England's Sword 2.0

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Fake fear beats real fear?


Meanwhile, half of all British soldiers heading to the Gulf so far have turned down the offer of anthrax vaccine. This is either ludicrous, stemming from an unfounded fear of side effects (the vaccine can have side effects, of course, but the risk is very low) or actually a splendid demonstration of our troops' confidence that Saddam won't dare to use biological weapons...

Wanted: dead or alive


Just watched the Al Jazeera "Bin Laden" tape on Fox. No evidence anywhere that it is Bin Laden, in my opinion, although doubtless the FBI will say it is (and they were probably wrong last time they said so). It's definitely some Al Qa'eda loony, though. All that rubbish about trenches (I wonder if that was a mistranslation of 'tunnels') defeating smart bombs, not drinking and the Byzantines was too rambling and incoherent to be a set-up or from, say, an Algerian who wasn't in Afghanistan. But there we have it, Al Qa'eda has unquestionably thrown in its lot with Iraq. So let's hear no more about how they would never work with the secularists. They have admitted they will do, and other evidence suggests that it's been going on for some time. While I don't agree with the principle in international affairs "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," I think you have to be Schroder-level stupid not to agree with "the friend of my enemy is my enemy."

UPI search back up


After a prolonged absensce, UPI's search engine is working again. You can reach my archive of columns here.

Comrades, come running!


Uh-oh. The remarkably lucid and intelligent Mrs Tilton has helped set up The Sixth International. This could succeed where the others have failed.

In our thoughts and prayers


Laci Peterson, the heavily pregnant woman who went missing just before Christmas, is due to give birth today. Here on The Edge, our thoughts and prayers are with her and those who love her.

Frank O'Prussia


France and Germany: what's up with that? American incredulity at the increasingly weird antics of Old Europe is reaching new bounds, with Jon Stewart and Joe Klein simply laughing at France on the Daily Show tonight. There are a variety of serious explanations abounding, however. In what my most regular and respected correpondent calls a "clear" editorial, The Times puts the "harebrained" schemes down to simple anti-Americanism:

At the UN, Franco-German efforts to blunt the intimidatory impact of Resolution 1441 make war more likely than ever. In the crucial days before Hans Blix reports to the Security Council, the last thing the chief weapons inspector needed was a harebrained Franco-German scheme to dispatch lightly-armed UN peacekeepers to Iraq; it would give Saddam Hussein thousands of potential hostages. Dr Blix does not believe they will help. In the event of war, they would be unlikely to be allowed to leave and unable to fight their way out.

Meanwhile, at Nato, the refusal by France, Belgium and Germany to give Turkey access to purely defensive Nato equipment is an even more careless own goal. It has precipitated a pointless crisis in the Alliance, reinforced Turkish suspicions that its European Nato allies will leave it alone to face a pre-emptive attack by Iraq and, with justification, exasperated the US. The idea that Nato cannot even make contingency plans until the Security Council has acted is as hypocritical as it is militarily absurd. This is about tweaking the American tail, not about international law.

The Times goes on to underline the dreadful position these buffoons are putting the Turkish government in. Not content with outright racism towards Turkey in relation to its application to join the European Union, now they're trying to renege on their duty towards their NATO ally.

Historian Andrew Roberts, writing in the Telegraph, rightly points out France's historical antipathy towards NATO, although not its historical friendship with Turkey, which seems now firmly to be a thing of the past. He concentrates instead on asking just what Germany is trying to achieve:

It is not just a desire for superpower status (without paying the concomitant costs) that motivates France and Germany; but also a desire to cash in on construction contracts in the Middle East that they hope will be awarded to them rather than American or British firms. The members of what we might call "the Versailles bloc", after the palatial self-congratulation of their recent joint parliamentary sessions, have their eye on the profits that they hope will come their way as a result of Arab fury with Washington and London in the aftermath of a war against Iraq.

We can but hope that if and when Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, comes to power in Baghdad this year, he will not forget France and Germany's disgraceful spurning of his country's hopes.

Without far higher defence spending, without significant allies even in their European homeland, and instead merely relying on Vladimir Putin - who needs much more from the Americans than they need from him - the Franco-German diplomatic project will turn out to be little more than bluster. If it leaves Saddam thinking he can continue to deceive the UN weapons inspectors, it could actually lead to earlier regime change in Baghdad, rather than none. Nothing in Middle Eastern politics is so familiar as the law of unintended consequences.

I should add that I think Putin is playing the role of a clever ally here, examining the harebrained plan enough to satisfy domestic demands for independence, before finally coming over publicly to support the Anglo-American position. Anyway, Roberts is scathing in his final appraisal of the situation:

But if, by their posturing, France and Germany have weakened Nato's protection of one of its most stalwart members, and if this were to result in a successful Iraqi chemical or biological attack on Istanbul, history will not soon forgive her leaders for their cynicism and attempted blackmail. As for Belgium, which even refused to provide ammunition for Nato's liberation of Kuwait in 1991, perhaps we should have just let the Kaiser keep the place in 1914, rather than sacrifice a generation to earn such loathsome ingratitude.

There are plenty of ways for France to pursue her age-old policy of epater les Atlanticists - her invitation of Robert Mugabe to Paris being a typical example - but deliberately to refuse an ally protection as a war looms is ignoble even by Fifth Republic standards. That pacific, decent, united Germany should go along with such tactics is in some ways the foulest development of all.

Finally, Lexington Green has some thoughts that take this line of thinking further at Chicago Boyz (read it all). I think all three theories have a degree of truth about them.

Michael Gove, meanwhile, sums up the divide between the hard-headed realists on the one side of NATO and, well, let's let him describe the other side:

Set against them are those who now practise pacifism, such as Schröder’s Germany, which will not countenance any meaningful action against Iraq, parasite nations such as Belgium, which treats Nato as just another bureaucracy to keep its restaurants afloat, and the quintessential pirate nation, France. French elites treat foreign policy like sex, a sphere in which morality is never allowed to intrude. Just ask a Rwandan Tutsi.

As for the Murray household, Kris thinks that France, Germany and Belgium are being "disgusting, pathetic, racist pigs" and anti-Islamic in the true sense of the word in their attitude towards Turkey.

All in all, not France and Germany's finest hour. And perhaps The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was right about the word "Belgium."

Fringe benefits


Well, there's one good thing about the reticence of a large section of the British public over the Iraqi crisis. The gap between Labour and the Tories has narrowed to 1 point:

Support for Labour has slipped two points over the past month to 35 per cent. Apart from the fuel protest month of September 2000, the last time Labour support was this low was in 1992.

The Tories are now virtually level-pegging, at 34 per cent, up two points over the past month and matching the party’s highest level since the last general election. The Liberal Democrats are unchanged over the month on 25 per cent, the ninth month running that the party has been at or above 20 per cent.

The shift in voting intentions over the past month primarily reflect changes in party supporters’ likelihood to vote. Populus bases its polls on those who are most certain to vote, and there has been a sharp drop over the past month in the likelihood of Labour voters turning out. Disillusion over Iraq is undoubtedly a major influence.

Yet this doesn't mean that Tony Blair is unusual in being a hawk in a party of doves:

However, contrary to the criticism of many Labour MPs and party activists ahead of the big anti-war demonstration in London this Saturday, the poll shows that Labour supporters are less hostile to war than supporters of other parties. Nearly two fifths of Labour voters are more supportive of Mr Blair because of Iraq, though a fifth are less supportive. There is a marked contrast with Lib Dem supporters who are the least inclined to regard the Iraqi leader as a threat and are most opposed to military action.

Tory support is firm partly because of the party’s relatively high support among older people, who are more likely to vote. Moreover, Iain Duncan Smith’s strong support for the US over Iraq has impressed Tory voters, three in ten of whom are now more supportive of him.

I think this is symptomatic of an historic realigning of the party structure in the UK, as I have argued before. Blair leads a party that is attractive to centrists, including former wet Tories, Social Democrats and the patriotic center-left. It is the Left that are increasingly out of place in the modern Labour party. Their natural home is the Liberal Democrats, who should be winning support from both sides if their style of appeasement politics is popular. But it plainly isn't. Instead, the disillusioned drop out of politics altogether. This says a lot about the Lib Dems' credibility. Future elections could be close between the centrist Blairites and the conservative Tories, with the Left either abjuring party politics in favor of single-issue campaigns or marginalized in the Lib Dems. That's a plus for the country in my book.

And the reticence over Iraq so often talked about is pretty shallow:

The poll brings out the complicated public attitudes to Iraq. By an overwhelming margin, voters accept the British and US case against Saddam Hussein over Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, its concealment of them and its help for international terrorists. Nearly half the public believes that Iraq has links with al-Qaeda.

