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"Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice" - Adam Smith

When in Rome...

Written by Cate Schafer | Saturday 19 July 2008

Don’t despair good Britons, your civil liberties may be impinged upon more and more every year, but it could be worse. Rome’s Mayor, Gianni Alemanno, elected in April is cracking down on common, everyday activities in the city centre.  A new law was passed that prohibits littering, graffiti, sticking up posters, sleeping, shouting, eating and drinking on the street, singing and selling merchandise without a licence.

Most of these make sense; littering and vandalism should be fined, and it’s probably not the safest thing to fall asleep in heavily trafficked areas. But not being able to sing or shout (how do you classify a shout anyway; does it only include angry shouts or are shouts of joy prohibited too?) in the streets or even eat a picnic lunch next to the Trevi Fountain seem a little tight around the collar. Not to mention the damage done to the merchants who go around selling flowers or serenading diners on violins. This new law basically criminalizes the tourist industry in Rome and ruins part of the pleasure of visiting the city.

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Quote of the Week

Written by Wordsmith | Saturday 19 July 2008

"People do not want to know how welfare money has actually been spent. Nobody asks the priest what happen to the ritual offering after the ceremony."

Yes Minister quote

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Blog Review 662

Written by Netsmith | Friday 18 July 2008

Bad news for biofuel subsidies. Their costs are somewhere between 11 and 230 times the value of the savings they generate from emissions reduction. It would be vastly cheaper simply to do nothing at all than to continue such subsidies.

Global warming really is a matter of economics. A pity that so few are listening to the economists, isn't it?

For of course the environment is too important to be left to environmentalists.

Thhis announcement on being allowed to die at home: it might not be quite what it seems you know.

On dealing with threats of terrorism. Of course this is far too sensible to ever actually be implemented.

It would appear that one set of promises being made by one set of politicians might be in conflict with another set of promises made by that same set of politicians. Ho hum.

And finally, a way around the smoking ban.

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Wikipedia bias

Written by Dr Fred Hansen | Friday 18 July 2008

Recently, quite a few people who occasionally use Wikipedia have told me that they have noticed that this useful online encyclopaedia is left leaning in some of its entries. I always assumed this might just reflect the same bias in the media as a whole. But I was wrong. The bias does not emerge by default but is vigorously enforced, as this story on Wikipedia global-warming propaganda shows.

Lawrence Solomon, executive director of Energy Probe and author of The Deniers, sums up the situation well:

In theory, Wikipedia is a "people's encyclopedia" written and edited by the people who read it; so on controversial topics, one might expect to see a broad range of opinion.  But on global warming, Wikipedia offers consensus, Gore-style -- a consensus forged by censorship, intimidation, and deceit.

Solomon undertook several attempts to edit the Wikipedia page on global warming and to delete mistakes for instance about British scientist Bennie Peiser, only to find his entries eradicated time and again. Obviously in the people's encyclopaedia there are two classes of editors: one with genuine imprimatur and another that may be censored. Solomon discovered that network administrator William Connolley, a ruthless enforcer of the doomsday consensus, uses his authority to ensure Wikipedia readers see only what he wants them to see.  Any reference, anywhere among Wikipedia's 2.5 million English-language pages, that casts doubt on the consequences of climate change will be bent to Connolley's bidding.

There are other examples of course. Just look at the pages Roe v. Wade or Intelligent Design and make up your own mind.


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Nonsense on sticks

Written by Cate Schafer | Friday 18 July 2008

A recent bill in Spain proposes to give apes rights along the lines of humans. It has prompted much discussion on whether DNA similarities and connections guarantee animals equal rights. If the bill passes it would make torture, medical experiments on and the killing of apes illegal.

This makes some sense, since there is an argument that animals should not be submitted to torture or harmful medical experiments. The problem with passing bills such as this is where does it stop? Will protection have to be granted to other animals? One of the arguments to pass this bill is that apes have feelings and show emotion. However, cows can experience pleasure and fear as well, so does that mean we owe them Cow Rights? Clearly there is a difference between the two species and the situations, but an argument can be made for basically any creature that they deserve rights protection.

I don’t think a topic such as this needs to be legislated upon by a central government beyond a general guidance for all animals: prohibition of torture, cruel experiments and senseless killing. This provides a clear baseline that calls for the respect of living creatures and outlaws harm of them beyond self-defence and consumptive purposes.

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"The nanny: coming to a McDonald's near you."

Written by Jason Jones | Friday 18 July 2008

California is at it again. This time it is trying to ban trans fat from all restaurants in the state. Forget that these restaurants are privately owned. Forget that costumers buy and eat food of their own free will and volition. Forget that doing so carries no externalities that would endanger the health of those who do not eat trans fats. The nanny is saying no.

As Assemblyman Chuck DeVore said, "For gosh sakes, this is taking government power to an absurd extreme."

