England's Sword 2.0

Tuesday, February 05, 2002

See previous post re two directions

Compulsory ID cards 'ruled out', said New Labour last year. Now, they're baaaaacckkkk!

Except that these are "entitlement cards," which will only be necessary if you're going to use a public service. Assuming that you're not going to have to use them to get on the tube, the only people who will necessarily have to carry them are, well, the poor. That includes a disproprortionate number of minority citizens. Unbelievable.

On the fence

I remember once seeing a Bernard Levin monologue from an ancient edition of That Was The Week That Was. He talked about a 50s politician who, he claimed "had been impaled on the fence for so long that he finally split in two and ran away in opposite directions." Michael Gove's latest Times column does the same job on Tony Blair (I keep spelling his name Balir, which sounds demonic to me). As usual, he is effortlessly accurate:

But a price always has to be paid for preferring the easy lie to the hard truth. And there is no lie, so easy, so tempting and so apparently rewarding as the fiction that wisdom resides betwixt extremes. As Christopher Hitchens has pointed out, “the truth cannot lie, but if it could, it would lie somewhere in between”. Taking a position between two contending poles seems to offer the pose of reasonableness, without the need to expend reasoning power working out which is correct, the maximum popularity for the minimum expenditure of intellectual effort. Which is why it is so tempting. And so wrong.

Torture? No thanks

Old Tin Eye got what he wanted without ill treating prisoners is an excellent telegraph article about the difference between interrogation and torture. It's a shame he didn't mention the Persian Boat Torture though...

Calling all psychics!

The International Skeptics Network is offering a prize to any "psychic" that can accurately predict when and where Osama bin Laden will be found. Non-psychics (or should that be people who are confident that they are not psychic) can enter too, so there's a control group of sorts...

Blogger Book Club

This is an interesting idea: www.AndrewSullivan.com - Book Club. I wish I had enough spare cash and time to join in the fun.

However, I have been thinking about setting up a Recommended Reading page, with capsule reviews and links. If anyone else thinks this might be useful, or has any suggestions, please e-mail me.

Chaos umpire sits

The confusion over ethical issues that is rampant in the United Kingdom strikes again. British public supports mercy killing, according to the authoritative British Social Attitudes survey. I am sure this is predicated on a widely-held agreement that there is a right to die.

But a right to die is different from having a right to have someone else kill you. The biggest ethical problem with suicide I can think of is the "Anna Karenina problem". But at least in that case the train driver had no responsibility for Anna's unwanted (at the last second) death. Anna died because of her actions alone. If she had asked the train driver to hit her, however, then the train driver would have been a murderer, pure and simple (at the very least, he would be guilty of manslaughter).

This is an issue that would haunt me even if anyone ever asked me merely to hold their sword while they fell on it. There is the possibility that they might change their minds at the last minute, and I could not live with the knowledge that I had taken an unwilling life. How does Kevorkian live with that possibility? The answer, I suggest, is that he is either amoral or just plain evil.

Has the British public thought this through? No, because there is no ethical debate in British politics (except at a very superficial level), just as there is no constitutional debate. That is part of the reason why the UK is in such a bad state.


I have only one thing to say in response to the pseudonymous Emmanuel Goldstein's bizzarre comment that I was calling for press censorship in my outrage against British misreporting of Guantanamo Bay after the early reports (since disputed) that Daniel Pearl had already been killed:

"Comment is free, but facts are sacred."
-- C.P. Scott, Editor, The Guardian, May 1921

Monday, February 04, 2002

American Exceptionalism: The story continues

Steven Den Beste has posted a cogent reply to my comments below, which also includes some interesting comments from other bloggers of note. In particular, Kevin Whited takes on the argument that The Iroquois Confederacy had any real role to play in the drafting of the Constitution.

