England's Sword 2.0

Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Slowly getting back to normal

In a spare few minutes before a meeting starts, I've been able to play around with the BBC's interactive Budget Ready Reckoner, which allows you to play around with the British economy by taking the decisions the Chancellor will have to tomorrow.

I think this will take you to what cold-hearted, mean-spirited Murray would do:

Or if that (the longest URL I've ever seen) won't work, you could just feed this in:

basic rate of income tax (percent) : 10
higher rate of income tax (percent) : 25
higher rate threshold (£pa) : £40,000
personal allowance (£pa) : £6,000
national insurance contribution (NI) rate (%) : 5
NI upper earnings limit (£p.w) : £450
Value Added Tax : 5
duty on tobacco per pkt 20 (pence per pkt 20) : cut by £1
duty on a pint of beer (pence) : abolish it!
extra duty on a bottle of wine : abolish it!
extra duty on a bottle of whisky (pence) : abolish it!
extra duty on petrol per litre(pence) : abolish it!
vehicle excise duty (£p.a) for cars above 1,400cc : £50
department for education and employment (DFEE) : halve it
law and order (the Home Office) : increase by 25%
the ministry of defence : cut by 10%
uprate all non means-tested benefits by this amount : halve it
basic state pension : £100
(no change where not mentioned)

Results: massive boom in the next few years (the GDP increase graph is of course misleading as I'd end up with an absolute increase in GDP from 100 now to 154.5, compared with the forecasts of 121.6). There'd be a deflation shock, followed by high inflation. There's something badly wrong with the model, however, 'cos I get negative unemployment after 2004 (massive immigration could be the answer). Perhaps the US Census Bureau put this together? Government debt is almost eliminated by 2009. Oh, and everyone, yes everyone, except the pensioner couple is better off. I'm sure policies could be adjusted to provide a safe haven for pensioners.

Still, if we could solve that inflation problem and the unemployment glitch, it doesn't look like a bad solution, does it?

Interestingly, I've just plugged in tax hikes and spending increases and get almost the same macroeconomic results, but everyone is much worse off...

Monday, April 15, 2002

Back in the Saddle

Back, but busy, unsurprisingly. I hope I'll be able to give you a full update on my thoughts on my trip later.

That Dodge can hold his beer, though...

Friday, April 05, 2002

Over and Out

Well, this is probably my last post for well over a week. I'm going to the UK tomorrow to attend the Politico's fifth anniversary bash with Mrs Thatcher and Iain Dale presiding. I hope to see a few of the names that appear on these pages regularly and, if I can't post during my travels, I shall endeavor to give you a full report when I return. I shall be in London for the Queen Mum's funeral, so that will be interesting...

See you on the 14th or thereabouts.

Nostalgia Trip

I Am A: Lawful Good Elf Ranger Bard

Lawful Good characters are the epitome of all that is just and good. They believe in order and governments that work for the benefit of all, and generally do not mind doing direct work to further their beliefs.

Elves are the eldest of all races, although they are generally a bit smaller than humans. They are generally well-cultured, artistic, easy-going, and because of their long lives, unconcerned with day-to-day activities that other races frequently concern themselves with. Elves are, effectively, immortal, although they can be killed. After a thousand years or so, they simply pass on to the next plane of existance.

Primary Class:
Rangers are the defenders of nature and the elements. They are in tune with the Earth, and work to keep it safe and healthy.

Secondary Class:
Bards are the entertainers. They sing, dance, and play instruments to make other people happy, and, frequently, make money. They also tend to dabble in magic a bit.

Mielikki is the Neutral Good goddess of the forest and autumn. She is also known as the Lady of the Forest, and is the Patron of Rangers. Her followers are devoted to nature, and believe in the positive and outreaching elements of it. They use light armor, and a variety of weapons suitable for hunting, which they are quite skilled at. Mielikki's symbol is a unicorn head.

Find out What D&D Character Are You?, courtesy ofNeppyMan

I quite liked TV Nation...

And he did do that wonderful "Jeffrey Dahmer's neignbors" investigation, but sadly, Michael Moore deserves much of the criticism he's come in for. As does the BBC. Take a look at this fawning Newsnight Review of Stupid White Men, and then compare Spinsanity's review. Mark Lawson seems to be the token man of sense on the Beeb panel:

What frightened me was when he got to his explanation of what was going on in Ireland - that was so prejudiced and glib, but it affects the way you think about the rest. You think "Is he as wrong about America?"

