I have removed the search box because it was not working but the search box in the title bar seems to.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Asset Stripping - II

Biologists sometimes point out the valuable service provided by a host of organisms, from hyenas to bacteria, which break down the bodies of dead plants and animals and return their constituent parts to the soil, whence miraculous Nature brings forth fresh plants and animals. These organisms may not be the sort we would like for our pets; but we owe them our gratitude.

When a business enterprise fails, there are almost always constituents which can be re-cycled: plant, work-in-progress, raw materials, even people. Insolvency practitioners may not be your favourite group of professionals; but they are vital to a healthy economy.

Austrian economists are aware, as Keynesians seem not to be, that busts in the business cycle are part of the process of recovery. The Keynesians frantically attempt to keep booms going by borrowing and stimulating demand. Booms are the disease; busts are the cure. We would not have busts without booms. Of course, booms feel good and busts hurt.

The Austrians understand that it is production that creates wealth, not consumption. They preach that capital is accumulated when people defer their consumption. The Austrian theory is entirely consonant with traditional virtues: thrift, hard work, honesty. The miracle of the market brings rewards for all. The idiocy of the Left lies in thinking that experts and legislation can solve all problems. Milliband thinks that we should punish asset strippers.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Asset Stripping – Yes Please!

Ed Milliband is economically illiterate.

An enterprise fails because it has insufficient customers; or because it can't keep its costs under control.

Years ago I understood that: if you don't have a customer, you don't have a business. End of story! Almost (for you). You might have premises and "means of production" but if you can't make a profit – you can't pay your mortgage (and feed your children) out of the difference between what your customers pay you and the cost of running the business, you are stuffed.

I ran a business. Our measurement was "the tripod": How much do we owe? How much is owed to us? How much do we have in the bank? Tits up? It happens all the time: not enough customers, costs too high.

As it happens, we sold our business – to really nice guys who didn't understand the above. Heartbreak! They had to make our/their employees redundant. They didn't get the fact that: if you don't turn the sales handle, your business will fail. It did.

Getting sales isn't easy. When we did it ourselves, we did OK. When we employed people to do it, it sometimes worked. When our successors took their eyes off the ball, they failed.

Good night! When I return, I shall concern myself with failed enterprises.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Lovely, lovely Stephen Fry

SF is one of my favourite broadcasters. It's almost inconceivable that Jeeves &Wooster could have been better cast – as much credit to Huw Laurie as to SF.

He is my kind of people. He loves language; I do. Information of any kind beguiles him; and me. Long live Stephen Fry.

I've been looking forward to his BBC2 programme Words for several days. I was disappointed.

Yeah, we humans create brand new sentences every time we open our mouths. Yeah, we are the only animals who do anything even remotely similar. Yeah, our offspring learn to do the same thing between the ages of two and four – I've observed it three times. Gosh, aren't they observant, those psychologists?

Probably the greatest linguist of all time, Noam Chomsky, has postulated that "grammar" is hard wired. He destroyed the behaviourists.

I have regarded the fact that I was not born a Jew as a misfortune. I love being a Catholic convert.

My disappointment with SF was that there was nothing new.

New is not necessarily good. But...

Stephen, what have you to tell us that is even Quite Interesting?

Monday, 19 September 2011

Unhappy – Depressed – Unhappy

A vale of tears; I know it is and so do you.

Are you one who wants to medicalise their grief? Do you go to your doctor for a pill when your relationship has broken down?

This is a twentieth century reaction. Our ancestors knew why they were unhappy – I love her; she doesn't love me. They wrote poems.

In Omnibus Caritas

In Faith Unity, in Doubt Liberty, in All Things Charity.

C S Lewis asserts that there are two historical characters that we "know" in the same way we know characters in fiction. We know Dr Johnson and Our Lord in the same way as we know Mr Micawber. I would like to add another – St Thomas Aquinas. I know him so much less well than I would like to. But his bulk, his humanity, his humility, his clumsiness and his brilliance make him as real to me as Hamlet.

Catholicism's permission to pray to the Saints is one of its ineffable joys. The Hail Mary is an unanticipated joy for this convert. Press me on the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and I will hide behind the fact that it is not part of the Creed.

