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An Anglo-American blog with conservative leanings, devoted to politics, current affairs and the War


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01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004
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Sunday, May 02, 2004

Hiatus
The pressures of work and family mean I can't justify setting aside enough time to post here regularly for the time being. I will however be posting when I get the time over at England's Sword. As and when I have more time to blog I'll post here too, and I'll let everyone know via a post at England's Sword.

Posted by Sir Francis  

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Decline and Fall
Its official. The Spectator has now completed its mutation into John Kerry in print. I have a slight hope that the excrescence of an editorial they published this week owes something to the fact that it was published on April 1st but given the increasingly erratic directions of Boris' political thought I doubt it. It reads like something out of the Independent circa January 2002 - idiotic and badly thought out but before the 'Angry Left' psychosis took hold. It is too bad to just summarise, it requires a good old fashioned fisking.

We are not at war

As day broke on 11 May 1941, Londoners could survey the devastation wrought by 100,000 incendiary bombs. Whole streets had been razed. More than 1,400 Londoners had been killed; many thousands more were lying terribly injured beneath the rubble.

The difference between this and the killing of 200 railway passengers in Madrid three weeks ago is more than one of scale; the difference between the Luftwaffe officers who masterminded the Blitz and the suspected al-Qa’eda bombers arrested in London, Crawley and Luton this week is more than one of accents and costumes. The Blitz was war. The activities of al-Qa’eda terrorists over the past few years are straightforward murder. For anyone lying bleeding in Madrid, the difference may seem academic. But for Western leaders contemplating a strategy to defend our cities against the terrorists, the distinction is crucial.
This first section manages to define 'war' to mean 'the Second World War', which is an interesting definition. Obviously, if that is the working definition of war these days, then no, we are not at war. I mean, if we are to concede that point then we may as well give up and go home, consigning 'war' to the same scrap-pile of devalued words and phrases, along with 'imminent threat', 'unilateral' and 'quagmire'. However, since I define 'war' a little more broadly I will continue, for what is worst about these paragraphs is not the Blitz comparison but the claim that the Madrid bombing was 'straightforward murder'. After the past two and a half years the Spectator is now advocating a return to the failed terror-as-a-law-enforcement-problem template - which shows that the editorialist has failed to grasp the point that we are not dealing with an enemy that will be content to blow up a few dozen people per year, an enemy whose objective is something rational and an enemy who we can make a deal with. For this enemy, killing us is enough - it is the objective.
Schools, buses and telephones, as we have argued in these pages over the years, all tend to work better when they are removed from the hands of the state. War, however, is the one thing that by definition cannot be privatised. To conduct a war it is necessary for your opponents to recognise you as a political entity: if not a state then at least a tribe or a dispossessed people. The loose network of al-Qa’eda operatives in grubby west London bedsits possesses no such identity. Their activities may reasonably be called a campaign, an uprising, an outrage or any of about 50 other suggestions in Roget’s Thesaurus. But to say that they amount to a war is to argue that al-Qa’eda has a chance of defeating Western regimes. This is ridiculous: Osama bin Laden is no more likely to march triumphantly down the Mall than is a little green man from Mars. Al-Qae’da has means but no end — at least not in this world. Its ‘war’ cry is not ‘lebensraum’ or ‘freedom’, but the defeatist ‘you love life and we love death’.
Our esteemed editorialist has now decided to vary the definition of a war to one where the enemy has a sporting chance of winning. I guess anything else just would not be cricket. [What status this places the myriad of colonial wars the British Empire's Spectator-reading Generals fought in the nineteenth century pitting spears against the Maxim gun is unclear].
That al-Qa’eda’s murderous campaign should be awarded a dignity it does not deserve is not the fault of its sympathisers. It was the American President who opted to call his response to the attacks of 9/11 a ‘war against terror’. The philosophically minded have already made the point that it is hard to go to war against an abstract noun, unless one has in mind the sort of linguistic battle waged by Lynne Truss.
