Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Fool's Errand III

Mark relates his adventures in the "leftwing skinhead" swamp of Indymedia.

Our Little Christmas Pudding...

I'd like to introduce everyone to my daughter, Zoe. She was born at 11.02PM on Monday night, timing it perfectly so that she could be here for Christmas! Mother and baby are doing great and back home already.

I imagine blogging will be pretty light over the Christmas holiday period. One irony is that I often have better opportunities to blog when I'm at work, when I'm supposed to be doing something a bit more productive instead like, well, work.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Saturday, December 20, 2003

WTC

John wonders what I think about the proposed redevelopment of the World Trade Centre site:

Let's just say I'm underwhelmed by the scheme. I'm not a huge fan of Libeskind's work generally and this scheme is kind of a Libeskind work filtered through several more "commercially-orientated" practices each of which would have been perfectly capable of doing the main job anyway.

In architecture there is a general presumption against reconstructing anything "exactly as it was" as it's a kind of deception but there are exceptions to this rule.

1) The Catalan reconstruction of Mies Van der Rohe's seminal Barcelona Pavilion ("Pabellon Mies") in the 1980s which has allowed us to appreciate what this building really was like. I've been there several times and it is probably my favourite building. This exception would be for a building, preferably small, which was a very influential piece of architectural history.

2) The reconstruction of the historic centre of Warsaw after the war, as an exact facsmile of its pre-war state. This was an important and defiant political act which made the point that however much Germany physically destroyed they couldn't destroy the Polish spirit.

I think it's fair to say that the WTC was certainly not an important building in architectural history so exception 1) doesn't apply. But I think exception 2) does. What better "two fingers" to display to those who would attack America thus than the reconstruction of the Twin Towers exactly as they were. This would not be to pretend that it never happened but to make a statement that America goes on, and the terrorists can't leave a permanent mark of their crime.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Tell us something we don't know

The Economist this week has an article about a study claiming to prove that men lose their fiscal responsibility in the presence of attrative women. In econospeak, the slope of men's discount curve steepens after seeing pictures of beautiful women - they place more value on an immediate monetary amount (less on deferred money). Is this not what a large segment of the advertising industry (not to mention the female population) have known for a long time?

Perhaps Take Thy Lovli Henrietta to a Beheading?

Sound advice from Medieval Jai, Excellent stuff: Qveere Eye for thye Medieval Man

{via Emily}

"Let there be no mistake..

..We are at the edge of the abyss. It is time to move forward."

More from the bould Jimmy Sands, also here.

"Your Mommy Kills Animals"

Not an Onion headline but, as The Daily Ablution notes, PETA's latest campaign: Terrifying moppets so that their pester power can bolster a flagging cause. That scratching sound you hear is the earth beneath the bottom of the barrel.

Caribbean Sinn Fein

I only came across this today. Emily pointed me to Jimmy Sands' invaluable (semi-defunct?) resource for Republicans in the West Indies which includes this very useful Irish acronyms and abbreviations guide for the newbie. Definitions, such as below, are succint, to the point and, of course, scrupulously neutral:

"* Unionism: Political philosophy supporting maintainence of
British rule of the 6 Counties. And eating babies."

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Fool's Errand II

I tried to get out....but they dragged me back in:

A Slugger post on a review by the extremist nationalist fantasist Paul Dunne (from before) has seen me engage Mr Dunne in something resembling a debate in the comments. "Debate" might be a bit of a loose description, Dunne mostly hurls insults in my direction, but it is telling to see Dunne's ersatz urbanity - displayed in reaction to endorsement - evaporate in response to any criticism.

Fly me to the Moon(bat)

Emily gives George Monbiot a bit of a pasting after Moronbiot's characteristically sour (not to mention perverse) reaction to the anniversary of the Wright Brothers' flight, an event marked more memorably by Google yesterday.

"We Got Him" II

I find it hard to disagree with Hitch:

"He had all his visitors body-searched and all his food tasted in advance. He was obsessed with hygiene and stray infections. He wore a different uniform every day and built himself a vulgar palace in every city of his miserable country. Nice, then, to see him found like a rat in a hole, covered with grime, sprouting a dirty grey mane, and being shaven and combed for lice"

{via The Broom of Anger}

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Fool's Errand

Mark Humprys notes how his attempt to post to IndyMedia Orthodoxymedia was scuppered. Those Saddam-enthusiasts couldn't bear to expose their readers, delicate flowers that they are, to Mark rubbing their noses in it. Freedom of Speech my b*ckside!

UPDATE:, Aaargh! Mark goofed. They did post it! 18/12/03 12:36 PM

Playing The Man

I had mentioned in a previous post that there was a tendency by some of the comment-posters at Slugger O'Toole to ignore the substantive point of an argument and instead state that the author of the argument shouldn't be taken seriously. The analogy often used is "to play the man, not the ball". It is important to remember what is wrong about this.

There is obviously the principle of common courtesy. The problem is: I'd guess most people think this is the only reason why it is wrong and a lot of the time, particularly in the cauldron of NI politics, they are disinclined to be courteous to someone they believe is the enemy, or worse a traitor. The format for these comments goes as follows:

Mick Fealty: Pundit A writing in the Newspaper B makes the case that X is Y

Comment-poster C: "There's no reason to listen to anything Pundit A says, she/he's just a Z.

