Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Peaceful Purposes 3

From The Spirit of Man:

Islamic regime's Basij militia showing their anti-western sentiments by walking on Israeli and US flags in Tehran during Basij week ceremonies

Syria Blocks Blogspot

The Skeptic reports that Syrian ISPs are blocking blogspot.

The UN springs into action, states the obvious, waits for a report and has a discussion

UPI reports some searing insights into the Iraqi situation from senior United Nations officials.

The senseless violence in Iraq continues to create a climate of hate and sectarianism, the United Nations says.

Koichiro Matsuura, director-general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said in a statement the situation in Iraq has left hundreds of civilians dead.

"These devastating attacks create a climate of hate and sectarianism," Matsuura said Monday.
Ashraf Qazi, the secretary-general's special representative in Iraq, attributed the violence in most parts of the country to a vicious cycle of sectarian revenge-motivated killings.

Qazi urged the government, political leadership and the people of Iraq to "demonstrate an urgent and sincere determination to save their country."

Concerted efforts by the international community and neighboring countries like Iran and Syria, Qazi said, would be necessary for the government and people of Iraq to address challenges of violence, mistrust and divisions which threaten their society.

Meanwhile, anticipation increases for the Iraq Study Group, led by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, which will be presenting results of its inquiry by year's end.

Annan was reported to have had a "discussion" Monday with members of the group.
Unable to wait for Syria and Iran to start their "concerted efforts", or for the Iraq Study Group to report, the blogger Iraq the Model describes life in Baghdad and in the process displays an English degree of understatement by titling his post Rough Days:
We had no choice but to rely on ourselves to protect our homes and neighborhood insurgents and militias alike. In our mixed block the elders met to assign duties and make plans in case things go wrong. They decided that people should all exchange cell-phone numbers as the fastest means to communicate at times of action, it was also decided that if someone calls to report an attack on his home, everyone else must go up to the roof and start shooting at the direction of the assailants.
More roadblocks were erected and older ones strengthened—streets and alleys were blocked in any possible way to prevent any attack with vehicles.
They also agreed that no one moves on the streets after a certain hour at night and any moving person would be dealt with as a threat.

Not in my name

From The Telegraph:

Conservationists have accused EU representatives of approving a “disastrous” plan likely to cause the collapse of the bluefin tuna, a species as endangered as the giant panda.
This year scientists had recommended slashing catch quotas by half and banning fishing in the most productive months of May, June and July to save Mediterranean stocks which they said were at “high risk of collapse”.

Representatives of the EU, speaking for all 25 member states including Britain, sided with the French and Italian tuna fishing industry and blocked the conservation plan backed by the United States and Norway.
A strong plan for East Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna was tabled early in the meeting by the US delegation - adhering closely to scientific advice - yet the EU refused to budge on its own weak proposal, according to conservationists.

They say the EU plan, finally adopted by ICCAT yesterday, is totally insufficient - with almost no reduction in total catch, and a seasonal closure which deliberately excludes the peak of spawning when most adult catches are taken.

EU fleets are responsible for the bulk of illegal catches of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean - as a WWF report published in July clearly demonstrated.

Dr Sergi Tudela, head of fisheries at WWF Mediterranean, said: “Today’s decision will go down in history as destroying the credibility of ICCAT as a regional fisheries management organisation. This is an unprecedented scandal, sounding the death knell for bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean.”

“This is a collapse plan, not a recovery plan - and a mockery of the work of scientists.

“The EU has betrayed its obligation to sustainably manage fisheries - for the sake of the short-term interests of its own bluefin tuna industry.”

Ministers and officials at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in London are known to have been deeply uncomfortable about the position taken by the EU fisheries directorate at the ICCAT meeting but their opposition to the proposal was balanced out by the support for it from fishing nations in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.

Taxation without Security

Michael Gove, M.P., has continued to draw attention to issues of terrorism, extremism and finance. On his website, he carries part of a report of a debate from the 27th November 2006. I reproduce a large section below:

On 10 October, the Chancellor said that it was

“upon meeting and overcoming the challenge of global terrorism that all else we value depends”.

In his speech on that date he outlined the Treasury’s role as the lead Department for our security. He specifically mentioned that the Treasury would have two responsibilities—interdicting terrorist financing and tackling the forces that encourage the separatism, extremism and isolation on which terrorism thrives.

In his speech, the Chancellor congratulated himself on

“the most comprehensive and expeditious asset freeze the Treasury has ever undertaken”.

But what exactly has the Treasury been able to seize from those suspected of involvement in terrorist activity? The true figure, as revealed following patient detective work by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), amounts to only £476,000 since 2002. That figure compares with some $200 million frozen by the American authorities. The Treasury’s effort is tiny by comparison. Its dragnet has caught minnows, not sharks. It has also had significant holes in it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) pointed out, Abu Hamza—now, happily, convicted of terrorist offences—whose assets were supposed to have been frozen, was able to transfer ownership of his home to his son, allowing his family to play the property market. How could Abu Hamza do that? It was because of a loophole that the Government had failed to address. The initial order, introduced in 2001, froze only funds, not assets. No change was made in that order until last month, just as the news of Abu Hamza’s situation was breaking in the newspapers. The loophole existed for four years and allowed someone convicted of terrorist offences to play the property market with public money.

Another area of profound concern was reported in The Sunday Telegraph yesterday. The European Union has stepped in to prevent the details of bank transfers being released to the US authorities when they fear that those transfers may materially affect terrorist activity. The European Union has ruled that privacy must come before security, but it will allow those same bank transfers to be scrutinised for taxation purposes. The Chancellor, in his speech on 10 October, stressed that he and Hank Paulson, the US Treasury Secretary, would take proactive steps to ensure that no regulation came between us and our security. Why are those EU regulations still in place, despite the Chancellor’s brave words? In those three specific areas, the Treasury has not dealt effectively with terrorist financing, despite the Chancellor’s putting the subject at the centre of his pattern of activities for the year.

In his speech, the Chancellor raised other real concerns about the way in which terrorism thrives as a result of the activity of extremist organisations. In a speech to the Foreign Policy Centre earlier this year, the Prime Minister pointed out that the threat that we face is not just physical but ideological. That ideological threat is rooted in the particular twisting of Islam known as Islamism, which has been propagated by organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood. That organisation has a UK branch known as the Muslim Association of Britain, and it is the UK branch of the organisation known in the Palestinian territories as Hamas. However, there has been no effective scrutiny by the Government or the Treasury of the Muslim Association of Britain’s activities or funding.

Crucially, the Muslim Association of Britain and its most prominent spokesman, Dr. Azzam Tamimi, now run the Finsbury Park mosque for which Sheikh Abu Hamza was previously responsible. Abu Hamza may be behind bars, and his assets may, at last, have been effectively frozen, but the mosque from which he preached hatred is now under the control of a man who was responsible for praising suicide bombing, and who has said that the state of Israel will eventually be destroyed and replaced by an Islamic state. The Government allowed that to happen on their watch, and they also allowed the Muslim Association of Britain to play a key role in the Government’s own watchdog body for mosques, the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board. How can we accept the Government’s claims that they take terrorism seriously when they are putting foxes in charge of the chicken coop?

I mentioned Hamas. Following brave reporting by John Ware, the investigative reporter who works for “Panorama”, one charity in this country was identified as having direct links with Hamas and terrorist fundraising. That charity is Interpal, which had been investigated by the Charity Commission. However, John Ware’s report revealed new, troubling details, including the fact that one of Interpal’s trustees, Mr. Ibrahim Hewitt, was appointed by the Government to their “Preventing Extremism Together” taskforce. Mr. Ware and others have asked the Charity Commission to look again at Interpal’s operation, and the operation of other charities that are linked with terrorism.

We await a comprehensive report—the Chancellor has promised it three times, but he has still not delivered it—that assesses the way in which charities have been used as a shield to promote terrorist financing and fundraising. Will the Minister ensure that, when the report is eventually published, the Charity Commission is given new powers to investigate proactively groups that spread terror and proselytise for extremism, under the cloak of charitable activity?

To be fair to the Government, two charities have been interdicted following action by the Treasury: Sanabel and al-Haramain. Those two charities are significant, because both are Saudi-based. In the United States Senate, the senior senator for New York, the democrat Charles Schumer, pointed out that Saudi-sponsored activity was responsible for the hijacking of moderate Islam and the spread of fundamentalist doctrine in schools, mosques and prisons. In a submission to the US Senate, Steven Emerson has pointed out the way in which organisations use the cloak of charitable activity to proselytise for an extremist agenda. In many cases, they choose to work through the direct funding of mosques.

