England's Sword 2.0

Friday, June 28, 2002

Divine providence

One man's reminder to the Ninth Circuit Court of what America's about: Mary Young Pickersgill's Banner

More on CCTV

Ye Gods. According to this Times briefing, a CCTV camera costs 20,000 pounds to buy and 12,000 pounds a year to run. There are 40,000 of them in the UK, so capital costs alone were 800 million quid. A quick NPV calculation over the next 30 years, assuming a 10 year life (optimistic, I know) before replacement and a discount rate of 8% (which was standard when I did cost/benefits in the early 90s) reveals a cost of 6.4 billion pounds. Are they likely to achieve that much benefit? Not if they only decrease crime by 5% they aren't.

Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime

A Sunderland woman has been jailed for three months for shouting, swearing and kicking the back of a seat. She didn't actually hurt anyone, from what I can make out. Is this part of a new, tougher sentencing regime in the UK? No, it's because she did it on an aircraft, thereby causing "fear and terror" among the other 200 passengers, leading to the pilot diverting the plane. The judge seemed to think her actions were especially dangerous because of events in recent months. Hmmm. Did the UK actually get any reports of what happened on Flight 93? You'd have thought 1 woman in 200 would have been easy to deal with...

Voodoo Poll alert

Long-time readers will be aware of my opinion of YouGov, the UK online polling organization that lucked out in getting the election result right. Now they ask The US and Britain: Is there a 'special relationship'? Go ahead and vote. You might win 100 quid...

UPI Column

My latest Recent research suggests... is up. It deals with the current obsession with obesity as a public health issue.

Wot's this sex thing, then?

The Telegraph missed a trick here. In the otherwise excellent editorial Less sex, more dirt, when they say that "Apparently teenagers don't know that sex leads to pregnancy" they fail to point out that this is after a good twenty years' worth of sex education -- not to mention probably fifty years' worth of biology -- in state schools. If you can't learn that sex leads to pregnancy, then you can't learn to take a pill or put on a condom...

The Word on Worldcom

I've been struggling to find a way to put this, now I find a correspondent writing to the Telegraph (first link under letters to the editor) saying exactly what I've been wanting to say. The current crisis is an artefact of the obsession with maximising the value of the firm as represented by stock price as opposed to more sensible measures. Stock price should really be irrelevant to the decision making processes of the CEO. As long as there is a real, solid financial base in the accounts, then everything else should proceed naturally. Well, that's my belief anyway. Here's what the correspondent says:

Now WorldCom. The use of sticks and carrots to influence behaviour must be as old as mankind. So why the shock, horror and surprise at the revelations of "mis-accounting" by major American businesses? Of course it's wrong, but the miscreants are responding to powerful incentives, and hoping to get away with it.

Thirty years ago, Wall Street started to preach that the primary responsibility of the chief executive officer (CEO) was to maximise "shareholder value", which meant share price as determined by the market, applying its own criteria. To help concentrate the minds of the CEO and those around him or her, increasingly large parcels of share options were added to their remuneration, to the point where many executives can now literally make fortunes in a few years. Some carrots.

The sticks include loss of job if you fail to please "the Street" in short order - so short that the average tenure of Fortune 500 CEOs is now less than three years. No jokes about executives with strategic vision, please.

And what the Street likes to see is relentless growth in income and profit. If by chance real business conditions aren't buoyant enough to achieve that, what is management going to do to protect job and fortune? Enter creative accounting. Eventually it must come to light, but there's a good chance of getting away with your golden handshake and options proceeds safely banked before the auditors find out or, as we now learn, others find out about the auditors not having found out.

Until the accepted wisdom changes to recognise that business is a human societal activity, that other constituencies than shareholders have serious interests in businesses and that management's responsibility is to build businesses that are successful in the terms of those constituencies, we shall continue to see disasters.

The distortions caused by Wall Street's and the City's obsession with "shareholder value" have resulted in disastrous reductions in research and development investment, in the "letting go" of hundreds of thousands of expensively recruited and trained people, in the undermining of supplier relationships and the redefinition of business as a purely economic activity.

This is destruction of real, durable shareholder asset value on a grand scale, and the impoverishment of the society on which business relies for its existence.

As we all suffer from Wall Street's "wisdom" and its City followers, the last eyebrows to be raised should belong to those who work there.

Fair enough, I think.

Big Brother keeping Britain in the dark

The British organization the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders has announced that its review of data about Closed Circuit TV as a crime prevention tool reveals that it's less effective in reducing crime than street lighting:

A (forthcoming) comprehensive review of the impact of CCTV [Welsh and Farrington] concludes that the overall reduction in crime amounts to a figure of five per cent. A parallel systematic review carried out by the Home Office looking at the impact of street lighting found a 20 per cent reduction.

It seems that quite a bit of the crime reduction that is attributable to CCTV relates to thefts of/from cars in parking lots. Nevertheless, the Government is arguing that Big Brother is worth the investment of 3/4 of the total crime prevention budget.

But the stark contrast between the effectiveness of street lighting and CCTV shows one thing above all, I think. Britain's streets are not very pleasant, and that contributes to crime. Dark, dirty streets occupied mostly by indigent youths are not conducive to safety. Clean 'em up, light 'em and move the youths along while getting to know the community. It's the recipe that's worked over here. CCTV is an expensive and illiberal red herring.

This couldn't happen to a US State

I think I'm right in saying that. Check out Emmanuel Goldstein's important comment on the Portuguese deficit crisis. Essentially, the European Commission can either fine Portugal up to 0.5 percent of its GDP (about $6 billion!) or walk in and take over the running of Portugal's economy. And the Euro is not a threat to sovereignty? Yeah, right, and here's a nice bridge I've got to sell you...

Thursday, June 27, 2002

Dead as a dodo

Mark Steyn explains why Osama must be dead and why no-one's admitting it. I agree with these conclusions, tentatively, but am prepared to look a right fool if the bearded one suddenly appears having cast a vote on American Idol...

The Final Word on the Flag Reclaimed

Busy, busy day today, so apologies for the light posting. But this warmed my heart. It could be that this year's World Cup marks the first step on the road to full assimilation of immigrants into English culture. Funny how a sporting event achieves unasked what a generation of politicians have failed to do.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Hard Cell

The case that cell phones cause cancer is looking shakier with every new piece of long-term research.

Oh, for *UNCONSTITUTIONAL*'s sake...

A Federal court has ruled the Pledge of Allegiance 'unconstitutional'. Will somebody get these bozoes a dictionary? Simply because school children say 'under God' does not mean you're going to have Bishops of the Church of the United States appear, for Heaven's sake. By all means, make the words optional, but striking them out is actually a fairly blatant attack on the people's right to free exercise of their religion. The jurisprudence in this area has jumped right off the deep end and sunk without a trace.

Light in the darkness

Hilarious moment in the otherwise serious "Black on black" gun violence discussion on Newsnight, transcribed here. In a discussion chaired by brilliant if wayward Jeremy Paxman, one of the guests claimed, wholly unconvincingly, that the spate of black-on-black shootings in London is about getting money for food. Another guest disagreed. The first guest attempted to put him in his place:

SCHUMANN: Your education has enabled you to see things different from those who have not had that education. You should understand, I'm not being an apologist for the behaviour that happens amongst some of the errant minority in my community but you have to have an understanding of the psychology. You have to understand the psychological effects and the damage done by a poor educational system.

PAXMAN: Hang on, he is the psychiatrist.


We are all guilty! WE ARE ALL GUILTY!!!

Peter Simple's character Dr Heinz Kiosk screams this mantra at any given opportunity. It seems, however, that Dr Kiosk has changed his name to David Calvert-Smith, Director of Public Prosecutions. He thinks all of Britain is racist. Janet Daley looks at the idiocy of this argument:

Now wait a minute. What exactly is the net result of this endemic racism? Does it have a material effect on the way justice operates or doesn't it? Having sprayed slurs far and wide over every agency and institution of society, from the press to the police, for perpetrating "stereotypical assumptions", not to mention every benign well-meaning individual citizen for being a closet bigot, Sir David then tells us that none of this counts for a row of beans in the end, because no "wrong result" has followed as a consequence.

Racism is bad precisely because of its consequences. If there are no ill consequences, then surely there is no culpable racism. Self-flagellation of the kind Kiosk and Calvert-Smith engage in seems to be simply a form of masochism.

