Thursday, May 10, 2007

Blogging is likely to be quiet for the next few days...

I'm afraid I'm going to be out tomorrow evening and then away for most of the weekend. As such, blogging is likely to be light to non-existent.

In the mean time, this report on the future of Bank of England is an interesting one. Its recommendations might allow the Bank to do more to cope with the challenge the Treasury is placing upon it. Despite the private sector growing strongly, which usually implies a rapidly rising tax take, we still have deficits. That implies large structural deficits. These will make the central bank's task a difficult one and we'd best give it the best chance we can.

One farmer keeps the right-wing flame alive in Scotland...

This video is pretty boring, earnest footage of some G8 protestors doing their hippy thing until about 4 minutes 30 seconds. At that stage the Police chase them into a field, one of them gets run over by a cow then a farmer threatens them with a hammer. Truly a right-wing hero.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Jonathan Freedland's crystal ball looks a little dodgy

Jonathan Freedland's article for Comment is Free arguing that a worldwide left-wing revival is taking place is dismally bad. His argument:

1) The Right are doing well electorally. This is true. He cites France and the UK within the last week but one could easily look to Sweden, Germany, the US for some years (only Republican incompetence is screwing that up), Canada, Finland or a host of others. There has been left-wing movement as well (Italy, for example) but that looks decidedly shaky.

His analysis of the local elections is a little odd. He decides that a vote for the nationalists in Wales and Scotland, parties that aren't really defined by their ideological position, is more significant than the elections in England where both left-wing parties lost hundreds of seats.

Also, he tells us that Sarkozy has a protectionist side, he's no Adam Smith. What a shock. It's France. He is still the candidate of a right-wing 'rupture' by the standard set across the Channel.

2) The Left are the ones doing well really. His evidence for this isn't exactly convincing. Inequality is rising and Democrats are telling us that they want to do something about it. No commentary on whether that message is proving persuasive. No real analysis about what it proves at all. He just assumes that with inequality rising the left-wing response must be convincing. Democratic presidential candidates are assumed to speak for America.


Rudy Giuliani appears to be losing his way in the US Presidential Race. I expected him to do well a little while before he began his long period of poll dominance. However, now he's definitely stumbling. At the start of the race it very much looked like the right wing of the Republican Party really wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt over abortion. He's utterly failing to articulate an effective answer to the questions over abortion. Fudging isn't the problem. He needs to do that and it is probably what the public want if they're honest. The problem is doing it badly. The position doesn't trouble me but the poor handling of the issue raises questions about how he'll do as Presidential candidate.

He still might win. I worry that says more about the lack of a credible alternative than anything else. McCain's moment has past and Romney is distasteful. It seems unlikely the next President will be a Republican.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Local Elections: More on the Minor Parties

Iain Dale's numbers confirm what I observed happening in the local elections. The Greens made great strides. All the other minor parties and independents stood still or went backwards. How the Greens will affect the other political parties remains one of the most interesting questions to emerge from these elections. The BNP are an ugly and unpleasant force in British politics but don't appear any closer to an electoral breakthrough. The UKIP are close to irrelevant outside of European elections. The Lib Dems are the most popular protest vote rather than a genuine third party.

The Taxpayers' Alliance

I started work today for the TaxPayers' Alliance. It has been a very encouraging day and thoroughly interesting. I'm now distinctly tired. The student lifestyle has left me soft. As such, I doubt I'll be writing much this evening.

They have graciously given me permission to keep on blogging so Sinclair's Musings will continue. My voice on this blog, however, is purely my own. It should not be taken as any indication of the views of the TaxPayers' Alliance. They have their own blog, which I'll be contributing to.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Spiderman 3

**There are no serious spoilers in this review. However, there are a few minor plot details you might want to avoid if you're seeing it in the next few days**

I went to see Spiderman on Friday evening. It was a fun film. Concluding on moral choice was a fine idea. James Franco was good for once as Harry Osborn played a larger role in the plot this time out and he avoided the Tristan and Isolde perma-sulk. The main emotional story of Peter Parker and Mary Jane's relationship seemed credible. By superhero film standards it was a triumph of emotional realism. The script came up with plenty of excuses for jazz in the score which was very welcome.

