Wednesday, April 30, 2003

US Attorney General unlucky in love..

"Alone... bad," Ashcroft told reporters on Jan. 23. "Friend... good."

...and facing a new source of opposition:

"Ashcroft has placed a number of limits on civil liberties, restrictions which have earned him the enmity of the ACLU and other such organizations. Recently, however, Ashcroft has also begun to draw criticism from another sector: angry peasant villagers."
I find it hard to disagree with Mark Steyn

"If there's an idiot's guide to successful kidnappings, I would imagine the first rule is to steer clear of seaplane-flying anaesthesiologists who've invented paralysing relaxants."

Sounds sensible to me.
I missed Michael Gove's piece on "lucky" Gerry Adams in yesterday's Times. He comes perilously close to saying something that a lot of commentators believe but are afraid to say.
I wanted to write something about self-determination. It arises out of my post below and Ciaran's comments. I have an idea of a general set of principles which can be applied to specific cases including Northern Ireland. It may be that I am wrong and I would welcome examples which demonstrated this.

The first principle, which is well recognised, is that a majority of the occupants of a clearly defined area should determine the territorial allegiance of that area. So far so easy, the problem is how do you define "a clearly defined area". I could imagine three separate types.

The first type would be a specific region within a country with a particular linguistic, ethnic, cultural identity which differs from the rest of the country. The Basque region would conform to this, maybe the Catalan region. Note that this is simply about definition of "clearly defined area" and not the merits of independence: A vote on independence in either region would be likely to fail, the majority in each, including the fiercely nationalistic Basques, preferring the status quo within Spain.

The second type would be a partitioned country, like Ireland, pre-1989 Germany or Korea. In the case of the partitioned country the temptation is always to look to the population of both parts combined to provide a decision in favour of unification. This can, however lead to injustice, particularly when there are more than one ethnic groups involved. Even in Germany with one predominant ethnic group, a majority was required in both parts to favour unification.

The third type would be an annexed area like East Timor. The key problem in the second and third types is the acceptance of the status quo as a position to move forward from.

A particular problem in Ireland is that republicans simply don't recognise the border and hold that the only vote relevant for self-determination is an all-Ireland vote. I think that whatever your views as to the justice of an annexation or a partition a statute of limitations must apply. This is the most important principle. I think that historical justifications are probably the least appropriate for determining territorial allegiance. Two generations is the minimum period of time which suggests itself to me, empirically, as the appropriate period of time to recognise that a partition has taken place or a region has been annexed. In this case the overwhelming majority would have grown up recognising the extant borders as a practical matter. Note that this not to say that the particular annexation or partition is right or wrong, just that it is those who live in the area who should define its future and not those outside, even if (especially if) those outside have some historical or ethnic interest.

I freely admit that my knowledge in this, as in most things here, is lay. Perhaps Peter might have a more informed take?

UPDATE: Peter replies!

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Just a quick one before 24 starts. Peter has an interesting post over at Green Enigma about the closer defense ties mooted by the Gang of Four, or maybe that should be the Three Musketeers and Luxembourg. I actually think this may not be a bad development. They are rushing into a pact together that may end NATO in its present format.

A NATO Version 2.0, unencumbered by these troublemakers, would be a lot more effective. Peter suggests that the EU might become a "glorified Trading Bloc" as if this is to be lamented but such an outcome would be my fervent wish consummated! The prospect of a United States of Europe horrifies me but the Single European Market has been great.
I can't let Danny Morrison's piece in today's Guardian go without comment.

"As an Irish republican who joined the IRA in my teens in the early 1970s, and as someone who has been arrested and imprisoned in my own country a score of times by the British, I take great exception to the moral high tone often adopted by commentators when they turn their attention to the north of Ireland."

As a convicted terrorist, jailed in connection with a kidnap and torture, Morrison considers himself in some sort of position of moral authority. It says a lot about republican theology that he simply assumes this goes without saying.

"The British government will never have any right to be in Ireland. That basic premise never disturbs the thinking of British commentators, but every day in the north we live with the consequences of British interference in Irish affairs."

The British government isn't "in" Ireland. Northern Ireland contains a majority of people who define themselves as British and who wish to be part of the United Kingdom. This "basic premise never disturbs the thinking" of republicans, right wing "imperial-decline managers" and left wing "liberationists". If Nationalists ever outnumber Unionists it might be appropriate for Northern Ireland to become united with the Republic, in that event, special consideration would be required of unionists' British identity, analogous to the special consideration of Irish identity and aspirations granted to nationalists at present: For "Cross-border bodies" read "Cross-Irish-sea bodies". This may seem like a small point to labour but this issue goes to the heart of the lack of progress from republicans.

The republican view goes something like this: The last legitimate government of Ireland was elected in 1918 when Sinn Fein routed the constitutional nationalist party led by John Redmond and declared Ireland independent setting up their own Dail (Parliament). This Dail was elected by an all-Ireland electorate albeit for the Westminster parliament. As no all-Ireland election has taken place since, republicans believe that the only legitimate government of Ireland is the IRA army council. I use the word "believe" advisedly as this bears all the hallmarks of a righteous religious sect. The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are "failed statelets" according to the republican view. The fact that the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have existed in their present state for longer than the lifetime of all but a handful of their occupants is a trifling matter for republicans, these are simply illegitimate bodies. That is why Morrison refers to the British in Ireland, until the entire island of Ireland is britisch-rein it is the same as if the whole island is under british rule. In this version of events there is simply no recognition of the majority population in Northern Ireland: the protestant descendants of Scottish settlers who have been on this island longer than most of the occupants of the continent of America. It is only by refusing to recognise the reality of a border which has existed for over 80 years that you could dismiss this people as an irrelevant minority. This flaw in republican thinking has led them to constantly invoke the imaginary quarrel between the Irish and the British to the detriment of the actual dispute between the two tribes who share Northern Ireland.

"Hundreds of nationalists, including our political representatives and our lawyers, were assassinated as a result of collusion between the British state and loyalist paramilitaries in a scandal which will now be swept under the carpet - if issuing the Stevens report the day after parliament went into recess is anything to go by."

The idea that this despicable episode is simply swept under the carpet is another example of extreme nationalist paranoia. One thing that is swept under the carpet is the inconvenient fact that more nationalists were killed by republican paramilitaries than loyalists and state agents put together!

"It is too simplistic to blame the IRA for current difficulties in the peace process. The real crisis is that unionists do not want to share power with nationalists, particularly Sinn Fein, and are attempting to turn the peace process into a surrender process, though the IRA was never defeated."

Unionists don't want to share power with Sinn Fein not because they are nationalist but because they don't trust them. They are quite happy, even the extremists of the DUP, to share with the mainstream Nationalist SDLP. Now, they may be wrong to distrust SF or they may be right but it is dishonest to portray this disagreement as simply a sectarian dispute.

"Our experience and our relationship with Britain, which informs our judgements, has been forged by British military might. When we compare what Britain has done in Ireland, including partitioning the country and handing power to the Ulster Unionist party, which discriminated against nationalists for 50 years; when we consider the revelations of the Stevens report (just the tip of the iceberg of "the dirty war"), and then examine what republicans have given, things take on a different perspective."

This is eloquent testimony to the paranoid mindset of republicans. Things take on a "different perspective" indeed if you collude in the delusion that the story of Ireland, never mind Northern Ireland is a simple struggle between the Republican guerrillas of the IRA and Britain's "military might". Ordinary people don't get a look in.

"David Trimble's Ulster Unionist party has never acknowledged the part those decades of discrimination and oppression played in fuelling the outbreak of violence. We can live with that denial."

That's big of you, Danny.

"What we cannot abide is the demand that the IRA prostrate itself so that David Trimble can present a triumphalist manifesto in his election battle against Ian Paisley."

You see, this is the sort of stuff that makes me despair, this boneheaded childish machismo is not by any means restricted to republicans, it infects all of NI politics but here what Morrison is saying is that, dammit if he's going to do Trimble any favours. Never mind that it might actually be in everyone's interest, including republicans, that the rational Trimble prevails over the demagogic Paisley.

"The IRA's declaration of a cessation in 1994 was welcomed with obstacles and demands from day one. Sinn Fein was demonised and excluded from talks until Labour came to power in 1997."

SF promised an end to IRA violence which most people understood meant an end to all violence and a winding down of the "military" aspect of "the Republican movement" including

1) Intelligence gathering,
2) Targeting of prominent politicians and policemen,
3) Weapons procurement,
4) Punishment beatings,
5) Expulsions,
6) Executions of intra-republican dissidents and critics,
7) Executions of those involved in the drug trade.

All of those things still go on. Even now.

That is why SF was "demonised and excluded".

"When it came to negotiations, republicans compromised on several key issues. In the Belfast agreement they supported a unionist demand for devolved government to "the hated" Stormont assembly, and for the amendment of the Irish territorial claim on the north. They were promised a new beginning to policing..."

Done, the RUC is gone and had been replaced by the PSNI which has active recruitment policies towards catholics. Catholics who are often intimidated by republicans from joining. SF has not been excluded from the policing board but has refused to co-operate with it.