There are some 1,600 mosques in Britain, most of them exemplary houses of instruction that provide spiritual nourishment to our fellow citizens, and that teach them in a tradition that all of us would think admirable. However, there are mosques—some with direct relationships with Saudi Arabia—that do not cleave to the moderate mainstream path taken by the majority of British Muslims. I shall mention two of them. One subject of concern is the East London mosque, which is one of the largest in Britain. Its president, Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari, is the chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain, but the speaker invited to open the mosque, Sheikh al-Sudais, had preached sermons in his native Saudi Arabia in which he described Jewish people as pigs and monkeys. He has called Hindus idol-worshippers to whom it would be wrong to speak sweetly. That is an example of Saudi influence raising profound concerns.

An even more profound concern arises in connection with the plans, in east London, for the erection of the largest mosque—indeed, the largest house of worship—in the country. It is intended to accommodate between 40,000 and 70,000 worshippers, and it is estimated that it will cost between £100 million and £300 million. The mosque, which is being built by an organisation called Tablighi Jamaat, raises profound concerns, not least because that organisation has been described by French intelligence as an “antechamber of fundamentalism”. Two of the 7/7 bombers had direct links with the Tablighi Jamaat mosque in Dewsbury. Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber, had links with the organisation, as did John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban. How can an organisation that, according to the Charity Commission, records an income of just £500,000 a year, afford to build a mosque that will cost anything between £100 million and £300 million?

It is my contention that we need a thorough and bipartisan investigation by the House into the foreign funding of extremism in this country. We can learn a lot from the United States, and the way in which the Senate used its investigative tools to work out exactly how a noble religion is being subverted by extremists. I am sure that the Chancellor is sincere in his determination to combat terrorism and root out the extremism that sustains it, but unless he shows a greater degree of urgency in dealing with the problem, and a greater attention to detail when matters are brought before Ministers, and unless he empowers the Charity Commission and other agencies to use proactive investigatory powers, I am afraid that we will always be on the back foot in one of the most vital battles of our time.
This all tends to speak for itself, but I have highlighted in bold one section that I find astonishing. The European Union does not allow the examination of suspicious bank transfers in the course of investigations of possible terrorist activity, but does allow scrutiny of the same transfers for taxation purposes. Actions speak louder than words, and no more dramatic illustration could be found for two salient points:

1. European governments are not serious about the fight against Islamic terrorist activity.

2. Taxation trumps all; our governments are so addicted to the wholesale confiscation of our money that they put this before people's lives and freedoms.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Renaissance

In a letter in today's Telegraph, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain lends his name to the following:

We have drawn attention to the continuing infringements of the right to freedom of religion. These breaches include the control of religious activity by totalitarian states, institutionalised discrimination experienced by religious minorities, and official and unofficial barriers to the right to adopt, change or choose a religion. We have called on the Government to develop a strategy to promote the right to freedom of religion and belief around the world through all of its different ministries, departments and agencies.

The failure of governments and societies around the world to respect religious freedoms is not only a breach of basic human rights. It is causing poverty and social exclusion and is hampering sustainable economic development.
The Islamic attitude to apostasy has been a major barrier to peace, and is a profound assault against freedom of conscience around the world. That a senior official in the MCB should lend his name to these sentiments is very encouraging.

Friday, November 24, 2006

UN Springs into Action - Update 1

There's no word yet from the U.N. Security Council in response to this warning earlier today from Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland: "The Darfurians cannot wait another day."

They're probably planning their response as I write. More to come...

UN Springs into Action

Hope at last for the beleagured people of Darfur, in the Sudan:

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland this week told the U.N. Security Council, "The Darfurians cannot wait another day."
I'll report on the Security Council's dramatic response tomorrow.

Domino Number One

Over at Harry's Place, David T comments on a rambling, self-pitying and frequently incoherent piece on the MPACUK website:

This article is, unwittingly, one of the most revealing pieces that Bukhari has written. He has revealed his true colours: his racism, his conspiracism, his bile, his arrogance and his incompetence.

MPAC is finished.
Bukhari's piece is a classic of its type, worth reading for the self-pity alone
To many Muslims it seemed like racism, one rule for them and another for us. You see we don’t have the Holocaust guilt, this “white mans Burden”, because we didn’t commit the crime, we are the victims of that crime.
Muslims are the victims of the Holocaust? No, I don't suppose he means that - though if he could find a way to try to argue it, he would. He probably intended to say that Muslims are victims of the "White Man's Burden", but what does that mean? Incapable of threading together a coherent argument, he staggers from one unintentional display of hate to the next.

This, incidentally, from the organisation that describes itself as
... the UK's Leading Muslim civil liberties group, empowering Muslims to focus on non-violent Jihad and political activism
I predict the unravelling of several other Muslim organisations during the coming year. MPAC are just the first Domino.

Osama Exposed

Islamic creationists have been sending copies of a 500 page Atlas of Creation to schools and libraries in Turkey. Along with its explanations about how Allah created every species exactly as it is, all at once, this book includes the claim that:

The root of the terrorism that plagues our planet is not any of the divine religions, but atheism, and the expression of atheism in our times (is) Darwinism and materialism
All now becomes clear. Al Quaeda are a secret atheist conspiracy, aiming to blacken the good name of Islam while pursuing their sinister Darwinist agenda.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Peaceful Purposes 2

More on the peaceful Iranian nuclear research:

ISNA - Tehran
Service: Foreign Policy

TEHRAN, Nov. 22 (ISNA)-President Ahmadinejad stated that West should understand Iran would never kneel in front of their demands.

"They think that the government and nation of Iran are like some other courtiers, whom crack down in front of them even with the smallest threat or pressure, but they should know that the nation of Iran will never kneel in front of their demands," he commented.

"Today, the knowledge of our people and our nuclear policies progress daily, and it is the enemy which is stepping back," he added.

"Today, the U.S. policies have been defeated in the international arena, and they are no longer able to decide," noted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

End Item
Via The Spirit of Man


A Thanksgiving message from Bahraini blogfather, Mahmood:

I wish you all a very happy and peaceful thanksgiving.

Enjoy the holidays, my American friends and those who celebrate this occasion, and spare a thought and a prayer for this tumultuous region of the world while you give your thanks.

I hope that we too will enjoy peace and democracy before too long.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Unconscionable Cruelty of Polly T

Almost twenty years ago I pitched up in London, found a bedsit and took a job as a minicab driver. Knowing I would otherwise be on my own, one of the controllers invited me for Christmas dinner.

He lived on the fourteenth floor of one of three tower blocks that backed onto wasteground in Camberwell. The lifts were broken so I walked up the stairs, stepping round pools of urine, looking carefully for the small piles of human excrement that lurked in shadows beneath shattered light fittings. I knocked at his door, and it opened into a room of lights, decorations, children laughing by a Christmas tree, and the smell of roasting turkey.

A couple of years later I used to visit someone who lived in a lower-rise block on the fringes of Brixton. The car park was always full of playing children, even during school hours. I drove a very old ex-gas board long wheel base Land Rover at the time and somehow it developed that I'd leave it unlocked and let the children play in it while I was upstairs.

I think it was the little mother who started it, a girl of perhaps eight who always seemed to have her youngest, snot-nosed sibling on her hip while she bawled at her five year old brother to stop whatever he might be doing at the time. She was a friendly child with a beautiful smile. One day she confided in me as though she were telling me about a rare feast that her Mum had let her have a burger with her chips that evening. Normally, it was just chips, from a shop a couple of hundred yards away.

I only ever saw her mother from a distance. When she wanted the children to come in, because she wanted to go out with her latest boyfriend, she would come to the balcony and shout down,

"If you don't get up here right now, I'll come down and kick your cunt in!"

After a few weeks, there would be a dozen or more children playing in the Land Rover. The oldest and most senior taking it in turns to pretend to drive, younger ones camping in the covered back. The more adventurous would climb up the sides and over the roof. One day, as I came down the stairs, I was met by a delegation. Someone had broken an indicator light cover while scaling the south face of the vehicle. The culprit was there, shamefaced, in the middle, with half a dozen concerned friends along for moral support. These were good kids.

Then I started driving them all, very slowly, round the car park. There'd be kids on the roof, on the bonnet, holding on to the sides, in the back and on the bench seat in the front. The rule was, I had to be able to see them all at all times - a leg or arm at least had to be visible in one of the mirrors. They policed this rule assiduously, as I drove at walking pace, yelling at each other to make sure they were visible.

One of the mothers came out to see what it was all about, a shy young Irish woman, and she rode in the front with her son on her lap, chatting with the other children as we crawled around the hardstanding.

There was poverty there all right, but it wasn't financial. The children were poor - they would all have counted in child poverty statistics, but some were properly fed and some weren't. Some were loved, and some weren't. Some of them would be getting jobs in a few years' time. The little mother would become a real mother. But with others, the passage of puberty would see a setting of the eyes into a flinty middle-distance stare, and they'd start burgling, mugging, dealing or go on the game.

What makes the difference? One thing is for sure: it isn't money. All these people were on much the same incomes, the devoted Irish mother and the one who would kick her daughter's cunt in if she was slow to come upstairs, the cab controller and the people who shat in the stairwell of his block of flats.

