England's Sword 2.0

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Blinding Justice

A judge in the UK has freed five men accused of a gangland killing because the police illegally recorded evidence. There was a time when I would have regarded this as an injustice. Since coming to the US, I have come to belive differently, a view that will not be popular with my "conservative" friends in the UK. I put "conservative" in quotes there because to my mind, my position is the obvious conservative one -- upholding respect for tradition and hard-won English liberties. If Tories forget this, then it should come as no surprise to them if they are characterized as fascists. Thank goodness The Times remembers this too. Its summation of the argument is well-written.

Among police officers the bending of rules to secure prosecutions was once known as “noble cause” corruption. But the unhappy experience of high-profile miscarriages shaking faith in the justice system should have cured even the most blinkered officer of this delusion. Anything other than a scrupulous adherence to the letter and spirit of the law risks endangering a prosecution and allowing the guilty to go free. Far from the manipulation of rules in pursuit of the guilty being a noble cause it is a corrosive acid thrown in justice’s face.

Justice is blind already, of course. But she does not deserve to be disfigured.

Trials and Tribulations

If you've ever experienced bad customer service, just remember there's always someone else worse off. Check out Hradyesh Namdeo of Bhopal's complaint against the manufacturers of his bike. It takes me back to Britain in the 70s...

The Anglosphere's Problems

Excellent piece in the new City Journal, Why We Don’t Marry by James Q. Wilson. It looks at the problems in certain countries with divorce, cohabitation and the like and concludes, essentially, that these are a by-product of our tradition of freedom, especially in the area of property rights. True, except that those liberties are preconditions rather than triggers -- it was the decline of religion that directly caused the 60s explosion (I think the 60s were far worse than the 20s in that respect). The Anglosphere existed with a strong institution of marriage in both established and disestablished societies for many centuries. But, as Wilson says, once the institution is undermined, the tendency will be towards greater individual freedom. Unfortunately, in most cases that freedom leads, perversely, to greater dependence on the State and thereby undermines other freedoms. Marriage is a true "check and balance" on the power of the state, and should be recognized as such.

Food fight

Great speech, The Scientific Divide, by Tom Sanders of KCL on the disparity between what scientists know about nutrition and what the public (and HMG) thinks it knows. It's a great summary of the state of the research (bottom line -- in general we eat more healthily now than before but some of us are very fat, probably because we don't exercise). He puts the boot into wasteful government programs based on a misunderstanding of the science, e.g.

The centrepiece of the government Nutrition Policy is The National School Fruit Scheme. This involves giving each child between the age of 4-6 years of age a piece of fruit daily - an apple, a satsuma or a banana. The nutritional contribution this makes to their diet is trivial - an equivalent of 2-5 teaspoons of sugar, 2-4g of fibre and between 5-25mg of vitamin C - a vitamin that is in adequate supply in their diet anyway with over 91% of children aged 4-6 meeting reference nutrient intake. The cost of this scheme is a staggering £52 million. While there may be a case for a smaller scale project targeted at low income groups where fruit is not consumed, this blanket approach is a logistical nightmare and a wasteful use of scarce resources. The utility of this political gesture needs to be questioned.

Smaller-scale, better-targeted programs must be the way forward. Unfortunately, this will involve 'profiling' of some sort (or 'means-testing', a former bugbear of the left). As long as the profiling is not crude -- and to be effective it can't be -- I can't see any problem with this. But the social justice merchants will.

Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Drugs trade -- monkey business?

Very interesting story in The Economist (it's also in Science News, but this is more intelligible for the layman). It turns out that when you try to get monkeys addicted to cocaine (PETA must be squirming on this one), the ones at the top of the social order are fine with their habit, but the ones at the bottom need more and more in a classic addiction spiral. The Economist concludes:

If these results translate to human experience, they will be a sad example of the biblical adage that unto everyone that hath shall be given; but from him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he hath. Not only are those at the bottom of the heap more likely to be convicted and locked up for using drugs than those at the top (which they are), they are more likely to have to carry on using them, once they have started.

Of course part of the reason they're more likely to be convicted is because they're more likely to be caught using drugs openly. Nevertheless, the social dominance issue is a very interesting one, with a vast array of implications, and yet another reason why nature ain't a good thing.


Great post by David Carr on Samizdata about the ties that bind the Anglosphere. Here's a direct link so you don't have to suffer all the photos...

French and Anglospheric approaches to liberty

Jim Bennett had this to say on the subject of the French declaration:

I believe there should be a distinction between the Continental organic concept of national sovereignty, and the Anglosphere concept, which I would call fundamentally a social-contract theory. The Anglosphere concept fundamentally vests sovereignty in the individual, but recognises that individuals may freely federate their sovereignties into a nation-state for the purpose of better protecting their rights, and conditional on it protecting their rights.

I have just been reading a great book on European romantic nationalism, Adam Zamoyski's Holy Madness, and I was struck by just how different Continental nationalism is from our conceptualization of it. Most of Mussolini is right there in Mazzini. I even have some sympathy now for those Continental Europeanists who tend to equate nationalism with fascism; for Continentals, there is really some truth to that. Of course, they fail to see that it is not true for the Anglosphere, which is why their reactions to Anglosphere patriotism is so over-the-top. That's also why I don't get excited about Berlusconi or especially
Haider. They're really nothing but occasional tactical allies.

Good points all. I replied that, for those very reasons, I was amazed at how Anglospheric the French declaration seemed. Jim replied:

Many of the more moderate French revolutionaries were in fact Anglophiles and/or Americanophiles, and really wanted to bring a working constitutional liberty to France. Their problems illustrate the
frustrations of trying to transplant insitutions from a strong civil society into a country whose civil society (once quite strong, actually) had been weakened significantly.

Although I'm hardly a universal fan of Gary Wiulls, I always find his work interesting. Relevant to this is his point, in Inventing America, that although Americans today like to think that the preamble to the
Declaration of Independence was a new and bold American invention, in
its own day it was recognized that this was really just Whig constitutional theory 101. He made the good point that in the English
and loyalist pamphlets and articles responding to the Declaration, which were numerous, hardly anyone disputed or even commented upon the preamble except to make the occasional sarcastic comment about slavery; most said "well, yes, of course". Almost all the discussion was about the legitimacy of the grievances in the body of the document. It's clear that individual sovereignty and social contract theory has been the common Anglosphere constitutional theory for centuries.

All useful clarifications for those who might be confused by the anglosphere idea. I fear that the loss of a truly Whiggish tradition in the UK caused by the eventual triumph of Toryism in the second half of the 19th century and the rise of the labour movement at about the same time was a political tragedy for Britain. It has left us with Whigs who call themselves Tories and a Liberal party that is anything but liberal. That really needs sorting out.

Delusions of grandeur

There has been a lot of talk about Tony Blair's "presidential" style. Now it seems senior Ministers have bought into the idea (see this Telegraph leader). Foreign Secretary Jack Straw let slip the truth:

Asked whether Tony Blair has been taking over the Foreign Secretary's job, Mr Straw said, "He's not. The more critical an issue, the more a head of state is going to be involved with September 11 and the use of our military action."

Next step: deification.

Words fail me

If you want another example of just how idiotic European Union lawmaking is, check out A scrap with Brussels. I'm stupified...

Enron: wot's it all about, then?

For those UK readers (and, I'd imagine, quite a few US readers) who have been left mystified by exactly what went on at Enron, Andrew Hofer (probably my favorite blogger) has a great summary here at More Than Zero.

Camp X-Ray of the War on Drugs

A very interesting piece of research is in progress. According to the working paper, An Empirical Analysis of Imprisoning Drug Offenders by Kuziemko and Levitt, banging up drug offenders is effective in reducing crime and is also sound economic practice (the imprisonment pays for itself even before crime reduction effects are counted). This seemingly blows a hole in the argument that the war on drugs is a disaster.

I'll be looking at this research in more detail. One possible problem is that Levitt is the character who postulated that abortion reduces crime twenty years later. His model was a bit simplistic, missing out too many confounding elements. I'll be interested to see how valid this model is.

Another step towards tyranny

Under the Beeb headline Blunkett to take on yobs is yet another hidden indication of the Blairite contempt for civil liberties:

Mr Blunkett also wants blood samples taken from suspected drink-drivers, without permission if necessary and even if they are still unconscious.

This surely stands against the common law principle of nemo tenetur seipsum accusare, otherwise known as the right against self-incrimination. It may also, given its invasive nature, stand against the principle of security of limb. It says essentially that the body is the property of the state. Magna Carta is gasping and wheezing on its deathbed.