Steven's next point after the Iroquois ideal (incidentally, the Seneca called George Washington "the town destroyer," so much respect did he give their systems), is about the legitimacy of government. It is important to realize that part of the reason the English reacted so violently to the Divine Right of Kings was because it was wholly alien to the English concept of Kingship. As far back as Anglo-Saxon times there was an elective element to the Kingship (the witena gemot both approved and could depose a new King, whatever the succession laws said). This was adapted by the Normans into the Commune Concilium which was essentially a form of election for the new King. To quote Vernon Bogdanor, "Obedience was granted in exchange for royal protection." Note the use of the word grant. Even William the Bastard swore in his coronation oath to observe the laws of England. The King always ruled by sufferance of the people. Magna Carta took this further, insisting that the monarch was as much under the rule of law as his subjects and also underlining that the rights of individuals took precedence over the personal wishes of the sovereign. Despite aberrances, the English form of monarchy had always been constitutional in a way continental monarchies were not. The monarch ruled only because the people allowed it. The "Divine Right of Kings" was a red herring, an instrument designed to impose absolutism as well as a detested supranational authority on a people who had always rejected it. It could equally be said of the English constitution that "we created it ourselves and submitted to it voluntarily."

Steven rightly chides me for not mentioning the Test Acts. The Roundhead part of me has always regretted the Restoration, and I should have decried the way in which principles of religious freedom won in so hard a fight were thrown away. Nevertheless, it is interesting that in the two countries today, religion is probably a much more powerful political element here than in the UK. Want religious fundamentalism out of politics? Establish the Episcopalian Church...

Now we come to the Constitution itself. It is a remarkable document, I agree. But let us remember the words of the Declaration of Independence:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

In other words, it is a central principle of the American founding that no form of government is more important than the reserved rights of the people. Nor is the idea of a contract binding the Government unique to the Constitution: it is seen in the Coronation Oath, Magna Carta, and the Declaration of Right (as well as the Provisions of Oxford, the Petition of Right, the Agreements of the People and the People's Charter, which were all failed attempts to constrain further). It is highly likely that the Blairite attempts to restrict Trial by Jury would have ended abruptly with a judgement that they violated Magna Carta, which remains British law and, as a contract between the Monarch and the People cannot be amended or repealed by Parliament.

The Constitution (and its amendments) is just another example of this tradition, but one that has been distorted. It is highly likely that a future Supreme Court will interpret the death penalty as cruel and unusual, and this time it would be unlikely to reverse its decision. Indeed, as this excellent Walter Williams op/ed makes clear, the American experiment has become, thanks to its Constitution, an experiment in judicial supremacy. And rule by lawyers implies ever more-complicated laws:

Rule of law means there's governance by known general rules, equality before the law, certainty of the law, a permanent legal framework and independent judicial review of administrative decisions.

These specifications of the rule of law have been emasculated. No one can possibly know the thousands of pages of rules published by the Internal Revenue Service, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of pages of laws applicable to health care, banking, education, pensions, agriculture, ad infinitum. There's arbitrary discretionary power exemplified by rules like requiring government permission to disconnect an automobile air bag, or members of Congress deciding to enact agricultural and dairy price-supports or sugar tariffs depending upon whether the agriculture, dairy or sugar lobby contributed to their political campaigns.

None of the branches of government does anything about this, as it is in none of their interests to do so. Jury nullification is the only hope there, I would suggest. Meanwhile, the Second Amendment is ignored or deliberately flouted all over the country, most noticeably in the Federal Capital! In many cases the supposed guarantee of liberty has sub-clauses saying "not valid in the event of..."

Which all goes to make the case that America's Constitution, though a great achievement, is in no way more important than the ideas behind it, as Jefferson made clear, and, indeed, is sometimes as detrimental to those ideas as the even more flexible British system. But those ideas are Anglo-American, and not the exclusive property of either side of the Atlantic. Those ideas have made both England and America in turn the most successful and prosperous nations on Earth. They may yet make India more powerful than either.

I have a couple of comments on side-issues and some correspondence left to post, but that's enough for now.

Robinson 666

It was a tradition among certain people at oxford to write "666" beside the name of Nick Robinson whenever it appeared on a ballot slip. Now it appears that the same "Red Robbo" is running the BBC News official NEWSLOG...

