England's Sword 2.0

Friday, March 07, 2003

A Real Corporate Scandal

Amitai Etzioni is fast becoming the new sensation of the blogosphere. I'm cartainly glad to see such a major thinker giving us his, well, thoughts daily and his blog on anti-Americanism at Davos was very interesting. But this post, which a link to an earlier article of his is, reveals a genuine corporate scandal taking place in the USA. This is the sort of thing which, in the UK, leads people to say "It shouldn't be legal." Normally, I think that's a silly over-reaction. In this case, because of the use to which the proceeds were put, I'm not so sure.

Saddam: The Truth!

Hussein's a transvestite!

His X-rated gay movies!

He hates Hummus!
The shocking truth is finally being told by Weekly World News (this is a link to a picture of the current cover, which is so inspired we had to buy a copy). You can also read the views of the real voice of America, Ed Anger.

Well, let's face it, it's about as credible as The Guardian...

Another Blix in the wall

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, if you ask a bureaucrat to report on his progress towards a goal for which no timetable has been set he will say 1) he needs more resources, 2) he needs more time but 3) recent progress has been encouraging.

Hans Blix just did exactly that, in a statement amazingly reported by the BBC as Blix praises Iraq co-operation. When push came to shove, Blix admitted that the Iraqis had attempted to impose conditions -- so their compliance was not unconditional -- and that their compliance could not be described as immediate. The Iraqis are, by this report, in breach of resolution 1441 and the UN must recognize this.

Of course, Joshcka Fischer immediately said that this shows the progress made by inspections. Pardon my, erm, Anglo-Saxon, but bollocks. The cycle has been as follows. Iraq obstructs the inspectors. The UK and US threaten military action and demand a report from Blix and co. The Iraqis suddenly start making some progress. The report is made. Old Europe says the inspection regime is working. Iraq starts obstructing again ... and so on. It is only the immediate threat of war that has extracted any concessions from Iraq. Blix essentially acknowledged this early in his statement when he said it was down to the strong outside pressure that co-operation had increased.

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, British ambassador to the UN, has just cut through the crap (there I go again) with a statement that a clear deadline will make it blindingly obvious to the UNSC whether ot not Saddam is complying. As I said below, this is right. Saddam will have, as Stephen Pollard puts it, a final, final, final chance to destroy his weapons. Then the UNSC will face its moment of truth. It would be interesting if the French (apparently the Russians, as I predicted, are starting to make noises in favor of the British proposal) decide to move that moment of truth up by vetoing such a suggestion. It seems reasonable to just about everyone (although no doubt the people who don't think the situation is urgent will argue that Blix has said disarmament will take months and months, so we might as well let them carry on at their leisurely pace), so I think France will lose a lot of international goodwill by such an act, especially if Russia votes for the resolution.

More to follow if Straw or Powell make any significant announcements.


Fox News is reporting that the Associated Press is reporting that sons of Osama bib Laden have been arrested in Pakistan. Developing...

Attention Scott Wickstein!

Martin Hutchinson is UPI's economics editor, and a robust chap. Now all good cricket correspondents (i.e. not Martin Engels) had another journalistic job as well. Cardus was an opera correspondent and Arlott a wine correspondent. Brian Johnston would cover major state ceremonies for the BBC, as well as hosting a long-running variety hour. Martin seems to be following in their footsteps, as his Silly Point column for UPI reviews the Cricket World Cup so far. It's a purely sporting review, so Martin doesn't mention that the connection between English, who refused to play in Zimbabwe not out of moral principle but out of fear for their own safety, got knocked out, while Zimbabwe, whose courageous players put their careers -- and indeed their lives -- on the line in their open defiance of the tyrant Mugabe, went through to the final stages of the competition. There must be a lesson there somewhere.

Thursday, March 06, 2003


I'm trying a different RSS/XML feed to see if it will work better than blogger's own, which doesn't. Let me know if it works, please.

PP Thanks to the munificence of David Janes of Ranting and Roaring, we now have an even better feed...

The Education Hat-trick

I've received the following comments on the current univsersity admissions debacle from someone who is in a position to know what's going on, at least in the "greybrick" universities that the debate is centering around:

The first thing to say is that Utley's contention that perfectly good applicants are being turned down for no better reason than class or school background is false. Lots of AAA applicants get turned down because of something they write (or don't write) in their personal statement on the UCAS form. If an AAA applicant gets rejected, well organised independent schools will often try to explain this in terms of class bias, but the most likely reason is that they failed to show any interest in, or prior engagement with their proposed subject of study. If someone applies to do zoology and then fails to even mention it on the form, then they get an "R" regardless.

Second, the idea that we're imposing quotas is quite false. What we do do is to make slightly lower offers to students from some backgrounds. But the differential is really tight. So an applicant from Eton might get asked for AAB, whereas one from Dagenham Comp would get asked for ABB. I think it reasonable to ask which of those scores is the greater achievement and which of the two applicants has the greater potential (which is, after all, what we're interested in).

Third, A-level scores are a rotten guide to academic ability at a university. I've just marked a pile of essays, all written by people in
the AAA-ABB range. An alarming number contained really elementary errors of spelling or grammar, including completely meaningless sentences.

Fourth, independent school students are, on average, significantly worse performers at university than similarly qualified state school
applicants. At university, kids have to fend for themselves, get their essays in on time, do the reading etc etc. The ones who have made it through Britain's rotten state system are the survivors of a pretty fierce process of Darwinian selection. They've already proved they can cope. The independent school students have been well coached and closely supervised. Without that system of support they often fail.

Finally: social engineering. I don't like being told what to do by the government. I don't like being set targets and I don't like being asked to mop up the problems of Britain's secondary school sector. [My university has] been taking sensible measures to select students for their *potential* for years, though the extent probably varies from department to department. When government directives to do this come down, though, the implementation is inevitably clunky and stupid. But despite this, I don't believe that there's any real unfairness going on.

There you have it. It seems, as Utley indicates but doesn't quite grasp, the current crisis is more about Universities desperately trying to work out who the really good students are because of a failed examinations system, rather than anything else. There are, it seems to me, three possible solutions:

1. Revamp the A level system so that the oustanding get different marks from the competent. This will require grade deflation, and will be resisted strongly by schools who are most likely to see their marks downgraded. And the parents of pupils whose average older child got As while their brighter younger child is looking at a B at best will wonder about the fairness of it all.

2. Abolish the existing system and replace it with a national Standardized Test like the American SAT that has a marking spread broad enough to distinguish between individual students' abilities. This can be backed up by A level and internal school exam results showing competence in particular areas. This may be too revolutionary for some.

3. Keep A levels, but abolish or reform UCAS and allow each individual university to set its own criteria for selecting pupils, probably involving written entrance exams. The command and control freaks in the DfE will lose their minds at this suggestion, but it seems reasonable to me. It may be accompanied by a freeing up of the financing rules, allowing universities that can attract substantial private money to set out in their own direction, allowing them to compete with Harvard, Yale and Princeton again.

Comments on these thoughts welcome, as ever.

Education again

In today's Thunderer, Robbie Millen seems under the apprehension that all public school pupils hie from rich families, and that A-levels are still useful for admissions tutors. He's quite right in his critique of the prevalence of 'stupid rich kids' at some universities, but if they've received the requisite A-levels, why bar them from attending? If anything, the ability of 'stupid rich kids' to obtain the same marks as 'bright dumb kids' points to a gross failure in the state education system, or the inability of exam marks to differentiate between varying levels of ability. Apparently, Mr Millen knows far more about the admissions procedure than most, and about human potential. He alleges that parents send children to private school to purchase an advantage in the admissions process, as opposed to any qualitative reasons, and inveighs against the overwhelming class system present in Britain. Why? All because he was rejected by Bristol 12 years ago. Yes, the admissions system does have inequities, but admissions tutors are only as good as the information they receive. With devalued A-levels, and a lack of any distinguishing questions (such as essays, multiple references, extracurriculars) on the UCAS application system, they're solely left to look at A level marks and school marks. But this inequity is the nature of universities. Iain's right in talking about the apparent lack of Tory education policy, at least as regards higher education. Next to Transport and Health, Education is another great opportunity for the Tories.... or the Liberal Democrats, should the Conservatives not meet the challenge.

Free Speech and Private Property

To chip in with my two pence on the arrest in Albany of the lawyer wearing the anti-war shirt for refusing to leave a shopping mall, I'd agree with Eugene Volokh on this one. While the mall's policy is rather foolish, it is completely within its right to ask Mr Downs and his son to leave. Mr Downs cited free speech as his defense, but like many who seem to view expression as triumphing over all other rights, completely ignores the mall's property rights. Freedom of expression is rather strongly linked to property rights, in my opinion. Protected speech, in my view, is speech that can be ignored and not forced upon anyone. Therefore, property rights allow groups to meet without fear of harassment from groups wishing to express 'speech' deeply offensive to them. To wit, a mosque is within reason to refuse entry to someone wearing an inflammatory T-shirt, as the offender's 'free speech' should not trump the free right of association of the worshippers. Similarily, anti-war protestors should be free to exclude anyone tormenting them during their deliberations.

