Friday, April 30, 2004

Poll

The April Guardian poll (reported on below ) which gave Labour a 5% lead on 38% to the Tories 33% now has the voting intention data (earlier it just had the Iraq war data).

I found it interesting (keep in mind this poll is with Labour on a 5% lead) that voting patterns are very clearly class-based with the Labour/Tory split 40/28, 39/31, 28/43, 26/50 for AB, C1, C2, DE with all four groups roughly equal in size. The ABs don't like Labour much, and indeed with them the Lib Dems score highest with 26%, only 2% behind Labour.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

52% of Iraqis belive attacks on coalition troops can be justified.

Say a newish opinion poll from CNN.

Conducted mainly before the recent flare-up in violence:

Thirty-three percent of those polled said the war had done more good than harm, while 46 percent said it had done more harm than good.

Forty-two percent said Iraq was better off because of the war, while 39 percent said it was worse off. Given the sampling error, those figures indicated a dead heat.

Asked about when they wanted U.S. and British forces to leave, 57 percent chose immediately, as in the next few months, the poll said; 36 percent said troops should stay longer.

However, when asked wether the ousting of Saddam was worth it, 61% said it was. 28% said it was not, while 9 percent said they were not sure.

If only it were true

"Bush To Iraqi Militants: 'Please Stop Bringing It On'

WASHINGTON, DC—In an internationally televised statement Monday, President Bush modified a July 2003 challenge to Iraqi militants attacking U.S. forces. "Terrorists, Saddam loyalists, and anti-American insurgents: Please stop bringing it on now," Bush said at a Monday press conference. "Nine months and 500 U.S. casualties ago, I may have invited y'all to bring it on, but as of today, I formally rescind that statement. I would officially like for you to step back." The president added that the "it" Iraqis should stop bringing includes gunfire, bombings, grenade attacks, and suicide missions of all types."

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Thatcher's victory

Bank Holiday Monday sees BBC Parliament show election coverage from 1979, when Mrs Thatcher won her first victory. Prepare yourself for dodgy (but presumably getting better) computer graphics, dodgier haircuts and hopefully (and perhaps for the last time?) some patronising sexist remarks from the host.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Political betting

A little bit bored this evening (once I'd got home having been stuck in the "end of the world" weather that London got tonight) so I've decided to try some political betting at the slightly controversial Betfair.com.

Betfair isn't a spread betting site, but a standard fixed odds site. The USP or gimmick is that you can lay odds (i.e. be the bookmaker) as well has take odds.

Thus I've accepted from various punters (big stakes -- prepare yourself) £50 that Tony Blair will be the leader of the Labour Party at the next general election, and I offered (well they wanted so I gave them it) 1.6 to 1. In other words if TB is the leader of the Labour Party at the next general election I owed them £80, or a loss of £30. If he is the leader I keep the £50, minus Betfair's commission, which I haven't yet worked out, but it somewhere between 3% and 5% (to find the odds on the left side go to special bets, UK, politics, UK general election and then Labour leader).

The idea is that things might get worse for Blair, not that I think he is going to resign. As things get worse the odds will lengthen, i.e. say 2 to 1. At which point I can bet £50 that he will be leader, and then if he is I get £50 - £30 or £20 profit (minus their charges), and if he loses I get £50 - £50 or nothing. Obviously if I bet a little more I can make a profit regardless.

So far the odds have lengthened, but only to 1.62 (from about 1.50-- the odds you can lay are -- obviously -- better than the odds you can get). Historically they've been as high as 2, and as low as 1.2 (no time scale, but the 1.2 seems to have been just after Saddam's capture).

If dsquared reads this he'll probably, and correctly stress that it's very important to read the bet you are getting into. A good example is the 'party leaders' bet (same directions as above) which has the bet 'which of the present leaders will be leading their party at the next general election'. If you think 'all three' of Tony Blair, Charles Kennedy and... IDS you can get 40 to 1! Of course the contract is 'who were leaders in October 2003'.

Incidentally you can lay £4 at 210 to 1 on that bet if you fancy. It seems an easy £4 (minus commission) except of course that Howard might die, and IDS steps into the breach. None (at 8.0 to 1) seems quite tempting...

ps I should mention that there's also the time value of money. A bet of £100 (£50 on Blair and taking £50 against) requires you to stump up £80 (to cover both losses - though it may offset these?) for, potentially, up to two years (the last possible election is June 2006). This money could probably earn a (to all intents and purposes) riskless 8% (in an ISA, and maybe more) or £6.40. Thus to make any profit I'll need at least 2 to 1.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

A life of luxury...

now it appears means being allowed to sunbathe on a Saturday and read a magazine. No wonder we are told there is no poverty in this country.

Only a Tory...

