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Monday, October 31, 2005


Glaswegian Fiend's Exploit Explained

Over on Pundita I came across a post on the ineffably vile George Galloway, which contained this interesting snippet:

In 1997, while he was a Labor Member of Parliament, George Galloway blocked proposed legislation (the "Conspiracy and Incitement Bill") to ban foreign terrorists residing in Britain from "plotting and conducting terrorist operations overseas."

Which surprised me: not that Gruesome George blocked the bill, of course, but that he could. The rank-and-file British legislator has almost no power whatsoever, especially if he is not a member of the government party (GG used to be a member of the Labour Party, which was not in power when this bill was being debated). When I was at school back in the 1980s I remember being told that the British parliament had stricter rules of order than the Supreme Soviet. Certainly a "private" member of parliament can't filibuster debates (unlike a US senator) and an MP who votes against his party line several times is likely to be thrown out of the party (like Galloway) in which case he will pretty much be reduced to forming a new party if he wants to continue in politics (like Galloway).

About the only privilege a "private" member has, in fact, is that he can introduce legislation. But this is not as much fun as it might sound: the time allocations for debates are controlled entirely by the government, so the only way a "Private Member's Bill" stands a chance of becoming law is if the government choose to allocate time to it.

The "Conspiracy and Incitement Bill" was a member of that rare species. Proposed by a private member, the government (this was the Conservative one back in the dim and legendary era Before Blair) decided to support it. Accordingly, it got its Second Reading debate, was referred to the appropriate committee and reported out, and proceeded to its Third Reading debate. If it had passed this debate, as seemed likely, it would have gone off to the House of Lords, who would probably have passed it as well, in which case it would have become law.

At this point Gruesome George enters our tale. He took an interest in this proposed law, and I might speculate on his motives for that, if I didn't live in the country with the world's most repressive libel laws. (I want my Green Card...) Possibly Roger L Simon has some thoughts on the matter... At any rate, Galloway was one of the few MPs who turned up to the Third Reading debate; in fact fewer than forty MPs were present at the Third Reading, which meant that the House didn't have a quorum to enact legislation. Galloway was the man who pointed it out. That was all.

IANAL but I don't believe the lack of a quorum would have ipso facto rendered the law invalid; it would be seen as a procedural matter of the House of Commons alone. Therefore, it's narrowly accurate to say that Galloway "blocked" the legislation, although his actions were (procedurally) less egregious than the SOP of the US Senate: Byrd's filibuster of civil rights legislation or Helms' blocking of Weld's ambassadorship being two examples that spring to mind.

UPDATE (Nov 4th): The creature Galloway has been less assiduous in his Parliamentary attendances recently.

Monday, October 24, 2005


Happy UN Day, fellow chattels of the tranzi superstate!

Hey everybody, it's UN Day! Details over at www.un.gov - sorry, I mean www.un.org, since Der Tag has not arrived quite yet.

I'll be celebrating by vigorously exercising my Universal Human Rights, which of course may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations -

("Everything for the Superstate! Nothing against the Superstate! Nothing outside the Superstate!")

-so, just to be on the safe side, I'll be engaging in UN-approved actions: coercing sex out of twelve-year-old African girls; taking bribes from Mid-Eastern massmurders; helping assassins evade justice. And I'll see if I can't dodge a couple parking tickets too.

Meanwhile, in a wonderfully-timed national vote, the Brazilians have shown exactly what they think of the UN's victim-disarmament policies. To coin a phrase: GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!

The UN is now sixty years old. Time it was pensioned off.

Saturday, October 22, 2005


It's the Envy of the World - at least, it makes the World turn green

ISTR there is a Chinese proverb about the frog in the shallow well that thought he was in heaven because he'd never known anything better.

I always think of this when I hear Brits boasting about how one of their peculiar institutions (typically, the BBC, or perhaps the NHS) is the Envy of the World. I want to grab them by the shoulders and shake a clue into them while yelling: "Then why has none of the rest of the World been dumb enough to copy it, fucktard!"

via Tim Worstall comes this story of the way the NHS is really run.

We know a few things about large organisations: principally, that the way to get them to actually work is to make them small organisations. Or when that is unfeasible, make them virtually small by delegating decision-making down to the lowest possible level (decentralised command in the military being the prime example).