Milton Friedman died a few days ago. He once said:

A society that puts equality - in the sense of equality of outcome - ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality or freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom. On the other hand, a society that puts freedom first will, as a happy by-product, end up with both greater freedom and greater equality. Freedom means diversity but also mobility. It preserves the opportunity for today's less well off to become tomorrow's rich, and in the process, enables almost everyone, from top to bottom, to enjoy a richer and fuller life.
At Harry's Place, someone called Norman the carpet commented:
Well its nice to get some good news for a change. An appalling person who pedaled (sic) a dreadful ideology.
Like many Libertarian bloggers, I actually know what it is like to be broke. I have lived in high rises like the ones described above. I have gone hungry. Travelling in the Yukon twenty five years ago, after a lumber strike had closed down half the seasonal industries, I went three days without food - though my dog didn't - before I found work doing odd jobs in a motel. I treated my own frostbite, because I couldn't afford to see a doctor.

One thing, and one thing only, keeps people trapped in the kind of poverty of mind where they don't feed their children properly even when they could, and shit in their own stairwells. It's a lack of ownership; a lack of self-reliance. It's a lack of the very concept of self-reliance. It's an idea that the mere thought that they should be self-reliant is immoral, evil, callous and cruel. And though this idea is gibbered out by halfwits like Norman the carpet, it actually derives from Polly Toynbee.

Not just Toynbee, of course, but she has made a particular fetish of "social exclusion". And she claims that
...growing inequality multiplies all these problems
No, it doesn't. What multiplies them is continued state intervention in and control over these people's lives. They shit in stairwells because they don't own the stairwells and they don't feel responsible for keeping them clean. The same people will complain that the council are slow to disinfect them, before they shit in them again.

I don't know this because I've held focus groups; I know it because I've lived there and seen it. I have seen someone whose father sent him to school from a tower block in Walworth with the carving knife to stab a boy who was bullying him (which he did) buy a house and take his kids on holidays through sheer hard work, and I've seen middle-class lefties spend decades on the dole.

Telling people who are institutionalised into dependency that it's all the fault of unequal income distribution, that they are victims and that their salvation lies in more government money is hideously cruel, for all the fatuous false moral posturing of Toynbee and her carpet-brained acolytes. The only things that achieves are a deepening of the sanctimonious self-satisfaction in which Toynbee and her entourage wallow, and a broadening of the base of the state on which they depend and through which they thrive.

The answer lies not in the redistribution of wealth, but in the creation of wealth, by the poorest, for the poorest - for themselves. For that to happen, the state needs to get out of the way, not just by intervening less with "help", but also by hindering less with regulations and taxes. Taking money from the poorest, then giving it back to them in housing subsidies, tax credits and income supplements is grotesque - it wastes their few precious resources (unless tax collectors start working for free) and it institutionalises the recipients who could have just been left alone in the first place.

Constant regulation and "quality improvements" simply mean cutting off the bottom rungs of the ladder; instead, the focus should be on removing barriers to work and self-employment.

But then there'd be nothing for Polly and her friends to do, and nothing to give them that glow of self-righteousness that comes from stooping down from on high to hold the little hands of the poor. And that's the really unforgivable aspect of this: the sense that the unconscionable cruelty of keeping these people trapped is motivated in part by the self-interest of the advocates of statism.

Something he said

Mr Eugenides is cross about Greg Clark's "More like Polly Toynbee" suggestion:

I can't even feel the left side of my face. My eye is now opening and closing uncontrollably, and I fear a blood vessel is about to burst in my forehead. I look like Herbert Lom in an old Pink Panther movie. Jesus Christ, Polly Toynbee is giving me a stroke. Where's the number for NHS24? Here we go... Engaged! Fuck! Help! HELP!
Probably the best post I've read this year.

Don't Oppress Me

Inayat Bunglawala writes in support of MPACUK's Asghar Bukhari who, nobody disputes, gave small amounts of money to David Irving:

This story has mysteriously surfaced at this time in a clear attempt to try and discredit Asghar Bukhari and MPACUK.
It's a conspiracy. The important thing is not the information, but the fact that it has been reported now. You know, now, when... when something's probably happening that this is meant to deflect attention from. Something... I'm not sure what. But it's a conspiracy!
Asghar's donation of sixty pounds to David Irving over six years ago may be regarded as perhaps overly idealistic and indeed naive.
Mr Bunglawala regards support of David Irving to be idealistic. This word is rarely used of ideals with which one disagrees. Expressing such support in a way that might become public is naive, of course. Be more careful next time. Don't get caught.
However, it is disgraceful - though not unexpected, of course - that the usual suspects have tried to use this incident in an attempt to portray Asghar as an anti-semite.
It's a conspiracy! They've got it in for us! Fancy trying to suggest a man is anti semitic just because he gives consistent financial support to the country's most famous anti-semitic campaigner!
I know that Asghar is a staunch critic - and rightly so - of Zionism and the bloody and repressive policies of the Israeli government, but also that he has absolutely no truck whatsoever with anti-semitism or any other form of racial prejudice.
David Irving anti-racist lullaby:

I am a Baby Aryan
Not Jewish or Sectarian;
I have no plans to marry
an Ape or Rastafarian
I hope MPAC will not be deterred by this episode and continue to focus on encouraging British Muslims to play their full role in the mainstream of British society and not allow themselves to be marginalised through inaction and passivity.'
We are victims and it's a conspiracy!

Assume the position

Like all their statements at the moment, today's suggestion from Greg Clark that the Tories follow Polly Toynbee rather than Winston Churchill when discussing poverty is more about positioning the party than hard policy. Clark actually said:

One can picture our nation as a convoy crossing the desert. Everyone may be moving forward, but if the distance between those right at the back and rest of the convoy keeps growing there comes a point at which it breaks up.

This is an image I’ve borrowed from a book by the Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee. I realise that this might be scene as unusual point of reference for a Conservative MP, but I make no apology for wanting a society that holds together or for believing in a Britain that remains united.

This is something that the Conservative Party as a whole must make crystal clear. Ignoring the reality of relative poverty was a terrible mistake. It allowed the Left to dominate the poverty debate for a generation and to copyright the issue of social exclusion. This was an absurd position for us to be in, Disraeli’s idea of One Nation is nothing if not a determination that no part of society should be alienated from the whole – in other words, socially excluded. In short, poverty is too important an issue to leave to the Labour Party and overcoming social exclusion is an essential ambition for a Conservative Government.
So what he is trying to do is place a concern about relative poverty in the conservative, One Nation tradition and relate it even to Adam Smith - who Clark suggests:
...defined what we now call relative poverty and social exclusion in his Wealth of Nations:
Even from the quotation Clark uses, this last is debatable. (That might be excessively polite - Smith would have choked on his porridge if someone had outlined the modern idea of "social exclusion" to him.) But Clark's tactic of appropriation is a staple of modern politics. Claiming prior ownership of an idea in order to reshape it in one's own image is entirely conventional today.

But the whole issue of wealth distribution is debatable. P.J. O'Rourke's Cato Institute speech here is worth a read, but I think falls below his usual standard of argument.

A much more interesting argument, rooted in an understanding of technology, can be seen here:
Will technology increase the gap between rich and poor? It will certainly increase the gap between the productive and the unproductive. That's the whole point of technology. With a tractor an energetic farmer could plow six times as much land in a day as he could with a team of horses. But only if he mastered a new kind of farming.
...the rate at which technology increases our productive capacity is probably polynomial, rather than linear. So we should expect to see ever-increasing variation in individual productivity as time goes on. Will that increase the gap between rich and the poor? Depends which gap you mean.

Technology should increase the gap in income, but it seems to decrease other gaps. A hundred years ago, the rich led a different kind of life from ordinary people. They lived in houses full of servants, wore elaborately uncomfortable clothes, and travelled about in carriages drawn by teams of horses which themselves required their own houses and servants. Now, thanks to technology, the rich live more like the average person.
I'd like to propose an alternative idea: that in a modern society, increasing variation in income is a sign of health. Technology seems to increase the variation in productivity at faster than linear rates. If we don't see corresponding variation in income, there are three possible explanations: (a) that technical innovation has stopped, (b) that the people who would create the most wealth aren't doing it, or (c) that they aren't getting paid for it.
You need rich people in your society not so much because in spending their money they create jobs, but because of what they have to do to get rich. I'm not talking about the trickle-down effect here. I'm not saying that if you let Henry Ford get rich, he'll hire you as a waiter at his next party. I'm saying that he'll make you a tractor to replace your horse.
The interesting thing about this argument is that is understands the effect of technology as a lever, as a multiplier. In a technology-based economy, relatively equal distributions of wealth are a sign of ill health, not a desirable outcome. Technology boosts the standard of living of the poorest, but it boosts the wealth of the richest by a far greater factor. And that's fine - everyone is better off. The economy is not a zero sum game.