Today's News of the World opinion poll showing 55% would vote against an EU constitution, 25% for and 20% against strikes me as a good reason to bet (10-1!) on the referendum being won. Perhaps two years before the referendum, with very little attempt by the 'yes' side to make their case, and before Labour get some well positioned concessions from the EU, a 55% no vote is not enormous. Clearly the pro-camp are still massive underdogs, but it's not over yet. (Also of course being a NoW opinion poll we have to take it a with a pinch of salt -- the question is ok but the others are all pretty loaded so a lot will depend on the ordering)

There's also an article by William Hague, which shows why he was (much to my shock) a dismal and stupid leader. Hague of course suffered one of Britain's greatest ever election defeats in a campaign he said was about whether or not we were to keep the pound, so why anyone asks his opinion I do not know. But today's essay confirms his strange other worldliness. There are reasons to oppose further EU integration, and even to oppose this constitution, but that we were conned in our EU membership because 'Thirty years on, for example, we have to spend hundreds of millions extra on our health service because doctors' hours are decided by the European Court' is not one of them. Only a Tory could think that people believe paying doctors not to work 100 hours a week is a bad thing.

Save the pound indeed.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Littlejohn

After posting about the sheer delight of Johann Hari's appearance on Richard Littlejohn's show I thought you'd like to see the old bigot's view yourself. I doubt a word of it is true, but I don't think anyone here is going to believe it, so I can see no harm.

"I get it all the time — racist, homophobe, xenophobe, Little Englander, blah, blah, blah. The latest to think he’s big enough is Johann Hari, a schoolboy scribbler on Britain’s worst-selling newspaper, The Independent. I was daft enough to invite him on my Sky TV show, thinking he wanted to have a pop at the BNP. We’re a broad church. We’ll have anyone on, from the Mad Mullah of Tottenham to Four Poofs And A Piano. He turned up in a state of high agitation, sweating profusely. His palms were so moist it was like shaking hands with a freshly-landed halibut. Charitably, we put this down to nerves and the thrill of being on the telly. But when he returned from the Gents’ sniffing violently, we began to wonder whether he was suffering from Asian Flu. Once on the air, he lost the plot completely and started shrieking like a pubescent schoolgirl sent to her room before Sex And The City. He had decided to waste his five minutes of fame trying to make me out to be a Nazi. All he succeeded in doing was make himself look a prat, while achieving the near impossible feat of making the man from the BNP seem a pillar of reason and respectability. The BNP couldn’t hope for a better recruiting sergeant than Dirty Hari. The audience hated him. He lost his argument the moment he opened his mouth. Unlucky, son. "

Charming, isn't he? At least you can see whose side he is on "a pillar of reason and respectability". Luckily Littlejohn goes on to explain how what puzzled Johann, his comment that it's "It's people like you who help the BNP!""

Here goes: "The more they rant and rave, the more lies they tell, the more they try to stifle genuine debate, the more the British people turn against them. " Yeah right.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Anything I want

Via one of these new kid Tory bloggers I find that despite Tony Martin's realisation his natural home is in the BNP, the Conservatives are still plugging the idea of a Tony Martin law.

Today's turn is MP Roger Gale, who is trying to get a second reading for a bill that (or see here - pdf)

"introduced in response to not only high-profile cases but growing public concern over imbalance within the criminal law would, if enacted, give to householders (owners and tenants alike) the right to use "any act" if he or she believes that the action is "in self-defence, in defence of another person, to preserve or protect property, to apprehend an intruder or any other suspected wrongdoer or otherwise in the prevention of crime"."

Now perhaps I don't understand the specific legal terms. But let's take them at face value. The bill would give householders the right to use "any act" against another person "who is in the dwelling, or attempting to gain access to the dwelling (which includes gardens) " if he or she believes that that act is "to preserve or protect property".

Thus it means I could legitimately murder anyone in my house who had broken in or who was trying to, and -- this is the killer (perhaps literally) - I believed "whether reasonably or not" it was in self-defence, in defence of someone, or property etc.

Taken to the extreme, if my mother was in my garden, and I suddenly thought she was going to take an apple from the tree, then I could legally torture and kill her, whether or not she was.

And they call the Lib Dems loopy!

An Onion world

Nick's being asking whether he is in the real world, or some Onion-inspired creation, and yesterday's Daily Mail, and today's Melanie Phillips might give him some further cause for concern.

First off the Mail, with its headline 'Is tap water killing our unborn babies?'. Second a letter to the Daily Mail, which sadly I have left at home but [update - I will now quote]

"We were one of the 110 British drivers stopped on Easter Saturday and believe that we were speeding...we missed two ferries because of this disgraceful and vindictive process targeted at the British tourist -- Marily Mitchell, Bucks. "

Finally on to dear old Melanie Phillips, who today tells us this shocking story:

"The utterly dreadful case of the teenage girl who was abducted by her boyfriend and then doused with petrol and set alight by two other girls revealed a depth of inhumanity that is difficult to grasp."

Difficult to grasp for us mere mortals, but not for our Mel: "So what explains this barbarism? Mental illness? No. A detail in this account, not reported in other papers, provides the vital clue:'The court had been told that the three girls had planned revenge on Debra, whom they saw as a love rival, during a weekend of drinking and smoking cannabis.'"

Yes, that's right -- drinking alcohol explains this barbarism. Oh, hang on -- Mel's not done yet:

"Tell me again that cannabis produces only spaced-out hippies waving their hands in the air and going 'chill out, man'."

Er...who told her first time?

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Biased BBC?

David T criticises this sentence on the BBC website,

""US officials say that since the fall of Saddam, 300,000 bodies have been found buried in mass graves.

