Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer is Summed

Hickory has had enough of the heat and is off to the mountains. Blogging may well be bucolic in nature, and will be via what I understand is called a dongle, which will limit photographs a bit. I promise comments on the latest anthropological news, which has been tremendously exciting, and gossip from the village, as well as botany and zoology, but politics and the Hickory Wind may be less evident.

I cannot and would not force anyone to continue reading this blog if it became dull or lacked relevance, but I will say that once you have heard what the daughter of the Paqui may or may not have done with the nephew of the Juani in the mata above the cemetery the other Sunday night when they were both supposed to be babysitting the Yesica's little one because her mother needed to sleep it off and her father * knows where he is and what the mother-in-law of Pepe the tobacconist says is what really happened and what the Paqui did to the mother-in-law of Pepe and what the doctor said about all of them when he'd had a few at the absinth parlour the Mayor has since his last attempt to rig the local housing market went wrong; once, I say, you have heard all that, and especially once you have heard what the daughter of the undertaker will do just about anywhere for €20, you will never watch Big Brother again.

In summary, there will be blogging and it will not be dull.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What Makes Us Human

Following a remark here, which I commented on in this thread, and which The Great Simpleton made a further comment on, I decided to make a list of things which have been said to make us human. This is not exactly a lifetime's research, more like a few minutes' Googling, but it is interesting to discover how much of a cliché it has become. Anyway, here is a preliminary list:

Keeping up with the Jones's; being nice; the Neanderthal genome; spite; anything you want, especially if it's 'spiritual'; cooking; killing those who aren't like us; not being a machine; mind-reading; tiny bits of DNA; Self-awareness and free moral agency, speech and symbolic cognition, our nimble thumbs, conscience and the capacity to imagine; lots of things; putting up with lefty twaddle and sloppy thinking (from the original thread, courtesy The Great Simpleton); cooking again; a gene expressed in the hipocampus; making art; the social skills of infants; junk DNA; to err (passim).

Any comments or additions would be much welcomed.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Once Upon a Time There Was a Tavern

Where I used to raise a glass or two…

Well, quite a few, in fact. Your humble blogging hedgehog has, unusually for his species, always been fond of a pint. Something real that goes down like ice-cold water with the barest touch of hops. Not some stuff with bits in or that other stuff you need to dig out with a spoon, nor, God forbid, anything that looks as though it was brewed by Danes. Taylor-Walker, or Brains SA or Abbot are the sort of thing Hickory likes of an evening, preferably around a table with a few friends in a place which looks like your grandmother’s living room and where the barman and most of the regulars know your name and what to talk to you about.

Alert readers will be fearing some maudlin, nostalgic ramblings brought on by the absence of all these things over here, perhaps encouraged by too much of what we substitute it with. They would not be entirely correct. Rather than nostalgia, it is reflection, and it has been brought on not by Mahou 5 Estrellas, nor by the Hollies, but by the Eagles. The Sad Café crossing your bows at the wrong moment can do that to you, and sets you asking, ‘Where is my Sad Café?’ We all have one, just as we all have our Ilsa Lund. Or we think we should, and so we dig back into our past to find something that we can claim to have lost.

My Ilsa Lung will have to remain a secret, but a couple of Sad Cafés come to mind. Back in student days the Union bar was a hell of a place. Heaving with people, nearly all young and full of energy and fairly clever. It wasn’t very big, and the fire limit must have been exceeded every night by about 50% and much more on Thursdays which was Happy Hour. The Union, the political side of it, was run back then by a small sect of Marxist thugs who censored everyone who they suspected of not agreeing with them (they didn’t even listen much of the time; if they didn’t like the look of you, you didn’t get to speak.) They didn’t matter of course, and most of their meetings consisted of them talking to each other and then trying to tell the rest of us what they had decided we believed in.

None of this is relevant to the atmosphere of the bar. You always met people you knew, partly because you got to know an awful lot of people, and in a short time you would be involved in earnest and profound discussion of some topic, political, technical, social, philosophical, about which you all knew absolutely everything, and which was, for the duration, the most interesting subject in the world. On Thursday nights you could barely move, elbows dug into you from all sides, conversation was shouted, the stairwells were packed, meaning a trip to the gents was an adventure, and getting a round in meant shoving through gaps that didn’t exist, shouting until one of the ten or so bar staff (at a bar only 20 feet long) paid you some attention, and practising your skill at carrying six pints of beer through a seething press of sardine-like humanity without spilling a drop. Somehow, it was fun. And not only was it fun, it seemed like the centre of the universe, the best and most important place you could possibly be.

