Friday, November 30, 2007

Polly Quote Of The Day.

Polly Toynbee today illustrates her keen understanding of the democratic system:
Former top brass find the brass neck to stage what is virtually an insurrection from the Lords red benches. A confident government would have slapped the old junta down.
She really does believe that any criticism of New Labour is tantamount to treason.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Taliban Spin Doctors.

There was a report on the television news earlier this afternoon about a US bombing in Afghanistan that had killed 12 construction workers in the North East of the country. There have been numerous reports of US/ Nato bombing killing groups of innocent civilians of late and I had actually planned to write something along the lines of; a reliance of airpower will invariably lead to civilian casualties, whilst there are often a lot of bogus reports of wedding parties being hit genuine mistakes do appear to be occurring quite a lot of late in Afghanistan and there is a danger that they are endangering the mission by building up support for the Taliban etc.

However when went to look up the relevant story online in order to provide a link I read:
Nato says it is confident that reports that it killed a number of civilians in an air strike in Nuristan province on Monday are incorrect.

The provincial governor has said that 12 construction workers died.

But a spokesman for the Nato-led Isaf force says evidence so far "points to a successful strike" against a Taleban leader with no civilian deaths.

The incident has probably already seeped into the public consciousness though as a careless slaughter of the innocent, despite it now looking likely to be another example of the Taliban using the Western Media to spread lies about Nato. This tactic is quite an intelligent one from the point of view of the Taliban it has to be said and it is explained in better detail on the website "Strategy Page":

There are two main obstacles to establishing (or re-establishing) Taliban control of the country. There's the current government, which is basically a coalition of Pushtun and non-Pushtun tribes that disagrees with the few Pushtun tribes that supply most of the Taliban leadership and manpower. This lot can be taken care of by forming an alliance with many of the drug gangs, who will supply money to hire irregular fighters. These guys will be used to terrorize other tribes into going along with the Taliban. This worked fifteen years ago, and should work again. Except for one thing. The foreign troops and their smart bombs.

NATO and U.S. air power have been a disaster for the Taliban. It was a few dozen aircraft, dropping a few hundred smart bombs, that smashed the Taliban fighting force in late 2001. Since then, the Taliban have come up with some ways to limit the smart bomb damage, but have not been able to avoid the constant destruction these weapons deliver.


But the Taliban have a plan for getting rid of the smart bombs, and it depends a lot on foreign journalists. These folks are always looking for an "exciting" story, and nothing is more exciting than "atrocities" committed by NATO or American troops. Defeats by NATO or American troops also plays well with the foreign reporters. So the Taliban endeavor to feed the foreign journalists as many suitable stories as possible. The Taliban understand that the story doesn't have to be true, just plausible. The news cycle is short, and the media proceeds on the assumption that news consumers have no sense of history. If the Taliban can get a story out there, they have succeeded, no matter how much the story is later discredited.
In a free society we cannot silence the media, quite rightly of course. The media ought by now to treat any claim of NATO massacres with the utmost scepticism until independent confirmation is made, but failing that then the press simply cannot be trusted.

Bindelpalooza Part Two: Lunatics Running The Asylum

In her latest missive about rape (again) she urges the government to implement a publicity campaign to inform potential jurors about what rape is. However there is another snippet in the article that might explain why the conviction rate for reported rapes is so low:
I coordinated a scheme in West Yorkshire in conjunction with the CPS, to deliver specialist training to prosecutors in all aspects of sexual assault
I'm not being flippant, but I suspect that a lot of jurors harbour concerns that prosecutors are pursuing cases that should not go to court in order to advance political ideologies. When the CPS are send staff on training courses that are conducted by a cliched man hating feminist whose published work reveals that she more or less believes that any accusation should equal a conviction then that exemplifies those concerns. In fact Bindel has enthusiastically defended obviously malicious false accusers and appears to believe that no amount of evidence can prove that an accusation was false. In fact almost any description by her of a case that has featured in the news will invariably leave out any information that puts it into some kind of context. This isn't so bad for a newspaper columnist but for someone who has advised the CPS it is unacceptable. In a jury system, when the prosecution is suspected of not being interested in justice, the juries will be more reluctant to convict.

Bindelpalooza Part One- Men Off The Streets.

Julie Bindal, author of such classic Comment is Free pieces such as "Why I Hate Men" and "An End To Gender" has been on a role this week treating us to no fewer than two articles on Wednesday plus one at the weekend.

