Saturday, 17 February 2007
I put this blog entry to bed yesterday before the text of David Cameron's speech became available. Well, reading it now, I'm impressed. Just so long as we remember that it's not enough that families and communities are big; the State must also be small. And shrinking it goes strongly against the grain of most politicians.
First Lord of the Admiralty, Admiral Sir Jonathon Band KCB ADC, was widely reported yesterday as saying 'Give me two carriers and an extra billion a year and I'll get off your backs'. Clearly this is yet another example of how having lunch adversely affects peoples' hearing. The MOD website tells us what he actually said was 'I'm deeply grateful to this government for all the wonderful new ships and funding they've given to the Navy, and it would be churlish to ask for any more'. His reported warning that '..these cuts will turn the Fleet into the Belgian Navy' was also misreported. He actually said 'these investments will turn the Fleet into a better Navy'. Sir Jonathon is expected to announce his retirement within the year.
The First Sea Lord is clearly as nervous about the soon-to-be-announced results of the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review as are his brother defence chiefs. Deep and swingeing defence cuts are widely predicted. Now, I've no idea whether we need carriers rather than destroyers or submarines, but I suspect we're probably equipping to fight the wrong enemy. We usually are.
What I do know is that the UK is still reliant on imports for 50% of its food. A former intelligence chief was quoted as saying that that the country is permanently 'two meals away from anarchy'. Around 90% of our trade - still our life's blood - is carried by sea. And if the doom mongers' predictions for global warming are correct, tens of millions of people will be migrating Northwards, and not only from Africa. If Spain continues its progress back to being a waterless desert we could also be saying 'Hola!' to lots of new Iberian friends with boats.
And what I fear is that politicians will continue to make decisions characteristic of a civilisation in collapse; like Roman emperors promising ever increasing amounts of free grain and oil to their citizens as the empire was being eaten away. Our current welfare budget, excluding pensions, is about £80bn. Our defence budget is £30bn. It needs a superlative act of political courage to correct this insanity. Frank Field was ready to have a go, but Blair lacked the courage and Brown sees cuts in welfare as inimical to his game plan of hooking as many of the electorate as possible into State Welfare dependency.
CSR 2007 is going to depress me every bit as much as it will the First Sea Lord.
Friday, 16 February 2007
The ascendency of Leviathan - the modern runaway political Total State - dates to the French revolution. The French revolutionary republic, in the name of good, and for the welfare of the people, attempted to be all things to its citizens. It also refused to countenance any intermediary body or affiliation between the individual and the state. Rousseau opposed even the family, reasoning that its abolition by the state would have the virtue of separating children from the wrong-headed notions of their fathers. The late Robert Nisbet commented that 'the war between family and state is very old in human history' and that as a rule there is an inversely functional relation between the two institutions; when one is strong, the other is generally weak.
In his 1953 classic 'The Quest for Community' Nisbet warns that the greatest social and political problem of our time is the deterioration of “intermediate association” and the growth and consolidation of a goliath state, the fingers of which touch and direct every man. Put differently, modern history has swept away the hoary communities of kin, region, and faith, and into the vacuum has come the total state.
Revolt has trumped tradition, and the price is paid daily with distinctively modern pathologies such as social isolation, moral uncertainty, and personal anxiety. True freedom, Nisbet insists, is not found in the empty spaces of an omnipotent state, but in a pluralistic society where a variety of social groups and institutions intermediate to the individual and the central state have real functions or responsibilities and, by definition, enough autonomy to carry them out, thus offering individuals a sense of purpose, identity, and belonging. The continual weakening of human association bonded by kinship, ethnicity, faith, work, locality, voluntarism, private pursuit, or shared interest by a jealous, power-hungry state creates what Nisbet calls “loose individuals.” These are untethered or atomized souls drifting from the safe harbor of community into the torrents of an impersonal, bureaucratized state that cannot, from its elevated seat of vertical power, replace the intermediary social bonds and moral community it has dissolved in ever pressing its claim for still greater responsibility for each of its subjects or citizens.
The obsession of the modern state, here in Europe perhaps more than anywhere, with equalities, rights, freedoms, multiculturalism and diversity actually rob the individual of the freedom to seek and form alliances and social institutions that have both authority and effectiveness. The modern citizen has become the casualty of an increasingly interventionist, paternalistic state always seeking to increase its power and influence for the sake of 'the Public Good'.
