September 30, 2003

Belgian justice

The BBC reports that a Belgian court has sentenced Nizar Trabelsi to 10 years in prison. The Tunisian is the key figure in a group of 18 Al-Qaeda members convicted of plotting to attack US troops on a military base in 2001.

A second Tunisian - Tarek Maroufi - was sentenced to six years in prison for organising the recruitment of al-Qaeda volunteers in Europe.
Another 16 suspects received shorter sentences for a series of lesser offences - and five defendants were acquitted.
The sentences look lenient to me but the BBC explains:
Correspondents say the relatively modest prison terms reflect the fact that Belgium has no specific anti-terrorism laws. Trabelsi was charged with attempting to destroy public property, illegal arms possession and membership in a private militia.
As far as Belgian law is concerned then: Trabelsi and his friends are not terrorists who plotted to murder US troops; they are vandals who wanted to damage public property, they just happened to have weapons and Al-Qaeda is nothing but a private militia.


Can you manage?

The Guardian takes a look at the practice of some top British companies and public sector organizations employing American senior managers rather than home-grown executives, and concludes:

David Blaine isn't the only high-profile American who makes us wonder whether we should embrace his effrontery or chuck eggs.
On the way to that conclusion, the Guardian also gets in a few sideswipes at “American capitalism”. Nevertheless, the article does highlight the differences in style and approach between managers in the US and Britain.

The money quote for me came from Bob Kiley, London’s commissioner for transport and a native of Minneapolis.

"Americans will lose patience with individuals who don't seem to be moving aggressively to solve problems, and then they'll make changes. There's more patience in Britain. But a problem that's allowed to fester is going to be a worse problem six or 12 months later."
I think Kiley’s being polite when he uses the word “patience”. In my experience, it’s not patience; it’s more a fatalistic resignation of responsibility. I wouldn’t say British managers are resistant to change; it’s just that most of the time, they don’t really want to be bothered with it.

Academic heresy

On Sunday, I came across this article from the Times Higher Education Supplement reporting the case of research scholar Mark Sagoff, whose submission to a scientific journal last month was rejected by the reviewers.

Sagoff, thinks he’s being blacklisted because his views are seen as heretical:

He felt that the established line was influenced by aesthetic, cultural and spiritual arguments to conserve native ecosystems. These were valid reasons but should be acknowledged as non-scientific arguments.

While he supported efforts to prevent the spread of known pests, Dr Sagoff argued against a general presumption among ecologists that non-native species were "guilty until proven innocent" and observed that this was not supported by research.
Personally, as a non-native inhabitant of Europe, I think he’s got a point. But don’t take my word for it, go ask the ruddy ducks.

Having just slaughtered thousands more ruddy ducks in a so-called trial cull, DEFRA, the environment ministry, is poised to attempt to wipe out virtually the entire UK population of these beautiful birds.
Why are they doing this? It's because the ruddy ducks, like myself, are North American interlopers breeding with native varieties of their species and creating “impure” hybrids.

Ruddy ducks are being targeted because some have reportedly spread from the UK to Spain where they are mating with the endangered white-headed duck. The result of this mating is an 'impure' hybrid, which some conservation groups don't like.
That's conservationist thinking in a nutshell: all animals are equal but some are more equal than others.

Butterflies and Wheels

I didn’t blog yesterday, partly because I was busy on other things but mostly because every time I came on-line, I went straight to Butterflies and Wheels.

On Sunday, Normblog posted an enthusiastic review of B & W and so, like A E Brain, I went to have a look. Now I find I can’t stay away. It’s like Norm wrote: “the place is an online cornucopia; it's a palace full of treasure.”

Alan Brain dipped into B & W and came up with a quiz about taboos and moral intuitions. I don’t normally do quizzes but I thought I’d give this one a go. My results:

Your Moralising Quotient is: 0.00.
Your Interference Factor is: 0.00.
Your Universalising Factor is: -1.
According to the blurb, this makes me "fully permissive". I’m not sure my friends and family would agree with that. I’m regarded as being pretty judgmental around here, particularly by the boys.

Anyway, there’s plenty more on B & W to look at.

There’s an interview with Peter Stringer, whose book “Animal Liberation” caused quite a stir when it came out in the seventies. Here he’s talking about the left and evolutionary psychology.

Singer argues that the left’s utopianism has failed to take account of human nature, because it has denied there is such a thing as a human nature. For Marx, it is the "ensemble of social relations" which makes us the people we are, and so, as Singer points out, "It follows from this belief that if you can change the ‘ensemble of social relations’, you can totally change human nature."
Talking about evolutionary psychology; there’s also an interview with Steven Pinker, in which he discusses reactions to EP and its application in the political sphere. Pinker’s view, summarized by B & W, is that “an excessively optimistic view of human plasticity can lead to social engineering, coercion, and genocide”.

If that all sounds too serious, there’s also fun to be had at B & W. Check out the Fashionable Dictionary. It's a hoot.

Sinister, destructive period of history which had a 'project' to dominate nature, prefer reason to superstition, and stop going to church. All a big mistake, but postmodernism will fix it.
I’ve got to start rationing myself to short visits at B & W, otherwise I could end up spending all day there.

September 28, 2003

Who's counting?

Well, I have been, and on Tuesday I was somewhat relieved to find I’m not the only one. Natalie Solent has been counting too.

One, two, three, four.

What’s going on?

September 26, 2003

Contrast and compare

Michael J Totten graphically makes the point that you need to consider what kind of activities a person is engaged in before you call them simply an “activist”.

The BBC regrets

Yesterday, the Hutton inquiry heard counsels’ closing statements.

The Guardian, which has provided excellent coverage throughout the inquiry, focused, in one report, on the words of Jeremy Gompertz, the barrister acting for the Kelly family.

Gompertz described the BBC’s Andrew Gilligan as an "unreliable" witness who was not to be trusted.

Firstly, he claimed Gilligan's chronology of events was "irreconcilable with the physical evidence" yielded by his personal electronic organiser after it was examined by experts.

He said Gilligan had also said things that were irreconcilable with material he had produced in preparing his broadcasts on May 29, the broadcast themselves and the article in the Mail on Sunday he wrote on June 1.

Thirdly, he criticised Gilligan for losing his manuscript notes of his meeting with Dr Kelly in the Charing Cross hotel.

His final charge was that Gilligan had proved himself to be an "unreliable historian in other respects", including the changes in his accounts of a number of meetings.
In an accompanying article, the Guardian also reported on the closing statement by Andrew Caldecott, the BBC’s counsel. These words of Caldecott’s stood out for me.
The BBC regrets the inclusion of these statements [by Gilligan]. The BBC also accepts that Downing Street should have been notified before the broadcast.
Why has it taken a parliamentary committee, the death of a government scientist and a judicial inquiry for the BBC to admit it was wrong? In my opinion, had it done so at the outset, Dr Kelly would almost certainly still be alive.

Reckless speculation aside, it is clear that this is not just a story about bad journalism (Gilligan), but also poor editorial control (Sambrook), detached management (Dyke) and lack of oversight (Davies).

We now know that Gavyn Davies and the rest of the BBC's board of governors backed Gilligan not because they had fully investigated the matter and come to a considered judgement, but because, as Davies told the Hutton inquiry, the governors believe they had a "public duty" to stand up to the government.

The BBC governors have a duty to oppose political interference from the government, but this was nothing of the sort. The government’s criticism of Gilligan’s report was not an attack on the BBC’s independence but on its credibility. Testimony to the Hutton inquiry has revealed that, in this instance at least, the BBC’s desire to stand up to the government, particularly on Iraq, overrode concerns about accuracy and impartiality.

I was astonished back in July when the governors decided to give their unequivocal backing to Gilligan's story, a decision which led to the release of this statement from Gavyn Davies on July 6.
In summary, the Governors are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the BBC upholds the highest standards of impartiality and accuracy. We are wholly satisfied that BBC journalists and their managers sought to maintain impartiality and accuracy during this episode.
The words of Andrew Marr may yet come back to haunt the BBC. On July 20, the BBC's political editor wrote:
But if it turned out that Mr Gilligan was wrong - because that is the accusation being made in effect, that he sexed up what Dr Kelly said and broadcast an inaccurate report, and then the whole weight of the BBC hierarchy, right up to the governors swung behind him and his judgement - if that turned out to be wrong - and I say if - that would be extremely serious for the BBC all the way up.
Indeed it would be.

September 25, 2003

Meme Watch

Can anyone tell me where the idea that methane is destroying the ozone layer comes from?

I’ve seen it mentioned in a few places now, but I haven’t been able to find the source.

