Monday, December 16, 2002
Strong stuff from Melanie Phillips. In Sex and social suicide she condemns the British version of feminism as socially destructive, concluding:
A society that no longer wishes to survive but is prepared to replace itself by something entirely different is truly decadent. It is engaged in nothing less than social suicide.
Saving ourselves from this fate means restoring the pact between the generations. This mean investing heavily in committed parenting, with financial incentives to have children and to shore up and strengthen marriage.
Admittedly, this would not solve the dilemma of women torn between their desire for freedom and the pull of motherhood – a dilemma that individual women alone have to resolve for themselves.
And women are the crux of all this. It is women who are the civilising force in both family and society. This was the critical insight by the feminist pioneers of the 19th century, who opened up the public sphere for women so that the whole of society might be improved by their influence.
But unisex feminism has betrayed that legacy and left women confused and abandoned. It is possible that women will come to rethink where their own interests really lie. If that were to happen, our children might be rescued from the sexual free-for-all, and the gloomy demographers might be proved wrong yet again.
I find it interesting that the trendies in Britain bang on and on about "sustainability" for the environment, resources and the future in everything but the future of British people. The course Britain appears to have set itself down is unsustainable. As Melanie says, the Danes, Swedes and Americans have pulled back. And pulling back is not, in itself, an anti-feminist act, despite what the loonies will have you believe.
A leading British hawk
One of these days I must tell the story about Tim Hames and The Amzing Flying Moonies. In the meantime, he begins his Times column this week with customary wit:
Iraq has slipped out of the British headlines in the past six weeks, a departure that is but temporary. It has been displaced by a bizarre combination of Paul Burrell, Andy Gilchrist, Cherie Blair and Peter Foster (or see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil and evil).
He then goes on to explain exactly why Saddam's days are numbered because of, rather than despite the presence of weapons inspectors. A good read.
Crime up! No, down, err...
The FBI's Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report covering January - June 2002 is out. Overall recorded crime is up a little over 1%:
Overall, violent crime, which includes murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, decreased 1.7 percent when comparing data reported for the 6-month periods. Property crime, which includes burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft, increased 1.7 percent. ... The violent crime offenses of murder and forcible rape both showed increases in 2002 when compared to 2001 numbers, with murder increasing 2.3 percent and forcible rape, 1.8 percent. However, robbery showed a decrease of 0.4 percent, and aggravated assault declined 2.8 percent.
So police-recorded crime's about the same as it has been for a couple of years. The decrease is aggravated assault is good, and the property crime increases are what you expect when the economy falters. Property crime is still massively down over the decade and over longer periods.
Of course, it will be the murder figure that gets attention. Yet murder is the rarest crime, and a 2% increase in homicides may not change the actual murder rate much (the population also grows, normally at around 1% per year, but that estimate was pre the 2000 census).
The really interesting news is in the regional variation. Crime grew in the West by 6%, with violent crime up 2%, murder up almost 8%, property crime up 6%, burglary up 6% and auto theft up an amazing 15%. These numbers wiped out the continuing decreases in crime in the Northeast and Midwest and the static rate in the South. The West coast is facing a real crime problem that the rest of the country is not.
UPDATE: This USA Today article focuses, surprise surprise, on murder, but is pretty good despite that.
If you want a snapshot of world culture in 2002, check out Google's 2002 Year-End Zeitgeist. Utterly fascinating. David Beckham seems to be the Englishman most people are interested in worldwide. And more people were trying to find out about the World Cup than about Iraq.
The Dr. Frank Experience
The original blogster of war gives us an excellent summary of the Harold Pinter Anti-American thesis. Now nobody ever has to read another Pinter essay again. Huzzah!
Good science writing
Now here's how to cover an area of concern. Bird species die at high rates is the UPI story, which in most news organ would be followed by quoting Norman Myers' silly claim that 40,000 species go extinct every year. But the UPI columnist gives us the facts. He quotes the number of documented extinctions since 1600, so we don't get an inflated view of the problem. There have been only 1,033 documented extinctions since 1600. The usual large estimates of extinctions are guesswork: Norman Myers has now admitted his estimate (cited in Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance) was made up. There may indeed be a problem with bird extinctions, but this is exactly the right way to report it.
The secret of good politics ... timing
So Gore won't run in 2004 presidential race. Hmm. The timing of this surprises me. With that buffoon Lott (of whom more later) lifting the Democrats' spirits after their humiliation in November, I would have thought the last thing they needed was suddenly to be plunged into the uncertainty of what amounts to a leadership contest. I have two theories. 1) this is Caesar rejecting the crown, just to see how the crowd reacts or 2) he hopes to inspire a contest to see who delivers the killing blow to Lott, theorizing that said person will then emerge as front-runner. Otherwise, I am baffled.
As for Lott, the man is clearly no student of the Major years. What damaged that government more than the silly peccadilloes his Ministers committed was the stubborn and desperate clinging to office long after it was clear the public had made its mind up they should go. It provided an image of a party made up of men desperate for power at all costs. What strikes me as even sillier about Lott's position is that he may have made it untenable for him to give up the leadership but retain his Senate seat. As the governor of Mississippi is a Democrat, his resignation would lose the hard-won control of the Senate. If Lott had said, "I'm sorry, it was inappropriate and displays a lack of judgment incompatible with the leadership of my party in the Senate and I shall therefore not contest the leadership" then the whole thing could have been swept under the carpet. If he's not careful, Trent Lott could end up being the GOP's David Mellor.
