Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Head-scratching and rethinking going on at this end. For those who don't know, I'm getting hitched this June: hobbled by pink ribbons. For the customary relaxing and idyllic honeymoon I'd settled on an island off the coast of Mozambique, somewhere I'd been to before briefly before getting chased out by poverty (my own) and cholera (other people's).

But this time was going to be special - desert island, white sand beaches, diving, sailing, lazing and, um, so on. Well blow that for a game of soldiers. Looks like sunny Bognor after all...

Private Equity: efficiency, system, economy

I am irritated, depressed and unsuprised by the labour / union attacks on private equity firms, calling them locusts and what not.

Balls. PE businesses strip out inefficiencies, simplify and improve processes, inject focus and drive, eradicate failing management and build value and growth. It is so much arse to claim that this is all smoke and mirrors through 'asset stripping' or unsustainable staff cuts.

The unions need to understand that too many businesses have headcounts that are in excess of their needs, generally as a consequence of inefficient processes, inadequate systems and management failure to keep an eye on COS and to innovate in how they deliver goods and services.

PE backing enables management the focus, time and backing away from the floodlights of the public markets to make tough decisions, and drive through change that leads to long term value.

Now some fool will comment and say "a-ha, but many former PE businesses see their share prices dip after floatation". Remedial classes on 'value: what it is and how it is measured' will follow when I have the time.


A truly excellent idea

There has been an empty plinth in Trafalgar Square ever since the middle of the 19th Century, when the planned equestrian statue of William IV failed to eventuate. Recemt attempts to fill the gap have included a naked, pregnant, disabled woman, and a very underplayed Christ. But what we need is a good old-fashioned equestrian statue, preferably of a heroic leader. And, thanks to the Social Affairs Unit's Christie Davis, we have the perfect candidate.

Morning in Trafalgar

A quick public subscription, and job done. It'd be worth it just to watch Ken Livingstone have an aneurism...

Monday, February 26, 2007

An analogy too far

Slightly jaw-dropping stuff this:
Imagine that Hitler did not die in his bunker in 1945 but instead cut a deal with the new West German government, giving him continued sovereignty over a small patch of Berlin - and continued intellectual hegemony over the millions he had brainwashed during the previous decade. How could a new German dispensation function with this incubus at the heart of the state, second-guessing its every move, checking and trumping every effort to dismantle its ideology?
What on earth could Peter Popham be talking about? Kallingrad perhaps - that little chunk of Russia in Germany? No, this Hitlerite incubus is in fact the Vatican City in Rome. I'm not a Catholic, although my children (if any) will have to be, but it's still both ridiculous and offensive to make a direct comparison between the Pope and Hitler.

Spare me

Obviously, we're all feminists now. I don't mean that we all adhere to the barkingly deranged wing that believes all men are evil scum who need castrating, but to the belief that the relationship between men and women is not, or should not be, anything but an equal one. I have a slightly chequered history on feminism, dating back to my undergraduate paper in gender history (it's a good story, I'll tell you about it sometime), and have come to believe that, for many feminists, it is not enough to have achieved objective equality - women after all are not as good as men, they are better.
The combination of strongly held political opinions and wearisome laboured prose makes the writing on feminism, both academic and journalistic, some of the most tedious around. Take this, for example, from Joan Smith, on why Mai Ghoussoub did far more for the cause of 'women' than Margaret Thatcher, who in fact actively set back the cause of women. I'm sure many of the people who turned up to pay tribute to Mai the next evening would share my feeling that Lady Thatcher is a monster, a warning about the absolutely worst characteristics of her sex.
If they're moral idiots maybe.
There could hardly have been a greater contrast with the images accompanying Mai's obituaries. One photograph showed her at her mischievous best, as a performance artist exploring the subject of the veil in public space in east London; she is dressed from head to toe in white, wearing huge sunglasses and - a brilliant touch - carrying a tennis racket.
Well hush my mouth. Obviously infinitely more influential for the status of women than being Prime Minister. Don't know what I was thinking.

