Sunday, May 25, 2008

An odour of rat

From here:

Since 2003 [Prince Andrew] has paid three official visits to [Kazakhstan] in his capacity as Britain’s special representative for international trade and investment, a role which last year saw him run up expenses of £436,000, which were paid by the taxpayer. With his royal status and affable manner, he is an asset to corporations wishing to open doors and smooth the way for multimillion-pound contracts.
This is another transfer of money from poor to rich, ordinary taxpayers footing this bill for expenses for a very rich man to visit some rich tyrants on behalf of some rich businessmen who hoped to get even richer as a result. If the trip was worth £450k, the corporations expecting to benefit should have paid, not bus drivers and plasterers. But it gets worse, and this really does smell:
However, the prince has now taken to visiting Kazakhstan for his own reasons, too. He is there this weekend on a “private” visit, according to his spokesman.

His dealings with wealthy Kazakhs are not restricted to his jaunts to their home country either. It has emerged that last year he had several private meetings with one tycoon, Kenes Rakishev, whose financial interests include companies spanning most of Kazakhstan’s abundant natural resources.

The meetings between Andrew and Rakishev, which were held in London, sometimes went on for hours. Their exact nature is unclear. What is apparent, however, is that after their talks, Rakishev and his father-in-law Imangali Tasmagambetov became interested in purchasing Sunninghill Park, Andrew’s home in Ascot, Berkshire, which had then been on the market for five years without a buyer.

According to two sources close to the deal, the guide price was no more than £12m. Rakishev, however, agreed to pay £15m via one of his family’s offshore trusts, even though there were no other bids.
On the face of it, that's a £3m "fee", disguised in a property transaction - and that's not my opinion. Still from The Times:
Artur Krivov, who was at the time managing director of the UK branch of Rakishev’s Sat&Co conglomerate, said: “I personally was really surprised because there were much better [houses] at that price because I was helping look for a place for them . . .

“My impression was [the house sale] could be from some other dealings that they had where they owed something. It might have been a way to repay the debt or whatever, I don’t know. It’s definitely not for what it [the house] is.

“I do know that the Duke of York and Mr Rakishev met a number of times and I know that usually Mr Rakishev does not meet with anyone more than once if he does not need anything.”
The Prince denies anything fishy:
A source close to Andrew said: “There was no bidding war but it was a spiky, upward housing market. There was no formal asking price, £15m is simply a price that they decided to pay.”

A spokesman for Andrew, who receives an annual allowance from the Queen of £249,000, insisted that there had been no other “side” deals of a commercial nature connected to the sale.
But then, this is considered normal by such people:
Since putting Sunninghill Park up for sale, the prince has been able to buy a 75-year lease on Royal Lodge, the Queen Mother’s former home on the Windsor Great Park estate for £1m, despite it being given an estimated market value of 20 times that amount.

He was also allowed by the Crown Estate to forgo paying the 19th-century property’s annual £250,000 rent in exchange for carrying out a refurbishment.
Again, all transfers of wealth from poor to rich.

Helping the underclass

I expected to disagree with this, by India Knight in today's Times, when I saw the strap: Our boozing culture is largely an underclass one and it's time we both acknowledged the problem and stepped in to help.

In fact, she's right as far as she goes, but it's a case of argumentus interruptus:

The old working class exists, but it is on its last legs, and the underclass that has replaced it is on the rise – angry, desperate, broke and broken, culturally and morally barren, passing on their poor, empty lives to their children and grandchildren. No wonder they drink to oblivion – wouldn’t you?

The fact of the matter is that the binge-drinking problem is largely an underclass problem. Teen pregnancies are largely an underclass problem. Teenage crime is largely an underclass problem. Child neglect – we live in a country where a little girl allegedly starved to death in her own home last week – is largely an underclass problem. Our collective problems are largely underclass problems.

Could somebody not just come out and say it, before another generation floats away to its doom on a sea of alcopops? The underclass was made, not born. Nobody asks to live in poverty, with no hope, no ambitions, no possibility of betterment, and the belief that the most fun you can have is to drink yourself into early cirrhosis. I know they’re hard to love, but really – do we owe these people no responsibility whatsoever? Don’t cut the price of their dreadful gut-rot: help them.
That's the end of the piece. Help them? How?

In fact, help has caused this problem. Only the underclass lives in an environment of state apparatus, from the hospital they're born in, through the estates they live in, to the benefits agencies they get their money from. Even those who have jobs live in this landscape of 'social' housing, tax credits and social workers.

The way to help people in this predicament is to stop helping them. We have to move to a system of safety net welfare, short lived interventions and assistance that help people move beyond the need of state interference once more. That's going to be a painful process, but it needs to start. Public discussion must necessarily precede that. India Knight needs to finish her arguments.

Friday, May 23, 2008

It's raining

On the sun.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Spike Lee is right

He just criticised Clint Eastwood during the Cannes film festival:

The Oscar-nominated African-American director, one of the most influential figures in contemporary cinema, said that black soldiers were conspicuous by their absence from Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. Hundreds took part in the battle for the Japanese island in 1945.

Lee said: “There were many African-Americans who survived that war and who were upset at Clint for not having one [in the films]. That was his version: the negro soldier did not exist. I have a different version.”

He was speaking at a press conference in Cannes, where he gave the world premiere of an eight-minute trailer for his latest feature film, a war drama with which he hopes to set the record straight.
The presence of black troops at Iwo Jima was not insignificant. To be precise:
In the Iwo Jima landings, beginning on 19 February 1945, the 442d and 582d Port Companies and the 471st, 473d and 476th Amphibian Truck Companies were assigned to the Garrison Force but attached to the Amphibious Corps (Marine) for the assault... The 592d Port Company, divided into three groups, landed in the fourth wave...
The US Marine Corps commended the bravery of the (black) Dukw* companies in their final report on the action.

The quote comes from a remarkable book, The Employment of Negro Troops by Ulysses Lee, from a series of Special Studies with the general title U.S. Army in World War II (page 637 in the original hardback edition). It was first printed in 1966 and is still in print as a paperback. The publisher's blurb on Amazon runs as follows:
Ulysses Lee’s "The Employment of Negro Troops" has been long and widely recognized as a standard work on the subject. Although revised and consolidated before publication, the study was written largely between 1947 and 1951. If the now much-cited title has an echo of an earlier period, that very echo testifies to the book’s rather remarkable twofold achievement; that Lee wrote it when he did, well before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and that is reputation–or authority and objectivity–has endured so well.
I've felt strongly about this ever since I lived around the corner from the West Indian ex-Servicemen's Association in Clapham, London. During the celebrations on the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the War, these proud, smartly dressed old soldiers, who had patriotically named their sons "Winston" and moved to the country they had served, were more or less ignored.

I'm struck by how angry I still feel, typing about it now.

The Times article linked to above goes on:
Lee’s film reflects the pain felt by the segregated black soldiers. One says in the film: “I love Italians. I ain’t a nigger here. I’m just me.”
That was very much the experience of black American soldiers in the UK, too. Of course, the picture was mixed, but on the whole black troops stationed in the UK found there to be a, to them, amazing lack of prejudice. When discrimination was suggested, the majority of Britons refused to accept it. One of my favourite examples is this, from the last link:
Vicar's Wife Insults Our Allies
[2.1] The women of Worle, Weston-super-Mare, are amazed by Mrs. May, wife of their vicar.

She called them together and attempted to lay down a six-point code which would result in the ostracism of American coloured troops if they ever go to the village.

[2.2] The women of the village have come to the angry conclusion that this code amounts to an insult to the troops of our Ally. These (in her own words) were the rules Mrs. May laid down:

1. If a local woman keeps a shop and a coloured soldier enters, she must serve him, but she must do it as quickly as possible and indicate as quickly as possible and indicate that she does not desire him to come there again.
2. If she is in a cinema and notices a coloured soldier next to her, she moves to another seat immediately.
3. If she is walking on the pavement and a coloured soldier is coming towards her, she crosses to the other pavement.
4. If she is in a shop and a coloured soldier enters, she leaves as soon as she has made her purchase or before that if she is in a queue.
5. White women, of course, must have no social relationship with coloured troops.
6. On no account must coloured troops be invited to the homes of white women.

Mrs. May forbade her hearers to mention her 'talk' to the newspapers.

But they were so astonished that they told their husbands.