Some of us have been banging on for years about this one, noting the rather successful Wars Against the Slave Trade tend to contradict the oh-so-clever assertion that you can't fight an abstract noun. But then again, that was the might of the British Empire (again) ranged against some West African merchants and a bunch of ne'erdowells in some leaky sloops so I guess it doesn't meet the new definition of 'war'.
But there is a more serious reason why George W. Bush’s declaration of war was ill conceived. It is not possible for the West to achieve an outright defeat of a terrorist organisation. With or without bin Laden’s head, and no matter how many swarthy men are caught with Semtex on their hands, there will always be one more evil figure beavering away over bundles of fuse wire in a London bedsit. Terrorism is a threat which cannot be defeated, only managed.
"Chin up old chap. You've just got to accept that you might get blown up one day." Certainly back when the terrorists limited themselves to a dozen or so deaths at a time this made some sense from the viewpoint of the state. To seriously go after the terrorists would have required an immense effort of willpower (and the taking of steps which would be deemed internationally unacceptable). When the terrorists want to kill as many as possible its not an option, and certainly not if and when they get a working nuke.
Yet the language employed in the fight against al-Qa’eda makes us wonder whether the authorities still possess the presumption in favour of liberty which they did when defending London against the IRA at the height of that organisation’s bombing campaign in the 1970s.
It obviously has not dawned on the editorialist that the aims of the IRA were quite simple and rational in terms of western political thought. For the IRA to kill a hundred or more at one sitting would have been counter productive. For Al Qa'eda it is the objective. The means is the end in itself. So, given the stakes are higher, is it any surprise that the authorities are a bit more skittish? Not to mention that there are some who would suggest that an innocent Irishman coming into contact with the wrong part of Special Branch in the mid-seventies was rather worse off than Mohammed al-Mohammed will be when he's picked up in Guildford next week... However I digress.
We salute the efforts of intelligence staff and police officers which led to the arrest of eight terrorist suspects this week. Yet already there are suggestions that ammonium nitrate — the fertiliser seized in the raids and which is capable of being used as an explosive — might be banned or controlled. Farmers forbidden to grow GM crops in response to public paranoia may find themselves unable to grow economic quantities of conventional crops as well.
Ah, the straw man. What great editorial would be complete without one. I'm sure someone who did not know better suggested this (though I missed any reference to it), but even a government as agriculturally illiterate as this one would not actually do such a thing.
We can discount conspiracy theorists who suggest that this week’s arrests were staged by the Home Office to deflect attention from the embarrassment over immigration policy. But what of the deployment of armoured personnel carriers — useless in a confined space — to Heathrow on the eve of the debate on the Iraq war in February 2003? If the aim was to provoke fear in order to swing public opinion behind the war, it was a very grave wrong.
And now the patented Howard Dean "Tinfoil two-step". Oh and is that followed by a baseless allegation of malfeasance levelled at the government with no supporting evidence? Have they given Gilligan the password to Boris' computer?
he invasion of Iraq was a war; we supported it; it was won and Iraq is a better country for it. The defence of London against al-Qa’eda terrorists is something different. It requires intelligence, skilled policing and common sense on the part of the public. It does not require the armoury or the emergency restrictions on freedom associated with war. In order to protect our liberty it is necessary for citizens to maintain vigilance on our leaders as well as on the terrorists.
Note how the support for the Iraq war is now used by some on the right in the same way the left used to claim they supported the ouster of the Taliban. "Oh yes, but...". And excuse me but I don't recall anyone suggesting we use the same tactics as used in Iraq to root out the jihadis in our midst (though some Israeli tactics would be nice: a blotch on the pavement in Finsbury Park, the mangled remains of a hook the only recognisable item remaining...). But this is just another straw man, for I don't see any sign of nasty emergency powers in effect. The government wants ID cards, (something I oppose resolutely) but at the end of the decade, and I think they'd be after them regardless of the war. There has been no introduction of censorship and no arbitrary internment (something that I seem to recall was tried during that hayday of the oh-so-successful 'management' of Irish terrorism, the mid-seventies!)