Outrageous impersonation

A disgraceful impersonation involving Margaret Beckett has been revealed. Apparently she has been passing herself off as Foreign Secretary for over six months now! While it is true that intelligent observers realised almost immediately that this was a hoax, more naive commentators have been deluded into believing that this talentless, dreary no-hoper was actually the holder of one of the great offices of state. Thank heavens that's been cleared up.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Welcome Back

After a long absence, Token Bird is back. Be nice and she might even stick around...

Gary Holness

It's always good to see the Daily Mail adopting reasonable and balanced views.

I won't bore you by going into a massive explanation of CICA, its Rules and its purpose. Suffice to say, that it is a statutory scheme set up to compensate victims of violent crime within the UK. Now, surely, having your leg blown off by a suicide bomber is enough to qualify as being a victim of violent crime? The outcome of CICA applications tends to be binary: If you can prove you have suffered an injury as a result of violent crime in the UK, you get an award in accordance with the tariff laid out in the Scheme (in this case, the 2001 Scheme). If you don't fit into the Scheme, you don't get an award. And yes, CICA has the right to reduce or refuse an award on the basis of the victim's conduct. For example, if you start a fight and end up with a broken nose, you shouldn't expect a payout from CICA. So, yes, CICA will, no doubt, take into account Gary Holness's conviction. However, it's hardly relevant to his application.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought that the criminal justice system was supposed to be about rehabilitation as well as retribution. As I understand it, yes, the man was involved in a gang rape, which is a disgusting crime. However, he was convicted and imprisoned for 7 years, served his sentence and his conviction is now spent. Moreover, in the twenty odd years since the event, he has not been convicted of any other offences. Yes, I agree, convicted criminals deserve to be punished, and Gary Holness rather stupidly brought about the latest round of public scorn on himself by jumping into the media spotlight post 7/7, but surely there must be a point when we draw a line? The man served his sentence and later on in life, had his leg blown off. If CICA thinks he deserves a compensatory award, good luck to him. He has no job, is clearly not very bright and has attracted scorn and derision from the whole world. Don't we think he has been punished enough? Or does the Daily Mail think that anyone who has ever done anything wrong deserves to be left to the mercy of criminals for the rest of their life?

Grave error?

I was doing a bit of research into the 7/7 bombers recently when a small piece of information on wikipedia made me stop in surprise.

I don't suppose I had really thought about it before, but I was surprised to read that "Hussain's remains were buried in a Muslim cemetery in Leeds on November 2, 2005."
What I am wondering to myself is, should the bodies of suicide bombers be buried in consecrated ground? Would it be a massive injustice if, people who, for their own pop-eyed "religious" reasons, elected to blow themselves to bits in order to murder innocent people, forfeited their rights to a religious burial? Surely the threat that any body parts of suicide bombers would be quietly buried in unconsecrated ground by a prison or used for medical research might prove to be a (small) disincentive to other would-be mass murderers?

Apropos of that

I understand the sensitivity of playing God Save the Queen at Croke Park - sporting home of Irish Republicanism - but I think this is overblown frankly.

Every patriotic Irishman should feel shamed by the playing of God Save the Queen when England meet Ireland in the Six Nations Championship at Croke Park in Dublin tomorrow, the son of an Irish sporting icon has said.

Mr Barrett, 63, said: “It will be one of the saddest days of my life. God Save the Queen is offensive and insulting and for it to be played in Croke Park is disrespectful to the people who died there in 1920. My father would have been appalled.”

Given that the whole point of, for example, the Scottish rugby anthem is the defeat of the English, and that the Marseillaise, one of the greatest anthems in the world, talks of watering the soil of France with the blood of the unrighteous, the sentiments of God Save the Queen seem remarkably bland. Certainly not enough to get worked up over.

The attack followed the murders of 12 British spies that morning by Michael Collins’s IRA, described by The Times as “the most cruel and desperate of all outbreaks by the Republican murder gang”.

A tendentious description that. Given that Ireland was still an integral part of the British Empire at that point, it seems peculiar to talk about British agents, covert or overt, as spies.