Beaten to the ball

I was going to say something about the Germany vs Brazil final being a bit of a travesty, but Daddy Warblogs has beaten me to it. Exactly what I was going to say.

And what would have happened today if Hakan Sukur was at even 50% of his normal form?

Lucky blighters, both of 'em...

Desire for Streetcars

Interesting dichotomy here. In a recent American Enterprise Magazine Online hotflash, Paul Weyrich and Michael Lind praise the benefits of streetcars/trams as being transit that Conservatives can love. By contrast, a couple of weeks ago in the Spectator, Matthew Parris, who does not deserve his reputation in the blogosphere, outlined the reasons why trams are dreadful. As it happens, I tend to agree with Mr. Parris. He outlines why buses are better than trams in all of the areas that tram enthusiasts count as points in their favor. Weyrich's and Lind's arguments boil down essentially to "trams are cheaper than light rail." Well, buses are cheaper -- and better -- than trams. Now, buses do have a serious image problem here in the States, but I think that's because of a variety of outdated social factors. It's certainly no reason to waste tons of public money. Me, I'll take the bus.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Ever wondered what a British MP does?

Boris Johnson tells you, all in the course of building up to a dreadful pun. Quite right, too.

Right again

Michael Gove deserves to be rivalling Mark Steyn as the Blogosphere's favorite columnist. Here he is, getting right to the point about Palestinian "desperation":

This ideology of death is not then the product of hope denied, but hope fed. Fed not just by money and arms from neighbours, but fed, above all, by the folly of the West. The hope that terror will bring concessions, the hope that the West is weakening, the hope that fanaticism will prevail, is daily reinforced. That hope is nurtured by movement towards a Palestinian state which is accelerated, not delayed, by bombing. It is encouraged by news that decisive action against one sponsor of terror, Iraq, has been delayed. It is supported by news that the world’s most energetic sponsor of terror, Iran, is to be appeased by the granting of EU trade privileges.

It is also advanced by the moral confusion which suicide bombing has produced among Western elites. The campaign has been designed to obscure the wickedness of ethnic mass murder by seeking to place the killer on the same moral plain as his targets — both are to be seen as “victims”.

But that is only true in the sense that a Khmer Rouge, Waffen SS or Interahamwe footsoldier and those he slaughters are “equally” victims of totalitarianism. One is implementing an ideology of death, the others are that ideology’s necessary sacrifices. To contextualise the acts of the killers by arguing that they have no hope, to see “nobility” in their blitheness about the consequences as they take others’ lives, is to locate moral reasoning in individuals who wish to erase the most fundamental moral principle — respect for life itself.

It's all so simple. Gove elucidates it all so eloquently. In Heaven's name, why can't so many see it?

Spoon-feeding youngsters to reduce crime?

This remarkable news fits in with the discussion on recidivism below. It seems that young criminals given a diet of micronutrients while under criminal supervision perpetrated significantly fewer crimes than those who were given sugar pills. But can we trust people to look after themselves? Unless people are proposing that people be forced to eat certain things I can't see this research being of much benefit.

There's a reason people slip from healthy diets, sneak away from school lunches to eat Milky Ways and go back to fried foods after prison or hospital. To them, it tastes better.

By all means, feed people healthy meals in prison and perhaps reinstate milk and fruit in school (I can't see any problem with that unless you're a "taking children seriously" nutter), but this must not be used by the health fascists as grounds for a "fat tax" or some other statist outrage.

Jolly good

There's some hope for English law, after all. The High Court has ruled that amendments to EC regulations only form part of English law if the original legislation made provision for them. In other words, the various 1973-era acts were not fascist-style "enabling acts" giving carte blanche to the EU to do whatever they liked. To enforce the various EC food standards, the government will now have to spend precious Parliamentary time pasing primary (I think) legislation to deal with the issue.

Or, of course, they could decide that the British people are best placed to decide their own food standards. Nah, that's not very likely...

"And England shall be free..."

"If England means as much to you as England means to me," as the song went. It seems that England's flag now means something to a much larger section of the populace, as the BBC grudgingly admits. It's all the fault of unemployment and exploitation of Chinese flag makers, of course...

There but for the grace of God...

This is the team England thrashed 5-1 on their home soil a few months ago. I hope Brazil or Turkey (how exquisite if it were Turkey!) puts them firmly in their place at the weekend.

Monday, June 24, 2002

Fishy business

Christopher Booker's notebook has been a strong voice against the European destruction of the British fishing industry for years. It looks now as if the last rites are to be administered:

We thus begin to see the final account for that decision by Edward Heath in 1973 to hand over waters that contain four-fifths of Europe's fish stocks. Within a few years it is likely that we will be left with only a very small fleet, with rights to catch anything round our shores entirely controlled by Brussels.

Our chief remaining interest will be that we will be expected to provide and pay for a fleet of fisheries protection vessels, to enforce Brussels policies under Brussels direction. Any Royal Navy ships still involved will be required to have non-British officials on board telling them what to do.

British ministers will also have one further duty. Each time a new country joins the EU, they will have to sign a "designation order" giving its fishing vessels rights of access to the waters round our shores out to 200 miles, since under international law these are still British.

But doubtless this is an anomaly that Mr Blair could offer to sort out when, after Gibraltar, he is looking for something else to give away.

I await the day when British vessels, ordered to protect Spanish fishing vessels, come into confrontation with Canadian vessels seeking to protect Canadian territorial rights that the Spanish do not recognize. Will the Navy choose Crown or Europe?

Who ya gonna call?

Glad to see the CIA is taking the war on terrorism seriously.

Pink slips are the only answer.

Equal opportunity nutters

Just to show that I attract criticism from nutters on both sides of the aisle, I thought you might like to see this screed. It was written is response to my latest UPI column, where I commented that "the plural of anecdote is not data":

Anecdotal evidence is more conclusive than official statistics when officials deliberately distort them to suit their masters' agendas. For example, it is now common practice for police officicials to downgrade crimes across the board (from murder to manslaughter, for example) in order to improve their performance statistics and justify the prison empire US reactionaries have constructed.

Garbage in, garbage out. One has to make sure that official statistics are accurate and honest, before one can make pompous pronouncements about the superiority of results obtained from them. Look at all the 'scientific' data that came out of the Vietnam War, or from the Soviet Union, for that matter, before it collapsed. To declare those data reliable, even though one knows they are not (it's either that, or you don't know what you're talking about) is to betray science that much more, and make it even less likely that the public trusts or consults it next time around. Perhaps that's the ultimate goal of your obvious prevarication, to make science totally unbelievable, and throw us all back into the Dark Ages? The reactionaries would be pleased.

I see, so downgrading crimes justifies putting people in prison. Shome mishtake, shurley? The best thing about this disquistion is that it came from an ed.gov e-mail address -- the Education Department, which is, presumably, the last bastion against US reactionaries. And against objectivity, it would seem.

Crime and Punishment

My latest TCS piece is up. The Problem with Prison looks at what the latest recidivism statistics tell us about how the American prison system works. I suggest rehabilitation is necessary. One correspondent doesn't agree. She sent me this astonishingly racist outburst:

It was the phoniest bit of logic I've ever read. Rehabiliate criminals? I don't think so. Most of those in jail are there because they have low IQs and there is nothing that prison can do about that. And over-whelmingly those in prison both in the US and in the Britain are minorities, and especially blacks. If America was serious about crime we would do what we should have done a long time ago. Repatriate almost all blacks back to Africa. Our crime rate would drop by at least half and we could reclaim our cities. Britain almost had no crime until it started importing it with all kinds of immigrants who prey on the native population of whites. Deport them, make Britain white again, and the crime rate will drop. Duh!

Astonishing. Just goes to show that the "They are all guilty" crowd is still around, even though the "We are all guilty" idiots are making more noise at the moment.

Another old-fashioned concept bites the dust

The Founding Fathers of the USA liked to think that they were asserting their rights as free-born Englishmen. Well, that's a concept that seems to be out of fashion. Hidden in this report about new asylum laws in the UK is this remarkable point:

[The draft Bill] included new powers allowing the Home Secretary for the first time to deprive someone born a British citizen of his or her citizenship

The language in the draft Bill (PDF file) is as follows:

The Secretary of State may by order deprive a person of a citizenship status if the Secretary of State thinks that the person has doen anything seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of (a) the United Kingdom or (b) a British overseas territory.