From what I've seen, yes.

Vive l'Anglosphere?

Zut alors! Voyez ici au Daily Telegraph -- Comme tout Le Monde. Comme l'Anglais dit, "Blimey!"

(Apologies for the Franglais)


According to the Independent, the Egyptian government paid for a Red Sea resort holiday for Tony Blair and his family. Well, at least it wasn't the British taxpayer...

Constitutional Debate Crisis

It is worrying when a long-time conservative MP can get so confused over constitutional issues as Michael Brown is in this Independent column. I have a lot of respect for Michael Brown -- his columns alone make the paper readable at times -- but this particular article says a lot about the state of constitutional debate in the UK.

Because it's not the monarchy per se that is the source of Mr Brown's complaints, it is the very issue of separation of powers. As I've argued before, binding the King into Parliament was a very effective settlement in 1688. But the fusion of the King's executive function with the Parliamentary majority that occured in the 19th century upset that delicate balance. Mr Brown makes it clear about half way through his piece that the florid language surrounding the relationship of Parliament and Monarch is not the issue, it's the exercise of royal prerogative by the Prime Minister.

I think this is a good point, and it's one Tony Benn make regularly. However, again, there is confusion. Subsuming the executive function completely to Parliament is as much a breach of the principle of separated powers as was the blatant disregard of Parliament by monarchs in the past. Executives often need a great deal of latitude to act effectively in the nation's best interest. They should be accountable, yes, but not responsible to the legislature.

How then can Britain achieve this? Abolishing the monarchy is a red herring. Instead, what needs to be done, I think, is to extract the executive function from its fusion with Parliament. The best way of doing this is by directly electing the Prime Minister. That gives him or her democratic respectability and, at a stroke, frees Parliament from its subservience to the Government of the Day. It can therefore go back to its proper job of legislating in the nation's rather than the government's interest. It would retain financial control over the Government, and I think should be able to call Ministers to the bar of the House to answer questions on their performance, so retaining the accountability that is so important in our system but which is too often a sham.

Meanwhile, the various powers of the Royal Prerogative need to be looked at again. Which are appropriate for Parliament and which for the Prime Minister acting, theoretically, on the Monarch's behalf? I think war is best declared by legislatures, although the actual declaration of war has been superseded by various UN arrangements. The arguments against regularizing Parliamentary terms fall if the Executive is separated, so that can be set on a Statutory footing and the need for a dissolution prerogative disappears. Sign treaties should become a King-in-Parliament power ie the PM signs them but Parliament ratifies them. Creating Peers could be taken away from the Executive and given to an independent Honours function under someone like the Lord Chamberlain. Same with the Church of England appointments. Patronage regarding the Cabinet and Ministers should remain with the Prime Minister. I don't think Parliament should have an "advise and consent" role in this process (although there should be a resurrection of impeachment powers). The judiciary should become truly independent with the Lord Chancellor a separate officer of the Crown from the PM as I argued here.

Just a few thoughts. This could all be guaranteed by a new Declaration of Right, a contract between the Monarch and the People. The oath of loyalty deemed inappropriate by Michael Brown could be refined to declare loyalty to the Crown and People as defined by this new charter.

Incidentally, the Constitution of the US requires that the President of the US swears an oath to protect and defend the Constitution before he takes office. If a Nazi was elected President who had promised to abolish Congress and rule by decree, does Mr Brown think that it would be wrong for him to be required to swear that oath? The general principle of government is that you work within the existing structure until you have done what is necessary to change that structure legitimately. Sinn Fein MPS should swear loyalty to the Queen, then work within Parliament to get the oath changed, at which point they can take the new oath. The Nazi would have to get people in Congress who agreed with him and then persuade the States. Legitimate government requires all who engage in it to play by the rules of the game.

In the end, what Mr Brown is talking about is checks and balances. And the UK needs more of them, not fewer.

