Saturday, February 05, 2005

Gloria In Excelsis Deo

It could have been such a bad week.

Instead, millions of brave infidels defied the head-choppers and suicide bombers to vote in the Iraqi elections.

The Holy Father, peace and long life be upon him, is improving.

And my beloved Land of Bastards beat the Saesneg 11-9.

I would fail Tebbit's cricket test if it applied to rugby. Though I think of myself as English, despite having little English blood, when Six Nations time comes round I'm a small boy again, sat on the floor of my grandmother's front room in Cwmbwrla. Every chair is occupied, attention to the game (on a 405 line black and white TV) total until half time, when everyone gets up quickly to make tea, drink tea, go to the toilet. The half-time breaks in rugby were shorter then.

Forty years later I, and the surviving uncles and aunts still ring round after full time to discuss the game. It was a long chat tonight.

Not a great game of course for a neutral - errors all over the place. But for Wales it's so important to be the team that just wins by a point of two, rather than just losing as they did against New Zealand and South Africa last autumn, and against New Zealand and England in the World Cup.

They nearly blew it though. Stephen Jones, so good a kicker with the ball in his hands, repeated his World Cup performance against England. Wales failed to spot overlaps and kept giving away posession on the England 5-metre - sorry, 6 yard line. But this time Wilkinson wasn't on the pitch.

New England cap Mat Tait had a baptism of fire reminiscent of the hammering Arwel Thomas got from England, twice hit with tackles that lifted him off his feet. On the second occasion Gavin Henson ran forward a couple of yards holding the England player (who still held the ball) horizontally under one arm. In every living room in Wales men leapt from sofas to their feet. We like to see that sort of thing.

Different Worlds

"I've never had any experience of being on benefits, or ever known anyone who has."

Says new blogger Lacessitor. In some parts of Britain the converse would apply. (And you do know someone now, if only in cyberspace - I spent a taxpayer-funded year drinking cheap cider and leading a life wth all the good parts of the student existence but none of the less positive stuff like revision or exams. Mea culpa. But I didn't steal.)

Also added to the sidebar are PseudoMagazine (an eclectic set of links there, from Indymedia to Chrenkoff) and well-read cleverclogs Stumbling and Mumbling, who reckons he did his A-levels with the cleverest clog of them all. You're not telling me Oliver Kamm went to a State school ?

Typical quote "whom would you rather have a drink with – him (Robert Nozick), Rand or Hayek?". At that point, having read none of the three, I hoist the intellectual white flag.

But has he read 'The Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse', Ursula Moray Williams tale of the poor toymaker, with its charming illustrations by Peggy Fortnum, who illustrated the original Paddington Bear ?

The Little Wooden Horse has won the race for the Princess

Currently bedtime reading for my darling.

Friday, February 04, 2005

It's Oot ...

Norm's 100 best rock singles poll is here. By the musical vintage there's an awful lot of fortysomething bloggers out there.

Only two questions.

i) how can anyome with two ears and a brain listen to "White Man In The Hammersmith Palais" - surely some of the worst white reggae ever.

ii) where on earth are Lord Rockingham's XI, whose 1958 classic 'Hoots Mon' bestrides the narrow world of rock like a colossus.

"The first 5 seconds of “Hoots Mon” are gobsmackingly dumb and wonderful – the horns blaring, the organ sounding like it’s been stabbed, the rest of the band setting up a kind of snarling hum like a gang of lairy Buddhists. And once the main riff’s got going all these things recur - plus handclaps, shout-outs and the “Hoots Mon!” chant that gives the record its title-cum-gimmick. It’s proper musicians having a laugh who sound for a moment like cavemen having a go. It’s a calculated, compressed party. It’s a great record."

Years later bandleader Harry Robinson would arrange the strings for three classic Sandy Denny releases - the North Star Grassman and the Ravens, Like An Old Fasioned Waltz, and Rendezvous.