There is an appeals process, but this strikes me as far too broad a power, and one that is inconsistent with British custom and tradition. Blackstone comments favorably that Englishmen cannot be exiled and retain their right of living freely in their land (although, of course, transportation became common after Blackstone's time). This power would amaze him. It must be resisted.

PP: Oh, and check this one out. Britons can now be extradited to European countries for crimes that are not crimes in the UK. The Legislature was not consulted on this at all.

Ignorance is Strength

This report, 'Brixton? Right now it's a 24-hr crack supermarket,' from The Observer (Sunday Guardian, essentially) of all places, strikes me as highly important. It starts off with a tale of police trying to arrest a drug dealer, but being surrounded by a crowd worrying about "police brutality". This amply demonstrates the trouble with the crime problem in the UK. People are overly concerned with secondary issues. Yes, of course police brutality is wrong, but crime on the streets must be a more pressing concern. Policemen need help, not criticism.

Anyway, the more important points are in the meat of the article. Here's the reality of the Brixton drugs decriminlization experiment:

'Many people find this film shocking,' said Moore. 'But it is the reality of what we are dealing with. The centre of Brixton is a 24-hour crack supermarket. We have 15 dealers during the day and up to 20 throughout the night. They each sell 100 rocks per week at £10 a time. It means the centre of Brixton alone is a crack market worth £12 million each year. The level of demand means that even if we arrested 1,000 dealers, they'd be replaced by 1,000 new ones the next day.'

When the cannabis experiment was launched by the outspoken Metropolitan Police Commander Brian Paddick, it was hailed as a brave step by the pro-drugs lobby but seen as a blow to law and order by others who feared it would lead to a relaxation of attitudes towards harder drugs. Paddick himself said: 'I have never known anyone commit crime to fund a cannabis habit.'

In recent weeks, criticism of the experiment from the community and the police themselves has risen. Locals have reported incidents of children as young as 10 under the effects of cannabis. Some children are said to have turned up at school stoned while there have been instances of children whose parents are dealers being employed as couriers and rewarded with cannabis.

Lovely. Kids are stoned and they're selling crack rather than marijuana (a dealer quoted later admits that addicting people is great business). That's a success. And here's the real clincher:

A recent Mori poll found that while half of all white residents in Brixton supported the experiment, the majority of black and Asian residents opposed it.

Fuller believes this is because the white middle classes have a rose-tinted view of drug-taking and do not see the problems that are caused in the same way as ethnic communities do.

Since the experiment began last July, there has been a 13 per cent increase in the number of cannabis dealers travelling to Brixton to sell their wares. Drug dealing offences in the borough have risen by 11 per cent and recorded cases of cannabis possession by 34 per cent.

What seems to most concern local people, however, is that by relaxing attitudes to cannabis, police have given a signal to all drug dealers that they have nothing to fear.

'The police have abandoned the streets to the dealers,' said Reverend Ivelaw Bowman of St Andrew's Church. 'You cannot use the bus stop at the top of Coldharbour Lane or the nearby telephone boxes because they have been taken over by the dealers. They sell drugs openly and without fear, even though you cannot move for CCTV cameras there. And it is the same people day after day. The law is not being enforced and the question everyone in the community wants an answer to is this: if we can see it, why can't the police?'

The interests of the local people have been subordinated to bourgeois prejudices, as I've argued before. Where are the David Clark-Smiths saying that this is a sign of institutional racism?

And one final point. This experiment was about cannabis:

There are other worrying signs. The standard indicator for the size and health of any drug market is street price. When drugs are in short supply, the price goes up - when they are plentiful, it falls. Since the experiment began, the price of cannabis had climbed from £27 per ounce to £30. Over the same period of time, the price of crack cocaine has fallen.

There's a respectable libertarian argument about the efficacy of drug laws. What's happening in Lambeth has nothing to do with that. It's about letting criminals have full rein. That's truly appalling.

Light Invisible

Darkness Visible, by the Rev. Walton Hannah is one of the seminal works on what Freemasonry (the British version) is all about. It spawned a less-than compelling answer, by a Mason and vicar who called himself "Vindex", entitled Light Invisible. Following the Black Rod fiasco, it seems that John Lloyd has decided to be New Labour's Vindex. His argument, which relies on the supposed humiliations of the Prime Ministers of Australia, Canada and New Zealand, is less than compelling, for two reasons:

1. The position of the Monarch as Head of State of those countries is most decidely not "anomalous". It is about the most "omalous" thing in those countries' constitutions, being the consistent, unifying factor that has helped maintain shaky unions and ensured continuity.

2. Lloyd complains that royals got precedence over elected officials. John, this was a funeral. I think I'm right in saying that every one of those royals he mentions was a blood relative of the Queen Mother. Suppose a local councillor died. Would Lloyd complain if the Mayor was seated behind the grieving widow? I bloody well hope not. This is a silly argument that looks good until you realize exactly what it is you're talking about.

I've been impressed with John Lloyd's work recently. But this feeble apologia has sent him back to Sept 10 in my eyes.

Sophistry alert

The New Statesman's leader is about speed cameras, and it puts the positive case for them quite well. Then it ruins it all with this outrageous statement:

Moreover, a child from social class V is five times more likely to be killed on the roads than a child from social class I. As the higher-income groups are more likely to drive fast (partly because they have higher-powered vehicles and more appointments), the car has become an instrument that allows the rich to kill the poor.

I am reminded of the scene in The Simpsons where the Springfield Republican Party meet in a lightning-surrounded castle, discussing what evil deed they can perpetrate next, followed by Bob Dole reading from The Necronomicon.

Friday, June 21, 2002

Neither Washington nor Moscow but...

The old slogan of the Socialist Workers' Party could apply to the European drift to what is called there 'the right'. Socialism has been rejected across Europe. This Times article explains why quite well:

[Socialism] is no longer a brand that sells. French voters know not only what they are sick of but what they positively want: lower taxes, less street crime, more realism — and less political correctness — on immigration, and less bureaucratic interference. Not the least of the sensible Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s appeal is the new Prime Minister’s promise to “simplify life”. Mr Blair has bucked the rightward trend — and indignantly, and in my view correctly, rebuts left-wing criticism that he has done so only by betraying the “socialist ideal”. Britain, teeming once again with regulations and form-filling on everything from small business and farmers to teachers and doctors, is more like continental Europe than it was before 1997. M Raffarin’s message could be potent here too.

People want less, too, of what the Italians call the snobismo of the Left. Voters are tired of sermons, whether about social inclusion or “building Europe”. It is at home that they want the spadework done. They want government that works — and that listens to what they want rather than telling them what they ought to want. They also want politicians who are not afraid to talk about the national interest — almost taboo on the Left. So they are veering back to the Centre Right whose historical reputation for competence is the reason why, the past few years apart, it has dominated European politics for half a century.

Of course, it isn't conservatism on the Anglo-American lines, but it's not socialism, and it's not fascism. That's got to be a plus.

She's back!

On Tory Revival I often used to link to Melanie Phillips' columns for The Sunday Times. Then she moved to the webophobic Daily Mail and I cried a tear or two. But now she's putting all her articles there up at MelaniePhillips.com. Huzzah!


Veteran keepers -- are they worth it? I remember a glaring mistake by Peter Shilton in Italia 90, and Seaman's failure to notice that Ronaldinho was actually aiming at the goal goes up there along with it. I have to say that the knock Seaman took at the end of the first half seemed to me to be the turning point of the game, as Brazil suddenly realised he might be worth pressuring. Then Beckham unforgivably failed to make a challenge on the touchline and a couple of kicks later Brazil were level. Most people would not have sent of Ronaldinho (although I would have anyway) but I'd rather have had him on the pitch and the reasonable claim for the penalty by Beckham moments later upheld than the way it actually happened. The next 30 minutes were utterly depressing, however, as England looked like they were the side a man down. They played far, far too many inaccurate long passes to give the ball away rather than the short, accurate passes that win you chances when you're a man up. Scholes, Beckham and Dyer (Mag) were particularly at fault, I thought. I think we just panicked. Still, I think this side, with a new keeper and no Dyer, will do pretty well in Euro 04...

In fact, they should have played the way the USA did. They passed neatly and accurately, won the ball back when they lost it and created chance after chance but no luck (even when they beat Kahn, they were foiled by an unintentional handball). The USA can count themselves very, very unlucky to have lost in 90 minutes. They proved to me that they are worthy of being talked of as a major footballing power at last. See -- there's a silver lining to every cloud...

