Saturday, 27 December 2008

Free to Choose

I've had a dreadful Christmas. All the in-laws descended on us, all demanding to be fed with food that it was assumed that I would cook. Midnight Mass carried on for ever so I didn't get to sleep until about 2am. Little Miss Patently woke us up with the announcement that her clock must be broken, because it still said it was only five to six in the morning. She did this at (you guessed it) 5:54 am, so I spent the day utterly exhausted from lack of sleep. My presents included a new pair of gloves, a new tie, a new pair of cufflinks, and a book by that renowned author, Richard Hammond. Then, round two the day after was to be the return trip to the in-laws, but their car wouldn't start. Positioned in a crucial blocking position on our steeply-sloping drive, pushing it was not an option (unless I fancied a visit to the orthopaedic surgeon).

Except that, in fact, I had a great Christmas. I do actually like cooking; although Christmas dinner for 12 is a somewhat stressful prospect, it gives you a moral high ground from which to demand help whenever you want. It also gives you a get-out-of-jail-free card for use at any time - "Sorry, got to go and chop the cranberries", plus your very own little retreat in which you have total power - "You're in the way, go and sit in the lounge". OK, I was tired, but Midnight Mass was beautiful and put me in the proper mood, and she was just excited - how many children aren't on Christmas morning? Richard Hammond actually writes quite wittily; he's not going to win the Booker prize, but it's good holiday reading all the same. And I do actually wear cufflinks and gloves and could do with a new pair of each. Oh, and the car problem was a useful chance to take charge and show my father-in-law (and Mrs P, for that matter) that I know what I'm doing in a "crisis" and can cope with this bloke stuff that all men are supposed to be born knowing.

Life genuinely is what you make it. Looking back, if I want to make the last few days seem depressing, then I can. Equally, if I want to make them seem good, I can do that too. The same material can be worked in either direction.

For the last few years, I think I have tended to look on things negatively. A general surfeit in the level of work and expectations placed on me, together with a distinct shortfall of sleep, seem to have made this the default. A little effort (and, admittedly, a little sleep) is all that is needed to look again at the same memories and see them in a positive light. And once you start to feel negative about things, you don't see the positive opportunities and things tend to get steadily worse. Equally, maintaining a positive outlook reinforces itself; winners do indeed make their own luck.

Which is why this is my New Year's Resolution:



Wishing you all a positive and lucky 2009.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Chilled

Just a quick note to wish a happy Christmas to all those who actually take the time to read my ramblings. If I knew where you lived, I'd post you all a card and buy you a drink, but that isn't an option so this will have to suffice!

I haven't been posting much recently, as Patent Offices do go gaily about their business issuing letters in late August and September each year without realising what a 4 or 3 month deadline set on 25 August or September really means. So this time of year is actually quite busy for me - with the same workload but much less time to do it in, and (unlike summer holidays) no-one to pass the work to in my absence, things can get quite frantic.

Which is why this post is going out now. It's Christmas Eve, all my deadlines are ticked off, and my files are tucked away until the New Year. Work is no longer the main worry creasing my brow, and safe in the knowledge that none of my clients are working either, I can relax, potter about the office tidying all those little things that you never get round to, then sneak off home early knowing that the backlog is not building up for my return. This is when I start to feel genuinely Christmassy.

So, best wishes to you all. Enjoy the break!



------------------------------------------
Postscript: Tsk tsk ... why is it that the exact few days that I stop watching everyone's blogs, E-K posts that
he needs a Patent Attorney... ::[rollseyes]::

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

'Tis the Season to Show a Bit of Common Sense

Oh please. Our dearly beloved leaders have spent our money writing a leaflet on how not to hurt ourselves on the Christmas tree.

This is just beyond satire, it really is. And anyway, I don't have time to satirise it - I have work to do before I can bunk off to spend a few days impaling myself on branches, getting drunk and missing my chair, and burning myself on candles.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Shock News Just In!

Voters reject higher taxes.... Gosh.

Yes, Manchester has said no to extra road taxes. Which is not surprising, really; at a time of declining economic prospects, after millions of people signed the number ten petition against road tolls, there was an emphatic 'no' from Manchester's voters. A majority against the proposal was present in every single ward.

No doubt a new transport plan will be hatched so that the idea can be put before the voters again, and again if necessary, until they do as their politicians tell them. Such is democracy, of course.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Very good video from the No2ID campaign:



Highlights pefectly the problem with the ever increasing level of enforced intrusion into people's lives. The proposed database takes information that is the property of the individual and appropriates in under threat of criminal sanction. Information such as where I live is for me to control; I only tell people that I want to tell. There are (inevitably) limits on the control I can exert over this; but there is still a degree of control, and it is not right to confiscate that.

People may have 101 different reasons for wanting privacy. Whitehall does not always know best.

(With thanks to Torybear)

Invest in Firms Making White Coats

... because No:10 is going to need plenty.



Delusional. Utterly delusional. Take him away and put him with the fairies*.


Old Holborn has is spot on - Officially Dagenham (three stops past Barking)

------------------------------------------------------------
*and no, I don't mean Mandy.

Scepticism

There is a terribly witty post at Tim Lambert's blog listing all the silly arguments that "global warming sceptics " use, together with refutations for some. The latter are quite interesting, and made me think for a while. It seems to me that, of the refutations I had time to read, they would be eminently believable to someone inclined to believe them, and open to nitpicking by those not inclined to believe them. Ho hum ... that does rather support the one argument that he doesn't provide a refutation for.

Sadly, I can't see any mention of the "discredited argument" that goes along the lines of "Errr, global temperatures have actually been dropping for the last ten years..?", which is a shame.

(Hat tip - Stuart Sharpe)

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Thoughts on DNA retention

Nerd for Justice criticised my reasoning in this post. My reply became a little lengthy, so I’ve made it into a post.

Comparing the series of events:


Kill someone, leave DNA, get arrested later, have DNA taken, get caught due to DNA match
and

Previous arrest for something else, have DNA taken, found innocent of crime, subsequently kill someone, leave DNA, database is searched & DNA is matched, get caught,

NfJ sees no difference. Of course, the former is what happened, and the latter is the sequence that the European Court struck down.

My view is that I have no problem with retaining DNA samples from crime scenes. I have no problem with taking DNA from arrestees. I have no problem with testing those samples to see if they match old DNA crime-scene samples, just as I have no problem with arrestees being interviewed on the subject of anything suspicious found in their pockets, for example.

Where I have a problem is with the retention of the DNA of those found to be innocent, or not found to be guilty. This seems to be a very serious intrusion. DNA mismatches do happen - vide the Omagh bombing trial. So those on the database are at risk of having, in effect, to prove their innocence at a future date.

Such a serious step could only be justified if it were absolutely necessary. I simply cannot see how it could be. If the assumption is that we need to retain their DNA because they are likely to commit offences in the future (a logic which will be offensive to many innocent arrestees), then surely it follows that they will be arrested again in the future for one of those offences. At which point, the DNA match can be made again and they can be matched with all their offences.

In short, either you think that one arrest doesn’t imply that people are likely to offend again, in which case there is no need to keep their DNA, or you think that they are likely to offend again, in which case there will be further opportunities to match their DNA and, again, there is no need to keep it.

I would only be wrong if there were no statistical connection between offences and arrests, i.e. that we cannot assume that a serial offender will be a serial arrestee. If that connection is absent, though, we may as well just give up and save all the money spent on police budgets.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Don't lie to me

I, and others, am very pleased to hear of the European verdict striking down our appalling practice of retaining the DNA of those not found guilty of any crime.

But this post is not about that. It is about the issue of lying in public life, or deliberately misleading people, which is of course exactly the same thing. We all know it is wrong - or at least we should do, as Hatfield Girl pointed out. But it seems to be done nevertheless. Wistfully, I recall a golden age when it seems that it was only done when the likelihood of being found out was very low indeed. Now, it seems to me that no-one cares whether discovery is likely. Lying is routine; there is no second thought.

The DNA verdict gave me a prime example. It was greeted, as I expected, with an outburst from a New Labour police apparatchik to the effect that the investigation of crime would be made more difficult, as shown by some of the stunning results obtained through DNA storage, such as the Sally Ann Bowman case.

