England's Sword 2.0

Monday, December 23, 2002

Stormin' Norman


Say what you like about some of his creations, but Sir Norman Foster has a heck of an idea for the WTC site (link to a skyline view, but you need to look at the whole slide show). "The Voids" i.e. the footprints of the two towers would be the Vietnam Wall-likecmemorial. The park looks great, the transport interchange shows how experienced Foster is at designing those and the new office building -- The Cathedral -- is stunning. Wow.

Jobsworths


I have long believed that it is the British -- and indeed Anglospheric -- way to disregard rules when common sense dictates otherwise, which is exactly why regulation is such a big threat to the way of life. Nevertheless, Britain has always bred a small percentage of people to whom rules are the way of life. They are termed "jobsworths," because it is "more than me job's worth" for them to break a rule. As bureaucracy and regulation expand, these people gravitate more and more towards those jobs, and seem to be especially happy in the police force. The Sun's Richard Littlejohn therefore offers up the Mind How You Go Awards, aimed at the martinets in blue. My favorite:

... a special mention must go to the men and women who run Greater Manchester Police.

Their plan for combating crime this festive season is sending Christmas cards to known offenders asking them to behave themselves.

That should have them quaking in their boots.

The rest is a litany of inoffensive citizens being harassed by bureaucrats with the power of arrest. Britain's violent crime rate is twice that of America's.

TCS Column Up


My latest Tech Central Station column looks at the American Medical Association's crusade to restrict alcohol advertising.

Intolerance


I meant to blog on the Red Cross "banning" Christmas on Saturday, but things got away from me. What strikes me most about this is that the stated reason -- to avoid "offending" Muslims -- is essentially an approval of intolerance. Rather than asking how people can be offended by the free exercise of a lawful religion, they presume the offence is warranted. This strikes me as a very bad thing in a supposedly liberal democracy.

Are they going to call this band-wagoning?


France said ready to assist U.S. in Iraq invasion reports the usually reliable Rowan Scarborough in the Washington Times.

In memoriam


Britain is an island, and so has a substantial fishing industry. Or I should say "had," because the EU has now finally killed it off in the name of conservation. I have little to add to the Telegraph editorial on the subject, Fishermen sunk:

Aristotle observed that that which no one owns, no one will care for. This has always been the problem with the CFP, which treats North Sea fish stocks as a "common resource". No skipper will agree to tie up his boat while he believes that foreign vessels are loose in the same seas. That is why the EU has never been able to apply the conservation policies that have been successfully pursued in Norway, Iceland, New Zealand and elsewhere.

Instead, Brussels has sought to preserve stocks by restricting the amount of each species that an individual fisherman can land. The trouble is that fish do not behave as bureaucrats would like. They intermingle, so that a skipper who has gone out after, say, haddock, might end up catching whiting.

If he has already exceeded his whiting quota, he has no option but to throw the dead fish overboard. Two million tons of whitefish were dumped this way last year. Only an EU official could call it conservation.

Britain has been especially badly hit. Fifty-five per cent of the fish covered by the CFP fall within our territorial waters; yet we are allocated a quota equivalent to just 28 per cent by volume, or 18 per cent by value. And, from January 1, Spanish boats will gain access to the remaining parts of the North Sea from which they have hitherto been excluded.

This disaster was man-made. An alternative was staring Brussels in the face for 30 years. Each country could simply have been put in charge of its own waters, out to 200 miles or the median line, as allowed under maritime law.

But for the EU's dogmatic refusal to devolve powers, the member states would have been given an incentive to police their own jurisdictions properly. They would have been free to sell, swap or lease fishing rights within their national zones on the basis of clearly defined property rights. From ownership would have come conservation.

It could have worked beautifully. Now it is too late.

If Britain left the EU, of course, we could exclude the Spanish and conserve fish stocks properly.

The BBC in action


No media bias in the BBC? Ha! Take a look at the way this story develops: IDS tells the Sunday Times that he's in favor of tax cuts (about time too -- ed). The Beeb reports the story reasonably straight, but there's a little picture of Ken Clarke there with the caption "Ken Clarke has been tipped as a future party leader," DESPITE THE FACT HE'S NOT MENTIONED IN THE STORY!!!

Then Paul Boateng says that IDS has obviously overruled people in the party on this , so the BBC story is Tories deny tax rift claims. Not "Labour alleges tax rift in Tories," mind you. There seems to be no internal evidence of a rift at all -- even Francis Maude agrees with IDS. Chris Patten is obsessing on Europe, but makes no mention of taxes. The only evidence for a rift is Michael Howard refusing to say categorically that taxes will be cut in his first budget. I think he should, but it's understandable he doesn't and his words are certainly not at odds with IDS' philosophical position.