"We few, we happy few," says Henry V at Agincourt. We Catholics are few, alas. Alas that not all Catholics want everybody to be a Catholic.

Sunday, 18 September 2011


I watched an amazing programme about the development since the First World War of a range of death-dealing technologies: bombers, fighters, bouncing bombs, machine guns, missiles etc. The ingenuity of the boffins has been, and remains, extraordinary. One example was the device which allowed a fighter pilot to fire his machine gun without destroying his propeller. We are very clever creatures.

What, though, about the devices that the said boffins might have created if their ingenuity (and the astronomical costs of developing and manufacturing these systems) had been devoted to peaceful ends?

What is it about human beings that makes us waste ingenuity and resources on killing each other instead of constructing a world without hunger, in which work would be creative play because machines were doing all the drudgery? Who can doubt that we could have built such a world in the last hundred years? We are very stupid creatures.

The Catholic answer is: Original Sin.

There are observable facts about Human Nature – which as a species we choose to ignore.

One of these facts, well documented by Rudolph Rummel and others, is that democracies don't go to war with each other. They just don't do it.

Another fact is that Capitalism has proved to be the only way by which societies have ever become richer.

If from the beginning of the twentieth century the democratic capitalist West had spread the word about these facts as energetically as the scientific West spread the word about hygiene, what a world this would be.

Democracy and Capitalism are under threat. Envy has undermined Democracy in Europe and the USA. The electorate demands of the government ever more generous state provision. This has, in turn, put the economy under intolerable pressure: regulation and taxation. Marx said that Capitalism would collapse because of its inherent self-contradictions. He was wrong about this, as he was about everything. The relentless rise of Social-Democracy has hamstrung the economies of the European Union; and Obama wants to copy the EU!

The looming financial disaster will have consequences that no-one can predict. We can only hope that in the aftermath we re-discover that Democracy and Capitalism are the only hope.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Sam Harris

I have remarked in passing that I don't think Sam Harris's attempt to create a moral edifice out of scientific premises succeeds. I like SH – I think he is laudable in defending moral absolutes. But I think he fails.

Here is an interview with William Lane Craig (Philosopher and Theologian). He says it better than I could.

I believe a debate between the two has been scheduled.

William Lane Craig

Monday, 12 September 2011


For Catholics, the only authoritative information we have about Heaven comes from Our Lord's parables, for example:

Matthew 13:24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field.

Mark 4:30-31 And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? [It is] like a grain of mustard seed.

Luke 13:20-21 And again he said, Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God?  It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.

But He is not telling us what the experience of Heaven will be like. No one has returned and published a Rough Guide to Paradise. Of course, even if this had ever been permitted, we wouldn't understand it. God's Kingdom is not of this World – it is outside Space and outside Time. We do not have the tools even to imagine it. Well, perhaps the Mystics have insider knowledge.

Speculation is the best we can do. An eternity of beholding the most beautiful of conceivable Objects, of being in an intimate relationship with the epitome of Love. Works for me!

I'm greedy, though. Mathematics has always been a book whose pages have been largely undecipherable to me. I envy those who have got beyond basic algebra. Bach ravishes me – but to understand his compositions as he did is an ambition too far. Shakespeare, patriotism and experience and the consensus lead me to suppose, was sans pareil. No human being has ever appreciated WS as he deserves to be appreciated.

What if we get not only the most beautiful of conceivable Objects and the epitome of Love but also Maths, Bach and Shakespeare as bonuses? And an understanding of Quantum Mechanics – so far vouchsafed to no-one ("To think you understand QM, is proof that you don't.")?

Imagine (and pity) me, forever distracted from Love's epitome by my awe of humanity's achievements. Relax! That is not how it's going to be. Either my consciousness will be extinguished by my death; or my greed for Maths, Bach, Shakespeare and QM will be rendered irrelevant; or, somehow, my intellectual and aesthetic longings will be satisfied by Love's epitome. Don't pity me.

Catholics are enjoined to hope for Heaven. I'm an orthodox Catholic here. Are we permitted to be excited by the prospect of Heaven? I can't see why not.

Gabriel, Dai and others will be left cold by this. If you think I am simply an idiot – on the basis of other opinions expressed on this blog, you will be left cold too.

