The cat i' the adage

"The growth of knowledge depends entirely on disagreement" Karl Popper (1902 - 1994)

Monday, November 22, 2004

Poacher turned gamekeeper?

A new scandal at the EU Commission: the French appointee Jacques Barrot apparently has a track record for embezzlement which he has failed to make public. The BBC calls this a "failure to disclose a previous conviction for embezzlement" (my emphasis) which seems an odd way of putting things, though I can see what they mean. I can’t help thinking that offering a convicted embezzler a top job in Brussels is a bit like inviting a reformed alcoholic to a cocktail party. Even in France one imagines there are public servants who have yet to be caught with their fingers in the till, so I suppose that Chirac’s amnesty to Barrot and his subsequent promotion is an indication of how seriously the French are to stamp out fraud at the highest levels of the European Union.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Moral Equivalence Watch

Seems that the Red Cross is angry with all warring parties in Iraq. Somehow I don't think the "insurgents" are too worried by their failure to meet their basic humanitarian obligations, though I imagine it must be quite encouraging to them to learn that other parties are held equally to blame.

I can understand the frustration felt by aid agencies at their inability to work unmolested in places like Falluja, but I note that, to date, there have been no reliable reports of US forces executing aid workers.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Fighting with one hand tied behind their backs

I should not wish to condone the behaviour of the US soldier shown on NBC shooting an apparently unarmed man. Prior to a proper enquiry I should not wish to condemn it either. Two things occur to me, however, about the media treatment of this and related episodes. First, there is a repugnant attempt to cast these regrettable excesses of soldiers acting in the heat of battle and in fear of their lives in the same moral light as the premeditated executions of non-combatants, which have become a routine part of the jihadi campaign of terror. Perhaps we are not to view these acts as morally equivalent ourselves, but we are certainly invited to think that moderate Iraqis will do so. Secondly, and somewhat at odds with this, jihadi attrocities are seen as evidence that the country is out of control (for which the US is to blame), while US attrocities are seen as evidence that US forces are out of control (for which the US is to blame) and as offering justification for future terrorist acts.

Even assuming that the media wanted to keep us well informed about what is going on in Iraq (which, frankly, I doubt), their very closeness to the action and obsession with violent incident robs them of the detachment to see events in proper perspective.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Smoking and liberalism

Thinking about the government moves to ban smoking in enclosed public spaces I sought out the classical statement of liberal principles

The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him, must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

John Stuart Mill from the Introduction to "On Liberty"


I do not smoke myself. I do not think it wise to smoke. But I do not think it is necessary to be wise. Only if smoking were the cause of harm to others would a liberal feel it right to restrict the smoker's chosen behaviour. Many of us, of a liberal persuasion, are prepared to put up with some inconvenience from inhaling second hand smoke, but evidence connecting passive smoking with disease and death would change the argument crucially. Does such evidence exist? I haven't looked for a while and need to remind myself of the basis for the claim. Were my own liberties under attack from what purports to be science I hope others would think the facts worthy of proper scrutiny.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Memo to self

If you haven't got anything original to say, don't bother to say anything.

Posting will therefore be short and relatively infrequent.