Saturday, May 31, 2003

Neil Labute, in cracking form, on Political Theatre.

"Anyway, who really cares what I think? I mean, I barely do, and I'm talking about myself. Imagine how low my opinion of everybody else's opinions must be."
More on John McDonnell: Tom Utley in the Telegraph pays tribute to his father's friend, Tory MP Ian Gow who was killed by the IRA in 1990 and reacts to the odious leftist's statement.

"....John McDonnell, the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, had applauded his murder and described his killers as "honourable". Of course, he didn't specifically mention Mr Gow or any other victim of the IRA. Like all apologists for terrorism, he prefers to speak in abstractions.........Whenever I hear those weasel words "armed struggle", I think of torn flesh and the tears of widows and orphans. In particular, I think of the maimed body of my father's brave, clever, generous and funny friend, Ian Gow, dying at the wheel of his car."
The exception, according to The Economist, which proves the rule about the absence of a specifically European nationalism, is......Football.
The Guardian Magazine profiles anti-Israel campaigner Adam Shapiro and his wife Huwaida Arraf. They get the front-cover, soft-focus treatment you would expect. What irked me above all about this tendentious article was the inference which you are invited to draw, as Shapiro was born into an American Jewish family and Arraf a Palestinian-American family, that somehow this pair of perpetual student-style activists came together "across a divide" and that they therefore act as an example of peaceful co-existence to both their "communities". This is rubbish: Shapiro, who renounces his Jewishness in the article and displays an animus to Israel to shame the most hardened "Anti-Zionist", is on the same side as his wife. It is only by the crudest type of ethnic categorising that you could describe him as representative of the Israeli "side".
More on Foreign Aid: The Guardian's Rory Carroll, on Ethiopia's famine crisis, makes the cardinal error of letting his world-view get in the way of his reporting. Content to throw his hands in the air and bemoan a "vicious circle" he implies, one-more-heave style, that the solution is yet more aid. Note the following, revealing lines:

"As the population has grown to more than 67 million, the land has been divided into smaller plots, but farmers lack the skills and capital to make it productive. "

Only someone who takes for granted that there is nothing wrong with a Marxist/Collectivist system could write this. The reason the land has been divided into smaller plots is because the government owns all of it and refuses to denationalise it. This regime is a major contributing factor to the present problems. I can only conclude that Carroll is deliberate in omitting to mention this, preferring instead to cling to the fallacy that a thriving agricultural economy is possible within a completely state-owned system.
As I predicted and contrary to the bookies' conviction - they made Jon favourite - Anouska was the first housemate ejected from this year's Big Brother. It is a shame, her only crime was to display unselfconsciously the vanity and exhibitionism she shares with all of her erstwhile housemates, each of whom proved more adept at concealing these traits.

It is striking how resilient first impressions can be. After the first few hours I had concluded that Jon was a nerdish, pedantic bore redolent of Alan Partridge, Federico an insufferable egotist and Sissy a grating scouser, of the others I had no strong opinions. Nothing I have seen in the following week has caused me to revise those observations. So far there are no "car-crash" type contestants like last year's Jade or Alex and I have a worry that it could all end up a bit boring.

It is perhaps easier to focus on those who irritate you and I don't have a strong idea who will win. My own tentative preference would be for my compatriot Ray to become the second Irish winner of Big Brother. As to who I think will actually win it, my equally tentative guess, at the moment, would be Nush, the willowy blonde hippy-chick. It is possible that some contestants might display hidden depths, through a perusal of today's tabs I learn that Tania, whom I hitherto took to be a quintessentially West(-ish) London Sloane, has a Brazilian (or Portuguese) surname: Do Nascimento. I'm not quite sure why, but, for me at least, this puts a slightly different slant on her.

Friday, May 30, 2003

""The deaths of innocent civilians in IRA attacks is a real tragedy....."

You just know there's going to be a but, don't you?

....but it was as a result of British occupation in Ireland."

Who uttered these lines? maybe someone from a dissident republican group railing against SF's selling out of republican principles? Not at all, step forward one John McDonnell, formerly obscure leftist British Labour party MP, grabbing a bit of publicity by asking for the IRA to be "honoured". Here's a little thought for you, John: Is it not a bit patronising, even neocolonialist of you to tell us poor benighted bogtrotters, who after all consistently opposed the republican paramilitary campaign, what to think of the IRA?
Camilla Cavendish explains the reality of foreign aid to Africa.

"Many of the most corrupt African regimes are kept in power by aid. Most have destroyed their economies, and revenue from taxation is therefore negligible, so aid and crime keep them in the luxury to which they and their cronies have become all too accustomed."
Great quote in a letter to, a propos the Jayson Blair Scandal at the New York Times

"..the NY Times is running banner ads at the top of The Onion's website? I'm most annoyed at this. I read The Onion to laugh at made-up stories with forged datelines and invented quotes. Wait, no, maybe that's the Times. I'm getting confused."
Hey, made it onto Emily's blogroll at Give War A Chance!

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Thabo Mbeki, lamentable in his neglect of South Africa's AIDS crisis, shows a similar blind spot in relation to his old comrade Robert Mugabe. Apparently, despite the fact that Mugabe's successful attempt to wreck his country began when his electoral support waned and not at the onset of independence it is still the fault of "The Legacy of Colonialism".

This is just wrong, plain and simple. Mugabe's "land reforms": nationalising (largely) white-owned land were a patent attempt to divert attention from the country's parlous state and whip up nationalist/ethnic sentiment to bolster his support. There are many good arguments against this disastrous policy but probably the most compelling, particularly to those with a lingering animus to the white settler population and to those who are indifferent as to the expansion of state control, is the simple utilitarian argument: These successful farms provide food for the country, earn hard currency through exports, employ people and generally contribute to the economy. It is easy to see the effect of their destruction.

That said, this is but one example of how destructive Mugabe's regime is. Zimbabwe's problems run far deeper than this particular issue. It is to collude with Mugabe to style this as part of the Colonial Legacy. His brutal suppression of political dissent and opposition and his destruction of a moderately succesful country has nothing to do with colonial history and everything to do with a brutal and corrupt leader who is prepared to devastate his country in order to retain power.

UPDATE: More on this from Atlantic Blog 30/5/03 10:21 AM

FURTHER UPDATE: A forensic dissection of Mbeki's article (ok then, a "Fisking"!) is provided by Sasha Castel Dodge, (via Give War A Chance) 30/5/03 5:18 PM
C. Bloggerfeller on the implications of declining support for Socialism among its traditional working class base. {Broadly: Labour cannot rely on "Labour". This phenomenon, though recorded in France applies in spades to Ireland. The traditional party of the Irish working class is actually Fianna Fail, I'd even hazard a guess that Sinn Fein is better supported by this sector than the Irish Labour party.} He notes that it will be necessary to convince people to support your party rather than simply take that support for granted.

"Having to convince people to back your cause using only ideas? I imagine a lot of people are going to find that hard..."

Slugger O'Toole links to an angry op-ed by Sinn Fein chronicler Brian Feeney in the Irish News. Feeney, in the light of what he sees as Unionist intransigence, asks the Irish Government to "push" the British to introduce "reforms" in NI. I posted few thoughts to Slugger's comments:
AC Milan emerge victorious from last night's 5 goal thriller Champions' League final...Who am I kidding?, it was two Italian teams after all. Juve's swashbuckling spirit against Real Madrid in the semi-finals caused me to suspend my disbelief and discount the probability of a typically Serie A stalemate. 0-0 was the final score, after extra time and, with two renowned shot-stoppers in goal I had worried it might be goalless after the penalty shootout. In the end Milan's Brazilian keeper Dida saved one more shot than Juve's Buffon which put all of us out of our misery. The defending was superb, Bobby Robson noted that not one free-kick was conceded in what he referred to as a "strategic" position, i.e. providing a reasonable strike at goal. One save was made during open play, a fantastic stop from Buffon shutting out a great goalbound header from Inzaghi. All the great defending however made for a sterile spectacle. League tables don't lie and the team who ends up on top is the best, the same cannot be said for a cup competition and this years final did not feature Europe's best club sides.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Champions' league final is tonight at Old Trafford. Juventus are favourites to beat AC Milan which probably means they will lose. If Juve show the verve they displayed in defeating mighty Real Madrid, the Old Lady should bring the trophy home to Turin but who knows?.....
Hey, I made it into Slugger O Toole's blogroll!
Bob Geldof praises the Bush administration for its "positive", "radical" approach to Africa and contrasts it with the "pathetic and appalling" response of the EU, still considered by most bien pensants to be more sophisticated, progressive and understanding than the unilateralist Yanks (via Tim Blair).

