Monday, 25 October 2010

95 Pages Based on Nothing

The Prison Reform Trust and a charity called Unlock have produced a 95 page report about finances and prison. Basic idea seems to be that people in prison (or just released) find it harder to convince banks to trust them. Shock.

But what got me was that this long report is pretty much worthless. On page 81 in the appendix we are told how they gathered their results. Out of a prison population of 85,228 they interviewed 144 or 0.17%. Of those 97 responded through self-filled in surveys leaving just 47 who were actually interviewed or 0.06%. 24 former prisoners filled in on-line surveys and 29 families did likewise. These last two groups chose to do so after reading about it in the Unlock charity's e-newsletter.

OK so the sample sizes were far too small and obviously biased. Now get this from page 18 of the report in the Methodology section:
Statistical data were analysed on SPSS to produce frequencies and simple cross tabulations. The small size of the samples precluded tests for statistical significance.
Yet somehow enough to produce a 95 page report.

Stretching Laws

The First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press
If it's in the constitution you'd think that would be that but no. A newspaper in New Hampshire refused to publish a wedding announcement for a gay marriage (which is legal in that state).

Paul Hodes, a Democratic Senate candidate for the state, told Mr McQuaid that the newspaper should "respect the law of New Hampshire" and change its policy. 
Perhaps Mr Hodes should abide by the law and not try to make laws limit the freedom of the press.

Has Everyone Forgotten About Income Tax?

Tuition fee stupidity:
Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, confirmed that ministers were examining ways to make the new system more "progressive". He said: "High-earning graduates will be paying more later in their life, but in a progressive way relating to their ability to pay. There is an issue about people who go on to very high-earning jobs and who therefore pay off relatively quickly and we do have to think about how to find a way by which they make some sort of contribution towards low-earning graduates. It's a tricky technical problem but we're working on it" 
Higher earners pay more income tax (not only more but at a higher rate too). "Tricky technical problem" already solved.

Sir Alex and Tim

Sir Alex Ferguson:
‘‘When your top players come towards the end of their contracts, you have to do something to get them a new one. They are all the same. But you have to deal with agents of this world today, which is difficult. There is no problem with players, but some agents are difficult.” 
Was going to comment about this but Tim already has.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Email Irony

A group called Spam Ratings has published some results about the number of websites in the UK that send out spam. From the brief look at their site it seems that their business is charging companies to display (after winning of course) a logo declaring their site to be "spam free".

But I found this quite ironic:

Friday, 22 October 2010

Stupidity in Published Scientific Literature

Pink News reports on a publication reporting that some adverts on Facebook are targetted at gay men exclusively even though they have nothing to do with sexual orientation. A quote from the published article [pdf] (emphasis mine):
Alarmingly, we found ads where the ad text was completely neutral to sexual-preference (e.g. for a nursing degree in a medical college in Florida) that was targeted exclusively to gay men. The danger with such ads, unlike the gay bar ad where the target demographic is blatantly obvious, is that the user reading the ad text would have no idea that by clicking it he would reveal to the advertiser both his sexual-preference and a unique identifier (cookie, IP ad- dress, or email address if he signs up on the advertiser’s site).
How does something get through peer-review stating that if someone signs up to a site with their email address they "would have no idea" that the people they are signing up to will have their email address?

One other point. The experiment run to find these conclusions involved three Facebook accounts, 2 of straight men and one of a gay man (with all other details the same). Surely that's far too small a sample for any meaningful conclusions to be drawn?

The paper is entitled "Challenges in Measuring Online Advertising Systems" published in  Proceedings of the 10th ACM SIGCOMM conference on Internet measurement conference

Commuting is Suffering

Iain Duncan Smith suggested that people commute from one town to another for work. His example was doing an hour's commute on the bus from Merthyr Tydfil to Cardiff. Apparently this is unacceptable.

Mr McClusky, assistant general secretary of the Unite union, said: "While Iain Duncan Smith has been presented as the Government's Mister Nice, he cannot shake off the vicious Tory determination to make the poor suffer.
Average commute time in the UK is around about 45 mins
"Can the ConDem coalition really believe that the unemployment being created by savage government cuts will be fixed by having people wandering across the country with their meagre possessions crammed into the luggage racks of buses."
The concept of a commute is obviously foreign to Mr McClusky.
"Iain Duncan Smith offers us a 19th-century vision of sturdy beggars and the undeserving poor, while the bankers and their chums continue to rake in millions and dodge taxes. The only polite reaction to all this is to say: shame on you."
Any chance that the BBC could not quote the opinions of a moron who clearly is only interested in lying to everyone for political gain?

Better Off Working Shock

Case study from Plymouth:

TAMMY MEWETT, aged 30, from Honicknowle, has five children aged between three and 14. She gets about £300 a week in Income Support, Child Tax Credit and Child Benefit. She also gets Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, paid separately.
She said: "They have calculated I would be better off if I was working."
Why did anyone have to calculate that?

Carphone Warehouse Think Parents Are Stupid

From Carphone Warehouse press release:
parents either unaware of the risks (46% of parents haven’t activated controls because they didn’t think they were necessary)
Apparently it's not possible to be aware of the risks but decide it isn't that big.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Banks, Lending and Stupidity

From the Guardian:
Britain's banks lent more money to companies in August than was paid back to them for the first time in six months, the Bank of England reported today.
Unfortunate news for Ann Pettifor (see here).
Lord Oakeshott, the Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman, said: "Britain's banks have turned banking on its head – these days they borrow from British business, not the other way around. What's the point of pumping billions into the economy through quantitative easing when the banks just suck it out again?"
To keep the banks afloat, employing people and lending at least some money?
He added: "Small business lending is going from bad to worse. The annual rate of contraction is approaching 5%. The smaller your business, the harder you're hit."
Or the higher the risk you pose the harder it is to get credit. Shock.

Grapefruit Cutters and Slippery Slopes

The High Court has ruled that grapefruit knives are knives and therefore it is illegal to sell them to under-18s. After originally being ruled as fine by three magistrates the ruling was overturned. From the BBC:

Steve Johnson, trading standards manager, said it would have set a "dangerous precedent" if the ruling had not been overturned.
The slippery slope argument apparently only works one way.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Another Example of No Brain Engagement

I wonder if this counts as an example of being so determined to find fault that the brain isn't engaged first. Will Straw asks on LFF whether the health budget has been cut. His reason is the picture below:

The top table is from the Budget and the bottom one from today's CSR. The numbers are different. I'm not an accountant but the bottom table is clearly marked as not included depreciation which I would imagine is a cost and increases the budget. Therefore, it would seem very likely to me that the reason for the CSR figure being lower is because it doesn't include depreciation. Indeed, comparing the figures for the other departments it seems that for almost all of them the Budget figures are higher.

So, am I right that the discrepancy is because of depreciation? If so is this another example of not engaging the brain before bashing?

And even if I'm wrong, why has Mr Straw not mentioned the discrepancies in the other figures? Look at the defence budget? In the Budget it was £36bn and in the CSR it is £24.3bn. Why didn't he suggest that the defence budget had been cut by over 30%? Maybe he was so determined to find a cut in Health spending (because the Tories promised there wouldn't be any) that he didn't bother looking at the rest of the table. My cynical side wants to suggest that he realised that suggesting that a cut that big had been made would be ridiculous and so he didn't bring attention to it.

Mr Straw would you care to respond?

No Brain Engagement

The desperate attempt to have a go at the coalition's spending review apparently means people don't think before posting. Sunny declares triumphantly that Labour were right to claim before the election that the Tories were going to scrap the target of cancer patients seeing a specialist within two weeks because in the CSR it says they're not going to implement the target of seeing a specialist in one week.

He even quotes Paul Waugh from the Standard who made the same rush to judgement. Waugh, though has since updated his article to point out the obvious.

