Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Two reasons to mark November 30th

As the good folks at Powerline note today is the anniversary of the birth of Sir Winston Churchill. More particularly it is the 130th anniversary of that momentous occasion. Slowly the generation that knew him are passing away. It is a sign of the times that, as Norman Geras relates, 'a survey among academics specialising in modern British history and politics' find Churchill comes second place to Clement Attlee as the most successful Prime Minister in the 20th century. Personally I feel this says more about those 'academics' (and I must seriously question the academic abilities of any who think the NHS is a grander achievement that victory in 1945) than it does about anything else.

The second reason to mark today is that it is the Feastday of St Andrew. Amongst other names the Saint gives his name to a windy town on the northern coast of Fife in Scotland, home of the university of the same name, and a certain well-known golf course. What dominates the town there are the ruins of the Cathedral (decent pictures here, and a particualrly good one here) at the eastern end. At the time it was the largest in Scotland, and like many such buildings fell foul of the Reformation. Today its ruined shell is fittingly also used as a cemetery. What better place to rest?

Perhaps it is worthwhile to note that January 24th next year is the 40th anniversary of the death of Winston too. Given that year is also the bicentenial of Trafalgar and the Death of Lord Nelson, it all seems fitting.

Another hiatus

I really do seem to have a problem with these 1-2 week long little hiatuses that occasionally crop up. This one has a simple enough reason I suppose - basically just not sleeping enough meaning I end up not being bothered to do anything constructive. Oh well. Hopefully I've shrugged that miasma off for now. I guess time will tell.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

A couple EU related bits of business

First, the EU has lost the interim verdict in the WTO case over branding by national origin. Good. Of all the silly stupid protectionist moves this one ranks near the top. Hopefully the final ruling will be the same.

Second, for the tenth year in a row the EUs accounts have been failed by the Court of Auditors.

The court refused to give a positive assurance on the legality and regularity of 93 per cent of the EU budget

It beggars belief, it really does. We don't need to look for corporate criminals, the corruption is out in the bloody open, for ten years, and no one seems to do anything about it. The UN oil for food business is small fry. And while the European Parliament is content to give sanctious to religious discrimination they just sit on their collective arse about the most pressing matters.

Just one more reason why I am opposed to such things as the Constitutional treaty.

Fox-hunting banned

Well, it has finally happened. The Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, has finally invoked the Parliament Act and forced the thing through. Of minor legislative interest the Lords rejected the Commons amendment that would have put off the date of actual banning back to 2006. Instead, from February, hunting will be illegal. The Lords have basically ensured that this will be an issue in the next election, and that people will probably be getting arrested at the time of the election campaign. That could be interesting, but outside of rural seats probably have no impact.

Now the court challenges begin. Actually, on one level this irritates me. It is a sign of creeping constitutionalism of the American kind. I have a great deal of difficulty entrusting my faith of government to a bunch of people who lived 200+ years ago. I have even more trouble trust my faith in government to a bunch of European politicians and bureaucrats, a bunch of parasites and fungal spores whose is microscopic compared to those men who did thrash out the US Constitution. I don't personally think the legal options will amount to much however, though I don't have anything upon which to base that.

More interesting is what kind of protests can we expect between now and when the ban itself comes into force (when some fairly blatant civil disobedience is probably going to happen). Next week, unless I've completely gotten things mixed up, is the next Parliamentary session, and the Queen's speech. I'm almost expected the Fathers4Justice group to have a presence there since that would be their style, but for some of the more activist pro-hunters how about loosing a set of hunting hounds?

And you always have to wonder at something like the Queen's speech whether a terrorist group would try something.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

European Lard Crisis

I'm serious. As the article says:

But there is now a national shortage of lard and supermarket shelves are emptying. Notices have begun to appear apologising for the European lard shortage.

There are fears of panic buying in the run-up to Christmas when it is traditionally an ingredient in mince pies and Christmas puddings.

Fears, panic-buying, the not so subtle threat that there'll be no mince pies for Santa on Christmas Eve and poor British families will be forced to put brandy on a hastily substitued Spotted Dick. It is the end of the wooooooooooorld!

But in the madness there is sanity:

Demand in east European countries for cheap cuts of pork has led to a shortage of meat suitable for rendering into lard. New members of the European Union, including Hungary and Poland, are buying within the union to avoid a levy on non-EU imports.

Ahhh, let us now calm ourselves by redirected all our saturated anger at the city that is the centre of our national ire: Brussels. It's all the fault of Europe!

But let us end with a, well, I'd guess you'd call it a fact about lard:

"Not suitable for weirdy vegetarians."

Now excuse me while I have my coronary.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Don Bradman

I doubt the name means much stateside, but this Aussie was and remains the world's finest cricket batsman. Thanks to Norm Geras I found this article on his achievements. The article tries to convey in American sports terms the scale of Bradman's achievements. The vital paragraphs:

Cricket numbers mean nothing to most Americans. But try this: A cricket batsman is godly if he averages 50 runs in international competitions known as Test matches; Bradman, during his 20-year career, 1928-48, averaged 99.94 runs a Test.

A cricket fan in London, Mark Smith, conveyed the magnitude of Bradman's achievement in a sentence tailored to American understanding: "It's as if an NFL running back averaged 3,000 yards a season, or a pitcher won 40 games every year." The Times of London golf correspondent John Hopkins said during the recent Masters: "To do in golf what Don Bradman did in cricket, Tiger Woods would have to average 65 a round in every round of the four major championships the rest of his career."