Then there was a pub I used to frequent in the mid-nineties. A genuine old pub, a 19th C building, one of many built along the road out to the railway station. The same railway station that I arrived back at every evening, tired and thirsty, the same road I had to walk along to reach what was then Hickory Towers (It’s moved around a bit over the years). This was pre-Mrs Hickory and the light in the window, the warmth that rolled across the pavement and the prospect of good beer and friendly faces was very hard to resist. The landlord knew everyone and everyone went there. It is amazing to think that I could feel joy in the company of part-time dustmen, of trade union activists, of middle-aged chancers and wide-boys, aging hippies, the unemployed and unemployable, the badly-married, the worse-divorced, the desperately-single, the failed jazz singers, lonely middle managers, angst-ridden music students and prostitutes taking a break to do their accounts. There were not many who were like me in any obvious sense, but it was a place you could always go, and, whether it was you and Don, the landlord, you and the bar-flies, you and some people who’d just got off the train, you and the usual crowd, or you and just about everybody, it was always worth being there, and everyone understood each other.

There were quiz nights that stank of cigarette smoke and had more adrenalin than the Cup Final, karaoke evenings where you could barely move and where no one cared how well you sang, only that you did it, and they patted you on the back afterwards as though you were David Bisbal. Don had little or no concept of closing time, he didn’t even bother with the bell, and the regulars (and you will have gathered that there were a lot of us) just got on with the business of enjoying each others company. I sang the first song I ever wrote in that pub, because I knew I could, and there was a procession of barmaids who someone was always hopelessly in love with. And everybody knew your name…

It lasted little more than a couple of years, Don left and it wasn’t the same, then I left and have never found anything like it. During those years a lot of people needed no more than to be in that place, there was no need for any greater ambition. Everything else could wait.

It is my Sad Café, it can never be recovered, and yes, I miss it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Land Value Tax, Let the Game Begin

Mark Wadsworth has turned his blog into a one-man platform in favour of a Land Value Tax to replace all other taxes, with the intention, I imagine, of making the world a better place. It's a regular hobby-horse of his, and he sells it well, though with a bit of handwaving here and there.

His latest series of long posts has been provoked by remarks made over at Samizdata (who are, incidentally, quite intelligent and genial chaps, as 'sinister and heavily-armed global illuminati' go) mainly by Ian B, who tried to point out why LVT was a bad idea. I got briefly involved in a similar argument a while back, before realizing I didn't know what I was talking about.

The obvious objections to LVT, which I made then, and which Ian B makes rather better, are that you have to find a large sum in cash every year and that the value put on your property is necessarily arbitrary, leaving it open to injustice and deliberate abuse, where councils order valuers to 'take'em heavy'. All of this is true of rates/council tax as well, of course, but we're talking here about much larger sums of money. These points are addressed at length by MW and dismissed, whether adequately or not I couldn't say, but he tries hard and seems to know what he's talking about.

One point I haven't seen mentioned (though it might be in there somewhere) is that an enormous amount of land and the properties built on it have been appropriated by one or other branch of government. In many towns it is quite staggering to see how many buildings and lots are council property. These would produce nothing, and so private owners would have to pay a lot more. It may not be an important point, it's just my attempt to contribute to the debate.

Anyway, if you have the slightest interest in tax reform get over there and have a read; it's very instructive.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Democracy? Oh Yes, We Tell You We're Democratic In Article 36.4 Section 8 Sub-section XXIX

Now that the Irish have been given a few meaningless promises* and told to stop being naughty boys, it is worth reflecting on it all and remembering what they will be voting on. It will, of course, be exactly the same text that they rejected last June, since to change anything would require re-ratification in all the other countries of the EU. It strikes me, and I don't doubt it will strike the Irish people, that arrogance, bullying and belittlement are not the best ways to win an argument, but that is how Brussels works. What real democracy, be it a country or any other form of institution, would introduce a new Constitution by show of hands among a few oligarchs, against the will of the people? We have words for states that do that, we call them tyrannies, rogue states, despotic and undemoctratic and we call upon them to set their people free. But the EU does exactly that. What true democracy has a puppet parliament** with no power, where it is hard even to speak and where dissent is not tolerated (specifically, where you may be forbidden from representing the people who voted for you), and in what kind of democracy is power vested in an unaccountable body of appointed bureaucrats, most of whom have failed out of democratic politics through corruption or incompetence?