One writer to the Irish Times hoped that the score would be free of political connotations. “Some people are saying it would be appropriate if we beat England 19-16 at Croke Park,” wrote Declan O’Keeffe. Let’s hope they don’t beat us 19-20.”

I'll settle for 42-6 - the same as 2003.

UPDATE: Hmmm... Almost, but I actually meant the other way round.

When Irish Eyes...

Bad news about Jason Robinson, and no news about Jonny Wilkinson. Eddie O'Sullivan thinks he knows what's what.

"I'd be amazed if he doesn't play tomorrow. I think it is quite funny actually," O'Sullivan said. "If you think about it, if I had an outside half like Jonny Wilkinson, and I do, and he had a tight hamstring, and he doesn't, the last people I'd tell is the media. So think about it."

I think I'm thinking, but it doesn't seem to help much.


There is no justification for this picture.
So Wimbledon has bowed to the inevitable and joined the rest of the major tennis tournaments in granting equal prize money to both the men's champion and the women's. It's a hard decision to criticise really - we're all supposed to be in favour of equality and all that - but it's also, oddly, a difficult decision to defend. Mark Lawson, in the Guardian, writes in laudatory terms about it, but I'm not convinced his arguments stack up.
Challenged to a match by 55-year-old former champion Bobby Riggs, who had declared the absolute superiority of men in the sport, she [Billie Jean King] whipped him in straight sets. Logically, Wimbledon should have balanced its payouts then.
Really? At 55 Riggs was well, well past his prime (though he had defeated the women's number 1 Margaret Court 6-1 6-1 that same year). If Lawson's argument is that women deserve equal payouts because they are equally as good as tennis as the men, that is palpably not the case. Whether you look at the party pieces (Jimmy Connors beating Martina Navratilova in straight sets, when Connors had only a single serve and had to defend the doubles court), or just in comparison (speed of first serve, number of unforced errors and the like) it is clear that men play tennis better than women. That might not necessarily be an argument for unequal pay, but it sure as hell isn't an argument against it.
Men play more sets, and better tennis. They attract more viewers, and more sponsorship money. The male game is more competitive (except for the dominance at the very top by Federer); the first half of most women's competitions tends to be extremely predictable - not many upsets to be seen. All these look like arguments in favour of different pay-outs. I'm basically intrinsically disposed to favour equality in this - but I haven't really seen an argument designed to counter these that stacks up.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

It's a way we have in the public schools...

Chris Dillow writes, in response to Danny Finkelstein's tongue-in-cheek dismissal of the Bullingdon spat, that his dislike of the Bullingdon club, and indeed all former public schoolboys, is not chippiness but contempt. With a very few exceptions, he writes, public schoolboys (or possibly Etonians - the two are rather elided here) are no-marks, on whose education the vast amounts of money spent were clearly wasted.

I assume that this post is itself mostly tongue-in-cheek - Chris normally writes far too well to be accused of arrogance and pomposity, but really: I for one never had an argument with an aristocrat at Balliol - and if I had, I wouldn't have lost. Either Chris only argues about areas in which he is the sole arbiter and global authority, avoiding argument in any case where he might be bested (which would be odd) or he's being phenomenally arrogant. Aristocratic lineage does not disbar one from intelligence, any more than it pre-determines it.

When I worked in the City, I remember talking to an Harrovian colleague and asking: "aren't you embarrassed that, with all that money spent on your education, you've ended up working next to me?" This is almost a definitive example of chippiness - lacking only the aggression that often accompanies it. In any case, contempt for people based purely on their social origin and education is ugly. If a public schoolboy said he felt contempt for people who hadn't attended a public school, he would be a twat. Should it be any different the other way round?

Finally, Chris identifies, as rare Etonian non-dropkicks, Humphrey Lyttleton, Hugh Laurie, Derek Parfitt and Hugh Fairly Long-Name. Fair enough, but what about Ian Fleming, Aldous Huxley, Harold Macmillan, George Orwell, Gubby Allen, Wilfred Thesiger and Alec Douglas-Home? For example. Not to mention Psmith, James Bond (albeit expelled) and Captain Hook.