First up is "Fighting Fear", Bindel writes:
One of my friends, who has been involved in the women's liberation movement for as long as I have, sneered at me when I asked her if she was coming on this Saturday's Reclaim the Night march through London. The inference was that she had something better to do. Well there is nothing better I can think of to do on Saturday. If you are planning to watch X Factor instead of marching alongside your sisters, chanting fabulous slogans such as "men off the streets," and "yes means yes, and no means no," consider this....
Well I can think of a few things better to do on a Saturday, gardening, shopping, reading, raping, going out for dinner or watching a film for example.
Despite four decades of campaigning against domestic violence, over 100 women are still killed every year by current and former partners.
In fairness she is the only writer at the Guardian who writes about the murder rate, but 100 murders out of around 22 million adult women ( that's a guesstimate) isn't exactly an epidemic. Obviously any number of murders is too high but this is just scaremongering.
Male violence towards women and children - yes, male - is pandemic. We must force them to change - to stop raping, killing and abusing us.
Oh do I have to?
. When I march on Saturday, I will be doing so for women everywhere...
That's awfully good of her, there hardly seems any point anyone else turning up.
...because sexual violence is the only thing in the world that affects all women
A big claim which she then expands on:
let me ask you (women) something. Can you honestly say, hand on heart, that you have never feared rape? Have you never modified your behaviour, even just a little, for fear of being attacked? Remember that time you took a minicab home, alone and drunk? Did you feel relieved the next day that nothing bad happened to you? Or when you walked through a park late at night alone?
I'm pretty sure that everyone modifies their behaviour slightly to avoid being a victim of crime. I'm not entirely convinced however that the small number of men who do carry out sexual assaults on women are going to be dissuaded by a coven of femiloons denouncing the entire male sex as guilty. Maybe I'm wrong and if only more people had attended last year then the Ipswich murderer would have paused for thought and been shamed into not murdering women by the guilt felt for making women feel unsafe.

It is of course true that men commit the majority of crimes and the vast majority of violent or sexual crimes. However Bindal appears to be have made the logical fallacy (or phallusy) that because most crimes are committed men that this means that most men commit these crimes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Laws Are For The Little People.

August 2007:
Harriet Harman, the Labour Party's chairman, has secretly discussed with senior colleagues ways of stopping Lord Ashcroft from using his private wealth to win more seats for the Tories by using a loophole in the Political Parties , Elections and Referendums Act 2000
November 2007:
Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader and party chairwoman, was clinging to the support of Downing Street last night after it emerged that her deputy leadership campaign took money from a woman who had acted six times as an unlawful conduit for funds secretly given to Labour by a businessman.
So she was plotting to prevent Labour's opponents spending money raised legally at the same time that she was in receipt of money raised illegally. When John Prescott stood down I really didn't think that it was possible to find someone who wouldn't be both more intelligent and less sleazy, to find someone who fails on both counts is almost impressive.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Injustice Systems.

Three recent stories all from the Arab world:
  • Saudi Arabia- In a much publicised case a women was subjected to a gang rape. The Saudi sharia courts sentenced her to 90 lashes, when she appealed this sentence the judges increased her sentence to 200 lashes and 6 months in prison.
  • Egypt- A 47 year old Christian woman was sentenced to three years imprisonment for fraud. Her crime was that she filled out forms claiming to be a Christian, but the Egyptian law considers her a Muslim because her father converted to Islam when she was 2 years old before converting back to Christianity when she was 5. She has never practiced Islam.
  • Sudan- A 54 year old British teacher is in prison and could face several months inside for letting the children she teaches name a teddy bear "Muhammed". This is for some unexplained reason blasphemous.
The key function of a legal system is to provide a framework so that the population understands what sort of behaviour is likely to be unlawful and can adjust their actions accordingly. In all of these cases the law is used to punish people for things that no reasonable person could have avoided. Any system of law that is so opaque that it can ensnare those who have never tried to offend makes everybody in that society intensely vulnerable to those who control the judiciary. Sharia law isn't just an equal but different form of jurisprudence, it is a system tailer made for repression.

Holocaust Deniers At The Oxford.Union

I can't get too worked up about the Oxford Union's invitation to Nick Griffin and David Irving. Obviously the Union's stated reason for offering the invitation is rubbish, it isn't about free speech, since no one has a right to speak at any debating society of their choice. They are publicity seeking pillocks, however the loudest opponents of the debate are melodramatic ninnies too, claiming that Oxford students are now scared of being attacked by skinheads because of these invitations.

They are rather selective in their outrage as well, seeing as very few of them protested about the leader of the totalitarian Islamist group Hizb Ut Tahrir speaking at the Oxford Union earlier this year.

