their sobbing sympathy but it is mere glamour, an illusion to fool us.

When Obama tells us to "believe" it is the language of the huckster - "trust me, I'm not like them" he's saying. Are we so foolish that we believe this to be true? Or will we be wise enough to tie the hands of politicians with the constraints of liberty - to say that we are free people, free to choose, free to fail and delighted to succeed. We do not need your "believe" but rather to stand in our own boots, make our own mistakes and, in the end, look at the far horizon with a job done.


Thursday, 16 August 2012

We are reminded by the OFT why minimum pricing for alcohol won't work...

Some while ago at the start of the minimum pricing for booze debate, I said it wouldn't work:

The most likely outcome of this surplus reducing investment is promotion targeted at drinkers currently buying alcohol at higher prices – either in pubs or for home consumption. The impact of this would be negative for the pub trade and counter to the expectations of those promoting minimum pricing.

Of course the nannying fussbuckets didn't believe me but now there's some support for this argument from - of all people - the Office of Fair Trading:

Its biggest concern is that shops will have an “incentive” to promote their cheapest ranges of drinks because they will benefit from higher margins on these products.
In evidence to MPs, the watchdog said supermarkets and the drinks industry would gain “additional profit for every unit of low-cost alcohol that they sell”. 

The OFT also looked in some detail at the wider impact of minimum pricing and concluded that there were other significant and negative potential effects - not least of which the domino effect (or 'slippery slope') that the nannying fussbuckets don't believe exists:

By legitimising intervention to control prices in a competitive market, it will be harder for the Government to resist calls for similar measures in other parts of the retail sector in future,” the OFT warned in evidence to the health select committee

So minimum pricing won't work and will encourage further interventions in free markets. And in doing this minimum pricing will - as we've said all along - make ordinary households poorer. It is just a tax on the poor.


Quote of the day...


From Tim Worstall:

...better England drunk and free than ruled by puritans.



Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Homeopathy kills....


I wonder who persuaded this man to opt for homeopathy rather than the treatment his doctors prescribed?

A Respect party campaigner who died on the Bradford West by-election trail when his heart suddenly stopped had given up doctors’ orders of beta-blockers and turned to homeopathy instead, an inquest heard. 

Abu-Bakr Rauf was only 28 when he died - killed becasue he'd chosen to use homeopathy.

"He was told he should stay on them (the beta-blockers) and many a time this was reinforced, but he and his family decided they did not want to do that. He was told about the risks, but they decided to rely on homeopathic medicine,” said Dr Khan in her statement that was read out. 

Terrible, unnecessary and another reminder of homeopathy's dangers.


In which Liberal Democrats channel the spirit of Robert Maxwell...


Robert Maxwell, former Labour MP and rapacious capitalist famously robbed the pension funds of his employees at the Daily Mirror and elsewhere to bail out the problems of his business. We looked on in horror as this bloated socialist exploiter ripped off ordinary workers.

It seems that the Liberal Democrats - in search of a gimmick - have decided to learn from Bob and rip off members of pension funds. In this case to build housing that the normal (private sector) funders won't provide finance for:

Funded by public sector pension funds, the 300,000 properties a year target would more than double the current rate of housebuilding.

Building this many homes (just building - we would need to buy the land too) will cost about £30,000,000,000 each year (let's call this £30 billion). The income of local authority pension funds in 2010/11 was £10.6 billion made up from employee and employer contributions plus investment returns.

Even if the existing development funding system generated 150,000 houses (for 2011 the figure was a tad short of 120,000) that would still require £15 billion each year. This could only be achieved by redirecting funds from other investments. If the Liberal Democrats want this to continue for the five-year lifetime of a parliament that would require £75 billion - 50% of all the funds under investment by local authority pension funds.

So we have a scheme that redirects funds from profitable investment intended to secure a decent pension for the funds' members. And places that money into property schemes that the private sector will not finance - presumably for lack of confidence in the anticipated return.

This would be morally bankrupt and criminally stupid.


Tuesday, 14 August 2012

"It's for the children" cries nannying fussbucket, Coun Ivan Taylor from Blackpool


Blackpool Borough Council have put themselves in the running for interfering fussbucket awards, I feel:

Moves are being made to ban smoking in Blackpool’s parks. Signs are to go up at the entrances to 13 parks and playing fields advising the public the areas are now smoke-free sites. Health bosses today said the move was being made to protect children from the dangers of smoking...

Oh yes - it's for the children! This is despite there being no evidence at all, anywhere, that people smoking outside pose any risk to health. And - although the signs don't tell you this - the proposed 'ban' is not enforceable.

The signs are being paid for by the NHS - you know, the organisation we're told is struggling for funds to keeps wards open, to pay nurses and to train doctors. Seems however that they have the cash for illegal signs in Blackpool's parks.


