Sunday, August 31, 2003

Sustainability Schmustainability II

I wrote before how the phrase "sustainable development" grated on me (more here too). Mark Steyn has a great article today on Labor day and explains why...

"There's no such thing as 'sustainable' development. Human progress and individual liberty have advanced on the backs of one unsustainable development after another: When we needed trees for heating and transportation, we chopped 'em down. Then we discovered oil, and the trees grew back. When the oil runs out, we won't notice because our SUVs will be powered by something else. Bet on human ingenuity every time."

Amen to that!

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Mark Hennessy - on the smoking ban - unembarrassedly champions the "gesture" approach towards legislation and regulation on which I commented before:

"The world will not end if the ban comes into effect on New Year's Day because, Ireland being Ireland, it will be ignored in large swathes of the country for many years to come. In itself, this should not be necessarily seen as a disaster for Martin. Laws requiring the use of seatbelts were brought in over 20 years and are still ignored by many. None of us would credibly try to argue today that the seatbelt order should be withdrawn because of this. Instead, efforts are made to increase usage year on year."
Blog Irish skewers a disgraceful piece of agitprop tendentious article by Hugh O'Shaughnessy on Colombian terrorists "Peoples' Army" FARC in thursday's Irish Times.

Friday, August 29, 2003

John has more on emigrants' voting rights

"Frank is opposed to extending the franchise to emigrants. He believes that there should be no "representation without taxation". A nifty twist on the American revolutionaries slogan , but a poor definition of what citizenship is.

OK, permit me some pedantry: My key problem is "representation", not citizenship. I don't wish for Irish citizens to be stripped of their citizenship while living abroad but I don't want to be ruled by a government created by or beholden to an absentee electorate.

"First of all, many emigrants do contribute to their home country's economy. When they return on visits they spend their money in their home country, paying VAT, etc."

It hardly needs saying that this is pretty weak. I have been to Spain a number of times and, though Spanish VAT rate is charged at a much lower rate than here, have still managed to make a not insignificant contribution to the Spanish exchequer. It wouldn't occur to me that this entitles me a vote in Spanish elections.

"However, citizenship is about more than taxation and money. Citizenship is tied to your national identity - who you are. Denying an emigrant a vote is nearly the same as denying him his national identity."

At least John recognises that it is not the same as denying national identity. His argument, however, still remains rhetorical and is not grounded in either practicality or fairness. The emotional "wrong" suffered by those who "feel" their national identity is "nearly" denied cannot compare to the wrong suffered by those of us who live here if forced to endure the type of high-tax, intrusive government which makes the emigrant "feel good". Emigrants can often have a very simplistic idea what life is like "back home".

"For that reason, regardless of what party here is endorsing the concept, votes should be extended to all citizens wherever they reside. {NOTE: I doubt the Labour Party would be a big winner if votes were extended to emigrants. My experience is that the number of residents from rural Ireland is disproportionate to their relative population strength here and labour is not as strong in rural Ireland.}"

My feeling is that those who will bother to vote will be those keen to "make a difference". Parties like the Greens, Labour and SF will benefit proportionally and those emigrants who would otherwise vote Fianna Fail or Fine Gael are more likely to stay at home.

"As for Frank's assertion that emigrants don't have to live with the consequences, that's not entirely true. I'm an emigrant from the U.S. If I want to remain a citizen, I have to be willing to serve in the armed forces if called (gets more unlikely by the day). I have to abide by all the laws of the United States with regards to foreign travel (e.g. I cannot go to Cuba without explicit permission). There are taxation laws covering Americans living abroad. All of these laws have consequences for me. I live with those consequences as the price for remaining a citizen. I am entitled to vote in the US. I cannot see why Ireland should be any different."

There is a significant difference between voluntarily complying with the obligations of citizenship while living abroad and actually living with the complete tax and regulatory apparatus at home. Also, by the way, John is surely aware that he cannot be stripped of his US citizenship as it is not within the power of the US government to do so. There is also a major practical distinction between the US government's extension of the franchise to expats: This is a "low-cost" rhetorical gesture on its part. The proportion of US expats to residents is still tiny. The proportion of those who would qualify for Irish citizenship compared to Irish residents is much higher.

Extending the vote to Irish emigrants would actually be more of an exercise in reaching out to that mass of ambassadors and letting them know that they're still valued.It can only foster more good feelings for their home country."

is meant to be an argument in favour? I have very little sympathy for "therapeutic politics"

"There should be more for emigrants than the chance to cheer on the national football team every few years.

If they really want to make a difference, come home and do it on the ground.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Could it be that Dick and I agree on something? In the course of explaining how he inadvertently enjoys free cable Dick notes:

"Last night I watched Manchester United play Wolves on Sky Sports. This follows from a pleasant Saturday afternoon seeing United beat Newcastle."

Could he be a fellow red devil, or is he just a rare neutral who doesn't loathe Manchester United?

I too watched both matches and was struck by the contrast. Far from the cricket score predicted by many, the only team with no points looked certain to take at least one from Old Trafford last night. Wolves can count themselves unlucky to lose 1-0 and United can breath a sigh of relief that their modified team got away with it. Premiership starts were granted to Kleberson and Ronaldo and, as Sky's pundit Martin Tyler noted, the last time in the premiership that United's midfield started without Keane (who was in defence), Scholes, Butt, Beckham or Giggs it contained Wolves midfielder Paul Ince.

Cristiano Ronaldo displayed a few of his silky skills but was generally ineffective, making poor choices with his passing and runs. Kleberson was even worse: losing the ball and misplacing passes with alarming frequency. I have no doubt that both will perform better with more premiership match experience. United's best players were 1) John O'Shea who didn't put a foot wrong and scored the game's only goal, his first for United. 2) Roy Keane doing a good job as a makeshift centre back and 3) Diego Forlan, he may not be the most accurate marksman but he was the most threatening of United's players and held and passed the ball well.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Great Article by Colby Cosh on Foreign Aid:

"Egypt was the largest single national recipient of CIDA [Canadian International Development Agency] bilateral aid between 1994 and 1999. For all the visible difference the spending made, it might as well have been put to sea in a flaming barge. De Soto's institute studied Egypt and found that the poor there have no access to legal structures that underpin basic commerce or entrepreneurship. Ninety-two per cent of the populace holds real estate "informally," without legal title. The ILD identified US$245-billion in "dead" capital -- real economic assets held extralegally -- within Egypt. It is already in the hands of the poorest Egyptians. So what sense was there in sending the Egyptian government a half-billion of our Canadian dollars -- or whatever was left after the salaries were paid, the toys were bought, and the necessary palms were greased."
Blog Irish are not so sure that the Irish consensus is, as I previously described, social democratic and refer us to a dirigiste article by Patrick West on Spiked which bemoans how grubby and unfriendly Ireland has become. My first thought on reading the Spike piece was that the standard returning emigrant's complaint routinely omits the reason said emigrant left Ireland in the first place. It may well be the case that Ireland was just as unpleasant when that person emigrated as it apparently is now on his return. West also sounds a bum note in describing the Irish consensus as

"Irish society remains quite conformist, not 'pluralist' at all. It is de rigueur to pronounce here one's anti-republican, pro-EU, multicultural, anti-clerical, 'pro-equality' credentials. Dissenters are shouted down by the deeply offended brigade for being 'right-wing' or 'racists'. "

Perhaps in certain parts of Dublin with even-numbered postcodes! While I agree that Ireland is more conformist than pluralist I can assure Mr West that is most certainly not de rigeur to pronounce anti-republican sentiment where I live or indeed in most parts of Ireland. There is a danger of assuming that the mindset one is confronted with most frequently is shared countrywide.

In any case, what I intend when I refer to the Irish Social Democratic consensus is the Political consensus. As Conor notes below even the Progressive Democrats are happy with some protectionist policies. Blog Irish wittily suggest that the principal difference between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael is that the sons and daughters of destiny do not take piano lessons. I would suggest a simpler, starker difference: Fianna Fail are winners, Fine Gael are losers.

Fianna Fail have such a critical mass of support that they can straddle left and right and claim to be the party of the nation. Their tent is big enough to accomodate a free-marketeer like Charlie McCreevey and a technocratic Big-Governmenter like Noel Dempsey accomodating all sorts of Parish Pumps and Pork-Barrellers along the way. Fine Gael still haven't learned the harsh lesson that in attempting to appeal to a still largely left-leaning, Dublin-centred media they are losing their voters in droves (and ironically earning not plaudits but scorn from the media). There are too many social democrat parties in Ireland and there are only so many social democrat voters.
Now that's Diversity!
Dick has responded to my post below on Iraq and takes the opportunities to restate his principal arguments against the war which he maintains are still valid. Unfortunately he relies rather too much on the pedantic, procedural arguments and completely ignores the specific nature of Saddam's regime:

"1. Setting the precedent of unilateral action. Following World War Two international institutions were set up, i.e. the UN to adjudicate on and, if necessary, take action to avoid conflict, civil unrest and human rights abuses. In this case international institutions were simply ignored, a retrograde step which puts us back to a situation whereby any country can feel justified to invade another without any level of consensus."