Large organisations with overly-centralised command and control are dysfunctional for three reasons:
1. Organisations exist to suppress the price mechanism and replace it with an internal command microeconomy. Consider Selfridges. You could run Selfridges as a collection of self-contained businesses - say, the girls who are selling the perfumes don't rent their sales desk from the store, buy the perfumes from the various suppliers and then keep any resulting profits - but that would be dumb, because they would spend all their time fretting over the accounts of Weird-Smelling Shit Inc, and would have no time left over to try and sucker in the dude who's wandering past their sales desk en route for the Overpriced Garish Metrosexual Shirts Department. Suppressing the price mechanism is efficient for small organisations that don't need much in the way of, erm, organisation - but as the organisation grows larger and more complex it starts to badly need the signals that the price mechanism sends, in order to efficiently allocate resources. Much of the problems with the NHS arise from the complete suppression of the price mechanism, which is a feature rather than a bug, admittedly, but the sort of feature that's hard to distinguish from a genuine, bone-headed, fatal, Blue-Screen-Of-Death-inducing Mother Of All Bugs.
2. Lacking the price mechanism, the guys controlling the organisation are forced to rely on other forms of communication from the grunts at the coal-face. Basically, reports. Forms. Endless reams of forms. Bureaucracy. Even when this system works properly, filling in these damn forms is a colossal drag on the effective's time. There is also the fact that low-level effectives will lie and spin as much as they can get away with (Wilson's SNAFU Principle).
3. Shooting the messenger. The previous two features can't be avoided. This one can, and is, by any manager with the slightest ability. It's tough enough getting any kind of signal out of the self-serving noise of underlings when you actively reward the bearer of bad news. Shooting the messenger is something Evil Overlords do in bad movies.

Gordon Brown, the Right Honourable Chimpanzee, dishonestly raised my taxes and those of every working person in Britain, so he could spend more money on this clusterfuck called the NHS. The world being what it is, most of that money went on hiring clowns like the ones that TW rightly savages in the above link. Do you feel proud, Gordo? The sad thing is, that thieving socialist Neanderthal probably does.

(There is a certain grim irony in this disgraceful story's taking place in Thatcher's home town of Grantham. The NHS was one of those ghastly edifices of English Socialism that she never quite got around to. We're all paying the price for that now).

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Instafisking (TM)

Saddam Hussein has just been put on trial for mass-murder. And, given that Johnnie Cochran is no longer around to ask George Dubya Bush whether he at any time in his life uttered the word "rag-head", I guess the conviction is kind of a foregone conclusion. (BTW ISTR that Alan Dershowitz was second chair on California v OJ Simpson. Or maybe fourth chair. Or twenty-seventh. OJ had a lot of lawyers. Anyway, I remember Dershowitz giving an interview back in the mid 1990s where he expressed a desire to represent Saddam Hussein, should he ever go on trial. I wonder what made him change his mind?)

There's a post over on Instapundit discussing whether "we" should have tried Saddam before now. Rarely has there ever been a discussion that more begged the question "Who you call we, white-man?"

The point is that dear old Sadders is not being tried by the powers that overthrew him, a la Hermann Goering and his chums; Saddam is not even being tried by a bunch of bien-pensant tranzis, the way Milosevic is being tried in den Haag (and the court is apparently going for some kind of Guinness World Record, since it is now more than four years after the Serbian SoB was arrested: I'm reminded of the last words of the serial killer Carl Panzram: Hurry up, you Hoosier bastard, I could kill ten men while you were foolin' around!") No, Saddam shares with that other tyrant Charles Stuart a privilege afforded to few fallen despots: a public trial by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein his crimes were committed.

Some may say that the trial could have been a little more speedy. It could. The Coalition of the Willing could have put him on trial the day they pulled him out of his bijou bachelor pad in the converted septic tank. For that matter they could have summarily shot him and the entire Ba'ath party leadership on the steps of the supreme court in Baghdad, and broadcast the event on FOX NEWS. (And part of me wishes that they had: it gives me a lovely warm glow to imagine how the BBC would have reported that...)

But how much more fitting it was to wait: to wait until the Iraqi people had given the finger to Ba'athism in the first free elections in decades; to wait until they had voted twice; to wait until even his own asshole buddies in Tikrit threw up their hands in despair and joined in the voting...

Saddam chose to rule by power alone, and when a superior power overthrew him, by his own chosen rule his life was forfeit to that power. The Coalition could have said "You are our enemy" and shot him outright (or gone through the motions of a trial the way the victorious Allies did to the Nazis at Nuremberg). We didn't, because we have learned that power, alone, destroys itself; power is strong only in the service of justice. And in the service of justice, we handed the monster over to his victims, who are now prepared to try him for his crimes, prove those crimes beyond any reasonable doubt, and finally achieve a degree of closure after their thirty years of torment.

"Here is neither haste, nor hate, nor anger", peal the Trumpets,
"Pardon for his penitence nor pity for his fall.
"It is the King!" - inexorable Trumpets -
(Trumpets round the scaffold at the dawning by Whitehall.)

