Sunday, June 28

Hiding.

A milestone, this. I'm going to disagree with Natalie The Wise, because she's made the usual Libertarian case for why the state shouldn't stop people wearing burqas:

If you want to keep your freedom to drink what you please on the public street then fight for the freedom to wear what you please on the public street.

But what about public drunkeness, then, and the fear and misery of those whose nights are blighted by drunks fighting at their windows and pissing in their gardens? And what about the cloth-entombed women, projecting an image of both slavery and Islamic aggression, who may or may not have chosen to wear the black bag?

My answer is substantially the same to both social problems: as a society we have chosen to deny ourselves the very tools of private social action (no, that is not a contradiction in terms) that could make things better.

For decades we have denied ourselves disapproval. For decades we have denied ourselves property rights. For decades we have denied ourselves the right to free association, which necessarily includes the right not to associate.

These tools are the ones we have the right to use. They are also the right tools for the job. They, unlike the tools of coercion, will not turn in our hands and cut us.


The burqa is not a matter of giving Muslim women the same clothing freedoms as the rest of us; it is a matter of making them a specific exception to various laws and regulations which already exist. There are lots of things I am not allowed to do when wearing a mask, and quite rightly, in my opinion: going through airport security, loitering in a bank, walking into a school playground. This is Northern Ireland. Imagine what would happen if I were to walk into a school wearing a balaclava. Anyone going to protect my clothing "rights"? I bloody hope not. Yet a polite request to a Muslim woman to remove her mask while on the premises would land the headteacher in court. She doesn't have equal rights; she has extra ones.

And sure, yes, as I've said before, we need more public disapproval. The word "judgmental" should not be derogatory. But, for that to work, you need to be dealing within a civilised framework. When it comes to the burqa, we are dealing with — in some cases — and, for obvious reasons, we have no way of knowing until it's too late which cases they are — people who will hurt us, even cut us dead in the street. We're not discussing a civilised debate here.

In general, I would say that strong private institutions are a bulwark against the type of creeping Islamification - or capture by other minority groups - that concern many of the commenters to this thread ... Contrast that with the position of state institutions, which includes state laws. These are a much more realistic target for capture by determined minorities. If, say 3% of the population feel really strongly about some issue and 97% are apathetic it is actually quite a realistic proposition for the 3% to get laws passed to steer things their way. Much easier than out-purchasing the other 97%, certainly.


A good point well made, but it's already happened via another method: violence. I don't think anyone really knows what proportion of Muslims in Britain are extremist Islamists willing to perpetrate sometimes lethal violence against infidels and apostates, but it doesn't need to be large: just a small handful of violent lunatics is enough to unleash enough violence to create enough news stories to change all our behaviour. If I'm running a shop and a group of people walk in all wearing burqas and I don't like it, sure, I could express my disapproval. But, of course, I'm going to be asking myself: Just how much do I disapprove? Enough to get a beating? Enough to risk an angry mob storming my shop? Enough to be killed? Enough to risk my family? And chances are I'll hold my tongue — even if the people who've entered my shop are in fact comepletely reasonable sane people who don't even want to wear bloody burqas and whose reaction, had I spoken up, would actually have just been to have a nice chat about it. Most people aren't likely to risk finding that out.

So a small group have changed the behaviour of the majority to accommodate their extremism. And this is exactly the sort of situation that we have a state with a police force for. We need a law to be passed — not necessarily a burqa ban, but some sort of law — in order to get back to the state we should be in: the state where civilised discussion is possible.

The commenter Ian B asks:

How does one define when citizens can cover their faces? Below a certain temperature? When it's snowing? It's not as if you can really define what a burka is.


Those who wear the burqa, even if they actually want to, don't just feel like wearing it on the street quite a lot. They insist on wearing it at all times, often to the extent of taking action against anyone who asks to see their face. When the rest of us cover our faces for whatever reason, the same is not true.

So don't define what a burqa is. Just apply the same rule to everyone: sure, you can hide your face because of the cold or because you're disfigured or even because of your religion, on the condition that you reveal your face when asked. And allow anyone who dislikes face-hiding to refuse entry. Banks can refuse entry to motorcyclists who refuse to remove their helmets. Let them refuse entry to anyone else, whetever their religion, who refuses to remove any kind of mask. At the moment, they can't.