Deus vobiscum.

The Mean-Spirited Levellers

In 2009 two epidemiologists (Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett) published a book, The Spirit Level, in which they claim that "more equal" countries are "better" in a host of different ways (infant mortality, prison population, etc etc) than "less equal" countries. "More equal" means that the difference in wealth between the richest and the poorest is less. Of course, they had to eliminate from their study all really poor countries – where everything is "worse".

The obvious conclusion we ought to draw is that wealth is good and absolute poverty is bad. These two, however, are obsessed with the idea that it is relative poverty which is bad. They think that the trauma of observing that, although I have enough to eat, keep warm and dry and can even afford holidays, Richard Branson's fortune is many thousands of times greater than mine will actually shorten my life expectancy.

Their methodology (and their conclusions) have been comprehensively destroyed in another book, The Spirit Level Delusion, by Christopher Snowdon. He shows how shoddy their statistics are. As damning, in my not-very-humble opinion, was the rapturous reception accorded to W&P's book by Polly Toynbee and Ken Livingstone.

I am not going to go into detail. It is unnecessary to destroy them again. If you are interested, both books are readily available.

I am concerned about the mean-spiritedness of W&P's whole project. It seems to me that you could sum up their attitude by saying that I will be happier if Branson is poorer, even though I am not a penny richer. To write a book to support such a pusillanimous mindset is really nasty. It insults me, for a start. To suggest that society should be organised in such a way that nobody can become (even through his own brilliance and energy) really really wealthy is to elevate Envy to a virtue. Traditional Wisdom tells us that Envy is a Deadly Sin.

I once read a dystopian short story in which the likes of W&P were in charge. The main character was a man of superior intellect. The state had mandated that he wear a head-piece which, at random intervals, subjected him to loud bursts of discordant noise. This meant that he was never able to think clearly about anything. A triumph of levelling!

Here's another idea: David Beckham's bootlaces should be tied together; Frank Sinatra's mouth should be stuffed with cotton wool. It's not another idea – it's W&P's idea.

It is a bone-headed idea. It is cultural and economic suicide dressed up to look like an idea.

Years ago my company ran some seminars on the then-new phenomenon of the internet. One of those attending one of the seminars objected to the whole phenomenon on the grounds that the well-to-do would be better placed to take advantage of it than, for example, the unemployed. Where do you begin to argue with such people? What would they have said to Henry Ford's mass-production of Model-As and Model-Ts? "These cars are unaffordable by the ordinary working man." In less than a generation ordinary working people were happily driving mass-produced cars in every neighbourhood in America.

The first hip-replacements could only be afforded by the wealthy. They were, by today's standards, primitive. The wealthy were the guinea-pigs!

A recent radio programme featured a contributor who "explained" the recent rioting and looting by saying that the perpetrators were driven to it by being told by the media that they were "worthless" because they didn't have this or that luxury. If I loot because Branson has a yacht, I am a scum-bag. If you excuse me, you are not much better.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

I Have the Best Daughters-in-Law

There is no doubt that Carrie thinks more quickly than I do. Blogging suits me better than Oxford Union debates would.

For more than a year I have been trying to deal with a quick riposte of hers. I had been going on about "improbabilities" in the Darwinian account. "What is more improbable than me?" she demanded. For what it is worth, my answer is: "Improbable though you are, you are."

Red is Carrie – Blue is me.

I have read quite a bit of your blog now, and while there are many details I'm tempted to take issue with (in a loving sort of way!), I'll restrain myself and try instead to look at the broad themes that seem to inform the way you approach your chosen topics. I trust you'll tell me if I'm wide of the mark.

A major theme throughout your posts - actually the only one I can identify that connects issues as wide-ranging as medical science, climate change, economic policy, evolution and Catholicism - is a sense that you are standing up for minority arguments that you think are under-represented in the public sphere; or at least, under-represented in the particular public discourse which is dominant among PLU in the UK. In general, I think that taking seriously those with non-conformist views is a vital intellectual and moral exercise. Everyone would do well to do more of it. However, if you are going to throw your weight behind them, I think you really have to be precise about why you are doing it. And this is where I sometimes can't follow....