Challenege to Labour Supporters

Apparently the problem with the Government plans for deficit reduction is that they're 80:20 cuts:taxes. Labour wants more like 40:60. Let's make the following two easily defended assumptions:

1) The Treasury will not reject your voluntary contributions
2) The Government will gladly increase spending if it can do so without higher taxes or borrowing.

So, Labour supporters. You think people should pay more to the State so the State can spend more. I challenge you all to start donating your money to the State. Go on, write a cheque. If the majority of the country supports you then we'll see deficit reduction without the spending cuts. Go on, what are you waiting for?

More from Tom Harris

Further to this.

Tom now says:
But I don’t accept that it’s [coalition government] remotely democratic.
What happens when you have an elected Upper House with a majority from a different party?

First Pubs Now Cars

It seems that having managed to remove our freedom to smoke in buildings we own, the next step for anti-smokers is to remove our freedom to smoke in cars we own.

Earlier this month it was the Chief Medical Officer for Wales calling for a ban on smoking in cars. Now it's Ash Scotland.

When they get that the next step will be our homes.

Tom Harris MP - Hypocrite

Tom Harris MP:
RENEWAL of Trident was supported by the 65 per cent of the electorate who voted either Labour or Tory in May.

1) Turnout in the election was 65%. 65% of 65% = 42.25%.

2) Voters could not vote for Tory economic plans and against Trident renewal.

Ah, but you see, that was before the era of The New Politics of democracy, accountability and transparency. Which actually means that in order to keep the minority coalition partner, the LibDems (who won 23 per cent) on board, the Tories have agreed to ignore the views of the 65 per cent who voted for Trident renewal, now kicked into the post-election long grass. This isn’t about the rights and wrongs of nuclear weapons, or the cost of Trident. It’s about democracy, or rather, the lack of such in the era of coalition government.
And if Labour had entered a coalition it too would have compromised on election pledges. Tom Harris MP knows this. He's a hypocrite.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Greens, Resources and Cost

I'm sure I've heard environmental campaigners say that we're using up the planet's resources too fast. They also suggest as a solution that we switch to "greener" technologies. Now, I'm no economist so someone tell me where I'm going wrong.

Companies seek to make a profit. The lower their costs the more profit they can make. Lower costs mean using fewer resources. Therefore, if green technologies cost more than other ones doesn't that mean they are using more resources somewhere?

You Might Have Made a Mistake There

From the BBC:
More than 41,000 primary school boys (2%) have a statement of needs and 489,250 (23.4%) have unstatemented needs. This compares to 15,600 SEN girls (0.8%) with statements and 269,890 girls (13.5%) without a statement.
When you're definition of "special" includes almost 1 in 4, you've probably made a mistake.

Anarchy in Action

Defenders of the State will often say that there are some things that only the State can provide because individuals won't take responsibility for them themselves. Tell that to the people of Dunster. They're sorting out their pavements themselves because the State hasn't taken responsibility for them.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Snappy Headline

This is a headline from a piece at LabourList:
MP who received EMA backs the "Save EMA" campaign
Not many points for snappiness but at least they honestly tell us why she supports it.

Alcohol and Domestic Abuse

Further to the report by Alcohol Concern. The report says as follows:
There is no evidence that alcohol plays a direct causal role in domestic abuse, but evidence suggests a strong association between alcohol misuse and violence in the home.
No source is given for this evidence. The only thing it might be is the statement:
Statistics also suggest that alcohol plays a part in around a quarter of known cases of child abuse.
This may be true but it is not true to suggest that alcohol can be used as a predictor of abuse. The same research paper they use to claim that "2.6 million children in the UK are living with parents who are drinking hazardously" also states that only 1.2% of children have witnessed (not necessarily been a victim of) violence in their home as a result of alcohol.

Looking through the list of "Key Statistics" it becomes clear what the approach taken has been. Every statistic linking alcohol to some undesirable outcome is of the form "X% of cases with the undesirable outcome also have the involvement of alcohol".

This is a classic fallacy but one clearly used in this report.

Alcohol Concern On Road to Prohibition

Alcohol Concern has published a report entitled "Swept under the carpet" about children of parents who drink too much. Is this the first step towards a campaign to make alcohol illegal? The report tell us early on that:
84% agreed that a parent who drinks heavily is as harmful to a child as a parent who takes drugs.
At the bottom of that page is a quote in big letters:
Alcoholism is hidden because it’s legal – it’s swept under the carpet
Maybe it's just me being cynical but comparing alcohol to illegal drugs and decrying its legality looks like a step towards campaigning against that legality. And all for the sake of the children, of course.

Confusion Over Banks

I'm no economist and no expert about anything but this article from Ann Pettifor seems to be completely ridiculous.

First she says:
But government deficits cannot be managed like that. The UK Treasury cannot cut the deficit, only government expenditure. Whether or not the budget deficit comes down depends entirely on how the rest of the economy reacts.
This is probably true, but then she goes on to say:
Only by the public sector stimulating the private sector can we reduce the deficit.
But if she recognises that the government cannot force the reaction it wants by cutting surely the same applies to spending. So her earlier dismissal of cuts applies just as much to spending.
The banking system exists to serve the real economy
Since banks are (or were) privately owned companies with shareholders they actually exist, like all private companies, to make money for their owners.
As a result of liberalisation (including the 1971 Competition and Credit Control Act), the system as a whole has been burdened by bad debts and is effectively bankrupted.
So nothing to do with government interference at all then.
In a truly bizarre twist, the banking system has become a borrowing machine, not a lending machine. 
Banks have always been borrowing machines and lending machines, haven't they? They borrow money from people and lend it to others.
in terms of balance sheets, the UK private sector is repaying more to the banks than the banks are lending.
Well that makes sense, doesn't it? The banks have already lent lots of money, some of it to people who probably won't pay it back. So in order to be able to pay back its own debts it must gather in some cash.

How can Ms Pettifor declare:
It is the banks that are broken, not government.
when all evidence is that the banks are doing exactly what you'd expect them to do?

She concludes that:
Pensioners, depositors and savers will continue lending their precious savings to bankers earning bonuses, in return for derisory rates of interest.
If they're continuing to lend to the banks then these depositors have surely calculated that it is in their best interests to do so rather than keeping the cash under their mattresses. Or are all savers also idiots?

If my understanding is completely off please let me know in the comments

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Statistical Smokescreens

The Guardian reports that Black people are 26 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people in England and Wales. Clearly the police are racists. What the article doesn't bother to tell you is how many stop and searches end in arrest. The figures are available from here.

Overall throughout the whole of England and Wales a stop and search is likely to result in arrest in 2.8% of cases. For white people that figure becomes 3.3% and for black people it is 2.7%.

But look more closely. 95% of all stop and searches involving black people were carried out by the Metropolitan Police. For that force the arrest rate is 2.5% for whites and 2.7% for blacks.

If the arrest rate for blacks was a lot lower than for whites then one could understand accusations of racism - black people are being stopped for no reason. But there is no statistically significant difference in the arrest rate. This means that each stop and search is as likely to result in arrest regardless whether the person being stopped is black or white. That means that police are as good (or actually as bad) at spotting who they should stop regardless of skin colour. Is that racism? No.

I wonder why Mark Townsend, the Guardian reporter here, didn't think it was his job to do any kind of investigation about the truth of the claims being made to him?

Seeking Help

The Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group (TPIAG) is one of the quangos destined for the bin. No matter it didn't do much. It was established in 2000 with the task of advising the Government on how it could reduce the teenage pregnancy rate by 50% by 2010. It is now 2010 and the rate has fallen by about 10%. So no success story.

