Thursday, 31 May 2007

Iran Charges Iranian-American Academics as spies

It looks as if Iran is continuing it policy of – well government (or at lest factions within it) sanctioned hostage taking, for want of a better term.

Having ‘arrested’ and humiliated British navy personnel. Iran has also decided to detain and charge two well known Iranian - American academics Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbaksh as spies.

Haleh Esfandiari is 67 years old and works in Washington, running the Middle East department of the Woodrow Wilson centre there. She made the mistake of visiting her elderly mother in Iran.
Esfandiari has been prevented from leaving Iran since December last year, after having her passports stolen by, ‘mysterious unidentified gunmen’ on her way to the airport to return to the US.

Kian Tajbaksh the other academic and social scientist had done work for the Open Society Institute of George Soros - an organisation Iran says was trying to instigate a "velvet revolution" to topple the clerical regime.

An official spokesman stated they had both now been formally charged with spying, acting against Iran's national security - and conducting propaganda against the Islamic Republic. They appear to have been imprisoned in an intelligence ministry facility. No date for trial has been announced.

Another Iranian - American academic, Ali Shakeri, mysteriously disappeared in Iran earlier this month. The judicial authorities are currently denying any knowledge of him, but a well known newspaper has indicated he also has been arrested.

According to the BBC these arrests have sparked unease in Iran, many in contact with westerners now fear they may also be accused of spying. Concerns about this have prompted other Iranians to abandon trips - worried they too will not be safe.

The charges appear rather spurious and one suspects their possession of American Passports may have more to do with their misfortunes than anything else.

Apparently an unidentified Iranian official, from the dangerously powerful intelligence ministry, suggested, during a briefing with Iranian journalists, that western intelligence agencies were using academic contacts to persuade scholars into espionage. He said seminars inside and outside the country were used.

"We are worried about many academic conferences which foreigners attend and establish relations. Any foreigner who establishes relations is not trustworthy. Through their approaches, they first establish an academic relationship but this soon changes into an intelligence relationship.”

"Some conversations which take place under the auspices of academic or scientific interviews are pretexts for getting close to the country's scientific figures. Unfortunately some decent individuals fall into the trap of these plots."

The official went on to make claims that Iran had uncovered a CIA/MI5 run spy network within Iraq that was planning bombings, assassinations and kidnappings.

That will be the 67 year old Ms Haleh Esfandiari then... spare time bomber and assassin? - If you believe that I have some valuable share certificates in a Bolivian gold mining venture you may be interested in purchasing, or I will when I print them off...

Worryingly the intelligence official suggested many Iranians were involved.

It looks as if the intelligence ministry may be getting set for either a purge of academics, or to suppress any independent thought by threatening one.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Pressure group opposes Stansted Airport passenger increase

The Stop Stansted Expansion campaign are vociferously opposing BAA’s plans to increase the number of permitted air traffic movements at Stansted from 241,000 to 264,000 a year and thus increase their maximum passenger handling ability by an additional ten million passengers per year.

A spokesperson for the group told the BBC: "If Stansted were permitted to expand to maximum use of the existing runway, the local environment would suffer, the national economy would suffer and we would have taken a giant step backwards in the battle to combat climate change."

They added that the expansion would not help the economy because it was encouraging people to go on holiday abroad - Rather stretching it there perhaps, certainly if would pour millions of pounds extra into the airport and presumably, local jobs and the wider local economy. Anthropomorphic Global Warming is a new weapon in their armoury.

The villages surrounding the airport are, it must be said, very picturesque, with many thatched cottages. There is a direct motorway link to the airport so little need for airport traffic to pass through them.

I suspect the fact of the matter is that very few of these people could possibly have been resident in the area before Stansted became one of London’s airports. The writing was on the wall in 1970 and by 78 there was a white paper laying things out very clearly and the latter was the best part of 30 years ago. No one who moved there after 1978 could have been in any reasonable doubt of the situation.

No. The protestors are more in the position of someone who buys, or builds, a house next door to a busy public house - and then complains bitterly about the noise and customers.

When is organic food not organic? When it's not Green.

The UK Soil Association may be about to take the dangerous step of giving up any real claim to the authority to be the arbiter of weather food is actually organic.

