England's Sword 2.0

Thursday, October 03, 2002

I said I'd never get a gun, but...


It's things like this that make me question that decision. Five people have been shot dead -- clinically -- just to the North of DC. I'm of course worried that the killers have fled into Virginia, but given that the ratio of arms to persons is probably much higher than in Maryland, that may be a fatal move on their part. Everyone with a gun will have it handy now. The Prof thinks it might be terrorism, but it's far too early even to suggest that. My thoughts are with the victim's families, and with my family.

More on violence


Thanks to The Green Fairy for pointing us to the Independent's coverage of the WHO violence report. These conclusions are interesting:

The roots of violence lie in low educational attainment and substance abuse at the individual level while friends, partners and family members wield important influence at the domestic level. Violence is more likely in areas with highly mobile and diverse populations which lack the social glue that binds communities together.

No mention of poverty. Interesting. Educational attainment is, of course, enhanced by Enlightenment ideals. Madrassas, I imagine, don't count. Subtance abuse -- 'nuff said. Excessive self gratification is often anti-social in its effects. Family and social cohesion are also very important. This could have been written by Edmund Burke or the Founding Fathers. It goes on:

Social factors that influence rates of violence include norms that entrench male dominance over women and children, give priority to parental rights over child welfare, and support the use of excessive force by police against citizens.

Liberty and resistance to arbitrary power, with a dash of Wilberforce thrown in. Keep going...

Research shows that biological factors may explain some of the predisposition to aggression in individuals, but these interact with family, community and cultural factors. Understanding these factors would help policy-makers intervene at an early stage.

Some violent criminals are born, in other words, but we can keep them in check with strong, virile communities. If that's the case, then policy-makers (who should be representative of the strong community, of course) won't need to intervene.

Could it be that WHO has actually realized that liberty, self-reliance and a strong community moral sense are the best inhibitors of violence? Perish the thought.

Insane


Orrin Judd asks "why do we need The Onion?" when real life provides copious examples of a world gone mad.

Here it comes


Well, there we are. According to EUobserver, Giscard wants to rename the EU "The United States of Europe":

The European Union is maybe in the future to be named the United States of Europe, suggested the president of the Convention on the Future of Europe, Valery Giscard d’Estaing on Wednesday, in a speech in the Belgium city of Brugge.

The Convention is at the moment working on a new European treaty that might lead to a European constitution, but now the former French president also wants to discuss the name of the Union.

"This linguistic question is not irrelevant, since the name has a symbolic power that gives the individual citizen the possibility of identifying themselves with the European project's uniqueness and ambitions", said Mr Giscard d'Estaing in the College of Brugge.

How many times have we been told that this is not on the table?

Outdated, Out Thought, Out There


Mark Steyn's Spectator article this week is a terrific examination of European and, indeed, global resentment of America. Half their arguments about the effects of any war led by America are based on outdated understandings of technology, he argues. The UN is also outdated, and the only ones keeping up the pace are the Americans:

If Europeans don’t like this scenario, there’s only one way to do anything about it: get yourself back in the game. At the recent Nato meeting, Don Rumsfeld invited his colleagues to demonstrate their seriousness by setting up a Nato Rapid Reaction Force. He meant a real, actual Rapid Reaction Force, not a fictitious one like the EU’s. You’ll recall Louis Michel, the Belgian foreign minister, insisting late last year that the European Rapid Reaction Force ‘must declare itself operational without such a declaration being based on any true capability’. As the Washington Post remarked, ‘Apparently in Europe this works.’ Asked to set up an actual operational Rapid Reaction Force, most Nato members bristled: the cost would divert valuable resources from social programmes and might mean they’d have to cut back on welfare payments to Islamic terrorists.

So instead the plan is to diminish US hegemony by spending zippo on defence and putting all your eggs in the UN basket. Structurally, the UN is a creature of the Cold War. It formalised the stalemate of East and West: it was designed to prevent rather than enable action; it tended towards inertia, which was no bad thing given the potentially catastrophic consequences of the alternative. But we no longer have a bipolar world, and so the vetoes only work one way — to restrain the sole surviving superpower. England’s clergy have redefined the Christian concept of a just war to mean only one blessed by the Security Council, which is to say the governments of France, Russia and China: it will be left to two atheists and a lapsed Catholic to determine whether this is a war Christians can support. Even more perplexing, The Spectator feels the same way: our editorial last week declared that ‘only UN authorisation’ could provide a justification for war.

