April 30, 2006

The Network Commonwealth Begins At Home

More and more, it seems that Americans disagree -- over the war in Iraq, immigration, gun control, and a thousand other topics of public interest. Each national election feels more momentous, or a least more vitriolic. Politics has been become personal in a nasty sort of way that does no one any good.

As far as I can see, one of the root causes of the American predicament is the ever-increasing centralization of power and decision-making. When most signficant policies are set in the District of Columbia, national elections take on ever-greater importance.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. When America consisted of thirteen colonies, most powers were local or state, not central. That used to be called federalism. Now federalism is practically synonymous with centralism. The results have not been salutary.

What is the way out? Arnold Kling has advocated 250 states. But the logic of power relations (eludicated by French scholar Jean Baechler) might mean that a USA of 250 states would be even more centralized, since the most stable arrangement for any power structure is to have around 5 major powers and several smaller ones (as evidenced by the traditional balance of power in Europe and, not coincidentally, by the early United States with its thirteen former colonies, only four or five of which were signficant in size and power).

A more workable arrangement might be what in The Anglosphere Challenge Jim Bennett defines as a "network commonwealth" -- a loose network of civic states, wherein decisions are localized and only a few powers (e.g., common defense) are delegated up to the commonwealth level. (We could see this structure as a kind of updated Hanseatic League.) One key here is that a network commonwealth would consist of civic states -- that is, states that are (according to Jim Bennett) "dependent on essentially voluntary forms for cohesion", likely with small populations since "consensus and coherence are easier to achieve among a limited number of people" (anywhere from tens of thousands to ten or twenty million, as in Kenichi Ohmae's region-states). A vibrant civic state also tends to have "a core population sharing strong ethnic or religious bonds" (and, I would add, cultural assumptions, legal structures, and often economic interests). (Quotes are from chapter 1 of TAC -- and yes, I need to clean up the HTML for that page.)

While the United States has traditionally had a strong narrative of shared culture and history, at 300 million people it is perhaps reaching the breaking point given the strong centralizing tendencies witnessed over the last 150 years. Rather than trying to decide everything in the District of Columbia, it makes more sense to form policy at the state or local level. Indeed, it may make sense to devolve many powers also to the regional level, along the lines of Joel Garreau's book The Nine Nations of North America -- out of those nine (or dozen or whatever) regions, four or five would probably dominate in size and power and thus set most of the (strictly limited) commonwealth agenda. In a sort of fractal design, it makes sense for those regions themselves to be commonwealths or confederations wherein regional power is again delegated up by the civic states making up the region. With around 325 million people in North America, the result would be perhaps 10-15 regions of 25-30 million people, where each region would consist of 10-15 civic states, each with 1-3 million people. At each level, there would be 4-6 main actors (leading to regional and continental stability) and several smaller actors (allied with the main actors on various issues).

Because only about 20 American states have populations less than 3 million people (see statistics), any kind of political devolution would likely result in a much larger number of civic states in North America, driven especially by division of high-population states such as California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, and New Jersey -- see the CommonCensus map for some possible fault lines (downstate vs. upstate New York, Chicagoland vs. central and southern Illinois, north vs. south Jersey, Philly-centric vs. Pittsburgh-centric Pennsylvania, the many varieties of California and Florida and Texas).

Will such a system come to pass? Probably not. But the current system is increasingly unstable (it goes well beyond the Red State vs. Blue State divide), and in a true crisis radical change might become palatable. Only time will tell.

(Cross-posted at one small voice.)

Posted by Peter Saint-Andre at 09:50 PM | Comments (11)

April 24, 2006

There is no such thing as Europe

One of the difficulties of discussing the future (if any) of European countries is the insistence by people who are supposedly sceptical of the European Union of talking about “Europe”. This is true about numerous American publications and websites and the worst perpetrators are the think-tanks on both sides

When the British think-tank Centre for European Reform, which is wholly sympathetic to the “European project” (it used to take a perestroika view of a need to reform and readjust but no longer does so) talks of a “European social policy” or a “European farm policy”, the terminology is understandable. But when a website like Brussels Journal, which boasts of its opposition to European integration, or a think-tank like Open Europe produce postings or, in the case of the latter, papers and discussions about the best way forward for “Europe” one needs to call a halt.

Let us return to our muttons. To all political intents and economic purposes, there is no such thing as Europe. To argue, for instance, as one well-known American Republican politician did some years ago in London that the European Right must have the same crucial debate that the American Right had had some time before, in order to recreate itself and face the new century is fatuous. The European Right does not exist in any coherent sense. The Right in Central Europe is completely different from the Anglospheric British or American one, though there is the occasional overlap. France divides politically along fault-lines that are not repeated anywhere else. And the Right in Scandinavia tends to be somewhere around the moderate Left everywhere else.

Europe is a geographical expression, though there is some debate about its boundaries. It is, to a great extent, a cultural expression but mostly as opposed to certain other cultural entities. Even in this we can see the almost unbridgeable differences when we look at the spread of “European cultures” to the New World. The massive difference between the Anglospheric and Hispanic colonization and the countries that have grown out of them has been well documented.

Historically, the European experience is very varied. In the west it was largely defined by various wars between Catholics and Protestants and the ongoing struggle between England (later Britain) and France, the east’s experiences centred first on the split between the Latin and the Orthodox Churches, then, for centuries, on the fight against the Ottoman Empire.

Even such supposedly unifying historical events as the Second World War left very different marks on the many different countries. It is not just a question of whether you were on the winning or the losing side. There is the matter of whether there had been an occupation and if so, how many, how popular and how long did they last. Which parts of the population or the political elite supported which occupation? Where does treason lie? One can go on asking these questions for a very long time.

