Saturday, December 09, 2006

"Right"/"Left" Wing Culture

Gracchii is, I think, correct that the 18 Doughty Street discussion of left and right wing culture was a little simplistic but may have overstated his case in arguing that the content of our culture is not negatively affected by the dominance of left wingers in the arts.

He is clearly right to knock down the notion of culture as either "left" or "right" wing. Most culture is neither left nor right wing but composed of stories and emotional themes which either side can make a case based upon.

An example from a deeply mainstream novel and film. Memoirs of a Geisha is either a film about gender tyranny and empowerment (there are other possible left wing explanations) or one about the importance of striving over material comfort and safety which seems pretty right wing to me (when she first meets the Chairman nothing changes in her material circumstances but she is happy because she has something to strive for).

Some other examples to show I'm not actually a complete intellectual fraud who wishes he was off reading romance novels: Clockwork Orange is about rejecting state control and that can either be a left wing or a deeply right wing theme. A Brave New World is either a left wing critique of consumerism or a right wing critique of utilitarianism (or a left wing critique of utilitarianism). City of God is either a left wing critique of slums hopelessness or a tale of the horror of lawlessness. I haven't seen it but I'm sure I read somewhere that the Incredibles can be interpreted as a rather scarily right wing story.

Equally, some stories, despite being very political, defy political pigeonholing in either direction. I'm thinking of brilliant works like Gattaca, Fight Club, the Road to Perdition or the Shawshank Redemption.

There are more explicitly left wing films than right wing ones but they aren't the best films and they aren't the most important. Equally, they don't have a monopoly with recent films such as Thank You for Smoking (not even mentioned in 18DS's discussion) and South Park representing the right on TV in the US (how did that not come up?). The British film industry is smaller so it isn't necessarily a greater bias which stops right wing films emerging here.

However, I do not agree with Grachii that there is no legitimate right wing gripe about culture; I just think that it needs to be somewhat more refined. The problem is something I discussed a bit before in a post about comparisons with Korean film. I will focus on the film industry as it is the one I've thought about most and I think is most important to popular culture (television programmes are too short).

British films are either about our emotional side (Love Actually et. al.) or our dingy side (The Full Monty, Vera Drake). While I am aware that there are financial constraints when these constraints are somewhat removed (Harry Potter thanks to foreign money or Stormbreaker thanks to ambition) we make children's films. Why?

What about making films of, or set during, the following? If it takes American money to make them happen it really isn't particularly important.

  • Trafalgar (modern CGI could make this spectacular)

  • The Great War (the war in the Middle East, perhaps?)

  • World War Two

  • Hastings (should counter the idiotic "Saxons are Orcs" message of King Arthur) with a pretty noble story of heroic defeat

  • Gordon of Khartoum

  • The Industrial Revolution

  • The Falklands

Such films could counterbalance the bias in school history classes towards social history, provide Britain with a greater sense of its national story and, if done well, would be spectacular; some measure of looking back is important. Also, I honestly think that this kind of thing interests domestic and international audiences far more than unhappy Northern steel miners for the same reason everything royal still has such a pull for tourists; looking back is popular.

Britain has some spectacular stories in its history but the only way they will continue to provide us with inspiration and identity is if they are presented to new audiences. Unfortunately I honestly don't think that there are scripts floating around about these stories looking for funding and I believe this is something to do with the politics of our creative community. They do not consider such stories worthwhile as they are reminders of Imperial days or military strife which the left does not wish to consider except in the language of personal tragedy.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, they involve looking at a big picture which risks being subjected to the Subaltern studies critique, that history is massively distorted by a focus on the elite, which those educated in the post-modern dominated subjects which feed into creative careers understand as the ultimate evil almost via osmosis.

While creatives worldwide probably lean left I do not think that the left wing elsewhere involves the same disdain for their nation's history and I think in this regard the politics of those in the British artistic community does uniquely limit their contribution and makes us all worse off. The popularity of TV history suggests that Britons are crying out for the stories which connect them to our national subconscious. Britain's cultural community, by not providing these stories, is making the job of forming that common link to our national history far more difficult than it is for other nations.

On another note, I think it is pretty sad that no one really makes British science fiction anymore. British accents still show up occasionally in American science fiction but otherwise we appear to have lost the future even more spectacularly than we have the past.

Also, two films which don't need to be made in Britain but which I think could be absolutely spectacular:

  • A Brave New World - the world really needs to think about its critique of utilitarianism.

  • The defeat of Constantinople - could be visually incredible and deeply moving - a portrait of a beautiful civilisation dying.

Someone fund me to start a production company.

An advanced apology for slow posting...

