Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Tim Garton-Ash, the man who liberated Eastern Europe has an excellent article in the NYRB on anti-Europeanism in America

Monday, January 27, 2003

An interesting story in Saturday's FT suggests the the Conservatives current slavish support of the Government's policy on Iraq might be coming to an end. It indicated that many Conservatives in the country have expressed disquiet at the policy of being more pro-war than the PM and such disquiet has reached Cabinet level. I think this could be of major importance for Tories -- it would differentiate them from Labour on a point of principle and give them a clear moral edge on a major aspect of policy.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Is there any good reason why ALL graduates shouldn't pay the new graduate tax? After all they enjoyed free education too. I suppose it could be argued that many wouldn't have gone into education if they had known they would have had to pay, but as long as it's only levied on those who can afford to pay I think that's a minor problem. In fact I think it's such a good idea I am going to write a cheque for £10,000 to the government this very day. At least I'll feel good about it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

A fascinating story in Newsweek behind the decision by Governor George Ryan of Illinois to commute all outstanding death sentences in the state. There's much more to the story than has been reported, especially in the UK. The relevations about torture are especiallly shocking.

Is low pay necessary and justifiable? See one take on it here, from another here" and the original article in The Guardian. Also see my flatmate's reply in the comments section of the first link.

The spirit of my post a few below lives on. I don't know the source (possibly the FT) but its about whether to give BAE or Thales the contract to build the new aircraft carriers (both of which will be built in the UK).

Thales is the sole competitor for the Fist contract too. "This decision fixes the industrial partner for the army for the next 30 years. If it is given to Thales then the future of the British infantry would lie with the French. So what was the point of Waterloo?" asked John Gutteridge, BAE's director of marketing in the UK.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

A policeman has died in a raid on a flat in Manchester which at this point (you learn to say this in these cases) is linked to the Ricin find in a flat in London last week. In normal times such news would stop you dead, yet life went on last week and will go on again. It's hard to fathom why, given if one had said three years' ago that such events would happen in one week I think there would be general agreement that it would shake the core of British society.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Junius is also sceptical of an article in The Independent describing the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City as art.

I don't know whether he is dismissive of Vice City as art because he thinks it is not very good, or because he thinks it is morally repugnant, or because he thinks computer games can't be art. Certainly I wouldn't understand such criticism from a moral point of view -- many films of equally dubious morality are seen as works of art. Also, it is certainly a technical triumph. Most of all however I think the Independent's story is right to describe it as a work of art -- as the Design Council spokeswoman says it '"It is visually very evocative and there is an abstract quality about it." It also just makes you go 'WOW!'.

Junius refers to his childhood Ladybird history books' rather amusing take on historical events and then contemporary Britiain (such as the impossibillity of an innocent man being convicted in British courts). Going even further back in history I found this Christmas a childhood book of my grandmother's grandmother (at least), written in 1840, called 'John Guy's geography'.

A few things stand out. First, just how old it is. You can tell looking at the populations -- the population of England is put at 15m, of Ireland 8m, of Russia 52m, North America 50m.

Second, some of the rather amusing views on foreigners.

