The Telegraph and Peter Oborne

OK, I heard that, “What’s this still another British story? I thought this was a Nebraska blog.”

Well, yeah it is but, this has meaning for us too. In his statement here from Guido Fawkes, Peter Oborne tells us why he quit The Telegraph

Five years ago I was invited to become the chief political commentator of the Telegraph. It was a job I was very proud to accept. The Telegraph has long been the most important conservative-leaning newspaper in Britain, admired as much for its integrity as for its superb news coverage. When I joined the Telegraph had just broken the MPs’ expenses scandal, the most important political scoop of the 21st century.

I was very conscious that I was joining a formidable tradition of political commentary. I spent my summer holiday before taking up my duties as columnist reading the essays of the great Peter Utley, edited by Charles Moore and Simon Heffer, two other masters of the art.

No one has ever expressed quite as well as Utley the quiet decency and pragmatism of British conservatism. The Mail is raucous and populist, while the Times is proud to swing with the wind as the voice of the official class. The Telegraph stood in a different tradition. It is read by the nation as a whole, not just by the City and Westminster. It is confident of its own values. It has long been famous for the accuracy of its news reporting. I imagine its readers to be country solicitors, struggling small businessmen, harassed second secretaries in foreign embassies, schoolteachers, military folk, farmers—decent people with a stake in the country.

My grandfather, Lt Col Tom Oborne DSO, had been a Telegraph reader. He was also a churchwarden and played a role in the Petersfield Conservative Association. He had a special rack on the breakfast table and would read the paper carefully over his bacon and eggs, devoting special attention to the leaders. I often thought about my grandfather when I wrote my Telegraph columns.

That is, I think, pretty close to ground truth. I also have found as I suspect many of you have that the Telegraph has (or maybe had) the best and most objective coverage available of US politics. I started reading it online when it became obvious that the US media had become the propaganda wing of the Obama campaign back in 2007. It was a good, decent, reasonably objective newspaper, although a bit too left-wing by American standards. I suspect it’s something I share with most of my British friends. I too have noticed that it has been changing.

For the last 12 months matters have got much, much worse. The foreign desk—magnificent under the leadership of David Munk and David Wastell—has been decimated. As all reporters are aware, no newspaper can operate without skilled sub-editors. Half of these have been sacked, and the chief sub, Richard Oliver, has left.

Solecisms, unthinkable until very recently, are now commonplace. Recently readers were introduced to someone called the Duke of Wessex. Prince Edward is the Earl of Wessex. There was a front page story about deer-hunting. It was actually about deer-stalking, a completely different activity. Obviously the management don’t care about nice distinctions like this. But the readers do, and the Telegraph took great care to get these things right until very recently.

The arrival of Mr Seiken coincided with the arrival of the click culture. Stories seemed no longer judged by their importance, accuracy or appeal to those who actually bought the paper. The more important measure appeared to be the number of online visits. On 22 September Telegraph online ran a story about a woman with three breasts. One despairing executive told me that it was known this was false even before the story was published. I have no doubt it was published in order to generate online traffic, at which it may have succeeded. I am not saying that online traffic is unimportant, but over the long term, however, such episodes inflict incalculable damage on the reputation of the paper.

And that is important, it is quite easy to lose the trust of people like me, and I suspect like the normal British Telegraph reader as well, because we are in essence, the same clientele. Conservative, yes, but owing a lot to our Whig ancestry. And almost all of us believe that” “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.’ It’s going to be difficult to regain our trust, I suspect.

A lot of electrons have been disturbed in relation to the HSBC mess in the UK, and Mr. Oborne speaks of it at some length, you’ll have to figure it out for yourself, I haven’t been paying much attention to it. But I will say this, the combination of international banking and government (either UK or US) is about as close as you can come to a legal (not moral) criminal conspiracy. if we don’t get some serious curbs put on these guys, and I’m not talking about regulations written with the ‘help’ of the banksters, I’m talking about serious criminal indictments, we may come to think of the 1930s as the good old days.

 

She has a point, although there are some mostly conservative libertarians, and acolytes of the Austrian school of economics. More, many more are needed.

This turned up in my twitter feed on Wednesday afternoon, while I have no corroboration, I have few doubts either.

Now do understand I have no more information than anyone else, it could be just a squabble between a columnist and his employer. But I don’t think so, and if I did I still would be very cautious about what I believe.

In a related matter, also having to do with press honesty, have you seen Sharyl Attkisson’s TEDx talk? Do watch, you need to know this stuff.

 

Help Wanted

Need a job in the far outskirts of London? Well here you go. Probably not for the lazy guy who wants to make a £500,000 but, then again we know hanging around Hampton Court worked out fairly well for that blacksmith’s son Thomas Cromwell. Well, for a while, anyway.
Tudor Kitchens

Have you got biceps of steel, a rufty-tufty attitude to food, a penchant for intense heat and a bristling, burly beard? Then here’s the job for you.

Historic Royal Palaces is looking for an apprentice ‘turn-broach’ to join its Tudor roasting team at Hampton Court Palace.

The right man (and it has to be a man; there was just the one woman in Henry VIII’s kitchen and she made the puds) will be responsible for preparing massive joints of meat and loading them onto a roasting spit over the gigantic open fire in the Tudor kitchens.

Is This The Oddest Job In Modern London? | Londonist.

 

HT Suzannah Lipscomb @sixteenthCgirl

Miscellany from Twitter

Seems to me like this describes the banks in a lot of places other than Greece

Still A Man for all Seasons

This is great, How many do you recognize?

Happy Friday

The Times, They are a Changin': As Usual

A few days ago, John O. Mcginnis, writing in The Online Library of Law and Liberty, had some refuting thoughts to Leon Wieseltier’s polemic in the NY Times Book Review.