This is a very different war to any we have fought before but it is a war nonetheless. We are the enemy's targets and we will be until either we convert to Islam or we kill enough of them for them to give up. To adopt the law enforcement approach, the defensive and passive assertion that for want of a better phrase the bomber will eventually get through is foolhardy. The enemy don't have nukes yet (or they would have used them) and extreme elements of Britain's muslim communities are not yet raising arms against their government, but if people don't wake up soon all such bets are off.

Posted by Sir Francis  

Light traffic
Have been pretty busy this last week, so haven't been able to post much, but I've done a couple of posts over at England's Sword that you might be interested in.

Posted by Sir Francis  

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The Uxbridge Cuckoos
A few weeks back, Peter Cuthbertson got quite a bit of stick for daring to point out that there might be some questions about the loyalty of some proportion of Britain's Muslim population. Well:

More than half a tonne of ammonium nitrate fertiliser - a key bomb-making ingredient - has been recovered during a series of terror raids across England.

Police said the bomb-making material was seized from an industrial storage unit in Hanwell, west London.

Eight suspects were arrested in the dawn raids, which involved more than 700 police officers and 24 addresses around the country.

...

The men are all British citizens aged 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 21, 22 and 32."
In the light of this I bet we're all feeling reassured that those "Guantanamo Brits" are home and free.

Posted by Sir Francis  

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Surely someone has read their Clancy?
I ask that because it was evident watching Sky News last night (i.e. before the clocks changed) that no one in the Sky newsroom had the faintest idea what Zulu Time means. NASA were preparing to do their air speed record attempt and Sky cut to a live shot of a B52 on the runway at Edwards Airforce Base. It was about 8.15pm. They seemed to be convinced that the plane was about to take off, when a voice cut in on the NASA channel explaining they would be ready for take-off "around 21:47 Zulu" or words to that effect. The newscaster then got excited thinking the plane would be taking off in about 30 minutes time. We turned the channel soon after, but turned back at half past, to find them still showing the runway at Edwards - the newscaster wasn't the only one affected, clearly no one at Sky knew that Zulu = GMT!

Posted by Sir Francis  

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Budget
In the Budget last week, Gordo promised a 'real terms increase' in Defence spending. Does anyone know a) how much that is going to be and b) what its going to be allocated to, or has that not been announced yet? That's a genuine enquiry as I've not managed to find an answer yet.

Posted by Sir Francis  

Well said that man!
"The killing of terrorists, like the hiring and firing of bureaucrats, is a proper function of the state. We all need to start saying so." - Peter Cuthbertson

Posted by Sir Francis  

Monday, March 22, 2004

Result!
Others are covering the elimination of the founder of Hamas this morning in far more detail than I need to, but other than saying "huzzah" at the news, I thought I'd share the text of a note I sent to the Israeli Embassy in London.

We are sure that you have received many comments over the past few hours following the assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, but my wife and I wanted to write a brief note to congratulate your government and Prime Minister for taking this brave and necessary step. Please be assured that despite the relentless bias of most of the British Press and the extreme distortions of the BBC there are people in this country who support Israel's right to defend itself and its right to kill those who threaten the security of its people. An evil man was despatched this morning and the world is a better place as a result. In the days ahead, as his supporters inevitably seek revenge, please be aware that our prayers are with you and your people.
Oh, one other thing. Any event that upsets Yasser Arafat has to be good news:
The Associated Press quotes an anonymous Arafat aide as saying of the boss: "He is like a man who was hit on the head because they killed Yassin and now they could kill him. He feels his turn is next and he is sad and worried."
[Via Best of the Web]

Posted by Sir Francis  

Sunday, March 21, 2004

The Abolition of the Grammar Schools...
...is my nomination for 'decision that should never have been made' over at England's Sword.

Posted by Sir Francis  

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

48%
Irrespective of the other stuff in this poll, the thing that should stand out as most important is that 48% of Britons still support the liberation of Iraq, and still believe we did the right thing. Personally I wish that number was much higher, but considering the relentlessly biased news coverage most people have had to put up with I find the figure heartening.

Posted by Sir Francis  

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Challenge for UK Bloggers!
Over at England's Sword, I've proposed a challenge to UK bloggers. If you could change one domestic policy, decision or law since the 1945 General Election - which would it be?

