Thursday, May 21, 2009

There's nothing British about the BNP

Embedding is disabled, but click through to watch this adorable little girl wow the audience. If the BNP tried to deport her, they'd have a lot of white middle aged Mums knocking their heads together.

Don't forget, despite the glossy leaflets coming through our doors - one arrived here today - they'd deport English people like this child. I'm starting to wonder where we might be able to deport them to.

Monday, May 18, 2009

British values

The school I went to was pretty traditional. Corporal punishment was part of the disciplinary code, involving slippers, gym shoes or the cane, depending on who was administering it. Latin was compulsory to the age of 12, at which time you could opt to add Greek to your timetable, or drop classics and study astronomy, computer science, geology and something called "Applied Science", taking two of them to O level (there's nothing more traditional in this country than science and engineering). Walking on the cricket First 11 pitch was utterly taboo to the point where bonking on it by moonlight was a coveted rite of passage for the more sexually accomplished sixth formers and their girlfriends. We wore tweed suits during the winter terms, prefects were called Praeposters, Latin grace was said at mealtimes.

And the Head of the History Department took a special lesson, unannounced, for every class when they reached the age of fourteen. A whole 45 minute "period" was set aside for this. He walked in, asked us to sit, opened the book he was carrying, told us this was a true story, and began to read.

By the end of the first minute, the silence from the class was absolute. The teacher read to us the story of a 14 year old, a lad our age (this was a single-sex school), in one of the southern states of the USA. This black boy had been thrown in jail on some trumped up charge and one night the Ku Klux Klan came for him. They took him from the cell, unhindered by the police, and drove him out to some woods. There they stripped him naked and used heavy wire to bind his testicles to a bitumen-soaked log. They handed him a knife and set fire to the log; he could burn alive, or castrate himself to get free.

Then the teacher closed the book, stood, and left the classroom. He said nothing else, there was no attempt to discuss the reading, no redundant moralising, he just left us with something like half an hour of the period remaining.

I don't think any of us had really thought about racism before that. There were more children than usual, at that time, from non-white backgrounds in our school and some were in every class that was read to. For the class I was in, the teacher's departure was followed by silence. We looked at each other, not wanting to make eye contact. The Indian lad in the class who was one of the Chaps was suddenly, and briefly, more isolated than he had probably ever been, and less so than - I believe - any other treatment of the subject could have accomplished. I don't think I ever had the privilege of a more effective lesson. By the end of the half hour we were left to fill, an extraordinarily well-behaved half hour for 14 year olds left alone, we were chatting away in groups and the biggest group had formed round the Indian lad. He was slightly embarrassed but not in a bad way - this was just a spontaneous wish on the part of his classmates to show what I can only call solidarity.

I think we were so well behaved, during that half hour, because it was obvious that the school had as an institution felt this important enough to break the normal timetable; the teacher had read in a quiet voice but with barely-suppressed anger, he was probably the instigator of the tradition. We had been trusted on several levels: trusted to be able to understand this without any elaboration by an adult, trusted to be left alone afterwards. Only one boy sat on his own during this half hour. His mother was a local organiser for the National Front and we knew he sympathised with her opinions.

Charlie Brooker was born around the same time this lesson took place, but nothing had changed by the time he was at school:

[The Headmaster] spoke with eerie, measured anger. He’d fought in the second world war, he told us. Our village had a memorial commemorating friends of his who had died. Many were relatives of ours. These villagers gave their lives fighting a regime that looked down on anyone “different”, that tried to blame others for any problem they could find; a bullying, racist regime called “the Nazis”. Millions of people had died thanks to their bigotry and prejudice. And he told us that anyone who picked on anyone else because they were “different’ wasn’t merely insulting the object of their derision, but insulting the headmaster himself, and his dead friends, and our dead relatives, the ones on the war memorial. And if he heard of anyone - anyone - using racist language again, they’d immediately get the slipper.
The mainstream left and right recently came together to support the cause of the Gurkhas, while the BNP has recently been belittling a hero who won the Victoria Cross serving in our armed forces, because the man is not white.

There's no doubt that there has been prejudice in this country, but most of it has been thoughtless rather than malicious. The malevolence of the British National Party and of other race fetishists stands opposed to the long-standing, quiet traditions of this country. As the new campaign points out, there's nothing British about the BNP.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Blame Thatcher, part 362,673,456

Congratulations to Martin Kettle in the Guardian for figuring out how to blame Margaret Thatcher (and Rupert Murdoch) for the MPs' expenses scandal.

In 1983, when Gordon Brown first went to the Commons, an MP earned just over £15,000. It was an absurdly low figure even then. So what did those who could have changed the system do? They did nothing. Margaret Thatcher refused to give MPs the increase they needed or the framework for future salary review that would have put parliamentary financing on a defensible basis. And John Major, Tony Blair and Brown all followed her lead. Today's £65,000 parliamentary salary is better in real terms than 1983, and it is certainly a good income, but it is not high when compared with legislators in many other countries, or with the professions with whom MPs might sensibly be compared.
I'm not sure about the last part, though. Only the very best of the profession with which MPs might sensibly be compared earn £1,000 a night, and they generally have to split their fee with the agency.

