England's Sword 2.0

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Empire or Imperium?


One of the things that really gets my wife riled up is when people talk about American "imperialism." She's right, the US is not an empire in any generally-accepted form of the word that I can think of. It possesses mighty power -- what the Romans called imperium -- but it generally uses it in a responsible manner according to the wishes of its democracy (sometimes, as in the Clinton response to the embassy bombings, it doesn't even do that). Anyway, Alan Wolfe in The Boston Globe trashes the idea of an American Empire.

I should add that there is one manner in which I do think that there is an American Empire: the conquest of the Indian and Mexican lands in the 19th century would surely have led to international demands for de-colonization and a retreat from Empire had there been a sea between the 13 colonies and the rest of what is now America.

Things the state can do well


Chris Bertram also has a pretty good discussion of things the State is good at. I heartily agree with his point about democratic control. Finding the right balance between volatile popular opinion and sclerotic expert management is a very difficult thing, but it's what we need to do. We're too much tipped towards the manager in the UK at present, and, sadly, Conservative governments helped that happen.

Merrie clercs


Junius disputes the "blame the leftie intellectuals" argument below, asking

"Why did their seed not fall on stony ground?" For ideas to have an impact, there has to be a more-or-less receptive audience. So why was the audience receptive in the 1960s and not (so much) before? Presumably the things they were saying about the British social and political establishment rang true with large numbers of people then. Does Iain think the little boy should have refrained from pointing out the Emperor's nakedness out of concern for the (unknowable) social consequences?

The ground was fertile, I think, because there was a willingness to consider the costs of the status quo without considering its benefits. That's a mistake in any project management, all the more so in this great social project. No-one spoke for old order, because no-one properly understood it. Here's Peter Hitchens' summation, which he puts so much better than I could:

When the British tradition was suddenly threatened by attractive-seeming ideas, innovations and philosophies, there was no-one left to fight for the old order. When affluence encouraged individual independence and weakened the sense of mutual obligation, all classes began to forget the ties that bound them together. Tory politicians might defend tradition's practical benefits, but they did not understand or cherish the beliefs in which they were rooted, or the complex compromises involved.

The true situation was, it seems to me, the reverse of Hans Christian Anderson's tale. The Emperor was fully, and splendidly, clothed, but the little boy said he was naked. No-one wanted to contradict the little boy, so obviously the representative of progress, a visionary indeed, and so the Emperor was stripped naked and left to shiver in the cold, ridiculed by all.

Finally, Chris also quoted the Dennis/Erdos (both men of the left, I mention again) statement about the intellectuals' "wanton ignorance of, or open hostility to the known facts" but does not address it. Even if the intellectuals were right to point out the seeming costs of British society, they should now admit that the costs of their replacement are greater and try to do something about it. In the US, liberal politicians and academics are finally admitting that the two-parent family is worth encouraging. Despite the public statements of Blair and Blunkett, that is something that is still anathema in the UK, so much so that even the Tories will not defend the family as they should. It will take brave leftist academics to admit how incorrect they were and to point to the mountain of research emanating from the US that contradicts their view. Dennis and Erdos are dismissed as "conservative," despite their socialism. Will an acknowledged progressive stand up and say, "for the sake of the working class, we must admit we were wrong"? Chris?

Monday, November 18, 2002

I always liked hymns...




"What a mystery is this, that Christianity should have done so little good in the world!
Can any account of this be given? Can any reasons be assigned for it?"
You are John Wesley!

When things don't sit well with you, you make a big production and argue your way through everything.
You complain a lot, but, at least you are a thinker and not afraid to show it. You are also pretty
liked by people, and pretty methodological about your life and goals. You know where you're going.
Some people find you irritating, so watch out for people leaving you out of things they do.


What theologian are you?

A creation of Henderson

Poverty and crime


Mr British Spin has a post entitled "A window into boy's souls" (sorry, blogger archive bug strikes) criticizing a throw-away remark from Peter Briffa which perhaps does not deserve the opprobrium it gets. Mr Spin's point seems to be that poverty and crime are interlinked. Yet, when he says

But no-one forces nice Middle class kids to not smash windows. Why don't they? inner goodness? or perhaps a sense that there's a point staying straight combined with parents and a wider community who have the resources, the support and the inclination to care for them?

He gets nearer the real point. Working-class families in our own dear North-East existed in poverty, both relative and actual, for many years without any noticeable crime rate. As Newcastle professor and socialist George Erdos and Sunderland Labour councillor Norman Dennis say in their classic "Families without Fatherhood,"

If the communities of Tyneside and Wearside had been roughly as civil as the rest of the country in the earlier period ... in the lifetime of a 77-year old the average citizen has become 47 times more likely to be the victim of a crime against his or her property. By 1991 there were almost as many crimes recorded in the Northumbria police area (226,000), as had been recorded in the whole country in 1938 (238,000).


They go on:
[An anecdotal illustration of how things have changed for the working class comes from a] humane and egalitarian husband, father and grand-father, whose whole working life had been spent as a Sunderland coal-miner. Shortly after he had been made redundant in the mid-1980s he had been in the nearby colliery town of Easington. The memorial to the 83 men who had been killed in the mine in 1951 had been defaced, and he had kept a note of the defacement in his wallet to this day. 'To honour the memory of those who lost their lives. Let passers-by do likewise, get understanding and promote goodwill in all things.' Over these words someone had scrawled, 'the Parky stinks of F*** head.'

They regard people blaming "unemployment" for these ills (this was written in 1993) as being sadly mistaken:

It ... shows a lack of historical perspective to attribute the rise in the frequency of criminal activities, mainly among men, and mainly among young men, to factors which have marginally altered from year to year, or within the period of only a decade.

Of particular interest is their investigation of the Meadowell estate and its riots, which is too long to go into here, but here is the conclusion:

... it was not only or even mainly that the rioters as children were themselves the first or second generation of a home and local life that had left them on average worse off educationally and in social skills than their contemporaries from stable two-parent homes in the same area and in equally deprived working-class homes elsewhere on Tyneside and Wearside. As youths (some themselves the product of single-parent homes, some not) they did not have a taken-for-granted project for life of responsibility for their own wife and children. Their expectations had ceased to be automatically geared to unavoidable parenthood.

To the extent that they are victims of their environment, they are victims of their cultural environment. They are victims of various ad hoc combinations of destabilizing Marxism whose long march through the institutions began and ended in the family, altruistic anarchism, hedonistic nihilism and nostalgie de la boue which excited the undergraduates of 1968 and which until recently were the stock-in-trade of serious journalism. ...

The third betrayal of the intellectuals has lain not so much in their often self-centred celebration of the family's dismantlement, and their unremitting attack since the 1960s on all the taboos that protected family life, as in their wanton ignorance of, or open hostility to the known facts.

Poverty does not cause crime, and it is an insult to the many respectable working-class people over the years who have endured often grinding poverty in maintaining a decent society for their children and brothers to say that it is. The "middle-class upbringing" that Mr British Spin wants for all children is something that previous generations achieved in the working class. Yet, in destroying the institutions that bind such a community together -- the family, education that speaks to history, property rights -- it is the leftist intellectuals who have caused crime.

Return of the Chad


Chad Dimpler, Election Analyst, is back from his hols (presumably analyzing the US election results for the Normans). Expect more laid-back common sense from the custodian of Dimpler Towers. Huzzah.

Pros and cons


Mommy's Home give a nicely balanced look at the pros and cons of a parent staying at home, from an economic point of view at least. However, I wonder whether anyone could ever quantify the benefit to the parents of having a happy, well-adjusted child as opposed to the costs of having the complete monsters you often see in families where both parents work. If a badly-behaved child causes stress and stress contributes to early death, the economic costs could be pretty high. Just a thought.

INS: Incompetent National Socialists?


Dr Frank has more on the INS. I can verify Matt Welch's comment about INS officials making tasteless jokes about people's names. The arrogance of some INS officials knows no bounds.

Prohibition


I spurred a bit of debate in this post below, which centered on the reliability of the historic alcohol consumption figures. I posted this, with a few more bits added addressing other issues, in the comments section below, but think the meat deserves a wider audience. Substantive debate centered around a) the drop in alcohol consumption before prohibition in 1920 and b) whether the official figures reflected actual alcohol consumption.

A little research into the 1917-19 period indicates that alcohol consumption probably dropped then because of pre-prohibition alcohol control methods: the Reed bone-dry amendment, forbidding interstate shipment of liquor into dry states, the Food Control Law, which closed distilleries, and then breweries, and then wartime prohibition (not used in WWII), which did not take effect until 1919! These measures were obviously integral to the whole alcohol restriction phenomenon and should not really be separated from prohibition itself. There were also many individual state prohibitions. The influenza epidemic also would have stopped a lot of people drinking.