Thursday, April 04, 2002

Mail Force

Paul the Postman asked me what I thought about the privatization of the Royal Mail. I can answer that pretty easily: I'm against it, just as I would be against the privatization of the Queen's highways. However, I firmly believe in the liberalization of the postal market. Competitors should be able to offer services in direct competition to the Royal Mail. If the Royal Mail is unable to survive in such circumstances, then it should be reduced to simply guaranteeing the delivery of official mail (which I think is still a necessary state function).

I don't see why this should happen. If FedEx can run a successful letter delivery business, then so should the Royal Mail. It would need to have the right employment conditions to recruit the people it needs and the right systems to ensure most efficient delivery. I happen to think that with a few reforms the Royal Mail could blow away the package-handling competitors in the letter delivery business. They've got the basic infrastructure in place already. That's a huge advantage in this sort of business.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the mail business, as far as I am aware, that makes it a sinkhole for taxpayers' money. Up to a few years ago, it was profitable, with an External Financing Contribution going back into the public purse (as opposed to London Underground's External Financing Limit of subsidy). Get rid of the silly ideas like renaming it or reducing service in rural areas and stick to the knitting -- it's a letter delivery service -- and I'm sure the Royal Mail will ensure that the executive responsibility of ensuring the safe delivery of post will be carried out.

What? The Post Office? That's for a later date.

Collapse of Britain Watch

Theodore Dalrymple's article in the new Spectator covers the same ground I went over yesterday. It is stylish, entertaining and depressing, but I find it trying to say two things, one of which I disagree with profoundly.

[The Queen Mother] lived to see the day when the word British was practically an accusation in itself, or a term of abuse, a guarantee of poor quality at best and a synonym for the coarsest and cheapest vulgarity at worst. The British were never universally loved — nor were they universally lovable — but they were once acknowledged to have qualities as well as defects, and great accomplishments as well as faults. Their country, for all its shortcomings, had charms as well; but by the time of her death it had none, having become a theme park for social pathology and psychopathy. The British had become universally — and rightly — despised and detested for their boorishness and self-righteous, indeed evangelical, vulgarity. The football hooligan had completely replaced the gentleman as the archetypical Englishman.

The collapse in cultural confidence — that there was in British culture anything worth preserving — was no doubt the consequence of the collapse of power.

What collapse of power would that be exactly? Dalrymple says "she saw her country descend from the first to the second or even third rank of powers," but that is simply untrue, unless one concedes that the first rank is America and America alone. To that extent, however, I'm willing to borrow terminology from British football and call America the Premier Division. But just who else is above the UK? And on what terms? I'd say that power is a combination of military and economic capability. Russia supposedly has more military capability than the UK, but most of its fleet is rusting and the air-ground forces would find it hard to sustain any offensive (look at Chechnya). Russia's economy would collapse, I am pretty certain, in the event of any sustained military effort that was not necessary for the survival of the nation. China has a large military, but its logistical element is poor. I don't think they could invade Taiwan even if they wanted to. Both countries' economies are tiny compared with the UK's. Germany and Japan have larger economies, although Germany's is tanking and Japan's is currently stagnant (although I think it will take off again), but their military capabilities are constrained by constitution and mindset. France is really Britain's only competitor for the role of second most powerful nation in the world, and we've got them beat on both military and economic measures at the moment. Add in the considerable influence Britain possesses beyond her borders for historical reasons and you have a country that may not be a super-heavyweight, but at least a cruiserweight, and one that is able, like Holyfield, to compete effectively even in a weight class above.

So I do not think the cultural collapse Dalrymple describes can be wholly accredited to a collapse in international power. Some, no doubt, stems from relegation from the Premier Division. But the rest is purely a cultural artifice. We did not become bad mannered because there's no Governor-General in Bulawayo any more. We became bad mannered because no-one teaches anyone that impoliteness is unacceptable any more. Teaching still happens, and people still learn things, but they are taught different things, things that are a direct root cause of the unpleasant society Dalrymple decides.

Britain has become a society dominated by one golden rule: do not judge other people, for who are you to say what is wrong. And yet we know instinctively that certain things are wrong. The vandalism of a paediatrician's office because someone confused the word with paedophile is an example. The British people is prepared to accept certain moral absolutes. The battle, therefore, has not yet been lost. As I say below, it will be impossible to turn back the clock and reconstruct what Britain might have been like if 60s relativism had never taken hold, but it may be possible to construct a new Britain based on ancient principles.

