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Monday, May 31, 2004

ISLAMOPHOBIA AND ITS INDUSTRY Now I don't want come across all nasty and snarling so I will say that I share some points that are being raised here by the Runnymede Trust. That's the rub though, it's the Runnymede Trust, those cool folks who tried to tell us that it was time to abolish Britishness and all that other mumbo-jumbo. Right now they are actually onto a serious problem, a concern I actually share:

The Runnymede Trust's Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia said Muslims were being "demonised" and little was being done to help them.

This is something that actually bothers me, but unfortunately it's being done by the wielders of mumbo-jumbo. I mean take a look at this and tell me if you know what he's talking about:

But he said local authorities had "done nothing" since then to tackle issues such as power sharing, "resource sharing", consultation, or inclusion in race equality schemes.

This sounds big and serious but is so vague, again. But why did they have to use that term "institutionally Islamophobic"? I'm personally tired by its use and in most cases it's not institutions, but the people serving in them which is not the same. And you know all of this started in 1997, the year of New Labour:

Targeted at central and local government, voluntary and private bodies, the 1997 report put forward 60 recommendations.
But a follow-up document to be released on Tuesday found little positive action had been taken.
"In 1997 we were given a promise that within a few years religious discrimination would be outlawed, diversity and plurality would be part of life and no sections of the British community would be excluded," Mr Sajid said.
Within a few years? Whoever promised you that Mr Sajid was either lying to you or plain stupid. You can't transform a national culture in its totality within a few years. I'm sorry to say this was certainly a part of the euphoria that streamed out from that nice Tony Blair, back in the day when we all liked him. And like much of the energy that seemed present at the time it got bogged down in deadening bureaucracy. Like so many other promising projects of the Blairites the fight against Islamophobia collapsed from its overbearing burden of state control. Sadly Mr Sajid is part of the problem it seems:

"We need action in employment, education, policing, legislation, media and many other areas," he said.
We need action all over the place. Let's interfere everywhere. Now, in principle he's right, we need change everywhere to root out racism. The problem is he's looking at the wrong agent, the state. The state can alter education slightly, but that's all it can do. The cultural change necessary must be carried out by the institutions of culture, such as the media. This can't be done by government, and for those who doubt me: pick up a history book and read about the Chinese cultural revolution, Pol Pot or Stalin.
Nonetheless, Sajid makes another basically correct observation:

"Where I live local authorities refuse to recognise religious hate crimes while the Metropolitan Police in London are actively monitoring and even reporting to the Safety Forum such crimes.
"Why aren't these things being done collectively and in a co-ordinated way?"

Have you ever seen anything done in a collective and co-ordinated way by this Government? Truth be told it's a shame, but there needs to be different approach to tackling Islamophobia than the stilted stasis of hard-left culture warriors.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

NHS AND OBESITY: WELFARE DEPENDENCY VS INEQUALITY? With obesity in Britain being a big topic for discussion Stephen Pollard has this posting on how the NHS and the welfare state is to blame:

The problem is that we have things the wrong way round, and that leads directly to the obesity epidemic. Although it is my responsibility what I eat (and as for the 3 year old girl who died of heart failure, whose fault is that but the parents?) the NHS system of taxpayer funding blunts the critical element of individual responsibility.
In a system where it wasn't the state which funded healthcare but individuals, whether through insurance, medical savings accounts or another method (when people have, in other words, direct control of their health care funding) then people have an incentive to look after themselves.
That's why obesity is so much less of a problem on the continent, where healthcare is insurance-based. (And as for the US, obesity is primarily a problem for the poor, and they are covered by the state funded Medicare, which has a similar impact on incentives as the NHS.)
So the solution is not to impose rules which deaden the role of individual responsibility even more by restricting our right to eat what we want, but to construct a health system where the incentives point to taking responsibility for our own health.
On a first reading this sounds quite sensible, but it has a few holes in it. The first problem I have with it that even in insurance-based health system, or whatever, the incentive can't work in the way Pollard suggests. The insurance, at least here in Germany where I am at the moment, will cover any treatment you need. If stuffing yourself is the reason for your illness you'll be treated as often as will be and however often you need treatment, the amount you pay into the insurance scheme won't change. So as a net result the financial incentive will be exactly the same as it is under the NHS. And -in light of this, unsurprisingly- Germans are the second-fattest people after Americans, which just goes to show that the insurance system doesn't impact the overall obesity rates. The only way to get the incentive structure right would be by making patients pay directly for their treatment, which at the current costs of healthcare would mean the vast majority of the population would go without healthcare; surely not what Pollard has in mind. The question whether there is a magical third way is something I've been pondering recently, but I can't quite come up with the conditions such an alternative would have to meet.
The second problem and one that Pollard doesn't explicitly address is the question of culture. I can say pretty definitely that the reason people stuff themselves has to do with personal characteristics such as self-control and discipline. Where those are present people are able to change bad dietary habits. Stephen Pollard can attest to this himself, as can I myself. For the record, from September 2002 to September 2003 I put on about 20 pounds, exclusively from eating too much (which in case you're sceptical can be unbelievably enjoyable). I then decided enough was enough and have lost 15 pounds since last September. The question therefore is why these virtues are so little to be seen in our population? (And to be honest when it comes to other things I am quite lacking in them too.) Decline of religion or common decency? Too much advertising promoting immediate and uncomplicated gratification? I don't know, but I'm pretty sure the welfare state is more the result of this cultural shift than its cause, and I can't see the NHS' abolition changing this much either. Perhaps the way in which this cultural change has affected different parts of the population might explain their relatively different percentage of obese.
Which quite neatly leads me on, because I wonder where Polly Toynbee puts the blame? Surprise, surprise: inequality. To be fair to her this piece isn't quite as risible as her usual fare, but it still fails to convince and certainly makes less sense that Pollard's piece. For example she hasn't done her homework and thus misses for example that it is Rhineland wonder model Germany that is much fatter than Britain.
Now, the actual reason why I bring her up is with her preoccupation with inequality. (I agree is a little off topic.) On that point I read an essay for class yesterday by Irving Kristol that included this aside:

Nor is equality itself any more acceptable than inequality-neither is more "natural" than the other-if equality is merely a brute fact rather than a consequence of an ideology or social philosophy. This explains what otherwise seems paradoxial: that small inequalities in capitalist countries can become the source of intense controversy while relatively larger inequalities in socialist or communist countries are blandly overlooked. Thus, those same young radicals who are infuriated by trivial inequalities in the American economic system are quite blind to grosser inequalities in the Cuban system. This is usually taken as evidence of hypocrisy or self-deception. I would say it shows, rather, that people’s notions of equality or inequality have extraordinarily little to do with arithmetic and almost everything to do with political philosophy.

-Irving Kristol: "When Virtue loses all her Loveliness", Public Interest, Fall 1970
Good point.
(And now that I've figured out how to use the text scanning equipment here I will be posting more quotes from books and printed articles in general.)

Friday, May 28, 2004

QUOTE OF THE DAY From Michael Totten's enjoyable fisking of Pat Buchasshole:

The radical left may be stuck in the 60s, but geez, at least they got there.

AT LAST MORE TROOPS TO IRAQ Well, it seems that all those Weekly Standard editorials have paid off. Shame only they've paid off in the wrong place:

Return of Black Watch could herald major increase in Britain's military role
Ok, perhaps the word wrong here is, erm, wrong. An increase in British troops is also good and necessary and a possible expansion of the British zone of control as the Scotsman's analysis suggests is of course just what I wrote only a short while ago:

. . . another mistake in the handling of the post-invasion campaign. It would have been better that instead of cutting the Shia part of Iraq into different blocks of responsibility that entire part of the country had been placed under overall British command with supporting forces from other coalition members as there are now, though some of them have started running away (thanks for nothing). This way UK commanders would have been able to control all of the populace that matters to our forces' security. That way it there would have been greater coherence of policy and thus a greater chance of success. Now we are in a situation in which our troops effectively have to hope that their US colleagues manage to deal effectively with the problems, without Britain seeming to have any real influence over the tactics.
So in general this is a good move. However how Blair is going to sell a policy of almost doubling the British presence to the public is a task I am not envious of, to understate it wildly. However successful and necessary this is, I think we shouldn't forget that we are asking a lot from our military's basic assets, as the Scotsman article concludes:

One senior British officer said: "The cupboard is empty - all the other armoured infantry battalions are already committed abroad on operations, undergoing training or have just returned from Iraq and are not considered fit for action."
Another piece of evidence that underlines the need for a restructuring of our armed forces in favour of having a bigger infantry component, as Max Hastings amongst others has argued. Of course this is a problem also all too familiar to the US armed forces as well as this piece by Frederick Kagan makes clear. Ultimately, leaving all questions of political utility aside, this is the reason why we won't be seeing any repeat of OIF anytime in the near future.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

