Wednesday, September 29, 2010

That light at the end of the tunnel is a train

Amidst the constant swishing back and forth of zillions of issues in the blogosphere, there is one which never seems to get any air time.

During the Healthcare debate, it became obvious that most Americans, whether you lump them onto the Left or the Right, don't know much about how America works. Most Americans don't seem to understand how far the Progressive agenda has already transformed the country. After military spending, the three main costs of the US Federal government are: Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid. If the people in the Tea Party are actually who and what they say they are, then those four things are all in the cross-hairs for huge cuts.

But if you go item by item, and ask most Americans which of those four they want cut, most don't want ANY of them to be cut.

Now as a Liberal I would of course advocate doing away with Medicare and Social Security, which grossly distort the US healthcare market and pensions market respectively. Medicaid is essential, although it could well be reformed to make sure that its resources go where they ought. And military and intelligence spending should always be the last thing cut, as protecting the country is the first job of government.

But most Americans want Medicare and Social Security gold plated, rather than eliminated. So how can the enormous US debt ever be repaid, and how can the yearly deficits ever decrease?

This thing isn't over. It hasn't even begun.

Well at least we can all finally agree on something

'Obama: 'We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan'

'President Obama dispatched his national security adviser, retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, and CIA Director Leon Panetta to Pakistan for a series of urgent, secret meetings on May 19, 2010.'

That was after yet another planned atrocity by yet another Pakistani, this time in Times Square, New York.

Oh well, after nine years repeating the same thing over and over and over again, it seems that finally people have noticed the facts and begun to respond to them. Ho Hum.

Which Election was he watching Update

Recently I critiqued Lord Ashcrofts analysis of the recent British general election. Here is more analysis from the venerable Norman Tebbit:

'Some while ago I wrote that whether the Tories won or lost the election, much of the praise or blame should go to Michael Ashcroft. His book makes plain his disappointment and puzzlement that the worst government we have endured within living memory, probably for more than a century, was not absolutely thrashed. Of course the grossly unfair distribution of seats made it harder for David Cameron. In 2001, 10.7 million Labour votes, against 8.4m for the Conservatives and 4.8m for the Lib Dems, yielded a majority for Tony Blair. But this year, when the numbers were virtually reversed with 10.7m votes for Cameron, 8.6m for Gordon Brown and 6.8m for the Lib Dems, Cameron was 20 short of a majority.

Nonetheless had Cameron earned as many supporters as Margaret Thatcher in 1979 (13.7million), 1981 (13.1m) or 1987 (13.8m), he would have been home and dry. Before the campaign started the Tories had been well in the lead, but the more the electors heard from Mr Cameron and his team, the fewer liked it sufficiently to come out to vote.'

So the crucial question left over from the election as far as the Tories are concerned is, who are those three million people who will not vote for David Cameron?

I think the answer lies in the numbers. Over a period of eight years, thirteen million people voted for Thatcherism. Almost certainly the mostly the same thirteen million people. Have those people stopped believing in Liberal economics and personal freedom and personal responsibility? Very highly unlikely.

So why would three million of them not vote for Cameron? Because what was on offer is not Thatcherism, or even a debased Thatcherism. It is Statist and Big Green. A cursory perusal of the campaign literature and Camerons speeches will confirm this.

So why would Ashcroft tell a different story? Why would he launch one completely spurious accusation against Cameron, that the Conservatives launched zillions of 'relentless counterproductive attacks'? Like I said before, if they did, I missed them all.

Is Ashcroft trying to create the conditions for the next General Election, where his version of history becomes the starting point for how to run a successful campaign? Because the numbers say he will never be right.

Thatcherism was successful because it ditched crucial parts of Conservatism. It was much more egalitarian and against established power and paternalism than the Conservatism of the first half of the twentieth century. It offered the scruffy white van man the heft of a major political party against the snobbery and entitlement still endemic in British society. It offered those with no 'family' the possibility of wealth, success and genuine improvement. It also started down the road of destroying the baleful nexus of government and big business which is the greatest enemy of capitalism, free markets and wealth creation.

