Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Greenland Ice - Stop Press

I interrupt this series of, ah... long winded posts to bring you this debunking of the Great Greenland Ice Sheet Scare, from Cliff Ollier, School of Earth and Geographical Sciences of the University of Western Australia, which came to me by Benny Peiser's excellent email list.

The following is the abstract from a lengthy paper:

Hansen is a modeller, and his scenario for the collapse of the ice sheets is based on a false model. Hansen has a model of an ice sheet sliding along an inclined plane, lubricated by meltwater, which is itself increasing because of global warming. The same model is adopted in many copy-cat papers. Hanson’s model, unfortunately, includes neither the main form of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets, nor an understanding of how glaciers flow.

The global warming doomsday writers claim the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are melting catastrophically, and will cause a sudden rise in sea level of 5 or more metres. This ignores the mechanism of glacier flow which is by creep. Glaciers are not melting from the surface down, nor are they sliding down an inclined plane lubricated by meltwater. The existence of ice over 3 km thick preserving details of past snowfall and atmospheres, used to decipher past temperature and CO2 levels, shows that the ice sheets have accumulated for hundreds of thousands of years without melting. Variations in melting around the edges of ice sheets are no indication that they are collapsing. Indeed ‘collapse’ is impossible.

Monarchy, constitutions and republicanism, Interlude

A quotation. I dipped into W L Warren's book about King John earlier, and came across this:

Men insist perhaps most firmly on the value of custom when instability and change threaten them most closely; and they are apt to insist most tenanciously of all when in fact they allow the tide of change to carry them along. It gives reassurance that they are moving purposefully, and are not merely adrift on an uncharted sea.

UPDATE: The next in this series of posts will not appear before this evening.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Monarchy, constitutions and republicanism, Part 2 - Parliament and the radical tradition

Part 1 - Magna Carta

Parliament assembles in the Painted Chamber of the royal palace of Westminster. The King, the Lords and the Commons all assemble together to hear the King's speech, in which he will lay out the "causes of summons" or the "points of the Parliament". This generally involves taxes that the King wanted to levy. Then the King announces, formally, that he will hear any petitions that anyone wants to present.

Following this opening of Parliament, the Lords assemble in one place, the Commons in another. They consider the business the King has outlined in his speech.

This isn't very different from the way the British Parliament conducts its business today. There is a Queen's speech in which the business of that particular session of Parliament is outlined, then the two chambers meet separately to discuss it. But the Painted Chamber dates my particular description. To when?

1340. In fact, this, Commons and all, was the system of Parliament by 1340. And although it is sometimes thought that the role of the Commons - the representatives of the cities and freemen of the realm - was only to bring petitions, in fact even at this early date they were required to answer the King's points. They were required to deliberate over the taxation the King wished to raise.

So was the structure of English governance set, almost seven hundred years ago. The King ruled, but had to summon Parliament to agree his taxation demands, and by so doing he was placed in a position wherein he had to hear the petitions of the Commons.

Exactly three hundred years after my slightly arbitrary date (slightly, because the first meeting called a Parliament met in 1240 and this was the centennial), in 1640, after a hiatus of a decade, an unpopular monarch who resented any restraint on his power summoned a Parliament to authorise taxes to support his wars against the Scots. Parliamentarians felt that if they were to consider taxes, the monarch should consider their petitions. Charles I disagreed, in fact he felt this was lese majeste, and he dissolved what we now know as the Short Parliament.

By November of that year his financial circumstances compelled Charles to summon Parliament again, and this time Parliament passed a law granting themselves the power to meet every three years even if the monarch didn't summon them. They passed a law forbidding the King to dissolve them, and ever since they have been known as the Long Parliament. This is, of course, the opening of the English Civil War.

What was happening, in a long view? Going back to the build up to Magna Carta, monarchical encroachment on the pockets and liberties of subjects had provoked a reaction. Most importantly, though, the subjects felt they should be consulted about decisions of state. If people are given a concession, it takes a further encroachment on their liberties - the ratchet has to click on a further notch - before they'll feel sufficiently motivated to take action. By the seventeenth century, it was the idea of the divine right of Kings, something that had taken root in the English monarchy in the reign of James I, that clicked the ratchet on this further notch. Charles I wanted money, but he felt no obligation to hear petitions - a part of the medieval contract forged in the thirteenth century.

Of course, reaction was not the sole prerogative of the King. And reaction can be radical. A radical tradition began, most clearly embodied in the Levellers, who issued a manifesto called the Agreement of the People. It's worth emphasising that this was not adopted by the republican government, which instead took the alternative offered by the opposing faction, the Grandees. Levellers were imprisoned by Cromwell. No criticism of the course the revolution took can reasonably be laid at the feet of the Levellers. So, what did they suggest?

* The right to vote for all men over the age of 21 (excepting servants, beggars and Royalists);
* No army officer, treasurer or lawyer could be an MP (to prevent conflict of interest);
* Annual elections to Parliament with MPs serving one term only;
* Equality of all persons before the law;
* Trials should be heard before 12 jurymen, freely chosen by their community.
* No-one could be punished for refusing to testify against themselves in criminal cases;
* The law should proceed in English and cases should not extend longer than six months;
* The death penalty to be applied only in cases of murder;
* Abolition of imprisonment for debt;
* Tithes should be abolished and parishioners have the right to choose their ministers;
* Taxation in proportion to real or personal property;
* Abolition of military conscription, monopolies and excise taxes.

Milton Friedman would have agreed with that. In fact, Friedman campaigned for the abolition of conscription, monopolies and excise taxes. They wished to limit the death penalty, extend the franchise and they emphasised the equality of all people. They sought term limits for MPs (an excellent idea), the prevention of conflicts of interest and the secularisation of the country (the abolition of tithes).

Parliament developed as a mechanism for limiting abuses of power by the monarch, and for involving the peers in the process of government. Even by the fourteenth century, Parliament included the Commons. As the monarch developed ideas of unlimited, divine power, so parliamentarians - not all of them, but some - developed the idea of a free society of free people, equally enfranchised, free from conscription and duress, taxed proportionately and moderately, with legal protections against excessive imprisonment before trial and against self-incrimination.

This radical tradition, which failed within a republican movement that was itself to fail, has been claimed by the left. That's actually reasonable. But it's also a reasonable claim for libertarians to make. At least, it is if those libertarians mistrust power and the people who are attracted to it and so seek term limits, if they hold every person to be equal, if they hold that the state and the law must always be subservient to the liberties of the individual so that, for example, nobody should be held without trial.

It's a radical tradition that we need to claim as libertarians. And it derives, fundamentally, from opposition to the idea of a monarch. After all, if every person is equal there can be no monarch.

UPDATE: I used the word "equal" casually there. It means, of course, things like equality before the law, equality of voting rights and so forth. There's no suggestion that any other form of equality, not least that of outcome (egalitarianism), was in this manifesto.

Monarchy, constitutions and republicanism, Part 1 - Magna Carta

Magna Carta is a misunderstood document. It wasn't some sort of ringing declaration of rights. It was much more practical than that, rooted in the politics and events of the time, so it needs to be placed in context. Let's step back a moment.

Much of the first half of the twelfth century was pretty disorganised. Central rule was weak, there was a dispute over the throne and barons were pretty much left alone to their own devices, or courted by one of the rivals for the crown. Then in 1154 Henry II became king and tidied things up; at the start of his reign there was still trial by ordeal, by the end there was trial by jury (though not as we know it). He had a conflict with the church over legal jurisdiction (the Thomas A Becket stuff), but got on reasonably well with his barons - who recognised a force of nature when they saw one. Things did start to fall apart a bit towards the end of his reign. An opportunistic (and very great) French King conspired with Henry's sons, who rebelled and Henry, it was said, died of a broken heart in 1189.

Then there was Richard the Lionheart. The barons liked Richard - because he buggered off. He left them alone. Apart from the taxes his crusades and campaigns needed, they were not much affected by the king. They didn't much like the taxes, or some of the methods used to raise them, something we'll see again later, but the great thing was that he wasn't there. This ensured he would be fondly remembered.