"...and that the grievances surrounding justice, human rights and equality would be addressed."

Also done, see all the various enquiries, prisoner release programs and ex-prisoner "rehabilitation" slush funds.

It seems to me that any wish list from republicans is trumped every time by the wish list of ordinary people catholic and protestant for an end to republicans' various "activities". And before the issue of the loyalist paramilitaries is brought up, Ordinary people wish their activities and murders to end too. The key difference is that the rump loyalist parties have no electoral support and are not in a position, unlike SF, of forming part of NI's devolved government.

"Loyalist paramilitaries, in collusion with British intelligence, imported thousands of weapons from the South African apartheid regime. Loyalists refuse to disarm, have continued to kill Catholics (and each other) without any sanctions from Mr Trimble.."

We are back to the tit-for-tat boneheaded argument here. I wonder would Morrison support strong police action against these paramilitaries? I can assure you that he wouldn't. Any show of force against the loyalists would inevitably be replicated against his erstwhile colleagues. He is happy simply to protest about it and continue the charade that somehow the IRA "defends" the catholic population - a fallacy debunked by Richard English. How does he propose that Trimble "sanction" the loyalists?. Well, I suppose Trimble could apply the same "sanction" and refuse to remain in a government alongside parties associated with paramilitaries, except that the loyalist parties weren't in government, will never be in government.

"- whereas the IRA has twice put large numbers of arms beyond use."

Well, I have donated large numbers of old clothes, putting them "beyond use" but I can assure you that I am not typing this au naturel

Morrison, of course, makes no reference to Colombia where three IRA men including Sinn Fein's official attache in Cuba are on trial for sharing terrorist expertise with FARC's narco-terrorists, or the IRA's Stormont spy ring. These are just some of the many actual events that shed light on the motives of the Republican Movement which no amount of contortedly worded statements from P. O'Neill can spin away.
Somehow Thierry Henry manages to retain his obnoxious arrogance in defeatism. He is hoping for Wayne Rooney's Everton to do him and Arsenal a favour by beating United on the last day of the season. What the striker doesn't seem to realise is that, just as United must respect Charlton and Everton, Arsenal cannot take their own remaining games for granted. It may well come down to United needing to win against Everton to secure the championship but Arsenal have three more must-win games to play and, on present form, don't look like they are capable of gaining maximum points.
Those, including Christopher Hitchens, who castigate the US for not supporting the International Criminal Court should take a look at what's happening in Belgium at the moment to see why. The fact is that transnational bodies such as this are primarily seen, conciously and sub-conciously, as a means to curb US power. The stated aim is to bring people to justice for war crimes. This is a reasonable goal, the problem is that the definition of "war crimes" committed by the US is absurdly broad, including apparently the fact the the most recent war wasn't UN approved. If such "crimes" are committed by other nations, France after all invaded Cote d'Ivoire without UN approval, there is a much stricter definition. Now, left-wing anti-Americans and French nationalists may think it is a good thing that the US is curbed and maybe even a majority of europeans might agree with them but there is no reason for the US to go along with this.

When you get to the possibility of dictators being brought to justice, I don't it is too ludicrous to suggest that some of their supporters - I am thinking of Mrs Mugabe's shopping spree on the Champs Elysee or Thabo Mbeki's touching hands-held embrace of her homophobic tyrant husband, not to mention Rupert Murdoch's (yes, Murdoch!) media outlets' silence on Fidel's latest crackdown - will redefine any action of these villains with a mitigating plea of "self-defense" against, Oh I don't know, "The Legacy of Colonialism", "Imperialist Aggression" or even, heaven forbid, "Globalisation".

Monday, April 28, 2003

Apparently the euro is slightly over-valued against the dollar and sterling is over-valued against the euro. How do I know this? Why, burgernomics of course!
Who says footballers are stupid and half-literate? The Professional footballers' association's team of the year conforming so closely to soccer pundits' received wisdom as to suggest the typical footballer spends as much time perusing the papers as he does training. How else to explain an 11 which includes 5 players from the hacks' darlings, faltering Arsenal and a solitary player, Paul Scholes, from under-respected league leaders Manchester United?. The right wing berth is filled by the over-rated Kieron Dyer - Newcastle fans consider his surname an apt description of his performances - and crocked "legend" Alan Shearer is up front ahead of the actual best player of the season - Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

David Aaronovitch has a great piece in today's Observer castigating those on the left, such as John Pilger, for their myopia and obsessive anti-Americanism in the light of the recent revelations about "Gorgeous" George Galloway.

"All sins are American sins. Before the 1991 Gulf war, according to Pilger, Iraq was a 'relatively open and pro-Western society'. The health service was brill, education was fab, and - the 'appalling human rights record' aside - things were tickety-boo. Then came the war and sanctions and that led to repression and to economic misery. 'With most Iraqis now dependent on the state food rationing system,' wrote Pilger, 'organised political dissent is all but unthinkable.' Whereas before sanctions it was entirely thinkable, providing you didn't mind being collected from the police station by your family (with a nominal charge for the hangman's time). "

In the print version of this there is a photo to accompany the article showing Galloway and some anti-war colleagues making some sort of statement to a press conference. I was surprised to see, alongside usual suspects Bianca Jagger, Corin Redgrave and faded pop star Damon Albarn, two pretty famous figures from the world of architecture: Architect Richard Rogers and critic Charles Jencks. I have no idea what these two gentlemen thought they were doing with an odious figure like Galloway. Gifted orator though he may be - the conservative magazine, The Spectator named him parliamentary performer of the year - anyone with half a clue knew that Galloway was a deeply compromised figure long before the Telegraph's revelations.

Rogers is a pretty major figure, not only in the world of architecture, but also in politics. He was knighted by Blair and had been very close to the "New Labour" leadership. He has more recently been critical of the government but I still think he shows shocking naivety to endorse "Gorgeous George"

I am not a big fan of Jencks' work, he is an architectural critic whose modus operandi is to take all the note-worthy new architecture and "retro-fit" an overarching theory to unify it. His last big success was in championing the "Post-Modern" school of architecture in the 1980s - big ironic classical pastiches. This was, in my opinion, a bit of a low-point architecturally. Since then he has floundered a bit with his writings and hasn't really been able to make any of his theories "stick" in the same way as Po-Mo. More admirably he has commissioned architects including Frank O. Gehry to design cancer care centres in the UK in honour of his late wife Maggie who died of breast cancer. Maybe he is better suited to being an architectural patron and cancer activist than an architectural writer. What he thought he was doing here is beyond me.

Manchester United move 5 points clear of Arsenal at the top of the table after a 2-0 win at White Hart Lane. With two games left for United and three for Arsenal, United look certain to depose the Gunners as Premiership champions. Two wins at home to Charlton and away to Everton would be required to seal this assuming Arsenal don't slip up but I have a feeling that Arsenal won't gain maximum points from their remaining games and might draw at home next Sunday to a Leeds side desperately in need of points to ensure Premiership survival.

Saturday, April 26, 2003


Arsenal blow a 2-0 lead away to an impressive Bolton, the home side clawing their way back to 2-2. Having played the same number of games, Arsenal are now two points behind Manchester United, their goal difference superior by only one goal. What this means is that if United win their remaining three games they will be champions, Arsenal must hope that United will drop points. United visit the Gunners' arch-rivals Spurs tomorrow.
Conor has a really interesting comment to my post below about maths, probability, economics and public ignorance of same, particularly to do with the bench-marking process that's going on in Ireland at the moment.

Just to explain to those unfamiliar with bench-marking, it is a process designed to deliver increases to public sector workers, by comparing their salaries to similar ones in the private sector. It is a regular feature in Ireland to provide long-term fixes to short-term problems and bench-marking is one of these. Another is the "solution" to the housing "crisis". A few years ago, public sector workers were getting irked at the salaries in the private sector (particularly teachers coveting the salaries of their erstwhile students) and first-time buyers couldn't get into the housing market. Now, a "solution" for each of these "problems" is easily provided by the market. If you really want a house that bad, you have to pay for it, if there are no punters for a house of a certain size the price will drop to attract punters. If you are in the public sector and you really want a private sector job, here's a thought: why not apply for one?

The fact is: even though there was a lot of discontent among public sector unions about the pay issue, a better test of whether pay levels were insufficient is to look at recruitment. This test also shows the bogus nature of the complaints by British Fire "Fighter"s' unions. There is no recruitment problem in the British Fire Service and apart from one or two particular cases - nursing staff for example - there is no recruitment problem in the Irish public sector. People factor in security of tenure when applying for a job and when deciding to stay in a job but for some reason they conveniently forget it when considering their relative pay levels. In addition to this, in the years that have passed since the bench-marking process was set up, the economy has slowed down and many of those in high pay/high risk jobs have lost those jobs or at least some of the high income they commanded. Yet the process persists, in the same way as a highly bureacratic system introduced to provide "affordable houses" persists. I won't bore you with the byzantine details of the latter system, except to say that, in my opinion, the only effect of this will be to increase house prices: The complexities and costs involved leading developers to reduce their involvement in the housing sector, concentrating on more profitable areas instead. This reduction in supply can only increase house prices.