If any society which I belonged to invited a liar and fraud like the Hitler enthusiast David Irving to be a guest speaker then I would be inclined to do as some OU members have done and resign, I'm less well informed about Nick Griffin so I don't have a firm view on him. However letting Irving speak is not going to result in a big upturn for the neo nazi movement. Totalitarian movements don't gain support as a result of their well reasoned arguments or the eloquence of their propaganda. It is the element of coercion that make these movements dangerous as the late philosopher Eric Hoffer said sometime in the True Believer:
"Were propaganda by itself one tenth as potent as it is made out to be, the totalitarian regimes of Russia, Germany, Italy, and Spain would have been mild affairs. They would have been blatant and brazen but without the ghastly brutality of secret police, concentration camps, and masss extermination."
This applies equally to the same movements before they took power, where the coercion took the form of Brownshirts and Redshirts acting as quasi-military wings for the various groups. To prevent the rise of fascists, communists or islamists the focus should not be on preventing them from speaking or even on making sure that their arguments are defeated (in practice the likes of Irving or Galloway are often highly eloquent and capable of winning debates even when they are wrong). Instead the role of the state is preventing them from exerting any physical threat.

Australia Liberated!

Christmas has come early for the whining left as Australia's John Howard lost his bid for a fifth term. Howard was a superb Prime Minister who infuriated the sort of Australian who thought that Australian culture was something to be ashamed of, so naturally they are ecstatic even though the bloke who beat him won by positioning himself as John Howard 2 (from what I understand the Australian Labor Party can sometimes outflank the Liberals on the right). The Guardian leader column is naturally thrilled and after some national psychoanalysis of Australians, and their 'ungenerous national character'. Elsewhere in the paper an Australian novelist by the name of Richard Flanagan writes that:
John Howard famously said the times were his, and for more than a decade it seemed they were. Australia experienced the greatest and most sustained boom in its history. Yet at its end Australia's indigenous population was in a ruinous state
As opposed to before when they were doing wonderfully.
its extraordinary environment was threatened on numerous fronts
None of which you seem to want to name.
, and its people were beginning to ask where the wealth had gone: public schools and public health were in crisis, social welfare was straitened, housing was unaffordable for many
Well I'll take you're word for it Richard, but aren't Australia's schools run primarily by the state governments (mostly Labor for the last few years)? So Howard did his job well but his opponents failed in their tasks.
and wages and conditions were being cut under Howard's industrial reforms.
I'm willing to bet that Australian wages are rising steadily, andcutting back regulation will make them grow faster.
Howard had promised that Australia would be relaxed and comfortable under his rule, yet this year Australians had become more fearful and suspicious of each other than ever
No evidence is offered for this assertion. I'm guessing he means that he and fellow members of the chattering classes are sullen and resentful about their fellow citizens for not following the lead of their cultural betters. Whenever a conservative leader is fairly popular the left like to pretend that the nation is in a state of fear.
Yet while he often seemed little interested in Asia, over the past decade Australia became far more closely tied in terms of trade to China, India, Japan and Indonesia, and its destiny ever more deeply enmeshed with the coming Asian century.
The Australian left has an obsession with becoming Asian, something which I suspect derives from their sense of shame at Australia's actual culture essentially being an off shoot of British culture. This supposed interest in Asia amounts to little more than the most idolised Labor leaders sucking up disgustingly to some of the most brutal tyrannies on Earth, as with Paul Keating's sycophancy to the Suharto regime in Indonesia or Gough Whitlam prostrating himself before Mao's China. The rest of Flanagan's article goes on a bit and I can't be bothered to Fisk all of it, but there are several straightforwardly bogus claims throughout as well as yet more allusions to a national mood which is fearful, mean and selfish except when Labor wins when it becomes comfortable and optimistic.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Britain Sued For $1 900 000 000 000.

Oh dear it appears that Britain is being sued. An ethnic Indian lawyer Waytha Moorthy Ponnusamy from Malaysia is claiming that the crown was negligent at the time of Malaysian independence by failing to install safeguards against ethnic discrimination so he wants £1.9 million billion Trillion!

Obviously it is going to get kicked out of court fairly swiftly, but that doesn't matter so much because I doubt that even Mr Ponnusamy actually intends to get any money from this. He is using the court system to widen the general awareness internationally of the racial discrimination against the ethnic Indians and Chinese in Malaysia that is enshrined in various 'affirmative action' programmes that the country has pursued.

I'm not generally in favour of using the legal system to make political statements, but seeing as our judiciary don't seem to feel the same it seems churlish to begrudge this lawyer his fifteen minutes of fame because if his case receives wide publicity it could drill a fairly straightforward concept into the little minds of Britain's bureaucratic elite "You cannot discriminate, in favour of one ethnic group without discriminating against other ethnic groups". It does not matter whether it is called positive discrimination, affirmative action, enhancing diversity or any other euphemism, discriminating on the grounds of race invariably harms people unfairly.

{Via here}

The Real Reason England Lost.

Croatia rose to the occasion in their crucial Euro 2008 defeat of England - after an apparent X-rated gaffe by an English opera singer at Wembley.