Moreover, as Dr Weevil pointed out, cirrhosis deaths are a useful proxy for overall alcohol consumption. Cirrhosis deaths dropped from around 13 per 100,000 in the 1900-1917 era to about 7 in the era 1918-1933. They then began a steady rise with an anomalous peak in around 1948 before peaking at almost 16 in the late 70s. There has since been a steady fall to around 9 today.

Exactly the same drop can be seen in states like CA and NY that did not adopt prohibition before 1920.

The data come from this PDF, whose analysis is flawed because of the artificial separation of the effects of pre-prohibition and state prohibition from US Constitutional prohibition. The three combined clearly had a significant effect on cirrhosis, which the authors admit is a proxy for consumption. Their headline conclusion that Prohibition had an insignificant effect on alcohol consumption is therefore a quibble. I have never been impressed by Miron's work. His analysis of the effect of gun laws, for instance, gave Britain and the US the same scores for restrictiveness.

May I also remind people that the original post was about whether or not prohibition suppresses demand. The rights and wrongs are another matter. Yet it seems clear to me that prohibition does suppress demand.

Disgraceful


Europe's "Conservative" Parties are proposing an alternative to the Giscard constitution for Europe. Should we expect a document concentrating on free trade and the sovereignty of nations? Fat chance:

Other EPP proposals include a specific reference to Europe's "religious heritage" in the constitution's preamble, the introduction of an EU tax, and a new form of European partnership for the EU's neighbours which the EU believes might be extended to Turkey instead of membership. ... The group also rejects Giscard's proposal for an "exit clause" which would allow Member States to secede from the EU.

This is the authentic voice of the Old Right, statist and racist. I'd like to see more about that "religious heritage" clause as well...

[Via Philip Chaston on Airstrip One]

Great myths: the uninsured


Do Americans need to rely on Brits to tell them that their health care system is better than they think? Stephen Pollard takes on The New Republic for recycling the factoid that 40 million Americans do not have health insurance. As Stephen says, that includes people temporarily uninsured for a brief period. The number of chronically uninsured, which is what matters here, is roughly a quarter of that figure. Moreover no-one is ever refused emergency treatment because of a lack of insurance. It is chronic illnesses that cause the most trouble for the chronically uninsured and, need I remind you, the British system of universal health coverage does not do well with chronic illnesses either. Can there be any better indication of the true state of the NHS than the fact that the BBC offers private health insurance to its employees?

Hunting tigers out in Indiah


Now, Play the India Card is an insightful investigation of how US-Indian relations matter, and can be improved. The most important thing with India is, of course, that it is about as stable a democracy as you can hope a country with 1 billion people and many languages can be. This is a source of great hope:

Despite the communal violence over issues like Ayodyah, India’s political culture still deems the ballot box to be the only legitimate way to resolve political conflict. Evidence of this fact is that voter turnout has actually increased in the past decade; before 1989, turnout was typically well under 50 percent but has recently climbed into the 60 percent range.12 Democracy in India has emerged from the past decade more vibrant than ever.

Certainly democracy complicates policy decisions for the central government. Just as in the United States, foreign policy in particular suffers because the executive branch has difficulty taking and maintaining long-term positions with foreign governments — which is precisely what successful foreign policy requires. We can expect the bjp, or any other coalition government, to confront this problem, just as we do. But the bjp for all its “xenophobia” has worked well with the U.S. in recent months, and notwithstanding our 1998 sanctions, progress has been made in the overall relationship for some time now. From the U.S. perspective, the bjp has been much more realistic in its foreign policy expectations and has shown little interest in reverting to the military adventurism in South Asia that marked Indian foreign policy during the 1970s and 80s under the idealistic “Nehruvians.”

As the author observes, "it is impossible to ignore that a wealthy, armed India would be an asset to U.S. interests, with little downside risk."

Meanwhile, a correspondent noted this:
There was an interesting anglospheric item on the Indian news program on the MHZ network last week. It was "Anglo-India Day" in India. The Anglo-Indians tend to be getting ethnically more Indian with each passing generation, but still proud of their Anglo heritage.

The definition of an Anglo-Indian, interestingly, is any Indian with part European blood who speaks English. Showing a good understanding of the "Anglo" as the representative of Europe (or Christendom) to India.

It is parallel (minus the mixed-blood aspect) to the definition of a "Russian" in Kazakhstan and Central Asia: any Russian-speaking European, particularly including Germans and Jews. A "Russian" is the representative of Europe to Central Asia.

If India is drawn back into the mainstream of Anglosphere commerce and culture by increased US attention, that can only be a good thing for all concerned.

Friday, November 15, 2002

Great myths: prohibition had no effect on alcohol drinking


Drug legalizers often claim that prohibition did not decrease the amount of alcohol drunk in the US. Rubbish. Take a look at this chart. Alcohol consumption (gallons of ethanol per person) stood at 2.56 in 1911-15 (the temperance mobvement, the war and the influenza pandemic will have contributed to the slight drop in the period 1916-19). When prohibition ended, it stood at 0.97. It took ten years to get back over 2, and did not reach 1915 levels again until 1971. Prohibition quite simply did suppress alcohol demand in the US.

Satura Brassicae


Time for another plug for The Sprout, which does for Brussels what Private Eye does for the UK: exposes shady practices, pricks the bubble of pomposity and gives you a few things to laugh about too. When I finally get round to revamping my blogroll, it's getting a permanent link.

Shame


The firemen who could have saved a veteran of Arnhem have at least shown a little remorse for their actions. Apparently shamed, they have abandoned their picket. No word on whether they have returned to work, but this is a good example of how shame (or, better, guilt) can work on the conscience to promote more socially-acceptable behavior.

Meanwhile, another group of strikers acted somewhat creditably, but still continue to picket publicly-owned equipment despite the recognition that it can help limit damage:

In the warren of side streets, the Green Gooddess crews could only try to keep the blaze from spreading. The building was completely destroyed.

One striking fireman said that, with more sophisticated equipment, they would have been able to counter the blaze and save the building.

Soldiers were having to unfurl their hoses within a few feet of the picket line brazier in order to find a hydrant.

This is not like the 70s strike, which was really about political power. This is an over-the-top response to the rejection of an outrageous pay demand. The strikers are folling themselves if they think the public is behind them. My friend Roger Mortimore looks at the polling data for MORI. He does not predict public happiness with the strikes.

Isocratean Dialogue


The wonderful Steven Chapman (another Oxonian!) says virtually everything I wanted to say about Alex Standish's sp!ked article on geography education in the UK, and a little more besides about environmentalism.

In some ways, what is happening in British education is a re-run of the ancient Greek dispute between Isocrates and Plato. Plato felt that education should be about how to think, and be of value in and of itself. Isocrates was more practical, feeling that education should help people do things, and therefore he concentrated on rhetoric. For generations, UK education followed the Platonic model, but over the past 20-30 years, the Isocratean model seems to have won out. I can't help thinking that's a bad thing, whatever political bias is then added on top.

Stop beating about this new heart study


NBC News correspondent Robert Bazell reported on a study about a new test for coronary heart disease last night. The test, which analyzes levels of the C Reactive Protein (CRP) was hyped by Bazell in his broadcast report (the web link is more circumspect). He signed off:

The CRP test is already on the market, costs about $10, and many doctors believe it could save thousands of lives a year by identifying those at highest risk for America's number one killer. Robert Bazell, NBC News, New York.

Yet he failed to mention that the journal that published the study, the New England Journal of Medicine, also published a skeptical editorial by Dr. Lori Mosca of Columbia University, who pointed out that even 20 years ago, there were over 200 known correlates to coronary heart disease (CHD). She argues that widespread use of the test may be premature, pointing out that the similarly hyped beta-carotene therapy failed to predict CHD adequately and was associated with increased risk of cancer.

If the journal that published the study thought a skeptical voice was needed, NBC News should have also provided a platform for one. Instead, news consumers are left with the idea that there is a new panacaea in CHD testing. NBC was irresponsible in coveying that impression.

[The skeptical editorial is mentioned in the MSNBC story, which incorporates extra analysis from the Associated Press]

PP: See Medpundit's further questions, all of which are valid.

Good on yer, Jamie


Jamie Oliver was watchable as The Naked Chef, we found (the Food TV network is often on in the Murray household), but Oliver's Twist was beyond the pale. Nevertheless, it seems there is a lot of good in the man. Stephen Pollard has the story.

