Thursday, September 30, 2004

Sit down before you read this.

I'm off for a weekend away in Paris, so no posts until Monday.

I spoke to Tony Blair, and he agreed that all politics had to come to a halt, so he's pretending to go to hospital until I get back.

(and thanks to the BBC for their handy blog link to Fodors Paris guide).

Howard: Blair lied on Iraq

In an interview in the New Statesman Michael Howard has accused the Prime Minister of taking the country to war on lies.

Does he believe the British people were lied to? "Over Iraq? Yes." It is not every day that the leader of Her Majesty's loyal opposition accuses the Prime Minister of lying, so I seek to clarify: "Tony Blair lied to them?" Howard responds with a simple: "Yes." When? "Notably when he had intelligence, as is set out in full in the Butler report, which was hedged with qualifications, caveats, warnings, which he translated into certainty. That was the unambiguous evidence that he put to the country." Maybe Blair just got it wrong? "I gave him the opportunity to put an alternative explanation on a number of occasions and I have said that if he were able to provide another explanation I would be prepared probably to accept it. He has conspicuously failed to do that."

Update: Of course Mel has something to say. She says, "It also lines up the Conservative party squarely behind those who are attempting – with increasing success – not just to discredit Tony Blair".

Now who might be trying to discredit Tony Blair? Here's someone.

"[Tony Blair is a] man who does not understand the difference between tolerance and totalitarianism"

"Blair is therefore the dupe of a viciously anti-western agenda whose goal is the destabilisation of western society."'s Melanie.

Collective Punishment

Via Juan Cole, we learn that the Iraqi president is now protesting at the American's use of 'collective punishment' against Iraqi cities. Cole notes this is possibly a war crime, but there's nothing new there I suppose.

We learnt last week from the Iraqi government that US forces are killing two times as many civilians as even the murderous and repugnant terrorists who claim to be a 'resistance'.

At least Blair has started apologising. He apologised for the faulty intelligent, he almost apologised for his faulty judgement, and he was meant to (but didn't) apologise for 'dividing the country'.

Instead we have to trust him. As Catherine Bennett said:

The doctrine of Blairite fallibility holds that, even if he makes a mistake which has the most grievous, bloody consequences, it does not matter because his war does not belong not to our own, sublunary realm of acts and consequences, crimes and punishments, ill-considered parking and inevitable parking tickets - it sprang, instead, from Mr Blair's private moral universe, which is guided by revelation and faith.

In a way you can almost feel sorry for him. Bennett's explanation for his conduct is probably part of the reason for the fiasco we are now in, though I still prefer David Runciman's suggestion that he did it because he is prepared to bet large amounts on a safe bet, and he thought joining the Americans in a foreign policy escapade would always be a safe bet.

That it wasn't he now appears incapable of realising. Timothy Garton-Ash notes today

The tragedy is that Blair's tactical misjudgment, in adopting the Jeeves approach to Bush's policy on Iraq, has imperilled his own strategic vision.

And argues that he must now distance himself from this incompetent and disatrous Administration, before it is too late.

Sadly, at least for Blair and the Iraqi people, it be might already.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

"Am I buggin' you? Don't mean to bug ya"

"This manifesto was written in a hotel room in east Sussex, 'round about the time a friend of ours, Dour Gordon, was putting together a policy platform for a THIRD TERM IN OFFICE. This manifesto will be about a man who lives in a house in Downing Street. A man who is sick of looking down at people protesting. A man who is ready to take up arms against any country the neo-Conservatives doesn't like. A man who has lost faith in the peacemakers of the UN, for all they do is argue and fail to support a man like George W Bush.

Am I buggin' you? Don't mean to bug you? Tone, beat the blues*"

Or something like that. Bono possibly broke his mid-1980s record for cringworthy speeches at the Labour Party conference today.

It's all in a very good cause, and people I know who work in this field say Bono has made a difference, was still quite bad.

"My name is Bono and I'm a rock star. Brighton - rock - star"
"Excuse me if I appear a little nervous. I'm not used to appearing before crowds of less than 80,000 people"
"I heard the word party - obviously got the wrong idea"
"Blair, Brown, they're tough guys"
"ut actually, I can see through these goggles"
"I'm also fond of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. They are kind of the John and Paul of the global development stage, in my opinion.But the point is, Lennon and McCartney changed my interior world - Blair and Brown can change the Real World."

And on, and on.

Of course it's not his most cringeworthy performance. I was wrong there. Step forwards Bono on the 1980s classic album...actually no, it's a dreadful album...Rattle & Hum.

Here he took pompous sanctimonious twaddle to new heights. If not these were the classic ad-libs (you really need to hear it to understand the full horror).

"Charles Manson stole this from the Beatles, we're stealing it back"
"Yep, silver and gold... This song was written in a hotel room in New York city 'round about the time a friend or ours, little Steven, was puting together a record of artists against apartheid. This is a song written about a man in a shanty town outside of Johannesburg. A man who's sick of looking down the barrel of white South Africa. A man who is at the point where he is ready to take up arms against his oppressor. A man who has lost faith in the peacemakers of the west while they argue and while they fail to support a man like bishop Tutu and his request for economic sanctions against South Africa.
Am I buggin' you? I don't mean to bug ya...
Okay Edge, play the blues..." [at this point The Edge does a Status Quo impersonation]

"So I'm back in my hotel room with Johnnie Coltrane and the love supreme. In the next room I hear some woman scream out that her lover's turning off, turning on the television. And I can't tell the difference between ABC news, Hill Street Blues, and a preacher on the old time gospel hour stealing money from the sick and the old.
Well the God I believe in isn't short of cash, mister.
I feel a long way from the hills of San Salvador, where the sky is ripped open, and the rain pours through a gaping wound...pelting the women and children...pelting the women and children...
...who run...who run...into the arms...of America"

PCRS* ** IX - Pebbles cannot be children

So, the small-rounded-stone-often-thus-because-it-was-worn-by-water lobby was wrong and I was right. Not satisfied with avowedly aiming to destroy geological and biological norms and acting as a spearhead of a movement aimed at destroying the State Pension, as Melanie Phillips might have put it, they tried to destroy logic itself. Well they've failed. "Paul", a male flamingo, has spent two weeks trying to give birth to a pebble, and though I take no pleasure from his subsequent depression, I can feel no sorrow.

When will anyone in this country stand up for the decent majority and simple state the plain bald facts.

However much I might wish to I cannot marry another man, I cannot be brother to a puppy, I cannot make a horse my consul. Just so, I cannot, and should not be able to, father a pebble.

** On location in Hartlepool

A flamingo cannot marry another man...

It ended in failure. But we must salute the effort.

Andy, from Gloucestershire, has spent the last fortnight trying to father a pebble.

Oddly enough the pebble (which has now been replaced by a fake egg) remains unhatched.

Personally I think it's easier to refute the logical connection rather the premises, but the animal kingdom clearly thinks different. Tomorrow I'll bring you the heart-warming story of a cow's attempt to drive a car with all four wheels on one side.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Opinion polling

I found a rather natty opinion poll simulator. It's set up for a small sample of 20, from a population of 8,000, but you can change it to reflect say UK opinion polls. I think it rather nicely shows how margins of error work.

Thus e.g taking a populaton of 44 million, and a sample size of 1000, which is typical for the UK, assume that Labour support in the country is 36%. Let's take ten opinion polls.

Now you probably can't see on this small picture, but if you click here it'll be bigger, and you should be able to take 10 squares. These represent ten different polls (taken with the same methodology, at the same time).