He only reigned for a decade though, and was succeeded by his brother John, who didn't bugger off and, worse, tried to be like his father Henry. He travelled a lot (and lost his baggage in The Wash in the process, including the crown jewels and the imperial regalia of Germany, if anyone fancies getting the metal detector out) and generally got in the way.

But the worst thing was that he liked the French. Well, he was French really, as had been Henry. In fact, few of the nobility spoke English at the time. What annoyed the English barons was that John had French favourites - men from continental France who he listened to in preference to the English barons and who, it has been suggested[1], he used as strong arm men. This was a dispute about whose counsel the king listened to. Later in the thirteenth century a similar dispute would lead to a red hot poker being pushed up the bottom of the king, but in the early twelve hundreds things didn't get this drastic.

Whose counsel the king listened to was absolutely vital at the time. Magna Carta confirmed lots of rights - of the church, of fisheries and so on - but they weren't really the point. Or rather they weren't this point.

Clause 50 of Magna Carta states:

We will utterly remove from their offices the relatives of Gérard d'Athée, Engelard de Cigogne, Peter and Guy and Andrew de Chanceaux, Guy de Cigogne, Geoffrey de Martigny and his brothers, Philip Marc and his brothers and his nephew Geoffrey, together with all their adherents, so that henceforth they shall have no office in England.
Or, as The Sun would put it, Hop Off You Frogs.

I wanted to make this point because I want to trace the development of the English Parliament, and this is where it started, I think. I know there were councils, Things and so forth in Anglo Saxon and Viking custom (don't forget the Danelaw), but this is where the English Parliament began. Even so, I want to make a small digression, because there are some uncanny parallels between England of 1215 and the Britain, in fact specifically the England, of today.

If you read Magna Carta, you'll see clauses like this one:
6. Heirs shall be married without disparagement; yet so that, before the marriage is contracted, it shall be announced to the blood-relatives of the said heir.
Without disparagement means not to someone of a lower social class. Snobbishness, hey? Not entirely, that was a blow against stealth taxation. Kings had developed a habit of marrying off heiresses to the highest bidder, even if they were in trade (a merchant, perhaps), and trousering the bid.

Or this one:
12. Scutage or aid shall be levied in our kingdom only by the common counsel of our kingdom, except for ransoming our body, for knighting our eldest son, and for once marrying our eldest daughter; and for these [purposes] only a reasonable aid shall be taken. The same provision shall hold with regard to the aids of the city of London.
Scutage (shield money) was originally a payment made in lieu of military service, but had become another form of stealth taxation, levied when no service was due.

This isn't about John, but he had been campaigning in France, and losing French lands, for more than a decade by the time of the Great Charter. His campaigns cost money and he had increasingly been resorting to disguised taxation - it really was stealth taxation - to raise the necessary money. He did this by abusing all the little ways he had of getting a buck, from marriages, deaths:
2. If any one of our earls or barons or other men holding of us in chief dies, and if when he dies his heir is of full age and owes relief, [that heir] shall have his inheritance for the ancient relief: namely, the heir or heirs of an earl £100 for the whole barony of an earl; the heir or heirs of a baron £100 for a whole barony; the heir or heirs of a knight 100s, at most for a whole knight's fee. And let whoever owes less give less, according to the ancient custom of fiefs.
Taxing trade and resources:
13. And the city of London shall have all its ancient liberties and free customs, both by land and by water. Besides we will and grant that all the other cities, boroughs, towns, and ports shall have all their liberties and free customs.
And so on. Ring any bells?

What's more, he had been infringing on the ancient liberties of barons, the church, and even freemen:
20. A freeman shall be amerced for a small offence only according to the degree of the offence; and for a grave offence he shall be amerced according to the gravity of the offence, saving his contenement. And a merchant shall be amerced in the same way, saving his merchandise; and a villein in the same way, saving his wainage — should they fall into our mercy. And none of the aforesaid amercements shall be imposed except by the oaths of good men from the neighbourhood.
In other words, habeas corpus.

High regular taxes, exploitative stealth taxes and the erosion of ancient liberties: It's fair to say, I think, that New Labour is not so "new" after all.

One further aside. The rebellion against John manifested itself in 1214 when the counties of East Anglia - Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Hertfordshire, together with Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, refused to pay scutage for overseas campaigns on the, completely spurious, grounds that they had no obligation for overseas service (they did). I suspect we will need to look to the bloody-minded English of those counties again.

But to summarise, Magna Carta was a reigning in of the infringement of liberties and of liberty. It was a detailed prohibition of more than a dozen specific forms of stealth taxation. But in a constitutional sense, it was the barons telling the King: "OK, if you're actually going to be here rather than overseas campaigning, and if you're going to have an effective government that really does run a legal system and raise taxes, then buddy, you're going to have to talk to us".

Or, as they put it (remember, this is written from the point of view of the King, because he was the one issuing the Charter):
61. Since moreover for [the love of] God, for the improvement of our kingdom, and for the better allayment of the conflict that has arisen between us and our barons, we have granted all these [liberties] aforesaid, wishing them to enjoy those [liberties] by full and firm establishment forever, we have made and granted them the following security: namely, that the barons shall elect twenty-five barons of the kingdom, whomsoever they please, who to the best of their ability should observe, hold, and cause to be observed the peace and liberties that we have granted to them and have confirmed by this our present charter; so that, specifically, if we or our justiciar or our bailiffs or any of our ministers are in any respect delinquent toward any one or trangress any article of the peace or the security, and if the delinquency is shown to four barons of the aforesaid twenty-five barons, those four barons shall come to us, or to our justiciar if we are out of the kingdom, to explain to us the wrong, asking that without delay we cause this wrong to be redressed. And if within a period of forty days, counted from the time that notification is made to us, or to our justiciar if we are out of the kingdom, we do not redress the wrong, or, if we are out of the kingdom, our justiciar does not redress it, the four barons aforesaid shall refer that case to the rest of the twenty-five barons, and those twenty-five barons, together with the community of the entire country, shall distress and injure us in all ways possible — namely, by capturing our castles, lands, and possessions and in all ways that they can — until they secure redress according to their own decision, saving our person and [the person] of our queen and [the persons] of our children. And when redress has been made, they shall be obedient to us as they were before. And any one in the land who wishes shall swear that, for carrying out the aforesaid matters, he will obey the commands of the twenty-five barons aforesaid and that he, with his men, will injure us to the best of his ability; and we publicly and freely give licence of [thus] swearing to every one who wishes to do so, and to no one will we ever prohibit [such] swearing. Moreover, all those of the land who of themselves and by their own free will are unwilling to take the oath for the twenty-five barons, with them to distress and injure us, we will by our mandate cause to swear [such an oath] as aforesaid. And if any one of the twenty-five barons dies or departs from the land, or in any other way is prevented from carrying out these aforesaid matters, the rest of the twenty-five barons aforesaid shall by their own decision choose another in his place, who is to be sworn in the same way as the others. Moreover, in all the matters entrusted to those twenty-five barons for execution, if perchance the same twenty-five are present and disagree among themselves in some respect, or if certain of those summoned are unwilling or unable to be present, that which the majority of those present may provide or command shall be held as settled and established, just as if all twenty-five had agreed to it. And the aforesaid twenty-five shall swear that they will faithfully observe all that has been set forth above. And neither of ourself nor through others will we procure from any one anything whereby any of these concessions and liberties may be revoked or diminished; and should anything of the sort be procured, it shall be null and void, and we will never make use of it either of ourself or through others.

Twenty five years later, they were calling that a Parliament.

[1] King John, W L Warren, 2nd edition 1990 Methuen paperback, p.272

Part 2 - Parliament and the radical tradition.

Web application security

What not to do.

UPDATE: I meant to point out it's a good anecdote about people who know some cryptography (terminology), but miss the absolute basics of security.

Aayan Hirsi Ali security trust

Via Christopher Hitchens, some details about Hirsi Ali's private security appeal.

... security for Ayaan Hirsi Ali might have to be paid for partly by private subscription. Here are the details for all who may wish to contribute to this eminently deserving cause. Checks should be made payable to the Ayaan Hirsi Ali Security Trust and sent to the same trust in care of Bank of Georgetown, 1054 31st St., NW, Suite 18, Washington, D.C. 20007. The trust's tax identification number is 75-6826872. Those who prefer wire transfer should use account number 1010054748 and bank routing number 054001712. This appeal is a test of our seriousness in the face of theocracy and its assassins.