Institutions such as the UN do not represent a higher authority than national interests. There is no world government. Countries devolve adjudication to the UN voluntarily. If the UN doesn't do what it is supposed to do - and the UN singularly failed over Saddam - well it has made itself irrelevant. It is just wrong to say that the UN was ignored. Too much effort was expended in trying to get the UN on board when it was clear that France would simply scupper any effort to tackle Saddam. It is pedantic to put the interests of a bureaucratic institution like the UN as paramount and over any other concerns and it is absurd to think that Coalition Forces action against Saddam provides a precedent. Here's a little newsflash for you, Dick. Countries act in their own interest and, regardless of the Iraq war, the UN will not act as a disincentive for one country to invade another if it feels vital national interests are at stake.

"2. The problem of credibility. This is one of I've remarked upon often and basically amounts to the fact that disastrous foreign policy in the Middle East in the past does not lend well to the current coalition being up to the job on this occasion. All too often, in the cases of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, not to mention Iraq itself, policy has also put self interest ahead of those of the locals. It's thus rank hypocrisy to say that this is all about the ordinary people of Iraq. The West was helping Saddam beat the Iranians at the same time he was gassing the Kurds (and the Iranians). Kurdish leaders were personae non grata in Washington because it would displease Saddam."

This is one of the arguments that infuriates me the most. The short answer to it is "So what!". The long answer is that what matters in the end is the action and not the intention. It is entirely consistent that selfish intentions lead to benign outcomes and it is often the case that well-meaning intentions lead to disastrous outcomes. Whether or not the US has a "track record" in foreign affairs (and I don't accept the consensus that the US has been uniquely nefarious in its dealings) is neither here nor there. It is cold comfort to the person about to be fed into an industrial shredder to know that he has been "saved" from intervention by a foreign power whose intentions are less than pure.

"3. Instability. This leads from the second point. The United States is not terribly popular in the Middle East, for the reasons outlined below and also for its support of Israel. It doesn't matter whether this support is justified or not, if people don't like it they're still going to shoot at you. We've now got a situation where the locals, some possibility ex-regime, some possibility not, are shooting at troops, blowing up pipelines and bombing buildings. We've also got reports of all sorts of fundamentalists coming to the country to enter the fight. The instability argument does not apply to Iraq alone. I feel a long occupation of Iraq would destabilise the entire region, in particular Saudi Arabia. We've already had one terrorist bombing there. What's more, these people are going to fight a cynical war. The longer it goes on, the greater their support is likely to be as people begin to hear about Iraqis without electricity, water and fuel. The fact that much of this may be down to sabotage will be conveniently ignored in the region and instead taken as examples of American heartlessness. How do you counter a guerrilla war? The typical reaction is often to get tough, make mass arrests, shoot first and ask questions later. Is this going to help them win the popularity contest? I'm not sure."

I'm not clear where the point is in all this. It seems to me desirable that the rotten Saudi autocracy is "destabilised", this country is after all the font of Wahaabi inspired terrorism. The US may not be popular in the middle east so it has nothing to lose. A decisive victory against terrorists will do a lot more to prevent further attacks than appeasement. I think that there is also this mistaken notion that the whole country is suddenly without power or electricity. Most of these areas suffered the same way under Saddam who seemed to prefer to spend his country's money on expensive palaces than power stations.

"4. Staying the distance. This results from the third point. Will the Americans and the British be able to sit out such a scenario for any length of time? There'll be an election next year in the States and if troops are still being picked off, will it become an issue? The war was popular because people thought Saddam was a threat, that he had nasty weapons and he might give them to nasty people. Saddam is effectively gone, if not in the dock, and he didn't appear to have that many weapons in the first place. Therefore the grounds for supporting the war are ebbing away. We're left with the question of how long the American public will continue to support the occupation. Is this preventing terrorism, people will ask themselves, and the answer could be that not, in fact its making our troops targets for terrorism. Pull the troops out and what might you get? Another Afghanistan, as everyone fights it out for control and every neighbouring power such as the Syrians, the Iranians and the Saudis sponsoring different sides. In fact its easy to imagine a future for Iraq worse than its recent past. "

The argument that there is a possibility that Coalition forces may not remain (which is it Dick, do you want them to stay or go?) and that there is a further minute possibility of a civil war developing - all the evidence seems to be that no such dispute is on the cards - does not seem to me to be a sufficiently compelling argument to prefer that Saddam continued in power to brutalise his people.
I find myself disagreeing once more with John, this time on votes for emigrants

"I've always felt that citizens should be entitled to vote in their country's elections regardless of where they reside. The Irish political consensus has always been that there are too many emigrants and they would destabilize the political process here. Well, if thousands of your people are leaving due to a lack of work, perhaps your political process should be destablized."

Remember "No Taxation without Representation"?, well it works both ways. "No Representation without Taxation" seems to me to be a pretty fair principle (I mean "taxation" in the most general sense: the unemployed and retired still pay VAT on their purchases). I am opposed to extending the franchise to those who live abroad not because it "destabilises" the political system. The "stability" of our political system is almost as desirable as the fabled "Stability of the Middle East". If it was the right thing to do, well stability can just go screw itself but it's not the right thing to do. The Labour party are in the vanguard of the push for emigrant votes because they have correctly divined that such an extension to the franchise will boost their flagging fortunes.

The problem is that this would reward "rhetorical" politics almost exclusively and to the detriment of "practical" politics. If you don't have to live with the consequences of your actions you don't pay a "cost". As I noted below cost is an important factor in any decision. If you are an emigrant living abroad, why should you care about public spending, tax rises or creeping government interference in all aspects of life?
Great Stuff: Emily on the overstatement of Bush critics such as Arthur Miller who sees a parallel between Salem, McCarthy and today.

"I can understand their fear. Does anybody else recall their own trepidation following the "disappearance" of Maureen Dowd? What about when Noam Chomsky's limp body was discovered in a roadside brush, a single bullet to his temple? The country coiled in shock when it was announced that traces of arsenic were discovered in the empty box of Krispy-Kremes that ultimately killed Michael Moore. As this is written, a Dixie Chick sits in a dark cell, living on peckings, uncertain of her fate"
plus ca change...

Des Geraghty, retiring president of the SIPTU trade union has lambasted the "new right" in Ireland at their Galway conference.

"To find an answer to our economic woes, we need to take a close look at corporate avarice, inflated performance figures, rapacious money-making institutions which provide nothing and no real services."

He received a standing ovation at the end of his address, during which he criticised the current obsession with the "holy incantation" of competition, attacked the abuse of work permits by employers and said union members must become the "architects" of a new Ireland that will challenge the right.

Obviously, this could be nothing more than annual conference bluster to rouse the comrades. But does his retirement represents the passing of the old guard? No, anything but. In relative terms, Geraghty was considered to be on the right wing of his union. Interesting to read this Sunday Business Post profile of him at the beginning of his presidency in 1998.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Following on from the Colby Cosh post on the "smoking jihad" I linked to below there's some nice work by Jon - on a proposed "fat tax" - to show the connection between socialised medicine and overbearing government interference in personal health.
Ok, at the risk of provoking Dick again, I'm just gobsmacked to read these lines about whether Iraq is better off without Saddam:

"Looking forward, if you see years of occupation blighted by guerrilla war and the resultant need for oppressive security, I'm not so sure if it is that much better than the old regime."

It is an exercise in denial to play up the present difficulties and try to make them approach the dreadful, brutal tyranny Saddam imposed on his country. Who knows what the future might bring to Iraq, or even Ireland or France. The question is: Right now, which is better? the status quo or an alternative present with Saddam still in power. It is not that difficult to answer as long as you don't mind re-examining your position prior to the war. It seems to me that there were any number of reasonable arguments against the war, prior to the war. These would be based on fears of how the war might progress, whether Saddam would use chemical weapons, whether he would try to draw Israel into war, Whether chaos would ensue. All perfectly reasonable fears and all ultimately groundless. The problem is: the war and liberation pretty much answered any reasonable argument against it. All that those who opposed the war are left with is to examine whether they got it wrong and admit it or to come up with some other reason to justify their previous stance. It is hard to imagine a future for Iraq worse than its most recent past and those who continue to argue against a war which has taken place will be hard pressed to convince anyone that that will be the case.
I received the following email from Aisling Reidy, Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties

It has been brought to my attention that a report in the Irish Times on Sat 2 August has received widespread coverage and dissemination on web sitesincluding yours, and I would therefore like to bring a clarification to the attention of your readers.

