Friday, July 31, 2009

Microsoft's long, slow decline

There's a thoughtful article on Microsoft over at Daring Fireball today: John Gruber analyses the recent bad news from the software maker and comes to a rather obvious—to my mind—conclusion.
Back in April, when the new PC Hunter ad campaign started, David Webster, general manager for brand marketing at Microsoft, said the following in an interview with Newsweek’s Dan Lyons:
He says the idea was to turn Apple’s “I’m a Mac” campaign to Microsoft’s advantage. “We associate real people with being PCs, [but then Apple] ends up looking pretty mean-spirited, the way they go after customers,” he says. “It’s clear that’s who they are insulting.” At the same time he can’t resist taking a crack at the preciousness of some Mac users. “Not everyone wants a machine that’s been washed with unicorn tears,” he says.

Quoting the above, I wrote:
It seems clear that Microsoft’s stance on the Mac’s sales growth is that there’s nothing wrong with Windows or right with the Mac, but rather that there’s something wrong with Mac users.

Now, some of you might agree with Webster but—if you want to tempt people back to using your product rather than your competitor's—then insulting them is not a good strategy. But, as it happens, that is not really the meat of the matter.
Microsoft is no longer ignoring Apple’s market share gains and successful “Get a Mac” ad campaign. But the crux of these ads from Apple is that Macs are better; Microsoft’s response is a message that everyone already knows — that Windows PCs are cheaper. Their marketing and retail executives publicly espouse the opinion that, now that everyone sees Apple computers as cool, Microsoft has Apple right where they want them.

They’re a software company whose primary platform no longer appeals to people who like computers the most. Their executives are either in denial of, or do not perceive, that there has emerged a consensus—not just among nerds but among a growing number of regular just-plain users—that Windows PCs are second-rate. They still dominate in terms of unit-sale market share, yes, but not because people don’t recognize Windows as second-rate, but because they don’t care, in the same way millions of people buy metric tons of second-rate products from Wal-Mart every hour of every day.

If I had a pound for every time that I have heard a friend or colleague say, "I really want a Mac, I just can't afford it" then I would be able to upgrade mine. But Apple just does not compete in the low-cost space.

First, there is an Apple tax—although it is not as much as everyone thinks—but this isn't just to do with brand: you are paying for the research and development that goes into developing novel machines and innovative software.

These costs have to be recouped and—since Apple is the only company that researches and manufactures Apple hardware and software—then, of course, it will be Apple consumers who pay the price for it.

The indication that Apple is right is the fact that so many people think that the price is worth it—and that so many people are fanatical about the company's products (some are not so keen on certain ways that the company operates, of course).

Fundamentally, Apple only competes in the high-end market because that is where the profits are. Research and development has a dollar cost attached to it (rather than a percentage cost): if you need to make, for the sake of argument, $350 on each machine to be profitable then you aren't going to be in the market for selling machines at $450, are you? No, you are going to compete at the high end where your 30% profit margin is going to make the dollar amount that you need.

And, given that Microsoft dominates the low-end market—ironically, since Jobs originally set up Apple with the dream of offering the first sub-$1,000 personal computer—why compete with them in that unprofitable space? What is the point?

Bigger market share? But why would Apple want a much bigger market share? The company is amazingly profitable as it is—a bigger market share can only bring trouble, in the form of viruses and the need to support more hardware.

And, yes, there is the cool factor. Mac-users tend to be creatives, but they also tend to be successful. If you aren't successful, then you won't be able to afford a Mac. Apple Macs are a status symbol—a sign that you are either a creative (and thus unique: every good designer has their own style) or unusually good at what you do. Or, of course, both.

One of the articles that Gruber refers to concerns an NPD analysis that shows that Apple captures 91% of all retail sales of computers over $1,000. 91%! Yes, this is retail only, but Apple has always been popular in educational and research establishments (in the US at least) and they are starting to make inroads into commercial companies too.

And where does this leave Microsoft? It leaves the company making the majority of its sales in the low-end market, with wafer-thin profit margins. It's not the space that I would like to be in, that's for sure.
I’m not arguing that Microsoft will collapse. They’re too big, too established for that to happen. I simply think that their results this quarter were not an aberration, but rather the first fiscal evidence of a long, slow decline that began several years ago.

We will see whether John is right—I suspect that he is.

P.S. Just as an aside, and via Stuart Sharpe (with whom I'm working on a small project), these quotes demonstrate just why I love the Apple ethos.

First up is Steve Jobs, on why Apple doesn't do market research:
“It’s not about pop culture, and it’s not about fooling people, and it’s not about convincing people that they want something they don’t. We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That’s what we get paid to do.”

Next up is Apple's chief designer, Jonathan Ive.
“Apple’s goal isn’t to make money. Our goal is to design and develop and bring to market good products…We trust as a consequence of that, people will like them, and as another consequence we’ll make some money. But we’re really clear about what our goals are.”

As the commenter says, Apple's ethos could be summed up as:
“Make the very best products. Business will follow.”

Now, one can argue whether or not Apple does make the very best products—obviously, I think that they do. Equally, however, my Chairman argues that "there is no such thing as a perfect product"—what is right for one person may not be right for the next one.

However, those of us who are most involved in new product development at my company share Apple's ethos: we genuinely want to make great products that make people's lives easier and more pleasant.

And, as the person who directs the User Interface (UI) in our new products, I can tell you that—although I don't (consciously) plagiarise their work—Apple is a big inspiration nonetheless: not least in the fact that, rather than it being almost an after-thought, the UI is now at the centre of our applications...

UPDATE: a couple of days ago, an exploit using SMS was found in the iPhone. Apple have released a fix for this: just plug in your iPhone and choose Check For Update in iTunes.

DISCLAIMER: I own an insignificant amount of Apple shares—which are most definitely on the up again: in fact, they've nearly doubled in price since February.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The cost is prohibitive

Further to my post of a few days ago, I see that the ASI Blog has a comment by Tom Clougherty on a Transform paper—a cost-benefit analysis of drug prohibition [PDF].
The report finds that the total cost of prohibition of heroin and cocaine (the calculations focus solely on these two 'hard' drugs, since this is where the most extensive data is available) is £16.8bn per annum.

The benefits of prohibition depend on the extent to which prohibition decreases heroin and cocaine use – something for which there are no authoritative figures – and therefore reduces its health, social and economic costs. Depending on your assumptions here (the paper details four different scenarios), the estimated 'benefits' of prohibition range from £618m to –£309m.

This means that the total net cost of prohibition is somewhere between £16.2bn and £17.1bn.

The authors go on to compare this with a regulated legalization model under which heroin and cocaine would be freely available to buy from licensed pharmacies, with 10 percent of users (those with the most serious addiction problems) receiving diamorphine and cocaine by medical prescription. Depending on whether you assume that opiate and crack cocaine use would (a) go down by 50 percent, (b) stay the same, (c) go up by 50 percent, or (d) go up by 100 percent, the net cost of legalized heroin and cocaine under this model would be £3.2bn, £6bn, £8.8bn, or £11.6bn.

To put it another way, if opiate and crack use fell by 50 percent, we would save £14bn. If it didn't change, we would save £11bn. If it rose by 50 percent, we would save £8bn. And even if opiate and crack use doubled, we would still save £5bn, according to the authors' calculations. It is worth noting that this does not include any potential tax revenue that would be generated by drug legalization – something the authors believe would be small anyway, since drugs would be so much cheaper if the 'illegality premium' were removed.

As Tom points out, isn't it time that we have a mature debate about drugs in this country? The simple fact is that drug prohibition has massive economic and social costs that completely outweigh any benefits—in fact, I cannot really see that there are any benefits apart from politicians being able to pander to the superstitious ignorance of Daily Mail readers.

