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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

DOES ANYBODY IN THE BLOGOSPHERE NOT HATE NEW YEAR'S? The great thing about this virtual world is of course that people can be quite happy about admitting to being weird. Stephen Pollard sparked this whole thing off with a comment on how much he hates New Year's Eve. I haven't pruposefully looked for responses but I have noticed already that Harry of Harry's Place, Ms au currant and the Conservative Commentator also don't much like the whole thing. I could chime in saying I don't much like it either, but then I don't like all the other forced-fun party events either. And for sure, there is quite a lot of them: Weekends, Birthdays, holidays, etc. (To be fair I had a very enjoyable surprise birthday party organised by my better half, but I think this exception sort of confirms the rule, after all, it wasn't expected.) It is just so tedious to have to go to parties where it is expected of you to have a good time, even if you are absolutely not in the mood. Doesn't matter: thou shalt have fun, or else one is stared at and submitted to the inquisition for weirdom. I can't wait for the day to be grown up and not have to put up with such teenie-conformism anymore (BTW I'm 24, as are most of my friends, 'nuff said). But nevermind all of that, I'm in a very good mood right now and look forward to going out and having a fun-time anyway.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

HOW TO COMBAT RISING GUN CRIME: LEGALIZE DRUGS In today's Telegraph Philip Johnston argues against a routinely-armed police force. Most of his arguments are quite convincing. Here is the point that I am specifically interested in:

On average, there are 30 incidents every day, mostly in the big cities, though the use of handguns is also growing in rural communities. The main reason for the growth is the drugs trade. Dealers carry weapons to protect themselves from other criminals and a mandatory five-year jail sentence for possessing a gun is little deterrent for someone who will go to prison anyway for up to 14 years if he is caught trafficking in crack or heroin. For some in the drugs underworld, a gun is little more than a fashion accessory.

Of course legalizing drugs wouldn't put a complete end to crime and specifically gun crime, but it would massively lower its occurance. But we have to ask, how many underworlders would carry a gun simply as a fashion accessory if they didn't need it for their personal safety and the penalty was years in prison? The simple fact is that the craving for drugs is a fundamental part of human existence. That is why there are no societies that do completely without drugs. We simply have to accept that Britain today, like other Western societies, isn't content with alcohol and nicotine.
Commenting on police officeers dying in the line of duty Johnston notes that:

Many more died in Northern Ireland, where the police have always been routinely armed. Terrorism and the need to patrol hostile communities that simply did not accept the state's writ made "normal" policing impossible in the province.
But this is not the case in mainland Britain. Since the time of Robert Peel, it has been accepted that, if the police are to have the consent of the public, they should be unarmed.

Policing by consent is the idea. As many surveys have shown however, the majority of British public opinion is relaxed enough about most soft drugs as to support their decriminalization. Clearly the law and public sentiment are out of step here. That is a reason why policing by consent is becoming more difficult: there is no public consent for the big crackdown on drugs, so hostility and disinterest by the public in regards to the police's activities are logical consequences. The solution to this is legalization. This will concentrate the police's efforts on real crimes and thus be more effective, more consensual and thus closer to Robert Peel's original vision, a vison we shouldn't lose.

Friday, December 19, 2003

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND SEE YOU LATER I have just finished packing my kit to head off to London for Christmas with the family, so there will be no blogging from now onwards until the 28th. If you do venture to this blog and want to spend some time here why not check out my writings page browse through the archives or follow the links provided which are all very worthy of a visit and a good read.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

TOO BUSY, TOO LAZY TO BLOG so instead only some cool links today. Here is a blog I discovered via Samizdata that has some interesting ideas about the UN and how future world order might consist more of a sort of global common law.
Madeleine Bunting has the goods on Chirac’s latest stupidity, forbidding French schoolchildren from wearing any religious symbols, primarily Muslim headscarves, but logically also including Christian symbols (crosses, Father Christmas hats,. . . ), Stars of David, Sikh turbans, . . . you name it.
There's some more cool pics at Michael Totten's site, this time giving Saddam some new faces, quite amusing.
And talking of the man, I wonder now that he is in captivity wether he will be allowed to update his excellent blog?
While we are on the issue, I haven't seen the Torygraph story about the 9/11-Saddam link memo appear anywhere else so I suppose it is bunk. I'll do a search someday when I am less busy.
On a more seasonal note, a Johnjoe McFadden, a professor of molecular genetics, explains that altruistic behaviour, such as charity giving, is in fact natural. The result of "The unselfish Gene"
as it were, although I'm going to spoil some of the fun by pointing out what is obvious to people other than Guardian readers: paying taxes isn't charity. Otherwise a fine piece.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

