The Mid-Atlantic Blog

March 08, 2006

Judicial Smackdown

A lovely ruling by the Supreme Court, saying that the fact that a law school may lose federal funding if they don't give the military the same ability to recruit on their campus that they give the private sector doesn't breach their first amendment rights.

The key line, by the new Chief Justice...

"Nothing about recruiting," Roberts wrote, "suggests that law schools agree with any speech by recruiters." Besides, "We have held that high school students can appreciate the difference between speech a school sponsors and speech the school permits because legally required to do so, pursuant to an equal access policy." Then, Roberts's tartness: "Surely students have not lost that ability by the time they get to law school."

A great piece about this by George Will this morning. The fight back of rationality and good sense in the legal system continues.

Honesty In The Church Of England

A terribly sad story last night about Julie Nicholson, the vicar who lost her daughter in the 7/7 bombings, and who has now resigned her parish because of the effect on her faith, and in particular her inability to forgive.

A short piece on this story on BBC Online, but the segment on the news at 10 last night went into the story in more detail.

Three things jump out at me on this.

First, as her bishop said, this lady has shown great courage in admitting her feelings. Her reaction is terribly human, and very understandable, and her insight that it might damage her ministry is sobering.

Second, (and oddly enough not covered on BBC Online) her most powerful statement last night was about the attitude towards the killers. I don't have a transcript to hand, but her statement went something like the following
There has been a lot of talk recently of people being offended. Well, I'm deeply deeply offended that someone killed my daughter for their idea of God
This was a powerful statement, and a sentiment that has been notably missing from the public discourse in recent times.

Finally, in her temporary failure to forgive, this lady has given us a much more potent and impressive message of the importance and centrality of forgiveness to the gospel that she has dedicated herself to spreading than you get from most of the trite pablum that comes from the Church. Forgiveness is hard, not simply a form of words in a press release from Lambeth Palace, and pretending it is not cheapens it. By emphasising that forgiveness is hard, that as flawed humans we are not always able to get to it immediately, that it is key to the Christian message, and that it is not simply pretending that the wrong that was done was not wrong she has also emphasised the value of it.

I'll be praying for her.

Update: I've just noticed this piece in the Times today, which covers the issue very well.

March 06, 2006

Dangerous Ground

Sometimes society just decides to run off the edge of a cliff, shouting "I'm a teapot, I'm a teapot". I worry that we're in danger of doing it again.

What on earth am I talking about?

Three things all spotted in ten minutes this morning.

The single common factor is the willful denial of reality.

While Oscars themselves don't determine the views of society we can't forget that the drip drip drip of the message being sent from Hollywood can be corrosive. In these two pictures you see pictures of reality that are so different from the truth as to be actively damaging, but which go along with some preconceived prejudices that are already out there. The US is currently engaged in trying to spread democracy, not stop it. Corporations are possibly the single most important societal invention for broad-based prosperity - and despite the fact that all corporations make mistakes pharma companies save millions of people every year. The Dubai ports issue, and the highlighted one over China raise the danger of protectionism, which could cause huge damage to us all. And exacerbating tensions with China has other dangers as well...

I'm probably just being pessimistic because it's Monday morning. But that doesn't stop me from feeling a little uncomfortable about this.

March 05, 2006

March For Free Expression

On 25th March there will be a march for free expression in Trafalgar Square.

I don't know anything about the organisers, but on the assumption that they are accurately representing their speakers this appears to be a genuine, non-partisan, non-offensive attempt to support free speech in the face of the recent cartoon nonsense.

Unless it turns out between now and then that there is a nasty undercurrent with this march, I think I may break my usual rule of indolence and try to potter along. Pop along to their site and see what you think... and if you agree with the basic idea of freedom of speech put the date in your diary. This stuff matters, and people have died for it in the past. A stroll through central London can't be too much work, can it?

Abortion In America

Over the next few years the American polity is going to move beyond Roe vs Wade. That much is certain. How it does so, and what that means, will be fascinating.

The underlying problem here is simple. The pre-Roe environment was one where abortion was a state-level issue, decided as part of the political process. Pro-abortion activists had (and have) a firmly felt belief that this was inappropriate, and that the right to abortion was one that should be available to all.

Now, the traditional approach to this type of problem was two-fold. First, pro-abortion activists could mount political campaigns in the states that banned abortion, attempting to change the law through the political process. Second, they could attempt to have a constitutional amendment passed.

The hurdle they faced? There wasn't enough support for their views amongst the voting population.

That poses a problem in a democracy, of course. However, instead of simply stepping up the attempt to change minds, a novel approach was taken. A "right" to abortion that no-one had noticed before was discovered in the constitution.

The result? The effect of a constitutional amendment, without the awkward "getting the agreement of the country" downside.

The effects of this have been deeply corrosive, and it has taken a long time for the conservative movement to react effectively. In fact, it has been one of the key elements of the conservative rebuild.

It is, however, poorly understood on this side of the Atlantic. "Anti-abortion" activists come in all shapes and sizes: from those who want abortions totally abolished, through strict-construction constitutionalists to those who want greater decentralisation. Many of them want restrictions on abortion, sure. But many simply want essentially political issues returned to the people. The one thing that certainly isn't true is that the current key demand from the anti-abortion movement is the actual abolition of abortion. Instead, their core demand is for the return of abortion to the political sphere, allowing it to be legislated upon by politicians, rather than simply by lawyers. At that point, many may fight for abolition - but most of their supporters will focus on limits... and limits that most even in the UK would likely find reasonable.

The irony, of course, is that the approach of the pro-choice movement has been deeply damaging to them, and to the Democrats (a party which they have essentially captured). The removal of abortion from the political process has invigorated the right, and has led (in significant part) to a grand alliance of various interest groups that have created the political movement that at the last national election to Republican majorities in both House and Senate, and the White House. At the same time the Democrats becoming a single issue party on this issue has caused the immense problems, and lost them both talented politicians and significant votes.

Now the appointment of Roberts and Alito to the Court may be acting as a watershed for the pro-choice movement, making them think beyond their current unsustainable attachment to Roe v Wade, and trying to find new approaches to attain their goals. This will take some time , of course, but a good example of the type of thought process they'll have to go through to adjust to this new world can be seen here, in the Washington Post today.

Of course, even this type of discussion doesn't go far enough. This issue will eventually return to the people, and the pro-choice campaign will need to engage the people at last if they are going to win their cause. But that's democracy, and it's certainly how we do it over here in the UK.

And that's the real point to remember about this. Over the next few years the coverage of this issue is likely to be deeply distorted. Whenever you hear it discussed, remember this one fact. The House of Commons can change the abortion rules in the UK. Neither Congress nor the states can in the US. The fight going on today is a fight to correct that imbalance.

March 04, 2006

It Is Traditional, And Therefore Right

A small push back against the tide: Oxford students save sub fusc!

Oxonian brows around the world are a little less wrinkled today. We need more harmless traditions like this, not fewer.

March 03, 2006

Only On The BBC

Perception vs Reality time.

In this ICM survey last year people were asked what religion they belonged to. Maybe not the best proxy for belief in God available, but only 22% of the respondents said that they were a member of "No Faith". Regular worship attendance was quite poor, as we all know, with 32% going at least once every few months, but with more than 50% attending a few times a year.

Evidence of a widespread absence of belief in God? I don't think so. In fact, I think it's fair to say it's evidence of a general belief in God of some kind, but of a theologically wooly nature.

Now we turn to this story from this evening, describing Blair interview with Parkinson.

Blair 'prayed to God' over Iraq

As though his belief in God was unusual.

So, yet again, BBC perception (normal people don't believe in God) clashes with reality (most people in the U.K. do seem to, in fact, believe in God). No change there, then...

