Thursday, December 27, 2007

An unfinished revolution

The discussions about libertarianism, left and right, have rumbled on. In the comments to a post here, Paulie suggested I read a post on libertarianism by Peter Ryley. So I did.

I found myself having an interesting internal struggle. While what he was saying flatly contradicted things I've been confidently declaring for years, he seemed to be absolutely right. A ten minute intermission with Google proved that. I took myself to one side for a quiet talking-to. "Listen, bud," I said. "If this were physics, you wouldn't be reacting like that."

"No," I replied. "I wouldn't."

And I wouldn't. So what on earth is it with politics that makes us (I'm extrapolating here, I admit) get so possessive about political ideas? Isn't it more important what's true?

Not to me it wasn't. That's why it was an interesting internal struggle.

Because I'd formed the idea that so-called left libertarians weren't libertarian at all. They just liked the sound of the word, in the same way as they liked the sound of the word 'Liberal' even though they weren't liberals. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the 'right libertarian' use of the word dates back just to the early 1970s, the left can claim it back to the 1850s.

Originally the word meant "one who holds the doctrine of free will". That was in 1789. But half a century later the ancestors of modern day people-with-giant-papier-mache-heads emerged, and they called themselves Libertarians (emphasis added):

Anarchists have been using the term "libertarian" to describe themselves and their ideas since the 1850's. According to anarchist historian Max Nettlau, the revolutionary anarchist Joseph Dejacque published Le Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement Social in New York between 1858 and 1861 while the use of the term "libertarian communism" dates from November, 1880 when a French anarchist congress adopted it. [Max Nettlau, A Short History of Anarchism, p. 75 and p. 145] The use of the term "Libertarian" by anarchists became more popular from the 1890s onward after it was used in France in an attempt to get round anti-anarchist laws and to avoid the negative associations of the word "anarchy" in the popular mind (Sebastien Faure and Louise Michel published the paper Le Libertaire -- The Libertarian -- in France in 1895, for example). Since then, particularly outside America, it has always been associated with anarchist ideas and movements. Taking a more recent example, in the USA, anarchists organised "The Libertarian League" in July 1954, which had staunch anarcho-syndicalist principles and lasted until 1965. The US-based "Libertarian" Party, on the other hand has only existed since the early 1970's, well over 100 years after anarchists first used the term to describe their political ideas (and 90 years after the expression "libertarian communism" was first adopted). It is that party, not the anarchists, who have "stolen" the word. Later, in Section B, we will discuss why the idea of a "libertarian" capitalism (as desired by the Libertarian Party) is a contradiction in terms.
To quote Mr Plump (emphasis added):
[Marxism and Libertarianism] emerged from critical responses to early industrialism. They drew on radical liberalism, and both had a class analysis based on the division between the ‘productive and unproductive classes’ - in other words, between owners and workers. Not only that, but they both saw the relationship between workers and their employers as a servile one, a form of modern slavery. The idle lived off the produce of those who actually did the work and, as all wealth was the product of labour, this was an act of robbery with violence.

The main accomplice in this larceny was the State. The State was the agent that protected a legal ‘artificial right of property’, ownership by the ‘unproductive classes’, against the ‘natural right of property’, the right of workers to own the means and products of their own labour. But it was here that a divergence occurred. Marxists and State Socialists felt that this could be resolved through collective ownership by the State if it was, in turn, controlled by the ‘productive classes’, even if the State would eventually wither away to leave a free and property-less society. Anarchists rejected the State and so Anarchist Communists talked of the immediate revolutionary abolition of property as well as the State. However, Individualist Anarchism came to a different conclusion and the origin of Libertarianism is to be found here.

Maybe this is why the accusation of being 'ahistorical' has been levelled at the right wing 'bloggertarians'. But... but but but...

But Ron Paul is making waves as a libertarian candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination. So he's the inheritor of a Marxist, anarchist, socialist tradition?

Of course not! He's an interloper, one with a stolen name. In fact, his politics of limited government, personal freedom and personal responsibility should be called...

Well? What should they be called? Liberal? Paul upholds the American Constitution, which limits the powers of government. Even with issues where he has a strong view, as with abortion, he upholds the Constitution and declines powers for the Presidency that have not been granted by the Constitution.

Paul doesn't think the President should be able to declare war, because the Constitution expressly reserves that power to Congress, and he's impatient of sophistries about police actions or emergencies - too much so, he forgets Pearl Harbor and 9/11 when he says America has never been attacked unexpectedly. And this is where his biggest appeal and biggest weakness lie. But that's another post.

This post wants to know what Paul's platform owes to anarchism or the Marxist left. And it reckons: nothing.

The first of the list of Paul's ideas is the most important. The idea that government should be limited is amazingly, bizarrely controversial. Or maybe it isn't. Rousseau was right: Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Almost all human lives have been lived in conditions of servitude. I think that might be a statement behind which both left and right libertarians could rally, although there the harmony would end.

But servitude being the normal state of humanity, the idea that government might not be entitled to do some things seems distant to the point of irrelevance.

It is, after all, often an issue of principle rather than outcome. An unlimited-government person might think that the state should not make it illegal for people to have certain forms of sexual contact. A libertarian, or perhaps even liberal, view might be to agree with this, per se, but to add that in fact the state should not have the power to make such laws. Same outcome, different approaches.

[It's hard to say what a liberal, in the 'Classical Liberal' sense might have made of issues like homosexuality because such things were not at the forefront of political debate in the early and mid nineteenth century.]

And even if that weren't the case, so what? Does that mean that if I get tortured by a government that isn't entitled to torture me, then it's been a very naughty government? Is that supposed to help?

Well, no. The idea that government is limited is the outcome, not the starting point, of an argument, or of a line of reasoning. And we have that line of reasoning laid out for us, in reasonably modern English.

For what it's worth, I think the choice of the name 'Libertarian' by the US movement in the 1970s was unfortunate. It has created a car crash of ideas. The obvious lineage of the political term 'libertarian' is clear enough. But it doesn't follow that someone walking in the footsteps of Jefferson has anarchists, minarchists (or objectivists) in their family tree. Endless confusion has been created by attempts to reconcile entirely unrelated, even mutually exclusive, ideas because of the bogus shared history that an ill-advised choice of name gave two entirely unrelated systems of political thought.

The line of reasoning went as follows:
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary[1] for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind[2] requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.[3] — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed[4], — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form[5], as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
And here is the line of reasoning:

1. People have the power of self-determination. People are autonomous.

2. There is such a thing as society, and you should explain yourself to it.

3. Autonomous individuals have rights that are beyond the reach of legitimate government.

4. Governments get their power from the consent of the people, and from no other source.

5. The people can change their form of government if they choose.

That seems right to me. Governments should not be surrogate monarchs. They work for us and they have limited powers. Or at least, they should have limited powers.

If anyone has managed to get to the foot of this post, they will, I hope, realise that I have tried to understand and engage with other people's arguments. I just ask for the same courtesy. Because in all the posts on this, nobody, not even those who have linked to me, have taken up my central argument. If you believe the government should have total power, but use it in ways you agree with, then you're a totalitarian - even if you don't like the sound of the word. If you think the powers of governments should be limited, then you're not a totalitarian, be you conservative, liberal or social democrat.

That's the issue. I think the right-libertarians are going to steal the brand, and I think the Marxist left will continue to use the stolen word 'Liberal'. Evens. We'll all have to live with it.

But the issue remains. There's an unfinished revolution. And its name, now, is Libertarianism.

Political suppleness unsuccessful

From Wikipedia:

In 1909 Alfred Deakin, the leader of the Protectionist Party merged with the Free Trade Party of George Reid to form the CLP on a shared platform of opposing the Australian Labor Party. It was defeated by Labor at its first election held in 1910.


After nearly a month of blogstipation.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Great Airport Race

If you flew with Tony Fall, you'd be introduced to The Great Airport Race. He had been taught it by Raymond Baxter in the 1960s, when they travelled to drive Rally Cars in, among other places, Monte Carlo.