Robert Bork, in Slouching Towards Gomorrah, attacks the contemporary notions of 'speech' as antiquated. He is wholly justified in condemning the far left and ultra-libertarian right in claiming that any sort of expression is protected speech. Taken to its extremes, speech which would break several laws (either hate speech advocating violence, criminals plotting, etc.) should be protected, as the individual is expressing his views. If that libertarian extreme should be adopted, why not further plunge into anarchy?

On an unrelated note, Bob hoped to see some constructive disagreements with some of Brad DeLong's positions, as well as that of other economists. I'll try, but I hope you're a Sunderland fan, Bob, as this will be rather one sided, with DeLong a distinguished economist, and myself a precocious second-year undergraduate. Just to show his tolerance for free speech, I hope Iain will allow me to continue here after that dig at Sunderland..

Education, education, education

Meanwhile, education policy allows the Tories an immense opportunity to win back at least families in the middle class. Tom Utley gives us an indication of how:

My correspondent's son is obviously extremely bright - quite a bit brighter than mine, by the sound of him - but, if she is right when she says that he scored 100 per cent in all his AS-levels (and I have no reason to doubt her), then there is surely something very wrong with the exams.

I can understand that it may be possible to score 100 per cent in maths, physics or even Latin, by answering every question correctly. But history? There are no right or wrong answers here, except names and dates, and a history exam in which it is possible to score 100 per cent must be seriously flawed. My correspondent's son - and his admissions tutors - would have been much better served by an exam that allowed him to display the full extent of his grasp of the subject before he bumped his head on the 100-per-cent ceiling.

A third conclusion to be drawn from my correspondence is that something very fishy and unfair is going on in the way that universities select their undergraduates. The evidence is now overwhelming that some universities, encouraged by this awful Government, are turning away hard-working, academically gifted students for no better reason than that they are middle-class and go to good schools.

This is not only monstrously unjust, but downright asinine from the point of view of the country's interests. The solution to the crisis in Britain's education system is not to penalise the good schools, but to improve the bad ones. It is clearly a wonderful thing for the Government that mugs like me should pay to have our children well educated, while still financing the schooling of other people's children through our taxes. In general, the middle classes are the most economically productive and the most law-abiding. The more of us, the merrier for the Treasury and for the wellbeing of rich and poor alike.

A Tory party that promises to reform the examination system to allow us to separate out the very good students from the good will be heard by people who deserted them in the 90s, when their children were smaller. A Tory party that offers to end this insane discrimination system will only be derided by class warriors, giving the Tories a battleground they've won on in the past ("the politics of envy" is as good a slogan today as it was years ago, I think). And a Tory party that promises to restore some substance to the National Curriculum will be heard by any whose children are at school. There's a three point plan for a better education strategy.

But I have a question, just what is the Tories' education strategy? Try going to Conservatives.com and looking for it. Yes, there's currently a headline there about IDS's stance on the admissions scandal, but where's the rest? At the very least, the party web site should have a section outlining plans in each major policy area. If this hasn't occurred to them, no wonder there's a presentation problem.

Labour's Vanity

Despite my support for Tony Blair's foreign policy, his domestic policy remains as squalid as ever. This Telegraph review looks at just how bad the position is for the middle classes at the moment:

Since 1997, the middle classes have found themselves assailed on all sides. Pensions have been squeezed to the point where many may have to work into their 70s to avoid penury. The value of their endowment mortgages has been slashed and share portfolios have slumped.

The key investment of the middle classes is their homes, yet they have lost the residual mortgage interest tax relief that Labour inherited and they are taxed to the hilt when they sell. Historically low interest rates and the boom in house prices have made most people feel better off despite the higher taxes they have had to pay; if the property market collapses, there will be a crisis.

They now discover that spending money on their children's education is likely to work to their disadvantage. If they send their children to private school, the best universities may discriminate against them. And if they do get them in, they have to pay top-up fees.

Gordon Brown is squeezing the middle class to pay for improvements to public services that haven't materialized and show no signs of doing so. Instead, the effect is to subsidize another generation of public sector workers.

I wonder, however, if this might be part of a Blairite master plan. While Blair is involved in the war (and I have to say I believe he is passionate about this cause -- this is in no way a "wag the dog" strategy), it can fairly be said that Brown is running the country domestically. When things go belly-up, as they assuredly will, Blair can sack Brown ostentatiously, and move to a more centrist domestic policy. This will stymie hopes of a Tory revival and marginalize Brown as a failed Chancellor. The Labour left may already have been split in two by the defection of a reasonable number to the Lib Dems, or out of politics altogether. Blair can then point to the Lib Dems as being leftists, the failures of the 60s, while to the Tories as the extremist failures of the 80s. The result should be a third election victory, albeit with a reduced majority as the end of tactical voting allows a Tory recovery in the South West and other areas. Blair will have cemented his reputation as the master statesman of the age and he can retire some time in his third term, leaving David Blunkett or Alan Milburn in charge.

Just a thought.

The last compromise

Hans Blix's last report to the UN was a non-event, despite Fox News billing it as "Iraq: Moment of Truth." I don't think he'll be able to do that again this time, although the capacity of the professional bureaucrat for delaying conclusions should never be underestimated. But it's clear that both sides in the UN have entered the endgame. Tony Blair has come down firmly on the US side, publicly stating his willingness to defy UN vetoes.

Here's how I think it will pan out: Blix will deliver a report saying that some progress, but not much, has been made. It will be couched in language such that both sides can claim vindication for their own position from it. The appeasers, however, will realise that a third such report will be the end of their position. They will therefore seek to compromise. A "second" resolution will be passed unanimously (or possibly with Syria abstaining) that sets a deadline for disarmament, but leaves the door open for military action. The French and Russians will then work franticly to persuade Saddam to go into exile. Saddam will refuse, and the war will begin after a futile French bluster about vetoing military action. Russia will switch sides at this point, and China will put a bag over its head.

Lest we forget that the war might bring benefits to the Iraqi people, let's look at the testimony of Anne Clywd MP, a veteran CND-type left-winger, who has seen what Saddam did in Kurdistan and what the Kurds have been able to achieve since coming under British and American protection:

Last week, she returned once more. "I hardly recognise the place since it became self-governing. There's now a university, a library, new schools and three women judges. It's amazing what democracy has done. The markets are full - I bought this watch for $40."

Mrs Clwyd had been invited by the Kurds to open the new genocide museum.

"I'd seen museums in Rwanda, Cambodia and on the Holocaust, but nothing prepared me for this," she says.

"The museum has been set up in the old torture centre, where thousands died. They've kept the cells with the bullet holes, and pictures drawn by children imprisoned there - images of birds and aeroplanes scratched into the walls with blood. The guards said they didn't imprison anyone younger than 11 but they forged their birth certificates."

Former prisoners showed her around. On the walls were hundreds of photographs of piles of clothing, mass graves and skulls. "Saddam's regime is like the Khmer Rouge and the Nazis; they are obsessed by documenting everything they've done. There are lots of photographs of prisoners just before they were executed, grinning at the cameras. The guards tickled them before they died to make them laugh."

The day she opened the museum it was snowing, grey and icy. "Hundreds of relatives of the dead and the victims queued up to watch and to tell me their stories. An old Kurdish woman shoved a piece of plastic at me; inside were two photographs of her husband and two missing sons. She wanted to know how they died. One old man showed me a photograph of 15 of his family. He was the only survivor. 'Why was I meant to survive?' he said."

Mrs Clwyd was asked to cut the ribbon. "I could feel my voice breaking. I've given thousands of speeches but I couldn't speak. I started walking round the room, trying to compose myself, but when a Kurdish TV cameraman asked me how I felt, I burst into tears. As I stood in that museum, I just thought: 'Why didn't we carry on to Baghdad? Why did we let this keep happening for another 12 years?' "

The next day, Mrs Clwyd says, she felt embarrassed. "The Kurds were so composed. I hadn't even suffered and I was sobbing. I went to the market with a Kurdish friend. Suddenly, all the shopkeepers were coming to offer me gifts. One explained: 'We saw you crying on TV last night. Thank you. My mother cried for the first time in 10 years when she saw you. She finally felt she could grieve for her lost husband and brother. Soon, my whole street was crying'."

She also went to the new UN refugee camp. "It's like every wretched camp in the world, only even muddier and colder than Kosovo, and as haunting as Rwanda. They have no fuel, and no possessions. Many once lived quite affluent lives in the towns. Most had less than 24 hours to flee their homes after one of Saddam's ethnic purges."

She also has kind words to say about the US, ones that other critics should bear in mind:

Her views on America also differ from those of her fellow backbenchers. "I don't think that George Bush Jnr won the election fairly but he's not an idiot. There is far too much anti-Americanism about this war. They are not the villains, they're not even over-weening and arrogant. They've listened on human rights; I've always been treated very courteously there."

