Friday, July 31, 2009

News from Uzbekistan

I do not suppose any reader will be terribly surprised that there is less than complete religious freedom in Uzbekistan (or, for that matter, any of the "stans"). Theoretically, there is, of course, just as the Soviet Constitution of 1936 was the most liberal in the world. Such a pity about it author, Nikolai Bukharin, being shot in 1938 after a trial that failed to live up to the most obvious of legal standards.

What Uzbekistan and other countries of that ilk do is to announce that all religious organizations must register with the government; then they can pick and choose whom to register and clamp down on all unregistered one. Organized civil society, you see.

I read with grim amusement the latest information from Forum 18, an organization that is dedicated to the promotion of religious freedom and tolerance, a thankless task.
In another case, after a police raid on a Baptist's home his library has been confiscated and sent for "religious expert analysis", local police told Forum 18. Amongst the books are works by Sir Walter Scott and Ivan Turgenev, a sign language book, a Koran translated into Russian, and a Russian Orthodox prayer book. The books' owner, Pyotr Zvonov, faces charges of "illegally producing, storing, importing and distributing of materials of a religious nature."
I wish them luck if they are going to wade through Scott's novels to find if there is anything of religious nature in them.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

It all happens so much faster there

Maybe Americans are less patient with complete incompetence than we are. But this article that traces the changes in public opinion on relative merits of Republicans and Democrats on various issues gives cold comfort to the party that was victorious a few months ago. The cack-handedness in handling the health system nationalization reform and Obama's ludicrous but ongoing intervention in the Gates saga cannot have helped.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Talk amongst yourselves

I shall be out of contact most of the day as I am shepherding the boss of EUReferendum round London. It is not an easy task. So talk amongst yourselves.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The blogosphere at work

As ever in the United States but I live in hope that our own blogosphere will one day declare its independence from the political and media establishment. Some of us have, of course, and our reward has been complete lack of attention from the rest of the mob.

Over on the other side of the Pond the Gates saga rolls on, having been made into a national issue by the intervention of President Obama, who seems to have decided with his press officer that this would be a good way of diverting attention from his poor performance at the press conference and, more importantly, the Health Nationalization Bill (whatever it may be called this week). The whole thing backfired but that seems to be the pattern with The One these days.

Many people predicted that Sgt Crowley and the members of his team (one black and one Hispanic) will now suffer all sorts of unwanted attention from the President's attack dogs the MSM and local authorities in the way Joe the Plumber did.

Times have changed. Sgt Crowley, though he had voted for Obama, seems to be a savvy sort of guy and he went public very quickly, as did his union who had also supported The One. In fact, it is Professor Gates who is finding that some very unwelcome information is coming out.

I don't suppose he cares very much about evidence of his academic ineptitude such as this piece by Mark Steyn that tells of this Harvard Professor of English as well as Afro-American Studies, who seems to be unaware that Will Shakespeare and Robbie Burns were two different people. There is other evidence that Professor Gates is not terribly well aware of different centuries: sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, who really cares.

The blogger Dan Riehl started investigating something else. Apparently the good professor runs a charity, whose finances leave something to be desired in clarity and transparency. The story was picked up by others on the internet and there has been some movement. The Inkwell Foundation is amending its tax returns for 2007. Even so, eyebrows might be raised about money being paid out to Professor Gates's fiancee.

All the information appeared on various blogs and websites; a great battle is being waged and the media is finding that the days of Walter Cronkite are well and truly over. When do we get to that stage over here?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Politicized science? Surely not

This summer is turning out to be fairly cold and wet in Britain, under average in North America and about average in Europe. Have not checked temperatures in Asia but shall do for an update. In other words, nothing to prove that the ever-threatened AGW climate change is having any effect on the weather as it has been promised for years.

Furthermore, ever more scientists are coming out of the closet, so to speak, and the whole theory of global warming is having a bad time, what with their spokespersons refusing to debate the subject openly but relying on smear tactics and ad hominem attacks on the messengers.

Not to worry. There is plenty of money from that patient (though ever less patient on the other side of the Pond) milch-cow, the taxpayer, as Dan Mitchell writes on his blog, International Liberty. (Well, I think my title is more stylish but each to their own.)

He calls the posting: "Probably Junk Science, Definitely Politicized Science". The two are often synonymous as the infamous Lysenko case in the Soviet Union demonstrated and as we have seen, on a lower level, with such disasters as the Foot and Mouth epidemic in Britain.

Let's face it, whenever scientific research is funded exclusively by government you are going to have problems. Firstly, there is no government in the world that will give money without strings. You could argue that it is right and proper as the money is the taxpayers' and it should be carefully husbanded but that brings me to my second point, which is that there is no direct link between the funder and the recipient. It is not the taxpayer those scientists are answerable to but to the functionaries who dole out the dosh and who decide, on the basis of their own political preferences, what outcome they want to see.

Finally, in scientific research as in all things, there should be competition. At the very least there should be competition in the funding and structures of the research organizations. One reason why scientific research, in general, has moved ahead faster in the United States (often thanks to British scientists who prefer to work there) is because there is no government monopoly in funding. Except for man-made global warming, unsurprisingly the least acceptable of all "sciences".

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The country's in the very best of hands

I look at our Prime Minister and the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, who will probably be Prime Minister by this time next year and I become profoundly depressed. Then I look across the Pond at the President of the greatest democracy and the leader of the free world and I become terrified.

