Thursday, 28 February 2008
by Charles Pooter
"Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against lonliness and methamphetamine addiction in a quiet American suburb."
Via lowercase liberty.
Saturday, 23 February 2008
by Charles Pooter
Whatever, then, the State Socialists may claim or disclaim, their system, if adopted, is doomed to end in a State religion, to the expense of which all must contribute and at the altar of which all must kneel; a State school of medicine, by whose practitioners the sick must invariably be treated; a State system of hygiene, prescribing what all must and must not eat, drink, wear, and do; a State code of morals, which will not content itself with punishing crime, but will prohibit what the majority decide to be vice; a State system of instruction, which will do away with all private schools, academies, and colleges; a State nursery, in which all children must be brought up in common at the public expense; and, finally, a State family, with an attempt at stirpiculture, or scientific breeding, in which no man and woman will be allowed to have children if the State prohibits them and no man and woman can refuse to have children if the State orders them. Thus will Authority achieve its acme and Monopoly be carried to its highest power.
- Benjamin R. Tucker, State Socialism and Anarchism: How far they agree, and wherein they differ, 1886.
Friday, 22 February 2008
Tuesday, 19 February 2008
by Charles Pooter
Sean Gabb refuses to defend the favourable tax status of non-domiciled foreigners and rails against The City of London and big business in general.
He is right to do so. When libertarians reflexively defend the riches of those who operate within the status quo, they are not defending a free market or liberty, they are defending actually-existing corporate capitalism. The latter is in no way an imperfect approximation of the former.
Those who picture the free society as an ultra-capitalist Tescoville (with cannabis cigarettes available on aisle 5 obviously) are suffering from a degraded vision of low expectations. When they evangelize on behalf of liberty to normal folk in those terms, they should not be surprised when Joe Public prefers statism, which at least gives the illusion of restraining the power of these rampaging corporate behemoths.
Sean argues that limited liability is the source of unwarranted corporate power. But there are are other, even more fundamental ways, in which big business needs the state to survive and dominate. Here are just a few :
The current distribution of land is historically unjust and morally indefensible. Absentee landlords own vast swathes of land in the UK. Their titles are upheld by the state despite their historical (and current) injustice. The taxpayer covers their massive enforcement costs and large agricultural subsidies are given, based on the amount of land held.
Without the state and without the ability to externalise the cost of retaining exclusive access to large areas of land, a more flexible system of usufruct rights could evolve, whereby rights over land could only be retained by ongoing occupancy and use. To simplify grossly: use it or lose it.
When it retains access to land, labour has traditionally shown itself reluctant to become the "human resource" upon which big business is dependent. It will work for wages but the right (and ability) to return to the land prevents "wage slavery". This is why, in countries around the world, land must be enclosed by the state and peasants must be driven into the cities before big business can get the labour it needs on the terms it requires.
Even when deprived of the means to obtain subsistence from the land, labour will attempt to organise itself to obtain increased wages and working conditions within the capitalist system. Within a partnership, cooperative or mutual society, labourers can organise amongst their fellows to do so. Within a small business they can bargain directly with their employer. Within a large company, they have no choice but to organise collectively. Without the state there would be no anti-union laws, upon which large companies in particular depend, to keep the workers in line, their costs low and their profits high.
- Intellectual property
"Intellectual property" is a state-privilege granted to individuals or organisations allowing them a monopoly of production on particular goods or services. In theory it creates incentives for the creation of new and useful products. In practice it accrues massive amounts of power and profit to large corporations. These same corporations lobby constantly and successfully for ever increased extensions to the period of time they can retain their state granted privilege. The privilege prevents smaller competitors from entering the market.
Big business thrives on state-built infrastructure. The most obvious example is the transport network. Without the state-constructed motorways and railways, big business could not obtain the economies of scale needed to compete against smaller, more agile competitors. It goes without saying that the land for this infrastructure is nearly always stolen using compulsory purchase (US: eminent domain). Without this huge market distortion, business would tend towards smaller, more local enterprises.
