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Thursday, September 30, 2004

College Football

Looks like I'll be watching LSU v Georgia this Saturday. Sounds like a good game.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The differences between UK and US campaigns: Part VI - Soccer Mum and Nascar Dad, the Targeted Demographic

One particular difference in the way I think the two political campaigns are run on either side of the pond is that American campaigns seem to be more focused on particular demographic groups, more targeted. The two I name in the title are just probably the most well-known. Now, to some degree of course all campaigns everywhere appeal to general demographic groups, but these are generally pretty obvious like women, middle-class, black, and so on. In the USA there seems to be a greater penchant for discerning more specific groups of potential swing voters than there does over here.

After some thought on the matter, particularly where all three kinds of federal elections are concerned, size probably has most to do with this. In the US the larger population blocks mean that such demographic groups are probably both easier to identify and also more likely to have the desired ability to tilt an election. Of course, in principal this should work on a smaller level, but it becomes harder. In the UK the "average" constituency has a population of around 90,000 or so. The "average" House seat in the US, in comparison, has a population of 645,000 or so. In the larger unit you targeted demographic is more likely to occur in the numbers you want. In the smaller unit the targeted demographic is likely not to be as influential in so many seats, either because they become concentrated in just a few areas or because they get split into too small groups to be effective. Hence the lack of such focus in the UK, basically because it would not be worth the time and effort.

Now, personally I must admit that I think some of the talk about nascar dads and so on is just so much hot air. I think that a lot of it are people looking at themselves and congratulating themselves on how clever they are when really all that has happened is that parties and candidates have simply more effectively projected themselves at the more general demographics. Nonetheless, there is this perception, and so I felt I ought to address why I think it occurs in the US and I do not think it occurs in the UK. I could of course be entirely wrong.

That said I think that local politics is often forgotten by national bigwigs. A local MP, or Representative, I think might well know his or her consituency well enough to identify the key groups, and act on that, in a way that would be missed by a national campaign.

NB: to calculate the average UK constituency I took a rough population and divided by the number of MPs. For the US average constituency I went here courtesy of Google.

A though on Allawi

Roger L Simon writes:

Look, let's start with a little honesty. Ayad Allawi is no saint. Totalitarian societies don't normally breed saints. Survival is Hell. Allawi was once a Baathist and doesn't bear too many resemblances to Mother Teresa.

(via Oxblog)

This is a very worthwhile point, I think especially when you consider another worthwhile point. Who ended the Cold War? Reagan, Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II all had very important roles to play in that process, but one man, perhaps even the pivotal person, tends to be forgetten. His name happens to be Mikhail Gorbachev.

Gorbachev was certainly no saint either. He was the product of the USSR and became powerful in it. Even before he ascended to the leadership he was a member of the Politburo. He ended the Cold War just as much as President Reagan. Yeltsin was no saint either, another product of the USSR. But the USSR that both these men were products of, the USSR of Khruschev and Brezhnev, was a far kinder place than the USSR of Stalin. Compared to Brezhev, and especially Khruschev, perhaps Yeltsin and Gorbachev are saintly. Compared to Stalin, even Khruschev, who was as an enthusiatic butcher in the 1930s as any of Stalins underlings, comes off with a faint shine.

Allawi is a start. It will take generations for the legacy of Saddam Hussein to finally lapse. But you have to learn to crawl before you can walk.

An anniversary

Just noting that a year ago today I started work at my current job - then doing cover for someone during a leave of absence. When that absence became permanent I applied for the permanent post, and was accepted.

It might be a little thing for most people, being employed for a year. However, this is not something I can take for granted. Having not worked for far too long I can easily say that there is something amazingly fulfilling about just working.

I think tonight I might have a very little celebration.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Orin Kerr's three questions

Over at The Volokh Conspiracy Orin Kerr, a member of that illustrious constellation of supremely intelligent beings, asks three questions of the pro-war blogosphere. I have decided to do my best to answer his challenge, in wonderful sense of security that others already are and there's probably nothing that I can do to embarrass myself to much. Or something like that. Besides, the three questions at issue are decent questions, along the lines of those I occasionally pose to myself. I'll italicise the questions, and then in normal text write my answers.

First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?

The short answer is yes. I supported the war back in March 2003 for two reasons: the perceived threat of WMDs, and because of a sincere conviction that the world would be a better place without Saddam Hussein in power. As for the first reason, I still think that was justified. Although large stocks of WMDs have not been found, the perception I have today is that Saddam had the intention to possess those weapons. He also had a record of using them against civilians. Moreover, personally I feel that the chance of collusion between Saddam and Al-Quaeda (on the basis the enemy of my enemy is my friend - say like Churchill and Stalin in 1941) remained far too high while he remained in power. As for the second reason, I still hold that too. Removing Saddam Hussein was a good thing. People are always complaining about dictators and mass-murders (like Darfur, Rwanda, Srebenica to name just three) but consistently fail to do anything about it. In March 2003 the United States and United Kingdom, along with others, managed to do something about one. I remain proud of that.

Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?

My first reaction is that bad news sells better. My second reaction is, like, duh! The run-up to Iraqi elections, American elections, and now Australian elections was always going to cause an upsurge in violence. The terrorists will do anything to stop the democratic processes of Iraq (and incidentally Afghanistan) and that perhaps that should be reported more often too. As regards the recent intelligence report, about the time the Hutton Inquiry reported I read an interesting article, that I spent my lunch-break trying (and failing). Basically though its argument was that intelligence organisations are natural pessimists - the reason being that people don't mind so much if things turn out to be better than predicted, but that they get downright shirty if things turn out worse. In the case of WMDs the initial estimations were based on their existence being bad: hence the evidence was probably inflated. Likewise now there is no job security in predicting a rosy outcome. A lowly fourth comes my belief that the media are biased against the war, at least partly because of my first point. Bad news sells better, makes better pictures, better headlines, and so on. Commercialism in one of its rawest forms.

This is a difficult patch in Iraq, but it is an expected difficulty. Think of a boat analogy. You're circumnavigating the world in a sailing ship. You are virtually guaranteed to run into several storms along the way. Just because your vessel is being thrown about like a bit of cork does not spell the doom of the voyage provided people keep their heads. Or, to raise another question, should Churchill have made peace with Hitler in late May 1940, as Lord Halifax was proposing? Let us get a little bit of context into this discussion of the bad news please. Yes, it's not good, but it is far from the crisis it is regularly made out to be.

Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?

Firstly that you forget about months and start thinking years and decades. Things don't happen that quickly, despite the average concentration span of a Western journalist, politician, voter, or blogger. You can't see trends that quickly. All you see are events. Now, events are important, but their relevance and importance is not something that can be appreciated in the middle of things. It is best to think about a long view.

As a first measure though I think the elections taking place in January is pretty important. If they are delayed I will see that as a definite setback. Saying that I is unrealistic to expect a perfect election first time around, especially since it seems we in the West have not managed the art ourself yet. I would be happy for most of the country to go to the polls with a not too horrendous amount of fraud. A low hurdle indeed, but it's best to start walking with small steps.

The second relatively short term measure is the trial of Saddam Hussein. I think this needs to be "successful". That is, given that it is a show trial (and let no one kid themselves that the the trials of Saddam, Milosevic, or any others in such situations are anything but show trials), it must be as fair as possible, and whatever sentence is handed down by applied. I think it is important that this man be tried by his own people for the crimes committed against them.

The third relatively short term measure is the slow assertion of Iraqi (not necessarily American) control of the remaining places that the insurgents have great strength.

In five years time I would expect that process of asserting control to be complete, and that the Iraqi government have as much control over its regions as any somewhat below average third-world country does. I hope for better, but I am being realistic. If in five years time there has not been a decrease in overall vioence I would be disappointed. I say overall because I think occasional bursts of violence are more than likely (think about the March violence in Kosovo). I would expect elections to be occuring at least as well as in Bosnia or Kosovo currently, any better I would count a considerable successs.

Finally, one proviso. All the above, imo, depend on Bush getting re-elected in November. If Kerry wins, all bets are off, and I expect the situation to worsen considerably. Just my opinion.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Review: Absolution Gap by Alaistair Reynolds

This is the fourth book in the Revelation Space Universe. The first three were Revelation Space(RS), Chasm City(CC), and Redemption Ark(RA). Unlike the first three books, that are all stand-alones stories in a greater tapestry, AG (Absolution Gap) is really a sequel to RA. It starts off with many of the same characters, in the same situation, just twenty years foward in time.

I think two things occurred to me during and after I read this book. The first, and less favourable thought, is that Alaistair Reynolds isn't so great at disguising his plot twists. I spotted the major twist to this story really very early - I found the same thing in CC. The result is that the "discovery" scene loses force, because I worked it out sometime last week, as opposed to perhaps only an hour previously.