"WE'RE JUST LIKE SADDAM" I can only agree with the Free Democrat that this utterly vile filth, courtesy of the people who claim to be the proper party of opposition in Britain, can only be described as disgusting. Why Britain needs a party of moral equivalisers of the worst possible kind in form of the FlipDems I cannot say.
But there is one definite irony in that election ad: quite literally it's correct. This is really what we have done in human rights terms to Iraq. Namely that set-up pictures of mock torture can get the situation so worked up and we treat the abuses behind it as an unmitigated catastrophe. Why? Here's the issue prior to invasion (hat tip Silent Running):

"They called all the prisoners out to the courtyard for what they called a 'celebration.' We all knew what they meant by 'celebration.' All the prisoners were chained to a pipe that ran the length of the courtyard wall. One prisoner, Amer al-Tikriti, was called out. They said if he didn't tell them everything they wanted to know, they would show him torture like he had never seen. He merely told them he would show them patience like they had never seen."
"This is when they brought out his wife, who was five months pregnant. One of the guards said that if he refused to talk he would get 12 guards to rape his wife until she lost the baby. Amer said nothing. So they did. We were forced to watch. Whenever one of us cast down his eyes, they would beat us."
"Amer's wife didn't lose the baby. So the guard took a knife, cut her belly open and took the baby out with his hands. The woman and child died minutes later. Then the guard used the same knife to cut Amer's throat." There is a moment of silence. Then Idrissi says: "What we have seen about the recent abuse at Abu Ghraib is a joke to us."
(. . .)
But most of all, they want recognition for what they, and thousands of others like them, have been through. And that people would stop saying "things were better under Saddam."
"Only criminals could say such a thing. The victims deserve better than this," Idrissi concludes.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

MICHAEL MOORE TORIES I like the title of this piece by Adrian Wooldridge. In it some evidence for the issues the Free Democrat brought up recently. Wooldridge has a few criticisms that are a little unfair, particularly in regards to Michael Howard's Iraq-critique but otherwise it raises a few important points:

Why are so many British Tories singing from Michael
Moore's song book? The obvious reason is Tony Blair.
American conservatives may regard Blair as a reincarnation
of Winston Churchill, but for most Tories he is the
devil incarnate, a cultural vandal who is destroying
great British institutions, from the House of Lords to
fox hunting, in the name of nonsense such as "Cool
Britannia." Tories resent Blair for showing more backbone
in dealing with America's enemies, in the form of al Qaeda,
than he showed in dealing with the IRA; some of them are
also bitter at George W. Bush for bestowing the Churchillian
mantle on a left-wing lightweight.
of war.
(. . . )
In the end, looking for sinister motives behind the Michael
Moore Tories is something of a fool's errand for American
conservatives, because it misses the bigger point. In terms
of right-wing parties, it is American conservatism which
now looks the exception, not British conservatism. After all,
the Tories' anti-Bush, anti-Sharon views are typical of
educated rightists across Europe. Rather than being the
woman who redefined British conservatism, Thatcher looks
ever more like a momentary exception. While the
Republicans have continued to move to the right, the
Tories have slipped back to the center, proclaiming their
allegiance to the National Health Service and cooling
on the case for tax cuts.

This is a schism within British conservatism that has been surfacing more powerfully after 9/11 and particularly over Iraq. A while back Michael Gove wrote about this and it's a feeling that creeps up on me whenever I open the Daily Mail. What if Wooldridge is right and Thatcher and Atlanticism were in fact the exception rather than the rule? Where does that leave any hope for a truly modern and equally conservative politics in the UK? To put it more personally, where does that leave me? I can't connect to the Christian Democrat Tories like Clark and Patten, because even though I see some pragmatic arguments in favour of some form of European integration I don't have any passion for it and think that in many respects integration has already gone too far in some areas (agriculture and fisheries policy) and gone in the wrong direction in others (too much regulation). The Little Englanders are equally alien to me. Staying with the European theme they are too Europhobic. On a wider level I think they're too isolationist; a view of Britain's place in the world neither congruent with our interests or values. There are of course domestic differences as well, but I'm sticking to these points for now. And of course, the main point of Wooldridge's article anti-Americanism and Gove's charge of dove-ism are both as widespread amongst these two strands of Toryism as they are viscerally loathed by yours truly. There's certainly a fight going on here, even if it's fairly cool at the moment, but I could well imagine that another crushing defeat for the Conservatives in a general election would take the restraints off both sides.

