01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004
02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004
03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004
04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004
05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004
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.
In the light of this I bet we're all feeling reassured that those "Guantanamo Brits" are home and free.
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."
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!
Tuesday, March 23, 2004
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.
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
Monday, March 22, 2004
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]
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.
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nicholas Soames MP (Shadow Defence Secretary) - email
Contact your PPC / MP
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.
Tuesday, March 09, 2004
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!
Monday, March 08, 2004
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.
Friday, March 05, 2004
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.
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.
Tuesday, March 02, 2004
Pro-Gay Marriage, Pro-an FMA!
I know this is about a week behind the rest of the web, but I've spent some time thinking about this issue and have finally managed to put into words how I feel. I also noticed via Ace of Spades that someone else was thinking along the same lines (though to a different conclusion) but since at that point I'd already written much of this, I'm going to post it anyway!
I'm in favour of Gay Marriage, on the whole. I have to say that in the annals of injustice in the world the inability of gay people to get married to one another does not rank near the top of the list, but I think that it is unfair and something should be done about it and if I were a politician and in a position to vote on the matter I would vote for it - nay actively push it. I appreciate that some people disagree, and unlike far too many people on the pro-gay marriage side I am not going to class them as 'bigots'. However, when it comes to what sort of laws a secular state should pass, I'm afraid religious objections to something of themselves are not enough to oppose it. So there you have it, I'm in favour of gay marriage. So why do I find myself increasingly sympathising with the pro-FMA crowd? We've heard a lot about liberals and libertarians who supported Bush but are reconsidering it over the FMA, but we've not heard much about conservatives and independents who support gay marriage but are reconsidering their position in the light of the debate now happening. We should, because I think its probably a bigger group than is generally thought.
So why am I wavering. Well lets establish where I stand first of all:
I reject (or until last week rejected) civil unions, because I saw them as a form of marriage-lite. Something the state should not be encouraging and which if instituted for gays would soon be instituted for straight people as well. On balance I think I still hold to that point of view, but an excellent point which I had not considered before has been made by several people. Once civil unions are in place, everyone will refer to Mr X and Mr Y as 'married' even if the state does not, and before anyone knows it that little semantic difference will be excised to the good of all. [I do not think that western civilisation will fall if gay marriage is introduced, and articles claiming the end of marriage in Scandinavia are I think mistaking two independent outcomes of change in modern culture for a cause and and an effect].
But above all I reject activist judges. I'm not actually all that bothered by the mayor of San Francisco (or the half-dozen other towns) issuing illegal marriage licences. A little civil disobedience never hurt anyone. In the same way Roy Moore was well within his rights to put the Ten Commandments in that Alabama courthouse - the First Amendment jurisprudence of the Supreme Court is grotesque and getting worse (of which more anon) and he was right to challenge it*. Getting back to San Francisco, the Mayor had every right to 'follow his conscience'. But what should have happened next did not, and that is where the problem lies. For instead of having an injunction slapped on him in days (as it is clear from statements when the stunt started the City of San Francisco was expecting) several judges of the California court have effectively refused to rule - because they know the law is clear. And lets be honest, if the relevant official were issuing concealed carry permits to everyone applying in contravention of California law, even if the court felt he had a case, he'd still have been injuncted.
So, the decision of the California judiciary to derelict its duty on this forms part of the background to this debate. The second part is the previous decision in Massachussetts. The ruling in Massachussetts, ordering the State Legislature to create Gay Marriage based on a superficial legal argument is a classic example of judge-made law. Sadly it is what many have come to expect from liberal justices. However Massachussetts is Massachussetts, and it also has on its books an inbuilt reverse-Defence of Marriage Act that makes Massachussetts marriages only valid in states that would recognise them already. Thus, on its own the Massachussetts decision is also just a local problem.