The whole premise behind benchmarking is so dishonest, it is taken as a given that public pay levels are unattractive, discussions in the media simply stipulate this fact and never consider that it may not be accurate. Conor suggests that public (or as he drily puts it: "private") inertia on this issue is best explained by a general ignorance of areas of probability and economics and he is right, but there is another factor here: the "Ostrich pose". The whole business is so ghastly and costly that many prefer to ignore it in the hope that it will simply go away.

Friday, April 25, 2003

The NASUWT, Britain's slightly less loopy teachers' union (the other is the NUT) wants to abolish compulsory Maths. Rachel Simhon's critique of this disastrous notion is slightly hampered by her statement that....

" is a basic truth that virtually no one actually enjoys maths. You endure it; few of you are any good at it. But you know you've got to do it.....What does "the square of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares on the other two sides" mean? Who knows. Was I entirely sure what sines, cosines and tangents are for? No; they were something you looked up in a book. Have I used them since? Of course not. Am I glad I learnt them? Yes, because that is what education is for. "

For what it's worth, when I was at school I loved Maths, it would have been my favourite subject ahead of History. In any case, I have to say that, although I agree with her basic argument of the necessity of Maths in education, I disagree with her supporting argument. "That is what education is for" is a pretty limp assertion which is easily countered. If you are going to insist that certain subjects be compulsory you should at least know why. A certain basic level of numeracy, like literacy is required just to get through the day but a good mathematical education equips you with far more than the ability to tell whether you have been short-changed at the shop.

It is commonly understood that Maths is the foundation for a proper scientific education and it is true that the level of scientific education among the public is pitiful but what is less often considered is that a mathematical education also provides the tools, particularly to do with ordering, testing and proving assertions, for other non-science subjects.

I would actually propose that mathematical education be widened. Steven Pinker has shown that there are areas which aren't instinctively understood by our brains, which evolved on the African savannah millenia ago. One of these is the subject of Probability and Chance. No clearer demonstration of this fact is the popularity of various state lotteries. Now the likelihood of winning any of these for any individual is miniscule but we have no way of instinctively appreciating this. Somebody's got to win, right? it might as well be me?. It seems so plausible when it is actually implausible in the extreme. Another related area is economics, some of the "smartest" people in the world have an understanding of how market forces operate which is barely better than that of a child. If any subject should be compulsory it should be maths with mandatory sections on Probability and basic economics. Pinker actually wrote a very interesting open letter to President Bush on educational policy which sets out the re-ordering of priorities suggested by applying a scientific look at the curriculum.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Manchester United managed to salvage their pride with a home win against Real Madrid in last night's seven goal thriller. Real Madrid, however, win the tie 6-5 on aggregate and will surely retain the Champions' League trophy at the same venue in May. As I feared, United left themselves with too much to do after the disappointing 3-1 defeat in Madrid a fortnight ago. Last night was a much better performance from United. They were guilty of a little defensive naivety, particularly for Ronaldo's three quick-taken goals, but showed Real Madrid's defensive vulnerabilities in the four goals they scored. Beckham started the game on the bench, but came on to score two goals, one an excellently taken free-kick that left Real's superb young keeper Casillas rooted to the spot and the other a bundled in goal after some harum scarum defending from the visitors. The current wisdom is that Becks will go to Madrid in the summer for £38m. It would be sad to see such a fans' favourite go. Giggs is also rumoured to be headed for Italy. Whatever about these two players, who have given such great service to United over the years, I would guess that Fabien Barthez and Juan Sebastian Veron will not be at Old Trafford next season.

I don't think that Veron is quite the flop he is made out to be by the media and, coming back from injury, it wouldn't be fair to expect him to repay his £28m transfer fee with a match-winning performance last night. But, fair or not, that is how he will be judged. He is a marvelously gifted footballer but doesn't consistently perform and he isn't really in the same class as Figo and Roberto Carlos never mind Zidane. If Ferguson is to have a summer clear-out, I can't see him rebuilding the team around Veron.

As for Barthez, his many "Hollywood saves" barely balance the deficits to his game. Numerous high-profile gaffes aside, he looked at fault for at least two of Ronaldo's strikes last night. Here's a statistic: United are on a good run of form at the moment, full of confidence yet Barthez has conceded an incredible 11 goals in the last 5 games. The "Great Dane" Peter Schmeichel's successors have had difficulty living up to him. Bosnich and Taibi flopped badly and it was a relief to see someone of Barthez's stature arrive. Being better than Marc Bosnich is just not good enough for a club of United's stature and aspirations and he has surely outstayed his welcome by now.
Great piece from Mark Steyn, as always, on Iraq's cultural heritage.

"Mankind's first experiments in agriculture and village life took place on the soil of what is now Iraq. Inhabitants of this land invented writing, and the first legal code, and possibly the wheel. But in the millennia between Gilgamesh, King of Nippur, and Saddam Hussein, President of Saddamland, any connection, ethnic, linguistic, religious or cultural, between the subjects of the former and those of the latter has withered to nothing. An Iraqi is no more likely than a Texan to be a descendant of Sumer"

I have to say, this really got me thinking. We are all guilty of short-hand thinking, It is taken as given that a collection of the artifacts of a country's history is an important part of that country's culture. Each country has objects that are relics of that country's history and are rightly treasured. However, when we talk about ancient history and when there is a decisive breach between that period and the modern day country - and much of this stuff lay in obscurity for centuries - there is really no more "right" to that cultural heritage other than the default position of its location. That is not to say that it is right to squirrel away priceless treasures. They are the property of the Iraqi people just as much as their petroleum reserves. But that is not the same as to say they are an intrinsic part of their culture in the same way as say The Book of Kells is to Ireland.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Probably the biggest match of the season for Manchester United is tonight's. After a 3-1 win at home to Blackburn they are still neck and neck with Arsenal for the premiership, the London team having the edge with a slightly superior goal difference albeit three points behind with a game in hand. Tonight United host Real Madrid in the second leg of the champions' league quarter final. Real Madrid are 3-1 up from the first leg and played some superb football to outclass an admiring United. A 2-0 home win would put United through to the semi-finals to meet Juventus, a team they have already beaten home and away in the group stages of this competition. My feeling is that United will score, but unless they do it early they won't prevent Real scoring, even though the spanish team are bereft of probably their best player Raul. Sir Alex Ferguson has been accused of his habitual "mindgames" in sumptuously praising Raul ahead of his more lauded teammate Zinadine Zidane but while Zidane is the more gifted elegant, cerebral footballer Raul is a phenomenon. Reading reports of his appendix operation yesterday, despicably I cheered this. I don't wish any discomfort to him but I couldn't resist the glee at our rivals being deprived of his goalscoring prowess.
Polly Toynbee is right to say that attempts to enforce a total prohibition on drugs are sheer folly. She makes the cardinal mistake, however, of falling into the trap of the "social equality solution fallacy". Eradicating poverty is no less quixotic a task then eradicating drug use, not least because those who define poverty keep changing the goalposts. Toynbee refers to Holland.

"The Netherlands has had phenomenal success, with heroin addiction falling. Addicts are a shrinking and ageing group, well supervised and under control. Is that due to a good, well-financed, rational treatment programme? More likely it is due to the structure of Dutch life, a far more equal society with an absence of gross poverty. Those western societies such as Britain and the US, with the greatest wealth gap and the most poverty, have the worst drug problems: it is an affliction of poverty among affluence."

First thing is, how can you laud Dutch drugs policy and then maintain that it has no effect, claiming that reduction in drug use is due to "social equality"? Secondly the notion that there is "an absence of gross poverty" in The Netherlands is a bald, unsupported, and probably unsupportable, assertion. As is the notion that Britain and the US have the "most poverty" of western societies. This is just blatantly wrong as any Portuguese peasant could tell you. Then this last sly attempt - "poverty among affluence." - to link "gross" poverty with "relative" poverty. This translates as: even though your standard of living is better than most middle class people worldwide - A poor "Brummie" being equivalent to a middle class Bulgarian and a rich Bangladeshi - because your near neighbours have expensive clothes, cars, whatever, you are in such despair that you turn to drugs. This is a real "bolt-on" argument. Toynbee is so convinced of the undesirability of a "wealth gap" that she presumes that to reduce or end it would be a panacea for all ills. In the unlikely event of Toynbee's "Equal Society" ever being achieved, human nature being what it is, drug use, and indeed poverty, would persist.

There are plenty of good arguments against drug prohibition, particularly the philosophical one of whether the government has a right or a benefit in interfering with or criminalising an adult's consumption of drugs but probably the best one is that the "solution" of a war on drugs (or more accurately a war on drug-users) is worse than the "problem" of drug use and indeed actually causes the biggest problem: the crime necessary to fund drug use.

Jonathan Freedland has an interesting piece about crime in today's Guardian, endorsing some of what loonie-rightie Peter Hitchens (Christopher's brother) suggests in his latest book, particularly that relating to the evolution of the police force into an unresponsive but heavily armed centralised bureacracy.

Freedland displays here an ability to think beyond left and right that he rarely uses when considering the Anti-War and Anti-Globalisation movements to which he wishes to belong.
Hitch in trouble again!

