England's Sword 2.0

Saturday, March 30, 2002

R.I.P. HRH Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother

The Queen Mum has died. She got the century up (I always wondered whether she received a telegram from her own daughter) so it was an excellent innings. I think the country's reaction will tell us a lot about the real state of the monarchy in the UK, and indeed of the UK itself. She was a living link to two eras of greatness -- the Victorian era and WWII -- that we feel a bit ambivalent about today (for no good reason). The Guardian will doubtless use her death as a pretext to kick-start their debate on modernization, as they term it.

Anyway, I shall miss her. I used to drink in Young's pubs a lot in London. Every pub had a picture of her up somewhere, behind the bar, pulling a pint of Ordinary. That summed her up, I feel: a grand old lady who had the common touch. Odd that so many of her detractors possess neither quality.

Gently lie the earth upon thee, Elizabeth Windsor.

Friday, March 29, 2002

It's official: Murray's a wimp

Well, I took The Cutthroat Quiz! while suffering from writer's block here. I got a 14% cruelty rating, which appears to be pretty unusual as only 2% of respondents were less cruel than that. Perhaps I shouldn't have taken the test on Good Friday...

The American Outlook

I've been waiting for the online edition of this great magazine to point to this, but it's taking ages. Anyway, the brilliant Mike Fumento quotes me in a piece on a dreadful study that tried to whip up hysteria over sexual exploitation of children. You can read it at his site -- Bestselling author Michael Fumento reports: "Exploiting Child Exploitation." One slight warning -- there's a picture the Unablogger would approve of.

For Kris

My wife has had enough with the barbarians of the middle east. I think Stephen Green has expressed what she feels. I find it very hard to disagree.

Krist was on rode

Time for another re-reading of the Dream of the Rood.

One thing I like about British quality papers on Good Friday is that they always include some reflection. The Telegraph's main leader, Beyond history, for example, seeks to ask what special lessons we can draw from this time of the year:

...nowhere is the burden of inherited wrongs more painfully obvious today than in the Holy Land. There Jesus lived and died, apparently a helpless human victim of the tides of history. But instead of proving one more example of historical inevitability, he transcended history's bonds. He redeemed the time, and our time too. In that lies hope.

The Times, meanwhile, despite Simon Jenkins' usual strugglings with his beliefs or lack of them, carries a straightforward evocation of the central message of Easter, ending by quoting George Herbert:

“Rise, heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise Without delays, Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise With him mayst rise: That, as his death calcined thee to dust, His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.”

Even The Sun asks us all to pray, but I think that's in the sense of "hope for" rather than the mystical sense. Meanwhile, Richard Littlejohn worries that it's only a matter of time before Easter gets banned:

SO far Easter has escaped the attention of the killjoys who want to abolish Christmas on the grounds that it is “inappropriate” to a multi-cultural society.

But they’ll get round to it soon, as sure as Easter eggs is Easter eggs.

No doubt I’ll be getting a sackful of letters telling me that schools throughout the country have already scrapped Easter because it causes offence to non-Christians.

Remember, You Couldn’t Make It Up.

But until then, make the most of it.

Happy Easter.

... Si me dryhten freond,
se ðe her on eorþan ær þrowode
on þam gealgtreowe for guman synnum.
He us onlysde ond us lif forgeaf,
heofonlicne ham.

(I shall be God's friend, who here on Earth once suffered on the gallows tree for human sins. He unleashed us, and gave us life, a heavenly home.)

Happy Eostre.

Thursday, March 28, 2002

Update -- my American Enterprise anthrax piece is now permanently here.

Trans-Atlantic Blogs

Here's good 'un. Ignore the occasional Battle of Britain fantasies and take a look at A letter from the Olde Countrie.

UPDATE: Actually, its Dr Strangelove fantasies.


The murder of twenty Israelis at a holy feast seems small by comparison with the WTC attacks, but consider this: Israel has a population of just under 6 million. Proportionately, the attack is equivalent to killing 933 Americans. That's how terrible these attacks are.

And the next time you see Gerry Adams at the White House (hopefully never again), remember that the Omagh bomb killed 29 out of a population of 1.6 million. That's equivalent to killing 4,808 Americans.

These outrages may be small in numerical terms, but the damage to their countries is huge.

Guns and Butter

Fascinating MORI poll digest commentary column by my friend Roger Mortimore, analysing the latest British polls on the war on terror. Here's an interesting fact: the war is more popular with the young than the old.

Older Britons are less likely to approve of Mr Blair's handling of the situation. More of those aged 55 and over disapprove (46%) than approve (43%), whereas 58% of 16-24 year olds, 57% of 25-34 year olds and 56% of 35-54 year olds approve. On the other hand, the age differences in attitudes to President Bush's handling of the American response are much smaller, and indeed not statistically significant. Approval of Mr Blair is also considerably lower among DEs (44%) than among other classes. [DEs are the lowest socio-economic classes, ed]

Moreover, these differences carry through in attitudes to Iraq. Roger points out why British support has been slipping:

Probably at least two factors are driving the fall in approval of Mr Bush and Mr Blair. The first is a loss of public interest in the War, which, compounded with rising concern about public services, is now causing some of the public to resent the amount of effort being put into foreign rather than domestic issues. The falling away of "defence/foreign affairs" as one of the important issues facing the country mentioned in our monthly polls similarly indicates a change in priorities. Of course, the situation in the USA is very different: the ABC News/Washington Post poll by TNS Intersearch a few days before ours (7-10 March) found 88% of Americans still approving of the way the President is handling the situation.

The second factor is probably the continued speculation that the War will shortly be extended to Iraq in an attempt to overthrow Saddam Hussain. The balance of British opinion is against the American government stepping up military action in Iraq. Only 35% say that the American government would be right to do so, while 52% think it would be wrong. Slightly more men (38%) than women (32%) would approve, and younger Britons are more likely to think it would be right than their older counterparts (43% of 16-34 year olds but only 29% of those aged 55+). Opposition is higher than average in London, where 62% think the American government would be wrong to step up military action.

It looks to me like the opposition comes mostly from the isolationist wings of conservative and socialist opinion (the latter mostly in London), but that the young, in their idealism of whatever hue, are more in favour of stamping out threats to their future. This is a fascinating reversal of positions. There's a lot more in this story left to be told.

Collapse of Britain Watch

This Simon Heffer article makes for really depressing reading. I think he's got it slightly the wrong way round, though. The government is merely doing what it does because civil society is collapsing:

The middle classes, who are the most vociferous complainants about rising crime, avoid jury service if they can. A concept of civic duty is not yet entirely absent, but it is fast evaporating. A largely corrupt central government, whose leader openly tolerates lying and graft, has set an example of rottenness that trickles down through society. That, and an almost total absence of national pride, forces people to reconsider their commitment to such a community.

People need to set up voluntary organizations aimed at stemming this tide. If there is no effective local mechanism, people need to create them. If Britain is to revive itself, then the revolution needed will start in local pubs and other meeting-places. How else can it happen?

The importance of India

As I said, the Pentagon knows who its friends are. Check out this interesting tidbit from India.

The Weekly W*nker?

This is the stupidest article I've read for a long time. And it's in The Spectator!

I was particularly saddened to see the author argue that slapping Saddam on the back and saying "Welcome home, old chap!" would save children's lives. As this article makes clear, health education is key to lowering infant mortality, and there's nothing to say Saddam would start educating women after such an event. Check out Michael Rubin's devestating New Republic article for more info.

And what about this?

‘How can any intelligent person be expected to believe that a country of 19 million people, mostly impoverished desert dwellers, poses a threat to world peace?’ asked the arch-Tory sceptic Auberon Waugh in 1998.

Not wishing to speak ill of the dead, I shall say nothing about what this reveals about Auberon Waugh. But I think the launching of an attack that killed 3000 people in the heart of the most cosmopolitan city in the world from the base of a few caves in a war-torn and impoverished country scuttles that argument. Honestly!

And my post below shows how much "nonsense" there is in the weapons of mass destruction argument.

This silly little screed should have appeared in The New Statesman. What was Boris thinking?

Shame on you, America!

The current crisis has highlighted a division in US governmental politics between the State Department and the Pentagon. I have heard many normally sensible voices in the UK express gratitude that the State Department and its leader are restraining the "bombers". Perhaps they should read Thatcher defense secretary Sir John Nott's memoirs. Matthew Parris, writing in The Spectator, quotes some interesting passages:

‘The United States,’ he writes in his chapter ‘Landing and Victory’, ‘did not wish to choose between Britain, their principal Nato ally in Europe, and their interests in Latin America. Apart from Weinberger and the Pentagon, the Americans were very, very far from being on our side.’