Powerline explains the latest development in the Obama-Gates saga. Be very afraid.

Compassion is much overrated

When politicians announce that they are compassionate I reach for my wallet because I know that I shall be parted from even more of my hard-earned cash. I also know that a politician's compassion usually means more power for the state, for our elected dictators (though not legislators) and for the unelected regulators.

Therefore, I have been somewhat underwhelmed by the news that the latest recruit to the Tory benches, 27 year old Chloe Smith, MP for North Norwich, is one of the Cameron brand of "compassionate Conservatives". This has been said by too many people for me to link to but Mr Google can help for anyone who wants to read postings and articles.

Compassion is much overrated as a virtue, in any case. It implies a lack of equality as the person who feels compassionate does so from a position of superiority. Sympathy, understanding, empathy are feelings of equality and are, therefore, much harder to achieve; they require knowledge, understanding and imagination as well as humility. "There but for the grace of God go I" is a phrase whose provenance seems doubtful but it sums up well enough the feeling that is most definitely not compassion but something much more useful and admirable.

Ms Smith is not only very young - one of her attractions to the Conservative Party - she is also inexperienced even by the standards of her age. Local school, university, employment by three MPs and a nominal position as management consultant with Deloitte from which she was seconded to the Conservative Party.

How does that compare with the experience of Harry Patch, whose death was announced today? By the time he was 27 he had worked as a plumber, fought in the trenches at Passchendaele, watched his best friends being blown up, was invalided out, married and had two sons, presumably going back to his peacetime employment.

Well, all right, those were unusual times. Few of us have had that kind of experience though many people I know have done as much if not more by the time they were 27. My own life has been remarkably peaceful, born as I was in the wrong place but at the right time.

All the same, by the time I was 27 (yes, yes, it is well in the past) I had lived in four countries and two continents, went to four different schools in three different countries, could speak three languages as a native and another one well, had worked in two different countries, was working on my doctoral thesis while teaching undergraduates. Nothing that can seriously compare to Mr Patch's life or my own parents' experience but still considerably more varied than Ms Smith's.

I know young people of Ms Smith's generation who, on leaving school, taught English in African schools or in China, worked with disabled children in Russia (not easy in a country that lacks a basic humanitarian approach to disability), helped in hospitals for seriously ill children and teenagers, or have already achieved positions of some responsibility in business. What has Ms Smith done that she has the right to feel compassionate? Worked for three Tory MPs and held a nominal position as management consultant with Deloitte from which she was seconded to the Conservative Party.

Men and women, younger than Ms Smith, are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with experience that this ninny can only feel compassionate about but can never understand.

One can go on listing people who have had more experience, have greater knowledge and understanding than Ms Smith (or her chief, the Boy-King of the Conservative Party and his best friend, Georgy-Porgy Osborne) indefinitely. Towards all of them Ms Smith and her party feels compassionate.

There was a time (not a very long one, to be sure, but highly memorable) when the Conservative Party believed that people had the right and the ability, indeed, the duty to run their own lives and the best way a government could help them was by handing back as much as possible of what had been taken away from them.

The family silver was not being sold off as that fatuous old man Harold Macmillan said; it was given or sold to the people who should have the rightful ownership, individual members of the family.

No longer. We now have compassionate Conservatism: people of no knowlege, no understanding, no experience such as Ms Chloe Smith feel that somehow they have the right to patronize us all and to tell us, for our own good, how we should run our lives. Oh yes, and we shall be paying for it all.

Yesterday in Trafalgar Square

So there I was treading my way through Trafalgar Square, trying not to see either the current idiot up on the Fourth Plinth or the largish hut that is disfiguring the square but is necessary for the welfare of all those idiots, when I ran into a small but rather well arranged protest about Iranian arrests and human rights abuses.

Here are a couple of photographs:

Politicians cannot think logically - shock

Given President Obama's propensity to appoint people who have ... ahem ... tax-paying problems to high positions, one would not expect him to hold forth on the evils of tax havens. One would be wrong. After all, our own Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and, even, his Shadow continue to attack tax havens and City bonuses (which are fully taxed) regardless of MPs' financial peccadillos.

Here is the indefatigable Dan Mitchell explaining on YouTube why President Obama is talking through his hat.

Friday, July 24, 2009

More on liberal and illiberal revolutions

In response to my previous posting on liberal and illiberal revolutions I received this comment from Jim Bennett, the guru, if I may put it that way though he will probably hate the word, of Anglospherism and author of "The Anglosphere Challenge":
What is complicating the issue of liberal versus illiberal revolutions is that the English-speaking world has creatd a hybrid liberalism (what Americans now call "liberalism") that preserves the theoretical goal of a world in which individuals are free to pursue their interests as they see fit, but argues that 1) modern circumstanceshave created conditions -- monopolies, "hidden
persuaders", corporate abuse -- that constitute de facto constraints on personal freedom, and 2) the task of government is therefore to create structures that help individuals avoid these constraints -- government intervention to create true free markets. The regulatory philosophies that created anti-trust law, the Interstate Commerce commission, and the Securities and
Exchange Commission are examples. Buried deep within its assumptions, like an insect in amber, is the abstract goal of freemarkets and personal freedom. In practice, of course, it mostly operates illiberally, like socialism.