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Nervous Gulp

Match fever grips England.


The Fruits of Kiwi Experience

David Lange was probably the most influential politician New Zealand had ever produced. His adoption of some Thatcherite policies predated Blair's co-option of them by a decade. In this Independent column his Finance Minister tells Gordon Brown to learn from his experience in trying to fix the healthcare system by throwing money at it. As he rightly points out,

In Britain the privileged enjoy access to high-quality health care while the majority rely on sub-standard services. You are the fourth largest economy in the world, but you allow tens of thousands of your people to die from cancer when they would survive in Germany. You acclaim a system that has put the disadvantaged and the inarticulate at the bottom of the health-care heap and kept them there.

This is because of the funding system:

Every British family already funds a lifetime of healthcare, but it has no real say over how the money is spent. Hospitals and GPs depend on the system for their income, not their own patients. The only way to make providers more responsive is to give back to consumers the power to buy their own care.

That is why reform of funding of is essential. Social insurance schemes give patients the power of choice and the status of customers whom healthcare providers have to satisfy. No one is excluded. The disadvantaged receive assistance with premiums, making them – for the first time – purchasers with equal rights to the rich. Since the public have a free choice of doctor or hospital, the patient-doctor relationship is restored. Hospital staff no longer feel like political pawns. Everyone wins.

My wise and lovely wife has suggested that an appropriate slogan for healthcare reform should be something along the lines of

Healthcare is your life. Don't you deserve more control over it?

I think that could work. I wonder if the Tories will agree?

Welcome to the Blogosphere, Stephen

Good news. Serious British journalist and influential center-left thinker Stephen Pollard has joined the blogging community. You can find him at stephenpollard.net. Here's a sample of his first thoughts, on what Cherie Blair (Booth) and her ilk think unquestionable:

There are a host of other unstated assumptions which the likes of Ms Booth make about life and which they consider above argument: the view that somehow they do things better in Europe; that anyone who opposes greater european integration is a xenophobe; that it is our role to 'civilise' the hick Americans; that selective education is somehow morally inferior to comprehensive education (even if they have to resort to it for their own kids); and that the NHS is the only morally respectable form of healthcare provision.

And Stephen should know. He's worked among these people for years. Welcome aboard, Stephen.

Cool down

Great article by Andrew Kenny in The Spectator that sums up in three paragraphs my whole problem with the global warming scare:

The last ice age ended about 10,000 years ago. Temperatures rose to the ‘Holocene Maximum’ of about 5,000 years ago when it was about 3°F higher than now, dropped in the time of Christ, and then rose to the ‘Mediaeval Climate Optimum’ of about 600 ad to 1100 ad, when temperatures were about 2°F higher than now. This was a golden age for northern European agriculture and led to the rise of Viking civilisation. Greenland, now a frozen wasteland, was then a habitable Viking colony. There were vineyards in the south of England. Then temperatures dropped to ‘The Little Ice Age’ in the 1600s, when the Thames froze over. And they have been rising slowly ever since, although they are still much lower than 1,000 years ago. We are now living in a rather cool period.

What caused these ups and downs of temperature? We do not know. Temperature changes are a fact of nature, and we have no idea if the postulated 0.5°F heating over the last 100 years is caused by man’s activities or is simply part of a natural cycle. What we can say, though, is that if Europe heats up by 2°F it would do it a power of good. We can see this from records of 1,000 years ago. Moreover, increased carbon dioxide makes plants grow more quickly, so improving crops and forests.

The Earth’s climate is immensely complicated, far beyond our present powers of understanding and the calculating powers of modern computers. Changes in phase from ice to water to vapour; cloud formation; convection; ocean currents; winds; changes in the sun; the complicated shapes of the land masses; the ability of the oceans to absorb carbon dioxide — all of these and a thousand other factors operating with small differences over vast masses and distances make it practically impossible for us to make predictions about long-term climate patterns, and perhaps make such predictions inherently impossible. The computer models that the global warmers now use are ludicrously oversimplified, and it is no surprise that they have made one wrong prediction after another.

Exactly. The Earth is probably warming, although we're not sure. Do we know what is going to happen in the future? Don't make me laugh. Is warming that big a deal and can we do anything about it other than hamstring our most successful technologies? My answer is almost certainly no.

Incidentally, I've noticed that one of the big names in the global warming movement, Michael Oppenheimer, is now "Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs" at Princeton. What an odd combination. Nice sinecure, though.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Engels' new angle

Bad cricket writer and worse social commentator Matthew Engels attempts to curry favor with his hosts over here by listing Fifty ways to love America. Actually, they're things to love about America, but lets not quibble too much with the dear boy, as he seems to be getting the point.

Your round

No I'm not! [Cue hilarity]. Thanks to Iain Coleman for reminding me about this. Oxford's Social Issues Research Center put out a Guide to the British Pub for foreign tourists some time ago. I recommend it if you're interested in visiting a real pub or two if you plan on visiting England. However, be aware that little of this applies to the packed, uncharming, unfriendly pubs that abound in the center of London.

What's the EU for again?

I thought the EU was about internal markets. Why exactly is it, rather than member governments, giving money to "Palestine"? Daddy Warblogs has a depressing tale of the miseducation of children and how the EU funds it.

Ah, diddums

Talk about throwing your rattle out of the pram. This is just plain unsporting.

Blair the Wrecker

Also in the Telegraph, Janet Daley outlines Blair's contempt for the British constitution, fearing that he doesn't understand it:

For the past 200 years or so, the peoples of Europe have had an unpleasant tendency to take to the streets and kill one another when the political arguments became too heated. Finding a systematic way to avoid this was a matter of some urgency if civil order was to be maintained.

Over the same period, while Continental Europe convulsed itself repeatedly in revolution and terror, the British, to their enormous credit, managed to carry on their parliamentary disagreements without violence, and often with lucidity, wit and intellectual dexterity. Adversarial politics should be a source of national pride, not shame.

As for Tony Blair's infatuation with the American presidency, this is a peculiar sort of fantasy for a man who clearly wants more control over events rather than less. The American President may have some very impressive rigamarole of office, but his country's constitution leaves him almost powerless at the hands of an unco-operative Congress.

The will of a prime minister with a large majority such as Mr Blair's is unstoppable. He is subject to none of the checks and balances that constrain the American executive. (But surely Mr Blair knows this. So what is he really after? Just the ego-boosting folderol of a presidency? Or a drastic re-working of the British constitution along the lines of the 18th-century American one? I am in the dark here. There is some evidence for both possibilities.)

This is an admirable summary, and one that anyone struggling to understand the British constitution should read.

The abolition of London

The Telegraph has an interesting case study of what crime is doing to Londoners:

This is not the London I grew up in, and loved. That was a city where I could go alone to school at the age of six, if necessary; a place where you knew you could find a policeman if something scary happened (which it did, from time to time, of course, because the past is not a halcyon dream). Last night, I said to my husband that I wanted to leave London, even though we were both born here. "But we'd still be running away," he said.

And he's right (even though fright tends to make conviction waver). Why should we be forced to leave our home, our friends, our work, the threads that weave our small world together? But how, exactly, do you live in a city where running scared is now an ordinary fact of life?

Incidentally, I wonder when was the last time that Tony Blair - that shiny happy man I voted for five years ago - travelled on the Tube, or his wife parked a car in a place where there might be a nightmare in the shadows.

I think, perhaps, that their city is no longer mine; that my fears are not theirs; and that the common ground that politicians should share with the rest of us has eroded into nothingness. And in that space, perhaps, exists a shifting, suspicious landscape, which some of us call London.

In fact, it's not so much crime as civil disorder. The demoralization of the police and the lack of security guards in car parks are examples of civil decay. It's a much wider problem than muggings. Americans have recognixed this. Blair's "modern" Britain, by contrast, is stuck in the past.

Petards a-hoist

Having seen what the media did to John Major's admittedly below-par administration, to New labour's immense satisfaction, I find myself especially amused by this reaction to the media's hounding of Blair's incompetents.

The hatred of terrorism

Emmanuel Goldstein defends Cherie Blair for her suicide bombing comments (despite earlier saying almost exactly what I said about her). He comments that it is wrong to regard her statement as extremist and that

the very act of blowing oneself up surely should be taken as proof of hopelesness

As I've already said on his comments section, I never said that this particular statement was extremist. What I said was that I wouldn't be surprised if she did hold extreme views on the subject.