Sorry for no posts yesterday. I'm preparing to celebrate an early Christmas (as the inhabitants of my flat and my family are all off abroad soon) and my birthday on the tenth. We call it Mattmas; very exciting if slightly sacrilegious. Then on the sixteenth I am off to Canada to spend some time in Toronto followed by the World Universities Debating Championships in Vancouver. I'll be back on the fourth of January but between the sixteenth and then I'll only be able to post intermittently when I can get to a computer.

When I get back I'll hopefully be starting work. That work may well mean I have to stop blogging. This possibility highlights just how utterly beyond the pale Chad Noble is in repeatedly using DK's real name as a weapon. Trying to force someone out of the blogosphere is an ugly, ugly thing to do. The whole point of blogging is that we can have animated discussions and express interesting opinions but this relies upon people playing within a few, rather simple, rules.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Mr. Eugenides on Anti-Establishment Conservatism

There are a couple of things I'd like to expand upon from my post on Anti-Establishment Conservatism following Mr. Eugenides' reply.

Firstly, I think it is important to note that while my tone is calm and I no longer consider myself a libertarian (although my differences with libertarianism are primarily about the nation state, security and radicalism rather than gay marriage, abortion etc. on which I am still liberal) I do not consider the biases towards anger and libertarianism in the blogosphere to be a problem. Libertarianism is a great converting, argumentative philosophy and well suited to the blogosphere. Anger is fun and I very much enjoy swearblogger articles. I think a variety of styles is what makes reading blogs worthwhile and if every blog were written like mine I'd give up on it all. Those who condemn the swearbloggers are the same earnest killjoy swarm that makes much political debate offline such a bore.

"Matt’s suggestion is that by defining ourselves as “outsiders” we lose an opportunity to influence the mainstream of right-of-centre British politics, choosing instead to snipe from the sidelines. There’s some truth in this. I don’t label myself as an outsider, though; I don’t follow the example of DK and head for UKIP, because I think there’s some truth in the contention that it’s better to be a small voice in a crowd than a loud one in the wilderness (plus, I think they’re loons). And neither, as I noted earlier, am I a ‘crusader’ (if one is allowed still to use that word); I’m not so pompous as to think that my opinion matters a jot in the wider scheme of things, or that repeatedly calling Jack McConnell a pug-faced moron is going to help galvanise a national consensus against him."

My fear is that, although I do not believe it is something to which Mr. E. has generally succumbed, the blogosphere is beginning to build an assumption that this kind of loner outsider crusading is its proper role. I see evidence for this assumption beginning to take hold in the "is Iain Dale a member of the establishment debate", the description used by 18 Doughty Street and elsewhere. My case is that if we can build or maintain the distinction between being anti-consensus and anti-leftist and being anti-establishment then we will be more persuasive, more conservative and more correct. I think Mr. Eugenides agrees with me on this although he may be right that I overstate the extent of the problem right now.

DK on some of my views on the EU and UKIP

DK, after agreeing with me on UKIPHome, goes over an old post of mine about the EU conspiracy meme. After the UKIPHome-Iain Dale dispute that started things this dialogue is, I hope, evidence that UKIP and Conservative members can have a reasonable debate.

Before I get into my main arguments, while DK is in the mood I'd like to challenge him to rebut this article on the UK political system and the means of influencing it. It is my case for why, even if you would like to leave the EU, the UKIP is not the party with which to achieve that objective. One thing I would add to it if I wrote it again now is that my stance on global warming (adaptation over curbing emissions) is also pretty far from the Conservative Party's mainstream at the moment but I believe the same arguments about contributing to the debate rather than choosing a party which agrees with me stand in this case as well. That article may, perhaps, be more convincing to those who believe I am factually wrong or that my political economy is weak on aspects of the EU debate.

"Unfortunately, I believe Matt to be wrong on this point and there are several reasons for this. First and least important, (do say, Matthew, if I am incorrect here) I would say that Matthew Sinclair, who has just recently completed his MSc in Economic History at the LSE (well done), has had only limited recent contact with the... shall we say... salt-of-the-earth workers. A university is still, by any standards, a somewhat rarified environment. I spent the first six years of my working life amongst printers from Musselburgh, Kirkcaldy, Newtowngrange and other such (prelatively poor) places and amongst people who, whilst very good at their jobs, were not educated particularly well and for whom The Sun and its simplistic messages were the normal daily reading.

Second, listening to Farage on the James Whale show a while back, the majority of the people 'phoning in really did not know the extent to which the things that they were complaining about were EU dependent; when they did find out, they were shocked but they were also grateful for the information. And they were angry that they had not known about it, or that they had only heard the connection to the EU through some vague rumour."