Despite the spin in the paper, we did not issue a press statement or a legal warning to the Catholic Church. We were actually contacted by the paper and asked to comment on the legal position of the document released by the church in relation to the existing Incitement to Hatred Act 1989. As I said, we did not issue a statement on it and have no intention of pursuing any legal action against the Catholic Church. The 1989 act states:

2.—(1) It shall be an offence for a person—

( a ) to publish or distribute written material,
( b ) to use words, behave or display written material—
(i) in any place other than inside a private residence, or
(ii) inside a private residence so that the words, behaviour or material are heard or seen by persons outside the residence, or
( c ) to distribute, show or play a recording of visual images or sounds, if the written material, words, behaviour, visual images or sounds, as the case may be, are threatening, abusive or insulting and are intended or, having regard to all the circumstances, are likely to stir up hatred.

And hatred" means hatred against a group of persons in the State or elsewhere on account of their race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation;

That is the Act that I was asked to comment on and I noted that it is possible that the document could be interpreted as breaching these standards. I also said that the document itself is likely not to be a problem, but if the words in it were used in an active campaign to condemn gays as evil and a threat to children, then that could be interpreted as likely to cause hatred.

I never said that the Vatican intended to incite hatred, but the strong words of the document could lead to problems.

I hope this clarifies the matter. Also to confirm, the ICCL fully supports equal rights for all those irrespective of sexual orientation and has and will continue to campaign for full recognition of same sex unions.

Thank you for your time,

Aisling Reidy
Director, ICCL

I don't have time to comment on this now but as a courtesy I thought I'd bring it to everyone's attention.

UPDATE: Just getting back to this, it still seems clear to me that the original Irish Times story was a shot across the bows of the Catholic Church in Ireland with the implicit message: "Be nice... or else".

In the light of the email it is more likely that, in asking the question of the ICCL to get the answer it wanted to hear, it was the idea of the Irish Times than the ICCL. However this means that the ICCL either

a) Knowingly allowed itself to be used as the proxy for the Irish Times' crusade.

b) Didn't realise what the Irish Times were getting at.

neither of which reflects well on the ICCL. 27/8/03 5:21 PM

Monday, August 25, 2003

In my post below about "bonus outcomes" and "compelling interests" and in the interests of clarity I neglected to mention the principal disagreement I would have with Irish Eagle John about the desirability of "stamping out smoking" which is that my premise is to have no interest in what people wish to do as long as it doesn't affect me personally. It should be a principle of a free society that we don't, as a rule, feel the need to encourage people to moderate their behaviour and conform to some defined norm.

Colby Cosh has some thoughts for those who are indifferent to the smoking ban.

"You will notice that the social jihad against smoking is serving as the model for new crusades, which comes as no surprise, certainly, to anybody who both smokes and thinks. The public, by and large, does support the increasingly oppressive measures being taken against smokers up and down the continent. I believe those who have supported these measures believed that smoking was an exceptionally nasty behaviour whose attempted elimination could not possibly serve as a model for other political campaigns. I don't think anyone imagined, ten or twenty years ago, that by taking a stand against smoking they were laying groundwork for the therapeutic policing of every aspect of human life. ... Perhaps you're comfortable with all this because your own unhealthy pleasures haven't been proscribed yet. That makes you--and I'm afraid there's no nice way to put this--a one-hundred-percent asshole. But no matter. Your turn is coming, as long as the premise that good health is an unlimited pretext for state action remains unresisted as such."
Beaurocracy indeed!
Great post by Belfast Gonzo on Northern Ireland solipsism.

"Blair even said: "To those who can sometimes say the process in the Middle East is hopeless, I say we can look at Northern Ireland and take some hope from that.”

Once you pick yourself up of the floor, you can see how our little local difficulty should possibly be the last example of how to end a conflict. Sensibly, the Iraqis have taken the right approach to learning lessons from Northern Ireland – doing the opposite. In April, Iraqi representatives issued a joint statement of governing principles. The second point was: ‘The future government of Iraq should not be based on communal identity’.

A smart move, as politics in Norn Irn is almost completely based on communal identity, and has resulted in the reinforcement of division. Maybe it’s us who should be learning from the Iraqis. After all, knowing what to avoid is as important as knowing what to do… "
Just for Dick: I'd say that the French have a kind of existential shrug, the Portuguese have an earthy shrug tinged with melancholy and the Italians shrug their shoulders in an exaggerated theatrical manner!
Not to keep harping at Dick but...

In his response to my post below about Iraq and inquiries he manages to sidestep the apparently simple question that is so difficult to answer for those who wish to retain their critique of the decision to go to war against Saddam: Are the Iraqis better off without Saddam? This question simply trumps all other considerations.

Whether the "invasion" (I prefer "liberation") is "capable of bringing a long term solution" is neither here or there. You can only compare it with realistic alternatives. Comparing it to some best possible outcome hypothesis is meaningless. The only alternative to the action against Saddam was no action against Saddam which means Ba'athist tyranny still in place. To pretend otherwise is the delusion.

Dick asks:

"However, the public is just as entitled to get a decent explanation of what their government is doing and why they're doing it. If a government bases its decision on dubious information, people have a right to enquire about that and come election time can kick them out if they feel like it. However, the existence of representative government doesn't obviate the necessity of enquiry. How can a public make it's mind up without the necessary information? Hence the need for transparency in government."

This is all very well but the test for success in Iraq should surely be the outcome and not the technical prelude. It is not irrelevant to note that the cause for war against Hitler was his invasion of Poland. However perhaps the most noble effect of WWII was the liberation of the concentration camps.
Dick responds on the Brutal Gallic Summer and is bemused to find himself the font of my "righteous indignation". I felt that he missed the point about the "distasteful" commentary on France's indifference to the slaughter of its elderly. Turns out I missed his point which is that we should be equally critical of Portugal or Italy. France, for what its worth, apparently has an infant mortality rate the envy of the developed world.

The problem is that the indifference to the heatwave is a symptom of decadence in France in a way that the, similarly sized, death toll (albeit in hotter countries) of Portugal and Italy isn't. Neither country appears to shrug its shoulders in the manner of the French. Portugal, perhaps remembering its most recent period of "paternalistic government", doesn't expect the state to tell it what to do in the event of a heatwave as apparently France does. French people as a whole, if not their elderly, may be perfectly healthy. It is their society which is sick.
Via Blog-Irish and Back Seat Drivers I see that Eoghan Harris has finally got around to noticing Irish Blogs. Both are perturbed at his description of the Irish Bloggers linked from Blog-Irish as "radical conservatives". As I am, gratefully, one of those linked by the esteemed Burkeans I should reveal whether I am similarly perturbed.

I wouldn't choose to describe myself as a radical-conservative, for starters it is a bit of an oxymoron, perhaps not as absurd as libertarian socialism but it is similarly difficult to reconcile radicalism, which suggests an impatience with the status quo and conservatism, preserver of that status quo. A more accurate term might be "Classic Liberal" or "Moderate Libertarian". If you attempt to infer his real meaning, looking at how the meaning of the words "conservative" and "liberal" were inverted over the last few decades, you could conclude that while he is sincere about the word radical he intends conservative to mean "that which opposes the social democratic consensus". I am happy to be considered opposed to the social democratic consensus though doubtful that Bran or Dick would feel the same way.
Following on from the post below and something John at Irish Eagle posted in relation to the smoking ban I wanted to write something about compelling interests versus "bonus outcomes" and market pricing as applied to behaviour. Here's John:

"Here are the key questions, as far as I see them. Do we want to totally stamp out smoking? If yes, how do we go about making that happen?

The answer to the first question for me is easily yes. I don't smoke; I hate the smell of smoke. I find people who smoke less attractive to look at and be around. I derive absolutely no pleasure or benefit of any kind from smoking. "

Now, if you asked me "Do you want there to be no more smoking?" I'd probably shrug my shoulders and say "Sure, why not?" but the more pertinent question would be "Do you want to pay extra taxes (or forgo tax cuts) and sacrifice personal freedom to achieve this?" to which my answer would be "No". Smoke-free society might be an attractive "bonus outcome" that is: if it is achievable at no, or low, cost but it is not a "compelling interest" which requires a significant sacrifice. This is a distinction which is not made often enough.

Those who are sceptical of market solutions to any problem hamper their thought by ignoring the importance of cost (not just economic) in decision-making. Frequently the thinking goes: "Do you want X?", when it looks like a majority want "X" the next stage is, "X" is of compelling interest we must do whatever we can to to achieve it.

