Liver cancer diary, part 1

I seemed to be getting a lot of bugs, a couple of years ago. Then last year, 2016, I went into a serious fever in January which, by April, was speculatively suggested might be a cross-species disease like brucellosis. I keep a small flock of sheep as a hobby. Blood tests showed unusual scores for things related to the liver, but these were ignored and I was given antibiotics, even though I actually tested negative for brucellosis. The fevers reduced but I wasn’t very well, needing to sleep every afternoon.

In maybe August, the fevers started again and got worse as the months went on. By November I was also getting upper-right abdominal pain. In December, I had a sudden sweating fit in a doctor’s office and he (finally) referred me to hospital, worried that I might have pancreatitis. I was put in the care of the infectious diseases department and had lots of blood tests. Liver results looked poor still, as they had a few weeks before, but I was also tested for Tuberculosis and Coxiella. As a precaution I was given a CT scan on the 23rd December, and it showed a tumour on my liver. I was told that day and passed to the liver people.

After an MRI scan, I was told, on January 5th, that the tumour was large, 11cm across, and had entered the portal vein. By the 19th January I had an inoperable tumour that had spread into the main branch of the portal vein.

So, that escalated quickly. We’re in clinical trials and putting your affairs in order territory here.

All being well, I’ll write something about what I’ve learned about the therapeutic options available for people at the ‘slightly burned toast’ end of the spectrum with liver cancer. This is about something else, which I hope might be useful to people who have it and get steered here by Google.

When I thought I had an infectious disease, I thought there probably wasn’t anything much I could do about the high temperatures and malaise. It needed to be diagnosed and to have a specific fix. But now I know it’s all caused by an unhappy liver. That changes everything.

If I can make my liver unhappy – which I can, by drinking a bottle of brandy, say – then I can make it, if not happy, happier. I can learn to manage it. As soon as I had the diagnosis, on December 23rd, I started to wonder what would help. That change of attitude was a transformation.

And attitude matters a lot. Get ready to fight everyone and everything that stands between you and what you need. I don’t mind dying. I wasn’t planning to do it right now, but it isn’t scary. What is revolting, though is the idea of passively accepting it. Just as important, motivation gets you out of the chair. You’re not dead yet.

The following are the ways I’ve eliminated fever to a very rare thing, night sweats to one or two days a week (both from every day), malaise completely except that caused by very high temperature (by ‘malaise’ I mean feeling vaguely shit, unable to focus etc. I’d though it was inevitable, but it isn’t).

But let me preface this with the strong suggestion that you take careful notice of what works for you, vary things and see how you feel, and get it right for you. This has worked for me.


1. Don’t drink. Don’t even eat chocolate liqueurs. Nothing booze-like, at all, ever. That’s just a must. If you can’t manage that, piss off. There’s no point reading any more of this, you’re fast-tracking yourself.

That was easy for me. For reasons that might be the cause of the cancer (there’s also a possible genetic contributor in me in something called haemochromatosis), I’d quit boozing with any regularity four years before, and just drank a couple of days a week, normally. Stopping completely was easy. I know it isn’t usually, but you must.

2. Don’t smoke. Really. This isn’t lung cancer, but you will, hopefully, be putting yourself through a mangle to do the best you can to get better against all the odds, and you need to be as fit as possible for it.

3. Drink water. Lots of water. No, that’s not lots of water, I mean lots. I will go through two pints overnight and probably ten during the day. I started with mineral water, but tap water is actually much nicer. This is the biggest factor in stopping fevers.

4. Eat very regularly even if you have no appetite. Eat as soon as you get up. Don’t leave as long as four hours before eating again. I’ve learned that the sick feeling I had much of the time wasn’t the illness per se, it was not eating properly. It can take as little as a mouthful of something to feel better. And eat even if you have no appetite. Forcing yourself to complete a small plate of food doesn’t deserve a medal. You should take it for granted you’ll make yourself do that sort of thing. Find out how regularly you need to eat. When I started this, around the beginning of January, I had to eat every two hours. Now, it’s more like three, maybe more sometimes, and I have regained appetite some of the time, which is a real pleasure.