This began in England in the late nineteenth century, with the leftwing of the Liberal Party. It got picked up in America as part of the Progressive package, and was implemented by Wilson, Hoover, and F D Roosevelt. It was partly eclipsed by Labour social democracy and democratic socialism -- sometimes sectors of the British economy, like the financial sector, were less regulated under Labour than America's,because the Labourites tended to assume they would
just nationalize it soon enough, so why bother creating a regulatory system for it. It was Blair, I think, who really re-imported this strand of liberalism back into British politics.

This situation has many problems, but one is that these illiberal liberals take up the political space in which a genuine liberalism might be flourishing. And all the while they claim to be working forpersonal freedom and true "modern" capitalism.
Jim agrees with me that true liberalism has been almost completely sidelined in Britain and British politics. Bringing it back to the centre will be a very difficult task.

What the above brief analysis leaves out is the role of the EU in the creation of that illiberal liberalism, of which the clearest example is the single market which is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a free market even if it is presented as such.

Far from being some foreign invention imposed on British business, it is, to an astonishing extent a creation of the British negotiators and representatives. This, naturally, leads us to the problem of the Conservative party and government, as guilty as Blair's NuLab of creating the illiberal liberal structure of a supposed free economy run by government regulations.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Well, somebody has to say it

In the post today is the current newsletter of The Fishermen's Association Ltd, a stalwart organization that has been fighting the Common Fisheries Policy for many a long year. Oh woops, got it wrong. Were we not told by the Taxpayers' Alliance that nobody actually paid any attention to the CFP until they decided to do so?

Sadly, FAL does not seem to have a website so I cannot link to it. Hmm, maybe I can make myself useful here.

Anyway, the newsletter has a splendid lead article, which I am going to have to type up, since I want as many people as possible outside FAL to read it:
CFP reform hopes are naive

On 16 June FAL Chairman Sandy Patience accompanied by Director James Buchan (also Scottish Ship Chanlers Association Chairman) and Roddy McColl met Conservative MSP John Scott, the Shadow Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment to discuss the Green Paper on the CFP review.

The stated policy of the Conservative party is "to work to reform the Common Fisheries Policy to achieve a fair deal for our fishermen".

We pointed out the impossibility of reforming a policy that has the fundamental princple of equal access to the common resource at its heart coupled with the exclusive competence for all living marine resources residing with the EU.

There is a somewhat naive and disturbing view abroad that the Green paper is a once in a lifetime opportunity to radically reform the current disgraced fisheries management system that has caused such misery for the UK fleet and fishing communities and also that Treaty obligations can be negotiated away.

FAL explained that rather than the Commission seeking to devolve decision making responsibility, which legally cannot be achieved as the principle of subisidarity does not apply to issues subject to exclusive competence, the real objective is to extend the Commission's powers as it proposes to impose sanctions on Member States, which do not comply with CFP objectives.

Such sanctions would take the form of suspension or reduction of EU funding, closure of the fisheries concerned or deduction of quotas and refusal of transfer and/or exchange of Member States' quotas.

Up to now, such measures were not foreseen in Community legislation, and the Commission resorted to the normal course of infringement proceedings before the Court of Justice (ECJ) against Member States allegedly not fulfilling their obligations.

However, the system now proposed, whereby the Commission both establishes a violation of EC law by a Member State and imposes sanctions, appears to contravene the logic of division of powers within the Community.
Apart from having some doubts about that logic of division of powers within the Community (but it sounds good) I could not have put it better myself. I wonder whether the Conservative MSPs listened to FAL. I wonder whether the Conservative Party as a whole, not to mention its front organizations, such as Open Europe and the Taxpayers' Alliance are interested in this pithy summary of the situation. I think I can guess the answer.

From the horse's mouth?

Well, so to speak. After all, President Medvedev is President Prime Minister Putin's teddy bear (mishka) not his horse. On June 30 Kyiv Post had an interesting article on a speech the Russian President had given in January to an expanded session of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). He was thanking the FSB for their activity in Ukraine and Georgia aimed at preventing those two countries from joining NATO in the near future.

The issue here is not whether Ukraine or Georgia should become part of NATO but whether it should be Russia that makes that decision. By any standard of international law (in its real sense not what any UN or tranzi official might say) those are independent countries that should be making important decisions of that kind themselves.

As for NATO, it should not be dancing to the tune played by master piper Putin but conducting negotiations and making decisions about possible further enlargement according to what is right for itself and its members.

Read the whole article. It gives an interesting historical background of the way Russian, Soviet and then Russian authorities have played the "Jewish" card to undermine Ukrainian nationalist movements. Given the blatant anti-semitism of the late Stalinist period (something you do not hear much about) and various other parts of Russian history, this has a certain grim irony.

Liberal and illiberal revolutions

John O'Sullivan, quondam speech writer to Margaret Thatcher, editor of National Review and, subsequently, of The National Interest, at present Executive Editor of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and a man I seem to quote fairly frequently, had a recent article on NR digital [to which one needs a subscription so I am not linking], entitled "Revolutionay Types"

This is not an analysis of personalities like Mikhail Bakunin or Pyotr Tkachev, not even of the usual suspects, Lenin, Mao, Hitler and Che but of the types of revolutions the modern world has seen. There are, Mr O'Sullivan points out, quoting among others, former Italian President Francesco Cossiga who, back in 1991 spoke about two kinds of revolution: liberal and illiberal with the East European "velvet" ones being definitely in the first category. (Since then Signor Cossiga has made some rather more controversial statements.)

