2014 is going to be the best year in human history.

This time last year, I made some predictions: 2013 is going to be the best year in human history. It was, for most of the world at least. And 2014 is going to be even better, for all the same reasons.

How did I do with my prognostication?

The scourge of war is receding from human experience. Though they are still going on, they involve fewer combatants and kill fewer people. As people get richer, and pass through the dangerous middle-income phase, they have too much to lose by fighting.

Alas Mali and the Central African Republic saw crises rise to the level of war in 2013. The civil war in Syria the ongoing wars in Afghanistan continue to claim lives. There have, however been no big, new wars involving western forces. We missed the window of opportunity in 2012 to prevent the disaster in Syria, and it is now too late. I suspect letting Bashar al Assad win is now the least bad option.

Several states in the US have signalled the abandonment of the war on Drugs (well Marijuana at least)

One country, Uruguay, has fully legalised it. The logic of the War on Drugs is waning. Several successful politicians in North America have been caught using Crack and Cocaine, none of whom look like junkies. Dozens of people who clearly aren’t drug-addled derelicts, self-arguing in underpasses, but who maintain busy and high-profile lives have “come out” as having taken Marijuana or Cocaine. It won’t be long before such people no-longer have to pretend to have hated it, or for it to have been a response to an emotional trauma.

In 1963, “some time between the end of the Chatterley Ban and the Beatles’ first LP” people started to admit they like to have sex, and not just for procreation. Rock & Roll became acceptable when in 1976, Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols said “fuck” on live TV, at a stroke rendering that nice young Mr (now Sir) Michael Jagger, respectable. Perhaps a TV cook with ample curves might be the person whom we can thank for ending the hypocrisy of the drug war. Unlikely. But someone’s going to provide the moment. And soon. A wise man once said….

The world is still getting richer, even if the squeezed middle in the west isn’t.

The giant emerging economies are creating wealth at a rate unprecedented in human history, by the simple expedient of abandoning the socialist choke-hold on creative economic endeavour.

India and China may have slowed, India especially so, but the truth holds. Their Governments have seen the fruits of economic liberalism and seen it work. India may regret electing someone who seems to be an unrepentant Hindu nationalist, Narendra Modi of the BJP in 2014, but it won’t be for his economic policies which are far more business-friendly than the rather corporatist Congress party.

 The poorest parts of the world are the fastest growing. Even if inequality in the west is rising a bit, and that’s debatable, global inequality is falling. 

This is still true, but less so.

So, to carry the game forward, here are some concrete predictions for this time next year.

Money & Business
The FTSE100 will reach an all-time high, for the first time since 1999, and will continue the bull-run. 7,000 will be left behind.
Thanks to tightening money, The Oil Price will fall below $100 and stay there. The Brent/WTI spread will narrow from 99/111.

UK Politics
The Labour lead will fall from 6-8%. UKIP will win popular vote in the European parliament elections, then their support will drift back to the Tories thanks to a strengthening recovery. Scotland will vote ‘No’ to independence. Ed Miliband will remain a worthless union stooge. The voter-repelling and emetic Ed Balls will remain shadow Chancellor, because his boss is a spineless dweeb, with shit for brains and “Red” Len McClusky’s hand up his bum. Tories will post a lead, but I doubt it will be done consistently.

The Syrian civil war will not end, but Assad will regain control of much of the country, leaving an islamist insurgency. The world will continue to look the other way.
China’s growth will slow. The rumblings of dissent new riches have smothered will start to grow louder. The Communist Party may seek to use Sabre-Rattling with Japan to detract domestic opinion from the looming economic crisis.
Something dramatic will happen on the Korean Peninsula.

Happy New Year

There you go. My posts have been sporadic in 2013 as I have less new to say. But I still enjoy writing from time to time, and it’s nice to know my readers, both of you, are still out there somewhere and I hope, whether you come in from RSS or by a random websearch for stewardesses boobs (I still get a lot of hits that way, for reasons that are beyond me) you still think what I say is interesting, provocative, informative or entertaining.