Just as a matter of interest, how many countries does George W. Bush have to have on board before America ceases to be acting ‘unilaterally’? So far, there’s Australia, Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic, Qatar, Turkey.... Romania has offered the use of its airspace to attack Iraq. The Americo-Romanian Coalition Against Iraq has more members than most multilateral organisations. But no matter how multilateral it gets, it doesn’t count unless it’s sanctioned by the UN. If France feels the need to invade the Ivory Coast, that can be done unilaterally. But, when it’s America, you gotta get a warrant from the global magistrate.

I'm beginning to think that American withdrawal from the UN should be seriously floated as an option (and not just by the Jesse Helmses of this world).

Robbery with Violence


I got the last story from Instapundit, of course. Now here is more detail about the story referred to in the other part of that post: WHO Report Details Global Violence. Yes, indeed, half of all the violent deaths around the world are suicide:

About 1.6 million people die violently each year around the world, accounting for about 3 percent of all deaths. Most of the victims are men, half are suicides, and 90 percent live in poor and middle-income countries....

Of the global total of violent deaths, 49 percent were suicides, 32 percent were homicides, and 19 percent were the result of war. Per-capita rates of violent death are twice as high in low- and middle-income countries as in the industrialized nations.

So, only 512,000 people are killed by someone else each year, excluding war. That's a global homicide rate of 8.5 per 100,000. That's a lot, lot less than I'd have estimated. Of course, I have huge doubts about the reliability of the data fed into this report, and, as the Prof says, the inclusion of suicide is simply padding the numbers (I wonder what reaction they'd have if they'd released a serious report headlined by the 512,000 figure). The full report is not online, sadly. But, taken at face value, this report is pretty good news.

"Taking Children Seriously"


One of the nuttier libertarian ideas is that of treating all children like adults. Now the children's rights brigade seems to have got in on the act. I can't wait to see my wife's reaction to this piece of news.

Bushnev


I disagree strongly with the isolationist philosophy behind this Ludwig Von Mises institute article The Bushnev Doctrine, but you've got to love the graphic:



Dos vadanya, folks

A Brassy Woman


Asa friend of mine suggested, have a cross and stake ready when you visit Edwina Currie's Website. The brass neck of the woman is incredible. On one side of the main page you have a quote from Matthew Parris, with citation, calling her "one of the best communicators the Tories have"; on the other side is the following:

Edwina has been called "the best communicator the Tories have"

This woman and her erstwhile lover are symptomatic of exactly what's wrong with Britain today. Incredible.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Major Curries Disfavor


Wow, even Howie Kurtz is talking about the Major/Currie sex scandal in his Washington Post media column. Wonders will never cease. Anyway, despite the slagging off (hem hem) Currie is receiving from many quarters, a friend of mine from Tory circles points out the collateral benefit:

I beg to differ. Ghastly though she is, and particularly so for Norma, Ray and the respective offspring, I feel Edwina has done us all a huge favour. She has surely debunked forever the view of 'nice Mr Major'. What we now see is a man haunted by fear of his own mis-doings coming back to haunt him. We have a lover who says she admired his deviousness, who laughed with him over his knowledge of other MPs' failings listed in the whips' black book.

Quite clearly we have a man who's reputation as a PM rested squarely on being seen as a nice, decent, family man - and he wasn't. He made so many mistakes as PM it's incredible and yet still people were prepared to back his snide remarks against other leading Tories. No longer.

These diary entries are truly important historical evidence as they explain the enigma of John Major to a 't'. Even his act of not giving Edwina housing after discussing it with her seems remarkable and petty today. And, as Edwina herself said in a horrible interview this morning, if John Major has to rely on David Mellor and Lady Archer to defend him then it shows the quality of his friends.

After ruining the Tory party, and failing to fix the social problems that had piled up in Britain since the 60s when he had the chance, Major's reputation as a decent sort was all he had left. Now he has lost even that.

Something must be done!


The advocacy group Common Sense About Kids and Gunsis clutching at straws:

"But there is still more that needs to be done: among 0-4 year
olds, accidental shootings actually increased a startling 58%!"
declared Kennedy. "This is simply tragic. We must take personal
responsibility to make certain guns are inaccessible to these very
young children."

The total number of 0-4 year olds accidentally killed by firearm discharge in the US last year was ... 19, as opposed to 12 last year. An increase of 7. That's statistical noise. Each death individually tragic, yes. An epidemic, national tragedy? No.

