"I'm interested in the right of disadvantaged kids to learn and make something of their lives. If a potential teacher came in to me and the first thing they talked about was their own rights rather than the needs of the kids, I'd tell them they were in the wrong profession." - Kole Knueppel
Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | Permanent Link | Wednesday, April 28, 2004
Extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds
Happy eighteenth birthday to Paul Harris, who has reached voting age and now can, in his words, "tell them where to stick the European Constitution".
Do also read his account of the controversy generated when a neighbouring village had a mobile telephone mast installed in the area. After reading, I can only say that the infamous events of 1690s Salem seem less peculiar. Thumbs up to Orange, and a big thumbs down to the MP who advised local residents to sleep with buckets over their heads to avoid the mast's noxious rays. I think Paul now has a duty to give us the man's name.
Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | Permanent Link | Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Free and open debate will do more for our environment in the long run
Unusually, George Monbiot had a column in today's Guardian that was both intentionally funny and somewhat convincing. The piece centred on the malign effect he believes environmental sceptics have on discussion of pollution and industrialisation. He particularly castigates the BBC for letting these scientists on its programmes alongside environmental campaigners when the issue is raised, and is no kinder to newspaper commentators. In his attack on journalists sceptical of the 'greenhouse effect', he advises:
If ever you meet one of these people, I suggest you ask them the following questions: 1. Does the atmosphere contain carbon dioxide? 2. Does atmospheric carbon dioxide influence global temperatures? 3. Will that influence be enhanced by the addition of more carbon dioxide? 4. Have human activities led to a net emission of carbon dioxide? It would be interesting to discover at which point they answer no - at which point, in other words, they choose to part company with basic physics.
This is a good way of beginning the discussion, but only to a point.
One could quite easily ask of George Monbiot: 1. With England more populated than ever, are more people visiting the beaches of the West coast? 2. Does more children visiting these beaches mean more urinating in the Atlantic? 3. Does adding water to more water cause those water levels to rise? Unless you want to part company with science and reality, the answers to these questions also will all be yes.
But the real question that follows from that is whether this human activity is having any significant effect - and whether that effect is negative. Is it a drop in the ocean, or is it something both historically unprecedented and potentially catastrophic? That's the issue sceptical environmentalists are discussing, and the question some of the best scientific minds are asking. The global climate has changed throughout history and prehistory, forces far beyond our control determining temperatures on this island and across the world. As Norman Tebbit noted recently, in Roman times Britons grew grapes right up to the Scottish border, and we were making so much of our own wine that the central Roman authorities complained that we should buy more from them instead. Is the effect of human activity on the climate really so great by comparison to these natural, cyclical forces? If we are heading for trouble, is it really BMWs we have to worry about? Much science suggests not: the effect of human activity has been to increase global temperatures by less in a century than the average variation from one year to the next.
More fundamentally, how do we know that the climate of a century from now will not be better? As Tebbit, again, put it, these reports showing x number of Namibians dying from slightly increased global temperatures never seem to take into account the number of pensioners who survive in Britain or Ireland because the winters are a little warmer. Who are these climate reactionaries like Monbiot to decide that suddenly here and now in April 2004 we must stand before these impersonal forces of history and prehistory and yell 'stop'?
The serious scientific debate on these issues is really only just beginning, and if we want it to continue, then George Monbiot's call for the voices of caution and scepticism to be silenced should not be heeded.
5. Do global temperatures influence atmospheric carbon dioxide?
You see the world is a funny, Gaia-like thing, with feedback going in all directions at once. The oceans hold a lot of carbon dioxide. Warm them up and you'll get more in the atmosphere. Which way does the link work? Are the temperature rise and the carbon dioxide rise due to our outputs, or is higher temperature causing more CO2 to be present?
"The constitution covers over 500 pages. At every turn where the constitution rules that power should be exercised at a different level, it is for that power to flow to Brussels.
Britain will lose, for example, its veto in more than 30 areas of policy. There is not a single proposed change in the constitution that returns one of the powers currently possessed by Brussels to member states." - Frank Field
"The draft EU constitution effectively gives power over every aspect of our lives to Brussels. From our criminal procedures to our prejudices and preferences, Brussels has laid down its marker. Where a particular power is now limited, there is a basket clause to amend or expand it in the future. Areas of influence have been mapped out as clearly as the patch of land around which any animal urinates to establish dominance.