At that time the secretary of state, General Alexander Haig, was, with Margaret Thatcher’s grudging acquiescence but little more, engaged in shuttle diplomacy to try to find a compromise settlement acceptable to Britain and Argentina, averting conflict.

It seems that Haig's influence carried President Reagan with him, to the extent of putting British lives at serious risk:

Later, Nott recounts how, when we were ready to reoccupy South Georgia, he lost the argument against warning Haig. Haig was warned, demanded to tell the Argentinians, was begged not to, undertook not to ...and then someone (in the state department, Nott believes) did tell the Argentinians. ‘I only hoped that this did not lead to loss of life.’

Next, the Americans denied us access to our own territory where they use a base on Ascension Island. We needed it for RAF Vulcans assigned to bomb the Port Stanley runway. ‘This was an intolerable and disgraceful episode.’

This all squares with my remembrance. My teenage sensibilities were outraged at Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Haig seemingly apologizing for the fascist dictators during that whole sorry episode. I have never regarded them as genuine conservatives because of that. Sir John seems to have taken a similar view:

Sir John is warm about the co-operation Britain received from elements in the American political establishment; scathing about the ‘West Coast’ Americans (he includes the president) who cared less about Europe; and despairing of what he calls the incoherence of the Washington machine as a whole.

His melancholy conclusions should be read by every Atlanticist anti-European: ‘for those, like me, who oppose our political integration into Europe, do not imagine the United States is in some way “an alternative” to Europe. It is not.'

This is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The Pentagon knows who America's friends are; the State Department does not. A similar dichotomy exists between the MOD and the FCO in British politics. Luckily, on both sides of the pond, the internationalist appeasers are losing ground. Powell and Straw may be nominally senior, but Rumsfeld and Hoon (to the extent that he is more than a hand puppet operated by Blair) exert more power and influence with their country's leader, and with the population at large, I think.

Regionalist illusions are being dispelled in both countries. The hemispherist views that Bush came to power espousing are tremendously unpopular (I think he floated the amnesty plan again knowing full well it would be rejected out of hand). Mrs T's last hurrah raised more objections to herself than to her ideas. There is increasing isolationism in both countries, but that's better than regionalism.

Nevertheless, the Falklands incident was a shameful episode. That the French were better allies to the UK than the US is something any non-isolationist American should hang his head in shame over. Reagan fans should admit this, and perhaps a formal downgrading of the State Department's role in security issues should follow.

UPDATE: Jim Bennett comments that this was all driven in Haig and Kirkpatrick's minds by cold-war thinking, which necessitated broad but shallow alliances, including Argentina just as much as Britain. As he puts it, the end of the cold war has led to a need for narrower but deeper associations.

"The Cold War is gone now, actually removing a strain from US-UK relationships. Rather, [the US] needs UK assets like Diego Garcia all the more now that the broad but shallow Cold War coalitions have come apart."

Answers to Casey

Do check out Tom Roberts' Comments on my post "The Questions that Must be Answered" below. The case is compelling. But there's even more evidence emerging from, of all places, German intelligence (the BND) and the New Yorker. Here's what Jeffrey Goldberg had to say on the subject in his long article last week:

Saddam Hussein never gave up his hope of turning Iraq into a nuclear power. After the Osirak attack, he rebuilt, redoubled his efforts, and dispersed his facilities. Those who have followed Saddam's progress believe that no single strike today would eradicate his nuclear program. I talked about this prospect last fall with August Hanning, the chief of the B.N.D., the German intelligence agency, in Berlin. We met in the new glass-and-steel Chancellery, overlooking the renovated Reichstag.

The Germans have a special interest in Saddam's intentions. German industry is well represented in the ranks of foreign companies that have aided Saddam's nonconventional-weapons programs, and the German government has been publicly regretful. Hanning told me that his agency had taken the lead in exposing the companies that helped Iraq build a poison-gas factory at Samarra. The Germans also feel, for the most obvious reasons, a special responsibility to Israel's security, and this, too, motivates their desire to expose Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. Hanning is tall, thin, and almost translucently white. He is sparing with words, but he does not equivocate. "It is our estimate that Iraq will have an atomic bomb in three years," he said.

There is some debate among arms-control experts about exactly when Saddam will have nuclear capabilities. But there is no disagreement that Iraq, if unchecked, will have them soon, and a nuclear-armed Iraq would alter forever the balance of power in the Middle East. "The first thing that occurs to any military planner is force protection," Charles Duelfer told me. "If your assessment of the threat is chemical or biological, you can get individual protective equipment and warning systems. If you think he's going to use a nuclear weapon, where are you going to concentrate your forces?"

There is little doubt what Saddam might do with an atomic bomb or with his stocks of biological and chemical weapons. When I talked about Saddam's past with the medical geneticist Christine Gosden, she said, "Please understand, the Kurds were for practice."

The thing is, I did a NEXIS search for "german intelligence or BND and nuclear and Saddam" and found only 4 references: the New Yorker article, the NBC Meet the Press interview with Dick Cheney on Sunday and two BBC international news monitoring wires. Here's what the Beeb had to say:

Cologne/Munich: The paths used by Iraqi dictator Saddam Husayn to acquire, also in Germany, materials for his armament programmes are convoluted and illegal. His latest coup: Iraqis camouflaged as businessmen bought about 11,000 used vehicles in Germany and exported them to Iraq, mostly through intermediaries. What may happen with them has now been revealed by John Negroponte, US ambassador to the United Nations. In New York he presented videos showing many of these vehicles carrying missile launchers - this means they have been turned into mobile launch pads. This coup was uncovered by the Cologne Customs Office of Criminal investigations (ZKA), Germany's fourth intelligence service, so to speak, in addition to the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), and the Military Counterespionage Service (MAD). The ZKA agents have long been watching Iraq's efforts to get so-called dual-use goods for the production of NBC weapons, in particular in Germany, which has a high technological level...

The ZKA's latest confidential "Situation Report on the Iraq Embargo", which the ddp news agency has obtained, says that, despite the continuing UN economic embargo against Iraq, its procurements for the manufacture of mass destruction weapons and missiles have "skyrocketed". This has become evident in particular since the withdrawal of the UN inspectors four years ago, which was forced by Baghdad. For instance, Saddam is buying tonnes of precursor chemicals, preproducts for the production of chemical weapons, as well as dual-use components for installations and high-quality laboratory instruments.

According to ZKA findings, regardless of the embargo provisions, Iraq is cooperating "with a large number of new suppliers in China, India, Russia, Syria and eastern Europe". Iraqi ministers are openly acting as trading partners. The ZKA adds: "Decentralized procurement structures and many companies operating independently of each other are supposed to support the armament programmes. Iraq primarily uses its own procurement companies abroad, above all in Jordan."

The ZKA agents have achieved numerous successes so that several "offenders" have been handed over to the criminal prosecution authorities. A particularly spectacular case was that of two Germans who bought deep-drilling equipment from several German companies and delivered it to Iraq via Jordan. These special instruments can drill through steel. The Iraqis used the machinery for the manufacture of gun barrels for 210-mm guns. In the view of experts, this weapons system is suitable for firing chemical and biological projectiles.

According to BND information, Iraq is also working on a new nuclear programme. In a secret report, the BND reveals that in the nuclear area Iraq has managed to reach the level it had before the 1990 Gulf war. Baghdad also continues its "bio-toxin programme". It is establishing a "mobile biological weapons capability".

Source: ddp news agency, Berlin, in German 1040 gmt 25 Mar 02

Nowhere else mainstream has covered this. But this is the intelligence service of a major nation that has taken a distinctly non-hawkish stance. They're not out to get Saddam, although it sounds like they should be.

Casey said "Few objective observers think Saddam is anywhere near getting nuclear weapons - but he would obviously love to have them." I'd like to know what he thinks of this evidence. It seems to me that Question 5 is pretty much answered.

Oh Madelin

Steven Den Beste asks "who is this guy?" of the French presidential candidate who was mistranslated as saying the mass shooting in Paris was "an American-style by-product." In fact, as The Economist said, Madelin is almost the only French politician to have libertarian tendencies:

His is the response of an instinctive libertarian: “Give a man back his liberty and responsibility. Give him the chance to blossom and succeed.” Last summer Mr Madelin was the guest speaker at the 200th birthday celebrations of a previous French libertarian, Frédéric Bastiat. Just like today's Mr Madelin, Bastiat railed against the absurdities of protectionism and the interfering stupidity of the state, satirically proposing in parliament that the government should protect France's candlemakers from the “ruinous competition of a foreign rival”—namely, the sun.

