England's Sword 2.0

Monday, December 09, 2002

Self defense right upheld in Britain


Is the tide turning? See Lawful killings for an example of a householder exonerated for killing in self-defense. The right has been upheld, although Perry is right to question the presumption of murder in the case, which shows where British law is on this issue.

More boring drug arguments


In First, they came for the opium..., David Carr repeats the same old individual liberty argument against my stance on drugs. I replied as follows:

Fair enough, David. As I've said before, I'm not a libertarian, despite my libertarian tendencies. If something does more harm than good to society, I think that democratic society has a right to debate the issue and come to conclusions about what to do about it. On both sides of the Atlantic, society is pretty much agreed that hard drugs need to be controlled for those reasons (any opinion poll will bear me out on this). Marijuana is a bit of a grey area, although the evidence that it is a public health hazard is getting stronger (I'll have an article about this on Tech Central Station soon, I hope).

I regularly say that most of the evils of this world are the result of personal choice. That choice cannot be diverted from the context around us. The context is that drugs are illegal. Their sale and distribution is controlled by some very evil people. When someone buys drugs they do so in full cognizance of that fact. They subsidize evil. It's all very well to wax lyrical about your rights or how you are being forced (pshaw! unless you're addicted, in which case...) to buy drugs from evil men by government policy but it does nothing to mitigate your individual act. If no-one bought drugs, then none of the evil would happen. That's the other side of the coin of the idea that the evils of drug lords are caused by government.

Drugs cause dreadful individual problems. I used to think broadly the way you do, but began to change my mind after hearing this story. A dear friend of my wife and her then husband got addicted to heroin in New York, when they were living an upscale lifestyle. Things changed, as they tend to when something like that happens and they moved back to Richmond, VA. Their dealers there were not upscale marketing executives, but the hardcore of street dealers, the sort the poor have to put up with. At one point, her husband had handed over cash for a bag when the dealer put his gun at the wife's head, demanding the drugs back. When she saw her husband looking at the drugs, weighing up which was more important to her, she knew her marriage was over. The illegality of the substance simply forced an issue here that derived from the use of the drug itself, and not from its legal status.

I should also add that what may seem okay to the highly-paid, educated types who frequent Samizdata may not have the same effect on people of lower socio-economic classes. See here for the scientific explanation. I don't want another 60s destroying working-class communities. Keep your divorce and your drugs to yourselves (whoops, class warrior mode accidentally engaged there).

I'm not a great supporter of the war on drugs. My position is explained here. I'd prefer a moral strengthening of society such that fewer people used drugs, but in the meantime, I think prohibitions are reasonable.

If you disagree with that for philosophical reasons, fine. I don't care. In the meantime, I suggest everyone who wants a high thinks about the actual consequences of their actions, rather than simply ignoring individual responsibility and blaming the government.

Take it away...

The end of Britain?


William Rees-Mogg warms a little too much to his theme that Tony Blair will whip through legislation approving a United States of Europe, thereby destroying the British constitution. For this to happen, they would also have to abolish Parliament. While Parliament still exists, it can repeal the Act, thereby freeing Britain and returning to the status quo ante. I think there'd be a high likelihood of this happening, although the British propensity to adapt to changing circumstances might impede this.

Rees-Mogg should have taken a different tack, as Jim Bennett suggests:

He doesn't make the point, which he should have, that the new European constitution will probably make the euro mandatory for all members. Thus, approving the constitution without a referendum is tantamount to adopting the Euro (and much more) without a referendum, contrary to promise.

Meanwhile, the chief Tory Europhile, Michael Heseltine, has called for Ken Clarke to replace IDS as leader. Now why doesn't anyone suggest expelling him from the party for disregarding -- and insulting -- the wishes of its membership so blatantly. The comparison to Militant is ludicrous. Militant did not represent the wishes of the average member of the Labour Party and Hezza used to say as much.

As for Clarke himself, as I said a year and a half ago I could see Clarke being an effective leader of the Tory party if he agreed to shut up about Europe. But he said he wouldn't. So it's a non-starter. A Europe-obsessed Clarke would destroy the Conservative party.

And as for this:

If we do not join the euro we would surrender the agenda to the Franco-German alliance. We have got to explain that the power of the nation state has been taken away by supra-national arrangements. In 100 years, Europe will be seen as a role model of how to manage in the new global environment.

Hezza is quite clearly mad. 280 million Americans could tell him that.

Chinglish


Chad Dimpler, Election Analyst, is publishing the missives from China of one Paul Murphy, an old friend of mine. Paul is a man who found himself forced by dire straits into accepting a job teaching English in Beijing, where he is now trapped. His occasional dispatches are quite excellent "travel" writing, and he deserves a wider audience.

Eurowoes


More evidence that the Euro is a silly idea in the Telegraph column The day euro bankers pressed the panic button:

The bad news comes gushing out on an almost daily basis. German unemployment is now more than four million and rising at the fastest rate since reunification. On any given working day, 45 Germans lose their jobs each hour. Walter Deuss, the head of the German retailers' federation, BAG, warned last week that trading conditions were at their worst "since the end of the war".

The European Commission is cutting its growth forecasts for the entire euro zone, which could now contract in the first quarter of next year. There is also concern about the German banking system, which has hidden bad debts after decades of soft loans and political interference.

The euro is making things worse. The ECB must set interest rates for the entire zone and, as a consequence, just about everyone has the wrong rate. One size does not fit all. At 2.75 per cent, euro interest rates are too low for fast-growing countries such as Spain and Ireland and too high for Germany. It probably needs rates at less than one per cent.

Furthermore, the euro's Stability and Growth Pact requires members to keep their budget deficits down. As German tax revenues are stalling, the government is being forced to raise taxes just at the wrong moment in the economic cycle.

And the thing is that this is all caused to a degree by Germany's idiotic government, dragging the rest of the continent down the economic black hole with it. How deliciously ironic if the Euro is destroyed by the fruits of anti-Americanism...

Keeping politics out of the pulpit


It has long been my contention that the evidence of what has happened with the established church in England shows that, in a modern society, the Church gets secularized rather than the state falling prey to religion. In the latest Free Life Commentary, British libertarian Sean Gabb looks at establishment from another angle, the Church's hatred -- I don't think that's too strong a word -- of Margaret Thatcher, which he uses as the basis for an excellently reflective essay. His conclusion is particularly good, echoing many of the themes of this blog:

It is our misfortune to live in an age of disintegration. It can be argued, I agree, that every age is one of disintegration. Conservatives in the 19th century were just as alarmed as in the 21st at the rapid and often badly thought institutional changes forced on them. The difference between then and now, though, is that the changes were forced from outside. Those in the institutions were able to make a co-ordinated and powerful defence that held off many of the attacks even into my own lifetime. Now the attacks come increasingly from within. It hardly matters what we care to defend - the Church, the Monarchy, the Lords, national independence, whatever - there are always those in high places urging on the forces of destruction, or simply inviting them by the advertised fact of their personal idiocy.