Frequently followed by

Comment-poster D: "Yes she/he's a real Z, remember when he/she said..."

or

Comment-poster E: "Never mind what comment-poster C or D says, they're both Zs , remember what C said about...."

Now, it should go without saying that not much courtesy is displayed in this exchange. But more importantly, A's assertion that "X is Y" hasn't been addressed. Pundit A might be right or wrong but no case has been made to refute A's position or support it. You may be putting yourself at a disadvantage in convincing people normally inclined to disagree with you of your argument if you are discourteous, but you surely have no chance of convincing your opponent, or more importantly an outsider or someone sitting on the fence, if you fail to make the case for your argument. Anyone who is inclined to agree with Pundit A will be more likely to accept their assertion if the only reaction is the standard blanket denunciation. Thus two phenomena persist: 1) the echo chamber, where received views and prejudices are simply reinforced and 2) "both sides" simply talking past each other.

A related phenomena is to ascribe the views of your traditional opponent to anyone critical of your position.To use a recent example, Michael McDowell's recent comments linking the provisional republican movement with organised crime were referred to as "Taking the DUP stance". It is demonstrably true that McDowell is a voracious political opponent of Sinn Fein but it is stretching credulity to describe him as "unionist". McDowell is actually a pretty strong constitutional nationalist.

In fact, a McDowell type position: "Tough on SF, Tough on the causes of SF" might have given a shot of viagra to the SDLP in the recent assembly elections. That is: taking a strong pro-nationalist community position on all areas of concern without endorsing or glorifying violence and fighting with SF for votes by all means necessary including reminding voters of their unsavoury aspects. McDowell's strong anti-FF position in the election here combined with his ease of working with them in government should have instructed the SDLP how it is possible to scrap for votes while campaigning and still work constructively together afterwards. The SDLP were afraid to hurt SF and it ultimately hurt them. They fell into the trap of assuming that criticism of nationalists was the sole reserve of unionists. SF to their ultimate benefit, didn't follow this prescription and were quite happy to criticise the SDLP.

But I digress, the problem with assuming anyone critical of unionism is necessarily a nationalist -and this is the serious flaw in the unionist's view of mainstream "mainland" opinion - or vice versa is that it impoverishes your argument. The best way to refine an argument is to defend it against criticism. This helps you to see the flaws in your argument and correct them, or if they are uncorrectable discover sooner that your argument is unsound. Assuming your opponent conforms to a narrow description is the easy way out, and assists only in avoiding uncomfortable truths.

In war as in argument, knowing your opponent is crucial. Lee Harris begins his seminal essay Al-Qaeda's Fantasy Ideology with the example of Spain's conquest of Mexico. Spain triumphed primarily because Montezuma didn't understand who the conquistadors were. His worldview didn't have a place for them. Likewise those republicans who, say, dismiss all Irish criticism of republicanism as "pro-British" are making a serious error of judgement, from their own point of view. They misunderstand their opponent.

Monday, December 15, 2003

"We Got Him"

Great Mark Steyn piece in today's Irish Times which explains why, although Saddam was not co-ordinating the Ba'athists still fighting, his capture will surely lead to their campaign petering out:

"In the months since, he's been all but irrelevant to any active co-ordination of the so-called "resistance". But the fact that he was still on the run, somewhere out there, meant that, in theory, he could be behind it and that made it easier for the Baathist dead-enders and the imported terrorists to lean on communities in the Sunni Triangle for support and cover.

The sight of Saddam looking like a department-store Santa who's been sleeping off a bender in a sewer for a week will deal a fatal blow to the ability of Baathist thugs to intimidate local populations.

The insurgency will continue for a few weeks yet, but it will peter out, like the dictator, not with a bang but a whimper.

In the honour/shame culture of the Arab world, it will be much harder now to pass him off as the mighty warrior. He had a pistol, but chose not to use it on himself."

Friday, December 12, 2003

In defence of Cannibalism and Female Genital Mutilation..

..well, not quite "defence", more accurately: perspective on appropriate objections.

The Mark Steyn piece I mentioned below makes a great crack about how the defeatism and self-abasement of many in the west, in the face of Islamic terrorism, emulates the unfortunate Bernd Brande, so eager to be Armin Meiwes' meal. This "German Cannibal" case, I have to admit, disturbed me and I realise that the most disturbing aspect of it was not so much the killing and cannibalism but the fact of Herr Brande's apparent consent. Yet this aspect, if true, is surely what differentiates this from an "ordinary" murder . It also seemed to me that there was an important fudge in most of the reaction to these "wicked acts" and the same fudge is present in the campaign, so favoured by America's "Soccer Moms", against the practice known as "Female Genital Mutilation". This fudge is to ignore the crucial importance of consent.

I think that what Herr Meiwes did was despicable, just as I find goat-sodomy repulsive, but I must differentiate between him and, say, Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer's victims were unwilling, not so Brande. There are important utilitarian arguments against widespread euthanasia and they could also apply here. Allowing widespread euthanasia, or indeed widespread "consensual killing", could make it difficult to prosecute murder: cases could get bogged down in defining consent. There isn't, however, a good philosphical argument against either. Surely the most irreducible personal freedom is self-ownership. If you own yourself, you surely have the right to destroy that "property".

Likewise: the practice of female "circumcision", which can range from amputation of the clitoris and labia minora, to suturing the vagina shut (infibulation), is abhorrent and more analogous to male castration than male circumcision. Yet the most convincing arguments against this practice are exactly the same as levied against the widespread practice of male circumcision. That is, no proper consent is given.

