England's Sword 2.0

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

The Journalists Themselves


My two penn'orth on Kris's journalism post. We often forget that journalism used to be a working class job. You grew up in your local community, then joined your local paper from school to do legwork on local stories. Eventually you'd get to senior positions, but you were always grounded in that basis of how stories affect local people. Now, you go to prestigious Schools of Journalism, where half the class are trust-fund kids. You are groomed for success on royal jelly. As such, you look down on the masses from an Olympian position. You know what's good for them, and you write in that spirit. That's often forgotten in the current debate.

And, of course, people react against such biased news. They seek out news sources that will reflect their worldview rather than someone else's. Fox is just following a model the liberals pioneered. Did the networks just forget that half the country is conservative? Or did they actually think they could convert them by their 'enlightened' coverage? I'm not sure which answer would be more damning.

This thing keeps on rolling


Just checked out the blogosphere's Physician General, Medpundit, who has a few things to say about the health contract idea. The slippery slope argument is important here (Eugene Volokh will be pleased):

Where does this sort of thing end? At the moment, the western world is more tolerant of sexual indiscretions than it is of dietary indiscretions. More tolerant of drug abuse than of tobacco abuse. But what happens when the pendulum swings and sexual indiscretions are no longer tolerated? Will the NHS deny publicly funded treatment for sexually transmitted diseases to people who have sex outside of marriage? Will they deny obstetrical care to single mothers? AIDS treatment to gay men who chose to have homosexual sex? Or to drug addicts who chose to use IV drugs? Taken to its logical conclusion, it’s a very rigid, inhumane policy. Surprising for a political party that’s supposed to be liberal.

Meanwhile, Stephen Pollard shows that he deserves the title of Britain's Instapundit in a very real sense with this article for The Times. His conclusion:

There is a direct link between obesity and poverty. Charging those who break their “contract” means, quite specifically, charging the poor — the very people who most need access to their GP because of the effect of their diet.

But the brains of Britain behind Labour’s new “ugh, poor people, how perfectly horrible” NHS plan have done us all a favour. They have shown the inevitable path down which a state-funded, state- delivered healthcare monopoly ends up travelling, with a rationale at once totally logical and totally surreal. If demand for a service is too high, bar access to those who use that service most. Even if they use it most because they need it most. It’s genius. It really is.

And the policymakers have also revealed in its full, blazing glory the contempt in which they really hold their fellow citizens. If you don’t measure up, ship out. If you aren’t living up to expectations, you don’t count.

Good points. Labour has actually produced a policy that speaks directly against many who are in its core vote, telling them that they're second class citizens because of their lifestyle. How stupid can you get? This could end up having more effect than the WMD issue, much to the disgust of the Guardianistas, I'm sure. The Tories should never let the working class forget that Labour proposed this one, even if they withdraw it (as I'm sure they will).

Cold water


One YouGov poll and Peter Cuthbertson has Tories going back to their constituencies and preparing for government, while Stephen Pollard has the writing on the wall for Our Tone. First of all, I've long cautioned against WhateverYouWantGuv polls, untested as they are scientifically (I agree with Bob Worcester of MORI that they probably got lucky in the last election). Secondly, I hardly think Blair is in as much jeopardy as Stephen seems to believe:

One insider told me yesterday that the Chancellor “hasn’t been so happy in ages. Sarah is pregnant, and Tony’s stuffed. It couldn’t really be much better for him”. The Prime Minister’s flagship Foundation Hospitals policy, which was intended as the boldest of all the bold new developments, has been neutered by the Chancellor’s intervention. Mr Brown forced Mr Blair to fight a bruising internal war to get his university fees policy through – and it has yet to face the anger of backbench Labour MPs, let alone many parents. And as every day brings a further deterioration in the Prime Minister’s trust ratings, and ever louder whispers against him by Labour MPs, so Gordon Brown licks his lips in anticipation. The Chancellor said no more than the bare minimum required of him during the war, and the more Mr Blair is damaged in the aftermath, the more Mr Brown is strengthened.

I'd be more inclined to go along with Stephen if there were a lot of Labour heavyweights on the backbenches leading the Brown faction for him (as there were in a supposedly similar situation when Mrs T neared her end). There aren't. Cook and Brown don't get along and Short is off her pram, as someone once said. Stephen Byers? Please.