Monday, May 24, 2004

NO WOBBLING HERE Wobbling over raq has now become rather common for disappointed hawks at the moment. Unfortunately I'm not in the UK at the moment so I can't access the Times. But Mick Hartley can and provides us with this by Julie Burchill. Go and read all of it. It's a little strong for my taste, but not a vague hint of a wobble.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

BAD ALBUM COVERS Two music postings on the same day, surely a first-time for this blog. Anyway, thanks to Harry's Place For linking to this classic collection of the worst album covers ever. The new ones are good fun, though I have to say I think I could come up with worse Manowar album covers. But at the end of the day, nothing tops "Let me touch him". To which I'm going to reply: Well we would, but that would presumeably be both illegal and immoral, you filthy lot ;) Pure genius.
On a related point, while I was standing in the music shop listening to the Streets I glanced on the album covers of the Sugababes. Now, is it only me, or do they look a little cheap (angels with dirty faces, three)? There's something strangely antiquated in the way the design concept has been realised I might add. Surely, with all the money they spend on their slick videos they could have afforded a decent cover design. But who am I to offer unconstructive criticism? No, if the Sugababies want a decent album cover they can give me a shout. Without wanting to sound overly boastful, I could do a far better job than their current lot, and I would guess for a lot less dosh too.

NEW STREETS ALBUM Before I started listening I was afraid I'd be disappointed, something quite likely after such a strong debut. But I can happily say I'm not.
From a first listen-in it sounds pretty cool and a little more accessible. Now I know accessible can also just be a polite word for commercial, but I neither feel that applies here, nor would it matter much to me anyway; there's no reason to lower the quality of your music's sound just to make it more "authentic".
On the whole it's a logical progression in the development of the style from the debut, with some of the edges smoothed out.
One of the changes that is quite obvious is that it has calmed down a bit. Now, this may of course be a first superficial impression but the album certainly stays in the memory as more chilled out than the first one. One review I read somewhere even opined that the Streets had started moving in the direction of UB 40. I don't think so, but the sound is certainly becoming more mature.
On this aspect there is some change however, and that concerns the lyrics. Original Pirate Material was made such a joy by its down-to-earth, smalltown-Britain lyrics. On the current one the lyrics leave you feeling positively wanting. It's not that they're bad. They just fail to tickle the tick as it were. It reminds me of the change between Body Count's first album (title depending on when you got hold of it either "Cop Killer" or "Body Count"), and its follow-up "Born dead". The music had undoubtedly grown up a little (in this case not a good thing), but the lyrics were a simply flat and impressionless, particularly compared to the debut's gratuitously tasteless offering.
Whether or not Mr Skinner will be able, unlike Mr Ice-T's side project, to improve on the lyrics I do not know. I don't think it matters much because his music has advanced well enough to make such a minor quibble irrelevant. Definitely worth a listen and I'm looking forward to getting the album sometime soon.

Update: As to the lyrics question my brother pointed out to me rigthfully that the lyrics on first albums are the resultant of a life-long development, whereas those on follow ups are necessarily only the result of two years' worth of experience and work.

Friday, May 21, 2004

OH I KNOW THE FEELING . . . Good Iraq wobblers column in the current Speccie by James Delingpole:

Anyone who has ever smoked will be familiar with
that awful sinking feeling you get when, one by one,
your fellow nicotine-addict friends start to quit.
United you feel strong, happy, immune to the
finger-wagging of health fascists and probably even
to lung cancer, secure in the knowledge that for all
their minor defects, tabs are basically great and
possibly better than sex. But as the number of smokers
in your circle dwindles, so too does your morale. You
feel depressed, insecure, let down. You start
wondering whether maybe it’s not time that you too did
the cowardly thing and went over to the other side....
At the moment I’m feeling much the same way about the
Iraq war.