Scenes from modern Britain


Over 1,000,000 people are waiting for hospital treatment, a rise of 12,000 since last year, despite the Government's increased spending on the NHS. The free medical service is also refusing to help 8 out of 10 couples that want test-tube babies, forcing these uninsured people to go private. People living in the prosperous South East face a 50 percent rise in their local tax to subsidize the North, thanks to a shift in priorities by central Government. Those paragons of virtue, Britain's teachers, largely fiddled their performance-related pay arrangements so that vitually all of them received a GBP 2000 rise without necessarily earning it. And Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, has opted for "Blame Britain First," saying that British colonialism caused a lot of the problems facing the world now (his argument is actually that the hasty retreat from colonialism caused these problems, but he doesn't realize that, nor that Iraq, for instance, was a British mandate from the League of Nations, not a result of British adventurism). What a mess.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Milestone Alert


We're approaching the 200,000th visitor here. If you are said visitor, please let me know who you are via the comments section (or, even better, e-mail me a screen shot!).

Boycott Boycott


This is not about the great Sir Geoffrey. Mr British Spin has a great analysis of Daily Mail editor Rosie Boycott's campaign to keep pub opening hours restricted.

Pictures alert


I have uploaded some pictures of my family to the About page. I thought you might like to put some faces to the names.

End of an era


Well, things have come to a dramatic end over at Dodgeblogium.

[Criswell]
I predict we have not heard the last here!
[/Criswell]

Ashamed to be British


Peter Cuthbertson's Conservative Commentary has the dreadful story of an old woman who died as a result of a fire last night. Troops in their ageing Green Goddesses raced to her aid. On the way they passed a fire station, where the firemen temporarily broke their strike to help as well. Peter says they deserve credit for that. Maybe, if they showed remorse for their actions and abandon their strike permanently. They were obviously closer to the fire than the soldiers. Perhaps a prompt, dutiful reaction rather than one spurred by guilt would have saved the old lady's life. I am deeply, deeply ashamed that British public servants should put cupidity before duty in such a way.

PP: Latest on the strikes is here.

Idiots


Read this and laugh or cry as your fancy takes you. This is the mentality of Britain today: they'll take away traffic safety measures like this at the same time as they're erecting speed cameras...

Government by fiat


Joined-up injustice is an effective summary of why yesterday's Queen's Speech was so depressing. In the area of crime reduction, this is compelling:

America provides some useful pointers. There, policing has proved highly successful in regaining control of the streets. The lesson from the United States is that tackling crime is a task that has to be done at local level.

Only when responsibility and authority are delegated to those on the frontline will results be achieved. But this Government's response is always that it, and it alone, is capable of dealing with any problem. Delegating authority flies flat in the face of all New Labour's instincts.

True and true. This Government rules by fiat. Moreover, it is strengthening the power of the executive at every turn. Another example of a "pretty bloody frightening" society.

BTW, to those who are asking, the Queen's Speech is one of the last vestiges that reminds us that the Executive in the UK is technically a different thing from the Legislature. The Executive, embodied in the Monarch, comes to the Legislature to tell it what the Executive is proposing to it for debate. Of course, because the Executive is the puppet of the Legislature, which elects someone from within itself to exercize all the Executive's powers, this is meaningless (and made even more meaningless by the fact that the party system has made the Legislature in turn a puppet of that elected person). Nevertheless, the more astute will realize the ideal situation the Queen's Speech symbolizes. This is a check and balance that has become dignified, which is the worst thing that can ever happen to checks on power.

Thoughtcrime


Stephen Pollard thinks that the Met Police's new campaign asking people to inform on suspected racists shows London is turning into a "pretty bloody frightening society". Adriana Cronin has more over at Samizdata.

Another opportunity for the Tories


United Press International's valuable UPI Hears... column has an interesting tidbit from Europe for us:

The opposition to Turkey's membership of the European Union is hardening fast. The European Peoples' Party, a coalition of right-of-center parties that is the largest block in the European parliament, is throwing its weight behind the controversial insistence of former French President Giscard d'Estaing that "Turkey is not a European country." EPP leaders Wilfried Martens of Belgium and Elmar Brok of Germany, presenting their own draft constitution for the EU, said their party "had come to the same conclusions as Giscard." They spoke as Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of Turkey's new AK (Justice and Development ) party that will form the next government after a sweeping election victory, was preparing a European tour to urge Turkish membership. The Bush administration is also strongly pressing the EU to give Turkey a firm date to start accession talks. But Martens, EPP chairman, said that Turkey should be content with a "partnership agreement" that falls far short of EU membership.

Michael Ancram should be decrying Giscard, Martens and Brok as being guilty of racism. Turkey is a good friend, they should say, with a long and proud history as a European power. Its secular society is a tribute to the possibilities for a constructive Islamic role in the modern world. The racist attitudes of Giscard and his cronies may simply drive Turkey towards extremism. The Prime Minister should be called on to champion Turkey's aspirations as a member of the EU. If not, why not? Does he agree with Giscard?

Yobbery


The Guardian asks Are You a Yob? Someone should smash their face in for such effrontery.

More on boozing and breast cancer


Richard Brignell of Numberwatch provides his take on the alcohol/ breast cancer issue. He's more trenchant than I am, but quite right, although I think the dose-response issue does have to be addressed more seriously.

The caring society


Another triumph for British charity: Charity Workers Chat with Dead Woman, Then Leave. Of course, this will doubtless be used as evidence that charities aren't up to the job and that social services will have to be expanded.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Wow


I know the Prof has already blogged this, but Martin Walker's UPI story, American view of Europe, is pretty amazing. The litany of wrong judgment calls by the Europeans over the past twenty years given him by his State Department friend is remarkable, as is the conclusion:

Well, the Europeans may still be able to count on the sympathies and cultural deference of many East Coast journalists, but something has shifted among the diplomats, the think tanks and even many of the academics. At a think-tank meeting last week, when a European diplomat asked rather patronizingly what all these American weapons were actually for, a renowned liberal academic simply quoted Kipling's line about "Making mock of uniforms that guard you while you sleep." And then he turned on his heel and walked away.

America's foreign policy establishment is composed largely of people who seldom pay much attention to military matters, but since the Kosovo war they have come to appreciate the vast disparities between the U.S. armed forces and the rest. It is now widely understood that of all the Europeans, only the British can begin to fight on the same modern battlefield as the hugely expensive and technologically advanced American forces. The rest of the Europeans are so many free riders on the readiness of American taxpayers to spend twice as much as Europeans on what remains the common defense.

The Kipling regiment is, of course, to Tommy, a splendid piece of verse that deserves to be read out loud every week in the newsrooms of the New York Times and the Guardian. Of course, Orwell was a fan of this poem too. I am sure that was what he had in mind when he commented in a BBC broadcast on April 4, 1942, "We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." Remember that, ye Europeans.

The British Prime Minister


I never thought anyone could ever wrute a love story about a British PM and have it become as big a hit as The American President. Now Andrew Marr points out the same thing in relation to The West Wing (hmm, both Aaron Sorkin oeuvres...):

But there is almost always something missing in British political dramas. We could never make a West Wing out of Downing Street. I think it's that we lack the Americans' belief in the potential goodness of politicians, their sometimes wide-eyed optimism about democracy.

The very idea of a prime minister, rather than a president, who was ultimately benign, even heroic, would be laughed off this island the minute it was broadcast - and I suspect that would have been so throughout most of the past 50 years. Now, does this make us a more knowing, secure democratic culture or a weaker and shallower one? Discuss.

Interesting question, but what about the reverse? The White House has had its share of nasty occupants, but could you ever credit an American President as vicious and scheming as Francis Urquhart?

Cigarettes and alcohol


CBS News reported last night that a new study from the UK had demonstrated a link between drinking and breast cancer. Although CBS claimed that the study "analyzed 150,000 women around the world" it was actually a re-analysis of 53 separate studies. These "meta-analyses" are always questionable because different studies generally apply different methods, and accounting for differences may be difficult.

Nevertheless, the study is reputable. It does not claim to show that drinking causes breast cancer, but it does demonstrate that the risk of the disease increases as more alcohol is consumed daily (a "dose-response relationship"). It also postulates a credible biological pathway -- a damaged liver hinders the metabolization of estrogen, increasing breast cancer risk.

Yet the actual risks of drinking in itself are pretty small. It is only when one drinks heavily that the risk becomes appreciably large. A woman who has, on average, one alcoholic drink a day, suffers only a 3% increased risk of breast cancer. Two drinks implies a 13% increased risk, three a 20% increased risk, and so on (six drinks a day gives a 46% increased risk).

