Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Pictures that tell a thousand stories

The story behind these pictures (see also below) is told on Watts up with that. In a nutshell, these are "before and after" pictures of the Dye 3 radar warning station in southern Greenland, one taken in 1967 and the other in 2006, after it had been abandoned due to the encroaching snow.

At a direct level, this gives the lie to the oft' repeated mantra of the warmists that the Greenland ice cap is melting, adding to the growing body of evidence that suggests that their alarmist creed is totally misplaced.

The wider lesson, however, is that despite the evidence, not only does the warmist creed survive and prosper, but it is embedded so deeply in the body politic that it has driven out any discourse. It has become the received wisdom amongst all the major political parties, not only in this country but elsewhere, not least in the United States.

Driving this is the leaden doctrine of consensus, so beloved of the "colleagues" in the European Union. This is a close relative to totalitarianism, where only the party line is permitted. Any disagreement is treated as heresy, a political crime which must be punished.

Yet, in the "real" world, as demonstrated by Booker's column last Sunday, there is anything but consensus. Over 1,000 comments on the piece attest that the doctrine of global warming, or "climate change" as the believers now like to call it, is hotly disputed and subject to a vibrant – some might say vicious – debate.

The point here is that is debate takes place not in the media proper or within the political classes, but outside on the periphery. Yet there is nothing more inherently political than global warming, driving as it does huge areas of public policy, distorting government responses to a wide range of problems – not least energy – and costing us a fortune in taxes and hidden levies.

That the debate takes place outside the normal political cockpit illustrates one thing – that the political classes have, in effect, opted out of politics. Instead, they entertain themselves prattling about the things they want to talk about, and then expend their energies on trying to tell us that we should take them more seriously than our own concerns.

Therein lies the heart of the disengagement with the political process. It is not, as many politicians would aver (and like to believe), that we have lost interest in politics. It is more that they the politicians – and their groupies - have lost interest. They have become totally detached from reality, wrapped up in their tiny, putrid bubble of self-interest which dominates their lives.

To that extent, global warming is the model. As with this subject, we have the leaden consensus on immigration, on the European Union, on public finance, on law and order, and a host of other issues. Where the public at large would like to see radical change, the political discourse is limited to tiny movements within rigidly defined boundaries.

The political classes will entertain discourse only within those boundaries so that, while we are permitted to have a discussion about how we manage the effects of global warming, we are not allowed to dispute the central premise. We are not allowed to argue that the phenomenon is not man-made – rather it is part of a normal climate cycle and that, quite possibly, we are now entering a much more dangerous cooling phase. That area, to the political classes, is totally out of bounds.

For "global warming" substitute immigration, or a wide range of issues, and the treatment is the same.

In their own way, however, these pictures could also be used to illustrate another story, the fate of those self-same political classes. They are represented by the radar station, built with high hopes twenty feet above ground level, dominating the ground. For "snow" read "public opinion" and the picture is complete. Unable to shift their ground, the political classes have become submerged, wholly irrelevant and useless.

But, buried in their deep cocoon of "snow" they – like the Met Office - have not yet looked out of the windows. When they do, they are in for a shock. And soon after, the oxygen will run out.


We are supposed to take this seriously?

Next year in the UK is set to be one of the top-five warmest on record, according to the Met Office.

The average global temperature for 2009 is expected to be more than 0.4 degrees celsius above the long-term average, making it the warmest year since 2005. The Met Office also says there is a growing probability of record temperatures after next year.

The record year was 1998, says the Met Office, and this one, we are led to believe, will not be far behind, even if it will not beat the hottest year. Thus, says Professor Phil Jones, director of the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia, "global warming had not gone away despite the fact that 2009, like the year just gone, would not break records."

Taking a quick reality break, courtesy of Steven Goddard over at Watts up with that?, we are reminded that the Met Office in April last year predicted that the 2008 summer would be "warmer than average" with "rainfall near or above average."

That was immediately picked up by The Observer which happily reported: "Britain set to enjoy another sizzling summer after new evidence from the Met Office suggested above average temperatures for the season."

As the country basked in warm spring sunshine over the Easter weekend, the paper went on, "the new research suggests that it could be time to say goodbye to defining features of British life, like rainy picnics and cloudy sunbathing."

By 29 August, however, someone had obviously been looking out of the window, allowing the Met Office unashamedly to report that the summer of 2008 had been: "one of the wettest on record across the UK." And here they go again, "predicting" that 2009 will give us another warmer than average summer.

Meanwhile, as we shiver in the unaccustomed cold, The Daily Telegraph is telling us: "New Year's Eve set to be colder than in Iceland." Even then, the memory-free journos - Duncan Gardham and Jon Swaine – have imbibed the fantasia and are solemnly repeating the Met Office mantra.

Funny enough, all Met Office forecasts carry a health warning. We are told that, "Our long-range forecasts are proving useful to a range of people, such as emergency planners and the water industry, in order to help them plan ahead."

They are not, we are cautioned, "forecasts which can be used to plan a summer holiday or inform an outdoor event." But, it seems, they are good enough to predict global warming well into the next Century.

And we are supposed to take this seriously?


Does anyone care what David Miliband says?

This may sound a frivolous question but I would like to know the answer. After all, he is making statements and calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

The Foreign Secretary insisted any ceasefire had to ensure Israel's security and reinforce the position of elected Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Speaking before the talks in Paris, Mr Miliband said the EU also had an important role" to play in the provision of humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip.
The first part sounds like a lost cause since Hamas is seriously uninterested in Israel's security or even in its existence and couldn't care less about Mahmoud Abbas, especially as the latter has blamed the crisis on them.

The second part is idiotic. Humanitarin assistance is going through and all the much-vaunted EU aid has done so far is to enable Hamas to acquire quasim rockets at our expense.

Then again, the Shadow Foreign Secretary has not exactly disintinguished himself in this crisis. What else is new, one might say.

It is very difficult to know what to do about the Gaza story and my colleague and I have had some discussion on the subject without coming to any conclusions. On the one hand, the story is the biggest one around and we cannot simply ignore it; on the other hand, it is being covered by every media outlet and numerous blogs, especially on the other side of the Pond.

Then again, how often can one say that the Israeli attack was predictable from that day a couple of weeks ago when Hamas stepped up its rocket barrage? Or announce that this time the Israelis must finish the job and get rid of Hamas as that is an absolute prerequisite for anything resembling peace in the area and decent life for Palestinians?

For the time being we shall do periodic round-ups of interesting news items. So here goes:

Fausta blogs on the conference call conducted by the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, as organized by the Israel Project. Speaking as someone who has been trying without any success to interest various organizations in this country in the importance of the blogosphere, I can only welcome such an exercise. The more we hear directly about what is going on in Israel and in Gaza, instead of accepting Hamas propaganda and media distortions (but I repeat myself) the better for all concerned.

Oddly enough, there is disarray among the media. However much one talks about disproportionate this, that and the other, it is hard to get away from the fact of that continuing barrage of rockets and the other fact of Hamas refusing to consider any kind of negotiations.

The excerpts on Fausta's blog are worth reading and she is promising a link to the full transcript as soon as possible.

Richard Landes is blogging from Israel, keeping up-to-date on all the news and still managing to read the western media.