Oh yes, that's a feeling I can relate to only too well. He even mentions Andrew Sullivan's wobble that I had started complaining about just a few days ago. Obviously he feels my pain. What annoys me most about the turn-rounds is that they are so fickle in their convictions, which they had a lot of time to form. The Iraq war debate raged for almost a year before the invasion and has continued for almost a year since. It's not like opinions on the matter were formed on the quick. To now start retreating because the whole affair was badly managed or because the media images from Iraq these past weeks have been increasingly ugly is a little immature, if not mildly childish. I know someone's going to complain this is hypocritical of me because I had my own wobble but the ultimate point of my wobbles is that the practical policy on the ground in Iraq needs to be changed. A point I’ve made before here and here.
Anyway, back to Delingpole's article: Read all of it, it's well written. He concludes with a familiar argument, that I was and still am highly sceptical of:

Rather, the Iraqi invasion happened and ought to
have happened because it is part of a long,
ambitious but very necessary campaign to tip a
wavering Islamic world towards stable, capitalist,
peaceful, liberal democracy.
. . .
The pacification of the Middle East is not going
to be quick, easy or pretty. No one ever said it
would be. But to those pea-brained, isolationist
chicken-lickens of the media who ask what it all
has to do with us, here’s a very simple explanation.
It’s to lessen ever so slightly the chance that the
next time you or I get on to a bus, a train or an
aeroplane, the very last words we ever hear are a
bearded but otherwise ritually shaved man in a
headband yelling, ‘Allahu akbar.’

This is an argument that is very popular with the pro-war camp. I remain to be bought. I too supported toppling Saddam on terror related grounds – see here for my summary on the Saddam-terror argument - but I think this is getting it slightly wrong. The West can't decide Islam's future anymore than it can abolish global economic inequality or the drugs trade. Islam's adherents will decide that future, not just because it should ultimately be only their right, but more importantly because only they can.
In sum none of this makes the conclusion wrong that Saddam needed to be toppled and Iraq needs to be put on a path to democracy. It's just that for me the argument underlying the conclusion is different.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

DAILY MAIL STAR COLUMNIST This is certainly one hell of a writer, though I don't know how he operates the keyboard or whatever he uses and I certainly feel he could do with a shave . . . Oh, I see. Well, it's good to see that the Mail have joined the animal rights movement and have started by fighting job discrimination. However I sadly notice he's the only non-white in the staff . . .

PROLIFERATION WATCH I vaguely remember that one of the purposes that I had in mind for this blog was to help draw more attention to security issues, particularly those that weren't getting the big coverage. Admittedly that's a mission I've summarily failed at, perhaps with a single exception. But now, without further ado, via Imshin this piece of un-positive news:

U.S. officials confirmed a report that a
train explosion on April 22 killed about
a dozen Syrian technicians near the
Ryongchon province in North Korea. The
officials said the technicians were
accompanying a train car full of missile
components and other equipment from a
facility near the Chinese border to a North
Korea port.
"The way it was supposed work was that the
train car full of missiles and components
would have arrived at the port and some
would have been shipped to Syria while others
would have been transported by air," an
official said.
Officials said the North Korean shipment to
Syria was not meant to have contained
chemical or biological weapons. They said
foreign rescue crews summoned to the train
explosion did not report any chemical contamination.

To be sure Syria's wmds are by no means a big pressing concern, except to Israel. Syria's support for terrorism is a bigger problem though, which shows that there is certainly potential for trouble ahead, and is also the reason for the tough US line against Syria. On the other hand I'm pretty confident that Syria can be brought in from the cold in a way similar to Lybia.
Nonetheless it is negative development to see more weapons going into that region, and it is troubling to see that it is possible for North Korea to export such material. After all, who knows when nukes might be next?

QUOTE FOR THE DAY Reflecting on the Iraqi abuse scandal Amir Taheri reminds us:

What is at stake in Iraq is bigger
than Abu Ghraib. It is even bigger
than Rumsfeld and George W. Bush.
Iraq has become a battleground between
the democratic vision of the world and
the despotic and obscurantist visions
that have dominated Middle Eastern
politics for more than half a century.
Allowing the democratic vision to be
defeated because of narrow partisan
considerations in the US and Britain
would mean only one thing: The democracies
would have to return some time later
to fight an even bigger and costlier war.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

NOT THE KIND OF WAR I'D LIKE TO FIGTH Our gloriously rubbish media doesn't quite manage to give it enough space, but our troops are also having a particularly bad time in Iraq. And the enemy's tactics can't be helping either:

"The Mehdi Army are a very ruthless and
determined enemy," said Major James Coote
of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment.
"They will use any tactics available including
using children to attack us, or to hide behind
, as they have done within the city
in the last week or so. Unfortunately they are
also very well armed.
"We have certainly won a few battles but we
haven't yet won the war."

For a large part of my life I wanted to be a soldier. However it's when I read things like that I' glad that I' not. What kind of choice is that:either be killed or kill a child that's being used as a shield. No wonder so many innocent bystanders are being killed in this insurgency.
As for controlling the situation in Amara: High time for some strong-arm tactics then? Not so fast:

This province has always been unruly,
full of criminal gangs and warring tribes.
Even Saddam Hussein struggled to control it
- now the British are struggling too.