The second is that this whole series is really a horror series, just one set in space and not on earth. It is a horror series of many different levels, but primarily in terms of the atmosphere, and also psychologically. There are several moments which I really wish I could have hidden under the bedcovers, but likewise the story keeps dragging you in. What I wrote notwishstanding, the over-plot to the series has advanced now to a highly advanced state.

The main character of this book first made an appearance in RA - that is Scorpio. Scoprio is a guy with a particularly checkered past, without perhaps some of the compensating factors of Reynholds other flawed heroes. At root is the fact that Scorpio is not a hero, he's just a guy trying to make sense of the chaos about him and hold true to some very simple ideals. On balance I think that Scorpio is the best character Reynolds has now written.

I do, regretfully, have one fairly hefty criticism. The ending, the very ending, contains rather too much Deus ex machina for my liking. There is the barest amount of foreshadowing, but the whole thing leaves an ugly taste in my mouth. The 99% of the story leading up to those final pages was great, and I simply do not understand why Reynolds chose to demean all that fine work (+ the 3 previous books) with such a poorly thought out ending.

That said its only my opinion, I would recommend people read it, especailly if you've read (and liked) any of the other three. Maybe you'll disagree with my quibble over the ending. Who knows. Read it, and find out.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

College Football, Ankle, and Nationalised Health

Firstly, watched NCST versus Virginia Tech this evening. A great game, even if I did miss the first ten minutes. Some great defensive play by both sides, but credit really has to go to North Carolina, who defence just ran roughshod for all of the 2nd and 3rd Quarters. Faded a little in the 4th, but still put in a sack or two. Nice climatic finish as well.

All in all a good game to watch and take my mind off the way my ankle has been aching for the past few days. I blame the change in the weather - I put the heating on for a few hours today for the first time. Thank goodness it's only a week till my Orthotics appointment. That takes place on Friday. Of course, nothing immediately will happen then. As I understand it first the Othotics people have to decide if they can help matters, and if they think they can they have to work out what sort of Orthotics they will give me. Their leaflet said getting them might be another 4 weeks or so. My appointment with the Orthopaedic Consultant is doing to be about 2 months after that. So its looking like early January before I see him again. If things continue the way they are though I will say I want to accept the surgery. I don't know what the waiting list will be like for that - but I guess probably 4-6 months.

/start rant/

I was having a discussion with a person at work about the NHS regarding this. This person did not seem to understand that the reason why I could not afford private health insurance was because of the taxes required to support the NHS. This person kept saying that "but you have the choice to go for BUPA", just without thinking. On one level it's not surprising. From what I know this person doesn't really have any financial worries. But my wages are still some distance below the national average, so I don't have any extra-fat for supporting an inefficient NHS and pay for private health cover.

Few things irritate me more than smug middle-class socialists. Especially when my ankle is aching so.

/stop rant/

Friday, September 24, 2004

More Editing

In my continuing efforts to update the blogroll to actually reflect what I'm reading on a several times a week basis. But I find editing it all a hassle.

I might eventually get round to putting in my "weeklies" so to speak. Who knows.

Kerry's speech habits

I came across this criticism of John Kerry's style of speech, when compared to George Bush, in the N Y Times (courtesy of the Opinion Journal) by Stanley Fish (a boffin at the University of Chicago so the article says). The first paragraph basically illustrates the point:

In an unofficial but very formal poll taken in my freshman writing class the other day, George Bush beat John Kerry by a vote of 13 to 2 (14 to 2, if you count me). My students were not voting on the candidates' ideas. They were voting on the skill (or lack of skill) displayed in the presentation of those ideas.

It finishes off:

Nervous Democrats who see their candidate slipping in the polls console themselves by saying, "Just wait, the debates are coming." As someone who will vote for John Kerry even though I voted against him in my class, that's just what I'm worried about.

In other words, John Kerry, this is someone you need to listen to. Better still, get him to give you a quick "dos and don'ts" list.

Review: Talon of the Silver Hawk by Raymond E Feist

In many respects REF was my introduction to "modern" fantasy, back in the early 1990s when a frient lent me Magician. I have since read quite a bit of what he has written, but think he has never since equalled the masterpiece that was Magician. Indeed, I had come to the conclusion that after the Serpentwar Saga he was really just punching out books without really writing them. They were ok, but really I was very disappointed. So when I picked this one up second-hand it was because it was second-hand, and I had a train journey in the immediate future that I needed some light reading to do inbetween bouts of more serious reading.

I must say that I was pleasently surprised. Although, imo, still not as good as Magician, in this tale I feel REF has actually written a story, and a compelling one at that. We follow a young man, whose village and tribal people have been killed off by some sort of noble, as he makes his way in a world of magic and conspiracies and dread deeds. We end with a memorable fight, that I could picture cinematically my mind's eye. The novel is set in Midkemia, quite some time after the events of the Serpentwar. It also explores to some degree the lands east of the Kingdom of the Isles for the first time.

REF has a wonderful talent for writing people. He characterises them, giving each character a unique identifying characteristic. Most obvious of these of course is the irrepresible Nakor and his oranges. Nakor is only one of the favourites to make an appearance, but while these favourites appear they never take over the story. The story itself remains concentrated on that young man, as he really makes the journey from youth to adulthood.

The simple judgement I have on this book though is this: it is only book 1 in a series, and I very much intent to purchase the others. Albeit not until I can convince myself that my finances allow such profligancy. I think the I have a 25% chance of holding out to Christmas. After then all bets are off.

Letter from Afghanistan

A very interesting letter from a guy in Afghanistan (via Oxblog. I seem to recall as recent as this week I heard the anti-war democrats claiming that Afghanistan was collapsing into chaos. This is a good counterbalance to the negatives.

I guess these elections will have an impact on the campaign, though give his attack on Prime Minister Allawi I expect John Kerry to do all he can to undermine the democratic aspirations of the Afghan people.

The Differences between UK and US Campaigns - Part V: Debates

Debates. They are an integral part of the US campaign. Reagan won the 1980 election largely on account of his debate with Carter, or leastways that is the evidence of the polls. Then there was the famous Nixon-Kennedy debate in 1960, and so on and so forth.

First a similarity. An almost necessary precursor to the debates themselves is the 'debate about the debates'. Well, we have this aspect of it in the UK too - largely over whether there will be any sort of debate in the first place. So far the answer has always been no for a head-to-head. As I recall last time the leaders individually answered questions from an audience - and to be honest I can't remember if it was just a Labour/Tory affair or whether the Lib Dems had been invited as well.

That said, I think that a UK head to head debate is too many elections cycles away. Probably not this time around, but quite possible the time after or the time after that. I don't really know why we don't like these debates, but I think the logic is that head to head debates are "American" and therefore somehow illicit. The end result of those is that there is never really, on the campaign, a match-up like there is in the US.

On the other hand perhaps there is no need. Every week when Parliament is in session, every Wednesday, the leaders effectively do go head to head at Prime Minister's Questions, and this transcript of the most recent meeting gives some idea of the combative tone, if one imagines braying and shouting in the background as the backbenchers cheer and boo.

A suggested slogan?

A very amusing photograph. Perhaps that's the slogan that Kerry should adopt?

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Kerry on Allawi

What does John Kerry think he's doing? He claims he wants to make Iraq a success. So the first thing he does is accuse Prime Minister Allawi a liar. Is this the level of diplomacy we can expect from a Kerry Presidency? Did he not think that treating this man with a modicum of respect might be a good idea if he wants to make Iraq a success?

I guess not. My respect for Kerry's intellect has just about evaporated. Previously I though a Kerry win would be bad on the foreign policy front. I now think it would be a disaster.

A monkey-business

From Blonde Justice

Quoth the drug addict "I never sold drugs. Because, you know, a monkey can't sell bananas."

I just thought that this was worth repeating, and will definitely be remembering it for future use.

A different perspective of Taunton

Over at Crescat Waddling Thunder posted the email of someone defending Taunton, by current abode. It's interesting to read, but unlike Waddling Thunder's correspondent, OJ Wooding from Dayorama I have no such love of the place. I quote the following line:

Taunton is a beautiful market town with a pleasant train station, a decent mix between large and small shops (including one of the best butchers in the world, the other being in Tavistock) and a delightful cricket ground.

Now I can't speak of the butcher, but a pleasant train station? What's so pleasant about the train station. It's a station. It's not the most grimy station I've seen, but it's nothing special. Trains come, trains go. The most interesting announcement I ever heard on the station, incidentally while I was waiting for Waddling Thunder's train to arrive when he visited was "May the young gentleman about to relieve himself in the bin on Platform 5 please note that CCTV cameras are in use in this station, and the public conveniences are located on Platform 2". As for beautiful market town - Taunton's not bad, but hardly beautful. I think most people think a large number of tress = beautiful. But it doesn't, not where towns are considered. Towns (and cities) should not be judged solely, or mostly, on their greenery but by their buildings, and Taunton is particularly uninspiring in that regard. Besides, I think to call it a market town is an insult to all those towns that still have a proper market. Though I don't disagree about the cricket ground - but it's a shame the team isn't so good. He continues:

But one can still be on a train or drunk (but preferably not both) in Taunton and marvel at its beauty.