UPDATE: Obnoxio has picked this up too.
So let's say we decriminalise drugs and provide it free on prescription to anyone who can't afford to buy it, then: we save £10billion a year; petty crime falls because druggies aren't stealing or mugging to feed their habit; police resources are freed up to combat other crime; the tax take goes up very slightly; we engage in free trade with the Afghans and cut the Taleban off at the knees and finally we get ready access to a scarce natural resource.

So ... why are we still fighting the drug war?

The answer lies in two parts—bigotry and ignorance.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Mars Bar game

I really find all of this quite wearying—I'm not even getting that much pleasure from being right (almost) all of the time. What?

A few weeks back, I wrote a rather long post detailing some of the attacks on our more enjoyable past-times: I covered drinking and smoking fairly comprehensively, but ran out of steam slightly when it got to food.

Inevitably, of course, these filthy unaccountable QUANGOs—costing us over £250 billion every, single year—seem to be deliberately attempting to make it all too easy to carry on drawing together the threads of the ropes that bind us.

Today, those stinking cunts at the Foods Standards Authority are attempting to shrink the size of chocolate bars.
Chocolate bars could be cut in size to help fight the obesity epidemic.

The Food Standards Agency wants the average bar to be reduced by up to a fifth to reduce daily calorie intake.

It has drawn up plans for confectioners to make voluntary changes to the size of their snacks.

Uh oh: we all know what these fuckers mean when they say that something is voluntary, don't we? That's right: it's voluntary unless you don't do it—in which case it becaome compulsory.
By 2012 the watchdog wants all confectionary to weigh no more than 50g - currently Mars bars are 58g and Bounty bars 57g.

What? Where has this utterly fucking arbitrary figure of 50g come from? What the fuck are you people talking about?

I just don't have the energy to fisk this stupid proposal at length—perhaps I should eat a massive Mars Bar—but luckily The Heresiarch has done a sterling job.
Where to begin? I don't want to turn into Devil's Kitchen (that ecological niche is, after all, sufficiently filled already) but this is insulting and unworkable in equal measure. It's based on several layers of delusion, about nutrition science, about human psychology, and about the purpose of official advice. It's also an open invitation on the snack manufacturers to rip off their customers by selling them less for (presumably) the same amount of money.

Chocolate bars (and cans of fizzy drinks) are the size they are for good reasons. They are the optimum compromise between the manufacturer's desire to make the largest possible profit and the consumer's desire to have a moderately filling snack. If they are legislated smaller, or perhaps made smaller because of a voluntary agreement, then they would no longer fulfil their function. Many people would respond by buying more, rendering the whole scheme counterproductive. In any case, the notion that some quango should be setting more or less arbitrary targets for what people should consume would be scary were it not so absurd.

The alleged obesity "epidemic" is largely nonsense anyway, and not just because fatness is not a contagious disease. As reputable scientific studies show, there's almost no link between being "overweight" - as defined by the notoriously arbitrary Body Mass Index - and health problems. If anything, technically overweight people actually live longer than those whose svelte physiques meet with government approval. (As waistlines expand, after all, so does life expectancy.)

Do go and read the rest, because it is a beautifully written and comprehensive demolition of this completely fucking stupid idea. I am going to lie down in a darkened room and contemplate just what the fuck happened to this bloody country.

Oh wait—I know what happened to this country: I am reminded every time that a sentence like this pops up...
Health problems associated with obesity already cost the NHS £4.2bn a year, a figure that is set to double by 2050.

The Welfare State happened to this country. People decided that they were quite happy to borrow some security from the state. And now it's pay-back time: we are in hock to the state and this has fundamentally changed our relationship with our governments.

Now our lords and masters not only have the whip hand: they not only do not mind wielding the crop, but they care not that we can see them doing so. They not only have the apparatus to force us to do their bidding, they also have, as they see it, the moral high-ground.

The state is the loan-shark that we can't pay back and now we are about to get our legs broken by a couple of psychotic Glaswegians. And all for our own good.

And the media is entirely complicit—they know which side their bread is buttered. I mean, seriously, this kind of disgusting illiberalism is being proposed by an unelected QUANGO and the big news of the day is that Cameron said the word "twat" on a radio show.

Oh well, it has to get better, doesn't it.
Nor is it just chocolate bars and fizzy drinks. The FSA's press release warns that "later in the year there will be further consultation on dairy and meat products and savoury snacks."

Fucking hellski.

UPDATE: much of the motivation for the Welfare State was that it would help those in extremis—those people who were in a bad way and who could not help themselves.

Now, as regular readers will know, I have absolutely no time for the obese: the human body is a very simple machine in many ways and it is a fact that if you burn more calories than you ingest you will lose weight.

As such, if someone is morbidly fucking obese, the last thing that we should be doing is giving the fat lard-bucket more money to spend on food. Unfortunately, so perverse is our government that this is precisely what they have been doing.
A 25-year-old unemployed woman who was given an £8,000 operation to help her lose 16 stone is complaining because, as well as her weight loss, her benefits have been reduced.

Laura Ripley, who has never worked, was given the operation on the NHS to help her slim down from 38 to 22 stone.

But the 25-year-old, who receives £600 a month in benefits, is unhappy because as a result of losing weight she can no longer claim disability allowance amounting to an extra £340 a month.

This, she says, means she cannot afford to eat healthily - causing her to pile the weight back on.

The solution to this is very simple: cut her benefits even further so that she can barely afford to eat anything—and then just watch the pounds fall off her fat fucking frame.

The juxtaposition of these two stories highlights the utter stupidity of our rulers, does it not? On one hand, one of their pets is suggesting that everyone be punished because of a few lazy, weak-willed cunts and, on the other, the state is stealing our money to give extra benefits to the fat bastards so that they can continue to be fat bastards. It's insane.

Seriously, what the FUCK is going on in this country?
Since the extra allowance stopped Laura has put on a stone in just three weeks and claims she is being treated unfairly.

'It's heartbreaking that after all my hard work losing this weight someone's come along and ruined it.'

Look, you fat shit, the only person ruining this is you—stop eating and you will stop gaining weight. Do you understand this, you fucking useless waste of oxygen?
'I sometimes feel guilty about all the taxpayers' money that's been spent on me but I only want an extra £100 a month, that's all', says Laura.

Yeah? If I had just an extra £50 a month, I wouldn't have spent the last week living off mouldy bread, cheap noodles and the occasional Mars Bar (for energy) but that's just fucking tough, isn't it? Seriously, why don't you just go and fuck yourself? Or, as And There Was Me Thinking suggests (in a post that well worth reading in full), someone else...?
Hey Laura, here’s some advice for you -
But the 25-year-old, who receives £600 a month in benefits, is unhappy because as a result of losing weight she can no longer claim disability allowance amounting to an extra £340 a month.

You were not disabled you were a fat pie-munching fucktard.
‘I can’t afford to buy WeightWatchers crisps and cereal bars any more so I eat Tesco’s chocolate bars and packets of Space Invaders crisps, sometimes four of each a day’, says Laura, who spends seven hours a day watching TV.

Get of your lazy ‘Jeremy Kyle’ watching arse, find something productive to do and may be, just may be, you’ll have less time in the day to nosh anything, let alone choccy bars and space invaders.
‘People ask why I don’t snack on an apple – they’re cheap, but emotionally I don’t always feel like an apple.’

*splutter* – Emotionally, WTFF, the tax payer (or indeed a bona-fide benefit scrounger like me) doesn’t give a flying monkeys chuff about your cunting fucking emotions. I suspect the best thing you could do here, regarding your emotions, is get yourself a good, hard, dirty shag but let’s be honest, all the time you look like some piss take from Little Britain, you actually have less chance of a casual sexual encounter than Gordon ‘Country Fucker’ Brown, and funnily enough, he’s also a fat cunt that lives of the British Tax Payer whilst giving little in return.


Cameron says a naughty word (or two)

I was listening to the Cameron interview on Absolute Radio this morning and—when Call-Me Dave wasn't wheeling out the platitudes, I rather enjoyed it. One exchange in particular made me laugh out loud.
"Politicians do have to think about what they say," said Mr Cameron.