The past five years, in particular, strike me very much as a gentler, longer repeat of the collapse of the French ancien régime between 1788 and 1790. There is the same half-baked radical fervour on one side, and the same collaboration or paralysis of will on the other. I do not know how things will end. But I do know that our own ancien régime was far more defensible than the French in terms of its enabling the good life as commonly defined. For all their evident untidiness, no other set of constitutional arrangements has ever for so long combined such unwavering political stability with so wide a degree of personal freedom. If there were only one human constitution that had the Divine sanction, it was ours; and it is being systematically pulled apart. Future historians may look back at us with mingled pity and contempt. At present, we can simply fear what will come between us and that calmer future.

The British way of life was, in general, worth defending. Yet the battle was lost in the '80s. We concentrated too much on capturing the commanding heights of the economy without thinking where our supplies and reinforcements would come from. Now we look down, surrounded, isolated, our supply lines cut, for the Gramscian march has succeeded in outflanking us. Those heights don't look so commanding now.

Trusting juries on the matter at hand


Part of the thrust behind the UK government's attack on civil liberties in the UK is a desire to get more convictions of offenders. Yet, as the Bishop of Birmingham's report on the Damilola Taylor murder case shows, juries are often not given all the evidence directly relevant to the case:

Turning to the criminal justice system, the report said there should be greater trust in juries to consider all the evidence available. It said: "We believe that some of the evidence excluded from the jury in this case probably had a significant effect on the outcome of the trial.

"Greater trust in juries to objectively consider all the evidence that is potentially available in a trial is an issue which merits serious consideration by government when considering their proposed reforms.

"We cannot speculate about the extent to which the jury was exercised by the possibility that Damilola's death was an accident. However, the differences of opinion expressed by two professional experts with the similar qualifications is likely to have proved a challenge for them.

"Evidence of a third professional opinion existed and might have materially helped but it was not put before the court because it was only available to the defence and was unused."

Now this is a sensible suggestion. But instead we are going to let juries hear about previous convictions. So people will be judged on their reputations, while actual material evidence about the matter at hand will still be withheld. Crazy.

Blogsolidation


In a Manhattan transfer, Mindles H Dreck, the blogger formerly known as Andrew Hofer, is merging with Megan McArdle's Assymetrical Information to create a monsterblog. I wonder if the consolidation era of the blogging industry is looming...

New Poster


I have invited Frank Sensenbrenner, formerly of Dodgeblog, to post occasional comments here. As an American conservative currently based in the UK, he is in a good position to give another view of the sort of topics mentioned here regularly. I have no intention of reducing my posting levels, so don't worry about that. Now if only I can persuade my Australian alter ego to start posting too...

New Blog Blugs


DaghtatorBlog is a Danish blog aimed at taking on the euroweenies. Harry's Place is the closest I have yet seen to an Old Labour blog. Jolly good, I can respect that.

The truth is out there, Ginger


I hope the Group Captain sees this one. Britons Get One Less Thing to Worry About is a New York Times account of the declassification of the British Ministry of Defence's investigation into a UFO sighting in 1980.

M-SPAN


For a surreal introduction to British politics, amble over here, and check out the video for Re:volution. Two Canadian DJs used samples from contemporary British politics and video clippings for the music video. In the US, it was aired on MTV. Worth a laugh at the very least, especially when watching the video.

Friday, December 06, 2002

The benefits of organic food


Yes, organic food will kill you with a quick, environmentally-friendly spider bit rather than over years through pesticide-induced cancer. In order to kill devouring insects in an organic fashion, Tesco's uses black widows, I kid you not, on its grapes. Trouble is, at leats two of them have made it alive into people's houses. How sweet.

Euro latest


No-euro.com's latest e-mail alert has the following little tidbits for you:

Treasury document casts doubt on euro entry. A new document released by the Treasury has stressed the “real benefits” of the British economic framework and highlighted the risks of fixed exchange rate regimes. The document stressed the benefits of a symmetrical inflation target, which Britain has but the Eurozone doesn’t, and stated that to join a fixed exchange rate system “the conditions which must be met to minimise the risk of destabilising shocks are specific and demanding.”

Ed Balls: Treasury will decide on euro. In a speech in Oxford this week the Chief Economic Advisor to the Treasury, Ed Balls, said that a decision on the euro would be taken on economic grounds alone, and he pointed out that key economic decisions in the past had backfired because politics had got in the way.

ECB interest rate cut signals divergence from Britain. The European Central Bank cut interest rates this week to 2.75 percent from 3.25 on the day that the Bank of England held interest rates at 4 percent because of fears that a rate cut would fuel the housing boom in this country. According to a leader in the FT, “In real terms British short-term rates are close to three times those in the Eurozone. There has been convergence. But it is not complete and, if anything, is now diminishing” (6 December).

Major firms prepare to leave Germany as conditions deteriorate. There was further bad news for Germany this week with figures showing that unemployment rose by 96,000 in November to push the number back above 4 million. According to a survey by the German Chamber of Commerce, 40 percent of its members are either “currently and in earnest checking” the logistics of leaving Germany, or have decided to check.

Bill Morris warns again of impact of euro on public services. In an interview with Breakfast with Frost last Sunday, Bill Morris, General Secretary of the T&G, said, “You cannot have improved public services at this particular point and have the EU Growth and Stability Pact. You have to choose.”

France and Germany in new push for tax harmonisation. France and Germany this week called for harmonisation of corporate tax and VAT rates across the EU which risks renewed tension with Britain. The joint proposals will be presented to the Constitutional Convention which reports in the middle of next year.

It's all looking very bad for the Euro's prospects in Britain, if you ask me. That German Chamber of Commerce figure is incredible, though.

Abuse of power


Today's free country column in The Telegraph makes chilling reading. A trial of another royal butler has collapsed, but the prosecuting counsel used judicial privilege to read out basically the entire prosecution case before admitting the trial could not go forward. A man has therefore had serious allegations made against him in public and there ain't a thing he can do about it. He may be as guilty as sin, but this is not the way to go about it.

Eh?


Perhaps the Plain English Campaign could explain its decision to award Richard Gere a "foot-in-mouth" prize in plain English. As the Telegraph says, while odd, his statement breaks none of Orwell's rules for acceptable English. I understood what he meant. So what is the Plain English Campaign trying to say?

Interesting


UPI is reporting that Paul O'Neill and Larry Lindsey have resigned from their Treasury positions.

Hillarie


It seems the big political story in the UK at the end of the week is Cherie Blair's involvement in property dealings with a known fraudster. Yet again, however, it seems the cover-up has been more damaging than the peccadilloes. As George Jones says in All governments are economical with the truth: this one lies, even the BBC and The Guardian's chief political correspondents are hopping mad with the government. They failed to cover the story, accepting Downing Street's explanation that it was inaccurate. Once the Mail published evidence, they were revealed as dupes. How many times does something like this have to happen before the British public is willing to listen to the Tories again?

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Better off out


Following Giscard's comments earlier, it really looks to me like the EU is paving the way for Britain's exit. Romano Prodi has now given us an out. Peter Cuthbertson's Conservative Commentary has the skinny.

We hardly knew ye...


I shall miss Mr. British Spin. Vale. If ever you need space to post a guest comment about something, please consider here.

