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Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Prog Con

A couple of weeks ago, we interviewed Claire Berlinski on the NARN First Team and discussed her book There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters. Since then, I've been working my way through the book and have found it to be quite a good read. Berlinski was able to interview many of the key players behind Thatcher's rise and reign (unfortunately Thatcher herself is no longer available for interviews) and their recollections are invaluable in explaining the impact that Thatcher had on Great Britain and the world. The book is a good primer for Americans who seek to better understand Thatcher and the pivotal events of the her era in the U.K. (the Falkland's War and the miners' strike in particular). Berlinski's insights and analysis are thought provoking and help provide a solid narrative structure.

Thatcher's legacy today in the Britain is far from clear. Despite "New" Labour's claims in the Nineties that "we're all Thatcherites now," when you look at the direction the country is moving under Gordon Brown it's easy to wonder if the pendulum has swung back toward a more statist approach. In the past, Conservative leader David Cameron hasn't exactly inspired confidence that his political vision offers a real alternative either.

However, the first part of a four-part series by Cameron that appeared in the The Guardian yesterday seems to provide cause for hope. The title "A new politics: We need a massive, radical redistribution of power" isn't one that you often would associate with conservative thought. Words like "massive," "radical," and "redistribution" are usually the province of the Left and more often that not would be met with a wary eye by conservatives. But in this case, they may be just the prescription for what ails Britain:

Our philosophy of progressive Conservatism--the pursuit of progressive goals through Conservative means--aims to reverse the collapse in personal responsibility that inevitably follows this leeching of control away from the individual and the community into the hands of political and bureaucratic elites. We can reverse our social atomisation by giving people the power to work collectively with their peers to solve common problems. We can reverse our society's infantilisation by inviting people to look to themselves, their communities and wider society for answers, instead of just the state. Above all, we can encourage people to behave responsibly if they know that doing the right thing and taking responsibility will be recognised and will make a difference.

While I'm not crazy about the label "progressive Conservatism," the idea of giving power and responsibility back to the individual definitely has appeal.

So I believe the central objective of the new politics we need should be a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power: from the state to citizens; from the government to parliament; from Whitehall to communities; from the EU to Britain; from judges to the people; from bureaucracy to democracy. Through decentralisation, transparency and accountability we must take power from the elite and hand it to the man and woman in the street. Yes, as many Guardian commentators in their contributions to A New Politics have argued, that means reforming parliament. But it means much more besides. The reform that's now required--this radical redistribution of power--must go through every public institution, not just parliament.

We should start by pushing political power down as far as possible. Politicians will have to change their attitude--big time. Politicians, and the senior civil servants and advisers who work for them, instinctively hoard power because they think that's the way to get things done. Well we're going to have to kill that instinct: and believe me, I know how hard that's going to be. It will require a serious culture change among ministers, among Whitehall officials--and beyond. With every decision government makes, it should ask a series of simple questions: does this give power to people, or take it away? Could we let individuals, neighbourhoods and communities take control? How far can we push power down?

The parallels aren't perfect, but this does have echoes of Reagan's philosophy of federalism.

It's by asking those questions that you arrive at our plans for school reform. Right now, parents just have to hope for the best and take the school place they're given. You sit there waiting for the letter from the local authority, hoping you get your first choice of school, or at least hoping you avoid the schools at the bottom of your list. One of the most important things in your life--the education of your children--is largely out of your hands. Our reforms will take the power over education out of the council's hands and put it directly in parents' hands, so they have control.

We'll end the state monopoly in state education, so that any suitably qualified organisation can set up a new school, and any parent who isn't happy with the education their child is receiving can send their child to a new school--backed by state money, including a new extra payment for children from the poorest families. This is the kind of redistribution of power that will be the starting point for a Conservative government: transferring power and control directly to individuals.

This is a more radical proposal for educational reform than anything that I can recall Republican leaders supporting in the United States. Perhaps there are still strains of Thatcherite thought in today's Tory Party after all. And perhaps, like some of Thatcher's ideas, those strains will stretch across the Atlantic.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Still Some Bite In The Bulldog?

One of my favorite NARN radio interviews was with British historian Michael Burleigh. He's the author of Earthly Powers: The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe, from the French Revolution to the Great War and Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great War to the War on Terror, two essential works in understanding the interplay of religion and politics in modern history.