Thing is, the idea doesn’t accord with anything I understand about what goes on up in the stratosphere. Is there a scientific paper out there somewhere that’ll show me how methane promotes ozone depletion?

Come on people! Help me out here. Mail me a link.

Hubble bubble trouble

Normblog has a link to a Guardian article that reports dire consequences for humankind as a result of new theories about the nature of the universe.

The final twist in this saga is that almost all multiverse theories predict the existence of infinitely many duplicate cosmic regions, including duplicate Earths and duplicate Guardian readers. There will also exist all possible variations on this theme.
The Guardian article is by Paul Davies, who writes a lot of “popular science” stuff. He knows what he’s talking about and he usually writes well, but this piece looks like a dog’s dinner to me. I suspect it’s been trimmed to fit by someone at the Guardian.

I had as much difficulty making sense of it as Norm Geras did. To me it seemed like some weird conflation of Guth's bubble universes, the anthropic principle and the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

I was half expecting Schrodinger’s cat to turn up at some point.

Then, about two thirds of the way through the article, I spotted Max Tegmark’s name and I started to smile. Don’t get me wrong, Tegmark is a highly reputable cosmologist; he publishes a lot of papers and is well respected, but he also has a lively sense of humour.

Davies’ piece for the Guardian looks to be based on an article Tegmark wrote for Scientific American back in May.

It’s one of his “wacky ones”.

September 24, 2003

The Learning Zone

If you read my post on race in America below, you’ll know that a number of bloggers have been exploring the issue in both posts and comments.

It started with this post by Dean Esmay, where he talks about racism in Chicago but the subject widened out in the comments and a number of bloggers got involved.

I’ve been amazed at the response (there were more than forty comments to Dean’s post and over a dozen trackbacks), and by the range of perspectives the discussion now encompasses. People have been swapping comments and links, trawling their archives for relevant material and writing directly about their personal experiences.

There’s a lot of stuff out there, but there was one piece that particularly caught my attention.

Cobb returned to the comments at Dean’s World to post a link to an article by Glenn C Loury. I’m grateful that he took the time and trouble to do so, because Loury’s essay is the clearest exposition of the problem I’ve come across.

What is sometimes denied, but what must be recognized is that this is, indeed, a race problem. The plight of the underclass is not rightly seen as another (albeit severe) instance of economic inequality, American style. These black ghetto dwellers are a people apart, susceptible to stereotyping, stigmatized for their cultural styles, isolated socially, experiencing an internalized sense of helplessness and despair, with limited access to communal networks of mutual assistance. Their purported criminality, sexual profligacy, and intellectual inadequacy are the frequent objects of public derision. In a word, they suffer a pariah status. It should not require enormous powers of perception to see how this degradation relates to the shameful history of black-white race relations in this country.
There are some things he writes that I don’t agree with, such as when he says:

The dream that race might some day become an insignificant category in our civic life now seems naively utopian.
Some of us still believe in that dream, and I think most people would like to believe in it. It’s certainly a long way off, but I’m still trying to work towards it and I’m not yet ready to be labelled naïve.

I could take issue with a number of other small points but that would just be quibbling. I’m in full agreement with much of what Loury writes here.

I also agree with his criticisms of affirmative action. I remain opposed to it and, in contrast to Loury, I support Proposition 54. But there are two things we clearly agree on: affirmative action only slaps at the problem and Proposition 54 won't help to solve it.

I have only ever said this once before; I don’t use the words lightly: Go read the whole thing.

Blogspot blues

Monday, Kelley over at suburban blight kindly linked one of my posts in the Cul-de-Sac, her weekly round up of postings from across the blogosphere.

Kelley’s linked to a number of my posts over the last few months and I’m always grateful for the readers who come take a look. This week, she linked to a post I wrote about poetry, apple pie and pilau rice (I have eclectic tastes).

Thanks for the link Kelley, and thanks to anyone who clicked on it, but unfortunately links to my site, other than to the homepage, aren’t working. My archives are inaccessible, they have been for a couple of days now, and I can’t create archive links for any new posts I put up.

What’s the point in blogging if no one can link to your posts?

What’s the point in writing stuff if other people can’t read it?

Those are rhetorical questions; please don’t answer them. What I’d really like to know is:

Will my archive links ever return?

Is there anything I can do to help restore them?

What caused the problem in the first place?

How can I prevent it happening again?

The links to my archives are back! Except for August. How? Why?
I want out: Moveable Type and a site of my own. I'm dreaming of course, but one day...

September 23, 2003

Father’s day

A client of mine had his day in court yesterday.

The Child Support Agency, which is the organisation responsible for child support enforcement in the UK, was seeking a Liability Order against him for unpaid child maintenance.

The CSA got the Order. The judge accepted my client’s written submissions and listened to what he had to say, but he had no power to do anything other than grant the Order.

The next step is recovery proceedings. It’s likely they’ll send the bailiffs round to his house, they may also register the debt, which would affect his credit rating, or they could put a charge on his property. They can even do this:

Committal Action - Proving before a Magistrate that a non-resident parent has "wilfully refused or culpably neglected" to pay the debt owed to the Agency. This can result in the Non Resident Parent being committed to prison for up to 42 Days or, as an alternative the withdrawal of their driving licence.
My client is the “Non Resident Parent” in this case but, as he told the judge in court, they can send him to prison if they like but he’s not paying. He means it.

Usually, coming across the bare facts of a case like this, it’s pretty easy to come to a judgement. I think most people would probably say that my client deserves everything he’s got coming to him.

I’d agree, if it wasn’t for the fact that this man has been fully supporting his children; even the CSA accepts that. They also accept that the money he paid out for his kids falls within the definition of a “voluntary payment”, which is allowable as a deduction against the child maintenance assessment.

But here’s the rub: the children’s mother has refused to confirm that the clothes and other items were purchased by their father, and because of this the CSA will not deduct what he’s spent on his kids from the money he owes in maintenance..

Still with me? Okay, then here’s the detail.

My client’s case centres on a batch of store receipts for clothes, shoes and other essential items, which he purchased for the children as part of a voluntary arrangement with their mother.

The CSA accepts that the receipts confirm that the items were purchased for the children during contact with their father. And the CSA accepts that the items were returned to the mother’s house with the children. The problem is, the children’s mother refuses to confirm that the items were returned with the children and as far as the CSA are concerned if she won’t confirm it, they won’t accept that the payments he made are deductible against his assessment.

You know what really annoys the guy? Individuals working for the CSA recognise that the mother is not telling the truth; they’ve had the opportunity to check the receipts against the clothes in the kids' wardrobes. The only clothes the kids had were the ones their father had bought for them. The receipts and credit card statements are pretty clear, you can match up items of expenditure with individual pieces of clothing. There’s a paper trail a mile wide. The CSA has seen it all, twice, and accepts it for what it is. But because the children’s mother denies the fact, they’ve ruled against him.

I’m not a lawyer, I’m a citizens' advocate, so I don’t really know if he has a legal argument but he certainly has a moral one, and the sum of money involved is not trivial.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter whether his case is legal or moral, good or bad, because the CSA, unfettered by diligence or due process, has made its decision. That decision has been made on behalf of the Secretary of State; there is no right of appeal. My client could, of course, take action in the High Court to have the decision overturned. If he could afford to do so, I'm sure he would, but he doesn't have much money; what little he has, he spends on his kids.

It’s always sobering to be reminded that access to justice for the redress of grievances is not a right but a privilege allowed only to those who can afford it.

The forgotten Few

Second Son, he’s eight, told me something yesterday when I picked him up from school.

They’ve been covering World War Two in their history lessons. He thinks this is great because he knows more about it than anyone else in the class, including the teacher I think.

Yesterday, she was telling them about the Blitz and the damage the German bombing raids had done. This is pretty much how he told it to me:

The teacher’s going on about the raids:

Wave upon wave of German bombers… blah blah… attacking our cities night after night… blah blah blah… virtually unopposed… blah blah… defenceless families huddled in their shelters... blah blah blah… terrible destruction… blah blah… the horror of war.
And all the time, my boy’s trying to add in the stuff she’s missing out:

They used to put up barrage balloons… we had anti-aircraft guns that could hit them … at night they’d have these big searchlights… it’s not like we were completely defenceless …they sent up planes to try and intercept them.
I think the teacher had been trying to carry on regardless, but when the Big Fella’s got something to say, he’s going to say it. He’s not pushy but he is persistent.

So anyway, the teacher finished up in time to catch what he’d been saying about sending up planes to intercept the German bombers. “Planes?” she said. “Oh yes, but not many, we only had a few.”

On the way home he said “You know Dad, I don’t think she really knew what she was talking about.” No son, neither do I.