There is nothing in this that I would disagree with, except to say that I'm doing it because "Good Science" destroys "Bad Science". Observation trumps computer models every time.

I see myself as standing up for points of view that are deliberately misrepresented by many high-profile opinion makers. Two examples will have to do here. One: the consistent charge of "creationism" levelled by some Darwinians against ID theorists. I have blogged about Michael Ruse. Two: the enduring myth that there is a quarrel between Christians and Scientists; that there was a great battle and the Scientists won. Most Christians in 1859 had little objection to Darwin and his theory – it was his scientific contemporaries who disagreed. My objection to Darwinism is completely independent of my Catholicism.

Two things I would like to table in this regard:

First, the importance of distinguishing moral debates from factual debates.

I'm not quite sure about this. Facts and Morals inhabit different domains; but Logic rules in both.

Second, the fascinating study of innovation in general - how new ideas surface and overpower old ones, sometimes through a process of "creative destruction" that naturally involves overcoming the resistance of the incumbent ideas (and their proponents and institutional support). This is a field you will find extremely interesting if, as I suspect, you haven't discovered it already.


So, to the first point. As a lawyer I have been sensitised to this because my job - like any good political blog - requires me to make strong statements about things I only partially understand. In building a case therefore, the first task is to determine which questions of fact have to be farmed out to experts - people who really do understand, say, the dynamics of explosive blasts in an industrial accident, if that is the subject of litigation. Once the factual arguments are established (and, for any complex issue of causation, many of these will be arguments rather than irrefutable statements of fact), then these are embedded in the legal case. For example, when x did y, there was a z per cent chance that q would result (factual - physics). Due to her expertise in the field, x should have known this (factual - professional standard). As a matter of law, x is therefore liable for outcome q (legal - liability threshold test). Furthermore, it would be morally outrageous if x could get away with causing q and the victims remain uncompensated (moral narrative).


Of course, when one is forming opinions about the world, one cannot always be so precise. But the basic point is still valid: if you make a statement that involves a factual argument that you are not qualified to make yourself, then you have to rely on someone else for that input. You have to demonstrate that you're aware you are relying on someone else, and justify why you have chosen that person - the more controversial their testimony, the more the onus is on you to explain your choice.


Once you've cited your sources, you can go on to make moral statements that build on this factual basis (i.e., z per cent chance is actually so low that for the following moral considerations, x shouldn't be liable...). But the distinction is paramount. So when you say you think the consensus view on climate change is rubbish, say who you're relying on and why you think they are a more reliable source for scientific information than the IPCC. If you don't, that's one step more that someone with a different view will have to take before they can engage in a debate with you, and that's a barrier to engagement.

See below.

I suspect, by the way, that you'll find it isn't the science you can actually take issue with, but the political consequences advocated by people with a different political outlook - their view of what constitutes a sensible level of precaution in the face of great uncertainty, their view of justice, their view perhaps on cultural guilt. All of these things are interesting angles, and they benefit a lot by not being muddled up with the many and complex factual questions that underlie them.

True, I am sure that the economic/political consequences of spending unimaginably huge amounts of money to achieve unimaginably tiny effects are already having and will continue to have disastrous effects. One example is that of paying huge subsidies to farmers to produce ethanol, thereby increasing the cost of food.

Climate Change Science.

The alarmists base their case on climate models rather than observation. In my view, this immediately makes their conclusions suspect. It is universally agreed that weather – let alone climate – is mind-bogglingly complex. We are all familiar with the chaos theory example of butterflies and hurricanes. It is that complex. When meteorologists fail reliably to predict the weather (with the help of super-computers) more than a few days in advance, then commonsense argues that extreme scepticism should be the order of the day.

Moreover, the modellers have produced graphs which eliminated the Mediaeval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. So, at least some of their conclusions are counterfactual – another reason for scepticism. They are condemned out of their own mouths. They have declared their determination to "get rid of" the MWP. They have admitted that it is a "travesty" that there is no warming at present. They promise to manipulate the peer review process to suppress research which calls their conclusions into question. They confess to using "tricks".

