Friday, November 10, 2006

Another Hiatus for Debating

I'm judging at the Oxford IV this weekend. Normal service will be resumed, hopefully with an enlightening post about the politics of climate change, on Saturday night or Sunday morning depending on when I can find my way back to London.

Ekklesia's Ugly Pacifism

Ekklesia's logic in arguing for the white poppy is desperately weak. The red poppy is no call for war, remembrance day is not a paen to how effective war is but simply a reminder of those who have suffered and died in our name. If you think we were not right to fight the Great War then surely that suffering could be just as worthy of remembrance and empathy?

Ekklesia's comparing themselves to the "No More War Movement" of the twenties who asked the Royal British Legion to print No More War on the actual poppies is significant. The Royal British Legion did not reject the No More War slogan because it is pacifist, I doubt they would print "War Solves Problems" on the poppy either, but because it politiscises a non-political event. Similarly, the problem people have with the white poppy isn't that it is pacifist but that it is hijacking a non-political remembering of those that have suffered, the wearing of poppies on Remembrance Day, to a political cause, the pacifist movement. This is cynical and unprincipled. If pacifists want to "raise awareness" they are, of course, welcome to but there is no need to make this a competitor to or dilution of the red poppy movement.

While I'm discussing this I should note that I consider pacifism a bad principle. If pacifism is nothing more than arguing that war is often costly then it adds nothing to old utilitarianism. If it is to mean something deeper then it has to mean that even if the calculation were that a war would cost ten thousand lives and not going to war would cost ten thousand and one peace would still be preferable. Of course, there is uncertainty but this goes both ways. The idea that war is morally worse relies upon a special kind of moral cowardice, that death over a longer period or that we are only passively responsible for is preferable because it endangers our righteousness less.

The Terrorist Threat

Reuters Alertnet reports that the Director General of MI5 is tracking at least thirty terrorist plots. Five major plots have been foiled since 7/7. I think it is now moving beyond doubt that the frontline in the War on Terror in the West proper is not the US but here. There is no large homegrown population of discontented Muslims in the US like there is here and that means that the threat has to come from abroad. We are not so lucky and that changes the scale of that danger.

It would appear that our intelligence services are doing a good job. However, it would also seem likely that, sooner or later, another major attack will get through.

Yesterday evening I attended an LSESU Question Time society discussion at which the topic of a rumoured government request for universities to watch for radicalism came up. Sajjad Khan opposed this as asking people to spy on each other and then threw in a few other examples of similar government requests such as Reid's call for parents to watch their children. There was an almost pathetic myopia to what Khan was saying. Here were ministers trying to plot the moderate course of, not asking people to spy on each other - that implies something more, but just to keep an eye out for anything suspicious which is pretty standard practice when facing a violent threat. If Khan's condemnation contributes to an atmosphere that people feel they are "spying" for the government if they report something suspicious that might inadvertently allow something horrible to happen. If something horrible happens it seems likely Khan will wind up remembering the kind of moderate measures that Labour ministers are asking for now with real nostalgia.

Also, I asked the speakers whether they thought that, if a book with contents similar to the Satanic Verses were to emerge today it would be published and should be legal that it be published. Khan's response was no and, after some meandering, no claiming that this was analagous to libel and incitement to hatred legislation. His calls for liberalism lost what little credibility they might have had.

Update: Reading the full story in the Sun it is considerably stronger even than the description I sourced from Reuters.

A wonderfully simple analysis of the US mid terms

There is something sensible about this analysis from Kevin Drum (via The American Scene):

. . . I want to add one more thing so simple-minded that I'm almost embarrassed to mention it. Here it is: if you pursue popular policies, you win. If you pursue unpopular policies, you lose. Ideology is secondary.

In George Bush's first term, Republicans passed tax cuts, No Child Left Behind, campaign finance reform, Sarbanes-Oxley, a Medicare prescription drug plan, went to war against Afghanistan and Iraq, and appointed a bunch of conservative judges. Liberals may not have liked all of this stuff, but all of it polled pretty well. They were popular policies.

