England's Sword 2.0

Monday, May 26, 2003

Two Different Ways


When the Framers were drafting the US Constitution, most of them felt that there was no need for a Bill of Rights, because the people's representatives would always be guaranteed to uphold those rights. Of course it didn't work out that way, because the Anti-Federalists won that particular bit of the ratification argument. Nevertheless, that is basically the principle on which British rights have rested for 300 years. Property rights came under severe threat during the Socialist era of British politics from 1945ish to 1979. Nevertheless, a government was elected then that restored property rights, privatized most of the industries stolen in the name of the people and won the argument such that property rights are, to all intents and purposes, as strong as they were in the 1930s. It seems to me that the current era where civil liberties are being eroded will see a similar shift back, with a future government undoing the centralist insanities of the major-Blair years and returning individual liberties to their rightful place in the British way of life.

The British constitution is flexible, unlike the American constitution, which is a great virtue but also a great danger. It is very easy to change British law, but so is it easy to change it back if it doesn't work out. In the history of the American experiment, we have only ever seen one Amendment repealed. The USA is still suffering from the ludicrous decision to directly elect Senators, for example, which severely unbalanced the federal system in my opinion. In the UK, we could return to the status quo ante of an hereditary House of Lords, should we so wish, by the simple repeal of an Act.

So I am concerned that the argument that the European Constitution must be subject to a referendum may be a hostage to fortune. If the "yes" camp were somehow to hoodwink the British people into voting in favor, it would be very, very difficult to argue for withdrawal in future, and would certainly require another referendum to gain the moral legitimacy needed, which would be subject to the same tricks. By contrast, if it were done by Act of Parliament, a future government could withdraw from the EU Constitution simply by repealing the Act. That's what representative government is for, it seems to me, to take more measured views of what is good for the nation than the people normally allow. I believe the Federalist Papers speak to this very point.

When no Parliament can bind its successors, this makes it very difficult for great experiments to succeed in altering the ground rules forever. You'd have to abolish Parliament and the Monarchy together, such that no future Parliament could be legitimately summoned, for the EU to succeed in its unspoken desire to abolish Britain.

Having said all that, I lean more towards a referendum on the Constitution than away from it, but I think the constitutional reasoning of people like Steven Den Beste needs a little more consideration of the nuances of the British constitution than they have so far given it. I happen to agree with Steven that Britain needs a genuine Charter of Rights, despite what I say above, but this whole question is far more complicated than that.

E-mail group working!


At long last, I've got the e-mail distribution of this blog's posts working. Of course, blogger has decided to lose my template (AAARRGGGHHH!!!) so I can't put the link back on the left.

If you want to get this blog's posts by e-mail, subscribe by sending an e-mail to englandssword-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. I think.

Two pieces of good news


First, the inquiry into the conduct of Col. Tim Collinsa has found no evidence of war crimes. Jolly good. This always smelt funny to me.

And Wolves are back in the premiership! Huzzah! The news will be all the sweeter given that their rivals the Baggies got relegated. Wolves have been my "second team" for a while now, so this takes a little edge off my grief over Sunderland's awful performance this season.

Con-stitution


Blueprint for Europe published, says the BBC. In other words, the European Convention has set out its proposals for the European super-state. HMG is desperately spinning the idea that an elected European President and Foreign Minister, the recognition of the EU as a 'legal personality,' a binding common foreign policy and a binding charter of 'rights' (except when the Union doesn't like it) is merely a 'tidying-up' of previous agreements. That just won't wash. I'll have some more detailed thoughts later, and it would be a good idea to keep an eye on Airstrip One, where Philip Chaston wil doubtless dissect the document with surgical precision. Junius also has some initial observations (the document is a mixture of the bland and the alarming).

This one will grow and grow, and may be the first nail in New Labour's coffin.

Hey hey, we're the Wanderers


Up far too late again, but my hopes and prayers are with Nick Barlow and Chad Dimpler for Wolverhampton Wanderers to end their too-long exile from football's top flight tomorrow. With such ex-Sunderland stars as Alex Rae and Paul "Pies" Butler in their midst, the future looks bright for the young lads from the Black Country

-- Harry Clarts
Your football correspondent

It was an accident


Just as Britain did not intend to be the mother of modern democracies, the US did not intend to be a superpower. We just wanted a place to be free. As luck would have it we managed to carve out a place that allowed for individual freedom and expression that has worked out real well for us. But it wasn't on purpose. At least not until after WWII, when we realized we had to fill a void. If you ask an everyday American what they want, dollars to donuts, the answer will be a better life for myself and my children. Same as everyone else. In short, I believe that Americans would give up "superpower" status so long as we were able to defend ourselves and do honest business with the rest of the world. Other countries may "plan" for greatness, we kinda feel ass-backwards into it.

Too Much TV


Okay, so Iain and I watch a lot of TV. Too much TV really. But every once in a while it pays off BIG time. Tonight we found an AMAZING show, Most Extreme Elimination Challenge on TNN (soon to be known as Spike TV). Sooooo worth it. It is apparently a really sick (wonderfully sick) Japanese show where contestants have to do insane physical challenges. The best part is they make no effort to dub the show's original language, but instead provide a tongue-in-cheek made up American commentary. So you see these crazy contestants who are clearly Japanese with names like Rich and Lenny Cheney sliding down waterslides in a giant rice bowl with the voice overs talking about their sexual life choices. Hilarious, subversive good fun. Watch it and thank us later.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Am I an American?


The Memorial Day service at our church Kris describes below brought me a torrent of conflicting emotions. It began with the Battle Hymn of the Republic, a powerful hymn which was present in my old school hymn book, Hymns Ancient and Modern (so much for its peculiar Americanness). Nevertheless, as we sang America the Beautiful, I felt something stirring in me. When it came to God Bless America, I started to cry. Part of it was in the affirmation that America is a land that I love, but part of it was at the words "my home sweet home," when I realized that England's green and pleasant land was truly no longer my home. That was a shock.

So as we remembered those who had passed away from the church during the year -- again, a truly moving event -- I began to have my doubts about what I was. If I feel stirring emotions at the evocation of the glories of the land I live in, does that not indicate that I think of myself as American? But if I can feel such sadness at being away from my native land, does that not show my love for England? I remembered Wordsworth, when he says in Lucy:

I travell'd among unknown men,
In lands beyond the sea;
Nor, England! did I know till then
What love I bore to thee.

'Tis past, that melancholy dream!
Nor will I quit thy shore
A second time; for still I seem
To love thee more and more.

Yet then, when the video Kris refers to below came on, anchored on Lincoln's funeral oration at Gettysburg, I found myself emotionally shaking at that final phrase:

that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

I am left with the conclusion that I am English and, yes, I am American. The INS may not recognize my nationality, and Congress may forbid me from formal recognition by requiring an oath it itself ignores, but I love both my countries, both of them more and more as the days go on. God Bless America, and God Save the Queen!

Incidentally, it was nice of them to play God Save the Queen, even if it was under the title "America"...

It would be remiss of me not to mention that the day's message also helped reaffirm my Christian faith. Jordan passed.

Britain Out of Eurovision!


For the first time in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest, a British entry failed to get a single point. As a result, humiliated duo has been advised to call themselves Nil Points. I reckon great success awaits them under that title.