There is, of course, the European Union, a political construct of massive complexity, which has reached the point of non-reformability. One assumes that the muddle-headed calls for European reform often mean the reform of the EU. They usually come from people who have no understanding of the organization or its structure. In order to hand social policy back to the member states, as suggested by a recent Open Europe paper, there needs to be an amendment to the consolidated treaties. To achieve this, there needs to be an Inter-Governmental Conference and an agreement by all 25 member states; the amended treaty has to be ratified by all of the latter. An unlikely sequence of events.

It is true that the EU frequently prevents the member states from developing their own changes and reforms. On the other hand, if the various governments were really determined to carry them through they could do so, without monumental EU reforms. (This does not apply to anything that has become EU competence like external trade.)

But to talk of reforming the European economy or agriculture or social model is to accept the whole European integration project, which is nonsensical in most ways. There is no such thing as a European economy, as the tensions within the eurozone prove quite conclusively.

There is no such thing as a common European interest, which means there can be no common European foreign policy.

The differences in the agriculture of the various states are so great that the straitjacket of any common policy, however reformed is unlikely to help anyone. How can countries like Greece, Finland, France and Britain all be part of a common agricultural policy? It is pointless even to talk about its reform that would somehow push European agriculture into the world. Individual countries might be able to open up to the world (or might decide not to do so) and might compete. Europe can do no such thing.

The creation of the European concept in economy, agriculture, environment etc is merely a method to enhance political integration. Those who talk of European reforms, European opening up, European development in the twenty-first century have accepted the integration project and cannot see its inherent senselessness.

Posted by Helen Szamuely at 09:26 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

April 23, 2006

Cryptic answers

Well, Jim got the only entry that baffled me even after I knew the answer. Orphan. Lesson: look more closely at letters and not entire words next time! I kept, as the reader was meant to, of course, simply reading the word "panorama" instead of deciphering the individual letters, as Jim did.

Next, the letters hijklmno with no explanation and are invited to give a five letter answer - I think this one was the most mystifying. I stared at it and stared at it and thought there was no way to arrive at a solution, and then CptNerd sprang onto the stage with the correct answer: water. Even then, it took me a minute before I twigged, "Awwwww! Of course!" But I have to admit, I would never have gotten that one.

Kelly got three really good ones: revo - overturned. geg - scrambled egg. And IST - capitalist.

Most puzzling is no one got this one: Farewell to the French about to depart.

Easy! "to the" in French is au. Next clue "about" - OK, wrap those letters about the next bit, so the first letter will be a and the last will be u. To depart, well, to depart this life is to die. So adieu.

Farewell! Have a good week and thanks for giving it a try while u are in a wigwam! Go on! I dare you!

Posted by Verity at 06:20 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 22, 2006

Something cryptic for the weekend?

More than any other nation - perhaps because our language is well-suited to puns and clever manipulation of meaning - the British are fanatical about their cryptic crossword puzzles - although our Anglophone cousins in N America do not seem nearly so keen, for some reason. Give Brits a really arcane cryptic clue and they will happily suck on the end of their pencil for hours, taking time out for little bursts of scribbling down letters and then running a line through them. Hmmm, that didn't work ... I could have sworn ... Oh, wait a minute!

The Daily Telegraph is particularly noted for a very rigorous intellectual workout in the crossword department. Here, for your weekend entertainment and frustration, are a few of the more famous Daily Telegraph cryptic crossword clues. The number in parentheses after the clue indicates, of course, the number of letters in the answer.

hijklmno (5)
Farewell to the French about to depart. (5)
Revo (10)
geg (9, 3)
IST (9)
and lastly, here's one I don't understand, even though I've read he answer:
Poor kid, no panorma (6) If anyone can figure it out, can you explain it to me?

Answers published on Sunday evening.

Posted by Verity at 12:24 PM | Comments (12)

April 15, 2006

The Tory lexicographer

On April 15, 1755 the following advertisement appeared in the London press:

“A Dictionary of the English language: in which the words are deduced from their originals and illustrated in their different significations by the best writers. To which are prefixed a History of the Language and a Grammar. By Samuel Johnson A.M.”

Dr Johnson’s great dictionary was published and the best known definition of a lexicographer “a harmless drudge” was first presented to the public.

In his entertaining history of “Dictionary-makers and the dictionaries they made”, entitled Chasing the Sun, Jonathon Green charts the various attempts to imitate the Italians and the French by creating either an English Academy to codify the language or writing a Dictionary for the same purpose; possibly both.

Dr Johnson, too, saw his magisterial work that he had begun in 1745, as a patriotic exercise, writing in the Preface:

“I have devoted this book, the labour of my years, to the honour of my country, that we may no longer yield the palm of philology to the nations of the continent.”

As Mr Green points out, Dr Johnson and his Dictionary were highly regarded by such writers as Voltaire; the high regard was not reciprocated on this side of the Channel.

Johnson had, as he explained, intended to “fix” the language, to offer precise definitions, rules and etymologies. While he succeeded in creating the schema of a dictionary, he realized that a language, particularly the English language cannot be “fixed” or defined for any length of time – it is too fluid, too flexible.

Besides, he felt that trying to “fix” the language actually went against the English concepts of freedom.

On the other hand, he did use the Dictionary, as he used the essays in the contemporaneous Rambler to advance his own High Tory, High Church, moral view of the world through his definitions and quotations (often re-written to suit himself).

The Dictionary was praised by many, particularly David Garrick in verse, assessed soberly by Adam Smith and attacked by prominent Whigs for being Tory. This may have had something to do with Johnson’s definition of a Tory as

“one who adheres to the ancient constitution of the state, and the apostolical hierarchy of the church of England”.

The Whigs, on the other hand, were defined as a “faction”.