Playing this, he'd sit, quivering with excitement, on the edge of his seat in the terminal building waiting for the flight to be announced. The idea was to be first - everywhere: Baggage check in, passport control, boarding, disembarking, at passport control, collecting baggage. He was 67, looked 53 and behaved like a 23 year old, only with more energy. Here's a picture of him from earlier this year:

Here he is driving a Datsun:

And here he is getting disqualified from the 1967 Portugese Rally for slowing down as he approached the finish, pulling his wife into the car and driving in - in first place - with his arm round her:

Tony died this weekend, in East Africa where he was working with the organisers of the East African Safari Classic Rally. He was a friend to this blog, and will be sadly missed. His father lived to be 100. Tony should have, too.


They have restored it now, after a brief outcry, but what on earth was in the minds of the YouTube team when they cancelled the account of Egyptian anti-torture activist Wael Abbas?

Monday, December 03, 2007


One of the most striking things about To Kill A Mockingbird is the image the reader gets of completely powerless black people having their fate decided by white folks. A young black man is accused of rape by a white woman, arrested by white police, put in a white-run jail house. A white judge appoints a white lawyer to represent him against the white prosecutor. Some of these people are good-hearted and unhappy with this state of affairs, but that's what it was like.

I was reminded of this by the recent Sudanese arrest and imprisonment of a schoolteacher who allowed children to name a teddy bear 'Mohammed'. A Muslim regime imprisoned a non-Muslim and it took two Muslim peers, Baroness Warsi and Lord Ahmed, to negotiate her release. Why did the negotiators have to be Muslims?

The answer is simple: Islam is a fundamentally supremacist system of thought and the pattern we saw in Sudan, of a submissive and powerless non-Muslim having her fate decided by Muslims, is deeply entrenched in Islamic tradition. The word has been abused so profoundly, including by me in the past, that I have made a conscious effort to stop using it, but the schoolteacher in this case found herself in the position of a Dhimmi (emphasis added):

The term connotes an obligation of the state to protect the individual, including the individual's life, property, and freedom of religion and worship, and exclude them from the payment of zakat only paid by muslims; in exchange for "subservience and loyalty to the Muslim order", and a poll tax known as the jizya.
This apparent contract is nothing of the kind. It exchanges one tax for another (one that is to be collected in a way that is deliberately humiliating for the non-Muslim), but as for the rest the extension of the rule of law to cover non-Muslims is not a concession, it's a given for any decent and civilised society. All we're left with is the imposition, by force, on the non-Muslim of "subservience and loyalty".

It is quite conceivable that politicians including the two Muslim peers are being diplomatic until the teacher, and they, are safely out of Sudan. But somehow I doubt it. I strongly doubt anyone will publicly criticise the requirement that the negotiators be Muslim. It would have been easier for a black advocate to go to South Africa during apartheid than for a non-Muslim to sway the Islamist rulers of Sudan.

Eight and a half centuries ago the crusades brought the violent, misogynistic, priest-ridden culture of Europe into contact with the Islamic world, and the result was a renaissance. The Egyptian blogger Nah·det Masr wishes for a renaissance in Egypt today. In a recent post, he suggested a new term: Izlamist:
It's not a typo; the new term is the best description of people who are trying to impose their religious point of view, jump to power, and impose their strict interpretations and Shariy'a law on the rest of us who don't subscribe to the same ideas or even don't belong to the same religion.

The new term comes from Izlam إظلام which means loosely imposing darkness
The influence of Islam on the West today is almost wholly regressive, the opposite of renaissance. There are a number of reasons for this, and they cannot all be lain at the feet of Muslims themselves. Successive British governments followed the example of Michael Howard in recognising as representative only Izlamic extremists. Indeed, it is vital that we draw a distinction between Islam and Muslims, most of whom make the sorts of contributions everyone else does, and thereby help enrich us all. But regrettably their traditions and countries of origin are dragging us back into the darkness, even though most of them do not wish this to happen.

I recommend my Egyptian friend to you all, and commend his new term. I shall adopt it myself from now on. It even contains, in the unexpected letter 'z', an appropriate visual echo of the word 'Nazi'.

Some of the most active Izlamists in Britain today are the Deobandis of Tablighi Jamaat. A struggle in East London rages at the moment over their application to build a 'Mega Mosque' - a visible symbol of supremacism that is intended to dominate the site of the forthcoming Olympics and to send out a message of Izlamist triumphalism to the entire world.

The campaign against these disgusting and disgraceful proposals - the moral equivalent of erecting a giant burning cross on the site - has just launched a website. 2,500 mainstream Muslims in the locality have signed a petition opposing the mosque.

The organisers of this campaign have been threatened with death by extremists. They have shown great courage and deserve our support.

What's in a name?

Here's a story that deserves a wider circulation. Former spook In From The Cold picked up on a piece in the Houston Chronicle about an apparent increase in the number, and a decrease in the strength, of tropical storms that are being given names (emphasis added):

Some meteorologists, including former hurricane center director Neil Frank, say as many as six of this year's 14 named tropical systems might have failed in earlier decades to earn "named storm" status.

"They seem to be naming storms a lot more than they used to," said Frank, who directed the hurricane center from 1974 to 1987 and is now chief meteorologist for KHOU-TV. "This year, I would put at least four storms in a very questionable category, and maybe even six."

Most of the storms in question briefly had tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 mph. But their central pressure — another measure of intensity — suggested they actually remained depressions or were non-tropical systems.

Any inconsistencies in the naming of tropical storms and hurricanes have significance far beyond semantics.

The number of a season's named storms forms the foundation of historical records used to determine trends in hurricane activity.
As In From The Cold notes:
hurricane forecasts for 2007 missed the mark badly; if the six "suspect" storms are excluded from the total, then there were only 8 hurricanes and tropical storms in the Atlantic basin this year. That's below the historical average for the past 60 years (10 storms a year) and barely half the original prediction for 2007 (17 named storms).
So alleged increases in storm frequency might be the result of changes to the criteria by which storms are assessed rather than global warming, as is often alleged.

Tell me you're surprised...


I'll probably continue to post erratically until Christmas. Work is particularly hectic right now and I'm on deadline for an online application that's considered to be a project of national importance, so it will be launched by a Cabinet minister next month. As the sole developer, I'm a bit pushed.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Chat with Dave

News of a forthcoming webchat:

David Miliband will be taking your questions on international affairs in a live webchat on 30 November from 13:45 GMT.

David was appointed Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in June 2007, as part of Gordon Brown's first Cabinet.
Anyone feeling so inclined could ask him why he is letting Iraqis die when they have helped our troops:
Here's an email exchange we had the other day. My questions are in italics.

1) Are you still in Iraq?

'Yes, I'm still hidden in somewhere in the hell of Basra.'

2) Is there any reason you cannot travel to the British Army base at Basra Airbase to ask for asylum?

'Of course, we cannot travel to BIA (Basra International Airbase) due to the militia keep watched all the ways to BIA and they got their own fake check points there although, we claimed for asylum through the internet (we sent our application to the claim office at BIA) . But we afraid that the British are going to take a long time to process our claims also we are very worried if they will offer just some money instead of asylum, please sir inform all the British people that we looking for asylum and just the asylum will save our lives, also we can't travel to Syria anymore to claim for asylum there as the Syrian government issued new conditions for Iraqis who want to travel to their country.'

3) Can you tell me how and when the militias threatened you?

'In 2006 I have threatened by militia that hated me because I work and help coalition forces in Iraq, I told my bosses about that but they said we can't do anything for you because we have nothing to do with civilian and we don't have any army rules or orders to help you, then I continued my daily work with British army, few days later the militia attacked my house trying to catch me but I was at the work at that time, they beaten my family and told them: we want your son or we will kill all of you!!!!

'Since that day I decided to leave my job and change my home place but until this moment the militia trying to find and kill me, I'm always changing my place trying to hidden from them, they know that I left my job but they don't care, they just want to kill me they called me collaborator and traitor and they asked everybody know me about my place, they told them: anyone know anything about (name) he should tell us immediately and also they said: we will never give up until we catch (name). They work for ministry of interior so they controlled most of government departments and they work under that cover.'

4) Do you have any family members who are also threatened by militias or who depend on you? If so, how many of them are there and how old are they?

'Of course, my family depends on me especially in the finance side as I'm the older son between seven sons and daughters they got, on other hand my parents cannot working as they are very old.'

Environmentalists and the gene pool

There's been a certain amount of hilarity around the web recently, following the reports that an environmentalist called Toni Vernelli had herself sterilised at the age of 27 because:

"Having children is selfish. It's all about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet."
On the whole, people have complimented her on removing herself, and her stupidity, from the gene pool.