But Madelin is running at about 5% in the polls. So "Charlemagne" concludes,

Will the French respond, entrusting their future to President Madelin? Of course not. They prefer to forget how much globalisation has benefited them: France is, after all, the world's sixth-biggest foreign trader. Instead, they laud the “peasant” leader José Bové, swallowing his line that McDonalds and Rocquefort cannot coexist. The politicians then follow where the voters lead. If Mr Madelin is to persuade his countrymen to think otherwise, he had better hope that President Jacques Chirac wins a second term, and makes him once again a minister—or at least listens to his ideas.

The forgotten Tory Prime Minister Andrew Bonar Law once said, "I must follow them, I am their leader." I always felt that John Major interpreted this as "I must follow them, I don't know where I'm going". If European politics is all about following rather than leading, no wonder Europe is in such a circular mess.

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Anthrax Anxiety

I've got a piece up on The American Enterprise Magazine Hotflash today looking at how the media got some basic science wrong in dealing with anthrax. It's called "The Anthrax Mistake" if you get there tomorrow and need to look for the link.

Luvvies for Liberty!

The Media Research Center picked up on the fact that Julian Fellowes was the only Oscar winner to make anything like a patriotic remark, and he's British. It now appears that he's a Tory! I wonder what the chances are of him ever working in Hollywood again?

Thanks to the invaluable Peter Briffa for the link.

Blurry Logic

I'm a big fan of Eugene Volokh, but his latest WSJ piece, “The Cameras Are Watching -- And It’s a Good Thing,” is a bit too generalized for my liking. The case for CCTV/ speed cameras/ remote surveillance in general all depends on the quality of the photograph taken. If there is the slightest doubt about who was driving the vehicle, the subject instantly becomes a Fifth Amendment self-incrimination issue. Policy Review editor Tod Lindberg, for instance, had an excellent column in the Washington Times on Feb 12 (now fee-protected in the online archives) in which he demonstrated how a DC speed camera photograph demanded an admission of guilt:

Dear Automated Traffic Enforcement: Thank you for your "Notice of Infraction" dated Jan. 16 accusing the driver of the Saturn station wagon we own of going 36 mph in a 25-mph zone in the 3000 block of Cleveland Avenue NW on Jan. 3 at 12:15 p.m. The photograph of the rear end of our vehicle, and especially the enlargement of the license plate clearly showing all six characters in it, is something our family will always treasure.

We regret to say that rather than paying you the $50 you would like, we have had to check the box on the back of your notice that says, "I deny commission of the infraction" and also the box that says "I request mail adjudication." ...

We'd gladly send you $50 (well, gladly in the sense that we'd be glad to be rid of you and wish you well in your further endeavors in "automated traffic enforcement," confident that others who receive your notices will react to the experience with their confidence and pride in local government boosted just as much as ours has been). But there's a problem, isn't there? The $50 isn't all you want, is it? You want an admission of guilt, too.

You want the owner of the car to "declare under penalty of perjury" that the owner was driving at the time of the infraction or to say who was. No "no contest" pleas allowed, we guess. (Is that because without an admission of guilt from the driver, you haven't really proved that an infraction has taken place, since the law provides that people can be charged with speeding, not cars?)

In any event, we've got a problem. The Lindbergs are a one-car family at present, and neither of us can recall who was driving down Cleveland Avenue Jan. 3, certainly not to the point of being willing to "declare under penalty of perjury." The way we figure it, we were going from our Cleveland Park home to drop Mr. Lindberg off at his downtown office, which is not an unusual occurrence, but what we can't recall with any certainty is whether Mr. or Mrs. Lindberg was driving. We have no fixed pattern in that regard, and as to what the particulars were Jan. 3, who can remember?

We suppose we could just guess and pay the fine, and then you would be gone. But then we got to thinking about that nice photograph of the back of our car that you have in your possession and that "under penalty of perjury" declaration you want. We can't tell from the picture you sent who's driving. But look at that beautiful enlargement of the license plate you provided. If you enlarged the whole image, would you be able to tell who was driving - at least if it was a man or woman. So you see, if we just guessed, we'd be afraid that if we had guessed wrong, you'd be sending us another friendly notice, this time informing us that we had committed perjury. It would be nice to think that that's not something you would ever do, but then again, why wouldn't you?

(Signed), Tod Lindberg, Christine Lindberg.

There is a similar problem in the UK where stalwart anti-Europe protestor Idris Francis is taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights arguing that speed cameras contradict his right to silence.

So if the cameras take a nice, sunny picture of you that is incontrovertible, Eugene's logic holds up. But far too often they don't. And when the law starts to demand admissions of guilt because their evidence is not up to scratch, we have a real problem.

Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Starfleet? No, Space Fleet!

Dan Dare was the British space hero of the 50s. No doubt that idea of a British space presence is behind the decision to go ahead with the rest of Europe in developing the completely unviable Galileo sattelite system. The Telegraph has a great leader on the subject. It concludes:

To Europe's True Believers, however, the money is irrelevant. The point of Galileo, as they see it, is to challenge Uncle Sam's dominance in space. As President Chirac of France has put it, Europe will be doomed to "vassal status" unless it has an independent satellite network of its own. This is by no means the first time that the EU has insisted on reinventing the wheel when there is a cheaper and better American version on offer.

A number of defence procurement projects - notably the Eurofighter and the Airbus - are founded on the assumption that it is better to have a late, expensive and inefficient European model than to work with the Americans. The European Rapid Reaction Force exists on the same principle.

Why does Europe insist on thinking that America wants her as a vassal? We've seen how the Arab world has directed her citizen's anger at America rather than at their own rulers. Has Europe decided to do the same thing in the face of the upcoming constitutional/ pensions/ demographic/ economic/ defense meltdown?

ID insanity

This is from the Mail on Sunday, which does not have an on-line presence (a shame, because aside from the odd barking comment it is a staunch organ), so I'm quoting it here in full. It's by Simon Walters:

COMPULSORY ID cards are to be introduced into British daily life within the next year as a major weapon in the fight against street crime.

Tony Blair has given his backing to Home Secretary David Blunkett's determination to give the plan for on-the-spot fines real teeth by the introduction of an identification document which would prevent offenders lying to the police.

Ministers last night told The Mail on Sunday: 'The scheme cannot work without some way of checking a criminal's identity. 'Blunkett has been pushing for ID cards. Blair has come on side.' The Prime Minister will invite a national debate on the issue, and unless there is fierce public opposition, every adult in Britain will be issued with one.

Actually carrying the ID card will initially be a voluntary matter, but ministers believe they will prove so effective in the fight against crime that public opinion will soon demand that everyone should carry one.

Last week's announcement by police that minor offenders would receive an immediate penalty has infuriated Home Office officials who believe it to be premature.

Unlike motoring offences, where a summons is backed up by nationally logged driver and vehicle data, it would be difficult to impose. Ministers fear that offenders giving false details would make a mockery of the law.

Until now Downing Street has been cautious of backing compulsory ID cards fearing widespread public opposition and a backlash from Labour grassroots who would argue it infringes civil liberties.

But with street crime fast becoming the number one public concern, Mr Blair believes that the public will demand that the carrying of cards becomes law.

Ministers believe on-the-spot fines for minor offences would give police time to deal with more serious crimes such as robbery and the trade in hard drugs.

Figures to be published in July are expected to show that muggings will have risen by more than a quarter over the past year. That follows rises of 26 per cent in 1999-2000 and 13 per cent in 2000-2001.

Plans for ID cards will be contained in a consultation document to be published by the Home Office.

Mr Blair and Mr Blunkett believe that as well as combating street crime, the cards will also play a vital part in curbing illegal immigration, welfare scroungers and other crime.

The proposal is certain to be opposed by civil liberties groups and also contested by some Cabinet ministers such as Claire Short, who believe it is an unnecessary curb on freedom.

The cards which will officially be known as 'entitlement cards' will include details of an individual's passport, driving licence, national insurance number and other information.

A similar proposal was abandoned by the last Conservative government after fierce public opposition.

But senior ministers believe attitudes have changed. One said: 'These cards are used throughout Europe without any fuss at all and have shown that they are a very useful weapon in reducing crime and fraud.

'Virtually everyone carries plastic cards in their wallet these days and we believe that an ID card will prove both practical and popular.'

That speaks for itself. Once again, the idea that the rest of Europe does it is a prime justification. Looks like Common Law's days are numbered.

Ruined Castles

A conversation at lunch over the diminution of the English right to self-defence in one's own home led me to think about the old "Englishman's home is his castle" adage. I can find no better summation of that principle than that of Lord Justice Judge on the recent Shayler case. He quoted William Pitt "the Elder", Earl of Chatham (1708-1778):

'THE poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail - its roof may shake, the wind may blow through it, the storm may enter, the rain may enter - but the King of England cannot enter all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement.'