It is a regular feature of political discourse that the intentions behind any action are perceived to be crucial. There is a regrettable tendency however, mainly but not exclusively, on the left to elevate in importance the intention over what could be reasonably predicted as the outcome. This was evident in much of the debate in relation to Iraq. Considered criticism of the action based on considering unintended but predictable consequences tended to be sidelined in favour of shrill protests about the intentions of the Bush administration. Even the more muted dissent focused on the political philosophy behind the action and ignored the likely consequence of this action: The removal from power of a vicious tyrant.

Similarly, those who would style themselves as "pro-Africa" would do better to think about what actions achieve the best result than smugly assert their moral superiority. In the same way, those who argue constantly for "more investment" in public services should get past the debate about spending more money and look at how the money is being spent. You probably won't solve a problem, any problem by withdrawing money but the converse can sometimes be true: It is possible that you can create a problem by spending money unwisely. Let us say you have a hospital that is running into the ground, it can be the fault of bad management that no cash injection can fix but a cash injection without examining the problem risks prolonging and exacerbating it. In the case of Africa, no amount of government aid channeled through "wasteful" or corrupt channels can make up for the trade barriers preventing African exporters from selling to the lucrative European market.

To paraphrase the ludicrous Cornell West in the Matrix Reloaded: "Empathy is not requisite for enrichment"
Blogging Brussels' Borg!

Graphic commentary on the proposed EU Constitution.
Amir Taheri notes that it will take a lot more than the current "roadmap" to bring a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and suggests that one good first step would be Palestinian elections.

"The belief that the United States can impose peace is based on a dangerous illusion. No road map will lead anywhere unless both the Israelis and Palestinians make a strategic choice for peace. "

Critics of what they see as an insufficient or even partisan engagement by the US in this particular conflict miss this crucial point. After Arafat's rebuff of Barak, the atmosphere has poisoned so much that Israelis are suspicious, with good reason, of Palestinian intentions and a pathological nihilism has taken over a good chunk of what remains of Palestinian society which shows no desire for compromise.
Also late, missed this great piece by David Aaronovitch yesterday on the casual anti-semitism of the Left.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Missed this on Sunday but noticed it on Slugger O'Toole today. Eoghan Harris notes Ireland's moral muddle and ambivalence on Neutrality and Northern Ireland. I share his exasperation.

"Neutrality means we sit on the fence, protected by America and the RAF in case of war, consuming a free lunch as far as foreign policy is concerned. Do we really believe that this kind of politically sluttish behaviour does not, at some level, diminish our sense of reality and damage our self respect ?"

Monday, May 26, 2003

Congratulations to Wolverhampton Wanderers for winning the First Division play-off final, achieving promotion to the Premiership for the first time after a 19 year exile from the top flight. I've always had a soft spot for Wolves who are a kind of sleeping giant of English football and, of course, prominent in their promotion push was veteran Irish defender and former Old Trafford hero: Denis Irwin.
George Trefgarne makes a persuasive case for the Bush administration's reduction of the tax on dividends.

"Over the years, the double taxation of dividends has distorted corporate behaviour. A third of American companies pay no dividends at all.... Instead of dividends, a more tax-efficient way of rewarding investors has been to boost the share price...By the 1990s, chief executives were undertaking all kinds of shenanigans to engineer this. Typically, they borrowed heavily to buy back shares. Others embarked on the kind of unethical behaviour that ended so disastrously at Enron and WorldCom. As a big part of their remuneration was in stock options, chief executives had an incentive to pull all manner of stunts - including dodgy accounting - to make the share price go higher. It would have been better if they had paid out dividends. A nice cheque, paid to shareholders twice a year, cannot be faked."
Colby Cosh draws our attention to some priceless, pseudo-intellectual and, as he notes, Canadian-taxpayer-funded gobbledygook.
Perry de Havilland explains why "Libertarian Socialism", as advocated by Peter Hain, "is an oxymoron"

Sunday, May 25, 2003

David Aaronovitch makes an important observation about Fat Cats' pay which eludes most of his fellow Guardian/Observer hacks.

"Are we really mad with rich execs only because their companies have performed badly? I doubt it. And why are we happy (ecstatic even) to pay far more to David Beckham than to the biggest wealth-producing executive in Britain? This weekend the England midfielder Lee Bowyer, of whom you may never have heard { Most people consider Bowyer to be a thug - FMCG } and who has had an indifferent season, was signing for Newcastle United in a deal worth £1.5m a year. There has not been a single comment about the size of this agreement....This is a product - in part - of our anti-trade snobbery."
Henry McDonald pays tribute to outgoing SF Mayor of Belfast, Alex Maskey and contrasts Maskey's sensitivity with his colleague Martin McGuinness' prickliness.
I am going to have to conform to the consensus in reporting that the Matrix: Reloaded is indeed a stinker. I went to see it last night, with some kind of idea that it wouldn't match up to the original. Nothing could have prepared me for how laughably awful it was, almost a contender for the worst films ever list. It is everything its predecessor wasn't, it is the anti-Matrix. Where the first film was lean and efficient, this was flabby and longwinded, soporific, portentous inelegant dialogue and procedural machinations recalled the Phantom Menace.

Even the fight scenes, inextricable from the plot and serving a purpose in the original, were visibly grafted on here. One of the showpiece fights: Neo takes on 100 clones of Agent Smith, was rather like a pyramid scam. By the time the full complement of agents were on the scene the directors appeared to have no clue how to end the fight so, laughably, Neo shot into the air like a rocket. There is much that is unintentionally hilarious. Another tacked on fight: Neo versus the Oracle's bodyguard concludes with the bodyguard explaining his reason for tackling Neo - "You can only truly know a man when you fight him". I'm sure that mine wasn't the only involuntary groan.

Where the original film referred to the home of freed humans: Zion but didn't show this promised land, the sequel shows us Zion in all its bureacratic glory. The humans may have been freed from the machines but were still slave to american movie conventions: Jada Pinkett-Smith's character has two suitors who both, of course, hail from the commune's African-Zion community. The film asks us to identify with the freed humans but one look at this dreary conformist stifling commune and I couldn't get the thought out of my head: "Plug me back into the Matrix already!". A key plot point is that Zion is under attack, the machines burrowing down to destroy it are hours away. I couldn't help but recall Sir John Betjeman's poem wishing for the destruction of Slough - "Come friendly bombs..."

At one stage a hammy Lambert Wilson helpfully informs us that speaking French is like "wiping your arse with silk" - Well, this expensively shot film is a bit like silk which has been used in this unorthodox manner.
Liam Clarke lays into the Sunday Business Post and notes the absurd position of those who would have us believe there is no "Stakeknife"

"The people who were once praised for revealing the details — or perhaps alleged details — of the Force Research Unit (FRU) dirty tricks among the loyalists were attacked as irresponsible in talking about its infiltration of the IRA."

It is evidence of the same thinking which alienates me from the much praised Slugger O'Toole blog. Its author, Mick Fealty, shows a similar tendency to repeat uncritically the most self-serving of Sinn Fein's statements and appears to endorse the republican line on Stakeknife - If we pretend he doesn't exist, he will just go away.

Talk about "securocrats" leaking this info to "deliberately damage the peace process" is so much guff, I think Clarke has it just right in his conclusion

"What is occurring, in the wake of the Scappaticci affair is a convergence of interests between hardline nationalism and the British authorities to conceal mutually embarrassing truths about the troubled years. "

Saturday, May 24, 2003

There's a really nasty, poisonous diatribe from former trotskyist Tariq Aziz Ali in today's Guardian. Sample lines.....

"Strategically, the existence of an independent Arab regime in Baghdad had always been an irritation to the Israeli military"

So the Ba'athist dictatorship was to be admired?