What's really unusual, for someone broadly on the left of politics, is that she did this to herself. On the whole, the modern left is characterised not so much by its wish to act in accordance with its principles, as by its wish to make other people act in accordance with its principles.

Ms Vernelli's radical alternative is welcome.

Australian election

I've been to busy to blog recently, so this is a bit after the event but, although I thought John Howard was an outstanding political leader, I'm not upset there was a Labor victory in Australia. The Liberals had been in power for a long time. An occasional change of government is necessary in democracies.

As an Australian (in part), I'm more worried about the integrity of democracy and the corrupting influence of power than I am about the prospect of a Labor term of office.

Free speech and the Oxford Union

Max Hastings makes some interesting points about the recent controversy when Nick Griffin and David Irving were invited to speak in Oxford:

Muslim extremists say worse and more dangerous things about Jews than Irving ever has...
Not just about Jews, by the way. Radical Islam is a superset of Nazism and Fascism.

There's another angle on this, though. If some speech is to be prohibited, who makes the decision? Who would you believe has the perfect knowledge of the past, present and future - and of the universe and everything in it - necessary to decide whether an assertion is, or will be found to be, true?

The reformed terrorists

The Saudi government has released 1500 Al Qaeda members from custody, on the grounds that they have been reformed, and that they promise not to wage Jihad.

Ah... not quite. They have been released in return for the promise not to wage Jihad on the Arabian peninsula.

That'll be a comfort for anyone they kill away from the Arabian peninsula.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hamas First Aid

Mike at The Monkey Tennis Centre mentions the first aid lessons being offered to "all the Palestinian armed factions" in Gaza by the International Red Cross.

It seems he has gained exclusive access to some of their new training materials:

Lesson 1: Casualty with severed head:

1. Retrieve head from celebrating mob.

2. Carefully reattach head to neck as shown.

3. Remove video of beheading from internet.

4. Prop casualty up in a chair.

5. Call AP and Reuters, and get them to photograph the casualty, explaining to them that he's in excellent health, but has suffered mild whiplash in a car accident, and is having a nap.

6. When AP/Reuters have gone, remove head again.

7. Wait 24 hours.

8. Call AP/Reuters and tell them casualty has been run over by Israeli bulldozer.
Click through, there's more...

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm too busy to blog properly, but Happy Thanksgiving. Have a great day, if you're celebrating.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

International Jewish Conspiracy

I've linked to them a couple of times already, but in the occasional series here of posting about good blogs, I give you Simply Jews. Keep avoiding the medication, guys (you need to look at their tagline to understand that, so click through).

I've posted a few times about the appalling situation democratic, moderate, secular Iranians are facing right now, but this post is prompted by the most succinct encapsulation of the Israeli dilemma I've seen:

Slow bleeding by unending terrorist acts or a nuclear bang. What a choice...
Because even if the Iranian headbangers don't use their nuclear weapons immediately against Israel, developing them successfully would give them an enhanced presence they'd use to increase their support for the murderous attacks of Hezbollah and Hamas.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The courage and suffering of the dissidents

And while I'm on the subject of the extraordinary courage of dissidents in Muslim countries, let's spare a thought for Abdel Karim Soliman, the Egyptian blogger who was jailed for 'vilifying religion' and insulting the President - two things that ought to have earned him a medal rather than imprisonment. It's no surprise, in a country where dissidents can be raped anally with police truncheons, that he's being tortured in prison:

The Arabic Network for Human Rights information and Hisham Mubarak Centre for Law mentioned in their communiqué to the Prosecutor-General that the assault on Karim is manifested in the following:

* Being beaten inside ward Number 22 where he is imprisoned at the time of the assault, the battery was launched by another prisoner and a prison guard, in the presence of Officer Midhat Samir and under his supervision. Samir also gave the green light for the assault which resulted in a broken tooth "upper right canine tooth" along with a number of bruises and abrasions on various parts of the body.
* Transferring Karim to a disciplinary cell where he was handcuffed and had his feet strapped into shackles; he was beaten up again which caused him more injuries.
* Another inmate prisoner was brought over where they stripped him out of clothes and beat him severely in front of prisoner Kareem Soliman as they also threatened to inflict upon him the same punishment, if he didn't mind his own business.

Don't mess with my Tutu

I generally write negative things about religion. But on the other hand, there is Desmond:

In the interview, Archbishop Tutu also rebuked religious conservatives who said homosexuality was a choice.

"It is a perversion if you say to me that a person chooses to be homosexual.

"You must be crazy to choose a way of life that exposes you to a kind of hatred.

"It's like saying you choose to be black in a race-infected society."

Time to cough up

I almost feel guilty. But to start at the beginning, I signed a pledge to refuse an ID card and to donate £10 to a legal fund. I was planning to refuse an ID card anyway, so that wasn't such a struggle. Now it's time to pay up the tenner. I have an awful feeling this is going to cost me more than a tenner, though.

So why do I feel guilty? I also have an Australian passport, so if it really comes to it I'll be able to use that. I renewed my British one earlier this year to give me the maximum breathing space.

But, as I said to the smokers freezing in the garden of a pub a couple of days ago: we stand for it. Why?

Nasrallah located

But don't click through on a full stomach, unless you're on a crash diet.

A beacon of Islamic democracy

At least, that's what the BBC says of Iran:

Is Iran becoming a regional superpower, capable of withstanding pressures from the West and providing a beacon of Islamic democracy? Or, is her obstinacy with the nuclear issue going to lead to her further isolation and potential destruction?
Note that the word "or" is not followed by the alternative, that Iran is neither a beacon nor properly democratic. Just obstinate. And again:
Iran is, within narrow limits, a kind of democracy.

President Ahmadinejad won his election fairly, even though no-one who opposed the basic structures of the Islamic Republic was permitted to stand.
Still democratic. That's good. But mustn't oppose the basic structures, eh? What are they like?
Iran's constitution, ... gives the unelected religious leadership greater powers than those of the elected president.
All these quotes come from or trail content produced by John Simpson.

So, what's it like in this beacon of Islamic democracy? How is life for, ooh let's say a 21 year old woman who is:
... very much involved in teaching literacy to the poor and especially to the women in villages and used to hold celebrations for those women who overcame addiction in the ‘Azarmehr” association. The association provides the means for battered and addicted women to over ride their problems.

Hana and her friend Ronak Safar Zadeh, had set up collections to support destitute women.
Hana Abdi also got involved with a petition calling for improved women's rights in Iran. So, what's life like for a fine, philanthropic and democratically engaged young woman like that?
Hana Abdi, a 21 year old student of Sanandaj University was abducted from her grandfathers’ house by the Intelligence Ministry agents a couple of days ago and her were about is unclear, says her mother.
No reason has been given for the arrest.

But let's not be judgemental. Arbitrary arrest by a theocratic, sorry, democratic state of a young humanitarian is no grounds for criticism. Ask the Stop the War campaign::
I know Yassmine Mather [a critic of the Iranian regime], who is mentioned in the Independent article. I have known her from some earlier campaigns seven years ago, in the aftermath of the student uprising in Iran. She is a committed Socialist and definitely against any military intervention in Iran. If Stop the War Coalition refuses her to join the 'coalition' [on the grounds that she is a critic of the Iranian regime], then it really goes to show that the group's true agenda is nothing other than keeping the Ayatollahs in power.
I don't suppose Ms Abdi can be feeling much enthusiasm for the rule of the Ayatollahs. Nor is the expat Iranian blogger Azarmehr, from whom this information is gained. He is facing the prospect right now of seeing the country he loves bombed, with the possible effect of entrenching the Ayatollahs in power, knowing that people like Hana will be among the victims, as much as will members of the Revolutionary Guard. And there might be, there just might be another way:
Well for those who have consistently defended the Islamic Republic and turned a blind eye on the human rights abuses by the religious dictatorship in Iran, and repeatedly played down the potential of the pro-democracy movement in Iran, here are photos from the students at Alameh University today protesting against the arrests and expulsions of their student colleagues. The pro-democracy movement in Iran despite all the obstacles in its way is still alive and kicking, it just needs more help and publicity.
Click through for the images.