SOME CLOSING THOUGHTS ON THE SADDAM CAPTURE There is as you might guess quite a lot of commentary about the capture of Mr Hussein, the vast majority of it rather superfluous. I mean, sorry, but it doesn't need huge amounts of column space to make the obvious point that this is not the end of the trouble in Iraq, but it's quite nice that we've got him anyway . . . . etc etc etc Point made. For an account of what the mood on the British street was like, Norman Geras has a heartwarming anecdote, and Michael Totten has a nice selection of photos of reactions on Iraq’s street. What this will yield in the long run we shall see in the new year, but we can say for sure that the era of Saddamism is over. And good riddance to that (includes graphic images). Here's a reminder of the bigger story.
On a completely different level you may easily have missed this news item in all the excitement over the capture, but if this turns out to be accurate . . .

Iraq's coalition government claims that it has uncovered documentary proof that Mohammed Atta, the al-Qaeda mastermind of the September 11 attacks against the US, was trained in Baghdad by Abu Nidal, the notorious Palestinian terrorist.
. . .
In the memo, Habbush reports that Atta "displayed extraordinary effort" and demonstrated his ability to lead the team that would be "responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy".
The second part of the memo, which is headed "Niger Shipment", contains a report about an unspecified shipment - believed to be uranium - that it says has been transported to Iraq via Libya and Syria

This would actually vindicate all the misleading rhetoric about the connections between Saddam and 9/11, nevermind his contacts to Ossama bin Laden's networks. That would be very good news indeed, because it would actually provide a reason for toppling Saddam that I didn't endorse. What a nice turn of events that would be.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

SADDAM CAPTURED I said I'd break my silence on Iraq if there was a big story, but I hadn't expected it to be this big. It seems Saddam Hussein has been captured. This is the best possible news that could come from Iraq, because with their figure head gone, in the medium-term the motivation of the Baathist insurgents will dwindle. Additionally Iraqis can finally start feeling confident that the old monster isn't coming back, which will improve relations to coalition forces, beacuse the major factor halting cooperation with the coalition is gone. In Baghdad they've already started celebrating:

Volleys of rifle fire also echoed across Baghdad as Iraqis drove around town honking their car horns and giving the V for victory sign, witnesses said.

Yes! This will also make the task of dealing with the jihadist insurgents a lot easier. After a long period of gloom finally some news to bring some optimism into the Iraq situation. Success Day edges closer.

Update: For some bizarre reason, this post appeared datelined for Friday. I'm sorry to disappoint anyone who stumbled across the site and thought I can see into the future; just a computer error. Sorry.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

EU CONFERENCE FAILS - GOOD NEWS? This was announced just a couple of hours ago, so you may not have heard yet, that the EU's conference has been called off and negotiations postponed because in the current situation a settlement, primarily about the constitution couldn't be reached. That is certainly positive news, because the constitution's draft as it is, was an unmitigated disaster. (To read up on the constitution, here is short analysis by Patrick Basham and Marian Tupy at the Cato Institute and if you have the time you can read this longer and more in-depth analysis by Norman Blackwell of the Centre for Policy Studies.) Obviously having more time to plan for another try would allow for a number of corrections, both to the draft itself and to British policy, which is too far away from the leadership of the anti-centrist periphery states where our policy should properly be.
However, there is always a certain tension in this position, and that is the risk of a two-speed EU. Now, on intial inspection the idea of a highly integrated core of the EU around France and Germany which would leave the sceptics the freedom to cherry pick those bits of the EU they want sounds quite nice. Unfortunately this will not solve the problem for Britain. We aren't in the EU for nice trade deals but for influence. An integrated core without us would lessen our influence in Europe, the US and the wider world, because there would be a stronger single voice in the European concert of opinions. The disadvantage of membership in the core at the moment would be that it would integrate far too rapidly and wrongly. So what the UK needs is a continuation of the status quo: a single EU with low integration. The Blair Government should remember that this is currently our biggest foreign policy priority and put some more effort into utilising this breathing space it has got to manouvre itself into a bargaining position where it can prevent the onset of a Franco-German dominated core-EU. Here's hoping.