The measured language of the judge and the emotion of the orator are encapsulated in the simple phrase that 'an Englishman's home is his castle'. These principles were clearly understood in this country while an absolute monarch still reigned in France. If the Bourbon monarch, Louis XV, had heard of such language used by a prominent politician, and former First Minister, the speaker's best hope would have been for the king to have assumed that he was joking. But even that would not have prevented some fawning minion from dispatching a lettre de cachet to ensure that he was locked up, indefinitely, and without trial. It is hardly surprising therefore, that Voltaire, having twice been imprisoned in the Bastille, and eventually forced to live in exile, and notwithstanding what we can now appreciate were its great defects then, so greatly admired our constitution.

How have we reached a position that two hundred and fifty years later, the English monarch's constabulary can arrest someone, and his courts convict them, for killing a burglar in his own home who was threatening his wife (see below, somewhere)? England needs to take a cold, hard look at its idea of rights, and property rights and the right of self-defence should be prominent in that review.

Collapse of Britain Watch

Interesting side-note from the story of family disintegration. As fewer and fewer people are forming their own family units, the number of twenty-something "children" living in the ir parents' homes, or returning frequently, is increasing markedly. Jennie Bristow of Spiked has a great take on this in An anti-independence culture.

The 'boomerang kids' are drifting. Set adrift on the sea of graduation, with nobody telling them to marry, have kids, stick at their jobs or stick at anything really, insecurity leads quickly to lethargy. The understandable trepidation experienced by young people about embarking upon the next stage of their lives soon translates into procrastination, as young people put off the marriage, kids, career move and cling to the comforts of their childhood home, and the ease of their relationship with Mum and Dad. If they stopped drifting and did more choosing - as in actively deciding what to do, and going for it - the boomerang kids would probably be a great deal more fulfilled. So why don't they?

It's not that the younger generations are naturally lazier, nervier and less aspirational than their predecessors - that really would be depressing. It's that they have grown up into a culture that celebrates security over independence, safety over risk, experiencing present-day contentment over seeking long-term fulfilment.

Marriage and family are now seen as a risk among the British middle class and as an incovenience among the working class. What hope have traditional values in this milieu?

France and Steyn

The last time I used that headline nobody was reading this blog, so I thought I'd recycle it, especially as it is so appropriate to Mark Steyn's latest National Post column. Mark tells of the sophisticated reaction to him on his latest visit to Paris. This is worth quoting at length:

The following point was made to me twice within the space of 24 hours, so I assume it's the current sophistry doing the rounds. "Ah, Mark," said the first, with a wry self-congratulatory twinkle, "the British and Americans, they go on all the time about democracy. But you do realize there are six billion people in this world and that, if you gave them the opportunity to vote for Mr. Bush or Mr. bin Laden, why, one billion would vote for Bush and five billion for bin Laden." Pause for stunned reaction from boneheaded North American, and then, with a sardonic courtly nod: "I myself would, of course, vote for Bush."

The second time I heard this observation the speaker gave a slightly different tag: "I myself would, of course, probably vote for Bush." Take Two sounds about right. Leaving aside the precision of the math, this droll jest neatly encapsulates the French world view: Naive Washington thinks all will be well if you liberate the will of the people, the European elite knows that civilization depends on restraining it. At heart, they believe the opposite of the American tourist on the train: There are no good peoples, just different groups of bad peoples whose baser urges have to be adroitly managed -- as Western Europe failed to do between the wars but which it has done with some success since. That's why the EU likes the Emirs and the Ayatollahs, old Arafat and Boy Assad. They feel those fellows are engaged in the same project as theirs: Holding the excesses of the people in check.


Data Dump

Howard takes on the supposed link between climate change and infectious diseases in our latest Tech Central Station column, The Weakest Link, Goodbye.

The next one should be mine, a look at the Institute of Medicine report on racial disparities in healthcare.

Now that's scary...

Iain Dale's Political Diary outlines a truly terrifying scenario. We've all been deluding ourselves that Blair wants to be President of Europe. Oh no. Iain's theory is that he wants to head the UN -- the first World President, in effect.

New Labour, New World Order...

Citizenship Issues

Back in the saddle again, and a lot to get caught up on. Where to start? How about Joshua Micah Marshall's discussion of dual citizenship? It's an interesting issue, one that I've been thinking about a lot now that my permanent residency has been secured and I can think about becoming an American citizen.

When one does become a citizen, there is an oath one has to swear, which begins:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen;

Now this seems pretty much to rule out the idea of dual citizenship to me. There's no room for temporary renouncement or anything. Anyone who takes advantage of a law passed by a foreign power for that purpose seems to me to be breaking his or her oath.

Why, then, has Congress enacted legislation that makes this oath nugatory? The great oath-swearing ceremonies we see that are so much part of the American experience are a sham, for a good proportion of the people swearing these words will immediately ignore them, in that they keep the nationality they have just "absolutely" renounced. Congress is a willing participant in this exercise.

The only effect the oath has is to discourage people like myself, who have scruples about swearing something they do not believe in, from taking up American citizenship without renouncing their other nationality, as they are legally entitled to do.

I happen to think that dual citizenship is not a big deal under normal circumstances. If the two nations are unlikely to clash in any significant form, there is normally no real question of divided loyalties. In the event of war or some other international crisis, there should of course be a means of asking the citizens concerned to choose.

Which brings me to my own position. Despite the inconvenience associated with being a permanent resident rather than a citizen (in particular the fact that I have to pay a whopping 15% of my income for something from which I cannot benefit) I cannot at the moment in good conscience swear that oath. In a weird echo of the Glorious Revolution, however, I still consider it possible that the UK might voluntarily abdicate its position as a nation that requires loyalty, should it enter into some United States of Europe. Should that happen, I will gladly take up citizenship of a nation that keeps English values alive, until such time as those values are restored to their rightful position in my homeland.

Because, unlike many immigrants, I was not attracted here by the idea of America, great idea though it is. My reason for being here is purely personal -- love. I did not come here to join the club that Josh Marshall describes. I came here because of love for one of the members of that club. I am a member of another club, just as respected, with older but smaller premises and see no reason to give up membership of that club. I am, in essence, content to be signed in, which the club rules allow and which the member is content to do. The analogy is already becoming strained, so I shall drop it, but my point is that the club is not my reason for being here, the member is. The ideals of America are admirable, but no more so than the ideals of England to my mind. I therefore see no reason to throw in my citizenship lot yet.

That is why, I believe, like Jim Bennett, that there should be a middle way available -- "sojourner" provisions that enable citizens of like-minded countries to live and work freely in each nation. Secured by treaty, it should also be a simple matter to include provisions that subject potential fifth-columnists (Islamic sympathisers from Britain, IRA sympathisers from the US, for example) to extra security and the possibility of having a sojourner application turned down or revoked. In the event of a serious clash between the countries, then sojourners could be required to return home or, in the event that they are married to citizens, renounce the original citizenship and go through normal immigration arrangements. This idea obviously needs work, but it could be a start.

So there's my solution -- citizenship of one nation and one alone for the committed, sojourner provisions for those who will benefit the nation economically but who are here for personal or temporary reasons, and difficult permanent residency for the economic migrants who wish to retain their nation's citizenship but whose benefit to the US is not clearly established.

And they've got to sort out whether that oath has any meaning.

UPDATE: It appears I was misinformed about non-US citizens being ineligible for social security payments. A correspondent writes, "You are eligible for social security if you remain in the US (legally) and, in fact, even if you return to Britain since it is
one of the countries where you continue to receive benefits (although I suspect they may be subject to UK income tax). I have been a permanent resident over here for over 20 years, paying social security the whole time. If you leave the US you are not eligible for Medicare (and that is the same for US citizens) since it doesn't cover overseas hospital charges." Good to know.

Friday, March 22, 2002

The Dreaded Lurgi

I came down with something overnight, so I apologize that there will be no posts today. I'll try to post the odd item over the weekend.

Thursday, March 21, 2002

Spin in action

Interesting. Vacher's (who produce a handy pocket guide to Parliament) puts the daily Lobby Briefing on line. This is the Prime Minister's chief spin doctor Alistair Campbell's version of what's going on, and is therefore more a statement of what the PM really thinks than anything said in Parliament.

Democracy in action

Here's a report on the Parliamentary debate on sending British troops to Afghanistan. Nice to see this actually debated in the chamber that holds the executive to account, although I was, frankly, disgusted that Tony Blair did not attend the debate.

Holy Smoke!

I was so caught up in the question of what the Telegraph opinion pages were getting at that I completely missed this in the news section: UK warns Saddam of nuclear retaliation. It's a hell of an answer to Robert Harris' qualms and something I never, ever expected to see from the modern Labour party.

