Category Archives: Bit of politics

Whatever it is, it ain’t murder

In light of recent events, and some people’s comments on them, it’s worth clarifying English law on murder.

The current direction on when an act can be classed as murder was handed down by the House of Lords in R. v. Woolin:

Where the charge is murder and in the rare cases where the simple direction is not enough, the jury should be directed that they are not entitled to infer the necessary intention, unless they feel sure that death or serious bodily harm was a virtual certainty (barring some unforeseen intervention) as a result of the defendant’s actions and that the defendant appreciated that such was the case, the decision being for the jury to decide on a consideration of all the evidence.

Now, this isn’t nice behaviour, to put it absurdly mildly. But it’s very clearly not something that would make death or serious bodily harm a virtual certainty. So murder it isn’t.

Manslaughter, on the other hand, is proved on the basis of ‘an unlawful act that is likely to do harm’… and I’m fairly sure I know what I’d say were I on the jury.

Did you forget to take your medication?

I recognise that reading the comments on CiF is a surefire route to apoplexy and insanity. However, this is an excellent bullet-pointed list of Mad Things That Angry Right Wing People Believe, and hence worth reproducing:

In response to your puzzling question, what specific ‘freedoms’ have we lost? And please be specific. Although it was not directed at me personally I trust you will not object to an input from one who has served the crown in the defence of the freedoms our forefathers fought for. How are these for specifics?
• We are no longer able to share a joke with our ethnic or gay friends in case we are in the earshot of interfering snoopers who will report us for racist or homophobic remarks.

No, incitement to racial or homophobic hatred is illegal, making racist and homophobic remarks is entirely legal (whether you’re doing so as a joke with your ‘darkie’ and ‘bender’ mates who secretly despise you, or out of actual bigotry). Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or a liar.

• We cannot object to the relevant planning authorities regarding the siting of Gypsy encampments as this is invariably translated by officialdom as a racist offence.

This is just mental. Obviously you can object to the relevant planning authorities about anything. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or a liar.

• Photographing policemen in uniform is now an offence under the terrorism act. God knows why, because if a uniformed policeman is not undercover, his occupation is plain for all to see if one wanted to put a bullet in his head.

No, it isn’t. The CPS has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the intention behind taking the photos was to help terrorism. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or a liar.

• We are not allowed to take photographs of railway stations, airports etc under the terrorism act.

Yes, you are. There isn’t even any legislation at all that could be misinterpreted as banning this. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or a liar.

• We are not allowed to take photographs of our own children, never mind anyone elses, in various school group activities as we are all suspected paedophiles.

This has the grain of a point, although it’s got fuck all to do with the government and everything to do with other bloody parents complaining.

• We are not allowed to smack our children but teachers and parents, alike, are subjected to verbal and physical abuse by delinquent children. Only the other day it was suggested we should be banned from shouting at the little treasures.

Smacking children is entirely legal. Nobody sane or important has suggested banning shouting at children. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or a liar.

• We are not allowed to shout abuse at politicians, particularly at party conferences, for fear of being detained under the terrorism act.

…whereas in the past you’d have been detained for breach of the peace, and also let go once you stopped being a tosser.

• We are not allowed to carry out a peaceful demonstration in the vicinity of Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament or now even coal fired power stations.

This one has a point, although it remains to be seen exactly what the power station demo busts were about.

• We are not allowed to eat or drink whilst driving for fear of persecution or should I say prosecution. Actually it amounts to the same thing.

Evil ZaNuLiebour, making me *look what I’m fucking doing* whilst in control of a two-tonne missile.

• We cannot travel on the tube, with or without a haversack on ones back, in the certain knowledge one wont be shot seven times in the head under the shoot to kill policy.

On the plus side, if you look Irish rather than suntanned, you’re probably less likely to be shot seven times in the head under a shoot-to-kill policy than under prior governments.

• We cannot smoke in public places unless of course one is a member of parliament and enjoy the comforts of the Commons bar.

Smoking is allowed in outdoor public places, and banned in the Commons bar. Otherwise, spot on.