Another fallacious argument

Michael Gove skewers the Blairite and leftist (the two do coincide often, but I don't think they are the same any more) habit of slinging accusations of racism around in his Times column. This argument ("you're wrong because you are racist or associate with known or suspected racists") appears so often that it also must be considered a subset of the ad hominem fallacy (and I'll name it as soon as I can work out what the Latin for racist would be). What is particularly insidious about this argument is its scattergun effect:

Whenever a situation appears to pose a challenge to new Labour’s hegemony, it is only a matter of time before the charge of “racism” is used to neutralise the threat. Opposition figures are either accused of racism direct or, more often “linked” with racism in some way so as to suggest either hidden conspiratorial malevolence or natural ideological kinship. Because any mass organisation, whether it is the NFU or the TGWU, will inevitably harbour the odd individual with racist attitudes, the tactic of guilt by association can be deployed with promiscuous glee by the irresponsible.

The public's reaction to the Rose Addis case may indicate that this argument is losing effectiveness. We can but hope.

The National Interest

Jim Bennett has another great column out. In Transnational illusions he underlines the importance of nation-states and the futility of trying to erect trans-national bodies over and above them. The future lies in international co-operation rather than in transnational government:

The world still relies on the state to guard its citizens against organized attack. It will continue to do so until and unless other, better means are ever found. Transnational governance by unaccountable organizations will never be such a means. In the meantime, those states that have the most cohesion and give the most freedom to their citizens will prevail against those that do not.

Cooperation among states with highly similar values and attributes, on a "coalition of the willing" basis will remain the most effective form of international cooperation. We can see this in the Afghan coalition; it is no accident that the greatest and most thorough cooperation with American forces came from Britain, and Australia, despite the doctrines of internationalists and geographical determinists alike.

All this, of course, accords with something written by the Marquis de Lafayette, of all people, and adopted by the French national assembly. In the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen the third article reads:

The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.

Odd that Lafayette's ideological descendents should be so keen to ignore this...

Monday, January 28, 2002

Honi soit qui mal y pense

I have to say I disagree with the Telegraph on the issue of naming the SAS men who have been nominated for the Victoria Cross (Private honour). An honour has two functions: reward for meritorious conduct but also public celebration of the same. A medal like the VC encourages others to do likewise and holds up the men themselves as examples. If this public celebration aspect is taken away, then, assuming that the men themselves are decent, self-effacing chaps, they would surely be just as happy with a hearty clap on the back and a good word from the top brass. A medal is a public honour or it is nothing.

Friday, January 25, 2002

Oh! Wherefore came ye forth...

I've finally posted the full text of The Battle of Naseby, whence this blog's title derives, on my "About" page. That Will Warren's got a lot to answer for...

Power corrupts, etc etc

In this case the power is the British government's practical monopoly on health care. The big domestic news over in the UK this week has been the complaint by a 94 year-old woman's family that she was very badly treated in the hospital she had to go to (it sickens me just to hear the allegations). The government has responded by making personal attacks on the old lady and saying that complaints about service are complaints aimed at everyone who works to improve Britons' health. Ye gods. This Telegraph editorial sums up the case. And these people complain about the American approach to healthcare?

Site enhancements

Lots more links on the sidebar -- if I've forgotten someone I promised to link to, let me know. There's also a new Paypal donation system, if you want to see iainsmurray.com or something like it, hint hint...

PS: the search engine above will search both this site's archives and the Conservative Revival site's archives. Hope it comes in handy to people besides me...

Warren the Song Fellow

Flattery will get you everywhere. Check out Will Warren's magnificent (and I mean it) pastiche of Longfellow on the subject of blogging at Unremitting Verse.com.

Logical fallacies abound!

Here's another one. I was going to draw attention to a Virginian House of Delegates dispute about the Salute to the Flag of Virginia, where a caucus objects to the Salute not because of the words but because they were written by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. But Bill Quick on DailyPundit.com has already done a superb knife job on their arguments. Check it out!

I'd like to nominate this as yet another new logical fallacy, the argumentum ad conditores (argument aimed at the founders), yet another sub-set of the ad hominem argument. Use of this argument will get the Melvin Award.

Another logical fallacy

Inspired by Nature's comparison of Lomborg to David Irving's unseemly crew, Spiked's Josie Appleton (always worth reading, wherever she appears) discovers a new logical fallacy in I'm right because...you're a Nazi.

The argumentum ad negationem holocausti, as I suppose it might be called, has been applied by environmentalists to global warming skeptics, by Winnie Mandela to Thabo Mbeki, by pro-life extremists to pro-choice activists, by PETA and the ALF to Tyson's chicken and McDonalds, by Jesse Jackson to conservatives, and by Jonah Goldberg back to the liberals. As Appleton says:

That Nazi allegations have become an all-purpose tool in debate is indicated by 'Godwin's Law' for internet discussions, formulated by Mike Godwin: 'As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.' (13) One visitor of internet forums commented, 'Abortion and gun control debates always lead to Nazi comparisons; talk with a Libertarian for more than a few hours and he'll almost certainly bring up Nazis; book-burning is pretty much considered a sub-topic of Nazism at this point. Hell, talk about anything politically related and you'll eventually get there' (14). This suggests that the tactic has shifted from being the preserve of loonies like PETA to becoming part of the mainstream.

It is a horrible, cheap debating tactic rather than an argument. Please let me know if you see anyone -- particularly Bloggers -- using it (unless in jest, of course), and I'll nominate them for the Pimm-Harvey Award.

Stop the Rainforest!

Patrrick West echoes South Park in a magnificent demolition of the argument from nature, In praise of the unnatural:

Who cares what happens in nature? As far as I'm concerned, nature is not our friend - it is the enemy of humanity. Earthquakes, cancer, death, wisdom teeth, short-sightedness: these are natural. Penicillin, antibiotics, heart surgery, toothpaste, the spectacles I wear as I write this: these are the innovations of man. Our ability to defy, defeat and overcome nature is what makes us human. Thanks to our tampering with the natural order of things, most people in the Western world can now look forward to dying in their beds.

Sterling stuff. He calls Jean-Jacques Rousseau the "godfather of modern anti-modern whining" and puts the boot into the idea of the noble savage with Millwallian precision. He champions the Western humanist ideal, which, he points out, has been totally abandoned by the left. Good point.

Update: Rand Simberg e-mails to point out this excellent post he made on his weblog a few weeks back. I remember being impressed by it at the time, and apologize to him for it slipping my mind. It deserves to be read in conjunction with the Spiked article.

On a related issue, philospher Robin Fox had an excellent attack on the modern interpretation of the idea of "natural rights" in The National Interest a while back. His argument that if rights are to be based on what is natural then nepotism is a human right is an important one. Frank Fukuyama took issue with him in a subsequent issue (only a tiny portion online here) but I think Fox had the stronger case. As he says:

The cherished rights enshrined in the Constitution, the Declaration of the Rights of Man, theUNCharter and human rights declaration, and all the treaties and commissions up to the Helsinki Accords and the establishment of the International Criminal Court—all of these are highly evolved political and social rights that derive from the Western Enlightenment tradition, with its basic values of equality and universalism. Many of them are peculiar to the Christian tradition. Despite attempts to base these rights on "nature", in most cases they—by their very design—either run counter to nature or, at best, concern things about which nature is strictly neutral.

Rights are essentially cultural, not natural, to my mind. Trial by Jury is one of the most important rights I can imagine, but it is nonsensical to try to base it in nature (the parliament of rooks?). It emerges because that is the way we have settled on to underpin our social dealings (and that is why it is guaranteed by Magna Carta/ the US Bill of Rights and not just by a law). It should be defended where it has been accepted but then comes under threat from would-be tyrants, but it is not the sort of thing you can impose on people who don't want it.

Is the "right to life" similar? I think it may be, although I'm not entirely sure yet. I've argued before that we should thing of rights more as traditional liberties. I'd be grateful for comments on this theory (especially references to other people who've argued the same).

Dr Death

Also on Spiked, an excellent summary (Killing to be kind?) by the emeritus professor of psychiatry at SUNY on exactly why Jack Kevorkian is a murderer:

To the press and the public, Kevorkian represented his activities as a medical obligation, imposed on him by his conscience and medical degree. To make himself appear a medical saviour, he falsely diagnosed his 'patients' as dying. Eventually, his conceit got the better of him, and he was sent to prison, where he belongs.

'Liberty', declared Lord Acton, 'is the prevention of control by others'. Either the state controls the means for suicide and thus deprives persons of a fundamental right to self-determination, or the individual controls it and assumes responsibility for the manner of his or her own death. Kevorkian urges us to delegate responsibility for suicide to physicians, promising benefits to those who 'need' it. However, since need is defined by the doctor, not the patient, the result is enhancing the prestige and power of physicians, and diminishing the autonomy of individuals, often at precisely that moment in their lives when that is all they have left.

The "Anna Karenina" problem is one that anyone who has contemplated the ethics of suicide has to deal with. How much worse is it if you've asked someone to drive the train?