Monday, 13 August 2012

It's my Party too, isn't it? Why state funding for politics is a mad act of cynicism


I know it's hard down in the Westminster bubble to understand the real world where people are struggling on through the hard times. But our political leaders - and the media that preens and fawns over them - need to try just this once.

Those ordinary people don't pay taxes to fund political parties. They pay taxes for schools and hospitals and roads and policemen and soldiers. They don't pay for spin doctors, communications consultants, campaign teams and expensive offices on Millbank. State funding for political parties is wrong. So why are we speculating about it?

What odds then that in private a deal has been done that will allow both sides to come away with what they want? Here's how it was presented to me: over the next year or so Mr Clegg will find a way to back the boundary review when it comes up for a vote in the Commons. In exchange, Mr Cameron will agree to support some form of state funding for political parties.

This sums up everything that is wrong with our politics - the ghastly corruption created by Tony Blair and continued by every successor regardless of party. A belief that political parties are part of the state's apparatus, a cavalier attitude to spending tax money on what amounts to a political fix and an obsession with the process of politics rather than the outcome of policy.

But then the whole thing is so cynical.

Cameron is more open to the deal than his party because it reduces his reliance on the already decimated grassroots.

Am I thinking that Cameron is prepared - for short-term tactical advantage - to destroy the Conservative Party replacing it with a pathetic hollow shell where the "grassroots" (that's people like me) are pushed aside completely?  That I rather believe this says all you need to know about the management, leadership and direction that Cameron provides at the moment.

It's my party too isn't it?


Sunday, 12 August 2012

Does Laura Sandys realise what she's saying about food policy?


Let us take her comments:

The Prime Minister is right to use the Olympics to focus on global hunger. But while the main focus of this summit must be to address the problem in poor countries, it’s important to remember that food poverty exists in every country – rich and poor – in the UK as well as Somalia. Food banks are emerging in our cities, and charities like Fair Share are becoming part of daily life in our most deprived communities. In 2010, public health officials calculated that malnutrition costs the NHS £13bn.

Now I'm not going to comment on the public health guffle in this quotation except to say that the last sentence is probably complete and utter tripe. Nonsense that will be repeated again and again until - like the lies about obesity and the misinformation about drinking - it becomes accepted truth.

But for now let us accept that all this is true and that Laura's later comment is also true:

We must increase food production and overcome our squeamishness to modified crops

If there isn't enough food then increasing production is the right thing to do. However, Ms Sandys then dredges up a load of protectionist nonsense that runs entirely counter to the need for greater production and lower food prices:

...our import levels – the largest in the developed world – expose us to currency volatility and export bans

It beggars belief that, having concluded that intensification, genetic modification and greater efficiency is needed to meet demand and reduce prices, Ms Sandys then proposes a measure that will cut supply and increase prices. This is the crass myth of "food security" that results in gluts and corruption in developed world agriculture while at the same time seeing thousands of Africans barely subsisting for want of markets for the products they can grow.

The idea of "food security" is just protectionism bundled up as something else. And protectionism is just a tax on consumers transferred to a selected group of producers.


Time to thank John Major...


Amidst all the self-congratulation of current political leaders as their frankly pathetic game of claiming a bit of "credit" for the Olympics (how fast in the other direction would Boris, Ed and Dave have run had the event been less of a triumph), we really should take a moment to thank John Major.

"My original vision for the Lottery was to fund a renaissance in sport, the arts and our heritage. I saw the opportunity to fund projects the Treasury would never be able to afford". 

Whatever we may think of the lottery - its regressive nature, the way it squeezes out other fundraising and doubts about gambling - there is no doubt at all that without it British athletes would have done less well at these Olympics.

Thanks to the unique contribution of National Lottery players our athletes are being given World Class support as they prepare for London 2012 and beyond. A proportion of Good Causes money raised by The National Lottery is targeted at our most talented athletes and has helped to land 438 Olympic and Paralympic Games medals since lottery funding began.

And the National Lottery was - more than anything else - John Major's creation.

I guess we should thank him. It would be more credible of politicians to do this rather than seek political advantage from the Games. Yet I haven't seen Dave or Ed or Boris or Seb turn to camera and say those words - "without John Major insistence on the lottery funding sport, these games would have been less successful. Thanks John."



...of course taxes don't affect behaviour do they! Unless you're Usain Bolt, of course.


In the otherwise euphoric post-race interview with Phil Jones there was a little aside about tax. You'll mostly have missed it amidst all the "wow", "amazing" and "fantastic" but it was there - in response to a question about why Usain Bolt didn't run much in Britain:

The Jamaican also said he would come and race in the UK more if the tax laws were changed. He has previously avoided competing here in protest at what he considers an overly punitive tax system.

The International Olympic Committee insisted that HMRC suspend its normal tax regime for those coming to Britain to compete as one of the conditions of awarding London the Games.

"As soon as the law changes I'll be here all the time. I love being here, I have so many Jamaican fans here and it's wonderful," Bolt said. 