Oh, Turkey won, beating the neo-nazis (allegedly) from Belgium and the underage lesbians (allegedly) from Russia. Now there's a sentence I never thought I'd write.

Last Mad Cow Post for a While, I Promise


Canadian listeners can hear me on Cross Country Checkup this afternoon talking about Mad Politician Disease.

Memorial Stones


Today at church we celebrated Memorial Day. There were so many moving ceremonies in today's service, thank goodness Iain brought tissues. At one point, they showed a short film. It ran specific text lines from the Gettysburg Address throughout, had no voices, just music and images of America's wars from the Civil War to date, and concluded with the address's final lines. I finally understood. I had intellectually realized that the American Civil War was deeply linked to the unresolved issues of the American Revolution. But seeing this little film helped me understand how hard it had been to get everyone to agree on what the American Revolution had meant. What it meant to be an American. In cataclysmic pain, America was reborn with a renewed love for a purer freedom. Happy Memorial Day.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Oh Canada


I have an editorial on mad cow disease in The National Post up there in the Great White North this morning.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Tribal Clashes


Zoning out "The Wiggles" this morning, I started to wonder what would happen if the US pulled out of NATO. I figured various European nations eventually would declare war on each other as per usual.

But why? So I thought about how every region on earth seems to have the same history of war. Except America. Other than one civil war, Americans tend not to kill each other on the same scale as those in Europe, Asia, Africa, or South America do or have done. One of the big differences seems to be a lack of tribal/clan groupings. Even "sophisticated" Europe seems to have some race memory remanents of tribalness to it. (By tribal, I mean the bonds held between a range of people from small local groups to nations as well as ethnic background and family arrangements.)

Perhaps it is the act of immigrating to America and starting fresh in a new culture that breaks the ancient tribal/ethnic ties. Certainly, ethnic groups in America have clumped together - the Irish, Germans, Italiens, and Jews spring to mind. But even if the immigrants maintain their "tribal" affiliations, their descendents are relatively quickly assimilated into the larger national American culture. Most hyphenated Americans have only a tenuous connection to their former tribal group and I suspect would not give up their US citizenship to return to the old country.

I believe this lack of "old world" ties coupled with universal sufferage means no one needs to fear losing their liberty to another. That the enshrined freedoms of the American Bill of Rights removes the threats that generally motivate "tribal" violence because no one group of people is more important than another.

At any rate, this started off being about America and NATO. As much as I'd love to tell the EU to stick it where the sun don't shine, I am afraid America must try her hardest to keep NATO intact. As sure as tides and taxes, if Europe is left completely to itself, her occupants are certain to start killing each other yet again and dragging us (America) into the thick of things. NATO is actually cheaper in the long run. That said, on another unrelated note, I'm still not buying french stuff.

Romford fallacy


Michael Gove's and Andrew Cooper's recent presentation to Cchange makes some good points, and some poor ones. Michael is right about the need for change in the party. Even John Redwood agrees on that matter. However, he misses the mark in claiming that it's the Tory agenda that's failing. It's rather the Conservatives' adherence to a old 'brand name', that hasn't been refreshed. I canvassed for a friend running for council in Leytonstone (by no means a Conservative area), and most of the respondents thought tax was too high, or they weren't getting value for their tax money. However, the failure to link the abstract 'tax cut', which can be erroneously seen as only for the rich, to questions like 'what would you do with 50 pounds?" (which you could receive from lower taxes) seem to prove the Tory failings. While most respondents agreed to the Conservative message, they both did not identify it with the Conservatives, or it wasn't relevant to them. In short, they wanted a tax cut, but from anyone but the Tories, as they didn't see the Tories as working for the ordinary individual. Therefore, the Conservative message does resonate, but we're stuck with linking ourselves to the boons and busts of the Thatcher and Major years, instead of constantly reminding the electorate of the continuing relevance of Conservative ideologies.

Gove and Cooper seem to claim that Andrew Rosindell's stunning result in Romford was an aberration, due to the demographics of Romford. Hardly. As someone who knows Andrew well, Rosindell had a variety of keys to victory. First, he was a local candidate with a track record that he could point to as delivering for Romford citizens. As an auxiliary point, he was local, so knew the issues, and knew how to link Conservative policies to local issues. Not many people vote for abstract ideas, but if you can link them to actual change in their neighborhood, they are far more likely to vote Tory. It's why the Lib Dems do so well on a grass-roots level. They link their national policies to local results. In addition, Andrew's a formidable campaigner, and came up with his own election leaflets (as opposed to the CCO mandated ones) to distribute in Romford, which were much more effective in communicating his message. I accept Gove's point that Romford is not demographically like the average constituency in Britain, but Rosindell's success was not as much a function of demographics as it was of communication. Andrew is what could be called a Toryboy, with lots of laurels in the Conservative youth movement, but he merges that with a very practical political view towards serving constituents. That's the key to success. Campaigning like Andrew Rosindell, whether one likes his policies or not.

Congratulations!



I've had to cut the song contest short, as I'm leaving Britain on Monday for a summer internship at the National Economic Council in the White House, but would like to congratulate Mr Spin, of British Spin, whose entry (and rationale) of Sophie Ellis Bextor's "Get Over You", trumped the rest. Unfortunately, songs like "Another Brick In the Wall II", a good commentary on Labour's education policy (plus the children's chorus is from Islington Green school).. but for that matter, most of "The Wall" can be viewed as good commentary on the Tories, and anything by Natalie Imbruglia (former girlfriend of Tory frontbencher, and possible future leader Liam Fox, who was even thanked in Imbruglia's album credits).

Referendum



A tradition, if not rule, of British governance is that no Parliament can bind its successors. That is why a referendum on the Euro-constitution is needed. The Constitution will practically bind future Parliaments, if not theoretically, and therefore, any change in the nature of British representation should be held to the people. It is up to Parliament to decide what to do on its own accord, but it is not any Government's prerogative to change the form of popular representation. Again, in theory, any future parliament can undo the work of a past parliament, but for those instruments which tend to become Gordian knots, referenda are obligatory, as they constrain the scope of future Parliaments' activities.

A regressive tax



In his memoirs, Nigel Lawson notes that Lady Thatcher's least favourite tax was the BBC license fee. Thankfully, the Tories have decided to consider action against this. Consider the complete lack of accountability in the BBC which would make the European Commission green with envy. The BBC's competitors have an independent regulator to review their practices. With the BBC, it's an internal review board, which, at most, tells journalists to review their practices if they're breached guidelines. While the ITC investigates Sky TV for its allegedly biased airing of Fox News on its digital channel (all of 9 complaints received by the ITC), the BBC has no such problem, despite the views of many Britons, including the crew of the Ark Royal. The BBC should be held to at least the same standard as its competitors, if not a greater standard, due to its receipt of funds from the public purse. Asking any body to self-regulate is a foolish decision.

Furthermore, the BBC's quest for ratings leads one to question its public service remit. One would be better off with competitive bidding for public service programming, similar to the way in which other service providers bid for licenses (and tend to receive some sort of subsidy for service).