Lomberg -- Gay, Green, Nazi?

This is going to be a Spiked-heavy links day, 'cos there's a lot of good stuff there today. In 'This is a case of table pounding' they interview Bjorn Lomberg and ask what he thinks about the accusation that he's akin to a holocaust denier (I kid you not). The comparison between how Lomberg's book has been received and how Arming America was received says a lot about the academic climate and its approach to academic freedom.

Thursday, January 24, 2002

Number nonsense

Sad to see the Telegraph repeating a useless number. In an otherwise sound editorial on NHS practices, Now wash your hands, they include this factoid:

Hospitals will always be risky places, of course, but it was still shocking when, two years ago, the National Audit Office reported that infections caught in them were killing 5,000 patients a year and were implicated in the deaths of another 15,000.

The NAO report was based, at least in part, on some pretty shaky extrapolations of shaky American data. See Howard's and my article Nursing the Numbers for a discussion of just how unreliable these figures are.

As for the "Nightingale factor," the Social Affairs Unit in the UK (it's not worth linking to their useless website) published a very interesting book a few years back entitled "Come Back Miss Nightingale," which looked at the decline of the professions over there. The chapter on nursing was particularly heart-breaking for me, whose maternal line was full of dedicated, hard-working nurses. It's no longer available online, but here is a copy of most of a WSJ article on the subject.

Worth a read

Not sure how I've missed this, but Jonathan Rauch's usually excellent National Journal column is online at Reason magazine. His indictment of Syria last week is definitely worth a look.

Lies, lies, lies

Jonah promised us it was not a blog. Well, if The Corner on National Review Online isn't a blog, I'm a Dutchman.

Seriously, though, check it out. It's darned good fun watching the professionals at it...

Fear the reaper

My old friend Andy Fear has a good page explaining a case against British involvement in the EU with useful links: Anti Maastricht, anti European Union Documents.

Derivative of what?

If that's the question you've been asking about Enron, worry no longer. Monster-movie critic and all-round good-sense-talker Joe Bob Briggs explains futures, options, swaps and hedges in The Enron mule market in The Washington Times. Follow the adventures of Ismail the Mule Merchant as he attempts to protect himself against loss in the Kabul mule market. Kudos to UPI for hiring this man as a columnist.

Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Sad Day

Thanks to the Prof for pointing this out: Philosopher Nozick dies at 63.

Robert Nozick was the man whose arguments single-handedly saved me from failing my Philosophy requirement during Greats. I was lost in the miasma of John Rawls on the moral side and Willard Van Orman Quine on the logical side when I came across his work. He cut through the jungle and presented the issues with clarity. I quoted him in every one of my Moral & Political essays during finals and got the decent marks I needed to support my History papers. I feel a deep personal debt to the man and am sorry he has left us, especially with Rawls still around.

How exactly?

Jonah Goldberg announces a new initiative on NRO which will not, he says, not be a blog-like site:

Here's how it will work, at least in the beginning. Starting tomorrow, we will have a link to something called — you guessed it — "the Corner" on the homepage. Inside, Rich Lowry, Rod Dreher, and myself will be filing observations, arguments, complaints, interesting links, jokes, commentary — perhaps even recipes — throughout the day. If there's news we'll be there offering every half-baked theory and career-destroying spontaneous reaction you can imagine.

Funny. I thought that was exactly what a blog was...

The trouble with data

Ignore all those alarmist headlines like Census report finds illegals threat to U.S. security (Washington Times). For a start, the census report found no such thing. It is a purely technical document aimed at coming up with a plausible number of illegal immigrants.

Second, as so often with these things, the further away from the overall total you get, the less useful the numbers become. The researchers came up with numbers ranging from 17 percent of the illegal population to 55 percent coming from Mexico. Indeed, the more country-specific you are, the more weird the numbers seem. Thus, the model says that the number of illegals from Ireland was -2,233. Yes, that is a negative number. I wouldn't place any store by the middle east numbers that have caused such an outcry.

The full technical details are available here: Evaluating Components of International Migration: The Residual Foreign Born.

Property rights to be abolished

In Scotland. Does no one care about the great Scottish land grab? introduces me to a stunningly bad piece of legislation under discussion there:

Hailed by the ostensibly moderate Donald Dewar as changing for ever the nature of land tenure in Scotland, the Land Reform Bill - or, as it might more accurately be called, the Class War Bill (Remaining Stages) - plans to give "communities" the right to buy the land on which they live when estates come up for sale.

Landlords will have no choice but to sell to such groups, although the Bill insists that they will be paid full market rates, fixed by an independent valuer. Critics, however, ask that if the market is effectively to be abolished, how long will it be before prices plummet?

Ye gods. The Bill also plans to allow unrestrained access to land for "rambling" purposes. We're just waking up to the idea that property rights might be the key to ending third world hardship, yet we're going to abolish them in Scotland? That country's descent towards North Korean status continues.

Plain speaking from the Lodge

The porter's, that is, not the masonic. There's a sound Telegraph editorial on the views of an Oxford porter (doorman/ caretaker/ mailroom clerk/ student's friend or obstacle depending on the mood). This is exactly how a porter should be. Anyone who's read Porterhouse Blue will know that.

Pundits on the Rack

Just as Andrew Sullivan is going after Bill Kristol, Paul Krugman and others for their taking money from Enron, Janet Daley points out how the BBC never asks advocacy group representatives about their funding:

Are broadcasters not aware (as most print journalists are) that being a spokesman for an organised protest group is now a career option, and that Mr or Ms Always Available from the National Association for Theoretical Protest in Social Sophistry (Natpiss) might be as self-serving as any political hack? Does the researcher ever ask the professional protester how many people he represents? Or where his funding comes from?

Having said that, I've always believed that funding is irrelevant to the strength of the argument. This is particularly the case in science, where the argumentum ad pecuniam is most likely a fallacious distraction from the strength of the empirical research. However, when pundits become the argument themselves, there's always a chance of corruption. Good to keep an eye on this one, but we should never let it blind us to the point of prejudice.


The Dutroux scandal in Belgium takes another bizarre twist, with a Senator smuggling a journalist into jail under Parliamentary immunity to interview the child-rapist. According to the Senator, the child rape-murders 'could provoke a new revolution'. The open secret is that Dutroux has been denied trial for so long because in open court he will spill the beans about the involvement of major figures in his paedophile ring. Justice is being denied the children's families for the sake of political expediency. That's why we have habeas corpus and that's why allowing European courts the power to arrest British citizens is not just a bad, but an evil thing.

How's this for an abuse of power?

The Blairite government's arrogance grows exponentially. Check out this story. The EU has decided to call a Constitutional Convention to rubber-stamp whatever the already-extant executive comes up with:

Under an agreement struck by EU heads of government in Belgium last month, Britain has three representatives, one of the Government and two from Parliament. The EU agreement does not say how the two parliamentarians are to be chosen but Robin Cook, the Commons leader, promised MPs last week they would be consulted.

Taking Mr Cook at his word, the Commons foreign affairs committee decided yesterday to nominate two of their own members. They chose Gisela Stuart, a Labour former health minister, and John Maples, who was William Hague's foreign affairs spokesman.

The two names were passed to the Foreign Office by Donald Anderson, the committee's Labour chairman. Then the Government decided their promise to consult MPs had been satisfactorily carried out and agreed to put the names of Mr Maples and Mrs Stuart to the Commons next week.

The Committee is, of course, controlled by Labour. IDS, affronted at this, has organized a poll of Tory MPs to see who they would want (hint: it won't be Maples). In some ways, they're lucky they've got a Tory candidate at all (it wouldn't surprise me if a Lib Dim got the non-Labour job in the end), but this is clearly an abuse of the spirit of democracy, if not its letter.

Hideously unscientific but...

Even The Mirror, which has payed up the "torture angle" to the hilt has to admit:

91 per cent of readers in a Mirror poll backed the US treatment of the prisoners.

It was a phone-in poll, so unscientific, but it was the largest vote they've ever recorded and the results were so emphatic it must be indicative of something. I hope Gallup or MORI are conducting a poll as we speak (heck, the American Embassy in the UK should be paying for one) on this subject so we can know the real state of public opinion, but I suspect it'd be overwhelmingly pro-US.

Nevertheless, the Mirror continues its crusade, but is reduced to two arguments: that the prisoners are innocent until proven guilty and should not be "humiliated or paraded as trophies" (I have some sympathy with this argument, as mentioned below, but don't think their treatment is in any real way inconsistent with how potentially dangerous prisoners are treated before trial in the US, nor do I think the "parade" is inconsistent with the more important right of free information about how the Executive is acting). Second, that this will encourage resistance to the US in the Arab world. The Times has already refuted that argument, which is based on the same misunderstanding of the Arab/Islamic worldview as got us into this mess in the first place.

