England's Sword 2.0

Monday, May 12, 2003

Interesting Blog

I don't agree with many of his conclusions, but Reason of Voice is a nice, well-argued centrist blog. And the formating issue is exactly why I abandoned that template very early on in my blogging career.

Nice to be back at work

In case you were wondering, i had an enjoyable first day as a Senior Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. It's an organization I've respected for a long time, and, although it's been a while since I studied the climate change issue, there's still a lot going on there. Expect to see a few more posts on that subject in the future...

I also had the pleasure of meeting Hanah Mechtis, who runs Quare. As she says, it doesn't rhyme with square.

Caught Short

Blair rules by diktat, rages Short. It's taken her 6 years to realise that? Seriously, this is only good news for the Tories, but even that is small beer. After the damp squib of the hospitals rebellion, Short's resignation can't damage Blair within Labour. What it can do, however, is give the Tories another stone to throw at the Government for being divided. The question then is whether the electorate cares. Historically, they have -- divided parties lose. But in this case, something different may happen. The divide in labour could well be seen as being between sensible realists and loonies. Part of the problem with division in the past has been that the public viewed the loonies as dangerous. In New Labour, they aren't, and won't be as long as Labour maintains a huge majority. Labour's dominance enables it to keep the loonies under control, so as long as we continue to support Labour in vast numbers, the public reasoning might go, we don't have to worry about the loonies. What needs to happen is for the media to give the public the impression that the division is more serious than it is. And you know, the BBC and its ilk might just be stupid enough to do that...

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Anti update

Auntie Beeb gives us the views of two major Labour party figures on anti-Americanism. First up, Lord Robertson, former Defence Secretary and now Secretary-General of NATO:

"Anti-Americanism I see not as a criticism of individual policies or even an individual president. It's a sort of racialist view that the USA is wrong in principle and wrong in practice.

"It is a generic attack on America and American standards and American values and approaches.

"I'm very worried about anti-Americanism because I think it is deeply corrosive to a relationship that is critically important for the overall security of the world.

"These attitudes are deeply worrying, deeply corrosive and have to be tackled head on. If they're not, then the future is bleak indeed.

"If they continue to be criticised in that unreasoning and emotive way then I see disengagement being the outcome and that being much more dangerous to all of us than American involvement or interventionism."

Next, Jack Straw:

"I am worried about trite anti-Americanism in this country," he told the programme.

"I think that people get obsessed about the United States because of its immense wealth and power. I think it's just become fashionable, this kind of anti-Americanism, and it's a convenient parody.

"If you look at the United States of course there are things that we would not necessarily approve of, but if you look at the US's contribution to where we are today, it has been immense and for the good.

"First of all they did literally save Europe from the most terrible tyranny in the Second World War but in addition if you look at IT, you look at biotech, the things that these days keep us going, make our lives happier and healthier, it's to America that we owe a huge amount.

"People need to remember that."

Couldn't have put it better myself. Thanks, chaps!

Good riddance

David Mellor has left the Tory party. About time, if you ask me. Mellor was a disgrace as a Minister and a politician, whose sleazy lifestyle, appalling treatment of his wife and ties to the PLO helped contribute to the current negative image of the Conservative Party. A lot of people turned their backs on the Tories as a result of the actions of this man and his like, and I imagine they'll begin to question whether the Tories are doing something right now...

Thumbs up (or was it thumbs down?)

You may or may not be pleased to hear I've decided to keep the comments section going. As well as the benefits comments sections bring to blog readers, on balance I think that my original opinion has often been refined (and on occasion changed) by a good debate in the comments section. So the comments section is spared, but I won't be policing it quite as closely as I have done in the past few months. Not that I've needed to intervene much -- for the most part I have remarkably civil posters compared with other blogs. Actually, that reminds me of one thing I've been meaning to say for a while. I'm always amazed when other bloggers tell me about their hate mail. I have never received a hateful e-mail, and the number of blogroaches this site has attracted is miniscule considering its reasonably large readership. For that, I thank all of you.

Raddickal thoughts

While we're on the subject of whimsy, a novelist I know informs me that the literati are going nuts for the Amazon.com book reviews of one Henry Raddick. An example:

Surviving Divorce: A Handbook for Men by Gay Search

A well-written and challenging book which I bought for my Uncle Sandy as he attempts to cope with the aftershock of divorce. Unfortunately he thought the author's name was a coping strategy being suggested and he refused to read it.

Another friend suggests that this must be William Donaldson, the man behind Henry Root (he wrote outrageous letters to prominent figures, then published their often unintentionally hilarious replies), on the basis that Raddick might be an anglicization of Radex, the Latin for root. Possible, but even if there is no connection the reviews themselves are well worth perusing.

Warning warning

The Telegraph article Warning: this salmon may contain fish contains some smile-worthy examples of idiotic legalese. Quite how an American Airlines peanut packet qualifies for "Britain's top 10 silliest packaging instructions" is beyond me, but the point is well taken.

On a tangent, this reminds me of one of my favorite Bloom County strips. Steve Dallas had been beaten up by Sean Penn while trying to take a photograph of him throwing up. The gang wondered who to sue. Sean Penn? No, he might come back for more -- never sue psychopathic celebrities. Mrs Penn (Madonna at the time, of course)? No, she might react even worse than her husband. The Nikolta Camera Company? Yes! They have lots of cash and can be sued for failing to include a warning not photograph dangerous celebrities on their equipment. The strip finished with Opus the Penguin waving a flag in salute to America, "land of the lawsuit". How easily we forget that there was a time when Sean Penn was regularly portrayed as a violent idiot...

Friday, May 09, 2003

Why anti-?

I'm not too sure I understand this anti-America stuff. I was reading Iain's post below about this Drabble woman and just couldn't wrap my head around it. Oh sure, I understand that some people have perfectly reasonable reasons to dislike America. We are not a perfect country, individually or as a whole. But I've also come to suspect that many of the most avowed anti-American folk share the exact same ideals that Americans do. We believe in freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc., etc. We believe that everyone should have a basic chance to work hard and do good. We go to church regularly. We give to charities more than most people on the planet. Our system of government is of, by, and for us - meaning our politicians answer to their constituency first, their party second. Our society is high-trust. Private property rights are very secure. And contrary to most Europeans cherished belief, all Americans have access to healthcare here (just not insurance and the government covers that gap with medicaid - as it is doing right now for my sister).

In short, America is a good place. These anti-Americans sneer and use McDonald's as an example of our culture. Such shallow intellect only makes the anti-Americans look both snide and ignorant at the same time. It's sad in a way. America, as well as other Anglosphere countries, holds itself to a high ideal of behavior. When she doesn't perform to that ideal, her own citizens will beat themselves up over it (the main source of native anti-Americans). The truly awful countries on this planet, the ones everyone should be anti- about, have no ideals of behavior, no moral compass to guide them And yet, these (non-native) anti-Americans blithely hate us and embrace them. In my opinion, that's really just lame.

Kris Murray
Iain's Wife

RIAA hacking

Samizdata has a few recent posts on file-sharing and hacking. A new law does allow the RIAA to hack into computers suspected of filesharing and distribute programs with deleterious effects. I am fully opposed to this. While filesharing is definitely theft, allowing any party to take the law into its own hands is wrong. After all, if someone steals my property, should I be allowed to trash his residence while looking for it? In addition, the RIAA's programs can also wreak additional damage (the potential loss of data) on the culprit, which is a side effect not determined by the government or law, but by the RIAA. Again, I draw the parallel to conventional theft. I would surely breach the law if I decided to vandalize the property of someone who had stolen mine.

Regime Change: London

After Ken Il Sung's outburst at school (Here are the student's mature questions), one wonders what the aftermath will be. The critics are right about the deleterious effects of Livingstone's rhetoric on American tourism. It isn't the sentiment, but the words used (such as hoping for the 'overthrow' of the Bush administration). In addition, he's been using London money (funded from council tax, paid by, among others, American expats living in London) to fund anti-war and anti-Bush 'artists'. Given the quality of protest poetry, one wonders how he can claim he's getting good value for his money. But this is the same Ken, who, as leader of the Greater London Council, expanded budgets with wholly farcical jobs pandering to those he views as 'vulnerable groups'. Those groups nowadays include organizations going by the name of "Friends of Al-Aqsa", who openly support Hamas and Islamic Jihad. So yes, Red Ken knows all about human rights, and is well qualified to preach on it. Still, while one may criticise the jobs for special interest groups, they are still better value than funding protestors with government money. Yes, the same man who accuses the US of 'vote buying on the Security Council' and calls Bush 'corrupt' uses public money for his own political interests. He claimed London's economy would suffer to the tune of £1 billion, but I fail to see how this justifies paying coffeeshop poets money, or how Ken could claim that Artists United For Peace are an effective way of communicating an anti-war message, even if one assumes it is acceptable to use local government money to advocate those views.