And it is a stupid tax rule. One that means sponsored performers won't appear in the UK:

Usain Bolt and other overseas personalities can finish up paying well in excess of 100pc on the money they might earn from competing in the UK because the taxman grabs a share of their offshore sponsorship.

So we're denied the chance of seeing these great athletes compete and the taxman doesn't get any money either. Stupid or what?


Saturday, 11 August 2012

Today's nannying fussbucket: Tory MP, Dan Poulter


The Guardian give this man a whole page to peddle his fussbucketry:

...introducing plain packaging for cigarettes could certainly help to reduce the brand marketing appeal of cigarettes to teenagers, and most importantly, help to stop young people from developing a smoking habit that can only shorten their lives.

There is precisely zero - I mean absolutely none at all - evidence supporting this contention. However, the police think the proposal will make counterfeiting and smuggling (you know Mr Poulter - crime) easier, business and the unions think it will destroy jobs (several hundred of which are in Bradford) and the public see it as a step too far.

And to think that such nanny state nonsense used to be the preserve of Labour and (not so) Liberal MPs. Seems now to be a veritable disease in the Tory party too. To make it worse Mr Poulter prattles on about the Olympics. Perhaps he doesn't remember Shirley Strong winning an Olympic Silver Medal!

The fact that I was not the model athlete - I used to go out, have a good time, have a good laugh - and I smoked - had an effect on how the public felt about me. 

Hey ho!


Glamour, social media and technology - thoughts on magic

Magic is a tricky, rather contested idea. Not something to be played with idly. Yet a useful metaphor nevertheless if somewhat over used.

The big problem with magic lies in what we mean by it – is it the mysticism and spells or the shaman or is it a hyperbolic expression of transformation or occasion? When we say the wedding was magical we don’t mean it was presided over by a magus chanting spells (whatever we may think of the Church, its spellcasting is ever so English and not remotely mystical) but that the event was wonderful, exciting and filled with delight.

This of course brings us to Facebook and what Damien Thompson calls the “magic of social media”. And, as we find with clever pundits much of their magic is wrapped in the deliberate confusion of meaning. Here we find both meanings of magic intertwined – first we get the Arthur C. Clarke quotation without which any comment on technology is incomplete:

“...any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

By which the sage understood that we (the users of technology) had no idea how the stuff actually worked. I recall a conversation between a senior IT manager and an engineer wherein the engineer explained as follows:

“You know how to make computers work for you but I know how computers work.”

Into this trap our pundit tumbles – carrying on from Clarke’s quotation:

He was writing in 1973, and I’m not sure it’s true any more. Young people everywhere are far too tech-savvy to be baffled by technological wizardry.

Somehow I’ve a feeling that the typical gadget-strewn twenty-something may know all the buttons to press on his or her iThings but has only a tenuous grasp of how it is that those iThings weave their magic. Clarke was right; the iThing is a magic item – Galadriel’s ring or Elric’s sword – rather than a prosaic tool akin to a hammer or a spoon.

Social media are a consequence of magic not magic of themselves. Such things as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Yammer are faerie glamour – the illusion not the magic itself. We have all obtained these iThings and use them to craft vast magical empires, places to chat, to play, to work and to learn. But the magic we wield is outside our knowledge, we do not know why we can download films or upload photographs (indeed we will mostly struggle to explain how the films and photos come about) merely that we can do so and that the results are “magical”.

For Thompson – adopting the doomsayer’s cloak – this is not good, such empires of illusion are dangerous:

This is exciting, but not necessarily in a good way. Accelerating change will tie economic activity ever more tightly to fragile charisma.

The success of magic – of technology (and Thompson confuses Apple who create new magic items and Facebook where people play with those items – the first in Clarke’s terms is magic, the second merely glamour) – is, Thompson says, down to that charisma and to the idea of cult. Thus technology businesses like Apple are akin to Pentecostalist preachers driven by the founder’s magical presence rather than by the real magic of technological innovation.

Now I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg set out to create a massive social media monster when he created Facebook. But what he and others did was to remove the stopper from a magic bottle releasing a veritable horde of djinni. Whether they will survive remains to be seen – at some point us users of the djinni will have to pay (there is always a cost to using magic) or lose the power.

However, this relates only loosely to the real magic – the robots, the computers, the little metal and plastic slaves that do things we could but dream of a few years ago. Watching colour images beamed back from Mars or hearing of nanotechnology allowing the most delicate of brain surgery. This is where Arthur C. Clarke’s magic is now.

Damien Thompson sees the pretty things built by magic and believes them to be the magic. If those pretty things are sometimes designed to deceive they just reflect humans – the deception is just the same as those Pentecostalists with their laying on of hands, speaking in tongues and preference for showmanship over devotion. But this is not the magic – we must look instead to the things we don’t understand but take for granted. Televisions, computers, mobile phones – all the paraphernalia of modern living – these are the magic.