The article's starting point is the recent and still fitfully continuing Iranian uprising, which will have to be judged fully in the future but which, at present, shows signs of being at the very least the starting point of a liberal revolution unlike that of the 1979 one, which was from the very beginning an illiberal one.

If violence is the test in Iran, it points clearly to two conclusions: The 1979 Iranian Revolution was an anti-liberal revolution and the 2009 demonstrations may be at least the start of a liberal one. The first point scarcely needs arguing — Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution used violence to topple the shah, violence to entrench its rule, violence against original supporters whom it exiled, and violence against the Iranian people at regular intervals. Its current use of violence against people demonstrating peacefully in opposition to the stealing of an election merely underlines its anti-liberal nature. What is less clear is whether the 2009 revolution is liberal in

Khomeini's 1979 revolution established what an earlier age would have described as "a mixed regime." It combined a limited democracy with a supervisory system of religious guardians. These ensured that any political debate or reform would take place within the regime's rules of Islamist orthodoxy. Thus, candidates were allowed to compete in this year's presidential
election only on condition that they were supporters of the Islamic revolution. If there was a difference between them before the election — and there was — it was over economic topics, on which the main challenger, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, represented a pragmatic approach and Ahmadinejad a more populist one.

That was before the election, however. Since then the street demonstrators have shouted slogans that clearly indicated a rejection of the current Islamist rule in favor of some sort of moderate liberal democracy (probably one with Islamic tinges, on the model of the AKP government in Turkey). The supreme leader's brutal rejection of these complaints has liberalized the crowds still further. It looks as if they now want the end of the anti-liberal Islamist regime. And Mousavi, a moderate revolutionary in the anti-liberal camp, finds himself marching at the head of a liberal revolution.
Let us, however, look at the wider issues. The three obviously liberal revolutions were the 1688 Glorious Revolution in Britain, the 1776 one in America and the 1989-1990 ones in Eastern Europe. The two main illiberal revolutions were the French Revolution of 1789 and the Bolshevik coup of 1917 (the actual Revolution of 1917 being liberal in intent but becoming anarchy immediately).

There is a problem with the French Revolution in that its early leaders thought that they were actually enacting liberal British and American ideas but these did not have the same outcome in France for a number of reasons. Subsequent developments turned those early days of liberalism into a totalitarian nightmare.

Mr O'Sullivan defines the basic difference thus:
Whereas the Anglo-Americans saw liberty as a system of government that allowed people to pursue different ways of life, their Continental imitators saw it as a particular way of life that, if necessary, might have to be imposed on those mistakenly enslaved to tradition, religion, inequality, or whatever. Eradicating tradition, religion, inequality, or anything else to which people are strongly attached, however, requires abolishing their freedom, usually bloodily. Hence the revolution of 1789 became more plainly anti-liberal and more violent as it
ground relentlessly on.
There are other issues such as the different views of violence: an unfortunate necessity to be used very sparingly or a concept to be worshipped for its own sake. However, one cannot deny the crucial difference between the two understandings of liberty.

Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to insist that those two concepts are as separate as one would like them to be, no matter what British eurosceptics might repeat ad nauseam. Looking at the growing tea-party movement in the United States and the ever stronger grass-roots opposition to Obamacare (a proposed health care system that is going to be considerably more socialist and oppressive than the British one) I would say that these ideas are alive and well on the other side of the Pond.

(According to Jammiewearingfool, who quotes various sources, President Obama has been reduced to using the Violet Elizabeth Bott argument. "I'll thcream and thcream until I am thick." Let us hope Congressmen are made of sterner stuff than Mr and Mrs Bott or the Outlaws who generally let Violet Elizabeth get away with everything.)

In Britain, on the other hand, we have a serious problem with almost all political parties, the entire MSM and a good deal of the rather frivolous blogosphere as well as public opinion.

We are frequently told in a somewhat lachrymose fashion that Britain fought two wars (as if Britain's fighting was limited to just two wars) to preserve freedom and democracy. Well, that's as may be.

We have also been told that the second of those two wars (which were the only ones Britain fought in this century until she got to Iraq and Afghanistan and pigs might fly) was also fought to create "a new order", "a new Britain". That certainly happened. The consensus of the time, wrong as a consensus always is, that there was no way back to the old values and the new kind of war that included the whole population deserved a new kind of peace.

Well, we got that new kind of peace and are still living with it. Unfortunately, it really did mean what it said: a discarding of all the old values, the notion of "liberty as a system of government that allowed people to pursue different ways of life". Liberty is now seen as a particular system, a set of rights and privilieges granted by the government to the people.

Just how long are we going to go along with it?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Forty years ago

Neil Armstrong was the first man to step on the Moon at 2.56 am GMT on July 21, 1969. Here is that well-known video of the small step for man and giant step for mankind.

So far, none of those steps have led to anything much and the debate is raging (at least over on the other side of the Pond) about the usefulness of the Moon landing. But I recall the excitement at the time and the sense that we have achieved something spectacular.

Of course, there are the moonbats who consider that it was all a hoax, set up in some laboratory or studio or whatever. One wonders whether those people ever acknowledge any reality at all. Here is a wonderful video of Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the Moon dealing with one such idiot. Enjoy.