Personally, I think if you combined Ichiro's hitting performance with Barry Bonds HR performance, every season, for 20 years, then you are in the same place.

The article also had a great line which probably explains why I like both games:

But the heart of cricket is baseball's as well, a small ball thrown toward a man with a big stick.

Don Bradman died in 2001 - the article is in fact an obituary.

Tony Blair a neo-con

Professor Bainbridge links to an article in the Economist that holds the view that Tony Blair is a neo-con. Unfortunately the article itself requires a paid subscription, but I think the following paragraph is the meat of it:

The awful truth is that Mr Blair goes along with these ideas not because it's expedient, but because he believes them. It's no wonder that he feels comfortable with Mr Bush and more appreciated in Washington than at home. It's also not surprising that his neo-con passion strikes fear into Labour, while Conservatives of the non-neo sort look on with incredulity.

A Labour Prime Minister who is interesting in spreading democracy in the world - why should that be so surprising however? One often under-appreciated fact is that it was the Labour Party in 1940 that was instrumental in backing Winston Churchill, and indeed that really for the entire war large parts of the Conservative Party held great reservations about Winston. For his earliest speeches as PM it was the LAbour benches that cheered the loudest. When did "old Labour" - the wing of the Party that sees itself as the guardian of Labour tradition - decide to break faith with their forebears of 1940?

One other quote from the article, from Tony Blair himself:

“When the Americans say we want to extend...democracy and human rights throughout the Middle East... people say, well, that is part of the neo-conservative agenda. Actually, if you put it in different language, it is a progressive agenda.”

Are you listening Howard Dean?

More links

One of the nice things about the last 2-3 months is that I've come to know several blogs far better, and for the moment anyway they are on my regular reading list. Chief among these must be Mystery Pollster (who only started a month or so ago) and Hugh Hewitt. Ann Althouse deserves an honourable mention.

I have also finally put up my rather limited list of regular British blogs. I am attempted to find more British blogs of interest to me given that we may well be having a genearl election in six months time, but I must say that I am genearlly underwhelmed by most British blogging I've stumbled across. What I think appears to be missing is a British equivalent of Powerline or the Volokh Conspiracy. Samizdata comes closest, but simply is not of the same quality.

Now it might simply be that I have thus far failed to find what I am looking for, that I have not looked in the right place, or a number of simple reasons. However, I think part of the problem is the apparent lack of any equivalent in the UK of the blawgosphere. Basically people in law tend to be intelligent people who can offer intelligent insights on the world. Get them interacting with each and some very interesting discussions are had. Alas.

Of the UK blogs the one I think most highly of is Anthony Wells, who does an excellent job looking at UK polls. Some of the people there are Tory, some Labour. Norman Geras is a Marxist, but don't let that put you off. This post on Arafat illustrates one reason why I read him, in addition to his intelligence and occasional cricket related posts.

NB: Rensslaer - this is incidentally one reason why a flood of Democrats doesn't particulary bother me. They have about as much in common with socialism as the Tory Party. Methinks they would find true socialists something of an eye-opener.

Friday, November 12, 2004

More thoughts on Fallujah

The Belmont Club has a very insightful post up of the wider picture. I think one of the traps in simply reading/listening about the war in Iraq is that it is all too easy to pigeonbox each hot stop, instead of seeing them all as being connected. The BC post certainly made me realise how easily I have fallen into that trap.

Marking a funeral

Not the one that took place in Palestine, but rather that of John Peel, veteren BBC radio presenter who died last month. Although he is best known here for his role in the world of popular music I first got to "know" John Peel rather late in the day with the Home Truths programme. This was basically just a radio programme on a Saturday morning about ordinary life. Funny stories, serious stories, quirky stories, sad stories, happy stories, truly bizarre stories, a collage of life in Britain and of the British people. He threaded the disparate materials together with a deft touch and self-deprecating wit.

But he is best known for his work on BBC Radio 1, but his true genius is that he appealed to everyone, the young and the old. He never stopped smiling, never stopped seeing the funny side. You might call him a celebrity, except that he everything that celebrity is not. There was no ritzy feel, no airs, nothing was skin-deep. He was himself, not trying to prove things or get attention. He was a man, who had achieved his boyhood dreams, and who retained a childish glee at the wonder of the world.

He died suddenly last month whilst on holiday in Peru, his wife at his side. He will be missed by many millions of us who have listened to his voice across the years.

Eternal rest.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Good article for today

We still depend, even in the days of Trisha and trauma counselling, on men and women who will, if necessary, die on our behalf. And I must express my astonishment and gratitude that they will.

I came across that in this piece by David Aaronovitch from last Sunday's Observer (the sunday edition of the Guardian). It is very good, and I recommend it.

EU Constitution: Lithuania ratifies

And just a note marking something completely different, today Lithuania has become the first nation to ratify the EU Constitution in a parliamentary vote. Even though I hope the whole thing falls through, I think it is a good sign when one of the newest members is the first to do something like this.

