Saturday, 27 August 2011

Dava Sobel

Sobel is the author of the excellent Longitude book that I had read some time ago. I hadn't realised that her new work on Copernicus was originally planned to be a play but the play is now contained in the book. We were treated to a short extract from the play performed by two Scottish actors. Sobel herself is American. I'd never seen anything like this before at the Book Festival but it went well and received a big round of applause. An interesting session.

Melvyn Bragg

This morning we went along to hear Melvyn Bragg on the King James Bible. Bragg spent a lot of time talking about the use of short Anglo-Saxon words, often from Tyndale:
Around 85 per cent of the Authorised Version comes from Tyndale, whose muscular poetry he describes as “bitten into our tongue”. Tyndale gave us so many enduring phrases: “let there be light”, “a man after his own heart”, “rise and shine”, “filthy lucre”. But even by the KJB’s time some of this language had what Bragg acknowledges to be “a halo of antiquity”. The verilys were already quaint.

Many Christians today use more modern translations: surely as democratising in their clarity as Tyndale was in his. I poll my friends and find that the practising Christians use modern translations – arguing that the King James Bible is “elitist and exclusive” – while defence of the KJB comes from my secular, literary friends.

Orwell too was a great fan of using short and simple words whenever possible. And as for elitism, I for one think that we have far too little of it!

This event was marred by a continuous noise of background music from somewhere in Charlotte Square behind the tent. Bragg himself mentioned it during his talk. Someone from the Festival should have gone outside and sorted it immediately. Perhaps such an action would be seen as elitist! Well, that's what we were paying for.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Elish Angiolini

At eight this evening I heard a talk by Elish Angiolini, formerly the Lord Advocate, the first woman and the first solicitor to hold this post.

Dull but worthy would sum up this event.

Angiolini probably isn't going to be a media star like Ferguson, but then again Ferguson isn't ever going to be Lord Advocate...

Niall Ferguson

Early evening found us once more in the big tent at the Book Festival, this time to hear Niall Ferguson. The event was chaired by Iain Macwhirter, a Herald journalist who is also Rector of Edinburgh University.

You may think that Mr Macwhirter is a traditional old-time socialist, but some of us have been working on him! A few months ago I attended a dinner that featured Macwhirter as guest speaker. After his speech I chatted about the banking crisis, insisting that it was caused by government, not the free market. I explained that (unlike conservatives) libertarians had fully expected such a crisis, understood its cause, and had opposed the bailouts. And so it was with great pleasure that I heard Macwhirter introduce Ferguson just as would a hardcore libertarian, including a reference to "communist banking". The invisible hand in action!

From a presentational point of view Ferguson was easily the best speaker I've heard so far at the Festival. More importantly, his talk was a direct attack on the soft collectivism that so threatens Britain and especially Scotland. Mention was made of the Austrian School and why people were turning to gold. We heard about the six "killer apps" that had enabled to West to beat the Rest:

1. Competition

2. Science

3. Property rights

4. Medicine

5. The consumer society

6. The work ethic.

These apps are all in the process of being "deleted" here while being "downloaded" elsewhere, particularly in Asia. I for one see no sign of this process being reversed.

Later on I had a nice chat with Macwhirter after getting Ferguson to sign a couple of books.

RBS misleads children

Mrs F&W picked up the Summer 2011 issue of Pocket Money, a Royal Bank publication that seems to be aimed at children. Nothing wrong with that of course, but then we spotted this:
When the price of goods goes up over a period of time it's known as inflation.
That's true. Increasing prices are now known as inflation. However, I prefer the original definition: inflation is an increase in the money supply, which (other things being equal) leads to price rises.

Perhaps RBS does employ at least one person who gets this simple point.


More worrying were the next two sentences:

When goods go up in price, it also gets more expensive to borrow money. A good time to save!
Well, perhaps in the good old days that would have been a good time to save. Not now! The political class is bailing out its banker friends by keeping interest rates below the rate of inflation and savers are being ripped off. Royally ripped off perhaps...

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Ian Kershaw

I enjoyed hearing about Kershaw's new book which was published today and is already on its third printing. There were certainly plenty of reviews last weekend.

This was a very professional presentation that was followed by lots of questions. Sadly, the hardcover version costs £30. I'll wait for the paperback.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Down Mexico Way

Tonight we heard Ed Vulliamy speak about his new book. We'd kind of expected it to be about the huge inflow of Mexicans into the US as described so vividly by Victor Davis Hanson.