In Bush's second term, Republicans pursued Social Security privatization, made a spectacle over Terri Schiavo, and fiddled while New Orleans drowned. In addition, they passed a bankruptcy bill and an energy bill that didn't win them any points with rank-and-file voters, fought over immigration legislation, and refused to even allow a vote on widely supported measures like a minimum wage increase. This did not exactly reflect the popular will.

It isn't exactly intellectual hence, perhaps, why it has been so little remarked on in the wider post election discussion but this description makes a lot of sense.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Interest Rates

Interest rates have risen to 5%. I think pretty much everyone saw this coming; certainly very little has happened to the pound. I remain convinced, however, that the case for interest rises is still moderate. Today statistics were released suggesting that the trade deficit is narrowing (bar some concerns about the numbers); this does not suggest an overheating economy.

The US Elections

I'm quite aware of a US election sized hole in this blog's coverage. Essentially I don't think anyone has a convincing generalisation of what went on in the US elections yet. Everyone is using the election as crutch for the exact same views they had before the election and none of these "another piece in the jigsaw" analyses seem much more convincing than the others.

Over at the Corner they had a buzzing, but at times rather sad, argument with most arguing that the solution was more conservatism. At least one Democrat is arguing that this shows the Republicans can only win with a big government platform. The European coverage is emphasising Iraq.

Jonah Goldberg, again on the Corner, summarises the situation well with a quote from a 1986 National Review editorial:
"Elections are the Rorschach blots of punditry. No matter how enigmatic their contours, everyone sees in them his own preoccupations."

Israel vs. France

What the world really, really doesn't need right now is for the following to happen: An Israeli plane buzzes a French UN position in the Lebanon. The French troops are working under new rules of engagement which encourage them to treat Lebanon as their turf which the Israelis have no right to infringe upon. The French shoot down the Israeli plane.

The Israelis are utterly incensed, see this as a part of a general European quasi-conspiracy to side with the Palestinians and undermine their ability to defend themselves. The pilot becomes a national martyr and symbol of the fact that Israel can't rely on the West. By contrast, the French get just as angry that peacekeepers they see as attempting to protect Israel from Hizbollah attacks have been forced into this position by Israel's provocative actions.

This hasn't happened but this BBC report suggests it well could.

What the West, and by extension the world, really needs right now, with the credibility of our power as a deterrent hurt by Iraq, is a demonstration of unity. What it doesn't need is for a mid-ranking member of, what should be, a combined front of the Western powers getting in a spat with the American client in an important region. It would appear there has been some, long overdue, thawing in Franco-Israeli relations with a French minister acknowledging the security success of the Israeli wall. Both the French and the Israelis need to show some restraint and avoid making a collosal mess.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Ancestor Worship vs. Utilitarianism

This article is gives the lie to the left's claims to be the empathic side of the ideological divide.

"A genealogist speaking to the Times at the weekend commented: "It is not just about collecting names. It is about understanding who you are, and how you came to be who you are today. It is about knowing yourself." Superficially that doesn't mean much - in the furthest reaches of the nature/nurture debate, nobody has ever suggested one's distant second cousin could be anything more than a curiosity. And yet that tells you all you need to know about the kind of person who family-trees for a hobby - who thinks that's time well spent, getting to "know yourself, understand who you are". If therapy is for people with more money than sense, genealogy is for those with more time than either."

Part of how people understand their lives is by comparison with others, those around them and those who have gone before. Sure, the details you get through geneolocial research aren't great but still it gives some context to our existence. While this is "pointless" in the ugly, utilitarian, sense it is, to go back to Socratic first principles, an entirely legitimate part of the examination of our lives which makes them worth living.

The left claims to be the emphathic side of the political divide. It "feels" for its many designated victims, it describes its enemies as cold Darth Vader parodies. However, for all this the left doesn't really seem to like homo sapiens too much. No real harm is identified in this article; instead the author just wants to vent her rage at how damned irrational we are for our desire to understand where we come from rather than serving the almighty utilitarian calculus.

Why Peter Franklin is wrong on Nigel Lawson; Green Articles That Can't Rebut Lawson #2

Peter Franklin's response to Lawson misses rather a lot of points:

"Given Nigel Lawson’s record on economic stability, I’m pretty disinclined to accept his judgement on climate stability.