How many boys?

Richard Thompson:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Surface station report

The reliability of data used to document temperature trends is of great importance in this debate. We can’t know for sure if global warming is a problem if we can’t trust the data.

The official record of temperatures in the continental United States comes from a network of 1,221 climate-monitoring stations overseen by the National Weather Service, a department of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Until now, no one had ever conducted a comprehensive review of the quality of the measurement environment of those stations.

During the past few years I recruited a team of more than 650 volunteers to visually inspect and photographically document more than 860 of these temperature stations. We were shocked by what we found. We found stations located next to the exhaust fans of air conditioning units, surrounded by asphalt parking lots and roads, on blistering-hot rooftops, and near sidewalks and buildings that absorb and radiate heat. We found 68 stations located at wastewater treatment plants, where the process of waste digestion causes temperatures to be higher than in surrounding areas.

In fact, we found that 89 percent of the stations – nearly 9 of every 10 – fail to meet the National Weather Service’s own siting requirements that stations must be 30 meters (about 100 feet) or more away from an artificial heating or radiating/reflecting heat source.

In other words, 9 of every 10 stations are likely reporting higher or rising temperatures because they are badly sited.

It gets worse. We observed that changes in the technology of temperature stations over time also has caused them to report a false warming trend. We found major gaps in the data record that were filled in with data from nearby sites, a practice that propagates and compounds errors. We found that adjustments to the data by both NOAA and another government agency, NASA, cause recent temperatures to look even higher.

The conclusion is inescapable: The U.S. temperature record is unreliable.

The errors in the record exceed by a wide margin the purported rise in temperature of 0.7o C (about 1.2o F) during the twentieth century. Consequently, this record should not be cited as evidence of any trend in temperature that may have occurred across the U.S. during the past century. Since the U.S. record is thought to be “the best in the world,” it follows that the global database is likely similarly compromised and unreliable.
Download the full report here (pdf).

Monday, May 11, 2009

Quote of the day

Mr. E. in the comments:

... you'd think that having stumbled onto a scheme that gets them a hefty salary for almost zero work, they'd have the good manners not to steal from us while they're at it.
Read the post too. I have no idea why he doesn't have a newspaper column. His sign off is unimprovable:
... this is like the burglar passing you on the stairs with your hi-fi and advising you to change your locks.


There are situations where the left and right agree on a principle, but not enough to stop them disagreeing completely about how and when it should be applied, which makes the whole thing idiotic and confused.

So, for example, with inheritance. The right thinks we should, and we shouldn't, inherit from the past, and so does the left. They just disagree over which bits are which. The right prefers the good things (our parent's money); the left prefers the bad: guilt for slavery, liability for colonialism and so on. The only traces of consistency are that the right prefers material inheritance and the left moral. Neither side seems to me to be very clear about the ramifications of the collective inheritances of infrastructure (bridges, roads) and of culture.

The latest example of this confusion is the contrast between the fuss over Parliamentary allowances and expenses, and the rumbling campaign against tax avoidance being conducted by Richard Murphy and the Guardian. The right is, broadly, upset about the Parliamentary expenses revelations we've been seeing and relaxed about tax avoidance, whereas the left is either mute or downplays the expense claims of MPs and peers while worrying about the tax paid by corporations and individuals.

In both cases the situation is one where fairly complicated rules for things that are at least arguably reasonable have been exploited to their full. Most people can claim expenses in connection with their employment, but many MPs seem to have been milking an unduly lax system. Differential tax rates and conditional allowances have led to businesses and individuals adopting arrangements purely to minimise their tax bills. In neither case has the original or declared intention of Parliament been honoured.

Thus, there seems to have been no explicit intention of enabling property flipping for personal gain when the Parliamentary allowances were brought into effect, but that's what has been happening. Similarly, like most people with high equity stakes in the companies they work for, I take a small, even nominal, salary and the rest of my income in dividends. This wasn't the reason why differential tax rates were introduced, but I'd be mad not to do so.

If you were going to try to apply a consistency of approach to both issues, you have to say both things were bad. But how to avoid them?

The only way, really is to make MPs and peers subject to exactly the same tests as everyone else. They can claim expenses, but only in exactly the same way I can. If I work away from home and can't claim for broken lavatory seats, or new kitchen furniture, neither should they. Parliamentary expense claims should, in other words, be as acceptable to the Revenue as my own must be.

And the tax system should be simplified. Identical flat taxes on any kind of income (if we have to tax income at all) would make it irrelevant how I took money from my business. I don't need tax breaks or grants to be encouraged to invest in my business, I'll benefit from doing so if the investment is sound. But I do need to be taxed less, so I have more money to reinvest.