But there is another aspect to this discussion, one which the pro-Gay Marriage types are well aware of but refuse to mention. For the Federal Marriage Amendment is not being proposed to stop judges in Massachussetts or California abusing their positions. If that were all, state-level solutions would be followed, and afterall there is the Defence of Marriage Act to prevent the nationalisation of gay marriage so the amendment would certainly not hae received presidential attention. No, the amendment is proposed because of the fact that no one, from the religous right to the loony left believes that the current federal judiciary will allow DOMA or its state-level equivalents to stand. By hook, or by crook if this ever reaches the Supreme Court the outcome practically writes itself:
A 5-4 ruling, withering dissent from Scalia, O'Connor the swing vote.
And this problem is not confined to Gay Marriage. If it were then, frankly I think that this amendment would join the other 11000-odd failed amendments and die somewhere in the coriddors of the Capitol. People with a religious objection to gay marriage could simply assert that 'those gays aren't married, no matter what the government may say' and that would be that. But it is not just about Gay Marriage. The Supreme Court is not 'turning away from activism' or 'becoming more conservative'. Far from it! The activism is getting worse. In the past few months they have ruled, that Equal Protection can be twisted to allow the state to ignore the provisions of the Constitution if it so wishes and that Free Political Speech can be regulated by the state. And then there came last week's monstrosity. On first reading of it, I thought that it was horrible but acceptable because it was limited in effect, but continued consideration of this ruling just bothers me more and more.
For in Davey v. Locke, the Supreme Court has held that it is OK for the state to discriminate against a religious group. For the details of this, read Justice Scalia's dissent, and see the legal opinion of Volokh and Bainbridge. The essence of the case was that Washington State funds a scholarship that winners can use to fund any course of their choosing. Any course at all. Except Theology. The unfortunate would be Theologian (who has since completed his studies, self funded and enrolled in Law School) was stripped of his funding. Naturally he thought that a certain sacred piece of text about not interferning with the free exercise of religion would come to his aid, but no. A part of the ruling (i.e. the excuse to enable another strike on religion) was that Theology degrees are non-fungible. I.e. you can study Law and get a job in the construction industry, or Physics and a job in Computing. But Theology is only for religious training and therefore amounts to something the state should not be subsidizing. This unbelievable logic (refuted by the complainant's own choice of career!), though is just a fig leaf. The lines of attack on it are so obvious that it is not worth detailing them, because after all I doubt even the Justices who voted this way give it much credence. It was merely the cover provided to allow them to endorse outright discrimination on the grounds of religion.
So, this is the backdrop against which the Gay Marriage issue has arisen, and those who seek to describe the President's endorsement of a Federal Marriage Amendment as a product of 'hate' or 'bigotry' conveniently ignore this point. If it were possible for those who oppose Gay Marriage to win the argument in the states, then that is where this battle would be being fought, but everyone knows that if you wish to stop Gay Marriage there is only one way of doing so: amend the federal constitution in some way. And that is where I start to waver.
Because quite frankly the suggestions of the pro-Gay Marriage side of the debate that their opponents should play nice and leave it to the states at the same time as they themselves set the ground for a judicial campaign is disingenuous in the extreme.
Because the hysteria from certain people on this issue in effectively maintaining that anyone who opposes Gay Marriage does so out of hate and is no better than a segregationist is disgusting. I repeat, I support Gay Marriage, but I accept that its opponents have some valid arguments - I think they are wrong, but not hateful.
And because the way that the President's statement in favour of 'a' FMA (without specifying which one) has been relentlessly and wilfully miscast as being in favour of one particular proposal which would bar states from introducing Gay Marriage and Civil Unions. Should the amendment in fact simply constitutionalise that no state should have to recognise another state's gay marriages then will these new found friends of Federalism endorse it? Don't hold your breath.
So I look around. I see the people who I supposedly agree with on this issue, and I wonder if maybe I've picked the wrong team. And then there is the question of what happens if no Federal Marriage Amendment is passed? Simple: Gay Marriage by judicial fiat, with all the attendent anger, trauma and simmering hate that will cause for decades to come. Marriage as it is popularly understood in our culture right now is between a man and a woman, and the only legitimate way to change that is through legislative activity. And after all, why is it so difficult for the Gay Marriage movement to do it that way. Everyone else has to fight battles state by state so why can't they? Being a minority seeking a new privilege that is initially viewed with suspicion by the general populace does not preclude success - after all how many states allowed Concealed Carry fifteen years ago?