But barely a third of voters think that Britain and America have put forward a convincing case for military action against Iraq, with nearly three fifths disagreeing. This is linked with support for giving the UN inspectors more time to establish whether Iraq is hiding weapons.

I wonder how much of this is attributable to the British sense of fair play and respect for the underdog. Not much has been made in the UK so far of the crimes and his minions against our people, which show just how far they are willing to play fair:

The Americans were beaten, electrocuted, urinated and spat upon. They suffered broken bones, torn muscles, chipped teeth, perforated eardrums and massive bruising, and one of the women was sexually molested. A Marine lieutenant colonel was so hungry he ate the scabs off his wounds. Add to this well-documented accounts of the suffering endured by Kuwaitis and Iraqis: torture with electric drills, death in acid baths, summary executions, gang rapes in front of family members. The accumulated evidence of war crimes (“several linear feet of files,” as the final Pentagon report put it) was simply overwhelming.

Berryman, now a 40-year-old major in the Marine Corps, remembers it firsthand. On that afternoon of Jan. 28, 1991, one of Saddam’s men slammed a metal pipe right below his left knee, breaking his fibula. Another grabbed an ax handle and started hitting his right leg. With a cigarette, one torturer burned Berryman on his forehead, nose, ears and a bleeding neck wound. “I am realizing I am not being interrogated,” he recalls. “I am just being beaten.” And that was just the beginning. Though he says the Iraqi Army, as such, did not torture him, Saddam’s special units and secret police seemed to enjoy the cruelty. Berryman says he would like to go back to Iraq today and finish the job that was started in 1991.

The British servicemen captured during the Gulf War suffered too. More needs to be made of this. The sexual molestation of a female serviceman is particularly anger-inducing.

One final point from the poll. A gender gap is reappearing:

The poll shows a marked gender gap, especially in attitudes towards Mr Blair. Women are much more likely than men to regard him as “George Bush’s poodle” and as wrong to support military action in defiance of public opinion. But, overall, fewer people now regard the Prime Minister as “George Bush’s poodle” than last October.

It's often been said that British women pay less attention to the detail of politics than men. So far, a lot of Blair's case has been based on technical, legalistic points. I remember his emotional speech about how passengers on the doomed flights on 9/11 had to call their wives to tell them they were going to die. He could do with a bit more of that in making the case against Saddam. As the above shows, there's plenty of scope for it.

To say the least, this is an interesting poll.

Monday, February 10, 2003

The brave and the bold


I've said for some time that the best way to deal with the crisis surrounding the cricket World Cup in Zimbabwe is for players to make individual moral statements. It seems that the first such menaingful statements have come not from the English or Australian players, but from the Zimbabweans themselves. As former Cambridge and England player Derek Pringle writes,

two senior Zimbabwe players, Andy Flower and Henry Olonga, have shown that difficult decisions need courage, something that appears wholly lacking among the game's administrators.

Their simple gesture, to wear black armbands in protest at what they see as the death of democracy in Zimbabwe, was a provocative act that could lead to them facing treason charges.

That latter sentence speaks volumes about the situation in Zimbabwe.

Sorry!


I had another job interview this morning, which went well, and am working flat out to finish a project by Wednesday noon, so please excuse me if posting is light for a day or so. Expect me to return renewed to the fray by Wednesday evening.

Saturday, February 08, 2003

The reality of European "competence"


I wasn't intending to blog much today, but I was so gobsmacked by the Telegraph editorial Egg on Europe's face that I reproduce it here in its entirety:

The European Commission has certainly "gone to work on an egg". Its latest requirement is that farmers must stamp every egg they sell with their home address, the details of the hen which laid the egg, the method of production, the code for the producer-packer, and a sell-by date (News, Feb 7). Lest farmers grumble when the regulations come into effect next year, a Brussels bureaucrat chirped that labelling "will be a nice job for [their] wives".

Despite its concern for marital co-operation, Brussels is, once again, penalising small, independent producers, who must each now waste £5,000 on labelling equipment. These farmers produce the high quality, organic and free range eggs that consumers love, and do already stamp every box with the required information. The effect of this latest diktat will be, in many cases, to drive them out of business - not to mention endangering the age-old tradition of Easter-egg painting, for who can paint an egg covered in graffiti?

All this is to protect us from ever eating a rotten egg. Isn't the real rotten egg here the European Commission?

British eggs used to have a little lion stamped on them, which I always thought was rather nice. Now we have this. This is Brussels exercising its competences. Out now!

Friday, February 07, 2003

Neither Sullivan, nor Steyn, but international Bennett


Andrew Sullivan probably has too broad a definition of the Anglosphere. Mark Steyn, by contrast, has too narrow a view:

What should replace the UN? Well, some people talk about a ‘caucus of the democracies’. But I’d like to propose a more radical suggestion: Nothing. In the war on terror, America’s most important relationships have been bilateral: John Howard hasn’t dispatched troops to the Gulf because the Aussies and the Yanks belong to the same international talking shop; Mr Blair’s helpfulness isn’t because of the EU but, if anything, in spite of it. These relationships are meaningful precisely because they’re not the product of formal transnational bureaucracies. Promoters of the ‘Anglosphere’ — a popular concept in the US since 9/11 — must surely realise there’d be little to gain in putting the Anglo-Aussie-American relationship through the wringer of a joint secretariat.

Who's suggesting that? Steyn seems to be confusing institutions and bureaucracies. As Jim Bennett comments:

A bit negative, really. He seems to think we're proposing an EU-style structure. On the contrary, we're proposing a set of cooperative agreements betwen nation-states built on the existing ones between Anglosphere nations that have worked well and unobtrusively, like NORAD.

Actually, it's the other way around. The Anglosphere nations built a highly successful set of international cooperative structures in WWII. Afterwards, they were folded into NATO, OECD, UN, etc. and then got bureaucratized. This is because they tried to span too wide of a cultural gap, and bureaucracy is always the response to breakdown of less formal cooperative measures.

Precisely. Any new Anglsophere institutions will emphatically not be the equivalent of EU institutions. If anyone suggests they should be, then no-one will join. The Americans certainly won't. A "joint secretariat" model for the Anglosphere is a non-starter, and thank goodness for that.

Tony in the Lions' Den


I've often said the US needs a Jeremy Paxman, who will go terrier-like at the politicians to get them to answer difficult questions. Take a look at this transcript of his interview with Tony Blair over the Iraq issue. Blair also took questions from an audience deliberately chosen to be hostile. It shows just where the argument is in the UK at the moment. The public doesn't think the UN will back military action against Iraq. If it does, the whole antiwar argument is sunk, because that's what they've bet the house on. What happens to public opinion in the event of an "unreasonable veto" is going to be very, very interesting, but I really don't think it will come to that.

I have seen the future, and it doesn't work


Well, the first draft constitution for Europe has been spat forth from the European Convention (you can download it in PDF form here). Here's a quick run-down of the 16 articles:

1. The Union shall be Federal (well, that's a deal-breaker right there). "The Union shall respect the national identities of its member states." Whatever that means. Compare and contrast "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." The Union shall be open to any European state that shares the Union's values.

2. The values are human dignity, liberty (defined how?), democracy, the rule of law (common or corpus juris?) and respect for human rights. "Its aim is a society at peace, through the practice of tolerance, justice and solidarity." Solidarity?

3. The Union is to work for peace, "sustainable development based on balanced economic growth and social justice, with a free single market, and economic and monetary union". Well, there we have it, EMU is required for membership. Britain might as well put on its hat and coat now. Time to leave. Full employment is an aim, as are environmental and social protection. Discovery of space is an aim too...

The Union also believes in "strict observance of internationally accepted legal commitments."

4. The Union shall have a legal personality, just not a very pleasant one.

5. The Charter of Fundamental Rights is part of the Constitution. So raison d'etat for rights abuses shall be enshrined. It shall also form the basis for Union law.

6. No discrimination on grounds of nationality.

7. Citizenship of the Union is established (it doesn't exist currently). The benefits of this citizenship are as currently enjoyed under the treaties, so I'm not sure what it adds.

8. The Union's powers are assumed under the principles of conferral, subsidiarity, proportionality and "loyal cooperation." We've seen how well subsidiarity works, as the EC has accreted power to itself under the guise of harmonization of the market. Proportionality talks about 'what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the Constitution,' which strikes me as dangerously vague.

9. The Constitution and law adopted (how?) by the Union Institutions shall have primacy over the law of the member states. Bye bye, ancient liberties of Britons. Member states cannot take actions that might "jeopardise the attainment of objectives set out in the Constitution." The Union shall not mess around with member states' internal constitutional arrangements. Nice of them.

