Wednesday, December 31, 2003
I don't support your war, but I wouldn't, as I think the earth is flatJackie D from Au Currant cites approvingly of posts by James Lileks and John Hawkins.
Lileks argues that "...(W)e live in an era of non-contiguous information streams. I believe one thing; someone else believes another – and the bedrock assumptions are utterly contradictory. This is what drives me nuts about discussing current events with some people. It’s like discussing the Apollo program with people who think it was all faked, or discussing archeology with those who believe the world is six thousand years old. I think the Iraq Campaign was part of a broad war against Islamicist fascism and the states that enable it; others think it’s all about oil and Halliburton jerking the strings of a Jeebus puppet. No. Middle. Ground."
So there we have it. Opposition to a war in Iraq has no more validity than believing the Apollo programme was faked, or that the world is only 6,000 years old. In other words, The War Against Straw continues.
It gets worse. Hawkins argues that, "It's absolutely impossible to rationally discuss the invasion with many people on the anti-war left. It does not matter what facts you trot out, what arguments you make, or how many mistaken assumptions of theirs that you correct, because they are opposed to the war because of unverifiable feelings they have about George Bush's "real" motivation for the invasion. At it's root, their position is basically, "I believe George Bush is bad, so everything he does must be a bad thing". You can't ever "prove" them wrong because their position is based on "feelings," not logic. "
In many ways it is a beautiful thing, supporters of George W Bush harping on about facts and rationality, given the company Bush keeps is hardly confidence inspiring in these matters. Furthermore many of the 'facts' so beloved by most pro-war, pro-Bush supporters seem as solid as Ian Huntley's defence - the 'fact' that Saddam was close to building a nuclear bomb, the 'facts' about the 'Vans-of-Doom', the 'facts' about the uranium from Niger.
"Once you understand what's really going on, all the contradictory positions, bizarre theories, and dubious arguments that people on the anti-war left trot out make much more sense".
(The links might not be quite what Hawkins means, I grant you).
Finally, Hawkins notes, "The truth is that many people on the anti-war left are just grasping at any straw, no matter how flimsy, because they're embarassed to admit the truth; that their position on the war is based on little more than their dislike of George Bush."
Now D-Squared has already pointed out that that dislike and distrust of the man running a war is quite a good reason to oppose one. If George Galloway was PM of the UK I would oppose ex ante any wars he took us into on grounds of his personality and political views.
More fundamentally though do these people really believe there is no middle ground between those who support the war and those who oppose it?
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
The BBC is biasedSometimes reading Biased BBC you wonder whether they will one day complain that the button for BBC 1 is to be found on the left of the remote control, and for BBC 2 in the 'wishy-washy' centre.
It's been a long time since I checked out the site, so for readers who can't be bothered I'll give you a pretty typical excerpt that I found most amusing.
"Here is the BBC approach at 8.40 UK time:
'Bombs rock central Baghdad'
'At least 18 people are reported killed as the Red Cross headquarters and other buildings come under attack.'
Here is the CNN at the same time:
'Explosions rock Baghdad'
'At least 10 people have been killed and several injured following three explosions in the space of an hour in the Iraqi capital.
The first blast, believed caused by a suicide car bomb, struck early in the morning outside the Red Cross headquarters in the city leaving several vehicles ablaze and huge plumes of smoke rising into the air.'
Can anyone apart from me see hysteria in the one and sanity in the other[?]..."
EarthquakesThe terrible death toll in the Iran earthquake is now estimated at 50,000. This is about 15 times the amount of people who died in New York on September 11th 2001 and (without checking too much) the biggest 'disaster' I can recall in years.
I am not, by making that comparison, in anyway comparing the impact or horror of the two events. Earthquakes are very obviously different from madmen flying planes into skyscrapers.
However Iran is a country with a similar population to the UK and it's almost unimaginable to consider a disaster of such magnitude happening here. The largest man-made disasters tend to kill less than 100 people. This summer's heatwave, where 2000 people might have died, is an obvious exception, but -- and I am ashamed to say it -- it is much harder to find that sort of thing so horrifying.
BeefThe sad news about 'mad cow' disease hitting the US reminds one of one of the lowest points in recent British government history, the Conservatives ludicrous campaign to disrupt EU business over the ban on British beef.