Second Son read this post today and asked me to add something.

He wants you to know that during the war the pilots of Britain’s Fighter Command were sometimes referred to as “The Few”. This came about after Churchill gave a speech to the House of Commons, in which he praised them for their service, saying: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.

By the end of October 1940, these “few” had won the Battle of Britain. That victory didn’t stop the bombing of British cities, but it reduced the threat considerably by making large-scale daylight raids too costly an undertaking for an already depleted Luftwaffe.

The teacher didn't know that.

September 22, 2003

Token American

I’m not going to comment much on the Faith Fippinger story except to say that if being a human shield isn’t illegal, it ought to be.

Den Beste's take on it pretty much reflects how I feel about the BBC’s latest report on the case. I’ve been following the story for a while, and I thought this FindLaw article from Julie Hilden in August provided a good summary of the arguments.

Of course, now that the BBC has run the story, I’m sure that as the only American in my immediate social group I’m going to be asked what I think about it. I'm usually pleased to be asked my opinion but sometimes it gets tedious.

One of the problems with being an American abroad is that, on occasion, you’re liable to be held personally responsible for the actions of your government and assorted fellow citizens. I often find myself the token American in such situations, although "scapegoat" might more accurately describe it.

My various accusers, who are by their own estimation “reasonable people”, will usually allow me an escape clause: If I’m ready and willing to condemn the Bush administration, all of American foreign and domestic policy (since the year dot) and admit that my country is indeed the source of all evil in the world, then I may escape censure.

Of course, depending on the company I’m in, I might also be required to accept that all Americans are stupid, shallow people, uniquely ignorant of the wider world and a threat to the survival of life as we know it. This is somewhat problematic for me and occasionally for the boys, who sometimes get the same kind of treatment from their peers at school and, once or twice, from their teachers too.

When it’s just me and not my kids, I don’t have to confront it - I could easily walk away. Or I could just ignore it and pretend I’m not American. English educated and coached in voice - believe me, I can do the accent. If you met me for the first time and didn’t know I was American, I'm pretty sure you’d never guess. That goes double for the boys: Mac’s family are English and the boys were all born here, so for all intents and purposes they are English. They don’t have to identify with the States and I guess I don’t have to either. But we do.

British people mostly assume quite naturally that I'm English and are often genuinely surprised when I tell them I’m not and that I wouldn’t necessarily want to be. On hearing this, some have remarked, quite brusquely, that if I’m so fond of America perhaps I should go back there. Over the years, I’ve heard so many variations on “Yankee go home”, I’m surprised I haven’t gone.

I liked England as child and very much looked forward to visiting. But when I finally arrived to go to school here I was made to feel distinctly unwelcome. It seemed, at times, the only choice I had was total exclusion or complete assimilation.

Even now, people who know me well profess that they find it hard to understand why I don’t just become British, with all the supposed benefits it would bring. Strangely, I don’t see any benefits at all. And even if there were some obvious gain to be had from it, abandoning my nationality would mean turning my back on a family heritage and a tradition of service that are a big part of who I am.

Anyway, like I said, I haven't exactly been welcomed with open arms, so perhaps it's not surprising I don't want to join the gang. Yes, I pass freely as an Englishman but it’s really only an act. And I can't keep it for long; after a while, it starts to feel like a straight-jacket.

I guess I could try harder to fit in, and I’m not really trying to stand out, but I’m not English. I‘m an American and I'm proud of it.

September 21, 2003

Mellow fruitfulness

Autumn in England is full of it, according to Keats.

He’s right. Yesterday we picked cooking apples from our neighbor’s tree and today we went “blackberrying” along the River Frome. Tonight, we had blackberry and apple pie with fresh cream.

Mac makes the best short crust pastry I’ve ever tasted, so it’s not surprising the boys and I overdid it a little with dessert this evening. I won’t be posting again today. Instead, once the boys are in bed, Mac and I plan to settle down on the sofa with a bottle of wine and watch a movie.

Before I go, I just thought I’d post one of the recipes I used today. Hey, if Eugene Volokh can post a recipe, why can’t I?

I cooked chicken tikka with a mint raita (the boys love it), cauliflower masala and pilau rice. Now, some people might think apple pie wouldn’t go with that. They’re wrong. Apple pie goes with everything.

Here’s the recipe I used for the rice.

Pilau Rice

275g/10oz basmati rice
50g/2oz of unsalted butter
1 large onion finely sliced
2-4 cloves of garlic peeled and finely chopped
8 whole cloves
8 green cardamoms, split open at the top of each pod
2 cinnamon sticks, 2 inches long broken up
8 whole peppercorns
1 tsp ground turmeric
570ml/20fl oz water
1 tsp of salt
1 heaped tsp of butter
1 oz of seedless sultanas
1 oz flaked almonds

Wash the rice and soak in cold water for 30 minutes and drain well.

Melt the butter over a medium heat and fry the onions until they are soft (approx 5 mins).

Add the garlic, cloves, cardamoms, cinnamon and peppercorns. Stir and fry until the onions are golden brown (2-3 mins).

Add the rice and turmeric, stir and fry for 1-2 minutes, reduce the heat to low, stir and fry for a further 2-3 mins.

Add the water and the salt bring to the boil, cover and simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes without lifting the lid.

Remove the pan from the heat and leave covered and undisturbed for a further 10-12 minutes.

Melt the 1 tsp of butter over a gentle heat and fry the sultanas until they change colour and swell up (approx 1 min) keep to one side.

In the same fat fry the almonds until they are lightly browned.

Mix the almonds and the sultanas in with the rice and serve.
It’s time consuming but very tasty.

September 20, 2003

The Lady Eve

Our favorite movie …

Roger Ebert in the Chicago-Sun Times:

If I were asked to name the single scene in all of romantic comedy that was sexiest and funniest at the same time, I would advise beginning at six seconds past the 20-minute mark in Preston Sturges' ``The Lady Eve,'' and watching as Barbara Stanwyck toys with Henry Fonda's hair in an unbroken shot that lasts three minutes and 51 seconds.
… now available on dvd.

Race in America

The discussion that followed Dean Esmay’s excellent post about racism in Chicago looks to have topped out at forty-two comments, but discussions have been continuing in and between other blogs.

Inspired by the discussion, and Cobb’s observation that “If you can't write a 1000 word essay on the topic of whiteness, the subject of race-consciousness is out of your reach”, Ms Lauren at feministe has suggested that people might like to write an essay and post it, so others can see their thoughts on the subject.

the suggested questions are aimed specifically at whitefolks, but please feel free to expound on the subject if you are of another race or ethnicity.

1. what does it mean to be white? what does it mean to be White?
2. how has whiteness affected your worldview?
3. how has whiteness affected your educational experience?
4. how has whiteness affected your experience with authority?
5. how has whiteness affected your experiences with people of other races and ethnicities?
A thousand words on my skin tone? I couldn't do it; it's just not that relevant. But then, to tell you the truth, the phrase “race-consciousness” has only negative connotations in my family. So I’m at a loss when people use it to mean something positive. I'm not criticizing, just saying I don't understand.

I pretty much agree with what Liminel Liberal says in this post and I can certainly identify with her when she says:

Maybe I need to get out of this diverse city for a while. Figure out what everyone's talking about.
What I’d like to figure out, is what people mean when they talk about race. I know what I mean when I use the word, but I often get the strong impression that other people give it a different meaning or use the word in a way I find hard to understand and accept.

I’m not saying there isn’t a problem with race in America, there clearly is. I understand that prejudice and discrimination exist and that they promote inequality and social exclusion. I am not blind to the very real difficulties that large numbers of Americans face on a daily basis when confronted with the ignorance and bigotry of some of their fellow citizens.

I was fascinated by the breadth of experience and diversity of views represented in the comments to Dean’s post. I’m interested to hear more of what people have to say, and I’ll be following the links from feministe to see what’s been written in response to Ms Lauren’s initiative.

My compliments, and apologies, to Negroplease, who caught an earlier version of this post which was edited for focus and clarity. The earlier version included a list of questions around the definition of race. On reflection, I didn't think they were particularly helpful. I was writing directly to Blogger so I don't have a saved version of the original post. If anyone's interested, and I can remember all of them, I'd be pleased to include them in another update.

Surprising news

Eugene Volokh posts a recipe for salmon quesadilla.

Josh Chafetz has it for dinner.

Yasser Arafat walks out on "unfair" interview with ABC’s Bob Woodruff.

John Humphrys says business people are "the real villains".

Football player takes the field for San Jose State with only one foot.

New Scientist reports giant guinea pigs once roamed the earth.

Florida band's stage show to include suicide.