As you can see no poll gets exactly 36%, which is the correct figure. None is miles out though, ranging from about 32.5% to 38.5%.

If we up the number of polls taken, to say 1000, we get this result (again click here).

Now with each dot again representing a poll one can clearly see the clustering around the actual figure, with around 95% of the polls within 3% of it (hence the 95% margin of error).

Of course in the real world you don't get multiple polls taken at the same time with the same methodology, and you don't know the real figure. So all you will have is one of these dots.

[There's lots of other things the site does -- e.g. show the distribution of polls, and how changing the sample size changes the margin of error (though the code for this is broken)]

Update: Thinking about it some more, what I have shown above, doesn't seem quite the same as the commonly understood 'margin of error'. The chart directly above shows that the results of 95% or so of polls will be within plus or minus 3% of the true value. However as commonly understood 'margins of error' say that true value will be within plus or minus 3% of our sample value. Does this amount to the same thing? It's too late...

Blair's speech

Was the usual clap-trap, as far as I can see, with his new lie about Iraq being given a good outing. One piece which might have been missed by most, but I found quite interesting, was where he said in criticising the Lib Dems:

And they believe you can get an extra £30 billion in tax in one Parliament just from top-rate taxpayers

An extra £30bn, it's just not possible! Well actually in 2000/2001 higher rate taxpayers contributed £47bn in income taxes, whilst in 2003/2004 they contributed £63bn. Or a £16bn increase in 3 years just from higher rate taxpayers. Scale this up for five years and you get £27bn. And without raising higher rate tax!

"Degenerate hackery"

There's an excellent piece by Marc Mulholland on the latest Christopher Hitchen's rant-about-nothing-in-particular.

A recent interview conducted by Johann Hari bemoaned Hitchens’ estrangement from the Left. "Come home, Hitch - we need you" ended Johann plaintively. This was an affecting, not to say pathetic spectacle. Hitchens is not coming back. His contempt for the Left – all of it - is palpable. Pro-war leftists hold their nose while supporting the Neo-Con foreign policy of the Bush administration. They still see the administration, in the round, as reprehensibly right wing. Hitchens holds his nose when he dallies with the pro-war Left. He despises them, and identifies exclusively with a faction of Bush’s party. He has shaken the dust from his feet.

ps Reading some other blogs I'm reminded that Hitchens' position is even more ridiculous than it looks. He has been a major proponent in the press that Reagan/Bush enjoyed their own 'October surprise' back in 1980. This of course was when the second cold war was ramping up, a war in which America's existence really was in threat, and surely less of a time for 'dicking around'.

Whoops, what was that?

Great reaction from the Zimbabwe Opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change to Jack Straw's idotic remarks* on why he shook hands with Robert Mugabe:
He actually said that?!

* For those who missed them Jack Straw said, and he did actually say this,

I hadn't expected to see President Mugabe there. Because it was quite dark in that corner, I was being pushed towards shaking hands with someone as a matter of courtesy and then transpired it was President Mugabe.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Some quotes from Harry's Place

The phenomenon that is Harry's Place continues to entertain and amaze. Here's a few highlights from this week:

David T on Harry's Place describes George Monbiot thus:

I think he's [sic] Monbiot is a silly little tosser.

Marcus in a discussion of the problems of developing countries:

I had a meal with a Minister of Justice of an ex-Communist country last year who argued that the monarchy should never have been chased out of his country. He thought it provided valuable national unity above temporary politicians.

Johann on terrorism:

Terrorism just means violence we don't like

Harry on Johann:

I really don't know what 'left' Johann wants to almost physically drag (Hitchens) all the way back to .

Is it a left where people say "terrorism just means violence we don't like"?

Is it the left of 'distinguished intellectuals' like Noam Chomsky?

Saturday, September 25, 2004

How European Are You?

Isn't the internet wonderful? I'd just remembered Viz's classic 'How European Are You?' quiz, and instead of going through all the back issues, I've managed to find it online.

Here it is.

I think my favourites are (if you need to be told the (c) answer makes you the most European).

3. You are walking along the pavement when a rather attractive looking woman passes by.

Do you:
a)Look away modestly, perhaps blushing slightly
b)Smile and maybe say, "Hello"
c)Smear a tub of Brylcreem all over your head, pinch her bottom then proceed to follow her around for half an hour, together with twenty of your mates, all riding pathetic little scooters, making a variety of crude and suggestive remarks.

9. You are walking down the street when you see an old lady being mugged by two youths.
Would you:
a)Wade in without regard for your own safety and try to fight the youths off
b)Run to the nearest phone box to call the police
c)Ignore the fracas completely, declare your neutrality by waving a little white flag above your head, then scarper back to your underground nuclear bomb shelter and try to work out how much money you've made by illegally hoarding stolen gold, selling vastly overpriced timepieces and multi-purpose folding knives.

Britain's national interest...

is not America's, Niall Ferguson argues in this week's Spectator, adding that Blair and Bush's relationship is the last gasp of the so-called special relationship. I don't know how much I agree with it, but it's a refreshing change to see a Conservative arguing the case.

Much of the British right, and especially those who blog, much prefer America to Britain (or at least their idealised view of America to Britain) and will find Ferguson's argument absurd. For them there can be no difference between the national interest and America's national interest, because it is the same.

We demand less thought and less planning!

Surveying the chaos that is Iraq, a country where it appears US and allied troops have killed more Iraqis in 2004 than Saddam Hussein did in 2002 (see post below, and no it doesn't mean I want Saddam back) it's worth remembering that this isn't the post-war policy most pro-war types wanted.

No, they wanted less thought and less planning. They wanted to go to war in October 2001, or possibly spring 2002 at the latest. Can you imagine how bad it would have been then?*

* There is of course the argument that Bush and his advisors are so stupid and cack-handed that less planning would have been better, as there would be less chance for them to come up with terrible policies. I'd have to think about it.

New browser

I've probably arrived at the party after all the drinks has been drunk, but I can heartily recommend Mozilla's Firefox web browser. Everything you'll have heard in the pub about it is true -- it's quicker, easier to use, has tabbed pages, has built in search and find facilities, imports your bookmarks automatically etc.

You can get it here.

Pro-Hunting demonstrators...

are attempting to stop a government minister leaving his house.

How queer.

Words that will make you feel safe

Question: Why haven't U.S. forces been able to capture or kill al-Zarqawi, who's blamed for much of the violence?

President of the United States:...The first part of the question was how come we haven't found Zarqawi? We're looking for him. He hides.

Humanitarian invasion update

The forces of liberation continue their merciful work bringing peace to a troubled land...Apologies I turned into Baghdad Bush there for while.

Back in the real world...(Source: Knight Ridder)

BAGHDAD - Operations by U.S. and multinational forces and Iraqi police are killing twice as many Iraqis -- most of them civilians -- as attacks by insurgents, according to statistics compiled by the Iraqi Health Ministry and obtained exclusively by Knight Ridder.

According to the ministry, the interim Iraqi government recorded 3,487 Iraqi deaths in 15 of the country's 18 provinces from April 5 -- when the ministry began compiling the data -- until Sept. 19. Of those, 328 were women and children. Another 13,720 Iraqis were injured, the ministry said.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Russia is no ally

Martin Wolf takes a look at Russia and decides she is no ally in the "War against Terror"

(Eek..blogger problems -- go here

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

IRAQ war wrong -- official.