Personally I think one would have to be drunk to consider Taunton beautiful. Oh, maybe its beautiful compared to someplace like, I don't know, Hull, but as will be seen below I have perhaps been rather spoiled for beauty. He continues on about food. IMO the Castle, which he mentions, is a place in which you pay for the pretensiousness and little more. More importantly from my perspective is that Taunton does not have a single decent curry-house. Its bars are mostly turning themselves into "trendy" sets which are, to be blunt, rubbish. The shops that used to make shopping here different from say, Bristol, are now disappearing.

However, I must be honest in my dislikes. I was raised in a village on the southern edge of Bodmin Moor. When I think of beautiful towns I think of places like Fowey or Bude, or of villages like Minions or Blisland. Basically Taunton just isn't in the same league, few places are. My basic problem with Taunton is that it doesn't feel like "home". When I move from Taunton I won't miss anything. I still miss Cornwall, and that move is now eight years or so behind me. I still miss the first village we lived in, and that move is about 12 and a half years behind me. No, I can't wait for the time when I get out of Taunton.

Incidentally, to keep a sort of food flavour the very best cream teas served in the world are done at the Hurlers Halt. You will find no finer. Cream teas, by the way, is a very high-calorie way to have a cup of tea. High calorie because, along with the tea, you have scones over which you apply liberal amounts of clotted cream and jam. There is some debate over whether one applies the jam or cream first. Not to be had either way when on a diet.

Differences between UK and US Campaigns - Part IV: Newspapers

The media are of course a key factor in any political campaign. After all, unless we actually bother to go to a rally or something then how else do we hear about the campaign? The different operating conditions however naturally means a different environment in which the campaigns work. I think the crux of the difference between the UK and the US here is in the realm of newspapers.

My impression of the US is that there is no national newspaper market, USA Today notwithstanding. Every major population area has its own newspaper market, the most successful of these have some national following (perhaps more now because of the internet), but which remain really local, and well provincial papers. This is even true for that grand old lady the N Y Times. Moreover, for the most part the US print media, especially the larger papers, tends to have a left-leaning viewpoint. Finally there seems to be a great deal of similiarity in format between the papers. That's a very broad-brush picture of course.

In the UK the market looks completely different. Instead of having dozens of essentially regional papers talking about national issues we have about a dozen truly national papers. These can be divided into two groups: the tabloids and the broadsheets. The tabloids primarily exist on celebrity gossip and sports, with national and international news here and there for flavouring. The broadsheets are the more serious papers, though imo there has been a general decline since I started reading them about ten years ago.

Another difference is that all the papers here are intensely, and openly, partisan. Although slightly dated, perhaps the best summing up of the British press was made in the comedy series "Yes Minister" - I took this script from here

Humphrey: [...] The only way to understand the press is to remember that they pander to their readers' prejudices.
Hacker: Don't tell me about the press; I know exactly who reads the papers.
The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country.
The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country.
The Times is read by the people who actually do run the country.
The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country.
The Financial Times is read by people who own the country.
The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country.
And the Daily Telegraph is read by people who think that it is.
Humphrey: Oh, and Prime Minister, what about people who read the Sun?
Bernard: Sun readers don't care who runs the country as long as she's got big tits.

That said, the Sun, by backing John Major late in the day in the 1992 election, can made a reasonable claim to have swung that election to the Tories. It easily has the largest circulation figures in the UK.

The comparison by not be totally apt, but I think the difference here is not dis-similar to the difference between the blogosphere and the mainstream american media in general. To be honest I'm not sure how much actual differences these impose on the campaigns. My sense is that in the US the opposing campaigns mostly attack each other, with the press to some extent playing second fiddle. In the UK it seems to the press leading the attack.

NB: In Scotland there is a regional paper, the Scotsman, that I think is more "American" than the other British dailies.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Differences between UK and US campaigns - Part III: Conventions vs Conferences

I said the question of timing leads into this difference, and I think it does. In the US the party Conventions have become launch-pads for the campaign. Whatever policy or internal governance roles they once had have clearly now atrophied into mere motions. Tied as they are into the election cycle this modern role for them is natural, and when used wisely can be very effective.

In the UK Party Conferences are necessarily very different. Because of our irregular election cycles there is no way to have a similar-style launchpad. Instead the Party conferences, held in the autumn each year (the Liberal Democrats are holding theirs this week) are a mixture of things. In part they are publicity blitzes, true. In contrast to the US conventions the Conferenences can be important for matters of policy, internal party politics, and party governance.

The main difference here though is that, in the UK, we do not have the same election conference. There is no similar launchpad. Given our generally shorter campaigns a convention-type launchpad could well be thought to be superfluous. No PR blitx of the same magnitude, and no chance to define the campaigns like the conventions offer.

At Boston John Kerry defined his campaign based to a large extent on his service in Vietnam. At New York George Bush defined his campaign on the issue of national security. A UK campaign cannot be so defined by the parties. Fullstop.

The ignorance of Americans ...

... is one of the greatest myths of modern times.

Seriously. Everyone always says how ignorant Americans are. They do this to distract attention from how pig-ignorant they and their fellow citizens are. As a quick example, most surveys show that significantly under half of people aged 16-19 in UK know who Winston Churchill was.

American ignorance is perhaps more well-known, but European ignorance runs just as deep. Sure, Americans are ignorant about the rest of the world, but then the rest of the world is ignorant about the rest of the world too, so its a draw.

Congratulations Waddling Thunder

He managed to stuff himself silly in Wilmington, DL. Steak sandwich, mmmm. Oh, and he has somehow wangled his way into the clerkship he wanted. Personally, given that he went to the same uni I did, I wonder if he just hasn't got something for small provincial towns home to unlikely institutions. Is he a bee to honey or a moth to candle-flame however?

The Board of Takeovers in Taunton however? Now that is a scary thought.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Snap elections

Gary asks: "Snap elections. I have heard this before. How can "snap election" be called?"

In answer, remember that snap elections are just the same as ordinary elections. They get their moniker because of the perceived as taking advantage of some (possibly temporary) electoral advantage. Since it is an ordinary election the procedure is no different - the Prime Minister informs the Queen and she duly dissolves Parliament. It might catch the opponents by surprise - and that could be a perceived reason to call one.

The 1987 election is probably the best modern example that I know off. 1986 had been a bad year for the Thatcher government, particularly the Westland affair - which had seriously threatened her leadership. However, in May 1987 the local elections results were very favourable, so Maggie called an election for June 11 of that year. The result was another 100+ seat majority.

I hope that makes things clearer.

Differences between UK and US campaigns - Part II: A Question of Timing

In my first post, immediately below, I opened with the difference that first highlighted to me the differences between UK and US campaigns. While I doubt that this will ever be systematic, for the next few posts I intend to look at some of the fundamental - or perhaps environmental? - factors that contribute to the differences in the campaigns.

One of the most fundamental of them is timing. To be blunt, in the US you know when your elections are. They happen at regular intervals, the election date is pre-set. It all ticks along like clockwork. We in the UK have much less certainty in our electoral cycles. In fact, there is precious little certainty.

A General Election is caused when the Queen dissolves Parliament. That the technical constitutional working. Practically, the Prime Minister goes along to Buckingham Palace, tells the Queen that it is election time, and the Queen then dissolves the Parliament. The possible dates for the election are chosen by some arcane rules that I don't understand, and the Prime Minister selects the one that s/he likes the most.

But how long from one election to the next? At the moment a Parliament has a maximum sitting time of five years - the 1992 Parliament was one. However, Parliament can be dissolved at any time within those five years also. So for example, the 1997 Parliament only existed for 4 years, being dissolved in 2001.

Who sets these rules? The Houses of Parliament. A Parliament can basically prorogue itself (by-elections would continue to replenish new members), and did so in the war years, for example.

All this has two consequences. The first is that British campaigns tend to be more well-defined at the start than American. In many respects it feels like the election campaign in the US has been going on, at varying degrees of intensity, since at least March. In the UK there is a definite start-line and starter's pistol. They also are shorter, never lasting more than two months and quite frequently less. Compare this with the traditional start date of Labour Day in the US - which means a two month campaign of never varying length.

The second is the uncertainty I referred to earlier. It is expected that Tony Blair will call for elections sometime next year. Unlikely though it might be however, Tony Blair could call for a snap election late this year. I don't think that is going to happen, but this uncertainty. The effects the whole of British politics, and is the source of the next difference I will be rambling about.

NB: Local, Regional, and European elections are held to set timetables.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The lesson of the "scrap of paper" Part II

My reader, after reading my previous post on this, emailed me the following. Again I will quote it, in full, but I have replied to one point mid-way through. I must apologise for getting onto my soapbox again.

Ahh, to the first and last I shall reply.

"From the last sentence I presume that my reader is comparing the Coalition attack on Iraq in March 2003 as equivalent to Hitler's attack on Poland on the 1st September 1939. If I am wrong in that I apologise, and s/he should email me again."