The Tube

I was just on the Central Line, about to sit down, when the tube started with a jerk (probably by a jerk as well) and threw me fairly hard on to the lap of the chap sitting next to me. I, obviously, apologised profusely from my semi-prostrate position. His response made me laugh though:

"I'm just sorry I wasn't prettier!"

The right candidate

The future of the Labour Party
I've been fairly rude about the electability, appearance, hygiene and even the policies of the Old Pretender Gordon Brown. Yet there has never been a suitable candidate to oppose him. Clarke, Reid, Milliband: all have fallen before the mighty Brownian motion. Yet, cometh the hour, cometh the man. Step forward Michael Meacher - the fruitcake's choice for Labour leader. OK so 9/11 was engineered by aliens in the pay of Halliburton, fine, global warming will lead to palm-trees in Berwick-on-Tweed - but can the Labour Party afford to spurn such a statesman?
In any event, the Reptile has found his candidate of choice for the Labour leadership. It's just a crying damn shame that Screaming Lord Sutch isn't still around to run for deputy.

Sveglia Italia!

Riding to the rescue?

When Il Caviliere signed off after narrowly losing the General Election to Romano Prodi, he told Italians to 'Sleep well'. So grey and tedious was the reputation of Prodi - bureaucrat supreme - that he predicted a deathly dull period of Italian politics. It is certainly true that the Italian media has become distinctly less vibrant since Berlusconi's departure. Something about the man attracts huge media excitement - possible the fact that he owns so much of the media.
In any event, Italian politics is certainly exciting again now. The fall of Prodi's Government has significant internal repercussions. The coalition of the left - ranging from moderates to unreconstructed communists - has finally collapsed, over the issue of American bases. To be honest, the only really unifying feature of the coalition was the dislike of Berlusconi - faced by the realities of government, its collapse was inevitable. Unfortunately for Prodi, the budget has proved so unpopular that new elections would probably return Forza Italia to power - still led by Berlusconi.
So first there will be an unsightly round of horse-trading, with elements of the right coalition being courted. If this fails, or even if it succeeds partially, allowing a weakened Prodi another six months life, new elections will duly be called. The real irony is that, if the left had been able to control its squabbles for another year, Berlusconi would almost certainly have been too old to run - by collapsing now, the Communists may have handed Il Caviliere a new chance at Government...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The road ahead for the Conservatives