10. Where the Union has exclusive competence, the member states may not legislate unless empowered by the Union. The Union "shall have the competence to coordinate the economic policies of the Member States" ("You there, Britain, give some of your money to Greece!"). Common foreign security and defense policies are given as a competence to the Union.

11. The Union has exclusive competences in movement of persons, goods, services and capital, in the internal market, the customs union, commercial policy, monetary policy for States in the euro (this seems to conflict w/ article 2) and the Common Fisheries Policy. The Union also gets exclusive competence to make international treaties if it feels like it, it seems.

12. The Union will share competency with member states in the internal market (hang on...), freedom, security and justice, agriculture and fisheries, transport, trans-European networks, whatever they are, energy, social policy, "economic and social cohesion," the environment, public health and consumer protection. I'm not sure what this leaves behind. Member states can develop their own space programs if they wish.

13. The Union shall coordinate the economic policies of the member states. Member states must conduct their economic policies so as to contribute to the Union's objectives.

14. "Member states shall actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity. They shall refrain from action contrary to the Union's interests or likely to undermine its effectiveness." Bye bye, Irish and Swedish neutrality.

15. Ah, here's what's left. The Union can take supporting action in matters of employment, industry, education, culture, sport and protection against disasters.

16. The Catch-All. If the Constitution hasn't formally granted powers to act in an area, but action is necessary to attain one of the objectives of the Constitution, the Commission may propose action to the Council of Ministers, which can gain the powers on a unanimous vote and with the assent of the Parliament.

My one-word summary: unacceptable.

PP: Excellent article by my friend Paul Robinson in The Spectator on the issues surrounding the Convention.

Storm in a Teacup


There's a bit of a political row in the UK over the sources used in a Government dossier on Iraq. Some of it was reproduced, uncredited, from a scholarly article written some time ago, others came from Jane's Defense Weekly. HMG is defending the dossier as 'solid.' And well they might. Plagiarism is a deadly sin in academic circles, but it's almost essential in government. If the information is accurate, it should be taken into account, and the original author insists it still is, to all intents and purposes:

Mr Al-Marashi told the BBC Two Newsnight programme the government document was still accurate despite "a few minor cosmetic changes".

"The only inaccuracies in the UK document were that they maybe inflated some of the numbers of these intelligence agencies."

Yes, the author should have been credited, but this is government work, not academic research. Applying the rules of the latter to the former is wholly inappropriate in this case.

Causation and Paedophilia


It's long been thought that many children who are sexually abused go on to become paedophiles themselves. A new study suggests that the actual proportion is far smaller than was thought. It's a small study -- 224 men abused as children, of whom 29 became abusers themselves -- but that finding needs to be looked at more.

What bothers me about the way the BBC reports the study is this section:

The researchers discovered that a number of key factors appeared to significantly increase the chances of a former victim becoming an abuser.

For instance, children who had little supervision and were neglected and had been abused by a female were three times more likely to become abusers later in life.

Children who witnessed violent behaviour within their families were also three times more likely to abuse others.

In addition, one in three of those who went on to abuse had a history of being cruel to animals when they were younger.

Well, up to a point. When you read the actual study (registration required), you see that the lower end of the confidence intervals for all of these factors is perilously near one (except for the animal abuse finding, where the fact that only 6 subjects exhibited the behavior makes it too rare to draw any real conclusion), which means that it's quite possible the factors had little or no effect.

The fact that there were no significant "protective factors" either indicates to me that paedophilia is not so much something that is caused or prevented, but essentially a choice. As I say, this was a small study, but it suggests that we should be looking at the issue a little differently from the way we have been. More research is needed quickly in this area.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

The Thin Red Line


If you want to know just what military resources the UK is committing to the Gulf, the BBC has a handy guide here.

The Next Problem for the UK


Boris Johnson has an excellent little column on the North-South divide in the UK:

In economic terms, Britain is becoming thinner and more pinched at the top end, and gradually possessing an ever more colossal south-eastern bottom. Streets may be bulldozed in the North. In the South-East, in spite of last year's ludicrous spurt, house prices seem still to be edging gently upwards.

What is the Government's policy, in the face of this disparity? It is, broadly speaking, to intensify and accelerate the phenomenon. Yesterday John Prescott announced government plans to unblock some of the arteries of the South-East, in the hope of persuading the heart of the British economy to beat yet faster. There are to be huge new towns in Kent, and developments all the way from London, via Stansted, to Cambridge. There will be 200,000 new homes, he told the Commons. There will be more paved forecourts with more RAV 4x4s. More vast sewage pipes will be plumbed into the unresisting earth. There will be more shops, and more congestion, and more economic activity.

In a word, there will be more money. And all the while the inner cities of the North will be drained yet further of talent and ambition, and horrible opportunists such as the BNP will reap the harvest of discontent.

The South-East will grow and grow, dominance intensifying dominance. The region is already one of the richest in Europe, exceeding even Lombardy or North-Rhine Westphalia. The South-East already produces 40 per cent of GDP; indeed, were it to declare independence, it would be in a highly advantageous fiscal position.

When I think of returning to the UK, as I do regularly, much to Kristen's horror, I never really think about returning to London. I think of living in Northumberland, or Durham perhaps, where the housing is cheap and the countryside and history magnificent -- exactly the sort of place I would like Helen to grow up. But then I realize that, unless things really come together in certain ways, I will need to live near London to live within decent commuting distance of a job in central London. That places huge financial barriers in our way. This is going to be an increasing problem for the UK, and could indeed result in a polarization of the nation once more. They used to talk about the North-South divide under Thatcher, when virtually everywhere south of a line from the Severn to the Wash voted Conservative. This new divide isn't political, it's economic, and stands a chance of becoming structural. That's not a pleasant thought, unless you're a BNP nazi.

Powell Position


The Telegraph was impressed with Powell's speech. These points in particular seem to be aimed at conservative opponents of war, who often point to Powell as "the only sensible voice in the administration":

First, in a public, televised session, the American Secretary of State produced both recorded and photographic intelligence of deception; this sort of secret information, which could endanger the agents who collected it, is normally revealed, if it comes to light at all, in camera. Second, the fact that the case against Saddam Hussein was being made by the leading dove in the Bush Administration was a powerful reminder that Baghdad has been given ample time to demonstrate compliance with the UN.

I'll be interested to see how conservative antiwar opinion reacts. I have to say I'm not sure that presentation will have won over many antiwar Tories; this is, for them, I think, more something about Britain's relationship to America than about the issue at hand.

Meanwhile, Chris Bertram, who was also not convinced by the presentation, points out how feeble Robert Fisk's denunciation was.

Briffa on TV


Poor Peter Briffa has been unwell, and so has been forced to watch a lot of TV. His insights are well worth a look.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Follow-ups


Blogging will be light today as I have both some work to do and a job interview. However, there are two things I want to quickly follow up on.

First, it becomes more and more apparent that the BBC's reporting of the Le Touquet summit was hopelessly spun. Therese Raphael in the Wall Street Journal says it shows Blair Is No Longer Chirac's Junior Partner:

If St. Malo marked the first time France and Britain had together supported a new European Union policy, Le Touquet may have been the first Franco-British summit in which Britain went as the more important European power. No longer the supplicant, pleading for acceptance, Mr. Blair went to Le Touquet as America's closest European partner and Europe's most respected leader. Britain not only has not been marginalized, it has found allies almost as quickly as France has lost them. (This has wrong-footed Britain's Conservatives, who have always claimed that influence in Europe will come at the expense of Britain's trans-Atlantic relationship.)

Meanwhile, in Washington, Richard Perle has announced that France is no longer an ally of the United States:

"France is no longer the ally it once was," Perle said. And he went on to accuse French President Jacques Chirac of believing "deep in his soul that Saddam Hussein is preferable to any likely successor." ...

"I have long thought that there were forces in France intent on reducing the American role in the world. That is more troubling than the stance of a German chancellor, who has been largely rejected by his own people," Perle said, referring to the sharp electoral defeat suffered by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's party in state elections Sunday. ...

"Very considerable damage has already been done to the Atlantic community, including NATO, by Germany and France," Perle said.

"But in the German case, the behavior of the Chancellor is idiosyncratic. He tried again to incite pacifism, and this time failed in Sunday's elections in Hesse and Lower Saxony. His capacity to do damage is now constrained. Chancellor Schroeder is now in a box, and the Germans will recover their equilibrium."

Perle went on to question whether the United States should ever again seek the endorsement of the U.N. Security Council on a major issue of policy, stressing that "Iraq is going to be liberated, by the United States and whoever wants to join us, whether we get the approbation of the U.N. or any other institution."

