England's Sword 2.0

Monday, September 30, 2002

There's no pleasing some people

Crazy Canuck Leah McLaren goes to Norway. She doesn't like what she finds:

There are no junkies, beggars, flash cars, club kids or alcoholic grog in sight, just these clean-living recreationalists, a couple of licensed street performers and a mob of tourists in town for a night before they embark on pre-paid fiord cruises. Everybody is trying very hard to look entertained.

It’s official: Norway is even more boring than Canada.

Perhaps she should go to Baghdad, or Medellin. They'd be nice and exciting for her.

Not pulling their weight

It's a commonplace that Europe is not pulling her weight in terms of contributing to the world security crisis, but now William Rees-Mogg makes a plausible case that she's not doing enough to solve the world's economic problems, either. And the main reason is: European Monetary Union:

[Quoting the Financial Times] “Germany’s economy is hemmed in by uncompetitive wage levels, a fixed exchange rate, an inability to alter monetary policy and an already high structural budget deficit.” The uncompetitive wage levels are caused by Germany’s high social costs. That will not be put right by the recently re-elected Schröder administration, with its backbone of rubber. The fixed exchange rate is the euro, which Germany cannot leave. Control of monetary policy has been lost as part of the euro package. The high budget deficit is subject to the Stability Pact, though that is beginning to erode. The two other large economies of the eurozone, France and Italy, also have budget problems.

Gordon Brown is right to ask the eurozone countries to make a greater contribution to the maintenance of world growth. But he is asking the leading countries something which it is impossible for them to do. Germany ought to have a lower exchange rate: the euro makes that impossible. Germany ought to have lower interest rates: the euro makes that impossible. Germany ought to have easier money: the European Central Bank makes that impossible. Germany requires a higher budget deficit to restart the economy: the Stability Pact makes that impossible. That leaves only a reduction in German wage rates, and Schröder is not going to try even that.

The two great problems of Iraq and the world economy share this characteristic: the United States and Europe are not working together. Britain is working to support the United States, but Britain is a small country. Europe is very reluctant to support the United States on Iraq; because of the constraints of European monetary union, Europe is unable to make its fair contribution to averting global recession.

Any politician who voluntarily signs up for EMU has to be a starry-eyed idealist, an idiot, or a Machiavellian traitor. And yet still they queue up to call for the UK to join.

Secession Crisis Looming?

In Canada. Over Kyoto. Ho ho. This National Post story quote's Alberta's premier as playing the 'we're not going to threaten to leave unless... and then promptly threatening to leave' card:

"I don't think Albertans are ready to leave Canada," the province's Premier said in an interview on the weekend. "I hope that the government will come to its senses and we'll explore all of our constitutional options before that's [separation] even considered. If you ask Albertans now if they want to leave, they would say no. But don't push us too hard.

"The Clarity Act applies to all provinces, not just to Quebec. It sets out a formula for leaving the country. Alberta is not looking at that at this time, but that's not to say that some people are not already doing so. There's been some talk. I get lots of cards and letters. So I say to Ottawa, just don't push us. Be fair and understand the importance of this industry to Alberta and Canada."

Interesting to see that laws intended to give the Quebecois more independence are being used by the other provinces. Jim Bennett comments:

I've thought for a while that the precedents and decision set in regard to Quebec secession have other implications, in the long run maybe even more profound. The Canadian confederation has real problems with its structure, giivng Ontario and Quebec a permanent majority against the rest of the provinces. Secession used to be too costly to consider, given that the Western provinces would have to arrange for their own security and international representation, etc., and they would have economic critical-mass problems. These days it would be cheaper and more effective for Western Canada to be independent -- they could cut a
better deal with the US on defense and trade, and end the tax drain eastward. Kyoto could be the straw that broke the camel's back.
Normally in Canadian history, somebody would compromise at the last moment and things would be worked out. But the Ontario-based ruling class is more arrogant than ever before, and Kyoto has taken on semi-religious significance.

Scott Wickstein also has some thoughts from one of the Anglosphere's other long-standing Federal entities.

Hypocritical Cry-Babies

New U.S. Doctrine Worries Europeans is a great list of all the worries the Euro-weenies have at the moment. It also throws into stark relief the idiocy of the "greater integration brings greater influence" argument. Assuming that America has been restrained slightly over Iraq by Blair, if Britain had had to argue as one voice alongside 14 skeptical ones in the common foreign & defense policy, how would Britain's influence in world affairs be greater? Moreover, this sentence is illuminating

Washington's opposition to the Kyoto treaty on global warming, its demand to be exempted from the reach of the new International Criminal Court and its staunch support of Israel's hard-line prime minister, Ariel Sharon, have caused anger and consternation here

when read alongside this evidence from Denmark that has been kept remarkably quiet:

The atmosphere intensified on Friday, when France revealed that its ratification of the ICC convention included the activation of a special clause that would grant French military personnel immunity against ICC charges for seven years.

Bunch of hypocrites.

Thanks to The Group Captain for the link.

An Old Idea

Jim Bennett says that, in the event of action being needed against Iraq, a declaration of war is needed. I completely agree. From both the US and UK. From a constututional point of view, in both countries, it is the only way to avoid the sort of confusion and obstacles that modern military actions inevitably end up in (did the Gulf War ever end? The people think so, the lawyers probably don't).

Conservative Confusion over Correlation and Causation

Family Group Claims Hotel Porn Leads to Violent Crime, reports the Conservative on-line news service CNSnews.com. The article's author, however, makes no attempt to check the claim that there is a causal link between pornography and violence. No reputable research exists that demonstrates this. What has been demonstrated is that sex offenders use pornography, which suggests that the same factors drive each activity. In other words, a sex offender may well watch a porn movie in a hotel, but it is not the movie that moves him to violence. Japan is the clincher in this argument -- a society which far more readily accepts even violent, "disturbing" pornography than anywhere in the West has a far lower sexual assault rate, even accounting for possible underreporting.

Elusive Argument

On Ecstasy, Consensus Is Elusive reports the Washington Post, raising question marks about recent research that alleges that one night's exposure to Ecstasy (MDMA) can cause permanent brain damage. The black mark against this article is that it never mentions that the Science paper referred to passed peer review, which means that it was the consensus of relevant experts in the field that the research methodology was adequate enough to allow for publication. There are often controversies in scientific research which involve competing methodologies, and the rivalry between Dr. Kish (quoted in the report) and Dr. Ricaurte (author of the study in question) seems to be one of these. Peer review is not perfect, and many studies do get published whose methodology can be questioned. It would, however, have been helpful to have the testimony of other experts whose work is not in direct competition (like Dr Kish's) or who have other public stances on the subject (like Dr Grob and Dr Doblin, whose "professional goal is to become a legally licensed psychedelic therapist") to provide more balanced coverage of the issues than the simple "he said, she said" approach taken by the Post.

Toying with Treason

Some have been accusing the American Congressmen currently in Iraq of treason, although I think it's more their knee-jerk reactionism myself. If you want an example of a legislator who is really treading on the borders of treason, check out these comments by 'Gorgeous' George Galloway MP:

"Will they [the Arab states] send forces to defend Iraq this time in 2002 or will they allow the use of their forces, air space and land by the Crusaders and foreigners to attack Iraq and start a fire in an Arab, Muslim country that is part of their big entity?" Mr Galloway said on Al Jezeera, the Arab satellite broadcaster.

"Will they allow this entity to be torn and paralysed? If they do, then they deserve what is awaiting them in the next 100 years."

... Mr Galloway, who spoke at a rally in London yesterday to oppose the war on Iraq, said: "I stand by every word. If the Arabs watch Iraq destroyed as part of a plan to keep the Arabs divided and weak, they will face the same kind of century as the one they have endured in the past and they should rise up and stop it."

Asked whether he would support military action against British and American forces, he said: "This line of questioning stems from the assumption that because I am British, I believe in my country right or wrong. I am against this invasion. Therefore I am in favour of everything than can be done to stop it - everything."

Does this include himself taking up Iraqi arms and shooting at British soldiers? If so, Stephen Pollard is right to say he should have the whip withdrawn.

Saturday, September 28, 2002

Explains a lot

Ex-PM Major 'had four-year affair'. With Edwina Currie no less. My theory about the late 60s Oxford generation gains strength.