As the body of a third violated child lies today in a south London mortuary it is too simple to cast as the murderer some other loose child who pulled the trigger. It is even too simple to blame this, as David Cameron has done, unconditionally on the rise in illegitimacy and the absence of fathers. For all those of us who have condoned, promoted, connived or accepted the Leviathan of the modern state, and all those of us who naively condemn the murders as a failure of government and call for more police, longer sentences or greater state intervention and control, we are all complicit in this death.
Trying to get a flatpack table in the boot, spare a thought for these blokes. They carry anything from pranged warships to oil rigs. They also run a shuttle service to carry shiploads of yachts back to Europe from the Caribbean every year in advance of the hurricane season.
They're a Netherlands firm. Natch.
I reckon they could fit about 200 Raedwalds on that deck.
Ahem, the Mighty Servant 3 shown in the pic unfortunately sank off the Angolan coast after offloading a rig. She is currently resting in about 60m of water and Dockwise have recently appointed SMIT Salvage to salvage her. Let's hope they succeed. Many thanks to Martin for the heads-up.
Thursday, 15 February 2007
It is reported this morning that German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to use Germany's EU presidency to introduce a Europe-wide law outlawing Holocaust denial. The Second World War was about the costliest war in history - claiming some 62 million lives in total, military and civilian.
What retains the capacity to chill the soul is the operation of the extermination camps; Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Majdanek and Auschwitz B. Truly the banality of evil. And although the Jewish victims of Nazism make up less than 10% of the war's casualties, it is the method of their deaths that must remain as a lesson for all mankind.
This doesn't need a law to enforce it. The truth doesn't need a law to protect it. A law such as that proposed by Merkel will in fact only weaken the true horror of those years. Those who wish to challenge the numbers of the dead or the operation of the gas chambers should be free to do so - their activities are no threat to anything.
Wednesday, 14 February 2007
Right, so smoking will be banned from all public places in England from 1st July 2007. Erm, no. They forgot all about boats and ships. The Health Act 2006 only covers premises and vehicles. In what has all the appearance of a panic measure that has been drafted on the back of a, er, fag packet, the Department for Transport has today launched a consultation on its website to extend the ban to places that float by amending the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. The DfT hoping to rush this through to be in place by 1st July is somewhat optimistic.
Raedwald has already contacted the department to remind them that they have missed the Partial Regulatory Impact Assessment which the Cabinet Office has decreed is obligatory for consultations at this stage and should be available for the full 12 week consultation period. There are also some alarming errors in the assumptions made by the department about its power to legislate - I'll develop this over the next few days.
However, what may really set the hares running is the stated intention for this legislation to extend to the whole UK. The Merchant Shipping Act isn't just an English act. And the Scots already have their own law on smoking on board ships. But whilst applying the law to all UK flagged vessels, they seem a bit confused about where the proposed regulations should apply. The Consultation states
The Government intends to implement restrictions on smoking on board all vessels coming within the scope of the Merchant Shipping Act (MSA) 1995, including fishing and inland waterway vessels, calling at ports in England and within the 12-mile territorial limit, regardless of which flag they are registered with (that is, regardless of which country regulates them). We are also keen to see the smoke free restrictions on sea-going and inland waterway vessels extended to Wales and Northern Ireland and for a consistent set of restrictions to be established in Scotland.Ah, so not vessels calling at ports in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, then? And what about "regardless of which flag they're registered with"? So a Russian freighter passing through the Channel on passage can be stopped and boarded by MCA smoking inspectors and spot fines imposed, hmm? They really haven't thought this through, have they?
Apart from the manifest failings in the consultation document, the consultation is taking place during an election period in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. And consultations and legislative proposals are covered by this rather strict guidance from the Cabinet Office. Update: the CO website has gone into text mode (something to do with bandwidth and a petition, perhaps?) and the guidance is not currently available. Good job I saved a copy locally and will post it shortly.
I can see a whole world of pain opening up for the DfT on this issue.
Ah, Dizzy got this one first. HERE. Dizzy conspiracy or Raedwald cock-up?
Tuesday, 13 February 2007
Well, yesterday actually. Photo courtesy of the MCGA. Doom mongers who predicted the beach would be spoiled for ever were, er, wrong. Again, hats off to SOSREP and the salvage team. take a look at Michael Hannon's photographs of a few weeks ago to see the difference.
Now the big question is with Easter drawing closer, and the traditional start to the boating season, will there be any marine exclusion zone imposed? Still no news on the 40 missing containers .....