The confused worldview


The Guardian is making great hay about how the latest British Social Attitudes survey shows Britain to be a "liberal land":

In 1985, for instance, 70% of us told the researchers that homosexuality was always or mostly wrong. Today, that figure has fallen to 47%. In 1985, 34% said they were prejudiced against people of other races. Today, the figure is down to 25%. Opposition to the legalisation of cannabis, a view held by 75% of Britons in 1983, has slumped to 46% today. It all fairly makes you proud to be British.

Britain is, in other words, split right down the middle when it comes to homosexuality and cannabis use. Hardly the sign of a "liberal" island, is it? In fact, the BSA lead researcher admitted as much to the BBC:

"Taking a lenient line on cannabis might be more acceptable than in the past, but the population is still split down the middle on the subject.

"And there are other drugs on which the public remain very restrictive indeed - particularly heroin."

Given that these "liberal" views are more prevalent in London and, to a lesser extent, other urban centers, it probably remains the case that most of the rest of the country is far more conservative (small "c") than the Guardian would like. Sounds like a good reason for local option on these issues to me.

But what is more worrying is that the liberalization of attitudes that the Guardian trumpets runs alongside a profoundly ignorant society:

The public believes, for example, that 52% of crimes committed in this country involve violence (the true figure is 22%); that 32% of the population is black or Asian (actually 7%); that 28% of British people earn £40,000 or more a year (only 8% do so); and that 23% of children are educated in private schools (the correct figure is 9%).

No wonder that tax rises are generally approved off if people think so many are richer than they are. And, if it is a bad thing that the public has a wild misapprehension about the nature of crime, isn't it also bad to be so blind to the real racial mix of the isles? Public opinion is being formed on a completely wrong basis. This is not good for democracy.

The Guardian concludes,

we are a nation that is susceptible to conservative populist propaganda. The tabloids tell us about a Britain which is more violent, more panicked, more racially divided and individually much richer than is in fact the case.

I would have thought that the figures suggested that we are susceptible to liberal populist propaganda -- cannabis is safe, we are a multicultural society rather than a largely homogenous one, there are lots of rich people out there that can afford to pay for improvements to your services. And, if you're going to get a more centralized, authoritarian, controlled society, it helps to have people scared of crime. To paraphrase Saint Brendan, the BSA tells us more about the Guardian's worldview than it does our own.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Misrepresentation


Reuters released a story yesterday headlined Study Says Marijuana Does Not Lead to Hard Drugs. Wow. That's a big piece of news. Except that it's not true. I asked the study's lead author for a copy of his research, which he was happy to give me, with the following huge caveat:

Please note that the Reuters story about it, which was widely picked up, misrepresented both our findings and my comments about the relevance of our findings to U.S. drug policy. The UPI story was much better, but not widely picked up.

In particular, whereas RAND and I have taken pains to emphasize that we do not believe we have disproved the gateway theory, the lead on Reuters story suggests we think we have. I also stated to the reporter and in RAND's press release that if the gateway theory were to be disproved, this could change the balance of harms associated with legalization on one hand and prohibition on the other, suggesting, for instance, that resources devoted to marijuana control could not be expected to have downstream consequences on hard drug use. But this was all by way of explaining the significance of the gateway theory debate, not the significance of our findings.

Although I believe we were clear on these points (see, for instance, RAND's press release here), the story presented these ideas as though they represented the implications of our study. I noticed the errors in the Reuters story within an hour of their posting it, called the reporter, and she agreed to change several points in the story. Although she changed some of the grossest misrepresentations, many survived in the Reuters story.

If you intend to publicly comment on the paper or the Reuters story, I would be grateful if you would be quite clear that the Reuters story misrepresented the findings and the authors' views of the study's true
significance.

Consider it done. The researchers have only offered an alternative explanation, not disproved the gateway theory. The gateway question needs to be answered. It has not been yet.

Lost the plot


One Nation Under Fox, which I found via the Prof is an interesting examination of how The West Wing has been a loser over the past year while Fox News has been the winner. I found it especially interesting in light of last night's The Daily Show, where Jon Stewart interviewed The Nation's simpering editor and just couldn't get through to her that liberalism is increasingly irrelevant to Americans. At the end, she came up with a lame-ass witticism all about how extreme conservatives are and Stewart just looked at her as if she was, in his memorable description of Michael Jackson, bat-sh*t insane. The parallel with Britain's Tories in the late 90s is remarkable. They didn't realise that Britain had turned away from them and found them oddly distasteful. The difference is that Britain's Tories realise their predicament (they just don't know what to do about it). Katrina vanden Heuvel didn't realise what she was being told. No doubt she'll bask in having been on the Daily Show. The problem was, those laughs weren't for her. They were at her and her increasingly irrelevant worldview.

Camp attitude


Finally, Notes on Camp by Kay S. Hymowitz scared the bejeezus out of me, before re-assuring me that there are some people fighting for common (not so common any more) decency out there. It looks at how many summer camps, where American kids are sent to give their parents a break, as far as I can tell, have "moved with the times" and have modernized their activities:

Instead of crystal lakes, they swim in heated indoor swimming pools. Instead of mountains, they ascend climbing walls and inflatable icebergs anchored to the bottom of the lake in the safety of the increasingly gentrified campus. Last year, portable canvas seats were all the rage at some camps; girls who didn’t want to dirty their clothes by sitting on the ground unfolded them at every activity. Thurber tells of a camp director who sighed upon being asked about his equestrian program, with its lavish barn and field of horses: “The older girls don’t want to walk up the hill [to the barn], because they’re afraid they’ll get sweaty.”

But it gets worse...

A more vexing challenge from twenty-first-century-style childhood, camp directors say, are the children who look on the peppy, sing-along spirit of camp as so, like, over. “Kids are more challenging to work with, more anti-authority,” says George Stein, director of the esteemed Echo Lake in the Adirondacks. “They might walk away from an adult when they’re talking to them, curse them out, say ‘Screw this, I don’t feel like doing this,’ or ‘I don’t understand why I have to do something I don’t want to do.’ ” Most camps end up sending a difficult child or two home every year. In a few instances, directors then face parents, veterans of the special-education system, who demand the camp “accommodate” their child. “The schools manage,” they say. “You can too.”

Equally vexing is the Britneyzation of the teen and preteen set. Most of the early camps were single sex, but in the last 20 years a growing number have become coed, just in time to welcome kids who have left behind panty raids and shy first kisses for thongs and oral sex. Norman Friedman, dean of Gene Ezersky Camp Safety College, says that the problem intensified about ten years ago. “Now,” he says, “many kids are looking to become sexually involved at camp.”

Bob Ditter, a Massachusetts psychologist who often consults with camps, has noticed an especially big change among girls. Girls arrive at camp sporting T-shirts with messages like BOY SCOUTING or GOOD GIRLS ARE BAD GIRLS THAT NEVER GET CAUGHT. At one reputable New York State camp this summer, a group of 14- and 15-year-old girls vamped naked in front of a cabinmate’s video camera; the panicked counselor quickly called parents to warn them before they stumbled across soft-porn pictures of their daughters on the Internet. Ditter says he was called in recently when several girls were caught performing oral sex on boys on the bus after a camp trip. “A lot of girls, especially those from Southern California and the Northeast, watch and identify with Sex and the City,” Ditter says. “They see themselves as young, rich, and attractive. They feel powerful, daring each other to give blow jobs. . . . They think sex is cool.”

