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Daniel

Up your hacienda, Jimmy1

by Daniel on March 26, 2004

Once more I find myself writing a post about something I didn’t think I’d need to write a post about, because I thought it was so obvious that everyone would have written about it. But no, so here goes. It’s an observation about the real meaning of the Spanish election result.

I’ve commented elsewhere about the general tone of a lot of comment (particularly in the USA) on the Spanish elections. But reading through Airmiles’ latest column today, I was struck by the fact that nobody in the USA seems to realise that in at least one important sense, the fact that the Socialists won in Spain is, well, about them.

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More on halal meat …

by Daniel on March 22, 2004

Following on from Chris’s post on the ethics of ritual slaughter, I thought I’d put up a link to one of the best things I read last year in the Guardian, on the ins and outs of the Halal meat industry. Suffice it to say that the definition of “Halal”, as with so many regulatory issues in the food industry, is a somewhat fluid concept, subject to the same sorts fo industry lobbying and regulatory capture as any other (reading between the lines, I pick up that the real problem for the halal industry is that if you don’t stun animals before slaughter, then they tend to kick around a bit, damaging the meat and leading to wastage costs which cannot always be passed on to the consumer).

Suffice it to say that if you really believe that it is a grave sin for you to eat meat which was not killed in the precise manner prevalent in Mecca around 622 CE, then it is probably not a good idea to go shopping for stuff branded “Halal” in the UK. It looks to me as if vegetarianism is the only religiously safe option for fundamentalist Muslims in the UK. For non-fundamentalists who understand that the strict traditional approach is not consistent with the realities of a modern abbattoir, then surely there can be no principled objection to starting up a debate about what compromises can reasonably be expected between religion and animal welfare.

I have no comparable information easily accessible online about the Kosher meat industry, but kosher/non-kosher scandals are a staple of the North London local press, so I would guess that similar arguments go through …

A disaster stamped “Made in England”

by Daniel on March 5, 2004

With the pressure increasing on Robert Mugabe’s extremely unpleasant government, I thought I’d repost an old comment of mine from D2D on the subject of how things got this way. There is an unfortunate tendency on the left to lose their nerve in the face of human rights disasters in left-wing regimes and take their eye off the ball – to commit the fundamental attribution error of assuming that the problems they see aer the result of particular moral corruption in the regime in question, rather than maintaining more plausible structural assumptions. As I say below, there is no exonerating Mugabe; there is always the option of not being a bastard and he didn’t take it. But it is very hard to see how any good outcome could have come out of the situation created by the British.

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Milosevic guilty of genocide?

by Daniel on February 27, 2004

It’s a right old week for collapsing cases … although Slobodan Milosevic is almost certain to be found guilty of crimes against peace and war crimes, the central charge of genocide is apparently a lot more doubtful. The prosecution in the Hague are moving to rest their case a couple of days early, admitting as they do so that they’ve not really found any smoking gun linking Milosevic to the actions of Radovan Karadzic, the real butcher of Bosnia. Not sure what to make of this myself, and it’s probably best not to comment further in the absence of real evidence; I know that CT’s Chris B is of the opinion that Milosevic was guilty as sin and the NATO intervention in Kosovo was a paradigm example of a good war, but my good mate Chris DeLiso, who hasn’t posted on the subject yet but will probably do so soon, thinks different.

All in all, I think the most important lesson to learn here is a negative one, for anyone on the left who ever thought that the Hague international tribunal was ever going to be more useful than a chocolate teapot.

Gun case dropped

by Daniel on February 26, 2004

Hurray for the jury system, as all right-thinking people should be shouting. The Katharine Gun case has been dropped. And the best thing is, the reason for which it’s been dropped.

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Department of the Bleeding Obvious

by Daniel on February 25, 2004

Via the Volokh lads, news that those tiresome Internet purveyors of laboured satire at Adbusters have made the startling discovery that, in general, Jews are more likely to have strong opinions about Israel than, say, Norwegians. Oy gevalt, as they say up the road from me in Golders Green, who’d have thought it. Christ knows what may happen next week when they spot the connection between the Northern Irish republican cause and the Church of Rome. Jesus.