Friday, September 27, 2002

Chris Petain's Rallying Point

If Chris Petain is to be believed, the Ryder Cup is a symbol of emerging British loyalty to Europe. Really? The European team is a bit light on Continentals. It consists of 5 Brits & 2 Irishmen, 2 Swedes, a Dane, a Spaniard and a German who is well past his prime. The players from countries outside the Eurozone outnumber those from inside the Eurozone. The majority spend a lot of their time working in the USA. If this is Chris Petain's view of the dieal Europe, he's a lot less federalist than we thought...

Trust and Polling

My friend Roger Mortimore of MORI looks at how the impact of the Iraq dossier in the UK seems to be linked to public distrust of politicians in his latest MORI poll digest commentary column. Meanwhile, over here, Dick Morris points out how telephone polling is becoming increasingly inaccurate as more people slam the phone down or opt-out altogether from receiving telemarketing calls.

Internal Politics: Conservatives

The hideously amateurish Prospect magazine website (Chris Bertram tells me that it took a year for them to stop people being able to view subscription only material by changing "no" to "yes" in the URL) has a great article by John O'Sullivan on the Tory party's continuing woes. He looks at the psychological problems besetting the party and then points out how its is systematically alienating all three of its natural consituencies: the "patriots" (by being equivocal about Europe), the moral traditionalists (by its emphasis on alternative lifestyles) and the economic liberals (by putting an emphasis on public provision of services). No wonder the party's in such doldrums.

The problem is, of course, a "once bitten, twice shy" approach dominates in the party at the moment. The last time the Tories tried appealing to each of these constituencies, it backfired badly. The concentration on asylum seekers and Europe at the last election didn't work, the Back to Basics/ Victorian Values campaigns flopped badly and the privatization of the railways turned out to be a poisoned pill, partly because of the privatization's success and partly because of the success of the opposing forces in pinning blame for accidents on privatization. So the party is paralyzed with fear that appealing to any of these constituencies might backfire again.

My suggestion is that the party try an over-arching approach, linking these constituencies together in a them such as "restoration." The message would be something along the lines of, "Britain is strong and prosperous, but is not a very nice place to live. That's because we've lost sight of certain basic British values that everyone can agree were good. We'd like to bring those values back to the heart of government, and restore Britain's sense of purpose." All very Camelot in approach. the specific policies would be:

Restoration of links with the Commonwealth: get closer to countries that we share ties with and reduce ties with countries we don't. "We have more in common with Nigeria/Jamaica than we do with Austria," "The strength of British diversity requires that we continue to have strong links with non-European countries" etc etc. The idea could marry celebration of "diversity" with looser ties with the EU. Non-racist and non-integrationist. Two birds with one stone.

Restoration of the family: the curse of fatherlessness is unarguably bad for the country. Bad for women, bad for children and bad for men. Crime rises and incomes fall. The working class suffers most of all. Our policies will be aimed at encouraging the substantial benefits the family brings, but will not victimize single mothers who have so often been abandoned. And so on.

Restoration of local control of services: the great bureaucracies will be broken up and local control restored by significant local government reform. Local voters will vote for and pay for the services they want, so there will be an incentive to reduce costs by privatization. And so on.

I think this could work.

Internal Politics: Labour

A former editor of The Scotsman, writing in The New Republic Online, argues that Tony Blair is on the edge of a precipice which could topple his premiership. The issue is, of course, Iraq. He says that a rebellion on iraq could precipitate a leadership contest and we'll have Mrs T all over again. I think his analysis is overwrought. First, the rebellion last week only mustered the awkward squad of 50 or so backbenchers. I don't think a substantive debate would produce many more, yet. Furthermore, to trigger a leadership contest, they need the signatures of 80 MPs on a candidate's nomination papers. That requires a serious candidate, not an Anthony Meyer (the original stalking horse against Mrs T). Labour has no Heseltine waiting in the wings outside Government. The most prominent casualties of the Blairite axe have been Blairites like Peter Mandelson or Stephen Byers, who are not going to trigger a contest. The others are useless lefties like Glenda Jackson. If the rebels can't muster 80 votes on their biggest issue, they aren't going to get 80 people to sign nomination papers for a has-been or non-entity.

So there are only two hopes for "regime change" as I see it: a vicious knifing of Blair by Brown, which would be the most spectacular event in modern British Parliamentary politics, ever, far eclipsing the coup against Mrs T. I just can't see that. The other scenario is a defection of a sizeable number of MPs to the Liberal Democrats, along the lines of the split in the Liberal party in the late 19th century. This would severely weaken Blair's government and completely realign the politics of the Left. Given what Kennedy was saying at the Lib Dim conference, I think he's realised the possibilities here. A resurgent leftist Liberal Democrat party would force Labour's agenda back to the left. I also think it would get destroyed at the polls...

The only other solution for the rebels is to align with the Tories and Liberals in a motion of No Confidence. If Blair lost that, he'd have to resign as leader, but an election would need to be called as well. Given Blair's continuing personal popularity (he's far more popular than Mrs T was), it would not reflect well on Labour. The British public hates split parties. The outcome would probably be a disaster for Labour by comparison with the two Blair-led elections. Why risk that?

In short, I can't see Blair's position weakening terribly here. Blair is still the master of his own fate, which is why he is able to put principle above party in a manner that few Prime Ministers have ever been able to do.

Surprise, Surprise

Recreational use of the drug 'Ecstasy' causes new kind of brain damage. The new research is particularly interesting when it describes the effect of current patterns of use:

Ricaurte added that the patterns of Ecstasy use have changed since the 1980s when the drug was taken primarily on college campuses, and individuals typically took one or two doses twice monthly. More recently, many individuals take several sequential doses of the drug over the course of a single night. The new study was part of ongoing efforts to further evaluate the neurotoxic risks posed by Ecstasy to humans, said Ricaurte.

To measure the adverse effects of Ecstasy, also known as MDMA or 3,4-methylene-dioxymethamphetamine, the researchers gave squirrel monkeys three sequential doses of Ecstasy at three-hour intervals. Following this regimen, which is similar to that used by recreational Ecstasy users at all-night parties, they found that in addition to serotonin deficits, which the drug has been known to cause for some time, the monkeys unexpectedly developed severe, long-lasting brain dopamine deficits.

Then, using a variety of techniques to look at a region of the brain called the striatum, they found that 60 percent to 80 percent of the dopaminergic nerve endings were destroyed. To determine if these results were unique to squirrel monkeys, the researchers performed the experiments again, this time with baboons, and obtained similar findings of neuronal injury.

I pay a lot more attention to primate studies than I do to rat studies, because we are of course much more similar in genetic make-up. Larger primates also give us a better idea of how much dosage we need to gain the effect needed (I've never found the idea that if you pump a rat full of a substance and it gets harmed, then the substance is harmful, particularly compelling).

This evidence is that just one night's use of ecstasy can give you brain damage is pretty important. I've always thought that the Serotonin-dampening effects of ecstasy (low serotonin is pretty clearly linked to heightened aggression) meant that the drug deserved particular attention. This just confirms my belief.

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Sir Alan Greenspan

I'm not sure that the Founding Fathers would have approved of people like Cap Weinberger, Rudy Giuliani and now Alan Greenspan accepting honorary knighthoods, but it's significant that the UK bestows so many on Americans for their services to UK citizens. How many go to EU grandees, I wonder? Anyway, The Sun also mentions Greenspan's comments that the UK has joined the US at the top of the world's financial pyramid, despite the emergence of the Euro. Interesting.

PP: Chad Dimpler has the full Times coverage here, with extended quotes from [Sir] Alan.

Best British Blogs

Well, I was glad to see Green Fairy, which I occasionally stop by, being "Highly Commended" in The Guardian weblog contest. As for the rest of them: never heard of any of them...

A Father's Role

My daughter will be two next month and we still haven't taken the baby monitor out of her room. It looks like it might have to stay there until she goes to College.

So what's inherently wrong with unilateralism?

I remember when unilateralism -- in nuclear disarmament -- was the flavor of the month on the British left. In one sentence, a British Labour MP sums up the absurdity of the current fear of unilateralism:

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): The Prime Minister knows that action against Iraq that is supported by the authority of the United Nations would be acceptable to the vast majority of Members of Parliament across the House. Does he agree that those MPs who oppose independent action must explain why something that they believe to be right and justified when undertaken by many nations together becomes wrong and unjustified if we should act alone?

Moreover, the list of nations in favor of "unilateral" action grows ever longer: US, UK, Israel, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman...

Thanks to Stephen Pollard for the link.