Tony Henry belted out a version of the Croat anthem before the 80,000 crowd, but made a blunder at the end.

He should have sung 'Mila kuda si planina' (which roughly means 'You know my dear how we love your mountains').

But he instead sang 'Mila kura si planina' which can be interpreted as 'My dear, my penis is a mountain'.

Now Henry could be one of the few Englishmen at the Euro 2008 finals in Austria and Switzerland as Croatian fans adopt him as a lucky omen.

They believe his mistake relaxed their chuckling players, who scored an early goal in the 3-2 win that put Croatia top of the group and knocked out England.

Whether it was an honest mistake or whether he was just bragging hasn't been confirmed.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Compare & Contrast.

It's been one year since the murder of Alexander Litvinenko most likely at the behest of the Russian government, Russia refuses to extradite the man suspected of the murder Andrei Lugovoi. One of the few acts of this government which I have welcomed was the refusal to let it lie. Russia has countered that Britain's stance is hypocritical on the grounds that we have refused to extradite Vladimir Putin's political opponents such as Boris Berezovsky, although the situations are quite obviously not comparable. However it is hard to sustain a defence of Britain's demands for suspected murderers to be extradited when our courts are pulling stunts like this:
A Belfast court has turned down an application for the extradition of Roisin McAliskey to Germany.

German authorities wanted her to face trial for the attempted murder of soldiers at a British army barracks in Osnabruck in northern Germany in 1996.

Ms McAliskey was arrested at her home in Coalisland last May and was on bail.

The Recorder of Belfast, Judge Burgess, refused the application on the basis that it "would be oppressive because of the passage of time".

It is hard to believe that the Judge's decision is based on anything more than political expediency seeing as there has never been a statue of limitation on attempted murder. How can Britain credibly demand that Mr Lugovoi be extradited when we refuse when our bent judges shield those suspected of trying to murder British soldiers?

Complaining Civil Servants

Last month I posted this:
I was watching Question Time just now and the topic of Britain's unhygienic hospitals came up. In the middle of the discussion someone in the audience said something like "I work in the NHS and we work very hard and most hospitals are very good", she got a round of applause. What has it come to when the fact that some hospitals don't infect all their patients is worth a round of applause?
Well, watching Question Time again last night there was an almost identical moment when a treasury civil servant complained that most of them do their jobs well, don't lose important discs and it's a hard life being a civil servant etc. So can I just reiterate, not completely screwing up your job is not a reason to be applauded, and if you do screw up the solution is not to give more money (sorry "resources") to the offending department.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I Don't Get It.

This data protection scandal has left me confused about even more things than usual. First of all why is it Alastair Darling who is being blamed when the lax security procedures were clearly in place before he took over, shouldn't the blame be laid at the feet of Gordon Brown? Secondly why on earth did the government lie and claim that the disks were sent by a junior official rather than a senior official as appears to be the case? Surely if junior staff members had easy access to the personal details and bank details of 25 million people as a matter of routine then that is even worse than a one off blunder by a senior official.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Nonsense Stat Of The Day.

In the light of the England football team's inability to qualify for the European championships a lot of the press will be running stories like this one:

According to one study, by the Centre for Economic and Business Research, based on an examination of the impact of the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2004, the effect of non-qualification could be as much as £1 billion.

The report predicted England's failure to reach Euro 2008 would lead to a dramatic drop in advertising revenue for television companies, along with a sharp fall in income for betting companies and supermarkets.

Around £300 million was spent on advertising during last summer's World Cup in Germany.

Beer sales would also go flat - the last thing the brewing industry needs after it emerged yesterday that their profits had tumbled by 78 per cent between 2004 and 2006.

The CEBR suggested that a successful tournament for England would contribute to a boost of more than £285 million for pubs, clubs and off-licences.

This is utter bollocks because it assumes that people who would have spent next summer going to pubs, having bets* or watching television are going to curl up in a dark room for a month instead. Whilst it is obviously saddening to see the alcohol and gambling industries take such a hit, their potential customers will simply spend the same amount of money on different things, or on the same things but spread throughout the year. Perhaps someone might even spend some of that time and money teaching some English kids to play football, I mean there are quite a lot of Croatians over here now willing to work.

Ian Smith

The death of former Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith is marked in todays Telegraph by David Blair, who was their Zimbabwe correspondent until the Mugabe regime expelled him. Blair, unusually for someone with that name, gets it right in my view:

Nothing can convey UDI’s monumental folly. Even in 1965, the reasoning behind Smith’s decision was obviously absurd. First, Smith assumed that white Rhodesians – a dwindling minority of four per cent in 1965 – could monopolise political and economic power into the indefinite future. "I don’t believe in majority rule ever for Rhodesia, not in a thousand years," he famously declared.