The cost of peace has been twelve years of murder and misery. It's time we stopped paying the bill.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Daley returns to form

I haven't been particularly impressed by Janet Daley's columns over recent weeks, but she makes a fine return to form in America threatens an epidemic of freedom. She points out that even Martin Amis has implicitly conceded that the "war for oil" argument has lost all credibility, and then goes on to discuss what the shibboleth "international law" really means. I think she side-steps the question of whether international agreements and conventions (in the "written on paper" sense) have any moral validity (merely because some of the signatories are dictatorships should not imply that democracies that agree to them are not bound by their intent), but does a good job in looking at the two main arguments for international law in the sense currently meant. And her conclusion is excellent:

America untrammelled by the Soviet threat is about to unleash - what? An epidemic of freedom? A destabilising onslaught against dictatorship and terrorism? Oddly enough, the critics are almost right in their self-contradictions: America is both interventionist and isolationist. What its people want is to be left alone to enjoy their freedoms and their prosperity in peace.

Since September 11, they have realised that the only way they can achieve this is by bringing the chance of those freedoms to those who would threaten them.

This is true, and has historically been true of Britain as well, I think. Britain, has, however, experienced ingraditude from those to whom it has brought liberty before. Where thought needs to be expended now is, perhaps, on what will happen if the chance of those freedoms is spurned.

Responding to Bob

As Bob Briant mentions in his comment on a post below, Stephen Pollard was gracious enough to post Bob's reasoning for his accusations that Stephen, erm, misses the point on Iraq. I thought I'd give my replies to Bob's points, one by one:

There are several reasons why some of us are reluctant to endorse a commitment to war against Iraq while fully acknowledging the repugnance of Saddam's regime in Iraq:

(1) A war could easily end up killing many thousands of people - an entirely credible possibility given this report by a mainstream American TV network of the war plan: CBS news link.

This is more an objection against war in general than an objection to this war in particular. It's a principled objection, but one that the vast majority of people don't accept. Historically, and even now, we accept that war, which involves the deaths of many, is sometimes acceptable if it provides a greater good. In this case, the polls clearly show that the British people do accept that war may be justifiable, so the pacifist argument falls.

As for the objection to the war plans, I am somewhat skeptical that the actual plans are being broadcast on CBS news. People might remember how the actual course of the First Gulf War took us by surprise. But let us take CBS at its word, and assume that this is indeed the plan. The munitions are precision guided. I'm sure all Brits remember John Simpson's awe at how a cruise missile he saw during the First Gulf War seemed to be following traffic directions (I think he was surprised it didn't stop for a red light, indicating a left turn). In the decade since, technology has increased remarkably. That is why the Afghan conflict saw so very few civilian casualties (the figure of 4000 is a grossly inflated piece of propaganda, as you'll see from my analysis here). The only reason why there could be large numbers of civilian casualties is if Saddam himself uses them as shields, which is recognized as a war crime under the traditional rules and international law.

So I don't think this argument holds water on either ground.

(2) Absent broad international support, the US and UK don't otherwise have a mission from providence to intervene in the affairs of a country with a regime they disapprove of. Many of us bought into Tony Blair's doctrine when he said in a speech to the Chicago Economic Club on 22 April 1999: "If we want a world ruled by law and by international co-operation then we have to support the UN as its central pillar." - at page 10 on this Newshour site.

Leaving aside the philosophical justifications for pre-emptive action and the legitimacy or otherwise of international organizations, I believe it is actually precisely this point that makes Blair so adamant in his desire for action. The US and UK have been working within the established framework. The UN has objectives that msut guide its actions. It has passed 17 resolutions that Saddam has flouted. If you are a supporter of the UN and you do not wish ot to go the way of the League of Nations, then you must agree that there will come a point when the UN must act, or fail in its mission. The US and UK believe that that point is fast approaching. Otherwise the UN will have degenerated into a talking-shop whose only effect is to ensure cruel dictators stay in power.

(3) As we learned from experience of more than 30 years in Northern Ireland, state sponsorship is not essential for terrorist networks to survive. Private donations and the proceeds of crime can sustain a network for decades. A regretable fact of nature is that very nasty weapons can be made outside government facilities from accessible materials - like the bomb in Oklahoma City in 1995 made from agricultural fertiliser or the sarin nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway that same year: BBC News link.

An important point, but in this case an irrelevant distraction. If we want to reduce the amount of terrorism in the world, we have to get rid of state sponsorship. Then we can devote our resources to preventing independent outrages. Bob seems to want the argument to go as follows:

Blair: "Iraq sponsors terrorism"

Bob: "Ah, but Timothy McVeigh didn't have state support"*

Blair: "Oh, all right then, we won't do anything..."

This just doesn't work.

* Unless, of course, you consider what The Junk Yard Blog has to say on the subject worth further investigation.

(4) To all appearances, Tony Blair appears very reluctant to put a substantive motion to our Parliament approving military action. So far, he has depended on the Royal prerogative for his authority.

We had a vote last week that gave us the "sense of Parliament," to use an American expression. It passed 350-200. Blair does not have to do this. Under what remains of our Separation of Powers, the power to declare war remains with the Executive, not with the Legislature. He has relied on the Royal Prerogative precisely because that is the only place where the power lies. Now there may be general arguments that this is a bad thing, but that has nothing to do with the Iraq crisis. Reluctance to avoid votes in Parliament on matters involving the Royal Prerogative has sound constitutional thinking behind it.

(5) Do you really buy into: The Project For the New American Century with its stated aim: "to shape a new century favourable to American principles and interests" ? - see here.

Leaving aside the fact that no-one ever said we did, let's look at the PNAC directly rather than what the Grauniad says about it. PNAC says it believes "that American leadership is good both for America and for the world; that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle; and that too few political leaders today are making the case for global leadership." All three statements seem unobjectionable to me. Isolationists on both sides of the Atlantic will tremble at the thought, but this seems a perfectly reasonable expression of the position of a nation the world continually looks to for help.

American principles involve freedom, democracy and civil rights for women and minorities. American interests involve a world free from terror, peace (yes!) and free trade. These are just a few examples. So just what the devil is the matter with believing a strong America is good for the world? You don't say, Bob. As you point out, you're persuaded by rational argument, so it might be nice if you advance some on this point rather than asking an ostentatious rhetorical question.

Anyway, I hope Bob will respond to this and that Stephen might add his comments too.

And I'm on NRO at last...

Meanwhile, here's my first ever article on National Review Online. I feel slightly prescient, given the Sun's coverage of this story, which is exactly how the earlier polls should have been covered in the first place!

More circumspect coverage of the latest poll can be found on MORI's website here. There are still steps needed for the British public to give their assent, but those are not far off.

You read it here first

I've expanded my blog post on BSE and added some extra Techcentrally goodness, for my latest TechCentralStation column, Mad Cow Madness.


Theodore Dalrymple attacks public drunkenness in today's Thunderer, and is right on target. He asserts that drinking is not the problem, but how people comport themselves after they've had a skinful. Walking down the streets at night, you can hear loud singing, see individuals (some of whom are probably quite respectable during the day) urinating on houses, and aggressive behaviour, from those fightin' drunks. Dalrymple places the blame on the license to unlimited self-expression. But he hasn't cracked the nut yet. Part of any solution to inappropriate public behaviour is to attach a social stigma to it. In short, most individuals don't do things they'd be embarrassed to do. I agree with Dalrymple that the police should enforce public drunkenness laws, as drunken louts decrease the quality of life. A fine or a night in jail may suffice as a warning not to do it again. But the British justice system seems to have lost all confidence. It fails to enforce easy but necessary laws, such as traffic laws, while going on a detailed hunt for any illegal immigrants it can deport.

Labour's obsession with targets leads any rational administrator to meet those targets in whatever way possible, as opposed to fulfilling the core duties of their job. This reaches over into the education debate, where Labour advocates 'access' as opposed to quality. One wonders how seriously Labour takes education. After all, the student finance system is a shambles (as I've repeatedly said, it would be far better to use the US model, and force administrators to cut bloated overhead costs, as a university exists to research and to teach, not to provide jobs), but all Charles Clarke can talk about is widening access. He doesn't understand that with living costs in London, a child from a poor family in Britain may not be able to afford to take up an offer from LSE. An admissions offer is hardly the end of the education process. For the sake of quality, Labour should end its obsession with targets, which will free administrators from making cosmetic changes to a fundamentally flawed system.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Doctors with Scruples

Wow. Be sure to head over to Junius and read the interview (translated by Chris from the French) with the founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres. Astonishing.

Fame for a Commenter

Stephen Pollard refers to our regular commenter Bob Briant in his Times article today. On the central issue of Stephen's column, I haven't seen Prof. Elias' study yet, but am trting to locate it. It strikes me as getting the causal change wrong. I'd suggest people with lower "mental acuity" are more likely to be fat than the other way round. Will keep you posted.


Private schools are dissuading their pupils from applying to Bristol University, future alma mater of the Prime Minister's son. Bristol has refused admission to private school pupils with excellent records to increase the representation from state schools. This discrimination is senseless, and based on the prejudice that all private school pupils hie from families with money to burn. Many of these promising pupils are at private schools due to extensive sacrifice by their parents or scholarships. To claim that they are 'advantaged', is ridiculous. Advantaged children don't win scholarships, bright ones do. But part of this is due to the black-box process of university admissions. Quite often accomplished students are rejected for no ostensible reason, while arguably less qualified individuals receive offers. This is by no means a British phenomenon, as well.

Economists, again

A recommendation, of sorts. Brad DeLong, an economist who held high office in the Clinton administration, has an interesting blog on things economic. Given that economics blogs are rare, even though I disagree with Professor DeLong on many issues, he's worth a visit.