Given that, according to the CDC, only 3% of women drink 5 or more drinks in a day 12 times or more a year, this particular health risk will affect very few people. Moreover, the health risks of such abuse of alcohol are already well-known. This adds to the litany of reasons why it is bad for you to drink so heavily.

In short, the study shows that there is one more increased health risk for women who drink heavily. For the average woman who enjoys a drink or two every now and then, there is nothing to worry about. Indeed, as CBS says, women with no family history of breast cancer but with a family history of heart disease should not be swayed from the beneficial effects provided by a moderate intake of alcohol.

Almost...


The Telegraph, or at least one particular journalist there, has allowed its head to swell somewhat. Introducing the new party that can really oppose Labour is a call for a party based on a newspaper column. Now I happen to agree with much of what Mr Robinson proposes as his party's aims, but a properly functioning Conservative party should be able to do all of that. Moreover, the simplism of the liberalism shines through in this statement:

Not only will it keep the government out of your lives wherever possible, the FCP will keep the Tories out of your bedroom, because even if it is true that married couples are best equipped to bring up children, we do not want to hear it from Theresa May.

Keeping out of the bedroom is one thing, and something I happen to agree with, but has Mr Robinson never attended a wedding? Marriage is a public act. It legitimizes a union in the eyes of the community. "We are gathered here today to witness the union of this man and this woman in holy matrimony..." and so on. The community has a stake in marriage, therefore it is an entirely proper subject for public discourse, whether by the dreadful Theresa May or by anyone else.

Much of the rest of the column is taken up with an odd ramble about John Bercow and his fiancee Sally. Now it just happens that I knew Sally quite well a few years ago, so I am delighted to read that she is still "all foxy hairstyle and racehorse legs," but what the Dickens has this to do with the proposed new party?

Three out of ten, Mr Robinson. Must try harder.

Nuff respec'


Janet Daley has a great article, Old is bad, new is good - the myth that kills respect, about the unintended consequences of the "progressive" method of education. I have a few quibbles -- she neglects to consider the respectable working class, who maintained order within their communities quite well, thank you very much -- but generally this hits the mark.

Praise Pratchett!


Adriana Cronin of Samizdata has been positing some marvelous epigrams from The Pratchett Quote File, so I thought I'd get in on the act:

It's not Brits who think American readers are a bunch of whinging morons with the geo-social understanding of a wire coathanger, it's American editors.

Very, very true...

Lords help us


Well, there we go. The Queen's speech containe measures to abolish double jeopardy protections and the principle that people are tried on the merits of the evidence against them, rather than on their reputations. Both massive steps backwards. These measures will sail through the Commons because the Tories will be too busy fighting each other to complain and the "liberals" will be arguing that increased public spending is the answer. The Lords are the only hope to stop these unconstitutional measures. Of course, because the Government "looks forward to considering the report from the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform" even this check may be abolished...

Scientists for Uncertainty


In an otherwise balanced New York Times report on the administration's proposal to investigate further claims about global warming, one statement by an objector stands out as needing further examination:

"If you only talk about reducing uncertainty, that's very appealing to folks who don't want to act on climate change because it implies we can wait," said Dr. Roger A. Pielke Jr., an expert on environmental risks at the University of Colorado, Boulder

This is an odd statement from a scientist, whose profession is dedicated to reducing uncertainty and getting us more precise information about the world in which we live. Furthermore, as Reason's science correspondent Ron Bailey points out in "Earth Report 2000,"

As scientific understanding of the climate system improves, estimates of future warming continue to fall. Even if warming does prove to be substantial, the time required for it to occur (many decades) will allow humanity considerable time to better understand the problem, and formulate any policy changes that might be deemed necessary.

Further information is the lifeblood of science. We cannot regard science as settled simply because an intergovernmental panel came to certain conclusions in 1995. Anything that helps us understand an issue further should be welcomed by all scientists. Those who stand in the way of further investigation need to be asked why.

It takes a marriage...


Surely that would have been a better headline for this New York Times op/ed? Anyway, those in the UK who say social change is irreversible should consider this:

Might marriage be making a comeback in communities where the vast majority of children are born to single parents? A minister on Chicago's West Side told me that when he began preaching there 10 years ago, his congregation scoffed at his efforts to foster matrimony. But this year his church co-sponsored an event called "Celebrating Contentment," in which long-married couples testified to their happiness together. Last summer, there was such demand for the minister's weekly marriage enrichment workshops that he had to put some parishioners on a waiting list. In Baltimore, Joe Jones, who runs a program to promote fatherhood, is adding marriage classes to his curriculum. And the Nation of Islam, which organized the Million Man March, has now taken up the mantle of marriage, declaring it "a social institution in need of restoration."

What's even more amazing than the return of marriage is that this op/ed in favor of it comes from a liberal PBS correspondent in the pages of the New York Times. He's right that marriage is not a panacaea, and that "shotgun" weddings are no more likely to last than the cohabitations they were before government force was involved, but his respect for the institution, though grudging, is based on clear social evidence that families raise children better and are the basis of community:

But there is now growing consensus among social scientists that, all things being equal, two parents are best for children. It would seem to follow that two-parent families are also best for a community. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes families to build a village.

His conclusion is something that faint-heart conservatives should bear in mind:

Even if conservatives don't know how to get there, at least they recognize that marriage, this very private institution, has very public consequences. Liberals, who have a much firmer understanding of the obstacles poor people face, need to enter that conversation.

If American liberals are beginning to realize that the health of private family life has important public consequences, how much sillier are British conservatives to decide it best to pull out of the area now?

Where's Osama?


Despite the purported Bin Laden tape, I'm not convinced yet that he's alive. Voice recognition techniques have a huge margin of error. If it is genuine, there are two positive points I draw from it: first, that the might Al Qa'eda can't even get a videocamera to their leader (they're not going to give away their location if they film him in front of a wall). The only genuine reason for not videoing him would be if he had visible injuries, eleven months after the attack in which he presumably received them, or if he's emaciated and looks close to death. Either way, that's good. Second, he's explicitly making common cause with the Iraqis. So much for the "Al Qa'eda hates Iraq" argument.

How many people read those papers, anyway?


In response to a question from Peter Cuthbertson, I looked up the latest circulation figures for British newspapers (frames may play around with the direct link, so try ABC Data - Newspapers - National Newspapers). Figures for those of interest to the blogosphere are (daily circulation):

The Sun: 3,612,464
Daily Mirror: 2,095,125
Telegraph: 972,596
Times: 687,611
FT: 451,859
Evening Standard (London paper): 439,098
Guardian: 404,949
Independent: 221,369

There are two mid-market papers, the Express and the Mail, that have circulations of 989,874 and 2,436,889 respectively. They have no web presence to speak of, sadly. The Express is Blairite center-left (it was solidly Thatcherite), while the Mail is conservative but often unthinking, so can tend to anti-Americanism.

(Sunday papers)
News of the World: 4,004,586
Sunday Mirror: 1,697,419
Sunday Times: 1,398,414
Sunday Telegraph: 791,669
Observer: 488,718
Independent on Sunday: 228,328

For comparison, here are the US figures (daily/sunday):

Wall Street Journal: 1,819,528/ n/a
USA Today: 1,769,650/ n/a
New York Times: 1,143,404/ 1,698,281
LA Times: 1,040,670/ 1,391,343
Washington Post: 791,295/ 1,070,809
(New York) Daily News: 688,143/ 821,080
Chicago Tribune: 622,862/ 1,001,662
Newsday: 550,235/ 663,220
Houston Chronicle: 545,066/ 737,626
Dallas Morning News: 522,538/ 782,748

The Washington Times has a measly 103,559/ 49,972 circulation.

The British papers obviously reach a much greater proportion of the British populace than the American ones reach of the American population. The Grauniad is therefore that much more influential than its equivalent, the New York Times. On the other hand, center-right papers sell far more than the leftist ones. In other words, Britain has a bigger proportion of leftists than the US, but at the same time the average British newspaper reader is more likely to read one with a sensible editorial voice than the average American.

Just thought you might like to know.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Defensive gun use in the UK


A grandfather shot his grand-daughter's attacker dead. I wonder how long it will be before he gets taken to court...

Comrades, come running


Excellent analysis by Patience Wheatcroft in The Times of why the extra costs Labour and Europe have imposed on business are bad for the working class. Permanent unemployment levels of 8-10% beckon unless Britain gets its act together and reduces costs on business. Again, this is obvious ground for the Tories to work in. Taxes cost jobs! Why aren't Michael Howard and David Willetts saying that?!?