Would "better" gun storage laws have reduced that figure? There's no evidence (and I'll bet most of those accidental shootings happened in households that routinely ignore safety advice from all quarters), although there is evidence that requiring people to lock up their guns reduces their capacity for self-defense. See this article for a good summary. This case always resonates with me:

Just ask Jessica Lynne Carpenter, a 14 year old from California, a state with "lock up your safety" laws. When a deranged man broke into her home wielding a pitchfork, Jessica was unable to access her father's firearm, even though she is a well-trained shooter. The man used his pitchfork to murder Jessica's two younger siblings, John William and Ashley Danielle, ages 7 and 9. Because of mindless disarmament laws, Jessica was reduced to waiting around for the police to show up with the body bags.

The death rate for small children from accidental firearm discharge is so low it doesn't meet the CDC's standards for publication. I will not accuse the lobby group of scaremongering, as I am sure they genuinely feel there is a problem, but they should also admit that it is not a severe one.

Tony the Radical?


Another convert to the "Tony the Tory" meme is Simon Jenkins:

Tony Blair’s speeches have vastly improved since he abandoned Labour. Yesterday he demolished pacifists, lefties, backsliders and wimps alike. His key ingredient was a definable enemy, the Labour Party. Mr Blair is emerging as a Tory radical in the style of Disraeli. Abroad he offers the glamour of moral commitment and military conquest. At home he enlists the new capitalism to improve the condition of the people. I cannot see how a Tory could fail to vote for this man. There is no trace of socialism in him.

How short-sighted. There is plenty of socialism in him. He seems to regard the individual as only worthy if in "partnership" with certain causes. His speech yesterday was about harnessing the undeniable British preference for individualism to advance socialist causes. He will use, and broaden, state powers whenever he can, unless they have been shown to be economically unprofitable, at which point he will try to cajoal the markets, and he will have no compunction against nationalizing a privatized industry is it is in his short-term political interests to do so.

Tony is not yet a Tory. If he fully understood what freedom means, he might become one easily. As yet, however, freedom is merely a means to an end for Tony the Reformer.

Bloodsuckers


Meanwhile, the Blair government continues its assault on basic liberties in the name of being tough on the causes of crime. The police now have the power to direct Doctors to draw blood from incapacitated drivers at the scene of a traffice accident:

Even the doctors are worried. All that is needed to force blood from someone's veins is the untrained opinion of a policeman that a suspected drink-driver is either unconscious or incapable of fully understanding a request to take blood. The BMA is extremely concerned that the police have received no guidance or training in how to assess capacity. It is perfectly possible that an injured or shocked patient will express clear opposition to having blood taken, albeit in an agitated way, and a policeman can use that agitation to justify sticking a needle in his arm.

Since time immemorial, British citizens have enjoyed the security of their persons free from the wants of the Executive. As Blackstone put it:

Besides those limbs and members that may be necessary to man, in order to defend himself or annoy his enemy, the rest of his person or body is also entitled by the same natural right to security from the corporal insults of menaces, assaults, beating and wounding; though such insults amount not to destruction of life or member.

Now the Executive has the power to instruct a doctor to wound you in order to draw your blood. This might just about be permissable with judicial sanction, but that is obviously not the case.

The civil liberties that Blair has seen fit to challenge are some of the most basic -- right to silence, right to trial by jury and now freedom from bodily injury. What gives him the right to treat ancient liberties like a rag-bag of items that can be dicarded or kept based on passing fashion? This is the reason he cannot yet be called a true conservative.

News from Brussels


Meanwhile, Dan Hannan MEP gives us an excellent rundown of the state of affairs in the pomposity capital of the world:

I saw Neil Kinnock the other day. Mr Kinnock has now become a very grand person indeed: a Vice-Chairman of the European Commission, in charge of cleaning up all the sleaze that was exposed three years ago when Paul van Buitenen brought down the entire Commission. So, Commissioner Kinnock, I asked. How many people have you sacked since then? He waffled and warbled for a bit, but, after a while, he gave me the answer: "To the best of my knowledge, none".

There you have it. Three years after the worst corruption scandal in the history of the EU, not one official had been dismissed in connection with it. Two people have, however, been removed from their posts - not for engaging in corruption, but for exposing it.

One is Mr van Buitenen himself, who, after three years of kicking his heels in a backwater job, has resigned in disgust. The second is Marta Andreasen, who is still fighting her case. Miss Andreasen was brought in to clean up the Commission's accounts. She was horrified by what she found. Uniquely in the modern world, the EU had no proper method of double book keeping. Accounts were kept of Exxel spreadsheets, so there was nothing to stop them being retrospectively doctored. Yet instead of acting on Miss Andreasen's concerns, the EU brushed her aside and sought to silence her.