Have a happy new year. And remember risk is to reward as hangover is to party.

A Christmas Adventure in Venice…

This is the view looking south-east from Venice, near St Mark’s square on a damp Christmas morning, 2013 at dawn. You can see the spire of the San Georgio Monastery which reflects the Campanile in St. Mark’s.
Spectacular and memorable to be there with almost no-one about. Not even the ubiquitous troupes of Chinese and Japanese tourists following a tour-guide with a flag.
I was heading East, to the island of Lido, which has Venice’s only beach. It has in December, all the faded Grandeur of the British sea-front, and looking out to sea, I could see enormous container ships. Trade, once would have passed into the Lagoon to enrich Venice, but these ships will be heading for Trieste.
I half-expected to find a few like-minded hardy souls. I expected a flabby German, hearty Norwegian or Elderly British matron to be striding confidently towards the sea, bathing cap on, and towel under their arm.
I was alone. The beach as far as the eye coutd see, was deserted.

But having come this far, I had to give it a go. Yes. I was wearing budgie-smugglers.

The Northern Adriatic in December is much, much colder than the English channel off Brighton, a fact I found out about 2 minutes after this picture was taken. In fact, as shocks to the systems go, diving in is nearly equivalent to skiing through an ice-hole in Norway. A couple of minutes (optimistically) in the water was enough. Ice-cream headed and turning blue, I emerged from the sea to meet a family from Pittsburgh, who told me about their polar-bear club which swim in the Monongahela river on the first of January every year. 
It’s on the to-do list.
Swimming in the Icy sea certainly makes the Christmas morning Belini and Panatoni more worthwhile . 
Merry Christmas from Venice.

Where are the Right-Wing Comics?

They exist. They just don’t shout about it, perhaps due to not wanting to be associated with 70’s throwbacks like Jim Davidson. There are many who’d not describe themselves as “right”, especially at the Libertarian end of the spectrum.

The problem is that comedy should always “punch upwards” taking aim at people in power. Conservatism is Traditionally about the defence of the status quo. The spectre of rich, smug people denigrating the choices of poor people is often cited as a reason for there not being “right-wing comedy”, but this is a staple of left-wing comedy: Think of Labour-supporter, Harry Enfield’s “The Slobs” or much of Little Britain. Indeed the assumption that rich people are the only people to benefit from “right wing” solutions, is part of the problem. People commissioning comedy don’t mind laughing at the chavs, if there’s a Labour supporter doing the laughing.

Listening to the ‘now show’ on BBC radio 4, where the song (series 41, episode 3, about 8 minutes in) lamenting the privatisation of the Royal Mail, was basically a paean to nationalised industry. Surely there are comics out there who can write a gag about how totally useless the Government’s been at running everything, and why do they still run ANYTHING? If only for balance.

“But Labour are the butt of jokes too…” as they are. However attacking Labour from the left, and the Tories from the left isn’t balance. It’s advocacy. When Ed Miliband is the butt of jokes, it’s about him being weak, or giving into right-wing policies. Tory policies and politicians are routinely derided as stupid, ignorant and heartless. This isn’t balanced at all. What is political comedy for if not for challenging the entrenched ideas? Laughing at the Conservatives as they try to shrink the state bit is simply bullying by the new establishment, from a position of power. It’s little better than the jokes about blacks moving in next door, from the 1970s.

Thanks to Labour, the state now spends 50% of GDP, borrows more than any peace-time government in history, and despite the cuts, is still doing so. The idea that all would be ok if only the Government had more to spend, has been tested to destruction yet comedians still set up their gags with the assumption that the cuts are unnecessary and evil.