At least this gives Michael Bloomberg a chance to atone. As London and New York are sister cities, I hope he refuses to meet with this apologist for both terrorism and communism next time he's in London, or Ken's in NYC. Besides, I doubt many of Bloomberg's constituents would be happy that he'd be meeting a supporter of Hamas, or at the very least, someone who keeps their company.

UPDATE: The Evening Standard has a list of some of Ken's bon mots.

No more posts today

I plan to spend my last day of freedom with my wife and daughter as much as I can. So here's some reading I wanted to comment on, but can't yet.

On the real state of play in Iraq, read this (hint -- it's not as bad as the media suggest, if you can believe that).

On another "conservative" move from a Labour minister, try here. I'm not a fan of mandatory sentences in general, but for the very worst crimes there's a serious case for them, as a forthcoming Civitas monograph of mine should show.

And if you want to blow your top about relativism, try this. Money quote, from a condemned murderer awaiting execution:

"We are supposed to be vicious and cruel, but this goes beyond anything that anyone could ever do."

Ivan Milat, Adolf Hitler, Neville Heath, Tim McVeigh, Adolf Eichmann, Denis Neilsen, Jeffrey Dahmer... Need I go on?

Paul Robinson is visting us over the weekend, so I hope some interesting questions will arise from that, which I hope we'll be able to explore here.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Change for change's sake

Here we go again. Whenever a British Government's judicial policy is causing problems, they suggest abolishing the practice of wearing wigs and/or robes in court. I would have thought the photograph on the Beeb's website was a good enough illustration of the benefits of the practice.

Oh, and just what the Dickens is "Baroness Scotland said that as a democrat people had a right to a say in their system of justice" supposed to mean? BBC English is not what it was...

Just like that

Harry Hatchet's Online Opinions has a new contributor, a British corporate lawyer posting as "Marcus." His first post is an excellent summation, from a leftish standpoint, of the arguments about whether or not the recent war was just. Scroll down to "Iraq balance sheet" to read it (Drabble that blogger archive bug!)

Drivel from Drabble

My initial reaction to Margaret Drabble's rant in the Telegraph today was the same as Stephen Pollard's: just go away, you tiresome little woman. However, on reflection I think it best to confront this woman head-on and ask her the difficult questions here spohisticated friends will not. So here goes. So here comes my first ever Fisking:

My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me, like a disease. It rises up in my throat like acid reflux, that fashionable American sickness. I now loathe the United States and what it has done to Iraq and the rest of the helpless world.

It's an emtional, not a rational reaction, then, Margaret. Glad to see you staking out the basis of your argument so early on. And what America -- and Britain -- has done for Iraq is to rid it of an evil tyrant who gassed and shredded his own people, who suppressed dissent brutally and who stood ready, when the opportunity was right, to sponsor terrorism in Israel, America and probably Britain too by financing and arming the terrorists. And for the helpless in the rest of the world, it has held out the hope that they too might be freed by people who recognize their suffering. Tyrants the world over sleep less easily in their bloody beds. If you think this is a bad thing, you are possessed.

I can hardly bear to see the faces of Bush and Rumsfeld, or to watch their posturing body language, or to hear their self-satisfied and incoherent platitudes. The liberal press here has done its best to make them appear ridiculous, but these two men are not funny.

Again, an emotional reaction. And you are happy to see them ridiculed rather than see their arguments addressed. Oh, this is a firm basis you're building here...

I was tipped into uncontainable rage by a report on Channel 4 News about "friendly fire", which included footage of what must have been one of the most horrific bombardments ever filmed. But what struck home hardest was the subsequent image, of a row of American warplanes, with grinning cartoon faces painted on their noses. Cartoon faces, with big sharp teeth.

It is grotesque. It is hideous. This great and powerful nation bombs foreign cities and the people in those cities from Disneyland cartoon planes out of comic strips. This is simply not possible. And yet, there they were.

How hideous that men o'war should have figurines of naked women attached to their fronts. How horrible that army regiments should have affectionate nicknames. How inhuman that soldiers, sailors and airmen should seek to add some little personality to their scientific machines of death. If war is dehumanizing, here is evidence that some airmen, who probably play with their children affectionately among cartoon images, are attempting to resist that. It's happened throughout history, from the Greeks who painted intricate designs on their arms and armor to the RAF who painted sharks' teeth on their planes. This is avariant of that, not something new the Americans have invented.

We are accustomed to these sobriquets; to phrases such as "collateral damage" and "friendly fire" and "pre-emptive strikes". We have almost ceased to notice when suicide bombers are described as "cowards". The abuse of language is part of warfare. Long ago, Voltaire told us that we invent words to conceal truths. More recently, Orwell pointed out to us the dangers of Newspeak.

Not quite sure what you mean by the suicide bomber bit, Margaret. Are you perhaps implying that people who go into pizza parlors or school buses and blow up families and children are somehow brave? In any event, "friendly fire" describes such incidents perfectly and exactly. Would you prefer "accident"? I thought not.

But there was something about those playfully grinning warplane faces that went beyond deception and distortion into the land of madness. A nation that can allow those faces to be painted as an image on its national aeroplanes has regressed into unimaginable irresponsibility. A nation that can paint those faces on death machines must be insane.

Okay, now we're really going off the deep end. You accuse an entire nation -- all the children and elderly, left and right, black and white, unemployed and plutocratic -- all of them, without distinction of being insane because of something soldiers have been doing throughout history? There is no rational basis for this accusation, Margaret, which rather draws us to the conclusion that it is you, not America, that has gone off her rocker.

There, I have said it. I have tried to control my anti-Americanism, remembering the many Americans that I know and respect, but I can't keep it down any longer. I detest Disneyfication, I detest Coca-Cola, I detest burgers, I detest sentimental and violent Hollywood movies that tell lies about history.

Well, I suppose someone else could have said "I detest the omnipresence of the BBC, I detest Vimto, I detest bangers, I detest sentimental and violent Ealing movies that tell lies about history" and thereby have damned Britain as well. But let's leave that aside and ask the question, Margaret, "why? Why do you detest these things?" I suspect it might be because they're popular the world over, and therein lies the clue. You detest these things because of their popularity, don't you, Margaret? You detest them because they're, well, vulgar.

"The language of Shakespeare," the commentator intoned, "has conquered Vietnam." I did not note down the dialogue, though I can vouch for that sentence about the language of Shakespeare. But the word "dollar" was certainly repeated several times, and the implications of what the camera showed were clear enough.

The elderly Vietnamese man was impoverished, and he wanted hard currency. The Vietnamese had won the war, but had lost the peace.

Just leave Shakespeare and Shakespeare's homeland out of this squalid bit of revisionism, I thought at the time. Little did I then think that now, three years on, Shakespeare's country would have been dragged by our leader into this illegal, unjustifiable, aggressive war. We are all contaminated by it. Not in my name, I want to keep repeating, though I don't suppose anybody will listen.

Dollars, of course, appear in Shakespeare:

Sweno, the Norways' king, craves composition:
Nor would we deign him burial of his men
Till he disbursed at Saint Colme's inch
Ten thousand dollars to our general use.
Macbeth, Act I, scene ii

That aside, it seems from her objection that Drabble is ignorant of both the shared history of the Anglo-American language (perhaps Bill Bryson might like to sit her down for a cup of tea and remind her that a lot of 'quintessentially English' expressions are in fact American in origin) and the realities of economics. How dreadful that the free market should reduce a man to want to hold money that's actually worth something.

America uses the word "democracy" as its battle cry, and its nervous soldiers gun down Iraqi civilians when they try to hold street demonstrations to protest against the invasion of their country. So much for democracy. (At least the British Army is better trained.)

While Drabble has a smidgeon of a point about the relative crowd-control capabilities of the British and American armies -- one that Americans have been happy to concede -- this is a dreadful distortion of what has happened. Americans have allowed demonstration after demonstration to go ahead, allowing Iraqis the freedom that have been denied so long. Unsurprisingly, they have exercised it. When things turn ugly, however, I don't think there's a government in the world that has not used force to suppress potential riots. Sometimes this goes badly wrong, as it did at Amritsar, but that doesn't invalidate the overall approach. Democracy is a different thing from ochlocracy, the rule of the mob, and Drabble should know that.

America is one of the few countries in the world that executes minors. Well, it doesn't really execute them - it just keeps them in jail for years and years until they are old enough to execute, and then it executes them. It administers drugs to mentally disturbed prisoners on Death Row until they are back in their right mind, and then it executes them, too.

They call this justice and the rule of law.

Oh, this old canard. "America" does not execute minors. Some states do, some states don't. The Federal nature of the Constitution allows that. large parts of the country think execution of minors and the mentally infirm is wrong, others think it is just punishment for dreadful crimes. Don't accuse America of something it is not guilty of.