It is true that I cannot claim to have had a huge amount to do with salt of the Earth types, I do not claim to be one of the mythical 'common men', although I have certainly spent time in their company. It is plausible that they are irrational, however, my case was that this is not necessarily so and that, perhaps this is the economist in me, the EUSceptics might want to be cautious in leaping too quickly to irrationality. That is why I was trying to make the argument that those who think we should leave the EU should acknowledge that there is a plausible case for staying rather than attempting to convert them to staying in the EU entirely.

This is an Occam's Razor style argument although I understand why it makes less sense to someone who cannot see the plausibility of the argument I am making for why we should stay in the EU.

"Well, unless you are cited on a European Arrest Warrant, of course, which allows you to be arrested and deported from your own country to any EU state on the flimsiest of evidence. We no longer have power over our own lives and our government is unable to defend us; the ECJ trumps all."

I've heard of this a few times before from UKIP members but haven't heard of any cases of it being used/abused. Are there any interesting cases or is it just the potential which is worrying people?

"You may agree with Matt that it is, in fact, a matter of degree and not principle but I would not. Provided we are not aggressors, our treaties with NATO and the UN cannot force us to act against our national interests and they cannot overule the will of our elected representatives; the Directives from the unelected EU Commission can. These directives are backed by the power of the ECJ and the ability to impose swingeing fines upon countries that refuse to implement those Directives."

NATO could force us to intervene to defend Poland from a Russian invasion. This could get us all killed in a nuclear conflagration. While we right wingers might feel fighting the Russians would be the right thing to do the NATO common defence provision is in no way contingent on that defence being in our interests; the existence of the treaty is predicated on the fact it could possibly not be.

The UN story is more complex but it certainly can, in some areas, constrain our policy choices. E.g. immigration is as limited by commitments under the UN as by those under the EU.

"This is a fundamental change of principle because, whilst we may agree that aspects of our national sovereignty may be relinquished we do not know, at the time of negotiating that treaty, exactly what the Clauses are. It is rather similar to signing a contract agreeing to work for someone and leaving the number of hours that you are going to work and how much the employer is going to pay you blank. And then signing the Clause that says: "I agree to be bound by whatever my employer writes in those blank bits, that this contract can never be renegotiated and I have no redress if I am starving to death for lack of money." This is, quite obviously, lunacy."

That seems to rather miss the nature of uncertainty. We did not know what the NATO common defence provisions meant when we signed them. It could have meant getting every single Britain killed by participation in a nuclear war or it could mean the rather less onerous commitments that we face today. That the rules themselves can change is not so important to the question of whether or not our sovereingty is infringed; what is important is the infringement itself, surely?

Plus, we do of course have a redress if things are to get truly desperate that guarantees our ultimate sovereignty and the UKIP is well aware of. We can leave. As we are not losing that option (indeed it was going to be formalised in the constitution I believe) there would seem no need to leave now based on the possibility of a superstate.

I've dealt with the trade question in another post and will return to it at some point, it attracted a lot of attention, so I'll leave that subject for now as it cannot be dealt with quickly.

Interest Rates on hold

As I keep recommending/predicting interest rates have been kept on hold. Although they may rise soon with a booming housing market I think this is more evidence for my general prediction that the rise will be slow with consumer confidence low and the manufacturing recovery still looking fragile.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The "Play it Safe" Pre-Budget

My early impression of the pre-budget report is that it is Gordon Brown expecting to make the transition to Prime Minister almost by default and not wanting to risk any new policies which might endanger that.

As such, we saw a fiscal tightening but only a minor one, 0.2%, which will keep him within his rules but not do a significant amount to improve our fiscal situation now or prepare for the longer term challenges which Feldstein addresses today (he argues that immigration can't solve the problem for us). As such, the FTSE pretty much ignored the budget.

There are new green taxes as they have become the new politically safe way to raise tax without creating nothing but enemies. However, note that these are further changing our competitive position in industries like air travel and any requiring extensive road travel. The changes, even here, are rather expected though and BA's share price has not changed much.

His education and skills moves are a fairly straight line from the last budget and are a fairly unimaginative response to the poor UK productivity performance under Brown's stewardship.

What he didn't do was anything significant about pensions, the NHS, business taxation etc. etc.

He announced increased the funding for catching minimum wage evaders which is a little comic given the Labour Party's recent scandal over their unpaid film student.

I think that the most interesting thing about this budget was what it tells us about Brown and the style we might expect from him as Prime Minister. Possibilities like a snap election seem increasingly implausible from a man who does not appear to be a risk taker when he had the opportunity to do something like cut business tax which might have made Cameron's position colossally difficult. This huge clunking fist is not a nimble one and I am hopeful Cameron can dance around it with ease.

