Category: Travelogue

Publish and be damned

– Attributed to Arthur Wellesley



I’ll try and keep this short.

The reason politics matters is not that we can change it, it’s because it can change us.

I’ve seen more walls erected in the debates over the US Presidential election and Brexit this year, than Trump could ever hope to build as President.

I’ve also been finding continual surprises in the way my friends have been/are voting.

Probably the most commonly used phrase this year has been “I can’t understand why anyone would vote for…”.

Maybe it’s time we did.

Because that same person will still be there after the election is done.


How half the country will feel in 48 hours

I’d been meaning to make this post ages ago, and have it all complete and referenced and linked and stuff, but, as usual, I delayed and procrastinated and now the time has run out, so this will have to do.

So tomorrow is the UK’s referendum on its membership of the European Union.  Many I think, me included, will in part breathe a sigh of relief when it’s all overThat said, I do think this is a significant decision, so I think I feel I have a duty to make my position plain as I actually think this is just the beginning, whichever way the referendum itself goes:

  • Why this decision needs a referendum

There has been some talk that this decision should never have been put to a referendum at all.  The most famous example of this is, I think, by Richard Dawkins, and it exemplifies one of the great misunderstandings about what it is we’re actually voting about.  His appeal that lacking a degree in economics or history somehow disqualifies his views is based on the assumption that we’re making an exclusively economic or historic (whatever that’s meant to mean) decision.  It is not.

This is a question that has broad ramifications for who has ultimate decision-making authority for the UK.  A referendum on such an issue is the very essence of ‘Consent of the Governed’, and the idea that it’s a decision for our ‘betters’ (with tongue-firmly-in-cheek) is as anti-democratic a notion as I can think of.

  • The campaigns

Oh my word, kill me now!  I thought referendum campaigns couldn’t get much worse than the AV referendum, but yet again I underestimated the political class.  From everything getting compared to Hitler at some point, to the scaremongering (either of the risks of leaving or the threat of immigrants), to the dodgy numbers (£350m anyone?) to the petty personal politics – we are not voting on whether Boris Johnson should be Prime Minister, people! – the media campaigns have been appalling.

And then there’s the tragedy…:-(

I have to say, though, I’ve been impressed, for the most part, with my social media friends on all sides who have, for the most part, honestly tried to grapple with the issues and, also for the most part, kept it cordial.  In or Out, if we are to survive as a nation, this is a skill that must never be lost.

  • The economics

I’m just gonna come out and say this and you can judge me if you want: No, I don’t take the prognostications of a profession that specialises in being wrong seriously.  What sort of a silly question is that?  More seriously, leaving aside the issue of the strange assumptions that all these doom-laden forecasts have been based on, there’s a strange sense of deja-vu about having a large swathe of economists recommend a course of action with regards to Europe.  Quite simply, the track-record isn’t great.  Common-sense credibility is in short supply…

That’s not to say there aren’t risks associated with a Brexit, but they mostly stem from the idea that the rest of the EU is more interested in ‘making an example’ of Britain than the welfare of their own citizens (which is a topic I’m going to leave to last).

  • Immigration

I’m only going to make one observation here, and it’s a more broad point really.  There’s much hand-wringing over attitudes to immigration, and certainly there is some justification in that and a desire to change it, but a word of caution.  You can’t enforce friendship with the sword.  The idea that political unity overcomes cultural divides is, I think, a dangerously wrong idea.  Wrong, because it ignores the limits of democratic legitimacy, and dangerous because it predisposes political discourse to grant greater and greater powers to government in an attempt to solve a problem that, in fact, it is incapable of solving.

The other caution is that it does not help the cause of anti-racism to conflate immigration concerns with racism.  This has been an issue in political discourse for a long time and is counter-productive.  It may make you feel good, but its main effect is to delegitimise the voices of those with genuine grievance and as Kennedy said “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”  Maybe not quite so extreme as that, but hopefully you get my point.