Posted by Sir Francis  

Can we call it appeasement now?
I've noticed a really insidious meme creeping into TV news interviews over the past two days. When talking about the Madrid bombings and the Spanish elections all kinds of commentators say things like "Of course if it does turn out to be Al Qaeda this might cost Sr Aznar's party votes given his strong support for the war in Iraq". Spain has just suffered a violent attack, and the media think that a perfectly normal and understandable way to react would be to give the terrorists what they want. And a year ago they complained when we called the pro-Saddam side appeasers.

UPDATE: Well s**t. I guess that goes to show that cultures react differently to this sort of thing. The IRA always timed their blasts for the day after an election, lest their attack win more votes for the Tories. While I draw some comfort in that I don't believe the British or American electorates would react the same way, I can barely believe the Spanish have done what the terrorists wanted and voted out the Popular Party. As Plastic Gangster says, "It goes against every rule in the anti-terrorism book". Rightly or wrongly, the enemy now knows that attacking European countries just before they hold elections is a good way to achieve their objectives. There will be more attacks to come.

Posted by Sir Francis  

Friday, March 12, 2004

Europe's Demographic Collapse: 1 - The Pensions Timebomb
This is the first issue anyone thinks of when the demographic collapse is brought up. Europe's state pensions will be bankrupt over the course of the next fifteen years and apart from the UK there is little private pension provision. The drivers of the pensions bankruptcy are obvious - state pensions are little more than Ponzi schemes, with the next generation of workers paying the costs of the one that went before it. As each country ages the pension age population becomes larger and larger relative to the working (and therefore tax paying) population. Sooner or later this will reach the point of unsustainability (as tax takes fall and pension outgoings increase). A number of unsavoury options then present themselves:

1. Borrow the money.
2. Raise taxes.
3. Cut pensions.
4. Cut other spending to refocus the money on pensions.
5. Increase the retirement age.

Now of these five, 2 and 3 are essentially non-starters. Certainly in the short term taxes can be raised but sooner or later the Laffer curve will come into play and the revenue increases will start to be insufficient. Furthermore the economic damage inflicted will begin to make the problem worse by reducing the working population through high unemployment. Pensions could probably be cut in the long term, and that is a policy area that should be addressed now (just because everyone ignored it for the boomer generation doesn't mean they should continue ignoring it); but that will not be a viable option for those who have been told all their lives that they will get pensions, and more importantly it is not an option at all for the COntinent where hardly anyone has a private pension.

4 is viable in the short term, as is borrowing the money. Both ought to be used to manage a transition to a full solution to the problem but you can bet that both (and particularly borrowing) will be used to avoid solving the problem as long as possible. This in turn will delay the crisis point but make it a bigger crisis.

Increasing the retirement age is the most sensible option - for 65 was set in stone in the late 1940s and really is not appropriate today. Unfortunately doing this would be extremely unpopular and it is likely to be adjusted very slowly and in a very minor way.

So the effect of public opinion (and in an aging population, guess who pulls the levers of power) will make a government level solution impractical to say the least. But back in the real world people with dwindling pensions have to eat, and therefore I suspect one will see the retirement age fade away as a clear division in society, with those who can afford to retire doing so, but those who can't continuing to work until they have saved enough, or they become unable to. The government pensions will remain however, and will remain being paid to people who are in fact working to augment their pensions - its just those people will also be paying higher taxes to pay for their pensions!

Thus the aging population will not cause an economic collapse (though it will burden the economy through increased taxation) because long before that point is reached the aging population will be forced by market forces to work - thus maintaining a certain level of economic output. This however will in all likelihood produce discontent (from increased poverty) , malaise (older workers unhappy at not being able to retire) and envy-politics being directed at those older people who have prepared for their own retirement (expect confiscatory raids on private pensions funds by the finance ministries). The combined effects of all of this will be enough to stave off a serious crisis, but will probably set Europe's lethargic economies in stone. The rest of the world will grow economically, Europe will not.