We’re the 6th largest economy on the planet, giving nearly 25% of GDP in direct fiscal transfer to the poor. Instead of this vast transfer of wealth reducing poverty, it has entrenched it. Surely naiive, but well-meaning social workers not ACTUALLY solving anything lest they lose their jobs could be the butt of the occasional joke? Surely left-wing politicians cynically fixing it so the poor are worse off in work, to ensure their nicely concentrated vote, could be the butt of a joke or two? Instead of comedians swallowing the Labour line about the ‘bedroom tax’ and regurgitating it for laughs, maybe, just maybe, they could point out the hypocrisy of the Labour position (they introduced a near identical policy for private tenants)? Or is that too much to ask?

There are ideas challenging the status quo – attacking corporations, not from a profit-shy left-wing perspective, but an anti-corporate welfare, small government perspective, which are crying out to be turned into comedy. Maybe, just maybe, the butt of the joke could not be a rich, posh guy after profit, but a spiv, abusing regulations to avoid competition? The predictable, but unintended consequences of popular but simplistic policy could surely be turned into comedy?

“Alternative comedy” in the 80s worked because it attacked the new power – Thatcher. The Ben Eltons and Alexi Sayles and the remaining political comics of the UK are too stuck in this narrative. It’s Lazy to blame Thatcher and business for everything when she left power nearly a quarter of a century ago. The time is ripe for a new Alternative, attacking the lazy assumptions of a bloated state and asking where half our money goes, and why it achieves so little of what it sets out to do. Perhaps a comedian could find another punchline than “profit is bad” when talking of business?

Had I any talent at all at stand-up, I’d give it a go myself. In fact, there’s an ‘open mic’ slot at my local… anyone want to help me write a few gags….

One Cut I Don’t Support

You can rebuild an Army from a small core. You can rebuild a Navy and Air Force. Benefits cuts have positive effects on incentives, as well as the more obvious negative effects. But the science budgets should be maintained. It’s short-sighted to cut an area where Britain retains a comparative advantage, and one where private industry and charity cannot mobilise the resources neccessary.

The UK still has world-class universities, and punches well above its weight in pure science. Many of our leading companies have developed around these – Silicone fen in Cambridge for example where ARM develops the chips that power Apple and others.

Above all, it’s the long tradition of medical research, where state spending complements the tendency of the Pharmaceutical industry to seek solutions to the shrinking problems of Rich people, where state spending can have positive effects, not just for the British economy but for the good of the whole of mankind.

I’m not the kind of Libertarian who thinks all state spending is wasted. There are things the state can do where business and charity is limited. Much of the state support for science supports the globally important work of medical charities.This money is emphatically NOT wasted.

Mark Bridger and Child Porn

That the Murderer of little April Jones is evil is on record. The Judge said so. Mark Bridger will spend the rest of his life in gaol and rightly so, joining a small group of people who’ve committed terrible sexual crimes against children who will never be released.

There is a lot of talk in the press about what motivated him to do this terrible thing. Of course a man with a sexual interest in children, child rape and murder is going to seek out images depicting such acts. The press then go on to blame “the Internet” and call for Google to redouble efforts to block such images, in an almost perfect demonstration of the post-hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Children were raped and murdered before the Internet. The question is whether such images lead people who would not have otherwise raped and killed children to do so. Is it not just as likely that viewing porn acts as a substitute for the deed?

Does online pornography lead to more child rape and murder? This can be teased out in the numbers, though none of these studies where looking specifically at sex-crimes involving children.

The evidence is clear for all other forms of sexual crime – pornography acts as a substitute, not a complement  for sexual activity.  Availability of online pornography is correlated with lower incidences of rape and other sexual crimes. This has been found in Denmark, Japan and the Czech Republic. It also seems that the USA & Germany saw similar data supporting the hypothesis that sexual violence falls as online pornography becomes more available due to Broadband roll-out. (Google scholar is your friend when conducting this sort of research). The STRONGEST inverse correlations appear to be with sexual violence against children. That is child abuse fell when online pornography became available.