Cue damp squib sound effects...

Here we go...

I wonder if the Justice Department is looking at and learning from this: Lockerbie appeal challenges judges.

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Hitch-worship hits a hitch?

It'll be interesting to see what Christopher Hitchens' new-found friends make of this Mirror opinion piece. He criticizes the US and Britain on Guantanamo bay conditions, although this reads as if it was written before the latest evidence has come out. In any event, it is indicative of my general point that Hitch ties the issue to the wider issue of prison reform:

Americans have already become far too used to the sight of young men in shackles, of round-the-clock incarceration, of stun-belts worn by prisoners that deliver powerful electric shocks, and of other shameful things.

Every year, Amnesty International awards the United States very low marks for its prison conditions, which include the use of male-on-male rape as a weapon of discipline by guards.

As I've said before, I agree with Hitch on this. But America has to sort this out as an internal problem. Hectoring from the sidelines is most likely to be counter-productive. Say this in The Weekly Standard, Christopher, not The Mirror...

Making a Difference

All those on both sides of the Atlantic who've belittled Britain's contribution to the war should read Allies in sunshine and shadow in The Washington Times. It surprised me, and it also underlines how actions speak louder than words.

Elite Bleat

British Find No Abuse of U.S. Captives At Cuba Base, reports the Washington Post. As I intimated before, the British press reaction probably has a lot to do with a history of British paternalist interest in prison reform, which is not in itself a bad thing. The man on the street, though, couldn't give a toss:

There were signs, though, that the allegations of brutality are more a concern to the media and the political world than to the Briton-in-the-street.

After the the issue was discussed today on the "Richard and Judy Show," Britain's equivalent of "Oprah," the hosts held a telephone poll. About 5,000 responses came in, producers said.

The result: Only 8 percent felt the prison was "inhumane," with 92 percent supporting the U.S. treatment of the suspects.

Having said that, people who would object to the treatment probably wouldn't watch Richard and Judy.

Anyway, Jim Bennett did say that a lot of this was a clash between elites and commons in a column a couple of weeks ago...

The Francosphere and its Evils

Michael Gove does a splendid and, at times, dramatic job in reminding us how the French, preserving their role in the Francosphere, collaborated in the terrible massacres in Rwanda (I felt physically sick at the descriptions Michael quotes). Britain's retreat from Empire has generally been in accordance with her principles (we are trying to unseat Mugabe, although not as vigorously as we should) but France simply views Africa as another way of advancing her aims by quid pro quo. Michael's conclusion is compelling:

EU nations enjoy meddling in Africa because it is a mineral-rich playground from which they can exclude what Hubert Védrine calls the US “hyperpower”. Africa’s corrupt nationalist elites welcome that intervention because it brings them contracts, weapons and an excuse for their failure to feed their people. The two work together to advance their aims. EU votes ejected the US from the UN’s Human Rights Commission and replaced it with the slave-state of Sudan, whose regime has the blood of thousands on its hands.

If the Commonwealth is to have any meaning it must work to bring the Rule of Law back to English-speaking Africa. America can work with the Commonwealth on this. Such an approach could be the practical beginnings of a real Anglosphere alliance.

Resolution vs Magnanimity

Exceptionally sound leader in The Times addressing the British concern over the Guantanamo Bay pictures:

Some believe releasing these photographs to be a bad blunder, undermining the moral case for the allies and strengthening Islamic fundamentalism. This is wrong. Despite brave talk about loving death the way that Westerners love life, many of the followers and potential followers of Osama bin Laden are moved by the threat and reality of force. Showing the toughness of the United States and its willingness to do what is necessary will not recruit new Muslim extremists, it will do the opposite. The best recruiting sergeant for terrorist groups are signs of weakness from those they seek to terrorise.

This all goes to the heart of the clash between cultures inherent in this war. The other side view much of our culture as weak. In these photos we demonstrate, once again, our strength to them. I remain concerned about the hood (what do we not want them to see?) although the masks and earmuffs strike me as fine.

The Times finishes with an important point:

After the Second World War Sir Winston Churchill famously wrote: “in war, resolution; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity; in peace, goodwill”. The United States and its allies are still at war. There will come a time for magnanimity and goodwill. Now is the time for resolve.

Excellent stuff.

Offensive View of Weapons

Thanks to Natalie Solent for linking to this Times story. She's right that it marks a sea-change, but what caught my attention was this:

Prudent students will in future ensure that they have airline blankets, a can of Coke, a pen, a magazine and keys within reach at all times on board a plane. The blanket is to smother the terrorist or, held like a scarf, to garrotte him or parry his attempted stabs.

A belt can perform the same role, when not being swung buckle first. Pens and keys can take out eyes and are handy on pressure points. Placing shoes on hands offers some protection. A tightly rolled magazine hurts when used to hit or jab: “Go for the artery, a nose jab, in the eye, punch in the solar plexus.”

If the Coke can is not hurled at the hijacker, it can add critical mass to a blow to the head or neck.

Airport security have already banned nail clippers and tiny penknives. If passengers can use these things in offensive fashion, why not hijackers? Belts, pens, keys, blankets will all be next on the banned list, mark my words. The blogosphere's "fly naked" idea may be here sooner than we think.

Monday, January 21, 2002

Cross-blog alert. I've posted some comments on public holidays over on Conservative Revival. I'd be interested in any comments.

Fungi from Yuggoth

Can be found at Andrew Ian/ Marty Dodge's site. He's a sound anglospherist (as opposed to someone who misunderstands the concept) and a Cthulologist as well. But does he know about Azathoth's main enemy, hmmm?


When I logged on, it was in full intention of a serious complaint. My wife, God bless her soul, is a true New Yorker and regards that city as the Tanelorn of the mundane universe. I can cope with the idea that 9/11 was a traumatic event for America, but I'm beginning to get annoyed with the idea that it places America unique amongst the firmament. I therefore suggested tonight to my beloved that the line in America the Beautiful about the cities being "undimmed by human tears" was slightly untrue, partly on account of, for instance, Atlanta and Richmond having been razed by Americans (Northerners and Southroners respectively). She did not take kindly to this idea.

Nevertheless, despite what America went through, and discounting the silly anthrax scare, what New York and DC experienced was really nothing compared to the Blitz. I grew up with bomb sites (great playgrounds) thirty years later. Every night in the early 40s my father and mother would, on the wail of a siren, retreat to a shelter: a hastily-dug trench covered with corrugated iron, or underneath the iron kitchen table repectively. It was only in London they had those official bomb shelters deep underground they talk about in the History Channel documentaries. My father's cousin, one of his best friends, was killed by a direct hit to his shelter. This was in the north-east, many miles away from the concentrated bombing of the Blitz. Even so, every night your life was in danger. For three long years.

All of which makes me think: no, I wouldn't wish 9/11 on anyone, but, for Goodness' sake, treat it as what it was. As wars go, the Americans got off very, very lightly. If Americans continue to complain about their suffering, they are forgetting not only that of their allies, which will of course isolate them, but also their own. The Civil War should have taught America what suffering is. if it didn't, then the North has yet to learn that important lesson.

We Happy Few

Do check out Heretical Ideas. As an example of how heretical the comrade is, he argued in favor of prison refom almost exactly the same time I did.

PS Quick mid 80s Oxford lingo guide

Comrade = Sound Man/Woman
Citizen = Unsound man/woman
Hack = Politico/journalist/anyone who wants publicity
Knife = To stab someone in the back for political/hack reasons
Yib = To panic uncontrollably for no apparent reason
Riz (vb), Rizzer (n) = Functions of being utterly risible

Therefore: "Comrade Johnson has knifed Citizen Hames. That rizzer's yibbed so much no hack will have anything to do with him. What a Sherlock."

PPS Prize for anyone who can pin down the Sherlock reference.

Saturday, January 19, 2002

I have seen the future and it doesn't Talk

I think this is relevant to the rants that have been directed against Blogs from various failed full-time journos recently. Matt Drudge reports that Tina Brown's Talk magazine has had its last Hurrah. If a mainstream general-interest mag with big names behind it can fail, then something is changing in journalism. I'm sure somebody else will have already made this point, but it seems to me that the internet is to print news and views what cable is to broadcast TV. It gives people so many more options that they don't need the original as much. The interesting thing about this particular movement is that it is towards amateur publications. Great. That's the very definition of a free press. Drudge, blogs and similar phenomenons are returning the American press (and possibly the prss of other Anglosphere nations) to what it was at the time of the Revolution: unfiltered, unedited views that reflect the opinion of the people rather than an elite. I can imagine an internet version of Tom Paine's Common Sense. I can't imagine the New York Times printing it without heavy edits (they'd probably change the original position bit to have something to do with global warming). If the blood that has to be shed to keep the tree of liberty growing is simply print ink, I don't think many tears will be shed. The enemy this time are the Greycoats. Is the demise of Talk their Lexington?