The comparison is to the apologists. Not to the aggressors. You are making great, unwarranted leaps. There is a difference that cannot be missed.


I presume here my reader compares me to the apologists of Hitler's attacks on Poland, that s/he referred to in my first point. I am confused about the possible difference. So, George Bush and Tony Blair are not Hitler and Himmel, but I am an Oswald Mosley or something? Or perhaps a Lord Haw-Haw? I am sorry but this is absolute rot, and a typical example of where those opposed to the initial war make a prime mistake - they end up comparing everyone to Nazis. It is one reason why, in general, I feel relatively little sympathy for the position.

"It is an evil which we fight in Iraq, and personally I have no qualms at giving the war my support."

The evil in Iraq was being addressed before the war. We had hundreds of United Nations inspectors in-country and could have flooded Iraq with thousands more.

Of course, that is not manly enough. Better we “go to war” and kill and maim. That is the answer we have historically used..

The Vietnam War. The Anglo-Boer war.

We have not learned the lesson yet.


The evil in Iraq before the war was Saddam Hussein himself. He was not being addressed. WMDs were an important issue, of that there is no doubt, but for me what made Saddam Hussein evil was not his possession of WMDs, but the track record of his own regieme. We will probably never know how many people Saddam Hussein killed during his time in power, but we do know that he perpetrated one of the most brutal, and yes evil, dictatorships in contemporary times. This evil continued despite inspectors, despite no-fly zones, and despite sanctions. Indeed, by trying to contain him we were only bringing more and more misery on the Iraqi people, due greatly because of the corruption endemic to the oil for food programme and the spinelessness of western leaders to see what was right in front of their eyes.

The possibility, in a post-9/11 world, of Islamic fundamentalists co-operating with Saddam Hussein was, I think, enough justification. Especially given what was commonly assumed then, by every major intelligence agency in the world, regarding Saddam's WMD capability. Inspectors had crawled over Iraq before, and he had just waited for a time of his choosing to expel them. I personally have no doubt that in the run-up to war Saddam Hussein was playing the greatest confidence trick of his entire career, but for once someone called his bluff.

In short, Saddam Hussein was as close to evil incarnate as is possible on this earth.

And my correspondent seems to have forgotten the lesson of Munich: one does not do deals with dictators. They are worthless, and have a habit of biting back. Neither should one let them hide behind corrupt institutions. The United Nations was created with high ideals. It has consistently fallen short.

And my reader should remember one thing about Vietnam - something even this ignorant Brit knows - the country under attack in the mid-60s was not North Vietnam. It was the south. The anti-war advocates of the late-60s and early-70s were their allies and willing fifth column of the North Vietnamese, of the aggressors in that nasty war.

And I stand by what I said. It is an evil which we fight in Iraq today, an evil that seeks to destroy the democratic aspirations of the people. Many of the recent attacks were against applicants for the Iraqi police. Al-Quaeda, or A-Q backed groups have claimed responsibility for much of the recent carnage. The war on terror is being fought on the streets of Baghdad, of Fallujah, and elsewhere in Iraq. Those people seek the destruction of our world. They will not respond to reason, for this is a war of mutual destruction. Unlike the Cold War, where the Russians and ourselves could see each other as being humans, our enemy does not acknowledge our common humanity. This is a war to the finish.

Congratulations to Barry Bonds ...

... on entering the 700 Club.

I was touched by one quote from Hank Aaron though, on the chance of Bonds passing his total:

"I think it's just a matter of time -- maybe a year, two years," Aaron said. "I think he will. I'll be happy. Everybody will be after him then. They won't be involving me. Records are made to be broken."

There stands a man with his feet both firmly on the ground.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Accents

I am generally absolutely rubbish at telling where accents are from. As an example, Dick Cheney sounds to be to be upper-middle class British.

I have mistaken a fellow Brit as an American before as well.

No other point to this.

An update

In my post about the violence In Iraq there was one election I just simply forgot about. That is the Australian election, which is now in full swing. The Jakarta bombing should probably be seen in that light.

FoxNews on fox-hunting

Tonight I watched a segment where FoxNews reported in more detail on the fox-hunting ruckus of yesterday. I have to say I am very impressed that this has made a second day. I also have to give credit for them putting their own reporter there instead of relying on a local station.

Of course, it was rather amusing to hear the reporter twang his way through the politics of it all, and I noticed he rather wisely skirted the issue of explaining the Parliament Act. Heavens, I doubt most people over here really understood the Parliament Act - myself included. I just know the basics.

The lesson of the "scrap of paper"

A reader sent me the following email. I'll quote it in its entirety.

The so-called "Scrap of Paper" was signed by Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain in Munich on September 30th 1938. Its contents are below:

"We, the German Fuhrer and Chancellor and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognising that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for the two countries and for Europe.

We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to was with one another again.

We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe."

This document was read out to the gathered crowd at Croydon Airport by Chamberlain after his return to the United Kingdom. After his return, Chamberlain was celebrated as the man who had brought peace to Europe. The celebration reached its peak when Chamberlain was ‘shown’ to the crowds who had gathered at Buckingham Palace by the king and queen.

One year later the celebration had turned to despair and the above document had been derided by Hitler as a "scrap of paper".

The Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1st 1939, was followed on September 3rd by the British and French declaring war on Nazi Germany.

Apologists for aggression are always, always wrong.


From the last sentence I presume that my reader is comparing the Coalition attack on Iraq in March 2003 as equivalent to Hitler's attack on Poland on the 1st September 1939. If I am wrong in that I apologise, and s/he should email me again. However, since that is my conclusion, and even if it wasn't, here I go and stand on my soap-box again...

I drew a different lesson, a different comparison. At Munich in 1938 France and Britain, to the eternal shame of each country, more or less ensured WW2. The lesson was made brutally clear: one cannot deal with dictators, for their word is not even worth the paper it is printed on. By 1938 the concentration camps were already operating.

The great poet, W H Auden, in his poem September 1st, 1939 described the 1930s as "a low, dishonest decade". There are few more fitting ways to describe the 1930s, and specifically Munich.

Within six months the rest of Czechslovakia had been annexed to Germany, within a year the world was plunged into the most cataclysmic conflict we have ever known.

In the Yugoslavia mess we again witnessed the truth of Munich: the worthlessness of dealing with dictators. Milosevic made, ignored, and broke agreements with facility. He too sheltered behind the UN, and nows he languishes in a jail. Now too does Saddam Hussein, one of the most brutal dictators of our time. He will be tried by those he oppressed. There are few more fitting fates for the dictator.

When Hitler invaded Poland he brought concentration camps and mass-slaugher, and autocratic rule. Already in Iraq power has been handed over. The people in Iraq will soon have a chance to join the league of democratic nations. For the Islamic funadementalists democracy is their death-knell. They will fight it tooth and nail, knowing that they are supported in deed, if not in word, by many millions in the western world who do not recognise the simplicity of their evil.

In 1938 Winston Churchill was mocked for his stance against Nazi Germany. At Fulton in 1946 the US government distanced itself from his "Iron Curtain" speech. On both occasions that great man had forseen a danger and been attacked by those who should have known better, those who created their own illusion and failed to see the truth of what was at issue. He was labelled as a war-monger. It is an evil which we fight in Iraq, and personally I have no qualms at giving the war my support.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Waffling

I suppose I should note that one reason why I have waffled so much recently is that I am just letting off tension from various stressful work situations. Really blogs are excellent for this, I've discovered. I can just unload my ire (like tonight on John Kerry and Kofi Annan) and head to work tomorrow in a far more relaxed and less bothered frame of mind.

Kofi Annan

Oh, one quick point. Kofi Annan supports Syria being on the UN Human Rights Commission. He has as much right to opine on anything as someone in a torture cell.

The recent violence in Iraq

There is a very simple reason to explain the recent upsurge of violence in Iraq (and Afghanistan). Elections.

There are three (or possibly four) upcoming elections which the terrorists want to effect/influence/delay.

The first of these is the US election. The Madrid bombing taught the terrorists that they could effect democratic elections. Now, in that instance I believe that they were helped by the Aznar's government's bungled handling of the situation, but regardless the end result was a probably altered election result, brought about by a terror attack.

The second and third of these are the forthcoming elections in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those elections are important for the future of both countries, and if the terrorists are allowed to stall them then it is their victory. The problem with Kerry is that, by now stating he will withdraw US troops, he hands the terrorists victory by default. Moreover, to argue that having elections fail in either country would be of benefit is just about as insane a statement as I can imagine.

Kofi Annan and the UN and various aid agencies bear responsibility here as well. In late August last year the insurgents switched from largely attacking US and UK troops to attacking 'softer' targets. They keep doing so because the moment the UN was scratched it tucked its tail and ran. Lesson learnt: terror works. All those high-minded ideals of the UN Charters of this and that mean diddly-squat when the UN leadership is spineless when the going gets tough.