That's one solution, but I'd go a bit further. There are a number of laws which are simply codifications of our society's social norms and conventions. This particular one has never been codified up till now because it hasn't been needed, but wearing a mask in public certainly has been considered for hundreds of years in Britain to be the behaviour of criminals. The big change here is not the proposal to ban the burqa: that'll just be affirming the long-established norms. The big change happened a few years ago, and was the decision to protect the "right" of certain people to wear masks at all times. There is no such right in Britain.

I am reminded of the seatbelt law. I know most libertarians will vigorously defend their "right" to drive without a seatbelt. Personally, I don't think anyone has a right to leap out in front of moving traffic, and I don't accept "But I've just been hurled through my own windscreen" as an excuse. But that's not the point. As anyone who's tried to put on a seatbelt as a passenger in a country without this law will know, the problem isn't one of freedom of choice. The problem is drivers who refuse to allow their passengers to wear seatbelts, because they consider it an insult to their driving skills or masculinity or penis size or whatever. The important effect of the seatbelt law was to allow people who had always wanted to wear seatbelts to do so when being given lifts by wankers. In a typical family car, there's one driver and three passengers, so the number of people whose freedom was increased is greater than the number whose freedom was decreased. Imperfect, sure, but that's humanity for you.

Similarly, the problem with the burqa is coercion. We all know it. Ban masks in public, and all those women being coerced are given freedom without being given the blame for asking for freedom. Great. Meanwhile, a tiny number of people are prevented from doing something that has never ever been socially accepted in this country and are denied a right that they never had. Boo hoo. More people will gain freedom than will lose it.



Saturday, June 27

Ignoramuses.

This article about upcoming car technology is very interesting and well worth reading, but the writer, Tom Evans, displays a huge glaring splash of ignorance the moment he veers away from the topic of cars:

Another very clever aspect is the harnessing of the 'wisdom of the crowd' -- how the actions of large numbers of people can help others make decisions -- a way of thinking that has grown up in the internet age. Examples abound, with perhaps one of the best examples being Amazon.com's 'people who bought this book also bought that one'.


No, this way of thinking didn't grow up in the Internet age. It's been around, and very successful, for thousands of years. And that Amazon example is not a good one, really. There are far better examples from the Net, but why bother with any of them when by far the best example is also the oldest and therefore the one people will be most familiar with: pricing.

Honestly, some people.



What is race, anyway?

Well, it ain't this:

The school, in Brent, northwest London, rejected the 12-year-old child because his mother converted to Judaism at a Progressive rather than Orthodox synagogue. M’s father is Jewish, but custom dictates that the faith line passes through the mother.

The judges said that “the requirement that if a pupil is to qualify for admission his mother must be Jewish, whether by descent or by conversion, is a test of ethnicity which contravenes the Race Relations Act”.


In. Sane.

In case you missed the implications of that, what England's distinguished legal scholars have decided is that it's possible to change your ethnicity by conversion.



Force of habit.

As we all know, news broadcasters in America use helicopters. It's a perfectly good idea: you can get superb footage of car-chases and gunfights and fires and floods and things behind police cordons. But, at some point, it seems to have become more automatic than considered: they just send their helicopters to whatever the biggest story is right now.

I noticed this at the start of the Michael Jackson coverage yesterday — the very start, when no-one was sure whether he was dead or not and the crowd outside the hospital was still small.

"Michael Jackson's been rushed to hospital and reported dead? He's in the hospital now, either being treated or prepared for the morgue? We have to find out what's going on in there. Quick! Send the chopper to get some footage of the hospital's roof."

And then, having got that footage, they broadcast it. For ages.

Odd.



Accident?

Either this is a brilliant and lucky accident, or someone called KateX has carefully analysed the way entries in The Telegraph's online dating service are summarised in the ads that appear on the main site, and has written her spiel accordingly:


TELEGRAPH DATING: KateX: Very happy, attractive, relatively unconventional, chilled out blonde who likes most things - gigs, dancing, theatre, nights in the pub, good food, football, holidays and a good...


No, I couldn't help myself: I clicked and went and looked. The next word is "book." Must be a lot of disappointed single male Telegraph-readers out there.



Monday, June 22

Damning with faint praise.

I have to admit that I felt a spot of pride when the Evil Totalitarian Bastards Of Iran named Britain as Enemy Number One. Yes, not America; us. We are now a greater Satan than The Great Satan. Yay! Gordon Brown must be doing something right.

