Friday, August 16, 2002
Good only for putting people off
TONY BLAIR, a great enthusiast neither for first-past-the-post nor PR, was once told by a colleague that whenever he heard someone make the argument for electoral reform, he would become much more against the idea. But whenever someone made the case for first-past-the-post, he would think again about whether voting reform was a good thing. Blair smiled and responded that his own position was identical.
I feel just the same way after reading the respective web pages of Connect and the Conservative Democrats. After the first, I felt much less keen on being socially liberal (as it is usually called). After examining the second, I felt much more that it was a good idea after all. Thank goodness just about every Tory MP comes from neither of these extreme wings of the party.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 19:51 | Permanent Link |
How do you rank?
ONE OF THE better political ranking tests can be found at YouGov.com. Here are my results:
Very much what I expected: dead on centre-right, almost exactly in line with the thinking of today's Conservative Party, and more agreement with Labour than the Liberal Democrats (though little of either). As usual in these tests, I was rated as being less than libertarian, but I think this is only because these tests do not take into account the sort of libertarian who holds to traditional values strongly, and believes that so long as they are widely held, people should be able to do as they like. Or, more simply, that freedom is a great thing, but it goes hand in hand with responsibility. A good test overall, though. Told me a few things I didn't already know about my political thinking.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 18:42 | Permanent Link |
Politically motivated marking?
ONE OF THE difficulties of taking A level exams is when you get your marks back, they do not come with the original papers. If you made a mistake, you do not know what it was. I was disappointed yesterday with my own results:
I had hoped to accept the place at Somerville College, Oxford I was offered last December, but I required at least AAB to do so, so now I will probably retake some of my A levels and reapply. What interests me, however, is looking at my fourth subject. We were all encouraged to take "General Studies", a Mickey Mouse subject that covers everything, and ends up teaching you nothing you do not know already (common knowledge for anyone intelligent). Specialising in "General" Studies is a concept so absurd it should have activated my Mickey Mouse alarm, but it did not, so I went on to take its three papers at A level. The first was on the "Scientific and Cultural Domains", in which I was asked to write about a scientist (I praised the socialist biologist Richard Dawkins), and examine the implications of a Guardian article (it is always The Guardian or Observer). The mark came back: 86/90 (A). Not bad at all.
But then I looked at my marks for the others. The Social Domain: 36/90 (E). Culture Science and Society 44/120 (Ungraded).
So what happened in the second and third papers? The second gave various options, but in one part, I chose the question allowing the student to make a case for or against private education, or more specifically, whether it should be made illegal. I naturally examined the case from both sides, before equally naturally concluding what seems reasonable enough: that private education allows more diversity and choice, and leaves more resources for state school pupils (like myself). I got an E.
In the third, the main essay was in examining an article in the Observer talking about population movements and whether it mattered that in 50 or 60 years whites in Britain would be a minority under current government figures. On the one side were quotes from Nick Griffin, Chairman of Neo-Nazi BNP, on the other by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a strong supporter of multi-culturalism. I made clear that the BNP were wrong to believe that multi-racial societies cannot work. I pointed to countries like America and Canada where this was disproved. But I noted too that multi-cultural societies - something quite different - were often divided and violent. I pointed to Kosovo, Northern Ireland and the Middle East as examples of that. I concluded that a society can survive in peace whatever the racial mix-up so long as it has the common culture that unites such places as the USA. Hardly a racist argument by any fair standards. The paper wasn't even graded.
Now I do not care about my General Studies marks. I got offers from five colleges in the last year, all of them excluding it from the list of subjects the grades in which they were interested. So this isn't sour grapes. But it does seem awfully strange that I can get such different grades for filling in similar papers in the same way. If these tests are really vetting for political views, it is a disgrace, and I have to wonder what the markers of the second and third papers were thinking. Arguing for private education and against multi-culturalism will not appeal to the Guardianistas who dominate teaching and exam boards. But that isn't the point. Whatever views expressed, they should be marked fairly, on grounds of writing, knowledge and ability. This does not appear to have been what happened in this case.