It looks as if the organisation, which campaigns for organic food and certifies which foods are organic, is straying off it’s own turf and being politicised. Apparently, due to growing demands (who’s exactly, in this context) to cut the environmental impact of food distribution, the organisation is now considering five options to reduce the carbon footprint of food.

It is releasing a consultation document next week that will outline a series of options, including a demand to partially, or fully, strip food imported into the UK by air of it’s organic status and much more detailed labelling showing a product's country of origin plus the air miles it has travelled and carbon offsetting schemes.

They do concede that some of the proposals might harm developing countries, with poor infrastructure, who have to use air transport to get their goods to market and say any decision would have to take into account the impact on farmers in the developing world.

In other words they might for instance end up torpedoing the ‘Free Trade’ products.

I wonder if they have taken into account EU Law and the restraint of trade some of these ideas might involve on organic producers in other EC States.

What amazes me is that they are, apparently without batting an eye, willing to effectively re-write the actual (widely understood) definition of what actually constitutes organic food!

In other words it will no longer be good enough for food to just actually really be organic. No now it must be ’green', as well as organic. The goalposts moved so fast there that you could be forgiven for not noticing them actually shift.

What next? Ban food produced under ‘glass’? Maybe they ought to ban all pulses ;-) because of the resultant greenhouse gasses (methane) they contribute when they are consumed…

You are Here - A political compass

Another oldie, but interesting.

The political compass. I am not 100% sure it is quite accurate, as it forces choices where you might want to give more qualified responses and I am not all that sure about what they see as left, or right, in all instances, but it is simultaneously both a bit of fun and thought provoking.

The state of the UK parties is a little out of date. If you look at the UK parties for 2006 it puts the Greens (as of 2005) on the libertarian left whilst recent experience might place them much more on the authoritarian left.

Nu-Lab are clearly be much more authoritarian than the Conservatives and it tracks this, thought they seem to have drifted even further since the graph was done. Arguably they are both very close on the Left/Right axis, closer than shown.

The Liberals are probably much further left than shown and possibly less libertarian. I would have put them just over the mid point.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Global warming debate heats up

Now this is just a little scary.

According to the Guardian a number of so-called ‘climate scientists’ are attempting to block the DVD release of the documentary, “The Great Global Warming Swindle”, that casts doubts of the idea of anthropocentric, or man made, global warming.

In a letter, coordinated by Bob Ward, a former press officer with the Royal Society, 37 experts have called for the DVD to be either heavily edited, or actually banned from sale.

Mr Ward was quoted, on the subject of his attempt to suppress the documentary, as saying: “This isn't about censorship, it's a question of quality control.”.

Surely the best way to refute any alleged errors, or points of disagreement, in the documentary would be to - well - actually refute them. Not try to suppress the airing of those views. Hardly what one would naturally think of as in the spirit of scientific enquiry.

Martin Durkin who made the documentary responded: "This contemptible attempt at gagging won't work. The reason they want to suppress The Great Global Warming Swindle is because the science has stung them. By comparison look at the mountains of absurd nonsense pedalled in the name of 'manmade climate change'. Too many scientists have staked their reputations and built their careers on global warming. There's a lot riding on this ridiculous theory..

It does make one wonder why those who wish to promote the theory of anthropocentric global warming are so sensitive. Their response seems to have more in common with a zealot, who’s religion has been questioned, or called into doubt. As Mr Durcan pointed out there are an awful lot of scientists and perhaps more significantly, though he didn't mention them, politicians, who have staked their reputations, careers and future income on the man made global warming gravy train.

Bob Ward and his fellow travellers would probably not want the general public to pay too much attention to say, recent, equivalent, global warming on Mars. They would have a hard time blaming that on a couple of solar powered Martian Rovers after all.

It seems that, sometimes, 'They' do listen

China is not exactly known for it’s willingness to allow the open and free exchange of information. For a start it blocks news websites and regularly blocks websites that do not agree with government views.

However this is hopefully some good news. The Chinese government had been planning to force millions of Chinese bloggers to register their real names. It is estimated there are some 20 million bloggers in China and the idea mooted last year provoked enormous objections from Chinese internet users, rejecting the idea as a move by the government to control information.

The government had attempted to justify the compulsory scheme by suggesting that it would make bloggers more ‘responsible for their behaviour’ and that real-name registration would ‘protect’ users from libel, pornography and other ‘harmful’ information.