Monday, 12 February 2007
Thanks to Tom Paine for the heads-up on this - I think it's great too. A revival of non-chauvinistic roots Englishness? Count me in.
(Ahem, I hasten to add I've bought both SoH's CD and the the remix download single 'Roots'. The lads deserve every penny)
Whilst browsing the brilliant Flickr for something completely different, I found this fab pic of the Swan in Ipswich by Simon K. Huh, so what? Well, this is the pub we used to meet in when we were all still just a teeny bit under age back in nineteen seventy er something. We weren't smoking spliffys though. Just the odd half of lager and lime if I recall correctly. And the gents were out in the yard in that red brick annex just visible to the right. The past really is another country, isn't it? Still, I like to think we added our traces of laughter, companionability and the joy of being young and alive to those old black beams. Long may the old place flourish.
Sunday, 11 February 2007
If the leaked report of Hayden Phillips' favoured political funding solution that appears in today's Sunday Times is correct, I foresee a Spring of discontent that will reach epic proportions. I find it utterly incredible that neither Phillips nor the leaders of the Labour and Tory parties do not understand the depth of feeling against this in the country. Phillips has postponed his report time and time again.
It is not a report that carries any great credibility. The depth and breadth of consultation is about what one would expect for a local minor planning application. Advertisement of Phillips' role was minimal. Whether by design, incompetence or inexperience the public were largely excluded from the exercise. Phillips seems to have spent the largest part of his time talking to the big party bosses. The abysmal obtuseness of the reported conclusion is the inevitable result.
For the sake of perfect clarity let me state my own position. NO tax funding for ANY party unless an individual elector makes a positive decision to allow it on their own behalf only, and this decision to be completely divorced from the way in which they cast their vote.
For Phillips to so willfully ignore, or choose to deliberately misunderstand, the proposals that came out of the Power Inquiry - a process of infinitely greater credibility than his own - is either crass stupidity or deliberate undermining of our democracy. And we will not stand for it.
Update: Comments on Iain Dale's blog entry at Iain Dale's Diary: State Funding Here We Come are illuminating.
There is a degree of anguish amongst leisure motor boaters (MOBOs in the jargon, as opposed to Raggies or sailboaters ..) at the EU's decision not to allow the UK to continue its derogation of full duty on diesel for non-commercial use. This cheap 'red' diesel is currently available to both leisure and commercial craft at a duty rate of 4.22ppl as compared to 47.10ppl for normal 'white' diesel.
In this instance HMRC did put up a good case to Brussels for retaining the derogation; their partial Regulatory Impact Assessment predicted only an additional £10m in revenue from applying the full duty rate against many times this cost in duplicate marine fuels infrastructure, conversion costs and importantly a large drop in sales for UK boatbuilders and brokers. When you consider that a twin-engined planing MOBO faces paying £50 an hour for fuel in the future it makes it an expensive hobby indeed.
I must confess to a certain smugness. Raedwald is an old chugger, a displacement boat, and her hull dimensions mean she'll never do more than 7 knots however big an engine you put in her. So her engine is sized to drive her at, er, 7 knots. And only uses about 4l an hour. And because it's a normally aspirated diesel rather than some electronic turbocharged thingy I was even smugger because I thought I'd be able to use Biodiesel (green diesel) in the future. Duty rate for non-road use Bio is currently only 3.13ppl.
Except that I hear today that HMRC are ready to change the goalposts; the non-road use rate will be for heating or generators only. Oh well.
I'm not going to display irascibility or indignation about all this; public support for leisure boating is as low as a snake's anus. Boaties are generally seen as toffs. So no one is going to get terribly excited about the costs of boat fuel.
Except that I wish the government would remember that we are an island nation, that we still depend on the sea for 50% of our food, that 'This fortress built by Nature for herself against infection and the hand of war' needs a bit of help sometimes, and that our leisure boating community contains a reservoir of skills and experience that in the past has been first into the breach when the call came.
This Sun story about a student receiving an £80 FPN for making a snow , er, scupture. Offence details entered by PC Wiley are 'MADE A 4 FOT (sic) HIGH PHALIC (sic) SYMBOL OUT OF SNOW ON PARKER'S PIECE'
'disgruntled commuter' comments on The Magistrate's Blog that
'Phalic' should have two 'l's. As perhaps should PC Wiley.
There's nothing to add to that.