Twenty years ago Nigel Lawson decided that the best thing for Britain would be to shadow the Deutschmark. Twenty years later he is urging us to shadow the Chinese rate of carbon emissions. He is as wrong now as he was then."

"Some years ago Churchill decided that the best thing for Britain would be to return to the Gold Standard at the pre-war level. Now he is urging us to fight on against Nazi Germany. He is as wrong now as he was then". Plenty of politicians capable of sound judgement have fallen under the spell of fixed exchange rates and a strong pound. This is just lazy ad hominem.

"This is just wrong. The bulk of the carbon savings that we need to make will come from greater energy efficiency, not from changes in the way we generate energy. By saving energy we will also save money. And with energy prices on the rise there is more money to be saved than ever."

Lawson made these points. He pointed out that Stern was wrong to assume that energy intensity would rise where most, sensible people, expect it to fall and this would mean the human contribution to climate change would be less than Stern expects. As such, greater energy efficiency can be expected but this is a part of Lawson's case and not a rebuttal to it.

"Energy efficiency and economic progress go hand in hand. The more primitive a society the more energy inefficient it is. Just think about the sheer wastefulness of an open fire, where most of the heat escapes uselessly into the atmosphere. To take a more contemporary example, Chinese homes and factories waste a lot more energy than their western counterparts."

Again, this supports Lawson's case. If economic progress leads, in the end, to greater efficiency, the Kuznets curve, this strengthens the case that we should not risk economic growth in attempting to combat climate change.

"And yet even in the most advanced economies opportunities to save energy go unclaimed. For instance, Britain has millions of homes where proper loft insulation would pay for itself in a couple of years and go on saving substantial amounts of energy, money and carbon year after year. So why do so many people fail to insulate their homes properly? It’s because, contrary to simplistic economic theories, people don’t always act in an economically rational way. Sometimes they need a prod in the right direction."

There are costs to getting loft insulation put in beyond the capital cost of getting it installed. People are busy, it's an interruption to their lives, they might have to miss work to be at home and watch over the building work. There are opportunity costs to spending time improving your home's energy efficiency as well as the straight financial cost. As the money savings are often fairly small amounts it is a mistaken assertion that people are being irrational. In order to see a significant rise in energy efficiency improvements you will need the economic incentives to change and that is, apparently, what Franklin doesn't want to do.

"That’s why I’m opposed to most forms of environmental taxation, which tends to be a blunt instrument that rarely achieves its ostensibly environmental purpose. What we need are sophisticated policy tools designed for a particular purpose and used for no other (such as the raising of tax revenues). For instance we could have a system of energy efficiency credits, which enterprises could earn by implementing various energy efficiency solutions such as insulating a given number of homes or selling a given number of energy efficiency light bulbs. Polluters such as power stations would have to buy a given number of certificates. A market would then operate, generating profits for those supplying the most attractive energy efficiency solutions at the lowest cost. The polluters would have to pay the cost of kick starting the market, but, in aggregate, money would be saved and put to a better use than wasting energy."

This is still an energy tax, it will still hit unavoidably energy intensive industries, force them to relocate to places like China and thereby do, at best, nothing to help the climate change situation.

The difference is that you then have a plan to spend the money on subsidising technologies or investments that you like. Unfortunately, government is rubbish at choosing technologies in this way. It would probably give loads of the money to wind farms, certain forms of biofuel, electric cars or any of the other phony green solutions which turn out to be a lot less efficient than they first appeared but do well through government support. If you genuinely want to save money I would trust to the efficiency of the market far sooner than that of government; saving money is what the market does best.

"Ah yes, the old 2% argument i.e. Britain is only responsible for 2% of humanity’s carbon emissions so what difference can we make?

The first thing to understand is that the purveyors of this argument are either deliberately or ignorantly blurring the distinction between the stock and flow of carbon emissions. Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are already at a level unprecedented in human history thanks to an industrial history that goes back a lot further in the developed world than the developing world. Thus Britain has contributed 6% not 2% of the accumulated problem to date, with other developed nations contributing almost all of the rest.