Wurzle Time

There's an argument going on between my wife and various correspondents in the the comments section of this post below about what subsidies mean for British farmers. I think Kris's most recent point about farmers actually contributing to the economy is the most important. Farmers do receive about 3 billion pounds a year in subsidies, but as this quite good Guardian article says,

Farming contributes £6.6bn a year to national income, uses around three quarters of this country's land area, and employs about half a million people.

So farming's net benefit to the UK is 3.6 billion plus unemployment benefit costs avoided of 2.5 billion (of course some of those employed in farming would find other jobs, but there would probably be other welfare benefits on top of unemployment). Moreover, consider this, also from the Guardian article:

A recent study from Deloitte and Touche showed that net farm income of a 200-hectare family farm had plunged from around £80,000 to £8,000 over the last five years, mainly because of falling commodity prices.

£8,000 is clearly not enough for a family to live on (it's below the US poverty level), so if this had happened in any sector, there would be calls for extra subsidies (I believe the figure includes the subsidies already received) to try to keep the industry alive. There are, of course, good arguments that if the small farming industry is uneconomic it should die, but I find it interesting that those who argued so passionately that the mines should be kept open are so loath to apply the same logic to farms. Moreover, it seems, as that quote suggests, that the farming industry is subject to cyclical variations and could become profitable again, unlike mining, where the commodity just isn't needed as much any more. If you believe in government intervention in industry -- as seems to be the consensus in the UK now -- then farming seems to be one of the better cases for it.

Anyway, the farming industry remains a net benefit to the UK economy. The urban poor, on the other hand, is a definite cost. Ceteris paribus (and other things are not equal in this case -- whatever Mike Scott says there is a consistent 5% greater unemployment rate in urban centers than in rural areas), they receive about 75 billion in subsidies each year in welfare benefits alone. They receive a whole host of benefits in kind that could also be regarded as subsidies besides things paid for out of the Social Security budget.

Moreover, Mike is playing a nice statistical sleight of hand in this part of his post:

There are at most half a million farmers in the UK. They receive £3 billion per year in government subsidies. That's over £6,000 per head of the farming population.

Around 5% of the urban population is unemployed. The average benefit paid to unemployed people is around £5000 per year. The amount per head of the urban population is thus about £250.

Mike's comparing the farming population to the entire urban population. There are 15 million people who live in rural areas, so the average subsidy per head of rural population is about £200. Of course, there are rural unemployed too, who, ceteris paribus, will get about £3.75 billion in unemployment benefit, compared to the £11.25 billion received by urban dwellers. I'd venture to suggest that far more of the other social security benefits go to urban dwellers than country dwellers, probably easily cancelling out that £200 difference. I agree that provision of other services like health to country dwellers is more expensive, but the actual utility of these services is the question, and rural response rates for police and ambulance arrival times show that the utility of those services, at least, is much less for rural dwellers. So, despite government paying more, the value of the services to country dwellers is less. If we count them as "subsidies," then the Government is giving more to urban dwellers, despite what it says in the accounts.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Political Judges

My favorite Spanish judges, Baltasar Garzon, is quoted in Best of the Web Today as asking

why, as the Financial Times put it, "US evidence against [Osama] bin Laden is being examined by politicians rather than judges."

Of course, Judge Garzon is himself a politician, having served as a Socialist legislator from 1993-4.


Abortion Pill Sales Rising, Firm Says -- Washington Post

Abortion Pill Slow to Win Users Among Women and Their Doctors -- New York Times

(for what it's worth, the Times has the better coverage)

Drug War Update

Mark Kleiman has some sensible comments on one blogger's plea for drug legalization. Take a look at the signatories to Mark's 'common sense drug policy' declaration -- Bratton, DiIulio and Satel are all there, as well as Kleiman, Reuter and Cook. It's a pretty distinguished selection of hard thinkers.

Germany Calling

The Group Captain asked a German friend of hers to comment on the election results there. Her comments say as much about the state of politics in Germany as one could wish for. I particularly enjoyed this comment:

Sure - Schroeder did not reduce unemployment at 20%. How could he? First there is the global economic which is down. Then it was - clearly a real stupid thing to promise such a rubbish . There once was a wise man who said that politicians still believe the story politicians could *make* jobs. They simply can't.

Indeed. But Thatcher and Reagan realized that politicians can *destroy* jobs. Remove the various inhibitors misguided politicians put in place, and jobs will appear. It is distressing that the Continentals have not realized this yet. It's not for nothing a friend of mine calls Europe "the museum of socialism."

The narrowing gap

The Labour lead over the Tories is down to 5%. Orrin Judd has some very important things to say on the topic of how this poll is being reported. The shift can hardly be due to public distaste for war when the only anti-war party actually lost some ground. Also interesting that the Grauniad story Orrin links to doesn't mention the Tories at all! The full details of the poll can be found and downloaded here.

Modern constitutional thought?

Amazing. Thanks partly to the efforts of Eugene Volokh, there is a growing movement to repeal the 17th Amendment, which provides for the direct election of Senators. The matter is even being debated in the FindLaw Forum and "Should the 17th Amendment be repealed?" even appears on this CNN site. The whole debate is one that constitutional thinkers in the UK (and, dare I say it, Europe) should pay heed to. This is especially important:

Thus, while there is national sovereignty, there is also state sovereignty. Power has been so divided and spread for one reason: to provide for and protect the highest sovereignty -- that of each individual citizen.

Only fools reject the wisdom of this founding principle of defusing power. Yet from the outset there has been debate regarding the appropriate allocation and balancing of these powers. The debate has focused on not only whether a particular matter should be dealt with at the state vs. the national level, but also on how these allocations are adjusted from time to time.

The UK desperately needs the equivalent of States. As I've said before, the counties should be able to provide this.

PP: Jim Bennett comments:

Excellent. ... Dean is wrong, however, to say that the 17th is the only amendment adopted as part of the Progressive agenda. The 16th certainly was, and, although liberals don't like to mention it, Prohibition was as well.

European failure

Thanks to Junius for a great post on Michael Walzer's thinking about the Iraq question (irritating registration required). He is particularly hard on the so-called European leadership, and for good reason:

The right thing to do, right now, is to re-create the conditions that existed in the mid-'90s for fighting a just war. And we must do this precisely to avoid the war that many in the Bush administration want to launch. The Europeans could have reestablished these conditions by themselves months ago if they really wanted to challenge American unilateralism. No government in Baghdad could have resisted a European ultimatum--admit the inspectors by a certain date or else!--so long as the states behind the ultimatum included France and Russia, who have been Iraq's protectors, and so long as the "or else!" involved both economic and military action. Why didn't the Europeans do this? Bush spoke about a "difficult and defining moment" for the U.N., but it is really the Europeans who are being tested at this moment. So far, their conduct suggests that they have lost all sense of themselves as independent and responsible actors in international society. In an interview published in The New York Times on September 5, German Prime Minister Gerhard Schroeder made the amazing statement that when the U.S. government threatened war, it effectively blocked any effort to restore the inspection system. I am afraid that the truth is the exact opposite: There would be no effort at all without the threat. Four days after Schroeder's statement, French President Jacques Chirac called for the U.N. to reimpose the inspection system and to consider authorizing the use of force against Iraq if the inspectors were hindered in their work. It would have been a powerful sign of French independence had he said this to Le Monde in June or July. Now Chirac's proposal has to be viewed as nothing more than a last-minute effort to accommodate the crazy Americans. Still, the French proposal should be pursued. It has already helped to produce the Iraqi offer to readmit the inspectors. Chirac should now be challenged to insist on unfettered inspections even if Iraq begins introducing new caveats.

Convinced that France, Russia, and other European states (Great Britain being the only exception) are bent on appeasement, the United States hasn't moved on its own to restore the inspection system. But that is what we should do. Together, Europe and the United States could certainly impose the system that is needed, with the inspectors free to go wherever they want, on their own time schedule. This is a way to avoid, or at least to postpone, the war with Iraq. Let the inspectors go to work, but don't repeat the mistakes of the '90s; back them up with visible and overwhelming force.

Back in the early 90s, the unfortunately named Jacques Poos, foreign minister of Luxembourg, of all places, said that the Bosnian crisis showed that "Europe's time has come" or words to that effect. Europe promptly dropped the ball. They haven't even bothered looking for it since.

College beckons

Higher-ed gains for minorities, but racial gaps persist at all levels, reports the Christian Science Monitor. This is particularly good evidence against the argument that African American college enrollment has suffered because of the fight against crime over the last decade:

College enrollment for minorities increased 3.3 percent in 2000, the ACE study found, and jumped 48.3 percent from 1990 to 1999.