I was taking my PPE finals at the time and so was unusually interested in politics, thus I recall very well the incident. One of the funniest things was the usual suspects (then Bill Cash, or John Redwood, or that silly man in the striped blazer) would blather on about how the EU ban (imposed finally as a last resort earlier that year) showed how you could never trust the Europeans, clearly oblivious to the fact that our kith and kin across the world had banned it years previously, the US notably between 1985 and 1989.
Monday, December 22, 2003
New year, new blogrollI'd thought I'd add some names to the blogroll. James Graham, who seems to annoy the right people, and Oliver Kamm, who I unfairly criticised some months ago, but whose site actually adds to my understanding of certain issues (not a common blog-trait).
Louis Theroux meets the Nazis...is very good. For once one can't feel the slightest sympathy for his target, except perhaps in that something has gone horribly wrong with their upbringing.
Sunday, December 21, 2003
Libya IIThousands of emails are pouring in enquiring as to where Libya was on my HII. The answer is 51st, i.e. quite low, but three ahead of Iraq. The main reason was it's pretty tasty $1bn a year military -- in Human Rights terms it was actually the 6th worst country in the world on the Observer measure. Thus if I have given too much weight to military matters, and perhaps Iraq suggests I have, then the humanitarian interventionists must still want intervention, unless Gadaffi can be persuaded peacefullly.
Two strange articlesTwo weird articles in the Sunday Telegraph. Theodore Dalrymple writes a crazed piece about how there is 'nothing exceptional in the morality of the Soham child murderer' and indeed in his life sentences 'scores and possibly hundreds of thousands of young British men deserve the same fate'.
Stephen Pollard's piece is also odd. He (for seven columns) tries to argue that it is morally incosistent to not want the death penalty for Ian Huntley if you don't mind it being applied to Saddam. Given Blair and Straw hold this view their position is 'incoherent, unprincipled and plain wrong'. Hence Pollard supports the death penalty for Saddam and therefore Huntley too.
There are some obvious answers here. Straw and Blair may think killing Saddam is wrong, but have decided that to make a major protest would be counter productive. A country's leaders sometimes have to make such decisions. Or they may believe the application of the death penalty is in the final analysis up to local governments, after all they still talk to George W Bush. Perhaps they think Saddam's crimes are uniquely terrible (Pollard says 'it is a peverted moral calculus which holds that murdering two children is somehow more acceptable than murdering 300,000' -- well I'm not sure it's my view but is it really that peverse? Put another way it seems pretty perverse not to thnk murdering 300,000 people is not worse than killing two. ) Another reason is to do with the law -- under British law Ian Huntley can't be executed, and it would require (I believe) an act of parliament to make it so. If this happened I'm sure Pollard and co would be (rightly) complaining about laws being changed for one person retrospectively (as some were over Jeffery Archer, a far less serious case). And one could go on and on.
Taking Dalrymple and Pollard's arguments together, I guess the Sunday Telegraph is calling for the execution of 'possibly even hundreds of thousands of British men'. And thus progressively The Right marches into 2004.
Saturday, December 20, 2003
LibyaThe news that Libya is to give up its WMDs should be welcomed universally. Indeed, insofar as it reflects the PM's tough policy on Iraq, it should be seen as a triumph for him and his policy.
The losers I guess are twofold. Those who argued that military pressure would not get results. And those who believed that WMD was a bad reason to support a good war, i.e humanitarian interventionists. Given today's news they will find it harder to argue for intervention in Libya, which given Gadaffi's poor human rights' record they must have been itching for.
Thursday, December 18, 2003
SearchingSomeone came to this site after searching for 'ali campbell wife images ub40' on google, where I pop up 4th.
I guess this post means next time I might be 1st.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Howard makes no differenceTucked away in the middle of the Guardian there is a new ICM opinion poll. I can never get particularly enthused about questions other than 'who will you vote for' but the Guardian flags it because 46% surveyed believed Blair will be out of a job by December 2004 (48% don't).
In terms of voting shares I think we can safely say that Michael Howard has not made things worse for the Tories, nor has he made things better (in terms of immediate appeal -- if he performs better then obviously there will be a long-term effect). In October, November and December ICM have Labour on 38%, the Tories on 35%. The Lib Dems have risen from 21% to 22%, also puncturing the view that Howard has somehow skewered them.