Nevertheless I oppose the currently touted draft amendment, and if that is what finally gets proposed it deserves to lose because it imposes a definition of marriage on all the states. But if the amendment is watered down to a guarantee that this matter will be decided on a state by state basis then I'm inclined to hope it passes. Not that Gay Marriage is the real issue here, but as Justin Katz points out it seems a pretty good place to make a stand. A cultural conflagration is pretty well unstoppble now, with any luck the trend to judicial invention will be overturned in the process (and I would not be surprised if as Katz suggests come the end of it this amendment is repealed and Gay Marriage is generally accepted). Furthermore it would teach liberals two lessons: firstly that the judiciary does not have untrammelled power and secondly that to overturn this they would have to fight the issue the way they were supposed to in the first place: on propositions, ballots and election platforms. Re-introducing the left to the mechanisms of democratic government would be a wonderful thing. But my mind is open to be changed back - if someone can give me a convincing reason to believe that this will be decided on a state by state basis without an amendment I am ready to hear it.
*Essentially my view is that officials are quite at liberty to ignore the law if they are prepared to take the consequences. Judges are different in that they enforce the law. Therefore in their official capacity they should enforce the law (even if they disagree with it). The case of Moore is complicated by his being a judge, but that does not really matter as the Decalogue was put in the courthouse by him, rather than him sitting in judgement on a case on the subject. In the former case he would be right to do what he did, in the latter case he would have been under an obligation to enforce the law as it stood.
Iain Murray of The Edge of England's Sword has kindly invited me to post over there. So postings might become a bit sparser here from time to time. And while I imagine most visitors to this site would already know about The Edge, it is possible that a few of you haven't. So if you've not checked it out before, do pay it a visit.
European Foreign Policy 101
Plastic Gangster neatly sums up Europe's options on the subject of US militarisation of space (which the usual suspects are bitching about):
1) Fight (literally) to prevent it happening.
2) Try to develop similar capabilities and beat the Americans in a space race, then dominate earth orbit yourself.
3) Accept the inevitable and buy into a slice of the action by combining forces in the project.
However, in order to put any of these three options into effect, one has to be operating in a world of harsh realist politics, as opposed to the fluffy pink marshmallow world in which the EU now resides. We can therefore expect the EU to adopt one of a different selection of three options, all of which are well rehearsed in the field of EU diplomacy and strategy:
1) Cry and stamp feet.
2) Shout "Stop, or I'll shout "Stop!" again!"
3) Offer to give the country in question enormous amounts of money in exchange for not doing something they shouldn't have been doing in the first place. If they take the money and keep doing it, look to plans 1 and 2 for a fallback position (and keep giving them the money anyway).
Monday, March 01, 2004
This is spot on.
"If there's one thing that actors know, other than there weren't any WMDs" -- he added impishly --"it's that there is no such thing as best in acting. And that's proven by these great actors that I was nominated with," Penn said. The actor received a standing ovation. . .. . .the "standing ovation" only goes to show how isolated and deluded were the audience inside the theater.
But, actually, in a way, Penn was right. . .
. . . After all, "actors" obviously didn't know about mass graves.
Two unrelated points
Number one: What I said about Ms Gun from GCHQ. Double that for Claire Short. Please Tony, have the balls to have her tried and convicted. She deserves to go to prison for undermining British National Security (by the damage this is inflicting on the reputation of the Security Services). For a former Cabinet Minister and Privy Councillor (a position I trust she will be forced to resign, after all Jonathan Aitken was, and he was a perjurer not a traitor) to behave so irresponsibly beggars belief. Lock her up.
Number two: Going through the daily spam in my inbox I noticed two messages with titles like 'The economy is much better now'. I think thats a sign of sorts!