They say they are the victims of campaigns against Kurds, Shias, and Saddam's political enemies. "

implying that the BBC is implying that their existence is a matter of debate, not fact.

In an update he notes that perhaps there is some debate to be had, but nevertheless;

"What strikes me as notable about this article is that the BBC has identified "US officials" as those with the relevant belief - implying that they are the only ones to take the view that the mass graves substantially contain Saddam's victims - when in fact we know that the same conclusion has been reached by very many others."

Whether or not it's 100% accurate it strikes me as sub Biased-BBC textual analysis. Certainly it's possible if you wanted to imply that only US officials believe in the mass graves you would say "US officials say/they say" but then again such a sentence is perfectly consistently with merely wishing to be more specific, and less passive, than saying "Those in Saddam's mass graves are believed to be victims of...", which is David T's preferred way of saying it.

Also, and this is a classic sign it should be on Biased BBC, you can imagine the exact opposite being said if the BBC had put 'It is believed', with the complaint being that the BBC is pretending some believe it and others don't, and there's no way of choosing between them, because the BBC sees no moral difference between US officials and genocide doubters.

Finally a good check is to see what that famously sceptical of US claims newsite FoxNews.com had to say on the same issue,

"A team of Justice Department prosecutors and investigators has been gathering evidence for a war crimes case against Saddam, while other international groups have been sifting through the mass graves where U.S. officials say 300,000 victims of Saddam's regime were buried. "

Does everyone hate America?

Hari on Littlejohn

In the post below I note Johann Hari's wonderful column about his appearance on Richard 'To hell in a handcart' Littlejohn's dreadful show. I don't read much of Littlejohn's column, as you don't need to do know what he is saying, but I have read his dreadful novel, correctly labelled by David Aaranovitch as a "a 400-page recruiting pamphlet for the BNP."

I suggest you read it all (Hari's article, not the novel), but here's a good excerpt:

"So I asked Richard how much a single asylum seeker is given in benefits each week. You'd think that a journalist who writes about asylum twice a week would, of course, know something so incredibly basic. His response was clear. He snapped: "I have no idea".

No idea. I pointed out that he refers constantly to asylum-seekers being "hosed down" with benefits. He implied in his novel that they are given hundreds upon hundreds of pounds a week. Shouldn't he try to find out some facts before he writes his far-right propaganda? (By the way, they are given £37.77 a week, 30 per cent below the poverty line. This is the fortune that Littlejohn and his friends - the bulk of the British press - says people are flocking to Britain to claim.)

He began to howl: "It's people like you who help the BNP!" He declined to talk me through the mysterious process by which people who peddle urban myths, exaggerations and prejudice about asylum-seekers are really stopping the BNP, and people who correct those distortions are helping them. I kept offering him facts, like the simple truth that the Association of Chief Police Officers has stated that asylum-seekers do not commit more crime than anyone else. Or that asylum-seekers and immigrants make a net contribution to the UK economy of £2.5bn a year - saving us the equivalent of a penny on income tax. Littlejohn's response was to accuse me of staging "a student prank".

Soon we were off air, and Littlejohn started to screech at his producers. "I told you not to ask him on! I told you not to ask this nutcase on to my programme!' He looked genuinely upset. I tried to explain that if he doesn't want to be humiliated he should make his articles correspond with reality. He began to howl, and one of the floor managers suggested I leave."


Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Iraq again

Fantastic post on whether the pro-war left have been guilty of closing down the debate over at the newly relaunched Dsquared-digest.

I'll let you read it except to make two points that I particularly agree with.

First of the three 'famous' liberal-lefty columnists who supported the invasion of Iraq D-squared orders them (in willingness to prefer arguing that getting rid of Saddam was a benefit of the war, rather than something that makes everything else superflous) Aaranovitch, Cohen and Hitchens. This is surely right -- indeed I predict that if any of them changes their mind it will be Aaranovitch, and probably sooner rather than later (the appointment of John Negroponte might be his last straw -- Hitchens on the other hand must have tonnes of the stuff lying around as collateral from his famous War on it).

Second although I am "optimistic" about the outcome of the war, having noted the massive discrepancy of power between the coalition and the terrorists/insurgents/etc, it's clear the confidence we all had (in varying degrees) in the coalition's willingness and ability to bring democracy and liberty to Iraq was misplaced. The main hope now lies in the fact that ordinary Iraqis clearly would prefer to live in the Switzerland of the Middle East rather than its Gaza, rather than anything the coalition will do, which is why despite the security situation the troops out lobby is gaining ground. Many who supported the war are reluctant to recognise this situation, and thus unable to offer more than token criticism of any US decision. Hence you get the absurd situation where the British PM and Cabinet (if you believe eminently believable stories in the papers) is much more critical of the White House than the pro-war left.

Harry replies, essentially arguing that nothing else mattered but Saddam's removal. This is an attractive and honest viewpoint, though I think it slightly misses the point, which is that Saddam's removal is an obvious plus point to the pro-war view, and a large one, but it remains still only a plus point. There are also other plus points, but there have been many negatives, and you have to weigh them all up. I think this might perhaps indicate the difference between liberals, and the left (in pro- and anti-forms).