Yes, the Tories are shambolic and need to get their act in order, but it is impossible to get your message out when the main state-financed broadcaster is so clearly biased against your leadership. The BBC is getting very, very bad for democracy.

Guest blogging (glogging?)


Eugene Volokh has kindly asked me to guest-blog for a couple of days over at The Volokh Conspiracy, so if things seem a little light from me here, check there. I'm extremely honored to be invited, as the Conspiracy is one of my favorite blogs and as eurdite a blog as you could possibly get. Already there (depending on the vagaries of PST) is a contribution on the subject of split infinitives, and I plan a major post on a rather tendentious story in the Economist, which I shall probably reproduce here for the record and commentary.

Friday, December 20, 2002

Who gave them a grant for this?


The rest of the BMJ's christmas edition is full of improbable research. My favorite: a couple of researchers have reviewed the measurements of every Playboy centerfold in each of the 577 issues. They conclude that the average Playmate is getting less curvy and more androgynous. I don't think they've properly accounted for height: from the relative size of the women surrounding Hef when you see glimpses of him on Comedy Central and the like, it seems that tall playmates are in, and I'm not sure you can get 6' tall women with curves equivalent to Marilyn Monroe. Nevertheless, even the objectification of women seems to be subject to defeminization...

An end to data dredging


Three festive cheers to the British Medical Journal for publishing an excellent article explaining just why there are so many health scares. Data dredging, bias (not the political kind) and confounding factors all contribute to a mass of worthless or contradictory studies. The BMJ comes close to endorsing a move from tightening up the condition for statistical significance from a P value of less than 0.05 (meaning that the probability of the finding being chance, not what was concluded, is about 1 in 20) to one of 0.001 or even less. This would elimate most of the real health scare stories at a stroke. The authors also call for better analysis of confounding factors. Most of the studies I have disparaged over the years have failed to take obvious confounders into account.

My only worry is that if these recommendations were adopted, medical journals would be perilously thin...

Defining deviancy down


The Lord Chief Justice really needs to have a chat with Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In one of the stupidest decisions I have ever read he has decreed that first-time non-violent burglars shall not be sent to prison. Burglary is a serious crime. It involves the violation of someone's home and their right to peaceful enjoyment of their property. Some research has shown that burglars are more likely to become rapists than other criminals, presumably because they don't have a problem with violating people's space for their own gratification. Burglars are, by any definition, high-risk offenders. According to a Home Office study in 2000, burglary costs the UK 2.7 billion pounds a year -- more than any other crime except murder, serious wounding and car theft. The average burglary takes 830 pounds in stolen and damaged property. THIS IS NOT A MINOR CRIME!!!

Thankfully, the reaction has been outrage:

The MP for Nottingham North (Graham Allen, Labour) said the decision bore no reality to the lives of victims of burglary.

"I am very much in support of community sentences where appropriate, but this sends a very bad signal to constituencies like mine that the ultimate sanction for first-time burglars is being removed.

"There has to remain the threat that any burglary can result in a prison sentence."

Rod Dalley, of the Police Federation said: "We are concerned at both the timing and message it sends to burglars who may not yet have done their Christmas shopping."

The Association of Chief Police Officers said the news would come as a shock to some victims of burglary, and would "strike fear" into others.

The whole discussion seems to be predicated on the idea that prison's only purpose is to rehabilitate offenders. Indeed part of it is, but it ignores the incapacitative benefits of prison, never mind the retributive or the deterrent effect on other offenders. A huge amount of research shows that crime reduces as certainty of custodial punishment increases. This ruling will increase crime. Period.

Howellzat?


Two great opinion pieces from Lord Howell, an extremely talented Minister who deserved to get higher in Mrs T's cabinet than he did. In Britain braces for dilemma, in The Japan Times of all places (thanks to Philip Chaston for the link), he argues that the written Constitution for Europe is going to be the breaking point for the British:

So the British offering is a "thus far and no further" document, an attempt to halt the slide toward the centralization of powers in Europe and defend nation-states against further encroachments. Somehow a skeptical British public has to be persuaded that this sort of compromise is the best that can be done.