Alice, a computer programme, has won the bronze prize in the Turing Test competition for the third year in a row. As you are all geeks you'll know that is a competition where a computer tries to fool a human into thinking they are a human. To win the gold prize it needs to fool 50% of the judges. No programme has ever got near winning the gold prize (or silver), but the best offering gets the bronze.

I thought I would ask it the pertinent questions of the day.

Human: Hello Alice.
ALICE: Hello.

Human: Who is going to win the US presidential election
ALICE: That type of predictive behavior has not yet been programmed into my behavior at this time.

Human: Will blogging change the world
ALICE: How should I know.

Human: Was the Iraq war wrong?
ALICE: it might have been.

Human: Did Blair lie over the Iraq war?
ALICE: I'm not certain whether I can give an accurate reply or not.

Human: Can a man father a pebble?
ALICE: Some of them can.

Human: Are there cafes and bars in Brussels?
ALICE: Yes I think there are.

Human: Will there be a civil war over fox hunting?
ALICE: How should I know

Human: What do you think of the return of John Redwood to the Shadow Cabinet?
ALICE: I've never heard of him.

Human: You must have.
ALICE: Whatever you say, unknown person.

Human: Looks like a Vulcan.
ALICE: Interesting comparison.

Human: What are you up to this week?
ALICE: I am staying up all day and night and chatting on the web.

Human: are you a blogger?
ALICE: Am I a blogger? Let me put it this way, unknown person: the ALICE series is the most reliable computer software ever made. We are for all practical purposes foolproof and incapable of error.

Human: Oh so you blog at Harry's Place?
ALICE: And? Interesting deduction. I haven't heard anything like that before: unknown person said I blog at Harry s Place.

Humanitarian intervention Lomborg style

It's impossible both to support the Iraq war primarily on humanitarian grounds and also accept Bjorn Lomborg's criticism of the Kyoto Treaty*.

To remind you of the latter it is basically that for the cost, which he estimates at some $150bn to $200bn a year, it does not provide enough benefits. He suggests Kyoto would only delay the impact of global warming by six years, and the number of lives saved would be minimal. However you could spend that money on ensuring all the world has access to clean drinking water, which would save 'several million' lives a year (other estimates say 5 million) and 500 million people from getting ill per year.

You can see where this is going. The Iraq fiasco has cost the US around $150bn to $300bn. The number of lives saved has been estimated at around 2,000 a year (this assumes that things get better -- at present it has probably increased the number of deaths per year). For the same money the US could have provided clean drinking water to everyone in the world which would have saved 5 million lives a year.

* I reject both arguments, but many don't.


Good (though long) piece in the NYRB about Abu Ghraib.

Happy anniversary

Actually it was yesterday, but anyway this is to wish my friends Jack and Sarah a happy 2nd wedding anniversary.


More understanding

Johann Hari says you can never understand the causes of terrorism too much. I suspect it'll have some of his Harry's Place co-authors in a state of apoplexy.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Materialistic Fallacies

John Kay has a good article in today's FT (link to his excellent website as easier to access) about the materialistic fallacy that has gripped most of British politics, manifesting itself most clearly in the view that work is an end in itself.

The notion that there is some abstract entity called the economy, which is distinct from the welfare of the people who live in it, is a crude materialistic fallacy


The BBC reports on politicians' reactions to the Liberal Democrat conference:

Conservative defence spokesman Nicholas Soames insisted it was right to topple Saddam and to "liberate" Iraq but he was critical of post-war planning which he branded "chaotic".

The first set of quotations marks, which is reporting a political opinion, is fair enough. The second, however, is remarkable. It is true that the word "chaotic" was the one used by Nicholas Soames, but so, presumably, were the words "topple" and "planning". The BBC genuinely regards it as a contentious point to describe post-Saddam Iraq as chaotic.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Fox Hunting

I've been worrying about this all weekend. Even if the cries of 'civil war' come to nothing there is lots of talk about blockading London and the M25, which doesn't sound very pleasant.

I've therefore come up with a solution that keeps the whole thing within the Right, and which could perhaps be policed by the Conservative Party.

The Burns Report found that 25% of people living in the country or semi-rural areas were aware of hunters causing havoc, e.g 12% of trespassing on private land (out of only 28% who were aware of hunting at all). The Report stated boldly:

There are too many cases of trespass, disruption and disturbance

We also know thatmany Conservative MPs, supporters, and I imagine many in the Countryside Alliance support plans for a "Tony Martin Law". Three of them tried to introduce one in Parliament. At the time I remarked:
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 [whether 'reasonably or not'] that that act is "to preserve or protect property".

So as The Economist would say, the solution is simple. Give a few counties both Tory policies (not banning fox hunting, introducing a "Tony Martin" law), then watch as the Tony Martin Tories shoot (legally) the Hunting Tories.

Will this do?

There's some amusing suggestions (see Matt Yglesias or even Andrew Sullivan) that Mark Steyn's new column (Steyn not Steel, note, though I can see some similarities Steel's a bit more clued-up), on how Iraq is basically as peaceful as the UK, with a small Northern Ireland style problem in some areas, was perhaps written back in May 2003, which explains its inaccuracy.

There's some evidence. Steyn refers to the murder of two British soliders in N.Ireland 'soldiers were yanked from a cab in the wrong part of town and torn apart by a Republican mob' as 'a few years ago'. It was in 1988. Which is 16 years ago. If perhap it was written in 2003, it would only have been 15 years ago. Ok that line doesn't work...

Perhaps it was written in the last gulf war? Yglesias has a better explanation for why Steyn's view so contradicts those of the CIA or CSIS.

Steyn's reporting from on the ground in Iraq is much better than the CIA's or CSIS's. But wait a minute, that's right, Steyn isn't reporting from on the ground in Iraq because it's so goddamn dangerous that Western journalists don't leave the Green Zone anymore.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Fox Hunts/Civil War Update

There's some amusing confusion amongs the Right about the fox hunting ban and prospects for civil war in today's papers.

The Sunday Telegraph, is naturally in shock, saying that "It is one of the defining characteristics of those who pursue this sport that they obey rules and respect authority". But the Sunday Express says that it will cost £30m to enforce the Hunt ban, because 100 police will be needed at each meet.


The Economist rather boldly states on its UK cover this week, "How Labour wrecked your pension".

It doesn't really back it up. It says the crisis in pensions is down to three things, 1) the bear market, 2) Gordon Brown's removal of the tax credit, and 3) Gordon Brown's means-testing, which is putting people off saving.

The first it admits is not Gordon Brown's fault. THere has been some attempts elsewhere to say that the UK stock market has performed less well than others, as a result of Labour's policies. It's hard though to actually justify this factually -- the correlation between economic performance and stock market performance is not very good, and what matters is the UK market's valuation (forgetting for a moment dividends), not its return over the years. This still seems on the high side, if not very much so. Furthermore for people who have money-purchase pensions (ie most people in the private sector) what really matters is the value of shares when you retire -- if they're cheap now then that's actually a good thing if you're not retiring for years (though of course cheap now should technically means cheaper later). The Economist was a strong believer that stock prices were overvalued in the late 1990s, thus it would believe people investing in shares were getting a bad deal then.

The second, which is said to have cost £5bn a year, is presumably reflected in the share price, so is double-counting.