PS - Of course there was a fourth 'famous' pro-war left commentator, Johann Hari, who of I was once rather dismissive . I note he has another new photograph above today's excellent column (not online yet). And this column on Richard Littlejohn is fantastic. On the war also I think he has been generous in his doubt, and sceptical in his support for the Republicans. Oh how wrong I was!

Euro referendum

Much coverage has focused on the possibility of the pro- side losing, and the prospects for the Blair (see Anthony Wells for good and thoughtful stuff). Of course this is the most likely outcome. However it's not particularly far-fetched to imagine the referendum being won, and wouldn't that be amusing?! All the europhobes would be stuck as the question of whether Britain is in or out of Europe would be settled for another 25 years or so, with the pro-Europe lobby able to dictate the terms of the debate. Single currency membership would surely follow...

Labour five points in the lead

A new ICM opinion poll in the Guardian (terribly spun in the story) gives Labour a 5% lead on 38%, with the Tories slipping back to 33% and the Lib Dems on 22%. It's illustrative of Labour's falling support that one is tempted to cry "rogue", but it's perhaps more indicative that Iraq is not such an important issue in the world as it is in blogland, and Michael Howard's shine is rapidly fading. In any case a clear majority of those expressing an opinion, 48% to 41%, now oppose the war (these figures are quite volatile). Here's the full data on the Iraq questions (pdf)

Amazon bookselling

I went back to my parents at the weekend and was told, in no uncertain terms, to 'get rid of all those books in the garage'. So being a little short of money I've put them on Amazon here.

Not a particularly interesting story, except to say that if in 60 days' time they haven't sold (which is usually the case as I overprice them) then any interested reader can have them for the price of postage and a reasonable offer (with a few exceptions).

ps They also include some of my sister and others, so don't try to make too many observations about me from them!

NI parties to face sanctions

I've not seen much coverage of this story, which is that Sinn Fein and the Progressive Unionist Party are to face sanctions over continuing loyalist and republican violence. It appears as the Assembly is suspended the sanction of...a pay cut ... is not available, and so more direct measures (the government funds partly both parties) will be need. Isn't Northern Irish politics strange?

Monday, April 19, 2004

It's Negroponte

So John Negroponte, barring Senate confirmation, is to be the new US ambassador in Iraq, and hence for a while what looks like its de facto ruler. This is a rather ominous indication of the prospects for a free and democratic Iraq, and the Bush Administration's commitment to it.

Two uncontroversial and uninteresting comments

1. The view from Cambridgeshire

"Brownie" over at Harry's Place writes a pretty standard "I was right" article about the war in Iraq, based on some remarks by Andrew Sullivan in yesterday's Sunday Times. He notes, "After reading Andrew Sullivan (no, not that one)".

You mean there's two of them?! Seriously though - who is the other one? A Stopper?

2. Blair's European Referendum

Except for the idea (in the Guardian) that they would blame it on the prospects of Michael Howard winning the election this seems a good political wheeze. It'll be after the election, which if Blair wins should massively boost his chances of winning the referendum(with perhaps some well timed post-election amendments) and if he loses, well why would he care? It also allows Blair to point out that when Howard was in government there was no referendum on the more important Maastricht Treaty, or earlier the Single European Act.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Blogs & comments again

The decision by Harry's Place to curb comments (somewhat ironically in the midsts of a discussion on whether debate is being stifled) is understandable and sadly I think an inevitable problem of being too successful. Certainly in Harry's case you could argue that the polarised nature of debates over the war, which the site specialised in, and the introduction of a more controversialist commentator didn't help, but only on the margin. Even on more mild-mannered blogs large audiences go hand-in-hand with unreadable comment boxes (e.g. Kevin Drum's).

Nevertheless it's a shame, as I thought the comments on Harry's site were once the nearest British political blogs got to a decent debate. Now I fear it will increasingly be that blogs merely preach to an ever smaller number of the converted.

We've been through potential solutions before, the best of which is probably some kind of registration system. This site, however, will stick to the technique of only having a dozen or so readers, with the added bonus of saying nothing controversial.

A hero to the Right?

Tony Martin, a right-wing hero (with honourable exceptions) for shooting dead a burglar, is going the whole right-wing hog and is urging people to vote for the British National Party. Last we heard he was planning to become an MP. Whatever next?

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Well we're in now so losing is unthinkable...

...is becoming a common refrain from pro-warriors. Gerard Baker in today's FT says:

"That is why the most important reason Iraq is not Vietnam is that it is a more important struggle. That is not to belittle the sacrifices made by Americans and Vietnamese. But the US lost in Vietnam, and yet none of the feared consequences of that defeat materialised. The mid-1970s, the nadir of post-Vietnam US self-confidence, were probably the high water mark for the Communist enemy. But within a year or two, America's Vietnam Syndrome was eclipsed by Russia's Afghanistan Syndrome, eastern Europe's Solidarity Syndrome, and even China's Modernisation Syndrome.

It is impossible to contemplate a US failure in Iraq with a hope that Islamist terrorism will have passed its high tide. Defeat would mean victory for a mortal enemy. Whether or not you believe Iraq was a real threat under Saddam Hussein, you cannot deny that a US defeat there will make it one now."