[Edit: A number of American sites have been interested in this piece, worried that it represents what they will have to face if the SAT test includes an essay component, including the NRO Corner and a poster on Techsideline.com. Just to clarify the British 'A' level grading system, it offers five grades - A to E. If you gain more than 40%, you get one of those grades. If not, the paper is Ungraded. So in the second paper, I was given the bottom grade.]Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 15:27 | Permanent Link |
Iraq will benefit from Saddam's removal at least as much as we will
LEST WE FORGET, Martin Woollacott points out today, the Iraqi people want a Second Gulf War, and a return to democracy.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 14:00 | Permanent Link |
Croziervision available now
PTRICK CROZIER OF UK Transport and TBHN has done it again. His great new blog Croziervision summarises many others, linking to the stories in question. A very good idea well implemented. Props to Patrick, and thanks to Iain Murray for pointing me to it.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 09:46 | Permanent Link |
Wednesday, August 14, 2002
The police should be catching criminals, not counselling
AS EVER, Janet Daley's common sense attitude to fashionable nonsense is right on target. In the Telegraph today, she points out that people do not want a politically correct arbitrator between criminal and victim, but a tough police force that will catch and punish the wrongdoer. Advertising for emotional, sensitive types will not get that.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 18:04 | Permanent Link |
The Conservatives are changing for the better
BENEDICT ROGERS HAS been out of the country for five years, but he has come back to see a Tory Party more modern and attractive to the British people:
"At the heart of Conservative thought is a belief in small government. That ideology was derailed and portrayed by the Left as a belief in selfish individualism and greed. But it is not; it is a belief that compassion is best delivered through the family, communities, voluntary organisations and society, encouraged but not controlled by government.
The party is returning to those ideas and, if it stays on its current path, it stands a chance of reconnecting with the British people. It is an exciting time to be a Conservative. I am pleased to have come home."Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 18:01 | Permanent Link |
Lottery money for the politically insane
FOR AN EXCELLENT column on the recent scandal of lottery cash being given to an organisation that works to keep illegal immigrants and foreign terrorists in the country, see Stephen Pollard's site today. I'd quote some of it, but not one sentence of it is wasted, so I implore you to read it all.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 17:53 | Permanent Link |
The damage cannabis does
REBECCA CRIPS HAS written a revealing article on her ruinous addiction to the fashionable drug of the day, the harm it can do, and how she had thrown away a decade and a half of her life before she realised she had a problem:
Then there's the inevitability of temporary insanity, the type of lapse that finds you boarding the Inverness express in a stoned rush when you were really aiming for Finchley - or wondering for the fifth time why the hell you went upstairs in the first place. And that's just the funny stuff. Mood swings, listlessness, paranoia, anxiety, emotional numbness, irregular sleep patterns and hyperactivity are some of the well-documented downsides of habitual use of the affectionately termed wacky baccy. I should know, I've experienced them all.
... A couple of weeks into sobriety, I began to realise that I'd spent the previous 10 - or was it 15? - years walking round like a sleepwalker. There, but not there; emotionally absent. How did I manage coherent thought, enveloped in those thick dope clouds for half of every day? It still amazes me.
... a chance meeting with a recovering cannabis addict changed my entire perspective. "Are you sure you want to hear this?" he asked me, when I questioned him about why he had stopped. "Once you realise you're addicted, you'll never enjoy it as much."
He was right, of course. From the minute I began to delve into the whys and wherefores, my denial went up in smoke and marijuana began to lose its appeal. I craved it just as badly, I just didn't get the same unadulterated pleasure out of it. Partly that was because I realised that it was no longer as much fun as I thought it was, as it had been back in the dizzy day, and partly because, as a daily smoker, all I was really doing was topping up. Getting the giggles or the munchies were distant memories. In fact, I had become seriously introspective and as thin as a one-paper joint, my sense of humour and appetite suppressed. The guilt I'd been sitting on for years began to surface. I finally admitted that I was spending too much time asleep.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 17:42 | Permanent Link |
When Brown's splurge fails, our day in the sun will follow
THE GUARDIAN HAS an interesting piece from Jonathan Freedland today on the Tories, focusing on their apparent readiness to return to common sense:
[The Centre for Policy Studies'] text also serves as a warning. If the Blair-Brown strategy fails, if the river of cash flowing into the public services does not transform the NHS or the local comp into first-class services, this is the argument waiting to be deployed.