The Lost German Century

"IT WAS IN April 1979 in West Berlin. Raymond Aron and I were walking to an exhibit commemorating the centenary of the births of Einstein, Max von Laue, Otto Hahn, and Lise Meitner. We were passing bombed-out squares and half-decrepit mansions of a once proud capital, our thoughts already at the exhibit, when Aron suddenly stopped at a crossing, turned to me, and said, "It could have been Germany's Century." Aron, French scholar and Jew who had studied in Berlin in the early 1930s and had seen German promise turn to nemesis, mused on what might have been. In the ensuing years I have extended my studies of German scientists, of German creativity and destruction, which I had already begun then. In preparing this work on Einstein's German world for publication twenty years later, I recognize the resonance of the theme that Aron had so casually, so memorably set."


"In the late eighteenth century a cultural renaissance erupted in the German lands; Europeans, in awe of artistic and philosophic achievements, began to speak of Germany as a land of poets and thinkers. Germans themselves referred to that period, roughly 1770-1830, as the Age of Genius, the Geniezeit. (For Germans, the word Genie has a special ring, denoting creative powers of demonic magnitude.) By the mid-nineteenth century in economic terms, after 1871 and unification in political terms, and by the end of the century in scientific-technological terms--Germany was transformed into a country of doers and innovators, of world-renowned natural scientists still steeped in Germany's humanistic culture. The very names of Einstein, Ehrlich, Planck, and Haber--and the extended and sometimes fractious family of scientists among whom they lived and worked--evoke the greatness of this period, expressed as it was also in German culture more broadly defined, when German writers and artists had the intuition of uneasy modernity. This might be called Germany's second Geniezeit, one fraught with danger."

These extracts are taken from the introduction to Fritz Stern's Einstein's German World, a book that I am now absolutely going to hunt down. Read the rest of the chapter and it does serve as a powerful reminder of the breadth of astonishing talent born to Germany at the beginning of the last century.

Germany's unfortunate abandonment of this promising future for the insanity of two great wars and mass murder passed the torch to the United States. America's list of technological and scientific achievements since 1945 has been similarly stunning. Both of these countries, along with others like Britain before them, were overflowing with scientific and cultural achievement which can be hard to explain.

America and Germany had new institutions which offered a practical education and were certainly the source of a great many significant successes; the links between German (Beer's "The emergence of the German dye industry") and US industrial research and development and scientific education has been well documented. Equally, there is some evidence that even the great inventors responded to economic conditions. However, it still seems a stretch to believe that this can be responsible for the outpourings of talent of the sort described in the extracts from Stern's work above.

Another important thing to note is that this kind of intellectual achievement has, as Stern implicity acknowledges, for quite some time been associated with political and economic pre-eminence. Will the new candidates for great power status such as India and China be able to secure for themselves the accompanying intellectual achievement?

They certainly have the brains and their education systems can probably overcome their current limitations. However, the challenge will be to overcome the tendency of scientists to seek the largest concentrations of other scientists (it makes research easier and a lot more fun) and the path dependence this creates leading research to the existing scientific centres of the West. It will probably take political intervention to overcome this handicap but that brings its own problems.

In the end, I still think there is a difficulty for historians trying to establish the source of national greatness. It almost certainly is not uniform, however, what I am trying to establish is that there is an intellectual element to becoming a great power which those looking with awe at the demographic potential of new candidates for great power status should remember.

Scottish people are so funny

After my recent end of the United Kingdom hysteria it's nice to have everything put in some perspective. I have Mr. Eugenides to thank for that perspective with the comparison between the recent Norwegian removal of VAT on stripping and Edinburgh council's move in the opposite direction:

New rules that will ban Edinburgh's lapdancers from baring all have been passed by council chiefs, despite protests from club bosses and sex workers' unions.

A code of conduct, expected to be introduced next year, will mean dancers will be told to go no further than topless, while private one-on-one dances will also be forbidden. Clubs will be told to install CCTV cameras and be subject to checks by council inspectors.

"Best small country in the world" my arse. Miserable killjoy bastards.

Even a very Christian friend of mine described this as a "ridiculous rule".

I still think that my reasons to lament the demise of the United Kingdom are persuasive but I think they have to be eclipsed, at least for the Scots themselves, by the knowledge of what a miserable little country Scotland would be shorn of its part in the United Kingdom.

It would have the worst of a lot of the UK's serious problems like ill health, the deep fried Mars Bar is the funny side of a serious problem, just like it does now. However, the option to spread the cost of the healthcare this requires across the United Kingdom would no longer be available.