Incidentally this map shows which countries are going to hold referenda on the Constitution and which are currently going for Parliamentary ratification (the odd one out is Germany where a debate is still taking place). It is exceedingly unlikely any of latter group will reject the treaty, so the attention is mostly focused on the countries holding referenda. Spain is the first, and one of the most likely to ratify it - the date is set for 20th February next year. Particular attention will of course be paid to Ireland, Denmark, France and the UK. Ireland and Denmark have both voted against EU treaties in the past, France only passes Maastricht by a very narrow margin, and the UK is widely though to be the most Euroskeptical country in the 25.

On Arafat's death

So, he has finally been declared dead. I think the world is a better place without him. I find some of the more raucous expressions of glee at his death disturbing, just as I do the unconditional panegyrics to his terror.

It is with such men that the true impossibility of being Christian comes home. Forgiveness is far harder than hate, it is the hardest thing of all, because it is meant to be unconditional. That is the image we have to follow, of the man who was able to forgive those who mocked him, beat him, crucified him. It does not matter that this man did not care about those he killed, for this is ultimately not about him. It is about me.

In my bones I fear I feel something of what Christ would say, that in today's world of all the sinners it is the terrorists who need our forgiveness the most. He himself reached out to sinners in his day, even to his executioners, and I have no doubt he would do the same today. So I must admit my human frailty here, I find it not within myself to forgive Yassar Arafat for what he has done. I can only hope that, with Christ's love, I may one day be able to acheive the understanding necessary to enable me to forgive Arafat, and the many like him.
As of today however I cannot forgive, but I can hope for peace, and today, today of all todays, for peace I pray.

A note of thanks, to those still living, and those who will never return

Today is now Armistice Day. To all those still living who have, over many decades, served and defended the freedom of this country, I offer my deepest thanks. To all those who are still serving, at home and abroad, I offer my thanks and heartfelt prayers that you will remain safe. To those from other countries who have, in current times and in times past offered their lives for our help, my profound gratitude. To those whose relatives will never come home, my sincerest condolences. And to those who will never come home themselves, each day when I read about other places in the world I am thankful for my freedom, and each day I reflect on the many human sacrifices that secured it. However, it is at this time of year that I find myself able to concentrate on the wider aspects, able to focus on what it really means deep down, to me.

It is the soldier, sailor, and airman who are at the front lines of freedom today, defending it, securing it, enabling it, empowering it. For all the talk of the vast panoply of liberal western focus groups it is our servicemen and women who are putting their lives on the line. The torch of freedom has passed on from the heroes of yesteryear and is now held high by the heroes of this current hour. However, all too frequently, in years past and today, those heroes make the ultimate sacrifice. Those men and women, then and now, they died for something, they died for us. I only hope that I can make the most of my freedom, so dearly bought.

But here, safely in my home, all I write seems somehow inadequate to the task, and anything I might say and do seems somehow trite, too easy. And of course it is, for there is nothing I can do, safely here at home, that matches with they do and have done.

As I have said before, of all the memorable lines of writing that echo across my soul one poem has always stood out, from the moment I first heard it in school. That is the poem "For the Fallen" by Laurence Binyon. As ongoing events in Iraq make plain, these lines are just as expressive now as when they were first penned, in September 1914.

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is a music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncountered:
They fell with their faces to the foe.

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.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end they remain.

Thank you for my freedom.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

A question of immigration

This BBC article has the first figures on immigration to the UK from the new EU entrants since May, when they joined the club. There was a large brouhaha at the time that we would be swamped by immigrant workers wanting to sponge off the benefits system. The article says that about 91,000 people have registered since May (some of whom may well have been here already illegally). As far as benefits go there have been 2,800 claims for child benefit, and less than 500 claims for unemployment benefit. So much for being swamped.

As a practical matter in my town the bus company, which has had a devil of a time trying to hire bus drivers, participated in all this by hiring some Poles. And they do a very good job too, and I am delighted to report. Although conservative I get really really riled by those portions of the right that seem to believe immigration, even legal immigration is, at best, a necessary evil, and that we would all be happier of Johnny foreigner just damned well stayed in his own country (NB: the Tories lost my vote in 2001 because of this). Well, I simply don't get that.

Of course, since I nurture the hope that one day I might myself emigrate westward about 3500 miles I might be biased.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Advice to emigrating Democrats

I've read several stories now that the enquiries into emigrating to Canada and New Zealand have rocketed since the election. I haven't seen it, but I doubt the UK is ina different boat. After all - the nice thing about Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the UK is that you don't have to worry (much) about the lingo.

For anyone interested though in emigrating to the UK however, here are a few eminently practical issues to think about before you decide to hop.

First - most of the UK is geographically really quite northerly compared to most of the US (major exception: Alaska). This means longer winter nights. This is important. Even some people who move from southern/middle England find the longer winter nights in Scotland troublesome.

Second - weather. Thanks to the wonders of the Gulf Stream we have far milder winters however than is the norm in the US. However, are summers are distinctly colder and more variable. And one thing that we nearly always have plenty of is rain. Sometimes it will rain for days and days, on and off. The sky will remain overcast for a week. And that's just normal weather. This is especially true in the western half of the island.

Third - fuel prices and VAT. The current price of petrol in the UK is 84p/litre. This is close to roughly $6/gallon. In addition, a quick and dirty price guide is that if you replace the $ symbol with a £ sign you will work out how much things cost in the UK - a 17.5% sales tax does wondrous damange to your bank balance.

Fourth - language. We all speak english, but in this case the similarities are even more perilous. And there is a certain hand gesture you need to get the hang of rather quickly. And other little things. There are other things that I am sure would shout to you that we are a different place. It's not like home. This is especially true if you deign to move outside of London.