In their thinktanks and salons, this is what ideological Conservatives want to do: to reduce public spending from its current level, around 40% of GDP, to 30% within two parliamentary terms. So Labour, which likes to say that now is the "social democratic moment" cannot afford to let the moment pass. For now we know what will happen if they fail.
Exactly my own thinking. Now I will just sit back and wait for the failure made inevitable by the decision to flush money down the toilet rather than improve the state sector.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 17:35 | Permanent Link |
Tuesday, August 13, 2002
Fighting back does pay off in the end
ISRAEL IS WINNING the war on terror. Daniel Pipes looks in detail at the ways in which terrorism is proving a failure in Palestinian eyes:
Two years of terrorism has brought on huge economic losses to Palestinians. Unemployment is variously estimated between 40 percent and 70 percent. Underemployment is no less dramatic: "University graduates, architects and engineers, men who once wore suits, now hawk flavored water, fruit, paper napkins and chewing gum alongside street children with their hands for alms," reports The Chicago Tribune.
... Palestinian violence has ended normal life in the West Bank and Gaza, where the population labors under curfews, transportation barely moves, schools are mostly shut and hospitals hardly function.
... The unremitting Palestinian campaign of violence has prompted what appear to be effective Israeli countermeasures.
Resolution in the face of evil is paying off, and ignoring the UN and the "international community" has done wonders for Israel. By destroying the houses of suicide bombers, Israel makes clear to the twisted excuses for human beings who brainwash their kids with anti-Semitic nonsense that sure, they can turn their children into walking bombs, collecting rewards from Iraq and Saudi Arabia in the process. Just don't leave your home address on the application form, because the postman will have real trouble getting those cheques to you. Suddenly a class difference has become clear to Palestinians, too:
The unwillingness of Hamas leaders to dispatch their own children to their deaths adds piquancy to this evolution. Israeli media have widely played recordings of a Hamas leader's wife as she is entreated to allow her son to become "one of the martyrs." To this she stiffly replies that the boy "is not involved in any of that . . . my son is busy with his studies."
I guess that is the Middle East equivalent of sending your kids to public school while condemning everyone else's to the local comprehensive, but normal people are noticing that it is always they who must part with their kids, never the murderers at the top. For two years, Israel has resisted terrorism, and is now beginning to prevail. America and Britain have much to learn from Israel's courage in this area, and their choice not to give an inch more than would be gained by non-violent means.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 15:59 | Permanent Link |
Does the SDPII have any important backers?