5. Eat the right stuff. Nothing sweet, ever. I really fancied porridge first thing every day, but put a half-tablespoon of honey on it and it made me ill. I blamed the porridge and changed to eggs. It was the honey. No cake, no soft drinks, no chocolate, no sugar in anything, not even too much fruit or fruit juice. One row of a non-sweet dark chocolate bar can give me an hour of malaise and elevated heart rate. Don’t do it. You can feel healthy if you don’t.

Protein, protein, protein. Meat, eggs, spinach. I have also had a craving for cheesy mash potato. Kate, my long-suffering wife, has to put up with a new dietary faddishness that’s like a woman in pregnancy. I struggle to eat vegetables, so that’s what I do and I eat them. But my body wants the protein. Lots of eggs. As much steak as you can afford.

6. Sleep in the right position. This is my newest discovery, just a few days ago, and both the most obvious and the most surprising because I haven’t seen it mentioned in these sorts of lists. Lying on your back puts no pressure at all on the organs in the abdominal cavity. They’re happy offal. Lying on your right side does not put pressure on your liver. Lying on your left side does put pressure on your liver. Lying on your front crushes all the organs together with your weight on top of them.

Naturally, my preferred sleeping positions had been on my front, or on my left side.

I had been taking painkiller, increasingly, (just over the counter ones) both to get to sleep because it hurt when I was lying down, and then to get through the day afterwards. So I stopped taking them, so I could feel properly what was hurting and where, and started lying on my back. I get backache after a while, sleeping on my back, but I had read that putting a pillow under the knees prevents or reduces that. Fat chance, I thought, but I gave it a go. It works.

After a couple of days of ‘interesting’ pain as things got used to being treated differently, I don’t need to take painkiller at all, day or night.

7. Take as few painkiller as possible. You’re going to need them, so lay off unless you have to. They work much better if you use them as sparing as possible.

8. Exercise. This makes a huge difference too. Walking is about all you’ll manage, probably, and you’ll have to set a target where it’s right for you to start. At the end of December, for me, this wasn’t much more than 200 metres or so. But I pushed it. It’s proper exercise and proper training if you’re pushing your ability and stretching your limit, so be an athlete. The best day since, after regaining weight and muscle tone after over a year of what seemed uncorrectable weight loss, I did over 2 km in all, over two walks. I can’t do that every day, and after an initial period of pushing hard I’m now giving myself a more gentle consolidation period, partly because I’m off painkillers and trying to fix other issues.

9. Rest regularly. Are you having a good day? Been really feeling it for two or three hours? Great. Have a sleep. You’re ill, and you’ll set yourself back a day or three of you overdo it.

10. Accept it. There isn’t a miracle cure. Squirting coffee up your bottom isn’t going to help. You can attack this, but you need to do using proper conventional medicine, and cancer therapies are moving forward so rapidly that this sort of advice, I hope, will be almost irrelevant in twenty years’ time. Accept it doesn’t mean ‘give up and die’. It means, accept that you have a very serious illness and a poor chance of living very long. Don’t fight that fact, it’s pointless and self-defeating. Fight the disease instead.


In about a week, I’ll post a summary of how I see my treatment possibilities, and how I’m taking control of my own fate to the greatest degree possible. In the meantime, I hope this might be helpful to some people.

Trump’s foreign policy genius

General Mattis, Trump’s pick for Defence Secretary, tells a story about an American and a Chinese Admiral, chatting.

The American asked, “What would you most like, to enhance your security?” He expected to hear a list of submarines, warships, maybe carriers.

“Ten million jobs a year,” replied the Chinese Admiral.

China is in a rare, decades-long period of stability and growth. It is being aggressive, nationalistic, threatening smaller nations from Taiwan to Japan, but it doesn’t usually project force, unlike Russia. China needs economic stability and continuing growth, or the regime will find itself in serious trouble.