But then John Major took over. A man who certainly doesn't understand anything about economics of any variety, or perhaps which shoe should go on which foot. The whole Thatcherite project gradually ground to a halt. With the Labour takeover of 1997, business as usual resumed. As the state resumed its steady expansion, small businesses were progressively squeezed, and big business resumed its love affair with big government.

So there was a choice in 2010. Would the Conservative party restart the Thatcherite project, which is essentially Libertarian, or go back to paternalism, elitism and pandering to whatever cultural fads are current? You know the answer already...

Poor logic, poor language, poor history

'YES: Stalin killed millions. A Stanford historian answers the question, was it genocide?

Naimark, author of the controversial new book Stalin’s Genocides, argues that we need a much broader definition of genocide, one that includes nations killing social classes and political groups. His case in point: Stalin.

The book’s title is plural for a reason: He argues that the Soviet elimination of a social class, the kulaks (who were higher-income farmers), and the subsequent killer famine among all Ukrainian peasants – as well as the notorious 1937 order No. 00447 that called for the mass execution and exile of “socially harmful elements” as “enemies of the people” – were, in fact, genocide.

Is murdering a class somehow better than murdering a race? Is fomenting class-hatred somehow better than fomenting race-hatred? Why or why not?'

Why does everything have to be one thing?

Like the 'discussion' about whether the campaign in 1915 against the Armenians by the Ottoman government and individual Turks constituted Genocide or not, this 'discussion' about whether Stalins mass-murder was Genocide is sterile.

The accepted definition of Genocide is the attempt to murder all of a particular tribe or people. If a mass-killing is NOT an attempt to murder all of a particular tribe or people, it is inappropriate to use the word, and only distorts the truth.

Why do Stalins murders need the label of Genocide? Are they not evil enough if they are just extra-judicial killing on an enormous scale? Are they not evil enough if they are just the callous deprivation of the means of life to millions of Ukranians? Are they not evil enough if they are the paranoid deportation of millions to a very hostile environment where the attrition rate is staggeringly high?

The need to invoke Genocide constantly is a sign of how debased public discussion of events in the world has become. To some extent this is because rolling news needs a constant stream of superlatives, but also because the general use of language has become very imprecise and simplistic.

Much more important than these label discussions is to understand what happened. Watch 'Burnt by the Sun', the harrowing film about Stalins purge of his army by Mikhalkov. It is very hard, especially for those in the West, to really see these vast murders for what they are- millions upon millions of personal tragedies and betrayals. The utter pointlessness of them. The almost incalculable waste of human talent, spirit and value.

Very few people hate Bolshevism and Communism more than I do. But a coherent and accurate description of the tremendous crimes they committed in the twentieth century does not require the word 'genocide'. Let their panoply of crimes bear the correct description in each case.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Declining moral standards and world leadership

'Over the long term, what American policy makers need to remember (and what I fear too many have forgotten in both parties over the last couple of decades) is that America’s international standing and security ultimately depend on health of our domestic economy — and that the economy in turn ultimately depends on the dynamic, self-reliant, entrepreneurial and, yes, virtuous character of the American people. Unless our educational, cultural and political institutions reflect and support these characteristics, American power could rot away at the core.'

This triggered a succession of memory vignettes- of American soldiers singing hymns in the middle of the Borneo jungle in World War II, of the staggering tenacity of the US military in Vietnam, of a conversation in a video game I own between two Russian soldiers- First Soldier "We are trapped! The Americans will catch us and kill us!" Second soldier "Of course they won't kill us! They might capture us and interrogate us, but they don't kill captured soldiers".

The equation which holds most in our world is this- the more you get to know Americans as hegemons, the more you like them.

But as US culture sinks ever further into the filth, and as more and more 'sophisticated' Americans desert God and Christianity, for how much longer will Americans show their traditional virtues? And will they be worthy hegemons when they cease to do so?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Which election was he watching?

'On Monday Lord Ashcroft will publish his verdict on the party's failure to win an overall majority in the May general election. In his analysis, the Tory life peer criticises the party for:

Failing to get its "message" and "brand" across to the voters.

Relentless counterproductive attacks on the Labour Party and Gordon Brown.