Much of the campaign against FGM gets bogged down in whether it is a form of "colonialism" to impose western values (i.e. "FGM is barbaric") on other cultures. Yet this is a red herring. What is most objectionable about the practice is that is carried out on girls who are too young to give proper consent. Let us imagine that countries such as Egypt, Sudan and Somalia initiate a ban on circumcising girls. It is likely that in some of those countries - 97-98% of Somali women are infibulated - many, pehaps most, adult women would voluntarily choose the procedure. What is the appropriate response? However horrific you might consider FGM to be, there could be no justification to use force to prevent such women from exercising their free choice. Thus in seeking to eradicate FGM, the first step should be to seek a ban on performing it on children and then the second step might be to persuade women of the benefits of remaining uncircumcised but not seek a ban.

N.G.O. G.O.N.E.

Another cracking Mark Steyn piece which includes this priceless observation about the many Non-Governmental Organisations who predicted "humanitarian disasters" in Iraq:

"And so it seems to be. After some particularly vicious bombings of the UN and others, the NGOs mostly fled Iraq in late summer. ‘It would be rather sobering,’ I wrote in August, ‘were Iraq to demonstrate it can get along without them.’ And what do you know? It’s remarkable how quickly a problem goes away once the people with a vested interest in there being a problem go away."

Champions League

So: Manchester United are to meet UEFA cup winners Porto in the Champions' League knockout stages, first leg to be played February 25th. Arsenal meet Celta Vigo and Chelsea meet Stuttgart, leaving it probable the Premiership will have three contenders in the last 8. The pick of the draw however is the meeting between Los Galacticos of Real Madrid, 2002 winners, and FC Hollywood aka Bayern Munich, 2001 winners.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Codology

According to the CIA, Ireland is in "international dispute" with Iceland, Denmark and the UK over the Faroe Islands continental shelf boundary.

I knew Rockall was an issue between Ireland and the UK some time back, but didn't realise it also involved our Scandinavian friends (or should that be sworn enemies!)

Thanks to Paul for the link.

Decentralisation and the Flat Tax

I had mentioned before that one possibility for a forward-thinking devolved region might be the introduction of a flat tax rate to encourage investment and in-migration. In the comments of the post below John makes the point about how US states are divided into counties and raise local taxes. I thought I'd repost my subsequent comment up here:

I was thinking about this the other day and I think the ideal way would be for states/counties to have the power to cut as well as raise taxes. I couldn't figure out how to square this with federal spending. It would be nice to think that some states/counties could impose a flat tax. I am a big fan of flat taxes (insofar as I'm a fan of taxes at all). Flat taxes need not necessarily mean a reduction in overall tax revenue (even though that would be desirable anyway) because you should see a tendency towards full compliance and, by eliminating loopholes and complicated ways of calculating taxes, you should see a more efficient form of tax collection. But if there are progressive federal taxes you would lose all the advantages of flat taxes.

So, the solution: No federal taxes at all. Let the states/counties collect the tax whichever way they like and make agreed contributions to the federal exchequer. That way some states could have progressive taxes, some flat and they could slug it out and see which system worked best.

"Replacing U.S. workers with Foreign Labor"

Speaking of "Outsourcing"...

At the risk of..

..turning this into the decentralisation blog, I just wanted to comment on Dick's latest thoughts on this.

"On the issue of wider decentralisation or devolution of government, Frank seems to be under the impression that people outside of Dublin would be content to roll back public services in order to lower the tax burden. While we often hear of the urban rural divide, I'm not sure how popular this may be. Irish voters seem to be fairly consistent across the State in expressing what they want from in terms of state services. Given their track record I can't see any region, no matter how small, adopting the kind of policies Frank advocates."

That may well be the case. What I was trying to show was that competition between regions within a country can be beneficial overall and that sometimes what is in the country's interest as a whole may not be in the interest of a particular region. It may well be the case that a western seaboard region would plump for a tax and spend approach. The problem is that they don't have too many people to tax. My thinking is based on the notion that there are local needs which differ from a centrally imposed conception of "need". Let us imagine several regions:

1) Dublin
2) Within Dublin's commuter zone
3) Outside Dublin's commuter zone

For the purposes of argument (and with apologies to touchy Corconians!) I am ignoring Ireland's other urban centres but similar arguments apply. Now if you were to characterise the needs of each of these regions you might find they are different in many areas. Let us take the conflict between building land and "green belt". In the case of 1) the need for accomodating an expanding population and the effects on affordability of housing means that, while "green belt" is desirable it is better in smaller doses, i.e. parkland, than in swathes of agricultural land. High Density housing is the appropriate solution. In the case of 2) There is pressure to provide housing but the need is not so great that it requires elimination of all agricultural land. Most houses would require access to piped services, the expense of connecting to those services would suggest medium density housing. In the case of 3) there is nothing but green belt and plenty of it, the scattered nature of existing development would suggest that private services are more appropriate than piped services, wells, group water schemes, septic tanks/treatment systems rather than mains water and main sewers. Low density scattered rural development may have downsides and the most significant of these is aesthetic. The point is that those in some rural areas may cherish their unspoilt countryside while those in other rural areas might feel it could do with a bit more "spoiling". In a devolved system they would get to choose. It is the case that, at the moment, local authorities' development plans are prepared locally but they are prepared by technical staff according to central Department of Environment guidelines rather than local demands and simply, often grudgingly, rubberstamped by local councillors.