Given that the EU's compliance and enforcement will be in the hands of an unaccountable civil service, this constitution is essentially a document in which bureaucrats constitutionally empower themselves to rule without limit. All we can hope is that they are nice bureaucrats. We can't exclude the statistical possibility that some of them will be decent intelligent people. If not, we're out of luck." - Barbara Amiel
It's exam time again (indeed, my tenth consecutive year of May/June exams), so I am afraid I won't until the end of May have the time I normally do for blogging. I'll try nonetheless to meet a quota of one post per weekday.
Today, I'll just link to a very enjoyable piece by Steve Sailer, a Darwinian analysis of the effects sex differences have on childrens' cartoons. It appears the theory of evolution may even provide answers to such questions as why you so often see "abrupt segues from alarmingly belligerent programs about colossal robots battling for galactic mastery to unspeakably adorable commercials for toys like Polly Pocket's Fairy Wishing World" and why female characters are so secondary in ordinary Disney cartoons but so central to Disney feature films.
I've known a lot of people so thoughtless and closed-minded in their political correctness that they believe it's enough to say that a claim is a stereotype or is sexist to disprove it, irrespective of the facts of the case. One of the many things that make Steve Sailer such a good writer is his choice not to pay even lip service to such dogma, and simply to spell out the truth as he sees it. You can hear the liberal squeals from miles away.
Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | Permanent Link | Thursday, April 22, 2004
[When the loony left liberals] start taking out an onion it usually implies that they've got something to hide. So it is in this case. We can smile at poor, dumb, Lara's statement, yet what is her statement but a logical conclusion drawn from L3-influenced health education efforts? To suggest to the L3 that STDs may make promiscuity a bad idea is to commit the worst form of heresy. However bad the AIDS epidemic gets, the L3 will continue to argue for any measure other than cutting down on shagging, justifying their position by talking up the effectiveness of alternative counter-measures far beyond any rational judgement of their worth - condoms, for example, dramatically cut down the risk, but they surely don't eliminate it. Against this background, can we really blame Lara for buying into the idea that, with a few, simple, measures, she could keep buying tickets without winning the lottery? And can we really not blame those supposed public-health experts who helped put that thought in her head, and thereby condemned her to death?
Well, exactly. The offence was not to laugh at her catching HIV - I clearly didn't. My crime was to suggest she is responsible for her own actions, and so for the predicament in which they have placed her. I have noted elsewhere that liberal outrage seems exactly proportionate to the demonstrable truth of the opposing case, but I certainly didn't learn that lesson. So help me, God: I said sexually-transmitted diseases are sexually-transmitted.
Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | Permanent Link | Wednesday, April 21, 2004
Quote of the Day
"The United States has had no better friend than Tony Blair over the last few years, which is actually different from saying we've had no better friend than Britain. Yes, the British -- as always -- have been our go-to guys, our wingmen, our hombres, but were it not for Blair it's not clear that the British would have gotten our backs on this one.
Nevertheless, Blair is staking his job on a new EU referendum. And, if the choice is between the abolition of Britain and the abolition of Blair's tenure then I think I'm going to have to hope for the latter." - Jonah Goldberg
Peter Briffa has a couple of great pieces on the Guardian this week. The ability of the paper's columnists' to advocate the unspeakable as if they were ordering coffee really is a sight, and the last couple of days have demonstrated this perfectly.
Yesterday, as the Prime Minister announced a referendum on the EU Constitution - a great victory for all eurosceptics and democrats, who must now turn all their fire towards showing just what a thoroughly bad document it is - the paper's leader column demanded that the eurosceptic press be gagged during the referendum campaign in the name of "fair press coverage"! Timothy Garden Ash explains:
22 million newspaper readers pick up a dose of Euroscepticism every day, compared with about 8 million readers of papers broadly favourable to the European project.
As Peter Briffa notes, it's apparently our fault we don't read the Guardian enough. It's not as if the europhile press does not exist. For every Telegraph there is a Guardian, for every Sun a Mirror, for every Mail an Independent. But inexplicably people seem keener to fork out their cash on a morning for the former newspapers! What more evidence of foul play could there be? Interestingly, I don't remember this complaint when the Conservatives fought the last election with the support of just one newspaper, the Daily Telegraph. And all of this conveniently ignores all the television and radio stations that the BBC - at least as europhile as the pro-EU press - has at its disposal.