Monday, July 20, 2009

No, it was not a landslide

Readers of this blog and of EUReferendum would have noticed that I am not a great fan of President Obama's. Yes, it is personal: I dislike politicians who have no knowledge or understanding and who are so obsessed with a few ideas that they try to impose them on people by hook or by crook. Furthermore, I do not like his attempts to behave as if he were a ruling monarch and not the president of the greatest democracy in the world.

However, I cannot argue with the obvious fact that he won last year's election decisively. That, however, is not the same as winning with a landslide. President Obama got 52.9 per cent of the vote and carried 28 states as well as Washington DC but you would expect that. The Republican who could carry Washington DC has not been born.

That compares reasonably but not overwhelmingly with the 2004 election when President Bush got 50.7 per cent of the vote and carried 31 states. Not Washington DC, naturally enough.

What does a landslide look like? Well how about President Reagan in 1984 getting 58.8 per cent of the vote and carrying 49 states? Or President Nixon in 1972 getting 60.7 per cent of the vote and carrying 49 states?

It seems that the Obama victory is further from a landslide even than we thought. According to the census, although the number of those who voted went up from 2004 by 5 million voters, the actual proportion went down somewhat: from 63.8 per cent to 63.6. Not a huge drop, admittedly, but it does put pay to the notion that Barack Obama's presence galvanized the people of the United States.

He is merely a politician and from Chicago at that, not the Messiah.

Talk amongst yourselves

Several things need blogging about and there is not enough time. There is Walter Cronkite's death as well as Leszek Kolakowski's and the need to weigh up their separate achievements, Cronkite's, I am glad to say, collapsing as we speak.

I have been reminded that not enough has been written about Honduras and western reaction to the ousting of the president who was attempting to undermine the country's constitution.

Then there are the anniversaries: today is the anniversary of the July Plot, the unsuccessful attempt on Hitler's life; tomorrow is the anniversary of Neil Armstrong making that small step for man and giant step for mankind.

As I said, talk amongst yourselves while I get my thoughts together.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Memorial interrupts its work in Chechnya

After the kidnapping and murder of Natalya Estemirova some attention is once again being paid to Chechnya. Not a lot. After all, no football team was expected to visit Grozny and not celeb will be spotted having a jolly time in the Chechnyan mountains.

The bad news is that Memorial, the organization that Ms Estemirova was working for when she was murdered, has decided to suspend its operations in Chechnya, citing the understandable reason that they cannot jeopardize their employees' lives.

Oleg Orlov, Director of Memorial, has already accused the Chechnyan President, Ramzan Kadyrev, who, in turn, pronounced himself to be shocked by the murder and promised a top-level investigation. It is not clear whether this will be a separate investigation from the one President Medvedev has promised.

President Kadyrev has also stated that there was no benefit to his government from Ms Estemirova's murder, which may well have been carried out by people who wanted to undermine it as well as the government of Ingushetia. Judging by some responses on the BBC Russian Service website, this theory is gaining ground at least among people who take part in those discussions. Another version of it is that the murder was carried out by Western secret services (any one will do) for reasons not specified. Presumably, just because everybody hates Russia and wants to do it down.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for President Kadyrev expressed the government's regret at Memorial's decision, adding that it was a clearly politicized one.

How much navel gazing can we do?

By anybody's standard the news of those bombs in Indonesia are important and horrific, though not as horrific, perhaps, as the attacks in Bombay were some months ago. The latest information that South-East Asia's most wanted terrorist was almost certainly behind it ought to ramp up the interest.

So why were so many of the headlines in the British newspapers yesterday about it being a "Manchester United drama"? I accept that people find it easier to relate to horrors in far-off countries if there are British people involved; mysteriously, people find it even easier if some British celebs of whatever calibre are involved. But, Manchester United were NOT there. They were NOT anywhere near the place. They were planning to go to one of the hotels where the bombs went off very soon but now they are not going. How is it a drama that involves ManU?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Always good to see ...

... a rational analysis by an American blog of politics in some European countries. Not European politics, because that is a completely separate issue and has to do with the European Union. In fact, as I have tried to explain to my friends from across the Pond, there really is no such thing as European politics.

It is natural for people to image, that is to see other countries' politics as a mirror image of their own. Many do it here about American politics and get things badly wrong; many do it in America about politics in Europe and get it badly wrong.

For example the row between Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch and Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs that went on and on about parties like Vlaam Belang left me cold. American commentators, I opined, should leave European political parties alone.

However, I now amend that opinion. Here is an excellent analysis of the real fascism in European countries by Paul Mirengoff of Powerline. Possibly, it is a warning for his American colleagues not to rush into judgement on the basis of completely erroneous analysis that the MSM tends to produce (a warning we should take to heart as far as American politics is concerned). But it is well worth reading.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Natalya Estemirova

On the one hand, of course, the news of Natalya Estemirova's murder in Chechnya or Ingushetia (kidnapped in Grozny but body found over the boundary) puts our own pathetically small problems into perspective. On the other hand, it adds to the small total of cosmic depression.

For me, personally, the news was made worse by the fact that less than a year ago I heard her speak and met her after a fashion. A lively, amusing, courageous and very beautiful lady, who has now been murdered, probably by one of the government-backed militias with the possible involvement of some Russian troops.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Some (not very pleasant) thoughts

Blogging has been light for three reasons. One is that I am finding it hard to shake last week's cold off. No, it is not flu of any kind but a bad and lasting cold can be debilitating, too.