Oh dear. Well I suppose we'll have to settle with containing this hotspot rather than pacifying it; a sorry policy that an independent Iraq is presumably going to have to continue.

Monday, May 17, 2004

BLOGROLL REBUILD Well after I foolishly demolished by previous blogroll I'm having to put it all back together again. No fun. Particularly as I have a whopping load of "real" stuff to work on. I hope I'll have managed to restore it to its full glory sometime during the week. I've just noticed that for some of the stuff that I've put up, the links and/or titles are wrong. Sorry about any inconvenience.

WHO IS "MARK STEYN" REALLY? I can't quite figure out what kind of fiendish plot is behind this but we ought to be told.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

MORE DEFENSE FAILURES? I don't know what it is at the moment but there seems to be a sheer endless supply of bad news these days. The UK's strategic future is heavily centred on two new aircraft carriers which should provide us with some serious global power projection. Now, however it seems they won't have any aircraft:

But though the aircraft's engine is
widely accepted as the most advanced
of its kind, it is far heavier than
If the weight problem is not resolved,
the jets will be unable to achieve the
vertical take-offs that are the
trademark of the Harrier Jump Jet.
'Problem will be solved'
Britain is building two new aircraft
carriers for the Royal Navy - but the
runways will be too short for the
jets to take off normally,
newspapers have reported.

I mean honestly, just what is going wrong? And this is the addition to the Eurofigther. What a mighty aerial strike force we're going to have; we might as well give up being a military power altogether. I have nothing to say really; I just feel like banging my head on the table.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

DUBYA JOKE A friend sent me this, I think it's worth a laugh:

George Bush has a heart attack and dies. He goes to hell
where the devil is waiting for him. "I don't know what to
do here," says the devil. "You're on my list but I have
no room for you, but you definitely have to stay here, so
I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I've got 3 people
here who weren't quite as bad as you. I'll let one of
them go, but you have to take their place. I'll even let YOU
decide who leaves." George thought that sounded pretty good,
so he agreed. The devil opened the first room. In it was
Richard Nixon and a large pool of water. He kept diving in
and surfacing empty handed over and over and over. Such was
his fate in hell."No!" George said. "I don't think so.
I'm not a good swimmer and don't think I could do that all
day long." The devil led him to the next room. In it was
Tony Blair with a sledgehammer and a room full of rocks. All
he did was swing that hammer, time after time after time.
"No!" I've got this problem with my shoulder. I would be in
constant agony if all I could do was break rocks all day!"
commented George. The devil opened a third door. In it,
George saw Bill Clinton lying naked on the floor with his arms
staked over his head and his legs staked in spread eagle pose.
Bent over him was Monica Lewinsky, doing what she does best.
George Bush looked at this in disbelief for a while and
finally said, "Yeah, I can handle this." The devil smiled and
said....Monica, you're free to go!"

Now, this being a political blog I am however not going to allow this to pass without comment entirely. Politically of course, I find the comparison with Nixon rubbish. I can't be bothered to explain and list all the wrong things Nixon did and explain case by case that anything what Bush has done is miles away from it. No, I would in fact go further and say that Clinton was worse by all counts than Bush. Many people, at least in the circles I mix in, yearn for the good old days, when Billie was in charge of the White House. After all, he wasn't as gung-ho, unilateral and all that as Bush was he? What these people tend to forget is, that it was Clinton who piled up all the global problems that the Bushies are now having to deal with. For sure the Bush admin isn't always flawless in this (ahem, post-war Iraq planning anyone?), but a great deal of blame for this lies with the Clinton admin for not having dealt with the problems in the irst place and thus letting them inflate massively. I'll discuss this view in an essay sometime so I'll just leave it at that for now.
I guess I shouldn't really spoil peoples' enjoyment of silly jokes with such analysis anyway.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

OH BLOODY GREAT Got all excited about the new free comments bit and started playing around with the template and now all the links are gone. grrrr.