Yes, let's look at Sally Ann Bowman. I happen to remember how this one was solved; I noticed it as the killer was revealed to have been working as a chef at a pub that I frequent - not a nice discovery. Here's a link to a report of the case, in the context of a previous call to bring Scotland's practice on DNA retention into line with the now-struck-down English practice - a call that cited the Bowman case in support. So presumably, Sally Ann Bowman's killer was caught because he had previously been arrested and his DNA matched a sample taken from the scene of crime?

Err, no. It wasn't. It was, literally, the opposite. He was arrested, his DNA was taken, and it was run through the system. At that point, it was found to match an old sample of DNA taken from the murder scene which had been retained since then. He was then investigated for the Bowman murder, and convicted.

So, the hypothesis that we need to keep the DNA of all arrestees in order to match them with future DNA samples is in now way supported by this case. Those that cite it are therefore either stupid or lying. Neither is an especially appealing characterisitic in those holding senior rank in the police or government.

And how long did it take me to spot this lie? About 15 seconds thought. Come on, Labour; surely you can do better than that?

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Wake up, Jacqui

I strongly recommend that you go and read the Politics News on page 19 of today’s Times.

The top half of the page is a report of what is, in effect, a rant by Jacqui Smith in which she accuses Cameron and Grieve of being unfit for high office as, in her opinion, they take the view that the leaking of Government material was not serious provided it did not affect national security.

The bottom half of the page is a report on what is going to appear in the Queen’s Speech. A report of the, as yet unannounced, Government material relating to its plans for the next legislative session.

A while ago, I posted that the PBR contents were, strangely, being reported before being announced to the Commons. Blue Eyes spotted that, too.

Tough on hypocrisy, tough on the causes of hypocrisy?

Truth is not enough

The news broke this morning that one in ten children may have been abused during their childhood. I’m sure that my immediate reaction was typical – utter shock that such a large number of children could be affected. My own children’s circles of friends are wider than that, so the problem would seem to be so serious that I would, statistically, know some affected children.

But, for once, Sarah Montague on the Today programme showed her mettle. While acknowledging the seriousness of some forms of abuse – sadly reflected in the higher rates for girls – she explored what the researchers meant by abuse, and what types and frequencies of experiences they had looked for in respondents to their survey. This revealed that a recollection of a single instance of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse during the respondent’s entire childhood qualified. Systematic or chronic abuse is therefore a subset of the headline figure – one that was sadly not quantified in the report.

I finished listening to the report still feeling shocked, and sympathetic to the (inevitable) call for more official action to remedy the abuse. Since then, I have been thinking further, though, and I have realised that I was in fact one of the one in ten. My mother was single when I was born; sadly my (married) father was unwilling or unable to leave his established family, although I am told that for a while (at least) he maintained contact with the infant me. In time my mother married another man, who became my adoptive father. He then fathered my two sisters, and (I am told, firmly) ordered my mother never to tell me the history. She did not have to; I always knew that I was different. There was something about his manner with me that was not the same for his daughters; something more critical, more negative. Was that emotional abuse? Maybe. Maybe not.

The incident that I recall was on a beach late on a summer evening, when (at his insistence) all present were playing beach bowls. Family activities were important to him; they presented an image of a happy family that he liked to see. I found it boring, as I did most of the games that he liked. I must have been very irritating; I was the fly in the ointment. I was the bit of the family that didn’t fit his plans. I was the bit that wanted to do my own thing. I was the piece of the jigsaw that didn’t fit anywhere and was ruining the pretty picture that he was trying to build.

Anyway, eventually I said something out of turn. I don’t remember what; I only remember that it was a joking piece of banter directed, I think, at my mother. Anyway, the next thing I knew, I was flat on the sand being kicked in the side, although not for long. It hurt, but nothing was broken and no lasting physical harm was caused.

So I qualify; I recall at least one incident of childhood physical abuse. An experience that pales into insignificance next to many other examples, but an experience of abuse nevertheless.

Do I wish that the authorities had waded in to protect me? To move me to a safe foster family? To prosecute him for the assault that it certainly was? To counsel and support me? No, I don’t. I was able to cope with it, and have done so. Maybe (25 years later) I am still more uncomfortable in social situations than might ideally be wished, but I am happy being me and would not want anything to have been different. I certainly would not have wanted to be taken away from my mother and sisters, nor do I think that lesser interventions would have helped. Quite the opposite, in fact.

In short, whilst the experience was not pleasant, and while I would not ever recommend that it be done deliberately, it did contribute toward my process of growing up. It pushed me towards the very independent outlook that I think I have. That outlook, together with the desire to prove the miserable git wrong, have driven me to the (comfortable) position that I now hold. So, in a way, it has been beneficial.

I think that there is real harm in the way that these surveys are publicised. They move the climate of opinion towards an activist, interventionist stance. Yet the data does not actually support this conclusion; by including so many lesser instances of abuse (such as mine) in with the genuinely terrible cases, they give a false impression. People assume that the terrible cases, the cases that generate publicity, form the whole of the one in ten. The search for these non-existent serious cases distracts resources away from the cases that deserve attention. Good parents become paranoid of the likely climate of suspicion they will meet at A&E should there ever be a genuine accident. The process slowly but surely gnaws away at opportunities for children as volunteers realise, one by one, that their selfless work puts them under suspicion - and withdraw from providing their help.

In the end, it is a question of honesty. It is not enough for your pronouncements to be merely true; the truth can easily be presented so as to mislead. My adoptive father never once lied to me, but he misled me into thinking (for many years) that he was my biological father - and it is this that is my main reason for hating him. And if ever there was a subject important enough to demand the highest level of honesty, then surely it is the welfare of our children.

Anyway, if you’ve read this far then thank you and sorry for rambling. If you haven’t, then don’t worry because there has been a benefit for me in the process of writing.



(In case you’re wondering, he’s dead now. Unable to face the embarrassment of visiting the doctor for a diagnosis of prostate cancer, he suffered in silence until the pain became so severe that he committed suicide – thereby causing immense upset to my mother and my sisters. Me? I am ashamed to say that I didn’t (and still don’t) care, and think that my mother has gone from strength to strength in the ten years since then.)

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Anything to hide?

The usual response to those who express concern at the various 'New' Labour laws that limit our civil liberties has been that "those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear". My usual retort is that those with nothing to hide should get out more, but Damien Green has now highlighted the utter and complete fallacy of this most fatuous of justifications.

Damien Green was released without charge. No allegation of wrongdoing has been made, and the suggestion has been merely that he received leaks that embarrassed Labour. I am therefore going to assume that he did nothing wrong.

Presumably, therefore, he had nothing to hide. Indeed, his alleged crime was in not hiding the leaks he received. However, he had the following to fear:
  • 9 anti-terror police banging on his door
  • 7 hours in custody
  • 2 hours of questioning
  • the ransacking of his home office
  • the ransacking of his Commons office
  • the confiscation of his PC
  • the confiscation of his mobile
  • the freezing of his email address.
If this list is tantamount to "nothing", then in the immortal words of Ian Hislop, I am a banana.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Green Politics

I can't help but think of what I posted on Wednesday:
"Really seriously angry. Assembling a mob and walking down Whitehall angry"
One of my points of pride in being British used to be that we run a democratic system in which it is up to the people who rules them, that the Prime Minister is answerable to the people, that the police don't break into Parliament, and that Opposition politicians don't get arrested.

Brown was not chosen by us, nor did he see fit to present himself to us for approval within a reasonable time, as Major did. Instead, Brown ran away from the opportunity for the utterly comtemptible reason that the polls said we would reject him.

Brown is not answerable to us; he represents a Scots constituency. His constituents are to a significant extent ruled by Holyrood. Brown's decisions in many areas are visited upon English voters who have no say in his re-election, whilst his constituents are protected from those decisions.

And as for the arrest of Damien Green, I am simply staggered. I hear that ministers claim they did not know (although I for one will be reserving judgement on that issue). Asuming they did not, I want to know why not. Why on earth did the Home Secretary not know that a politician was to be arrested? The only possible reason is that she has no grip whatsoever on her department and should go, now. And if she did know, I am angrier still.

And, on top of all that, there is the breathtaking hypocrisy involved. I distinctly remember seeing an article in The Times on Monday morning with a photo of Alistair Darling holding the PBR, stuffed full of details of what was in the then still unreleased PBR. When is he going to be arrested??

Blue Eyes is right again. Labour are making this a totalitarian state.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Things you never thought you'd see vol 42

... such as a trance remix of a speech by the Shadow Chancellor:




which I am putting here because I think it is just wonderful. Both in terms of the actual video production by Tory Bear, to whom huge credit should go, and also for the excellent content provided by Osborne. He really spoke for me that afternoon.

