Sunday 19 May 2024

Ladies Day at Perth

It was Ladies' Day at Perth Races on Thursday. You might have been forgiven for thinking you had gatecrashed a Cambridge May Ball. Things have changed, evidently, since I last attended one of these events. 


A very high proportion of the gentlemen were wearing three-piece suits! 

 A very high proportion of the ladies were (almost) wearing cocktail dresses, and were well-provided with stiletto heels for walking on grass. I kid you not. 

 Me? Norfolk Jacket (aged about 57 years), Panama Hat (aged about 57 days). Nobody else wore anything resembling the former; two or three of the latter. 

O tempora! O mores! 

But there were some nice horses.

Tuesday 7 May 2024

Pantsing Revisited

In the early days of aviation, the newly-invented aircraft had few, if any, instruments, and those they had were unreliable. Early aviators therefore followed the advice of horsemen, who had never had any instruments but their own bodies, and in particular their seat, from which to derive information about how well their horse was going. This meant “Flying by the seat of your trousers” or “pants” in US English meant using your own judgement about how your aircraft was flying.

In the early days of writing, authors had few guidelines except perhaps basic grammar. They wrote how they liked. There was no formula for success, so some succeeded and others didn’t, assuming we are to judge success by popularity.

The increasing popularity of literature as entertainment led to the serialisation of novels in monthly magazines, and authors were obliged to make each chapter interesting, but not necessarily to follow any structure. The crucial thing was never to miss a deadline for delivering an episode to the publisher. This meant paying attention to what was going on now, and letting future chapters take care of themselves.

Later, literature was subjected to analysis and structural forms were identified. Any story had to jump through a series of hoops in order to be considered good. You needed to know about hooks, character arcs, try / fail cycles, etc. You could go to college and be taught creative writing.

Now, some people consider that creativity cannot be taught. What you are learning on a course, they say, is mannerism. You are being asked to ape the modern masters of writing in the same way that the mannerist painters of the post-Renaissance era were taught to imitate the style of Titian or Raphael.

Such writers like to start a tale and see where it takes them, rather than planning out the whole story in advance and then writing it. Those who follow their own instincts are writing’s heirs to the old aviators who flew by the seat of their pants. They are vulgarly known as pantsters and their methods (or lack of method) is called pantsing.

And sometimes it works, and sometimes they come up with something that is highly original. And sometimes they get stuck and can’t even finish. A very few of them will make a major breakthrough. The majority will probably struggle to make money with any consistency, whereas those who follow the ‘rules’ will probably stand a better chance of a regular income. Even they can’t guarantee it, though.

Thursday 4 April 2024

What percentage of GDP should we be spending on defence?

This primitive form of budgeting is essentially targeting the wrong measurement because targeting the right measurement involves too much effort. Even so, differences in counting methods are going to make comparisons between countries unreliable. Not only will some countries classify a given item as defence expenditure, or as internal security, industrial support, technological research expenditure, or whatever according to taste or tradition, but some countries count GDP by output and others by expenditure. The latter inconsistency makes a big difference if governments pay for work that is not done, as happened during the pandemic. So people who advocate such targeting seem to believe that if we express an unreliable figure as a percentage of another unreliable figure, it somehow becomes meaningful at the margin when we are deciding whether a country has spent 1.9% or 2% of its GDP on defence.

Even if it were easy to calculate defence spending as a proportion of national income; what is difficult is to calculate the effectiveness of the spending. I seem to recall that The UK Ministry of Defence employs more administrators than armed forces. Meanwhile it has for decades had absurdly profligate procurement methods. There seem to be innumerable departments, all of which are entitled to demand that a particular piece of kit should be modified in this or that manner, in case of that or this eventuality, so that by the time the kit is actually delivered, several years late and many millions over budget, it has become an expensive jack of all trades, master of none, when it could have been on time, on budget and a master of one. Like the NHS, defence spending has become a sponge that soaks up all the money that is thrown at it whilst simultaneously contriving to produce less and less effective results.