I consider it a privilege to make a minuscule contribution to providing some of this publicity. And I consider it an outrage and a humiliation that my tax money, through the television licence fee, is used by the BBC for the exact opposite purpose: that of deliberately and deceitfully minimising the horrors of the Iranian regime, painting a theocracy in the colours of democracy, under-reporting the immense courage and sacrifice of ordinary young Iranians like Haha Abdi, making the success of the pro-democracy students and campaigners less likely, confirming the Iranian regime in their belief that a compliant and cowardly West will watch them build nuclear missiles and very likely use them to attack our great but under-valued and sorely defamed friend among nations, Israel, and thereby making the likelihood of an attack to prevent this happening, by some country with a bit of spine, like Israel or the USA, far far greater.

Thus does the BBC betray the likes of Hana once by failing to report their campaigns, twice by failing to report their arrests, and the third time by doing everything they can to add the threat of military attack to their worries.

Undercover Mosque vindication

Channel 4 has been vindicated:

Channel 4 has been vindicated by the media watchdog Ofcom after police complained about an investigative programme that exposed extremism in British mosques.

West Midland's police had faced criticism for targeting the producers of the show rather than the controversial preachers depicted in it.

Ofcom added fuel to that debate by praising Undercover Mosque as a "legitimate investigation, uncovering matters of important public interest."
Time for resignations and dismissals in the disgraceful West Midland's Police.

Other related good news is that this documentary annoyed the Saudis.

Sex and the solo cyclist

It's hard not to laugh at this story, and that's part of the appalling harm that has been done to the victim:

A man caught trying to have sex with his bicycle has been sentenced to three years on probation.
I'm making a particular point, incidentally, of not reproducing his name. Here's what happened:
Mr [X] was caught in the act with his bicycle by cleaners in his bedroom at the Aberley House Hostel in Ayr.

Gail Davidson, prosecuting, told Ayr Sheriff Court: "They knocked on the door several times and there was no reply.

"They used a master key to unlock the door and they then observed the accused wearing only a white t-shirt, naked from the waist down.

"The accused was holding the bike and moving his hips back and forth as if to simulate sex."
Masturbation is very common and few people would wish their habits in this sphere of life to become public knowledge. This man took pains to ensure he would not be interrupted by anyone. He locked his door. This was opened with a pass key. What steps could he have taken to prevent that? Piling furniture against the door? And in what way is private masturbation with an inanimate object - any inanimate object - a crime?

Everyone involved in this sorry affair, except the man taken to court, is a disgrace. The cleaners who unlocked the door should have had the decency to tiptoe out and lock it again behind them. The hotel manager should have told them this when they reported it to him. The police should have told the hotel manager not to waste their time. The prosecuting authority should have told the police not to waste public time and money with such matters, the court should have thrown the case out and reprimanded all concerned - except the accused, whose identity should have been suppressed by court order.

Instead this harmless, blameless man has been branded a sex criminal. It is a complete travesty of justice.

Good blog

And one that shares with me a link with the seventeenth century. Englands Freedome, Souldiers Rights. Tagline:

"I am by birth a free Commoner of England, and am thereby intailed or intituled unto an equall priviledge with your selfe, or the greatest men in England, unto the freedome and liberty of the Lawes of England." William Thompson, 14. of December, 1647
You're damned right, William.

The blogmeister left an excellent comment on this post, which is how I came to read his posts. I don't agree with everything, but then that's probably mutual. Check it out, though. Independent mind.

New Year's Resolution - no coconut headphones

I've quoted Richard Feynman before on the subject of cargo cult science:

There is one feature I notice that is generally missing in "cargo cult science"... It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty — a kind of leaning over backwards... For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid — not only what you think is right about it... Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them.
But of course this applies to more things than just physics. For example, it applies to politics and economics.

There are (at least) two approaches. One, that you see almost everywhere, is simple tribalism. People go out of their way to avoid pointing out things that might cast doubt on their arguments. The other, one that brings such problems to light, that makes a point of pointing them out, can be found... er...

Well. it'll be found here from now on. I've been pretty tribal at times. I want to take a different approach. I want to try to get at the truth. Oh, I know we all think that, but are we really all levering ourselves out of the groove we've been running in? The evidence I see says we are not. There's even a political culture in which a change of mind is seen as a weakness or as inconsistency, whereas of course a complete absence of changes of mind is the badge of the fanatic. If we never change our minds we're never listening to arguments or burrowing, forensically, into evidence.

So that's my early resolution.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Monarchy and Republicanism

The only coherent (and a genuinely convincing) defence of monarchy, or rather of something a bit more complicated, I've come across so far was in a comment that I meant to address before my quiescent period recently. From Dearieme:

Yes, but you have to explain why in 1950 our Dane could point to the Socialist Republics - Nazi Germany, USSR, Mao's new China - huge slaughter machines. She could point to the dismal collapse of the French Republic, while the various British monarchies fought on - UK, Canada, etc. She would point, I presume, to the perpetually failed republics of Latin America. Meantime, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, NZ, Australia - far, far better than almost the whole of the rest of the world. Only the USA and Switzerland would be exempted from her scorn, had she been rude enough to express scorn. Of course, the real point is that you are tilting at windmills. The distinction that matters isn't between nominal republics and "monarchies", it's between, on the one hand, functioning republics, which includes the "crowned republics" of Scandinavia, the Low Countries, and the British and ex-British world, and the hellhole republics of much of the rest of the world. But still, if you want to make the case that monarchist Thailand is worse than Burma, or monarchical Malaysia than Indonesia, or even monarchist Japan than the Philipines, I'll watch with interest. But I think that you're just making a categorical error. Still, not as daft as the chap I read earlier this week who seemed to think that Her Majesty reigns by "divine right". Potty.
If I were arguing that our troubles would be over if we became a Republic, I'd be guilty of that categorical error, but I'm not. I'm arguing that monarchy is wrong in principle.

Having said that, it is quite plain that this wrong is not life-threatening. I suspect that the continued existence of monarchy in the countries cited above is evidence of a stability that has also led to the desirable consequences mentioned, and that the instabilities that swept away monarchies in some countries continue to have a malign effect.

But I think this comment belongs on the front page.

(By the way, Moriarty, in the Sherlock Holmes stories, has a habit of saying "Dearie me". For some reason, I always think of that when you comment.)

Libertarianism and blogs

The post by Paulie at DSTPFW that kicked off the recent debates about blogging 'right' libertarians did so for a simple reason: he had a point. Not everything he said was true, for example:

The bloggertarian exists primarily to criticise. They will almost never present a policy proposal of their own
This is wrong for two reasons. Obviously, solutions are often suggested by the targets of the piece. But more subtly, perhaps, in the point that if you think something ought to be a matter of personal choice, or in some other way should be in the personal rather than the public or political spheres, then of course you're not going to offer a 'solution'. Your solution is to leave it to others to decide for themselves.

But in other ways he was right:
For the bloggertarian, the term ‘libertarian’ is little more than a flag of convenience. It is a useful one as it is a position that appears to require no evidence in support of a statement.When bloggertarians are confronted with the consequences of a particular libertarian position, they will often rapidly retreat to either a standard set of Conservative Party prejudices, or occasionally, to the slightly ahistorical position of a lumpen intelligentsia Guardianista.

For the avoidance of doubt, the bloggertarian rarely has any real commitment to libertarianism.
There are far more people who are libertarian Tories - small-State conservatives with a liberal approach to social issues - than libertarians in the blogosphere. I recently debated the question of monarchy with DK. I'm actually incredulous that anyone could be a monarchist. But of course some people are. What this means, though, is that the individuals concerned are not libertarians.

The idea that someone who advocates personal freedoms and a small State could place at the head of it a hereditary autocrat with unlimited powers is completely ludicrous. The libertarian, as a rule, is willing to devolve some limited power to the State, but there can be no place for unlimited power, however it might be hogtied by constitutional arrangements. Most of all, people who take as the starting point for their politics the notion that we are the owners, the sovereigns, of our own selves cannot accept another, superior, sovereign.

What Paulie didn't point out is that the same problems exist, perhaps far more seriously, in the 'left' libertarian bloggers. David Farrer has been writing about this recently:
The trouble is that the enemies of liberty started to call themselves liberals. Why? Because people saw that liberty was good, so why not pinch its name? And now, in the English-speaking world anyway, liberalism means the opposite of liberty. It means government force.