I'm not going to bad-mouth Polly Toynbee, that would be a redundant exercise since so many people have done it so well and so often elsewhere. Nor am I going to criticise the Conservative Party for their frantic re-positioning. It worked for New Labour. Successive election defeats demoralise political parties.

It is strange, though, to find myself contemplating voting Tory only if I believe they have been lying to gain electoral advantage.

No, no... that way lies madness. My brief excursion into UKIP territory ended when I realised that many of their members have a somewhat, ah... relaxed attitude to fascists. What we need, is a Libertarian Party that is willing to fight elections.

Sexual Assault on a Plane

So far as I can establish, there has never been a report of a sexual assault of a child by a man on a plane. I've tried google searches with various permutations of these words, with zero relevant results. I realise that isn't definitive proof, but I do think it suggests any such assaults, if they have happened, are vanishingly rare.

Fox News today carries a piece by Wendy McElroy, editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif.

...some airlines are going to treat your father, husband and son as sex offenders simply because they are male.


For example, in 2005, Mark Worsley had to change seats when a Qantas steward informed him that only women could sit next to unaccompanied children.
Ms McElroy is clear about the wrongness of what seems to be widespread policy among airlines:
Seating men as though they were sexual predators is a vicious and discriminatory practice that has no basis in fact or logic.
Just so. She gives a reason why we have reached this situation:
...over the course of decades, Western culture has so thoroughly identified maleness itself with violence and abuse that major airlines feel free to openly treat them as predators.
But how well-founded is this assumption? It's hard to find firm data on this, and, according to the Wikipedia entry for Child Sexual Abuse, there is significant professional disagreement about the ratio between the sexes of abusive behaviour:
Most reported offenders are male; the percentage of incidents of sexual abuse by female perpetrators is usually reported to be between 5%[2] and 20%[citation needed], though some studies have found it to be much higher.[citation needed]
There are reasons why it is difficult to be clear about this, and these reasons tend to cause an under-reporting of female sexual abuse.

Some years ago, I spent half a day with the Police Child Protection unit in Bow, East London. I was investigating an allegation of sexual abuse in a school there for a national newspaper. The Detective Inspector explained to me the difficulties of bringing prosecutions when the word of a child, in an adversarial court system, would not stand up well to that of an adult. Basically, they needed physical evidence before they could proceed.

Just think about that for a moment. It is difficult to establish whether or not anal penetration has occurred, as became apparent in the Cleveland Sexual abuse scandal in 1987. It is possible to establish whether a girl has ever been penetrated, by examination of the hymen, but not whether a boy has been masturbated or coerced into sexual activity himself. This means that evidentially, it is easier to establish that a girl has been raped than that the same has happened to a boy. This gives a bias towards the identification of female victims. But what of offenders?

Here, the bias is overwhelming. Only men leave behind DNA evidence that they were the assailant. It might be the case that more sex offenders are male than female, but a comparison of conviction rates cannot establish this.

I knew someone recently who worked in a children's home, a sort of alternative to a secure unit for severely maladjusted teenage girls, almost all of whom had been sexually assaulted as children. The plain fact is that in a society in which women normally assume custody of children in cases of relationship breakdown or child birth outside relationships, every child in care has a mother who is at best unable to cope and at worst abusive. Most of the girls in this unit had mothers who either directly sexually abused their daughters, or facilitated, or permitted abuse by other adults, usually men. I was astonished to discover that most of the children had been sexually assaulted directly by their mothers.

And in NONE of these cases had a conviction been secured.

There is a deeply unpleasant aspect of the human character that takes pleasure from the persecution and humiliation of others. We see it in racism. In part, it drives the current wave of liberal and Islamic anti-semitism. We see it is the extraordinary herding of smokers away even from the shelter of doorways; even if passive smoking were as dangerous as smoking directly, some dignity could be afforded those who are still addicted, but it is not.

And we see it in a certain attitude towards men. To suggest that an individual, and by extension all of his sex, is so dangerous that he may not even be seated next to a child, is an assault. It is humiliating, offensive, and just plain incorrect.

It also joins other similar attitudes to men in creating a far more dangerous society, one in which some young men, deprived of good male models, embrace this view of themselves, even developing specialised vocabularies for gang rape, and celebrating this in music.

It also closes the circle, joining the extreme ends, where left wing feminists and bearded, misogynistic clerics devote themselves to achieving sexual segregation. Having won back their children, after a strange couple of centuries in which they were seen as remote from them, men are now losing them all over again.

And children are losing their fathers, losing the help and protection of men. It is too late for Abigail Rae, who drowned in a village pond.
...a bricklayer had passed a toddler, believed to be Abigail, walking alone near the nursery.

But he did not stop to help in case he was suspected of abducting her.
Welcome to child protection, 21st Century style.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


I know all the stories already, because I've read a lot of his books, but Richard Feynman's recollections of the way his father taught him, in this 40 minute documentary still make me feel emotional.

Feynman senior was clearly a remarkable man and it's very plain from listening to the great physicist talk that he was profoundly influenced as a child by his father's approach. Knowing the name of a bird - or its name in every human language - tells you nothing about the bird, just about people and what they call it. "Now, let's look at the bird..."

If you haven't seen it already, there are worse ways to spend 40 minutes than watching this documentary.

Quietly going to war

Somehow, the BBC were unable to find space for these quotes in their recent radio series celebrating Iran.

We have a strategy drawn up for the destruction of Anglo-Saxon civilization... we must make use of everything we have at hand to strike at this front by means of our suicide operations or by means of our missiles. There are 29 sensitive sites in the U.S. and in the West. We have already spied on these sites and we know how we are going to attack them.
We are in the process of an historical war between the World of Arrogance [the West] and the Islamic world, and this war has been going on for hundreds of years...

...In this very grave war, many people are trying to scatter grains of desperation and hopelessness regarding the struggle between the Islamic world and the front of the infidels...

Is it possible for us to witness a world without America and Zionism? ...you had best know that this... goal [is] attainable...
It's an old post, but even so it's a must-read.

TIME for a change

How the mainstream media lie.

Saddam verdict reaction

It's worth getting an Iraqi perspective on this. Blog roundup from Iraq The Model.

Questions, questions

"To coincide with the start of Islam Awareness Week", Radio 5 Live asks Got a question about Islam? Some people do...

Sharia Law or English law, what one comes first?

As a muslim does Khalid understand that many people feel threatened by Islam because of the inflamatory rhetoric and extremist ideas that come from an alarming number of muslims in Britain... How can we battle this and to put it bluntly, gently erode the absolute importance of islam in many muslims' lives?

can you please explain why so mant(sic) muslims are mis-interperating islam?

is it true theres 123 verses in the koran that mentions killing in the name of allah?

do you reject modern science and believe the Koran when it says sperm originates from the mid-gut section of a man's body?

Do you know of any archeological inscription dated within 100 years of Muhammad's death where he is called a prophet? If so, please name it.

can you please show me the verse which orders women to cover thir fac (sic)?

When are we going to have a Hindu, Sikh or Jewish awareness week ?

The Bible defines a miracle as something that defies the laws of nature. Muslims claim the Koran is a miracle merely because it was allegedly transmitted perfectly without alteration and flaw till the second coming. Since the Harry Potter books will certainly be transmitted perfectly without alteration or flaw, and be around until the second coming, my question is: does this make the Harry Potter books a miracle like the Koran?

please explain ayisha being 6 years old.

Why dont Muslim blokes wear hijab/veil to please Allah?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Sign Again

Here's another to sign:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to scrap the proposed introduction of ID cards

And if you want to know why - or know why already but fancy a chillingly accurate glimpse of a future Britain - read How I Became An Official Zombie.

Via Tim Worstall

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Street is Ours

Googling for the Reclaim the Night marches of the 1970s, I came across this:

Herstory of Reclaim the Night

Reclaim the Night marches and rallies have traditionally been organised by collectives of unpaid women...
It's good to see a rebuke for all those people who have been paid to organise rallies and marches. But let's not get sidetracked.

The Street is Ours is a campaign organised in Egypt:
2005 witnessed the first group and public sexual harassment of women on the street in an attempt to intimidate the Kefaya movement, its women and men, and terrify them away from demonstrating and demanding democracy.
In 2006 they took the initiative and a launched their second collective and public sexual harassment of women in more than one location turning the days of the feast into hell for every woman who happened to be on the street seeking to celebrate the holidays. This time the harassment was protected by the police who were present. Between both incidents there are thousands of daily stories of harassment
Every time we hear some voices who blame the women for being the cause of that harassment, either because of what they wear or how they behave or even just for being out there, in the public space; an attitude which betrays the belief that streets, cinemas, playgrounds, and public spaces are there for men only.

But that is not the attitude of all Egyptians. Among Egyptians are women and men who look upon each other as human beings entitled to respect and freedom. In Egypt there are women and men who will not give up their right to freedom of movement and to be wherever they wish to be. Women and men who love life and believe that its beauty is incomplete in the absence of half of society. Among Egyptians are women and men who do not look upon women as bodies exhibited for their use, nor upon men as creatures led by their instincts. There are women and men who deal with each other as human beings, with all the humanity, respect for the other and love for freedom that this entails.