Tactical defence today requires a lot of cheap kit that works all the time, not a little expensive kit that works some of the time when its hugely complicated folderols can be bothered. Consider the impact of drones upon modern warfare. Take a piece of kit that costs next to nothing and blow up something hideously expensive. Take a piece of kit that you can make in a week and blow up something that took several years to build. Figure out how you can get more ammunition when you fired off your entire reserves or sent them as aid to Ukraine. Take a little time to work out why migrants don’t find empty army barracks to be acceptable accommodation (after you’ve figured out why the barracks were empty in the first place). Find some way of noticing that if you can afford an aircraft carrier you need to be able to afford aircraft to sail on it, because it’s not much use without.

And, having done all that, you will be in a better state than if you had met a nominal percentage target for expenditure.

Saturday 30 March 2024

Dialogue in Film and TV

I like well written dialogue.

I like it even more when the actors put the stress in a sentence where the writer intended them to put it. I suppose this is really the fault of the director for letting the actors get away with mistakes. I frequently find myself articulating the interruptions that I feel the director should have made.

If I can remember several lines from the film, in most cases it means the dialogue was good, though in some unfortunate cases it means it was memorably bad.

I like it more still if I don’t need subtitles to tell what the cast are saying. The ability to enunciate is gradually disappearing, sadly, as acting is replaced by verisimilitude (a fashionable word for mumbling). I am not deaf, but I’d often be happier if the film was in French or Italian because the actors would be forced to enunciate better, and I’d have a better chance of understanding them. As a writer, though not yet of film scripts, sadly, I don’t like my work being mangled in the delivery.

One thing that we lack as writers is the ability to transmit our voices as sound. This means we have to communicate expression, stress, and intonation in other ways. Interestingly, one of the things I learned in preparing my audiobook, was that occasionally things that seem to work in text don’t work when you read aloud. I have great difficulty tolerating text-to-speech software, which I suppose does not help. And I can tolerate grammar software for missed commas, but I don’t want my voice standardised, thank you very much.

So, I think it’s an important part of our job to leave as little room for misunderstanding and confusion as possible.

Thursday 28 March 2024

"The Prophets of Baal" Audiobook Pending


I am happy to report that a major exercise to produce an author-narrated audiobook of "The Prophets of Baal" has been completed.

The recording worked out a tad short of nineteen hours for approximately 163,000 words. This averages about 143 words per minute, as delivered to the publisher, which I hope listeners will find a satisfactory storytelling speed.

This week, I have received confirmation that the recording passed quality control and the audiobook received approval for release to retailers. I understand that it may take a couple of weeks to become available, and I will let you know when it does.

In the unlikely event that anyone cannot wait to hear a sample of my reading style, you can always check out the recordings of Yorkshire poetry on my YouTube channel.

Wednesday 27 March 2024

What do you say about people who use democratic freedom to end democracy? (Quora)


This is an old, and complex, question.

It is hard enough to define democracy. Even supporters of the democratic principle have been known to confuse it with the tyranny of the majority. Such a restricted democracy implies the freedom to agree with the majority but not to dissent from it, which is no true freedom at all.

A true democracy implies that freedoms of thought, speech, belief (religious or other), and so on pertain to all citizens and no-one has the right to constrain such freedoms except at the point where they harm, or impinge severely upon the rights of, another citizen or citizens. By such a criterion there exist today very few, if any, true democracies. 

The key requirement of a true democracy is tolerance. This is not an easy concept to explain, and far less easy to practice. It requires patience, understanding, and an acceptance that one is not necessarily always right. It requires one to overcome assorted logical fallacies, especially including ad hominem, and to concede that criticism may be valid, rather than to resort to bombast and abuse when one runs out of reasons. 

Relatively few people today even possess the capacity for reasoned discussion, as opposed to emotional argument. Many people believe in pursuing those of contrary opinion by vilification, harassment, restraint of trade, destruction of property and even physical injury or worse. These people have little or no respect for democracy, or indeed for any view except their own. Often they are monomaniac and incapable of contextualising their own particular passion. They declare themselves the law, the judge, the jury and the exactors of punishment. In short, these people are intolerant, not tolerant, and lack a fundamental grasp of what it means to live in a democracy. 