Al-Jazeera, as ever, provides excellent coverage on the English-langage website. Here is the hilarious story of the little boat, Dignity, equipped by the Free Gaza Movement (free from whom, I should like to know), that was stopped by the Israeli navy.

Rule number one: when you are a small boat trying to get through a naval blockade you do it a little less obviously. Unless, of course, the aim is to get maximum publicity rather than help anyone else.
Avital Leibovitz, an Israeli military spokeswoman, said that humanitarian aid was being allowed into the Gaza Strip and the medical supplies on the boat would not have made much impact on the humanitarian situation.
Sadly, Al-Jazeera missed on a particularly juicy aspect of the story, the presence on the boat of former Congresswoman Cindy McKinney (Dem, of course, since you ask) who, back in her DC days got into trouble by refusing to show her pass to security guards and trying to bully them. It didn't work then and it doesn't work now.

Meanwhile, back in the tranzi farce of the UN, the SecGen Ban Ki-Moon has announced that Israel's response was disproportionate to the original problem and called for everyone to sit down and talk nicely to each other. Yes, I expect you did all know that.

Naturally, the UN is not taking up the point that a proportionate response would be indiscriminate shelling of civilian towns and villages, something the Israelis are trying to avoid, thus being disproportionate in their response. Even according to the UN of the 380 plus people killed about 61 are women and children, who can be counted as "civilians". The overwhelming majority are Hamas fighters. Fighters get killed in a war. Well, not if they simply fire rockets over the border into Israeli towns but things have changed in the last four days.

I shall not cover the various demonstrations, having already pointed out that several of them are against Arab states and governments who are refusing to support Hamas. Then again, the demonstrators are not volunteering to go and fight either. They are simply complaining about the unfairness of it all.

Here is Al-Jazeera's story on Mahmoud Abbas and the Egyptian Foreign Minister blaming Hamas for the troubles and here is the Press Association report on Egyptian border guards firing on Palestinians trying to escape from the Gaza strip. Good to see that famous Arab solidarity we are always being threatened with by our media.

The still-in-place American Administration is refusing to support any all-out calls for a cease-fire, insisting that the trouble was caused by Hamas and they should stop firing rockets into, otherwise known as attacking, Israel. The incoming Administration is keeping quiet. Oddly enough, this was the lead article on the Reuters website. Clearly, their journalists have not quite got over their Obamania. The President-Elect has made statements on all sorts of issues, despite maintaining that he does not have to say anything yet. The crisis in Gaza, on the other hand, he is keeping quiet on.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Profitability was just around the corner"

Or so the unfortunate American taxpayer was told by the ethanol industry and Congress that was happily shelling (if I may use that expression) said taxpayer's money. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out in a recent article - it hit the European edition today so I had to go scurrying through the website - the ethanol industry has been another victim of falling oil prices, together with the bubble economies, of Russia, Iran, Venezuela and the Dubai property market. (Actually, the last of these may survive if Dubai continues to diversify. Then again, it may not.)

The commodity bust has clobbered corn ethanol, whose energy inefficiencies require high oil prices to be competitive. The price of ethanol at the pump has fallen nearly in half in recent months to $1.60 from $2.90 per gallon due to lower commodity prices, and that lower price now barely covers production costs even after accounting for federal subsidies. Three major producers are in or near bankruptcy, including giant VeraSun Energy.
The answer is, of course, to ask for some more of that tax money as there is no way on earth that the ethanol industry in the United States can survive, never mind become profitable, without influx of subsidies.

Sadly, the WSJ concludes that more subsidy will probably be provided:
Ethanol may never be profitable in the real world, but in Washington it's alucrative business that provides jobs and votes. Like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, ethanol is a business created by Congress that now has to be bailed out to save Congress from embarrassment.
Meanwhile another article in today's newspaper deals with the sorry plight of the oil rogues: Hugo, Mahmoud and Vladimir. Numerous postings on this blog dealt with the problem of Russia. In most of them we pointed out that Russia's supposed newly acquired power was worth nothing. Economically the country was not developing the way it should and in foreign affairs it could bully but achieve very little. Even tiny Estonia stuck its tongue out at mighty big brother.

With the fall of the price of oil to around $40 a barrel and a severe economic crisis (though the word is not mentioned) gripping the country, some of the big media commentators are catching up with us. Look out for trouble in the early spring, the traditional time for that in Russia.

It is, however, Iran that is being eyed uneasily by the world because of the events in Gaza. Hamas is a client organization and needs Iranian support, both physically and emotionally. Who else is going to scream about destroying Israel? Mind you, the Iranians may provide arms and ammunition but when they talk about self-sacrifice, they mean Palestinian self-sacrifice.

How long will they be able to support Hamas and Hezbollah as well as control internal problems with oil prices staying low?


N G McCrum (what a delightful name), an Emeritus Fellow in Engineering at Hertford College, Oxford, has a lesson for us in the letters column of The Daily Telegraph. It has far wider implications than the subject matter would indicate.

His primary concern is to take Liz Goodwin to task. She is the chief executive of the Waste and Resources Action Programme and McCrumb's complaint is that, in her response to an article about the partial collapse of the recycling programme in the UK, she confused the term "recycled" with "sorted for recycling".

The context was her words, "10 million tons of waste were recycled in Britain last year" but, as McCrumb points out, "This does not mean 10 million tons were recycled." Householders, he reminds us, "have become aware that very little of what they put out for recycling is in fact recycled."

Dr Goodwin, McCrumb thereby asserts, "evades the truth, that the recycling programme has come off the rails. Plastics, paper, etc cannot find a market and are now to be stored at public expense until the price recovers, if ever."

This is precisely the issue over which we took Jane Kennedy, the "Environment Minister" to task. She too had fallen prey to the same disease of sloppy thinking, equating "recycled" with "sorted for recycling".

And, as The Daily Telegraph again reminds us today, these are increasingly not the same thing. "Hundreds of thousands of tons of unwanted recycling, it tells us, is (are?) being stockpiled as contractors struggle to sell off used cans, newspapers and cardboard collected from households."

This sort of "terminological inexactitude" poisons public discourse and allows politicians like Kennedy and lesser mortals like Goodwin to get way with sloppy thinking and sloppy government.

If we had exact figures for how much waste was actually, genuinely recycled, there would doubtless be a wholly different dimension to the public debate. One can imagine that there would certainly be more political traction in the issue if we all realised quite how much we were spending on this madcap venture, and how little material was actually taken out of the waste stream.

The media, of course, add to the confusion. Today's Independent gives space to the government-funded Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap), allowing Andy Dawe, Wrap's "head of retail" to burble that, "It is vitally important that we carry on recycling." Says Dawe: "If we stop, all materials will go to landfill – and that is the worst possible outcome."

This same paper then trots out the same tired, discredited statistics, so beloved of Mz Kennedy. In 2007, we are told, "the UK recycled 9.7 million tons of household waste, an increase of 10 percent on the previous year." No it didn't, we shriek. This is a lie.

As long as the "teminological inexactitude" is allowed to stand, there can be no understanding of the real situation. Without that, there is no debate, and without that, there can be no corrective. Such is the importance of words and their accurate usage. Never mind the rubbish – it is this that needs to be sorted.


Whatever the media may say ...

