September 05, 2005

Bunky Curtis, 1987-2005 RIP

Posted by gcurtis in category: Cat Blogging at 01:02 PM | Comments (0)

July 06, 2005

It's London in 2012!

Bloody excellent - and even sweeter since we got one over the French!

As The Londonist says,

"Napoleon, Francois Mitterand, Charles de Gaulle, Eric Cantona, Serge Gainsbourg, Gustave Eiffel, Johnny Halliday!!! Jacques Chirac. Can you hear me Jacques Chirac? Your boys took one hell of a beating. Your boys took one hell of a beating."

First city to host three times and I'm sure the city and country will do us proud!

Posted by gcurtis in category: Back Home at 08:20 AM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2005

Trafalgar 200

For those who don't know, the Royal Navy - accompanied by warships, merchant vessels and tall ships from thirty-six nations including the United States, France, Spain, India, Japan, South Korea, Pakistan, Nigeria and South Africa - are participating today at the International Fleet Review in the Solent as part of the celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of our spectacular victory over the French and Spanish fleets off Cape Trafalgar.

Her Majesty The Queen has reviewed the assembled fleet already and right now there's an air display. The Red Arrows have just finished but I'm just watching a nice flyby by some WWII fighter aircraft. It's worth checking out the live feed from the BBC, especially since the best part is yet to come: an unfortunately politically-correct reenactment of the battle itself by tall ships, accompanied by pyrotechnics and sound.

The tall ships are maneuvring into position right now with the evening's events due to start with the arrival of "Admiral Lord Nelson" on his flagship at 19:30 BST (14:30 EDT) and the beginning of the "battle" at 21:20 BST (16:20 EDT). The entire combined fleet will also perform a Grand Lighting of the Fleet to complete the celebration (after what is labelled as the largest firework display ever in the UK) at 22:30 BST (17:30 EDT). Catch it if you can, it should be good...

More later...

Posted by gcurtis in category: Back Home at 01:04 PM | Comments (0)

May 05, 2005

Small government+freedom+low tax=vote Tory

I heartily recommend today's leader from the Daily Telegraph in which they set out some of the reasons why you should seriously consider voting Conservative today.

Though, like me, they are disappointed in the Tory Party of late - a party that sometimes seems to be as adrift as the US Republican Party in the mid-90s - they, like me, recognise the danger of allowing the Labour Party another five years in government:

More insidious stealth taxes, the rapid erosion of long-held civil liberties, the expansion of the "nanny state", more pandering to the EU grandees and an unconstitutional mid-term transfer of power to Gordon Brown are what you can expect from the left if, as expected, Labour secure another term. ID cards - an anathema in British society, the European Constitution, increasingly deadly hospital wards, bureaucratic red tape hamstringing business and a police force too distracted by paperwork to actually catch criminals are what you're asking for if you support Blair for five more years...

The Tories on the other hand - though their policies have been watered down after two successive General Election defeats - have backed off from their support of ID cards, promise a small reduction in the tax burden on Britons, are predominantly Eurosceptic, and will likely do a better job of managing the public sector (they certainly couldn't do a worse job than the current government has over the last eight years). Their promises on immigration reform are welcome and their plans for expanding school and healthcare choice are laudable - despite the fact that their campaign has hardly touched on the latter. As the Telegraph leader says:

We cannot pretend that we have been altogether happy with the Conservatives' campaign. It started well, with its emphasis on the need to keep taxes down (although even the Tories plan to increase public spending by nearly as much as Labour). But the campaign has concentrated too much on side-issues. We wish that Michael Howard had said more about his well thought-out plans for cutting red tape and giving parents and patients greater choice in education and health. The best that can be said for Mr Howard is that his instincts are good - a great deal more than can be said for Mr Blair, Mr Brown or Mr Kennedy. Like us, he wants smaller government, greater personal choice and (eventually) lower taxes.

Despite the mistakes in the campaign, including the stupid focus on Blair's actions before the Iraq War - a war that both they and I support - this election is way too important for the future of the country to allow the party's campaigning misteps to turn people away from voting Conservative, or indeed, from voting at all.