There are two snags to this approach. The first is that most of it will be rejected anyway by other European leaders, especially the attempt to keep defense and foreign policy out of central hands. The overwhelming continental wish is to make the EU a military power in its own right with a single foreign policy and a single foreign-policy spokesman who can project Europe's power on the world stage, thus checking -- although this is unspoken -- the perceived American impulse toward hegemony.

The second snag is that most British people will hate the whole idea of a written constitution. They will accept that the EU must have clearer club rules about who does what, but that is as far as they will go. If given the chance to vote on a new European constitutional treaty in a referendum -- and the Conservative opposition is already pressing for one when the new proposals come next year -- the majority would probably oppose it.

At that point, the union would be in turmoil. With one of its largest members, Britain, in effect vetoing the constitutional project and the rest determined to go ahead, the threat of a real parting of the ways would be greater than it has ever been since the original European Community was founded 45 years ago.

Meanwhile, in The Wall Street Journal Europe (subscription probably required), he argues that the Conservatives' best opportunity is to argue now forcefully for lower taxation:

Time has passed since the Thatcher era and, like a garden weed that will just not go away, the old beliefs in tax and spend have crept back into public policy in Britain. The state's total take is now expected to reach 42% from 35% in 1995. Yet the opposition has been curiously mute in face of this trend, coming close to sounding like a "me-too" party in condoning tax increases and more state orchestrated spending as the "solution" to crumbling public services.

Yet all the signs are that the British public is now growing thoroughly irritated and disappointed. After some years of accepting being that, first, taxes were not going up, when in fact they were raised by stealth, and second, that this would undoubtedly deliver better public services -- which it hasn't -- Britons no longer trust the government's message on taxation. Meanwhile, an over-regulated and over-taxed economy is visibly slowing.

A successful opposition must not merely win the day-to-day arguments. It has to regain the higher moral ground. It has to show that there is a better way to achieve widely accepted social goals. There was never a better moment for an alternative government to come forward with the clear message that high taxes cannot buy a better life, nor a fairer nor more inclusive society nor a more caring one, but that low taxation and the right incentives can.

I think this is right. Labour's poll rating seems to me to be teetering on the edge of a precipice, and when it falls, it will fall dramatically. If the Tories can argue forcibly that we are in a mess and it's tax and spend that has helped get us into the mess -- again -- then I think the British public will be receptive to that message, especially as the Lib Dims are also a tax and spend party. The de facto 10% increase in income tax that is going to hit the professional classes next year will be a big factor in the minds of a lot of traditionally Conservative groups that have felt able to support Labour thanks to growing affluence. The failure of Labour to deliver any improvements in health, transport or crime will weigh heavily on the minds of the lower-middle and working classes. Then will be the opportunity for a "Is Britain really better off now than it was in 1997?" campaign. That could be very hard-hitting done correctly.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

A Christmas Appeal


The Spectator has a sensible idea: it is asking its readership to buy subscriptions to the magazine to be sent to African institutions, in the hope of changing a few points of view:

For far too long, Africans have been schooled by European and American intellectuals in the art of excusing themselves for their own plight. This is demeaning to them: it implies that Africans are so lowly and incompetent that they are incapable of making their own mess, which someone else — in effect, the white man — must make for them. Thus Western intellectuals and African elites came to live in symbiosis: the first flattered themselves that, decolonisation notwithstanding, the white man was still all-powerful in Africa, even if all-powerful only in his capacity to do evil; and the second were provided with an unfailing excuse for their own greed, corruption and improvidence. A member of the African elite who used his ill-gotten gains and his country’s scarce foreign exchange to buy a flat in Belgravia or the 16th arrondissement could persuade himself that his own conduct was really the fault of Europe or America. Whether in nominally capitalist or formerly socialist countries, it was long impossible to find any intellectual challenge to an outlook that in effect absolved Africans from blame for their own situation, and therefore also denied them the ability to do anything about it. Needless to say, such an outlook led directly to a balefully self-fulfilling prophecy; for those who believe that their fate lies essentially in the hands of others take no action to better themselves. Thus Africa has been waiting for Godot.

The mere existence of another point of view has potential to exert a beneficial effect where a single opinion has long held sway. For example, the universal poisonous hatred of middlemen (Indian in east Africa and Lebanese in west Africa), regarded as exploiters and bloodsuckers, might come to appear absurd, dishonest and reactionary. The market women of west Africa, who are so remarkable in their trustworthiness, reliability and business capacity, might come to seem more truly heroic, more worthy of emulation, than all the political panjandrums who did so much to bring about a decline in African living standards to below those of the 1960s.