Friday, December 13, 2002
The last word on modernizing the Conservative Party, from Peter Simple:
Next Tuesday (writes "Narcolept"), Tedium House, headquarters of the British Boring Board of Control, will be the Mecca for all aficionados of the yawn game. Once again its majestic indoor arena will be the venue for the Christmas tournament in which paladins of the comatose art do battle for the Herbert Trance Trophy, named, of course, after our revered president, Sir Herbert Trance.
As well as top class British ennui maestros, there will be wizards of lethargy from the four corners of the earth: Jean-Pierre Cafard of Canada, Grant Coma Jr of the United States, Antonin Bvorak of the Czech Republic, Bengt Snorresen of Sweden, R S Nattacharya of India and, last but not least, Schloime ben Chloroform ("Glorious Shloime"), wonder bore of Israel.
The set theme this year is "The Future of the Tory Party". How will foreign champions, for whom this will be mostly uncharted territory, deploy their artistry to weave enchanted webs of tedium and reduce the cognoscenti to semi-conscious delight? Truly a battle of the Titans!
Will they use the fashionable "gay rights" gambit which enterprising bores are now deploying to such devastating effect? Long banned by diehard elements in the BBBC top brass, this gambit, particularly when combined with Tory politics, can deliver a knockout dose of ennui from which bores on the losing end may take days to recover.
The climax of next week's proceedings will be the traditional Grand Bal Masque, held in the great chandelier-infested ballroom of Tedium House, when devotees of Morpheus will revolve in stately saraband or caper in lively polka until the daylight hours. All proceeds go to Yawnaway, the BBBC's Home for Retired Bores at Redhill, Surrey - a most worthy cause.
ID on the cards?
Peter Lilley, John Major's cabinet minister responsible for welfare benefits told a meeting organized by the British equivalent of the ACLU exactly why they dropped the plan for ID cards masquerading as "benefit cards":
Chief constables had said that proving the identity of criminals was not the problem; catching them was. On investigation it was found that only a fraction of social security benefit fraud was related to people using false identities. And as for the inevitable resort to "the fight against terrorism", Mr Lilley pointed out: "The men who hijacked the planes on September 11 never concealed their identity, just their purpose."
I can't help feeling that this plan has surfaced again because some civil servant who was appointed to look at the issue in the 80s keeps dusting off his oft-rejected plan and showing it to new Ministers. In the case of this government, however, they are too dim to ask the right questions.
Spiked gives us their view of the libel decision, making an important point:
It is not unprecedented for claimants to be given some leeway in deciding where to take their libel suits. As David Hooper explains in Reputations Under Fire: 'London has become known to many foreign "forum-shoppers" as a town named Sue - a place where you can launder your reputation on the basis of a few sales in the UK of some overseas publication.'
This was a trick used by the late Mirror Group boss Robert Maxwell, who used England's libel law to sue the New Republic - a journal with fewer than 135 subscribers in the UK compared to a circulation of 98,000 in the USA.
However, until now, the generally accepted principle of libel law is that the choice of country in which a suit is brought (on the basis of material being read there) should only apply to publishers who have some control over where their material is distributed. But when it comes to the internet, publishers, in effect, have no control over where material may be downloaded.
When I first read of this case, I thought that it might be the last hurrah of libel law. Now I'm not so sure. I have a horrible feeling that it will "ruin the internet."
According to the BBC's report Europe's Changing Borders,
Temporarily divided after World War II, the re-unification of Europe is now almost complete.
Whatever can they mean?
Thanks to Peter Briffa, the man who thinks I should take up with J-Lo, for this one. Richard Littlejohn has this heart-warming tale of modern British life:
A CAREER criminal currently serving life for cutting a prison officer’s throat has just successfully sued a council for £75,000 because they sent him to the wrong school.
Martin Pomfret, who has more than 100 convictions for everything from robbery and burglary to wounding and theft, says his life of crime may have been avoided if he’d received a more challenging education.
At seven, he was expelled from primary school for attacking a teacher with a chair and sent to a special day school.
He says he should have been sent to a residential school for difficult children with above average intelligence.
So that he could burn it down?
A good school is no guarantee that you’ll stay out of prison.
Look at Lord Brocket and Jonathan Aitken, for instance.
And there are millions of people who could argue they should have received a better education but still went on to lead respectable lives.
This award is an insult to all of them.
The real disgrace, though, is that Bolton Council decided to settle out of court without a fight.
After all, it’s not their money.
I'm all for due process, but that involves some people being sent away with a flea in their ear...
Thursday, December 12, 2002
Freedom is slavery
Excellent summary by veteran commentator Peter Ridell on the British campaign advertising problem. Americans will love this. The European Court of Human Rights has handed down a ruling that makes it probable that the long-standing ban on paid political ads on TV will have to be scrapped on free speech grounds. The problem is that neither major party wants the ban scrapped! It's be far too expensive...