In September, I organised a special meeting for Miss Andreasen to raise her concerns publicly in front of a group of MEPs: the only such meeting she has addressed. What was extraordinary was the way in which a handful of Socialist MEPs tried, throughout the hearing, to dismiss her findings and imply that she, rather than the Commission, had behaved improperly. It was almost as though they regarded the EU as beyond reproach. To undermine it, even on grounds of financial rectitude, was, in their eyes, a sin against the European project. Their attitude seemed to be: Europe right or wrong.

I have frequently been on the receiving end of this myself. One of the first things I did when I was elected was to write in the Daily Telegraph about how MEPs' allowances and expenses worked. I was instantly sent to Coventry: many Euro-MPs plainly felt that such things ought never to be discussed in public. When a translation of my article appeared in a German newspaper, my German colleagues went ballistic. One, with whom I had previously got on rather well, sent me an e-mail which read: "Dear Daniel Hannan, I can only assume that you were drunk before writing in such a way about a European institution". She has barely spoken to me since.

Her attitude, and that of people like her, is deeply worrying. She regards the goal of a united Europe as an end that justifies almost any means. I draw the opposite conclusion. If the EU is unable to administer its own institutions cleanly, then it is hardly qualified to be given control over swathes of our own national life. If it cannot be trusted to run itself, we should certainly not invite it to run our currency.

Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "fiddling while Rome burns"...

Blair in retrospect


The best commentary on Blair's speech yesterday that I've read so far is this Telegraph editorial. The "Tony the Tory" idea is underlined:

As far as the Conservatives are concerned, Mr Blair showed that he has lost none of his old skill at stealing their clothes. Nearly everything he had to say about the need to replace "the monolithic provision" of health and education with services tailored to individuals could have been lifted straight from a Right-wing pamphlet. His intention, clearly, was to pre-empt anything the Tories might unveil at their own conference next week. Given their nervousness over discussing detailed policy, he may well succeed.

I agree. But there is a catch:

Whether the public can be so easily dealt with, though, is far more doubtful. There was more than a hint of frustration in Mr Blair's speech that he is still having to argue the case for reform of the public services from first base - and that he has so little to show for it. As our own poll on Monday revealed, whatever the Prime Minister's political pre-eminence, the public knows that, on the ground, very little is happening, let alone improving. Hence his repeated, but wishful, insistence yesterday that Labour is "at our best when at our boldest".

The flaw, of course, is that Mr Blair is not naturally bold, but cautious. He may like a fight, but only when he knows that he is bound to win. On tricky questions of domestic policy, he often seems to think that a strong speech can be a substitute for action, rather than a spur to it.

That is unfortunately the case. Rhetoric is important, and often effective, on the international stage. Domestic policy, however, requires action, and in this respect Blair has been much less effective, his government often acting in contradictory ways in an effort to please all his constituencies (such as on crime) that lessen the effectiveness of what often seems to be a reasonable strategy. The result:

... on health, education, transport and law and order, the pressure for results is mounting.

His Achilles' heel, as he implicitly acknowledged yesterday, is that after five years in power with a huge majority, he somehow seems incapable of delivering them.

And he will continue to be, until he recognizes that he has to jump one way or the other: statism or the market? Stephen Pollard looks closer at this problem, and Gordon Brown's role in it, on his blog today.

Blondes having fun?


It's an excellent example of how sloppy much of the British press is. Last week, many tabloids and the BBC reported that the gene for blondness is dieing out. An ABC producer saw the story in London and it was referred to on Good Morning America. When the New York Times decided to look into it, however, they did an old-fashioned thing. They checked their sources. Stop Those Presses! Blonds, It Seems, Will Survive After All tells the story of how the British press picked up a story without bothering to ask whether it was true or not. If we could somehow marry careful American news coverage with the diverse British opinion pages, we might have a press people want to read. Hang on a second, isn't that what the blogosphere is doing?

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Blair's Vision


Our Tone has delivered a very important speech at the Labour Party conference. Here are some highlights, with my initial reaction:

Today, a nation's chances are measured not just by its own efforts but by its place in the world.

Influence is power is prosperity.

We are an island nation, small in space, 60 million in people but immense in history and potential.

We can take refuge in the mists of Empire but it is a delusion that national identity is best preserved in isolation, that we should venture out in the world only at a time of emergency.

There is a bold side to the British character.

And there is a cautious side.

Both have their time and season.

Caution is often born of common sense, a great British trait.