America is holding more than 600 people in detention in Guantánamo Bay, indefinitely, and it may well hold them there for ever. Guantánamo Bay has become the Bastille of America. They call this serving the cause of democracy and freedom.

Britain held Napoleon offshore in case some idiot lawyer tried to serve a writ of habeas corpus on him. Churchill resolved that similar tactics would have to be used for senior Nazis, too. War is not something to which normal rules can be applied, especially when the enemy refuses to abide by the most basic rules established by civilized nations. Defending democracy and freedom against the truly evil is a worthwhile proposition. Yes, there may be innocent parties held in Guantanamo, although I doubt it, but mistakes, unless systemic, do not invalidate the overall approach.

As for the point about minors held there, at what age does a boy become a man in the relevant culture? Or should we impose our cultural imperialism by defining men back into boys? (Perhaps we should, but Drabble doesn't appear to have considered this point).

A great democratic nation cannot behave in this manner. But it does. I keep remembering those words from Nineteen Eighty-Four, on the dynamics of history at the end of history, when O'Brien tells Winston: "Always there will be the intoxication of power… Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - for ever."

We have seen enough boots in the past few months to last us a lifetime. Iraqi boots, American boots, British boots. Enough of boots.

"There's no discharge from the war..." Yes, indeed, enough of boots. Enough of Saddam's boot stamping on a human face, which it -- or one of his dynasty's -- would have done for ever if certain brave nations had not cried enough. Drabble actually seems to be in favor of boots stamping on human faces as long as she doesn't have to hear about them, in countries far away of which she knows little.

I hate feeling this hatred. I have to keep reminding myself that if Bush hadn't been (so narrowly) elected, we wouldn't be here, and none of this would have happened. There is another America. Long live the other America, and may this one pass away soon.

Long live splendid isolation, long live moral relativism, long live navel-contemplating idiocy! Saddam had been killing his people for a quarter of a century. September 11 would have happened even if Bush had lost. The causal chain of events seems to have got wrapped around Drabble's neck, cutting off the oxygen to her brain.

There is no argument here. A dislike of vulgarity combined with a patronizing view of the world have led a great author to reveal her stupidity in public. I can cope with rational, well-thought out arguments against American actions, but this is beneath contempt. In the end, I revert to my original reaction: go away, you tiresome woman.

History is bunk

If it's written by the Faculty of Education at Cambridge University, that is. According to their publication Hindsight: GCSE Modern History Review, life in 1920s America was pretty dreadful, but the Maoist Great Leap Forward simply seemed a bit harsh. Junius has the full story.

Firm Foundation

After all the posturing and threats over Tony Blair's Foundation Hospitals scheme, including a threat that the rebellion would be so large it would be bigger than that over Iraq, the Bill passed comfortably. This shows two things, I suggest.

First, Tony Blair is currently in complete command of the House and his Party. When there is an outside threat to Labour as a whole, such as the Tories voting against this Bill, many who express disquiet at Blair's direction will nevertheless follow him. The party is therefore not split in any meaningful sense. Blair can get his most radical centrist ideas passed without any serious obstruction. There may be an awkward squad of 60 of so, which by historical standards is a large number, but Blair's majority and command of the rest of his party means that he need devote less attention to them than, say, John Major had to give to the Maastricht rebels. There isn't even the threat of them resigning en masse and joining the Liberal Democrats, as for many of them the Lib Dems aren't authoritarian enough. This Blairite dominance has both good and bad consequences for the Tory Party. First, it means that they will have to concentrate more on their message and unity, as there is no prospect of Labour rebels destabilizing the government for them. On the other hand, it means that victory is further off than it seemed last week, because it is rare for a dominant governing party to fall without some major internal schism.

Second, the fundamental weakness of the Left's position is revealed by arguments like this one:

Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, was repeatedly interrupted by Labour backbenchers worried that foundation hospitals would have an unfair advantage over other hospitals in the NHS.

It's the old levelling down argument. Excellence is bad because it shows up those who are underperforming. Everyone must, in the name of fairness, be subjected to the same level of healthcare, however bad it is. The politics of envy is still with us. One might suggest that the best solution to the postcode lottery is to allow free choice, so that people can go to better schools some way away or ask ambulance drivers to take them to St. Gooddoctor's rather than St. Useless, but that's not fair. The politics of envy are still with us.

In fact, the more I think of it, the more I feel the Tories should have voted with the Government on this Bill. No, it's not perfect, and is more muddled than clear thinking, but by expressing their support for the PM here, they could have driven a wedge into the Blairite coalition and perhaps inspired a bigger rebellion. The more backbenchers and the nation think of the PM as "Tony the Tory" the more likely a Labour schism is to appear. By voting against him, the Tories may well have increased his control.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Prime Directives

I used to read Jewish World Review regularly. Heck, I used to contribute to it! Anyway, I haven't read it much recently, so thanks to Rand Simberg for pointing me to James Lileks' brilliant diatribe on the International Criminal Court. His last line sums up the entire concept:

Who died and made them Capt. Kirk?

It's funny that some of the people who declaim about international sovereignty the most in relation to Iraq are also great fans of the ICC idea. If you believe in legitimate sovereignty, you should also believe in the idea that nations that pass certain tests possess the right to self-determination. That includes, I have to say, the right to wage war on countries that the nations consider threats. It is, as Blackstone might put it, an auxiliary right of legitimate nationhood. We need to get beyond the ideas that nations in and of themselves are equal. A legitimate nation draws its legitimacy from the uncoerced consent of the governed. Anyone else forfeits the rights of a sovereign state in my book. This is probably a bit simplistic, but it's the gist of my belief, and what else are you gonna do at 1:12 in the morning?

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

My own personal thank you

Ya'll have been wonderful. Earlier, in January, I said I felt like Donna Reed in "It's A Wonderful Life". I meant it. Your overwhelming outpouring of support was vital to our survival. But there's more. The regular, daily input you've given this website over the past year and a half, your vibrant feedback, and the sense of community you've given Iain and myself - especially during these difficult months. We are just so grateful and feel so blessed, thanks to y'all. I am so very proud of my husband for so many, many reasons but your loyalty to his work is one of the top reasons for my pride. I want to thank all of the visitors to this website. Thank you so very much. Thank you with all my heart. Just thank you.

Kris Murray
Iain's wife

Employment Announcement

Barring any unexpected developments, as of next Monday I shall be starting work at the Competitive Enterprise Institute as a Senior Fellow, specializing in analysis of the arguments over global climate change. I'm happy to be working with the fine team of experts there and see this as a position full of potential. I'm happy to say that I'll be able to continue writing for Tech Central Station and UPI, even though my pieces there aren't going to be as accessible as they were thanks to the strange marketing decision to limit access to the UPI web site. If you get the National Journal, there should be a picture and brief biographical sketch about me in next week's People section.

There will be negative consequences for the blog, though. I shan't be posting during work hours, although I hope still to provide an interesting selection of links, comment and analysis after hours every day (and I shall be posting more at weekends). Moreover, I think I shall have to take the Comments section down. Reading and policing the comments section has taken up more and more blog-related time as it has become more popular and, while I've had the time to be able to do that recently, I won't have the time after Monday. I'm sorry about that, as I think it added to the site.

Finally, a word of thanks for all your support. Those of you who hit the tip jar after my sudden dismissal in January not only helped me and my family through a very difficult time financially, but also provided me with the moral affirmation I desperately needed at the time. It is to my great shame that there are still a few of you who donated via Paypal who I have not yet thanked personally and I hope to rectify that before I go back to work. I also hope I have been able to keep posting items of interest and hope to do that for quite some time to come yet. Again, thank you all so much.