However, I disagree completely that blowing oneself up -- with the express purpose of killing others, including children -- is a sign of despair. It is a sign of fanaticism and disregard for the value of life. Given that the victims are always intended to be of one particular racial group, it is also a hate crime, if that phrase has any meaning at all.

Saying "Oh, poor dears, you've got to make allowances" is a dreadful thing to say about people who meticulously plan and execute mass murders of other people based on their race.

I wonder, what is the last thing his/her victims see in a homicide bomber's eyes? Is it sadness and despair at what he/she is about to do, or is it wild-eyed fanatical glee tinged with hatred?

I know what my money's on.

Go Team USA!!!

A lot of attention being paid to footie in the Blogosphere and its environs. Instapundit, Nordlinger, TAP, JVL of the Daily Standard and now Clay Waters at TAE have all paid attention in recent days. Incidentally, check out Clay's blog.

Murray in defending New Statesman shocker

Gary Farber -- good to have you back, Gary! -- is slightly unfair to the New Statesman in his comments about another brilliant bit of British journalism. He castigated the NS for the outrageous statement that America is thinking about "regulating business for the first time in 70 years."

Well, that is what they said, but it's not what they meant. A quick look at
the article reveals that it's all about regulating business structure, not about regulations of business practice. I agree with Greenspan that the current dominant CEO paradigm is a bad thing for American business, so I'm pretty happy that people are starting to get concerned (although whether regulation is needed is another matter), but overall this was an example of sloppy rather than ignorant journalism.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Come in, No 10, your time is up

Robert Harris says that By this time next year, Brown will be in No 10. He argues from past performance. As the saying goes, however, past performance is no guarantee of future results. I happen to think that Tone is a lot wilier than Harris gives him credit for. If it comes down to having to do a deal with IDS or letting Brown eclipse him, I think Tony will do a deal with IDS.

Blunkett's Blunders

Michael Gove takes up David Blunkett's record as British Home Secretary (equivalent to the US Attorney General, with a few extra powers) and tears it to shreds. He's spot on in every criticism, especially this one:

He’s proposed a sweeping centralisation of the nation’s constabulary in his Police Reform Bill which would reverse the trend of successful law enforcement policy across the Western world. While the globe’s most effective police forces, such as New York, rely on devolution of responsibility and neighbourhood autonomy to tackle crime, Mr Blunkett wants to second-guess, meddle, interfere and regulate from his desk in Whitehall. These centralising proposals have been roundly denounced in the Lords by an alliance of Tory, Lib Dem, and independent peers. And hardly surprising too. Never mind the illiberal principle behind Mr Blunkett’s plans, just look at the incompetent practice in his running of the Home Office so far. If the man can’t even frame a single new law without cocking it up, how can he be trusted to supervise the enforcement of all those we already have? But those in the grip of Enronitis don’t think, or indeed act, straight. Over-extended yourself dangerously? Then go further still. Initiatives running into the sand? Then rev up the announcement-count even further. We’ve had 55 gimmicks and counting since Mr Blunkett arrived at the Home Office, one for almost every week in the job. And the result? Crime set to go up by 6 per cent, the biggest increase for ten years.

Yes, while the rest of the English-speaking world has either got crime under control or seen it reduced to levels unseen since the 60s, England is set to see crime increase again.

The Government's reaction to all this is to fiddle with the justice system. There's some truth in what Tony says here, but there's a lot of problems too:

[The PM] stressed the central principle: "That above all, the time has come to re-balance the system so that we restore the faith of victims and witnesses, that the court hearing will be fair to all participants and so that we restore their confidence that a criminal will be brought to justice.

"To achieve that shift we need major reform. We need clearer, simpler rules of evidence that trust the common-sense and decency of judge and jury." Mr Blair said cases should be in the best state they could before trial, "by involving the CPS from the outset."

"We need to look again at the double jeopardy rule, in place to prevent people being tried twice for the same crime. For serious offences if there is overwhelming new evidence that implicates the accused again, they should go back to court. That is the case in Germany, Finland and Denmark. If it makes sense there, it should make sense here too."

Mr Blair said the prosecution should be able to challenge a judge's decision to stop a trial on technical grounds in all courts, promised major investment in IT across the system and work to make sentencing help reduce reoffending with better post-release supervision of all those leaving prison.

He also said he wanted more power devolved to local police chief superintendents, "the commanders closest to the problems of each neighbourhood". He said: "Some of our reforms will be controversial. Many rules of evidence and other procedures were introduced to prevent miscarriages of justice, and protections for the defendant must remain.

"But it's a miscarriage of justice when delays and time-wasting deny victims justice for months on end. It's a miscarriage of justice when the police see their hard work and bravery thrown away by courts who let a mugger out on bail for the seventh or eighth time to offend again or when courts don't have the secure places to put people.

"And it's perhaps the biggest miscarriage of justice in today's system when the guilty walk away unpunished. A modernised criminal justice system demands justice for all and we are on course to deliver it."

Miscarriages of justice and soft sentencing are big problems (building more prisons might help in the sentencing area, Tone), but reforming the double jeopardy rule is not the answer. It will make police forces more likely to rush to trial with weaker evidence, confident that they can try again later. Some people will almost certainly be persecuted unjustly because of it.

Moreover, reoffending may be an artifact of bad prisons policy. If you don't rehabilitate criminals, of course they're likely to reoffend. That happens over here too, despite our better sentencing policies.

Returning to Double Jeopardy, my central rule for things like this is to ask whether it would be unconstitutional in the US. If it would be, then it's normally going to be a pretty big mistake.

Oh, Cherie!

Tony Blair's wife has apologized after saying young Palestinians had no hope but to blow themselves up. Her father, a veteran left-winger, has been outspoken in the past -- check out these comments on the monarchy -- so it's not too much of a stretch to think that she might hold some extreme views. Once again, the Blairs seem to have been wongfooted by the timing of an outside event. Their golden touch seems to be turning to brass.

What the ... !!??

I thought I'd grown used to the surprises in this World Cup. But this is the biggest one of the lot. Ye Gods!

My predictions aren't looking very good now, are they?

PS This summary of World Cup tactics is looking increasingly accurate.

Has the Eurocent dropped?

Dangerous or welcome? According to this EUobserver article, a group of young Europeans have realized that the EU's current direction is unsustainable:

The authors of the document "Vision Europe 2020 - Reinventing Europe 2005-2020" are convinced there are now only two possible choices for Europe: The one they present or an anti-democratic and xenophobic national-Europeanism leading to a certain “death of European integration as a historic project.”

They propose abolishing the European Commission -- huzzah! -- but want to replace it with a European Government -- uh oh! -- with a President elected by "his/her peers" -- double uh oh! -- and such things as a European criminal police force -- aaaarrgghhh!!!

I think I have to prefer the current situation, which is destined to collapse, to this attempt to produce what would be a democratic Europe, but one in which Britain would shrivel up and die as the different nation it has been for so many hundreds of years. It is better to face blinkered opponents than clever ones like these Europe2020 types...

Monday, June 17, 2002

Flags, Hume and Holidays

In some sort of Jungian synchronicity with my earlier posts, I now read Mick Hume in The Times about what the English flag means today. He says that this isn't about resurgent patriotism, but then says that it's about a search for a genuine collective experience. Err, yes, of patriotism, if they knew what it really meant. That's borne out by this bit in the final paragraph:

St George’s flag flies high this week, but in a survey, 83 per cent of English people did not know the date of St George’s Day. Nearly 70 per cent, however, wanted a Bank Holiday whenever it was.

Astonishing. They want to be patriotic, but can't be, because they haven't been told what it means. If the English people were actually educated about their culture and history, then they would be patriotic, and rightly so. But they'd also realise what was being done to them. Princes and parliaments would need to tremble on that day.

Madam, I'm Adams

The trenchant John Adams quote on the left comes from the marvellous FoundingFathers.info -- Quotations from the Founding Fathers. You can send people virtual postcards of the Bill of Rights, amongst other things. Sound.

Hume on Understanding the Activists

And Mick Hume has a great article on the Palestinian Question as a tool of the anti-globalizers in the New Statesman too. He concludes:

Western society is infected by a powerful sense of self-loathing and a rejection of its political, social and economic achievements. It was this spirit of self-loathing that led some, of the left and right alike, to suggest that America got what it deserved on 11 September. Those sentiments are no more progressive when aimed against Israel as a symbol of the west than when they are directed in irrational campaigns against GM crops and the literature of Dead White Males.