The fourth possible election is the UK general election - but this is only a possibility given that there is not yet a date set for the next general (at the latest it will be in mid-2006, iirc).

The situation in Iraq is not great, but then, this upsurge in violence was widely predicted. What I am sure of though, is that Kerry, under his most recent statements, would make the situation a great deal worse. In addition, whatever original disagreements there might have been about the involvement between Al-Quaeda and Saddam Hussein there is now no doubt that Al-Quaeda is highly active in the insurgency in Iraq. The War on Terror is being fought in Iraq as surely as it is being fought elsewhere. That is the situation now, in September 2004.

But then, dealing with today's matters is something that Kerry's campaign has difficulty doing.

As an analogy, just imagine what would have happened if the US withdrew from Europe in December 1946. That is where we are at in Iraq. Back then a Democratic President had the moral courage to know what was right to do. These days the Democratic candidate should be ashamed to disgrace the Party of so many great men.

Just my two cents.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Turning in


Too ... tired. Damned, if I want to stay up to watch the election I'm going to have to relearn my American sleeping times.

In the meanwhile I am going to turn in. A substantial statement by CBS now seems unlikely, and since I think the chances of Dan Rather committing the media equivalent of hari kari (ie - a retraction) are vanishingly slim, though it would be a 60 Minutes II exclusive, means that I probably won't miss too much.

Knowing my luck something interesting will happen the moment I turn my tv off. Oh well.

Studying Roman Law

I would just like to say that I am really envious right now of my friend Waddling Thunder for this reason.

I hope be blogs about it frequently.

Wishes for Ivan

Good luck to all those down in the path of Ivan, particularly the chap I know from there and his 25-pound cat.

God be with you all.

Go Brit Hume

FoxNews has just reported on the fox-hunting vote today and the commons protest I mention below.

Is Fox having a "let's mention the UK lots" week? Just a short while ago they also reported the death of a British man in Riyadh (albeit in the context of a wider story about Saudi Arabia).

Nonetheless, since I watch Fox to get an American news channel, I find it all this British news amusing.

Why the bad geography

In the comments to this post of mine speculates about why people are regularly so bad at basic geographical questions. As he says, it doesn't take that much effort to get a basic idea of the world's geography.

I don't know where to give responsibility for this particular state of affairs. One attitute, self-defeating though it is - is simply to accept a high-level of general ignorance in the population, as something that cannot be helped. I don't accept that, because I tend to think people are more intelligent than they are given credit. I've discussed some quite complicated historical topics with folks who have spent 20-30 years not really thinking of themselves as being capable of academic discussion. But they were, and often they knew far more than then realised. Both education and parenting must share responsibility for this, and society at large that somehow makes learning suspect.

Blogging has not yet really caught on yet in the UK the way it has in the US, but when it does I for one hope it will enable millions of people to start expanding their mental horizones. Then perhaps the tale of ignorance can start to be addressed.

Irate at CBS

Dammit. I had hoped to be able to think about going to bed by now, but dammit, I want to hear what that damned statement is going to say.

I think tomorrow it might be necessary to imbibe in the Red Bull.

Fox-hunting

It looks now like fox-hunting is finally going to be outlawed in 2006 in the UK. Today MPs voted for the ban - the Lords will delay but this bill now qualifies for the Parliament Act to be invoked and have the Lords over-ruled. This ban is basically the work of urban and sub-urban groups who think that the countryside is a place to holiday in and retire to.

Increasingly over the last few years countryside groups have been getting more and more irate. This time it looked like some people got downright angry. This is pretty much unprecedented. When the ban comes into force I think it is safe to say that people can expect some fairly large-scale rural civil disobedience. And good thing to.

Many of those Labour MPs were quite happy to let Saddam Hussein continue his reign of terror. Many opposed the attacks in Afghanistan. These people I think are simply morally bankrupt, and I have nothing good to say about any of them.

I was raised in country, in Cornwall. Today in Cornwall local people cannot afford homes because urbanites keep buying holiday homes. Today, because of the tax-inflated fuel prices childhood friends cannot get a job because they cannot afford to run a car, and where there is simply no public transport alternative.

I have never been on a hunt, but the meeting was always a grand social event in the village. This is nothing less than a cultural attack of the most cynical kind. If I were to say that kosher or halal food should be banned because of animal cruelty concerns - well, you get the level of anger that I am now feeling. It is that sort of assault on the culture that I grew up with, and my support for the war in Iraq and on terror notwithstanding, this is one of the reasons why, domestically, I have diddly-squat time for Tony Blair or any of his ilk.

Tasers

Just heard on FoxNews that apparently we in the UK are going to acquire Tasers for the police. Heard it from the CEO of the company that makes them too. Interestingly he described us as "the most convservative police force in the world". Translation - the vast, vast majority of UK police do not carry guns.

I do love it when I hear about things in my country from "foreign" sources, because I get a much more interesting perspective.

After the election

I think this is a very thoughtful theory by Al on the possibilities of either the Democratic or Republican parties splitting up in the aftermath of the 2004 result. Quick take - whichever party wins will be the most in danger.

There is a little bit of precedent from this side of the pond. In 1992 John Major's government was re-elected into power with a 15-seat majority in the House of Commons. There were problems however. Tensions that had built up within the party, especially over Europe, that Maggie Thatcher had kept under control broke loose big time. Victory and power amplified the media spotlight, and made it a focus of opposition attention. The party tore itself apart, and went down to a humiliating defeat in 1997. The Tory civil war did not end - it continued under William Hague, and claimed its most recent scalp with the coup against Iain Duncan Smith last year.

Although it might not happen in 2004, it is pretty difficult not to imagine both parties undergoing some shifts in the next few years.

Delays

And so CBS' statement, originally due for noon-EST, and then 1530-EST, is not still delayed.

When you set a time, and then you break it, twice, that's usually a sign of crisis.

A sense of geography

Americans are popularly lambasted for knowing nothing about the rest of the world, especially in relation to knowing anything geographically (like where someplace is, for example). This always irritates me, because the simply truth is that most people in Europe are pretty ignorant on this front too, and this was yet again demonstrated to me today.

Colleague #1 is going to holiday in the US on Friday. Colleague #2 expressed concern that she might get caught in hurrican Ivan. Colleague #1 happens to be going to New York city, but I when I said to colleague #2 that, at least as far as Ivan was concerned, colleague #1 was in the clear, colleague #2 expressed grave doubts that could be the case.

I didn't really feel like pointing out just how far New York City is from where Ivan is likely to make landfall. I decided it would be impolite, but it still amused me. Here is an otherwise intelligent person demonstrated a complete lack of geography of the American continent, for something as simple as that it is more than a couple of hundred miles from Florida to New York.

I don't really know what the analogy it here. Perhaps if I say I am going to Rome and someone asks me about the weather in Scotland???

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Electoral Registration

One of the most important annual pieces of mail dropped through my letterbox yesterday: the electoral registration form.

OK, I lie. In some respects this is utterly unimportant, since I am already registered at this address, and I don't have to do a thing to remain registered. But still, in some ways this is a very important document. When I moved back down to Taunton (25 months ago now!) there was some confusion over me getting re-registered, and the end result was that I was ineligible to vote in the local elections last year. Of course, I then made double sure I was registered when it came around to the Euro elections this year.

Still, if voting is the most important responsibility, and greatest right, in a democracy, that surely registration is the most necessary bureaucracy?

In the unlikely event that someone who is reading this is of eligible voting age in a democratic country, and has not registered, may I politely suggest that they do so with a minimum of delay.


PS - on a totally unrelated note, if anyone is desperate for hits on their website simply enter in a post headed something like "CBS Forgeries". Given that on a normal day I get 6-12 hits today I already of 40, most of which appear to be searches. I just find it incredibly amusing, is all.

Detecting forgery

One thing that has struck me about those who have exposed the CBS forgeries is the number of lines of attack. First there are the technical queries, of which Joseph Newcomer probably is the best example. Then there are the most stylistic criticisms, which Donald Sensing and others had - stuff about military terminology and the like. Next there was the characterisation of the supposed author himself, with his widow and son chiming in. Finally there was procedural attack, like done in this Washington Post.

Perhaps it is time to remember how one of the most famous forgeries of all time was discovered: the Donatino of Constantine. Basically, in the renaissance it was demonstrated that the grammar used in the document was not that of the purported 4th century date, but rather later. Not dis-similar to what lots of people have been doing themselves this past week.

A sense of Perspective Part IIa

And while I write that AL pops on with his own thoughts. As I said, I am basically baffled. My only explanation is that everything is too focused on anti-Bush sentiments rather than pro-Kerry sentiments.

A sense of perspective Part II

I am sort of having an open conversation with Gary here, but anyone else who feels like it please join in. In response to my post immediately below (edit: in the time it took my to write this sentence someone did!). Gary said:

Your point is valid. I think most of us here in the colony are just too close to the trees to see the forest. Nothing seems to have any traction in this election. But Kerry, is now losing in the polls and will probably lose the election.

