One minor flaw

The metaphor for US foreign policy in this article very nearly works. The US is cast as a pest exterminator, performing a useful service for squeamish neighbours but attracting their revulsion as a result.

There’s a small problem with this metaphor, but it works well with a few tweaks: the pest exterminator turns up uninvited, kills your cat and dog while muttering under his breath about how much he thinks you’re all sissies, and then tells you to fuck off when you complain.

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Very tragically his time on earth is ended

The New York Times has an article on using Ecstasy and/or LSD to manage terminal patients’ experience of dying.

It’s reasonably sensible by the standards of drug reporting, suggesting that hallucinogens might indeed help people remember and enjoy past experiences while allowing them to reflect more on the nature of death. At least, that’s my reading of the article; Mark Kleiman disagrees entirely, and I’m not sure why (he’s also reproducing the full text of the article, for anyone without an NYT login).

All very interesting. However, the best thing was this quote from philosopher Simon Blackburn: "An old don in my college, he had a stroke at the end of college dinner, and died on the spot, sitting in his suspenders, in candlelight, holding a wine glass. It was the perfect end for him, just incredible, and I think it struck people as very admirable."

I’ve also always wanted to die drunk and while wearing S&M drag, which is why I put on a ball-gag and hang myself from the ceiling every time I get home from the pub.

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Free, or very cheap, speech

The claim that the US has freer speech and a freer press than the UK and the rest of Europe is a common and annoying myth.

Mark Humphrys is a useful, if slightly unfair, case study here. He bashes Reporters Sans Frontieres for unspecified left-wing bias, because their rankings don’t fit with his belief that "America has the freest, most dynamic media in the world". He doesn’t try to quibble with their rigorous methodology; that’s not relevant to the argument, because he *knows* that America is freer.

Since I don’t have RSF’s survey resources at my disposal, I assess the dynamicism and freedom of the US and UK presses by, err, reading them. On this basis, I’d find it rather hard to take seriously anyone who claimed the US press was the most "dynamic". Where are the US equivalents of the Guardian? The Indy? The Daily Mail? The Mirror? The Economist? There are none; no mainstream US organ would dare adopt an equivalent tone to any of the papers above. While the First Amendment is a great thing and the UK libel laws are appalling, a British journalist has infinitely more freedom in practice than an American journalist.

Mr Humphrys also points out that he hosts his website in America because he’s "too nervous to have this website in Europe". Scary stuff, since I’m currently in the process of moving SBBS from a US to UK host. If the site disappears, it’s not because I’ve buggered the software up in the transfer: it’s because the Thought Gestapo have thrown me into a reeducation camp.

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Mel update

Melanie Phillips has a theory concerning defecting Tory MP Robert Jackson: he’s left the Tories because he’s an antisemite.

Her logic [*] is that he supports the EU and defended the Palestinians in an Economist debate. Therefore he must be an antisemite; therefore he must have left the Tories because he can’t stomach Michael Howard. The fact that Michael Howard has been in the job for years (and is likely to be out of it within months) is but one of the many glaringly wrong things in the analysis [*].

Unsurprisingly, the dribbling right are taking the fact that nobody sane has mentioned this theory as evidence that the liberal establishment is inherently antisemitic.

Update: as Simon suggested in the comments, I’ve now emailed Mr Jackson to let him know about Mel’s article and to ask him if he has any comments on it.

[*] This word is used in the most tenuous possible sense.

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Out of their own mouths

Hardcore neocon Mark Humphrys has an excellent [*] exposition of neocon beliefs as part of his Open Letter To Richard Dawkins.

He breaks down neoconservative doctrine into 13 simple points. All of these take broadly true empirical statements (eg ‘Democracies tend not to go to war with each other’; ‘An individual Christian or Jew is more likely to be tolerant of gays than an individual Muslim’; ‘bad leaders criticise things by which they feel threatened’), and turn them into false generalisations (eg ‘all war is caused by non-democracy’; ‘Christianity and Judaism allow freedom of religion and sexuality while Islam does not’; ‘the most criticised societies are the best ones [**]’).

Reading Mr Humphrys’ points is a great way of understanding both what neocons believe, and how they’ve managed to end up believing it. It seems that – not for the first time – ignorant nonsense has taken hold in the realms of the powerful because of powerful people’s inability to comprehend basic logic.

And of course, the fact that this list is meant as an attempt to persuade a prominent scientist and rationalist to abandon his liberal beliefs and move over to the neocon side adds a particularly delightful irony to the proceedings…

[*] But, as Mr Hutton rightly points out, very tedious.

[**] Presumably this means that the EU and the BBC are both pretty groovy, while the Nazis and Al-Qaeda are absolutely awesome.

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No fun

At the risk of over-using the Guardian letters page for material, Shoreditch ‘community chair’ Anissa Helou is also silly.

The part of Shoreditch around Hoxton Square, which Ms Helou claims is "one of mayhem, where anti-social behaviour, crime and disorder and vandalism are rife", has gone from dying and deprived to one of the world’s most happening and dynamic places, almost entirely through the impact of the club and bar scene. It’s not a rough, violent area like some provincial town centres allegedly are: aside from a bit of shouting and pissing in the street, there’s literally no evidence of any of the things Ms Helou suggests.

Shoreditch is a testimonial to the power of nightlife to reinvigorate horrible areas and turn them into agreeable ones, as well as a living advertisement for liberalised licensing laws. Ms Helou’s comments imply blind puritanism bordering on lunacy, which appears to be a common trait among people who oppose licensing extensions.

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Freedom is slavery

What do Sarita Malik and the late Enoch Powell have in common? They both appear to believe that non-whites aren’t capable of co-existing with liberal democratic values.

I hope Dr Malik’s letter misrepresents her beliefs; as an eminent academic in black and Asian studies, she presumably doesn’t actually hold any views that are quite so witless. Although from a brief Googling of her published work, she appears guilty of the annoying habit of using the word ‘black’ to mean ‘black, South Asian, Arab, East Asian, Romany, Irish, and anyone else we’ve forgotten about’. This doesn’t make me confident.

Update: Dr Malik responds here.

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1776 and all that

Why are the British people who most strongly oppose European integration also the people most likely to vigorously stand up for American interests?

I can understand the "The English, the English, the English are best; I couldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest" view. I can understand the liberal internationalist view that nation-states are a bit silly and that consensus between institutions and individuals is what really matters.

What I can’t understand is why people get massively pissed off by the limitations the EU puts on our government (you know, outrageous impositions like banning us from imprisoning people without trial or exporting beef that causes people’s brains to rot, and suggesting we should allow other Europeans to work in our country), but don’t mind the fact that America runs our army and largely determines our foreign policy. And unlike the EU, where we’re one of the most influential members, it’s become increasingly clear Britain has no say or influence whatsoever over American policy.

Come on, Eurosceptics: it’s time to start hating the Septics just as much as you hate the Frogs, Krauts, wops, spics and gippos. Alternatively, you may wish to consider growing up.

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