It would have one of the most nannying states in the world, ahead of the curve in banning public smoking, smacking and now stripping. This political culture is already doing its stifling work killing any ethic of tolerance and personal responsibility which might once have inhabited Scotland.

Finally, Scotland would probably impart to its people the poverty of ambition that accompanies any small state without the wit and verve to write its name on the world stage. At the moment a Scot can aspire to the highest office in what is still a country with a mighty military and a globally significant economy and which, regardless of temporal power, will hopefully always have the history and sense of its own importance that engenders a grand ambition. Those with the will to do great and important things but are born in an independent Scotland will be forced to emigrate leaving a nation behind them with a sadly smaller mind. Those who are too loyal to leave will be constrained to the narrow, provincial, concerns that are, with a certain irony, the lot of a nation independent because it could not stand to be a province.

The British Right-Wing Blogosphere: Anti-Establishment Conservatism

I think that the right wing blogosphere and many other elements of the growing conservative movement are, in several ways, unrepresentative of broader British conservative intellectual and popular traditions.

The first difference is one of degree; the blogs are generally more doctrinaire and hold stronger views than your average conservative. This is hardly surprising. For people to take time out of busy lives something has to have stirred them to action and this will usually be an issue they care passionately about. The exceptions are those like Iain Dale for whom blogging must be considered a part of their career and who are often more moderate. This can affect the broader movement as it undoubtedly has for the Democrats in the US where the netroots have boosted the chances of the hopeless through financial donation and moral support and upset the party's efforts to move towards the centre. However, it does not really appear to have affected the Conservatives as MPs do not depend upon independent funding so the possibility of isolating favoured representatives for support is limited. This difference may become important in the future but for now we appear to have avoided being held in place by netroots.

A second difference is that the blogosphere is more libertarian than popular conservatism. This is largely a result of bloggers being younger, on average, than the right wing voter base. Libertarianism is a lot easier to sell to younger people as any survey of right wing students can confirm. It allows you the fun of outflanking the left on social liberalism, has the whiff of rebellion and is more idealistic. Again, this isn't going to change the character of conservative Britain as this imbalance is not new and used to have better institutional support in the form of organisations like the Federation of Conservative Students which proceeded today's Conservative Future and was at one point truly, fearsomely, libertarian.

The final difference is the one that I consider most interesting. Most of those engaged in right wing blogging consider themselves to be anti-establishment. Whether it is holding up Guy Fawkes as an icon or lambasting fuzzy old Iain Dale for being in the establishment pocket there is a common thread of seeing any institutional link as essentially dirty. Even relatively moderate parts of the conservative movement like ConservativeHome and 18 Doughty Street make use of this meme; 18 Doughty Street "aims to be an anti-establishment channel". The source of this rage at an established other seems to be a sense of persecution by certain institutions which are felt to have either been corrupted or poorly conceived such as the BBC and the European Union. Much of this is, of course, entirely correct criticism of institutions in need of destruction or reform; however I can see several reasons to be very careful of getting too attached to the anti-establishment identity.

Firstly, it is necessarily divisive. Being anti-establishment usually means a distrust of large institutions, Rod Dreher's preference for the "Small, Local, Old, and Particular" over the "Big, Global, New, and Abstract". However, for a movement which aims to govern one nation of sixty million people large institutions will be necessary. If contact with and, in particular, compromise in order to form a part of a large organisation is viewed as dirtying and discrediting these large institutions will be seriously weakened. If these institutions are weakened the movement will descend to the unpleasant fate of socialist movements past which could not see past their differences to what they had in common.

Secondly, it is highly indiscriminate. Big business does not deserve as much scepticism as big government. While big business may, from time to time, be corrupted by its occasional access to the power of the state the large corporation itself is a wonderful institution. Large corporations fulfil a hugely important function in being able to handle the scale and risk of research in fields like pharmaceuticals and have been a force for efficiency and high standards elsewhere. An example of where this inability to discriminate between establishments has been harmful is the right wing attacks on Tescos for hurting small shops. The most credible explanation for the decline in small shops is that it emerges from the same cause as the decline in fertility; the time of women becomes more valuable when gender discrimination at work falls and that encourages the greater time efficiency of shopping at a single store; there is no need for an explanation in terms of anti-competitive behaviour. The big effect of the supermarkets has been cheap food as they rip each other to pieces in price competition, Tescos big profit numbers have come largely from increased volume including international success (hallmark of a competitive industry). Big business is just one example of where anti-establishment fervour can lead the right to endanger an important alliance on the basis of a largely emotional dislike.