We are some of those women. We shall not desert the street and we shall not resort to exile ourselves inside our homes.. The street belongs to us and to each and every free spirit in this country.
They announced a rally:
We call upon everybody, women and men, to gather in front of the Metro Theater (one of the locations where the harassments took place)
Tuesday 14 November, at 3 p.m.,
to express our solidarity with the victims of harassment
to make a statement that the street is ours.
Nobody will terrify us away. Nobody will isolate us in our country.
Guess what happened.
I’m receiving news that Police is cracking down on the Cinema Metro demo. Plainclothes security agents are dispersing protestors and people away.
Five people, I heard, have been arrested inluding activist Nadia Mabrouk, Waleed Salah, a student from the AUC named Dina, a foreign journalist and an unnamed protestor.
Read the liveblog here, complete with photographs of police harassement and arrests of some of the demonstrators.

There's not much we can do from this side of the world, except offer our best wishes and support for this movement.

But that's what I'm doing. Sometimes, foreign awareness of these events helps. Sometimes, it is decisive. Mahmood's Den has been unblocked, after a campaign I was also proud to support. Let's hope that by spreading the word, we can help the brave Egyptian human rights campaigners.

Cheer Up

From the Telegraph:

Gordon Brown was booed last night as he presented a music award to 'fifth Beatle’ Sir George Martin in front of a star-studded audience.

Sign Up

Via EUReferendum, a referendum about a referendum on the PM's website...

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Offer the British people a referendum on continued membership of the European Union

Submitted by Alastair Terry – Deadline to sign up by:15 February 2007 – Signatures: 140
That's up from 65 signatures when I signed it, ten minutes ago.

The Enemy Within

You need infinite patience to be an MP like Michael Gove:

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): The Prime Minister will be aware that it has been reported that a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir is working as a senior official in the immigration and nationality directorate. Can the Prime Minister explain how that has come to pass and why he has not honoured his promise to proscribe that organisation?

The Prime Minister: The rules on proscription, of course, are one of the changes that we made. There is a process that has to be gone through and that process is being gone through. In relation to the particular newspaper story, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary tells me that he is looking at the circumstances and the facts. [ Interruption. ] I do not think that it would be right to do anything else, given that there is a particular individual concerned.

RIP Milton Friedman

1912 to 2006

Fundamentally, society's resources can be organized in only one of two ways, or by some mixture of them.

One way is by market mechanisms: from the bottom up. The other way is by command: from the top down.
Quoting him is invidious; there are so many jewels:
One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programmes by their intentions rather than their results.

Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned.

A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it ... gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.
After Lord Harris, a short while ago, this is another great loss.

The Giants are sleeping.

Peaceful Purposes

In today's Telegraph, we learn that:

Iran tried to obtain uranium from Somalia in return for supplying weapons to the anarchic country's Islamist movement, according to the United Nations.

Ethical Foreign Policy

The Canadian Coalition for Democracies informs me by email that:

For the first time in many years, a Canadian Prime Minister has declared that Canadian foreign policy will be set in Ottawa, not in Beijing. En route to the APEC conference in Hanoi, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters that Canada will not sell out human rights in response to threats of trade consequences by China.

"For both a practical and principled perspective, the Prime Minister has again done the right thing," said Alastair Gordon, President of the Canadian Coalition for Democracies (CCD). "With the balance of trade overwhelmingly from China to Canada, any trade restrictions imposed by Beijing would hurt China much more than Canada. On the import side, China needs our raw materials. On the export side, China would not risk losing the preferential tariffs that she enjoys on her manufactured goods."

"Furthermore, Canada's warming relationship with India, a manufacturing and technology giant with the entrepreneurship of free people in a democracy, further diminishes China's ability to threaten Canada," added Gordon.

"Our former government followed a foreign policy dictated by the overtly imperialistic One China Policy," said Naresh Raghubeer, Executive Director of CCD. "The future of Taiwan should be determined democratically by its 23 million people, not by an axis of foreign leaders."

"Prime Minster Harper has shown he is a tough negotiator. He does not cave to empty threats and has shown it is possible to be guided by Canadian values and still enjoy the prosperity of international trade," added Raghubeer.
How nice, to have a government with an ethical foreign policy.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sidney Reilly

I mentioned this man, the Ace of Spies in my last post, but one thing about him has always stayed in my mind.

Of course, nothing can be said with any certainty about Reilly. But one biography I read, years ago, had an exquisite and lingering interest. He was, it suggested, born in Odessa, now in the Ukraine, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and imbibed his White Russian zeal and his anti-semiticism with his mother's milk.

He became a spy for the British, and in the First World War carried out such daring coups as waylaying a German staff car, killing the occupants, dressing as the senior officer and carrying on to a vital secret meeting, carrying it off perfectly. It was said he was a model for James Bond.

But the bit that stuck in my mind was that, as a virulent anti-semite, he discovered as a young man that his father was in fact a travelling Jewish doctor. This didn't make him Jewish, since Jewish descent is traced down the maternal line, but it did give him Jewish blood. And it deepened his anti-semitism.

How did that mind twist upon itself?

Another Vietnam

"Is Iraq Another Vietnam? Actually, It May Become Worse", said commondreams.org in April 2004. The piece concludes:

The danger now is that in his desperation to “avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat,” the repudiation of his entire presidency, and a generation-long disdain for U.S. military power, Bush will resort to apocalyptic barbarism.
The Apocalypse is, at the moment, the province of the rhetoric of the Iranian president, and barbarism has largely been that of Iraqis, as it has turned out. Ahmamadbastard dreams of his seventh Imam, while in Iraq children are abducted and tortured, with electric drills turning their eyes, elbows and knees into abominations, after which they are decapitated.

No doubt we, and the Americans, are to blame for this. But there has still been some barbarism from the US military, as a consequence of which we have all become familiar with the name Abu Ghraib. It is hard to find a parallel for Guantanamo Bay in the Second World War though, in fairness, it's difficult to use Spandau Prison as a comparison for anything in Iraq.

This is not to say that commentators, especially from the left, have found it hard to draw comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam more generally. Of course, Vietnam is a symbol we children of the 'sixties are familiar with, so perhaps it is unsurprising that it springs to so many lips. Michael Herr's Dispatches was the book Hunter S. Thompson wished he'd written. The sound of a helicopter was the only sound Herr knew that was both sharp and dull at the same time and nobody made the incoming helicopters, the grunts waiting for death, the empty beer bottles in trenches on beseiged hills as real as Herr.

According to Amazon.com (preceding link), people who bought that book also bought A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo which, by a strange coincidence, I was reading in the bath this evening.

Somewhere between 1946 and 1975, a change took place in the psychology of America's military. This isn't limited to America, but it's more pronounced there. Perhaps it began in the jungles of the Second World War. Certainly, by Vietnam, it was developing roots. As Caputo puts it in his preface:
Whether committed in the name of principles or out of vengeance, atrocities were as common to the Vietnamese battlefields as shell craters or barbed wire. The marines in our brigade were not innately cruel, but on landing at Danang they learned quickly that Vietnam was not a place where a man could expect much mercy if, say, he was taken prisoner. And men who do not expect to receive mercy eventually lose their inclination to grant it.
This is true in Iraq, in fact it is true in all our confrontations with Islamists. But to continue:
... the feeling that the enemy was everywhere, the inability to distinguish civilians from combatants created emotional pressures which built to such a point that a trivial provocation could make these men explode with the blind destructiveness of a mortar shell.
Out there, lacking restraints, sanctioned to kill, confronted by a hostile country and a remorseless enemy, we sank into a brutish state. The descent could be checked only by the net of a man's inner moral values, the attribute that is called character. There were a few - and I suspect Lieutenant Calley was one - who had no net and plunged all the way down, discovering in their bottommost depths a capacity for malice they probably never suspected was there.
I'm sure this was always true in war. But the experience of Vietnam, combined with the simultaneous but longer lived Cold War, led to a normalisation of unorthodox military tactics. Indeed, we have seen it at the movies and all now know what "wet work" means.

The phrase probably come from the Russian, “mokrie dela”, and from the KGB - though it has also been attributed to the CIA and, perhaps inevitably, Mossad. It's certainly true that Mossad has conducted some very unorthodox actions, though never quite going so far as the French bombing of a Greenpeace ship in the territory of a friendly country, New Zealand.

While Sidney Reilly pre-dated all these, the idea that conflict justifies unorthodox methods has only become mainstream, and a part of the repertory of orthodox armies, in the past half century. And this is a Bad Thing.

Radical Islam is vastly weak, far weaker than people seem to assume. Radical Islamist states make nothing, do nothing, know nothing. They transform capable people into vicious morons. If we can manage to prevent our fascist sympathisers and appeasers from surrendering before we win, we will win. We need to have an eye to that victory, one that will include everyone presently within the compass of radical Islam.