To begin with I would hardly start to discount Kerry yet. We are still seven weeks away from the election, and a great deal can happen in seven weeks. Kerry's difficulty, I feel, is that he has to find something positive to campaign on. The problem his support is based on something essentially negative: getting rid of George Bush.

I can't remember whether it was last night or this morning, but I was listening to the results of a poll that showed something interesting. Around 80% of Bush likely voters were voting for him, with only about 10% were voting against Kerry. In contrast only around 40% of Kerry likely voters were voting for him, while around 50% were voting against Bush. This basically infects Kerry's message.

Kerry's second problem is that he chose to stake his Convention appearance around his service in Vietnam. In many ways I feel this was foreshadowed by those who argued during the Primaries that Kerry's military service would be an assest against George Bush's national security credentials. The difficulty is that Kerry spent only a very short time in Vietnam, and as Rod Stanton (welcome, btw) points out Kerry has lied about at least some of his time there (I personally only followed the Cambodia issue - I can't speak for the tour of duty issue). It also ignored his activities when he returned, and that is an aspect that has only just begun to be addressed. This contrasts with George Bush who, to the best of my knowledge, has never based a campaign around his National Guard service.

The question now is can Kerry jettison some of this negative baggage? I don't know, but I think the UK 1992 General Election is revealing. John Major was clearly losing at the start of the campaign. roughly half-way through he changing his entire tactics, and began going everywhere with a soap-box, which he would promptly stand on to speak. It was a gimmick, but it gave a sense of energy to the Tory campaign. The Tories won that election with a slim majority. Turn-arounds can happen, and campaigns can become re-energised. But that has to come from John Kerry.

So, I would urge Gary first of all to not to give up hope in his cause. There's a great deal of time to go.

Monday, September 13, 2004

The National Guard issue

One thing that I am trying to work out in these last few days is why do Democrats think that Bush's National Guard service, or lack thereof, is going to win them any traction anyway? I know I don't know the details, but I've read that this has been thrown at Bush ever since his re-election campaign to the Texas Governorship. I honestly can't remember if they played out in 2000, but I find it difficult to believe it wasn't raised. I know it was raised again more recently, to minimal effect. Haven't they worked out yet that this issue does not seem to have negative traction for Bush?

Now, maybe there is a reason for this. Perhaps it is an attempt to energise their base, as opposed to an attempt to win over voters. But I don't see that as valid for this issue. After all, the real anti-Bush left probably could not get more energised. So really, from an admittedly outisde and uneducated perspective, I just don't get it.

Weekend watching

I ended up watching parts of two games over the weekend. The first was the Hurricans vs the Seminoles. Irritatingly, I didn't realise I was getting this one. I saw most a replay, but missed the last quarter. Then I watched about two-thirds of Auburn vs Mississipi State.

This second game was simply dominated by Auburn's running game, pure and simple, and was rather boring to watch - hence why I only watched two-thirds. Still, nice to see Mississipi State get a score on the board towards the end.

The first game was wow. The two defences were just phenomenal. I was coming to the view at the end of last year that, great as watching good offensive plays might be, there is nothing that can quite match the beauty of a good defensive play. There were plenty in this game. I was really, really, irritated when I had to go off and do other things.

What's on with FoxNews

Two articles about Britain in the same newscast. This one about Prince Harry 20th birthday. Wow.

Another Fathers4Justice stunt

A man dressed up as Batman scales Buckingham Palace. While I don't agree with some of the groups stunts, I really do sympathise with their aims.

PS - I love the way FoxNews has been covering this just now.

A sense of perspective

In a comment on the below post Gary writes: "I believe that Bush is the worst thing that has ever happened to our nation."

I must say I disagree. It is dangerous to use such unconditional superlatives. The worst thing, the very, very worst thing? I am sorry, but compared to the Civil War, both world wars, the Depression, McCarthy, segregation, Vietnam, and 9/11, to name just a handful, I must disagree.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Kerry on audio

I am none to impressed with Kerry's appearances that I have seen. Yesterday I heard over FoxNews his radio address commemorating yesterday's anniversary, and I must say I was impressed. Not so much at what he had to say, but at how he sounded. It was completely different from his usual delivery. Just listening to his voice was far different from listening to his voice and watching his face & body language. I had heard that he comes across better on radio, and I can only agree.

Of course, it is probably too late for him to do anything about his body and facial language, which just seems so stilted. After all, he sounded the same on those tapes oh those interviews back in the 1970s.

Perhaps, if Bush wins in November, it will be simply because Kerry's persona does not mesh well with the modern age, and for no other reason than that chance. Who knows.

CBS - BBC

Listening to FoxNews earlier today I heard Newt Gingrich bring something up that I have thought a little about since Powerline and others started to break the CBS forgeries scandal. Incidentally, I am beginning to think that "the preponderence of evidence" is beginning to show that those memos are forgeries. In any event Newt Gingrich made a comparison between the CBS forgeries and the BBC's report last year that Tony Blair's government had knowingly "sexed up" the arms dossier with untrue information. After a judicial inquiry The Hutton Inquiry (named after Lord Hutton, who directed it) basically concluded that the BBC reporter, Andrew Gilligan, had created large parts of his story and that the BBC editorial was "at fault" in its handling of the issue. The result was the resignation of Andrew Gilligan, of the Director-General Greg Dyke, and of the Chairman of the BBC Governors, Gavyn Davies.

Later the BBC exonerated itself it what looks and sounds like a cover-up internal inquiry, but given that the reporter had already gone and the BBC effectively decapitated no-one really wanted to push the issue.

Is CBS now going down a similar path?

There is, of course, one very significant difference. The BBC is a public corporation, CBS is not. The BBC betrayed a public trust, CBS's private nature alters that equation. So far it looks as though there are similarities, where one person (at CBS Dan Rather) has now gone out on a limb, and may be hung up to dry. That said there are differences. The Bush camp is noticeably quiet on the forgeries - Tony Blair was very much more forceful as regards to Andrew Gilligan.

In the end I don't know.

As others have said, the real question now is where these documents come from.

Thoughts on yesterday

Thank you UCL and Gary for commenting on my post yesterday. Really, no words are appropriate. I was struck by what Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday. From memory:

A child who loses a parent is called an orphan. A man who loses a wife is called a widower. A woman who loses her husband is a widow. There are no words for to describe a parent who has lost her child.

Words do fail, but in the face of the most terrible of tragedies people have consistently shown that there is nothing that we cannot overcome. In June 1940 many were predicting the imminent fall of Britain. Just a few years later people looked at the devastation in Europe and wondered how the continent would ever rise again. And it is not just the wars, but also the terrible might of nature. It is, quite possibly, the greatest thing about the human spirit - that people can triumph over all the adversities that challenge us. Three years ago people were talking of economic meltdown, of the crushing of the American Spirit. Well, from where I am sitting, whatever else has happened in these last three years, the American spirit remains indomitable, and most definitely uncrushed. This is because America is not made up of symbols, it is made up of people. And people persevere.

Likewise I think that there are really no words to express the many and deep links between our two countries. I have read various books and articles that either support or disagree with the "special relationship". All of them, I feel, missed a very substantial point - that, as UCL said, the connection between our peoples is more than an alliance of governments. Today London and New York are slowly morphing into a shared entity - as shared as a physical separation of several thousand miles will allow. More and more our culture is merging. In Europe the French, and others, often speak of Anglo-American culture, seeing there to be no significant difference between the two. I think that they are right.

We are two peoples separated by nothing more than a body of water. I do not know for how long the North Atlantic has been deprecatingly referred to as a "pond" - surely one of the least appropriate of names for that violent ocean - but it has been for many years. And today that pond is smaller than ever.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

9/11

The midnight hour has come, and it is now September 11th on this side of the pond I guess it's time to address this issue. Uncivil Litigator writes "In the 3 years since September 11, 2001, I've searched in vain for any form of art or language that could capture my feelings about what happened that day." He also writes "I have many friends in many other countries around the world, and I think it is fair to say that the rest of the world does not understand how we Americans feel about this event. I don't intend that as a political statement and I hope the international visitors reading this don't interpret it as one. "

I agree with both those statements. Taking the second first, of course no non-American can really deep-down understand what 9/11 means to America. Certainly Americans were not the only casualties on 9/11, but it was America that was specifically attacked, that suffered the greatest loss.

I like to think that I know more about America than most people in the UK. I like to think I can sense something about what 9/11 means to most Americans. I like to think that is true, but if it is, then that is all I can do.

As for words to remember, the only words that I come up close were written by Laurence Binyon, on September 21st 1914, in a poem entitled "For the Fallen". One verse in particular is repeated up and down Britain on Remembrance Day, traditionally read by a veteren. I can think of nothing else appropriate.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.


For my part, I will remember them. Tonight, and through tomorrow, my thoughts and prayers are with America, the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Good news

Just heard on FoxNews that Bill Clinton has been discharged home from hospital. Good news.