Now the Chinese government has backed away from actually forcing bloggers to register and are bringing in a voluntary code instead. It will encourage bloggers to register with their real names and personal details, offering improved services as an incentive to those who register.

Blogs in China have developed into an informal way of spreading news that can not be got through mainstream media - popular blogs get millions of hits every day.

Keeping in mind that they were facing a compulsory system, it seems as if bloggers are cautiously welcoming the new voluntary code.

Friday, 25 May 2007

UK DoH advises against any Alcohol

The UK Department of Health is now advising that pregnant women - and those trying for a baby - should avoid alcohol completely.

Previous advice was not to drink more than one, to two, units of alcohol, once, or twice, a week - and be sure not to get drunk at all.

The Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Fiona Adshead stated:

"We have strengthened our advice to women to help ensure that no-one underestimates the risk to the developing foetus of drinking above the recommended safe levels.”

There appears to be no new evidence and no new studies to suggest the previous advice was unsafe.

From what Dr Adshead said, it appears reason they are changing the government line is because they think many women are unable to understand the previous advice - so they have decided to recommend against all alcohol?

So then, this looks rather like another example of the nanny state treating us as if we are all idiots, incapable of making sensible decisions ourselves.

Just because there may be a minority who cannot, or will not, look after themselves it does not mean all of us are not capable.

What next? Compulsory padded mittens and no cutlery?

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Darling down on Freedom of Information

Ouch! British MPs really do have a downer on the Freedom of Information Act (FoI)

Trade Secretary Alistair Darling wants much tighter restrictions on the Freedom of Information Act, according to the BBC. He is concerned that it does not sufficiently protect advice from officials to ministers.

The Act has already taken a severe hammering from parliament including moves underway, including one to exempt MPs and another to restrict costs.

In a letter to the Lord Chancellor he argues that "incremental harm" could be done to policy development and asks for the Act to be reviewed. Mr Darling emphasises his concern that the Information Tribunal has ruled against the government in favour of openness. He is trying to claim that the demands of the FoI Act were "placing good government at risk".

He apparently feels disclosure of correspondence between MPs and ministers, even if ostensibly innocuous, will inhibit the dialogue between MPs and their constituents.

He goes on to claim, "If we are to live under constant threat of publication, this will prevent MPs from expressing their views frankly when writing to a minister. We need urgent advice on what the position is".

Maybe so, if the views and dialog are on when might be a good day to bury bad news. But, one suspects, more likely Ministers and MPs are so down on transparency because they fear being held to account.

For instance, when treasury documents released under the act in earlier this year proved officials warned the treasury that abolishing dividend tax credits (Gordon Brown’s budget in 1997) “would make a big hole in pensions scheme finances". Something denied by the treasury.

The Freedom to keep Information Secret Act?

Richard Thomas, the UK Information Commissioner, is planning to say that, the Freedom of Information Act's reputation is being jeopardised by "pointless and mischievous" requests.

He cites examples such as, a request to the Foreign Office on the amount spent on Ferrero Rocher chocolate, or one on how many eligible bachelors there were in the Hampshire police. Also how the BBC, has received over 90 enquiries from one person concerning the amount of expenses paid to senior staff.

He plans to outline new guidelines, highlighting the right of public bodies to reject "vexatious" requests and argues "A charter for responsible FoI requests will help to prevent requests which have no serious purpose or value, impose disproportionate burdens or have the effect of harassing the public body."

All couched in reasonable terms and language.

So who decides if it is “Vexatious”? If you don’t get a satisfactory answer the first, or second, time? Will you be able to ask again, or will you be branded as a loony, or a pest and thus safe to be ignored?

What next – A government database of pests to be refused under the Act?

It beats actually being put in a mental institution the way they were said to in the good old USSR I suppose…

How long before you have to justify why you want the info, make a case for it?

Probably the Ferero Rocher was a tongue in cheek request, though if someone felt strongly about querying the honesty of the adverts then the information might enable them to confirm, or refute the ambassador’s party ads.

Still, if someone has put themselves out enough to write requesting the information, even if only on the grounds of curiosity, then why should they not receive the information?

When the act was brought in it was known there would be costs, embarrassment and some inconvenience to those bound to supply the info, they can hardly complain now.

