July 4, 2011

The difference between the 4th of July and the 1st is more than a few days

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, Government, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 16:06

Publius, from his Dominion Day post this year:

It’s a quibbling nonsense and very foreign. The idea of an independence day is unCanadian. It is mostly an unconscious American import. Well, if the Yankees have it then so must we. Given that history is not taught in the school it is a plausible enough mistake. One of the reasons we are not taught our history in the schools is that so much of it is, how to put this, British. Not Swinging Sixties British. Not even Cool Britannia British. It’s the boring old sort of British. Queen Victoria. Old men in wigs. Long speeches that refer in passing to Magna Carta. Very dull. Since history abhors a vacuum many Canadians simply import whatever they’ve picked up about our southern neighbours.

It is one of this blog’s governing theses that Canada is the most boring nation on earth. Boring in the sense that nothing “exciting” ever happens her. No civil wars, insurrections, coups, putsch and the last rebellion was during Queen Victoria’s reign. Dull, duller, Canada. That is why the idea of an independence day is so unCanadian. A clean break from something implies drama. A gradual development is very dull. It is also very practical and very sensible, thus very Canadian. We might even venture to say that it is positively Burkean.

I was once asked, many moons ago now, by an American friend to explain how Canada became independent. My explanation ran like this: We went over to London, along with the Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Irish and Newfoundlanders and asked, very politely, if we might become independent. Nothing personal. It was just time to leave. We’d definitely stay in touch. Family being family and all. We’re definitely keeping the monarchy. Send us a telegrams if the European continent starts getting dicey. All the best chaps.

I can’t really improve on that explanation. I’m missing the odd imperial conference, to say nothing of the battle of Vimy Ridge and the Hundred Days. The gist is about right. No muskets, no machine guns, no blood bath. Civilized men speaking in polite tones to one another. A fuss was not made. Everyone was terribly decent. The British officials sighed about how time had passed. Their work was done and all. The final act of parenthood is to see the young ones off. So they did. Nary a tear. Upper lip being kept quite stiff.

Internet absolved of charges

Filed under: Health, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:58

Apparently the smear campaign against the internet — you know, the meme that we were all being turned into morons by video games, social networking sites, and Google — has no factual basis:

Has Google been making us stupid? Are young people nothing but mindless husks, helplessly addicted to Facebook? Is the very internet itself some sort of insidious virus, creeping through the fibre optics, rewiring our brains, deadening neurons, stunting IQs, stymieing human interaction?

You could be forgiven for worrying. You don’t have to go far to read a scare story about what the upsurge in digital life over the past 20 years has apparently done to our brains. Yet help is at hand.

A report released this morning (The impact of digital technologies on human well-being) claims that the internet has actually been the victim of some sort of vicious smear campaign. An analysis of current research by the Nominet Trust, a UK charity dedicated to increasing access to the internet, claims that we’ve really been worrying about nothing all along. Relax, get online and stop worrying, is about the gist of it.

More on the British MoD shake-up

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:26

Lewis Page has more on the British government’s major re-organization of the Ministry of Defence:

In outline, the three single services — and their chiefs — will lose massively in power and influence: and there will be an attempt to create a Joint Forces Command which will be the first step towards a future in which the services actually expect to work together as routine, rather than only when forced to or when there’s a war on.

The Levene report says that the First Sea Lord, the Chief of the General Staff and the Chief of the Air Staff — heads of the navy, army and air force respectively — should be booted out of MoD Main Building on Whitehall and made to go and sit in their service headquarters outside London. They will be allowed to leave behind only a small number of staff types to fight their Service’s corner in the corridors of power, and these rump contingents will be headed by mere two-star officers: a rear-admiral, a major-general and an air vice-marshal. If they commanded combat formations, such officers would be important indeed — the entire British Army can put into the field only one or two formations worthy of being commanded by a major-general — but among the mandarins of Whitehall, many of whom are equivalent to three-, four- and even five-star military officers, they will be insignificant small fry.

[. . .]

Or in other words, the Service heads may retain their headquarters, maps etc but in fact they will almost never be in charge of what their people are doing: another blow to their prestige, and another boost for that of the Joint Force Command.