Basic error

Via Worstall, a Guardian leader:

Capitalism's great advantage is supposed to be that it ensures the economy can learn from failure.
Nope. That's the free market, not capitalism. With a free market, lots of people try lots of different things and copy the things other people are doing if they seem to be working. Capitalism can exist in unfree markets, where this advantage doesn't exist.

It's amazing how these terms are conflated.

Quote quoted

John Brignall at NumberWatch writes in defence of that much maligned atom, carbon. He prefaces his piece with a quote from the great H.L. Mencken:

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Just thinking... My favourite headline of all time comes from an American newspaper in 1980 - I read it in Rolling Stone's review of the year...

Right to Lifers demand mandatory death penalty

100 million years before the dinosaurs

These smooth skinned amphibians.

Headline of the day

Scientists Find Oldest Living Animal, Then Kill It

From here.

Extreme fun competitions

Updates on the DARPA urban Grand Challenge, for autonomous vehicles in urban environments here, and the X Prize for lunar landers here.

Papal dispensation

There is a problem with this present Pope:

Pope Benedict XVI urged Catholic pharmacists on Monday to use conscientious objection to avoid dispensing drugs with "immoral purposes such as, for example, abortion or euthanasia."
He really doesn't get the separation of church and state idea.

Axis of evil cookbook

This is quite funny:

Review of banned books

At Sp!ked, a review of five books that have been pulped after libel action from a certain Saudi billionaire.

Quote of the day

"If there was a minute's silence for every Gurkha casualty from World War 2 alone, we would have to keep quiet for two weeks."
See here, a campaign (from a Lib Dem constituency) to grant Gurkhas proper entitlements.

Underachieving criminals

I once met a young man who was awaiting trial on a charge of armed robbery. He had taken an air pistol into an off license, and demanded the cash from the till, four cans of super lager and ten cigarettes. That still counts as armed robbery.

The would-be royal blackmailers remind me of that lad. They demanded £50,000 from the unnamed royal who they allegedly had on film taking drugs and engaging in a sex act. They could have got twice that from a newspaper, legally.



Apple's new version of OS X, Leopard, contains an icon for a "generic PC". Heh.

Coyote on climate

Here is a very clear and detailed statement of the climate sceptic case, from Warren Meyer of Coyote Blog and Running time is just under one hour.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Organic health

It is reported that organic food is more nutritious than conventionally produced food. I think that's inaccurate. Instead, the report should say that conventionally (intensively) produced food is less nutritious than other food. My home-grown vegetables aren't organic. I'll bet they have similar levels of nutrients in them, though.

Supermarket tomatoes taste like tap water, the ones from my garden this summer were bursting with flavour. Where's the surprise if nutrient levels match? But this has nothing to do with the High Priests of the Soil Association.

Putney Debates

Today was the 360th anniversary of the Putney Debates, and since I have named this blog after one of the Levellers, I ought to mark the occasion. The Debates were:

a series of discussions between members of the New Model Army and the Levellers, concerning the makeup of a new constitution for England. The debates were held at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Putney, in the county of Surrey (now in South West London), starting on October 28, 1647 and lasting until November 11.
We're still having some of the debates they had then. Here's a famous exchange:
Thomas Rainsborough, for the Levellers:
“ For really I think that the poorest he that is in England have a life to live, as the greatest he: and therefore truly, sir, I think it's clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government. ”

And Ireton, for the Grandees:
“ no man hath a right to an interest or share in the disposing of the affairs of the kingdom... that hath not a permanent fixed interest in this kingdom. ”
I've been seeing increasingly common suggestions that the vote should be limited to tax payers, born out of frustration with people voting themselves other people's money. I disagree. We live at a very similar time to the Levellers, in my opinion. Instead of an over-mighty monarch, we have an over-mighty Parliament. It is very important to assert the principle that government has no legitimacy at all except through votes and that if a person does not have the vote, they do not consent to the authority of the government, and nor should they.

Although the Levellers have been claimed by the political left, a more convincing argument can be made for their libertarian qualities. And as power slipped from them, and England reverted to a preening monarchy, Levellers and other Puritans crossed the Atlantic. Their legacy does not lie in England at all. Their gift to our time is the USA. Their constitutional ideas can be seen clearly in the American constitution.

Attacks against anti-Islamisation demonstrators

In Denmark. The full story can be read here.

The organisation that was attacked, the local branch of SIOE (see previous link), is coming under heavy criticism for links with neo Nazis and white supremacists, something I pointed out has been a problem with their parent organisation, the 910 group.

Nonetheless, the aggression and violence in the Copenhagen attack last Sunday is clear enough. SIOE people were wearing body armour, and cuts to their clothing show they would have been stabbed if they had not been protected.

So this was attempted murder.

UPDATE: Just to clarify this, it seems the attackers were leftists.

Govt to UK Schools - Don't buy Microsoft

I expect this will be smoothed over, but still... Straws in the wind?

Concerns over Microsoft's Office 2007 and Vista licensing terms have prompted a UK government agency to warn schools against signing licensing agreements. Becta, the UK's education technology branch, has also filed a complaint with the UK's Office of Fair Trading, alleging that Microsoft engages in anticompetitive practices in the academic software license marketplace.


When complaints from a neighbour forced an expensive lowering of their new roof, the builder of this house in Utah decided to install some unusual heating vents.

I was reminded of John Gladden, about whom there are disappointingly few pieces of information online. In the 1980s, he caught a very large marlin off the coast of Florida, and decided to celebrate with a life-sized model (IIRC) of the fish on the roof of his house in Norbury, South London. Here he is with another model, in a 2002 photo taken from a piece about a dispute over a heavily-decorated, publicity vehicle he had parked in the grounds of a pub opposite his engineering works.

Gladden, a very strong-minded Englishman who has, I believe, been a candidate for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, got into a serious row with Croydon Council in the 1980s. His plastic fish was some absurdly small measurement too large to have been erected without planning permission - a matter of inches. As the row escalated the police began, in Gladden's eyes, to harass him, so he harrassed them back. At that time his engineering works were on Acre Lane, Brixton, near where I lived, and he bought a large World War II vintage self-propelled gun (a tank, to the uninitiated), painted it pink, installed eight foot high plastic dinosaurs and pigs in police helmets, with truncheons, all over it and parked it in front of his factory. He was also given to driving it slowly through traffic.

When, in 2001, the police started giving the tank endless parking tickets, Gladden drove it to Brixton police station and parked it on their forecourt:

But when Mr Gladden, of St Oswald's Road, Norbury, went to retrieve his tank the next day - in July last year - he found the two pig sculptures and a giant hand giving a finger gesture, had been badly damaged.

The police said the sculptures were a safety hazard and had to be removed. But in doing so, they were damaged. And last week Mr Gladden, who owns a firm called Lightning Fittings, won a legal battle in the Central London County Court for the damage caused. He was awarded £4,400.

It was not the first time Mr Gladden has had problems with a vehicle. A court order was made back in 1994 banning him, or other people working for him, from parking any vehicle on "any public highway in the London Borough of Croydon so as to obstruct". He is also known for putting models of giant fish and jet fighter on top of his home.
Here's another one of Gladden's vehicles:

If you can't quite see what it is, he bought an American police car and decorated it with models of a policeman bending over, and a disembodied hand and arm spanking the police officer's bare bottom.

I remember the "giant hand giving a finger gesture" from the quote above. I met Gladden in the mid 1990s, when he was locked in a round of court appearances with jobsworths from Croydon's planning department. The hand was giant - about ten feet high - and had been attached to a hydraulic ram mounted in the middle of a small van, so the hand sat squarely in the middle of the van's roof when the ram was fully retracted. If the ram was extended, the hand was pushed twenty feet into the air.

Gladden had a plan. He was due to appear in court imminently and knew he'd lose that particular skirmish. He built the hydraulic hand so it could be parked outside the court building during the hearing. He knew the courtroom he would appear in would be on the first floor, and that he'd be able to get a parking space immediately beneath one of the windows.