Shackling the opposition
Admitting he is breaking political rules, John Reid, the new Labour party chairman, used his first major speech in the job not to talk about his party, but to lecture the Conservative party on how to survive. Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.
This is merely part of a pattern. As Peter Hitchens has pointed out, New Labour wants to make sure it fights on ground of its choosing by saying that the ground the Tories might choose is against the rules of political war:
In this, they are doing exactly what they are meant to do. If the 1997 election was the abuse of dishonest propaganda to grab power at all costs, the 2001 election was the deliberate destruction of principled opposition. I was there on the sunny morning of 5 June 2001 when the Prime Minister’s semi-royal progress reached Rushden, near Wellingborough, where he made one of the most astonishing statements ever to fall from his lips. As usual, because it was an important development in British politics, it was barely noticed by the parliamentary Lobby. He said, ‘At this election we ask the British people to speak out and say the public services are Britain’s priority, to say clearly and unequivocally that no party should ever again attempt to lead this country by proposing to cut Britain’s schools, Britain’s hospitals and Britain’s public services. Never again a return to the agenda of the Eighties.’
I was amazed by this attempt to decide the policy of the opposition, and, granted a rare question, I asked Mr Blair if he were not getting above himself. He didn’t think so. Months later, my fears seemed to be confirmed when Steve Richards, one of those well-connected commentators who move so seamlessly between the BBC and the left-wing press, had this arresting piece of information for the readers of the Independent on Sunday: ‘At the last election Tony Blair and his entourage were often in an exasperated fury. The media and the voters were stubbornly indifferent to what they considered to be a defining moment. “You don’t get it,” they would occasionally scream, “the election is a historic referendum on a right-wing Conservative party. If we win a second landslide we would kill off right-wing Conservatism for good.”’
Tories desperate for ideas should resist the temptation to listen to their enemies. If these people put an arm around your back, you can be sure there's a knife in their hand.
Saddam and Al Qa'eda
In the latest issue of Vanity Fair, David Rose examines links between Saddam and Al Qa'eda. It's all hearsay, of course, because Donald Rumsfeld has point-blank refused to let us know what the CIA knows about this issue, for good reasons. Here's an Evening Standard article summarizing Rose's position in which he demolishes the idea that the Iraqi meeting with Mohammed Atta in prague never took place. He also told Katie Couric:
What I should emphasize is that what the--the evidence I've seen, the people I've talked to are people from the Pentagon. They're people who set up a special unit earlier this year to examine all the intelligence on both Iraq and al-Qaeda going back 10 years. And they're really looking for evidence of links between the two which either hadn't been noticed before by the CIA, who, of course, owned these reports, or which hadn't been communicated to the White House and other agencies. Well, what that unit found was these 90 to 95 separate reports, all given the highest rating of reliability, that is, information from sources which have proved reliable in the past, stating that there had been close cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaeda going back to 1992.
The idea that the CIA has downplayed those links because they conflict with established CIA doctrine about the separation of secular and Islamic terrorism strikes me as highly likely.
What a Schama
Also in that old Speccie was this review of the third volume of Simon Schama's History of Britain. I was impressed by Schama's even-handed review of the fate of the empire in India in his TV series. This, however, is well worth noting:
He believes the United Kingdom has proved itself to be worth more than the sum of its parts. Far from rebranding or repudiating its past, Britain’s unique combination of ‘a passion for social justice with a tenacious attachment to bloody-minded liberty’ should be our source of strength. He thinks it probably incompatible with a future safe within
the inward-looking club of white restaurant-goers and villa-renters, bonded together by some imagined notion of cultural sophistication
that is the European Union’s presumed destination.
Schama has just summed up the Anglosphere's virtue, and also exactly what's wrong with the European idea, in two sentences.
The summation of Britain is very interesting. In the 50s- early 70s, Britain went through a phase where social justice seemed more important than liberty. In the late 70s - early nineties, liberty was more important. Now we're back in social justice again. It should be a repsonsible government's duty to balance the two, as was done for many years. If IDS can come up with policies that do that, perhaps Brits will take to him.
The relief of Afghanistan
Somehow I missed this. The 30 November issue of the Spectator contains a seminal article, Afghans and the Guardian, by Matthew Leeming. It tears apart, and then jumps up and down on, the arguments advanced by the Guardian both before and after the Afghan campaign, by using evidence from the Afghans themselves. A case in point:
Shortly before I left on a trip to Afghanistan in August 2001, a left-wing don pointed me to an article by Jason Burke in the London Review of Books. ‘Very interesting piece. Apparently the Taleban aren’t that bad.’ It was nothing more than a credulous regurgitation of Pakistani propaganda. The Taleban, it claimed, were a spontaneous law-and-order movement of theology students revolted by the widespread rapes perpetrated by the warlords. This is rubbish. The Taleban were armed and funded by the Pakistani secret service to give Pakistan the control over Afghanistan that they thought was their right. And, despite looking hard, I have never come across any evidence of widespread rape of women in Afghanistan.
I read this article out to a class I took at Kabul University. I thought that they would find it quite funny, but halfway through I realised it wasn’t getting any laughs. I stopped because the women were angry. The few of them who had received any education during the long night of Taleban rule had done so at secret schools. The mother of one had been beaten with electrical flex because a spy from the ministry for the prevention of vice and propagation of virtue had heard her shoes clicking on the pavement.