“The trouble with Twitter, the instantness [sic] of it, is I think that too many twits might make a twat.”

Apparently Cameron has now been forced to apologise for this, and for using the phrase "pissed off" in relation to how people felt about MPs' expenses—a somewhat mild reflection of public opinion, I'd say.

Anyway, here's reporter Krishnan Guru-Murthy commenting on Twitter.
Oxford Dictionary says twat means either women's genitals or a stupid/obnoxious Cameron was either a bit offensive, or very.

I think that my comment on all of this can be easily distilled into a few characters. In fact, it was—in my reply to that po-faced, MSM twankunt.
@krishgm On the other hand, no one who isn't a complete twat gives two shits about it. #naughty_words_exist_grow_up

I can't believe that these people have driven me to defending David fucking Cameron.

Fucking hellski.

Children are a lifestyle choice

Your humble Devil has to say that I agree with this extract—and this extract only—of this Daily Mail comment piece.
As a woman with no children, I am constantly outraged, too, at the way the Government heaps incentives upon prospective parents.

Money for fruit and veg, child support, baby's trust fund, help with childcare, flexible bloody working, tax breaks. Never mind the ludicrous idea of putting IVF on the NHS, as if having a baby were a God-given right and not a blessing.

I believe that women should pay for the services of a midwife and health visitor. I don't have a child in education, so how about the Government gives me some money towards cat food?

As Trixy points out, children are a lifestyle choice: why the hell should everyone else have to pay for them?
I fail to see why I should have my money taken from me and given to other people for their lifestyle choice.

I go to the gym a lot. That's quite good for me so how about I get a gym allowance?

Inevitably, of course, people will pop up in comments to whinge on about how "we need lots of children to maintain our economy"; "and who," they will say, "will wipe your arse when you are in the nursing home?"

First, including those on disability benefit, we have well over 5 million unemployed people in this country—no doubt they would welcome the chance to have a job wiping my arse. I did such a job for a year and, although it was hard, it was perfectly tolerable—fun, even—and infinitely preferable to sitting around on benefits.

Which brings up another issue: unemployment is much higher amongst young people—with all of these arse-wiping jobs going begging, the benefits bill would be quite substantially reduced. It would be even more reduced if there were no—or somewhat less of a—marginal deduction rate for getting off benefits and working.

Third, we do not need an ever-expanding population to pay for those not working. Assuming a near-consistent growth in GDP, what we would most likely end up with is fewer people with a higher per capita income—a good thing, surely?

Whatever the merits of any of the above, the current system—whereby we subsidise the poorest, most feckless in society (for it is they to whom the marginal benefit rates really make a difference—not to mention the priority on the council housing list) to have yet more children who will, often, emulate their parents' lifestyle—is absolutely fucking insane.

The only thing that I would say that is that I don't mind subsidising a good education—if children are well-educated, then they do, at least, have some hope of breaking out of the cycle of crap into which they are often born.

That does require a bit of will-power, of course, as Shane Greer illustrates.
Much though people on the Left like Milburn would like to give the world (and by world I mean poor people) a great big hug, tell them everything will be ok, and promise they’ll fix it for them, the truth is everything won’t be ok and they can’t fix it. Life’s tough, and it isn’t fair.

Was I at a disadvantage when I decided (originally) that I wanted to become a barrister and I came from a family with one parent working (on low pay) and one unemployed? Absolutely. My family didn’t know anyone in the professions. But because of how they raised me I understood that I had to fight for what I wanted, I had to make my own connections. And I did; phoning up the bar library in Belfast until I managed to collar a barrister who would speak to me for a few minutes and let me follow them around for a few days (thank you Niall Hunt).

Was I at a disadvantage when I decided I wanted to work in politics, had no connections and parents who couldn’t afford to support me while I did an internship for free? Absolutely. But because of how they raised I knew I had to make my own opportunities, so I made a phone call to someone in politics I didn’t know at all (Donal Blaney), scraped together the money to go down to London to visit him and built a relationship I didn’t have before. With his support I applied for and got an internship in the States that provided free accommodation and paid for my flights. That internship ultimately lead me to where I am now.

My experiences shaped who I am, and I wouldn’t change them for the world. Overcoming adversity is character building, opportunities that don’t get handed to you on a plate are more rewarding and more valuable, and I’m doing what I’m doing now because of, not despite of, a system of internships that isn’t fair.

Rather than teach people to rely on the State for answers, Milburn and co would achieve a great deal more if they taught them to rely on ourselves.

And that is the very worst thing about the Welfare State: it was set up with the best of intentions but it has, alas, led people to rely on the state rather than themselves.

Ultimately, of course, the state has no money but what it steals from the productive people in this country, and the more it steals the less productive they become. And, unfortunately, politicians have long ago worked out that the best way to get elected is to bribe people with other people's money—and sometimes their own.

The only thing that is going to lead to a collapse in our economy is if we carry on subsidising people in the way that we do currently—it isn't sustainable, and it cannot continue.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Musings: the wrong answers

One of the problems of governments in general, and this one in particular, is that they constantly come up with the wrong answers.

For instance, there is a rise in knife crime—but knives are not on special offer. There aren't massive advertising campaigns urging people to get a knife. Knives are not particularly easy to get hold of (and nor particularly difficult).

In short, the availability of knives has not changed, and yet there is a rise in knife crime.

So—even leaving aside any unintended consequences—why, in the name of buggery fuck, does the government think that the solution to an increase in knife crime is to pass a law banning knives?*

* No, the government aren't passing a law to ban knives (yet) but this is the kind of response that the government undertakes.

UPDATE (an obviously needed clarification): I am not saying that there is a rise in knife crime. Or that the government are going to ban all knives. I am simply conjuring up a hypothetical but vaguely plausible scenario and outlining how the government would react. If anyone has any better scenarios, do feel free to contribute them in the comments.

How to kill entrepeneurship

N.B. I'm not the Devil

Over at the TaxPayers' Alliance, we've got a new report out today investigating the marginal tax rates that hit entrepeneurs, and calculating the scale at which tax policies remove the incentives to actually take a risk and be an entrepeneur.

Entrepeneurship is a risky activity for the individuals involved, which is of great benefit to the wider economy. It's in all our interests that there are rewards available for taking the risk of leaving the relative security of employment to invest your own time and money in a business idea. The incentive for taking those risks is of course the profit you make back if you're successful.

However, at every stage of the process the State is there to take a cut. We investigated the total marginal tax rate on an entrepeneur who earns a profit, saves it, invests it in a company and then leaves it to their children. Currently, that rate is 90%—they will only have 10% of their original profits left.

When you test the new 50% higher rate of income tax, though, that marginal rate goes up to 92%. An extra 2% might not seem a lot, but it is effectively reducing the existing incentive by 20%. This is yet another kick in the teeth for entrepeneurship.

We already know from various independent assessments that the 50% higher rate is unlikely to raise any revenue for the public coffers, and indeed it may well lose money by deterring investors. This latest study demonstrates quite how damaging the rate will be to a vital sector of the economy.

If we are going to grow our way out of this recession, then we will need the risk-takers, the innovators and the entrepeneurs. They won't put their livelihoods, homes and careers on the line if the Government continues to give them a kicking.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Not dead

Just in case people were wondering where I've been, I've not been anywhere. I am, however, making the most of the fact that Bella is away so that I can spend the vast majority of my time sitting in front of the computer, like the world's biggest nerd, doing bits of exciting work (some of which pays).

One of the bits that doesn't pay me—or, rather, not directly—is my own portfolio website, which I have been revamping (again). Let me know what you think of the look of it—and yes, I know it doesn't have much actual design work on it. Yet—because I may translate a version of the template to The Kitchen.

As always, the usual caveats about Internet Exploder apply—although I have done some testing and it looks not too shabby, as far as I can see. Any tips welcome though.

