Tuesday, May 24, 2005
This story about the death of a Royal Marine trainee is on the face of it just a simple tragedy. But have a look at the way the story has been ran at the Daily Mail:
No change to Marine training despite superbug fears
If the accidental death by a non-military cause can be put up by the media elite as something that would necessite softer training we really do have a problem. The idea of “train hard, fight easy”will be dead in the water if troops can not even be put at risk of scratching their legs. This is just another little piece of evidence that shows how are political culture is enfeebling our ability for military readiness.
Monday, May 23, 2005
I have never been a great fan of German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder so his party’s hammering in a key regional election makes me quite content. The added announcement that he will try to bring the general election forward by a year, in order to have it this autumn rather than in 2006 is actually quite a dramatic step.
It is definite good news that Schroeder’s social-democratic SPD has been given this bloody nose. All attempts at reforming Germany’s ailing economic policies have largely floundered and Schroeder has been faced with massive resistance inside his own party, where many believe that the government’s reforms will destroy social justice by making German economic life too market based. To get around this resistance and general unpopularity, Schroeder and particularly his political fixer Muentefering, opted for a strategy of scapegoating. Just like his successful use of anti-Americanism in the 2002 general election, this touched on popular sentiments. This time round it was Anglo-Saxon economics, and specifically American investors who were allegedly stripping Germany bare of all its assets.
Unfortunately the notion of rootless, money obsessed foreign types bleeding Germany dry has a certain historical pedigree. I will not at this point go into my thoughts about whether or not the imagery of “Heuschrecken” (locusts), employed by the SPS campaign with strong union backing, is anti-Semitic; like a lot about this debate I would simply direct you to the relevant entries at Davids Medienkritik. But what this definitely is, is the politics of scapegoating. By appealing to the most ugly of prejudices that can be found in parts of the German population, the German left is in effect encouraging their growth and making them all too respectable (see John Rosenthal on this, for example). The fact that Schroeder’s gang has now been defeated electorally in course of these practices is therefore a welcome humiliation for this sort of hateful politics. The SPD’s defeat in North Rhine-Westphalia is thus a clear strengthening of a grown up and decent Germany.
(It certainly makes for bad politics and economics as Clay Risen and Jeffrey Gedmin argue convincingly.)
I am not entirely sure though, whether this will actually see the Red-Green coalition government removed from office in Berlin. The key opposition, the Christian Democratic parties (CDU/CSU) are not currently clear enough about their leadership yet. On the plus side that may mean that the right-liberal FDP may profit most from an electoral swing away from the ruling parties. Well I’m hoping, though they lost a little in this election.
Let’s see, but I fear that a defeat of Schroeder in September/October is not guaranteed.
Sunday, May 22, 2005
Hmm, well I’m not entirely sure why I bothered watching it. I was expecting something thoroughly awful, something so awful it makes you laugh. I found it quite disappointing in that respect. Obviously the songs still aren’t really any good, but they’re not horrendous anymore either. I guess at current trends Eurovision 2008 should be full of the best pop songwriting in Europe.
The other thing I noticed was how lame our eighteen points really is. Nil points, that has a ring to it and there’s something redeemingly glorious about complete failure. But a semi-failure like last night is just dull.
To be honest though, nothing was ever going to be as cool as last year’s winner Ruslana and her cracking Wild Dances. That is Eurovision at its best.
Saturday, May 21, 2005
The Godfather proclaimeth:
The fully developed welfare state is a modern version of the feudal castle, guarded by moats and barriers, and offering security and shelter to the loyal population that gathers around it. Ironically, this means that in world affairs the poorer nations that are not welfare states, not nearly as risk averse since they have so little to lose, will be (as they are already becoming) the activist countries, the ones that create the crises and set the international agenda. The most powerful nations in the world--economically, technologically, even militarily--will become citadels of resistance and nothing more.
Continuing from last week’s posting I would just pick up by saying that it is more rewarding to look at neoconservatism’s domestic policy heritage. I find that it’s mostly worth reading the people themselves, and this collection by Irving Kristol is definitely worth reading.