And parents, it seems, are part of the problem:

Some parents undermine a camp’s tougher rules whenever their own kids break them. They tell camp directors that their son didn’t know beer was alcohol. According to Bob Ditter, when informed that their seventh-grade daughters had taken off their bikini tops to do a strip dance for some boys during a bus trip, the parents asked: “What’s the big deal?” At my daughter’s camp, parents tried to excuse the two girls who had popped a single Wellbutrin by pointing out that the prescription says to take one pill a day. As one of my daughter’s cabinmates explained to her friends when arguing against telling the counselors about the drug orgy going on in the next lean-to: “They’re just experimenting. Anyway, every family has different values."

Just what are these experiments intended to prove? (as Peter Hitchens might ask). Anyway, it gets better after that, as Hymowitz shows that there are camps that cling to traditional ideals and allow children to be children. You just have to look carefully. If we're still in the US when my daughter is of that age, I know we will be looking very carefully.

Great binding law


Also depressing is Overlawyered.com's Walter Olson's piece Give It Back to the Indians?, which looks at how the basic legal concept of a statute of limitations has been ignored in scores of east coast land claims by the descendents of Indian tribes who sold their land, for decent sums, back in the late eighteenth century. They now want it back, so they can build casinos, and have discovered a loophole in early American law that judges have generally looked favorably on. As a result, they are pressing claims that are casting into doubt the title to land that some families have held for over two hundred years, and the tribes aren't shy about using threats:

Though trial judges have generally disapproved strongly of the idea of kicking present-day occupiers off “tribal” land, this hasn’t stopped one tribe after another from pressing the same in terrorem—“intended to terrify”—demands. In July 1999, after Cayuga County broke off settlement talks with the Cayuga tribe, tribal officials announced that they would seek to evict 7,000 landowners. “We would seek ejectment because the people wouldn’t have clear title to the land. They would be trespassers,” Cayuga spokesman Clint Halftown told reporters. “What else can we do?” The judge rejected their demand. But he didn’t dismiss the landowners from the case.

The tribes have primarily used the in terrorem demands to scare the state government into making offers on homeowners’ behalf. “You have to get the state to get serious about negotiation,” Oneida leader Ray Halbritter has explained. “The pain of not settling has to be greater than the pain of settling,” he said. “This is all about power.”

In some cases, the motivation seems to be noble, but in others, it is base:

As the Hartford Courant recently described, wealthy investors, pursuing casino possibilities, often quietly foot the bill for the costly historical and genealogical research needed when groups of persons claiming Indian descent—some plausibly, others far less so—decide to seek federal recognition as a tribe. When Connecticut’s little-known Schaghticoke tribe filed claims a little while back to thousands of acres along the Housatonic River in Litchfield County, including land owned by the exclusive Kent School, the tribe’s chief refused to name the backer making the suit possible, describing him only as a “friend of the tribe.” A former Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) historian grumbled, “The backers have made it a dirty business.”

As Olson comments, this all may foreshadow what will come to pass if slavery reparation lawsuits start to be enetertained favorably by the judiciary. America's civil rights lobby seems determined to pass the sins of the fathers down, yea even unto the seventh generation. And beyond.

Things aren't all hunky-dory in the USA, either


While this blog is often directed at social problems facing the UK, we should not pretend that everything is peachy-keen in the US. One of the best antidotes to optimism about the way American society is heading is The City Journal, and there are three depressing articles in it I missed until I started reading the hard copy.

First, an essay on the unintended consequences of tort litigation. Hospitals are closing down and doctors retiring because of the rapidly-inflating cost of insurance. I have no problem with negligent physicians having to pay victims of their incomptence, but when massive amounts are handed out not for physical injury but for emotional distress, the system is going wrong. When it costs an ob/gyn specialist in Nevada $83,000 a year for insurance, that's a problem. Similarly, "toxic mold" litigation is forcing builders to stop building multi-unit dwellings, thereby increasing the cost of housing. Many of the problems seem to be caused by judicial invention, such as "stacked liability," or the old favorite "joint and several liability." And trial lawyers, of course, are one of the biggest political lobbies out there, tirelessly working for the redistribution of wealth. By that I mean, of course, the redistribution of wealth from companies to their own pockets. For the rest of us, what trial lawyers seem to have achieved is redistribution of suffering.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Euroarmy? No thanks!


This remarkable essay in the FT argues that a European defense policy is a silly idea. Wow.

In a world of amorphous and unpredictable security challenges, military operations will increasingly be carried out by "coalitions of the willing" assembled on an ad hoc basis. The EU, however, lacks the necessary flexibility. After years of theological wrangling, it has conspicuously failed to come up with an effective mechanism to enable a small group of member states to act without the others. Moreover, the EU has never been good at involving non-members in its work. The exclusion of Russia and Turkey does not bode well when the most likely area of instability, and hence western intervention, is the Middle East and adjoining regions.

Most important, whatever their pretensions to a greater military capacity, the Europeans will for the foreseeable future depend on US military assistance. Yet the Americans suspect that European defence ambitions are motivated by a desire for competition with the US, not co-operation. French demands for European autonomy in military planning do little to assuage US concerns.

Even Europhiles like the article's author are starting to see how the varied ambitions of the EU are conflicting with each other. It can't go on simply building castles in the air.

You can't spell entrepreneur without EU...


The former editor of Forbes ASAP likes what he sees of entrepreneurialism in the UK but doesn't like what the EU thinks about it:

Whether it grew out of watching the U.S. or from envy of the Irish miracle or, most likely, a grass-roots revolution fed by the intrinsic opportunities presented by the digital revolution (as it was in America), this shift to entrepreneurial capitalism suggests an earthquake is about to hit Merry Old England. The nation of shopkeepers is ready to become the nation of start-ups.

But there's one small problem. The European Union. Not long ago a French minister connected with the EU proudly announced that the Union would put a stop to all this unregulated new business creation and assert some rational control over the chaos.

That's a big uh-oh for entrepreneurs. Once again the Brits are getting a reminder that their best interests may not lie on the Continent.

Will it choose the dull security of the Union, or the thrill, adventure and chance for greatness that comes with entrepreneurship? For the sake of those MBA students, I'm praying for the latter. Either way, though, I suspect neither side will give up easily.

And that means that Cool Britannia is about to get very hot.

There are 24 million private sector jobs in the UK (82% of the total) and 5 million public sector jobs (this is actually about the same as France). Even though the public sector has been expanding quicker (a 1.8% increase last year compared to 0.5% in the private sector) the private sector is still producing more new jobs than the public sector. Britain is still a good place to start a business (some people I've talked to think it's easier to do it there than in the US). I hope that remains true for a long time to come.

Monday, December 02, 2002

Defining Deviancy Down


If you travel to London, be sure to hide your cellphone or risk robbery. That's official Met Police advice.

Blug


"Blog plug?" Be sure to visit Patrick Crozier's newly revamped Transport Blog for some good common sense approaches to transport idiocies.

Brits like America


81% of them, in fact, according to the Scotsman article, Why we like the Americans more and more. Yer average Brit likes Americans, no questions asked. But...