"There, it is to be hoped that the invaders of Iraq will eventually be harried out of the country by a growing national reaction to the occupation regime they install, and that their collaborators may meet the fate of former Iraqi prime minister Nuri Said before them."

It is really hard to know what to say, there is not even the slightest recognition of the brutality of Saddam's regime. Ali doesn't even bother with the ritual "Saddam was a monster, but.." disclaimer. It is truly baffling to see anti-americanism so twisted that he wishes to see lynched, ordinary Iraqis who don't resent their liberation? Words fail me.
More on easyCinema: Mark Lawson has a piece in today's Guardian.
Ok, first impressions on Big Brother which started last night. I was pleased to see an Irish guy in the bunch, Ray from Dublin. The first person in was 20 yr old Anouska, she's pretty but was a little overdressed last night: killer heels and strapless top. She was visibly uncomfortable among the older, more casually dressed, group and overdid the booze ending up getting right on everyone's nerves. Sorry to say that I think she's a sure thing to be evicted next week. Up for the public vote alongside her are other contestants who annoyed their housemates, Federico: an egotistical Scottish-Italian waiter who huffily insists on the full elongated 4 syllable version of his name, Jon who is very boring and Scott about whom I have no opinion. The only other to make an impression on me was atomic-kittenish Sissy, a really annoying scouser I was genuinely surprised to see go un-nominated.
Bit more on Had a bit of testing done in the field and it came back much as I expected. The preponderance of the "Dalai Lama score" (economically left wing and libertarian or minus, minus) suggests proof to me that the test is loaded to produce this result which presumably conforms to the views of the test's authors. This is evident right from the very first question:

"If globalisation is inevitable, it should primarily serve humanity rather than the interests of trans-national corporations."

Here's a thought: who is more likely to produce what individual members of humanity might want? it is possible to grow vegetables yourself but nobody can grow a car or a desalination plant. If you think a little bit more about what "humanity" needs, you will realise that most of it is provided by these much maligned corporations. Of course the converse is true, trans-national corporations are not much use without people buying their products. Now at first glance it is hard to disagree with this question, who, after all, is against "humanity"? but an affirmative answer simply provides the desired result: points towards a left-wing economic score. A more honest question would actually be the authors' tacit assumption: "The interests of trans-national corporations are diammetrically opposed to those of humanity, agree/disagree?"

It is an irony that the score the authors apparently seek to produce is the political view most detached from reality. An inevitable consequence of an economically left wing political system is an overbearing state apparatus to do all the redistributing, regulation and "correcting" of injustice. It may be that you think this is a price worth paying but such a state apparatus inevitably restricts basic freedoms. There is no such thing as a society where you are "free to do your own thing" but the state is there to pay for all your basic needs.

Friday, May 23, 2003

I have to endorse what David Carr says about regulations.

"Regulatory regimes are not just a waste of time and effort, they are actually damaging. They suck a huge amount of otherwise-productive wealth out of society that ends up translated into nothing except sinecure jobs and state pensions....In any event, the only traders who bother to comply with all these regulations are the ones who are worried about their reputation and, ironically, it is those traders who can be relied upon to provide us with good quality products without the monkey of the state on their backs."

It is a regular complaint in Ireland that housing prices are too high and that builders are making "excessive" profits but it is insufficiently understood just how complex our regulatory regime has become in the last ten years and this has had a direct effect on restricting supply.
I have a confession to make: I am a Big Brother fan. I always end up moaning about it but by the next year, with the traditional harbinger of summer: the beginning of Big Brother, I have forgotten all about my complaints and look forward to learning the identity of the housemates. It starts tonight!
I see on BBC News this morning that Stelios of easyJet fame has a "great" new idea: easyCinema. The idea is that instead of going to the cinema and buying a ticket for £5 to see The Matrix Reloaded you can get to see Steven Seagal's latest turkey for 20p. It will not be possible to buy popcorn as Stelios considers it "a rip-off". Now, it is clear, even to an economic illiterate like me, that there are huge problems with this business model, not the least of which is the premise that people consider cinemas to be too expensive and would go more often if it was cheaper to do so. The market for cinema tickets might be a little crude - it is clear that there would be room for "premium" ticket prices on the opening weekend of big blockbuster films and there might be room for discounted tickets to try and fill empty theatres showing less popular films - but that is not the same as saying there is a cartel fixing prices artificially high as there was with air travel.

Anyone with a passing interest in cinema can observe the money generated by "big" films. On the opening weekend of the last James Bond movie, my wife and I failed to secure a ticket, two theatres were packed, and as babysitter was already arranged, we bought tickets to see something else we wouldn't have otherwise watched (the execrable 28 Days Later). In the same way that Clinton aides were reminded of "The Economy, Stupid!" the mantra of anyone getting into cinema houses should be "The Blockbusters, Stupid!" These big films cross-subsidise the others and it is the buzz generated around them that brings people into the cinema, not the prices.

As for popcorn: if people are stupid enough to want to be "ripped off", no self-respecting business owner should be stupid enough not to accommodate them.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Found another interesting Irish Blog...
Andalusia has become quite popular among Irish property investors.
Siobhan your knickers!

(via Give War A Chance, via Carisenda, from Stray Toaster Thinking who noticed it in the first place.)
Isabel Hilton demonstrates rigid compliance with left wing orthodoxy in attributing China's problems dealing with SARS not to its totalitarian regime, not to lack of freedom or bureacratic secrecy but, incredibly, to the limited amount of economic liberalisation the Chinese "enjoy". With a straight face she refers to Mao's success in eradicating Venereal Disease. This "success" was achieved by summary execution of those presenting with VD and the subsequent, prudent suffering in silence of those with VD.
Well, arch-libertarian Perry de Havilland doesn't like it and I agree it makes far too many assumptions and there are several questions that are difficult to answer with agree/disagree but I thought I'd try out the Political Compass for myself.

Here's what I got!
Yesterday evening, on the way home, I had to endure Matt Cooper interviewing listening to Bob Fisk. Cooper was typically fawning, but even this wasn't enough for a tetchy Fisk who huffily insisted on completing his point after a mild interjection from Cooper. Bob was doing his usual "..despicable, wicked acts...but" shtick about the latest "al-Qaeda" attacks and was in a hopeless muddle attempting to demonstrate two contradictory assertions: 1) That al-Qaeda is a centrally controlled organisation with the capacity to attack western targets at will and 2) That al-Qaeda is not really an organisation at all but a loose philosophy uniting muslims worldwide. It seemed, rather like a quantum particle's wave function collapsing when observed, that Fisk invoked in turn whichever of these assertions made the most salient point about western iniquity or western vulnerability.

Of course he inevitably bridled at the use of the word "terrorist" and launched into a well worn speech about how these terms are used and abused and how he doesn't like to use that word. I have to say: I really don't see what is so difficult about defining terrorism. A simple definition would be: violence aimed directly at civilians. Now, you may take the view, as many "revolutionary" groups from the IRA to FARC to the PLO do, that this tactic is necessary to achieve a political aim, but supporting the political use of terrorism is not the same as saying that it's not terrorism "from your point of view". Terrorism is a tactic and does not have a point of view. I had enough of Fisk - at one point compounding his lie that the west "supported" Saddam by claiming, incredibly that "we" also supported Ceaucescu! - so I switched over to listen to Feed the Cat by Kaidi Tatham's Agent K instead.

This morning's commute was a lot better. Richard Downes interviewed George Monbiot about his latest great idea: Guess what? - A World Government!

Now, Downes is an RTE radio hack which means he pretty much subscribes to the standard BBC/Guardian left-ish world view but even he was smart enough to see the huge gaping holes in this preposterous argument and it was a joy to listen to the pompous Monbiot flounder hopelessly as Downes asked him simple common-sense questions. It wasn't even necessary to touch on the irony of the arch-antiGlobalist proposing the ultimate globalisation.

Monbiot's solution to the problem of third world debt was that this world order would "prevent poor countries from getting into debt". Downes inferred that this inevitably meant "not lending them money in the first place" which may not be welcomed by such countries. On the contrary, suggested Monbiot the mechanism for preventing them from getting into debt was for rich countries to use their trade surpluses to "forgive" the poor countries' trade deficits. This is just "Monbi-onkers" stuff and Downes reminded Monbiot that Ireland had a trade surplus we were quite happy with, thank you very much. More floundering as he waffled to the effect that the rich countries had to "redistribute" to the poor ones.