No - This looks suspiciously like the top of a slippery slope, possibly given a good shove, by the ’Right Honourable’ Gents & Ladies, wanting to keep their expenses out of the public eye and no doubt avoid too many ‘vexatious’ questions about them…

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

The poverty line

The children's Charity Barnardo’s is complaining that the UK Government will fail to halve child poverty in Britain by 2010, as promised - unless it spends an extra £3.8bn of taxpayers money over the £1bn already set aside for tax credits in the 2007 budget.

Apparently the charity's research indicates there are one million children who should have been lifted out of deprivation by the end of the decade who will still be in poverty. They warn that while the number of children living in poor families fell slowly but steadily in the late 1990s, progress has now stalled.

Terrible, you may think – Poverty, in Britain, in this day and age. Why is the State failing in this?

Basically because they have set themselves a much more difficult task that it seems.

A household is considered to be officially below the poverty line if they are living on less than 60% of the UK’s median (average) level of household income. These figures look at incomes in Great Britain, after housing costs have been paid. Curiously the EU apparently use the same measure...

So the Poverty line is actually a moving target then. For a start, every time interest rates go up a few more people slip below this poverty line.

Let's conduct a thought experiment - Imagine you were to take every single household, that is officially poor by this definition and were to supplement their income, so it that was £1 above the ‘poverty line’.

At the end of the exercise, when you re-did your sums, you would almost certainly find that you had only actually reduced poverty by a tiny amount and that the official poverty line had become slightly higher.

You would probably have to repeat the process quite a number of times before you had evened out household incomes enough for this measure to show a significant drop off.

Another problem with this measure of poverty is that by redistributing benefits, or services away from the very poorest (who are so far below the poverty line they are likely to stay poor anyway) to those just below the poverty line (who have the greatest chance of being moved over the line), politicians can reduce the poverty rate - Hurrah! - even while deepening the deprivation of the worst off - Oh!

So now you may have an inkling as to at least one possible reason why Chancellor Gordon Brown decided to reduce the basic rate of income tax from 22% to 20% but extended the new basic rate to cover the old 10% Starter rate, more than doubling taxation on the first £2000 of taxable income in the last budget - Busted!

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

A Free Primer

It’s an oldie but a goodie. A nice animation clearly and concisely, running through the concepts of liberty and self-ownership.

Maybe it ought to be turned into a DVD and circulated to schools… or would that be ;-) an inconvenient truth - State-ing the obvious really?

Hip chick Ruth Kelly makes an announcement...

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly announced today that the introduction of Home Information Packs (HIPs) is now to be delayed until 1 August.

They will also be for sales of four bedroom and above properties only, presumably this will change later.

Initially sellers would just have to have commissioned a pack, before marketing their property. It would not be necessary to actually have one. So provided you had paid, the sale could go through with never an actual physical pack changing hands.

That telling point suggests where Nu-Lab's heart really lies ;-) a sordid tale of stealth taxation all on it's own.

The packs had been due to become compulsory for all home sales in England and Wales from 1 June.

Packs are to contain: Evidence of title (I would rather trust my solicitor on that one), Copies of any planning consents (they would use that as a selling point anyway), listed building, or building regulations consents (my solicitor). A local search (my solicitor again), Guarantees for any work on the property (fall over themselves - again) plus an energy performance certificate (more interested in last year's gas, electric & council tax bills, also again - from experience - falling over themselves).

So then - utterly pointless legislation really, with a hint of FacismLite - "The fragrance for Statists everywhere.".

Ministers have increasingly tried to justify pushing the packs on the grounds they are a sure fire way to persuade people to make their homes more energy efficient and thus cut carbon emissions and save the world!! – Absolutely.

Has anyone noticed ‘They’ (particularly politicians) are increasingly using anthropogenic global warming (AGW) to justify - and try to stampede voters into - accepting chains round their necks that even the ‘war on terror’ couldn’t make them stomach.

If there were actually any demand for HIPs then surely market forces would have already forced (probably) estate agents into providing them.

Quite frankly, if I were buying a property and wanted a HIP I would get it done myself. I wouldn’t want the seller to provide it - and if I didn’t want one then why should I be forced to have one?

I suppose these inspectors will be yet another cohort, of the army of state clients, dependant on Government force to keep their livelihood milking the rest of us.