If UDI was to survive, Rhodesia needed allies, notably Portugal which then ruled neighbouring Mozambique. The two countries shared an 800-mile frontier which had to be kept secure.

So Smith gambled that Portugal’s African empire would last for another thousand years or so.

South Africa provided Rhodesia with oil and electricity. Smith assumed that Pretoria’s apartheid regime, dominated by Afrikaners with a deep suspicion of British settlers, would support Rhodesia forever.

Lastly, Smith presumed that Rhodesia’s black majority – 96 per cent of the population – would accept their status as second class citizens.

These assumptions were so wildly unrealistic that only a fantasist could have believed them.


Thanks to Smith, white Rhodesia dealt with its most dangerous enemy at the moment when its hand was weakest. The outcome was a transfer of power to independent Zimbabwe in 1980 on terms far worse for the white minority than could have been achieved before UDI.

Far from preserving what Smith called "decent, responsible, Christian standards", UDI was the making of Mugabe.

Without Smith’s folly, Mugabe may never have come to power. It is impossible to avoid the verdict that Smith was the co-author of Zimbabwe’s tragedy.

Although Smith's personal qualities were in many ways admirable this seems an eminently fair summary of what he actually accomplished and is why trying to rehabilitate his reputation on the grounds that Mugabe and Zanu PF are far worse is not credible. As with the Tsars in Russia or the Batista regime in Cuba the fact that the successor regime is an order of magnitude worse does not diminish the old regimes failures but magnifies them.

Milking It.

Everyone, it seems, has already posted about Heather Mills McCartney's latest campaign to persuade everyone to switch from cows' milk to milk from dogs, rats and cats, so I don't have anything to add myself, but it does give me an excuse for posting this clip:

I suppose I might as well link to an old post of mine about Heather Mills and amputee sex as well whilst I'm at it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hot Swedish Model.

When it comes to education the Swedish model* could make a big improvement into the standard of education:
When Daniel Lundquist and his wife Ulrika moved to Ingaro, 30 minutes' drive east of Sweden's capital Stockholm, they immediately started looking for schools for their three young children.

Like many British parents they worried that the local state schools were either too far away or not quite what they wanted.

However, rather than complaining or simply going private, the Lundquists decided on a route currently not available to most British parents - they actually set up a brand new state school themselves with other local parents and helped run it just how they liked.

I'm glad that the Conservative Party are considering this, although it is depressing to see that Cameron is so scared of the Conservatives' being seen as right wing that they feel the need to insert a needlessly meddlesome spanner into the works of their own proposal:

There is one big difference between the Conservative proposal and the Swedish system - profit will not be permitted.

David Cameron does have to appeal to the centre ground so I understand the some of the positioning that he has done, but being outflanked on the right by Swedish socialists is ridiculous.

* As Tim Worstall points out on his blog fairly regularly, commentators like Polly Toynbee who salivate over the Swedish way of doing things generally don't actually know what Sweden does, just that they have high tax levels.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Hollywood Screenwriter's Strike.

It's an ill wind....

Self Esteem As A Substitute For Education.

In response to Tory proposals to test children's reading ability at the age of 6, Chris Davis of the National Primary Headteachers' Association claims:
"One of the worst things you can do with a very young child is give them the impression that they can't do something,"
I'd have thought that not teaching them to read is worse that giving them the impression that they can't read.

As far as I can see there are two possibilities as to why he says this both of which are pretty bad. The first option is that he is acting like a typical union baron who puts the interests of his members ahead of the children that they are responsible for and is cynically invoking the welfare of the children to protect his colleagues from scrutiny.

The other possibility is that he genuinely believes in the cult of self esteem. This basically means that it doesn't matter if school pupils are illiterate and innumerate as long as they feel good about it. As Squander 2 points out this results in the education system churning out legions of ignoramuses who are nevertheless utterly convinced that they are always right.

It isn't even as though there is reams of evidence showing that making children believe that they are good at something makes them so. If anything convincing them that they already understand a subject is likely to breed complacency as a quote I first cited back in May 2006 demonstrates:
an international study of 13 year olds found that Koreans ranked first in mathematics and Americans last. When asked if they thought that they were "good at mathematics," only 32% of Korean youngsters said "yes"- compared to 68% of American 13 year olds.
As I have said before self esteem is not a good thing unless it is deserved.

Quietly Querying Quango Quantity.

On the subject of Quangos, this report from the People, not previously known for it's right leaning political sympathies, is depressing:

Gordon Brown is creating NINE new busybody quangos costing £2.4BILLION.

That pushes the number of bureaucratic organisations interfering in our lives to 528 with a combined bill of £175billion.

