Sunday, 17 October 2010
Now I don't live in my mother's basement - I live in my cousin's bedroom, which might be worse - but I don't think he's entirely wrong. Some of the most vicious, stupid and badly spelt thoughts ever expressed are left on blogs. So too, however, are some of the funniest and most welcome observations.
As evidence of both types - though thankfully more the latter - I am pleased to present an edited selection of the best comments left on my Telegraph blog. I will update this post as I write more and as new and better examples are left. In the mean time, enjoy!
On tuition fees:-
"What a t*****!"
"Are you sure you didn't get a degree in Smugness?"
"His comments are obvious proof on the fact that educational standards have been dumbed down. And how the hell did he get into Oxford (or should it be Oxford Poly)"
On Chilean miners:-
"Vomit inducing opportunism in linking a truly heartwarming story to some cretinous human interest observation."
On Arnold Schwarzenegger's visit to Downing Street:-
"Doesn't know jack shit"
On the 'Fairness premium':-
"Another toryboy brat who can't see past the walls erected for him"
And perhaps most surprising of all, on middle-class outrage:-
"Hello Daniel. How refreshing to have someone young, thoughtful and intelligent contributing to The Telegraph Blogs"
The really crazy prize, however, goes to one commenter calling himself 'disgruntled', who has left several slightly incoherent comments questioning my very existence, and especially my right to write for the Telegraph. Of all the commenters so far, 'disgruntled' is the only one I see fitting Andrew Marr's stereotype. I won't copy the comments here, but if you want to be puzzled and slightly amused, I urge you to glance over them.
As for me, I'm going to carry on writing, because I'm damned well enjoying it. Please keep reading!
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
Thank you for reading!
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
It's a common attitude, and one that I find quite perverse. I have never understood why it should matter if you only want to legalise drugs to make it easier for you to take them. That you have a vested interest might motivate you to be dishonest in your advocacy, but it doesn't automatically make you wrong. To put it in terms a Tory would understand - most of the people who want to repeal the fox hunting ban quite want to kill foxes. That doesn't make them wrong. Equally, if Winston Churchill had owned a rather lucrative Polish sausage factory, would that have compromised his pro-war stance against Hitler? Almost any policy will benefit some special interest group or other; some policies are still right.
Most people recognise that, but apparently not in the case of drugs. Time and time again when I bring this up, I quickly find myself distracted from actually debating the issue. I'm not allowed to talk about Columbia, Mexico, Afghanistan, Burma or any of the other places destroyed by the drugs war. I'm not allowed to talk about the costs of the market being unregulated, of the cost of drugs being cut with rat poison, ground up glass and probably even oregano. I can't talk about the astonishing rates of imprisonment that prohibition necessitates. Instead of all that, I have to talk about the slight predilection I had for cannabis whilst in Canada four years ago.
Yet the fact that I might want to take drugs has never been the driving force behind my desire to legalise them. Somehow I doubt it is for James Delingpole or for The Economist either (nice though it is to imagine their office operating in a funk of green smoke). More and more reasonable people are standing up against prohibition. Douglas Carswell might not be keen, but this country is desperately crying out for a politician to stand up with us. Legalising drugs isn't a policy that will only benefit a few hippies; it is very much a policy for serious people.
And as if just to prove that, in addition to all the evidence about crime, public health, tax revenues and so on, the International Herald Tribune adds this; legalizing drugs creates jobs. Not just any jobs, but journalism jobs. Astonishingly, advertising for medical marijuana firms is driving a boom in local newspapers in Colorado, allowing them to recruit for the first time in years.
If that doesn't give me a vested interest in the matter, I don't know what does.
Friday, 1 October 2010
|Uses for gold?|
Wednesday, 22 September 2010
|Withnail and I - Middle Class Wankers in North London|
The earliest example of this phenomenon that I can think of is that 5th century BC Indian prince - Guatama Buddha. As the age of 29 - rather late for a young middle class wanker I would say, but pioneers deserve some leeway I suppose - Buddha decided he had had enough of living in his father's palace and would go out and live with the people, in poverty, begging for alms and learning great things from wise teachers, in the hope of one day changing the world. Guatama Buddha, founder of the fourth largest religion in the world, was essentially just the 5th century BC equivalent of a postgraduate student moving from comfortable suburbia to somewhere ugly in the inner city in the hope of one day being important.
A slightly more relevant case is the University Settlement movement that began in about 1880 and carried on until the late 1920s. These young men, freshly graduated from Oxford and Cambridge, went and moved into fortified houses in the poorer areas of London where they sought to share culture and education with the impoverished inhabitants. The movement spread across Britain and the United States and did great things for thousands of Middle Class Wankers, who later could live with the healthy glow that comes from having brought enlightenment to the depths of misery. The modern equivalent is quite obviously Teach First - a charity which helicopter drops (not literally - cool though that would be) high flying graduates with no teaching experience into poor, inner city areas, where they try to do pretty much the same thing that the University Settlers did a hundred years earlier.