Garrick’s rollicking verse displayed the patriotic aspect of the whole enterprise and the Dictionary’s reception:

“Talk of war with a Briton, he’ll boldly advance, That one English soldier will beat ten of France; Would we alter the boast from the sword to the pen, Our odds are still greater, still greater our men … First Shakespeare and Milton, like gods in the fight, Have put their whole drama and epick to flight … And Johnson, well arm’d like a hero of yore, Has beat forty French, and will beat forty more!”

The forty French refers, naturally, to the French academicians who have been codifying the French language with variable success since the days of Cardinal Richelieu. (The Académie was founded in 1535)

The poetic critique was published in the Public Advertiser and the Gentleman’s Magazine. Can any modern reviewer rival that?

Cross-posted from Conservative History Journal

Posted by Helen Szamuely at 03:24 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

April 14, 2006

Naim -- Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy

Naim, Moises, Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy, Doubleday, 2005, 340pp.

Moises Naim, editor of Foreign Policy magazine, has written an outstanding summary of the flip side of the post-Cold War economic boom. Think of it as the antithesis of Jim Bennett's book ... a "Global Criminal Affluenza Challenge: How an Army of Fagins Leverages High-Yield Crime while Civil Society Implodes in the 21st Century."

The author asks a provocative question. What if we looked at global crime from a purely economic perspective?

What industries would form the MisFortune 500? What criteria would criminals use for market development? How would criminal enterprises adapt to the new technological realities (also facing legitimate business)? In other words, setting morals and laws and national sovereignty to one side, how is crime coping with globalization?

The answer is both fascinating and worrisome. Crime has diversified and formed its own "network commonwealths" at a blistering pace over the last 15 years. The end of the Cold War not only spelled the collapse of military antagonists around the world, it dumped hundreds of millions of people into market economies with only a single skill -- that of avoiding government interference while incrementally improving their lot in life. And with that single skill, developed over decades if not longer, those hundreds of millions of people have embraced illicit trade as the only effective means of climbing the ladder of prosperity in the global market. Third World sovereign states may dominate the rent-seeking game in resources but it is their populaces that have embraced the globalized market economy in illicit goods as their own. Profit, not politics, is the new engine of geopolitical change. And as for those politically inclined ... well, the fundamental way that political movements now fund and deploy themselves is through the globalized criminal economy. Whether it's Al Qaeda and credit card fraud in Europe, or North Korea making counterfeit dollars and meth, the Afghanis renewing their old business (heroin) and starting new ones (CFC smuggling), the Columbians selling coke to the US and girls to the Japanese, or the Ukrainians selling ballistic missiles to China and Iran ... there's money to be made in satisfying demand in a hugely expanded (and hugely diversified) global economy. Is it the "government" undertaking crime, or the "rebels," or both? Ground truth is that no one seems to care.

What are the largest and most profitable flows of illicit trade? Naim gives us few surprises among the Big Five: Weapons, Drugs, Humans (Voluntary, Coerced, Dead/Alive, and Occasionally Just Portions Thereof), Intellectual Property, and Money. Each of these major trades gets a thorough up-to-date chapter. Naim's professional editorial skills are evident. The book reads very smoothly and pitches just the right balance of detail. Anecdotes are used sparingly and to good effect. Crime is a business and business is good. Very good. And it's no surprise either that illicit trade piggybacks on the vastly grown legitimate international trade in exactly those same areas. Selling F-16s, Viagra, H1-B visas, Microsoft Office and T-bills just lays down the pathways for less savoury brethren to cut their deals and operate their businesses.

Most startling for me, as I read Naim's book, was the rapid conversion of criminal networks into diversified transportation networks ... shipping any product, anywhere, any time, for a price. Using modern economic tools for establishing commercial trust (and risk management), clan and tribal crime operations can operate with a vastly increased set of co-conspirators across a vastly expanded range of geography. Nigerians in Malaysia talk to Russians in New York who broker Columbian prostitutes in Japan. And obedience to the laws of profit and loss mean that transportation networks now "containerize" their trade flows: indentured labourers are shipped around the world with drugs and money in their bodies, or instead, drugs are shipped in bales of money or money shipped in bales of fake generic drugs. Every shipment responds to economic conditions of the moment. Similarly, Africa coltan and diamonds are swapped for arms which are converted into money which is swapped for a Rembrandt which is used to pay for a Russian banking cybercrime-extortion team. Heh. How did Rembrandt get in there? Well, 174 of his paintings have been stolen and are on the black market. The fastest way to move one billion dollars without touching the banking system is to send a few such Rembrandts by air cargo. By weight, antiquities and art are some of the most valuable (and durable) commodities on Earth. Market value, and the radically lowered costs of market information and market access, are triggering a dramatic expansion in the black market global economy. And why not? No taxes, no tariffs, burgeoning diversifying demand, low risk and a dwindling role for the extortionate middlemen of yesteryear. It's a kind of "eBay" for crime families ... in fact, eBay is now used to sell vast quantities of proscribed and counterfeit goods to those who are actually looking for such material. Economies of scale now mean that networks of criminal enterprise now operate as an informal but dynamic equivalent to Fedex. To paraphrase Sun Microsystems ... "the network is the crime."

To quote Naim (p.227), such networking has permitted:

  • The rise of global product sourcing, formulation, or assembly
  • A shift in the role of way stations along trafficking routes
  • The emergence of a well-functioning, illicit international financial market
  • The end of command-and-control

If these changes seem familiar, it's because they parallel the adjustments that legitimate corporations have had to make in the past few decades.

What does all this mean to readers of Albion's Seedlings?