Other newspapers have urged their readers to vote tactically in this election, so as to try to produce a hung parliament, or to return Labour with a reduced majority. That sounds like stupid advice to us. We urge all our readers, in every constituency, to vote for the party they want to win.

We hope that they will vote Conservative.

As do I!

Posted by gcurtis in category: Politics at 08:38 AM | Comments (0)

December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas everybody!

Just a quick Christmas Day note to wish you all a very merry Christmas. 'Tis the season to eat, drink (again) and be merry! Have a great one!

Posted by gcurtis in category: Personal at 10:16 AM | Comments (0)

December 10, 2004

Can we cross-examine?

Attempting to divert attention from the ongoing rift on national security between some of the major players in the left of the blogosphere, Kevin Drum wags the dog asks some questions for those of us on the right, presumably in an attempt to divide us and pit us against one another. Unfortunately he seems to be labouring under the common liberal misconception that we conservatives are simply right-wing versions of many so-called "progressives": intolerant, lacking an appreciation of others' viewpoints and fearful of those different from ourselves. Fortunately, absent a small minority, this perception does not reflect the real world - and, I guess, just makes the left hate us more.

Anyway, that said, I'll take a stab at answering his questions and, offered in the same spirit as his questions (apparently "moderate, civil-discourse-loving"), my own counter-questions. Kevin Drum's blog on The Washington Monthly is one of my regular reads and he tends to be pretty fair in his posts - though I obviously disagree with many of his conclusions. Anyway, hopefully he'll see my cross-examination and do me the favour of at least spending as much time responding to my questions as I spent responding to his.

1. Considering how Iraq has gone so far, do you still think that American military power is a good way to promote tolerance and democracy in the Middle East? Has your position on this changed in any way over the past two years?

It's somewhat tough to answer the question as written; after all, I do not believe that American military power has been used to "promote tolerance and democracy" in the Middle East. I believe that the Coalition military has been used to, quite rightly, remove two major threats to national security. The subsequent political actions, supported with the use of the military to reconstruct infrastructure and enhance the security situation in those nations, are promoting tolerance and democracy (well, maybe just the second at the moment, the first may take more time).

I am in full support of our military actions in Afghanistan (where over 10 million people recently participated in a democratic election and women are no longer being hung and beheaded in Kabul's football stadium) and Iraq (where free elections are due to be held next year and people can live without the fear of officially-sanctioned rape or being dropped into a meat-mincer) and that opinion has not changed in the last two years.

Cross-examination: 1. Considering how many people in Afghanistan and Iraq have been freed from tyranny, do you think that American military power has promoted freedom from repression and tyranny in the Middle East? Has your position on this changed in any way over the past two years?

2. Shortly after 9/11, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson said publicly that they thought the attacks were well-deserved retribution from God in response to moral decay — as personified by gays, feminists, the ACLU, and NOW. Do you worry that Falwell and Robertson are identified by many as the face of the Republican party? Do you think President Bush has sufficiently distanced himself from them and their followers?

Hey, don't forget the Pagans! (Or are you a paganist?). Personally I thought Republicans did a pretty good job of distancing themselves from Falwell and Robertson back in September 2001 - immediately after they made those ridiculous claims.

I guess the point of the question is to insinuate that the two of them are representative of many voters who chose President Bush in the last election, presumably because of the current meme that moral values were the biggest factor on the day. Both suggestions are patently untrue by the way. The rise in the christian vote for President Bush can just as easily be put down to resistance against the constant attacks on Judeo-Christian traditions by those on the left, and represented in the form of Senator Kerry - despite his many attempts to bolster his faith-based credentials - in the last election; such a suggestion seems to be backed up by popular opinion.

Cross-examination: 2. Liberal hero, Michael Moore has said:

“Americans are possibly the dumbest people on the planet….in thrall to conniving, thieving, smug pricks. We Americans suffer from an enforced ignorance. We don’t know about anything that’s happening outside our country. Our stupidity is embarrassing.”

“there is no terrorist threat in this country. This is a lie. This is the biggest lie we’ve been told.”

"The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not 'insurgents' or 'terrorists' or 'The Enemy' They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win..."

Do you worry that Michael Moore and his ilk are identified by many as the face of the Democratic party? Do you think the DNC has sufficiently distanced themselves from him and his followers?