So while China and the other developing giants are making a growing contribution to the future problem, there is strong moral case for the West to get the ball rolling in terms of a solution. There’s a strong practical case too – because there’s an awful lot of money to be made here."

I have no problem with understanding the difference between stocks and flows but that makes little difference to this debate. Lawson did acknowledge that this was largely a developed country created problem and cited this as the reason we had a moral responsibility help poor countries, in the most effective way possible, by helping them adapt to changing climate conditions.

However, this clearly makes no difference to the debate over whether we can stop climate change because our historical contribution to climate change has happened; it is a sunk cost and hence needs to be ignored. The important thing for now is that changes in Britain's emission levels are going to make next to no difference compared to the vast rises in emissions coming out of the developing world, and particularly China. Just like Lawson said the idea of our "getting the ball rolling" and the rest of the world gleefully following is at the CND end of the foolishness spectrum.

"For one thing, the developing giants are desperate to escape their dependency on fossil fuel imports, which is why Brazil is already leading the world in ethanol fuelled cars. The giants also have an appalling problem with the local pollution caused by fossil fuel use – just asks the organisers of the Beijing Olympics. As mentioned above, the developing world has even more to gain from energy efficiency than we have; and the micro-generation of energy could allow whole regions to leapfrog the expensive requirement for centralised energy networks in the same way that mobile phones are enabling them to dispense with fixed line telephony."

This is ridiculously naive. The main way, as Lawson highlighted, that China and India are getting away from fossil fuel imports is building coal power plants to make use of their plentiful reserves of that fossil fuel. China's pollution problem is a matter of having industrial plant sited too near, or in, major cities and is a legacy of a planned economy and has nothing to do with CO2, which is not an element in the clean/dirty air equation.

It may be that new technology will allow the developing world to avoid having as carbon intensive a development as we have. However, this again helps the case of those arguing against action to curb climate change as this technological development will make far more of a difference to the climate change outcome and does not demand the economic sacrifice of hurting energy intensive industry.

"We in the West have the expertise, the intellectual freedom and the capital to develop these solutions, but the developing giants have got the deepest need and the fastest growing markets. If you want proof, look to the investment community which is well ahead of the politicians. The hard-headed money men are convinced by the climate change science and they can see the business opportunities. As one of them said to me the other day, “we know this is going to be a massive area for capital formation because it bloody well has to be.”

So the question facing western governments is whether to give their economies a prod in this direction or whether to subsidise the dinosaur industries of the past by allowing them to pollute without paying."

To complete my fisk I should respond to the argument we are allowing the dinosaur industries to pollute without paying. Fortunately, Lawson has already done so. If we tax these industries they will not cease to exist or use energy; they will move.

More importantly, this last couple of paragraphs really sum up this article's central weaknesses. The problem is even unwittingly acknowledged "look to the investment community which is well ahead of the politicians". Exactly. So why are you trying to use the government to pick winners by manipulating the tax system towards favoured technologies and investments instead of trusting those investors to see what is efficient?

The argument that the market cannot be trusted to look after the environment makes some sense when the argument is that it can be uneconomical to do what is right for the planet. This is what Stern was arguing and Lawson was responding to. However, the argument that it is economical to do what is right for the planet but the market is just too useless to make it happen requires an extraordinary lack of faith in free markets and generous faith in government initiative and foresight for someone who claims to be a conservative. It requires us to believe that over the mass of small investment or technological decisions that will determine our society's energy usage the government knows better than individual decision makers. Hayek responded to the fallacy of state planning's efficiency some time ago and I don't think I really need to go over it again now.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

18 Doughty Street Covering the US Elections

I received this press release in my e-mail from 18DS:

Doughty Street American mid term elections special

From 8:00pm until LATE

18 Doughty Street the UK's first live Internet TV station will be broadcasting live coverage and unrivalled analysis of the US mid term elections from 8:00pm until late tonight, the first time the station has extended coverage from its normal 8:00pm to Midnight slot.

Will the Iraq war have seriously damaged the Republicans? Will the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives. What are the implications for the race for the White House? Will George W Bush become a lame duck President?

A heavyweight panel of experts in US politics have been lined up including Simon Burns MP, and representatives from both the Republicans and Democrats abroad.