Well, as implied by my opening sentences, nothing good for civil society nor for the kinder, gentler common law. The amounts of money involved in illicit trade dwarf the legitimate economic activities of vast swathes of the planet, which in turn determine the lives of hundreds of millions of people. For many at the bottom of the economic ladder, their economic value as human beings effectively approaches zero. In many parts of the world, the value of a sovereign state as a entrepot and depot for illicit trade vastly exceeds anything it could hope to undertake legitimately in the next 100 years. As a result, the "failed states" of Asia and Africa, and the no-man's lands of South America, become nodes in a global shipping business. And that business has every incentive to persistently undermine local civil society and traditional economic development. The locals are there as utility flesh (as mules or for physical export). So the civic value of humans purely as economic units is an idea now gaining the upper hand.

For nations at the other end of the economic scale, it's clear that (a) normal rules of sovereignty and law are increasingly unable to cope with the expansion of illicit trade, (b) the corruption of formerly transparent, but poor, nations and cultures is well underway, (c) the affluence of the First World is accelerating and diversifying the criminal portion of the global economy, and (d) the scale of this global trade is now sufficient to suborn many First World organizations and citizens as well. Everyone likes a deal ... whether it's a knock-off Prada bag, a cheap nanny, a healthy kidney, a filet of Patagonian toothfish, a hidden PCB dump site, a bootleg DVD, or a bit of blow. Every such transaction, however, is a positive reinforcement. The rule of the market reigns supreme. While our governments try to figure out how to get their law enforcement computers to talk each other, the appetites of their citizens (some innocuous, some despicable) are creating "network commonwealths" which fund the most tribal and predatory of peoples around the world.

Let's pause for a minute and reflect on some of the trends discussed in my earlier book reviews on William Lewis' The Power of Productivity and Amy Chua's World on Fire. Lewis documents the vast per capita prosperity gap between all significant nations (> 10 million people) and the United States. In a more recent Foresight 2020 project sponsored by Cisco, and conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, it's clear that that American GDP gap will definitely continue for another 15 years, wishful European thinking aside. Thus we can count on an expansion of international illicit trade out into the future as big as the one seen in the last 15 years (since the end of the Cold War).

The envy and enmity generated by "market-dominant minorities" (as described by Chua), tracks very closely with geographic wealth differentials. The wealth differences between neighbours, both the human variety and sovereign nations, are all the more readily apparent when cheap communication and cheap transportation make the contrast between rich and poor nations unbearable to millions. Little wonder that Chua identifies Israel and the United States as regional and global market-dominating minorities, when they both have among the highest geographic wealth differentials on the planet. The European Union is similarly prosperous compared to its southern and eastern neighbours. These wealthy regions form almost a magnetic field of attraction for the desperate and the predatory. Our First World cultures are morally, politically, and legally ill-prepared to deal with either type (in their millions). Flesh and crime. We've shown no interest in discovering how to cheaply dispose of either, despite an Anglosphere history of doing both.

What to Do?

Naim does an admirable and timely job of summarizing the nature and scale of worldwide illicit trade, and the parlous state of law enforcement. The author sets an optimistic tone, however, and directs our attention to "what we know" (p.239):

  • Illicit trade is driven by high profits, not low morals.
  • Illicit trade is a political phenomenon.
  • Illicit trade is more about transactions than products.
  • Illicit trade cannot exist without licit trade.
  • Illicit trade involves everyone.
  • Governments can't do it alone.

His solutions are also eminently logical:

  • Enhance, Develop, and Deploy Technology.
  • Defragment Government.
  • Give Governments Goals That They Can Achieve.
  • Fight a Global Problem with Global Solutions.
  • Build Political Will.
  • Get Everyone Involved.

But if this smacks of the well-meaning strategy for the "War on Drugs," we shouldn't be surprised. Drugs were the first of the globalized criminal enterprises that the Western world had to deal with. And Naim basically offers a New, Improved Model for controlling something that no one is serious about controlling.

Naim's approach is, to my mind, a form of "squaring the circle" ... establish widespread virtuous behavior in civil society (choking down Demand) without using the stick of moral stigmatization and punitive action to reduce Supply. I struggle to think of a time in history where such a program succeeded without religious or ethnic turmoil. Our efforts at the former (invoking virtuous behavior) have been noble but feeble and our attempts at the latter (the Stick) have been insufficient (when not inept) and lacking seriousness. The hypocrisy of expecting the poor of the world to now forego income that would save their lives, so that industrialized nations can sustain (without significant cost) their transitory unsavory appetites is, and always has been, breath-taking.

So for the sake of argument, let's accept Naim's hypothesis that illicit trade simply reflects the pervasive success and dominance of the global market economy in the absence of moral or ethnic or national values that would hold it at bay. In the absence of such values, the signal that G7 nations send the world (through the market) is that the elements of illicit trade are just as much of what we are as the timber, and sweatshirts, and television sets that we import.

"Yet if we stand back and consider how much the world has changed and into what kind of world order we are headed, the rationale for mobilizing against global criminal networks will become clear, and also urgent." (p.260)

Readers of this blog will cast a jaundiced eye upon Naim's solutions which depend upon increasing the awareness and dexterity of governments. If Naim is to believed, most of the institutions outside the First World are thoroughly subverted, while those within it are perilously close to it. In the absence of a clear bright line between Them and Us, between Right and Wrong ... a line that can be drawn and maintained at minimal expense ... it's hard to imagine anything that will impede a trade that is way "freer" than most of us would prefer. In a sense, the wealthiest parts of the world have lost their immune system. They can no longer resist the toxic, no longer expel the despicable. It all swirls around in the same big soup of trading humanity.