As the magistrates pronounced his doom, Gladden's associates would press the red button, and the hand would rise, middle finger extended, to the courtroom window above.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The great adventure

Ruth had to park off-campus overnight, and could only find a space in a bad neighbourhood. When she returned to her car in the morning, there were some dents on the body and a side window had been smashed. A rock was sitting on the passenger seat, obviously the one that was thrown to break the glass.

It's easy to get angry in circumstances like these, but Ruthie was compassionate. After all, though some may still have been using their foreheads, there were signs there of simple tool use. One day, perhaps quite soon, one of them will get the idea of banging two of the rocks together. And then their great adventure will begin.

Friday, October 26, 2007

What they are fighting in Iraq

Michael J. Totten quotes from a book called House to House. Read Totten's piece.

The quote includes this, about the way "insurgents" treat their human shields:

I moved upstairs, searching for an insurgent who had been shooting at our Bradleys. Halfway up, I discovered a smear of blood on the steps. Then I found a tuft of human hair. Another step up, I saw a tiny leg.

Baby madrua.

Ah, fuck. Fuck.

The child was dead. She was torn apart at the top of the stairs. Specialist Michael Gross had followed me partway up the stairs. I turned to him and screamed, “Get back down! I said get the fuck back down!” Gross stopped suddenly, then eased off the stairs, a wounded look on his face. I was overly harsh, but I didn't want him to see what was left of this dead child...

I'll never forget that house. The woman kissed each of us good-bye. As she touched her lips to my cheek, I pointed to my wedding ring and asked her where her husband was.

“Weina zoah jik? Shoof nee, shoof nee.” Where is your husband? Show me, show me.
She spat on the floor and cried, “Kelp.” Dog. I guessed he was the corpse on the roof.

Police Special

Yesterday Leicestershire police confirmed that Ms Pilkington had contacted police repeatedly about youngsters making her and her daughter’s life a misery.

Neighbours claimed that children would bombard Ms Pilkington’s house windows with stones, bang on her front door and shout and call them names.

The pair lived on Bardon Road, an area renowned for children behaving in an antisocial way.
So the mother took her disabled daughter into a car, drove to a layby and set it ablaze, killing them both. Because the police wouldn't do anything effective about the louts in the street.

Did the indifference of the very people she was looking to for help add to the final despair of this poor woman?

Losing the "War on Fire"


How foolish fighting fire is. And what a waste of resources in a country where there are children without health insurance.

And it's no wonder fire hates us. We've been demonizing it ever since the first cinematic Frankenstein monster said "Fire bad!".
*Read the comments too.

Quote of the day

She has a point:

The most effective anti-poverty formula in America is: (1) graduate from high school; (2) don't have children before you are married and only have the number of children you can afford; (3) stay out of jail; (4) don't abuse drugs; and (5) have a decent work ethic; and save some of your hard-earned money. People who are chronically poor (as opposed to a temporary setback or folks who are recent immigrants) typically have broken at least three of these self-help rules. Often, all five. While they don't preach what they practice (yes, preach what they practice) in their own lives to others, liberal folks like Michael Eric Dyson used this formula to rise. It is the same formula that enabled my family to rise from slaves to poor farmers or sharecroppers to now three generations of folks who have gone to college on both sides of my family. Same for other folks.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Public service message

If you have an AOL account, and have emailed me in the past, virus scan your computer. I'm getting a lot of bounces, so someone's getting sending out spams with my address in the From header. But the first Received header in the original mail gives an AOL ip address, and these can't be traced very well. So if this might be you, scan away.

Goat vows to protect the cabbages


Gordon Brown has promised to open a "new chapter" on civil liberty in Britain, signalling both tougher new anti-terrorism laws and stronger protections for individual freedoms.
Cabbage eating and cabbage protection. Good stuff. Also:
Mr Straw also announced a consultation on the case for a new "British Bill of Rights and Duties".

Mr Brown said that could be a move towards a written constitution.

Liberty, the civil rights campaign welcomed "a change in tone" from Mr Brown compared the rhetoric adopted by Tony Blair.

But the group said it was disappointed that the Prime Minister had not dropped plans for longer pre-charge detention and a national identity card scheme.
Memo to Brown: Constitutions limit the powers of government.

Quiz night

Is the most expensive MP Labour or Conservative? How about the least expensive?

Darkness visible

An otherwise sensible piece in The Times about the Bronze Age site Silbury Hill has a final paragraph as follows:

Terry Dobney, a Druid, said: “It is a sacred mound, an effigy to the element of water built on top of a vast underground lake that feeds the Kennet and the Thames rivers. This would have been a place of tremendous significance in prehistoric times when people’s lives relied on water.”
What is The Times playing at? Apart from the idiocy of the quote itself (people's lives don't rely on water today?), this is like getting a quote from an astrologer in a piece about astronomy. It's worse than stupid, it is an example of the creeping superstition of our time.

Modern Druidism is a completely invented pseudo-religion, full of Victorian romanticism, with no connection at all to the Druids, who in turn were even more removed from the first builders of Silbury Hill than we are from the Druids.

Druids were part of a religion of which we know little, except that it involved human sacrifice, often by drowning. Some Romans (most famously Julius Caesar) wrote about the Druids, 2000 years ago.

Silbury was started 2,400 years before that and the aliterate Druids would have had no record at all, and no knowledge whatsoever, of the people who completed the mound in about 2000 BC.

This chronology can be found at the foot of the Times article, beneath the quote from the modern day "Druid" - a man who enjoys dressing up in bedsheets and performing rituals that were made up a century or so ago. The costumes of modern druids owe everything to Victorian paintings and nothing at all to what little we do know of the dress of people at the relevant time. Their beliefs and rituals are pure, modern invention. Even if they were accurate, they'd have nothing to do with the much older Silbury. How completely wrong can you get? And this is the "newspaper of record".

The darkness of superstition seems to be everywhere right now.

Jewish World Controllers

Norm Geras has the latest.

Prescient Persian

It seems that the Persian word "putin" means "boot". So living under Putin means living under the boot. Spooky, huh?

Click through and read an interesting post about Iran's historical relationship with Russia.

UPDATE: Do really click through, it's pretty funny. Sample:

Further support for the despot king meant Russian troops pouring into Iran and killing thousands of Iranian freedom fighters.
Conclusion: Death to America, Death to England, Death to Israel

Unforeseen consequences


A school in the UK is using RFID chips in school uniforms to track attendance.

So now it's easy to cut class; just ask someone to carry your shirt around the building while you're elsewhere.

Be cool

Health Secretary Alan Johnstone thinks that obseity is "a potential crisis on the scale of climate change".

I'm sure he's right. So we can all relax.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tips for would-be criminals

If you steal a printer, say a very specialised one that's used to print driving licences, don't call technical support asking for drivers.


There's a heated debate going on about abortion right now.

I think the answer is pretty simple. Abortion should be freely available on demand without any strings attached up to 13 weeks, and thereafter with the written consent of a doctor who has assessed the case and agrees, among other things, that the foetus isn't viable. That would have two effects. It would tend to displace abortions towards the earlier stage of pregnancy, because that's when it would be hassle free, and it would allow doctors to assess viability on the grounds of current medical science, and keep both the courts and Parliament out of it.

Thus would we be able to avoid having to step over the bodies of women who have haemorrhaged to death after a do-it-yourself abortion, while ensuring we didn't kill any children who are capable of living.

This is a purely pragmatic argument, and there's a lot to be said for pragmatism, in practice.

Blue lips?

If they're not on your mouth, you might be in trouble.

From WTF

Proper movies

Yup. After repeated box office bombs for hand-wringing, leftie shite the studios have started to make proper movies again, with explosions and everything.

Can't wait for I am Legend with Will Smith, Ray Winstone as Beowulf and, er... some bloke - forget his name - as Rambo.

It's illegal to film the police

"No it isn't."

"Yes, it is. Put that camera down."

"No it isn't. Under what law is it illegal?"



Our dawn will come

I feel too weary and depressed to summarise them in any detail, so will instead point you to the Devil's Kitchen's explanation of the two most recent attempts to stifle and corral free speech in Europe: a proposal that blog writers be forced to register, be certified and pay a tax before being permitted to publish, even if they make no money from their blogging, and the European Union's Racism and Xenophobia Directive, under which European bloggers will be imprisoned for expressing inaccurate or unfashionable opinions - including opinions that are, in my opinion, vile and incorrect.