I shall be back on the politics as soon as possible (and when something annoys me). In the meantime, as Samizdata have reminded me, I'd just like to point out that the programme for the Libertarian Alliance Conference has now been released.
It will be tough to follow what was a great event last year, with speakers such as David Friedman - but this year's Libertarian Alliance annual conference, on 24-25 October in London, promises to be a good one. I have just been sent the agenda and list of speakers, including Tibor Machan, the US philosopher (one of my favourites), Richard Wellings of the IEA, Jan Lester and ... The Devil's Kitchen.

Book early to avoid disappointment...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Drugs and decriminalisation

Iain Dale has been fretting about the alleged levels of cocaine use in this country.
I may be very naive but I find it truly shocking that nearly one million people in this country are cocaine users. Seven per cent of 16-24 year olds use the drug.There has been a 375% rise in the number of under 18s being treated in hospital for cocaine use. Ten per cent of adults expect to take cocaine at some point in their lives.

It's worth reading Iain's post for the utterly incomprehensible paragraph on the subject from Jacboots Smith on the "success" of Britain's drug policy. Needless to say, it reads like one long, illiterate lie.

To be fair to Iain, he fully admits that he himself is a "prude" where drugs are concerned—but he also takes a relatively liberal line on them too.
But everyone has to answer for their own actions and their own lifestyle. No one will ever win a war on drugs. All government can do is try to limit supply and educate people about the disastrous consequences of taking all drugs, not just class A substances.

As someone who has taken pretty much the whole range of drugs, I really don't see what these "disastrous" consequences are of "taking all drugs".

Yes, some people choose to become addicts, and that can be disastrous—but it is a choice: there is no drug that gets you hooked the very first time that you try it (no, not even crack. I know, because I am not a crack addict. See?).
There is of course a school of thought that says that all drugs should be legalised and that would lead to a decline in their use. Alan Duncan argued that in his book Saturn's Children. Whatever the merits of that argument I cannot think that any UK political party would ever adopt such a policy.

It is, of course, a central plank of UK Libertarian Party policy* and, like many of our policies, has its roots in observing policies that have worked in other countries: just as our education policy is based on that of Sweden, our drugs policy is based on the tangible success of the EU country with the most liberal drugs policy.

And that country is not the Netherlands.

No, the EU country with the most liberal drugs policy is Portugal.
The correct answer is Portugal, which in 2001 became the first European country to officially abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.

At the recommendation of a national commission charged with addressing Portugal's drug problem, jail time was replaced with the offer of therapy. The argument was that the fear of prison drives addicts underground and that incarceration is more expensive than treatment — so why not give drug addicts health services instead? Under Portugal's new regime, people found guilty of possessing small amounts of drugs are sent to a panel consisting of a psychologist, social worker and legal adviser for appropriate treatment (which may be refused without criminal punishment), instead of jail.

And how has that policy been working out? Are the streets filled with addicts, the hospitals crowded with overdoses? Er...
The paper, published by Cato in April [2009], found that in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled.

"Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success," says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. "It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does."

Compared to the European Union and the U.S., Portugal's drug use numbers are impressive. Following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the E.U.: 10%. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%. Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana.

The Cato paper reports that between 2001 and 2006 in Portugal, rates of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh through ninth graders fell from 14.1% to 10.6%; drug use in older teens also declined. Lifetime heroin use among 16-to-18-year-olds fell from 2.5% to 1.8% (although there was a slight increase in marijuana use in that age group). New HIV infections in drug users fell by 17% between 1999 and 2003, and deaths related to heroin and similar drugs were cut by more than half. In addition, the number of people on methadone and buprenorphine treatment for drug addiction rose to 14,877 from 6,040, after decriminalization, and money saved on enforcement allowed for increased funding of drug-free treatment as well.

Now, I realise that legalisation is a step further than mere decriminalisation, but it is an important second step to take. Portugal's policy shows that a more lenient drugs policy does not lead to increased use amongst citizens, which is the first part of the argument won.

However, decriminalisation does not address another fundamentally important issue: the fact that drug supply is still in the hands of criminal gangs—something that US policymakers are worried about.
Portugal's case study is of some interest to lawmakers in the U.S., confronted now with the violent overflow of escalating drug gang wars in Mexico. The U.S. has long championed a hard-line drug policy, supporting only international agreements that enforce drug prohibition and imposing on its citizens some of the world's harshest penalties for drug possession and sales. Yet America has the highest rates of cocaine and marijuana use in the world, and while most of the E.U. (including Holland) has more liberal drug laws than the U.S., it also has less drug use.

And that is why we need drug legalisation: we need to take the supply of drugs out of the hands of criminals, and we need to do this for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is that, like the US, a large part of Britain's criminal activity—especially gang activity—is associated with the supply of drugs. Remove this trade and you remove a good deal of crime from our streets—or, rather, the motive for the crime. I am fully aware that criminal gangs will probably move onto something else but—given that we have limited law enforcement resources—whatever they move onto may be easier to police than drugs (which are relatively easy to smuggle).

Second, much of the damage done to individuals by drugs are a factor of their illegality. Although some drugs are strong and should be treated with caution (and at least with respect)—I would favour retaining some idea of drug classification to give users an idea of their potency—they are generally speaking short-lasting and put a small strain on the body's resources. However, it is the brick dust with which heroin is often cut that blocks the capillaries and leads to amputations; it is the warfarin with which cocaine is mixed that all to often leads to severe bleeds in the brain (accentuated by cocaine's raising of the heart-rate).

Third, although providing services to addicts is a reasonable thing to do, it is still a strain on the public purse. If drugs were legalised, they could be taxed. This is, by the way, a perfectly free-market policy (and not only because I favour consumption taxes to pay for any state): it is not a "sin tax" but is based on the concept of Pigouvian taxation—that is, you are using tax to reflect the true costs of goods on the market that would not otherwise be reflected in the price (internalising market externalities).

It is entirely obvious that an ever more draconian war on drugs simply doesn't work and if even the US—the country that, against all expert advice, used bribery, blackmail and puritan heckling to drive the international effort to ban all drugs throughout the twentieth century (see the IEA's Prohibitions book [free PDF download] for more on this stupid policy)—is starting to realise this, then it is about time that we started looking for a more sensible, evidence-based solution (Transform's website would be a good place to start, for any politicos reading this).

Decriminalisation of drugs in Britain should be the very least that any government should adopt—we can see from Portugal's efforts that such a policy does not lead to disaster.

But, to gain the full benefits, legalisation—even if it is done by stages—is the only sensible drugs policy to adopt. Anything else is harmful, wasteful, puritanical, expensive and just plain stupid.

* Yes, I shall talk about the Norwich North by-election result in due course, although I have little to add to Andrew's comments.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Quote of the month...

... comes from Frankie Boyle in the recent episode of Mock The Week.
Who wants to be in Gordon Brown's Cabinet? That's like being handed a pair of pilot goggles by Emperor Hirohito...


Railroad to nowhere

Kerry McCarthy is very happy, it seems...
According to the BBC—and who are we to doubt them?—the Government is going to announce the electrification of the Great Western line later today. Those who hang on to my every word in Parliament and on this blog—and if not, why not?—will know I've been calling for this for some time. Last time I asked Geoff Hoon about this in the Chamber, I thought he'd been distinctly encouraging, but it's good to have confirmation. The only downside is that it will take eight years in total, but still at least it's been given the green light. Or should that be the green signal?

Actually, the eight years to completion is very far from being the only downside.

According to the BBC article, electrification carries significant benefits.
A £1bn plan to electrify the main rail route between London and Swansea has been announced by the government.

A second line between Liverpool and Manchester will also be converted from diesel to electric.

Ministers say electric trains are lighter and more energy efficient, cutting the running cost and environmental impact of train services.

OK, so these are all benefits to the train operator, right? It will make the train services cheaper to run, yes?

So why the fuck is the taxpayer footing the £1 billion bill?
Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said: "Yet again Labour are maxing out Network Rail's credit card, leaving the taxpayer to foot the bill."

