All posts by John B

How journalism works, part N

From Flat Earth News by Nick Davies:

I spoke to a man who had worked for the Daily Mail for some years as a senior news reporter. He said: ‘They phoned me early one morning and told me to drive about three hundred miles to cover a murder. It was a woman and two children who’d been killed. I got an hour and a half into the journey, and the news desk called me on my mobile and said, “Come back.” I said, “Why’s that?” They said, “They’re black.”


Question to people who are cross with Rowan Williams

Would you abolish the current right under English law of Orthodox Jews to have civil cases heard in the Beth Din with the agreement of both parties?

If so, why haven’t you protested about the Beth Din previously? If not, then why on earth don’t you think that Muslims should be granted the same rights you are happy to extend to Orthodox Jews?

Update – from dsquared in the comments, a summary of the ways in which the rights available to Orthodox Jews are currently not available to Muslims, and would not be available to Muslims without additional legislation:

[Sharia] arbitration services aren’t in general binding unless they’re recognised by the normal courts, meaning that they are absolutely rife with jurisdiction-shoppers who go to the sharia court in bad faith, with the intention of then going to a normal court if the judgement goes against them. You can’t do this with a Beth Din (or various other courts of arbitration) because they’re binding arbitration. At present there are Sharia Councils which do carry out arbitration, but in the absence of a specific pre-existing contract, it’s not binding.
When John Doe shows up to the court complaining about the deal he received at the Beth Din under arbitration, claiming he’s been made the victim of a capricious and arbitrary ruling, the courts will chuck it out because there’s a lot of history of the Beth Din working as a proper arbitration service. If Richard Roe shows up claiming that Sheikh Joe Bloggs has acted unfairly and arbitrarily in the Sharia Court of Bumsville, then the court will have to take this seriously because they’ve never heard of Sheikh Bloggs or his alleged “court” before.

It might seem reasonable to conclude that things would work a lot better if the British Islamic community could agree on a core of sharia principles that they could all live with, unify the Sharia Councils structure and work toward getting improved legal recognition of its work in arbitration.

Juvenile senile delinquents

There’s a criminal trial going on at the moment that’s interesting on three levels:

1) ‘pensioner dies in attack on home’ – the usual tabloid-friendly, ‘you’re not safe from hoodlums even in your own house’ story of an old man who was tracked down and harrassed after a road rage incident by the other party’s husband and his brother, to the point where the old man’s dicky heart gave out. This is pretty much the angle the press has taken.

2) ‘your data is not safe’ – the thugs tracked the old man down by getting a bent copper to procure his details from the Police National Computer, and there doesn’t seem to be any indication that the policeman in question is being prosecuted or has been sacked. Hopefully once the trial is over, we’ll find out the score (note to self: check this one later). This is the angle bloggertarians tend to have taken.

3) ‘boorish thuggery isn’t just for feral yoof’: the 79-year-old old man started the whole affair off by unleashing a torrent of rage on a young woman in a car-park over nothing, leaving her almost in tears (and onlookers worried that he was going to die of sheer anger on the spot, which might have been better for all concerned). The husband was 40 and the brother in his early 20s – truly, we’re living in an equal-opportunities, age-indifferent society when it comes to childish bullying and lack of self-control. This is an angle that nobody else appears to have taken, so I’ll claim it as mine…

On Tescopoly…

My comment, reproduced from over at Jamie’s:

I always find it a bit weird that people with leftie leanings tend to favour small businesses over big companies, even though small businessmen tend to be worse-paying, more anti-union, more likely to break employment law, and more socially right-wing than big firms.

See also: Pierre Poujade, Jose Rivera

Worst political Flash cartoon *ever*

What the hell is this even trying to say, and what the hell does the music have to do with the subject matter?

It’s not even the shallow clichés (“ooh, Gordon is the puppet of fat cats, and that’s why he didn’t let Northern Rock go bust”. Not because, y’know, that would have made ordinary people panic or anything), it’s the total incoherence with which the thing is stitched together – just throwing a couple of NR clichés and a couple of general anti-Labour clichés in a blender, and not even pretending to link them with a storyboard…

Which is a shame, because “Northern Rocky Horror Show” is quite a good pun in its own right.

Oh, and a final, semi-related point: anyone who thinks that the proposed government guarantee on Northern Rock’s assets represents an unfair state subsidy is a raving idiot, because the bidding process for NR’s assets is open to anyone who wants to participate (and hence, the price paid by the successful bidder to the government will be equal to the perceived present value of the assets being purchased, including the government guarantee). Similarly, it wasn’t an unfair state subsidy to Veolia when my local council decided, after a tendering process, to pay them to empty the bins…

BBC channels Anti-Saloon League

A BBC article on alcohol consumption statistics features a stupid comment:

The figures also suggest that alcohol consumption is increasingly a problem among the middle classes. Men and women in “managerial and professional” households drank an average of 15.1 units a week.

The same study also shows that men drink, on average, twice as much as women. Hence, the average professional man drinks around 20 units and the average professional woman drinks around 10 units.

So, even based on the insanely low guidelines of 14 units per week for women and 21 for men (a man would have to drink 63 units a week to reach the same risk of death as a teetotaller), the figures actually suggest that alcohol consumption is not a problem among the managerial and professional classes.

(yes, I also believe the strong libertarian case, that even if someone is downing a bottle of gin every lunchtime, that’s only a problem to the extent that it causes them to inflict misery and suffering on others. However, I’m not impressed by the view that this is only relevant when applied to feckless chavvy teens and not also, say, surgeons to the royal court – especially as incidents like Gary Newlove’s murder are extremely rare whereas violent domestic abuse is extremely common…)

Spam filters and paranoia

A very long time ago, I had a blog whose software platform I wrote myself. It was pretty ropey by the standards of WordPress and Moveable Type, although it beat Blogger’s offer in those days (for really dull reasons, the only server I had access to ran Windows and Access; no existing blog software supported this setup, so I had to write some).

I learnt a lot about Access, IIS, and databases and scripting in general. And for ages I was relatively immune to spam, because automatic spambots were configured to deliver the right form data to work with Blogger, MT and WP. But after a year or so, blog comment spamming was sufficiently big business (and my old blog sufficiently popular, he said self-aggrandisingly) that – presumably manually – the droves of spam started coming.

Continue reading Spam filters and paranoia

Entertaining iPhone theory

Article: O2 (UK) has shifted 190,000 iPhones in its first two months of sales, just short of its target of 200,000.

From the comments: “190,000 surprised me at first – given that we and the Europeans understand mobiles far too well to buy an outdated overpriced paperweight like the iPhone, I thought the number sold in the UK should be closer to 19. Then I remembered that there are Americans in Britain too. Some rigorous intertubes research later and I find that there are 220,000 Americans living in Britain. Mystery solved.


I’ve got a new piece up at the Sharpener on the myth that London is a crime-ridden wasteland that anyone in their right mind would do well to flee before they get their throat slit. Enjoy…

Also, Burning Our Money has a slightly silly piece on the Cheap Booze Menace – it highlights that you can buy a tin of dubious 3% lager at Asda for 22p, which works out as about 0.6p at retail pre-tax.

The piece goes on to link this to the Feral Teen Menace, which is dubious given that I’ve only ever seen street-drinking youths on strong lager, strong cider, wine or spirits, and that supermarkets are by far the best retailers at not serving booze to kids. Still, it’s always amusing to see professed free-marketeers calling for restrictions on a trade that they find distasteful…

Relatedly, can anyone think of a good reason why alcohol tax shouldn’t be levied on a “X pence per ml of ethanol” basis, rather than making pointless and arbitrary distinctions between different types of grog?