Fifth - the NHS. Sounds great in theory doesn't it? See if you think its so great when you've been waiting for a basic, uncomplicated, cataract op for a year. You could go private, except for the taxes (and yes - I know several people who have been in this situation, and have been more than half-blind before its their turn).

Just a few things to bear in mind, but if you still want to come, feel welcome. The more the merrier.

Thoughts on Fallujah

Reading (via The Belmont Club some of the accounts of what is going on in Fallujah, while at the same time re-reading Stalingrad by Anthony Beever makes for an interesting comparison. It lead me to one thought.

Some of the grisliest urban military actions have occurred because of the sheer ferocity of the defending commander. There is a noticeable stiffening of Russian resistance after the frankly brutal Chuikov took command. About the only thing Chuikov had a reasonable supply of in September and October 1942 was men. And I know of no evidence that suggests our enemies in Iraq have such near-inexhaustible reserves, though I am sure some of them could match Chuikov for his ferocity.

The other big if seems to be the competence of the insurgents themselves. While we obviously have the huge advantage in terms of technology and material it would be the worst kind of hubris to pretend that these things are more important than the men themselves. Tech and material can certainly aid the winning of battles, but it is the men and women on the ground that actually do the job.

My feeling is that tactically our enemy is uneven. That means some people are poor, while others will be extremely able. The first group will likely be easy to deal with, but soon they will be whittled out and we'll end up facing a core of accomplished fighters who have proven themselves by staying alive. The fighting should get harder at that point, which we might well soon be reaching.

The level of organisation does not seem to be particularly good, but here the technology is really working against them. If modern tech helps out, it is really in the realm of communications. Of course, if as seems we are squeezing them into a specific locale then the difficulties ease here too, and again it should get harder.

The really big if though is the motivation. Part of the rapid advance thus far I would put down to the perimeter the insurgents were defending just being a bit too big for their numbers (that is highly speculative). Add in the initial shock of the attack as well. I sense though we are now entering the crux. If there is a mass breakdown in our opponents this could be finished bar the shouting (and sniping) by the end of the week. However, if there is a retrenchement it could well last longer. Military bombardments and whatnot are nice, but a constant in war is that they only go so far.

However, right now mostly I just hope and pray that our casualties, and those of civilians, are as few as possible.

The Day After Tomorrow

I watched this on DVD over the weekend. I have to say I rather liked it, but that is because I like disaster movies, and it was a good disaster movie. As a political film, which I know it was touted as, it sucks, because of a major failure of logic which I will get to in a moment.

First off this was quite a clever film. Several things are nicely set-up in the first half to have relevance in the second, and not in a heavy-handed fashion as if often the case. Second, there is a nice sense of build-up to the "main event" as it were. I think it was perhaps a little rushed - the destruction of LA by multiple Twisters is spectacular, but ruins the build-up elsewhere. The New York sequences are far better - starting with a plane flying through a storm, to lots of rain, to streets flooding because of the rain, and so on. It builds, and builds well. There is a nice touch early on when lots of birds are flying inland. This leads up to the "main event" - the wave that floods New York. The cinematography of that is very nice. To be honest that was really the sequence I rented the DVD for, and I think it was worth it. The rest of the disaster stuff was pretty good too.

The prologue bit out in Antactica was silly. I know why films have these little bits of drama before anything has started, but I just end up chuckling to myself at the silliness. On the flip side there was some nice emotional moments. Particularly the 3 British scientists up in Scotland.

And yes! The scene in the British helicopters didn't sound like some strange aliens. In Independence Day there is that little scene of 3 British officers somewhere in the desert, and they speak like they've come out of the 1850s. It was so stereotypiaclly bad it really riled by feeling towards the entire film. Well, this time the people sounded normal! Congrats to the director, who in the years since Independence Day has at least worked out how not to murder a British accent (NB it's still somewhat silly, but realistically silly - the Man U guy in Scotland was pretty amusing).

Now as to the science, and the politics. As I understand it this film was at least partly an attack on Dick Cheney, and presumably through him the GOP in general (the big business part of it anyway). The completely unsutble suggestion was that if only this fictional president had signed up to Kyoto it wouldn't have happened. The huge major fallacy with that proposition - so huge you could steer a leaky supertanker through - is that whatever effect Kyotot may or may not have, even with 100% global compliance, it would not have had any time to alter anything in the fictional timeframe of the movie. And then there is the whole problem that the world has been warming up since before major industrialisation, since the end of the Little Ice Age, and nowhere have I read a credible argument that the current warminng trend is not at least partly, or mostly, related to that natural process.

However, I didn't watch this film because of the politics. I watched it to see New York get flooded, and then frozen. And for seeing that, this was the film to watch.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Another post on English Devolution

But just to link to an article by Matthew Paris in The Times. It does ramble a bit, but says some very interesting things. Matthew Paris assigns something of a conspiracy theory to English Devolution that I don't really shre (the old 'divide and rule' business) but his statement of the West Lothian Question is superb, and the role that question has in modern UK politics.

Via Dale's Blog (The site of Iain Dale, the Tory Parliamentary Candidate for North Norfolk)

The danger for the Democratic Party

OK, I know no one is really interested in this observation, but I thought I'd offer it anyway.