[2.3] One of the husbands, a local councillor, is preparing a full statement to be sent to the Ministry of Information.

He said: 'If the woman is talking like this in the name of the Church, I should be interested to know what her husband's bishop thinks of it.'

Mrs. May's reason for not making her code public, she said, was that 'it might hurt the coloured troops if they heard of it.'

Feeling is so high in the district that it is more likely to hurt Mrs. May.

A local woman who attended the meeting told the Sunday Pictorial last night: 'I was disgusted, and so were most of the women there. We have no intention of agreeing to her decree.'

Any coloured soldier who reads this may rest assured that there is no colour bar in this country and that he is as welcome as any other Allied soldier.

He will find that the vast majority of people have nothing but repugnance for the narrow-minded uninformed prejudices expressed by the vicar's wife.

There is - and will be - no persecution of coloured people in Britain.

Sunday Pictorial 6 September 1942
Something happened, between 1945 and 1965, to take a fairly arbitrary pair of dates, to harden and expand racial prejudice in Britain. Was it the advent of mass immigration? People find abrupt change hard to accept. That idea is reinforced by the way racism has receded as a generation that was born into the changed Britain came to adulthood and, now, middle age.

In any event, Spike Lee is right, the service of these men should not have been airbrushed out of history and his new film, about a black unit fighting in Italy during WWII, is to be welcomed at least to the extent it will help re-balance our view of those events.

The Christian/Conservative movie website Libertas disagrees. They call Lee's comments 'grievance mongering' and 'whining'.

I hadn't realised that dishonouring the memories of people who served their countries was a Conservative value.

*When I was about 13, I saw a Dukw advertised for sale in the Exchange and Mart, but my mother vetoed the idea of me buying an amphibious landing craft - typical Mum, huh?

I still want one...

Quote of the day

... now there are sections of a Radio 4 middle-class “left” (which exists anyway only because it considers the working-classes incapable of doing anything for themselves...)”
Graham, in the comments at Harry's Place.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Parrots for Obama

This could be an own goal, chaps.

Mysterious ways

God, telling Stephen Green not to give an interview, by means of... well, a seagull's movements:


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Windows Media Centre

Deciding what programmes you're allowed to record.

More on Avient Air

I reported yesterday that Chinese-made arms had reached Zimbabwe, allegedly with the help of a UK registered company, Avient Limited. The original source for this story, the Mozambique online news site Canal de Moçambique, is sticking to its guns with a response today to denials that have been made both by the South African government and Avient. Translated by Google, the relevant part of this report reads (original Portuguese left in place):

The Avient Air, the aviation company zimbabweana which carried the Republic of Congo to the Zimbabwe military equipment unloaded in Ponta Negra by Yue Jiang An, has long maintained close commercial ties with South Africa, including the defence sector. O transporte foi efectuado por um Ilyushyn-76 com o número de matrícula Z-WTC. The transport was made by a Ilyushyn-76 with the registration number Z-WTC. A presença desta aeronave em Ponta Negra é corroborada por fontes fidedignas, que salientam o facto do Il-76 ter chegado àquele aeroporto congolês num voo proveniente dos Emirados Árabes Unidos. The presence of this aircraft in Ponta Negra is supported by reliable sources, which stress the fact that the Il-76 have reached that Kongo airport on a flight from the United Arab Emirates. Normalmente, essa aeronave da Avient fica estacionada no terminal de carga do aeroporto de Fujairah, perto de Dubai. Normally, this aircraft is stationed in the Avient the freight terminal of the airport of Fujairah, near Dubai.
O voo da Avient Air de Ponta Negra para Harare foi fretado pela ADAJET, uma empresa de aviação dos SASS (Serviços Secretos da África do Sul), que tem como administrador o antigo director de operações do NIA para a área de Gauteng, Lawrence Pieterse. The flight of Avient Air from Ponta Negra for Harare was chartered by ADAJET, an aviation company in the SASS (Secret services of South Africa), which is the former director of the NIA director of operations for the area of Gauteng, Lawrence Pieterse. O NIA, ou National Intelligence Agency, é uma das agências de espionagem sul-africanas. The ISA, or National Intelligence Agency, is one of the agencies of espionage South African. Desde a sua criação em 2004, a ADAJET tem vindo a beneficiar, em regime de monopólio, de voos de carga encomendados pelas Forças Armadas Sul-Africanas e por outras entidades do governo sul-africano. Since its inception in 2004, the ADAJET has enjoyed, under the monopoly of cargo flights commissioned by the South African Defence Force and other entities South African government. Entre outros, a ADAJET transportou uma grande parte dos boletins de voto para as eleições realizadas na República Democrática do Congo e na Nigéria, com a particularidade dos carregamentos terem chegado depois do fecho das assembleias de voto. Among others, the ADAJET carried a large part of ballot papers for elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, with the particularity of the shipments have come after the close of meetings to vote.
De acordo com um relatório do Painel de Especialistas das Nações Unidas sobre a “Exploração Ilegal de Recursos Naturais e Outras Formas de Riqueza na República Democrática do Congo”, publicado em Outubro de 2002, a Avient foi apontada como “estando a violar as Directivas da OECD para as Empresas Multinacionais”. According to a report of the Panel of Experts of the United Nations on the "Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Democratic Republic of Congo", published in October 2002, Avient was identified as "being in breach of the Directives OECD for Multinational Enterprises. "
Concretamente, o painel das Nações Unidas alegou que a Avient havia fornecido meios logísticos militares tanto ao Exército Congolês como às Forças de Defesa do Zimbabwe estacionadas na RDC, contribuindo assim para o conflito neste país. Specifically, the panel of the United Nations Avient argued that the military had provided logistical means both the Congolese Army and to the Zimbabwe Defence Forces stationed in the DRC, thus contributing to the conflict in this country. A Avient forneceu tripulações para aeronaves do tipo Antonov 26 e Mi 24 que por sua vez foram usadas em operações ofensivas na RDC numa altura em que aquela transportadora aérea havia sido contratada pelo governo deste país. The Avient provided crews for aircraft of the type Antonov 26 and Mi 24 which in turn were used in offensive operations in the DRC at a time when that carrier had been contracted by the government of this country.
O relatório das Nações Unidas que temos estado a citar refere que a própria Avient confirmou, em declarações prestadas aos membros do painel, que havia efectuado voos de carga do Zimbabwe e da África do Sul para a RDC ao longo de vários anos. The UN report that we have to cite concerns that the Avient confirmed in statements made to members of the panel, which had made flights of cargo from Zimbabwe and South Africa to the DRC over several years. O relatório acrescenta que a Avient é propriedade de um indivíduo que no passado pertenceu às forças militares do Zimbabwe. The report adds that Avient is owned by an individual who in the past belonged to the military forces of Zimbabwe.
Note that the Department of Trade and Industry investigated some of these earlier allegations and found them to be unsubstantiated - the UN failed to provide any evidence, and no corroborative evidence could be found anywhere else.

UPDATE: I mailed Avient and suggested they comment on this post, and the previous one. They have looked at it, but so far no comment.

UPDATE2: More on this at This is Zimbabwe, including what commenters think is Andrew Smith, MD of Avient, sock-puppeting in the comments. The comment in question reads:
First Hand Knowledge
May 19th, 2008 15:19

Avient does NOT carry any arms or ammunition and the aircraft referenced in these articles has not been in Harare since February the 10th. This can be easily verified through the CAAZ Director of Flight Safety & Standards as well as with Air Trafic Control. It is a mystery to me why people do not check logical sources before making wild accusations.
And responses include:
Fish Eagle
May 19th, 2008 17:26

@First Hand Knowledge

Hello Mr Andrew Smith..Your protestations of innocence are at odds with your reputation among professional pilots. Let me list the facts

The plane which delivered the arms is owned by the Zimbabwe Government. Your employees piloted and serviced that plane. It is in your livery. You have an extensive and embracing agreement with the regime which allows you to dominate the Zimbabwe Air Freight services.

I could go on and list the act committed in DRC and Sierra Leone but i would be straying off subject.

You are putting profits before people!!!
Fish Eagle
May 19th, 2008 19:57

Hello “First Hand Knowledge”

I would love a response from you.Are you asleep in Germany cuddling your lap-top. The RGM regime will fall. You will be implicated in some of it’s excesses. Talk to us.!!