It had some minor flaws. Some of the characters, Sandman for example, could have used more screen time to develop their own dilemmas and make them more credible. Too many villains for one film perhaps. Another little gripe, when Peter Parker leaves the theatre after the first performance of Mary Jane's musical there are signs suggesting the film has won a prestigious Tony award. However, the next day a major element in the plot is how bad the reviews are. How did the play get a Tony before the reviews came out?

However, my main problem with this film was Emo Spiderman. By all means have your character wrestle with the temptation of evil. A fine plot device and subject for a film. Don't dress him up like an emo. It upsets me.

First they came for my visa waiver...

Dave makes two arguments in his response to the possibility of America ending the visa waiver for Britons of Pakistani descent. Firstly, he argues it is racist and on that basis not only wrong but unenforceable. Second, he argues that we should oppose it as we should always support the interests of Britons. I'll rebut these arguments before making the case as to why this measure has some sense to it.

'Pakistani' isn't a race. You can't invent a race part of the way through the twentieth century. Pakistan contains a collection of people from different races. It is a nationality. That nationality is associated with a particular religion but that religion is not associated only with that nation. As such, this is also not discrimination against a particular religion.

As Pakistani isn't a race and there isn't Pakistani 'blood' or anything similar there is no need for the bizarre procedures for racial division Dave describes. I would guess that the Americans will use the simple criteria of whether a person has, or is eligible for, a Pakistani passport. That seems the most efficient criteria. That would essentially mean that this is simply a matter of no longer allowing people to travel under the best passport they possess. If not a simple question when entering the States of "have you, or any member of your family, migrated to Britain from Pakistan" would probably do the trick.

Now, to Dave's second point. The example he cites of Palmerstone blockading Piraeus in order to defend a Portuguese Jew who was a British subject from Gibraltar against Anti-Semitic attack establishes the principle that Britain should defend the rights of Britons abroad. I agree that is a good principle and certainly wouldn't, in an ethnic nationalist manner, deny that British Pakistanis are Britons. However, no one has a right to a visa waiver. It is a privilege given to the trusted. Pakistanis, in general, require a visa to enter the United States and this does not mean their rights are being infringed. I needed visas to enter China and Russia, why under Dave's logic did the Foreign Office not leap to my aid?

There is a serious problem with radicalisation in the British Pakistani community. We have good evidence of this from many polls including one by Pew Research comparing them to other European and non-European Muslim populations. I'll try to give a brief overview of why as it is useful background although it is not crucial to this debate. Islamism has a particular potency in Pakistan for a few reasons:
  1. Islam is the only alternative most poor Pakistanis have to landowner power (which owned the democracy).
  2. The nation's existence is defined by Islam. While many Islamic nations define themselves as Islamic there would, without Islam, be Iranians. The same isn't true for Pakistanis.
  3. The long confrontation with India has given the army a particular place in Pakistani life. This could be a force for secularisation or radicalisation. However, even if it acts as a force for secularisation in general it might produce a backlash.
  4. The sense of an unexplainable relative decline in your society's power which many thinkers, e.g. Dalrymple, blame for the general problems in Islam, are strongest in Pakistan. The British Empire took India from them and when the Empire retreated they were not able to reclaim it.
Pakistan's problems are translated into the British Pakistani population because immigrants to Britain are often not the relatively secular elites that, for example, emigrate to America from Iran. We then make things worse by pursuing a policy that gives a disproportionate voice to community leaders we should snub. Other policy mistakes have clearly been made which have contributed to Britain having the worst domestic problem with Islamist terrorism in Europe. This clearly can translate into a serious threat of violence. The extent of that threat was revealed by 7/7, recent terror trials and the warnings of MI5.