Finally, and most importantly, being anti-establishment would lose the core of British conservatism in Oakeshott, Burke or (whisper it) Hayek's distrust of radicalism. Our conservatism has always been rooted in a belief that radical schemes to rationally remake society were doomed to failure and unintended consequences thanks to the limits of human knowledge. This goes not just for the decline of traditions like marriage but also for a lot of the institutions that constitute parts of the British establishment. Institutions like the steady judgement of the Lords which views even global warming with its characteristic calm, a much maligned justice system which is, by comparison with international standards, really rather good. A consensus approach to global issues which is instinctively in favour of fine things like free trade, has little patience with childish sniping at the superpower and is willing to risk military intervention on the right side of international disputes. An establishment that was successful in integrating past waves of immigrants through a calm refusal to see the colour of people's skin combined with not forcing the pace. This is not a bad establishment and it embodies the accumulated wisdom of an old and successful nation.

Of course our establishment makes mistakes. It has already taken far too long to adjust to the idea that Islamism cannot be smoothed over in the passive manner that worked for the problems of past groups of immigrants, Thatcher had to rescue it from a chronic lack of ambition and such a pessimism over Britain's post-imperial role in the world may reassert itself if we are not careful. However, these are reasons to change the mind of the establishment, to ensure that modern right wing insights are more thoroughly enshrined in the great British common sense. They are not reasons to define ourselves as outsiders.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Lawson on 18 Doughty Street discussing Climate Change

He made a lot of the same points that were in his speech to the Centre for Policy Studies. There wasn't a lot new here but those points are still just as refreshing and persuasive. You can see the interview here.

His style was a fine example of the old Conservative manner. He maintained the most moderate of tones and yet never minced his words. He called the Stern report fraudulent and, when questioned on this, refined it to the kind of fraud that might land a company director in jail without ever sounding irate. This combination of a genial manner and strong words was a pleasant relic of another age now the alternatives are fuzzy friendliness or angry hysteria.

Demos need to grow a spine

From the report:

"The think tank also accused ministers of failing to address "reasonable" grievances, including policy in Iraq and elsewhere."


"It would be naïve in the extreme to imagine that neither government rhetoric or foreign and domestic policy have an effect on the opinions of those in our Muslim communities who might be susceptible to the hateful propaganda of extremists.

We are now entering a phase where the impact of ministerial words and policies, especially on young men in Muslim communities, must be assessed at all times."

So because one group in our society is more prone to violence we should give their voice extra weight? Utter cowardice. Suggesting that the war on Iraq was a bad idea or that the marginalisation of immigrant groups is a problem we should deal with are both entirely legitimate contributions. However, to argue not that a certain action is the right one but that we should make our decisions contingent upon whether we anger particular, violent, groups is both unprincipled and unlikely to be effective; these groups know surrender when they see it and will take it as an opportunity.

If our democratic decisions are dependent upon the goodwill of violent groups within our community this poses an existential threat to our democracy and values. Paying a human and financial cost to defeat such a threat is the lot of a free people in a dangerous world.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The First World War beyond the Trenches

My uncle's research for his biography of J. S. Haldane, which is sounding increasingly wonderful, has led him to these excellent pictures from the First World War (this one is of the Australian Light Horse passing through Bethlehem on their way to Jericho). They are of the war in the Middle East which tends to get forgotten with the understandably strong folk memory of the Western Front trenches. I think that we are often guilty of thinking of the Great War as essentially European and airbrushing out the wider confrontation.

Cameron on Trident

Brilliant. Full marks. This is the section which shows he's really got the point:

"Those who argue that the world has changed, so that no deterrent is required, entirely miss the point.

Yes, the world has changed and yes continues to change rapidly.

That is the very case for keeping up our guard.

Just as today’s threat is so different from that predicted 20 years ago, so today we can’t predict the threat we will face in 20 years’ time.

Still less can we predict the threat in 40 to 50 years’ time, when the next generation of submarines actually will still be in service.

There are some who argue that, because the major threat is now rogue states, it is not necessary to have a submarine-based alternative.

But isn’t it the case that the replacement for Trident will cover the period 2025 to 2055, when the nature of the threat is so completely unpredictable?

It may be rogue states.

It may be major powers.

We should have a credible deterrent to both."

This is why arguments like Roy Hattersley's that deterrence is no longer useful miss the point and the only proper criticism is the old CND argument for unilateral disarmament which is, thankfully, no longer in the political mainstream.

The other argument in Hattersley's piece, that the US can do the job, is weak; in International Relations unlike other areas of policy honour matters and leaving our allies to bear the full moral weight of deterrence is dishonourable. It would reduce the perception of Western unity of purpose and action which truly deters enemies who know that the US does not like to act alone.

What I didn't see coming in Cameron's speech was this:

"First, on the number of submarines, will the Prime Minister confirm that it wouldn’t be right to rule out a fourth submarine?