3. Is democracy promotion really one of your core concerns? Just how far are you willing to go to demonstrate your credibility on this subject? Note: President Bush's policy toward either Pakistan or Saudi Arabia would be excellent case studies to bring this question to life.

Yes, absolutely. In fact, during the latter part of the Cold War I had reservations about some of the governments that we (the West) were forced to support. At the time we had no real choice since the threat from the Soviet Union was very real - and the only way to deal with that threat at the time was to meet force with force. Even so, it was a cross I had to bear and, had I been able to find an alternative, I would have jumped to support it! After the Wall fell in Berlin and the West stood up to the aggression against Kuwait, I was optimistic that we would actually be able to achieve much in restoring (or often planting) democracy throughout the world (and no, not in a touchy-feely, wishy-washy sort of way!). Freedoms restored in Eastern Europe, brought to parts of the Balkans, inspired in formerly-Communist Nicaragua and the Phillipines brought great satisfaction and hope. I happen to agree with the President and Prime Minister Blair that most people desire freedom and a say in their nation's governence and I don't see a problem with the actions in Afghanistan and Iraq that have freed another 50 million plus people from tyranny, not to mention having restored the most basic of human rights to over 20 million women in Afghanistan.

As far as your specific examples go - Pakistan and Saudi Arabia - I would like to see the Administration (and other governments throughout the world) encourage them to transform into democracies. Pakistan, unfortunately, is a case similar to many nations during the Cold War: it's on the front line of the War on Terror and we cannot afford the enemy to capture it as its new base. This probably means that the most we'll be comfortable to do is to support Musharraf's regime, while encouraging the country's move back to democracy (which I believe will be restored sooner rather than later). As well as also being on the front lines, Saudi Arabia is presents several other factors that must be taken into account by our Governments. Call me a pragmatist if you will (for that I surely am), but our primary national interest in Saudi is maintaining stability. This does not preclude encouraging democracy, but it does prevent us from allowing anything from happening that would result in instability. This will probably be the case until the US has reduced its dependence on Saudi oil... a good reason to support exploration in Anwar! It also means that the issue cannot be forced, but must instead be taken in "baby steps". Fortunately we're seeing these steps being taken by many of the regimes across the Middle East following our achievements in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

Cross-examination: 3. Is democracy promotion really one of your core concerns? Just how far are you willing to go to demonstrate your credibility on this subject? Note: Your own personal views (at the time) toward Sandinista-controlled Nicaragua, North Korea, Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe, Taliban-era Afghanistan, Castro's Cuba, Hussein's Iraq or warlord-controlled Somalia would be excellent case studies to bring this question to life.

4. On a related note, which do you think is more important to the Bush administration in the short term: preservation of a stable oil supply from the Middle East or spreading freedom and liberty throughout the region? Would you be interested in seeing the records of Dick Cheney's 2001 energy task force to verify this? Please be extra honest with this question.

I'm glad you mentioned the short-term, since the Administration and GOP have been trying to get a go-ahead on exploration in Alaska for some time now. Had the President been able to pursue this earlier (say at the beginning of his first term), the US would be a lot closer to being able to extract the oil from Anwar and reducing its dependency on foreign oil supplies. Unfortunately those on the left have, despite the promises of oil companies, the wishes of the residents of Alaska and the overwhelming support of many in Congress and the Administration, been stone-walling this initiative without coming up with any realistic alternatives to reduce the demand for oil themselves.

However, answering your question, I see no contradiction between the two. In fact, personally I think that a policy of spreading freedom and democracy throughout the Middle East would do more to preserve a stable oil supply from that region than any other policy. I can't think of a better policy... can you? As far as my beliefs about the Administration's primary focus, I'd say that they are probably more concerned with guaranteeing the safe flow of oil from the Middle East right now (since I would hope that any national leader was focused on the nation's security - and without oil, Western nations are extremely vunerable), but I also believe that when the US President or British Prime Minister talk about freedom, they are "talking from the heart" and being absolutely honest about their philosophy of "spreading democracy". After all, democratic nations, linked by a global economy, are far less likely to wage war on their neighbours or their own populations than undemocratic tyrannies.