Anti-war Muslim group claims responsibility for Labour’s by-election defeat.

Sky News reports that men can shop for over an hour before cracking.

September 19, 2003

Poetry corner

This year will be the tenth anniversary of National Poetry Day in the UK. To mark the event the Poetry Society is asking for nominations for Poetry Landmarks of Britain.
Why? It may sound romantic, but many visitors from abroad think of Britain as having a rich tradition of poetry, and some even travel here because of it. Apart from the odd blue plaque, though, those of us living here may not be able to easily point to the nearest 'poetry landmark'. The Poetry Society decided that given the theme of "Britain" for this year's National Poetry Day, the most important contribution it could make would be to collate and publish a contemporary and historical map of Britain's Poetry Landmarks.
I thought it sounded very romantic and I was keen to send in a few nominations, until I realised the kind of places the Poetry Society people are thinking of:
A poetry landmark could include poetry publishers, venues which host poetry readings, poetry festivals, poetry-friendly organisations that promote poetry, poetry-active libraries and bookshops, schools, historical and contemporary poets of note, poetry as public art, and so on.
Offices and civic buildings; how romantic!

They’re just looking for places to put more blue plaques. This is not “poetry as public art”, it’s architectural history; poetry reduced to a guided tour of tired old buildings. Where’s the romance in that? And where’s the imagination?

Anyway, here are the nominations I was thinking of: “Lines written in Kensington Gardens” and “Dover Beach” from Matthew Arnold, and the churchyard at Stoke Poges where Gray composed his elegy.

In all three works the poet seeks refuge from “the madding crowd” either in a city park, on a beach at night or in a country churchyard. And in each poem, it's the impressions these special places make upon the poet that draw him on to contemplate life’s larger questions. Visiting these places, even today, you can still be touched by the same impulse that compelled the poets’ words. Why, you can almost hear the Muse!

September 18, 2003

Black and white

I've been thinking a lot recently about race and social identity, prejudice and discrimination; so I was interested to see this article by Brent Staples in yesterday’s International Herald Tribune.

White families have begun to acknowledge mixed-race connections after centuries of denial. But the attitudes of some Native Americans have not evolved in the same way. Both the Seminole and the Cherokee tribes have employed discriminatory policies to prevent black members from receiving tribal benefits - and to strip them of the right to vote in tribal elections.
I was shocked when I read this, and surprised I hadn't come across the story before.

It reminds me of a conversation I once had with a friend's father. He's an old man now and he's seen it all. “All this talk about human rights is fine,” he said, “but tell me, how human do you have to be?"

Talking about black and white: I missed this post by Dean Esmay from earlier in the week about racism in Chicago in the '70s and '80s. The comments, there were thirty-eight last time I looked, are also well worth reading and if you're especially interested (and I'm going to get all normative here and tell you that you should be) then check out the trackbacks as well.

September 17, 2003


I’ve had a lot on this week, both on-line and in what one of Mac’s co-workers derogatively calls “meat-space”, so I’m late getting to this week’s Cul-de-Sac.

On any given Sunday, Kelley at suburban blight spends her time roaming the net looking for interesting blog posts and compiling them, with comments, in the weekly Cul-de-Sac.

This week Kelley has excelled with the biggest Cul-de-Sac ever, linking over a hundred blogs, covering everything from politics and current events to science and the arts.

It’s a guaranteed blogfest of linky goodness.

In amongst everything, Kelley also features a lot of new or little known blogs (like George Junior), so I get to read people that I didn’t know were out there.

Like the British blog Unpersons, which Kelley links to for a piece about clueless celebrities attaching themselves to populist causes. In this case it’s Coldplay and fair trade.

And One Fine Jay, another blog I haven’t come across before, where you can find a similar give-the-star-a-clue piece, this time involving British chef Jamie Oliver and the Tamil Tigers.

Haven’t yet experienced the joys of Cul-de-Sac? Then what are you doing here? Get over to Kelley’s place and start clicking!

And while you're there take a look at Isabel. Up close, she's about as ugly as they come but from this distance, she's just beautiful.

Gilligan's story

More than a little late to save himself and the BBC from censure, Andrew Gilligan today admitted to a catalogue of errors in his appearance before the Hutton inquiry.

The transcript of Gilligan’s testimony is not yet available on the inquiry’s site, so I’m relying for the moment on reports from the Guardian and the BBC.

Here’s a list of the errors to which Gilligan now admits:

He was wrong when, in an early morning broadcast on the day the dossier story broke, he said the government probably knew the 45-minute claim was wrong.

Dr Kelly never suggested to him that the government knew intelligence included in its dossier about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was wrong or unreliable.

This claim was Gilligan's, not Kelly's, and he now accepts it was wrong.

It was wrong for the BBC to broadcast the story without having asked the Ministry of Defence for a point-by-point response to the claims.

He was wrong to describe David Kelly as his "intelligence service source".

He was wrong in e-mailing an MP on the foreign affairs committee during its investigation of the story.

It was wrong of him to suggest that Kelly was the source for BBC Newsnight reports about Iraqi weapons particularly as at that time he wasn't sure who the source was.

Seemingly unfazed by his admissions, Gilligan insisted that he was right on at least two occasions:

His decision not to correct the statement made by the BBC governors on July 6 in which Dr Kelly was wrongly referred to as an "intelligence source".

His decision not to correct the foreign affairs committee’s mistaken belief that Dr Kelly was an "intelligence source" when the committee had asked him directly whether this was an accurate description of his anonymous source.

Gilligan also denied that he lied about the nature of his source so that people would take his allegations against the government more seriously.

I guess Lord Hutton will be the judge of that.

Next up: Richard Sambrook.

The transcript of Gilligan's testimony is now available.

The sidebar story

I’ve rearranged my sidebar and added some new links, three Brits and an Aussie.

Alan Brain in Canberra is the Aussie. His blog A E Brain touches on a wide range of subjects including “software development, space, politics, and interesting URLs”.

Alan also contributes to the Command Post and he was centrally involved in what for me was the blog event of the war: the real-time blogging, in both posts and comments, of CNN’s coverage of Brent Sadler’s entry into Tikrit on April 13.

A word of warning: if you visit Alan’s site, stay away from the rotating snakes. I still have a migraine.

Alice Bachini demonstrates what a program of rigorous goal-oriented self-empowerment can achieve. She’s visited the States, has a nice new site and a Blockbuster card. Now she’s decided to become a millionaire. Good luck to her. Alice is a delightful read and I get the feeling that all the money in the world wouldn’t change that.

Here are some American impressions from her recent visit.

Normblog is the work of Norman Geras, a professor at Manchester University’s Department of Government and a prolific writer. His research interests include the moral philosophy of socialism, normative political theory and crimes against humanity. He writes on all three in his blog but he covers a lot of other ground.

Somebody once told me Norm's a Marxist. Ignore the label, read the blog.

Here’s Normblog on America.

I’ve been reading Oliver Kamm since he started blogging in August. My views are probably a long way from his on a lot issues but, in the last week or so, he’s scored bulls-eyes on four deserving targets: Pilger, Chomsky, Monbiot and Herold. I appreciate his points and I like his style.

I thought this piece of his was noteworthy: “Trade campaigning and associated fallacies”. It's about free trade and the harm done by NGO’s. For a while, I was peripherally involved in development finance and I came face to face with a lot of the nonsense he describes. One day I'll blog about it.

Anyway, there are four new links in the sidebar. They’re all good reads for different reasons. If you haven’t visited these people already, drop by and check them out.

September 16, 2003

California dreaming

Calpundit is giving me nightmares.

Last Friday, he took another look at the reasons why America went to war in Iraq. Of the several reasons for war, he briefly considers three of them:
For humanitarian reasons, to liberate the Iraqis from a brutal dictatorship...
Because Iraq posed a serious threat to the United States or, more broadly, to the stability of the Persian Gulf...
Because we need a large and extended military presence in the heart of the Middle East as a platform to reform the Arab world...
Dismissing all three, along with oil, dad and Armageddon, he concludes:
I just don't know, and it drives me nuts. As Paul Krugman says in The Great Unraveling, the more you look at the Bush administration the more you feel like a "crazy conspiracy theorist." And who wants to be a crazy conspiracy theorist?
Not me, if I can help it. But maybe I should be.
Well, Kevin Drum can sign up to crazy conspiracy theories if he wants, but maybe instead he should just take a look at that second reason he considered: "Because Iraq posed a serious threat to the United States or, more broadly, to the stability of the Persian Gulf."

He rejects these two related causes by saying that "the former has never been plausible, and even the latter is speculative at best." I beg to differ.