"the sea seemed to be quite far out"

It's a while since I've browsed Tulip-Maria's pink'n'fluffy blog. Looks like she picked the wrong place for a winter break.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Crime, Yobs and Guardian Readers

Alan Travis fulminates in the Guardian about 'the myth of yob Britain'. We've allowed those nasty tabloids to induce 'media hysteria' - andwho better to put that right than Mr Travis ?

"The report does confirm that teenagers do commit more than their fair share of crime - about a third of all offences - but it also shows that the kind of crime people get involved in changes as they get older." That's alright then.

"Among juveniles non-injury assaults account for a large share of the incidents." Phew.

Hey - guess what ? Older people commit crime too ! So what's the problem ?
"Young people, particularly males, are more likely to offend and are responsible for a disproportionate volume of crime; but it also shows that older people are a numerically large group of offenders."

"Far from needing to worry about the alarming growth of "yob Britain" the survey carries the more reassuring message that minor offending is not uncommon, but most people simply grow out of it."
If you get mugged, the perpetrator is likely to be going through a passing phase. After all, we were all teenagers once.

Travis does drop one significant truth into his piece.

" ..the report makes clear that in fact most prolific offenders were involved in minor crime, some of it very trivial ... these are not the kind of offences that keep the police awake at night".

This appeared on the same day as an excellent post from the Policeman, commenting on Harriet Sergeant's excellent piece in the latest Civitas Review.

"In her piece, the justice gap (the gap between how good we think we are and what the public really think) is exposed as a yawning chasm that is being filled (in London at least) by private security firms of which Yauheni is an employee. Yauheni is from Belaurus but many of the other guards have served in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). Officially, I think it’s a really bad idea to put people like that out on the streets with no diversity training but, as a resident, I know I would feel safer if I knew former IDF soldiers were patrolling the streets where I lived.

The residents of her neighbourhood feel under siege and the police do not take their problems seriously. Official statistics (bureaucratic inefficiency in mathematical form) would seem to indicate that things are improving, but reality shows otherwise. Senior policemen and crime theorists take the view that the general population are stupid and have an irrational view about crime. But people aren’t stupid: they know what makes them feel safe and secure and if the police cannot or will not provide it, then they’ll go elsewhere. ACPO and the Federation will continue to complain about the growing number of private security firms, the extension of the police family and “policing on the cheap” and at the same time will do nothing to allay the public’s concerns."

In today's Guardian Jackie Ashley thinks 'it's all our fault'. I think she's correct, if she's referring to Guardian readers and journalists.

Can't quite work it out though. After all, the cultural revolution is pretty much complete. In let-it-hang-out Britain, where repression of feeling is the greatest crime, and do what thou wilt is the whole of the law, why are so many teenagers unhappy ?

"At times it seems there is hardly a single family unaffected. This child, so bright and optimistic so recently, is sunk in grey depression and won't go to school. That one, so athletic and cocky, has been violently mugged and now avoids walking anywhere, lurking inside his bedroom. Another cuts herself. Another suffers extreme bullying and has ballooned in size. Another was stabbed while walking the dog."

Violently mugged, bullied, stabbed while walking the dog. Read Alan "Media Hysteria" Travis again for the full 'cognitive dissonance' effect.

"More bobbies on the beat at school are needed at let-out time to curb the explosion in casual mugging and bullying" - Ashley.

"Even the most cursory reading of the Crime and Justice Survey report would find it hard to sustain the idea that the country is going through some new, previously unknown, alarming growth in yob culture. " - Travis.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

New US Hostage Is Named

The Guardian reports today on the latest reported hostage-taking, of a black American soldier, whose photograph was posted on an Iraqi website. He was shown seated in front of a black flag, gun pointed at his head.

He has been identified as Action Figure Cody, a toy doll of the 'Action Man' variety.

Hat-tip - Irene Adler.

UPDATE - hostage mother pleads for son's life.

"The Wishy-Washy Standards of Contemporary Christianity"

What a great title for a band. I digress.