The upshot is that this isn't a rerun of Mrs T in 1990. Blair still has the support of most of the cleverest members of the cabinet. The damp squib of the Foundation Hospitals revolt shows that the Blairite faction still has the whip hand (pun intended) over the party as a whole. The WMD question will blow over. I think the only mistake Blair made in hadnling the war was in using WMDs as the sole reason early on, but anyone arguing that we went to war over the WMD issue hasn't read his Hansard. Here's how Jack Straw summed up the debate to "authorize" military action*:

I impugn the motives of no one in the House. The different positions that we have taken all come from the best, not the worst, of intentions. But as elected Members of Parliament, we all know that we will be judged not only on our intentions, but on the results, the consequences of our decisions. The consequences of the amendment would be neither the containment nor the disarmament of Saddam's regime, but an undermining of the authority of the United Nations, the rearmament of Iraq, a worsening of the regime's tyranny, an end to the hopes of millions in Iraq, and a message to tyrants elsewhere that defiance pays.

Yes, of course there will be consequences if the House approves the Government's motion. Our forces will almost certainly be involved in military action. Some may be killed; so, too, will innocent Iraqi civilians, but far fewer Iraqis in the future will be maimed, tortured or killed by the Saddam regime. The Iraqi people will begin to enjoy the freedom and prosperity that should be theirs. The world will become a safer place, and, above all, the essential authority of the United Nations will have been upheld. I urge the House to vote with the Government tonight.

I'm surprised the Government hasn't been making this point as forcefully as it could, which leads me to suspect that there's something big in the offing. If there is, I imagine Blair's trust ratings will rebound again. So I don't think he has anything to worry about from his own backbenches. He certainly looks brighter and less haggard now than he did a few months ago. Not the sign of a man worried about his future.

So what about the threat from the Tories? First off, one poll doesn't make an election. I want to see sustained figures at this level or better before I agree it's an even fight again. There's no doubt, to my mind, that the tuition fees announcement helped. Now perhaps some similar policies on transport, health and crime might help too. And an end to any of this rubbish about "the nasty party," which really has had its day. Having said that, the fact that we're still behind in the polls despite everything speaks volumes. If we're going to win the next election, we need to be more than ten points ahead in the next year. Governments always rally towards election time, so the prospect is daunting.

Realistically, ceteris paribus, I'd say Blair will win the next election with a substantially reduced majority, but that the Tories will gain at the expense of the Liberal Democrats as well as Labour. The Iraq opportunism badly damaged Kennedy's credibility, I think.

What I'd really be interested in is reputable poling figures about how much the European Constitution issue has entered public consciousness as a vote-determining issue. I'm not sure what its status is, but if I were the Tories, I'd want to find out.

* Of course, the debate did no such thing. All it provided was moral, not legal, legitimacy. Blair could have committed troops without asking Parliament, as war is an executive, not a legislative function.

Behind the curve


Well, I said I'd mention the health contract idiocy. Actually, Layman's Logic and Marcus at Harry Hatchet (both links drabbled) have already said all that needs to be said. Apart from one thing: the ideal of universal free healthcare funded by general taxation is revealed as a myth. Health rationing reaches its obvious conclusion, and the case for it crumbles. The case for opt-outs for private insurance is made by this very policy. Unless HMG wants to have its cake and eat it (in which case, shouldn't it go on a diet?).

What The People Want To Hear


During the Iraqi War, many news channels showed the same war from many different perspectives. Some views of the war were more distorted than others. We are still seeing some of this today in the coverage of the rebuilding of Iraq (let alone all the other current events).

In this 24-hour news world, I suspect that news organizations are no longer interested in actually presenting the news so much as telling people what they want to hear. Reinforcing their belief systems rather than telling people what actually happened. As access to news gets more and more fractured, news slants are becoming more and more obvious. I don't mind the bias part so long as the news organization is honest about it. Claiming, for example, "a no-spin zone" when you are clearly a right-winger is disingenuousness at best.

News is news. Opinion is opinion. They should be kept separate. On the other hand, knowing where to find both sides of the same story is a good thing too. What do ya'll think?

