Thursday, 31 December 2009

2010 Resolutions

Just two this year, in the hope that I can stick to them.

First, I shall make every effort to settle down to sleep at a reasonable hour. That begins tonight, by the way.

Second, I shall use the Landy as an excuse to get out for fresh air and exercise.

Together, these will mean that I will be more awake, alert, and lively during 2010.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Shock News: Blogger heeds own advice

It's the winter, so the greenies are of course discussing "climate change", as they have noticed the hollow laughs that now result from use of the term "global warming". "Climate change" is a much more convenient term, as it allows them to blame anything other than a mid-grey, overcast sky on us - including the recent snowfalls.

It was, of course, back in the dim and distant days of "global warming" that the Indescribably Boring reported* that "Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past". To support this, they are able to quote a no less authoritative figure than Dr David Viner, a "senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia", that:

within a few years winter snowfall will become "a very rare and exciting event"
Please don't laugh all at once. In case I need to remind you, here is a recent view that I posted at Patently Photographic:



One swallow does not make a summer, of course, so here is one from February this year:


Rare and exciting, indeed. So rare, and so exciting, that I have been stranded at home in the snow pretty well every winter since I moved to the Chilterns about 6 years ago.

Anyway, my consistent approach has been that if climate change is happening, then it is (a) by no means certain that we are the cause, (b) by no means certain that we can stop it, and (c) by no means certain that even if we could stop it, the cost of doing so (in both monetary and other terms) would be less than the damage inflicted. Therefore, my prescription is that we should do what we have always done in the face of change; cope.

I am, though, coming to the conclusion that the geomorphology of the Chilterns means that snow is both more likely than in other areas, and essentially impossible to cope with when it does come - at least for those of us who insist on using fat-tyred German rear-wheel-drive cars (see above). So, in line with my own advice, I have decided to cope with the regular snow. Here is my means of coping:

She arrives a week tomorrow. Eat your heart out, Greenpeace.

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*many thanks to Albert for the link to the EUReferendum site which refers to the Independent article.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Sunday, 20 December 2009

If Gordon came for dinner

A poll has been published - the pollsters are oviously getting bored with reporting consistent Tory leads, so have added a few "different" questions. It seems that more people would have dinner with Gordon than with Dave.

I'm not surprised. Not surprised at all.

As I tweeted earlier today, I'd love to have dinner with Gordon - I'm just not sure he'd enjoy the experience. Oxford Spring made the scurrilous (utterly scurrilous!) comment that I might spike his cranberry sauce, but in fact my plan was that he would only be there for the conversation. The food would be for us. Just imagine...

"So then, anyone know the current gold price?"

"It must be lovely knowing that the people voted you in to No. 10 ... oh, err.."

Another idea would be to serve up a plate for everyone except Gordon. He would start with an empty plate, but then we would scoop 60% of everyone else's food onto his plate. Then, we could look round to see who had the most left, and shout that this was unfair - so unfair! So, just this year, we should make a special deduction from their plate and pile in onto Gordon's.

What would you say or do if Gordon was coming for dinner?

Monday, 14 December 2009

A Manifesto for a New Politics

(Warning: long discursive post. Go and get a cup of tea)

In the short term, the principal political objective for this country must be to remove Gordon Brown and New Labour from power. When the house is burning, the first step is to get rid of the arsonist. Nothing in this post is intended to suggest otherwise, or to detract from the efforts to secure this end.

However, starting from the premise that the repute in which this country's politics is held has declined hugely over the last decade or so, there is clearly much that needs to be done in addition to sorting out the financial hole in which we find ourselves. This post is an attempt to look at this, and (perhaps somewhat precociously) suggest a way forward.

The first task is to stop the development of politics as a profession. That one single development is responsible for most of the decline in our system. I recall distinctly the students at my university who saw a life in politics as their only ambition; they wanted to become an MP's researcher on graduation so that they could start their climb up the greasy pole, in the hope of reaching the point where they were in charge of a wide range of things - things of which they would have gained no experience or knowledge. I also recall the general intellectual quality of those students; it was not high.

The first phase, therefore, is to convert politics from a career done for personal benefit into a voluntary sabbatical done for the benefit of others. In six steps:
  1. The simplest way to stop politics being a career is to sack any career politicians. The easiest way of doing that is to impose term limits; I would suggest a maximum of two Parliaments, although a specific number of years may be a fairer method. The usual criticism of this is that it weeds out the experienced politicians, but my other proposals (below) will deal with that. I would envisage that the PM would be the only exception.*

  2. To get rid of career politicians, require a mandatory open selection process for every party in every constituency for every election. There will always be safe seats, but they should be safe for the party that holds them, not the incumbent MP. Every MP must know that, come the next election, they will have to justify their continued tenure of their seat.

  3. Each MP's salary should be their income prior to being elected. I have suggested this before, to a mixed response. Essentially, the argument is that if they could survive on it then, they can now. It re-inforces the argument that politics should become a temporary period of your life when you leave your previous career and devote yourself to the country instead. It should be neither a well-paid profitable move, nor such an expense that it is ruled out for any.

  4. Candidates for party selection must not have been MPs before, to prevent the term limits from being side-stepped.

  5. Candidates must have lived in their constituency since the previous election. An MP is a local representative and should know the locality.

  6. MP's expenses should be limited to HMRC-allowable expenses only. Those rules apply to us, and are indeed imposed on us by MPs. If there is a problem with those rules, MPs should change them for all of us. In the same vein, just like the rest of us, the taxpayer should retain ownership of any tangible item that is expensed, be it a duck house or a second home.

These measures should change the nature of an incoming Parliament. It should move politics away from people who see politics as a means for self-advancement, and towards those willing to give up maybe 10 years of the life to the common good.

It then remains to change the way in which that Parliament operates. This requires several adjustments, which are probably just the start. I (personally) do not have the necessary knowledge or experience to go further, but these are the start.
  1. The Lords should remain, but as an amending chamber only, its purpose being to offer expert scrutiny on any subject. Hereditary peers are an embarassment and should not be able to sit. To provide the chamber with the necessary experience, the heads of the various professions should be nominated to sit for a term. To avoid conflicts of interests, they should perhaps gain their seat after they have retired from active work in their profession. The Lords Spiritual and Legal are there to offer expert guidance; in the modern world it is right that they should be supplemented with Lords expert in the worlds of business, commerce, plumbing, building, HR, medicine, forestry, and so on (and maybe even intellectual property). Members of the Lords would be expected to attend, on the same pay & rations as the Commons.

  2. There should be no Ministers in the Lords; their primary task is to scrutinise and criticise government bills. If they need the Minister to attend to explain why the bill is needed, they should summon him/her to give evidence in committee.

  3. PMQs should be twice weekly, and for a hour. Half an hour is not long enough to develop any reasonable discussion. Questions must be answered, if possible, with the session being extended by the Speaker if the PM prevaricates. The only acceptable definition of "impossible" should be if the PM admits there and then that he doesn't know the answer and needs to look it up.

  4. Ministers need not be MPs; anyone selected by the PM who has the necessary experience can be appointed by the PM. It is, after all, his or her job to form a government. Having entrusted that task to the PM, we should grant the PM the freedom to select the people that the PM thinks will do the best job. The pool should not be arbitrarily limited to whoever happens to have been selected for a sufficiently safe seat; we should have the best candidates for the job. To provide scrutiny, incoming Ministers must be presented to Parliament and ratified within a set period after their apointment.

Then, there are a number of major issues that have been shamefully ignored as a result of the staleness of our political system:

  1. There should be an in/out referendum on the EU. The issue is a running sore in UK politics, because it is never addressed. It is long time that it was put to bed; debate it, ask the people, and then live with their answer.