(some more details on the Blair questions here)
ps Whilst on opinion polls I've just done two YouGov ones, both on the London Mayoral election and Steve Norris's links with Jarvis. Are the Tories about to ditch him? Perhaps they'll ask Ken to join them?
Further educationAlso a fascinating poll in the Standard on further education. Basically it asks which is preferred the government version (make graduates pay), the Tory version (cut places) and let's call it the Lib Dem version (2p on income tax)
Remarkably the results are 40%, 17%, 34% . 34%! for 2p on income tax!
The Tory proposal does find favour among 18-24yr olds where it's 32%, 33%, 24%. Is this because they think lots of students are wasters, or because they are the group least likely to be affected in the short-term (in terms of children?). Probably neither, this sample contained only 38 people (compared with 70+ in the other age groups) -- allowing a large potential for error.
Among the social classes there is very little difference, except a slightly higher support for the Labour proposal among the AB class.
In any case, as I have mentioned before, does anyone really believe the Tories would implement their policy if in government?
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
The Things the Daily Mail SaysToday's Daily Mail headline makes one wonder whether sooner or later they'll have a headline 'Asylum Seekers breathe British Air - And they get it for FREE"
RumsfeldGood article on Harry's Place about Donald Rumsfeld's relationship with Saddam Hussein, including is shaking his hand right at the time Iraq was using poison gas in its war against Iran. Similar concerns exist over British government actions at the time.* This shouldn't bother those who believe foreign policy is only about the UK or US 'national interest' but it sure should worry those who believe it should have an ethical or humanitarian edge. Put simply, would you shake hands with a mass murderer?
* Before someone notes 'why didn't you mention France - they supplied 178% of Iraq's weapons' may I note that I mention Rumsfeld because the US is the leader of the western world, Rumsfeld is the current US Secretary of Defense and heavily involved in the hunt for Saddam. I mention the UK because I am British and therefore have some responsibility (however small) in the affairs of the Government.
Sunday, December 14, 2003
Saddam Hussein arrestedSaddam Hussein has been arrested. This is good news, and should -- if reports of his controlling the insurgents is true -- see the terorrist attacks on US/UK troops decrease. It will be interesting to see what the Americans do with him.
Saturday, December 13, 2003
Humanitarian Intervention IndexWith the likelihood of Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction being found anywhere other than the mind of our Prime Minister, the rationale for the invasion of Iraq has shifted to that of human rights (there have been commentators who have argued this from the start).
Of course anti-war types then usually say, 'but if Iraq, why not China'. Pro-war advocates then say, not unreasonably, that it would be a very difficult war to win, and anyway China is reforming on its' own.
The second argument is hard to measure, but clearly the first argument obviously has much merit for China, but what about other countries? And so I launch my new 'Humanitarian Intervention Index'. This takes the Observer's handy guide to countries' human rights' record (from 2000) and divides by the number of billions of dollars spent on defence. Hence it combines the desirability of armed intervention and the likely ease of doing so.
Now, remembering this is based on 2000 human rights' data, you can see the results in an Excel file (if it asks for a password just press cancel).
For those without Excel, the top 5 with their HII rating are:
Sierra Leone (2144)
Guinea Bissau (1964)
Now since the Observer data was published things have happened in Sierra Leone and Liberia. So, on the basis of this, the most sensible candidates if you believe in humanitarian military intervention are Gambia, Guinea Bissa and Somalia (followed by Tanzania and Burundi). These have appalling human rights' records and they don't have much military to speak of. Iraq incidentally is 54th, with an HII rating of 13, between Peru and Croatia. China is 79th with an HII of just 0.3.
Obviously the index is a bit rough and ready, and I need some measure of the prospect for the country reforming without outside intervention. But for now I think it is a handy guide to warbloggers everywhere.
Tory policy on higher education...it appears is merely a way to get votes, which has no bearing on any policy they actually will implement if they are in government. What a shock. It makes me ashamed to be a Tory.
Friday, December 12, 2003
EU summitThe Economist also has a nice little anecdote about EU summits.