Fans of Barack "Bloody" Obama, take note: when the tyrant sends armed thugs out onto the streets to shoot dead any jumped-up slaves with the temerity to ask for freedom, saying "That's not very nice" is the bare minimum that a democratic world leader ought to be able to manage. Not "Oh, what an incredibly vigorous debate they're having." Your guy is so deficient that Gordon Brown — that's Gordon Brown, weak leader of a dying government, with no democratic mandate as such, famous for being a bit of a nonentity, frankly — Gordon Brown has managed to be significantly more important and powerful and morally right than him on the world stage, by merely saying the bare minimum that any half-way civilised person would say. He didn't even follow up his words with a threat of action. Yet he still upset the evil child-murdering bastards more than Obama did.

Quit while you're behind.



Saturday, June 20

Aye, right.

Funnily enough, I got another tattoo yesterday, a few hours before reading this story:

Rouslan Toumaniantz said today that Kimberley Vlaminck 'absolutely' agreed she wanted 56 stars tattooed on the left side of her face.

But now the 18-year-old is suing Toumaniantz, claiming she had asked him for only three stars - and had fallen asleep during the procedure, waking up to a nightmare in her Belgian hometown of Courtrai.


So it is very fresh in my mind that... ah, how can I put this? It hurts like buggery. Sure, some people have higher pain thresholds than others. But no-one just drifts off and has a nap while having their chin tattooed. There's not much flesh on the chin; the needle would be practically scraping bone. It's not a bloody massage.

Toumaniantz claimed Kimberley was happy with the work when she left his shop in Coutrai but changed her mind when her father saw the stars.


His version just sounds so much more plausible than hers.

As an aside, I have to say that the guy's done a beautiful job and Kimberley looks gorgeous. Just a shame she's... well, you know.... She's already demonstrated her propensity to sue people, so I'll not publish my thoughts on her personality.

Not sure I could be bothered travelling all the way to Belgium for my next tattoo — especially since I live next door to an excellent tattooist, which is a tad more convenient — but, if you're in the Courtrai area, it might be worth popping in.

'I maintain that she absolutely agreed that I tattoo those 56 stars on the left side of her face,' he told newspaper La Derniere Heure.

'A witness, a woman who was present, has already been questioned by police, and she confirms it.

'But be that as it may: Kimberley is unhappy and it is not my wish to have an unsatisfied client. There is a way to remove the tattoos with the help of a laser. I accept to pay for half the cost.'


That's £4250 he's offering, just as a goodwill gesture, compared to the original cost of the tattoo of £55. That may be the best customer service I've ever seen. What a thoroughly decent guy.



Friday, June 19

Fantastic.

Nothing to do with Iran, this:

Carlos Owens had handled all kinds of machines as an army mechanic, but he always dreamed of using those skills for one project: his own "mecha,” a giant metal robot that could mirror the movements of its human pilot.

Owens, 31, began building an 18-foot-tall, one-ton prototype at his home in Wasilla, Alaska, in 2004.


He didn't half. Go see the photo.

He foresees mechas having uses in the military and the construction industry but acknowledges that right now they’re best suited to entertainment. The first application he has in mind: mecha-vs.-mecha battles, demolition-derby style.


OK, I love this guy.



Thursday, June 18

The nature of democracy. Again.

Here, in passing, I mentioned one of the greatest but often overlooked advantages of democracy:

Even if it's true that Bush is only doing what he's doing as part of a secret plot by Big Oil to take over the world, or by a sinister cabal to establish a New World Order, so what? That only actually matters in a tyranny. In a democracy, whatever our would-be leaders' true motivation, they have to get our support to get their way. And it doesn't matter whether they're lying about their motivations, because, when we vote, we're not. So, even if Bush didn't really give a damn about the Iraqi people, it didn't matter, because, for him to do what he was trying to do, he needed the votes of tens of millions of Americans. What matters is whether those Americans cared about the Iraqi people.


And now look what's happening:

Lots of folks argue — including President Obama — that Mousavi isn't that different from Ahmadinejad on issues like Israel and Iran's nuclear program and so why make such a fuss? I think this is an awfully static analysis of the situation. Sure, if the election had gone swimmingly and Mousavi had won, he might have been the dutiful Egon Krenz of the Mullahcracy, with some window dressing reforms to placate the masses. Or he might have done better than that. Who knows? But all of that is academic now.

Moreover, that debate is a little annoying because it tends to support the idea that this was a legitimate election in the first place. Mousavi was a handpicked hack. His leadership of the reform forces is by default or as Michael Ledeen put it, "He is a leader who has been made into a revolutionary by a movement that grew up around him." At this point the question is, do the people of Iran succeed or does the clerical politburo and its henchmen succeed. If the people succeed, the regime is in real trouble. It's amazing how so many observers doubt something the regime itself manifestly knows. If these protests weren't a threat to the regime and the established theocratic order the regime wouldn't be shooting people.