Educating thugs


Charles Clarke, the new UK Education Secretary, is the son of a former Treasury mandarin, Otto Clarke. I know too little about Clarke senior, but he is described in the index of Corelli Barnett's history of modern Britain simply as "wrangler." From such a lineage often comes greatness, and what I have seen of Clarke junior so far suggests political brilliance and a willingness to take on sacred cows, although I do not sense any real philosophy there. It seems that he may, however be the man to save British education, as Libby Purves suggests in her Times column today.

Yet the main thrust of Ms Purves' article is about educating thugs. I don't think she gets the half of it. Advocating letting children enter the work force at 14 may have been fine in 1920, when there was the option of apprenticeships, but we need a work force better trained for variety now. And I can't see call centers overjoyed at the prospect of being able to employ 14 year-olds. Nevertheless, there probably is a role for "dropping out" later.

Ms Purves gets closer to the problem when she looks at why children are misbehaving in school:

Some are disruptive because they are innately unhappy. That is one of the hardest problems to crack, since it has its roots in the family. Some teachers, especially secondary specialists, say militantly that the pastoral role is not what they are paid for. If so, it is critically important that pastoral skills are respected and rewarded in school, and mental health services (scandalously bad for young people) are available outside it. Some tough schools have had remarkable success with soppy-sounding things: quiet rooms, a time-out routine, even aromatherapy.

This need for human thoughtfulness goes down to the smallest details. Some children are disruptive because, frankly, they are ill-nourished. Surveys show that innumerable children go to school without breakfast. Plenty consider a bag of crisps, a tartrazine-orange drink and a Snickers to be lunch. Schools which offer breakfast, or excellent school dinners, or even just take up their right to subsidised milk, report extraordinary leaps in the children’s concentration.

So she admits children can be disruptive because they have been badly socialized. It's not a great leap from this to admitting that bad (or non-existent) parenting is the root cause of disruptive behavior. Yet Ms Purves' solution is horribly capitulationist:

So it’s not all about sin-bins and thug-punishing. If we have accidentally designed a society where schools are in the front line, fighting to civilise the new generation, let’s admit it, fund it, and go for it.

How about "let's realize there's something wrong with that society and reform to solve the problems rather than just accept it and take taxpayers' money to paper over the cracks"?

Libertarians, take heed


Looking for a certain Madison quote, I came across this one: "Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as by the abuses of power." All sensible libertarians should hang a copy of this on their wall.

Anyway, I found my quote, which pairs nicely with one by Pitt the Younger:

"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom: it is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
-- Pitt the Younger

"I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations."
-- James Madison

The Crime Meddler


David Blunkett claims it's about time the victims of crime received justice. Aside from the debate about whether the wishes of the victims is vengeance, not justice, this is a pretty poor excuse for thinking ancient liberties are just a grab-bag you can rummage around in and pull out only those you like. The Telegraph's editorial, Criminal Meddling, says exactly what's wrong with the Home Secretary's arguments:

As for "twisted traditions", it is not altogether clear what Mr Blunkett means by that phrase. But he seems to mean at least three things: the defendant's right to trial by jury for serious offences; his right to have each case against him tried on its merits, without reference to his previous convictions; and his right not to be tried a second time on a charge of which he has been acquitted.

These traditions may sound "twisted" to Mr Blunkett, but there is great sense in all of them. There is no room here to rehearse all the arguments in favour of jury trial. Enough to say that the risk that some jurors may be intimidated, and afraid to convict the guilty, is not a good enough reason to abolish a defendant's right to it.

Nor is it fair, except in the most unusual circumstances, that previous convictions should be read out in court before a jury reaches its verdict. Not unnaturally, the police often arrest people precisely because they have previous convictions. They round up the usual suspects.

The prosecution's job is to establish that a defendant has committed a particular crime - not that he is the sort of person who might commit such a crime because he has done so in the past.

The "double jeopardy" rule, under which a defendant cannot be tried twice for the same offence, also makes good sense. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if no verdict was taken to be final, and every criminal file had to be kept open in perpetuity. Imagine how sloppy the police would become in preparing their evidence, knowing that if they did not get their man this time, there would always be another chance.

The 'twisted traditions' are all enshrined in the US Bill of Rights. Care to come over here and call them 'twisted,' David?

Fight fire with fire


Public safety alert as firefighters decide to strike is the Tories' wet reply to the fire brigades' strike. Not a mention of the fact that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is not allowing the troops who are deputising for the striking firemen to use the fire brigades' equipment, as that would involve crossing picket lines. News for you, John, no-one in the public remembers the 1926 general strike anymore. This is not "echoes of strike-busting" or anything like that.

Anyway, here is what I would say in David Davis' shoes:

"The government calls these strikes Scargillite. Well, we knew exactly how to deal with Arthur Scargill. We put the good of the country first instead of trying to appease the Labour Party's financial backers in the unions. We faced up to the threat head on and broke the power of the people the Prime Minister has called wreckers. But it looks like the DPM doesn't have the courage to face down these people, even with the threat of innocent lives being lost. At the very least, I call on the Deputy Prime Minister to give up his archaic, doctrinaire, Scargillite view that you can't cross picket lines and allow our troops to use the modern equipment of the fire brigades. If he refuses to allow this, I say that every life that is lost to fire while this strike goes on is on his hands. I hope the relatives of the victims will forgive him, because I won't, and nor will anyone on these benches."

Go on, put the boot in, David.

Always the last to know...


The Blogs of War is (are?) back! Huzzah!

Good article alert!


Gene Therapy Undergoes Reevaluation, in the LA Times of all places, seems like an excellent summary of where we are with gene therapy. It sounds to me like the halting of trials everywhere except Britain (!) after the French boy developed leukemia might have been an over-reaction.

Monday, November 11, 2002

Free Speech, as long as this Court agrees


Eugene Volokh has a great take-down of the latest repressive interpretation of free speech adopted by the EU.

Harcore ruling


Thanks to Peter Cuthbertson for this one. One of Britain's worst serial murderers is among a group of prisoners that has won a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that their right to free expression guarantees them a right to receive hardcore porn. Whatever happened to the idea that prisoners' rights can be restricted? Subsection 2 of Article 10 of the European Convention allows exceptions "for the protection of health or morals," so how can this get through? Ye gods.

PP: As you'll see in the comments section, I erred in ascribing the decision to the European Court. The prisoners were claiming a right based on the European Convention, and HM Prison Service had capitulated. British bureaucracy has a history of applying European overarching principles rather more strictly than the rest of Europe. This seems another example to me.

Giscard just keeps on giving


Steven Chapman has the final word on Giscard's definition of Europe to exclude Turkey.

Ideas, ideas


Meanwhile, in a world as divorced from reality as that in which mankind enjoys a new era of peace because we can all shoot up, the anti-globalizers set out their manifesto for Europe:

Top of the list, they sought a demilitarised Europe at peace with itself and the world, an ethical continent that takes a high moral stance against US imperialism. High on the list too was a radical rethink, or complete rejection, of the predatory capitalism the continent now knows. They imagined a Europe that rejected crude market ideology, made institutions fully accountable, put people before profit, and where big business was not allowed to dominate the political or consumer agendas.

There were specifics: Europe, they said, should have open borders, and all people within it should have the right to work and to have a home; it should have a Tobin tax on financial markets and regulation of corporations; there should be no GM foods or pollution; no privati sation of public services; the media should be in the hands of the many not the few; and racism should be driven out.

There was almost complete consensus on three issues: that "neo-liberalism" - the free-market ideas espoused by the IMF and G7 - is a violent political and economic doctrine; that trade with poor countries should be fair; and that one vote every four years given to political parties run by self-serving elites is no way to run modern, complex democracies in a globalised economy.

Reminds one of Cade, doesn't it:

"Cade: Be brave, then; for your captain is brave, and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny; the three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops; and I will make it felony to drink small beer. All the realm shall be in common, and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass; and when I am king, as king I will be--
All: God save your majesty!
Cade: I thank you, good people--there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord."

First thing we'll do...

Alternative comedy


opinion.telegraph.co.uk - Legalisation might be the only way to halt the drugs epidemic argues anti-Thatcher 80s comic Ben Elton. Ben's claim to authority seems to be that he's writing a comic novel with some druggies in it. Good for you, Ben. Mr Elton's article seems to distill the received wisdom on the subject, but, as so often, that wisdom is wide of the mark:

It is a matter of simple fact that a large proportion of people in this country, particularly young people, take drugs.


Let's compare that with the available data (warning - PDF file).

11 percent of people aged 16-59 used drugs in the last year, and six percent in the last month. Large proportion? Yes, the numbers are bigger for young people (16-29) -- 25 percent in the last year and 16 percent in the last month, but these are still smaller than the phrase "large proportion" would indicate. If you took 100 young people at random, you'd find 84 of them hadn't touched drugs in the last month, and 75 hadn't done so in the last year. Only a third of people have ever used drugs. This is a minority, and a small and transient one at that.