The fact that “porn addiction” has been blamed for killing people’s sex-lives in ‘meat-space’ rather supports this view.

Obviously pornography involving minors is evidence of a real crime – the abuse of minors. That needs to be stamped down on. And more strength to the arm of the law in seeking the perpetrators out. But if it’s clear, and it appears to be, access to virtual sex is a substitute for the real thing, then current laws banning simulated material appear to be misplaced. CGI is that good these days, lives might be saved by allowing production of simulated violent pornography. A great deal more research is needed before I will come down firmly on one side of that debate.

It maybe for example, with the current strong laws surrounding the viewing of such material, only those predisposed may seek it out. Perhaps people will be sucked into viewing ever more extreme material were it freely available, and this would encourage offending behaviour in those not already predisposed.

Whatever happens, it’s certainly not entirely Google’s problem. Google simply cannot ban search phrases, or you’d ban perfectly reasonable searches like those I put into Google scholar to research this article. Porn and especially that involving minors is already filtered, by the Internet Watch Foundation and in the UK Canada and soon Australia, Cleanfeed. Even so, capturing everything illicit is going to be impossible. The Internet is too vast, and too encrypted to police.

Google’s search index is estimated to contain details of around 44-45 billion web pages, although that will include a lot of historical data relating to pages that have since fallen down the Internet memory hole.

By way of comparison, Microsoft’s Bing search engine is estimated to have indexed around 13.5 billion web pages and Yahoo’s index is currently estimated to contain around 10.5 billion web pages.

It’s therefore estimated that the current size of the ‘Indexed web’ – i.e. websites/pages than can be located using a search engine – is somewhere around 15 billion ‘live’ webpages, but this is still just a fraction of the total number of web pages out there and doesn’t include websites that don’t allow themselves to be indexed or which restrict the ability of search engines to index their content, one of the biggest of which Facebook.

As far as registered domain names are concerned, again there are no clear or accurate global figures but to give you some idea of scale, on the 30th May 2013, there were 145,498,970 domains registered for just the five most popular generic top level domains ( ‘.com’, ‘.net’, ‘.org’, ‘.biz’, ‘.info’) and the most popular Country code TLD (‘.us’) and on that same day 143,800 new domains were registered and 112,589 existing domains were deleted, giving a net gain of 31,211 domains, and 189,302 domains were transferred.

Unity Concludes…

… anyone you see demanding that Google should be doing more to block child porn hasn’t got the first fucking clue what they’re talking about.

The problem is one of attribution bias. Child murders are thankfully rare, and therefore notable. People remember them. There’s also the seeking of blame – the idea that monsters exist is uncomfortable. It is comforting that in campaigning against online pornography, you’re helping to prevent the same happening to another little girl. The reality, that you’re probably wasting your time, is depressing. People develop paraphilias, and sometimes these obsessions lead to terrible crimes. They did before the Internet. But the Internet appears to be preventing some of these people acting out on their sickening fantasies.

Mark Bridger will rot in gaol. But there may be little girls like April Jones who are alive now because of the depraved images he viewed before he killed her. That is not a comfortable thought, and what to do with it, I don’t know. But knee-jerk legislation because ‘something must be done’ is never the right response.

The Third Sector.

If you want evidence that the ‘third sector’, ‘social enterprises’ or whatever ‘charities’ are called this week are merely an arm of the state, check out their job advertisments like this one from Home Group Ltd

You will deliver outrageously brilliant customer experiences by developing great communities which are tailored to individual needs. Utilising customer insight, creating engagement opportunities and carrying out generic Housing Management activities you will work in partnership with our Customer Service Centre, local service providers, voluntary sector and statutory organisations to ensure our customers receive seamless Housing and Neighbourhood services

They are looking for what would be called a housing manager or rental agent in the private sector, where the wage would be £12,000 basic & £30,000 OTE (on target earnings). Basically in the private sector, you have to earn your pay. In the Third sector, you need to mouth public-sector bureaucratese and not rock the boat.