The move comes despite Mr Brown vowing in 1995 that a Labour government would ABOLISH most quangos.

They land each taxpayer with a bill of £2,000 a year - even more if NHS trusts and the BBC are included.

The government won't abolish Quangos although they might occasionally try to create the impression of doing so by merging, splitting, renaming and reclassifying existing ones. I would guess that the Taxpayer's Alliance are probably underestimating the true total on account of manyof the Quangos being disguised as Non Departmental Public Bodies or as supposed Charities that just happen to get the bulk of their money from the government.

(Link via Wat Tyler at Burning Our Money, and original report by the Taxpayers Alliance)

Friday, November 16, 2007

You Say Potato, I Say 'How Much Is This Costing Me?'.

I was going to a post about Quangos but got bored. However whilst looking up something about my favourite Quango, The British Potato Council (you could say that I have a chip on my shoulder about them), I came across this story from 2005:

Potato farmers held a noisy protest outside Parliament today to get the term "couch potato" removed from the Oxford English dictionary, claiming it harms the vegetable's image.

A similar rally took place outside the offices of the dictionary's publishers in Oxford, with demonstrators carrying signs that read "couch potato out" and "ban the term couch potato".

The British Potato Council wants the expression stripped from the Oxford English Dictionary and replaced in everyday speech with the term "couch slouch". It says the phrase makes the vegetable seem unhealthy and is bad for its image.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term "couch potato" started life as American slang. It means: "A person who spends leisure time passively or idly sitting around, especially watching television or video tapes."

Kathryn Race, head of marketing at the British Potato Council which represents some 4,000 growers and processors, said the group had written to the Oxford English Dictionary stating its objections but had not yet had a response.

So the government sets up a pointless agency to lobby the government to do something that isn't within the power of the government to do. Just remember that the next time a minister starts scaremongering about how cutting taxes will lead to hospitals having to turf out their patients.

UPDATE: In more potato related news, (well I am an unenlightened common 'tater), I've discovered that 2008 is the UN designated "International Year of the Potato". No doubt much to the delight of the Irish.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Quote Of The Day.

"I have personal experience of this, having attended almost 30 schools as a child and now hundreds more as a visiting storyteller and diversity trainer."
~Richard R O'Neill at Comment is Free

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Not A Terribly Interesting Post About Local Government.

There was a very good article by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian yesterday about the centralised state of Britain. On the subject of local government he is more insightful and informed than any other current newspaper columnist :
Each year new burdens are imposed on councils under statute, through targets and by centrally negotiated, usually inflationary, wage deals. This, coupled with an ageing population and soaring inward migration, imposes costs on councils that are well above inflation, hence the severe upward pressure each year on council tax.As the burden of meeting local spending has shifted to the centre (from 60% local in the mid-1980s to 25% now), the local share must be covered by an unbuoyant, fixed-band council tax.
The UK is one of the most centralised states in the world and would benefit a good deal from transferring power from Westminster to town halls throughout the country. There are many reasons for this:
  • Public services are simply too large to be run well by anyone on a national scale. Even if the cabinet were populated by men and women with the vision of Alezander the Great, the judgment of Solomon and the management skills of Bill Gates then they would still not be able to do their job well. The abilities of the current cabinet are just a shade below that. To run an organisation the size of the NHS, the Health Secretary can either have a very flat management structure with few tiers of control between themselves and the frontline staff. This will invariably leave each manager too much to run to be able to the job well, they can have real impact on some of what they do but they can' possibly keep track of all their responsibilities. The alternative is for the cabinet minister to sit atop a very vertical management pyramid (something which many of them enjoy), in which there are many layers of control. This means that the management can keep track of their own responsibilities but what they do will have very little impact with what is actually happening to patients. In the absence of any real feedback the senior management will resort to setting targets for their subordinates to meet and the focus would no longer be on the patients, this is what happens currently.
  • Electorates in different parts of the country tend to have different opinions and beliefs about how they want their public services to be delivered. As it is one party gets into power at Westminster and tries to impose their vision on the whole country, leaving many people unsatisfied. Take schools for example, instead of arguing about whether the country should have a comprehensive, selective or voucher system for schools just let local government have the final say and if the voters of South Yorkshire want comprehensives but the people of Hertfordshire want grammars then let them have it, instead of imposing policies in areas where they are not popular. Far more people would have services the way they want them if they are run locally.
  • Comparisons between local services will encourage improvements everywhere. If instead on one government imposing one set of policies nationally there are fifty authorities trying new things and comparing the performance to each other then it can clearly be demonstrated which ideas work and which don't. At the moment there aren't any real points of comparison for public services that most people are familiar with, so governments can fob off objections to their system by misrepresenting the effects of the alternatives. If the alternatives can be seen to be working well a few miles down the road then this trick won't work nearly as well. "Let a thousand flowers bloom" as Mao once said, of course he then killed anyone who thought he meant it, but that is beside the point.
I could give more benefits of transferring power away from the centre, getting Parliament to focus on it's core duties instead of trying to micromanage people's lives, or the encouragement of civil society by persuading people to get involved in running their own communities (which would would have a side benefit for the parties of widening their memberships considerably). However one objection to local government has to be considered and this post is already dragging on a bit (congratulations if you're still reading this by the way).
  • Local government lost power in the first place because the far left took control of them, often by entryist tactics and proceeded to run them into the ground. That was certainly the main reason that Margaret Thatcher stripped them of so much responsibility. Yet after she did that she essentially reinforced their obnoxiousness by preventing their idiotic behaviour from having any effect on the lives of the people who elected them. If voters know that electing lunatics means having to endure the consequences then they will be less inclined to vote for clowns like Derek Hatton or Ken Livingstone. If councils have to raise most of their own revenue themselves they won't be so keen to drive out the taxpayers, if there is one thing that socialists care for more than socialism then it is money. If electors still elect idiots despite the consequences then that is their choice.
At the moment neither Labour nor the Conservatives have any intention whatsoever of relinquishing central power, which is probably detrimental to the parties as a whole but quite beneficial to those at the top of those institutions.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Selling For Prophet.