In 1997 the Tory Party lost to the Labour Party. It was a rout of gigantic proportions. In the previous few years Labour had slowly adopted many of the more centrist Tory positions, and there was a demand to create "clear blue water" between the parties. This pushed the Tories further to the right (when they had already been pushed right by Maggie Thatcher).

In 2001 the Tories remained in the Wilderness. Barring something spectacular I cannot imagine a substantially different result this time about.

In 1979 the Labour government of James Callaghan lost to the rejuvenated Tories of Margaret Thatcher. The margin wasn't so great, but the party closed in on itself, and became more Socialist. In 1983 and 1987 they were hammered at the polls. In 1992 lingering doubts over those Socialist days helped lose them an election they should have been able to win. It took another 5 years before they could return from the Wilderness.

I have a sense at the moment that the Democratic Party are in a place similar to that the Labour Party were in 1979, and that I remember the Tory Party were in in 1997. Maggie Thatcher and Tony Blair are transformative politicians, but it is the quality of their opponents that allowed and allows them to command the huge Parliamentary majorities that they did and do. Their opponents in effect conceded the elections by putting themselves into the comfortable cocoon of political wilderness.

There are parallels here that I think the Democrats need to be aware of, and take on board.

Another train crash

This is very sad. Basic facts, yesterday evening a train slammed into a car that was stationary on a level crossing. Although the police aren't talking about it, the rumours are that it was a suicide. In total seven people have died, including the driver of the car and the train-driver. An off-duty policeman saw the car moments before the crash, and was on the emergency phone when the crash happened.

Eternal rest...

The difference between the Senate and the House of Lords

Well, sort of. I was reading this column by Mark Steyn from the Chicago Sun-Times (via Real Clear Politics) entitled "Condescending Democrats still don't get it". It includes this priceless passage:

In my time, I've known dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts and other members of Britain's House of Lords and none of them had the contempt for the masses one routinely hears from America's coastal elites. And, in fairness to those ermined aristocrats, they could afford Dem-style contempt: A seat in the House of Lords is for life; a Senate seat in South Dakota isn't.

The capacity for humour inherent in some of the left-wing reactions, both in America in the world, is just stupendous.

A Jacksonian vote?

For perhaps the last year or so I have been somewhat interested by the figure and presidency of Andrew Jackson. He strikes me as being one of these really interesting individuals who really change the world in which they live. Thus I was interested in this TCS article by James Pinkterton, who makes a credible argument, I think, that there is a definite Jacksonian element to Bush's win on Tuesday (and presumably four years ago - though 2000 was an interesting inversion of Jackson's 1824 election). I am not quite sure how far I go with his argument, and I am certainly noy in a position to judge some of the details, but I thought it was interesting. On one level it is just repeating most of the common post-election wisdom: the disconnect between the New England/West Coast Democratic Party and "flyover country" (which strikes me as being a rather abusive, and revealing, term).

In particular he raises some possibile future problems for the Bush Presidency / the Republican Party. Certainly they are interesting issues, and others too have raised them (mostly from the left). The final two sentances I thought I'd quote, since they perfectly describes the current political situations for both parties, as I see it.

So amidst their post-election euphoria, Republicans have cause for concern as they look ahead. On the other hand, the Democrats, as they look around today, have cause for immediate panic.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Remembere remember

Tonigth is fireworks night, bonfire night, Guy Fawkes. Tonigh we supposedely celebrate the unmasking of a Catholic conspriacy to blow up the Houses of Parliament, back in the days of James I & VI. In reality today is a chance to make big fires and send gunpowder rockets into the air.

Or it used to be, before everyone started fractically worrying about health regulations.

Where I grew up we made our own bonfire. We would start building it sometime in late early October, and it would slowly get added to with the detritus of home and autumn. Old boxes, broken wooden chairs, and branches blown down in the autumn weather would be readily tipped onto the pile. My dad always tended to do a bit of decorating about that time, which also ensured a ready supply of fuel. It was very much a home-made affair. A small group of neighbours would join in to pool resources. Usually, if the weather was not too inclement, a BBQ would be in the offing, otherwise it would be grill and oven. Someone would construct a guy - and since this was the country there was no problems getting ahold of raw materials. Fireworks would be let off by the daddies, while the mummies held back the kids. All in a back garden on an autumn evening.

Of course, I now live in compeltely the wrong area for this sort of thing. In the villlage nearly every house had a garden larger than the one I currently have (which is larger than most in Taunton). Today's manufactured events simply don't have the same authentic ring. And I know that I remmeber the village bonfires with a good deal of nostalgia, and see them through incredibly rose-tinted lenses, but so what? So this year, like the last few years, I've happily ignored Bonfire Night (other than to provide a bit of emergency TLC for one of our cats who is rather scared by all the bangs). I will probably do the same for the next few years, probably until either I myself have kids, or I become an uncle.

The reason I say that is a few years ago I did not to a bonfire night, with some friends and their two young children. For them it was still magical, and I basked in the reflected magic. But until such a time, mark me down a curmugdonely sort who can't be bothered.

The other election

In the headiness of what's been happening stateside I almost entirely forgot about another electoral event that was happening on the Sceptered Isle. For in their vast and incomprehensible wisdom Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had given John Prescott leave to push the idea of English Regional Assemblies. Well, thursday was the last day of voting for the first of the referendums on these putative talking-shops, in the North-East. The result?