... the Arab leaders are not supporting Hamas and the protests in those countries are not as widely attended as one might think. Of course, if the EU and the UN starts bribing various Middle Eastern countries with aid then, undoubtedly, Hamas will become flavour of the month. As long as they stay in Gaza and do not enter, say, Egypt, whose foreign minister has openly accused them of being at fault.

Let us not forget that in the endless cycle of violence since the end of the Second World War the highest level of casualties suffered by the Palestinians was in 1970 - 71 when the Jordanian army on orders from King Hussein threw the PLO out of Jordan.

The PLO went to Lebanon and proved conclusively that King Hussein and his army knew that they were fighting for the survival of their country.

Oh yes, I nearly forgot: William Hague, Shadow Foreign Secretary has come up with rubbish again. Does that man ever get anything right?

UPDATE: An interesting short piece on the Atlantic blog that indicates support for the Israeli Air Force from Fatah. Given the treatment meted out by Hamas to their Fatah brethren, this is hardly surprising.

Meanwhile, the IDF, sensibly, is taking the battle to cyberspace, setting up a YouTube Channel "to show the precision and care they are taking in destroying Hamas terrorist weapons dumps smuggling tunnels, and rocket launching sites located in residential areas by the terrorists".

Needless to say, some sequences have already been flagged by pro-Hamas users and removed for "terms of use violation". Some have been restored. Some not. Michelle is following the story with a great photoshop. I really hate being rude about YouTube as I spend hours watching bits from old films and listening to such luminaries as Dinah Shore and Frank Sinatra.

Marshmellow power

Having learnt absolutely nothing from its experience of the Lebanon war of 2006 – where it pushed for a premature cease-fire thus letting Hezbollah off the hook after it murderous rampage – the EU is repeating exactly the same mistakes.

Wedded to its idea of soft (as marshmellow) power, again its is leading the ranks of appeasers, calling for Israeli "restraint" and putting its efforts into brokering a rapid cease-fire. However, as did Hezbolla manipulate world opinion over its staging of the Qana "rescue", Hamas is proving adept at the same tricks, no doubt paving the way for a cease-fire at a time of its own choice, aided and abetted by the gullible "international community", with the EU in the forefront.

To that effect, the "colleagues" have rushed to arrange a meeting for today of the foreign ministers of the European Union, where they will plan how to maximise pressure on Israel to ease the pressure on Hamas and let it off the hook.

As always, the colleagues cloak their mad statements in the language of reason, declaring that, "The ministers will look into how the European Union can help ease the current crisis, along with the efforts of the international community, especially the secretary general of the United Nations." Tranzie shall speak unto tranzie, and the UN is right up there with the EU.

The meeting is set to take place at 5.30 pm, and will be chaired by French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, with the "usual suspect" Javier Solana in attendance. Although, ostensibly, it is none of their business, other members of the EU commission are also expected to attend.

And, instead of letting Hamas rot, the colleagues are planning to "increase humanitarian aid to Gaza," heedless of the fact that, had this murderous organisation not bombarded Israel with rockets and mortars, and instead expended its energies on running Gaza, it would not need such aid.

As an example of how utterly warped "European" thinking on this issue is, though, we must go to Deutsche Welle which offers house room to Jochen Hippler, a German "expert" on the Middle East, based at the University of Duisburg-Essen's Institute for Development and Peace (INEF).

He offers a thesis that the European Union "bears some of the blame" for the situation in Gaza - what could be a welcome refrain. He spoils it though by telling us that the EU has not wielded the political clout of the United States but now needs to step up to the plate when it comes to "negotiating a workable initiative for peace."

"Europe (he means the EU) has made a couple of mistakes in the last couple of years," he says. "Instead of respecting the elections (that brought Hamas to power) and dealing with someone they don't like, they've helped to trigger a kind of civil war among Palestinians. And you can't have peace with an opponent that is at war with itself." Really?

The EU, he adds, could resolve help to reduce tensions by bringing Hamas to the table. "We have seen examples where negotiating with Hamas has been successful. But to achieve a ceasefire, the only way is to agree to a mutual ceasefire."

Thus we have the EU in a nutshell. Churchill once said, "jaw-jaw is better than war-war", but then he had just finished a war against Nazi Germany and crushed it into the ground. There is, he would have readily conceded, a time for jaw, and a time for war.

For the EU, however, there is only one solution to everything – jaw, more jaw and even more jaw. Thus, in truth, there is only one mistake the EU has ever made – it exists. The world would be a safer place without it. Perhaps, when the Israelis have finished with Gaza, they can roll their tanks into Brussels. Toasted marshmellow sounds quite a nice idea.


Monday, December 29, 2008

The new deal

Reviewing the breast-beating in the "liberal" media over the Israeli strikes on Gaza, it occurs that the UK government – and military – should understand completely what the Israelis are trying to do.

In this, there is a singular parallel between the situation in which the British found themselves in Iraq in 2005-6, where their base near al Amarah called Camp Abu Naji was subject to incessant rocket and mortar attack.

Starved of resources, the British Army had little option but to endure - through no fault of its own - occasionally launching punitive raids into the city in the hope of taking out some of the insurgents and affording the camp slight relief from the daily bombardment.

This culminated in the heroic but disastrous raid on 12 June 2006, when a Company-strength overnight raid into the city was met with an estimated 200 Mahdi Army fighters. The ensuing battle (wholly unreported at the time) was reckoned to have seen the most vicious fighting since 2004, in which the Army – with the help of air cover and heroic flying by a USMC helicopter pilot – managed to extract without fatalities.

Brilliantly fought - reflecting the Army (and supporting arms) at its most professional - the raid was nevertheless a strategic failure. Within days, the rocketing and mortaring of the camp resumed and was to continue with increasing intensity until, in August, the British vacated Abu Naji, only to have it ransacked by a jubilant Mahdi Army.

If the British thought this would afford relief – they were wrong. With al Amarah virtually under Mahdi Army control, the city and surrounds became the armoury and workshop for the insurgency. Thus invigorated, the Mahdi Army turned its full attention to British bases in Basra. One by one, the Army was forced to evacuate, until it was hunkered down in its one remaining base in the former Basra International airport.

The lessons from this are simple – and hardly new.

First, if someone is attacking you with the intention of killing you, you must respond with deadly force, killing them before they have the opportunity to achieve their aim. You do not negotiate - you kill them.

Second, a half-hearted response is worse than useless. A failure to deal decisively with the enemy simply encourages them to redouble their efforts. Any response should be overwhelming (what the military call "overmatch") and wholly disproportionate. The objective, as much as anything, is to demonstrate your power and to demoralise the enemy, sending it a message that it cannot win.

Third, appeasement, or the "softly-softly" approach, is doomed to failure. In the macho culture of the Middle East, this is seen by the enemy as a sign of weakness, prolonging rather than ending the agony.

It instructive that, when the Iraqis and US forces finally decided to clear out al Amarah – which they did in June of this year - they sent in 22,000 troops, supported by massive air power. This compared with the British effort, which allocated a mere Battle Group of 1200 men, and minimal air cover.

The US and Iraqi forces gave plenty of warning and told the insurgents to surrender their arms or be killed. When the troops entered the city, not a shot was fired. Enough arms to supply a small army were surrendered.