Let's have a look at this Lisbon Treaty thing, and see why it's so wonderful that we must not be allowed to reject it.

Article 1
The Treaty on European Union shall be amended in accordance with the provisions of this Article.
1) The preamble shall be amended as follows:
(a) the following text shall be inserted as the second recital:
‘DRAWING INSPIRATION from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of
Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable
rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law,’;
(b) In the seventh, which shall become the eighth, recital, the words ‘of this Treaty’ shall be
replaced by ‘of this Treaty and of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,’;

Lucid, snappy, inspiring stuff, I think you'll agree. Principles you could be proud to live by and would die to defend.

The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy,
equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism,
non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men

Not bad as an idea. It isn't true, of course, but it would be great to achieve it. It sounds a nice place to live. But it wasn't founded on those principles and those in charge are not interested in them as such. And when they do apply them they won't be asking you what it means, they will simply tell you, and you will be left saying 'but...but...'

2. The Union shall offer its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice without
internal frontiers, in which the free movement of persons is ensured in conjunction with
appropriate measures with respect to external border controls, asylum, immigration and the
prevention and combating of crime.

This is quite hilarious, and typical of much of the treaty, 'to those who want free trade and open borders we promise free trade and open borders, and to those who want to keep foreign goods, workers and immigrants out, we promise that as well. There is no contradiction here at all...'

(b) the words ‘this Treaty’ and ‘the present Treaty’ shall be replaced by ‘the Treaties’, the verb,
where applicable, shall be put in the plural and any necessary grammatical changes shall
be made; this point shall not apply to the third paragraph of Article 182 and to
Articles 312 and 313;

Can you see a yellowing manuscript version of this on display in a glass case at the British Library in two hundred years time, visited by generations as yet unborn offering grateful thanks for the blessings the foresight of its authors bestowed on them? No, I thought not. It is deliberately designed to be incomprehensible. Yes, you can wade your way through the other treaties mentioned, cut and paste the amendments and try to work out how the result might be interpreted. But there's an awful lot of this, most of the treaty in fact, and what I just quoted is one of the easy bits. How many people are actually going to try to understand it?

10) In the second recital, the word ‘countries’ shall be replaced by ‘States’

A tiny thing, it seems, but I have been saying for years that we mustn't forget we are still countries, soveriegn nations, and the commission and the whole apparatus of Brussels are bureaucrats at the service of those nations. Words are very powerful and it's a short step from 'states' to 'united states.'

1. When the Treaties confer on the Union exclusive competence in a specific area, only the
Union may legislate and adopt legally binding acts, the Member States being able to do so
themselves only if so empowered by the Union or for the implementation of Union acts.

Only the Union has power to legislate in many areas, and national (democratic) Partliaments may only legislate when the Union says so and under the conditions it lays down. Notice also that it does not even recognise that it's authority to legislate has been given by national governments; it says it derives from the treaties. It is the letter of the treaties that matters, not any kind of democratic principle.

There is much, much more- I have barely started- describing how more and more power will be taken by the unelected commission and the ECJ, which is a political court, and by other bodies including the Councils of Ministers. Most (but not all) of the members of the Councils of Ministers are indeed elected politicians, but by taking decisions in Council they don't have to justify them to national Parliament, whose role should be to hold them to account, and, because the treaty allows for binding decisions to be taken by majority rather than by unanimity, a Minister can easily find legislation forced on him which neither he, nor the government he represents, nor the Parliament that represents the people of his country, can do anything about.

The Lisbon Treaty is not a Constitution, but it does create a Constitution. It does not create an EU army but it provides for the creation of one (The EUFOR already exists and is not answerable to national governments, but it's a bit of a joke. However, the conversion of it into a real EU army would, according to the Lisbon Treaty, be in the hands of the Commission and teh Councils, not of the national governments, who might be unable to stop it, and unable to control what it did once it was created) . It creates an EU foreign minister which will effectively mean the end of British foreign policy and independent action (in fact he already exists, and has for some time, even though the treaty creating the position has not been ratified). It will create a President with a fixed term of office. He is unlikely to have much power- the Commission won't allow it- but he will be very useful to them as a symbol. There was originally some talk of having an elected President, but it was soon realized that we might not choose the right person, so the governments of the countries that matter will just get together and give the job to someone who's owed a favour.***

* Jens-Peter Bonde says here (scroll down) that all the 'guarantees' given to Denmark at the time of the Maastricht treaty have since been breached, and they were framed in a much more formal fashion than those offered now to the Irish.