Regulation is often described as being anti-business. The public thinks of regulation as a counter-balance to the power of corporations. It is no such thing. Government regulation is shaped by big business. In some cases, the legislation is actually designed by corporations. Regulation entrenches market incumbents and discriminates against smaller business. Who is better able to deal with employment legislation: a single-proprietorship with one employee or a corporation with a hundred-strong "human resources" department? Regulation creates an artificial economy of scale, privileging big business and disadvantaging smaller enterprises. As Rothbard said of FDR's New Deal:
Every element in the New Deal program: central planning, creation of a network of compulsory cartels for industry and agriculture, inflation and credit expansion, artificial raising of wage rates and promotion of unions within the overall monopoly structure, government regulation and ownership, all this had been anticipated and adumbrated during the previous two decades. And this program, with its privileging of various big business interests at the top of the collectivist heap, was in no sense reminiscent of socialism or leftism; there was nothing smacking of the egalitarian or the proletarian here. No, the kinship of this burgeoning collectivism was not at all with socialism...but with fascism,...a kinship which many big businessmen of the twenties expressed openly in their yearning for abandonment of a quasi-laissez-faire system for a collectivism which they could control…. Both left and right have been persistently misled by the notion that intervention by the government is ipso facto leftish and antibusiness.
I finish with a quote from Sean's post:
A free society is not Tesco minus the State. It is a place of small craftsmen and farmers and traders, of artists and of unlicensed doctors and lawyers, and of others needed if individuals and free associations of individuals are to live well. We cannot say much more than this about the arrangements of a free society. But we can be sure it would have no place for big business as it now is found.
Monday, 18 February 2008
by Edwin Hesselthwite
BAUM will be a little on the slim side this week, I have another LMWN project on and it's sucked up most of my productivity. So we're swapping our usually scheduled SF reviews for an endorsement of a major old time radio podcast. X Minus One was a half hour radio show broadcast on NBC between 1955 and 1958, it followed on from their earlier and similar Dimension X project, and it was amazing.
The format was of short science fiction stories, typically pre-published in the pulps, released in dramatised form. There's a corn-fed 50's old time radio feel to them, that atmosphere of Mars by way of Kansas that I last encountered in the heyday of Quantum Leap. But one needs only look at the list of stories to see that they managed to pull in the rights to some of the greatest SF shorts ever written, period.
The Veldt by Ray Bradbury is one of the most widely read, and downright eerie stories in his collected works, and Bradbury is among the best stylists SF has ever had. Nightfall by Isaac Asimov is, well, it's NIGHTFALL for fucks sake, do you know nothing about SF? Clifford Simak's Junkyard is a charming dose of that old country SF he was the master of. And on top of that they have numerous Theodore Sturgeon stories including the classic A Saucer Of Loneliness.
These have now all been podcast and are available here. They have almost no misfires, and while your brain will begin to goo (how many aliens can there be with accents this side of Little Rock?) there is, on this site, just under 3 days of continuous Golden Age SF (63 hours) for your audio pleasure... The Twilight Zone emerged in 1958 with the same basic blueprint: pulp SF with an added coat of polish, and X Minus One should be viewed in this context. On our side of the Atlantic the BBC was giving us cockney chappies in space: Operation Luna of Journey Into Space by Charles Chilton. Same imagery, different continent, this was truly Bakelite and uranium (and was the last radio show ever to pull bigger figures than television).
Thursday, 14 February 2008
by Charles Pooter
"You never chuck shit-smeared pads onto the floor: you place them directly into a bag which you should have hung nearby for that purpose." - Devil's KitchenIs that offical UKIP policy, Devil?
Tuesday, 12 February 2008
by Edwin Hesselthwite
Over the last year or two, I've begun to build a backlog of material over here on LMWN, and I've come to realise that most of it sits in the archive unread... It's particularly wrenching, because it is the nature of LMWN to post self-enclosed topics. Essays and stories as applicable (or not) now as the day they were written. Therefore I hope you, our faithful singular reader, don't begrudge the occasional vanity post... More along this theme will be coming.
The obvious place to start is with my short fictions, stories and poetry, which I admit to not taking desperately seriously. These stories are not for everyone, but they are for me.
Bank - A Poem about a Tube Station
Mouse Dies Screaming - Edgar Allan Poe ate Jerry and Tom was nowhere to be seen.
An Oviposter Ripe With Poison - The sequel to Mouse Dies Screaming.
Filial Responsibilities - Jesus walks into a bar
Fractional Reserves: Rothbard's felines - A story about cat banking.
Jacob Whetstone - The best story I've posted, converted into audio.
The British Revolution - An unfunny joke about the North.