Alternative Service

Private Eye's St Albion Parish News (vicar Rev. A.R.P.Blair MA (Oxon)) has some things to say on the non-appearence so far of Weapons of Mass Destruction. This won't be around forever, so here's the relevant excerpt:

With the memory of Easter still fresh in our minds, the cries of “Allelulia” fading on the air, it grieves me to say that I still hear around the parish odd voices of doubt and disbelief.
“It’s all very well, Vicar,” they say, “but where are those ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that you told us Satan was preparing to unleash?”
Well, for goodness sake, there’s no pleasing some people, is there?
“Show us the weapons,” they cry, “and we will believe!”
Doesn’t that ring a few bells from scripture?
And what was the reply? For those of you with short memories, let me remind you! The reply came loud and clear, echoing down the ages, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed!”.
You see, it’s that simple! I don’t want to get too heavy and theological here, but this is an important point which all the doubters have really got to start taking on board!
Just because you can’t see something, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
Isn’t that the whole basis of our faith?
I remember when we were all starting out on our journey, a lot of people used to ask, “What is this Third Way that you keep telling us about, Vicar? We can’t see it.”
But, hey, don’t those people look silly now, when everyone now realises that it was there all along!
If people hadn’t been so visually impaired (no offence to Mr Blunkett!), they would have recognised it right from the start, instead of acting like a lot of Doubting Thomases!
And what about all the wonderful improvements we’ve been making in the parish -- to our schools and hospitals?
People say that they can’t see these either. But we all know they exist, and that we have every right to be proud of them!
And sometimes the opposite is true, isn’t it? People see things which aren’t there, like all this crime that’s supposed to be on the streets, that we know perfectly well doesn’t really exist.
So where does that leave us? I’ll tell you where. We all have to believe that those weapons of mass destruction exist just as we have to “believe” all the other articles of our faith.
In fact, I’m going to suggest that at our family worship this week we say a slightly amended version of the Creed, to come just before we give each other the sign of war:
“We believe in the Weapons of Mass Destruction, Visible or Invisible...” and then continue as usual.
So, let’s have an end to all this negative in-putting, shall we? Let the Good News go out loud and clear this Eastertide.
“Our enemy Satan is o’erthrown,” (or overthrown, as we say now!)
There has been a regime change in Hell! Rejoice! Rejoice! (The Little Book of Gloats).
Yours in victory,

Note for American readers: for years, the satirical magazine Private Eye has had a feature parodying the current Prime Minister. There was the "Dear Bill" letters, supposedly written by Denis Thatcher, then "The Secret Diary of John Major, aged 47 3/4." St Albion Parish News follows in that tradition, presenting governmental goings-on in the manner of a Church newsletter, with the Reverend Tony playing the role of the young, hip, trendy but ever-so-sure of himself incumbent.

PP: Just to make it clear, I believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and people who are saying that lack of public evidence to date proves it didn't are being credulous. But I thought this was particularly good at demonstrating how a lot of Brits think of Tony Blair as holier-than-thou. This is a pretty big crime in British politics, for good or ill, which is why we haven't had a Bill Bennett for years.

Good news for the Anglosphere

With the words "I certainly don’t see Australia becoming part of some Anglosphere," Australian PM John Howard has done more good for the Anglospheric cause than any other statement by a world leader I can think of. This may seem a crazy thing to say, but bear with me.

Howard was replying to a question that asked whether countries like Australia are

going to have to make some fundamental strategic decision whether to ally with the US or with Europe, or perhaps go with a sort of Anglo-Saxon bloc as some have suggested?

In rejecting the idea of a formal Anglospheric supranational body, Howard is actually in line with mainstream Anglospheric thought. We do not want an Anglosphere Union, or anything like that, despite what some have said. Check out the Anglosphere Primer, and you will see no mention of such a body. In fact, as Jim Bennett commented,

Not having to choose between geography and history is the essence of the Anglosphere message. If only Tony Blair would realize this.

The Anglosphere is about deepening contact between countries where such contact will lead to a stronger, safer, freer world for those countries. This can be done by pursuing ideas on individual policy matters without an overarching framework. It is also about flexibility: just as we don't want Australia to cut itself off from its Asian neighbors, we don't want its Asian identity illusion to cut itself off from those countries that most share its values and culture. Howard recognizes this. In a speech to the US Congress, he said:

Our relationship has been long. The ties between us are strong. The bonds, on a people to people basis between Americans and Australians are deep and rich. This relationship is nourished by many things. It is nourished by shared history. It is nourished by common commitment to democratic ideals and values. And it is nourished by our deep and resolute commitment to the role of the individual in society and the place of the family in the national framework of both of our nations.

The Anglosphere is not just an "anglo-saxon bloc." It is an idea that encompasses India, Singapore, South Africa and Kenya as much as Britain and the US. Shared history, common commitment to democratic ideals and values, a shared legal framework and other valuable institutions are its hallmarks. Australia is part of the Anglosphere, as properly defined. But if the Anglosphere is defined as a racist Anglo-Saxon hedgehog union, a bizarre simulacrum of the monster in Brussels, it should not be, and neither should anywhere else.

Another gem

Another one from Roger:

David Bowe, a Labour MEP, at a lunch-time briefing on the mid-term review of the CAP with Lord Whitty of DEFRA: "I'm here to represent the interests of the consumers, not the producers!"

I think I'm here to take due account of the interests of both farmers and consumers. Indeed at a deeper level, I hope the interests of British farmers and British consumers are not that far apart. We all want fresh, wholesome local food to be available to affordable prices. We all want the countryside to be well-maintained, and to be sustainable.

I think it was Boris Johnson who suggested that when Tony Blair said Labour was "for the many, not the few," Tories would reply they were "for the many and the few." Incidentally, wouldn't "for the many, not the few" make an excellent slogan for the fascist BNP?

Ireland, Europe and the USA

Roger Helmer MEP has sent out his latest e-newsletter, including this little gem:

I awoke in Brussels on April 30th to hear BBC World Service doing a piece on the Czech Republic. They were trying to draw a comparison between on Czechs and the Irish, on the rather tenuous grounds that the Czechs apparently feel Celtic, and are fans of Irish pubs and Riverdance.

The BBC simply asserted -- without discussion or analysis -- that the Irish "economic miracle" was the result of EU membership, so the Czechs could expect to do equally well in the EU.

Of course the EU has dumped truck-loads of money on Ireland. Ironically Ireland's net annual receipts from the EU have been about the same as the UK's net contributions. We could cut out the middle-man and just write an annual cheque for £3 billion to Dublin.

But according to my good friend Patricia McKenna, an Irish MEP, a much greater factor has been US investment. Ireland receives more US inward investment per capita than any other country. A recent study showed that 80% of US investors in Ireland had CEOs with Irish connections. So they come for family reasons -- and of course for the English language.

Another factor is the currency. About the time Ireland joined the EU, it also broke the link between the Irish Punt and the £ Sterling. Many economists believe that having their own interest rates and monetary policy was a major factor in Ireland's success. Joining the euro has reversed that advantage, and Ireland is already feeling the pain of inflation from having the wrong interest rate.

Needless to say, I was immediately on to the BBC complaints line -- which (in case you'd forgotten!) is 0870 0100 222.

Ireland probably has stronger connections to the US than the UK. I wonder if Ireland should be the first country the US invites to join a TAFTA? It would sail through Congress. I wonder what the reactions of the Irish people and Parliament would be...

Monday, May 05, 2003


Chris Bertram asks the question what should the fallout be for Tony Blair if it transpires that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. He particularly asks me for my thoughts on how the Tories should act. I'm happy to provide my thoughts on both questions.

I'm still very open-minded about whether Iraq possessed said weapons. There are a lot of indications every way, including the suggestion that there was a mass destruction of weapons shortly before the war. I've said several times on here that I thought the war was justified for many reasons (the link is to what is probably my most cold-hearted utilitarian standpoint), and so the absence or otherwise of the weapons doesn't really affect my personal belief that good has been done overall. As a Leftist acquaintance of mine said when a Conservative friend asked "what will we say if we overthrow Saddam and find he has no weapons of mass destruction?"

"That a dictator has been displaced. That a mass-murderer has been removed from the means of perpetrating his crimes. That the bankrollers of the suicide-bombing Jew-hating Arab Liberation Front are gone. That a people have been freed."

Sounds pretty good to me.

Anyway, the issue Chris asked about was the issue of Tony Blair having lied to the House of Commons (I actually prefer the traditional term "misled," for reasons I'll come on to). Now, assuming that there are no such weapons -- and that's a pretty big assumption, but we'll accept it for the sake of argument -- there are three possible scenarios:

  • That Tony Blair knew there were no weapons of mass destruction and lied to the House
  • That Tony Blair was unsure whether there were weapons of mass destruction but said he thought there were in order to get the House's backing. In this case he misled the House by overstating the case, but calling it a lie is going a little far.
  • That Tony Blair believed there were WMDs on the intelligence information he received and addressed the House according to that belief. In this case Blair did not lie, but a case may be made that he did mislead the House by failing to corroborate the evidence sufficiently.

  • If Tony Blair did lie to the House, the Opposition and the Country, and the wilder stories about fabrication of evidence are true, he should resign. Of course, in such a case he has also proved he has no honor, so he won't.

    In the more borderline cases of misleading the House, I would suggest that the first is probably not unprecedented. I don't have chapter and verse, but I imagine Churchill's "bodyguard of lies" involved at least a few deceptions to the wartime House in the name of greater good. It would be up to the House to decide Blair's future through a No Confidence motion, I'd suggest. In the latter case, I'd suggest that Blair made a mistake and he should apologize, but that it is not really a resigning matter given the greater good that came about. In either case, his credibility has received a serious blow and I doubt he'd survive a leadership challenge within his party based purely on the issue. The country at large may be willing to forgive either indiscretion, but because we're speaking in hypotheticals I don't really know.