Labour have done it again. What a wonderful slogan. Let's make sure it keeps being repeated from now until the next election results are in.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Angry.

No, actually, I'm not just angry. I'm really angry. Really seriously angry. Assembling a mob and walking down Whitehall angry.

I've done the sums on the PBR figures - what do they mean for me. I've posted before that my share of Brown's additional taxation since he came to power is enough to pay off my mortgage, and that even the part that he has wasted would be enough to double my pension fund. I've now applied the same arithmetic to find out my share of the new borrowing that Brown and Darling are going to inflict on this country. And the answer very nearly made me burst into tears at my desk.

To repay that debt, even without interest, that pair are going to have to raise my taxes by more than all the savings that I have worked to accumulate over the years. We are talking a figure that is well into six figures. And this is not to put right my mistakes; I have (deliberately) been careful with money; I have turned down offers of mortgages two or three times what I felt was sensible, I routinely bin any mailshot offering me a loan, my credit card is paid off every month, and I accept no vendor finance - not even for cars. If I cannot afford it now, today, I don't buy it; I would rather wait until I can pay cash. Don't even try to pin the blame for this credit-driven crash on me.

Gordon Brown: this is it. This is quite enough. I now hate you, both personally and professionally. You have given me nothing; New Labour has not improved things for me in the slightest. Meanwhile, your taxes took away from me the ownership of my house. Now, you have decided to take away my savings. I am seriously considering posting you the shirt off my back, as you seem determined to waste every last pound that I have worked to earn for myself and my hardworking family.

You no longer rule with my consent. Your administration no longer has my co-operation.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

I before E

An interesting interview between Osborne and John Humphrys, this morning, in which Osborne explained his plan for Government to insure lending from banks to small businesses, and Humphrys laid into him demanding to know quite how he, as Chancellor, could possibly ensure that lending took place.

Then, of course, we had Darling on, to explain yesterdays (pre) Budget (report), and the debate moved on from whether this was possible and whether it would/could work to the simpler one of whether we could afford it and whether we should still call them "New" Labour.

In this, I think we saw the real difference in thought processes between the left and the right. Darling and Humphrys see politics as a process of writing cheques for things they approve of and sending tax demands to those they don't. If things are going badly, you just need to write bigger cheques. Oddly, the same recipe also works when things are going well.

Darling's comment about NHS spending reveals this; he asked hypothetically whether any health spending could be a bad thing, Err, yes Darling, it can be. If you double NHS spending but achieve only marginal improvements, then almost all of your spending was bad. Anyone can see that if they go into Tesco, buy their usual groceries, then tip the till operator by the same amount that they spent on the groceries, their additional spending has not been "good" (except for the lucky till operator, of course)- it has not produced anything; it has been wasted; it need not have been spent. But for Darling, all Government spending on an "approved" cause is good spending.

Osborne represented the right-wing approach; that it is not just about how much money you throw, but the manner in which you do it. In response to an unwillingness to lend by banks that is hurting the economy, Osborne plans to address the cause of that reluctance and thus address the cause of the slowdown. Humphrys, in a statist frame of mind, sees the issue as one of spending or not spending, ordering banks to act or not ordering them, so he hears the word "ensure", not "insure". The alternative, of taking steps to create an environment in which businesses can decide for themselves to take actions which generate profit for the individuals involved and also help the economy in general - hardly a novel concept as any student of Adam Smith will tell you - is simply not on the leftist statist radar.

Whish is why, even when Osborne was setting out the plan in black and white for Humphrys, he didn't hear it. And this, in turn, is why we on the right think the BBC is biassed while it maintains that it is not; the BBC and other institutions of the left simply speak another language.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Surprise!

Our Labour Government has announced that they will ... wait for it .... tax, spend, borrow, soak the rich, and sort it all out some time in the future. When the IMF arrive, no doubt.

I wonder how they chose the £150k threshold? Coincidentally, it is only slightly below the salary of Our Glorious Leader himself, so he will officially qualify for the tax but won't actually pay very much at all. Gosh - anyone would think it was chosen for PR reasons rather than sound economic ones!

Of course, one wonders where the cash for this tax will be found by those running the businesses that are successful enough to generate that kind of profit. Will they start to default on their mortgage? Will they abandon Waitrose and shop at Morrison's instead? Or will they decide to go without that new member of staff that was going to help them with their workload? Answers on a postcard....

Thursday, 20 November 2008

A new sort of Chaos?

I've been thinking. I've also been reading this book, which is about some of the great equations of modern science. It covers a range of fields; so far it has covered quantum theory, exobiology, nuclear energy, and chaos. Or, for the scientists, E=hf, the Drake equation, E=mc2, and x(n+1)=ax(1-x). The latter two desperately need some subscripts and superscripts, but (sadly) Blogger is frustrating me on that score.

The latter equation is fascinating (Stay with me on this - I'll return to a familiar theme soon). It was developed to model animal populations. The constant 'a' represents a growth rate - roughly representing a number of offspring. So if 'x' is a number between 0 and 1 representing the fraction which the current population represents of the total possible population that can be sustained in the locality concerned, 'ax' is the number after a generation. Of course, some will die; generally, the higher the population, the more disease will spread, the more attractive the colony will be to predators, and so on. So the (1-x) factor limits the population in this way; as the population grows, (1-x) shrinks and this the next generation is reduced by this factor.

The result is weird. If a is small (less than 3), then the population grows steadily to a stable point and then stays there. For values of a between 3 and 3.57, the population oscillates between two (or more) stable values. Above 3.57, the population varies widly between generations and becomes wholly unpredictable - i.e. chaos.

This is usually shown in a graph known as the "Logistic Map", in which the eventual stable point is shown (on the y axis) varying with the chosen value of a (on the x axis):


So, in other words, at low growth rates, things are stable. Push the growth rate, and things start to oscillate, alternately growing and crashing. Push harder still, and the whole thing goes haywire.

Does this sound familiar?

When I read that, I wondered if it could be applied to economics. Go for gentle growth,and things can be stable albeit disappointing. Push harder, and the good times will be interspersed with bad times. Push harder still, and all bets are off; anything might happen.

Maybe, when our Glorious Leader And Saviour Of The World's Economies said he had put an end to boom and bust, he really had. If so, his mistake was to push the economy even harder; by taking more out of the productive parts of the economy to fund the unproductive public sector, he forces the private sector to work correspondingly harder in order to maintain its position. And the result has indeed begun to look like the right hand side of the graph, I have to say.

Guess I'm just a frustrated economist, really....

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

At last!

Some blunt common sense from Cameron:
He said he wanted to build a "low tax, low debt economy for the long term".

Suits me....

Monday, 17 November 2008

Brown has been found out

All intelligent people can tell when someone has lost an argument; they play the man not the ball.

In criticising Osborne, Brown has revealed that he is wrong and that he knows it. If the pound was not doomed, as Osborne warned, Brown would have said so. He has a history of being able to produce tractor production statistics on demand (even if they turn out to be irrelevant or misleading), so his decision to attack Osborne himself rather than what the man said is very revealing.

It is still more revealing to see how weak is the attack; to have to invent a constitutional convention out of thin air is frankly hopeless. If, as the BBC reports:

former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke said he had not heard "of any convention that opposition politicians - including the shadow chancellor - cannot comment on sterling"

then we truly know that Brown is desperately scraping the barrel for anything that supports his position.

Then, of course, we see that the attack comes not from the Chancellor, but from Brown and Mandelson. Whilst Mandy did well on the Today programme, lasting a good two minutes by my measure, his mere presence shows that the only available counter to Osborne is political - not economic.

Blue Eyes is right. We shouldn't be shooting the messenger; we should shoot the pianist.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

OMG

I've just realised;
  • I own my home, with a mortgage
  • I drive a sensible diesel automatic family saloon
  • I'm married
  • I have two kids
  • I worry about their 11+ prospects
  • I commute to work,
  • listening to Radio 4 on the way,
  • and, on arrival, work (mainly) at a desk all day
  • Describing myself as "mid-30s" is becoming increasingly unsustainable
  • Watching "Life on Mars" was nostalgia, not education
OMG, I'm middle-aged. When did that happen?

Friday, 14 November 2008

P

I can't add anything useful or coherent to the general rush of comment about this baby. Nor do I want to; thinking too closely about the poor child upsets me to the point of being unproductive.