The only way you have of preserving your company is to refuse to become implicated in the movement of arms and personnel to suppress the democratic will of the people.

PS. you don’t list branches in Vatry or Zimbabwe in your company submissions to company House. WHY??
Patrick Chirungu
May 20th, 2008 09:54

First Hand Knowledge,

It is interesting that you have not responded to Fish Eagle’s statement that your aircraft IL-76 registration number Z-WTV actualy and physicaly belongs to the Zimbabwe Air Force.

It is so that your new IL-76 aircraft EW-263TH is registered in Belarus, but come clean on your relationship and partnership with the Zimbabwe Air Force, emenating from your days of providing them aircraft, crews, and maintenance for their aircraft, and converting Antonov-12 aircraft to rudimentary bombers that your crews flew and bombed the Goma and Kisangani area’s in the DRC with.

Please elucidate and explain how you manage your relationship with the Zimbabwe regime, how they allow a “much hated” British national to own and operate an aviation business in Zimbabwe, and what price you pay for this obvious convenience, and the role that Mr Lewis Kling plays in this process.

You can be sure that when the RGM regime comes to a fall your convenient collaboration and relationship with the regime will be exposed, that is the nature of these processes, and your business and registration of convenience will summiraly be terminated. Better still, that you will will be held accountable and responsible for your collusion with this evil regime!

If your company’s website so honourably professes that you dont fly weapons and ammunition, why do you neglect to mention that you did in the past, or at least qualify your observation “that you no longer do so”!

Your chickens are coming home to roost and soon your role in destabilising Africa and the suffering that you have caused innocent people through your actions WILL be exposed.
So far there has been no response from "firsthandknowledge".

UPDATE May 22 2008: Avient has just issued the following statement:
“There has been much reported in the press over the last seven days with regards to the shipment of arms allegedly flown into Harare by Avient or Avient Aviation. Many credible publications have checked the authenticity and accuracy of this report directly with Avient and all have dismissed it , as the allegation is wrong and false. The report seems to have originated from a wildly inaccurate report stemming from Mozambique and we can categorically confirm that Avient and Avient Aviation have had no part in this shipment. A number of the publications will be publishing their retractions and apologies in their next issues.

The integrity and reputation of Avient has been unnecessarily tarnished by these allegations. As a company we now seek to put right the damage done by this reckless reporting.

Moving forward Avient would like to reassure both their customers and suppliers of a continually improving service and trust they will see through these completely false allegations".
I'm asking for more details.

Suffer the children

These are the faces of children burned in their Primary School because the heaters were unsafe. Iran needs to spend money on its own infrastructure, yet is pledging more financial support for their terrorist puppets Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iranian bloggers are enraged.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Job demarcation

You might enjoy this.

Quote of the day

Michael Moore has used one of Michael Yon's photographs without permission. Yon's lawyers have written to Moore. Yon comments:

When someone’s grandmother disseminates the photo of Major Beiger cradling a dying girl in his arms, I allow the usage because I feel she is trying to share the human tragedy. When Michael Moore puts that same photo on his web site, alongside images of George Bush, John McCain and Hillary Clinton, the clear implication is that Farah’s death is their fault. That is a misrepresentation of the facts on the ground, as well as the story of the photo. Farah was killed by a suicide car bomb in Mosul on May 2, 2005. Major Bieger and other soldiers literally risked their own lives to save many children and adults that day, but Farah didn’t make it. Michael Moore apparently does not understand – or refuses to acknowledge – the moral distinction between a man who would murder innocent people, and a man who would sacrifice himself to save them. The photo, as I took it, is the truth, but Moore uses it – illegally – to convey falsehoods. His mind is that of a political propagandist who sees Farah’s death not as a human tragedy, but a tool.


Further to this, this:

Thanks to the Prof.

Chinese arms reach Zimbabwe

South African newspaper The Weekender reported on Saturday that:

the Zimbabwean government confirmed that three million rounds of assault rifle ammunition, 3 000 mortar rounds and 1 500 rocket-propelled grenades - ordered from the Chinese government - had arrived in Harare.
Two details of the report stand out (emphasis added):
The Weekender quoted a Mozambican online newspaper, which reported that the ship had been refuelled by the SAS Drakensberg off the coast of South Africa before sailing north to offload its deadly cargo.

It reported that the ship was offloaded at Ponta Negra in the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, Zimbabwean government officials said it was offloaded in Angola.

The report said that President Thabo Mbeki gave "a direct instruction" to Deputy Defence Minister Mluleki George to send the SAS Drakensberg to refuel the An Yue Jiang.

Presidential spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga dismissed the reports, saying "it seems that the season of propaganda is upon us".

George said he had no instruction from Mbeki to dispatch the SAS Drakensberg and that the allegations had no substance.

However, the online article also said the arms were flown to Harare in an Ilyushin Il-76 belonging to Avient Aviation, a freight charter airline based in Zimbabwe but registered in the UK. This was confirmed by government officials in Harare, The Weekender said.

Zimbabwe's Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga confirmed the weapons have been delivered.
SAS Drakensberg is a South African Navy ship, so it's hard to see how Mbeki isn't complicit, even if he didn't directly order the refuelling. He was certainly prepared for the arms to be unloaded in Durban, and only the principled actions of the dock workers' Union prevented thia.

Then there is the UK connection. Avient is a controversial business, run by a former British army officer, Andrew Smith. They have been accused of bombing civilians in the Congo in 2006. Even before that, in 2003, questions about them had been asked in the House of Lords:
The Lord Avebury—To ask Her Majesty’s Government what response they have made to the allegations against a United Kingdom-based company, Avient Limited, in Annex 3 of the initial United Nations Expert Panel report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, published in October 2002. [FCO] (HL4881)

The Lord Avebury—To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they had prior knowledge of contracts between the United Kingdom-based company, Avient Limited, and the governments of Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo to supply military services, as claimed by Mr Andrew Smith, a director of the company. [FCO] (HL4882)

The Lord Avebury—To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will give the dates and subjects of discussions between representatives of the United Kingdom-based company Avient Limited and the United Kingdom High Commission in Harare. [FCO] (HL4883)
In 2002, Amnesty International suggested that Avient were complicit in sanctions busting operations that supplied arms to the Zimbabwean Defense Force. I spoke earlier today with Samantha Smith, who I assume is the wife of Andrew Smith. She denied the recent allegations absolutely, saying:
I am surprised people are prepared to take the word of a Zimbabwean minister when they will not do so under other circumstances
When I asked her why she thought the allegations had been made, she said it was, essentially, laziness:
We are the only Zimbabwean-registered freighter operator
She also told me that the DTI had investigated the older allegations and found them to be unfounded. In this document (.doc) on the renamed BERR website (formerly the DTI), the allegations were found to be unsupported - the UN failed to supply any evidence to support the claims. No results come up when a search for Avient Aviation is carried out at the UN website.

Avient does operate the IL76 model of plane that was allegedly used to transport the arms. Of course, that might be why the model was specified in the allegations.

Their website carries this disclaimer on the home page:

I should also say that Samantha Smith was very willing to discuss this, and offered to talk again if I had any further questions.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Geek joke of the day

From Colin Percival:

What does "no known bugs" mean? It means that I need more beta testers!

Marvin is right

We should support the National Secular Society's call for a public enquiry into the fiasco of the West Midlands Police:

The National Secular Society has called for a full public inquiry into the role of the West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service relative to a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary broadcast on 15 January 2007 which exposed the views of extremist Islamic clerics.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: “While the Police and CPS have now apologised, they have yet to explain why this apology was not issued in response to the widespread public outcry during 2007 about their targeting of Channel 4 or even to the total rejection by OFCOM of Police/CPS complaints on 19 November 2007. It had to be forced on them by the courts. The intransigence of the Police and CPS has seriously undermined public confidence in both institutions.

“We have written to both the Attorney General and the Shadow Attorney General urging a full public inquiry into how what appear to be systematic policy and procedural failures at the Police and Crown Prosecution Service led to the justice system being brought into disrepute in this way. It is essential that lessons are learned from this failure by both the police and the CPS. The debacle raises worrying questions about the motivation behind the activities apologised for, independence of the CPS, whether all parts of the community are being treated equally and whether sufficient value is being attached to freedom of the press..."