Another area where needs are different is population. 1) and 2) have no need to attract people to come and live in either region. They are coming anyway. In the case of 3) there is a need to attract people to counter "rural depopulation". More people means more business, means more money, more people means more justification to keep open the local school, local pub, local post office, local church. It may be the case that the need for increasing the local population in region 3) runs counter to the need to tax the increasing population in 1) and 2) to pay for such public services as they consume.

Another example is Co. Kerry's proposal to flout the government's smoking ban. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the ban (Dick, smoker, is for it and I, non-smoker, am against it) it is surely preferable that, if the people of Kerry don't want it, it shouldn't be imposed on them from Dublin.

Dick also comments on John's suggestion (in a parallel universe!) that the civil service could emulate the private sector.

"However, moving public jobs to India would certainly go down a treat with the electorate. People get exercised enough when private firms do it"

Now even I would recoil from this proposal but it is telling to note how most people think of public service jobs, i.e. not that their raison d'etre is to provide the public with a service but that they are a benefit to the public service worker. People are quite happy to buy cars, clothes, food, wine, financial services from abroad. Plenty of things are "outsourced", are public services really so different?

Monday, December 08, 2003

Decentralisation and Dispersed centralisation

More from Dick on this. First on public sector pay:

Criticising public sector pay is one of those lazy op-ed standbys. It usually goes along the lines of "public sector pay is now x million euros, up y percent from five years ago. This is outrageous. Did you know that some prison officers are earning z thousand euros in overtime every year…"

Ok, maybe it is a cliche. There are two aspects to public sector pay levels. 1) The overall burden on the exchequer and 2) Individual salaries. It is clear that, regardless of the precise truth about the latter we have a major problem with the former and this has been exacerbated by the benchmarking fiasco. Dick may feel that public sector salaries are low - and rigid pay grades and promotion structures have a lot to do with this - but the real test of this is recruitment problems. Despite Dick's suggestion that the civil service find it difficult to recruit and retain staff, these jobs are still sought-after, principally for the job security and benefits. Otherwise, we are not too far apart on the unique civil service culture. I find it hard to disagree with this:

As I said before, the problem is often leadership. It's often the people who stick around and fail to find something better in the private sector who rise to the top. In management, there's no culture of initiative and too many routine things are passed up and down the chain of command.

Dick refers to the "old standby, that the public sector should absorb the values and practices of the private sector". I wouldn't put it exactly like that. My view would be that when something can be done by the private sector, Hotels, Airports, Peat Factories, Health, Education, Transport (even roads, toll-roads can be profitable) it should be and the government shouldn't get involved. This is infinitely preferable to a massive, and redundant, public sector play-acting like the private sector. In such a slimmed down public sector one aspect of the private sector should apply: private, confidential employment contracts.

As for Decentralisation or (Federalisation as Dick would have it):

Frank seems to be assuming that Dublin would keep its existing tax rates, whereas in effect the opposite may be true once it ceases needing to contribute towards the rest of the country. Once again, I'd have to ask how local authorities would compete. First of all they'd have to have taxes lower than the new Dublin. Secondly, they're going to have to come up with some sort of revenue to build the infrastructure and services to attract new businesses.

I imagine that Dublin, with its massive government involvement in housing, transport, refuse disposal and various public services, along with the current regulatory burden would retain taxes at current levels. I would hope that other regions might look to attract investment by cutting taxes and regulations. Such tax and regulation competition would be beneficial to all. It is easy to overstate the costs of "infrastructure". Services can be provided and paid for as needed.

What Frank seems to be proposing is a US style federal system for Ireland. The problem is that while it may work just fine in the States, Ireland is smaller than many US states. Breaking the country down into twenty six statelets, each with its own local government and bureaucracy seems rather excessive for a country small enough to be managed as one entity.

Ireland may be smaller than many US states but those same states will still have yet smaller, more devolved forms of local governance. That said, decentralisation need not take the form of 26 statelets, you might have a few regions based on population size. Maybe Dublin, North Leinster (plus Cavan and Monaghan), South Leinster, Munster and Connaught (plus Donegal). Or you could have the South, West, Midlands, East coast (north), East coast (south) and Dublin.

As for the notion of "Dublin's diktat", it ignores that fact that we live in a representative democracy where those outside Dublin do have an input into the way the country is run. Surely the sight of rural politicians crowing about the decentralisation goodies they got for their constituencies is proof enough of this?

Sure, those parish pumps just want government pork. What I had in mind was that for certain problems a locally derived solution is the fairest, such as my example of a liberalised planning system in the West. This goes both ways, Dublin can govern itself without having to cater to the whims and prejudices of those idiosyncratic rural TDs.

Friday, December 05, 2003

"Decentralisation"

More on dispersed centralisation from Dick who makes some excellent points about the practicality, or rather lack thereof, of relocating government departments around the country. He is also quite correct to note that those civil servants who would desire a move out of Dublin usually have a specific place in mind. A Corkonian is unlikely to relish a reassignment to Letterkenny!