What baffles me is the extent to which someone as detached from reality and common-sense as Monbiot is taken seriously. When considering his latest manifesto it is hard to know where to start. It seems somehow inadequate to begin by noting that there is no such thing as "Global Nationalism" - who considers themselves, first and foremost, to be a citizen of the Earth? - If Monbiot wants to see what a transnational parliament might look like, he could do far worse than check out the EU. Most of the problems associated with that organisation, overarching unresponsive bureacracy, would be there in spades with a larger Earth Union. I feel rather foolish even making this small point because to do so is to grant some sort of credibility to a utopian project whose author demonstrates an inability or unwillingness to learn from the mistakes of the previous century.
Sorry to see Celtic eventually lose 3-2 after extra time against Porto in last night's UEFA Cup Final. Everyone this morning is (rightly) complaining about portuguese time-wasting tactics but (wrongly) claiming that "the best team lost". It wouldn't have been an injustice had Celtic won and the teams were very well matched but sloppy defending, for at least two of Celtic's goals, was what ultimately scuppered the scottish side's chances of bringing home european silverware for the second time.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Celtic face Porto tonight in the UEFA Cup Final. It is a fantastic achievement to get this far but I have to endorse Alex Ferguson in tipping them to win, they have knocked out plenty of strong teams to get here and comprehensively so. It is also nice to see Rangers captain Lorenzo Amoruso confirm that, unlike his team's supporters and bucking sectarian convention, he will be cheering on Celtic tonight.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

When did abolishing tuition fees suddenly become a centre-right priority? In the UK, the Tory party's "eye-catching" new initiative is to eliminate university fees, I think that "straw-clutching" is closer to the truth. Here in Ireland the junior coalition party, and the nearest thing we have to a centre-right party, the Progressive Democrats are resisting a proposal by Education minister Noel Dempsey to reverse the idiotic, Labour-inspired, abolition of third level fees in the 1990s.

Now, even though it may chafe somewhat with my libertarian sympathies I think that there's a lot to be said for "free" primary and secondary education. The best argument for this is not philosophical but utilitarian. It's a patent fact that we all benefit from a good standard of education among the populace. The situation is not perfect - I wish that probability and basic economics were mandatory - but it is "good enough". Loath though I am to endorse yet another Dempsey crusade, I have to say that there is, however, no good argument, philosophical or utilitarian for free tertiary education. It seems to me that while the effect of widespread secondary education is to reduce the overall level of ignorance it is often the effect of widespread non-vocational (and incomplete) third level education to increase that level of ignorance right back.
Last Thurday C. Bloggerfeller wondered:

"Is Belgium racing Moldova in a bid to be first to disappear off the map of Europe?"

Well, the answer appears to be yes.

Question: How do you know if your country is going nowhere fast?

Answer: When it is hailed by George Monbiot.
There's a great post over at Samizdata on Libertarianism and Copyright which attempts to explain the conundrum of private-property-loving-libertarian indifference to "theft" of intellectual property.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Another classic Lileks bleat: Overmisunderestimating Space Vampires!
Conor draws my attention to the latest issue of The Portadown News which along with suggestions as to the identity of the "real stakeknife" contains a hilarious reference to the NI Health Promotion Agency's unforgettably dreadful "Go Walking" campaign. Those readers who don't live in Ireland are fortunate to avoid this ad, the jingle for which is even more difficult to eradicate from your head than the Cheeky Girls' "Cheeky Song".
Ok, yesterday I decided to see if I could google up a few more Irish Weblogs. I was disappointed to discover a dearth of sensible Irish commentary with the vast majority of blogs expressing either very strong republican views or standard eurolefty-idiotarian nonsense. One loonie-righty anti-immigrant rant (google's first hit for "Blog Ireland") had the same blog template as mine - Yikes! Then, this morning I found Tallrite which, at least on a first scan, appears to be an oasis of sanity and common sense.
Not content with the architectural section, Tom de Paor has crossed over to the property pages. A small house in Cork city designed by Ireland's architectural enfant terrible is on the market. Gushing this time is provided by Niall Toner who, despite mistaking this enfant d'Ennis for a Corkman, notes

"De Paor's forthright views and mischievous approach have garnered him respect and disdain in almost equal measure among his fellow professionals. Bitchy side-swipes aimed in his direction have appeared on architecture websites. "

Hmm, I wonder what he could mean?

UPDATE: Turns out I may not have been too far off the mark. I had actually assumed that Toner meant Archeire as the the "architecture website" so I searched it today for "de Paor" and found a message board post linking to yours truly! 20/5/03 3:25 PM

Sunday, May 18, 2003

It's really saying something when Aine Ni Chonaill thinks you are too right wing. Something tells me young Master Barrett will be even less popular than the unlovely and electorally-unsupported Cork schoolmistress.
The New York Times Magazine this week has a great special issue on Architecture. There's a short interview with Peter Eisenman who, I learn, didn't design his own apartment as he didn't "want to live in my own environment" (Good choice Pete!). There's another interview with Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown including a great quote fom Venturi: "Good is better than being original." (do as I say not as I do). There's also more good stuff including a piece on architecture in Phoenix AZ and a profile of Steven Holl's (I'm sorry to say) awful Simmons Hall dorm for M.I.T but I was struck by this report of Seattle-ite scepticism of "star-chitecture" in particular Rem Koolhas' new library building.

"People in Seattle have reason to feel crabby about buildings designed by famous architects. Twelve years ago, we got Robert Venturi's dull -- yet impossible to navigate -- Seattle Art Museum, dominated by a gigantic staircase to nowhere. Its massive facade inspired a general yawn. In 2000, Frank Gehry gave us the garishly colored, extravagantly crumpled and disarmingly silly Experience Music Project. It was met with derision.......We not only felt disappointed by these buildings, we felt burned. Venturi's art museum and Gehry's E.M.P. pale beside their earlier work at, respectively, the National Gallery in London and the Guggenheim Bilbao."

I would not endorse the implicit praise for Venturi's clumsy National Gallery extension but I would have to concur with the general sentiment and add that it is not restricted to Seattle. A consequence of the desire to "do a Bilbao": Hiring a "star-chitect" to raise the profile of your project is that almost every city now boasts one or more of these "eye-catching" but half-thought-out buildings which are ultimately destined to become unloved white elephants.
Jim Cusack fills in more detail on the murder of Tom Oliver and a possible connection to Stakeknife.

"...An Phoblacht published a list of allegations against Mr Oliver. It blamed Mr Oliver, a father of seven young children who had no republican connections at all, for a series of arms finds and arrests against the IRA in the Dundalk-Cooley-south Armagh area.....These allegations have, unfortunately for the Oliver family, come to be accepted fact by some sections of the media and were repeated alongside the Stakeknife stories in the past week.....However, senior Garda sources supported by republican sources, hold the view that the litany of charges made against Mr Oliver were, in fact, a cover used by a highly-placed and presumably well-paid informant within the IRA. In effect, Mr Oliver was sacrificed to cover the identity of the informant within the IRA's own ranks."

And in a separate piece Cusack sheds more detail on the activities of the IRA's "Internal Security Unit". I still find it shocking to learn of the brutality shown towards its own members, many of whom were innocent of the "crime"s of which they were charged.