"It is now reasonable to ask whether the United States should now or on any other occasion subordinate vital national interests to a show of hands by nations who do not share our interests," he added.

Perle does not speak for the administration, but he reflects a powerful bloc within it. This is important.

And in the House of Commons, plans for reform of the House of Lords lie in tatters, because the Commons rejected every plan put to it. The issue is now dead for this Parliament, I would suggest. Interestingly, the measure that came closest to passing (only two more members need to have voted for it) was the Tory position of an 80% elected, 20% appointed House.

With any luck, this will prove a spur to a genuine debate about what the Lords is for, not just about its composition. I wouldn't bet the House on it, though.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Enlightenment


Junius has a very interesting post on his experiences of discussing Kant's ideas on enlightenment and reason with a class of students. When it comes to authoritativeness, I wonder if we have lost something from the ancient concept of auctoritas, which was a personal quality. One was not awarded auctoritas by some outside certifying body or by a set of referees. One simply possessed it, and it was generally agreed when someone possessed it. Thus the opinion of someone with auctoritas counted for more than that of someone without the quality (who may be more powerful, better bred and so on). Virtually all the internet pundits and bloggers I read regularly seem to me authoritative in that sense. If someone does not seem to possess the quality I tend not to read them again. It's not a question of agreement with political views -- Chris himself, Harry, Mark Kleiman, Brendan O'Neill and many others possess sharply distinct political views from mine, but they are authoritative in my eyes, and in the eyes of many others. This may be an area that needs more exploration.

Hawks of the Left


Harry's Place has a good post about the swelling of support for intervention in Iraq on the Left. He particularly links to this article by the Editor of the classic American leftist magazine Dissent:

In the meantime, I will support Iraqi democrats, even if they are few in number and their prospects difficult. I am antifascist before I am antiwar. I am antifascist before I am anti-imperialist. And I am antifascist before I am anti-Bush.

There's someone who considers beams as well as motes.

Gove on Germany


Although Michael Gove's latest Times column starts off wobbly (the Wall Street Journal has suggested, I understand, that Blair did not have a leading role in the famous letter, and, indeed, Alistair Campbell initially rejected the idea), it soon gets to the heart of Germany's current problem:

Germany may console itself that its position on Iraq, as Europe’s sternest critic of the Anglo-American determination to disarm President Saddam Hussein, is at least a sign of moral strength. Unfortunately, it is only the most egregious example of one of the country’s greatest political weaknesses — the hold on power now exercised by those infused with the student revolutionary spirit of 1968.

The Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, is an old street-fighter and ally of Trotskyists, Herr Schröder rose through the SPD by allying himself with the hard-left faction in the youth movement. Other leading government figures such as the Environment Minister, Jurgen Tritten, and the new Defence Minister, Peter Struck, are also children of ’68.

Gove suggests that the revolutionary spirit of these men poses a great danger for Germany:

By placing themselves so stridently in opposition to the US, and its Anglo-Saxon ally, German elites have hacked away at the Atlantic pillar on which modern Germany was built. The cost, according to German elder statesmen such as Helmut Kohl, is the “removal of Germany from the field of play”.

But the damage wrought to their nation by the student revolutionaries now in the Reichstag goes even deeper. Their opposition to Anglo-Saxon economic liberalism also reinforces resistance to the market reforms Germany needs if it is to recover its industrial weight. And the legacy of that generation’s thinking has already eaten away at the nation’s future prosperity by undermining its educational base. Radical Left ideology has debased Germany’s universities, to the point where students in Bremen insisted on sitting examinations “collectively” with 20 submitting one joint thesis. The rot has set in so deep that in a recent OECD survey of the educational attainment of 15-year-olds, Germany came in the bottom third, well below Britain, France and the US.

The tragedy of the ’68 generation is that they are more like their ancestors than they will ever admit. They also want Germany to follow a special path, a Sonderweg, more elevated than that taken by grubby mercantile nations such as Britain and America. The problem with the special path Germans are now treading, however, is that it takes their nation further into the wilderness.

Indeed. Yet, as I suggest below, Germany is not alone in having such people in Parliament, but it is alone in allowing them power. A successful Labour coup against Blair would probably have the effect of installing a much more left-wing, 68ist government in the UK. It might not last long, but it could do tremendous damage to the UK while it existed. Once again, Germany provides us with a warning.

Space: an Anglosphere vision?


Jim Bennett has found a far bigger audience for his thoughts on the space program after Columbia than this mere site. His article on National Review Online makes a lot of good points, most tellingly when it comes to the future:

For the next generation of space vehicles, it is critical that we step away from the political traps that burdened the shuttle from the beginning. We should view the government users of space as what they really are — powerful customers whose needs make the market, not service providers in and of themselves. Transitioning from a "national space transportation system" to a national space-transportation sector, primarily private in provision of services, is the most likely step to put us on the road to a situation where there is no one (uniquely vulnerable) space launch vehicle, but a number of competing options, together offering government and commercial users a viable range of choices.

Government should think less about what the ideal piece of hardware should be, and more about how to help private companies mobilize the capital to develop multiple approaches. Smart buying practices are one such means; permitting capital from close allies like Britain have a role in financing development might be another.

Britain has no space program because the entry barriers are just too high. Costs doomed the Blue Streak rocket program (although what a great, British name that was). Buying in to an expanded American space industry (not program) might be an excellent way of rectifying this depressing situation. Who knows, before too long British financial ingenuity might make her a genuine player in the field.

Sad


It turns out that the victim in the alleged Phil Spector shooting incident was sword and sorcery actress Lana Clarkson. I was a bit of a fan of hers in the mid-80s and am very saddened to hear this news.

Lordy, lordy


The crunch time for the future of the House of Lords, and Britain's constitutional destiny, is getting near. Tony Blair has said, perhaps rightly, that the compromise solutions suggested are unworkable and that the stark choice lies between a wholly elected and a wholly appointed second chamber. He's in favor of a wholly appointed chamber. Robin Cook, the Leader of the House of Commons, and other ministers are behind a wholly elected chamber, and the Tories and Lib Dems tend that way as well. It's a free vote, meaning that party whips will not be applied, so MPs are free for once to vote with their consciences.

I think it's telling that the Lords themselves voted massively for an appointed House. Lord Rees-Mogg converted to that view in the belief that part of the point of the Lords is its wisdom and expertise, which would almost certainly be lost in an elected chamber. He has a point. If the Lords is to be a revising chamber primarily, then it needs those characteristics.

But I don't think that's what is needed. A purely revising chamber is no balance and rarely a check on the power of the Commons as Executive. We need a genuinely independent Legislative body again, and so an Elected Chamber is necessary. Yes, it will become a rival to the power of the Commons, but that House's supremacy was based on the idea that it alone in the British mixed polity had democratic legitimacy. If there is another body with that legitimacy, then the Commons can no longer claim supremacy. It can claim prerogatives -- such as the right to initiate financial legislation and, more importantly, to form the Executive Government -- but its legislative supremacy will have no rational basis any more. I don't think this is a perfect separation of powers; the dual nature of the Commons as Legislature and base of the Executive needs to be thought through again. But overall, I think the British Constitution needs a balancing power to the Executive once again far more than it needs a thought-laden body (although, God knows, it needs that as well).

There is one caveat to this argument: the party system in the UK could result in a party having majorities in both Houses and thereby resulting once more in an elected dictatorship. This is, however, possible in virtually every system. The checks and balances against such an eventuality reside in constitutional documents, especially in Bills of Rights. I've said before how difficult it would be to introduce such over-riding documents into the British system, but a way should be found. It speaks volumes for the level of constitutional discourse in the UK that such considerations are not even mentioned.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out Michael Jennings' comments on the Australian system.

Papering over the cracks


The Blair-Chirac summit has ended cordially. Hardly surprising. Chirac has a history of switching tracks, and this lays the groundwork for him to declare himself fully on board when the drums begin to roll. I wonder how the fabled Franco-German alliance will fare when Chirac pulls the rug from under Schroder's feet by voting enthusiastically for a second resolution. Schroder is rapidly being revealed as Blair without the foreign policy sense. That's not a compliment.

The Next Oxford Chancellor


There is finally a candidate worthy of support: John Courouble - the next Chancellor of the University of Oxford. A self-confessed man "with too much time on his hands," John strikes me as the breath of fresh air Oxford needs...