Electoral politics

Interesting post by James Haney at his eponymous site, JamesReubenHaney.com, in which he postulates that part of the reason for Europe's democratic deficit is that the legislatures are elected every 4 or 5 years, rather than every 2 as is done here.

That may indeed be the case, and the reason for it is that Parliamentary systems tend to fuse the executive and legislative functions (which I've been complaining about since I began blogging). The Chartists included a demand for annual parliaments in The People's Charter (the only such demand that has not been met), but this was rejected, and continues to be rejected, because it doesn't give the Government time to do anything. Executive reforms (for good or ill) require time to implement and assess. Like it or not, as long as you elect the Executive in a Parliament you are going to have to have 4 year terms at least.

James is also quite right about local government. He quotes Simon Jenkins to great effect:

Simon Jenkins has suggested that all that is needed to improve policing in Britain is a one-sentence law: "The payment and terms of employment for police officers shall henceforth be determined by local councils." Or something like that. Police in England draw their paychecks and continue their employment at the sufferance of the central government. There is less direct incentive to be respectful of the feelings of local residents. (That's not to say that all cops ignore those feelings, of course. Richard Littlejohn routinely cites letters he receives from disillusioned police officers who are frustrated at being prevented from serving the public the way they think police officers ought to.)

Every senior police officer I've heard talk over here has commented how crucial the support of the local city management is to effective policing. Unfortunately, the UK has had more than its fair share of local authorities actively hostile to the very idea of policing. Hence the Thatcher destruction of local government. In some ways, I think she had to do it. It was Major's job, or should have been, to repair the damage. That he didn't was the greatest tragedy of his Ministry.

Finally, many local authorities in the UK do have more frequent elections. Many elect "by thirds" every year ie you have three councillors per ward and elect one third of the council annually for a three year term. It's a system that seems to work quite well.

At least it admits it's a weblog

I thought this was going to be an Anti-Corner, with Hugo Young, George Mobiot and the others doing an idiotarian weblog. It's not, it's just an updated collection of links to lefty concerns:the Guardian's Weblog.

Sovereign Rights

A great critique of the tendency to conflate England with Europe in Jim Bennett's latest column, Patriots and nationalists. Here's his summary of the difference in philosophy:

... Anglosphereans have always felt free to combine or separate their various political states as circumstances seemed to dictate for the best protection of their interests, whether combining Scotland and England to form the United Kingdom, separating the American colonies from the Crown, or reuniting those colonies into the United States.

The traditional Continental theory of the organic state assumes the opposite. A blood-and-soil theory of the state gives little room for individual choice; one is born into a nation and one belongs to it -- belonging in both the sense of membership and also of being owned. Adam Zamoyski's recent study of Continental European romantic nationalism, Holy Madness, gives one a good idea of just how different Continental nationalism is from the Anglosphere's conceptualization of it. Most of Mussolini is right there in Mazzini.

Oh, and "Vegemite Islamites"? I love it...

What does education mean exactly?

Educare -- to nurture i.e to propagate growth (sorry about the false etymology I posted earlier -- something nagged at me. In this case I fact-checked my own ass). Thanks to coursework-based assessment however (just see term papers reports on history) you can't do that any more. A friend of mine who teaches history at a university in Mexico City says that this is just all-pervasive now:

The thought has entered my mind more than once: why do I bother?

I set an essay for students. I get a closely worded, finely crafted essay in reply that the d*ck-head concerned could not possibly have written. I accuse him of plagerism. He denies it. I go to the fucking library and get the book that he nicked the work from. He still denies it. I suggest that we go and speak to the university administration. He owns up.

Sometimes the idiot will make it easy for me. Like the clown who wrote about "Texians." If one is going to steal from old books it might be a good idea to at least change some of the terminology. Then we had the little girl who stole her essay directly from the set text book. That was an easy bag as well.