Mousavi didn't intend to be a reformer. But now he's been turned into one by his supporters. Democracy has this power, not just to choose its leaders, but to shape them.

I was one of those people who tended to disagree with Bush over the value of democracy. I thought that you needed freedom and a stable society first, then true democracy could take root. While he called for democracy, I called for liberty. And Iran was always a good example of why mere voting by itself isn't enough.

Or so I thought. We're seeing an evil and brutal regime under serious threat from the results of the sham elections that took place inside its rigged system. The dictatorship rejected hundreds of would-be presidential candidates, allowing only those whose unequivocal loyalty it could rely upon to stand. And it doesn't matter: the people are forcing their views into the system and into the candidate. Mousavi no longer has much choice in the matter: he's a reformer whether he likes it or not.

Looks like Bush was right after all: democracy can lead to liberty.



Monday, June 15

Reporters still not reporting.

I couldn't help but be amused by the news reports that there are allegations of election-rigging in iran. This is news? Obviously the election's rigged: that's built into the Iranian system.

What our news reporters would have reported, if they could still be bothered with thought or honesty or both, is that there are allegations of extra unauthorised election-rigging that isn't of an approved type.



Tuesday, June 9

Talking of good writing...

Probably the best writer in the English language today is Michael Marshall Smith. And now he has a blog. This is a Good Thing.

He writes great stories, but the blog is a stark reminder of the fact that his excellent plots are just icing on the cake. It's just his prose that is inherently good, no matter what he's writing about.

For instance, thousands of people have complained about what's happened to British rubbish collection over the last few years. But none have done it like this:

When I was a kid, bin men had an aura, a mystique, something of the night about them: fierce, semi-mythical beings who came with the dawn and hefted sacks of household trash into the grinding back-ends of their trucks, before rumbling ominously away. Their speech was a sequence of impenetrable grunts and howls; their clothes looked as though they had been worn for decades, or secreted like outer skins. The only contact normal citizens had with these creatures was the ‘Christmas box’: a seasonal cash offering given to the member of the tribe that walked most convincingly on hind legs — this ritual having (to my childhood mind, at least) the flavour of a bribe to ensure that the bin men not sneak back in the night to wreak havoc upon the houses they serviced, stealing one of the occupants (or their children) and dragging them away to a dread kingdom given over to the very hungriest of ogres and trolls.

....

So what were we supposed to do? Call the council, we were told. And do what — ask for them to send some men instead? Or command them to use the big rusted key to open the shed at the back of the depot, where lurks a last remnant of old skool bin men, chained to a post in darkness, fed with scraps of carrion, kept for the occasions when a profligate household needed a slightly-heavier-than-usual bag carried a few feet from curb to cart?


Buying the man's books is not something you're likely to regret.



Monday, June 8

Uninventing the wheel.

I don't want Iran or North Korea to have nuclear weapons. It's just a bad, bad idea. But the thing about atomic bombs is that they are now sixty-year-old technology. As you'd expect, after sixty years, they're not particularly high technology either. Not like they used to be. Schoolkids can tell you how to make them. It's only getting hold of the materials that makes building them a bit tricky. And how long is that going to last?

Imagine if we decided to stop, say, the Mongolians from developing mobile phones, or microchips, or solar panels, or satellites, or lasers or holograms or any of a whole bunch of things which may have been around a while but are still far younger than atom bombs. Could we have done it? Indefinitely? Does that sound like a realistic project?

Even if we do stop today's psycho nutters from getting hold of the things (which would rather require Barack bloody Obama wanting to stop them), we're just putting off the inevitable. Soon enough, an extremist maniac will have a fission bomb, if we're lucky, or a fusion bomb if we're not.

So, for me, all this talk of whether the Ayatollahs and Kim Jong-Il ought to have nuclear weapons rather misses the point. Let's assume they will have them. What then?

All I can see are three options.

One, try Mutually Assured Destruction again. To be fair, it totally worked in the Cold War, and seems to have kept Pakistan and India merely at each other's throats rather than dancing around in showers of blood. But it requires two things to work. It requires both parties to be basically rational and want their people to survive. The Iranians used their own children to clear minefields in the Iran-Iraq War and are rather fond of martyrdom. Kim Jong-Il is batshit crazy. And it also requires a lack of deniability. As the Sudanese are all too aware, the world's powers have become so legalistic that all you need is the faintest hint that you might not be lying when you say "It weren't me!" and they'll refuse to act. Everyone knows how you destroy London: you put the nuke in a car and deny everything. Intercontinental ballistic missiles are traceable, and therefore passe.