When I read that the Malaysian car manufacturer is launching an 'islamic car' my first reaction was that it seemed like a scam. The special Islamic features, a Koran compartment and a device for locating the direction of Mecca do bear some passing similarity to the glove boxes and GPS systems that are now common in most new cars. This is cynical and Islamophobic and there is in fact a significant gap in the market for Islam centred products. Here is just a small collection from my new Islam friendly range.

  • Halal Cutlery Set £49.99. Ideal for eating halal related products and so much holier than infidel cutlery. Includes one knife and one fork.
  • Islamic Prayer Chair £419.99. Have you always wanted a chair that was so advanced that it could be turned in order to face Mecca at a moments notice? Well wait no longer, our advanced team of technicians have created just the thing.
  • Muslim Storage Unit $139.99. Top scientists at the Islamic University of Medina have worked for year to create a multipurpose device capable of storing Korans, Burkas and Islamic Cutlery. This is a limited time offer you must order now!!!

British Children Most Resistant To Brainwashing

A survey of ten countries has been done for the British Council which has found that UK school pupils are the least globally aware. From highest to lowest the countries were ranked as follows; 1-Nigeria, 2- India, 3- Brazil, 4- Saudi Arabia, 5- Spain, 6- Germany, 7-China, 8-Czech, 9- USA, 10- UK.

The survey was carried out only among internet users which explains why the poorer countries do so well, seeing as in those internet users will be less representative of the wider population In fact judging from my email account most Nigerian internet users are sons or widows of General Abacha and desperately need my bank account to put money into. Judging from the BBC report it isn't a particularly good survey as it asks vague self assessment questions that don't actually measure awareness of anything, but rather whether the children are likely to share the values of the people who run the British Council:

Asked whether they saw themselves as citizens of the world or their own country, most saw themselves as global citizens - except in the UK, USA and the Czech Republic.

Young people in Brazil were among the most likely to agree with the statement "it is a good idea for schools in my country to have links or partnerships with schools in other countries" but the least likely to be in schools that had such links.

So as surveys go it isn't much cop. Mind you there has been a proper survey of European and American adults that was conducted recently for "France 24" which suggests that as a whole we tend to be less interested in foreign affairs than most countries of similar economic development.

Friday, November 09, 2007

I Iz Klevur.

This "Blog Readability Test" that has been going around looks like utter nonsense to me. In fact I would suggest that an inherent weakness of the gizmo is that it actively marks a site down for clarity and coherence. For example this blog's result is:

cash advance

Actually now I think about this test is an extremely valuable indicator of the bloggers worth and should be taken very seriously by everyone.


I think someone has stolen my wheelie bin. Bastards.

From Bad To Diverse.

This week and last week on the BBC's Question Time programme the issue of whether Ian Blair should resign over the De Menezes or not has come up. My own view is that he is the very epitome of post MacPherson politicised policing who should never have been appointed, however you can't hold an individual in an organisation as vast as the Metropolitan police responsible for every operational failiure. The IPCC report on his personal wrong doing in obstructing their investigation is a legitimate cause for dismissal though.

On Question Time, Blair's principle defenders were Tony McNulty this week and former police Commander Brian Paddick last week. Both of them when giving reasons why Blair should remain in his post gave his commitment to diversity as the main reason he should stay. Both Paddick and McNulty brought up diversity before they mentioned his record on crime and terrorism etc. Coincidentally the police officer who led the De Menezes team was Cressida Dick who rose to prominence at the head of the Met's "Diversity Directorate".