But the talk (and the book) was mainly about the huge drug industry on the Mexican side of the border:

This absorbing odyssey along the Mexican-American border gives pause for thought to anyone who ignores the side-effects of cocaine. Not those on the users, but the calamitous impact on Mexico and its people.
At one point Vulliamy praised the work of the US police and said that was perhaps an unusual position for a Guardian writer to take. Back in standard Guardian mode he complained about widespread gun ownership in US Border states but then said the El Paso had one of the lowest murder rates in the country!

We had an interesting chat with Mr Vulliamy after his presentation. We discussed Ron Paul and the other Republican candidates. Vulliamy thought that Rick Perry would get the nomination and would win the presidency.

He said that a big problem in Mexico was what he described as the "privatisation" of previously communally owned land in the border villages. This was apparently a consequence of the introduction of NAFTA. I countered by saying that, on the contrary, such a transfer was the opposite of privatisation, and represented theft by the state of existing privately owned property to be given to the friends of the state. Land owned by the villagers since time immemorial is just as much private property as when it is owned by corporations. Vulliamy accepted my point and I extended this line of argument to cover the banking crisis in which we also saw the state bail out its friends - the exact opposite of the free market.

Vulliamy said that there is a body of opinion that holds that the financial crisis of 2008 would have happened earlier were the big banks not stuffed full with drug money.

I vividly recall my own one-day visit to Mexico that ended up with a scary drive through an unlit Tijuana trying to find the US border. After this talk that's not something I'd wish to risk again.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

John Hegarty

I was really looking forward to hearing John Hegarty speak tonight. I worked in the advertising business from 1975 to 1995 and John was one of the big names in the eighties and nineties through the Bartle Bogle Hegarty agency.

I'd guess that most of the Book Festival regulars are more Guardian than Telegraph types, to put in English terms, and I wasn't too sure what folk would make of a Thatcher-era adman. Nae problem: John had them eating out of his hands. Looking every inch the creative director in his brown shoes, stripey socks and powder blue suit with a garish lining John won lots of laughs and applause, especially when he explained just why he personally was responsible for the introduction of boxer shorts into the UK. Buy the book if you want to know...

Sadly, I wasn't called in the questioning session - there were so many raised hands. I was going to ask about the relationship between the creatives and the finance folk in agencies. And if any of you ask about "creative accounting" I'd say that my former boss and I spent ten years of drinking time wondering where the 20p difference was in our ancient hand-written ledger!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Wrong suspect

Around twenty years ago when I was living in London I knew an Andrew O'Hagan. He was the son of one of our directors and he worked in our post room before going to university. If I recall correctly, he wanted to be a writer. His parents came from Glasgow and they also had Ayrshire connections. All of this fitted in perfectly with the biography of the novelist Andrew O'Hagan. Even the photos on the books looked right.

But when O'Hagan came onto the stage he seemed too short. And the accent was wrong. I spoke to this O'Hagan afterwards and he was rather amazed to discover that he had a doppelganger.

O'Hagan's hour-long talk was an impressive performance, even if I disagreed with quite a bit. He spoke widely about the Scottish condition and the full talk is here. I liked this recollection:

I tried to tell a story my auntie had told at the counter of a chip shop in Shettleston. It was about the war, about an old couple in the Gallowgate who suffered a bomb blast that blew both of them out of their living room into the street below. They survived. ‘It was awright,’ said the man to a reporter later, ‘it’s the first time we’ve been oot thegither for 40 year.’
Unfortunately there was far too much of that mawkish collectivism that so mars Scottish life. It really will have to go if we ever become independent.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Full House

We rounded off Saturday evening with Alexander McCall Smith at an event chaired by Al Senter. It is quite impossible to recall precisely what happens at these events. McCall Smith talks about this and that, the audience laughs, more anecdotes, louder laughter, and before you know it the hour is up and we're looking forward to the next time by which time he'll probably have written another dozen best sellers.

Map of a Nation

Rachel Hewitt's Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey talk was very enjoyable. She started by discussingg the extensive military mapping of the Highlands that was done after Culloden. Previous maps of the north were very much a matter of hit or miss. We were told of an Army commander who was somewhat perplexed when a promontory on his rudimentary map turned out to be an island!

The Ordnance Survey organisation was formally started in 1791 and a comprehensive programme of mapping the UK was undertaken. The south coast of England was a priority during the Napoleonic period.