Good point.
Transport Secretary Lord Adonis told the BBC the massive investment involved would be worth it.

"With the electric trains you get a quieter, cleaner, more reliable and much cheaper train which benefits passengers and it also benefits the taxpayers because it's much cheaper to keep an electric railway going," he said.

Good, that's excellent. So we'll be seeing a corresponding drop in the massive taxpayer subsidy to the train operator, will we? If the taxpayer is stumping up £1 billion to electrify the line for which all of the benefits will accrue to the train operator, then we will, presumably, be cutting their subsidy, will we?

Anyone? Bueller? Bueller...?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Apple beats the credit crunch

Ok, I know, I'm an Apple freak but it does seem that other people are too. As someone with a tiny number of shares in the company, I do like to see them doing well: and the third quarter results see the company doing very well.
Revenues were $8.34 billion, up 12 percent. Net profit was $1.23 billion, or $1.35 per share. Analysts had been looking for $1.18 per share, and Apple had guided them even lower—to just below a dollar. The stock traded up on the news at $151, putting Apple's market cap at $135 billion—neck-and-neck with Google.

Apple sold 5.2 million iPhones in the last quarter, a 626 percent jump from 717,000 units one year ago. Apple's App Store has delivered 1.5 billion downloads to iPhone owners in just one year.

Apple sold 2.6 million computers, up 4 percent from last year. With market research analysts expecting the overall PC market to decline by as much as 5 percent this year, "this puts us 7 to 9 percent ahead of the market," Cook said.

Sales of portable Macs—MacBooks and MacBook Pros—did even better, growing 13 percent in the quarter. Another interesting factoid: Apple says half of the people who bought a Mac in the quarter had never bought a Mac before, a sign that Windows users are continuing to convert.

I know a growing number of people who have converted and they are all massive fans. Quite simply, Apple make great products and I have increased my shareholding on the back of these results.

What can they produce that will beat what they already have? I wait with bated breath...


Like many MPs, Nadine has had a stressful time: the lesson for all MPs is that you shouldn't lie repeatedly, smear your opponents and steal money.

Via The Englishman (who is not sympathetic in the slightest), I see that Iain Dale was listening to the radio the other day.
Earlier today Radio 4 broadcast a half hour programme on the MP expenses scandal. It is a close look at the effect the scandal had on MPs and their families. Among others, it features Nadine Dorries, Ann Cryer, Denis MacShane and Andrew George. Nadine's daughter breaks down in tears when discussing the effect it all had on her, and Nadine openly discusses the fact that she has thought about standing down.

Good. You should be pleased Iain: it doesn't look good for the Tories to have a proven liar as an MP—especially one who is happy to smear her opponents (and then try to sue people for smearing her) and who is is barking fucking mad to boot.

Unfortunately, Mad Nad won't stand down: it's just bluster.
I suspect that many people will have an adverse reaction to the programme and accuse the MPs of shedding crocodile tears and think they deserved all they got. Many did.

Yes, they did.
But several of the MPs featured in this programme were clearly driven to the edge of reason by what happened.

"But"? What's this "but"? Look, a while ago we were told that some MPs were on "suicide watch"—have we seen any suicides? No, no we haven't. It was simply a cynical ploy to try to gain the public's sympathy.

This is precisely the same: these colossal egotists just cannot stop whining about how unfair it all is and how there are going to be dire consequences, and how we need more rules, and...


No one cares. No one cares about your troubles because it was our hard-earned money that you were stealing. You stole our money: do you really expect us to be upset that you were slightly put out for a few days? Really?

You fucks have been repeatedly raping us up the arse, without lube, for years and years and years and you want us to feel sorry for you? Fuck. Off.

"Driven to the edge of reason"? Yes, I imagine that they were: after all, I bet that Bernie Madoff and the Enron management team were also "driven to the edge of reason"—I imagine that it is pretty fucking stressful when you have committed fraud on a grand scale and you realise that you are about to get caught. So?

The solution is not to commit fraud. Do you see? We don't need more rules, and we definitely don't need more self-pitying witterings from you slippery, solipsistic bastards. Because the solution is very simple—don't steal, don't defraud the taxpayers and don't be a disgustingly dishonest little cunt.

And if you get caught being a disgustingly dishonest little cunt—as many of you were—why don't you try employing some of that famous British stiff upper lip? At the very least, you should shut the fuck up about how you became a little upset when you realised that your crimes were about to be uncovered. Do you understand?

You were dishonest: you were caught, and you were fucking lucky not to be prosecuted—any one of us would have been. So count your lucky stars and crawl back under your rock, you thieving slugs.

I have absolutely no sympathy at all, for any of you: fuck off.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why the MSM is struggling

Over at Daring Fireball, John Gruber neatly sums up why the traditional MSM are losing money hand-over-fist (The Telegraph, for instance, is apparently losing £200,000 a week).
What works in today’s web landscape are lean and mean organizations with little or no management bureaucracy—operations where nearly every employee is working on producing actual content. I’m an extreme example—a literal one-man show. A better example is Josh Marshall’s TPM Media, which is hiring political and news reporters. TPM is growing, not shrinking. But my understanding is that nearly everyone who works at TPM is working on editorial content.

Old-school news companies aren’t like that—the editorial staff makes up only a fraction of the total head count at major newspaper and magazine companies. The question these companies should be asking is, “How do we keep reporting and publishing good content?” Instead, though, they’re asking “How do we keep making enough money to support our existing management and advertising divisions?” It’s dinosaurs and mammals.


Increasingly over the last few months, in particular, people have asked me whether I think that blogs are going to kill the MSM. I don't believe that they will, partly because, as many have pointed out, many of us are parasitic on the MSM itself.

However, I do think that the days of highly-paid opinion columnists are numbered—even more so as devices such as the iPhone make it easier to read online whilst on-the-go.

Should you find good blogs, the comment in the blogosphere is just as sharp—and often considerably more informed—than that in the MSM. Furthermore, those opinion-writers are not on a salary of £100,000 plus.

To put it another way, the fact is that Polly Toynbee and her ilk are dead ducks. Or, of course, it will be the businesses that employ Polly and her ilk which die.

Instead, I believe that the MSM companies should slim down their operations considerably—to become, as Gruber describes it, "lean and mean organizations with little or no management bureaucracy"—operations where nearly every employee is working on producing actual content"—and refocus their efforts where they have competitive advantage—in proper, verifiable reporting and news-gathering.

Otherwise, I cannot see how they will survive—no business can lose £200,000 a week forever...

An interview with Thomas Burridge

Via the LPUK blog, Future Radio has an interview with the UK Libertarian Party candidate for the Norwich North by-election, Thomas Burridge.

It's about 20 minutes long and generally I think that Thomas holds his own pretty well, to be honest: see what you think. He comes across confidently, and puts across the general policy ideas, whilst remaining coherent.

If you live in Norwich and believe that personal freedom is a good thing, then do turn out and vote for Thomas, and the UK Libertarian Party.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Quote of the Day...

... comes from Charlotte "remind me why on earth is she in the LibDems?" Gore, and is just a couple of paragraphs from an article stuffed with quotable bits.
I do actually remember the days when I’d say, “The Government should stop people from doing X” and think, you know, the people who want to do X? They’re scum, aren’t they? Who cares what they think? Sure a lot of people won’t like it, but the greater good will be served.

I used to think like that. Over time, however, as I found myself more and more in the ‘X’ category at the hands of this Government, I began to become more and more uneasy about this sort of thing. Who am I to impose anything on anyone? What if I’m wrong? The reasoning that you had to be a bit fascist if you wanted to be properly liberal stopped making sense. The best way to fight fascism is to promote liberalism, and that means using liberalism as your weapon of choice.

Quite so. One of the themes that I have been advocating over the last year or so—both here and in my occasional public speaking—is that what those in power really do is to apply their own personal morals onto those who may not share said prejudices.