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Paul Bew notes that the centre parties in Northern Ireland, the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists have been sold out to the extremists of both communities, Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party, by the British and Irish Governments. By granting them concessions they have held out for, they have allowed SF to paint their nationalist rivals the SDLP as ineffectual and always ready to settle for less. Similarly, by not requiring the DUP to agree to anything, the DUP can reap the rewards of painstaking negotiation by the Ulster Unionists and still decry their unionist rivals as traitors.

There is this fantasy, shared by observers outside of N.I. in Ireland, Britain and elsewhere, that somehow the future of the province lies in power shared between SF and the DUP. This is harebrained stuff. It is true to say that on present trends the future majority parties in both communities may be these two but the idea that they would work constructively together is a chimera. They are defined by their loathing of the other. The whole soggy power-sharing ideal is designed for messy compromisers not ethnic purists.
George Monbiot has another mindless rant in today's Guardian. This time tasking the grandly titled "Global Justice Movement" (of which he tells us he considers himself a member) to swing its support behind the Euro as a counterweight to the US Dollar but I was struck by these particular lines.

"Were it not for a monumental economic distortion, the US economy would, by now, have all but collapsed...... It survives only because conventional measures do not apply: the rest of the world has granted it an unnatural lease of life........ Almost 70% of the world's currency reserves..... takes the form of US dollars. The dollar is used for this purpose because it is relatively stable, it is produced by a nation with a major share of world trade, and certain commodities, in particular oil, are denominated in it, which means that dollars are required to buy them........The US does very well from this arrangement. In order to earn dollars, other nations must provide goods and services to the US. When commodities are valued in dollars, the US needs do no more than print pieces of green paper to obtain them: it acquires them, in effect, for free. Once earned, other nations' dollar reserves must be invested back into the American economy. This inflow of money helps the US to finance its massive deficit."

Print pieces of green paper?? Acquire (goods and services) for free?? this is just crazy stuff. The Guardian should know better. If Monbiot actually believes this is anything like an accurate description of economics and currency he is even more foolish than I thought.
Geoffrey Wheatcroft, no knee-jerk leftist, has a piece in today's Guardian which rather belatedly dismisses the liberal arguments for war. His central premise is that the official pretext for war - Saddam represented a serious threat - was baseless and that the bolstering liberal argument - Saddam was a despicable despot - was insufficient justification to war. As the torture chambers open up and the children's prison empties it requires extreme blitheness to stress the latter point. As for the former, countering Wheatcroft's scepticism, I remain unconvinced that no WMDs will turn up.

Incredibly, he seeks to prove that somehow an outright attack on the pre-1989 Soviet Union or a contemporary strike at China would be more "logical" than the action against Saddam's Ba'athist regime. The answer to this "conundrum" is so basic that a child could see it, but it obviously eludes Mr Wheatcroft. The thing is, what separates Saddam's regime from the Nuclear powers of the Soviet Union and Communist China is that it could be relatively easily defeated and more importantly it was not in a position to annihilate the USA.

"Gorgeous" George Galloway is on BBC news this morning denouncing reports in the Telegraph that he was in the pay of Iraqi Intelligence as "Black Propaganda". A few points occurred to me.

1) One little word: "Black" is an indicator of Galloway's views. If you didn't know anything about this preposterous and vain arabophile hard-leftist except his recent behaviour you might conclude that he was a typical European "Radical Chic" Leftist as commonly found on campus. This one word, however, gives him away. No Leftwing intellectual would be found dead using "Black" to denote anything negative. Galloway's heroes are brutal men like Stalin and Milosevic not Edward Said or Noam Chomsky.

2) As I noted in an earlier post about historian Christopher Hill, It is possible to be a spy and not realise you are a spy. In fact it is probably a lot better for your paymasters if you don't think you are spying, it is enough that you act in a way that benefits them.

3) This money was allegedly from the UN Food (and Medicine) for Oil program. It is more than a little ironic to consider the direct responsibility Galloway bore for the depradations - malnutrition, infant mortality rate - of the sanctions regime he so loudly decried.
I was saddened to learn of the death of Nina Simone at 70. She was, by all accounts, a bit of a loony but a real musical genius. Those whose familarity with her ouevre begins and ends with "My baby just cares for me" should hear "Save me", "Sinnerman" and "See-line Woman" for a better appreciation.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Here's what some Guardian Columnists do: They up sticks and move to America, live there for a year or so and report back weekly. The idea is that they would have a feel for the place "on the ground" and so their views would acquire a patina of authenticity. The problem is, alongside all of their other belongings in transit is a huge box labelled "Fragile!: Prejudices - This way up". The fine china and champagne flutes get trashed but somehow the transatlantic crossing doesn't seem to have any effect on the prejudices which arrive in mint condition - which is the way they will stay for the entire sojourn. Reading missives from Matthew Engel and the latest Stateside G-Hack, Gary Younge - his latest piece suggesting that Bush is in trouble domestically might just as well have been written from London - leaves one with the impression that the greater effort is spent seeking out, with some tenaciousness, those who will confirm their prejudices than that spent testing those prejudices.

Friday, April 18, 2003

Larry Olivier or Tony Curtis?

According to gnomic playwright David Mamet in a typically brilliant essay, it is Curtis who is the greater actor.
Straw in the wind for paranoiacs?

A few days ago, I referred to Martin Pawley's article in the AJ where he reminded us of the Nazi's "Green" policies including the aim of National Autarky, i.e. a self sufficient country with nothing imported from abroad. Well, the Guardian reports today that caterers for the Reichstag building are implementing a German produce only regime.
Ciaran takes me to task, in the comments of the post below, for not mentioning the Stevens report which has uncovered evidence of collusion between elements of the security forces in Northen Ireland and Loyalist paramilitaries, particularly in connection with the murder of solicitors Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson.

This is an appalling and grubby episode and should rightly be condemned but one reason that I didn't comment on the report is that I find the whole thing very wearying, yes awful things happened during the troubles (most of them were actually carried out by republican paramilitaries) but we have inquiry after inquiry and calls for new inquiries all the time.

The thing is: when a conflict like this ends you have two choices, boiled down simply to a) Reconciliation, or b) Justice. You can say, ok the conflict has ended lets draw a line under it and move on. In that case there will be terrible wrongs unresolved, victims' families will see their loved ones' cheerful murderers on the streets, and this is already happening in N.I. In the second case you can punish every single act of wrongdoing that occurred. This will give some form of justice but can prevent or hamper society from moving on. What's happening in N.I. is that Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries are getting the amnesties and the reconciliation but justice is being demanded for any act of wrongdoing by state agents. In an ideal world nobody would escape punishment but it isn't an ideal world and you can't have it both ways. I think that either approach is acceptable but a partial approach - where we are asked to forget all about IRA or UDA atrocities but remember every single act of wrongdoing by a soldier or policeman - is definitely not acceptable. The danger of this approach apart from encouraging sectarian grievances, is that it becomes a new kind of history where the story of the Troubles is a simple one of state brutality and makes no reference to the vicious campaigns waged by paramilitaries, Loyalist and Republican

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Kristin Aune, described as "a teacher at the University of Westminster" has an opinion piece in today's Guardian which poses the question: "Who says Feminism is dead?". No answer to this is proffered, her argument consisting instead of an attempt to persuade the reader that a) Women still have problems and therefore Feminism is still relevant and b) Feminism is thriving. It strikes me initially that this is self-contradictory, if both are true what is the purpose of the piece? Ms Aune is also described as the author of a book titled "Single Women: Challenge to the church?" I assume that this doesn't consist of a single page with the word "No" neatly typed in the centre so it may be that she is used to padding out platitudes. Her piece starts inauspiciously

"I am a Christian. Lots of my friends are Christians. I can go to church on Sunday and be surrounded by Christians. And yet people tell me Christianity is dead. "

Really? How interesting, and excuse my rudeness but, so what? Perhaps in the pages of the Guardian the decline of a major faith is just taken as given but anyone, whatever their faith or lack of, who actually believes that Christianity is dying is simply ill informed.

"I am also a feminist. Lots of my friends are feminists. I teach women's studies to dozens of undergraduates who readily call themselves feminists. The "I'm a woman and I can do anything I want so we don't need feminism" brigade - the prophets of "post-feminism" - haven't duped them. My students are not stupid. Yet all the same, people keep telling me that feminism is dead. "

These shadowy "people" again, how about a few concrete examples? Perhaps in the world of 'Women's studies" it's enough to make an unsupported assertion and then demolish that paper tiger. "People keep telling me the moon is made of cheese but it's not".

"What do they mean? Some say the feminist fight has been won, that an equal opportunities ethos guarantees gender equality (this isn't true, of course, as the pay gap proves).