Maybe this is all a coincidence but it does seem possible that (a) Focusing the attention of senior officers on crap like diversity comes at the expense of improving operational competence and (b) The kind of abilities of a person who can rise through the ranks based on their ability to promote the politically favoured theories of racism and homophobia are not going to be the most appropriate people to lead important missions that require good judgment and leadership skills.

As Mark Steyn has said "The great thing about multiculturalism is that it doesn't involve knowing anything about other cultures", similarly despite all the efforts by the police to promote racial sensitivity and awareness of 'institutional racism', the leading exponents of this stuff are unable to spot the difference between a white Brazilian man and a black Ethiopian.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Building Buzzwords.

A big rise in shared home-ownership deals for young people will be promised by ministers today, in a move to give local councils in England more control over providing affordable housing for key workers and first-time buyers.
The phrases that I've bolded in this Guardian report of the government's housing policy are ones that seem to have been accepted as neutral terms by the media when they really are not. They originated, or gained popularity at least, when John Prescott was in charge of planning, (and I don't mean planning how to fit groping his female staff around his croquet schedule).

Anyone trying to sell unaffordable housing would quickly go out of business, so presumably "Affordable housing" is not meant literally so it presumably means "cheaper housing". The presumption behind the phrase is that the current high prices are the result of property developers and planners having decided to build sumptuous palatial residences for the rich whilst neglecting to provide for everyone else. In reality the problem with the UK's housing situation is that that there are not enough homes period, it doesn't matter whether the new homes are aimed at the higher end of the market or not, if 2 million new penthouse apartments are built it will have pretty much the same effect on house prices as building 2 million Noddy boxes. However artificially intervening to force developers to restrict the value of new houses will simply achieve exactly what de facto price controls achieve anywhere, to reduce the supply.

"Key workers" is the other buzz phrase that annoys me. First of all who decides which workers are "Key Workers"? From what I can tell the chosen few are exclusively public sector workers. Apparently the private sector consists of work that is essentially trivial to the functioning of the country, so whilst Social Workers, Bus Drivers and Diversity Consultants are "Key Workers", those that work in the manufacturing or service sectors of the economy will have to damn well learn to commute. Rather ironically the builders who are supposed to be erecting all this "Affordable Housing" aren't "Key Workers" whereas those employed at the council planning office creating obstacles to development are.

Secondly we are supposed to believe that there is a tremendous problem in retaining "Key Workers" in some parts of the country. This may well be the case but surely it would be simpler to raise the salaries. This isn't an appeal for even more public sector pay inflation, but rather to ask why public sector pay doesn't take account of local conditions. At the moment central government operates national pay scales in many of the sectors where shortages of frontline staff exist, pay rates that are very attractive in the North East of England where the cost of living is lower are less appealing for someone in the South East. The only reason this situation exists is to appease the public sector unions who have correctly come to the conclusion that local pay scales would result in a large majority of their members being paid less.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Anonymous Abuse Found On Internet- Hold The Front Page!

Much of the established media dislikes the blogosphere intensely viewing it as some kind of competition, in reality most blogs don't aspire to compete with the core functions of the press, such as news gathering, but they can fact check lazy journalism and present viewpoints as cogently as the op-ed sections. Which possibly explains why the Belfast Telegraph has run and incredibly dishonest and misleading account of an exchange that occurred on the blog "A Tangled Web", which is run by the Northern Ireland resident David Vance.

On the 21st of October David posted about the murder of a young man by the supposedly-no-longer-murdering-anyone-anymore, IRA after he was involved in a dispute with some of it's members. The post was clearly expressing anger at the murder of a young man, and the likely lack of consequences his killers would face. Most of the posts which followed displayed similar sentiments. On the 25th of October a troll going under the alias of "Local" insulted the dead man, and the small number of number of people who were still paying attention to the thread after 4 days took the writer to task.

Now you're probably nodding off by now because this story amounts to "Troll found at popular Blog!". Which is to say something that occurs thousands of times across the world each day. Not to the Belfast Telegraph who devoted a whole article to it:

New agony for Quinn family as sick abuse appears on net

Abusive comments about murdered Cullyhanna man Paul Quinn are being posted on the internet.
Web users are utilising a popular UK political commentary site to insult the 21 year-old who was beaten to death by a gang in Co Monaghan almost two weeks ago.
Not only is it a smear to imply that A Tangled Web condones such comments, almost no one would be aware of the abuse if a couple of comments left on a dorment blog thread weren't hyped up to ludicrous proportions by the major newspaper of Ulster in the first place.