Friday, February 26, 2016

Daily stuff

Driving in Spain: If you're planning to do this, one of the best bits of advice I can give you is: Follow local custom and don't trust any and all signals. Or the absence thereof. And be particularly careful on roundabouts(circles), where cars can come at you from all angles and do things that don't happen in countries where the rules are clearly different.

Which reminds me . . .

New Road Signs: To combat the regular (and inexplicable) occurrence of drivers going the wrong way on our local autopistas – termed kamikazes in Spain - new road-surface and road-side signs have been introduced. Let's hope they work. I wonder whether they'll now do something about the drivers who forget to put their lights on at night.

Which reminds me . . .

Pedestrian Peril: Just when you think you've seen it all . . . Traversing a zebra crossing yesterday morning, I noticed that a second car was starting to overtake the one that had stopped to let me cross. The driving instructor in the passenger seat looked rather less alarmed at his pupil's manoeuvre than I thought he should've. But at least he stopped it.

Past Participles: I'm aware there are differences with regard to these in British and American English – spat/spit, fitted/fit and got/gotten, for example – but this morning I read this phrase: “I drug the dead dog up onto the curb” and was left wondering whether this was normal US usage for 'dragged'.

Waugh's Who: From The Times Diary: Time magazine has published a list of the top 100 women authors who appear on American university reading lists. Jane Austen, Mary Shelley and Virginia Woolf all make the top ten. But the good intention was slightly spoilt by the inclusion at No 97 of Evelyn Waugh.

The Donald: Will it be a good thing for the world if the next US president has a surname which, in very polite British English (Bringlish?) means 'fart'? Sadly, we may get to see.

Finally . . . . A Nice T-shirt slogan seen in town yesterday: Be nice or go away.


Free advice for anyone subjected to this outrageous law of 2012: Never close an overseas bank account, even to transfer all the funds to another of your accounts. I'm advised that, if you do, you're obliged to make a declaration to the Hacienda to tell them of this, even if your assets haven't increased by €20k in the relevant year. Of course, if you make the slightest innocent mistake, the fine is a minimum of €1,500. So it pays them to maximise the number of things you have to report. Pretty scandalous really. Even without recalling the humungous frauds reported daily of politicians and businessmen who seem to be immune from punishment. Talk about low-hanging-fruit! So, don't close an account: leave a few quid in it.


More free advice: If you're a Brit resident who's been here fewer (not 'less'!) than 15 years, you're entitled to vote in the referendum. Here's how you register.

And now . . . A top-down view from Allister Heath of the Daily Telegraph. If you haven't realised it yet, this is where I'm coming from. But I'm prepared to be convinced otherwise by the Inners over the next 3 months:-

EU elites wrongly believe they have perfected government, so we should leave

All political debates, including whether or not we should belong to the European Union, can ultimately be traced to a profound and historic disagreement over human nature.­

Half the world believes that human beings are inherently good and benign, or at least perfectible; they conclude that it is therefore safe and sensible for elites and experts to be given whatever power they need to get things done. Such folk, dubbed the self-anointed by the US philosopher Thomas Sowell, are often obsessed with politics and never see a new initiative they don’t like.

The other half is convinced that people, including those in a position of authority, are unavoidably self-interested and fallible, and that power should therefore be constrained and divided to reduce the chance of a catastrophic failure. They tend to believe that their homes are their castle, and in the wisdom of crowds.

The first group impatiently derides the second as dreadfully pessimistic and hopelessly unambitious; the latter cannot stand what it sees as the former’s utopianism and lack of realism about the human condition. I’m a paid-up member of this second category, and that, dear reader, is why I want the UK to leave the European Union.

Let me explain my apparent leap in logic. It is clear that the post-Cold War, post-industrial world is becoming ever more complex, as a result of a convergence of explosive technological, scientific, economic and geopolitical forces. The question is how to react to this: should we trust elites even more, given the scale of the challenge, or should we encourage experiments from which we can all learn? Should we centralise power and political authority, or should we decentralise it and seek instead to build resilient networks that can cope with setbacks? Should we seek Europe-wide solutions to every problem, or should we trust countries or even towns and counties to find their own answers, adapted to local conditions? My answer, in every case, would be to allow a thousand flowers to bloom.

The problem with the European Union is that it is the embodiment of a top-down approach when what we need is a much greater emphasis on bottom-up solutions. A problem with banks? Easy, according to Brussels. Let’s give the EU more powers and introduce the same set of rules across all countries. Agriculture? Simple: let’s introduce a pan-EU policy. Europe is behind the US when it comes to technology and innovation? Great, another opportunity to invent another Brussels bureaucracy, and come up with some more pan-EU rules, subsidies or policies.