Neat that, isn't it? the pay gap "proves" that equal opportunities is a chimera. These kind of assertions have become a kind of received wisdom and are rarely discussed further. The fact that certain types of careers and working hours suit women with children doesn't seem to get considered. Few workplaces today would pay a male employee a premium over an equivalent female employee's salary but many women might choose part time work or more family-friendly jobs of lesser pay. Family considerations explain the pay-gap more elegantly to me than the notion of "institutional discrimination"

Others say the feminist movement has died, with its "women's liberation" conferences and "consciousness-raising" groups...For others, what has gone is activism: no one "reclaims the streets", or hassles punters outside Spearmint Rhino (not true, there were protests last month). "

Ok, what is the point of "reclaiming the streets" (or more accurately monopolising the streets)?. If you view demonstrating to be a good in itself: a cathartic "empowering" event, regardless of the content of the protest, you might bemoan this fact but that is surely an extremely narcissistic world-view. The Suffragettes and the Civil Rights movement had specific objectives, their protests were aimed at achieving those objectives, they didn't protest because it made them feel better about themselves. And as for hassling the punters outside a lapdancing club, what does that achieve? Those clubs may be sleazy, they may even be a chaste few millimetres away from being knocking shops but all the participants are adults, freely exercising their adult right to take off their clothes, to ogle the same or to make plenty of money out of the proceedings. A good definition of intolerance is seeking to ban that of which you disapprove. Do the dancers not have a right to earn (lots of) money whichever way they wish?

"Calling feminism dead is an easy way out."

As is saying that "people keep telling me..."

"It is a convenient way to muzzle something that threatens privilege of the middle class, male, white heterosexual kind. Defence against feminist challenges is unnecessary if the challenger is just a chimera. "

This is a baffling and circular argument: Saying that Feminism is dead is an easy way of resisting "challenges" against the "White hetero-patriarchy" because it means you don't have to bother defending said patriarchy because the challenge doesn't exist?????

"Consider the plans for higher education, in which students will pay for their education. Who will suffer most from this? Women. Though they'll earn less, they will have to pay the same for their education as men. "

Consider the rise in the price of bananas, Who will suffer most from this? Women. Though they'll earn less they will still have to pay the same for their bananas.

"Every year, two million girls between five and 15 are coerced, abducted, sold or trafficked into the sex market. There is, of course, no supply without demand. Convince the 5% of men who use prostitutes that sex on tap isn't a human right or a way to prove their power, and sex trafficking wouldn't exist. "

Ok, this is a problem with a particular feminist argument. To try and bolster support for opposing something of which you disapprove (Prostitution), you bolt on something about which there is a consensus (Exploitation of children) and hope nobody notices the join. The thing is, there is a whole world of a difference between abducting and abusing a child and a woman who wishes to be paid for having sex. Paying for sex isn't a "human right" but being paid for sex might be. Criminalising prostitution ultimately means punishing a woman who chooses to offer sex for payment. It may be sleazy, even degrading and it may be something you would prefer no woman ever did but an adult should be free to make this choice for themselves. One might say that legalising prostitution would make the sex industry safer for its participants and remove any incentive for sex-trafficking. This might be a lot easier to achieve than "convincing" 100% of all men never to consider paying for sex - a quixotic aim indeed.

"In Britain one in four women suffer domestic violence. According to Rape Crisis, despite the increase over the past 30 years in the reporting of rape, the conviction rate has declined more than threefold. Of every 100 women who tell Rape Crisis they've been raped, fewer than 10% report it to the police. Those who do see a conviction rate of less than 10%. "

Ok this is a bit of a muddle of statistics. Let's take the first one: the bald line that one in four women suffer domestic violence. Now, I'm all for counter-intuitive thinking but this one just sounds wrong from the off. Think about it: One in Four. Think of women you personally know well, say twenty. Now, by this statistic, all of five of them "suffer domestic violence". This is something you know well not to be true. It strikes me that it is a pretty broad definition of "domestic violence" we are talking about here. It may be the view of a "Women's studies" teacher that a disagreement about whether to watch a football match or a Meg Ryan movie is representative of patriarchical oppression but few outside that cocoon would rank it anywhere near serious physical injury. This type of exaggeration to bolster your case actually undermines it. Domestic violence is a serious problem and efforts to obtain convictions are often hampered by the victim reconciling with their abuser and refusing to testify. Efforts should be made to persuade people to change their behaviour, in terms of aggression and also tolerance of aggression but if you tell 25% of men that they are abusing their wives or girlfriends you have already lost the argument.

As for Rape, it is hard to see what she is proposing to do to remedy this situation. By her own reckoning 90% (or to use her ineloquent terminology 90% of 100) of women who tell Rape Crisis they have been raped don't report it to the police. Maybe they should. If you take these 100 rapes, ten get reported and one results in a conviction, but what if among the 90 who didn't report, there were plenty of surefire definite convictions. Maybe the conviction rate might go up. The thing is, rape can be difficult to prove, especially if reported some time after the event without physical evidence. I can understand the reluctance of women to go through the events in detail at a trial but it is the wrong approach to try and slant justice to make convictions easier. This may encourage more women to report rapes but it could also result in wrongful convictions and would do absolutely nothing to reduce the number of rapes.

"New forms of feminist organisation are springing up. In 2000 the yearly global women's strike, part of the anti-capitalist movement, began."

If she is really concerned about Feminism's demise, there's a little clue right in there. Why should women necessarily be "anti-capitalist"? If you define feminism in such a narrow left-wing manner and require agreement with all of standard extreme left wing orthodoxy to be accepted as a bona-fide feminist, don't be surprised if smart women say "no thanks"

"Sexism may be here to stay, but it's got a good fight on its hands. I don't know about you, but I'm up for a good - old, new, sustained, whatever - feminist fracas. "

This translates as: Protesting and complaining makes me feel good and if I have to redefine sexism to protest it I damn well will!
Lileks keeps his no-war-comment vows with admirable stoicism..

"Day Four of not writing about things. You know, it. This is harder than expected, but I can't go back on my vow.


Hey, it’s Tim Robbins, just back from sonorous pontification at the National Press Club. HEY TIM!

Uh . . . NICE TIE!

This is killing me."

...and reveals himself to be quite the aficionado of British Sitcoms, praising The Royle Family and The Office. The former show is way overrated but I am a huge fan of the latter. I would, however, like to make one point about it. It is hilarious and Ricky Gervais' character: David Brent is a marvellous grotesque, but it is routinely and incorrectly described as being a "scarily accurate depiction of office life", to which I would say: yeah, office life in The BBC.

The fact is, this office bears as much relation to a normal workplace as Fawlty Towers does to a successful small hotel. Preening self-regarding and deluded middle managers may thrive in archaic institutions like the BBC and those in the media might fondly imagine that the drones really work in places like this Slough stationery suppliers but real businesses either make money or go out of business. Middle-management jargon is just as dreadful as it is depicted here but nobody as incompetent as Brent would ever be hired let alone avoid being fired for so long.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

The "Title Decider" between Manchester United and Arsenal finishes all square at 2-2. United took the lead with a great goal by Ruud Van Nistelrooy before Arsenal hit back with two second half goals that were, to say the least, fortunate. Henry will claim the first goal which was the result of a freakish deflection off his standing leg of a miscued shot by Ashley Cole but I really think he knew very little about it. They say Arsenal don't score enough "ugly" goals, well this one wasn't beautiful. Henry's second was a better finish but the French striker was several yards off side when the ball was passed to him. Barely sixty seconds had passed since he scored that goal when Giggs managed to level with a header. The teams were well matched with United dominating the first half, Arsenal coming back into it in the second. Sol Campbell elbowed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the 80th minute and was sent off. The fans were apopleptic chanting "Cheat" everytime Solskjaer was on the ball, but replays clearly indicated the referee was correct.

United still lead Arsenal by three points, having played a game more. It really is very finely poised but I feel a lot more confident that United can do enough to depose champions Arsenal. Arsenal still look nervy and I can't see them winning their remaining games.
Eugene Volokh 1 : Pacifism 0
Adam wonders, in the comments of a post below about the paradox of "counter-cultural" conformism. The narcissists of the anti-war and anti-globalisation movements, particularly those prominent in student politics, probably consider themselves to be dissidents and rebels but are simply conforming to a stereotype. Jaded middle aged left-liberal pundits applaud what they see as a passionate re-engagement with politics among the youth, but they are missing the point.

It is taken as a given that those who don't express a noisy interest in issues of "Third World Exploitation" or "The Gap between Rich and Poor" are simply brainwashed drones. The soullessness of the suburbs and the hollowness of the "salaryman" are commonly repeated tropes. Much of contemporary culture, such as the film: "American Beauty" stands on these shaky premises. Indeed the parochialism of those in urban media and cultural circles is reflected in these inaccurate characterisations. But who are the real drones?

Peer pressure is such that the brave students are those who question the lazy assertions and pat arguments of much of student politics. Those who would just go with the flow protest the issue du jour. It is one of the ironies of the anti-Globalisation movement, apparently inevident to those within, not least its high priestess: Naomi Klein, that of all the brands they purport to despise, few command the global reach of the "No Logo" brand itself.
Nuanced Objectivity Watch: RTE Radio News this morning referred to Abu Abbas, arrested in Baghdad as "The Veteran Guerilla Leader" . This is such a deliberately loaded term, it evokes a romantic image of Che Guevera hiding out in the jungle outwitting Batista's security forces, daring raids etc. It is not an accurate description of someone who hijacks an Italian cruise ship, murders an elderly wheelchair-bound American Jew and dumps his body overboard.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Mark Steyn has Fisk's number, yet again.