Mixed news


Well, the authorities are finally doing something about the mad Mahdi, Abu Hamza. But it's not the police. The Charity Commission have removed him from his official position at Finsbury Park Mosque because his actions were harming the Charity. I'd like to know if this action was bilateral, occuring after a complaint by the Trustees, or unilateral. If unilateral, it actually strikes me as pretty disturbing. Better to suspend a charity and allow it to sort out its own mistakes to regain charitable status than interfering with the running of an orgainzation based on your own idea of what's best for it. While I welcome any legally-based action against Hamza, this strikes me as a little symptomatic of a nanny state more than anything else.

UPDATE: D'oh! There was a complaint by the Trustees: see here. The Charity Commission is vindicated. Says a lot about UK bureaucracy that I automatically assumed it was acting unilaterally in doing something I ultimately approved of...

Monday, February 03, 2003

TCS Column up


Hating Why They Hate Us is an expansion of my post below on the study that claims to have found anti-Americanism rife among high-schoolers around the world.

How nice


The link on the main page to the BBC story Britain's role in shaping Iraq is entitled "Mess UK Made." It contains this little snippet:

In 1941 Rashid Ali, a former Ottoman officer, became prime minister, backed by four army colonels.

Encouraged by Hitler's victories in Europe, the new government sought to whittle away at British imperial control. Britain sent troops from Jordan and India. Despite the rebels' hopes, German support never came and Iraqi troops were defeated after a month's fighting.

Rashid Ali did not "become Prime Minister," he gained power in a coup. His links to Hitler were a little bit more than opportunist. Check out this link from the Simon Wiesenthal Center for the most dispassionate summary I could find. Rashid Ali's mate, the Grand Mufti, was a most enthusiastic Nazi, as Chuck Morse reveals here. The importance of defeating Rashid Ali before the US entered the war is underscored here.

This is a disgraceful piece of white-washing masquerading as historical analysis. Why am I not surprised that the author co-wrote a book entitled "Saddam Hussein: An American Obsession"?

Labour's Neocons


The classic line about American politics is "a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged." Actually, what this describes is neoconservatives -- there are plenty of old conservatives out there who were never liberal; some of them are decent, principled men and women, others are deeply prejudiced. Anyway, I have often wondered why Britain does not have a cadre of its own neoconservatives, former left wingers who realized that left wing politics does not work. I think part of the reason is that most became Blairites instead. Another reason is that Mrs T took away the experimental ground for their policies when she essentially destroyed local government, meaning that the lefties could stay in a world of theory, where everything worked perfectly.

Now they've been in power for a while, though, cracks are beginning to show. I remember Labour MP Phil Woolas as a very left wing President of the National Union of Students. Now, he has said something I can't imagine him ever saying then, and has come under fire from the Left for it. This puts Woolas firmly in the Blairite camp, I think, and marks another battle-line between Labour MPs who have a clue and those who are still mired in 1968, or 1848 for that matter.

Labour's Ultras


Stephen Pollard has written an article for The Times that deftly sums up Tony Blair's current position. He's not Labour at heart, and thank goodness for that, essentially. Blair has been able to get away with what he has because he shares a lot of Labour's paternalist instincts, and so seemed acceptable. Now, however, it is becoming more an more clear that he is a cross between the Gladstonian liberal when it comes to foreign policy and a Salisburian authoritarian when it comes to domestic policy, although with a hint of the Gladstonian bleeding heart. My characterization of him as the anti-Palmerston seems more and more accurate.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

A close alliance


A correspondent e-mails me the following story from WWII:

A US Marine Gunnery Sargent has just bailled 3 of his marines out of the brig after they tried to take on a bar full of US Army solders. He says, "You guys have got to remember, the Army are our allies too. Not as close as the Brits, but closer than the Russians."

'Nuff said.

Loony, loony


Wedgie Benn was known as a loony well before I achieved political awareness in the '70s. The Tony Blair of his day, Harold Wilson, utterly hated him. Recently, however, his opposition to Europe and his dogged support of parliamentary tradition have earned him a cult following on the right. With any luck, this little escapade should remind people of just how barking mad he is: he has interviewed well-known human rights abuser Saddam Hussein for TV. I hope the men in the white coats are waiting for him on his return.

A triumph for common decency


I had the pleasure of watching Barbershop last night. What a great movie, funny and uplifting at the same time. The simple message of all the plots seemed to be one of individual responsibility and making the right choices even in the face of overwhelming pressure to do something else. It gained notoriety because of the comments made about Rosa Parks and Jesse Jackson, but they were presented in the spirit of free and open debate, as Cedric the Entertainer's character made clear. Yet strip the script of those specifics, and you could surely set it in Jarrow or Belfast or Glasgow without any racial message and it would still have meaning. It is a tale of working class folk overcoming the dangers prevalent in their society, for the benefit of all (and, interestingly enough, underscored my recent message on here that economics ain't everything). I don't know if it made it to the UK, but I'd be interested to hear what the Brits made of it all...

Saturday, February 01, 2003

Not again


After I heard this morning's dreadful news, the first place I went to when I had the chance was Rand Simberg's Transterrestrial Musings, and I urge you to follow the news there. Rand is taking a bit of flak for his "cold-hearted" analysis here. I don' t think that's warranted, and at times like this we need people like Rand (the same goes for rail disasters, where it is all too easy to get lost in the human tragedy and forget just why those people were on trains in the first place). Let's just say this paragraph struck me as especially relevant:

Once again, it demonstrates the fragility of our space transportation infrastructure, and the continuing folly of relying on a single means of getting people into space, and doing it so seldom. Until we increase our activity levels by orders of magnitude, we will continue to operate every flight as an experiment, and we will continue to spend hundreds of millions per flight, and we will continue to find it difficult to justify what we're doing. We need to open up our thinking to radically new ways, both technically and institutionally, of approaching this new frontier.

With any luck, Jim Bennett of Anglosphere fame will have some thoughts from his past experience in the space industry too. If he does, I'll be happy to post them here.

Friday, January 31, 2003

Britain: Great Power?


I obtained today some interesting material from the Atomic Heritage Foundation, which is not a nuclear-armed version of the Conservative think-tank, but a charitable body dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Manhattan Project for the nation. Actually, make that two nations. The material makes it clear that the Project was an Anglo-American one from the get-go, having been inspired by two memos from the UK and with sustained British involvement, most notably from nobel laureate Sir James Chadwick, discoverer of the Neutron. I never fail to be amazed by the extent of Anglo-American co-operation during WWII, and this should be a lesson to those Brits who fundamentally distrust the USA, that so vital an endeavor was willingly shared.

Anyway, this all brings me on to two excellent articles on the theme of Britain and its relations with the US. Frequent correspondent Lexington Green has a lengthy, but compelling post on why Britain is a genuine world power. He argues that it is not so much Blair's doing, as Christopher Caldwell argued yesterday, but that Blair is one of the few to realize it. I have to say that I think John Major was leading us down a course where things could have gone from bad to worse and it is to Blair's credit that he reversed that, at least partially. I am also worried about the cultural rot in the UK, which could lead to the whole lot collapsing despite its evident strength at the moment, which lex describes so admirably.

Meanwhile, in the Washington Times, my friends Nile Gardiner and John Hulsman explain for the American audience why Britain will fight in Iraq. It's a simple but again compelling recitation of the facts in the case. Again, this is how Heritage thinks. It's how conservative Washington thinks. That's the reality of the matter.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Pilging?


Chuck Simmins fisks John Pilger's latest in style over at You Big Mouth, You!

Cald-well Done!


Great article by the Weekly Standard's Christopher Caldwell in the new Spectator, which corresponds very closely to my analysis that Britain is becoming a world power again and that Tony Blair's leadership is an important factor in this. Those who think that Washington is likely to play fast and loose with Britain should consider this:

It may be too early to say that Blair has spawned another wave of British chic, but Americans are mighty impressed by Plucky Little England. Except for the Boston Globe, where the Bush–Blair relationship has been addressed by the old Scotsman editor Tim Luckhurst (who hopefully warns of ‘regime change’ in London), the newspapers have been overwhelmingly supportive. Cal Thomas, a Christian conservative who is the most widely syndicated columnist in the United States, called Blair’s recent defence of his American tilt — with particular reference to his evisceration of Dennis Skinner — ‘Tony Blair’s finest hour’.

This does not mean that Americans now follow the ins and outs of British government. Most couldn’t recount Blair’s travails with Gordon Brown, but they do know who Brown is. They even know who Clare Short is. Such names find their way into American consciousness through the Economist and the Financial Times (which is now delivered door to door). Parliamentary Question Time, which airs on the round-the-clock political network C-Span, used to be rebroadcast as a 3 a.m. novelty show for drunks who don’t mind watching shows they don’t understand —along the lines of Australian rules football. Now it airs live and, on big Iraq days, is switched on all over Washington.