This problem with radicalisation is, therefore, not a particular resentment of America. It is not really a problem that America can solve or that any American policy will make a lot of difference to. Even with Iraq it is far more plausible that British involvement had a radicalising effect than that the US policy itself did. Certainly, nothing as minor as a change in visa rules can credibly be expected to make a lot of difference. While we work on the problem of the radicalisation of British Muslims America needs to do what it can to protect itself from the danger some among their number pose. Getting the information that comes with a visa will allow the American government to better protect their citizens. That is an entirely proper measure for a state to take. We should respect it.

Travellers and the Millian Sphere

Dave has written two posts alleging racism recently but both appear to be tilting at racist windmills. I'll deal with the more substantial allegation against the US government for wanting to end the visa waiver for Britons of Pakistani descent in another post. First, he attacks Nadine Dorries for arguing that the traveller lifestyle is not suitable for life in Britain:

"Oh, really? Firstly, the illiberalism of it. What if I want to home-school my kids? What if I want to live in a yurt? British culture is not the monolith Dorries pretends it to be. Secondly, this is frankly racist. It is picking on a definable ethnic group (the Romany) and insisting that they conform to a particular vision of what it is to be British. The Romany arrived in Britain in the 1500s - before the Huguenots and before the Jewish resettlement - making Dorries' argument even sillier if you even accept the premise that you can't move somewhere and live your own lifestyle."

The problem with relying upon liberalism in this case is that you can't establish the necessary Millian sphere. There are two clear harms to others that come with maintaining a nomadic lifestyle in a settled, post-industrial country:

Firstly, an advanced industrial society has a density of population which makes upkeep of your surroundings a serious challenge. Not littering, respecting communal spaces and other behaviours which make living together in a densely populated country like the United Kingdom possible are absolutely necessary. There has been a decline in the understanding that we are all responsible for doing these things which is a part of the reason for urban decline.

However, travellers who aren't going to have to face the consequences of an environmental degradation have no incentive to take care of the area they temporarily live in. They have a reputation for making an utter mess of the area around where they set up camp and this is a key reason their arrival is often greeted with resentment by the locals (of course, this creates a vicious cycle as the travellers feel even less rooted in a community they live with).

One of the major disincentives to crime is the resulting social sanction. Without this social sanction to support it the criminal justice system will struggle to cope. If the approval of your local community is relatively unimportant to you as you expect to leave pretty soon then you are more likely to take the risk of undertaking criminal behaviour. Another reason that traveller sites are resented by local communities is the association with criminality.

The other thing to note is that the travellers aren't just asking for equal treatment under the law. This is one of Dorries' key complaints: "we know that at many of these sites the children don't go to school, the cars aren't insured, and people don't pay business rates as everyone else has to." Surely a racist would want some, more active, discrimination rather than simply applying the same law enforced upon others?

Flying rocks...

If there is one thing that really, really angers me in modern politics it is this attempt to label flying something ugly. To treat the wonder that is the ability of ordinary people to see the world as disreputable. If you really think we need to stop flying to save the planet then make that case but sound bloody morose about the idea of stopping people flying. Don't try to strengthen your argument with the combination of small-minded elitism (an unpleasant combination in itself) and kill-joy puritanism that an attack on flying almost invariably constitutes. Max Hastings' latest example is a classic of the genre.

"Now, in a conversion that would command the admiration of St Paul, he declares that "binge flying" constitutes a huge threat to the global environment. "If the travel industry rosily goes ahead as it is doing, ignoring the effect that carbon emissions from flying are having on climate change, we are putting ourselves in a very similar position to the tobacco industry.""

I don't want to stand in the way of a good buzz-word but this whole notion of 'binge flying' is utterly bizarre. Binge drinking is when one drinks a lot in an unhealthily short period of time. It isn't just drinking too much in general. Now, the person who flies more than once in a day is still something of a rarity. Surely alcoholism is a better analogy.