The left are not great detail guys. Here's how the fall of Saddam was marked by Robert Fisk, The Independent of London's widely respected foreign correspondent (by ''widely respected'' I mean, of course, that he gets pretty much everything wrong): The Americans, he writes, ''did their best--in the late Seventies and early Eighties--to arm him and service his economy and offer him political support, to turn him into the very dictator he became.'' Really? According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, between 1973 and 2002 Russia supplied 57 percent of Iraq's arms, France 13 percent, China 12 percent, Brazil 2 percent . . . Brazil? Hang on, where's Washington? Where's London? Well, it turns out Brazil supplied more arms to Iraq than America and Britain combined. London and Washington between them account for less than 2 percent of the Iraqi dictatorship's weapons; the parties that met on Friday account for three-quarters.

Meanwhile, this "widely respected" hack is politely ranting away to Matt Cooper on Today FM in the background. Surely after such an abysmal performance in recent weeks, he should be required by hacks' union, the NUJ, to file for "credibility bankruptcy"?
There's a great article by Martin Pawley in the Architects' Journal which is unfortunately not available online. He reminds those who parrot the mantra of "sustainability" that this green ideal was first propounded by the Nazis. Hitler wished to achieve National Autarky, that is a completely self-sufficient nation. Many of the schemes, crackpot and otherwise, put forward by the Greens and the tactics used, from penalising car use to wind farms to recycling to psychological blackmail were implemented by the Nazis.

"To achieve this level of economic autarky, it was not only necessary to have the science and technology required but also to have a mobilised population prepared to commit itself to the task unpaid, as a national duty to conserve resources...In cities they used electric delivery vans and steam powered trams, and in the countryside farmers used wood or coal burning tractors. Rationing discouraged car ownership and nearly all heavy trucks were diesel or steam-powered. At the consumer level, there were regular government-sponsored reclamation schemes for waste materials....Unlike the US today, the Nazis made no attempt to mechanise resource recovery at the consumer level or develop a market for waste.

Like sustainability, conservation was an act of faith."

It may seem extreme to compare Greens with Nazis but this is one area, like nationalism or dictatorships, that the standard labels of left and right don't apply and cause confusion when used. The important fact about dictators like Saddam Hussein, Stalin, Mao or Hitler, etc. is not which shade of left or right they are but the fact that they oversaw brutal totalitarian regimes. It is unenlightening to consider this as "the point where extreme right meets extreme left".

In the same way it is only in the cause of ambiguity and obfuscation to use the term "left wing" (or indeed "right wing") to apply to the Greens. The overarching psychological coercion of the Green Movement - "you are killing the planet!" - and its impatience with quotidian concerns mark it out as fascist in character, something not immediately apparent to its supporters on the left.
Lots about Syria today. In the Telegraph, Stephen Pollard points to the serious threat represented by that country. The (London) Times advises Assad's regime to heed American warnings. In the same paper Amir Taheri argues persuasively that, unlike its erstwhile fellow Ba'athist neighbour, Syria is a rational actor and will do just enough to ensure survival of the present regime.

One of the most important consequences of the recent war is the message that it sends to dictatorships, if not all of their subjects - Lee Harris points to the wish among much of the arab world for a new myth to explain capitulation to the US - that there are consequences to their actions. During the Clinton years it was easy to believe that the US was a decadent declining power which didn't wish to risk any american soldiers' lives to defend itself. This notion has been firmly refuted. What those who wish to "win over" the "arab/muslim street" fail to realise is that the problem of being hated is not as pressing as the problem of being insufficiently feared.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Unintended Consequences.

Here's a prediction: Actors like Jean Reno are going to clean up in the next few years while the likes of Jeremy Irons and Alan Rickman will find big-paying work thin on the ground. The reason? British actors have had it good since the end of the Soviet Union, Hollywood preferring bad guys to have English instead of Russian accents. After the Iraq war I have a feeling that the American film-going public will hiss louder at a French villain than one from the country that is their staunchest ally.
William Rees Mogg has it exactly right about the lessons of the war in Iraq.

It will be a good thing if dictators recognise that they have no sovereign immunity which entitles them to abuse their power, to murder or torture their people, or to sponsor terrorists. ..The American victory in Iraq is a warning to the tyrants and terrorists of the world. The momentum of liberty continues to accelerate. The dictators have had a very bad couple of decades; in 1980 the world was still "half slave and half free". Now the remaining dictators, old Castro, young Assad, Kim Jong Il, mad Mugabe and the others, look foolish and obsolete, though still horrible. They must mend their ways or liberty and democracy will amend them
Roy Hattersley tries to pass himself off as an expert on Northern Ireland. I hate to be pedantic but I can't believe the Guardian editing is so sloppy that it lets through two glaring errors. Northern Ireland's mainstream nationalist party may be slipping slowly into obscurity but that is no reason to retitle the SDLP with the name of failed 1980s British political party the SDP. Hattersley also apparently believes that Ruairi Quinn (or as Roy styles him: "Rory") is still leader of the Irish Labour Party. This must come as a surprise to the holder of that post, Pat Rabbitte. Now, this may be picky of me but these little mistakes are indicative of a broader confusion on his part. It is hard to take seriously his muddled argument that somehow the IRA have "won the war" and should let their "defeated foes" save face. Hattersley is foolish if he thinks that this line will be bought by anybody.
The brazen-ness of those who opposed the war continues to amaze me. Naomi Klein is railing against, of all things, possible privatisation in Iraq. A mere six weeks ago she was calling for civil disobedience and interference, not only to protest the war but to actually hamper the war effort. The shallowness of that posture is best demonstrated by how little impact actual events have had on her thinking. With nary a mention of how her hysterical predictions have been disproven she moves onto the next complaint - No Globalisation in Iraq!

The thing is, you can't just assume credibility: It is earned. Everybody makes mistakes, Nobody gets everything right. The key is: When, as Keynes said, the facts change, do you adjust your view or do you cling to it like a child does to a blanket?
Nelson Ascher correctly notes that Britain is as "Old Europe" as the rest when it comes to Israel. I would also confirm that this accurately describes the view in Ireland. He also suggests that european antipathy to that country may be part of a sublimated wish to have the Holocaust "completed" by others. I think that this is probably stretching things a bit and this certainly doesn't apply to the UK or Ireland.

I don't wish to make exaggerated claims on behalf of Ireland and Britain about the level of anti-semitism. The history of the Irish republican movement is tainted by "the socialism of fools": One of Irish History's "heroes", Arthur Griffith was a rabid anti-semite and our native jewish population, small to begin with has, like the larger minority "southern" protestant community dwindled. All that said, I don't believe that antipathy to Israel in Britain and Ireland is easily explained by anti-semitism. There's no denying that it forms a part, as evidenced by frequent use of that sly euphemism "Anti-Zionism" but it strikes me that the more relevant factor is the attitude of both countries to the Palestinians.

In Ireland it is too tempting for nationalists to avoid identifying with the Palestinans and seeing the Israelis as the middle-eastern equivalent of the Northern Irish Unionists, that is, a "planted" people. This is assisted by the identification of many Loyalists with the Israeli cause, (With friends like this who needs enemies). Of course it could just as easily work the other way round. It is not unusual for Irish nationalists to reach back seven hundred years for justification of a particular grievance and they don't seem to consider that any statute of limitation applies. Such a view would endorse those who view the state of Israel as a "re-establishment" of an historical nation. Similarly, the nationalists' rhetorical claim to a United Ireland evokes the Israeli settlers' aim of a Greater Israel.

In the UK there are two distinct strands, one on the right and one on the left. In Britain there is a history of Arabophilia on the traditional "right". Americans might be surprised at Prince Charles reading the Koran and dressing up in his robes but in this at least he is continuing a tradition of infatuation with the "noble arab" archetype among the elite that stretches back to TE Lawrence and Sir Richard Burton. Stories of the desert have a resonance for upper class britons and they would instinctively consider the Palestinians a noble arab people who have been usurped by the "European" Jews. In this view they actually identify with the Jews but disapprove of what their "fellow Europeans" have done. The Left wing view is more simple and equally simplistic. This is the standard one-size-fits-all "Coloniser and Oppressed People" model shoe-horned into this conflict. As the Palestinians are the "underdog" everything they do, even the most despicable acts of terrorism are somehow understandable. When a suicide bombing takes place, the default (fallacious) view, as even expressed by Tony Blair's wife Cherie Booth, is "What kind of desparation must this person feel that they do this". There is an instinctive identification with the bomber and an assumption that they share the same thought processes, an identification that wouldn't take place with, say, a serial killer.

In, at least partially, absolving the UK and Ireland from anti-semitism as a primary factor of antipathy to Israel it is hard to do the same for other European countries, particularly France which hasn't so much a tradition of Arabophilia as Arabophobia. There is precious little identification with the Palestinians in France (which cares little for its own population of Franco-Arabs) so it is hard to avoid the conclusion that antipathy to Israel is as a result of anything other than anti-semitism outweighing arabophobia.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Point : Counterpoint

The Telegraph counterpoises views expressed before and after the war by a number of individuals, I particularly like the last one.