Naim's book, like Lewis' and Chua's, can be highly recommended for its content. It is grist for thinking about just what our global economy and the Technological Singularity mean, in less rosy terms. And if we believe Martin Wolf and his excellent book Why Globalization Works (see an updated article URL for his views on the Anglosphere here), we have no reason to believe that legitimate global trade will shrink any time soon. That illicit trade is a symbiotic part of the "white" economy is our bad luck ... and our ultimate responsibility, since We generate it. If anything, it ensures the success of globalization because it serves the needs of the rest of the World far better than the kleptocrats running Third World nations.

"Ye shall know them by their fruits." In the last fifteen years, we've apparently pimped out most of the planet ... now they've joined the global market to stay. They are driven by hunger, fear, and greed. They are unrestrained by our laws and values (when they haven't overtly subverted them) but are fully responsive to our baseness and weaknesses. And even in all this, we are far richer (and getting moreso) than they. We can pimp them out yet more, for decades. But we needn't expect to be loved for it. Nor to be unchanged by it.

Rather than the Anglosphere being an island of civic trust and burgeoning prosperity in the world, we might better think of ourselves as the one lifeboat currently in sight without major leaks. Everyone is swimming towards us, in one way or the other. Criminal symbiotes feed on our frailties, and on our civic strengths. If we continue to indulge our worst appetites, without the capacity to distinguish what strengthens civic society from what profoundly degrades it, our Anglosphere discussions about historical roots, or the deftness of our adaptation to the Singularity will be moot. We'll have moved on to William Gibson's world of cyberpunks, splintering markets and anomie. Perhaps there'll still be an Anglosphere there, but it will need to be one more confident and strident in its values and fully capable of summary justice, on the cheap. The market will demand it.

++++++++++++++++

Table of Contents
=============

The Wars We Are Losing [1]
Global Smugglers Are Changing Your World [12]
Small Arms and Loose Nukes [38]
No Business Like Drug Business [65]
Why is Slavery Booming in the 21st Century [86]
The Global Trade in Stolen Ideas [109]
The Money Washers [131]
What Do Orangutans, Human Kidneys, Garbage, and Van Gogh Have in Common? [157]
What Are Governments Doing? [175]
Citizens vs. Criminals [199]
Why We Are Losing [217]
What to Do? [236]
The World Ahead [261]

Posted by jmccormick at 09:07 PM | Comments (5)

April 12, 2006

Beginnings of the Union Flag

Today marks the 400th aniversary of the decree issued by King James I of England and VI of Scotland that united the Cross of St George (red on a white background) and that of St Andrew (diagonal white on a blue background) in the first version of the Union Flag.

The Cross Saltire of St Patrick (diagonal red cross on a white background) was added after the Act of Union and the Union Flag as we know it now was first flown on January 1, 1801.

Why no Welsh Dragon? Simple really. Wales, a Principality, had, by 1606, been a part of England for several centuries.

One thing that has always puzzled me is how do people know when the Union Flag (or Union Jack) is flown upside down, which a sign of distress. As far as I can make out after careful scrutiny it is completely symetrical. It seems, that I had better go on scrutinizing it a bit more. According to the Buckingham Palace press office:

“The Union Flag is flown correctly when the cross of St Andrew is above that of St Patrick at the hoist (as the earlier of the two to be placed on the flag, the cross of St Andrew is entitled to the higher position) and below it at the fly; in other words, at the end next to the pole the broad white stripe goes on top.”

Why is it sometimes called the Union Flag and sometimes the Union Jack? On the whole, we accept that it is the Flag on land and Jack on the seas. But there seems to be some doubt as to the origin of the words Union Jack.

“The term Union Jack possibly dates from Queen Anne's time (reigned 1702-14), but its origin is uncertain. It may come from the 'jack-et' of the English or Scottish soldiers; or from the name of James I who originated the first union in 1603, in either its Latin or French form Jacobus or Jacques; or, as 'jack' once meant small, the name may be derived from a royal proclamation issued by Charles II that the Union Flag should be flown only by ships of the Royal Navy as a jack, a small flag at the bowsprit.”

The British are not, on the whole, a flag-flying nation, having not felt the need for it in the past. Indeed, one of the most telling episodes in Kipling’s “Stalky and Co” is that describing a visit to the school by a politician who talks much of the flag and even produces one from his breast pocket. The boys, staunch patriots every one, feel besmirched by his flag-waving.

There are times when flags are in order. One of those was the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in the Mall, that was a sea of flags: Union Flags, English flags, Scottish and Welsh flags, Canadian, Australian and various African flags, even one solitary and very stylish Isle of Man flag.

After 7/7 I noticed that the Union Flag was flown more frequently than is usual, it being controlled by carefully laid down rules. In time of trouble, the flag was being used as a symbol of defiance.

Cross-posted from EUReferendum

Posted by Helen Szamuely at 05:50 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

April 11, 2006

Dominique Droops, Silvio Falls

Daniel Johnson's Letter from London analyses Italy and France's situation:

The political classes in both Italy and France are still struggling to come to terms with the relative decline of the core states of the European Union. Both elites were suspicious of the New Europe to the east; both still cling to dreams of a United States of Europe, despite the rejection of the European Constitution in last year's French and Dutch referendums. Mr. Prodi may try to exploit his victory to lead a new attempt to revive such dreams of a centralized European federation.

If he does, I predict he will fail.The European Union is not only more diverse but also more divided than ever. France and Italy may have signaled that they reject the Atlantic world of open markets and open societies. But the Poles and other central European peoples are mostly eager to belong to the Anglosphere. So Margaret Thatcher's vision - a Europe of free trade and nation states - lives to fight another day.

Interesting use of the term Anglosphere. I think the possibility is not so much "join" to Anglosphere", but join with us, to become full-fledged members of what I have called the "civilsphere" -- the worldwide set of strong civil societies. Unfortunately, France and Italy seem to be demonstrating that the door into the civilsphere is a revolving one -- as the Eastern Europeans and others come is, they are on the way out.