Let me be cynical for a moment and suggest that, whatever the underlying motivation for war, the reason we went to war with Iraq was because the Bush administration judged that it could convince the majority of the American people, and a handful of significant allies, that a nuclear-armed Iraq posed a serious threat to stability in the Middle East and to American interests at home and abroad.

It worked.

And you know what? To be realistic about it, the administration didn't have to try too hard to convince me that this was the case. Iraq had a clandestine, but functioning, nuclear program and it had become clear, after over a decade of working through the United Nations, that inspections backed up by UN security council resolutions were not going to force Iraq to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

Of course France, Germany and Russia had a different view (they also have different strategic interests) and they repeatedly argued that we should give the inspections time to work. But the problem with giving Iraq more time was the fear of "leakage". More time meant increasing the risk of proliferation by allowing the opportunity for the transfer of Iraqi nuclear knowledge and technology to other nations, both in the Middle East and further afield.

Whatever the links between the former Iraqi regime and the Al-Qaeda network, the events of two years ago brought home to Americans the fact that there are people in the world who, if they obtained a nuclear weapon, would not hesitate to use it against one of our cities.

This was not a war against terrorism or for democracy or human rights or oil. It was, and still is, a war against proliferation.

Five years ago, President Clinton understood the situation when he launched the December 16 strikes against Iraq:

Heavy as they are, the costs of action must be weighed against the price of inaction. If Saddam defies the world and we fail to respond, we will face a far greater threat in the future. Saddam will strike again at his neighbors; he will make war on his own people. And mark my words, he will develop weapons of mass destruction. He will deploy them, and he will use them. Because we are acting today, it is less likely that we will face these dangers in the future.
Five months after the fall of Baghdad and some people say they still don't get it.


A job well done

Michael J Totten fisks Ted Rall.

Fisking can be fun but in this instance it is far from being a frivolous activity.

Rall has, in my opinion, crossed the line that separates dissent from incitement. In his apparent approval of the murder of Iraqis working with American forces to restore civil society in that country, he makes it clear where his sympathies lie.
On July 5 a bomb killed seven recruits for a U.S.-trained Iraqi police force in Ramadi. U.S. occupation administrator Paul Bremer deplored the murder of "innocent Iraqis." Cops who work for a foreign army of occupation are not innocent. They are collaborators. Traitors. They had it coming.
The people responsible for the murder of those seven Iraqi policemen would no doubt take comfort from Rall’s words.

I know people will tell me that this is neither treason nor treachery, just a vigorous contribution to the debate. Unfortunately, reading Rall’s words I find myself, at least momentarily, incapable of such fine distinctions.

September 15, 2003

The Blame Game

I‘ve just spent an absorbing couple of hours reading through the transcript of yesterday's testimony by Greg Dyke to the Hutton inquiry.

I said a while back that I thought we’d had all the revelations we were going to get about the Gilligan affair and that the judicial inquiry would slowly chew the matter to death. But there were some surprising revelations in Dyke’s testimony and, at times, the BBC’s director general said things that Lord Hutton clearly found hard to swallow.

For example, Dyke revealed that, several weeks after the BBC broadcast in which Gilligan had made the allegations against the government, he was still not aware that the BBC reporter had said that the government probably knew the 45 minute figure in the dossier was wrong. However, in his defence, Dyke said he had received assurances from Stephen Whittle, head of the BBC’s editorial policy unit, that Gilligan’s story was “strong and well sourced”. As we now know, and many of us suspected at the time, it wasn’t.

Dyke’s was not a confident performance and he seemed at times reluctant to give a straight answer to questions from James Dingemans, the counsel to the inquiry. On several occasions, Lord Hutton was forced to intervene to press Dyke to clarify his answers.

The following exchange is illustrative:

LORD HUTTON: Had you, by this stage, [the investigation of the matter by the foreign affairs committee] read the details of Mr Gilligan's broadcast report on 29th May, Mr Dyke?
DYKE: (Pause). I do not remember.
DYKE: I think probably not.
DYKE: Probably not.
Perhaps the most damning thing for the BBC hierarchy was the revelation that, at the meeting of the BBC’s governors in July, Dyke had argued that it would have been preferable “if we had put this [Gilligan’s story] to Downing Street as well as to the Ministry of Defence”. The board chose to ignore Dyke's contribution and, immediately following the meeting, the governors, to my astonishment, came out in full support of Gilligan and his story.

But the BBC does seem ready to learn some lessons from the affair, as Dyke himself conceded:

In hindsight we would have – we might have behaved differently. We might have done things differently. Obviously we should learn from that. Naturally we will not prejudge the findings of the Inquiry before settling on any changes but I have asked our General Counsel Nicholas Eldred to begin to look at some of the lessons which we might learn from this. For instance, I have asked him with assistance from senior editorial figures in the BBC to look at aspects of the producer guidelines, particularly concerning anonymous sources and the description of them.
The lesson the BBC should draw from this is, as I have said many times before, less hubris and more journalism. My present concern is that, given his performance over the Gilligan affair, this is not something that Greg Dyke is capable of delivering.

Just so you know

Don’t ever say that one of Norm Geras’s lists is worthless.

Just don’t do it. Ever. No, really.

Someone called J D Cook had this to say about Norm’s list of ten great westerns:

Any Western list that omits "The Searchers" isn't worth the electrons it's displayed with.
And look what happened to him.

Way to go Norm!

Sweden says “Nej”

As the BBC reports, Sweden has voted against adopting the euro.
The final result shows 56% voting against the euro, with only 42% in favour, on a high turnout of 81%.
And it’s not only Sweden that won’t be joining the Eurozone anytime soon; the result has profound implications for Britain. This was Faisal Islam writing for the Observer in August:
If, as expected, the Swedish public votes 'No' in the coming referendum, it will be the final hammer blow to the chances of Britain joining the euro soon. The campaign is already reeling from the Chancellor's 'not yet' verdict on the single currency. The collapse in public trust of the Government over the Iraq war is likely to shunt chances of a UK referendum far into the future.
In today’s Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard examines the reasons why the Swedes voted so resoundingly against the euro, and he concludes that the vote reflects Sweden's verdict on nine years of EU membership.

I found this comment from a Swedish social studies teacher particularly noteworthy:
This a new type of imperialism, a new way to manipulate people. France and Germany can't do it by themselves, so they have to do it through the EU.
This echoes my own view that the Franco-German project for a united Europe is not intended solely as a counter-weight to “Yankee imperialism” but as a vehicle for those two nations to achieve imperial ambitions of their own.

September 14, 2003

Doom and gloom

You get a lot of that at Online Journal, plus a fair amount of sensationalism, as this piece from Ian Gurney demonstrates.

Lurking beneath Yellowstone National Park is one of the most destructive natural phenomena in the world: a massive supervolcano.

Only a handful exist in the world but when one erupts the explosion will be heard around the globe. The sky will darken, black acid rain will fall, and the Earth will be plunged into the equivalent of a nuclear winter. It could push humanity to the brink of extinction.
I first came across this story in a documentary the BBC aired back in February 2000. Interestingly, given recent events, the United States Geological Survey team at the University of Utah seems to think the BBC “sexed-up” its report. Here's what they have to say about it:
The term supervolcano has no specifically defined scientific meaning. It was used by the producers of a British TV program in 2000 to refer to volcanoes that have generated Earth's largest volcanic eruptions. As such, a supervolcano would be one that has produced an exceedingly large, catastrophic explosive eruption and a giant caldera. Because Yellowstone has produced three such very large caldera-forming explosive eruptions in the past 2.1 million years, the producers considered it to be a supervolcano.
This time around the story is running on the back of news of the discovery of a huge bulge underneath Yellowstone Lake, the closure of a portion of the Norris Geyser Basin due to increased ground temperatures and a recent earthquake just outside the National Park. To some people this points to impending disaster.

Luckily the guys at USGS are on hand to debunk the whole thing. In their update of current activity at Yellowstone, they note that there is no connection between recent events and the likelihood of a massive eruption.

It is unlikely that there is a connection or triggering mechanism of the earthquake with the increased hydrothermal activity at Norris Geyser Basin, which is about 35 miles from the epicenter, or with hydrothermal features in Yellowstone Lake that have received recent publicity.
Ian Gurney had access to the USGS information but he ignores their interpretation of events in favour of quotes like this from Professor Bill McGuire, at University College London:

[The Yellowstone supervolcano] has been on a regular eruption cycle of 600,000 years. The last eruption was 640,000 years ago, so the next is long overdue.
So, is it true that the next eruption of Yellowstone is long overdue? Let's hear it from the guys at USGS one last time:

No. The fact that two eruptive intervals (2.1 million to 1.3 million and 1.3 million to 640,000 years ago) are of similar length does not mean that the next eruption will necessarily occur after another similar interval. The physical mechanisms may have changed with time. Furthermore, any inferences based on these two intervals would take into account too few data to be statistically meaningful. To say that an eruption that might happen in ten's or hundred's of thousand's of years is "overdue" would be a gross overstatement.
The bottom line: Yellowstone’s going to blow big-time at some point, and when it does we’ll all be in deep, deep trouble but recent events don’t make it any more likely that it's going to happen sooner rather than later.

