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Saturday, November 07, 2009


To discuss any subject accurately it is important to be sure everybody is applying the same meaning to the words used.

This is particularly important when using words in a political context because politics depends on using words to get your way & quite often that means misusing them.

The surest ways of doing this are checking a dictionary everybody agrees to be honest or checking the original meaning of the word.

FASCISM - 1 often capitalized : a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition
2 : a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control

The derivation is from the Latin word fasces; a fasces was a bundle of sticks used symbolically for the power through unity. The fasces, which consisted of a bundle of rods that were tied around an axe, were an ancient Roman symbol of the authority of the civic magistrates; they were carried by his Lictors and could be used for corporal and capital punishment at his command. Furthermore, the symbolism of the fasces suggested strength through unity: a single rod is easily broken, while the bundle is difficult to break.

The misuse of the term by, among others, the government funded thugs approved by the Labour/LibDem/Conservative party, calling themselves "Unite Against Fascism" is not recent.
The word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley's broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else... almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’. – George Orwell, What is Fascism?. 1944.

Going to what the original Fascism stood for in Italy we find
Within The Manifesto of the Fascist Struggle the initial stances of Fascism were outlined, requesting amongst other things voting rights for women, insertion of a minimum wage, insertion of an eight-hour workday for all workers and reorganisation of public transport such as railways...

The fascists had enough of what they considered a weak parliamentary democracy process and organised the March on Rome in an effort to take power, with promises of restoring Italian pride, reviving the economy, increasing productivity, ending harmful government controls and furthering law and order...

Italy's policies became more protectionist. Tariffs of grains were increased in an attempt to strengthen domestic production ("Battle for Grain"), which was ultimately a failure. Thus, according to historian Denis Mack Smith (1981), "Success in this battle was... another illusory propaganda victory won at the expense of the Italian economy in general and consumers in particular"...

Mussolini's coalition passed the electoral Acerbo Law of 1923, which gave two thirds of the seats in parliament to the party or coalition that achieved 25% of the vote. The Fascist Party used violence and intimidation to achieve the 25% threshold in the 1924 election, and became the ruling political party of Italy.
So that's basically it. Fascism, according to its founders, stands for law & order, using promises to improve the economy to achieve power, economic protectionism & controls (which, as ever, don't work) & not much more except for a corrupt electoral system that gives a majority irrespective of how few people voted for the "winning" party. So bearing in mind that Labour gained only 35 per cent of the vote in May 2005, but won 355 MPs (54%) & that both Labour & Conservative, but not UKIP, BNP or indeed LibDems, think that this corruption of democracy is important/ The mantle of Fascism clearly lies on the the first two parties, particularly Labour who are committed to big government interventionism & not to the parties committed to electoral democracy.

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Friday, November 06, 2009


Via Pournelle's site comes news that an X-Prize has been won for the development of a laser powered lift that has risen to nearly 1 km.
A robot powered by a ground-based laser beam climbed a long cable dangling from a helicopter on Wednesday to qualify for prize money in a $2 million competition to test the potential reality of the science fiction concept of space elevators...

The contest requires their machines to climb 2,953 feet (nearly 1 kilometer) up a cable slung beneath a helicopter hovering nearly a mile high.

LaserMotive's vehicle zipped up to the top in just over four minutes and immediately repeated the feat, qualifying for at least a $900,000 second-place prize.

... They said their real goal is to develop a business based on the idea of beaming power, not the futuristic idea of accessing space via an elevator climbing a cable.

"We both are pretty skeptical of its near-term prospects," Kare said of an elevator.

The contest, however, demonstrates that beaming power works, Nugent said.

"Anybody who needs power in one place and can't run wires to it — we'd be able to deliver power," Kare said.

Earlier out on the lakebed, team member Nick Burrows had pointed out how it grips the cable with modified skateboard wheels and the laser is aimed with an X Box game controller...

The competition was five years in the making, Shelef said.

"A lot of hurdles to cross," he said. "Now that it's happening I'm actually happy already. It doesn't matter what the outcome is."