** Cometh the hour, cometh the man- it is more than possible that if Parliament had an important function, rather than a self-important one, great men and women, true leaders, would emerge to perform those functions. On the other hand, possibly not.

*** Since before Tony Blair became Prime Minister, long before the post of President of the EU was ever seriously mentioned, I have been boring people in the pub by saying that what he really wanted was to be that President. I wish I'd had a few bob on it back then.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Legion Leads the Way

This letter was published this morning over at SUBROSA, to whom a tip of the spines. I reprint it in full (assuming neither SR nor the Legion will object) because it shows very clearly what honour, service and patriotism mean to one and the other party.

An open letter to Nick Griffin, Chairman of the BNP and MEP for

North West England

09 June 2009

Dear Mr Griffin,

We couldn't help but notice that there was egg on your face (and on your suit jacket) on the day after you were elected MEP for North West England.

Please don't leave egg on ours.

You wore a Poppy lapel badge during your news conference to celebrate your election victory. This was in direct contravention of our polite request that you refrain from politicising one of the nation's most treasured and beloved symbols.

The Poppy is the symbol of sacrifices made by British Armed Forces in conflicts both past and present and it has been paid for with blood and valour. True valour deserves respect regardless of a person's ethnic origin, and everyone who serves or has served their country deserves nothing less.

The Poppy pin, the Poppy logo, and the paper Poppy worn during Remembrance are the property, trademark and emblem of The Royal British Legion.

For nearly 90 years, The Royal British Legion has pursued a policy of being scrupulously above the party political fray. It is vital that everyone - the media, the public and our beneficiaries - know that we will not allow our independence to be undermined or our reputation impaired by being closely associated with any one political party. This is more important now than ever.

On May 27th, 2009, the National Chairman of The Royal British Legion wrote to you privately requesting that you desist from wearing the Poppy or any other emblem that might be associated with the Legion at any of your public appearances during the European Parliamentary election campaign.

He appealed to your sense of honour. But you have responded by continuing to wear the poppy. So now we're no longer asking you privately.

Stop it, Mr Griffin. Just stop it.


The Royal British Legion

Presumably Griffin's poppy is just another sign which he hopes those with low foreheads will interpret in a particular way, but surely he cannot fail to understand that he is free to spew venom unmolested in large part because of blacks, Indians and other untermenschen who gave their lives so that Britain could be free. His contempt for these people, and for the truth is incoherent and twisted, even for a politician.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Homeschooling; Yes, that again

Education is a privilege. You wouldn't think that to see the way it's treated by large numbers of children, their parents, their teachers and the governments that control much of it, but it is. It is an enormous privilege because it allows you a great deal of freedom to work in more varied and more lucrative fields, and to choose where you do it, to think and understand, to enjoy art more fully and appreciate the world and man's place in it more deeply, to particpate more widely in civic life, to have power over others if that's what butters your parsnips, and generally you are more likely to be and feel free (for some value of free) if you have a good education.

The basic value of education is simply to be able to make a living, and it was for that reason that churches and charities began to educate the children of the poor (well, there were other reasons, too). And it was largely for this reason that governments began to offer basic education to everyone. They quickly discovered that it was very useful to have control of the minds of the nation's youth (and it was easy to control the teachers) and so they made it compulsory for all children to be sent to school.

This would have been a very big mistake if the intention had actually been to educate them, but it wasn't. In the first place that intention was to get people to take schools seriously, but it quickly became indoctrination. For many years teachers in most schools have had to dedicate a disproportionate amount of time to attending to those who don't want to be there in the first place. It would be much more beneficial simply to offer education to those who wanted it, rather than try to force it on those who don't.

Governments are extremely bad at doing things, and they are particularly bad at education. Successive governments both in England and in Spain have shown few signs of having the first idea what it looks like and what it is for, nor of wanting to find out. But it is true that some education is better than none. It is often gained at a very high price, principally in terms of time, but many people have become more than they would otherwise have been because of state schools.