But there are times when caution is retreat and retreat is dangerous.

Now, at the start of the 21st Century, is a time for reaching out.

Interesting that he should appeal to "the British character." That's not very multicultural of him.

The world can go in two ways.

Countries can become rivals in power, or partners.

Partnership is the antidote to unilateralism.

For all the resentment of America, remember one thing.

The basic values of America are our values too, British and European and they are good values. Democracy, freedom, tolerance, justice.

It's easy to be anti-American.

There's a lot of it about but remember when and where this alliance was forged: here in Europe, in World War II when Britain and America and every decent citizen in Europe joined forces to liberate Europe from the Nazi evil.

My vision of Britain is not as the 51st state of anywhere, but I believe in this alliance and I will fight long and hard to maintain it.

I'm not saying we always apply our values correctly.

But I've lost count of the number of supposedly intelligent people who've said to me:

You don't understand the Serbs. They're very attached to Milosevic. No they weren't.

The Afghans are different. They like religious extremism. No they didn't.

The Iraqis don't have the same tradition of political freedom. No they don't but I bet they'd like to.

Our values aren't western values.

They're human values, and anywhere, anytime people are given the chance, they embrace them.

Around these values, we build our global partnership.

Europe and America together.

Good points, although I'd like to see evidence of "democracy, freedom, tolerance and justice" being long-standing continantal European values, as opposed to ones imposed by Britain and America in 1945 or later.

On Saddam:

If he doesn't comply, then consider.

If at this moment having found the collective will to recognise the danger, we lose our collective will to deal with it, then we will destroy not the authority of America or Britain but of the United Nations itself.

Sometimes and in particular dealing with a dictator, the only chance of peace is a readiness for war.

Jolly good. Then he loses it:

But we need coalitions not just to deal with evil by force if necessary, but coalitions for peace, coalitions to tackle poverty, ignorance and disease.

A coalition to fight terrorism and a coalition to give Africa hope.

A coalition to re-build the nation of Afghanistan as strong as the coalition to defeat the Taliban.

A coalition to fight the scourge of AIDS, to protect the planet from climate change every bit as powerful as the coalition for free trade, free markets and free enterprise.

I'm all for a coalition to give Africa hope (a coalition to abolish the CAP would be the best you could get there -- any chance France would join that one?) but are we going to have security council resolutions on AIDS and climate change? I'd like to see what he proposes here. Well, actually, I don't...

Now, Europe:

Our friendship with America is a strength.

So is our membership of Europe.

We should make the most of both.

And in Europe, never more so than now.


The single currency is a fact, but will Europe find the courage for economic reform?

Europe is to become 25 nations, one Europe for the first time since Charlemagne, but will it be as a union of nation states or as a centralised superstate?

It has taken the first steps to a common defence policy, but will it be a friend or a rival to NATO?

The answers to these questions are crucial to Britain.

They matter to the British economy, our country, our way of life.

And the way to get the right answers, is by being in there, vigorous, confident, leading in Europe not limping along several paces behind.

That's why the Euro is not just about our economy but our destiny.

We should only join the Euro if the economic tests are met.

That is clear.

But if the tests are passed, we go for it.

As Whittam-Smith suggested, it's unlikely HMG will declare the economic tests met while the German crisis unfolds, so this may be empty rhetoric, but the direction of the logic is worrying.

And this is all set out in the next section, which is the Blairite Vision:

Interdependence is the core reality of the modern world.

It is revolutionising our idea of national interest.

It is forcing us to locate that interest in the wider international community.

It is making solidarity - a great social democratic ideal - our route to practical survival.

Partnership is statesmanship for the 21st Century.

We need now the same clarity of vision for our country.

International interdependence is a worrying concept. It seems to be too easily confused with complete dependence, which is what British membership of the Euro would be.

Blair then goes into the achievements of his government, which he casts in relative, rather than absolute terms. He can say "we're better than France" but he can't say "we're better than we were in 1952" (although, of course, he could in some things). Then comes the Tory-bashing:

That's what the Tories hate.

They sneer at the investment.

Pessimism about Britain is now the official strategy of the Tories.

The purpose is not just to undermine the Government, but to undermine Government, to destroy the belief that we can collectively achieve anything, to drench progress in cynicism, to sully the hope from which energy, action and change all spring.

Now they've gone "compassionate".

Know what it means?

We are going to run down your schools but we feel really bad about it.

We're going to charge you to see a GP but we really wish we weren't.

We're going to put more children in poverty but this time we'll honestly feel very guilty about it.