Actually, what might be a lot more use than Adbusters’ idea would be a list of American pundits who aren’t Jews and have never set foot in Israel, but nevertheless think that they’re qualified to act as spokespeople for the Zionist cause worldwide. (Or for that matter, people who haven’t visited Europe since student days but still regard themselves as experts on trends in anti-Semitism there). I can think of a few names off the top of my head, and I daresay CT commenters can think of others …

If it ain’t broke …

by Daniel on February 24, 2004

I think I have to register one of my occasional dissenting opinions, from the view expressed by Ed Felten and semi-endorsed by Eszter below, that the world would be a better place if we forced a bit more science down the necks of schoolchildren.

It’s a pretty well-established fact (source: “Adult Literacy in Great Britain”, ONS, 1997) that just under half of all Britons can’t cope with mathematical operations more complicated than addition and subtraction. That is, can’t divide up a restaurant bill or calculate the area of a room, even with a calculator. This makes rather a mockery of any proposals to raise our national savings rate via “financial literacy classes” in schools etc; half of the people being taught can’t really cope with percentages.

Lots of UK commentators regard this as a national scandal; however will we compete with the Japanese etc. My view has always been “Well, the old country isn’t doing too badly; just goes to show that percentages aren’t as important as you might have thought”. I suspect that the same is true of science.

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Saddam’s Black Book

by Daniel on February 18, 2004

I didn’t think this was going to be a difficult question to answer, but it’s stumped me, so I’m asking for help.

Is there any authoritative source (for fairly low standards of “authoritative”; as the title suggests, I’m looking for something no worse than the Black Book of Communism) telling us how many people Saddam Hussein killed and when?

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Learning is not occurring

by Daniel on February 13, 2004

Tyler on the Volokh conspiracy links to a New York Times story and comments that “Deterrence doesn’t fully reassure me on the basis of this extract:

“”A complacent Saddam Hussein was so convinced that war would be averted or that America would mount only a limited bombing campaign that he deployed the Iraqi military to crush domestic uprisings rather than defend against a ground invasion, according to a classified log of interrogations of captured Iraqi leaders and former officers.

Mr. Hussein believed that a “casualty averse” White House would order a bombing campaign that Iraq could withstand, according to the secret report, prepared for the Pentagon’s most senior leadership and dated Jan. 26. And the Iraqi Defense Ministry, in a grand miscalculation, believed that any ground offensive would come across the Jordanian border. “

Lads, lads, we’re not learning the lesson here are we? Testimony from captured military officers, defectors, and anyone else who thinks that they have something to gain by telling interesting stories (which inflate their own importance) is worthless. This is how we got into the whole WMD fiasco. I’ve no idea whether or not this is true as a description about Saddam’s state of mind or military tactics. But after reading this story, given its sourcing, I’ve still got no idea. Stick to the satellite photos, that’s my advice, they don’t lie. That’s how Scott Ritter, Andrew Wilkie and myself managed to get it right on the question of Iraqi nukes.

Random Finds in Heterodox Economics, #2

by Daniel on February 6, 2004

Apologies in advance because this edition of RFHE is not really going to be all that good. It’s a grab bag of things I’ve picked up relevant to personal hobby horses of mine. Lots of people sent me some really good stuff in response to the last one, for which thank yoyu very much. Unfortunately, my chaotic email management habits came through a minor MyDoom infestation about as well as I thought they were going to. I should be able to find all the stuff I had pretty soon; otoh, if any of you were to resend it, that would be just lovely. So, apologies, promises of something better next time, and please regard this inconsistency in quality as charming rather than annoying.

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More on framing effects

by Daniel on February 6, 2004

Framing effects, again:

Question 1: Would you support the Canadian courts if they decided to “ban spanking in most circumstances?

Question 2: Would you support the Candian courts if they decided to tighten the current loophole in the law on common assault which allows some kinds of physical violence against children?

Question 2 is actually the better description of the facts; the question at issue is the definition of “reasonable chastisement” of a minor by its parents, which is a carve-out from the law on assault.

For additional credit, could someone explain to me why it is that my wife and my child are both insolent and disobedient to me, but I am only within my rights to impose reasonable physical chastisement on one of them (these days) , specifically the one who is less able to defend themselves and utterly unable to stop living in my house if they so choose? Don’t even get me started on the servants …

Activistism

by Daniel on February 6, 2004

Fully aware that I haven’t written that review of “After the New Economy” that I said I would, here’s an article by CT favourite Doug Henwood and some of his mates on the subject of a worrying tendency toward mindlessness on the part of some activists on what we laughingly call “the left”. Just to provide some context, the article was written after the Afghanistan war and before the Iraq one, which is why some of the references look a bit weird.