  2. Given the rate at which the EU's policy changes and progresses, there should be a periodic renewal of an "in" vote - say every 10 or 20 years. The aim here is to place a check on the EU's ambitions and on the willingness of UK Ministers to negotiate away things that we regard as important. The message should be simple; engage with the EU, but do not go too far as the people will be getting a chance to vote on it.

  3. Tariffs shold be set at zero for any country that offers reciprocity to us. This would allow us to trade on equal terms with the third world. At the moment, for some of the goods that the third world are able to produce, they have to pay higher EU import tariffs than do US exporters. This is, quite simply, insane. We should take a lead, and say that if any country is willing to drop all import tariffs on all UK goods, then we will do the same for their goods. This is, I realise, inconsistent with EU rules; that is what lawyers are for, though.

  4. In return, there should be no more foreign aid. If such aid was ever going to work, it would have by now. It hasn't. They're still poor. Trade with them instead.

  5. Benefits should be a safety net. They are essential for that purpose. They should provide the minimum necessary on which to survive and look for work. If they have reached the point where they equal or exceed the (market-determined) salary achievable in employment, then they are too high. Harsh, but true.

  6. Instead of paying people to stay at home on benefits, we should encourage employment by lightening employment regulation. This needs a counterbalance, which should be in the form of more widespread union membership. We should encourage the establishment of new unions, one for each employer if necessary. Government could, for example, provide funding for the establishment costs of any new union in the first 'x' years, for any group of employees who wished to set one up. The TUC should be required to allow all the new unions in, on equal terms.

  7. And finally, implement "The Plan" in full.
This is not intended to be a manifesto of the Right or of the Left. It is an approach inspired by the mantra "what matters is what works", which came from someone who is definitely not on my Christmas Card list. It is, as we were told 12 years ago, time to drop the false dogma of right and left, and recognise that there are many other, more accurate, scales - libertarian/authoritarian, freedom/statist, and so on.

I should also add that I have little confidence that Cameron will do any of this, necessary as it is. Nor do I seriously believe that any Westminster party will do it. The only way that I think some of these reforms could happen is by way of an entirely new party, composed of candidates new to politics; a Democratic Reform Party (or the like).

At the moment, Cameron is the best chance of ousting Brown and therefore nothing should be done which imperils this. However, if he does not, if Cameron fails, then it will be time to think about alternatives. It will be time to give up on the Conservative Party and establish something new. Those who are interested in being ready to help build such a party if Labour do not lose convincingly, let me know.

(*Update: Items 1 & 4 of the "Career Politicians" list amended in the light of persuasive comments below. Item 2 edited to take account of this)

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Crime, Justice, and Common Sense

A while ago I posted on the perverse and inconsistent reasoning behind various forms of taxation. I pointed out that there were small taxes that were explicitly intended to affect behaviour, whereas other taxes - orders of magnitude larger - were assumed to be effective because they would not affect behaviour. Today, it is the turn of the criminal justice system.

Now, I'll accept that I am on shakier ground on this subject. I have little personal experience of crime and the criminal lifestyle, and no direct personal experience of the criminal justice system (well, not yet). I do however have experience of temptation and of living a life in which temptation is resisted, and criminality is avoided. I will therefore claim that as my qualification to write, and sally forth - blissfully exhibiting my naivety.

In theory, if someone commits a crime then we catch them, convict them, and sentence them. The purposes of sentencing are, of course, those of prevention, retribution, rehabilitation and deterrence. Arguably, the most important of those is rehabilitation - the process of making it less likely that the criminal will re-offend once the sentence is complete. For prison sentences, we have a system in which the second half of the sentence is almost always not served, the prisoner being released on parole after demonstrating that he or she is no longer a threat to the community.

We also have the Criminal Records Bureau (the "CRB"). This acts to stop known offenders from taking up posts where their record of criminality indicates that they may pose a threat to the community if they take up the post in question.

There is a huge logical inconsistency in these two approaches. For anyone to show up on the CRB's records, they must have been convicted and sentenced. That means that they have completed a sentence that was, in part, designed both to rehabilitate them and to deter them from repeating their offence. If it was a prison sentence, then (in addition) they were released on parole after a parole board decided that they were no longer a threat to the community. So, release from prison indicates that the person is safe to return to the community, whereas the CRB was established precisely because such people are not safe to return to the community.

The existence of the CRB check is, therefore, an admission that our criminal justice system is a failure. It is an admission that, despite completing their sentence, the criminal concerned is still a risk.

Hypothetically, would it therefore not have been better to look more closely at our justice system? To see how it might be improved so that those who had completed their sentence were objectively unlikely to re-offend? I realise that this is no easy task, and is (to a great extent) a pipe dream, but who would say that the CRB is easy to administer and cheap to run?

Surely, the cost and effort of the CRB could be put to better use within the criminal justice system, making the array of CRB checks unnecessary?

A final note. Mrs P works in a field where CRB checks are routine - and I mean, literally, routine; each organisation for whom she works has a member of staff (usually paid, unlike Mrs P) who processes the CRB forms in batches. No-one ever seriously expects the CRB check to return with anything other than a clean bill of health. If any ever did, people would probably faint. This means that no-one seriously thinks that all of this administrative effort, all of this cost, all of this work by so many people, all of the lost opportunity (in the form of what other work these people could do, what other investment we could make with this money) will actually stop anyone taking up the position for which they are applying.

Now, I will readily agree that this could indicate that CRB checks are forming an effective deterrent. but that is a justification for some CRB checking, not universal CRB checking.

The CRB is, therefore, a monumental waste of money, time and effort. As such it is, truly, a testament to New Labour.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Not Science

Anyone who needs convincing that the scientists are not in charge of the climate change message need only look at the current online advert for the "Act on CO2" campaign. It contains the message:


Yes, you saw it there first. Too much of something by the name of "CO2" is causing climate change.

To a scientist, that is a howling error. Not just a little mistake, but one of those awful, unimaginable, screaming-out-loud-oh-lord-how-did-I-do-that kinds of mistake.

I think we can safely assume then, that the scientists are not involved in the media work.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Greenwashing

The BBC recently ran an experiment to see if a team of cyclists could produce enough power to run a house. The message was a good one - to show just how much power is wasted in many small ways - such as leaving the fridge door open and turning on the oven long before it is needed. Rows of frenzied sweating cyclists communicated the message very well.

Sadly, they fell into the usual trap - that of skating over the science in order to communicate the desired message rather than the scientifically accurate one. The example here, which was the point which drove me to switch off - was when a presenter showed how a single light bulb could be used to roast a chicken. Placed in an insulated box with the light bulb and left for 90 minutes, the chicken was tender, juicy and very tempting when removed.

This was, we were told, a stark illustration of just how much heat is emitted by an incandescent light bulb. Now, that is of course true (try holding one*), but the experiment does not prove that. All it proves is that the bulb emits some heat. The temperature in the makeshift oven is simply a function of the balance between the heat emitted and the degree of insulation. It has to be said, they had a lot of very good insulation; a laptop could probably have worked just as well.

The error was then compounded when the presenter said that all that heat was being wasted and that we could reduce our energy bills by replacing them with low-energy bulbs. This is a clear, outstanding example of the most common fallacy of scientific interpretation - that of treating an open system as a closed one.

Yes, if we consider just the light bulb, then the power required to light the same area will be less with a low-energy bulb. However, most domestic light bulbs are in an (err...) domestic setting. Now, the "wasted" heat does not simply disappear merely because the BBC lables it as wasted. It has to go somewhere; it will heat the house in which it is fitted. So, if you replace it with a low-enery bulb then the house will be heated slightly less. Assume that the house is centrally heated (as most now are) and the fallacy becomes evident. The loss of the heat that was emitted by the light bulb will be replaced by an increased output from the central heating system - many of which are gas-powered.