We need to ensure that, in winning, we do not take on too many of the vices of our foes, if only because if they manage to change us to too great a degree, they will have won regardless of the apparent outcome.

Over the past half-century, that has happened to too great a degree. We cannot combine the ruthlessness of the Stasi with the sadism of the Viet Cong and WWII era Japanese, and ice it all with the contempt for human life of the Islamists, and still be the people we deserve to be - and in that "we" I include Saudis, Iranians, Afghanis, as well as Europeans and Australians and Americans.

So while it has been fun to hear James Caan talking about "wet work" in Arnie movies, it's time for a reaction against this trend. The only way Iraq could become another Vietnam would be in the viciousness of Allied actions, and that must not happen.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Away for weekend, comments moderated temporarily, to starve the trolls.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Change the Law

In response to the acquittal of the BNP leader Nick Griffin, Gordon Brown, Prime Minister in waiting, said:

I think any preaching of religious or racial hatred will offend mainstream opinion in this country.

And I think we have got to do whatever we can to root it out from whatever quarter it comes.

And if that means we have got to look at the laws again I think we will have to do so.
So far as I can make out, Griffin and his co-accused argued they were not guilty of inciting racial hatred because they were speaking specifically about Muslims, not Hindus, and so there was no racial component in their words. Brown implies this means we need to extend the protection afforded to races to religions.

In fact, we need to remove it from races. This is very simple indeed. The only valid restrictions in this area concern treason and incitement to violence and in either case, words are not the issue. National security and violence, respectively, are.

The United States of America enjoys a constitutional protection for free speech, and has also enjoyed a renaissance in racial relations over the past half century. Imperfect though this still is, it was not the consequence of laws that could potentially be abused by maniacs like Yvonne Ridley who, after the bill to introduce a law against incitement to religious hatred fell tried to use the race laws to protect her vile political opinions, saying "my religion is my race, and insulting my religion is racism". In fact, her religion is an intrinsic part of her political platform and if we can't criticise that, even in ways she feels are insulting, then we have lost democracy.

White Aryan Resistance seem the losers and cretins they are, while Martin Luther King stands as an example of dignified humanity for us all, of every colour. That is how arguments are won, that is the proper battleground of ideas. If anyone believes that when a court finds someone not guilty, even if it finds the accused repellent, because they find the evidence does not justify a conviction, this is anything other than a vindication of our legal system, they do not deserve to be in public life.

The BNP people were brought to trial, as my earlier post suggests, for political reasons. When politicians can convict people they find convenient to scapegoat, we will be in a Kafkaesque situation. To suggest that the law should be changed to facilitate this is a disgrace.

And our kleptocratic, rancid, failing Chancellor is a disgrace.

Creating Saddam

It has been said, often, that Saddam was our creation. Rumsfeld sold arms to him. Britain sold arms to him. We armed him then attacked him.

Other bloggers have picked up on this, but it bears repeating. Harry's Place mentioned an analysis of Saddam's arms purchases between 1973 and 1990, carried out by those raving Neo-Cons, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute:

Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact 68.9%
France 12.7%
China 11.8%
USA 0.5%
The UK's supplies were so few they aren't even on the map.

What was it Galloway said? Ah yes:
I am on the anti-imperialist left... If you are asking did I support the Soviet Union, yes I did. Yes, I did support the Soviet Union, and I think the disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life. If there was a Soviet Union today, we would not be having this conversation about plunging into a new war in the Middle East, and the US would not be rampaging around the globe.
Perhaps, with the benefit of continued arms supplies from the USSR, Saddam would by now have been able to ensure that the war was not in the Middle East, but rather in Europe.

It's almost worth remarking, in passing, on the irony of a member of the "anti-imperialist left" speaking about his support for the Soviet empire. But then, this is Galloway. Irony is the thing he gets his maid to press his shirties with.

Far right

It takes a very special kind of idiot to put the leader of the British National Party in the right. But we have that kind of idiot.

The final decision to prosecute the pair was taken by Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, the day after Labour called the last General Election.

The Daily Telegraph understands there were concerns among some senior police officers about being called in to investigate on the basis of a BBC documentary which is thought to have cost £3300,000(sic) to produce.

It presented the BNP with a "win-win" prospect, that if its members were jailed they would go down as martyrs and if they were cleared it would be presented as a vindication of its policies.

Runsfeld's Vindication

Al Quaeda has rushed out a statement mocking Donald Rumsfeld's departure, so he can enjoy his retirement in the knowledge that he really, really got to them.

Meanwhile, Blair has chimed in after the head of MI6 spoke of the huge number of Islamist plots in the UK.

Strangely, Al Quaeda didn't feel the need to issue any statements about European anti-terrorism figureheads.

Egyptian Videos

Here's one of girls being assaulted by a large crowd in downtown Cairo this January - showing that the Eid assaults were not a one-off.

And here's one of a man being anally raped with a police truncheon while in custody.

From The Big Pharaoh, who is looking forward to a reformation.

Through the Looking Glass

This title is in fact rather unjust, as I hope to explain, but at first sight these are strange days indeed. This morning I saluted a post by Ali Eteraz in which he continued a theme he has been developing, that there is no punishment, let alone the death penalty, prescribed in Islam for apostasy. As I quoted earlier, he argues:

... there is no Quranic basis for an EARTHLY punishment for apostasy. (Maududi tried to find one but he failed). As such, the death penalty for apostasy is rooted in the hadith. Within the three links above, the single most important apostasy hadith, and a couple of corollary hadith, have been discredited. It becomes really difficult, in light of this information, to persuasively argue that Islamic Law should permit a death penalty for apostasy.

Now, the issue is to spread these opinions so more people i.e. Muslims can get out of their ignorance.
As the guardian apostate has commented here, Robert Spencer of Jihadwatch has disputed Eteraz's argument. As the apostate put it:
I've been a keen observer of the numerous exchanges between Dean Esmay, the poster on his site Ali Eteraz and Robert Spencer it seems to me that Robert Spencer 'wins' hands down. More importantly, as Robert Spencer points out, it's the wider Islamic community that really need convincing and Mr Eteraz's article seems unlikely to do that.
I am always grateful for the comments of the guardian apostate, but in this case I think he has it wrong.

However, this is where my title comes from. On the face of it, we have Robert Spencer, a courageous opponent of radical Islam who has to live in hiding because of his activism, trying to deny an influential reforming Muslim who is advancing an argument against the persecution of apostates that, as Spencer puts it,
... is just the sort of thing that we need to see, right? Islamic arguments against the death penalty for apostasy! Here then is a small sign of the Islamic reform that everyone (except those who believe that Islam is essentially peaceful and needs no reform) wants to see, right?
The repeated use of the interrogative "right?" alerts the attentive reader to the fact that Mr Spencer is sceptical. The use of the word "small", as in "small sign of ... Islamic reform" is strange; the penalty for apostasy is so fundamental a breach of human rights, and so powerful a driver of persecution and violence, that if Eteraz were to be at all successful with his argument he would deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.

Basically, to cut through the long arguments, Spencer thinks that Eteraz is mistaken in his theological arguments - almost suggesting there is deliberate intent to deceive:
Click on the link again. It's a hadith about giving the apostate a chance to repent -- not about the death penalty for apostasy itself. Does Eteraz think people will not click on his links? Moreover, he asserts that the death penalty for apostasy contradicts the Qur'an -- funny how all the many Islamic jurists who have upheld the death penalty for apostasy over the centuries, in all the schools of Islamic law, never seem to have noticed that.
What is Spencer's point?
The problem, of course, is not that I am not convinced. It is that no Muslim who can read and check Eteraz's links will be convinced. No one who believes in the death penalty for apostasy will be convinced. And they are the ones who need to be convinced.
The dispute between Robert Spencer and Eteraz (and his fellow bloggers) has some antecedents and they both descend to ad hominems easily now. There has been a response to Spencer's response, to which Spencer has responded, and in passing commented:
The view of Mr. Eteraz is an unorthodox, minority view, by the explicit words of the scholar who supports it, quoted above. I do hope it wins out, but if it were convincing to Muslims, you would see the schools of jurisprudence setting aside the death penalty for apostasy. Instead, all we have seen recently is its furious reassertion, in the Abdul Rahman case.
No doubt this will continue for a while. I can't help feeling, though, that the only constructive thing Spencer is doing is lending credibility, through his opposition, to Eteraz, and this is a small mercy. In the process he is, I think, misunderstanding what reformation is, and what a Muslim reformation might look like. To play with word substitution:
The problem, of course, is not that I am not convinced. It is that no Christian who can read and check Luther's arguments will be convinced. No one who believes in the traditional papal and ecclesiastical practises with which he takes issue will be convinced. And they are the ones who need to be convinced.
If Ali Eteraz and his associates were walking in the theological mainstream of their religion there would be no reason to mention the word "reform", and the same applied to Martin Luther.