But nobody should ever be threatened, hurt, killed or imprisoned for expressing an opinion. That is a fundamental of a free society.

The neo-conservative ambition of exporting democracy is noble, even if it is a piece of misguided leftist idealism. I tend to sympathise with it. The idea of importing totalitarianism is less appealing. Yet it is the latter that has gripped European governments. We will soon have joined Egypt (and Austria, for that matter) as a country that imprisons writers.

Meanwhile, a blogger who has been imprisoned already for expressing opinions that are unfashionable in the eyes of the religious and anti-democratic authorities in Egypt, Kareem, has written a letter from prison. In this, he refers to the case of three German anti-fascist campaigners who were tried in 1943 for anonymous pamphleting on campuses - something analogous to modern blogging, strangely enough. He quotes one of them, Sofia Scholl, who told the judge who had sentenced her to death:

The garbage of history will be stuffed with you soon. The coming generations will not have mercy with you. They will do as I am doing now. They will curse you. Please, make sure that no one will shed a tear for your sake, because you do not deserve it. Tomorrow is ours. It does not matter how tyrant you are in your attempts to silence us and confiscate our views. You should be aware for our revival because your days are counting down. Your dark night approached its end. Our dawn will come up very soon. Tomorrow is ours.
I'm sorry, Ms Scholl. You gave your life in vain. We have betrayed you.

Class and sport

The sports columnist at Spiked, Duleep Allirajah, writes about rugby and class. He hates the "class snobbery against football fans" that he finds among rugby supporters. Or, as he puts it (rather unselfconsciously):

I’d rather be at home than in a gastropub surrounded by braying toffs in England rugby shirts. Everyone’s entitled to their fun, even posh boys...
He's right. We all hate class snobbery.

Stealing privacy from the innocent

You might have missed this, because it didn't get a lot of mainstream press attention, but from the start of this month:

New laws going into effect today in the United Kingdom make it a crime to refuse to decrypt almost any encrypted data requested by authorities as part of a criminal or terror investigation. Individuals who are believed to have the cryptographic keys necessary for such decryption will face up to 5 years in prison for failing to comply with police or military orders to hand over either the cryptographic keys, or the data in a decrypted form.
The danger here isn't the decryption so much as the requirement that keys be handed over - thereby compromising all data encrypted with them whether or not it falls within the scope of an investigation. No significant business can be expected to bring their keys to the UK, and this has implications for the establishment of UK facilities.

At the same time, anyone with really dubious data to hide will either take the relatively light prison term (compared with a sentence for, say, terrorism), or keep the data location secret by using portable storage, or simply keep the files offshore (the law only applies to data physically stored in the UK). The latter is trivial - I use remote disks mounted into my regular filesystem as a matter of routine, and these disks could as easily be in Moscow as Manchester.

Know your constituency

Interesting speculation from Booker Rising here. Barak Obama is about to start a gospel tour in support of his presidential bid. One of the performers is Donnie McClurkin, a Pentecostal minister who "crusades" against homosexuality and claims to be a "cured" ex-homosexual himself. Shay, the blogger at Booker Rising, does the electoral maths:

Gays are, at best, 2% of the total electorate. Blacks are 12% of the total electorate. While there are certainly people who are both gay and black, it is white gays by far who are leading the charge against this gospel tour. Sen. Obama losing the gay vote is politically irrelevant. However, Sen. Obama is in a big battle with Sen. Clinton for the black vote, which comprises the majority of the Democratic primary electorate in the state of South Carolina. This gospel tour - and the criticisms of it by (overwhelmingly white) gay activists - may actually help Sen. Obama with black voters, because he may rightly or wrongly be seen in some black quarters as defending black culture from gay folks.

A question of torture

Via The Spirit of Man, come this headline from Associated Press:

Myanmar Dissident Dies Under Questioning

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Perfidious footsteps

As a public service, I feel I have to share with you this 1965 anti-pornography film.

I trust your maturity, but be aware - there are several appeals to "the sodomist" in the depicted material. The narrator also makes the very valid point that images like this... and this... and this... have a permanent corrupting effect. As does this one. Oh, and this, and this and this.

The wrong kind of evidence

Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have been rising more rapidly than most forecasts predicted. The Times reports:

An international team of researchers has found that, since 2000, the rate at which CO2 has been pumped into the atmosphere is 35 per cent greater than most climate change models have allowed for.
Since the year 2000. OK. What has the temperature been doing? Well, since the year 2000, global temperatures have levelled off. This year is a case in point. As recently as April, the Met Office forecast:
The latest seasonal forecast from the Met Office issued today, reveals that this summer is, yet again, likely to be warmer than normal.

Following the trend set throughout 2006 and the first part of 2007, seasonal forecasters say there is a high probability that summer temperature will exceed the 1971-2000 long-term average of 14.1 °C.

They also suggest the chances of temperatures similar to those experienced in 2003 and 2006 are around 1 in 8.

The forecast for rainfall is less certain, and currently there are no indications of an increased risk of a particularly dry or particularly wet summer.

The Met Office forecast of global mean temperature for 2007, issued on 4 January 2007 in conjunction with the University of East Anglia, stated that 2007 is likely to be the warmest ever year on record going back to 1850, beating the current record set in 1998.
In fact, this happened:
The main feature of the summer was the high rainfall experienced in many regions especially during June and July. It was the wettest summer for the whole of the UK since the rainfall series began in 1914. For England and Wales as a whole the summer has been the wettest since 1912. However, parts of north-west Scotland have been drier than normal.

The UK mean summer temperature was 14.1 °C which is the same as the 1971-2000 average. The UK average daily maximum temperature was just below average, whilst average daily minimum temperatures were just above average. It was the coolest UK summer since 1998.
Remember, too that the 1971/2000 temperature average is that of a rising graph - it was colder in 1971 than in 2000. Simply equalling this average is, for the year 2007, a significant drop in the temperature graph, not a levelling as one's intuition at first suggests.

To summarise, the prediction was that rising CO2 levels would generate rising temperatures. CO2 levels have risen significantly faster than expected. Temperatures have levelled off and started to fall. You don't suppose there's anything wrong with the models that predicted the temperature rises, do you?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Justice is blind

And the victim is blinded:

A paranoid schizophrenic who punched a 96-year-old war veteran in the face, leaving him blind in one eye, walked free from court yesterday after a judge ruled that detaining him was not in the best interests of the public.

Stephen Gordon, 44, was captured on CCTV launching a savage, unprovoked attack on defenceless Shah Chaudhury after they bumped into each other on a crowded tram in south London.

Best practice


Algerian landmines

It seems that:

France has given Algeria details of where its forces laid millions of landmines half a century ago. Antipersonnel mines were planted on the borders of the country during the Algerian war of independence to stop troops attacking the French colonial army from bases in Morocco and Tunisia. Algerian newspapers regularly report deaths and injuries, particularly of shepherds and children, from mines laid during the 1954-1962 war.

Let me understand this.

The war ended in 1962.

In 2007, 45 years later - after forty five years of dead and maimed children and other civilians - after nearly half a century, France has given Algeria plans that could help prevent this death and suffering.

What kind of person could allow this suffering and death - preventable suffering and death - to continue for forty five years? What kind of people, because there have been several generations of functionaries and politicians involved in this?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Cryptography and snake oil

Colin Percival, security officer for the FreeBSD project, has been looking at a new peer to peer (file sharing) data storage company called Wuala. This system is designed to let people share their disk space and bandwidth with others, to create a distributed, encrypted (for data security/privacy) online storage system that could be used for, for example, backup.

Online storage and backup is a fast-growing area of IT and the idea that this might be provided by a free, peer to peer system seems attractive at first sight.