Monday, 11 February 2008
by Edwin Hesselthwite
"You..." he exhaled.Another BAUM, another cross-genre boundary, this time a story that sits midway between SF and comic books. Thor Meets Captain America is also the first BAUM that is available free of charge, courtesy of the author. First written as a short story, Thor has since metamorphosed into a graphic novel called The Life Eaters. It's probably the commission on this story that has persuaded the avowedly libertarian David Brin to release the original novella, all rights reserved, on his homepage.
Chris kept his face blank. In all honesty, there was no way this side of Heaven that he or Lewis could stop this creature from doing whatever it wanted. One way or the other, the Allies were about to lose their only Aesir friend in the long war against the Nazi plague.
If the word "friend" ever really described Loki, who had appeared one day on the tarmac of a Scottish airfield during the final evacuation of Britain, accompanied by eight small, bearded beings carrying boxes. He had led them up to the nearest amazed officer and imperiously commandeered the prime minister's personal plane to take him the rest of the way to America.
Brin is a bit of a legend in SF circles, and needs little introduction: major figure, early 80's SF, was nick-named one of The Killer Bees along with Greg Bear and Gregory Benford due to their joint role in a resurgence of a hard-sf style, his Uplift Trilogy is mindblowing, particularly volumes one and three. Thor Meets Captain America (32 pages) was written for Benford's alternate history anthology Hitler Victorious, and was later nominated for the Hugo award for best novella. It's very silly, it's utterly epic, and it crosses over into the territory of comic books. Thor is a memorable story.
As part of Hitler Victorious, this is a work of alternative history. It is a sub-genre that is not easily worked into short fiction, because the primary punch for the reader is more the timeline itself than the narrative. Writing it you therefore have the choice of either telling it straight as history (as in the case of Joe Steele by Harry Turtledove, which alternates between inspired and irritating) and risking a story that totally violates the show, don't tell(1) rule, or trying to interweave large volumes of exposition with a narrative that is likely to be only of secondary interest. In the case of Thor, Brin does an expert job of the second option.
The plot is one of those wonderfully preposterous ideas that just lets itself get carried away... What if the Nazis, as the close of war approached, somehow brought out a super-weapon — if the gods of the Norse pantheon appeared and plucked Spitfires out of the sky like gnats? And from here we get a narrative of Thor and Odin bringing their crashing fists, hammers and spears down upon the wreckage of The Allies, as Africa and west-Asia are consumed in flames. Brin has gone past preposterous in this story and into the realm of a vision of hell.
The primary narrative concerns a potentially war-ending attack by the Allies on the Earthly centre of Valhalla, a sufficiently apocalyptic idea for the narrative and the historical exposition to maintain a suitable tone between them. And, without giving too much away, the title of the story says it all... This secondary narrative has enough punch to it that it can honestly compete with the heavyweight exposition of the alternate history. Brin clearly has a fondness for comic books, this serves to strengthen the story. He takes the increasingly common view of equating the DC universe with the Norse and Greek pantheons, and I think there is much to be said for this. Science fiction has always had a complex relationship with superhero-mythology, they are both of similar vintage (coming of age in the late 1930's) and have shared numerous major writers (Bester, Harrison, Stephenson and Gaiman) but have different emphasis. Using the pantheon of gods has become quite a popular trick in modern fantastic fiction, and Brin pulls this off with much more flair than Gaiman brought to American Gods. Brin manages here to bring out the gristle and masculinity quality of the form (I really, really, hate it when authors play gods are people too pseudo-realism) to deliver the denouement here, and it is a terrific twist.
It's a crackingly good story, but I am most impressed by the way he manages to set up the atmosphere and interweave the history and narrative. The expanded graphic novel has been less well received — personally I am not sure what there is to add to this short. So please, go read the short on his webpage.. And if you need more of the same, try Jeffrey DeRego's Union Dues stories on Escape Pod, or Power of Two by my friend Sam Hughes (which Brin himself described as "Told in a very skilled manner by someone who writes action well"), or even a TV series called Heroes or something. The super-powered is fertile ground for the fantastic.
(1)On the other hand, I have a pet hatred for the show, don't tell rule, what would Borges or Kafka be like if they followed show, don't tell? "Peter walked into the Library of Babylon, where every room linked into the next to infinity".