Now I find that a company in the USA will sell you an essay at the very low price of $9.95 a page! They will even write you one to order at the very fair price of $19.95 a page - the bibliography is thrown in free! That has to be the deal of the century.

Am I alone in thinking that education is a good in itself and it is not the result that matters so much as the fact that you did the work yourself and can feel proud of it for that reason?

Quite right, and exam-based assessment exposes the plagiarists and the muddle-heads and the cheats. But boys perform better at exams than girls, so we can't do that any more. There has to be coursework, at which girls do better, but so do plagiarists, and cheating muddle-heads. Meanwhile, the money-men at prestigious universities demand A grades so that students get better jobs and can therefore direct more money back to the university in a genuine quid pro quo arrangement. The result is education has become commodified and we enter a vicious circle of dumbing-down. Feminists and plutocrats working together to destroy edcation. Isocrates would be so proud.

(This has been a quick hit because I was so incensed by this tpoic that I couldn't do anything else until I got this off my chest).

Sunday, February 03, 2002

Posting Update

I have had a busy weekend and have a busy day ahead tomorrow. I owe Steven Den Beste a response on American exceptionalism and also intend to comment on certain aspects of the Superbowl, but these may not be up until tomorrow evening or even Tuesday. In the meantime, check out the Sunday Telegraph's broadside against the Euro-weenies and Alisdair Palmer's excellent summary of why Briatin has such a high violent crime rate. See you soon.

Friday, February 01, 2002

Some good news

It seems that British affection for one of her greatest achievements is still a force to be reckoned with. Jury trial support 'rock solid' reports the Beeb. The poll results are good to read:

Of the 900 people polled, 81% said they thought trial by jury was fairer than being tried by a judge, 80% regard a jury system as capable of producing better justice, and 73% thought a jury would be more likely to reflect their views and values.

As I've said before, trial by jury is the single most important aspect of government, because it means that juries can render ineffective laws that are injurious to custom. That last sentence is very important

Those cows have come home

Theodore Dalrymple does a terrific job analysing the cultural sterility of British cities with special reference to the British muslims at Guantanamo Bay:

No attempt is ever made to explain the West’s overwhelming superiority (such that even life in Tipton seems materially abundant by comparison with that in the vast majority of the Muslim world), except by reference to injustice, exploitation and colonial depredation. That the phenomenal and unique inventiveness of the West might be connected in some way with its long philosophical and cultural development, going back to Ancient Greece, is a thought that is never for a moment entertained. In the mental world from which Asif and Shafiq emerged, the difference in the wealth of nations is the result of plunder, not invention and innovation, to be redressed by more effective plunder in the opposite direction. It goes without saying that very few if any attempts would have been made during Asif’s and Shafiq’s schooling to induct them into the glorious tradition of Western civilisation, for fear of offending their parents’ cultural sensibilities; though in all probability no more efforts in that direction would have been made on behalf of the white youth of Tipton, either. From the point of view of Western civilisation, they would be hardly any better informed than their Asian contemporaries. Both whites and Asians, therefore, enjoy the fruit without ever knowing the tree. They are like the East End boys of old, who thought that milk came in bottles because they had never seen or heard of cows.

Who is to blame? Why, the intellectuals, of course, who, if they are from the majority culture, can only succeed by demonstrating self-loathing. The result?

Those who claim to hate and despise themselves for good and sufficient reasons will very soon enough be taken at their word by others, in the most literal sense, particularly by those who believe themselves to be in possession of an all-embracing creed. Far from promoting reconciliation and tolerance, therefore, multiculturalism breeds contempt, hatred and violence, especially in places like Tipton, which do not represent the pinnacle of Western achievement. Every multiculturalist is a recruiting officer for al-Qa’eda.

There's an old word that seems appropriate here. Alas!


Private Eye, the British satirical magazine, presents every year its Bore of the Year awards (the Bofties). It sounds like film director Robert Altman should qualify this year. America's best film critic, James Bowman, gives us his review of Gosford Park here. It all sounds very tiresome.