Now, he's just released his latest work, Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism:

Blood and Rage is a sweeping and deeply penetrating work of history that explores the nature of terrorism from its origins in the West to today's global threat fueled by fundamentalists. Distinguished historian Michael Burleigh ("There are few better writers at work today"--The Sunday Times) emphasizes the lethal resentments and the twisted morality that spawn terrorism rather than the ideological or religious justification that routinely accompanies it. He reveals who the terrorist groups are, how they organize and operate, what motivates their violence, and how wider support encourages them.

Burleigh takes us from the roots of terrorism in the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Russian Nihilists, and the London-based anarchists of Black International to the various terrorist campaigns that exist today. He also explores the lives of people engaged in careers of political violence and those who are most affected by terrorism.

Burleigh argues persuasively that history enables us to see how terrorism can be effectively contained and countered by avoiding the major mistakes of the past and by exploiting weaknesses within terrorist organizations. The problems in today's world, as well--especially the chaos inflicted by terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan--reflect the tragic, disastrous, and far-reaching consequences of this long war.

Definitely one to add to the Wish List.

And Mr. Burleigh is now blogging at Standpoint.Online, the web outpost for the promising new British mag:

Standpoint's core mission is to celebrate our civilization, its arts and its values--in particular democracy, debate and freedom of speech--at a time when they are under threat. Standpoint aims to be an antidote to the parochialism of British political magazines and to introduce British readers to brilliant writers and thinkers from across the Atlantic, across the Channel and around the world.

There most certainly is a need for such a stout defense of civilization in the U.K. and the world for that matter. And for the works of men like Michael Burleigh.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008
The Shape Of Things To Come?

British sailors bawling like babies after spending a week in Iranian captivity.

British troops now bugging out of Basra after begging out of battle by remaining bunkered down on base for the last year or so.

And now, in an article in Friday's WSJ on the attempts by brewers in the UK to market beer to women, we learn of the latest blow to British manhood (sub req):

And overall, beer sales fell about 4.5% in the second quarter to 7.85 million barrels from 8.22 million barrels in the second quarter a year earlier, according to the British Beer & Pub Association. That's the least beer consumed on a daily basis since the Great Depression, the association said.

The Brits not drinking beer does not bode well for the future of their land. Britain is just not Britain without pints and pubs.

Beer sales are suffering because of a decline in the popularity of pubs, analysts say. Factors making this year particularly bad include a ban on smoking in pubs, the weakening economy and a cold start to the summer.

Well, at least they can't blame it on global warming.

The decline is also big compared with consumption elsewhere. In the U.S., sales of beer rose 1.9% in the first half compared with a year ago, according to the Beer Institute, a trade group in Washington.

Even with the decline in consumption, the British government is concerned about alcohol-related illness and binge drinking -- and brewers don't want to run afoul of the government's health emphasis in any new marketing campaigns. The Department of Health recently said it is considering tough new restrictions on the drinks industry. One option under consideration is requiring pubs to offer drinks in small glasses.

Let's hope this latest imposition of the Nanny State doesn't make it across the pond.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Truly Paralytic

London mayor Boris Johnson on bike helmets:

Here, then, is the political position. In my efforts to do the right thing, I have ended up giving offence to both opposing factions. As soon as I started to wear a helmet, I was denounced as a wimp, a milquetoast, a sell-out to the elf and safety lobby, a man so cravenly attached to his own survival that he was willing to wear this undignified plastic hat.

As soon as I was pictured not wearing a helmet, I was attacked for "sending out the wrong signal" and generally poisoning the minds of the young with my own reckless behaviour.

The situation, my friends, is a mess. I have been convicted beyond all reasonable doubt of complete incoherence on the question of cycle helmets--and complete incoherence, therefore, is what I propose to defend.

When I was recently in The Netherlands, I was again reminded of the vast numbers of Dutch who use bikes for regular transportation. In several visits to the country, I don't recall ever seeing a single Dutch man, woman, or child wear a bicycle helmet.

A online comment on Johnson's piece at the Telegraph identifies the real problem with bike helmets:

But after all's said and done there's a most compulsive reason for not wearing a cycle helmet:


A helmet wouldn't have helped in the least in my last cycling accident: I cycled into a cow coming back from the pub whilst truly paralytic. No, really. A Cow. I think it was in the road.

The British reputation for subtle wit lives on.


Monday, April 09, 2007
Whither England?