Quote of the day

The Jews lived in Europe for centuries, but without ever being accepted as “European”: To enjoy their belated acceptance as Europeans, they had to move to the Middle East. Reviled on the Continent as sinister rootless cosmopolitans with no conventional national allegiance, they built a conventional nation state, and now they’re reviled for that, too. The “oldest hatred” didn’t get that way without an ability to adapt.
Mark Steyn.

Pornography and rape

The Criminal Justice & Immigration Act has been passed, among other things banning the possession in the UK of extreme pornography. Despite its origins, most justifications for this measure, even in Parliament have been based on simple distaste for pornography, something that people are of course entitled to feel.

The provisions were put into the Bill following the death of Jane Longhurst at the hands of a man, Graham Coutts, who was obsessed with images of women being strangled. Longhurst was asphyxiated. Her mother collected more than 50,000 signatures in support of the measure and her campaign was taken up by Martin Salter MP. It's plain that Mrs Longhurst believed there to have been a causal link between Coutts' collection of such images and his murder of her daughter. There seems to be no strong evidence either way in this particular case, but Coutts was concerned, before the murder, about his obsession and told his doctors he feared he might commit a crime.

A campaign called Backlash has failed to prevent this law being put into effect. Backlash fears it will be used to criminalise people who look at depictions of sado-masochistic sex, and this is a large minority of people. The majority probably view their activities with distaste, but then that probably remains true of homosexual acts, especially male ones, and it was certainly true when homosexuality was illegal. Despite the odd voice raised in support of Backlash, and the existence of an online petition (with very few signatures so far) calling for these measures to be repealed, this is not becoming a popular issue. It should. I fully support Backlash's campaign.

This is an interference in the private sexual lives of private citizens, and is deplorable simply for that reason. But that's not the main reason.

The interpretation of this act can be expected to creep, as was pointed out by:

Edward Garnier, an MP and part-time judge, who questioned the clause when it was debated in the Commons.

"My primary concern is the vagueness of the offence," says Mr Garnier. "It was very subjective and it would not be clear to me how anybody would know if an offence had been committed."
But that's not the main reason either.

It's a thought crime, the criminalisation of people who have and will never harm anyone else, as was:
... noted by Lord Wallace of Tankerness during last week's debate in the House of Lords.

"If no sexual offence is being committed it seems very odd indeed that there should be an offence for having an image of something which was not an offence," he said.
But again, that's not the main reason.

The main reason is that, on the balance of available evidence, this Act of Parliament will kill women.

The relationship between pornography and sexual crime is hard to track, and about the only really serious attempt to study it based on actual hard, empirical statistical evidence was made a couple of years ago by Dr Todd D. Kendall, now an Assistant Professor of Economics at Clemson University. This is the abstract of his most recent, 2007 draft of his paper Pornography, Rape, and the Internet (pdf):
The arrival of the internet caused a large decline in both the pecuniary and non-pecuniary costs of accessing pornography. Using state-level panel data from 1998-2003, I find that the arrival of the internet was associated with a reduction in rape incidence. While the internet is obviously used for many purposes other than pornography, it is notable that growth in internet usage had no apparent effect on other crimes. Moreover, when I disaggregate the rape data by offender age, I find that the effect of the internet on rape is concentrated among those for whom the internet-induced fall in the non-pecuniary price of pornography was the largest – men ages 15-19, who typically live with their parents. These results, which suggest that pornography and rape are substitutes, are in contrast with previous laboratory studies, most of which do not allow for potential substitutability between pornography and rape.
When Kendall's paper first became generally known, in 2006, there was some criticism of it. The best informed was this piece, which concludes:
None of this is to say that what Kendall is saying is necessarily wrong, though personally I'm sceptical about the argument that access to porn is a substitute for rape (in Kendall's terms, I'm firmly in the camp of those who believe that rape is about power rather than about lust). It's simply to suggest that Kendall's results and the interpretation he puts on them are extremely questionable, and we should be careful before drawing any real conclusions from them.
I wondered whether Kendall had worked further on this area, so I emailed him recently and, with his permission, copy below his reply:

I had not seen those comments, but they do not surprise me because I have heard them before. With respect to the issue of multicollinearity, I am not sure just what econometric model one has in mind by which including additional variables can spuriously increase a coefficient or decrease a standard error; nevertheless, the current draft of the paper available on my website ( includes lots of robustness along these lines: basically, I show that there is *no* combination of covariates for which the relationship between internet usage and sex crime is positive. True, not all correlations are statistically significant, but one has to be somewhat humble in terms of what one can expect to get out of the limited data available. There are only four years of data and only 51 states (inc. DC). Nevertheless, I think the patterns in the data are suggestive and all point in the same direction. Perhaps better data would show that the true effect is smaller than the one I estimate (that is always a possibility), but the "extreme bounds" analysis in the latest draft of the paper suggests to me that it is highly unlikely that better data would reveal an effect of the opposite sign.

Also if multicollinearity is really causing a spurious finding for rape, why is there no similar result for any other non-sex crime? And why is this supposedly spurious finding only relevant for young men, precisely where my (Posner's, really) theory suggests the effect should be? And so on, following the arguments in the paper. My main method of identification of the model is really based on a comparison between sex crimes (rape and prostitution) and other crimes. In general, I think this method shows the robustness of the results to a lot of omitted variables, functional form assumptions, etc., but again, I fully admit the total amount of data available is small and therefore the results should be taken with some caution.

With respect to some of the arguments related to how the internet could affect reporting, I think we don't really know much about non-reporting of sex crimes so, in theory, I guess anything is possible. Nevertheless, I think a natural prior is to believe that, if anything, internet access is probably associated with more reporting, not less. I make the case for this in the paper.

Finally, these commenters (and many others) seem to want to say that my paper shows that rape is about sex instead of power. As I try to make very clear in the paper, I make no such claim. People who say this are implicitly assuming that pornography is about sex, not power. I am no gender studies theorist, but I don't see any reason why, if rape can be about "power," pornography couldn't also be so. My only claim is that there is some evidence of substitutability between them; I never make any claim about precisely which deep preferences consumption of these goods satisfy.
Dr Kendall's paper is now undergoing peer review, but at the present state of knowledge, it seems we must conclude the following:
  • Some sexual crimes might be prompted by pornography
  • Some sexual crimes might be prevented by pornography, which acts as a substitute for the crime itself
  • The aggregate of these two possibilities is that the availability and, therefore, possession of pornography reduces sexual crime
  • This new UK law will criminalise innocent and harmless people because of their consensual sexual preferences

It feels harsh to say this, but the result of Mrs Longhurst's campaign is likely to be that more women suffer the fate of her daughter than would otherwise have been the case, and that's too high a price to pay for the satisfaction of her grief.

On the other hand, I noticed earlier today at the blog A Dirty Martini three cartoons taken from porn magazines that are not considered extreme, Playboy, Hustler and Penthouse, that - staggeringly - almost celebrate rape. "Encore", shouts a raped woman, slumped half-naked against a fence in Penthouse. Playboy gives us: "Well, I'm a consenting adult, and Charley here is a consenting adult, so that makes two out of three". Hustler showed a billboard offering a helpline for women who "have been raped or would like to be raped". These cartoons, in magazines that have become entirely mainstream, could only contribute to a normalisation of rape.

It is, however, much easier to criminalise the consensual activities of law-abiding people than to tackle creeping cultural coarseness. And what is the British government for, if not to enact knee-jerk, populist and repressive legislation?

Go on, sign the petition. I'm about to do so now.

Private treatment and the NHS

There are no doctors' surgeries, as such, in the town where I live, instead we have a large Medical Centre. This has the sort of homely ambience you might find in an upmarket multi-storey car park, and the personal relationships patients used to have with their GPs has been replaced by a queueing system that means I have almost never seen the same doctor twice. It's a taste of things to come - the current policy of the NHS is to replace traditional, smaller surgeries with large polyclinics.

Alternative medicine has a toehold there; osteopathy is now available in the Medical Centre where previously patients were told to go to an Alternative Health Centre a few miles away. Aromatherapy isn't yet available, but I think that's just a matter of time. The Department of Health is deliberately commissioning reports they know in advance will recommend that Complimentary and Alternative Medicine be made available, and be paid for, by the NHS. But for the moment, you have to pay for such therapies yourself - therapies such as

reiki, reflexology, aromatherapy, therapeutic massage, spiritual healing, acupuncture and hypnotherapy
In today's Times, there is a story of a woman who has been refused treatment by the NHS because she had previously paid privately for something:
Maureen Alden, 74, from Bristol, spent her life savings on a £13,000 operation two years ago to implant wires into her brain which prevent migraines by stimulating the nerves. The operation was successful and cut her attacks by 80%.