DAMIEN GREEN, the Tories' very intelligent and likeable Education Spokesman, denies any knowledge of this breakaway group. I wonder whether any such split would actually be less the SDP and more the Pro-Euro Conservative Party. (Remember them? Didn't think so.)Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 15:05 | Permanent Link |
The "Tories" who think a return to sanity comes from following the example of the SDP
IF YOU THINK the SDP were a success or that they helped the Labour Party by their existence, you just about have the brains to become a trade union leader. What you should not be is a Conservative candidate. But a few such people have earned that position, and now seem ready to break away to form a rival to the Tories, based on social liberalism. They will be destroyed, but that doesn't stop them harming the Tories. They say Iain Duncan Smith has little chance of victory at the next election. Considering the Labour splits made possible by war with Iraq, and failure caused by Brown's absurdly wasteful Comprehensive Spending Review, I am more optimistic. But even if the pro-split Tories are right, how much chance do they have of winning? This would be a gift to Labour that would last a decade, retaining a failing, useless government in power unnecessarily. The Tories have work to do, but it is in advocating a right-of-centre alternative to Labour's high-tax way of running the public sector. No one much cares about attitudes to gays, which is what this is really about. It seems it is the sole test of social attitudes, and anyone who disagrees with the gay lobby is now beyond the BBCdian pale. But no normal person changes his vote because a party is not pro-gay enough. There are a hundred more important issues. For the Tories to win again, they must campaign on them, and they need the support of every Conservative in doing so.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 12:21 | Permanent Link |
Monday, August 12, 2002
People must come first
ONE THING MEMBERS of the animal rights brigade will never do is admit to the logic of their position: that killing a rat should earn the same prison sentence as murdering a child, that a mouse has a right not to be killed by a cat. They don't do this because it will drive sane people away. But if you honestly believe there is no moral difference between a species whose members can compose symphonies, fall in love, write a poem or reason logically - and your household animal - then there is no reason at all why you shouldn't believe this. Now their campaigns are infiltrating American schools, encouraging kids to think of animals as morally equal to people, and to oppose life-saving vivisection. This is a dangerous, immoral way to educate, and Debra Saunders is right to oppose it.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 14:51 | Permanent Link |
A crackdown on louts will work
ALL SORTS OF evidence suggests that one of the key ways to stop serious crime is to crack down on petty crime and make clear that it will not be tolerated. So the move today to allow police to issue on the spot fines of £40 or £80 to thugs and nuisances is a good one. The fines must be paid by post, or the offender faces the charge for the original crime in court. If trails beginning in the West Midlands, Essex, Croydon and South Wales are successful, the scheme could be implemented everywhere within a year. I certainly hope so, though I would like to see the fines increased.
Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes typically launches more objections on civil liberties grounds or whatever he chooses to call them:
"There's all the difference in the world between having a ticket for parking on a yellow line - objective, no argument - and going up to somebody on a Friday night and saying 'You are causing nuisance behaviour'.
"That's very subjective and hardly likely to produce a compliant response."
What seems to be a nuisance is indeed subjective up to a point. But the actual offences that are defined as causing a nuisance are every bit as objective as yellow lines: being drunk and disorderly or drunk in the highway, throwing stones at trains, trespassing on a railway, throwing fireworks, drinking in a restricted area, wilful obstruction of the highway, buying alcohol for children. There is nothing subjective about these offences. Either a stone was thrown at a train or it wasn't. Either alcohol was bought for children or it wasn't. Yellow lines work relatively well. I believe this scheme will, too.
Just one problem with this idea strikes me: don't we need some actual police on the beat to enforce it?Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 14:15 | Permanent Link |
Short but sweet
IN A LETTER to The Times, today, Professor Avner Offer makes a crucial point in a very few words about Milburn's recent column:
Sir, Alan Milburn (Comment, August 7) would provide “more choice in schools and hospitals”. But there cannot be genuine choice of quality with free public services. If not constrained by price or ignorance, who would choose anything but the best? What scope does that leave for “choice”? Mr Milburn surely understands this point, so the slogan of choice must be understood as a euphemism for discrimination, by price or otherwise. That is why choice is, as he says, “territory that the Tories crave”, and that is why there is so much resistance to his proposals.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 13:53 | Permanent Link |
Student debt is the whole point
WHENEVER A LEFT-WING paper mentions students, you can be pretty sure the word "debt" will appear liberally in the report that follows, as in The Independent today. The reasoning behind every report of this kind is the idea that someone having to pay for their own degree is inherently unjust. Why? A good university degree is a wonderful thing for the student in many ways. It can give a lifetime's background and interest in the subject, a wonderful career in the future, a few years of great intellectual fullfilment and friends that share all these things. Why exactly should people who haven't had any of that have to pay for those who have? Why should the burden of going to university be spread out to everyone instead of being paid for by those who earn it? University graduates will usually be earning a salary much, much greater than that earned by non-graduates. Why shouldn't they pay for what got them in that position, rather than shifting the burden elsewhere?