This affects quite a few areas. In our debate about unemployment a while back, Dick suggested something of the order that "all things being equal most people would prefer a job". While this is not incorrect it is close to meaningless because "all things" are never "equal". The proper focus should be: what are the costs and incentives involved and not an assumption that "most people would prefer a job".

This also affects how we view those who act "irrationally" and particularly those engaged in "self-destructive behaviour". I would suggest that it is only by ignoring the calculations that an individual might make that one would conclude that a wide range of behaviour is "irrational". Take someone involved in risky behaviour, say a heavy user of heroin or crack cocaine. If you disavow a market-pricing model in attempting to understand the behaviour you will be forced to conclude that the person is acting irrationally or, if rational, is suicidal. If you look at the relative costs the individual puts on short-term gratification compared to long-term (or even medium term) personal wellbeing you could conclude that while the individual is not suicidal, at that moment they don't place a high value on their life. Far be it for me to endorse the words of notorious fudgers and obfuscators like Fintan O'Toole but this is a more "subtle" and "nuanced" way of looking at behaviour.
The Sunday Times covers an appalling development which otherwise receives very little coverage: The Irish Government is planning a serious assault on property rights. An Oireachtas committee has presumptively declared this to be "constitutional". In the words of a "leading constitutional lawyer" Gerard Hogan:

"the two articles in the constitution dealing with the right to property were not “the free marketeer’s charter” they were sometimes characterised to be."

Now, the thing is you either have private property or you don't. If private property is not recognised and defended by the rule of law it is impossible to have a free society never mind a functioning economy. The context for this is the government's economically illiterate proposal to place a "cap" on the value of land. Anyone who understand market forces knows that crude interventions like this - and this has proven to be the case with all other government interventions in this area - often have the opposite effect than that intended. The government's action here reminds me of the caricature of Mick McCarthy's gameplan as Ireland manager: If Plan A fails, try Plan A.

This proposal is the classic example of a slippery slope. Many people might shrug their shoulders and assume that this will only affect several "fat cat" builder developers. Not so. There is a principal established which is that private property must take second place to "the common good". The problem is that "the common good" is now taken to mean something as wide and flabby as the right of everyone to buy a reasonable sized house in an area near where they work. Even ignoring the fact that if you let it the market would provide that all by itself, this is a nebulous aim. There is no vital national interest at stake, we are not facing economic meltdown or danger of invasion. Yet this is how the common good, sufficiently compelling to operride property rights, is now defined.

It is depressing how marginal this issue is viewed to be, it is only the PDs who appear to see the principle at stake.
I expected better of Dick.

"Expect to see inquiries in Denmark, Poland and Spain any day soon."

This in the light of a disgruntled intelligence analyst criticising the Australian government and the Hutton enquiry into the suicide of Dr Kelly.

I'd just like to make a few points:

The so-called "row" about the case for war is a red herring. The bald fact is that no public support for the war was requested or required. The US, The UK and Australia, in common with most western countries, are representative democracies. This means that the government of the day makes decisions. If the public doesn't like them they can boot them out of office. None of these, or any, country govern by plebiscite. This is not an abtruse distinction, the significance is that it is by the end result that we can determine whether a policy was wise or not. Thus it is meaningless to say that "the public was misled" about the case for war. It is in the aftermath of the war, knowing what we know about Sadaam's brutal reign, that we can decide. It is perverse to examine the minutaie of the technical presentation before the war.

To what end? If Tony Blair is shown to have been dishonest to the British public he may well have a political problem - trust is easily squandered - but it doesn't retrospectively make the liberation of Iraq a "bad thing". It seems to me that those who, like Dick, were sceptical of the war beforehand now wish to delude themselves about the scale of "deception" practiced by Bush and Blair and the scale of "chaos" in Iraq in order to preserve a semblance of intellectual consistency. This assists them in avoiding the stark, easy to answer, question: Would Iraqis be better off still tyrannised by Saddam? If you really have to think about the answer you are guilty of self-delusion.

Don't expect to see inquiries - at least anything other than opportunist political point-scoring - in Denmark, Poland or Spain any time soon.
Even more Brutal Gallic Summer: Nelson Ascher reporting from Paris suggests that French indifference to the 10,000 dead is analogous to what the French believed the "proper" US response should be to "only" 3,000 dead on 9/11.

It is eloquent comment on the dementia of French political thought - remember the odious Chirac was elected solely because he possessed one necessary qualification: he wasn't Jean Marie Le Pen - that more ire will be raised by American commentary on the 10,000 dead than the actual deaths.
More on the Brutal Gallic Summer: Dick is rather missing the point.

"I've found some of the comments I've been reading about the death toll in France from Europe's recent heatwave a little distasteful. Sure, plenty of people aren't too happy with French foreign policy these days, but a lot of it smacks of schadenfreude."

Those who are critical of France in this respect are not exhibiting schadenfreude. This is a collossal but thoroughly avoidable tragedy. It is the sang-froid with which the French greet this carnage that we criticise. The only link with French foreign policy is that the deaths represent a "beam" in Chirac's eye while he and his countrymen obsess about American/Iraqi "motes".

There is a decadence in French society directly responsible for two separate phenomena: 1) A fantasy foreign policy which is in direct contradiction to French national interests never mind those of Iraq or the US. 2) An unwillingness to admit failure in their social model: the fantasy that a whole country can close down for August and there will be no ill-effects.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Mark Steyn on the Brutal Gallic Summer

"There's an old, cynical formula for the weight accorded different disasters on American TV news. It runs something like: one dead American = 10 dead Israelis = 100 dead Russians = 1,000 dead Bangladeshis. But 10,000 French can die, and even the French don't seem to care – or not too much, and not with any great urgency.

Bernard Mazeyrie, managing director of France's largest undertakers, told the New York Times that several of the bereaved were in no hurry to bury their aged loved ones: "Some, he said, informed of the death of relatives, postponed funerals, not to interrupt the August 15 holiday weekend, and left the bodies in the refrigerated hall." Au bord de la mer? Ou au bord de ma mère? Hmm. Tough call."

I actually know of a French resident (albeit a retired London schoolteacher and thoroughly unpleasant individual), a friend of one of my Uncles (also a retired loonie-lefty London teacher although marginally more pleasant), who did precisely this. Mater had to take her chances in an undertakers' freezer while he sojourned.
Roy Keane turns in a superb man-of-the-match performance today as Manchester United recover from three abysmal refereeing decisions from the Dickensian-monickered Uriah Rennie, the last of which resulted in the home side's opening goal, to beat Newcastle United 2-1 at St. James' Park.

1) Ryan Giggs brought down on the edge of the Newcastle box with only the keeper to beat, Andy O'Brien had tackled from behind and made no contact with the ball, the rules of the game state he should have been red-carded. No free-kick is awarded, Rennie perhaps mindful of the view, widely held on Tyneside, that he is biased against Newcastle. Sir Alex Ferguson is dismissed to the stands for objecting.

2) The ball bounces off Paul Scoles' chest, he pulls his arm out of the way, no contact is made with his arm yet the ref awards a free-kick to Newcastle for handball.

3) From this free-kick Alan Shearer bundles Mikael Silvestre over in the box to head into the net. This "Goal" should have been disallowed.

Poor refereeing decisons happen all the time and on balance, over the season, even out: one of United's goals last week could have been deemed offside. United won anyway but I really think that the FA needs to look at the quality of its referees. Rennie isn't the absolute worst, there are one or two even less competent referees, but Pierluigi Collina he ain't!
More 1970s Soul artist or Irish Bourgeois?

It occurs to me that the name of the outfit behind the Philly Soul classic "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" - McFadden and Whitehead - could plausibly describe a Cavan legal practice. While one ton of the "Two Tons of Fun" (later known as the Weather Girls) with the addition of an "l" - Martha Wa(l)sh - would make a perfectly believable New Ross insurance clerk.
Just a few more thoughts on Ciaran Cuffe and the Green Party: I was at UCD School of Architecture with Ciaran in the mid/late 1980s. I have a lot of time for him, unlike his humourless colleagues he is good company, but I think that his party's policies are bonkers and he has absorbed a lot of strident idiotarian thinking from them.

As I remember it, his entry into politics came about as a result of disillusionment with the mismanagement of Dublin's local government. There was an, unfortunately titled, movement incorporating architectural (and some other) students: S.A.D.D. (Students against the Destruction of Dublin) in which he was prominent and I was briefly involved. The focus for protest was a disastrous road proposal which would cut a swathe through Dublin's inner city fabric. The wider context was the way in which Dublin Corporation had contributed to widespread dereliction. Dublin was a fine Georgian city and unlike similar British cities was spared Luftwaffe bombing. Unfortunately what the bombers couldn't manage was easily achieved by well-connected developers in the 1960s.