The battery which powers the medical device is about to run out, however, and the retired typist cannot obtain funding for a replacement.
This is a government policy, and it is being contested by the NHS:
HOSPITAL chiefs are demanding an urgent review of the government’s policy of withdrawing National Health Service care from patients who pay privately for additional cancer medicines.

The NHS Confederation, which represents hospital chief executives and managers, says denying NHS treatment to patients who pay for top-up drugs is “perverse” and against “common sense”.

The move comes after it emerged that women suffering from breast cancer have been threatened with losing NHS care if they seek to improve their chances by paying privately for an extra drug.
This policy has already resulted in people dying earlier than necessary.

But let's be clear what the policy of this government is. It is permissible to pay privately for therapies at the same time as a person is receiving NHS treatment, but only if they are alternative therapies. In other words, you can pay for private treatment, so long as that private treatment will be ineffective.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Tommy Emmanuel

This is what happens when you get your first guitar at the age of four, and your mother gets you to accompany her steel guitar, and you're on the road playing gigs by the age of eight. Little Green Footballs has been posting videos of this man recently, rightly. Here's one they haven't posted yet, Classical Gas.

And a few more: While my guitar gently weeps. Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Angelina, Amazing Grace.

Imports and exports

Tim Worstall has been arguing about the balance of payments:

He’s committing the mercantilist fallacy, that exports are either the point of trade or that they make us rich. No, it is imports that make us rich, exports being merely the shite we ship abroad to pay for them.
In the comments, Adam Smith is quoted as a reference. If I have the right bit, we're talking about Book IV Chapter 1 of Wealth of Nations, Of the Principle of the Commercial or Mercantile System.

When Tim talks about this, I humbly suggest, he is leaving something out. When his opponents talk about this they include the thing Tim leaves out, but they leave out everything else. That thing is money or, as Smith says, gold and silver. In both cases, as we'll see, an even more important factor is left out.

I'm not suggesting Tim is unaware of these things - he's trying to make a point concisely, and I'm trying here to tease it out.

For Tim's opponents, and for Mercantalists generally, it's as though trade were a question merely of money changing hands. If we have £500 of exports and £600 of imports, it's as though there were a huge treasure chest sitting in the middle of a Whitehall office, and during the course of a year £600 was taken out and only £500 put back in. So we're £100 down.

That's obviously not the case; they're ignoring the goods (and services) that are purchased and sold in each transaction. In a free economy (so real transactions only approximate to this in varying degrees), every trade is mutually enriching. In practice, as Smith pointed out, this is not always the case. Human distortions can transform a mutually beneficial system into one of grotesque exploitation. In the chapter cited above, he wrote, in the context of the Americas:
The savage injustices of the Europeans rendered an event, which ought to have been beneficial to all, ruinous and destructive to several of these unfortunate countries
The cost of goods and services is implicit when you write about imports and exports, but for Mercantalists, this isn't an implicit thing, it's explicit. They really are thinking about the money. And Smith started this chapter talking about gold:
THAT wealth consists in money, or and silver, is a popular notion which naturally arises from the double function of money, as the instrument of commerce and as the measure of value. In consequence of its being the instrument of commerce, when we have money we can more readily obtain whatever else we have occasion for than by means of any other commodity. The great affair, we always find, is to get money.
As for a rich man, so for a rich nation, he went on. This was the misconception he wanted to correct. There's a very interesting passage later on in this chapter about the effect of increasing the amount of gold a nation possessed. If the idea of the treasure chest were right then if a nation acquired more gold, it would be richer. American gold greatly increased the quantity of gold in Europe. Was Europe richer? No, the value of gold fell. It's beautiful:
It is not by the importation of gold and silver that the discovery of America has enriched Europe. By the abundance of the American mines, those metals have become cheaper. A service of plate can now be purchased for about a third part of the corn, or a third part of the labour, which it would have cost in the fifteenth century. With the same annual expense of labour and commodities, Europe can annually purchase about three times the quantity of plate which it could have purchased at that time.
We add 'value' to our economy - we boost our wealth - every time someone somewhere in the UK sells something for more than it cost, allowing for the fact that they might have altered it, assembled it, or that it might be entirely an artefact of themselves, like services and software. It's what we add to the mix of imports and exports, and Smith also brought this into the equation, pointing out that imports can include raw materials that are then processed into something of greater value. Adding value has costs, but some of these are socially beneficial - like jobs. Sometimes the fact that an economic activity has costs is enough justification, as Friedman pointed out in the context of the Great Depression.

It's depressing, really, that so many of the people who invoke Smith and Friedman so frequently overlook the complicated, layered, undogmatic and practical nature of their arguments. Friedman argued for some government intervention in all circumstances and for even more intervention in some, exceptional circumstances. Smith was alive to the fact that 'savage injustices' on the part of the powerful lead to appalling consequences in "free" markets. From my, still limited, reading of him I have noticed that the times he becomes most ironic or scathing are when he is excoriating the behaviour of the very types of people who, today, are among those most likely to quote him. But moving on:

Smith compared the trade between Europe and the Americas with that between Europe and the East Indies. In the case of the East Indies, there were government monopolies; in the case of the Americas there was, essentially, private enterprise:
Europe, however, has hitherto derived much less advantage from its commerce with the East Indies than from that with America. The Portuguese monopolized the East India trade to themselves for about a century, and it was only indirectly and through them that the other nations of Europe could either send out or receive any goods from that country. When the Dutch, in the beginning of the last century, began to encroach upon them, they vested their whole East India commerce in an exclusive company. The English, French, Swedes, and Danes have all followed their example, so that no great nation in Europe has ever yet had the benefit of a free commerce to the East Indies. No other reason need be assigned why it has never been so advantageous as the trade to America, which, between almost every nation of Europe and its own colonies, is free to all its subjects.
The important part about this, surely, is that while imports generally will make you richer - if they didn't you wouldn't import them, on the whole - exports can also make you richer. It depends on the circumstances. The free and private enterprise that characterised the trade between North America and Europe enriched both parties, whereas the restricted monopoly trade between Europe and the East Indies still enriched Europe, but didn't enrich the Indies to the degree enjoyed by America. In fact, it enriched Europe less as well, in Smith's argument. I'm making this emphasis, because it is so important in the context of the current debates about trade with poor countries. Charities often encourage protectionism, and this impoverishes the people they are trying to help.

The argument for free trade is strongest when exercised on behalf of the exporting party, something we can clearly see in the contemporary case of Africa, which suffers from an absence of economic freedom both internally and externally. Fair Trade isn't fair to those it seeks to protect; free trade is always fair in the absence of coercion and this is especially important to the weaker party.

There's a very practical aspect to all this. If you accept that the ratio of imports to exports (the treasure chest theory) is all, then there are two principal political tools for economic management (emphasis added):
The two principles being established, however, that wealth consisted in gold and silver, and that those metals could be brought into a country which had no mines only by the balance of trade, or by exporting to a greater value than it imported [this is the Mercantile system, in an nutshell], it necessarily became the great object of political economy to diminish as much as possible the importation of foreign goods for home consumption, and to increase as much as possible the exportation of the produce of domestic industry. Its two great engines for enriching the country, therefore, were restraints upon importation, and encouragements to exportation.
It follows that if you don't accept these principles, and you shouldn't, then these two instruments should not be used.

We now use currencies that are not directly backed by gold (the "Gold Standard" recommended recently by American Presidential nomination candidate Ron Paul). Smith, however, pointed out that governments always devalued currencies, from clipping bits off coins, through debasing the metals used to manufacture them, to printing money anyway, even if they were supposedly restrained by gold reserves. I believe Friedman made this point as well, but can't find the reference for the moment. So the more excitable Libertarian exclamations about 'fiat money' are somewhat ahistorical.