Americans, by and large, would assent to Blair’s characterisation of Britain as the ‘pivotal power’. This is largely because of the public-relations performance of Blair himself. On a day-to-day basis, Blair has pressed the American case with considerably more eloquence than Bush has. Last September, when Bush’s UN resolution showed signs of flagging, it was not any White House-generated spin that provided American hawks with their intellectual case for an Iraq intervention. It was Blair’s speech to Parliament (and his simultaneous release of the 50-page Joint Intelligence Committee dossier) that did it. (Apparently the American decline in manufacturing has proceeded so far that we can no longer even manufacture rationales.)

This has certainly been my experience of Britain's image in the US recently. There was an undercurrent of this before 9/11, but that tragic day quite simply reminded the US who its real friends are. The pay-off for Britain has been immense, as Caldwell says:

An advanced arsenal is something Britain is already building — thanks to Blair’s alliance with the United States. An idealistic role is something it can easily reclaim — if Blair’s alliance with the United States endures. And with an economy in far better shape than that of the United States, no Continental-style structural unemployment, and a culture that operates in the world’s global language, Britain could find itself (along with the United States and China) one of the world’s three Great Powers, the first European country to reclaim such a status. If Blair has his way, it will richly deserve it.

I'm looking forward to Caldwell's next article on the subject in The Weekly Standard, which will probably complement this by looking at it from a more American perspective.

Over-reaction, again


The Mona Baker affair was scandalous (she was the woman who threatened to throw Israelis off the editorial boards of academic journals she edits). Yet, as in the Climbie inquiry mentioned below, the academic inquiry into the affair has recommended exactly the wrong sort of action in response. Chris Bertram thinks it's a threat to academic freedom, and I do think he's right here.

Words fail me...


Let it never be said that Eurocrats have too much power. According to The Times they are tackling a major problem in a responsible manner:

FARMERS throughout the country have 90 days to put a toy in every pigsty or face up to three months in jail.

The new ruling from Brussels, which is to become law in Britain next week, is to keep pigs happy and prevent them chewing each other.

Burglars will not face jail. Farmers who don't provide recreational facilities for pigs will. Further comment is impossible...

PP: Or at least it was until I saw this quote from the Association of British Drivers over at Patrick Crozier's Transport Blog:

The Government no longer listens to the police. One officer recently commented that we have now reached the situation where a law-abiding person in his own car with a driving license, insurance, MOT and tax disc is now likely to face harsher penalties for speeding than a criminal would for stealing the same car!

Deviancy is being defined down and up at the same time...

Unilateralism?


I know everyone else has linked to it, but this letter is a must-read. Signed by the Presidents or Prime Ministers of Spain, Portugal, Italy, the UK, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Denmark, it should be the final nail in the coffin of the accusation that America stands against world opinion.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Huh?


Why They Hate Us is the title of a new study from two professors at Boston University. There are two major problems with this study of teenagers' attitudes towards Americans throughout the world: the methodology and the logic, which leaves, well, a nice font, I suppose.

Methodologically, the professors were unable to draw up a representative sample of high-schoolers (not surprising, but immediately reduces the value of the work immensely), so they got Boston University students to ask their old high-school teachers to recommend students to talk to. Aargh! The selection bias possibilities there are obvious. Methodologically, all we've got here are some focus groups that may or may not have had teachers' political viewpoints superimposed. The overall results might therefore form the basis for a proper study, but in and of themselves they're not much use.

But let's assume they are valid. What, then, do they tell us? First of all, note that Americans rated themselves negatively -- about the same as Pakistan. Nigeria, Italy and Argentina are all much more favorable to the US than Americans themselves. Second, the negatives are different in different countries. The Bahreinian considers Americans not to have strong religious values. The South Korean considers they have such values. And asking such questions about religion is a little loaded in the current global environment. Pakistanis, Dominicans and Nigerians believe Americans are peaceful are care about their poor. The Chinese, Spanish and Mexicans believe the reverse. There's too much of a spread here to derive any single message from it.

Nevertheless, the professors try. And here's their logic:

What teen-agers seek is American popular culture in all its familiar forms—movies, TV programs and music. These are easily available and enjoyed greatly all over the world. Even if forbidden by their governments, such entertainment products are readily obtained on the street, often in pirated versions. Virtually all families except the desperately poor have, or have access to, a television, radio, CD player, VCR and even a DVD. And like teen-agers everywhere, they do not avidly follow the news. If they did, they would see a lot of “infotainment” stories about crime, sex and corruption (staples of journalists since mass newspapers began).

Over a long period of time, those who produce and distribute popular entertainment worldwide have sought maximum profits (an approved idea in a capitalistic society). To attain that goal, what they produce must appeal to the largest possible audience—which means the young people in any society. It is their tastes and interests that dominate entertainment products, not those of the older and more conservative.

So teenagers want so much to see American culture, which they despise, that they break their countries' laws to obtain it. Presumably so they can tut-tut and remark how shameful it all is. Ye gods. These people have tenure?

The Blair and the Bold


Stephen Pollard has a theory about Tony Blair. I think he's right.

Oh, Ron


Ron Bailey is an excellent writer and scientist who has exposed the simplistic analyses of the extreme environmental lobby on many occasions. I find it odd, therefore, that he has such a simplistic analysis of the connection between drugs/alcohol prohibition and crime over at Reason. Homicide, to begin with, is an odd beast in America (that low figure he cites for homicides in 1900 was enormous for the civilized world even then) and there is a lot more that feeds into the homicide rate than just prohibition, the economy for instance, and cultural factors. I haven't yet seen a good econometric analysis of the role of prohibition in homicide rates over the century (Jeffrey Miron did one of the effects of prohibition internationally, but I think that was flawed), and will be surprised if prohibition is found to have a really significant effect.

The most telling point is when Ron tries to explain away the dropping homicide rate in the 90s -- a time when the Drug War intensified -- as follows:

Most likely it is because the United States now has nearly 2 million people in jail or prison. It would have to be a pretty poor policing operation if, in the course of sweeping up some 1.5 million people annually for drug use, that those offenders most likely to act violently did not end up incarcerated.

Well, indeed. The trouble is that the vast majority of those 1.5 million are nasty pieces of work, as I argued in an article for the now sadly defunct Technopolitics.com site (reproduced here) and deserve to be put away. I'm pretty sure that the criminality comes before the drug industry involvement, not because of it.

I've said before that I think the Drugs War concentrates too much on cleaning up the problem and not enough on preventing it. Those adverts that so offend Ron Bailey are part of a strategy that seems to be working in terms of prevention. That's a good thing in my book.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Site enhancements


I have now added two little enhancements to the site for those who prefer to receive it by other means. There's an RSS feed over there on the left and, further down, below my e-mail contact details is a link to subscribe to a Yahoo group that will deliver posts by e-mail. If you subscribe, you can reply to the posts but they'll only come to me. If you want to make a public comment, the comments box is still there for your use on the site.

I'm not sure how well either of these features will work, so I'd be delighted to get feedback.

Cartoon fun


Peter Cuthbertson points me towards a fun little tool for creating your own three-panel comic strip. My first creation is here.

No, no, you're missing the point


Victoria Climbie's heart-rending death was helped along by bureaucracy. How typical, then, that the Inquiry into the case should recommend as a cure yet more bureaucracy. In addition, it was confirmed in the inquiry that part of the reason why the authorities did not investigate the case as they should have was because they were tip-toeing round racial sensibilities. There isn't a mention of this issue in the recommendations as reported by the BBC. Another opportunity missed.

PP: Excellent summary of the case in the Spectator here.

The way the wind is blowing


Vladimir Putin is taking a harder line on Iraq. Putin's assent was crucial in getting the UN to back the return of weapons inspectors, and I think it will be crucial in the next stage too. If Putin aligns himself with the US/UK alliance then the matter is as good as settled, I think. That codominion idea is one that always deserves serious thought.

Anyway, the wind is blowing away from Old Europe. Even the Belgians (the Belgians!) are drifting away from them:

There were signs that Belgium, previously close to the Franco-German position, might be becoming more hawkish.

"If they don't respond favourably to the demands of the EU, I think it means the Iraqis don't want to reintegrate into the international community, that they manifestly have something to hide, that they have a dangerous agenda, and that they constitute a danger to international security," Foreign Minister Louis Michel said.

Deputy Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy acknowledged that Monday's joint foreign ministers' statement was "minimal", but should still applauded. Spain believes a second UN resolution before any war is desirable but not essential - the position held by Washington.