Also I would point to an appreciation in the Weekly Standard by David Skinner, and of course you can have a read of the reminisciences by Kristol and the more critical one by Nathan Glazer, who criticises the narrowing down of political views in the magazine.
Of course if you have a little time on your hand, have a good browse through part of the journal’s archive here. Unfortuntaley, the older editions are not generally accessible; you need an academic server log in (I think at least). There’s some articles which are so well written that they are still worthy of consideration decades later. In the newer editions from about the mid 1990s onwards the emphasis became clearer on issues such as sexuality and bio ethics, and the ideological slant became more pronounced. Nonetheless they have been consistently thought provoking to people like me who are broadly in disagreement.
To wrap it up I’ll just make one specific readiong recommendation. Personally I agree with Skinner‘s comment about this Leon Kass article on courtship. It is one of the few texts which have ever managed to challenge me about the way I lead my personal life. For sure there are some bits in it that are clearly a bit strong, but its drive is so persuasive that I did find myself asking whether I was being a good man for my woman.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
In a column in which Ferdinand Mount criticises the lack of a social conseravtive approach to improving society there’s this:
How long before the compensation culture spreads north and young offenders are condemned to make nothing riskier than daisy chains?
Friday, May 13, 2005
I am aware that I’m a little behind on this, but I am not a full-time blogger or journalist so forgive me: The Public Interest has come to its end. For those who are not in the know, this is the magazine that founded by Irving Kristol and Daniel Bell back in 1965, when both were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the direction that the contemporary American liberalism, that they were a part of, was taking. Eventually the magazine by gradual development became to be recognized as the breeding ground of neoconservatism.
Today neocons are thought to be a small clique of foreign policy hawks only interested in expanding American power and spreading democracy by military force. A simple look back in intellectual history and the back issues of the Public Interest shows that its origins clearly in domestic policay. In actual fact, there was never any distinctly neoconservative view on foreign policy issues. I would in fact go as far as doubting whether there really is one today. The desire to secure America by spreading democracy by force or vice versa, is fairly open to people of many ideological backgrounds, and it is thus probably more apt to use Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay’s descripton of that worldview as “democratic imperialism”.
So the actual relevance of neoconservatism is a domestic policy one, an area where it has been spectactularly successful. In part this is due to the intellectual depth this provided to the American right. For better or for worse this enabled a process that has given conservatives in the US a new lease on life. I have commented before that this is something where we in the UK are lagging rather behind. So this is all well worth a look.
I’m going to follow up on this post in a week’s time and provide a few more links and sorts.
Until then I’m going to be off-station as it were.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
On a departure from this feature’s more political character, here’s Angelina Jolie:
Men don't really like skinny, do they? Ever since I dated a woman, I know what it is to grab a curve on a woman's body.
Monday, May 09, 2005
According to EU-Commissar Margot Wallstrom :
Vote for EU constitution or risk new Holocaust
Honestly what is this? The next level of Holocaust denial? Did the Nazis really only try to maintain national sovereignty as an essential ingredient to liberal democracy? I recall a rather different history.
Outrageous and ridiculous in one.
I am a Euroscpetic and this is due to concerns about the erosion of democratic accountability, the shaky foundations on which the EU is being built, the direction it is taking, etc. I am not motivated by xenophobia and often find some of it that is present in the culture strongly discomforting. And -to use a cliché- some of my best friends are Europeans, my wife in spe is foreign and I think European integration is a great idea, just that it’s gone and is going too far. If that makes me a Nazi gunning for another Shoa, I should gladly volunteer for the position gas chamber operator.
Crass? This just underlines the stupidity and offensiveness of Wallstrom’s’s comments.
It also shows that the EU-boosters are starting to look a little desperate if the only counter to the many Eurosceptical arguments consists in the lowest-level name calling and impugning the motives of critics, rather than any substantive counter-arguments. (And while we’re at it, there’s an argument to be made that the EU as such increases racism.)
She should be forced to apologise for using such inflammatory rethoric. Peter Tapsel was strongly hounded for his inappropriate use of Hitler-comparison in regards to the EU and that must equally be the case for the other side of the argument. But I’m not holding my breath.
ELECTORAL REFORM: ELECT THE GOVERNMENT DIRECTLY?