THEN: "Strike them forcefully. Resist them. You are now, our beloved, Oh people of Baghdad and Iraq, the mast of faith and glory. You will be victorious and they will be, God willing, defeated and cursed. Their dead will go to hell, and the living will be covered with shame. Our martyrs will go to heaven and our living will have glory and pride.

- Saddam Hussein's television address. Friday, April 4.

NOW: Unavailable for comment

John Keegan notes that, while experts are used by newspapers to make investment forecasts and those with an intimate knowledge of horse-racing provide racing tips, they still publish comment on matters military by at best laymen, at worse complete amateurs.
Another Great column by Henry McDonald: he relates an Iraqi friend's anger towards the Irish Anti-War movement

How must this man have felt over the last few weeks and months when he strolled through the Old World charm of Trinity? What was he thinking when he witnessed the anti-war posters, the impromptu student demonstrations, the rantings and ravings of ageing leftists, veterans of other, older anti-war struggles, hanging out with people 30 years younger than them, drinking from the fountain of revolutionary youth? Sick no doubt and perhaps also a little despondent that Iraq's best chance for freedom since 1979 would be stopped; not by Saddam's reputed so-called elite Republican Guard but rather through the selfish force of Western public opinion.

Khalid needn't have worried. Bush and Blair, and more importantly, the Iraqi people themselves have paid no attention to the not-in-my-name narcissi.

and notes the irony of the prominence among this anti-war movement of "killer peaceniks"

But the official Iraqi figures for civilian casualties..are interesting. They estimate that around 1,000 civilians were killed ....Amazingly Northern Ireland's squalid little war, fought over a tiny piece of earth, prosecuted against a relatively smaller population, resulted in far more civilian casualties. It is worth remembering that some of those republican groupings allied to the Irish anti-war movement were responsible along with the loyalists for those totally unnecessary civilian deaths.

He highlights the bile-flecked venom of the supposed peace-lovers towards those in favour of the war but drily notes that hardened hacks like himself have faced worse

Another striking aspect of this three-week war to liberate Iraq has been the level of abuse heaped on those who supported ordinary Iraqis' right to be free. The violence of the language of the Irish peaceniks in print, on the airwaves and across cyberspace, has been in sharp contrast to their protestations of peace. The insults they hurled were often menacing and sometimes threatening. 'Pond scum' was just one label attached to this writer by these new proponents of peace, love and understanding - albeit peace, love and understanding only with dictatorships.

None of this really matters, particularly to those of us in this profession who have to face loyalist death threats on a regular basis and who witnessed at first hand the horror of war from Lebanon to Bosnia. The nasty jibes and name-callings of a few students and Trots will hardly inflict much long-term hurt.

Note: Steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone still visible.

Alan Ruddock paints a depressing picture of Irish indulgence of "the republican movement" and the entailing suspension of disbelief.

..Just as the anti-war and pro-life protesters try to corner the moral market and corrupt rational debate (who wants to be seen as pro-war or anti-life?) so the peace process has sucked the life out of any debate about Sinn Fein's continued refusal to engage honestly in democratic politics. To attack Sinn Fein, to doubt its sincerity, is presented as an attack on the peace process. So we engage in collective amnesia, both short and long term.

How many times last week did you hear someone say that the unionists brought down the Assembly and caused the return to direct rule? And how many times did you hear someone point out that it was Sinn Fein's spy-ring that brought it down? Even when the spy-ring was uncovered, we were asked to be shocked not by Sinn Fein's duplicity, but by the number of PSNI officers who went into Stormont to investigate the spying.

Sinn Fein's official representative to Cuba is uncovered in Colombia travelling on a false passport and is charged along with two colleagues, one of whom is a notorious IRA bomb maker, with training FARC terrorists. We are asked to berate the Columbian system of justice, to believe that the three men were unfortunate tourists who cannot possibly get a fair trial and are told that we should support a campaign to bring them home.

And it works. Sinn Fein's vote grows,

Previously war-sceptical Andrew Rawnsley has the good grace to point out that the doom-mongers were wrong about the war and are likely to be just as wrong about the peace.

Though they have been proved so mistaken about so much, this has not deterred Mr Blair's more fanatical opponents from rushing forward with their next clutch of baleful forecasts........These are are all genuine causes for concern. Some of the answers need to be found urgently; locating others will take years. But before we move on to them, it is worth pausing to celebrate that something wonderful has happened. Saddam's terror is over. The people of Iraq have been unchained from appalling torture and tyranny. That the West too often in the past gave succour to that tyranny was never a reason for not dealing with it. It was an imperative to try to make good what the West had done wrong.

and, for those who have difficulty thinking through their arch poses, points out the obvious

It has been sneeringly asked: how do you liberate people by bombing them? Iraqis themselves have given their answer to that by cheering and garlanding the Anglo-American forces. The Iraqis can grasp what many of the anti-warriors could not. 'There was no other way,' one happy old man told Channel 4 news. An internal uprising - and every attempt had been brutally crushed by Saddam - would have been a bloodier way of removing him. The human cost of the conflict has surely been lower than condemning the Iraqi people to continued imprisonment in the dictator's slaughterhouse.
There's quite a long thread in the comments to my "L-Day" post below much of it relating to the death in action of Dubliner Ian Malone, Lance Corporal of the British army's Irish Guards. Liam Collins expands on Malone and the tradition of Irishmen serving in the British Army in today's Sunday Independent. Their treatment by their compatriots over the years has been shabby. Malone had been interviewed last year for an RTE documentary. In answer to those who bring up the history of Ireland's struggle for independance as a reason to shun the British Army, he had this to say.

"People go on, saying men died for our freedom. They did all right. They died to give men like me the freedom to choose what I want to do."
We have our own "mini-me" Bob Fisks in Ireland.

In an instructive piece, Eilis O'Hanlon and Jody Corcoran remind us just how wrong pundits like Vincent Browne and Fintan O'Toole and politicians like Michael D. Higgins, John Gormless Gormley and Aengus O'Snodaigh got it.

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Well if Real Madrid taught Manchester United a footballing lesson on Tuesday night, United have dished out an equivalent message to Newcastle United, unbeaten at home since September and holder of the best home defensive record. United romped to a 6-2 victory at St. James' Park displaying the type of championship-winning performance the soccer pundits have been calling for.

I don't know how they will spin it in tomorrow's papers. I guess that, in the same way as the BBC talks up chaos and anarchy in Iraq, they will concentrate on Newscastle's failings. Meanwhile United open up a three point gap over Arsenal who have a game in hand. The meeting of both sides on Wednesday night will be crucial.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Normal service will resume tomorrow, I took the day off work and blogging as it is my birthday. There are three ways of looking at the age 36:

a) It's twice 18.

b) It's half 72

c) It's 90% of 40

I don't know why but for some reason it is the last one I find most scary.

Thursday, April 10, 2003


Great Stuff: John takes each of the post-war idiot points propounded by the great Robert Fisk and refutes them at ease.
Amir Taheri shows that the Iraqis have been wiser than the Palestinians in resisting calls from the armchair Jihadi

The Iraqis did not wish to suffer the fate of the Palestinians, that is to say to die in large numbers for decades so that other Arabs, safe in their homes, would feel good about themselves. The Iraqis know that had the Palestinians not listened to their Arab brethren, they would have had a state in 1947, as decided by the United Nations Security Council. The Iraqis know that each time the Palestinians became heroic to please other Arabs they lost even more.

Peter really sticks it to Edward Said for his unfortunately timed prediction of doom which is, as Peter notes, dated at April 17: a full week after Baghdad's Liberation.

Edward Said is smearing Fouad Ajami with a backhanded slam on his role as a public intellectual. Well if that isn't an irony for the ages, I don't know what is. "Excuse me, I'm looking for Kettle, are you him? Yes? My name's Pot, and you're black"....The instructive and sad point here is that despite his horrendously wrong-footed predictions and analysis of this war, Said will still be on Charlie Rose in a year "providing the view of a Middle East expert."

Among many other slurs, Said upbraided Ajami for use of the word "We" to refer to America and its allies. I find this doubly ironic as this is a rhetorical device regularly used by Said's ally Robert Fisk. Fisk's use is a sneaky way of sounding less strident and partisan. By referring to the UK and the US as "We" while bemoaning their actions, Fisk sounds as if he is self-reproaching, apologetic and thoughtful when the exact opposite is the case.
In 1989 the Berlin wall came down, it seemed to me that there was finally indisputable proof that socialism didn't work, couldn't work. Prior to that event people, in good faith, could consider themselves to be "socialists". Despite the evidence of the brutality of the Soviet regime, one could persuade oneself that those who lived in eastern bloc countries consented to communist rule. After 1989 it would surely be delusional in the extreme to maintain this position. After all, if Russians detested even the urbane reasonable Communist leader Mikhail Gorbachev no amount of liberalising perestroika could make communism palatable. And yet the socialists persisted. It was always striking to me to see cherished positions defended in the teeth of contradicting evidence.