You know, judging from the press you'd think Britain and America were isolated in the EU, but Italy, Spain, The Netherlands and Denmark are behind their stance, Belgium is leaning that way and I'd imagine Portugal, Sweden and Finland will too before long. If this was better publicized, I think anti-war opposition would decrease sharply.

The dog that didn't bark


There's one thing missing from this BBC report about the tragic shooting of a good citizen of Bradford who was trying to foil an armed robbery. Normally, the police use these occasions to issue a warning to the general public not to try and intervene when a crime is taking place and to leave it to the police instead. That warning is missing here. Is this a rare outbreak of respect and good taste on the police's part, or is there actually a realization that citizen involvement in these things is generally a good thing (leaving aside the obvious downside in this case)?

Problog


This blog thing seems to be catching on. The Remedy is the new weblog of The Claremont Institute, a conservative institution dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to public life, which strikes me as being quite a good idea.

Iain!


I'm proud to call Iain Dale a friend. He's a seriously nice guy who also happens to own a lovely political bookshop in London and is intending to become a Tory MP. For a while he ran a delicious blogspot blog, but he now has a "real" web site: iaindale.com. Iain is a gay conservative who I would vote for any day of the week. Check it out!

What's not to like


He's Venezualan, he's called Vladimir, and he refers to Winthrop. Val e-diction is a very young blog, but one worth keeping an eye on.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Greek fire


Mick Hume makes two important points about matters Greek, to wit a possible British bid to stage the Olympics in London for the third time, and the interminable debate about the future of the Elgin marbles:

Britain should bid to get the Olympics, and fight to hold on to the marbles, for similar reasons: to demonstrate that our society values something higher than the bottom line, and that it believes not only in itself but in our universal human culture.

It might be easier to thrash out these issues if both debates were not quite so clogged up with quotes from sporting celebrities, reading from somebody else’s script about everything from social inclusion to cultural imperialism. Never mind keeping politics out of sport, let’s kick sportspeople out of politics.

As an aside, I am sorry I missed Jenneane Garofalo's (sp?) humiliation yesterday on one of the morning politics shows. Apparently, after explaining why she thought it right to use her celebrity to advance the case against war, she was confronted with an interview from a couple of years ago where she said she would never use her celebrity to advance political views. I enjoy her very much as a comedienne, but being funny does not make her politics right. She accepted that once. I wonder if she does again after that experience?

Why us?


Good exposition of the arguments for war in Iraq in the Telegraph's leader Why Britain should fight. The appeal to the national interest -- broadly defined, as is traditional -- is one that some Tories have difficulty comprehending, but this should spell it out:

[Saddam's] regime foments terrorism in Israel and the West Bank. His weapons programme is overtly aimed at establishing a regional hegemony, at the expense of Kuwait, Jordan and the Gulf monarchies: all British allies. And let us not be shy of saying that it is in no one's interest for the some of the world's key oil supplies to be in the hands of an unstable dictator.

Opponents of the war are right about one thing. We will not be fighting only for the UN; the conflict is also - as Lord Salisbury described the Boer War - about "who is to be boss". This is nothing to be ashamed of: an Anglo-American victory in the Gulf will also be a victory for the Iraqi people, for regional security, for good governance and for free trade. A defeat would signal the retreat of the free world in the face of tyranny.

The short answer to the question "why us?" is that Britain has a clear interest in replacing a regime that endangers us with one that would return Baghdad to its traditional Anglophile stance. This is also, incidentally, the answer to the question: "why not North Korea?" - we have no direct interests there, although we should offer our diplomatic support to the Americans and Japanese if they decide to intervene. This may be a war to uphold international law. But it is also a war against Britain's enemies. If we back down now, those enemies will draw the only possible conclusion.

Seems like a fair summary to me.

Gunboat diplomacy


Go on, George, tell us what you really think.

Terrifying prospect


Anyone who has ever played the classic game Junta will be familar with the action card "Students circulate petition condemning repression. No effect." I can't help worrrying that this threat was somehow inspired by it.

One law for the rich, 300 at least for the gun-owner


Interesting little spat over a study by the Brookings Institution that pooh-poohs the idea that there are 20,000 gun laws in America. Brookings handily dismisses state and local laws in arriving at its total of 300. Now 300 Federal restrictions on gun ownership is itself a little over-the-top, I'd suggest, but it is defintely an underestimate. Sure, the 20,000 figure probably includes archaic laws on blunderbusses and other laws that have fallen into disuse or been superseded, but there's a lot of state and local laws that are still applied. The true figure lies, as always, somewhere in between, so if you're concerned with honesty in this debate, treat that 300 with as much disdain as you might treat the 20,000 figure.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

Best of a bad job


Given that England's cricketers are contracted to the English Cricket Board, who are contracted to appear in Zimbabwe, I think this declaration is about the best that we could hope for, and shows a greater degree of rectitude than I had hoped for when Nasser Hussain attempted to shift responsibility onto HMG.

Hang on a second


I have no desire to jump to the defense of "Old Europe," but I thinkGlenn goes a bit far when he says:

Most of America's biggest problem areas, after all, from Vietnam to the Middle East, were inherited from others.

Let's not forget that it was America's refusal to back Britain, France and Israel over the Suez crisis that is probably the definining moment that set the Middle East along the road to ruin. If Nasser had been dealt with then, we probably wouldn't have Saddam now. Moreover, that incident helped cause the British and French empires to break up prematurely, I think, a process America encouraged, leaving a legacy of suffering and war in Africa and other areas (the legacy is not nearly so bad in areas that had come to independence gradually and thoughtfully, such as India). Finally, it was also the cause of the splitting of France from the Atlantic alliance. Dulles and Eisenhower have a lot to answer for, and simply blaming Europe for it is just not good enough. I also have a suspicion that it will be looked back at by historians as probably the biggest delay in encouraging true Anglospheric feeling. It certainly made at least one generation of British Tories more suspicious than they should be of America.

Hiatus


I'll be on a hiatus from blogging for a week and a half, as I'm attending an International Democrat Union Conference in Australia. I'll return with much interesting gossip about conservative politicians, and quite jet-lagged. Hopefully that will make for an interesting few posts.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

The other Lott affair


For what it's worth, I think Glenn's summary of the controversy surrounding John Lott is pretty fair. I was following this one on the academic lists until my recent unpleasantness and it does seem to have shifted from something unproveable but worrying to something trifling. Just like Bjorn Lomborg, John Lott ain't no Bellesiles.

Lex Lugarensis


Senator Richard Lugar is going to walk into the BBC ring and lay the smack down, with any luck. He'll be answering BBC listeners' questions about Iraq on Tuesday. Interesting that most of the comments so far repeat the usual rubbish about a "war for oil" or this being a "personal vendetta against Saddam." The Senator should be able to deal with those in a heartbeat.

Friday, January 24, 2003

The Swedish Model


This Lancet article is a pretty good indicator that single parent families are in and of themselves damaging to children, something people have been over here for a while, but which has been rejected in Europe. The Boston Globes summarises the results:

The study used the Swedish national registries, which cover almost the entire population and contain extensive socio-economic and health information. Children were considered to be living in a single-parent household if they were living with the same single adult in both the 1985 and 1990 housing census. That could have been the result of divorce, separation, death of a parent, out of wedlock birth, guardianship or other reasons.

About 60,000 were living with their mother and about 5,500 with their father. There were 921,257 living with both parents. The children were aged between 6 and 18 at the start of the study, with half already in their teens.

The scientists found that children with single parents were twice as likely as the others to develop a psychiatric illness such as severe depression or schizophrenia, to kill themselves or attempt suicide, and to develop an alcohol-related disease.

Girls were three times more likely to become drug addicts if they lived with a sole parent, and boys were four times more likely.

The researchers conclude that it's the financial effects that are the main causal factors, although given that Swedish single parents are much better off comparatively than British or American single parents, and that the researchers controlled for socioconomic status, this conclusion seems a bit dubious to me. As the reserachers themselves said:

However, even when a wide range of demographic and socioeconomic circumstances are included in multivariate models, children of single parents still have increased risks of mortality, severe morbidity, and injury.

The relative risks are large and, given the size of the sample, convincing. Once again I stress that choosing to raise a child on your own does not doom the child, but it makes it a lot more likely the child will have problems. That's pretty cruel in my book. If these results are coming from Sweden, home of the alternative lifestyle and the welfare state, then Europe should really look at the beam in its own eye and admit that its experiment with new forms of family has failed.

Al Qa'eda: a bit crap, really


Spain appears to be pulling its weight again, claiming to have foiled a 'major al-Qaeda attack'. Presumably my favorite judge, Baltasar Garzon, will now intervene and get the suspects released in some fashion.