In Opposition, Labour was trying to escape policies we didn't believe in. It was a journey of conviction.

Today's Tories are trying to escape policies they do believe in.

Theirs is a journey of convenience and it fools no-one least of all themselves.

Although he's wrong about the Government part (a proper Tory policy would strengthen civil society -- "the belief that we can collectively achieve anything" without a need for Government auditors, performance targets and regulation), he's probably right in the conclusion...

He then elliptically bashes Old Labour by talking about the move from "The Big State" to "The Enabling State". I'll give this to him, he is demonstrating true leadership in taking on the opposing forces within his party and telling them that they can't go on the way they have done. His arguments about PFI (interesting that he's using the Tory name, not "public-private partnerships") are good ones, and his calls for reforms in the professions well-warranted. Then he comes to crime:

We have increased the numbers of police to record numbers, toughened the law on everything from rape to benefit fraud.

Does that mean everyone feels safer? No.

Why? Because the problem is not just crime.

It is disrespect.

It is anti-social behaviour.

It is the drug dealer at the end of the street and no-one seems to be able to do anything about it.

This is not only about crime. It is about hard-working families who play the rules seeing those who don't, getting away with it.

The street crime initiative has been one of the most successful exercises in partnership between Government and police in living memory.

Not my words, but those of the Chief Constables.

But what was fascinating was not the initiative itself, but what it uncovered.

Outdated identity parades taking weeks if not months to organise. Defendants who didn't answer to their bail and never got punished for it.

Police officers told it was a breach of civil liberties to check whether defendants were obeying bail conditions.

It's not civil liberties.

It's lunacy.

Drug addicts with previous offences routinely bailed though everyone knew what they would be doing between bail and trial.

Magistrates unable to remand persistent young offenders in custody because no places existed in prison or secure accommodation.

The whole system full of excellent people, worn down and worn out.

Step by step David and his team, working with the police are putting it right.

...

For 100 years, our Criminal Justice System like our welfare system was based on a messy compromise between liberals and authoritarians.

The liberals tended to view crime as primarily about social causes and the welfare system primarily about giving to the poor.

The authoritarians wanted harsh penalties and as ungenerous a benefit system as possible.

The compromise was a Criminal Justice System weighted in favour of the defendant but with harsh penalties for the convicted; and a passive welfare system with mean benefits.

In short, the worst of all worlds.

This is a pretty fair summary, although the proposed solutions are ill-thought out in my opinion.

And then the peroration. The Blair vision is still paternalist, giving away more taxpayers' money and demanding things in return -- something he characterizes as partnership rather than paternalism. It may be strict rather than lax, but it's still paternalism. And that's the opening the Tories have. To say that Britain needs to be a country of mature adults working together voluntarily rather than receiving carrot and stick from the man in Whitehall.

Blair has improved markedly over the last couple of years. He's a true leader, internally and internationally, but his ideas are still confused and often misguided. And that is dangerous for Britain.

Oops


Chad Dimpler asks the question, "Has the Blair government made Britain's nuclear weapons illegal?" The answer seems to be yes, they have, and so most of the staff of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment should be put in jail. Silly boys.

German, German Overalls


Christopher Caldwell has a great article, The Angry Adolescent of Europe, in The Weekly Standard (link probably for subscribers only, I imagine). He looks at what the recent election tells us about Germany's current state. It's not pretty. The casual jettisoning of the Western Alliance is well examined. Moreover, it seems that Germany is finally descending down a path that Britain took in the 60s and 70s -- use envy and tax money to distract from unemployment:

It was to a boss that Schroeder finally turned to get himself out of the unemployment pickle. His crony Peter Hartz, a director of Volkswagen, which is the largest business in Schroeder's Lower Saxony, had been deputized last winter to lead a commission investigating a scandal in Germany's national employment agency. The agency had systematically exaggerated the number of Germans it had been able to find jobs for. Into the bargain, Hartz came up with an ambitious employment plan that he and Schroeder leaked to the newsmagazine Der Spiegel in late June. Its high points were a government-run temp agency and incentives (read: subsidies) for small business to make new hires. The magazine presented it as the chancellor's economic Wunderwaffe--no one knew quite how it would work, but it was supposed to cut unemployment in half by 2005.