Secondly, life seems to be filled with existential doubts. Put another way, I am experiencing what John Buchan calls frowstiness. His characters fall prey to this periodically, sometimes going as far as doubting whether what they do is of any use to anyone at all. Sir Edward Leithen is particularly given to this mild form of accidie, as I found myself remembering in the last few days, while re-reading the adventures.

Thirdly, I have managed to get hold of Glenn Reynolds's "An Army of Davids", a book that did extremely well on the other side of the Pond but was not, naturally enough, published here. After all, it deals with completely new and hard to predict developments in politics, economics and society in general. I bought it in a charity shop, complete with a bookmark from the wonderful New York second-hand bookshop, Strand.

The book is as good as one would expect from the author of Instapundit, but it has raised some gloomy thoughts about Britain and, in particular, about the blogosphere. Unlike our American cousins and allies we seem to have achieved very little. Worse, we have allowed the blogosphere to become an outlet of the big media. As one looks around at the most-read and most-commented-on blogs, they are, with very few exceptions, part of already existing media outlets: BBC, Guardian, Telegraph, Spectator et al.

Other successful bloggers are also turning themselves into journalists. That would not matter - revolving doors might be a good idea if they retained their blogging identity. But they spend a good deal of their time having conversations with the big media bloggers. The take-over some of us, independent bloggers, feared a couple of years ago, has actually taken place.

That is a most depressing thought. It is time to rethink the situation.

Friday, July 10, 2009

You say something often enough

Abraham Lincoln famously maintained that you cannot fool all of the people all of the time and he was probably right. The trouble is that the partial fooling of some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time can be quite dangerous.

For some time I have maintained on EUReferendum and other outlets that Russia is not becoming a great power again in any real sense of the world but it is important for President Prime Minister Putin and his teddy bear (mishka), President Medvedev to jump up and down, scream abuse, bully whenever they can and, above all, maintain that Russia is surrounded by enemies or, at least, faces enemies in the West (thus avoiding the issue of the real threat in the East) in order to preserve his their power and the power of the political elite that depends on that unequal duo.

It seems that this line is working with Russians. At least, it works with some Russians and, no doubt, some of the time it works with all or most Russians.

Yesterday, the House of Commons Defence Selec Committee published its Tenth Report, "Russia: a new confrontation?". On the whole, the report is well balanced and I shall do a proper fisking of it in due course.

One particular item has excited attention in the media both here and in other countries. Under the heading "Military Posture" the Committee discusses recent behaviour of the Russian military and the Russian air force. By and large, the conclusion is that a good deal of it is not really a threat, merely posturing.

The issue discussed by the BBC Russian Service this afternoon with my participation was unauthorized flights by military flights into NATO airspace. Apart from the occasional overwrought media report nobody sees this as a military threat but it is not the action of a friendly power and, in any case, presents civil aviation with some problems.

The Committee concludes on this issue:
Russia's unauthorised flights into international airspace, including the UK's flight information region, do not pose a direct security threat to NATO or the UK; nevertheless, they are not the actions of a friendly nation and risk escalating tension. A further issue is that Russia's actions threaten the safety of civil flights and risk leading to serious accidents; Russia should not be
making such flights without informing the appropriate authorities. The Government should take a more robust approach in making clear to Russia that its continued secret incursions by military aircraft into international airspace near to the UK is not acceptable behaviour. The Government should call on NATO to ensure that it monitors and assesses the threat posed by unauthorised Russian military flights into NATO and international airspace near to NATO's territorial perimeter.
The discussion was enlivened by some seriously lunatic comments by Russian experts and by the usual mixture of braggadaccio and self-pity. One particular expert could not understand what the fuss was about as Russia and Britain have been allies for three hundred years (well, more or less I'd say and often less rather than more). When asked whether that did not mean that Russia should cease its incursions he showed some indignation: the idea of Russia actually showing consideration for other countries was ridiculous. People should not make such a fuss.

The most interesting part was the two minute Vox Pop section with questions asked on the streets of Moscow. Of the dozen or so people only one suggested that the government should be paying attention to the economic situation of the country and the lives of the people if it really wanted Russia to be a great country.

All the others maintained, without clearly understanding what was being discussed, that Russia had every right to train its pilots where it wanted to and it was very important to show that it was once again a great and powerful country that can defend itself because clearly people wanted to attack it.

As to who might be lining up to attack it remained undiscussed as did the undoubted fact that Russia's military might is very low-grade at the moment. Let us not forget that during last year's war in Georgia the Caucasian army could not be relied on and an elite regiment from the Moscow area had to be thrown into the rather limited battles. Nor did Russia ever admit precisely how many aeroplanes it lost in the conflict.

Nevertheless, the dual myth of Russia rising from her knees to show the world its mettle and Russia the victim of ruthless enemies who are waiting to destroy it seems to have taken root in the Russian psyche. Not a happy thought.

Dangerous times

By and large I do not agree that the world is more dangerous now than it has ever been, any more than I accept that the relationship between the West and its various enemies, such as militant Islam is now worse than ever in history. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries spring to mind.

As far as powerful and determined totalitarian states are concerned, the twentieth century was far worse for all concerned. However, what we are grappling with at this moment is a complete lack of leadership in the West. Not weak leadership, not poor leadership but no leadership.

