March 2007

I tried to think of something witty to say, but really, what else could I add?

A pensioner who lives beside the seaside has been warned by his council that he faces a heavy fine for fly-tipping [illegally dumping garbage] if he returns windblown sand in his garden back to the beach.

Arthur Bulmer, 79, has long complained of sand drifting on to his property on the fore-shore at Lytham St Anne’s, in Lancashire, but this year’s gales have exacerbated the problem.

When he asked Fylde Borough Council if it was permissible to return the sand where it came from, he was told it would constitute fly-tipping. He should treat it as litter and take it to the municipal refuse tip.

(Via Tim Worstall).

The title of the post is taken from the A.E. Housman poem.

Police Defuse Samurai Attack — The Telegraph, 7 March 2008.

With a Bonzai scream heard for miles, 10,000 Samurai warriors descended on Hyde Park Wednesday morning.  The Samurai, dressed in traditional armor and wielding swords, swarmed over the park attacking everything in sight.  Ninety-eight people were killed, as were 8 dogs, 32 park benches, and countless pigeons that had left-off shitting on Nelson’s head long enough to go have a look at the commotion.  An additional 76 people were injured, 11 of whom remain in intensive care.

One of the witness was quoted as saying, “They were kung-fu fighting.  Those cats were fast as lightning.  I mean, it was a little bit frightening.”

Seven of the victims were American citizens and President Bush responded to the tragic news with his usual aplomb, saying, “Not this again; I thought daddy took care of those crazy Japanese imperialist terrorists years ago.”  The Prime Minister lent his support, “What Bush said, but with a more open and accepting attitude consistent with modern multicultural Britain and the Samurai’s place in our diverse society.”

The slaughter would have been much worse, but police began confiscating swords and arresting the Samurai in accordance with the recently enacted ban on Samurai swords.  One constable quipped, “Thank goodness for the new Samurai sword law, otherwise how would we have stopped the little bleeders from killing everyone in Kensington?”

Apparently, it isn’t enough to have a law against killing people with a sword, you also need to ban the swords themselves.

The sale, import and hire of samurai swords could be banned by the end of the year, Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said today.

The proposal, outlined in a consultation paper issued by the Home Office, will help to take dangerous weapons out of circulation and protect the public.

. . .

Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said: “Public safety is our greatest priority. Samurai sword crime is low in volume but high in profile and I recognise it can have a devastating impact.

“Banning the sale, import and hire will take more dangerous weapons out of circulation, making our streets safer.”

. . .

“It is already illegal to have a samurai sword in a public place but I want to restrict the number of dangerous weapons in circulation to enhance community safety.”

Devastating impact, indeed.  Just so everyone understands, because we know that ignorance of the law is no excuse, in Britain, you can get four years in prison for carrying a Samurai sword.  But, actually killing someone only gets you two years.

(HT: Samizdata).

In One Man Caravan, Robert Edison Fulton, Jr., heir to the Mack Truck fortune, recounts his rather spontaneous round-the-world motorcycle journey, undertaken solo in 1932-33 on a Douglas twin.  Fulton’s narrative is insightful and relevant, while maintaining the eclectic, rambling flavor of a good travelogue and generally avoiding the monotony of a bad one.  I would definitely recommend it.

Fulton’s journey takes him through lands very much in our minds today, recovering in a Baghdad hospital, camping with the British Army in Waziristan, and trekking into a hostile Afghanistan.

On Afghanistan (pp. 169-70):

    When the star of Afghanistan first rose on my horizon, little did I realize what a large and truly important part it has played in world affairs.  Even as the present name implies, the country is the “place of the Afghan.”  Wild nomadic tribes made it their stamping ground at the dawn of history, each stamping on the other, fighting for existence.
    Alexander of Macedonia; Timur, the lame Tartar of Smarkand; Mahmud of Ghazni; Nadir Shah, the Persian–all came and saw and conquered; exacting a vague submission from the Afghans.  But the tribes bowed down only until the current conqueror’s death.  Then they would be free again until the next conqueror came along.  They knew no law in their allegiance, and became masters at straddling the proverbial fence.

I think we can add Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States to the list.