WELL YOU CAN ALWAYS DREAM . . . An increasingly Iraq-wobbly Andrew Sullivan has some thoughts about an alternative to Bush. I'll give him that it all sounds very nice and convincing, but I'm sorry to say I can't for the life of me see this happening. Does anybody besides Sullivan like this idea? How about Kerry and McCain? After all it isn't going to go very far without them. Personally I would have been highly pleased to see McCain in the White House rather than Bush or Gore but I also don't see much point in daydreaming about such things, get real man. Yes, I would prefer to see Michael Portillo in Downing Street rather than Tony Blair, but given the unfortunate choice Michael howard will probably be my man. Politics sucks. There you go.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

THE SOLUTION THE THIRD WORLD POVERTY: PROPERTY RIGHTS Thanks to Stephen Pollard for the link here is great piece on Hernando de Soto:

So, my congratulations to Hernando de Soto. Here is capitalism
as a noble ideal that will lift countless millions, rather than the
parody of corporate greed we see from Enron and related betrayals
of the law-abiding, trade enhancing ideal of the company. A market
stall trader on a street corner in La Paz is the blood brother of a
Carrefour or Marks & Spencer employee.

Read all of it. In fact read of all the book too. Simply marvellous, one of the most enjoying and stimulating books I've ever read. De Soto's work should be the cornerstone of overseas development strategies.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Emotional Drunk
What Kind of Drunk Are You?
Brought to you by Rum and Monkey
Well, I certainly agree with the emotional bit, except when I get drunk I become all positive and tell everyone how much I love them. I never get self-destructive, so readers can sleep soundly knowing that I won't suddenly be gone for good. 'nother pint mate!

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

COMMENTARY ROUND-UP First as a follow-up to yesterday's post about a properly conservative Iraq policy here is a dire piece, courtesy of the Cato Institute:

A political culture shapes democracy far more than democracy shapes the political culture. One must hope that, against all available evidence, contemporary Iraqi political culture has minimal influence on the new Iraqi democracy.
Democracy is an evolutionary development rather than an overnight phenomenon. No single day of good news from Iraq changes that reality.

So, time for the strongman, eh? Daniel Pipes seems to think so. No, this can't be the solution either, but this thinking is sure to spread wider, the longer the situation on the ground and the tv screens remains so barren.

Talking of strength, who calls the shots in the new EU? I'm not so sure about it's going to be Germany, but give it a look anyway. This reminds us that there is certainly far more potential for German power in the Eu than its current policies would suggest.

Returning to the Middle East, after the Likud party members failed to do the only thing sensible and approve of Sharon's withdrawal plan Gerard Steinberg explains why it is the only game in town:

But in reality, the chances of achieving a Palestinian surrender in the foreseeable future (20 to 40 years) are close to zero.
. . .
In other words, despite the outcome of the Likud referendum, unilateral disengagement remains Israel's least bad and most realistic option.
This strategy will make terrorism more difficult to conduct, reduce the demographic threat of a Palestinian Arab majority, allow for managing the conflict through deterrence and interdiction, and reduce daily friction.
When the alternatives are examined in detail, none of them are able to offer even these limited benefits. As a result, after the emotions have cooled and rationality returns, unilateral disengagement is still the only game in town.

THE FUN OF THE REGULATION STATE Well I'm sure there's sense in most of it, but I can't help but giggle a little at this:

Teachers and parents now face a growing and often confusing checklist of health items that might or might not be allowed in school.
There has been a dispute this week over sun cream - with an eight-year-old boy being banned from bringing it into his Bristol primary school.
The ban was because sun cream was deemed a medication - and as such a potential hazard to other pupils.
Recently teachers were warned by a union that they should apply sun cream to pupils to avoid the risk of litigation over pupils getting sun burn.
Teachers had previously been warned not to apply sun cream to pupils because this could be misinterpreted as an assault.
In another case, schools had been told not to apply sun-tan lotion - in case it caused allergies.

Oh dear.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

DO WE NEED A CONSERVATIVE APPROACH TO IRAQ? Given the current difficulties we are faced with it is a good time as ever to ask a few questions about the general mindset behind the Iraq policy. Now, a lot of people call this "neoconservative", but that's misleading term, as there is only a vague idea of what neconservative foreign policy is supposed to be as an intellectual concept. The better term I came across somewhere was democratic imperialism. I find that the better description because it encapsulates in it itself the inherent contradiction we face in our foreign policy choices -democracy vs imperialism-, while acknowledging that this is an intellectually sound concept. Additionally it has the advantage that it can include people who aren't conservative or right wing of any stripe or colour, but who support this policy nonetheless, such as Tony Blair and David Aaronovitch, or over the Big Pond, Paul Bermann and Thomas Friedmann.
This is a question of definition that I think needs bearing in mind when reading this piece by George Will on the question whether or not the Bush administration is too "neoconservative" in its approach to Iraqi nation building:

Speaking of culture, as neoconservative nation-builders would be well-advised to avoid doing, Pat Moynihan said: "The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself." Here we reach the real issue about Iraq, as distinct from unpleasant musings about who believes what about skin color.
The issue is the second half of Moynihan's formulation -- our ability to wield political power to produce the requisite cultural change in a place such as Iraq. Time was, this question would have separated conservatives from liberals. Nowadays it separates conservatives from neoconservatives.