For instance, whilst you might think that the taking of drugs is bad and wrong, I do not. Why should you be able to employ force to make me comply with your morals?

Whilst your beliefs might tell you that having sex with lots of people is immoral, I think that it is great fun. Why should you be able to employ force to make me comply with your morals?

Whilst you might think that giving people oodles of cash simply because they have chosen to have children is a good thing, I do not. Why should you be able to employ force to make me comply with your morals?

And whilst you might think that stealing people's property to fund your vision of society is an a priori good, the society that I wish to see is somewhat different from yours. Why should you be able to employ force to make me comply with your morals?

I only have one moral absolute—that forcing* everyone to comply with my personal morals is wrong. Which is why I am a libertarian.

* Please note that I have no problem with voluntary collectivism—indeed, I think that it is an excellent thing and would always encourage it (or, indeed, take part in it).

Total Politics Top Blogs

It appears that—once again—it is time for the Total Politics Guide to Political Blogging to be published again, and Iain Dale is asking for you to vote for your top ten political blogs.
It's that time of year again, when Total Politics asks you to vote for your Top 10 favourite blogs. The votes will be compiled and included in the forthcoming book, the Total Politics Guide to Blogging 2009-10, which will be published in September. This year the poll is being promoted/sponsored by LabourList and LibDemVoice as well as this blog.

The rules are simple.
  1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and ranks them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).

  2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.

  3. You MUST include ten blogs. If you include fewer than ten your vote will not count.

  4. Email your vote to

  5. Only vote once.

  6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents are eligible or based on UK politics are eligible.

  7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name.

  8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2009. Any votes received after that date will not count.

As Iain points out, this list is always subjective—it's an indication of which blogs readers of certain blogs actually like. However, it's always nice to know whether we bloggers are continuing to entertain you so, please, do vote.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A message to the government

A tip of the horns to my peripatetic Greek chum for this...

"Gordon, if you're watching... Leave. Us. Alone." Class.

I have my own message for you, Gordon: if you or any of your little fucking goblin minions are reading this...

Fuck. Off. And. Die. Y'cunt.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Polly is a vicious moron (#94)

On Monday, Polly Toynbee wrote one of her usual stupid screeds on the subject of paying for old age, with particular reference to yet another taxpayer government-funded green paper.
Today's green paper will lay out various options. On retirement, everyone who can would pay a lump sum of around £20,000 up front and nothing ever again. Or that sum could be attached to the value of their home, deducted from their estate after death along with accumulated interest. Or, if you delay retirement and don't draw your state pension for three years, the sum would be waived altogether. These could be mixed and matched by paying a portion up front, and having a portion attached to the value of your home.

One thing is plain: if the scheme is to work, then paying this £20,000 will have to be compulsory for all – or at least for the 70% who own property and savings. Polling showed only 15%-20% would pay up and join the scheme if it was voluntary: the rest would take their chance with the care roulette wheel, hoping for the best and risking losing everything. But unless all join, this universal insurance plan won't work.

No, no and thrice no, you evil fucking bitch: as Timmy has pointed out, we all have a universal insurance plan, and it is already compulsory—it's called National Insurance.
Money must be found, since the quality of care is well below any acceptable standard. Even without improvement, there will soon be a £6bn funding gap. The average cost per head is £30,000, varying between the drop-dead lucky ones who pay nothing and long-term Alzheimer's cases who may pay £200,000 for years in a nursing home.

This National Insurance that I spoke of, Polly. You remember it? Maybe not, since I am sure that your accountants have worked out a way for you to dodge it.

However, we fucking proles have to pay it and, this year alone, I will pay £2,570 into it; my employer will pay another £2,991—a total of £5,561.*

Let us assume that, over my working life, I and my employers pay roughly the same amount in every year, shall we? Assuming I retire at 65 (fat fucking chance, by the way), how much will I have paid in over my lifetime of 44 years, Pol? Can you do basic arithmetic? Come on, Pol, come on...

Yes! That's right, Polly. Over my working life, I will have paid £244,684—a reasonably substantial sum. So far, in my eleven in employment, I have claimed not one single penny of that. So, that's a pretty nice profit that the government is sitting on.

Of course, that's the point about insurance: it spreads the risk. But the other point is that insurance funds are supposed to be just that—actual funds that exist and which can pay out if necessary. Insurance companies, by law, have to have a certain size of fund (as do pension companies).

It also helps if said funds are invested and then bring in a bigger return—or, at the very least, bring in enough to offset the fall in the value of the fund caused by inflation—than if the money had been put in a sock under the bed.

Unfortunately—and I am becoming weary of pointing this out to morons like you, Polly—the government has not actually been doing this. It has been taking the money and using it as income: there is no fund, and no investment. So of course there is a fucking shortfall, you moron—not least because the government keeps paying out to people who have not ever paid a fucking penny into the fund!

Not only this, but the government has been using most of the money paid by new investors, i.e. young people, to pay out to early investors, i.e. old people. This is what is known as a Ponzi Scheme and Bernie Madoff was imprisoned for a silly amount of time for running one.

Whatever you think of NICs as an idea, what I have outlined above is the reality of what has been happening—it is a fraud. Given all of this—given the failure of successive governments to run this compulsory fucking scheme honestly or competently—you approve yet more demands on our money?

You advocate that we should be forced to give yet more of our money to the state, when the state has failed to honour the promises that it made when it took the first lot?

You advocate the stealing of yet more cash so that the state can carry on blithely perpetrating a massive fraud on people who have no option but to pay into it?

At what point, Polly, you loathsome fuckwit, is it going to dawn on you that giving money to politicians is a really fucking stupid thing to do? When are you going to realise that these bastards never fulfill their promises?

Go fuck yourself, Toynbee: you make me sick, you fawning fucking state lapdog. Go on, fuck off and die.

* Plus, of course, I pay for private health and unemployment insurance, and a private pension, on top of my NICs. These private options cost less than my NICs contributions alone.

Fucking ace!

It appears that swearing can be good for you...
Uttering expletives when you hurt yourself is a sensible policy, according to scientists who have shown swearing can help reduce pain.

A study by Keele University researchers found volunteers who cursed at will could endure pain nearly 50% longer than civil-tongued peers.

Swearing certainly helps your humble Devil to bear the pain of living under this fucking collection of spivs, arseholes, conmen, shitstains, wankshafts, fuckwits, fascists, morons, bastards, cocksuckers, turds, whores, idiots and cunts who call themselves our Parliament.*

But I'd still like the pain to go away. Preferably by seeing the lot of them adorning lamp-posts and doing the mid-air tap-dance...

* Swearing also helps to ease the pain of knowing that this fucking pointless study was undertaken using money stolen from people doing something productive.

Stupidity and ignorance from LabourList

The hilariously pointless LabourList is attempting to have a debate about immunisation and, as usual, the article concerned is ignorant in the extreme. The article—hilariously titled Inject some sense into immunisation—gives us a flavour, in the very first paragraph, of exactly what kind of "sense" these idiots want to "inject"...
If I offered you a cocktail which included in its ingredients formaldehyde, aluminum phosphate, ammonium sulfate, washed sheep red blood cells, embryonic fluid from chickens and thimerosal, what would be your initial reaction? Would you gladly accept this concoction of animal byproducts, heavy metals and chemicals without question?

"Chemicals"? Ooh, how fucking scary. Your entire body is made of "chemicals", you fucking moron.

For example, how would you react if I said that you have large traces of adenosine triphosphate in your body? Would you think, "fuck me—triphosphate? Phosphorus? That can't be good, can it? And adenosine? That sounds a bit suspicious." Well, you'd be wrong.
Adenosine-5'-triphosphate (ATP) is a multifunctional nucleotide, and plays an important role in cell biology as a coenzyme that is the "molecular unit of currency" of intracellular energy transfer.

In fact, you wouldn't exist without adenosine triphosphate because it is what allows your cells to live.