  • Democracy and scope of government

If there’s one thing that I think the Eurozone debacle shows, it’s that the kind of halfway house between a federation and a loose association of nation states that currently exists is unworkable.  The traditional EU answer to any such difficulty has always been ‘more and bigger’, and I don’t see much evidence of that changing (with the possible exception of Donald Tusks recent comments – probably sparked by what he sees as the end of Western Civilisation; no, that’s not an exaggeration, that’s actually what he said!!)

I’m of a different opinion.  I think historical experience has shown that there are natural limits to the size and scope of legitimate governments and I think the EU is quickly exceeding them.  It’s not even about the way the EU is structured, although I think there are serious problems there.  You simply reach a point where things become too large and cover too many people to be either wieldy or meaningfully representative.

People have been talking about the risks of Brexit, but I don’t see how remaining in this structure is a particularly safe choice.

  • Democratic Deficit

To me though, the main problem in terms of representation in Europe is the way our national government interacts with it.  I really could have done with starting this post earlier to try and explain this better but here goes.

The phrase that I remember hearing most from my Uni days whenever I heard parliamentary debates was something along the lines of ‘we have to do this because it’s an EU directive’.  It seems the truth is that the government was totally happy at the EU level to make these directives and then ‘play dumb’ before their own parliament.  It is this, more than anything that makes this referendum a valid one for me, because governmental structures matter, and they matter because the form absolutely affects the function.

The sad truth is that I think successive governments support the EU because it makes their own lives easier.  It gives them a bogeyman to deflect blame onto, while they actually get what they want regardless of the public, and that is not a situation I want our own politicians to be able to exploit, and I don’t believe it can meaningfully change while we are part of the EU.

  • A vision of the future

While I think it’s meaningless to ask the Leave campaign as a whole for it’s vision of the UKs future relationship, it’s certainly valid to ask individuals what they are hoping for.  So what am I hoping for?  I mean, apart from the obvious pipedreams.

First, I think I’d be okay with the EEA option as a good compromise position, or something approximating it, and I certainly think it’s possible to achieve.  It takes us out of the more obviously damaging parts of EU law (like the CAP and VAT harmonization), while giving much more scope in our own affairs, but to be honest, I actually think the hard work in British politics only begins with a Brexit.  As many on the Remain have rightly pointed out, many of our problems are actually self-inflicted, but I think they misunderstand the remedy.  I think our biggest problem is that we no longer really know where ultimate responsiblity lies, and as long as that’s true, politicians will do what suits them, and cover for each other if it helps them.

What happens next though, depends very much on us, we will be left without excuse, but I will be voting Leave because I have faith that my fellow Britons are up to the task.  Even if you think this Tory government is terrible (and I wouldn’t even say you’re wrong), you’re still looking at 2 years before Brexit would actually happen and then we’re in election season.  You’re not giving Cameron (or Johnson or whoever) free reign here.

  • Malicious Lunatics?

…and if it turns out that the rest of the EU are hell-bent on making ‘an example’ of us?  That they would rather burn Europe to the ground than admit that a giant supra-national government actually isn’t that great of an idea?  All the more reason to get out now.  If the lunatics really are in charge of the asylum, they can do far worse to you if you stay than if you go.

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start

The Sound of Music – Do Re Mi

[While I have no context from the memory itself with which to place it in my history (my next earliest memory is from approx. 3 years old), I can tell you this much.  Of all my memories, this is the most lucid.  In all honesty, it is more real to me than the present moment.  I remember the sensation very clearly (and the suddenness of it, although I have no idea what was before – or after), and the very real sense that as far as ‘I’ am concerned, this is the beginning of everything.  Beyond that, I post this without comment.]

…suddenly…it is pitch black. There is a kind of faint, low rumbling noise, but it seems muffled in some fashion.  I think to myself “What’s going on here?!”.  About 3 seconds later it becomes blindingly bright and the muffling recedes away (although the rumbling goes with it)…

[And that’s it!]

On Introversion and Loneliness

She’d feel alone in a crowded room, cry when she heard a happy tune

Levellers –  Julie

Just came across this and felt compelled to say something.