• We cannot buy wine in a supermarket if accompanied by a minor.

So the government is responsible for one supermarket cashier being an idiot now? It’s legal to buy wine in a supermarket when accompanies by a minor. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or a liar.

• We cannot go into hospital without fear of contracting MSRA or other bugs.

MRSA emerged in the 1960s, is lower in the UK than most other countries, and rates are falling. Otherwise, spot on.

• We have lost the rights to justice when any criminal act is carried out against us by a thief or violent thug.

What does this even mean? You can kill someone entirely legally in self-defence, and almost all violent acts against ‘civilians’ (ie not drunken fights between twats) are punished by imprisonment.

• We cannot walk the streets without being under surveillance but yet the criminals including some elements of the police always seem to escape detection by this means.

CCTV is massively important in bringing criminals to trial, and indeed in exposing misconduct by coppers. Yes, they sometimes make the tapes disappear when it suits them (Menezes comes to mind), they should be punished for this.

• We have lost all rights to question the spending of our public servants in local and national government.

What the blazing, flaming fuck? Every right-wing git spends every second of their waking day questioning the spending of public servants in local and national government…

• We were denied the right of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty as promised in the Governments manifesto.

Yes, technically true. We have a parliamentary system rather than a plebescite system because most people are idiots who shouldn’t be allowed to operate machinery, never mind determine complex constitutional arrangements – nonetheless, once the government had made that idiotic promise, they should have kept it.

• Our DNA will be stolen from us and kept on file if arrested for any minor offence even if not subsequently charged.

…whereas if it were only ‘if charged’, that’d be OK? Yay extra-judicial punishment. We should either keep *everyone*’s DNA on file or nobody’s; anything in between is daft. (I’m probably in favour of a… in general, I don’t really give a fuck about ‘privacy’ freedoms, it’s ‘not being coshed round the head and locked up’ freedoms that matter).

In short, a couple of real things, mostly nonsense. That’s a pretty good summary of the current government’s critics, wouldn’tyasay?

Relatedly, I’m now going to vote Labour in the next election, since my new house is in the same constituency with the same, excellent MP I had two houses ago. And not the revolting bastard who ‘represented’ me in my last house, in between flirting with faded TV starlets and cosying up to evil religious loonies.

Da do ron ron ron da do ron ron

On reading of Phil Spector’s murder conviction last night, and the suggestion that it might devalue his (indisputably great) achievements, my first thought was ‘anyone who thinks that is a tit’.

That starting point got me thinking about historical figures who, despite providing unequivocal net good to society, were despicable bastards in their private lives.

In that frame of mind, I read this:

Once upon a time I was a communist, before that I was a catholic. Rather like Terry Eagleton I was able to make the transition between the two quite comfortably because I could do so without having to encounter liberalism along the way.

…and was reminded how grateful I am to random chance for the fact that Henry VIII happened to evolve where and when he did.

The rest of the piece is here, although sadly it doesn’t quite live up to that awesome line.

Worried about stabbings? Don’t be

Here’s a nice report by a real statistician on how London’s low murder rate is nothing to worry about unless you’re a gibbering paranoid ignorant fool.

Unsurprisingly, it’s received almost no media play at all. I mean, what news value is there in a study proving that the ‘OMG t3H knife crime!!!!’ narrative is bollocks and that there’s nothing to worry about…?

Dumbing down, and that’s just the fogeyish commentators

In England and Wales up until 1986, there were two sorts of exam a child could take at the compulsory school leaving age of 16.

CSEs weren’t very academically rigorous and were aimed at kids who weren’t planning to take further academic qualifications. O-levels were more academically rigorous; they were aimed at kids who were planning to take A-levels at 18, and possibly head on to university.

After 1986, the system was – officially – changed to have a single qualification at 16 encompassing both streams of kids, known as the GCSE.

However, almost all GCSEs are divided into two tiers of paper, Foundation and Higher, which are separate exams based on related but different syllabuses [*]. All kids who would have taken an O-level in a particular subject, and some who would have taken a CSE, take the Higher paper; the highest grade possible in the Foundation paper is a C.