Funded by a NASA program to explore bold technology, the contest is intended to encourage development of a theory that originated in the 1960s and was popularized by Arthur C. Clarke's 1979 novel "The Fountains of Paradise."

Space elevators are envisioned as a way to reach space without the risk and expense of rockets.

Instead, electrically powered vehicles would run up and down a cable anchored to a ground structure and extending thousands of miles up to a mass in geosynchronous orbit — the kind of orbit communications satellites are placed in to stay over a fixed spot on the Earth.

Electricity would be supplied through a concept known as "power beaming," ground-based lasers pointing up to photo voltaic cells on the bottom of the climbing vehicle — something like an upside-down solar power system.

The space elevator competition has not produced a winner in its previous three years, but has become increasingly difficult...

While the concept of an elevator to space may seem too fanciful, Andrew Williams, 26, a mechanical engineer on the Saskatchewan team, said he has no doubts it will come about.

"Once we put our minds to something it's just a matter of time for us to achieve it," he said.
Once again we see that X-Prizes can stimulate innovation in a way which conventional funding grants would look askance at (X-box controls & skateboard wheels).

I am also dubious about "near term" building of a space elevator if that means less than half way through the careers of LaserMotive's owners. On the other hand I would be much more surprised if (unless we destroy ourselves) it took until the 22nd century as envisioned in 1979 by Arthur C. Clarke. Though the big science is being sat on the smaller stuff, including strength of materials research is going very fast.

PS Chaos Manor has also been discussing nuclear power & mentioned an article I have previously discussed about the AP1000 reactor costing as low as $1.2 bn.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Cameron has given a speesch saying he won't keep his promise over the EU treaty but promising lot os new promises about how we will get a referendum next time which are much less credible than the promise he has just broken.

His speech is here in full

I have put my response on Iain Dale's blog here but I want to place it here as well:

He did make a "cast iron promise" (in his own words) that we would have a referendum on it (which to my mind means a referendum on continued full membership but am open to alternatives). There were no weasel words on not having it if it passed.

The new promise seems impossible secondly because, unless Britain adopts a formal constitution which I would like, a promise to bind future governments is non-binding if they vote not to be bound (as with the cynical guarantees that the government of 2100 will ban fire). Primarily it is impossible because this constitreaty contains rules as to how to change itself so that if it is simply impossible to have a referendum on it then it is simply constitutionally impossible to reject future centralisation using those rules.

I am still interested in what the constitution of the Conservative party is. Is it indeed, as Cameron seems to feel, that nobody else has any rights to say what the party stands for today & completely reverse it tomorrow again. Even Stalin didn't, at least in theory, have that power & I find it difficult to believe the Conservative party is more dictatorial.

On a previous occasion MPs issued a personal manifesto on the EU. That should not be necessary this time. They need only state that they adhere to the current & I believe legal position of the party, that we are entitled to a referendum, until its membership decide to change it. I assume the large majority of MPs & almost all members wish to keep the promise.

We are in the situation where all 3 of the major parties have quite deliberately lied to the voters on a matter of major constitutional importance. This cannot be excused as "no new taxes" sometimes can if circumstances change. There are NO unforeseen circumstances forcing any of them to break their word.

If this stands it means there are no circumstances whatsoever under which any representative of any of the 3 major parties can ever be assumed, without strong supporting evidence, to be telling the truth, or in which any promise any of them make can be taken as trustworthy. That being the case democratic government is obviously impossible.



This is an article which compares the big government system in California with the small government of Texas. As the 2 biggest states, both on the Mexican border they are closely comparable & historically California (Hollywood, silicon valley, aerospace) has been the more successful. Dr Pournelle has described it as "A good article, if lengthy. Compares Texas which promises low taxes and a lower grade of public services with California which promises high grade public service and corresponding taxes: the problem being that California has the taxes but the public services are for the benefit of the public employees, not the middle class and the taxpayers. The consequence is the continued wreck in California."

What is surprising is the growing evidence that the low-benefit, low-tax alternative succeeds not only on its own terms but also according to the criteria used by defenders of high benefits and high taxes. Whatever theoretical claims are made for imposing high taxes to provide generous government benefits, the practical reality is that these public goods are, increasingly, neither public nor good: their beneficiaries are mostly the service providers themselves, and their quality is poor. For evidence, look to the two largest states in the nation, which are fine representatives of the liberal and conservative alternatives...