The Norwegians: 'robust, well made, patient under hardships and distinguished for their hospitality to strangers'
The Laplanders: 'low in stature, thick set, habitually filfthy. Not enjoying the blessings of education they are extremely ignorant and superstitious'
The Russians: 'Nobility are in general very wealthy and live in great splendour; but the peasantry are in the most abject state of slavery; they can neither read nor write; they live in houses of the most wretched description; and are bought and sold with estates'
The French: 'A gay, active and lively people, graceful in their deportment and very polite; posessing however not an inconsiderable share of vanity'
The Swiss: 'A robust people, noted for the simplicity of their manners and their love of liberty'
The Dutch: 'Slow and heavy but remarkable for their cleanliness, frugality and industry'
England: 'The intelligence, industry and enterprise of her people have raised her to a pitch of greatness enjoyed by no other power'
The Welsh: 'Brave and hospitable but inclined to be hasty in their temper and priding themselves extravagantly on their pedigrees and families'
The Scots: 'temperate in their diet, of robust and healthy constitutions and by superior management made very productive'
The Irish: 'Hardy, active and brave; the lower classes however are in general ignorant and superstitious and in a wretched state of poverty'
The Spanish: 'Grave and haughty people, posessing elevated notions of honour; but they are indolent and revengeful'
The Portuguese: 'Swarthy complexion with dark hair and eyes. The peasantry are very poor, living in wretched huts, almost without furniture and their diet consists of mainly bread and garlic'
The Italians: 'Discreet and polite people but extremely effeminate'
The Arabians: 'In the interior of the country the inhabitants lead a wandering life, addicted to robbery and plunder'
Persians: 'Handsome people and fond of display'
The Afghans: 'Brave people making considerable progress in agriculture and the arts. Fond of the chase but addicted to plunder'
Hindustan: 'A country of 140m people subject to Great Britain'
The Hindus: 'Small and elegan'
Tibet: 'Contains the highest pealk of Chumulari, 30,000 feet above sea level'
Japan: 'No intercourse with other nations except China and a restricted one with the Dutch'
The Japanese: 'A very ingenious and industrious people and surpass of the nations in the East in the neatness of their workmanship'
Sumatra: 'The inhabitants are fierce and warlike and in the interior they are supposed to be cannibals'
Australia: 'Australia or New Holland has a population is one million but it is rapidly increasing.'
Australians: 'The native inhabitants are black, and are supposed to approach nearer to the brute condition than any other savage race yet discovered'
New Zealand: 'Its inhabitants are in perpetual war with one another and some of them do not hesitate to eat the flesh of their enemies when slain in battle. The British are making strong efforts to civilise them'
Africa: 'The most striking features of Africa are the immense regions of barren sands, the numer and ferocity of its wild beasts, the intense heat of its climate and the degraded state of the greater part of its inhabitants'
Abysinians: 'Cruel and degraded people feeding on raw flesh, even unfeelingly cutting slices from the living animal and eating them warm from the body'
Cape Town: 'Population 20,000'
United States: 'This very extensive country comprises 24 states and four large divisions called territories. It contains 24m inhabitants and they still retain the language and customs of the mother country. They are rapidly increasing in importance and promise to become one of the leading powers in the world. Principal towns are Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore and Charles Town. New York is the largest with upwards of 270,000 inhabitants and its commerical transactions are probably of greater extent than those of any City in Europe, London excepted'
The West Indies: 'To these islands European states are indebted for their supply of sugar, rum and coffee. From her possessions hear Great Britain imports annualy to the value of eight millions of pounds of these articles'.
Patagonia: 'Little is known of this country but the inhabitants are reported to be of gigantic stature, totally uncivilised and extremely ferocious. With regard to their stature much exaggeration has probably been used, but it is allowed they are considerably taller than the other native Indians'.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

Peter Cuthbertson's (see the comments) view on what our taxes pay for is an interesting illumination into current political thinking of British Conservatives.

"Maybe once, you could know your money was funding something good - the police forces that keep the crooks behind bars, the soldiers who keep the Empire free. Now, it just pays layabouts to stay unemployed, NHS bureaucrats to stay in place instead of looking for productive work and for the abortions and illegitimate children of the underclass"

Apart from being at odds with the data (I haven't checked the figures but I would be surprised if unemployment benefit to 'layabouts', child benefit and abortions paid to the 'underclass' and the marginal cost over and above their productive output of NHS bureaucrats come to much more than 5% of total government spending and probably far less) I think it nicely sums up the actuality behind the Tories' attempt to present a nicer face.

It's difficult to think of a better example of the arrogance and pomposity of the British upper class than this story in the Guardian. It appears some of them are going to the European Court of Human Rights to attempt to sue the government for £1m compensation each for losing their hereditary right to make laws.

The leader of the group, Lord Mereworth said: "We're going to Strasbourg because we are freeholders and this issue is about property rights. Our forebears and their descendants were given the right to sit in Parliament for ever".

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

A fantastic post on d-squared digest about things he is not going to argue about in 2003, because they are bleedin' obvious. I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Kieran Healy has an interesting discussion on the concept of the 'Anglosphere'. I think I agree with him but look at the other links. My view on the idea is that it's rather obvious and yet unimportant at the same time. The idea that the English-speaking countries have many social, political and economic features in common is well known and well-commented on throughout history -- see Churchill for example. Yet at the same time clearly the UK has much in common with many European countries -- in some areas rather more than it has with the the English-speaking countries (e.g off the top of my head the welfare state, football, attitudes to gun control, social policy).

