Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The Booker Prize isn't as important as a lot of folk think

Tim Worstall reports on a lefty professor's comments about the Booker Prize:
The Booker now has a stranglehold on how people think of, read, and value books in Britain. It has no serious critics. Those who berate its decisions about individual awardees (James Kelman’s prize back in 1994 prompted one judge to say it was “frankly, crap”) ritually add to its allure.
Thing is that, if we look at book sales in the UK, the Booker Prize is marginal at best. I remember reading a tale from SF writer Neal Stephenson where he talked about being at a literary event with a well-regarded writer of literary fiction. From memory it went something like this:

Writer: "So what do you do for a living?"

Stephenson: "I write"

It continued in the vein because the writer (a tenured professor at a good university) couldn't get to grips with the fact that Stephenson earned a very good living writing science fiction - indeed the Baroque Trilogy is one of the very best ever science fiction trilogies. All the writers this person knew had another job, most usually in or associated with a place of learning.

We need to remember that over half of book sales are children's books and non-fiction while 60% or more of adult fition sales are genre (crime, romance, fantast, science fiction, historical).


Do cities need to be less conservative?

Aaron Renn asks (knowing, of course, that city government - especially large city government - is more-or-less a conservative-free zone):
Political conservatism is all but extinct in cities, but the conservative impulse is alive and well. That is, a desire to prevent change in the name of preserving something that people find of value is still a powerful motivating force.

Historic preservation is an example of the conservative impulse.

NIMBYism is an example of the conservative impulse.

Anti-gentrification advocacy is an example of the conservative impulse.

In fact, it strikes me that cities are more conservative now than they were in the past. Previous generations were much more willing to engage in massive, radical projects of change than today’s residents and leaders. Not all of those previous projects were good to be sure, but many of them are what created the very cities as they exist today.
I've a feeling - and I see this in my own city of Bradford - that the governments of cities are stuck in an old economy model and with the idea that what's here now needs to be preserved at all costs.

I also feel they're wrong and Will Alsop was right.


Tuesday, 15 August 2017

This blog is entirely locally sourced

"All locally sourced!" You've seen it a thousand times from little cafes, delis, restaurants and bars. It's a necessary badge along with "fair trade" and "ethical" for these businesses to enter the world of the "independent" with all its promises of hipsterish splendidness.

But what on earth does "locally sourced" mean? It's self evident that it doesn't mean that the food in that cafe is "locally grown". Unless, that is, the weather in Bradford has shifted a little - the menu will include tea and coffee, cakes with exotic ingredients like cocoa and banana, and a host of other foods that have travelled to our city from all the corners of the earth like black pepper, cinnamon and chilies.

Perhaps "locally sourced" simply means purchased locally? But then how does this differ from any other business out there? Most of them are going to the cash-and-carry for basic stuff, maybe to St James Wholesale market for veg (not much lettuce is grown in and around Bradford either and there's a paucity of apple orchards) and to a local wholesale butcher. And anyway isn't going to Morrisons "locally sourced" too - it's a Bradford-based company after all!

It's clearly not about either growing food or selling food. So "locally sourced" must mean something else. The platter of "locally sourced" Polish sausage, dill pickles and smoked cheese uses product bought off the deli in the market rather than from some anonymous wholesaler. The product's the same - may even be the same brands - but we've got it from a bloke with a stall rather than watched as an eighteen-year-old pings it across a cash-and-carry checkout. This, we're told, is somehow better.

If you want my view (and that's why you're here at my entirely locally sourced blog) then it's that "locally sourced" is a bit of a scam. After all what to we mean by local? Here's the US National Restaurants Association (not to be confused with another organisation sharing the acronym):
The definition of local food for restaurants is a little stickier, considering it is not something that is regulated. Local can mean the food comes from around the corner or across the state.

“Every company that you’re going to run into is going to have a different definition for local,” says Jamie Moore, director of sourcing and sustainability for Eat’n Park, a Pittsburgh-based concept with more than 75 locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.

Moore and others agree that the rule of thumb adopted for local ingredients is that they come from within a 150-mile radius.
But is that really what we mean? It's pretty clear from our cafe example that the coffee, tea and cake ingredients aren't coming from within a 150 mile radius of Bradford. So we're still none the wiser as a consumer - it's not about growing locally not is it about buying locally. It seems to be about buying from other "independent" providers rather than from those dark and evil dens of capitalist sin that supply establishments selling stuff that's not "locally sourced".