The Dumb Tax

If you want to know my views on lotteries, I'm quoted in this San Diego Union Tribune story, Lottery finds big is better for sales.


You may have seen this on Natalie Solent's blog, but if not, and you want another example of why the European Union is just plain evil, check out Libertarian Samizdata.

The Questions that Must be Answered

If the Telegraph is questioning war on Iraq, then there must be a problem. I do wonder whether its recent prominent placement of articles on this subject is "for domestic consumption" in the phrase beloved of European sophisticates. This could be a wedge issue between Blair and his "adoring" people, and so the Telegraph is thumping at it for the good of the Conservative Party. But as IDS has made clear that he supports Blair on this issue at present, I can't see that being the case.

No, instead I think that the paper has realized that the case currently being put forward for why the public should support war with Iraq -- fear, as evidenced by this Tony Blankley column -- is pretty weak. John Casey's column, There is no justification for waging war against Iraq, sets out the questions that must be answered, although I think he's got the order wrong:

1) What will be done with Iraq after Saddam is overthrown?
2) Can you prove that the "axis" acts in concert?
3) What genuine threat does Saddam currently pose?
4) Has Saddam had genuine, concrete links with Al Qa'eda?
5) What evidence do we have that Saddam has genuinely dangerous weapons of mass destruction (especially nuclear)?

There are answers to all these questions, although they have been made public in inchoate form. Putting them all together will form the necessary bedrock for international support for the war against Saddam. If the Telegraph's nudging forces Blair or even the US to do so, then the debate will have been well served.

Finally, I should ask why it is that none of these articles have mentioned Saddam's repeated breaches of the ceasefire agreement that "ended" the Gulf War? I think that the US and Britain have more than enough justification to resume hostilities on that basis alone. Ten years of pusillanimity is no argument that we cannot do so.

Crimewatch UK

UK Home Secretary has revealed how he's going to crack down on crime. He's going to release offenders early. They'll be non-violent -- so burglars and pickpockets will be back on the streets -- and will be tagged (no bar whatsoever to re-offending -- check out this Ann Widdecombe speech for some interesting statistics on tagged prisoners commiting crimes).

Moreover, leave it to Oliver Letwin to point out the important constitutional principle that is being ignored:

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said the changes to HDC undermined the way judges chose to sentence criminals. "This undermines the fundamental principles of justice," he said.

This whole escapade will do nothing to stop the collapse in the public's confidence over the Blair government's approach on crime -- this poll suggests it is the main reason for the Tories narrowing Labour's lead to just 9 points.

The international aspect

I'd add that this poll will probably have two effects. First, it makes Francis Maude's grand remonstrance against IDS look mistimed at best, silly at worst. Second, it will strengthen the hand of the Labour malcontents. Might Blair be forced to abandon support for the US against Iraq in the face of popular opposition as well as his Party's split? Or, if he is constant, will it make the formal party split more likely? Time will tell. The President's timing on this issue becomes more and more crucial for British politics.


The Nigerian justice minister has just declared Sharia Law unconstitutional. It will be informative to see what happens in Africa's largest, hem, democracy.

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

Danish tastes good

Anders Fogh Rassmussen's new Venstre ("Left") government in Denmark has a distinctly liberal-conservative revisionist tinge to it. His Government platform 2001 makes excellent reading for those used to the same weary old European solutions. Who would ever have thought a European leftist party would say "The Government will give each individual Danish citizen the right to choose between public and private solutions"?

Plus, he has appointed Bjorn Lomborg head of the Danish Institute for Environmental Evaluation, to the dismay of the enviroweenies. Huzzah!

PS This via Anne Applebaum's excellent Slate review of the left's woes in Europe.

PPS Check out the comments for observations from people who know more about Denmark than I do.

Pedantry with a purpose

David Janes has one of my favorite quotes up, but misattributes it to Alexis de Tocqueville. It's actually by Sir Alexander Fraser Tytler (1742-1813), Scottish jurist and historian, from a Collection of Lectures at Edinburgh University (1801). The full quote is worth having:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's great civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back again to bondage.

In my estimation, America is between abundance and selfishness, Britain between apathy and dependency and Continental Europe between dependency and bondage. India is between spiritual faith and great courage, which is one of the reasons why I think it is a source of great hope.

The question is, of course, can this progression be reversed?

Gibraltar Watch

Some telling objections to HMG's stance, from a former Chief Minister of Gibraltar and an ADC to the Governor.

The Thatcher Question

Interesting Letters to the Times Editor on the subject of Mrs Thatcher's comments on NAFTA. The ones agreeing with her, like that from Colin Bullen, are reasoned. The ones disagreeing with her are either incorrect (Peter Guilford seems not to know that the steel tarriffs will not apply to NAFTA members) or just plain snide.

The snideness does, however, illustrate that Mrs T advancing an argument can be a real double-edged sword. Alice Miles calls her the Baroness of Barking, implying that any argument she advances must be mad. This is a common view. The Times itself calls for IDS to reject her and her ideas in a Declaration of Independence. This is the wrong issue on which to do that.

In my opinion, IDS should say that Mrs T was a great servant of the party and the country, but times have moved on and his Party will consider all arguments on their merits. Mrs T may be right, but she may be wrong. At the moment, he has decided that public services are the main problem facing the British people. And, while concentrating on that area, he and his party can work out how to take Mrs T's sensible suggestions on board without it seeming like she's driving the car.

When Adams delved

Henry Hyde has summoned Gerry Adams to testify on terrorism. This should be fun, assuming he accepts...

Give 'em an inch and they'll blow it up

Israel withdraws from Bethlehem and what happens? A suicide bomber kills seven. I have been having a running e-mail battle with various English contacts over the last few days over the Palestinian question. The Brits have all argued that the Israelis have been causing the violence and if they only made concessions we'd see an end to the "cycle of violence". I think it's now plainly obvious who is pedalling that cycle.

Justice Reform Alert

I don't like the sound of this. David Blunkett is a known skeptic of civil liberties. Sir John Stevens, Met Police Commissioner (a man with no real democratic accountability), has claimed that the British crime problem is the courts' fault, not the police's (see Theodore Dalrymple and Christopher Booker passim for indications that that is not quite true). Now the twohave apparently reached agreement on what should be done.

I wonder what similarities that will have to Deborah Orr's idiotic arguments in favor of ending the presumption of innocence (something so fundamental that even the US Bill of Rights doesn't feel it needs to protect it), trial by jury and the secrecy of the defendent's past record (actually, despite her silly arguments she does have a good conclusion -- that plea bargaining is a useful tactic).

Janet Daley, meanwhile, has a sensible approach to the problem. She points out the central inadequacy of current policing methods:

Ever since the 1981 Scarman report into the Brixton riots, the fashionable solution to the problem of policing such areas has been "community policing". The assumption was that civil disorder of all kinds - including crime, anti-social behaviour and the rioting that followed attempted arrests - was a result of "alienation" on the part of local ethnic communities from police authority.

Ergo, the solution must be for the police to relate to that community in a much more relaxed and less threatening way. They must show more understanding and tolerance of the cultural habits and standards of behaviour of the locals. If cannabis use is widespread among Afro-Caribbean youths, then the sale of it should be quietly ignored. If aggressive, misogynist street culture is the prevailing fashion on the street, then that should be accepted with good humour. If the young think it is cool to be foul-mouthed and territorially threatening, then we must accept their demand for "respect" (the great totem word).

At all costs, we must avoid any authoritarian, "them and us" hostility.

And praises Oliver Letwin for his grasping of central principles:

In a speech delivered last night, Oliver Letwin, the shadow home secretary, made an elegant case for replacing "community policing" with what he calls "neighbourhood policing", in which the police would have a very visible presence on the streets and form a clear pact with local residents to enforce the law. He wants to reinstate the understanding that used to exist between all responsible adults, that maintaining order was a shared responsibility between the police and the private individual, which had to be based on a clear acceptance of the rule of law and what were permissible standards of civil behaviour.

I will add one thing to Letwin's ideas. That is that the police force should be, as far as possible, drawn from the community which it serves, and accountable to it in some way, with appropriate oversight to ensure freedom from corruption.

That would be the sensible way forward -- to concentrate on the police force. Why do I have this horrible feeling that instead Blunkett and Stevens are just going to wipe away centuries of liberties to make it easier to jail traffic offenders?

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

The law and common sense

It's a frequent objection of Christopher Booker and other British anti-idiotarians that arms of the British executive "gold-plate" regulations far beyond the intent of the legislative authority (whether it be Parliament or the European Commission). How refreshing, then, to see this Supreme Court judgment:

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that the Labor Department regulation requiring notice invalid because it goes beyond the scope of the Family and Medical Leave Act. The Supreme Court agreed.