Sunday, 10 February 2008
by Charles Pooter
It was an anxious journey to Bill Oddie’s home, which is found not two miles from my own doorstep. To describe it as a hole in the ground is to miss the essentially Oddieness of the building. It’s basic architectural form is the same as a hole dug into the side of a green hill. It wasn’t a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of cigarette ends and the smell of booze. Not even a dry, bare, BBC hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to watch. This was an Oddie-hole, and that means comfort. A completely round door was set in the side of the hill. Painted bright blue, it was distinguished by a large brass knocker in the shape of an egret’s bill.
- The other Richard Madeley
Wednesday, 6 February 2008
by Tobias Gregson
LMWN has in the past dedicated significant page space to the topic of Queen Elizabeth II. Back in the 19th century under Hawk's personal tutelage, The Little Man was quite vehemently a supporter of disestablishing the Church, but we've moderated this attitude in recent years as organised religion has lost much of its influence. Nonetheless, a clear tone has begun to develop when it comes to posting about The Monarchy. The time has come for a longer, more comprehensive, statement of our position. And so, we present the essay below, the individual arguments may already be familiar to our regular readers, but the presentation is new.
On the changing constitutional role of Elizabeth II
A reactionary rant at the mother of the nation
The British constitution is a strange creature, incomprehensible to many, and at its centre lies a number of contradictions: a vehemently secular society with an established church the bishops of which have a role in Government, a constitutionally bizarre second house, a regional system of governance that doesn't apply in the area of largest population (England). The whole edifice is built on tradition and convention, and in the heart of this interwoven muddle lies The Monarchy, sovereign of the country and currently embodied by Elizabeth II. Britain's long-running arguments over the Monarchy almost always revolve around principle, those in favour of the Monarchy elevate The Queen to a special status, those opposed to the Monarchy prefer to argue on grounds on idealism. The specific competence of the Monarch, and how well this role has been executed is rarely discussed publicly. But the Monarchy - like any other political role - reshapes itself to whoever has the job. Elizabeth II has had the role of Queen for quite such a long time (she ascended in February 1952) that there is almost no collective memory of what the Monarchy used to be like before she came along. As the trends of each era have changed, Elizabeth has undermined many of her historical roles, and left Britain's sovereignty no longer fit for purpose. Elizabeth II is among the worst queens England has ever had.
Common Sense by Thomas Paine (most known as the book that kick-started the American Revolution) has a nice summary (in hostile terms) of the role of the monarch in the British system that is a good place to start in viewing The Monarchy in context:
I know it is difficult to get over local or long standing prejudices, yet if we will suffer ourselves to examine the component parts of the English Constitution, we shall find them to be the base remains of two ancient tyrannies, compounded with some new republican materials.
First.--The remains of monarchical tyranny in the person of the king.
Secondly.--The remains of aristocratical tyranny in the persons of the peers.
Thirdly.--The new republican materials, in the persons of the commons, on whose virtue depends the freedom of England.
The two first, by being hereditary, are independent of the people; wherefore in a constitutional sense they contribute nothing towards the freedom of the state. To say that the constitution of England is a union of three powers reciprocally checking each other, is farcical, either the words have no meaning, or they are flat contradictions.
To say that the commons is a check upon the King, presupposes two things.
First.--That the King is not to be trusted without being looked after, or in other words, that a thirst for absolute power is the natural disease of monarchy.
Secondly.--That the Commons, by being appointed for that purpose, are either wiser or more worthy of confidence than the crown.
But as the same constitution which gives the Commons a power to check the King by withholding the supplies, gives afterwards the King a power to check the Commons, by empowering him to reject their other bills; it again supposes that the King is wiser than those whom it has already supposed to be wiser than him. A mere absurdity!
Paine's obviously hostile to the whole system, but if you read through his propaganda you see an idealised view of what the Monarch is for. The Monarch is the vessel that has to be used by Parliament in order to use its executive powers and get things done, and by withholding this executive privilege they act as a check on government (and of course this has changed over the last 300 years). They can't actually say no, but by paying attention and withholding their powers, a competent monarch is a check and balance on corrupt government. Bills don't become law till the Queen signs them, the Queen has national standardised addresses to the nation in which she is supposed to be politically impartial, and a number of executive powers can only be followed through in the name of the Queen. Basically the Queen is supposed to be an non-partisan leadership role for the country, and use her powers in the interests of the country at times of crisis.