‘Who is this man?’ she demanded. I said that he was the Observer’s chief reporter. ‘How can he say such things?’ ‘Because he hates America,’ I said. ‘He also says that all the Taleban did was to make law out of what had always been the case in rural areas.’ There was uproar. Even the men joined in. They thought that this was really impertinent and offensive. ‘He also says,’ I went on, ‘that there is no need to ban television because there aren’t any.’ ‘Who does he think we are. Of course we’ve got television.’ And that’s true. I’ve watched television all over the country, even in a Khirgiz yurt in the High Pamirs.
The author is now organizing tours to Afghanistan. I'd imagine something very similar would happen in Iraq.
Iraq: the case against war
It seems to have been up to an old friend of mine to advance the principled case against war. Paul Robinson, whose lineage is Eton, Oxford, Sandhurst, the Royal Tank Regiment, the Intelligence Corps, the Canadian army, Oxford again and now the Centre for Security Studies at the University of Hull spells it out in The Spectator. It's a conservative case, well put. An example:
If the truth be told, Iraq is in no position to launch an attack on anybody. Its armed forces are a shell of their former selves, lack the logistics for an invasion of any neighbouring country, and could not sustain major operations. Iraqi military spending is estimated to be about a tenth of what it was before the Gulf war. Even if the Iraqis have retained enough 1914-era technology to build some more mustard-gas shells, they lack the means to lob them at us. At the very worst, a handful of Iraqi missiles might just be able to make it to Cyprus if the launchers drove to the westernmost border of Iraq to fire. In short, the Iraqi threat to the West is next to zero. The interesting point is that we are well aware of that. That is why we are contemplating an attack.
Paul also mentions the Webster Doctrine, the American-invented doctine as to when a country can engage in pre-emption, which has been unilaterally abandoned by the US. That should indeed be a linchpin of any principled argument against the war. I don't think I have seen the anti-war case so well expressed anywhere.
My main argument for the war is that it is the second of a two part retaliation for September 11. The first part -- the toppling of the Taleban -- was designed to spell out to rogue regimes that any regime that harbors people that do harm to the United States. The second -- regime change in Iraq -- is to warn them that the United States will destroy anyone who it suspects of plotting to do harm to the United States or its citizens. Iraq is the perfect choice here precisely because, as Paul says, it is weaker than other potential candidates, but still stronger than many others. The policy is aimed at scaring leaders, I suspect. If Saddam, who has survived so much, can be toppled after so long, then so can anyone. This is, I think, the unspoken justification for the war. Ruthless? Yes. In keeping with "international law"? Probably not, but international law is an idea that needs to be rethought. This is not 17th century Europe or even 19th century America, but an era of modern nation states, modern rogue and ramshackle states and transnational organizations with state-level capabilities. Will the people of Iraq thank us? Yes -- and I'll have more to say on this -- and so the humanitarian justification is also clearly there.
The war is, I think, in America's interests. Is it in Britain's or Australia's? I suspect that, if those countries refrain from aiding America here, they will become the targets of the resentful in the Islamic world. Australia has already suffered from being easier to hit than America. An outrage aimed at British citizens is only waiting to happen. Iraq would be a demonstration of strength. On balance, I think it is in those nations' interests to demonstrate strength alongside America. I am certain others will disagree.
Paul has done us a favor in advancing real arguments against the war. Those are the arguments that need to be answered, in Washington, in London and Canberra. Feeling against a war will only grow if they remain unanswered.
Trust and Responsibility
Charles Moore's right on about the decline (and fall) of trust in today's society, which is part of a wider cancer within it. But it's not just trust. Responsibility is disappearing in this blame-first society. Today, everyone's a victim, and it's quite prevalent in people of my age to blame everyone except themselves (what I find different in the boomer and later generations is that today, one seems to be unwilling to accept even an iota of the blame). A rush to instant gratification has led to a lapse in ethics and morality. In part, this is due to the infectious 'tolerance' that liberals have advanced on society.
'Tolerance', in their lexicon, is understood to ascribe a socialism of morality upon people. Whether saint or sinner, according to 'tolerant' liberals, we're all equal and should be treated equally. Under the law, yes, but when recidivist criminals walk the streets due to over-preaching of this tolerance, it's gone too far. When society is too 'tolerant' to rebuke inappropriate behaviour, it's as bad as indulging children who behave inappopriately. In fact, judging from many of my peers, we are living in an increasingly juvenile society.
Wednesday, December 11, 2002
Parliament's joint committee on House of Lords reform has published its first report. Interesting reading, but they've punted on all the difficult decisions except tenure, where they've recommended a term of office of 12 years. I'll be interested to see whether the Government parks this somewhere now.