Yet despite this affection, only one in five of us would actually like to be more American, and only one in four would be content to live in the US. When asked which is more important to Britain: the continent of Europe, the US or the Commonwealth, then British people are clear-sighted. Europe is regarded as most important by 50 per cent of us, America by 29 per cent and the Commonwealth 19 per cent. The Commonwealth retains the affections of older Britons, but not the youngest among us. The MORI survey also notes that it would not be Britain if there was not a class divide. Those in middle-class occupations tend to think Europe is more important. Those in working-class occupations tend to think the US is more important.

A little of learning is a dangerous thing, as Pope once said. I am pretty certain that the "Europe is most important to us" result is a consequence of 30 years' worth of politicians lieing to the British people about how essential Europe is to the British economy. If the 29 percent are indeed the working-class, it confirms once again that the working class has its head screwed on right while the middle class has it stuck somewhere distasteful.

RKBAUK


Common sense on armed self-defense in the Telegraph, where Alan Judd declares, We must be allowed to defend ourselves against burglars:

... is it reasonable to expect me, during those few fearful seconds on the stairs when menaced by broken bottles, to guess what the law would say when the law itself doesn't know? Or to feel that I must not defend my family, my property and myself if that means damaging my attackers?

This is deeply unfair, yet we could easily right it. We don't need new, over-prescriptive legislation, nor a firearms free-for-all. All we need is a shift of emphasis, of bias, for the courts to make it clear that there is a strong presumption against prosecuting any occupant who injures an assailant while resisting invasion.

They won't, of course, without great public pressure. The police, the CPS and the judiciary are monopoly-holders who dislike the individual self-assertion involved in our defending ourselves, even when they demonstrably can't do it for us. They argue that if householders used guns in their defence, then so would burglars in attack.

Yet in America, where the law is more robustly on the side of the victim, the rate of domestic burglary is reportedly only one fifth of ours. And in London the Metropolitan Police will tell you, off the record, why we no longer hear about armed bank robbers: because a few years ago they started shooting them.

All we need is for the law-enforcement bias to be clarified and corrected in favour of the victim, and then applied sensibly. We need a change of attitude in which victims who put up a fight are praised by the police, not criticised or prosecuted. Why not try it as a 10-year experiment? We'll never rid ourselves of violent burglaries but we might significantly reduce them.

I wish Judd had mentioned that this would simply be a return to the way England did things for centuries. Just as we need to be aware of why our rights in court arose to be able to defend them from the modernizers, so we need to be able to understand the English experience with guns and violence. Joyce Lee Malcolm, England needs you!

This is no way to run a railroad


meanwhile, getting us nowhere admirably summarizes HMG's mad transport policy:

[Road congestion has increased massively]. This will come as no surprise to city dwellers who can barely move their cars for diversions, bus lanes and, in London, anti-car traffic lights. For the first time, we have more schemes narrowing roads than building them, making a mockery of John Prescott's promise in 1999 to "tackle congestion, bottlenecks, improve journey times and make life easier for motorists".

Now his successor, Alistair Darling, is proposing the creation of an Orwellian-sounding "traffic tsar", who will perhaps finish the job the Department of Transport and Ken Livingstone have begun, and shut down the roads altogether.

There is no consolation to be found on the trains, which are running later and later. The Government's own Strategic Rail Authority is concerned that yet more people will be forced on to the congested roads when services are reduced in the name of safety.

This government is attempting to micro-manage people's lives in the name of greater goods. When things go wrong for this government, they will go very, very wrong indeed.

PP: Check out this article too, which reveals just what a waste of money "safety" spending on the railways is. I can also attest from my own experience that the discussion of accounting tricks is exactly what is driving this. How about this for a real doozy:

Trouble is, much of Network Rail's projected spending is on the altar of safety, which produces no revenue to service the debt, let alone pay it back. That would be sensible if it saved enough lives, but even the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), the government agency that writes the cheques, considers it a waste of money.

It's too polite to say so, of course, but its website invites the public to consider the £6 billion that implementing the findings of the Cullen report into the Paddington crash would cost. The SRA reckons this stonking investment would save about 83 lives over 40 years; it would also mean fewer trains could run and, if the lost passengers went by car instead, about 700 of them would die on the roads.

Six billion quid to kill 600 more people. There's Value For Money for you...

Unintended consequences


Justice in jeopardy is a pretty good summary of objections to HMG's plans for the criminal justice system. This bit in particular caught my eye:

... it seems strange that the Government should seek to establish new crime-fighting priorities by redefining some crimes upwards. The thread running through its approach to the criminal justice system is a desire to influence conduct - to eradicate "inappropriate behaviour" - rather than to punish those who have committed criminal offences. Rather as the Chancellor Gordon Brown seeks to influence business behaviour through complicated "unearned tax credits" and other spurious incentives, so Mr Blunkett seeks to change society by tweaking the criminal justice system.

But even if this were desirable in itself, it would still not work: one reason why conviction rates for date rape are low is that juries are reluctant to convict when it is one person's word against another's and there is no evidence of violence.

Indeed. I predict that the end result of these "reforms" will be to reduce the rate of guilty verdicts in rape trials, because so many more shaky cases will come before juries, resulting in increased nullification. Doubtless Ministers will respond by removing the right to trial by jury for rape defendents, or instituting all-female juries or something like that.

The Government is doing a very good job of reminding those who are interested of why reform is not always a good thing.

Hoist by their own petard?


Don't fail to check out Stephen Pollard's account of how the Amnesty International is outraged at Jack Straw pointing out Saddam's human rights abuses. This takes self-loathing to a whole new level.

Just how is the NHS funded, anyway?


Patients lose out as £340,000 from NHS is spent on TV soap, claims the Telegraph. The basis of the story seem to be that Bradford Public Health Office spent £340,000 on a TV program pilot at the same time as Bradford's hospitals were facing major cash shortfalls. The Department of Health says that this is a matter for Bradford, which seems to indicate that the simple claim that this was "NHS money" is not as straightforward as it seems. I have never been able to understand the way in which the NHS is funded and would be grateful for enlightenment. Is this a case of central government money from national taxes being granted to Bradford for health purposes (as would be my surmise)? Or is it a case of local taxes being used locally?

In either case, it seems to be a dreadful misuse of funds, but not one that central government should be doing anything about. If the people of Bradford want money granted to them or raised from them for health purposes used for hospitals rather than "innovative health programs" then they must hold their local politicians to account. If this is all a quango's (Quasi Autonomous Non Governmental Organization) doing then it would illustrate the lack of local democracy and just how bureaucracy is taking over the UK thanks to the dreadful centralization of the last two decades.

The final sentence, where a local officer refers to similar programs in the US and South Africa may be true, but I'll bet, in the US case at least, that the local hospital system was not as underfunded as Bradford's.

Comparative crime rates


England has worst crime rate in world, claims the Telegraph. I wouldn't put any store by this particular "survey" -- which is a UN questionnaire about police-recorded crime and which itself states that "In particular, to use the figures as a basis for comparison between different countries is highly problematic."