Can one quirky little magazine make a difference? One would hope so. Of course, it will get banned by the panjandrums as soon as it starts to.

Lott: The people speak


Interesting, according to the Gallup Poll, l'affaire Lott has damaged Trent Lott, but not the Republican party. People don't think the debacle proves that Republicans -- in general or in Congress -- or the President are prejudiced. And most people think that Lott's statement itself was a poor choice of words rather than a genuine endorsement of segregation. Crucially, independents think this by a margin of 62% - 33%. The people in general seem to think that Lott is an isolated buffoon. All the more reason for him to go, I think.

Tory, tory hallelujah!


Joyous news from Dan Hannan's latest euro-briefing:

Since 1992, Conservative Euro-MPs have sat, incongruously, with the most integrationist grouping in the EU. The European People's Party (EPP) takes pride in being more devoted to a federal Europe than any of its rivals. Its constitution commits it to "compete for the realisation of a United States of Europe", and its most recent manifesto contains policies which would shock even the most Euro-phile of British politicians, including:

· An EU army
· An EU police force
· A European income tax, to be levied by MEPs
· An elected President of Europe
· The elimination of remaining national vetoes
· Pan-European political parties
· Pan-European television broadcasting
· Harmonisation of social and employment laws
· Harmonisation of criminal justice
· A European Public Prosecutor
· A federal constitution

How, you might ask, did the Tories ever end up in such a bizarre mésalliance? It is a question I have been putting ever since I was elected. Part of the answer seems to be that, following heavy losses in the 1989 European elections, the MEPs at the time felt they needed to be part of a larger grouping. And, if truth be told, some of them felt more comfortable with the EPP's philosophy than do their successors today (which helps explain why several of them have since become Liberal Democrats). But none of this justifies our continuing link with parties that oppose much of what we stand for, especially now that we are the second-largest party in the European Parliament.

You will often hear the EPP described as a "Centre-Right" party. This label, although regularly applied by British commentators, is angrily rejected by the EPP itself. It insists that it is "the Party of the Centre", more free market than the socialists, but less so than the liberals. Accordingly, it believes in strong trade unions, a high minimum wage, a battery of "anti-discrimination" legislation and a redistributive tax system. Its members come from across the political spectrum: Christian Democrats, centrists, even some Social Democrats. The one thing that unites them is their fanatical commitment to European integration.

Regular readers of these bulletins will know that I have always argued that the Tories would be better off in an explicitly conservative grouping, working with mainstream Centre-Right parties who share our belief in a Europe of nations. Such an alternative is on offer: we could work with French Gaullists, Danish and Portuguese conservatives and, above all, the Centre-Right parties from the applicant states, who know what it is like to be ruled by foreign bureaucrats, and who have no intention of repeating that experience in the EU. This is what the British Conservatives do in the assembly of the Council of Europe: instead of joining the EPP group there, they are a leading force in the explicitly anti-federalist European Democratic Group.

Leaving the group would not prevent us from co-operating with the EPP. We could still vote together when our interests co-incided, as we do in the Council of Europe. We would also continue to have bilateral ties with most of the national parties that make up the EPP. We would, as Bismarck once said, "march separately but fight together".

Ever since our victory at the 1999 European election, successive Conservative leaders have sought to reach an accommodation with the EPP, whereby a formal alliance would exist between autonomous conservative and Christian Democratic groups. The EPP have been wholly inflexible, insisting that we act as a single united bloc, and refusing even to offer us control over our own staff and finances (which means that much of the money to which the Tory MEPs are entitled ends up being spent by the EPP on schemes to advertise the euro or promote federalism).

Last month, Iain Duncan Smith wrote to the EPP leadership, saying that, if they could not offer us the flexibility we wanted, we would leave and form a separate conservative group. The EPP wrote back - in rather hectoring terms - telling him that such a deal was not on offer. Accordingly, Iain has given the EPP formal notice that we intend to quit following the next European election.

This is an extremely positive development for all those who believe in national independence. We now have the opportunity to work with like-minded parties from Western and Eastern Europe who share our commitment to parliamentary democracy. At last, voters around the continent will see that there is a genuine alternative to ever-closer union. Respectable Centre-Right parties, which have hitherto felt that they had nowhere else to go, will have a home which is neither far-Right nor Euro-federalist. Mainstream conservatism is back.