But wait. One of Bruce Schneier's warning signs of cryptographic snake oil (unsubstantiated claims) came to Percival's mind when he read this on the Wuala website:

Security is a key design issue in Wuala: All files stored in Wuala are encrypted and all cryptographic operations are performed locally. Your password never leaves your computer - so no one, including us, can access your files unless you publish them. Wuala employs the 128 bit AES algorithm for encryption and the 2048 bit RSA algorithm for authentication.
In an interview, the CEO of Wuala had claimed:
In our system, everything is encrypted and the encryption is used by the CIA for top secret files.
(Beware of companies that claim military-grade anything, by the way). Percival notes that:
The US Committee on National Security Systems Policy No.15 states that "TOP SECRET information will require use of either the 192 or 256 [bit] key lengths [of AES]". Since 128-bit AES is not 192-bit AES or 256-bit AES, the cryptography used by Wuala may not be used by any US Governmental agency for top secret files.
Percival is himself working on a system for providing encrypted snapshotted remote backups as a commercial service, but I don't think this is clouding his view of Wuala. What's more, I offer a similar system myself. But even after these disclaimers, it's reasonable to say that with respect to Wuala the existence of inflated, incorrect and dubious security claims is a concern and, speaking personally, I'd be reluctant to make use of their service.

UPDATE: Colin Percival has pointed in the comments to his updated post about Wuala.


David T of Harry's Place has the lowdown on the latest bout of infighting in the rapidly disintegrating RESPECT "coalition". Click through. It's fun - and a real scoop.

Internet censorship again

How do you silence legitimate criticism online? Easy: just send a legal threat to the hosting company, rather than the author or publisher of the criticism. As the law stands, the hosting company is liable, will not be in a position to assess the merits of the disputed passage, and will therefore pull the plug.

It happened to Tim Ireland, Craig Murray and others in the recent Usmanov case. And it's happened again, this time to Andy Lewis, developer of the very excellent Quackometer, and exposer of bad and pseudo science. Lewis wrote a piece criticising the Society of Homeopaths. It began:

The Society of Homeopaths (SoH) are a shambles and a bad joke. It is now over a year since Sense about Science, Simon Singh and the BBC Newsnight programme exposed how it is common practice for high street homeopaths to tell customers that their magic pills can prevent malaria. The Society of Homeopaths have done diddly-squat to stamp out this dangerous practice apart from issue a few ambiguously weasel-worded press statements.

The SoH has a code of practice, but my feeling is that this is just a smokescreen and is widely flouted and that the Society do not care about this. If this is true, then the code of practice is nothing more than a thin veneer used to give authority and credibility to its deluded members. It does nothing more than fool the public into thinking they are dealing with a regulated professional.

As a quick test, I picked a random homeopath with a web site from the SoH register to see if they flouted a couple of important rules...
Lawyers from the SoH wrote, not to Lewis, but to his hosting provider, Netcetera, who asked him to remove the post. He has done so, and has written an open letter to the SoH's lawyers, asking them what their concerns are. No reply has yet been received.

It's impossible to overstate the seriousness of this. Libel and defamation laws can now be directed at people with the power to force a post or web site to be taken down, but no knowledge of or stake in the controversy. If this is not countered, the bad and the dishonest will have gained unprecedented power to censor legitimate criticism.

Of course, the law needs to be changed. But this isn't going to happen overnight. The best intermediate step is to make this sort of threat entirely counterproductive, as it was in the Usmanov case, when the allegations about Usmanov became far more widely reproduced, and read and known, than they would have been if Mr Usmanov's lawyers had directed their concerns at the author of the allegation, Craig Murray.

It's incumbent on us, I think, to place the Society of Homeopaths in the same position.

The disputed post has been reproduced in full on a server in Russia here, and with interesting comments interspersed by James Randi here. Given that there has been no response from the SoH, I reproduce it myself below, stating clearl;y that if substantive grounds for concern are brought to my attention by the Society of Homeopaths or their lawyers, or any interested party, I will take immediate and appropriate action. I also suggest any reader also look at James Randi's repost of this piece, in which he points out that the language used by the homeopaths mentioned in it is nuanced in such a way that it might, in at least some cases, avoid literal breaches of the SoH code:
The Gentle Art of Homeopathic Killing

The Society of Homeopaths (SoH) are a shambles and a bad joke. It is now over a year since Sense about Science, Simon Singh and the BBC Newsnight programme exposed how it is common practice for high street homeopaths to tell customers that their magic pills can prevent malaria. The Society of Homeopaths have done diddly-squat to stamp out this dangerous practice apart from issue a few ambiguously weasel-worded press statements.

The SoH has a code of practice, but my feeling is that this is just a smokescreen and is widely flouted and that the Society do not care about this. If this is true, then the code of practice is nothing more than a thin veneer used to give authority and credibility to its deluded members. It does nothing more than fool the public into thinking they are dealing with a regulated professional.

As a quick test, I picked a random homeopath with a web site from the SoH register to see if they flouted a couple of important rules:

48 • Advertising shall not contain claims of superiority.
• No advertising may be used which expressly or implicitly claims to cure named diseases.

72 To avoid making claims (whether explicit or implied; orally or in writing) implying cure of any named disease.

The homeopath I picked on is called Julia Wilson and runs a practice from the Leicestershire town of Market Harborough. What I found rather shocked and angered me.

Straight away, we find that Julia M Wilson LCHE, RSHom specialises in asthma and works at a clinic that says,

Many illnesses and disease can be successfully treated using homeopathy, including arthritis, asthma, digestive disorders, emotional and behavioural difficulties, headaches, infertility, skin and sleep problems.

Well, there are a number of named diseases there to start off. She also gives a leaflet that advertises her asthma clinic. The advertising leaflet says,

Conventional medicine is at a loss when it comes to understanding the origin of allergies. ... The best that medical research can do is try to keep the symptoms under control. Homeopathy is different, it seeks to address the triggers for asthma and eczema. It is a safe, drug free approach that helps alleviate the flaring of skin and tightening of lungs...
Now, despite the usual homeopathic contradiction of claiming to treat causes not symptoms and then in the next breath saying it can alleviate symptoms, the advert is clearly in breach of the above rule 47 on advertising as it implicitly claims superiority over real medicine and names a disease.

Asthma is estimated to be responsible for 1,500 deaths and 74,000 emergency hospital admissions in the UK each year. It is not a trivial illness that sugar pills ought to be anywhere near. The Cochrane Review says the following about the evidence for asthma and homeopathy,

The review of trials found that the type of homeopathy varied between the studies, that the study designs used in the trials were varied and that no strong evidence existed that usual forms of homeopathy for asthma are effective.
This is not a surprise given that homeopathy is just a ritualised placebo. Hopefully, most parents attending this clinic will have the good sense to go to a real accident and emergency unit in the event of a severe attack and consult their GP about real management of the illness. I would hope that Julia does little harm here.

However, a little more research on her site reveals much more serious concerns. She says on her site that 'she worked in Kenya teaching homeopathy at a college in Nairobi and supporting graduates to set up their own clinics'. Now, we have seen what homeopaths do in Kenya before. It is not treating a little stress and the odd headache. Free from strong UK legislation, these missionary homeopaths make the boldest claims about the deadliest diseases.

A bit of web research shows where Julia was working (picture above). The Abha Light Foundation is a registered NGO in Kenya. It takes mobile homeopathy clinics through the slums of Nairobi and surrounding villages. Its stated aim is to,

introduce Homeopathy and natural medicines as a method of managing HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria in Kenya.
I must admit, I had to pause for breath after reading that. The clinic sells its own homeopathic remedies for 'treating' various lethal diseases. Its MalariaX potion,

is a homeopathic preparation for prevention of malaria and treatment of malaria. Suitable for children. For prevention. Only 1 pill each week before entering, during and after leaving malaria risk areas. For treatment. Take 1 pill every 1-3 hours during a malaria attack.
This is nothing short of being totally outrageous. It is a murderous delusion. David Colquhoun has been writing about this wicked scam recently and it is well worth following his blog on the issue.

Let's remind ourselves what one of the most senior and respected homeopaths in the UK, Dr Peter Fisher of the London Homeopathic Hospital, has to say on this matter.

there is absolutely no reason to think that homeopathy works to prevent malaria and you won't find that in any textbook or journal of homeopathy so people will get malaria, people may even die of malaria if they follow this advice.
Malaria is a huge killer in Kenya. It is the biggest killer of children under five. The problem is so huge that the reintroduction of DDT is considered as a proven way of reducing deaths. Magic sugar pills and water drops will do nothing. Many of the poorest in Kenya cannot afford real anti-malaria medicine, but offering them insane nonsense as a substitute will not help anyone.

