This evening, the President of the United States will arrive in Brussels to start a 24-hour visit to that city:
As Belgium's capital and host to the EU and Nato, Brussels is used to deploying heavy security when big names pop by. But US President Barack Obama's visit on Tuesday will strain the city like never before with €10m ($14m, £8.4m) of Belgian money being spent to cover his 24 hours in the country.
The president will arrive on Tuesday night with a 900-strong entourage, including 45 vehicles and three cargo planes.
Why does the citizen-executive of a republic of limited government need 900 flunkeys for a one-day visit to Belgium?
At a certain point, a nation simply becomes too stupid to survive. Why can't he make do with, say, a mere 300 minions?
You mean, like at the Mandela funeral? The bigger the security, the more holes in it.
~As we know from yesterday, California universities are no respecters of free speech. Confronted with a difference of opinion, some professors, like Sex Work educator Mireille Miller-Young, just charge in and commit theft, vandalism and assault and battery. But most opt for a subtler way to remove the tedious business of dissent. Up the coast from UCSB, Stanford has been using "security costs" as a term of art. For example, the Anscombe Society scheduled an event featuring proponents of "traditional marriage" and was told by the university that they could go ahead with it if they paid $5,600 to cover "security":
"This fee is a tax on free speech," Judea Romea, co-president of the group, said Wednesday in calling for the university to drop the policy. "The student government shut us out, simply because some students don't share our values. The University responded not by standing up for our freedom of speech, but by forcing us to hire security so that hecklers can't disrupt our event or intimidate our guests."
These fees are only charged one way - to campus conservatives whose events are at risk from those who believe in the Mireille Miller-Young smashmouth method of public debate. In this case, an LGBTQQI2S (I may have left a few out - apologies, I'm a little iffy after the second Q) had decided the "traditional marriage" conference made them feel "uncomfortable", if you know what I mean. So Stanford, like many other universities, has clarified its commitment to free speech by saying the speech is free but the security will cost you a five-figure sum.
One can well understands their concerns about violence. With Professor Mireille Miller-Young in the vicinity, Obama might need an 1,800-man entourage and 127-car motorcade. But the practical effect is to reward those who threaten violence and turn the campus into even more of a conformity zone than it is already. As Laura Rosen Cohen puts it:
"Security" is the new "shut up".
These guys didn't shut up, and Stanford has now backed down. Good.
~By the way, whatever Professor Miller-Young's undoubted mastery of her Sex Work discipline as recognized by her role as Co-Convenor of the Black Sexual Economies Working Group, reader Josh Passell observes that, on a more prosaic note, she can't spell:
PhD. New York University (American History and History of the African Dispora
M.A. New York University (American History and History of the African Dispora)
Well, you could fire her, but she'd probably sue for "disporate impact".
~Turning to Her Majesty's Dominions, I'm a great believer in comparatively minor changes that, whatever their merits in and of themselves, annoy all the people worth annoying. Stephen Harper's ministry in Ottawa accomplished this a few years ago when it restored the names of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Army, under which illustrious commands Canadians had stormed Juno Beach, maintained the world's third largest surface fleet, and produced a best-selling exercise book long before Jane Fonda or Victoria Principal. In one of his greatest acts of vandalism on Canada's inheritance, Pierre Trudeau abolished these names. Mr Harper brought them back, to the joy of Canadian servicemen and a great gnashing of teeth from CBC and Globe & Mail editorialists.
Down Under, the Royal Australian Navy, Royal Australian Air Force et al never went away, as you'll know if you're watching Flight 370 recovery coverage. But one or two other things got dropped under recent Labor ministries. Today Tony Abbott, the Aussie Prime Minister, restored the ranks of knight and dame to the Order of Australia, and announced a damehood for the outgoing Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, and a knighthood for the incoming one, General Peter Cosgrove. The sour chippiness of the republican jackals at the press conference is a joy to read, especially the question about the "retrograde step" of "reintroducing gender into these titles". (Bonus Guardian headline: "Tony Abbott's Knights Take Us Back To The Dark Ages".)
I blow hot and cold on this stuff, and at a small private dinner at Buckingham Palace a while back I rather enjoyed being the only mister at a tableful of princes, dukes, earls, viscounts, barons, and knights. But on balance I think I prefer a straightforward upfront knighthood to the American practice of turning temporary office into lifelong title. It creeps me out a little when you've got, say, a Republican primary debate between Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich and it's all "Governor Romney", "Senator Santorum" and "Mr Speaker", even though none of 'em has been a governor, senator, speaker or anything else since the turn of the century. Furthermore, titles such as "Governor" and "Senator" are in the gift of the people, who confer them only for a limited time. It's an unseemly act of usurpation to appropriate them as personal prenominals. There's no point forbidding, as the US Constitution does, titles of nobility if you turn a two-year congressional term from the mid-Seventies into a lifelong aristocratic rank.