So, our first conclusion is that by switching to low-energy bulbs, we move from the use of a potentially renewable energy source to the use of a non-renewable source. Ooops.

Our second conclusion is that if your aim is to present a specific view rather than merely think the situation through scientifically, it is easy to fall into a misleading fallacy - even without intended to misinterpret or manipulate. CRU, take note.

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(*if you're stupid enough....)

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Smug? Moi?

It is, of course, very flattering to see The Times reach the opinion that I published last week in its report on the "Climategate" scandal, i.e. that there should be a distinction between a scientist and an advocate and that the CRU staff failed in that regard.

We now also know that the 1980s raw data on which much of the current thinking is based was thrown away, apparently because there was nowhere to store it. This is truly appalling. Combined with the refusal to disclose the methodology by which corrections were made to the data, it means that the final results that are relied on for modern policy are not scientific; they are fictional.

If the CRU staff were proper scientists, they would realise that such corrections were perfectly acceptable, provided that you also made available the original data and the methodology by which you corrected it. That way, if someone disagrees with you, you can say "Well, go and collect your own data and/or correct it yourself and tell us what you think the answer is", allowing a debate over whose data collection methods were better and whose correction methodology was more valid. That is how science works.

You don't publish a set of data, order the world to change the basis of its economy, then delete the data, refuse to disclose the methodology, and suppress dissenting opinions. That is simply not science.

This is, in fact what I've been banging on about for years, such as my post back in June 2008, bemoaning the inability of climate change advocates to enter into a reasoned debate...

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics.

I've refrained from commenting on the leaked/hacked emails (etc) from the Hadley Climate Unit in East Anglia. At the very least, I wanted to ensure that it was not an elaborate hoax; on that score it seems that I need not worry.

Let me make on thing clear from the start; I don't think that the extracts which I have seen show any evidence of deliberate distortion or manipulation of the data*. Nor, in fact, do I think that the data has actually been deliberately distorted after collection; whilst that does happen in science from time to time, it is quite rare and is usually associated with scientists working alone or in very small groups.

You will note my careful qualification of the nature of the distortion, though. What the emails do show me is that the researchers working at the CRU (I am avoiding use of the term "scientists") had a very firm view on the subject of climate change, and saw their task as being to prove that climate change/global warming was real and likely to cause us serious harm. In that respect, they were evangelical in nature.

That does not make them bad people. They honestly and sincerely believe that the world faces a serious threat and they want to avert that. Their intentions are good and their motives are proper.

What is does make them, though, is advocates; not scientists. The two are incompatible. A scientist looks for the truth in nature, and takes the data as s/he finds it. Looking at the data, a possible truth may strike the scientist, at which point s/he will construct an experiment to test that. The purpose of the experiment is to construct a set of circumstances in which the outcome will be markedly different according to whether the scientist's idea is true or not.

To do this properly takes huge care. Bias in scientific work is extremely difficult to exclude, but it is of the utmost importance that it is. It can only be achieved if the scientist is either utterly disinterested, or wholly aware of the need to exclude bias and determined to do so.

The Hadley centre is clearly, unequivocally, and evidently neither of these. There was no need for them to distort the data; the means by which it was collected will have provided ample distortion.

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*although I obviously cannot rule that out.

Much Ado About Nothing

Fasten your seatbelts! Brace yourselves! David Lammy (Minister of State for Higher Education and Intellectual Property) is about to make an announcement!

It seems that a major new initiative by the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property Policy (SABIP) and the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is being initiated, to spur on the creative and innovative growth of the UK economy. The two bodies will be:
• partnering with the UK Innovation Research Centre (UK~IRC) to deliver focused policy events and fellowships to begin seeding research projects.

• working with National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) and other partners to build on their Innovation Growth Accounting framework to quantify intellectual property rights within the wider economy.

• conducting value chain analysis to assess how copyright value-chains or networks are affected by digital media and the implications of this for copyright law.

Or, to put it in less jargon-laden terms:

• having a meeting with another quango to organise another meeting like today's, and to appoint someone to think about other things they might want to think about

• having a meeting with further quangos to think about ways of counting intellectual property rights

• thinking about how much money people make out of copyright, guessing how much less they make because of the internet, and thinking about whether the odd infringement action might help them make more

Cynical? Moi? Well at least I now know where my taxes go.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Angry, again

I recall from younger days that I was taught many parables. One was the parable in which a rich man who will be away for some time divides his riches between his three servants and tells them to look after it until he returns. One invests it, one puts it on deposit, and one hides it in a hole. When the boss gets back, the one who hid it proudly returns the entire fortune intact and is a bit miffed to be on the receiving end of a telling off for not making some kind of return on it.

(As a brief aside, I see that as a message to bosses to be clear in communicating objectives and setting targets. I don't think that's the official interpretation though.)

Now, imagine how annoyed the boss would have been if, on his return, the servant had explained that a few years ago he had passed the entire fortune on to a former subordinate of his because he wanted to go off and do something else, and that the subordinate had recently passed some of the fortune on to a groups of servants drawn from the houses in the immediate vicinity, and that the group had decided that the lead servant from one of the other houses should look after the collective pot, so the boss really shouldn't look at him for return of the money because it was someone else's responsibility now. Oh, and the group decision was that money could only go into their pot and could not be taken out. I think the boss would be rather put out.

Which brings me to the subject of the Lisbon treaty.

In 2005 we made a temporary loan of our sovereignty to Labour on the explicit promises that (a) Blair would serve a full term and (b) that the EU Constitution would not be enacted without a referendum. Or, that Blair would look after it until he returned it to us in 4 or 5 years and that he would not hand it over to the group without asking us first.

Now, it is a simple fact that the Lisbon treaty is the EU Constitution by another name, and that it hands powers to Brussels. This is not debatable; it is a simple matter of fact. Therefore, it matters not whether the powers handed over are significant or trivial. It matters not whether the powers are best wielded by Whitehall or Brussels. The simple fact is that the powers are being handed over by someone who does not have our authority to do so.

Which is why I am angry. Powers have been handed over without our consent, by a Prime Minister who we did not elect and who Labour had no mandate to appoint, to an EU President who we did not elect and an EU Foreign Secretary who no-one, anywhere, has ever elected.

Roll on March. Please let it be the 15th...

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Deliberate?

I distinctly heard the following segue by La Montague on Radio 4 this morning:
Later today it's the Queen's Speech, so now we're going to talk to Lord Mandelson..."
Was that deliberate and pre-meditated? I'd love to think it was...

Saturday, 14 November 2009

I have a New Hero

(Hat Tip: Tory Outcast)

Howling at the Moon

Constantly Furious has used a picture of a dog howling at the moon to illustrate this post about the legal effect of strict liability, and with good reason. Go and read it, and weep.

The moral is, if you were going to do your bit and help out, don't. Just don't. Go home. Your help is not wanted.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Today Glasgow...

Labour's win in Glasgow NE is not the slightest bit surprising. It is indeed a triumph for Labour to retain this seat, even if they have held it since 1935. It is in no way a disturbing disappointment to see turnout fall by 12.5% compared to the previous election in which (by convention) the Speaker stood for re-election, generally unopposed.

This is undoubtedly, in the words of the successful candidate, "a resounding victory ... for Gordon Brown and a vote of confidence in the way the government is trying to get us out of recession". It is without doubt clear evidence that the people "have backed Gordon Brown in his efforts to secure our economic recovery".

Really.

Yes it is.

So go on, Gordon. As you candidate says, "The message for the general election is game on".

Go for it, Gordon. Call a Christmas election. Surf this wave of popular support.

Go on.

I dare you.




Please.