There are two things worth saying here. First given the doom-mongers said defeat in Vietnam would lead to Communist world domination and it didn't the obvious conclusion to draw would be that they are also wrong here, not that this time it's different. Second, if it is true that even if Saddam's Iraq wasn't a threat, defeat now would make it one, it would have been nice if the pro-war camp had pointed this out at the time! If wars once got into can only be got out of after an overwhelmingly victory, clearly the bar that has to be met to justify getting into them is considerably higher.

Baker also says that Iraq is not Vietnam because in Vietnam "was no one warning that the US was heading into another Vietnam", and people learn the lessons of history. This is true, but there was no end of people in Vietnam saying this was 'another Korea' (LBJ down) and it didn't help much. This is not to say that Iraq is another Vietnam, in the main because unlike Vietnam there isn't a superpower funding the other side

.

What Blair should be thinking

Good article by Timothy Garton-Ash in today's Guardian, noting that even if Iraq was a noble cause it has gone badly wrong, and it would do Blair no harm to admit it. Furthermore any progress internationally can only come about with the defeat of George W Bush, whose press conference on Tuesday provided further evidence that he neither knows nor cares what is going on in Iraq.

Update your bookmarks...

...as the Thinking Man's Tory, Anthony Wells, has moved to this address - http://anthonywells.typepad.com/.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

The end of the dream?

If it turns out to be the case that John Negroponte becomes the American ambassador to Iraq then I think we can safely conclude the Administration is not serious about helping Iraq become a stable and working democracy. Blair should probably quit trying while he can.

Are they related?

I noted in the post below that Johann Hari's new photograph (a great improvement btw) makes him look a little like David Aaranovitch. Judge for yourself (pdf).

Of course one's a pro-war lefty who is having doubts about his support for the war and the other is...

Was it necessary to stop genocide?

Johann Hari has a David Aaranovitch style new picture on his column (it might not be that new, I haven't read it for a while) and a column agonising over whether he made the right choice in supporting the war.

Hari must really be turning against the war, as this is one of the doubts:

"I felt a low sense of horror when I saw the Americans imposing on Iraq the same IMF neoliberalism they have castrophically forced on Latin America and Russia. This is a form of captalism far, far more extreme and destructive than domestic US market forces"


And this is one of the reasons for:

"The Human Rights Centre...have found that if the invasion had not happened Saddam would have killed 70,000 people in the past year".

The 70,000 figure is truly remarkable, and if true (and meaningful), supports the case that the war was necessary now to prevent genocide (the State Department have a figure of about 3,000 between 1997 and 2002). The fact that Hari is having second thoughts despite this new information is strange.

'll link to the whole story when it's on his website, but the conclusion at the moment is 'yes, just'.

Immigration

Martin Wolf makes some interesting and sensible points on immigration in today's FT (it's for subscribers only so I won't link to it).

His conclusion is worth noting:

"My conclusions are these: first, the strongest economic case for liberal attitudes to migration rests on global, not national, welfare; second, a rich country wishing to maximise its own gains would focus on importing skilled workers, preferably on a temporary basis; third, immigration has sizeable distributional consequences that cannot be ignored in the debate; fourth, sizeable immigration will also have substantial indirect effects, some positive, such as greater diversity, and some negative, such as greater congestion in densely populated regions; and, fifth, whether immigration is significantly advantageous to the receiving country depends on its precise characteristics."

There are three things worth noting in more detail. His point one is that essentially immigration raises global welfare, for most immigrants produce more in their new country than their old. But most of the gains go to the immigrant, though not all. Thus GDP rises a lot, but GDP per capita only a little.

The important issue here is which matters to you. For many Europeans/the Left the issue is GDP per capita. That is what they use when they note that over the last ten years the US has not outperformed Europe. However for others what matters is GDP - that is what Americans/the Right use when they note that the EU is falling behind the US. GDP per capita is more important for living standards, GDP is more important for global power. Perhap the two sides are on the wrong side? In any case immigration doesn't lower GDP per capita.

Second, Wolf's third point is that immigrants lower wages in the areas in which they work. Thus as many are unskilled, they lower unskilled wages. The cost of plumbers (believe it or not) are kept down by immigrant plumbers. Obviously this had distributional consquences, which may not be desirable. Indeed Wolf's second point, of bring in skilled labour might have a role here -- name an expensive profession (lawyers?) and invite them to practice in Britain. Then again it doesn't seem to have worked for investment bankers, does it?

Finally, Wolf concludes, as the economics aren't decisive, it comes down to his fourth point, which is the other characteristics of immigration. I would add one point here, which is that contrary to much opinion immigration has probably saved the culture and vitality of many of our former industrial cities, which of course has an economic dimension too.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The freedom of the press

Over at Harry's place new recruit Brownie (is that a shark down there?) finds an amusing poem about the BBC. It reminded me of my favourite website, Biased BBC, and that I hadn't reminded my readers of this fascinating glimpse into how the press would be run if they were in charge.

"I’ve been watching Channel 4’s “News”. I know, it’s not the BBC but it’s all part of the same thing: the cancer of bent and twisted journalism. Bastards. I want these people to feel pain. I mean real pain. The sort of thing only a professional torturer can dole out"

The Grand Tour revived.