Stunningly good article by Telegraph editor Charles Moore in The Spectator about the decline of trust in British society. Trust is important to our way of life, he argues, and its demise brings about problems:
One could argue, indeed, that the entire idea of manners, on which tolerable life in society depends, is an idea that must presume trust. In behaving politely towards people, you presume that their motives are decent, that they are worthy of respect. You often, usually indeed, do not know that this is the case, but to assume the opposite without good reason would be insulting, and would mean that you, in return, were insulted. I think that such a vicious circle is now being unintentionally established in many fields by the systems of accountability, transparency and so on which have been established on the basis of a lack of trust. Take the Nolan rules which form the basis for monitoring the financial interests of MPs and other people in public life. They were set up with good intentions because several MPs had been exposed as selling services that they should have given free. But the consequence of these reforms has been to supplant the role of conscience with that of compliance. MPs no longer have to ask themselves, like adults, whether they are behaving well: they simply have to make sure, like schoolboys, that they are doing what they are told, that they are ticking the box. One result is that fewer and fewer politicians have any outside interests and experience of life beyond politics because all interests are now considered suspect. The consequence is not greater honesty: it is greater separation between politicians and the rest of us.
Other consequences of a lack of trust:
A further consequence of people not being trusted is that they become less trustworthy. It is almost a definition of a position of responsibility that you are trusted. If this trust is removed by constant invigilation, you are, in effect, demoted. Having observed people in public life for nearly a quarter of a century as a journalist, I would say that they have become more orderly in their behaviour, but less trustworthy. Twenty years ago, many politicians used to get drunk at lunchtime and not manage much work in the afternoon. Very few do that today, but the old soaks were generally more ready to make decisions and be held to account for them. Today’s abstemious and ambitious put in enormously long hours behind their desks, but huge amounts of their mental effort is devoted to avoiding blame. It has now become quite common for ministers publicly to criticise their own officials who, constitutionally, cannot answer back. This happened in the Jo Moore/Stephen Byers affair. One can only imagine the atmosphere of trust in the Department of Transport at that time.
In some areas of life, such as voluntary activity, the assumption of a lack of trust threatens to undermine the activity itself. If, for example, you are approached to serve as a trustee of a national museum, you will be asked to fill in forms and justify why you should be appointed. Why should you have to justify it? You are not being paid. If people do not trust your motives for doing it, why are they asking you? And if your motives are being questioned, why would you want to do it in the first place? Similarly, it has now been decided that if you want to be a parish councillor you must declare any political allegiance you may have, any interest in the parish, and even record what gifts worth more than £25 you may have received from fellow parishioners. The truth is that no one is fighting for these positions; there is a shortage of people wanting to do the unrewarded, worthy but often dull work of the parish councillor, yet the new compliance procedures seem designed to scare people away.
Moore points out that trusting the Bank of England, rather than politicians, to control inflation has worked, and so:
A comparable letting-go by central government in all sorts of other areas of public service would have comparable results. If a hospital could run itself independently, it could be trusted to do so. If local government became really local once again, including raising its money locally, it would have to act responsibly if it wished to stay in office. If a head teacher could hire and fire his or her staff, allocate money as he saw fit, teach in the way he thought produced the best results, he would have the incentive to get it right.
The example of the huge growth of owner-occupied housing in modern times shows that most people can be trusted to look after something important that is theirs. The difficulty with public service and public institutions is to create a comparable feeling of ownership on behalf of the public. My argument, which goes strongly against the present trend, is that it can only be done by more trust, not less.
I think ownership is a different thing from trust. It has been shown (by Ron Bailey at Reason, among others) that common ownership of land and water leads to pollution, while giving companies property rights over them reduces said abuses. However, the general thrust is right. Institutions cannot do their job without a high degree of trust placed in them. Sanctions for breaches of trust should be severe, but accountability based on trust is the route to success.
Accountability is emphatically not managerial-style supervision. One of the reasons why American federal agencies are so awful, I would suggest, is because of the lack of trust placed in them, with poor service levels and box-tick approaches to their duties, with at the same time no real democratic accountability. Local services are noticeably better, for obvious reasons.
I neva attendud kolleje
The UK government's attempt to force universities to select students from state schools ahead of private schools has been stymied by the realization that a lot of students from poor backgrounds attend private schools on scholarships. So they've come up with another plan, to get universities to prefer children from families with low incomes and whose parents did not go to college. The Telegraph rightly excoriates the idea:
What are middle-class parents to do next, if they want the best for their children? Until now, they could take the Blairs' way out, avoiding the bias against independent schools by sending their children to good state schools, and having them tutored on the quiet. But when the new guidelines come into force, there will be no such escape.
The middle classes' only hope of avoiding discrimination will be to remain as poor as they can, send their children to bad schools - and pretend to be uneducated themselves. We find it hard to see how this will be a good thing for the country.
Doubtless exceptions will be made for middle-class Guardian readers who have "socially-valuable" occupations in the public sector. The editorial also points out how the government's new policy can produce contradictory headlines that are both true. Now that's a masterpiece of spin!
The Times' Berlin correspondent is scathing about the EU's eastward expansion. He points out that Eastern European countries like Estonia and Slovenia are doing very well, thank you very much, and are not happy about the mass of regulations being forced on them as the price of EU entry:
How do we harness this energy? How can we benefit from it? Here is a start: we stop telling our neighbours how to bottle their milk and harmonise their sewage systems.