Therein also lies a lesson for the "international community". As long as they give succour to the terrorists, giving them aid and interceding with "cease fires", thus saving them from ultimate destruction or surrender, they will perpetuate the agony.

There is only one solution to this continuing tragedy – overwhelming, deadly force, sending out an unmistakable, unequivocal signal: "You try, you die!" Only when Hamas get that message, loud and clear – and cannot turn to the "international community" to protect them from consequences of their own murderous behaviour – will the violence stop and the talking start.

That is – or should be – the new deal. Anything else, as the British found in al Amarah, leads you down the road to defeat, destruction and, in the final analysis, more death and misery.


A single European identity

Bruno Waterfield had the story on Saturday on how the "EU spends £2bn each year on 'vain PR exercises'".

This was Open Europe doing its stuff, claiming that so-called European "information" campaigns were one-sided and boasted a budget that is bigger than Coca-Cola's total worldwide advertising account.

The Sunday Times picked up the same story yesterday, featuring the commission's massive spend on its "EU-tube", only to be rewarded with a pathetic hit-rate as an indifferent public completely ignored the site.

The ST also allowed a spokesman for the commission his say, whereupon he said, rather sniffily, "This is not propaganda, we are simply providing information." He added that the commission "did not recognise" the €2.4 billion figure, which this paper had flagged up.

In one sense, the commission is being honest – the figure does not represent the true spending on PR. It is much, much more.

As an example, we see today a report that a new advertising campaign has been set up to promote the .eu domain to the transport industry

Learn the Value of an .eu domain name at, it warbles, highlighting the growing number of companies within the industry that have "discovered the value of using the .eu internet address."

Right up top, though, it offers the true reason, not only for the campaign, but the .eu domain as well. "The .eu domain," it says, "offers a single European identity on the Internet for 490 million Europeans in 27 different countries."

And, of course, that is what is all about. That is mainly what the EU does. Much of its legislation, much of its initiatives, and most of its money is dedicated to promoting that single cause – a "single European identity". The cost is tens of billions each year.

To the dismay of EU and commission officials – and the rest of the europhiliac "community" - it isn't working. Thus they have recently stepped up "information" campaigns after polling has shown that only two per cent of Britons are aware that European elections are taking place next year.

This was a pre-Christmas Eurobarometer opinion survey which found that the already low levels of interest in next June's elections were actually declining as the vote gets closer. The number of "citizens" who say they are likely to vote is less than it was six months ago.

With a bit of luck, as the election comes near, that percentage will decline to zero and, judging from the euroweenies' panic at being ignored, that perhaps points the way for the election. Methinks the thing to do is spoil the vote. And, funnily enough, when we first wrote about the .eu domain, we had just the message to put on the ballot paper.

And sending it will cost nothing at all.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas is over

No, it was fine – much time spent with friends, at an exhibition and watching films. We even managed to miss by something like 20 minutes the guy being shot in our street on Christmas Eve. Back to reality.

A few (very few) of the blog's readers may have noticed that my presence on it has recently been erratic and occasionally non-existent. There are various reasons for this and one of my new year's resolutions (well, actually, the only one) will be to make some kind of a decision about it all.

In the meantime, I want to widen the issues we normally discuss. No, I am not going to write about Gaza, that most predictable of developments, except to mention that Hamas is not getting the support of Arab leaders that it is, presumably relying on. (See here, here and here. More on that tomorrow.)

Instead, let me take our readers to a book I have been re-reading in the last week, “Russian Conservatism and Its Critics” by Professor Richard Pipes, probably the best living historian of Russia and the Soviet Union.

In chapter 3, "The Onset of the Conservative-Liberal Controversy", Professor Pipes discusses the inconsistency with which eighteenth century Russian rulers approached the whole subject of public opinion and the amount of freedom it should have. He quotes A. M. Skabichevskii who published in 1892 a history of Russian censorship from 1700 to 1862 (when Alexander II introduced serious political and judicial reforms).
In governmental circles of that time there predominated people brought up in the spirit of old times who simply could not accustom themselves that in society there should emerge any intellectual movement that was autonomous, independent, and lacking in the slightest official sanction. They were accustomed that every undertaking in the intellectual sphere – whether the publication of some periodical or book, or the founding of some educational institution – all this was done not only with the sanction of the authorities but by the authorities themselves, and the entrepreneur, if not previously in the service, by virtue of this very enterprise turned into an official.
Setting aside the argument about people brought up in the spirit of old times, this is a pithy analysis of our rulers and controllers, whether in Brussels or London.

We have remarked on numerous occasions the propensity for assuming that "civil society" is a number of organizations set up by the Commission; of a similar propensity to assume that accountability means discussing proposed legislation with carefully selected organizations and self-appointed "representatives"; of the notion that entrepreneurship consists of obeying a set of rules set up by the government, be that the Commission or the DTI; of the assumption that education and cultural activity cannot exist without some kind of guidance from above.

The point is that this sort of belief is completely genuine. The ever-growing army of regulators at all levels cannot imagine that anything can possibly exist outside their rules and decisions. And then they wonder why European countries are floundering economically, scientifically and culturally.

The most terrible aspect of it all is that this attitude should be acceptable in Britain, the country that, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was the ideal of private enterprise at all levels for those unfortunate countries that did not know how they would achieve that state of affairs. Instead, we have lost what we had. And yes, we did it ourselves. For once, Dr Heinz Kiosk,s famous comment of "we are all guilty" is actually accurate.

Worse than we think

Booker is in an optimistic mood today in his column, declaring that, "2008 was the year man-made global warming was disproved."

To support his thesis, he points out that all over the world, temperatures have been dropping in a way wholly unpredicted by all those computer models which have been used as the main drivers of the scare.

He thus tells us that last winter, as temperatures plummeted, many parts of the world had snowfalls on a scale not seen for decades. This winter, with the whole of Canada and half the US under snow, looks likely to be even worse. After several years flatlining, global temperatures have dropped sharply enough to cancel out much of their net rise in the 20th century.

Secondly, 2008 was the year when any pretence that there was a "scientific consensus" in favour of man-made global warming collapsed. At long last, as in the Manhattan Declaration last March, hundreds of proper scientists, including many of the world's most eminent climate experts, have been rallying to pour scorn on that "consensus" which was only a politically engineered artefact, based on ever more blatantly manipulated data and computer models programmed to produce no more than convenient fictions.

Thirdly, as banks collapsed and the global economy plunged into its worst recession for decades, harsh reality at last began to break in on those self-deluding dreams which have for so long possessed almost every politician in the western world.

As we saw in this month's Poznan conference, when 10,000 politicians, officials and "environmentalists" gathered to plan next year's "son of Kyoto" treaty in Copenhagen, panicking politicians are waking up to the fact that the world can no longer afford all those quixotic schemes for "combating climate change" with which they were so happy to indulge themselves in more comfortable times.

However, reading The Times leader yesterday, headed "The war on Carbon", you would think its writer lived on a different planet.

In a litany of warmist orthodoxy, it tells us that, "There will be continued argument about the science of climate change over the next 12 months, but not, except on the conspiratorial fringe, about the threat. Climate change is real and worsening, and there is an overwhelming likelihood that much of it is man-made."

