Friday, July 13, 2007

Beyond Blunderdome

The TaxPayers' Alliance has published a report looking at public sector capital projects that go over budget. The first general examination of the record of government major projects. The total amount is pretty staggering, £23 billion. This creates massive problems for proper decision making, as the decision to undertake these projects has been made on innaccurate assumptions about the final balance of costs and benefits. It also represents huge amounts of waste. Well worth a look.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Greenstein on Littlejohn

Mr. Eugenides reminds us why we don't need Comment is Free Watch. A brilliant response to the one actual fact in Greenstein's piece, his argument that levels of anti-semitic violence are overstated in Littlejohn's documentary. Mr. Eugenides shows that argument to be false.

The rest of Greenstein's article is even worse. An unappealing mess of pointless ad hominems, suspect assertions and half-arguments:

He seems to suggest one should oppose Israel's existence because 75% of Israelis are ill-disposed towards Arabs. Why exactly do most Israelis feel hatred and fear when they hear Arabic? I'd suggest repeated attempts to wipe out their state has something to do with it. Even if it is pure racism is that a reason to oppose Israel's existence? My guess is that most Saudis would be displeased with the arrival of Jewish neighbours.

Why does America's support for Afghan fighters against the Soviet Union make them responsible for what a small portion of that movement later became? Osama bin Laden is an exception, there were more old Mujahideen in the Northern Alliance than the Taleban. Those morally responsible for the actions of Al Qaeda and the Taleban are Al Qaeda and the Taleban but in terms of outside support for those movements look to the Pakistanis, the Saudis and other Muslim states.

This paragraph is a stunning non-sequitur:

"Muslims are seen as backward and reactionary, rather than as people whose lands have been colonised."

Isn't there a difference between Muslims being colonised and Muslims losing their land thanks to trying to wipe out an immigrant population and then being defeated?

Why have territorial changes following the second world war created all the problems of the Muslim world while similar changes at a similar time in, for example, the Poland and Germany have not had the same effects?

Besides, most states are created by colonisation. How does Mr. Greenstein imagine the Turks wound up in Anatolia? Does his admirable desire to right historical wrongs extending to restoring Greek dominion over that territory?

Lee Rotherham for Mayor

Lee Rotherham's campaign video is really good:

I've nothing particularly against Steven Norris but I never really understood him to stand for anything in his multiple campaigns for mayor.

By contrast, Rotherham has a clear programme and some interesting ideas. Not talking about the congestion charge is a welcome move towards a broader and more interesting London politics.

Unfortunately, his programme is interesting enough to undermine his own case. It quickly becomes clear, watching Rotherham's video, that London mayoral politics could be great. Whereas I only had a sketchy idea of which region Letchworth is in till recently everyone who lives in London knows it. The city is a genuine historical and widely appreciated entity unlike dreamed up, soulless labels like East of England; which should never have been more than a compass direction. That means that if, for example, a conservative offered a really interesting law and order platform we could have a fascinating debate that might do wonderful things for London.

London's politics could start producing Giulianis instead of Livingstones. The case for scrapping that seems weak. Rotherham could be his own downfall.

Monday, July 09, 2007

New TaxPayers' Alliance Website

Today the new TaxPayers' Alliance website has gone live (if you get the old one you can wait for your DNS cache to clear or go here). I've played a pretty large part in its design and am rather proud of it. Please go and take a look. With it the 'Low Tax Coalition' link exchange has launched. It can be seen on the TPA homepage and this site's navigation bar. If you would like to join please e-mail and I'll get you added.

The Blairite Legacy on TCS Daily

An article of mine discussing the political nature of the Blairite legacy and its possible consequences has been posted on TCS Daily :

"The 'Blairite' political movement that Tony Blair has been associated with may need to be renamed but is unlikely to die."

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sinclair's Guide to Bollywood

The average Bollywood film isn't that great. There is a fundamental silliness to most of the genre. Fortunately a huge number of Bollywood films are made, enough that no matter how many standard deviations it takes there will be some gems. Those gems are worth finding.

Unfortunately, it is a difficult genre for the Western film enthusiast to engage with. Tartan Asia, Premier and East Asian cinema labels are very much aimed at a discerning Western audience and select films that will be of interest to the international/arthouse or martial arts markets. The two genres are pretty easy to distinguish by the cover art and title. By contrast, the market Eros and other importers of Bollywood films to the West are trying to capture is the large British Indian population. They are both closer to the average moviegoer, less interested in artistic quality, and often fans of Bollywood's silly side.