"The tortures used on victims of the security unit are on a par with those used by some of the worst totalitarian regimes. Victims were strung upside down, beaten for days on end, plunged in baths of boiling hot then freezing water, almost drowned and beaten on the feet....In some instances, limbs were crushed or broken and one man had his fingernails pulled out in 1984. A blow torch was used on at least one other victim in the early Nineties and there are unconfirmed reports - details were kept from relatives and not released at inquests - of one man having sections of his skin torn off. "

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Hey!, I just discovered (via Technorati) that I have made it onto Cinderella Bloggerfeller's Blogroll. It is a real honour. C. Bloggerfeller may have an awful unorthodox name but it is an excellent and erudite read.
The Guardian reminds us of the wretched story of Tom Oliver who, it now appears, may have been killed by Stakeknife. Oliver was a farmer who was tortured and murdered by the IRA 12 years ago for being an "informer". Although the Guardian typically throws doubt on this, it was widely believed that Oliver's "offense" in the eyes of the IRA was to stumble on a cache of arms stored on his own property without his consent and to report this to the Gardai. This was an incredibly bitter episode in this small community and sparked massive anti-IRA protests. It was made clear to people in the most brutal possible manner the nature of the organisation which many had tolerated if not actually supported.
Curious story in today's Guardian about a local community "swamped" by immigrants who make little effort to assimilate and are beginning to take over the local political machinery. Except this is not England but the Valencia region of Spain and the foreigners are wealthy expat retirees from Northern Europe. It is instructive for those who wish to make general principles about tolerance and assimilation in relation to immigration to look at an example such as this and test those principles. I think the author of this piece fails this test, I cannot imagine a Guardian hack writing an equivalent headline to this..

"Spanish fear for their way of life as Britons fight for power "

..about local elections in Bradford.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Well, I had my headline all ready. Anticipating that Juventus would snatch a solitary goal, turn in a typically Italian defensive performance to hold that score and dump Real Madrid out of the Champions' league on away goals, I was going to say that Los Galacticos were ultimately beaten by Catanacio. Instead Juventus turn in a superb, barnstorming performance at the Stadi del Alpi going 3-0 up until Zidane pulled one back for the visitors. All of Juve's team played well but several shone. Davids showed Keane-like determination to win, covering, as they say, every blade of grass. Nedved was excellent but tragically earned a booking late in the game which rules him out of the final and Del Piero out-Henry-ed Thierry Henry. The final at Old Trafford on the 28th of May will match two Italian teams for the first time, clear demonstration of the rejuvenation of Serie A after years in european wilderness.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Curiouser and Curiouser???

Scapaticci: "I'm not Stakeknife!"
After all the soccer hacks lamenting the relegation of their beloved West Ham, James Davis sticks up for the team who remained in the premiership at the Hammers' expense, Bolton Wanderers.
Never have sour grapes tasted so sweet!
Which architect's work could James Lileks possibly be describing in such vivid terms?

"But his stuff often looks like a silicon-injected hooker wrapped in aluminum foil dropped down in the receiving line of a debutante's ball."

Guessed right?
Fascinating programme on BBC 2 last night: Documentary about Michael Ventris who deciphered the writing system Linear B, incomprehensible for centuries, and discovered that the language it described was an early form of ancient Greek. Ventris was a very interesting character, a precocious student, he had learned several languages by his teens and became obsessed by Linear-B at 14. After his parent's separation and his father's untimely death he lived with his Polish mother in Berthold Lubetkin's celebrated Highpoint building, Their apartment boasting furniture by Marcel Braeur and paintings by Picasso. The cultural milieu inspired Ventris to study at the Architectural Association in Bedford Square. He graduated as an Architect but his real love was Linear-B and would work on it, initially in the evenings, eventually giving up work to devote more time to this project. It was striking to see this amateur disarmingly contact all of the experts in this script and begin a collaborative project modelled on the architectural "group working" method. He sent a questionnaire on key issues relating to Linear-B to these experts and their responses formed the groundwork for his eventually successful decipherment.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

AC Milan are through to the final of the Champions' League. Ironically it is on the "away" goals rule. Both AC Milan and their semi-final opponents, local rivals, Internazionale share the San Siro Stadium. The goalless first leg was designated Milan's "home" match and tonight's tie, which finished 1-1 at the same stadium, was Inter's "home" match.
Driving home this evening: The Last Word's Matt Cooper had a really boring piece about complimentary medicines. Fearful of falling asleep at the wheel I switched over to (the imaginatively named) Five Seven Live on RTE Radio 1 and was treated to a sobering exposition of the level of political ignorance in my home town. A reporter did a vox-pop in one of our shopping centres asking people to identify various politicians (including one of our local TDs) from photographs. I wasn't surprised to hear puzzlement and confusion over some of the lesser lights in the cabinet but a surprising number failed to correctly identify the leader of the opposition: Fine Gael's Enda Kenny - admittedly a bland airhead - or poll-topping local SF TD Arthur Morgan. An additional irony is that it is more than likely that some of these fools actually voted for Morgan!

UPDATE: I have to correct an error here, it was, of course, Dermot Ahern who topped the poll for the Louth constituency in the last general election but Morgan was, I think, second and certainly would have received most of his votes in Dundalk. 14/5/04 3:36 PM
I'm sorry to say that the normally very sharp John Chappell is hopelessly confused in his call for a ban on animal skins and furs, largely on the ground that "We don't need them". [permalinks broken at the moment, just go to Iberian Notes and scroll down to yesterday's post at 19:04] He also says that he doesn't "care whether that's non-libertarian or not". I would be the last person to suggest that you must support all of the fixed menu of causes associated with any particular political philosophy but if you take the view that something should be banned because "we don't need it" you are going to have a serious problem arguing against the gamut of crackpot left-ism and extreme green-ism. There are plenty of things we "don't need", not least most of the things that make life enjoyable. The last experiments in eliminating the non-essential from society were carried out by Chairman Mao with his "cultural revolution" and Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. I would think the results were pretty conclusive.

UPDATE: I was a bit rushed in writing this earlier so I'll take the opportunity to expand a little now. My main point is that "necessity" is probably the worst possible reason for determining whether something should be made illegal. You could start with the principal philosophical reason which is that a society which is ordered according to the majority's preferences to the exclusion of the minority's is a long way from being a free society. I hope it is not seen as a reductio ab absurdum to use the example of an established religion. In a predominantly Catholic society it would be tyrannical to enforce this religion on minority Protestants, Jews and Muslims on the grounds that you don't "need" other religions. A further more prosaic objection is that it will inevitably fall to bureacrats to determine precisely what you do and do not "need", experience shows that they are singularly ill-equipped to carry out this task. This is not to say that there are no possible objections to the treatment of animals or use of their skin or meat, just that the distinction between both uses is hard to maintain and the argument that "you don't need fur or skin" logically supports a ban on many things we don't "need" but are objectionable in one way or another to somebody. 13/5/03 8:52 PM
More Stakeknife-inspired ruminations: Given the ethnic background of many leading republican figures it is somewhat ironic to consider the prominence given to ethnic identification in Irish republican politics: the fetishisation of the Irish language and its appropriation, along with the Irish flag as an ethnic symbol. The simple interpretation of the republican slogan "Brits out" is that it refers to the British army or taken a little further, the idea of British rule in Northern Ireland. What this phrase more often evokes, however, is the suggestion that the "Brits" themselves, i.e. those who identify as British, should get out and presumably go "home". These people, protestant in religion and unionist in political affiliation, are lazily considered by republicans and their sympathisers on the British, colonial-guilt, Left to be a settler population, analogous to Israeli settlers in the disputed territories. The "right" to live in Ireland is considered to be reserved for the "native" ethnic group.

The question of what constitutes the "native" ethnic group is complicated by the fact that religion as an ethnic marker seems to trump everything else. Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams does not have an Irish but a British name. One of the four TDs from my constituency is a SF colleague of Adams: Arthur Morgan. He is from a well known republican family from the village adjacent to mine. This village was originally established by Welsh immigrants and Morgan (along with the surname of regular commentator Conor!) is a Welsh name. Stakeknife, along with one of the innocents murdered to protect him is of Italian "heritage". What unites these republicans is their given religion. On the face of it, it may seem admirable that republicanism is a big enough tent to accommodate those of English, Welsh and Italian descent but it rather belies their claim of a uniquely authentic "Irishness" and makes a mockery of suggestions that the unionist "settlers" should go "home".
More on StakeKnife: Adam Nicholson in the Telegraph asks the right question.

"And the overarching question behind that inquiry has to be this: did the people responsible, in the end, constantly and vigilantly maintain the distinction between their kind of cure and the disease it was meant to address? Or is the horrible Stakeknife story evidence of a strategy that for years had lost its way?"
Tory Historian Andrew Roberts does his bit to rescue Kipling's reputation

"Oscar Wilde's barb about Kipling's "superb flashes of vulgarity" more and more looks like a commonplace inversion of cliché, typical of the kind of gag on which so much of his over-lauded wit depended. Far from being vulgar, Kipling's writings on the British squaddie and British India show how much he idolised, but never idealised, those huge entities in his life."