Thomas Jefferson said that "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." Would that the Guardian had such wisdom.
When it comes to the Metropolitan Police's latest big idea, Briffa is still more scathing, and deservedly so. A huge proportion of all the crime in Britain occurs in London, yet the frighteningly PC Met has refused to investigate ordinary burglaries and has focused its resources on people who call transsexuals names. Now it is proposing affirmative racism to ensure that one in four of their recruits are from ethnic minorities, their actual ability to do the job very much a secondary concern compared to their skin colour. The defence proposed by Roy Hattersley amongst others is typically laughable. The idea that only a black man can treat black criminals and victims of crime fairly is absurd and offensive. The view that ethnic minorities will only have 'confidence' in the police if a lot of them are the same colour is a straightforward endorsement of racial intolerance, and logically inseparable from a view that white people cannot be expected to trust non-white policemen. By implicitly accepting ethnic racism, the Metropolitan Police tacitly legitimises white racism.
The surest way to restore confidence in the police and the criminal justice system is not to indulge the balkanising identity politics of political correctness, but to treat everyone fairly. That means taking violent and property crimes seriously, working hard to catch the people who commit them, and then ensuring they face a reasonably proportionate prison sentence when convicted. If all these things happened as a matter of course, few law abiding people would have grounds for distrust of the police. That the three almost never occur together is why people feel the law is not on their side, and that feeling will continue until it is put right, whatever the skin colour of Britain's policemen.
If some at times feel irritated by my combination of youth and political knowledge, I can sympathise, because not long ago I found someone worse - and he is now blogging, too. Dan Hamilton is a seventeen year-old sixth former but already he has - like so many of the biggest talents in CF - worked for Romford MP Andrew Rosindell, and he is now employed by a Tory MEP. Later this year he will be going over to the US to work on the Bush re-election campaign. His blog promises to bring political gossip as well as opinion, and I know he's very capable of delivering both. Certainly a site to keep your eye on.
Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | Permanent Link | Tuesday, April 20, 2004
Where the pro-war Left is just as bad
Over at Harry's comments, some rightly protest at the feebleness of those left-wing arguments against the Iraq War centred around the motivations of its supporters - that it's all about enriching Halliburton and satisfying the Project for a New American Century or whatever. But you only have to read the exchange below to see the equal feebleness of those left-wing arguments in favour of the war which are centred around the motivations of its opponents. This idea, promoted by the usually agreeable Oliver Kamm and Harry Hatchet, that opposition to a war to remove Saddam Hussein and support for his continued rule over Iraq are identical positions really should be beneath any supporter of the Iraq War to argue. But for whatever reason, for many it certainly doesn't go without saying that one can support the removal of Saddam Hussein from power without believing it to be the job of the British Army to do it, just as one can quite easily support the assassination of Abdel Aziz-Rantissi without believing his killing to be a responsibility for which British troops should risk their lives.
If you're not a leftie, you should automatically be able to distinguish between opposition to government action and opposition to the thing government does. Ann Coulter has described very well the ridiculousness of the situation Americans liberals have created by blurring this distinction:
If Republicans opposed the National Endowment for the Arts, they were said to hate art. If Republicans opposed the Department of Education, they were said to hate teachers. If Republicans opposed the Environmental Protection Agency, they were said to hate the environment. Opposition to the government spending money on anything was invariably attacked as hatred for the thing money was to be spent on.
And this is hardly a situation peculiar to America. Conservatives and libertarians all over the democratic world have scorned the idea that if one doesn't support the state doing X it must logically amount to opposition to X. Why Morgoth and other self-proclaimed conservatives cannot apply the same logic to state action against Iraq, I don't know. Opposition to the use of state power to remove a nasty dictator is no more support for that dictator's continuation in office than a preference for private charity over government welfare is a desire to starve the poor.
But further, this is not a distinction right-wingers alone should make. In practice, every sane person recognises it. No thinking person wants to go to war with every dictatorship in the world. Most of those who are pro-war with Iraq are anti-war when it comes to Syria or Libya. Do those people support the continuing rule of Bashar al Assad or Colonel Gaddafi? Logically they must, if those who opposed war with Iraq wanted Saddam to stay in power.