So the levers Trump has been pressing have been economic. This has had other purposes too, of course, but this post is about foreign policy.

The Forrest Gump or Chauncey Gardener view of Trump seems to be the most prevalent. He’s a complete buffoon, who somehow, without any guile or wit, won the primaries and the the Presidency. What’s charming about this view is the fact it’s impossible to put it forward without being, temporarily, a complete buffoon.

If you do a little research, you uncover a planned run that began five or six years ago, with meetings and readings on all policy areas with people Trump found persuasive and important. One of those sources was, plainly, General Mattis.

I don’t know when they first met, but I do know that Mattis has been explaining his outlook for years, to Congress, in lectures, visiting professorships, interviews and question and answer sessions. He is extremely cogent, clear and consistent in his arguments. Obama sacked him for it.

Trump hired him for it. Mattis has a strategic view of the world that, if you understand it, provides a framework into which every Trump action neatly falls. Like economic levers for China. Like friendliness towards Russia and Pakistan.

People aren’t drifting from long-established news and comment sources because they’re mad, alt-right conspiracy theorists bent on re-tweeting Putin’s propaganda and False News. They’re drifting away because these media are crap. This information is all completely accessible. You can watch Congressional Hearings, lectures (I’ll link to an important one at the foot of this piece), interviews, and see what’s happening. But they don’t.

Take Russia. Mattis thinks the rise of aggressive nationalism there is a threat. He believes that where China feels their security interests would be best served by stability, Russia believes they’d be safest with a region of instability all round its borders. The EU created the invasion of Ukraine, he thinks, by starting a process of slow outreach to the country without any provision at all for the inevitable Russian response. Start the outreach by all means, if you’re ready to handle the response. But what does the flaccid, impotent cry of “Putin is nasty” achieve when you’re not willing to confront him.

But in the longer – not very much longer – term, Russia is catastrophically weak, and it will be with Putin or without him. Its economy is contracting. It has a demographic collapse caused mainly by internal social dysfunction. It has the longest land borders of any country in the world to defend, and the greatest number of Jihadis within them of any country outside the Middle East. The nationalism Putin is cultivating is weak on the fringes of the Federation where Russian identity is weakest, and so could form part not of external belligerence now but of internal collapse.

They have a lot of nuclear weapons and a culture of threatening to use them (one broadcaster who spoke about reducing America to radioactive ash was hired immediately by the state information agency). The world does not need a collapsed Russia with nukes in the hands of various nationalist and, possibly, religious factions.

So while it’s a form of great self-satisfaction for many people to turn denouncement of Putin into performance art at the moment, it is in the interests of the West to get into a position where we can help to support Russia. The starting point there is to be friendly, ally in common causes – maybe against ISIS because Russia does have a serious Jihadi threat – and try to turn them into a less belligerent country, and maybe an ally kept afloat by western economic support.

You’ll note the overtures this policy would demand have already been made by Trump, to a chorus of criticism. He has praised Putin, and suggested the anti-ISIS alliance, which would also possibly have the effect of turning Russia’s aim away from Syrians opposed to Assad. Again, if you realise that, you see why they have been so determined to finish Aleppo before Obama leaves office.

These are very unusual policy approaches – long-term, carefully thought-out, avoiding entanglements with unclear objectives and non-existent endpoints.

Some entanglements are unavoidable, though. This is where Mattis is uncompromising. No military conflict should be contemplated without extremely clearly-stated objectives, and endpoints. He says ‘endpoints’ a lot – how do we know we’re done? In the absence of these, you get the meanderings of Vietnam, Iraq pre-surge, Afghanistan post-2008.

This is where he asks a question that has permeated Trump’s remarks: is political Islam in our best interests? Trump doesn’t put it like this, he has a different job, selling, persuading, laying the ground, speaking to different parts of the electorate. But it’s been there.