Many more minority students are going to college. So much for the argument that they've been held back by wrong priorities.

Perfectly acceptable law-breaking

I'm a big admirer of Tom Tancredo. He was a newbie Congressman when the Columbine massacre occured in his district, and he rose to the challenge admirably. I helped brief him on juvenile justice issues and he asked the right questions and seemed, to me, to come to the right conclusions. He also is not afraid, unlike some, to stand up for principle. A case in point is outlined by Mark Krikorian in National Review Online. The Denver Post had run a front-page story on a young illegal alien who felt had done by because he wanted to go to the University of Colorado but could not afford it. Illegal aliens have to pay out-of-state tuition rates. Congressman Tancredo, not unreasonably in my opinion -- and I speak as an immigrant, asked the INS why they had not arrested and deported this person who was flaunting his illegal status publicly.

The media/political class has responded as you might expect. One columnist slammed "law-and-order sanctimony," another called Tancredo's effort a "cynical ploy," while a third quoted Clarence Darrow to call the congressman a "moron." A Rocky Mountain News editorial compared him to Inspector Javert from Les Miserables, "the literary symbol of doctrinaire and unfeeling justice," as the editors helpfully explained. Never to be outdone in the looniness department, the Libertarian-party candidate for Tancredo's seat actually called him a Nazi.

Of course, his constituents are fully behind his stand. As someone who was trying to do things legally, but who suffered the wrath of the INS nevertheless, it infuriates me to see people get away with it and be supported by the literati in their flagrant law-breaking.

The EU in its own words

Dan Hannan MEP has circulated the following notice put out by Brighton and Hove Council. It says more about the EU than anything he or I could articulate:

Call for Tenders :Gender Impact of Municipal Waste Policy

Title:Call for Tenders - Study into Gender-Differentiated Impacts of Municipal Waste Management Planning in the European Union
Reference :ENV.A.2/ETU/2002/0059 Official Journal S135 13 July 2002
Contracting Authority: European Commission, DG Environment
Description :This is a call for tenders for undertaking a pilot study which will focus on a specific area of European waste policy relevant to gender mainstreaming issues, namely the subject of waste management planning. The objectives of the study are:
A. to analyse whether, and to what extent, waste management planning within the EU, in particular at local authority level, impacts upon the local community differently according to gender and to what extent gender-differentiated impact is taken into account during the stages of designing and implementing waste plans; and
B. to assess whether, in the light of analysis carried out for objective (A) above, current frameworks for waste management planning design and implementation within the EU are sufficiently suited to take into account their effects on the respective situation of women and men.
The pilot study should be considered as an integral step towards the mainstreaming of gender issues in waste policy in the EU, with a view to enhancing effectiveness of policy making and implementation. In this context, it is important that the contractor obtains data and examples of the relevance of gender in waste management planning.
Project Duration: 12 months
Available Funding: The maximum budget for the project is EUR45,000
Deadline :For requesting tender documents - 3 September 2002. For submission of tenders - 17 September 2002.
Further Information: Documents (Technical Annex ref. No ENV.A.2/ETU/2002/0059) can be obtained from the European Commission, B-1049 Bruxelles/Brussel- for the attention of The Markets Team, ENV.F.2 (Budget and Finance), by letter or fax: (32-2) 299 44 49. For administrative and financial matters, tel.: (32-2) 296 00 08. For technical matters: tel.: (32-2) 299 22 96.

Well, I suppose Stanley Doolittle had a different impact on women than on men...

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

The 28th Article

Forgot to mention the excellent Spectator editorial on Clause 28. Boris makes no bones about how silly he finds the debate:

Some people may think it important to demonstrate what they take to be society’s views on the question; some may think it deeply offensive. The salient point is that this is not a fit subject for law. The wish to be vaguely anti-poofter is not a good enough ground for a restriction on free speech; not when Tories are trying to contest another ban, of far greater importance, on a way of life which the public, alas, also finds unacceptable. If the Tories show illiberalism on Section 28, they can expect no mercy on hunting, and nor will they deserve it.

I ask the supporters of Clause 28, whether there is a law forbidding the promotion of bestiality in the classroom? There isn't, as far as I'm aware, and that should show how silly such laws are.

Advocacy journalism?

The news networks of course have a duty to alert the public to potential health risks, but they can go too far. One example seems to have occurred last week when CBS and CNN rose to the bait of a campaign by the Public Citizen advocacy group about the supposed dangers of acetaminophen (Tylenol). CBS reporter Sheryl Attkisson filed the following story on Sept. 20:

Acetaminophen is considered very safe in the proper dosages. But it's now in so many products, hundreds, that tens of thousands of people a year accidently overdose on it, some by taking multiple products like Robitussin for a cough and Tylenol for a headache. Both contain acetaminophen.

Mr. STEVEN COOPER (Wyeth Pharmaceuticals): Each individual product is safe, but the consumer has become confused, and unintentionally they can take multiple products containing acetaminophen and unknowingly find themselves in serious danger with liver toxicity.

ATTKISSON: Now an FDA advisory panel recommends new labels that warn consumers taking more than the recommended dose may cause liver damage, also not to use other products that contain acetaminophen because the dose can add up.

The new labels aren't a done deal. The FDA doesn't always follow the recommendations of its advisors. In fact, it rejected a similar proposal from an FDA advisory panel 25 years ago which said there should be liver warnings on acetaminophen products.

Practicising physician "Sydney Smith" has some excellent commentary on how the coverage has affected her patients over at Medpundit. In particular, she is worried about her patients growing scared of Tylenol:

The publicity over this, regrettably, is already making patients shy about using the drug. I had a couple of people tell me yesterday that they would rather use other over the counter analgesics for their minor arthritis pain, like Aleve and Motrin, because of the news reports about Tylenol’s dangers. Those drugs, unlike Tylenol, can cause bleeding ulcers and kidney damage, even when taken in the correct dose, making them riskier than Tylenol. If Public Citizen is truly concerned about public safety, they should consider the full consequences of their political action.

By pointing out potential health risks without mentioning why the medication is still better than the alternatives, CBS may have done its viewers more of a disservice than a service.

The Tipping Point

My wife, who worked in restaurants for several years, is rather outraged at the EU court decision that tips for waiters can form part of a minimum wage, because, when the customer pays a tip by credit card or cheque, he is paying the restaurant:

This is the most ass-backwards thinking I've seen from the EU yet (published in today's Electronic Telegraph). It's infuriating. When I tip a waiter whether it's cash or part of my credit card payment, I'm tipping the waiter for good service. I'm not tipping the restaurant. I pay the restaurant for the food I ate, I tip the waiter for the service I am given.

This is wrong, wrong, wrong. It's allowing the restaurant owner to steal wages from his employees! What kind of promotion of "human rights" is this? I may be more pro-chefs than waiters but I waited tables too and this is just, well, just stupid.


I completely agree, although, to be fair, the UK courts had found the same way and legally their argument is pretty tight. It's still an abuse of the customer's trust, however. I always used to tip in cash in the UK. Now I remember why.

400,000 people can be wrong

Natalie Solent has an excellent post on some of the disparaging comments made about the Countryside march in the Grauniad. We should also note that Martin Luther King's civil rights march on DC only attracted about 250,000...

Global consequences

Tony Blair has released his dossier on Iraq (also available at the Number 10 site). The PM told Parliament:

'And if people say: why should Britain care? I answer: because there is no way that this man, in this region above all regions, could begin a conflict using such weapons and the consequences not engulf the whole world.'

I think he's probably right on this. A China-like isolationist Fortress Britain might be able to escape some of the consequences, but not all. And I think our role in creating the artificial entity that is Iraq, and then supporting Saddam under the silly "enemy of my enemy is my friend" principle, makes us responsible in some ways for sorting out the problems those actions caused.


Study: Alcohol Ads Often Reach Teens, reports The Washington Post. A research branch of Georgetown University, which does not seem to have a web presence, alleges that alcohol advertisers are deliberately targeting teens by including certain magazines in their advertising strategies. The Post refers to the main problem with such a study -- how to define a magazine with a teen audience -- but only does so in a "he said, she said" manner. A little more research into the demographics of the magazines, however, could have revealed that, for instance, 63% of Sports Illustrated readers are aged 25-54. The problem appears to be not so much one of advertisers delibertaely targeting teens, but the anomalous grey area in America's social fabric caused by treating young adults as adults in most areas, but not when it comes to drinking. A 19 year-old is, to all intents and purposes, the same as a 26 year-old when it comes to the ability to spend money on music, sports and clothing, but not when it comes to alcohol. That is why the 18-24 demographic tends to be treated as a single unit by marketers.