2013 is Going to be the Best Year in Human History.

It is tempting, writing on New Year’s eve when the West is mired in the fourth year of a persistent slow-down to be pessimistic about the future. But I am not a pessimistic about the future. The reasons are many, but here are a few.

The scourge of war is receding from human experience. Though they are still going on, they involve fewer combatants and kill fewer people. As people get richer, and pass through the dangerous middle-income phase, they have too much to lose by fighting.
Several states in the US have signaled the abandonment of the war on Drugs (well Marijuana at least). Sense is starting to become mainstream in this futile area of Government policy. Former UN secretary Generals, US presidents and heads of state from countries afflicted by the trade in illegal narcotics are starting to advocate a different approach.

The giant emerging economies are creating wealth at a rate unprecedented in human history, by the simple expedient of abandoning the socialist choke-hold on creative economic endeavour. Billions of people who just a few short decades ago were using ox-ploughs and suffering regular famine are now struggling with the problems of plenty: traffic congestion and obesity. Different, smaller problems for people who are vastly better off, enjoying much greater human potential.
There are still Billions of people who are yet to enjoy the fruits of this economic growth. We’ve only just started.
That greater wealth of the emerging giants is not a threat, but an opportunity to the west in general and the UK in particular. Already the UK legal and financial systems reach around the world. Dubai exported financial regulation wholesale from London. Close ties to Hong Kong and India and the luck of having the global language of business and science mean we’re well placed to take part in this explosion of wealth.
The financial crisis isn’t a crisis of capitalism, but part of the normal creative destruction cycle. The recession which should have happened in response to the dot com crash in 2000 was postponed. The longer recessions are postponed, the worse they are. If we can learn the lesson: No more ‘Greenspan Puts’ we can stop trying to legislate against the business cycle. 
The innovation driving economic growth is still happening, and it’s still happening where it’s been happening for the last couple of centuries: Europe, North America and the rich world. But the big emerging markets are starting to harness the creative talents of billions more people into this process. The creative capacity of man is improving as ever fewer people have to worry about where their next meal is coming from.
The poorest parts of the world are the fastest growing. Even if inequality in the west is rising a bit, and that’s debatable, global inequality is falling.
Stop bleating. Capitalism works, is working and will continue to work to ensure the unequal distribution of happiness. The developing world has worked out this is better than the equal distribution of misery of a controlled economy.
2013 is going to be the best year in Human History, even if it’s a bit tougher for us. But we’re the richest people who’ve ever lived, where even our poor have access to fresh fruit and vegetables (even if they don’t use that access…), even in December. This was unimaginable to all but the nobility just a century ago. Who, really, cares about a few years of slow growth in the West, when so many billions are getting so much better off? And there’s an outside chance that the worst is over for us too. 

The Opening Ceremony

So. Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony.

It was a Triumph. After the Chinese display of might, with all the artistic integrity of a Red-Square parade of missile launchers, we got a fun, irreverent pop-concert from the UK.

After the Royal Wedding and the Jubilee, the world knows this moist North Atlantic archipelago can do pomp and circumstance. What this extravaganza showed the world is that a lot of the rock n roll which defines western civilisation is British, as is much of the technological and industrial inventions which make the modern world as it is. Britain is not a stuffy old country, we’re fun. Come here and get pissed with us.

I could have done without the NHS love-in but that’s by the by. The people are proud of our hospitals being state-owned, despite the fact they lead the world only in hospital acquired infections. Most artists are pinkos. I can live with their eccentricities, if they show the world that Britain is more than Guardsmen outside palaces. So what DID the world make of it?

The Washington Post: As the Olympics opens, Britain rocks
The Australian: Games Begin in British Spirit
The BBC has rounded up some of the rest.