And still we get the same mindless drivel from the warmist tendency in The Daily Telegraph, that darling of the greenies, Louise Gray telling us that, "Daffodills at Christmas and snow in October were just some of the unusual weather patterns noticed by the National Trust in the last year as climate change begins to takes its toll on the British landscape."

Thus, snow in October is "climate change". Nothing of what has so engaged Booker and many more of us has percolated the orthodoxy, which has not shifted one iota from its original position. It goes on regardless.

Nor, from an op-ed by the Great Leader, David Cameron, do we see any retreat from his position. He proudly reminds us of his commitment in an advertisement almost exactly three years ago "to tackling poverty and climate change, our backing for the NHS and our belief in a free enterprise economy."

But, bringing us back down to earth with a bump is a piece in The Times - business section, of course, headed, "Blackout fear as UK power plants face axe."

The story is interesting because it tells us what we suspected and feared – that the effects of the EU's Large Combustion Plant Directive is going to be more damaging than predicted.

The nub is that, when power plant operators made their decisions to opt out of the directive and thus close down a number of coal plants by 2015 rather than pay the exorbitant sums needed to conform with the directive, it was assumed that these plants would only be used for peak generation, working on limited hours.

Because of the recent price distortions in the energy market, however, these plants have been working more or less full time, providing base load electricity and thus becoming worn out faster than anticipated. With major refits being economically unviable, given the limited lives of the plant, many will now have to close down early.

The first of them, Scottish Power's 1.2GW plant at Cockenzie, which generates enough power for 1m homes, will close as early as September 2010 based on current rates of electricity production. The "energy crunch" is thus predicted to hit us by 2013 rather than 2015, as we lose some 7.6GW of electricity – ten percent of the UK's total capacity.

The seriousness of this issue is such that it is this, rather than their fatuous obsession with "climate change", on which our policy-makers should be concentrating, to say nothing of the anticipated shortfalls in crop yields that will come as a result of the extended bad weather.

If we are already seeing global instability, this is nothing compared to the chaos which will ensue as more and more developing countries compete for dwindling food supplies. The world will be in flames, but it won't be because of "global warming".

Unfortunately, therefore, while Booker is undoubtedly right – the miasma of "global warming" having now lost whatever credibility it ever had, the dark shadow of obsession still afflicts our ruling classes and they are not even beginning to budge. I suspect it will take catastrophic failures in our own electricity supply system, and famine on a global scale before reality percolates their dismal brains.

By then, it will be too late, but for the hand wringing. Perhaps we should encourage them to practice that, so they are well-prepared. Anything else, clearly, is too much to ask.


Toothless talk

There is only so much you can write on any subject before you start repeating yourself, to the point where you are boring both your readers and yourself.

That may be a terrible indictment of the human condition but, as one views the latest Israeli attack on Gaza, the feeling of déjà vu and deadly ennui combines to make you want to turn away and write about something else.

A small cheer for the Scottish Sunday Herald therefore, which heads its leader with the title, "Toothless talk can't solve Israel conflict". It then goes on to note the "apparent impotence" of the so-called "international community" when faced with such a crisis.

"Impotence" is a good word in this context. We have the ritual statements from the UN, from the EU, from the United States and all the others piling in to add their penn'orth, but nothing ever happens – nothing changes.

Be it Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Gaza, DRC or any number of hotspots where fighting or another humanitarian crisis (or both) can break out at any minute, the only response we can count on is a torrent of verbiage from the media and masses of hot air from the politicians.

The Herald's answer to this is that we should be looking for ways to give the United Nations, African Union or whatever regional or global body responsible, the resources and political teeth to implement diplomatic and military measures, when nations, states, or organisations flagrantly defy the collective good and well-being of the majority.

What that misses though is the recognition that the political processes that bind these organisations are part of the problem. Giving them more money simply exacerbates the stresses already within these organisations and, ultimately, produces nothing but more hot air.

Perhaps the real answer, therefore, it to recognise that the current world order is not working, and has not worked for some time - if ever. We have had, since the Second World War, the tranzie doctrine of the "united nations" acting collectively, and it has failed.

Thus, while The Herald wants the term "international community" to have "real resonance or relevance", what we are actually seeing is living proof that there is no such thing as an "international community" in any meaningful sense of the words – and never will be.

That suggests that we also need a new paradigm. Maybe it would be a good idea if we gave "national interest" another chance, allowing those involved to take whatever action they felt necessary, with the rest minding their own businesses.

As with Afghanistan, there are plenty of those who have opinions, but precious few who are prepared to put real resources into helping solve the problems. Thus, in a new world order, those who "do" should be allowed to do, and the rest – like the incessantly posturing EU – should simply shut up and keep out of it.

The result may be bloody, but is what we have really any better?


Saturday, December 27, 2008

The voice of ignorance

A quick thought before I plough on with the book - 47,000 words and counting – The Daily Telegraph today offers a letter from Chris Marks of Polegate, East Sussex.

He informs us that, on a visit to London last weekend, "we passed Portcullis House and saw that every single light seemed to be switched on throughout the whole building."

"What a waste of taxpayers' money," Mr Marks opines – probably correctly, although there is less to be saved by switching off fluorescent lights than might be imagined. But then he goes and spoils it all, writing: "The Chancellor should put his own house in order, then we might follow by example."

Portcullis House is one of the many office buildings used by parliament to accommodate its MPs and their gifted staffs. It is, therefore, a parliamentary building and is part of the Parliamentary Estate.

On the basis that parliament is sovereign in its own house, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the government and does not fall within the remit of the Chancellor's control. Technically, the responsibility is that of the Speaker, but the management is devolved to the House of Commons Commission. Mr Marks should, therefore, be lambasting our wonderful MPs for their profligacy.

For all the frivolity, two quite important points emerge from this. Firstly, it is an example of how little many people know about our government and the way it works – and how power (and responsibility) is diffused through so many institutions. And, if Mr Marks didn't know, the letters editor of the paper should have known better and spiked what ended up a facile letter.

Secondly, in the absence of knowledge on the way power is diffused, there is this ever-present tendency to blame "the government" and its officials, rather than point the finger at where the fault lies. The other side of the coin is that, when something needs fixing, the same tendency is to point to "the government" and demand that it "does something".

The overarching issue here is that power and responsibility is so diffuse – and now so complex - that very few people (if any) have any real idea of who runs this country and where the power lies.

But, if not even the basics are known, then expecting the "man in the street" like Mr Marks to understand that neither parliament nor our (local) government are actually in charge seems a little ambitious.

Instead, we are almost back at levels of biblical superstition, where the sins of the community are laden onto the sacrificial goat which is then driven over the precipice. That, it seems, is one of the main roles of modern government. Shorn of real power, it performs the role of the scapegoat, driven periodically over the cliff at general elections, whence we appoint another, then to repeat the same process.

As I said … just a quick thought.


Which government?

You would think that the travel firm Thomas Cook would know something about the EU when, earlier this year, it was trying to prise half a billion quid out of the commission.

But then you get to see a headline from The Daily Telegraph which tells us, "Thomas Cook attacks government over holiday compensation."

From this we learn that Thomas Cook has pledged to compensate holidaymakers of failed suppliers from airlines to cruise operators within 24 hours, it having given up "on hopes that the government will increase its supervision of the industry."