Then there's the integrity issue. Until Greg Dyke stops throwing around apparent polling numbers without referencing the source, I fail to give any credence to them.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

'Ello, 'ello, 'ello


The Times also suggests some new tests for applicants to Britain's police forces. A sample:

3. Language and Comprehension. Potential officers will be tested on their ability to understand key words in modern policing. The old test, which probed comprehension of outdated terms like “apprehend” and “criminals”, will be ditched. The recruitment panel will now be looking for those able to use words like priority policing while being able to explain convincingly why no one ever turns up to investigate a crime any more. Those who can deploy a cliché like “in a modern policing environment, reflecting contemporary society” might be considered as senior officer material.

The British police is proceeding in a westerly direction down the drain...

Pounding away at the Dollar and Euro


Anyone whoi is tempted to crow about the Euro's current strength against the Dollar should sit down, take a sip of water and read this Times editorial. The Euro's previous weakness may have helped mask Euroland's economic woes:

Far from hurting America, in fact, the falling dollar seems to pose a much greater threat to those euroland economies. Several countries have chronic unemployment problems, which are likely to get worse. And leading European companies, ranging from the French defence firms to German car manufacturers have blamed relatively poor figures on the weak dollar. These companies have been reliant on exports given the weak demand at home — for example, the economist Roger Bootle has noted that Germany’s barely visible GDP growth last year would have been more embarrassing but for a 2.6 per cent rise in exports.

Worse, the impact of dollar movements is accentuated because of the number of currencies that are pegged to it. The Chinese yuan, Hong Kong dollar, Argentinian peso and Malaysian ringgit, to name but a few, bob up and down in line with the greenback. So the dollar’s decline against the euro means not only that American cars are now 27 per cent cheaper in France and Germany than they were 15 months ago, but also that Chinese electronics are 27 per cent cheaper. This potentially leaves the eurozone in a very uncomfortable position sandwiched between two powerful economies, one (America) competing with Europe on high-end goods and services and the other (China) on the low-cost products made by unskilled workers where Europe is already very vulnerable.

The apparent inability of the European Central Bank to see this threat coming — the equivalent of the elephant in the living room — is one more reason why UK Treasury officials may feel reluctant to cede control of British monetary policy. The Stability Pact prevents members of the eurozone from responding to the threat of the falling dollar by reducing interest rates or borrowing to accelerate growth. It is hard not to conclude that the Federal Reserve is currently being run more intelligently than the European Central Bank.

I fail to see how the Prime Minister can ignore these harsh truths. That is why I remain convinced that his current support for the Euro is more a factional move aimed at keeping his transnationalist wing on his side, rather than seeing them charge off to join the Lib Dems.

Cui bono?


It appears that Col. Tim Collins, whose speech to his men at the outset of the Iraq War was as moving an expression of British martial values as one could get, is being investigated for breaches of the Geneva Convention in the maltreatment of prisoners. The accusation, it appears, came from an American officer. This strikes me as very fishy indeed. Does anyone have any theories as to what's going on here, as it baffles me?

Paging Rep. Sensenbrenner


The old order changeth, the attitude changeth not. Despite its abolition, it seems that the prevailing attitudes of the INS -- arrogance, discourtesy and incompetence -- are still in place in America's airports. That is, if this story has any truth in it (and I see no reason why we should doubt the correspondent's word).

Blair and neconservativism


Apparently the venerable BBC investigative program Panorama had a hit-piece this Sunday complaining about shadowy neo-conservatives and their influence over Tony Blair. Stephen Pollard has already stuck the boot in, deservedly, but it is clear to me that these Panorama luvvies haven't the faintest idea what they're talking about. Here's the addled old Auntie's definition of a neocon:

They tend to have three things in common.

That they are prepared to use military force for moral purposes - unilaterally if necessary - have shifted their political beliefs from the Left to the Right, and are strong believers in religion.

Compare and contrast original neocon Michael Novak's definition:

the creed of the neocons may be also be happily stated, in three structural propositions:

* Economic realism, breaking from leftist utopianism, is fundamental; and the dynamic drive of realism in economics flows from mind, creativity, and enterprise. Also, in the real world, incentives help mightily.
* Politics is more fundamental than economics, for without the rule of law, limited government, and respect for natural rights economic progress is scarcely possible.
* Culture is even more fundamental than politics or economics, for without certain architectonic ideas, certain habits of the heart, a love for argument and evidence and open conversation, and a few other moral and spiritual dispositions, neither a republic respecting rights nor a dynamic capitalist economy can thrive, or even survive.

These three are the structural conditions for a free society.

In a word, the free society requires for its maintenance and its flourishing three successive inner conversions, or transformations, of the mind and heart — economic, political, and cultural. That is why most who become neoconservatives (barbarous name!) experience their becoming so as something like a conversion.

Friends of mine who saw the program say that the cultural and social policy aspect of neoconservativism -- the most fundamental aspect -- was not mentioned at all. Obviously, our esteemed BBC fact-checkers were too busy working on the Jessica Lynch story to bother to pick up a copy of The Public Interest.

It is a shame that Jonah Goldberg's excellent series on NRO about the use and abuse of the term neocon was not published in time for what few diligent people remain at the BBC to consider. I think his conclusion, even though he is probably unaware of Panorama's pantomime, fits the discussion perfectly:

If neoconservatives are hawks who favor democracy, then most conservatives and Republicans are neocons and therefore the term is too broad to be useful. If neocons are Jews, then stop calling Max Boot, Dick Cheney, and Newt Gingrich neocons. If neocons are ex-liberals stop calling Bill Kristol a neocon and start calling the founders of National Review neocons. And so on and so on. If you mean "hawk" say hawk. If you mean "Wilsonian" say Wilsonian. If you mean "Bill Kristol" say Bill Kristol. And, if you mean "Jew," for goodness sake, say Jew.

But if you mean neoconservative, you should know what you're talking about.

The BBC: ignorant, unsophisticated, and careless. All those adjectives have been applied by British media critics to, ooh, I dunno, Fox News amongst others. What marks the BBC out as worse than any of those networks in this case, however, it that by broadcasting such badly-researched drivel it is betraying the public it is supposed to serve. Lord Reith would have had kittens.

Further DeLay


In case you're interested, here's the text of the speech Tom DeLay delivered at the CEI Dinner last night. We also had a chance to meet Bjorn Lomborg (Kris to Bjorn: "Dude, you rock!") and toasted the memory of data-driven journalist Warren T. Brookes. A pretty sound night, all told.

Mad about the cow


My article on what I continue to view as the folly of precipitate precuationary action over mad cow disease is up at National Review Online.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

ROFLMAO


After getting back from the CEI Dinner -- of which more anon -- Kris and I watched the last episode of Buffy. Suffice it to say, I actually fell out of my seat and drooled at the single most hilarious moment in the history of television fantasy. A triumph from Joss Whedon, who has to do Dr Who now...

PP: Volokhian co-conspirator Dan Drezner has the best set of Buffy links around.

Kinda A Bargain


Rumsfield has ordered a "lessons learned" analysis of the Iraqi War according to Newsweek. Apparently Lt. Gen. Michael Moseley has already compiled some raw data. Most interestingly, the known costs of the Iraqi War were $917,744,361.55 —an amount equivalent to 46 minutes, 10.5 seconds’ worth of total U.S. economic output in 2001. Goodness!

It All Makes Sense Now


In another Newsweek article I've learned that the US military is "breaking Saddam supporters" by constantly playing heavy metal music and children's songs. That explains a lot about me since my days are filled with the same children's songs over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over ...