In Britain we have a Prime Minister who is completely uninterested in foreign matters and a Foreign Secretary who is incapable of saying anything; the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition seems not to understand that there is more to the world than the odd skiing resort. I have no time now to go into another set of vituperations about the Shadow Foreign Secretary, whose one idea of policy is let us detach ourselves from the United States. Everything else is covered in mist.

We can discard the EU and most of its member states. The ones that do try to speak up for freedom and democracy (not Britain) are shouted down (by Britain among others).

That leaves the United States. President Bush was mocked for his speeches in which he exalted freedom and democracy. Well, now we have President Obama and the less said about his speeches on foreign affairs the better.

Both in Cairo and in Moscow he has produced the sort of vapid, unhistorical bilge that we have come to expect from the man who cheerfully spoke of 57 states, people speaking Austrian and mentioned twice that his uncle helped to liberate Auschwitz.

Claudia Rossett analyzes the Moscow speech and gives it very low marks. (Barack's Teleprompter is also unimpressed by the Big Guy's memory failure about his first meeting with Michelle.)

President Obama seems to treat his official visits as family holidays, refusing to spend more time than is absolutely necessary with his hosts, in order to have romantic dinners with Michelle in Paris or chill out with his family in Moscow. That is not funny. Why is he dragging his daughters round these trips? If he thinks they are too young to be left with the various nannies and their grandmother in the White House he should have waited till they were older before pounding so hard after the presidency. Neither the Russian negotiators nor the Russian people are likely to be impressed by behaviour that reminds them all of their own leaders at their worst.

His behaviour over Honduras and the support he has given automatically to President Zelaya who is best friends with Hugo Chavez and was working towards undermining the Honduran constitution and democratic structure is chilling.

The lack of reasonable response to North Korea and Iran is frightening and the lukewarm support for the brave and persistent opponents of Ahmadinejad makes one long for the days of almost any other president of recent decades. The question is, what motivates Obama in all this? Does he genuinely not know or understand what is going on or does he really prefer dictators wherever they happen to be?

Caroline Glick, not my favourite columnist, is, for once, quite restrained. Like many others, she compares Obama's behaviour with that of President Reagan when the Communist world began to shake. Not surprisingly, she finds the Messiah somewhat wanting in ability, understanding and clarity.
The models for overthrowing the regimes in Teheran and Pyongyang are not new. Modified versions were successfully implemented just twenty-odd years ago. The model for Iran is Poland circa 1981. The model for North Korea is East Germany in 1989.

Unfortunately, whereas in the 1980s the leaders of the Free World were committed to winning the Cold War against the Soviet Union by securing the freedom of those who lived under Communism's jackboot, today, led by Obama, the Free World behaves as though the Berlin Wall fell of its own devices. The will of free men and women risking everything to oppose tyranny had nothing to do with it, we are told. If we care about peace, we should appease the likes of Ahmadinejad and Kim, not bring them down.
Of course, there were many who thought at the time that we should be appeasing Soviet leaders instead of supporting their opponents. They are, unfortunately, have not gone away and in President Obama as well as Secretary of State Clinton they have acquired politicians who will listen to them, being themselves natural appeasers.

As my American friends say, it's going to be a long four years. The last six months feel very long.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The women of Gaza

The most extraordinary aspect of modern feminism is their insane support for all sorts of anti-Western, anti-American and anti-Israeli countries and organizations. Why should anyone who cares about women's rights and liberties be on the side of Israel, for instance? Because it is the only country in the Middle East where those rights and liberties are taken for granted. What of Gaza, the non-functioning Palestinian state that so many people spend their time supporting?

Here is Phyllis Chessler on the story of the journalist and writer Asma'a Al-Ghoul, who has written very movingly at the rapid enslavement of the Palestinian women, who had been among the best educated, most advanced of the female Arab population.

Ms Chessler tells of what happened when Asma'a was on the beach and wore nothing but jeans and a t-shirt. Immodesty, followed by arrest and the beating up of her male companions, as well as threats of further action. She also publishes the first part of Asma'a Al-Ghoul's own essay. It is one of the most depressing documents I have seen for a long time but, I suspect, that American and British feminist writers and organizations will continue to lambast Israel and, probably, President Sarkozy for starting a movement to ban the burqua.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Apologies ...

... for a slightly prolonged silence. A nasty bout of cold meant that I did very little on Sunday except lounge around and watch Gary Cooper and one of my great favourites, Barbara Stanwyck in "Meet John Doe", a film I have been meaning to see for some time but one that has turned out to be a little disappointing. Some great lines and scenes in it, though.

Monday was spent in bed, reading old favourites like John Buchan's "The Power-House", which is better, in my opinion, than "The Thirty-Nine Steps". But it is all a matter of taste.

Back in action today, even more so tomorrow.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Not sure what to make of it

Sarah Palin's resignation has sent everyone into a tailspin, which just shows that she is still the most interesting politician on the American scene. There are those who think that she is now finished but, as we know, many a politician outside the usual suspects, such as Ronald Reagan, has been written off prematurely.

Others think that she has done the right thing for that 2012 presidential campaign. This way she can become more of a national figure, get people accustomed to her rather than the vicious slurs that the MSM and the various feminist organizations have been casting around, maybe borrow President Obama's ghost writer and teleprompter. After all, her life has been considerably more interesting than his.