According to the most recent data available from the Census Bureau, for the fiscal year ending in 2006, Americans paid an average of $4,001 per person in state and local taxes. But Californians paid $4,517 per person, well above that national average, while Texans paid $3,235...Between April 1, 2000, and June 30, 2007, an average of 3,247 more Americans moved out of California than into it every week, according to the Census Bureau. Over the same period, Texas saw a net gain, in an average week, of 1,544 people... states without an individual income tax “created 89 percent more jobs and had 32 percent faster personal income growth” than the states with the highest individual income-tax rates...

[California's} public sector’s diminishing willingness and capacity to fulfill its promises to taxpayers. “Twenty years ago, you could go to Texas, where they had very low taxes, and you would see the difference between there and California,” Joel Kotkin, executive editor of and a presidential fellow at Chapman University in Southern California, told the Los Angeles Times this past March. “Today, you go to Texas, the roads are no worse, the public schools are not great but are better than or equal to ours, and their universities are good. The bargain between California’s government and the middle class is constantly being renegotiated to the disadvantage of the middle class.”

...once you adjust for population growth and inflation, the state government spent 26 percent more in 2007–08 than in 1997–98. Back then, “California had teachers. Prisoners were in jail. Health care was provided for those with the least resources.” Today, Watkins asks, “Are the roads 26 percent better? Are schools 26 percent better? What is 26 percent better?”...

[on attempts to get rid of quangos] The path of least resistance was to do the same old thing, not the sensible thing. The resistance comes from the blob of interest groups, inside and outside government, that like California’s public sector just fine the way it is and see reform as a threat to their comfortable, lucrative arrangements. It turns out, for example, that all the pointless boards and commissions are bulletproof because they provide golden parachutes to politicians turned out of the state legislature...

The optimistic assessment is that things are going to get worse in California before they get better. The pessimistic assessment is that they’re going to get worse before they get much worse.
California is now bankrupt & being protected by loans & subsidy from central government. Hopefully this will not continue forever, since, however painful, bankruptcy is the ultimate pressure that gets resources taken away from the useless & put under the control of the competent. It don't think any state in a federation has ever been declared bankrupt but think that putting in the receivers would be the best thing that could happen.

What federalism has over lots of separate states is that people are relatively happy to vote with their feet moving “to that community whose local government best satisfies his set of preferences.” In selecting a jurisdiction, the mobile consumer-voter is, in effect, choosing a club to join based on the benefits that it offers and the dues that it charges. But this only works where national, particularly linguistic, differences don't exist. Hence the UK is a viable federation & the EU isn't.

Precisely the reason why I support full federalism across Britain & oppose full EU membership. Granted that in Scotland we have largely seen a California style 'orrible warning rather than a good example.

All of this is very reminiscent of Scotland where we also get about 20% more per head from Westminster than the national average; where we have a parasitic state sector that takes up 60% of the economy; a political class that is more interested in banning things, preventing us having nuclear power, stopping the free market building houses, golf clubs, factories etc & wants to destroy half our economy over the next 11 years; and where Jack McConnell's total failure to carry out his promised "bonfire of the quangos" shows how entrenched & bullet proof politicians are.

Perhaps a Cameron (Scottish father) government will grasp the nettle of fiscal autonomy (ie that we keep the tax money raised here but not more which is, at least officially, what the SNP want & let the SNP can prove whether they can run the country solvently or not. There is no intrinsic reason why the Scottish economy can out perform the UK average, particularly if we get the power to cut corporation tax which fiscal autonomy requires. All we need is to be rid of our useless political class who have unanimously voted to destroy our economy. Fiscal governmental bankruptcy with a thriving real economy would be far better than a the overstuffed government destroying our anaemic real economy we have now. Far better to have the admonistrators running it than these parastic numpties.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009


best photo I could find of a Conservative audience

Official party policy on an EU referendum enunciated by David Cameron is that
Today, I will give this cast-iron guarantee: If I become PM a Conservative government will hold a referendum on any EU treaty that emerges from these negotiations.
He included a photo of his signature & compared his integrity with that of Brown
Gordon Brown, it's a gesture to the British people saying: "I know best. Your views are irrelevant. Get used to it."