On current figures, a new conservative bloc could expect to be the third largest grouping in the European Parliament: behind the EPP and the Socialists, but ahead of the Liberals. This would give us the balance of power. British Conservatives, instead of being marginalized within a Euro-fanatical group, would be able to work with friends and allies to build a different kind of Europe. 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

About time too. Within the current framework, this is about the best I could hope for. Many congratulations are due to Dan for helping bring about this outcome.

The modern conservative movement


A lot of people have been jumping on the bandwagon that the Lott affair proves that the GOP is just the old southern Dixiecrats. Thanks to Charles Krauthammer for pointing out that the conservative movement is far, far broader:

[The Lott affair] is not a matter of politics. It is a matter of principle.The principle is colorblindness, the bedrock idea enshrined in the 1964 Civil Rights Act that guides the thinking of the third strain of conservatism, neoconservatism. Neocons have been the most passionate about the Lott affair and most disturbed by its meaning.

Why? Because many neoconservatives are former liberals. They supported civil rights when it meant equality between the races, and they turned against the civil rights establishment when it began insisting that some races should be more equal than others. Neoconservatives oppose affirmative action on grounds of colorblindness and in defense of the original vision of the civil rights movement: judging people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

Having thus staked their ground for decades on colorblindness and a reverence for the civil rights movement as originally defined, neoconservatives were particularly appalled by Lott's endorsement of its antithesis, Thurmond segregationism. Not to denounce it--on grounds not of politics but of principle--would be to lose all moral standing on matters of race.

I have one other point to make, which applies equally to accusations that the British conservative party harbors racists. It has been the great strength of the two party system in both Britain and the US that extremism has been smothered within the main political parties. Fascism never took off in Britain partly because its natural sympathisers were not excluded from mainstream debate. Similarly, the absorption of the Dixiecrats into the GOP probably made the transition from segregation easier as it was not as confrontational as it could have been. Similar arguments can be made about the left and communism. Its demand was halted by the willingness to engage with quite extreme politics within the mainstream parties of the left. My grandfather would certainly have been a communist in France. In the UK, he was able to operate within the NUM and the Labour movement. Natural supporters of extremism are best dealt with, I feel, by engagement and absorption into a much more moderate consensus than by yelling "Pariah" and excluding them from the process. That's what "big tents" and "broad churches" are all about. A party that can include both Krauthammer and Thurmond such that they generally agree is a useful thing. Occasionally, a Trent Lott or a Ken Clarke (to take an example of someone being extremist in another direction) will exclude themselves from the debate by their own extreme acts. But in general, I think the GOP did the nation a favor by absorbing the Dixiecrats and for the most part "healing" them, rather than leaving them to fester like a sore on the body politic.

PP: In case anyone thinks that it's only the neocons who are colorblind within the movement, Jonah Goldberg has an excellent rejoinder here.

Skycoppers


The BBC is reporting that the government has approved armed air marshals for UK domestic flights. Terrific. The government has essentially admitted that security at domestic airports isn't good enough, although there is no evidence to suggest that, unlike in the US. I'm pretty blase about the presence of weapons on board flights, given the state of the technology in tis area, and think the argument that terrorists might overpower the marshal and use his weapon a bit of a silly one (the alternative being terrorists with no-one, or an unarmed officer, to overpower instead, and if an armed marshal can be overpowered, why can't an armed terrorist?). However, we are gradually moving towards an armed police force in the UK and I don't like that one bit. To go from an armed, confident, generally law-abiding population with an unarmed police force to a disarmed, paranoid, law-skeptical population with an armed police force in the course of one or two generations strikes me as a pretty good indicator of social collapse.

Onward Christian Soldiers!



Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, today has called for the Church of England to focus on morality as the centrepiece of life. Just a little problem, however. Mr Williams seems to focus on the political sphere as determining society's mores, as opposed to cultural factors. While railing against "the market state" and war in Iraq, everything else going on right now is apparently hunky dory. Williams exemplifies the socialist stream within the C of E that views the Church as obliged to provide a political opposition in times when there is none. Such a contrarian view, when claiming to speak for the lay people of the C of E, will ultimately undermine it. Most churchgoers in Britain strongly oppose Williams' world view.

Feminism again



The problem most feminists have, from my point of view, is believing that it is desirable for women to behave exactly like men. It ain't biologically sound, and frankly, I worry for society if women behave exactly like men. Look at Newcastle. While that's not a call to stay in the kitchen, it seems like anyone who doesn't crusade with them or immediately avail themselves of newfound opportunities is a traitor to one's sex. In addition, the image feminists like Germaine Greer have of men seems to be a sleazy caricature of the worst attributes that any individual can have. As Doris Lessing has said, feminism has metamorphosed from a movement for equality of opportunity to a fundamentalist creed against men. Greer seems to note that as certain men are barbarians, it's perfectly fine for women to behave that way, and, in fact, desirable.