I'd never heard till recently of Muslim convert (since 1951 - no bandwagon jumper he) Charles le Gai Eaton, a scion of old Britain (Charterhouse, Cambridge and the Diplomatic Service), but a lot of Muslims have. His book 'Islam And The Destiny of Man' is highly praised. In a Sunday Times piece on Muslim converts, he said "I have received letters from people who are put off by the wishy-washy standards of contemporary Christianity and they are looking for a religion which does not compromise too much with the modern world.”

Strange. According to the great and good of the Anglican and Catholic Churches, the thing is to be relevant, modern, progressive, forward-looking, spurning the dead hand of a 2,000 year old book in favour of an inclusive, user-friendly new brand of Christianity where Fair Trade Chocolate is more important than stuffy old 'thou shalt nots'. The kind of thing that Rasputin, Peter Selby, Richard Harries and now the new Bishop of Hereford are so good at.

"Sarah Jones, aged 43, has been a curate in the Ross Team ministry in Herefordshire for the past six months but until Monday night only her fellow clergy knew she had not been born female.
Her former life as a man was revealed to parishioners at an emergency meeting arranged at Ross Parish Church following inquiries by a national newspaper.
The Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Rev Anthony Priddis, who ordained Sarah in September, told parishioners that she had undergone a painful process to become the woman she believed she was."

More tea and oestrogen, Vicar ?

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

'If you don't take a job as a prostitute, we can stop your benefits'

What with Iraqi elections and the traditional tax return frenzy, I missed this interesting news item from Germany.

I blogged this time last year :

Is selling sex in all its forms, from car adverts through Page Three and ladmag shoots to Amy and Lara, a major cause of gang rape, frustration and impotence, and eating disorders (Ms Bunting), ‘violence against women’ (femiluni Julie Bindel), is it just another job - sex work, or is it ‘a girl power thing’ where the exploited are the poor sad male punters (A Good Thing) rather than the girls (A Bad Thing) ?

After all, if sex is just another recreational activity, like a rubber of bridge or a game of tennis, then why shouldn’t some individuals sell their God-given talents and abilities ? And in a free market, you sell your assets or services at the market rate.For the TUC and their Women’s Equality Officer Rebecca Gill, ‘sex workers’ are ‘legitimate workers in need of protection’.

It looks as though in Germany, prostitution is just another job, following its legalisation two years ago.

A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services'' at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.

Under Germany's welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job – including in the sex industry – or lose her unemployment benefit.

"There is now nothing in the law to stop women from being sent into the sex industry," said Merchthild Garweg, a lawyer from Hamburg who specialises in such cases. "The new regulations say that working in the sex industry is not immoral any more, and so jobs cannot be turned down without a risk to benefits."

Woah. A little problem I foresee, quite apart from angry partners whose women were either a) insulted by being offered an interview or b) insulted by not getting a job offer ("you're saying she's good enough for me but not good enough for your punters, are you ?") . And what about sex discrimination in the hiring process ? Could a man complain about not getting an interview ?

As I noted last year, in Victorian times you could do what you liked with your money but what you did with your body was subject to many legal and social restrictions. Now the situation is totally reversed - to the point where sexual relationships are the only area where racism is acceptable. You cannot advertise for a white flatmate, but a white bedmate is fine.

The Old Labour sociologist Norman Dennis, in his 'Families Without Fatherhood', commented on the cultural change which elevated the freedom to have relationships as and when you chose (regardless of the damage to third parties - for example children or an abandoned spouse) to an absolute right. Already, he wrote, the the classic phrases of rampant capitalism come to mind as the number of fatherless families mount - "Cannot a man do what he likes with his own ? As for the other party, caveat emptor - let her take the consequences of her bad bargain !"

When I lived in the Smoke I used to note that race was specified in the Time Out and City Limits personals (showing my age there ... remember City Limits ?). If race was specified by house-sellers they'd end up in prison like Robert Relf did. UK activists like the English Collective of Prostitutes say that a "working girl" has an absolute right to pick and choose their client.

If the business is instutionalised over here, how long before Trevor Phillips' boys and the Downing Street Women's Unit are sending 'mystery punters' to check that girls aren't discriminating on grounds of race, gender, or sexual orientation ?