What is political Islam? In this sense it has two strands. The first comes from Iran and encompasses Hezbollah and supports Assad. The second derives from the Muslim Brotherhood and includes all the Al Qaeda manifestations and franchises, the Taliban, Boko Haram, ISIS and the brief MB government of Egypt. The list should also include the government of Sudan.

To attack political Islam, if such an attack were held to be in the national interest of the US or the West, the US needs to bring Russia across. It is vital to have Pakistan as an ally just as it was in 2001. That puts Trump’s friendly words to the Pakistani PM, which he was so pleased with he released the transcript, into some better perspective than the asinine squealing that greeted it from most commentators. Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, all vital alliances.

It is hard to overstate how radical a policy change this would be. The Muslim Brotherhood and all their derivative organisations, would need to be expelled from the USA. Their mosques would need to be closed, as they have been in Egypt and Tunisia. We are in the odd situation where half a dozen Muslim countries suppress political Islam more effectively than any Western country.

Which brings me to Europe. We, in Europe, are as much a threat to world stability as Russia. The EU cannot make effective decisions but is can misjudge situations so badly the result is land war – which is what Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should be called. The Euro was certain to create regional political and economic instability. It did, and five or six years after this reached crisis point the EU has no solution, other than to – read this carefully – replace the odd democratically elected government.

Migration policies have brought genuinely far right parties to the fore in some countries, while other parties are denounced as fascist so compulsively it’s impossible to know which is which and the hysterical cretins of the EU-centric left and centre have ended up actually promoting fascism through their terminological incontinence, as their American counterparts did for the minuscule Alt Right.

Hardly any NATO countries meet their NATO spending obligations. Some European countries seem to be trying to end any pretence at national defence entirely. No NATO member is a reliable ally for America, yet all expect the US to protect them. Even Britain and France left the US in the lurch in Afghanistan and who stepped in? The UAE and Jordan, two of America’s actually reliable allies.

Worst of all, Mattis is clear about why he fights. He is defending Enlightenment values, the ones the US Constitution and Bill of Rights were based on.

European countries are abolishing Enlightenment values, privileging the more insane manifestations of religion (all religions) and bringing back de-fact or explicit blasphemy laws.

What would we be fighting for in Europe? We’re destroying ourselves, out of sanctimoniousness, narcissism and stupidity.


The following is time well spent, if you want to understand the politics of the next four years. Start 18 minutes in.


UPDATED – Jeff Sessions helped break the Klan in Alabama


Update, thanks to Chris Hall in the comments. In fact, Galanos does credit Sessions with the help he needed to convict and to amass the evidence needed for the civil prosecution. So, while Sessions didn’t do this directly as has been suggested, he does seem to have been central to its success:

“What they need to know is he’s not a racist. I have never heard him even suggest racist comments. Either publicly or privately and I spent a lot of private time with him,” said Galanos, who was the DA in the 1980’s when Sessions was U.S. Attorney.

Galanos said because of Sessions, his office was able to prosecute and eventually execute a KKK member responsible for the vicious murder and hanging of a black teenager, Michael Donald.

“We needed some horsepower, which the feds through Jeff Sessions provided. Specifically we needed the investigative power of the FBI and the power of the federal grand jury. I reached out to him (Sessions) and he responded, tell me what you’ll need and you’ll have it,” said Galanos.

Galanos said in his opinion, it was the first step in the dismemberment of the KKK in Alabama.

“Because after the criminal cases were over, the Southern Poverty Law Center took the evidence we had developed and gave to them and they sued civilly and got a $7 million dollar verdict on behalf of Ms. Donald,” said Galanos.

Read more here.