From a discussion with a bazaari in Baghdad (p. 74):

    “No, but I have been to England,” he explained.  “I have read much about America.  A very fine land.”
. . .
    “Someday, someday we too shall have a country like yours, but we have far to go; very far, many centuries.  Things move slowly with us here in the East.  We have our customs and formalities and, do not misunderstand me, our ideas of what is right and wrong are very different from yours.”

I also think Fulton’s description of pre World War II Japan is important.  On many occasions, I have commented about the Bush administration’s arrogance in thinking that we would be able to wipe the Iraqi slate clean and build a functioning liberal democracy from nothing, especially given our track record at nation building.  Inevitably, someone mentions Japan as an example of success.  But, Fulton’s account of Japan shows the fallacy of this argument.  Pre-war Japan seems nothing like the Iraq of then or now.

On Japanese infrastructure (p. 260):

On other roads, other muscles had ached, but the roads of Japan, from Nagasaki to Tokyo, were a dream and for one who had spent many months on practically no roads at all, Japan was a bit of heaven’s highway.  Dirt or paved, they were well-marked and kept in tip-top condition.

On the press (p. 264):

    “Where did you learn all this?” I asked.
    “We read it in our newspaper!”  They were surpised that I did not know.  The Japanese, even more so than the Americans, are a nation of newspaper readers, their principle papers having a daily circulation running into the millions.

Fulton’s account of Japan is an anecdotal travelogue, not an intelligence briefing or a policy whitepaper, but he shows us a picture of a society and culture far removed from Sadam’s Iraq.

I have argued on many occasions that gun violence is a result of culture and not of gun ownership or liberal gun laws.  This article in the Times shows that the British are learning exactly that.

Victorian gun crime—The Times, 03 March 2007 (emphasis added).

Illegally held guns are flooding Britain’s inner cities and a spate of fatal shootings in London has highlighted gun culture’s allure to disaffected youth. This comes despite the best efforts of the law and its enforcers to restrict the supply of guns. Yet, any man, woman or street urchin could own a gun in Victorian Britain — at least until 1870 when a licence fee was charged if they wanted to carry the weapon outside their home. And, surprisingly, there was very little gun crime.

The right to own firearms was enshrined in the 1689 Bill of Rights (the Americans had to get their ideas from somewhere) and as late as 1900 the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, was happy to declare how much he would “laud the day when there was a rifle in every cottage in England”.

There were a quarter of a million registered firearms in private hands before the First World War and the true figure was almost certainly far higher. In those years the average number of crimes involving firearms in London was 45. In 2006 it was 3,350.

True, in 1903 a Pistols Act restricted small handgun ownership to those who were not “drunken or insane”. This did not prove overrestrictive. When in 1909 unarmed police gave chase to a couple of gun-toting Latvian anarchist desperados in Tottenham, there was no shortage of passers-by who lent their pistols to the coppers.

. . .

[Later restrictive] legislation had less to do with armed robbery and more to do with the Lloyd George Government’s fear that a combination of disaffected soldiers returning from the Western Front, the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and the surge in trade union membership might be harbingers of trouble. It was thus better if firearms were monopolised by the State and the more responsible classes.

. . .

In recent years, life in Britain’s cities has got far more dangerous. Since there are not more guns around, perhaps the real problem is cultural?

Ross Firestone, a commenter on the online version, notes:

Of course, the real problem is cultural.

In the rural American state of New Hampshire there are esssentially no gun laws. When I lived there as a boy I had the usual youthful arsenal: a handgun, a rimfire rifle, a shotgun and I was saving money to buy a center-fire rifle. Gun ownership is part of the culture of the state who’s motto is, “Live free or die!”. Yet the crime rate was very low then and still is.

I now live in urban Chicago. Handgun ownership is forbidden and long gun ownership is restricted so there are far fewer legally owned guns. The crime rate is 50 times that of New Hampshire.

This mirrors my own experience growing up in rural Utah and now living in the Nation’s Capital.  There wasn’t a problem with students bringing guns to school in my hometown.  Everyone just kept them in a gun rack in the back window of his pick-up.

(Via An Englishman’s Castle).