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Friday, 14 June 2013

Syria - a game of two halves

Bluntly, there's no mileage for the UK in any active involvement in or support for either side in what is squaring up to be a very bloody sectarian war. The choice is between supporting Hezbollah and the mad Mullahs of Iran, or Al Quada and the insane Imams of Pakistan. This is a Shi'ite / Sunni war, not a proxy for East vs. West or communism vs. capitalism. This is Islam eating itself, and the harsh reality is that every Jihadist from either side who succeeds in killing themselves in Syria is one less that we have to worry about. 

The press may be concerned about the several hundred Pakistani youths reported to have left the UK to fight for the rebels. They shouldn't be. Those few that aren't killed by Assad's forces should be arrested, convicted and imprisoned if they try to return to the UK - either way, they're out of action. 

As in the Iran / Iraq war, the two sides will only have the will to stop fighting once a certain level of blood has been spilled; we're nowhere near that point yet in Syria. Both sides still believe victory is possible and are negotiating for weapons, not peace. The best thing we can do is stand back and let them get on with it until they're both exhausted, then step in with the reconstruction contracts.

Thursday, 13 June 2013


Simon Jenkins has penned a fine piece for the Guardian on the impact of real rather than virtual demonstrations, and the role of the city square in rocking the foundations of government. All quite true. No amount of interweb polemic can equal the image on the evening news of a copper's cudgel rising and falling on the person of some patchouli-scented crustie. However, it's probably harder than you think to get folk out on the streets and squares if I'm any example to go by.

I've been on exactly two 'demonstrations' in my life; the first was the Countryside Alliance march against the Hunting Ban, the second the anti Blair-War march in February 2003. I thoroughly enjoyed both of them. And on that limited experience, here's my checklist for bringing Britain's silent majority out on the streets:-

1. The ostensible reason has to be intellectually defensible with a degree of moral respectability 
2. Fellow protesters and march organisers must be law-abiding and committed to peaceful protest
3. Demonstrable shared values help; I remember how all we men doffed our caps as we passed the Cenotaph on the CA march
4. The likelihood of bumping into people you will like and may nip-off for a pint with should be high
5. The march route should pass a few decent restaurants for lunch (a Westminster to Mayfair leg at about one-ish is ideal)
6. Above all, fellow marchers must be PLU. There is nothing more guaranteed to prevent a Brit marching than the possibility of being accidentally photographed with someone whose acquaintance they would normally avoid. 

Oh, and until Waitrose start selling Throwing Vegetables in 450g blister packs ("perfectly decayed, piquant with sulphur and squishiness, firm enough for a decent lob but deliciously rotten") these things must be entirely non-physical. 

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Limits of the State

You may never have noticed, but Switzerland doesn't have a President. Or a Chancellor. In fact, the Swiss Head of State is, collectively, the seven-person Federal Council. It's worked this way since 1848, and the seven between them run just about everything a central State should run. The Swiss people make sure the central State doesn't get too ambitious by limiting the amount of tax-take they can spend - about 30%. The other 70% is determined and managed locally.

You see, there's no causative link between a nation's level of taxation and the size and power of the central State, a fact that bypasses Polly Toynbee completely. Shocked by the damage that Snowden's revelations may do to the image of the benign and all-powerful central State, Lady Toynbee leaps to the defence of the Megastate. "Labour needs to hymn the good the state does and the civilising value of what taxes buy – health, education, safety, proud public spaces. All the things that people value most." Toynbee pompously proclaims, blind to the reality that the Swiss enjoy better health, education, safety and higher quality public spaces than we do, with a much much smaller central State and highly constrained taxation.