Original post here:

The Weekly Standard ran a piece a couple of days ago about Jeff Sessions, a Trump Administration nominee, and allegations of racism. Far from being a racist, it claimed:

As a U.S. Attorney he filed several cases to desegregate schools in Alabama. And he also prosecuted Klansman Henry Francis Hays, son of Alabama Klan leader Bennie Hays, for abducting and killing Michael Donald, a black teenager selected at random. Sessions insisted on the death penalty for Hays. When he was later elected the state Attorney General, Sessions followed through and made sure Hays was executed. The successful prosecution of Hays also led to a $7 million civil judgment against the Klan, effectively breaking the back of the KKK in Alabama.

This is mainly untrue or misleading.

The claim he desegregated schools came from Sessions himself, in a 2009 interview. he said:

I signed 10 pleadings attacking segregation or the remnants of segregation, where we as part of the Department of Justice, we sought desegregation remedies — the takeover of school systems, redrawing lines — all those things that I was allowed to participate in supporting.

That part, the claim Sessions himself can be traced as having made, seems likely to be true. It would have been easy enough to check, if anyone had felt it worthwhile.

Sessions seems never to have claimed credit for the Hays case. I can’t find him trying to do that in any online sources or archives. So far as I can see, this just comes from the Standard.

Henry Francis Hays was executed in 1997 for the 1981 lynching of 19 year old Michael Donald. Hays’s father was the head of the United Klans of America, reportedly the most vicious of the Klan groups, at the time. Sessions was an U.S. Attorney in Alabama when the lynching took place and his office investigated it, but didn’t prosecute it.

That fell instead to District Attorney Chris Galanos, who urged the judge, Braxton Kittrell Jr., to pass a death sentence. This was slightly complicated:

At the time of the killing, March 21, 1981, Alabama’s death penalty law prohibited a judge from increasing a sentence to death if a jury recommended life imprisonment.

The law was changed later in 1981, but Ed Carnes, Assistant Attorney General in Alabama, has said the earlier statute applied in the Hays case.

Judge Kittrell said, however, that he believed the Legislature intended to allow ”the court itself, and not the jury, to be the final sentencing authority.”

So Galanos and Kittrell deserve the credit, if your views on capital punishment allow you to consider it such, for pressing for and obtaining the highest penalty, even though the jury hadn’t demanded the death sentence.

The $7 million judgement against the Klan is another matter, and the person responsible for that shouldn’t be allowed to be lost in obscurity. She was very remarkable.

She was Michael Donald’s mother.

Jesse Kornbluth wrote this exceptional piece about her. And you should read it.

The bottom line is:

Mrs. Donald’s determination inspired a handful of lawyers and civil rights advocates, black and white. Early in 1984, Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, suggested that Mrs. Donald file a civil suit against the members of Unit 900 and the United Klans of America. The killers were, he believed, carrying out an organizational policy set by the group’s Imperial Wizard, Robert Shelton. If Dees could prove in court that this ”theory of agency” applied, Shelton’s Klan would be as liable for the murder as a corporation is for the actions its employees take in the service of business.

Mrs. Donald and her attorney, State Senator Michael A. Figures, agreed to participate in the civil suit. Last February, an all-white jury in Mobile needed to deliberate only four hours before awarding her $7 million. In May, the Klan turned over the deed to its only significant asset, the $225,000 national headquarters building in Tuscaloosa. Meanwhile, Mrs. Donald’s attorney moved to seize the property and garnish the wages of individual defendants. ”The Klan, at this point, is washed up,” says Henry Hays, from his cell on death row.

But do read the piece in full.

And note too, Mrs Donald’s attorney, Figures, is the main source of the allegations that Sessions has made racist remarks.

How to fix Google’s email outage problem

Google had a global email issue, over the last 48 hours, affecting Google Apps for work customers, mainly in the US and UK. It can affect isolated users within Apps domains. The symptom is a ‘service not available’ message when the user tries to log in, as though email were an optional app not enabled for that user.

The fix is very simple. I’ll prefix this, though, with the disclaimer that you’re responsible for your own actions and data and should take advice, by using the support system in the domain management console, if you are at all uncertain or want to check this with Google first.