A Prayer for the Innocent


I spent much of this morning near or in tears reading in Newsweek about the Saudi bombings. In particular the discovery of two charred child corpses found hugging each other under a stairwell. May God guide us in finding this evil and destroying it with righteous justice and thorough vengence. Our prayers are with all those who have suffered pain and loss at the hands of these evil, evil men. May God forgive them because I can not.

Three cheers for Chirac?


Who killed Kyoto? Everyone says it was President Bush, but a closer look at what went on outside America in November 2000 suggests it was the French. That's the topic of my TCS column today.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Nuku bombiin


Thanks to Nick Barlow for bringing my attention to Austria's entry in this year's Eurovision Song Contest. Not since Samiid Aednan, a Norwegin song about the environmental plight of the Lapps, which received "nul pointes," or my personal favorite, Nuku Bombiin (sp?), a Finnish punk-rock cry of angst against the peril of nuclear war, have we seen such environmental awareness in a melody:

Alf Poier says: “My song called “Man Is the Measure of All Things” is all about animals living in the filth created by man. However things like water, trees of the forest, anthills, pure light, elephants with their trunks and cockroaches living under tiles have to count as well. My song is a hymn to individualism and against collectivism. I am in favour of balls and against circles, for corners and against edges, for every tree and not the generalisation of a forest. It is not so much the song that counts in my performance, but the moral behind it. Whoever votes for me is against being standardised and cemented into the ‘European banality’."

What a star. Those young Russian girls in the see-through shirts don't stand a chance.

Yes!!!


Tony Blair must be doing something right. Canada's looniest lefty columnist, Heather Mallick, says that Britain is becoming a hateful place ruled by a madman. She doesn't like Our Tone:

Mr. Blair thinks gays are dirty beasts, doesn't like immigrants or atheists, loathes the word "feminist" and is a born-again Christian. No wonder his wife is still giving birth in her 40s.

Erm, sorry, run that by me again? Nope, too late, it's time to remember wistfully the golden age of socialist Britain under an unlikely leader:

Get this: The gap between rich and poor is now wider than under Margaret Thatcher. I miss that brave woman. At least she paraded her contempt rather than "spinning" it.

Result!

Mallick also says:

Cherie is clearly off her rocker, with her flowing clothes, her crystals and frolicking with the asteroids or whatever.

Takes one to know one, dear.

(Hmm. I think I was channeling Peter Briffa for a moment there).

Spot the condescension


The REU, which I think used to be the Racial Equality Unit, has decided that old people from ethnic minorities in the UK must have a poorer quality of life because they have experienced racism at some point in the past. Leaving this idea aside, the press release seems hard-pressed to find any real negatives in their overall quality of life, pointing out how they're quite happy to form communities of their own to make up for the lack of the traditional social structure for old people in their country of origin. As it points out, they accept thing are different in Britain and show no desire to return to their home country, which I suspect must have disappointed the researchers terribly. But the condescension reaches new depths towards the end:

Perhaps contrary to expectations, a high proportion of people identified religion as providing meaning and purpose to their lives. This was especially true of Black Caribbean women for whom their local church was one of their most important sources of social support.

"Perhaps contrary to expectations..."!?! Words fail me...

Is that it?


Thanks to the marvelously cantankerous Numberwatch website, I was reminded about Christopher Booker's Notebook, a weekly survey of excessive regulation -- often European in origin -- that the Sunday Telegraph does its best to hide on its website for some reason. This week's edition contains a bombshell about mad cow disease:

The chief reason for doubting a link between beef and CJD lay in the epidemiological evidence, which even in 1996 suggested that the promised epidemic was a fantasy. Over the past seven years, as the incidence curve has begun a steady fall, that has seemed ever more certain. Now, after reviewing the evidence, Professor Roy Anderson and his Imperial College team have published a revised estimate of the total number of victims likely to die of vCJD in the future (link available through www.wamwell.com [sic]). Their figure? Not 400,000, or 40,000, just 40.

I was amazed. Not too long ago, Anderson was still claiming the likely figure would be in tens of thousands. So I followed that link, via Warmwell.com, not wamwell, and found the peer-reviewed paper at BioMedCentral. Sure enough,

Our results show a substantial decrease in the uncertainty of the future course of the primary epidemic in the susceptible genotype (MM-homozygous at codon 129 of the prion protein gene), with a best estimate of 40 future deaths (95% prediction interval 9-540) based on fitting to the vCJD case data alone.

When they add in the possibility that the disease could be spread by surgical equipment -- hypothesized, but no examples have yet occured -- the number rises to 100. Hardly earth-shattering.

Of course, each of these deaths was a tragedy but no more so than a death from any other incurable disease. Did the British economy and public confidence in science need to suffer so much for this? I may have a piece published later in the week on this very subject. Watch this space.

Morris dips his toe in Anglospheric waters


Like David Mellor, American political strategist is known for toe-sucking, but unlike the erstwhile Conservative his clever advice helped his clients win elections. More than anyone else, perhaps, he provided the Clinton team with the direction it needed to win the White House twice. So it is intriguing to see that he recoignizes the Anglsophere, in all but name, as an idea whose time has come:

Always globalist in its thinking, Britain has learnt the lesson of its pre-Second World War days and has embraced the need for a strong hand in foreign affairs. Understanding the reason to use force against injustice in a way German post-war conditioning (for which we must be grateful) will not allow, Britain can and should step up to the permanent role in global leadership that its limited population and economy forced it to abandon in the 1950s. The era of "no commitments east of Suez" is long gone.

In an econo-centric world, the British Commonwealth counts for little. But in the global fight against terror, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other English-speaking countries are valuable and important allies.

The political lesson of the war in Iraq is that the people of America and Britain have far more in common with one another than do the British people with the French or the Germans.

Our common linguistic heritage, shared values, renunciation of appeasement as a policy option, commitment to do battle against injustice, and our essential optimism about the possibility of success make us partners in a way that continental Europeans, with their history of foreign occupation, can never hope to match.

Morris finishes by looking sideways at Blair's pro-European policies:

The British are a can-do people, imbued with energy and positivism. Like Americans, they look to their future. Unlike the French, they are neither cranky nor neurotic. Unlike the Germans, they have been neither beaten nor humiliated.

Britain can trade and share its currency with anyone its wants. It can subscribe to joint domestic policies with the continental bureaucrats if it so desires. (Although I suspect the door to Nafta is open to Britain if it ever gets tired of its current confrères.)

Make your economic destiny with the Continent if you wish. But save your political vows for a marriage with America. We want you ever so much more than they do, and our joint future is a lot brighter than theirs.

The Anglosphere idea allows for continued British interaction within or without the European Union, but it draws the line at political union. Morris is perhaps a little too headstrong in using the term "political marriage," but the basic idea -- that Britain and America share more than Britain and Europe ever could, barring Britain ceasing to be Britain -- is the basis of the Anglospheric idea.