When trying to find out, though, how much this body costs I came across a statement from the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools, Diana Johnson. The statement was a written answer given to Mr Laws on the 8 July 2009. Regarding the TPIAG she told the Commons:
The body does not employ any staff.
This got me curious. Were all its members volunteers? Not according to records from the Department for Children Schools and Families. In its 2009 report it states that between April 2008 and March 2009 Lucy Russell was appointed as a board member of TPIAG with pay of £114 per day for 2 years. Its 2008 report states that between January 2007 and March 2008 5 staff members were employed for three years at a rate of £114 per day.

So when Ms Johnson stated that the body did not employ any staff, at least 6 people were being paid to be members of the group. They weren't volunteers. But if they were not employed by the "body" then who were they employed by? And how independent can they have been?

Can anyone shed any light on this?

UPDATE: Thanks to the folk at the TaxPayers' Alliance for their help. It seems that the amount cited is not pay but expenses for one-off days when meetings are held. The members of the body are employed by some other organisation (ie not the government department) and not by the body.

Ad Hominem

Catherine Bennet doesn't like Lord Browne's recommendations about higher education. Fortunately, she knows why he would come to the conclusions he did. Not based on any evidence or anything like that. No, it's because he's out for revenge. And he's a businessman.

Isn't it luckily convenient that explanations are so simple.

Racism Won't Go Away Through Obsession

Jesse Jackson asks, in The Guardian:
How can enlightened societies have institutionalised policies of race profiling?
The question is asked because research shows that black people are more likely to be stopped and searched than white ones based on the number stopped as a proportion of the total population with that skin colour. This disparity has lead Jackson to conclude:
If just one individual was involved, then that would be a problem, but this enormous disparity shows it is institutionalised.
It seems to me that the answer to the question is two-fold. Firstly there is no real evidence of an institutionalised policy of stopping black people more than white. But more crucially the reason why racism doesn't go away in "enlightened" societies is because it isn't allowed to. Every single time you talk about racism or look for racism or demand that records about race are kept so that racism can be checked up on you are simply extending the lifetime of racism.

In any non-racist world it is obvious that no records will be kept discussing the colour of someone's skin. How will we ever get there by insisting that such records are always kept?

Police, Red Tape, Oversight and Centralisation

The Telegraph reports on a report that is due to be published this week about red tape and the police. Basically they do a lot of form filling and this wastes money. The headline example is the need to fill in a 16-page form in order to look through someone's window.

Two paragraphs worry me. The first is:
All of the paperwork must be approved by a superintendent. Failure to complete it properly could lead to a prosecution collapsing in court when defence lawyers claim surveillance was carried out without authorisation.
Even if the paperwork is completed properly where is the authorisation? A member of the police giving permission for another member of the police to breach my privacy is not authorisation. If a Tesco manager gives permission to a delivery man to start looking through my windows is that authorised?

Where's the judge? Where's the independent oversight? Here's an idea to save on paperwork. If the police want to take some action that a member of the public would not be allowed to do they should first seek permission from a judge. They don't then need to fill in any forms because the court will keep a record of it. This would mean that we have proper oversight of the police at all times. What's more, it sets up the system that would allow for the privatisation of the police force, or at least the detection side of it.

The second thing was this:
The report will conclude that a prime problem is that no single person is responsible for the police nationally, or for overall control of the criminal justice system. 
Yeah, because the obvious way to remove bureaucracy is to add another layer of control on top of what exists.

As a final note, be afraid:
Other main recommendations include allowing officers to use common sense

How Not to Get Over Oil

The Telegraph reports that green campaigners blocked a refinery in Essex. They're quoted as saying:
We've come here to the source of the problem, to put our bodies in the way of the relentless flow of oil to say 'no more'. If we're to have a hope of tackling climate change we need to find a way to get over oil. It won't happen overnight, but we can, and must move beyond oil.
And what was the energy source they used to travel to the refinery?
Police were forced to close the road after 12 female protesters handcuffed themselves to vehicles parked to deliberately block the way for fuel tankers.
So oil then. And the police who had to attend probably also used oil to fuel their journey. And the journalists.

They might argue that it's OK to use oil to bring attention to the need to stop using oil. But that's a little weird. It's a little like anti-racism campaigners beating up white folk to bring attention to racism.

If they truly want to put their bodies on the line let them simply stop using oil. If they find a way to make it work then I'm sure plenty of others will follow suit. 

Friday, 15 October 2010

The State and Social Engineering

Kathryn Rose writes at LabourList to suggest that the Coalition government may be engaging in various forms of social engineering. Cutting child benefits is social engineering because it encourages the poor to have fewer children. Recognising marriage in the tax system is social engineering because it encourages marriage. Higher tuition fees is social engineering because it encourages poorer students to live at home longer to save money.

Concluding her piece Ms Rose asks:

Are they indulging in social engineering, you decide…
The answer is, of course, yes they are. But Ms Rose has so completely failed to understand what she's talking about. Every government engages in social engineering. In fact it cannot do otherwise. Society adapts according to the rules. Government's (unfortunately) make the rules. Therefore, any time the State does anything it is engaging in social engineering.

What irritates me more than simply her inability to realise this is that she cannot understand, seemingly, what she is writing herself. She argues that reducing child benefits is social engineering because it encourages people to have fewer children. Apparently, though, it hasn't occurred to her that this must mean that raising child benefits is also social engineering.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Stupid Headlines

The BBC has made available on its website a 54 minute recording of the discussion in Parliament about the quangos situation. The page is headlined:
Quango reform will cost jobs, warns Maude
No, really? Wow, who would have thought it.

I'm not watching the entire discussion so cannot say whether Frances Maude did or did not make such a warning. What I'm pretty sure of though is that he probably said something more interesting in his speech than the obvious. In fact the article quotes him saying:
For too long we have had quango pay spiralling out of control so that seven people in the Audit Commission are paid over £150,000 a year at a time when the average civil servant's pay is £23,000.
Would it be too cynical to suggest that the publicly funded BBC didn't want to bring too much attention to the positive sides of cutting government spending on non-government jobs?

Labour Hypocrisy

Two bus drivers have been suspended on full pay because manager's are worried that they're so fat they'll damage the buses. They've been told to lose weight or risk losing their jobs. The leader of the Labour group of the local council said:
I don't think it is for your boss to tell you that you have to lose weight
No. It's the place of the State.

When Job Creation is Bad

You'd think that the creation of at least 30,000 new jobs over the next five years would be good news, right? Wrong.

MigrationWatch are suggesting that over the next five year there will be another 550,000 students in primary and secondary school in the UK resulting from immigration. According to the ONS the average number of pupils per teacher is 17.6 meaning that these extra students will create 31,250 new teaching jobs. Of course, far more jobs will be created and work generated.

However, since the taxpayer must foot the bill for those new jobs rather than the parents paying fees, the result is that all this job creation is apparently bad.

Reminder - Scientists Are Often Wrong

Not really related to politics but I thought this article was interesting. It discusses a particular problem with statistics and inter alia reminds us that you can't always trust what a scientist tells you.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Not Quite Getting It

Matt Grist argues in the Guardian that universities should be considered like any other business. His argument is as follows:
markets are messy places where people are trusted to use their own initiative to make the right choices. This is desirable because people are closer than governments to the facts. What's more, a lot of knowledge about markets is hard to articulate: it is stored in habits and "common sense", and so not at all amenable to standardised interpretation.
So to trust markets is to trust the wisdom of the public to run their own lives. In the case of higher education, this is to trust students and parents to work out whether a university is any good or not, as opposed to trusting central government or vested interests to do so.
If you're wondering why he doesn't think the same argument applies to so many other cases it's because he doesn't quite get it:
Of course, it is true that markets are not always the best means for ensuring quality, efficiency and fairness, which is why we should be pluralists about them. The railways in Britain are a case in point. Where there is no effective competition, how can there be a market? I can't choose between train operators if only one can get me from London to Manchester. Similarly, until bad schools are allowed to fail and good schools expand, it is hard to see how a market for schools can work.
Has Matt not watched Braveheart?