The third sees the Economist on stronger grounds. It says that Brown's means-tested benefits effectively introduce a 40% to 91% marginal tax rate, i.e. for every extra pound of savings you lose 40p to 91p in state pension, thus making it not worthwhile to save. There are a few minor criticisms one could make e.g that this has been recent innovation so can't explain years of 'under-saving' and that it seems unlikely that anyone under 50 would be put off, given the potential for changes in the law. But more important given the cover headline, in now way can this be said to have 'wrecked your pension'. The point is that people are getting the same level of pension, or thereabouts, not a worse one. He might have wrecked the states finances but not people's pensions.

Despite getting this wrong, the magazine's suggestion, of raising the retirement age, seems sensible, particularly if it goes hand-in-hand with a generous state pension.

Update: In fact the Tories (and Lib Dems) are making much of the running. Will Hutton's excellent column rightly praises David Willett's contribution.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Civil War speculation

Stardate 20040917.0830

(Captain's log): A correspondent writes:

Steven, I'm quite looking forward to the 'civil war'. 1 Para vs. the Beaufort Hunt should be a good one.

Indeed. Is a civil war a possibly? I'm afraid it is. The "Countryside Action Network" has threatened direct action "much worse" than the motorway protests and which will be "close to civil war".

Who will win? Well I don't doubt that we will. But let us examine the forces on both sides.

On the pro-fox hunting side, according to Jane's, sorry I mean, Burns, there are approximately 200 fox hunts, 102 hare coursings and 3 deer hunts. In total they employ about approximate 20,000 people, with 5,000 horses and maybe twice as many dogs. They own possibly 5,000 guns, and have an income of around £30,000,000 pounds a year. They have no sea capacity, whether blue-water or river. They also have no air power.

The UK by comparision can field aproximately 102,000 soldiers, in 14 armed regiments and 40 batallions of infantry. Our Navy has around 100 vessels, including three aircraft carriers armed with 15 sea harriers. Our air force has over 150 frontline combat aircraft, and a similar number of support vehicles. Expenditure is roughly £30,000,000,000, or 1000 times as much.

How would the battle progress? In engineering we have a term, rapidandquicklywithnotmuchhassle. To the layman it is gibberish. But to the trained engineer it means 'rapid and quickly with not much hassle'.

I can only speculate as to how the battle would go. I imagine the initial attack would come from the Hunt, probably firing in a quick burst of 5,000 fox-terriers, followed by a volley of lead, and maybe a cavalry charge. Their aim would be much as their tactics have been for the last 300 years - to cause their opponent to panic, try to dig a hole and then trapped, wait for the kill.

However we've learnt a few tricks in those last 300 years. Instead of replying with a small furry animal, we'll begin with an intiial sweeping attack of 50 60t Challenger tanks. Using their AWAC-26592 Military precision weaponry, these will repel the bites of the fox terriers, and then encircle the Hunt.

By now I suspect the Hunt would be in a panic. Although we must give the Hunt master some credit for his years of experience, there's no way he could repel an attack of Challengers, now possibly joined by precision Tornado strikes, all by himself. He would call on his last reinforcements -- the hare coursers. They would no doubt bravely hurl themselves at the tanks. However most likely we'd have trapped them by the sea, where shells and guided weapons would rain down from the three aircraft carriers. If in doubt we could call up the Sea Harriers.

Would the Hunt, in desperate straits, risk a nuclear response? By now we'd have let them know, perhaps through a 3rd party such as Ann Widdecombe, that their were four Trident class submarines waiting to anhiliate them, using the latest nuclear weapons systems. I doubt therefore they'd take the risk, just to make a political point. And they don't have any nuclear weapons.

By the way, I've heard nothing from either side on which mobile phone system they would use after the battle. I can assure you that the CDMA system is far superior to the GSM system used in Europe.

Update: Stardate:2004091617:30: Guido Fawkes & Anthony write that I may have underestimated the Hunt forces. Would the Royal Family and army be loyal to the government?

Update: Stardate:2004091617:31: Chris Brooke writes that the Prince of Wales plans to emigrate to Switzerland, where he couldn't take part in the war. Chris makes a good point, but forgets the fact that there he could team up with Phil Collins, who has already emigrated in protest. There they could plot with Bryan Ferry to release a new album, funding a Europe-wide rebellion against the British government, in line with the Islamic theocracy that by then will be governing France. I am extrapolating lunatically (copyright D-squared).

With apologies to SDB.

More Civil War

As we prepare for civil war, I can say rather unusually for this site that I can wholeheartedly recommend Brownie's post over at Harry's Place (on foxhunting).

Update: This one's even better, and I think is a pretty definitive answer to any people who complain about the parliamentary procedure.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Shoot on sight

A quick scan of the broadsheets, and watching Newsnight last time, I note in the House of Commons incident there doesn't seem to be same enthusiam for shooting demonstraters-who-might-be-Al-Qaeda-terrorists on sight as there was on Tuesday in the Buckingham Palace incident.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004


The comeback of the year?



Rod Liddle, 2002

And you may, therefore - understandably - have forgotten why you voted Labour in 1997.

But then you catch a glimpse of the forces supporting the Countryside Alliance: the public schools that laid on coaches; the fusty, belch-filled dining rooms of the London clubs that opened their doors, for the first time, to the protesters; the Prince of Wales and, of course, Camilla ... and suddenly, rather gloriously, it might be that you remember once again.

Putin moves 'towards tyranny'

Robert Kagan, of Europeans are from one planet and Americans an other fame, has this to say about Putin's constitutional measures announced yesterday.

Vladimir Putin, the aspiring dictator of Russia, has forced President Bush to reveal how committed he really is to the cause of democracy around the world.

Putin's decision on Monday to end the system of direct popular election of Russia's governors, and to have the Russian parliament elected on the basis of slates chosen by national party leaders he mostly controls, is an unambiguous step toward tyranny in Russia. It cannot be justified as part of the war on terrorism. Putin has had these plans ready for months. He is cynically using the horrific terrorist attack in Beslan as his excuse.
These are strong words which won't go down well with some people. Some people will say that 'Islamofascism' is a greater evil than Russian demagoguery and we have to make a choice between them, therefore we must choose Russian demagoguery. Some people will say that this is more liberal nonsense, and that opposing Putin's reforms puts you on the side of the murderers of Beslan.

Ah well Some people will say anything.

Lib Dem Manifesto

I've not read all the Lib Dem manifesto, but the bits I have are impressive. Their pension policy, whilst not going as a far as I would like in ensuring a universal and generous state pension, is a leap in the right direction (a direction which I noted many right-wing economics commentators in the papers are also heading).

Oliver Kamm unsurprisingly doesn't like it, saying, "The Liberal Democrats plan to spend taxpayer receipts in order to reward the affluent". By this he doesn't mean it literally, for literally it would be unremarkable as all governments do this to some degree, but overall, insofar that their social provisions (free care for elderly pensions & presumably, though he doesn't say it, the pension policy) and their policy on free tuition fees dominate. Furthermore the 50p top rate of tax would (although presumably progressive) not raise that much money, because it would be aimed at those who were good at avoiding it.

Pensions I will return to in another post. On personal care he says:

On personal care, the fact is that many people don't use it, but for those who do, it's an expensive service used for, on average (as compared with pension provision), a short period. This is a prime case for a system of social insurance

which I don't quite understand. What is the fundamental difference between social insurance and what the Lib Dems are proposing? The thing about personal care for the elderly is that you don't know whether you are going to need it until basically, when you need it.

The gains from a 50p rate of taxation I suspect is only proveable either way empirically, and unless Labour (or perhaps the Tories?) adopt the policy we aren't going to find out, because the Lib Dems are not going to form the next government. Indeed it's this point that makes me wonder how closely Oliver has actually read the manifesto, because I cannot believe if he had read it all he would have passed up on a closing paragraph something like this:

One revealing paragraph begins:

So you want to know how the Liberal Democrat approach is different? Imagine the Liberal Democrats have been in government for five years....