September 13, 2003

Diplomatic criticism

In “Stumbling Into War” in the current issue of Foreign Affairs James P. Rubin argues that “Washington's failure to muster international support to depose a despised dictator was a stunning diplomatic defeat”:

What went wrong? Why, when the leader of the free world went to war with a brutal and hated dictator, did so many countries refuse to take America's side?
For Rubin the fault lies squarely with Washington.

He argues that Washington’s shifting justifications for war, the failure to synchronize the military and diplomatic tracks and the Bush administration's rhetoric and style resulted in the loss of international support for action on Iraq. In Rubin's view, the Europeans would have eventually come on board if Washington had been willing to compromise on Iraqi compliance and allow more time for inspections.

These are familiar criticisms but many of them are threadbare and, despite the space allowed him, Rubin does little to refurbish them. A number of his criticisms, such as the Bush administration’s refusal to accept partial compliance with the requirements of Resolution 1441, and its refusal to compromise on this issue, don’t look like failures of diplomacy to me. They are the result of a policy decision to draw a line in the sand and to use the military build-up to put Iraq under pressure. The policies themselves are open to criticism and it’s true that the administration’s posture presented a number of diplomatic challenges, but to describe this as a failing of diplomacy seems to me to put the cart before the horse.

Take Rubin’s view on American attempts to gain a second resolution.
Having decided to seek a second resolution, why couldn't the United States even muster a majority of votes? This failure will be long remembered. The convenient response was to blame Chirac, on the grounds that his veto threat made it impossible for the undecided council members to support a losing cause. But the real story is more complex.
Yes, more complex but still not Washington’s fault, as Rubin himself seems to accept when he notes two pages later that “France's opposition made passage of a second resolution impossible”.

And it wasn’t just French opposition:
Berlin, Moscow, and Paris joined forces, insisting that the Iraqi threat did not justify an American-led invasion and claiming that the inspections were serving their purpose: Iraq was no longer in a position to develop a militarily significant arsenal of biological or chemical weapons. With the emergence of this new alignment, London's hopes for passage of a second resolution were crushed.
What I find amazing is Rubin’s view that opposition to the war in Iraq by Russia and our erstwhile allies in Europe was due almost entirely to American diplomatic failings, rather than the result of the divergent interests of the nation states involved. For Rubin:

The real surprise was that the world's democracies did not see the importance of upholding UN disarmament demands or ending the misery of the Iraqi people. One explanation is that Bush's emphasis on personal diplomacy between leaders was not enough to win him support in democratic countries, where governments cannot simply act in complete defiance of public opinion.
This seems to me to display a certain credulity, as does this:
Even French President Jacques Chirac acknowledged that the deployment of U.S. forces had pressured Saddam into agreeing to these measures. Chirac's mistake, however, was to think that he could limit the United States' role to supporting his own favored policy for Iraq: containment through aggressive inspections.
Chirac’s policy involved much more than “containment”; it involved the maintenance of Saddam’s regime, trade links with Iraq and French influence in the Middle East. But Rubin, while questioning the Bush administration, seems to take pretty much everything else at face value:
All of the key players in Europe now say that they would have been prepared to support or at least sanction force against Iraq if it had not fully disarmed by then. And waiting that long would have demonstrated to all that Washington was prepared to go the extra mile to secure international backing. But the Bush administration showed no such willingness.
I had expected a partisan assessment of Washington’s failings from Rubin but his uncritical acceptance of the post-war meanderings of European politicians suggests a naïve ignorance as to how European statesmen play what used to be called the Great Game.

There were real diplomatic failings in the run up to war: the failure to get Russia on side at an early stage accelerated the development of the Franco-Russian axis of opposition to the war, the failure to gain the support of Turkey, at one time a key Nato ally, hampered the timely deployment of our forces; and the administration’s difficult relationship with Hans Blix made it unlikely that we would get the report we needed at the UN.

Rubin touches on each of these, and makes some interesting points, but the essay as a whole seems to miss the wider and more important question: What national strategic interests were France, Russia and Germany pursuing in opposing American action on Iraq?

In my opinion, the answer to that question would serve as a better guide to future American diplomatic efforts than any number of post-mortems on the administration’s so called diplomatic failings.

September 12, 2003

Johnny Cash has died

I can remember the first time I heard a Johnny Cash song.

It was the summer of ’71; I was eleven years old. I remember because I’d just got my own room after my still-at-home uncle had finally got married and moved out of the house we lived in with my grandparents.

It was a small room at the back of the house. South facing, in the summer it would heat up to oven temperature during the day and bake you in your bed at night. So I used to sleep with the window wide open. On the other side of the railway line that ran along the back of the house, there was this club that used to play music late into the night.

On hot summer evenings they’d have their back doors wide open and the music would carry loud and clear across the tracks. They used to play a lot of country tunes and they'd always finish up with Crystal Chandeliers. I still know all the words to that song.

Anyway, one night I’d given up trying to sleep and I was leaning out of my bedroom window, listening for the start of the next song, when this strong deep voice comes in over the guitar and he’s singing about some kid whose father left him at the age of three with nothing but a godawful name. Bingo! It was the first time I’d ever heard A Boy Named Sue. I was crying before he’d finished the first verse and smiling through tears by the end.

I’ve been a fan ever since.

I’m one of the vinyl generation and I only have one Johnny Cash CD to listen to while I’m blogging but it has a lot of great songs on it, including some of my favorites: Folsom Prison Blues, The Gambler, Let There Be Country and, Mac’s favorite, Long Black Veil.

I’d post a link to the play list but oddly enough I have no idea what the album's called. I got the CD as product during my stint in the music industry. I thought I was getting Plastic Surgery Disasters by the Dead Kennedys. That’s what it says on the case and the disc, but when you play it, it’s solid Cash.

Tonight, I’m grateful.

Local news

I didn’t post yesterday. I didn’t have the words, but at one point I came close to posting an angry and inappropriate rant. Here’s why.

After dropping the boys off at school yesterday morning, I went into Bristol and while I was there I bought a copy of the local newspaper: the Bristol Evening Post.

I wasn’t buying it to see whether or not they’d commemorated 9/11 but they had a few pieces about it: two news items, a short report, a full-page opinion piece and a letter to the editor. None of them were commemorative or offered any sympathy for the dead. All but one were either anti-war or anti-American, but it was the reader’s letter that got me.

The letter, which appeared only in the print edition, was headlined with the words “UK a fascist state just like the USA”. It is ostensibly about a local policing issue but it isn’t long before the writer (“Don Lee, US Navy Cold War veteran”) widens his aim:

If this is how Britain runs, its no wonder that you’re willing to throw in with President Shrub and support the Fourth Reich.
Tell you what, take all your college dropouts, super Christians and fundamentalists, and make them cops. What, you’ve already done that, too?
Make sure you separate people by artificially created racial and cultural barriers. Oh, you’ve done that as well?
Of course, you originated the aristocracy. We’ve been copying that for years. Now we have universities where the rich just pay someone to write papers for them while they drink their way through.
Oh and make sure that all theology degrees are given equal weight with doctorates in science. Incredible. You’ve done that as well?
Congratulations. You’re now a fascist state too.
I wondered whether the publication of this letter on the second anniversary of 9/11 reflected an anti-American bias on the part of the Post’s editorial staff. The answer, as Bill Davis (the Post’s features editor) told me in a matter of fact sort of way, is: “Not particularly”.

I’m going to write to the Post, not about the letter, I’ve already made my feelings clear on that, but about the opinion piece.

The full-page article (not available on-line) was by Aftab Malik, an Islamic publisher and member of the Bristol Muslim Cultural Society. He believes that the American reaction to the events of September 11 runs the risk of playing into the hands of the zealots and argues, wrongly in my opinion, that:

Anti-Americanism is driven not by a blind hatred of America or religious zealotry, but by frustration and anger with US policy.
Leaving aside the fact that anti-Americanism is by definition the blind hatred of America; it doesn’t impress me to be told that this bigotry is in some way justified.