"The pressure on European leaders is greater because they have to do the most delicate negotiating without the help of national officials. "It's like an exam" says one diplomat, "the leaders have to cram all the details into their heads ahead of time and hope they get it right on the night"...If one of the politicians in the chamber feels in urgent need of advice he can press a panic button. A light goes on in the officials' room, and an official, assuming a grave 'my country needs me' face rushes in. National civil servants are meant to offer advice and leave, bu this rule has been bent in extremis. Sir John Kerr hid under the table and continued to pass notes to John Major at the Maastricht summit in 1991."
"Not all the leaders' requests are for advice. "If Chirac's light goes on", says one official, "it usually just means that he wants another beer".
A new phraseBrowsing one of those loopy anti-BBC sites I came up with this great new phrase to describe the US, Tony Blair, and a few Europeans,
"Coalition of the Willing against Terror"
New blogA new far-centre-right blog from DumbJon, erstwhile commenter on other far-centre-right blogs. I predict this will unmissable.
A debate of minor interest has taken place on Harry's blog about the culture department's lack of Christian symbols (or even the mention of Christmas on its' cards). I think a lot of what defines 'Christmas' is pretty modern anyway, and so what they choose is up to them , while the post suggets, if deliberate, if was the decision-making process that was wrong and represents the thinking that 'severs us from our past'.
I quote some interesting points from the Economist's coverage (which don't necessarily refute the original point) -
The Archbishop of Canterbury sent a card featuring only a picture of Lambeth Palace.
"biblicial scenes were never common, even when the majority went to Church"
"A study by two priests in 1946 showed that only a tiny percentage of cards had any religious content"
Thursday, December 11, 2003
Den Beste on September 11thHilarious, isn't he?.
General ElectionBack in late June I noted that IG Index were forecasting that at the next GE, Labour would get 352 (-61), the Tories 203 (+37) and the Liberals 73 (up 21), giving Labour a majority of 47.
I thought I would update you on the impact Michael Howard has had. First a word of warning -- these 'markets' have had some historical success in predicting results (e..g Iowa) but at other times (the UK general election in 1997) they have been far out. D-Squared noted a while back that they provided 'a good summary of the latest opinion polls', which is perhaps a little harsh...
Anyway Labour are down to 343, the Tories up to 223 and the Libs on 65. This would be a Labour majority of 27.
Update: Incidentally on a uniform swing this would mean 37% Conservative, 35% Labour. Is the market predicting that %, or is it expecting a non-uniform swing? Peter Kellner's excellent article explaining the biases of the system seems to suggest that 1/3rd of the bias is tactical voting, which I would expect to be far less than at earlier elections, but that still leaves 2/3rds. If you think Labour will be ahead in the polls you should buy at this price.
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
Focus on blog posterThis new series will focus on a blog poster. At first it was going to be GuessedWorker, but I realised that at least 50% of the time I agree with him. So instead it's going to be 'Verity' seen on various blogs you'll have seen.
A brief search tonight finds these (I will edit for space and clarity with a ..., but I will link so you can check the quote for yourself),
"Here's where you'll get irritated again. Poor people are a burden. They drain resources. ... Unemployed people should be obliged to take any job in order to keep their lives ticking over, until they can find a job they really want. Instead, the taxpayer supports these people with "unemployment" cheques and allows hundreds of thousands of illegal workers to take the jobs that the unemployed British should rightfully be executing. ... Why are they so uppity that they think they can come from the Third World and only First World Britain is good enough for them?"
"I'm glad she's settled in and contributing to the economy, but the fact is, one more person is one more burden. That is the way it is. "
"Raj - if you moved back to India, you could afford full time servants, so let us not pretend it is any big deal and your wife gave up a situation of great wealth to bestow her presence on Britain. I lived in India briefly and I had a bearer, a dhobi wallah and a sweeper, although I was a very average earner."
"My response is: we do not need to let low skilled workers into Britain. We've got plenty of our own and they should be obliged to take boring, ill-paid jobs until they find a job to their liking, rather than expecting the taxpayer to support their dainty tastes."
All from here, with the one below from a few posts earlier
"I like Kris's optimism, but I give it 10. I agree that countries like Luxembourg will simply neglect to pay their dues and slip out of the membership. After all, it isn't an export (!!!!!) economy."