Religion Hour



Time to sound off on Christianity. As regular readers will know, in the UK, I'm a lapsed Episcopalian/Anglican, due to the extreme politicisation of the Church of England. Rowan Williams has alleged that members of the Western Church indulge in boredom, greed, exploitation, and indifference, according to The Times. The Church seems to have lost hold of the transcendent aspect of faith in its services today, serving up a mish-mash of contemporary 'trendy' religion, and old high church. I blame part of this on politics. When one attends a service, the point of any religious sermon is to explain to the believers how to adopt the principles of religion in life, not advocate a controversial view. For example, it is not controversial to want peace. However, if one is told whom one should support in the Iraq conflict, it's a bit too far. Another part is the nature of the services. There are quite a few 'smells and bells' which may be useful to the praise of God, but in today's fast-paced society, a long service will dissuade people, while they will listen to a preacher. Ceremony and ritual are important, but the current system seems to satisfy neither traditionalists nor modernizers. Instead of striking a middle ground, the church should provide separate services, as the two groups will never agree on the style of worship.

Birdbrained



Today's Guardian features Peter Singer, pontifex maximus of the 'two legs bad, four legs good' theory. In other words, he's the founder of animal rights. As an aside, I have to be impressed by the Australians. They were originally a dumping ground for British undesirables, but they seem to send most of their more extreme 'theoreticians' (e.g. Germaine Greet & Mr Singer) to other parts of the Anglosphere. According to Mr Singer, we're all oppressors, since we harm living things. Don't plants live as well? To him, it's shocking that we're related to chimpanzees. I guess evolutionary relations therefore justify equality. And fish feel pain! Cows don't like their stalls! Mr Singer fails to point a fine line between humanely treating animals, and what's necessary to survive. He'd argue that we shouldn't eat anything which can feel pain, which really doesn't have much to do with humane treatment. Again, if we treat all animals this way, what makes it different to be 'human'? Where do animal's 'natural law' end, and mankind's rights begin? I previously argued against a ban on kosher and halal slaughtering, claiming it to be pandering to political correctness, and offensive to orthodox adherents of Islam and Judaism. The methods of slaughtering used are far from barbaric, and to me, it seems trivial to argue over whether a cow will suffer a millisecond of pain when it's killed. While it is obvious that we should avoid inflicting pain on it, we are killing the creature, and any talk of halting religious laws to accomodate the sensations of an animal for the slaughter is trivial.
If Mr Singer wants to talk evolutionary history, mankind's ancestors were omnivorous, though descended from herbivores. While he argues that we should make leeway to our close evolutionary brothers, the great apes, he fails to realize the entire point of evolution is changing to adapting conditions. In addition, we did eat meat in the past, as homo habilis, erectus, et al all were omnivorous. Only Austrolepithecus wasn't, and he fell by the wayside. One wonders about the pure health benefits of a vegan diet (surely, Mr Singer et al wouldn't want us to stop at vegetarianism).

Besides, one reason I find animal rights a bit farcical is that none of these groups stresses conservation of endangered species. There seems to be an aesthetic test for preservation. If it's an adorable bunny, it must be saved. If it's a manatee, who cares? (I admit, I am a supporter of Save The Manatee and will support the Australian Platypus Conservatory, when I stop my idleness) Surely, if the gist of animal rights is that we should not inflict pain on any feeling creature, more than just food breeding and animal testing should be taboo?

Friday, May 16, 2003

Contest time



Time for something slightly frivolous here, and a test of yahoo's spam filter. Given the current state of the Tory Party, what songs might be appropriate for it and why? Not just titles, but also lyrics. Note: D-Ream's "Things Can Only Get Better" has already been taken. Enter as many times as you'd like. The overall winner will receive something interesting that I spot at Politico's later this week, and winners of certain categories (rap songs, country songs, etc.) will also be recognized, unless they'd prefer not to be. E-mail me at fjsinlondon@yahoo.com with your entries. There are a few more judges as well, who know far more about the music business than I do.

Boycotting for an exam?



Well, it's exam time for me in the UK. Just finished one earlier today. However, in Florida, black leaders are calling for a boycott of major industries to combat the administration of a exam that students need to take to graduate high school. First, last I checked, you didn't need to be a high school graduate to work in certain fields (from politics to others). Also, don't you need to pass exams to graduate? Otherwise, what's the bloody point of showing up in the first place? Bishop Curry claims that since some of these students have received athletic scholarships, they've proven their academic merit. First off, sometimes, scholarships are revoked if an athlete fails to meet a threshold on either the ACT or SAT (aptitude tests). So receiving a sports scholarship doesn't have anything to do with academic ability. If students can't pass, then they don't deserve the same qualification as their peers who do pass. Yes, many inner-city schools are woefully bad, but should the slackers at that school deserve the same merit as those who have achieved against adversity? The solution is not to lower standards, as that will further complicate things.

A stopped clock is right



John O'Farrell makes a good point in today's Guardian. According to proposed European regulations, halal and kosher methods of slaughtering will be banned as insensitive to animal rights. He's right in claiming that we cannot claim to be a tolerant society while only allowing those whose religious beliefs who do not offend our ideals to practice their views. Yes, animal rights are equivalent, if not superior, to the rights of observant Jews and Muslims to practice their religion in the eyes of the PC Brigade. So, doesn't that seem to equate to a view that animals are better, and more deserving of those rights than practitioners of those religions? Yes, the right is often criticized for comparing minorities and religious people to animals, but the left is far worse in this case.

A good idea from the Tories



In today's papers, the article mentioning the Tories' plans on the Lotto has a small snippet which I'd like to hear more about. Apparently, there will be 'a presumption of tax relief' on charitable donations. The current system of charity financing in Britain allows the charity to claim back the tax you would have paid on your donation. So if the tax is 10%, and you give 100 pounds, the charity gets 100 from you, and 10 from the government. The US system of deductibility is far better, allowing tax deductibility for charitable donations up to a given threshold. If you give money in the UK, you still have to pay the same amount of tax, while in the US, you can cut your tax bill while also encouraging the voluntary sector. It plays to self-interest, but countries with a tax-deductibility system seem to have far greater per capita donations than those without. This may be one way to help solve university funding problems.

An 'understanding of Europe'?



Denis Macshane, the Minister for Europe, contends that MPs aren't spending enough time in Europe, so don't understand them. Balderdash. Many of the most fervent Eurosceptics holiday in France, Spain, or Italy, speak a European language, etc. At least the Foreign Office has extended the budget to meetings outside of Brussels, Strasbourg, and Luxembourg, but only to other capital cities, so the flight to the Riviera will be stayed, for a bit.

Corruption in Government



The French love of opera buffa on the governmental level furthers itself today, with the Elysee Palace claiming that the White House misled France about Iraq in an attempt to discredit Chirac's administration. Surely this isn't the same Jacques Chirac who inveighs against the Bush adminstration's ties to Enron. It must be some other Jacques Chirac, not the former Mayor of Paris known for taking slush fund payments for his party and bribes in suitcases, and someone who would have made even Neil Hamilton turn green with envy (speaking of which, Fayed was a big Chirac supporter, too). Someone whose close allies and fellow ministers in his RPR administration are either on trial for corruption, or under investigation. One doesn't need to editorialize about this guy, as facts are enough to bury him. Even diehards like David Horowitz would probably see this guy as far dodgier than President Clinton, and equally passionate Democrats would have the same view of Chirac relative to Enron. He's just honest Jacques. So, how can Chirac be discredited? That would imply he had a reputation for probity. Crying wolf over this is rather like the BNP claiming that they're falsely portrayed as racists, although admiring Hitler immensely.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Double Take


Those of us who remember a former President of the National Union of Mineworkers will have surely had to look twice at the headline Gormley unveils metal model nudes...