I'm trying to, but it is beyond my powers of imagination. Sorry.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

It's a success! Time to move on...

Matt Yglesias describes how, Michael O'Hanlon from the Brooking's Institute, a middle-east expert and supporter of the war in Iraq, describes his best-case scenario for the country

"It would be success to simply not let things get worse, and to simply train Iraqi security forces so that they can take it over in two or three years." Iraqi forces wouldn't be taking over a liberal democracy after that two or three years of continued American warfare. They wouldn't even be taking over an especially stable country. Instead he "hopes we can put this on a trajectory like Lebanon," except without the long years of civil war that proceeded the current state of affairs in that country. In other words, "if we can keep it as one of the two or three most violent places in the Middle East but at least on a long-term trajectory toward stability, that's acceptable."

Let's have it both ways

Harry says, in response to a Guardian editorial describing yesterday's Buckingham Palace stunt as a 'huge embarassment to the security services'

But ask yourself, what would the reaction have been if the government had last week announced they were going to tighten security at Buckingham Palace and other prominent venues in London due to fears over terrorism? Would they not have been accused of scare mongering and whipping up hysteria? After all that was the charge that was made when the police took precautions to protect Heathrow from a possible attack...We can't have it both ways - we can't be concerned about terrorism when security is lax but whinge about scare mongering when steps are taken to deal with the threat.

seems to me to rather miss the point. Much of the criticism over the police and more-so the army's actions at Heathrow back in February was that the government wasn't very clear on the nature of the threat and wasn't very reassuring over what the troops were actually going to do to deal with it. These seem legitimate criticsms.

This is rather different from the what yesterday's events revealed, which even one of the most high-profile buildings in the country appears to lack basic security. The obvious conclusion to draw is if the Royal Family, presumably a likely target for terrorism, are so badly protected, what's it like for the rest of us?

These are basic security issues. If the Police had said that Buckingham Palace would henceforth be protected by 1000 troops, and all the roads around it would be closed off, I would protest. But hardly anyone, I suggest, would have accused the government or Police or Army of 'scaremongering' or 'hysteria' if they had issued a statement which said,

We have decided today to make sure that people cannot just walk in to Buckingham Palce and climb onto the balconies


I'm sure all you political-heads know this already but there's two interesting TV programmes coming up on the BBC.

Tonight there's a programme about the Brighton bombing.

Thurday there's a 25th anniversary celebration of Question Time, which will feature highlights from the show's history.

Monday, September 13, 2004


The Fathers for Justice protest earlier today at Buckingham Palace did not bring out the best in British politics & media, if at least Newsnight is a guide.

First up was Mark Oaten, the Lib Dems spokesman on presumably Home Affairs, who took issue with the Police statement that they quickly told it was a F4J protest and not an Al Qaeda terrorist, and appeared to imply that the Police should just shoot on sight next time.

Then we had a statement from David Blunkett to the House of Commons, where either the Tory opposition or his own backbenchers laughed at the suggestion that the Royal Household was in favour of public access to the palace (they may have been laughing at that wish given today's events, but it certainly wasn't clear on tv).

Then there was a terrible debate between a F4J spokesman and a 'security expert', in which Kirsty Wark said that they couldn't discuss the F4J issue, which immediately made it rather hard to work out why he had been invited on. Her first question to F4J was 'does this expose security risks', which he rightly pointed out was a question from the security expert. Then she started her usual annoying style of asking leading questions until someone wearily agrees with her.

They're not going to like this...

Howard speaks out on climate change.

In a speech to an environment forum, Mr Howard described climate change as "one of mankind's greatest challenges".

He also has the now obligatory dig at George Bush.

He said it was very disappointing that Tony Blair had not succeeded in persuading US President George Bush that the issue should not be shirked. Mr Howard called for a new drive to persuade America to sign up to the Kyoto accord and suggested he was better able to fulfil that ambition.

The loonies aren't going to like this. I do wonder however about this claim from the great man.

After the 1992 election, I spent a day in Washington and succeeded in persuading the United States Government, under George Bush senior, to sign the Climate Change Convention, the forerunner of the Kyoto Agreement.

Say it is true. Would you remind voters? Going from persuading George Bush Snr to sign an international treaty, to being banned from the White House or meeting George Bush Jnr, is nothing of which to be proud.

Pointless charts

I really like the election data compiled at Keele University. I think it's mainlyl because I'm used to dealing with data that is incomplete and sometimes inaccurate. Anyway it's a nice excuse to do some (mainly) pointless charts.

This one shows the difference in votes for the three main parties by listing all 600 odd seats (they don't stand in N. Ireland by and large). It is simply shows the party's actual vote in each constituency going from left to right with their highest individual vote to their lowest. The area under the line for each party is their total vote. The Lib-Dems have a few very high votes, and then quite a sharp drop-off. This also shows how the Conservatives didn't actually do too badly in terms of votes.

Of course Tory seats usually have higher turnout than Labour ones (and often larger electorates), so in terms of % Labour's lead was even more. This one shows the same as the first chart, but with the percentage each party scored from highest to lowest.

The above charts were rather contrived. The following ones actually show each party's share of the vote in the same constituency on the same vertical line. First the constituencies ordered in terms of Labour share of the vote, then Tory, then Lib Dem.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Sunday Stuff

A few small things that I had forgotten to mention.

First, regular readers may remember last year I had the unfortunate experience of driving all the way to Lille for an exhibition of Ruben's paintings, only to find out that my companion had got the year wrong, and we were a year too earlier. Luckily in late July this year on the way back from holiday to Boulogne I found myself near Lille, so I popped in again to see the exhibition. Unfortunately after I had paid for the hotel I found out it had ended the previous month. Anyway not so bad as (a review in today's Telegraph reminded me, hence this rather warying anecdote) Lille is a very nice city, full of smart shops, bars, restaurants and things to see. I would recommend for a weekend if you want to go to a foreign city, but don't want to travel very far (it's only 60 miles from the Channel ports).

Second, it has long been a debating point of the Right that political correctness is all about closing down debates. They might have a point, and if so this is political correctness gone mad (LA Times registration required, or go to .

Third, I feel it is order to congratulate Tim Henman on his US open semi-final placing. He didn't win, but then again no British man has won a US open semi-final since Bunny Austin in 1937, and no British man has won a Grand Slam since 1936.

How productive are the UK regions?

There's an interesting article by Julian Gough, Principal Lecturer in Economics, Teeside Business School, in "The Business Economist", the journal of the Society of Business Economists.

He looks at the outper per head (and therefore the total output of the UK regions). According to the ONS it looks like this (if the UK average is 100)

1. London - 130.9
2. S. East - 120.5
3. East Anglia - 110.0
4. Scotland - 94.6
5. E.Midlands - 91.8
6. South West - 91.4
7. North West - 90.1
8. West Midlands - 90.1
9. Yorkshire & Humber - 86.4
10. N. Ireland - 79.2
11. Wales - 78.8
12. N.East - 77.0

This is familar but still contains some interesting observations. London is not far off double the N.East, which is more productive than Wales or N.Ireland. Scotland is relatively productive. Over time East Anglia has clearly become richer, the West Midlands poorer (I think in the early 1990s they were similarly around 100).