Because the people who do use drugs are highly segmentized. Most notably, drug use is significantly higher in London than in the rest of the country and "an analysis of different types of residential neighbourhoods showed uniformly higher levels of drug use among 16 to 29s living in affluent urban areas for 'any drug', cocaine and class A drugs." Single, renting accomodation and visiting pubs and clubs were also risk factors. So drug use in the UK is most prevalent among young urban professionals with high disposable incomes who have not put down family roots. Find a married person or a property owner outside London and you're much less likely to find someone who uses drugs. Young men are also much more likely (230%) to have used drugs in the past month than young women. This seems to back up the idea that people "grow out" of drugs, while they don't from drinking, although I'll be interested to see if this changes as the bourgeois view of cannabis as acceptable spreads. For the moment, however, stable family life is the enemy of drugs, another reason why the family should be encouraged.

It also seems to back up my contention that the drug trade is mainly driven by the demand of an educated, but irresponsible, elite. It is their demand that is contributing to the social breakdown in the working class areas where the drugs are sold and traded. "Parasites" is the word that springs to mind.

Moreover, that demand is probably fueled at least in part on the idiotic idea that certain drugs are "safe." A new report from the British Lung Foundation summarizes the evidence that cannabis smoking is much more detrimental to respiratory health than ordinary tobacco smoking, yet 79% of children think it is safe. Some proper public education in this sphere might reduce the amount of marijuana smoked, which would have a considerable effect on the profit margins of drug dealers. The full report (available here in PDF form) is very interesting reading.

Take it away, regular commentators...

Chuck it, Mandy


Peter Mandelson's cri de coeur that Europe needs Britain might be convincing were it not for some blinding indiocies, such as:

the age-old Franco-German partnership
.
Ah yes, the age-old partnership that has been demonstrated so often over the past few hundred years.

In any event, Mandelson's article is interesting in that it seems to demonstrate that the federalizers are beginning to think of what they can achieve without Britain. The crunch time may be closer than the British Europhiles of the Blairite wing would like. Giscard has put tax harmonization firmly on the agenda, something unacceptable to Gordon Brown, from what I understand. If this is in the Constitution Giscard proposes, then the result will be that Britain and Ireland will have to choose whether or not to remain in the EU:

Mr Giscard d'Estaing also set out his strong views on what should happen to those countries that fail to ratify the proposed new EU constitution. Speaking to the Kangaroo group, a body that favours more economic integration in Europe, he said non-ratifiers would exclude themselves from the EU, but could have economic ties to the union.

"The probability is that of 25 or 27 member states [after EU enlargement] 23 would accept [the constitution] and two or three will refuse," he said. "We have to abrogate the [EU] treaties that exist. If a country says that it does not like the new treaty, there's no existing structure for them to cling to, they cannot seek refuge in the old agreement.

"We should say: you can maintain an economic role, but you can no longer be in this political system. That will be the consequence of refusal."

He said that such countries would play a similar role to members of the European Free Trade Association, which have a free-trade area with the EU, and cited the micro-state of Liechtenstein, with a population of 30,000, as an example.

Remaining within the economic area, but outside the political, is precisely what the British people want, I think. Bring it on, Giscard.

Silly reasoning


This silly Boston Globe editorial tries to argue that the sniper case shows that capital punishment has no deterrent effect. No punishment has a deterrent effect against people who think they'll never be caught or convicted -- "Acid Bath" Haigh is the best example. The snipers clearly thought they were cleverer than the police, so any thought of potential punishment would have been dismissed. The deterrent effect acts against those who weigh up the risks of crime more or less rationally. And recent evidence, summarized in my American Outlook article here, does seem to suggest a genuine deterrent effect there. The research mentioned, by the way, has been backed up by further research by other academics since.

The Post gets it?


The Washington Post's London correspondent, T.R. Reid (I always worry about people who insist on being referred to be their initials) has long failed to understand British politics, particularly in reference to the Europe question. Now, however, it seems that a Post foreign correspondent is beginning to realize that all is not happy in the state of Euroland. In The EU and the Power of the People there is a useful contrast made between the elites and the people. The article summarizes the problems for EU expansion highlighted by the latest Eurobarometer poll:

The poll results are even more striking when viewed country by country. Hungary emerges as by far the most pro-EU of the 10 aspirants, with 65 percent of those polled saying EU membership is a good thing. But the number is 52 percent in Poland, 43 percent in the Czech Republic, 41 percent in Slovenia, 38 percent in Malta, 35 percent in Estonia and 32 percent in Latvia.

If these states do not join, people might begin to think again about whether or not a United Europe is as inevitable as it seems. If they do, then at least there will be a much larger euroskeptic presence in the councils of Brussels.

TCS Column Up


Positively False looks at the question of false positives and false negatives in data. A bit general, but I was ill last week...

Thursday, November 07, 2002

Loght posting alert


Home ill today -- some sort of bug -- so don't expect much in the way of posting today. Sorry.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Something else for the Tories to think about


This time from commentator JohnEllis:

The upside of being completely out of power in Washington is that it requires Democrats to think much more imaginatively about the most important issues facing the country. They've been cast out into the wilderness. The wilderness is where parties are reinvented, reimagined and reengineered. Standing for nothing except political advantage leads, inevitably, to defeat. Standing for something is the road back.

Like it or not, New Labour changed more than just its image. It became a party of the center, not of the left (Tories, as well as Old Labour, still haven't realized that). But the Tory modernizers just want political advantage. It's Hague with different policies, and likely to be just as disastrous.

A whisper to the wise


Very important point for Tory MPs to bear in mind in David Brooks' review of the election:

The Democrats, led by Tom Daschle, sold their soul to win this election, and parties that sell their souls to win usually end up losing.

How much of "modernization" is casting off needless baggage, and how much is selling the soul?

New Labour and the GOP


Meanwhile, a similar set of issues present what problems there are for the parties in power.

Issue 1: The trouble with coalitions. Both Bush and Blair have achieved dominance by attracting new members to their coalitions. Both have attracted centrists, who are always hard to please, but they have also attracted others, such as blue collar union workers and economic puritans. This is not like Reagan or Mrs T attracting new voters by a general impression of competence, instead they have been attracted by specific promises. And these promises – protectionism, fiscal prudence – run contrary to the instincts of the party base. Both parties are going to have to annoy traditional followers to retain the support of their new followers. Blair has been doing this admirably for 5 years, and the strain is beginning to show. Bush may not be as skillful as Blair.

Issue 2: The international aspect. Both have gambled a lot that they will be able to deliver successful results internationally. Bush has pledged to wipe out terror, and that is what he will be judged on, however well or badly the rest of his administration does. Blair is spinning a lot of plates internationally: Iraq, the UN, the EU constitution, the Euro. Any or all of these could crash down.

Issue 3: Kicking the enemy while he’s down. Because of the fragile nature of their dominance, neither party can afford to let the opposition get up. They will need to devote a lot of time and effort towards keeping the opposition squabbling and continuing to triangulate them where possible. Blair has done this to great effect for years (the best recent example being the unnecessary adoption debate, which may have killed IDS’s leadership). Can the more diffuse Republican leadership concentrate itself this way?

In short, neither party (or leader) can be said to be as unassailable as Reagan or Thatcher were. Their dominance is based on weaker alliances, and the impact of events outside their control could be disastrous (literally as well as politically). Moreover, their position is artificially enhanced by the opposition’s weakness. Reagan and Thatcher were their countries’ choice. The GOP and New Labour are simply preferred to the alternatives. There’s a lot to think about here.

Tories and Democrats: different policies, same problems


It occurs to me after last nights amazing sweep by the Republicans over here that the Democrats have very similar problems to the Tory party in the UK, and that the Republicans are in a very similar position to New Labour. Let’s look at the similarities, Tories/Dems first:

Issue 1: Weak leadership. The nominal leader (Daschle/IDS) is uncharismatic and has not been able to convince the country that he has any weight as a politician. He is dwarfed by the stature of his external opponent, and has others coveting the position as lead candidate in the next general election, which weakens his ability to present a united front (yes, I know this is a systemic problem in the US, but bear with me). Both parties are likely to fall prey to internecine strife for the next year or so.

Issue 2: Party of the past. Both parties are viewed as out of touch, and their personnel reflects that. Portillo and Howard are daily reminders of an era the British voters would rather forget. The Democrats advanced Mondale as a great hope! Fresh blood is desperately needed.