Make sure you visit from 8:00pm for live streaming.

Good luck to them. I'm distinctly unimpressed by the Republicans at the moment but I'm still thrilled that 18DS might mean that we'll finally get coverage in the UK in which they aren't portrayed as lovechildren of Satan and Al Capone.

Student Politics at LSE and Yale

Over at the AFF magazine there is a brilliant article on Yale student politics by James Kirchick. If you have time go and read it as it is a wonderfully written piece and the picture it builds of Yale politics is both amusing and important to the wider point I am about to make. Note carefully that this is not written by a right winger but by an American liberal and yet his conclusion is clearly that the right wing student politicians are far more intellectually engaged in the debate on campus.

I saw this for myself at LSE. LSE is probably the most political campus in the UK with elections turning Houghton Street into a genuine battleground with everyone attempting to force leaflets advertising their candidate onto the poor, confused, international, or otherwise apolitical, students. The LSE Student's Union is the only one to maintain a weekly general meeting for the discussion of motions. The Union General Meeting (UGM) has a somewhat anarchic style with near constant heckling and a barrage of paper greeting any speaker who the masses consider disagreeable or who cannot hold the audience's interest. However, just as at Yale, there is a clear divide in the way that the right and left approach student politics.

Of course, it is first necessary to remember that the politically active will be a minority of students, even at a university like LSE, and the description that follows is of the divisions within that minority. Plenty of LSE students find the whole business of student politics vaguely unsettling and spend their time studying or drinking like the students of any other university. However, the politically active are important for mainstream politics and an interesting subculture; it is worth looking at the differences between the left and right wings of that subculture.

Left wingers are, essentially, already behaving as politicians. They take the business of student politics exceptionally seriously; passing motions to condemn this and that, running protests at real world injustices, real and imaginary, and working incredibly hard to secure elected positions. They also work at the other elements of creating a politics in miniature within the student's union: turning on each other, cementing alliances and making enemies.

By contrast, the main extra-curricular focus of the politically active right wingers at LSE was intellectual. The debate society was always right leaning, the Hayek society was, and is, a buzz of discussion even if much of its output was at the amusing end of the libertarian spectrum, the constant stream of arguments within the right maintained a degree of intellectual sophistication which none of my left wing friends could claim for their own social networks; they would discuss how rather than why.

Engagement with the UGM or electoral student politics was treated as something of a game with the "score" each year being the number of major left wingers we could deny office through spurious alliances with the Athletics Union or some international student group or the number of motions we could defeat through sheer force of rhetoric. Always the odds were heavily stacked against us but every year we managed, through a unity and verve our opponents could not match, a few enjoyable symbolic victories. Making, for just a few months, the student newspaper's editorials shift to the right was my great trophy, for example, along with playing my part in a significant conversion to the right wing. In the end, most students are left wing and we were always going to lose but, in the knowledge that in mainstream politics this is not the case, it was great fun to play at guerilla warfare politics.

I think there are two reasons why right wingers tend to be more interested in intellectual engagement at university:

1. Left wing politics proper genuinely starts at, or even before, university. The mainstream left is increasingly concerned with empowering a series of victim groups, whether unions, ethnic minorities or feminists who are seen as constituting an effective counterbalance to capitalist power. Students are one of these groups and are seen as an important political force in lobbying for their own interests, such as stopping tuition fees, or weighing in on national debates through demonstrations and other activism. By contrast, the right does not have the same legacy of class politics, Disraeli's aspiration to represent one nation feeds into a modern dislike of interest politics, and tends to eschew activism. As such, it is more important to right wingers that they become intellectually equipped for the national debate than that they become part of a student movement.

2. Left wingers don't need to engage with people they disagree with. Thanks to the sheer weight of numbers on their side a left wing student can probably go their entire university career without meeting an outspoken right winger beyond, perhaps, a lonely voice in a student newspaper column. By contrast, a right winger will constantly be meeting left wingers who, if they like him/her, will try to make them a convert and, if they dislike her/him will attack them in shrill tones as a deeply evil underminer of the common student good. Some right wingers wilt under this pressure and retreat to the shelter of "I'm not very political" but plenty don't and become very good at defending their beliefs. In order to become this good at defending themselves it is necessary to have thought through their assumptions and approach to the world very carefully; nothing makes this self-examination necessary for a campus left winger.