They allege that the consensus favours them, not a scientific argument. It may be that the majority of climate modellers are largely in agreement – people who adopt a common methodology are likely to come to similar conclusions; but they ignore the very large number of meteorologists who are doubtful. They resolutely ignore the observations which seem to demonstrate clearly that there is nothing unusual about the very modest warming which did take place in the twentieth century – mostly when carbon dioxide levels were much lower than they are now.

They draw graphs which seem to indicate that CO2 and higher temperatures go hand in hand. They disregard the conclusion that, because temperature changes go up before CO2 concentrations, it is more likely that the former causes the latter.

They intemperately smear their opponents by accusing them of being in the pay of "big-oil". The time to make that kind of accusation is after you have demolished the positions of your opponents.

There is more. But I will leave it to a later post.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Darwinism – Again!

Many thanks to Umberto Lombardo, Sicilian-born Scientist and all-round good egg. He posted a courteous and thoughtful comment to my previous post, which you can read below.

I am imposing on your patience by developing my reply to his comment.

He explains the "mechanism" of Darwinian evolution by saying that we see it on a short timescale in bacterial resistance to antibiotics or insect adaptation to agrochemicals: all examples of the same Darwinian evolutionary mechanism, which on a multi-million year timescale produces widely divergent species of plants and animals. If the mechanism can so do so much in days/weeks/months, why should we be surprised to see what it can do over aeons?

In my view the analogy breaks down, thus:

When you have a penicillin injection to counter a bacterial infection, you and the doctor hope that all the bugs will be wiped out. In many cases they all are – case closed.

But there may be some bugs which are immune to the drug; just as some humans are immune to plague – if this were not the case, Europe might well have been totally depopulated by the Black Death.

So you get your shot, killing most of the enemy; but some of the invaders survive. These lucky ones now have your body to themselves and run riot. If you live long enough to infect somebody else with them, the doctors will not be able to use penicillin. They will try other antibiotics but the same thing may happen again – and we end up with MRSA etc.

My point is that the resistant bacteria are not members of a new species – no new genetic information has been created. It was all there in the original population.

Similarly in the geneticists' laboratory: they bombard fruit flies with radiation and get one of three outcomes – normal fruit flies, mutant fruit flies or dead fruit flies. What they don't get is a new species of fruit fly. Nearly all mutations are harmful or, at best, neutral.

I think it is far-fetched to explain the development of birds from dinosaurs (or whatever) in terms of random mutations and natural selection.

I complained that the "fossil record" does not support Darwin. Umberto says that this is "because the vast majority of fossil deposits have been buried, destroyed, eroded." He is in good company – Darwin said the same. Animals with soft bodies are not as likely to be fossilised as creatures with bones or shells.

The Earth is about four-and-a-half billion years old – about a third the age of the Universe. For a very long time it was too hot to sustain life, let alone bring it forth. But the fossil evidence indicates that almost at the moment it cooled sufficiently, about three billion years ago, life forms appeared. The fossils are of soft-bodied single-celled creatures – just the sort that might be expected to have been destroyed. We have more single-celled fossils for the next two-and-half billion years.

Then just over half-a-billion years ago came the Cambrian Explosion. In a lousy 5-10 million year period, an astonishing variety of multi-celled creatures appeared, some of whose fossilised remains we have found and classified. These creatures have no apparent ancestors.

My question was: do marsupial wolves and placental wolves share a common (proto-wolf) ancestor, or do marsupial wolves and kangaroos share a common (proto-marsupial) ancestor?

Umberto answers: marsupial wolves and kangaroos share a common (proto-marsupial) ancestor. The similarity between, marsupial wolves and placental wolves is accounted for by similarity of the ecological niches occupy.

Here is me being frivolous (in serious sort of way): Lastly, and here I shamelessly appeal to the argument from personal incredulity: The marsupials stage a tragedy, Hamlet – The hero's father is murdered by his uncle... At about the same time the placentals (who occupy a similar ecological niche) coincidentally publish a play, Haammlett – The hero's father is murdered by his uncle... Well, you may have a mechanism but...

Umberto: The evidence that does not fit in the theory is the basic motor of scientific progress.

Me: Agree 100%.

Umberto: If we start to use it as a proof of the existence of God, then scientific progress stops.