Gordon

Well, the Today 8:10 interview is usually the biggie; today it was Gordon himself. I forced myself to suspend my usual Today game, and to actually listen to the man.

Now, no reader of this blog will be surprised to hear that there was ever even the lsightest chance of him receiving a sympathetic hearing. But I tried. Honestly. And I think I can see why he is hated by so many.

He has a distinct style of discussion. The Spectator calls it his "tractor stats" mode, whereby in answer to any question he will reel off a pre-prepared list of statistics purporting to show how wonderful he is. They have a point, but there is more to it than that. Certainly, he does not regard a question as being something for him to answer, but as a prompt to say what he wants to say - that of course is true of any politician, although most do it with a degree of finess and skill that Gordon lacks. With Gordon, though, there is something more. There seem, to me, to be two aspects.

The first is that Gordon speaks with a steady, relentless manner that is redolent with the certainty that what he has to say is really really important and therefore he is justified in speaking over the interviewer and continuing despite their best efforts to ask another question. Evan tried valiantly to query several of the points Gordon made, but was just brushed aside by the steamroller. This has been, I think, an important factor in his success; it means that the utter fallacies that he often utters are not challenged, because it proves simply impossible to get a word in edgeways.

The second concerns the actual content of what he says. If the BBC post the audio of the interview, then do listen to it. Try to parse any one of the sentences that he produces. Sometimes, it rivals Prescott for the degree of convolution that it involves. Any message that he has is utterly drowned in a sea of subclauses, conditions and asides that are clearly intended to provide a fallback if challenged. The overall impression might be "yes", for example, but look into the sentence and there is support for every view on the spectrum stretching from that all the way to "no, absolutely not".

Take as an example one of the opening sentences of the interview. Asked by Evan what his Afghan strategy is, he explains that one might propose just withdrawing back to a fortress Britain, investing in our border defences, and (effectively) leaving Afghanistan to itself. He rejects that, emphatically. And well he might; that is a reasonable decision to take, and leadership is about taking such decisions.

Except that he didn't say that. What he said was more along the lines that one might propose just withdrawing back to a fortress Britain, investing in our border defences, which, he might add, we are, in fact, doing to a significant extent, and (effectively) leaving Afghanistan to itself. So when he rejects that, emphatically, he rejects something that he is actually doing. Why? Clearly because someone might hear the decisive version and think "But we should invest in our border defences" and Gordon wants to leave basis for defending himself on that score, also. This, though, is a tactic that cannot work; it is intrinsically indecisive, and it means that much of what he says sounds like waffle.

And there, I think, it the root of his unpopularity. Listening to their leader, and putting themselves in the position of his interlocutor, people hear someone who won't let anyone else into the conversation, who waffles on without actually saying anything meaningful, and who is obviously refusing to answer the question. That does not come across in the manner of a leader. It comes across as rude.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Thoughts on MPs' Pay

Listening to the House of Comments podcast this morning on the subject of MPs' pay, I was left thinking that there must be a better solution. In trying to set a pay rate for them, we are trapped between the rock of public opinion (which would prefer to see them in sack-cloth and ashes) and the hard place of attracting the right people.

The argument goes that if we set the level too low, then "only millionaires can afford to be an MP". That is palpably wrong; as Jennie Rigg pointed out, there are many for whom the current level of pay would be more than adequate, if only they could afford to campaign (which Mark rightly pointed out is a separate problem). Yet there are many for whom an MP salary would be a pay cut. Lucky as they are to be well-off, we must accept that, in practice, they will have settled into their current level of income and made arrangements based on that. They will have mortgages and, probably, children in fee-paying schools*. Dropping their income to £60k or so is not an option. We are (like it or not) ruling these people out of politics.

Above them are the real toffs, who can afford to "go without" an income for the time being or who have investment income that will continue regardless. They can afford politics. So politics becomes the preserve of toffs and of those on a low income but with a backer who can bankroll their campaign -i.e. union officials.

So it is the upper middle classes that we are (in effect) excluding. The professional classes**. The successful businesspeople. The people with experience of running organisations. The people who might actually make competent Ministers...

We therefore need to think laterally. It struck me, why not pay MPs what they earned before they were elected? After all, that was the last independent measure of what that MP was worth.

Needless to say, expenses should then be limited to those allowable under HMRC rules. If those rules are good enough for the Commoners, they are good enough for the Commons.

There could be some safeguards. For example, we could set an upper and a lower limit, such as the median salary and ten times the median salary, to avoid gross distortions. For longstanding MPs, their pay could trend towards a central figure of (say) 3 times the median salary - adjusting by 10-20% of the difference for each Parliamentary term. To avoid anomalous results, we could average their income over the previous Parliamentary term, or some other period.

Think about it; it would encourage people to get experience of life before entering politics. It would encourage them to make proper and true tax returns (assuming we use those to guage their past income). It would enable all sections of society to take part. It would remove the annual argument over pay; if you think you're not paid well enough, then leave, get a better job, and come back!

It would also be non-partisan; define income as earned income and the Conservative uber-toffs will be on the same bottom rung as some of the Labour shop stewards.

Discuss!

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*an odd euphemism. I can't find any schools that will pay me a fee for sending my children there...

**yes, I admit that includes patent attorneys. I, however, have no ambitions in that direction ;-)

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

DNA; Do Not Argue

I heard the Sarah Montague's interview this morning with Julie Bindel, a spokewoman from Justice For Women* arguing in support of the proposed rules on retention of the DNA samples of the innocent. Ms Bindel believed that a 6 year retention period for the DNA samples of those arrested for any offence whatsoever was reasonable. She offered two arguments; that it had helped solve crimes such as the Sally Ann Bowman murder, and that it would in fact assist in proving innocence.

Chris Grayling was the next interviewee, and immediately squashed the "proof of innocence" argument, pointing out that a sample taken at the time would be perfectly adequate to do so and that an historic register was in no way necessary for this.

That leaves the Bowman case for me. Now, I know the pub where Mark Dixie (the murderer) worked before his arrest so the case has stayed in my mind. What actually happened there was that Dixie was arrested for an unrelated assault, some time after the murder. His DNA was taken during that arrest, and it matched the samples taken from Miss Bowman's murder. He was therefore investigated for the murder, and convicted.

At no point in the Bowman investigation did the police obtain Dixie's details from a sample taken from a previous arrest that had not led to conviction. The Bowman case therefore offers no support for retaining samples taken from the innocent.

Indeed, the quote offered by the Superintendent who headed the Bowman investigation was
It is my opinion that a national DNA register — with all its appropriate safeguards — could have identified Sally Anne's murderer within 24 hours. Instead it took nearly nine months before Mark Dixie was identified, and almost two-and-a-half years for justice to be done.
Note, he calls for a national register - presumably one containing the DNA of every citizen, not one simply containing the DNA of arrestees. Even then, the benefit is only a matter of months; he perjoratively points to the over 2 year delay in obtaining justice, but that is unrelated to the DNA issue.

So Bowman offers no support for Ms Bindel, and she is left with no examples. She is left making a hypothetical argument, so I can in return. If, as the hypothesis states, those arrested but not convicted are likely to offend again, then it follows that there will be a further opportunity to arrest them. Hence, their DNA will be sampled again, and can (at that stage) be compared to past crime scene samples. Therefore, if the hypothesis advanced in favour of retention is correct, then retention is ipso facto unnecessary.

Ms Bindel's final rhetorical flourish was that she has never heard an argument in favour of not retaining. Montague rightly criticised this, pointing out that surely it is for Government to make the case in favour of such a scheme, but was ignored (presumably because she was right). Well, Ms Bindel, how about this one:

DNA matching is not perfect. The error rate is not settled, but estimates have varied between "almost none" and "one in a million". At the lower end of that scale, the number of people in the UK whose DNA would have matched the samples from Miss Bowman's murder is about 60. Of those 60, at least about 10 would have been within easy access of the London location of the murder. Only one of those was Mark Dixie.