The CBS Forgeries

I'm still keeping an open mind on these letters CBS showed on 60 minutes, mostly because, although I think news media are biased, I didn't think they were also so stupid.

I do have on observation, in the discussion about Cambodia I think it took a week or so for the story to reach the mainstream media. This one took about 24 hours. Let us give credit where credit is due, they've picked this one up just about as quickly as their format allows (certainly as fast as print media allows). Maybe this is an example of how the blogosphere and the mainstream media will interact in times to come? Maybe, but I guess its all too early to say. First off we need to know whether or not these letters are actual forgeries or not.

Welcome

I suppose I should welcome people popping in over from Crescat Sententia, courtesy of my friend Waddling Thunder commenting on my Toad in the Hole post below. I hope some people have found my ramblings interesting.

Oh, and to Waddling Thunder himself, when you permanently joined Crescat you said, and I quote

The opportunity to occasionally bore a much larger group of people than I'm normally able to at my own blogs is welcome - and I thank Will for the chance to do so.

I have to say I hardly thought you'd be boring them with me. Thank you for the vote of confidence.

Kyoto

I dislike the Kyoto treaty. I dislike it because of the idea that if only it is implemented we will all live happily ever after, global warmining will go away, and there will be no more floods. OK, that is being unfair, but that is the atmosphere I feel it creates.

I do think global warming is occuring. It seems to be to be a proven case. What is at dispute is why, and I think this one is a great deal more tricky. For one, how do we know this just isn't one of the cyclical changes in the world's climate that occur every so often. Indeed, how to we know that this isn't just the reverse of the Little Ice Age. The Little Ice Age was a cooler period that lasted from c.1400 to roughly the late-19th century. It was at a relatively stable from about 1500 to about 1800. Previous the world was in a warmer spot. As far as I know no one really knows why the world got colder around 1400, or why it started to get warmner around 1800. Personally I have to ask whether the current global warming is simply the world moving to a warmer spot?

I also think it is fairly plain how little we understand our planet's weather. That should be plain when we have enough difficulty predicting what the weather will be in 24 hour's time, let alone how our planet is going to long 10, 20, 50, 100+ years ahead. Kyoto addresses these large global concerns, with lots of fanfare, supposedly offering a solution to a condition that we barely understand. Because of this I personally I am rather happy that Bush is against Kyoto (though the USA is hardly the only anti-Kyoto nation, Australia is another, though rarely criticised - I wonder why?).

That said, I do actually support some environmental measures - the local measures. We simply don't understand the global framework, but more local situations we do have a pretty good idea of what's going on. This post is already getting longer than I want it to be, so I won't go into detail, but here's my theory.

Small things effect big things. A hundred small changes implemented well may well be more effective than a larger change implemented poorly. Kyoto strikes be as a big change that can't be effectively implemented. I have more faith in small changes that will, over time, and it will take decades, have a far more profound, positive, and lasting impact.

I also believe that it is possible, regardless of what we do, that we will simply have to live with a hotter world. We are supremely arrogant if we think that humanity's actions necessarily change to world's climate. Perhaps we are just along for the ride.

Living in the Wilderness

I would like to thank Gary for his thoughtful comment. I'll just reprint it all here, because it is important.

I live in California. Kerry is now losing in the polls. For me, it will be another four years in the wildnerness with Bush as Prez. Blair is a good man, but I am sorry he signed with Bush.

Evidently unlike Gary I am right-wing, but here in the UK though I have also been living in the wilderness. Despite his support for the war on terror I disagree with most of what else Blair supports. Domestically my support for Labour is grudging at best. I want them to win the next general election, but that victory will likely mean the further erosion of things I hold dear.

It is one reasons I suppose why I am so enthusiatic for George Bush, I imprint my own domestic longings onto the US scene. That sounds incredibly sad, and probably is, but c'est la vie.

Anyway, thank you Gary for posting in such a thoughtful manner.

Those lovely typos

A reader commented, rather politely I feel, on the frequency of typos in my Brown-Blair post. I must declare something along the lines of guilty as charged. However, I do actually try and check what I write before I post, and plenty creep through. Believe it or not I am actually a lot better now than I was. Hopefully that will continue, but I basically in my own personal writings by ability to pick up typos at work basically gets turned off. I guess that's just tiredness and stress bleeding, or something.

That said I will go now and corret what mistakes I can.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

More editing

I'm no good at this editing business, I've decided

It's all the fault of that global poll

You may have heard that apparently 80% of the world population wants Kerry to win in November. Of course, I doubt this surprises anyone, and I was thinking about it on the walk home today (a 50-60 minute walk gives one time to think). I don't have any grand conclusions, and to be frank just about everything I've read about the poll has been next to useless - though I'm more than prepared to blame the various commentators in that regard.

Anyway, I was thinking about this and for some reason I realised I wanted to work out just exactly why it is I disagree with a good many non-Americans. So expect a series of posts on why I support Bush. I am going to try and make them directly relevant to me. Education reform is not an issue. Environment, some aspects of the war on terror, trade policy, these are more what I'm going to be aiming at.

So, if I bore you all to tears its all the fault of that global poll.

Incidentally, a great deal of what I read about the poll sort of suggsted the writers thought that perhaps the rest of the world ought to have a vote at the US election. Just look at this quote from the BBC article "Kerry would win handily if the people of the world were to elect the US president". Sure, but then it wouldn't be the American presidency up for grabs would it? Just imagine, perhaps we ought to let Americans vote in the French election?

I guess that last line also sums up my thoughts on the validity and worthlessness of the poll.

I realised I don't think I have ever yet worked out why I so strongly support George Bush. And when I mean support him, I mean support him for the things that are likely to have a fairly direct impact on me, rather than his more strictly domestic issuse.


The Blair-Brown / Blair-Bush rumour-mill

If you keep an eye on UK politics you will know that there has just been a mini-reshuffle in the Cabinet. I honestly don't know why the press insists on calling them even mini-reshuffles when the vast majority of the government stays the same. It's not so much a mini-reshuffle as a nano-reshuffle. But that's by the by. As per usual at these events there has been the usual burst of rumours that Blair and Brown are at each other throats, or at the very least banging on each other's walls and generally being un-neighbourly*. This BBC article if fairly typical of the reportage. The third paragraph runs thus:

So, after days of damaging speculation over the claimed rift between the prime minister and his chancellor over the appointment of Alan Milburn, Mr Blair has emerged the inevitable victor.

I think this is the really important bit, and typically it misrepresents the conflict at issue here. The real conflict in the UK government is not, I feel, between Mr Blair and Mr Brown, but rather between their supporters and, for want of another word, their respective political hangers-on.

In recent years the Brown camp has been getting desperate. After all, their horse is getting on. If he does not become leader of the party soon then he might never manage that. As Chancellor he has the second greatest amount of patronage to dish out, but it is but a lake compared to the Prime Minister. Mr Blair's camp are, of course, not wanting anything to happen to endanger their own position. The sniping and back-biting is really quite pitiful, but I suppose utterly to be expected.

Of course, I'm sure Brown and Blair disagree on various things. It would be remarkable if they did not. But, unlike some of their attendants, both men know that rocking the boat too much merely sinks the boat. This was very clear with the revolt over Tuition fees last year, when Brown did the political equivalent of give his hangers on a clip around the ear for being so stupid. Doubtless it saved Tony Blair's premiership. What it also did, though this is not perhaps appreciated by most people, is that it also saved Gordon Brown's Chancellorship. After all, what disagreements that do exist between the to are mostly disagreements of detail rather than policy.

I also note of late there are occasional rumours that Tony Blair would prefer John Kerry to win over George Bush. I'm skeptical, to say the least, that Tony Blair is making any plans. Recent British history shows that to be a very bad idea. John Major very strongly backed Bush41 in 1992. Not surprisingly Clinton slammed the door in his face when he was elected. Tony Blair is not going to make that mistake with either candidate.

I am fairly willing to bet some hanger-on made a typical comment "Mr Kerry would make things easier for Tony", and voila, this is what Tony Blair things. Hangers-on are not the most reliable sources of information, desperate to convince anyone (and themselves) that they are important. Sure, Tony Blair and George Bush don't see eye to eye on a number of issues. George Bush and Dick Cheney don't see eye to eye on the FMA either. But I haven't read anywhere that this would stop them being an effective team in office. I don't see any evidence that the disagreements between Bush and Blair have harmed their personal relationship either.

That is all.

* Tony Blair lives at No.10 Downing Street, Gordon Brown at No.11

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The Tory Problem

Anthony Wells makes the following comment on the issue of what would it take to get people to vote Tory:

The thing that struck me is how many of the things the people would like us to propose, we are already proposing.

A little later he posits a few possible reasons:

It does suggest though that our problem isn't our policies, it muct be either (a) no one knows we've got them, (b) we haven't sold them, (c) no one bothers to read them, (d) no buggers trusts us to actually deliver them if we did get in or (e) no matter how nice your policies are you're Tory scum and we'll never, ever, ever, ever, ever vote for you bastards.