Poly Nation


British universities, although counseling their charges to stay out of debt so they won't have to ask their parents for more money, oddly enough follow this behaviour themselves. After frivolous expenditures on bloated administrative costs (Not sure about the rest of you, but at the two unis I've been to here, there have been many administrative officials with a less-than-ostensible duty), they cut the teaching budget so as to offer the entire gamut of courses. Unfortunately, all the parties seem to be ignoring the profligate spending of universities in their higher education policies, preferring to increase student fees. While an increase is needed, unfortunately, students will bear the brunt of an inefficient administration more intent on providing jobs for the boys than education.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Light at the end of the chunnel?


Brian Micklethwait, moonlighting at Transport Blog, gives us hope for a rational transport policy in the UK. And his transcription of a debate between Jonathan Dimbleby and a rail industry Man in Gray is priceless.

Pension them off


People often rightly criticize Simon Jenkins, but he's got it bang on in his review of the British pensions 'crisis'. British pensions are underfunded by about 27 million quid, but that is almost all attributable to the 5 million/ year stealth tax introduced by Gordon Brown in 1997. Meanwhile, the real crisis is overseas:

Britons have long been smug about the “pensions time bomb” under other European countries, notably France and Germany. In those countries, underfunded pension liabilities have presaged economic collapse. When an ageing population starts to draw down pensions there will be neither the private nor the public funds to meet them. Enraged pensioners will fall back on the State, and the result will be soaring taxes, deficits and interest rates.

Britain has mostly held aloof from this bind. It has more money saved in private and corporate pension funds than the rest of Europe put together. The best practical reason for not joining a single European financial community was always to avoid Britain having to meet the eventual burden of the “Common European Pension”.

International redistribution of wealth, eh? Marx would be so happy.

The poverty of historicism?


This silly fellow, whose writings I have often enjoyed in the past, seems to think that myth and literary fantasy are incompatible, that someone who enjoys Elvish will never enjoy Greek. Poppycock.

Memo to ID Card protestors


If you're serious about opposing HMG plans for ID cards, mock one up with the name "WINSTON SMITH" and distribute it to every house in the country...

On your marks...


Mark Kleiman has a very interesting and reasonable post discussing the merits of decriminalization of drugs. I'd make two comments: first, that local evidence from the decriminalization experiment in Lambeth, where I lived for 7 years, shows that local working class youth seem to be suffering, not middle class youth as Mark suggests. I'd argue that as their support systems are generally better, middle class youth will be better able to absorb the damage. Once again, the costs will fall disproportionately on the working class. Second, I cannot see any advantage in decriminalizing but not legalizing if the same groups retain control of distribution and supply. The supply-related crime will surely remain the same (but demand-related crime would probably increase as demand increased). Holland reasonably successfully separated the two markets when the drug problem was much smaller. I'm not sure if a much bigger market like the UK can do it now.

Self-deprecation: the English way of life


Self-deprecation as an English habit used to be a way of keeping massive egos in check, rather like the slave who would whisper "Remember thou art mortal" in the ear of a Roman triumphator. Now, however, it seems to be a national pathology, with everyone genuinely believing Britain is useless. Steven Chapman has an excellent example from the world of sport -- England is 6th in the world at football, lost in the World Cup only to the eventual champions after taking the lead but conceding a rather fluky winner, and beat the runners-up 5-1 in their last meeting, but this stupid Guardian journalist says "we obviously suck". A friend of mine at the Heritage Foundation was once asked by Jeremy Paxman, of all people, why he was interested in "little England." He had to give Mr Paxman the low-down on exactly how powerful, economically and militarily, the United Kingdom is.

This lack of self-belief and self-confidence seems to me to be a serious problem. Such a society will always think the worst of its institutions and way of life. It may therefore be a prime factor motivating the disastrous social experiments Britain has indulged in. It also seems to afflict the most noted commentator on how disastrous those experiments have been. Theodore Dalrymple, writing in the Wall Street Journal today says that Britons are more likely to be burgled than South Africans. Rubbish. Britain's burglary rate may be one of the highest in the developed world, but we're still better off than South Africans. According to the International Criminal Victimization Survey 2000, 2.8% of Britain's population was the victim of burglary, with the same number suffering attempted burglary. The equivalent rates for South Africa were 6.3% and 3.7%. South Africa has double Britain's crime rate. I happen to very much agree with Dr. Dalrymple's analysis of why Britain is in the mess it has got itself into, but this does his cause no good at all.