Dishonesty in the University Funding Debate

So the debate over higher education funding rumbles on. Plenty of people are very unhappy about the idea that universities might charge higher fees to actually cover the cost of the tuition. Instead, these people argue, the government should increase its funding of universities leaving fees unchanged.

The whole debate is founded on something that those complaining will not tell you.

Consider. We live in a democracy meaning that, in theory, the government should only do what the majority want done. So those people arguing that the government should pay more to universities think that the majority of the country want to contribute towards the degrees of other people.

Now, supposing tuition fees go up. What stops those opposed to such an increase setting up a charity to collect the voluntary contributions from the majority of the country and paying the fees for the students? That's right, absolutely nothing.

I can only assume that they know what we all know which is that if the citizens of the country had a choice, not enough would willingly want to contribute enough money to subsidise the tuition fees. So they argue that the government should force those same citizens to hand over the cash. Nice people aren't they.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Statistics and Choices

At Left Foot Forward, Ranjit Sidhu, founder of Statistics into Decisions, discusses higher education funding in the UK. In his discussion he says:
this country is spending far lower than any other OECD country and actually half that of the USA on education.
This claim about spending half what the USA does comes from a report from the Russell Group[pdf]. That report states:
At 2.9% of GDP, the US spends more than twice what the UK does.
Earlier in the article Mr Sidhu has noticed the point about different population sizes pointing out that:
With about 5 per cent of the population of China it has an economy more than half its size.
Yet here he seems to have forgotten about that. Nor has he read much of the report, it seems. Just two lines earlier the Russell report states:
The UK spends approximately $15,447 (USD) per student, while the US spends $25,109.
By my reckoning that's 1.6 times as much not twice. But crucially, apart from not considering population sizes, Mr Sidhu has not considered the source of this funding. In fact, 66% of the funding in the US comes from private sources whereas in the UK it is 35%. Some quick maths and we find that the taxpayer pays $10,040.55 for each student in the UK but only $8,537.06 per student in the US.

So when the headline says:
We can afford to fund our universities, the fact is we choose not to 
he may be entirely correct. But he is not correct to suggest that in order to keep up with America the taxpayers should be forced to pay.

Over 30s Shouldn't Drive

The Institute of Alcohol Studies says[pdf]:
After drinking, the brain works inefficiently, taking longer to receive messages from the eye; processing information becomes more difficult and instructions to the muscles are delayed. Alcohol can slow down reaction time by 10 to 30 per cent.
 If this is a reason to ban drink driving then many over 30s should not be allowed to drive. A research paper entitled "Simple reaction time, duration of driving and sleep deprivation in young versus old automobile drivers" reports that the median reaction time for drivers under 30 was 236ms. If that is increased by 30% we have 306.8ms.

In other words, the law currently assumes that someone whose reaction times are over 306.8ms should not be driving. The problem is that the median reaction time for over 30s is 262ms with a standard deviation of 81ms (the slowest recorded was 448ms). This means that quite a lot of drivers over the age of 30 are driving with reaction times equivalent to being drunk while driving.

Obviously I'm being facetious. But the point is that the law is far too arbitrary. As it stands people are being punished without any evidence that they (as individuals not statistics) are incapable of driving properly.

Worth What People Will Pay

My father always told me that something is only worth what people are willing to pay for it. Similarly, a person's time and labour must also be worth only as much as someone else is willing to pay for it. So why is the Guardian asking:
Your salary: are you worth it?
If someone is willing to pay it then you must, by definition, be worth it. The only exception, I suppose, would be those employed by the State whose wages are paid for with other people's money.

Printing Money is Good

A comment piece on CiF argues that printing money during a recession has no down side. I'm not an economist so can someone let me know whether this is correct or not. Intuitively it seems wrong to me.

Anglican Church Bankrolling Climate Campaigners

A group calling itself Climate Rush is hoping to emulate the Suffragettes. To date their founder, Tamsin Omond, has been arrested a couple of times for her protests. Members of the group have chained themselves to Parliament and Lord Mandelson's house and dumped manure in Jeremy Clarkson's drive.

But is this group bankrolled in some way by the Anglican Church or members thereof acting in an official capacity? I ask only because their website, appears to be registered to the address of St Peter's Church in Belsize Park.

More on That Fire

By now everyone's probably familiar with the Obion County fire incident (if not see here). It has led to a debate about Libertarianism and how, supposedly, awful it is that the fire was not put out. Many have defended the position by pointing out how the insurance system works.

Yesterday I blogged on this point and a commenter called fraser pointed me in the direction of this post on That post argues that this was not the free market in operation because in the free market they would have put out the fire and sent the bill afterwards:
In a real market, there is no way that a free-enterprise fire service would have refused to provide the homeowner service. They would be in business to provide that service. The fire would have been put out and he would have been charged for the service. It is as simple as that. It is the same as lawn-mowing services or plumbing services or any other type of service.
Now, it is certainly true that I am not anywhere near as intelligent or learned as those guys but I think they're wrong here. There is a big difference between the services mentioned in their post and fire services, the difference being the cost. For some services it is entirely reasonable to pay after the fact but not for the fire service. It's just too expensive for most people.

The London Fire Brigade, for example, had an operating cost of £422.3 million in 2008/09. In that year they dealt with 138,385 incidents. Of those 29,215 were fires, 64,374 were false alarms and 44,352 were other non-fire related services. I assume that the cost of putting out a fire is much larger than the cost of dealing with a false alarm or freeing someone from a lift. So some quick calculations - if all services were charged the same the cost per incident would be about £3,000. But in reality putting out a fire would be much more, say at least £10,000.

How many people could afford to pay that after their house is damaged by a fire? Not many I suspect. So in reality, I think, a private fire service may well refuse to put out some fires on the basis that they cannot make any money doing so. Certainly there will be some fires that will not be put out.

What's more, this is a matter of historical fact. In the years when London did not have a State fire service but rather a series of privately provided ones, they did not always put out fires in those properties owned by people who did not have insurance with them.

We can believe that the market is better at providing services and defend it when that means that people who do not pay do not receive. We do not need to insist, though, that it is perfect and will never lead to results that leave some people worse off.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Those Rich Jews

The EHRC published a long report about equality today. Looking through the supporting research revealed the following information (on page 76 of the Employment paper):

Average Pay
Christian 12.94
Buddhist 12.1
Hindu 13.25
Jewish 17.69
Muslim 10.81
Sikh 12.22
No religion 12.79
Christian 10.81
Buddhist 11.72
Hindu 11.43
Jewish 13.93
Muslim 10.04
Sikh 10.08
No religion 11.13

Very interesting. Jewish men are the highest paid and Jewish women earn more than all non-Jewish men. (All averages, obviously). No idea what this means but its certainly worth noting (and no, highlighting interesting stats doesn't make me anti-semitic, and yes the title is sarcastic).

On Letting Houses Burn

Gene at Harry's Place blogs about the fire department of Obion County. They were ordered to allow Mr Cranick's house to burn down because he had not paid the annual fee for fire cover. Gene asks:
But aren’t there other principles involved here– like basic human decency? Like caring for one’s neighbor?
He also goes on to cite some American person claiming that the decision was right according to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Clearly not happy he says:
Fischer can speak for himself about about his interpretation of Christian tradition, but there’s nothing Judeo about having the means to help a neighbor in distress and not using them. Quite the opposite.
First to answer Gene's question - yes it would be good to be caring and generously put out Mr Cranick's house fire. However, if the fire department made it clear that it would always put out fires even for those who did not pay then very soon no one would pay and then no fires would be put out. So while the people involved I'm sure wanted to help Mr Cranick they did make the right decision.