The cover that Time should Photoshop:

[Thanks to Derek from Freedomdogs for the beautiful work. The sub-head quote is from this Mark Steyn column.]


Friday, March 30, 2007
No Wars at a Time

As we see another round of British hostages being humiliated in front of the world, I harken back to a not too dissimilar situation that happened a little closer to home:

Outright war with England nearly took place in the fall of 1861, when a hot-headed US. naval officer, Captain Charles Wilkes, undertook to twist the lion's tail and got more of a reaction than anyone was prepared for.

Jefferson Davis had named two distinguished Southerners, James M. Mason of Virginia and John Slidell of Louisiana, as commissioners to represent Confederate interests abroad, Mason in England and Slidell in France. They got out of Charleston, South Carolina, on a blockade-runner at the beginning of October and went via Nassau to Havana, where they took passage for England on the British mail steamer Trent.

Precisely at this time U.S.S. San Jacinto was returning to the United States from a long tour of duty along the African coast.. She put in at a Cuban port, looking for news of Confederate commerce raiders which were reported to be active in that vicinity, and there her commander, Captain Wilkes, heard about Mason and Slidell. He now worked out a novel interpretation of international law. A nation at war (it was generally agreed) had a right to stop and search a neutral merchant ship if it suspected that ship of carrying the enemy's dispatches. Mason and Slidell, Wilkes reasoned, were in effect Confederate dispatches, and he had a right to remove them. So on November 8, 1861, he steamed out into the Bahama Channel, fired twice across Trent's bows, sent a boat's crew aboard, collared the Confederate commissioners, and bore them off in triumph to the United States, where they were lodged in Fort Warren, in Boston Harbor. Wilkes was hailed as a national hero. Congress voted him its thanks, and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, ordinarily a most cautious mortal, warmly commended him.

But in England there was an uproar which almost brought on a war. The mere notion that Americans could halt a British ship on the high seas and remove lawful passengers was intolerable. Eleven thousand regular troops were sent to Canada, the British fleet was put on a war footing, and a sharp note was dispatched to the United States, demanding surrender of the prisoners and a prompt apology.

It was touch and go for a while, because a good many brash Yankees were quite willing to fight the British, and the seizure of the Confederate commissioners had somehow seemed like a great victory. But Lincoln stuck to the policy of one war at a time, and after due deliberation the apology was made and the prisoners were released. The Trent incident was forgotten, and the final note was strangely anticlimactic. The transports bearing the British troops to Canada arrived off the American coast just after the release and apology. Secretary of State Seward offered, a little too graciously, to let the soldiers disembark on American soil for rapid transportation across Maine, but the British coldly rejected this unnecessary courtesy.

This was the so-called Trent incident, which was the source of Abraham Lincoln's famous quote about fighting only "one war at a time."

Britain threatened and prepared for war over some sketchy foreigners getting abducted from a British ship. Imagine how they would have reacted back then to their own sailors getting lifted off of a ship of war and humiliated in front of the world. We have to imagine that, because there wasn't a government in the world that would have attempted such a thing in the nineteenth century.

And the Union believed the Brits would travel across the ocean and invade over this relatively minor offense, so they capitulated to British demands, careful never to repeat the offense. That's what a plausible deterrent can do for you. The means and will to make your tormentors suffer lessens the incidence of being tormented. Said in other words, about a different context, by VDH today:

With the demise of fascism, Nazism, and Soviet Communism, and in the new luxury of peace, the West found itself a collective desire to save money that could be better spent on entitlements, to create some distance from the United States, and to enhance international talking clubs in which mellifluent Europeans might outpoint less sophisticated others. And so three post-Cold War myths arose justify these.

First, that the past carnage had been due to misunderstanding rather than the failure of military preparedness to deter evil.

We all know that Europe, even the UK, has basically disarmed itself over the past few decades. Not as evident to me was the effect this had on (or was it the original cause of?) the will, even the survival instincts, of their people. The British Marines gave themselves up without firing a shot! I suspect their rules of engagement were in essence, no firing at anything, ever. Which is fine, as long as your enemy doesn't know that.

Now that the cat's out of the bag, how can they even do the job they were assigned by the UN (stop and board ships, looking for smuggling operations)? If the suspect ships don't stop, what are they going to do them, if they won't even fight to save themselves?

If this mindset is the new paradigm, this could be last time you ever see the British Navy conducting operations outside of British waters. An historic, tragic moment for the world.