General Ignorance

Depressing story from the US here, showing that people in the US know the Simpsons better than their constitution.

Sadly, we're no better... Here is an old story from the BBC about our historical knowledge, or rather lack of it.

Depressing, isn't it?

George Clooney

A useful corrective this morning to the laudatory coverage of George Clooney that we've seen over here (Newsnight and Culture Show interviews, and so on).

The perception that he's tried to put across, and which has been backed broadly, is one of political activism against repression expressed through his films, in particular the two on release at the moment, with that action causing people to attack him without reason.

Charles Krauthammer points out that the problem with "Syriana" is that it presents a picture of US policy that is in fact diametrically opposite from the truth: rather than attempting to overthrow democracy and freedom around the world, Bush has regularly used the full force of the military to promote it.

And as for "Good Night And Good Luck"? Economical with the truth is probably the best that can be said for it. Covering the US government and Congress attempts to avoid infiltration by Communists during the Cold War is hard to do accurately if you work on the basis that there wasn't any such attempted infiltration, against the evidence that has been released since the end of the Cold War. You don't have to love Senator Joe to know that there was a problem... and Eisenhower was publicly challenging the witch hunts before Murrow was. Not a huge amount of bravery there, then.

Opposition to Clooney, then, isn't just because of his point of view politically: it's because he doesn't present the inconvenient facts that disagree with his view, and by doing so produce ideas that are further from reality than can be justified by artistic interpretation.

Incidentally, Mark Steyn, as always, is also good on this point here.

March 01, 2006

Iain Dale Hits The Nail On The Head

A good first person write up of the DC "Built To Last" speech, making some key points about the document. However, Iain gets it exactly right when he says the following, which I think sums up exactly the importance of this document...
The emphasis now is on what it is changing to, rather than what it has changed from. And that is certainly progress.

That is spot on. Marketing is largely a question of narrative, of direction, of story arc. The key thing this document does is not create a "Fight With The Right", but that it continues to emphasise the story arc that has been established: Conservatism is the future.

Modern Britain Described

Anne Applebaum writes today in the Washington Post about Ken Livingstone's suspension - worth a read on those grounds alone. Two particular things jump out.

First, the dark comedy of the author of "Gulag", the best modern description of the Soviet camp system being lectured by Ken as he defends Stalin.

Second, Applebaum's description of modern Britain. As an American who used to live and work here, and who has extensive contacts on both sides of the Atlantic, she has the requisite distance and closeness to be able to say the following...

Here we have, in a nutshell, evidence of the breakdown in relations between the British media and British politicians; the increasing incivility of British public life; the nasty strain of anti-Semitism on the far side of the British left (Livingstone has just called Ariel Sharon a war criminal, clearly a favorite insult, as well); and, to top it all off, the growth in the power of undemocratic, unelected "quangos" -- quasi-autonomous nongovernmental organizations -- of which there are now hundreds in Britain.

This rings pretty true, unfortunately, as do her further conclusions. Worth a read.

Health News

This is great news: Chocolate lowers blood pressure. It's not just a food group, it's a medicine!

February 28, 2006

Life Moves On

It's easy to forget how much things change.

Anyone with a child knows how many questions they ask. My daughter is no exception - coming up on 5 years old, just starting school, and asking questions nineteen to the dozen. I must admit that I find it one of the most fun parts of being a parent, seeing the interest kindle in a huge range of subjects, and the clear enjoyment she finds in learning new things.

Those questions at the moment focus on topics like "where do aliens live" (the answer to which, it turns out is in houses at the bottom of the craters in the moon - and interestingly they co-habit with Mickey Mouse. Who knew!), and how electricity works. But the topics are gradually getting broader, and there will come a time soon enough when they encompass how things used to be, and more political issues.

The differences between the world she's in and the one I was brought up in were brought into sharp relief for me by this film (Protect & Survive). The famous mid-70's public information film covering what to do in the event of a nuclear attack brought home to me both the climate of my childhood (I can vividly remember from quite a young age being aware of the fact that the large number of strategic naval bases close to our house meant that we had a pretty significant quantity of Soviet hardware pointed at us at all times), and the differences from that climate today.

That world came to an end, of course and I can vividly remember the moment I was told that the Wall had come down (a generation specific reference again). We're still not through the other side of the aftermath: the Islamist movement were given training and motivation because of the Soviet attack on Afghanistan, while the public discourse, especially in academia, has not yet adjusted to the realities of Communist crimes, still refusing to put the crimes of Lenin, Stalin, and their successors, as well as those of Mao and his cronies on a par with those of Hitler. We'll know we've left the final stages of that War behind us when wearing a Che shirt isn't acceptable, and when communism is no longer excused.

But on all of these issues we're in the mopping-up phase of the engagement, no matter how long it takes. We have new challenges, and new fears, and if I'm not sure how much safer we are now than then that's beside the point.

This film is, when you come down to it, from a totally different world - and it's that of my childhood. That's a very strange feeling. Watch it, and feel yourself fly backwards to the strange world of 1975.

Giving Credit Where It's Due

Expectation vs reality again this morning, with this piece highlighting the fact that Bush has, again and again, failed to live up to the perception some have that he's a small minded bigot.

The particular topic is, of course, the Dubai ports deal. A huge commotion over very little, especially on the right where there were initial concerns over security (which have since then mainly been mitigated because of further information becoming available), and where some of the reaction has been unquestionably based on the Arab origin of the company involved - if not racism, at least regionalism.

Concerns over security from the right, though, are expected, and it was bad political antennae not to think this one through more carefully, at least as to presentation.

Bush, however, has done the right thing, defending the deal in clear and unequivocal terms. Key quote...

"What I find interesting is that it's okay for a British company to manage some ports, but not okay for a company from a country that is a valuable ally in the war on terror,"

February 26, 2006

A Climate Of Fear?

A short, but necessary corrective to views about fly-over land.

The common view, particularly in the UK, of red-state America is pretty negative. In particular, there is the perception that the view of the ordinary member of the population is effectively simple racism, and that this drives both votes for Republicans and attitudes towards the Iraq war (and the Middle-East as a whole).

This story, then, should be given wider publicity. In Toledo, Ohio over the course of a single week an Islamic charity is closed down by the Feds (under suspicion of funneling money to Islamist terror groups), and then three Moslem men are arrested for suspicion of involvement in Islamist terrorism.

The reaction?

Not race riots. Not violence against the large local Moslem community. Not an upsurge in Mosque burnings. No calls in the local press for suspicion of local Moslems.

Nope. Instead, we get stories on headlined "Ohio Muslims Say They Don't Fear Backlash" (and you can be sure that if there were suspicions of the opposite ABC would have been happy to cover them).

I guess those small-minded racist red-neck Ohio hicks aren't quite as bad as might be thought.

Oh, and by the way. The leading contender for Governor on the Republican side? Ken Blackwell, the current Secretary of State of Ohio. And those damned racist right-wing Ohioans are clearly playing to their prejudices again, what with him being African-American, and all. Small-minded intolerant bigots, the lot of them...

February 25, 2006

Al Gore Is Richard Nixon

Well, that may be putting it a little strongly, but this piece in the New York Observer (a publication which is always worth dipping into both for the occasional gem like this, and as a reminder of why I'm glad I live in London not New York) makes a good case that there are strong parallels between Nixon and Gore in respect to the 2008 election.

His case rests on differentiation from the key competitors on the war in Iraq. He makes the valid point that with the current left-wing of the Democrats out there it'll be tough for someone deeply involved in national elected politics both to be rational in action, and at the same time to maintain support on the anti-war left.
To win, Mr. Gore must run on a simple proposition that puts him at direct odds with Mrs. Clinton: Within 24 hours of taking office, he would withdraw all troops from Iraq and redirect national resources to crush Al Qaeda. The election of 2008 may become like 1968, with war protests wracking the country and the President sticking to his guns.
It's an interesting piece, and makes a good case, although I'm not sure it's a wholly accurate prediction. Worth a read though.