Monday, March 03, 2003

In dulce Junio

Happy belated blogiversary to Chris Bertram's excellent Junius. I hope Chris won't mind me saying that there are two blogs I check religiously even when I'm exceptionally busy. Glenn's is one. His is the other. I never fail to find something interesting there, like today's example, realting to his just-completed attendence at a European conference:

One insight I think I gleaned from talking to people was that many European intellectuals, and especially the French, are highly sceptical about the possibility of the EU ever being a democratic political arena in its own right, epecially given the number of states and languages.

(So French intellectuals are admitting the powers ceded to Europe can never be democratically controlled. It's what Euroskeptics of all political hues have been saying for years.)

Anyway, congrats again to Chris and I hope he celebrated his beloved Liverpool FC's thrashing of Man Utd yesterday in appropriate fashion.

The voice of New Europe

Be sure to check out Marian Tupy's article on New Europe at TCS: Europe. Marian is Slovakian, did post-grad work at St Andrew's, Scotland, and is now working for Cato. That makes this conclusion all the more compelling:

In the short- to medium-term, however, it will be the British who will play a pivotal role in the whole European saga. The accession of the Central and East European Countries will strengthen the British role in the EU and turn the United Kingdom into the undisputed leader of its reformist faction. Hopefully, this new bloc will check the power of the Franco-German alliance and succeed in reforming the fossilized edifice of the European economy - a necessary venture, which will in time release the creative potential of all European peoples.

This is an interesting theory. A combination of Eastern European nations and the expansion of the EU may provide the best opportunity ever for the Anglicization of Europe. If this proves to be the case, the writing is one the wall for the EU, because France and Germany will destroy it, not the UK.

Nglsh as she is txtd

Not having a mobile phone, I have not fallen prey to the joys of txt (pronounced Text) messaging, a phenomenon that swept the UK in recent years and is now making headway in the US. Yet this simple Telegraph story shows how something like that reveals the gaping holes in the teaching of the English language. The theory has been the self-expression is important and teaching children spelling and grammar is overly restrictive. The upshot? This essay from a 13 year-old girl:

My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we usd 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kds FTF. ILNY, it's a gr8 plc." Translation: "My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York, it's a great place.'

(Students of oral linguistics will be fascinated to see the presence of formulaic phaseology, such as :- kds, I think). The analysis is simple and to the point:

Judith Gillespie, of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said a decline in standards of grammar and written language was partly linked to the craze. "There must be rigorous efforts from all quarters of the education system to stamp out the use of texting as a form of written language so far as English study is concerned.

"There has been a trend in recent years to emphasise spoken English. Pupils think orally and write phonetically. You would be shocked at the numbers of senior secondary pupils who cannot distinguish between their and there. The problem is that there is a feeling in some schools that pupils' freedom of expression should not be inhibited."

Dr Cynthia McVey, a psychology lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University, said texting was second nature to a generation of young people. "They don't write letters, so sitting down to write or type an essay is unusual and difficult. They revert to what they feel comfortable with - texting is attractive and uncomplicated."

I can see the English language splitting into two forms: demotic and, well, it might as well be hieratic. If the people don't want that to happen, there is only one solution: a return to the proper teaching of English in schools. People will then at least understand both forms and know when it is appropriate to use them.

The End of Natural Justice

The idea of natural rights, although it has some problems with it, forms the basis of Common Law and, more explicitly, the American Founding. Yet it is one of NuLab's central problems when it comes to its approach to crime and justice that it doesn't understand the idea. Take, for instance, the idea now promoted that provocation should be no defense when it comes to homicide:

The Government is considering removing the centuries-old defence of provocation in murder cases.

Harriet Harman, the Solicitor General, says in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, that the law, "from a previous age", should be changed.

"It blames the victim," she says. "Men say, 'The woman wound me up; she was planning to leave me and I was upset and therefore I am not guilty of murder.' Even if a woman has done all of those things it does not justify violence, let alone violence to the point of death."

Note how she is arguing from the specific to the general. Provocation is no defense when advanced as a pretext for a husband killing his wife (not that this is common any more, given that domestic violence happens far more in non-marital relationships), so it should be no defense in any situation, for that is the upshot:

The proposed change would affect other situations as well. For example, if a young man was being racially taunted and lashed out, killing the abuser, he would no longer be able to mount a defence based on provocation.

Yet provocation in another form is to be explicitly recognized as a mitigating circumstance:

Miss Harman is considering creating a new form of defence that would allow women who kill their husbands after years of physical abuse to be treated more leniently.

There's a useful discussion of the defence of provocation as it developed in the UK and currently applies in Canada (they seem to be having the same debate there) here. In short, the defence is an admission that we are all prone to anger, that can be summoned up by the actions of another, and we cannot expect detached reflection in every case. This seems reasonable and probably a reflection of natural justice. Indeed, European law often goes further, from what I understand, in its recognition of 'crimes of passion' than Anglosphere law. Yet it seems that a single issue -- that of domestic violence -- is driving a push to abandon this important realization.

If juries are still willing to accept that provocation is appropriate in cases such as that Ms Harman outlines, then the problem is not with the legal system but with current, rather than "antiquated" social mores. If 12 average men and women think unanimously that a threat to leave him is likely to cause a red mist to descend on any man, then the country is rather different from the one NuLab thinks it rules. Changing the law is papering over the cracks. And, one might venture to suggest, is more likely to result in a larger number of acquittals of the guilty than the situation at present. Ms. Harman needs to look again at this issue with a more objective eye.

Yet It Survives in the BBC...

We must remember that the BBC is a giant bureaucracy, and as such there are pockets of decency and the public service ethos (I have always been impressed by the radio interviewers I've dealt with) among the hard-line ideologues. Yet Barbara Amiel provides a convincing case to back up the testimony of Stephen Pollard among others that the Beeb has a party line it is going to push whenever possible. She has apposite comments about the role of audience participation, which strikes me as the most dangerous move towards demagoguery since Oswald Mosley, but the main thrust of her comments is reserved for the BBC's Arabic language service:

The BBC Arabic Service appears to rule out any criticism of Arab leaders or their regimes. Apart from some cryptic and occasional references in news reports, there is no critical discussion and analysis of public policy issues such as human rights, health, housing and illiteracy. There is no discussion of government priorities, government corruption or the activities of the security forces and police. When Saddam Hussein was "re-elected" with a 100 per cent vote, the election was reported as if it were a perfectly normal exercise in democracy.

The very rare exceptions to this often carry anti-West motives: a programme last December 10 included a member of the Iraqi opposition, Hamid Al-Bayati, but the interview with him was turned into an attempt to prove that the opposition was created by foreign enemies of Iraq.

The British report on human rights problems in Iraq, released last December, was reported in the context of its having been written to justify an attack on Iraq. (An exception was a programme broadcast a few days after the release of the report, which contained genuine criticism of human rights in Iraq. The moderator, however, was firmly pro-Saddam and began with a quotation attributed to a British newspaper that threw doubt on the veracity of the whole report.)

The indictment goes on:

Unsurprisingly, the BBC Arabic Service is consistently hostile to peace between Israel and Palestine, which puts it at odds with the Foreign Office and the Government. Anti-Israel remarks are thrown into topics gratuitously. Almost two years after the UN certified that Israel had withdrawn from Lebanon, BBC Arabic Services still told listeners that Israel was in occupation. Officials of the Palestine Authority and various Palestinian organisations are frequently heard, but rejectionist voices (those against any peace settlement) are favoured. Prominent moderates such as Sari Nusseibeh are rarely heard.

This is all, of course, possible because of "the unique way in which the BBC is funded." As a state institution it proved vulnerable to Gramsci's long march. Once captured, it able to be fortified, because the funding system virtually guarantees continued funding for the favored people and endeavors.I have to think even a state-controlled BBC would be better than this, as at least it would then be vulnerable to real cuts demanded by the people. Instead it is able to present itself as an independent public good, when it fact it approaches the level of a debilitating parasite. Pardon me, but I speak as I find.

Anti-Americanism: a Real Lost Cause

In 1933, the Oxford Union voted that it would "under no circumstances fight for King and Country." It used to be thought that this motion helped persuade Hitler that the British had become soft and lost the will to fight (sound familiar?), although there is no real evidence for this view. Nevertheless, the debate cemented the reputation of Oxford as the home of lost causes.

Now it seems that the great cause of anti-Americanism, so beloved of the BBC and the Europhiles, is so lost a cause that it couldn't even get the motion "This House believes the USA is the greatest barrier to world peace" passed. It probably would have gone through quite easily in my day in the mid-80s, when the House voted quite happily in favor of nuclear disarmament, the Sandanistas and every anti-American sentiment you could think of*.

The motion was defeated 195-151, which is not as narrow a margin as the New York Times seems to think. My friend Paul Robinson spoke against the motion, and apparently received the biggest round of applause of the night for mocking the question, "What has America ever done for us?" Paul called the result "amazing," and pointed out that the House was full enough to overflow into the gallery upstairs (a common occurence in my time, but rare now apparently, such is the apolitical nature of the modern student). He also commented that the proposition speeches, with the exception of Bob Marshall Andrews MP, were useless. As Paul is personally opposed to the war for philosophical reasons, as you may have read here, this is an interesting insight into the real strength of the anti-American lobby.