It's pretty clear that "locally sourced" (at least in the context of shouting "All Locally Sourced!" on your website) is an almost entirely meaningless term given it doesn't mean either grown or bought locally but rather some more nuanced idea relating to these terms. I can understand locally sourced when my local butcher put up the name of the farms where he got his beef and pork. I can understand locally sourced when the bar says all its bread comes from the Ukrainian bakery a mile away. But saying "all locally sourced" is both meaningless and misleading. Little more that signalling the righteous virtue of the establishment and requiring very little of a different approach to any other similar place not claiming to be "all locally sourced".

We should challenge the ethics of these statements in the same way as, for example, people have questioned supermarkets using "farm" in brands of mass produced cheese or soup. By all means say "we buy locally grown food where we can and use small, quality local suppliers for as much as possible" - it's a bit rah but I get the sentiment. But taking the step from here to "all locally sourced" is to move for a description that can be evidenced to one that can't.

In the end our obsession with short supply chains (the locavore obsession with food miles and a misunderstanding of resilience) plus a sort of "aren't we good" brand positioning is, in part, responsible for weakening food security and undermining confidence in the - very safe - supply chains for the food us regular folk buy at the supermarket. The abuse of an ill-defined term like "locally produced" results in confusion for consumers - we are unable to say precisely what it means and frankly explaining that "I buy from Steve in the market" is no help as the chances are that Steve neither grows the stuff locally or buys it locally. All you've done is move the supply chain to someone else and claimed some sort of righteousness as a result.


Your caring, sharing NHS at its most cruel

I know the term 'health fascism' is pretty polemical and intended to shock. But the truth is that increasingly public health 'campaigners' (as the newspapers always call them) have created a culture around their obsessions that is unpleasant, officious and even cruel:
What happened I found out in stages - apparently someone saw me at the week-end refilling the vape from the 'sipped case' - and told them. This evening a nurse walked over to me me and said, 'what a sweet little teddy' and proceeded to play with him - 'Oh do you keep your pen in there, good heavens no its a vape'. It was so odd that I didn't twig at first. Well, I got the rules and regulations read to me in such a patronising tone of voice.
This dying woman has one small remaining pleasure removed because the rules - rules without any basis in health - don't allow it. As Dick Puddlecote points out this is a women "on a regime of intravenous Ketamine - the drug designed to stun a rampaging elephant - and Oxycodeine, but apparently nicotine is not to be tolerated." But it's worse - part of this torture is where nurses left the vape pen just out of this paralysed woman's reach.

We're told almost daily how NHS staff are wonderful and caring yet somehow we've reached a point where "as there wasn't evidence to prove that e-cigs were safe or unsafe, they were banned on health grounds" - for people in a hospice receiving palliative care for a terminal illness. Not only is this stupid but it is really cruel. So much for the caring, sharing NHS.

Since you asked, this is what I mean by health fascism.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Basic income - paying young men to "play video games and watch Internet porn"

There are many things wrong the the idea of basic income but this is, in my view, the killer reason why it is a really dumb idea:
Another major problem with the basic-income thesis is that its intrinsic vision of society is morally problematic, even perverse: individuals are entitled to a share of social prosperity but have no obligation to contribute anything to it. In the authors’ vision, it is perfectly acceptable for able-bodied young men to collect a perpetual income while living in mom’s basement or a small apartment and doing nothing but play video games and watch Internet porn.
From Aaron Renn's review of Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy, by Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght


It's my party and it'll change politics forever...

Setting up new political parties is a tricky business. I appreciate that us politicians all believe - each and every oneof us - that our intellect, wit, charm and charisma means any party we set up would storm to victory on a tidal wave of popular passion for our brilliant policies. But, truth be told, the track record of new political parties in the UK is pretty rubbish - indeed the record of new parties isn't great anywhere.

This, however, doesn't stop people suggesting that a new party would change everything. Here's Spad Superstar, James Chapman (from holiday in Greece):

James Chapman stepped up his online campaign for a proposed “Democrats” party he has been mounting while on holiday in Greece, saying Brexit signalled the demise of the Conservatives.
A number of serving, former and shadow cabinet ministers contacted Chapman after he posted a series of provocative tweets this week, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He said: “Two people in the cabinet, a number of people who have been in Conservative cabinets before now – better cabinets, I might say, than the current one – and a number of shadow cabinets ministers have also been in touch.