Ironically, the WHO has issued a press release today on cheap ways of reducing child and adult mortality due to malaria. Their trials, conducted in Kenya, of using cheap mosquito nets soaked in insecticide have reduced child deaths by 44% over two years. It says that issuing these nets be the 'immediate priority' to governments with a malaria problem. No mention of homeopathy. These results were arrived at by careful trials and observation. Science. We now know that nets work. A lifesaving net costs $5. A bottle of useless homeopathic crap costs $4.50. Both are large amounts for a poor Kenyan, but is their life really worth the 50c saving?

I am sure we are going to hear the usual homeopath bleat that this is just a campaign by Big Pharma to discredit unpatentable homeopathic remedies. Are we to add to the conspiracy Big Net manufacturers too?

It amazes me that to add to all the list of ills and injustices that our rich nations impose on the poor of the world, we have to add the widespread export of our bourgeois and lethal healing fantasies. To make a strong point: if we can introduce laws that allow the arrest of sex tourists on their return to the UK, can we not charge people who travel to Africa to indulge their dangerous healing delusions?

At the very least, we could expect the Society of Homeopaths to try to stamp out this wicked practice? Could we?

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Damn it, the question is no longer whether the Six Nations or the Tri Nations will include Argentina. It's can we get them? It would be a privilege.

Meanwhile, we wait for tomorrow night. The Boks are favourite - and with support for that team reaching the streets of Soweto, who could grudge them if they win? Of course I want England to succeed, but it's a win-win situation when the sport that I love best could unite a troubled nation if we lose.

It will be the last game for a number of players. Jason Robinson is one. With all the hype about Jonny Wilkinson, I feel Robinson is underrated. His success in both League and Union makes him unique. His contribution to this World Cup has been unequalled. He's going to go out at the top of his game. I think he's a candidate for the greatest rugby player of all time.

I'm hoping he scores a try and England win.

UPDATE: Congratulations, South Africa. The best team on the day won. But also congrats to the England team. A real, gritty performance.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Too busy to blog

Until next week. Next post Tuesday.

I will, of course, find time to watch the rugby.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Dillow and pies

I've criticised Chris Dillow more than I've complimented him, which is a testament to his powers of provocation rather than his qualities. If you see what I mean.

But this post about pies is one for the anthologies.

Trains, dentistry and death

The blogger and journalist Neil Clarke has attracted a lot of criticism recently, all of it too restrained. But I'm struck by his description of himself:

I support renationalisation of the railways... the restoration of NHS dentistry... and the restoration of capital punishment.
Neil, you're a cunt.


Now, I think Joanna Lumley is wrong. She prefers not to eat anything that has a face. She has stirred entirely different feelings in a lot of men, over the years.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Theology of Water Management


... studying for a Phd on the theological, social and ecological, implications for water management in the Murray-Darling River Basin
Via Tim Blair. I even stole his title. But hell, some things you just gotta do.

There is no wood

Some people can't see the wood for the trees.

Others can't see the wood because they have a theory that there is no wood:

... the real world has become increasingly sceptical in recent years about the power of leadership, political parties have become more obsessed with it.
Go out onto the high street with a clipboard. Ask people to name the party leaders. Then ask them to name other MPs from the different parties.

Then come back and tell me again that "the real world has become increasingly sceptical in recent years about the power of leadership".

Monday, October 15, 2007

Posting lull

I've been unwell, and now have a backlog of things to deal with, so posting is unlikely to resume properly before midweek.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Save the planet - eat kangaroo

Greenpeace Australia has urged people to eat kangaroo meat because, they say, it'll help combat global warming. Whatever, I second the motion. Kangaroo is one of the finest red meats I've ever eaten - tender, with a wonderful almost smoked flavour.

Belay there, me hearties

One of the things I miss about not living in London is the West Indian influence. Minicabbing around South London, twenty years ago, when it went quiet in the small hours I'd pull by a Jamaican food joint in East Dulwich and buy Mannish soup (cow's foot), red beans and rice, and proper patties, made with "mutton" (goat).

A strange collision with my childhood came in the form of ginger beer made by a small company in Clapham. It was just like the home-made stuff I'd drunk in the '60s; none of your sickly, green sugar solution, this was glorious, throat burning stuff that made your scalp prickle with sweat.

And New Year's Eve was always enlivened by car loads of partygoing black Londoners full of laughter, jokes and the occasional shared spliffs. Maybe best of all, once or twice, was an offer of a swig from a bottle of proper, smuggled, unlabelled Jamaican rum. If anyone cares to mail me with a suggestion of where I can get a bottle up here in the wilds of Cambridgeshire, I'd be glad to receive the information in confidence.

Right now, I'm sitting here with a temperature and a racking cough. The medication, of course, is hot peppers, garlic and toddies, made with local honey, lemon juice and the best rum the local stores can offer, but that isn't great.

My head's a bit foggy, so anything that seems less coherent than normal can be attributed to that.

But, at the risk of being repetitive, if there are any bottles of the right stuff around, I'd be glad to hear about it.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Your rulers

Meet them (via Guido): the new establishment.

Access to Services
Before the recess the Speaker approved the Administration Committee’s recommendation that Members should have priority access to services throughout the Commons part of the Parliamentary Estate.

With effect from today, staff and other users should be prepared to give way to Members when queuing for retail and catering services, the post office, travel office or when using other facilities such as lifts, photocopiers, telephone cubicles, etc.

When using parliamentary facilities, please bear in mind whether there is, or is likely to be, a heavy demand from Members and, if so, try to amend your own plans or schedule.

Peter Grant Peterkin
Serjeant at Arms

Sue Harrison
Director of Catering Services

Venal union practices

The Post Office has released a list of some of the Spanish practices currently in force in postal sorting offices. Read them and weep:

* Two or three hour minimum daily overtime - so if 30 minutes of actual work is required and completed, then between two and three hours' payment is demanded;

* An additional allowance claimed for using particular vehicles - regardless of whether the individual has actually driven the vehicle;
And so on. And on. And on...

These aren't working practices, they're fraud.

Oh please... please...

BBC staff are threatening to go on strike. Great.

Berkeley lectures online

This is an excellent initiative. UCB has put more than 3000 hours of lectures, in a range of subjects, online at YouTube.



This same logic leads us to hold a war on terror rather than the radical Islamists themselves. But now these two semantically-challenged endeavors collide as we take failed tactics from a war we lost badly and use them to try and lose the current one. The reasons to stop this insane policy are many, but can't we just start out with the fact that it doesn't even work for the bad idea it is supposed to enact. We never stop the growing of drug crops, we simply make large numbers of poor farmers poorer and the bad guys richer. The reason given to justify this is that some of the proceeds from the drug trade support the Taliban. No kidding. Are we incapable of sublimating our Puritanical revulsion to drugs long enough to maybe buy the crop and make as much medicine as we need? We can burn the rest if that makes it any better, but the second we spray their lifeblood, they will donate their actual blood to the Taliban and AQ.

Betraying Iraqis

It's what our government does best.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has just released a statement about help for Iraqis who have worked with British troops and who are therefore at risk. It says:

The assistance announced by the Prime Minister yesterday will allow Iraqi staff, including but not limited to interpreters, currently working1 for HMG in Iraq, who have attained 12 months’ or more continuous service, to apply for a one-off package of financial assistance of between 6 and 12 months’ salary, depending on length of service, to meet the costs of relocation for themselves and their dependants in Iraq or the region, if they are made redundant or have to resign from their job because of what we judge to be exceptional circumstances. Alternatively, these staff will be able to apply for exceptional leave to enter the UK, or to avail themselves of the opportunity for resettlement in the UK through the UK’s Gateway refugee resettlement programme, provided that they meet the criteria for the programme, including that they satisfy UNHCR that they meet the criteria of the 1951 Convention and need resettlement.
Iraqis who have worked for less than 12 months will not be helped, though they are at risk just as much as those with longer terms of employment.