The story is by Jonathan Sibun and we finally get from him that the problem is that tour operators have to trade under the ATOL compensation scheme, which protects consumers at a cost of £1 per customer, yet airlines are exempt. Thus, independent travellers are not protected. It was for this reason that, when the budget airline XL failed last year, it left 85,000 holidaymakers stranded abroad and hundreds of thousands more out of pocket.

Complaining of "the absence of the Government making any changes to the ATOL scheme to protect all our customers' money now", Thomas Cook chief executive Manny Fontenla-Novoa, is announcing that his company is taking steps to protect all customers who travel with his firm.

"It is a ridiculous situation where one customer is protected and another is not and they are both sitting on the same aircraft," said Fontenla-Novoa. "The government had an ideal opportunity to bring clarity and protect the consumer. So far they have failed to do that."

Fontenla-Novoa, with another package tour company, Tui, wrote a letter to the Government in late September calling for reform of the ATOL scheme. "Consumer protection should take into account the changes; in the UK, only a third of people taking holidays abroad by air book via a package," they wrote.

The government's response, we are told, was "sympathetic" but no progress had been made.

All this sounds good stuff but the compensation scheme Fontenla-Novoa is talking about is mandated by EU law under Council Directive 90/314/EEC on package travel, package holidays, and package tours. That, of course, cannot be changed by the British government, so it is hardly surprising that there is "no progress".

With UK airlines, the UK could go further than the directive, provided that it did not distort competition or interfere with the workings of the Single Market. But, with such an international operation as the package holiday business, it is hard to see how unilateral British action could avoid this.

More to the point though, the "government", i.e., the EU, has already latched on to the changes in the travel industry. The existing directive, which dates from 1990, only regulates the sales and marketing of traditional tour operators and travel retailers, but does not extend to online travel firms selling foreign holidays with flights and hotels as separate components.

This is called by the industry "dynamic packaging" and EU commissioner for consumer protection, Meglena Kuneva, has confirmed work on revising the directive will begin shortly in order to accommodate this - with legislation expected in 2010.

Thus, in May last, she told a meeting of the European Travel Agents' and Tour Operators' Associations: "The package travel directive needs to be reviewed to take account of the changes in distribution of travel products and consumers' buying habits."

Surely it cannot be the case that Fontenla-Novoa is unaware of this? He really cannot be unaware that the EU is already reviewing one of the most important pieces of legislation for his industry, with potentially far-reaching effects, and precisely those effect he is calling on our local government to make?

I really do find it hard to believe that the chief executive of such a company is so utterly ignorant. He must be playing PR games, surely?

As for DT journo Jonathan Sibun … well, we have ceased to expect people like him to be capable of spotting the elephant in the room, even if it took me something less than five minutes to find out that the EU was proposing to change the law. It was published in the travel industry's own journal, Travel Weekly.

Yet Siburn still manages to write about the "government", obviously without the first idea of where our real government resides on this matter. To his article, therefore, the question is "Which government are you writing about?". To that, I suspect, we would get a blank stare from little Jonathan. He probably wouldn't have the first idea of what we were talking about.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Their noble parasites

It really is quite remarkable that, as power is increasingly transferred to Brussels, where more and more legislation is made, the cost to the taxpayer of our own domestic "legislators" continues to go up.

That we find from the print edition of The Daily Telegraph today, although a visit to the website reveals that this is recycled from the online edition, where it was posted on 17 December. The story, however, loses nothing of its force for being a few days old.

The thrust of the story is that each member of the House of Lords now costs us nearly half a million pounds a year, the total costs of running the "most exclusive club in London" now reaching £305 million in the last financial year. In 2002-2003, the total cost was £110 million.

From the current inflated sum, direct expenses paid to peers top £18 million, with some 17 peers claiming £60,000 each in "tax-free perks". They include Britain's most expensive lordship, Labour's Baron Brett of Lydd in Kent, a former trade union leader, whose expenses totalled £66,197. He registered an address in Cumbria as his main home. Lord Kinnock, the former Labour Party leader and EU commissioner, submitted claims totalling nearly £22,000 after being made a peer in November 2007.

The Daily Mail runs a similar story, but focuses more on the individual gravy-train riders, attracting over 200 comments on its website – all of them hostile to the peers as far as I can see. Needless to say, by far the greater number of the pigs with their snouts firmly in the trough are Labour peers.

Where their Lordships – and the Commons – seem to have been highly productive, however, is in creating new offences, The Telegraph running a story – which only seems to be in the print edition – which tells us that the "government" has been creating an imprisonable offence once every four days over the past ten years.

Strictly speaking, it is not the government (hence the quotes) as Parliament – the House of Commons and Lords combined - must approve any measure that introduces an imprisonable offence.

Of course, it is a long time since that Parliament took any interest in such matters and, the record shows us why. With the members of both Houses now more interested in lining their pockets than doing their jobs – debates on MPs' expenses being among the best attended – it is easy to see that they have little time to attend to the liberties of the Queen's subjects.

What this really does reinforce, though, is how far our ruling classes have become detached from any sense of reality. If they had they slightest grip, they would not be milking the system but, given that there seems to be little connection between them and the real world, they are quite happy to justify their increased takings.

It cannot last. It never does. The tumbrels will eventually roll. But, for the time being, we have to suffer "their noble parasites" – as they preside over the wreckage of what was once a proud and useful institution.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas wishes

The boss has, as usual, said it all much better, though I must admit that what with one thing and another I have rarely found Christmas a time for reflection or even thought. This year is no different. Here we are at 2 am on Christmas morn and I am still baking the last things I need to bake before the festival starts. Reflection? What's that? Bah humbug.

Actually, I have always quite liked Scrooge before he went all wet and sissy and started buying turkeys that were too big to roast in time. (I mean when did the Cratchits actually get round to eating that bird?) Several things have always struck me as interesting about that book, apart from the stunning writing.

One is that it is a very fine example of Dickens's usual inability to understand that wealth is created by people who work. He really hates the idea of people being employed. They are always miserable and the bosses are either complete slave-drivers or they do not require their subordinates to do anything at all.

Secondly, it seems that in the far more religious Victorian age Christmas day was not silent with everything that could be, closed. You could buy a turkey and you could get it roasted at the local bakery, though there is some talk in the novel of the kill-joys wanting to close down the latter. Well, they have succeeded. (Of course, I live in an area that is full of non-Christians and most of the cafes, shops and restaurants stay open. Brilliant.)

Thirdly, one cannot help wondering why Bob Cratchit doesn't get a better job or stop having children or both. The truth is that he is no more responsible than Mr Micawber and considerably less entertaining.

But much can be forgiven a writer who can start a novel with the words
Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
While we are on the subject of Christmas classics, let us take a quick look at the perennial favourite and much better film than I expected, "It's a Wonderful Life". Hands up all those who realized that what George Bailey does is hand out subprime mortgages. Bah humbug.

There are good things about Christmas, though. The food, for instance. Because of my somewhat rackety childhood and teenage years, I have managed to pick up the cooking and eating habits of different countries and that brightens up all festivals. (I fully expect some angry responses about uppity immigrants and how wonderful it is to have countries where they are not allowed to integrate; where they can pay taxes but are not allowed to vote. Bring it on. Christmas does not make me any gentler a personality.)