To pick up at yesterday’s post, it might be worth pondering whether we should elect the Government directly. This would entail the instituting of a “presidential” system like France or the US. One of the often-voiced complaints by anti-war Labour candidates was that they were losing votes despite of their personal stance because of their membership in the wrong party. By separating these votes this kind of problem might be solved. Of course in itself this almost throws up more problems than it solves, but it should really be pursued intellectually. That way the inevitable focus by the national media on the party leaders would not be a distortion of the democratic process but an enhancement.
That said this would be one of the most radical changes to British constitution imaginable. The consequences might be equally radical. Political parties might loose their central importance if people were voting for a specific candidate for Prime Minister. This would be further accentuated, if the voting reforms I suggested were also implemented. Could that lead in combination to the end of party politics?
I admit this is all a bit off the wall, but I wonder if we might not one day find we have no alternatives to such changes.
In yesterday’s Sunday Times India Knight criticises the mainstreaming of porn via lad mags such as FHM, Nuts, Zoo et al:
Porn has become more and more mainstream in the past few years, and these ultra-successful magazines are vivid proof of it: though they present themselves as jolly enough to appeal to your 14-year-old son, they are, to all intents and purposes, pornographic. . . . What I don’t like is the way in which pornography has seeped into the mainstream: from sleazy TV ad campaigns to billboard advertising . . . , like all men’s magazines, they have done their bit for sneaking porn into the mainstream. . . . Thank goodness these magazines are headed back to the top shelf, where they belong.
But, ah, the irony.
I think there’s some good arguments to be had about this phenomenon that India Knight describes and it’s interesting in a way to find illustration for it right in the same pages were she is criticising it. Some day, I will turn my attention to these issues. But until then: argue amongst yourselves.
Sunday, May 08, 2005
ELECTORAL REFORM: PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATIONS VS FIRST PAST THE POST?
This is inevitably brought up: should we scrap the FPTP voting system? Combine the two systems? There are two reasons that count against PR:
FPTP ensures a strong and effective Government, which has its downsides too, but is probably desireable in the long-run compared to highly consensual systems such as Germany where government can too easily be bogged down and reform-paralysed. This is in part achieved by keeping out smaller parties, which may be a little undemocratic, but it does help keep down extremists and loons. My impression from election night was that the BNP and National Front would probably have got seats, and the Greens and UKIP definitely would have.
Another problem with PR is the question: Who will MPs who owe their seats to party lists be accountable to? Which voters? How can we know which MP is in Parliament due to our vote? Will MPs always have to obey the party leadership? Or will they just go off and vote as they personally wish, with no regards to party line, election promises or constituents? The actualy practice of PR suggests that such a system makes for unaccountable MPs and a lack of transparency.
Nonetheless I think the current system could do with some changes, to maintain FPTP’s advantages.
Transparency should be an issue. It would definitely be worth considering whether votes in the Commons should be made entirely public so that voters know what their MPs have been up to, and can conduct proper accounting at the ballot box. This would probably result in less tactical voting, horse trading and party line obedience. For better or for worse this would be a cost that would have to be taken into account..
Another idea might be an adoption of the French system. If memory recalls correctly there are normally two election run-throughs. In the first there’s the full list with all possible candidates. The two most highest scoring then go head to head a little after the first round. That way the eventual winner will end up having secured more than 50% of a constituency’s votes, and will thus diminish the unfairness of seats being won by candidates with mere fractions of the vote.
Saturday, May 07, 2005
ELECTORAL REFORM: NON-VOTING
As always the elction should lead to a discussion of the electoral system. I’ll be posting my random thoughts on this over the next few days.
The one one point I would just make in advance is that I don’t accept the claim that “Blair has won on the smallest majority ever and how can that be allowed”. To be clear, in effect Blair was returned to office with 76%, because effectively the 40% of voters who couldn’t be asked to vote thus signalled their acceptance of and consent to be governed by whoever won, which in this case is Labour. Equally, when the Tories win in the next general election 2008-2010, this figure will support them.