Anti-Americanism is riding the crest of a wave in the UK at the moment. It will not survive a 'capricious' veto in the UN, although it might gain for a while if any breakdown in Security Council unity is not portrayed correctly. It will certainly not survive the smiles and joy of a liberated Iraqi people.

* Not always for anti-American reasons. When the House proposed, and passed, the motion "This House calls for a more united Europe," I proposed a rider to add on to the motion the words "imposed by the Red Army." As this was debated at 10 to 1 in the morning, it got passed, backed by an odd combination of Tories with foresight and Old Labour Europe-haters. Michael Gove was vehemently opposed, regarding it as a silly attempt to wreck a motion that would gain the Union publicity as a forward-thinking organization (far too many Tories believed in Europe in the mid-80s). To some extent it was, to another extent it demonstrated the latent power of the society's rules. But I can assure you, this was not an anti-American motion...

Friday, February 28, 2003

Leagal Warning

I got this from Emuse. A lovely little fake 404 warning, which contains this priceless entry:

If you are an Old European Country trying to protect your interests, make sure your options are left wide open as long as possible. Click the Tools menu, and then click on League of Nations. On the Advanced tab, scroll to the Head in the Sand section and check settings for your exports to Iraq.


Mad Cow Madness

Well, it seems like the expected vCJD pandemic will never materialize. In case you haven't been following the story, in the mid-late 80s a lot of British people, like students (like me) ate cheap meat (including brain and spinal cord tissue) from cows that had been fed meal that included other cow remains (like ground up bone). It appears that this feeding method helped transmit BSE or "mad cow disease." Initially, scientists believed that BSE and diseases like it could not pass the species barrier and infect other species, so the humans who had eaten the cheap meat were safe. Then some people started dying horribly of a human spongiform encephalopathy, called Creuzfedlt-Jakob Disease. Doctors decided this was a variant of the already known disease because it had slightly diffferent characteristics, and so it became known as vCJD. The method of transmission of this disease is still unknown.

In the early 90s, scientists decided that they did not have enough evidence to be as sure as they could be that beef was safe. Stephen Dorrell, as Health Secretary, therefore announced this to the nation. The reaction was worse than even the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) expected. Public confidence in British beef was shattered, and sales plummeted, despite the fact that feeding methods had changed. In the Department of Transport staff "restaurant," for example, it became impossible to get beef for about 6 months (I continued asking for it, of course). Drastic action was decided on to restore public confidence and a program of mass slaughter began aimed at eliminating BSE from the national herd. This cost the government billions. As a colleague of mine on rail privatization commented, "We privatized electricity to finance tax cuts. We're privatizing Railtrack to pay for a barbecue."

But the economic disaster was not the only negative consequence. Public confidence in Government scientists was shattered too. Once the possibility of transmissable vCJD had been established, the modelers got to work. If anyone who had eaten brain-related tissue in the 80s was at risk of exposure, then potentially millions could have been exposed to a horrible brain-eating disease for which there was (and still is) no cure. This, unsurprisingly, made headlines. The basic line of thinking among the public was, "They told us we were safe, now they say we're all going to die in agony. How could they be so wrong? They're either incompetent or evil." This attitude is at the root of current British luddism about GM foods, among other things.

Yet those apocalyptic models all depended on the incubation period of the disease. The shorter the incubation period, the more people would die. As time dragged on, however, and the exponential upturn in vCJD never materialized, the models got more conservative. Now it looks as if they were just plain wrong.

The disasters for british agriculture and science all depend on that putative link between BSE and vCJD. I think it is time to take seriously other possible explanations. One convincing theory, advanced by Scottish scientist George Venters, is that vCJD doesn't actually exist, being a misdiagnosis of the original Creuzfeldt disease (see Brendan O'Neill's excellent Spiked article on this theory here).

It seems that this is one area where scientists' natural caution has cost the country dear. I happen to think that the BSE crisis contributed as much as the ERM debacle to painting the Conservative party as incompetent, and so it cost the Tories dear as well. Dorrell could do little. A leak that the government was covering up a potentially horrendous health risk could have been even more damaging. But what should have been done was to put the potential risk in its proper context. As long as very few people were dying, this should have been spelled out: "We don't know enough about this disease yet to say that there's a real public health risk. Very few people have died -- more people die from being struck by lightning every year (or something like that). We're keeping an eye on the situation, but it would be silly to panic." Yet that wasn't the message that got out, and I don't think it's the message anyone tried to deliver.

In case anyone accuses me of 20/20 hindsight, I should add that I continued to eat British beef whenever I could get it throughout the panic. I felt at the time that the reaction was hysterical. Unfortunately, no-one in power seems willing to admit that yet.

I never intended this to become a warblog...

But the antiwar forces keep prodding me into it. For instance, last night I watched the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) annual film awards on BBC America (such an Anglospheric idea, isn't it?). I was a bit disappointed because the BAFTA awards always used to include TV awards too, but now they're just a pale imitation of the Oscars, although I did enjoy Stephen Fry as host. But what incensed me was three separate, increasingly egregious insertions of politics into the occasion.

First Pedro Almodovar, whose early work comes pretty close to pornography, said something largely incomprehensible about an American "chief in commander" or something like that, who had said that a moonless night would be best to attack Saddam. If I understood his argument, Almodovar said that film-making was about light and that therefore the plans to unseat Saddam were evil. One might quibble about the darkness Saddam has brought to Iraq.

Then a Mexican actor presenting an award said that last week many thousands had "voted" against the war and he was still waiting for a response. If shouting in public about something is voting, that's a pretty poor vision of democracy.

Finally, the Academy awarded its fellowship to Saul Zaentz, a producer who introduced the final page of his speech with the laughably paranoid declaration, "This will be the part that gets edited." He went on to display a woeful ignorance of his own country's Constitution by saying that he was one of the majority whose wishes were undemocratically ignored in the Presidential election, stated baldly that America was on its way to becoming a tyranny and finished with an evocation of Martin Luther King's "We shall overcome" that actually had more of the feel of Kruschev's "We will bury you." What annoyed me the most about his paranoid rant was that he knew that, as the recipient of the last and most important award of the evening, he was guaranteed a standing ovation, which he duly got. Given that he was close to calling for the overthrow of the American government, this was a disgustingly cynical ploy.

I wonder how many of the luvvies who nodded in agreement during that speech will visit a liberated Iraq as "UN ambassadors" to be photographed with smiling children.

PP: He'll never win a non-people's choice BAFTA, or an Oscar, but Bruce Willis joins James Woods and, I understand, Gary Oldman as no luvvy.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Another true face revealed by Iraq

It has been one of the demands of the British antiwar movement that the House of Commons vote on the issue of Iraq. Well, an amendment saying the case for war against Iraq has not been proven was defeated 393-199. The emerging Tory-Blairite coalition demonstrated its worth (Blair would have lost if the Tories had voted for the motion) and the reactionary left were roundly defeated. Interestingly, the man some fools are touting as the ideal Tory leader shows how gullible he is once more (this is the man who argued for the disastrous Maastricht treaty despite admitting to never having read it):

But Kenneth Clarke, Treasury chief in the last Conservative government, said peaceful solutions had not been exhausted.

"I cannot rid myself of doubts that the course to war we are now embarked on was actually decided on many months ago, primarily in Washington, and we've seen a fairly remorseless unfolding of events since that time."

A plan that involves endless compromises in the UN in the hope of achieving international unity and saving the UN from its own folly doesn't strike me as the exact definition of "remorseless." There's an expression in the UK that someone is "all mouth and trousers." Now that sounds like a definition of Ken Clarke to me...

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Faith, hope and charity

The church that offers prayers for Saddam is dying, of course. A young church-goer helps explain why in this Telegraph article:

Consider the Sunday morning service. The sermons are mostly irrelevant to young people, uninspiring and lack any reference to current affairs. The liturgy is graceless and unappealing. The Common Worship text is a hopeless mixture of ancient and modern and the modern responses use banal, cliched phrasing. Compare, "Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults, Restore thou them which are penitent" (Book of Common Prayer, 1662) with, "We are truly sorry and repent of all our sins" (Common Worship). Don't patronise young people by assuming they want simple language: according to the Social Affairs Unit, 75 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds prefer the traditional Lord's Prayer.

There is little guidance outside the Sunday service for young people who suffer mini-crises midweek, when they have a row with their flatmate, forget a work deadline or run into financial difficulties. Few churches designate someone to empathise with the problems that teenagers and twentysomethings face, and show them how God can provide an answer to some of the miseries.

Interesting that the Baptist church we're currently attending (by accident, really) uses simple, everyday language but really does address everyday issues. The Pastor is currently examining what we can learn from the life of King David -- David was a "bad dad," whose son Absolom set fire to his neighbor's lawn, and so on. He used the rape of Tamar to address the uncomfortable issue of incest and sexual abuse. All of which is exactly the sort of individual issue the CofE should be addessing, rather than the macro issues of the morality of war or, as in the 80s, the scourge of unemployment (see my 1999 Spectator article, Faith Healing, for more on this issue).