A Road Ahead. Yesterday
One swallow does not make a summer, still less a relationship, any more than one poll makes a party. The Guardian poll putting the Conservatives on 40% compared to 31% for the Labour party - a figure that improves if the leaders are stated to be Gordon Brown and David Cameron - is good news for the Conservative Party. It's not much more than that.
In fact, conventional wisdom holds that the Tories should be doing considerably better than they are. To back this up, people point to the stratospheric poll leads enjoyed by New Labour in the dog days of the mid 90s. 'See?' goes the argument, 'Cameron isn't doing so very well after all.' If the argure is Simon Heffer, he will proceed to argue that if only Cameron pledged to reduce taxes immediately, bring back grammar schools and tighten restrictions on immigration, the Tories would be polling in the upper 40s and God would be in his heaven and all right with the world. If the arguer is a Labour supporter, he will proceed to say that, y'know, if this is the best the Tories can do, they'll get pummelled at the election - remember the big poll leads Kinnock had? I think this analysis is unduly gloomy, and I think so for several reasons.
1. The Tories need to be polling in excess of 40% because of their unfavourable electoral position. This is true, up to a point, as Anthony Wells consistently points out. However, a significant part of the reason for this has been the Lib/Lab tacit 'GROT' understanding. I predict that a significant degree of this will unwind - by-election results show a collapse in the Labour vote as the most significant factor. There are an awful lot of marginals, an awful lot of which are kept Labour by the traditional Lib Dem dislike of the Tories - if that weakens, as it appears to be doing, we might see a lot of these switch without a significant increase in the Tory vote.
2. The Tories need to be polling in excess of 40% because that's what populatr opposition parties do in the middle of Parliaments. Gah. There is no point - none - in looking at polling data from the 80s and 90s in order to draw conclusions about where the Tories should be now. The methods were different (and worse) and the data is so flawed that it it literally worthless. Look instead at data from the last five years, and look at progress within the same pollsters: ie YouGov three years ago against YouGov now. That's rather more encouraging.
3. There will be a 'Brown bounce'. There would scarcely be a Brown bounce if you dropped him off the top of the Palace of Westminster. New leadership bounce generally happens when the new leader is an exciting new face (OK, or John Major) who has come through an election that made the General public feel engaged. Hence Callaghan and Major got a bounce, Douglas-Home basically didn't. If Brown faces a serious election, then there might be the semblance of a bounce, otherwise it's 'Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss.'
So - where to go from here? The first point to make is, basically, hurrah! This is working! The enthusiasm for New Labour has been diminishing for years - it has been Cameron's achievement to enable the Conservatives to benefit. The second point is that Cameron is probably the Conservative's biggest asset - an effort should be made to associate his image closely with that of the party. The third point is that Gordon Brown has the makings of being truly electorally toxic - efforts should be made to identify the 'Clunking Fist' inextricably with the pensions debacle, the rising burden of taxation, and the image of stifling government intervention - not too difficult as all are based on reality.
UKIP are not a significant threat to the Tories - for all the genuine efforts of people like Trixy and the DK the chances of UKIP developing as a major force in right-wing/libertarian politics are slight. far more worrying is the risk of simple disengagement from the Conservative right. Cameron may gamble that he will pick up more votes from the centre than he will lose from the right, but the balance needs to be finely judged. Similarly the BNP are so toxic that they simply have to be treated with care. It is true that they are picking up Tory votes in local elections, but this will fade away in a general election - it will only be in constituencies where the Tories are already no-hopers that this will be a major factor.
For the Tories to focus on elaborately detailed policies will risk them becoming little more than a Labour think-tank. However, the image of Cameron as a policy-free zone is worryingly sticky. If the Tories can stick down a few well-publicised policy markers in areas the Labour Party cannot touch - direct democracy say, or increased independence for schools - this ought to provide an answer to the 'but what policies do you have?' question.

Capturing an image

Labour's Clunking Fist?
It is, I suppose, possible that when Tony Blair warned David Cameron that, float as he might around the political arena he will come in reach of a big clunking fist and, you know what, he'll be out on his feet, carried out of the ring, Blair was trying to be complimentary about the Chancellor. Brown seemed to think so anyway, slapping Blair on the shoulder as he sat down. But, in hindsight, as Brown takes on the moniker of 'the Clunking Fist', the phrase looks extremely damaging.
I have droned on at considerable length and minimal interest about the importance of constructing a plausible narrative for a modern politician or party. The main work that Cameron has been doing over the last year has been to make an image of himself that will leap into people's minds when they hear his name. The next step has been to make sure that that image is the same one people see when the think of the Tories as a whole. Labour's attempts to use the Chameleon, and the media's attempts to use the Bullingdon photo have not succeeded, yet at any rate, and the general fuzzy, Webcameron, bicycling image is currently what is there.
For Brown, the problem is that his image is intensely dislikeable. For all the media 'Son of the manse' nonsense that is routinely trotted out, the prime image conjured up by Brown is the bitten fingernails, the tortured body language and the relentless battering-ram style approach to interviews: in other words an unhappy bully. For Blair to use the expression 'the Clunking Fist' is, in the circumstances, an absolute gift for the Conservatives.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Horror!

Why I'm so glad to be living north of the river...Hat tip to Dizzy

Wife in the North

Blogs can move things along quickly no? Wife in the North only started blogging in November last year, only got into her stride in January of this year, and already she has, deservedly, won a £70,000 book deal: quite something for a rainy day.

It probably helped to be sort of an insider to begin with - though the approach was apparently out of the blue. It also made me consider what blogs I prefer to read, and it turns out that they are along the lines of the Wife herself; the personal, chatty blogs about personal experiences and everyday life. The triviality is really not a problem: a dull day delicately described can be more of a pleasure to read than an epic adventure tiresomely catalogued.