By the way, the one thing that I'm pretty sure of is that it won't be Hillary! in the White House next time. Too many negatives, for one thing, and also that she's running from the Senate. Kennedy was the last one to manage that trick, and to coin a phrase, she's no Jack Kennedy.

February 24, 2006

Newsnight And Blogs

So you come home, and do some surfing to see what's been going on. Check the Newsnight site. Notice that the Editor has his weekly column up: the graphic is Ethical Man, about which you've done a post earlier in the week, and that you know from your site logs a number of BBC people have read. Have a look... and discover that your post is one of the topics of discussion (no link though, even with the usual BBC external sites warning, which is a bit of a shame). Well well.

A few points on this.

First, it shows you the difference between the different media of blogs and broadcast. I was expecting the usual Gaian nonsense from this story, which is what you get regularly from the Beeb. The package was rather like that, the discussion wasn't. I thought there was enough of a difference from my preconceptions to post an update, which I'm glad he quoted in part. And I linked to the site. That process is common with blogs. It's not quite as common with broadcast...

Second, and leaving aside that it's a post from here being commented on it is, I think, very good news that the Editor of Newsnight is reading comments from the blogosphere - and caring about them, even if he disagrees with them. The BBC is starting to get more used to interaction both ways with blogs. Sometimes they'll be positive, sometimes negative. But they're usually not designed just to be mean - and you can tell those blogs a mile away and not read them. The rest of us, particularly those who comment on BBC News regularly, do so partially as commentary, and partially in the hope that the things that we see as errors will be corrected, or at least addressed. Sometimes we're angry, sometimes we poke fun, but underlying it is a genuine hope that BBC News will produce top quality, well thought out output. Every news editor should be running a Technorati search multiple times a day and reading the results where possible, and Peter Barron (or his colleagues) should be commended for doing so.

Third, this Ethical Man segment is the type of segment ideally designed for this new type of interaction. Sure, get inputs one way from people via blogs and email. But why not also post preliminary findings / issues for exploration on the Newsnight web site a few days before broadcast and let the blogosphere (of all opinions) stress test the ideas. Do a trawl of the web, and email 50 or so blogs that you know care about Newsnight, the BBC output, or the issues you're covering, and send them an email letting them know about the content: even give them access to a password protected mini-site for this purpose. I'll bet every time they did it they'd get at least one new avenue of thought or improvement to the story, and maybe more. This type of open ended issue is ideal for it because it's so broad, and it's an area where conventional thinking is easy to fall into. It would improve the stories, would build links for the BBC in the blogosphere, and spark discussion. Why not give it a try, chaps?

Finally, and in the spirit of the request for comments on the specific issue, when you're looking at carbon budgets and household efficiency you have to look at nuclear power - pushing for the newest type of reactor (pebble beds) to be developed, improved and installed, and recognising the many benefits that come from nuclear power in general in terms of carbon usage. It's the one technology that may have the chance to make real substantial changes in the short term, and it has been unfairly maligned, significantly by the same people that make up the "ethical" movement. The degree to which "ethical" pressure groups, by pressure against nuclear, have caused excess carbon emissions, and thereby global warming according to standard environmental theories would make a fascinating element of this investigation.

Oh, and by the way, it wasn't just Mr Rowlatt who was likeable - all of his family seemed to be, composting toilets or not.

Cartoonists Discuss Cartoons

You should have a look at this piece in the Washington Post this morning, where they've interviewed UK cartoonists about the Danish cartoons. It's an amusing exercise. The suggestion today seems to be that the cartoons attacked the "powerless", while they should attack the "powerful". Bearing in mind the cartoons were designed to make precisely the point that free speech was under threat from the powerful movement of global Islamism (not Islam as a whole, or Muslims individually), and that they have demonstrated precisely that, this excuse seems to be just a touch self-deceptive.

The strong note of "apres nous la deluge" is emphasised by the final chap interviewed, who comes the closest to giving the real answer.

"As a cartoonist, I have quite a few views about it," he said. "But as a human being, I'm not going to put me and my family in danger. So you might say they're winning."

Yup. You could. They are.

Empty Threats

Amusing news from Europe, with leaders of the right telling David Cameron that they won't talk to him if he goes ahead with his plan for withdrawal from the EPP. A few thoughts.

First, this is delightfully unrealistic. Is he really supposed to believe that this group, who collectively will "work" with representatives of some of the worst behaved countries on the planet, will cut him off because of a simple political move like this? The mere idea is, of course, nonsense. Being sensible, grown up, politicians they will of course work with him. The threat is self-evidently toothless.

Second, it's rather emblematic of the way that European politicians have treated their own people and the UK: go along with us or we'll bully you into line. There is only one response to that, of course, which is defiance.

Third, they must be worried. The concern, of course, is that a sensible right wing agenda opposed to the ever closer union approach will spark interest in their own polities, and possibly create new power structures that they don't control. I'd take that as a sign that we may be onto something, myself...

Fourth, it's great for Cameron, helping support his right flank at a useful time.

Good news, then. Roll on the day we leave.

February 23, 2006

A Failure Of The Press

If there is only one thing you read today (with the notable exception, of course, of this blog...) it is this piece in the Washington Post. It is written by Alan Dershowitz and William J Bennett - hardly soulmates, as they recognise themselves. It articulates the way that the press has failed us over the Danish cartoons, making the case by comparing the behaviour in this case with others.

A few key paragraphs:

We two come from different political and philosophical perspectives, but on this we agree: Over the past few weeks, the press has betrayed not only its duties but its responsibilities

Later, the heart of it:

Since the war on terrorism began, the mainstream press has had no problem printing stories and pictures that challenged the administration and, in the view of some, compromised our war and peace efforts. The manifold images of abuse at Abu Ghraib come to mind -- images that struck at our effort to win support from Arab governments and peoples, and that pierced the heart of the
Muslim world as well as the U.S. military.
The press has had no problem with breaking a story using classified information on detention centers for captured terrorists and suspects -- stories that could harm our allies. And it disclosed a surveillance program so highly classified that most members of Congress were unaware of it.
In its zeal to publish stories critical of our nation's efforts -- and clearly upsetting to enemies and allies alike -- the press has printed some articles that turned out to be inaccurate. The Guantanamo Bay flushing of the Koran comes to mind.But for the past month, the Islamist street has been on an intifada over cartoons depicting Muhammad that were first published months ago in a Danish newspaper. Protests in London -- never mind Jordan, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Iran and other countries not noted for their commitment to democratic principles -- included signs that read, "Behead those who insult Islam." The mainstream U.S. media have covered this worldwide uprising; it is, after all, a glimpse into the sentiments of our enemy and its allies. And yet it has refused, with but a few exceptions, to show the cartoons that purportedly caused all the outrage.

And then their conclusion

What has happened? To put it simply, radical Islamists have won a war of intimidation. They have cowed the major news media from showing these cartoons. The mainstream press has capitulated to the Islamists -- their threats more than their sensibilities.

They conclude with this

When we were attacked on Sept. 11, we knew the main reason for the attack was that Islamists hated our way of life, our virtues, our freedoms. What we never imagined was that the free press -- an institution at the heart of those virtues and freedoms -- would be among the first to surrender.

This is a top quality article which summarises the situation extraordinarily well. A must read.

February 22, 2006

Ethics & The BBC

This poor chap, innocent journalist that he is decides to move job. He's delighted to join one of the premier news shows on the BBC: Newsnight. What does he get as his first major assignment?