"He readily admits the irony that he, of all people, should articulate such a warning. He appeals for moderation, for setting some limits on our insatiable appetite for travel: "We now live in a society where, if people have nothing to do on a Saturday night, they go to Budapest for 48 hours. We fly anywhere at the slightest opportunity, 10 times and upwards a year. This needs to be addressed with the greatest urgency.""

How is the idea that if "if people have nothing to do on a Saturday night, they go to Budapest for 48 hours" seen as anything but bloody wonderful? What a brave new world that has such opportunities in it. A trip to see a fascinating city that would have been a serious undertaking even for the richest but a generation ago is now no more of an event than a trip to the cinema.

"For those who inhabit the developed world, opportunities for travel represent the most significant new personal freedom of the past half-century. Even as recently as the 1960s, hitch-hiking to Greece and Turkey was a big deal for the adventurous young middle class. Africa and Asia were high-ticket destinations, South America and Australia almost off the map."

Yes! Now he gets it. A massive, life-enhancing, glorious new freedom. I remember speaking with my grandmother about her flights back when civilian air travel was still something of a big deal. People used to dress up in their best clothes, to be seen. It was a rare luxury of the rich.

"Today, it is possible to fly almost anywhere for a few hundred pounds, and we all do. Every arriving jet at Nairobi or Ho Chi Minh City or Buenos Aires disgorges its crowds of package tourists and backpackers. Short breaks, which mean intensive plane use, are booming. Short-break destinations include Capetown and Dubai."

Isn't this absolutely bloody marvellous? In the film The Fog of War Robert S. McNamara lamented that during the Vietnam war they couldn't understand what was going on in the minds of their adversary. He used this as one explanation of why policy there was poorly formed compared to the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the Missile Crisis we faced off against an enemy we understood. Now we're all flying to Ho Chi Minh City and meeting the Vietnamese.

With so many people travelling to so many places might they learn something and create a more understanding and sensible world?

Certainly I came back from China, and Russia before that, with a new understanding of the peoples of those countries. I also saw first-hand that sometimes when Greenpeace tells you a catastrophe is going on they're entirely lying. Equally, we've started seeing a lot more Chinese tourists on the streets of London since we made it easier for them to get visas. Most of them seem to be enjoying themselves. Every happy Chinese tourist face fills me with hope that they'll go back and want their resurgent nation to reconcile itself with the wonderful Western world they've discovered.

"Common sense tells us that all this is environmentally disastrous. Yet common sense also tells us that tourism is doing great things for the economies of poor societies all over the world. Carbon emissions soar as a result of flying flowers and vegetables to Europe and America from Africa and Mexico. Yet if that traffic stopped, millions of needy people in the growers' trade would suffer."

Indeed. So let's make sure, if we really need to curb emissions, we try and do it while keeping regular flight possible rather than dreaming up draconian and chronically inefficient new taxes on aviation.

"All this leaves many of us as confused as Ellingham. Relatively speaking, the travel boom has hardly started. In the decades ahead, many more millions will possess the means and the desire to fly further and more often. The Chinese, for instance, have only just begun to discover the joys of holidaying abroad. Suggesting to people who live in newly emergent economies that they should forgo travel is comparable with the modern western enthusiasm for saving Africa's great animals, after slaughtering them wholesale for a century or two."

Eh? It's rather different isn't it?

Trying to save animals after slaughtering them is changing your mind and then regretting your old decision. Trying to stop developing nations discovering leisure travel you enjoy yourself is an active hypocrisy.

"Even in the west, it is dangerous politics for a government to seek to check the electorate's passion to fly, just as few democratic nations dare meddle with the freedom to drive. All credible curbs must be based on pricing. Yet if it becomes harder for the poor to travel while the rich stay airborne, this does not sound good on the hustings."

No. Small-minded, elitist, kill-joy puritanism rarely does.