UPDATE - John Band points me to this page, which indicates that the status of this story is as indeterminate as the sex of a Church of England vicar. No-one seems to be able to find the story in the German original, only a piece saying that the scenario is possible under the changed law.

I don't know, you'd think you could trust the Telegraph. If I want fictional stories I'll go to the Guardian.

A Policy Which Is Deeply Harmful to the Welfare of Very Young Children

The great and good Frank Field MP on Nu Labour and childcare.

"the Government has allowed itself to see childcare only in terms of provision outside the family"

"its new childcare tax allowance awards considerable sums of taxpayers’ money provided that a stranger, rather than the mother, does the caring"

"antisocial behaviour is the result of the careless way in which we value the nurturing of our very young and the downgrading, to the point of irrelevance, of the role of full-time motherhood"

Mr Field is the author of 'Neighbours From Hell - The Politics of Behaviour'. Would that all Labour MPs were like him. His analysis of where it all went pearshaped is similar to that of Norman Dennis.

Great Blogs and Little Blogs

When Tim Worstall first got Instapundited he was underwhelmed.

"Hey, great, only been out here blogging 2.5 months and the maestro himself a) likes my little piece and b) after some prompting links to the blog. But, ermm, what happened? I can see about 500 hits over the past two days via Is this the longed for Installanche?"

But I'm truly grateful for Tim's kind words and the extra couple of hundred hits.

In the approximate words of de Morgan and Jonathan Swift :

Great blogs have little blogs upon their backs to bite ’em,
And little blogs have lesser blogs, and so ad infinitum.
And the great blogs themselves, in turn, have greater blogs to go on;
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.

Swift also noted a motto which would suit one blogger :

Libertas et natale solum:

Fine words! I wonder where you stole ’em.
(Verses occasioned by Whitshed’s Motto on his Coach. Translates roughly as Liberty And Homeland.)

UPDATE - Kernon Gibes did this in September 2003.

Great blogs have little blogs that seek a link for free,
And little blogs have lesser blogs, their end obscurity.
And the great blogs themselves, in turn, seek greater blogs for profit;
While these again seek greater still, to end at

Monday, January 31, 2005

Hillary Gets Religion

Gerard Baker in the Times takes this speech :

New York Times (January 24, 2005):

“Senator Hillary Clinton said on Monday that the opposing sides in the divisive debate about abortion should find ‘common ground’ to prevent unwanted pregnancies and ultimately reduce abortions, which she called a ‘sad, even tragic choice to many, many women . . . ’ Mrs Clinton, widely seen as a possible candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2008, appeared to be reaching out beyond traditional core Democrats . . . (She offered praise) for the influence of ‘religious and moral values’ on delaying teenage girls from becoming sexually active.”

Then extrapolates a little. Sample :

The Washington Post
September 16, 2006

Senator Clinton yesterday urged a chastened Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, to stop “pussyfooting around” and get on with the long-deferred invasion of Iran.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the growing tension between Washington and Tehran, Mrs Clinton, dressed head to toe in desert khaki fatigues, rounded on a plainly intimidated Defence Secretary and said that she had had enough of Mr Rumsfeld’s insistence on pursuing a diplomatic approach to the nuclear crisis in the country.

“Are you a man or a mouse, Mr Secretary?” she asked. “Rummy or Runny? There’s only one language these people understand. And let me tell you, it isn’t Farsi!” Mrs Clinton has recently been reaching out beyond the Democratic Party’s core supporters on defence and national security issues. Last month she joined the US National Guard and quickly impressed her commanding officers with her tactical genius.

Who Knew ?

The Today programme reviews the papers, which are overwhelmingly positive about the Iraqi election.

"Robert Fisk in the Independent strikes a different note ... the Guardian agrees".

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Archers, Knife Culture, and Self-Harm

Listening to The Archers this morning after a long layoff, bewildered by the strange accents the cast perpetrate, which bear no relation to anything I’ve heard in Gloucestershire or Worcestershire. I’ll except Jack Woolley (or ‘Jeck’ as Peggy calls him), whose rotund Brummie/Worcester tones are pretty much spot-on for an elderly Bromsgrovian.