If all this happens, it will be a fairly seismic shift at the MoD: the Joint way of doing business might actually gain ascendance, as any smart officer would have his sights set on an interesting career at PJHQ and the Joint command in Whitehall, actually involved with operations and action, rather than boring routine work in his Service HQ out of town sorting out training and recruitment and leave rosters etc.

It’s probably a good thing, as anyone who knows the MoD would admit that foolish interservice squabbling is one of the main factors paralysing it. That said, any such knowledgeable person would enter the caveat that Joint could be a disaster if it turned out merely to mean one Service achieving dominance over the other two (which would be the most disastrous varies with the commentator).

British Green activist recants opposition to nuclear power

Filed under: Britain, Environment, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:51

Unlike Germany, which has announced it will be shutting down its nuclear power plants, Britain is considering a new generation of plants to provide an even greater share of their electricity needs. Even a few green activists are changing their tune:

Also, as much as Greens are enthusiastic about solar electricity, in cloudy countries such as ours it is extremely inefficient and expensive. Nuclear power, on the other hand, is one of the cheapest ways of producing electricity, and it is much safer than many environmentalists would have us believe.

The objection of environmentalists to nuclear power — fears about the dangers of nuclear waste and the cost of decommissioning it — are overblown, which explains why many people don’t like the Greens.

[. . .]

Solving many of the world’s most critical environmental challenges will, in some cases, involve doing the exact opposite of what most environmentalists want.

Rather than retreating into hair-shirt austerity, I believe that, just as technology got us into this mess, technology is vital to get us out of it.

That means embracing some things that will make a lot of Green believers choke on their organic muesli.

It has taken me a long time to reach this conclusion. I used to passionately oppose not only nuclear power but GM crops. I once even threw a pie in the face of a Danish scientist who dared to question the orthodox environmental line. So what changed?

Through research, I found that much of what I believed about environmental issues had little, if any, basis in science. Put simply, though my concerns were right, my solutions were wrong.

Britain’s overdue defence reforms

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:30

Britain has, proportional to American forces, four times the number of general officers. This is a visible sign of an unbalanced force. The current government has announced some changes that may begin to correct this problem:

George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, reportedly observed that the defence budget was “the most chaotic, the most disorganised, the most overcommitted.” In addition to the 8% cut in its funding (over four years) demanded as part of the government’s fiscal-austerity plan, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has somehow to close an unfunded liability of £38 billion ($61 billion) up to 2020. This week, just before announcing a major shake-up of the way his department and the armed forces are run, Dr Fox said: “The future defence programme was worse than a delusion — it was a deliberate lie.”

The problem with correcting long-term issues like those in the MoD is that you have to maintain the active forces at a minimum level of effectiveness while addressing issues that may have been developing for a generation. I’ve mentioned in earlier posts how the most effective arm of the British forces in the last ten years has clearly been the Royal Air Force — not so much for their performance of their military duties, but for the skill with which they outmatched the army and the Royal Navy in bureaucratic infighting. The RN has been gutted, losing their force projection capabilities (the aircraft carriers), the army has been left over-extended and lacking airlift capabilities, while the RAF has kept their core anti-Soviet flying white elephants almost completely untouched by budget cuts.

At the heart of Lord Levene’s plan is a new slimmed-down Defence Board, the MoD’s senior decision-making body, which will be chaired by the secretary of state and will no longer include the three service chiefs. There will be a fresh emphasis on integrating the armed forces through the establishment of a Joint Forces Command led by a four-star officer. That will bring together capabilities such as logistics, planning, intelligence, cyber and some equipment purchases. Dr Fox sees the Joint Forces Command as both an important organisation in its own right and a symbol of the ethos of co-operation and flexibility he wants to cultivate.

One consequence is that the role of the three service chiefs in influencing departmental strategy and resource allocations will be sharply reduced. They will be kept busy by being given greater responsibility for managing their own budgets. Lord Levene also wants to see a halt to the merry-go-round of staff changes that undermines accountability by insisting that senior military and civilian staff should stay in their posts for at least four years.

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