Oh, and before I get the "War for Oil" crowd going, no, I don't believe we revoked the Ceasefire with Iraq in order to snatch their oil or even guarantee the safety of the Mid-East oil supply. In fact, if we just wanted their oil we could have just advocated removal of sanctions ourselves. That's exactly what the French and Russia's were planning... If anything, our military action in Iraq has made the oil supply less secure in the near term.

Cross-examination: 4. On a related note, which do you think is more important: preservation of a dependency culture that keeps less fortunate portions of the population voting for the Democratic Party or actually providing opportunity and hope for this demographic so that they can improve the lives of themselves and their children? Please be extra honest with this question.

5. A substantial part of the Christian right opposes any compromise with Palestinians because they believe that Jewish domination of the region west of the Jordan River is a precondition for the Second Coming. Is this a reasonable belief? Or do you think these people qualify as loons who should be purged from the Republican party?

Heh! Do they really? That's funny! I didn't know that Jewish possession of a piece of land was a precondition for the Second Coming... I guess that those who think it, believe that it's a perfectly reasonable belief. Being an atheist, I find many of the stories from the Bible beyond "reasonable belief" (for example, Genesis - after all, I'm an Darwinist) yet I still have respect for Christians who have these beliefs and certainly do not regard them as "loons". I don't, however, believe that people who believe this particular item of Faith are in a position to decide national policy towards the Palastinians or a Palastinian state. In fact, President Bush's administration has done many things in an effort to bring a peace between the Palastinians and Israelis and bring about a Palastinian state.

Cross-examination: A substantial part of the liberal left believes that the Administration and agents from the Israeli Mossad were responsible for the terrible attacks in New York and Washington on 9/11. Is this a reasonable belief? Or do you think these people qualify as loons who should be purged from the Democratic party?

6. Yes or no: do you think we should invade Iran if it becomes clear — despite our best efforts — that they are continuing to build nuclear weapons? If this requires a military draft, would you be in favor?

No. We have not invaded anyone for building nuclear weapons since World War II. However, if they were to threaten the USA or its Allies (yes, even the French - they are sort of in NATO and covered by Article V) with nuclear weapons then a military response would be appropriate. Hang on a minute...

...Okay, just wanted to get the chorus of jeers from the left, claiming that the Coalition invaded Iraq because they were building nukes, over with. There are a couple of reasons why I'm not being hypocritical or trying to change history here. First up, there is one huge difference between the Iranian (or in the past, Soviet) and Iraqi issues - we were at war with Iraq. If you remember your history, you may be aware that the first Gulf War ended in a ceasefire, not a surrender or peace. The ceasefire agreement (Security Council Resolution 687) included many demands on the defeated Iraqi government in exchange for a suspension of hostilities. These demands included, among other things, an end to the Iraqi WMD (which, don't forget, includes chemical and biological weapons, as well as nukes) programs (and held them to agree to constant, unfettered UNSCOM and IAEA inspections), a prohibition on Iraqi attacks on Coalition forces and a requirement to not support any acts of international terrorism or the participating terorists themselves. During the twelve year period between the signing of this ceasefire and the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, there were many times when Coalition governments had a clear casus belli to renew hostilities (if such is required in the middle of a war) - when Iraqi forces fired on Coalition aircraft, when inspectors were hindered or ejected, when Abu Abbas was allowed sanctuary in Baghdad, when their security services tried to assassinate former-President Bush (a casus belli for the USA and its allies if ever I saw one), when Iraq refused to pay full reparations to Kuwait, the list just goes on and on. Yet, prior to 9/11, the Coalition governments were content with a policy of containment (though many of them were further encouraged against action through the sweet gifts of charity courtesy of the UN Oil-for-food program).

However, after 9/11 things changed. The view that a policy of containment or deterence could ensure the safety of the Western world against aggressors was shattered in those fateful few hours when a few dedicated madmen (by their actions that day, and extrapolated from their organisation's stated desire to obtain WMDs) showed that they and their ilk would actually be mad enough to ignore mutually assured destruction - the premise of the West's nuclear deterent policy for the last few decades (that no one on the "other side" would be mad enough to do something so stupid that they themselves would be destroyed).