Friday, January 18, 2002

Murray the MOSSAD Man

Just before I came down with the dreaded Lurgi, I discovered an article at Middle East Wire that was rather miffed at my CSM article on the number of Muslims in America some weeks back. It basically accused me and my co-author of being Jewish Terrorists. Fun. Anyway, Howard, said co-author, has a comprehensive rebuttal of the supposedly scientific arguments over at Kesher Talk, which also contains a link to the MEW article. (Sorry about the bad link there for a while. Thanks, Moira!)

Sand Flies in the Ointment

Emmanuel Goldstein has an interesting excerpt from a Lords debate on British military readiness over on The Airstrip One Web Log. It appears that the recent exercises in Oman went perfectly, except that the army couldn't afford to equip its tanks with sand filters, which meant that none of them worked. This is the army that fought Rommell in the desert for three years?

Bowman's Ring

James Bowman is probably the most perceptive film critic in America (and as an Englishman is an Anglospherist's delight). He's finally written his review of The Fellowship of the Ring. He seems to like it despite not wanting to admit it. That's as it should be, I think.

Holy Elections, Batman!

Interesting side note to this discussion of the race to succeed Brian Carey as Archbishop of Canterbury (which, in its capacity as head of the Anglican Communion, is of direct interest to Episcopalians here in the US):

The process by which contenders are eliminated has also been criticised for allowing opponents to blackball strong characters with whom they disagree, producing an outcome that would give the greatest chance to those who offend the least number of people.

This is, of course, exactly the effect of Single Transferrable Vote, or Instant Runoff voting as it is known over here. Funny that the effect is a good thing when it keeps Tories out, but a bad thing when it keeps liberals out...

He loves Big Brother

You know, if I was paranoid or even just moderately suspicious, I'd findthis a little scary.

Why He is a Conservative

It's a question that's often very hard to answer, but Iain Duncan Smith did a good job yesterday. It may be too early to say, like the Telegraph, The Tories are back, but this is a good grounding. IDS outlined five principles of Conservativisim:

First, he said that Conservative policies should help people to be more independent of the state. Second, that they should actively reduce the power of the state over individuals. Third, that they should increase the choices available to Britons. Fourth, that they should provide greater security for citizens (and he was not talking only about crime and defence, but also about healthcare and industrial relations). And fifth, that Conservative policies should remove obstacles to enterprise, both at home and abroad.

These square well with the three main rights of Englishmen as enumerated by Blackstone: personal security, personal liberty, and property. Property rights need to be emphasised more, but this is a good start. Keep going, IDS.

Transports of Fright

For Safety's Sake, Roundabouts Replaced Stop Lights, but Pileups Began Piling Up, reports the Wall Street Journal (subscription required, I'm afraid). The clear subtext throughout this story from the British and Australian roundabout designers is that American drivers are stupid and selfish:

As traffic planners across the U.S. rip out stop signs to install roundabouts that can slow aggressive drivers, some cities are discovering that these so-called "traffic-calming devices" do exactly the opposite. Some drivers go the wrong way, figuring it's OK to turn left into the roundabout if you plan to hop off at the first side street. Trucks flatten curbs and landscaping. In some places, accident rates have surged after the installation of roundabouts, causing them to be razed in favor of old-fashioned traffic lights or stop signs.

Stupid and selfish is fair comment, say I. If drivers insist on turning straight left at roundabouts rather than following the traffic flow all the way around, of course they're going to have head on collisions. Roundabouts force you to slow down and pay attention or you'll have an accident. So if people don't slow down or pay attention then...

Some blame should of course attach to local authorities who install roundabouts without instructing people as to the rules associated with them. UK readers would be amazed at how little you have to know to get through the driving test here (of the 25 questions I answered about the rules of the road, 5 of them were about alcohol). Part of the trouble is that, because they need to, most Americans learn to drive in their mid-teens. The habits you learn in your early driving career tend to stay with you, and as mid-teens are often stupid and selfish, so are their driving habits.

US traffic accidents are therefore essentially a cultural phenomenon. I wonder how many foreign road traffic engineers appreciate that?

Odd Odes

I awoke from slumber this morn to see
A blog written all in poetry.
Will Warren takes issues of the day
And looks at them in a metric way,
Such as, with Wall Street's Mr Tunku,
He bewails the depths he's sunk to.
Alas! Before this gets much worse,
Check out the site: Unremitting Verse

Thursday, January 17, 2002

The Illiberal Liberals

My colleague Trevor Butterworth has an insightful review of William McGowan's new book, Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity has Corrupted American Journalism (Rainbow's End in last Sunday's Washington Post). Here's an excerpt:

In a study that almost serves as a primer on controversial social issues, McGowan looks at what major news organizations chose to emphasize and leave out in national news stories on affirmative action, immigration, race, AIDS and promiscuity, integration in the military and partial birth abortion. Animated not by ideology but by a desire to arrive at "a frank and fair rendering of the facts," McGowan demonstrates that, in a quest to do good, much diversity-minded journalism has prevented the airing of critical moral and philosophical conflicts. These points of dispute are essential, he argues, not only for justice to be seen to be done, but for social policy to be formulated under the kind of democratic criticism vital to its ultimate success. The irony here is that McGowan's charges do not disclose an incorrigibly liberal press, as conservatives would charge, but rather an illiberal press, which works to restrict the free market of ideas.

Indeed. This work and Bernard Goldberg's Bias are starting to assault the illiberal press from the high ground, while the blogosphere starts to undermine it. Sooner or later, someone in the media's towers is going to notice the cracks appearing in their walls.

Bioethics Update

Aha! The President named many more members of the bioethics council yesterday. This looks much more balanced. I wonder why the initial list was just of the usual suspects?

Red Ken, Bright Future?

Myron Magnet, Charles Murray, James Q. Wilson ... Ken Livingstone? Red Ken seems an unlikely convert to Conservative approaches to crime, but this Evening Standard story indicates to me that he's got the germ of the right idea. The remoralization of the community through role models and the like, targeting illegal weapons (it would be nice if there were some legal weapons to help the communities defend themselves) and the importance of education and economic opportunity (not simple cash injections) are the right way to go. It seems Ken understands this. Jolly good!

A Charming Bunch

Here's exactly why Hugo's chums are being tightly watched: Prisoners vow `to kill an American' at U.S. base. Nevertheless, the meals they're getting sound better than what I can afford!

More Dissing the Law

This from New Jersey: Man Wasn't in Car, Still Charged in DUI. The police called the defendent to take home a drunk driver. He allowed him to drive a car, which he then crashed into another and killed himself and the occupants of the other car (including a chap with a bright future, John Elliott). The defendent has been charged with manslaughter. This does not seem reasonable in any way to me, and indeed the facts seem to suggest he is the victim of manufactured outrage:

Powell was initially charged with allowing an intoxicated person to operate a motor vehicle after the accident. He could not be prosecuted under John's Law [introduced to allow prosecutions in such specific cases of negligence], since it was not in existence at the time of the crash. But the furor surrounding Elliott's death led to his indictment on charges of manslaughter, vehicular homicide and aggravated assault after the passage of the new law.

I find this absolutely astonishing. Why not charge the police for failing to throw the drunk into a drunk tank to sober up? Respect for justice is not served by such idiotic interpretations of the law.

Silly Man

We will not tolerate the abuse of war prisoners, declaims Hugo Young. No, of course; no-one civilized will. But just how are they being abused, exactly? They're clothed, fed, kept in good health with specific attention paid to hygeine. Shaving them could be regarded as an assault on their dignity, as I argued yesterday, but does have strong hygeinic elements that count in its favor. The shackling during transport strikes me as reasonable. Selective hooding is just about the only abuse I can discern (and that goes back to my dignity point rather than it being an instrument of torture).

Young is foaming and fulminating about a non-issue. I can only assume that he was apolplectic when he wrote this:

For, contrary to the myth of Anglo-America's unique respect for individual liberties, the continental ethic of human rights is even stronger. In response to September, not one EU country passed such draconian laws as Britain.

They didn't have to, because they already had such laws! You can't suspend habeas corpus if you don't have it in the first place, you twit. And anyway, what was all that fuss about the EU Arrest Warrant for, if the EU wasn't reacting inappropriately to September? Comments about facts, asses and checking are appropriate here, Hugo. No wonder your son has had such an interesting life...

The Return of Consumption

I bet we won't hear about this from the mainstream press. This allAfrica.com report, TB Now a Major Threat to Sub-Saharan Africa, is a useful summary of the return of another major disease:

According to the WHO, Africa is faced by three major infectious disease threats: HIV, TB, and Malaria. Approximately half of the deaths through infectious diseases in Africa are accredited to these three illnesses.