That said, humourous writing often flourishes best among the everyday. The inspiration (ish) for this blog, PJ O'Rourke, wrote his funniest pieces about very little (though his travel journailsm is also very funny). So, the blogs I read which are funny, fun, engaging and specifically personal, and which I will link as soon as I can face doing that template rubbish again, would include James Lileks, Emily at Doing it all Again, and the Waiter. You can have enough politics...

The Bullingdon and Bullshit

As was only to be expected, the revelation that David Cameron smoked pot at Eton has raised few eyebrows. To be honest the headline 'Public Schoolboy smoked dope' is up there with 'Pope: Catholic'. Next up, the toilet habits of bears: revealed!
More damaging, though still to my mind trivial in the extreme, has been the re-revelation that Cameron, along with Boris Johnson, was a member of the Bullingdon Club. There has been the inevitable attempt in the Guardian to paint this in the lurid tones of class warfare, complaining that, of the 8 members of the club none went into engineering, social work, teaching or local government [incidentally, sometimes I begin to wonder whether the Guardian is simply a wind-up. Who on earth looks at a picture like this, looks up the careers of the protagonists - law, banking, politics etc. - and is offended that none of them is a social worker? I'm baffled].
When I was up, the Bullingdon had a reputation of being filled with the sort of pretentious, arrogant Euro-trash that it was the duty of every patriotic Englishman to avoid. The same went (double) for the Piers Gaveston, the Assassins and most other wanky drinking clubs you could name. They were replete with not only the sort of person who, in his first week at Oxford, discovers his aristocratic past, but also, and often worse, the sort of person who really was aristocratic, but was still an arsehole.
So: the Bullingdon club was full of wankers 10 years ago, and it was probably full of wankers 20 years ago too. Is that it? Philip Larkin once said (probably) that he grew up hating everybody, and it was only when he grew up that he realised that he merely hated children. Students tend to the irritating. Whether this is manifested in spending ridiculous fortunes on tailcoats and cocaine, or in drafting tediously self-congratulatory motions deploring the foreign policy of George Bush (or Richard Nixon) is irrelevant. Half the people now decrying Cameron for spending some of his time at Oxford (and lets not forget both he and Boris Johnson did get firsts - a feat beyond goody-two-shoes Blair) poncing about in the Bullingdon were themselves poncing about in JCRs calling for the end of Thatcherism, or freedom for Nicaragua.
Ultimately, the prime reason for the newsability of this story is that people who dislike Cameron, either because he is a Tory, or because, really, he isn't, will find it a convenient short-hand for decrying his policies (or at least his stated position from which he will formulate them) without having to engage with the ideas at all. Cameron says he wants to help the poor in society? Huh, he used to wear a tailcoat. Hurrah for grown-up politics eh?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Just thinking might be a start

There's a post over at Comment is Free by Will Hutton in defence of the Smith Institute (the entirely non-politically aligned think tank that has met in no.11 Downing Street some 211 times, meanwhile tiding Ed Balls over between the Civil Service and the House of Commons) which manages to miss the point entirely.

Politics and politicians do not deserve to be relegated to pariah status, unable to claim the financial advantages of charitable status because how they learn or inform themselves is regarded as somehow less honourable than straightforward good work.

Well, Will Hutton may not like it, but the law as it stands holds that political purposes are inherently non-charitable. He also complains that even

If some strictly out-of-order remarks were made at a seminar (Bob Shrum, a Democrat campaigner, is alleged to have said that David Cameron was "an empty opportunist who would do anything to win"), a full-blooded investigation attracting high-profile media interest is to break a butterfly upon a wheel. Thinktanks will have values, and that will lead to political orientations. Nothing could be more natural, or more proper.

Well, allow me to advert him to the paragraph 23 of the 1995 guidance for the Charities Act that states: the charity may influence government and public opinion, though it should only do so through accurate, well founded and reasoned argument based upon research or experience, and then only upon a matter directly related to the charity's purpose or the charitable sector as a whole.