It may also be that that new construct comes about because of an historic reconciliation of British right and left. If Private Eye (referenced here by Emmanuel Goldstein) can reveal that arch-socialist but champion of Parliament Tony Benn has had to deny the possibility that he might join IDS's Conservative Party, then anything is possible.


Steven den Beste helpfully points to a story that shows that, in Sweden, Technogeekism is a felony. All my life I've heard Sweden described as "liberal". The only explanation for this I can think of is that they produce a lot of pornography. There is no other way in which I would describe that country as liberal. Their alcohol laws are incredibly restrictive, despite the taste the Swedes have for the stuff, and the government tries to run everything.

People often accuse Anglosphere conservatives of being obsessed with sex. To an extent, this is true, but I wonder whether or not it is actually the continental "liberals" who are obsessed with sex. If liberalism is defined only by an attitude towards what is done and where with genitalia, then the level of discourse is pretty thin. Here's a suggestion: let's ignore attitudes to sex when we talk about liberties, and then let's see how liberal the various political philosophies of the West are.

I think I know what the result would be.

The Hunley Resurfaces

I wonder what they'll do if this gets passed? Check out Kentucky state's HR256. Having said that, surely an ironclad ram would be more traditional, and therefore right.

Wednesday, April 03, 2002

One too many?

The Vodkapundit has fallen off his bar stool, it seems. For those of you who are wondering where he is, he lets us know the scoreat Bill Quick's DailyPundit comments site. Hope to see you back up soon, Stephen. The DTs will overwhelm us without a shot of your spirit.

Euseful Source

An indomitable lady named Christina Speight runs a newsletter of information about the EU called Facts Figures and Phantasies, which is now available on line. Some interesting tidbits in the new edition such as Britain's latest trade figures:

USA by far biggest export market taking 20% of all exports more than Germany (10%) and France (8%) combined. Also no: 1 for goods and invisibles. (Exports to USA/Canada 22%)

Trade with USA in surplus (£10.8bn) but in deficit with EU (-£1.61bn) . The EU deficit is despite the 2nd largest surplus being with Ireland at £4.1bn. (Surplus with USA/Canada/Mexico £12.6bn)

All sorts of other interesting stuff in there.

Update: My Hotflash piece on Instant Runoff Voting is now here.

The State of the Realm

One of my periodic generalizations on the collapse of Britain. A correspondent wrote to me to ask:

I admit off the top I am a big Anglophile, but, what is happening over there? It seems that England is at a crossroads of some kind and trying to find out what it is. I read you post about the BBC's coverage of the Queen Mum's death and Janet's Daly's expansion on that and I agree. England was about, for better or worse, timeless institutions that provided stability in peoples psyche. When you said "England" a certain picture came to mind. Now it just seems the whole thing is out of control with nothing to cling to in a storm by way of bedrock institutions.

I replied thusly:

Ah, a sad question. The central problem is that some time in the 80s the educational establishment decided that teaching history before WWII, unless it centred on how wretched and oppressive life was, was a bad thing. A whole generation has therefore grown up ignorant of the history around them and what it all means. They see the Speaker's mace and have no idea of what it symbolises. They see an old man in a wig telling them what they can and cannot do in court and resent it. They see statues and castles and civic buildings and it never even occurs to them to ask about them. This coincided, disastrously, with the march into irrelevance of the Church of England, resulting in exactly the same process happening with our spiritual dimension.

We therefore have an England adrift. The only sense of traditional pride attaches to the progress of the national soccer team (the cricket team now finds it hard to compete with New Zealand, thinks to the Thatcher government mandating a selling off of school playing fields to finance other educational needs). The English find it hard to identify with anything else about their history because they are profoundly ignorant of it, which leads to a thirst among some for popularised TV history programs that seem to fill this gap. Similarly, they search for spiritual fulfillment in a concotion of half-remembered legends of Christianity and a variety of new age or pagan elements.

It is my belief that only by seizing back the educational establishment from the enemies of history can we ever seek to restore what has been lost. But what will rise in its place can never be the same thing as we lost. Instead we shall have to hope that building up from the same principles our ancestors built their society on we can come up with something that is a worthy heir.