Not everyone, of course, needs to go to state schools. Those who can afford private schools use them, because they are almost invariably better and you get to choose how your children are educated. Another option is to educate them yourself, which is what I would do (and which the British government is trying to stop people doing). You need time, some money, and a good education yourself to do it properly, but think what educating your own children means- not sending them off to waste six or seven hours a day, not having them force-fed whatever fashionable nonsense someone has decreed they must be told, not having them grow up in an artificially narrowed environment where they are often at the mercy of thugs, and see little of the real world; it means being able to show them anything you wish, to learn along with them, to remove all the barriers that an institution would create, and teach them to think in ways no government would allow.

And that's why they don't like it. Children educated at home are not subject to control, they cannot be easily measured, limited, made uniform.

Some children have no choice but to get what they can from state education. Others are able to choose a better, or at least a different route to learning. To stop them doing so is not a good thing, and we should not allow that freedom to be removed. It is too important.

The other day Old Holborn argued that all frontiers should be abolished, that people should be free to go where they wished. It was deeply refreshing to read, unlike much of what he says, and is even practicable (not so long ago the world did indeed work that way). In the same spirit I propose the abolition of compulsory education. It would be immensely liberating. Education law in Spain, and I don't doubt in other countries, has reached crazed heights, setting out in immense detail all kinds of pointless aspirations which have nothing to do with education, while largely ignoring real learning.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Why Do We Think We Can Be Free?

The true liberal wants and expects to be left alone by authority. He does not need it, it just gets in his way. He makes his own living, looks after his own family and contributes to the community he lives in. The modern socialist wants and expects to have his needs taken care of by somebody else, to be given work to do where there is no demand, or money in lieu of it, to be made happy, to be listened to and taken seriously, offering little or nothing in return. The instinctive right-winger solves, or expects to have to solve, his own problems; the left-winger waits for someone else to do it. It is a difference in their approach to life so fundamental that it suggests they will never understand each other.

They will also understand freedom in different ways. To the rightist, freedom means not being prevented from doing anything which is of no concern to anything else, including thinking, having and expressing opinions, disposing of his free time and his money in the way he sees fit. To the leftist, freedom means that others must provide the means to allow them to do what they want. The left expects others to sacrifice their time, money, ideas, opportunities and possibilities in an attempt to be made free. The rightist can be free. The leftist cannot, because he does not know how to be.

And he probably doesn’t care very much. He fears and loathes the rightist’s kind of freedom. It is something his character does not allow him to aspire to or even understand. To him, the rightist’s freedom is selfishness and oppression.

I read libertarian writings (which I don’t necessarily understand), libertarian blogs (which I don’t necessarily agree with), have libertarian ideas (which are not necessarily coherent), and my instinct is to politely ask the world in general, and the government and all its irritatingly self-important little paper-pushers, the press and its irritatingly self-important little commentators, to go away and leave me alone. I do not need people constantly telling me what to do; I do not need people criticising my actions, opinions and interests, from a position of almost total ignorance, and expecting me to listen or care; I do not like having my money taken away from me by force in order to buy votes for some demagogue or just to punish me for being a professional, working hard, not needing or expecting charity, and supporting a centre-right party.

This is not a rant, nor is it about me. I just wanted to make it clear what I mean by freedom here and that I am well aware that it can be understood to mean other things than this, so the following question can be asked and considered in a meaningful way:

Why do we expect to be free? Why do we imagine that it is a natural state of affairs which, if we fight for it, we can achieve? Is it even desirable for most people? Many people assume that if we were not tyrannized by politicians, bureaucrats, trade unions, journalists, irritating neighbours, busybodies in general and anyone with a bit of power we would have freedom.

But it may not be true. It is nice to think so, but the world is full of people who believe they can achieve beauty, or slimness, or wealth, or happiness, and who have neither the means nor the will to do anything about it, other than to waste money on the latest supposed miracle that has been mentioned on the television.

We accept that not everyone can be rich, that not everyone can be good, or pleasant, or successful, or fulfilled or happy, or have power. But we do like to believe that everyone can be free. Perhaps it is a substitute for all the other things we know that we, or if we are generous in spirit, the whole world, cannot have. Throughout the documented history of humanity very few people in very few places have ever been free. Today there are not many countries in the world where it is even possible to talk freely about wanting to be free. And most people in the world who are not directly enslaved by the workers of the state that others have built around them, are enslaved by ignorance, hunger, fear, insanity, indolence or confusion.