Kidnapped reporter’s fate in question, reports NBC. There are suggestions that Daniel Pearl has been killed already. Notice this: an earlier e-mail

...said Pearl would be held in the same “inhuman” conditions as the Guantanamo prisoners.

The hysterical reporting by The Mirror, the BBC and the rest (so much more influential in the Middle East than American news sources) just may have contributed to the death of one of their own. Ils ne regrettes rien?

Day for disagreements

Hmmm. Victor Davis Hanson's latest on National Review Online is a great article, as The Prof has already mentioned. Unfortunately, I have a quibble with his last sentence:

Let us hope perhaps that we can return to the honesty and realism of classical 19th-century Western liberalism, which, for all its naiveté and self-centeredness, still did not cause a fraction of the carnage as did the utopian promises of our most murderous 20th century.

Nineteenth century liberalism was responsible for a good few disasters, not least the Irish Potato Famine (Lord John Russell refused to intervene, believing that the free market would sort everything out). Eighteenth century liberalism or Burkean conservativisim would be much better candidates in my book...

Some thoughts on liberty and fascism

I am part of a discussion group for ex-residents of a certain bar in Oxford that produces some very interesting arguments. Recently, one of the most intelligent left-wingers I've ever met responded to a quote from a libertarian alliance publication by saying that, essentially, libertarians are "a bunch of fascists" who simply allow the unrestrained might of companies to take the place of the unrestrained power of the state. He further defended his use of the word fascist by saying that it represents the untrammeled might of the strong over the weak. I responded in the following terms:

I've always been impressed by the seriousness with which Americans treat these concepts. Because of the debates that surrounded the founding of the USA, there is a much better apprehension of what liberty really means. To wit, methods by which overweaning power can be restrained. Thus the Constitution is about checks on all three branches of government by each other, the Bill of Rights is about checks on the Constitution itself and the subsequent amendments (with the exception of the idiotic 18th) are attempts to plug loopholes in, smooth processes of or widen the protections contained in the various documents.

The most portentous threat to freedom in any society comes from the Executive, especially if aided and abetted by the legislature and judiciary. When any of these branches become fused (eg the legislature and executive in the UK or the legislature and judiciary in Iran, to take two examples) then there is a threat to freedom. In the UK this has manifested itself in a determined assault by this government, following on in many cases from the previous one, on rights which protect the individual from the state. Freedom of speech (which the UK had more of than any European country), the right to arm in self defence, the right against unreasonable searches and seizures, the rights against double jeopardy and self-incrimination, the right to trial by jury in criminal and civil cases, the right against excessive fines, and the possession by the people of reserved rights have all been under threat or actually abolished, to take examples from the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Amendments to the US constitution. No doubt a Bill to allow the quartering of troops in peoples' homes is on the drawing board.

This seems to me to fit the definition of establishing a tyranny of one degree or another. It's not fascism we need be concerned about, which, as Tim says, is pretty crude in its methods. The English rule in the colonies might fit Tim's definition (if you believe Jefferson it certainly did) but other evidence suggests it doesn't. What it definitely was, however, is tyranny: the systematic deprivation of protection from arbitrary rule. I honestly believe that Blair and his cronies are, consciously or not, moving more and more towards such a position. Checks and balances should not be played with in such a fashion, however large your majority is.

Overweaning power in the economic sense is quite secondary to this as a danger. It's a simple fact of economics that market dominance is incredibly difficult to achieve or sustain. Regulation, so often supposed to help consumers, often merely creates entry barriers that help sustain the big companies in their dominance, propping up inefficient methods that eventually lead to an Enronian collapse. That's why big business loves Blair so much, because he's only too happy to help them out with new regs that keep the small businesses from growing (which is why the self-employed are the one demographic that's stayed with the Tories no matter what). Of course the consumer must be protected from the monopoly supplier, but time and time again experience has shown that measures that enable choice (such as getting rid of tarriffs) are the way to do that.