Yet the point about language is also true. The Church is, indeed must be a focus for continuity through the generations. You see this in American churches through family attendance, but in transient areas such as the entirety of the UK is becoming, that isn't possible any more. The Church has a unique selling proposition as the provider of that link. But by jettisoning it all, it fails to capitalize on a remarkable opportunity.

So keep the graceful language and the ceremony, but address the issues faced by the congregation. Then you get the best of both worlds. Instead, we have a graceless institution that seems more interested in the welfare of Iraqi dictators than the average congregant. If it can't see that, it deserves to die.

The true face of the Liberal Democrats

As the Telegraph's rather pointed headline puts it, Kennedy won't back our troops:

Mr Kennedy, who braved Labour and Tory jeers in the Commons to criticise Mr Blair's handling of the crisis, was asked on BBC Radio 4's PM programme whether he would publicly support the war if British servicemen ended up fighting in Iraq.

He said it would depend on the circumstances, including the outcome of the weapons inspections and decisions of the UN Security Council. Pressed on whether it was possible that British forces could be involved in fighting and the Liberal Democrats' position might be that they did not support that war, Mr Kennedy said: "It is possible, it is possible."

This is incredible. Are there really enough Guardianista lecturers ready to be won over that they outweigh alienating virtually the whole of the working class, which is traditionally supportive of "our boys" (the last unpopular war in that sense was probably the American Revolution)? As the Telegraph's leader says:

For a party that is touting itself as the new sensible opposition, Mr Kennedy's stance is an illogical - and distasteful - one.

Meanwhile, echoing the distastefulness, the General Synod of the Church of England had prayers for Saddam. I wonder what the downtrodden people of Iraq think of that?

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

The old debate

Slate's Moira Redmond has a light article about the differences she's found moving back to the UK from the US. It's superficial stuff, of course, and Bill Bryson does it much better, but here's her take:

People (on both sides of the ocean) ask me what is better in each place. On the U.S. side I would put the shopping experience, anything made of cotton, and family restaurants. Customer service everywhere is better. Driving, and parking, are much easier. In the U.K. I like the Indian food (the thing Brits miss most), the wonderful ready meals available in every supermarket (never found anything to match them in Seattle), and the cream (sooo much better—you do bad things to it in the USA in the search for a long shelf-life). We do old houses better, but you have much better new houses. The newspapers here are more entertaining and more diverse. (The people may be less diverse: You never meet anyone who doesn't believe in evolution and gun control.) This is going to be unpopular but I love what Americans call the "socialized medicine" here: It's cheaper, better, and fairer.

Interesting that she didn't give the correlative to driving, that getting somewhere -- anywhere, really -- without a car is so much easier in the UK.

Medicine? Hmm. Yes the medicine is cheaper (although take another look at your income tax deductions next time you say that), and may be fairer (although the gap is so much less than Brits think it is), but is it really better? If I were to move back to the UK, one of the medications I take is unavailable through the NHS and, because the private insurance system is vestigory, I'd have to pay full price for it. Basic care is about the same in the UK and US (and may even be slightly better in the UK, according to some people) but long-term preventive care is much worse in the UK, as are most forms of advanced care (an MRI, guv? Wot's one of them when it's at home?).

Anyway, comments on this are welcome as always.

Light posting alert

I have a project to finish by the end of the week, so I expect there will be light blogging from me for the next few days.

Fly Me To The Moon

Mad Mullah Abu Hamza, also known as Captain Hook, doesn't care if he's deported to the moon. Apparently, Koranic scripture specifically refers to the Moon as 'the Kingdom of God', while non-Muslim nations are outside it. A rather strange view of creation, if you ask me. His lawyer is left with the flimsy 'freedom of speech' defence, which tends not to be acceptable for what is obviously an incitement to racial hatred, if not an incitement to murder. Abu Hamza claims he's 'just as stuck as someone who's in a toilet with a minefield outside'. (Link Here). The moon, a portaloo, but not in Britain. Perhaps the French will take him, as they probably share hygenic standards.

Boss Twee

Ken Il Sung attacks the Evening Standard in the Independent today. It's a rather odd choice of newspapers, given that London's very own Boss Tweed is complaining of its lack of journalistic integrity. Livingstone wants more peppy stories about how great a city London is, etc. The man has no idea about newspapers, as with much else. There is much wrong with London, and I think things have regressed since Livingstone took charge. Any idea that the Evening Standard's journalism is the yellow press, while Livingstone is the epitomize of reason and middle-of-the-road opinion is farcical. He's obviously too concerned with adulatory publications and propaganda plastered with his visage, and like many Communists, thinks any dissent must be crushed. It's time to send him to North Korea, a far better place for him. Either that, or see if he'd like to be a human shield.

Monday, February 24, 2003

Tony the Tory

Great minds think alike. And I think like them occasionally. Now Michael Gove gives Tony Blair a passing grade:

Central to any current assessment of Mr Blair has to be the manner in which he is handling the Iraq crisis. But before considering just how impressive his stance is, and how petty his detractors, it’s worth noting that Mr Blair’s entitlement to conservative respect doesn’t rest on his foreign policy alone.

The Prime Minister has been right, and brave, to introduce market pressures into higher education by pushing through university top-up fees in the teeth of opposition from his egalitarian Chancellor. He’s been correct in conceding, to the annoyance of his wife I’m sure, that the European Convention on Human Rights gets in the way of a sane asylum policy. In dealing with the firefighters, and their absurdly selfish strike, he’s been satisfactorily resolute.

There are certainly idiocies aplenty across the range of this Government’s domestic policy, indeed that’s hardly surprising given ministers like Tessa Jowell and John Prescott in the Cabinet. The problem with putting muppets into office is that there’s no one left to pull the strings when your hands are full.

While we’re on the subject of pulling strings, the Government will also struggle to improve public services while it continues to rely on centralised funding, management and provision. But even here, Mr Blair and some of his smarter ministers, such as Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, seem to be acknowledging the limitations of their tax, spend, command and control strategy.

It is not, however, on the domestic agenda that Mr Blair is facing his biggest challenge at the moment. It is over Iraq that he is in greatest difficulty politically. All because, as a Labour Prime Minister, he’s behaving like a true Thatcherite.

That's a pretty fair assessment. The ECHR comment is pretty important in all this. Blair's biggest failing has always been his willingness to jump on any PC bandwagon around. Just entertaining the possibility that the ECHR might be more bother than it's worth is an interesting sign of evolving thought. This is all more evidence for my contention that there may yet be a Blairite-Tory coalition.

And the Telegraph agrees...

The Telegraph says basically the same things as I have about the Tories. I liked this bit in particular:

Imagine how the main evening news might look in a month's time. There would be footage of our men in action; jubilant scenes, perhaps, as John Simpson liberates Kirkuk; then, with crashing bathos, we would cut to Andrew Marr outside Conservative Central Office, telling us that Boodle is now supporting Coodle, because he has heard from Doodle that Foodle plans to give his job to Hoodle. Voters would conclude - and who could blame them? - that the Tories had given up any interest in running the country.

The Telegraph concludes that IDS' weakness is a catch-22. They're right. At the moment, I can only see hope for this ending in a deus ex machina. There may be one in the shape of a Labour split. Now wouldn't that be ironic?

Good news, but...

Well I suppose it's good news. A self-styled Muslim sheikh has been found guilty of soliciting murder. I imagine he'll be sentenced to three weeks thinking about what he did. But here's what stopped me dead:

The ground-breaking trial was the first prosecution of a Muslim cleric in Britain. It was also the first time potential jurors were banned from sitting on the jury because of their religion.

The judge agreed to a defence plea not to allow Jewish and Hindu jurors - but in the end none came forward.

I'm all for rules designed to ensure a fair trial, but this strikes me as, well, institutional racism. There should be a huge uproar over this.

Tory idiocy

The idiocy continues from two of the three factions in the Parliamentary Conservative Party. Michael Portillo used the occasion of the best Tory poll showings in years (with the exception of one anomaly) to criticize IDS's leadership. ID, of course, replied with a gaffe and the attempted launch of a new tax policy at a time when it is the Iraqi crisis that is dominating British politics. Now IDS's ally Bernard Jenkin gives us another illustration of the lack of judgement in that camp:

"I do think there is a cancer in the Conservative Party, which is an inability to allow the party to be led.

"I do think it is insanity to the point of madness to contemplate a fully blown leadership election when the country is possibly on the point of military action so that the leadership election would be taking place while our soldiers were risking their lives. I think that is obscene."

He's right on the Tory reluctance to accept leadership. This is the direct result of the Thatcher defenestration, which gave the Tory generals a taste for coups d'etats. New blood is needed to dilute the power of these generals, if you'll allow me to mix my metaphors, but of course this won't happen until the party is back level with Labour at an election.

Yet then he blows it all by going completely over the top. The tautology of "insanity to the point of madness" and the hyperbole of calling a potential leadership challenge from the modernizers "obscene" when it is, in reality, just silly, are indicative of the lack of sense and perspective in the party at the moment.

I fear that most of the current pickle the Tories are in is caused by a lack of talent in the Parliamentary party and in the quality of the advice they receive. So I'm not sure if a leadership change to David Davis -- my preferred candidate -- would be of much help.