"The best and simplest way forward would be to tax aviation fuel, to end the crazy anomaly whereby moving a plane is cheap, while driving a car is expensive almost everywhere in the world save Iran and the US. But it is almost impossible to reach an international agreement on taxing aviation fuel that would stick. No government will act unilaterally, with the prospect of watching its aviation industry migrate elsewhere."

Indeed. That would be stupid. However, taxing flights has a very similar effect. If Britain continues to ramp up taxes on flights watch Paris Charles De Gaulle or some other European airport in a country with lower aviation taxes claim Heathrow's spot as European hub of choice.

"Ellingham suggests a £100 "green tax" on tickets for all flights to Europe and Africa, £250 to more remote destinations. The first benefit of this would be to deter short-haul flying within the UK. It is absurd that it costs far more to take a train to Newcastle or Edinburgh than to catch a plane there. Lots of us, including me, love trains and are only deterred from using them by the cost."

Perhaps a better solution is for improvements so that taking the train is not so chronically, bizarrely expensive. Privatisation was working better than it has been given credit for. It should have been improved instead of being clumsily and partially reversed. However, bear in mind that high-speed rail travel, the only kind that can effectively substitute for planes, creates more carbon emissions than flying.

"Some destination countries would benefit from discouraging low-budget travellers, because the environmental costs which their visits impose outweigh the cash that they spend. The Samburu National Park in Kenya is currently threatened by the building of two 500-bed hotels. Samburu is a small area, famous for its elephants. Tourists in such numbers will overwhelm its fragile ecosystem. Any rational long-term view of Samburu's interests would come down against the new hotels, and in favour of extracting more money from fewer tourists. The projects will go ahead only because a handful of people will profit handsomely from their construction."

There are two possible solutions to the problem of a hotel being built that shouldn't be in Kenya:

  1. Increase taxes on aviation and reduce all air-travel until it becomes uneconomical to build hotels near a safari park.
  2. Encourage the Kenyan government to make its process for approving new building plans more transparent and democratic.

Which sounds like the more sensible course of action?

"The low-budget traveller creates dilemmas for destinations all over the world. The mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari, wants a levy of €1 a head imposed on the 20 million tourists who come to the city each year, to help with the huge municipal costs they impose. Venice is currently struggling to enforce the ban on picnicking in St Mark's Square, and on walking the streets bare-chested or in bikini tops.

If this sounds pompous, the citizens of Venice reply that, at present, a great host of visitors spend next to nothing and conduct themselves in a manner that diminishes the grace and beauty they come to see. Other Italian cities, including Rome and Florence, are drawing up codes of conduct to restrain boorish behaviour by tourists."

They should do that. The Vatican already imposes special standards of decorum upon its tourists and they don't seem to mind. The new levy Venice is considering sounds like a very measured way to ensure tourists pay their way. Why try to replace this with a generalised attack on travel?

You would replace a specific and tailored response to the problems in Venice with an attempt at a one size fits all policy to defend tourist destinations in general. Venice has very different problems to most tourist destinations. Other areas would love to have more visitors.

"Here, it is easy for a good democrat to explode: "Do you want to restrict the wonders of the world to rich bastards?" But it is an obvious truth that the more people who visit a given place, the greater damage they inflict upon it. Ellingham again: "Balancing all the positives and negatives, I'm not convinced there is such a thing as a 'responsible' or 'ethical' holiday."

Holidays are a good of themselves. They are enjoyed, good for and valued by the traveller. That does come with an environmental, financial as well, cost. Expecting flights to be a net positive for the environment as well as those taking them isn't realistic. Most human activity wouldn't pass that measure.

"The bad news for the environment is that it is impossible to believe that the global travel boom will stop. Whatever is done in Britain, or in the western world at large, amid our consciousness of climate change, many other nations which have only just begun to experience prosperity have no intention of depriving their citizens of its privileges.

As with other responses to climate change, however, this is no reason for us to do nothing. Even if the British government is obliged to act unilaterally, it must be right to impose higher costs on air travel through taxation. Indeed, it would be irresponsible not to do so."