Cable television here, for instance, has meant fewer and fewer people watching the big sitcoms (with the result that, in an attempt to keep viewers, they've gone from being utterly crap to better than anything BBC1 puts on) or the hopelessly biased broadcast news, and more watching documentaries on the History Channel or Discovery. Having a 1 year old, I know that the Disney Channel puts on just as good stuff as PBS (in Rolie Polie Olie they have one of the great television programs of all time -- far better than Teletubbies) . Meanwhile the UK is stuck with a ludicrously monolithic state bureaucracy masquerading as a TV channel, collecting its revenues by tithe and then feeling it has to broadcast crap in order to justify the manifest injustice. Some people will always want to watch crap, but presumably they'd be willing to pay for it in the open market. Why on earth should we not allow that? If enough people watch Channel 4 for it to pay for itself, then there's enough of a market for highbrow stuff in the UK (especially when you add the BBC2 demographic) for quite a few specialized TV channels if HMG (and its partner Murdoch -- barriers again) would just allow widespread

Real liberals, therefore, are not nearly as concerned about economic tyranny as political tyranny because its just so much more difficult to achieve. There are natural checks and balances in the way markets work that mean that government distortion of the market, which won't happen unless we've got an authoritarian government, probably just makes things worse. Liberty breeds
liberty. Authority breeds tyranny.

That's why its been my observation left-leaning liberals don't worry so much about the tyranny of the market as the tyranny of customs. They regard certain customs as just as bad as tyrannical laws -- marriage, inheritance, education methods etc are all seen as oppressive social vehicles that must be undermined. The ridiculous thing about this approach is that quite often those vehicles are important props, without which the "freed" individual is left flopping around helplessly. Who comes in to sort out the problem? The
state, which had previously been kept out of these affairs by the restraining power of mos maiorum. We therefore have the position where the state is the de facto father of millions of children, to take one example. Individual autonomy suffers, not to mention the well-documented side effects. Here liberty has been misdiagnosed, as it were. This is the true divide between conservative libertarians and "liberal" libertarians. Nevertheless, not all customs are good; some are oppressive. I find it very interesting that Oliver Letwin and IDSI have both realized that the taboo against homosexuality is one of those (despite the fact that it is still very, very unpopular, whenever opinion polls dare to ask about it).

Moreover, I should add that all of this is very much an English-speaking world debate. Most of Europe has never really had habeas corpus, checks and balances and the rest, prefering instead the cameralist system and the god-awful civil code systems. The Jefferson-inspired attempt to introduce liberties into France came to naught, whatever the French say. That's why Europe has been a breeding ground for real, genuine, unarguable fascism, time and time again. It's as alien to English-speaking conservativism as it
is to English-speaking liberalism. We should not forget that fascism is intrinsically and inherently linked with the murder of well over 6 million people. When you call someone a fascist you are calling on a psychological reaction to that phenomenon, one that is wholly absent from Burkean conservativism, just as it is from Jeffersonianism. That is why I very much regret the use by anyone of the term in these arguments.

In short, I find libertarianism much less crude than [my correspndent's] characterization of it, and fascism much cruder.

Another disagreement

I hate disagreeing with Steven Den Beste. He makes some of the most interesting and thoughtful comments I have ever read. But he does have a bee in his bonnet about American exceptionalism that isn't borne out up the facts. He does it again in this entry, USS Clueless - The cracked mirror:

Some of them [people who left Europe for America] revolted against European domination and created a nation built on a different philosophy.

No they didn't! They created a nation based entirely on philosophies that had been conceived and nurtured in the UK. To whit:

The Constitution: Separation of powers was inherent in the English constitution. The King and Parliament had fought wars against each other in the relatively recent past. All they did was remove the hereditary principle. The judiciary had been de facto independent since at least Coke's time (and the president's nomination of judges is equivalent to the King's role as fount of justice). The experiment with judicial supremacy is certainly not one that the founders intended. Federalism was unique to America, but based on classical ideas that every educated man was familar with.