However, a different angle sprang to mind while reading this article posted on Ambush Predator. The Telegraph commented that:
There was nothing inevitable about Baby P's death. It was largely the result of a series of poor and negligent decisions taken by numerous individuals, each of whom assumed that final responsibility could be passed on to someone else within the vast, bureaucratic system. It was about allowing a child to be killed.

Now, the charge levied against the "mother and two other men" involved - a description that surely begs more questions that it answers - was "causing or allowing the death of a child". This was one of New Labour's laws. As it happens, I agree with the aim of the law - to prevent two parents (for example) pointing the finger at each other and therefore both escaping justice as neither can be proved beyond reasonable doubt to have been responsible for the death. However, New Labour have a habit of drafting laws somewhat too loosely so that they have a reach which is unintended. We all recall draft laws on religious freedom that touch on reasonable comedy, anti-terror laws that let councils snoop on alleged bin cheats and the like, and the subject of the Human Rights Act could keep many bloggers busy for years (and does...).

So, I can't help but wonder ... if Haringey's staff visited P 50 to 60 times, saw that injuries were being sustained, saw that the injuries stopped when P was taken away from the family home, and did nothing, are the authorities not also guilty of "allowing the death of a child" ?

We should run that one past Ed Balls in his capacity as the responsible Minister; maybe then they'll start thinking a bit more carefully about the quality of the laws then pass.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Mmm... Tax Cuts

So the three parties are now in agreement that taxes should be cut in order to save us from a catastrophic recession. The only arguments are about how much and where.

I'm confused, though. If tax cuts are the way to help in recession, then why was Gordon's ever-increasing level of spending, taxation and borrowing the right way to prepare us for the coming storm?

Or did Gordon not notice any of the looming signs?

Someone should ask him. Dave?

Monday, 10 November 2008

How Kind.

JuliaM at Ambush Predator is wondering whether Gordon is getting ready for a General Election. I do hope so, mainly because I feel that prolonged rule by a Prime Minister who has never put himself before the people for a mandate and who appears to have avoided doing so precisely because he was told they would reject him is in principle wrong.

Anyway, she mentions a range of measures that re apparently being considered, including the abolition of Stamp Duty. Oh dear; I can hear the plaintive cries of those around me as I read that. You see, I have a slight bee in my bonnet about Gordon Brown and Stamp Duty, ever since 2004 when I moved into my present house. It was a little later in the process of conveyancing than would have been prudent that I actually worked out the Stamp Duty bill on the new house. Suffice to say that the 4% rate applied. That's 4% of the value of my house, in cash, on the nail. Ouch.

Fortunately, we had the cash; we had looked at the house and decided that three things needed doing; the (original wooden) windows needed replacing with something modern, the kitchen needed replacing, and the garden needed a lot of help. We reckoned we had the cash to do one project per year; the most urgent being the windows as the existing ones were very draughty and the house was therefore quite cold.

However, once I moved in I faced a simple choice. Pay the Stamp Duty bill, or replace all the windows and doors with new double-glazed units. Guess which one won.

So, that was a nice policy, Gordon. You got the cash, I didn't get my windows, and the local business didn't get the custom. Very good for the environment and for local businesses. Then I visit these wonderful people and read their very good book and I weep that the money Gordon held back from the firm that (eventually) did the work for me was so shamefully wasted.

It doesn't help that I worked out that, had I spent the money on the windows, and had the contractors paid their staff (who would pay tax) and their suppliers (who have staff), and had all those staff spent their after tax income, then the income tax bills and the VAT income would eventually have been close to 75% of the Stamp Duty bill anyway. Except, of course, that lots of "hard-working families" would have benefited along the way.

Perhaps, sometimes, people spending their own money in their own community might spend it better than Whitehall. Dave; there's a soundbite for you. Get on it.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Real Multiculturalism

I'm very glad to see that at least one member of the High Wycombe Muslim population has integrated herself properly into British society. She has evidently studied our ways carefully, and adopted our way of life as her own.

While I was driving through Wycombe this evening, she chose to pull out onto a roundabout directly in front of me, despite having had a clear view of my approach. I naturally screeched to a halt. Through her driver's window, I quite clearly saw the burka-clad lady lift her hand from the steering wheel to display the traditional British two-fingered salute. What more British way could there be to apologise for obstructing my path, and express her gratitude for my exercise of due care and attention in not ramming the side of her car, for not injuring the young children that could just be seen peeking over the window sills and learning Britishness from their (presumably) mother's example.

Does it not make a perfect picture of 21st century Britain? Two fingers stuck up in front of a burka?

Get yourself a good lawyer

Time for a serious post.

I am helping in a piece of trade mark litigation at the moment, which I will not identify for obvious reasons. Suffice to say that my client's mark is registered, has been for decades, has been in continuous use for all that time and is well known in the trade concerned. The other party is using an identical trade mark on identical goods. Ask any trade mark professional; intellectual property disputes don't get much more clear-cut than this one.

Anyway, the usual has happened; the infringer stuck his head in the sand and hoped we'd go away. We didn't; we trotted down the Strand and brought proceedings. So he went off to get himself a good lawyer.

Now, I don't know how the conversations with the lawyers he sounded out went, and nor should I. All I do know is that a defence and counterclaim was filed that contained a number of different grounds on which it was asserted that our client's claim should fail. These each fell into one of two different categories; (a) hopeless, and (b) untruthful. We have spent the time since then picking them off one by one, and should (all being well) get judgement in a month or so. Meanwhile, the infringer's firm has been placed in liquidation with large debts to its trade creditors. Whether the legal bills pushed him over the edge into liquidation is a matter for speculation; the debts of the company are substantially more than the legal costs involved, so I surmise that we were not the principal cause.

What his lawyers have done is to take £10-15k off him in return for making our life more difficult and delaying judgement by perhaps 5 months. The result of this is that the costs bill which will land on his (personal) lap will be £20k instead of £5k.

Now, if he or his lawyers had responded to our repeated offers of settlement, and used some of that £10-k to compensate my client, all of this would have gone away and he would have been at least £15k better off at the end. But that would not have benefited his lawyers to the same degree, the same lawyers who advised him on whether there were any good defences to the action.

This is not the first time that I have seen this. What is worse, those with experience in IP law know which firms are most prone to it; they know, when they see a defence being served under cover of certain letterheads, that the case is about to get more irritating. Note: not more difficult, but more irritating. What I think is going on is that the client will go round the local lawyers seeking advice; maybe 9 will say "No hope, try to settle it" but the tenth will say "No worries, there are plenty of defences you can bring". Then, to the lay client, the tenth sounds like a good lawyer who can think laterally and use the law to the client's advantage. The other 9 sound uninspiring and lazy.

This arises from the concept that we have developed of "A Good Lawyer" as someone who can, for a fee, get you off anything. There is a belief that the law is so complex and (basically) unfair that it is capable of manipulation by the right hands to achieve any desired result. The belief is that litigation is (essentially) won by force of arms and that the most expensive lawyer will win.

This is simply not true. I agree that at the margins, there are legal issues which are complex. I also agree that a good lawyer is a valuable asset. I especially agree that a competent lawyer will run rings round an incompetent one. But if you go into litigation believing only in your lawyer, not in the merits of your case, then prepare to lose your shirt.

Especially if I'm on the other side ;-)

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Monday, 27 October 2008

Vote SNP - Save a life!

This was the view from my driveway this morning, as I set off for work on the first Monday after the clocks changed.
Bright, isn't it!

Of course, it had been bright enough to drive for about an hour previously, and it will be dark when I drive home. So I get to drive to work, bright and alert, in the light. I get to drive home, tired and rather less alert, in the dark. This is self-evidently silly, and I read reports over the weekend that estimates of the effect of this run to hundreds of lives, or about 10% of all road deaths.

We are told that we have to keep to the current system for the benefit of farmers and Scots. Now, pleading the plight of a farmer is silly. The clock by which London businessess run their day is irrelevant to a cow. What does Daisy care whether the clock says 6am or 7am when she is milked? All she knows is that it is sunrise.

As for the Scots, it is pointed out that sticking to British Summer Time all year round would mean that in parts of Scotland, sunrise would sometimes be at 10am. I can understand that being a problem. I wouldn't like that. But isn't this why we have devolution? So that where there is a wide difference of opinion, we can each go our own way? An independent Scotland could make its own mind up whether it preferred sunrise at 9am or 10am, and whether this was better enough to justify an hour's difference with the rest of the UK.
So, on balance, I'm coming to the view that Scotland should have its independence. It is a purely incidental benefit that we could rule out Scots from participation in the English (, Welsh & N. Irish?) Parliament and Cabinet...