I don't know how important the disparity I've identified will be. It could be that my year at the LSE was exceptional, I've had some rather dismal reports of the LSE right this year, but the report from Yale suggests that it is indicative of a broader pattern. Equally, it could be that this will not translate to adult politics. However, it would seem to make university a far better training ground for future right wing politicians than future left wing ones.

Children of Men

This film is superb. It is close to the end of its run even in London, I believe, so get out to see it soon or watch out for it on DVD. In America I think it will be showing over Christmas.

This film gets four big things really right.

1. The action is superb. There is a brutal threat to the gunfights and a reality to Clive Owen's character's inability to be a real superhero that makes the action sequences of this film incredibly affecting. The phrase "on the edge of my seat" isn't one I really understood till I left this film and realised I had actually been perched, almost unable to sit down, on the edge of my seat through large sections of the it.

2. None of the characters are inhuman. While truly awful things are done they are all clearly the work of humans. The villains range from revolutionaries fatally compromised by the struggle to the agents of a state centre trying in vain to hold under impossible pressure. References to brutalities of today seem to be understood in their perspective of the response of a state desperately trying to maintain order and losing its sense of decency in the process rather than cast as the actions of pantomime villains. This gives the film the tang of reality which Star Wars in London moral operas like V for Vendetta cannot dream of.

"No one is a villain in his own story"

Harry Turtledove's observation is reflected in this film to great effect.

3. The grand counterfactual is done very well. Britain seems plausible as a last outpost of society while the rest dissolves in war and nuclear terrorism. The island nation trying to preserve a veneer of order and civility, personified in the arts minister cousin of the main character, suggests an understanding of British, and human nature, on the part of the film maker that impresses me.

The diminishment of the value of life that the film shows as a result of the childlessness pandemic wasn't what I expected. I went into the film expecting the prediction that, apparently, the novel delivered: that an increased scarcity of human life would lead people to want to live forever. Instead the despair of a futureless society has led people to see no value in the life they have now and the counterfactual is shown as a violent and suicidal one. After seeing this I think it is actually an inspired understanding and seems more plausible than the idea of a struggle to live forever. Life shorn of its purpose does seem pointless watching the film which perhaps embodies this aphorism quite well:

"If we have our own why in life, we shall get along with almost any how."

-Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

It is the lack of purpose and future which makes the present in this film so grim. That is, perhaps, a lesson which a myopic society like ours, so focussed on pleasure as happiness, really needs.

4. The personal story is genuinely emotional. The key story dynamic is that of the male patriarchal instinct; Clive Owen's character defending the mother and child. As such, the least sympathetic character is a man who ignores this for money and the hero is a man whose main distinction is an utter trustworthiness. If this wasn't what the makers were getting at then I apologise for my conservatism, but it seems timely to point out that, while feminism was right to condemn the abuse and repression that came with patriarchal society, the "women and children first" code is still something deeply heroic.

Also, the depiction of the personal need for contact with children was very affecting. The scene where a child's crying cuts through the noise of automatic weapons firing encapsulated this brilliantly. I think it did a great job of highlighting the role children play, the child restoring that sense of hope so tragically absent the rest of the film. This might have worked better if things like the use of pets as substitutes for children had been made more explicit but I'm not sure it would have made for a better film.

This film was brilliant. If you haven't seen it make time. I'm sure I'll work out the faults at some point but for now I am, as is probably obvious, in utter awe at the achievement.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Green Articles That Can't Rebut Lawson #1

This article by Madeleine Bunting for Comment is Free made me want to break something. It's so infuriatingly self-righteous, spends no time discussing the reality of the situation, whether a precautionary principle is justified in the case of global warming etc. and all its time using an assumed existential threat to argue for an answer the author had clearly started from, "the market economy sucks", and worked backwards.

In fact, the subtitle "intoxicated with an idea of individual freedom that was little more than greedy egotism" is such a thoughtless assault on the West and the ideal of human liberty that I really should have stopped reading there.