Moving on to the second point. Given that the reason for not helping in this instance was to prevent abuse in the future it turns out that the decision was in fact in keeping with Jewish tradition. The tradition involved relates to the paying of ransoms. As I understand it the Jewish religion places much importance in paying ransoms to release people from captivity. Nevertheless, this is not to be done when it will simply encourage more kidnappings. Thus the notion of not helping one person so as not to encourage further problems is in keeping with the Jewish tradition.

Charities Don't Believe in Charity

From the BBC:
Six Welsh charities have urged the UK Government to rethink proposed cuts to housing benefit.


"We urgently call on the government to reconsider the cuts, which will disproportionately affect those in greatest need, including homeless and vulnerable families, those in need of housing-related support, people with mental health problems and children living in poverty, and result in greater long-term economic and social costs for local authorities, housing associations and government in Wales."
If there is public support for keeping housing benefits unchanged why don't these charities simply ask people for the money voluntarily? Could it be that they don't think they'll get anything?

State Dependency and Fear

EU Referendum highlights a story that illustrates two of the problems with the big State. Camden Council is planning to ask residents to shovel snow themselves this winter, although they'll provide the shovels. Some aren't happy:
Eleanor Botwright, director of Castlehaven Community Centre, said: 'It is not quite dig your own grave but it is a double-edged sword. In some instances I am sure it will be helpful but if people pay their council tax, that is supposed to be used for that.'
So we have State Dependency - I can't do it because I pay my taxes. It's now someone else's responsibility.

But the proposal is risky. Last January it was pointed out that:
Under current legislation, householders and companies open themselves up to legal action if they try to clear a public pavement outside their property. If they leave the path in a treacherous condition, they cannot be sued. 
So we have Fear. The State has made laws such that people are too scared to take responsibility for problems. Indeed, as a result of this fear the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health told its members:

“When clearing snow and ice, it is probably worth stopping at the boundaries of the property under your control.”
It's a double whammy. Some people don't feel responsible and others that do are too scared to act on that feeling.

Still Think You Can Trust the Police?

The commissioner of the Metropolitan Police wants the police to have more protection from being sued. I'm sure others will discuss this and point out how wrong it is. But what got me was this statement:
"One of the key aspects is that the average settlements are well under £10,000 and most under £5,000, in other words these are not major areas of police misconduct with long-lasting consequences but often technical breaches."
In reality what he's saying is - it's OK for the police to break the law so long as they only commit small crimes.

Anyone still think the police are friends of the public?

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Sunny Hundal and Smears

Hopefully the last post on the LFF smearing of Phillips.

Just yesterday Sunny Hundal at Liberal Conspiracy was complaining that Guido Fawkes was smearing Sadiq Khan. Today, though, he happily retweets LFF's smearing of Melanie Phillips.

I guess it can be difficult to spot a smear, especially when there is such supportive evidence such as a link on a blog!

Smearing Melanie Phillips

Further to my post below about the guilty by association attempted by Left Foot Forward. Joss Garman tries to paint Philips as a supporter of the English Defence League. He cites one article and selectively quotes from it. However, the same article states:
As for the ‘far right’, the EDL furiously protests that it has no connections with the BNP and stands against them.
But one or two individuals in the EDL have been associated with the BNP in some form or other. Most tellingly of all, EDL leaders have admitted that it is opposed not only to Islamist extremism but to ‘all devout Muslims’ — a BNP-style pitch.
She also describes the EDL as "extremists". In fact, the entire point of her article, it seems, was to equate the BNP and EDL to Islamists. Hardly defending those groups then.

But no matter because, as Garman points out:
One EDL blog also features a prominent link to Phillips’ website.
So although he tried guilt by association it's actually just a smear job.

Actually, it's worth pointing out that the only "prominent link" I could find on that blog was an entry in their blog roll.

Association is All the Evidence They Need

Over at Left Foot Forward, "Evidence-based political blogging", Joss Garman writes that:
Melanie Phillips is inspiration behind Tea Party anti-Muslim leader
The evidence? Geller (the Tea Party anti-Muslim leader) has praised Phillips.

The post goes further though. Apparently the EDL is trying to link up with the Tea Party in America. Geller has expressed support for the EDL, as has Phillips. The unstated implication is that not only is Phillips the inspiration for Geller but also somehow actively involved in making this link, maybe?. Oh, and crucially:
One EDL blog also features a prominent link to Phillips’ website.
Not exactly rigorous is it?

UPDATE: The claim that Phillips in any way supports the EDL is a smear. See here.

Catholics and Choice

From Guido Fawkes:
"Normally the non-Catholic partner agrees, at the request of the priest, to let the Catholic partner bring up the children in the faith if they are being married in a Catholic church."
From Tim Worstall:
"Umm, no
The non-Catholic partner has to agree to let the Catholic partner bring the children up in the faith if they are to be allowed to marry in a Catholic Church."
Well yes, obviously. But the non-Catholic partner doesn't have to get married in a Catholic Church.

Fight for the System, Not the Results

Deborah Grayson guest writing at Left Foot Forward discusses the notion that the Suffragettes did not win themselves the vote through their campaign but rather it was economic forced. She isn't happy with that idea:
"In this second version of history, [it isn't?] people that change things, but blind economic forces."
I'm no economist but I'm pretty sure that economic forces don't exist independently of people. Aren't these "blind economic forces" the net result of people making choices?
This narrative has come to dominate ideas about social change, and is incredibly disempowering:
Until some impersonal force decides that your demand is ‘economic’ you might as well have stayed at home watching repeats of Top Gear on Dave. It’s a narrative that helps us deal with the liberal guilt about the privileges we enjoy, and justifies us giving up the fight for a more equal world. And it clearly works to the advantage of those who already hold power by dissuading people from taking any kind of action to challenge them.
Ms Grayson seems to think that the only thing one can fight for is a given result. Thus if you cannot force people to give you what you want you have nothing to campaign for. She's wrong, as any Libertarian can tell her. Fight for a better system Deborah!

Philip Green's Fake Jobs

Will Hutton in The Guardian:
There is Philip Green, who paid his wife a £1.2bn dividend to a tax haven to avoid his tax obligations; legal, but hardly deserving. The contrast with the deserving rich – entrepreneurs such as James Dyson or the inventor and founder of Brompton Bicycles, Andrew Ritchie, who have generated genuine wealth and jobs
I suppose the 27,000 people employed by his Arcadia Group are not genuine people...

It's All About the Money

I've heard people claim that Libertarians are obsessed with money and are incapable of measuring things by any other means. If so we're not alone. I give you the Equality and Human Rights Commission:
Trevor Phillips, chairman of the EHRC, said the study revealed that while British attitudes towards issues of race, gender and sexuality are now "light years" ahead of previous generations, the reality on the ground has yet to fully catch up. In consequence, there are deep divisions in Britain's classrooms, different experiences of the criminal justice system and a stubbornly large pay gap between men and women. In full-time work, women are still paid 16.4% less than men, a figure that rises to 55% in the finance sector.
It would seem that for the EHRC the only way to measure someone's worth is by how much they get paid. Hence, if women are not being paid the same as men they are not being considered equal to them. Now who's obsessed with money?

Friday, 8 October 2010

Dodgy Polling Questions

That YouGov poll that apparently shows that a majority believe the minimum wage is too low? (see here). You can find the report from YouGov here. Only two questions published (I assume they took many more). Question 2 is:
"And at what, if at all, age do you think someone should start receiving the minimum wage?"
The question seems fair enough. Not so convinced by the possible answers, one of which is:
"Not applicable, I do not believe anyone should receive a minimum wage"
Not quite the same as:
"Not applicable, I do not believe the Government should enforce a minimum wage"
is it?