For more on this subject, I recommend Peter Hitchens' "The Abolition of Britain" (available in the US via Amazon), Roger Scruton's "England: an Elegy" and John Redwood MP's "The Death of Britain". All of these are overwrought in some ways, but the central message of what has gome wrong is for the most part right, in my opinion. What we need to do about it is another matter.

Beeb Scizophrenia

In cae you were wondering why I made the remark about the Beeb's coverage of the Queen Mum's death, here's how The Times sums it up:

The death of the Queen Mother was not a news event and should not have been treated as one. It was nothing like that of the Princess of Wales, which happened unexpectedly, prematurely and under extraordinary circumstances. There was nothing to be gained, and much to be lost, by questioning witnesses about the exact details of the Queen Mother’s death. Discussions of the implications for the monarchy were tastelessly premature. Along with changing his tie, Mr Sissons should have taken off his reporter’s hat and replaced it with that of an obituarist. What was called for on Saturday was a celebration of the Queen Mother’s long life and its contribution to British history, not intrusive questions about the moment of her death or speculation about the future for her descendants.

The Beeb justifies its funding by claiming to be a public service broadcaster. too often it forgets to act like one when needed.

A Plea for Deference?

Janet Daley is back to top form, it seems. She takes the example of the BBC's schizophrenic coverage of the Queen Mother's death to make a wider point about British society in general:

The trouble with the BBC is the trouble with the country at large. The BBC no longer knows how to relate to our own national institutions because most of us (or, at least those educated after about 1965) no longer do. It no longer comprehends what role it should play in public discourse, or in mediating between constitutional forces, because the nation no longer has any clear idea of what its attitude should be to those fixtures of national life. This disorientation is not only a historical quirk: it has been quite deliberately and systematically fostered by the New Politics.

The end of communism and the discrediting of Marxist ideology meant that Left-liberal reformers had to find a different way to be radical: the economic argument had been lost. Not only had the Soviet experiment collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions, but even the weaker forms of command economy were coming into disrepute. ...

Instead of pinning their idealism on the state ownership of the means of production, and the forcible seizure of wealth from the plutocratic class, they would transform social relations. So all that had once been respected, all that was traditionally revered, all the historical baggage that inhibited people's "natural" freedom would be tested to destruction. Teachers would no longer be seen as founts of authoritative knowledge. Policemen would no longer act as enforcers of order. All members of the governing class would be assumed to be self-serving liars.

This last aspect of the cultural revolution now appears to be unstoppable, to Labour's startled discomfiture. You can hear the hurt surprise in the voices of ministers when they discover that the antagonism that they happily encouraged as part of their Maoist cleansing in opposition cannot (like Hal the computer in 2001 - A Space Odyssey) be stood down.

In a way that I doubt that its executives intend, the BBC is truly reflecting the national mood: one of confusion, an almost pathological disrespect for all established authority, and a corrosive cynicism not only about the governing class, but also about all democratic endeavour. This is more than a historical identity crisis: it is a breakdown of belief in the values of public life and the possibility of civic solutions.

Quite right. You cannot have a true civil society without a due amount of respect and deference. The British were traditionally proud to be stroppy and suspicious of authority, but as long as authority knew its limits it was granted a deference that allowed it to do its job. If anything, this was the British social contract. Curiously, the assault on deference coincided with an increase in abuse of authority (as regular readers know, I consider a lot of what Mrs Thatcher did to be constitutional vandalism). Was there a causal effect? Probably -- I doubt Mrs T would have destroyed local government if local government had not ceased to respect the traditional division of powers.

In short, a truly restrained government (or other source of authority) needs to be respected, and indeed deserves respect. Teachers who do not promote political causes but who teach facts and critical thinking should be listened to and learned from. Policemen who patrol in order to deter crime before it happens should be obeyed when they tell children to clear off. A government that makes little law, but which considers it carefully and debates it fully, taking into account all the costs it will impose before passing it deserves to have the law respected. That sort of framework seems to me to be essential to avoid a collapse into tyranny.