It was on this basis that her great-grandfather declared War on Germany in 1914, and there followed a number of situations in the first half of the century where The Monarch leant on The Government in the interests of the country as a whole. The most notable occasion would be when her grandfather had a pivotal role in the formation of the National Government, an administration composed of all the main parties that was formed after the economic crash at the beginning of the Thirties. This was a move that went completely against normal politics, but was significantly the King's doing. But from this position of genuine influence, the Elizabethan era has shown a succession of major Royal privileges either being executed poorly, or being allowed to slip into the hands of her vassals, particularly the Prime Minister. Some examples: up until the mid-'60s The Queen was responsible for choosing the leader of The Conservative Party (on the grounds that they changed leaders when in government, and the Party deferred to her authority in choosing Prime Minister), The Dismissal crisis in Australia occurred when another of her vassals, the Governor-General, used her supreme authority to dismiss the elected government and demand a new election. This was, again, a situation where she was wilfully asleep at the wheel.
This can only be described as an era of managed decline, and it the nature of this decline that shows Elizabeth II in such a poor light. Elizabeth is, to be brutally frank, hideously poorly educated. She lacks any leadership skills, any real interest/understanding of the political process, and is quite obviously primarily interested in her family rather than the country. For her entire reign she has mistaken her role of being non-partisan for meaning totally apolitical, showing little more national leadership than a village pastor. In a fantastically amusing article in The Guardian, one of Britain's leading public authorities on the monarchy -- David Starkey-- described her in a less than appealing light, titled "Queen is poorly educated and a Philistine, says Starkey", it's worth reading for some historical context. Because of her exceptionally long reign, this flawed individual has allowed The Government and her minor officials to usurp many of her executive powers, and the defining feature of these hand-overs has been a respect for privilege and tradition at the expense of constitutional logic. This means that when a genuine crisis occurs in which The Government could be viewed as acting against the interests of the nation (The David Kelly affair is a perfect example), there is no constitutional body who can do the job of taking them to task, because all these powers now reside in the government. We are left depending on the constitutional procedures of political parties, rather than of the country itself. We are all so used to this Queen that if she actually did start doing her constitutional job, there would be dismay.
So, following up the example of the aftermath of David Kelly's death: when the entire country suspected The Government (and the PM's personal team) of having a major public servant's blood on its hands as a result of its desire to go to war, there was a clear role for a non-partisan leader. In this case, the Government was proving extremely reserved about setting the terms of a public enquiry, a situation that could have been akin to Watergate if there was an independent body to intervene. At this point the Queen would, according to the British system, have the authority to step in and act as a check on the Executive when it comes to the terms and remit of the public enquiry.
But even accepting that she has irretrievably lost all executive powers, as any sort of matriarch of the nation she has proved woefully inadequate. Some further examples of the neglect of duty in the House Of Windsor is the disdain they have for their roles as Head of State in the Commonwealth countries. Elizabeth is Queen of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, and Saint Kitts and Nevis; Duke of Normandy, Lord of Mann, and Paramount Chief of Fiji. It's quite a list, but the family themselves act in an extremely provincial fashion spending the vast majority of their time on large estates in the countryside of England and Scotland. They have a clear tendency to treat visits to the countries where they are equally Head of State as if they were foreign visits. No state-houses that her family are sent to actually live in at all. No wonder The Commonwealth is a toothless international organisation if for its entire existence it has been embodied by a family who refuse to take their responsibilities to it seriously.
Now the role of the Queen is seen to be to perform certain ceremonies in a dramatic and austere fashion, for her family's life to be documented at length in the national and international media... Vessels for the media to enjoy as a narrative,a constitutionally important celebrity. Their main job is to allow people to feel sentimental and nostalgic about the country - to somehow embody Britishness for the tourists. She makes the occasional international visit, and her family are supposed to shake hands with people to make those people feel important. As leaders, and as a check and balance on the government, they are totally incompetent. And in return for this woefully inadequate leadership, they are allowed to live in incomparable luxury at the taxpayers expense.
If a different person were monarch, and that person tried in some way to act in the interests of the country/countries rather than defending their own selfish clan, then the case for a monarchy could be defensible. Unfortunately Elizabeth II is a moron, her son is a fool despised by the country, and her family have spent far too long doing things Elizabeth's way. This becomes evermore difficult to defend if we are forced to consider changing the royal line, for instance looking to the House Of Hanover, to eliminate this dead-wood (a move that undermines the whole principle of a monarchy). With a royal line quite so unsuited to any role in governance, we are forced to support a Republic.