One irony is that objection to this road could come from both libertarian and left wing perspectives (not that I was anything other than a naive student lefty at the time) the left wing objection would focus on the destruction of the "public realm" while the libertarian objection could be to the coercive compulsory purchase necessary to construct this road.

It was from this student activism that Ciaran got involved with the Greens. Unfortunately he has taken on all the rest of their daft policies and I think he is specifically hampered intellectually by his wealth. Being independently wealthy does little to inculcate a genuine understanding of economics or market forces. It is in testing Green policies against economic reality and the market that they are found wanting.

The one smart trick the Greens have had is in packaging up tired (not to mention, tried, tested and failed!) old Marxist politics in a nice environmentally-friendly (recycled and biodegradable!) wrapping. This has allowed them to capture a wider support, though no less muddled, from mostly middle class voters than the misfits and (transient or perpetual) students traditionally drawn to Marxism. My view is that this a bit of a conjuring trick and that many Green voters would be appalled if they even read the manifesto never mind familiarise themselves with the wider thinking at the party conferences. It is only a matter of time before the softer, wider support they have fades away leaving only the tiny radical core.

Friday, August 22, 2003

More on Ciaran Cuffe: John at Irish Eagle notes that the troubled Green TD's dual American and Irish citizenship,(actually John: Ciaran, as I remember, was born in the US) may be inconsistent with his holding of public office.
Mary ain't averse to the odd pork barrel

The business section of today's Irish Times contains a small piece in the Current Account column concerning Irish retail planning guidelines. IKEA have been lobbying the government to repeal its ban on retailers building massive establishments in Ireland. I can't remember what the exact square meterage restriction is (Frank?).

The column makes the point that "when a change to the rules was mooted before the last election, the ... (powerful domestic hardware lobby) ... politely made the Tanaiste, Ms Harney, aware of the estimated 6,000 voters in her very own constituency (Dublin Mid-West) who might not be very happy if their hardware-dependent livelihoods were threatened in any way. The rules were left intact."

A case of "do as I say, not as I do" for the Queen of Competitiveness?

Thursday, August 21, 2003

More on the Smoking ban from Carrie/Ma Bear and Dick.

I'd just like to clarify for Dick that my comments about the market dealing with the issue of smoke-free or partially smoke-free premises relates to restaurants and not pubs. The reason I exclude pubs is that the market is not operating properly in this area. The cost of entry into this rigged market is too high for there to be true competition. Not to discount the costs involved in setting up restaurants but there is much more choice in this area. If non-smokers patronise smoky restaurants the proper conclusion to draw is that they have put a low price on the benefit of smoke-free eating. If smoke-free restaurants do better you could conclude that this was seen as a significant benefit and therefore there is a higher "value" attached. How people to choose to spend their money is a much more reliable indicator of their true feelings than any other, including what they might say when asked or the opinion of bureaucrats. This is why, for all that smokers wish for a Big Brother state to assist them in getting off the fags, the true test is if they put their money where their mouth is and only patronise smoke-free environments.

I should also add that the issue of the health of workers is a complete red herring. For starters, unpleasant as a smoky environment is, "second hand smoke" is a bit of a myth. No study has shown a link between inhaling second hand smoke and elevated health risk yet this is simply taken as a given. Secondly it is clear from smoke-ban enthusiasts that their real aim is to force people to smoke less. The issue of health in the workplace simply provides a convenient figleaf to obscure this.

Dick catches out my old classmate Ciaran Cuffe in a spectacularly foolish gesture which suggests an Onion-ish headline:

Green TD calls for law that is already in place
Following on from discussion over at Samizdata on Ireland's "happy hour ban" Gavin reposts his interesting article on Ireland and Drinking

"If the Irish government could strike a balance between a national alcohol strategy, and proper enforcement of current legislation then perhaps in the future we would see a more mature attitude in Ireland towards alcohol consumption...Unfortunately the effects of any such strategy could take up to a generation to show results, and few governments will commit to such a long-term strategy. It is a difficult cultural trait to overcome, but with time we may see an Ireland not so keen to find answers to its problems at the bottom of a glass."

My libertarian instincts chafe at the suggestion that the government instigate a "national alcohol strategy" but there are things they could do, or rather there are things they could stop doing. It seems to me that there are two problems

1) Irish society and culture tolerate excessive drinking.

2) There has been an increase in alcohol-fuelled violence and disturbance.

Despite the cherished beliefs of authoritarians there is no easy solution to the first and heavy-handed efforts to regulate alcohol consumption might have the opposite effect than that intended, as in the Prohibition era. This is an area perhaps more suited to "opinion-formers" than regulators. Hacks and pundits can do their part to encourage moderation in drinking.

As for the second, most of the street violence occurs at the same "flashpoints": taxi ranks, bus queues, fast food outlets. These flashpoints arise because of an excessively rigid regulatory regime. Even the "liberalised" licensing hours still stipulate the same closing time, everyone is on the streets at the same time. This inflates the "demand" for these services. Supply of these services is further restricted by government restriction, Add alcohol and step back!

Solution: - the libertarian's panacea - liberalise. I think that the Scots, for once, are onto the right idea, don't set fixed licensing hours. Let individual publicans decide their own opening hours. Remove restrictions on taxis, minicabs and (regrettably) fast food vans (note: to meet transient, not permanent demand). Liberalising taxis and minicabs doesn't mean "endangering" homebound revellers forced to ride in "gypsy cabs". You could have a range of taxi services provided from limousine services and well known reputable and reliable companies to cheaper seat-of-the-pants guys and customers could choose.

Incidentally, Gavin quotes Patricia McKenna:

"In the European Parliament I never see Mediterranean’s sloshed and out of their minds"

I really hope that the "grocer's apostrophe" belongs to the pompous Green MEP and not Gavin!
Mark Steyn's Irish Times piece on putative tax-loophole-busting but actually tax dodging candidate for California Governor (admittedly some way behind the front-runners) Arianna Huffington last Saturday is now online. He make the excellent point, missed by most tax-and-spenders, that the best way to eliminate "tax loopholes" (and indeed achieve a fairer outcome) is to obviate the need for them in the first place.

"That’s why if Arianna was really interested in all the little people she claims to speak for, she’d realize she’s looking at this thing upside down. You can’t eliminate loopholes, but you can eliminate the need for loopholes. When you have a low-rate simple tax code, everyone pays, even Arienron, even her fellow fat cats. The more complex it gets, the more unfair it is on those who can’t afford a tax lawyer. And the most obvious injustice in the tax code today is that it’s a huge sprawling labyrinth only the Arienrons can negotiate their way around."
Great piece by Irwin Stelzer on the differing attitudes to work and leisure between the US and Europe which tackles the canard that European "quality of life" and "greater equality" means Europeans are "happier" than Americans.

"So, say Europeans, Americans may be more “productive”, as economists measure productivity, but that is only because they work longer hours. In any given hour, European workers can produce as much or more. The fact that Europe’s economies typically produce fewer goods and services for the delectation of their citizens then becomes a matter of choice — the voluntary selection of leisure over work...Not a bad argument, if correct. After all, perhaps the one thing the French have got right is their famous chacun à son goût. The problem is that although an American worker can often trade off higher income for more leisure time, it is not so easy for Europeans to do the opposite. An Italian worker who would like more income and less vacation time can show up for work in August, but his factory or office will be closed. A British worker who would like to make a few extra pounds by working in the week between Christmas and the end of that break will have a hard time being productive in an empty office or plant. About the only thing a European worker can do to improve the ratio of income-to-leisure is to emigrate to America. Which is why millions of Italians, Irish, Germans and other Europeans have voted with their feet in favour of America’s balance between work and leisure, with no discernible flow [It may not be a flow but there is a trickle - FMCG] in the opposite direction."

(Thanks to Nelson for the link)
Great post by Eoin on current events in Israel

"'s a type of asymmetric warfare where the Israelis are rightly criticized and condemned for their heavy handedness and indeed breaches of the international rules of war (how can there be rules for war), yet nobody criticizes the Palestinians, not because of some anti-semite or anti-Israeli bias, but because, well there is noone to criticize... as far as I know a blind imman leads Hamas, and Hizbollah is lead by some Iranian backed loon, they have no legitimacy and probably a tiny mandate in the Palestinian people, and nothing to do with Arafat or Mazen, the perceived leaders of the Palestinian people. Most people don't know this, and indeed most people don't want to know this, and journalists realise this and its convenient for them not to publish it, well because it's very easy to get a really good story out of Israeli atrocities, because there is always an epic shot of a 12 year old throwing a rock at a tank, and a mother to tell the tale of a life wasted."