Me: I regard inconvenient evidence as destructive of inadequate theories. If there are people who use it to "prove the existence of God", they are benighted. If there are those who say that the discovery of information in DNA is consistent with a designing intelligence, I have no quarrel with them. If they have an understanding of God that comes from Philosophy, Theology and the Mystics, I'm one of them.

Monday, 5 September 2011

This is not a Knock-Down Argument against Darwinian Evolution

I am genuinely curious about this.

How does the neo-Darwinian synthesis account for the startling similarities between some marsupials and some placental mammals? There are pairs of animals – in each case with one in the marsupial group and the other of the placental persuasion – which the untrained eye would assume to be closely related.

One of Darwin's principal arguments for his theory was "homology". If two organisms look similar then there is a reason for supposing that they are related. He certainly did not say that butterflies, bats and birds are related because they all have wings. He did point out that the similar structure of a human limb, of a mole's digging apparatus and of a dolphin's flippers was a good reason to put these creatures in the same broad category – mammals, especially in view of other shared characteristics (hair, lactation etc). All modern taxonomies concur, I think. A Baptist, a Muslim and an atheist will agree that that there are indeed many many diverse animals which should be classified as mammals. And they are very very different from reptiles and arthropods.

The evolutionary theory then goes on to construct the "tree-of-life". It explains homology in terms of common descent. In other words, humans, moles and dolphins share a common ancestor – a proto-mammal.

This is persuasive – to a degree. It persuades me that dolphins are my cousins many times removed and that sharks are too, though many more times removed.

As with many modern Darwin doubters, my problem is not with common descent but with the mechanism. Also with the lack of evidence from the "fossil record" – but that is another issue.

You have the placental mole and you have the marsupial mole. They are as similar to each other as the field mouse and the house mouse – in appearance. Obviously cousins, right?

But they aren't. Placental mammals and marsupials have radically different reproductive systems. Both groups employ sex; but the development of the foetus takes place according to wholly different schemes. You would have to do an awful lot of tinkering with a marsupial mole to turn it into a placental mole. David Berlinski goes into a fair amount of detail in speculating on the number of morphological changes which would enable a grass-eating mammal to evolve into a sea-going mammal. Many tens of thousands of coordinated changes in every physiological system. He admits that we have a few fossils which look like possible way stations. But not the tens of thousands that the theory requires. Darwin said, "Seek and ye shall find." We have sought; we have not found.

So, the question is: do marsupial wolves and placental wolves share a common (proto-wolf) ancestor, or do marsupial wolves and kangaroos share a common (proto-marsupial) ancestor?

I understand that the standard answer is something called "convergent evolution". My objection to this refinement to Darwin's theory is what Dawkins sneeringly dismisses as, "The argument from personal incredulity"! I find it a really good argument. Dawkins is, in my view, quite breathtakingly credulous. He does, after all, seriously consider the idea of life having been seeded on Earth from outer space as a solution to the origin-of-life problem.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Delingpole at his Best

See his Blog.

Madeleine Hartmann – Consultant Cardiologist

She is stunningly beautiful. She has long, glossy black hair. She has an IQ of 172 (there is nothing more erotic than intelligence) and earns £215,000 a year. Her legs go all the way up to her bum. She is a "mechanic in the sack" and cooks like an angel. She has read everything. She is absolutely potty about me and regards me as being exceptionally wise and creative. Without doubt, she is my all-time, number-one, favourite Cardiologist.

Alas, I made her up.

If she existed, I would have every reason to treat any pronouncement on heart disease from her luscious lips as Holy Writ – nearly.

The Natural Sciences are not like Mathematics. Truths in Physics and Physiology are not cast in stone. Fashions prevail – sometimes briefly. Last century's fashion might have been for Land Bridges to explain similar organisms on different continents. We now have a theory which explains more – Plate Tectonics. Current orthodoxy on stomach ulcers is very different from the orthodoxy of the 1980s.

Sciences progresses – it does! It progresses by fits and starts.

Where am I going?

Science progresses when scientists have the courage to stick their necks out – to question the consensus.

Indubitably, there are areas of scientific endeavour in which pretty well everybody agrees – no one is rocking the boat. I suppose that this would be true of at least 90% of the contents of undergraduate textbooks in Physics, Chemistry, Electronics and a host of other disciplines.