Lupus est homini homo. In all societies and all groups, clubs, families, nations, there are those who lead and those who follow, and those who complain about having to follow but who are not capable of leading. To seek freedom from leaders is to recognise that you yourself cannot lead, which invites others who can to try to lead you. Individual men may be free, in certain ways and at certain times, but a free society, in the sense that we are using the term, is very likely impossible. We are but men, and not everyone is like us, nor are they what we should like them to be. The left often forgets this, and we rightly call them foolish. Let us not imagine we can actually reach the stars, but the journey might be fascinating and rewarding.

Perhaps with freedom, as with beauty, as with happiness, as with comfort, as with morals, belief is everything. The man who believes himself to be free is free. Those of us who merely aspire to freedom are doomed never to experience it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

El Corpus

Today is the celebration of Corpus Christi. It used to be last Thursday (if you see what I mean) but the government has long refusd to give a holiday for it so the procession is on the nearest Sunday.

Here the procession takes the form of a giant monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament, paraded through the streets around the Cathedral on a kind of float. The ground in part of the route is decorated with the symbols of the Orders of Chivalry and a of some of the Holy Week fraternities. The photos show the carpets being prepared. To the left are some members of a local (and very good) folkdance society laying out designs in coloured sand. To the right is the work of a local youth group in the main square, in dyed wood shavings and half-baked flour (the white bits).

Before the procession the ground will also be strewn with thyme, which people pick up I might go out and take a shot of the procession itself later, but it depends on how the cricket goes.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Of Volcanos

Today we have been to another volcano. Not quite Vesuvius in full flow, a little less spectacular, but a more pleasant place to be close to, and to wander around. Like the other major and several minor craters in this area it was formed by the explosive boiling of phreatic water on contact with the rising molten magma. Now that is something I would pay to watch, but there's been no activity in millions of years so it looks as though we're fairly safe.

It is known as the Maar de la Hoya del Mortero (for Googling purposes). Maar is a geological term (from a Germanic dialect word going back to Latin mare) for a crater formed in this way, because they are characterized by a large flat bottom and steep sides, with rings of volcanic rock rising up the slopes. It's right beside the railway line to Córdoba, but you can't it from the train as it runs through a gully cut into the hills at that point and all you can see is the earthwork.

Anyhow, rather than hearing me try to describe, look at the photographs. Or better still, go and have a look if you're in the area. We didn't stay long as it was 37º by this time and we were rather keen to get home again. It's a big problem here; from late spring to mid-autumn it's usually too hot for walking except in the early morning, and it doesn't give you time to do much.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Freedom of Speech again; Some People will never Understand

The BNP, as a party, is what it has always been, a bunch of thugs who attempt to rationalise their well-founded sense of inferiority by finding reasons to hate other people. A couple of them have learnt to wear suits and speak coherently (but not with polish, as one or two places are saying) and to pretend that they are not racists when speaking in public. A bit silly, since if they are not racists there is no point to them at all, they have nothing else to offer.

It annoys me when they are called a far right party. Their economic and social policy is straight from the hard left, without passing through a brain on the way. On the other hand, they only have an economic and social policy at all so that they can pretend to be a political organization and not a bunch of hate-filled thugs, so it's not unreasonable to define them by their racism. But there are plenty of left-wing racists, and much of the press calls them right-wing deliberately in order to associate the real right wing with that lot. (Or how many skinheads with Anti-Paki League tattooed on their arms do they imagine vote Conservative).

It also annoys me when they are called fascists. It is again a reflex by people who don't think or who deliberately wish to mislead, but in fact fascism has nothing to do with racism; it was an extra added on by the Nazis. Neither Mussulini nor the Falange had any theories of racial purity (the Communists did, of course, but that tends to be forgotten, along with much else).

It matters because too many people get their impression of the BNP third hand, and this is not good. Too many people 'know' the BNP are 'fascists', have 'objectionable' views, are on the 'extreme right' etc, because the government and the press have said so. But it is not good to let other people tell us what we are and are not allowed to listen to. Listen yourself, and work out whether you agree with what is said about them.

Freedom of speech, freedom in general, means such people are also entirely free to enter the market for belief and opinion. And intelligent analysis suggests it is far better to argue with them, to let them speak and to compete for the minds of others than to let someone else decide. What are the censors afraid of? That Griffin and co. might be right?

Apart from wearing suits, another thing these two have learnt to do is turn themselves into victims. Today, a group of young thugs of the extreme left obligingly allowed the BNP to look civilized by screaming abuse like crazed loons and throwing eggs like, well like violent thugs. I expect they enjoyed it and feel terribly good about themselves, but they have only done a favour to the BNP. To be attacked by a group of ignorant, illiberal yobs with no idea of the value of freedom is to look as though you have something worth fighting for.