I gotta horse!


Many Happy Returns to Stephen Pollard, and best of luck to Spring Dawn. I hope it does as well as Cool Dawn, also owned by an old college friend...

UPDATE: It's also Andrew Dodge's birthday today. Many happy returns to the Dodgester!

Wibble


Junius has yet more on the Thatcher statue decapitation debacle. When I was thinking about the case last night (shaking my head in disbelief), I wondered what the Judge's instructions to the jury were. The answer seems to be "stark staring mad."

On a related note, I hope some psychologist somewhere is taking a look at manifestations of Thatcher hatred. It does seem to be an extraordinary case of mass psychosis within certain sub-sections of society.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Happy Blirgday!


Can't believe I missed this. Happy belated Blirgday to the kindest, gentlest, equationest blog out there, Jay Manifold's A Voyage to Arcturus!!!

German German Overalls


Ever wonder why the Germans are so opposed to action on Iraq? The prof has the story.

Vandal? No, artist!


Junius has the tale of an astonishing legal defense. The fact that a jury couldn't make up its mind as to whether or not to accept it speaks volumes about the acceptance of the relativist argument in the UK.

UPDATE: And Stephen Pollard has even more. It appears the Guardian and the BBC are trying to get the man a job!

The value of a degree


Justifiably commending Charles Clarke for quitely dropping the target of 50% of children at university, Libby Purves demolishes the class-warrior argument often deployed in its favor:

Arguing against the 50 per cent target is traditionally caricatured by new Labour ministers as a selfish attempt to perpetuate middle-class elitism in university education. Actually, the reverse is true. Statistics show that the highest dropout rates are at universities whose students have the lowest socio-economic profile. The poor get shafted, yet again. For may I remind you what “dropout rate” means? It isn’t some dry industrial statistic. It means disappointment, tears, self-disgust, wrecked hopes, and money wasted on fruitless debt. And all of this hurts people not yet 20: a new generation, which trusted us.

Furthermore,

As the social mix of the academic elite improved, another interesting result would be that there wouldn’t necessarily be room on full degree courses for some middle-class applicants. So what? Upward mobility implies that downward mobility is also possible. If degrees are real and rigorous, demanding hard work in termtime and reading in vacations, we should face that fact that some of the well-heeled skivers who currently swan around on a three-year coffee break could profitably be replaced by poorer kids who are genuinely excited by learning. If the parents of this minority of affluent idlers want a finishing-school, fine. Let them pay for it without subsidy. There is no place on serious degree courses for the lazy, dim or bored student of any social class.
But Purves also points out another piece of EU harmonization idiocy:

Recently an academic pointed out to me that in 1999, unnoticed by most of us, we signed the Bologna Agreement on the “Single European Educational Space”. By 2010 we must be “harmonised” into a common university system, insisting that Bachelor degrees take three years, Masters a further two, and a PhD three more. Farewell to the four-year degree and university autonomy over length; but note also that any courses which sensibly shorten themselves to one or two years will fall glaringly outside the pattern and look incongruous. So if we’re going to start accepting that we need many different types and durations of post-18 education, we had better settle the system down confidently before 2010.

I'm not quite sure if I understand this. Will any courses that don't fit the standard in 2010 be allowed to continue? Or not? I worry for the future of my own course, literae humaniores, which could not possibly cover the same ground in three years (and the current course requires noticeably less reading than when I was up). This harmonization is utterly unnecessary for economic reasons and yet another reason why the EU is bad for Britain.

Break off this engagement


Michael Gove looks at Tony Blair's policy of "engagement" with the Syrian dictator and compares it to the directly analogous "engagement" with another young despot:

Kim Jong Il has reacted to “engagement” as any good tyrant would, using it as an opportunity to screw appeasers in the West for resources and expertise with which to strengthen his oppressive rule. The West should have known what it was getting into. Kim Jong Il has been responsible for the abduction of scores of foreign nationals, a bomb in Burma which killed several members of a South Korean delegation and the downing of a South Korean airliner in which 115 people died. Yet still Western leaders thought he could be “engaged”. To the extent of building nuclear reactors for him. Only to find he was building nuclear bombs for use against them. But hey, how were they to know, he claimed he wanted to learn from the West? He said he even liked jazz.