Issue 3: Loss of center ground. In both countries, centrism is in. But in each party’s case, the electorate has made clear it prefers the other party’s centrists. Thus Shaheen loses while Coleman wins. “Moderation” has not made Portillo or his acolytes any more popular in the country as a whole. Moreover, a move to the Left for the Dems or to the Right by the Tories looks likely only to lose the party support.

Issue 4: Inability to challenge the governing party on key issues. In the US, the Democrats were unable to present a coherent opposing policy on homeland security. In the UK, the Tories have been unable to make any headway on the economy. The electorate trusts the party in power on these key issues. The same is true of less important issues, meaning that the parties have been thrashing about for something – anything – that will make them distinct. These issues (corporate scandals, asylum), while of concern to the voters, have not energized them.

Issue 5: Actual loss of key issues. In some cases, the governing party has completely taken over what was previously a key issue. In the UK, Labour is now seen as better on the economy and at least as good for patriotism. In the US, the Republicans are making the running in urban areas with welfare reform and school choice, thereby blunting a lot of traditional Democrat appeal. Trade protectionism seems to have helped blunt union opposition too.

Both parties are therefore in serious trouble. The Democrats at least have the fallback of Governors’ Mansions, where they can try new things and produce figures of stature. The Tories have no such luxury, because Margaret Thatcher destroyed local government as a source of real power (directly elected Mayors may yet solve this, but not for a while). Both parties need to sort out the leadership problems, get rid of the failed old guard, press hard to recapture the center ground, develop coherent opposing policies in the key areas and work to seize back the initiative in areas traditionally thought of as their competence. This will not be easy, but without these reforms the parties will continue to wither away.

Senatus Consultum Ultimum


Well, looks like I was a little conservative. Here's how it turned out:

AR: Pryor D (Dem gain) -- CORRECT
MN: Coleman R (Rep gain) -- CORRECT
SC: Graham R (Rep hold) -- CORRECT
CO: Strickland D (Dem gain) -- WRONG! Allard R (Rep hold)
MO: Talent R (Rep gain) -- CORRECT
SD: Johnson D (Dem hold) -- TOO CLOSE TO CALL
GA: Cleland D (Dem hold) -- WRONG! Chambliss R (Rep gain)
TN: Alexander R (Rep hold) -- CORRECT
IA: Harkin D (Dem hold) -- CORRECT
TX: Cornyn R (Rep hold) -- CORRECT
NC: Dole R (Rep hold) -- CORRECT
NH: Sununu R (Rep gain) -- CORRECT

Overall balancee: Rep 51 (+2), Dem 47 (-2), Ind 1 (nc), Undecided 1

A stunningly good performance by Republicans across the board or, more likely, a stunningly bad performance by Democrats. More to follow.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Neck sticking out time


Okay, I haven't been following the elections closely, but I'm going to predict that the Republicans will retain the House with no perceptible change (a couple of seats either way seems possible). I'm not going to try to guess on the gubernatorial races, despite their importance as the breeding ground for future Presidents. Here's what I think will happen in the Senate:

AR: Pryor D (Dem gain)
MN: Coleman R (Rep gain)
SC: Graham R (Rep hold)
CO: Strickland D (Dem gain)
MO: Talent R (Rep gain)
SD: Johnson D (Dem hold)
GA: Cleland D (Dem hold)
TN: Alexander R (Rep hold)
IA: Harkin D (Dem hold)
TX: Cornyn R (Rep hold)
NC: Dole R (Rep hold)
NH: Sununu R (Rep gain) -- narrowest result

Overall balancee: Rep 50 (+1), Dem 49 (-1), Ind 1 (nc).

If this is anywhere near accurate, I think the Wellstone funeral will have been the biggest single factor in the Senate changing hands.

Of course, the upshot will be no real change in the policies of the Senate, there being too many centrists in both parties for the rightists to expect big changes, but at least we'll get a few judges confirmed.

Poll pall


Cellphones and Caller ID Are Making Pollsters' Jobs Harder, reports the New York Times. These issues - refusal to answer polling calls and the trickier question of cellphones - have been simmering for some time. Today's elections may be the first where they have a noticeable effect on the polls' reliability. We'll know tomorrow. If so, polling companies are going to have get back to the drawing board. Face-to-face or internet?

Drug use and abuse: the Dutch view


Melanie Philips is probably the leading proponent of the war on drugs in British journalism. In her latest, The drugs policy of harm production, there is the following interesting quote from a Dutch analyst, which I reproduce without comment:

The Ashford conference repeatedly hailed Dutch policy as a great success. In fact, it has been anything but. According to the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and Environment, use of soft drugs among Dutch high school students increased by more than 30% over the past ten years.

‘Drug use has gone up, both cannabis and cocaine’, says Hans Koopmans in Dordrecht. ‘The main problem of liberalisation is that we can’t convince youngsters that drugs, particularly cannabis, are dangerous.

‘The idea that as criminalisation hasn’t worked we should legalise is really very naïve. You will just get many more people addicted. As for reducing drug crime, most addicts who commit crime were doing so before they started on drugs. The link between drugs and crime is not that simple.’

The next issue of the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, by the way, will be a special edition on marijuana:

The supplement is comprised of papers presented at a workshop held last year by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Research reported there suggests that marijuana use has many subtle effects on the body's major systems, including temporary impairment of cognitive function, increased heart rate, increased prevalence of chronic cough and acute bronchitis, lower sperm count, and increased neurobehavioral abnormalities for children exposed in utero.

Again, I make no comment.

Goodbye, Rainman


Terrible news in the Murray household. Our beautiful thirteen year-old kitty, Rainman, started exhibiting distressing signs of neurological damage yesterday. It seems she had a brain tumor, and, on the vet's advice, we felt it best to put her to sleep. Rainman was my first real pet excluding hamsters, goldfish and so on, and I miss her terribly already. Kris is deeply upset too. I'll try to post a picture here later as a memorial to our beloved feline companion.

UPDATE:


Here's Kristen's tribute: "We lost Rainman, our cat of 12+ years this morning. We had to put her to sleep as she suddenly and without much warning became extremely ill. The vet's diagnosis was strongly leaning towards a brain tumor of some kind. Since recovery was extremely unlikely, euthanasia was the best choice.

"For those who may not know, Rainman was a girl and the runt of her litter. When my aunt took a picture of her and her littermates shortly after their eyes opened, the flash made Rainman jump and fall over. Family members became convinced she was brain damaged. I had fallen in love with her and one of her sisters and insisted on taking her. I called her Rainman as a sort of defiance.

"She was very smart. Outlived her sisters and a later brother. She ran this household with an iron paw (no velvet glove). She was beautiful, smart and funny. And I can not tell you how much we are going to miss her."

Normal blogging will resume after I've had a good cry.

Result!



Didn't try for this, just found myself naturally answering that way...

Knifed


IDS's leadership entered its final stage this morning. When the Beeb says he took a big gamble in challenging the Parliamentary party to unite, they neglect to mention the odds against his winning are lottery-sized. Rebels who are plotting openly are just going to laugh in his face and step up their campaign against him. Stephen Pollard's analysis is worth quoting in full:

Conclusive proof, once and for all, that Iain Duncan Smith is simply not up to the job. His 'personal statement' this morning had all the right ingredients save for the only one which mattered. His message was fine, as far as it went - 'unite or die'. I am the man you elected, stop squabbling, blah blah blah. But there is no clearer way of demonstrating that you are not in charge than standing before a lectern insisting that you are in charge. And as if that wasn't bad enough, to assemble the nation's press, read a statement for three minutes, and then walk off without taking a single question looks, and is, simply shameful.

The message which has to be taken from this morning's statement is simple: I am not in charge, and I am afraid to be questioned.

Bye bye, Mr IDS. You are a decent man. But you are simply not up to it.

Ruthless action was required to save his leadership, not a call to the field of honor. Rather than facing his opponents openly, he should have disposed of them at once, ruthlessly and efficiently. Withdrawal of the Tory whip, calls to the MPs' constituency chairmen, and good old-fashioned dirty tricks should have been used to pull the rug from under the plotters' feet. I don't think David Davis would have hesitated, which is one of the reasons why I think he's the only one capable of solving the Tory problems.

The Tories' policies are individually popular, it seems, but the electorate views the squabbling party, quite rightly, as a shambles. Leadership is the issue. And leadership is more than going over the top shouting "Follow me!" When that happens, you tend to get shot first. In some cases, you get shot in the back.