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Another small step?

My local bobbies are thinking about a new uniform.

It consists of a black shirt, "combat style" trousers, and a black baseball cap. There are some pictures in the local paper, and they basically look like riot police, or a paramilitary force of some sort. My immediate reactionwas that it would go nicely with a big black stick and a stern frown.

This is, I think, very sad. It is a recognition of the divide that now exists between police officers and members of the public. It will look as if officers are working on the assumption that anyone they meet will need to be apprehended, forcefully. An officer's uniform is currently (essentially) an ordinary pair of trousers, and ordinary shirt, and a tie. Yes, a stab vest is added on top together with various bits of kit, but they are essentially wearing the same type of clothes as a (respectable) member of the public. Now, they want to look like a militaristic force.

There are already plenty of signs that we are moving towards (or are already) a surveillance state. This feels like another small step into a police state, frankly.

Bad losers....

It seems that the French are having a meeting of historians at which they're going to accuse us of war crimes and cheating at Agincourt. Apparently, the reason they lost wasn't at all due to it being a meeting of excellent troops led by visionary tacticians meeting a bunch of garlic-smelling cheese-eating surrender monkeys. :o)

Also, it seems that we were quite nasty to them on the battlefield, and probably caused their soldiers a lot of pain and suffering. Gosh - anyone might think we were at war with them at the time, or that it was, like, the Middle Ages or something.

I might be inclined to give all this some credence, except that:
no English academics have been invited to today's conference in France

together with the small point that they've had 593 years to think up a good explanation and this is the best they can manage. So, maybe not, then.

Admit it. You were panned. Now stop whinging and get on with something more useful.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Freedom to waste money

Yesterday, I commented on Letters From A Tory that:
When taxes go up, the public services that we use never seem to get any better and all we see are more diversity consultants (etc), but if anyone suggests that taxes be reduced, then Labour cries that it is inevitable that the axe will fall on front-line police, nurses, MRI scanners and so on.

Well, it has taken me until this morning to see an example of pointless Government waste. Now, it's only a little one, but it betrays an attitude. It's one that came to my attention through my work, so prepare yourself for the dry dull world of intellectual property....

First, take a look at this trade mark registration: "Freedom of information", plus a logo. This was filed on 19 June 2004.

Next, take a look at this one: "Rhyddid Gwybodaeth" plus the same logo. I'm assuming this is Welsh for "Freedom of Information". Please correct me if it isn't. Anyway, this was filed a few weeks later, on 12 July 2004.

Then, have a look at this one, for both phrases and the same logo, also filed on 12 July 2004.

I shall leave aside entirely the question as to whether arms of government should be applying for trade marks at all. That is a different question, and one where there is scope for argument. However, if we accept (for now) the thesis that they can and they should, I think we can take it as a given that they should do so in an efficient manner.

Now, all three applications were filed by "Peter H Rimmer, Independent Communications and Marketing Consultant" on behalf of the Department for Constitutional Affairs. So far as I can tell, Mr Rimmer is not qualified as a trade mark agent. In fact, Mr Rimmer doesn't seem to know the first thing about trade mark procedure (alternatively, he is a crook; I suspect the former, though). The reason is that UK law allows trade mark applications to be filed as a "series" of marks, provided the marks in the series do not differ in their material particulars (Section 41 of the Trade Marks Act 1994). This means that all three marks could have been included within a single trade mark application. Or, to put it another way, Mr Rimmer's charges for this exercise were three times what they needed to be. (I don't know if he personally made a charge for each application, but there will have been a £200 fee per application levied by the Patent Office.)

Now, it is pretty clear to me what happened, based on past experience of clients. The DCA no doubt asked him to register the first mark, then subsequently realised that NuLab's crusade of pointless political correctness required them to have a version in Welsh as well - so asked him to do that one too. You can't add trade marks to an application after filing, so the DCA's administrative cockup is the first contribution to the waste.

Now, a professional trade mark agent (such as yours truly) who both knows the law and acts ethically within the rules of ITMA (the professional body for people qualified in this field) would have asked them whether they really wanted to register the Welsh version as well. Quite simply, sections 10(2) and 46(2) of the 1994 Act provides that registrations also cover the use of similar marks, so registering the same mark in Welsh as well as English adds nothing useful. I don't know whether Mr Rimmer pointed this out to the DCA, but if he didn't do so then he should have done.

If he did, but the DCA decided to go ahead, then they are willfully wasting our money. If he knew about the point but didn't say, then he is deliberately overcharging. If he didn't know, then his incompetence has cost us £400 plus any charges he levied on the DCA.

Then there is the fact that two applications were filed on 12 July 2004. Whatever the DCA did or did not do, these applications could have been filed as one thereby halving the cost (and possibly halving any fees charged by Mr Rimmer).

However you slice this, and whatever Mr Rimmer's charging structure, the cost of this exercise was three times what it needed to be, thanks to the DCA and Mr Rimmer. Multiply that up across Government, and there is scope for spending cuts.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Friday, 17 October 2008

Ah! My point exactly!

It's always nice when someone agrees with you. Especially when they're at the Spectator Coffee House, which has just posted an article pointing out that if Brown had not taken so much in tax, we'd all be better able to cope with the crunch.

I've pointed out before that my share of the Brown tax rises is (roughly) enough to pay off my mortgage. So had it not been for Brown, I would not need one penny of borrowing today. Now, not everyone is in that position (I've been very reluctant to borrow the huge sums that have been offered to me, for reasons which have turned out to be right) but had that money not been taxed and wasted, we'd all be in a more stable position now.

And on a final thought; £57 billion is indeed a lot of money ... but is also close to an eery multiple of the 60 million who live here. Which would work best; giving the banks close to £60 billion to shore up their balance sheets, or giving every man woman and child in the country a grand to, err, put in the bank?

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Just a Today Minute

I have an hour or so's drive to and from work each day, during which time Radio 4 is my default listening. In the morning, that does of course mean the Today programme.

It used to irritate me, for the usual and obvious reasons - primarily the old chestnut that the Today programme never saw a problem that could not be solved by throwing Government money at it. But I've found a way round this.

Usually, there will be an interview with a New Labourite. All you have to do is apply the rules of Just a Minute, with minor adjustments. Nicholas Parsons adjudicates as to whether a panellist has displayed hesitation, deviation or repitition; I listen to the Minister for the Day to see whether s/he is displaying obfuscation, avoidance of the question, or simple downright untruthfulness. If I should detect any, I get to press the buzzer which, in my car, is the "iPod" button.

It's much more fun than listening to their usual drivel. I just wish that one day, one of them would manage a whole minute.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Whether to be a Magistrate

I asked the question earlier as to whether I should be a Magistrate. I was concerned that the fact that I disagreed with such a large proportion of the current approach to criminal justice might make it a futile effort. You all urged me to go for it anyway and be an agent for change from within.

I've decided not to apply, though. Sorry.

I'm just looking at the Courts page of my local rag, reporting the last few weeks at the Mags Court. We have:

16 people done for lack of proper vehicle excise duty. Fines vary up to £350, plus an order to pay back tax of between £10 and £105.

Then we have a bloke who was done for:
  • failed to comply with a community order
  • failed to surrender for bail
  • four (4) separate counts of theft

After a complete day in court devoted to him alone, this bloke was given several prison sentences of six weeks each .... but all were suspended. So, in other words, nothing. Yes, I know that if he does anything else then he should go to prison, but he's already breached a community order and his bail terms and nothing has been done about it. So exactly why should I have any faith that if he breaches the terms of the suspended sentences then anything will happen?? Anyway, a suspended sentence is meant to be for people who are thought unlikely to offend again, but he has been found guilty of four separate burglaries and already has a criminal record!

Others with just one count of theft also get a suspended sentence or a community order which (as seen above) need not be complied with. Threatening behaviour gets you an £85 fine; criminal damage weighs in at £250 plus compensation.

Then we get the drivers; between them they have, it seems, been ignoring closed lanes and driving without a licence. They get fined (between £60 and £230) and required to pay costs. Points are given out. Now the speeders. Various infringements of 30 limits get fines of £295, £120, £330, £100, £130 and £60. Being uninsured gets you a fine of a £525 fine. Finally, a drunk driver gets a £130 fine and an 18 month ban.