Friday, December 12, 2003

UPDATE ON NEW DEFENCE REVIEW Just a quick update to yesterday's post: John Keegan adds more to the argument I made yesterday and warns about the military's shrinking ability to retain qualified personnell due to time and money shortages. In the Guardian there's a follow up report on the shortcomings kit-wise of the task force that deposed Saddam. At the MoD's site you can download the new White Paper and the report on lessons from Iraq in pdf format. I'll comment on them as soon as I have got round to reading them.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

SPEND MORE ON OUR MILITARY'S INDEPENDENT TRANSPORT CAPABILITIES Today Geoff Hoon is to announce another defence review. There are some necessary steps being considered. However I do sense some problems ahead:

Sir Michael said that as a Type 45 destroyer and two new aircraft carriers came into service, some older Royal Navy warships would no longer be needed, enabling "some adjustments" to be made to the fleet.

This is more like wishful thinking, because the Royal Navy has already said it’s surface fleet is already stretched too thinly in protecting sea-lanes from terrorist, smuggling and proliferation activities. I don't know how we could possibly find the money to finance an extension of the surface fleet but it is important to keep in mind that our security perimeters are thinly protected and therefore we need to put some though into less costlier alternatives.
Another problem is only hinted at:

Sir Michael said the re-structuring would enable the UK to mount "limited national operations" on its own or take the lead in small to medium scale operations at the head of an international coalition.
While the forces would also retain the capacity to undertake large-scale operations, he said that the "most demanding expeditionary operations" could only "plausibly" be mounted if the United States was involved.

What is this supposed to mean? While it is obvious that some larger tasks will be virtually impossible without help of the United States -just try to imagine Britain taking on Saddam on our own- this should not serve as an excuse to cut away at independent transport and intelligence capabilities. Admittedly the cost of having a large fleet of strategic transport aircraft, currently a role being performed by a mere four C-17s, is very high, and therefore the MoD prefers to rely on the US air force for lifting forces in large numbers. This is a choice that shouldn't stand as it does. There is no guarantee that those US capabilities will be available when we need them. It is not unreasonable to think that US planes may be in other use, or that the US may be unhappy about or opposed to a given mission our Government decides upon (think of US hesitancy over the Falklands, or the Suez debacle). It would be far better to spend some extra money on improving our own lifting abilities. "Where’s the money to come from?", I hear you think. Simple: scrap the irrelevant Eurofighter, the biggest, supersonic flying turkey ever devised.

Monday, December 08, 2003

"IMAGINE ALL THE . . ." BS Here is a fun take-down of the thoughtless utopianism of John Lennon's "Imagine".

ISRAEL’S CHOICE IN A NUTSHELL This is a really neat summary of the general choice that Israel has to make:

The Israeli public needs to pick a pair out of these 3 options:
A) A Jewish state.
B) A democratic state.
C) Keeping the whole of the West Bank & Gaza Strip.
Only two things can be maintained together (any 2), all 3 options do not combine together

Personally I can’t see how Israel could keep the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and be a democracy. On a fundamental level a democracy require the consent of the ruled to be a part of their respective political community. I can not imagine the circumstances in which the Palestinians would willingly submit to being ruled by Israeli Jews, which a democratic bi-national state would inevitably involve to some extent. (For that matter, Israel’s Arab minority is fairly disgruntled, as this piece, that is linked to in the comments section shows; so the problems with including the Palestinians would be magnified to the point of impossibility) Of course the reverse would also hold true. As someone who is neither Jewish nor Israeli I don’t care much about the Jewish state thing, but Israel’s democracy is something of which I can say it should be maintained as it is. So, in respect to the nutshell form: B) is where to start; B) and C) are incompatible; in the long-run A) and C) will also be unsustainable; therefore C) is not a workable option; B) is also the best way to maintain A). The obvious conclusion is that Israel should try to extract itself from the West Bank and Gaza Strip as quickly and comprehensively as possible. Just so that is cleared up. As to the how, that is very different matter and I’ll adress that at a later date. After all, even though I may disagree with the claims to the importance the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has for the wider world, it is an issue that is often the focus of public debate so I will try to formulate my own response to it.

Friday, December 05, 2003

GERHARD SCHROEDER'S FOREIGN POLICY PRIORITIES EXPOSED AGAIN Go over to the Medienkritik blog and read this piece by Ray D. on Germany's recent nuclear dealings with China. I just recently warned that the intent desire of some European Union countries to rival the US would lead them to start forming alliances with some very unpleasant characters indeed. So now Gerhard Schroeder is not just openly supporting the "One China" policy, i.e. the destruction of Taiwanese democracy, he's even providing the heirs of Mao with some enhanced nuclear capabilities to deter the US from helping Taiwan. This is another clear sign of what amoral depths a foreign policy motivated by nothing but anti-Americanism will end up in. Always remember that this is the kind of policy that is damaging both to Europe's interests and values that is the main idea behind a common EU foreign policy.