Two, you can ensure that any countries that do get hold of nuclear weapons find their leadership class suddenly lacking in insanity. This can only really be achieved by getting rid of the insane ones. This is my favoured option, I don't mind saying, but just look at the fuss over the last few years over the US overthrowing a man who weaponised aflatoxin — aflatoxin, for crying out loud — and replacing his brutal murderous regime with the region's second-freest society. Fair to say, it wouldn't go down well.

And then there's option three: die.

Great.



Again with the Steyn. Enough, already.

The thing about Mark Steyn is that he's a great writer. I find it puzzling that so many people who disagree with him feel obliged to slag off his writing. One of my favourite writers is Julie Birchill, and when she's wrong, she's really bloody Wrong — but still worth reading, 'cause she writes the wrongness so well. Steyn is as good as Birchill, if not better.

Anyway, all that's a mere preamble to this:

The speech nevertheless impressed many conservatives, including Rich Lowry, my esteemed editor at National Review, "esteemed editor" being the sort of thing one says before booting the boss in the crotch.

 



Respect.

Typical. No sooner does David Cameron do the impossible and persuade me to vote Tory than the Ulster Unionists screw it all up.

My MP is Lady Sylvia Hermon, a thoroughly decent person who is likely to get my vote by dint of that decency. Since the last Northern-Irish election, she has been the Ulster Unionist Party's only MP. Any party with half a brain between them would realise that this makes her the most important person in the party — or, at the very least, up there in the top three or four. Not the UUP. Every time you hear anything on the news about the UUP, it's a bunch of old men discussing important things, with the only member of their party able to wield any actual power in the UK's Parliament conspicuous by her absence. It's been very difficult not to get the impression that they view her as a bit of an embarassment, really.

And it turns out that that impression has been correct. The UUP have made an alliance with the Conservative Party — which is probably a good move in all sorts of ways, except that it turns out they've done it without consulting Hermon.

Let's just recap that, for those who missed the significance. The UUP have agreed to merge with the Conservatives. This means that all UUP MPs will from now on be Conservative MPs, voting with the Conservatives. All UUP MPs is Lady Hermon; there are no others. She wasn't consulted. The UUP leadership are all rather huffy about it and have clearly been caught off guard by some jumped-up little woman not doing what she's told, but a Conservative spokesman seemed quite happy to just call it as he saw it and accused the UUP of screwing up their people-management. Mind you...

It is understood that [her] feeling the Conservatives have little understanding of Ulster politics, compounded by discussions with one senior Tory who repeatedly referred to “Irish MPs” and Mr Cameron’s decision to wear a green tie to a unionist event, has not lessened over time.


And, now she's been told to vote with the Conservatives, she's refused, announced she'll be leaving the party, and decided to stand as an independent at the next election. And, for that, she's got my vote. Who cares if she supports Gordon Brown? He can't rely on her support; he has to talk her into it. She's a good person, and she's now shown that she'll refuse to be pushed around by anyone.

At the present time, I can't see myself standing under a Conservative banner. If my party chooses to move to call themselves by a different name, I'm terribly sorry and terribly disappointed by that but I remain an Ulster Unionist. That was certainly my mandate and I've loved serving the people of North Down. They have stood by me through the most difficult of times and if they choose and wish me to serve them I would do my very best to do that.


Lady Hermon, consider the box ticked.



Cognitive dissonance.

OK, two things.

Whenever anyone mentions the European Elections, I point out that, no, they're the EU Elections. People's response to this tends to be dismissive — one person even said to me, ah, it is Europe really. Now, the EU is to Europe what the UK is to the British Isles.

So my first question is: why is it that these same people, who insist that the EU is Europe, would not simply shrug it off if I were to say that Dublin is in Britain?

As you may have seen in the news, the BNP have won a seat in the EU Elections and are probably going to win at least one more. A lot of people are very upset about this. Thing is, though, that the EU "Parliament" is not actually a parliament, as it has no legislative power. And, what with its having no legislative power, it wouldn't actually matter if the ghost of Adolf Hitler got elected on a Stalinist ticket. MEPs can't do a damned thing except talk for money. Power over the EU resides in the Commission, to which no BNP members have been or are ever likely to be admitted.

So my second question is: why is it that the people who are most upset by the BNP's winning a seat tend to be made more angry, not less, if you remind them that said seat isn't in a real parliament?