I think, however, Dick must have his tongue planted in his cheek when he says, of the "things wrong with the civil service":

"Lousy pay means that younger and brighter people are often lost to the private sector or not even hired in the first place. "

Pay in the public sector generally and the civil service in particular is certainly not "lousy" especially when you take into account the job security involved, guaranteed pension and other benefits. It is only correct that pay be higher in the private sector - the "risk premium" - considering the uncertainty involved. I would turn Dick's "problem" around. The reason it is difficult to attract and retain "brighter" staff and possibly pay them more is that it is so difficult to get rid of entrenched jobsworths. Cutting back the numbers to achieve a leaner, fitter, less expensive civil service and abolishing linked "pay grades" in favour of individual (confidential) contracts, would have the additional benefit of attracting those bright, ambitious prospects otherwise repelled by the existing stale civil service culture which rewards inertia at the expense of initiative.

As for real decentralisation, devolved local government, Dick is unconvinced, holding that, as Dublin "generates the most tax revenue", decentralisation is more likely to see the beggaring of the regions compared to Dublin. I'm not inclined to agree. This would only be the case if you held that redistributionism is a) desirable and b) efficient and that high tax/high spend beats low tax/low spend every time (in fact, the reverse is true).

It may be the case that a lot of tax revenue is generated in Dublin but it is also the case that a lot of tax revenue is consumed in Dublin. The vision John and I have is of local government weaned off subsidies from Dublin and competing with over-taxed, over-regulated Dublin for investment and people by offering more dynamic economic conditions. Maybe a lean, efficient flat tax rate (see Slovakia) or perhaps (and I know that this would be popular in the west), abolishing the requirement to obtain Planning permission, particularly for houses. Such initiatives may or may not be wise. The point with decentralisation is that a locally derived, locally appropriate solution would apply instead of Dublin's diktat. If you look at the issue of one-off rural houses in the west: whatever you think about the desirability of this - I'm not exactly crazy about the prospect of the countryside peppered with bungalows but I live on the east coast, not the west - it is clear that current restrictions on this type of development originate in Dublin and not from local priorities.

Left, Right

Interesting post by Back Seat Driver Jon following up on Irish Eagle John's post on whether Saddam was, as Marian Finucane apparently believes, "right wing".

For what it's worth and in so far as it's useful, I would hold that Saddam was "left wing". This is based on the character of his regime and his foreign policy. Iraq was a Soviet client during the cold war. Ba'athism is a form of Stalinism with added clan-based nationalism and was, as we are constantly reminded, "secular".

I agree with Jon that "sorting your left from your right can be rather tricky", but that is because they are rather crude labels which imply that political orientation is a line, or at the very least a "circle" instead of a multidimensional space. Jon cannot avoid repeating the canard about the extreme where "right meets left". I don't subscribe to this view because I don't think the reason for the similarity between, say, Mao and Pinochet (Jon uses Hitler and Stalin but I would like to return to that) is that they were both "extreme".

As it happens there's nothing wrong with extremism (in moderation!). You can be "extremely" in love with someone, or "extremely" good-looking. Someone might have an extremely good political idea, this shouldn't be dismissed because it is "extreme". There are similarities between "right" and "left" dictators but it is not exactly to do with how "extreme" they are. They are to do with the extent to which they believe their aim (the good of the country or the good of the workers) justifies coercion of their subjects/citizens and how such absolute power facilitates personal enrichment and aggrandisement. This, I would submit to Jon, is an even more important question than the distinction between "Radical" and "Conservative": How much coercion is justified?

An Anarchist - and I mean a proper anarcho-capitalist, not the anti-globo pseudo-anarchists who wish to retain a massive redistributive state - would hold that no coercion at all is justified.

A Libertarian would recognise that a minimum amount of coercion is, regrettably, necessary simply in order to maintain a legal framework to enforce contracts (freely entered into, of course), protect property rights and national defence.

A Socialist requires quite a significant level of coercion. This ranges from property confiscation to fund a redistributive state to regulating and rationing provision of all sorts of services, health, education, transport, industry. Coercion would also have to apply to prevent adults fulfilling voluntary agreements for a range of activities the socialist state considers wrong, from offering your labour at a rate below state-sanctioned minimum to offering a premises where smoking is permitted.

A "Social Conservative" who wished to impose his vew on the rest of us would also require a significant level of coercion to ensure adults conformed to societal norms of behaviour. They would also hold that society's interests should always prevail over an individual's interest. Again, coercion is required to prevent adults fulfilling voluntary agreements such as paying for sex.

Many people probably think that they don't support coercion of others but if they examine their political views they will see that a significant level of coercion is necessary, even to sustain a so-called "centrist" political regime.

As for Hitler and Stalin: Their similarities, outside of simple "extremism", significantly outweigh their supposed differences. Both were extreme Nationalists, both very vain, paranoid egotists. Both were "socialists". Hitler was unashamed of his socialism. He may have opposed "Bolshevism" and today's "Neo-Nazis" may style themselves as "right wing" but there was no dissembling in naming his movement "National Socialism". Hitler's economic policies were hardly those of a "right wing capitalist". Even though it is the default designation, "right wing" is a rather casual, lazy label for Nazism.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Decentralisation

I find it hard to muster up any enthusiasm for the latest decentralisation push. There seems to be a consensus in Ireland that "decentralisation" is A Good Thing yet I cannot share the assumptions behind this. For starters: "decentralisation" as we mean it in Ireland is a bit of a misnomer. "dispersed centralisation" might be a more accurate description. What is proposed is that our burgeoning army of civil "servants" be distributed around the country to a number of provincial towns. It is intended that the taxpayers in these towns who fund the lavish salaries and the generous relocation allowances be grateful for the spending power of the mandarins from the Department of Equality or the Ministry of Compassion, the crumbs from their table. Who is "serving" whom?