Posted by James C. Bennett at 02:31 PM | Comments (8)

April 10, 2006

Beaten flat by a Chinese puzzle

Ambitious, city-living Chinese, working in office towers in Beijing, contented with their lot but missing that certain je ne sais quoi that adds so much texture to the lives of Westerners, are about to get their own version of the angst of do-it-yourself flatpak furniture.

Sweden's Ikea, the largest self-assembly furniture company in the world, is to open a giant, 460,000 sq feet flagship store in Beijing. Pity the millions of city dwellers, beguiled by a swish computer desk on rollers with lots of compartments, or a fancy bookshelf - or, heaven help us, a complete kitchen system - who eagerly tear off the (rather sturdy) wrappings and settle in contentedly to read the instructions, only to be confronted with a Chinese puzzle of their worst nightmares. "It says to put K in the slot marked A, but cannot lah! All different sizes!"

"Wah!" cries his wife in despair, "cupboard only fits if put in wrong way round and knob upside down!" And an entire weekend later, they have a computer desk that circles dangerously to the left when they try to roll it to the wall and only two of whose rollers actually roll. Doubtless this is where Mr Lee and his wife resort to the solution applied by so many hundreds of thousands in the West after an encounter with self-assembly flatpak furniture. With a twist of the wrist, they undo the bottle cap on the booze.

Posted by Verity at 04:15 PM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

My Podcast Interview Is Up

My podcast interview with the guys at The Speculist is now up. Radius-of-trust, China, space travel, and various other topics. Check it out.

Posted by James C. Bennett at 09:12 AM | Comments (11)

April 07, 2006

The English language as political tool

In his brief but exhaustingly dashing analysis of the “European Question and the National Interest”, professor Jeremy Black makes an interesting comment about the Hundred Years War.

In the 1330s, as France and England drifted towards war it became rather awkward for the aristocracy to continue with what we would now call international and francophile outlook and behaviour.

In particular, the question of the language became acute. The use of English as it had developed from mixed Anglo-Saxon and Norman roots became a matter of patriotic political tool.

“In 1344, it was claimed before the House of Commons, an important and indicative choice of location, that Philip VI of France was ‘fully resolved … to destroy the English language, and to occupy the land of England’. As the lower classes spoke English anyway, it was only a shift by the upper classes that was at issue.”

Unfortunately, professor Black does not give a reference for this comment and it is unclear whether he had found it in the original Rolls or, as is much more likely, in another historian’s account. Nor is it entirely clear what language was the statement made in. English, one hopes.

There is but a short step from that to the first two great literary works in English: John Gower’s Confessio Amantis and, above all, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Cross-posted (mostly) from Conservative History Journal

Posted by Helen Szamuely at 04:59 AM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

April 04, 2006

India and China -- An Interesting Comparison

Here is an interesting discussion of the relative competitive advantages of India and China, by a person of mixed Chinese and subcontinental ancestry now living in China.

What struck me about the relative situations of the two countries as described here is that most of the things holding India back are fixable in the near future; most of the problems with China are deep-seated and will require luck and a probably difficult transition period to work themselves through. This suggests that India will continue to accelerate, more slowly for a while and then faster as the effects of reform accumulate. China may continue to go forward smoothly, or it may hit a wall in the not too distant future.

Posted by James C. Bennett at 04:28 PM | Comments (52)

Is this UKIP's new press officer?

Quite smart of UKIP to hire the Boy-King of the Conservative Party as their new media officer. He has done more for them in publicity in one day than the previous bods had managed in a year.

Let’s see: UKIP has been on the front page of the BBC website, mentioned in the Independent and the Guardian, given a news article by Reuter’s. On top of which, party chairman David Campbell-Bannerman was given right of reply on LBC. And the story is likely to continue.

It all began a couple of days ago, when Campbell-Bannerman warned the Tories that UKIP would use the Freedom of Information Act to get a list of their big donors and lenders. Incidentally, it is remarkable how little benefit the Conservatives have managed to gain from the series of rather unsavoury financial scandals that have hit the government recently.

All Cameron has done was to create an impression of shiftiness with regard to his own pet donors and to show himself to be a managerial politician in his eagerness to discuss with Blair the possibility of state funding for parties.

Memo to Conservatives: the role of the Opposition is to oppose. Do it now, before it is too late.

During an interview on LBC Radio Cameron was asked what he thought of that move. He replied that UKIP was just trying to make mischief, which is undeniably true.

He then, rather unwisely, went on to describe UKIP as a bunch of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists mostly”. It may have got Cameron publicity as the BBC, which has finally found a Conservative leader it likes (i.e. he is not really a Conservative) gleefully pointed out, but it got UKIP much more.

Nigel Farage immediately went into an attack mode, challenging Mr Cameron to prove his accusations and reminding him a little unkindly that UKIP polled 2.7 million votes in the last election. These are votes the Conservatives would very much like. The Boy-King seems to think he can get them and others by insulting everybody in sight.

In response, the Boy-King refused to change his words and added that he did not think a party like UKIP had anything to say to people in the twenty-first century. Extraordinary how many people, usually of the kind, who cannot find their way out of a paper bag, seem to know exactly what is and what is not right for a century that has only just begun.

If he means that opposition to the European Union is somehow unthinkable in the twenty-first century, then the Boy-King shows himself to be remarkably stupid and unobservant. Stupid because no historical development is forever and unobservant because he has not noticed that this particular one has run its course.

Nor is it entirely clear why he thinks that UKIP’s other recently enunciated policies of lower and simpler taxation and choice in health and education, controlled immigration and some solution to the famous East Lothian riddle should not be relevant to the twenty-first century. They are problems that are crying out for solutions and we cannot really afford to wait until the twenty-second century.