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Backseat Driver Jon upbraids Irish Eagle John (and, by implication, me) for "indulging the fallacy of the market" in relation to our view on the smoking ban. While it is fair to characterise this view as "Let the market provide smoke-free eating/drinking", it would be more accurate to describe Jon's view as "the fallacy of the interventionist".

"I wonder if John has noticed how, despite non-smokers making up roughly two-thirds of the population, there is not a proportional number of smoke-free restaurants in Ireland, nor do restaurants reserve two-thirds of their seating for non-smokers. The fact is, restaurants keep getting business from non-smokers because if non-smokers want to eat out, they have no choice but to do it with smokers, who are far better catered for."

The first thing I'd say about this is that I'm not sure how correct Jon is. Perhaps our anecdotal experience is vastly different but many restaurants do provide non-smoking areas.

"Why hasn't the market worked it's magic? Well, probably because non-smokers have decided to put up with the unpleasantness of second-hand smoke in order to have a social life outside their own houses. And for social reasons that cannot be measured in purely economical terms, Irish non-smokers don't complain enough. Irish non-smokers don't complain enough. They don't complain when people smoke in non-smoking sections, they don't complain when the non-smoking section is in a dark corner of the restaurant near the bathrooms or the kitchen door, they don't complain when the best seats are reserved for smokers. Why don't they vote with their feet or their wallets? Because they have no market alternatives. Well, if the demand is there, why hasn't an entrepreneur capitalised on it? Because pub and restaurant owners are operating with imperfect market information."

There's a big flaw in this argument, I'm prepared to accept that people don't complain enough and that reduces the flow of information but the most important information a restaurant owner can receive is business or lack thereof, not complaints. Those who abhor a smoky restaurant may not make an explicit complaint but it is unlikely they will return. It is quite wrong to say they have "no market alternatives" (at least as far as restaurants are concerned, it is a different story in relation to pubs). Jon imagines that the government need intervene to stick up for the non-smokers but there is a mechanism to determine their view already: the market. The fallacy of the interventionist is to presume that the bureaucrats have a better idea of what people really need and want than what people are actually prepared to pay cold hard cash for. If non-smokers are prepared to tolerate a smoky restaurant with all available information to them then they have placed a price on "non-smokiness" and that price isn't very high.

Disclosure: I hate people smoking in restaurants and consider it rude but I have a free choice not to patronise restaurants where smoking is encouraged and I resent the government making this choice for me.
Question: How many 1970s Funk/Soul/Disco artists have names which wouldn't sound out of place at a provincial Ireland chamber of commerce meeting?

Answer: Surprisingly, quite a few

1) William "Bootsy" Collins, probably shortened to 'Liam Collins

2) Bootsy's band leader: George Clinton.

3) Barry White.

4) Chic's Nile Rodgers, probably spelt Niall Rogers.

5) Rodgers' accomplice Bernard Edwards.

5) Teddy Pendergrass, probably spelt Ted Prendergast.

6) Michael Jackson.

7) Isaac Hayes.

8) Gwen McCrae

9) James Brown

10) Donald Byrd, probably shortened to Don Bird

11) Quite a lot of Earth, Wind and Fire: Maurice White, Phil Bailey, Larry Dunn, Al McKay, Fred White

12) Evelyn "Champagne" King, probably dropping the "Champagne"

13) Gloria Gaynor

14) Anita Ward
Cracking stuff from Tony as he answers the questions Dr Laura Slessinger dodged. These were posed by one "Jim" who purported to be confused as to the application of biblical prohibitions other than those against Homosexuality.

I particularly liked his answer to question 5..

Jim: "I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?"

Tony: "The modern way is to contract out such tasks. But not on the Sabbath as otherwise you’ll have to hire a second hit-man to kill the first."

..and have noted Tony's sound advice on gay prawns!
John at Irish Eagle articulates perfectly my view on the smoking ban:

"As a customer, I don't want to eat near people who smoke. I don't think the government needs to ban smoking for me to enjoy my meal smoke free. If a restaurant wants my business then they'd better have a smoke free area and a good ventilation system."
Who needs an MP3 player? Try the low tech approach

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

No, er, stuff, Sherlock.

Jon Ihle: "The left has a dark side, too"

Now I know that Jon intends to upbraid Martyn Turner for Saddam-nostalgia and Turner's paper for assuming totalitarianism to be the preserve of right-wing dictators. But it would be wrong to characterise the Old Lady of D'Olier street's view as being simply slanted, more accurate to say that it is diammetrically wrong. Totalitarianism, as shown by Orwell and Kundera, is an inevitable consequence of socialism. No right wing dictatorship, not Pinochet's nor Franco's sought to reconstruct society or human nature. Contrast that with Mao's China or Pol Pot's Cambodia.
Dick is a tiny bit miffed to read Samizdata's Andy Duncan "patronise" the Irish thus

"Ireland, for millennia a land of little or no government"

Dick may not realise that, far from accusing us of "lawlessness", Andy, as a Libertarian, is paying us the highest compliment.
"Am I the only one living in this state who feels like throwing up when hearing such things? PLEASE!"

No, John, you're not!

I would like to be able to say that I "couldn't believe my ears" (or at the very least that I was surprised). Sadly, my first reaction, upon hearing of this laughable proposal for a "Children's Ombudsman", was weary resignation. I have long passed the point of surprise at these ludicrous extensions of bureaucracy and their eager and gullible reception at RTE.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Tabloidese at its best: The Sun on United's new hero, Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro, "A butterfly with a machine-gun"

Friday, August 15, 2003

The Volokh Conspiracy's Tyler Cowen is in Belfast:

"I was struck at how few signs of conflict I saw (some of the gutted buildings may have been bombed but you see similar architectural wrecks in the States). In fact the whole dispute seems to have receded to a remarkable degree"

Tyler might be surprised to learn that during the provisional IRA campaign Belfast didn't exhibit many "signs of conflict" unless you count the ubiquitous, and still extant, gable murals. I wonder whether Northern Ireland loomed in the imagination of Americans as a kind of ruined province riven by civil war, equivalent to, say, the Lebanon. One particularly tenacious fallacy was that violence could not be prevented in the absence of a "political solution". This assumed a greater level of support for terrorism among the general public than existed. Would US governments have been so interested in Northern Ireland if there had been a better understanding of the nature of the conflict? This was more of a menacing, slow-burning conflict carried out by small groups of agent provocateurs than a civil war and though disastrous for those affected and for the NI economy couldn't compare with, say, trouble spots in Africa.

Tyler compares Northern Ireland to Israel/Palestine and seeks grounds for optimism:

"You could write for hours on why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is harder to solve (greater initial gap between the disputants, greater outside interference, Arab need to scapegoat Israel,..), but still I find my time up here pretty heartening"

One of the remarkable features of Northern Ireland is how closely both communities resemble each other. Although, particularly working class, nationalists and unionists live parallel lives, the quotidian aspects of their lives are virtually identical. It is depressing that division continues and has, if anything, deepened since the ceasefire and it is also hard to reconcile the rhetorical aims of both communities but there is still much common ground. Sadly this is not yet the case between Israelis and Palestinians.
2 Cliches for the price of one!

Pot, Kettle etc..

Daniel Bernstein is amused to find Christopher Hitchens accusing Daniel Pipes of "pursuing petty vendettas"

Petty vendettas indeed. I am a fan of Hitch but: people in glass houses etc..

Thursday, August 14, 2003

John at Irish Eagle responds to my post below about Noel Dempsey's proposal for the Government to stop paying salaries of teachers in fee-paying schools. He makes the point that there are much better ways towards education privatisation than this step and I think he's right. I would like to make clear that I don't believe Dempsey's aim is to privatise education, he's as statist as it is possible to be. Rather, my feeling was that privatisation would be an unintended, if predictable, consequence of this action. Making a distinction between fee-paying and state education - no "two tier" rhetoric here - is an important acknowledgement of the futility of universal provision.
3,000 dead already. Edmund thinks it's a quagmire. Glenn Reynolds isn't gloating but, as Bill Quick notes, the heatwave has already taken out almost twice as many Parisians as US soldiers killed by the remnants of the baathist regime "Iraqi resistance".
Carles Puyol: "Come and get me, Fergie"

Ferguson: "no plans at this moment to add to [the squad]..It would have been nice to have had another defender"

United announce squad numbers, No 4 shirt still vacant.
Loath though I am to make casual claims of racism, it is otherwise hard to explain why Claude Makelele, the steel in Real Madrid's midfield, is paid a third of the salary of his team-mates. He is right to protest

UPDATE: Jon and Ciaran have commented on this and I've thought a bit more about this. I think I was too hasty to attribute Real Madrid's stance to racism. A better explanation is their cavalier disregard for defensive footballing. The irony is that they have succeeded despite this and not because of it. 15/08/03 10:19 AM

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

MC draws our attention to a wonderfully pompous statement from one Ian Clarke, "IT guy" who has decided to leave the US because it reminds him of......yes you guessed it Nazi Germany.