Schroeder was able to campaign on the plan, even as he undercut it. He insisted that the government-sponsored temps get the prevailing (exorbitant) union wage, which would, of course, make them just as unhirable as private sector temps are now. He attacked the idea of a Hire-und-Fire-Gesellschaft, which is the new German word for "labor market," and to which the Hartz report makes a grudging accommodation. By the end of the campaign, there was nothing left of Hartz's recommendations that Schroeder would claim for his own--except, of course, the promise to cut the jobless rate. In its place was a howling and envy-laced populism that sought to blame declining services on the people who still had jobs. On the sunlit stage in Rostock, Schroeder insisted that health care "shouldn't be only for those who are born with a silver spoon in their mouths." Education, meanwhile, "shouldn't depend on how much money is in Mummy and Daddy's wallet."

Germany is going to become the sick man of Europe very quickly. Caldwell's conclusion is worth quoting in full:

The tortured examinations of conscience that marked West Germany in the decades after the war, those soul-searching reflections of "working through the past," were genuine, and they grew a country of honor and decency out of a moral disaster. Unfortunately, West Germany is a country that no longer exists. The worries that, after reunification, the west would crush the new eastern states into some kind of conformism has turned out to be 180 degrees wrong. The states of the old West Germany turn out to be relatively frozen in their political allegiances; the East is wide open, and it is to the swing voters of the former Soviet bloc that successful politicians now address themselves. The Stalinist government of East Germany taught its citizens that they were the victims of fascism. To the extent that they were doomed to spend their lives under communism while their Western cousins lived it up, this turned out to be true, in a sense. Easterners feel the very opposite of historical guilt. They feel historical entitlement. Even as their incomes have doubled in relation to westerners' since the fall of the wall, they feel they've been wronged, dissed, screwed. Never denazified, historically frozen by decades of Soviet occupation, the east is something of a museum of German character. It is the easterners who provided the target audience for Schroeder's anti-American message.

Political scientists used to say that the CDU and CSU had a "structural majority" in Germany. This meant that, barring any dramatic irregularities, conservatives won elections. Indeed, had the election been limited to the western states, Schroeder's coalition would have been thrown out of office. But with reunification and the moving of the capital to Berlin, Germany has lurched back into Central Europe. It has also inherited some of the region's problems. Its population is collapsing, and its welfare state may collapse along with it. Its economy shows no signs of entrepreneurship and innovation. Its young people seem motivated by consumerism alone, and are disinclined to form families. Germans tend to be optimistic about solving these problems; as Jochen Thiese, a journalist for Deutschland Radio, notes: "We Germans wait until the last second before moving." And good if they do, but why does everyone assume that these problems will eventually be solved?

It is possible that Germany is undergoing a deep cultural change, and also beginning a slow economic spiral down to a standard of living below that of its neighbors. One can also wonder about its role in the world. The anti-American messages with which Schroeder wooed his newly Central European country may subside, and there may be a period of calm ahead for the German-American alliance. But why assume that Schroeder's distrust of America--and the West?--is a temporary rather than a heartfelt thing? Perhaps it is--but even if it is, something has changed. Should Germany's economic problems prove insoluble, should relations sour with its European neighbors, the United States has now been established as Germany's scapegoat of first resort.

The only problem with the article is its failure to explain the Euro's role in the economic disaster. Following Lord Rees-Mogg's Times article yesterday, we now have the saintly Andreas Whittam-Strobes, a committed Europhile, realizing just how bad the Euro is for Germany:

What is going wrong is precisely what was forecast by the least vociferous group of doubters when our neighbours first began to plan merging their national currencies into the euro: one size doesn't fit all. Those of us who took this line were making almost a technical point – yes, we would like to see closer integration; yes, a common currency would be a good idea, but this particular scheme won't work.

In this light consider Germany's predicament. Like Japan it is suffering from a deficiency of demand. Domestic sales are falling at about 2 per cent per annum; Japan is about 1 per cent down. By contrast, the US, Britain and France are still showing growth.

Moreover, it is obvious what Germany should do to halt the decline. The advice could have been found in any economics textbook published on the Continent before the euro came into existence. It should reduce interest rates; it should let its currency depreciate somewhat against the dollar, so as to find a new level which encourages exports; and it should stimulate its economy by increasing state spending even if the result would be higher government borrowing.

Unfortunately Germany cannot do any of these things. It cannot cut interest rates, for those are set for all euro members by the European Central Bank. Consequently it is obliged to endure rates which in real terms, that is after subtracting its very low rate of inflation, are punishingly high. Nor can Germany allow its currency to depreciate because it doesn't any longer have one. It trades in euros over which it has little influence. It is obvious now that Germany entered the euro at an exchange rate in terms of the old Deutschmark which was too high.