(Hi, btw – long time no see, I know)

The thing that strikes me is just how little I identify with what he’s talking about.  When he’s talking about people texting while driving because they’re so terrified of being alone, I simply don’t get it.  To me, being alone is liberating.  When I’m around others, regardless of the setting, I am to an extent no longer me, but rather a fuzzy logic social navigation machine.  It takes all my concentration and energy to simply be part of the room, to try to comprehend the closed books I see before me.  That, to me, is loneliness, always treading water simply to connect at the most rudimentary level with another human being.  When I’m physically alone, I have the universe with me.  Things that are, things that were, things that will be.  And the books are open.


It’s scary to think how long it’s been since I first started this blog, and how little I’ve really done with it.  It’s fun to look at what I’ve written though, and I’m still proud of most of it.

I have a question for you guys though.  I realise that different people read what I write here for different reasons, and you may be interested in different topics.  Given that, do you think I should start a separate blog for any particular topic(s), and if so, which one(s)?

“[Barry] Shakespeare poses a question here but then fails to answer it, namely, when did  the directors realise that administration was inevitable?”


A recent comment on my previous post regarding Norbain has refocused my attention on the topic.  Before I respond to it however, I should probably fill-in the timeline since I posted last:

  • SourceSecurity reported that Norbain was paying suppliers on an individual, discretionary basis.  We ended up being somewhat beneficiaries of that process (I guess Norbain consider us useful for some reason).
  • Norbain released a text FAQ and a video one that raise more questions than they answer.
  • Mid-September, Barry Shakespeare left Norbain.  I haven’t seen any announcement of a replacement.

Now the more I look into this, the less clear I am on what actually happened on that fateful day in June.  Part of my confusion rests on the structure of the pre-administration company.  Norbain SD Ltd (the UK arm that was sold to Newbury) were a subsidiary of a holding company, Norbain Group Ltd (now apparently called NSD Realisations 2012 and NG Realisations 2012, respectively).  Norbain Group as a whole were apparently making serious losses, but in the video FAQ, Shakespeare claims that Norbain SD (ie the UK arm) were “profitable as well as cash-flow positive for some considerable time”.

That then raises the question of how Norbain SD couldn’t be sold whole as a going concern.  Why was an administration necessary?  Shakespeare speaks of banks calling in Norbain Group’s debts, but why and how does that trigger the administration of a profitable subsidiary as well?  There’s something missing here.

Thus onto the anonymous comment (I suspect that the commenter is a Norbain employee):

Norbain SD Ltd found out at the exactly same time as its creditors that it had gone into administration, that’s why orders were made up to that point. No one knew except the holding company that has now been dissolved and members have left the company.

I don’t see how that’s possible.  SD Ltd, while owned by Group Ltd, was a separate legal entity.  It can’t just suddenly ‘find out’ that it’s in administration of any kind, let alone a pre-pack.  While I accept that most Norbain staff were probably unaware (as is common in administrations) I find it ludicrous to suggest that management such as Shakespeare was in the dark.

As for asking for their shipping costs back the team can’t just show their new owners that they are lapsing on their accounting now that their future is in doubt.

This, to me, illustrates my point.  Who made the decision that, having just told everyone that you’ve done a pre-pack (and btw suppliers, we aren’t paying you), that the most important thing to do is to chase £15 from a supplier you’ve just effectively robbed?  What message does that send Norbain’s suppliers?  If instructions to do that came from the new owners, then Norbain is in even more trouble then we thought.  If staff independently decided that ticking off suppliers even more than they already were was the best way to impress the new owners, then they have screws loose.  The great threat to Norbain now is that suppliers will not want to supply them.  When suppliers are, quite rightly, upset at you is NOT the time to be so nit-picky.

Newbury Investments (UK) Ltd is a financially strong group which will underpin Norbain and allow Norbain’s suppliers, customers and employees to be confident in its future trading.

Norbain Press Release, emphasis mine

Debts that can’t be paid, won’t be.