Yet despite this pessimism, I'd imagine the Tories will perform pretty well in the local elections now fast approaching. These are often, sadly, a referendum on the performance of the national government, yet not necessarily a sign of approval for the quality of the national opposition (the election of militant Labour councils in the 80s despite the unpopularity of Labour nationally being a case in point). Really, all IDS has to do is keep his head down and he should demonstrate that being quiet can produce results.

Perfidious Old Europe

In yet more fun, Old Europe sounds off on the Bush tax cut. Don't most of them have enough problems dealing with the ill-named 'Growth and Stability' pact? As helpful as it would be for America to chime in on the failures of the Schroder budget (where does one start?), I think we respect national sovereignty enough not to chime in (in public) on their business. The presence of Secretary Snow consulting Gordon Brown on these issues does show an Anglospheric link behind all this.

Sign of the Apocalypse?

Sasha Castel and Andrew Ian Dodge of Sashacastel.com were married yesterday. Much speculation looms about the Second Coming. Congratulations to the lucky couple! I'm so dismayed about the puerile behaviour of elements within the Tory Party (on both sides) that I'm not going to bother blogging about it for a while.

Saturday, February 22, 2003

UPI Column Up

The latest Recent Research Suggests ... is up at the UPI site.

Friday, February 21, 2003

Wonders will never cease

Apologies for the late postings today. I had a final job interview today (job offered, and now I have to consider whether or not to take it) and them ,by a bizarre happenstance, I had lunch with, among others, Joe Bob Briggs. Count this as a dream come true. He's a great hero of mine and I was, to say the least, gob-smacked by the introduction. Count me a very happy man today.

Here we go again

The ancient world seems to be popular today. Junius (it seems appropriate to refer to him by his pseudonym in this case) sums up a few interesting discussions about Aristotle's economics and De Ste Croix's, erm, interesting class struggle theories about the ancient world. On all of this, I think Clare College Cambridge's Paul Cartledge sums it up best:

[In Greece and late Republican Rome] there is no doubting the high degree of self-conscious solidarity between the two great antagonistic groups of the 'rich' and the 'poor' (otherwise known as the 'few' and the 'many,' and a host of other binary terms). Since the root of their antagonism lay in differential ownershop of the means of production, and the aim of their struggle was very often the control of the organs of government, this looks very much like class struggle -- except that the classes are defined not purely by economic but by a mixture of economic and legal criteria, and the solidarity of 'the poor' was less organic and more soluble than that of 'the rich.'

Indeed. Attempting to define ancient political conflicts by reference to modern economic criteria is as fruitless as the earlier attempt to decribe, say, the optimates and populares of Republican Rome as political parties. They share important similarities, but there are also crucial differences in the way the ancients thought and operated. De Ste Croix did a great job in his investigation of the origins of the Peloponnesian (read Archidamian...) War, but for me he threw it away in his ludicrous attempt to paste modern theories on the ancient world.

Take it away, Kieran...

Being Contrarian

"Truth loving Persians do not dwell upon
The trivial skirmish fought near Marathon"

I've never been particularly impressed by Victor Davis Hanson's grasp of ancient history. He takes a very, how shall we say, Athenian view of things. If he's going to view the Thucydidean Peloponnesian War as one long conflict, he really should either extend it up to the 450s and the First Peloponnesian War (a very important event for the young democracy) and otherwise account for the Athenian-Spartan alliance in the middle of the "War," which is a real problem for the Thucydidean theory. Simon Hornblower says of the overarching Peloponnesian War theory, "Most of it ... was recorded by the great historian Thucydides and that is the most interesting thing about it" (Oxford Classical Dictionary). There seems to me, and to most Oxford classical historians, to be distinct differences between the phases of the "struggle" that make attempts to characterize it as one conflict a trifle over-amibitious. One might as well dispute the difference between World War I and World War II, because both, after all, were part of a German struggle to dominate the European Continent and to break the power of Great Britain. Well, yes, but that doesn't make it the same war.

Thus the Graves quote that begins this post is important. You need to examine both sides to take a proper stance on the overall view of a series of conflicts. Herodotus may have viewed the Persian Wars (note plural) as an ongoing conflict, but the Persians probably didn't. The Marathon expedition was probably punishment aimed at one city only, inspired by a former tyrant of Athens who thought he could win the people back to his side. The idea that Xerxes launched his invasion of Greece in vengeance for Athenian defiance is advanced by Greeks only, and is certainly exaggerated. No Persian document mentions the expedition, and Cassius Dio's evidence suggest that the defeats were unimportant to the Mede. Indeed, modern historical theory seems to suggest that the Marathon expedition was merely an unimportant offshoot of a strategy aimed at securing the eastern Aegean to thereby secure the Ionian coast. If you're going to take a "Thucydidean" holistic view of the Persian conflicts, then you should probably view the Peloponnesian Wars as a by-product of the Persian attempt to secure hegemony, because in the end it was really Persian intervention that doomed Athens, not Spartan supremacy or Athenian weakness or hubris. If you view the Persian Wars as over-arching, then they only ended when Alexander torched Persepolis. But this would be mythologizing. In fact, the wars were a series of distinct conflicts caused by differing motives between two rival groups of powers over time.

I'm not therefore convinced by Hanson's argument here. He's possibly right in his assertion, but the evidence he advances does not back him up in my opinion.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

The American Way

Kris is a great fan of Norman Rockwell. We both thought this picture was valuable in the current debate.

No further comment is needed, I hope.

Time for Palmerstonian action?

"As the Roman, in days of old, held himself free from indignity, when he could say Civis Romanus sum; so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England, will protect him against injustice and wrong" (Lord Palmerston, "Don Pacifico Debate," June 25, 1850)

A British citizen has been shot dead in Saudi Arabia. It is a little early to ascribe this definitively to anti-British feeling, but I wouldn't be surprised if that turned out to be the case. If that is so, perhaps Palmerston's dictum should be borne in mind in future.

Iraqis voting with their Dinars

If Iraqis are scared of what is about to come, they're not giving us much evidence of it. In fact, there's a property boom in Iraq. The obvious explanation is that they know good times are just around the corner:

Few people dare to say what the market will do after the war. The prospect of regime change is a risky topic. But watch what Iraqis are doing; their optimism is unmistakable. The Baghdad stock exchange is soaring, and private construction plans are pushing ahead. Sarmad Majeed, 36, whose family runs a coffee shop overhanging the Tigris in Baghdad, says he’s investing 180 million dinars in a 14,000-square-foot shopping arcade. Two months ago he paid 60 million to buy land-use rights for the project. “Six months from now it will be worth 70 million,” he predicts. An older employee, Naama Isa, recalls when the shop was so quiet that water buffalo liked to hang out in the shade beneath it. Asked why the market is surging now, both men pause a bit too long and then speak a bit too quickly. “The area is a desirable one,” says Isa. In the same breath, Majeed answers: “We love our country.”

Doesn't sound like a people defiant of evil Western capitalism and willing to die to defend their way of life to me. Instead, it sounds like the desire to make Baghdad the marketplace of the world again is pretty strong.

World War IV

The first three world wars -- the Seven Years War and its consequent global actions really count as the first, I think -- were primarily about European struggles played out on a global stage. Now, despite the weakness of the mainland European powers, a new form of cold war within Europe is being played out on the stage of the UN. At least, that seems to be the real conclusion to draw from this Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) from Rupert Darwell of Reform. As he says,

Mr. Blair rejects the old rules of the European game, which say that Europe must be led by the Franco-German duumvirate. The letter written by the eight European leaders published here last month is a direct challenge to French authority. If the views of the signatories of that letter were to prevail, it would mean the end of France's hegemonic role in Europe. It is a battle President Chirac has to win. And his main obstacle is Tony Blair.

The action of France and Germany in undermining the credibility of the threat of force, the one thing that President Chirac has admitted would make Saddam disarm peacefully, makes sense when viewed from the perspective of the internal power politics of the European Union. Thus the U.N. Security Council has become a theater onto which has been projected, to borrow the title of a celebrated history book, the struggle for the mastery of Europe.

The longer this goes on, the more it weakens Tony Blair and other leaders such as Jose Maria Aznar and Silvio Berlusconi. In the absence of a decision to go to war, that stalling would go on indefinitely.

Foreign-policy realists analyzing French policy tend to conclude that Paris will inevitably buckle down and support a further U.N. resolution authorizing force. This is a less sure thing than it appears.

True, France will make its decision on what it believes are in its interests. In this case it will be on the basis of the trade-off between the damage done to the U.N., where France has a veto at the Security Council, and being the leading state in Europe. What's troubling about that equation from the British perspective is that, nowadays, the wider world stage is less important to France than dominance of the EU. Because Mr. Blair's ability to ride the opposition within his own party to war would be enormously helped by a fresh resolution, France has an incentive to deny one to Mr. Blair.

This is important. France is willing to sacrifice the UN to retain dominance in the EU. I wonder how much applause that would get around the globe (quite a bit from West Coast Isolationists, I suspect).