"As an Irish citizen living in the US - I have decided that it is time to leave this country - it is starting to look, smell, and act as Germany did during the 1930s. I wish you Americans luck in regaining civilized justice in your broken country, if not, I hope that the EU will be accepting of political refugees from this brave but failed experiment."

John at Irish Eagle picks up on the latest proposal to emerge from the civil service Noel Dempsey which is that the state shouldn't pay the salaries of teachers in fee-paying schools. John is not impressed.

"Writing in the Sunday Independent, John O'Keefe suggests that this plan is rooted in justice because ordinary taxpayers shouldn't provide benefits for the rich. Now, I don't know who John O'Keefe believes to be rich, but I know from personal experience that many of the people who send their children to fee-paying schools are not rich...For a number of reasons, my daughter starts in a fee-paying school in September. We are by no means rich. And, based on observation alone, I doubt any of the dozen or so families in this area whose daughters go to the same school are rich. "

I'm no fan of Dempsey, whose submissive attitude to the bureaucrats, sure to get each of their pet initiatives "green-lighted" and nominally his employees, contrasts vividly with the teacherly puritanism directed at the rest of us, nominally his employers. However, even a broken clock is right twice a day and I think that this could be an important step in privatising education. I don't think it serves anyone's interest for the State to be a monopoly employer of teachers. Whether those who send their children to fee-paying schools are rich or not is neither here nor there. It may even be the case that without the dead hand of government involvement the schools can operate more efficiently and any fee rise may not be commensurate with the subsidy withdrawn. The market for fee-paying schools is distorted by the government's involvement. The question is: Does the taxpayer get sufficient benefit to justify subsidising fee-paying schools? I'm not convinced.
It used to be Chelsea but it now appears - as former big-names Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff are joined by Jardel - that Bolton Wanderers are the latest "Greatest Hits collection" team of the Premiership.
Chutzpah alert: From a report in today's Irish Times about proposed restrictions on work permits.

"The numbers of annually renewable work permits issued increased from 6,250 in 1999 to 18,006 in 2000, 36,436 in 2001 and to 40,321 in 2002. The system is demand-driven, with the permits issued to employers rather than employees..This has led to concerns among trade unions and migrant support groups that workers are effectively tied to their employers, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation."

That's so big of the trade unions to stand up for those migrants - who would of course prefer to be out of work than "vulnerable to exploitation"- even though they generally aren't union members, don't pay union subs and actually compete with union members for jobs, oh wait....
My heart sank when I saw that George Moronbiot had a piece in yesterday's Guardian about climate change. The piece was riddled with the usual Monbi-onkers stuff, my favourite being:

"Last month the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) announced that "the increase in temperature in the 20th century is likely to have been the largest in any century during the past 1,000 years"

And they would know this because of the diligent measurement of temperature that went on through the dark ages, predating the invention of the thermometer by about 600 years and the first standard for temperature measurement by about 700 years or so... no wait, that can't be right, can it?

The problem is that it is such a slog to wade through the standard Monbiot screed and it can be difficult to know where to start. Do you challenge the whole, er, idiosyncratic, world-view or concentrate on specific mistaken assertions? Fortunately, Emily is willing to have a shot!
Whither Libertarianism in Ireland? Jon, taking note of developments in Costa Rica, is optimistic.

"Ireland is also far less socialist in practice than in sentiment, but the opportunity exists for a libertarian-oriented party to explode the moribund Fianna Fail vs. Everybody Else consensus."

I agree, although I have to confess to the influence of wishful thinking. Ireland's political situation is a bit of a puzzle and there are a number of stumbling blocks.

One of the big problems of Libertarian politics is the gap exhibited by the average person between rhetoric and action. Broadly speaking most people act according to libertarian principles. They grudgingly pay taxes and gripe at over intrusive government behaviour. The problem is that they simultaneously adopt a broadly social democratic rhetoric. There is this residual guilt at the quotidian "selfish" actions that must be assuaged by professing "altruism". The notion that individual "selfish actions" may in aggregate have a benevolent effect - in refusing to pay "over the odds" for any product or service you are helping to set a fair market price which sufficiently remunerates the producer and ensures that other buyers are not ripped off - is counter-intuitive. Much simpler, even if incorrect, is the notion that submitting to a paternalistic government "balances" those selfish impulses and helps create a "fairer" society. Propounding a counterintuitive message is, let us say, challenging for Libertarians.

That is a general problem for Libertarians but there are specific problems associated with Ireland. Two significant local obstacles are Ireland's burgeoning public sector and the Fine Gael party.

Fine Gael manages, outside Dublin at least, to harvest the anti-FF vote from the right. This may be more of a socially conservative vote than "fiscally conservative" but social conservatism is only incompatible with libertarianism if it insists on an authoritarian government to modify social behaviour. This is not always the case with socially conservative parties. The problem is that FG, if it has any policy at all, tends to simply agree with the big soggy social democratic consensus and seems more keen to receive favourable media coverage than actual votes. As long as FG remains in existence and unreformed it will suck traditionalist and non-left wing votes away from any libertarian party. Despite media predictions, it seems unlikely to me that FG will simply implode. More likely is a FG-PD merger, a kind of reverse takeover. This is only likely in the event of a FF-Labour coalition which over-reaches. This is not a discountable prospect. For all his media-friendliness Labour leader Pat Rabitte has been adopting some pretty hardline left-wing positions, particularly on property rights.

The other problem, and this ties into the discussion below, is that there is a significant and growing section of the population employed by the government. Anyone sceptical about the power, and indeed shamelessness, of this vested interest group need only look at how benchmarking increases were extracted from the government. This bloc will not tolerate an anti-statist party. You can be sure that public sector unions, aided by the media consensus will fight tooth and nail any libertarian policy propositions.
Mark Steyn's Saturday column for the Irish Times is now online - at the Jerusalem Post: "The Intolerance of Tolerance" - and mentions the topic we were discussing here last week: the ICCL proposal to prosecute priests for "Incitement to hatred" based on the Catholic church's recently re-affirmed view of Homosexuality.

"As Rodney King, celebrated black victim of the LAPD, once plaintively said, "Why can't we all just get along?"

But, if that's not possible, why can't we all just not get along? What's so bad about disagreement that it needs to be turned into a crime? "

I think the meaning of words like "Tolerance" and "Diversity" has drifted somewhat. As I understand, If you "tolerate" something, it means you put up with it, it doesn't mean that you celebrate it. A restaurateur would hardly be cheered by a review describing the chef's creations as "tolerable". Those who extend "tolerance" to mean "mandatory celebration" don't understand the difference, even from their own point of view, between "good enough" (nobody is persecuted) and "best" (everybody is a politically correct "tolerant" automaton). It is a classic fault of left-wing thinking to assume that (their idea of) the "best" is achievable and that anything short of it is a failure. It is also a classic fault to posit a Blank Slate of human nature which can be remodelled according to politically correct principles and that this is such a compelling aim that individuality and personal freedom be sacrificed in its furtherance.
Chelsea set to pounce?
Well spotted! John at Irish Eagle draws our attention to a story in the Sasasota Herald Tribune: "'Human Shield' fined for violating sanctions against Iraq". Some chance of this happening to Michael D!

UPDATE: Edmund points us towards this superb "fisking" 13/08/03 4:09 PM
Conor notes the scandal of benchmarking below and is concerned that the electorate will not make the connection between this disastrous venture and the tax hikes to come. This reminds me of something Dick said during our debate about welfare.

"We live in a country whose electorate has opted to have a state which looks after its old, its young, its sick and unemployed...most people seem quite happy with it."

Now, leaving aside the debate about the merits of a welfare state (which we have done to death), what Dick is saying is that because the present apparatus has evolved without significant demurral that this is more or less the same as the electorate "opting" for it. I can easily see those who are in favour of benchmarking - mainly public sector employees - adopting a similar argument: "Nobody is making a big deal about the benchmarking, therefore it has widespread approval". I had described before, in despair, the lack of debate about benchmarking as the "ostrich pose". Now I wonder whether the "frog bath" might be a better analogy. The frog may react with diffidence to each increase in temperature of the water in which he is immersed. This is emphatically not the same as saying that he consents to being boiled alive.
The Irish Independent reports that the €1.1billion public sector benchmarking awards are to be paid in full with no tangible commitments to improvements in “public services”.