The problem with this, as has been pointed out by philosophers going back at least to Plato, is that in a conflict between tolerance and intolerance, the latter always wins. Plato believed that all democracies would end in tyranny, which is the worst form of government, because complete freedom of the individual implies legitimising action to restrict the freedom of others. 

Karl Popper is perhaps the best known of those who have discussed the paradox of tolerance. He concluded that a tolerant society could not tolerate intolerance without planting the seeds of its own destruction. Some have quite rightly argued that this makes a tolerant society intolerant (that is, of intolerance). However, that is why we call it a paradox. 

The problem is always going to be where to draw the line. The secretly intolerant, even those who profess themselves liberal, are always going to want the line drawn fairly tightly around their own point of view. The openly intolerant want to enforce their own point of view on everyone else. 

The best answer is a clear understanding of the concept of harm. Tolerance ends where significant harm to others begins. Significant harm does not include hurt feelings or taking offence. Significant harm does not include getting the worst of a rational argument, or being obliged to assert that rationality does not apply to questions where ones own beliefs are challenged. 

I have described above the extent to which some people today believe they are entitled to take the “right to protest”. Peaceful protest is no longer the norm. Intimidation (by behaviour, chanting, placards etc.) is common. The intolerant arrogate to themselves the right to threaten, damage property, disrupt legitimate activities of others, incite violence and so on. There exist no such rights in a free society, and these people are all ignorantly taking democracy down the road to destruction that Plato predicted. 

But those who exploit the tyranny of the majority in order to restrict the legitimate rights of others by law are no better. The fanciful declaration that anything contradicting fashionable moral orthodoxy is “hate speech” is an egregious example of legislative myopia that also cuts the foundations from under democracy. 

If a citizen today must self-censor the expression of his peaceful views because he fears retaliation, either by thugs or by the authorities (who either themselves practise or have yielded to thuggery), then he is not a citizen of a democracy.

Sunday 24 March 2024

History - An Agreed Fable?

Napoleon, of course, was living at the same time that the Romantic Movement was reinventing history and turning it into something literally fabulous.

In particular, in Scotland at this time, Sir Walter Scott was writing the Waverley Novels, in which assorted historical gangsters such as Rob Roy McGregor were turned into loveable Robin Hood style rogues, and the nasty, brutish and short lives of Highland clansmen became rural idylls with hills thrown in. A fictional 13th century Scotland that had never existed was called retrospectively into being and some Norman robber barons, including a murderer called Robert de Brus, (anglicised to Bruce), were reinvented as patriotic Scots.

At this time also, a Scottish industrialist invented the modern short kilt as a suitable garment for workers in the new factories, the army decided that this invention was a suitable uniform for soldiers and adopted it, and the idea that each clan had woven a different tartan into their great kilts or plaids, (a sort of long blanket that was wrapped around the waist and then up over the shoulder and which doubled as a daytime overcoat and night bedding), was invented as one of the first ever tourist scams. Nobody seemed to notice that the science of chemical dyes had been pushed back a few centuries in history to allow this phenomenon.

Now, this was all great fun, as long as it was only used to boost the economy and fool the Sassenachs. (Which by the way was the original Gaelic Highlander’s term for the Saxon (actually mainly Angle and Briton) lowlanders who lived south of Stirling, not in England), and who wouldn’t have been seen dead in Highland attire.) But like many tellers of tall tales, the romantics talked themselves into believing their own fiction. Today the attire that was never worn even north of the Highland Line in antiquity, or south of the Highland Line at all, has been adopted as the national costume, and even some people who live here think that William “Wallace” (anglicised name) went around in late 18th century clothing.

So, in terms of the politics of his age, Bonaparte was correct in describing history as an agreed fable. But when you teach fables in schools for a couple of centuries, they become accepted truth, and when Hollywood takes those fables and turns them into money making blockbusters that masquerade as the truth, there are, sadly, ramifications in the real world. People believe what they want to believe, don’t they?

