June 25th, 2008 by Rightsideup

I was pleasantly surprised by this article in the Guardian reporting on the horror of the global warming community to find that even the Brits are not convinced by the alarmism they’ve been spreading. The UK has always seemed to me (based on my frequent trips back and conversations with people there) to be much further along in its adherence to the global warming “consensus” and so this surprised me along with the warming lobby. From the article:

The majority of the British public is still not convinced that climate change is caused by humans – and many others believe scientists are exaggerating the problem, according to an exclusive poll for The Observer.

The results have shocked campaigners who hoped that doubts would have been silenced by a report last year by more than 2,500 scientists for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which found a 90 per cent chance that humans were the main cause of climate change and warned that drastic action was needed to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

I’m tempted to say that the British public is smarter than I thought: they don’t just buy this stuff hook, line and sinker as the media has attempted to suggest. Even 2500 scientists can’t persuade them! In reality of course, many ordinary people simply go by the headlines rather than the detailed analysis – what percentage of those surveyed could have told you how many scientists – to the nearest thousand – had authored/agreed that report? (They’d probably have a better answer for how many climate change scientists it takes to change a lightbulb.)

But in most cases most ordinary people who don’t spend their lives with noses buried in newspapers have to go on personal experience plus the occasional headline, tempered by an inherent distrust of the media. In this case, that’s won out over all the blathering by politicians on this subject and the massive buy-in from the media. Pretty impressive that that’s still possible in an age when most of the electorate seems disengaged from the political process in the UK. Now if only that would start translating to political policies…

April 29th, 2008 by Rightsideup

I experienced the BBC’s wonderful journalistic independence once again this morning during a visit to London. On Radio 4, which is probably the closest equivalent to PBS stations in the US because of its focus on spoken rather than music content, they had two guests on to discuss the notion of whether the US was morally bankrupt.

In the BBC’s version of balanced coverage, this meant that both guests agreed with the statement, but only disagreed on how far gone the US is and whether it can be turned around. One of the guests – Will Self – is a professional basher of America (and the UK, for that matter – perhaps that’s where the balance comes in). He trotted out the usual tropes about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, what he called America’s “prison gulag” (no, not Guantanamo, though that also came up, but the prison system itself), gerrymandering of congressional districts, the influence of lobbyists etc.

The other guest was Simon Schama, who as a historian knows his history but apparently not current affairs. He made a bizarre comment at one point that “the Bush government was actually removed from office in Congress in 2006” which rather betrayed his ignorance of the US political process or at least a clumsy way of talking about it. (worryingly, he’s apparently working on a documentary called, “The American Future: A History”, which will be shown before the US elections in November).

Predictably the discussion varied only in the strength of the adjectives applied to the phrase “morally bankrupt” (completely, utterly, astonishingly etc), but perhaps the most telling moment was when Schama was trying to make a positive point about America’s exportation of democracy to Iraq. He said that, whatever one believed about democracy in the US, in Iraq they had recently had an election with no gerrymandering or lobbying, and asked the host Jim Naughtie whether those elected in this manner wanted the US to immediately pull out. Naughtie responded with a mumbling and entirely disingenuous “I don’t know,” to which Schama bravely responded, “Yes you do” but it was dropped at that point. Apparently having an opinion as a BBC host is fine unless that opinion agrees with the facts but is in conflict with the BBC’s narrative on a particular news story.

Having missed the beginning of the segment it wasn’t until the end that I realised the trigger for the discussion was a debate which is being held this evening in London on the topic, “America has lost its moral authority.” According to the event website, Schama is actually one of those opposing the motion, which is a little worrying. The other two opposing the motion are not the most obvious candidates either – Martin Amis and novelist Howard Jacobson. There are no Americans on the panel, on either side. It’s yet another reminder that the default position for most educated Brits is to hate America and believe that all its values amount to nothing more than a fairytale.

February 24th, 2008 by Rightsideup

There are a pair of articles in the UK’s Daily Telegraph today which illustrate the difference between the US and the UK in their citizens’ attitude to taxes. The articles appear to have been triggered by a story this week about miscalculations in the UK council (local) tax programs which have led to overpayments by as many as 400,000 households, all of which was covered up by the government. The relation of these other two articles to that story is tenuous but there is a link.

The first article, written almost in blog style, focuses on the payment of VAT (sales tax) on services such as plumbing, construction and childcare, where many UK citizens pay cash to avoid paying the tax. It’s written from the point of view of the writer and includes several personal experiences. It’s pretty weak on substance and ends with an unpleasant conclusion. Here are some key passages:

Without taxes there would be no education for all, no health care from cradle to grave, no armed forces to defend us.

Like taxes, laws are a good thing. They are the opposite of anarchy. Again, if you don’t like them, elect a government that will legislate in a way you do like. Until then, pay your taxes with joy in your heart. It’s not a perfect system, but it does work.