You might enjoy the "Blog" of "Unnecessary" quotation marks.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Living statues

In Russia.

Sunday, May 03, 2009


A discussion at the Irish Liberty Forum:

The monopoly concept is seriously misunderstood. Rather than sticking to the classical definition; “an exclusive grant to sell given by government”, some believe that it’s something to do with market share.
The lesson [of the Standard Oil case]: monopoly has nothing to do with market share as the definition of “market” can be whatever the hell you want it to be.
A month ago, the European Committee on Standards and Interoperability released its report (pdf) into Microsoft's history of anti-competitive behaviour. Its conclusion:
Microsoft’s conduct over the last two decades has demonstrated Microsoft’s willingness and ability to engage in unlawful conduct to protect and extend its core monopolies. This conduct has caused real harm to consumers, who continue to pay high prices and use lower quality products than would have prevailed in a competitive market.
One case looked at was that of DR DOS, a popular rival to MS DOS that was put out of business by Microsoft. When Windows 3.1 was released it had encrypted code hidden away, designed to display a completely false and misleading error message if anyone tried to install it on top of DR DOS. In a memo, Phillip Barrett, a senior Microsoft employee, explained the strategy:
The approach we will take is to detect dr [DOS] 6 and refuse to load. The error message should be something like ‘Invalid device driver interface.
By the mid 1990s DR DOS was effectively out of business, bought up by Novell and used for the boot partition of their servers. In 2000 the damages suit finally came to court, with DR DOS now represented by its new owners, Caldera. In an out of court settlement, made after Caldera's lawyers showed their evidence in preliminary hearings, Microsoft paid an undisclosed sum to Caldera. Looking at transactions between members of the Canopy Group, Caldera's venture capital provider and, at that time, parent, I reckoned this might have been as much as three quarters of a billion dollars, the BBC said it was "several hundreds of millions of dollars".

Whichever, it was fraction of the profits Microsoft had earned through this deliberate fraud on consumers. It was also a fraction of the potential revenues open to DR DOS throughout the 1990s. Consumers were also robbed of the use of a far more advanced and innovative operating system than MS DOS. I ran a DR DOS machine for a while, out of interest, around 2000 and it boasted UNIX shell-like command history and tab completion, a graphical web browser and a graphical email client - on DOS.

So, does the case of Microsoft suggest there should be governmental action to prevent the formation of commercial monopolies? ECSI say they hope their paper will:
... help developers, consumer groups, and government authorities better to understand Microsoft's history of anticompetitive conduct and to recognise its current and future misconduct at an early stage in order to intervene to prevent Microsoft from using tactics other than competition on the merits.
Nothing would do more to further this idea of competition on merits than the streamlining of legal process, and the reduction of the costs involved. Microsoft were at legal fault under existing legislation but they could drag litigation out for years, all the time financially crippling their opponent with the very tactics being complained of.

No new legislation is suggested by the case of Microsoft, but it does show how our legal system is corrupted by the power a rich litigant wields. An imbalance in wealth between parties in a case is sufficient to deny justice. This is a scandalous reality.

And monopolies? Monopolies are bad. But do they really ever arise without the imposition of inequity by the state, either in the person of a monarch granting exclusive rights to a merchant, or in the form of a legal system that favours the wealthy?


Last autumn during the American election campaign, Blake Benson was charged with "interference with staff of an educational facility".

Michele Obama visited his High School last autumn to give a speech and Benson, a 17 year old student, turned up wearing a NOBAMA T shirt and carrying a McCain/Palin sign.

And that's it. That's what he was arrested for - arrested, handcuffed and taken to one of the school offices by a deputy from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. He was also given a one day suspension from his school - suspended for campaigning for the Republican candidate for the Presidency.

The school quickly reversed the suspension. Last Thursday, after more than six months, the Sheriff's Department announced they were dropping the charges.

Albany fraud allegations gain wider audience

My original post on this racked up more than 5,000 reads in two days, after being mentioned by ICECAP and Andrew Bolt. It has just been circulated, together with one from the Scientific Misconduct blog and Doug Keenan's summary, by Benny Peiser's CCNet and reproduced on Watts Up With That.

Friday, May 01, 2009


Browsing though YouTube, I came across this version of A Whiter Shade of Pale:

And the most recent comment was this:

Oh does this bring back memories of Pam and my love for her. 40 years later I still love her and only wish I had not had to go into the army, as I lost her then. Not her fault. I told her to go live her life as I might never come back. When I came back I wanted to play for a time and be irresponsible and I did just that. She finished college and got married . We met at our 40th class reunion last summer and our eyes told us both that we were still madly in love. We both departed with sad eyes.
There are the eyes we all have, the same ones we had as teenagers looking at taut skin on our hands, now looking at the liver spots and wondering where did those years go, the ones that the locusts ate.