Posted by Sir Francis  

Europe's Demographic Collapse: Modelling from First Principles
One of the memes that is frequently alluded to all over the press and particularly the right-wing blogosphere is the European Demographic Collapse, which is due to take place over the next half-century and beyond. There is no question that it is coming, but the problem with demography as an influence in politics is that it is so slow and rarely manifests itself as an obvious driver. Rather demographic changes tend to throw up a number of problems and opportunities which are dealt with on a piecemeal basis and only when looked at from the viewpoint of history can a unifying theme be identified.

That is not to say that predictive modelling is impossible, far from it. What it means is that in order to get some handle on how a demographic collapse like the one Europe is currently facing will manifest itself in the current events of the future one must think broadly and laterally and attempt to find individual and understandable areas where the population changes effects can be predicted. Having done this it will become possible to tie the various threads together to work out some potential scenarios.

I have seen little sign of this being done (apart from undoubtedly in the sort of academic literature I don't have access to at present). All that I see is occasional allusions to the population issue with vague predictions (none good) for what it means. And instinctively I tend to agree: unless Europe reverses its suicidal course bad things will happen. But that is not good enough because 'bad things' spans the gamut between economic ruin and continent-wide war.

Therefore I've decided to do some thinking on this topic and try to work out some of the individual areas that will be affected, and attempt to identify what those effects will be. As I am not a social scientist some of these conlcusions may be wrong or wide of the mark, so comments are heavily encouraged. And as I'm not an academic, this will have to be done one bit at a time, therefore I'll be posting occasionally on this topic, and identifying each post as part of a series. Depending on how far I get with this, I'll aim to eventually tie all these threads together to have a go at predicting a range of future Europes.

Posted by Sir Francis  

Defence sense?
Been meaning to post this for a couple of days. Firstly, Labour are now looking to cut defence spending as well - which as Plastic Gangster says would be a total disaster. Taken on its own that would look like meaning I had no choice but to sit out the next General Election.

However, following my non-reply from Michael Howard's office which I posted a few days ago I queried Nicholas Soames' people about it and the reply I got was encouraging. It didn't say so in as many words but the impression I got was that the argument within the Tories is not over yet and that Soames is fighting against the proposed cuts. Unfortunately I can't post the message as it disappeared from my webmail account after I read it (I think the ISP had a problem with a virus outbreak, because I lost a load of other messages).

In any case, with the battle still ongoing, if anyone has not yet contacted either the Conservative Party or Nicholas Soames about this, please do so using the links provided below. If the Tories don't hear from those who care about the nation's defence they will assume we don't exist. Blog based lobbying in the US is becoming extremely effective - take a look at any pro-2nd Amendment sites archives from a couple of weeks ago when the "Assault Weapons" Ban was up for renewal to see an example - and there is no reason why it shouldn't be here too.

Conservative Party

Nicholas Soames MP (Shadow Defence Secretary) - email

Contact your PPC / MP

Posted by Sir Francis  

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

What sort of a man is John Kerry?
I think the issue of 'character' does sometimes get overplayed in importance in elections, but at the same time it is not irrelevant. Voters look at candidates and will tend to be more open to the more trustworthy ones, the more decent ones and the more likeable ones. And that's more true in Presidential contests than in legislative ones because the voter is in part hiring someone to react to events and the unexpected on their behalf, and therefore this becomes important. (Some might cite Bill Clinton and disagree, but would argue that one of the things that made Clinton so electable was precisely this wider definition of 'character' that includes likeability. Clinton basically seemed like a regular guy (for all his foibles) and that's in part what made him such a successful politician).

All of which makes life very tough for John Kerry, given that Bush is generally liked, even by those who don't support his policies. Kerry needs to work on his 'nice guy' image. Unfortunately, things like this don't help.

In what is almost certainly a case of mistaken identity a small Illinois company called Riverfront Media has been cast as the producers of Kerry's ads and is getting a lot of complaints. The Kerry Campaign has stated that Riverfront Media of Illinois made these ads, but this company is the only one of that name in Illinois. So they've asked for a retraction / clarification on the matter. And the Kerry campaign has done nothing in response to the request, even though it's their fault and even though it's hurting someone's business. Such class, Senator, such class.