Well, there we are. I have done my share of bah-humbugging and had better retreat into baa-lamb mode. Next year will be difficult for many. So let us enjoy ourselves while we can (if we can, which is something I cannot help wondering about). A very happy Christmas to all our readers. We shall be back after the festivity.

Happy Christmas

It goes without saying that Christmas is supposed to be the time of peace and goodwill to all men (and women), even if the divorce rate soars after the holiday. It is also supposed to be a time of reflection, and a break from the more worldly things - even if more people are expected to log on today for on-line shopping than attend a religious ceremony.

It is also a day off for many, although for too many it is just one day in a period of enforced idleness, with many companies extending their breaks for a month in order to cut costs and stock inventories, necessitated by the recession.

It is also a time when we offer the inane greeting of "Happy Christmas" to people we don't know, and care little about, even to those who we would decidedly wish not to be happy.

It is all part of a ritual, but one that takes on an added meaning when to utter those words is likely to invoke the ire of the "multicults" who would have us say "happy holiday" for fear of offending some minority or other. Never mind the greater offence when some of their number try to blow us apart.

From all this, you will guess that Christmas is not what it once was. From a celebration of new beginnings – perhaps – it has become nothing more than a temporary cessation of hostilities, and that for no other reason than the enemy has taken the day off.

However, there is a good precedent for that, as pictured above, with the 1914 unofficial truce in the trenches. Basically, what that amounted to was a day off from trying to kill each other. For that reason alone, it would be nice to have 365 Christmas days in each year – or even for just one year – when humanity collectively decided to take a break from killing.

Nevertheless, those who have had to do that dirty business on our behalf do deserve at least one thought from us today, the anniversary of that day when, 94 years ago, their predecessors spontaneously decided they should take a break.

If you want to turn thought into action, pay a visit to Sgt Slingsby, which embodies some of the very best that humanity has to offer. As long as there are people like this around, not all is lost.

Happy Christmas.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Make or break!

It ain't snowing here in little ol' England, but, we are told, Canadians cleaning up after a series of snowstorms blasted through the country should hold on to their shovels. Forecasters are predicting some regions will soon be walloped by more winter weather.

Thousands continue to be without electricity in Nova Scotia and travellers across Canada face airport delays while, in British Columbia, residents are bracing for around 4-8 inches of snow, just days after a storm dumped up to 28 inches on the southern coast. Environment Canada has issued storm warnings, or storm watches, for parts of Ontario, with strong winds and 8 inches of snow expected in northern areas of the region.

Many parts of the US are as bad, and it is snowing in Moscow. I guess this will be the make or break year for the warmists, who are being a little quiet about their religion at the moment. It is very hard to be a believer when you taking in that much white stuff.


A good Christmas game

For those who would like to engage in a good Christmas game there is a posting on the Conservative History Journal blog that takes up an idea first proposed on the New Culture Forum: a list of fifty historical dates that everyone must learn because of their importance. Some suggestions are up already and EUReferendum readers might like to contribute to the discussion, in between eating turkey and playing with new presents.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Distorted priorities

For a blog which is not usually complimentary about the fourth estate, it was a rare moment when, last night, we applauded a piece of intelligent journalism.

That plaudit, however, was offered on the basis of a review of the online edition of The Daily Telegraph. When it comes to the print edition (my copy sold ooop North), the story is confined to the "news bulletin" section, so truncated as to lose most of its detail and therefore its impact.

Yet this same newspaper finds the room to devote nearly half a page (including a massive photograph) to a story headed "Model falls to her death after hearing truth about lover", and just short of a quarter of a page – with photograph – on "Lipstick effect of women facing up to life in the red".

On the face of it, the death of one fashion model, is worth more than the death of one Royal Marine serving his country, in very worrisome circumstances, where the development is one that concerned people will rightly wish to know more.

By the same measure, that death is of far less importance than a story about women buying cosmetics to cheer themselves up because of the recession, while the really "big" military news is that Prince Harry is "to stop drinking" while he trains as a helicopter pilot.

This distortion of priorities – and values – is not a mere academic issue, nor a lament about how low the fourth estate has sunk. It matters.

High in the news over the last few days has been the impending departure of British troops from Iraq, leaving – some would say, including this blog – under a cloud, defeated by the inability to deal with the Shi'a insurgency that cost many lives and set back the recovery of southern Iraq by many years.

In writing a book on this issue, I have reached early 2006 in my narrative, when it was very clear – on the basis of rigorous research – that the Army had all but lost control of Basra. Death squads were brazenly roaming the streets, killing people in broad daylight, and British troops were being hammered whenever they left their bases, suffering 41 recorded attacks in one fortnight.

Yet, what is striking about this period was how little of this descent into chaos was being reported by the British media – or at all. Understandably, it was submerged by greater violence elsewhere in Iraq and the various political dramas associated with the country. Not only was there the "soap opera" of the selection of the Iraqi prime minister, there was the Saddam trial, all of which was in any event competing with the media and world news agendas.

Nevertheless, this was an area under British occupation and therefore one of importance to us all. Yet Basra news – when it was reported – tended to be buried away almost as afterthoughts in reports headlining something completely different.

By way of an example, on 21 April 2006, The New York Times carried a full report on the prime minister al-Jaafari dropping out of the race to lead a new government after the December elections. Embedded in that story was the one line detail that, "In Basra, a car bomb killed two civilians and wounded five others, including three traffic officers and a border guard."

Likewise, in an item about al Qaeda, the International Herald Tribune informed of three men in Basra being abducted in two different incidents. In one case, the kidnappers had worn commando uniforms. In neither incident do the details seem to have found their way into the British media.

Yet, during that period from late April to early June, it was estimated that one person was being assassinated in Basra every hour. Public order had disintegrated.

Nor was this entirely sectarian killing, as was being experienced to a great extent in the rest of Iraq and particularly in Baghdad. In the south, the situation was very different. Much of the increased violence was an intensification of internal Shi'a rivalry rather than the "civil war" which seemed to be breaking out elsewhere.

In particular, what was actually happening, under the cover of the general chaos, was a battle between the Mahdi Army and the other militias for the control of the south, with Muqtada al Sadr's men strengthening their grip and gradually beginning to prevail. This development, almost unrecognised at the time, was to have huge consequences for the British Army and the subsequent battle for the control of Basra.

All this was happening at a time when Tony Blair and his ministers were claiming that the security situation in southern Iraq had improved, in order that he could pursue his agenda – for entirely domestic political considerations – of reducing the number of troops in Iraq.

One would like to think that, had the British public – and the political classes – been better informed, there would have been pressure to rectify a situation which clearly demanded more troops and more resources devoted to the theatre.

That may be a forlorn hope but then, we will never know. The bulk of people – who still rely on limited sources for their news input – were never given the opportunity to react, because they were never really informed by the media.

So does history repeat itself. News coverage of Afghanistan – a vital strategic issue – is similarly sparse. Yet, many of those who are taking a keen interest in the campaign (and in so doing, are having to rely on sources other than the British media) are increasingly coming to the view that the situation now is more dangerous than it has ever been – and that the strategy and tactics are desperately wrong.

Whether indeed that is the case is not something on which the British public is being invited to comment, not least because once-important newspapers like The Daily Telegraph prefer to titillate their readers with tales of dead models, and lipstick usage, rather than address issues of substance.