Little wonder that the relationship between the US and Eastern Europe is growing so quickly: Washington, even on the cusp of a Middle East war, is offering encouragement and a firmly defined strategic role for these neglected countries. Brussels, by contrast, is offering at best a second-class status to the East. Direct grants to eastern farmers are pegged at 25 per cent of the sum handed out in the West, edging up year by year until 2013. Eastern workers will be kept out of the EU until at least 2009.
The rhetoric from Western Europe is still couched in the idiom of Jörg Haider and Jean-Marie Le Pen — the threat from the East, the swarming car thieves, the illegal labourers stealing our jobs. Western electorates sense that, as with the euro, they have been hoodwinked into another costly project. There is little passion, little conviction in the need for eastward expansion. The Central Europeans would be right to ask themselves in Copenhagen this week: is this as good as it gets?
A series of Eastern European rejections of EU membership, combined with a take-it-or-leave-it EU constitution could be exactly what Britain needs to be able to say publicly that the EU project is a lame duck.
To Serve and Administer
("To serve and protect" is a general motto for police service in the US). David Farrer's Freedom and Whisky has some staggering figures:
Today's Daily Mail tells us that there are 15,324 serving police officers in Scotland. That seems quite a lot but on a typical day 4,904 of them are working in "administration and specialist departments" and 6,957 are "either on holiday, off sick, in court or carrying out paperwork". Of the remaining 3,463, a mere 4%, that is 138 officers, are on foot patrol in the whole country at any time, with a further 588 driving around in their cars. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is not quite what the public expects.
David is quite right to say that the case for disarmament is, ahem, blown away by these figures. I'm checking, but I have a sneaking suspicion that many US cities have more sworn officers on patrol than the entire country of Scotland.
Marijuana and Psychosis
To say that marijuana is more dangerous than heroin as a headline is a bit disingenuous, as the psychiatrist paraphrased says as much in the context of psychosis alone, but this is an excellent summary of the state of medical opinion on the link between marijuana and psychosis. It's very early days, but there does seem to be something worth studying. Remember for how long some quite prominent scientists denied any causal link between tobacco and cancer.
TCS Column up
Gateway to Heaven? looks at the science behind the marijuana "gateway" controversy and also asks some questions about the coverage of marijuana science in general.
I couldn't agree more with Professor Reynolds and the Wall Street Journal on the Australian internet libel case. This has the makings of the greatest challenge the First Amendment has ever faced, and I don't think that's hyperbole. Where does one nation's writ end in cyberspace? The Australians have said nowhere. As far as the internet goes, we are all governed by Australian, Zimbabwean and, yes, sharia law if this logic is followed. Australian legislators need to do something about this to nip it in the bud. Libel lawyers, meanwhile, are sharpening their knives as we speak.
I hope the sp!ked crew will have something to say on this, having been victims of a particularly stupid interpretation of libel law themselves.
UPDATE: A British lawyer e-mails:
I have to say that on the basis of the coverage I have read I think the Aussies got this one just right. It has always been the case that local libel laws applied where the relevant document was distributed. The only issue with the internet is whether you view it as being distributed at the point of upload or download. If a potentially libellous article can be downloaded in Australia and
Australia is the place where damage to reputation occurs again it would seem to me logical that the courts of Australia should be
happy to give themselves jurisdiction.
Frankly the WSJ seems to me to be scaremongering with its idea that suddenly they can be sued anywhere and how on earth can they take into account 190 different national laws on libel. From what I've read the Australian courts make it quite clear that a person sueing would have to make clear their residency case to justify claiming jurisdiction which as they say should mean that it should be clear to editors what countries laws should be considered prior to publication.
As for the extra-territorial power argument it is ricvh to have that said from Americans given the constant extra-territorial nature of
At the end of the day people like WSJ have been enjoying the supra-national benefits of the web to extend its reach to countries it
would otherwise have little or no impact in. If it wants those advances fine then it takes the risks of falling foul of their laws, if it doesn't want them then it can run a closed site and only US residents access to its website.
Personally, I would have thought that the fact that you "go" to a web site implies that it's not where you are. What does the law on slander say if you dial a telephone number in another country using a speaker phone and then the person on the other end insults you in front of your audience?
Tuesday, December 10, 2002
Disturbing new research, it seems. According to What's the secret to a happy marriage? in the Chicago Sun-Times,
The more time husbands say they spend with their wives, the more likely it is that their marriages will break up, according to the University of Pennsylvania study, reported in the Journal of Family Issues.
The same does not appear to be true for women. This hits close to home for me, as Kris and I spend a lot of time together. I've asked for a copy of the study, and will let you know if the story is as simple and depressing as it seems to be.
Lick my boot, I'm a journalist
The LA Times' excellent David Shaw sticks it to his own profession in Journalists losing touch with the man on the street. A friend of mine who attended Columbia journalism school recently attests that most of his classmates were trust-fund kids. The result?
At best, they're out of touch. At worst, they've become elitists. ...Sandra Mims Rowe, editor of the Portland Oregonian, recalls a newsroom discussion at the Oregonian this year about a state law requiring tax refunds to individuals, even though the state was in "dire financial shape."
"The refund would amount to several hundred dollars per family," Rowe says, "and our journalists were sitting around saying, 'Why doesn't the state do something about this law and balance the budget instead? A few hundred dollars isn't that much.' But to many of our readers, several hundred dollars is a lot of money, and we have to make sure our coverage isn't biased in that way."