Obviously, I am hoping she will be back. There are not that many politicians even among the Republicans who can be described as being small government; there are not that many politicians anywhere who have her grit and determination, who have risen quite genuinely from the bottom, just as it is supposed to happen but so rarely does in the United States; there are not that many women politicians with a good chance of reaching the White House, especially as one surveys the misogynistic anti-Hillary and anti-Sarah campaigns of last year.

On the other hand, I can understand why she might not want to carry on. Who on earth would like to have aging, prurient stand-up comedians make jokes about their 14-year old daughter being raped? Who would like endless analyses as to whether her youngest, disabled child is actually hers? Who would want to be told that she ought to have aborted that child because disabled people have no right to exist? These are only the most egregious of the vicious personal attacks aimed at Ms Palin and her family.

This Bloomberg report sums up the various opinions and there is a lively discussion going on at the NRO Corner. Mark Steyn is pessimistic about the political scene as well as Palin's possible future role:

Most of those who sneer at Sarah Palin have no desire to live her life. But why not try to - what's the word? - "empathize"? If you like Wasilla and hunting and snowmachining and moose stew and politics, is the last worth giving up everything else in the hopes that one day David Letterman and Maureen Dowd might decide Trig and Bristol and the rest are sufficiently non-risible to enable you to prosper in their world? And, putting aside the odds, would you really like to be the person you'd have to turn into under that scenario?

National office will dwindle down to the unhealthily singleminded (Clinton, Obama), the timeserving emirs of Incumbistan (Biden, McCain) and dynastic heirs (Bush). Our loss.

I have long ago worked out the best response to stupid and ignorant British attacks on Sarah Palin, based on information culled from low-grade reports by British correspondents in Washington. Cheerfully, I tell those people that I don't have their class hang-ups and can, therefore, look at the person and what he has achieved. Then I leave before they can work it out.

Still, Victor Davis Hanson gives a more cheerful prognostication. We can but hope.

July 4, 1776

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Procrustes and the study of history

David Solway, the Canadian author and essayist, has an interesting posting on Pajamas Media about history being manipulated to suit modern prejudices. He calls it Procrustean history after the mythical robber and his famous bed.

I particularly liked his no-holds-barred description of President Obama's infamous and historically ignorant speech in Cairo:
It is replete with distortions, fabrications, lacunae, misconceptions, inaccuracies, lies, exaggerations, and outright historical fallacies. There is scarcely a passage without its resident howler.
Couldn't have put it better myself. In fact, I probably could not do so.

The only problem with the theory is that Procrusteanism has always been rife in the study of history. At any time there was a tendency to stretch historical studies or to chop bits off to suit the current mode of thinking. The difference is that it was rarely based on quite so little knowledge and quite so much wishful thinking.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Who decides on excellence?

The New Culture Forum has just launched a report about the Arts Council England in which various recommendations are made that would, if followed through, abolish ACE as it is not so affectionately known. Of course, the Conservatives will do nothing of the kind. As Ed Vaizey the Shadow Culture Commissar explained at great length during the launch, they do not think this is a fight worth picking. Many of us disagree.

Marc Sidwell, the author of the report, has gone through various other reports and attempted reforms of an organization that has become bloated and bureaucratic (something that surely could have been predicted from the outset).

In Section 3, “An Arts Council in Crisis” he describes several rather unpleasant funding stories, including the scandalous tale of The Public in West Bromwich, now deceased after swallowing £30 million of public and another £30 million of private business money.

He then proceeds:
In January 2008, the DCMS [Department of Culture, Media and Sport, a somewhat redundant organization that creates unnecessary jobs for politicians and civil servants] produced the McMaster Review. It was asked to outline how British public arts policy could better promote artistic excellence. The very need for that brief (and the enthusiasm with which the report was received) is an indictment of established practice by that point. After 10 years of a supposedly golden age, arts funding had been drifting toward the politically correct (or at least politically expedient) rather than the aesthetically rewarding. And this had become a national commonplace.
That really sums up the problem but not quite in the way it is phrased. The question that should have been asked is not “how” but “whether”: can British public arts policy promote artistic excellence at all, never mind better promote? The truth is that those supposed ten golden years of the arts are very questionable, indeed, and have been questioned by all serious commentators from Norman Lebrecht to Brian Sewell (well, he can be serious).

Yes, we have wonderful exhibitions but do we have good or interesting artists. A walk round the RA Summer Exhibition yesterday confirmed my view that visual art is still living off the exciting developments of the early twentieth century.

Our theatres show mostly musicals and rarely manage to get filled (though according to Nick Starr, Executive Director of the National Theatre, it is in America that there is no good theatre at all) but can be said to be quite good. Who is the best and most popular playwright? Sir Tom Stoppard who has had little to do with the ten golden years.

Above all, there is the question of how one defines artistic excellence. If individuals and groups of individuals pay for works of art, they exercise their idea of excellence or simple attractiveness. If individuals or groups of individuals subsidize events or structures (the Travelex deal in the National Theatre that allows the public to buy tickets for £10 or £25 springs to mind) they exercise their own ideas of what is worth promoting and, if it is a business, the best way of advertising themselves.

A group of bureaucrats, spending the taxpayer’s money will not be doing any of those things as their aim is, by definition, promote certain policies, whether they have been defined by politicians or officials. Only if we assume that artistic excellence is part of an ideological system can the two be connected.