An aspiring PhD in most subjects would be wise to heed the advice of his supervisor: "Well, son, Professors X, Y & Z have opened up some very interesting lines of enquiry – how about one of these for your research? If your thesis makes the grade, there are likely to be funds available to take it to the next stage." A promising career and a possibly useful contribution loom large.

Bolshie you, however, counters with, "I have heard rumblings to the effect that, Professor W's theory of Q is holed below the water-line. I'd like to have a look at that."

Long silence.

"Professor W is an old friend of mine. He has been an external examiner for half a dozen of my doctoral students – all of whom are now well established in their careers. He is the Editor in Chief of Proceedings of the Royal Society of... He has been spoken of as a possible Nobel Laureate in our subject for his highly regarded work twenty years ago on Q. Oh, and he is about to be appointed Chair of the Government's Science Research Grants Committee."

Of course you would have to be some kind of insane maverick to ignore this warning. Or a hero.

Mavericks are, needless to say, often wrong and sometimes insane.

Occasionally they turn out to be right. Sometimes they win a hearing with a minority. Sometimes (nowadays) their ideas appear on the internet. A YouTube broadcast is as likely to contain idiocy as wisdom.

Below is a lecture questioning the near universal prescription of statins to counteract elevated levels of cholesterol.

A Cardiologist who Might be Worth Listening to.

He is speaking to a conference organised by Doctors for Disaster Preparedness. These guys do not check out your Political Correctness before inviting you to speak.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

An Argument against Taxation

I have bleated about taxation before on this blog. My conclusion is that, in general, at best, for-the-time-being, taxation is a necessary evil.

The other day I saw something (and I think it was being articulated by Ronald Reagan) to the effect that when you tax something, you get less of it; when you don't, you get more.

All over England there are reminders of the window tax. In 1695 Parliament legislated to tax windows – the larger the area of glass in your house, the more you paid. Overnight people bricked up some of their windows. Frequently they plastered over the bricks and painted the plaster black to give a not-very-good illusion of glass.

In the present day we use taxation (ostensibly) to discourage certain behaviours – smoking, for example. The effect is that fewer people smoke than would do absent (nice Americanism) the tax.

When you tax wealth, you immediately get less wealth. Over and over it has been shown that when punitive tax rates are lowered, the take actually increases. I saw some graffiti: MAKE THE RICH PAY! They do pay and because they do they therefore have less to invest – and there are fewer jobs for oiks like you.

All legislation costs money to implement. Perhaps some of it is worthwhile. But good and bad legislation alike make society poorer. Your Caribbean holiday might have been worthwhile but you are cash poorer for having taken it. Government employees are paid out of cash expropriated from you. Moreover hundreds of thousands of these people are in unproductive and unnecessary jobs instead of working to create wealth.

In Britain we are consumed by the politics of envy. Americans are increasingly succumbing to it. Happiness is good. We should not want to put a limit to anyone's happiness. Likewise wealth. The more billionaires the better. A billionaire who doesn't keep his fortune under the bed cannot help benefitting his fellows. Either he spends it on himself and his family, thereby giving employment to others or he invests it in ventures which create wealth. Billionaires also happen to have rather a good record of charitable giving.

Thomas Gordon Lonsdale - RIP

He died before I was born, on 6th June 1945. He was 23, I think. From what I understand, he was part of a diversionary operation and probably lived for no more than minutes after he parachuted into France. He was my uncle.

My middle name is Gordon. Until very recently I had no idea that his first name was Thomas. I hope to visit his grave before I die.

Praying for the dead is a Catholic tradition, one for which I am grateful.

The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you, 
and be gracious unto you.
The Lord lift up the light of his 
countenance upon you and give you peace.

He left no offspring. His father's survival of the trenches did not lead to generations of brave Lonsdales.

There is not much more to say.

I hope his name will live on in my grandchildren.

Where did Socialism Come from?

We, homines sapientes, have, according to Wikipedia, been here on this Earth for perhaps as long as 200,000 years. We originated in Africa and reached "full behavioural modernity" about 50,000 years ago. How we got here is mystery. Are we the descendents of earlier hominids? – Perhaps. Who were they? Where did they come from? We don't have the remotest idea.