This argument is not, of course, hypothetical. I can only suggest that Ms Bindel asks the Midlands teenager whose DNA matched that of the Omagh bomber what he would have done had he lived in Ulster.

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*Not, as La Montague introduced her, Women Against Rape, who are (presumably) splitters in the same mould as the People's Front of Judea.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Don't Throw Your Poppy Away

Constantly Furious has a far better use for your poppy, once we are past the 11th. Read this to see why. Then read here to see what to do with it.

In short, the train drivers' union ASLEF decided to make a point in its pay negotiations. A quick work-to-rule should do it; Sunday working is voluntary so they'll take the day off. Sod the passengers.

And when would be the "best" Sunday to do this? Why, yesterday of course. After all, no-one will want to travel to the Capital on Remembrance Sunday. Except for a few old men.

Old men who fought for us.

Old men who saw their comrades die for us.

Old men who want to commemorate their comrades.

Old men who have in all probability given far more to this country and taken proportionately far less than the trade unionists behind this ever will.

It was Rick Mayall in The Young Ones who managed to get everyone thrown off a train by telling the conductor that ASLEF was an anagram for "total and complete bastard". Difficult to argue with, really.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Remember

One of the events that I often remember today is the Enniskillen bombing.

This is because as a teenager, I was an Air Cadet. Remembrance Sunday was therefore spent on parade at our local war memorial. It was always a major event; all the local regiments turned out as well ass many local organisations. We would meet up at a sister school (closer to the town centre) and march from there to the assembly point. From there, the entire parade marched to the memorial for the service. After the service, we marched past the town hall and the Mayor, and then the individual groups forming the parade dispersed. We would march back to the school, fall out, and make our way home.

In 1987, I left the school and walked to where my mother had parked, to warm up again and drive home. As I got into the car, she asked if I knew what had happened.

That one day sealed my opinion of Irish nationalism. To bomb innocent civilians for political ends is appalling. To do so on a day of remembrance; to target those assembling at a war memorial literally adds insult to injury.

I remain disgusted that so many of the people who ran the IRA are now free. That they are in government ... words do not express my views on that.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Get Stoned, If You Want

A quick clarification; the strongest intoxicant in which I indulge is the one discussed here, and even that is actually quite rare. I don't smoke, and I have never taken drugs. By choice, I would inhale only air.

Nor do I want to change that. I enjoy the small amount of alcohol that I do drink, but find the spectacle of drunkenness rather pathetic and even the slightest whiff of cigarette smoke disgusting. As for the psychoactive drugs, I feel sorry for the users; my mind on its own is quite capable of keeping me amused and does not need any pharmaceutical assistance. I admit that I fear the drugs themselves; my mind is my source of income, and I would not tamper with it lightly.

Nevertheless, I find myself behind Nutt, not Johnson. The reason is simple; my libertarian instinct prevails. I dislike drunkenness, but if you want to drink yourself into an early grave then that is up to you - provided you don't vomit on my shoes, fall on my table, or shout so loudly that I can't talk to Mrs P. So, to the extent that I favour the prohibition of certain substances, it must be because they are so harmful, so damaging, that we cannot leave it to a matter of personal choice. They must be, in essence, intoxicants that so serious that users cannot help but fall into whatever behaviour is equivalent to vomiting on my shoe. There must be, in other words, no safe zone between abstinence and addiction. Therefore, to my mind, there must be a scientific basis for the prohibition.

Ah, but no, says our Home Secretary. Nutt advises me on the science, and then I make a decision as to what is best for society. Quite right Mr Johnson; that is the distinction between advisor and Minister. But there is one glaring point that seems to have been missed in Johnson's consideration; one point that Johnson (like all his predecessors) is either too stupid to realise or too cowardly to address. And it is this.

If, hypothetically, there was a proscribed substance that did not cause any medical harm that was in any way more serious than traditional, legally-available substances, but which caused far more serious societal harm, then surely that societal harm would be due to the fact of its prohibition, not its medical effects?

Now, I accept that I live in a leafy suburb that is not riven with drug dealers and crack houses. Some would say that I am, therefore, unqualified to discuss this issue and should shut up. To them, I will only point out that my use of the word "Prohibition" earlier in this post was entirely deliberate.

Cameron in a hole

I was a little impolite this morning.

I tweeted that, in my opinion, whilst the Czech result is a huge disappointment, we should not forget who it was, exactly, who denied us a referendum and therefore put us in the position of having to rely on a vain hope that a Czech court would go the way we (or some of us, at least) wanted. @MarkReckons responded, and I stayed around long enough to send a quick response before vanishing into a meeting and leaving Mark's argument unanswered. Sorry, Mark. Work, eh - tsk.

Mark raised a few decent points. Cameron was indeed free to set his policy as he wished. No-one forced him to make a "cast-iron" guarantee of a referendum. Fortunately, Stuart Sharpe was around to leap to the defence of my argument; he went on to make the points that I would have made, had I been there.

Those points are, of course, that Cameron made his cast-iron pledge to a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty early in 2007, when we were expecting that Brown would go the country that Autumn in order to give himself a democratic mandate, and when the Lib Dems were making the same promise. Since then, Brown (the unelected PM) has refused to seek a mandate, and pressed the Lisbon Treaty into place undemocratically, in blatant defiance of his party's manifesto promise.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democratic Party has exercised a thoroughly disreputable, anti-Liberal, anti-Democratic reversal of its promise and showed its real pro-EU colours.

The only politician who has, throughout, kept to his promise that he would hold a referendum, is David Cameron. Every other party has dropped us in it. What is worse, they have dropped us in it so thoroughly, and so deeply, and so irrevocably, that they now actually dare to criticise Cameron for acknowledging that the promise he made is no longer deliverable.

This is, surely, politics at its very worst. Labour and the Lib Dems should hang their heads in shame. Cameron is not perfect, but he is not the contemptible character in this story.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Nanny shoots herself in the foot

Mrs P has just noticed this article in the Torygraph. Apparently;

Popular £10 ‘dinner and wine for two’ offers are fuelling a rise in middle-class drinking, charities have warned.

Charities that are, presumably, incapable of understanding the distinction between being encouraged to buy a bottle of wine, and being forced to drink it all. Presumably, these people are the sort that, if they should find themselves at home with a bottle of wine, are incapable of stopping themselves from finishing it even if they're too paralytic to actually lift the nearly-empty bottle.

Or, in other, words, utter morons.

Personally, I can stop when I've had enough. And this is irritating me beyond measure. Therefore, I've decided to take a stand. I have a new policy; a one-man attempt to stop them. As I tweeted earlier, every time some part of the Nanny State tells me that the middle classes drink too much, I'm having one of these:

Cheers.

Why I will always love Stephen Fry

Those who tweet will probably be aware that Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) has recently gone through a smallish upset. Without wishing to comment on the rather unmerited outbreak of bullying that was unleashed on the person who (seemingly accidentally) upset him, I thought I would explain why Stephen Fry will always be dear to me*.

Those who know me personally will already know this story. It is the tale of the first broadcast of the "General Hospital" episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, in which Blackadder is sent to the field hospital to find the spy who is leaking details of the British plans to the Germans.

Blackadder eventually returns to HQ having identified the nurse as the spy. Asked why, he offers three pieces of evidence; she speaks German, she asked Blackadder about tank movements, and (crucially) she failed to spot that when Blackadder mentioned the "three great Universities - Oxford, Cambridge, Hull", she failed to spot that only two could be considered great.