He's told he has to become "ethical man" for a year.

Now, this isn't "Judeo-Christian ethical man": do unto others and all that. No, this is the Church of Gaia "ethical man": the established Church of the BBC. Listen to him describe his current lifestyle...

I reckon my family already tick a few "ethical boxes" - admittedly, largely thanks to the influence of my wife, Bee.
We get organic fruit and vegetables delivered each week (by an LPG powered vehicle, the company assures us). The same company supplies us with locally sourced eggs, bacon and milk. Other food and household supplies we get from the supermarket and I'll pick up a few extras from a convenience store on the way home from work. By the end of the week our council recycling box is usually full.
We do have a car - a two litre petrol estate - but we hardly ever use it; just for shopping and trips on the weekend with our two young daughters, Eva and Zola. My wife and I take public transport to work and the girls walk to school. We usually have two foreign holidays a year but, since the girls were born, more often than not these will be in Europe.

Ah, but you see, he's not a true adherent to the faith. No, Mr Rowlatt has discovered an expert, Leo Hickman. Now, children, let's guess what Mr Hickman does in the real world? Yup, that's right, he's a journalist. At which newspaper I hear you ask... ? How about I let his bio tell us:

Leo Hickman is 31. He grew up in Cornwall about 400 metres away from what was to become Eden. He is a journalist, editor and the consumer expert at the Guardian. He lives in south London with his wife, two small children and 3,000 worms. He is also the author of How to buy and the editor of A Good Life: the guide to ethical Living.

Of course. The Guardian. Silly me: I had presumed it would be the Telegraph. And he lives with 3000 worms. Shame the Beeb didn't tell us all of that of course (although, come to think of it I'm not sure which is worse: writing for the Guardian or living with 3000 worms). And it gets better. It turns out that Mr Hickman had a project on the go for a while, around the beginning of 2004. Can we guess what it was? I quote from the first article in the series he wrote about it:

It was against this backdrop that I was set a challenge by the Guardian. Could I - someone living a typically comfortable and routine life in a city suburb - take a step back from my daily habits and consumer choices, and try to understand their true impact? Could I, over the course of a few months, start to lead a more ethical life, in which I reduced, to use a popular axiom, my footprint on the earth", as well as being a more positive force both to myself and those around me?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the poor BBC journo has been asked to rehash a Guardian idea of 2 years ago. Apparently advised by the journalist that did it at the Guardian. Without mentioning to us that this is a direct rip-off of an idea from a newspaper with a somewhat, shall we say, ideological take on the issues concerned.

And somehow I don't think that the idea of reducing his footprint on the earth means that he should only walk on the tarmac, so he doesn't leave footprints...

Anyway, back to the issue at hand. The ethics that this poor chap are going to be asked to live by are no doubt the usual mish-mash of well-meaning but ineffective and universally-agreed good sense and idiocy that you find on the left. On the right, of course, we disagree with many of them: in fact we tend to work on the basis that many of them are actively damaging. Saving energy in sensible ways is a great idea, for example. However, over-regulation to meet over-high safety standards or, worse, harmonisation across the EU can increase costs and price goods out of the reach of the poor: products made under those regulations are hardly ethical, are they? How ethical is organic food produced within CAP - doesn't CAP produce huge disparities in the global farming market that have the result of killing thousands of people a month in the third world from under-development? Isn't promoting the advance of capitalism and the rule of law the best (non-religious)ethical approach that any individual could take? Does that mean he should model himself on George W who, love him or loath him, does seem to spend most of his waking life trying to spread capitalism and the rule of law? You get the general idea.

The problem is that the BBC have gone that extra mile, and they've asked us to contribute ideas to suggest how he could best perform an ethical audit of his home - and over the course of the year on each area of his life. Hmmm...

You can find the link here. A modest suggestion to everyone reading this: go to the site and make some suggestions (positive ones, mind you), as to how he might improve his life ethically. Some suggestions:

  • In his job as a journalist look at the funding and political activity of the NGOs, and whether they end up, by promoting economically foolish policies, causing thousands of deaths around the world. Talk to both sides of the argument for once.
  • In his job as a journalist look at the behaviour of the scientific community on global warming research. To what extent is the environmental change community able to quash research that they disagree with, and are their proposals really the best way forward? As part of this, look at the Copenhagen Consensus, and similar approaches.
  • Rather than continuing to accept employment as a public sector employee, why not try setting up his own company, or becoming freelance, thereby contributing to the economy directly?

I'm sure you can think of many many more. Go for it!

My favourite part of the whole darned thing, though, comes from his bio from his Panorama days, where he did a programme on drugs. I quote...

Making the programme involved a journey into his own past as he was a regular dope smoker when he was a teenager. The evidence the programme uncovered made a very convincing case that that cannabis can have much more profound psychological effects than most people believe.

Really? You couldn't make it up, could you.

UPDATE (23:35 Wednesday Evening):

Well, I've just watched the segment on the show this evening. My reactions?

First, Mr Rowlatt is clearly a likeable chap: you couldn't help but warm to him (and indeed his family, who featured significantly in the package). A minor point, but quite important in an area that's too full of pomposity.

Second, a surprisingly good discussion in the studio - much better than the package. Lomborg was there, so my comment on the Copenhagen Consensus above was already in the mix. The dilemmas involved were given a good airing, and the benefits of free trade were at least discussed seriously (although the chap from Innocent smoothies appeared somewhat, er..., innocent).

Third, some delightful moments during the conversation - certainly the first time I've seen Gandhi and composting lavatories being compared to each other, for example.

Fourth, nice to see the BBC actually referring to viewer opinions. About 20% of the hits on this site between the time I finished the above post and the start of the package were from the BBC searching for Newsnight. They referred to a range of views from viewers from the internet during the discussion.

My conclusion? If he gets out of his comfort zone, and explores all sides of the arguments, then Mr Rowlatt could, in fact, produce some memorable television. If he stays in the Gaia-zone, without confronting the much broader issues of free markets, free trade and the wide range of serious opinions in this general area then it will be a wasted opportunity.

February 21, 2006

Women More In Favour Of Sharia Than Men: Further Analysis Of ICM Data

I've just had a very interesting evening. At least, the results are interesting, not the 6 hours of manual data entry and checking that led up to them. What have I been doing?

Well, over the weekend I (and everyone else) wrote long pieces about the ICM poll of Moslem attitudes. Particular focus was paid by us all to the data about the possible introduction of Sharia law for various purposes. Those that expressed a preference were split evenly down the middle.

A lot of the commentary about this focused on the attitudes of the women interviewed, and quite reasonably assumed that they would have different attitudes to the men, and would be less likely to back Sharia law.

Today, ICM published the full results on their web site. Lots and lots of tables of data, which actually allow us to answer some of the questions posed: about how attitudes change according to gender, age, social class, voting intention and location. And it turns out that that analysis shows up some interesting stuff.

The Analysis
A note about the analysis that I've done. Nothing complicated, of course. What I have done, though, is to build some "net" statistics: the difference between those in favour and those against a proposition. It's the equivalent of the statistics produced on politicians on a regular basis.

So, if 21% of the sample group of 500 people think that the moon is made of green cheese, while 20% disagree, the net result is 1% in favour.

This approach has the benefit of ease of analysis. The sample is split according to a number of groups: men vs women, age, class, voting intention and location. Obviously these are separate analyses: the women are included in each other group, as are the Tories, the people from the Midlands and so on.

Helpful suggestions about additional approaches that might be useful always appreciated, because with this amount of data there may be some more posts on this topic coming out.

On to the results. I'll take the issues one at a time...