The French deterrent, for example, does require four submarines.

The Prime Minister said the decision will be taken when we know more about the detailed design.

Will he confirm that the decision over the fourth submarine does not actually have to be taken possibly until as late as 2020?"

Exactly the kind of question a Conservative opposition should be raising responding to a Labour Prime Minister making the right decision.


I've added the MyBlogLog reader community and visitor monitoring widgets to this site; this blog's "community" is here. Those of you who are registered with them should now begin to show up. If it annoys me or tells me nothing of interest then it may be removed but for now consider the surveillance society advanced.

Why Rawls is wrong in 20 knots

The Mirabella V is $300,000 per week, can comfortably sleep sixteen plus crew and can absolutely fly.

"Mirabella V now has official certification from Guinness World Records for the tallest mast and largest sail."

I think that this section from Jackart's post makes a surprisingly large point:

"Now Johnny socialist looks at that and thinks "how many hospital beds could be bought with that". or "That could have been spent on the poor/schools/welfare/Nurses [delete as applicable]"

That attitude totally misses the point of being human - where would we be if the Chairman of Avis car rental wasn't able to think "I know. I think I want a boat with a 300ft mast" and then go to the company who makes the Royal Navy's warships and say "Make me a bloody big boat, with sails as big as a footaball field"

Capitalism enables people to make beautiful, magnificent, pointless things like Aston Martins, Ducatis, and the Mirabella V. I may never own one (or any other yacht). I may never even Hire it for a week. But I am glad it exists, and if I see it passing me in a shipping lane I will wave and smile. The people on board will ignore me and turn smugly to their pink gins. I don't care."

It may be possible for someone like Rawls to accept this boat's existence as the cost to the poor of destroying the market mechanism's that allow it may be larger than the benefit to them of redistributing the wealth that allows for it or limiting people's consumption choices. However, the boat cannot be celebrated by anyone, like Rawls, who judges the worthiness of an action primarily by a difference it may make to the fortunes of the worst off in society; it is clearly a collosal waste in that regard.

This is similar to the conundrum which has exercised Nietzsche and several other major thinkers; that art is cruelty. Art as art is necessarily pointless in practical terms. While some art may at times fulfill useful functions this is usually where it overlaps with design or is being used as a tool to communicate some political or practical message. Art itself as the expression of emotions or the creation of something beautiful is profoundly and wonderfully useless. In a more concrete sense most art will have little to no contact with the poor and the idea that its effect will pay its way through some kind of trickle down is rather poorly substantiated.

Think about it this way. While someone, somewhere is starving to death another person is sitting in comfort with the capacity to help them and is instead choosing to paint something that will wind up in a gallery being appreciated by others who are well off. Awful.

The answer is that although art, and collosal luxury yachts, are both cruelties they are both also clearly wonderful. Once you realise this it becomes necessary to rethink an awful lot of morality which cannot make room for wonderful things.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Cameron Project

I voted for Cameron and am still very much convinced that I made the right choice. However, I think that after a busy year I can come to some conclusions about what I like and dislike about the Conservative party under Cameron so far.

What I admire is the nerve that is allowing the party to take the time to really think about policy rather than panicking at the unwarranted cries of "no substance!" While it leaves us short of policy now it should mean that we'll have the policy thoroughly worked out when it counts; at the General Election.

The moves to thoroughly entrench socially liberal politics, such as supporting civil unions, are welcome. There is a very plausible case for a new socially conservative revival in Britain but this should be a positive movement to do things like strengthen the family rather than ugly backlash politics.

Reflecting a broader range of priorities is an excellent idea. Demonstrating that the conservatives can think beyond tax policy and our internal debate on Europe is important to becoming an election winning force again and a victory for conservative thought in general.

However, I have one big criticism of how Cameron is proceeding which is that the groundwork positioning may be dramatically limiting the party's ability to think outside the box once the policy groups have reported and the time comes to form a programme for government. Make a quick list of conclusions that the Conservative party cannot come to thanks to announcements already made and this becomes clear:

1) "Tax cuts are a priority for improving Britain's competitive economic position". While tax cuts might be achieved after the election in the sharing of the proceeds of growth expected amounts cannot be promised or aspired to as a part of a Conservative programme.

2) "The NHS requires significant reorganisation". Making a political priority of "Stop Brown's NHS Cuts" after the chancellor's spending record and highlighting that the problem under Labour may have been too many reorganisations makes promising anything beyond a more stable status quo for the NHS very difficult.

3) "Global warming is going to be a change in circumstances we must adapt to as much as a crisis we can prevent". The party's collective mind is made up and as a result we are getting in trouble working out how we differ from Labour, in particular on annual binding targets.