I am reminded of that old phrase in defence of religious disbelief - that everyone is athiestic about most of the gods that men have believed in, and the athiest just happens to believe in one God less than the Christian. Everyone is anti-most of the wars that could be fought against the world's brutal dictators: the anti-Iraq war crew just happened to be anti-one more war than that.
I supported the Second Gulf War, and on balance I still think it was the right choice. But those who took the position I did should argue their case honestly and fairly, not in terms of state-worshipping liberal platitudes that logically force one to choose between supporting war with every dictator and supporting those dictators. That is not the choice when it comes to Libya, China, North Korea or Syria, and it wasn't the choice when it came to Iraq.
Look, I don't wish AIDS on anybody and I wish the people who had it didn't. But the coverage of the "outbreak" of AIDS in the porn "community" makes me think the journalists are striving to keep a straight face. They make it sound like this is as "troubling" and "surprising" as an outbreak of TB at a daycare center. Yeah, yeah, I know the porn industry -- at the top end -- takes a lot of precautions. But the pearls of wisdom your grandmother gave you still hold true; If you shag dozens and dozens of dudes you don't know for money (or for shiny beads) you shouldn't be surprised if you catch something.
There'sbeensomeinformedchatter in recent weeks about the sudden decline of the Spectator. Plastic Gangster's comments on how something to look forward to has become almost a chore describes my own attitude perfectly.
Getting hold of it on Thursday used to be a pleasure, whereas now I often go to the website, stare blankly at the contents, check the book reviews and then tune out... It has all become thoroughly dreary. This week's edition was especially worthy of being used to line cat litter boxes nationwide.
From publishing a cover story sneering at the idea that Al-Qaeda posed a threat on the same morning as the Madrid bombings and the featuring of a bizarre interview with Nick Griffin, to the hiring of Andrew Gilligan and this week the choice to allow him the lead story, the Speccie has made some conspicuously bad moves recently. Though there have been exceptions to this pattern - just last week Peter Hitchens, Mark Steyn and Peter Oborne all had great pieces - the pattern exists.
So, if Boris is determined to set things right, what has he done first? Penned this week's Diary column - entitled 'I saw Victoria Beckham's bottom' - for himself.
Victoria Beckham is minute. She was standing in a circle of gofers and parents and children, and sort of glaring at the world. Her eyes were invisible behind enormous Dior shades, but her lips were thrust out in her trademark snarl, like some rainforest chief. She was wearing a furry waistcoat and odd, low-slung baggy trousers, but the most interesting thing was her bottom. It was either the top of her bottom or the bottom of her back. It was plainly visible, and appeared to be tattooed with some inscription or device. I scrambled after her up the stairs to the ski lift, in an undignified attempt to read the message. What was it? 'Open other end'? 'If you can read this, you are too close'?
... Back in London I see a new sandwich bar off the Gray's Inn Road, optimistically called 'The Butty Boys', complete with a pictogram of two beaming close-cropped young men. This is obviously good news, since it confirms that our society, like the Tory party, is becoming more vibrant, tolerant and forward-looking.
Eugh. There's certainly a market for this type of salacious yet politically correct drivel (hence professional journalistic airheads like Zoe Williams and Julie Burchill). But I find it very difficult to believe that the Spectator will ever be bought for that. It really is beneath the magazine to publish this rubbish, and beneath Boris Johnson to write it.
The Speccie has in recent years - much as any other time - been a journal of thought where the Right has contemplated the forces and issues of politics and begun to come to terms with the problems and opportunities of the twenty-first century. Just consider Peter Oborne's devastating insights into the Liberal Democrats, the great arguments between Mark Steyn and Matthew Parris on the right course to follow after 9/11, and all those other one-off pieces that made a good point well but concisely. In recent months the Spectator has become a shadow of what it was even a year ago, and in its way this one diary column captures so well the quandry it is now entering. Let us hope that it gets itself out of this rut soon, before it goes the way of the New Statesman and ends up utterly without anything original and interesting to say.
theArchitect: The authenticity of OBLs message is besides the point. The very idea that his offer of truce to Europe can at least give pause for thought is enough damage against Bush. No doubt it will be played down, but nevertheless i`m sure he had a better touch at the hearts & minds of most. If the world can deal with Bush then the world can deal with OBL, his friendship has more value and we needed him on our side more than we need Bush.