We know how to stop malaria: DDT, among other methods (but thanks to Rachel Carson, that's not acceptable). The TB problem is, however, one of synergy with HIV. It seems the disease is worse when the sufferer also has HIV, and it also hurries along the onset of AIDS. It would seem to me, therefore, that we should be spending just as much effort to tackle TB in Africa as we do on HIV/AIDS in Africa, as it's part and parcel of the same issue. I'd be very surprised, however, if there are any lobbying groups concentrating on this issue. But we know what works with TB, whereas we're still mostly in dark about HIV/AIDS. In the short-term, we can probably save more lives by concentrating on TB. What's the chance of that?

Bottoms Up! Prices Up!

Interesting evidence of the inflationary shock of Euro conversionin The Irish Independent:

In some cases, prices have shot up by as much as 10pc, though the general level of increase is less than that. The biggest culprits are pubs, restaurants and doctors, according to the CAI.

What I find most interesting is the way each of the parties has a different weaselly explanation for the increases. The Government says one thing, the vintners another and the Doctors yet another. The paper's headline has it right -- it was a big Euro price rise rip-off. Put all these price rises together, string them out over 30 years, assume ceteris paribus, and let's work out the Present Value of the cost of this shock. It should be substantial...

Sinn Fein, Sleaze Busters!

Oh, this is good. Because NuLab in their wisdom decided that Sinn Fein MPs should be able to use Parliamentary facilities without swearing an oath of loyalty, it appears they are also exempt from having to register their interests. Not unreasonably, Tories and Unionists have called for them to declare said interests (presumably shares in Kalashnikov, paid visits to Semtex factories, that sort of thing). According to this Guardian story, Sinn Fein have taken umbrage, not at the demand, but at who made it:

Insisting her party had no difficulty with signing the register as members already do so at the Northern Ireland assembly, the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP declared: "For people to be jumping up and down about Sinn Fein signing a code of ethics within the House of Commons, I find it fairly ironic given all the sleaze, scandal and basically bad behaviour by MPs in recent years, particularly by the Tories."

After all, none of the Sinn Fein MPs have a blight on their character. The very suggestion that any of them have ever been involved in murder, conspiracy to murder, causing explosions, conspiracy to cause explosions, drug running, racketeering or any number of other offences is simply unthinkable! In any event, sleaze is far worse...

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Answering back

Woo-hoo! Bjorn Lomberg now has a homepage! Take that E.O. Wilson! (Link discovered at More Than Zero).

New "Mass" Shooting

Gunman Shoots Six at Va. Law School, reports the AP. Three are dead, including the law school dean, so it looks like this was a targeted case of premeditated murder, not a random shooting. Look for it to be touted as a "mass school shooting" however.

Prison and the Courts

Jim Bennett sends in the following comments on prison reform:

I am glad to see you take on the subject of prison conditions, which are indeed a disgrace. Much of the blame, however, must go to the Supreme Court, which has endowed prisoners with a diverse set of "rights" which make it difficult for the prison administrators to establish full and unconditional authority over the prison population. As a result, prison guards do not really control prison society, they merely contain it.

This means that the first lesson prisoners learn is that predation pays; successful predators have a much more fun time in prison than do unsuccessful ones. An acquaintence of mine who had done prison time as a conscientious objector said "you can get all the food, sex, and drugs you want in prison, so long as you aren't too fussy about quality." This means that for many predators, prison isn't really punishment; it's just a resting-up time between sprees.

With tools such as cheap digital cameras and ultra-cheap digital data storage, as well as DNA testing, it should be possible to make new Panopticons in which total control might finally be achieved. The prisoners could be made to feel that society's rules, rather than
nihilistic will, would determine when and under what conditions they got food, sex, and other privileges. (Suppression of rape, combined with conjugal visits for rehabilitating prisoners would reverse today's equation.) This would require overturing some Supreme Court decisions, and probably rebuilding the prison guard service from scratch. But if
we did it it would enormously change the crime/prison scene in America and make this a better place for everybody.

This makes sense. Suppression of rape would be my first step, though, and I think that means the prison guard service would have to be the first focus of reform.

When the Law deserves dissing

Incredible story from my old stamping ground. Police in North Shields (I come from South Shields, across the river), apprehended a man drunk in charge of his son's toy motorized bike. Give him a warning over appropriate behavior? That would be the sensible thing to do.

Instead, in move that seems expressly designed to reduce respect for the law, the police charged him with dangerous driving, excess alcohol, driving without insurance and driving while disqualified. Magistrates, unbelievably, agreed with the police.

The only let-out I could see for the police is if this man is a known villain and they were trying to keep him off the streets. But I can't imagine he'll receive a custodial sentence for any of this.

The logic of this episode escapes me. My great-grandfather was a Shields policeman. When did they turn his profession into a bunch of jobsworths/ tin-pot little Hitlers?

Civilizing Prisons

Some interesting points in this Telegraph editorial. Its argument about the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay is simple:

But, whatever the prisoners' status, Washington would be wise to treat them according to the Geneva norms. In so doing, it draws a distinction between civilised society and the apocalyptic savagery of those who would destroy it.

The American approach to prisoners is also simple. They are kept clean (the shaving is an important part of this), clothed, well fed and not subjected to torture. In that respect, they are being treated in a civilized fashion and in accordance with American tradition.

But the physical element is only part of it, and this is part of the point of the Telegraph's qualms. The Attorney-General has confirmed that the prisoners would be treated as innocent until proven guilty. I would argue that this means they must be treated with the dignity one should advance to an innocent man. I have long regarded the American approach to prisoners, especially those facing trial, as incompatible with the presumption of innocence. The chains, regardless of the danger pose by the prisoner, the cages, the forcible shaving and showering are all treatments that reduce diginity. To my mind, they are not civilized.

The point goes beyond conviction. American prisons are jungles, where the warders often let the prisoners act savagely towards each other. My colleague Eli Lehrer estimates that, because of the prevalence of the act in prisons, there may be more rapes of men in America than of women. British conservatives in the last century focused on three evils: child labor, slavery and prison conditions. They successfully improved the lot of sufferers of all three. It is time for American conservatives to look at prison reform as a truly conservative measure. Far from being "soft on crime" it is likely to reduce recidivism and produce much better adjusted citizens on release. Magnanimity towards the Taliban might be a good place to start.

Ice Warriors

This is getting silly. The case for Antarctic meteoites proving life on Mars, which looked pretty strong a few years ago, has been comprehensively demolished piece-by-piece. It would, however, be a great boost for funding. So now they're clutching at straws. Space News site Cosmiverse relates how they've found earthly microbes deeper in the Antarctic soil than they thought possible. Therefore, xenobiologists claim, this strengthens the possibility of there being life on Mars.

Eh? One small step for biology, one giant logical leap for xenobiology...

Mind you, this just goes to show how prescient Dr Who was. In the 60s the series' Martians were discovered living deep in the ice...

Baby Bioethics

I'm slightly disappointed by the Kass Commission. There's no doubt this is a high-powered panel. Wilson, Fukuyama and Krauthammer (a paraplegic as well as a medical doctor) are all serious, thinking people who I respect a great deal and who will not take decisions lightly. I'm not too familiar with George and Gomez-Lobo, but as the latter is an Aristotle expert he must be a good egg.

And I think the mix of disciplines is about right. This is a bioETHICS commission, not a biotechnology commission. I don't know of a single American ethicist, with the possible exception of that git Singer, who doesn't have a problem with the destruction of a form of human life for scientific purposes which, like it or not, is what this is all about.

However, there is a really important dimension missing from the panel. As far as I'm aware, none of those named is a secular humanist. The panel really needed, for credibility's sake as well as to improve its discussions, a figure from the Dawkins school. Unfortunately, the only really prominent one I can think of over here is Michael Shermer, who provides some really useful work at times as the publisher of Skeptic, but who gets a bit loudmouthed at times. In fact, in the January issue of Scientific American, he sails perilously close to Von Daniken. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, January 15, 2002


The Director of the British Museum gives the strongest statement I've seen about preserving the Museum's rights when it comes to the Elgin Marbles here in The Times. Jolly good show! The idea that relics must be viewed at their original location strikes at the very heart of the idea of museums and is simply another example of multiculturalist fallacy. The Greeks, as he makes clear, have no right to claim the moral high ground here:

No mention is made in these reports of the urgent need in Athens of a proper building for displaying the many sculptures of the Parthenon and other treasures that are currently lumbered in store-rooms. These include 14 blocks of the west frieze that were removed, much damaged by weathering, from the Parthenon in 1993 and have not been seen by the public since then. Other sculptures are currently left on the building and suffer the same damage. If symbolic gestures for 2004 are called for, there could be none better than Greece making sure that it properly displays what it already has.