The BNP are not a danger, although I imagine they make life uncomfortable for immigrants in certain areas, which is not something to be taken lightly (I don't like not being able to go comfortably about my business and I don't imagine anyone else does, either.) But they are not a threat to the fabric of society. The mob that attacked them are, because they have a sense of their own righteousness (whereas the BNP know they are wrong), and they have the support of the media and our political leaders.

Perhaps we could shut them in a cave together with no food. They would eat each other and save us a lot of trouble.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Black Humour, Mediterranean Style

I picked this lighter up the other day, from a friend who found it disturbing and didn't want it. One side, the left hand picture, says 'Carry on smoking, we can wait.' The other side, on the right, is an advert for a funeral parlour/crematorium. Nothing much to add, really.

Union Fenosa Discovers What Competition Means

A few months ago I wrote about a fuss that was being made here over electricity bills. The government had forced the companies to change their billing system before they were fully prepared, resulting in a round of estimated bills between one proper reading and the next. That was, I said to anyone who would listen, the reason for it, and it was nothing to get worked up about. In England we are used to this, but in Spain it isn't so well understood that this often happens, even when you think your metre has been read.

Anyway, the point of this post is not just to say that I was right. Another argument I made at the time was that the main reason the bills are so high in the first place was that there is effectively no competition. In a given area the government allows a monopoly operator and then controls what it can do, a bit like the privatised utility regulators in Britain (I imagine).

Well, from this week it will be possible, and fairly simple, to choose your electricity supplier, rather than having to use the local company. And guess what? They called me yesterday offering me 5% off my bills if I agreed to stay with them. Amazing, isn't it?

As Timmy constantly points out, incentives matter, and competition is a powerful incentive to review your margins.

Friday, June 5, 2009

How it Looks from Here

Over here we vote on Sunday in the EU Parliament elections. No one seems to care very much. There is a general acceptance of the EU here, since at one time Spain recieved a lot of money from Brussels and there was a sense that joining a group of democratic nations would help make their own young democracy more stable. My own feeling is that it was in no danger, but the Constitution of 1978 established the first genuine democracy Spain has ever known (whatever the Republicans tell you) and it is easy to understand why people were nervous about it.

Now it is hard to find anybody who cares that the EU itself is not remotely democratic, or that the much-loved and celebrated Constitution is not the one that was approved in a referendum 30 years ago- it has been altered twice, without the permission of the public, in order first to allow membership of the EEC and then to explicitly subordinate itself to EU law in accordance with the EU Constitution/Lisbon Treaty. The EU Constitution itself was put to a referendum in Spain, and was approved by a fair majority, but it is one thing to ask people to vote on 'taking our place in a more modern Europe', and quite another to ask them specifically to accept that their own Constitution no longer represents the unbreachable guarantee of democracy that it once was. So the Constitutional Court helpfully decided- acting with complete independence of the political process, of course- that the change in the Constitution was not important enough to bother the people with. As I recall, the argument was essentially that, since EU law was already, de facto, above Spanish law, the change merely recognised this fact rather than allowing anything new. An argument with one or two flaws, but the thing about Constitutional Courts and similar bodies (the US Supreme Court, for example) is that they don't have any real points of reference and can more or less make law up as they go along. This is worth remembering when the next UK government proposes some such body as a guarantor of our rights and freedoms. They're not doing it for you, they'll just send you the bill.

Anyhow, drifting slowly back to the point, insofar as there is any interest in this election at all here, it is as an opinion poll, a kind of mid-term, a popularity contest between the two main parties. Few people I know even have any intention of voting, let alone any interest in discussing it, and the campaigns have been subdued and entirely about national matters and personalities, when not descending into infantile name-calling.

Even though the EU is more or less accepted, partly because there is no one to articulate the real nature of it and how bad it is for freedom in general, and business and prosperity in particular, no one even pretends to take the EU parliament seriously. Manuel Marín, its former president, is from the town where I live, and still lives here. One of his favourite bars is next to one of mine. But even here, no one cares. It looks as though the centre-right Popular Party (the opposition) will win narrowly, but it will have nothing whatever to do with their policy on the EU.