If the EU were allowed to get its way, it would eventually seek to do the same in all other areas, including education and health care. Its most ambitious attempt at centralisation and harmonisation – the euro – has been the most disastrous. Occasionally, of course, it stumbles by chance upon the right answer, and then, unusually, its one-size-fits-all rule does make sense. But more often than not, its preferred solution – the result of endless bureaucratic and political horse-trading in Brussels – is a disaster. By contrast, smaller, competing political entities bound together through economic integration and voluntary cooperation can innovate and will be much more likely to discover the right answers. They can change and evolve when they realise that they have made a mistake.

Lumbering bureaucracies cannot: it’s the reason why the EU keeps on pursuing job-destroying policies, for example. Once it sets its mind on a particular course of action, reversing it becomes almost impossible.

Small is more beautiful than ever. Empires and technocracies don’t work, and neither do monopolies. They are unaccountable and unresponsive and all too often scandalously corrupt. Even with the best of intentions, they lack feedback mechanisms and thus fail to correct their errors. Even when they are given the trappings of democracy, such as with the European Parliament, they remain hopelessly detached from the electorate.

International cooperation is more important than ever in the 21st century. But the EU is not the right vehicle and certainly isn’t the solution to the Syrian crisis, or to the mounting tensions in South East Asia, or to the fight against pandemics. It is not equipped to deal with mass migration or the rise of artificial intelligence, to name just two critical issues.

We need new sets of international institutions that allow countries all over the world to work closely together, sometimes on an ad hoc basis, to free up trade, control terrorism and deal with problems that require cross-border cooperation. Leaving the EU would be the first step towards revolutionising our foreign policy; it would also allow us to play a leading role in proposing and developing successors.

The problem with the more fanatical supporters of the European project is that they are what Hayek called constructivists: they believe that they have the intelligence and ability to remake the world afresh. History and traditions are irrelevant. They have a neat and tidy mindset, and the messiness of national diversity riles them. They have no time for trial and error: they are convinced that they know the truth, and wish to impose it on everybody. Their arrogance beggars belief.

Some CEOs of very large listed companies – though not so much entrepreneurs – see the world in the same way. Because they are paid to push through top-down change, they tend to like equally big political bureaucracies. Political diversity irritates them and is wrongly deemed to be a barrier to trade: they fail to see that the best way to promote new and better ideas is to allow competition between countries in the same way that it is encouraged between companies.

The answer, therefore, is to decentralise power radically – not just back to nation states, but also further down. Britain requires a constitutional revolution for which leaving the EU would be the catalyst. The UK would become a proper federation, with its component nations given full fiscal autonomy and put in charge of raising all of their revenues. Cities such as London, Manchester and Birmingham would be given far greater rights and responsibilities.

Ultimately, however, one’s attitude to the European question depends on one’s view of human nature. Is it prudent to entrust technocrat-kings, in charge of vast, distant post-democratic bureaucracies with our futures, or are we better off betting on competition and radical decentralisation? I know which side I’m on. 

Altrincham, Cheshire: June, 1971. One of these people can still get into his suit. Honest.


Maria said...

"Drug" is common in some areas of the U.S. as past tense and participle of "drag". However, it's not standard English though it is not considered incorrect. I sometimes heard it in my native Boston, though "dragged" was much more common.

Alfred B. Mittington said...

The author the list referred to was surely Mr Waugh's first wife, Evelyn Waugh, a.k.a. She-Evelyn. The books must be her memoirs of his awful character, 'Waugh Is Me!'. Such writings go down well in Women's Studies, they tell me.

BAl Lettres

Colin Davies said...

Many thanks, Maria. Sod off, Alfie.

Anthea said...

"Drug" is probably old English,still in use in some parts of North America. I once had a French Canadian student, in England for a year on a Comenius grant, who one day told me that she had not "brung" her book. follow the pattern: sing, sang, sung and therefore, bring, brang, brung. Isn't language wonderful?!

Colin Davies said...

I've heard 'brung' a lot on Merseyside. "Haven't you brung your dinner money?" for example. From the teacher!

brung (brŭng)
v. A past tense and a past participle of bring.


'In some dialects the past tense of “bring” is “brang,” and “brung” is the past participle; but in standard English both are “brought.”'


"Past brang and past participle brung and broughten forms are sometimes used in some dialects, especially in informal speech."

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