Malik clearly does not approve of American foreign policy; in particular he can’t stand what he refers to as the “so called War on Terror”. To be fair, the majority of the article deals not with America or 9/11 but with the radicalisation of Muslim youth. Nevertheless, the message from Malik is clear: America was to blame for the events of 9/11 and we should back off unless we want more of the same.

That’s what I’ll be writing to the Post about.

Looking back

Yesterday at 10.06am a small crowd of families gathered in rural Pennsylvania to commemorate the time two years ago when United Airlines Flight 93, the fourth hijacked plane, plunged into a field there, killing the forty-five passengers and crew.

Thinking of that scene of remembrance, I was reminded that one hundred and forty years ago a group of Americans gathered in a field in Pennsylvania to honour the fallen from the Battle of Gettysburgh and to commit to the nation’s memory three days of slaughter that had claimed the lives of six thousand men and wounded forty thousand more.

Some of President Lincoln’s words from the address he gave at Gettysburgh might also serve to commemorate the heroes of flight 93, the New York fire-crews and all those others who stepped up and served that day.

… in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain …


The word describes my opposition to this sort of thing from Aaron Haspel at God of the Machine.

Voting literacy tests often served as an excuse to intimidate blacks at the polls, and they are certainly objectionable if discriminatorily applied. Yet I see nothing wrong with such tests in principle. If someone is going to participate, albeit in a humble way, in the great affairs of state, ought he at the very least to be able to read? And how about a math test while we're at it?
The problem, in principle, is that such tests give the state the power to decide whether people are “fit” to be full citizens and to exclude them from the democratic process if they fail to come up to government standards.

In practise, this would result in the creation of a disenfranchised underclass: unable to give voice to their aspirations through the ballot box, excluded from political discourse and set apart from the rest of American society. If these people had no right to vote, who would protect their civil liberties? They would be forced to depend for protection on the enlightened paternalism of their rulers.

But why stop at literacy and math tests? Why not make the right to vote dependent on demonstrating a thorough understanding of the American constitution, economic theory and the major issues in foreign affairs? Better still, why don’t we just pick the most intelligent politically informed person in the country and give them the vote? And I mean THE vote; no one else would have one.

The answer is because this would not be democracy it would be tyranny. The effective rule of law depends on the consent of the governed; government derives its legitimacy from the will of the people, not just the clever people or the people who can be “trusted with the franchise”.

Voting competency tests, if implemented, would deprive me of my vote. Not because I’m functionally illiterate or mathematically challenged but because I would refuse to participate in any testing program designed to disenfranchise my fellow citizens.

I’d like to think that there are a lot of Americans who feel the same way.

This item has been edited since it was originally posted. Following an e-mail from Aaron I’ve removed the word “permanently” from the phrase “permanently disenfranchised underclass” as I accept this may be an exaggeration. As Aaron points out: “If people really wish to vote, then presumably they can learn enough to pass the test.” I accept this but note that people do not always react to be being unfairly excluded by trying harder to become members of the group that excluded them. But that’s a whole other argument.

September 10, 2003

Remembering 9/11

Michele at a small victory has been working on a project for 9/11 called Voices, a collection of personal stories of that day.

Here, Michele explains the background to the project, what it’s about and why.

I want to remember. I never want to lose that memory of the smoky sky above Manhattan that I viewed from my office window. I want to remember Pete Ganci's wake and the sharpshooters atop my neighbor's house during the memorial service for Claude Richards, I want to remember the haunted look in my firefighter cousin's eyes and the look of despair on my father's face. I want to remember the chilling feeling of looking at a sky free of jumbo jets for days on end and the quiet, the unnerving quiet, that made those days after so surreal and chilling. I need to remember these things because to forget would be to spit in the face of every single person who died that day.

Relive those events, if only for a moment. There are a million places to look in case you have forgotten, in case you turn on your television on September 11, 2003, hoping for something to help you remember that day, to live through it again just to not forget.

Taking liberties

I was interested to read this news item from the BBC about the use of anti-terrorism measures against protesters at the London arms fair.

A total of 79 people have been arrested in connection with the show - which began on Tuesday - since 1 September, Scotland Yard confirmed.

On Wednesday two protesters managed to halt the main public transport route used by delegates to get to the site at the ExCel Centre after chaining themselves to two trains.
The UK civil rights group Liberty has condemned the police’s reliance on sections of the Terrorism Act to stop and search protesters and is planning to take High Court action to prevent it happening again.

Liberty spokesman Barry Hugill is quoted as saying:

The notion of using anti-terrorism legislation cannot be justified under these circumstances whether the demonstrator is a grandmother or a militant young man.
Just another example of the erosion of civil liberties, right? Well, not really.

One of the people who chained themselves to the train was identified as Mehdi El-Rahdi, who the BBC describes as “an architect from Machynllethi (sic) in Wales”. Oh, he’s a Welshman is he? Well, not really.

As this BBC report from March notes, El-Rahdi is not just a militant young man, he is also an Iraqi whose family live in central Baghdad. He was opposed to the war in Iraq, visited the country shortly before the outbreak of hostilities and has a history of militant political activity.

I don’t know about you but I want the police to have the power to stop and search politically motivated foreign nationals engaged in acts of sabotage designed to bring attention to their cause.

But then that probably makes me an enemy of civil liberties in the eyes of many of Mehdi’s friends in Machynlleth.

This BBC story has more details and also reports that David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has asked for a report on why anti-terror laws were used. Link via loving the alien whose template I greatly admire.

September 09, 2003

Dumme Deutsche

Unfortunately, Michael Meacher is not alone in thinking the 9/11 attacks were in some way a conspiracy by the US government.

A much-publicised opinion poll, conducted earlier this year, found that 19% of Germans considered it possible that the US intelligence services had carried out the attack on the World Trade Center.

Today, I learn that a book promoting this conspiracy theory is climbing the best-seller lists in Germany. The book, “The CIA and Sept. 11: International Terror and the Role of the Secret Services” written by Andreas von Bülow, a former member of the German cabinet, claims that the attacks on 9/11 would only have been possible with the co-operation of US intelligence agencies.

Rejecting the official claim that Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network were behind the worst terrorist attacks in American history, von Bülow suggests that the four hijacked jets had been secretly fitted with equipment that allowed unknown parties on the ground to deprive the pilots of control and then direct the aircraft, by remote control, into their targets.

When asked to identify his sources, von Bülow told Der Spiegel in an interview that “a lot came from the Internet”.
Young Germans seem particularly susceptible to this kind of propaganda and consume it with unthinking relish. It seems to feed a certain darkness of the soul, which at times has come to dominate the German psyche, sometimes with disastrous results.

Watching the Beeb

The Daily Telegraph today launches "Beebwatch". Appearing three times a week, it will focus on examples of bias in BBC broadcasts and the institutional mindset that produces it.

Charles Moore, the Telegraph’s editor, explains the reasons behind the initiative and makes the case that the BBC’s bias is institutional but largely unconscious.

The BBC's mental assumptions are those of the fairly soft Left. They are that American power is a bad thing, whereas the UN is good, that the Palestinians are in the right and Israel isn't, that the war in Iraq was wrong, that the European Union is a good thing and that people who criticise it are "xenophobic", that racism is the worst of all sins, that abortion is good and capital punishment is bad, that too many people are in prison, that a preference for heterosexual marriage over other arrangements is "judgmental", that environmentalists are public-spirited and "big business" is not, that Gerry Adams is better than Ian Paisley, that government should spend more on social programmes, that the Pope is out of touch except when he criticises the West, that gun control is the answer to gun crime, that... well, you can add hundreds more articles to the creed without my help.
Today’s Beebwatch focuses on the BBC’s interview with Michael Meacher on Radio 4’s Today program and shows how a set of unquestioned assumptions (anti-Americanism in this example) affects how an interview is conducted.

As an American living in England, I often have to contend with the prejudices that the BBC promotes, so I welcome what the Telegraph is doing. However, it would have been nice if Moore's piece had given a mention to some of the people who have been Beeb watching for some time, such as Biased BBC.

September 08, 2003

Questions and answers

This is worrying.

The Guardian reports today on the latest findings from the International Atomic Energy Agency that suggest Iran is well on the way to developing a nuclear bomb.

UN inspectors have concluded that Iran has used nuclear materials to test uranium enrichment machinery despite Tehran's repeated declarations to the contrary and its obligations to report such practices to the UN.
The Iranians aren't taking their treaty obligations seriously. They are also delaying the return of spent nuclear fuel from the Bushehr nuclear power station to Russia. As the Guardian notes: “If the Iranians keep the spent fuel and reprocess it, they obtain weapons-grade plutonium”.

So what’s the UN security council doing about it? Nothing.

