20 July 2018

The inconceivable

Celia Green:

Now if you see that it is inconceivable that anything should exist, it is evident that at least one inconceivable fact is there. That is to say, that which exists is not limited to the conceivable. Since the inconceivable is there, it is impossible to set any limit to the quantity of inconceivableness which may be present in the situation.

Now were the existence of anything consistently to remind you of the fact of inconceivability, since it is impossible to live without interacting with a large number of existing things, it would be impossible for you to feel in the same way about the conceivable.

Now if anyone were reminded about the inconceivable by the fact of existence at all constantly, he would sooner or later have the perception that there may be inconceivable considerations which are inconceivably more important than any conceivable consideration could be.

Now if you do have a perception that any conceivable consideration may be utterly invalidated by some other consideration which you do not know, and if you are reminded of this perception constantly by the fact that things exist, certain modifications take place in the way you feel about things. These modifications have not taken place in the psychology of most people.

from Advice to Clever Children

13 July 2018


One of the best stock pickers I have ever come across — quite possibly the best — is Quentin Lumsden.

His selection of shares, many of them in US technology companies, has apparently outperformed the FTSE All-Share index by a factor of five over the last ten years.

His best-known product is probably the Quantum Leap newsletter, but there is also a sister product,
Chart Breakout. Recently he launched a service called Quentinvest which looks like a great new way to pick and track stocks.

06 July 2018

The Power of Life or Death - 1

Most medical professions are still, on the whole, opposed to active euthanasia for conscious clients without their consent. The practice is also unlawful, at least in theory.

However, as voluntary euthanasia is similarly both unlawful and condemned by the profession, and yet certainly goes on, we cannot be at all sure that clients in the UK or the US are not being deliberately killed against their will on a signifcant scale.

from The Power of Life or Death, Foreword by Thomas Szasz

Available from Oxford Forum via Amazon UK or Amazon USA.

25 June 2018

new article

Part 2
of EC v Apple is on the website.

Tax law, including anti-avoidance, is a matter for national governments. Tax avoidance is not an issue which the EC’s competition division should be trying to investigate or penalise.

Rather than welcoming it, the EC’s rhetoric on taxation is something that should be viewed critically. We may be dealing with competence creep. [Read more]

15 June 2018


Recent articles and readers’ comments at theguardian.com suggest that the Left has learnt little or nothing from the Brexit referendum.

Their vision of paradise may appeal only to a minority – those who believe they would help to control the new order. But the fiction that it is all motivated by desire for the happiness of ordinary people must be maintained.

So those who voted for Brexit were “confused”, or worse.

And there is little sign of the Left cutting back on its approach of trying to win the argument by demonising opponents.

08 June 2018

Out-of-the-body Experiences

Part 2 of EC v Apple should be available later this month.

Meanwhile, did you know that hallucinatory experiences in normal subjects are more common than is generally realised.

I was working as a waitress in a local restaurant and had just finished a 12-hour stint. I was terribly fatigued and was chagrined to find I had lost the last bus ... However I started walking as in those days I lived in Jericho, a fifteen minute walk at most. I remember feeling so fatigued that I wondered if I’d make it, and resolved to myself that I’d “got to keep going”. At this time I was where the Playhouse is today.

The next I registered was of hearing the sound of my heels very hollowly, and I looked down and watched myself walk round the bend of Beaumont Street into Walton Street. I — the bit of me that counts — was up on a level with Worcester College chapel. I saw myself very clearly — it was a summer evening and I was wearing a sleeveless shantung dress. I remember thinking “so that’s how I look to other people”.

Out-of-the-body experiences should not be confused with near-death experiences, a related but distinct phenomenon which unfortunately has become sensationalised by the media.

Celia Green - Out-of-the-body Experiences

Italian edition

01 June 2018

Injustice and chaos

Imagine a government that issued rules about how corporations should interact with their employees. Then twenty years later, it starts interpreting these rules in new and creative ways.

The government proceeds to announce that corporations have to adjust their actions retroactively, leading to retrospective penalties for thousands of workers.

Not only would this be ludicrously unfair. It would generate chaos. A precedent would be set about new legal interpretations being applied retrospectively, which would make it extremely difficult for either individuals or businesses to plan ahead.

This is analogous to what the European Commission is doing in relation to Apple, Amazon, Fiat and Starbucks.

21 May 2018

new article: EC v Apple

There is a new article on the website:
EC v Apple: retrospection is immoral

By extending its powers into the field of interpreting tax law, the Commission has dealt a blow to legal certainty, and hence to corporate planning, for businesses based in Europe. From the long-term perspectives of both the EU and Ireland, the resulting efficiency losses and likely eventual migration of jobs out of the area may outweigh any supposed benefits for competition.

Fundamentally, this case is not about whether Apple paid insufficient tax, though some commentators have encouraged their readers to see it that way. At its heart, rather, is an important legal principle, and the question of how readily the principle may be overridden when it conflicts with other considerations. [read more]

11 May 2018

in progress

A new article — in my series on the rule of law — is in preparation.

It should be available later this month.

04 May 2018

spellcheck #6

It’s that apostrophe thing again; its regular recurrence is a sign of the times.

This one occurs in the Fish Society’s May catalogue, in their description of Oscietre caviar (also spelt Oscietra or Ossetra). Oscietre is the second most expensive caviar in the world, after Beluga.