Monday 18 March 2024

Civility in Discourse

 A thing one learns in the course of teaching philosophy is that the first person to lose his temper loses the argument. In former days, it was the norm that disagreement did not require incivility and that eccentric viewpoints did not make you a bad person. (Thanks to Rod Steiger for the unforgettable ad lib in “No Way to Treat a Lady”.)

When I was at Oxford, we went to hear speakers of every viewpoint. You need to hear people first hand because you absolutely cannot rely on reported speech. (A certain authoress in my part of the world has recently discovered afresh that it doesn’t matter what you said, it matters what people say you said.)

The second reason to give everybody a hearing is that you can’t answer arguments that you haven’t heard, and in live debate, you need to be able to anticipate the arguments that will be used against you. People who respond to contrary viewpoints with anger are unable to learn anything at all, and are far more likely to tear society apart than to right perceived wrongs.

Saturday 16 March 2024

Writing for The Market

I sometimes decide, in the course of writing, that an emerging story is turning out to be the sort of story that such and such a publisher might like. That’s fine as long as I like it too.

In the early years of Flame Tree, I thought my views must be pretty much aligned with their senior editor. I have been known, as a result, to write or edit with Flame Tree in mind. I managed five Flame Tree anthologies, and would effectively have disqualified myself from WotF on Flame Tree alone, had I not also been securing a number of other pro publications at the same time, including three with AE. However, latterly, Flame Tree have been bringing in outside editors, so that now I can’t sell them a story to save my life.

This is not the place to digress into politics, but I did once stand for parliament, and I still believe that I stand more or where I always did, it’s just that no political party stands there any more. Not only could I not stand for election these days, I can scarcely find anyone to vote for.

It is always possible that I have taken to writing rubbish and lost the knack that I once had. But it is more likely, I feel, that fashion and conformism are enjoying a popularity boom. I sometimes wonder whether there is a correlation with the number of students taking the sort of creative writing courses that produce the opposite of creative writing.

I don’t know, because I never took a creative writing course, but I do know that in my days at Oxford, university professors would never have clubbed together to pronounce a public “excommunication” of a colleague for “heresy” in the way they did not long ago.

I rather fear that the frontier between education and indoctrination was crossed a long time ago. When I taught philosophy, I always said that I was not concerned with what my students concluded, but with how they concluded it. If they came to me with prejudices and went away with a capacity for reasoned justification, I used to consider my job done.

I’m sorry, but I have no wish to write more of the fashionable stuff that is already churned out to excess. And luckily, I can eat without having to do so. I acknowledge that this makes me fortunate.

I remember that Monet was reduced to painting still more water lilies so he could swap them for a car service, while Van Gogh only ever sold one painting during his lifetime. And yes, I have made the pilgrimage to Arles.

Tuesday 12 March 2024

Islamophobia, Liberalism and Epistemophobia (from Quora)

There are people who believe that criticising Islam is Islamophobia, but such people are not liberals.

Genuine liberals, following the precepts of J S Mill’s “On Liberty”, believe in free speech. The only constraint on free speech, for Mill, is where it would result in serious harm to an individual other than the speaker. By harm, he did not mean hurt feelings or taking offence. A fortiori, he would not have included the taking of vicarious offence on behalf of someone else. Liberalism recognises no right not to be offended. If it did, then, in many cases, it would be necessary to ban speaking the truth.

Any religion is a belief system, and although the adherents of a religion may hold that their particular belief system embodies the truth, they have absolutely no right to demand that other people should believe or behave likewise.

If a religion, for example, forbids the eating of pork, adherents of that religion have no right to demand that non-adherents should abstain from pork. It may, historically, have been the case that such abstinence was justified by the hygiene standards of the day; it is so no longer, and if the only justification is an outdated religious prohibition, then it would be quite unreasonable to expect non-adherents of that religion to practice it.