I am fortunate enough to have some good friends from the sub-continent who are introducing me to the best of Bollywood. I thought that others might benefit from a guide to what's out there. This post contains my impressions of what I've seen so far. All of these are on commercial release in the UK, I got them through LoveFilm.

Dil Chahta Hai

I'm told that this is within the top-end of Bollywood films but we watched it because it starts with the song a friend of mine graduated to. The songs are rare but done well. This is probably the weakest of the Bollywood films I've seen so far.

The plot appears to be lifted from an episode of Hollyoaks. Relationships with older women and faux emotional drama. There's not a lot to it.


Lagaan is actually hysterically funny and I think the comedy is largely intentional. It has more songs than the other films in this list, although pretty much every Bollywood film has musical moments, and they're good ones.

It is a tale of a village unable to pay their tax (lagaan) but being bet by an arrogant British officer that they cannot beat the British at cricket, a game the Indians have never played. If they win they will pay no tax, if they lose it is doubled. All of them, from crippled untouchables to Muslims, Sikhs and an enthusiastic man with a drum are found to have skills to contribute to the new team.

This is a fun film to watch with friends. Laugh and shout "Yeardley!" at each other.


Dor has an Iranian quality. It's a lot more modest in its visual style than most Bollywood films and I can't remember a single song. A story of two women whose husbands go to Saudi Arabia. One of the husbands dies and the other is falsely accused of his murder. The accused will only be spared if the widow agrees to grant clemency under the Sharia provision for victims justice.

The woman whose husband has died faces the grim and joyless fate of a young widow in India. A life expected to be spent in mourning serving the husband's parents. The other wife befriends her and the emotional climax of the film comes when she begs for mercy. It's an emotionally delicate film which connected me to a situation I really didn't know a lot about before. Well worth watching but not really Bollywood enough to work as an introduction to Indian cinema.

Rang de Basanti

The set-up is pretty innocuous. Young English woman heads out to India to make a film about fearless Indian revolutionaries she read about in her grandfather's journal. This sounds like a conventional anti-Imperialist story along the lines of Lagaan. She has little luck finding suitable actors but makes some good friends and decides that they're eminently suitable to represent the revolutionaries.

Her new friends cannot relate to their characters. They are cynical about India's future and cannot understand the ideological drive and nationalistic self-sacrifice of the revolutionary heroes. However, playing the parts affects them all and they gradually become more and more impassioned to make a difference. This comes to a head when the fiancé of the female member of the group is killed when his plane crashes. The crash is thought to be down to corruption, officials cutting corners and pocketing the cash.

Here the affairs of the young people in modern India begin to mimic the stories of the pre-independence revolutionaries. This is when the story becomes truly astonishing. I'll try not to spoil it for you but suffice to say that after a while I was wondering how it managed to get into cinemas at all. It becomes a direct call for the assassination of government ministers. It does this in the innocuous style of Bollywood which creates an amazingly dissonant experience.


This is one of the best films ever made anywhere. It charts the experiences of a, rare enough to be remarkable, interfaith couple who have moved from a small town to Bombay to escape the judgements of small-town gossip and parental feuding. They are an endearing couple and the early years of their life in Bombay are enchanting. Only a Michael Jackson inspired song and dance sequence ruins the atmosphere a little.

However, after a while things start to go wrong. They're caught in the path of the Bombay riots of the early nineties which echoed partition in the Muslim-Hindu division of the city that emerged afterwards and the ferocity of the violence, 900 people died. The depth of the emotion on display is staggering and genuinely affecting. It's a long time since I've felt so desperate for characters in a film to emerge safe and sound from the carnage.

The film ends on a call for a reconciliation and inter-faith national unity. An imagined coming together of the community and rejection of violence. Sadly this appears to be a creation of the film as the riots were followed just a year later by the Bombay Bombings, in which another 250 people were killed. In a way that makes the film even more touching; it keeps on hoping in spite of the horrors it reveals to us.

If you want to see what Bollywood can do at its best, just how affecting the impressionistic form can be, watch Bombay. Utterly brilliant.