Sharia Law
As discussed above around 40% of the total sample were in favour, with an equal number against. Look at it on the segmental basis, though, and things change. Women, for example, turn out to be net in support of the introduction of Sharia law in certain circumstances (a net of 3% in favour) while men are mildly opposed (a net of -6%). Those under 35 are in favour (+5%), while those 35 and over are opposed (-9%). ABC1s are strongly opposed (-12%), while C2DEs are quite strongly in favour (10%). Voting intentions are interesting too, with Tories (-33%) and LibDems (-21%) very strongly opposed, but with Labour supporters actually neutral on the issue (a net of 0%, believe it or not). There is quite strong support in the Midlands (+8%), with opposition in the South (-7%)

Next we look at whether Moslems have become more radical over the last year. Remember, here the total figure showed 46% thinking that they had (a net of +13% over those disagreeing). But again, there is lots of detail. Women (+20%) feel this much more than men (+7). The young feel it more than the old (+21% vs 4%). Class is less split (+18% for ABC1s, and 10% for C2DEs). Voting intentions don't change things much (nets of +16% for Tories, +13% Lab and 23% LibDems). Interestingly, the Midlands supports this idea much less (+3% only, vs +16% for the North and +17% for the South).

Are Women Covering Up More?
Here we see some interesting differences too. The "No Difference" responses are the majority across the board: so let's remember that for most it hasn't changed. However, where there have been changes perceived, men feel significantly more strongly that women in their family are more often covered up in public (+24%) than women do (+14%). Are Moslem women telling their families "Yes dear", leaving the house covered, and then ripping off the veil when they turn the corner, one wonders? No real difference by age, here (+18% and +19%). Class does matter: a net of +25% for ABC1s compares to a 13% for C2DEs. Tories have seen the least changes (+6%, compared to +16% for Lab and +17% for LibDems), and there has been much less difference in the North (+7%) than the Midlands (+22%) or the South (+25%).

Are Relations Getting Better?
Mostly people responded to this one that relations between Moslems and others were about the same: around the 50% mark for each group. Women were markedly more pessimistic, though (-10% vs -2% for men), as were those over 35 (-14% vs -8% for the younger group). Identical net figures for the two class groups, but Tories (-27%) much more strongly negative than Labour (-5%) or LibDems (-17%). Oddly enough, while the North and South are both negative (-16% and -12%), the Midlands are actually positive (+1%), suggesting that relations there have actually improved.

I'll stop there, for now. I've got some more to do to this data set, and some pretty charts too, if I can get Blogger to co-operate. Tomorrow evening, if I can rouse up the courage.

What does this initial analysis tell me? A few things, I think.

First, we can't make assumptions about the thoughts of these groups. The women interviewed certainly don't appear to be taking a much softer view (although their answers about violence tend to be marginally less belligerent than the mens'). There certainly doesn't seem to be a major attack on Sharia from them. And let's note that this was done by phone, which is probably the most likely to get an unbiased response from this group (any fear of pressure from husbands is minimised by the fact that the husband can't hear the questions).

Second, there seem to be significant differences in perception between political groups (although there are many more Labour supporters in total). This is good news for Tories: support we're getting from this community appears to be based on a group with distinctive views, which may make it less under threat. However, some of the attitudes of the Labour and LibDem voters could raise some concerns in those parties...

And third, though we may find it difficult to understand, there is strong and genuine offense across the board caused by these cartoons: the only group where this figure drops below 80% of the respondents being offended is the Tories, and there it's in the high 70's. This isn't an argument for changing our views about the cartoons, by the way, but more one for better explanation of why free speech is in all of our interests. But that's for another day.

Admit Israel To NATO?

Sorry this is yet another post about the Middle East... but there is an interesting suggestion today in the Washington Post, with some merit. It would, at least, make the current position (that the West would broadly come to Israel's aid in the event of an attack from Iran) into an explicit one. Worth a read.

February 20, 2006

Divestment, Anti-Semitism & Israel

The divestment row rumbles on.

For previous comments on the decision of the Church of England's General Synod see here...

The story on Monday is a piece from a chap described as follows:

Paul Oestreicher was a member of the Church of England's general synod and director of the Centre for International Reconciliation, Coventry Cathedral; he is now a chaplain at the University of Sussex

Inevitably the piece is in the Guardian, and demonstrates all the sterling qualities you might expect of a piece in that paper by a chap described in that way. He tries to make the case for the motion... but let's look at the highlights.

First, a remarkable statement:

If, as some now think, today's Jews are the Muslims - hatred transferred -

What on earth is he talking about? One is a race, the other a religion. There is no systematic attempt to wipe Islam from the face of the earth outside the paranoid ramblings of some of the most extreme Islamist leaders, well on the fringes of mainstream Islam. The major campaigns undertaken by the west in the last 20 years (The Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq 1 and 2) had at least one common goal: at least in part they were about the protection of the rights of Moslems being oppressed. Not because they were Muslims, of course: just because they were people. We don't discriminate (when we actually pull our fingers out and get around to doing something).

Let's be clear about this: disagreement with the political purposes and behaviours of Islamism is not bias against Muslims, nor against Islam. There is in fact very little of the latter. There is a lot of disquiet about the political aims of Islamists but there is very little about the religion itself, or the people who follow it. Comparing the Jews over the last 2000 years (with specific reference to 1930s and 40s Germany) to current Moslems is just nonsense, and patently so.

Now we have a demonstration of what passes for political insight:
Peace cannot be made by building a wall on Palestinian land that makes the life of the miserably conquered more miserable still. A Palestinian bantustan will be a source of unrest and violence for ever

Now, I thought that the facts were that the wall had, in fact, been quite effective at cutting the current problem faced by Israel: suicide bombs. And I also thought that Israel had been in negotiation to try to create a 2 state solution - not a bantustan (but notice that he's now managed to compare Israel to both Hitler's Germany AND Apartheid South Africa without really trying. Clever, huh!), but that Arafat had continued his games throughout much of that process, having failed to fully engage in that process, and in particular refusing a settlement offer generally recognised since as being much better than could have been expected. I had thought that there was bad behaviour on both sides, and that the power balance in the region was rather complicated. Oh, and that within living memory there was an attempt to wipe Israel off the map by the surrounding countries, which failed. I must be wrong.

And then this
But the main objective of my writing today, is to nail the lie that to reject Zionism as it practised today is in effect to be anti-semitic, to be an inheritor of Hitler's racism. That argument, with the Holocaust in the background, is nothing other than moral blackmail. It is highly effective. It condemns many to silence who fear to be thought anti-semitic. They are often the very opposite. They are often people whose heart bleeds at Israel's betrayal of its true heritage.
I began with the recognition that the cancer of anti-semitism has not been cured. Tragically, Israel's policies feed it - and when world Jewry defends Israeli policies right or wrong, then anger turns not only against Israel, but against all Jews. I wish it were mere rhetoric to say that Israeli politics today make a holocaust the day after tomorrow credible. If the whole Muslim world hates Israel, that is no idle speculation. To count on Arab disunity and Muslim sectarian conflict and a permanent American shield is no recipe for long-term security.

Let's be clear. You don't have to be anti-semitic to agree with divestment. You just have to display the high quality of clear thinking demonstrated in this article. And you have to be comfortable that your actions will be seen approvingly by those who are anti-semitic. But no, you don't have to be anti-semitic, and I am quite certain (removing all irony for a moment) that the author is not, in any way, anti-semitic. He's just wrong. And badly wrong. And so are the people he is discussing. Not bad. Not anti-semitic. Just wrong.