The punchline was left to Fry, playing General Melchett. He agrees, saying "Yes, Oxford's a complete dump". Stephen is, of course, a Cambridge man. He was, though, playing the scene with Rowan Atkinson, an Oxford man.

I watched that episode live.

While at University.

In the student common room.

A packed common room.

In my college.

A Cambridge college.

The uproar was unbelievable. I don't think any of us heard the rest of the episode. Stephen was being cheered to the rafters and beyond. Twenty years on, I can still remember the scene perfectly. Thank you, Stephen. Please keep tweeting. Even if the odd one or two are boring.

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*not in that way, though....

Friday, 30 October 2009

Home truths

My first home truth is for big-state socialists. You firmly believe in "equality", your interpretation of which is that it is unfair for people to earn significantly more than you. You also believe in high levels of Government spending, now roughly 50p in the pound. Now, assuming you pay 22p tax and 15% VAT on the rest, i.e. a total tax payment of 32p in the pound, if you don't approve of high earners, where do you expect the other 18p to come from?

Second, change activists - when you switch with ease from claiming that "everyone agrees, so the debate is over" to claiming that "all those many, many who disagree are deranged", does it make your brain hurt?

Any other suggestions?

Thursday, 29 October 2009

More Hypocrites....

The Green Party, this time. This odd picture:

is in fact a thermal image of the headquarters of the Green Party. Red indicates an area with a high rate of heat loss, blue a low rate. Overall, this shows that they are wasting £172 worth of energy per year.

This, let us remember, is the party whose leader said that flying was as bad 'as stabbing someone in the street', explaining that 'People are dying from climate change [...] It's incredibly irresponsible.'

She also said, of other parties, that 'They're talking green but not acting green'. So, what did similar images of the other parties reveal?

  • Constituency office of Nick Clegg, so keen yesterday to ask about climate change: £148
  • Constituency office of David Cameron: £108
  • Constituency office of Ed Milliband (Climate Secretary) £94

Interesting...

Monday, 26 October 2009

Latest Climate Change News...

... we will all have to eat our pets.

Apparently,

Victoria University professors Brenda and Robert Vale, architects who specialise in sustainable living, say pet owners should swap cats and dogs for creatures they can eat, such as chickens or rabbits, in their provocative new book Time to Eat the Dog: The real guide to sustainable living.
Why?

The eco-pawprint of a pet dog is twice that of a 4.6-litre Land Cruiser driven 10,000 kilometres a year, researchers have found.
Oh, of course. Completely plausible.

This can only mean one of two things. Either there is a monumental wind-up being played in order to discredit the green movement, or the Toyota Land Cruiser is a lot more environmentally friendly that has been suggested.

In which case, my little 3.6 litre toy must be near-negligible in its impact. Whatever, I'm smiling...

Right Hand/Left Hand

This new £3,300 tax on the price of a new car, in order (presumably) to deter us from buying new cars and harming the environment ... is that before or after the £2,000 scrappage allowance introduced in order to encourage us to buy new cars and help the economy?

Just wondering.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

911

In celebration of my 911th tweet, here she is; my Stuttgart Mistress:

She has her own little place that I provide for her:


where she is cared for with a range of creams and lotions for her body:

... and, in fact, for pretty well every inch of her:


She is regularly taken to see specialists to ensure that all is well:

... but she likes it best when we go out to play:


I'll end with a joke, if I may: What's the difference between a Porsche and a hedgehog? ... The hedgehog has the pricks on the outside....

Ooops

The Science Museum has launched a site with a poll that is clearly intended to gather support to lobby the Government to take a strongly pro-climate change stance in Copenhagen.

They put forward the proposition:

"I've seen the evidence. And I want the government to prove they're serious about climate change by negotiating a strong, effective, fair deal at Copenhagen."
and invite you to opt to "Count me in" or "Count me out".

As I type this, 513 people have asked to be counted in. Unfortunately for the organisers, 3436 have asked to be counted out.

Interestingly, if you ask to be counted out, it asks you to say why (after accepting your vote). I don't know if you are asked to justify a decision to be counted in; if anyone does wish to be counted in then I'd be interested to hear. My reason?

As a Cambridge science graduate who studied the History & Philosophy of science, I find it insulting to be told that "the science is settled". First, science does not settle; that is not its nature. Second, science that contradicts observation is not "settled"; it is "wrong".


Update - It seems that the climate change believers have tried to manipulate the poll. The real results? As of 1620 on 28 October, 5984 votes were cast, with 764 asking to be counted in and 5220 asking to be counted out, i.e. very nearly 7 to 1....

Saturday, 24 October 2009

In Which Master Patently Turns Criminal

We went out shopping this afternoon. Master P caused quite some concern by producing a gun at the till. I was immediately summoned by the Manager, who was understandably nervous.

You see, the plastic toy gun that he wanted to purchase cannot be sold to someone of such tender years. My presence was needed, in order to make the transaction legal. Apparently, and this is the crucial point, if a not-very-convincing replica toy gun is sold to a child in the absence of his parent, he is likely to use it to hold up a bank. My presence at the point of sale means that it is now impossible for him to put the toy to nefarious use.

Or something.

I was quite disappointed. I wanted to call in at the bank to see if pointing a plastic gun at them would make them give us some monopoly money.

Friday, 23 October 2009

But No Progress?

The consensus seems to be that the BNP leader was roundly whipped last night on Question Time. The other panellists and the audience treated him and his views with the contempt he deserves, and he left humiliated. The Spectator certainly thinks so, although Leg-Iron is not so sure.

I'm not sure that was the best way to handle it.

Let's think about this for a moment. Griffin represents a disaffected group who feel left behind by 12 years of inclusiveness. They feel that taxpayers' money has been lavished on non-white groups, that established British practices have been abandoned in favour of a multi-cultural approach. They see "inclusiveness" as including "anyone but them", and "multicultural" as "any culture except British". In short, they feel shunned by the UK political mainstream.

What they seem to have watched last night is the UK political mainstream shunning Nick Griffin. Is that likely to persuade them to abandon him?

I don't think so.

Update: Here we go; Griffin is pleading for the sympathy vote, and the Spectator now seems to agree with me.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

In Favour of the Postal strike

Yes - you read that right, I'm in favour of the strike scheduled for this week by the Communication Workers' Union.

Not because I am persuaded of their cause - to be persuaded I would have to understand it, and as no-one has been able to explain why they are striking, I have the distinct impression that no-one else understands it either. No, my desire to see the strike go ahead is purely in order to watch the CWU be forced to change its name to the Communication Worker's Union.

You see, I practice from the Oxford area. The Oxford sorting office was renowned as one of the more militant offices; the very instant that an unreasonable request was made by management, the whole lot would walk out. Of course, as their definition of "unreasonable" seemed to extend to such things as Pete being asked to deliver Bob's round while Bob was off instead of just sitting around until his shift finished, this caused some irritation locally.

I understand that things were so bad that the Oxford sorting office was closed, and the staff transferred to Swindon*. This left no-one in Oxford to sort Oxford's mail, so the management transferred the task to Swindon. One almost wants to grab Royal Mail's management by the lapels and yell at them that the problem was not the building, it was the staff in it...

So, in an argument between Royal Mail staff and Royal Mail management, I truly have no allegiance. So far as I am concerned, both are useless.

It was with no great surprise, then, that I found myself wondering what to do about the strike - how to cope. What surprised me was the answer; nothing.

You see, the local sorting office has gone on strike so often, at such short notice, that we have become so used to coping that we no longer regard the letter as a default. Most of our clients send and receive communication via email. Sometimes, an original document needs to be conveyed, but for some time now there has been nothing on earth that would persuade me to entrust an original document that could not be easily replaced to the tender mercies of the postal system, so all such mail goes by courier.