Fortunately, this article provided a fine test for my new rule for green articles 'they're only important if they are a reasoned response to Lawson's speech to the CPS'. This article did not provide a reasoned response to Lawson and it is clearly not important. As such, I don't need to spend an hour fisking this below par article in detail; the rule works!

Mr. Eugenides in fine form

I have to congratulate Mr. Eugenides on the fine run of form he's on at the moment.

First, a well deserved written kick to Barry "punched another MP for not voting the party line" Sheerman.

"I take from that two things; first, that if he thought it could be banned, he'd ban it; and second, he knows that his intervention is going to make the square root of fuck-all difference, but decided he'd get his name in the papers anyway. Well fuck you, Sheerman, you complete cunt. I hope your neighbour's bonfire burns down your house tonight with you in it, and I can raise a glass of cold bubbly to the playful gods of Irony while you end your days in agonising pain on a trolley in a hospital corridor because your nearest NHS burns unit has closed down, with butt-ugly nurses munching on pizza as they ignore your screams."

Second, a response to the Saddam verdict that made me laugh.

I don't think Martine Martin gets the 5th of November...

Martine Martin has a post discussing Guy Fawkes featuring this remarkable section:

And that's why I'll always celebrate the 5th November, even if Guy Fawkes was really nothing more than a terrorist; because the spirit to fight back against corruption amongst the ruling elite, no matter what the cost, still exists in all of us. We only need look at the proliferation of blogs holding the government to account for proof of that.

The "celebration" of the 5th of November isn't a celebration of Guy Fawkes. Why do you think it is traditional to burn an effigy of him? It's an English Protestant hate-in against Catholics who tried to blow up their monarch and parliament from back when we were a rather more bolshy people.

In the, truly atrocious, film Ms. Martin appears to be such a fan of the Guy Fawkes wannabee succeeds in blowing up parliament with his bomb on the tube (classy) and then his faceless horde overwhelms the evil regime. The real Guy Fawkes failed to blow up parliament, was hung, drawn and quartered and the English responded with a celebration of his failure and brutal death. Real life is so much more sound than the movies.

In fact, I'm going to quote Wikipedia at length with the full rhyme, the beginning of which Martin quotes so approvingly:

"The night is closely associated with the popular rhyme:

Remember remember the 5th of November,
The Gunpowder, Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot.

The full rhyme, rarely used, continues:

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, 'twas his intent
to blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow:
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.

Holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
Hip hip hoorah!

The following verses, though originally part of the rhyme, are usually left out of modern day recitations for the inflammatory anti-Catholic remarks:

A penny loaf to feed the Pope.
A farthing o' cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we'll say ol' Pope is dead.

Hip hip huzzah!
Hip hip huzzah!"

The truth of what Guy Fawkes night means is brutal, ethnic and far from anti-establishment; a reminder of a less polished age. It also pisses off the Health and Safety bores which makes it pretty much the perfect Tory day. A day to indulge your inner Saxon, get drunk and break something; savage.


Iain Dale is right to like Ofcom's attitude to regulation. He is missing the biggest example of them getting it right and making the rare choice as a regulator to accept some things don't need regulating in ending regulation of BT's retail broadband pricing.

Unfortunately, they fail in their most democratically important function of interpreting the bias restrictions on TV journalism. Apparently Fox News accussing the BBC of "frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism" in a flagged opinion piece is unnaceptable, the US news service runs on Sky and has seen three investigations for bias, while the BBC's torrent of bias continues unabated. Nice.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


When bored I like to check the referrers to this blog using SiteMeter; it tells me when people link here and makes me smile. After I posted about the Spiegel article on sex and taboos in the Muslim world I got a flurry of readers who had used the google "blogsearch" facility to look for articles about "sex". I got a similar flood after I wrote an article about the British film industry which namechecked a few too many stars.

The content of the "sex" post may not quite have been what they were looking for. It contained a large quote about different countries searching for "sex" through Google and the connection to repression. I hope that didn't spoil their fun. At least I didn't get anyone searching for "man boy love".

If the Google Trends service is accurate then: hello my Pakistani friends!

In fact, they're probably searching in Urdu. The highest scoring English speaking city was Birmingham. Hello my Brummie friends!