Incidentally, there's more information here, where the owner of Riverfront goes into some detail about what's happened and points out that as a result of this screw up Kerry is in breach of campaign spending reporting laws. Maybe that will provide the 'man of the people' with the incentive to clean up a mess he's caused for some of the 'little folk'. Or maybe that will provide some journalists with a hook to cover this story. Yeah, right.

Via Polipundit.

Posted by Sir Francis  

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Classic!

Posted by Sir Francis  

Another one for the blogroll...
...is The England Project which I have been visiting rather a lot lately. Lots of good stuff over there, including the best comment on Lords reform I've ever heard (well apart from when that chap jumped up on the woolsack during the final debate in the old House of Lords):

"What benefit have you personally felt to date from all this erosion of our traditional safeguards by New Labour?"
With any luck a lefty-blogger will have a go at an answer!

Posted by Sir Francis  

Monday, March 08, 2004

Good News
This looks like good news. How good is hard to gauge as the modern Greek right has not held power apart from a brief and unspectacular spell a decade ago. Promises from New Democracy about a rapprochement with Macedonia and Turkey will need to be seen to be believed but if real can only be positive. At the very least, comfort can be taken that PASOK - one of the most thoroughly corrupt and ugly mainstream political parties in Europe - has taken a severe drubbing. Perhaps the new government might be able to dig up some more information on the links between the PASOK hierarchy and the November 17 terrorist group too.

Posted by Sir Francis  

Friday, March 05, 2004

Pumped?
So the Democrats are energised and fixing to vote out Bush at all costs are they? A quick comparison of the California Primary in 2000 with this year reveals a different picture. The picture in 2000 when the Democratic primary was basically a coronation and the GOP's was contested is reversed this year with an uncontested GOP primary (at the Presidential level) and a hard fought Democratic one. So how do the numbers compare? Well GOP turnout is unsurprisingly down and Democrats are up, but its the amounts of difference that are interesting.

You see the 2000 GOP race drew 30% more voters than this year, while this year's Democratic turnout is up only 13% on the near-coronation in 2000. Obviously its a case of comparing apples with oranges, but I don't think there's much evidence here for the fabled 'energised base' we keep hearing about.

Posted by Sir Francis  

A successful prediction!
A while back, I said:

So with Gilligan leaving the BBC, how long before he shows up at the Spectator?
And lo and behold, there he is in this week's Speccie, droning on about how we should have left Saddam's rape squads in place, his sons alive and the mass graves unopened.

Posted by Sir Francis  


 

Drake's Drum

DRAKE he's in his hammock an' a thousand mile away, 
(Capten, art tha sleepin' there below?) 
Slung atween the round shot in Nombre Dios Bay, 
An' dreamin' arl the time o' Plymouth Hoe. 
Yarnder lumes the island, yarnder lie the ships, 
Wi' sailor lads a-dancin' heel-an'-toe, 
An' the shore-lights flashin', an' the night-tide dashin' 
He sees et arl so plainly as he saw et long ago. 

DRAKE he was a Devon man, an' ruled the Devon seas, 
(Capten, art tha sleepin' there below?), 
Rovin' tho' his death fell, he went wi' heart at ease, 
An' dreamin' arl the time o' Plymouth Hoe, 
"Take my drum to England, hang et by the shore, 
Strike et when your powder's runnin' low; 
If the Dons sight Devon, I'll quit the port o' Heaven, 
An' drum them up the Channel as we drummed them long ago." 

DRAKE he's in his hammock till the great Armadas come, 
(Capten, art tha sleepin' there below?), 
Slung atween the round shot, listenin' for the drum, 
An' dreamin' arl the time o' Plymouth Hoe. 
Call him on the deep sea, call him up the Sound, 
Call him when ye sail to meet the foe; 
Where the old trade's plyin' an' the old flag flyin', 
They shall find him, ware an' wakin', as they found him long ago. 

                                                                            Sir Henry Newbolt (1862-1938)

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