All of the recents arrests, however, indicate to me that Al Qa'eda is really scraping the barrell. Sir John Keegan suggested immediately after 9/11 that Al Qa'eda lost its best operatives in the attacks. It lost most of its leadership (including, I continue to believe, bin Laden) in the Afghan War. Since then, the organization itself has not had a successful attack on Western soil (and the successful attacks it has had, like Bali, were organized with localized fraternal groups). All told, the organization does not seem particularly worrying to me. I continue to believe its days are numbered, providing we don't get complacent.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Update


I have managed to get myself a short-term (2 week) contract which will help pay the bills for a little while. This being the case, posting may be light for a while as it's quite an intensive task, but I hope to have at least something up every day. Still on the look-out for something full-time, although I am toying with the idea of setting up my own consulting firm. I'll keep you posted.

Seconds out, round one


Sasha Castel gives us her thoughts on what London does better than NYC, and vice versa. I think it's a fair set of comments. No doubt Kris will have something to say...

The old order endeth


William Safire gets it. The loud squeaks emanating from France and Germany are likely to be the final straw for the Atlantic alliance. Safire writes particularly about Schroder:

What this final victory [actually not a victory, because the Mail on Sunday stood up to his bullying -- ISM] shows is that Schröder — with all his illusory conquests, triumphs, glories, spoils — does not share the free-speech values of the West. Though cannily manipulative, he lacks a sense of the absurd, which is why his war on the press is making him "der Gegenstand des Gelächters" — the laughingstock.

But his political switching and diplomatic maneuvering are no laughing matter. The German design is apparently to saw off the Atlantic part of the Atlantic Alliance, separating Britain and the U.S. from a federal Europe dominated by Germany and France (with France destined to become the junior partner).

No wonder the British press catches a whiff of the old Berlin imperiousness. No wonder the idle French threat to veto a resolution — which Chirac knows will not be offered — reminds populous and powerful nations like India and Japan of the inequity of mid-sized France having the veto power, and of the need to prevent Germany from getting it.

France is not aiming its barbs purely at America, though. She too recognizes the Anglosphere, and is basically playing the Great Game again, trying to make the various despots of Africa her clients. Witness this invitation to Robert Mugabe despite British protests:

Mr Mugabe is currently banned from entering the European Union because of doubts about the legitimacy of his re-election last year.

But French President Jacques Chirac was convinced that the Zimbabwean leader's presence at the summit would help promote justice, human rights and democracy in his country, foreign ministry spokesman Francois Rivasseau told journalists.

The real reason is stated later in the report:

Correspondents say that France sees itself as Africa's best friend on the international stage. It recently extended a $3m grant to help some eight million people in need of food aid in Zimbabwe.

As relations between the UK and Zimbabwe have deteriorated, France has been moving closer to Mr Mugabe's government.

Mr Rivasseau said France understand the "emotion and indignation" of the British over the visit, but said that no sanctions would be broken.

Tony Blair is coming close to the moment when he will have to choose between Europe and the Anglosphere. I find it exemplary of continental arrogance that they are forcing this issue, which will almost certainly leave them poorer and weaker.

More on education


A correspondent writes about University fees in the UK:

One reason why top-up fees are so very emotive for people like myself is that I've already been soaked so heavily for education.

The basic premise of Blair's "education, education, education" soundbite was that they would increase expenditure, and that it would be covered from the tax burden we already paid - in other words, families needn't budget additional funds for education. We returned from the Netherlands in 1999, and, after trying 17 different state schools, were unable to obtain places for our sons, and so were forced into the private sector. As it is, we're absolutely delighted with the school our boys attend, but the expenditure represents 25% of my gross salary. This situation arose because Mr Blair promised that primary school class sizes would be reduced to no more than 30 pupils. With no more teachers, even an economist of Mr Brown's ability can work out that the number of places would be cut, and that's just what happened. What I can't understand is how we don't hear about "Labours education cuts", but maybe that is just me being confused by all the "cuts" talk of the '80s, where (real)increases in expenditure were constantly damned as "cuts".

With that background, talk of parents paying for top-up fees, with the entry level being charged at £25K, and full at £50K was just another outrage. In particular, it again showed that Brown has no grasp of economics - the words he was using (even if he meant something else) implied marginal tax rates over 100%, which even a Democrat will acknowledge as silly. It was the straw that broke the camel's back, an "Atlas Shrugged" moment, if you like. And having done that to my children, Brown had also capped it with the Laura Spence nonsense. That's when I decided that its personal - Brown is out to hurt my children. To hell with him, and all his works.

This is an important perspective. Parents in the UK have been messed around, especially middle-class parents. The point about class-sizes is also important. I remember my mother, a former elementary reform teacher, saying that when she started out she had no more trouble teaching large classes of 40 or more because they were well-behaved. There is, in fact, no evidence that class sizes have any real effect on the quality of education. Because teaching is so closely controlled by central government in the UK, the entire system falls prey easily to red herrings like this. I can understand my correspondent's point of view.

McRights


I've written about this before, but it deserves revisiting. The Scottish Parliament has passed a land bill that goes a long way towards eliminating property rights:

Part one of the Bill provides for unfettered access to all land in Scotland. Part two allows "communities" first refusal on the purchase of estates - at a price fixed by an independent valuer - when they are put up for sale. And part three will force landowners to sell the fishing rights on salmon rivers to Highland crofters.

The joy for those given the right to buy is that they don't even have to use their own money; the cash is doled out from the recently established Scottish Land Fund, which in turn gets it from the National Lottery under the curious heading of "environmental improvements".

"It's Mugabe in a kilt," said Bill Aitken, who is leading the Tory opposition to the Bill. He was only half joking.

The Bill passed the Scots Parliament 110-19, believe it or not, and its prime supporter says it is

"... realising a centuries-old aspiration to redistribute rights and to empower entire communities." And he points out that only the Scottish Parliament - which has no recourse to the House of Lords or indeed to any revising chamber - could have passed such controversial legislation against the interests of what he calls "the landed classes" so quickly.

Scotland is fast proving to be a stirling example of why unicameral legislatures are a bad idea. As to the bill itself, I wonder what Adam Smith would have had to say.

The song "Hot Shot City" was particularly good


A great genius of our time is recognized in these Amazon reviews.

Thanks to Chad Dimpler for the link.

A Reverse Fisking



Rep Rangel's bill on the draft is now part of public record. Time to start Fiskin'. I'll begin with the obvious. Rangel hasn't proof-read it. Look at the repeated references to 'reverse' which probably should read 'reserve'

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Light posting alert


I have a lead on a short-term project that I'll be finding more about today. Accordingly, it's likely that posting will be light today.

In the meantime, may I say that I continue to be amazed and delighted by your support and generosity. I'm slowly working my way through the mountain of e-mail I've been receiving since last week. If you haven't had a reply yet, please excuse my rudeness, but I shall get round to you. Thanks so much.

A dirty word


Elitism is still a dirty word in the UK. The National Union of Students has applied it to HMG's plan to charge students for their education. I'm never quite certain what the problem is here -- the fees aren't going to be paid by parents, but instead financed by student debt, which America deals with happily. Nor are the payments unreasonable:

"The payback burden varies according to earnings later in life to about £60 a month for example for a civil servant, lower than that for a voluntary sector worker, so the paybacks I don't think are unreasonable."

Michael Gove had a pretty good article on this in The Times yesterday, but I can't find it thanks to The Times' charging system. He essentially argued that a debt of 20,000 pounds to achieve the average lifetime earnings increase of 400,000 pounds afforded by a degree represented a rational investment that should not scare anyone. I tend to agree.

This, meanwhile, may seem like a bad idea, but I think it may spur Oxford and Cambridge on towards rejecting Government funding, and idea Oxford has been toying with for a while. That will almost certainly be a good thing for academic freedom. We would also then probably be able to watch a re-run of James II expelling the Fellows of Magdalen as the Blairites decided to nationalize Oxford. That may be a step too far.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Cultural differences


Glenn has already blogged about the London mosque raid at Instapundit and I agree with his conclusion that the authorities have been keeping Hamza around to see who he's been associating with. One thing occurred to me about the raid, however. Its code name (Operation Mermant) is a genuine code name, in that anyone intercepting messages about it could not possibly work out what it was about. It's always puzzled me why American code names do not have this quality. The UK name for Operation Desert Storm was Operation Granby, for instance. I am reliably informed that this was because some top MOD officials were sitting in the pub The Marquis of Granby trying to come up with a code name. No doubt the American name for such a mosque raid would have been Operation Al-Masri Down or something like that.

Meanwhile, The Sun tells Hamza Al-Masri to "sling yer hook."