Now if only we had a mechanism to let courts in the UK strike down regulations like this for going beyond the intent or scope of Acts. Of course, because many of the regulations use Statutory Instruments and Henry VIII powers this may be impossible, but what a nice dream.

What's your point again?

Strangely schizophrenic piece by the normally reliable Robert Harris in the Telegraph: We mustn't be panicked into a war with Saddam.

His argument seems to be that non-nuclear Weapons of Mass Destruction aren't particularly dangerous, and so we shouldn't worry that Saddam might have them; besides, if we attack him, he'll use them and cause horrendous loss of life. Pardon?

If WMDs are as ineffective as Harris says, we don't have to worry. But of course they aren't, it's the delivery systems that are key and Saddam has those. So Harris might have a point about how Saddam will react; his stockpiling might be for defensive use. It could just as easily be for offensive use. In any event, however, isn't the very thought that he might lash out at Israel enough reason to do something about it. If he might lash out when threatened with losing power, might he not lash out when told he has only a few days left to live or if his son looked like deciding it was time for the old man to go?

Harris concludes:

We are considering acting pre-emptively against a state that has not - has it? - actually sponsored a terrorist threat against us. We are likely, in the process, to fracture the united international front against al-Qa'eda, split public opinion in this country and make bio-terrorism more likely. All in all: a strange way to go about making the world a safer place.

Tony Blair is, apparently, gathering evidence of Iraq's complicity in terrorism. I'll reserve judgment on that question until the dossier is released. What possible reason could there be for an agreed position on al qa'eda to be altered by action against Iraq? "We will hunt down terrorists. Oh no! You've attacked Iraq! We will not hunt down terrorists now!" -- it's a little silly, no? Public opinion is subject to the same argument, and anyway, this Guardian poll shows that silly arguments like Harris' are already splitting public opinion. Finally, the bioterrorism he talks about in the article is actually biological warfare. And when we show what we'll do to people who start it, or even contemplate it, then I'd say we'll make the possibility less likely.

The Harris argument says that any bully who gets a few nasty weapons can sit there perfectly content that no-one is going to come and get him. We can't let that message go out. British Conservatives, in particular, should recognize that.

Commandoes raided

The news that 1,700 British soldiers are going to fight alongside American allies in the ongoing operations in Afghanistan raises an interesting objection from Sir John Keegan.

He points out that the MOD always commits commando and parachute units to these endeavors, and never the ordinary line regiments. That's a pretty important point. When are the Green Howards and the rest going to get experience if the marines and paras get the nod every time. Is the MOD worried that they won't be good enough? If so, some hard questions have to be asked about training and deployment policies.

Of course, if the cost-cutters and Euro-army promoters have their way there won't be any line regiments left to worry about.

The dark side of Blair

While approving in general of a lot of Blairite foreign policy, I just have to look at the Gibraltar issue to remind myself how unprincipled it is. As the Telegraph implies in Persecuted for being British, Blair's policy is not driven by patriotism in the slightest:

Why is it that people have only to say that they want to be British to be persecuted by this Government? Just as Mr Blair sucks up to Sinn Fein/IRA, and humiliates the Ulster Unionists, so he is now sucking up to Spain and scheming against the loyal Gibraltarians.

Of course life would be happier for everyone concerned, if only a good relationship could be established between Britain, Spain and Gibraltar. And of course, the long-running dispute over the sovereignty of the Rock has been an obstacle to such a relationship. But whose fault is it that such a dispute exists, when both international law and the principle of self-determination insist that there should be none, and that the Rock is unquestionably British?

Spain prides itself on being a grown-up, democratic country. Over Gibraltar, it is not behaving like one.

This issue should be settled. If Blair just ignored Spain, neither the British nor the Gibraltarian people (who should all be given full citizenship, in my view) would be inconvenienced one whit. His Ministers and officials would have to listen to Spain whining at inter-governmental meetings, but that's a small price to pay for the precious principles of sovereignty and self-determination.

Mrs T: the alternative view

I'm not sure how many people outside the UK understand quite how much hatred the very mention of Mrs T's name can summon up. Charlie Stross's comments at Charlie's Diary are pretty much representative of a view that's widespread across urban Scotland, South Wales and the North of England where I come from. She may be the most polarizing figure ever in British politics.

UPDATE: Which is, of course, the thinking behind Michael Gove's piece today. I anticipated this in my Northern Strategy essay, but I think this is the wrong issue on which to drop the pilot.


Bruce R at Flit criticizes my Afghan casualties TCS piece for not going far enough. Properly, my defense should go on a STATS site, but until we get the @STATS project up-and-running I think here is the best place for it. This is what I said to Bruce:

I think your criticisms of my TCS piece are a little unfair. For a start, an 800-1000 word piece (such are the constraints of writing opinion columns) cannot go into the level of detail you demand.

Second, you call for me to publish my data elsewhere. I debated doing that, but decided that, in the end, I was not in the business of trying to put out an alternative STATS claim of accuracy. I say "suggests that", for the very good reason that I was reviewing for the most part secondary sources. It was therefore a judgment call on my part, just as it was on Herold's. Moreover, my work was simply a review of Herold's. I made no attempt to look out sources he had missed. I was emphatically not in the business of trying to establish an authoritative estimate of casualty figures, which is a fool's game. My numbers could be just as wrong as anyone else's and I therefore have no desire to tie myself to anything other than a ballpark figure for what Herold might have found if he had been more careful.

Our name, perhaps, is a little misleading. STATS' main mission is to educate journalists in the questions they should ask of people who claim authoritative numbers. We highlight existing, reputable data that are being ignored and point out methodological flaws in data that have been poorly put together. We do not produce new data ourselves, except on rare occasions when we have a specific grant for the project. We can suggest what is likely to happen, based on our judgment, if a scientific review of the data is performed, as we did here, but we have neither the staff nor the funding to produce data of the level required for publication.

I can assure you that if I did do a project that attempted to establish an authoritative figure for Afghan casualty numbers I would seek for it to be peer-reviewed and published in a journal rather than simply put it up on a website as if that somehow lent authority to the findings.

I hope that clears up a few things.

Monday, March 18, 2002

Attention Stephen Green!

The Ask A Drunk web forum is full of, how may I put it, eclecticism...

Mostly Harmful

Steven Den Beste has a dispriting, but entirely accurate, state of the world report over at USS Clueless - It ain't my fault.

Terrorism's many faces

From UPI's capital comment column today:

Green day, blue flu -- There were fewer police and firemen and women marching in Rockland County, N.Y.'s annual St. Patrick's Day parade because, as the New York Post reported Friday, the man chosen to be the grand marshal was once convicted of taking part in an IRA bombing.

Brian Pearson, whom the Post said was "a former member of the Irish Republican Army who served 12 years in prison for driving the getaway car in the bombing of a Royal Ulster Constabulary barracks in 1975," entered the United States illegally. He has lived in the community for 12 years, receiving political asylum in 1997.

The local heroes feel the selection of a man who has links to a terrorist group is an affront to their professional brethren who did not survive the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington that occurred on Sept. 11.

Perhaps the President could ask the Attorney-General to review all asylum cases linked to terrorism?

For Glenn...

I'm flattered that Glenn Reynolds should have looked to me for commentary on Mrs T's remarks that Britain should leave the EU and join NAFTA. I thought I'd do this in the shape of a gloss on this defeatist article in The Times:

BARONESS THATCHER’S proposal that Britain should opt out of core European Union policies and join Natfa, the North American Free Trade Agreement, will be greeted with derision in Brussels, and embarrass most of Britain’s sizeable representation there.
It is inconceivable that the EU’s 14 other member states would let Britain leave the Common Agricultural Policy and common foreign and security policy and regain national control over trade policy. Allow member states to pick and choose which EU policies they subscribe to, and the whole edifice would crumble in no time.

Here is presented, in stark relief, the central hypocrisy of the EU. It is supposed to be a free association of member states, but the reality is that, once in, there's no provision for changing mind or asserting national sovereignty in areas where national sovereignty has been given up. The question that the eurofanatics have to answer is whether or not the edifice is worth saving.

The only alternative would be for Britain to leave the EU altogether. No member state has ever done that, and there is no provision for withdrawal in the EU treaties. Because the EU is a construct of sovereign states it would theoretically be possible, but in practice it would be like unscrambling an egg. Britain would have to negotiate its way out of four decades’ worth of binding legal agreements covering almost every facet of modern life.

The repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 would unscramble the egg with one whisk, I think, at least from Britain's end. There should be implied repeal of all subsequent acts inherent in the Act that did that. The negotiations would come from us presumably negotiating transition to membership of the European Economic Area, like Norway, which would be beneficial to all parties concerned, retaining the free trade arrangements that are the greatest boon of the EU. I believe that any attempt by the EU to erect trade barriers in such an eventuality would be not only a spectacular case of sour grapes, but a flagrant breach of WTO rules.

On the plus side, Britain would get back “our money”, as Lady Thatcher used to say. Britain’s net contribution to the EU is about £4 billion a year. It would be freed from a large number of burdensome Brussels directives, although many have long been incorporated into British law. The drawbacks would be immense, however. Roughly two thirds of Britain's trade is with other EU countries, and hundreds of thousands of British jobs depend on it. If Britain left the EU it would no longer have free access to a single market of 370 million people, and its former partners could impose hefty tariffs on its products.

See above re the doom-mongering. That $6 billion annually could prove very useful in getting the Health Service back to modern standards, or in upgrading our defense capabilities.

Britain would no longer have the EU fighting its corner in global trade negotiations. The EU secured far better access for European companies to China’s huge markets than any individual member state could have achieved by itself. Lady Thatcher would presumably argue that Nafta could take over that role, but it is at least debatable whether Washington or Brussels would serve British interests best.

I think Emmanuel Goldstein would argue that neither serves Britain's interests. In any event, Pascal Lamy does not represent British interests alone. To that extent, our influence in trade has been seriously diluted by EU membership. NAFTA is not nearly so stringent. Mexico has been free to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU. Why would Mexico be able to do this and a NAFTA member UK not?

Britain could withdraw from the EU’s fledgeling rapid reaction force. But if that force survived it would be dominated by France, and therefore much more likely to become the rival to Nato that British Eurosceptics have long feared.

Alas! A rival to NATO with no army, then. That would be frightening.

Although withdrawing from the EU might be popular among sections of the chattering classes, it might be considerably less popular in other parts of the United Kingdom. Scotland, Northern Ireland, South Wales, Cornwall and Merseyside receive hundreds of millions of euros in EU regional development funds. Withdrawal could cause a constitutional crisis if Scotland and Wales refused to leave.

Again, those monies are simply paid back by the EU from our contribution. One might argue that it is a more democratic and responsible use of taxpayers' money to allocate them according to priorities decided by national and regional government. On the devolution issue, I'll bet my bottom Euro that the commentator is talking out of his backside; foreign affairs responsibility was almost certainly not devolved to the Scottish Parliament and absolutely not to the Welsh Assembly (grateful for clarification on this).

The treaty creating Nafta was signed in 1993 and established a free trade bloc spanning the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Supporters in America of Britain signing up argue that it would secure greater British access to the world’s largest single market for goods and services. Membership of an economic alliance that is faster-growing than the EU would also prompt improved performance by Britain, some commentators say.

Go on...

An independent report by the Washington-based International Trade Commission, which was commissioned by the US Senate’s Finance Committee and published in 2000, found that if Britain were to join Nafta while also remaining in the EU, national income would be increased by a tenth of 1 per cent, or £1 billion, a year. The commission found that if Britain quit the EU in favour of Nafta, there would a similar effect on national income.

Aha! So British membership of NAFTA would benefit both the US and UK! Wonder why he kept that quiet so long.

Actually, I happen to think that such a momentous event in world trade as Britain and America coming closer together should give us an opportunity to rebuild the institutions. The Heritage Foundation have suggested a new Global Free Trade Association that strikes me as a perfect model for enhancing trade around the world.

But in the meantime, British membership of NAFTA would be a good first step. Well said, Mrs T!

Genetic Disorder

My colleague Howard Fienberg has our Data Dump article in today's Tech Central Station. Mexican Jumping Genes looks at the science behind the panic caused by allegations that genes introduced by biotech into Mexican corn strains had jumped to other species. As you might expect, the arguments don't stand up.

Sunday, March 17, 2002

"Cheese-eating Tyranny Monkeys"?

Some inspired moments on The Simpsons tonight. I just had to blog this one: Lisa, as Joan of Arc, leading the French into battle against the English --

Kill the English! Their concept of individual liberty might undermine our beloved tyrants!

Also, Homer as Lisa/Joan's father questioned how God could have told Lisa to lead the French to victory when "we don't even have a word for it..."

An unforgiveable omission

I cannot forgive myself for missing out Peter Briffa's publicinterest.co.uk in my overview of British blogs, a comprehensive round-up of British political and journalistic happenings delivered with a mordant wit and a refreshingly judgmental perspective. Keep up the good work, Peter.

PS When typing blogspot there, I initially spelt it clogspot. The Dutch version of Blogger?

Heads up

Popping my head up briefly from my weekend trench to point to Jim Bennett's latest column. He refines his comments on India, with a great debt to Suman Palit's observations.

Saturday, March 16, 2002

More UK blogs

The observent among you may have noticed a few new blogs linked on the left. What's interesting is that these are UK blogs. Martin Pratt's Amphetamine Logic and Chris Bertram's Junius have a more left-liberal stance than the majority of blogs I link to, while Patrick Crozier's UK Transport has a libertarian approach to my old stamping ground of British transport policy (which should make James Haney happy). Add these to Natalie Solent's unfailingly readable observations, Emmanuel Goldstein's principled advocacy of British isolationism, Iain Dale's political insights, Ben Sheriff's and Andrew Dodge's quirky commentary and the most accessible promotion of libertarianism there is at Samizdata and you have the beginnings of a genuine British social and political debate. That's something you don't get from the other media.

Now if only Sp!ked would launch a version of the NRO Corner.

Friday, March 15, 2002

Labour Split Watch

More evidence that Blair's foreign policy is driving a wedge between him and former allies: Blair attacked over right-wing EU links. This is from the leader of the TUC, previously a Blair backer.

Orwell in Africa

Zimbabwe enacts media curbs. Well, no surprise there. But in a splendid piece of Newspeak, what do they call the media curbing legislation? "The Freedom of Information and Right to Privacy Bill".

Turkish takeover of U.N. peacekeeping planned for Afghanistan, reports the Washington Times. Good. Let the world see that secular Islamic nations can help spread peace and civilization. This will be a useful first step in the process Victor Davis Hanson refers to re Kuwait:

No, the solution for our fickle friends in the Gulf is a long overdue accounting with the terrorist autocracy of Iraq and the implementation of consensual government in its place. We saved Kuwait once from Iraqi fascism and apparently received ingratitude for our efforts. Perhaps next time we should encourage a new and free Iraq to ignite a chain reaction of democratic revolution in the Gulf — and let the sheiks deal with reformers who seek not to take their oil, but to oust them altogether.

Historically, the lands of the fertile crescent, the Levant and Egypt have been changed by events sweeping down from the highlands to the North (the Hittites, the Medes, Alexander, Rome, the Ottomans). Perhaps Turkish-style secular Islam, properly backed by the West, will be the latest example.


Everyone's blogged this, but it deserves to come to everyone else's attention. Saudi police let some girls burn to death because they weren't properly dressed. It was the "Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice" that enforced this act of evil. Didn't the Taliban have one of those? If there ever were a case for moral equivalency, this is it. The Saudis are the Taliban in another guise. They should be treated the same way.

Sunny side up

As I mentioned, the Sun's worth reading these days. Both Ms Solent and Mr Briffa have already mentioned this, so I thought I'd complete a trifecta: Richard Littlejohn dissects the Government's record to date, with special reference to gun crime (and a disturbing glimpse of the world of A Clockwork Orange coming true).

Aye, Carumba

I can't do anything but quote this en bloc; according to The Washington Post's Reliable Sources column, John Ashcroft is a Simpsons fan:

John Ashcroft Culture Watch: The latest GQ reports that the strait-laced attorney general is a big fan of "The Simpsons." Ashcroft tells writer Jake Tapper that his son and daughter-in-law recently gave him a three-DVD set of the Fox animated series: "Man, I've got a lot of favorite episodes!" he confides, and starts reciting fave lines. "There was that one -- when was it? -- when they thought Bart was somehow related to [late Supreme Court Chief Justice] Warren Burger, and Homer says, 'Mmmmmmmm, burrrgerrrrr.' " Ashcroft especially enjoyed the episode in which Lisa Simpson cheats on a test and as a result her school district receives more federal support. But then Lisa decides to do the right thing. "Frankly, I like her a lot. Obviously, she's an idealist." D'oh!

Dan Quayle, are you listening?

Thursday, March 14, 2002

Is there anyone out there?