And, by the way, the hook on which this article was hung (the Jewish Chronicle article by the Chief Rabbi, found here in the Times weblogs section) doesn't, to my reading, mention anti-semitism as the cause of the divestment motion once. Nor does much of the commentary I've seen. Some does, but only because the poor quality of the arguments in favour of divestment lead commentators to come to the conclusion that there must be something more behind it. Personally, I subscribe to the sloppy thinking argument. I'm sure some of them are anti-semites, but they're probably the tiny minority. Mostly they're just not terribly smart, or able to deal with the nuances of the arguments involved.

There is, of course, more. Look out, for example, for the cute comparison between the Israeli "peace" movement and the German resistance in WWII. (Minor difference, of course, is that one group were systematically rounded up, put in concentration camps and/or killed, while the other wasn't. Guess which is which...).

This article must be read. It comprehensively demolishes the case for divestment all by itself.

February 19, 2006

Sexual Abuse & The United Nations

You can tell a lot about people by what they choose to do.

John Bolton, the baddest man in the whole damn town if you remember the accusations levied against him during his hearings for the job of US Ambassador to the UN, has just taken over the rotating presidency of the Security Council.

What's he gone and done? He's scheduled hearings into two main issues: sexual abuse committed by UN peacekeepers during their peacekeeping mission, and procurement fraud.

Now, last time I heard, I thought that sexual abuse was bad, as was fraud? But turns out that there is something worse! Yup, the worse sin than committing sexual abuse or stealing money that's supposed to benefit suffering people is...
encroachment by the council on issues which clearly fall within the functions and powers of the assembly

This is from a letter sent by the Non-Aligned Movement to the General Assembly President. Now, I'm sorry, but this exemplifies rather the whole problem with the UN at the moment. If peacekeepers are committing sex crimes on the UN's money, or people are stealing from the procurement budget then everyone should care. I note that there is no suggestion of immediate hearings in the Assembly on these issues, by the way...

I love this final quote from Bolton reacting in part to this additional story, about a couple of letters from Congressmen on other UN issues...
"The United States believes in taking action and being effective, and we don't apologize to anybody for that," Bolton told reporters. "The Security Council is acting, and other bodies can act as well."

We have all got a growing problem at the UN. But this stuff is exactly what Bolton's supporters wanted him to do: start to clean the stables. It'll take some time.

Moslem Attitudes & Liberal Democracy

Three things to look at on this topic today, I think.

First, coverage of the march yesterday in London. Peaceful, sure. But let's remember what the peaceful protest is in favour of. From the BBC story...

Ishmaeel Haneef, from the committee, said the demonstrations were continuing because "the provocations have not stopped".
"These things are still being republished across the world," he said, using the example of an Italian minister wearing a T-shirt depicting the cartoons.
He said the way to "get back to being a civilised world" was to "give the copyright [of the cartoons] over to the Muslim community".
However peaceful these demonstrations are, the simple fact is that these people want to remove the cartoons from circulation. Sure, we should be grateful that there was no violence on this march. We should be happy that there is an attempt to use standard political means to achieve the goal they want. But we shouldn't let ourselves be distracted from their end goal, which is making the rest of us behave according to what is being presented as one of the precepts of their religion. That's not what happens in a liberal democracy. I'm glad there are marches not riots. But when it comes down to it even the most peaceful of the protests are for a goal that I deeply oppose.

(And by the way, let's remember that the idea that there is a universally accepted hard-and-fast taboo against depiction of Mohammed in Islam is in fact nonsense. It's just not true. )

This takes us on, then, to this excellent piece in the Washington Post this morning by the chap who started all of this. I'll quote liberally from it, although the whole thing must be read.

First, why did he do it?

The idea wasn't to provoke gratuitously -- and we certainly didn't intend to trigger violent demonstrations throughout the Muslim world. Our goal was simply to push back self-imposed limits on expression that seemed to be closing in

What he means is this...

At the end of September, a Danish standup comedian said in an interview with Jyllands-Posten that he had no problem urinating on the Bible in front of a camera, but he dared not do the same thing with the Koran.
This was the culmination of a series of disturbing instances of self-censorship.

This is followed by a number of examples of self-censorship on the subject of Islam, such as the following...

Last September, a Danish children's writer had trouble finding an illustrator for a book about the life of Muhammad. Three people turned down the job for fear of consequences. The person who finally accepted insisted on anonymity, which in my book is a form of self-censorship.

Next, he covers the context of satire in Denmark, and makes a point which is quite telling about what the cartoons actually say about the attitude towards Moslems in Denmark

We have a tradition of satire when dealing with the royal family and other public figures, and that was reflected in the cartoons. The cartoonists treated Islam the same way they treat Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions. And by treating Muslims in Denmark as equals they made a point: We are integrating you into the Danish tradition of satire because you are part of our society, not strangers. The cartoons are including, rather than excluding, Muslims.

He then addresses the story that appeared this week suggesting that he was taking a different attitude towards Christianity or Judaism

On occasion, Jyllands-Posten has refused to print satirical cartoons of Jesus, but not because it applies a double standard. In fact, the same cartoonist who drew the image of Muhammed with a bomb in his turban drew a cartoon with Jesus on the cross having dollar notes in his eyes and another with the star of David attached to a bomb fuse. There were, however, no embassy burnings or death threats when we published those

And then he comes to the heart of it

Has Jyllands-Posten insulted and disrespected Islam? It certainly didn't intend to. But what does respect mean? When I visit a mosque, I show my respect by taking off my shoes. I follow the customs, just as I do in a church, synagogue or other holy place. But if a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. And that is incompatible with a secular democracy.

An interesting comparison he draws is with the old Soviet Union

As a former correspondent in the Soviet Union, I am sensitive about calls for censorship on the grounds of insult. This is a popular trick of totalitarian movements: Label any critique or call for debate as an insult and punish the offenders. That is what happened to human rights activists and writers such as Andrei Sakharov, Vladimir Bukovsky, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Natan Sharansky, Boris Pasternak. The regime accused them of anti-Soviet propaganda, just as some Muslims are labeling 12 cartoons in a Danish newspaper anti-Islamic.

The lesson from the Cold War is: If you give in to totalitarian impulses once, new demands follow. The West prevailed in the Cold War because we stood by our fundamental values and did not appease totalitarian tyrants.

And then a hopeful note, on the dialogue in Denmark

Since the Sept. 30 publication of the cartoons, we have had a constructive debate in Denmark and Europe about freedom of expression, freedom of religion and respect for immigrants and people's beliefs. Never before have so many Danish Muslims participated in a public dialogue -- in town hall meetings, letters to editors, opinion columns and debates on radio and TV. We have had no anti-Muslim riots, no Muslims fleeing the country and no Muslims committing violence. The radical imams who misinformed their counterparts in the Middle East about the situation for Muslims in Denmark have been marginalized. They no longer speak for the Muslim community in Denmark because moderate Muslims have had the courage to speak out against them.

In January, Jyllands-Posten ran three full pages of interviews and photos of moderate Muslims saying no to being represented by the imams. They insist that their faith is compatible with a modern secular democracy. A network of moderate Muslims committed to the constitution has been established, and the anti-immigration People's Party called on its members to differentiate between radical and moderate Muslims, i.e. between Muslims propagating sharia law and Muslims accepting the rule of secular law. The Muslim face of Denmark has changed, and it is becoming clear that this is not a debate between "them" and "us," but between those committed to democracy in Denmark and those who are not.

And that's the point, isn't it? This really is a must read piece.

It takes us rather neatly on to the third topic, which is the attitude study in the Telegraph of British Moslems. With equal numbers in favour and against the imposition of sharia law in areas with high Moslem populations there is cause for concern, mitigated slightly by the fact that there is almost no support for the 7/7 bombings. We're right to be somewhat concerned about the former statistic, and we should certainly hold the line more firmly than we have about some of the excesses of "cultural localism", and dealing with local issues through faith community leaders. We shouldn't get over-paranoid, though: there are plenty of young Moslems out there like Saira Khan (a more terrifying sentence may never have been typed, come to think of it...).