I happen to disagree with much of the rest of Mr Darwell's thesis about the weakness of Tony Blair domestically. I suspect Tony Blair's position within his own party is much stronger than he concedes. Blunkett, Milburn, Clarke, Straw and others provide him with powerful backing. Brown has a bunch of loonies or has-beens on his side. I'll back Blair any day in this fight.

The last straw

That's it. IDS must go!!!

(To bemused readers, I am a Sunderland fan. This is like someone going to Green Bay and praising the Chicago Bears).

Insidious editing

This BBC story, about the reactions of British soldiers in Germany to the Trotskyist-organized peace protests, is actually quite a reasonable account of their views. But its online editing is disgusting, extracting the words "inhumane" and "relic" out of context to serve as paragraph headers. One is left with the impression that the editor despises British soldiers. How like the BBC to do it this way.

Fast food addiction?

The whole "fast food is addictive as heroin" fiasco represents a microcosm of what's wrong with science today. It's my latest TCS piece.

The Precautionary Principle and War

The Grille has an interesting set of comments based on the latest British poll figures referred to below. Steve believes there's an inherent contradiction in the figures. He's right. What it shows is, to my mind, that a thin layer of precautionary thinking covers the Brit's traditional common sense. Despite what the more sensible antiwar people suggest, that pre-emptive war and its utilitarian justification is consequentialist, and in a field such as war where uncertainty is so great any estimate of consequences must be pure guesswork, it seems obvious to me that this absolutist case against pre-emptive war is itself consequentialist in a precautionary fashion. It assumes the worst will happen and that therefore no pre-emptive war can be justified unless it can be proven beyond doubt that negative consequences will be limited. I've argued many times against the precautionary principle in science and now it appears to be being applied to war.

It's not surprising that the British people are sympathetic to the precautionary principle in science, given the experiences with salmonella and BSE in the 80s/90s, which needlessly shook public confidence in scientists' ability to predict consequences. Yet I can't see why they are so precautionary when it comes to warfare, given that the last war in which Anglo-American forces were involved that got out of control was Vietnam (or am I wrong?). There is obviously a natural reticence to go to war prevalent in any modern democracy, but this seems to me to go further. It is almost certainly a consequence of politicians, on bith sides, repeatedly lying to the public over the last decade or more. When Cabinet members say that military action will have very few negative consequences, they are simply not believed, despite the positive evidence of Afghanistan.

The need for a return to honesty in politics and an end to spin has never been greater.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Set a deadline, for Goodness' sake

Yet more evidence that British opposition to war in Iraq is weak from the Telegraph's YouGov poll (regular readers will know I have reservations about YouGov's polling methods, but as the limitations seem to bias the answers to political questions to the left, they do not really affect this point). Fully 60 percent of respondents are in favour of setting a deadline for disarmament, after which military force will be justified. It is surely time to take up that option.

Meanwhile, Blair could be doing more to convince the public that inspections are not the panacaea people think they are. This first-hand testimony by the former director of Saddam's nuclear weapons program should be used whenever possible. We should also remind people that very few of the personnel involved in the Manhattan Project knew what they were part of. Inspections have a strictly limited utility when it comes to disarmament. Practically, there are only two options: voluntary disarmament or disarmament by force. The international community has to recognize this fact, and come to a decision. Otherwise Tony Blair's fear of an Abyssinia Moment will come to pass. Personally, I'm not altogether convinced that would be a bad thing.

A Right-wing Libertarian Speaks

Yet another excellent analysis by Harry Steele, this time postulating schism within the Left and the emergence of a sensible leftist voice that will abjure the idiocies of those who argue against liberal democracy. I am not well-enough placed to be able to assess whether Harry's optimism is well-founded as regards the UK, but I sincerely hope he is right. As Simon Schama has said, Britain as a nation is passionately committed to both individual liberty (in the traditional sense) and social justice (again...), and each of those virtues needs a champion that recognizes the need for the other, and I don't think either has one at present. A decent Left is a boon to society, just as is a decent Right. In any event, I wonder if the current realignment of politics might lead to a "centrist" Blairite Labour party, shorn of the hate-mongers and SWP fellow-travelers that make up too large a proportion of the current Labour party might fill that role. The Lib Dems would then presumably become the party of the foolish Left, and wither on the electoral vine as this became clearer to the people.

Brussels Behind Closed Doors

Roger Helmer MEP has issued his latest e-mail bulletin about the latest from Britain's putative masters in Brussels. It's chock full of interesting stuff, such as his opinion on the draft EU constitution:

The so-called "Convention" of 105 parliamentarians from 25 countries, under the Chairmanship of ex-French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, has delivered itself of its draft for the first sixteen articles of the proposed EU Constitution -- expect dozens more articles in due course. It threatens a decisive shift of power from national governments to the EU super-state, covering vital areas such as economic policy, tax, justice and home affairs, foreign policy and defence. Without being alarmist, it represents the end of Britain as an independent nation.

Much attention in Brussels is focussed on the nuts and bolts, and we Conservative MEPs are working hard to propose amendments which might mitigate the damage. But given the overwhelming preponderance of federalists on the Convention, we can be sure that the final text will be anathema to Conservatives -- and indeed to all who care about their country. So the more interesting political question is what we do about the final draft when it's available.

The Labour government has said that the current text is unacceptable, but my prediction is that they will come back in a few months with some cosmetic amendments, they will declare a victory, and seek to ratify the Constitution.

The government has already said that it won't have a referendum on this huge constitutional monstrosity -- although here they may find even the Brussels federalists taking issue. It seems that the EU institutions broadly favour an EU-wide referendum, though this would require Germany to change its own constitution first.

If we get a referendum in the UK, then our approach is straightforward -- to campaign for a NO vote. If not, then my own view is that we should turn the 2004 euro-elections into a national referendum on the Constitution. The timing looks set to be ideal. But we are fighting for nothing less than British independence, democracy and self-determination.

I hadn't heard that about an EU-wide referendum. The desire of the federasts to make European nations less powerful than American states could not be better expressed.

Roger goes on to touch on European anti-Americanism, interestingly in the context of Robert Mugabe, which perhaps demonstrates the anti-Anglospherism of the French President rather neatly:

As I write (Feb 19th), President Robert Mugabe of Southern Rhodesia (or as they now style it, Zimbabwe) will arrive in Paris at the invitation of the French government. Mugabe is as evil a man, in his own way, as Saddam Hussein, though fortunately less well armed. He is a wicked despot. We hear much of the dreadful wickedness he has inflicted on white farmers, but he has done far more harm, at least in terms of numbers, to his indigenous black population, beating, starving and killing his opponents.

France has invited Mugabe despite the protests of Britain and other EU countries. For the first time in my life I feel a twinge of sympathy for the otherwise odious Peter Tatchell, who has gone to Paris intending to undertake a citizen's arrest.

The undercurrent of anti-American feeling in France has also broken out again, threatening our vital transatlantic relationship, and creating a split between "Old" and "New" Europe which even the BBC has noticed and is quoting with relish. And President Chirac's harsh criticisms of those accession states who have expressed support for the USA has been widely attacked in the media across Europe. According to the BBC, his remarks are creating a tide of euro-scepticism in the accession states, which is interesting as they will soon be holding referenda on joining the EU.

It seems that Chirac has yet to learn that to be President of France in the twenty-first century is not quite the same as being Charlemagne or Napoleon.

Next, a useful tidbit about the German economy:

Figures announced this month show that German unemployment increased by a massive 10% to 4.6 million in January -- that's around 11% of the workforce. There are a number of reasons for this, including the state of the world economy and the appallingly restrictive employment laws which successive German governments have failed to address. But there is no doubt that the euro's one-size-fits-all interest rate is too high for the German economy -- and locked into the single currency, there is absolutely nothing they can do about it. And the recent appreciation of the euro to (as I write) $1.08, while welcome to the euro-luvvies, is a damaging blow for German exports.

And then, a useful illustration of how damaging Brussels-style regulation is for civil society:

Charity shops are a familiar scene on our high-streets and a vital fund-raising mechanism for good causes. Yet they are constantly at risk from EU legislation. A couple of years ago it was the Product Safety Directive, which would have required full traceability for all goods sold -- effectively an impossibility for voluntarily donated goods. Now, there's a threat of VAT on charity shops.

At a reception in Brussels organised by my London colleague Theresa Villiers MEP, I met Lekha Klouda, Executive Secretary of the UK Association of Charity Shops, and she came up with a brilliant quote that deserves wider circulation: "Charities are scared of Brussels legislation. They're afraid they'll be killed by accident".

I am of course very aware of the concerns of other traders about competition on the high-street from charity shops with low rates and free labour. Ms. Klouda assured me that the proportion of new goods sold in charity shops was small and not increasing.

But the most interesting item in the newsletter is a brief quote from a senior British diplomat, which reveals exactly how the FCO has sold British democracy down the river:

Sir John Kerr, a senior British civil servant working in Brussels on the "Constitutional Convention", to Jens-Peter Bonde, a Danish MEP who sits on the Convention (private telephone conversation): "It would set a very bad precedent if members of the Convention were able to table proposals".

(The Convention has systematically ignored submissions from sceptics -- and the so-called "Praesidium" of the Convention has consistently ignored the views of the Convention as a whole!).

Obviously, these chaps learnt nothing from a small gathering in Philadelphia a couple of hundred years ago.