David Miliband wants Westerners to buy the Amazon rainforest (Sunday Telegraph, 1 Oct 2006, News, p.2). We need to ensure that there is a balance between urban and industrial development to provide the goods that people demand, agricultural development to provide the food that they demand, and undeveloped areas to provide the ecological services (such as carbon dioxide absorption) that we need and the habitat to support the biological diversity that may yield untold benefits in the future. Property rights are an important way of encouraging protection of assets. In that sense, a proposal to introduce property rights in rainforests should be welcomed.
Upto 20% of Britain's "home-style" birth centres may be closed due to the NHS's "funding crisis" (read, "spending crisis"), the Sunday Telegraph reports. Your options during childbirth will now, even more than before, depend on where you live and the vagaries of government allocation of funds, and NHS managers' priorities.
Gordon Brown has come out in favour of devolving power. But his idea of devolution is a little different to ours. Ideally, power should be devolved to the individual. (Actually, ideally the individual, not the government, should have the power in the first place, but we have to start from where we are.) Markets are devolution of power to the individual, who can use his "dollar votes".
The Daily Telegraph reports today ("Treasury blocks move to flat rate inflation") that the Treasury has blacked out several arguments in favour of introducing a "Flat Tax" (a single rate of tax across all income levels) in a report on the subject ("HM Treasury Freedom of Information Disclosure - Flat Taxes"). This is of course revealing of Gordon Brown's attitude to simplification of the tax regime (of which the Working Families tax credit fiasco is another good example). But the equation assumed by right-wing proponents of a Flat Tax (such as the Telegraph or George Osborne), namely that Flat Tax is synonymous with low tax, is equally revealing of their interest in the matter.
While I'm posting on the subject of the BBC, let me show you a great example of their intolerance of dissent.
In August 2005, I posted on the FiveLive message boards a message complaining that they were covering Championship football when the second Ashes Test was coming to a tense conclusion. They moderated it away. I exchanged correspondence with them, and it was subsequently restored. Below is a copy of the email exchanges. The link to their messageboard archives still works if you want to view the thread. I will post each message as a reply, as the web-host seems to have trouble accepting this all in one go.
Yet again, it only took a few minutes of driving yesterday to be infuriated by the radio. 5Live was doing football. TalkSport was doing football. The regional channels were doing football. Radio 4 was doing…. drama.
It is early August. The second Ashes Test is coming to a tense conclusion. Britain’s athletes are competing (mostly unsuccessfully) in the World Athletics Chamionships. The Premiership (football) hasn’t started yet. Why must we have wall-to-wall football? The previous football season only ended in May. And we haven’t even had a break during our two months off - what with transfer gossip and reporting from the various warm-up matches and tournaments that our teams compete in during the “off-season”.
Driving back from picking up my car this afternoon, I turned on the radio, more in hope than expectation. I do not listen to the music channels (the channels that play current music lost their attraction when I reached the age of thirty, and if I’m going to listen to oldies, I’d rather listen to my own selection than someone else’s). So I have a grand total of three analogue channels to which I can listen: Talk Sport and BBC channels 4 and 5-Live. My expectations were low from bitter experience. And sure enough, I experienced that small thrill of pleasure that comes from having one’s worst expectations confirmed, followed by the more sustained depression of realising that yet again there was no intelligent discussion going on anywhere in British radio.
Islam is causing particular problems in the world at the moment. But other religions have also been the excuse for destruction and torment, for example in Europe at the time of the Inquisition, or more recently in Northern Ireland, North Uganda, Kashmir or Punjab. Religious leaders would argue that religion was not the cause of the suffering, only the excuse, and that their religion had been used and abused by rulers for ulterior motives. This may be so, but it is difficult to imagine that those leaders would have found it so easy to inspire savage acts in the name of humanism.
On BBC News 24 this morning, Peter Sissons asked Sir Iqbal Sacranie (leader of the Moslem Council of Britain) if the lack of a figurehead, equivalent to the Pope for Catholics, made it more difficult for leaders of the Moslem faith to state authoritatively that extremist views were heretical. Sir Iqbal replied that he was referring to a Caliph. Interestingly, one of Al-Qaeda's most fundamental ambitions is restoration of a Caliphate encompassing all Moslems and Moslem nations.
Whilst there can be no doubt that what Mr Sacranie means by a Caliph is different to what Osama bin-Laden means, this highlights the paucity of vocabulary within Islam to describe the relationship between the religion, its leaders, its followers and their governments. A Caliph is fundamentally different to a Pope, because a Caliph exercises absolute temporal as well as spiritual powers over followers of the faith. But there is no title available in the Moslem lexicon to descrbe a supreme spiritual leader distnct from the temporal leadership.