When Charles Stuart was executed in that dawning by Whitehall, it set a precedent: for the first time in the history of Europe, a ruler had been held to account by his people. There had been coups and depositions before, but this was new in the world. Charles' dynasty may have been later restored; his tyranny was not; when his worthless son tried to resort to Daddy's maxims of governance, he was chased out of the country and the foundation was laid for the rise of democracy, not just in Britain but throughout the Anglosphere - the Glorious Revolution that drove out James Stuart and established the supremacy of the British Parliament was the inspiration for the American Revolution, and the theme of defending the liberty of the people against the encroachments of the state was common to both. Kings, dynasties and regimes come and go. Precedents are for ever.

When Saddam Hussein gets what's coming to him, it will set a precedent: for the first time (that I know of) in the history of the Mid-East, a ruler will have been held to account by his people. There have been many, many coups and depositions before, but this will be new in the world. The genie is out of the bottle, and all the impiety and witlessness of Ba'athists, mullahs and monarchs can't call it back.


Australia launches world's largest sheep database

Story here.

I'm guessing it will be called www.match.co.au.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


Dubya's favorite political philosopher

Recently I read a somewhat lizardoid condemnation of the new Iraqi constitution, which enshrines Islam as one of the sources of Iraqi law. Now there are various responses that one might make to this: there is, for example, the yar-boo-sucks-it's-better-than-Afghanistan response; or there is the rather more sophisticated response that recognizing a religious belief in the constitution does not necessarily make a country a theocracy - even Sweden, that liberal icon, has an established church whose membership roll BTW is kept by a department of the government. (I swear this is true. A Swedish friend of mine who converted to another religion when he got married had to register the fact with the Swedish embassy). For that matter, the constituent countries of the UK (England, Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland) each have an established church, and each church has a different theology, and each church has the Queen as its Supreme Governor, with the gloriously surreal result that Her poor Majesty is forced to change her religious opinions from Episcopalian to Presbyterian every time she crosses the border into Scotland.

But it struck me how remarkable it is that we in "the West"/ "the free world"/ "civilization" (we don't have a snappy name for the societies that cherish the values that evolved out of the European Renaissance, but you know what I mean) regard the separation of church & state as a Good Thing. There is almost no precedent for this in human history. If you could talk to the ghosts of Marcus Tullius Cicero, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Harun-al-Rashid, and Charlemagne, they would laugh at the idea that a person's relationship to the State and a person's relationship to the Deity could ever be separate. Cicero would be proud to tell you that he served as an augur (soothsayer), an official government post to which he had been elected; Ieyasu would explain to you that he held the office of Shogun because he had been appointed by the Emperor in Kyoto, who was the descendant of a goddess, and a god in his own right; Charlemagne might be diplomatically silent on the question of whether he was the boss of the Pope or the other way round, but he would boast of forcibly converting the Saxons to Christianity, their alternative to living as Christians being dying as Odinists; whilst his penpal Harun-al-Rashid would have serious trouble understanding your point - surely all government derived from the Will of Allah, by definition? Government without God, to these people, was a little like water without wetness; like sky without air.

The modern notion of separate church and state evolved out of the chaos spawned by the Reformation, and the exhaustion that the people of Europe felt after one hundred and fifty years of making fratricidal war in the name of the deity they called the Prince of Peace. It was a kludge, a compromise, not a policy. Periodically, Puritans or Bourbons would try to turn back the clock to the mythical days when everyone believed The Truth... but gradually "the West" learned that the separation of church & state strengthens both, and when by contrast church and state become confused, then the Church becomes unholy and the State becomes ungoverned.

I said that separation of church and state is almost unprecedented in human history. Because there are a couple precedents. Genghis Khan, for instance, whose oldest ally was a Christian and whose wisest councillor was a Chinese Taoist, practised religious toleration throughout his empire. (True, he rabidly persecuted Moslems; that was because the Caliph had dissed him. Another disadvantage of uniting church & state is that one has to suck up the other's fuckup).

However, as far as I know the first person who ever expressed the notion of separation of church and state lived before Genghis Khan. It wasn't Socrates (who was condemned to death by the Athenians for blasphemy against their gods, and explicitly acknowledged that they had every right to condemn him), nor was it Aquinas (who did however expound the notion of human law and religious law as separate, though both dependent on the Will of God). No, as far as I can work out, it was Jesus Christ.

As far as I am aware, the first instance in human history when anyone ever formulated the idea of separation of church & state was the moment when ol' JC, asked whether it was morally permissible to pay tribute to the Godless Idolators in Rome, replied with "Give to the Emperor what is the Emperor's, and give to God what is God's". Separation of church & state, folks.