In the management console, choose Apps and then Google Apps. Gmail should be marked as ‘on for everyone’. From the three dot menu to the right, choose ‘Off’, then click to confirm in the dialogue that pops up. Wait ten seconds, then click again on the three dot menu and choose On For Everyone, assuming that was your setting. If you only allow it for selected users, enable them as you did previously.

That’s it.

The DNC hacks and Russia

I’m sceptical about the claims that Russian state intelligence was behind the hacks of the DNC servers. Maybe they were, but the process of attribution for attacks is a complicated one, and this association was claimed at the very outset.

For background, I investigate attacks on servers most weeks. Most of the time, you can’t say who was behind them with any certainty just from the attacks – you might have as a starting point the concern that a particular party is having a go at you or your client, and that’s different, of course. You start out tracing them to machines that were themselves compromised, and rely on some cooperation from their administrators. IP addresses or social media accounts used for the attacks are cut outs, in the classic tradecraft sense.  This is true when the people behind them are probably kids, or common commercial competitors. There are tens of millions of compromised computers in the world, any of which can be used to front an attack.

So when you read that an attack has been attributed to Russian hackers, this does not often mean there’s been any sort of trace through the internet.

Instead, there will have been some analysis of the toolkits or techniques used. This is the identification technique used by the investigators of the DNC hacks. But toolkits get shared and sold, and copied. This is true of toolkits and malicious code that’s used at first by intelligence agencies. I don’t think there’s much doubt that national agencies were the origin of the Stuxnet trojan that affected centrifuges in Iran. This first appeared, in an early form, in 2009 (although there are claims of earlier forms four years beforehand). The final form contained a timestamp from February 2010. By November 2010, having been discovered in June 2010, it was reportedly being traded commercially on the black market.

So a toolkit used in an attack that was likely to have been a state agency can, and will, turn up in other hands within months of being identified.

I’m not the only one who isn’t sure this was the Russian government. Fidelis Security has become involved in the DNC response, and this is how they blogged it:

Over a 12-month period, the DNC was victim to not just one, but two intrusions from a nation-state actor, Russia.


Finally, if Russia is to blame, this breach marks the first time that a nation-state has used cyber espionage to influence a United States election.

The first claim is what’s being reported, the ‘if’ isn’t. There’s a worrying degree of certainty being displayed in many reports at a stage in the investigation that’s so early it can’t be possible to say who was responsible. But confirmation bias is a powerful thing.

Crowdstrike did say they thought phishing, and spearphishing in particular, played a part in these attacks. That amounts to saying that people were induced by deceptive websites or other techniques to install malware themselves, unknowingly, on the DNC systems. That suggests they don’t think it was a remote exploit – some vulnerability in the internet-facing part of the systems that attackers could use to get in.

If malicious software could have been installed unknowingly, it could also have been installed knowingly. Rather like murder investigations, an actual penetration of a system casts suspicion on those closest to it, if you’re being an objective investigator.

I’ve been involved in electronic security since the late 1980s. Then, it was finding, and planting, listening devices and using other techniques to gather information. The most notorious thing I did was tap Darius Guppy’s telephone, and record the conversation he had with Boris Johnson about beating up a journalist, but most of the work I did was finding rather than planting. When you find an intrusion of some kind, and even then it could be external to the location that was being monitored, you need to consider who was behind it. You also need to consider whether it’s actually best to leave things in place, so the intrusion that’s happening is a known quantity, rather than blowing that and leaving the road open to further unknown ones.

When you try to figure out who was behind an intrusion, the first thing to think about is, who has a motive? Who benefits? And the first thing you need to think about when an attack is publicised, is why? Why not just watch it and gather intelligence?

So the Cui Bono question is worth considering here. Who benefited from these attacks, or who might have been the intended beneficiary? The main take-home was that the DNC favoured Clinton’s candidacy over that of Sanders. The releases of files came just before the Democratic Party’s convention. If you were a Sanders last-ditcher, that’s what and when you’d have wanted.