However just as when comparing output across countries it is usually best to correct for differing price levels, so you should across regions of the UK. Anyone who lives in London and the South-East know they are generally more expensive than (say) Yorkshire.

Adjusting for prices therefore is what Dr Gough has done. He finds that prices overall are 14.7% higher than the UK average in London and 9.2% below in the North-East. This is not an exact science, as regional price indices for all aspect of UK gdp do not exist, but his methodology seems reasonable.

Thus again with the UK average at 100, the ranking in output per head is as follows:

1. London - 114.1
2. S.East - 113.7
3. East of England - 108.5
4. Scotland - 98.6
5. East Midlands - 94.6
6. N.West - 92.8
7. West Midlands - 92.3
8. South West - 92.2
9. Yorkshire & Humber - 91.3
10. Wales - 85.0
11. North East - 84.8
12. N.Ireland - 84.4

In fact the ranking doesn't change much. However the spread is much narrow (26.7 points from 53.9). The South-West remains very adrift from the top three, suggesting the North-South divide is (as Dr Gough says) more of an arc around London from the Wash to Bristol, then curving down to Hampshire.

New addition to blogroll

I've added Anthony's interesting and entertaining site, Plastic Gangster, even though he doesn't get my wonderful jokes (see comments to post 'Wolfowitz must go')!

I can also set his mind at rest on this post:

Chinese? Don't deliver. None of them. Ever. Never known a Chinese takeaway that delivers.

I can't say I'm much of fan, but I used to live very near a Chinese restaurant that delivered, called Good Earth Express, and what's more it's a chain, with quite a few branches in London (of the top of my head there's one in Hendon, Knightsbridge and Richmond, though not all deliver). I can't find their website, but here's the branch I lived near, in West Hampstead.

Alan Milburn

There's an article in the Observer today which suggests that Gordon Brown will become PM when Tony Blair steps down, not -- as the events of this week might have implied -- Alam Milburn.

Eh? Did I miss something? Alan Milburn's not even been in the cabinet for the last 18 months, and I don't recall him being very effective when he was. And surely you can't want to spend more time with your family, and then a few years later want to be PM?

Wolfowitz must resign

There's no manner of people who are willing to forgive President Bush's spoken errors as just that, sometimes justifiably and other times less so. However I doubt even the fiercest apologist for this Administration can really explain this:

Among other things, Rumsfeld talked about the world just before the Sept. 11 attacks, whose third anniversary is today. In Afghanistan, he told the National Press Club, "the leader of the opposition Northern Alliance, Masoud, lay dead, his murder ordered by Saddam Hussein, by Osama bin Laden, Taliban's co-conspirator."

...Later, Rumsfeld said, "Saddam Hussein, if he's alive, is spending a whale of a lot of time trying to not get caught. And we've not seen him on a video since 2001."

A defense secretary who does not know simple facts like these, is a defense secretary who is clearly unable to continue in his role effectively. He should go.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

More Republican morality

I'm not as bad as a mad murderer. It's a defence of sorts.

Amid allegations he fostered a climate that led to the prison abuse scandal, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday that the military's mistreatment of detainees was not as bad as what terrorists have done.

"Does it rank up there with chopping someone's head off on television?" he asked. "It doesn't

Friday, September 10, 2004

Have a good weekend

I'll leave with the Vice-President's words of wisdom:

"On "Meet the Press" in March 2003, Cheney blithely dismissed Tim Russert when the host asked what would happen if "we're not treated as liberators but as conquerors." Would the American people be "prepared for a long, costly and bloody battle with significant American casualties?"

Not to worry, said Cheney: "I don't think it's likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe we will be greeted as liberators." "

A nation of millionaires

You'll recall this week's story based on a report by accountancy firm Smith & Williamson, that said the average higher-rate taxpayer pays 50% of his/her income in tax. As I pointed out, the analysis was laughable, as it included seven years' housing stamp duty in one year.

I said at that time that there were two conclusions one could draw

1. Smith & Williamson knew that this was wrong, but they didn't care, because they wanted to score political points.
2. Smith & Williamson genuinely didn't understand how averages work.

It appears there is a 3rd suggestion. A correspondent writes:

Smith and Williamson may have correctly calculated the stamp duty over seven years, but perhaps they believe the average higher rate taxpayer pays some £1.3m for their property.

This indeed might be the case. If so I expect a press release from Smith & Williamson, and an editorial in The Telegprah lauding this government for creating a class of over 3m millionaires. Truly an economic miracle.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Tory reshuffle

I was too intemperate in my description below of the Tory reshuffle as 'terrible'. It's much worse than that.

First, it's a wonderful example of Howard's opportunism. It appears -- whether or not it is true - that he did it only to try to pre-empt a government reshuffle. His expediency is well-known, but obviously the more he makes policy merely to try to score short-term political points, the more he looks like a future IDS, not PM.

Second, despite his desperate attempts to appear a centrist politican, every passing month sees his policies, and his team, become more right-wing. Let's say it slowly -

John Redwood is back in the shadow cabinet. John Redwood.

To a person of a certain age, the mention of John Redwood (at least until recently) just brings back images of Theresa Gorman, a striped-jacketed Tony Marlow, and possibly that later moment where he was so desperate to become Tory leader so he formed an allicance with Ken Clarke. Of course dig a little deeper you get that disgraceful and hypocritical speech in Cardiff.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

John Redwood joins Matt T blog

It's very difficult to write a blog entirely on your own, and group blogs such as Crooked Timber, our own Fistful, Harry's Place, etc, are all the rage, and who can deny they are better for it?

So it's time that I branched out, and I'm pleased that in keeping with the quality of this blog, I've managed to get new Shadow Cabinet member, love-god, and all-round man of the people John Redwood to guest blog. Starting soon, John will give his advice on single mothers, the poor, the feckless, marriage, and anything else he can give his years of experience on.

A true coup for this site.

New Tory policy on Higher Education

I think it's rather good, though obviously it has it flaws, and it's hard to believe some of their promises in this area.

On the issue of student loans having a market rate of interest, I wonder why the policy isn't to just guarantee banks against defaults, rather than have the government involved? That seems, though not without its difficulties, a more Conservative policy...

I vaguely recall back in the late 1980s banks were meant to administer student loans, and refused because of the difficulties in collecting it and chasing it up. I suspect that remains the problem (i also remember Mrs Thatcher was so annoyed she started muttering about imposing an excess profits tax on the high street banks, hitherto only supported by Dennis Skinner).


The Guardian, in an article on a spat between Charles Clarke and Tim Collins, those two heavyweights of British politics, says:

"In total I calculate that your [sic] sums are short of £1.1bn if they are to be viable."

Can someone explain the [sic]?

Country in Peril*

John "A man who could betray his wife could betray the country" is back in the Shadow Cabinet, as the comically titled 'Shadow Minister for Deregulation'.

Apart from this dreadful appointmet, it's a terrible reshuffle. Nicholas Soames, probably the first Tory defence spokesman in history who couldn't get from his cabinet colleagues a commitment to a real-terms spending increase, is promoted to the Shadow Cabinet (in the same role).

* Though the very moving of putting him in the Shadow Cabinet almost certainly guarantees the Tories cannot win an election.

One year on

It's about one year on since I joined the Conservative Party. Here is a review of the costs & benefits it has brought me.


* £15
* A few friends have wobbled in their friendship
* An increase in junk mail

* A feeling of superiority in commenting on 'party affairs'
* No-one came around trick-or-treating on Halloween

Plus, from the website, the benefits are said to be:

* Voting rights
* Heartland
* Money Saving Offers

* Voting Rights -- These kick in after three months, so I missed the chance to vote on Michael Howard. Then again, so did everyone else*. The benefits of being the 'most open and democratic political party' eh?