So what's my point? Let's be careful we don't let ourselves become distracted by the violence or non-violence of individual protests, and keep the focus on the goals being enunciated. However you choose to behave, if you are advocating that my free speech be restricted because of your religious belief, I'm afraid you're on the other side of the well established rules of liberal democracy. And the reason for that is that we believe that your right to follow your religion, and mine to follow mine, require those free speech rights. End of story.

February 18, 2006

Nationalising Santa

Two excellent posts from Tory Convert.

First, how the government now has targets for child development which now include, risibly, measurement of how many children of 5 years old can write a letter to Father Christmas.

As a nation we must learn to let go of the desire to nag politicians for moregovernment intervention and learn to stand on our own two feet. We need publicservices that are transparent, adaptable and truly answerable to the people who use them. The alternative is a bleak future of inexorable state control, intrusiveness and dependency.

Second, a piece about the nature of class nicely summarised as follows

rant rant rant ...

Great stuff. Both very much worth a read.

The Many Charms Of Chester Alan Arthur

The American attitude towards their Presidents is fascinating: a combination of opprobrium for political opponents (US politics have never been a gentle business) and reverence from supporters, with a degree of sanctification once the person involved has vanished into history.

The men involved are without exception (even the boring bearded ones from the 19th Century) fascinating, and provide a wonderful path through US history. Watching the complicated relationships between them allows us to watch the intertwining conceptions of the role of the US, of the role of the government, of the importance of individuals and their rights, and to experience the importance of the personal in the development of the political.

The combination of Washington, Adams, Jefferson (and peripherally Franklin, one of the greatest non-Presidents, and equal parts genius and frustrating phony) provide insight into the founding generation, while watching Van Buren, Jackson, Polk , Harrison and Tyler, for example, allow us to watch the development of a rapidly growing and democratising country, while being aware of the horror of the Civil War which will arrive in short order. Similarly, today we have the sequence Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush (and possibly, heaven help us Clinton) addressing and then reshaping the results of the New Deal and Great Society.

A wonderful way to learn about these men, and to get some sense of the broad sweep of US history, is to visit their birth-places, homes or libraries. This also has the advantage that many of them are in fly-over land - the bits of Red-State America that so few from outside understand or visit, and that are so often demonised (in my view unfairly) by the mainstream media in the US and hence by the rest of the world. Of course, these are the parts of the country that elect Presidents, so understanding them is pretty important... They also, I have to say, tend to make the best pies, which is a pretty good recommendation in my book.

A strong suggestion: some time in the next 12 months get yourself on a plane, and try some Dead President tourism. A starting point can be found in this article from the WaPo, but there are plenty of other options. If and when you do (or if you happen to live near one now), let me know, and email me a review / photo etc.

Damn, It's A Dangerous Country

How about this, then. Not only are they all armed right-wing Christian fanatics over there in the USA, but it turns out that even the blooming pavements (sorry, sidewalks) are dangerous. There are, it appears, random electrical leaks due to faulty wiring, that regularly kill dogs out for their morning walk, and injure people.

Seems like all of those old ladies that used to be worried about electricity leaking out of their wall sockets and killing them might have been onto something after all...

Reassuring Words From Goldsmith

When Zac Goldsmith was appointed to his current role in the Party there were many (myself included) who were somewhat sceptical. I'm far from sure still, but this piece today is at least a little reassuring, in that it he at least sounds like a conservative. Worth a glance.

Perception vs Reality On Katrina

Interesting news, via the Times, from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, looking at the actual deaths caused by Katrina, which is still being cited as a racist hurricane spawned by BushChimpHitler and his minions...
Turns out that it wasn't, in fact, discriminatory based on colour at all. Instead there was disproportionate death amongst the elderly, possibly because they would tend to resist appeals to evacuate.
And the effect of race?

Although most evacuees were black, the proportion of white people killed was higher than would be expected from the racial composition of the worst-affected neighbourhoods. The widespread perception that Katrina was a "black" disaster may reflect news pictures of refugees rather than those who died, Dr Mutter said.

So I'm sure we'll be seeing Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson etc all apologising, then? Well, maybe not. However, it behooves all of us on the right to remember this report, and ensure that whenever Katrina is mentioned by the BBC or other media as the first racist hurricane they are corrected. To your keyboards, comrades!

February 17, 2006

Understandable Delay: Baffling Reaction

The coverage over here in the UK of the Cheney shooting story has been quite restrained: the usual arch comments and raised eyebrows, but well down the story listings. It helps, of course, that the press over here are convinced that Cheney in fact eats babies: shooting a friend, no doubt, pales in comparison with the type of behaviour that they presume he gets up to on a daily basis.
The coverage in the US has been on a totally different order, and has rather drawn attention to the way that the Bush White House has made significant components of the press go stark staring loopy.
Charles Krauthammer sums up the situation nicely in this must-read piece in today's WaPo. His key point: while Cheney should have told the press a little more quickly he delayed for understandable reasons, the reaction of the press has been baffling.
Of course, this all misses the real story: it's all a plot to create a scandal which will cause Cheney to resign, so Condi can take over and make her election next time round as President a shoo-in. Yeah, that's the ticket.
Oh dear. I think I just qualified to write for the New York Times. Medic!

February 15, 2006

When NGOs Attack!

Handbags at dawn within the NGO community. The craze for giving goats for Africa as a Christmas present encouraged by some of the large NGOs has come under attack... by other NGOs (The combination of sanctimony and ruthless competition is quite charming, don't you think? Nice to see it turned against each other for once). Goats, it turns out, are terrible for the ecosystem, and will lead to big problems for the recipients.

This approach (tools rather than food or money as aid), to be fair, is much better than simple donations, so I'm not meaning to be totally dismissive. It does draw your attention to two points, though.
  • Central planning is central planning, whether done by a government or by an NGO. And it basically doesn't work.
  • If we in the developed world really want to help, we'll eliminate some of the barriers to trade that remain in place. CAP anyone? A gift of £50 into a fund to campaign against agricultural subsidies... now that might actually help much more
Now, don't tell me that these organisations don't do politics: they do. It's just that the politics that they do are actively counterproductive.

Is Daniel Finkelstein A Nutter?

Very interesting piece by him in the Times this morning talking about centralisation of power by the executive. I don't know if he is, as he fears he may be, a nutter over the general point... but I thought that this para summed up very nicely the situation that we're in:

The problem with ID cards, smoking bans and new terror laws is not just the standard liberal one. It isn't even that they are entirelyunnecessaryy, since you can fashion an argument for each measure. It is that we should be reforming and enforcing the laws we have, rather than adding new complicated, poorly thought through laws to the stack that already exists. The Legislative and Regulatory
Reform Bill isn't just a dangerous proposal. It is a flashing red light.

Our legislative activism is endangering our parliamentary democracy and we must stop before it's too late.

Indeed. We should be devoting at least one week per month in Parliament to the removal of legislation from the statute books. That wouldn't solve the problem, but it would be a good start.

February 14, 2006

Economic Idiots

Just about to walk out the door, already lateish for work. And then my attention is caught by a piece on BBC 24. Of course, it's Valentine's day so cue standard story about flowers. No surprise there.
But this is the BBC, so nothing is easy. Instead of a nice piece covering the high demand for flowers today we get coverage of the "high environmental cost of importing flowers from Africa".
Three things spring to mind on this.