(I note, in passing, that 1986 fulfils the criterion of ‘being a year that happened after the current generation of crusty old farts finished compulsory education’.)

For more or less the following 23 years non-stop, commentators born before 1970 have failed to point out the fact that nothing has really changed – whether this is due to their idiocy or their dishonesty is not quite clear – and instead have had great fun comparing Foundation GCSE (i.e. rebadged CSEs) papers with O-level papers. They discover, shock-horror-ish-ly, that the paper the thick kids take is harder than the paper the bright kids used to take.

For example, this post from the Libertoonian Alliance links to a GCSE physics paper, fails to point out what the foundation/higher distinction means, and labels it ‘for intelligent 16 year olds’. Since the foundation questions, answered by the dumb kids, make up the first 16 pages of the test, most readers will end up skimming those, assuming they represent ‘bright kid’ questions, and hence that the paper is moronic.

But it isn’t, for the ‘higher’ section at least [**]. It’s a reasonable test for bright-ish kids of theoretical knowledge on energy and electricity, with a couple of fluffier ‘social impact of science’ questions thrown in for a total of approximately 2 marks.

So, a fail, then. But the attempts to mislead get better. In the comments section, the post author, a (but not the, one would assume) David Davis, says:

In the “further” physics papers (only for the really bright people doing what is called “separate” sciences

This is what is known as ‘grossly misleading’.

Later, he says:

Yes [this linked paper is the equivalent of an O-level paper]. Passing this, is what those who will go on to do “A” levels in the sciences will have to do.

This is what is known as ‘grossly misleading’.

In a final and epic demonstation of his elite science-y skills, he says:

I don’t know [why the paper spells sulfur correctly]. It has sort of crept in the last year or so. I thought like you do that these people were supposed to hate America, but they adopt its spelling of “sulfur”.

If you’re going to mouth off about the ignorance and evils of people setting science exams, perhaps you might want to check the conventions actual scientists have agreed with each other on how to spell words. Or not.

There might, possibly, be an actual case that there has been a dumbing-down in educational standards (damn unlikely given relative skill and literacy measures by cohort, but possible). This paper, dramatically and massively, certainly doesn’t present it, and the dishonest codgers putting it forward do themselves no favours.

[*] English words don’t require Latin plurals. Fact.

[**] with the exception of the rather bizarre question 4D (the actual answer, given the levels of ignorance of more or less everything held by people who object to planning applications for wind turbines, is ‘all of the above'; but I’ve no idea what answer the exam board wants).

99% of men are rapists or nose-pickers

I’m not a fan of violence against anyone, irrespective of their gender.

But I don’t give a toss about ‘violence against women’, any more than I give a toss about ‘violence against ginger people’ or ‘violence against taxidermists’.

If women were disproportionately likely to be the victims of violence, then perhaps there would be some sanity in focusing campaigns about violence against them. The shooting of a young black man is no more or less bad than the shooting of an old white woman, but focusing anti-gun-crime efforts on young black men does make sense, as they’re the most likely to suffer from it.

But since men are twice as likely as women to be the victims of violent crime, that logic doesn’t seem to apply here.

So, while I’d urge anyone reading this blog who commits acts of violence against people to stop, I wouldn’t be backing Amnesty’s OneTen campaign even if it were honestly promoted and based on real evidence.

But it isn’t.

According to the press release for said campaign: “Each year, around 1 in 10 women in Britain experience rape or other violence”. This is an epic piece of dishonesty, and anyone with any integrity at all should rail against Amnesty for it, no matter how much they oppose wifebeating.

For one, we know, based on the most accurate data collated – the British Crime Survey linked above – that the figure is one in 40, not one in 10.

More importantly, even the one in 40 figure is for all violent crime. Bringing rape, which is perpetrated on less than one in 100 men or women, into the mix is tabloid chicanery at its absolute worst – it is the same literally true but completely misleading statistic as this piece’s headline. Anyone who quotes the incidence of something less serious, but mentions something more serious in the same sentence, is deeply suspect – no matter which particular political direction they’re trying to nudge you in.