... Only a fool would reject an offer of truce right now, if only to achieve some much needed breathing space. Besides OBL has outsmarted Bush on every count and outclassed the achievment og political goals. I'll be the first to admit that any blow against Bush makes me happy, but the possibilty or at least the thought that Europe can show they can think for themselves is a much needed argument. Maybe we do actually need clear division between US and Europe. Who cares where the offer comes from?
artist: Whats wrong with making a truce with Laden. Havent the west done the same with Ghadfi?
mandrake: A truce. I'm up for it. Why should it be dismissed? As artist says were dealing with Ghadafi. We made deals with the IRA etc etc. Whats so different. And considering the Al Qaida tactics, its a battle that any state or superpower cannot win.
Dragonslayer: Who is OBL? To what extent can we believe Anything that comes out of the US regarding him.
blackrod: In principle I don't see anything wrong with talking to Bin Laden. A while ago I wouldn't have thought this. He used to be a wealthy renegade who should have been starved of the oxygen of publicity.
But unfortunately GWB decided to declare war on him and this has set in train a number of events that have spiralled out of control. Unfortunately I don't think Bin Laden has that much influence any more.
theArchitect: my deep in hell hatred for GWB makes it easy for me to respect anyone who stands up to him, besides OBL is until further notice the best balance we have against GWB. The superpower against the superwill. The UN, Europe, Russia, China and so on are so involved in political niceties or making money that they cannot see Bushs goal of global dominance. But good ol Binny aint havin it!
ZL900: I'm sorry that you lost family in the WTC incident. I have no sympathy for the US, however, as a nation, over that event. I feel sympathy for the individuals killed and their surviving families.
Truly, it (the US) had it coming. It has bombed, shot and tortured millions, in the false name of freedom. Why should it not go unavenged?
... America is a lying, double-dealing, false, hypocritcal, greedy, thieving piece of crap.
It is hardly suprising that people are so desperate to attack it.
gch1974: Osama: those who do not meet our terms will be destroyed
Bush: those who do not meet our terms will be destroyed
The title has got to be the coolest one in a long time. LOL.
... "weak kneed, appeasing scumbags" are those who call in fighter bombers against civilians and those who bomb mosques while people are praying in it.
pistonbroke: OBL is an American stooge and almost certainly a CIA agent. Bush is on the ropes and trying desperately to win over support for his continued failure in Iraq and at home. This latest scam by the CIA to implant a hatred for the USA in the minds of the electorate in isolation, the fortress America syndrome will probably work, it always has in the past.
You have to live in the USA to know their reaction to certain news stories, they are unbelievably naive and will swallow this hook,line and sinker.
Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | Permanent Link | Thursday, April 15, 2004
Quote of the Day
"In 1975, the Ethiopian government nationalised the land. It meant that food production was controlled not by the profit motive but by need. It put people before profits. The result was that the people starved." - Alex Singleton
Anthony Wells links to a rather good site warning against a further lowering of the voting age. Phil Cowley of Votes for Adults agrees with almost the whole of the world that sixteen is too young an age for people to be voting, and in one short pdf document effectively scrutinises the arguments offered in favour, most of which have superficial appeal but make less and less sense the more they are examined.
The most common is the glib "If you can get married at 16, join the army at 16 ... then why can't you vote", which falls apart under the most cursory examination. Only in Gretna Green, Scotland can one marry before 18 without parental consent, and just a fraction of one per cent of under-18s do marry. Equally, military training in the army begins at 16, but that is to prepare people for combat at the age of 18. While they are given fitness training and taught how to operate as a combat unit, 16 year old boys and girls are not sent to Basra or Londonderry to keep the peace. Every example given applies to a small minority of under-18s, and all seem to be prone to exceptional circumstances that actually prove that the law already recognises a distinct difference between the responsibilities of 16- and 18-year olds in these areas, too.
And as Phil further notes, there is nothing at all odd about setting different ages for different things.
There is nothing inherently illogical in setting different qualifying ages for different things and just because some rights are acquired at 16 (like the right to have consensual sex) this does not necessarily imply that an unrelated right (like that to vote) should also be granted at the same age. Rather than ask ourselves at what age people should acquire a package of rights and responsibilities we should ask what would be the appropriate age for the activity concerned. In that case, it is perfectly understandable that different ages would apply in different areas.