So, in Iraq we had a country with whom we were at war, who had connections to international terrorist organisations (the 9/11 Commission report confirms some contact with Al-Queda while Saddam was personally signing cheques for Hamas suicide-bombers), who constantly broke ceasefire conditions, who refused to provide a complete accounting of the dismantling of their WMD programs and whose official policy included aggression against major Coalition powers, including the USA and the UK. Don't forget also that, at the time the US went to the UN to request Resolution 1441, the sanctions regime against Iraq was collapsing thanks to pressure from France and Russia. As the Dulfer Report has shown, Iraq was anticipating restarting its major WMD programs as soon as sanctions were removed; prior to that even, the Hutton Report in the UK validated the claims that Iraq had already been trying - unsuccessfully - to obtain Uranium from The Niger.

This Administration's policy of preemption (shared by the British and Australian governments) meant that there was only possible response to the threat posed by the Ba'athist government in Baghdad - complete adherence to the ceasefire conditions or complete removal of the threat itself. Security Council Resolution 1441 laid down these terms to the Iraqi government. Their failure to accept these demands led directly to military action to enforce them instead.

Should Iran continue their efforts to acquire nukes, there is little we can do in the near term. This despite the fact that they (the Islamic republic of Iran) are signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Unfortunately that treaty does not detail any penalties for signatories should they decide to renege on their treaty obligations. Presumably, if the Iranians go back on the latest agreement with the European Union, pressure may be brought to implement UN sanctions - and we all know how effective sanctions are.

Should they, like India, Pakistan, South Africa and Israel, become a new nuclear power, there will no doubt be the usual screams of outrage from the West and then acceptance, in the assumption that they wouldn't be mad enough to risk MAD (and the USA would most certainly reissue its "nuclear-umbrella" guarantee to Israel and other allies in range of the Mullah's missiles). Whether acceptance is a wise course of action is questionable to me though. Even so, I'm not worried too much with the suggestions that the Iranians would give their weapons to terrorists - I think that this is highly unlikely since it would be too easy to track the material used in a weapon back to them, and the response to such an attack would ensure that it would be their last!

A better approach is to continue the policies in place right now: containment, while working on either bringing their programs to an end or implementing as harse a sanctions regime as possible. More importantly, a continuation - or even an extension - of the support for the opposition in Iran which, if recent news reports are accurate, is growing stronger and more visible by the day. The replacement of the tyranical regime in Tehren with a more moderate Islamicist one is the best way to guarantee that country's compliance with its international responsibilities.

Sorry to have said so much, but this was a complicated answer that needed some extra explanation. That said, there was an additional question within the question... that old liberal chestnut: The Dreaded Draft. Well, my answer is simple. Should military commanders decide that a draft is necessary in order to meet the demands of war, then I agree with a "draft" - or more properly, conscription. The reason I say this is that every US or British military commander I know does not want to institute conscription unless absolutely necessary. Since the formation of our respective volunteer forces, the ability, performance and professionalism of our military has shot through the roof. Almost all within them are proud of their service and of the job they do. Both of our militaries are sized to be able to handle the demands that will be made on them (though both seriously reduced these projected demands during the 1990's) with reserves able to be called up to fill the ranks needed to meet these commitments. The numbers required obviously need to be changed on intermittently, based on the global security situation at the time - but if a crisis emerges that requires a quick and large growth in the military then I agree with conscription to preserve the security of our nations. Always have, always will.

Cross-examination: 6. Straight back at you... I'd be interested in a liberal's response: Yes or no: do you think we should invade Iran if it becomes clear — despite our best efforts — that they are continuing to build nuclear weapons? If this requires a military draft, would you be in favor?

7. If President Bush decides to substantially draw down our troop presence in Iraq after the January 30 elections, will you support that decision? Please answer this question prior to January 30.

Well, this depends. If the US reduces the force levels after the elections based simply on withdrawing the additional forces that are being moved in country to secure the election process, then yes - should the security situation be stable - I would agree with his decision.

If you're suggesting that the President would try pulling out the majority of US forces before completing the transition to full self-rule and self-provided security, then no, I would not support that decision. Then again, I do not believe that this would be something that this President would do. Not for one minute.