Why? Because a coalition of non-aligned states, led by Malaysia, will not agree to refer the matter to the security council.

At the last such meeting [of the IAEA] in June, Washington could not muster the support for reporting Iran to the security council. A similar scenario is unfolding this time despite the greater and broader unease about the alleged bomb project. Malaysia has come under pressure from Washington as head of the non-aligned states but has refused to support a resolution that would shift the issue to the UN security council.
Is this a good thing? No, it is likely to lead many Americans to conclude, if they haven’t already, that the United Nations is ineffective in promoting international security and co-operation.

Political survivor

Despite reports that the British Prime Minister's standing has been hit hard by the Hutton inquiry into the death of David Kelly, prospective Labour voters don’t seem bothered by it.

The Times reports today on a recent poll, which shows that Labour continues to maintain a clear lead over the Conservatives.

Mr Blair will take comfort, however, from the Populus poll for The Times, which puts Labour support at 39 per cent, up five points on early August, with the Tories two points up at 34 per cent. The Liberal Democrats, at 19 per cent, are down six points from their previously high figure. The poll also shows that Mr Blair’s rating has picked up and he is again the most highly rated party leader.
Things may well change as Blair has a tough time ahead of him: Parliament returns to work this week and the unions look set to give Blair a hard time over his plans for public sector reform at the TUC conference in Brighton.

Nevertheless, Blair's premiereship has so far survived the war in Iraq and the Hutton inquiry, it seems unlikely that the Conservative Party or the unions will be able to land any telling blows.

The next general election is presumably a long way off, and I rarely venture comment on British politics, but at the moment it doesn’t look to me like there’s much standing between Tony Blair and a third term in office.

Allez les Suisses

My thanks to French language blog Un swissroll for linking to me. I’m a reciprocating kind of guy, so I’ve now linked the site in my sidebar.

Un swissroll is the work of two Swiss: Guillaume Barry in Geneva and Francois Brutsch in London and, if your French is up to it, it’s well worth a visit.

I particularly liked their recent post about the Kelly/Gilligan affair: David Kelly is no Daniel Ellsberg but they cover a lot of other ground.


Kelley over at Suburban Blight has been out and about again gathering links for Cul-de-Sac, a weekly roundup of posts from across the blogosphere.

It’s always full of linky goodness but this week Kelley has surpassed herself with what looks like the biggest Cul-de-Sac ever. Awesome!

I don’t know how long its takes Kelley to put Cul-de-Sac together (there’s near enough two hundred links in this one) but getting through it takes me just about the whole week.

Go check it out.

September 07, 2003

Meacher’s madness

Michael Meacher, the former Labour environment minister, yesterday wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian called “This war on terrorism is bogus”.

Meacher brings together the Project for a New American Century, the intelligence failures surrounding the events of 9/11 and the recognition that oil is a strategic resource in order to weave a conspiracy theory of the first order.

As the Guardian’s diplomatic editor, Ewen MacAskill, puts it, in an article published on the same day as Meacher’s demented notions:

Mr Meacher, a leftwinger who is close to the green lobby, also claims in an article in today's Guardian that the war on terrorism is a smokescreen and that the US knew in advance about the September 11 attack on New York but, for strategic reasons, chose not to act on the warnings.
In other words, Meacher is suggesting that the United States intelligence services conspired with the administration’s neo-conservatives in order to facilitate a terrorist attack on American soil that resulted in the deaths of thousands.

And the evidence for this is? Well, there isn’t any, aside from Meacher’s “reading” of the situation.

Harry over at Harry’s Place has a pretty good take on it, criticising Meacher as much for his lack of originality as for his abandonment of a common sense view of the world.

After all, the conspiracy theory he gives credence to in a Guardian column today has been doing the rounds on the web for months.

So now we know what Michael Meacher has been up to since he left the government - he's discovered the internet.
And it sounds to me like he's been spending way too much time at Indymedia.

September 06, 2003

Dinner and a movie

I was going to post more today but I haven’t been able to access Blogger or visit any Blogspot sites.

Instead, I had a lazy Saturday morning reading the latest issue of Foreign Affairs and then spent the afternoon shopping and cooking. I did chicken fajitas for the boys this evening. It’s their favorite and they’ve been bugging me for days to cook it for them again.

Here’s the recipe I use:

Chicken Fajitas (serves 2, fills four tortillas)

8oz boneless chicken breasts, sliced in thin strips
1 small green pepper, sliced in thin strips
1 small red pepper, sliced in thin strips
1 onion sliced in thin strips
2 tbsps of vegetable oil for cooking

juice of one lime
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large cloves of garlic crushed
1/2 teaspoon hot chilli powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Pour the marinade over the chicken, pepper and onion, mix well, cover and refrigerate for 2 hours

Heat the vegetable oil over a high heat in a large cast iron pan add the chicken, peppers and onions (discard the marinade) and cook for 10-15 minutes (or until the chicken is cooked through). Stir frequently to avoid sticking and burning.

Serve with flour tortillas, grated cheese, shredded lettuce and sour cream.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go sit with the family and watch “Forrest Gump” on tv.

September 05, 2003

Berlusconi’s Heroes

This is hilarious.

Tim Blair links to an article in the Spectator in which Berlusconi explains his reasons for likening the German Social Democrat MEP, Martin Schulz, to a Nazi camp commandant.

It was I who was offended, my government and my country. I replied with a joke. I wanted to be humorous. The whole of the parliament laughed. My reply was taken and exploited against me. But you know what? It was a reply that was virtually impossible for me to resist because I once broadcast 120 episodes of Hogan’s Heroes in which there was this Sergeant Schulz. You remember? I didn’t even think about it. Schulz was shouting at me — no? And it just came to me off the cuff.
Well I guess it’s hilarious if you grew up watching Hogan’s Heroes, with Sergeant Schultz as the gullible, bumbling prison guard who refuses to take sides in the war.

Schultz: Colonel Hogan if you ever escape...
Hogan: Yeah?
Schultz: Be a good fellow and take me with you.

Proposition 54

I just got the Weekly Standard Newsletter with advance copy from tomorrow’s edition.

Christopher Caldwell writes on the Racial Privacy Initiative:
On October 7, Californians will be offered more than a chance to pick a new governor. They will be asked whether they want to amend the state's constitution to outlaw most public classifications by race. Under Proposition 54--known as the Racial Privacy Initiative to its backers, and as CRECNO (the Classification by Race, Ethnicity, Color, or National Origin Initiative) to the ballot attorneys--the state could not require racial or ethnic information from those applying to college or seeking a job or a loan. It is the brainchild of conservative activist Ward Connerly, the guiding spirit behind California's Proposition 209, which banned race-based admissions and hiring at the state level in 1996.
I wrote about the RPI back in July. It looks like things are breaking my way, with a majority of voters now in favor of the initiative.

A late-August Field Poll found 56 percent favoring the initiative and 35 percent against. Support is overwhelming among Republicans (55-25 percent), strong among independents (52-24 percent), and low but not negligible among Democrats (who oppose it by 47-36 percent). Whites back it, 47-33; Latinos oppose it, 50-38; while other races (presumably Asians and blacks) are slightly against, at 41-35.
I guess we’re going to have a racial privacy law in California.

Lunchbox blues

Packing school lunchboxes is part of the morning routine here, so I was interested to come across a piece by Rob Lyons on the Spiked health pages called “Thinking outside the lunchbox”.

The background to the article is the launch of an initiative by the Food Standards Agency aimed at improving the nutritional value of children’s packed lunches, after a survey found they contained high levels of sugar, salt and fat.

Lyons’s conclusion is that:

None of this advice will help one little bit. It attempts to solve a problem that largely exists in the FSA's own mind, makes parents' lives that little bit harder, and increases an unhealthy obsession with food.
I’m not a big fan of the FSA, so I’m usually well disposed to criticism of its activities but not this time. I think Lyons is wrong.

Maybe the advice from the FSA won’t help, government information campaigns aimed at changing consumer behaviour are usually expensive flops, but the problem is real enough.

Poor diet is not only leading to increasing obesity and associated health problems, it has also been cited as a contributory factor in poor academic achievement amongst children from low income families.

If kids were eating a balanced diet at home and getting plenty of exercise, I guess it wouldn’t matter that much if their lunchboxes were full of salt, sugar and fat. But the evidence suggests that many children are not eating a balanced diet and not taking part in physical activities, and it's damaging their health.

I don’t like the government telling me what to do any more than the next guy and they’ve certainly got no business telling people what to eat, but providing information about the consequences of a poor diet seems a reasonable function of government to me.

But hey, if people want fat, unhealthy kids that’s okay, as long as the kids are choosing it too. Right?