Reformation necessarily, intrinsically, requires a re-evaluation of theological interpretations and teachings. That's not a problem, it's the whole point.

In a response to Spencer, Eteraz says:
Robert Spencer also states that I face an uphill battle on the issue of apostasy. I agree, partly, but only partly. Scholars of enormous weight, like Shahrour, An-Naim, Moosa, Mernissi, Kamali, Ramadan, all oppose the death penalty for apostasy. Tomorrow there will be one less Muslim who believes in the death penalty for apostates because of their work.
Bravo, Ali Eteraz.

Abdul Rahman has been persecuted in Afghanistan, a country in which the most extreme and hateful version of Islam is widespread, a country in which schoolteachers are murdered for educating girls. I happen to think there are a lot of problems with every version of Islam, but I would have said that of Robert Spencer's Catholicism four hundred years ago. Even so, Afghanistan is, fortunately, an untypical example. Why, then, raise it?

Fights tend to polarise, and it can become difficult, for a combatant, to see any good in their opponent. I think Spencer is in this particular pit right now. This is why the title of this post is unfair. To see an opponent of fundamentalist, supremacist Islam taking issue with a reformer is not a glimpse through the looking glass; it is all too common.

Fraud Prevention

This was said to be the main point of the new chip and pin credit and debit cards. Remember the bad old days of paper transactions, when staff at businesses where you had used a credit card could salvage the carbons from the bin and copy your signature? We've moved on a long way from there. All they have to do now is go into the till history, copy your credit card number and pin, and spend, spend, spend.

The Devil's Kitchen has the details:

Up to 40 minutes after any Chip & PIN card transaction, the retailer may access your confidential details [this includes your card number and your PIN number] and submit any number of further transactions without your presence or consent. This is perfectly legal practice. The onus is then on the customer to challenge these subsequent transactions with their bank, once the customer actually becomes aware of them.

Personally, I just can't wait for I.D. cards to be introduced.

Treasury Waste

The Telegraph today reports that George Osborne, Shadow Chancellor, has highlighted Treasury profligacy. Last year, they spent:

  • £178,000 on taxi fares

  • £173,599 on bookings for conferences that were cancelled

  • £258,000 on stationery

  • £14,000 on pot plants and flowers

  • £96,000 on newspapers and magazines

  • £400,000 on train tickets

  • £755,000 on airline

  • £596,000 on other travel costs for ministers, civil servants and special advisers

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Freedom of conscience

This is extremely important.

But hold on a moment. Whoah there. First things first.

People often say that Islam needs a Reformation. Sometimes they mean that Islam needs to become less, well... Islamic. The early Protestant reformers who risked, and sometimes suffered, burning at the stake were not exactly half-hearted in their Christianity. So it is with Reformist Muslims. And Eteraz is a case in point.

You might be - indeed I am - often bored with the religious discussion on this blog, but essential skimming it is, at the very least. What we have here is good people, with good hearts, and a deep attachment to their religion and their identity, debating the important points of our time from a reformist Islamic perspective. Personally, I dislike their identity politics immensely. But that's tough for me. That's what they do and I'm not going to change it.

What I can do, though, is trumpet to the skies as they advance the humane and decent motivations that are in their hearts, and that's what I'm doing right now.

So, back to the extremely important news. One of the real problems with Islam is the approach to apostasy. Apostasy is, at root, just freedom of conscience. If someone is born into a Muslim background, but just doesn't believe, or believes in something else, the sentence is death.

Or is it?

Not according to the post I linked to earlier and am prepared to link to again.

And I'm hugely encouraged by the title of their post: "Another Apostasy Hadith Revealed". Basically, they are contending that:

there is no Quranic basis for an EARTHLY punishment for apostasy. (Maududi tried to find one but he failed). As such, the death penalty for apostasy is rooted in the hadith. Within the three links above, the single most important apostasy hadith, and a couple of corollary hadith, have been discredited. It becomes really difficult, in light of this information, to persuasively argue that Islamic Law should permit a death penalty for apostasy.

Now, the issue is to spread these opinions so more people i.e. Muslims can get out of their ignorance.
As I have been repeatedly attacked for pointing out, Muslims are our neighbours and friends, and we have to live with them.

It's very easy to live with people like the Eteraz bloggers.

Maybe, baby

There's been a lot of debate about Donald Rumsfeld's departure, so much I won't even bother to link to examples. You've seen them; and you can well-known-search-engine for them if you haven't. He has been a divisive figure in some ways. I think that's what being straightforward gets you (yes, you guessed it, I like Rumsfeld though that doesn't mean I think he's right about everything). But I haven't seen this idea suggested yet:

Perhaps the US strategy in Iraq wasn't wrong, as such. Obviously, with hindsight, there are a lot of things to criticise. But Vietnam and Stalingrad haven't happened; we face something new here.

Maybe the problem is that dealing with the unhealed sore that was sanctioned, no-fly-zoned, UN runaround, sectarian, splintered, damaged, adventure-playground-for-terrorists Iraq is difficult. And maybe we're just not up for difficult things.

I say "we" in a vague sort of sense. Some of us are. A lot of that "us" is in the military but not all, and not all the military is in that particular boat. But maybe - just maybe - there's a hard few years ahead right now. Maybe countries like Iraq aren't just going to fall over like dominoes and become havens of boulevard-strolling harmony. Maybe we're going to have to work at it.

And maybe that isn't the point. It's only going to get more difficult, if we leave it.

The Green Fields of France

The Christian think-tank Ekklesia is unafraid to take what it believes to be the right line on any issue even when it is controversial, and that is a virtue. To declare a small personal interest, they supported the March for Free Expression I was involved with last March. They are in the news now because they have suggested people should wear white poppies instead of the more conventional red ones.

A degree of 'political correctness' - behaviour calculated to provide a minimum of offence - may, however, be holding people back from exploring alternatives says [Jonathan] Bartley [director of Ekklesia].

The idea of an alternative white poppy dates back to 1926, just a few years after the red poppy came to be used in Britain. A member of the No More War Movement suggested that the British Legion be asked to imprint 'No More War' in the centre of the red poppies.

This did not happen, so in 1933 the Co-operative Women's Guild produced the first white poppies to be worn on Armistice Day (later called Remembrance Day). The Guild stressed that the white poppy was not intended as an insult to those who died in the First World War - a war in which many of the women lost husbands, brothers, sons and lovers. The following year the Peace Pledge Union joined in the distribution of the poppies and later took over their annual promotion.
It is interesting to see the phrase "political correctness" used in this way. I think many people would see the white poppy as an example of P.C. - especially if political correctness is defined, more properly in my opinion, as the deliberate manipulation of language and symbols, designed to affect and alter the way people think.

Meanwhile the Pub Philosopher has been keeping track of poppy wearing and comments on Ekklesia's assertion:
For me, the poppy is about showing gratitude to the people who have fought to defend our freedom and our way of life. It is not about glorifying war. Most people, especially former soldiers, know that war is a horrible and messy business. Unfortunately it is sometimes necessary to go to war, not for redemption but for survival. I give money and wear my red poppy at this time of year because it is the least I can do to show my appreciation.

I find the assertion that red poppies glorify war insulting and I hope that people send a message to the muddle-headed do-gooders by going out and buying more red poppies.
I hope the Pub Philosopher isn't drinking when he sees that
An 85-year-old woman, whose first husband died in the Second World War, has been ejected from a station for selling poppies.

Though Lillian Rood has been selling poppies at Hainault underground station in Essex each year for the past 27 years, she was ordered to leave last week by a new and "intimidating" station manager.
London Underground has apologised, but the fact that this could have happened is a sign of the times.

As a teenager in the 1970s, I was an army cadet and attended the Remembrance Day Parade every year, with great, and slightly surprising, pride. Then I drifted to the left and by the mid-eighties I had stopped wearing a poppy altogether. I never saw anyone selling white poppies but if I had, I'd probably have bought one.

Ekklesia put their case like this:
Speaking to the BBC and other media outlets, Ekklesia co-directors Jonathan Bartley and Simon Barrow said that annual occasions of remembrance were a good time to discuss whether war as an instrument of policy really does bring freedom and a more secure world.

“If you believe that those who serve in the armed forces are defending freedom, then freedom to consider alternative perspectives is surely part of what you stand for”, Bartley commented.
I think I'd have gone along with that in 1985.

Then, one day in 1986, I was drinking in a back bar in Glasgow. In this Protestant - sorry, staunchly Protestant - bar, one Catholic man drank regularly. That day he was there, sitting at the bar, crying. I went over and asked what was wrong. He told me he was crying because he had been to see his mother and she had been crying. It was the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, and she always wept on the anniversary of that terrible battle.

All three of her brothers had been killed on the same day, but the telegrams had arrived at two week intervals. It had taken a full month for the dreadful truth to be, agonisingly, revealed.