For what it’s worth, I think I don’t agree with a single word of it; I don’t think that the lefties are as anti-analysis as the authors suggest and I don’t think that there would be many benefits to their getting into more theory since a) it would tend to create “party lines” and we all know how well they work b) it would just mean a switch from being dismissed for having no positive ideas to being dismissed as closet Stalinists and c) I don’t think that people relate to single-issue politics in that kind of way anyway. I also question whether the anti-sweatshop movement is really a good model, as my experience of it has included a lot of people with such a vehement obsession over particular branded sports goods companies that I ended up suspecting it was largely populated by foot fetishists. On the other hand, Doug spends more time in the company of the American Left than I do, and his professional responsiblities as a contributing editor to the Nation probably mean that he has fewer opportunities to steer clear of its loonier element than I do, so here we go. To link to the article as part of a general exercise in condemnation of “The Left” would b unsporting, by the way.

{UPDATE]: Rereading it, “not one single word” is a silly exaggeration on my part; there are some points that are very good. In particular, it is an entirely valid criticism of certain types of activists that they don’t think systemically; they honestly believe that Nike are running sweatshops just to be nasty, or as Doug says, that Greenspan creates recessions when employment is too low by accident. This is the type of thinking which gave us the single-company anti sweatshop campaigns of the 1990s, which today have resulted in a Southeast Asian clothing industry consisting of a few lovely air-conditioned palaces making clothes for Nike, in the context of a rest of industry that has hardly changed at all.

Minor factual

by Daniel on January 29, 2004

Alastair Campbell was on the box last night to discuss being cleared of all charges by the Hutton inquiry. Fair do’s to the guy; he got cleared and we have to respect that. Doesn’t change the fact that every single word we were fed about WMD, including “the” and “and”, was bollocks, but it seems churlish to deny even the Blairites their day in the sun. But I have to take issue with one claim he made. Mr Campbell said, pressing his advantage home:

“If the Government faced the level of criticism which today Lord Hutton has directed to the BBC, there would clearly have been resignations by now. Several resignations at several levels.”

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There’s a wide spread of political opinions at Crooked Timber; as you can tell, we run the gamut from social democrat to democratic socialist. All sorts, I tell you. But I think that there’s one issue which divides us neatly into two groups. Or rather, into one group consisting of me, and one group consisting of all the others. And that’s the fact that I’m a nationalist. Horrible to admit it but it’s true. I genuinely do believe that, according to my standards (and who else’s standards might I use?), Britain is the best place to live that there is, and the British are the finest people in the world. After that, Irish, Turks, Czechs, Danes and French in that order, and after that there’s quite a steep drop-off. Sorry, where was I? Anyway, yes, the British are best.

If I were to criticise my fellow countrymen at all, however, it would be to say that we do have something of a tendency to panic when we see two flakes of frost sticking together. Look at this bloody circus. It snowed for precisely one hour yesterday evening round our way, a snowfall that had been forecast a week in advance, and left about half an inch of light white dust on the ground, which promptly started to melt. I was four hours late getting into work this morning because the trains couldn’t cope with it. The bloody Russians run trains across Siberia, for Christ’s sake. I actually watched an interview with some London Transport bod on the TV explaining that the Metropolitan line had to be shut down because of “severe weather”, in which it was possible to see over his shoulder a beautiful clear blue cloudless sky. As Peter Cook remarked, the arrival of winter, while usually quite generally expected, seems to always catch London Transport by surprise.

A look back at the history of the Crimean campaign reveals that this has been a bit of a blind spot for the Sons of Albion for quite a while.

UPDATE] I’ve just been told that we’re running “emergency trains” this evening, 24 hours after the event and with the snow entirely melted. Apparently the “severe icy weather conditions” have had serious effects on “both trains and infrastructure”. Apparently water freezes. Who’d a thunk it?

Look just buy the bloody thing will you

by Daniel on January 28, 2004

My contribution to Henwood week will be up tomorrow … meanwhile, London-based CT readers can see the man himself give a talk on the general subject of the New Economy, tonight for one night only. The venue is 72 Great Eastern Street, kicking off at 7pm. I won’t be there myself because I’ve developed a really shocking head cold, but it ought to be fun. The nearest tube is Old Street or Liverpool Street, and here’s a map.