Now, in describing the above problem, it might be argued that I have criticised Islam. In fact, I have also criticised Judaism, and indeed any other religion which prohibits the consumption of particular foodstuffs on the basis of historic rules. Does that criticism make me Islamophobic? Obviously not. I am not giving vent to irrational fear or dislike, I am offering rational grounds for no longer pursuing what I consider to be archaic practices. The adherents of a religion do not have to abide by what I think, any more than I have to abide by what they think.
In today’s politically-correct environment, an awful lot of people are prone to demand what they call “respect” for their point of view, but they then fail to reciprocate by displaying respect for the contrary or differing views of others. A common method of displaying that disrespect is to burn flags or damage memorials which are valued, or assumed to be valued, by their opponents. But that way lies vendetta, not reconciliation. That way lies the opposite of respect.

The “…ist” words or “…phobia” words are regularly employed as a device for preventing or ending discussion. However, since those words are intended as pejorative, those who use them appear to be reasoning, “I may criticise or abuse others, but if people criticise me, I will condemn them for being prejudiced”.

In condemning reasoned criticism of religions, we are in danger of allowing the introduction of a blasphemy law by the back door. It is not hateful to criticise. It is not disrespectful to criticise. Indeed, if a religion advocates violence or socially harmful behaviour, it is, at least arguably, a citizen’s duty to criticise it.

We should remember that stifling of dissent is not only a tool of the totalitarian, but also a barrier to progress and innovation. This world is not perfect. Anyone who believes that there is no more truth to be revealed than has already been revealed, or that no research or discoveries should be allowed that might lead people to doubt what they think they know already, is someone whose mind is closed and who does not wish for knowledge.

Such a person is epistemophobic. An irrational fear of knowledge is more of a threat to human progress than is criticism of any religion.

Monday 11 March 2024

More about Writing Classics

Quality and marketability are not necessarily the same thing. There are at least three types of publisher.

Probably most numerous are the “More of the Same” group, who have established what sells in their market segment and are content to supply their readers with variations on that theme. There are writers who are (perfectly reasonably, since they have to eat) happy to write within these established bounds. I take this group to include the politically correct, who like to praise each other for their conformity.

Then we have the “Anybody Famous” group, who will take (or have ghost-written) works by celebrities, regardless of literary merit, because the bulk of their marketing effort has already been done without expense.

But also we have those who will at least entertain the unusual and the original. Now, these guys need to be brave, because risk precedes reward, and by definition a large proportion of risks won’t pay off. Sad to say, one of the risks is being unable to stay in business. I’ve worked with a number of those, so I do hope I’m not a Jonah. But I do believe that this group is far more likely to make a worthwhile contribution to literature, and that is probably why they do it.

Friday 8 March 2024

The Long, Slow Decline of the EU

I have commented before on the failings of the Euro as a currency.  I have also mentioned protectionist trading and politicised economics, but in addition, I think if you put together:
  1. The capture of the Commission by the big business lobbies,
  2. Regulation by process rather than by outcome,
  3. The precautionary regulatory principle to stifle innovation,
you have a fairly good recipe for long term relative decline.

Not so much an economy as a museum, still popular, but in the process of becoming a quaint antiquity. A bit like Rome in the 5th century AD, complete with a gradually shrinking empire.

Tuesday 5 March 2024

The Basic Principles of Teaching

In a formal classroom or seminar environment, proceed as follows:

1. Tell them what you are going to be telling them.

2. Tell them.

3. Tell them what you have just told them.

It helps, especially with beginner students, if you do not expect a multiplicity of outcomes from a single lesson. Depending on the complexity of the elements concerned, consider it a success if, at the end of the lesson, the class has absorbed three solid points.

Our lessons used to be forty minutes, minus a certain amount of initial disruption as the students arrived and got themselves organised, so that made 36 minutes / (3 x 3) points = 4 minutes per iteration of each point.

That was all subconscious as far as I was concerned. I used to take my cues from class reaction as to how well a point was going over, and extemporise when I felt a point needed more explanation. I learned at a very early stage that the detailed lesson planning required of you in teacher training college would get you precisely nowhere. As the man said, "No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy." Or as the other man said, "Everyone has a plan until he gets punched in the face."

Sunday 3 March 2024

Writing a Classic

 Classics require to be written without fear.

When I was first published professionally, I joined an online forum which had many useful features, but on which you would get demands for censorship as soon as you strayed into controversial territory. (Being English, I had very little idea of how immune to criticism certain issues were in the US). You would also get quite horrendously politically-correct offerings which, to me, were almost unreadable in their sanctimony.