Oscietre is known to have a slightly gold or brown tinge and nutty traces in it’s taste.

The Fish Society is selling the stuff at £34 per 30g, which compares favourably with Amazon’s prices for Oscietre. By comparison, Beluga is showing on Amazon at twice that price.

27 April 2018

In the name of feminism

There is an interesting article* about contemporary feminist movements in the latest Cambridge alumni magazine, provocatively entitled ‘Smash the patriarchy’.

I found myself having some sympathy with the activists interviewed. I am sure being a woman is not always easy, and it is still a man’s world in many ways.

A young Cambridge graduate is quoted as saying:

We need to actively work really hard to make sure we are inclusive as a movement and that we’re not leaving anyone behind.
Reading on, however, it starts to emerge that some of the movements seem to require commitment to things other than gender issues. “Feminism is about more than just the self; feminism includes fighting against austerity ...”.

Aside from austerity, Donald Trump and Brexit are apparently regarded as “challenges”, the latter because of female employment rights created by EU legislation.

The impression given is that “feminism” is in favour of more state intervention. But what of those who want feminism to be a force promoting greater respect for women without more legislation?

I wonder how the individuals running the movements referred to in the article would regard a woman in favour of free markets. Would her views be respected, and her minority position be protected from those who might wish to put pressure on her to conform? Or would she be regarded as a traitor to the cause?

* Anne-Marie Crowhurst, ‘Smash the patriarchy’, Cam, Lent 2018.

20 April 2018

“Free speech” isn’t everything

Extract from Charles McCreery’s Abolition of Genius.

One might ask how it is that in the past men and women of genius have been able to make original contributions to thought in countries that had no offcial freedom of speech, publication, or assembly, if these so-called ‘human rights’ are as crucial as their modern protagonists imply. The answer is that these people of genius achieved what they did thanks to private incomes, their own or that of someone else. The societies in which they lived may have been indifferent or even hostile to freedom of speech and the like, but they tended to have a tolerant attitude to the concept of private property.

Let us consider some examples. Descartes’ thinking led him to two conclusions among others: that the earth rotated and that the universe was infnite. He included these ideas in a book he was writing called Le Monde, but when he heard that the Inquisition had condemned Galileo for expounding similar views, he decided not to publish it. However, there is no reason to suppose that he stopped thinking about such matters. The Inquisition may have been indirectly responsible for the non-publication of his book, at least during his lifetime, but they did not have any direct control over the private income which enabled him to write it.

It is even questionable whether the sort of censorship imposed by old-style capitalist societies is an effcient method of preventing the emergence of new ideas or works of art. Publication is only the last and most peripheral link in the chain of production of a new artistic or intellectual work. It is clearly more effective to attack the original thought at its psychological source, in the stages of preparation, conception or execution, by depriving the original mind of its fnancial independence or any hope of achieving it. Then the mind in question will be unable to provide itself with the necessary conditions for its work without first gaining the support and approval of the collective. If the results of its work are likely to be of the kind that the collective will want to censor, then this support will not be forthcoming and not only will the work never see the light of day but it will never even be begun.

13 April 2018

Goethe and the culture war

The conflict between: the old, the prevailing, the persistent; and: development, improvement, reform — it is always the same.

Order of every kind turns at last to pedantry. In order to be rid of the latter, one destroys the former. Then life goes on for a while, until people perceive that order must be established anew.

Classicism and Romanticism; guild coercion and free trade; preservation or destruction of tradition: it is always the same conflict, which ends by creating a new one.

The best policy of those in power would be so to moderate this conflict as to let it right itself without the destruction of either side. But this power has not been granted to men, and it seems not to be the will of God either.

Goethe, Maxims and Reflections

06 April 2018

Contextual advertising

This is slightly amusing. I have been reading a paperback collection* of stories by Karen Blixen (author and heroine of Out of Africa), translated from Danish to German.

The first story is about the fictional de Cats family, set in 19th century Amsterdam. The de Cats are wealthy and influential, and have for generations been noted for their marked virtuousness, good works etc, but in every generation they have one particularly black sheep. When the current black sheep, Jeremy de Cats, returns to Amsterdam to turn over a new leaf and begins to behave blamelessly, the other de Cats inexplicably start to behave badly, and they realise that their virtuousness is somehow fated always to require one black sheep. After some abortive efforts, they decide to offer Jeremy a princely annual sum to return to his wicked ways. The offer is accepted, with the result that things go back to normal, and everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

Just after the point when the offer is made, near the end of the story, you turn the page and, instead of the expected continuation of text, the entire left page is occupied by an advert for Pfandbriefe (bonds issued by commercial banks):

A fortune ... in return for the promise to do nothing useful. Sadly, offers of this kind are nowadays quite rare.

So don’t bother waiting for one; do something that is useful. Consider the possibility of other, equally pleasant ways of increasing your wealth.

I don’t recall coming across an advert in the middle of a book before. The edition is from 1989 (publisher: Rowohlt). Perhaps this is still done occasionally in German paperbacks.

The notion of an advert linked specifically to the text next to which it occurs is intriguing. We see a version of this with TV ads: watch a movie set in France, and you’re likely to get adverts from Danone or L’Oréal. And of course there are those annoying ads in web pages.

* Tania Blixen, Gespensterpferde, Rowohlt, 1989