It was Churchill, I think, who pointed out that the trouble with feeding the crocodile was that, in the end, you are left with only yourself to feed to it.

Ignorance is bliss?


Paul Fishbein's useful little Drug Policy Digest has the full starting price on what the latest "Monitoring the Future" survey of high school drug use tells us. Drug use is down for the most part. What I find most frustrating about this survey is that it doesn't ask why the teens used, or didn't use, drugs, so we are left to infer. For instance, drug use dropped for drugs about which there have been major public campaigns drawing attention to the risks -- including alcohol. But for heoin, cocaine and crack, where risk campaigns have fallen off in recent years, use has held about steady. This seems to indicate that public information campaigns do have an effect.

In Europe, Eurobarometer performs a survey that tells us why teens use and stop using drugs. The three main reasons across Europe for using drugs are Curiosity (61%), Peer pressure (46%) and thrill seeking (41%). Expected effects and recreation are rated much lower -- 26% and 16%. In the UK, peer pressure and thrill seeking are much more important: the ratings are curiosity 61%, peer pressure 58% and thrill seeking 51% (expected effects 18%). When asked to assess why people don't stop using drugs, the European answers were Dependence (74%), Lack of willpower (51%) and Effects of drugs -- ie that the benefits outweigh the risks (41%). Peer pressure comes in fourth at 27%. The UK again has slightly different results: dependence 67%, lack of willpower 53%, effects of drugs 48% and peer pressure 30%.

Combiningt these results seems to confirm one of the main themes of my position on drugs. People, especially teens, often use drugs out of ignorance. They have a conception of benefits given by drugs that is not balanced by a real appreciation of the risks. Curiosity, peer pressure and thrill seeking are not good reasons to try anything that may be harmful to individual or community, whether it be drugs, alcohol, tobacco or sex. It is our duty to let people know the full extent of the risks and consequences of such use. The evidence seems to indicate that increasing knowledge of risks and consequences reduces activity. In a properly informed society we are then left with a moral debate over the value to be attached to supposed benefits, but until we get to that informed society the real battle is against ignorance.

Debt and taxes


Potential big, big mistake brewing in the Treasury Department. Apparently, one of Larry Lindsey's last acts was to tell a tax conference that the Department is looking at the tax burden on the poor. With a view to increasing it. They think, you see, that the 12.5% social security tax shouldn't be thought of as a tax, because you get it back eventually. This is crazy, as the Heritage Foundation analyst said:

William W. Beach, an economist at the Heritage Foundation think tank, said he was sympathetic to Lindsey's argument that the Social Security tax is not really a tax. But, he said, it was a dangerous argument for a Republican to make.

"Do I allow defense spending to offset my income taxes since I like to be defended? Do I allow road taxes to offset my profits taxes because I use the roads?" he asked. "If you do start down that road, it's hard to see anything as taxes."

A tax is quite simply when the Government takes your money and spends it for you. That goes when it invests it for you for your own personal benefit just as much as when it invests it in community benefits. If the Treasury Department does this, the President will deserve to lose blue-collar votes at the next election.

Monday, December 16, 2002

This is murder


Jane Galt of Asymmetrical Information has some thoughts about why the US murder rate might be lower than the British. You'll see my comments on another study, which may be the one Jane refers to, here and here in chronological order.

Sustainability


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.

Fascinating


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

BOFTY


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.

Zzzzzzzzz...

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.

Libel lore


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."

Eh?


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?

Compensation culture


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:

I know, for example, that the CIA has a report, which it considers reliable, stating that one of the most senior intelligence officials the Iraqis have, a man called Farouk Hijazi, traveled to Afghanistan in the winter of 1998 and met with Osama bin Laden for quite a lengthy period. I know they also have a report which suggests that two of the 9-11 hijackers, Marwan Al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrahi, traveled to the United Arab Emirates in the months before the 9-11 attacks and there met with suspected or known Iraqi intelligence officers.

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

Lords above


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.

Trust


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!

Germany calling


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.

Jurisdiction


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
US laws.

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

Eeek!


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.

Oh, for Pete's sake


And the Church of England wonders why it is viewed as irrelevant. Vicar tells children Santa is dead. If the CofE has an equivalent of Craggie Island this Vicar needs to be sent there, preferably by reindeer. [Thanks to the Prof for catching this one].

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.

UNseful idiots


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.

Ye gods


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.

Red Ken


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.