The same is happening with Iraq. Marian Finucane this morning interviewed a "Peace Activist" who had visited Iraq in October 2002. Everything he said illustrated the nature of the tyrannical regime and the fear and suspicion of ordinary Iraqis. This person was intimately aware of the intrusions of the security forces who even determined in which, presumably bugged, hotel he could stay. He witnessed suspicion of westerners, he noted that arab-speaking westerners were required to leave. This "peace activist" was so determined, however, to discover the effects of western iniquity that he completely missed the bleedin' obvious: If it looks like a fascist dictatorship, "walks" like a fascist dictatorship and sounds like a fascist dictatorship, perhaps you can't exclude the possibility that it might be, you know, a fascist dictatorship.

All he could talk about, even now, was how the UN had "imposed sanctions at the US behest to punish this poor country" not mentioning that the sanctions were imposed as a short term measure to hold Saddam to the disarmament dictated by the terms of his surrender . He let slip that he had become interested in Iraq as long ago as 1991 and marched against the first Gulf war! Marian, of course, just listened and never challenged his lazy assertions and blinkered thinking.

Seumas Milne exhibits the same ostrich-pose with a pigheaded piece in today's Guardian. This type of argument, apart from being deluded and dishonest is also anachronistic. The world has changed, the evidence is in front of his eyes but he still clutches to his dog-eared "colonialist" hypothesis.
Great piece by David Brooks in the (London) Times including this striking image.

And yet there are no triumphal arches being erected in Washington. If this were one of Carlyle's heroic ages, President Bush would address a joint session of Congress with a box at his side, and he’d pull out a severed head, declaring: "Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present Saddam Hussein!"

He exposes the chasm between media perception of Bush and reality.

One of the things we have to keep reminding ourselves is that most of what one reads about the Bush Administration is fantasy. Bush-hating journalists have no access to what really goes on in the White House, and have given up all pretence of being fair.

And some food for thought for so-called "progressives".

Peoples’ mental categories are going to change. Four fifths of Americans now say they support the war, and only 15 per cent oppose it. To most Americans, supporting regime change in Iraq seems like the progressive and optimistic course. The people who oppose it look conservative and reactionary. The soldiers now appear as the picture of youthful idealism — risking their lives to liberate a people. The peace marchers who burned pictures of Bush and Blair seem motivated by their prejudices. The military seems relatively open and honest. In other words, you can take every Vietnam-era cliché and turn it on its head. That’s what this war means.
UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, in his budget, does his bit to sooth the hurt feelings of British Muslims.
One false note was sounded by Rumsfeld yesterday in his press conference: The line about Saddam taking his place alongside failed dictators, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin and Ceaucescu. Would that that were the case.

The thing is: neither Lenin or Stalin were toppled and Russia can only rue that fact. It is not the same to say that their "system" failed. The idea that a hated political system would eventually collapse in the future - if any system had "internal contradictions" it was surely not capitalist democracy but marxism itself - would have been cold comfort indeed for all those brutalised by the tyrannies of Lenin and particularly Stalin.
Typically great bleat from Lileks.

The Fog of Peace comes next; we will hear many stories of Setbacks and Troubling Developments and Roadblocks to Peace and the rest of the vocabulary the media deploys when a brutalized nation is freed from jail and does not immediately assume the characteristics of a Nebraska small-town school board. We’ll hear of many babies thrown out with the Ba'ath water, in other words. Today at the Pentagon press briefing, a reporter asked about Humanitarian Crisis, and Rumsfeld described at great length the humanitarian crisis that existed before the Allies got there, and how things were actually improving.

I have to say, I had vainly hoped that those in the media sceptical of the war beforehand would have some sort of epiphany or damascene conversion (there must actually be a "Road to Damascus" in Baghdad?) and recant all their rubbish about "Quagmires" and "Hundreds of Thousands of dead Iraqis". I should have known that it would soon switch to "Why isn't Iraq Switzerland already?". BBC permitted itself one day of positive news coverage yesterday and today it's back to the carping making a big fuss about the (small amount of) looting. The thing is, carping is what the media is supposed to do, what irks me is that there's no sense of perspective, the war in Iraq is not over yet but yesterday's events had a "Fall of the Berlin Wall" quality. The "Small Picture" of local difficulties needs to be shown but shouldn't obscure the "Big Picture" that Saddam is gone.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

So it looks like today's the day. BBC News correspondent Rageh Omaar's reports from Baghdad are normally prefaced by the disclaimer that everything he says is monitored by the Iraqi Authorities but anchor Dermot Murnaghan informed us this morning that this was no longer the case and Omar confirmed that the handlers had, as he put it, scarpered.

I wonder what is going to happen to all the anti-war protests, will they run out of steam as the half-committed and uninformed drift away or have they so much invested in this vision of Colonialist, Imperialist Anglo-America invading and oppressing brave plucky Iraq that they will willfully disregard the evidence in front of their eyes? RTE Radio 1 News at One demonstrated the latter with one small subtle and sly phrase, referring to those celebrating in the streets not as "Iraqis" or "Baghdad residents" but as "Opponents of Saddam".

Joe Duffy's Liveline show was a lot better and he took calls from some of those who have revised their previously anti-war positions in the light of the facts and also from some Iraqis based in Ireland. Now, I'm pretty much an imperturbable cynic and borderline misanthrope but I felt my chest puff up involuntarily with pride and my throat catch as I heard an emotional Iraqi exile in Dublin, originally from Basra, hail my compatriot: Irish Guards Lance Corporal Ian Malone as a hero for giving his life to help liberate Iraq.
I've just about recovered from watching el Clasico last night. Manchester United have left themselves with a lot to do in the second leg, going down 3-1 to Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. An indication of Real's excellence is that United were relieved the scoreline wasn't greater. Some of Real's play was sublime, I mentioned before that the top international sides would struggle in the champions' league but Real Madrid on this form would easily defeat world champions Brazil.

But theirs is a brittle brilliance, they have laboured to reach this point and almost went out of the competition in the last minutes of their last game. Although they comfortably lead La Primera Liga their early season form was, as Sven might say, "not so good". They were fortunate that Barcelona have had such a disastrous season and that neophytes Real Sociedad led the way for so long. What frustrated me as a United fan - and this is the first match I watched shouting at the tv in some time - was that United should have played better.

Beckham was particularly quiet, but the big mistakes in playing Real Madrid were 1) Getting mesmerised, even star-struck, by their football and spending too much time admiring Zidane's flicks and not enough time getting the ball back and counter-attacking. 2) Giving Real players way too much space, I can understand not wanting to get to close to Zidane or Figo as they can suck you in and just twist away, but this shouldn't apply to the lesser lights. I couldn't believe the amount of time Michel Salgado had on the ball. 3) You only get one touch against RM, against most the premiership sides, including Arsenal, you can afford to take a few touches but RM will get the ball off you, United should have been a lot snappier. I think United are capable of beating Real Madrid 2-0 at Old Trafford, a result that would put us through to the semi-finals, but we will need to play a lot better than last night.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

The great Robert Fisk was dubious of American claims of taking Baghdad Airport, claiming incredibly that they may have confused it with the old RAF airbase Habbineyeh. Luckily he has Mark Steyn to set him straight and offer a bit of friendly advice.

It's impressive to be acquainted with the existence of RAF Habbaniyeh, from where the British flew covert missions over the Soviet Union in the days of the Iraqi monarchy. But it's truly pitiful to be either so ignorant of modern military operations or so blinded by anti-American animus that one would seriously believe the blundering Yanks could have wandered on to a decrepit air base and not known where they were. One begins to appreciate that spending so much time immersed in the ways of the Orient can become a disadvantage: Mr. Fisk might have better advised to pass a couple of years in, say, Newark, driving one of the many Chevy models equipped with an OnStar system, whereby, when one calls to say the car won't start and could they send someone, they reply, "He'll be there in 10 minutes. Our satellite tracking shows you're in the parking lot of Madam Whiplash's House of Bondage on the corner of Elm and State."
Counter-Intuition Alert!

Nelson Ascher thinks he may have identified the Iraqi Mole: None other than our ebullient and optimistic friend, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf.
John Keegan catalogues the many ways in which the Iraqi military "plan" failed.

Saddam's war plan, if he had one, must be reckoned one of the most inept ever designed. It made no use of the country's natural defences. All advantages the defence enjoyed were thrown away even before they could be utilised.

He also notes that the media hasn't covered itself in glory, allowing biases and uninformed opinion to dominate how the war was presented.

Air Marshal Brian Burridge, the British commander in the Gulf, has a point when he says the British media have lost the plot. He looks forward to a future stage of peacemaking when the young journalists who have been "embedded" in the coalition units will use that experience to propagate a new military reality for the benefit of the public at home.

The older media generation, particularly those covering the war from comfortable television studios, has not covered itself with glory. Deeply infected with anti-war feeling and Left-wing antipathy to the use of force as a means of doing good, it has once again sought to depict the achievements of the West's servicemen as a subject for disapproval.

The brave young American and British servicemen - and women - who have risked their lives to bring down Saddam have every reason to feel that there is something corrupt about their home-based media.