Moreover, even if we ignore this problem, the Federal Trade Commission looked at the self-regulating practices of the industry in 1999 and commended some companies that

have [voluntaily] raised the standard for ad placement. Instead of adhering to the 50 percent requirement, these companies require a 60 to 70 percent legal-age audience for print media...

Sports Illustrated, for one, clearly meets that more stringent requirement. And apparently the study also includes Playboy as a teen magazine... This study appears to be raising the bar significantly.

Monday, September 23, 2002

More on the Lethality Survey

The survey, which the author was kind enough to send me in Word format, relies on the discrepancy between the homicide rate and the aggravated assault rate as recorded by the police in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR). If the author had used the National Criminal Victimization Survey figures he would see, as depicted here serious violent crime overall remained roughly steady from 1973 to about 1993, after which it plummeted. The author argues that crimes recorded by the police are a better measure of the most serious crimes, but crimes committed within the criminal community (eg between drug dealers) are unlikely to be recorded. The best measure for the author's purposes would be a nationwide measure of persons admitted to hospital with life-threatening wounds, or an FBI/NCVS category of "attempted murder," but neither figure is available. Instead, we are dealing with dueling proxy measures. One indicates an ongoing increase in lethality. The other indicates not much change since 1973. It can therefore safely be said that we do not really know whether or not the murder rate would be much larger if it were not for modern medical techniques.

PP: Final word on lethality: This CDC publication, Nonfatal and Fatal Firearm-Related Injuries -- United States, 1993-1997, provides evidence that non-fatal firearm injuries fell at the same rate as fatal firearm injuries from 1993-1997. This would seem to indicate that medicine was not masking an increase in attempted murder between those years. Any increase in medical effectiveness must therefore have taken place before the recent crime drop. The drop in violent crime appears, therefore, to be real.

Liberty and Livelihood

407,791 voices cry freedom, which represents slightly more than 1 in every 200 Brits. In relative terms, that's equivalent to about 2,000,000 Americans descending on DC. In other words, this was a bloody big demonstration. Andrew Ian Dodge's brief testimony is here, Peter Briffa's look at the contrast between the double-barrels of Rees-Mogg and Alibhai-Brown is here and David Carr's eye-witness account is here.

When I checked the news.bbc.co.uk page last night, there was no mention of it.

PP: Mr British Spin's less than congratulatory comments about the march are here. Having now seen The Sun's coverage the toff quotient does seem pretty high. Still, the scale remains important.

Hotel California

Good Jim Bennett column, The European Roach Motel. As he says, Britain benefits from trade relations with Europe, but what the Constitutional Convention is proposing is utterly ridiculous:

The Anglosphere vision is of a loose set of cooperative institutions among the English-speaking, Common-Law based nations. This vision is compatible with the idea of complementary cooperative ties between the various Anglosphere nations and their regional neighbors. For America, this would include Latin America; for Australia, it would include Asia and the Pacific. For Britain and Ireland, a set of useful cooperative ties loosely affiliated with Europe makes perfect sense. Imposing the roach-motel clause on the European Union guarantees that, rather than being the basis for such ties, will in the long run be something Britain must stay out of.

The points about Europe's desire to raid Britain's prudent pension (social security) provision is well worth remembering.

If I have one quibble, it's that the legal framework is not examined. The newly supreme European Court would hand down judgment after judgment against Britain, with crippling fines, I am sure, for her refusal to co-operate. The European police would be perfectly entitled to freeze British assets in Europe and so on in order to get her to comply with her constitutional obligations. That's why I think it may come to an armed conflict, but it will be Britain that is forced to fire the first shots in order to restore her independence, not the outlandish case of a European invasion of the UK. And the legal niceties will almost certainly be on the European side, even if the demands of justice are not.

Compare and Contrast

The Brady Campaign against handguns has been happy to trumpet the idea that Americans turned away from gun ownership in 2001. Their press release from 8/28 this year says:

According to an April 2002 article in the Christian Science Monitor, the FBI conducted fewer background checks for gun purchases in 2001 than in 2000, and checks for the first two months of 2002 were already 10.5 percent below last year's pace.

Well, now the official figures are out. according to NBC News last night:

"The Justice Department reported today on applications for guns in America, and they're up. The number of Americans who applied for handguns and rifles last year rose 3% to almost 8 million. Of those applications, slightly less than 2% were rejected."

I wonder if the Brady Campaign will retract its claim?

PP: Here's the link to the official Justice Department figures.

Murdering statistics

Canada's NATIONAL POST is the first North American source to pick up on a story from the British Medical Journal that alleges that modern medical techniques are masking a huge increase in the murder rate, by saving people who would otherwise have died and that therefore America is a much more violent place than we think. That may be the case by comparison with the 1930s, but when looking at recent years we can see that the figures confirm that there has been a significant drop in aggravated assault as well as murder. The latest criminal victimization survey shows that the aggravated assault "with injury" rate -- in which all those saved from homicide by medical science would be placed -- has halved from 3.4 per 1,000 persons in 1993 to 1.7 per 1,000 in 2001. Unfortunately, we do not have directly comparable victimization figures for how many people were victims of aggravated assault in the 1930s, so a meaningful comparison with then is impossible. As aggravated assault figures collected by the FBI include those merely threatened with a weapon, any comparison based on those figures -- which I suspect the comparison referred to in the Post article to be -- will be using a measure that is too imprecise. I've asked the researcher for the full study, and will post more if necessary when I've seen it.

Friday, September 20, 2002

Spartan discipline

The insane Greek crackdown on computer games continues. One of the main targets is people playing Age of Empires, which actually has some (not much, I admit) educational value in teaching Greek history...

Received pronunciation

Terrific post from Eugene of The Volokh Conspiracy on the subject of President Bush's pronunciation of "nuclear." It's all snobbery. The folks in the UK who particularly object to the President's "mangling" of the language would get all bent out of shape if anyone dared criticize, say, a genuinely working class Prime Minister from the North of England for using Geordie/Mackem expressions or pronunication. Jest axe them. That'd mayuk 'em "crawfish" awa'. Yerbuggermar.

Over-reaction to child abduction. In the UK...

This MORI poll, The Repercussions Of Soham Murders, shows that 49% of UK parents surveyed (although the sample is small) have actually changed their behavior as a result of the Soham murders, despite the tiny number of children murdered annually (I presume -- believe it or not, I cannot find up-to-date murder statistics for the UK anywhere on line and certainly not broken down by age). My recent STATS essay on child abduction in the US seems even more applicable to the UK.

Alms for Allah?

I used to give money to beggars regularly, on the grounds of Matthew 25,35. I stopped when someone I knew who worked with the homeless and the mentally ill in the UK told me they spent it all on drugs or booze (and the younger they were, the more likely it would be the former than the latter). Now The Homeless Guy confirms this here:

Why do they beg or panhandle? Drugs. It sounds too easy to be true. Sorry, it's all about the Drugs. Even when they are honestly asking for help with food, or their electric bill, or diapers, it's because they've spent all their money on Drugs, (which includes alcohol and cigarettes). At first, giving food may seem like a good alternative to giving money, but that only allows them to save their money for Drugs. Drugs, Drugs, Drugs - I can't say it enough. When you give money to these guys, and girls, you are supporting their life destroying addictions.

Kevin then addresses Christ's injunction. A friend of mine gets round the problem by giving people who ask for money McDonalds vouchers, which seems reasonable.

By the way, you've probably already seen the link on Instapundit, but any question as to The Homeless Guy's bona fides should be dealt with by this post.


There's a line from Thucydides that always makes my eyes water. Listing the evil portents that occurred prior to the Syracusan Expedition, he talks about a man who jumped astride an altar and proceded to castrate himself with a rock. I wonder what he'd have said about this news from Australia: Man Slices Off Four Body Parts. Urgh.

Poor measure

My latest UPI Recent research suggests ... column is up. It looks at some recent criticisms of the federal poverty measure and suggests that income is a poor measure of poverty.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

What a mother does

My wife has something she feels she needs to get off her chest:

Over the past few months, several people have asked me what exactly I do all day as a stay-at-home mom. The question has always put me on the defensive and I didn't like that. I realized that people ask that question of stay-at-home moms but would never ask that of a in-home nurse.

Let's compare.