Sunday, May 11, 2003

So: "Stakeknife" has been named. The whole story about this IRA double agent is yet to come out but it is an appalling and sordid episode. It is clear that completely innocent and uninvolved men were sacrificed, along with informants who believed they were protected, to protect this man who held a senior position in the IRA. On a trite note I have to say I feel a little bit let down, in a similar way to when the, relatively obscure, identity was revealed of the adulterous "Premiership footballer", assumed to be a star, who had sued to protect his privacy. I had assumed that "Stakeknife" would turn out to be a "household name" but I had never heard of him.
Great piece by Nick Cohen in today's Observer, he shows how objections to Genetically Modified food products are unthinking and scientifically ignorant and could ultimately have serious consequences for those in developing countries.

"But GM also upset the interests of the setters of style and taste. Marie Antoinette and her courtiers dressed up as peasants and shepherds. They invented a phoney authenticity and pretended to live the simple life while the real French peasantry was close to starvation. Their heirs have a fad for 'natural' child birth, although genuinely natural child birth for most women in the Third World is about the most dangerous experience of their lives. Discriminating modern Europeans also want the organic food the peasantry once produced, although, again, natural farming for the majority of peasant farmers is back-breaking drudgery, most of which is undertaken by the women who have survived the pains of natural child birth. "

Saturday, May 10, 2003

Classic Mark Steyn: On Tam Dalywell's crackpot conspiracy...

"...Tam's cabal of sinister Jews is headed by who? A troika - Lord Levy, Mr Mandelson, Mr Straw? - that includes only one bona fide Jew and has to make up the numbers with guys who've got a Jewish grandparent and a couple of Mel Brooks videos: depending on how you look at it, Tam's conspiracy has either revived the expansive Third Reich definition of Jewishness or it's the Irish World Cup team of cabals."
John has a piece at Iberian Notes on legalising marijuana. He doesn't agree with legalising speed or cocaine but points out that alcohol is a lot more dangerous than weed which he claims is "fun". Of course, like Bill Clinton, I'll have to take John's word for it but it seems to me that this is not a very good argument for legalisation or decriminalisation.

I am in favour of decriminalising all drug use and indeed prostitution, in Ireland gambling is already legal. The best argument for legalising these "activities" is not that you approve of them - as it happens I don't approve of hard drug use, prostitution or gambling - but that the government has no business telling adults what they can and cannot do, even if their activities are harmful to themselves, as long as they are not harmful to others. This libertarian argument is the most appealing to me but is also backed up by a utilitarian argument which is that all the various consequences of criminalisation, from crime precipitated by drug use to lack of legal protection for women in prostitution to the cost and futility of policing - If any war is a Vietnam-style "quagmire" it is the two decade long "War on Drugs"- , far outweigh, by a degree, the effects of the "vice" in question.

It is instructive to think of this as analogous to free speech. Just as a test of free speech, pace Voltaire, is when you defend the right of someone to disagree with you so a test of a free society is when you defend someone's right to engage in activities (harmless to others) of which you personally disapprove. There is a very short line between ordering society according to the personal preferences of the majority and tyranny.
I watched Tigerland on tv last night. It's not a bad movie and Colin Farrell is pretty good in the leading role but it occured to me that it is worth remembering why the Vietnam war was wrong.

In the run-up to the war againt Saddam the spectre of Vietnam loomed large with many people, pro and anti-war, making comparisons with the US's ill-fated adventure in IndoChina. Vietnam shaped the imagination of all the baby-boomers and if there was one thing that middle of the road liberals could easily agree it was that war, such as that waged against the Vietcong, was wrong. Of course Iraq was nothing like Vietnam and the campaign, as David Brooks noted, actually turned all those Vietnam cliches on their head. Here were youthful idealistic soldiers helping to liberate an oppressed people from a brutal tyranny while comfortable, decadent even, reactionary middle aged and middle class people decried their efforts.

Those who supported the war on Iraq had two choices in dealing with the Vietnam question (three, if you count ignoring the subject altogether). The first option was to present a revisionist argument and show that, contrary to received wisdom, the war against the Vietcong was an honourable attempt to protect the Vietnamese people from an impending dictatorship and to halt the spread of communism in that part of the world which would in turn help to make the world if not a safer place then a slightly less dangerous one. The experience of the Korean conflict, from which at least one prospering democracy emerged, would have led the US to believe that a similar or better outcome was desirable and possible. There is a lot of merit to this line not least the fact that is broadly correct.

The second option is to argue that Vietnam was wrong but Iraq was correct. This is a lot more difficult, particularly if you stick to the rationale for war and not its operation. Hitchens suffers from this in that he opposed the Vietnam war at the time, albeit as a Trotskyist, and still holds that it was wrong, that the US had no business being in Vietnam, yet he fully supported the removal of Saddam. It is an arbitrary distinction to make, that said I still think that the second option is the correct position.

The key is that the most valid objection to the Vietnam war was not its original rationale, which was sound. In fact, if the Vietcong forces had been routed, Iraq style, there would have been no anti-war movement worth talking about at that time and the whole thing would have been, more or less, forgotten. No, the madness of the Vietnamese conflict was to remain in that "quagmire" for so long that a draft was required to send unwilling young men to die in the paddy fields. This is not to say that a draft is always wrong: A proper defence of a country requires that the option of conscription is available, but this should be used only in cases of extreme and immediate threat. The Vietcong were a small part of a much greater danger to world order but did not in any way (contrary to Bush-assasination-attempting Saddam) represent a direct threat to the USA and the fallout from their subsequent victory demonstrated that.
Madonna's latest movie (straight to video, natch) is a real stinker but, according to Joe Queenan, it is some way off being a truly awful film.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Anatole Kaletsky illustrates how the little matter of a quarter of a percent reduction in UK interest rates while the European Central Bank maintains its rate could have marked the divergence between a prospering UK economy and Japan style stagnation in the euro-zone, perhaps precipitating a split within the EU.

Turns out the Bank of England is sticking by the ECB. It's funny: in Ireland we really don't "get" how disastrous the ECB's policy really is because we are fortunate enough that our economy is doing relatively ok for the moment. At some stage, down the line it's really going to bite and we are all going to act surprised.
I have to say: I was appalled by Margaret Drabble's Anti-American diatribe in today's Telegraph. You kind of expect this stuff in the Guardian, but the Daily Torygraph? Andrew Sullivan nominates her for one of his "Sontag" awards, Glenn Reynolds notes that she appears to be confusing column-writing with therapy but I think Peter has the best, most succinct, two-word retort to Ms Drabble (Hint - one of them is "you" and the other one ends in "k")
"Nuanced Objectivity" Watch:

Matt Cooper on Today FM's Last Word prefaces a (pointless) piece on Bill Bennett with a description of the "moralistic" Whitehouse presided over by the "Dry Alcoholic George W Bush"". Let us set aside the extreme tenuousness of this link - For those (non-Americans) who are unfamiliar, Bennett is a self appointed critic of the "Moral Collapse of America" who has been revealed to be a pretty serious high rolling gambler but has no connection with the Bush presidency other than he is presumably a Republican. Let us also set aside the irrelevance of this topic to Irish listeners who are barely familiar with Bush's cabinet let alone prominent people assumed to support him and who are then invited to be outraged by this stranger's behaviour. Was it really necessary in introducing yet another of the Last Word's hack-interviews-other-hack-on-the-phone pieces to use the words "Dry Alcoholic"? A more accurate term, not to mention one less revealing of Cooper's prejudices, would be "Teetotaller". As I understand it, President Bush does not consider himself to be an alcoholic, he simply doesn't drink any more.

