Optimism in unlikely places

I happened to be reading the strange and wonderfully archaic bardic poems in Poems from the Book of Taliesin (Welsh, uncertain dates), not expecting to encounter anything relevant to this blog. But in one poem the great bard Taliesin has a good long rant against gloomy drunken pessimistic pseudo-bards. These were evidently roaming the countryside in bands, demanding free beer for their song and then singing gloomy prophesies of apocalypse and hell. The situation sounds familiar.

From THE CHAIR OF TALIESIN (Wales, before the later modern period)

… over-draining of mead [beer] disgraces the bard,
who becomes dark like a cellar, wary like a liquor store;
a lewd, paunchy fellow; an unworthy receptacle of song;
a mere vagabond.


To the [free-beer giver] in the friary [of a monastery] a whole troop
of these swollen-breasted bards do often come!
They then admit, over the mead cups [i.e.: when they are drunk], that
they cultivate the muse irregularly.

These [drunkard bards] that seek [their free beer] shall not have it,
regardless of law, and the rule of giving;
and they that [then being drunk] seek to create
mischief [with their gloomy songs], from sheer love of anarchy,
shall have no presents for their song, nor peaceful beds.

Of such a troop was one ingenious bard-man I met. He greeted me thus:
“Have you seen, mighty master, the prophecy
concerning the Opening of the Gates of Hell?
Then, no one bears an offspring
[and we all die]”

Yet, this swivel-eyed crowd of miseries was set free
by the merit of the Lord,
who gave us all the little learning that releases us from ignorance
and in this way are you yourselves saved.

[but] before I foam at the mouth; and
am myself associated with such scandalous bards,
may I say this [for happiness and optimism] — let your soul enjoy these good festivals.
Since scarcely do any books tell me that there
will be suffering after the bed of death.
Listen to my true and bardic lore,
and let those who listen secure heaven, the happiest home.

[He then launches into a huge two-page list of things that make men happy]

Just a word of warning to those who might want to use this in a lecture. Taliesin has lots of Welsh nationalist forgeries, alongside genuine post 11th century transcriptions of older oral poems, some 16-17th century works that are perhaps oral transcriptions mixed with old Irish content, plus a dozen or more poems that seem genuinely to be from circa the 6th century (although even that dating rests on the work of an ardent Welsh nationalist). ‘Taliesin’ is thus a quagmire of misdirection and mis-labelling, not to mention variable translations, that would take a year of close reading to untangle for any particular poem.

Adam Smith: the documentary

For some reason it’s always been impossible to find a good radio or TV documentary on Adam Smith (1723-1790) and his famous work The Wealth of Nations. But now Johan Norberg has completed a fine one, first broadcast in spring 2016. Part one is The Real Adam Smith: Morality and Markets in which Norberg outlines Smith’s life, historical context and the wider role his ideas played in his own era. Part two is The Real Adam Smith: Ideas That Changed The World – 250 years of progress and this explores how Smith’s ideas have influenced “the very things we see going on today”.

adam-smith-glasgowPicture: My Photoshop composite of two Wikipedia pictures, since I couldn’t find any I liked. A bust of Smith in the theatre at Kirkaldy, and an engraving of the Glasgow skyline and cathedral of the 1690s. Feel free to use it freely for your pro-Smith content.

Together the two programmes make a quality and up-to-date 100-minute documentary, both on YouTube. If you like what you see, you can buy a HD copy from The Real Adam Smith website. The film’s website also has background content such as a timeline and more.

Sadly a search of Google News and its archive suggests a complete indifference to The Real Adam Smith on the part of the mainstream media. A search there for “Real Adam Smith” yields only a single press release, from March 2016. Although the CATO website suggests that the documentary did quietly have a screening on PBS in America (the U.S. equivalent to the BBC) in early August.

What of our BBC? Predictably a search on the BBC for “Adam Smith” economics in programmes yields socialist Labour M.P. Tristram Hunt on “The Free Market” (45 minutes, “unavailable”); some link-bait titled “Adam Smith – Secret Socialist?”; and a discussion from the (historically very far-left) sociologist Laurie Taylor as part of his “Thinking Allowed” (“content cannot be played”). Such is the BBC left-think that we have to put up with here in the UK. There is one exception, though it doesn’t appear on the search results. It’s the BBC Radio 4 “In Our Time” on The Wealth of Nations an excellent 45-minute round-table format that is usually mostly free of leftist slantings.

Thanks goodness for the Internet.