After I report on David Carr's eye-opening trip to Brussels (illustrative example -- 'it had cafes, and shops'!), today (with perhaps a small nod to my own PCRS?) Nick Barlow announces the Peter Cuthbertson Summer Holiday Fund. This noble aim is to raise money so Peter can take advantage of his long summer holidays and explore Europe, with the sole condition he reports back as to whether it is a socialist, 'degenerate hell-hole' or not.

Many readers will have their doubts as to the wisdom of what I guess we should term the Barlow Plan. The 'pro-war left' might argue that, yes it is a worthy cause, much like the invasion of Iraq. But the 'anti-war left' might worry that much like the invasion of Iraq, will we be able to control what we have unleashed? What if he comes back speaking French? Eating cheese? Those on the Right will no doubt be concerned that 12 weeks without Peter Cuthbertson is a price not worth paying. To them I can only promise to do one PCRS a week whilst he is away.

So I urge my readers to empty their pockets in this noble cause.

Tories urge bigger UN presence in Iraq

Personally I think it would be a disaster, but coupled with their policy of slashing defence spending, this is another sign that the Tory party are forging their own foreign and defence policy.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

What would surrender mean?

Den Beste, the man who thinks September 11th was a source of jokes, says this in his latest confusion:

"The reason we were attacked in September of 2001 was because bin Laden believed we'd fold and surrender"

I often accused of not understanding the great sage, so in an attempt to understand this can someone explain to me what he means? To me 'surrender' means basically accepting the enemies' terms. It's never been exactly what Bin Laden's terms are, but if you read Den Beste... ok, ok, let's say a more authorative voice such as the Prime Minister, or even Oliver Kamm, you learn that these basically are an Islamic government across the entire world, and the various terrible consequences of that.

Did Bin Laden really believe this would be the response to 9/11? Does anyone believe that?

Saturday, April 10, 2004

They really do believe it!

Frightening post on Samizdata.net, the huntin' and shootin' collective. It reads like a man who has never been to a party before who has suddenly been to a rather good party (at least that is what I would sound like if someone would invite me to one). But that's not frightening, of course. These are the frightening bits...

" have a confession to make. Two confessions, in fact. Last Thursday, I referred to Brussels as the 'Heart of Darkness'. Well, I was wrong about that"

"Away from the soulless, modernist horror blocks are towering and inspirational monuments to the old Flemish mercantile traditions upon which the city was built. It is still a very prosperous place. Walking around the city centre, I lost count of the number and choice of high-quality retail outlets, restaurants, cafes and bars. There is also a bustling, commercial quality to the atmosphere that gives Brussels quite a buzz.

Of course, two days is nowhere near long enough to get an accurate impression of what it would be like to live in a place. But it is long enough to dispel this caricature notion of Europe being a socialist hell-hole as compared to the English-speaking world. If only thing were that cut and dried. They are not. "

So when the right-wing call Europe a 'socialist hell-hole' or as Peter Cuthbertson once called Sweden and the Netherlands 'degenerate hell-holes' they aren't actually joking. That's actually what they think it is like. I'm sure most of my readers assumed it was just political hyperbole. But no. It's actually what they think.

Carr ends with:

"Certainly we do some things better in Britain but there are also very many areas in which I think the Belgians are doing things better than we are. I hope we can learn the good things from each other and I hope to be taking another trip to Brussels quite soon.""

He actually thought there was nothing we in Britain could learn from Europeans. Words fail me.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

I'm so funny!

Can I say with much pride that this humble website is now the top search in google for 'dry humour examples'.

Den Beste

I've not linked to Stephen Den Beste for a long time, but with the current situation in Iraq changing minute-by-minute who better for searing analysis than the Great Man?

Here's a piece on why the terrorists are making a grave mistake.

And here's a charming photoshopped picture of Den Beste pretending to be on top of the World Trade Center on Sep 11th 2001, showing you that some people 'get it' and others never will.

Update: It appears it's not Den Beste pretending to be on the building. Also it appears you can't click through to it from this site. Instead go to http://denbeste.nu/cd_log_entries/2003/06/Wherewereyouon911.shtml.

Mayoral poll

Two months late, and probably covered by every other blogger, but I missed this Evening Standard opinion poll on the Mayoral election.

It puts Labour on 50%, the Tories on 29% and the Liberals on 18%. Turnout is expected to be a miserable 29%*.

* I say miserable but I can't actually remember if I voted last time. I was planning to vote for Steve Norris. I hope he was actually a candidate.

DVD review

On Nick Barlow's recommendation I joined Qflicks, which is an online DVD site. These have two advantages over normal video shops; 1) they are easier (all you have to do is remember to post it back to them and the next one in your list is sent automatically and 2) presumably they have a larger selection.

Anyway the first DVD I got was 'Blind Spot - Hitler's Secretary'. This is essentialy the personal recollections of Hitler's youngest secretary, Traudl Junge, who was with the dicator from 1941 until the very end (literally).