Well yes there is friction between the two positions and here is an important caveat I agree needs to be remembered by us hawks more:

"I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be." That is the core of conservatism.
Traditional conservatism. Nothing "neo" about it. This administration needs a dose of conservatism without the prefix.

Will is right, that is a commonsensical conservative approach to take. This connects to a fear that has been following me right from the onset of the Iraq debate proper in the summer of 2002: can we democratise Iraq? I know that neither Islamic nor Arabic culture nor Iraqi culture per se are an obstacle to democracy, and to say otherwise is racist. But we do have to acknowledge that the current mood in Iraq looks far less reassuring as a basis for democracy. We may well be in for a much uglier and longer haul than we expected. What I would like is a conservative approach that accepts that Iraq isn't quite ready yet instead of letting idealism dictate policy and thus formulates an approach that can stabilise Iraq until such a time, perhaps two more years or so. But what I don't want is a "conservative" approach that simply puts a friendly Iraqi military dictatorship in place and then lets us get out. That would be a betrayal of our cause, the Iraqi people and would ultimately be futile in the longer run anyway as such approaches have shown in the past. Better to get the job done properly than be patching up problems unsatisfactorily again and again and again.

Monday, May 03, 2004

LEGALIZE IT Looking around his website I coincidentally found this little gem. It's by Alan Duncan, co-author of the must-read Saturn's Children. This is the chapter in which he calls for the legalization of drugs, but which he was forced to withdraw from the paperback edition because by that time he had advanced into the shadow cabinet. But on the web such restrictions luckily don't exist, and you can read and agree with his conclusion that

The eighteenth-century smugglers were defeated in the end by the price mechanism, not the machinery of State repression. The same fate awaits the drug barons and dope dealers, if the State has the courage to admit its own impotence.

And the Tories have the courage to have the argument published in a book one might feel inclined to add.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

IRAQ PRISONER ABUSE It goes without saying really that the behaviour of the British troops in Iraq and of their US colleagues in the Baghdad prison is completely and utterly unacceptable. Not only that but there is also no excuse for it. Killing or mistreating prisoners or civilians in an actual combat zone while the bullets are still flying is something that is still wrong but under the circumstances I am not going to throw too much of a hissy over it - I am not a soldier, I have never been in a firefight and I am not arrogant enough to think that I could be judgemental nonetheless against those who have taken that duty upon themselves when I personally have no real understanding of such a situation. However under such controlled and safe circumstances as the relevant atrocities have taken place there is no excuse and no explanation necessary. Those responsible need to have the book thrown at them with the full force available.
Beyond the legal-moral aspect to this we also have to keep in mind what damage this does to our propaganda efforts. These are the kind of things that make the average Iraqis who are supportive of our coalition distinctly cool about cooperating with our troops.
One of the ironies of this whole situation is that it still shows that we are the "good guys". In Saddam's days prison guards that committed such acts were not reprimanded and not praised either for the simple sick reason that they would simply have been following orders. Our military on the other hand is investigating the matter and should see a fair number of court martials and dishonourable discharges.
The main point about the whole affair however is fairly simply and that is that it doesn’t change anything. To use an analogy, just because they mistreat prisoners occasionally no one of us would seriously suggest abolishing the police and arguing they should go nowhere where they could arrest somebody.

Apologies for not being back to my hawkish self as promised on Wednesday but I’m still in need of some nourishing food and a full night's sleep *yawn*. Have yourselves a nice weekend.

PS: As for the media coverage it is "odd" that while the constant stream of critical reports about our forces' behaviour in the south only made it into the back pages of the Guardian, US mistakes merit frontpage splashes and the majority of air time. I'm not saying the relevant media is somehow anti-American, it's just that I find this discrepancy "odd". To be fair they have also suddenly now picked up on the British abuses even though the first substantial allegation surfaced quite a while back. I suppose that’s how they get the British-poodle-narrative back in order again.

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