Wednesday, February 09, 2005
London Calling

This is a must see for all visitors:

You've just been roaming the dimly lit subterranean corridors of the Cabinet War Rooms--the very space beneath Her Majesty's Treasury from which Winston Churchill directed Britain's war effort, spoke to Franklin Roosevelt by telephone and broadcast some his greatest orations--when you reach the threshold of the magnificent new Churchill Museum. There's a quote on the wall: "We are all worms," says Churchill from the grave, "but I do believe I am a glow worm."

Welcome to the first permanent national exhibition dedicated to the life and achievements of the man voted by the British public in 2002 as the Greatest Briton ever. Housed in a long-abandoned storage area, the museum took £6 million ($11.1 million), and more than two years, to realize. Approximately 25% of the funding came from U.S. donors, along with several of the artifacts, including Sir Winston's polo pants, which were given by an unnamed American collector who "flew to London in his private jet," relates museum director Phil Reed, "and handed them to me over breakfast at the Ritz."

I'm proud to say that I did my part, as I hit the tip jar when my wife and I toured the Cabinet War Rooms in November 2003.

UPDATE: Here is a link to the museum itself. Happy now James?


Monday, July 19, 2004
Why, Some Of My Best Friends Are Black...

According to the results of a recent survey, that statement is not oft heard in the UK:

More than nine out of 10 white Britons have no or hardly any ethnic minority friends, according to a poll that reveals the continuing gulf between races and religions more than 40 years after the UK became a multicultural society. The Guardian has seen details of the survey, to be released this week by the Commission for Racial Equality.

It shows that a majority of white people do not share the bonds of close friendship with their fellow black, Asian or Muslim Britons, meaning they may lack the empathy that close contact can bring. The CRE warns this leaves swaths of the population open to believing the worst of different ethnic and religious groups.

The poll found that 94% of white people say most or all their friends are of the same race, while 47% of ethnic minorities say white people form all or most of their friends. More than half of white people, 54%, said they did not have a single black or Asian person they considered a close friend.

The solution to the problem? Government intervention of course:

Mr Phillips said integration could not be left to chance. He believed the government should fund US-style summer camp places for 16-year-olds where they can take part in activities with teenagers they would otherwise not meet: "In Britain we still don't know each other. We are not like Americans who do know each other but have made an active choice to live in a segregated society."

No word on whether the kids would be bussed to these camps.

My wife, who sent me the link to story, notes that it's no longer good enough that people can choose to be friends with anyone they want. They now must choose to be friends with the RIGHT people.

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Sunday, March 07, 2004
London Hauling

Rule #232 in Saint Paul's Primer For The Aspiring Blogger (679 pages FL Publishing 2003) is simple:

Never promise nuthin' to no one.

But despite Saint Paul's best efforts to hammer this point into my head-including actually clonking me over the head with his weighty tome on more than one occasion- I still haven't been able to resist the urge to tease a forthcoming post once in a while.

Such was the case when I returned from my journey to Iceland and London some time ago and promised that posts on both subjects were "just around the corner". After kicking out a summary of my stay in Iceland within a week, I have had a hard go finding the time for London, a fact that more than a few e-mailers have reminded me of.

But a promise is a promise and I certainly don't want to end up being nominated for any more awards for failing to follow up. So without further adieu, I give you my quick and dirty observations on London.

London is an easy city for the tourist. Great public transportation, especially the Underground, and a plethora of must see sites make it possible to take it a great deal in a short period of time and still leave you wishing for more time. We spent four full days in the city. And by full I mean full I mean chock full of running around trying to see as much as possible. It wasn't a restful vacation but it definitely was an educational and fun one.

Our base of operations was the London Bridge Hotel, which, as the name implies, was in the shadows of London Bridge on the south side of the River Thames. Well, it would have been in the shadows if London Bridge wasn't the least impressive bridge spanning the Thames. If you tried to design a less attractive, duller bridge you'd be hard pressed. Great name, lousy structure. For most people the image that comes to mind when they hear London Bridge is actually that of the nearby Tower Bridge, which is a much more charming site.

We were a stones throw from a tube station, across the street from Southwark Cathedral , and a short walk from the restored Globe Theater, the Modern Tate art museum, as well as scores of pubs and restaurants. A bit more walking brought us within range of the Tower of London, St. Paul's, and the Monument (erected to commemorate the great fire of 1666).