Now, there is a clear pattern here. Break a motoring rule, and the law will be applied to you; especially if (horror of horrors) your offence involves denying revenue to the Government. However, ruin people's lives through theft and nothing is done. You walk free, with only an instruction not to do it again.

I want nothing to do with that system. If I felt that the system was merely flawed, then it would be worth working within it to do the best I could. But this is totally topsy-turvy. Motoring offences are subjected to the full weight of the law, and given sentences which are (probably) fair. Anything more serious, though, is just let off.

And that would drive me mad.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Autumn

Is a beautiful month. Hughenden manor:






I quite envy Disraeli, sometimes.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Don't try this at home pt2

I commented earlier that I had worked out how much my share was of the £100bn that Gordon Brown had (allegedly) wasted. I've just re-done the calculations based on the trillion quid of extra taxes said to have been raised by Gordon over the 11 years of Labour rule.

When I reached a figure I was certain of, I had to sit down. Even without interest, it was roughly the same as my outstanding mortgage. And breathe...

Frankly, it highlights everything Cameron is saying about Gordon's mismanagement. Never mind failing to mend the roof; if Gordon had left that money in my hands then I would not now need one single pound of credit in order to live. Multiply that by everyone else, and think how much better our financial prospects would look. OK, there might be fewer social workers and diversity co-ordinators, but (on balance) I think I'd benefit more from having no mortgage than from knowing that my Council's diversity balance is fully and properly co-ordinated.

I really must stop doing this, preferably before I get an ulcer.

Monday, 29 September 2008

On the attack at last...

At long last, we have it - an open attack on Brown's running of the economy by Cameron.

I'd like to add (yet) another front. In short, we are were we are because too much money has been borrowed and not enough has been earned. After all, why work hard when your house appreciates enough to cover what you want to spend, interest rates are so low, and so many banks are willing to lend it to you?

It strikes me that house prices were being inflated because interest rates were so low. It doesn't take much knowledge to realise that if the stock of stuff for sale stays the same and the ability of the buyers to pay for it increases dramatically, the price will go up. So the root cause of the price inflation was the low rates, which Brown still sounded extremely pleased about last week.

And why are rates low? Because the Bank of England is keeping them there. Why? Because they act under instructions from Brown to keep inflation within certain limits.

And who defines inflation? Brown. As is now common knowledge, Brown's definition of inflation excludes such unnecesary items as fuel and Council Tax, which happen to be rising quite quickly, and grossly underestimates the price rises of "essential" items such as personal computers. It also automatically excludes anything whose price is rising inconveniently quickly. (As an aside, I'm tempted to experiment by explaining to my local Council that Mr Brown says that Council Tax is inessential, so I'm going to try going without it for a year or two...)

So the official CPI inflation rate consistently underestimates what is actually happening in the economy, and the Bank is required to track that. So, inevitably, its rates will be consistently too low.

All very good news for the headlines, which say that inflation is low and interest rates are low. Except that it's all lies.

And what single common thread runs through all of these mistakes and lies? Brown.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Don't try this at home

I'm reading the Bumper Book of Government Waste at the moment. It reaches the conclusion that this Government has so far managed to waste about £100bn.

Now, figures like that are always hard to put in context. Inevitably, some money will always be wasted - I wouldn't be so arrogant as to suggest that I have never wasted any, for example. So we can't expect HMG to get every spending decision spot on. So I wondered how I could make that figure meaningful.

Then I realised - I know roughly what I pay in tax each year. I know the total tax revenue is of the order of £500bn, so if I divide one into the other, I get the proportion of tax revenue that comes from me. Reassuringly, it is quite a small percentage. However, when I multiplied that by £100bn, I was left with a number that was roughly equal to my total pension savings to date. That, I will admit, made me stop and think.

In short, if Gordon was not such of a wasteful taxgrabbing inefficient narrowminded unfair (yes, unfair) apology for a leader, my pension would be twice its current level. Or I could have a new car; a very very nice new car.

That is theft; I want it back.

Anyway, I'm now very angry, which is not good for the body or for the soul. So I don't recommend that you try this exercise.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Gordon Doesn't Get it ... part 2

So .... to save his political skin, in the face of a widespread feeling amongst voters that they are (or soon will be) short of cash, that the problems the country faces are urgent, and the the fault lies with years of excessive taxation that funded wasteful spending...

Gordon promises that at some point over the next ten years he will spend more on nursery education.

It really is beyond satire.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Wizard idea, Gordon

So JK Rowling is going to give loads of cash to New Labour, because they're more likely to help poor impoverished single Mums ... like her.

What? Did I miss the moment in her life story when a social worker dropped by to suggest a plotline to her? And when Gordon Brown as Chancellor provided the publishing advance for her first book? And when the official Government printing presses rolled to produce her books and lift her (and her children) from poverty?

No .... it was private enterprise that took her from poverty to a £500M+ net worth. Individual endeavor. Capitalism, in short. Her own hard work, her own inspiration, combined with the seed funding of other private enterprise. Wake up, girl.

Maybe this reveals Gordon's last hope - that just as the backbench rebels close in, just as Lord Milli... err .. Voldemort arives for the kill, good old Dumbledore will appear and save Gordon's skin.

Some hope, I suspect....

Friday, 19 September 2008

Blair Goes to Yale

Ah! Zis iz yust ze newz I hav bin vating vor all zeez yearz...


Oh ... hang on, you mean the University? Oh well.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

A Quick Dose of Realism

...courtesy of indexed


With friends like these....

So, at last, Labour's heavyweights have been persuaded to wade in to support Gordon. To show that the Cabinet is united behind him. To show that we do actually have a Government. Heavyweights in the form of .....

John Prescott

Oh please. Is that really the best Gordon can muster? An ex-Cabinet Minister renowned for his inability to construct a coherent sentence, let alone a coherent argument. Frankly, his performance on the Today programme was pathetic - riddled with assumptions, factual inaccuracies, and non-sequitors covered with a thin veneer of arrogance and naked irritation. A typical Prescott interview, in fact.

Tick, tick ...

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Wow.

The Spectator has surprising news, if it checks out:
UK Polling Report's Anthony Wells is reporting a rumour that the Tories could have broken the 50 percent mark in tomorrow's MORI poll. The (very much unconfirmed) figures have the Tories at 52 percent, Labour at 24 percent...

It used to be that the difference between the winning party and the losing party lay in which was above and which was below 30%. To have a party actualy above 50% is unheard of, at least in my recollection.

So much for the "Brown bounce" ....


UPDATE: Results now confirmed...

Fun as it is...

...to watch Gordon suffer, I do wonder if it is the best use of our resources. Put simply:

  • There does, for once, seem to be a genuine crisis in the international economy which could affect us all, not just a few (formerly) rich bankers.
  • We are, effectively, at war - on two fronts at the same time.
  • There is apparently a terrorist threat from within our own borders that could place us (or some of us) in mortal danger.
  • Food and fuel prices are rising to a point that raises concerns about the ability of some to meet the (truly) basic elements of living.
And what preoccupies our Government? We don't have a PM's Special Envoy for Forestry any more. We don't have a Minister for Second Guessing the Scottish Parliament any more. Oh dear. How terrible.

This has to stop. Now. And, like it or not, it is his responsibility as PM to stop it. If that takes a leadership election, so be it.

But honestly; who really thinks Brown will have the balls to do what Major did?


UPDATE - Gordon is busy - he's found the time to mull over old injuries. FFS, Gordon, is that the best you can do?

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Is a futile effort worth making?

There's an interesting post over at the Policeman's Blog, in which a young officer reports on his satisfaction after catching a significant group of burglars, only to realise the lightness of the sentence that would probably be handed down. He (naturally) wonders "what is the point?".

I will shortly be replying with my thoughts on the subject, i.e. that we as members of the public would rather that they continue making the effort, as otherwise the system is doomed. Only if officers keep on arresting burglars (etc) and highlighting the leniency of the sentences can we address the problem. If they stop bringing the burglars to the Courts, then how will anyone be able to notice that the sentences are too lenient?

I was also going to comment, in sympathy, that I had previously considered applying to be a Magistrate but decided not to - I felt that my views on sentencing were so at variance with the official line that I could not be part of such a system. That made me wonder; if I felt that the police should be bringing burglars to Court hearings despite feeling that it was pointless, surely I should apply to be a Magistrate in order to be in a position to change the system?