A 78-22 public rejection.

It is moments like this that give me great faith in my fellow subjects. You show them a poor plan, an imposition that would waste time and money and only give Whitehall more practical power, and they spit it right back in your face. With luck the John Prescott will realise he cannot push unpopular proposals on people.

Now, if these proposed assemblies had been given the chance of some real power I'd be far more conflicted about where I stood on the issue of English regional devolution. Ultimately though, I know what I would want - give all those powers back to the County Councils. If the government is serious about the regions, that give it to the counties. For the time being at least the counties still have their own identities. Trust the people, they might surprise you.

As a side note, I very much doubt this will negatively impact on either Tony or Gordon. Thus always was John Prescott's hobby-horse. Since he's not in running for anything important I don't really expect this to impact negatively on him either, unless he tries to force referendums on Yorkshire or the North-West.

Another side note - a fairly impressive turnout. I think this is just about as emphatic a rejection as could be managed in a mid-election cycle.

A final side note - I also guess that this probably marks the start of the run-up to the next General election if the pundits are right that May 5th is going to be the date. I am bored already.

The next Act

I suppose this was always going to happen. Foolish to think anything different.

But it's a dangerous game, calling in the courts. Gay marriage advocates ought to be aware of it, since after all the lesson was painfully learned by Oscar Wilde. Sometimes the courts rule against you.

What happens if, sometime in the future, the Supreme Court rules against gay marriage. Would they condemn conservatives who hold that ruling as a litmus test, in a way that liberals would hold Roe vs Wade? Just how do they suppose they would feel if they were denied there. Probably much like the way social conservatives have felt for several decades. Angry and disenfranchised.

Too late to worry about that now.

An amusing use of words

Via Instapundit, where Glenn Reynolds has preserved a statement from CNN on a derogatory image tags which were circulating the internet. I'll just paste out the entire statement, but the emphasis is definitely mine.

Disparaging image tags used to identify photos of President and Mrs. Bush currently circulating on the Internet were not created, disseminated or posted by CNN at any time, as is alleged. They were done by a junior-level employee of Netscape and posted on Netscape.com. CNN had no knowledge of this until it surfaced on other Web sites.

Netscape, which corrected the situation when it was discovered, has released a statement apologizing for the "inappropriate and disparaging terms" that were used in the image tags -- and saying that the company has terminated the employee.

Good to see Arnold is keeping busy outside of his "day" job.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

A thought from the Primaries, and a thought on the 50/50 nation

I just remembered this line that popped up sometime during the Democratic Primaries, after it started to look like Kerry was going to get the nomination:

Dated Dean
Married Kerry
Woke up with Bush

In some respects I think that basically encapsulates the last 12 months of American politics.

Also, I have heard and read a great deal about divided America and what-not. I say rubbish. This is just politics, and that's nothing new. People will always be divided over politics. There will always be rural-urban divides (when, precisely, have there not been). You have a two-party system that is almost bound to divide the country into two. However, when it mattered most, after even more divisive election than this one will be, Americans pulled together in a moment of national tragedy. It is a sign if American strength and vitality that the memory of 9/11 is removed enough to allow this sort of domestic political bickering to come to the fore.

Just my ha'penny.

All those amendments

Clearly one of the big stories of the US election are the 11 amendments banning same-sex marriages. What I find interesting about them is the wide geophraphical spread of them. This was not just the Bible Belt, or the South, or Utah. It was also Oregon, Michigan, and Ohio. And the margins were huge. The smallest margin was in Oregon where the amendment passed 57-43. If that were the popular vote result we'd call it a landslide.

What does that tell us. Simply it was not just rabid homophobes who voted for these amendments, but ordinary people who had some serious concerns. From a foreign perspective I see if very simply, the one thing that really really makes people angry is when they think their democratic rights are being taken away. The mostly Democratic supporters of gay marriage ought to be familiar with that, because it was that emotion that has been largely behind their anger at GWB for the last few years. Well, it works with court decisions too. The moment the Masschussetts' court ruled you were going to get a backlash. Action and reaction.

I have another personal perspective, and that by insisting for marriage, as opposed to civil unions, the gay advocates are stoking the fire of conservative anger. Like it or not "marriage" is an emotive word. It is also a religious one (indeed, from a Catholic perspective it is a sacramental one). It remains one of the most religiously charged words in the modern English language. In my opinion the separation of church and state should work both ways, and the state should kick itself out of the marriage market.

If a state decides through its legislative process to give adult couples (whether heterosexual or homosexual) certain legal rights that is one thing. If it starts to encroach on my faith though (as it does with talk of marriage) or does my judicial fiat you bet people are going to get angry. As I said at the beginning, few things anger people more than their vote getting taken away.

Just my ha'penny.

PS Waddling Thunder has similar thoughts, though of course from a more relevant, American perspective.


Well, I have now bought my poppy for this year. Usually I average about 3 poppies a year because they keep getting lost. I hope this year will be difference since I am on holiday, and there will be less chance for damage and so on.

What do I mean though by poppies, and indeed, what is the whole thing about? This is not buying a real poppy flower, just a little plastic and coardboard thing. We were them in the run-up to Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday, the proceeds go to the The Royal British Legion who provide support to members of the Armed Forces and their dependants.

