21 May 2018

new article: EC v Apple

There is a new article on the website:
EC v Apple: retrospection is immoral

By extending its powers into the field of interpreting tax law, the Commission has dealt a blow to legal certainty, and hence to corporate planning, for businesses based in Europe. From the long-term perspectives of both the EU and Ireland, the resulting efficiency losses and likely eventual migration of jobs out of the area may outweigh any supposed benefits for competition.

Fundamentally, this case is not about whether Apple paid insufficient tax, though some commentators have encouraged their readers to see it that way. At its heart, rather, is an important legal principle, and the question of how readily the principle may be overridden when it conflicts with other considerations. [read more]

11 May 2018

in progress

A new article — in my series on the rule of law — is in preparation.

It should be available later this month.

04 May 2018

spellcheck #6

It’s that apostrophe thing again; its regular recurrence is a sign of the times.

This one occurs in the Fish Society’s May catalogue, in their description of Oscietre caviar (also spelt Oscietra or Ossetra). Oscietre is the second most expensive caviar in the world, after Beluga.

Oscietre is known to have a slightly gold or brown tinge and nutty traces in it’s taste.

The Fish Society is selling the stuff at £34 per 30g, which compares favourably with Amazon’s prices for Oscietre. By comparison, Beluga is showing on Amazon at twice that price.

27 April 2018

In the name of feminism

There is an interesting article* about contemporary feminist movements in the latest Cambridge alumni magazine, provocatively entitled ‘Smash the patriarchy’.

I found myself having some sympathy with the activists interviewed. I am sure being a woman is not always easy, and it is still a man’s world in many ways.

A young Cambridge graduate is quoted as saying:

We need to actively work really hard to make sure we are inclusive as a movement and that we’re not leaving anyone behind.
Reading on, however, it starts to emerge that some of the movements seem to require commitment to things other than gender issues. “Feminism is about more than just the self; feminism includes fighting against austerity ...”.

Aside from austerity, Donald Trump and Brexit are apparently regarded as “challenges”, the latter because of female employment rights created by EU legislation.

The impression given is that “feminism” is in favour of more state intervention. But what of those who want feminism to be a force promoting greater respect for women without more legislation?

I wonder how the individuals running the movements referred to in the article would regard a woman in favour of free markets. Would her views be respected, and her minority position be protected from those who might wish to put pressure on her to conform? Or would she be regarded as a traitor to the cause?

* Anne-Marie Crowhurst, ‘Smash the patriarchy’, Cam, Lent 2018.

20 April 2018

“Free speech” isn’t everything

Extract from Charles McCreery’s Abolition of Genius.

One might ask how it is that in the past men and women of genius have been able to make original contributions to thought in countries that had no offcial freedom of speech, publication, or assembly, if these so-called ‘human rights’ are as crucial as their modern protagonists imply. The answer is that these people of genius achieved what they did thanks to private incomes, their own or that of someone else. The societies in which they lived may have been indifferent or even hostile to freedom of speech and the like, but they tended to have a tolerant attitude to the concept of private property.

Let us consider some examples. Descartes’ thinking led him to two conclusions among others: that the earth rotated and that the universe was infnite. He included these ideas in a book he was writing called Le Monde, but when he heard that the Inquisition had condemned Galileo for expounding similar views, he decided not to publish it. However, there is no reason to suppose that he stopped thinking about such matters. The Inquisition may have been indirectly responsible for the non-publication of his book, at least during his lifetime, but they did not have any direct control over the private income which enabled him to write it.

It is even questionable whether the sort of censorship imposed by old-style capitalist societies is an effcient method of preventing the emergence of new ideas or works of art. Publication is only the last and most peripheral link in the chain of production of a new artistic or intellectual work. It is clearly more effective to attack the original thought at its psychological source, in the stages of preparation, conception or execution, by depriving the original mind of its fnancial independence or any hope of achieving it. Then the mind in question will be unable to provide itself with the necessary conditions for its work without first gaining the support and approval of the collective. If the results of its work are likely to be of the kind that the collective will want to censor, then this support will not be forthcoming and not only will the work never see the light of day but it will never even be begun.

13 April 2018

Goethe and the culture war

The conflict between: the old, the prevailing, the persistent; and: development, improvement, reform — it is always the same.

Order of every kind turns at last to pedantry. In order to be rid of the latter, one destroys the former. Then life goes on for a while, until people perceive that order must be established anew.

Classicism and Romanticism; guild coercion and free trade; preservation or destruction of tradition: it is always the same conflict, which ends by creating a new one.

The best policy of those in power would be so to moderate this conflict as to let it right itself without the destruction of either side. But this power has not been granted to men, and it seems not to be the will of God either.