Daughter of the house Helen Archer is currently in hospital being treated for anorexia - sorry, 'an eating disorder'.

Over the years the lesbian separatist collective that is an Archers scriptwriting conference have dropped about every PC cause du jour into the mix. A racist firebomb attack on Usha (‘I’m the only ethnic minority in the village’) Gupta, the conviction of Roy (now a reformed character) and the racist activist cell at Borchester Tech (I kid you not), domestic violence (I’ve lost count, but most female villagers of child-bearing age seem to have suffered), the drug culture, the mixed marriage (idiot Aldridge daughter – and Usha too, I think), the gay landlords gallantly battling homophobic locals (Peter Hitchens in ‘The Anatomy of Britain’ thought this unlikely, but our local was run for three years by a gay couple who had no problems and increased custom. They did good food, looked after the beer, and didn’t frighten the horses).

Only a week or two back Sid’s ex Cathy was raped. I doubt she’ll be pulled into the showers after this afternoon’s village soccer match, but the first Ambridge roasting incident is surely only a matter of time.

I’ve been listening so long that I can remember when Shula was a virgin (‘Isn’t it beautiful in this cornfield. What a perfect place to lie down and make love’ ‘That’s typical of you town people, damaging crops without a thought for the farmer. We’ll go over here by the hedge’), and there are very few PC causes yet to be raised. I’m surprised it’s taken so long for eating disorders to make it onto the menu. But there are a few newly created ones that could be fitted in.

‘Homophobia’ in schools is one of the government’s current priorities. Thirty years ago homosexuality was not all over the mass media like a Kaposi’s sarcoma, and so most primary school children were unaware of the words or the practice. Only in secondary schools did the poor unenlightened children use homophobic and other un-PC terms of abuse.

“Mongol !”
“You big puff !”
“Spazz !”
“You great fairy !”

Now of course no-one who turns on the TV or radio can be unaware (Radio 5 Live are discussing homophobia as I type, and South Africa are 150-odd for nine), and ‘gay’ is a favoured term of abuse among six year olds. How we have advanced.

It’s a good job the footy coach at the local primary has moved on. An excellent coach (and all round good bloke, but somewhat free with his language), his habit of asking eight year olds ‘are you gay or what ?’ after a poor tackle raised even my eyebrows.

So surely it’s time for Ambridge Primary (is it still there ?) to feature an episode of homophobic bullying. You could throw into the mix two other concerns – knife culture and what’s called “self-harm” – anorexia’s grown up sister. Perhaps the homophobic bully could wave a knife around in the playground, while back at home Helen decorates her flesh with knife cuts in the manner of certain tribes.

Knife culture is, as is well known, epidemic in Britain. Back in those unenlightened days we all carried knives in the playground, but we didn’t know what to do with them, using them for cutting sticks and playing games. Now, as our Schools Minister has said, we have the best educated generation in our history, and we know what to do with knives. They’re for cutting and stabbing other people.

At the same time our prisons are full of young ladies who delight in cutting themselves.

From a free market, pro-choice, libertarian perspective, there may be something to be said for bringing these two groups of people together. I’m sure there are many young men of the FHM and Zoo generation who would pay good money to spend an hour or two cutting young women. The girls get the blood running down their arms and the money.

If ‘sex work’ is any guide, an ‘uncut’ inmate with pristine skin would be more expensive than someone whose forearms already look like a fifteen-hour game of ‘Railroad Tycoon II’. Perhaps Ebay could match supply and demand, and the Prison Service could take a cut (sorry) of the money, arranging special ‘cutting visits’.

Private companies would be set up to arrange group visits and stag parties – I like the sound of ‘Cutting-Out Expeditions’. The video market would be pretty hot, too.