Exactly. Asking rhetorically "If I can leave school at 16, why can't I vote?" as if it is some sort of trump card is no more an argument-winner than "If I can do a paper-round at 13, why can't I pilot a helicopter?". You can't for the obvious reason that different tasks and responsibilities require different levels of maturity and skill.
Perhaps the overwhelming case as far as I am concerned is the rather politically incorrect one made in different ways by two thoughtful lefties, Richard Dawkins and Oliver Kamm: the typical young mind is just not as well equipped to consider political questions properly. Dawkins delves into the scientific support for this, but Oliver Kamm's less technical reasons ought to ring so many bells of recognition.
Not all the things we value - liberty, equity, solidarity, security - are compatible with each other. In economics - and self-evident though it sounds, the principle is rarely acknowledged in discussions of public policy - scarcity is an inherent part of the human condition. Devoting revenues from taxpayers (for government has no money of its own) to environmental protection means the same money can't be devoted to school textbooks. We therefore, in politics and economics, make trade-offs.
Children don't have the conceptual equipment to grasp this. They want only good things; it would be unnatural if they didn't. Children who imagine that's a political stance, however, ought not to be flattered. They want peace, and don't see that war to overthrow a bellicose tyrant is sometimes preferable. They want forgiveness of Third World debt, and don't see that developing countries' cost of capital would thereby rise and damage the living standards of the poor. They want to protect the Earth, and don't see that global controls on pollution make it harder for the Third World to lift itself out of poverty, or that environmental protection is a preference, to be assessed in terms of its benefits and costs relative to other public goods, and not a moral imperative.
... Talk to a child who is politically engaged, and you'll find an unbounded belief in the capacity of government to effect any change, resolve any conflict and produce any amount of money (which in the last case is, I suppose, literally true if you're concerned only with nominal values rather than inflation-adjusted ones).
Of course, this all depends at what age level one defines a child. My own experience suggests we are if anything already too generous on this point. In my university class last year, I sat and listened to a debate on tuition and top-up fees and heard a discussion that followed uncannily just the line of thinking described above. The proper question - given that university lecturers demand a salary and classroom equipment must be purchased, who ought to pay the cost? - was replaced by an unthinking assertion of government's ability to provide 'free' education and of the tight-fistedness of those in office who choose not to. Government was not an imperfect arbiter between competing claims but some sort of Scrooge-like hoarder, refusing to give any of its money to obviously worthy causes. All of these people were students of politics, and all of them were of voting age, but their attitudes are typical on every campus in the country - if not the world.
Young people have a natural disposition towards extremism and utopian nonsense, a point demonstrated by teenagers at every left-wing demonstration assuring you that England's communist revolution is just around the corner, and by the foul fervency of those revolutionary students in 1930s Germany and 1960s America who wrecked campus libraries by burning book after book that they were too bigoted to read. In democratic, electoral politics, it is this separation from prosaic reality that motivates the disproportionate support from young people for those parties whose mindsets are, to put it politely, somewhat less in tune with political facts - the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the SNP et al. Unsurprisingly, as Phil Cowley notes, it is these same parties who most seek to lower the voting age once again. But to do so will only chip away further at whatever remains of the mature and responsible politics of difficult choices and the recognition that governments are limited in their fallibility and potency.
Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | Permanent Link | Thursday, April 08, 2004
The [US] economy added 308,000 jobs in March, the Labor Department estimated, pulling out of a pattern of tepid employment growth to clock the largest number of new jobs in a single month since April 2000.
Unfortunately for Buchanan, and fortunately for America, the Republicans are not yet listening to him on this issue.
Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | Permanent Link | Wednesday, April 07, 2004
Bloggers illustrate a timeless difference
Natalie Solent has joined the latest Google-bombing campaign. Apparently an anti-Semitic site is currently the first to appear when anyone Googles the word 'Jew', so many bloggers are linking to the word with a more neutral page in its place. What is interesting is that this campaign has been going on some time, and Natalie is the first person I have seen to do her bit who is not firmly of the left. No doubt my decidedly provincial choice of political blogs has given me a somewhat skewered picture, but I do believe this is just the sort of thing for which the left seems to have a greater affinity, a point just reflected in the dominance they have had over the campaign so far. They really are better at wearing the ribbons and badges, chanting the slogans and marching on the demonstrations.