For me though, the most interesting specimen is surely George Orwell. George Orwell was perhaps the definitive Middle Class Wanker and an inspiration to thousands since. After leaving Eton, he went and worked in Burma for a year, where he detested the other Englishmen for their affectations and their petty snobbery, but also for not being captivated by the experience of being surrounded by poor, brown, foreigners. After contracting Dengue fever in 1927, he returned to England and spent the next few years living in poverty in London and Paris, only occasionally returning to bathe and eat at his parents house in Southwold. Later he not only went to fight poverty with words in Wigan - he went to fight fascists with guns in Spain. Eventually he emerged, as I'm sure you are all aware, as one of the best novelists of the 20th century. His life was a paradigm of what being a middle class wanker is all about.
I can't say I quite have the integrity of Orwell. Sadly, the police force in Burma doesn't recruit effete young Englishmen any more, nor are there very many good wars going on that I could join. I can however follow his path and live in admirable, middle class squalor somewhere in London. I have not yet sold my soul, but I have just about managed to lease it. The income should at least pay the rent on somewhere suitably horrible within cycling distance of the City. I am going to be a trainee financial journalist, at a publication I don't imagine any of you have heard of. I'm looking forward to it. Before I start though, I need to find somewhere to live, so if you would like to share destitution with me, or you know anyone else who would, let me know! And don't worry - I don't actually plan to live in Tower Hamlets.
Saturday, 18 September 2010
Anyway, on Wednesday night I got home and logged onto my computer to find an email from my mother. Someone from The Economist had called. She wasn't sure who, only that he had called at around five and asked for me and she had given him my mobile number. He would probably call back, or so she thought.
The entire next morning I was anxious and slightly disbelieving. Stunts like this don't actually work do they? At about half eleven my phone rang and I rushed across the office to get to it. I answered, breathless in anticipation.
'Hello. I'm calling from The Economist'
'Am I speaking to Daniel Knowles?'
'Would you like to take part in a trial subscription and receive 12 issues for £12?'
It was about as crushing as a fully grown African elephant weighed down with sandbags and then pushed out of an aeroplane at 30,000 ft. Hardly surprising though. There are no shortcuts into this industry it seems.
That said, for anyone wanting to subscribe to The Economist, £1 an issue is really worth it. If enough of you subscribe, maybe they'll decide they should employ me after all.
Saturday, 11 September 2010
A friend of mine recently brought to my attention a quote from Hemingway that would have fitted my last post rather well. In For Whom the Bell Tolls, his Spanish Civil War masterpiece, the hero Robert Jordan, an American volunteer for the republicans, answers to this;
'But are there not many Fascists in your country?
'There are many who do not know they are Fascists, but will find it out when the time comes'.
Today there are still not many fascists in the United States. Despite all the rhetoric of the anti-American left, the great western republic is a liberal democracy and looks likely to remain one. That said though, there are an awful lot of people who do not know that they are fascists but go around saying things that suggest that they aren’t that far off the mark.
For example. I’ve just started an internship at the Institute of Economic Affairs - a free market, libertarian think tank in London. The IEA itself is not an unreasonable body. Whilst they would certainly be considered right wing by many, I would say that they are more consistently liberal. They support slashing the size of the state, but they also support legalizing drugs. The director, Mark Littlewood, was previously director of communications for the Lib-Dems - hardly a far right organization.
On Thursday night however they hosted a party that was broadly attended by people who would never be considered even remotely left wing, mostly from various think tanks from the US and Europe. The event was a follow up drinks to this conference; an attempt to try to learn from 'Tea Party' tactics in the UK. Over flowing champagne - one of the few perks of working for free - I spoke to a woman who I thought embodied what is wrong with the free market right.
For some reason we were talking about gun control, and this woman was adamant that what we need in this country is more guns. At first I thought she was being facetious but it turned out that she was deadly serious. Apparently, the free market solution to gun crime is for everyone to carry a concealed weapon. That, she contended, would give criminals second thoughts about whether to try an armed robbery.
That is a stupid view to have, but it is not necessarily a completely indefensible one. High levels of gun ownership in places like Switzerland don't always coincide with American levels of crime. There are a few ways in which guns can be used responsibly - firing bullets at targets is harmless and can be incredibly satisfying. Although it is hard to see how practically it could work, ideally we should defend the rights of people to own guns whilst opposing those who choose to use them for crime. It is absurd for example that our 2012 Olympic pistol team are having to do their training abroad.
This woman didn’t make any of those arguments however - all she could muster was the point that ‘the criminals just get guns anyway’, so everybody should have them, to defend themselves presumably. That is quite clearly ridiculous - the vast majority of gun crime in this country is perpetrated by home made or converted handguns. Unlike drugs, it turns out you actually can restrict the smuggling of weaponry relatively well.
The drugs point was the revealing one though. I suggested that with more liberal drugs laws, perhaps we could reduce the number of criminals wanting guns anyway. This woman’s actual response was that ‘drugs are harmful’. Cannabis causes schizophrenia apparently. I had to stop myself from responding with ‘Well guns cause fatal gunshot wounds but you don't seem to mind those’.
Free market liberals in the UK often look to the US for answers, but co-opting the Tea Party as allies would be a tragic mistake to make. What passes for ‘libertarianism’ in the USA is half hearted and hypocritical. It is a movement that wants lower taxes for the rich but has no plans to lower government spending. They want the right to carry around guns, but not the right to smoke a spliff or to have an abortion. They demand civil rights, but not for suspected terrorists and illegal immigrants. They are not fascists, but were it to come to fascism, I suspect they would be much more likely to join in than to actually defend the freedom they love to talk about.