Why? He's just said, rightly, that Britain's choices are of limited importance when faced with growing emissions in the developing world. Why on Earth is acting unilaterally still the responsible choice? It sounds pretty vain to me.

Throwing away "the most significant new personal freedom of the past half-century" in the name of not stopping the global travel boom is a rather dismal idea.


I was discussing the Milgram experiments with a friend and a common question came up. Would people still show the same obedience now that deference to authority figures such as doctors is in decline? Would people still act to kill another person just because the man running the experiment told them to?

To find out I did the natural thing in an Internet age. I checked Wikipedia. I found out, of course, that not so much has changed. The mechanism for the Milgram experiment isn't deference to a particular authority. "The essence of obedience consists in the fact that a person comes to view himself as the instrument for carrying out another person's wishes, and he therefore no longer sees himself as responsible for his actions. Once this critical shift of viewpoint has occurred in the person, all of the essential features of obedience follow."

In the process I found my evidence that things have not changed. I hadn't heard about this case and it's almost completely unbelievable:

"The final prank call in this scheme was made to a McDonald's restaurant in Mount Washington, Kentucky on April 9, 2004. According to assistant manager Donna Summers, the caller identified himself as a policeman, 'Officer Scott', he described an employee whom he said was suspected of stealing a customer's purse. Summers called 18-year-old employee Louise Ogborn to her office and told her of the suspicion. Following the instructions of the caller, Summers ordered Ogborn first to empty her pockets, and finally to remove all her clothing except for an apron, in an effort to find the stolen items. Again following the caller's instructions, Summers had another employee watch Ogborn when she had to leave the office to check the restaurant. The first employee she asked to do so refused, so she phoned her fiance Walter Nix, asking him to come in to 'help' with the situation.

According to Ogborn, after Summers passed off the phone to Nix, he continued to do as the caller told, even as the caller's requests became progressively more bizarre. A security camera recorded Nix forcing Ogborn to remove her apron, the only article of clothing she was still wearing, and to assume revealing positions. As time went on, Nix, per his instructions, began to slap her and had her perform oral sex on him. The tape showed that Summers re-entered the office several times and dismissed her pleas for help, a statement which Summers denies.

When another employee was asked to take part and objected, Summers decided to call the store manager, whom the caller claimed to have on another phone line. She then discovered that the store manager had not spoken to any police officers, and that the call had been a hoax. A quick-thinking employee dialed *69 to determine that the caller had called from a supermarket pay phone in Panama City, Florida. Summers then called police, who arrested Nix and began an investigation to find the caller."

Milgram's experiment remains one of modern science's most interesting discoveries. It is an example of why, despite its weaknesses in some areas, psychology will always be fascinating.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

France chooses Sarkozy

Exit polls suggest that Sarkozy will claim the French Presidency. This after a truly monumental election campaign. 85% turn out, the largest since the Second World War. The possibility of riots if Sarkozy wins. A clash over visions for the future of France.

This election matters. Our rather grasping love of disparaging jokes about the French should not be taken too far. It would be a great thing if Sarkozy could create a framework for talent in France to really show itself. This is what the French, with their rejection of Anglo-Saxon liberalism, are missing at the moment.

Martin Newland argues that we should be cautious in pronouncing our liberalism so superior to the French model. The French expats living in London are outnumbered by British migrants to France seeking its lower cost of living and superb healthcare and transport systems. He argues that Britain's "pleasures are far more accessible to the super rich and tax-favoured non-domiciled billionaires". Of course, there are things we can learn from France, its less socialised healthcare system would be an improvement on the NHS. However, his main case that there is a more just outcome under the French economic order is undermined by the evidence he cites.

As he notes the French migrants to Britain are largely young graduates seeking work. The upwardly mobile strivers. The other group in France that really suffers is the young, non-graduate population of La Zone. This group is hidden away in the banlieues and faces chronic hopelessness. Neither group can find employment in the French economic system which makes new hires rare thanks to the legal obstacles to firing people and shuts those with few skills out of the workforce through high non-wage labour costs. Those who migrate to France, on the other hand, are older, middle class people who retire to France to spend money they have already earned. Those in France who defend the system already have well-paid and legally secure jobs, often in the public sector.