Monday, June 02, 2003

Apologies...


For the lack of bloggage. I've been a tad busy, and met up with team member Frank Sensenbrenner this evening. Frank is sorry to say his current employer won't let him blog at all, but he'll be back when his internship finishes.

You can expect some outraged reaction from me tomorrow, by the way, to the headline currently flashing on the BBC News Front Page: "Fat people may have to diet to qualify for free healthcare."

Ah, the egalitarian ideal of socialized medicine at work.

Saturday, May 31, 2003

Desert Island Discs


It comes to us all in the end, I suppose. The spirit of Roy Plomley descended on me this evening during a second wonderful night out in a rown with my beloved bride and I asked myself, what ten records, book (Shakespoke and the Bible excepted) and luxuiry item would you choose if you were to be marooned on a desert island. So, after much thought, I came up with this list. The records first:

Wonderful - Adam Ant, something that reminds me of how much I missed my beloved while she was in Manhattan and I in London

Waterloo Sunset - The Kinks, something redolent of the beautiful side of London

10538 Overture - Electric Light Overture, a song I will always hush people up to hear when it comes on the jukebox

Oliver's Army - Elvis Costello and The Attractions, a song I will always get people to sing allong with when it comes on the jukebox

Beautiful Day - The Levellers, quote simply the best revolutionary song, ever

Wonderful World - Satchmo, well, Kris and I chose this as our wedding dance, 'nuff said

Time of My Life - Err..., the song Kris and I thought of as our own back in 1988...

Parklife - Blur, well, I'm such a Britpop fan than this anthem had to be in there

Protect and Survive - Runrig, Scots rock at its best ('s tu mo leannan alomist go the nod); and

Fields of Gold - Sting, a song with a very special meaning for Kris and I

Book -- The Federalist Papers, on the grounds I'll have lots of time to critique and design my own Commonwealth of Desertislandia

Luxury -- White tie and tails, so at least i'll be able to dress for dinner every night. Admittedly, I'll get crab and coconut juice all over it, but...

Alternative suggestions welcome!

Friday, May 30, 2003

City Journal piece up


Color me proud. I have a piece up at the City Journal site today. Getting Hitched looks at how the latest evidence demolishes various commonly-held arguments against people getting married when their children are born.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Tradition helps?


Not too much time to blog tonight, but I thought this little tidbit from the latest Nature might be of interest to those who have followed the town vs country debate in the UK. Hunt hosts conserve wildlife: Survey hints that field sports can boost conservation:

The idea that hunting can benefit biodiversity has not been evaluated before, says the study team. The fierce debate over such sports has traditionally focused on the conflicting issues of cruelty and pest control.

Woodland and hedgerows have been shrinking for the past 50 years in Britain, along with their resident populations of mammals, birds and insects. Many farmland species, such as the skylark and grey partridge, have dwindled alarmingly and are at risk of extinction.

From aerial photographs and interviews with landowners, Nigel Leader-Williams and colleagues at the University of Kent in Canterbury conclude that those who allow hunting and shooting give a greater proportion of their property over to woodland. They are also more likely to have taken up government subsidies to plant woods or hedges during the past ten years.

Not a surprise to those of us who are familiar with private conservation efforts.

Strawberries

Helen and I were "strawberry farmers" today. A friend suggested we join her and her girls and pick our strawberries at a nearby farm. So, in fifteen minutes, we went from our near urban home to rural farmland and picked a bunch of strawberries. Got good and muddy too. Since this berry operation had its own little farm stand, I bought some wonderful green beans, tiny potatoes, homemade "FROG" jam, homemade bread-and-butter pickes, homemade donuts, and an eclair for Iain that closely resembles the one they used in the assassination attempt on Homer Simpson. I lose all control in farm stands. We had boiled peanuts (yum!) and fresh strawberry ice cream for lunch (am I a good mom or what?).

Okay. So my question is this, what do I do with all the strawberries? I've pureed and frozen a bunch in ice cube trays to make strawberry dacquiris with. I've pureed some more and am cooking it down as I type to make strawberry jam. I have a bunch with stems on to dip into chocolate this afternoon with Helen. But I still have strawberries. A lot of you are British. Strawberries are a big deal to ya'll. Any tips? Green bean recipes are welcome as well.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

On a non-EU note...