Maths Problems

Over at Liberal Conspiracy they report on a YouGov poll regarding the minimum wage. The headline reads:
"Poll: Majority thinks minimum wage is too low"
Then it goes on to say:
"On the day that the minimum wage was raised to £5.93 per hour, 48% think that the minimum wage is now too low, 41% about right, and 4% think it is too high."
Tip: 48% < 1/2

UPDATE: More on this poll here.

Not Everything's Political Correctness

The phrase "political correctness gone mad" is perhaps one of the most annoying (followed closely by "it's right that..."). A dinner lady got into trouble with her school after giving a biscuit to a relative of hers who was a pupil at the school. Apparently she was told by the head that "she could be seen to be grooming the boy."

Obviously the whole thing is stupid. But so is this:
"Chair of the Stormont Education committee Mervyn Storey described it as "political correctness gone too far".
What has it got to do with political correctness? Nothing. It's got to do with a country that is whipping itself up into a frenzy over paedophilia and politicians writing and passing hasty and bad laws because of it.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Evil and Retarded

Just one day after agreeing that:
"The right is convinced that the left is evil. The left is convinced that the right is retarded."
Michael Tomasky blogs about a right winger  under the headline:
"Lou Dobbs, evil idiot".

Opposition for Opposition's Sake

Duncan Weldon at Liberal Conspiracy is very concerned. There are rumours that the Chancellor may alter his plans in response to new information. In particular:
Surely the really salient political point here is that Osborne is about to throw a handgrenade right into the middle of Labour’s approach. If he were to slow the pace so that for 2011/12, 2012/13 and potentially 2013/14 he essentially matched the Darling 4 year plan, where would that leave Labour?
Osborne’s dream scenario is one where Labour go into the next election arguing for higher taxation to fund greater welfare payments. This takes him one step closer to achieving it.

We need an agreement on a watertight deficit plan and we need ASAP
Consider the nightmare. You wanted to get elected in order to implement some plan that you thought was best for the country. But now some other guys got elected and they're going to implement that very same plan. Quick! We better think of a different plan that's best for the country.

And politicians wonder why the public is cynical of their motivations.

Lord Sugar's Tie Choice

Just watching The Apprentice. Alan Sugar is wearing a nice blue tie. First episode of the last series he wore a red one. Coincidence?

Anti-Whaling Group Controversy

In January this year a boat owned and operated by anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd was involved in a collision with a boat it was following. Both sides blamed each other. The anti-whaling boat, Ady Gil, sank. Now the captain of that boat has claimed he was ordered to scuttle it to gain sympathy. The group denies ordering him to do so.

However, crucially, there is no denial that the boat was scuttled. A report on Sea Shepherd's website explains that the boat was deliberately sunk by them but it was the captain's final decision and it was probably going to sink anyway.

But at the time they made no mention of the fact that they sank their own boat. Here is their report on the sinking from January. Here is a report from the Guardian. Both give the strong impression that the boat sank as a direct result of the ramming and not because it was scuttled.

How do they explain not telling people?
Rather than create a stir amongst the crews and media, the decision was made (by Captains Watson and Swift) to keep the action as completely confidential as possible.
Sounds fishy to me.

State Employees Blackmailing Us

Now that the Government is trying to reduce the amount of our money it spends, those employed by the state are piling up to blackmail us. Today it's the turn of the probation officers:
Napo said if there were 25% probation service budget cuts this would lead to courts giving short prison sentences.
Not so subtle sub-text: "Give us your money or we'll set the criminals on you!"

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Evil or Retarded

Michael Tomasky agrees with an assessment by Shankar Vedantam that:
"The right is convinced that the left is evil. The left is convinced that the right is retarded."
I'm not sure what evidence this was based on. From the article it seems to be based on watching Glenn Beck, Fox News, Comedy Central and Bill Maher. But here are some results from Google Fight (highly recommended if you're bored):

"conservative party" evil 34,400
"labour party" evil 35,600
"conservative party" retarded 3,110
"labour party" evil 5,800
Obama evil 3,790,000
Bush evil 3,130,000
Obama retarded 91,100
Bush retarded 87,900

Make of that what you will.

UPDATE: See here how Mr Tomasky manages to disprove himself the next day.

Wait What?

Here is a BBC article about the ongoing trial of two people accused of sexually abusing a baby by a couple. Very serious stuff. At the end of the article there is an explanation of the background and how police found incriminating evidence on the computers of the two people involved.

And then there's this:
A computer file containing stories about incest was also found.
Is that illegal now? Is it evidence of paedophilia? Anyone know?

Whatever Happend to the Person?

Gerard Russell, of the Carr centre for human rights policy at the Harvard Kennedy school, hopes the Nobel Prize for Literature will go to a Syrian poet known as Adonis. Why? Not because his poetry is better than that of the other candidates but because:
The significance of honouring Arab poetry is obvious. It is the most eloquent and intellectually cogent response to those who belittle and malign Islamic culture; it shows that the Nobel prize committee is capable instead of seeing its depth and richness. What is reductively called "Muslim outreach" has become a dialogue only with clergy and politicians. A people can also be represented by their poets and their playwrights.
Adonis may happen to be an Arab but that doesn't make him a representative of all Arabs. Inability to treat people as individuals rather than a representative of some fictitiously homogeneous group or community is the same kind of thing that leads to racism.

They're Out to Get You

From the Guardian:
Police were criticised today for inventing intelligence to persuade civilian CCTV operators to snoop on suspected drink-drivers outside pubs. Officers in Devon were said to have regularly asked operators to watch for people who might be over the drink-drive limit by making up false information about them.
But they're the good guys!
Campaign group Liberty said the disclosure was a reminder that there was scope for CCTV cameras to be abused.
And also that you cannot and should not trust the police. They're not your friends. And they're not necessary nice people.

Interesting Definition

The duty on cigarettes has just been given its biggest ever increase.
"The aim is to encourage smokers to quit," Kosuke Kato, a health ministry official, told Associated Press. "We hope the price increase will discourage smokers from buying cigarettes and eventually help them quit smoking."
I think you mean "force them".

The Cost to the NHS Argument

Chief Medical Officer for Wales Dr Tony Jewell now wants a ban on smoking in homes and cars. One of the reasons is, of course, the cost to the NHS:
He said smoking costs the Welsh NHS around £386m a year, equivalent to £129 per person or 7% of total healthcare expenditure.
Now, leaving aside the fact that smokers pay taxes like everyone else towards the NHS and also pay extra tax for smoking, this argument is morally reprehensible.

If my fellow countrymen offer to pay for my medical expenses that's very generous. But if my activities make those expenses too much then by all means let them remove their offer. Isn't it sick for them to demand that they pay for my healthcare but also demand that they won't pay enough so that I have to stop doing what I want?

It's like forcing someone to have a vasectomy so they can't have more kids because you want to buy them a new car but can't afford one big enough!

UPDATE: For those interested in the question of whether or not smoking does cost the country more than is paid into it by smokers see this post from the IEA.

Forgetting History

Dizzy has picked up on a post over at Liberal Conspiracy. The posts concern Obion County where residents pay an annual fee for fire-protection. One resident did not pay and when his house caught fire the fire fighters did not put it out.

Sunny Hundal says, sarcastically:
"this is what libertarian-land gets you" 
Dizzy points out the absurdity of Sunny's complaint, citing a comparison to asking Direct Line to replace your stolen car when you have no insurance with them.

But Sunny's rhetorical question backfires tremendously. It was not the UK Government that started proper fire brigades at all. It was insurance companies who would provide the cover to their customers but not to anyone else. So yes, Sunny, libertarian-land gets you fire brigades!