Cross-examination: 7. Had Senator Kerry been elected as President and decided to withdraw American troops from Iraq after the elections on January 30th, would you have supported that decision?

8. Would you agree that people who accept Laurie Mylroie's crackpot theories about Saddam Hussein's involvement in 9/11 might be taking the threat of terrorism a little too seriously? What do you think should be done with them?

I guess the liberal answer, given the folks found on DU, would be "put them against a wall". No, I wouldn't agree with your proposal that people who accept Laurie Mylroie's theories are "taking the threat of terrorism a little too seriously". Having grown up in the UK while the Provos were bombing England on a regular basis I don't think anyone can take the threat of terrorism too seriously (after all, I was close to or just avoided three bombs before the age of 25). I am glad that the US, after ignoring the problem for so long (with Americans supporting terrorist supporters like Noraid for far too long) has finally decided to take the problem seriously; however, I wish there had been a way for this to happen without the events of 9/11 (my fourth far-too-close-for-comfort terrorist attack).

I would agree that those who believe her theories (as opposed to the documented links between Al-Queda and Iraq in the 9/11 Commission and Dalfer reports, though unrelated to 9/11) are misguided or misinformed. Intelligence agencies worldwide agree on the links but none have suggested links between them that are specifically related to the attacks of 9/11. The correct response would be education, pointing them to reputable sources that contradict or refute her allegations.

Cross-examination: 8. Would you agree that people who accept the crackpot theories about US government involvement in 9/11 (including the idea that the US military fired a missile into the Pentagon and that an un-named US governmental agency brought down the Towers and WTC 7) might not be taking the threat of terrorism seriously enough? What do you think should be done with them?

I hope you find my answers interesting at least. If you have any questions or requests for clarification, just leave something in the comments section.

Posted by gcurtis in category: Politics at 11:10 AM | Comments (0)

December 07, 2004

Being English in New York

Welcome to my new blog - Being English in New York. I thought I'd kick things off with a small introduction to who I am and what you can expect to find in these pages over the next months.

As you might have guessed, I'm an Englishman living in New York (for more than eight years now). In 1994, I was lucky enough to get a job at Morgan Stanley in London as a senior UNIX systems administrator in their Fixed Income Division and, even luckier in 1996, when they decided that I could make more of a contribution in their UNIX Engineering group in New York - which was redesigning the complete UNIX environment at the time.

Of course I jumped at the opportunity and headed, excitedly, for the New World and I've never looked back. I lived in Manhattan for the first seven years but when, in February 2003, I resigned from Morgan in order to pursue other interests, I moved to Williamsburg in Brooklyn where I'm working on getting my own software design start-up going.
Given my interest in politics, you'll see much discussion of the issues of the day - both domestically and in the rest of the world (primarily the UK of course) - and I hope I can provide a different perspective having observed so much of life in both Britain and the United States. Just so you know, I am a conservative, though more in the British-style: I am a laissez-faire libertarian, a defence-hawk (who believes that the military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq were justified), pro-choice (in the manner of most Britons, I'm not religious in any way except towards my football team - The Arsenal!), yet anti-Gay marriage (a position I intend to discuss in the coming days). I tend to agree with most of the sensible moral and ethical positions of the so-called social conservatives in the US though, believing - despite my atheism - that many of the tenets of behaviour in the Judeo-Christian tradition are crucial building blocks for a civil society.
As well as politics, I'll try to provide a taste of life and living in New York City - "The Capital of The World", as its advertising proclaims (as it happens, quite rightly!). You can also expect to see some discussion of technology, book and movie reviews, news from the world of Arsenal FC ("by far the greatest team the world has ever seen") and, of course, the occassional cat-blogging featuring Bunky who is, at least in my opinion, the nicest cat on the planet.

Signing off for the moment, I just like to thank you again for coming and hope that you will, if you visit again, enjoy the way the site develops over the next few months. I'll do my best to keep the site updated regularly and try to provide information and viewpoints of interest. As always, I welcome feedback, especially if it's constructive; if you have anything you'd like discussed or if you have suggestions to improve the site, feel free to call out in the comments.

Posted by gcurtis in category: Personal at 11:37 AM | Comments (0)