It is the Anglo-Saxon system that gives hope and employment to the worse off, those who wish to strive and seek to improve their own condition. Hopefully Sarkozy can create a France that gives strivers a chance to shine.


Over the last week Ruthie has expressed her concerns at the effects of the hip-hop lifestyle. She fears for what it is doing to a young nephew of hers and huge numbers of other young black men and women. She then wrote a second piece highlighting music which she feels showcases the positive potential of hip hop.

For those who don't know Ruthie she is an American journalism student and single mother that James Higham introduced to the British blogosphere. She mixes in cultural and political observations with her thoughts on her own life. Both the outward and inward looking sides to her blog are well worth reading.

The two posts are interesting not just as a look at what is going on in parts of the States but as the problems she discusses filter into the most troubled areas of the UK and other European countries as well. Dalrymple's discussion of French rap is revealing in this regard (as always with Dalrymple the entire article is indispensable reading):

"But at the same time, official France also pays a cowering lip service to multiculturalism—for example, to the “culture” of the cités. Thus, French rap music is the subject of admiring articles in Libération and Le Monde, as well as of pusillanimous expressions of approval from the last two ministers of culture.

One rap group, the Ministère amer (Bitter Ministry), won special official praise. Its best-known lyric: “Another woman takes her beating./ This time she’s called Brigitte./ She’s the wife of a cop./ The novices of vice piss on the police./ It’s not just a firework, scratch the clitoris./ Brigitte the cop’s wife likes niggers./ She’s hot, hot in her pants.” This vile rubbish receives accolades for its supposed authenticity: for in the multiculturalist’s mental world, in which the savages are forever noble, there is no criterion by which to distinguish high art from low trash. And if intellectuals, highly trained in the Western tradition, are prepared to praise such degraded and brutal pornography, it is hardly surprising that those who are not so trained come to the conclusion that there cannot be anything of value in that tradition. Cowardly multiculturalism thus makes itself the handmaiden of anti-Western extremism."

To end on a positive note my favourite hip-hop track is this one:

Carole Malone manages to demean the abortion debate

My position on abortion is complex and uncertain. There are so many hard moral questions that I'm always a bit suspicious of anyone who claims to possess any certainty on the issue. Anyone attempting to address abortion has to grapple with some difficult questions of morality and personhood. Unfortunately, Carole Malone, writing for the Mirror, prefers to write a ridiculous, ad hominem and largely idiotic attack on GPs refusing to refer patients for abortions. She spends most of her time repeating just two utterly ridiculous arguments. I'll rebut a choice example of each argument:

"What I don't expect from GPs, who (according to the BMA) now earn an average of £100,000 a year and work shorter hours, is for them to make moral judgments on me or my lifestyle."

That the government utterly screwed up their negotiations with the medical unions does not make GPs bad people. Any union will negotiate for the best deal they can. Particularly when its members are employed by the government, with no risk of going bust. It is up to the government to ensure this does not result in a vast waste of taxpayers' money and reduced services. That their union got them a sweet deal in no way reduces an individual doctor's moral capacity.

"The days are long gone when we used to see doctors as gods. We know better now. There are some fantastic GPs - some of them in my own surgery - however, they ARE fallible, and they DO make mistakes, which is why none of them have the right to tell us what to do."

Every person is fallible, anyone can make mistakes. Why does being fallible remove someone's right to make moral judgements?

Moral judgement is central to civilisation's defence against barbarism. As fallible creatures there is always a risk that we could be wrong when making moral decisions and for that reason we should show a certain tolerance in assessing the actions of others. However, taking that to the bizarre extreme of shirking our responsibility to make moral judgements is utter lunacy. It is also massively destructive to the maintenance of a healthy society.