Silent Jokes Don't Offend

Gene, at Harry's Place is not happy about Berlusconi's joke about Jews during the Holocaust. In particular he's not happy about what the Italian PM had to say afterwards:
In a statement, Berlusconi said his jokes had been made in private and were “neither an offense nor a sin, but merely a laugh.” He added: “The bad taste and the responsibility are on the part of whoever publicizes them.”
Gene asks (rhetorically I guess):
"So offensive jokes only become offensive when they cease to be private and become public?"
Am I alone in thinking "duh Gene!". The capacity of a joke to cause offence is not contained purely in the words itself. A joke told to an empty room does not have the capacity to offend anyone.

So in that regard Berlusconi is correct. His telling a joke privately did not offend anyone. People publicising the joke offended people, so it is those people that caused the offence.

Compare it, if you like, to someone firing arrows into an empty field. He has done nothing wrong. If someone else pushes someone in the way after the arrow is shot then it is this second person who bears all the responsibility.

Threatening Violence

Time for some sports. The chairman of West Ham United FC is not happy that Tottenham Hotspur FC want to use the Olympic Stadium in London after the 2012 games. But rather than outline a logical or reasonable explanation for why his club should get it he said:
It would be such a slap in the face to east London. If it happens, there will be real problems that could easily lead to civil unrest. I think there could be riots, such is the ill feeling between West Ham and Spurs and I know the police feel the same.
We have the unions threatening violence, the Islamists threatening violence, the police threatening violence and now football clubs. How have we got to the stage that people believe that threatening violence will further their cause?

Law that Targets Only the Innocent

Via Longrider I read that 19 year old Oliver Drage has been sent to prison for 16 weeks for refusing to give police his 50-character password. He was found guilty under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. This strikes me as a law that can ONLY target the innocent.

The aim of the law is to coerce people into allowing police to examine their files so that they can determine whether a real crime has been committed. Now, either the files contain incriminating evidence or they do not. If they do then as Longrider puts it:
maybe he weighed up the odds and decided to take the hit for non-compliance as opposed to providing the Bill with evidence of sexual misdeeds, eh?
RIPA has no coercive power over the guilty because the prison sentence for non-compliance of RIPA will always be less than for the crime he is suspected of. The innocent on the other hand can be coerced.

You might argue that without RIPA the guilty guy gets away scot-free. True, but the law fails do achieve its aim. It can, in fact, never achieve its aim. So the argument becomes akin to suggesting that we lock up all people suspected of a crime (regardless of whether we can prove they are guilty) because otherwise some guilty people will get away.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Further Thoughts on Wilders

My post about Libertarians championing Geert Wilders seems to have provoked some discussion so I will try and expand a little on it. Mr Wilders dislikes Islam. He wishes to ban their books, their clothes and them from his home country. All these goals are entirely at odds with Libertarian principles. However, he is also now being prosecuted for those views because they may have incited hatred of Muslims. This too is at odds with Libertarian principles.

To be clear, he should not be prosecuted. However, he should not be championed either. If those of us who support free speech had infinite time and resources then of course I would support any campaign against his conviction. But we don't. Therefore I think we need to focus our resources where they will do the most good. Wilders is not the best battle to fight.

One of the arguments put forward for why he should be supported is essentially that he is an enemy of our enemy. Since he is standing strongly against those who hold anti-Libertarian views he should be supported in that effort. But I believe that if your enemy's enemy is also your enemy then you are in fact facing two enemies. You do not have two friends.

Geert Wilders is no Libertarian. He is authoritarian to the extreme. That his current targets are Muslims and not "us" is not a reason to offer him support.

But there are two other reasons not to campaign for him. The first is that it is politically bad. The population is so far removed from the concept of freedom of speech that they cannot appreciate the subtleties of defending the principle not the content. Instead those campaigning against his conviction can and are easily painted as supporting what he said. Even if the battle is won, the war effort suffers.

The second reason is the big danger that we end up like the Left-wing Islamist allies. I assume that they have come to align themselves totally with Islamists because they spent so long compromising in order to defend a principle. We too could end up in the same boat. (I could be wrong here)

So let's pick our battles. Freedom of expression and speech is under attack generally and there are, unfortunately, plenty of battles to fight. Let's select those we can win more easily. Let's channel our resources into those instances that are less controversial. Slowly we will push back against those who wish to limit free speech.

Police Accountability

Julie Bindel writes for the Guardian's CiF about the police's poor performance on rape cases. She claims that in order to make the police better at dealing with these crimes it should be possible to sue them:
Nothing will significantly change unless the commissioner or chief constable ceases to have this unjustifiable protection from the courts. If the police budget were to become vulnerable to compensation claims, it might result in systems being put into place to root out incompetence and prejudicial attitudes towards vulnerable complainants.
She's quite right. But why leave it to the courts to decide whether the police are doing their job properly? Why not let the people do it? Just as the possibility of being sued encourages better performance so does the threat of loss of income. Allow private firms to investigate crimes and let people choose who to trust with the job and we have a simple answer to Julie's headline question:
Who will challenge this obscene protection racket?
The market.

Thoughts on Wilders' Trial, Part II

Another thought on the trial of Geert Wilders. From The Telegraph report:
Last year, the Dutch Court of Appeal ruled that, despite the case being dropped by prosecutors, that it considered "criminal prosecution obvious for the insult of Islamic worshippers" being compared to Nazis 
I can think of another group of people who are continually compared to Nazis by the Left. Will we be seeing a rash of prosecutions for that "insult"?

Thoughts on Wilders' Trial, Part I

Geert Wilders's trial started yesterday. He is being charged with inciting hatred of Muslims. Some people are encouraging bloggers (and others) to support him because his prosecution represents a blow to freedom of speech.

Now, while it is true that he should not be prosecuted I find it very difficult to promote this man as a champion of freedom. He has stated openly his desire to ban certain books he doesn't like, ban clothes he doesn't like and ban the free movement of people he doesn't like.

Yes, we must defend everyone's freedoms but that doesn't require us to turn every victim of the State into a golden martyr.

UPDATE: I have expanded on this point more here.

Monday, 4 October 2010

They Already Do

David Willetts, the Universities Minister, is quoted by The Telegraph as saying:
"Many young people aspire to go to university. On average it boosts your earnings by £100,000 over a lifetime. So, when money is tight, it is right to expect people to make a substantial contribution towards the cost of their university education – not when they are studying but afterwards when they are graduates on a decent income."
They already do, though. Has Mr Willets not heard of income tax?

Libertarianism in High Places

Could it be that the Leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland, Annabel Goldie, is a Libertarian? Here's a report from the Scotsman on her speech to the Conservative Party Conference:
"We must break the statist stranglehold on who delivers public services. We need to ask the fundamental question about what needs to be provided and who is best-placed to deliver it. Government, central and local, doesn't always know best."
Does anyone have more information?

Two Facets of Welfare Dependency

Over at CiF, Joseph Harker is bemoaning the cut to Child Benefits for high earners. His article illustrates (though apparently not realising it) two of the main problems with the welfare system both of which can be described as welfare dependency. The first is noting the poverty trap:

"The bizarre maths of Osborne's proposal is that if someone with five children earns £44,000, and they're given a £1,000 pay rise, they'll receive an extra £600 net income, and have £3,800 in benefits taken away."
More commonly expressed as being faced with a high marginal effective tax rate, this same affect effects all welfare payments. It's not just a result of Osborne's maths. But if Mr Harker can see it when it affects him, can he also see that it serves to discourage the poorest people from doing that little extra work? That one extra shift?

The second problem is that people forget what is really happening. They forget that the money is a gift from the people of the country to them and start to think that it is theirs by right. Thus Mr Harker declares:
"not since China's one-child rule has there been such a penalty for having kids"
 I'll just let that stand.