I've always wondered whether those who champion the return would also champion the return of obelisks mounted in ancient bases in Rome and Istanbul to Egypt.

Not dead yet

Marxism, that is, not me (I'm feeling much, much better). This Times edtorial eloquently describes the process by which the Trots have regrouped following their defeats by Thatcher and Blair and are now poised to grab control of numerous positions of power again.

The Socialist Alliance operates by a classic three-step process familiar to students of Lenin. First, it finds areas of discontent where the hard realities of the modern world compel leaders to take difficult decisions. Secondly, it places itself at the heart of any movement opposed to those hard choices. Thirdly, it ensures that the political direction of any opposition movement is increasingly dictated by its own, hard left, interests.

Sound familiar, US readers? The interesting thing about Marxism in the US is that it gained this sort of control over issue groups and the Universities many years ago, and has ever since been slowly taking over federal institutions like the Civil Rights Commission and the CDC (urban sprawl is a killer disease!). If Congress had the guts to start cutting funding to these groups it could strangle the snake or at least send it slithering back to the Universities. As it is, much power in this most un-Marxist of democracies is wielded by unelected Marxists. I wonder how long they will continue to bide their time?

Monday, January 14, 2002

Bennett Alert

Jim's latest column is up at UPI. Four lucky countries looks at the differing fortunes of four countries "blessed" by geography: Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Uruguay. As he says,

The history of the Lucky Countries is a lesson alike to those who say that geography determines prosperity, and also to those who say that successful market economies and democracies are merely the matter of the right formula for conducting elections or making macroeconomic reforms.

Democracy and modern market economies are both products, rather than causes, of strong civil societies. Although weak civil societies are not destined to remain weak forever, the path to strengthening them is neither instantaneous nor easy.

Unfortunately, you don't get a strong civil society by encouraging people to live alone. It will be ironic if the first people to appreciate the value of a strong civil society is also the first one to abandon the idea.

My, myself and I

Perceptive article in Spiked about the increasingly solitary nature of modern life: in Singleton society Frank Furedi examines just how we have reached the state where the majority of adults in the UK are living alone. Personal commitment has become viewed as risky, he argues. Moreover,

This view of commitment lowers society's expectations of relationships. Backed by government policies, the entire relationship industry is devoted to cooling passions and advising people not to expect that their personal bonds will last for life. Such advice might be well meant, but it has the predictable outcome of turning people off. Without passion and spontaneity, personal relations will turn into the pragmatic transactions that dominate the market place. And who would want to commit his or her life to such a banal and unrewarding affair?

Furedi doesn't quite go far enough with his analysis. The upshot of all this is, of course, that the singles have to depend on the government for help when things go wrong, having no close family to help. No wonder government encourages the mindset, then.

And what does this augur for the future? I shudder to think.

Deadly Dull

I have a piece up today on The American Enterprise Magazine Hotflash site. It's about the international politics of the death penalty. Here are some numbers you might not see anywhere else:

Up to 77 percent of Britons support the reintroduction of capital punishment, and close to 50 percent think the same way in France and Italy. Even in peace-loving Sweden, a 1997 poll found that 49 percent of Swedes wanted the return of capital punishment. Anthony Blinken of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs that “significant majorities in France, Germany and the United Kingdom say that the death penalty is an internal matter and that their governments should not exert pressure on the United States to abolish it.”

Debra Saunders has an op/ed on similar lines, but without the nod to real European feelings, here.

El Cid

They tied him to his saddle to ensure the enemy were terrified by his mere presence in battle. That's a bit how I feel at the moment. I'm back, but don't expect miracles until I'm all caught up with other things...

Thursday, January 10, 2002

Bioterror victim?

Awoke choking twice during the night then had a high fever this morning, hence the lack of posts. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. No doubt the Center for Science in the Public Interest would infer a causal correlation between blogging and illness...

Wednesday, January 09, 2002


Thanks to the InstaPundit avalanche this morning (thanks, Glenn!, although I'm not really a "bigshot statistician" at all), I've now had 15,000 hits. A long way to go, but thanks to each and every one of you.

Didn't Lord Acton say something about Power?

According to Steven Glover in The Daily Mail (a web-free zone, I'm afraid), Tony Blair is going bonkers. I've suspected that since his "forces of conservativism" speech some years ago, but Glover concentrates on his suspected egomania since assuming his new world role. His conclusion is interesting:

And for God's sake, if those around him value his sanity and our futures, please don't show him an idiotic article to the Sunday Times of India which says that Mr Blair is the 'second most powerful man in the world'. That means more powerful than the Presidents of China. Russia and France, the Chancellor of Germany and the Prime Minister of Japan . That would leave only George W. Bush to supplant, and then God. My strong advice is to keep this article from him at all costs. It might finally tip him over the edge.

I think it's probably fair, though. He presides over a country with the fourth largest economy and what is quite probably the second most effective military in the world (that's one area where size doesn't matter). The combination of the two probably makes him the second most powerful leader in the world, although I'd argue that there are quite a few Americans ahead of him in the list (Cheney, Rumsfeld, probably Powell still, but he's probably more powerful than Daschle or any other Congressional figure). Putin has massive authority, but not power (the navy's sinking, the army is bogged down in Chechnya, half his nuclear force is in Kazakhstan, the economy is getting better, but still desperately sick). The Chinese leaders don't have as much individual power. France and Germany are important, but militarily useless and their economies are now, essentially, out of their control. Japan has no military force to speak of, and its leaders change at the drop of a hat anyway.

So yes, Blair is probably the most powerful figure in the world outside the US. So why does he want to be President of Europe?

The elusive Mr Bennett

Several of my correspondents claim it is difficult to find Jim Bennett's excellent material online. Well he's on The American Enterprise Magazine Hotflash today [the link will change in a day or so -- look for the article "Rights, no, Pseudo-rights, yes!"], putting the boot into the European concept of "rights":

The European Union is constantly manufacturing "rights" in the sense of various benefits their governments must tax and regulate their citizens to provide. These include things like the "right" to a full night's sleep, which recently seemed to threaten the abolition of overnight flights in Europe. Yet in pursuit of such "rights" they seem intent on eradicating the most effective set of real rights humankind has known.

Good stuff. There should be more like this in the future.

Oh to be in England

Glenn Reynolds observes the increase in the UK's gun crime rate since the confiscation of handguns, which I pointed out somewhere below. But the Prof is too kind to his correspondents, who claim that "British crime is still much lower".

This is only true if you look at the headline murder rate. As my Christian Science Monitor op/ed from July 2000 argues:

In all major crime categories except for murder and rape (where the figures are unreliable on both sides of the Atlantic), Britain now has higher crime rates. For robbery, assault, burglary, and auto theft, Britain is a worse place than the US. Even the gap in the murder rate has narrowed, falling from 10 times as many murders per head in the US as in Britain, to 6 times as many (due entirely to the fall in the US rate).

If you want verification of this surprising fact, check out this PDF report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and Cambridge's Institute of Criminology. The figures only go up to 1996, but the US trend is down since, while the UK's trend has fluctuated (and when it was down, it wasn't down as much as the US). (I keep meaning to update the figures for my own benefit. Perhaps that should go on my "to do" list.) The International Crime Victimization Survey, whose data is only useful comparatively rather than as actual indications of the level of crime in each country, also confirms the UK's being a more crime-ridden place than the US.

I am convinced that this is a cultural phenomenon, rather than an economic outcome driven by poverty, racism and so on (1930s Jarrow, where class discrimination was as bad as any racial discrimination, was hardly the crime capital of the Western world). Authoritarian methods such as more police and handgun bans are not the way to solve it. I am glad that Natalie Solent's obscure object of desire, Oliver Letwin, seems to get this.

Tuesday, January 08, 2002

The Truth Datum

Rand Simberg takes me to task in Transterrestrial Musings for my comments on evolution being a fact rather than a theory.

I stand by my comment on the fact of evolution, but recognise I did not explain it as I should. To me a fact is a truth-datum, verifiable from observation or experience. Observation has established beyond reasonable doubt that animals are related by common descent. That provides the fact of evolution. An eye-witness' testimony about a crime is theoretically falsifiable, but as long as it is verifiable beyond reasonable doubt, it ceases to be a theory and becomes a fact in the case. As far as I'm concerned, and I've read far better scientists than me say exactly the same thing, evolution -- the relation of living things by common descent -- is a fact.

According to this interpretation, the how and the why of the process of descent is where the Theory of Evolution comes in, and Rand's comments on that are very well made, as is the point about the faith of humanism.


Just for some heavyweight back-up to this from a real scientist, check out The Evolution Fact FAQ. As they put it:

Just as much as gravitation is a fact, is so evolution. It has been observed, in both the laboratory and the field, and through the evidence of the fossil record. It is not debated in mainstream science that evolution has occurred (and is still occurring); but it is the mode and tempo of evolution that is being debated.