Another impressive feature of London was the food. Not the quality mind you, but rather the quantity. Actually I found the poor reputation for English food to be rather undeserved. It's certainly no worse and, for my money, was usually better than your typical German fare. And the portions were certainly hearty. Americans are often castigated for our penchant for devouring large platters of grub, but the Brits can scarf with the best of them. When we stopped off for lunch at a pub, it was not unusual to see a man or woman shovel a plate of bangers and mash into their gullet and wash it down with a pint of ale. For those of you unfamiliar with the delicacy, bangers and mash consists of three sausages large enough to make a Packer fan drool, laid out on a bed of mashed potatoes, and covered with gravy. A meal that Homer Simpson could appreciate. Mmmm....bangers and mash. But the folks enjoying this culinary delight were not your Joe Six Pack or Sally House Coat types. They were well-dressed office workers on their lunch break. And they weren't morbidly obese either. Which seems strange until you consider...

The pace of the city. London is a city in perpetual motion. Rapid perpetual motion. My wife and I walk quite a bit. And since we reside in Northern climes we tend to stroll briskly. But compared to your average Londoner we looked like a couple of good ol' Georgia boys sauntering off to the nearby fishing hole. London at heart is a city of commerce and these people meant business when it came to getting about. Time is money, after all I guess. But the rush was not rude as it often is in large cities like New York. My wife noticed that when people run over you in London, at least they pause for a quick apology.

What was particularly impressive about the hustling and bustling was the women clad in natty business attire and high heels who moved as if they were wearing track shoes. Black boots were extremely popular with that set. In fact black was the color of choice for the Londoners we came across. Black coats, black suits, black skirts, black pants, black shoes, black umbrellas, etc., etc.

We arrived in London just a week after Bush's state visit and accompanying protests and were curious to see what the mood would be on the war in Iraq. From what we could tell it was mostly a non-issue. Other than a bit of fallout from Bush's visit (a spike in crime was reported because police resources were diverted) neither the war, nor those who opposed it merited more than brief mentions on the nightly news. Blair's proposal to raise tuition for college students and discussions on traffic restrictions in downtown London received far more attention. We were a bit surprised since the Iraq war was (and still is) front-page news in the United States. One of the reasons may be that...

The British have sent troops to fight and die in almost as many areas of the globe since the Second World War as the United States. Korea, Suez, Yemen, Malaysia, Northern Ireland, the Falklands, the Gulf War, the Balkans, as well as various small deployments to former colonies to maintain order. In some ways maybe they're more accustomed to it, and understand that casualties are part of the price that has to be paid.

And the concept of sacrifice is one that the British certainly can appreciate. At the marvelous Imperial War Museum (we spent five hours-I could have spent five days), among the many impressive exhibits, we discovered a database that listed the names of all the British and Commonwealth troops killed in the Great War and where they fell. Nearly a million dead all told. Although there are a few streets in London that bear my surname, it is not exactly commonplace. And yet when we entered it into the database and started reading the list of those who shared the name, we stopped after more than twenty.

Of course when you think of London and war the first name that comes to mind is Churchill. And I cannot recommend highly enough that you take in the Cabinet War Rooms when visiting the city. It is a fascinating glimpse at how Churchill and his staff spent much of the Second World War. And within a year or two, a long overdue museum devoted exclusively to Churchill is scheduled to open.

For me one of the great appeals of London is the history and tradition. You can almost smell it in the air and you feel it everywhere. At times you see an interesting overlap from the past to present, such as the Tower Guard and the 41 gun salute to mark the opening of Parliament. Modern weaponry mixes with ritual tradition.

I was warned before our trip to watch out for the large number of foreigners in London. One group in particular was mentioned as a particularly odious presence according to this source. And the tip was well warranted. For they indeed were everywhere.

I speak of course of the French. They, school children especially, swarmed over the tourist sites. All kids are somewhat obnoxious in groups, but these croissant chowing children seemed especially rude. The Chunnel apparently makes London an easy day trip for the French and it is not a positive development.

My worries that these continental interlopers might have a negative impact on the independent spirit of the Brits and endanger the special Anglo-American relationship were somewhat eased when I recalled that many of the war monuments we had visited in London were either dedicated to:

A. Celebrations of past British military victories over the French

B. Thanking the United States for standing by their side in the past

The British would do well to remember who their true friends were and still are. As long as they don't forget to Mind the French, the Brits will be allright.


We are the wind beneath the right wing.

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