At home, the position is the same. The people that I know, and from whom I want to hear, use telephone, email, or twitter to contact me. All I receive through my letterbox is junk mail and bills. I order quite a bit from Amazon and the like but they mainly use Citylink instead of Royal Mail. Now, I am no great fan of Sh**tyLink, but at least they don't lose stuff as regularly, and their depot is on my way home.

So, frankly, if the strike is short-lived, then I won't care either way because it is nothing out of the ordinary. If it lasts long enough to kill Royal Mail off, then I will be pleased; that might (at last) open up the market to let in a proper, reliable daily postal service.

Which would, actually, be quite a nice thing to have.

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*Note; I have not been able to verify this.

Is the Pope Catholic?

A reasonable question, I think, given the announcement of special provision for Anglicans who want to convert to Rome while preserving aspects of Anglican liturgy (although obviously toungue-in-cheek).

This is, of course, being reported as something that the Catholic Church is doing, but I think that is the wrong perspective. It is now (I think) 17 years since the Anglican church decided to admit women clergy, and those outside the Church are just beginning to notice the more subtle effects of that step (i.e. the effects other than the slightly greater likelihood that an Anglican priest will have an effeminate air...). That step took place just a few years after I switched from Catholicism to Anglicanism, welcomed in by by a receptive local church and supported by the firmly Anglican family whose daughter I had fallen for. At the time, it seemed to me to strike a discordant note; the Anglicanism that I had thus far encountered was in line with the Catholic doctrines that I had learnt (the distinction between Catholicism and Roman Catholicism was eagerly pointed out to me), so my new Church had seemed to be merely a somewhat more tolerant version of what I was used to. I confess that I did not then understand why the change was being made.

Since then, I have learnt that the Anglicanism I met was in fact one end of the spectrum. Various changes of house and job took me to different areas of the country, and to different parishes where a different flavour of Anglicanism was offered. I do miss what might be called the "high point" of my experience of Anglicanism; it now seems impossible to find in any of the churches local to me.

And there, I think, lies the real significance of that decision 17 years ago. It was a decision taken by one wing of the Church with the full knowledge that it offended the firmly held beliefs of another wing. That victory - and it was nothing less - gave that wing a confidence. Since then, the Anglican Church has (from my observation) moved from an assumption that all views within it are valid to an assumption that tradition and reverence are unnecessary - and that the evangelical, happy-clappy, arms in the air, close your eyes and feel God in the room approach to a Sunday service is the only correct one.

My opinion on the subject will be obvious from the words that I have chosen to describe the change. But that is not the point; I do not criticise Evangelicals because I think they are wrong. If they find that form of service uplifting and inspiring, then I am pleased that they wish to worship and am happy for them to do so in that way. My criticism is that they seem to think that I am wrong because I disagree, because I don't want to stand up in the middle of the Mass and shout out how God touched me this week.

So this is not actually about women priests. It is about tolerance; a tolerance of other views that used to exist in the Anglican Church but which does no longer. Women priests were merely the "Clause 4" moment that gave licence to henceforth ignore the traditionalists.

This, like all good sermons, leads neatly to the closing homily. If an organisation wishes to change its nature, then it must be free to do so. But those that drive the change forward must not be surprised if they leave a sizeable chunk of people behind.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Unequivocally Wrong

Leg-Iron posted on the "Climate Camp" at Ratcliffe on Soar power station. A greenie decided to take him to task. Not a good idea. Leg-Iron decided to reply.

The whole post is worth reading, but I'm going to focus on one part. As a former student of the History & Philosophy of Science, there is one aspect of the Climate movement that drives me utterly nutty, and Leg-Iron deals with it admirably.

First, the relevant part of the protester's comment:
- but the science is unequivocal [...], so that's why I'm doing everything I can to stop the burning of the most damaging fossil fuel - coal.
In response, Leg-Iron comments:

I qualified as a scientist in 1981. When did you qualify? Your statement that 'the science is unequivocal' is a parroting of the thoughts you have been told to think. Science, by which I mean real science, is never unequivocal. Never. All of science is open to question at all times. When you stop that process and declare that you have the Ultimate Truth and that any who oppose you are mad, you are not talking science. You are talking religious cult. Which is, I'm afraid, what you have unwittingly joined. Those are not scientist's voices you are listening to. The real scientists have been branded 'barking mad climate deniers'. Why not just call us all 'heretics'? That is the level of debate I hear from you all.

Look at the real science from the real scientists. The ice caps were retreating, but for the last few years they have been increasing year on year. The oceans are cooling, not warming. There are more polar bears now than there were thirty years ago. Those are real findings by real scientists. Why do you think your thought-controller switched you from 'global warming' to 'climate change'? It's because there is no warming. It is not happening.
Well said, Leg-Iron.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Bittersweet

Tory Outcast has kindly posted the video that preceded Cameron's speech to conference:

Powerful stuff, and well done. But...

...is it not sad that it was possible? Is is not sad that Labour have handed all that ammunition to the Tories?

Glad as I will be to see the back of Labour and, especially, Brown, it is deeply depressing that he has had to inflict such damage on the UK in order to make it so.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Hypocrites

We have been regaled for quite some time with tales of the dodgy European allies of the Conservatives. With whom, one wonders, are New Labour allied?

Well, to tell the truth, I didn't. It never ocurred to me. It did occur to others, though, and Tory Bear has kindly set them out for us.

The Labour Party sit with the European Socialists grouping (PES), a bunch of nuts lefties that make Blair and Brown look slightly to the left of Hannan. Labour can try have a half-hearted smear attempt at the tory groupings, but it is a national embarrassment that the governing party of the day consort with communists, terrorists, murderers, anti-semites and 9/11 deniers.

Well, quite. Mind you, that is New Labour these days - a national embarrassment.

(Hat tip: a certain honourable Lady from Essex...)

Friday, 16 October 2009

Retrospective? I think not...

I'm quite surprised to see that even normally intelligent sources such as the Spectator are still continuing to claim that the Legg conclusions are based on a retrospective re-interpretation.

As Tory Bear pointed out, there is and always has been an explicit statement in the MPs' expenses guide, that all expenses must be

"wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred for the purposes of carrying out their duties as an MP."
That is, of course, the proper reason for any expenses claim in any other field.

Legg has merely placed a upper figure on what can be considered wholly, exclusively and necessary for the duties of an MP, which makes clear sense if you think about it for a brief moment. It may well be necessary to clean a second home, but it is clearly unnecessary to clean it on the hour, every hour. Therefore there must be an upper limit, and (frankly) Legg's limit seems quite generous.

So, to use TB's phrase, stop whining and get out the chequebook.

Voltaire would be proud

Climate change activists are not high on the list of people whose opinions I respect.

The Guardian has, over the years, similarly failed to impress me with the quality of its reasoning or the correctness of its conclusions.

But Voltaire was right; I do not agree with what either the Guardian or the average climate change apostle has to say, but their right to say it is - or at least should be - absolute.

That is why I am very concerned that Chris Kitchen was held under anti-terrorist legislation in order to prevent him from attending the forthcoming United Nations summit in Denmark. Now, I don't know Mr Kitchen, and I don't know what he planned to do in Denmark. Indeed, I see from the Guardian report that he has an active past, including having "taken place (sic*) in a number of peaceful acts of civil disobedience". Of note, however, is the word "peaceful". He is not, it seems, a terrorist.

As the police officer is alleged to say, however, terrorism "could mean a lot of things". Precisely, officer. That's what worries me.

(Hat tip: Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science, and someone whose views I have rather more respect for)

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*Dear old Grauniad .... bless ...

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Quick link

... to Leg-Iron, purely for using the simply excellent phrase:
There are so many nails in Labour's coffin now, there's barely room for the corpse.
I wish I'd thought of that.

One sector is still doing rather well...