    As for the Tories, if they were lied to in order to get their support, they should make this a No Confidence issue. If they were misled, they should make this an issue of the PM's judgment: their argument should be that they agreed Saddam should be removed, and would have voted in favor of war in any event, but the PM's use of an argument he knew to be shaky at best that has now proved unfounded shows you can't trust Blair or Labour with the big decisions. They'll spin and spin because that's all they know how to do. And Blair believes his own spin etc etc. The attack should put antiwar Labour backbenchers in a difficult position. If they are silent, they can be accused of hypocrisy and self-interest -- willing to speak out when their jobs are safe but falling silent when their seats are on the line. If they speak out, the Tories can at last point to Labour splits and a divided party. Win-win, I'd suggest.

    But, as I said, these are hypotheticals. Evidence of WMDs may yet be found, and it's far too early to be suggesting definitively otherwise. After all, we're only now beginning to realise that the museum looting wasn't as bad as we thought over the past couple of weeks. We'll be discovering things about Saddam's regime we didn't know or only guessed at for years to come. Blair should only be called to account if the evidence that there were no WMDs gets a whole lot stronger. That goes for the Tories too -- they will look very stupid indeed if they start banging on this drum and a few weeks later a stock of anthrax-laden warheads turns up.

    PP: Duane Freese has a useful summary of where we stand on the WMD angle over at TCS. We've also just caught Anthrax Lady, who had a rather senior position in government for a regime with no biological weapons program. If you're on the other side of this issue and think you have detected deception in public statements, see the comments section where Paul Robinson wants to hear from you.

    TCS Column Up

    In Discriminate Deaths I look at the argument that the death penalty in the US is racially discriminatory because it is more likely to be applied to those who kill whites than those who kill blacks. The argument as presented relies mostly on anecdote, but it needs more than that. It is also, as I say, an argument that can be answered by an unpalatable reply.

    NHS or Euro?

    A lot of people on the left of British politics (whether in Labour or the Liberal Democrats) have two sacred cows: the National Health Service and European economic integration. Both are pretty poor icons -- the NHS is one of the worst health services in the developed world and European economic integration means subsuming the free British economy to a bunch of statist technocrats forever. This hasn't bothered them, of course. Now, however, it looks like they will be forced to choose between the two. According to The Times,

    BRITAIN will be forced to scrap the National Health Service if it joins the euro, Gordon Brown was told yesterday.
    The European Central Bank, which manages the single currency, gave warning that free health care would have to be restricted to emergency services only, otherwise the cost would overwhelm European economies and lead to soaring inflation. Britain has one of the biggest tax-funded health services in the EU, with only a tiny proportion of treatments paid for privately.

    The report, in the Frankfurt-based ECB’s monthly bulletin, said that Britain’s ageing population would make state pensions, tax-funded health services and long-term care unaffordable in the future.

    Tax rises to meet the extra demands would soon become politically unacceptable and the sums in question would be too large to borrow, the ECB said.

    The article, which is published under the ECB’s authority rather than being just a working paper by researchers, recommends swift reforms with patients paying for more private operations. Governments should distinguish between “essential, privately non-insurable and non-affordable services”, such as emergency treatment, and those where “private financing might be more efficient”.

    “Greater private involvement in health care financing can be achieved, in particular, through patient co-payments, as already implemented in a number of countries.”

    Samizdata has a good analysis of what this means:

    We aren't talking "Private Finance Initiative" here; the ECB is suggesting that for most operations patients should arrange their own insurance voluntarily, pay up when they need it, or go without. In suggesting patient co-payments for operations, rather than mere privatisation of provision with continuing government funding, the report goes far further than anything suggested by the Conservatives.

    Of course, I'm not entirely certain that the ECB has the power to compel governments to spend in the way the ECB suggests. It is clear, however, that it would like to have the power, and that it is happy to act as if it did. A better illustration of the folly of granting more power to centralized European institutions is difficult to imagine.

    As it happens, I think the ECB is right in its analysis of the sustainability of the current funding regime for the NHS. Yet if the price for reform of the NHS is handing the British economy over to continental technocrats, I don't think it's worth paying. I wonder, however, what those who idolize both the NHS and the ECB think of this intervention?

    Sunday, May 04, 2003

    Why not France?

    To those who argue that there is a natural Europeanness emerging in the UK now, one might ask why it is that Prince William is talking of moving to America? The Mirror article says that he thinks he can get the anonymity he craves over here. France, of course, has very extensive privacy laws that should help him in that regard, so why is he not moving there? Could it be that the shared language and culture of the Anglosphere is just a little more important?


    Continuing with what seems to be a religious theme this Sunday, a few words seem to be in order about this pathetic hit-piece on William J Bennett, probably one of America's most influential moral conservatives.

    Mr Bennett, it appears, gambles. Heavily. Okay, so what's the problem? This is not a question of hypocrisy, which seems to be the implication of Newsweek's headline "The man of virtues has a vice." As Newsweek itself admits:

    He has made no secret of his gambling, Bennett adds. He says he was in Las Vegas in April for dinner with the former governor of Nevada and gambled while he was there. “I’ve gambled all my life, and it’s never been a moral issue with me. I liked church bingo when I was growing up. I’ve been a poker player.” He says that after a recent speech in Rochester, he was asked whether he would run for president in 2008 and answered that he might enter the World Series of Poker instead.

    Earlier on, Bennett was candid with Newsweek about the extent of his gambling:

    “I play fairly high stakes. I adhere to the law. I don’t play the ‘milk money.’ I don’t put my family at risk, and I don’t owe anyone anything,” Bennett says. The documents do not contradict those points.

    Bennett, who earns more than $50,000 per speaking engagement and made several hundred thousand dollars in publishing advances for the more recent of his 11 books, says “I’ve made a lot of money and I’ve won a lot of money. When I win, I usually give at least a chunk of it away [to charity]. I report everything to the IRS.”

    So we have a man who is not in debt, has not ruined himself or his family by any means, and conducts his high-stakes gambling legally and responsibly. Is this a problem? It's like insinuating that someone who likes a drink is an alcoholic, as Bennett points out:

    When reminded of studies that link heavy gambling to divorce, bankruptcy, domestic abuse and other family problems he has widely decried, Bennett compared the situation to alcohol. “I view it as drinking,” Bennett says. “If you can’t handle it, don’t do it.”

    So the Newsweek story is pretty weak. They don't actually come out an accuse him of anything wrong. The original Washington Monthly piece on which the Newsweek article is based is much more high-minded:

    By furtively indulging in a costly vice that destroys millions of lives and families across the nation, Bennett has profoundly undermined the credibility of his word on this moral issue.

    Furtive? He's admitted it publicly. His word on this issue? Let's answer that with the question why were Green and Alter unable to get any damning quotes from him that lecture Americans on their gambling habit? Answer -- because there aren't any. For Bennett, gambling clearly only becomes a problem when you go too far, which fits in pretty well with the quote in the first paragraph of the article.

    Bennett is being consistent here. Alter and Green, in their high-minded neo-puritanism, seem to have taken the Baptist line that gambling is a sin to heart. Bennett is a Catholic. For Catholics, it is not a sin. Perhaps the only accusation that could be thrown at Bennett is that he has wasted money that could have gone to good causes. Alter and Green don't do that because, despite the insinuations of their piece, they can't prove it. Bennett argues that he gives part of his winnings to charity. Assuming this is the case, Bennett's vice might actually work out to be a virtue.

    What motivated Alter and Green to write this hit piece? The word vicious may not be inappropriate here.

    PP: Andrew Sullivan says more along these lines here, although I disagree with the idea that one must not gamble to be perfect.

    Full disclosure: I've gambled in the past, but only once at a Casino or anywhere like that. I rarely gamble nowadays. Kris normally has to talk me in to a dollar or two on the lottery (which is another topic entirely). In the past, however, I used to put a lot of money into the quiz and fruit machines you find in British pubs. I often won on the quiz machines, especially in the early days before they found that people like me were milking them. I normally lost on the fruit machines. Then in 1994 I won 150 pounds from a fruit machine in a club (in pubs, the maximum payout was ten pounds then) and have never put a penny in one since.

    PPP: James Glassman's take on the subject is here.

    No anti-Semitism to see here, move along

    Tam Dalyell, like Tony Benn, has a reputation as a great man of principle that is entirely unwarranted. In truth, both are nutters. "Tampax Dan" has just come out with an astonishing remark. According to this BBC story, he

    complained of a "cabal of Jewish advisers" unduly influencing Tony Blair.

    Mr Dalyell made the remarks in an interview with Vanity Fair magazine, identifying Lord Levy, Tony Blair's Middle East envoy, Peter Mandelson, whose father is Jewish, and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who has Jewish ancestry, the Daily Telegraph reported.