'We don't do burglary'


Then there's this article by a Londoner who had his moped stolen, but who had eye-witnesses who saw the crime happen. He asked the police for help pursuing the criminals, and got this reply:

‘We don’t do that,’ said the female duty officer, as she drained her can of Tizer.

‘Right,’ I said. ‘We will continue our search, and if we find any of the boys we’ll frogmarch them in here so you can arrest them. I know this sort of thing is pretty far down on your list of priorities, but it matters a hell of a lot to some of us.’

‘You can’t do that. If you bruise them, their parents will accuse you of assault. You can only detain them.’

He and his eye-witnesses sought out the stolen vehicle anyway and, on finding the evidence, were told:

‘We don’t do that,’ said the same duty officer.

‘What do you mean, you don’t do that?’

‘We don’t even visit the scene of a home burglary any more unless there are exceptional circumstances.’

‘But don’t you want to get the fingerprints so that if and when you catch them you will have some evidence? Don’t you want to get a proper description of what they look like from the decorators? Don’t you want to be seen to be on the case?’

‘It doesn’t work like that,’ she said. ‘But you’re welcome to report the crime, and I suggest you do if you intend to claim on your insurance.’

There are a lot of stories like this. Equally, there are stories like the one Stephen Pollard told recently of swift and assured police response to complaints. It is, perhaps, the inconsistency that annoys me the most. A citizen can't be sure of what is going to happen when he calls the police for help. That's just plain wrong. At least knowledge that the police have abrogated their role in all cases of burglary would probably inspire wholesale rejection of the system and the "revolutionary" action that would be needed in such a case. The present system just leaves citizens dangling. Distribution of justice in the UK is becoming capricious -- 'freakish and wanton' as someone once said of a certain form of justice over here.

If the Tories are going to make anything of this, they should remember that the weight of the evidence is that longer sentences are not the answer to crime. It's certainty of capture and punishment. Police must catch burglars, and they must be sentenced to custodial punishment. That's the reverse of what most people -- including the police -- in the UK seem to think.

Right and wrong


Now this article, about the Tory approach to Iraq, is better. It certainly gets the motivations behind current Tory strategy right, such as this observation, which I've echoed elsewhere:

Party strategists took the view that the way to gain maximum political advantage out of the crisis was to be staunch, not sceptical. Talk of doing what Labour did during the Maastricht debates in 1992, and voting against the government to try to bring about its defeat, was dismissed out of hand. Such cynicism, it was felt, would backfire. Instead, the Tories calculated that by voting with the government, more Labour MPs were likely to rebel.

Indeed. If you want to make Labour appear divided, vote with them more often. Unfortunately, the article then goes off on a weird tangent about the neoconservative influence in DC, and over IDS. This article shows a profound misunderstanding about neoconservatives and their role in Washington politics. I half get the feeling that the author would call the Heritage Foundation neocon. Actually, to borrow a line from sp!ked, this analysis tells us more about current British conservative issues than it does about Americans.

What the author is in fact describing is the distinction between Old High Tories -- paternalist and skeptical of foreign adventures -- and the dominant Conservative philosophy of the past 100 years, since the Liberal Unionists joined the Tories to create the modern Conservative coalition. That philosophy allows for liberal conservatism, which is why it has been so successful. The Tory paternalists, who have grown in strength since the mistakes of the Major era split the coalition as I've described here many times, don't want to give up their strength. Meanwhile, the liberal (in economics, mostly, but social as well) wing grows more and more suspicious of the Old High Tories. Blaming this all on neocons is a convenient tactic for the paternalist wing, but it won't wash when you come down to it.

Let's take, for instance, the analogy this High Tory is using:

[E]nthusiasm for the new Bush doctrine is not universally shared by Tory MPs. One of its most cogent critics is Andrew Tyrie, who has set out what is at stake in an insightful pamphlet published jointly by the Bow Group and the Foreign Policy Centre. ‘The international system’s stability depends on the mutual recognition of states’ legitimacy. It is a common-sense principle: do not invade my house and I will not invade yours. George Bush is setting that doctrine aside.’ It is a recipe, says Tyrie, not for international order but for ‘international anarchy’.

Rubbish. It's civilization, not anarchy, because Tyrie doesn't push his analogy far enough. You sit happy in your house while your neighbor sits happy in his. When you hear sounds of beating and cries for help from his wife, you rush round to help, breaking down the door. That's the common-sense principle. Tyrie's idea of international order involves plugging up your ears, turning up the music and settling down to read the paper, ignoring brutality and leaving civilized behavior behind. It's the "Bugger you, Jack, I'm all right" idea that Tories fought so hard against for so long. Now we see Tory MPs advocating it. That's despicable.

Wrong!


Lots to comment on in the new Spectator. I happen to think the cover article is dead wrong. It says that Blair is finished and that Short's resignation is the end of his dominance. I wrote about this below, saying the complete opposite, and have nothing realy to add. Blair's super-majority means he can brush aside a much more numerous awkward squad than previous prime ministers could, and he'll continue to be able to do that. If Oborne's conjecture is right we would have seen a much bigger rebellion over the foundation hospitals issue. Besides, who would you rather have in your cabinet: Baroness Amos, the glamorous first black woman Cabinet Minister, or dumpy, mad old Clare Short?

The Spam Song



I have been thinking about how to stop spamming. Given that my father is in charge of the committee of congress dealing with it, I have had numerous conversations with him as to why it should be banned. Firstly, there are regulations on other use of telecommunications (telemarketing, etc.) that place statutory guidelines on behaviour. However, whatever angle I use, he retorts with the rightly held belief that individuals have the right to contact each other. Contemplating that, I think a strong legal case can be made for preventing spam 'bots' (automated programmes which e-mail lists, or harvest addresses, compile them, and all the user has to do is press send). It is fair to say that individuals hold these rights. But a piece of code which automatically performs a task deserves no claim on these rights. It would be akin to someone claiming that a program they created has a 'right' to do things. In addition, in ways, spambots are similar to Denial of Service (DOS) attacks, and have similar effects. Shutting down a firm's website costs it business, but I might lose business if a full inbox due to spam prevents me from receiving important e-mail. Although there is little 'actual' loss, there is a great opportunity cost. After all, most DOS attacks involve obsessive 'pinging' of websites. Isn't that the same as communication (it's a request for information.)? And like 'spambots', it's a program doing all the dirty work. Simply, it might be wise to ban these programs. That way, the cost structure is reversed. If a company wants to increase its marketing scope on the internet, it can hire more employees, who are ultimately accountable for the 'right' of the corporation to be heard. This would not gag companies, but force them to compete on the same terms we expect of other marketing firms. Legitimate mailing lists (as in when you add yourself to a marketing list in return for receiving content from a website) would be exempt from this.

Of course, it's always tempting to require any bulk e-mailer to confirm their e-mail. After they send the spam, all the recepient's ISPs would automatically reply (more 'bots') asking the spammer to confirm for each person e-mailed. Given the number of e-mails spammers send out, it's rather likely they will be spammed out of existence quite fairly, as they'd receive a copy of each e-mail they send.