So: should I? Would the dissenting views of one junior Magistrate on a bench make a difference? Would there be any point at all, given that Magistrates are heavily constrained by sentencing guidelines - and that any departure from these would trigger an appeal?

Is it right to take part in and support a system that you believe is flawed?

Monday, 15 September 2008

Meaningless arguments over meaningless jobs

Gosh. The PM's special envoy for forestry has resigned! Hold the front page!

Someone please tell me. What, exactly, were his duties as the "PM's special envoy for forestry"? How did that help the smooth running of the Government and the country? More seriously, are our national forests safe during the interregnum until a new PM's special envoy for forestry can be appointed?

And, of course, how much extra was he paid in his capacity as the PM's special envoy for forestry? Is there an office for him? Any staff?

Has anyone compared the great benefits that we as a nation obtained from our PM's special envoy for forestry as compared to the cost of retaining a PM's special envoy for forestry? Or is it just a trinket that Gordon tossed out at our expense in his desperate attempt to hold together the bunch of rabid ferrets in a sack commonly known as "Labour MPs"?

In which case, just how many PM's "special envoys" are there?

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

If the CBI called for a reduction in the age of consent, we would ask why it was any business of theirs.

If the Archbishop of Canterbury expressed concern as to the workings of the Companies Act, we would wonder if there was something amiss at Lambeth Palace.

If FIFA said that Formula One races should be run to 75 laps not 50 then we would tell them to stick to football.

So why, when the TUC starts calling for a windfall tax, do we not tell them to shut up and get on with their job of thinking about worker's rights instead? Provided that employers do not mistreat their staff in the process, the fact that they have had a good year is no business of the unions whatsoever. It is, indeed, startling that unions are calling for the people who pay their members' wages to be left with less money with which to do so.

It is almost as if the union movement did not care two hoot about the workers, but merely saw itself as part of a national socialist* movement. It is almost as if we did not have a proper or effective Government in Westminster; as if the TUC sees itself as the puppetmaster.

But that can't possibly be the case, else all "New" Labour's proclamations since Blair appeared will have been duplicitous doublespeak.....


------------------------------------------------
*in view of numerous Labour attacks on civil liberties, I will not be editing that appelation to remove the ambiguity.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Not quite there yet..

Oooh... Gordon is rethinking lots of stuff in the light of popular opinion...

Apparently, Gordon says
"it is time to adapt and rethink New Labour"
policy. Presumably, that doesn't include the policy of retaining him as PM, sadly. Or, indeed, the policy of New Labour remaining in Government and not standing aside to make way for a party that has popular support.

Gordon said there was a
"need to forge a new kind of government... to rise to conquer these challenges".
Would that be a kind of government that ... doesn't include him?

Sadly, that looks unlikely, as he also said:
"We need to be honest with ourselves: while poverty has been reduced and the rise in inequality halted, social mobility has not improved in Britain as we would have wanted"

... which just goes to prove that the "new" ideas will just be more of the same. New Labour cannot understand that social mobility comes from equal access to opportunity. It does not come from confiscatory policies designed to take from those who suceed in upward mobility in order to fund a prescriptive nannying state aimed at trapping the less mobile in their poor, wretched, Labour-voting sink estates (sorry, I don't mean sink estates, I mean thriving publicly-provided local social communities).

And how can you possibly claim that "poverty has been reduced" and "the rise in inequality halted" in the same sentence that you admit "social mobility has not improved"?? Social mobility is the means by which poverty is reduced, the process through which inequality is alleviated. Admit it Gordon, you are either stupid or mendacious. Or, I suppose, both.

Now, as the son of a single parent who grew up on the top floor of a Midlands council high-rise, only to pass the 11+, get a decent education, go to Cambridge, qualify in a profession, work up to partnership level and run the firm, it has been blindingly obvious to me since about the age of 14 that if you want people to rise above the station of their birth, you do so by a meritocratic system in which you reward sucess, offer a good education to anyone willing to receive it, and provide compassion (& a basic level of financial support) to those who are not currently able to support themselves. Otherwise, you (i.e. HMG) leave well alone.

It therefore depresses me, frankly, that we still have to debate this. It is 2008; the Berlin Wall fell over a decade ago. In 1979, I was the age that my son is now - i.e. Thatcherism was literally a generation ago. All the evidence has shown, again and again, that redistributive socialism is an abject failure. Yet here we are, debating this basic, trivial, schoolboy politics.

And we will have to continue doing so until May 2010. If ever there was a thought that makes revolution seem a tempting prospect, it's that one.

Friday, 5 September 2008

No thank you, Ms Mikko

This post from Raedwald is essential reading. It seems that the EU is discussing whether to regulate blogs; apparently even blogs as little-read as this one constitute part of the media, which is regulated, so therefore blogs should be too.

I just cannot improve on Raedwald's summary:
I just cannot begin to comprehend the utter, barking and howling, screaming at the moon, carpet-chewing insanity of these morons.
Yes, that pretty well sums it up.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Tolerance

I've recently become a fan of the xkcd site; it does a good line in geek humour. The current strip is, to my mind, interesting enough to merit wider attention. Here it is:



This, to me, highlights exactly what "tolerance" should be. The long-haired character obviously doesn't particularly like "furries", and I have to say I find the idea a little odd too. However, she is content to let someone else pursue their inexplicable desire to dress up as an animal without seeing the need to criticise them or ostracise them. Equally, she expects the furry to tolerate her disinclination to join in.

We have, I think, lost this concept of tolerance. Tolerance today is not only about letting any approved group (defined as those who can plausibly claim a history of discrimination) do whatever they wish; it has also lost the concept of reciprocity, i.e. the expectation that such groups will respect our desire not to join them. This is not really tolerance, merely collective guilt.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into a cartoon.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Gordon Doesn't Get It.

So, the centrepiece of Gordon's personal recovery plan and his plan to revive the housing market is to introduce government loans to help first-time buyers. He really doesn't understand the problem, clearly.

Over the last eleven years during which he has been running the UK economy (no, Darling, you don't) taxation has quietly but inexorably increased. No-one seriously disputes this now. This has meant that the State has steadily taken more and more of a controlling stake in the conduct of the country; it takes money from all and gives it to those of whom it approves. From now on, the housing market will be able to move forward, provided that those involved have the State's approval.

Of course, if Gordon rolled back the tax increases of the last eleven years, cut official spending back to 1997 levels, and (even better) gave back all the additional money taken from us over those years, we wouldn't need this oh-so-generous help from the State. But I don't see that happening. Instead, we have more State spending, which will be funded by more taxation, which will be administered by more civil servants, who will all have to be paid, sheltered and supplied with paper to shuffle and desks to shuffle them on. And so we will descend further into New Labour's endless death spiral of taxation, spending and waste.

Until 1 May 2009, that is (I sincerely hope...).

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

No Way to Run a Government

It's not really news to report that Gordon Brown is deeply, truly, and quite incredibly unpopular. However, some think that a few policy revisions here, maybe a change of leadership there, and all will be well for the Labour movement. I'm beginning to wonder whether this is true, or whether the UK has (finally) begun to identify a systemic problem with New Labour.

A systemic issue, if one exists, would be one that manifests itself across a range of policies, and in order to be noticed it will have been apparent in a number of recent issues. So let's have a quick look back at recent arguments and issues where New Labour have not done too well.

Of course, the biggie is Northern Rock. If I recall correctly, there was a budding private sector rescuer in the form of Lloyds TSB, but Darling turned down their bid because it looked too expensive and then spent far more on rescuing the bank. Time then passed while he made up his mind as to what to do, by which point the damage to the business was done so no-one wanted it on his terms. So he had no choice but to spend even more and nationalise it.

Then there are the various suggestions that something is going to be done about Stamp Duty, in order to help the housing market. Of course, the natural and sensible reaction of those in the market to suggestions that there might soon be a relaxation of Stamp Duty is to hold on until things become clearer. So by letting it become known that things are being considered, but not saying what they are, New Labour has managed to stop the housing market stone cold ... in the name of helping it.

Car tax has be rumbling as an issue for quite some time. Announcements have been made about what the new rates will be, and they have been (on any measure) quite punitive in respect of quite ordinary cars. Now, in the light of the predictable adverse reaction, it has been leaked that there have been some second thoughts, and that something might be done about it. But, of course, in the meantime people have to get on with their lives. Decisions have to be made about whether to sell, buy, service and repair cars. All these decisions are contingent on the car's value; that (in turn) is dependent on the future rates of tax ... which are uncertain.

