Good to see Hampshire County Council are spending my taxes wisely. In the propaganda brochure accompanying their latest letter demanding 800 pounds for rubbish collection and clogged roads, I find this item: These pages have been checked for clarity by Plain Language Commission [sic]. Sometimes I’m ashamed to live in a socialist country.
Every time I get sad about the illiberal attitudes of the public sector in the UK, at least I can reassure myself that I don’t live in France.
I’ve been interested in languages for a few years (despite only being able to speak one with any fluency) and consider myself a bit of an amateur linguist. It’s long been a standing question as to how to determine ‘correct’ English. Linguists divide grammar into two competing factions: descriptive (30% people speak like this, 70% people speak like that) and prescriptive (thou shalt speak in this way, as others have since time immemorial).
It appears that Starbucks is finally coming to Winchester. No doubt many will lament over this further Americanisation and homogenisation of our high street, but I’m kinda curious. For a long time, Winchester’s most obvious and best option for coffee (in my humble opinion) has been the equally sterile and characterless Caffè Nero chain. There are a few other chains and independents around, but they’re all weaker for one reason or another (low ceilings, no air-conditioning, dirty tables, etc.
The political arguments around government and business are well understood. At one extreme are people who despise profit-making businesses, considering them a necessary evil at best, and who’d prefer to see governments take more action to protect their and society’s interests. At the other are those who’d prefer to see governments scaled down significantly and businesses given more freedom. People with my political opinions often make arguments for the latter based on either practical or moral arguments.
Today is Milton Friedman day. Friedman is a personal hero of mine, an economist who worked hard to publicise the concepts of freedom and liberty, and who sadly passed away last November. His clarity and forthrightness in explaining his beliefs to the layman won him praise, and deservedly so: The most important single central fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit. Milton’s son David is also an economist, and continues to promote his ideas on this blog.
I’ve recently taken to reading a lot more on-line - particularly as services such as del.icio.us have helped me to find high-quality content and more high-quality blogs come on the scene. This, of course, is the long tail of written content. One of the things I’ve noticed, though, is that as I read more and different things, I get more impatient with long articles. I hardly read non-fiction books any more, and fiction books almost never (preferring film).
TEDTalks has hit a home-run again (seriously, I can’t recommend this series of videos highly enough - whatever you think about whatever else I’ve written here, you’ll find something you like). Bjorn Lomborg, who’s not a stranger to controversy, explains in this 2005 TED presentation why climate change, relative to the world’s other great problems (e.g. disease, sanitation), isn’t an efficient problem to solve. This is a finding of the Copenhagen Consensus, who expended no small amount of effort on the exercise.
Richard and I went to see Steve Forbes (of Forbes magazine fame) speaking last night at an event organised by The London Junto (a libertarianish organisation). The topic was flat taxes, and Forbes made a compelling argument for one - albeit probably preaching to the converted. Forbes has to be one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve ever seen speak - he dealt with economics, business, and geopolitical questions with equal capability, forthrightness, and clarity.
It seems to be a commonly held contemporary belief that transport and travel are a guilty pleasure at best, and reprehensible at worst, mainly due to the unpleasant environmental side-effects, and should be minimised. Environmentalists have already invented carbon offsetting to assuage collective and individual guilt about the trendy problem of carbon emissions (Tim Harford has explained why this makes no sense; and I think it’s nothing short of miraculous how carbon offsetting services can put a price on emissions so easily).