George W Bush is notorious for saying, during the 2000 presidential debate, that his favorite political philosopher was "Jesus", and oh, how the MSM (and pretty much everyone else) howled. Ha! Dubya's so dumb! WTF did Jesus ever contribute to political philosophy?

Well, here's one, and I think we can agree it's a biggie. From the notion that religious belief is a personal, not a political, matter, derives a whole load of other notions - for instance, that the other aspects of a person's inner life are nobody's damn business - that there is in fact a whole sphere of human action that is not within the appropriate purview of the state - that people who differ from you in a bunch of ways can still be just as good a neighbor and just as good a citizen and human being as you are.

And BTW this is why I utterly despise "religious conservatives": next time they feel tempted to wave signs reading "WWJD", they might want to check with his biographers.

(Posted in response to this over at M Simon's blog.)

Sunday, October 09, 2005


o fortunatum natum...

Thirty years ago today*, Professor Volokh and his family arrived in the US.

Thirty-one years ago, xj arrived in this world.

I'm more honoured than I can express to share an anniversary with the pre-eminent legal scholar of the blogosphere. Eugene Volokh is no doubt fortunate to be an American, but America is no less fortunate to claim him as an adopted son. (And I believe he made a wise choice, whatever his commentator Rhadamanthus may say. BTW Rhadamanthus: classical scholars will associate this name with a person who knew the law inside and out, but ended up spending eternity in hell. As such, it is the perfect "screen name" for a Volokh Conspiracy commentator who prefers England to America...)

Nasdrovyeh, y bolshoyeh spasebo, Gospodin Volokh!

*I mean October 8th; which is what the date was when I started writing this. There's a famous saying to the effect that "writing is easy: you just sit down and stare at the screen until drops of blood form on your forehead". True, too true...

Friday, October 07, 2005


A fine example of the Politician's Logic fallacy

via Tim Worstall.

The Politician's Logic fallacy goes like this:

Major Premise: Something must be done.
Minor Premise: This is something.
Conclusion: Therefore, we must do this.

(Logic-choppers will recognise this as a part of the class of quaternio terminorum fallacies).

The ZaNuLabour regime is especially fond of the Politician's Logic fallacy, which can "justify" literally inconceivable amounts of meretricious legislative busywork. Here, the Politician's Logic fallacy appears to have resulted in a much-ballyhooed new law that is exactly the same as the old one.

OTOH there is another explanation. The failed lawyers, mouth-breathing polytechnic lecturers and overpromoted county council button-sorters that run Britain's government may be competent at something, but legal drafting ain't it. Mybrotherthelawyer tells me that the legislation that comes out of Parliament nowadays is so badly-written that often nobody in the legal profession can work out WTF the laws actually mean. It's not unheard of for one clause of a statute to mandate a certain action, and another clause of the same statute to forbid it. The main cause appears to be the government's habit of making things up as they go along. Consider the bill that established the Financial Services Authority, back in 2000 or thenabouts: over one hundred amendments were made during the committee stage, with ministers popping up like meercats with ADHD every five minutes or so and proposing fresh new reams of nonsense. I'm told that a number of judges stated, off the record, that they would dismiss any cases brought under the financial services legislation because they considered it literally impossible to follow the statute consistently.

Either way, it's nothing a Brit can be proud of.

I want my Green Card...

Saturday, October 01, 2005


More bombs in Bali...

via Samizdata (this post was going to be a comment over there, but it got too big; thousand-word comments are reserved for poorly-adaptive sociopaths.)

If I were John Howard, I'd find out who the governor/ mayor of Bali was, get him on the phone and tell him: "I just want you to know that Australia congratulates you on declaring independence from Indonesia. Welcome to the free world."

The mayor/governor would no doubt reply "Er, we haven't declared independence!" Howard would retort, "Yet."

The precedent is East Timor, where Australia intervened in support of independence for a former province of Indonesia that had been the target of violent terrorist acts committed by persons from elsewhere in the Indonesian archipelago.

Indonesia is not a nation, properly so called (a political unit defined by a shared myth of values); it is an empire (a political unit in which diverse groups with no common values are held together by force and/or fear). There is no particular reason why Irian Jaya, Sumatra and the Moluccas should all be ruled by the same bunch of Java-based crooks; it was one of those things that just sort of happened when the Dutch East India Company's back was turned.

Empires fall. The "Evil Empire" controlled by Russian communists fell when the emperor (Gorbachev) realised the costs of holding the empire together had become unbearable. Let's see if Indonesian president Yudhoyono has the makings of a Gorbachev.

After all, I suspect that his choice may be to end up like Gorbachev or end like Godunov.

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