The Bill of Rights: Let's do this by individual right:

Disestablishment: Religious tolerance was the cause of the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution. The Church of England was maintained, but it certainly didn't force people into worshipping its way, hence the non-conformist tradition. If the Dukes of Norfolk could carry on being Catholic, anyone could. Let's also remember that until the XIVth amendment, individual states could set up Established Churches, and quite a few of them did...
Freedom of Speech and the Press: Initimately tied in with freedom of religion, Milton wrote eloquently on the subject in Areopagitica. It's not for nothing that Britain has the longest-running newspapers in the world.
Freedom of assembly: Not sure on this, but until recently most of the rights to demonstration in the UK were based on centuries old law.
Right of petition: An ancient English right. One of Blackstone's auxiliary rights.
RKBA: Enshrined in the Bill of Rights 1689. One of Blackstone's auxiliary rights.
IIIrd Amendement: Based on the American inheritance of an English distrust of standing armies resulting from Cromwellian abuses of power.
Search and seizures: Again in the Bill of Rights 1689, and many decades of jurisprudence about habeas corpus before that.
Vth, VIth and VIIth Amendments: Also derived from habeas corpus jurisprudence and ultimately from Magna Carta.
VIIIth Amendment: Lifted in its entirety from the Bill of Rights 1689.
IXth Amendment: The English concept of reserved rights is centuries old, and crucial to the argument against enumeration of rights that was lost only recently.
Xth Amendment: The people's essential sovereignty over the monarch had been proven by Magna Carta, the Glorious Revolution and the chopping off of a King's head, to name a few examples.

As Jim Bennett mentioned below, the Declaration of Independence was also regarded as standard constitutional theory. There was nothing startlingly original in the philosophy of the new nation.

Like it or not, America's very base is "European" -- insofaras England is part of Europe. Many Englishmen don't think it is, and the manner of its constitutional growth also sets it apart. To that extent, the United States are "an outgrowth of European culture spawned in the New World". However, as Jim has also argued, it is quite possible to say that Anglo-American culture is a distinct branch of Western Civilization, and so not a "European culture" at all. But that process didn't begin magically in 1776. It began in the 1600s, or, quite probably, some time before 1215, in "time immemorial." American culture is a lot older than we think.

A Role for Relativism

Once again I have to disagree with Diana West's column in the Wash Times. In The free and proud she waxes indignant about moral relativism, particularly in the case of the Nigerian woman who had been sentenced to death by stoning for presumed adultery. Aside from the fact that, as I understand this, the sentence has now been lifted, I find her argument about what constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" a bit silly. She has this to say about a Nigerian law school dean:

Sitting beneath a copy of the U.N. charter taped to the wall, Mr. Sa'id replied, "You have to decide what amounts to cruelty and take into account the religious background. What yardstick are you using? You have to know if the people who use this law see it as cruel and inhuman."

That's the correct answer — politically correct answer, anyway — for a value-free, non-judgmental world. Are we there yet? Not quite. We still have a yardstick of our own, despite those who try to slide it from our grasp with a slippery relativism that teaches that no culture is better than another.

My answer to this is "gibbets". When the authors of the Bill of Rights 1689 included a provision against cruel and unusual punishment in the Bill they did not regard gibbeting -- the public display of an executed criminal -- as cruel or unusual. It would certainly be regarded as such today (and, as is evident from the link, it was regarded as such here by 1780). Similarly, much of the rest of the world regards the death penalty as cruel, despite America's views on the subject.

Moral relativism does have a role to play -- it is for each culture to decide what is best for itself within its own borders so long as this is within reason. We in the anglosphere have long ago decided that amputation is cruel and unusual. Islam regards it as essential for the cultural reasons. Now I happen to regard the imposition of Sharia law in Nigeria as deeply offensive, but the Nigerians prefer it to civil war. We should be working with the Nigerians to try to persuade the North of the country that a unified system of common law is best for the country as a whole, but that will take time.

In any event, standards of decency do evolve, but it is for each jurisdiction to decide what that decency is. To argue otherwise is to argue against America's use of the death penalty, which I am sure is not what Diana West intended.