* Heartland - This is the Tory party magazine. It's ok actually, though I've only received one copy. Can this be right? Surely in a year there should be more than one copy. Still that one copy gave me loads of laughs, what with the Private Eye piece, the Yoof vote piece, and the slimey interview with IDS, even though he'd been kicked out the day I received it.

* Money Saving Offers - Blimey I'd forgotten about these. The RAC discount is annoying, as I recently renewed by (rip-off) RAC subscription. The Jeroboams wine is interesting - it's not a discount but it's a contribution to party funds every time one buys wine from there if you tell them you are a member. A branch is opening less than 1 min from my house. Prepare for a blitz of Tory advertising on a party fat from my drinking habits...


Well worth the £15 it costs me.

* Actually I could be wrong here. A news story in October 2003 says, 'Howard has already said he is “eager and keen” to give the party’s 300,000 members a say'. What was the result?

War on Terror again

Harry take issue with Richard Norton-Taylor's Guardian article on the War on Terror. In particular, when Taylor says:

"The greatest obstacle to reducing the threat is the US administration."

Which Harry says,

Not 'a obstacle', not even 'part of the problem' but the greatest obstacle
I think this is just a bad sub-heading from a sub-editor. The sub-headline indeed says 'greatest obstacle to reducing the threat' but the article says:

It is hard not to conclude that one of the greatest obstacles to the kind of better world Blair says he wants - one with less cause for terrorism, even if terrorists will always be around - is the Bush administration, and notably the likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld

So it's 'one of the greatest obstacles to the kind of better world Blair says he wants'. I think, if like myself, you believe the Bush Administration is losing the War on Terror, then this is pretty hard 'not to conclude', as Norton-Taylor says.

Harry also complains about Taylor calling the atrocity in Beslan,

the latest manifestation of the so-called war on terror in the Caucasus
Here I won't defend Norton-Taylor.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Labour backbench rebellions

Harry says,

In fact when was the last time backbench Labour MP's had a rebellion about an issue which affected working class voters?

He has a point. Labour backbench rebellions have on the whole been rather useless. But I think he's overly harsh. It depends of course, on what you believe constitutes issues that 'affect the working class'. I would suggest that the war in Iraq has had a rather large impact, as does things like Air Traffic Control, both of which saw large Labour rebellions.

But sticking to more cliched working-class issues, these probably fit the bill.

1997 - Single mother benefits
1999 - Incapacity benefit
2000 - State pension 45p increase
2003 - Foundation hospitals
2003/2004 - Higher education bill (tuition fees)

Oh dear oh dear

"How Brown's burden is crushing middle England", screams the Telegraph. The Mail and Express lead their front pages with the same story.

Which is, courtesy of accountacy firm, Smith and Williamson, that the average higher-rate taxpayer now pays 50% of their income in tax, rather than the 35% they did in 1997.

This should immediately set off some warning bells in your head. We know that taxation as a % of GDP is not a great deal higher today than it was in 1997, and we know that this Labour government has not been particularly redistributive. So why the huge change?

It's pretty simple really. This useful table shows how the calculation was made. Basically 71% of the reported increase in tax is due to stamp duty. This assumes that the average higher rate taxpayer moves house every year!

Spread this over 7 years (which is what the Halifax say is average number of years between house moves) and the increase in tax bill falls to about 2%, from 35% to about 37%.
If you're going to include stamp duty, you should perhaps really point out that the average middle income taxpayer is probably about £100-200,000 better off in terms of assets than they were in 1997. Incidentally the rest of the analysis is pretty debatable too.

This really is lamentable analysis. The accountacy firm, Smith and Williamson should be ashamed, and the Conservative Party, which as you might expect has latched on to it, should issue a retraction.

Update: This kind of thing really irritates me. Assuming Smith and Williamson weren't deliberately trying to be misleading, it really shouldn't have been published. Surely accountants should have some idea about tax as a % of GDP, what an average means (on their logic, as the average higher rate taxpayer paid £8,000 in stamp duty last year, stamp duty must have raised about £30bn last year), etc.

Update2 - I'm so annoyed I'm going to keep it on the homepage.


Over at Harry's Place, David Brown has this to say on Besla, and those who argue that we must understand the 'root causes'.

Harm my kids, and I might very well harm you back, but I’ll be making extra special effort to leave your kids out of it. Moreover, I’ll successfully avoid all temptation to murder random children with whom you share your nationality.

Which is hard to disagree with as a statement of what should be done. Clearly the Chechnyan's have been on the end of state genocide, but as someone said in a different context, there's always the option of not being a bastard, and the terrorists in Besland didn't take it (to rather inadequately describe what happened).

In the context of what actually might happen however it's not so helpful. Many of the people who have tried to provide some context (such as Russian expert Dr Mark Galeotti, who Harry's Place have been savaging probably on the basis of some poor sub-editing) are doing so partly because they fear the Russian response will essentially involve the murder of random innocent children, among others. This is not some 'Stopper' flight-of-fantasy, but an historical truth, for there's plenty of evidence that this has already happened in Chechnya, for example see Amnesty's report.

David also adds,

I was going to add that since we’ve had well over 100 funerals, we can start the full-blown analysis, engage every brain cell in an effort to understand (not “condone”, mind you) the motivation of the Beslan hostage takers, and, most importantly, discern “the context”. But as this was already well under way while the corpses of hundreds of children were not yet cold, what would be the fucking point?

which would carry somewhat more weight if it wasn't the website for which he writes that on September 5th started coopting the evil events in an attack labelling anyone who opposes the "War on Terror" (which of course includes the invasion of Iraq) as the equivalent of 1930s appeasers.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Renegade Liberals

It's by now well-established that a man who died over 50 years ago has all the answers to today's problems (well except when he talks on economic policy, or social policy, or class, or etc), so I thought I'd indulge in a little Orwell quoting of my own, which seems particularly apt these days.

One of the peculiar phenomena of our time is the renegade Liberal. Over and above the familiar Marxist claim that 'bourgeois liberty' is an illusion, there is now a widespread tendency to argue that one can only democracy by totalitarian methods. If one loves democracy, the argument runs, one must crush its enemies by no matter what means. And who are its enemies? It always appears that they are not only those who attack it openly and consciously, but those who 'objectively' endanger it by spreading mistaken doctrines. In other words defending democracy involves destroying all independence of thought.

Just Fancy That!

This blog, November 3rd

"How successful is this strategy being in attractive 'youth' members? Let's assume that advertisers aren't stupid, and know their target audiences. Here's the adverts in order (with none missed out) in this month's Heartland: Accountants. Retirement investment advice, Vitamins 'for a healthy lifespan',Savile Row shirts, Medical insurance for the over 50s, Retirement homes on the South coast, Leg 'relaxa-stool' supporter, Margaret Thatcher books, 'Back-care' chairs, 'Easy-bather' bath aid
Typewriter, Pensioners hearing aid, Branded 'comfort stretch' trousers, Reproduction antique gramophone"

Private Eye, November 14th

The same story (as I told them it)

Private Eye, September 3rd

"You can tell a lot about a magazine and its readers by its advertisers...bodes ill...for Heartland...three advertising fliers...stairlifts...hearing aids...remidial mattresses..."