“They are not saying they are going to quit their parties, but they are saying they understand that there is an enormous gap in the centre now of British politics.”
That this exciting new project from a bloke on holiday in Greece who appears not to have a job at the moment tells you everything you need to know. We've all, with the help of sunshine, Mediterranean food and good red wine worked up incredible schemes to build mighty businesses, transform the game of football, rebalance the British economy and, as James has done, change the face of British politics forever. And when we return to the rain, sandwiches and supermarket lager of Britain these grand plans disappear into the mundanity of everyday life and business. As they should - 'pub talk' as a former colleague David Emmott once called it - because they make little sense.

We know how new centrist parties motivated by divisions over Europe, along with other policies like nuclear disarmament and nationalisation, turn out - even when they are led by a phalanx of cabinet superstars (or in reality three superstars and the one whose name no-one can quite remember):
The SDP began in January 1981 with the Limehouse Declaration, a statement of intent by four former Labour Cabinet ministers—Roy Jenkins, David Owen, William Rodgers, and Shirley Williams—to quit the leftward path that had lately been taken by Labour.
The SDP sputtered on until 1988 as a serious party when most of it voted to merge with the Liberal Party (that it so closely resembled it had shared election campaigns in 1983 and 1987).

While James Chapman's 'Democrats' might be the product of him having too little to do in Greece and too much wine, lots of people seem to think that there's some sort of mileage in setting up a sort of centrist party (presumably one that isn't run by a pleasant god-botherer or aged ballroom dancer) to stop Brexit. Leaving aside that this is perhaps the most short-term justification for creating a political party, it's not going to happen for a couple of very important reasons.

The first reason is that Labour MPs (activists, councillors and what have you) are going to stay right where they are in the expectation that one of two things will happen - Corbyn's leadership will collapse leading to the centre-left getting control again or Corbyn will be prime minister and they'll get some of the goodies that go with power. Folk like Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper and Keir Starmer won't walk away from safe seats and guaranteed media access to engage in a risky, dodgy new party (even one with a tad more thought and planning than James Chapman gave the idea in between eating, tanning and drinking).

And secondly, with a few exceptions the Conservative Party has already been done over by Remainers and the Conservatives currently have (courtesy of the DUP) all the jobs and most of the power. Why on earth would any unnamed cabinet ministers walk out because of the slight possibility that Jacob Rees-Mogg might get to be leader of the Conservative Party at some unspecified point in the future? Assuming that Rees-Mogg actually wants the job.

Moreover running a political party is about a little bit more than have some influential figureheads - political organisations aren't just a couple of chancers sending out press releases from an office on the edge of SW1 (although I suspect folk like James Chapman think this is all you have to do) but involve a lot of organisation, effort and structure. Remember that, after its initial surge, the SDP essentially piggy-backed on the existing Liberal party structure and organisation - a new centrist party can't assume that the current liberal democrats, for all their opportunism will let this happen again.

The last successful new political party in the UK was the Labour Party. And it's worth bearing in mind that it arrived to the left of existing politics and that it took best part of 25 years to get to the stage of forming a (coalition) government - over 40 years to govern alone. There may indeed be a 'gap' in the centre of British politics because of Brexit and Corbyn but, if people want a party, you have to ask why - just like in 1981 - they don't simply switch to the existing, established and "winning here" Liberal Democrats?

British politics has to get a lot more broken before there's even the faintest chance of a new party - let alone one with any chance of success. The Conservative Party isn't (despite the best efforts of the media to pretend otherwise) split on policy but rather by the competing ambitions of leading figures. This is why otherwise sane Tories give credence to the idea of Rees-Mogg. And there may be enormous policy differences between the Corbynistas and Blairites in the Labour Party but the latter are staying put because they believe people - inside and outside the party - will eventually get bored with permanent revolution.

But Still - pour me another glass of that lovely red wine and let me explain my plan for a new centre-right political party...


Friday, 11 August 2017

Quote of the day: On social planners and immigration

We're going to need immigrants. Even the most drooling of alt-right racists acknowledges this need (saying "high skilled" immigrants only). But who decides and how do we judge:
Like all central planners, the immigration planners exhibit what F. A. Hayek called "the pretense of knowledge." Do these presumptuous frauds know what specific skills will be demanded in the future? To know that, they would have to know what products will be demanded in the future. But we don't know what we'll want because lots of things have not been invented yet. And we can't predict who will invent them. People who today have few skills and who speak no English will be among those who make our lives better. Let them come here to make better lives for themselves. That's their right, which is justification enough. But we will benefit too.