Nice to see the Aventis Prize for Science Books getting more coverage this year. The US could really do with a few more things like this. These events normally get the whole country talking about literature in the UK, and I imagine they'd get at least the coasts talking over here...

Of course, they'd get taken over by New York Times columnists, wouldn't they? Forget I said anything.

European Judicial Supremacy


I promised to reply to Stephen Pollard's comments on my post below (Andrew Stuttaford also endorsed Stephen's views on The Corner, which puts me in opposition to two of the commentators I most admire). Stephen argues that Article 10 of the new constitution has far-reaching effects:

Leave aside issues of transferred sovereignty, and the move to a 'superstate'. They are, however strongly we might feel about them, judgement calls. Article 10 is clear, and specific, and whatever the likes of Peter Hain may say do involve a change, from a de facto supremacy to a de jure supremacy. At the moment we choose, via the 1972 European Communities Act, to agree to be bound by EU law. And we can choose, as Iain suggests, to unbind ourselves (with all the consequences that would follow). In the proposed new constitution that choice is taken away from us. The most basic part of the British constitution - that no Parliament can bind its successors - has been dropped, because even if a successor Parliament chooses to reassert its supremacy over EU law it cannot do so, having already conceded the primacy of EU law. Any such attempt would, by definition, be in conflict with the European Constitution obligations by which we would be bound.

To recap: at the moment the primacy of EU law is based on an Act of Parliament which can, like all Acts, be repealed. Under the proposed constituion, that primacy is based not on an Act of Parliament but on a Treaty which signs away the power of a Parliament to repeal its predecessor's decision if it conflicts with EU law, which holds that EU law is supreme - etc, etc.

I hate to disagree with Stephen, but I don't think this is the case. The doctrine that EEC/EU law is supreme over national law was established in 1964, and there was a host of jurisprudence backing up this interpretation by the time we joined in 1972. This led Lord Bridge in his opinion on the landmark case Regina vs Secretary of State for Transport, ex parte Factortame Ltd (1990) to state the following, in no uncertain terms:

Some public comments on the decision of the Court of Justice, affirming the jurisdic­tion of the courts of member states to override national legislation if necessary to enable interim relief to be granted in protection of rights under Community law, have suggested that this was a novel and dangerous invasion by a Community institution of the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament. But such comments are based upon a misconception. If the supremacy within the European Community of Community law over the national law of member states was not always inherent in the EEC Treaty it was certainly well established in the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice long before the United Kingdom joined the Community. Thus, whatever limitation of its sovereignty Parliament accepted when it enacted the European Communities Act 1972 was entirely voluntary.

Under the terms of the 1972 Act it has always been clear that it was the duty of a United Kingdom court, when delivering final judgment, to override any rule of national law found to be in conflict with any directly enforceable rule of Community law. Similarly, when decisions of the Court of Justice have exposed areas of United Kingdom statute law which failed to implement Council directives, Parliament has always loyally accepted the obligation to make appropriate and prompt amendments. Thus there is nothing in any way novel in according supremacy to rules of Community law in those areas to which they apply and to insist that, in the protection of rights under Community law, national courts must not be inhibited by rules of national law from granting interim relief in appropriate cases is no more than a logical recognition of that supremacy.

EU law is supreme over UK law in its areas of competence, however they are established, whether by this new constitution or by some other Treaty. That is not new. Legal scholars like Paul Craig of Oxford have stated that there are four bases for this interpretation: contractarian, in that when Parliament signed up for it the jurisprudence was well known, a priori and functional in that it is inherent for the EU to function adequately that its law must be supreme and the constitutional grounding of the European Communities Act 1972, which accepted transfer of legislative power to the European Institutions.

The new Constitution makes no claim, as I said below, to say how countries order their own constitutional arrangement. It is clearly not a competence of the EU to legislate on. So EU law has no supremacy there. The Treaty to which Stephen refers only has any legislative legitimacy in the UK by virtue of being adopted into national law by passage of an Act of Parliament. Parliament remains free to repeal said Act.