Cuthbertson on MandelaCuthie (to my new readers I should point out that 'cuthie' is a 20yr old blogger from Darlington [edited], currently at university in Colchester) on the reason Mandela shouldn't be a hero:
"But he did grovel before Castro, Gaddafi and countless other crooks, he did marry Winnie and he has been followed by a man even worse than he is. "
Those Labour Party predictions"Brown said government borrowing this year would be £27bn - up £3bn on his earlier prediction. "
Wednesday 9th April, 2003
"The chancellor told MPs in his pre-Budget report that Britain would be £37bn in the red this year."
Wednesday 10th December, 2003
Tax Freedom DayConservatives everywhere must welcome today's Spending Review by Gordon Brown. He has said that taxes this year will be nearly £10bn less than he expected a year ago, and next year £7bn less.
On my calculations this brings Tax Freedom Day nearly three days earlier this year, and two days earlier next. Michael Howard must be in awe of this fabulous Chancellor.
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
Opinion Poll IIThe Telegraph's opinion poll seems pretty contradictory over taxation and spending.
The 'anxious middle classes' are indeed anxious about their finances, with 78% saying they pay too much tax, 85% saying much of it is wasted, and 33% saying if the Tories campaigned to lower tax they would be more likely to vote for them.
On the whole though they seem to love government spending, particularly on pensions and healthcare. Tellingly given the choice of where to spend an extra £3bn, 49% say on the NHS, second only to the 51% who wish to reduce council tax bills. More spending on pensions and less tax on petrol are also well supported. Lowering income tax gets a paltry 21%. For the country as a whole all of these results are magnified (NHS is the favoured, then council tax, with income tax cuts not popular).
One way to get around this hate tax, love spending paradox is that the nation wants the government to borrow huge amounts of money. Another more realistic is that its obvious when you are asked 'Do you pay too much tax' to say 'yes, of course'. When you are asked 'is much of it wasted', again 'yes of course' (£10,000 of waste would be a lot).
Few people think tax is a great thing. It is the price you pay to enjoy public spending. And lots of people seem to like that.
Opinon PollAn opinion poll in today's Times is interesting for two reasons.
First, Michael Howard appears to be making some but not much headway. The Conservatives are on 33%, 3% behind Labour on 36%. This compares with a 5% deficit in the last Populous poll, taken (I think) just after he had been elected. This will disappoint some bloggers who had been predicting the Conservatives moving into the lead.
Second, to my surprise, the Labour proposal on tuiton fees is much more popular than my party's plan to abolish them. As I note below, I don't actually believe we would do that in government, but I'd assume it was a good electoral wheeze.
Conservatives on Public spendingThe other thing that I have been thinking about is the Conservatives policy on taxation and public spending.
Every time I see one of our spokeman he is advocating more public spending (a good reason to be a Tory supporter, I think). Whether on universities, pensions, defence etc. Some of these they claim will be met by cutting student numbers, or cutting 'waste' or changing other benefits. However in each case one can easily assume some transition costs, and for others, such as defence, they just seem to be advocating more money.
So here's the rub. By the time they get into office public spending will be £516bn, or thereabouts. Clearly they, if they are to make an impact, will wish to cut this by at least 5%, or £25bn. Add in some simple extra spending, say £2bn on defence, £1bn for tuition fees and £1bn for pensions, this makes about £29bn.
Does anyone know any policies they have designed to do this?
Conservative policy on universitiesSeeing Tim Collins, or Damian Green, arguing the Conservatives' case on tuition fees (surprisingly unpopular with the public if you see today's Times) last night on Newsnight it suddenly hit me, is there anyone who takes the faintest interest in British politics who actually thinks if they were in government they would implement that policy?
OrwellianHilariously, Peter Cuthbertson now has the strapline 'The Truth Unvarnished' on his site (currently located at www.concom.blogspot.com). I know many people on the right like Conservative Commentary, but I doubt even his biggest chearleaders would say it had much to do with the truth.
Monday, December 08, 2003
Ali vs HitchensA good -- on both sides -- debate between Tariq Ali and Christopher Hitchens. I think Ali has the better of it, though both score points.
Link via a comment on Harry's Place.