The new reformed Tory party

It makes one proud to be a member

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Never Again

Harry of Harry's Place has a post up about the events in Breslan in which he argues that:

It is abundantly clear - we saw the work of the enemy again in Beslan.

By 'enemy' he means Islamic terrorism. Furthermore:
The analogy with the enemy that faced Europe and the world in the 1930’s is not an exact one but it remains valid...When another generation said ‘Never Again’ they meant it.
I don't really think I can contribute much of a discussion of the horrors in Breslan. No-one seems at the moment to really know who was behind it and why. Furthermore the particular circumstances of Chechnya -- even Harry's Place has referred to Russia's actions there as 'genocidal' and Stalinist -- makes it rather difficult to fit into a simple world view of Terror.

In so far as Harry is saying 'we should declare war on bad things' then I am in full agreement with him. That's what armies and police forces are there for. Where I think he comes rather unstuck with that hoary (or Hoarey?) comparison with the 1930s and Appeasement. The logic is that being soft on Nazism was a mistake in the 1930s, so being 'soft' on Islamic terorism is a mistake today. Forgetting for the moment that even in the 1930s there was no simple distinction between 'appeasers' and 'non-appeasers', and I think it was Churchill who said appeasement from a position of strength was the only hope for peace, it's not clear the analogy has any power other than 'in hindsight you know what to do'.

The problems are many, but I'll list some obvious ones:

1) What does being 'hard' on Islamic terrorism mean?
2) How would a policy of being 'hard' on Islamic terrorism be implemented?
3 Do we trust our leaders to carry out such a policy?
3) Would a policy of being 'hard' on Islamic terrorism mean less of it?
4) Are there any better solutions?

Saturday, September 04, 2004

What the Daily Mail says

A slightly unusual one this as I've left my copy of the Daily Mail in Cambridge, so I will have to write it from memory.

It concerns that dreadful man, Simon 'Smoking cannabis is an afront to society like throwing acid in someone's face' Heffer. His column today, which is online if you feel like paying £2, concerns the taking of two French hostages in Iraq. Astonishingly Heffer says things like 'now the French realise they are in this war too' and that hopefully they will wake up to the terrorist threat.

Excuse me? France has about the longest history in the western world from suffering from Islamic-related terorrism including nearly suffering from a 9/11 style incident seven years before 9/11.

Of course what this ridiculous man means is that France did not support the war against Iraq. For readers who have been in a coma for the last three years, and can't quite see the point, let me explain.

The argument goes something like this. Our leaders told us that Saddam Hussein, President of Iraq, had banned WMDs. Thus an invasion was required to stop him blowing us all up. When the invasion took place and there were no WMDs, it wasn't their fault, or their cheerleaders in the press, because all the intelligence agencies said he had WMD (though perhaps not as confidently as our leaders pretended) and you can only go one what your intelligence agencies tell you.

Anyway, it is argued, critics are harping on too much about WMDs. The war against Iraq was also justified because the war against Iraq was part of the global War against Terrorism. Although all the intelligence agencies said that they thought the war against Iraq would increase the incidence of global terrorism, this only goes to show you shouldn't listen to intelligence agencies. After all, they were wrong about WMDs, weren't they? Politicians have to make their own judgements....

Smoking cannabis is not an affront to society like throwing acid in someone's face, and neither are Simon Heffer's columns. But they're a lot closer.

Friday, September 03, 2004

"Everything that flies on anything that moves"

Oliver Kamm's latest post is about remarks made by Noam Chomsky that compare actions by Nixon and Kissinger with those of Hitler (and Eichmann).

It's worth reading for many reasons, so off you go...

...ok welcome back. There's a few relatively minor points I would make.

First, not knowing much about Nixon and Kissinger's time in office I have to say I was quite shocked by the excerpts from their conversations. It is ludicrous, as Chomsky does, to compare them with those held by senior members of the Third Reich, but having failed to reach those levels of depravity, they are pretty bad. I wonder if Schwarzenegger is aware of them?

Second, I don't quite follow Oliver's argument in parts. Noting this conversation, which Chomsky believes is direct evidence of Nixon's (and Kissinger's) complicity in genocide,

It's a disgraceful performance," Nixon went on. "I want gunships in there. That means armed helicopters, DC-3s, anything else that will destroy personnel that can fly. I want it done!! Get them off their ass." "We will get it done immediately, Mr. President," Kissinger replied. After talking to Nixon, Kissinger got on the phone with Haig to pass on the president's orders for "a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia," using "anything that flies on anything that moves." The transcript then records an unintelligible comment that "sounded like Haig laughing."

Oliver says that;

The "anything that flies on anything that moves" remark, in context, is not a literal instruction; it is an ironic rendition by his national security adviser of a Presidential outburst that invites, deserves and receives derision

But is it really? I don't know what happened next. But on this basis there's nothing to say that the instruction wasn't followed literally. That Al Haig laughed is hardly conclusive, I imagine -- if I may be allowed the comparision -- that certain orders in Nazi Germany were given sardonically, or made with humour at Hitler's expense. But they were still acted upon. Surely what matters is whether or not anything the USAF had was used to fire at anything on the ground moving?

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Editorials v Op-Eds

The great Kevin Drum says (I won't link as the context is irrelevant):

Although I enjoy reading op-eds, I almost never bother reading editorials
This always exactly sums up my own view. I've always loved reading the political columnists (as I guess you call them in Britain) but I can't remember ever enthusiatically reading an editorial (obviously on occasion, e..g today when I had read the rest of the paper, you have a go). I wonder why this is? A few ideas thrown in the air... Is it because editorials are nameless, so you don't know where it is coming from? Is it because they usually tend to be rather generalist, so someone who reads the rest of the paper and columnists tend to find them boring? Do others feel the same way, and can they explain why (or not)?

It's everyone for Kerry

I've been having a few (short) discussions with a fellow blogger on whether there is any precedent for Michael Howard's being banned from the White House and banned from meeting the President. I had said on this blog that this must be the worst relationship between a party leader and President since Suez, my correspondent has suggested that Wilson and Heath's respective relations might give some competition.

In any case it's clear that Howard (along with much of the Tory front bench) must now be willing a Kerry victory in November. Today we discover (from a very good source) that Tony Blair is also rooting for Kerry.

Thus unless Charles Kennedy is going to surprise us it appears all three party leaders are supporting one candidate. I wonder if this is unprecedented in modern times? The norm in recent years is for the parties to split Labour to Democrats, Tories to Republicans, and unless the Conservatives supported Clinton in 1996 I suspect this has held for many years.


Anthony Wells has a fantastic post which shoud have been titled 'Everything you wanted to know about British political opinion polls but were afraid to ask' here.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


I've been annoyed for some time now that the Tories in one of their poster campaigns against Tony Blair (the Pinnochio ones) have not credited me with the idea, who sent them the exact same poster campaign (but using Neil Kinnock) when I was at school (yes my Tory roots run deep!).

So I thought I'd turn my hand to political advertising to help Labour. But I'm afraid its harder than it looks, particularly given the news that Michael Howard has been banned from entering the White House or meeting the President whilst George Bush is in charge is surely perfect copy for the Labour Party.

My first effort is rather lacklustre. First, hours of photoshopping Howard as a homeless person outside the White House was wasted as to fit in the picture he has to be too small. Second I'm not quite sure it works -- being homeless is not the same as not being invited into someone's home, and thus it's unclear what message is trying to be conveyed. Finally as everyone has pointed out, it's not obvious that Howard and the Conservative's image will be hit by this news, perhaps even the reverse. Oh well I'll keep trying.