Friday, January 03, 2003

Fascinating article in The Economist on European and US views of each other and whether the US is exceptional. It has a very interesting chart with countries plotted on a chart according to survival values to self expression values on the horizontal axis and secular-rational values/traditional values on the vertical axis (best to read the article to see what they mean).

As the Economist notes

"The usefulness of dividing the broad subject of “values” in this way can be seen by plotting countries on a chart whose axes are the two spectrums. The chart alongside shows how the countries group: as you would expect, poor countries, with low self-expression and high levels of traditionalism, are at the bottom left, richer Europeans to the top right.

But America's position is odd. On the quality-of-life axis, it is like Europe: a little more “self-expressive” than Catholic countries, such as France and Italy, a little less so than Protestant ones such as Holland or Sweden. This is more than a matter of individual preference. The “quality of life” axis is the one most closely associated with political and economic freedoms. So Mr Bush is right when he claims that Americans and European share common values of democracy and freedom and that these have broad implications because, at root, alliances are built on such common interests.

But now look at America's position on the traditional-secular axis. It is far more traditional than any west European country except Ireland. It is more traditional than any place at all in central or Eastern Europe. America is near the bottom-right corner of the chart, a strange mix of tradition and self-expression."

The UK, for those who promote the Anglosphere, is in the 'European' area, but on the edge and close to that of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and then somewhat further away, the US. Japan seems somewhat wrongly placed, more secular than Europe and less self-expressive than any other OECD country. Ireland is like the US but more traditional and a little less expressive.

The Economist goes on to say that it is, of course, wrong to generalize about a country as diverse as the US. But we can generalize to the extent that there are two Americas -- half with the same position on the chart as Europe and half much less secular. They are called Democrats and Republics respectively.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

Iain Murray links to a piece by William Rees-Mogg on the fact that the Tories do better in the opinion polls when you only count those who say they are certain to vote. From this LRM predicts that the Tories will do better in the next election than many think.

LRM says, "These are the facts. The Labour Party won the 2001 election with a lead in the United Kingdom of 9.0 per cent over the Conservatives, a swing of 1.75 percentage points to the Conservatives. This swing was not reflected in seats because of increased tactical voting by Liberal Democrat supporters in Labour marginals. The Times Guide to the House of Commons lists 25 polls published in the last month of the campaign by what were then the four leading conventional polling organisations. Every one of these 25 polls exaggerated the Labour lead in the actual result. The average Labour lead given by these opinion polls was 17.9 per cent, almost exactly double the actual outcome. ICM was the least inaccurate, with an average lead of 14.5 per cent, Gallop had 16.25, NOP had 18, and MORI 22.4 per cent. They all predicted a Conservative meltdown which did not happen. They may be doing so again. "

I think there are three points worth making here. First the 17.9% lead in the polls was the average over the campaign. The final-week polls, presumably more accurate, put the lead at a more modest 14.5%, with (I think) ICM the best at 9%, Gallup the worst at 17%. This doesn't necessarily change the thrust of his article -- that today's bad poll position can be overturned -- but it makes it much more modest. Second it is seats what matter in British General Elections -- ask the Liberal Democrats. As I have posted earlier, it is very likely that Labour can survive a much smaller lead and still have a large majority. Third, many of those who are only likely to vote will vote, and presumably they are more heavily Labour supporting. Fourth, one must remember some of LRM's earlier forecasts have been a little inaccurate (thought his stock market crash forecast looks better and better by the day). I remember also an article in wrote in The Times in 1996 in which he produced a chart from the OECD showing the miracle of Thatcher in making the UK's economy grow faster than every other in the 1980s -- including Japan! Unfortunately he had misread the chart, which was of the variability of economic growth, not its magnitude. He finally apologised a few weeks later after The Times had failed to print many letters pointing out the error, which any half-intelligent person should have noted from a ten second glance at the data.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

We hear a lot about the BBC's bias agains the Conservatives. Here I think is a clear case of bias the other way, in the (on Wednesday at 18:12) headline story on their news website. The story is about the Conservatives accusing the PM of avoiding the issues when surely a more accurate and less biased report would be on his speech, not the Tories' reaction?