I may be able to agree with the first assumption behind the decentralisation proposal: the notion that there are too many civil servants in Dublin. My solution to this problem is to cut back our huge public sector and not pay these bureaucrats to move. The second assumption is that a government department's principal purpose is to distribute government pork. If the department's primary purpose is as stated there is no reason for it not to remain in Dublin. That is, after all, where the government sits. It is only if you see public sector jobs as a method of redistributing income that you would prefer to disperse these government departments around the country. Paradoxically "decentralisation" increases centralisation. Location is the least relevant aspect of central control and scattering government departments around the country may assist in the exponential growth of the public sector . There is little local government or devolution of powers, little real decentralisation in Ireland. Central control administered by dispersed bureacrats is no different to the status quo.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

In Praise of Borders

Typically great article by Mark Steyn. It's nominally about Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's remarkable suggestion that US courts ought to be influenced by foreign courts, but contains this ode to borders:

"Let me come at it this way. I love borders, the more the merrier – town lines, county, state, and, of course, national. Borders symbolize one of the few remaining constraints on government: You don’t like the grade school here in town? Move ten miles up the road. You don’t want to pay Vermont sales tax? Drive over the river and shop in New Hampshire. Arianna Huffington huffs against “tax loopholes for fat cats”, but I’d say the ability to rent a post office box in Bermuda or the Cayman Islands is a “loophole” in one of the original 16th century senses – an aperture to let in light and fresh air. The fact that there’s somewhere else to go to is the ultimate limitation on government. Borders give people choices – and, to put it in a bumper sticker, “I’m Pro-Choice And I Vote With My Feet”. When starry-eyed utopians speak of a “world without borders”, you can pretty much guess what kind of a place the one-world one-party state would be, with tax rates starting at 60%, about where they are in Sweden right now."

It's worth considering in the context of Ireland. It's taken as a given across the political spectrum that, whatever the rights and wrongs of partition, it is to Ireland's disadvantage to be partitioned. Even those who are indifferent to a United Ireland or opposed to it rarely consider that there may be prosaic non-sovereignty-related benefits to partition.

This is something which I see every day where I live. Because of the UK's punitive fuel tax regime, Dundalk's filling stations are, er, filled every day with drivers from Newry and South Armagh stocking up. Conversely Newry's UK chain stores are booming every weekend as Dundalk shoppers take advantage of the UK's lower VAT rate and better value. Many Louth builders have become uncompetitive as proximity to Dublin's boom has raised profit expectations. "Keener" builders from Armagh and Newry are winning plenty of tenders here. Cross border choice is also available in education, healthcare and nightlife.

It might well be the case that Ireland could do with more and not less partition. Let us imagine power was devolved to individual counties or provinces. It is entirely possible that a far-seeing local government of the underpopulated west might compete with the east coast for jobs, business and people by offering a less regulated, lower tax regime. This competition might force the east coast to cut back its ballooning public sector and creeping tax and regulatory burden. Win-Win?

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Got Your Back (Seat)

Commentary from my old sparring partner Dick who knows the difference between debate and mud-slinging. I think he's right that further debate with Dunne is futile.

Why didn't I think of that?

I have been accused of seeking extra readers by emulating Instapundit and Andrew Sullivan (which by the way suggests that their views are popular). Maybe I would have been better to follow Peter's surefire method to increase traffic!

Needle

I have been thinking a bit more about the Paul Dunne piece yesterday and I will admit to feeling, still, a little needled. It probably serves little purpose to "fisk" the entire piece. I don't mean to "cop out" but such a fisking would be a mammoth task given, not only the many specious assertions made, but the assumptions behind those assertions. Further it occurs to me that it anyone who is convinced by Dunne's rather hysterical screed is unlikely to prove amenable to reason.

I cannot, however, let certain things pass. I would like to apologise to any ex-pats if I gave the impression that Dunne's argument was necessarily weakened by virtue of the fact that he resides in Germany. This wasn't the precise point I wished to make.

Before I explain what I mean I need to explain a bit about how careful an extreme nationalist like Dunne is with his words. Those who are unfamiliar with the particulars of republican theology might easily miss certain weasel terms and evasions. Dunne's piece, along with his blog in general, is riddled with them. I am very conscious of them and react accordingly. Here are a couple not readily detectable:

1. "The six counties": Ok, this is a bit of an obvious one. The idea is that "Ireland" is the full 32 counties and any lesser is not a legitimate state. This does not only refer to the "six counties" of Northern Ireland but also the "twenty six counties" of the Republic. It is taboo in extremist nationalism to recognise the fact that partition has already taken place (going on about three quarters of a century now). A related term is "the North of Ireland" as opposed to "Northern Ireland". That one is quite easy to miss. It is important to recognise this evasion because when some extreme nationalists say "Ireland", they are not talking about a real place at all but a fantasy. In this fantasy, there is a "legitimate government" which is the 1919 Dail (which devolved its power to the IRA). This is the last time that an all-Ireland election was held. This, according to the theology, was the last democratic government of Ireland. Thus, since 1919, Ireland, as the fantasy has it, is "ruled" by the "provisional government" of the IRA Army council. The fantasy also states that "Ireland" remains at war with Britain.