Of course there would be some unfortunate incidents. The odd punter (and they all would be) might get carried away. But shops get robbed and shopkeepers killed – yet no-one proposes shutting all shops on that account. And at least the perpetrator would be already in a prison – albeit of the wrong gender. Still, he could be handed to the other girls inside, who with a bit of impromptu ‘gender reassignment’ would soon sort that for him.

There are other advantages too for 21st century Britain. An activity carried out purely for private advantage or gratification doesn’t show up in the Gross Domestic Product, nor can it be taxed. But the moment you bring in what a sociologist would call ‘the cash nexus’ – hey, you’ve got a brand new business sector, literally at the cutting edge.

Take childcare – which involves the socialisation of the next generation. Back in the dark days of the 1950s, this was carried out on a voluntary, unpaid basis by a class of people called mothers. No tax, no wages – so no value.

The Polly Toynbees of this world have triumphed, and now children are still looked after – but by paid strangers (and what our rulers really think of childcare is revealed in the census job classifications, which roughly correspond to social class. Guess which category childcare assistant and nursery nurse are in ?). Childcare is an industry, with all the beneficial effects on GDP and taxation.

With changes like this you can see why we can have the fourth largest economy in the world yet have no indigenous aircraft, car or computer manufacturing. If our rulers can only find a way to make more consensual sex (which covers most sex – Ambridge excepted) paid-for and less consensual sex unpaid, we could perhaps be the third largest economy in the world.

(I penned this with tongue in cheek – then thought about tolerance zones and the number of prostitutes advertising in the local freesheet. Fifty years ago people would have laughed at the idea that healthy mothers would en masse hand over ‘their’ babies to strangers.)

Some old fashioned moralists (the type who consider perfectly reasonable anti-homophobia initiatives to be the sort of thing Section 28 was designed to stop) will probably make a fuss about the vibrant new cutting industry, calling such a trade ‘degrading’ and pontificating about spoiling God’s handiwork.

Fortunately progressive and civil liberties groups exist to defend our rights to cut and be cut from these bigoted Bible-bashers. The medical profession is one. You can get a whole, healthy leg removed in an NHS hospital if you suffer from Body Dysmorphic Syndrome, a condition in which having two legs is considered ‘seriously disabling’.

And if you want other people to cut you – and more – civil liberties campaigners are on your side.

The people who became known as the Operation Spanner defendants were a loose collective of sexual deviants (note - this is a description and is not necessarily perjorative - just accurate). Along with their more conventional (and illegal in the case of the 15 year old boy) activities, they 'enjoyed' sadomasochism for which extreme does not seem an unreasonable word. Among the videos found by police during their investigation were scenes of torture which at first led them to believe that people were being killed for the videos.

You can read the story of one of the defendants here. What I find inspiring (and what gives hope for the nascent British cutting industry) is that Liberty, the 'Civil Rights' organisation which had no time or resources to spare for the late Harry Hammond, was able to mobilise lawyers for an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in pursuance of a cause as noble as any in history - man's inalienable human right to use a power sander on the scrotum of his (consenting) fellow man.

Poverty Causes Terrorism Part 527

Fascinating Newsweek report on 'the resistance', US miscalculations (always easier to see in hindsight, of course) and a suicide bomber who survived. Like the 9/11 terrorists, he comes from a comfortable, middle-class Saudi family.

The typical profile is much like Ahmed al-Shayea's, twentysomethings and even teenagers from comfortable middle-class families. "They have got no experience, they are not trained," a Palestinian jihadi told NEWSWEEK. "They just have to drive the vehicle. But these boys—17, 18 years old—are important." What motivates them? "I think their religion is better than others'," he says. "They are rich, they are educated, and they need nothing, but they see that in this fight they will win either victory or heaven. This is their ideology. Either way, they win." Unless, like al-Shayea, they live to tell the tale.

Fingers Crossed

It’s early morning in Iraq. A historic day, one way or another. It seems improbable (though not impossible) that the Islamist/Baathist coalition (aka ‘the resistance’) can create enough havoc to stop the elections or drive turnout down to derisory levels. But they’ll be trying to kill enough voters and terrorise enough potential voters to discredit the elections, not only in the eyes of Iraqis but of the world.