Smith suggested that money - the Treasure Chest of a nation - is not where wealth resides. Money, rather, is a convenient means of exchange. He pointed out that credit transactions (which came to characterise the European economy at least by the thirteenth century) allow trade to be carried on in advance of the money the trade represents. When this is engaged in excessively, a problem arises - overtrading:
When the profits of trade happen to be greater than ordinary, overtrading becomes a general error both among great and small dealers. They do not always send more money abroad than usual, but they buy upon credit, both at home and abroad, an unusual quantity of goods, which they send to some distant market in hopes that the returns will come in before the demand for payment. The demand comes before the returns, and they have nothing at hand with which they can either purchase money, or give solid security for borrowing. It is not any scarcity of gold and silver, but the difficulty which such people find in borrowing, and which their creditors find in getting payment, that occasions the general complaint of the scarcity of money.

It would be too ridiculous to go about seriously to prove that wealth does not consist in money, or in gold and silver; but in what money purchases, and is valuable only for purchasing. Money, no doubt, makes always a part of the national capital; but it has already been shown that it generally makes but a small part, and always the most unprofitable part of it.

It is not because wealth consists more essentially in money than in goods that the merchant find it generally more easy to buy goods with money than to buy money with goods; but because money is the known and established instrument of commerce...
Money is also useful for storing wealth for an individual merchant, because it is less perishable than most commodities - and this gives rise to another misconception, because this cannot be extrapolated into a metaphor for a nation:
But it is but a very small part of the annual produce of the land and labour of a country which can ever be destined for purchasing gold and silver from their neighbours. The far greater part is circulated and consumed among themselves; and even of the surplus which is sent abroad, the greater part is generally destined for the purchase of other foreign goods.

We now have four parts to this equation:
  • Money (or gold and silver)
  • Imports
  • Exports
  • The internal commerce of a nation
As I understand it, Smith argued that while money was not the main measure of a nation's wealth - this was something he called 'national capital' - it was a small part of that capital. More importantly it is a convenient means of exchange for things that, unlike money, you can eat, wear and shelter in.

Imports do generally make you rich, but so can exports if trade is free and plural. Smith used the example of 'the last French War' to show how the cost - something like twice the amount of gold in circulation in Britain at the time - was met by the export of commodities.

The internal commerce of a nation cannot be disregarded. Both imports and exports happen only because this internal commerce exists. Smith used a simplified example to show that such internal commerce would continue to exist even in the absence of international trade (that might seem obvious, but he sought to give a complete argument; Wealth of Nations isn't a long book, so much as a thorough one, so far as I can see).

Earlier in this post, I wrote "We add 'value' to our economy - we boost our wealth - every time someone somewhere in the UK sells something for more than it cost, allowing for the fact that they might have altered it, assembled it, or that it might be entirely an artefact of themselves, like services and software. It's what we add to the mix of imports and exports..." It's important to remember that the internal commerce of a nation consists of transactions in which value is added in this way, but in which the transactions are entirely internal and part of a chain of similar transactions that are internal. This adding of value is compounded within a country.

One consequence of this must be that importation can be enriching even in the absence of exports to "pay" for the imports, because it is this value that is used to make the payments. The wealth that is exported when a payment is made has been created within a country's economy, the goods imported enrich that country even more. Importation, therefore, is a way in which value added within, say, the software industry is turned into useful commodities, like geek T-shirts and high-caffeine drinks.

A similar argument can be made for exports - even raw materials have had value added to them by dint of their having been dug up and rendered into a transportable form. The exportation is the manner in which this value is realised.

This means that the assumed connection between imports and exports might not be as real as it seems. Imports enrich us even if we don't export (because of the effects of the internal commerce of a nation); exports enrich us, if we are trading in a free and pluralistic environment, even if we don't import. Money is a useful means of exchange, and represents some residual value, but isn't in and of itself wealth.

I'm not suggesting Tim is wrong in his assertion - he's using a pithy formulation to make a point. I'm not even making a case of my own here so much as trying to summarise what Smith wrote, as I understand it, and make some comments on it. But whether you take Tim's pithy summary, or Smith's more detailed survey of the situation as it was in the late eighteenth century, the same conclusion can generally be drawn. Free Trade without coercion is good. It enriches the wealthier nations and the poorer ones too. The case of trade between Europe and North America, especially when projected into our own day, suggests it actually benefits the poorer party more, relatively, in the long run - North America has exceeded Europe now in wealth. With genuinely free trade, Africa could start catching up.

But when making this case we have to remember the problems of coercion. There are modern, would-be Conquistadores, and sometimes they are the people making the case for free trade in a disingenuous and dishonest way. Frequently, they take in vain names like Adam Smith and Milton Friedman. And we shouldn't take them at face value.

Educating the public

There's a Flash game online at Gamesfree called Polar Bear Parking. This seeks to educate the public about the dangers facing Polar Bears and, indeed, ourselves from Global Warming. And very educative it is too. I hadn't realised that penguins live, alongside Polar Bears, in the Arctic.


Friday, May 16, 2008

There is plenty of hope...

... just not for us.

Read this exceptional post and discussion about the film Persepolis.


I get involved in detailed calculations about these things, from time to time, because I wrote the carbon profiling software that, among other users, the UK government recommends for use by landowners and farmers (I make a point of never linking from here to anything commercial I do for third party clients; associating them with my personal political views would be inappropriate). This came out of a chat I had yesterday with a colleague in that project.

The use of biofuels on farms isn't new. In fact, at one time the only fuel used on farms was bio. A draft horse doing light work (which farm work would be classed as, taken across the whole year) eats about 2 tonnes of hay and 1.3 tonnes of oats per year, and what is that if it isn't biofuel?

At current yield levels, it would take the output of about an acre of land to feed each horse. It's hard to be sure of the next figure, but research carried out in Swavesy suggests that one horse is needed for every six acres under cultivation. Since this figure includes fallow land, you are probably looking at a ratio of less than 1:6 - perhaps 1:4. That is, of every four acres cultivated, about a quarter of the output is needed for "fuel" if you're farming with horse power.

So what if you use tractors, and grow biodiesel? Oilseed rape produces between 1.2 and 1.5 tonnes per acre of seed, and that yields 500-600 litres of oil. A tractor uses 40 to 50 litres of fuel per acre per annum, so the area farmed per acre of home-grown biodiesel is about 10 acres. This gives a ration of 1:10 - about one tenth of a farm's output is needed for fuel if you use tractors and biodiesel.

Of course, there are externalities* is associated fuel use outside the farm - production of fertilisers, transportation to and from farm gates, etc, but these apply in both cases, whether you use tractors or horses. Tractor manufacturing uses fuel, but so does the "manufacture" of replacement horses. I have no data to use for a comparison of those replacement costs.

This is just a bit of fun, but two conclusions can be drawn. Firstly, there is no doubt that energy use (fuel, fertilisers) increases food production. Secondly, it's "greener" to use tractors than horses.

UPDATE: Sorry, there's a third. Growing "biofuel" isn't new, although it did go into abeyance for a while. If all arable farms grew all their own fuel, then the net difference between that situation and the one that prevailed in the horse-drawn era would be an increase in food production per acre farmed, assuming constant yields (of course, yields have risen during that period). But the situation that creates the greatest level of food production per acre is, of course, the use of fossil fuels. And since that final conclusion is self-evident, it at least can be entered into the annals of the Journal of Obvious Research.

*Stupid misuse.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Open letter to West Midlands Police

Sent today to their Press Office ( and cc'd to the head of department (

In your apology to the makers of this documentary, you wrote:

"A review of the evidence (including untransmitted footage and scripts) by Ofcom demonstrated that the programme had accurately represented the material it had gathered and dealt with the subject matter responsibly and in context.

We accept, without reservation, the conclusions of Ofcom."

The material collected by the programme, which you now accept was correct, included the following, in the assessment of The Times newspaper:


— Whoever changes his religion from al-Islam to anything else — kill him in the Islamic state

— Take that homosexual and throw him off the mountain

— By the age of 10, it becomes an obligation on us to force her [young girls] to wear hijab, and if she doesn't wear hijab, we hit her

— Allah created the woman deficient

— If I were to call homosexuals perverted, dirty, filthy dogs who should be murdered, that is my freedom of speech, isn't it?


This includes clear incitement to murder, let alone hate. What action do you now propose to take against the subjects of this courageous documentary?

I am publishing this mail to you on my blog, and will publish your response, as this is a matter of public interest.

Yours faithfully,

Peter Risdon.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Extraordinary women

Irena Sendler saved perhaps 2,500 Jewish* children from the Warsaw ghetto. She later said:

I continue to have pangs of conscience that I did so little
The Gestapo broke her legs and feet, dumped her unconscious by a roadside after an officer was bribed not to kill her, and she then continued to work with the Polish underground. She died a couple of days ago, in her late nineties.

