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Big Blair is watching you

by Daniel on April 1, 2004

Great news for British people who occasionally worry that they might be stranded away from the comforting gaze of a CCTV camera, or who think that the police force has too many restraints placed on it in the name of civil liberties.

As of a speech yesterday, our blessed Prime Minister has decided that telephone tapping (an investigation methodology more usually associated with terrorists and international drug gangs) should be permitted for investigations into criminals suspected of offences which would carry a sentence of less than three years if convicted. I know the civil liberties crowd will whine, but as far as I’m concerned, the prospect of not knowing who might be listening in to my phone calls is a small price to pay in the fight against dangerous driving, carrying a knife in public, graffiti and similar massive threats to our lives and liberty.

Even better news, though, is the introduction of “individually targeted CCTV”. It’s horrendously wasteful to just put CCTV cameras up in public places and hope that someone happens along to commit an offence in front of them. Similarly, to wait until an offence is reported and then find out who did it is a waste of scarce resources that could be spent on the NHS. What you need to do is select people who the police think are criminals, put a CCTV camera in their house, then watch them like a hawk until they do something illegal. Then you can swoop down and whizz them off to jail without bothering with a costly and time-consuming jury trial. Since the British State has recently become perfect and never makes mistakes, it’s flawless. Hurray for Tony!

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by Daniel on April 1, 2004

Oh bloody hell he’s annoying me now. In the course of an insanely annoying piece of Globollocks (summary: Mexico went through hell to get ready for NAFTA and ended up hardly benefiting, so now what it needs is more neo-liberalism and what a shame it is that they aren’t able to impose it from above like the Chinese!), Thomas “Airmiles” Friedman[1] manages to come up with this gem.

“While China and India each send tens of thousands of students to be educated abroad every year in science and engineering, particularly in the U.S., Mexico sends just 10,000”

Could anyone tell me why this might be the case? Anyone? Bueller?

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Unfortunate names

by Daniel on April 1, 2004

I don’t often make predictions, but I have to say I’m not optimistic for the survival of “Air America Radio“, the new liberal answer to right-wing talk. I have no real knowledge of whether the presenters are any good, or what the demographics are, but I’ve always thought that you can tell a lot about a business enterprise by the name. Specifically, you can often gauge how much time, effort and intelligence people spent in thinking up the name, and this usually carries over into how they’re going to run their business.

In which context, it is perhaps unfortunate that the “Air America” people have (presumably unintentionally) named themselves after the CIA’s heroin trafficking operation in Southeast Asia (the subject of a movie which, in a beter world, would have crushed Mel Gibson’s career before it took root). The well-meaning liberal radio types must be taking lessons from these guys.

UPDATE: I am told there’s an interview with Al Franken going round the place in which he says they were being ironic … to be honest this seals my belief that they’re doomed as I can think of maybe three people in the world who might find that joke funny and none of them live in America.

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 …


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.