For gosh sakes, is true. Many restaurants now voluntarily use trans fat free substitutes because consumers are increasingly aware of products that cause obesity and heart disease. But some restaurants cannot use substitutes without compromising the quality of their food. According to the California Restaurant Association:

Ethnic-food restaurants could be hit particularly hard by a ban on trans fats, because some of their entrees are difficult to prepare with substitutes... The particular oil used in a food affects product taste, appearance, texture, performance and stability.

Let restaurants and consumers decide. Children have mothers, and adults generally have enough brain capacity to decide what kind of food to eat.

The legislature approved the bill, which is now awaiting the Governator's approval or veto. For freedom's sake, let us hope Arnold Schwarzenegger terminates it.

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And another thing...

Written by Junksmith | Friday 18 July 2008

Another great video from those funny people at Jib Jab: Time for Some Campaignin'

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Blog Review 661

Written by Netsmith | Thursday 17 July 2008

It never fails. A few weeks back Will Hutton wrote that what the UK needed was an equivalent of the GSEs (Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae) in order to prevent a meltdown in the mortgage market. Netsmith knew something would come of this and as sure as eggs is eggs, we've not got respected economists stating that it was the GSEs that drove the bubble and thus caused the subsequent crash. Why is outlined here. Also here by Larry Summers. If we didn't already have Will we'd have to invent him so that we'd know what not to do.

Worth remembering the larger picture too: the last few decades have seen the largest reduction of poverty ever in the history of our species.

One that will really tie various Greens up in knots. It looks like GM crops could have a large role to play in reducing the emissions said to lead to climate change. What will they do?

A strange thought: perhaps the majority of people are actually saving too much for their retirement, not too little.

If people shout at you and call you names, does that mean your argument is wrong? Or that it's right but people don't want to admit it?

Of course convicted paedophiles shouldn't be allowed to live next to schools and playgrounds. Well, maybe of course, for they've got to live somewhere after release from jail: why not under a motorway bridge?

And finally, vital scientific research which clearly deserves more funding:

(The) important question of whether the average age of Playboy centerfolds has risen, fallen, or stayed constant. As you can see from the graph below, the average age has, indeed risen from about 21 to about 23 over the past 50 years, about the same change in age of Hugh Hefner's girlfriends over that same period.



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Chapter 11

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Thursday 17 July 2008

In the policy world you keep your ear to the ground and still things gallop up unannounced. One such is David Cameron’s ‘Chapter 11’ proposal. It certainly didn’t arrive through long rounds of brainstorming. More likely it came off a long list of squibs that CCHQ keep in order to keep DC in the news every week.

Still, it’s not a wholly bad idea, and the timing is excellent, since the UK economy is shot to pieces and lots more people will be going bust pretty soon.

The idea of Chapter 11 is that individuals and firms who are facing bankruptcy are allowed to keep control of their assets provided they have a recovery plan. Does it work? Well, most of the high-profile cases have been airlines. Sure, it has staved off the instant shock of an airline collapsing, but it’s not obvious that it has really changed what would have happened anyway. Some Chapter 11 filers (Northwest and Delta) have merged, some (ATA) still failed, some (United) limp along, hobbled with debt. In the UK, by contrast, we have competition red in tooth and claw, and the threat of failure is all too real. And yes, weak airlines go bust. But it makes the competition so strong that cost-conscious airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet are becoming dominant. America’s airlines still look fat and bloated.

The UK bankruptcy problem, though, is local councils and HM Revenue & Customs. The former try to bankrupt people for unpaid Council Tax of just £1200. The latter are far too willing to force a firm into bankruptcy – no doubt pocketing a fat bonus for the tax they collect – rather than help them through the hard times that years of reckless economic policy have caused. It's all a matter of incentives, Dave.

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Manure store entrepreneur

Written by Carly Zubrzycki | Thursday 17 July 2008

When I was 11, I spent most of my free time in a fantasy world, pretending to be shipwrecked and building a fort in the woods behind my house.  When Steve Sayer was 11, he was starting a business that has given the now 14-year-old over £4,500 in the last 3 years.  The schoolboy sweeps up and sells manure from his father’s horse farm.

Now, you might think that a local government would want to support this kind of behaviour, or at least would not actively stand in its way…  but you would be wrong.  In 2006, Steve discovered what so many entrepreneurs do; that advertising would help his business.  He bought a small £100 sign and leaned it between two wheels on his father’s property.   A year later, the local council decided this sign was “illegally placed," and the boy had to remove it.  He spent the next 10 months collecting signatures, applying for approval, and appealing the rejection of his application before finally being allowed to put the sign back up.

If it’s this hard for a 14-year-old kid to sell manure, how much harder must it be for adults to start or advertise for a small business? I understand not wanting giant billboards to appear in the middle of a farmland, but really, should placing a knee-high sign leaning against some wheels on private property require a year of time, effort, and lost revenue?  I’m sure the local commission had the best of intentions.  But when we make it difficult for people to use their own ingenuity and stifle this kind of enterprise, we help no one.

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