If it is sexist to feel particular admiration and affection for elderly women of enormous courage, then I plead guilty. I had the privilege of knowing two. Louise Vidaud, who I wrote about when she died a couple of years ago. Elizabeth Furse, who befriended me when I was giving evidence against the fraudster and perjurer Darius Guppy, who she had known since he was a child - he was always a bad one, she told me in the corridor of the court. She lent me pain killers because I had broken a couple of ribs playing rugby that weekend, cooked me dinner in 'the only slum in Pimlico' where she lived ('Bring a lettuce, darling') and scornfully waved away any mention of her wartime work with SOE, when she was captured by the Gestapo, sentenced to death, reprieved in a swap of spies, then parachuted straight back into occupied France.

All those two tiny, birdlike, elderly women wanted was to continue with their work - Louise's attempts to rescue American POWs from Vietnam, Elizabeth as the hostess of a salon which no longer existed, bringing together the brightest young people, especially men - both adored men and were delightfully flirtatious with those they liked. Both were completely dismissive, well beyond the point of rudeness, of those they didn't like.

Alistair Cooke and Bill Deedes both continued to be influential and admired to the last, working into their nineties, but I can't think of any women who have held that sort of prominence into extreme old age. Sendler rescued twice as many people as Oscar Schindler, but lived in relative obscurity. There's only one possible explanation for this, and it is a very great disgrace for the rest of us. We can still, just, and only sometimes, value the voices of old men, but we don't seem able to do so with old women. In the bar where I sat reading earlier this evening, there was talk of one of the few surviving Dambusters, who sometimes drinks there, but I've never overheard anyone talk admiringly of anything a woman of that generation did.

Shame on us.

* What on earth is wrong with me? They were children, that's all that needs to be said.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Reproduced by permission of the artist.

Spending other people's money

A thirteen year old boy who ran up a $30,000 bill on his father's credit card, ordering two hookers from a hotel room, among other things, wants to be a politician when he grows up.

Presumably, his defence in court will be that he was gaining work experience.


Straight talk

Why is Gordon Brown so unpopular? There are of course a number of factors, including luck - Blair was P.M. during an economic boom that was partly global, partly the legacy of the Tories' administration up to 1997; Brown's own chickens are coming home to roost now, at a time of a global slowdown.

Every time Labour has a sustained influence on this country, it goes horribly wrong - you can't solve problems simply by throwing money at them, especially when that money is in effect being transferred from the most productive to the least, disincentivising or ruining the former, and incentivising the latter to remain unproductive. Power corrupts, and the bigger the government is, the more corrupt it and its offspring will be. But it takes a few years, a decade this time round, for these things to become undeniable.

However, I hope there's another reason. Blair liked to pretend he was a 'pretty straight guy', and occasionally he even was straightforward in his speech. Brown is the worst practitioner of political bullshit and waffle I have ever heard, and he has made it the hallmark of his office. Here's how the question 'Is the Prime Minister happy' was answered recently:

... the PMS said that the Prime Minister, as he had said himself before, believed that he had the best job in the world and he was focusing on meeting the priorities of the British people; that’s what we were doing today and what we would be doing for the days and weeks ahead.
Part of the reason people detest Brown is that he talks like this.

Mohammed Ali

Some more YouTube clips.

Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Mike Tyson in a two part chat show.

And here's one I hadn't seen before. Ali, introduced by Will Smith, talking about 9/11.

A warrior retires

Richard Hill has played his last game of first class rugby:

Richard Hill masks were given away outside the ground, his face was on the cover of a match programme packed with tributes and he took the field to a guard of honour as the Bristol team applauded him onto the pitch.

The gesture was matched by the crowd, who rose as one to deliver a prolonged ovation to one of the finest players to wear the Saracens shirt.

The blindside flanker was soon doing what he always did so well, the crucial bits and pieces that enabled his team to operate efficiently. With less than a minute gone his young fly-half, Alex Goode, had nowhere to go as the Bristol defence flew up but Hill was on his shoulder to take him into contact and ensure the ball was secured.

It was similar bread and butter stuff that brought Saracens their second try. Hill popped up at scrum-half twice in the same movement after a Neil de Kock break, and with the flanker recycling possession, Noah Cato squeezed over.
Another of the all-time greats leaves the arena. Hill was unflashy, immensely effective and modest. But he was part of the best back row England has ever had, along with Neil Back and Lawrence Dallaglio.

UPDATE: a couple of YouTube clips. First, Will Greenwood pointing out the things people miss about experienced back row play in a recent tribute to Hill (starts about halfway through, after an interview with the man himself). Then highlights of the 2000 Wales England game in which all three of that great back row, Hill, Back and Dallaglio score (Dallaglio's try was immense, but Hill's was sheer forward skill, upper body strength to rip the ball from the opposition, positioning so he could break with the ball, speed and power to complete the score).

If you don't know rugby, at least watch the second clip.

Oh, and this one is for the American readers of this blog. I have a lot of respect for football, to the point I call our version 'soccer', but this is legal in rugby, the man has no padding and those boots have cleats. As Jonathan Davies commented "He knows he shouldn't be there, and he knows what he's going to get". That's right, he knew that, he took it, got up and played on without a murmur.

I hesitate to mention this in such company, but the rake marks on my leg from a game against the Metropolitan Police took a decade to disappear. Happy days.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Our loss

Richard Feynman would have been 90 yesterday. His voice is sorely missed.

Surge somewhat successful

The New York Times reports:

“The circle of fear is broken,” said Shaker, owner of a floating restaurant on Basra’s famed Corniche promenade, who, although optimistic, was still afraid to give his full name, as were many of those interviewed.
But things are much better. Oddly, that seems to have escaped the front pages here, though the initial fighting didn't. Seems the Long War Journal was right, and the mainstream media wrong, again.

With friends like these

The new Libertarian Party needs no enemies:

How about the “British National Libertarian Party”?
When they do finally get someone interviewed on Radio 4, they'll have to wade through all these BNP quotes from the Libertarian Alliance before they can get to the nub of the matter in question, if that ever happens.

Historically, the Libertarian Alliance opposed the formation of a party. It's as though, now one has formed, this dingbat is trying to strangle it at birth.

Guns and killing

Do guns kill, or do people kill people (with guns)?

Or, perhaps, does the US justice system kill people by failing to lock up criminals caught with guns until they do finally kill someone?

Howard Cain was the trigger man in the Liczbinski murder. You can see his fifteen page criminal record here. Let’s look at all the violations of the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act that Cain has been arrested for. Keep in mind we’re only looking at gun charges, since that is what this blog concentrates on. Over Cain’s criminal career he had thirteen arrests for unlawfully carrying a firearm, that were listed “Nolle Prossed,” meaning the prosecutor chose not to bring charges. In a further eleven arrests for violations of Pennsylvania’s firearms laws, the charges were either withdrawn or dismissed. In only three cases was he prosecuted and either plead guilty or was found guilty. On weapons charges alone, he could have done 12 years in prison, in which case he would not have been on the streets to kill a police officer.


The immigrants, they BREED!

Via the ASI blog review, there's a smackdown of a rather excited Gates of Vienna (no link, they are too unconcerned by Neo-Nazi alliances for my taste) post about the takeover of "Eurabia" by Moslem hordes. It's an echo of Mark Steyn's worries about European demographics. The smackdown links to another pinkosphere blog that first mentioned the ludicrous GofV post, and derides it as a right wing phenomenon. It ain't, and it ain't a new response to a combination of falling indigenous birth rates coupled with high immigration.

Going back 102 years (no link, my source is one of those papery, printed thingies and it's out of print):

The birth-rate had begun to fall in the eighteen seventies... Articles on the declining birth-rate in the Times of 1906 by Sidney Webb (1859-1947), the socialist planner and wire-puller, were widely noticed. A low-grade or foreign 25% of all parents, concluded Webb, was producing one half of the next generation. 'This can hardly result in anything but national deterioration; or, as an alternative, in this country gradually falling to the Irish and the Jews.' But even these prolific races were beginning to reproduce less quickly. 'The ultimate future of these islands may be to the Chinese!'
If you follow the first link, you'll notice that Muslim birth rates in Europe are also falling. It's odd how the most chauvinist defenders of Europe seem to have absolutely no confidence in the ability of European culture, specifically the greater empowerment of women compared to most others, to prevail in the longer run.