Of course, the signifigance of the poppy are the fields of Flanders in World War 1. The importance of remembrance is eternal. Since 1945 there has only been one year - 1963 I think - when no British serviceman or woman died in the line of duty. It is one of my fondest memories from school (I was 14) when I disrupted a lesson when someone said that they didn't see the point of buying a poppy, that it all happened a long time ago and didn't matter anymore.

It matters.

Bloody Hell

I just heard on Fox News that Elizabeth Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer. Best wishes to her for her treatment, and let's hope that the detailed diagnosis is not too serious. Best wishes also to her husband and her entire family.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Giving credit

where credit is due. To John Kerry. I am sure it must have been tempting to try and drag it out, to cast a shadow over the entire process. But this man did not do that. He took to the stage, and bowed out with a clearly heartfelt speech. I have always reacted badly to Senator Kerry, and I know my opinions will be changed in light of the Bush victory, but this time I actually noticed what he said. He spoke with passion and meaning - the fact that he cared was obvious, that he really was saying what he meant.

He even showed a little humour "sorry we're late, and a little short" I think was his opening line. It must have been a hellish speech to think about, to compose, to give, but he did so and did so well. I think he has put country now before party, and deserves honour and respect for that.

In other words, my estimation of John Kerry has risen significantly.

Edwards on the other hand was running for 2008, and my respect for him has now lowered several notches.

Thoughts on the night

All in all a very enjoyable night. These are my random thoughts.

1) American talking heads have no stamina. UK elections keep on going until 4am in the morning, even later if close like in 1992. People started to complain on FoxNews before national polling had finished in Alaska that it was getting late. Honestly, I was up from 6am EST, and these people are getting paid for it. Credit to the reporters on the ground, who at most seem to have a caught a few hours roughly when I did.

2) Florida wasn't close. This was my personal prediction, and I think with a 5% margin I can feel pretty good about that.

3) Turnout. It UK elections we have figures published for turnout when the results come in. This does not seem to the be the case, at least on the big sites, in the US. I find this moderately irritating.

4) You yanks need a swingometer. There are just so many uses for it. National level, state level, House races, senate races, presidential race. Get the licence from the BBC and have lots of fun. Generally I think BBC UK elections graphics are far better than US election graphics.

5) And while I was writing this Kerry has conceded according to the AP. All credit to him.


Well I'm watching NBC at the moment and we just had this priceless line

"When we come back we'll be speaking to the man who in many ways made John Kerry the DEmocratic nominee, former VT governer Howard Dean."

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Two notes

The first is to CNN: please stop saying how important this election is to France. It is getting old, fast. I know you've started your election coverage proper 2 hours ahead of everyone else, and you have to do something with it, but this is just silly.

The second is that I've already noticed a difference between the UK and US newscasters - all the UK newsies are already wearing their poppies for Armistice Day/Remembrance Sunday later in the month. That's a good thing to see.

And now for something completely different

Keeping me distracted before anything serious comes in I have been exploring the Cassini-Huygens website. In case you don't know that the probe we have that's currently in the Saturnian system, and it's just made its first flyby of Titan. It's a great site, and with lots of "raw" photographs. Like this one from the flyby of Phoebe back in June. Some day, humans will go there in person, perhaps within my lifetime.

I get just a little flutter at the thought.

Choosing channels

OK, I made a mistake beneath. I have more than Fox and CNN to choose from. So, here's the total list.

Sky News (UK Digital Channel, I don't watch, but might flip to see UK/US differrences in coverage)
ITV News (UK terrestial channel, I don't (and won't) watch their news coverage)
BBC News (I watch for UK elections, I'll flip if only to see if/how they differ from their American cousins)

CNBC Europe (This turns into either NBC or MSNBC - I assume the latter - at about midnight)

Thinking about it I will begin using CNN as my "main" channel, occasionally checking in on Fox, and BBC/Sky possibly as well. I may well switch to MSNBC after midnight if CNN irritates me.

On the net I think I mostly going to rely on CNN - I like the layout of their election page more than others I have examined.

Election coverage

Just another randomn thought on a UK-US difference (or perhaps similarity?) in the election coverages. Yes I know it is a little early, but this is relevant.

In the UK polls close at 2200, and election coverage usually starts at 2100 or 2130. The US election coverage (of both CNN and Fox anyway - the two options I have) start at midnight my time, though in fact the first polls close at 2300 my time. In 2001 I stayed up till about 0400 in the morning, in 2000 I stayed up later, but that was mostly Florida.

So what am I saying? That in all likelihood I will be up as late to watch the UK election (whenever it happens) as I will be tonight watching the US election. Somehow, with time differences and everything, that sounds wacky, but it nonetheless seems pretty much accurate. Go figure.

Edit: I also have the chance to watch the BBC's coverage, which starts at 2355. I might flip over there some time just for the sake of variety if nothing else. Besides, perhaps they'll set up a swingometer, which is one election graphic that is tailor-made for US elections but noticeably absent in 2000 and 2002.

Some culinary advice

Now, I am perhaps the last person who should be offering advice on affairs of the kitchen, but on the very limited topic I am about to discuss I do feel equal to the task.

Try to avoid, as a general rule, dropping a ceramic jar that holds three pounds of self-raising flour. The jar will break, the flour will go everywhere, and you will get covered. Trust me. This happened to me last night.

What made it all the funnier was that I had just washed the floor about four hours previously. Typical. I was also wearing a black pair of jeans.

Oh well.