The only circumstances in which such debt will be a problem are for those whose degrees do not get them a good job, and do not provide the resources to pay off their debts in no time at all. But if these degrees are of no real benefit, then why take them? I don't see a reason. If people want to waste their time on Mickey Mouse degrees, that is their choice, but I sure as hell don't understand why I should pay for it. Student debt raises standards by putting a cost on a degree. If the degree in question is worth anything, that cost will be nothing compared to what the graduate earns in a few years. If not, the cost is a necessary disincentive to taking it.
Conservatives should support tuition fees because they believe education should teach true knowledge and skills. Labour voters should support them because they oppose shifting financial burdens from the wealthy to the poor. I say this as someone heading to university myself in two months: the decision to introduce tuition fees is one of the best this government has made since it came to power.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 13:18 | Permanent Link |
When discussing the public sector, Alan, don't mention the public!
IF A LABOUR MP wants to cause a real fuss, he can support Israel against the "Palestinians" formerly known as land-grabbing, mass murderers. Or he can say that tougher penalties for wrongdoers reduce crime. But if he really wants Old Labour to blow its top, he can subtly suggest that the public services should be run primarily in the interests of the public. Alan Milburn did that last week, and Roy Hattersley is not pleased. For a witty response to Milburn's ideas about introducing patient choice into the NHS, see his Guardian column today.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 12:24 | Permanent Link |
There's no room for compromise in the choice between Marxism and freedom
THAT ECONOMIC GENIUS Karl Marx, who didn't understand that when two people enter a voluntary exchange they can both gain, is now being credited by The Guardian with having predicted the Enron/Worldcom problems. In his column, Cambridge Professor Gareth Stedman Jones concludes by calling for a compromise:
"What has stultified the thinking of the left has been its continued belief that capitalism is to be wholly accepted or rejected as a single system. It retains a lingering conviction that capitalism is all of one piece and can be rejected in the name of a non-existent communist system destined some time to form the basis of an alternative world order."
But this is exactly the dilemma facing the left. You either believe in a free society or you don't. You can't half-believe in using government coercion and confiscation to ensure people's own money is spent in the way you want. You either accept the free market and a voluntary exchange of goods and services, or you accept that the state defines the economic and political objectives by which people must live. Either people decide themselves the price they will charge and pay for goods and labour, or a government does it for them. There is no room for compromise.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 10:44 | Permanent Link |
Sunday, August 11, 2002
Hackers at Downing Street?
THE IDEA THAT 10 Downing Street could be hacking into BBC computers in order to find out their upcoming news and alter it when they can, is the sort of thing one would expect from Michael Dobbs or Frederick Forsyth. But it appears it has been happening under this government very recently, as The Sunday Telegraph reports:
The BBC has investigated allegations that Downing Street illegally hacked into its computer system in order to influence critical news items before they were broadcast.
John Simpson, the BBC's world affairs editor, claims in a new book that, on several occasions, reporters were telephoned by Government officials who tried to persuade them to temper bulletins that had not yet been transmitted.
Journalists at the BBC's west London newsroom were alarmed that Downing Street staff appeared to know about the contents of their reports in advance.
They reported their concerns to their editors who, in turn, investigated the apparent breaches of computer security.
Simpson says in his book News From No Man's Land that one correspondent noticed that when he wrote a script on the newsroom computer for the next news bulletin "he would be rung up by Downing Street before it was broadcast and lobbied on a point or two".
"This didn't happen just once or twice," writes Simpson. "Downing Street has also rung up The World at One programme to complain about the items it was planning to run."
Simpson does not identify the journalists involved but claims that the tactics were part of widespread attempts by the Government to pressure the BBC and other broadcasters into more favourable coverage of its policies.
"Several colleagues are morally certain that it has happened," he writes.
If this news is true, the Tories must use it to push for as many resignations as possible. Anyone involved in this crime should be jailed, and relevant senior ministers should take responsibility and resign. Hoping for Blair to go is probably asking far too much, but someone in the government should certainly explain how this was permitted to go on.Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 12:47 | Permanent Link |
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