I well remember receiving a criticism on a story I wrote about The Albigensian Crusade, informing me I was being offensive to Catholics. I remember thinking, if modern Catholics are offended by their own church’s history, it’s going to be difficult to write about some subjects at all.

Now, one thing we know about fashionable morality is that today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapping. It also happens that modern identity politics is so destructive of social cohesion that either it, or society, cannot last long. In the former case, no one at all will want to read today’s politically-correct writing in two decades’ time; in the latter case, there’ll be no-one to read it anyway. Already half the population or more does not want to read what well-regarded writers of today are writing because they find it insufferably puritanical or intolerant.

Classics cannot be flavour of this month. Villains need to be nasty. Insoluble problems need to be stressful situations. People need to lose as well as win. The unspeakable needs to be spoken. Otherwise, we should give up writing and take up making blancmange.

What we, as writers, must resist is the temptation to self-censor because we fear the mob. Good writing may be loved by some, hated by others, but it is never bland.

Thursday 29 February 2024

What should aspiring writers know about self-publishing books in the UK?

I’m going to assume you actually mean self-publishing and not the vanity press. The latter is expensive, not well regarded in the trade, and I personally wouldn’t use it.

I am also going to assume that you have tried getting a literary agent or submitting your work directly to publishers and have enjoyed no success. This will certainly happen if your writing is not good, but it can also happen if it is not commercial and even if it is good but can’t get through the less than perfect filtration systems that publishers employ to shield their top people from the great mass of submissions that flood in. Remember, these days half the world’s population believe they can write.

The explosion of social media and internet facilities in the last couple of decades means, provided you are willing to do the formatting required by the particular form of publication you choose, that it is not a complicated matter to publish an e-book and only slightly more complicated to turn that e-book into a print-on-demand paperback.

There is no point in my setting out a detailed list of instructions since online firms such as Amazon and Smashwords already provide such guides, and you can also download free software to help you with the formatting.

It does help if you can get some impartial beta readers to look over your work before you do this. For the purposes of finding straightforward errors, wrong punctuation, and so on, it doesn’t matter too much if these are family and friends who will do the job for nothing. For the purpose of telling you that your work needs editing, you will probably find things are different. There are writing clubs that may help for nothing; there are of course professional editors whom you will have to pay. I personally got a lot of good advice from membership of an online club where members in good standing exchanged critiques with each other.

But getting your work self-published is the beginning of the process, not the end. It may be out there, but it is invisible. The half of the world that think they can write are self-publishing alongside the relatively few people who actually can, and your book is not likely to stand out in the crowd unless you make it.

Nobody is going to market it for you. If you don’t do your own marketing, it will be unlikely your book will sell in significant numbers. Marketing is considerably harder work than self-publishing, but that’s not what you asked about.

Monday 19 February 2024

Who is benefitting the most from the Brexit chaos? (Quora)

Are you all sitty comfybold on your toileybox earlymordy? Goodly gumdrops swill beginification.

I personobly also finding much sardonifaction in ratiocinating aborderline nincompoopdom questiposers hereabovely. One of these upsidaisies will edgeup shaking loose remaigelling braincell and fal-folollop whoopsibuttercup over EUniversal translaming. Oh yes, deep joy.

Til then, neddle abiding more quasitellification supposiaskiform, sadly.

Sunday 11 February 2024

Is Labour's new 20% tax on private education too low? Should it be 40%? (Quora)

To begin with, the Labour policy (not yet implemented) is not for a new tax, it is for the removal of VAT exemption on those public schools which operate as charities. This is not all public schools. In 2022 the government stated that around half of public schools were registered as charities. Most of the remainder will be operating as regular businesses, allowed to make profits and already paying VAT.

Charities have no shareholders, do not pay dividends and therefore do not aim for profits. In any given year they may or may not generate a surplus of income over expenditure, but all they can do with a surplus, other than hold a reserve against a year in which they make a deficit, is either to reinvest in their own fabric or activities, or else enlarge their charitable activities by providing additional public benefits such as scholarships, assisted places or co-operation with state schools to assist the facilities of the latter.