Thursday, December 04, 2003
Bush to blameThe terrible floods France is suffering from at the moment are another worrying sign of the freak weather that is hitting our planet. If only Bush hadn't killed Kyoto...
The intellectual wing of the Tory Party?For those who still stick to this view of Boris Johnson I urge them to read his colum in today's Telegraph. For those who haven't registered, the strange bit is,
"To slow the housing market, then a more elegant solution – as this column has suggested before – would be to raise the threshold for inheritance tax to £500,000, so allowing many family homes to be kept in the family"
Now let's not argue over whether the threshold should be raised. Let's argue over whether doing so would curb house prices. I assume what he means is fewer large houses would be sold, while fewer smaller houses would be bought. Thus prices might rise at the top, but they would slow in the middle/bottom.
Ok..well here is the data. In 2002 around 24,000 estates paid inheritance tax. Assuming (generously*) one fifth of those had to sell the 'family home' to pay their inheritance tax bills, then around 5,000 houses would have been sold, and so (say) 10,000 would have been bought lower down the market. In 2002 around 1,500,000 houses were bought and sold, so forced selling/buying due to IT accounts for about 1/150 of house sales. In earlier years when house prices were lower it would have been much less. Yet house prices have soared in this period.
Incidentally, if Boris really thought making people sell their family homes was a scandal he should look at nursing care for old people. In a typical year 70,000 (family?) homes are sold for this purpose.
* Generously for many reasons. First, IT is paid only on every pound above £255k. Thus most houses it captures will pay very little. Second, where families include more than one child many will want to sell their home anyway. Or where it is in the wrong location, is the wrong size, etc. Third, people with very expensive houses will be able to afford their IT bill without selling.
Update: The Telegraph publishes my letter on the subject.
Tuesday, December 02, 2003
Feminism - let the debate beginI spotted this comment by GuessedWorker left in response to this post on Edge of England's sword.
"...the received idea of equality has damaged womanhood.
Why isn't vacuuming woman's work, since a tidy home is a female preoccupation? Why isn't all work connected to nest-making and child nurture first and foremost the responsibility of the female spouse? Why did women ever believe that a life of child care in the home - their biological imperative - was demeaning? And why, most importantly, did women ever believe there was any such thing as equality when, plainly, the sexes are utterly different in every way?
Feminism was a social disaster foisted upon us by marxist activists. Every sale of a Princess Vacuum [a new Disney toy being criticised in the post] is a blow for Nature and freedom from profound error. Possession of one by your little girl would not confer imprisonment and male dominance. That is a vile lie of the left and needs to be nailed forthwith."
What a turnaroundA few months back I had a blog argument with Natalie Solent, a self-styled 'libertarian' blogger about whether this country's extensive racial affirmative action programmes really were, through their reducing incentives to hard work, a major cause of black 'underachievement' at school. She said they were, I disagreed. Case closed.
Whilst perusing another 'libertarian' site I came across another post of hers. This one suggests that attempting to make drug companies sell their drugs more cheaply to the developing world is akin to keeping slaves.
I take back all my criticisms. This post is brilliant. I've never seen the debate on the extent to which patent protection should balance incentives to innovate with allowing the poorest and most ill people in the world to get life-saving drugs put in this way, and I doubt I ever will again. Unmissable.
There is one slightly jarring thing about the post, and where it posted, namely 'libertarian samizdata'. Now we all know 'libertarians' in a blog contest rarely means much more than holding virulently anti-EU views and wanting an unfettered right to spend 'your' money how you like But at least they used to be consistent on government market intevention. They didn't like it. But now it appears patent protection, which after all is massive government market intervention, is absolute fine and dandy. Surely libertarians should be in favour of a market solution?
Monday, December 01, 2003
The shining beacon of libertyFrom Time
"A U.S. military official tells Time that at least 140 detainees--"the easiest 20%"--are scheduled for release. The processing of these men has sped up since the Supreme Court announced it would take the case, said the source, who believes the military is "waiting for a politically propitious time to release them." U.S. officials concluded that some detainees were there because they had been kidnapped by Afghan warlords and sold for the bounty the U.S. was offering for al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. "Many would not have been detained under the normal rules of engagement," the source concedes"
Two years later they realise this! To be a supporter of this Administration means you are objectively pro this kind of thing.