Interestingly, Hewitt stated a preference for real, paper maps over GPS systems and the like. I agree. In fact I sometimes think it a bit wimpish of me if I have to consult any map when I'm in the car.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Homage to Catalonia and Caledonia

I've always enjoyed Quintin Jardine's Skinner books. They're so different from Rankin's Rebus insofar as Rebus remains at the same level in the Lothian and Borders Force whereas Skinner seems to zoom from Inspector (?) to Chief Constable in an instant. Both cops are good in their own way. Jardine's new book The Loner has a new protagonist, half Catalan and half Scottish. Guess where Jardine spends his time! I've read about 120 pages so far and am enjoying this book. Apparently Skinner will make an appearance...

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Born in the USSR

Martin Sixsmith spoke on his new book about Russia. The basic message was that Russia is now back in its "natural" authoritarian state and that most people favour that over the alternative "anarchy". I expect that most Russians haven't read Hoppe.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


Later on Monday we went to hear Simon Sebag Montefiore talking about his new book. I didn't quite enjoy this performance as much when I'd heard him on his Stalin books in previous years. If I remember correctly last time he walked up and down the stage speaking directly to the audience. This time he was "interviewed" by Allan Little of the BBC. But then, I hate the BBC with a passion...

What a difference a day makes

Despite not feeling too well and having been a bit disappointed on Sunday evening we went to see Katharine Birbalsingh again on Monday morning.

And what a difference.

Bishop Hill puts it this way:

This was one very passionate lady - there was an intensity to her that at times verged on the frightening.
Well, I wasn't frightened: I was delighted with this performance.

Birbalsingh told us that the reason that the country is run by Old Etonians isn't so much to do with an old boys network but because they receive an excellent education. And how she wanted the same for "her kids". It was clear that Katharine didn't especially enjoy being a media star - it doesn't pay very much for a start! - but just wanted to get back into teaching.

Let's hope that her planned "free school" is one of those few that get the go ahead.

Needless-to-say, the real solution is to privatise all schools.

Apart from one useful idiot questioner the audience seemed to be entirely on Birbalsingh's side.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Golden Brown

After a very enjoyable garden party in Murrayfield this afternoon it was back to Charlotte Square for seven pm. I was really looking forward to hearing Katharine Birbalsingh present an anti-state case, but that's not what we got. She was certainly better that her opponent from the Independent, although to be fair he wasn't entirely an out-and-out statist himself. The (unidentified) "Chairman" was clearly on the pro-state side and was somewhat discomfited when the expected right-wing Tory teacher turned out to be nothing of the sort. Apart from Birbalsingh's support for "free schools" all three were singing from the same statist song sheet. An audience vote was overwhelmingly against the motion that "THE STATE MUST WITHDRAW AND LET CITIZENS SHAPE THEIR SOCIETY". "God help us all" cried Mr F&W. Of course, the vote would have gone the other way had the audience heard a real hard-core consistent libertarian argument from yours truly.

The highlight of the evening was seeing Sarah and Gordon Brown in the book signing tent. Keeping a wary eye on the at least one and possibly three bodyguards I approached the great man and told him that "My gold shares are doing very well." Without batting an eyelid Gordon smiled and replied "As they should be"! Does he own the odd sovereign?

It's that time again

I went to my first Book Festival event last night. While Mrs F&W was listening to McCall Smith (we both hear him next week) I went to hear crime writers Lin Anderson and Tony Black. This sell-out session was quite similar to previous crime writing events that I've attended. Before the talk I looked at books by both authors and had decided to buy some later on. However, Tony Black's extract was a bit too gory for my taste and I also decided to work out for sure which Anderson books I've already got and perhaps buy another one sometime. Having books signed by the author is not particularly important for me. Black's protagonist is an Edinburgh-based cop who thinks of himself as a Weegie, "despite coming from Ayr". In his opinion anyone who comes from west of Corstorphine is a Weegie...

Monday, 1 August 2011

We haven't gone away, you know...

The lack of posting is mainly the result of an ongoing chest infection. Plus the depressing feeling that the world has gone mad and there's nothing to be done about it.

It's at times like this that one should read some history, and that's just what I've been doing.

I'm now about one third of the way through Austerity Britain by the excellent David Kynaston. I heard him at last year's Book Festival.

Here's a quote:

The Willesdenites were asked what form their new ideal housing would take; as usual, only a small minority (15 per cent) opted for the self-contained flat. But by this time the government had already introduced new subsidy scales for local authorities that in effect gave them a significant financial incentive to build blocks of flats of four storeys or more, as long as they had lifts.
What's fascinating is that the professionals - the architects and the planners - were convinced that people should prefer flats because they represented a more communal, or socialist, way of living, which would involve all kinds of state-provided leisure pursuits in each building.

The people, the mainly Labour voting people, didn't want to know.

And here's what happened in Dundee only yesterday:

And here's some more socialist projects biting the dust :