Monday, 21 May 2007

World's largest 'Low Emission Zone’

Ken Livingstone, Greater London’s Mayor, has approved plans for the ‘World's largest Low Emission Zone’ on May the 3rd 2007, to be launched in February 2008.

The stated aim is to reduce harmful emissions from the most polluting (large diesel vehicles)lorries/trucks, coaches and buses by ‘encouraging’ operators to clean up their fleets. Sounds ok so far...

Initially the Low Emission Zone will apply to lorries/trucks over 12 tonnes.

Broadening in scope by July 2008, to take in lighter lorries/trucks, buses, coaches, and other other heavy vehicles.

How is this all to come about? Surprise, surprise - an enormous charge/tax of £200 for each day vehicles that don’t meet the standards enter the zone.

You can register your vehicle, but don’t worry if you don’t, as Transport for London (TfL) will use data you previously provided for other reasons to other agencies and organisations such as:

Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)
Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA)
Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT)

to decide if your vehicle meets the emissions standards.

There is no real mention of the possible economic costs of imposing the zone. It is difficult to imagine that the costs of becoming compliant will not be substantial and in the end, be passed on to those who live and work in London.

More disturbing still is the harvesting of information, previously provided to others for entirely different purposes (presumably in confidence), to be used against the providers.

Also the fact that, if TfL decide, based on the information, that you are a polluter - even if you are not, you will have to prove it.

Taxing viewing?

Professor Paul Ekins, of the University of Westminster, speaking at a news conference in London, concerning the government's forthcoming Energy White Paper, expected to be released in the next few weeks, is calling for yet more taxation.

Ekins is billed as a leading expert on the economics of climate change and co-director of the UK Energy Research Centre

He wants the Government to put a tax on plasma screen televisions, insisting taxing plasma screens would reflect their ‘greater climate change burden’.

Plasma TVs, according to the government-funded Energy Saving Trust, consume about four times more energy than conventional cathode-ray tube TVs.

However researchers point out that exact comparisons are not quite so easy as that, because of the size difference between plasmas which are 50% bigger than their equivalents.

It has been estimated that on average a ‘conventional’ TV costs about £25 per year to run accounting for 100kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, whereas a plasma TV costs about £100 per year produces around 400kg of CO2 - All assuming the electricity is not sourced from nuclear, or renewable power sources.

Prof. Ekins, rather stating the obvious, also singled out patio heaters as especially energy-intensive.

The UK Energy Research Centre is essentially government funded being funded through:

The Natural Environment Research Council NERC - ‘Funding world-class science tackling the 21st century's major environmental issues such as climate change, biodiversity and natural hazards.’

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) - ‘The UK Government's leading funding agency for research and training in engineering and the physical sciences.’

and The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) - The UK's leading research funding and training agency addressing economic and social concerns.

So, a Professor, indirectly funded by the government, calling for extra taxation – No cause for comment there then.

After all it’s not as if anyone would call into doubt, say, a professor funded by the tobacco industry who had done research suggesting there might be some benefits to smoking.

Why is it that the answer to any perceived problem always seems to be more taxation, more laws & regulations and ever increasing Government Control?

Friday, 18 May 2007

You couldn't make it up.

Words really do fail me. Politicians wonder, with an apparent air of hurt bemused innocence why no one trusts them. Gordon brown talks absolute tosh about re-building trust.

Well the Tories don’t quite seem to have kicked old habits, as one of their backbenchers, David Maclean, has sponsored a private member’s bill that he claims is “necessary to give an absolute guarantee that the correspondence of members of parliament, on behalf of our constituents and others, to a public authority remains confidential “.

By a complete coincidence I am sure did not occur to him it also has the effect of exempting the Commons and House of Lords from the list of public authorities obliged to release information under the Freedom of Information Act and also – as a, no doubt, entirely unintended side effect – allow MPs to keep their expenses secret.

It has to be said support for the bill is not limited to the Tories by any means.

Gordon Brown has said he will not block secrecy bid has pledged to respect MPs' decisions. A spokesman for the chancellor said he had also promised not to dictate to MPs. Labour Backbenchers have also emailed colleagues to say they "feel strongly" that the bill's measures were "worthy of support".

Critics suggest that despite it’s apparently neutral stance, the government is in favour of the Bill and has ensured it has the time to progress through Parliament.