4) "Relative poverty is not a sensible yardstick with which to assess progress". This has been used as a vague tool to say "we care about poverty" which we definitely should but will have the effect of making us hostile to sensible policies, like Thatcher's, which will involve a transition cost in terms of inequality.

The Cameron project is being diverted from highlighting new issues which the party should be caring and thinking about to deciding certain debates before they are properly had as part of a repositioning that has become rather clumsy.


I took a look at UKIPHome as we have another new home, LibertarianHome, launching and Iain Dale's description made it sound like he'd got in another funny little spat like the old one with EU Referendum. Turns out all it adds up to is a strange, impotent, rage on Chad Noble's part at Iain still being a Tory. This rage has been manifested into some imagined personal dispute.

"Add to that the personal nature of the battle since I revealed Dale's lies over Norfolk Conservatives then you can certainly see why he dislikes me and UKIPHome so much."

Poor baby.

Still, it was worth the effort as it is one of the funniest blogs I've ever read. I can't see a way to get perma-links to individual articles so I'm afraid I'm just going to have to give you quotes. What is strange is that UKIP home isn't really a "home" as it never links to other UKIP writers but is instead a showcase for Noble's analytical brilliance. This makes it quite a read.

Does anyone ever get the impression that David Cameron beat Chad Noble as a child?

"No wonder Cameron is also encouraging people to grow their own vegatables, no-one is going to have any money to actually buy them.

The LibLabCon Westminster elite are so detached from the rest of us, like the Russian bourgeosie before the Russian revolution.

Real anger is building up but they either can't or don't want to address it."

Another classic:

"Support for 'others' is now almost as big as support for the LibDems at a whopping 15%.

People really are turning away from the LibLabCon-sensus Westminster elite.

Surely the honest thing would be for pollsters to start listing UKIP properly instead of lumping it in with 'other'?"

Given most of the "others" are the various nationalist parties I wouldn't recommend it. Then you couldn't enjoy your little "we're not in a tailspin since our racist Messiah left and are going to catch the LibDems any day now" delusion.

Finally, in this short sample, he combines this criticism of road pricing:

"When you consider that people are only using their cars because they have been driven off the trains by the spiralling prices, a scheme to make cars more expensive than the trains will leave thousands of people not able to afford to get to work."

With this call for increased taxation on vehicle fuel a few posts later:


We all know the real answer is charge for CO2 emissions is to add the charge into the price of fuel but those excellent people at SafeSpeed have produced this point by point excellent destruction of the Labour and Tory arguments for such a scheme."

Ladies and gentlemen, I present the famous self-rebutting Chad Noble. Also, increased petrol tax as a solution to climate change, being a focussing of the entire cost of curbing emissions onto one cause (leaving out air fuel, industrial emissions, power generation) is deeply distorting and hardly a policy for someone wanting to be a part of "the Libertarian Party".

I know that every party has its cranks and there will be others in the UKIP who are more sensible but it does tend to attract a disproportionate share of crackpots.

Adapting vs. Curbing Climate Change #2

Suppose those predicting a serious climate change apocalypse are right. Suppose we're actually right to believe there's a going to be a 5,000,000 degrees centigrade rise in temperatures and we'll all burn rapidly to death because of global warming (or some less 'paraphrased' version).

Now, we can either respond to this by trying, probably in vain, to persuade people to do serious damage to the world economy by trying to combine reductions in energy use with rising living standards in the developing world. We can harm the UK economy by making energy intensive industry more costly in the UK; at the same time increasing the incentives to greater energy use in other countries as competition from the UK is hamstrung. Or we can spend a small portion of that cost, avoid the economic distortion and have a chance at finding new planets as Dr. Hawking recommends.

While there is, of course, technological risk that the investment will not pay off there is equally risk in attempting to curb climate change as we cannot claim to have an accurate picture of the difference marginal changes in the human carbon dioxide emissions will make to climate change; they could wind up being as useless as a mass of stalling interstellar engines. It is even possible we could do harm; if global cooling makes a comeback, all the rage in the 70s, might we wind up rather regretting our rash decision to stop filling the atmosphere with warming gases?

It is also worth noting that if climate change winds up amounting to less than we expect, perhaps because the market would respond rapidly to rising fossil fuel prices and energy intensity fall anyway, then if we've paid for curbs to emissions then we'll have little to show for our efforts. By contrast, if we've spent our money on interstellar travel even if we still have a healthy Earth to play with we'll have plenty to show for our extraterrestrial adventures; new real estate and the like.

Colonising other planets may still be science fiction but so is a climate change apocalypse; the problem deserves the solution.