WHY PICK ON MUGABE? Asks Kate Allen, director of amnesty international UK. After all:

When the government of Zimbabwe sees the flagrant disregard for basic human rights protection in other countries, the message it gets is that the Commonwealth is not serious about these commitments - and there will be no consequences if you disregard them. The result is that Mugabe believes he is safe to continue his crackdown on all critics of the government.

So why pick on Mugabe? Peter Oborne gives a devastating answer that easily shows how what is going on or may be in the offing in Zimbabwe is in a different league alltogether. Of course that doesn't excuse the other violations Allen mentions, but we have to focus our energies on the biggest problems first, because political power is a limited resource.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

AT ITS 35TH ANNIVERSARY REASON CELEBRATES 35 HEROES OF FREEDOM Reason was founded in 1968 and in its current edition there is an acknowledgment of the progress made towards a world of "free minds and free markets". It quick-profiles 35 people who have advanced different freedoms in that time-span and is worth a read, from the obvious ones such as Nelson Mandela and Margaret Thatcher to a few less obvious ones such as Madonna and Dennis Rodman, and do read why John Ashcroft and Richard Nixon are included.

EVEN IF IT’S UNTRUE THIS IS GREAT In the comments section someone pointed out that this is possibly made up. Nevertheless, go over to the Adam Smith blog and read the letter from the Inland Revenue to a slightly dissatisfied "customer". Excerpt:

Firstly, I must take issue with your description of our last as a "begging letter". It might perhaps more properly be referred to as a "tax demand". This is how we, at the Inland Revenue, have always, for reasons of accuracy, traditionally referred to such documents.

Go read and laugh.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

A THOROUGH FISKING OF TODAY’S POLLY TOYNBEE Thanks to Peter Briffa for drawing attention to this. I was, actually, looking forward, actually, to go going to the cinema, actually, any day soon, to watch guess what, actually, "a shallow, saccharine distillation of the romantic sentimentalism of [Curtis's] previous screenplays (. . . ) has the unwelcome tinge of sentimental porn", according to Sight and Sound magazine (November 23rd). In the Groan today Pollyester Toybee sticks with the sugar references:

Love Actually is a Christmas confection that's all icing and marzipan and no cake - not the kind of movie rabid anti-American lefties frequent.

So what are you doing there then? Admittedly though this film as an excuse for simple politicsing is a not unpopular approach to take, as this piece in the Telegraph shows, which coincidentally draws different conclusions than our Polly. Mind, perhaps this Toynbee isn't such a leftist after all:

But its one political moment draws a surprising roar of approval from the audience.

As a closer reading of this blog will reveal I am not what you would call a rabid anti-American leftie, or any sort of leftie or anti-American (the rabid bit is perhaps a different story for a different day), but there is a thing or two I do know about culture and politics. One of them is that politics is subtle in such films, and that is why there is not just one political moment. And on this point I will make my obligatory complaint about Curtis' films: they're whites only, unbelievably enough even those set in London. Although he seems to have altered that in this recent one by putting a token black in it, there are still no brown faces to be seen in his London. There is a political subtext to this, even if it is unintentional. The reason for Curtis-Britain's ethnic purity is probably commercial because today's multi-coloured UK doesn't much appeal to the established prejudices and received notions about Britain in overseas markets. There is however also a domestic implication to such a degree of quite literal whitewash and it's quite a troubling and almost racist one too. Toynbee doesn't see this, which is the real political trouble with the British films of this sort.
But I digress (I'll return to the point at the end)

Hugh Grant's fantasy prime minister - his most ludicrous role yet - repeatedly attacks Old Europe and its social provision, painting us as closer to the US neo-cons than to our neighbours. Then he holds a press conference at the end of a visit from the US president in which he has been offered nothing much by an arrogant ally. (What the dispute is, we have no clue: it's not that kind of movie.) In front of the press and the president, prime minister Grant makes a fine speech about standing up to the over-mighty, a small country still holding on to pride and principle.

Though of course the problem is, as soon as we're a fully paid up member of the Euro-bureau-empire, we won't be a small country anymore, and there will be not much pride or principle to hold on to for that matter either. I mean, what pride would there be? It would have proved we are totally incapable of utilising the fourth largest economy and second most-powerful conventional military force on the planet for the small task of remaining a self-governing country. And as for principle, this is the old myth of Europe's superior morality, which is just as rubbishy as it is often repeated. For example have a look at this item.

A roar went up from the audience and apparently every audience cheers as loudly at our PM telling the Americans to bog off.