Constantly Furious is, err, quite annoyed. With good reason. He has looked into the latest unemployment figures:

Labour spinners gleefully leapt on the latest unemployment figures - yet another triumph! Jim Knight proudly announced that "These figures show a significant slowing in the rate of increase of unemployment" ..... What's that supposed to mean, Jim?
(Yes, I thought that was a rather convoluted turn of phrase, too...)

Where, pray, have the job losses been? Well, the private sector shed 230,000 jobs between March and June. And how many jobs were lost in the public sector during that period, would you think? Nearly a quarter of a million 'normal' jobs lost, how many from the taxpayers' payroll? How many?

The answer isn't 'None'. Oh no. That would be ridiculous.

In fact, it's worse, far worse than none. In that same period, the number of public sector workers rose by 13,000.
And, as CF puts it, it doesn't stop there

"public sector workers received a pay rise of 3.4 per cent in the three months to August compared a pay rise of just 1.5 per cent for employees in the private sector"
I have to agree with CF:
If this was a satire, it would be derided as excessive. But no, tragically, this is ****ing real.

This bastard, ****witted government is still, in the face of huge recession, and a mounting debt that our great-great-grandchildren will struggle with, creating more jobs in the public sector. More seats on the gravy train.

And, not only that, they're giving those in that sector, with their jobs-for-life and their gold-plated ****ing pensions, above-inflation pay rises too.

Gordon 'desperate' Brown would doubtless have us all believe that the 3.4% increases went to "nurses 'n' teachers","teachers 'n' nurses", but you know what? They ****ing didn't.

No, they went to the endless pen-pushers and prod-noses who sit on the hundreds of ****ing Quango's that blight this country, sucking the liberty and the cash from us all.

They went to all the Outreach Co-ordinators, Diversity Managers, Community Space Challenger Co-ordinators and Enviro-Crime Enforcement Officers that sit around all day thinking of more ways to ruin our day.

Gordon Brown incessantly accuses the Tories of being the party that would make "slashing" cuts. If and when CallMeDave takes the reins, Gordon warns us he'll make "deep, savage" cuts in the public sector.

You know what? The sooner the ****ing better.

Bring it on.
Yes; Dave - bring it on. Do it. Slash it. Then, we might have a real recovery. You'll also relieve the NHS budget of the cost of blood-pressure pills for me and CF.

Chipping Away at ActionAid

I posted a while back about ActionAid and their somewhat crass venture into the field of intellectual property. I included a copy of my email to them; they have now replied.

If you recall, their article said

To highlight the injustice of patents on food, ActionAid 'invented' a ready-salted chip, nd filed for a patent. If successful, could be granted legal rights over the ActionAid hip, and any chips that have salt added to them. So we could demand that chip shop owners throughout the UK pay for a licence to add salt to their chips. With 300 million servings of chips sold each year, we could stand to make millions
[...]
New patent rules allow companies to get exclusive rights over basic foods and even ature itself, simply by adding something to it or modifying it in a way that has not been done before.
My email to them pointed out that this was somewhat misleading and asked for further details or a retraction. Their reply is:

Thank you for your email regarding the spoof patent application made by ActionAid on 2002, ‘The ActionAid Chip’. I am sorry to hear that you find the article you have read regarding this misleading, as that was certainly not our intention.

As I have mentioned this spoof patent was part of a campaign run by ActionAid in 2002 and is not related to our current work. We apologise for any confusion and we have now amended our website to make it clear that this is a previous campaign.

Please see the amended webpage here: http://www.actionaid.org.uk/100626/previous_corporate_campaigns.html

This spoof chip patent application was a campaign device to highlight and draw attention to the issue of patents on food crops. We were very clear at the time in our press releases and materials that this was spoof application to draw attention to the issues.

We did the application at the time of the deliberations of the Commission on Intellectual Property Rights (CIPR) which was set up by the Department of International Development (DfID), and which was looking at the implications of IPR rules and development policies.

Many of ActionAid's key concerns were reflected in the final report by this CIPR in September 2002, and we felt that the investment of under £100 in the spoof chip patent application was a good and cost effective use of our precious resources.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for contacting us, should you have any further queries then please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely

UK Supporter Care Team
Well, I'm not impressed. Here is my response:

Thank you for your reply. Whilst I note that the "Previous Corporate Campaigns" page refers to the chip as a past issue, the page itself does not, and still refers to "new patent rules". The potential for confusion is still significant, therefore, if readers are sent to page by a direct link (as I was).

You do not identify the application in question, but I now understand it to be GB2384968, filed on 11 February 2002 by Shalil Shetty. Please confirm whether this is the case. Assuming that it is, this allows me to be somewhat more specific as to my concerns over your article, viz:

"If successful, [we] could be granted legal rights over the ActionAid Chip, and any chips that have salt added to them. "

First, of course, the application was not successful. I have asked the Patent Office for a copy of the file, but for now it is clear that examination of the application was requested and that the application was terminated some time later. It seems, therefore, that the application met with objections. The statement is therefore misleading in that it does not make clear that the application will be subject to a critical examination intended to weed out applications covering known or obvious subject-matter.

The statement is also untruthful in stating that the patent, if granted, would cover "any chips that have salt added to them". The closest claim to this is claim 1, which refers to a chip that is "imbued" with the flavour of salt. Whilst this term is regrettably unclear, it does not (to my mind) cover a chip with an external sprinkling of salt - the salt flavour must be within and throughout the body of the chip in order to be "imbued".

A patent resulting from your application would not therefore cover "any chips that have salt added to them", nor would it cover conventionally salted chips. Your statement is untruthful.

The same applies to:

"So we could demand that chip shop owners throughout the UK pay for a licence to add salt to their chips. With 300 million servings of chips sold each year, we could stand to make millions"

The application as drafted would not cover the normal activities of chip shop owners, and would not grant you the right to claim royalties. The statement is untruthful.

Your article also fails to mention section 70 of the Patents Act, that would allow any person aggrieved by threats of infringement proceedings or demand for royalty payments to seek an injunction preventing you from doing so, and the various fora (including low-cost fora such as the Patent Office) through which the validity of a patent can be challenged.

Your article fails to set out the content of your patent application, and this (at the time) would have prevented third parties from challenging your conclusions.

Your article therefore gives the false impression that the patent system allows the monopolisation of known processes (such as salted chips) and the extortion of royalties from honest traders. I find this most insulting. In nearly 20 years of work in the patent profession, I have specialised in acting for small to medium companies, and in using the patent system both to secure for them the proper protection for their innovation, and to defend them against unjustified claims. I believe that I have been successful in doing so, particularly in securing resolution of disputes in a cost-effective and proportionate manner. Often, the patent system has been the only means for such companies - especially the small ones - to defend themselves against competing large corporates with greater commercial clout.

Your article is, in short, crass and untruthful and gives a completely misleading impression. I ask you to amend it so as to recognise:

(a) that your application was refused by the Patent Office acting in line with normal principles of patent examination, and

(b) that, if a patent had been granted, it would not in fact have given you the rights to which you refer.
I'll post any further news on the subject...

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Can we make this go viral?

The Telegraph may have found the holy grail of life-improvement:

A decade ago, I set out to investigate luck. I wanted to examine the impact on people's lives of chance opportunities, lucky breaks and being in the right place at the right time. After many experiments, I believe that I now understand why some people are luckier than others and that it is possible to become luckier.
It seems to work, too:

One month later, the volunteers returned and described what had happened. The results were dramatic: 80 per cent of people were now happier, more satisfied with their lives and, perhaps most important of all, luckier. While lucky people became luckier, the unlucky had become lucky.
(Hat Tip - Stuart Sharpe. And yes, the title is a deliberate reference to a well-known television series)