However, the International Crime Victimization Survey does provide a good basis for comparison between nations, as it measures relative crime rates via the same survey instrument. Guess what? England & Wales top the survey in terms of crime incidence at 58 crimes per 1000 population, joint with Australia, followed by the Netherlands (that crime-free drug wonderland), Sweden, Scotland, the USA and Canada. The USA has an odd profile, as it has a crime prevalence rate of 21% of the population victimized, equal to France and Belgium (Australia has a prevalence rate of 30%, England & Wales 26% and ), but because people are more likely to be victimized multiple times in the US, it has a crime incidence rate of 43 crimes per 100 inhabitants. Please note that none of these figures should be taken as accurate in terms of the absolute level of crime in a country, but they are sufficiently accurate to judge relative crime levels (i.e. don't say America definitely has 43 crimes for every 1000 people, but do say it has less crime than Sweden).

Saturday, November 30, 2002

Championing democracy


350 words isn't enough to go into great detail, but you might be interested to see my USA Today editorial, Consider democratic ideals, which was published yesterday. That's the Washington Post and USA Today under my belt. Next stop, the Wall Steet Journal, I would hope...

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Happy Thanksgiving


A very happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers. This blog is taking a brief holiday break.

In the meantime, check out the editorial pages of USA Today on Friday for a piece by me on Instant Runoff Voting.

Reading the Banns


Dark portents abound. Sasha Castel and Andrew Dodge are to be wed. Is there such a thing as a Cthulhoid wedding ceremony? My congratulations to the presumably happy couple.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Gentlemen and Players


I enjoyed Michael Jennings' excellent post on cricket, in particular the differences between England and Australia, but on one thing he is mistaken:

The curious thing about cricket is that although the English invented it, it has only ever been played by a particular (shrinking) social class in most of this country, plus in some parts of the country it is a village game, and as Samizdata says, it isn't perceived as modern by anyone else. The people who actually belong to this social class are often unlikely to be interested in careers as professional cricketers, anyway, so the professional game shrinks.

This is rubbish. Cricket was very popular among the working class for many years. Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Mead, Hammond and most of the all-conquering late twenties England side were "players" - professionals, working class, never been to university. Look at a photograph of the Oval in the 1930s and you'll see a ground crowded with 30,000 men on a weekday of a county match, all wearing the flat cap that was the uniform of the urban working class. When I was growing up in early 70s South Shields, the distinction was still that you played football in the winter and cricket in the summer (even if it was still freezing when "summer" began).

The problem is that about then the football season expanded at both ends. Today, there is only about a month's window when the game isn't dominating the sporting pages and airwaves. It is cricket that has born the brunt of this expansion. The young players want to play football most of the summer, and the spectators are either full of the optimism of a new season or biting their nails as the season comes to its conclusion for most of the time. The working class supporters chose football over cricket, leaving it to decay in the hands of the country squires.

Cricket was the game that unified the classes, bringing squire and farmhand, factory-owner and sheet-metal worker, local vicar and foul-mouthed agitator together. I believe Tocqueville in L'Ancien Regime somewhere remarks that the part of the reason the English avoided a revolution was because their aristos and sans-culottes played the game together. Unfortunately, the working class withdrew from this compact comparatively recently, except, as Michael remarks, in Yorkshire. In so doing, we've lost another part of what made England special.

Death of a Theoretician


Junius has, as expected, a moving tribute to the great man.

Phew


Well, Winston Churchill won the BBC's Great Britons poll, and Diana was beaten into third place by Brunel.

Blimey, guv


R.I.P. the Cockney Sparrow. Lummee, what a turn-up. The house sparrow was once synomymous with the indigenous people of London, but it is now a rare sight in the capital, its numbers having plummeted by 59% between 1994 and 2000, and by a further 25% in the last year. The reason? Enviromentalism, as far as I can tell:

Expert Denis Summers-Smith speculates a chemical additive in "environmentally-friendly" lead-fuel petrol is what finally did for Cockney.

Others blame Cockney Sparrow's numerous predators, including cats, magpies and sparrowhawks; the loss of nesting places because of tidier gardens and the possibility remaining birds abandon their colonies when numbers become critically low.

Perhaps Bjorn Lomborg, if he ever is granted heraldic arms by the Danish monarch, should have a sparrow on his crest.

History repeats itself


Nigerian State Says Miss World Reporter Should Die, reports Reuters. Note that it is the state acting here, not the clergy. This is nothing less than a Bill of Attainder, a rampant abuse of executive power unfettered by legislature or judicial system, in this case religiously motivated. We went through this in the UK some 350 years ago, and the result was a system of checks and balances and religious tolerance. Half of Nigeria still retains an echo of that conflict. Now, either Islam is compatible with Anglo-American style constitutional government, or it isn't. If it is, then fatwas have to stop. If it isn't, then the Nigerian people will have to choose. I have a horrible feeling, however, that the army might choose for them.

Sinister motive or sound science?


In a major story in today's New York Times, Adam Clymer (you may remember him as a "major league a**hole from the New York Times") repeats a doctor's allegation that, amongst other things, a decision to remove a reference from a government website to a study that found no link between abortion and breast cancer was "gagging scientists and doctors ... censoring medical and scientific facts ... ideology and not medicine."

In fact, the Danish study to which Clymer refers has been thoroughly debunked, although the link between breast cancer and abortion in women at no increased risk of breast cancer remains weak (women with a family history of breast cancer and who undergo an early abortion are significantly more likely to contract the disease).

Given that the arguments against the study being referenced are statistically sound, it was a sound scientific decision to remove the reference. Allegations of motive must be secondary to that simple fact.

This is how to be tough on immigration


Australian policies kept out terrorists reports The Washington Times. Focusing hard on illegal immigration while allowing smooth processing of legal applications seems an ideal balance to me. Instead, too many immigration authorities around the world either take a "let 'em all in" or a "let's keep all the furriners out" mentality. Australia seems to be getting it right (an accountant friend of mine married an Australian girl and was able to move to Adelaide with none of the hassles I had getting over here). Why can't Britain or America?

Monday, November 25, 2002

Who's the greatest living philosopher now?


Harvard Gazette: John Rawls, influential political philosopher, dead at 81. RIP. So soon after Nozick, too. A sad loss to the world of philosophy, whatever you think of his work. No doubt Chris Bertram will have more to say.

I hate this


The new FBI hate crime figures are out and, as this AP story suggests, the big issue is the "jump of 1,600 percent" in anti-Muslim incidents. Give me a break.

The hate crimes figures are a joke. Alabama regularly reports no hate crimes. The total number that the FBI reports is normally lower than absolute number of murders. Because no-one can agree on what a hate crime is, agencies vary in how they record and report them. The base number of anti-muslim incidents from 2000 was tiny -- 28 -- and so any increase is going to be large in percentage terms. There are still, however, only half as many anti-muslim incidents as there are anti-jewish ones. If there were more incidents this year than last overall, this was at least partly because a lot more police agencies are contributing figures this year. This makes trend comparisons impossible, and the AP was very naughty to say they increased by 17 percent. The FBI don't even quote last year's figures in the actual report (available here).

All these figures suggest to me is that hate crime is rare in America, and even if this is just the tip of the iceberg, then, assuming it is representative, there's a lot more anti-white bias than you'd suspect. Let's hope this won't get much attention (some hope).

MADDening


Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) claims things are getting worse on America's roads. They say

With alcohol-related traffic deaths on the rise, the United States was handed a "C" grade in the war on drunk driving ... The last time MADD issued the Rating the States report was in 1999 when the nation earned a "C+" grade.