An in-home nurse would arrive at an invalid's home, help them wake up, go to the bathroom, wash their face, brush their teeth and hair, and get dressed. They'd then take them downstairs, make them breakfast, and help them eat it. After putting the breakfast dishes away, they may take the invalid out for light errands, low-key social events, read books to them, or they may simply sit with them while watching tv. Before lunch, an in-home nurse would help the invalid with going to the bathroom and then make and feed them lunch. Afternoons, may give the in-home nurse a break if the invalid takes a rest. Otherwise, it would be a repeat of the morning; errands, social time, or entertaining the invalid. Dinner preparation and feeding of the invalid would be next. Then the in-home nurse would take them upstairs to bath the invalid, get them into pajamas, brush teeth and hair, and help them go to bed. The presuming there is a night nurse or night care is unnecessary, the in-home nurse can go home.

Now, the in-home nurse may also have to give medicine or handle medical equipment which I would not have to do. However, an in-home nurse does NOT have to run heavy errands (groceries, car care, etc.) or clean the house (scrub bathrooms and kitchen floors). An in-home nurse is NOT responsible for organizing all holiday, birthday, family and vacation events/activities (cards, gifts, holiday meal cooking, travel). An in-home nurse does NOT pay the bills, run the family budget, or remember the myriad of tiny details that come with being responsible for a family.

And most importantly, if the in-house nurse belongs to a service, she may get nights and weekends off. She has sick leave and vacation time. I do NOT . I've only had one weekend off in two years and I have NO idea when I will have another time period off. I can NOT get sick because my husband can't take time off from work just because I'm ill. I work AT LEAST 10 to 12 hours days every day of the week except when my husband lets me sleep in to 10am on Saturday mornings.

What's worse is that while people who hire in-home nurses or send their children to daycare can take tax breaks, the family with a stay-at-home mom gets none. Despite the obvious similarities to a job many consider quite important, we stay-at-home moms get little to no recognition from the government (or others). I love and adore my daughter and I'm proud that my husband does not require me to work. I miss the satisfaction of my old career as an advertising copywriter but I believe my job as a mother and homemaker to be more important. It's just a shame that only me and my family feel the same way.

Kris Murray
Iain's Wife

I very much agree with Kris on this. I have on my desk, taped to the side of my computer, a list of 55 separate tasks she completed in one typical day between me leaving for work and arriving home. All are substantial in some way. Society does not give stay-at-home mothers the respect they are due, and in some ways chooses to denigrate them by subsidizing mothers who work (the tax breaks issue). That never used to be the case. Once again, women are shown to be the real victims of the 60s revolution.

Out of Body, Out of Mind?

This is over-wrought. Leading skeptic Michael Shermer claims that this new study is

another blow against those who believe that the mind and spirit are somehow separate from the brain," said psychologist Michael Shermer, director of the Skeptic Society, which seeks to debunk alien abductions and other paranormal claims. "In reality, all experience is derived from the brain."

This is evidence from an experiment on one -- 1, singular, unique -- woman. As such, it proves nothing except that she herself experiences strange things when her brain gets stimulated in certain ways. As a much more extensive survey of survivors of cardiac arrest last year concluded:

We do not know why so few cardiac patients report Near Death Experiences after CPR, although age plays a part. With a purely physiological explanation such as cerebral anoxia for the experience, most patients who have been clinically dead should report one.

(Emphasis added).

NDEs are very difficult to explain. Sydney Smith raises the question of why it's only Heaven that ever gets reported, never Hell. Good point (similar to my mind to the question of why, if God can be represented as a woman in modern Churches, how come the Devil can't?) although a few speculative answers cross my mind. First, self-selection: how likely are you to tell people you've seen that you're going to Hell? Second, the nature of Hell: perhaps Hell is total emptiness, the lack of contact with God. Third, perhaps you don't go straight to Hell. There is all that talk about Judgment Day and separating sheep from goats, after all, in theology (although this has never been a strong point of mine).

In any event, I think Shermer staking a lot on this study is just a little over-the-top.

What the frell?

What Farscape Character are you?

Debt and Taxes

This is worrying. According to economists from the Urband Institute and Brookings Institution (hardly the most conservative organizations in the world), the Alternative Minimum Tax will affect 85% of two children families by 2010. Here's how the NCPA summarize the research:

The alternative minimum tax (AMT) was originally designed to
assure that wealthier Americans with many deductions did not
escape paying taxes of some sort, and as recently as three years
ago fewer than one million Americans were subject to it. But if
nothing is changed, by 2010 about 36 million taxpayers will face
its complex provisions.

o When the Bush cuts become fully effective, 85 percent of
taxpayers with two or more children will be forced off the
regular income tax and onto the AMT system.

o It will largely affect families with incomes of $75,000 to

o Under AMT, many deductions are denied -- including those
for children, the taxpayers themselves, and for state and
local taxes.

o Married couples are 25 to 30 times more likely to be
subjected to it than single people -- which tax experts
call "a nasty marriage penalty."

The study concludes that almost any remedy to the problem will
cost the Treasury hundreds of billions of dollars or require
raising taxes elsewhere to compensate for the losses.

This tax was introduced to deal with a loophole exploited by 155 people. Congressional leaders need to address this issue very soon, or a real anti-tax rebellion will brew very quickly, I suspect. That's likely to be bad news for certain parties.

La Fort Sumtere

I've always said that around 2010 there will be a secession crisis of some sort in the EU. And that I would join the Secession Party and, if necessary, fight to restore my country's independence. It seems now that the Constitutional Conventioneers are anticipating this problem, but not in a good way. They propose that, in order to secede, a "rebel" state would have to

secure the backing of three-quarters of the votes in the EU Council of Ministers, as well as two-thirds of the European Parliament, and ratification by the parliaments of every single country.

So if you're an economic powerhouse like Britain or Germany whose wealth will fuel much of a United Europe's prosperity, you're doomed. Luxembourg can block your secession. Interesting to see the thinking behind this:

["Liberal" "Democrat"] Mr Duff said his proposal was intended to avoid the sort of confusion that led to the American Civil War. "We don't want to end up like the US when the South wanted to leave and the North had to fight to keep them in," he said.

The thinking is that secession is always bad. Take that, West Virginia. And so much for English dreams of an independent Scotland...

EC dreams dashed

The hope of the European Commission that it will somehow become a rival to the US seems increasingly likely to be dashed on the rocaks of realism. As this Wall Street Journal Europe article (may be for WSJ subscribers only) argues despite itself, the Iraq question has shown the poverty of the idea that European foreign policy is both coherent and distinct from America's:

Institutional reform pushed by Brussels also too often looks like a poor substitute for real policy backed by political will. Even Le Monde, a traditional home for proponents of a united Europe, wrote in its editorial after the Bush speech that "the most disturbing aspect [of a show-down with Iraq] is the total absence of strategic thinking in Europe about the menace presented by radical Islam and the dissemination of arms of mass destruction."

Globalization means the U.S. and Europe are more interdependent, to use the phrase thrown about by Britain's Tony Blair. The banal truth may simply be that on important strategic questions, a unified Europe will usually be one with America. The coming enlargement of the EU from 15 to 25 members -- among them close friends of America -- will only reinforce this tendency.

Europe's ABs are repeatedly being shown to live in their castles in the air.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Here we go again

Kieran Healy replies to my comments below on the effect of crime on the incarceration rate. On the first part, there is, as Kieran says, very little difference between us. The initial analogy is flawed, but the revised analogy I suggest is as near as you going to get to anything meaningful when someone asks "Is an African American more likely to go to jail or college?" Like it or not, it's a question that gets asked. The answer I suggest is more helpful in pointing out the problems with the comparison than the pat answers that have been given so far. And it provides a jumping-off point for discussing why it's not a meaningful question.

On my other points about the incarceration rate being driven by the crime rate, Kieran says the following:

Well, yes --- in a just society incarceration would reflect criminality. But there are at least three difficulties. First, we need to decide what's illegal: the things you can be locked up for have a tendency to vary over time and across societies. Second, while you may "happen to think" that U.S. society is "one of the closest to 'justness' that there has ever been", I think there's some room for disagreement on that point --- at least enough to make one think twice about using it as a premise in an argument like this. Third, I question whether it is a "plain fact" that the prison boom was "driven by an increase in violent crime." It's not obvious to me from crime data that this is so.