This is such a simple thing, but it took that incident for me to understand it fully, as an adult. Poppies are worn for several reasons. The sales help veterans financially. Making them gives some veterans the pride of earning for themselves even though many are terribly damaged. They are a way of saying "thank you" to people who suffered, not always voluntarily or willingly, in the course of struggles that have left us a free and humane society.

But at the very heart of the thing, poppies are bought and worn as a small gesture of respect, a recognition of loss, a sympathy with grieving. They are not about us and our opinions. There are other ways to express ideas about conflict resolution or pacifism. Poppies are about that man sitting at a bar in Glasgow, crying, and they are about his old mother, who had cried every year for seventy years and would keep crying, every year, until she died.

And they are about her brothers, who must have been little more than teenagers, but were slaughtered in a muddy wasteland in France that had once been green fields and which, after the gunfire faded, would be covered again with grass, and with the frail, spindly, delicate beauty of countless red poppies, moving gently in the breeze.

I bought a poppy in 1986, and I have done so every year since. I buy lots of poppies; I fitted a big one to my car radiator this morning. And much as I like contrarians, I cannot help but feel, deep within me, a contempt for anyone who cannot bring themselves to do the same, and not buy a white poppy as well, as some have suggested. This is not a debate. It is a funeral.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

You're sacked

Oh dear. I'm cross again. Some swearing follows...

Milton Freedman suggested there were four ways money can be spent, in declining order of effectiveness:

1. Your own money on yourself - you want to get the best result at the least cost.

2. Your own money on someone else - you may or may not want to get the best result, depending on the circumstances, and you want it at the least cost.

3. Someone else's money on yourself - you want to get the best result, and you may or may not want the least cost.

4. Someone else's money on someone else - you may or may not want to get the best result, depending on the circumstances, and you may or may not want the least cost.

Sometimes the outcome of 4. is that you can't be bothered about the cost, or the result, but you're going to make sure you're farting through silk while you do it.

Burning Our Money reports a session of the Public Accounts Committee, questioning Jonathan Stephens, DCMS Permanent Secretary and principal departmental accounting officer

They quote at length and I'm going to do so too so even those who can't be bothered to click through can see what our cash is being spent on, and the level of accountability that exists. Now, this man works for me, he's paid by my taxes and I'm sacking him. Go on, fuck off.

Oh, that's right. I can't sack him. He's fucking untouchable.

Q68 Greg Clark: Mr. Stephens, why does the Football Licensing Authority, which employs six staff, need an office costing £180,000 a year?

Mr. Stephens: That certainly is an outlier. I understand that it has, for a small number of staff, comparatively large meeting and conference facilities used for meetings. A number of other staff of the Football Licensing Authority work from home.

Q69 Greg Clark: There are six inspectors who occasionally use it for meetings. Is it acceptable, in your view, that an organisation employing six people and six peripatetic inspectors needs an office costing £180,000 a year?

Mr. Stephens: If there is scope for significant savings-

Greg Clark: Do you think it is justified?

Mr. Stephens: It is easy to look at accommodation costs, but, as the report brings out, to realise savings within those costs is a very different matter.

Q70 Greg Clark: That was not the question, Mr. Stephens... Do you think that that represents value for money?

Mr. Stephens: Well, I am-and I am responsible for value for money across the whole of the DCMS's spend.

Greg Clark: But specifically, does that offer value for money?

Mr. Stephens: Realising savings depends on when-

Greg Clark: I have not mentioned savings, Mr. Stephens.

Mr. Stephens: I am very happy to look at that.

Greg Clark: I do not want you to look at it; I want you, as accounting officer, to tell me whether £180,000 a year in rent for the Football Licensing Authority represents value for money. You are the accounting officer; I assume you have a view on it.

Mr. Stephens: Well-

Greg Clark: Yes or no? Is it value for money?

Mr. Stephens: Let me explain the background. The cost is particularly high because the staff complement has recently fallen from nine to six.

Greg Clark: From nine to six!

Mr. Stephens: That is a reduction of one third in the complement. The accommodation includes a large meeting room that is used regularly by the board, the inspectors, football authorities and so on.

Q72 Greg Clark: Are not meeting rooms available in most offices?

Mr. Stephens: It is a matter of proportion to the staff employed.

Q73 Greg Clark: We are not getting anywhere on this. It is a simple question: does it offer value for money? As accounting officer, will you tell the Committee whether it does: yes or no?

Mr. Stephens: I am satisfied that the Football Licensing Authority is currently discharging its responsibilities properly and is giving value for money.

Greg Clark: So you are unable to say, as accounting officer for an organisation under your command-

Mr. Stephens: That does not mean that there is not scope for improvements going forward. As a new accounting officer I am keen to use this report to secure improvements in value for money.

Q74 Greg Clark: As you are new to the post, there is all the more reason for you to be able to answer straightforwardly. You did not negotiate the lease, I am sure. Does it not therefore strike you-with a fresh pair of eyes-as it strikes me and perhaps other Committee members, that £180,000 for an organisation that has six people working in it is excessive, and is a waste of money?

Mr. Stephens: It is an outlier.

Greg Clark: And it is the outlier that I am asking about. Surely if it is an outlier you are able to express an opinion about it.... We are time-limited, so let me ask you another question: can you tell me where the office is?

Mr. Stephens: No, I do not know, I am afraid.

Chairman: There must be somebody behind who does.

Mr. Stephens: We can certainly write to you to let you know.

Chairman: Come on, tell us. You have all these civil servants there, tell us where the office is.

Q76 Greg Clark: Can I tell you where it is? It is in Cavendish Square, W1. Can you explain why the Football Licensing Authority, which, as far as I understand, licenses football stands and stadiums for health and safety compliance, needs to be in one of the most prestigious and expensive locations in London?

Mr. Stephens: I cannot tell you the basis for the original decision.
Outlier? OUTLIER??? What the fuck does that mean, you complacent cunt?

How about: "Yes, that's indefensible, I'll sort it out immediately"?

How about: "My word, yes. People are taxed into bankruptcy to fund this sort of excess. Heads will roll"?

How about a single, solitary straight answer from a civil servant about government waste and excess just once, in my lifetime?

I know. I've lost you there, rambling into fantasy.

Essay of the year

I just encountered the blog Eject Eject Eject:

You're a former Liberal.

Your worldview has just been hit by heat seeking reality and you're on fire and out of control...

There's a great, wide-ranging essay going online and part one is in your cinemas now.

Sample, from a passage debunking popular bumper stickers:
No Blood for Oil!

Sometimes, the best way to examine a radical assertion is to assume that it is correct and examine the likely consequences. For example, proponents of the Loch Ness Monster assert that there is a surviving plesiosaur lurking in the murky depths of a Scottish lake. We are then drawn into endless discussion of distant wakes and grainy photos and claims of hoaxes, etc. But if you cut to the chase, so to speak, and grant the premise, where does that leave you? Plesiosaurs are air-breathing reptiles that have to daily consume massive amounts of fish to survive. There are essentially no fish in Loch Ness. Does it order out for pizza? Also, as an air breather, we would not have a surface sighting once or twice a decade, but hundreds of times a day. If you grant the premise of an air-breathing dinosaur the entire proposition becomes ridiculous, not on the basis of the evidence, but on the monumental lack of evidence supporting the idea.

Likewise with a “war for oil.” What would a real "war for oil" look like? Well, US troops would have sped to the oilfields with everything we had. Everything we had. Then, secure convoy routes would have been established to the nearest port – probably Basra – and the US Navy would essentially line the entire gulf with wall-to-wall warships in order to ensure the safe passage of US-flagged tankers into and out of the region.

There would have been no overland campaign – what for? – and no fight for Baghdad. Fallujah and Mosul and all those other trouble spots would never even see an American boot. Why? No oil there. The US Military would do what it is extraordinarily well-trained to do: take and hold a very limited area, and supply secure convoys to and from this limited area on an ongoing basis. Saddam could have stayed if he wanted: probably would have saved us a lot of trouble, and the whole thing would have become a sort of super no-fly zone over the oil fields, ports and convoy routes, and the devil take the rest of it. Sadr City IED deaths? Please. What the f**k does Sadr City have that we need?

That’s what a war for oil would look like. It’s entirely possible that such an operation could have been accomplished and maintained without a single American fatality.

We have lost thousands killed and wounded because they are being blown up as they continue to provide security, electrical and water services, schools and hospitals to a land ravaged by three decades of fear, torture and barbarism. It is the American presence in the cities, providing security and some semblance of order for Iraqi citizens, that has cost us so many lives. If we are going to be tarred and slandered and pay the public relations price for “stealing Iraqi oil,” then the least we can do is go in and actually steal some of it, instead of dying to protect that resource for the use of the Iraqi people. Which is what is happening, because, as usual, there is not a shred of evidence to the contrary, no matter how many imbeciles hold up signs and dance around in giant papier–mache heads.