The problem is that the first paragraph suggests taxes go to pay for these universal goods (of course, healthcare is another area where the UK and US differ). But there’s no mention here of welfare, of abortion on demand, of huge government bureaucracies or any of the other myriad things that much of the government’s tax revenue actually gets spent on.

But the real problem is the conclusion – that we should pay taxes with joy in our hearts because if we don’t like where the money goes, we can “elect a government that will legislate in a way you do like.” This seems startlingly naive since none of us single handed can “elect a government” and even if we collectively elected the most taxpayer-friendly option available, the fact is that we would still be stuck with the vast majority of taxes we pay, including all the stuff we don’t like.

The second article, which is actually a masthead editorial rather than being attributed to a particular author, is in a similar vein. It makes more concessions to common sense, as one would hope from a paper which is generally conservative, including the second paragraph:

The risk of being punished for tax-evasion is not, however, the only reason why most people comply with the tax code: as Nigel Farndale points out, most of us believe we have an obligation to obey the law, tax-law included – even if many of us also believe that the share of our money that the Government wants to take is far too high.

It focuses on the fact that most British taxpayers pay their taxes honestly because they believe that the government acts with integrity and there is little corruption. I suspect it has more to do with British respect for the rule of law generally, to be honest, but it’s a fair point. But that doesn’t mean, as the first author suggests, that we have to be happy about what we pay.

But all this illustrates a big difference between the UK and the US. While in the US we have major parties and major politicians making serious pleas for lower taxes, this strain of political thought is all but absent in the UK these days. And that’s pretty worrying, because the UK’s taxes are already quite a bit higher than those in the US, and are still rising. At some point, the UK will have to cotton on to the changes that are happening in the rest of Europe in response to economic stagnation, but it may well not be before the UK again becomes the sick man of Europe, as it was in the 70s.

July 18th, 2007 by Rightsideup

An excellent piece today in the Wall Street Journal online by Theodore Dalrymple of the Manhattan Institute on Tony Blair’s legacy. It captures very well indeed the somewhat baffling contradiction between the gut reaction many people have (or once had) towards Tony as a “straight kind of guy” and what he actually achieved (or failed to achieve) as Prime Minister, and what he really stood for.

This paragraph sums up the thrust of the piece nicely:

Many have surmised that there was an essential flaw in Mr. Blair’s makeup that turned him gradually from the most popular to the most unpopular prime minister of recent history. The problem is to name that essential flaw. As a psychiatrist, I found this problem peculiarly irritating (bearing in mind that it is always highly speculative to make a diagnosis at a distance). But finally, a possible solution arrived in a flash of illumination. Mr. Blair suffered from a condition previously unknown to me: delusions of honesty.

This is the inherent contradiction within Tony Blair, and Dalrymple does an excellent job of putting his finger on it – that Tony Blair believes the TB myth himself and so can blithely go on spouting the stuff he does and sound sincere at the same time. As far as he’s concerned, it’s all true and everyone who doesn’t believe him simply isn’t listening hard enough. Well worth a read of the whole thing.

May 14th, 2007 by Rightsideup

The trend which started with ever more intrusive traffic and driving regulations has now begun to spread to other areas, at least in the UK. Extensive driving regulations have had the effect of creating a whole new class of citizens who see it as acceptable to break the law and who see the police negatively rather than positively, at least in one department of their lives. This spread of regulations and the misapplication of intellectually solid zero tolerance policies is going to further undermine respect for the law and the ability of law enforcement personnel to go after the real crimes in our societies.

March 22nd, 2007 by Rightsideup

Gordon Brown delivered his 11th (and presumably last) budget on Wednesday. It appears that, among other things (including surprise “tax cuts”) Brown is going to force all children up to the age of 18 to stay in school. However, instead of honestly describing this initiative in this way, he puts it thus:

“We will, for the first time in our country‚Äôs history, make education a right for every young person until 18″ [my emphasis]

So now, when we force people to do something, we are describing it as a “right” on their part. I wonder what other rights we could think up? The “right” to pay high taxes? The “right” to have our children’s education entirely dictated by the government? The “right” to speak only those words which are considered politically correct? Is this a preview of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister? Creating new obligations and labelling them rights?

January 30th, 2007 by Rightsideup

I was in the UK recently and several people who know I live in the US asked me questions about how most Americans feel about Global Warming. The phrasing was usually along the following lines: “Do they believe in global warming yet?” The tone very much suggested that at some point all those stupid Americans would finally believe in what all the rest of the world has long ago accepted to be true.

This is typical of British attitudes about America in general – they believe what they’re fed by the BBC, which is typically a mixture of sceptical reporting of Republican politics, interviews with the most red-necked of Americans they can find and a general sneering tone when covering the US. Unfortunately, most Brits, even those who know real, live Americans, seem to buy into this whole set of stereotypes. Meanwhile, most Americans buy into their own set of stereotypes about Brits – wonderful accents, very articulate, bad teeth but a beautiful country with “so much history” (and of course there’s the rain). I know which set of stereotypes I’d rather have falsely applied to me…