The growing gap in income and education between journalists and most of their potential readers -- and the difference in values and lifestyles that often derive from that gap -- is a problem for newspapers already weakened by competitive pressures and declining public confidence, especially in a weak economy, with a rapidly growing immigrant population.
Shaw suggests editors forget about "university" definitions of diversity and hire a few non-college graduates, who might "see some issues, make some connections and produce some stories that tend to elude their college-educated, upper-middle-class colleagues." And who knows, perhaps the opinions expressed in the papers might come once again to resemble what the readers think. And that might be good for sales, too.
Meanwhile, former Wall Street Journal grandee Max Boot has the Times Thunderer column today, and he quotes Saddam Hussein's recent interview with an Egyptian paper:
“No doubt, time is working for us,” he said. “We have to buy some more time, and the American-British coalition will disintegrate because of internal reasons and the pressure of public opinion in American and British streets.”
His strategy is obviously to lead the inspectors on a merry dance. In the meantime, the BBC will continue to broadcast pictures of empty palaces without asking just why so many grand buildings seem to have nothing in them.
If, like me, you haven't been following the Cherie Blair story, then former admirer Libby Purves provides a useful summary of the whole distasteful episode. They even manage to involve Bill Clinton (the dodgy financier's girlfriend, it appears, was sent to give him a back massage in a black catsuit, I kid you not). Sleazy is the only word for it all.
It now appears that she wasn't telling the whole truth about her willingness to intervene on the fraudster's behalf when he faced deportation. The Times' commentary is here. As Purves says, this whole episode has demonstrated hubris and stupidity, which can be just as politically damaging as criminal action.
Just why would Ken Clarke make a poor leader for the Tories? Take it away, Michael Gove:
For the Conservatives to return to power, the party must be seen to have learnt from its mistakes, rejected the arrogance, cynicism and pocketlining of the Major era, developed a tone of voice appropriate to an anti-politician age and come up with a reforming agenda for the public services which respects professional as well as personal freedom. Ken Clarke is sadly ill-equipped to do that job. As John Major’s tax-raising Chancellor, British American Tobacco’s handsomely remunerated director, the euro’s voter-rubbishing cheerleader and the tireless hammer of nurses and teachers, Ken carries more tainted baggage than a mule on Colombia airways.
I think that one of IDS's biggest mistakes was appointing Michael Howard, however impressive a politician he is, to a senior position in the Shadow Cabinet. It taints him with the Major years' disaster. Continuity is not important here; a clean break had to be made. How much worse to have the leader so closely identified with the worst Conservative ministry ever.
Michael has often acted as Michael Portillo's unofficial spokesman in the past. I think that this message is therefore telling:
As a supporter of Michael Portillo’s candidature last year I have to say that those looking to him for salvation are wasting their prayers. If he ran, which he won’t, he would lose. And if he joined Clarke in knifing Dunkers, which I pray he won’t, it would simply look as though Macbeth had found his partner in crime.
Portillo seems to have given up. I have heard rumors that he would have run for the leadership again if he could have got support pledged from 100 MPs. That effort seems to have failed. And with Portillo out of the running, it seems that most of his supporters have realized the inevitable. It is only the out-of-touch has-beens like Hezza and Clarke that don't realize what Michael says next:
The Conservatives’ core problem is their failure to grasp that their introspective Westminster pranks, whether hyperactive plotting or hyperbolic attacks on the Government, only confirm the impression that they are playing a self-interested game rather than setting out a coherent alternative. The Tories are still failing, collectively, to stick to a single message, as they have shown in their confused approach to the proposal that gay couples should have partnership rights. When the Conservatives are simultaneously broadcasting soothing mood music and hard rockin’ reaction, all the voter hears is the irritating buzz you get when the dial is caught between Classic and Kiss FM.
The Tories have now had five leadership elections in 12 years, during which time they plummeted in public esteem. As long as Conservative MPs look for an easy escape from their plight by playing bugger-my-leader instead of tackling their core problems, they will not only remain irrelevant, they will deserve to.
I disagree that the Tories have to broadcast a single message on everything, but that can only work if there is a loud and clear statement to the effect that "we are a broad church that accomodates dissent on certain issues, but are very clear about the main direction we want the country to go in." Yet the core message is right. Leadership is not really the issue. Personnel and message are probably more important now.
The fat's in the fire
According to this article, 54% of US troops are too fat to fight. But this isn't because they're all trench potatoes, it's because the US army adopted the silly federal guideline that anyone with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more was overweight. By reverting to the pre-1998 standard defining overweight as having a BMI or 27 or more (which is when the data tell us health problems begin), 30% of the troops are recategorized as fit to fight. Marvelous.
Today, Al Gore called for Trent Lott to be censured for his foolish remark at Strom Thurmond's 100th party. While Lott's remark is poor, this is a rather interesting judgement coming from a man who opposed Clinton's censure by Congress for his perjury. After all, isn't breaking the law worse than just acting like an ass? No wonder Al Gore dropped out of law school.