Real liberals - faced with the theft of their good name - rebranded themselves as "libertarians". And people saw that libertarian ideas were good, just as the same ideas had been when they were called "liberal".

And now it's happened again. The enemies of liberty are increasingly describing themselves as libertarians. Or, rather, "left libertarians" - a completely meaningless concept under which force is freedom and coercion is liberty. Come back George Orwell.
Farrer is absolutely correct about this (though one of his colleagues at the Libertarian Alliance, Sean Gabb, is a declared conservative and monarchist, which I do find deeply odd and which, in my view, means that Gabb, despite his decades of campaigning, is a libertarian Tory and not a libertarian per se).

However, Paulie does also show what appears to be an inability even to conceive of some of the arguments he is confronting. He wrote:
it wouldn’t occur to the bloggertarian that a privatised replacement for a particular state function may establish intrusive restrictions of it’s own. For the bloggertarian, without government, there would be no such thing as CCTV and there would be no coercive forces that could intrude upon your privacy.
First, the replacement for a State function might be nothing. Nada. Zilch. Secondly, he doesn't explain how piecemeal private security and information gathering compares to the vast and legally-enforced apparatus of the State. Thirdly, and here I sympathise, even the bloggertarians he describes have their moments of unenthusiasm for big business. I sympathise because some of the libertarian Tories do need to go back to uncle Milton and remember that big business is just as much of a problem to the free market advocate as is the State.

And here's the irony. One thing J K Galbraith and Milton Friedman agreed on was that businesses try to subvert the market, are in fact enemies of the free market. And it is absolutely true that of their admirers it is the Friedmanites, the libertarians, who have forgotten this. The corporation that showed this pernicious trait most clearly in recent years, Microsoft, has a zillion 'libertarian' defenders. It's ludicrous, again.

Simply advocating a smaller State, especially if this is done purely because you don't like the policies of present State, is not libertarian. Advocating a smaller State because an all-encompassing one is plainly inefficient is not libertarian. Objecting to top-down 'managerialism' because it is inefficient is not libertarian. At heart, Libertarianism is what used to be called 'left wing'. As I wrote recently:
The left originally favoured laissez-faire economic policies and free trade, for example. Today, that's a Liberal or libertarian position, and people normally call libertarianism "right wing" - even though the Tories remain mercantalists at heart.
And in this lies the weakness of the libertarian position. It has its roots in the long tradition of dissent and radicalism that opposed the existing power structures of the day. While there is some acceptance of libertarian ideas within conservatism, on the whole and at root conservatism is socially prescriptive, hidebound, mercantalist, discriminatory and wedded to privilege. But the left has been colonised by Marxists and has become the principle fount of totalitarianism.

So, what do I mean by 'totalitarianism'? It is the system of thought that lays claim to the totality of my being - my possession, my freedoms (to drive what I want, eat what I want, have whichever type of sex I want with whoever I want), my speech and my thought. There's an overlap with authoritarianism, which is found in conservatism, for example with sexual habits. These are treated differently by authoritarians and totalitarians but the principle - that someone's private life is in any way their affair - is the same. So it has been conservatives who are most disgusting about, say, homosexuality and it is the present Labour Party that proposes to criminalise people who like a bit of bondage and like to look at pictures of the same.

Calling the left 'totalitarian' doesn't mean there are concentration camps and thought police. But while both conservatives and the left want to limit my speech, it is only the left that wants to limit my thoughts, with the concept of 'hate crime'.

So on balance, while the conservative right and the Marxist left are both enemies of freedom, the worst of the two is the left - the modern, Marxist left and not the radical ancestors of the politics of dissent. These ancestors, informed by struggles with Monarchs going back to Magna Carta, by the intellectual revolutions we call The Enlightenment, and by revolutionary Europe, realised that since power corrupts, the only safe way forward is to limit power. That remains true today, and it is why I consider myself to be a libertarian.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

qmail security

Echo chambering here, but for anyone not reading Bruce Schneier regularly, he recently linked to a paper by Daniel Bernstein (djb) about lessons learned from ten years of qmail. You can download it here(pdf). It's an excellent read.

Background: qmail is a Mail Transfer Agent - an email server if you like. It was written in frustration at the security problems of the market leader, sendmail. Bernstein's openness about this origin led to some acrimony with the sendmail chaps, as you'll see if you look over Bernstein's site at the extremely cool url Bernstein offered a $500 reward to anyone pointing out a security hole in qmail and this has gone unclaimed in ten years - he just upped it to $1,000.

djb as he is known also offered a reward for anyone finding a security hole in djbdns, his replacement for bind, the leading DNS server. This has also gone unclaimed.

This is true despite, or because (depending on your view; I think it's 'because'), of the fact that both are open source programs and people can explore the code to find holes, as well as poke at the servers with various bits and pieces.

But this has led to a problem with qmail, and I stopped using it as my MTA of choice in ISP situations a couple of years ago (in favour of postfix) because the security guarantee also had the unfortunate effect of more or less freezing the program. It's much harder to modify an installation to work with other systems, compared with postfix, and this has seen usage fall away, so far as I can see.

This is not the case with djbdns, which has a configuration file designed to be machine readable first and foremost, which makes it a dream to drive from something like a database of customers' registered domains.

So, for what it's worth, my personal choice for an ISP grade hosting farm at the present stage of things is postfix, dovecot, apache2.2, djbdns.

Do keep up

Oh yes, and the, let's call them 'blogskyists', have got all pouty about what they call "bloggertarians' - libertarian bloggers. Quite right too. What they perhaps unconsciously realise is that the usurped terrain of social justice is slipping beyond the claim of the Marxist left.

Here's an example from Francis Sedgemore:

For a start there is the political and economic naiveté of right libertarians, and their simplistic distinction between the public and private spheres. Private corporations routinely collate databases containing the personal details of citizens. Often, but not always, in the guise of market research. Also, much of private industry is parasitic on the public purse. In the aerospace sector, for example, private industrialists are totally reliant on public money...
I adore accusations of naivety, and because I'm right wing I'm going to use the English spelling for the word. But, um... Francis... we don't care who it is that collates the intrusive databases. RFID used by corporations is almost as much a worry as the ID card. And the thing about the public purse? Well, guess what. That's one of the things we're objecting to - we've even got a term for it: 'corporate welfare'. Milton Friedman always made it clear he objected to 'big' government in part because big business always slips between the sheets and snuggles up next to it.

Then we have:
... and private industry has in general shown itself incapable of innovating on a large scale.
Yup, let's mouth a silent prayer of thanks for the government initiatives that drove the entire fucking industrial revolution.

Then we have:
One of the biggest failings of right libertarianism is its uncritical acceptance of the notion of corporations as persons. This is nonsense, as corporate entities are invariably greater than the sum of their parts. That applies at all levels, and there is in reality no rigid distinction between public and private, just as there is no sharp boundary between individual and community.
And this is where I lose the will to live. Legal persons. Legal persons, Francis. As in: 'can be sued'. As in: 'can be held responsible for their actions'. As in: 'can own property'. As in: 'can enter into a contract'. As in: 'can be held to the fucking contract'.

Sedgemore introduces his piece by referring to a:
particularly obnoxious sub-species of homo blogiens thoroughly deserving of a textual kicking
Further comment would be superfluous.

Note to the ASI

Nice site redesign, and it's fine to be proud of using Joomla. But change the favicon, chaps.

A penny earned...

The funniest development while I've been quiet has been the launch of a new website called Liberal Conspiracy. The word 'conspiracy' used ironically like that is at least as witty as it was when the first thousand right wing bloggers used it the same way, but that isn't why the website is funny. It's because the contributors apparently believe they are under represented in the contemporary media world. They really do seem to believe that. They also seem to believe that the word 'liberal' means 'one who believes in the removal of liberties from individuals'.

Self-pitying special pleading from the privileged is almost entertaining enough to be a spectator sport. Almost...

One contributor, Chris Dillow, posted there recently about unemployment. He has also posted on his own blog about this. These two posts should be read together, because then it can be seen that his argument in the first that the unemployed are not workshy because

"Of the 1.67 million officially unemployed, over 1 million have been out of work for less than six months and a further 269,000 for less than a year"
can be compared with the observation in the second that
"You might reply that work - even minimum wage work - is a stepping stone to better things, to better-paid jobs. But it ain't."
(the link suggests people who become employed at minimum-wage levels also become unemployed again rapidly), and then you'll be able to see that the underlying reality might be that the people in question are workshy, and that's why they are losing these jobs. That isn't proved by these figures, but taken in combination neither of Dillow's assertions are either. This is partial disclosure of information designed to prop up whatever argument is being made at the time.