What if I told you that you had chloride ions throughout your body? "Fuck me! Chlorine's a poison—they put it in swimming pools to try to prevent growth of bacteria and algae! Shit! How long do I have to live?"

Once again, you'd be wrong: chloride ions and sodium ions drive the potentials that create the electrical currents in your nerves. Once again, they are absolutely essential.

So, by all means have a debate about immunisation but why not get someone who knows something about the subject to write the fucking article, you Labour morons? Having a debate is all very well, but to have a meaningful debate, you need to start with correct premises; if the facts on which you base your debate are wrong from the very start, then the debate is self-evidently pointless.

Seriously, one of the great things about blogging—and it is one of the things that is going to kill comment pieces in the MSM—is that there are people out in the blogosphere who actually know something about the subjects on which they are writing.

This article, though, is absolutely typical of the way in which politicians in general—and NuLabour in particular—tend to make policy: a whole bunch of idiots who are utterly unaware of the background or facts involved in the subject at hand get together in a room, wank each other off, and come up with a policy which at best is completely fucking useless and, at worst, actively damaging.

Generally speaking, the Tories are no better, but over the last twelve years, NuLabour have demonstrated an utter unwillingness to listen to anyone with any knowledge of the subject at hand—including doctors in hospitals and teachers in schools—and instead made facile policies on the basis of ignorance, tribal loyalty, prejudice, bigotry and spite.

This is why NuLabour have so comprehensively fucked up this country—because politicians and their advisors are generally ignorant of anything other than politics. Plus, of course, the politicians involved in the NuLabour project are quite outstandingly baleful and spiteful.

This will not change under the Tories; state interference is nearly always a disaster, and the only reason that Labour governments have been so outstandingly disastrous is because they are far more in favour of increased state interference than the Tories.

And, since state interference fucks things up, it follows that more state interference fucks things up even more.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Your humble Devil is back from a very drunken weekend in The World's Finest City™. As usual, it was lovely being home—for Edinburgh does feel like home to me, and always has—and it was delightful to catch up with so many old friends. And, of course, it was fantastic to see two of my very good friends finally tie the knot—they were, in fact, hitched without a hitch...

Your humble Devil enjoys the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

Especial thanks must go to Jax (for the flat), Witchy (who helped Bella* find a costume for the shindig) and Angry Steve, who played host for many drinking sessions—most notably for a lazy and boozy Sunday afternoon session in the Leith clubhouse of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

Your humble Devil is attending a reunion of my same-year house-mates from school tonight—most of whom I have not seen since I left in summer of 1995—and so I shall not be properly back on the blogging horse until tomorrow (when I have a final day off work) so you will have to wait for some more vaguely inventive invective.

However, just one thing before I bugger off to dinner... The Libertarian Alliance are now taking bookings for their yearly Conference—to be held at the National Liberal Club on Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th October 2009.

I can't see the full programme online at present but, when it is published, you will see that the speaker for the first session—from 10.05am–10.45am on the Saturday—is none other than your humble Devil, discussing the Libertarian Party. So, you can book your attendance online.

Anyway, via that cunt Twenty (whose books, incidentally, are quite fun), I find the Babes of the BNP. This is my personal favourite quote from just one of the stunningly stupid females interviewed...
Yeah. I wouldn’t mind [immigrants] if they actually worked and didn’t take all of our jobs, basically.

Riiiiiiight. So, Helen Riddell [for it is she], you want them to work but not to take any of "our jobs"—you've got to love that logic, Helen, you dumb bitch...

Until tomorrow, folks...

* I hope that the trip was a worthy ending for Bella's stay in this country—as this is the sad end of our stressful journey. I still cannot quite express my disgust at the way that this country has treated someone who—incredibly—wants to live and work in this shithole of a country.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Airport fun

Your humble Devil is sitting in Gatwick, waiting for a plane to
Edinburgh. I'm back in the 'Burgh for a wedding, a long weekend and a
catch-up with old friends and pubs.

Since I no longer have a laptop, posting is likely to be infrequent
despite the number of things that I want to comment on.

But, on the other hand, I finding that the new landscape keyboard in
the iPhone 3.0 software does make typing an awful lot easier, so maybe
I shall post occasionally. When I'm not drunk that is.

In the meantime, I would like to point out that the UK Border Agency
are absolute fucking cunts of the first water and I hope that everyone
responsible for making and administering immigration policy dies of
cancer during a severe morphine shortage.

Bunch of fuckers...

Sent from my iPhone

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Dodgy ground

Beth Stratford: a complete and utter watermelon moron. Oh, and violent criminal...

This article by a fucking eco-loon called Beth Stratford—who, with her buddies, held up a coal-train bound for a powerstation—is a massive load whining, self-righteous, ignorant, self-justifying crap. No change there then.

Luckily, I don't have to delve into the guts of this awful, mewling pap as Longrider has effectively disembowelled the bloody thing, at length.

Just a couple of questions though: first, why—when the Greenpeace fucknuts who caused £30,000 of damage at a powerstation were found not guilty because of the justification of the damage from climate change—was this argument not accepted in the case of the Drax train defendants?

(Don't get me wrong: I think that it is a shit defence that should not be accepted in any way, but why the inconsistency?)

The second question that I like to ask is this: the going rate for a CiF article is £75—was this paid to Stratford? Because—and feel free to say I'm wrong here—I was under the impression that criminals were not allowed to profit from their crimes.

Given that Stratford has been convicted, and the article has only been written because she committed a crime, were she to accept payment, Stratford is quite obviously profiting from crime—as is Comment Is Free.

I think we should be told.

And, if Stratford has been paid, then the money should be confiscated; and then both she and CiF should be prosecuted for breaking the law.

Now, that would be funny...

Mad Mahdi Bunting and the Grand Narrative of Death

Last week, the reliably Mad Mahdi Bunting wrote a particularly silly article in The Grauniad, one sentence of which was rightfully mocked by many.

But the whole article was not merely mad, but actively terrifying. At its center was the loathesome idea of the "grand narrative"—a controlling meme through which the unconditional support of the population could be enforced through ignorance and power.

Naturally, this is a repugnant idea to any libertarian—as is Mahdi's contention that "individualism" is somehow synonymous with buying more shiny shit—and it was just ripe for a truly detailed fisking in the grand tradition.

And so, in what is quite simply one of the best posts that I have ever read, Bella Gerens has not only ripped the Mad Mahdi a new arsehole and laid out why forced collectivism is so evil, she has also articulated the virtues of true individualism—rather than the fake, corporatist idea that Bunting and her evil ilk are peddling.

Do go and read it—if only to arm yourself. Because, believe me, we have already seen altogether too many "opinion-formers" cleaving to Bunting's "grand narrative", and we are going to see a lot more.

And it needs to be resisted—else it will be the last nail in the coffin of our liberty.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Five myths about alcohol

(nb. I am not the Devil's Kitchen)

No. 1 - We are drinking more than ever and 1 in 4 people are drinking at hazardous levels

This claim has been made regularly since May of this year, based on data from the Office of National Statistics. The Telegraph's report was entirely typical: 
One in four drink too much, official figures show.

Ten million people in England – one in four adults – are putting their health at risk by drinking too much, official figures have shown.

'Too much' is more than 21 units a week for men and 14 units for women. The highly questionable nature of these 'daily limits' has been discussed by my gracious host before; he has also recently touched on the changing way in which these units are counted, all of which reinforce the myth that there is a mounting epidemic of binge-drinking.

Since 2007, the Office of National Statistics has assumed larger glasses are being used and stronger alcohol is being consumed. They now assume that a glass of wine contains 2 units, rather than 1, as it did before. With beer, what used be counted as 1 unit is now counted as 1.5, what used to be 1.5 units is now assumed to be 2 units and what used to be 2.3 units (a large can) is now counted as 3 units.

As you might expect, this has made a dramatic difference to the statistics. The graph below shows the percentage of men and women drinking more than their 21/14 unit weekly 'limit' under the old system*:

Nothing to see here, is there? A downward trend since 2000 is evident for both sexes.