Human Rights?



Yvette Cooper, a high-flying Blairite minister (I'm surprised she hasn't been placed in the Cabinet in any of the recent moves), praises the Human Rights Act in the Guardian. The Human Rights Act is a hodgepodge of blanket human rights declaration and social contract between the European state and people. In it, it promises certain 'human rights' only to Europeans, which seems to contravene the meaning of human rights to me. Also, it's very easy to abuse. Corporate law has seen a proliferation of cases with firms suing due to violations of the Human Rights Act. As a firm is a legal 'person', they apparently have the same 'human rights' as individuals, and whatever one thinks of that, I doubt ensuring corporate rights was HRA's intent. Hence, one can cite HRA in just about any lawsuit. That's why Cherie Blair makes so much money.

She's Back!



The Iron Lady returns to the stage and calls the French 'collaborators'.

Hat tip LGF

Education Part Two



Contrary to what seems thought, I'm fully in favour of paring down university places, but IDS' proposals do not address the lack of funding for universities, which is critical. First of all, we need to look at the A level system. Well meaning admissions tutors seem to look at admissions as 3 'A's are equivalent to any other three 'A's. As the prospectus for the General Studies A-Level shows, this ain't true. And the solution proposed? A Critical Thinking AS Level. It's hard to claim meritocracy when everyone's a winner. I take issue with Iain's comment about former polytechnics. I'm studying at City University (formerly known as Northampton Polytechnic), and although it's not the dreaming spires, the business courses here are better than the University of Edinburgh, and recommended to be as the best in Britain by a tenured professor at Columbia Business School. Hardly cause for a blanket claim that all polytechnics are diploma mills in sensitivity management. Here is a good list of silly courses offered. I accept that there is a good deal of faux courses, but there's also quite a few success stories among former polytechnics. And let's not delude ourself that only former polys have daft courses. It's present everywhere, though garbed in sophistry at more sophisticated institutions. Instead of Beckhamology, it's the historical dialectic of sexual identity as expressed in popular culture. Same difference to me. However, if the worthy courses and students aren't receiving the necessary funding, it's a moot point, isn't it?

On an aside, why are British teachers not doing the job? For the most part, the Education faculty has the lowest A-level threshold of all programmes offered. So although some brilliant individuals who desire to teach learn education (which strikes me as stupid.. the best teachers I've had didn't have education degrees, but unionism tends to stop good teachers without teaching certifications), we're stuck with a load of students who received Cs in their A-levels.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Wow!


I just discovered we're one of BlogStreet's Most Important 100 Blogs (ranking #60, well below our Nat at #4). I learnt this from the vir honestissimus Dr Weevil, who has produced a table of Bloggers' Bloggers which puts me at #32. Golly. That's one place above the Blogfather and Andrew Sullivan, but well below a lot of other great blogs. I'm staggered. As Glenn always used to say, I'm amazed anyone reads this stuff...

I'm an eejit


... for continually failing to link to Mick Fealty's Letter to Slugger O'Toole. For anyone interested in what's going on in Northern Ireland, his now-famous piece Can Unionists Embrace Change? is worth a read. As, by the way, is Portadown News, a real case of laughter through the tears. Coming soon to the links section near you (i.e. on the left).

E-mail group active


And I think I may have solved the problem whereby no-one was getting the posts by e-mail, either...

If I'm correct, and I'll update if I'm not, by clicking the link on the left you'll get any posts any of us make by e-mail.

For the approbation of the masses


Despite the posting details above, I have finally gotten around to setting Kris up with her own account. You'll now be able to see her posts, in all their glory, under her own name.

Iain Murray
Kris's husband

PR: the Technocrat's Choice


I've been saying for years that "proportional representation" will destroy the whole point of representative democracy -- the link between a representative in the legislature and his or her constituent. Now a new study from the Economic and Social Research Council says that proportional representation distances MEPs from their constituents:

"The introduction of proportional representation had substantial and immediate effects on who was elected," says Prof David Farrell, the report's co-author. "The British contingent became more proportional in party terms and the number of parties represented rose from four to seven. However, there are also indications that with substantially larger Euro-constituencies, MEPs now place less importance on representing individual voters and more importance on representing their party."

The researchers found that British MEPs are still more likely to have regular contact with their electorate than many of their European counterparts. But almost half of the MEPs interviewed regarded constituency representation is a fairly minor part of their job.

The British contingent is likely to be reduced from its current 84 MEPs when the European Parliament includes representatives from its newest members in Eastern and Central Europe. "As that happens, British MEPs will be spreading themselves even thinner," adds Prof Farrell. "And that means they are even less likely to regard themselves as constituency representatives."

If this wasn't bad enough, the idea that a representative represents all his constituents, even those who didn't vote for him or her, is also under threat:

Nearly three fifths of MEPs said that they saw themselves as being in parliament to represent their political party. Dr Roger Scully, the report's co-author adds: "MEPs increasingly see themselves as representatives of their party and their party's supporters within the region, rather than representing the whole regional electorate. Given that a typical region will now have MEPs from several parties, this is perhaps not surprising. But it means that they spend a lot of their time communicating within their party rather than to the voters.

If members don't care about their constituents, the constituents will cease to care about them. When the problem is systemic, as it is here, then voters will acheive nothing by voting the member out, and so won't bother to vote at all. No wonder turnout in the European elections is only 23%. PR is an affront to democracy as the British understand it.

A Restrained Thumbs-Up to IDS


Like The Telegraph, and unlike Frank below, I'm actually quite happy with IDS's "fair deal" speech. I have to say that the pronouncement of Terence Kealey that the Tories are the new socialist party, quoted approvingly by Stephen Pollard is simply nonsense. The proposal to abolish tuition fees goes hand in hand with a pledge to reduce public spending on higher education by ensuring it remains more selective; there aren't many more conservative approaches than that. When was the last British socialist pledge to reduce spending on education? My point exactly.

What IDS is doing is in fact appealing to two traditional Tory values. The first is the idea that education should be meritocratic. There's no real advantage to society if half the population have dumbed-down degrees in golf course management from former Polytechnics (actually, the Major government's decision to allow the Polys to call themselves universities remains one of the stupidest of that benighted ministry's many idiocies). Yet this decision to abolish the silly Labour target has to go hand-in-hand with a serious revamp of the education system so that everyone who is bright enough can go to university whatever their income level by a sensible system of targeted scholarships and grants. Meanwhile, universities can be encouraged to reduce their reliance on central government funding and local authorities might perhaps offer incentives for people to attend local universities (the almost non-existent ties between local government and their universities can be strengthened this way -- interestingly, Adam Smith himself suggested there was nothing wrong with local funding of universities). The Telegraph's suggestion of endowments to universities is also one to consider.

The second value is, of course, the appeal to what I've called recently "social justice conservatives". They're people who are proud of British civilization and institutions and who were turned off by an over-reliance on economic arguments that led to the frequent accusation that the Tories knew the price of everything and the value of nothing. They were happy to see privatizations when the service improved (as in BT or some of the other utilities), but were skeptical of privatizations where new difficulties were introduced by the new structures or which, as in the case of railways privatization, seemed to be done in a bizarre fashion. These sorts of Tories are also worried about the effects of crime and drugs on their communities, and so the linking of the policies together under one umbrella seems very sensible to me. These Tories were natural Tory voters who were let doen by Major and have now been let down by Blair. They now have a choice of the Lib Dems or the Tories, and the Conservatives should be careful to stress the actual Lib Dem policies on these areas, which will certainly scare true social justice conservatives.