German German Overalls

First, apologies for the lack of posts yesterday. I haven't been able to shake off whatever infection it was that laid me low a few weeks back, but finally got some powerful antibiotics (no, not Cipro) from the Doctor today.

Anyway, very interesting article on Germany in yesterday's Wash Times by a German US-based correspondent, no less. He makes some nice points about Germany's self-regard:

Since unification in 1990, Germany was occupied mainly with itself. And if it looked abroad, especially to the United States, it got the conviction that its society has become superior. A biased German press fueled this notion of superiority over the American society by pointing to Germany's lower crime rate, far fewer inmates, much smaller income gaps, far better health care and social system, and nearly no poverty.

Along with this criticism of the United States emerged an unwillingness to recognize the weakness within Germany's own system. Germans like to emphasize, for example, great disgust about the gun laws in the United States. Who of them would imagine that the annual death toll in Germany, caused by ruthless high-speed drivers, is per capita higher than the number of people killed by guns in the United States? But no one blames the German "gun lobby," the car industry, for barbarian habits.

Germans are also convinced that their public school system is one of the best in the world, at least better than America's. A recent international study, however, brought the bitter truth to the light: The education and knowledge of Germany's students and teachers is one of the lowest in comparison with other industrialized countries, far behind the United States. Maybe this is one of the unrecognized reasons for the persistently high unemployment rate of 10 percent in Germany.

Self-delusion is common in Europe. The notion that the NHS is "the envy of the world" or that the British violent crime rate is much lower than America's are two particularly British complaints. And need I mention France?

"Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye" Matthew, 7.3.

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Blinding Justice

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

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

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

Trials and Tribulations

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

The Anglosphere's Problems

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

Food fight

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Drugs trade -- monkey business?

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

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

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


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

French and Anglospheric approaches to liberty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delusions of grandeur

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

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

Next step: deification.

Words fail me

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

Enron: wot's it all about, then?

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

Camp X-Ray of the War on Drugs

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

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

Another step towards tyranny

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

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

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

Another fallacious argument

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

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

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

The National Interest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 28, 2002

Honi soit qui mal y pense

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

Friday, January 25, 2002

Oh! Wherefore came ye forth...

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

Power corrupts, etc etc

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

Site enhancements

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

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

Warren the Song Fellow

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

Logical fallacies abound!

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

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

Another logical fallacy

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

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

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

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

Stop the Rainforest!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Death

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

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

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

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

Lomberg -- Gay, Green, Nazi?

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

Thursday, January 24, 2002

Number nonsense

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

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

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

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

Worth a read

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

Lies, lies, lies

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

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

Fear the reaper

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

Derivative of what?

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Sad Day

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

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

How exactly?

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

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

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

The trouble with data

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

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

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

Property rights to be abolished

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

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

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

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

Plain speaking from the Lodge

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

Pundits on the Rack

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

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

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


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

How's this for an abuse of power?

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

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

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

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

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

Hideously unscientific but...

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

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

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

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

Cue damp squib sound effects...

Here we go...

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

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Hitch-worship hits a hitch?

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

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

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

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

Making a Difference

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

Elite Bleat

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Francosphere and its Evils

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

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

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

Resolution vs Magnanimity

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

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

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

The Times finishes with an important point:

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

Excellent stuff.

Offensive View of Weapons

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 21, 2002

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

Fungi from Yuggoth

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


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

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

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

We Happy Few

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

PS Quick mid 80s Oxford lingo guide

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

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

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

Saturday, January 19, 2002

I have seen the future and it doesn't Talk

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

Friday, January 18, 2002

Murray the MOSSAD Man

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

Sand Flies in the Ointment

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

Bowman's Ring

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

Holy Elections, Batman!

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

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

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

He loves Big Brother

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

Why He is a Conservative

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

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

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

Transports of Fright

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

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

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

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

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

Odd Odes

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

Thursday, January 17, 2002

The Illiberal Liberals

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

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

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