I chose this because I have read her book (translated I believe by Oliver Kamm's mother) and found it to be fascinating. I couldn't really say the same about the DVD as it told a very similar story to the book, and the presentation - simply a camera focused on Junge -- whilst clearly aiming to give a personal edge (and you can of course make up your own mind if she's lying about various things more easily) makes it rather dull, particularly if like me you have a ten second concentration span. I also found it rather hard to reconcile the old Junge with the Junge Junge. A few photographs of Junge with the Fuhrer (as the book does) would have given it rather more relevance and interest.

In short then one for dedicated students of the period only and then if you haven't read the book.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Michael Portillo is not my MP!

Paying council tax to Kensington and Chelsea council, having a parking permit from them, being a member of Kensington and Chelsea Conservatives, all led me to believe that I lived in the Kensington and Chelsea parliamentary constituency. But I never actually checked it.

Now I have, and I don't. I live in the Colville ward of Kensington and Chelsea, which actually is in the Regent's Park and North Kensington constituency, whose MP is in fact Labour, and called Karen Buck.

This made me panic slightly. My brave stance in voting Conservative didn't really matter, as the Conservatives always win Kensington and Chelsea. But what of Regent's Park and North Kensington? Well at the last election the Labour majority was 10,266, so pretty safe. However in 1992 it was only 4,000 or so, and before then it was a Tory seat....

Why is he still in office?

As I say below I don't really think a superpower is going to have any medium-term difficulty in pacifying Iraq. That doesn't however mean we should forget the errors of people like Paul Wolfowitz (from the New Republic).

"Certainly the most obvious example was Wolfowitz's public repudiation of Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki in late February 2003. Shinseki, based on his extensive experience in the stabilization and reconstruction of postwar Bosnia, had told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that, "I would say ... something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers, are probably, you know, a figure that would be required" for the stabilization and reconstruction of postwar Iraq. Two days later Wolfowitz told the House Budget Committee that Shinseki's estimate was "wildly off the mark." By way of explanation, he cited the fact that, "I am reasonably certain that [the Iraqi people] will greet us as liberators, and that will help us to keep requirements down."

Whoops!

A nice example of the dangers of making accusations you can't back up (we've all been there) in the comments section to Oliver Kamm's 'There is nothing that would alter my judgement that the war in Iraq was right':

Commenter One

"Why don't you say what you really mean? You're loathing of Bush means his administration can do nothing to please you."

Commenter Two

"But this is just false. I backed them on Afghanistan, and in print too [with links to a story titled 'Afghanistan: A just intervention'] "

Iraq deaths

The depressing death toll of coalition serviceman in Iraq -- in the first week of this month averaging nearly six a day -- is likely to get better. These things tend to come in waves, and there are already signs that the situation is getting better.

Nevertheless it is clear that the occupation is not going to plan, and the US government (let's not kid ourselves that the UK government has much more influence than say English Tiddlywinks Association) must take most of the blame. With Saddam's WMD seemingly 'spirited to Syria' under their very eyes, and mounting evidence that an Administration less keen on taking on Saddam would have realised this, the only justification for the invasion when it was done is a humanitarian one. This -- at the moment -- looks in tatters to, with the death toll of Iraqis on reasonable estimates now outpacing those under Saddam's last few years.

As I began things should start to get better, if only because they can't get much worse. Then perhaps we can take a sober look at the long-term implications of this war -- what it has meant for western security and credibility, the fight against terrorism, and whether it has damaged public support for similar (or even more deserving) interventions in the future.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Famous Speeches

This collection of famous speeches on the History Channel website is quite interesting.

Things you should buy

I'm not sure if it's out here yet, but Diet Coke with lime is (surprisingly given the horrors of the lemon and vanilla version) nice.

Chemical attack

Curious headline story on BBC news about the foiling of a chemical attack on Briton's. It's not entirely clear what was going on, but it the report says it was stopped before the terrorists could get their hands on any chemicals. It's a bit strange in that it begins 'Spies say' suggesting it's some inside BBC information. And we know how reliable that can be.

Level-pegging

The latest Populous poll puts Labour and the Tories on 34% (Labour down 2%) with the Liberals on 22%. The gainer was 'others', on 10%, which makes we wonder how much of the 2% is actually rounding. On immigration 24% prefer the Tories, 22% Labour and the Liberals on 11%. This leaves a whopping 43% of don't knows and neithers, and the BNP.

Looking at some of the raw data 4% of people believe the BNP have the best policy on immigration, rising to 6% for C2s and Liberal Democrats, oddly enough (on all the other immigration questions they have the most liberal supporters - were they taking the mick? -- it reminds me of a story about ten years' ago in the paper when the Banque Nationale de Paris tried to book a table in a restaurant for its directors and the restaurant, on hearing the booking was under 'BNP', refused it).

ps Incidentally no April figures yet but Populous have had a clear plurality against the war in Iraq since about September. Currently it's about 50% to 42%.

pps Here's some charts of all polls over the last year and a half (except some odd ones like NOP).

ppps Anthony Wells has much the same to say, with a few extra bits.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Things not to buy

AquaDrops. I think they are new, but basically they claim to give 'instant hydration' (i.e like water) but to me they just look like standard boiled sweets. And they charge you 72p for about 10.