As to whether the people should be consulted, this goes to the heart of the unanswered questions about the British constitution. Does ultimate authority reside with the people? Locke, the Levellers, the Chartists and Freedland might answer yes. I'm not sure Constitutional analysis backs them up. Most of the legitimate authority in the UK derives from the Crown or the Crown-in-Parliament, and I'm pretty sure that's as far as it goes (the elective aspect of the Saxon monarchy is all very well, but a bit of a red herring). The Crown exists, and, as far as the British are concerned, always has, so I can't see the constitutional basis for a referendum having any extra legitimacy. After all, they are authorized by individual Acts of Parliament.

Having said that, the Courts recognize the priority of certain bits of Constitutional Legislation. The Magna Carta, Bill of Rights, Reform Acts, Parliament Acts, European Communities Act, Human Rights Act and the various Devolution acts all have special status attached to them in jurisprudence. Some of these had citizen involvement. Some did not. Parliament has seen fit to play around with provisions of the Bill of Rights despite it being based on the Declaration of Right. I think citizen involvement gives a constitutional act protected status for a while, but it can wear off. This is one of the reasons why I worry about losing a referendum. Even if it becomes obvious that the EU Constitution is to be applied in the dreadfully over-interpretive way the ECJ loves, we will have no recourse for far too long.

(This is a separate question from whether the people should have more of a role in the UK constitution. I'm pretty Freedlandite in that respect.)

As to Stephen's point about a referendum going hand in hand with standard political pressure, I have to say I worry about us wasting our scarce resources. HMG and the EU will have plenty of money to throw at any referendum campaign. If we spend all our money getting a referendum and then have nothing to spend on the No campaign itself, we're in real trouble. I'd much rather see us keep our powder dry. There is, for instance, the question of a Euro referendum at some point as well.

So I remain unconvinced of either the constitutional or tactical case for a referendum.

Ah, the Absurd!


Perilous Annual Cheese Chase Called Off is the headline. The reason? The first aid crew was called to help survivors of an earthquake in Algeria.

This must have been a Monty Python sketch at some point.

The costs and benefits of EU membership


I would be continuing this in the comments section of the large post below, but YACCS is playing up again. One of my respected commentators has raised the argument that most of Britain's exports go to the EU. True, they do. But that is simply goods. Add services into the quation, and the picture changes somewhat, with British trade being 55% outside the EU (see this PDF from Global Britain, a Euroskeptic group).

But even that's not the full story. We really have to look at all the costs the EU places on our economy as well. Back in 2000, a study from the Institute of Directors (available here in PDF form) looked at this in detail. The IOD is very much in favor of British membership of the EU because of the trading benefits it brings its members, but they had to admit that EU membership imposed a net cost on the British economy of GBP 15 billion per annum. They also calculated that joining the Euro would double that cost. This is a real problem for the pro-Europe lobby, I'd suggest.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Orthodoxia


I've always liked the Greek Orthodox church and its respect for very old Christian traditions (I can't tell you how frustrated I was when Helen acted up at her Godmother's wedding in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Long Island and I had to miss the service as a result). Now we have an Orthodox blog. OrthodoxyToday.org contains both ALdaily-style references and a blog on moral issues. Splendid.

HM the Q in EU


Steven Den Beste has another post on the EU, this time on the status of Queen and Commonwealth, and he's exactly right on all of this, although he should have mentioned the last exercise of essentially vice-regal power by a Governor-General in a major country, when the then incumbent sacked Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam in 1975 following a series of political and constitutional wrangles.

But I use his post as an opportunity to post a warning to my Euroskeptic friends. You will overplay your hand if you try to portray the proposed EU constitution as something that will abolish the British constitution. And the fanatics will be delighted you walked into their trap. The fundamental sources of legitimate political authority in Britain -- Crown and Parliament -- are untouched by the Constitution. As I say below, the simple repeal of a few Acts will free Britain from its European entanglements. (If a referendum approved the entanglement, the situation would be a lot trickier, given the dubious constitutional position of referenda). As long as there is a Crown and a Parliament, Britain governs itself. The proposed constitution leaves Her Majesty's position intact, as it does the positions of the Kings and Queens of Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark (have I missed anyone?).