February UK election update

Today in the FT there was this interesting article basically debunking the idea of a February poll that had been mooted during the weekend. So it seems that we are still due for an election on May 5th (when the local elections are also to be held). It seems to say that some ministers got into a bit of ill-advised speculation that prompted the stories.

This only confirms my general feelings about most political stories that are supposedly about Tony Blair and Number 10 - mostly its just journalists repeated the specualtive hopes of various Labourites and offers no real insight into the inner workings of this government.

Nothing else really of interest in the paper today.

Election Night

Well, I will be staying up to watch the election tonight. I think it is pretty obvious I'm rooting for a Bush victory, but all that aside for a moment.

I hope that the elections are fair. I hope that the rabid rantings of extreme partisans of both sides do not spoil it for the many. And that whatever the result, it is not decided in a court of law, but in the court of the voting booth.

Good luck America, and may it be a clean day.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Review: Stalin - the Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore

I have just finished reading this excellent book, Stalin - The Court of the Red Tsar which was a gift to me from Waddling Thunder this summer when he was over.

In brief, this is an anecdotal history of Stalin and his those closest to him, from the late 1920s to his death in 1953. It is not a political history of Stalin's Soviet State, a dissection of the Terror, an account of WW2 or the Cold War. All these things do impact, but it is a history of the persons involved, of their families and their children. It is an examination of the personal relationships that worked at the heart of Stalin's regieme. It is a gallery of literary portraits, all centred around the Vozhd himself, Stalin, the Georgian Emperor of this Communist Russia.

Several things will immediately become clear, and that is how thoroughly people from the Caucauses dominated the Soviet state during Stalin's reign. Some of the greatest men of the era, including Stalin himself, came from the Caucausian republics. The second is that Stalin comes across as an incredibly intimate person at times. Even during the hieght of the Terror we are confronted with a father's touching relationship with his daughter, of how he went out of his way to save and old school-friend from the executioner's bullet. No where is Stalin's atrocities, or those of his magantes, excused, but neither are we allowed to pretend that these men are simple monsters. Even Beria is shown more completely. It makes the barbarity of what these men did all the clearer.

Stalin himself comes across as an immensely complex figure, of a character that obviously changes from the relative care-free days of the late 20s, through the trauma of his wife's suicide, the assasination of Kirov, the bloodletting of the Terror, and frenetic war, and finally the succession struggles and paranoid anti-semitism of his final years.

If Stalin is the brightest star in this galaxy, there are many other lights. Some are relatively well known, people like Beria, Molotov, and Khreschev. Other are perhaps less well known, like Anastas Mikoyan (brother to the one of the MiG desingers), Yagoda, Yezhov, Bulganin, Kaganovick, and Voroshilov. Whenever a person enters the court circle for the first time we are given a quick round-up of them. Often these write-ups, as indeed the book itself, is not fixed in time. While there is a chronological progression throughout, the anecdotes can range all over as the themes are explored. Thus, right at the beginning of the book when his secretary, Poskrebyshev, is introduced there is a note relating to the final years of his life.

But this is not just a tale of the magantes themselves, but also their families. It is a tale of Svetlana Stalin's perilous love-life, of the very personal terror that infected the families of Stalin's closest. They themselves might also have been mass murderers, but the degree of fear which these people lived under, for themselves and for their family, helps one understand why some were so eager to sign away hundreds of deaths, if it meant they might perhaps keep breathing. In this respect the take of Molotov is particularly touching. After the war his wife (and they were a couple passionately in love) was arrested because of her Jewish roots. Molotov did not know for certain whether she were alive or not, and it was Beria, of all people, who kept him going promising him that Polina Molotova was alive.

When I finished I wanted to know when he would write the sequel about Khreschev's Court, and then Brezhnev, and end finally with Gorbachev's. Of course, I seriously doubt that is on the cards, but I wish it were. The Postscript can only give the barest details of what happened to these many individuals after Stalin's death, tantalising glimpses.

Amid all those glimpses for me one character from Stalin's Court stands out for being somewhat exception, and that was the Armenian Anastas Mikoyan. This Old Bolshevik is one of the very, very few people present and in power at the start of the book, and present and in power (if threatened) at the end. It Stalin had lived another year - perhaps he too would have gone the way of so many others, but as it is he not only surived Stalin's reign, he survived the Khreschev-Beria power struggle, the failed coup to oust Khreschev in 1957, and the successful coup to oust Khreschev in 1964. He stands out as the great survivor of Soviet politics, the last of all Stalin's grandees still standing. He carried the tomb of Lenin, and was present at JFKs funeral. He died peacefully in 1978. A final mention though must go to Kaganovich, who had been on the losing side of the 1957 coup attempt, one of the men who had helped put the Soviet Union together, lasted to see its final fall.

My final though having read it is that in our cosy western world we simply do not live in an atmosphere as vital, as charged as the one in which they did. Our revolutions happened centuries ago, and I am very grateful for that fact.

This is an excellent book, and well worth every penny.

Self-Defence in the UK

This article (via Instapundit) makes depressing, and depressigly accurate, reading. Incidentally, I am certain one reason for the popularity of the increasingly ubiquitous CCTV camera on British streets is that, in the absence of self-defence, the only hope most people have of defence is mass-surveillance will intidate criminals not wanting to get caught on film.

And that is perhaps one of the most depressing things of all.

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