Charities are required by law to provide these public benefits and may not exclude “the poor” from the receipt of them. Pretty much by definition, such benefits are not self-financing and are effectively subsidised by those customers paying full fees for their children’s education. It is therefore not unlikely that removal of charitable status from public schools would result in cutbacks of existing public-benefit provision.

Such reductions could result in the complete loss of these services, or could throw the burden of providing them on to the state. In either case, it would reduce the operating costs of the former charitable schools. Alternatively these schools might continue to provide charitable services despite not being recognised as charities, provided they have or can still generate the necessary funds, but it seems improbable that most would be in that position.

The elimination of extended charitable work might give some schools enough margin to absorb some of the newly-imposed VAT, rather than increasing fees by the full 20%. However, it seems inevitable that the net result would be a rise in fees.

I have seen no estimates by The Labour Party of the elasticity of demand that they attribute to this market. The most well known public schools, of ancient foundation and splendid fabric, may be what they are thinking of, but they are far from typical. A significant number of public schools already operate on the margin of the industry and will therefore go under. All their pupils will probably end up transferring to the state sector. The schools that survive will in many cases lose a proportion of their customers who are on the margin of being unable to afford the present fees and will not be able to afford the increases. Their children will also end up in the state sector.

Assuming class sizes in the state sector are not allowed to increase by any significant extent, this will oblige the state to enlarge the fabric of those existing schools that are already full (and sometimes already suffering from less than ideal levels of maintenance) as well as to hire a fair proportion of the teachers being shed by the public schools. (They don’t like doing this, as many teachers who have tried to return from public school employment to state school employment can testify. It is often assumed that in going where you can find work, you are really making some sort of political statement.)

As a result, firstly a significant proportion of the estimated tax yield will not be raised at all, that is, it will not be paid by those parents returning their children to the state sector (which they were already paying for through their regular tax bills, so they won’t need to make any additional contributions).

Secondly, it means that expenditure on the state education system will have to rise to accommodate additional numbers. It cannot all be devoted to increased quality; indeed, it may turn out to be a rather small amount that can be so purposed.

Further, I have seen no acknowledgement that separate legislation would be required in Scotland and would have to pass the Scottish parliament. If such legislation were possible, there would be no cross border distortions. If it were not possible, there are some good public schools in Scotland that might attract a lot more custom.

Moreover, education is a major invisible export for the UK. Reducing the size of an export industry is not usually considered one of the smarter political decisions.


It is seldom a good policy to kill geese that lay golden eggs.

Monday 29 January 2024

Old Father Time

A phone? 

People consider themselves old because they once had an old phone? 

Hey, I remember when we had a washboard, a zinc tub and a mangle. Washing machines? Newfangled nonsense.

I remember when the house water supply was one cold tap in the kitchen. 

I remember when the toilet was outside the house. 

I remember when our neighbour had the only family car in the street. 

I remember going to school on a tramcar. 

And I remember when people were just people, and nobody bothered to identify as anything but one of the people, and nobody cared what else they happened to be.

Monday 22 January 2024

What is the general response to Nikki Haley questioning Trump’s mental health? (Quora)

Oh come on, guys. Anyone could confuse Nancy Pelosi with Nikki Haley. Look how similar they are. I mean, they’re both women and both their names begin with N. How is anyone supposed to tell the difference?

So what if a presidential candidate has a mental aberration and complains (mentioning her name four times, according to CNN) about how Nikki Haley refused the offer of extra security for The Capitol before January 6th 2021? We should surely cut him some slack.

Even if Nikki Haley wasn’t in Washington or in office on the said date, let alone responsible for Capitol Security.

And even if Nancy Pelosi wasn’t responsible for Capitol security either.

And even if the said candidate does want his finger on the nuclear button.

I mean, we all make the odd mistake here and there, don’t we? No big deal.

And if Nikki Haley thinks (four) little slips of the tongue constitute an unreasonable attack on her, it just shows she really isn’t a good sport.