But Webb went on, and those who attribute everything good to socialist influence (such as, it has to be said, almost every socialist) should read on:
Webb hoped that this 'Yellow peril' (a persistent Edwardian bogey) would stimulate public opinion to support socialist welfare policies, especially in medical and educational provision. He believed that such policies would encourage the better-off and more intelligent who, because of their high economic and social aspirations, were now choosing to produce fewer children, to revert to having larger families.

Margins of error

Interesting post here from Roger Pielke Jr. He has been asking, if both cooling and warming are "consistent" with the theory of AGW, how that theory could ever be falsified. At the AGW advocacy blog Real Climate a relevant post was put online, and so Pielke analyses the argument therein.

Here's the nub of it. Graphs of predicted temperatures, or anomalies, (should) have error bars showing, say, what range of values fall within a 95% confidence level. The bigger the bars the less precise the model. But also, the bigger the bars the greater the range of values that could be said to be "consistent" with that model. If the bars are big enough, even a stable or cooling trend would fall within the 95% confidence ranges of a model that forecasts warming. As Pielke puts it:

... it means that the greater the uncertainty in modeling -- that is, the greater the spread in outcomes across model realizations -- the more likely that observations will be “consistent with” the models. More models, more outcomes, greater consistency – but less certainty. It is in this way that pretty much any observation becomes "consistent with" the models.


Are not simply economic. Status and peer pressure also inform decisions. I think this is overlooked when people talk about marginal tax rates and the move from unemployment to employment, but that's a different matter to the one in the link.

Brown courage

What on earth was he thinking when he released a book about courage?

Gordon Brown will not receive the Dalai Lama in Downing Street in an effort to avoid confrontation with China over Tibet, The Times has learnt.

The Prime Minister will, instead, see the Tibetan spiritual leader in Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, enabling him to claim to the Chinese that he is receiving the Dalai Lama in a spiritual rather than political capacity.

Redistribution of wealth

Yet again from the poor to the rich:

In a speech today Brown will say: "We know too many people fear the prospect of selling their homes and using assets which otherwise they would pass on to family members and friends [to pay for care in old age] ... We can, and must, look to give people the opportunity and the support to save for their old age in a way which insures them and protects their houses and their inheritance."
If you can pay your own way you should, even if that means liquidating assets. There are ways to get at the capital in a house without having to leave it.

The government is proposing a transfer of wealth from every tax payer, including the poor, including people who can't afford to buy a property, to the children of property owners.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Talking for the last time

I had an Irish grandmother. I'm sure you didn't know that, but then nor did I until a few minutes ago. She came from Belfast. I never met her, but not because she died before I was born. On the contrary, she died asking to see the three grandchildren she had never met - my brother, my sister and me.

Blogging has been light recently for a number of reasons. Some concern business: I've been busy. But there's also a personal issue. My father just went into a nursing home because he's senile. He probably has several forms of dementia but one involves the attrition of the blood supply to the brain, the result of numerous small strokes. I'm told you can actually see these happening. His deterioration recently has been severe. I last spoke to him about a month ago and while it was a very limited conversation, it was recognisably with him. It's now impossible to have a conversation with him at all. He isn't there any more. There are no lucid intervals.

When someone dies that's the position you find yourself in, as a survivor. You can't talk to them any more. The things that were still unsaid will always remain so. In that sense, my father is already dead. But if that's the test, he has always been dead. The things that went unsaid with him did so, on the whole, because of the sort of man he was. When his Irish mother died she wasn't just asking to see her grandchildren, she was asking to see the son who had refused to have any contact with her for forty years. She even hallucinated, thinking that one or other of his brothers was he. His brothers told him this but still he would not go.

He was obsessed with the injustices of his childhood and would talk about them at length. At the age of 14 he won a scholarship to a good school in Winchester but his father wouldn't allow him to take it up and made him go to work. He talked about this a great deal but he never talked about his mother. I knew absolutely nothing about her until I was in my twenties and visiting my uncle Des in Vancouver, who I have just been talking to on the 'phone. When I say "absolutely nothing", that's what I mean; no mention of her had ever been made in my presence before then. I'm certain of that, I'm cursed with a good memory.

I had exactly one conversation with my father about this, maybe fifteen years ago. He'd have been in his late sixties and seemed to have regrets. That's not quite right. It's more that the face of an older man rearranged itself, briefly, into the crumpled features of a small boy who believed his mother had abandoned him.

I'm instinctively dismissive of counselling and its cousins, but it does seem to be the case that there's only one escape route for ideas that plague a person, and that's out through the mouth. I suppose writing is a sort of surrogate mouth. My father never allowed himself that safety valve for the things that mattered most to him, and he will take the regrets that caused him to his grave.

But the immediacy of my father's death, because even in a literal sense he has a very short time left, provides a sharp reminder that we never actually know when our last conversation with anyone we care about will be. Every conversation could be our last. When I spoke, a few weeks ago, to my father on the 'phone I had no idea that would be the last time, but it was.

It would be fatuous and platitudinous to suggest every conversation should be approached as though it were the last one, but sometimes some of those conversations will be just that. I'm not writing this because I want to suggest some marvellous way of averting that fact. It's just a fact.

I'll fly out to Australia for my father's funeral, no doubt later this year. It's a long flight, about 22 hours, which will give me time to reflect. I've spent all my adult life trying not to be like my father. In his last months he's given me a reason to wish to emulate him.

Dementia is frightening, and his recent delusions were often fearful. Only two months ago he took the car and drove into the tiny town where they now live (that should be the past tense - I need to learn new habits of speech), crunching the gatepost as he reversed out of the drive. It could have been worse. He then spent an hour running into shops telling people my mother had been kidnapped by gunmen, probably a flashback to the time she was held, in her 70s, by armed bandits in the Andes. That led to his first short spell in a nursing home. He has lived in a state of fear for six months now. But still, at the last, with his final lucidity, he actively scorned the false comforts of religion. That was a constant in his life; he refused to have his children baptised, for example. I'm grateful to him for that.

I'm grateful that he scrimped and saved and made sure I had the education he was denied. And I've lived long enough to reverse the adolescent cry "I didn't ask to be born!" I didn't, but I'm still grateful for it - for life itself. So though I have very ambivalent feelings about him, I mourn the passing of my father. I'm grateful for everything he gave me. I didn't like him, but I did love him and I regret I never told him that. But we have talked for the last time, and I won't be able to put that right.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The linguistics of politics


Let’s pick apart the semantics of “tax rise.” First, because it is an unaccusative verb, the subject — tax — undergoes the action of the verb. Second, because the verb is intransitive, while the subject undergoes the action, it has no direct obect. So what is actually going on — I, the citizen, am paying more taxes — is completely erased from the semantics.

Now, let’s contrast that with American English “tax raise,” or if you prefer the verbal form, “to raise taxes.” “Raise” is a transitive verb. Even though the phrase usually doesn’t appear with an overt direct object, “raise” is not an ergative verb, that is, the subject performs the action whether used transitively or intransitively, and the direct object is always implied, if not stated. “To raise taxes,” or “tax raise” semantically has an agent who performs the action — the politician — and a direct object who undergoes it — the citizen who will pay more taxes. So unlike “tax rise,” what is actually going on is never erased linguistically.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Punishment and crime

For all his years of horrific mental and physical torture of his daughter and grandchildren, what is the maximum penalty that Josef Fritzl could face? Fifteen years. That's obscene. There should be no possibility that he could ever be free again. None. What would it be like for his victims to know he is due to be released?

Seen elsewhere

Max the Boar, and a wonderful sounding hog roast.

Photographer stopped by the police after being observed on CCTV taking photographs at a funfair.

Report of UN Human Rights Committee meeting in Geneva.

Animal intelligence - why do we keep underestimating this?

Global warming causes shark attacks, even when the oceans are cooling.

The EU President takes a stand against cartoons. Not in my name, he doesn't.

The indecent left.

Illegal emigrants

The Daily Mail reported yesterday that:

Failed asylum seekers are sneaking out of Britain - because they are fed up with the poor healthcare and bad weather.

Scores have been caught trying to break past border controls in recent weeks, according to immigration staff.

Via CCNet