The second of these posts touches on the poverty trap and I want to observe in passing that something I personally feel passionately - to the extent that I have gone hungry rather than sign on - the idea that a penny earned is better than a penny of charity (or indeed any other unearned penny), is not mentioned at all. It seems not even to cross the mind of the writer any more than it does those of the shifting pool of permanent or frequent claimants of state charity.

And I'll tell you something about that idea: it isn't right wing. Ask a member of the hereditary peerage. It isn't left wing: ask the contributors to Liberal Conspiracy. It is simply a question of self-respect. This self-respect can be found in every class, and is absent in every class. But it is most fiercely held as a view within the lower middle classes and the upper working classes.

And it's a damn fine thing.

Only the good die young

Sorry for the absence.

Someone was kind enough to mention the much lamented Drinking From Home in a comment and express a hope I hadn't similarly vanished. I haven't. Not that it would have been a loss like that of DFH and Scott Burgess, who seems now to have deleted the Daily Ablution site entirely, for some reason.

[violins] In fact, I split up with my girlfriend, and have been a bit demotivated. [/violins] But I've been wandering across the moor like Heathcliffe, only with much, much less hair, for long enough now.

So posting will resume.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Scam alert

This originates from a crime prevention officer in Lancashire, so probably isn't a scam about scams.

Warning 1:

If you receive a phone call on your mobile from any person, saying that he or she is a company engineer, or telling that they're checking your mobile line, and you have to press #90 or #09 or any other number, end this call immediately without pressing any numbers.

There is a fraud company using a device that once you press #90 or #09 they can access your "SIM" card and make calls at your expense.
Warning 2:
The Trading Standards Office are making people aware of the following scam:

A card is posted through your door from a company called PDS (Parcel Delivery Service) suggesting that they were unable to deliver a parcel and that you need to contact them on 0906 6611911 (a premium rate number). DO NOT call this number, as this is a mail scam originating from Belize .
If you call the number and you start to hear a recorded message you will already have been billed £15 for the phone call.
If you do receive a card with these details, then please contact Royal Mail Fraud on 02072396655 or ICSTIS (the premium rate service regulator) at

UPDATE: See the comments, this might be very out of date. However, the mail sent from the Lancashire police is dated a month and a half ago, so they seem to think these are current issues.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Monday miscellany

You know you're busy when you start work on a Sunday morning and keep going until 4:00am the next morning. I really don't have time to focus on this, unpaid, blogging for the moment, probably for about a week. It's a shame, because some interesting points were being addressed and my conversation with DK about monarchy was being picked up by various people like LMWN, Mr E. and Matthew Sinclair. But it'll have to wait.

As will my exploration of the way the right now includes those fighting for the freedom of individuals from tyranny, but that this was the definition of the left two hundred years ago, whereas now the left spends most of its time fighting for the greater oppression of the individual by the state. I think this matters because the old purpose of the left is used to defend the new.

But anyway. here's an account of the DARPA Urban Challenge.

And, via Benny Peiser's mailshot, a tale of water shortages and the evil West. Reuters reports that China has blamed water shortages on western-generated global warming:

China suffers a water shortage of nearly 40 billion cubic metres a year which Water Resources Minister Chen Lei blamed largely on global warming, state media reported on Monday.

"The changes have led to a combination of both frequent drought and flooding," the China Daily newspaper quoted Chen as saying.
That's terrible. But wait! What's this? A study that analyses Chinese rainfall:
for the period 1951-2000... The results indicate that there is little trend in total precipitation for China as a whole
No trend? It is true that there have been variations of the scope and intensity of rain throughout China, but this might not be the whole story. The Reuters report hints at some other possible factors in China's situation:
... rising consumption both by farmers and booming cities, as well as severe pollution, have compounded shortages.

Decades of heavy industrialisation have made water from some lakes and rivers so polluted it is no longer useable, and tonnes of untreated waste are pumped directly into water sources.
Ah, severe and large scale water pollution. Don't I remember that from somewhere else... some other large communist country?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Monarchy, constitutions and republicanism, pause

I was getting sidetracked. What began as a detailed explanation of the iniquity of monarchy started to move onto ground I find more interesting - how the radical political tradition was hijacked and perverted by the socialist left.

In fact, there's a very good case that socialism isn't left wing at all. The left originally favoured laissez-faire economic policies and free trade, for example. Today, that's a Liberal or libertarian position, and people normally call libertarianism "right wing" - even though the Tories remain mercantalists at heart.

The left was secular, but we have religious cultists in a Labour cabinet and socialist parties allying with extreme religious groups, while the Tories also remain wedded to the clerical establishment.

In other words, they're all right wing.

Faith appointments to the Lords

The Prime Minister has just responded to a petition:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to remove the unelected bishops from the House of Lords."

Details of Petition:

"The number of people attending church declines year on year and those with a religious belief are probably now in a minority. The Church of England retains this archaic right which is both anachronistic and anti-democratic. The right should be removed."
The response (emphasis added):
The Government remains committed to completing House of Lords reform and will enact the will of the House of Commons in developing reforms for a substantially or fully elected House of Lords. The Government's White Paper, House of Lords: Reform, (February 2007, CM7027) proposed reducing the number of Bishops in a reformed House in discussion with the Church of England. It added that it would be impossible, in a fully elected House, to see how representation of the Church of England could continue. The Government has made plain it is committed to maintaining the establishment of the Church of England as long as the Church wishes it.

The Government believes in the principle of a more representative House of Lords to reflect the make-up of the United Kingdom, including representatives of other faith communities and those of none. Over the coming months, the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor will continue to lead the cross-party talks on House of Lords reform with a view to bringing a comprehensive reform package, which will include the issue of the Bishops in a substantially elected House.
Far from removing clerical appointments to the second chamber, this reads as though the government intends to expand them to include representatives of other religions.

Of course, that's right and inevitable if the Church of England continues to send bishops to the House of Lords. You can't discriminate in favour of just one religion. This was the point behind this petition (which only gained 675 signatures).

An attachment to an appointed, undemocratic, clerical element in our system of government is about as extreme a right wing position as it is possible to imagine. Labour has become the Ancien Régime.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Greenland Ice - Stop Press

I interrupt this series of, ah... long winded posts to bring you this debunking of the Great Greenland Ice Sheet Scare, from Cliff Ollier, School of Earth and Geographical Sciences of the University of Western Australia, which came to me by Benny Peiser's excellent email list.

The following is the abstract from a lengthy paper:

Hansen is a modeller, and his scenario for the collapse of the ice sheets is based on a false model. Hansen has a model of an ice sheet sliding along an inclined plane, lubricated by meltwater, which is itself increasing because of global warming. The same model is adopted in many copy-cat papers. Hanson’s model, unfortunately, includes neither the main form of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets, nor an understanding of how glaciers flow.

The global warming doomsday writers claim the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are melting catastrophically, and will cause a sudden rise in sea level of 5 or more metres. This ignores the mechanism of glacier flow which is by creep. Glaciers are not melting from the surface down, nor are they sliding down an inclined plane lubricated by meltwater. The existence of ice over 3 km thick preserving details of past snowfall and atmospheres, used to decipher past temperature and CO2 levels, shows that the ice sheets have accumulated for hundreds of thousands of years without melting. Variations in melting around the edges of ice sheets are no indication that they are collapsing. Indeed ‘collapse’ is impossible.

Monarchy, constitutions and republicanism, Interlude

A quotation. I dipped into W L Warren's book about King John earlier, and came across this:

Men insist perhaps most firmly on the value of custom when instability and change threaten them most closely; and they are apt to insist most tenanciously of all when in fact they allow the tide of change to carry them along. It gives reassurance that they are moving purposefully, and are not merely adrift on an uncharted sea.

UPDATE: The next in this series of posts will not appear before this evening.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Monarchy, constitutions and republicanism, Part 2 - Parliament and the radical tradition

Part 1 - Magna Carta

Parliament assembles in the Painted Chamber of the royal palace of Westminster. The King, the Lords and the Commons all assemble together to hear the King's speech, in which he will lay out the "causes of summons" or the "points of the Parliament". This generally involves taxes that the King wanted to levy. Then the King announces, formally, that he will hear any petitions that anyone wants to present.