Make no mistake, that's the reason he refuses to give the British people a referendum on the EU constitutional treaty - he simply doesn't trust them. It's the arrogant belief that he - and only he - has the right to decide what's best for Britain's future.

Well, Prime Minister, I've news for you. The old politics that you grew up in no longer reflect the new world we live in. It's a world where people are demanding - and getting - more power and more control over their lives.
Difficult to conceive of something more definite than that.

So in the presumably unlikely event that Cameron, in power, reverses himself would such a reversal be official policy. What I am asking is, under the Conservative Party constitution how is official policy made.

To find out I looked up constitution of the British Conservative party on Google & astonishingly it isn't there.

I did find a speech from William Hague some years ago saying how important it was that it be democratic & give the members a say but the thing itself is missing.

Can anybody help.

On the one hand such things are not taken very seriously by our leaders (the Scottish Lib Dem conference is officially the sovereign body of the party & it unanimously passed my motion calling for the arrest & trial of western leaders who had committed war crimes against Yugoslavia, which is thus still legally the Scottish party position, yet took my support of that as being evidence that my views were irreconcilable with the party). on the other hand legality can come back to bite at the most unexpected moments (the break up of the USSR took place because the Stalin Constitution specifically said that the federal state were sovereign, thereby proving what a fine, free 7 democratic place the USSR was, & I doubt if Stalin ever expected it to be taken seriously).

It seems to me likely that a majority of MPs & an enormous majority of members will want a referendum. Also an overwhelming majority of the electorate - polls show 80% of Scots wanting a referendum on independence even though a large majority don't actually want independence but lets find that out:
Do you want a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty?
No free polls

So if the majority want to keep the present policy who would be breaking party discipline if they supported something different?

UpPDATE - Later this day it was announced that the Czech president has ratified the treaty. Can't blame him for not saving our bacon when our own PM wouldn't. The Conservatives are now going to have to decide whether to stand by their promise.


Monday, November 02, 2009


I wrote previously of the largest meteor strikes in history the biggest of which is the Burckle Crater in the Indian Ocean. I mentioned this on Pournelle's blog & on Sunday somebody mentioned this New York Times article on the subject
But Madagascar provides the smoking gun for geologically recent impacts. In August, Dr. Abbott, Dr. Bryant and Slava Gusiakov, from the Novosibirsk Tsunami Laboratory in Russia, visited the four huge chevrons (characteristic shape of debris formed by the high point of a meteor caused tsunami) to scoop up samples...

About 900 miles southeast from the Madagascar chevrons, in deep ocean, is Burckle crater, which Dr. Abbott discovered last year. Although its sediments have not been directly sampled, cores from the area contain high levels of nickel and magnetic components associated with impact ejecta.

Burckle crater has not been dated, but Dr. Abbott estimates that it is 4,500 to 5,000 years old.
less certain is this
Bruce Masse, an environmental archaeologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. He thinks he can say precisely when the comet fell: on the morning of May 10, 2807 B.C.

Dr. Masse analyzed 175 flood myths from around the world, and tried to relate them to known and accurately dated natural events like solar eclipses and volcanic eruptions. Among other evidence, he said, 14 flood myths specifically mention a full solar eclipse, which could have been the one that occurred in May 2807 B.C.

Half the myths talk of a torrential downpour, Dr. Masse said. A third talk of a tsunami. Worldwide they describe hurricane force winds and darkness during the storm. All of these could come from a mega-tsunami.