Michael Hudson

I’d promised someone a post on something else (although, I don’t think he’s actually that interested), but my attention was almost immediately diverted by the news of Norbain being bought out under distress.  This is big, big news at work, as Norbain are our biggest distributor, they owe us a lot of money, and we had no idea this was happening.  Norbain are claiming that following their pre-pack administration, which was entered and completed in a day, all the money they owe us is…well….not owed to us anymore.

What’s particularly galling about this is this press release (I’m assuming it came from KPMG), which suggests that although the formal process only took a day, this had been 13 weeks in the planning.  13 weeks where they happily continued placing orders that, even though we have fulfilled them, they appear to have had no intention of paying for.

Not to mention the suggestion that KPMG have saved jobs.  I can’t imagine that there won’t be suppliers going under following this (although as things stand we’ll survive) and bear in mind that Norbain are just a middleman.  It’s not like our business models are predicated on Norbain’s existence.

The icing on the cake was that yesterday, after this all came out, one of the admin team got a call from Norbain.  Apparently, we made a mistake last week, charging them shipping when we shouldn’t have done.  They wanted their £15 back!

Anyway, this all got me thinking, and reminded me of the Rangers debacle and other such recent shenanagins.  I’d love to know what other creditors Norbain have (other than suppliers I mean), whether they were involved in this process at all (I’m thinking bank maybe?) and what they got out of it.  The wiki article I linked earlier mentioned an acedemic criticism of pre-packs: that they favour the secured creditors.

It’s, for me, another example of the strangeness of debt-financing of a company as opposed to equity-financing.  A shareholder is the last person to get any money in a bankruptcy, but a bank lender is (as I understand it) one of the first in line although their position and relationship to the company is not far removed from that of a shareholder.  Makes less and less sense everyday.

Update 5/7/12: Came across this commentary that confirms my understanding that banks are high up (actually top) in the food chain in a bankruptcy.  Seems to be because of the ‘secured’ nature of the lending.  In my experience, secured lending means land-debt.  Once again, rent-seeking comes first.  And people wonder why the economy’s broken.

AiO #3: Diver Down

The road to hell is paved with “Hey! I’ve got a great idea!”

A Fraggle original…maybe…

Many years ago, I was on a youth camp where one of the activities was caving.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience as I recall, except for one particular moment, when while crawling on my belly through a rather narrow tunnel, my helmet became jammed between the floor and the ceiling.  I couldn’t work out how to go either forwards or backwards, or even turn my head.  I started to wonder how long I would be stuck there or how I could possibly be freed.  Thankfully, that didn’t last too long, as the helmet managed to unjam itself relatively quickly.  I got the dickens out of there and didn’t think much more of it.

Except I do.  In fact, it is the only thing I really remember of that caving trip, and I feel panic whenever I think of it.  It is to me a reminder, that it is quite possible to get yourself into situations that you have no means of escaping, where you lose all control.  I hate the feeling that comes with this particular memory.

When the opportunity arose, then, to go caving as part of a Singles event this past weekend, I knew I had to take it.  Right at the start, I have to say I started to think maybe it was a bad idea.  I was very tentative and felt all the nervousness of my memory returning.  After moving on to the next cave, though, I started to get bolder and very quickly got into the swing of things.

Just before the final cave exit was an especially narrow segment and the guide expressed doubt that I would fit.  After being given instructions on how to tell whether I would fit by the comfort of the approach, I entered the segment.  The approach turned out to be trivial, and so emboldened by that and the doable appearance of the tighest spot, pressed on.

As it was, not much of any concern happened.  I felt the ceiling brush the back of my boiler suit, but that was it.  Mission accomplished.

When I got back that night, I reflected on a job well done…and on how it was a good job the tunnel was a wide as I thought it was….and on how it would have been a nightmare to get to me if I had been wrong….

…oh dear…

Release the hounds!

The Rothbard v Georgism pages are now in a state that I consider finished, well finished enough that I can’t see anything obviously wrong with them…..