    Now most lefties who want to attack people who urge support for Israel don't complain about people being Jewish, they complain about Zionism. Then they have the cover of saying that "being anti-Zionist does not mean you are anti-Semitic." That's true, but it certainly doesn't apply here. Whay exactly was Dalyell complaining about Judaism? And why did he use the loaded word cabal in mentioning them? Dalyell is certainly learned enough to know that word's origins. His denial of anti-Semitism is a bit of a classic:

    "I am fully aware that one is treading on cut glass on this issue and no-one wants to be accused of anti-Semitism, but, if it is a question of launching an assault on Syria or Iran... then one has to be candid"

    I'm surprised he didn't say "some of my best friends are Jews." Stephen Pollard is quite scathing, as you'd expect.

    But perhaps the most amazing thing about the story is the way the Beeb treats it. The reason I've linked to the BBC story rather than the Telegraph's is so you can see the headline:

    Dalyell's 'Jewish cabal' remarks denied

    No, it wasn't that Dalyell denied making them. The clear implication of the headline is that Downing Street has denied there is a Jewish cabal at work. And we all know what government denials mean, don't we?

    "We don't do God"

    Tony Blair seems to me to be increasingly out of step with the party he created. While he has a group of loyalists in the Cabinet who march with him, his (and indeed their) instincts seem more and more at odds with mainstream New Labour ideology. The Telegraph has a couple of interesting illustrations of this regarding Blair's personal religious faith, one of them a rehash of a Times piece:

    Further evidence of Number 10's anxiety to avoid religious rhetoric during the Iraq war emerged yesterday in an article in The Times by Sir Peter Stothard, the newspaper's former editor.

    While having make-up applied for his screen appearance on the eve of hostilities in Iraq, the Prime Minister reportedly told his staff: "I want to end with, 'God bless you'."

    At this point, according to The Times article, there was "a noisy team revolt in which every player appears to be complaining at once". Staff said that this was "not a good idea", to which an irritated Mr Blair - raising his voice - responded: "Oh no?"

    One unidentified member of the Blair team reportedly replied: "You are talking to lots of people who don't want chaplains pushing stuff down their throats."

    When the Prime Minister responded by saying: "You are the most ungodly lot I have ever . . .", his speechwriter Peter Hyman, who is Jewish, replied tartly: "Ungodly? Count me out."

    Others intervened in what was becoming an impromptu theological debate: "That's not the same God." Mr Blair remained defiant. "It is the same God," he said.

    In the end, however, the religious phrase was not used and the message ended with a simple "Thank you".

    It seems we have a Prime Minister who does actually believe in absolute truth and good, despite his party being based on relativism. It is odd that his party should have the power to gag him on the grounds that they "don't do God." This looks like a fault line to me in the Labour party. On the one hand you have those who believe in the supremacy of Western liberal values, many of whom will possess religious faith as well. Most of those will be Blairites. On the other are the transnationalists and multiculturalists for whom everything is relative. If I were the Tories I would be pouring water down this crack now with a view to hammering a wedge into it as soon as possible.

    PP: I should have pointed out that the Prime Minister saying "God bless you" in an avowedly Christian country is nothing new. Stephen Pollard spells this out with an extract from a speech by Blair's predecessor.

    Friday, May 02, 2003

    Local elections: final results

    According to the BBC, Tories + 566, Labour - 833, Lib Dems + 193, BNP + 11, Greens + 9.

    Before the results started coming in, the BBC's Mr. Election Peter Snow said that anything above 500 gains for the Tories would be a success. So I guess this is a success. The Tories are now the biggest party in local government, have more councillors and run more councils than any other party in the UK (I think this is correct). They gained almost as many councils last night as the Lib Dems run in total.

    This puts the Tories back where they were in around 1991, when Labour had made substantial gains after their 80s problems but when the Tories were still well placed (they won the 1992 election of course). Projections of the share of the vote on last night's results are pretty meaningless -- the Tories put up 2000 more candidates than either the Lib Dems or Labour and many safe Tory seats weren't contested.

    The Tories have also seen off Lib Dem challenges around the country. Torbay was a disaster for local reasons -- the Tories put the local council tax up 15%. But in Taunton Deane, Guildford and Worthing, in Berwick, Brentwood and East Cambridgeshire, in South Gloucs, West Berks and West Wilts, the Tories gained seats back from the Liberals and either gained control of the council or sent it into "No overall control". These are all areas where the Lib Dems were expected to make further inroads into the weak Conservative base.

    I'm happy with the results. IDS will be ecstatic. But that's another story.

    Knowing who your friends are

    Britain is turning back towards America, it seems. MORI's latest "State of Britain Survey" finds some very interesting things about foreign relations:

    The research, carried out at the tail-end of the conflict in Iraq, shows three quarters of Britons (73%) consider America to be Britain's most reliable ally - with Australia getting the second highest poll position with one in 20 (four per cent) naming it. European countries do not fair so well, with France, Germany and Ireland considered Britain's most reliable ally by just one per cent each.

    When asked to name Britain's least reliable ally, France is named by 55%, with America named by one in 17 (six per cent) and Germany and Russia each named by three per cent.

    Meanwhile, the full survey shows how attutudes towards Europe and America are trending back towards the time before the UK became infatuated with the EEC/EU:

    Q14 Which of these - Europe, the Commonwealth or America - is the most important to Britain?+ Gallup Poll
    Don't known/an/an/a107101128

    Very revealing.

    Lib Dem joy

    I've added Nick Barlow to the blogroll under Lib Dem. He has an interesting blog called "What you can get away with," which chimes very nicely with my personal experience of Lib Dem campaign tactics ;)

    Nick doubles the number of Lib Dems on my blogroll, joining Iain Coleman, who, Nick informs us, won his election in Romsey last night. Romsey was for many years a staunch socialist area, so this evidence tends to confirm my theory that the Lib Dems are picking up hard-left egalitarian votes now more than Tory waverers. Congratulations, Iain!

    Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Kennedy?

    Despite the Lib Dem spin that last night was a spectacular one for them, people who actually believe in Lib Dem policies should remain worried about sustainability. This comes across in my friend Roger Mortimore's latest poll digest commentary column for the British polling firm MORI. The main focus of the column is on the illusory nature of the "Baghdad Bounce" -- amply demonstrated by last night's results. However, there are two interesting things further doen the column. First, the Euro -- cornerstone of the Lib Dem European policy -- just isn't going to happen any time soon, and, despite the fantasies of Independent columnists, the British have grown even less enchanted with Europe:

    Certainly the idea that was being tentatively floated in some newspapers, that the Government could exploit Mr Blair's increased popularity to hold and win a quick referendum on the euro, is a non-starter. There has been no move of public opinion in favour of the euro over the past few months (as both our Schroder Salomon Smith Barney series of polls and our recent State of Britain poll for the FT confirm), and the international situation around the Iraq war has surely made more difficult rather than easier the task of selling the idea. More than half the public named France, unprompted, as Britain's least reliable ally, and fewer think that Europe rather than America or the Commonwealth is most important to Britain than at any time since the mid-1980s.

    Also important, I think, is the way in which Charles Kennedy's stance on the war has affected his support:

    Charles Kennedy's anti-war stance, though popular with his party's core supporters, may have damaged his fringe support among Tory waverers - all the polls have agreed in finding a slight dip in Lib Dem support over the last few weeks, and satisfaction with his leadership (39% last month, 40% this) are his lowest since the general election.

    If early indications are to be believed, a lot of the Lib Dem increase in the share of vote came last night from Muslim communities, traditionally hardcore leftists. If he failed to gain anything in Tory areas that cannot be explained by tactical voting, serious questions are going to have to be asked about whether he can continue to present himself as a centrist. I don't think he can. The Lib Dem strategy of gaining votes from both parties was predicated on obfuscation. The more the public learns about the Lib Dems, the less likely that strategy will work.

    Thursday, May 01, 2003

    Unlimited rice pudding!

    Well, I had to do this one, I mean, Doctor Who...
    Season 26 - Ace in a Frock
    You are Season 26. You are Dark and Manipulative.
    People tend to paint you as sicker than you
    really are - you're far more subtle than people
    seem to think. Despite that, you're a good
    laugh and fun to be around.

    Which Doctor Who Season Are You?
    brought to you by Quizilla
    Link via Iain Coleman, who had a keen interest in tonight's results (of the election, not the quiz).

    Good night for Tories so far

    According to the Beeb, the state of the parties in terms of local seats gained or lost so far is Con + 540, Lab - 750, Lib Dems + 165.

    Most predictions were in the range of Tories and Lib Dems each gaining about 200, which would cast doubt on IDS's ability to survive as leader. So far, the Tories have done much better than anyone anticipated, despite the resignation of a maverick spokesman before any results were declared.

    My prediction for the media spin is: Liberal Democrats celebrate large gains from Labour as IDS is rocked by resignation.