Voltaire and Madison, look away now

The EU has finally come up with its proposals for making "xenophobia" a criminal offense. The Telegraph takes down this idea in its leader today, Liberty to think ill:

The draft proposals define racism and xenophobia as feelings of hostility to individuals based on their "race, colour, descent, religion or belief, national or ethnic origin". If they are put into effect, the police will be able to send anybody suspected of these offences for trial anywhere in the EU, without having to go through the current extradition procedures.

Apart from being a blatant attack on the British citizen's freedom of speech and thought, the proposals contain an obvious absurdity. If it is to be an offence to disapprove of an individual because of his beliefs, then it must surely be an offence to disapprove of him for believing in racism or xenophobia.

The officials who drafted these proposals would make criminals of themselves, by the very act of proposing to imprison others for their beliefs. This is not merely a smart-aleck point. It goes to the heart of a fundamental question of liberty: who decides which beliefs should be lawful, and which should not?

Someone should send these idiots in Brussels a copy of the Bill of Rights...

Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Hunting tigers out in India

Suman Palit has an excellent potted history of India and how it leads to the current crisis (just as important as the one in Israel, if you as me). My one quibble is with his glossing over the different nature of British rule in India before the Empire was declared. Warren Hastings and Cornwallis (yes, that Cornwallis) were much more, well, libertarian in their governance than their successors. The Mutiny put paid to that, however. Anyway, do take a look.

More Falklands thoughts

Disturbing analysis by Sir John Keegan on the degradation of Britain's naval and air force capability since the Falklands. The army's managed to stay in shape, but the lack of capability in the other services is worrying.

Keegan finishes with the thought that a few more Argie bombs going off could have sunk us (literally). Interesting, a reader has this to contribute:

While the State Departments role in the Falklands was deplorable, I think on the whole the UK got US support where it counted. Probably the best example were the AIM-9L Sidewinders that were rushed to UK units tasked for the Falklands mission. They were crucial to the defense of the fleet as the only fighter the UK had, the Harrier, was not designed for the interceptor role. Unlike the older tail-chaser Sidewinders that were in the UK and Argentine inventories at the time, the AIM-9L allowed all-aspect kills.
Without this Sidewinder, fewer Argentine attacks would have been successfully intercepted and more fleet ships would have been at risk. The loss of a few more would have ended the mission to retake the islands. I don't remember the approval process for getting the missiles shipped, I was 12 at the time, but I assume it had to get approval from the Pentagon, State, and President.

I'd have thought only the Pentagon would have been involved in such a decision (and that would fit my theory), but I'd be grateful for confirmation. Thanks for the input, though.

Erm, excuse me...

From Kesher Talk, comes this interesting tidbit:

Al Qaeda, Taliban run to Iraq: The Christian Science Monitor is reporting today that "many Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters... are simply joining a budding conflict nearby, in Iraq, local security officials warn. Ansar al-Islam, a Kurdish Islamic extremist group that has shaken Northern Iraq with bloody episodes of killing over the past 14 months, is being bolstered by the American rout of Osama bin Laden's diehards at Shah-e Kot, Afghanistan. ... While Ansar is gaining strength in numbers, new information is emerging that ties the organization to both Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network and to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The Al Qaeda contacts allegedly stretch back to 1989, and include regular recruiting visits by bin Laden cadres to Kurdish refugee camps in Iran and to northern Iraq, as well as a journey by senior Ansar leaders to meet Al Qaeda chiefs in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the summer of 2000."

Odd. I thought that part of the Harris/Casey/Clark/BBC/sophisticated European argument was that the Iraqis hate the fundamentalists and vice versa so that they could never be thought of as an axis. The response will be, of course, to ignore the historical evidence and say that America has driven them together and if we'd just left them alone and given them pots of money they would never be a threat to anyone (cue drag on cigarette and brush of tab ash off the black polo neck).


[NBG stands for "no bloody good," in case you were wondering. I have a commentary on the wonderful-sounding "Instant Runoff Voting," known to Brits as PR (proportional representation) or, more accurately AV (alternative vote), at The American Enterprise Magazine Hotflash site today. I'll add the permalink tomorrow, but it's called "Instant Run-off a Vote for Inequity" if you're looking for it from here.