If they succeed, their allies in the West will be rejoicing on the front pages of the Independent, Guardian and New York Times. Islamist groups worldwide will be emboldened by our defeat. The consequences for the Iraqis are unforseeable but unlikely to be pleasant.

If they fail, there will still be problems. The Sunnis will resent Shia political domination. The Shias will have to beware of what they now call ‘trumphalism’. Iran may poke the Shia fire. The Kurds will nurture new dreams of independence. The hereditary rulers of Syria and Saudi Arabia will be worried about losing their grip on power – with good reason. And ‘the resistance’ will still be shooting officials and chopping off engineers heads.

But a democratic Iraq, even if imperfect, could be a signal to the whole Middle East that there’s another way of doing things, of governing. This of course depends on there being enough Iraqis who really want democracy – and appreciate that democracy sometimes means that the other guy gets his way.

That’s the big question. Do they want it ? Can they handle it ?

I was never a fan of the project to democratise Afghanistan. The politics and culture of that fascinating nation are nearer to those of fourteenth-century England than to modern America. Imagine men from the Planet Zog arriving in 1350 to bring democracy to England.

Man from Zog : ‘Here you are, all registered, polling stations set up, we’ll check the count, carry on !
1st Great Lord – ‘Super. Knights – you’ll all be voting for me‘
Knight – ‘Super. Squires – you’ll all vote for the Great Lord ‘
Squire – ‘Yeomen – put your cross by the Great Lord’s name if you want to keep that farm
Yeoman – ‘Serfs – I’ll show you where to put the thumbprint tomorrow’.
Serf – ‘Yes, Master’

I thought that the Taleban were as good a government as Afghanistan could reasonably expect, modern Puritans. Relatively incorrupt, they brought an end to the capricious violence of the warlords who ruled in the post-Soviet vacuum. They also reduced the amount of heroin being produced. Sure, their views on women and homosexuals wouldn’t go down well in Islington, but by their lights they were a pretty good bunch.

Unfortunately they chose to support Bin Laden and so had to be overthrown – not because of their reactionary views but because after September 11 it was impossible for America to leave Al Quaeda’s bases untouched. The world – including any other leaders who might have been thinking about supporting, or turning a blind eye to, anti-US terrorists, had to be made aware of what the price would be.

The lesson seems to have been pretty effective.

Steve Sailer has an excellent film review (of John Huston’s ‘The Man Who Would Be King’) which touches on the subject of the Afghans and democracy. You can also get a flavour of the area today from this wonderful Chitral website – Chitral, on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, is in the Kafiristan (now Nuristan – see this post) area where Kipling’s novel was set. These are some of the stories. Sadly, conversions to Islam are rapidly eroding the unique Kalash culture which gave Kafiristan (Land of Infidels) its name.

Iraq is a different case – a much more modern country in every sense. Democracy is certainly within the bounds of possibility. And listening to Iraqis being interviewed on Radio 5 yesterday made me think. I paraphrase from memory.

‘We are afraid. But we were afraid for the last twenty five years. I am worried about voting – that I may be killed. But I have to do it.’

‘I want to vote’
‘Aren’t you worried about the dangers ?’
‘There is always danger here. I cannot stay at home when I can vote’.

‘We have been waiting a long time for this day. I must vote’.

These may not have been representative. But comparing these people with our low-turnout, low-commitment electorate, I felt the Chartists and suffragettes would recognise them as fellow spirits. We’ve been too cosy too long – don’t appreciate the price that others paid, generations ago, for our freedom and democracy. Iraqis are paying that price now.

Good luck to them, and to the Iraqi, Brit and US forces. It was good to see the TVnews tonight of Brit soldiers finding explosives in Basra - a few bombs less. Keep that curfew up for a day or so as well – I have a nightmare about the head-choppers making door to door calls in search or people with indelible ink on their fingers – a sign that they’ve voted.

Fingers crossed. And keep your eyes peeled, boys.