How did the earliest life forms come to be? Darwin speculated. Miller and Urey produced some amino acids from inorganic substances. Subsequently, scientists have cast doubt on their assumption that they had the initial conditions right. Anyway, amino acids are not proteins – only the building blocks. In real life, to make proteins out of amino acids, you need DNA, a fabulously complex molecule. Only life forms have DNA. My readers will forgive me for stating the obvious – we are talking circularity!

Dean Kenyon wrote a book, Biological Predestination. It was the standard "origin-of-life" text book. He has subsequently repudiated the ideas therein. If a well-known and respected Catholic apologist were to embrace Marxism, I, for one, would have to give him the time of day – Respect (perhaps).

In all that time (ie for at least 50,000 years) the overwhelming majority have practised some kind of religion. C S Lewis says that religions can be classified (like soups) into clear and thick. Buddhism is clear; Hinduism is thick. I shall have to read that essay again.

In the twenty-first century the overwhelming majority practise some kind of religion. Most of the major religions have a long history. Sikhism is the youngest. Islam is the next youngest. Occasionally, new religions pop up. We have seen, in the twentieth century, Scientology and the Unification Church (aka "Moonies"). The adherents of nearly all these religions give credit to nearly all the others.

In the nineteenth century we saw the origin of anti-religious religion: Materialism.

I am not the first to observe that, like traditional faiths, Materialism is a metaphysical system. Fundamentalist Materialism's Creed can be summed up as: "The physical universe is all there is and Science is the only way to know anything about it." Some materialists have (heroically) attempted to create a moral system; but the physical universe does not provide the ingredients. The project is doomed from the start. All the same, this doesn't stop them from being extremely censorious of other faiths.

We Westerners then, live in an extraordinarily unusual society, metaphysically speaking. As well as living (for the time being) in extraordinarily prosperous circumstances, we share our society with people who reject the basis of all Morality and Reason – also with a majority who have never given these ideas a second's thought. This majority is infected with pre-materialistic ideas and assumptions (Thanks be to God!) but also (regrettably) with Materialism.

Any intelligent, observant child asks himself/herself: "Wouldn't it be nice if...?" Any thinking adult answers, "Yes, but..."

Aquinas said that the Natural Law can never be erased from the human heart. I hope and believe that he is right. But that innate longing for Justice does funny things when divorced from religion. Theistic belief underpins not only Morality but Reason too. So, if you are an atheist who longs for a just society, to see Heaven on Earth, you will create a system whereby Fairness is legislated. Legislation implies coercion. Voila, Socialism! Gabriel will hate this – Sorry, Son.

Now, atheistic Materialism is not the same thing as Socialism. There are Christians (misguided, I think) who are Socialists and there is Geoff, who does not believe in God but is not a Socialist; and there is Maureen, who is a Catholic and believes that trades unions are a good thing. However, there is a very substantial overlap. Aha! I have fallen into the correlation/causality trap! I don't think so. But, it seems to me that when people cease to believe in God, while retaining a desire for Justice and Fairness, something like Socialism is pretty well inevitable.

The scientific Austrian critique of Socialism seems to me to be watertight. It cannot work. Libertarians (and most Austrians are Libertarians) declare that Socialism violates the principle that coercion (except in self-defence) is morally indefensible.

What we see in the real world is that those countries which have rejected or are are in the process of rejecting Socialism (eg Taiwan, South Korea, China and India) are getting richer, whereas where Socialism increases economies decline. I am appalled by the example of the USA. As Obama-Socialism marches on, unemployment and unsustainable debt increase. The Socialist EU is another catastrophe in the making. Frantic measures to shore up the edifice are dragging it down.

I would love to be proved wrong. But my reading of History goes like this:

Just at the moment when the Christian West had come up with the only system that has ever improved the physical well-being of the masses, so other currents of thought were undermining Christianity – and leading (if my analysis is correct) to Socialism.

Socialism (National and International) was tried and seen to fail on a scale so vast that it takes your breath away.

In a few places Socialism was flushed away – those places flourish. In the once-Christian West we seem to be somnambulistically approaching the abyss. Perhaps we will wake up in time.

You might say that we are suffering Divine Retribution for our lack of Faith. I would disagree. We are suffering from wilful blindness.