There's no excuse for this. The Iraqis have helped our troops and we have a duty to help them. But the ugly reality of politics is such that this will draw the sting from protests. The government will be able to say they have helped.

Please let your MP know this isn't good enough.

UPDATE: Tim points out that this may be no more than a statement of the existing entitlements of the Iraqis. The references to "Gateway" above refer to a programme for the resettlement of asylum seekers, so at least in part this translates as "those eligible for asylum already are eligible for asylum".

Monday, October 08, 2007

Pigs in space

Interesting piece here from ColonyWorlds about the prospects of taking pigs when planets start to be colonised. Sounds very sensible; waste disposal, fertiliser generation, experiment subjects and, of course, bacon providers.

Meanwhile, I read that:

Malaysian scientists and religious scholars are trying to determine how Muslims should behave in space, as the predominantly Islamic country prepares to dispatch its first astronaut next year.

More than 150 delegates attended a seminar to consider how to pray in space given the difficulties of locating Mecca and holding the prayer position in zero gravity; as well as other questions such as halal food and washing.

"It's as important as sending the astronaut," said Mustafa Din bin Subari, deputy director of Angkasa, Malaysia's space agency. "We want to stress that being a Muslim does not restrict you from doing anything."
Except, perhaps, being a rational human being.

No, I don't believe that. It's just the impression these stories give. The idea of people seriously planning how best to keep your ass in the air in zero gravity is inherently funny, as is the wonderfully meaningless process of calculating how to face Mecca when in space.

If I had been born into a Muslim culture, I'd be furious with these superstitious loonies, and busy planning how to get my pigs into space - mollified by the knowledge that the mere fact that I was considering this would infuriate the atavistic morons.

Che chic

The BBC has been celebrating the memory of mass murderer Che Guevara on the anniversay of his birth. Or is it his death? The details have been lost in the soft grunt of sudden exertion I've been making as I dive for the off switch before being made nauseous once again.

I won't link, out of distaste, but if you want an antidote, try Mike's evisceration of their coverage.

Helping our helpers

Dan Hardie, who has been leading the campaign to help Iraqis who've been of service to UK troops, writes:

Gordon Brown may apparently be making a statement on Iraq to the House of Commons tomorrow afternoon, sometime after 2pm. He may or may not mention Britain’s Iraqi employees and the need of some of them for asylum. The Times article of Saturday promises nothing but gave the Government a big, positive headline: classic spin. I have always said, when writing to Jacqui Smith and other Ministers, that to pre-announce asylum for Iraqi employees before they’d actually been taken to safety would increase the risks to them and to the British soldiers who would have to evacuate them. I hope desperately that this won’t happen. I also hope that we will see a genuine promise of resettlement for all who are identified as being seriously at risk for having worked for the British in Iraq.

Brown may or may not promise this on Monday afternoon: frankly they have been so grudging that I doubt it. The Government are going to have to be pushed to do the right thing, so the meeting on Tuesday, October 9th is now more important than ever: we can win if we keep pushing. It’s at Parliament, Committee Room 14, St Stephen’s entrance, from 7-9pm. Invite your MP and come yourself.
In fact, Brown did make a mealy-mouthed statement this afternoon:
Existing staff who have been employed by us for more than twelve months and have completed their work will be able to apply for a package of financial payments to aid resettlement in Iraq or elsewhere in the region, or - in agreed circumstances - for admission to the UK. And professional staff --- including interpreters and translators --- with a similar length of service who have left our employ since the beginning of 2005 will also be able to apply for assistance.
I'm afraid this is bullshit, but it's bullshit designed to act as a "spoiler" for tomorrow's meeting - which has had to be relocated to Portcullis House.

And this is the most contemptible form of bullshit imaginable - playing weak-as-piss games with people's lives for no good reason. The numbers of people involved are insignificant either in terms of Britains Iraq spend, the savings they've helped us make, or the immigration rate into the UK.

Read Dan's latest and a p[articularly good rant by the now back online Tim Ireland.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention this, but Dan is not a doctor. This is why that matters.

Democracy in action

So the voters of Costa Rica have approved a free trade agreement with the US, in the teeth of strong trade union opposition, and the sort of campus intimidation we're seeing more and more, from the political left:

CAFTA's opponents have routinely threatened its supporters with violence, and supporters have often had to be escorted by police during community debates. In public universities, students who favor the agreement have been physically prevented from distributing literature. In one widely publicized case, a student was attacked.
I can't find the link again, but I believe up to 100,000 people marched against the agreement, but to no avail:
With 96.3 percent of the vote counted, 51.6 percent of voters backed the agreement while 48.4 percent voted against it, Costa Rica's electoral tribunal said on its Web site.
It just goes to show. Large left wing street demonstrations mean very little. But why is it that the right and centre have so much less success in turning out demonstrators. In one of his books, P J O'Rourke reported a theory that had been suggested to him: "We have jobs".


The Express newspapers (I won't link) have been publishing constant conspiracy stories about the death of Princess Diana. It's been going on for years. In many ways, it's a puzzle. In the year 2000, the proprietor of Express Newspapers, Richard Desmond, bought the titles from under the nose of Mohammed Fayed, the main advocate of these same conspiracy theories. Fayed can't have been pleased; his battles with Tiny Rowland after another takeover battle became legendary. Yet within a few years, Desmond and Fayed seem to have become close associates, even friends.

So the question remains unanswered: what could have reconciled alleged erotomaniac Fayed and pornographer Richard Desmond?

Quote of the Day

And politicians, ever lusting for office, are only too happy to conjure the ridiculous illusion that A will get top-flight service from B when C is forced by G to pay the bills.
Don Boudreaux

Do you know this man?

Public Service Announcement

Interpol has issued an alert, after the face of a persistent, serial child rapist was unscrambled from images he has himself uploaded to the web. From The Times:

"For years images of this man sexually abusing children have been circulating on the internet," Interpol's Secretary-General, Ronald K. Noble, said.

"We have tried all other means to identify and to bring him to justice, but we are now convinced that without the public’s help, this sexual predator could continue to rape and sexually abuse young children."

Mr Noble said Interpol had "very good reason" to believe that the man "travels the world in order to sexually abuse and exploit vulnerable chilren."

Anyone with information should contact Interpol at this link.

The mainstream media have all carried this photograph. Why not leverage the power of the blogs as well?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Leftist errors

Matthew Sinclair takes issue with a long post from Unity about Conservative family policy. I just commented on the latter. Here's a remark by Unity:

I’ve no problem with the principle of bunging low income families a bit of extra cash as long as it’s being done for the right reasons
My comment:

That’s a lovely expression of the fallacy most leftists have that intentions matter more than consequences; it follows from it that even if this is the right policy it should not be done if the intentions are wrong. In other words, if you judge the principles behind a policy wrong, it should not be put into effect even if the result would be beneficial.

More insidious is the idea that the success of gay parenting shows the unimportance of fatherhood. It would be just as valid to say it shows the unimportance of motherhood. Of course, it shows neither. It does show that the sorts of parents who bother to jump through the hoops of adoption or artificial conception have a motivation that weights the aggregate benefits of their parenting above that of a heterosexual group whose families include those that result from a bottle too many of brown ale.
Milton Friedman understood this about the left, that intentions matter more than consequences. It's a syndrome that underlies a lot of criticism of free market policy, that those advocating such policy aren't trying to help people, or are selfish - the latter itself a genuinely fatuous misunderstanding of the true role of selfishness in the eyes of free market advocates: it's a fact, not a recommendation. People are selfish, or motivated by self interest. They just are, under any system, including communism. That has to be taken into account. It serves a useful purpose, motivating people to innovate and work hard in pursuit of their self-interest. It also corrupts and subverts collectivist arrangements.

Unity's remark about the role of fatherhood is a good example of the damage partisanship in argument can do. The success of gay adoption is a great thing, but it has some, socially conservative and mainly Conservative, detractors. The way to get them on board is not to make fallacious claims about the needlessness of fatherhood. In this we see a wheel turn in the minds of some people, such that it seems to them reasonable in support of gay people to undermine heterosexual people. That's as bad as undervaluing gay people. A mirror bias - say anti-Arab instead of anti-Jew - is no better than the original bias. It's the bias that's at fault, folks.