    Professor Brainstorm

    A few people have mentioned the article about British leftists wanting to ban the term 'brainstorm" as offensive to epileptics. The trouble is, I don't see much substance in the article -- far less, indeed, than there was in the Hot Cross Bun story. Kieran Healy has it about right.

    This is a Local Election for Local People!

    I hope more than a few of you watched The League of Gentlemen...

    Political masochists who want to follow the announcements of UK local election results (including elections to the Scottish and Welsh devolved assemblies) can do so by looking here.

    And if you're my 400,000th visitor, thank you!!!

    Barking Mad

    Go over to Layman's Logic to see the single stupidest piece of European moral relativist idiocy I have ever seen. Some loonies are suggesting a protest at the upcoming anniversary of the D-Day landings because it was a US invasion and conquest of Europe. Seriously.

    Dalrymple on prison suicide

    The pseudonymous prison doctor Theodore Dalrymple gives another world-weary overview of an unwanted phenomenon of modern life, this time of the problem of prison suicide. Dalrymple points out how two supposed reforms contributed to the problem:

    In the 1980s, two measures seemed to coincide with the rise in suicide in prison. Until about 1986, the prison record of each prisoner who had ever attempted suicide was marked with a large red ‘F’ (I can’t find out what the F stood for) so that the prison officers automatically knew who was vulnerable and could keep a special eye on them. For some reason, this simple system was stopped and was replaced a few years later by a form of much greater complexity for those deemed to be actively suicidal. The change represented the bureaucrat’s view that elaborate formal ways of dealing with a problem are always superior to simple informal ones. In a sense, this is true: they always give bureaucrats more work to do.

    Until the 1980s, when the suicide rate rose, it was an offence in prison to harm yourself or to make a suicidal gesture. Unless the doctor considered that you had a bona fide illness that led you to act in this fashion, you were charged with wasting medical time, and lost remission. The abolition of this harsh-sounding regulation was replaced by a more ‘caring’ attitude, and conferred certain advantages in prison upon those who claimed to be suicidal, which resulted — as any sensible person would have expected — in a large increase in acts of self-harm, of which there are now at least 20,000 per year in our prisons. But the abolition of punishment for self-harm achieved its most important end: the gratification of the reformers’ narcissistic urge to feel humane.

    The suicidal are now rewarded with various privileges that can include better material conditions, admission to the hospital wing (where the regime is easier), daily visits from nurses and ‘listeners’ (prisoners deputed to allow fellow-prisoners to air their problems), increased medication irrespective of whether it is strictly indicated, and so forth. But in order to prove their bona fides as potential suicides, and to preserve their privileges, some prisoners feel obliged eventually to make a serious gesture. I have known prisoners who have been laughing and joking companionably with their fellow-prisoners attempt to hang themselves a few minutes later if told that their status as suicide risks was being removed. And such gestures sometimes go wrong.

    I have heard both of these factors cited by a friend who is a prison officer in the UK, so I am inclined to think Dalrymple has it spot on here.

    Why, then, must Dalrymple ruin his case with an unwarranted assertion? This is nonsense:

    Short sentences are another cause of suicide: 60 per cent of suicides occur within three months of arrival in prison, so subjecting young career criminals to repeated and demonstrably ineffectual short sentences is also to subject them to repeated periods of greatest risk.

    Short sentences are not demonstrably ineffectual (unless they are combined with low certainty of going to prison) and the association he cites as causal seems rather silly. Perhaps the cluster towards the beginning of sentences is instead tied to the prisoner being unable to face the prospect of a life in jail?

    A few silly assertions aside, however, the piece is worth a read for anyone interested in how not to run a prison service.

    What's Arabic for "Oh, I say, old chap"?

    Glenn has already recommended Boris Johnson's excellent Spectator report from Baghdad, but the very idea of a crumpled sheepdoggish Boris prowling the streets of Iraq with a bemused expression and a classical aphorism every now again is too charming to resist. His testimony on casualties is important, as are his eye-witness accounts of how the American forces are barely maintaining a grip, but this is the most important thing in the piece to my mind:

    Power is being contested on every corner, between Shia moderates and extremists. It is being fought for by umpteen Kurdish parties, Assyrian parties, secular parties. Of course there was something absurd about the conference organised by the Americans, the endless jabbering of groupuscules under a mural of a semi-naked Saddam repelling American jet bombers. There was a priceless moment when Mr Feisal Ishtarabi could not remember whether his party was called the Iraqi Independent Democratic party or the Iraqi Democratic Independent party. But does it matter?

    There was also something magnificent about the process. It was a bazaar, a souk, in something the Iraqis have not been able to trade for 30 years. It was a free market in politicians. In a word, it was democracy. Sooner or later there will be elections in Iraq; and no, funnily enough, most people do not think that the Shiite extremists will sweep the country, or that government will be handed over to Tehran. There will be no more torture victims, like the man who showed me the ivory-white sliced cartilage of his ear, cut off by Saddam to punish him for deserting from the army, or the stumbling old man who claimed his three sons had all been killed by the Baathists.

    Let's not forget the the early United States didn't get its government into satisfactory shape for several years, and still suffered rebellions. Democracy in its infancy is characterized by turmoil. That doesn't make it a bad thing.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2003

    In Memoriam, Wisden's cover illustration

    Since its first publication in 1865, Wisden's Cricketers' Alamanac, the cricket buff's bible, has carried a handsome illustration of an old-style cricket scene, complete with batsman in hooped shirt and top hat. Now, as the Times sarcastically comments, they have seen fit to do away with that and replace it with a photograph of England batsman Michael Vaughan in action. With all due respect to one of the best cricketers England has produced in years, something beautiful and valuable has been lost, and there's no excuse for it at all.

    Reform and Revival

    Important article by Therese Raphael in today's Wall Street Journal Europe, available here for non-subscribers. She looks at a presentation given in the UK by two New Zealand finance ministers who revolutionised that country's public sector in the '80s, to its great benefit:

    Under the Douglas/Richardson reforms New Zealand became the only developed country to do away with farm support. They gave New Zealand one of the developed world's flattest tax structures, halving the top rate of tax to 33 per cent from 66 per cent. Government spending was brought under tight control and welfare system restructured to encourage job-seeking.

    As in other countries that experience free-market reform movements, the success of the reforms changed the nature of political debate in New Zealand. And as in other countries, the parties that advocated reforms lost the plot and enabled a reinvigorated and reformed left to become electable again.

    The broad-brush lessons for the New Zealand reforms as the two veteran finance ministers noted are twofold: move quickly (the bureaucracy will slow you down in any case) and embrace "quality" reforms. As Roger Douglas warned, what kills radical change is uncertainty. "The Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to be the Minister for Reform," Ms. Richardson told me after the breakfast. That of course is precisely the opposite of the role that Gordon Brown has carved out at Treasury.

    These reforms appeal to the Individualistic value group I mentioned below, a group that mostly stayed with the Tories. Those who went to Labour may be wobbling with the new tax rises and Labour's uncertain performance on Foundation Hospitals. However, it should not be taken for granted that they will stick with or return to the Tories:

    Britain's Conservatives may have once been naturals to take up this challenge, but not today. The Party is no longer for serious tax cuts, sanctions Labour's spending on health care and other sectors and has been most visible in the run-up to this week's election criticizing the government's asylum policy. When the party makes headlines, it is usually for reports of in-fighting or looming leadership challenges.

    That leaves the Liberal Democrats, which trail the Tories by only six or seven points in the polls. And surprisingly, this is where Ms. Richardson and Mr. Douglas said their ideas received the warmest reception. Of course, that may be because they met the most interesting of the Liberal Democrats -- a group of young forward-thinking MPs who call themselves Liberal Future and who lean more toward classically liberal ideas than the warmed over socialism that has been the party's more recent hallmark.

    I don't think the Lib Dems are in as good shape as Raphael suggests. Certainly there is a core of truly liberal thought there, but it is so obfuscated by watered-down socialism that it will need a real public debate to get it to the fore again, coupled with the recognition that neither the far Left nor the social justice conservatives -- target groups for the Liberals in recent years -- are attracted by classicly Liberal values.

    Yet Raphael's argument underlines something for Conservatives. Economic liberalism is still attractive to a valuable block of voters. In trying to get back social justice conservatives, we mustn't forget them. Nor vice versa.

    This is not an endorsement of scientific validity


    To which race of Middle Earth do you belong?
    brought to you by Quizilla

    Via Steven Chapman.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2003

    We want Baghdad Bob!

    The way is clear for the former Iraqi Information Minister to pursue a career in game and chat shows. US forces reportedly refused to arrest him because he's not dangerous enough. Max Clifford should be getting the first plane to Iraq he can find.

    It's not rocket science

    ... or even tuba science. The Telegraph says this so well that here it is in its entirety:

    The country's best music colleges are losing huge sums of public money because of their failure to admit enough working-class students to satisfy the Government. Under a new funding system introduced this year, they have been told to give about 10 per cent of their places to students from poor areas, or face financial penalties.