Whilst researching this entry I found this fantastic website, which reviews all types of confectionery. What the internet was made for.

Conservative defence cuts

It's been two months now since Oliver Letwin surprised the political world with his plans to fund tax cuts through slashing defence spending in the first two years' of a Conservative government, and yet we have been given no plans on how this will be achieved. I have said elsewhere that the most logical thing would be to scrap Trident, given it serves next to no purpose and is very expensive.

Looking at the party's website gives few clues. The latest press release by the brilliant Nicholas Soames (though as a Conservative defence spokesman who can't get a planned increase in his budget he must be unique!) is to protest against the mothballing of one of our aircraft carriers.

I don't pretend to understand defence matters, so can't tell you whether this, and the replacement of sea harriers with normal harriers is a good or bad thing. But I do understand economics, and I can't see how with a defence budget that will be 5% lower in real terms two years after a Conservative victory Soames plans to reverse this decision. I have emailed him and await an answer. Hopefully before lunch.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

My weekend

Part II of this exciting series when I tell you what I've done over the weekend

I bought a CD by South, called 'With the Tides'. Only listened to it a couple of times so far but basically if you like soaring epic rock songs, mixed with more intimate moody ones then it's your sort of thing. Sort of a more upbeat and uplifting Coldplay, without that Coldplay sensation of every song sounding the same.

Went to two restaurants. Wine Factory ,on Westbourne Grove, is my local pizza restaurant and essentially serves good, tasty and quite cheap (all under ?10) pizzas. Good, but not worth visting for. The big selling point however is that the wine is sold at retail price, so the House wine (by which I mean the cheapest wine, the waitress noting (rather coldly I thought) that they don't have a house wine) is ?7 a bottle, and the list goes up from there. It's the only one, but it forms part of a group of similarly cheap-wine restaurants of similar names around West and South-West London. So in short a good place to drink lots of wine.

Number two is an Indian called Malabar, just off Notting Hill Gate. This is one of those Indian restaurants that tries to get away from the flock-wallpaper and pictures of elephants. It doesn't however (unlike say Veeraswamy ) veer too much away from 'British' Indian cusines, i.e you can still get Chicken Tikka. You also get to eat off odd huge metal plates, which may put some people off. It shouldn't, because the food is beautifully presented and tastes excellent, with much better quality meat and other ingredients than seems the norm, while the wine list, whilst not cheap is also wide-ranging and includes organic wines.

The couple sitting next to me however did leave a little to be desired. After they had sat down the man said to his companion, 'There are only two types of people in London. Those scrounging off welfare, or bleeding-heart liberals who thinks it's ok. Like those in our street'.

On a more uplifting note we went to the Wallace Collection to see the Lucian Freud exhibition. I'd not been to the Wallace Collection before (it's just off Marylebone High Street behind Selfridges) and it truly is remarkable - an extensive collecting paintings including a particularly good collection of 18th century French paintings and furniture, and about a thousand Canalettos. It's also free.

Anyway I hate 18th century French paintings and furniture, and of the opinion that once you've seen one Canaletto you've seen them all. So what of the Freud? Well it's only about 10 new paintings, which are been exhibiting here for the only time before being sent off to New York, and fills just one room. Will you like it? Well if you don't like Freud then it won't make you change your mind. But otherwise it contains some wondeful paintings, including a fantastic portrait of Andrew Parker-Bowles, which Tom Paulin correctly said on the Late Review is an 'extraordinary painting of British decline...absurdity mixed with folly...imperial grandeur and sadness'.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

More Intelligence stupidity

The fantastic Kevin Drum reports on LA Times story showing that US intelligence and the Adminstration let themselves be led on wild goose chase by their favourite Iraqi exile.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Iraq

I thought I'd read somewhere that attacks on coalition troops had trailed off, but sadly according to this site March was the second worst month since fighting stopped.

Bush and his Adminstration are terrible...but maybe it'll be ok

The Economist famously backed Bush in the 2000 Presidential election, and is clearly getting rather embarassed by it now. This article neatly lists many of the failings of this Administration and its disastrous policies. Unti the end, when it strangely comes out with this paragaraph of much idiocy:

"But there is another set of explanations, less damning of the administration. Most of the “lies”—almost all of which are actually mistakes or misrepresentations, not deliberate falsehoods—are products of the endless spin and interpretation of America's “permanent campaign”. Message control and winning each 24-hour news cycle have usurped the place of substantive debate. The Clinton administration was accused of similar lies and half-truths. It is as much the product of a political culture as of any one president, and Mr Bush's ambition to buck the trend has failed"

Before adding that it's not a culture of secrecty and dishonesty but merely an attempt to retain Executive control, and finally concluding that its what voters want and everything will be ok.

Suggestions on something to do

Anyone got any ideas what I can do tonight? I don't want to go drinking, have been out for too many meals, was going to go to the V&A but it closes at 5:45, can't find any good films to watch and the tv schedules look dull.

So far it looks like

a. Do some housework
b. Go to Sainsburys.

There must be more life to this.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Peter Cuthbertson is to vote Labour

I can hardly believe it myself but former Conservative blogger Peter Cuthbertson is to vote Labour. And become a Socialist!