For example, here's a time series of the homicide rate from 1950 to 1999 [Kieran has a Javascript pop-up. You can see the data via Kieran's site or here]. As you can see, it really takes off in the 1970s. It declines precipitously in the mid-1990s. In between, there is a rise in the late '80s and early '90s, but that peaks below the all-time high in 1981. The trend suggests that the relationship between crime and incarceration is more complex than Iain Murray wants to allow. (If incarceration rates reflect violent crime rates, why did the prison boom not begin in, say, 1974?) Rather than assume that the incarceration rate is a simple reflection of levels of crime, or that it reflects the basic "justness" of U.S. society, I'd suggest it's more profitable to examine the role that other forces, most notably state policy, play in this process.

Taking Kieran's difficulties one at a time, the first is easily answered. We lock people up for such offenses as our elected representatives from time to time think deserving of the sanction of incarceration. The fact that blasphemy is a crime in England and an enforced crime in Islamic countries, but is not in the US, makes no real difference to the fact that breach of the law as written is what drives the various criminal justice rates in each of the countries concerned.

On the second point, I'd like to know what countries Kieran thinks are, or have been, more just. He may have some good candidates, but it would be helpful to know where we both stand in relation to that point.

[More to follow tomorrow on the main point -- time has run away from me tonight].

Miracle cure?

Hmmm. Given that a lot of Brits think the hole in the ozone layer causes global warming*, I wonder if this news (Antarctic Ozone Hole Could Close by 2050) will have them changing their mind on climate change?

I remember one of the most bizarre letters I ever received to answer officially at the Department of Transport was written in all directions on what looked like a local council leave approval sheet, and finished (as far as I could tell) with the memorable injunction: "Ozone -- PUT IT BACK!"

The rich and social responsibility

Clayton Cramer has an interesting post on his experience with rich kids not feeling that they need to graduate high school. It's an important point. I noticed that the sons of the super-rich at my university were the most likely to not give a fig for other people's property. Part of the erosion of societal structure, it seems to me, has been the erosion of the idea of social responsibility among the upper classes. Consequently, the upper classes interact less and less with those who earn less. I think that it one of the reasons for the sharp divide in public opinion between the ABs and the CDEs mentioned below.

Outbreak of common sense in British policing

Big Mac with fries and PC to keep muggers at bay is how the Telegraph headlines a common-sense initiative to get policemen to be a little bit more involved in their community. Over here, one often sees policemen doing their paperwork in 7-11 stores at night. It's an instant deterrent that also makes law-abiding people feel safer. Policemen need to spend less time in station canteens and more in their local MacDonalds, less time doing paperwork in the station and more time in local all-night stores. It's a simple, sensible idea. Why make a joke about it?

Local parental control is the answer

I agree with a lot in Melanie Philips' latest, Saving the family. She is right to say that family disintegration is the single biggest social problem facing the UK today. However, I have to say that I find her idea of using Statute Law to tackle the problem by broadening Section 28 to be slightly wrong-headed. My preferred solution would be to give local educational control to parents. Melanie objects to the role of "libertines" in the Conservative Party. Well, libertines don't, as a rule, have children. Even those who do are a tiny minority. You tend to get a tad more judgmental and less relativistic about things when you have children. So I think local parental control (either by an Education commission appointed by a body answerable to parents or some other scheme) would probably have the effect of imposing the moral strictures that Melanie wants, without needing to involve central government. My thinking on this is at a very early stage, so I'd love to hear comments.

PP: The Telegraph says something similar (I also agree with its points on the Church therein):

Every test of public opinion shows that an overwhelming majority think it no part of a local authority's job to feed children with propaganda about the joys of homosexuality. The Tories' job should be to campaign for giving parents more say in their children's schooling, so that Section 28 will become redundant.

But if it will become redundant, why not repeal it? Or is the Telegraph arguing for legislation for legislation's sake?

PPP: Peter Cuthbertson's take is here, while Andrew Dodges' is here.

Judge not?

Interesting little interactive exercise on the BBC website. You, the Judge gives you the circumstances of five cases and asks you to deliver the appropriate sentence. I got the answers "right" on three of the five cases, but went for more severe sentences than were delivered in two of them. I am amazed at the leniency shown in what was clearly an unambiguous case of stranger rape (as must be 70% of the participants, who went for the same sentence I did) and in the case of an habitual offender who was quite clearly a menace to public order. The American experience has shown that taking seriously severely violent crimes like rape, and also threats to public order, can contribute to a drop in crime.


Anatol Lieven says the USA should treat Britain as An ally, not a lapdog. Well, yes, of course, but his reasoning is odd. If he hadn't predicated his argument on British polling data, I might agree with him more, but as Tim Hames pointed out last week, there's a divergence in opinion between the social classes in the UK that should be taken into account. Nevertheless, Jim Bennett comments as follows:

I seem to recall having seen the UK poll numbers supporting Iraq having moved to a statistical tie within the last day or two. I also seriously doubt whether Middle Britain gives a rat's ass about most of the international law issues he cites.

However, he is right when he says that sentimental invocations will not maintain the US-British alliance indefinitely. There really do need to be structural mechanisms particular to the Anglosphere to maintain a strong alliance. If we could imagine a formal, aboveground UKUSA structure with a consultative council that would have met already on Iraq and come up with a UKUSA position, it would both have been pretty close to what the US wants and needs, and soemthing that would be a visible demonstration of the UK's position as somehting other than a poodle to the US. It should also have produced some quid pro quos on issues like cooperation against the IRA and against Spanish claims on Gibraltar.

Whoops! There's the problem. It's hard for a British government to demand the US take UK interests into account when it doesen't take them into account itself.

Couldn't agree more, especially on the last point. Allies are different from client, vassal or satellite states. A joint structure would do a lot to protect both nations' interests.

I don't know what you mean, but I have an opinion on it

Public strong on opinions – weaker on knowledge is the conclusion of a Cardiff University study on what the public knows and thinks about scientific issues. I suspect the same would be true here in the States. The evidence is most telling when it comes to our old friend climate change:

Climate change. Two-thirds of respondents erroneously thought that the hole in the ozone layer causes climate change and over a half said that the effect of greenhouse gases is to thin the ozone layer. Yet, a majority, answered correctly less technical and more political questions: 53 per cent knew that one of the predicted climate changes for the UK is more rainfall in winter; and 52 per cent knew that the United States is opposed to the Kyoto Protocol. A majority also correctly defined the phrase 'carbon sink'. Sixty per cent said they were dissatisfied with the UK Government's efforts to respond the challenge of climate change, although it's not clear how much people know about the Government's record.

The source of the problem is quite clear. Despite the existence of "intelligent multi-media strategies" that the Cardiff academics recommend, the public still gets its news through the filter of TV and newspapers. The fact that so many get the objectively wrong impression tells us more about the job the media are doing than it does about the public or researchers.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Market-based Freedom Restrictions

Chad Dimpler has some worthwhile comments on Eli's plan for a market-based ID card system. He's a trifle skeptical, dontcha know?

Another good blog

Clayton Cramer is an amateur historian who helped humble the so-called professional Michael Bellesiles. His blog is worth a look, especially if you're interested in RKBA issues.

Clause 4 = Section 28

The turning point in the Labour Party's fortunes came when Tony Blair forced through the abandonment of Clause IV of the Party's constitution, which committed it to workers' control of the means of production. The modern Tory party needs such a defining moment. Michael Gove has identified one: Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which forbids the "promotion" of homosexuality in schools. I agree with him, for these reasons particularly:

Why, when the Conservatives argue that power should be devolved down to local authorities and teachers, do they insist that central Government should continue to retain strict control over the teaching of just one aspect of human biology? What is so important about homosexuality that it, alone, cannot be entrusted to the good sense of local schools to handle? When most voters are, rightly, more concerned about funding, standards, discipline, teacher recruitment and pupil motivation, why are the Tories so anxious to regulate this aspect of school life? Who really looks obsessed with marginal questions here?

Like the National Curriculum, Section 28 is an unwarranted restriction on local responsibility for education. Tie the abolition of the two together, and people will know what the Tory party stands for.

Failed Experiment

Rebecca O'Neill of Civitas has produced Experiments in Living: The Fatherless Family, a comprehensive look at what social science tells us about fatherlessness. As Mary Kenny says,

In this short but densely researched publication, Ms O'Neill enumerates the evidence that, in our hearts, we can recognise as fact: that lone mothers are, on the whole, poorer, have more health problems, and are more liable to depression; that children growing up without fathers are poorer, more likely to have emotional and mental problems, get into more trouble at school, and have more difficulties in relationships.

Young adults not living with their biological fathers are less likely to attain qualifications, and women of divorced parents have consistently lower academic achievements.