Great discussion by Steven Denbeste on USS Clueless - Are we alone? - that asks the big question about extraterrestrial life. Steven thinks that life is rare. I agree. I've long taken to heart Monod's warnings that the possibility of things connecting randomly in exactly the right fashion to correct life is vanishingly small, so much so that even the vast size of the universe is not likely to overcome the odds. Add to that the probably equally small likelihoods of life becoming intelligent and I'm pretty certain that we're probably the only intelligent species out here. I speak as a lapsed science fiction fan, so that does distress me.

Anyway, here's a link to an article I wrote some time ago about extraterrestrial life. Hope you find it interesting.

And another thing...

Also in The Spectator, Andrew Gimson analyzes internal Labour politics on the current big questions:

... on the question of Iraq, Mr Blair faces a choice of either siding with the Americans or with the anti-American, anti-colonialist and pacifist instincts of his own party. In making this decision, he needs to reach only one judgment: will the Americans win? Will they rout Saddam Hussein? And, though there is always a degree of uncertainty about any war, the strong likelihood is that they will. The fighting will be as one-sided as in the Gulf war, and this time the Iraqi tyrant will perish. One of the great Arab grievances against Washington, namely that it had Saddam within its grasp yet allowed him to go on massacring his own people, will have been removed, and so will one of the gravest threats to Israel, perhaps opening the way to an American-imposed peace. But whether or not wider and more durable blessings flow, there will be dancing for an hour or two in the streets of Baghdad, and the opening of Saddam’s torture chambers will make it impossible to imagine that it was wrong to overthrow him. To ask Mr Blair to refuse his share of the credit for this victory would be like expecting Winnie-the-Pooh to turn down a pot of honey.

Gimson's main point is that Blair is repeatedly turning his back on his own party. In this he agrees with my analysis. I cannot see the party standing for it much longer. The question is whether the party knuckles under and continues to moan quietly, or whether there is another option (Brown or defections, I'd say). I can still see Blair needing Tory support soon.

Righter On

Excellent article in The Spectator by Rosemary Righter of The Times. She deserves honorary membership of the Brigade of Bellicose Women for this trenchant piece of work. Here's what she has to say on Iraq and Blair:

The American focus on Iraq is deliberate and logical — with respect to Islamist terrorism, but also with respect to Israel. Saddam’s decade-long defiance of the UN weakens respect for international law. He applauds Islamist extremists for resorting to terror against Israel. While Saddam endures, Arab leaders will not find the political courage to make genuine peace with Israel — not even if that country were led by the Archangel Gabriel. It is Iraq that is on a confrontation course with the West, not the other way round. Saddam’s Iraq is not merely unfinished business; it is a menace of the first order, to the Middle East, to the Western oil supplies that it is his ambition to dominate, to Israel and, ultimately, if he can build missiles with sufficient range, to Europe itself. He must be dealt with or he will deal with us. Blair believes that. He has started to say that. I have not been his admirer, until now; I have thought him weak, deep down. I have not thought him to be much of a strategist. But, in this great emergency, he has raised his game.

The closer war with Iraq comes, the more isolated he will feel. He does not relish isolation. There has always been an anti-American strand in the British establishment, Left and Right. It is one of its ‘forces of conservatism’. When Blair talks about these forces, he too often seems to have inchoately in mind ‘people who disagree with me’. The rise in anti-Americanism — and, to a lesser extent, anti-Israeli prejudice — may be a chattering-class phenomenon; but it risks distorting the political prism through which Britain’s national interest is perceived. Blair must acknowledge this, to counter it effectively. And, if he does so, Conservatives who hate the very thought of his being right must have the courage to support him. Britain’s interest is not always identical with America’s. But it is now. Blair should wear the badge of loyalty with pride.

Excellent stuff. Yah boo sucks to the Americophobes of right and left. We know we're right and we'll stick to our guns.

Blogger = Grammaticus?

Some interesting thoughts in Jon Last's Online Standard article Reading, Writing, and Blogging. He questions whether blogging isn't just a fad (good question, although I currently believe I'm in here for the long haul, employers and family willing), and raises some important qualifications about its focus. But I'm not sure if it does encourage instantaneous reaction in place of considered thinking. I think it does both; few bloggers fail to return to the really serious issues time and time again.

Anyway, this is the important point:

What does that mean? Well, if blogs aren't a fad (and that's a big "if"), it means that as more people become connected to the Internet, the printed word will become increasingly important again. Broadcast news will recede into the background because it's too unwieldy to index and too expensive to produce (a reporter with a laptop beats an Ashleigh Banfield with a camera crew every time).

Which would be a big deal. The ramifications of returning to print are too big to get into here (but just to get you started, think of what it would mean in terms of making English an even more globally dominant language; or what would happen to politics if TV shrunk to pre-JFK levels of importance), but on first blush, they would seem to be mostly good.

Too darn right. For a start, spelling and grammar become important again.

Which made me think. The ancients had a species of scholar, most notably in Hellenistic Alexandria, called the Grammaticus. These chaps would pour over texts, both great and not-so-great, and provide commentary on them. These comments became, in turn, the source of much of our knowledge about the ancient world. Bloggers seem to fill the same function. Grammatici are mostly secondary sources in terms of textual knowledge, but primary in other ways. So we don't report? Big deal. The grammatici weren't poets, either, but without their work the sum of human experience would be much diminished.

So take heart, bloggers. You're part of an ancient and noble tradition. Moreover, you're saving the world from the tyranny of the network executive, be they CBS or BBC. That's a noble cause.

Wednesday, March 13, 2002

And the INS treats me like a a criminal?

So my long, long wait for just for a rubber stamp, was it? Mohammed Atta's got his student visa approved. Ye Gods. Take it away, Mr Sensenbrenner...

"This shows once again the complete incompetence of the immigration service to enforce our laws and protect our borders," said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), who has co-sponsored legislation to break up the agency. "If you look at the chronology of this, it shows why the INS has to be dismantled and put back together again."

Quite right, and while we're doing it, let's look at ways of negotiating free movement pacts with our closest allies that will be flexible enough to keep the terrorists out but let the decent people contribute to increasing the respective nations' wealth without being yanked down by the clammy hand of useless bureaucracy.

Googledam Busters?

Well, gosh. Thanks to Ben Sheriff, Megan McArdle, Stephen Green, Steven Den Beste and all the others who have left the aerodromes on a googlebombing mission aimed at getting my TechCentralStation article on Afghan casualties to the top of the Google search results page. Modesty forbade my initial involvement, but now everyone else has taken to the air I'd better kick-start my rusty old Lancaster and get up there with them. Here's the text: cut and paste from the source code as you will if you have a blog and think our mission just and fair...

You don't need to click the links to make the Googlebomb, so just scroll on down to my next post.

"Kill Marc Herold Afghan casualties meme by Googlebombing it. For the uninitiated, "Googlebombing" takes advantage of the fact that Google gives a high ranking to regularly updated sites; this means that if a lot of bloggers link to, say, Iain Murray's take-down of the Herold Afghan casualties study, using relevant search terms like Afghanistan civilian casualties and Herold collateral damage and Marc Herold Afghanistan study, we can move Iain's article to the top of Google's search results."

(Sheepish grin).

Fully on board?

It looks as if Blair has banged heads together in his cabinet. According to the Telegraph, Straw gets the point. Blair looks to be staking his Ministry on backing the US. The question I would like answered is whether or not Gordon Brown agrees.

Dammit, Janet

Janet Daley is one of the most intelligent commentators on British politics there is. But she demonstrates in this article the blind faith in economics as the only thing that matters that has helped destroy British conservativism:

For me, there is no question that economic liberalism is the foundation of social liberalism. Private disposable wealth not only gives people self-determination, and the self-esteem that follows from it.

It also makes them less resentful and mean-minded, and thus more tolerant. Individual prosperity frees you from the miserable, mundane obsession with survival, and thus encourages enlightenment, culture and what counsellors call "personal development". Economic freedom is the direct progenitor of all other freedoms.

No, no, no. There are plenty of countries that are economically free but god-awful places to live -- Singapore, Bahrein and so on. What makes the Anglosphere a distinct branch of civilization is that the social and economic freedoms are all predicated on an older set of freedoms, freedoms from executive power, a restraint placed on government by the people that makes liberty, not safety or the common good or anything else, the main object of the constitution(s). We can have no sustainable economic freedom if we do not have property rights and we can have no personal economic freedom if we do not have rights of personal security and personal liberty. These are cultural matters; they are all predicated on a decision by the people to champion liberty, not wealth.

No British political party currently grasps this. IDS is close to doing it, but may get dragged off course. The Liberals still have some members who realise the importance, but they are hamstrung by political correctness and may be forced into abandoning liberty by those forces. Labour only champions liberty when it is politically expedient. The tradition of liberty is in serious danger in the UK. Thank God for the Daily Telegraph, whose Free Country campaign reminds us of the importance of these traditions.