History, my dear boy

I hate to have to say 'Tunku Varadarajan is wrong,' but I find myself doing it again. His opinion that HM the Queen should abdicate is plain silly. The monarcy is in a position almost directly comparable to its position in the 1870s and thereabouts. A Queen who is viewed as out-of-touch, a Prime Minister who couldn't care less about the monarchy and a Prince of Wales who at times looks distnctly unsuitable for the office and discontented in his current position. Nevertheless, the monarchy survived, strengthened. HM does not need to change jobs to replace her mother as the nation's favourite grandmother. She will take over that job naturally. Meanwhile, as Diana's memory continues to fade, her son will continue to grow in public estimation. His tribute to his grandmother seems to have gone over very well. And Blair is no Gladstone. If the monarchy grows in popularity, as I think it will, he will attach himself to its aura somehow. Victoria died beloved. A few decades earlier "Rule Britannia" had threatened to replace "God Save the Queen" as the national anthem. I think history will once more repeat itself.


I had assumed that Junius was a reference to the Lucius Junius Brutus who overthrew Tarquin the Proud and established the Roman Republic. In a way it is, but Chris e-mails me to say that the immediate reference is to the radical whig pamphleteer who wrote under that pseudonym. He sound like someone we could do with more of today:

He understood the plain-going whig doctrine he preached, and expounded it, on occasion, with matchless clearness. What could be better as a statement than the sentences in the dedication of the collected letters which point out that the liberty of the press is the guarantee of political freedom and emphasise the responsibility of parliament? And the same strong common-sense marks an apophthegm like that on the duke of Grafton— Injuries may be atoned for and forgiven; but insults admit of no compensation. They degrade the mind in its own esteem, and force it to recover its level by revenge.

Vive la France!?!

Very interesting comment over at Chris Bertram's Junius. It appears that it was Mitterand's strong belief in the Atlantic alliance that convinced him to back Mrs T so strongly during the Falklands conflict. In addition, it seems to add to my theory that Foreign offices all over the world are havens of idiotarianism, as he did so against the advice of his own foreign minister.

Incidentally, it is very nice to see a well-argued traditional socialist web log. Chris seems to come from the school that produced the Workers' Educational Association and Ruskin College rather than the paternalist indulgence that has superseded them in too much of "progressive" thought. More power to his elbow!

Two points in one

Michael Gove excels even his high standards in this incisive piece. He also underlines my point that the moral equivocation of Haig and Kirkpatrick in '82 was deeply wrong:

Whether it is the Mitchell plan, the Tenet plan or the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah’s Arab League-sponsored plan, there is a quack’s cabinet of patent salves always on offer to apply to the Middle East’s agony. But all such treatments, like the snake oil peddled by Al Haig in 1982 and the “clean” dismemberment which Chamberlain and Daladier administered to Czechoslovkia in 1938, can only cause the infection to take yet more virulent hold. For each of these “peace plans” rewards terror by ratifying the gains secured by violence and reinforcing the message that the West is too weak to resist aggression.

If Haig and his like had been able to pressure Britain to make peace with the fascists for Cold War "realpolitik" reasons, then perhaps President Reagan would not have been able to make his "tear down this wall" speech. Michael is right that the Flaklands action demonstrated to all that the West would stand up for its values. This remains a huge black mark on Reagan's record, in my book.

But more to the point, check out this paragraph:

Terrorists care only about winning. To defeat terror one must prove that it will not secure political gains. Israel needs a government that can grasp that logic properly, which will tighten its security policy accordingly, explain fluently to the West that its struggle is democracy’s struggle, point out that there can be no peace in the Middle East while the regimes which sponsor terror survive, and then refuse to engage with peace plans until terrorist violence has ceased. The Israeli politician who best understands this is Binyamin Netanyahu.

Sharon is a wimp! Draft Netanyahu! I really never thought I'd see that argument advanced by such an influential columnist. Well said, Michael. Now let's see the Washington Post follow the Times' lead...

Rich and Poor

The Worldwatch Institute has this to say on "the growing gap between rich and poor" in its comments on the Johannesburg summit on sustainable development:

What the world learned: The World Bank and other international entities embraced a definition of poverty that looks beyond lack of income to include other essentials for human well-being, especially health and education. But the income measure of poverty is still relevant, and sobering: 2.8 billion people live on less than 2 dollars per day.