Of course, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, Dr. Masse said, “and we’re not there yet.”
Indeed we aren't there yet. Nonetheless the size of the Chevrons & their position do show how high the water came in that area & can give an assessment of how high it should be elsewhere. This was an era when clay tablets were the height of literary communication so it is hardly surprising that no record of scientific measurements or explain it without reference exists. Anybody who has seen records of battles as late as the Middle Ages will know that records rarely accurately assessed how many men were in the armies, & that is something that kings & their scribes must have known & have had a deep personal interest in so a lack of decisive records is no surprise. The dating of 2,807 BC seems enthusiastic but a similar mention of an eclipse when Odysseus returned home has been used to date the Odyssey. We are at the stage regarding this crater that we were when the Dinosaur Killer meteor was first hypothesised by Dr Alvarez on the basis of finding a geological layer of iridium. We will see how it goes.

Still fairly isolated. As a species we have been lucky. Here is a rather elderly article that estimates a 1-6,000 risk to us all.


Sunday, November 01, 2009


Not being a complete libertarian I do accept the desirability of some taxation. The destructive effects of various taxes vary. Corporation tax is the single most damaging one because it directly cuts into & deters new investment money.

Mark Wadsworth on his own blog & here has gone on at length about how tax on land value does not hurt the economy because the tax is on the inherent value not the buildings on it so that tax is irrespective of the development of the land & hence doesn't discourage it. Indeed it has a positive effect since it discourages land hoarding & thus keeps the land in use.

I also approve of taxes on things we know to be harmful to us - eg smoking, alcohol & drugs. I blogged yesterday on legalising drugs but do support taxing them. Tax is a method of pressure which does not deprive us of the freedom of choice that criminalisation does. That it makes a profit is not something to be despised.

I have previously done a poll on what proportion of the economy should be government spending & the result came out at under 20%. I am happy with that & would see 10% (historically a tithe in the days when the social services were a branch of the Church) going for welfare. I would wish that to come from income tax/national insurance ring fenced to particular welfare programmes. That means they are effectively a form of insurance but, unlike private insurance, when everybody is charged a flat rate the administration costs are very low - this is one area where the state can be more efficient than free enterprise.

Currently we raise taxes like this

The total of alcohol, tobacco & custom duties comes t0 18.7 billion Taking VAT on top of that comes to £22 bn. The world drugs business was estimated in 2003 as $322 bn. Change that to pounds, update it for 2009 & take the UK portion as 1/20th (higher than our share of world GNP but we have a more serious problem than most of Europe & richer countries can afford more than their proportion) gives about £18 bn. So taken together is about £40 bn.

10% of national GNP is £140 billion. Council tax comes to £24.9 bn. Add the same again for land value tax (I am not going to include business rates because, though there is a good theoretical basis for them I don't want to include anything that hurts growth. Lets keep half of fuel duties to pay for transport infrastructure - £13 bn. Betting tax £1.5bn. Despite the Tories I rather approve of inheritance tax at £3.2 bn - after all the beneficiaries haven't worked for it. Lets keep capital gains tax which is largely a way of filling an inheritance loophole - £5 bn. Total £109 bn. Lets keep some of the stamp duty, vehicle excise etc simply because registering ownership is a valuable service government provides.

That is about £120 bn. If anything more than that is needed we can let tobacco/alcohol/drug taxes rise. Letting them rise at 9% would bring in another £20 bn in 5 years & if the country achieved 9% growth which I have long said would be easily achievable with a truly free market economy, would merely maintain the current cost as a proportion of pre tax income (quite a lot less in post tax income :-)

That means the abolition, or in a few cases large reduction in the aggregates levy, climate change levy, landfill tax, petrol revenue tax, air passenger duty (a lot of small eco-fascist taxes which don't come directly from us so we don't notice them) insurance premium tax, much of vehicle, stamp & "other taxes", business rates, corporation tax & VAT. Taking 10% for the welfare state paid out of income tax & national insurance which currently raises £260 bn we save £120 bn or £4,000 more in the average wage packet.

None of this is complicated it simply requires making the decision to cut the state down to its non-parasitic function.

UPDATE In comments Mark has said that "other taxes & royalties" is licencing of licences on monopolies (like airport landing slots, radio spectrum etc) & presumably licences for oil exploration. As such they are a useful state function & like LVT are dealing witrh a fixed quantity so taxation is not economically destructive. That means another £15.7bn. Hmmm - that means government can clearly reach 10% of GNPharmlessly. The troll is looking rather easy to feed.

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