It is, as ever, the commentators who take the breath away, with an astonishing array of non-sequitors and general missing the pointness. Take 'altrui' - a reliably ignorant leftist of the old school:

The appalling double standards of the Tories over this is [sic] pathetic. Thatcher and Joseph had their own think-tank, The Centre for Policy Studies (a limited company). Which is worse, allowing a charity or a company use government offices?

It's the tax status - how can this point not be seen?

Next for a real humdinger it's 'frog2':

Not long ago the BBC regularly interviewed Niall Ferguson of the US Heritage Foundation, and surprisingly(!) his views were from the American Right. But the Beeb introduced him as one would an academic. Dare I say, a 'real' academic ?

That would be Niall Ferguson, Lawrence Tisch Professor at Harvard? Lately of Jesus College Oxford? Author of innumerable peer-reviewed articles and several significant books (as well as a few television programmes but sh!). Do only Professors of Peace Studies at South Bank University qualify as academics these days?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Spring Clean

While I'm feeling so bloody awful, I thought I'd update my (pathetically underpowered) bloglinks. I've added the DK's inamorata Trixy because she makes me laugh, Caroline Hunt (being careful to keep her well away from those two) because she's worth reading, and Dizzy Thinks, Stumbling and Mumbling and Oliver Kamm because I've been reading them for ages and it would be ridiculous not to.

And Getting Slightly Creepy Now...

I've been studiously ignoring the developments in the little spat between, predominantly, Tim Ireland and Guido since the last time I mentioned it, but it's all getting a little weird. The bit I find, well, oddest is Ireland's habit of turning up in comment boxes (never here so far) as 'Guido 2.0' referring to 'Manic' in the third person, and then huffily reminding us all that all three of them are, of course the same person. There's something indefinably strange about all the 'Manic has spoken' business too - a combination of breath-taking pomposity and titanic self-delusion.

If I find that odd, there are other things I find less pleasant. His habit of consistently 'outing' people on the net. It's bad manners to out Guido, even if it's hardly a masterpiece of deduction, it gets unpleasant when it's used as a constant implicit threat. People blog in the style they want, in the fashion they choose, and it's not up to Ireland to determine how they should identify themselves. The Devil's Kitchen blogs as just that - not his real name, though 5 minutes effort could discover it. It's therefore polite (and lets not forget this whole spat started over a fight about, basically, blogging manners) to respect that.

The substance (if there really is any) to the fight between Ireland and Guido could scarcely interest me less, while that between Ireland and Iain Dale seems to me bizarre in the extreme. It appears that Iain asked whether Ireland was not a nihilist too [as well as Guido] and then denied having called Ireland a nihilist. Well, for fuck's sake: neither of them are nihilists, and it's no more an insult to be called a nihilist than to be called a Cartesian dualist. If this is worth getting worked up over someone needs to take a few deep breaths and work on channelling the anger somewhere productive.

And then there's the odd little exchange on Caroline Hunt's blog that manages to combine the strange, the patronising and the astonishing speed at taking offence.

The *existing* rules that have naturally developed over time via a series of internet-enabled interaction formats (and this relatively new one) are there to protect the community and those who wish to interact with it, and better enable effective discourse within it.

If you do not abide by these rules, then you have no place in the community. If one community in particular does not abide by these rules, they deserve to be shunned by the wider community.

The problem is that this is meaningless. There being no regulatory body for blogs (praise be) the rules that Ireland sets out in his blog (oh just go and read them for yourself, I'm not chugging through that again) are merely exhortatory. Anyone is entitled to write their blog in the way they see fit - provided no actual (as in existing, enforceable non-imaginary) law is broken. There is, incidentally a lot of very authoritative nonsense being written about blogs and libel (some I think by me) but it's worth bearing in mind that the libel laws as regarding blogs in this country are not so settled as to make any definitive opinion possible, though Oliver Kamm is probably the most intimately acquainted with them. Vulgar abuse, by the way, can never be libellous, so we can all feel free to call anyone we like a fascist - since as I demonstrated the term has ceased to hold any real meaning - hurrah for linguistic devaluation!