Goethe, Maxims and Reflections

06 April 2018

Contextual advertising

This is slightly amusing. I have been reading a paperback collection* of stories by Karen Blixen (author and heroine of Out of Africa), translated from Danish to German.

The first story is about the fictional de Cats family, set in 19th century Amsterdam. The de Cats are wealthy and influential, and have for generations been noted for their marked virtuousness, good works etc, but in every generation they have one particularly black sheep. When the current black sheep, Jeremy de Cats, returns to Amsterdam to turn over a new leaf and begins to behave blamelessly, the other de Cats inexplicably start to behave badly, and they realise that their virtuousness is somehow fated always to require one black sheep. After some abortive efforts, they decide to offer Jeremy a princely annual sum to return to his wicked ways. The offer is accepted, with the result that things go back to normal, and everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

Just after the point when the offer is made, near the end of the story, you turn the page and, instead of the expected continuation of text, the entire left page is occupied by an advert for Pfandbriefe (bonds issued by commercial banks):

A fortune ... in return for the promise to do nothing useful. Sadly, offers of this kind are nowadays quite rare.

So don’t bother waiting for one; do something that is useful. Consider the possibility of other, equally pleasant ways of increasing your wealth.

I don’t recall coming across an advert in the middle of a book before. The edition is from 1989 (publisher: Rowohlt). Perhaps this is still done occasionally in German paperbacks.

The notion of an advert linked specifically to the text next to which it occurs is intriguing. We see a version of this with TV ads: watch a movie set in France, and you’re likely to get adverts from Danone or L’Oréal. And of course there are those annoying ads in web pages.

* Tania Blixen, Gespensterpferde, Rowohlt, 1989

30 March 2018

Excess energy

A nice quote from Amazon’s I Love Dick series, presumably taken from the book by Chris Kraus on which it is based:

Desire isn’t lack ... it’s excess energy.

The series was cancelled after one season, and I can see why: it really is too weird to have wide appeal. It’s quite fun, though, in a Fear and Loathing kind of way.

Not much happens in I Love Dick, and the main reason for watching it is Kathryn Hahn (awesome). But it does include a sideways look at academic cultural theory that seems satirical, whether intentionally or not.

23 March 2018

Free speech: roots of the problem

BBC’s Julian Pettifer interviewing Jane Fonda in 1970:


In none of those societies [that you admire] have they been able to allow free artistic expression. Do you not feel that as an actress you would be extremely limited in that kind of society?

Perhaps if I wanted to do things that ... You see, when you’re carrying on a revolution ... during the process of change and educating people, removing people from the state of being in which they want to exploit and become rich and get ahead over someone else and things like that ... during that changeover very stringent rules have to be laid down until such a time that the level of the economy is such that everyone is comfortable, that everyone has as much as they could possibly want.

The supposedly benevolent ends justify the oppressive means?

Perhaps this is not very different from contemporary students and academics who want to stifle speech they find unacceptable, supposedly in the interests of ‘oppressed’ social groups.

16 March 2018

Maloja Snake

On BBC iPlayer at the moment is Clouds of Sils Maria, a 2014 film by Olivier Assayas with Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart. It shows there is still theatre worthy of the name, even if takes the form of a movie.
Clouds has everything theatre should have: psychological complexity, ambiguity, tension; and lacks all the things theatre should lack: obvious political points, the grimness level set too high, characters that are two-dimensional.

Despite the story being, on the face of it, closely bound up with its physical setting — the Swiss Alps — it is definitely theatrical: the dialogue is the driving force.
If you don’t like theatre, you may find the plot artificial and stilted. If you do like theatre, you should find it moving.

Yet as a film it has two characteristics which I normally regard as warning signs. First, it is almost entirely about women. In spite of this, the flavour is (oddly) more masculine than feminine.
Second, it contains a high degree of “reflexivity”. This is usually offputting, as for instance in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, where the inserted fling between Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep, as actors, is an annoying distraction.
Clouds is about a play, and about acting, and the plot revolves largely around the parallels between the play and the action of the film. In this case, the reflexivity arises naturally and without triggering postmodern ‘irony’.

09 March 2018

A new piano talent

● Here is a new piano talent I would vote for: Vanessa Benelli Mosell. Precision and romanticism — two of my favourite qualities. Not much yet on YouTube to sample, but this Liszt Waltz is a nice example. Or try this Scriabin Etude.