So what are we to make of this unwise, not to mention inane, contribution to the political debate by the Boy-King? The most obvious comment to make is that he is a very bad tactician. Having not had much difficulty in his political career until now (a mirror image of Blair in 1997) Cameron has, presumably, not had to think much beyond the immediate statement. Had he done so, he might have realized that the best thing to do with small parties that are nibbling away at your support is to ignore them and hope the media will do the same. The worst thing to do is to give them “the oxygen of publicity”.

Cameron has also opened up himself and his own party to similar accusations – loons, fruitcakes and, even, closet racists tending to be fairly evenly spread across all the parties. Of course, it could be argued that this was yet another carefully calculated attack on the right wing of the Conservative Party, in the hopes that it will finally rebel and go away.

There is a problem here. In the first place, the Boy-King seems unaware of the extent of what he, in his metropolitan hide-out, thinks of as the right. In the second place, another large split in the party and a civil war may not be quite what the doctor ordered for the Tories at the moment.

Above all, Cameron’s statements and most comments on the Conservative Home blog show that the party is still in denial. They are refusing to examine in any detail what UKIP stands for and why it is attracting voters while the Tories continue to be incapable of doing so.

The Boy-King may well know somewhere deep down beneath that fatuous mask of the caring modern conservative that too close an examination of what makes up UKIP and its voters will entail a genuine analysis of what his own party should be based on.

In so far as conservatism means anything, apart from winning elections, it has something to do with small government, individual rights and responsibilities, national independence and constitutional democracy. The Boy-King has conspicuously failed to address any of these issues.

Occasionally he has touched on them briefly, only to explain with a kindly smile that the caring modern conservative did not believe in any of this. But very many conservatives in the country do and they are not in the mood to go on giving him the benefit of the doubt.

These are not the people who ever voted Lib-Dim, the Boy-King’s favourite target. In fact, very few of those will ever vote Tory. These are the people who stayed at home in the last three elections or voted UKIP, Veritas, occasionally even BNP. They did so, not because they are fruitcakes or racists but because they do not think that any of the big parties represents their views or has policies that are, in their opinion, best for the country. David Cameron, the Boy-King of the Conservative Party, insults them at his peril.

Cross-posted from EUReferendum

Posted by Helen Szamuely at 11:33 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

April 03, 2006

The Face of the 08 Elections?

Speculation is now rampant in the blogosphere over the possibility of a Perot-type independent US Presidential candidacy focusing on the topic of immigration and the security of the Mexican border. If that is the case, and particlarly if such a candidate also has Perot's pocketbook, we have to assume that something like the following photographs, or equivalent video, will appear frequently, nay, incessantly, in the television advertisements for that candidate, whoever he (or she) may be. This would be the Republican National Committee's nightmare, because it wouldn't have to gather too many votes to guarantee a Republican loss throughout their electoral heartland. In fact, it might gather many votes, maybe even enough to throw the election into the House of Representatives for resolution.

At this point, merely symbolic gestures by the Administration, or by the Republicans in Congress, would not satisfy the bulk of this constituency. One of several substantive measures would have to be taken to avoid a large-scale desertion of the Jacksonian element of the GOP. I think the best of these options would be a border barrier, which could take the form of a fence or even a wall on the model of the Israeli security barrier. In fact, I think that none of the other measures could even be debated intelligently until such a barrier had been constructued. There are several reasons why this is so.

Consider. The barrier has, far more than any other proposed action, a finite and visible metric -- the wall is done when the wall is, well, done. This is not the case with any other proposed action, such as a criminalization of employment of illegals. Congress and the Executive tend to have a bad case of confusing passage of a law with actually making anything happen, as can be seen from the history of the Homeland Security Department. Passing a law criminalizing hiring of illegals, although widely advocated, is very far from guaranteeing that even one actually guilty employer will be convicted and punished. Whereas we can all see when the barrier has been constructed.

Consider that effective enforcement would have to create a means of permitting employers to verify the eligibility of a job candidate, which means either a genuinely forgery-proof national ID card and/or an effective, accurate data base of all eligible US nationals (and everybody, even the blondest guëro, would have to present verification). As currently proposed, this would be done by the Department of Homeland Security. Presumably, implementation would be provided by the Effective Government Fairy.

Uh, this is the agency that can't maintain a much smaller No-Fly List database without keeping Ted Kennedy off of it (and consider the urgent public interest in keeping the Senator from behind the wheel of a car any more than absolutely necessary), or to amalgamate the data bases of its various agencies, or even amalgamate the data bases within any of its agencies. And of course the idea of a national ID card assumes that we are going to somehow detect all the errors and forgeries that the current local ID documents contain when they are used to verify IDs for the national card -- when in reality a national card would tend to validate and preserve forever unquestioned the errors that have already exist in current IDs.

If we are going to ask the government to do something, we are wisest when we pick tasks that governments tend to do well, and avoid the tasks governments tend to do poorly. Piling rocks on top of each other is a job governments have been doing splendidly since the days of the Pyramids. Enforcing a ban on hiring illegals within the US, on the other hand, is, in technical law enforcement terms, a victimless crime -- that is to say, an act which, although illegal, leaves neither a complaining victim, nor a body. (Don't bother commenting about all the harm that victimless crimes cause -- the term has to do with the technical fact of how the act comes to the attention of the police, not with the moral status of the action.) This means that the crime can be uncovered only through the use of informers, or the massive review of the actions of a generally innocent public.

Either of these methods are very open to abuse and constitute a substantial intrusion of government into the everyday lives of people -- something I find objectionable as well as degrading to civil society. In actual fact, criminalizing hiring of illegals would probably only provide a handful of high-profile cases for somebdy like Elliot Spitzer to use as a platform for electoral grandstanding -- and we have far too much criminalization of routine business activity as it is. And if the enforcement did start to be effective, its primary result would be to drive a substantial number of small employers futher into the grey-market world of under-the-table cash transactions, something which again erodes civil society.