I’m sorry, but if people aren’t willing to exercise their right to vote I don’t think there’s a problem. These people will generally speaking be either not interested, not informed or not serious about the political process so in fact it improves the quality of the outcome. If people don’t like the choices on offer, they could simply go and spoil their ballotts so I don’t think that excuse has legs.
But this does lead me to support the idea to put the option of “none of the above” on the ballott paper. In such a case, should this option get the majority of the votes, there might have to be a re-run. Either way this is worth a thought.
Friday, May 06, 2005
Yeah, yeah, I know that it’s all more complicated and there are many difficulties still ahead. But what fun the night was. I stayed up ‘til 5am and we had a great time watching one constituecy after another turning blue. Fantastic stuff! Let’s hope this is only the beginning.
Thursday, May 05, 2005
THE CHOICE BEFORE ME: CHOOSING CONSERVATIVE!
I don’t think it’s much of a surprise that I will recommend to everyone to vote Conservative. Free Democrat has a number of good reasons, as does, in his very own way, the Public Interester.
Now, I have regularly expressed my unhappines with the Conservatives on this blog (see the post below), but as I have also made clear I do not see any alternative to them. I am simply going to mention some policies that I find relevant:
-Opposition to the Euro and the European “Constitution”
-A promise for modest increases in defence spending
-Support for regime change in Iraq
-The likelihood that only a Conservative Government will be able to put a check on the ever expanding state bureaucracy
There are many more arguments to be had, but I’m drawing the line here, vote Conservative!
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
THE CHOICE BEFORE ME: CHOOSING CONSERVATIVE?
So, all the rest don’t quite pass muster so will I be voting Tory? I’m still quite unhappy about a number of issues of Conservative policy, such as a disappointing stance on immigration or the lack of nerve to have something substantial to say on foreign affairs. Local candidate Edward Heckels certainly has nothing to say about it. Foreign affairs doesn’t exist at all in his leaftlet and the rest is just a collection of boring local issues. Ok, that’s what it’s supposed to be about of course but I’m not really big into that. Well, given that the rest of the candidates are not an option, should I make my cross here then?
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
THE CHOICE BEFORE ME: RE-ELECT KATE HOEY?
Well she’s the sitting candidate, so what to do? On the one hand she opposed the hunting ban and id cards, which goes in her plus column, but on the other hand she is quite keen to emphasise she opposed Iraq. I’m sorry about that, because I would have considered voting for a pro-war Labour candidate, particularly in a seat where the LibDems stand a chance (see Oliver Kamm for this argument). But in this case it won’t have the impact I would be looking for so she’s out of the race. Sorry.
In case you haven’t been guided there by any other means yet, let me point you to these party political broadcasts. The really surprising thing I found about them was the slick quality. You really could easily mistake them for real, and they only go slightly over the top with the message too.
Monday, May 02, 2005
THE CHOICE BEFORE ME: THE ENGLISH DEMOCRATS
I suppose given the separatist parties in other parts of the UK this was probably waiting to happen: the English Democrats. Thie programme doesn’t quite seem to suggest full independence, but either way I have little patience with these sorts in other parts of the UK, and I certainly don’t have sympathy for them in England either. Ok, so they may have a point about some of the imbalances in fiscal burdens and legislative powers, but that’s in effect where their policies end. Oh no I forget, they want to make St George’s Day a Bank holiday. I’m afraid there’s not much going in terms of a programme for Government. What I will say however that the local candidate has a nice crop of hair. He’s a student of the performing arts and his name is Janus Polenceus. Janus Polenceus? Even the name suggests arts. Oh well, I’m sure he’s a nice fellow and he enjoys his politics hobby, because that’s what it’s going to remain.
Sunday, May 01, 2005
THE CHOICE BEFORE ME: THE GREENS
Ah the Greens. I was once a great fan of this lot, and in 2001 I almost gave my vote to them. Their leaflet promises all sorts of nice greenish goodies as you would expect. I think it’s greater emphasis on social-democratic policies akin to the LibDems must be a newer devlopment. Also, the candidate, Tim Summers, is wearing a suit. Now that is progress! Ok, so it’s a badly-shaped wine-red suit, but it certainly looks like the Greens want to be taken seriously. Unfortunately I won’t, because they oppose
poodling to George Bush