Sallie Mae in the UK
One of the highlights of the US education system has been its plethora of federal work-study programs/grants and the widespread avaliability of student loans. Having attended university in the US, and now in the UK, one can see how work-study programs benefit all parties concerned. With work-study, a student would spend some of his/her time as a university employee (either in the library, working as an assistant for a professor, etc.), and receive a discount on his tuition. This also cuts the university's bill, as a student employee is much cheaper than a full-time 'adult' employee. In the US, due to this, university facilities are more heavily utilized (libraries open later, etc.) at a cheaper price. The only criticism in the UK is that such a program would disadvantage students who had to avail themselves of it. When it's a choice between university and working, and going into the workforce without a degree, any ambitious individual would opt for university, despite the devaluing of the education system in Britain.
Presently, due to funding and the Government's insistence to maximize university students, the quality of British education is slipping down the drain. As a student here, it's amazing how lax the standards are. It's a bell-curve with very thin tails. It's almost impossible to fail, and the majority of students seem to have passing their courses as their highest ambitions. However, due to A-level standards falling, it's harder for universities to select the best and brightest. With low funding, it's become an imperative to recruit foreign (fee-paying) students. A degree should not be a birthright, but it should confirm that the recipient has the expected set of skills from it. University teaching seems highly vocational, with more focus on learning how to use Microsoft Office than on analytical thinking.
A few points to make on how to rebuild the Tories:
1) Take a page from the Republicans. Build strong local parties. Right now, most local parties are moribund.
2) Adopt Michael Gove's suggestion of open candidate selection. Today, most young Tories go into a variety of careers other than politics. Many may sympathize with the Tories, but just don't have the time or opportunities (as CF is a mostly student crowd) to work extensively with the party.
3) Boost pay for CCO workers. Right now, CCO's Bright Young Things (as Evelyn Waugh used it, not the complementary term) are at least the 3rd XI, if not below. Instead of a professional squad of courageous thinkers and individuals willing to accomodate different viewpoints, the BYT/CF is full of cliquish self-absorbed troglodytes who don't have the time of day for a new party member. With a bit more money, CCO can attract a higher grade of young Tory, as right now, its pay scales are rather miserable for a London job. After all, look at the careers of most of the former dauphins of the Tories (Portillo, et al), and most started as advisors from the CCO level. Right now, I wouldn't trust one to lead, well, CF. Certainly better value for money than more mousepads or billboards.
4) Bring back the YCs (Young Conservatives). When YCs and Student Tories were combined into CF (Conservative Future), the student wing took charge. Most of the young professionals interested in talking politics or networking have lost interest in this crowd which now concentrates on drinking and nightclubbing, even though, oddly enough, most of CF's leadership have graduated from university. There's also far too much of an elitist sheen to CF/YCs, as they don't reach out to the working-class Tories.
5) Stronger polling techniques. As mentioned in previous post.
6) Go right. From a simple marketing perspective, there isn't much of a difference between the New Tories and New Labour. Why vote for the Tories to enact an agenda which is Labour's core competence. The Tories need to regain their reputation for economic prudence. All this pandering to race is probably insulting to the groups targeted. After all, didn't Condi Rice say she was glad to be with a party which liked her for who she was, not for the colour of her skin? If we really want to target the ethnic minorities, we can target shared values (responsibility and self-reliance), or shared economic opportunity (as many of them do own small businesses). This by no means excludes gays or women.
7) Utilize old soldiers. There are quite a few former activists/CCO workers dispersed through the country who can be quite useful. Given their wealth of experience, they can help advise the party in their spare time. Given the quality of the current CCO crowd, who know all, their experience would be very useful.
Lastly, hasn't the Tory breakaway party (The New Party) had its name used before by a fascist party of Mr Oswald Mosley?
On the Warpath
In today's Times (breaking news, so no link provided), Lord Heseltine criticizes IDS for not going after Blair on the flat scandal. For once, Heseltine's right. The Tories tend to be solely reactive in terms of policy, and rarely savage Labour's proposals. More and more, British politics is looking like Dutch politics, with an attempt at passing consensual laws as opposed to laws based on principles. Labour has made more pratfalls than Chevy Chase in its second term, yet the Tories are loath to capitalize on any of them. From Theresa May's appalling performance against Stephen Byers to Letwin's inability to attack the authoritarian strains of Blunkettism, the Conservatives seem convinced that advocating a centre-right copy of New Labour will garner votes.They just don't have 'that vision thing'. Historically, the most effective peacetime prime ministers have been the ones with the clearest vision and a strong will to accomplish it, from Clement Attlee to Margaret Thatcher. The Tories vacillate and seem only dedicated to winning votes, not winning the battle of ideas. As for my prediction, if they don't clean things up at CCO (Conservative Central Office), the next election will be just as bad. While Labour is using US-standard polling techniques and GOTV practices (Phillip Gould, Blair's chief spin doctor, has opened up a consultancy with James Carville and Sidney Greenberg), the Tories are using the equivalent of flint and steel. Yet for some reason, all the 'modernisers' don't realize this.
It's also quite interesting how most of the shiny knives aimed at IDS in the press come from the Clarkeite and Portillista groups. The Davis partisans seem to have calmed for the time being.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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...
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.
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.
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.
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?
UPI is reporting that Paul O'Neill and Larry Lindsey have resigned from their Treasury positions.
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
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
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.
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.