There is a difference, one which is often elided by pundits, unquestioningly accepting the mantras of Alcoholics Anonymous, who refer to him uncharitably and equally inaccurately in the terms of that secretive cultish organisation as a "White Knuckle Drunk". A WKD is someone who gives up booze by themselves without the support of a sponsor, regular meetings and without acknowledging that they have "lost control of their drinking" and is presumed to be in a constant battle to maintain their sobriety. This is just gobbledy-gook and, as it happens, self serving of AA ("We provide the only solution") and there is no evidence that Bush is having any difficulties remaining sober. Despite this, I don't expect that this will be the last time I hear this stuff: Never let reality get in the way of a good rant.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Jonathan Freedland notes that, while Tam Dalywell has been rebuked for his anti-semitic remarks, his suspicions of a Jewish Cabal controlling US policy are shared by a much wider section of the liberal-left. Of course Freedland doesn't mention that much of this "It's the Likudnik NeoCons, stupid!" argument actually appears on the same pages as his columns but he does a neat job in debunking it all the same.

"...this group is not and does not operate like a "cabal", with its connotations of secrecy and ulterior motives. On the contrary, it is explicit about its aim: a world dominated by American power and made safe for western-friendly democracy....Crucially, this is an American aim pursued for American reasons.....They do not construct these grand designs for Israel's sake, but for America's. It just so happens that in some cases - though not all - those strategic goals are consonant with Israel's."
Ok, archives and permalinks are fixed and should work properly now...

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

I wanted to write something about Libertarianism. I have libertarian sympathies and if it weren't oxymoronic to do so I might describe myself as a moderate libertarian. That said, there are areas of Libertarianism from which I am alienated just as much as I am from Left Wing orthodoxy. Libertarian objections to the Iraq war held little appeal for me but the item that sparked my consideration of the pitfalls of Libertarianism was a post last week from Perry de Havilland on Samizdata and particularly the comments added to it. The topic of the post was the ill-informed attempt by Democrat-sympathising blogger Daily Kos to argue that Libertarians have a "more natural home" in the US Democratic party.

Now, I agree with the gist of this post: Democrats like Daily Kos must really have no clue whatsoever about Libertarianism if they think that concepts like affirmative action and the notion that "the government should provide for the less fortunate amongst us" have any appeal. These are antithetical to Libertarianism. I also agree that it is hard to draw a line between personal and economic freedom and many Democrats don't appreciate that libertarians don't separate these.

My problem is when you get to discussion of taxation. Now, I'm no fan of taxation. Like the apocryphal American Political candidate, I "Love People, Hate Taxes!". My views on taxation would probably be considered way out on the right, certainly in Ireland. I think that there are a lot of merits to a flat tax and that there are a lot of problems with a tax rate which is too progressive and a tax regime which exempts large sections of the public from any kind of tax. An overly progressive tax rate hampers innovation and growth and a relative "disenfranchising" of tax payers - more voters paying none or very little tax than those who do - removes any kind of electoral brake on excessive government spending. Let me add, while I'm at it that I disagree with the Irish Times' Vincent Browne and former Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald that withholding or avoiding tax is immoral. However, I would draw the line, except in jest, at describing taxation as "armed robbery".

This description or redefinition is based on the hypothetical notion of an individual refusing to pay tax and presumes the ultimate sanction for this would be confiscation of his assets and or imprisonment at the point of a gun or, at the very least, superior force. This is profoundly wrong-headed and to my ears evokes the contorted positions of anti-americans attempting to argue that Bush is a dictator or that the US is an empire or the convoluted assertions by terrorist groups such as the IRA or ETA that they are involved in a war of liberation. The ultimate sanction for anybody who defies the laws of the land is imprisonment backed by police force. This is not restricted to tax and no society could function without this. The experience of post-communist Russia shows that without an agreed guarantee of property ownership, economic freedom counts for nought. One cornerstone of private property is official recognition in law. You cannot have undisputed title to, say, your house if there is no agreed system of legal ownership, backed up by the state. Similarly, taxation, if not its exact level, is something to which we all grumblingly consent. If you refuse to recognise this, logically you must similarly disavow official guarantee of your private property. It may seem an abtruse philosophical point to argue but it is crucial. These types of redefinitions aid recruitment and justification of extreme philosophies of left and right.
In the cold light of day I decided against crowing and gloating about Manchester United's title win but permit me one observation about Arsenal's manager, Arsene Wenger.

He usually displays an admirable loyalty towards his players but can have a tendency to make too many excuses. In the aftermath of the collapse of Arsenal's title challenge, most of the soccer pundits - certain the Premiership trophy would remain at Highbury, perhaps to be joined by the Champions' league trophy - have had to consider their gullibility. The honest ones have put their hands up and admitted they got it wrong. Wenger is offering a new suggestion for those who don't want to admit their fallibility. I should have seen this one coming, I wondered how those who confidently asserted Arsenal's superiority would explain away evidence to the contrary.

Well, Wenger's get-out-of-jail-free card is "We are not as rich as Manchester United". From maintaining that Arsenal would retain the premiership, unbeaten, he is now saying that second place, though not his aim, was a considerable achievement considering the disparity of resources available to United and Arsenal.

To illustrate his point he compares the almost £30m paid by United for Rio Ferdinand with the £2m shelled out for Pascal Cygan. Rio may not be worth £30m but he is still better value than the blundering Frenchman, of which it is said he turns only marginally quicker than the Le Havre ferry. In fact, the deeper you look into the money spent by the respective clubs you will see that, where United may spend the larger sums, they have tended in recent years to be on smaller numbers of high profile transfers. Arsenal by contrast have a scattergun aproach, buying loads of bargain bucket players from far and wide, some of which turn out to be flops, some inspired.

It is wrong to say that United have "bought the title": neither of United's most recent and most expensive purchases, Veron and Ferdinand, have had as much impact on the successful campaign as players such as Beckham, Butt, Scholes, the Neville brothers, Brown and O'Shea. Players who cost the club precisely nothing in transfer fees. The only Arsenal first team regular who came up through the ranks is Ashley Cole. Arsenal's problem might be that it spends too much money on transfers rather than too little. A few more home-grown players coming through might lend a better spine to the team and such committed players might be more use when you need to dig out a result than the artistes and aesthetes who comprise the majority of Arsenal's first team.
The Observer reprints an earnest piece from the New York Times by Toure on career prospects for gay rappers such as Caushun. This appears to be a topic sufficiently newsworthy to the Observer that it features each week. Last week it was Duncan Campbell. A lot of the flaws in these pieces derive from their starting premises: there are several key innaccurate assumptions. Firstly, the assumption that the lack of success of gay rappers is due to scepticism within the record industry. Secondly, that a breakthrough by Caushun will herald a new era of gay mainstream rappers. Thirdly the emphasis on mainstream acceptance to the detriment of independent scenes and sub-genres.

It is true that the record industry is a hidebound conservative institution and, particularly the US record industry, cherishes its rigid distinctions. UK singer Craig David was advised to ditch his guitarist by his US record company as they felt their efforts to market him as an "Urban" (i.e. Black) artist would be hampered by the presence of a caucasian guitarist on stage. It may be that this lamentable suggestion was guided by an instinctive racism or at least scepticism of white artists within R&B but it was also based on underestimating the tolerance of the putative audience or over-estimating their ethnic expectations. A calculation was made, rightly or wrongly (wrongly in my view) based on the response from the target market.

Jamaican "Dance Hall" reflects the antipathy within Jamaican society towards homosexuality and is rightly described as homophobic. It would be an exaggeration to say the same about Hip Hop. A more accurate characterisation would be to say that it is, like Heavy Metal, a macho musical medium, at least in its mainstream form. Scepticism about mainstream gay rappers springs from this fact. Caushun's PR people use a very clunky analogy when they suggest that he may be Rap's Gay Jackie Robinson, referring to Baseball's first African-American star. Glamorous as this comparison is, it is singularly inappropriate in this case. Any sport is based on skill and athleticism. Rap, like any musical genre is primarily a cultural form. Robinson's race had no bearing on his skill as a baseball player. Caushun's sexuality does have a bearing on how his music is appreciated. A more accurate comparison would be a gay artist thriving in an equally macho musical genre. The only one that comes to mind is the late Freddie Mercury of Queen. It probably doesn't sound so great to say that you are hoping to be the "Freddie Mercury of Rap" but achieving Mercury's mainstream appeal while retaining an exuberant flamboyant, gay persona seems to be Caushun's aim.

Sunday, May 04, 2003

United are Champions!!!