Why Dizzy and The Devil Might be Wrong

George Osborne announced his plan to stop Child Benefits for those earning above £44,000. He also said, though, that if both parents are earning less than that they will still receive the benefit even though their total combined income was over £80k. Dizzy and The Devil both have (ahem) strong words to say about this. I think they're wrong.

Osborne explained the oddness of the proposal as follows:
"The chancellor defended this by saying his plan was "the most straightforward" option - which would avoid across-the-board means testing. The alternative was to introduce a "complex" system of means testing where all households had their incomes assessed, he said."
In other words, setting up a system to stop payments when the combined income is above £44,000 would cost more than the payments being made.

True, if we suppose that the person earning the most but still receiving the payment is deserving of it, then it is unfair that others earning less do not. However, the argument here is simply that any household with an income over £44k doesn't need the benefits payments. In that case is it better for the State to spend money enforcing the threshold properly or better to spend less money by not enforcing it? Does it do any harm for those earning more to still receive this payment? Only if it is money being spent that needn't be spent. But in this case Osborne is saying that it is cheaper just to effectively overpay than it is to properly enforce the rules.

Sure, it looks bad and Labour can have a field day. But in reality doesn't it make sense?

Labour Finally Getting It?

After using its time in office to pass mountains of legislation there is a chance the Labour Party may have had a change of heart. Over at LabourList, Cat Smith argues against Boris Johnson's suggestion about new anti-strike laws with this observation:
"My piece of advice for Boris Johnson? Legislation will make matters worse."
Better late than never.


Tom Harris MP is so desperate to score political points he contrasts a statement from George Osborne given in 2007 to the Conservative Party Manifesto written in 2010. He concludes:
"Well, as I’ve said before, consistency in politics is overrated. Osborne obviously believes the same about honesty."
The notion that someone changing their mind is a bad thing is itself bad. Why should our elected representatives be forced to be consistent when things around them change? Why shouldn't they sometimes change their mind?

Tom, if you're going to try and make a culture in which people cannot change their opinions please make sure that culture isn't one in which people's opinions have major impacts on the lives of so many others. Oh, and whilst you're at it please have a go at your colleague Tom Watson MP for being delighted about a politician changing their mind! 

Mindset of the LibDems: Prove Your Innocence

It seems like a relatively innocuous post but does it reveal a lot about the mindset of some Liberal Democrats? Over at LibDemVoice Mark Pack cites a Swedish idea that might help people keep to the speed limits. Instead of simply recording details about speeding cars, cameras should record all cars and those that are keeping to the limit are automatically entered into a prize draw. Fantastic!

Let's ignore for the moment the possibility that enforcing speed limits may not be needed (see here) and the argument that speed cameras make crashes more likely (see here). Let's also ignore the problem of recording and storing information about all drivers. Let's just ask the simple question: what does this tell us about the mindset of the LibDems?

You see, the idea is to reward those who keep to the speed limits, ie the law-abiding citizens. But how can we find out who these people are? Well, the only way, it seems, is to make them prove they are law abiding by driving past a camera at an appropriate speed. What happened to innocent until proven guilty?

Wouldn't it be more in accordance with our legal system to assume that all people are law-abiding and don't speed unless we can prove otherwise? In other words, have everyone in the country automatically entered into the draw and removed if they break the law. But why stop there? Why not give a prize to everyone who keeps to the law and not to those who don't? Or, to save on admin costs, don't take any money away from those keeping the law but do take it away from those who... Oh.

EDIT: For the sake of clarity, I'm only being half-serious. Half-Serious in the sense that I'm sure Mark does support the idea of innocent until proven guilty.  Serious in the sense that he didn't seem to realise it applied everywhere.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

What Splattergate Really Tells Us

Lots of people are posting about the disturbing video from environmentalist group 10:10. Many are making the argument that it shows us a lot about the mindset of the people working for these types of organisations. But maybe there's a bigger-picture story here.

Consider for a moment just how many people were involved in the production of this video. Now consider that apparently not one of them thought it might be a bad idea. Some are suggesting that maybe it was designed to be this terrible. This smacks too much of a conspiracy theory for me.

The truth may well be that this is a fine example of group-think. No one thought to challenge the decisions being made because the group automatically reinforces the correctness of those decisions. Those outside the group are unable to influence the thinking of those inside it. Group-think happens in all groups to a greater or lesser extent. It's a good reason to be wary of the State making decisions in small groups in London that affect 60 million people.

DfT Finds No Need for Speed Limits*

The Englishman links to an article from The Telegraph about a report from Atkins written for the Department for Transport (got that?). The report concerns a scheme implemented in Portsmouth to reduce the speed limit to 20mph in residential steets, rather than 30mph. The Englishman is concerned with the results that indicate that the change had limit impact, other than costing £500,000.

What struck me from the Telegraph article, though, was this:
"Motorists' average speeds reduced by 1.3mph, from 19.8mph to 18.5mph, as a result of the scheme, according to the report, which tested speeds at 223 locations across the city." 
So the report found that people ignored the speed limit when it was 30mph and just drove at a speed that was safe and sensible. Basically, it found that we don't really need speed limits.

And logically why would we? The only real crime you can commit when driving is causing an accident. To prevent that we have laws about dangerous driving and driving without due care and attention. Why would we need an arbitrary law about how fast you can go?

Isn't it obvious that different roads and different conditions require different speeds? As this report shows, most people realise this and drive appropriately. Those who don't can be prosecuted anyway under dangerous driving laws even if they are below the speed limit.

Is it going too far to suggest that the only reason for speed limits is to make it easier for the police and courts to convict people without having to worry about considering the actual circumstances of the case? Are speed limits a bad law?

*The post title may not accurately reflect the intention of the report's authors

Bribery in Education

A school in Wales is offering a prize to the family of children who have 100% attendance. Apparently this is bad. The local AM, David Millar (Conservative), told a local paper:
"I’m pleased taxpayers are not funding this sort of nonsense. It’s clear in law parents are required to send children to school. Bribery is not the best way to get children to go to school. Getting better grades and better outcomes should be the way forward."
Firstly this is wrong and slightly stupid. In my schools (both primary and secondary and university too) prizes were offered to the pupils who performed best or who tried hardest. I'm pretty sure my experience is not unique. So bribery is rife in schools.

But more importantly, does that mean Mr Millar is going to campaign to get his party to scrap EMA? After all, isn't that a bribe (paid for by the taxpayer) to get children to go to school?

Am I Missing Something?

The BBC is reporting that Alex Salmond is calling on the Coalition to force banks to lend more money to small Scottish businesses.

Maybe I'm missing something here, but isn't the reason we're in a recession because banks made loans that were too risky? So how is it sensible to try and get out of it by forcing them to do the same thing again?

Argument Blindness

Lord Young of  Graffham, a Tory peer, doesn't like the excessive Health and Safety restrictions. The BBC quotes him as saying:
"Frankly if I want to do something stupid and break my leg or neck, that's up to me. I don't need a council to tell me not to be an idiot."
Quite right, and I'm sure many others will agree with him. But why can't those same people see that exactly the same argument applies to drugs?

UPDATE: It seems that Lord Young himself is among those unable to apply an argument across the board. On the Today program (listen here from about 5 mins in) Evan Davis asked Lord Young whether he supported legalising cannabis. His response was that taking drugs is illegal and:
"People can do whatever they like until the law says they can't." (5:40) and
"I am a libertarian within the law" (6:16)
What makes this worse is that the Daily Mail then tried to take Davis's question as if Davis was supporting a repeal of the drug laws and as if that was a bad thing. This is the same newspaper that reported Lord Young's comments favourably here.

It's a little depressing to know that people can hail an argument when applied to one thing but not when the same argument is applied to something else.