Agreeing to a televised debate of political leaders which enabled the Liberal Democrats to seize the "real change" initiative.'

While of course Lord Ashcrofts points are relayed to us via a journalist, and therefore may have been morfed to their disadvantage, these are hardly razor sharp observations. Having watched Karl Rove dissecting things the other day with acerbic wit and brevity, this seems very dull fare.

I am not really a politics nerd. But I probably pay more attention to politics than average, and here is my take on the Ashcroft critique.

Once David Cameron threw out all the discernably conservative positions on things, there was virtually no Conservative brand in existence. First and foremost, the small easy-to-pay for state. Ditching this alone probably cost the Conservative party its crucial majority. Almost from the beginning, Cameron kept on about how much he loved the Government bureacracies, especially the NHS. But also the Post Office. Not forgetting the BBC. And definitely the education industry. Etc etc.

Cameron signed up to virtually the whole Green agenda too. He also kept on about how great immigrants are, and how very much they've done for the country. He said we should empathise with hoodie-wearers, and presumably all the people on those sink estates who don't wear them too. He was critical of the intervention in Iraq, and gave succour to the anti-war crowd. He applauded the government apparatchiks and criticised greedy businessmen.

It was probably about this time that most conservatives realised that the Conservative party wasn't conservative any more. That it was now essentially just another centre-left party touting all the tired claptrap that the centre-left have been spouting for eighty-ish years.

So what Brand is Ashcroft talking about? That crappy stylised Oak tree which is now the 'symbol' of the Conservative Party? If he can give a coherent answer to my question, he ought to because there are thousands of ex-Conservative voters out there who don't think the Conservative brand exists.

If the Conservatives had a 'message' during the last election I missed it. I thought the message was that Gordon Brown and his scabrous allies had spent countless billions during the good times, and got precious little for them, while telling us that the good times would never end (no more boom and bust?); and then when the good times ended insisted that no blame accrued to them and they couldn't possibly have known it was going to happen. So, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has NO role in overseeing the City of London financial sector? None at all?

Which brings us to Lord Ashcrofts second point. Where was I during the 'Relentless counterproductive attacks on the Labour Party and Gordon Brown'? I must have been down the shops or in the pub, because I heard virtually no criticism of the godawful job Labour had been doing. And I'm pretty sure I know why. Cameron intended to carry on doing mostly the same things Labour were doing, and he didn't want too much cognitive dissonance about that.

We faithfully watched the debates waiting for David Cameron to launch some broadsides against the inviting flanks that Labour could not protect, due to their hideous mismanagement of the country... and they never came. No statistics were proffered about the stupendous size of the public sector (1 in 5 employees in Britain works for the state), and the truly enormous size of the annual budgets. Nothing about the budget deficits, which were and are taking Britain into a morass of debt. Nothing about the vast sums of money which went into virtually unimproved public services, or spent on plush salaries and pensions for public sector workers- much better salaries and pensions than the ones of the people funding the whole sorry mess.

If it had been a boxing match, Cameron wouldn't have troubled the scorers. His aim seemed to be to show the public that he was nice, and that the Conservative party was nice, and that when he was Prime Minister, things would continue to be nice.

Surprisingly, the general public found this milquetoast pap unappealing, perhaps even nauseating. I know I did. Far from providing red meat, Cameron seemed to want to take us all back to infancy, and soothe us with baby-talk.

I could sum up my impressions of the three contestants on the 'I want to be Prime Minister' Quiz show very quickly. Nick Clegg came across as a very hard-sell used car salesman, who had lots of zippy catch phrases and fresh air for policies. His 'a plague on both your houses' posturing got old after about five minutes, and I thought his bluster demonstrated without a shadow of a doubt the terrible weakness at the heart of the LibDem project. Gordon Brown alternated between vaudeville villain (I kept on imagining him with a black eye-patch) and slimy ageing bon viveur. His on-screen fight with his inner grumpy bastard was deeply reminiscent of the ex-Nazi scientist in 'Dr Strangelove'. How we laughed!