“The row blew up after the Department of Finance published action plans setting out what individual government departments want their workers to do in return for the money. ... They contain few targets for specific improvements in services and concentrate heavily on reviews, negotiations and monitoring procedures. “

The only surprise is that the Indo has put this as front page “news”. It was unfortunately clear for a long time that benchmarking was just a pseudo-scientific spin on another pre-election government and union agreed wage hike ratchet.

Given ongoing redundancies in the private sector (due to reduced competitiveness as a result of inflation and a strong euro), there must be a lot of PAYE taxpayers in the private sector fuming at this daylight robbery. Or maybe not. Perhaps it will take the tax hikes of this coming December’s budget to provoke their ire. This is a direct wealth transfer from the private sector to the public sector. Whether taxpayers think this transfer was required or not, or might better have been transferred to the weakest in society (i.e. the sick and infirm) rather than to the 100% job security sector, it is a pity that due to the time lag in paying benchmarking and raising taxes in the Budget these two events will not be perceived as being very highly correlated.

UPDATE: Perhaps not unpredictably, further criticism of benchmarking has surfaced in light of the Dept. of Finance's weak productivity document

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Manchester United have confirmed their acquisition of Portuguese wonder-kid Cristiano Ronaldo from Sporting Lisbon. Brazilian world cup winner Kleberson's work permit approval means that they are likely to present their first two lusophone players tomorrow.
Good to see Broom of Anger is back.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Fascinating post at the Volokh Conspiracy by Tyler Cowen on Kobe Bryant, Economists and Rational Behaviour. The gist is that, strictly speaking, an economist should hold that Bryant is innocent as to actually commit rape goes against the incentives not to do so. If you accept that incentives generally apply to the market as a whole and not to individuals in isolation who can act irrationally - your get-out-of-jail card if you "feel" he's guilty - Cowen concludes that you should be a lot more worried about nuclear proliferation, the theory of M.A.D. relying as it does on individual rationalism.
Nice quote from new Manchester United 'keeper Tim Howard on the move from the MLS to the Premiership

"It's a big jump in standard but the grass is still green and the ball is still round"
Via Samizdata, I came across this really cool site: "Bureaucrash..believe[s] that bloated, sprawling governments and the bureaucrats and politicians who control them ought to be mocked. Mercilessly"

Very nicely designed too.
Mark Steyn on "The Gubernator"'s detractors:

" desperation to find an attack angle, Dem operatives are currently testing three themes:

1. Arnold is a Nazi.

Okay, Arnold's not a Nazi. He was born in the Austrian town of Thal, but not until 1947, and thus was technically unable to join the Nazi Party no matter how much he may have wanted to. But he certainly has family ties to the Nazis. His wife's grandfather, Joe Kennedy, was one of America's most prominent Nazi sympathisers...Oh, wait. That's not the Nazi family ties the Dems had in mind?"


Incidentally, Steyn also refers to the little vignette in The Last Action Hero showing Arnie playing Hamlet but misses his best line: Just before blowing away half of Denmark, the pumped, packing prince modifies Shakespeare thus:

"To be or not to be?.....NOT TO BE!"
Manchester United take home the Charity Community Shield for the first time since 1997 beating Arsenal on penalties after a 1-1 draw. It isn't a very serious trophy, more of a glorified friendly although "unfriendly" might have been a more apt description given the number of bookings. Arsenal were lucky to have ten players remaining at the end: Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell might both have been justifiably sent off for retaliation. As it was, their sole red card - substitute striker Franny Jeffers for kicking a prone Phil Neville right in front of the referee - brought to an inglorious total of 50 the number of dismissals under Arsene Wenger's reign. Of United's new arrivals: Tim Howard looked assured in goal, if at fault in underestimating Henry's free-kick, and seems certain to replace Faben Barthez as first choice. Eric Djemba-Djemba came on in the second half and was superb, tenacious and "Keane-like".
Another bumper package at Tallrite this week including commentary on Homosexuality, Evil and the Catholic Church and an excellent suggestion as to the appropriate punishment for Indonesian islamofascist Amrozi Bin Nurhasyim. Tony, in noting that this laughing terrorist eagerly awaits his "martyrdom", reckons that, instead of offering it to him, Indonesian authorities should let him rot in jail.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Interesting thoughts from Nelson Ascher at EuroPundits on Post-Communism in Hungary.

"I remember communism as a system that, in a way, froze places and peoples in time. The first time I came to Hungary, in 1977, the country didn't look much different from what it might have been when my parents were growing up here before the war. I see now that, instead of actually avoiding what would be the pasteurizing, uniformizing effects of modernity, what communism did was to turn each of the cities it conquered in the same indifferent kind of place."

Friday, August 08, 2003

Dick has some more on our discussion. I'm inclined to agree that there's not all that much between our relative positions. I want to clarify my reference to protesters outside the US or Israel embassy. I used these examples not specifically to comment on the merits of either country's actions but, as they are often targeted by a virulent form of protest, to demonstrate how widely speech restrictions could be used. The best test for freedom of speech is how "objectionable" speech is dealt with. My feeling is that the bar has to be set pretty high, otherwise we are submitting to oppressive codes of behaviour. Who wants the state to determine "appropriate" and "inappropriate" political views?. The best way to deal with it is US style "manner" restrictions rather than "content" restrictions. Thus, if a neo-nazi wished to address a large mob one could reasonably ban this in the expectation that disorder could ensue. If this neo-nazi wished to exchange his objectionable views in a forum - like the internet, the mail, the telephone, a private house - unlikely to lead directly to violence he should be free to do so. Restricting catholic priests from making "objectionable" statements about homosexuality, say at a sermon, fails this test as it would not be reasonable to conclude that the congregation would up and exit the church en masse in an angry march to the nearest Gay bar.

UPDATE 8/8/03 5:38PM: More on this from Dick's agreeable fellow Backseat Driver. Jon must be wondering what he has to do to raise my ire as in the course of attempting to disagree with me he ends up, more or less, yes agreeing with me again. I used (perhaps clumsily) the Catholic church's distinction - love the sinner hate the sin - not to defend this view but to try and demonstrate to Dick the difference between "objectionable views" and "incitement to violence". Jon manages this task more elegantly.

"There is an important difference between calling homosexuality 'evil' in a sermon and shouting 'kill the fags' while standing outside the George with a hurley in your hand."

Ok, Dick is forcing me to (reluctantly) defend the Catholic church.

"Preaching that the gay community is evil I believe is incitement to hatred and I think that the ICCL is right in saying that it shouldn't be tolerated."

OK, let me remind everybody again (even leaving aside my "gay best friends") that I do not agree with the church's position. But, what I understand the church is saying is that homosexuality is sinful, not that homosexuals are evil (love the sinner, hate the sin). This is a bit of a theological distinction but it means that it is not quite right to say that the church preaches that the gay community is evil. As I said, I don't agree with their position but it is a stretch to describe it as incitement to hatred.

What would Dick propose the ICCL do in the event of one of the many pickets on the US or Israeli embassies? Would he have them intervene on the grounds that the protesters were "inciting hatred" towards Americans or Israelis?
Jon claims to be picking a fight with me but is, surprisingly, mostly in agreement with me.

Perhaps I should explain. I noted that there is a type of, for want of a better word, non-rhetorical anti-Catholicism. This type of anti-Catholicism is not akin to anti-Zionism or anti-Semitism. Rather as an apparently reasoned position as opposed to an irrational prejudice it occupies the same position in relation to "traditional" anti-Catholicism as the anti-Zionist purports exists between his views and anti-Semitism. There are obviously huge differences (and they are of a degree) between prejudice against Jews and prejudice against catholics but one common thread is that as anti-zionism can draw the unwitting into anti-semitism so this "critique of catholics" can draw the unwitting into making disparaging assumptions about Catholicism. As for what "Anti-Zionism" really means, I wrote a bit about this back in March.

As for Pryor, yes there is certainly a valid opposition to what might be characterised as the "catholic" view on a number of topics such as abortion. What is notable about much of the criticism of Pryor was that it didn't appear to be on his past record but on what his expected behaviour might be as a devout Catholic.

With the ICCL, my main interest here is not in accusing it of bigotry or in defending the Church from criticism - I happen to disagree with the church's position on Homosexuality - but criticising the wide reach of "hate crime" legislation and the creeping control bodies such as the ICCL and the Equality Authority wish to exert over us. I don't hold that the church should have any special protection and I wrote so in my first post.

To conclude: Jon asserts, "Frank contends that anti-Catholicism is akin to anti-Semitism" Not really, they are quite different, my point is more that there is now an "acceptable" way to frame either prejudice without displaying overt bigotry.