We may feel solidarity with the Palestinians, but that is no reason to endorse the anti-imperialism of fools. Populist anti-Israeli rhetoric is cheap, but it offers no solutions - especially when it ends with a demand for even more western intervention in the affairs of the Middle East. The long-suffering peoples of the region deserve better than to be used by those looking for somewhere convenient to strike sanctimonious poses.

Interesting that he quotes Tariq Ali, Christopher Hitchens' old Oxford muckah and extreme left-winger, in support of this argument. We've heard it before from Hume, but to hear it in the pages of the New Statesman gives me hope that the internal struggle on the left is being won by the forces of sense.

New Statesman, new sense?

The New Statesman's leader this week displays a rare grasp of common sense for that magazine. In decrying central Government's micromanagement of schools it betrays the truly liberal roots of its schizophrenic worldview. I do not disagree with a word of this conclusion:

Stripped of the capacity to manipulate the economy - by the global markets and the rules of the European Union - politicians can't keep their hands off the schools. They should relax the pressure, allow education to breathe again and let children enjoy childhood again.

I wonder if they could apply this argument to other areas where the NS regularly argues in favor of government intervention. Well, they could. But they won't.

Scapegoats and terrorists

Thanks to Rand Simberg and the JunkYard Blog for this one. There is a striking resemblance between Jose Padilla and "John Doe #2", the missing link in the Oklahoma Bombing case. Who Is John Doe No. 2? sets out the arguments and implications. At the moment, I'd rank this as a plausible conspiracy theory. If it's true, then those who decided to go after militias as the enemy really dropped the ball. As someone once said, big time.

Column alert

My latest Recent Research Suggests... column for UPI is up. It's not my best, although I think the recidivism points are important.


Watch for all sorts of Star Trek references after what the BBC calls an Australian teleport breakthrough. This isn't Star Trek-style transporting, though. See this STATS article from '98 for a brief rundown of the problems (actually, the Beeb report covers it quite well too).

Bring on the samba boys

So it's Brazil vs England on Friday. Given our convincing performance on Saturday, our rock-solid central defence and the fact that Brazil haven't really played a decent team yet (Costa Rica had a ton of chances against them, and Belgium were very unlucky to have that goal disallowed and not go 1-0 up), I think England could very well win the match and advance to the semis for the first time since that heartbreaking loss to Germany at Italia 90.

Meanwhile, I think the USA stand a good chance of beating a below-par German side after their trouncing of Mexico. The USA are a lot better than most Europeans think, but not as good as they think they are. Nevertheless, they are brimming with self-confidence. They'll give Germany a good game.

The only downside for the Anglosphere in the footie world this weekend was Ireland losing on penalties after deserving to win their game against Spain. Typically, it was Sunderland's Kevin Kilbane who missed the penalty that essentially lost the game in the shoot-out. If West Brom want him back, let them have him...

Sorry for that little parochial outburst. Anyway, my predictions for the semis are:

USA vs Italy and

England vs Japan.

Italy to beat England on penalties in the final...

Happy Belated Birthday, Big Charter

I missed it on Saturday, but Jay Manifold celebrates the 786th birthday of the Magna Carta over on A Voyage To Arcturus. A few months ago I asked people what new public holidays they would want the UK to introduce to replace the anodyne "Bank Holidays." A few said "Magna Carta Day." Jolly good. Today should be a public holiday in the UK.

Friday, June 14, 2002

Shill alert

By the way, if you like those flags, you can get them quite cheaply at Flagline.com - Historic and Military Flags...

Wee sleekit cowrin' politicians

Thanks to David Farrer of Freedom and Whisky for dawing my attention to his one. A new party has been formed in Scotland aimed at smaller government. A century after the great step forward of securing pay for MPs, these laddies want to take a further step by refusing to accept such pay. They're led by Christopher Monckton, a former Thatcher adviser who has behaved, on the occasions I've met him, a trifle oddly. In most respects, they seem to be old school Scottish libertarians. Why, then, does The Scotsman call them "the Bruntsfield bolsheviks"?

Happy Flag Day!!!

Here's a flag I'd like to see flown more often than it is, and on both sides of the Atlantic (thanks to Libertarian Samizdata for the image):

You can read more about this excellent device courtesy of The Claremont Institute in their article A Flag of Conviction: "Don’t Tread On Me".

Here's another one I'm fond of, the Grand Union flag (for obvious reasons):

You can read about this one and some other splendid banners here.

And for those who might be interested in the flags of the confederacy, check out this page.

And here's the flag that flew over America in the 1650s...

Debt repaid?

I never thought I'd say this, but Korea saves USA's ass...

Thursday, June 13, 2002

Democracy and peace

Arnold Beichman of the Hoover Institituion, an academic think tank at Stamford, has been writing some excellent pieces for The Wshington Times recently. In Peaceful democracies he looks at the evidence behind the oft-repeated statement "democracies don't fight each other" and finds it borne out with one exception -- the purely formal hostilities between the Western Allies and Finland in WWII. But essentially it remains an excellent for Western support for Israel and for regime change in the middle east. If we want peace there, then an excellent way to achieve that is to ensure there are democracies there. To those who might argue that simple constitutional arrangements cannot overcome centuries of hostility, look at the situation between England and France. The last century, when both were democracies for the first time, was the first since the two nations took shape that there was no war between them (I think I'm right in saying that).

Finally, Beichman's article finishes off with what is perhaps the most eloquent description of the philosophy behind the Anglosphere idea, by the founding father of modern Conservatism, Edmund Burke:

"Nothing is so strong a tie of amity between nation and nation as correspondence in law, customs, manners and habits of life. They have more than the force of treaties in themselves. They are obligations written in the heart."

Ancient vs Modern

The "Black Rod" affair has ended with a humiliating climb-down by Tony Blair. He knew that Black Rod, the Queen's representative in Parliament, essentially, would be believed over him. What chance legislation comes forward to "modernise" this ancient office and have it fall under direct control of the PM, hmmm?

Rock on, Tommy

The Dodgester comments on Mick Jagger's knighthood, as requested. He also thinks Michael Gove has outed himself as a rocker...

Fear the RIPA

Two interesting additional points to the RIPA issue on official access to data. The first is from a trusted correspondent who points out that most of the agencies named already have such powers, but have them subsidiary to investigatory duties relating to Health & Safety responsibilities, trading standards and so on. There is a fear, however, that without explicit authorization to use them there might be a breach of the Human Rights Act. Essentially, these powers are implicit in common law procedures but now need to be codified. At least, that's the way it was explained to me.

I'm not sure that that can be the case, however. I'm fairly certain John Wadham of Liberty would not be so blind as to overlook what is merely a codification of existing powers. Moreover, there's an interesting letter to the Telegraph linked on their opinion page (it's a java pop up, so no direct link) from a retired spook:

I am no stranger to the need for accurate, timely and verifiable intelligence, having served 19 years in a branch of the Services concerned with military intelligence and afterwards working on IT systems involved with criminal and similar intelligence.

The extensions proposed by the Government to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (report, June 12) are unjustifiable. The sort of intelligence that can be obtained from when and where phone calls have been made, e-mail exchanges, and which computer sites have been visited (loosely defined as traffic analysis) should not, and must not, be available to the organisations the Government wishes to extend it to. There is absolutely no reason why the Food Standards Agency, local authorities or any of the other proposed bodies need access to this type of information.

Any necessary investigations must be carried out by the police or other agencies that the Act already covers. The thought that a local authority, in particular, will obtain this sort of information is very frightening. Local authority staff do not receive the same level of security clearance and vetting as current users of this information and the opportunity for corruption is unlimited. Secondly, the all-encompassing reasons for obtaining such information mean that it would be open to abuse for political ends.

This Government has proved that it cannot be trusted with even the most basic information about individuals. Who knows what injustices and persecutions will follow when a politically motivated local council obtains information about individuals and groups with which it disagrees.

I have always justified the collection of intelligence about individuals on the ground that it is handled by, in the main, apolitical, cleared and vetted individuals with a need to know. I am no longer convinced that this is the case. This Act must be repealed, not extended.

This is the crucial thing. Have trading standards officers really had such all-encompassing powers all along? If they have, it's a national scandal. Once again, this looks like officials gilding the lilly, giving them far broader powers than are necessary.