As he says, for those people who hold the last one it's not worth trying. Perhaps one day some event or sequence of events will have them voting another way, but it's not something the Tories can do anything about.

I'm pretty right-wing, yet if I vote for the Tories at the next General election it will be a "negative" vote. That is, I'd be voting primarily to keep the other candidate out than keep the current Tory in.

Personally, from my own feelings and from anecdotal evidence, I'd suggest that (d) is he real big issue. The Tories declare they are going to cut down on all this bureaucratic waste that costs us billions. Sure, government is wasteful. But along with most people I just don't think the Tories (or Labour, or anyone) these days has the balls to be able to do anything about it. (b) & (c) are also problematic points for the Tories, but I don't think (a) is a factor. (d) though clatters nearly everytime I hear a discussion about Tory policies.

To be fair I hear it much the same for Lib Dem or Labour policies too. So perhaps the real problem is that most people simply don't really perceive much of a difference of politicians of one stripe from politicians of another, and since are both as bad as each other better the devil you know? Perhaps not the most elegant appraisal of the problem, but I think hits one of the problems on the head.

An semi-update

On the rant I had about the Historians Committee for fairness below (for some reason my links to blooger are linking only to the archive page and not the article itself - anyone know how to get around this?).

Over at Crooked Timber, in a discussion that I've noticed going on about chess, Henry Farrel makes the following observation about an error in the conventional literature:

It would be very interesting to trace back how this error (and a variety of others) crept into the literature. Zermelo was never translated into English before Schwalbe and Walker’s paper, so I imagine that nobody much bothered to try to read him (especially since his article was published in 1913 and was quite likely printed in Fraktur). One person’s error was presumably picked up by others, and then disseminated until it became accepted dogma in the wider literature. Academic research sometimes resembles a game of Chinese whispers - because we all rely on the research of others, serious blunders can be perpetuated for generations before someone bothers to go back and recheck the work of their elders.

One of the criticisms of Malkin was that she mostly relied on the research of others. My point was so does every other historian on the planet. Of course, I could easily have said every academic, and the statement would have been equally valid. Actually I think the above is a pretty interesting example of how errors and mistakes can creep into scholarship.

Tasteless or just despicable?

I thought about linking to this utterly vile post from James Wolcott, via Instapundit, Tim Blair, and the Right Coast, for a while. But I finally decided I had to. I can't quite believe anyone human would write these words, given recent events:

I root for hurricanes. When, courtesy of the Weather Channel, I see one forming in the ocean off the coast of Africa, I find myself longing for it to become big and strong--Mother Nature's fist of fury, Gaia's stern rebuke. Considering the havoc mankind has wreaked upon nature with deforesting, stripmining, and the destruction of animal habitat, it only seems fair that nature get some of its own back and teach us that there are forces greater than our own.

I can't quite decide if this is real, or a tasteless attempt at humour by someone who seriously needs their head examined. If James Wolcott really thinks this then, quite frankly, I think the good folks of Florida have every right to lynch him. If this is an attempt at humour it means he is desperately sick, and needs to get himself committed to an asylum somewhere.

True, hurricanes are potent symbols, vivid reminders of nature in all its terrible majesty. But to long for human misery on the scale that Charley and Frances have wreaked on America and elsewhere in the Carribean, and the misery that Ivan is wreaking at this moment, is a declaration of one's own inhumanity.

I think Tom Smith from The Right Coast has it best

James, your penance is to go to Florida and help some people, whose feet you are not worthy to lick, clean up what remains of their lives, and then spend a week thinking of 100 ways to be less disgusting. And keep your next shameful admission to yourself.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Thoughts on Miller

Not my thoughts, I hasten to add, but those of Michael Novak (via Instapundit), who has a more literary take on the speech.

College Football

I watched most of Michigan vs Miami (in Ohio) last Saturday, and some of Oklahoma St. vs UCLA. I found the first game more interesting, but I was also more awake. Miami shot themselves in the foot so many times it was almost painful to watch, while Michigan just steadily waited and picked up everything offered. I think their first 3 scoring drives were each less than 20 yards, and resulted, iirc, in 2TD and 1FG.

This Saturday the schedule say that it's Auburn vs Mississipi State.

Incidentally, the channel that I watch for all of this is NASN. Nearly single-handedly this channel has convinced me that watching sport is something I can enjoy on a regular (as opposed to occasional) basis.

Which is a pretty random thought, but there you go

Monday, September 06, 2004

A culinary success

I am not very accomplished in the kitchen. Man might not be able to live on bread alone, but I can make a pretty good attempt at bread and bacon. Throw in some fruit and a never-ending supply of tea and I'll probably become convinced that I'm in heaven.

Nonetheless, I try. For the past few months I have been trying to make Toad in the Hole. Inasmuch as anything does I'd guess this would qualify as British cuisine.

The first two times I tried this regular feature of my parents' cooking were, shall we say, less than successful. Toad in the Hole is basically a bunch of sausages cooked in Yorkshire batter. My problem was that the batter did not set properly.

I was relating all this to Waddling Thunder some time, and when he came to visit me he went through what I was doing. In fact we made it together (well, he made it, I watched). And it worked.

So, this weekend I rolled up my shirtsleeves and got down to business. And what do you know - it actually worked for me too!

On first analysis the difference between times 1 & 2, and successful time 3 is that I didn't measure the ingredients this time around. I am sure there is something terribly profound there, but lets not depart on a tangent.

The point being that I managed to have a modest success in the kitchen. I shall remember this, for probably about Christmas time, when I'll be struggling with something else.

A post on polling

I've come across this very interesting post about polls, pollsters, and their methods. It is directed at UK politics, but I imagine the fundamentals are applicable to the US as well. It helps makes sense of some of the discussion about the Newsweek, Time, and Gallup polls of late.

NB: If I could remember where I saw the link to this post I would praise it, but to my shame I can't remember.

World War 2 reflection

American Digest has an interesting post on how the Beslan tragedy could have a significant effect in Russia. After listing some quotes from Putin's speech he says:

Putin's list is chilling, the tone grave, and the measures he announces graver still. But beneath his words and within his tone we hear a word unspoken. We hear history begin to echo as Russia is stirred and what we hear is the call "Rodina" -- "Motherland."

..

"Rodina" -- the massing of Russians behind the nearly holy cause of protecting and defending "the motherland," is not a term any Russian politician would use today. It carries too many memories of Stalin and the Soviets. But the emotion behind it remains.

..

The enemy and those that harbor and support him would do well to look carefully at what is coming for them. The careful and caring Wilsonian policies of America are one thing. Russia is never quite so delicate or patient.


I agree basically with all of this. Russia aroused is one of the most fearsome forces the human race collectively can unleash. I think it is too early to tell whether Beslan wakened the bear, but I don't doubt its ability to do so. American Digest goes on however, and he says something that so far most people are ignoring:

At the present moment, the West still cares, and cares deeply, about the innocents in which the Terrorists conceal themselves, but this will not and can not last.

In World War 2, at least as regards to that portion of it fought between the Western Allies and Germany/Italy a slow descent in brutality can be traced. The Blitz campaign is a good example of the process. For the first part of the Blitz campaign - indeed technically before "the Blitz" itself - the Luftwaffe concentrated its bombing on airfields. Then on the night of the 24th August 1940 two lost German bombers accidentally dropped their payloads on London. The next night, 25th August, in retaliation, the RAF bombed Berlin. Until that time they had mostly been dropping propaganda leaflets. It took Hitler a little while to get over the shock, and then on the 7th September 300 German bombers began "the Blitz" - the widespread bombing of UK cities that was to continue into Spring 1941. Then in 1942 and 1943 you have the raids on Hamburg and Cologne, and in return the Baedecker raids - I read the later used a tourist book to aid in target selection as a guide to cultural landmarks to be wiped out. In turn this lead to the V-1 and V-2 bomber campaigns, and to final atrocities like the infamous Dresden raid. By 1945 what had - in the West - been a war in which civilians were simply caught in the crossfire quickly became a war where the civilian was him and herself a target, for the simple logic of revenge. And all because of a navigational error.

Those people who think this is a war unlike any other are entirely correct. I doubt there has been any war fought with so small a fraction of the resources of one of the principal sides. But one day that will change, and perhaps one day we will cross a terrible threshold.

The Romans knew how to keep control an Empire. When Julius Agricola arrived in Britannia province a restless tribe in what is now northern Wales, the Ordovici, ambushsed a destroyed a company of Roman cavalry. Immediately Agricola organised his army, and annhilated the Ordovici for ever. I think it could probably count as one of the most efficient genocides on record, and took less than a year. There were no more revolts after that. How fortunate we are we have moral qualms the Romans do not. Let us hope we never lose them.


EDIT: I just had to correct a date in my talking on the Blitz. I misread something. And added on particular comment.

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