Category Archives: Bit of politics

A thing of beauty

Charlie Brooker sums up Britishness with t3h excellence:

I was born in the 70s and grew up in a tiny rural village. There was, I think, only one black kid in my primary school. One day, someone pushed him over and called him “blackjack”. The headmaster called an impromptu assembly. It involved the entire school, and took place outdoors. No doubt: this was unusual.

We stood in military rows in the playground. I must have been about six, so I can’t remember the words he used, but the substance stuck. He 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.

Corporal punishment was still alive and well, see. The slipper was his nuclear bomb.

It was the first time I was explicitly told that racism was unpleasant and it was a lesson served with a side order of patriot fries. Or rather, chips. Our headmaster had fought for his country, and for tolerance, all at once. That’s what I understood it meant to be truly “British”: to be polite, and civil and fair of mind. (And to occasionally wallop schoolkids with slippers, admittedly, but we’ll overlook that, OK? We’ve moved on.)

Hating furriners, wanting to kick out furriners, being jealous of furriners – all of that nonsense is as foreign, un-British and generally despicable as it gets.

Evidence-based policymaking

The shouty left are far more likeable than the New Labour ‘left’ or the Tory right in general, and their opinions on the things that really matter – murdering foreign civilians, locking people up without charge, banning freedom of speech, and such like – are generally spot on.

However, one way in which they drive me mad is their refusal to accept actual evidence as a factor in decisionmaking and policymaking, in areas where the goal isn’t contentious but the ways to achieve it are.

This is best exemplified by anyone who calls for water utilities to be taken back into public ownership, as the public sector authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland provide a poorer service than the private sector English water companies at about the same cost.

But another good example, spotted by Rick at FCFT, relates to the different policies adopted toward the NHS by the English, Welsh and Scottish governments (FT article, registration may be required).

The introduction of targets for NHS waits in England, followed by more choice, competition and greater use of the private sector, has been highly controversial. While the impact of choice and competition in England is not yet clear, “the terror of targets” worked, according to Carol Propper, a professor of health economics at Imperial College London.

After rises in NHS funding, “waits are down in all three countries”, she said. “But they have come down much faster in England.”

The English NHS is hitting a maximum 18-week wait for treatment that Scotland will not achieve until 2011.

Waits are worse in Wales, and a few years ago a Welsh Audit Office report noted that the poorer overall health of the Welsh population did not explain the performance. Northern parts of England, it noted, had similar health status “but have consistently delivered more healthcare at lower cost”.

In other words, the much-reviled NHS internal market and targets, as one might expect given that markets and targets do have an impact in pretty much every other area of life, has worked better at delivering improved outcomes in England than the traditional centralised NHS model has at delivering improved outcomes in Wales and Scotland.

Like the water example, this is unlikely to change the Shouty Left’s minds. Shame there isn’t some kind of Evidence-Based Party to support – just right-wing ideologues who happen to be right in the cases listed above, and left-wing ideologues who happen to be right on other things.

What sort of people do we want in the UK?

Doctors? Engineers? Refugees from torture? No, the consensus is apparently that the people we most want are third-world mercenaries.

Not quite sure why ‘being a mercenary who signed up in the full knowledge they’d get a giant sack of money and no British passport’ ought to put one to the top of the ‘British passport’ queue… but who am I to judge the Great British Public?

In view of our navy’s struggle to maintain greatness, perhaps we could draft the Somalian pirates next…

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..