  • First, how exactly does this work with the BBC coverage of "Make Poverty History", and issues surrounding African development? Outsourcing flower production makes sense: it's easier to make the blooming things in a country with nice weather than in Aberdeenshire, and the labour is cheaper. If Africa is going to develop, people there need jobs, and these jobs will be driven by exports. You can't on the one hand attack the process of getting the export good to market, and claim that the use in this country of the export good is bad for the environment without at the same time thinking about the human cost if you exclude their product from the market.
  • Second, there were lots of references to "environmentalists say" in the report. It had the look of a piece driven straight by a lobby group press release. What I want to know in this kind of report is which lobby group, where are they coming from, and how good is their analysis? I want someone from the lobby group to be interviewed, and have the strengths and weaknesses of their opinions tested. Instead we get a puff piece.
  • Third, the basic economic illiteracy running through the piece is staggering. Leaving details aside, a story that is being made into a story about economics is discussed in terms which make it clear that the economic thought process is the furthest thing from the mind of the journalist or production team. You wouldn't have a fashion piece done by someone who didn't know the difference between a mule and a pump. You wouldn't have a sports piece done by someone who thought that Manchester United were a rugby team. Why on earth do you allow a simple story like this to be a) turned into a story about economics, and then b) to be done from the point of view of someone who appears to understand very little about, well, economics?
All in all, it's put me right out of the Valentine's mood.
And now I'm late for work, and the economic law that determines that the London taxi trade benefits in direct proportion to my propensity to blog in the morning kicks in. Ho hum. Another day starts well!
My advice? Just enjoy the flowers. They're pretty and they smell good.

The EU & Hamas

Apologies for the hiatus in posting: intermittent technical problems have been cutting me off from the outside world. It's only when you can't log on that you realise how often you do...

Anyway, a nice piece by Charles Tannock MEP looking at the role of EU funding in the Palestinian political process.

The EU knew that plunder was endemic in the PA, and chose to ignore it. But in a democracy - even one as imperfect as the Palestinian Authority - corrupt governments never last forever. Ordinary Palestinians decided they would ignore it no longer.

The fact that the EU sent $350 million every year to the PA therefore makes Brussels a party to this corruption and indirectly responsible for the situation we now find ourselves in with Hamas. Yet the reaction among senior EU politicians to Hamas's victory is one of amazement - how could it have happened, they wonder. BACK IN 2003, I and other MEPs raised this issue with the European Commission, which is responsible for distributing aid money. We called for an investigation into the wanton misappropriation of Palestinian funds. There was huge resistance from the commission, which has always been sympathetic to the Palestinians and seen itself as a counterbalance to America's support for Israel. We did get our inquiry, hamstrung though it was by a diluted mandate. The outcome was a whitewash, and we were not allowed to debate the inquiry's findings.

Worth a look.

February 12, 2006

Stopping Bad Things

A great pen-portrait of Sen. Tom Coburn, who defines his mission using that phrase. A believer in term limits, who resigned as he had promised at the end of his third term in the House, he has turned against some of the comity in the Senate, on the basis that comity isn't always helpful.
If only we had a few more people with this attitude, on both sides of the Alantic.
Of course, it's written by George Will, which is why it's so good.

Danish Cartoon Demonstrations

The events of the last few weeks seem to have brought matters that have been bubbling under the public dialogue for some time to a head. Three articles from the Sunday Times...
  1. Public reaction to the events. Basically, we think that this reaction is ridiculous, that publication of the cartoons was the right thing to do, and that a culture of political correctness has affected the policing of radical islamists in the UK
  2. A long piece looking at what the government knew, and the forces that were working on it over the last few years
  3. A very blunt leader.

I must admit to having been chilled yesterday by an interview with one of the spokesmen of the demonstration in central London. Let's be clear - he was a moderate, and is regularly described as such by the media. He was pressed harder than he would have been a month ago (and it's interesting to note that the media have now begun to push harder on these questions than before) as to his goals. Multiple times in the interview he used the phrase "blood and fire" to describe what would happen if the cartoons were not apologised for by both governments and publications - while denying that this was a threat, of course. And towards the end of the interview he began to be clearer that he did, indeed, believe that publication of these cartoons should be illegal.

Now, I don't believe that he supports terrorism, and he does distance himself both in words and in practice from the extremists. And I'm very glad to see that the basic distinctions within the Moslem community are becoming clearer, and that the more moderate groups are beginning to deal with the fringe by demonstrating that they are a small, and dangerous, minority viewpoint.

But what chilled me was that, all that being said, I believe that the type of Britain described by these phrases is one quite some distance from the one that I want to live in. I believe in freedom of speech. I don't like veiled threats. And even though I'm quite serious about my Christian faith (although a blooming awful Christian most of the time), I'm glad I live in a country where there is freedom to criticise all religions. From what he was saying, I'm not sure that he really shares these views.

If this is correct, and these aren't views shared by moderate Moslems then the public debate in this country could get much more difficult over the next few years.

Women, Children & Lefties

I'm very lucky, having been happily married for what is getting on for 15 years. How she puts up with me I'll never know - I just hope that she never sees sense. I thought I'd draw attention to an interesting study out that today covers the effect that marriage has on the contentment of those involved. Unsurprisingly it tends to make both parties happier.
To extrapolate the point a little, there is an interesting wrinkle in the results relating to what makes women happiest. Turns out that they are mildly happier when only one of the family has to go out to work. Lots of reasons for this, of course, but add it to this story covering the possible negative effect of childcare at an early age on children and you do begin to focus on government family policy. Rather than greater state provision of facilities to make it easier for both parents to work, shouldn't we be focusing on finding ways to allow one not to? If it is, truly, better for the children, and if the women themselves are made generally happier because of it? An attempt to bolster family life in this way might also make it easier for people to have slightly larger families: necessary if we're to provide stability for the welfare structures we all seem to care about in this country.
(In the interests of full disclosure, we're a one income family, but by accident rather than ideology. Our daughter spent the first couple of years at home, beginning nursery when about 2 and a half to improve her socialisation.)
Of course, this is against the leftist consensus discussed this morning by Rod Liddle. And it's not a call to get women barefoot and pregnant in front of the sink (I'm the son of a mother that worked for much of my, relatively happy, childhood and I've seen some of the difficulties undergone by her and her peers in terms of workplace behaviour - many of those battles needed to be fought, and much of the social change has been very positive. But not all). It is, however, just more evidence that the blunt assertions implicit in the social changes of the last 30 years need to be questioned a little more carefully to ensure that they are actually based on something more than wishful thinking.

The Food Of The Gods

Good to see this story: small Scottish company builds business through inventiveness. The fact that the company involved is Tunnock's, producers of one of the only food products necessary for basic happiness, is the clincher.
And not only comestibles... they even have games. There goes my Sunday.

February 10, 2006


An amusing new term has suddenly popped up (mentioned here in the Corner, but note the reference by Rich Lowry to the Journal too) - neo-realism. Lowry defines it as follows.

conservatives who take the best from the neo-cons (basically the idealism) and the realists (the prudence and the kind of deeper understanding of the process of liberalization that you've been writing about).

He claims that there are only 3 of them (with one of them being Condi). I don't think he's right. I think that the bulk of the Iraq War supporting conservative movement here in the UK falls much more effectively into this category than any other. I'd probably say that I was one too.

In fact, there would be some real advantage to having a term to use to describe this approach - and in particular to get away from the dread phrase neo-con, which is sadly regarded one of the vilest forms of abuse in political discourse over here (no, officer, I didn't mind him cheating on me, stealing my car, or cooking my dog for dinner, but I've just discovered he's a neo-conservative). Neo-realist would do the job nicely.

So count me a member of the Vast Right-Wing Neo-Realist Conspiracy (membership card #00004). Join today...


The cabal grows - Mr Lowry has identifed John Bolton as one of our number. Onward, comrades...