Arsenal go down 3-2 at home to a battling Leeds side to return the Premiership trophy to Old Trafford for the eight time in the eleven seasons of the Premiership's existence.

Gloating and crowing to follow tomorrow.

Saturday, May 03, 2003

Manchester United move eight points clear of Arsenal and three points closer to regaining the Premiership title with a comfortable home win over Charlton. A third Ruud Van Nistelrooy hat-trick of the season brings his tally in all competitions to an incredible 43, three shy of Denis Law's record for a single United season. He has now scored 79 goals in just 100 games for United, a truly phenomenal achievement. At 24 Premiership goals he is now one goal ahead of second placed James Beattie of Southampton and is in a great position to get the "Golden Boot" award

Arsenal must win at home tomorrow to a Leeds side desperately in need of points after West Ham's defeat of Chelsea to stay in the running. Gunner Freddie Ljungberg thinks the London side have blown it, I hope he's right!

Friday, May 02, 2003

I wanted to say how pleased I am that this years May Day Anti-Capitalism protests were pathetic affairs, perhaps some of the loudest noisiest protesters of recent years have simply graduated from University and are now just working for The Man. In any case, my view of this "movement" (if that's not too grand a title) is that its numbers have been swelled by uninformed narcissistic dilettantes and the core of angry activists is small indeed. Perhaps this illustrates the waning of the Anti-Globalisation movement?
Two British Muslim extremists bomb a Tel Aviv bar/restaurant succeeding in killing young revellers and one of themselves but sadly not the other. In today's Guardian, Fuad Nahdi, in the guise of lamenting this development, actually celebrates it. Despite the palpable fact that those British men who have gone to fight for Islamofascism in Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Hamas in Israel are all from wealthy backgrounds he falls back on that easy trope: "marginalisation and alienation".

"The combined forces of racial discrimination and Islamophobia have been awesome in the marginalisation and alienation of the community. As a result few, particularly young people, feel they have any viable stake in society. To add to all this is the chaos and confusion that is all-pervasive throughout the Muslim world - traumatised by colonialism, raped by "independence"

These guys aren't "oppressed" into becoming fascists anymore than Hitler's social betters were at fault for snubbing the young misanthropic anti-semite. Being adult implies responsibilty for one's actions yet again and again those who commit wicked acts and those who defend and encourage them are excused on the grounds that they "must be driven to despair" by "Islamophobia" or "Zionist aggression". This argument is particularly tenuous when you consider the obsession with Israel and the Palestinians - Nahdi uses that hackneyed conjunction "the running sore" here. Somehow, Putin - The Hammer of the Chechens - never receives an equivalent opprobrium from Western Muslim extremists for the far more brutal and destructive war waged on a similarly muslim population in Chechnya. The fact is that these intense and fanatical young men have, like it or not, voluntarily segregated themselves from society. Nahdi's self-serving and cynical attempt to use this as another stick with which to beat secular society for being insufficiently tolerant is a perfect example of the continuing problem - Intra-Muslim tolerance of extremism, self pity and projection of blame onto others - and represents the opposite of a solution.
Nice bit of subtlety in the Times' leader on the postponement of the Northern Ireland assembly elections.

"The announcement was greeted with polite disagreement from Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister"

"Polite disagreement" indeed! In the same way as De Valera's signing of the book condolences on Hitler's death is often misunderstood it would be easy to conclude that Bertie vigorously opposed this postponement. If so it is, to say the least, a half hearted opposition. De Valera sought cover for a pro-allies wartime "neutrality" policy that would be unacceptable to a large, unthinking, section of the Irish public. Similarly, Bertie cannot be seen to support something which is easy to depict as British high-handedness but he surely knows that there is no alternative.

Surely a first principle of any election is that it should be to something? At the moment there is no assembly. The only mandate that can be delivered by the electorate is some sort of protest at this impasse. A protest that would inevitably favour the purists of SF and DUP over the messy compromisers in the middle ground. Note that I would not endorse an action that was designed specifically to counter this. The Governments should not be in the business of tilting the scales in favour of the centre parties. It is up the people of NI to decide, insofar as they can, who will govern them, but until there is a prospect of an assembly to accommodate successful candidates, any election would be a sham.
Ragging on Rageh: Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds (again!) are horrified at the sycophantic tone displayed by BBC reporter Rageh Omaar in his correspondence with Iraqi Information Ministry official Uday al-Taie.

I think they are a bit harsh. Omaar, an engaging correspondent, is typically BBC in his outlook and was sceptical of American gains during the campaign but still managed to file his reports in a manner which complied with Iraqi censor's wishes but did not descend into Fisk-style propaganda. It is surely embarrassing for him and the BBC to see his gushing words published like this but the crucial fact is that all he was doing was what was necessary to get access and information. This was simply a bit of "buttering up". There is no way that this compares to the sinister and mendacious entanglement of CNN with the Iraqi regime.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Andrew Sullivan has already linked to it, as has Glenn Reynolds but you really should check out Anatole Kaletsky's May Day Ode to Capitalism which also contains a perfect answer for the false conundrum suggested by George Monbiot to which I referred before.

"Another symptom of America’s alleged abuse of the global system is said to be the $500 billion trade deficit that it runs up each year. This surely makes the global economy entirely unbalanced and its growth unsustainable. How can Americans continue to live beyond their means to this extent? Their ability to keep buying so much more from the world than their industries manage to export must indicate an abuse of the dollar’s reserve currency status, a status which in turn, is often said to depend on America’s hegemony of military power.

This is completely wrong. America is actually doing the world a favour by buying more goods than it produces at a time of global mass unemployment. The reason for the US trade deficit is not the profligacy of US consumers, but the stupidly deflationary bias of economic policy in Europe and Japan. The imbalances in the global economy are not the responsibility of Washington but of Frankfurt, Tokyo and Brussels."

On this May Day, after Peter's fascinating comments in the post below, I was just thinking about anti-Americanism, specifically non-French european Anti-Americanism and Anti-Globalisation, (the nexus of the anti-war movement) and not that inspired by Wahaabist Islam or French national pride. All of these movements operate from false premises to do with what the alternative to American hegemony would be. In the case of each of the latter there is a specific aim. The French have delusions of superpower status, regrettably we all collude in this fantasy. The Islamofascists wish to establish a worldwide Caliphate and submit the planet to Sharia Law. The first is irritating and may be harmful the latter is sinister but they differ from general european anti-americanism and anti-globalisation in that they at least have an alternative proposed, even if unpalatable or unlikely.

To generalise: Europeans style themselves as cultural and sophisticated and inaccurately characterise Americans as uncouth philistines. Anti-Globos bemoan the omnipresence of American corporations throughout the world. Both define themselves by their opposition to the status quo but appear to have given little thought to what the alternative might be. One might not expect a French chauvinist or a Bin Laden devotee to realistically assess the prospects of their aim being achieved but you might think that those who catalogue the various "crimes" of the US would contemplate the outline of a world after American Hegemony.

It is clear that Americans have given great thought to what opposing superpowers might emerge. No similar consideration appears to be made in Europe. The mighty Soviet Union collapsed from its own "internal contradictions" but Russia is still a nuclear power and has, as Peter noted, a tradition of favouring the Strongman leader and indeed a nationalism barely suppressed under communism. That said, Russia has a long way to go to challenge the US as a global hegemon. It may be instructive to imagine a world in which Russia is the predominant power but a more useful exercise would be to contemplate a Chinese hegemony.

Those who oppose the US should think hard. Be careful what you wish for, goes the cliche, you just might get it. Implicit in the waning of American power is the dawn of Chinese power. I cannot imagine that China would be anything like the broadly benevolent US. For an indication of how each country deals with dissent contemplate the contrasting fortunes of those who oppose the government in each country. It is simplistic in the extreme to conclude from the fact that various noisy self-regarding buffoons such as Susan Sarandon regularly denounce the US government in hyperbolic terms, crying persecution, that the administration is somehow oppressive. There are no Chinese Sarandons. Such criticism, even the patently ludicrous and self evidently narcissistic, would simply not be tolerated and would ultimately be brutally suppressed. If the US has exported much of its society and culture across the globe it is not imposed but desired. It is hard to imagine the same would apply in the event of Chinese global domination.