Do you realise Mugabe is E ba Gum backwards?

["Eeh, by Gum!" being an old Yorkshire expression] Shock defeat for Mugabe in Parliament. Whoo-hoo! Even in the worst dictatorship in the Anglosphere, checks and balances do work (it would never have happened in the House of Commons). One of Mugabe's troika of tyranny-enabling bills got voted down. But just look at the two that got through:

Zimbabwe's journalists say the media bill is draconian and have said they will ignore it. The new law would ban foreign journalists from Zimbabwe and local journalists would need government accreditation, renewable every 12 months.

Tough jail terms are threatened, as are hefty fines, for journalists publishing news "likely to cause alarm and despondency". Information Minister Jonathan Moyo said it would stop lies being told by foreign correspondents about the situation in Zimbabwe. Moyo will decide which media journalists can write for

The Public Order and Security Bill makes it an offence to criticise the president, which observers say would make life intolerable for the opposition during an election campaign.

Tony Blair is said to be observing public reaction to these Bills...

Lost in Space

The Professor is worried about asteroids on InstaPundit.Com. I take his point that he's not worried about this particular rock, but Steve Milloy's point on JunkScience.com is important here:

Gasp! Shock, horror! Er... hang on. Doesn't this particular rock cross the orbits of Mars, Earth, Venus and Mercury (twice) every 1,321 days (3.6 Earth years)? And hasn't it been doing so for millions of years? Wow! That was a close call alright...

Of course we must colonize whatever worlds we can, but at the moment that's beyond us. So let's just keep on with our lives until we have the technology. Until then it's best for us to treat this as the interplanetary equivalent of crossing the road. Look both ways, don't build a bridge.

Euro Disnae

I just lost a kick-ass post on the Euro thanks to Blogger's difficulties this morning. My organization is planning a weblog news review, so this confirms that we'll be ordering CityDesk.

Anyway, check out STRATFOR's analysis of the strength of the Euro here. They skewer the main problem with the Euro's stability:

The euro's toughest tests will come when recession grips part or all of the eurozone. Europe lacks the economic synchronization of a single country. As a result, a recession will affect various countries differently, requiring distinct and sometimes conflicting policy responses. What's good for Germany may not be good for Greece. Somehow the ECB must bridge that gap, taking into consideration a complex array of signals and determining an appropriate and timely response. The ECB has yet to prove its muster in that regard, and this task will become even more difficult with EU expansion.

The ECB's job is made easier by its limited mandate to guard against inflation. But as the past year has shown, this preoccupation can result in an overly restrictive monetary policy. Unless inflation is very near the union's 2 percent ceiling, interest rate cuts will be hard to come by, especially if they are needed to spur growth only in certain countries.

That puts European politicians in a very tough spot. Unlike the technocrats at the ECB, they must answer to the voters, very few of whom think of themselves primarily as Europeans. Few would be willing to sacrifice their own prosperity for a fellow European in a distant country.

The ECB and the euro have yet to face the test of a sharp economic downturn that pits one eurozone economy against another, though that may happen if Germany doesn't begin growing soon. ... At such times, the stresses on the ECB and the euro will be great, and it is impossible to know how they will respond.

In the end a currency's long-term value is determined by the economic fundamentals and political stability of the issuing country. Thus, the stable and prosperous United States has a strong dollar while the economically moribund and politically impotent Japan has an ever-weakening yen.

The euro appears destined to fall somewhere in between, benefiting from the economic size and strength of the eurozone but limited by the political instability inherent to a union of sovereign countries. As a result the euro will fail to gain significant ground against the dollar, much less challenge it as the world's preferred hard currency.

In that sense, the latest euro triumph is mostly mechanical. More difficult tests are yet to come.

Excellent. The "No" campaign needs to tell people this repeatedly. It's a very simple and rational argument.

Those who can't, teach

And those who can't teach become pundits. I personally think the First Amendment is a finely balanced tool for ensuring that Church and State do not become intertwined to the detriment of both. Unfortunately, the willful misinterpretation of what "establishment" means, coupled with a disregrard of the "free exercise" clause, has thrown it out of balance. I am therefore normally supportive of attempts to champion the free exercise clause. That's not the case with one recent attempt. U.S. Supreme Court won't hear state teacher's evolution case, thank goodness.

The problem here is that free exercise requires responsibility. If I am employed to teach science, I am not employed to teach R.E., as we call it in the UK. It is irresponsible of me to try to impose my own views on an established curriculum. There are areas of doubt in relation to the state of evolutionary science, but those are for advanced study, not High School science. Moreover, the idea that "evolution is just a theory" is quite simply wrong. The fact of evolution has been established beyond reasonable doubt. It is how evolution works that is in question. From this report, it appears that the science teacher questions even the fact.

Children giving addresses to a school should be able to thank God. Science teachers should not be able to question evolution on religious grounds in science class (they should be able to in comparative theology classes, if they're allowed). The difference between the two cases seems quite straightforward to me. But what do I know, I can't even teach.

Mr Hanke

Interesting comments in the latest Forbes by economist Steve Hanke (who must really hate South Park). In May the Best Currency Win (link requires registration) he points out that private financial houses could bring the supposed benefits of the Euro to Eastern Europe without those countries having to sign up to the EU's awful membership conditions:

But why shouldn't countries like Poland be able to use the euro? After all, if the new currency is an elixir for western Europe's economy, as Brussels maintains, wouldn't it be a great thing for the rest of Europe?

Think about it. Countries like Poland could use the euro as a unit of account without even joining the union. They could detour the Maastricht roadblock simply by authorizing private banks to issue their own euro notes. Then well-capitalized foreign commercial banks doing business in Poland could issue euro-denominated notes redeemable in official euros.

Having said that, couldn't those countries equally do that with the Dollar? Then we'd have two major currencies competing on the European continent. To stop people flocking to the Dollar, the EU might have to relax some of its policies. Eastern Europe gains stability and starts looking less like the Soviet era and Western Europe gains flexibility and, well, starts looking less like the Soviet era...

Monday, January 07, 2002


I've just heard the news that UK Chancellor Gordon Brown's 10 day-old baby has died in hospital. I can't imagine how I would have felt if Helen had died at that age. I'm so sorry for the Chancellor and his wife.

Go, Irwin!

Irwin Stelzer of The Hudson Institute, puts the boot into Chris Patten over the Euro in this Sunday Times article (links to the Sunday Times require registration, I'm afraid):

Chris Patten, one of the legion of European politicians who failed at home only to re-emerge in sinecures in Brussels, says that when it comes to a common currency, “Americans just don’t get it”. In fact, we do. We adopted a single currency only after political and economic union, and only in the context of a single language, low taxes and minimal regulations on the free movement of workers between jobs.

We also “get” the fact that it is impossible to sustain a one-size-fits-all monetary policy without also harmonising fiscal policy. In America there is one federal tax code for all. The 50 states are free to impose any additional taxes that they choose, but can do so only at their peril. If high state taxes do not yield advantages in the quality of education, transport, policing, and the other functions for which the states have primary responsibility, businesses and jobs will flee to lower-tax jurisdictions. This healthy competition cost high-tax New York State and New York City millions of jobs as employers moved out.

The governments of continental Europe are aware of this phenomenon, which is why they favour “harmonisation”. Americans prefer the protective disharmony of competing tax regimes.

Irwin's points about economic migration are well made. With genuine freedom of movement between at least the main Anglosphere countries, an unemployed panel-beater from Blackbird Leys in Oxford would be much more likely to move to Detroit than some Renault plant.

Questions, questions

Ignore the spin in this Sunday Times article on British public opinion about the Euro. For a start, YouGov has in no way proven its contention that its on-line polls are as accurate as conventional sampling methods. Second, it all depends on the questions you ask. For example,

The poll shows for the first time that an overall majority of people (52%) would either join the euro immediately ( 18%) or when economic conditions are right (34%). Only 25% are hardline opponents of entry, saying Britain should never join.

Three other polls today show that supporters of immediate entry remain in a minority, as does the Sunday Times/YouGov survey.

An ICM poll for the News of the World showed 31% in favour of immediate entry, with 56% against, while another ICM poll showed that 73% think Britain is better off retaining control of its economy and keeping the pound, although 79% think the government will join the euro.

How do you reconcile "joining when the economic conditions are right" with "best to retain control over the economy"? Answer: the option about the "economic conditions being right" is reducible simply to the tautology "I agree it will be good to join the Euro when it is good to join the Euro." Luckily, enough people saw through the logical problem for a significant minority to say "It will not necessarily ever be good to join the Euro."

Given this problem, I'd much rather listen to the ICM results than YouGov's on methodological grounds, never mind the results.