2. "Green, White and Gold": This is a very easy one to miss. Dunne specifically claims that I'm not "loyal to the Green, White and Gold flag of Ireland" and for once, emulating the proverbial crocked clock, he is exactly right. That's because there is no such thing as the "Green, White and Gold". The tricolour, our national flag, has three easily identifiable colours: Green, White and Orange. It was specifically designed to represent not just the "Green" Catholic tradition, but the "Orange" Protestant tradition also. It may seem abtruse of me to draw attention to this but the use of the word "Gold" is quite deliberate. The idea is that nothing should take away from the perception that the "settlers" of Ulster are an "alien" imposition on "Green" Ireland.

My intention here is to set the context for Dunne's remarks, particularly on what constitutes a "true Irishman" rather than to specifically criticise those who use these evasions. (As it turns out, plenty of people I respect use these terms)

Now, to explain my annoyance at being lectured in Irishness by the expatriate Dunne: It is quite easy to sustain this fantasy image of Ireland when you live abroad. That is not the same as saying that all expats have unrealistic fantasy images of their homeland. Rather that those who already wish to conjure up this "Ireland of the mind" - in which all "true" Irish people share this perception that we are at war with "our enemy" the British, who still "occupy" a corner of our land - will find it easy to avoid evidence which contradicts this view.

I was born, grew up, live and work here in real-world, prosperous, increasingly multicultural, 26 counties, Republic of Ireland, very near real-world, relatively thriving, 6 counties, Northern Ireland. There are plenty of things I could complain about but I am happy to live here. I put my money (including my coerced taxes!) where my mouth is. Thus, in no way is it accurate to say that I'm "anti-Irish". I have no interest in a whose-more-Irish-than-whom pissing contest but Dunne's claim of authentic Irishness is, in his own way, no less ersatz than that of the average lachrymose Boston drunk who has never crossed the Atlantic.

Oh, and by the way: I didn't argue that the famine was all the fault of the Irish, just that I have no patience for the self-pitying line that this was a tragedy inflicted on us by the British in the same way as the Holocaust or slavery. This was a tragic event but not the simple story Dunne would have us believe, (and I don't care how much indoctrination Historical knowledge he claims to possess!). By definition the ancestors of today's Irish people did not die or emigrate. That much is beyond refutation. Thus neither Dunne or I can plausibly claim that tragedy as our own. Whatever claim Irish-Americans might have to victimhood under the famine, it is not one rightfully available to contemporary Irish people.

Suggestions to individual English people that they examine their conscience in this respect, apart from being pompous, are way off the mark. The fact is: take an English person at random, such as the author of the blog who aroused Dunne's righteous scorn. The chances of an individual ancestor of hers having anything to do with the famine are non-existently slim, given the size of the English population and the level of immigration into the country. The chances of an ancestor of Dunnes (or even mine) thriving while others starved, are a lot higher. This is what I intend when I put it back to Dunne and it is not quite the same as relieving the British of responsibility, it is certainly the case that absentee governance exacerbated the problem. If anyone is going to bear responsibility for the actions of their ancestors, and unlike him I don't believe they should, then any random Irish person is more likely to have had a "culpable" ancestor than any random English person.

Beatniksalad has picked up on this discussion and rather misleadingly titles the post "Famine Denial". This is not the case.

UPDATE: One last thing, anyone tempted to dismiss this as a mildly diverting inter-blog dispute, similar to the regular banter I have with Dick, might re-read these sinister words of this deluded fantasist (and indeed Nazi apologist):

"A Jewish version of McGahon would be rehashing "Did Six Million Really Die?" on his little website -- or rather, he would be for a very short while, until he was taken care of. We have in our midst detritus no other nation would tolerate...Why do we have so many of these wretches in Ireland? ... It's pointless simply bemoaning this situation. These cancerous cells within the body politic are a danger to the life and health of the nation, and, just as a man riddled with cancer must destroy the alien cells or be destroyed himself, so we must rid ourselves of the enemy within if we wish to restore our national well-being. In that sense, the West British are unwittingly right in their belittling of the struggle against England: the enemy is also at home, and dealing with them may well now be the more important fight. "

[emphasis added] I think I can say that this is the first time I have received death threats. 1:01PM 2/12/03

Monday, December 01, 2003

Ouch

Looks like I hit a nerve: Paul Dunne has composed a rather sour, flatulent and long-winded "response" to my post below. He rather makes my point for me about the curious mindset of some extreme nationalism. There is this regrettable tendency in Northern Irish politics, frequently evidenced in the comments section of Slugger, to refuse to engage an argument on its merits and instead attack the person making the argument. To use the popular Gaelic footballing analogy: Playing the man, not the ball. Dunne's rambling incoherent screed conforms perfectly to type.

It's rather curious that he upbraids me for putting words in his mouth:

"Nowhere do I say or imply this. McGahon just made it up"

This is what I "made up": "If you are to follow his prescription then you shouldn't learn anything about any historical event unless it is connected to your own "blood"

What Dunne actually wrote: "We can I think safely leave the remembrance of the Shoah to those who suffered in it and to those who perpetrated it; our settler would do well to examine outrages nearer to their self and to their blood"

OK, I don't think my paraphrasing was so far off, but then Dunne commits the precise offense I'm supposedly guilty of in presuming to know my mind:

"Ironically, if Frank McGahon had been alive in the 1930s he would, if we can judge by his general political line today, very likely have been fulminating against the evils of "Judeo-Bolshevism""

Hmmm.