Following this opening of Parliament, the Lords assemble in one place, the Commons in another. They consider the business the King has outlined in his speech.

This isn't very different from the way the British Parliament conducts its business today. There is a Queen's speech in which the business of that particular session of Parliament is outlined, then the two chambers meet separately to discuss it. But the Painted Chamber dates my particular description. To when?

1340. In fact, this, Commons and all, was the system of Parliament by 1340. And although it is sometimes thought that the role of the Commons - the representatives of the cities and freemen of the realm - was only to bring petitions, in fact even at this early date they were required to answer the King's points. They were required to deliberate over the taxation the King wished to raise.

So was the structure of English governance set, almost seven hundred years ago. The King ruled, but had to summon Parliament to agree his taxation demands, and by so doing he was placed in a position wherein he had to hear the petitions of the Commons.

Exactly three hundred years after my slightly arbitrary date (slightly, because the first meeting called a Parliament met in 1240 and this was the centennial), in 1640, after a hiatus of a decade, an unpopular monarch who resented any restraint on his power summoned a Parliament to authorise taxes to support his wars against the Scots. Parliamentarians felt that if they were to consider taxes, the monarch should consider their petitions. Charles I disagreed, in fact he felt this was lese majeste, and he dissolved what we now know as the Short Parliament.

By November of that year his financial circumstances compelled Charles to summon Parliament again, and this time Parliament passed a law granting themselves the power to meet every three years even if the monarch didn't summon them. They passed a law forbidding the King to dissolve them, and ever since they have been known as the Long Parliament. This is, of course, the opening of the English Civil War.

What was happening, in a long view? Going back to the build up to Magna Carta, monarchical encroachment on the pockets and liberties of subjects had provoked a reaction. Most importantly, though, the subjects felt they should be consulted about decisions of state. If people are given a concession, it takes a further encroachment on their liberties - the ratchet has to click on a further notch - before they'll feel sufficiently motivated to take action. By the seventeenth century, it was the idea of the divine right of Kings, something that had taken root in the English monarchy in the reign of James I, that clicked the ratchet on this further notch. Charles I wanted money, but he felt no obligation to hear petitions - a part of the medieval contract forged in the thirteenth century.

Of course, reaction was not the sole prerogative of the King. And reaction can be radical. A radical tradition began, most clearly embodied in the Levellers, who issued a manifesto called the Agreement of the People. It's worth emphasising that this was not adopted by the republican government, which instead took the alternative offered by the opposing faction, the Grandees. Levellers were imprisoned by Cromwell. No criticism of the course the revolution took can reasonably be laid at the feet of the Levellers. So, what did they suggest?

* The right to vote for all men over the age of 21 (excepting servants, beggars and Royalists);
* No army officer, treasurer or lawyer could be an MP (to prevent conflict of interest);
* Annual elections to Parliament with MPs serving one term only;
* Equality of all persons before the law;
* Trials should be heard before 12 jurymen, freely chosen by their community.
* No-one could be punished for refusing to testify against themselves in criminal cases;
* The law should proceed in English and cases should not extend longer than six months;
* The death penalty to be applied only in cases of murder;
* Abolition of imprisonment for debt;
* Tithes should be abolished and parishioners have the right to choose their ministers;
* Taxation in proportion to real or personal property;
* Abolition of military conscription, monopolies and excise taxes.

Milton Friedman would have agreed with that. In fact, Friedman campaigned for the abolition of conscription, monopolies and excise taxes. They wished to limit the death penalty, extend the franchise and they emphasised the equality of all people. They sought term limits for MPs (an excellent idea), the prevention of conflicts of interest and the secularisation of the country (the abolition of tithes).

Parliament developed as a mechanism for limiting abuses of power by the monarch, and for involving the peers in the process of government. Even by the fourteenth century, Parliament included the Commons. As the monarch developed ideas of unlimited, divine power, so parliamentarians - not all of them, but some - developed the idea of a free society of free people, equally enfranchised, free from conscription and duress, taxed proportionately and moderately, with legal protections against excessive imprisonment before trial and against self-incrimination.

This radical tradition, which failed within a republican movement that was itself to fail, has been claimed by the left. That's actually reasonable. But it's also a reasonable claim for libertarians to make. At least, it is if those libertarians mistrust power and the people who are attracted to it and so seek term limits, if they hold every person to be equal, if they hold that the state and the law must always be subservient to the liberties of the individual so that, for example, nobody should be held without trial.

It's a radical tradition that we need to claim as libertarians. And it derives, fundamentally, from opposition to the idea of a monarch. After all, if every person is equal there can be no monarch.

UPDATE: I used the word "equal" casually there. It means, of course, things like equality before the law, equality of voting rights and so forth. There's no suggestion that any other form of equality, not least that of outcome (egalitarianism), was in this manifesto.

Monarchy, constitutions and republicanism, Part 1 - Magna Carta

Magna Carta is a misunderstood document. It wasn't some sort of ringing declaration of rights. It was much more practical than that, rooted in the politics and events of the time, so it needs to be placed in context. Let's step back a moment.

Much of the first half of the twelfth century was pretty disorganised. Central rule was weak, there was a dispute over the throne and barons were pretty much left alone to their own devices, or courted by one of the rivals for the crown. Then in 1154 Henry II became king and tidied things up; at the start of his reign there was still trial by ordeal, by the end there was trial by jury (though not as we know it). He had a conflict with the church over legal jurisdiction (the Thomas A Becket stuff), but got on reasonably well with his barons - who recognised a force of nature when they saw one. Things did start to fall apart a bit towards the end of his reign. An opportunistic (and very great) French King conspired with Henry's sons, who rebelled and Henry, it was said, died of a broken heart in 1189.

Then there was Richard the Lionheart. The barons liked Richard - because he buggered off. He left them alone. Apart from the taxes his crusades and campaigns needed, they were not much affected by the king. They didn't much like the taxes, or some of the methods used to raise them, something we'll see again later, but the great thing was that he wasn't there. This ensured he would be fondly remembered.

He only reigned for a decade though, and was succeeded by his brother John, who didn't bugger off and, worse, tried to be like his father Henry. He travelled a lot (and lost his baggage in The Wash in the process, including the crown jewels and the imperial regalia of Germany, if anyone fancies getting the metal detector out) and generally got in the way.

But the worst thing was that he liked the French. Well, he was French really, as had been Henry. In fact, few of the nobility spoke English at the time. What annoyed the English barons was that John had French favourites - men from continental France who he listened to in preference to the English barons and who, it has been suggested[1], he used as strong arm men. This was a dispute about whose counsel the king listened to. Later in the thirteenth century a similar dispute would lead to a red hot poker being pushed up the bottom of the king, but in the early twelve hundreds things didn't get this drastic.

Whose counsel the king listened to was absolutely vital at the time. Magna Carta confirmed lots of rights - of the church, of fisheries and so on - but they weren't really the point. Or rather they weren't this point.

Clause 50 of Magna Carta states:

We will utterly remove from their offices the relatives of Gérard d'Athée, Engelard de Cigogne, Peter and Guy and Andrew de Chanceaux, Guy de Cigogne, Geoffrey de Martigny and his brothers, Philip Marc and his brothers and his nephew Geoffrey, together with all their adherents, so that henceforth they shall have no office in England.
Or, as The Sun would put it, Hop Off You Frogs.

I wanted to make this point because I want to trace the development of the English Parliament, and this is where it started, I think. I know there were councils, Things and so forth in Anglo Saxon and Viking custom (don't forget the Danelaw), but this is where the English Parliament began. Even so, I want to make a small digression, because there are some uncanny parallels between England of 1215 and the Britain, in fact specifically the England, of today.

If you read Magna Carta, you'll see clauses like this one:
6. Heirs shall be married without disparagement; yet so that, before the marriage is contracted, it shall be announced to the blood-relatives of the said heir.
Without disparagement means not to someone of a lower social class. Snobbishness, hey? Not entirely, that was a blow against stealth taxation. Kings had developed a habit of marrying off heiresses to the highest bidder, even if they were in trade (a merchant, perhaps), and trousering the bid.