And I think there was some other guy there, but I'm not sure. He was as memorable as a department store mannequin, but not quite as human. I can't remember a single distinctive policy he was touting, nor a decent line, nor any wit nor emotion. Insofar as it is usual for politicians to be animated by ideas, he was completely inanimate.

If I were to sum up my view of the Conservative campaign, it is: the Conservatives believed in nothing apart from the sheer inevitability of people being sick of Labour, and taking whatever the other guys were proffering. They couldn't be bothered to find out what people actually wanted from them, and settled for offering sweet nothings, reassuring noises and very non-Conservative positions on pretty much all the important issues in British public life. They tried to be as bland and inoffensive as possible, present a facade of competence and capability, and duck all substantive questions.

I was completely confirmed in this take on the campaign when I watched a program the other day about how the coalition was formed. The LibDems found the Conservative negotiating team strangely amenable. Weirdly amenable. Almost as if they had no real red lines at all. It all got a bit jokey and informal.

Why it had taken the LibDems soooooooooo long to realise that there wasn't a fag paper between their own 'beliefs' and those of David Cameron and his little cabal is a mystery, but then they aren't all that bright.

The fact is, there is now an opening in British politics for a mainstream right-wing party. Anybody fancy starting it?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Adventure and Excitement are in the Eye of the Beholder

'Stephen Fry has said there is a culture of fear at the BBC which is creating "incredibly bland" programmes.'

'The host of BBC Two's QI told the Radio Times executives with "cold feet" were shying away from taking creative risks. "A lot of the adventure and excitement have gone out of television programming and a lot of it is just down to fear."'

So far, so Rorschach test. For the 'artistic elite', who will all indubitably be nodding their heads in agreement with Mr Fry at this point, there just aren't enough TV shows about gay sex, 'shocking' taboo-breaking anti-Christian diatribes, and very far left fantasies. You know, adventurous and exciting.

For the average license fee taxpayer, the reaction will probably be similar. With very few exceptions, I would reckon the favourite TV show of most Britons are American, whether it is Desperate Housewives, House, Dexter, NCIS, The Wire, Law and Order, CSI or 24. Most of those shows have British equivalents which are unwatchable. Of the recent offerings, big budget shows tend to have terrible achilles heals. Robin Hood seemed to have been written by a twelve year old girl, and Dr Who is jumping the shark on a regular basis. The one or two-parter dramas are excruciatingly dull, often turned off after ten minutes. All of them seem to deal with the same stock characters in the same stock situations. Mind numbing.

And lastly, there are weirdos like me, for whom many of the TV programs I would like to watch just aren't made, not in the US or the UK or anywhere else. Back in about 1992, there were a series of brilliant TV programs, about an hour long, on Afghanistan. They came on at about half past midnight. I watched anyway. They were superb. They covered Afghan geography, politics, current events, tribal issues, national figures of prominence and loads of other things. Most of what I know about Afghanistan came from watching those programs. Not only have I not seen anything like them for anywhere else, I've never seen them re-shown.

These programs leveraged what television can be- an extraordinary tool for learning and going to places you could never go personally. There are zillions of places and things which could get a similar treatment. How many people know what actually happens in the City of London finance houses? How many people know what the hinterland of Russia is like? How many people know the real story of the Royal Navy? Not just the skim, but the real story.

I don't know how many people there are like me. But there must be some. And for us, TV is pretty much a desolate wasteland of trivia and pap. No meat. If I had a billion pounds, one of the first things I'd do is start a TV company to make the TV shows I'd actually pay money to someone to watch. Probably wouldn't ever make a profit, but I'd watch!

Friday, September 03, 2010

Wajid Hasan, incompetent buffoon

'Wajid Hasan accused the ICC of "playing to the public gallery" and said the council had "no business" taking action while a police investigation was on-going.'

'...The commissioner added that he had talked to the cricketers and had concluded that they were innocent.'

Hasan was also shown on the BBC Ten O'Clock news last night saying that the Pakistani trio had been 'set up'.

Whatever else this catastrophe for cricket has demonstrated, it has shown the Hasan is an idiot who isn't up to his job. Denying reality, acting as judge and jury and making completely unfounded accusations about our police are not helpful to the relations between Pakistan and Britain.