Who benefits from the claim it was Russia behind the attacks? Clinton does. Her main line of attack has shifted from Trump’s alleged racism, which isn’t such a strong line in the wake of the BLM movement stopping ambulances and inspiring the murders of police officers, to Putin wanting Trump to win. She is repeating the claim that Russia was behind this, when with the best will in the world the most that could be said is that some of the software used is similar to that used in what was thought to have been a Russian assault on some German systems a few years ago.

Maybe Putin does want Trump to win, and maybe he was behind these leaks of data. But Putin hasn’t done badly under the Obama administration Clinton served in. Russia has become the most credible external power in the Middle East and has invaded two Eastern European countries. More of the same would suit Putin. The only real problem he has is that fracking in the USA has depressed the price of gas, which Russia relies on. Clinton has given out mixed messages on fracking, but she did say, in a debate with Sanders, that:

“By the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place,”

Trump has benefited from the hacking in one way. He’s trying to get disaffected Sanders voters to switch to him, and the idea that their candidate was stitched up by the DNC, which is a stretch from what has actually been revealed – a preference rather than a manipulation of the process – would help him.

So it’s complicated, more so because the earliest DNC penetration was dated to last summer which, depending what ‘summer’ means, saw Trump on as low as single figure polling and makes it hard to believe an attack was started with the intended effect of helping him in his campaign.

It might be the case that Russia was behind this. It’s most likely, given the facts we know so far, that any definite attribution will be hard to make. But it is certainly true that if at the moment you think this is a Russian cyber attack designed to help Trump beat Clinton, you’re believing what you want to believe.

Out of interest, though, one of the techniques pioneered by one of the groups fingered for this is very cool. It uses Twitter accounts and steganography – which today is mainly the embedding of encrypted data in image files, but which was first described in 1499.

German trade with China

Chris wrote:

If it is membership of the EU which is undermining competitiveness, why is it that Germany is doing so much better at exporting to China than the UK? Last year, its exports (pdf) to China were €71.4bn (£51.7bn) compared to the UK’s £12.8bn, which meant such exports represented 2.4% of GDP against 0.7 per cent for the UK.

I was curious and Googled. Wikipedia has this to say:

The frequent high-level diplomatic visits are acknowledged to have helped guarantee the smooth development of Sino-German relations. From 1993 to 1998, German and Chinese leaders met face-to-face 52 times: Among those Chinese leaders who visited Germany were President Jiang Zemin; Qiao Shi, former Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC); and Li Peng, former Premier and Chairman of the NPC Standing. Meanwhile, German leaders who visited China included President Roman Herzog, Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel and Minister of State at the German Federal Foreign Office Ludger Volmer. Among these leaders, Chancellor Kohl visited China twice in 1993 and 1995. Since the new German government came into power in October 1998, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has paid three visits to China. One after another from Germany came Vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping, and Minister of Economics and Technology Werner Müller. At the same time, Germany welcomed Chinese Primer Zhu Rongji, Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, State Councilor Wu Yi, Member of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee Wei Jianxing as well as Vice President Hu Jintao.

Relations would continue to improve after 1998. For instance, both Beijing and Berlin fervently opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and in 2006 both Germany (the largest economy and the most populous country of the European Union) and China further enhanced their bilateral political, economic and diplomatic ties within the framework of Sino-EU strategic partnerships. Both Germany and China opposed direct military involvement in the 2011 Libyan civil war. Before the 2011 visit of China’s PM Wen Jiabao, the Chinese government issued a “White Book on the accomplishments and perspective of Sino-German cooperation”, the first of its kind for a European country. The visit also marked the first Sino-German government consultations, an exclusive mechanism for Sino-German communications.

So I suppose the answer to Chris’s question might be that Germany is China’s biggest trading partner and has a special trading relationship with it outwith the EU.

Should the banks be nationalised?

Chris is right in everything he says about nationalising the banks, and I think he’s wrong. It’s a completeness problem.