There may have been more alcohol-related deaths numerically in 2001 than in 2000, but that is only meaningful if the rate has also increased. If there were more cars on the road, and more accidents, we might expect there to be more alcohol-related accidents even without an increase in drunk driving. 41 percent of fatal accidents last year involved alcohol. As this PDF document shows, however, the comparable figure last year was also 41 percent. In other words, there has been no real change in the rate of road deaths in which alcohol was involved.

Moreover, the figure of 41 percent includes pedestrians who had been drinking, and so is not really a measure of drunk driving. Moreover, it also includes about 8 percent who were under the general legal limit of 0.08 Blood Alcohol Content. These drivers may have had one glass of wine or less, but they are still counted in the figures for alcohol-related crashes, even if the glass of win had nothing to do with the accident.

The actual estimated percentage of drivers in fatal crashes who were drunk (BAC 0.1 or greater) stood at 30 percent in 1982, but declined to 19 percent by 1994. it has stayed remarkably steady at 18-19 percent since then. This seems to indicate that the message of responsible drinking is not getting through to a minority of "hardcore drunk drivers." These drivers, normally aged 21-44, have significantly more DWI convictions and recorded suspensions or revocations than drivers under the limit or with no alcohol in their blood. Rather than call for more laws aimed at safe, casual drinkers, perhaps MADD should concentrate more on sanctions that work against the repeat drunk drivers who are the real danger on the road.

Turning back the clock


Chad Dimpler has an excellent overview of what's going on in the UK with the current industrial unrest. As he emphasizes, there is a desire on the part of labor union leaders to seize back control of the Labour Party and return to the days when they ran Britain. This is a huge test of Blair's leadership. If he shows any sign of weakness, ambition will overcome Gordon Brown's prudence and he will attempt to outflank Blair from the left. If Blair survives, however, his credentials with middle England will be strengthened and the Tories will be left with a bigger mountain to climb. Britain can live with a center-left government, but not, I think, with an outright leftist one. In some ways, the Tories' best hope is for Blair to be toppled by a combination of redistributionists and peaceniks over the next few months. A Brown government will be much easier for the Tories to oppose. And the figure of Blair, Labour's most successful leader ever, toppled by his own friends, will loom larger over that party than Mrs T ever did over the Tories after her fall. I can see an independent Blair as a major figure in politics.

Separation of Church and Superstate


Philip Chaston over on Airstrip One has more info on the 'religious heritage' clause the EPP wants embedded in the European Constitution (EuroCon?). It seems that the Pope is very much behind this clause. I wonder if the free churches of Northern Europe are as insistent? Philip comments:

If this clause is adopted, it will demonstrate another vital difference between the commanding heights of constitutional practice (the United States), taking its cue from the Enlightenment, and constructing a constitution via committee in that unworthy plagiarist, the European Convention.

Indeed. In many ways, establishment in England has actually worked to separate the temporal and spiritual in a way beneficial to the country (at least until the CofE went off the deep end). There are things the state does in a temporal capacity and things it does in a spiritual one. Church and state are separated more than one thinks. This heritage clause seems to me to muddy the waters in a similar way to Ireland's constitution with its special position for the Catholic church.

Omens and portents


In Scotland, police escorting army firemen have had petrol bombs ("molotov cocktails") thrown at them. If there's ever a sign of a society that has lost touch with what its institutions and traditions mean, it's people attacking the emergency services. It happened in the Meadowell estate riots and it may be happening again here (it could be linked to organized crime, so I'll reserve judgment until then).

Tech Central Station column up


Heart of the Matter looks at the media's dreadful coverage recently of a few cardiac-related issues. You'll already have seen some of it here, but it's polished and shiny for you at TCS.

Friday, November 22, 2002

Crime in the City


Julia Magnet, seemingly an American in London, says Blair talks Giuliani's language but handcuffs cops. She's got a point, but overstates it. Indeed, a friend of mine who is an expert on American policing e-mailed me the following comments:

I don't personally trust Blair's instincts on crime but I find Magnet a bit clueless. A few points:

1. New York does not and never had a true "zero tolerance" police strategy and never has. It has a police strategy that empowers local commanders, encourages officers to take initiative, and gives officers plaudits for making quality-of-life arrests. But discretion _not_ to make such arrests also exists and is probably just as important. It's also backed up with a court system that actually puts away thugs. No diverse metropolis in the West could maintain a viable civic life in an environment of true zero tolerance.

2. The Blairite measures to limit spray paint sales and crack down on bad landlords are actually less harsh than comparable measures in the U.S. Most big cities including Chicago, New York, and D.C. ban spray paint sales outright. Gum on sidewalks just doesn't bother most Americans; I suppose it's just not seen as a sign of disorder. Some BIDS, however, have worked to discourage its sale. Although there's no landlord licensing system as such in the U.S.; the U.S. may be tougher on bad landlords than the U.K. Most effective police departments have a liaison in the building inspection office who works with them to hound bad landlords out of town. Those who don't get the message typically end up in jail. Would Hayek approve?
Probably not. But it's a damn effective way to enforce community standards.

In fact, I think that no central authority can reform British policing in an effective way. Do we really need the same law enforcement strategies in Brixton, Manchester, and Milton-Keynes? No. Brixton can learn a lot from Harlem, Manchester from Chicago, and Milton-Keynes from Irvine, CA. (All of the American places I
mention are very well policed and have some obvious similarities to the British ones.)

For that matter, it's obviously inappropriate to police Brixton and Sloane Square the same way within London. But British proposals from both sides seem to insist on a single-strategy solution. When it comes to stopping drug gangs and probably fighting terrorism, the British policing system has its advantages
but absent a strongly law-abiding traditional culture it's an abject failure when it comes to most everything else.

From what I know of American policing methods, this is exactly right. If the UK is to learn from the US, it has to really understand the American ideas, not just latch on to a soundbite. Unfortunately, we live in an era of soundbite politics.

Fire strikes latest


A new, 8-day fire strike has begun. Mr British Spin talks considerable sense in demanding the government stick to its guns. I can still see this all ending in a terrible fudge, though, which will hurt HMG in the long run.

Death and one religion


In Nigeria, Miss World riots 'leave 100 dead'. Tragic and stupid, of course, but what struck me most about the article was this:

Kaduna is one of Nigeria's most volatile cities; more than 2,000 people died there in clashes between Christians and Muslims two years ago.

In one obscure city, religious clashes killed 2,000 people. That's about the same as died in two years of the Intifada in Israel. Yet there is no Western outrage, no calls for Nigeria to be divided between its two obviously incompatible faiths, and no calls for the UN to pass security council resolutions. If ever there was evidence that the clash of civilizations is about more than just the the Palestinian question, here it is. Perhaps the Miss World riots will open a few eyes.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Play up, play up and play the game


Who said Englishmen can't play cricket any more? Well played, Vaughan!

Prediction at the close of Australia's first innings: England 311 all out. Australia 500-1 declared (Vaughan injured in the field).