An article on Sputnik by Ivan Danilov is worth a look. Its headline thesis is that psychology professor Jordan Peterson is too nice to lead the culture war opposition, but the article is more interesting for the ancillary points it makes. For example:
“progressive inquisitors” from academia [have learnt] that they can bully anyone with no palpable consequences, and even if they do get caught, they won’t receive a punishment more severe than a slap on the wrist
in modern political discourse everyone to the right of Pol Pot is labeled as being “right wing” or “conservative” or “alt right”

01 March 2018

New article re Ethics and Empire

I have expanded my posts about the Ethics and Empire open letters into an article, on the subject of academic bias and professional etiquette.

the approach adopted by Biggar’s opponents is unethical, and smacks of bullying. The two open letters represent a disturbing precedent. The one from Oxford scholars is particularly alarming, given Oxford’s position in the academic hierarchy, and the suggestion that academics can expect to be ganged up on even by members of their own institutions.

The signatories’ implicit attitude to academic freedom sets a bad example, not just for fellow academics, but for students. [read more]

23 February 2018

The Housewife's Tale

Reuters, 11 September 2185.
A sheet of paper, believed to contain a fragment of the lost novel by Margaret Atwood, The Housewife’s Tale, has been discovered by academics from Oneworld University. The fragment is reproduced below.

Notes for Editors
1. Margaret Atwood was a twentieth-century Canadian novelist.
2. A housewife was a married woman without formal employment.
3. Marriage was a contract under which the parties promised not to sleep with other people.
4. Paper was a wood-based material used to record text.

I awake. The room seems to be brightly lit. I realise it is morning.

There appears to be sunshine entering the bedroom. I had forgotten there was such a thing as sunshine.

Sunshine has often been considered male, as it is an external agent which makes things swell and grow. My friend Lynda used to say she hated sunshine.

My husband George is stirring next to me. Suddenly I feel something hard prodding me. Do I like it? I am not sure.

« « «             » » »

There is something faintly ridiculous about the male organ. I have become jaded about all those fumblings and thrustings, those wifely duties that we were always told would be so exhilarating — liberating, even. Or have I?

Lynda once said that you can get used to anything. But I am starting to feel I have done enough of that sort of thing.

« « «             » » »

It is later. I am in the kitchen, scrubbing carrots. As I look at the carrots, I realise how bright they are, how orange. Agent Orange. That was the name of a poison, used in the Indochina wars, which gave millions of people cancer. The shape of the carrots makes me feel vaguely nauseous.

George comes into the room. He gazes at me kindly, like a grandfather, or a benevolent uncle. I could almost love him at times like this. He does not look at me like most other men, always on the verge of thinking “bitch”.

« « «             » » »

I have a memory of an incident that happened years ago, after I first met George. Or was it last week? He, Lynda and I were sitting in a cafe drinking tea. George went to the toilet, and Lynda whispered something to me, I think it was about foundation cream. When George came back, I sensed he knew Lynda and I had been talking. But he never referred to the incident. We have never discussed it, and I now regret that. The resulting gap between us has become a festering wound, a source of reproach.

Men. One thinks they want love, but ultimately they just want to dominate you. But I am tired of being dominated. Love — what is it, when you get down to it, but gropings and thrustings? You can keep it.

« « «             » » »

Later, George and I are at a restaurant. Suddenly I catch a young man’s eye. I can tell immediately what he wants, and I suddenly realise I want it too. I am filled with a terrible hunger. I must have him. I am willing to risk everything — marriage, status, home. I am about to do something foolish. I wonder if George has noticed anything, but he is blithely studying the dessert menu.

Then a waitress moves between me and the man. When she has gone, the man is still looking at me, full of eager anticipation. But the moment has gone, and I have lost interest.

« « «             » » »

Time is like a boat powered by a dodgy motor. You cannot resist its motion, though you sometimes have the illusion of being given pause to reconsider, to change direction.

When I was a child, my mother used to warn me never to

[end of fragment]

16 February 2018

Orwellian blurring

An ominous trend in speech is the tendency for taboo themes to keep widening their catchment areas. If you criticise any aspect of feminism you must be a misogynist. Finding the movie Idiocracy funny must mean you favour eugenics. And so on.

A recent instance is the attempt to classify criticism of George Soros as being a form of covert antisemitism.

If it is legitimate to criticise Vladimir Putin for allegedly trying to promote Brexit then it is legitimate to criticise George Soros for trying to prevent it. Not everyone thinks of Mr Soros as Jewish. I didn’t — until I read this Guardian column accusing his critics of being antisemitic. Previously, I had associated Soros with being Hungarian, wealthy, making money out of Black Wednesday, supporting post-communist scholarship, and being anti-American.

Trying to bring antisemitism into the Soros/Brexit issue does no one any favours — except those looking for confirmation that we need to have more restrictions on speech.