So I'm cautiously optimistic about IDS's new strategy. It seems to go a long way to attempting to rebuild the Thatcher-era coalition of economic liberals, patriots, moral authoritarians and social justice conservatives. Yet IDS should not forget his liberal wing. He should remember to stress the spending reductions implicit in his new approach. Otherwise, we'll have more people making the perfect the enemy of the good and calling IDS, quite unfairly, a Marxist.

Fear of Dependence


It has recently occurred to me that one of the biggest challenges families face today is the fear of being dependent on each other. I never for one instance considered that I was taking a big risk with my life when I stopped working to take care of my child, husband, and home. That my complete and utter dependence on Iain for everything made me extremely vulnerable never entered my mind.

I used to be afraid, in my twenties when I was an advertising copywriter for NYC agencies. The loss of independence was terrifying. No longer. Now, it is what is best for my family and myself.

So many men and women are afraid of being dependent. Iain's strength of character means he considers it an important responsibility not a burden to be the sole income provider. (Actually, we'd like to be immensely rich so we could spend all our time together but that ain't gonna happen.) I'd like to work but not if it means sacrificing my child's childhood or our family time together.

I am beginning to suspect that the divorce rate climbed once women started working because it was easier for men to shrug off their responsibilities once their wives were financially independent. And I believe that women felt more capable of leaving their husbands because they had an income of their own. Neither side felt compelled to work things out. The thought pattern shifted from "us" to "me". People began to think "I can do it on my own so why should I bother trying harder at my marriage." But has everyone become happier? Are families better off? Has quality of life improved? Are the children of double-income parents happier and better behaved? Overall, I'd say no.

Everyone makes choices. Some have no choice. I'm not going to judge (except perhaps on an individual basis 'cause I'm like that). But I do strongly believe that fearing dependence has lead to a real breakdown in the family and community as a whole. What do ya'll think?

Kris Murray
Iain's Wife

Postscript: When I talk about being dependent I mean it in a good way. Being able to depend on each other is the touchstone of marriage. A good thing. It's the unwillingness or fear to sacrifice our independence that is the problem.

Two way street


Ya know, I've been thinking about it and I've decided that I am sick and tired of this whole economic theory that tax cuts to the rich and to corporations are the best for America. Poppycock! Reagan said the tax cuts for the wealthy would "trickle down" to the poor in the forms such as higher wages and better training. Didn't happen that way. The extra money from the tax cuts went to shareholders. Then the vogue business trend of lay offs kept shareholders happy and no one else. Now that bubbles have burst, and the interest rates are cut, and the theoretical budget surplus is very solidly gone, what next? May I suggest that if the President wants to stimulate the economy, he'd better stop asking people to spend more unless he starts making sure those people have better wages. It's kinda ridiculous in a sluggish economy like ours to ask people to spend money they don't have. Rather than catering completely to the rich, why not dole out a few bucks to the lower and middle classes who spend more as a group anyways? Also, Iain's article about cutting the tax on foreign corporate income from 25% to 5% is a very good way to bring more money into the country (with the Senate's caveat that the corporations use the extra money towards R&D or employee training). I don't know how to make links so Iain will have to link this comment section to his article (I think it ran on UPI). At any rate, helping the vast majority of Americans (lower and middle class folks) and encouraging corporations to bring their foreign income into the country is in my economically-ignorant opinion a much better idea that rewarding the wealthy yet again.

Kris Murray
Iain's Wife

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

IDS: cleverer than he looks?


I promise to give you my thoughts on Iain Duncan Smith's 'fair deal for all' tomorrow lunchtime (I'm a bit busy tonight). Suffice it to say for the moment that I'm not as outraged as others are and can see positive signs in it.

Education, Education, Education



The Tories have wrong-footed it again. IDS has announced an end to tuition fees under a Conservative government, claiming that the fees are reducing access to working-class families. As I have said before, this is utter nonsense. First of all, under the old system, British taxpayers were paying for the education of foreigners studying at British universities out of a presumed charitable impulse. Secondly, if a university degree is worth enough, why isn't borrowing, or a combination of work-study programmes, grants, and student loans facilitated by the government (as in the US) sufficient? Apparently, the Tories had some interest in this idea, but not enough. Loans can be forgiven for those who go on to work in the public sector, and those working in the private sector tend not to have a problem repaying their student loans. Given this view, I'm surprised if Damian Green has even approached a university recently.

The problem is not in access, but in the quality of education, which in part is related to funding. Many students would agree with the stress on quality vs. cost. The current university system is characterized by a poor teaching staff to student ratio, an incredible paucity of contact between lecturers and students, and poor utilization of learning resources, like libraries. Only the rabble-rousers of the NUS, who are by no means representative of average student views, carp endlessly about loans.
When you can't compete with other employers to offer lecturers' salaries, you will lose out, and the best teachers will probably not be teaching. Tuition fees aren't a tax on learning. Those who benefit from an education in terms of earning power are those who receive it. Therefore, one ought to be willing to pay for an education, as it leads to increased earning power, even after weighing loans and fees against the discounted present value of future earnings. This also probably will kill those courses decried as 'silly', but would let the market dictate. If enough people believe that courses in curry-cooking will increase their future earning power, they'll pay for it. While much of the debate around higher education seems to have circled around costs, little discussion has mentioned the role of quality in education. The Tories seem to be forgetting this.

Taking Care of Business



The EU is nothing like Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Far from the paragon of free competition it would like us dumb Yanks to believe it is, it's a stultifying bureaucracy. That's why today's ruling on 'golden shares', shares which allow a government to veto proposed takeovers/restructurings of privatized firms. The EU court considered 'golden shares' "excessive", and restricting the free movement of capital. Surely this is no different from other measures of competition policy, but instead of issuing a blanket restriction on general movements within an industry, it works as a measure preventing control of monopoly firms (in the anti-trust sense.. not the only competitor, but the predominant competitor beyond a shadow of a doubt). Surely if we support less restrictions on markets, we'd support a golden share policy as opposed to blanket restrictions.

In the line of European competition policy, we turn to increased subsidies for train operators in the UK missing their target. (Can't find it on the FT website, but it's on the front page of the print edition) Govia, a consortium of the GoAhead Group and a subsidiary of French national railroad SNCF (and thus subsidized by yet another country as well!), will receive an increase in subsidies for running South Central trains despite missing targets. Why haven't the mandarins in the Ministry of Transport decided on a subsidy scheme with a variable component tied to performance? That way, if you don't perform well, you don't get as much money, but you are ensured a minimum amount. If we're to believe the publicity coming out from all operators, these franchises are glittering prizes, that some firm will adopt if one exits the industry. Therefore, why not pay less for lesser results? If firms decide to leave the franchise, someone else will take it up who can run it profitably. While I tend to oppose subsidies outright, I do understand that there are occasionally needs for them. The great problem is when subsidies pile upon other subsidies, completely reducing accountability and transparency within the system. Surely the goal of a subsidy is to ensure an acceptable level of performance for citizens, not to cover up for incompetent performance.

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.