In many ways, the correct way of looking at the EU is as a gigantic Environmental Protection Agency or similar regulatory body. Congress has delegated legislative authority to that organization, and it causes tremendous problems, acting as a Fourth Branch of Government in many ways, but it should not be argued that the EPA has abolished Congress or dismantled the Constitution. The EU should be opposed on the ground of the damage delegating powers to it causes to British interests, not on some imagined abolition of the source of those powers. Yes, Britain's Parliament will become increasingly irrelevant, but it's not going to be abolished. The argument should be that Britain needs to retain powers jealously in the British interest, not that it is under threat of abolition.

The proposed Constitution is bad enough on its own, as I shall investigate over the coming days, and Britain should resist ratification with all its might. I am beginning to come to the conclusion, however, that the best way for people to do this is not to campaign for a referendum. Besides the constitutional arguments advanced below, I have no faith that the referendum itself will not be loaded (imagine the question "Do you support HMG's efforts to promote peace and prosperity for Britain and Europe by adopting certain administrative measures outlined in the White Paper distributed to all households on 7 June?" or something like that). Moreover, going down the referendum road is liking losing your virginity. Once done, it becomes easier the second time. Even if we win, the question will be posed to us again every time a pro-European government comes to power. The only way for us to obviate that course of action is if we win a referendum that removes us from the European entanglement entirely and sets us down another course, which the people will then see is better.

My preferred course of action is for us to make it politically impossible for HMG to support ratification. In all of what follows, we need to base our arguments on clear, regular, up-to-date polling data, which will probably continue to support the Euroskeptic position in a way that might not be the case with referenda (especially private referenda, as I mention in the comments section on my previous post below).

We need to target marginal Labour MPs, making it clear that the issue is important enough to their constituents that they are in danger if they support ratification. We need to target business interests, pointing out the likely effects of stifling European regulation. We need to target supporters of civil liberties, pointing out the raison d'etat and asking whether free speech and other liberties will really be respected in this new Europe. We need an all-out education campaign telling people the truth about Europe's ambitions to legislate for us and how our Parliament is perfectly capable of doing that and still keeping us the fourth largest economy in the world. We need to point out how withdrawal will not damage our economy, if the EU adheres to international law (and if it won't, why are we in it?). If all these arguments fail to move HMG, and they'll require substantial funding, then and only then we should resort to demanding a referendum, with all its hostages to fortune, anchored on the idea that HMG is willfully ignoring the expressed mood of the nation.

Yet I have a feeling that just a modicum of pressure on endangered Labour MPs might do the trick. Blair will not want a split in his party over Europe, seeing what it did to the Tories. The small but influential Labour Euroskeptic movement should be in the lead here. Over to you, Stephen.

Overall, if the EU is a tangled web and the constitution the spider, we are at least a wasp. Let's sting the spider and fly away from the web.

PP: Stephen Pollard has an important post replying to this argument, which I shall try to answer later today. The most important point is that Article 10 is essentially already part of UK law and has been since 1972. I'll examine the legal reasoning later.

Defining rights down


A good example of what the UK has in store for it if it agrees to European definitions of fundamental rights comes in this outrageous reaction from an EU commissioner to a fly-on-the-wall documentary. The film crew followed Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen at an EU summit. They took film of several of his meetings. The reaction of Gunter Verheugen, EU Commissioner for Enlargement, to the German screening of the film speaks volumes:

Mr Verheugen has not seen the film and told the journalists in Hamburg, that he was not going to see it. "The picture painted can only be wrong", he said and added that he regarded the film as a violation of human rights.

"International politics must essentially be based on trust. You must be able to discuss things, without having it out in the public the day after. It is all about decency", he said at the meeting in Hamburg.

What exactly did Verheugen think the cameras were doing? Filming a commercial for the EU?

It outrages me that the first reaction of this pompous panjandrum to a film he has not seen is to call it a breach of human rights. Isn't free expression a human right, according to the EU's beloved charter? And what does this tell us about how the get-out raison d'etat clause (allowing 'fundamental' rights to be ignored in the interests of the Union) will be used by EU officials?

Alles banditen, as they say.

Misunderstanding Science Two Different Ways


My TCS column is up here.

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.