His core argument is this:

[Nationalisation] wouldn’t prevent banks losing money: these are inevitable sometimes because of complexity, bounded rationality and limited knowledge. However, when banks are nationalized, their losses would create only a very minor problem for the public finances as governments borrow money to recapitalize them*. That needn’t generate the fears of a credit crunch or financial crisis that we’ve seen recently. In this sense, nationalization would act as a circuit-breaker, preventing blow-ups at banks from damaging the rest of the economy. (Given that countries are exposed to financial crises overseas, the full benefit of this requires that banks be nationalized in all countries).

This argues for an exchange of private gain/public loss with terrible knock-on effects, for public gain/public loss, which is more balanced. You could argue that the former alternative has other remedies.

But the main problem I see is the other effects of nationalisation: costs, regulation and enterprise.

Costs are hard to control in public enterprises. Partly because of the effects of regulation, partly because they’re unbounded by the profit motive, costs tend to increase to fill the space available when next year’s budget depends on completely spending this year’s. Problems tend to be solved by more money and more management, rather than by eliminating the problems.

Regulation of public enterprises is, necessarily and rightly, more onerous than it is for the private sector. The latter needs to to focus on the prevention of abuse and dishonesty, the former needs to include both measures to prevent corruption and ostentatious displays of virtue. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Tenders to public bodies have to be ritualised in a way private buying decisions don’t.

But despite all the best efforts of those involved, corruption, or nepotism, tend to take over public allocations of funds. To be anecdotal, I was asked a few years ago to take part in a business that was to be situated in Wales. The business plan was, this bloke knew someone in the Welsh Assembly who gave out grants. That was it.

If public sector priorities took over banking, the case study for any sort of finance would become: “can I cover my ass if this goes wrong?” Worthiness would tend to take priority over business cases: you wouldn’t criticise a loan to disabled veterans, would you, you bastard?

What effect would that have on the economy?

There’s another, broader, way he’s wrong too, I think. He says:

My point here is, however, a broader one. One fact illustrates it. During the golden age of social democracy – from 1947 to 1973 – UK real total equity returns averaged 5.1% per year. If we take the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 as its starting point, they have returned 4.9% per year in the “neoliberal” era. This alerts us to a possibility – that perhaps some social democratic policies are in the interests not just of workers but of shareholders too. Maybe the beneficiaries of neoliberalism are fewer than one might imagine.

All true, I’m sure.

But in 1973 I wore darned socks and trousers with patches, and my younger brother wore my old trousers. We lived in a three bedroom detached house in a nice cul de sac in Essex, just outside the M25 (it wasn’t yet built). That house financed the rest of my parent’s lives, a couple of decades later.

Today I wear socks that cost £5 for 5 pairs, from Tesco, and when they wear out I buy new ones, and I don’t ever see any kids with patched trousers. Torn knees in jeans became fashionable, much later. Then they meant you weren’t patching your kid’s trousers. Signals of actual poverty are never fashionable.

Meanwhile, the people making the socks and the trousers have become many times richer than they were in 1973. Chinese workers have seen their incomes rise by an average of more than 15 times. We’re richer, in terms of what we can actually consume, and so are they. Their increased wealth is more measurable than ours. I’ve never seen a graph of jean patching or sock darning.

That’s also something neoliberalism has achieved. It meant we came through a calamitous banking crisis with problems, for sure, but without the dustbowl economics and breadlines of the 1930s.

The undoubted problems of banking today could be addressed in different ways. Chris talks about a return to full reserve banking, but we don’t have fractional reserve banking, we have Basel Rules that let banks use dodgy securities as backing for loans. Maybe actual fractional reserve retail banking is worth consideration. Maybe lowering the regulatory burden but making it more effective would allow the banking sector to become more diverse, so banking failures were isolated, like failures of newsagents or engineering companies.

There’s no question we have a problem with banking. But making it run with the beige inertia of British Telecom circa 1978 isn’t the answer.