Divorce dents children's confidence, and many divorces take place in "low-conflict" marriages, which have a reasonable potential for being salvaged. Divorced fathers are more likely to lose touch with their children, and single mothers interact less well with teenagers.

All this is backed by repeated studies and control groups and it all adds up to prove the thesis that it is better to have two married parents: better for the individual and for society, too. This is not a "value judgment", but a rational conclusion from social studies.

It is clearly irrational for any political party to support policies that encourage the fecklessness of young males in siring children and then failing to raise them. The single biggest thing we can do to reduce the crime rate is to instill discipline into these young men by forcing them to live up to their responsibilities as fathers. And if that means a return to social stigma of one sort or the other then we have to ask ourselves if that is worse than disadvantaging generation after generation of children. I cannot see how we can avoid the obvious answer.

Another Prodigal Returns

He hasn't been away as long as Shiloh, but it's good to have the ever-engaging Brendan O'Neill back again. I admire Brendan's stand against any Western intervention in other nations, even though I don't agree with it, and he doesn't deserve half the opprobrium he gets. Good to have you back, Brendan.

Good news, if...

David Blunkett has announced plans to halve the red tape and form-filling undertaken by police. That is a welcome announcement, assuming that it gets implemented properly. The amount of bureaucracy in British police work is staggering, and it much of it is, of course, completely unproductive:

He said that in one case officers spent more than 40,000 hours filling in an obsolete form for stolen vehicles.

Assuming an 8-hour work day, that's 13.5 work years wasted. No wonder the British crime rate is so high...

Declaration of Right (subject, of course...)

Dave Kopel has some important things to say about what the Declaration of Right 1688 says about the right to bear arms in England and Wales (I've never been too clear about the Declaration's constitutional position vis-a-vis Scotland). I wondered about quibbling with Dave's description of "a civic culture of passivity and helplessness" in the UK, given that householders regularly take on burglars, but are then punished by the law that is supposed to protect them. However, he is right that the "civic culture" has abolished the right to self-defense. The effect is blindingly obvious. Compare the words of one Chicago burglar, interviewed by Wright and Decker:

"I rather for the police to catch me vs a person catching me breaking in their house because the person will kill you. Sometimes the police will tell you 'You lucky we came before they did.'"

This would be characterized in the UK as "taking the law into your own hands." How far have we come from Blackstone's recognition that you must have the right to protect yourself when the duly-established law enforcement procedures fail you. Moreover, there used to be a distinction between law and liberty in the UK, as evinced by the John Adams quote on the left. This is not taking law into your own hands, it is you exercising a liberty. If parliament and the judiciary have seen fit to restrict that liberty, then they have overstepped their bounds.

E-mail problems

I've been having significant e-mail problems recently. If you've sent me something recently and haven't received a response, it's probably because my server isn't delivering anything between the hours of 10pm and 8am EST, or at the weekends at all, so please send it me again safely outside those hours. I think it must belong to a British Trade Union...

I'll believe it when I see it

The Iraqi offer to admit inspectors "without conditions" sees me as skeptical as the Administration. There may not be conditions to admitting inspectors, but they already raise conditions for allowing them actually to inspect. Steven Den Beste thinks that if there aren't many of those, it means he's closer than we thought to getting the bomb. I think it's much more likely that he's just spinning out the skein of his fate for as long as he can. This move could, if he plays it right, get him another two years before the UN approves action. It will take resolve on the part of the alliance to hold the UN to making sure inspections do take place quickly, and also to enact the other requirements the President laid down last week. Blair and Bush have to reiterate the full list so that Kofi Annan and the other foot-draggers don't let people think that Iraq has caved. They've potholed.

Return of a Favorite

A couple of days after I finally remove the recommended star from her link, Shiloh Bucher returns to action at shilohbucher.com. It's good to have this excellent blogger back.

Monday, September 16, 2002

The Sound of Silence

Andrew Sullivan has an interesting blog entry on Lawrence Wright's New Yorker piece on Al Qa'eda. This struck as me as telling. After the failure of Operation Infinite Reach (the "million dollar missiles vs two dollar tent" operation under President Clinton), bin Laden exalted in his survival:

When bin Laden's voice came crackling across the radio transmission - "By the grace of God, I am alive!" - the forces of anti-Americanism had found their champion. Those who had objected the the slaughter of innocents in the embassies in East Africa, many of whom were Muslims, were cowed by the popular response to this man whose defiance of America now seemed blessed by divine favor. The day after the strikes, Zawahiri called a reporter in Karachi, with a message: "Tell the Americans that we aren't afraid of bombardment, threats, and acts of aggression... The war has only just begun; the Americans should now await the answer."

We have heard nothing from OBL (or even Zawahiri, I imagine). Surely "By the grace of God, I am STILL alive" would rally his forces even more. A better example of divine favor in the face of enemy onslaught I cannot imagine. Yet we hear nothing. A clear case, it seems to be, of the dog that does not rant in the night.

Unequal treatment

Kieran Healy makes some comments about Virginia Postrel's commendation of my article about African Americans and college/prison. He says:

This doesn't seem like a helpful way to present the data. The number of young white prisoners in the U.S. is large compared to almost any other prison population in the world. But it's very small compared to the number of white college students in the U.S. Does this mean we should be happy with the incarceration rate? Murray is rightly criticizing a bad analogy, but then exploits the same analogy to make his own point about the large ratio being "very good news".

I'm not sure whether Kieran actually read my article, rather than just Virginia's comments, but the article had three points. First, the JPI's numbers were objectively wrong. Second, the analogy they used was flawed, and that there was a better analogy available which implied something different. And third, in order to make a case that education spending suffering in comparison to corrections spending disproportionately affected African-American men, they ignored the data about the substantial increase in African-American women in college, something that seems to indicate that educational opportunities were made available to that community, and taken up.

As for the general point about incarceration, no, we should not be happy with the incarceration rate, but that rate is a product of other factors. In a just society, and I happen to think the American experiment is one of the closest to "justness" that there has ever been, the incarceration rate reflects the level of criminality in communities. Spending on corrections is therefore reactive. The plain fact is -- and the New York Times got this right -- the increase in incarceration in the 90s was driven by an increase in violent crime. Bill Spelman of the University of Texas at Austin built a model to assess the effect of prison expansion since the 70s on the violent crime rate. His conclusion was that by the late 90s, if we had not expanded our prisons, America would be suffering about 1200 violent crimes per 100,000 population. The actual rate was less than 600. The expansion of prisons was necessary, it seems to me.

At base, we have to think about what drives people to turn to crime rather than self-improvement. This is the central question of criminology, of course. Education is a part of the answer, but public education is but a part of that, and there are other, cultural factors as well. The JPI study was, in my opinion, simplistic, flawed and inexact. In its choice of headlines it also showed poor judgment. It deserved the treatment it got.

Where's Osama?

More rumblings from the Arab world that Bin Laden is as dead as Robert Fisk's reutation in the blogsophere. A UAE newspaper, quoted in The Mirror, quotes an "eye-witness" who says

"On the 24th night of Ramadan (Dec 10) and at a late hour, there were some scary explosions in the place where Osama bin Laden's cave was.

"The cave was completely erased from the ground and became nothing. This was the only cave of the 15 that was destroyed by an enormous 52ft missile and there is no doubt that bin Laden died.''

Now from this evidence, Marc Herold would count Bin Laden as a casualty. I'm not so sure it's the conclusive evidence we're looking for, but it's another pebble on the cairn.

Ye gods!

The British Government, which is, of course, omnipotent and omniscient, has decided it is going to reduce the number of people who want to kill themselves. Jolly good. One of the ways they are going to achieve this laudable aim is by "reducing the availability and lethality of suicidal methods". The evidence they use to support this assertion is:

Some measures to reduce suicides have already been taken, including cutting the number of pills sold in paracetamol packs.

The number of deaths related to the painkiller fell 10% between 1998 and 1999 after the move.

Notice it doesn't say "the number of deaths fell," just "the number of deaths related to the painkiller" fell. In fact, according the the official statistics, the overall number of suicides rose between 1998 and 1999. When it comes to suicide, substitution is easy. If you don't have enough paracetamol to kill yourself, you jump off a cliff or step in front of a speeding truck. The measure might have reduced "accidental" suicides, where someone was just crying for help and didn't really intend to die, but I often wonder how many of those there really are.

Nevertheless, the Government's omnipotence is again demonstrated by its next aim, "improving the reporting of suicidal behaviours in the media." No pesky free press if it's going to send out the wrong message, eh?