Up to a point, Lord Copper


Michael Barone has an interesting review of long-term voter trends. He's right that most of the issues tend to be pointing in a Republican rather than Democratic direction, but he's a little guilty of cherry-picking in this statement:

And young voters are much less statist. Fully 61 percent favor individual investment accounts in Social Security, while 67 percent of the elderly are opposed. Similarly, 58 percent of gen X favor school vouchers, while 54 percent of the elderly are opposed.

The Kaiser poll he mentions is available here in PDF form. Take a look at question 11. When asked whether they would prefer a smaller government providing less (sic) services or a bigger government providing more services, the 18-29 generation went 69%-26% in favor of Big Government. "Much less statist"? Really? Question 12 isn't much different. The future may be Republican, but presently it's big government Republican. Of course, there may be a chance that as these kids have families and see how few services they use and how much of their income is taken by the state, they may change, but similar argument could also be used for potential reversals of opinion over social security and school vouchers.

Monday, November 04, 2002

Stepping into dangerous waters again


How far can you push individual rights when there are third parties involved, such as children? If rights begin to trump values, we need to work out what is most important. Homosexuals, for instance, have, in my opinion, a right to be treated in a fashion free from discrimination. Society has a value that children must be given as good a chance for a decent upbringing as possible. The two principles seem to be coming into conflict in the issue that has just caused a resignation from IDS's shadow cabinet in the UK, the move to allow gay families to adopt children.

I find this issue particularly odd given the obvious problems with the current adoption practices in the UK. Before we allow such a major change in society's definition of what is an acceptable family, we need to be sure to a pretty high degree that children in homosexual families - unarguably a new phenomenon - are not generally worse off than those of heterosexual families. We don't know that yet, because the studies that are cited in support of that view are all statistically flawed -- see this PDF if you are interested in the technical arguments. There are studies that I know of, but am unable to find the references for (I've got queries out and will update), that demonstrate that children from homosexual families do worse than those of heterosexual families at school. Robert Lerner, author of that PDF, discusses some possible reasons why here.

This is clearly not an issue of anti-homosexual bias. This is an issue where it needs to be demonstrated that children will come to no harm. I will be happy to approve of the measure if that can be done. So far it has not, and, from the evidence we have, I'm not sure it will be.

UPDATE LATER THAN THE ONE BELOW BUT MORE DIRECTLY RELEVANT TO THE ABOVE: Melanie Philips has a great article on this whole debate here.

UPDATE: There is, of course, more to this than the principle. Both Ken Clarke and Michael Portillo defied the whip and voted against the official Tory stance. I'd be very surprised if the 25 signatures needed to trigger a No Confidence motion did not arrive very soon. As IDS only had the support of around a third of MPs when he first stood, I imagine he will lose the No Confidence vote. A three-way contest will probably result between Portillo (but only if he has the support of a substantial number of MPs - no embarrassing repeats of last time), Clarke and Davis. By the time it is over, I should be surprised if the Tories have not been overtaken by the Lib Dems in the polls. Then, if Clarke has won the party will formally disintegrate. If Portillo has won, the party will grow increasingly irrelevant as it attempts to portray itself as New Labour lite. If Davis has won, then I imagine a genuine Conservative vision will be presented. The question will be whether anyone listens to it. The party stands on the brink of the abyss.

Fount of Justice


One odd side effect of the royal butler trial has been a call for the Queen to be subject to court rules, a problem ably discussed in the Telegraph editorial, Regina v Regina. The monarch is the "Fount of Justice," from whom British justice flows. It would be genuine upheaval of what the British judicial system is about to subject the fount of justice to judicial procedures. I have regularly argued that the judicial powers exercised on the monarch's behalf by the Prime Minister should be given to an independent Lord Chancellor (appointed independently by another independent Appointments Commission, exercising the Monarch's powers as "Fount of Honour"), and I personally see no problem when the Monarch may be engaged in "High Crimes and Misdemeanors" (to coin a phrase) of subjecting the Monarch's person to appropriate proceedings (almost certainly ad hoc). Yet the general principle of monarch as witness and so on seems wrong to me. The Monarch is not above the law, nor is she the law (shades of Judge Dredd), but is an embodiment of the law, and it is that dignified role that demands different treatment. The USA, of course, has no such dignified embodiment, however much an invariably squabblng Supreme Court attempts to portray itself. This may be part of the reason for the low opinion of the legal system in America generally.

Unhealthy situation


It sounds like Dr Dalrymple has written another depressing monograph, this time of loutish patients 'expecting sex on hospital wards'. Unfortunately, the Social Affairs Unit is years behind the times and there is no mention of the publication on its web site yet (one of these days more British think tanks will wake up to the idea that they gain influence by having their views freely available on the web). Once again, however, it seems that the curse is disorder and incivility rather than actual criminal behavior. Disorder and incivility are best controlled by the community itself. This is a question of manners, not law.

A November Conspiracy


Bungled conspiracies and early November make good bedfellows. Stephen Pollard asks some tough questions about the recent "royal butler" trial in the UK,wher it appears that there was no evidence against the defendent whatsoever, and that the Police knew as much:

Inquiries can, relatively easily, pinpoint what went wrong, and who was to blame. But there is also a deeper problem. For it stretches credibility to accept that so many people involved in this case failed so badly, and so repeatedly, in doing their jobs. There was, surely, another factor at work. Cock-up is almost always a more likely explanation than conspiracy, but cock-up will not do this time. It is plain that someone, or some group, wanted to see Paul Burrell behind bars for reasons that are still unclear.

Were it not for the judge, Mrs Justice Rafferty, none of this would have emerged, and Mr Burrell might still be on his way to prison. The prosecution was informed last Monday of Mr Burrell's pivotal audience with the Queen, in which he told her he had various items in safe keeping. But they did not disclose it to the defence until forced to by the judge at the end of the week. Why not?

It seems that the Royal Family were kept as much in the dark as the defence about the case, and may even have been deliberately misled. To quote Cicero, cui bono? Far be it from me to suggest that those most likely to benefit from further sleaze attaching to the institution of the Monarchy are those who might gain more power from its abolition...

Saturday, November 02, 2002

Happy Blogiversary!


Natalie Solent is one year old today. Well, her blog is. So is Samizdata. As it's my real birthday today, too, I now realize I got two great extra presents last year. It's this blog's anniversary on Monday, although I'd been doing essentially the same thing since June last year on Conservative Revival, not that anyone was reading it...

Friday, November 01, 2002

Petain speaks


Illuminating interview with Chris Petain in The Spectator. He's very much on the defensive about the differences between Europe and America. Meanwhile, J. Danforth Hannan argues that Britain should act just a little more like France when it comes to foreign policy. Up to a point, Dan. Remember Suez?

Eurocrash


A lot of people have been pointing to this pragmaticScots article: Europe on the brink of collapse. It argues, with rather fewer facts than I would like, that the European economies are galloping towards Gomorrah:

It is not the world slowdown that has caused this performance collapse, but the interaction of entirely self-inflicted wounds: over-regulated labour markets, a relentless rise in the government share of the economy, a growing tax burden, regulation out of every orifice and a desperate rearguard action against all and every attempt to dismantle state aid and subsidies. The same clique that greeted the bursting of America’s new economy bubble as proof of the flawed Anglo-Saxon model is the same one that, now their own economy has fallen into a far deeper slowdown than that in the US, turns to blaming US policymakers for not doing enough to pull the rest of the world including the EU out of the mire. To listen to Europe’s political elite is to hear the pathetic cry of the bankrupt that someone else spent all the money. As for Germany, the powerhouse of the 1950s and 1960s has long given way to lethargy and laziness. Reds and Greens attack what is left of a once proud enterprise culture. They declaim their country in the Bundesrat like latter-day Tom Paines. But truly, it is they who pity the plumage and forget the dying bird.

Despite all this it has long been the belief of EU apologists in Britain that if only we engaged "at the centre of Europe" we would "win the argument" and slow the drive to ever closer union and ever greater centralism. But this is to ignore the fact that there are large sections of opinion in continental Europe that do not share the political and economic attitudes of the Anglo Saxon world one iota. Indeed, not even in the disintegration of the Growth and Stability Pact is there much cause for British reformists to cheer. It was Prodi no less, who repeated his call last week for "a single economic government for all countries that share the same money", with more power to the Commission to enforce a Stability Pact duly doctored to his liking.

This call was echoed by members of the EU’s latest triumph of hope over experience, the Convention on the Future of Europe, whose economic committee called for the introduction of qualified majority voting on tax harmonisation and for strengthened economic co-ordination between the member states.

As the economist Stephen Lewis eloquently argues: "In the circumstances it is questionable whether UK ambitions in the EU are realistic."

Euroland is sewing the wind. It shall reap the whirlwind.