But this is how the same statistics look using the new system:

Wa-hay! Booze Britain! Exactly the same data but very different results.

So which is the correct estimate? The ONS is, in my view, a basically honest institution and it seems fair to estimate 2 units are in the average glass of wine. It is less fair to assume stronger beer at a time when two of the biggest selling lagers - Stella and Becks - have introduced weaker brands. 

But wherever the truth may lie, the fact remains that even if the ONS had changed its system 10 years ago, the overall trend would remain downwards. 

That consumption has actually been falling recently - albeit slightly - is confirmed by figures for pure alcohol consumption. These show that per capita consumption peaked in 2004 and has since dropped off: 
Litres of alcohol per person aged over 14 (PDF)

2002: 11.13

2003: 11.34

2004: 11.59

2005: 11.4

2006: 11.0

2007: 11.2

This data is significant because per capita consumption effectively measures the amount of ethanol consumed by a person, which is what the system of units is supposed to do. But while units have to be clumsily estimated, the per capita system measures what has actually been bought and therefore, one has to assume, been drunk.

According to the Institute of Alcohol Studies - no friends of the booze - total alcohol sales have fallen by 13% since 2001/02**. According to the ONS, the number of teetotallers has risen from 9.5% to 14% since 1992. And pubs are closing at the rate of 53 a week. And per capita consumption of pure alcohol currently stands at 11.2 litres, much less than Luxembourg (15.6 litres) and, indeed, less than 14 other European countries. That's your ‘Booze Britain’ for you.

*These figures are shown in table 2.5 of Statistics on Alcohol, England 2009

** Page 8 of Drinking in Great Britain (PDF)

No.2 - Alcohol is cheaper than it was 20 years ago

This forms the cornerstone of efforts to introduce a minimum price for alcoholic drinks by, amongst others, Fatboy Donaldson:
In his report, Sir Liam noted that over the preceding 20 years, the country’s disposable income had risen faster than alcohol taxation, and alcohol had become ever more affordable.

It is true that alcohol has become more affordable. Everything has become more affordable as a result of rising prosperity. Most people would consider this to be a good thing. But relative to other products alcohol has become less affordable.

When inflation is factored in, British households' disposable income increased from 100 to 208.8 between 1980 and 2008. In other words, people can afford to buy more than twice as much as they could in 1980. 

In the same period the affordability of alcohol - thanks to above-inflation tax rises - has only risen from 100 to 175. To imply that alcohol is actually "cheaper" is disingenuous in the extreme.

In fact, as the Office of National Statistics concludes, it is plain wrong:
Between 1980 and 2008, the price of alcohol increased by 283.3%. After considering inflation (at 21.3%), alcohol prices increased by 19.3% over the period.

In real terms, as well as in monetary terms, alcohol is more expensive that it was 20 years ago.

No. 3 - There is a worsening epidemic of underage drinking

Here's The Telegraph again:
Teenage drinking epidemic 'causing misery'

Britain needs to wake up to the epidemic of binge-drinking among teenagers and the misery it is causing thousands of families, one of the country's most senior policemen has warned.

He criticised the drinks industry for targeting the young and exporting its "negative costs on to the streets, hospitals and into the criminal justice system".

But only last week the Trading Standards Institute reported:
A survey of 13,000 young people by the Trading Standards Institute found the number of teenagers who drank weekly fell from 50% in 2005 to 38% this year.

Which backs up what they said in 2007:
Fewer teenagers are drinking regularly - partly because it is becoming harder for youngsters to get hold of alcohol, a Trading Standards survey suggests.

And this is supported by figures from the Office of National Statistics (May 2009):
One in five pupils (20%) [11-15 years] had drunk alcohol in the last seven days, a proportion which has declined from 26% in 2001.

The proportion of pupils who have never drunk alcohol has risen since 2003, from 39% to 46% in 2007.

Underage drinking - at whatever level - is clearly an issue for parents and the police, and yet, Trading Standards exhibited the same attitude of buck-passing as the copper above:
Trading Standards North West, which carried out the poll, said it intended to write to the firms behind these drinks to "seek clarification of the plans for action to reduce their appeal to young people".

That's right. It's "the firms". Not the police, not the parents, not the shopkeepers and not - heaven forfend - Trading Standards. It's down to the manufacturers to stop people buying their products illegally.

No. 4 - Alcohol-related hospital admissions have risen by 69%

Responsible journalists usually follow this little nugget of information with an important proviso:
The number of people admitted to hospital in England with alcohol-related problems has risen by 69 per cent in five years, to 863,000 in 2007-08, although changes to data collection — which now include secondary diagnoses, such as alcohol-related injuries — have contributed to the surge in cases.

These "changes to data collection" do more than merely "contribute" to the "surge in cases" -they are the overwhelming explanation. The redefinition is sweeping and appears to include anybody who turns up in hospital with a trace of alcohol in their blood, as the ONS explains:
“These figures use a new methodology reflecting a substantial change in the way the impact of alcohol on hospital admissions is calculated. The new calculation includes a proportion of the admissions for reasons that are not always related to alcohol, but can be in some instances (such as accidental injury).”

This covers a multitude of sins. As a helpful commentator recently pointed out, alcohol can be linked to virtually any disease, usually very tenuously. Sure enough, the largest proportion of "alcohol-related" admissions involve people with geriatric diseases:
Overall, the number of alcohol-related admissions increased with age in 2007/08, rising from 49,300 admissions among 16 to 24 year olds to 195,300 admissions of people aged 75 and over.

Only a quarter of the 863,000 admissions are directly attributable to alcohol. Not that any of this was deemed worthy of mention by, for example, The Daily Mail:
Alcohol-related admissions to hospitals in England have soared by more than 50 per cent over the last five years, latest figures revealed last night.

Startling data from the Department of Health showed there were 863,257 drink-related admissions in 2007-08, up sharply from 569,418 in 2003-04 - the year Labour's reforms ushered in round-the-clock drinking.

No. 5 - Lager is cheaper than water

This doozy is a favourite of pretend charity Alcohol Concern and has been repeated many times, particularly by the The Daily Mail:
Drunk for £1: Anger as leading supermarkets sell lager for 22p a can

Supermarkets are selling beer at a cheaper price than water, fuelling concern over their role in Britain's binge-drinking crisis.

Despite repeated public health warnings, Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda now offer lager at just 22p a can - less per litre than their own brand-mineral water and cola, and cheap enough to allow someone to get drunk for just £1.

Let's ignore for a moment the obvious point that someone wanting to buy water is hardly likely to buy lager on an impulse instead. Let's even ignore the fact that water comes out of the tap for 0.02p per glass.

Instead, let's look at Tesco's own brand lager. Here it is.

It costs 91p for a 4-pack, or 5.2p per 100ml.

And here's Tesco's own brand mineral water. 

It costs 13p, or 0.7p per 100ml.

So please can we put this one to bed now?

Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted something about the own-brand lager - it is piss-weak (2% ABV). Frankly, you might as well drink the water. 4 cans of this stuff equates to about a can and a half of Stella. Hardly enough to get "drunk for £1", although that didn't stop the Mail from printing a hilarious account of someone pretending to do just that.

Away from media hysteria and the medical lobby's hyperbole, the facts are plain: we are drinking less than we did 100 years ago, more than we did 50 years ago and less than we did 5 years ago. We are middle-weights in the European drinking league and the fact that we have a lot of knob-heads causing problems in our towns and cities at the weekend is because there a lot of knob-heads in the UK. The reasons for that is a whole other story, but it has nothing to do with advertising, happy hours or the price of lager. 

It is doubtful that even the British Medical Association really believes that charging 50p a unit or banning Guiness adverts will make the slightest difference to rates of consumption, but that is not really the objective. The objective is to officially identify drinking as 'bad' in the same way that smoking is 'bad'. From that starting point, all else follows.

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