It starts this way:

Old Complaints about New Technology

In this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review Leon Wieseltier has polemicized against the digital age. While beautifully written, its major propositions are either wrong or not wholly coherent.  All have been heard before in previous ages of technological change. While it is difficult to isolate all the sources of Wieseltier’s distemper, here are four in ascending order of their claim to be taken seriously.

1. Wieseltier claims that “the greatest thugs in the history of the cultural industry” (by which he means Amazon and the like) have destroyed bookstores and record shops. Similarly, journalists now earn less money because of competition from digital platforms. These complaints are the whining of producers displaced by competition that helps consumers. […]

Wieseltier’s complaint resembles nothing so much as those of French publishers of the late eighteenth century who complained to the National Assembly about competitors with cheaper means of production:

We request, sir, that you glance over it and lend all your influence to our demands. From these abuses of the freedom  of the press, yet greater abuses have resulted. Countless persons who can barely read have established and maintain shops in every quarter of the capital, hanging over their door their name and the title of Bookseller, which they have no scruple about usurping. We dare to hope, sir, . . . the National Assembly will take the book trade in hand . . . in view of the abuses and thefts as well as the sale of bad books with which France will soon be infected if everyone is free to do business as a bookseller.

Old Complaints about New Technology | Online Library of Law & Liberty.

He goes on to discuss Wieseltier’s apparent ignorance of the definitions of information, data, knowledge, and hypothesis, and perhaps even opinion. He also does a fair amount of complaining about economists, blaming them for quantifying everything in sight. In history I’m a bit sympathetic to the view but I believe it’s not due to the fact that a lot of things have been quantifiable, it’s due to the fact that a lot of historians wouldn’t know a narrative if it bit them on their backside. They’re just lousy writers, and we’re the poorer for it.

He also asserts that ‘Global Competiveness’ shouldn’t be the highest value of humanity. Well, he’s right and that’s the wonder of our communication systems; we can handle much more information much more efficiently, and thus do more in less time than ever before. That some people lose sight of the fact that this is not the highest role of humanity is essentially irrelevant. It’s also something that each generation has to learn for itself, to protect itself.

McGinnis ends with this:

It is a confusion to claim that the better knowledge offered by natural science or the greater leisure made possible by markets and technology mean that the enduring issues of honor, of responsibility, of love for others disappear. The nineteenth century Romantic Rebellion against the rise of natural science was wrong about many things, but it was right about this.  Even as our technology becomes more powerful, we can continue to “wander lonely as clouds.” Our inner life and moral choices are ever billowing and not able to be captured by digitization, however capacious the cloud of computation becomes.

I  think he is exactly right about that. All of these technologies are tools, to extend man’s power, knowledge, and strength. Like all tools, going back to fire, itself, they can be used for good or ill. And so the question becomes:

How will you use them?

 

Green Energy, Rent Seeking, Corporatism, and Unintended Consequences

English: Vogtle nuclear power station Cooling ...

English: Vogtle nuclear power station Cooling Towers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Georgia Power is building a nuclear power plant. That would be good if they foresaw making a legitimate profit from it. It doesn’t sound like it.

Georgia Power says the Vogtle project creates lots of jobs and buys lot of building materials.  The same could be said about the construction of a large pyramid. The question should be about the value of the costly project verses other things that might have used the labor and materials.

So how does a society choose between alternative uses of resources? Under market conditions with unhampered price signals, consumers decide with their spending what uses should be made of resources.

That’s not how the decision to build the Vogtle nuclear plant was made. Instead, the drivers were lobbying on the state and federal level for special government favors that would never be granted voluntarily by consumers. The academic term for this is rent-seeking; the more everyday term is cronyism.

Given all the special treatment from government for nuclear plants, it is doubtful they could be built under market conditions. Natural gas and coal, with far less up-front costs and competitive variable costs, are the capacity-of-choice for competitive markets.

Georgia Cronyism: DSM, Nuclear Plague Public Service Commission – Master Resource.

That’s pretty much what always seems to happen when things are built for political purposes.


history-image5In a somewhat different case, I note that there is a proposal for developing an entire straw pellet power plant and a surrounding roughly 50 acres site in Norwich, UK.

It has some good features, I think, such as the use of heated water from the plant for domestic heating, which works well in an urban area. I think they are going to have difficulty finding enough pelletized straw to burn, although the fact that the UK has prohibited burning straw in the field (last I knew that was the most efficacious way to release nitrogen back into the soil, not that the greenies ever cared about that) but pelletizing on that scale is not an inconsiderable process.

From the website it sounds reasonably OK to me but £325 million  without a detailed plan (they haven’t sited their generating station yet, or completed detailed environmental surveys). So there is still a lot of room for the price tag to grow, and unintended consequences to strike.

In addition, it looks to me like they are relying heavily on academics, and rent-seeking government contractors and politically connected people generally. I saw no mention anywhere on the website that they thought anybody, anywhere would make a profit, not even the wheat farmers (switchgrass, anyone?).

Here’s their website.

My best guess at the moment (I haven’t even close to enough information for an opinion) is that it’s not a bad idea but they’ll not get it done in 30 years and the budget will treble (at least).

The Road to Hell

We’ve kind of gotten away from Bill Whittle lately. No reason, I just haven’t been paying attention (Shame on me!). But I don’t like making excuses, and I do like Bill, so here’s his new one: The Road to Hell.

 

It’s important, I think, that neither Bill nor I am doubting that the people promoting these schemes have good (often very good) intentions. They want to help people, but instead of just going ahead and helping people, and encouraging others to as well, they think it better to use the power of government to force others to do what they think is good, and that’s where the road to Hell starts, with force.

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