Or this one:
12. Scutage or aid shall be levied in our kingdom only by the common counsel of our kingdom, except for ransoming our body, for knighting our eldest son, and for once marrying our eldest daughter; and for these [purposes] only a reasonable aid shall be taken. The same provision shall hold with regard to the aids of the city of London.
Scutage (shield money) was originally a payment made in lieu of military service, but had become another form of stealth taxation, levied when no service was due.

This isn't about John, but he had been campaigning in France, and losing French lands, for more than a decade by the time of the Great Charter. His campaigns cost money and he had increasingly been resorting to disguised taxation - it really was stealth taxation - to raise the necessary money. He did this by abusing all the little ways he had of getting a buck, from marriages, deaths:
2. If any one of our earls or barons or other men holding of us in chief dies, and if when he dies his heir is of full age and owes relief, [that heir] shall have his inheritance for the ancient relief: namely, the heir or heirs of an earl £100 for the whole barony of an earl; the heir or heirs of a baron £100 for a whole barony; the heir or heirs of a knight 100s, at most for a whole knight's fee. And let whoever owes less give less, according to the ancient custom of fiefs.
Taxing trade and resources:
13. And the city of London shall have all its ancient liberties and free customs, both by land and by water. Besides we will and grant that all the other cities, boroughs, towns, and ports shall have all their liberties and free customs.
And so on. Ring any bells?

What's more, he had been infringing on the ancient liberties of barons, the church, and even freemen:
20. A freeman shall be amerced for a small offence only according to the degree of the offence; and for a grave offence he shall be amerced according to the gravity of the offence, saving his contenement. And a merchant shall be amerced in the same way, saving his merchandise; and a villein in the same way, saving his wainage — should they fall into our mercy. And none of the aforesaid amercements shall be imposed except by the oaths of good men from the neighbourhood.
In other words, habeas corpus.

High regular taxes, exploitative stealth taxes and the erosion of ancient liberties: It's fair to say, I think, that New Labour is not so "new" after all.

One further aside. The rebellion against John manifested itself in 1214 when the counties of East Anglia - Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Hertfordshire, together with Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, refused to pay scutage for overseas campaigns on the, completely spurious, grounds that they had no obligation for overseas service (they did). I suspect we will need to look to the bloody-minded English of those counties again.

But to summarise, Magna Carta was a reigning in of the infringement of liberties and of liberty. It was a detailed prohibition of more than a dozen specific forms of stealth taxation. But in a constitutional sense, it was the barons telling the King: "OK, if you're actually going to be here rather than overseas campaigning, and if you're going to have an effective government that really does run a legal system and raise taxes, then buddy, you're going to have to talk to us".

Or, as they put it (remember, this is written from the point of view of the King, because he was the one issuing the Charter):
61. Since moreover for [the love of] God, for the improvement of our kingdom, and for the better allayment of the conflict that has arisen between us and our barons, we have granted all these [liberties] aforesaid, wishing them to enjoy those [liberties] by full and firm establishment forever, we have made and granted them the following security: namely, that the barons shall elect twenty-five barons of the kingdom, whomsoever they please, who to the best of their ability should observe, hold, and cause to be observed the peace and liberties that we have granted to them and have confirmed by this our present charter; so that, specifically, if we or our justiciar or our bailiffs or any of our ministers are in any respect delinquent toward any one or trangress any article of the peace or the security, and if the delinquency is shown to four barons of the aforesaid twenty-five barons, those four barons shall come to us, or to our justiciar if we are out of the kingdom, to explain to us the wrong, asking that without delay we cause this wrong to be redressed. And if within a period of forty days, counted from the time that notification is made to us, or to our justiciar if we are out of the kingdom, we do not redress the wrong, or, if we are out of the kingdom, our justiciar does not redress it, the four barons aforesaid shall refer that case to the rest of the twenty-five barons, and those twenty-five barons, together with the community of the entire country, shall distress and injure us in all ways possible — namely, by capturing our castles, lands, and possessions and in all ways that they can — until they secure redress according to their own decision, saving our person and [the person] of our queen and [the persons] of our children. And when redress has been made, they shall be obedient to us as they were before. And any one in the land who wishes shall swear that, for carrying out the aforesaid matters, he will obey the commands of the twenty-five barons aforesaid and that he, with his men, will injure us to the best of his ability; and we publicly and freely give licence of [thus] swearing to every one who wishes to do so, and to no one will we ever prohibit [such] swearing. Moreover, all those of the land who of themselves and by their own free will are unwilling to take the oath for the twenty-five barons, with them to distress and injure us, we will by our mandate cause to swear [such an oath] as aforesaid. And if any one of the twenty-five barons dies or departs from the land, or in any other way is prevented from carrying out these aforesaid matters, the rest of the twenty-five barons aforesaid shall by their own decision choose another in his place, who is to be sworn in the same way as the others. Moreover, in all the matters entrusted to those twenty-five barons for execution, if perchance the same twenty-five are present and disagree among themselves in some respect, or if certain of those summoned are unwilling or unable to be present, that which the majority of those present may provide or command shall be held as settled and established, just as if all twenty-five had agreed to it. And the aforesaid twenty-five shall swear that they will faithfully observe all that has been set forth above. And neither of ourself nor through others will we procure from any one anything whereby any of these concessions and liberties may be revoked or diminished; and should anything of the sort be procured, it shall be null and void, and we will never make use of it either of ourself or through others.

Twenty five years later, they were calling that a Parliament.

[1] King John, W L Warren, 2nd edition 1990 Methuen paperback, p.272

Part 2 - Parliament and the radical tradition.

Web application security

What not to do.

UPDATE: I meant to point out it's a good anecdote about people who know some cryptography (terminology), but miss the absolute basics of security.

Aayan Hirsi Ali security trust

Via Christopher Hitchens, some details about Hirsi Ali's private security appeal.

... security for Ayaan Hirsi Ali might have to be paid for partly by private subscription. Here are the details for all who may wish to contribute to this eminently deserving cause. Checks should be made payable to the Ayaan Hirsi Ali Security Trust and sent to the same trust in care of Bank of Georgetown, 1054 31st St., NW, Suite 18, Washington, D.C. 20007. The trust's tax identification number is 75-6826872. Those who prefer wire transfer should use account number 1010054748 and bank routing number 054001712. This appeal is a test of our seriousness in the face of theocracy and its assassins.

Basic error

Via Worstall, a Guardian leader:

Capitalism's great advantage is supposed to be that it ensures the economy can learn from failure.
Nope. That's the free market, not capitalism. With a free market, lots of people try lots of different things and copy the things other people are doing if they seem to be working. Capitalism can exist in unfree markets, where this advantage doesn't exist.

It's amazing how these terms are conflated.

Quote quoted

John Brignall at NumberWatch writes in defence of that much maligned atom, carbon. He prefaces his piece with a quote from the great H.L. Mencken:

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Just thinking... My favourite headline of all time comes from an American newspaper in 1980 - I read it in Rolling Stone's review of the year...

Right to Lifers demand mandatory death penalty

100 million years before the dinosaurs

These smooth skinned amphibians.

Headline of the day

Scientists Find Oldest Living Animal, Then Kill It

From here.

Extreme fun competitions

Updates on the DARPA urban Grand Challenge, for autonomous vehicles in urban environments here, and the X Prize for lunar landers here.

Papal dispensation

There is a problem with this present Pope:

Pope Benedict XVI urged Catholic pharmacists on Monday to use conscientious objection to avoid dispensing drugs with "immoral purposes such as, for example, abortion or euthanasia."
He really doesn't get the separation of church and state idea.

Axis of evil cookbook

This is quite funny:

Review of banned books

At Sp!ked, a review of five books that have been pulped after libel action from a certain Saudi billionaire.

Quote of the day

"If there was a minute's silence for every Gurkha casualty from World War 2 alone, we would have to keep quiet for two weeks."
See here, a campaign (from a Lib Dem constituency) to grant Gurkhas proper entitlements.

Underachieving criminals

I once met a young man who was awaiting trial on a charge of armed robbery. He had taken an air pistol into an off license, and demanded the cash from the till, four cans of super lager and ten cigarettes. That still counts as armed robbery.

The would-be royal blackmailers remind me of that lad. They demanded £50,000 from the unnamed royal who they allegedly had on film taking drugs and engaging in a sex act. They could have got twice that from a newspaper, legally.