I remember Richard Stilgoe on "Watchdog" doing a musical skit about the half-dozen or so officials who had statutory right of entry to your home (so much for "the King of England cannot enter) back in the 70s. I wonder how long that list would be now.


Outrage over blindness guidelines reports the Beeb. This time NICE has decided that you have to go blind in one eye before receiving treatment for macular degeneration. I'm serious.

Anything has got to be better than this...

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Hail Caesar

Did you know Julius Caesar has a blog? Ecce Bloggus Caesari.

Yes, I'm a sucker for these things

SimilarMinds.com Compatibility Test

Your match with Daddy Warblogs
you are 77% similar
you are 65% complementary

How Compatible are You with me?

Gunga Dan back on form?

Another snippet from CBS News last night:

CBS reports, "There is a new security alert on tonight. It has this country's gatekeepers keeping a close eye on a particular group of travelers." CBS (Orr) continues, "It is one of the most specific security alerts to be issued since September 11. The Immigration and Naturalization Service has ordered that all Yemeni nationals, except those carrying diplomatic passports, be searched before entering or leaving the United States. An INS memo, obtained by CBS News, directs agents at US airports, borders, and ports, to do a complete and thorough search of all baggage carried by Yemeni travelers, and make an inventory of all effects. The memo specifically orders agents to look for large sums of currency, thermos bottles, night vision goggles or devices, and warns under no circumstances will an inspecting officer open a thermos bottle. The order was given last Thursday, after a recent raid, somewhere in the northeast, of an apartment housing a number of Yemeni nationals. Law enforcement officers discovered dozens of thermos bottles, some rigged with batteries. Wire was also found, components, authorities say, that could have been used in manufacturing bombs. One source said the recovery of materials and the ensuing alert are not connected to any known plot or specific threat, but Yemen has been a haven for Al Qaeda operatives. Just 11 months before the attack on America, the USS Cole was bombed in a Yemen port. Officials haven't said whether anyone has been detained as a result of this latest security memo. But authorities make it clear what began with a simple discovery of thermos bottles, is now a potential threat they take seriously."

Very interesting.


Health care rationing for cancer patients is now affecting people aged 55, it seems. To get access to a drug in the UK, two hoops have to be jumped through. First the drug has to be licensed safe -- the equivalent of FDA approval. Then NICE, the National Centre for Clinical Excellence, has to decide if it's worth allowing Doctors to prescribe it (this includes a cost-benefit analysis of environmental impact and the like). While this process grinds through, people die. Neither American nor European health systems suffer from this problem. I'd love to see some analysis of how many people die owing to NHS rationing compared to how many Americans die from lack of insurance.

Taking liberties

Fury as state is given power to snoop on emails, reports the Telegraph. Quite right, too. The way this has been done is underhanded:

Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, two dozen ministries and quangos will be able to obtain communications records. Although they will not see the contents of communications - something that requires a warrant - they will be able to insist that internet service providers, telephone companies and postal operators hand over the information.

This can include names and addresses of customers, their service use records, details of who has called whom, mobile phone locations accurate to within 100 metres and the sources and destinations of emails.

Even without knowing the content of the communications, such information would be sufficient for a ministry or other public sector organisation to track and thwart attempts by campaigners, journalists or members of the public to uncover information. The legislation caused controversy when it went through Parliament two years ago. Then, the Government said the information would be available only to the police, customs, intelligence agencies and the Inland Revenue.

However, secondary legislation tabled last month and to be debated by MPs next week has added substantially to that list. Seven Whitehall departments, every local authority, health bodies in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and 11 other public bodies are now included.

Secondary legislation is very hard to block, partly because it depends on legislation already authorized. This therefore amounts to a vast increase in the potential powers of thousands of bureaucrats. Tinpot bureaucrats are well known for exercising powers they have been given (I remember one lawyer at my old Department arguing that we could use the Royal Prerogative to shut up a "troublesome" property developer whose property was being blighted by plans for a new rail line) and I can see these powers being used a lot. That really is infuriating.

Phew! Through...

Ferdinand world class as England edge through is a pretty good summary of a nervy English performance. We seemed to be playing for the draw throighout, which is surely crazy at it means that, assuming we beat Denmark -- a big assumption with wor Tommy on top form in goal -- we'll probably have to play Brazil in the Quarter Finals.

Nevertheless, France and Argentina are both out. I'm more shocked than overjoyed at that. Germany won't last much longer (they have to get past Chilavert now). England has to be one of the favorites to win, alongside Brazil, Spain (looking ominous) and Sweden (who look to have a remarkably easy passage through to the semis), I think.

I'll keep humming Three Lions throughout.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Blair has a lot to answer for

Tim, that is, not Tony. He has inspired The OmbudsGod, a site for those who find newspaper ombudsmen just as wrong as the papers themselves. Finally, the answer to Juvenal's question...


Michael Gove takes a break from being right about geopolitics to comment on the possibility that Mick Jagger is being offered a knighthood. Even the blogosphere own rock correspondent, Andrew Dodge, should agree with the sentiments expressed, but it does include on of the most egregious play on words I've seen for a long time:

In accepting his K, Jagger is acknowledging that monarchy and meritocracy do mix and incarnating what every Rolling Stone has long known — there’s nothing wrong with a hard, crazed, knight.

It's enough to make you have sympathy for, errr, who was it again ..?

Asses, fact-checking of

Martin Wisse takes me to task for my post about Mrs Duisenberg below. I certainly didn't intend to say that flying the Palestinian flag was the same as joing the Waffen SS, and I think it takes a little bit of misreading to get that meaning from it, but I think Martin's overall point is probably valid and so I withdraw it.

Now initially, I was going to delete the post. Is it, however, more ethical to leave it up with a link to this post? I'd like to hear views.

The Padilla Problem

Eugene Volokh has some very interesting points about the civil liberties aspects of the Padilla detention. This is the most important, I feel:

One important question to which I haven't seen the answer: Will there be some civilian court screening of whether there's indeed very strong evidence to think that a detainee really is an enemy combatant, and thus properly subject to military detention and perhaps (if he's a noncitizen, or if he's a citizen and the rules are changed) military trial? It's one thing to say "enemy soldiers must be subject to military law" -- but quite another to say "people, including U.S. citizens, who are believed by the military to be enemy soldiers must be subject to military law," especially when we leave the easy case of soldiers captured on the field of battle.

Indeed. I think at the very least a judge should determine whether there are grounds for treating someone as an enemy combatant. Otherwise, as they say, who knows where it might end.

Dirty Bombs and Paper Tigers

I've got a quick piece up on dirty bombs at Tech Central Station. It concludes that dirty bombs aren't particularly deadly, and that may be their strength...

Gordon Brown knew my father

In a magnificent article, Labour MP Frank Field dissects the difference between Gordon Brown's tax credit system and Lloyd George's national insurance revolution. Bottom line: Brown is trapping people in dependency, while Lloyd George helped pull people out of a pit. Field is a master in this area. No wonder Tony Blair sacked him.


I've often thought that the modern world bears many parallels to ancient Greece. For years there was a standoff between two great rivals -- Athens and Sparta -- but it ended in one of them becoming Hegemon of Greece. Unfortunately for the Spartans, some disastrous foreign adventures and domestic problems led to them ignoring the rise of a former ally, Thebes, who eventually challenged Sparta and defeated her, becoming Hegemon in her place (they were then crushed by Macedon -- every historical analogy has a breaking point). Could Europe be America's Thebes? If so, Tod Lindberg seems pretty sure President Bush isn't going to allow it. Analyzing the President's West Point speech, he writes:

As Mr. Bush noted, in a statement that is sobering if not chilling in its implications, "America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge — thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace." What Mr. Bush is saying here is that the United States will never allow a "peer competitor" (in the international relations lingo) to arise. We will never again be in a position of "superpower rivalry," let alone a cog in a multilateral balance of power. The current vast imbalance in power promotes peace most effectively because it teaches governments that any aspirations they might have to pursue war are "pointless."

Was the West Point speech a warning to Europe just as the Berlin speech was an encouragement? I hope the chancellries of Europe are taking note.