What goals were set: World leaders committed themselves to reducing poverty, and the extreme disparities between the rich and poor. In 1998, a joint report by the OECD, United Nations, International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank pledged to cut income poverty by half by 2015, and to reduce child and maternal mortality, among other goals.

What happened: The share of the world's people living on a dollar or less per day fell from 29 percent in 1990 to 24 percent in 1998. Still, 1.2 billion remain under this threshold. Mortality of children under 5 fell from 86 deaths per 1000 children in 1990 to 78 deaths in 1999. Inequality remained the glaring norm: the richest billion receive 78% of world income. Child mortality was more than 19 times greater in low-income than in wealthy countries in 1999.

Interesting, then, that the National Journal should reveal, in its annual survey of the salaries of top nonprofit executives, that Lester Brown, erstwhile President of the Worldwatch institute, should have received $586,914 compensation out of total Institute revenues of $4 million, according to their last report to the IRS.

PETA, on the other hand, may be a bunch of loonies, but they're principled loonies. Ingrid Newkirk, their President, received only $25,962 in compensation last year.

Monday, April 01, 2002

Best of the Best

Stunningly good Best of the Web Today from the WSJ today. For balance's sake, this should be read out loud at the end of today's BBC news broadcasts. The news that British generals are mobilizing for September should, however, be read in conjunction with the disappointing news that Tony Blair has delayed publication of HMG's dossier on Iraq.

As Tom Roberts and other have eloquently answered all the questions I raised on this subject, I find it hard to believe that the MOD can't do so as well, unless the FCO have stuck their oar in. I think rather the delay is more likely to do with the recognition that, until the Queen Mother is laid to rest, the news will have significant competition. Instead, better to be seen as willing to urge restraint on Bush, then, after the Arabs, emboldened by international condemnation of Israel, do something spectacularly stupid, release the dossier then as part of a real push for action. These people know how to play public opinion. I think they recognize that now is not quite the right time to be talking about Iraq. Perhaps late July?

The Pensions War

Britain is one of the few countries to have tackled the pensions/ social security problem that will emerge as the West's demography changes over the next few decades. It seems that Europe is a tad jealous of this. New rules will probably cause the current system serious problems:

Industry insiders are furious that EU countries without extensive funded pension systems could be in a position to destroy the UK system.

Mr Rubenstein said: “It is hard to understand why an effective and successful UK pensions model should be potentially destroyed by a directive which will have limited application to many other countries across Europe.”

Delete "pensions model" and replace as appropriate and you have a pretty good model sentence there for virtually everything the EU does to Britain.

Prejudice and Pills

My Tech Central Station column is up. Scientific Prejudice looks at how the Institute of Medicine report on racial disparities in health care may possibly be overstating the case.

Saturday, March 30, 2002

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

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

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

Gently lie the earth upon thee, Elizabeth Windsor.

Friday, March 29, 2002

It's official: Murray's a wimp

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

The American Outlook

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

For Kris

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

Krist was on rode

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, You Couldn’t Make It Up.

But until then, make the most of it.

Happy Easter.

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

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

Happy Eostre.

Thursday, March 28, 2002

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

Trans-Atlantic Blogs

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

UPDATE: Actually, its Dr Strangelove fantasies.


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

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

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

Guns and Butter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collapse of Britain Watch

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

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

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

The importance of India

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

The Weekly W*nker?

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

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

And what about this?

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

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

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

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

Shame on you, America!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answers to Casey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh Madelin

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Anthrax Anxiety

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

Luvvies for Liberty!

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

Thanks to the invaluable Peter Briffa for the link.

Blurry Logic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Signed), Tod Lindberg, Christine Lindberg.

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

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

Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Starfleet? No, Space Fleet!

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

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

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

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

ID insanity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruined Castles

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

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

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

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

Collapse of Britain Watch

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

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

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

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

France and Steyn

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

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

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


Data Dump

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

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

Now that's scary...

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

New Labour, New World Order...

Citizenship Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 22, 2002

The Dreaded Lurgi

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

Thursday, March 21, 2002

Spin in action

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

Democracy in action

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

Holy Smoke!

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

The Dumb Tax

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


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

The Questions that Must be Answered

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

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

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

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

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

Crimewatch UK

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

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

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

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

The international aspect

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