One aspect of the elections which has entered the public consciousness is that the terrorist spokesmen who used to call themselves Herri Batasuna have been prevented from standing, but some of their candidates have been put on the lists of a puppet party, and so will receive votes anyway. This is as it should be. If someone can present and defend a point of view or a political programme and persuade others to vote for it those votes should count for something. That's what democracy means. You can jail people for murder, violence, extorsion, conspiracy to do the same, raising or providing money for any of that, but not simply for for not condemning it. Once you start locking up people you don't like you will quickly discover that there are also people who don't like you. I have said it before, with regard to Geert Wilders and one or two others*. These people must be heard, then we can support them or not as we see fit. It is not for government or the courts to decide what arguments we are allowed to hear.

By the by, I have long accepted that there is nothing remotely resembling a proper newspaper left in Britain, but this election has made me realize just how badly informed we are. The FT at least has some idea of what news actually is, which no other paper does, but it is so tediously and unreflectingly 'orthodox progressive' that it takes an effort to read. The government itself seems to be too busy falling apart** to have noticed that there is an election going on, judging from its various websites, and I am reduced to reading the Guardian, which seems to be offering the most up-to-date results and comment.

*The legalisation of the Communist party in 1976 is held by many to be one of the great moments of the emerging democracy. I can't agree that it was a great moment, but it was a sign that the transition was being taken seriously by the new government.

**The Spanish press doesn't know what to make of it. They're having fun with Silvio Berlusconi, but that's Italian politics and it's supposed to be messy and largely incomprehensible. Because it's Britain they're trying to make sense of it all; they can't quite believe that we have a Prime Minister who is probably past the edge of insanity, a government that consists mostly of rats biting each others' throats for the last scraps of food, an opposition that doesn't know how to oppose and so is rather glad that it doesn't have to, and nobody wants to do anything about it in case it is held against them in the future. Why would they believe it? A year or two ago, neither would I.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Local News

It's been a big weekend here, and I can't find the energy to analyse the stupidity, vapidity or banality of anyone in particular, so I shall describe what's going on for the benefit of those who aren't familiar with the region (which is almost everybody, as far as I can tell.)

As I have mentioned before, we have the best handball team in the world, and yesterday they won the Champions' League final against Kiel, who had a five goal advantage from the first leg, and were four goals up in this match with twenty minutes to go. Suddenly our front line started to function properly, the goalkeeper started stopping everything and in 15 minutes the whole thing was turned on its head and the Germans were left looking as though they'd just been mugged by a little old lady with a walking frame. The atmosphere at the ground (I had to watch it on TV but you get the idea), was tremendous, and so it was in the main square later where everyone goes to jump in the fountain to express their joy.

Handball is not played in any English-speaking nation as far as I know, but it's very big in much of Europe and some other places. Our trainer is from Kyrgyzstan, and the first team includes two Cubans, three Slovenians, three Frenchmen, a Rumanian, a Croat, a Belorusan, an Icelander, a Swede and a Dane. We have also had a number of Russians, an Egyptian and a hunchbacked Algerian whose throw was like Ivan Lendl's serve. All of this has been brought about by one man and his chequebook, the same chequebook that is trying to get our airport working, so it's a bit stretched at the moment, even though he has deeper pockets than most of us.

Today is also the official holiday of the autonomous region. Why it needs one I don't know, since it celebrates nothing and commemorates nothing, but they all have them, and a day off is a day off. It coincided this year with Pentecost (Whitsun to you heathens) which is the Festival of the Rocío down in Huelva. Very big, full of gypsies from all over with ornate waggons made up for the occasion. It's also a local festival here, The Virgin of Alarcos.

Alarcos is an abandoned mediaeval walled city on a hill a few miles out of town, site of an important and disastrous battle with the Moors in 1095. The castle and city are still being excavated but the shrine has been used since the area was reconquered in the 13th C, and the Virgin is a figure that is brought on Whit Sunday from the city along the old path up to the shrine, on the shoulders of around 20 bearers, and accompanied by a couple of thousand people, and a few horses. The people then stay on the hill and get drunk. They were still there this morning when Mrs Hickory and I walked out there. There is Mass in the shrine, then the Virgin is paraded around the esplanade by a brass band and another set of bearers, and then the liquid part of lunch can begin.

There are open air bars called 'chiringuitos', bouncy castles and shooting galleries, and stalls selling traditional-looking clothes and cuddly toys. They all seemed to be South American Indians doing the selling this year.

Your humble blogging hedgehog no longer does all-day parties, so we only went for the exercise, then returned for a cold beer and a frugal lunch, of the kind that doesn't give you a headache.