Then there was the symbolism of the copper leaves, each nation contributing a small part, coming together into a magnificent whole the sum of which is greater and brighter than the sum of its parts. The tiny nations like Tuvalu sending a couple of Athletes stand equal to the mighty Americans or Chinese teams. Nations who exist in a state of war may end up competing in a spirit of friendship.

The scourge of international war is receding. For all the corporate bullshit, the Olympic games are part of a process that’s bringing the world together to trade, compete and enjoy a diversity of cultures to the benefit of all. Britain has played a huge part in this process, even though we remain the most warlike nation on the planet.

Far from being a declining power, What the Olympic ceremony showed is a country at ease in its own skin, comfortable with a bit of self-mockery, happy to take risks. No other country would think to put its octogenarian head of state in a skit with James Bond, and have Mr. Bean ruin ‘Chariots of Fire’ for Sir Simon Rattle. Our soft power, from the BBC world service, and musicians to businessmen and scientists still matter on the world stage.

The final motif of Sir Steve Redgrave handing the torch to another generation of young Athletes, was well judged. Then Sir Paul McCartney got everyone participating – in a chorus of ‘Hey Jude’ Not a great chest-beating roar of a rising power but a celebration of the real Olympic spirit. Having lit the torch, everyone joined in, in Friendship, peace and competition.

Samantha Brick & the Sisterhood.

The Daily Mail showed why it’s a successful paper, and the most visited newspaper site on the net. They got a moderately attractive but catastrophically un-self-aware 41 year-old woman to say

While I’m no Elle Macpherson, I’m tall, slim, blonde and, so I’m often told, a good-looking woman. I know how lucky I am. But there are downsides to being pretty — the main one being that other women hate me for no other reason than my lovely looks.

If you’re a woman reading this, I’d hazard that you’ve already formed your own opinion about me — and it won’t be very flattering. For while many doors have been opened (literally) as a result of my looks, just as many have been metaphorically slammed in my face — and usually by my own sex.

I’m not smug and I’m no flirt, yet over the years I’ve been dropped by countless friends who felt threatened if I was merely in the presence of their other halves. If their partners dared to actually talk to me, a sudden chill would descend on the room

Queue outrage – she’s a dog, screamed Twitter, the worst abuse coming from women. She’s arrogant. Blah Blah… Ms Brick may be guilty of hilarious hyperbole, but she’s right. Women are vile to other women. The main reason for the glass ceiling is other women in the office, and I’ve lost count of the women I know who say they’d “never work for a woman again”. Attractive female bosses are usually described by men and women as “bitches”. I’ve had some excellent female bosses – no problem at all with ladies in charge (except of the thermostat, but that’s my ONLY sexist view. I even let my other half control the TV remote).

I’m not saying we men are perfect equal opportunities players. In the workplace, female bosses work best when they’re a bit mumsy – nonthreatening, even comforting to their male charges. However I’ve seen how those mumsy bosses treat a pretty young woman who joins the team. Such girls rarely last long.

Women are happy to have a pretty secretary, but cannot bear having someone pretty and of equal status around the office. And what is the most female-dominated department of every firm? The HR department. Who decides who gets an interview…? So, what Samantha Brick said is bang on.

The Mail Online knows it’s onto a good thing, and got Samantha Brick to feed the trolls some more.

I have just this to say: my detractors have simply proved my point. Their level of anger only underlines that no one in this world is more reviled than a pretty woman.

Of course, to other women, if you’re a woman, being right is no defense.

Women. It’s you who buy the magazines pointing out and sneering skinny/fat celebrities. It’s you who buy the Daily Mail, which constantly lambasts the moral choices of other women. Women it’s you who savagely do down the sisterhood in the work place. It’s you who discriminate against women. It’s you who belittle women for their looks. It’s at you the size zero models are aimed (well you and Gay men). Equality starts at home. Amongst the girls, a pat on the back is just a recce for a knife.