Currently, though, there is nothing comparable to fill the vacuum created by the departure of the media from the field, which is – to say the very least – a highly unsatisfactory situation.

How we address these distorted priorities is anyone's guess. The blogosphere has not yet stepped up to the plate and we risk drowning in ignorance and tat, while men (and women) die and our strategic interests are destroyed without us being in the least aware of what is happening.

I guess though, that the media is simply reflecting the wishes and interests of its readers – or is it? If that is the case, then we are looking at a society that has lost the will to survive, in which case the media is only a very small part of the problem. I wish I knew what it was, which might then at least give some clue as to how to deal with a very worrying phenomenon.


Sooner kill than cure

There is something particularly loathesome about the cheap journalism in which The Sun indulges, exploiting as it has done the latest death of a soldier in Afghanistan by turning it into a soap opera tragedy. This is the death of Marine Corporal Rob Deering, who was named yesterday after he had been killed on Sunday morning by an explosive device.

As this paper would have it, under the banner headline "Brave Marine killed in dash to save pals", "Courageous Corporal Rob Deering was killed when he rushed to help wounded pals in Afghanistan."

We are thus told that, "A booby trap exploded as the Royal Marine dashed to a personnel carrier wrecked by a bomb moments earlier. His three comrades inside their armoured Viking all survived the attack in Lashkar Gah, Helmand, on Sunday."

The bulk of the other media reports are little more informative, most relying on an edited version of the MoD press release, doing their usual, lazy cut-and-paste job, filling space and going through the motions.

For once though, the details are there in the MoD release, there for anyone with wits enough to read between the lines, and do a bit of research.

Read more on Defence of the Realm.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Tractor production

Following the recent report on the (partial) collapse of the waste recycling system in the UK, we have a classic response from Jane Kennedy, the "Environment Minister" telling us, "It is very important that we all continue to recycle what we can." Thus she trills, "We really don't want recyclable materials to end up in landfill."

Then, heedless of the fact that more and more of recycled material is finding its way either into storage or tips, she betrays her fantasy existence by proclaiming: "Recent figures are to be celebrated." Ninety per cent of local authorities in November were meeting or exceeding their recycling targets, she announces. "England alone recycled 9·7 million tons of municipal waste in 2007-08."

Then we get the tribalism: "It's a pity,” she adds, "that the Tories won't commit to helping and working constructively with them. Many householders and local authorities have got the reduce, reuse and recycle message and are doing a great job. The government will continue to support them in their efforts."

This is in Soviet territory, redolent of the "tractor production" targets. The woman is equating her "targets" with reality. Because the waste is collected and weighed does not mean that it is actually recycled. As is increasingly the case, it is not. But such is the narrow, fantasy world of Mz Kennedy, that to her, all that matters is achieving her "targets".


Action this day?

It is in a way rather comforting to have Steve Holliday, the chief executive of the National Grid, tell us that blackouts could be hitting Britain by 2015.

This is nothing new to readers of this blog but Holliday coming out into the open lends heavyweight substance to the growing clamour for action on our depleting generation capacity.

The trouble is that Holliday's prescription – accurate though it might be – is rather difficult to achieve. He opines that, unless the government intervenes to ensure £100 billion investment in new stations, there will not be enough generation to meet demand by 2015. He thus takes the view that the government must offer better incentives for companies to build stations.

"What is happening that people are not wanting to build enough power stations?" he says. "The Government has an obligation to make sure that the markets are delivering. You can't afford for it to fail."

The trouble is here that the government is not in a position to offer direct incentives for the construction of generation capacity that really matters – coal and nuclear. For it to do so would run the risk of falling foul of the – albeit elastic – EU rules. But perhaps more to the point, the government does not have the money. It is struggling to finance its own debt, without taking on any more.

What the government can do, however, is offer the industry long-term regulatory certainty. Building generation capacity is a long-term investment, with huge sums of capital up-front. Investors need cast iron assurances that these investments will yield dividends or their money goes elsewhere.

Here, it seems there has been a thin shaft of light percolate the muddied brain of Ed Miliband, the UK "climate change" and energy secretary. Although he admits his thinking is "not yet fully formed", he now seems to have come round to his predecessor's point of view, telling the Financial Times: "I will not take a position which ignores our security of supply needs."

To that effect, he has ruled out banning the construction of coal-fired power stations pending the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which more or less signals that he will give the go-ahead for Eon's application to build its new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth – much to the fury of the greenies.

In typical partisan style, he attacks the Tories on their "knee jerk" and "not thought through" call for a ban on construction of new stations until the technology is in place, but he does have a point. Such a requirement would stymie any development of coal-fired generation just when we really need it.

However, this small move does not even begin to resolve the investment issue. It cannot be stressed enough that investment in generation is a long-term game. While Miliband has effectively put CCS "on hold" until 2020, that is only 12 years away – the mere blink of an eye for anyone considering putting money into power stations. As long as there is the looming prospect of a requirement for massive investment in CCS, there will be no enthusiasm for putting money into coal-fired generation.

This is, of course, where a clear statement of intent from the Tories could and would help and it makes their continued inability to come up with a coherent energy policy all the more puzzling. Three months ago, we called for a statement of Tory policy. We are still waiting.


They care not what they do

We have followed the drama of the removal of the UK "opt out" from the European Working Time Directive from afar, but with some dismay.

This was negotiated in 1993 by John Major as one of his Mastricht "victories". It was those same "victories" that had him proclaiming "game set and match" as he scuttled back to his hotel after the summit. There, he was to meet his civil servants for a debriefing, so that they could tell him what he had signed away, before he had to address the Commons later that day.

That all goes to show that, when it comes to lasting promises that have anything to do with the EU, politicians should not be trusted an inch … but then, that applies to everything else as well.

But little did our Johnny – now a born-again Tory sage - realise all those years ago that his deft handiwork was going to be unravelled. Still less would he have realised that this would totally stuff the fire services in the UK.

That latter point is very much on the mind of Jim Kilpatrick, Scottish national officer for the Retained Firefighters Union. He has written to The Scotsman warning that the directive could end the retained fire service in the UK.

Blasting the "misguided MEPs" who had decided to end the opt-out, he tells us that of the 67,951 personal employed within the UK Fire and Rescue Service, 18,827 work on a retained basis. These cover almost two thirds of UK fire stations and the actual UK landmass covered by the system equates to 91 percent.

The problem is that almost all retained fire fighters have some form of primary employment, which in itself averages around 40 hours per week. If you then add two hours training time and a minimum of two calls per week, this could mean that such fire fighters would easily exceed the 48 hour period on a regular basis.

Kilpatrick adds: "No-one forces us to spend our spare time in this way; we regard ourselves as paid volunteers. We do it because we want to not because we have to." But, with the directive, he fears that the system can no longer work. And without the "immense contribution" to emergency response his members provide, he is concerned that the fabric and function of the UK Fire and Rescue Service as we know it would collapse overnight.

He concludes by telling us that his members are extremely concerned that the EU will "legislate their jobs away" with dire consequences for the communities they are committed to serving. Like them, he says, "I am at a loss to see why legislation is proposed to take away freedom of choice."

Well, we are all at a loss, Mr Kilpatrick, but that's the EU for you. They care not what they do, and while they might burn in hell it looks as if, with the absence of your members, we will burn up here.