    The problem for the colleges is that in the poorer parts of the state sector, music is not taught nearly well enough, or early enough, to produce the virtuosi of the future. A pupil who has not been properly taught in early childhood stands very little chance of achieving musical excellence in later life. So the colleges now find themselves faced with the choice of losing public money or admitting students who will not be able to benefit fully from their courses. This is not only bad for music students, but for all music-lovers. It is like insisting that 10 per cent of the England football team should be drawn from the third division.

    How many times must we say it, before the Government gets the message? The solution to the crisis in Britain's education system is not to penalise the good schools and colleges, but to improve the bad ones.

    Actually, it's not exactly like insisting that 10 per cent of the footie team come from Division 3. With modern scouting methods in football, there's probably more chance of recruiting a musical genius from the poor areas than there is of finding the new Bobby Charlton playing for Darlington. However, the main point is still valid: raising up is better than levelling down. We used to understand that, didn't we?

    I have a male brain

    No, "Duh" would not be the right reaction to that headline (unless you know me). Simon Baron-Cohen provides a useful summary of the thinking about male and female brain types. This important research indicates that a lot of what has been disparaged as "sexism" is actually natural for both sexes, although of course stereotyping does exist, as Baron-Cohen underlines. Extreme feminism that denies any difference between the sexes is just as wrong as extreme sexism by this evidence.

    One thing I'm interested in is that a lot of attention has been devoted to the idea that autism in its various forms might simply reflect extremes in male brain types. What about the extreme female brain?

    What are the potential new insights from a theory like this? It may help us understand the childhood neurological conditions of autism and Asperger syndrome, which appear to be an extreme of the male brain. Such individuals may have impairments in empathising alongside normal or even talented systemising. The theory also predicts the existence of the mirror-image of autism or Asperger syndrome, namely, the extreme female brain. Science has not even begun to investigate what such people are like, but we know they must have impairments in systemising, alongside normal or even talented empathising. Finally, the theory delineates two key dimensions of individual differences - empathising and systemising - that exist among any group of children, so that parents and educators can become more tolerant of difference.

    May I suggest that the mirror-image be called the "Phoebe syndrome"?

    By the way, there are tests linked to on the page that give you a rough idea of the shape of your brain. I got 34 on the Empathizing test (quite low average score -- male average is 42) and 38 on the Systematizing test (high average score -- male average is 30, persons with Asperger syndrome score 40 or higher). So if I'm shy if I ever meet you, you know why.

    With friends like these...

    Apologies for the lack of updates -- I was at another conference today. Anyway, I rather liked the outrage from human rights organizations as Cuba was voted onto the U.N. Rights Commission:

    "You have a huge powerful and very well organized bloc that doesn't want any country criticized, opposes U.N. human rights monitoring and wants to weaken the office of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights," Joanna Weschler of Human Rights Watch told Reuters.

    "It's almost a rule now. You get criticized by the commission or you might be, so you get a seat on the commission and you vote as a bloc against criticism," Weschler said.

    Now much of that argument could be applied to certain other UN activities. Time for an alliance of right and left to sweep away this relic of the Cold War, methinks.

    Monday, April 28, 2003

    TCS Column Up

    Statistical Traffic Wreck looks at the lazy investigative reporting surrounding last week's release of the 2002 traffic fatalities data. The media blamed SUVs and alcohol, when the biggest cause of death was, once again, failing to wear a seatbelt.

    Brits want an American approach to crime

    Utterly fascinating poll about British crime in the Sunday sister of the Guardian, The Observer. Among the remarkable highlights, 67 per cent support the death penalty and nearly a quarter of Brits would be tempted to carry a gun if the law allowed it. The details, with the Observer's commentary:

    Do you think it is acceptable or unacceptable for householders to use potentially deadly force to protect their property against intruders?

    Acceptable 68%
    Unacceptable 32% ...

    There is strong support for householders using potentially deadly force to protect property against intruders. The results indicate a considerable level of support for the view that criminals forfeit certain rights when illegally entering a property.

    In other words, the public's belief in the traditional Common Law approach to defense of property rights has not been dented by 50 years of jurisprudence aimed at eradicating that approach.

    If the law were changed to allow possession of registered handguns, would you be tempted to carry a gun for protection?

    Yes 22%
    No 78% ...

    Almost a quarter of Britons would be tempted to carry a gun for the purpose of self-protection if the laws were changed. There are striking differences on the basis of region, with only 7 per cent of Londoners tempted to carry a gun, compared to 55 per cent of those living in Yorkshire/Humberside, and 45 per cent of those living in the West Midlands. The lower take-up rate in London may be a reflection of the relatively lesser fear of crime exhibited by Londoners. Men are more likely to consider carrying a gun, although the differences between the sexes is not as great as might have been anticipated (23 per cent of men versus 20 per cent of women).

    This is truly amazing to me. The process of demonizing firearms began in 1920, but still almost 1 in 4 people want to carry one, never mind possess one for defending the home (I'd love to see the results if that question had been asked). It seems that RKBA may be an issue that could resurface in the UK if some people are courageous enough to champion it.

    Do you support or oppose the introduction of private police forces and security groups to assist the police?

    Support 64%
    Oppose 36% ...

    As for introducing private police forces, while Britons across the board support the move, there are some considerable differences. Women are significantly more in favour (73 per cent versus 55 per cent of men) and the 16- to 24-year-olds are far more likely than any other age group to support the proposal (83 per cent).

    Again, this seems to be a throwback to an earlier era. The police's campaign to persuade the public that they and they alone can legitimately enforce the law has failed.

    Do you believe that the death penalty should be re-introduced in Britain for certain crimes?

    Yes 67% No 33%

    Which of the following crimes do you think should be punished with the death penalty? (Asked of all those who support the re-introduction of the death penalty for certain crimes)

    Murder 91%
    Terrorism 68%
    Paedophilia 41%
    Rape 23%
    Drug dealing 13%
    Other 2%

    Support for the death penalty is strongest among those aged 65+ (86 per cent) and lowest among those aged 25-34 (55 per cent). Those who have been a victim of crime are more likely to support capital punishment, but the most striking differences in attitudes are regional ones. Ninety-four per cent of those living in the West Midlands support the re-introduction of the death penalty, compared to just 34 per cent of Londoners. Indeed, Londoners appear out of step with the rest of the nation on this issue - London is the only region where capital punishment is opposed by the majority.

    Brits are not only in support of the death penalty, but enthusiastically so. This is no surprise, but the difference of London to the rest of the nation is striking. I've said before here that I think London is unrepresentative of the UK, and that our movers and shakers living there affects their actions and beliefs to the extent that they are increasingly out of step with Britain as a whole. This poll shows that repeatedly -- in attitudes to capital punishment, in attitudes to self-defense, and in attitudes to good citizenship (30 percent of Londoners would ignore a mugging happening before them, compared to 13 percent of the general population*, something that non-plusses the Observer). Londoners believe poverty is the most important factor in creating criminals, while the rest of the country believes it is family upbringing. Londoners are also the only group to believe that a life sentence should not necessarily mean life:

    Do you believe a life sentence should always mean life imprisonment, ie prison for the rest of your life?

    Yes 87%
    No 13%

    Would you support or oppose the introduction of a 'three strikes and you're out' scheme whereby offenders automatically receive a prison sentence if they are convicted of any three crimes?

    Support 80%
    Oppose 20%

    A majority of every group within society believe life should mean life, with the exception of Londoners, who again demonstrate that they are a breed apart. [Emphasis added]

    Despite our prison population already being at record numbers, a large majority of Britons (80 per cent) would support the introduction of an American-style 'three strikes and you're out' scheme. There is broad-based support for this proposal, although Britons at the lower end of the social scale are significantly more likely to support the proposal.

    Leaving London for the moment, I'd be interested to see the "significantly" greater support for Three Strikes among the working classes -- 80 percent is pretty significant. It sounds like they're approaching unanimity. Finally,

    Do you believe that under-18s charged with serious crimes such as murder should be prosecuted as adults?

    Yes 82%
    No 18% ...

    All age groups, including the 16- to 24-year-olds, believe that under-18s charged with serious crimes should be prosecuted as adults.

    The running theme throughout this poll seems to me to be that Brits want an American-style approach to crime, introducing or re-introducing methods and protections that have proven effective in America. This is further evidence that the Anglosphere's cultural and legal framework is far more robust than many take it to be.

    Except, it seems, in London. The rise of London and the fall of provincialism have been disastrous for the UK, leading to this strange cultural divide we now see. In the absence of any proposal for federalism, London needs to rejoin the rest of the UK.

    * This 13 percent includes the London 30 percent. I'd love to see the figures for the rest of the nation excluding London