Anyway, since there seems to be no way of derailing this god-awful procession of weirdness, let's just wait and see if the Common Law will eventually get a sparkly new precedent after all - all this energy can't just be spent in the comment boxes of other people's blogs after all.

I Aten't Dead

But jolly bloody nearly. Have come back from a week in the 3 Valleys with the worst case of chalet flu I've ever even heard of. Am lying now racked on a bed of pain with a forehead you could fry eggs on. More when I begin to feel even vaguely humanoid.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Good Golly Miss Molly

England have only gone and beaten Australia in a cricket match. Whatever next? I'm going to have to go and sit down and let my world-view adjust to this...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The State Should Own You

So thinks Johann Hari, in a piece calling for the re-introduction of conscription, specifically apparently for middle-class 20 somethings. He provides two reasons for the overall control of the state over the freedom of the citizens. The first is that it would make armies more representative of society - stating that both the American and British armies are overly black and poor. I've read recent research on the American army, in the wake of John Kerry's unfortunate 'if you don't revise you'll get stuck in Iraq' comment, that showed that the average American volunteer was rather better educated than the average American, and that the biggest disparity was that they were significantly more rural.

I don't have figures for the British army, but I see no reason why this should be dramatically different here. In any case, the idea that the state should compel people to join the army in order to fulfil some arbitrary 'representation' quota strikes me as bizarre in the extreme. Conscript armies do not, shall we say, have a happy history - look at Russia's continuing problems if you want an illustration.

If I find Hari's first argument unconvincing, I find his second bizarre to the point of absurdity. One of the features of a conscript army is that it is not as good as a volunteer army. As Nelson said, 'better one volunteer than three pressed men.' The Americans in Vietnam suffered because its troops had not chosen to be there, knew their tour of duty was short and, as a result, got their heads down - to the point of mutiny when ordered into combat. The Tsarist army in the First World War mutinied and deserted in droves, allowing the Germans to advance all the way to Brest Litovsk. A conscript army isn't nearly as effective a fightig force a sa volunteer force. Even when conscript forces have become good combat forces (the BEF in 1916-1918 for example) they are still not as good as regulars (the BEF in 1914-1916 for example).

This, for Hari is a good thing. We should prioritise having an army that makes fighting wars more difficult over an army that makes winning wars more likely. I'm quite amazed at the stupidity of this - we should deliberately diminish the efficacy of our armed forces to make Hari and like-minded people feel better about themselves; we should re-introduce conscription in order to socially-engineer the army. Gah.

UPDATE: See also Tim and Chris.

Law in the European Union - you and whose army?

The EU is a slippery little blighter. The laws, treaties, regulations and directives spin by in something of a blur - easy to get confused over whether, for example, the Maastricht Treaty is still actually in force (it isn't) or whether Britain could regain her opt-out on the Social Chapter (she can't - it's now in the Treaty of Amsterdam). The DK is therefore right to detect a trace of humbug about the Conservative's plans to rejig elements of Britain's involvement in the EU - from the Social Chapter to the Common Fisheries Policy.

Except that the European Union has very little concept of legal sovereignty - or indeed accountability. The European Court does not recognise precedent for example, and it decides on a teleological basis - not what the law says, but what it was supposed to say. So there is a potential method that the Tories could take to withdraw from unwelcome elements of the European law, without following the letter of the Treaties. Ignore them.

It's what the French have done repeatedly. The European Court will declare Britain to be in breach. Britain can then ignore it. The possibility of fines can be raised. Britain can ignore them. Suspension of membership? Never going to happen. The rule of Europe is a rule by consent - there is nothing by way of effective sanction unless Member States play along. It would raise tensions in Europe, raise worries about Britian being 'sidelined', but the bottom line is that the EU cannot afford to kick Britain out - Britain is not in the position of a supplicant here, it has a very strong bargaining position.
While Britain's basic negotiating position is that of a reluctant child, being dragged into things mostly against its will, it has very little chance of success. So act like France under De Gaulle - stomp around and throw its weight around - refuse to co-operate unless you get your way, insist that things are done your way or not at all, ignore rulings that go against you. It's obstructive, and 'un-European' but that's fine - most of us are already.