Some time ago, new rules for self-invested pension schemes (SIPS) were announced; investors would be able to add any asset they wished, such as a second home. This of course meant that you could buy a second home by the seaside for your pension plan, and only have to pay out 60% of its value, although when you used the home your pension plan would have to charge you a going rate for the use of the property. Many people made plans to use this opportunity; many reached an advanced stage of conveyancing including (I understand) the payment of deposits. Then, it was announced that too many people were planning to take advantage of this provision, so it would not be introduced as planned after all. Whatever you may think of the policy itself, this is no way to treat people.

Finally, we are now discussing a windfall tax. Apparently, it is just Labour backbenchers. Notably, they are not being told to shut up, and nothing is being denied. So, the energy companies who are the likely target must realise which way the wind is blowing, and if they have any sense they are putting money aside. The result of this is that money is being taken out of circulation; it is being neither returned to shareholders nor invested in the energy business. That is a loss to us all, caused directly by Brown's government.

So what is the common thread? In each case, it is the machinery of Government. No official decision is reached quickly or efficiently; there is always a long period of dither while the argument is allowed to run in public until a consensus is reached. Inevitably, it never is; such is the nature of political debate. Then, official decisions are only final decisions if the polls and the focus groups support them, so nothing can be (safely) relied on. No-one in government has the courage of their convictions; either they lack courage, or they lack any real political convictions.

This is where a decade of spin has led us to. A government that has no real set of core values; no ambition beyond power itself. Blair (at least) wanted to be Prime Minister in order to achieve his aims; Brown just wanted to be Prime Minister.

I can't help but remember an old criticism: "In office, but not in power".

A Quick Thought

Taylor Woodrow's profits have fallen, I hear, by 96%. Do those Labour MPs calling for a windfall tax on the energy companies also think that Taylor Woodrow (and others) should receive a corresponding bonus from the taxman?

Or is private enterprise under a Labour Government a case of "heads we win, tails you lose"?

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Funny? Maybe not...

Some time ago, someone posted up a petition on the No. 10 petitions site asking for Jeremy Clarkson to be made Prime Minister. It was obviously a joke, but 49,448 people supported it - which is probably more than would vote for Gordon these days. The petition has now closed.

Now, Number 10 is meant to respond to every petition. In this case, the response has been a little different. Instead of the usual cant - "we've considered this carefully but have decided that we know better", we have been given a video response. A camera shows the view on entering No. 10, scanning past the portraits of past PMs, then rests on a portrait of Clarkson before concluding "Maybe not...".

This is obviously a witty response to a joke petition. Or is it? The Tories have criticised the waste of money involved, which is a bit kneejerk, frankly, and somewhat weak as we can all see that the video must have taken all of 5 minutes to knock up, at best. Others have pointed to the video to prove that there is a real sense of humour in Downing Street. I think there is something more signficant going on. Let's assume that No. 10 decided to make a proper, serious response to the petition. What would it have said? How about:

Jeremy Clarkson can't possibly be Prime Minister because he has not been elected by the people in a General Election

Err, no, there's a small problem there, I think. Ok, how about:

You can't just huddle a few select people in a room to decide who should be PM.

Ooops, hang on, still a problem... Let's try:
Deciding the Prime Minister is not up to us, it's up to the people

Do you get my drift here?

So, instead, they made a (superficially) jokey video that avoided the issue. And it has been swallowed whole. But no; they don't have a sense of humour - they have a guilty conscience.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

The Joy of Summer

I've just got back from my summer hols.

Please, someone, explain to me why it helps to go on holiday when I now have to sit in an office trying to draft patent applications when this image is still fresh on my mind:


Or, when I can still remember the quiet time on the beach before the firework display:

Ah well .... back to work!

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Many people have commented on the planned fixed penalty of £110 for overfilling your bin. Most have pointed out the disparity with the £80 fixed penalty for shoplifting. This is indeed shocking, but is unlikely to be a major issue in practice given that the typical recipients of the £110 fine are unlikely also to be shoplifters.

To my mind, the really dangerous disparity is between the £110 fixed penalty and the fixed penalty fine for fly tipping which, according to this, is only £75.

Am I the only one who sees an obvious problem here...?

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Milliposting

So Milliband is, apparently, a duplicitous non-entity? Two thoughts spring to mind.

First, if he is, surely we should be asking some difficult questions of whoever appointed him to one of our highest ministerial posts? Who would that be, I wonder?

Second, in what way does that distinguish him from any other New Labourite?

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Tough on Investment, Tough on the causes of Investment

NuLab so often bang on about how they are investing in the public services. I've noticed one effect of this.

There is an interesting entry on the Policeman's Blog, about speeding prosecutions for emergency services. In short, a copper says he went to help out a colleague and was disciplined for speeding on the way. He thinks, unsurprisingly, that this is a bit rich. What was he meant to do? Proceed slowly to an emergency?

There are some good comments in the blog, but the best is by Twisted Fire Stopper. I hope I won't offend him by quoting it:

I drive Big Red Lorries for a living, and as there is a system of cameras on our main route out of the station, we are continually served with NIP's- we have a white hat who's only task is to process these notices. So far, there have been no prosecutions, but we have to justify, in writing, to the officer concerned, exactly what we were doing, with incident numbers and weather conditions. Our Brigade (I still can't get used to calling it a "service"!) damagement are in the process of bringing in a "Drive to Arrive" poicy, which will further impede our reponse times. Many of my colleagues are throwing their EFAD licences in, as it is only a matter of time before someone gets points on their licence, or someone dies as a result of a driver keeping his eye on the speedo, rather than on the road!

(my emphasis)

As I commented here on Tyresmoke, this tells us that:

(i) his fire station has a full-time person for dealing with this. So now we know where some of the "investment in public services" that NuLab trumpets is actually going ... i.e. to people who create NIPs, firemen who explain that the big red thing in the picture with the flashing blue lights on top is a ... duh ... fire engine ... and people who read the reply from the fireman and cancel out the work of the first person in the chain.

(ii) his colleagues are not stupid; they can see that if the bod in the office slips up, their own licence will get endorsed as a result of them doing their duty, so they are refusing to drive the tenders. So now we know the result of all that investment in public services ... a reduction in the effectiveness of our fire service.

In short, this "investment" made on our behalf by NuLab includes pointless administrative paper shuffling and results in a worse public service. This, I think, is a point that Cameron needs to start making; that there is more to Government than making laws and spending money. You need to think, too. You need to exercise intelligence. You need to manage the arms of Government. And it is about time that someone with management skills was put in No. 10.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Time to Give in to Strikers

Apparently loads of public sector workers went on strike on Wednesday.

Did anyone notice a difference? I didn't. So why not let them stay on strike on a permanent basis? They could have a good rest, and perhaps enjoy walking up and down Kingsway from time to time, and we could actually reduce public expenditure for once.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Thanks Gordon!

We are, are we not, truly lucky to be ruled by such a caring government. Truly fortunate to have, in Gordon Brown, a PM who is so attuned to the needs of the people that he is willing and able to step in at a moments notice, just before the next by-election, feel our economic pain, and not make things even harder for us.

[/sarcastic]

I mean, of course, the cancellation of the 2p rise in fuel duty. Oh, hang on, its not cancelled, just postponed. Again.

Some please tell me - what planet does Gordon live on?

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Global Warming - An inexpert view

It seems to me that the current political consensus as to climate change rests on a number of assumptions:

  • that there is bidirectional link between atmospheric CO2 content and average global temperatures,

  • that it is possible for us to control atmospheric CO2 content,

  • that changes in the global climate inherently dangerous and should be avoided

  • that the degree of danger is such that changes of that nature should, if necessary, be avoided at (literally) any cost

Only if all four of these are true should we be seriously considering embarking on a major and expensive change to the rules governing our economy. Even then, the case is not made out; that economic system is, like it or not, the one that has made (many of) us comfortable, safe and well fed. We should tamper with this only when the case is clear. So, the fifth of my criteria is:

  • that the precautionary principle, i.e. that we do not mend things that aren't broken, does not require us to remain with the existing system that has for so long served us well.

With this background in mind, I'm going to try to look at each one in turn. As I type this, I'm sceptical (but not certain) about the first, fourth and fifth. I think the second is utter rubbish, whilst I'm quite sympathetic to the fourth. We'll see how I feel after I've given thought to each.