As for letting government spending rise, again it is balked. It has committed itself to obeying the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact, which it itself designed in order to instil budgetary discipline on all members. Deficits must be strictly limited and last only for short periods. But in practice what the rules are coming to mean is that countries already in recession must make matters worse by cutting public spending.

What might happen to Germany as a result of having cheerfully signed up a couple of years ago to a system which, as it turns out, is completely unsuitable to its present circumstances? I believe that it will start to go the way of Japan and sink into deflation. Like Japan, prices for its goods and services will begin to decline; companies and consumers with heavy debts will find them harder and harder to repay; the banks will gradually be rendered immobile by bad debts; stock market prices will continue to test new lows and property values will fall back.

Whittam-Smith finishes by saying that British entry into the Euro will probably not happen, and that this is no big deal. "Life goes on," he says. But what will happen in a Germany that is heading down the same road as Britain did in the 1960s, but which will not be able to use the same tools Mrs Thatcher used to get us out of the economic (if not the social) hole? I'm afraid of the answer to that question.

In the country of the blind, a blind man should be King


(Under human rights law, that is). The latest absurdity to emerge from Australia is a move to allow blind people and the mentally disabled to fly and work as air traffic controllers. How progressive!

THE physically and mentally disabled may no longer be barred from becoming pilots or air traffic controllers.

Eyesight and other medical tests imposed on flight crew have been found to be in breach of anti-discrimination laws.

The finding, by the Federal Attorney General's Department has created fears air safety regulators will be hit with discrimination complaints.

As they say in the outback, "O tempora! O mores!"

Thanks to John Ray for the heads-up.

Foul and Abusive Language


Natalie Solent says basically all I wanted to say about Peter Briffa's encomium of abusive language. I have only this to add: yes, I do swear ("curse" in American) from time to time. When I do so, it is normally in anger. Anger is, of course, a sin. But normally that anger is either self-directed or directed at generalities (such as HM Treasury). Using abusive language, however, is even worse, as it personalizes the anger (or envy, or other sin). The anger may be unconscious, as when a jolly old racist uses a racial epithet in what he thinks is a funny way. When "David" says "Foul and abusive language does have a place in civilised society as without it, many frustrated generations would be lost," I think what he's getting at is that it provides an outlet for anger. In this world, anger is okay as long as it is non-violent. Ben Elton was angry with Thatch, so it was okay that he said "F*ck" a lot. In my world, anger isn't okay. It's something we fall victim to, but it's something we should feel ashamed about. Rules about foul and abusive language help underscore that shame and keep us from falling victim to anger. It's called civility. The common etymology with civilization should be a clue to its deeper meaning.

Satire Sprouting in Brussels


Private Eye has long been pricking the bubble of pomposity in the UK. Now The Sprout aims to do the same thing in Brussels. With any luck, it will have a short lifespan...

Monday, September 30, 2002

There's no pleasing some people


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

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

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

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

Not pulling their weight


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

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

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

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

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

Secession Crisis Looming?


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

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

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

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

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

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

Hypocritical Cry-Babies


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

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

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

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

Bunch of hypocrites.


Thanks to The Group Captain for the link.

An Old Idea


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

Conservative Confusion over Correlation and Causation


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

Elusive Argument


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

Toying with Treason


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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 28, 2002

Explains a lot


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

Friday, September 27, 2002

Chris Petain's Rallying Point


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

Trust and Polling


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

Internal Politics: Conservatives


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

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

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

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

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

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

I think this could work.

Internal Politics: Labour


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

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

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

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

Surprise, Surprise


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Sir Alan Greenspan


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

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

Best British Blogs


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

A Father's Role


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

So what's inherently wrong with unilateralism?


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

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

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

Thanks to Stephen Pollard for the link.

Wurzle Time


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Political Judges


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

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

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

Point/Counterpoint


Abortion Pill Sales Rising, Firm Says -- Washington Post

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

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

Drug War Update


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

Germany Calling


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

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

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

The narrowing gap


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

Modern constitutional thought?


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

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

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

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

PP: Jim Bennett comments:

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

European failure


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

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

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

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

College beckons


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

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

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

Perfectly acceptable law-breaking


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

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

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

The EU in its own words


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

Call for Tenders :Gender Impact of Municipal Waste Policy

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

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

The 28th Article


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

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

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

Advocacy journalism?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tipping Point


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

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

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

ARGH!

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

400,000 people can be wrong


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

Global consequences


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

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

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

Hic!


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

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

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

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

Monday, September 23, 2002

More on the Lethality Survey


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

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