Jackboot Bill


Here we go. HMG has published the criminal justice bill, and it's a doozy. They said they would remove double jeopardy protection for murder, rape and armed robbery. In the bill, 30 crimes have the protection removed, including Class A drug offenses. Trial by jury is dropped in 5 circumstances, "indeterminate sentences" are introduced to make it legal to keep people in jail for as long as the executive likes, hearsay evidence is allowed in some circumstances and, get this, in order to help with the reclassification of Cannabis from Class B to Class C, the police are being given powers to arrest people possessing Class C drugs! You couldn't, as they say, make it up.

Germany calling (soon!)


Latest on the German economy from the no euro e-mail briefing:

German job crisis deepens. German unemployment could be as high as 6 million if the “hidden unemployed” are taken into account, according to a leading German economist. A survey of the top 30 German companies revealed that over half of them expect to cut jobs in the next three years, with the result that 120,000 jobs will go from these companies alone. Also this week, former leader of the SPD, Oskar Lafontaine compared Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to pre-Hitler Chancellor Heinrich Bruning. Lafontaine said, “it is as if Heinrich Bruning has risen again. He caused mass unemployment with his savings measures and prepared the ground for Hitler” (Bild-Zeitung, 20 November).

Milton Friedman: euro to blame for German economic crisis. In an interview with German economic magazine DM Euro, the Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman blamed the euro for Germany’s current economic crisis. Friedman said, “if it wasn’t for the euro, then Germany would not have its current problems … a single European monetary policy is not suitable for the 15 countries in the Eurozone” (21 November).

Not good news, for Germany, Europe, or the world.

Holy Moley!


I've often said Sunderland needs a savior. I wonder how much the transfer fee would be?

Foot and mouth takes on a whole new meaning


I really don't know what to say about this.

Tommy this and Tommy that and Tommy, "Go away!"


Tommy Atkins has had enough and is leaving the British military. This excellent Spectator article tells us why.

The Blair Factor


Peter Oborne asks why Tony Blair is so successful and liked in The Spectator. His answer is that Blair reflects Britain brilliantly:

One key to this is Tony Blair’s Christianity. It is well-meaning, sincere, yet barren of content: very like the Blairite interpretation of Britain or idea of socialism. The Prime Minister has distilled Britain’s bloody and truculent past into a handful of bland and uncontroversial virtues, like tolerance and fair play. Socialism, that great creed for which millions were murdered, has been implausibly converted into a poorly worked-out sense of generalised goodwill. Though Tony Blair now toys with Rome, his Christianity is in the autochthonous Anglican tradition: it consists of a warm glow of belief, stripped bare of difficulty, discipline or theological imperatives. On the right to life or family values, for instance, the Prime Minister unswervingly takes the side of modern feminist dogma against long-established Church doctrine. There is a whiff about Blair of Pelagius, the fourth-century British theologian who denied the Augustinian doctrine of total depravity and original sin, opening out the prospect of salvation through mere benevolence.

This easy morality is perfect for a spoilt and materialistic generation. Blair offers a contemporary version of Victorian hypocrisy: moral purpose which makes powerful demands neither on himself nor on the voters. The British middle classes want to enjoy the material benefits of capitalism and yet feel virtuous. That is the secret: Thatcherism with a public conscience. The contradiction is overwhelming, but Blair magically resolves it, mainly because we want him to do so. The British people want to be led — but taken nowhere. And that is a Blair speciality. The Prime Minister makes us feel good about ourselves, but behind it all there is an ethical miasma that makes no searching demands. These are the truths about the dark little deal with the British people which has turned Tony Blair into the most successful prime minister of modern times.

It's distressing, but it's true. Blair panders to people. He does it to the British citizenry, he does it to the EU, and he's currently doing it to the American President. Not one of them has seen through him yet, because he's not transparent. He genuinely believes he's doing the right thing in each case. In some ways, he is either the best bad man, or the worst good man, in British political history.

PP: A view of the prime minister from the left can be found here. They're not happy with him either.

A soccer story


I found this remarkably touching.

This is why Britain needs a First Amendment


Group rights, it seems, are only for an approved few, and free speech rights are a luxury that will be withdrawn from those who offended the few. This Telegraph story is about a writer who said that rural folk should be viewed as a minority just like ethnic and sexual minorities. He was arrested and held in jail under "hate speech" laws. As Natalie Solent says,

Remember the line peddled by Blunkett that these powers are to be used against thugs and Nazis - you can trust us to act with discretion, old chap - the innocent have nothing to fear

Indeed. This is exactly why we can never afford to compromise on basic civil liberties on the grounds that "we have nothing to fear." We have plenty to fear.

Will UK draft dodgers go to Canada too?


Roger Helmer MEP has just sent out his latest e-mail bulletin. This startled me:

In October, I attended the "Study Days" (or conference, you could say) of the EPP-ED parliamentary group in Estoril, Portugal. A group meeting was addressed by the Portuguese Foreign Minister. An Italian member of our group, Carlo Fatuzzo, asked whether the EU's Common Foreign and Defence Policy should not be supported by an EU "National Service".

To his credit, the Portuguese Foreign Minister dismissed the idea of EU National Service, whether voluntary or compulsory. But we should watch out. Ideas more absurd than this have been dismissed out of hand, only to come back a year or two later as "possibilities under discussion, but don't worry -- we have our veto". Then another year on, it's suddenly a done deal, and it's too late to complain. Compulsory EU National Service. You saw it here first.

National Service was Britain's version of the draft, abolished about 20 years after the war becuase we wanted a professional rather than conscript military. Most continental armies, however, are largely conscript-based, which is why even the small European defense budgets exaggerate their military capabilities. That this should even be suggested as a good idea for a European common defense policy is worrying.

Nor is Roger wrong to suspect that this idea might resurface. When The American Enterprise puts the article by Richard Minter from its current issue online, I will link to his excellent description of the EU legislative process. If you believe in democracy, it will shock you.

US Isolated?


Busy again today, but this PDF format report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service summarises the positions of 63 countries on war with Iraq. As a correspondent notes, "World support for the U.S. position is so strong, actually, that 11 of the 63 countries included in the survey actually support an invasion of Iraq with or without a UN resolution. These countries are: Australia, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Kuwait, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom. It bears noting that eight of these 11 countries are European." Indeed it does, and 6 of them are in the EU. Perhaps Europe is not quite the lost cause too many on the right in the US claim it to be.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

The Nurture Question


Chris Bertram replies again to my points on family collapse, thoughtfully, as one would expect. He relies on Laura Rich Harris' The Nurture Assumption, a book I have been meaning to read for some time. As I don't have much time today and I haven't read the book yet, I will just make a few general points. Chris says that the bad socialization of children of single parent families is probably a consequence of low income leading to living in bad neighborhoods leading to bad peer groups leading to bad socialization. Unfortunately, the data don't seem to back this up. After controlling for income, race and other demographic factors, children from single-parent families do worse than their dual-parented neighbors in a host of areas (link is to an excellent Civitas summary of the research). Moreover, if the chain of events is as Chris describes it, how does the peer group get badly socialized in the first place? And, again, why did this not happen in working class societies which were equally, if not more poor and always had a small group of "bad lads" who were nevertheless prevented from spreading their peer-group nurture? I shall read Rich Harris, who may well have answers to these questions, but I think it is going to be very hard to fit her theory to the data.

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?