And finally… shouldn’t Amnesty be campaigning against abuses of government power, rather than against crime? It’s as if the RSPCA were suddenly to start funding schools in Africa – whether or not it’s a good thing, it’s certainly not what they’re for.

In conclusion: 1:10pm, March 6, 2009 – Time To Finally Give Up on Amnesty International Forever.

Update: oops. Sorry. No, the people who tweeted this campaign aren’t idiots and don’t lack integrity – they’re well-meaning people who presumably didn’t expect a respected and generally good organisation like Amnesty to base its campaign on dishonesty, and who’ve been conned into repeating lies. And that’s precisely why I’m so fucking angry about it..

Is Britain really going bankrupt?

No.

Or:

Britain is not Iceland. Iceland is the size of Coventry. Britain is the fifth-largest economy in the world (although it also has the third-largest current account deficit). The pound is still a reserve currency that people want to buy, despite the efforts of the speculators. We are bankrupt only in the sense that we could not pay if all debts were called in right now – which is true of many countries. A falling pound will be good for exports, assuming there is someone to buy them. The UK’s credit rating was reaffirmed last week. The only thing that could push Britain into bankruptcy would be a full-scale panic.

Anyone who proposes a worse policy wins a prize

OK, so we appear to be in the early stages of a major recession, which may well go on for years. A whole load of people may well lose their jobs, pay rises will be a thing of the past for people who keep them, and overall incomes from working will fall substantially.

Meanwhile, inflation has fallen to pretty much nothing. Falling fuel and food prices are among the main drivers of the fall in inflation. Imported consumer goods, of the sort that kept inflation low during the boom, have risen in price due to the pound’s devaluation.

So let’s think about the people who’re left worst-off by this. Are they:
1) people living on fixed incomes (ie pensions or savings), who’re seeing their living standards remain pretty much flat, who have no chance of a catastrophic decline in incomes, and who spend disproportionately on heating;
or:
2) people not living on fixed incomes, who’re seeing their living standards fall, who’re at risk of losing their jobs, and who’re much more likely to spend on imports, but who have relatively large savings to cushion the blow if anything bad happens;
or:
3) people not living on fixed incomes, who’re seeing their living standards fall, who’re at risk of losing their jobs, and who’re much more likely to spend on imports, but who have debts to service that will utterly crucify them if bad things happen?

The answer, fairly obviously, is group 3. People with decent net savings are just fine: if they never had jobs, they’re insulated from anything bad happening anyway; if they have jobs now, then they can afford the time taken to find a new job if they lose the current one.

So the new Conservative party policy of punishing people in group 3 to reward people in group 1 [*] can only be viewed in two ways: either breathtaking, witless stupidity, or the intergenerational equivalent of class warfare, deliberately screwing over economically productive people even more than the recession will do anyway to give money to the elderly, who the recession won’t have any impact on. [***]

[*] in group 2, where I’m lucky enough to sit, we’ll gain slightly on the tax breaks but lose out from the spending cuts [**].

[**] To “they’ll be funded by cutting waste not productive spending”-ists, that’s not the point. If you’ve got a plan to cut waste, great – but you still need to explain why the benefits from that plan should accrue to people who’re doing fine, rather than something sensible like a rise in the income tax allowance to benefit the working poor.

[***] Of course, the working poor are busy either working or drinking themselves into a stupor to forget their miserable lives, whilst pensioners spend their time talking to Edna in the post office about absolutely nothing, and therefore voting rates for the latter group are far higher than the former. This is another reason why democracy is A Bit Pants, Even If It’s Better Than The Alternatives.

Epic political theory WIN

Andrew at LC on bloggertarians:

Libertarians almost all seem to believe that they have achieved everything in life entirely by themselves, having struggled against mighty odds and overwhelming enemies to become moderately successful computer programmers, despite the horrible disadvantages of being born white, English-speaking heterosexual males in middle-class families.

I admit this is slightly unfair: some bloggertarians are gay, and some are from upper-class families.