Curious that the test of ethnic purity is never too far from the mind of this plastic Paddy who loves his country so much he lives elsewhere:

"To what flag is McGahon loyal? Certainly not the green white and gold. So in what sense is he an Irishman? By having an Irish name? What of it? Constance, Countess Markiewicz had a Polish name. What of it? And her maiden name was Gore-Booth, a fine double-barrelled English name. Again, what of it? The list of naturalised Irish men and Irish women is headed by Dean Swift, and it is a long and glorious list. Similarly, the list of what might be called the half-Irish, but who proved themselves 100% Irish by their words and deeds, is long and glorious, and Patrick Pearse is at the head of it. Conversely, many possessors of fine old Gaelic names have so degenerated as to be Irish only nominally, in essence thoroughly Anglicized. So it is with this McGahon. Irish by birth -- like Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington; Irish by name -- like Lenny Murphy, the Shankill Butcher"

"Shankill Butcher"? I find myself bemused, rather than wounded, by such hysterical hyperbole.

I suppose it must be difficult to attain perfection in Irishness, so much so that Dunne is bound to be disappointed by ordinary Irish people who don't live up to his lofty ideals. Better to live abroad and conjure up an "Ireland of the mind" than live and work in real-world Ireland and risk contamination by those who are insufficiently pure.

Dunne counsels any of his readers who might be tempted to read Internet Commentator: "feel free to inflict the whole thing on yourself if you've the patience and the stomach for it ". I might offer a similar caveat to you but it's worth reading to disabuse you of any notion that extreme nationalist fantasists such as Dunne are amenable to reasonable argument.

NI

Carrie/Stella Marie links to a piece by Vincent Browne in the Sunday Business Post on why the DUP will do a deal with Sinn Fein. Browne's conjecture is fantastical:

"Ian Paisley said a few weeks ago that Sinn Féin, as well as the IRA, would have to disband before he would enter government with Sinn Féin. Even he cannot sustain that tautology.The party's net position is likely to be that cooperation with Sinn Féin is conditional on the disbandment of the IRA and the complete decommmissioning of weapons. Both these preconditions can be met. In time. "

In keeping with the Dublin media's preoccupation with SF he only offers, as proof for this assertion, reasons why SF will go along with this. It is true that policing and decommissioning have hitherto been seen as virtually unsurmountable obstacles and it is understandable that Browne might wish to examine scenarios where it would prove advantageous for SF to "move" on these. Further, he is correct to postulate that should a deal be done between these "extremes" it is more likely to "stick". The problem is, there is no reason for the DUP to do a deal with SF. There's nothing in it for them. Browne takes for granted that they will do what is necessary to make the Good Friday Agreement work but it doesn't apparently occur to him to wonder why a party which opposed the GFA and continues to oppose it would want to do this.

Meanwhile, as Newton Emerson pointed out yesterday, SF rather relishes its image of Unionism "..not wanting a fenian about the place". Why should it do anything to help alter that perception? As Eilis O'Hanlon notes: SF "would rather argue against bigots than [deal with] democrats".

I was in favour of the GFA at the time, reasoning that any kind of cross-community devolved government would be preferable to the status quo and it might offer NI politics the opportunity to "grow up" and move from sectarian one-up-manship to more prosaic quotidian issues. It is somewhat of an irony, and testament to the uselessness of NI politicians of all stripes, that during the assembly's suspension and for the forseeable future Northern Ireland is more competently governed by, as Tony comments, just two junior British ministers: Ian Pearson and Angela Smith. Unfortunately the effect of the agreement has been to render in stark detail the true extent of sectarian division in this small place. A divide which has, if anything, deepened. In practical terms the GFA is dead: its flaws and internal contradictions have been shown up.

It is often said that the "fudge" over decommissioning was the GFA's biggest flaw. It is true that this issue has poisoned the atmosphere and it has been a substantial obstacle. However the biggest flaw in the GFA's execution was the assumption of static levels of support for the main political parties and the related idea that one could safely disregard the DUP. It is probably true that a deal involving SF, SDLP, UUP and DUP was simply unobtainable, but it was a serious mistake to assume that the DUP would simply disappear as the "benefits" of local government made themselves apparent.

Likewise it seemed to be assumed that SF would remain, and would be content to remain, the junior nationalist party. A thought occurred to me over the weekend: what if there was never a "mainstream, constitutional" nationalism? What if NI Nationalists were always as "green" as they are now. Perhaps SF has always been the "truer" voice of NI nationalism. It might well have been the case that, while the IRA was actively going around killing lots of people and blowing things up, NI Nationalists couldn't condone this level of violence and thus voted for the SDLP instead. Perhaps all they wanted was for the IRA to stop, maybe they don't really care about punishment attacks, expulsions, arms stockpiling. Maybe an "armed peace" is just fine by NI's Nationalists. If this is true, then the reason for the SDLP's demise is a massive miscalculation of their electoral mandate.

Carrie is right to note that the GFA shouldn't have been "just for" the UUP and the SDLP, but in a way it was. The assumption was that Nationalists wouldn't mind sharing power with the UUP and Unionists wouldn't mind sharing power with the SDLP. Nobody thought that Nationalists would have to swallow Ian Paisley as First Minister or Unionists, Martin McGuinness as Second Minister.