Of course, the reasons for this are themselves as open to political controversy as anything else. If you're of the left, it's obviously because lefties really are more concerned for their fellow man: more selfless, more generous, more thoughtful and more willing to do their bit for a good cause and help out however they can. If you're right-leaning, it's because the left has always excelled at futile gestures and misplaced generalised concern, ever-willing to sign petitions about the Middle East and boycott African foods even as nearby communities collapse, submerged in the crime to which these same liberals are at best indifferent.
Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | Permanent Link | Tuesday, April 06, 2004
REVIEW: The Great Speeches - Margaret Thatcher
When it was announced that a three-CD set of Margaret Thatcher's speeches was to be released, a number of bloggers linked to me, noting how much I would want it. Of course, they were right, and I bought a copy as soon as I found out I hadn't won the Guardian Backbencher competition with it as the prize. You can do the same from Amazon or Politicos.
A set of speeches is a difficult thing to review, except generally. Certainly, it's a comprehensive set, spanning forty years of the subject's life and lasting three and a half hours. The first CD has short clips, ranging from thirty seconds to seven minutes, the second mostly longer speeches - including quarter-hour extracts from her 1989 and 1990 addresses to the Conservative Party Conference - and the third her fantastic thirty-three minute response to the motion of confidence leveled at her government on the day she resigned, a speech to the Falklanders shortly after the war ended - exclusive to the CD - and a few other little bits. You can read the full list of fifty-five clips at the Politicos site.
The collection is enjoyable, and one can learn a fair bit about Thatcher herself, recent British political history, and oratory generally from listening. There are some great moments, most of all her off-the-cuff comments. When her speech to the 1980 Conservative Party Conference is interrupted by rowdy protestors, she fires back, to the delight of the audience: "Never mind, it's wet outside - I expect they wanted to come in. You can't blame them: it's always better where the Tories are!". My favourite clip was from an April 1983 statement on inflation to the House of Commons, when the ridiculous Denis Healey heckled that her suspected plans for a June election in fact proved a desire to 'cut and run'. "Oh, the Right Honourable Gentleman is afraid of an election is he? Really?", Thatcher shouts back with such force. "Fraid, frightened, frit! Couldn't take it! Couldn't stand it! Oh-ho, if I was going to cut and run I'd have gone after the Falklands. Frightened! Frightened! Inflation is lower than it has been for thirteen years; a record the Right Honourable Gentleman couldn't begin to touch." The first few times I listened to this I sat literally open-mouthed at her beautiful aggression.
Other moments are also revealing. The first two clips are from 1961, and listening to them before any from her time in office shows amongst other things just how much difference was made by Mrs Thatcher heeding her advisors' suggestion that she lower her voice. In the second she could almost be impersonating the Queen. The 1988 Bruges Speech, meanwhile, was so nuanced, moderate and sensible that it is almost unbelievable that it caused such a fuss or that it marked the moment when over a decade of Tory divisions on Europe began. Certainly a good three-quarters of the British public would now consider it simply the purest common sense.
The aforementioned speech to the Falkland Islanders was delivered in January 1983. Its eleven minutes are also a real treat. As she details her experiences of the war, her relief as St Georgia and then Port Stanley were taken - the former the first absolute assurance the Falklanders had that we were actually coming - the warmth of her audience and their instinctive feel for her almost Churchillian rhetoric reminds one that there were out in the South Atlantic real people, real British people, who would have been deprived of their Britishness and their liberty had the right person at the right time not shown the courage and resolve that she did.
Her 1989 Conference Address, in which she rejoices at the death of socialism in Eastern Europe, has a distinctly modern ring to it:
Imagine a Labour canvasser talking on the doorstep to those East German families when they settled in on freedom's side of the wall. "You want to keep more of the money you earn? I'm afraid that's very selfish. We shall want to tax that away. You want to earn shares in your firm? We can't have that. The state has to own your firm. You want to choose where to send your children to school? That's very divisive. You'll send your child where we tell you."
Save the reference to nationalisation, these same issues are the battlelines of British politics today, fifteen years later, and the parties take just the same positions. If this causes one to realise what an utter waste non-Thatcherite governments are, it does at least serve as a reminder that the Tories of today do now offer what she did then. Let us please continue to do so.