Enforcement at the border, on the other hand, especially with a barrier that cannot be crossed quickly, is the one point at which the action can be apprehended directly and without much ambiguity. Therefore it makes sense to concentrate government resources at this point. To the extent that enablers are penalized, this enforcement can concentrate on the coyote rather than the employer. For example, a useful tactic might be to give a green card to one, and only one, of a group of apprehended illegals in return for actions leading to the conviction of the coyote, thus making the "prisoner's dilemma" work in our favor. (The one case where I would support active prosecution of employers would be where the employer has knowingly colluded with the border-crosser, for instance by paying the coyote's fees. Turning in such people could also earn a reward, either for the border-crosser, or for the coyote himself.)

Without an effectively secured border, none of the other measures are likely to work well, even if we decide that we can stand them. Particularly programs that require a large force of government agents to be effective day in and day out in the face of a substantial segment of the public that does not want them to succeeed. Without a barrier, we cannot even consider any other form of regularization, and say "but this time we mean it". With a barrier, however, we have a much wider range of options. Of course a barrier won't be cheap, won't be quick, and will never be 100% effective. But it will be cheaper in the long term than a new, massive internal police force, and it doesn't need to be 100% effective -- it just needs to make things substantially more difficult than they are today.

Many people also point out that any amnesty program today would only be an invitation for many more new illegals to come in, in the expectation that this amnesty would not be the last. As things are today, this is true. With a barrier, it would be possible to start discussing seriously the terms and conditions of regularization, increased legal quotas, conditions of entry and residence, and other issues. Since I do not have any objection to immigrants per se, and since I also think that the total number of immigrants the US admits could be quite high, given an active assimilation culture, I would support a generous offer on all counts. But it doesn't make sense to start talking about it when one side of the discussion has no intent to wait before acting, and the other side has no means of preventing it.

If the current administration cannot grasp these simple facts, then it will suffer in 08 and before for it.

UPDATE: Charles Krauthammer examines the same data and comes to the same conclusion, as does Hugh Hewitt (who has written a chapter on the idea in his latest book). And the more I watch the way the current immigration legislation is playing out in the US Congress, the more I see that the problems with other solutions are rising to the surface. Employer sanctions are like tax cuts -- they can be dialed up or dialed down by political pressures once public attention has turned elsewhere. A barrier is a (excuse the expression) concrete fact. Once built, it's there.

Posted by James C. Bennett at 05:11 PM | Comments (89)

April 01, 2006

The Fukuyama Flap

This blog doesn't try to keep close tabs on intra-conservative, intra-libertarian, or other ideological inside faction fights unless they have some wider bearing on Anglosphere issues. However, what happens on the Right, whether in the USA, the UK, or elsewhere, in a wider sense has an impact on the future of the Anglosphere, and does bear some watching. (So long as the left is entirely committed to transnational progressivism, the right is by default where the action is.)

In that vein, it's worth pointing attention to John O'Sullivan's current discussion of Francis Fukuyama's new book. O'Sullivan observes:

A visitor to London soon becomes accustomed to nightmare theories that a small conspiracy of neocons has been manipulating US foreign policy from behind the curtains and that their Iraq venture has achieved nothing worthwhile - no free speech, no competing political parties, no liberation of political prisoners. One even encounters a barely disguised desire for a second Saigon in Baghdad with, as in 1975, a blithe unconcern for the plight of the natives as long as the Americans (and Tony Blair) are humiliated.

Fukuyama gives short shrift to this unpleasant nonsense. Much of the literature on the neocons, he writes, "is factually wrong, animated by ill-will, and a deliberate distortion of the record of both the Bush administration and its supporters".

His brief history of the neoconservative movement defends it against these fantasies. He points out, for instance, that the philosopher Leo Strauss was not the Marx of neoconservatism (as the nightmare theories have it) but bequeathed only one important concept. This wasn't the crackpot notion that elites have a duty to tell "noble" lies to the people. It was the commonsense argument that the character of a "regime" is an important influence on its international behaviour. Most other ideas in the neocons' lexicon are rooted in the reactions of liberal intellectuals to the cold war and the radicalism of the 1960s - notably, and in Fukuyama's own case especially, a scepticism towards large-scale government programmes as likely to produce unintended results.

i found O'Sullivan's piece (read the whole thing, as I think somebody has said on the blogosphere once ot twice before) interesting. I have been thinking for a while that neo-realists and chastened neocons might be finding common ground soon -- this piece could be a beacon on the path.  

Right now the received opinion seems to be that Iraq will have discredited the optimism of the neocons.  But I think there will also soon be another reaction, as more and more evidence of the real nature of Saddam's regime comes to light over time.  The more we see of it, the more we realize that neither leaving Saddam in power, as the realist perscription entailed, nor trying to edge him out by international action short of war, as the multilateralists implied was an option, were in fact viable or tolerable options. Although we don't have much stomach for an imperfect counterinsurgency with no clear exit, we could only really stomach leaving Saddam in power by a strong dose of aversion of eyes. That sort of aversion is becoming harder and harder to accomplish in an increasingly transparent age; if that is the case, and I think it is, classical realism will become harder and harder to sell as well.

What we are left with is the realization that there never had been an easy, desirable option.  Digging Saddam out with a nasty, imperfect war and a not-very-inspiring final product may actually have been the best of a lot of bad options.  This conlusion would be consistent with a neorealist/reformulated-neocon compromise worldview.


Posted by James C. Bennett at 04:36 PM | Comments (6)