Profiling folly

Josh Chafetz comments on the arrest of Jose Padilla that it proves the folly of racial profiling as a solution in the war against Islamists. I agree. You can't profile Arabs, because, bluntly, 2/3 of them in the US are Christian and unlikely to be threats. That also ignores non-Arab Iranians and Pakistanis who have a history of involvement in terror. And what about possible terrorists who are UK or US citizens, like Reid and Padilla? The only possible profiling tool is not racial, but religious. And, as Andrew Sullivan has pointed out, the Anglosphere has gone down that road before, in very similar circumstances (members of a religion that owes some allegiance to a body other than the constitutional settlement of their country, a body that is both wealthy and desirous of seeing the constitution destroyed for some reason). The results were not happy, and we're still seeing people die because of it in Northern Ireland, 3-400 years later.

As I've said before, racial profiling is too blunt a tool to use in these investigations. But fear of being accused of using it has obviously been a positive hindrance. Both sides should agree to drop using it in either sense, for the common good.

Is this why Blair is so behind the US?

Interesting revelation on CBS news last night (yes, I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but bear with me):

CBS (6/10, story 10, Rather) reports, "The foremost English-speaking expert on" Al Qaeda, "in an exclusive interview...reveals tonight that Al Qaeda's original 9/11 plan included more targets and more destruction." CBS (Phillips) adds that Rohan Gunaratna's "new book, 'Inside Al Qaeda,' will be published later this week. Among its other revelations is the fact that the September 11th attacks were supposed to be even bigger, targeting the British Houses of Parliament as well, in an international display of terrorism's reach, and attacking them in the same way." Gunaratna was shown saying, "This team assembled at the Heathrow airport on 9/11 to conduct an airborne suicide attack on the Houses of Parliament." CBS adds, "But, Gunaratna says, the Al Qaeda operatives hadn't planned on one contingency: That after the US attacks all flights would be grounded." Gunaratna was shown saying, "The Al Qaeda team that went to Heathrow Airport had to return because there were no flights taking off. ... The testimony of this man, Afroz Mohammed, is cited as proof of the planned attack. He was arrested in India after fleeing Britain and, in an Indian security services document obtained by CBS News, admitted to the hijack plan. In his research, Gunaratna studied intelligence documents, and had rare access to serving and former members of Osama bin Laden's organization. ... What Gunaratna says he's learned, and what American intelligence failed to understand, is Al Qaeda's 'lose and learn' doctrine. It was prepared to lose terrorists like Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the 1993 World Trade Center bomber, in order to learn how to carry out the attack successfully the next time. And, Gunaratna says, Al Qaeda is still operating and still planning."

If this is the case, then all those who say that Britain does not have a dog in this fight are once again categorically wrong. Britain has always been regarded as the Little Horn of the Great Satan, and is therefore just as likely to be a target as the US. It looks like American action saved Britain from a humanitarian, cultural and political disaster. Once again, Britain owes the USA.

Katzman among the pigeons

Joe Katzman over at Winds of Change has a comprehensive look at dirty nukes, although I still think he should have linked to Fred Singer's piece. In addition, if you're interested in the different effects that various isotopes would have, look at this article by a former Nuclear submarine engineer. All those definitive articles you've been reading saying that Strontium-90 would be the isotope of choice appear to be categorically wrong.

Of course, it does appear from recent revelations that Al Qa'eda are stupid, and just got phenomenally lucky once. They might therefore go for Strontium-90 because it's what the papers are telling them to use...

Monday, June 10, 2002

Dirty young men

Bet that headline will get a few google hits. Anyone who's worried about 'dirty nukes' in the light of today's developments should read this excellent editorial by veteran scientist Fred Singer. Simply put,

A dirty bomb makes no practical sense. To produce significant radioactivity over an area of, say, one square mile, the concentration within a small bomb would have to be roughly 10 million times greater and would quickly kill the terrorists trying to assemble the material. The radioactivity also creates large amounts of heat energy, sufficient to melt most containers. What's more, any such bomb would be easy to detect at long distance if it emits gamma rays. We therefore conclude that a dirty bomb is mostly hype.

A paper tiger, indeed.

Zero-sum game?

Illuminating claim made by the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman in the latest Lobby Briefing:

Unemployment figures had been falling, which was a good thing not least because as the bills of social failure went down it meant we had more money to spend on public services, for example.

I would hope a future Tory government would say "which was a good thing not least because it meant the Government needed to take less money from taxpayers, which they could then spend on boosting the economy."

If only...

Cat among the pigeons

U.S. Arrests American Accused of Planning 'Dirty Bomb' Attack. Despite being an American citizen, he's been given to the Defense Department as an 'enemy combatant'. They're claiming this is a clear-cut case. It doesn't look that way to me. Now if we'd actually declared war against Al Qa'eda, like sensible people have been suggesting for some time...

Anyway, the other main question is: did this man actually possess any radioactive substances? That's a biggie.

GM Works

The world's best science writer, Matt Ridley, takes apart Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger's junk science drama Fields of Gold (coming soon to a PBS station near you, I'm sure) in this Telegraph article. As Matt says,

The truth is, the greens have lost the argument about GM crops in every country where there is a fair fight. Last year, five million farmers grew GM crops, up from three million the year before. Only by destroying the test sites in this country can terrorists and their organic fellow travellers suppress the truth and keep up the pretence that GM is bad for the environment.

Where GM crops have been planted, the use of sprays has gone down dramatically and the effect on birds and insects has been positive. If only the organic movement had been less blinkered, it could have seen that genetic modification was its saviour, not its devil. It threatens to replace conventional, chemical-using agriculture with a constitutive, biological and therefore, by definition, organic form of farming.

The enviros' tactics in all this seem eerily reminiscent of the Church's in suppressing the early scientists of the renaissance. They're attempting to stop the truth getting out by violence, insinuation, abuse of legal authority and propaganda. They'll fail.

PP: Tom Fox comments on the Green movement in France.

Edukashun, edukashun, edukashun

The Daily Telegraph's leader Stop meddling with schools makes a lot of sense. Its recipe for a new education policy concords with mine:

The first thing is to take Mr Miliband's one good idea - less government intervention - as far as it can go. Pare the vast expenditure of local education authorities right back, or even get rid of them altogether.

Let head teachers control their own spending. Keep teacher training to the classroom and make huge savings on teacher-training institutions. Tear up the national curriculum. Get rid of the Orwellian bodies - the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the Standards and Effectiveness Unit - that do little to maintain standards.

As Chris Woodhead recommends in his book Class War, the Government should have nothing more to do with schools after funding them, except to assess their performance and let parents examine those assessments. The picture of education in this country need not be one of gloom and despair.

Most important of these suggestions, I think, is the one about teacher-training institutions, which seem to be Marcusian indoctrination camps, spreading failed ideas and prejudicing young would-be teachers against proven but unfashionable methods.

The national curriculum should also go. It was introduced because a few teachers were offering "Peace Studies." As such, it is the biggest sledgehammer used to crack a nut I've ever seen. It was also one of the biggest mistakes the Conservative government ever made and a disgraceful abuse of its power. It destroyed the teaching of classics, and other valuable subjects besides. My blood boils whenever I think about it.

I also fundamentally agree with the suggestion that Universities should tear themselves free from the tyranny of government funding. Oxford has been looking at ways to become fully independent. I hope they succeed.

Not for Eurocrats

TechCentralStation :: EUROPE is here! Brussels bureaucrats need to go elsewhere. Perhaps TechnoCratStation is beckoning...


My latest TCS column is up. It's about the dreadfully contrived figures for alcohol-related deaths on campus. If the position is bad enough, why inflate the figures? This sort of disingenuity can only turn people off your cause.

Friday, June 07, 2002

The seat of power

IDS seems to have got it exactly right in his Times op/ed today:

The Centre Right has a responsibility to ... reassert our values and press them into the service of those whose need is greatest. That means trusting people, not second-guessing them. It means understanding that communities are made by men and women, they are not man-made. It means understanding that better schools and hospitals and more responsive local government come from giving teachers, doctors, nurses and councillors the power to do their jobs and making them accountable for what they do.

I would suggest that education, health and local services commissioners (heck, look what happened to Homer Simpson when he was elected sanitation commissioner), appointed by elected mayors or even directly elected themselves is precisely the way to do that. Councillors should hold the purse strings but not the executive power. Who knows, if separated powers work on a local level, they might even work on the national level...

At it again?

I've often heard it said that the most enthusiastic members of the SS were Dutch. I've never been particularly convinced by this line of argument as most Dutchmen I've met have been pretty liberal in the true sense of the word. Here's evidence that might make me change my mind, however. Then again, I'm sure Mrs Duisenberg counts herself more European than Dutch.

PP: I withdraw the above post, for the reasons stated here.