So soon after introducing so much regulation in the way of maternity and even paternity leave, the iciest woman in the Cabinet is on her latest venture to make life easier for those who just don't feel like turning up to work.
Patricia Hewitt, the trade and industry secretary, will today float the idea of "granny leave" for employees who want to work fewer hours so that they can look after their parents.
Well, elderly parents do sometimes need looking after, but one wonders why it must be in work hours, and why it must be our ever more regulated and over-burdened employers who have to be forced to pay.
I am reminded of a subtle point Theodore Dalrymple (or perhaps Roger Scruton) made about the right balance of freedom and responsibilities. That if one feels it to be an important part of one's identity to wear a nose-ring all the time, that is fine - as long as you don't then expect to work behind the counter in a bank. But in this modern age we have evolved the curious idea that one has a 'right' to do these things without any negative consequences, that choosing instead the presentable girl to work in a bank is unjust discrimination.
Similarly, it seems we have now come to the conclusion that one's family responsibilities should be something not to fit one's life around, but a perfectly acceptable burden to impose on one's employer. If you need to pop to see your mother before lunch, then it's your employer who needs to work out how to cope with it, not you. Rather than you consider looking for work that begins later in the day, or permits periodic breaks, he has to look for someone else to fill in for you - while paying you both, of course. Who is he to say any different? Look after your mother? Well, it's your right!
This culture isn't only bad for businesses, and especially small businesses. First of all it must be said that this is the wrong attitude to take to one's family. A truly pro-family attitude is that one's children and others come first and that work is something to fit around that. The reverse attitude - that work is central to life and family responsibilities should be met by time squeezed from one's employer - is a very different thing. I've had people who were far from touchy-feely types tell me that they really feel they have gained from having their mother around for them in their early years, so if a mother wants to stay at home to raise her children up to school age and perhaps beyond, she has my very keen support, and in the proper family environment her husband will be able to support this arrangement by going on working as normal. But this is a commitment for a mother to make, not an employer. If looking after your loved ones comes second to your job, then it's you and not your employer who ought to adjust.
Second, one cannot help but feel that such workers' benefits are being bought more and more without a thought for economic circumstances. Like a late 1990s dotcom millionaire pondering which yacht to purchase, we impose these regulations with a mindset rather isolated from prosaic economic reality by the fairly strong growth in Britain's economy since we left the ERM. It's all very well to make employing people more of a hassle, more of a burden and much more expensive at a time like this. But we will see the true fruits of such policies if and when the economy enters a downturn. I believe it was Patricia Hewitt herself who recently warned her party conference of the dangers of following the European economic model - making things wonderfully cushy and easy for employees but as a result ensuring that those who lose their jobs find it so very difficult to get another. She was right then, and she is wrong now: the United States created more jobs in January 1999 than high-tax, high-regulation mainland Europe did in the whole of the 1990s. It's something she should have kept at the back of her mind when she was considering all the red tape she has thus far imposed on business, and something that should motivate her to dump this 'granny leave' proposal now.
ASI Blog has two good pieces on the merits of speculators and ticket touts, economic actors who are widely disparaged but who, as is shown, provide an invaluable service.
All such people do is to buy commodities in the expectation that they will fetch a higher price later. Speculation means thinking ahead to what will be demanded in the future and buying it in the hope of making a profit by providing it for people then. Touting means tickets are allocated not based entirely on who can phone a hotline fastest, but in accordance with the willingness of people to pay to attend the event in question.
If you think it is wrong that some people can make money by perceiving people's wants and needs and then meeting them, your objection is less to speculation than to the profit motive itself. And if you think it is wrong that tickets should be allocated according to people's wish to attend an event - expressed in their willingness to pay more - then your objection is less to ticket touts than to the price mechanism.
Over at England's Sword, I ask whether moral choices and personal responsibility can be considered separately from politics:
What social conservatives recognise is that culture cannot possibly be divided from the political circumstances of a country in this way, that its impact is if anything greater than that of legislation. For a cultural conservative, the history and traditions of a country are what define the circumstances in which all political choices and all political decisions are exercised. We reject absolutely the ahistorical and ultra-rationalist belief that one can impose a set of political arrangements on any people at any point in time, and if they are at all workable then they will work irrespective of the cultural backdrop. That is why it is imperative for anyone who cares about politics also to care about culture and worry about the direction in which a society is headed.