So? Perhaps the audience would have roared even louder if the PM had told the French to get lost, in a speech including a lot of gratuitous references to frogs, cheese, surrendering, Trafalgar and perhaps even some monkeys. And let's be honest it would be a bit hard to imagine the audiences cheering with approval as the PM says that Europe's stale welfare states are preventing job creation. Not exactly stirring stuff, that.

What does it mean? What could it mean, if only we had the right political leaders to interpret it? Whatever the polls say - and they have been fickle - there is a strong instinct out there that resists Britain doing whatever the neo-con White House wants us to do, reducing our standing, dignity and influence in the world.

In a way which subjecting ourselves to Franco-German dominance wouldn't?

But if people are against our apparent poodle-dom, what are they for?

Well, whatever Polly may fantasize, we know that the answer is not the EU. What could it be then?

There are those who dream of a "plague on both your houses" stance, a plucky little boat navigating the seas alone.

Yes, that is it, Polly. And that is the reason why Hugh Grant's fictional PM is bashing Yanks and 'peens alike. What underlies this is the belief in British superiority. We are clearly so much better at everything from monetary policy and welfare reform to nation building, diplomacy and war fighting than both the US and the Europeans, that it is a bit of a hard point to sell to this nation the idea that we must either buckle under the demands from either Washington or Brussels. Most British politicians are aware of this sentiment. But there is a reason why none of them openly argue for it or try to pursue it. Ok, so John Major tried it a bit, but that sort of proves the point. Then Tony Blair tried to rectify the mess with the US and Nato over Bosnia, and the mess with the EU over those mad cows and the Maastricht Social Chapter, by talking about a British bridge across the Atlantic, which in effect meant, saying yes to whatever Brussels or Washington wanted. The problem is that in the current geopolitical situation the best way for Britain to have as much power and independence as possible is by trying to play both sides. Deciding either way will reduce our independence and/or our influence. That is why the Britain's transatlantic dilemma will never be solved, unless we decide we want either independence without influence, or influence without independence. Tow options that in the long run would probably prove to destroy the alternate benefit anyway. We have no choice and it's time we started getting used to it, instead of hallucinating about a return to glory by joining NAFTA or as Polly continues on the EU:

give it a few years, a recovered economy, with a better and more visionary top team and its power can only grow.

What amount of time does Polly call “a few years”? Politically there needs to be changes of government in the big three UK, France and Germany. That means there will be no change at least until the next election, which could reasonable won by the opposition, which by my rough guesswork would put us into the year 2009. Well, if you're patient. As for the needed economic changes: the needed reforms have been known for more than a decade, and the pain of not implementing them has also been with France and Germany for more than a decade. But still progress has been very slow and there no reason to think this will suddenly accelerate.

But Britain stays out of the euro, smugly lecturing Europe from the sidelines while our share of inward investment plummets.

I wonder though, if this is perhaps because Gordon Brown had been saddling our economy with tonnes of Euro-style regulations and petty taxes. What do you think?

One high price of the Iraq war that Tony Blair paid was to let the eurosceptics win.

High “price”? More like an additional bonus. And anyway, what about democracy? The vast majority of the British people are at least mildly eurosceptic and at the time a clear majority supported the toppling of Saddam. I wonder what Polly Toynbee gets paid for this sort of incoherent and inaccurate rambling. Every single penny wasted. Why didn’t she think about what kind of an image of Britain this film is showing both to the world and British audiences alike? It is a wrongheaded fantasy of a smaller, less dramatic Britain and as such its message should be challenged. It is an example of the mentality that I mentioned above, the belief in a British exceptionality that is not compatible with the way modern geopolitics works. We need a new sense of this exceptionality and understand how to protect it in the coming years instead of piling on the approval to escapist fantasy, Ms Toynbee. If instead you want to read something sensible about what Britain should be doing in Europe, Lord Howell has some good thoughts, while Daniel Johnson tries to explain why we need a close link to the US for such a policy to succeed.

Monday, December 01, 2003

HOW TONY BLAIR GOT TO POWER Well, we have all heard of women and even men sleeping their way to the top in the world of business. But what is it like in politics? It seems that sex is quite helpful, though apparently you have to use it on yourself, as Tony Blair could attest:

Most embarrassingly, he typed he had always "wanted" to come back to the North East, changed it to "worked" to come back — then ended up with a highly unparliamentary word also beginning with "w" and ending in "ked".

Although I don't really like linking to the Sun I do recommend reading the whole piece, quite hilarious. Thanks to the Reactionary One for the link.

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