People have a perfect right to grant their governments the power to snoop on their emails, browsers and tweets - but this must be a choice openly made, with the power always to withdraw or reverse the consent. Such consent has been noticeably absent in this case.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Cameron's Hedgehog Party

Austria, at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, was always destined to carry some dodgy traffic once Schengen kicked in. Most passes through on the superb A roads, through tunnels or over high Alpine passes without incident, but just occasionally a truck comes to grief revealing an illegal cargo. So it was last week, when a vehicle carrying some 2,000 small animals overturned. Most of the cargo obediently permitted themselves to be recaptured by the Animal Welfare (well, this was Austria). The owner optimistically sent a replacement vehicle. The Authorities of course declined; the cargo would be detained whilst procedural irregularities were investigated. At the owners' expense. The irony in all this is that some 80% of the cargo was live-food for pet snakes and the like - small rodents, which the owners were now having to pay to be fed and cared for. The other 20% of the cargo was the exotic pets themselves; snakes, Armadillos and, um, Egyptian Hedgehogs. 

Hedgehogs? Since when did hedgehogs become pets? What was the attraction? I sought out an online guide to hedgehog-keeping. It consisted of page after page of advice aimed at preventing the creatures from killing or seriously injuring themselves. First, they need lots of room. "Without room, a hedgehog will show signs of depression, such as excessive sleeping, refusal to eat, repetitious behaviour, and self-mutilation. Due to their small size obesity is a very dangerous problem and hedgehogs require a fair amount of exercise to avoid liver problems due to excess weight." Uh OK a big wire cage then "Cages with wired floors are dangerous for hedgehogs because they can easily slip and get a limb caught in the wire. Multi-level ferret or rabbit cages can allow a hedgehog more room to explore without taking up extra floorspace, but when using multiple levels, keep in mind that a hedgehog has poor eyesight, can climb easily, but has difficulty descending and often does not seem to understand heights" Hmm a big cage with a safety rubber floor, then. "A wheel is necessary to provide hedgehogs with exercise. When choosing a wheel, it must have a solid floor. If an open-wire wheel is used, the hedgehog will continually fall between the bars and possibly break a leg. Wheels with crossbars can also cause facial injuries as hedgehogs have been known to look sideways out of the wheel while running." The list goes on. They are liable to amputate their own limbs with their bedding, their genitalia may get blocked with cage-dust, they are (unsurprisingly) prone to many diseases, including Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome and commonly react to stress with vomiting and green faeces.

And then the simile struck me. Hedgehogs are the Tory Party of the pet world - intent on self-destruction, blind, incapable, liable to unintentional self-injury and deliberate self-mutilation. When threatened all they can do is roll up in a prickly ball. Suddenly gay weddings, bloody windmills, state snooping, Europhilia and all the other rubbish came into perspective; it was all Hedgehog behaviour. The party has grown into an endangered creature incapable of flourishing, subject to Wobbly Tory Syndrome and liable to react to stress with vomiting and green faeces.    

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Hutton, like Dworkin, is deeply Illiberal.

There's another characteristic whine from Hutton in the Guardian this morning. The recently dead Dworkin, Hutton writes, "argued that to live well and with dignity was every human being's aim – one that law and government should support" and that this was true liberalism. Poppycock. 

Let's just Fisk that quote above. By 'support' Hutton actually means 'enable' - he sees an all-powerful State regulating individual lives and rationing-out rewards equally to all, using law to prevent the emergence of a meritocracy in a system in which all are beholden to State Welfarism and to the State alone for the fulfilment of their own lives. What a dreary, squalid Soviet Hell.

In proclaiming the virtues of a Statist, repressive and coercive vesion of what he terms 'liberalism' in the Guardian, Will Hutton demonstrates nothing but his own essential illiberality. Hutton simply can't stand the simple realisation that even the Economist has reached that many more British people, and particularly the young, are rediscovering true Liberalism. Tolerant of people's differences, but with a deep distrust of the State, the Political Class and Welfarism; we should rejoice that the new generation of Brits growing into power are likely to follow Burke rather than Engels. Hutton despairs.

Let's turn that quote around and say "Neither law nor government should obstruct, hinder or restrict every human being's aim to live well and with dignity". That'll do.