No snap election

More excellent economic news here in the UK, which further justifies the rational optimism of those who voted to Leave the EU. I do hope that Mrs May doesn’t now ruin it all by calling a snap General Election. Here’s why…

1) the country and the economy, just about settling down again after Leave, just doesn’t want another damn vote.
2) it would be viewed as a ‘referendum on the referendum’.
3) defeating an enfeebled old Marxist and his extreme-left henchmen would not be a worthy victory, in the eyes of the British people.
4) if there’s even the slightest risk that Labour could somehow win (perhaps by a sudden coup and quick-change in leader: “Hi UK, I’m Tristram Hunt!”)… well, the possibility is too dreadful to contemplate.
5) it would entail yet another cabinet reshuffle after victory, as a few people would be bound to loose their seats.
6) in certain constituencies, large numbers of voters are overseas or otherwise on holiday, including many students who are only registered-to-vote in their university city. A snap August vote could be portrayed as ‘cheating’.

Also, BBC News is still vile and not yet anywhere near to being neutral, let alone ‘on side’. Just look at how bitterly they skewed today’s economic news headlines on their UK News web page around noon, such that at a glance one would think it was 100% bad news for the government.

Get on with a proper full Brexit, and make it work. Don’t chance it.

It’s crash, crash, crash after Brexit…

Oh no, the post-Brexit crash has arrived! UK employment levels crash through the previous 2005 record-high. Average earnings crash through 2% growth, to reach an annual 2.3%. The FTSE 250’s stocks crash upwards, past all the temporary Brexit losses. Firms and nations crash down the door of Downing St., eager to arrange trade deals and new HQs in the UK. PM May boldly channels the spirit of Mrs Thatcher in her first PM Questions in Parliament, and seriously crashes the opposition’s hopes.

Allister Heath’s excellent “Britain needs a ‘can-do’ attitude revolution, with solutions rather than whining” in today’s Telegraph elegantly sums up the rationally optimistic spirit that’s now needed…

“All groups in society have a responsibility to take part in this project to rebuild Britain for a post-Brexit 21st century. Entrepreneurs and firms need to propose the reforms they believe are required to allow our economy to prosper outside of the EU: we need to hear solutions, not whining, from business. The same is true of other professionals, from university administrators to architects to the police forces, as well as from the charitable sector. Britain needs a “can‑do” revolution, with as many positive ideas as possible from all quarters and perspectives. The question is no longer whether or not to Brexit – it’s how to make it work as well as possible for the whole country.”

How to avoid crime news in the UK – you can’t

Do online newspapers need a separate page and category for “crime”? That would enable people to browse the real news without being bombarded with lurid negativity, and thus reduce the overall level of pessimism. In the long-term it might even boost social cohesion.

Let’s have a quick look at how bypassing crime news is simply not possible when browsing the news in the UK:

News sources:

* Bing News: One category for UK, filled almost entirely with sensational crime reporting, despite the way that Brexit is swamping the headlines.

* Google News: One category for UK, about half filled with crime reporting.

* BBC News website: One category for UK, crime seemingly not allowed to dominate the small selection of ‘front page’ stories.

* BBC News regional website: On clicking down from the main BBC News to News | England, it’s almost entirely crime reporting. On drilling down further to my local region, it’s almost entirely crime reporting — plus a cheerful video feature on “A Ghoulish Tour of Medieval Punishments”. That’s set readers up nicely, for a wet Tuesday morning.

Major newspapers:

* The Telegraph‘s News | UK category now takes the form of odd sort of rolling Twitter-like timeline, with all the stories jumbled together by time-stamp. One assumes that it’s all robo-controlled and there’s no human curation or policy on weighting of crime stories.

* The Daily Mail is, of course, notorious for its lurid and extensive tabloid coverage of crime in the UK. Online, the Mail is radically different in ordering than its paper version. The News sub-page has banding which acts as a sort of categorisation of stories by type, though. So it is somewhat possible for the expert news-skimmer to skip the most salacious and gruesome crime reporting. Turning off image-loading in one’s browser also helps make the the Mail a better experience. I’m assuming that everyone has an ad-blocker, these days.

* The Independent‘s News | UK page currently seems to be avoiding crime entirely, in favour of anguished moaning about Brexit.

* The Guardian‘s UK News page seems to minimise crime reporting to a few stories. Perhaps that’s one of its appeals to its left readership. Possibly there’s even a political dimension to that, in terms of readers not wishing to peer too closely at the relentless chaos brought about on the ground by their own airy Guardianista ideas.

* The Times is behind a strong paywall.

* The local press is, of course, usually a hotbed of crime reporting. I’ve never seen a local newspaper website that gives Crime its own News page.

Therefore I’d suggest that one of the key things that the UK’s new Culture & Media minister might do is to quietly suggest that Google News and Bing News and the BBC might hive off the crime news to its own page. That would be a very simple move, but an incredibly useful one in terms of promoting social cohesion. By doing this it would allow intelligent people to engage with real local news, rather than having to turn off all news because they just can’t face the constant wall of vile negativity.