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker plans to make a formal complaint to the Commons speaker after MPs voted for the bill, by 96 to 25, to give the bill a third reading.

Big Brother is censoring you

Here is something a little disturbing.

A recent report , from the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society, indicates that state-mandated internet filtering is being introduced by a growing number of states around the world.

John Palfrey, at Harvard Law School, said that the report was an attempt to shine a spotlight on filtering to make it more transparent.

He indicated that in the last five years net filtering has risen from a couple of states doing it to twenty five. "There has also been an increase in the scale, scope and sophistication of internet filtering."

The filtering has three main justifications: politics and power, security concerns and social norms. Apparently it almost always happens in the shadows and the levels of censorship are expected to increase.

He said: "What's regrettable about net filtering is that almost always this is happening in the shadows. There's no place you can get an answer as a citizen from your state about how they are filtering and what is being filtered."

Rafal Rohozinski, a Research Fellow of the Cambridge Security Programme stated that "Few states restrict their activities to one type of content.". Apparently once a state starts filtering, it does it on a broad range of content.

States carrying out the broadest range of filtering included Burma, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. No real surprises there then.

States the survey detected censoring the net are: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Burma/Myanmar, China, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, UAE, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Yemen.

Before you feel all warm, smug and safe though keep in mind that the report also said that the US and a number of European States were not tested because the private sector tends to carry out filtering, instead of the Government.

You really can't tell the difference

It looks like Dave the Chameleon’s shadow education secretary David Willetts has stepped on a hornets nest, pushing the unpopular anti selective education/Grammar School line.

A YouGov poll has revealed that 49% of all voters and 71% Conservative voters support selective education. Apparently only 19% of all voters and just 13% of Conservative voters are actually against the idea of selective education of some sort.

After ‘private discussions’ with a number of Conservative MPs and a pretty rough ride from the 1922 committee. Mr Willetts in an attempt to placate his many critics he said he would be willing to do more to protect Grammar Schools.

He hasn’t actually gone back on it, mind you - just spun it differently. No you really can’t tell the difference…

A resounding success?

Apparently the Electoral Reform Society has hailed Scotland's council election as a resounding success!

A report from the society is set to claim that the single transferable vote (STV) system used in the 2007 Council elections worked well.

They do concede that there were "major inadequacies" in the vote for the Scottish Parliament, with over than 140,000 rejected/spoiled ballots.

Given that there were 45,687 rejected/spoiled ballot papers in the local government elections for Scotland, this means the local government elections were actually only one third as bad as the parliamentary election - and that has surely at least got to qualify as, “minor inadequacies”.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Madeleine McCann

Madeleine McCann– Still Missing

A thought - I have not heard it suggested on the news - but anyone on holiday in the area in the weeks running up to her disappearance could help, just by looking through all their video footage and stills, to see if there is anything inadvertently captured in them, that in retrospect, might be significant could do their bit.

It could, however unlikely, turn up the missing piece of the jigsaw, so is well worth doing on that basis alone.

'Think Tank' says Teens can't tell right from wrong

The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies today issued a report recommending that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised, from 10, to as high as 18.

Are these people completely detached from reality? Are they seriously expecting normal people to believe that, say a sixteen year old, is incapable of telling the difference between right and wrong!

What about a suitable age of criminal responsibility for pixies, or hob-goblins? Maybe they should consider devoting time to those pressing issues. And no doubt, they would like us to think of them as experts, like Alcohol Concern for instance.

Thinking back to the heady days of my youth I knew perfectly well, what was right or wrong. I also knew kids who were well aware of the age of criminal responsibility, who took advantage of that dividing line and clearly knew when they were doing wrong. They were also well aware of the difference between Juvenile court and Magistrate’s Court.

Still I am sure the Government will not have missed the possibility of reducing youth crime to zero at a stroke that this brilliant idea may afford them, just as keeping kids in fill time education until they finish university will reduce youth unemployment to zero.

Just a thought - I wonder if the CCJS gets any funding from the Government.

Apparently the Crime and Society Foundation is an independent charity, Based at King's College London - and bills it’s self as a ‘social policy and criminal justice’ think tank.

Apparently it is open to anyone to join. Students £25, Adults £35. I am not sure if they do special rates for OAPs.

EU wants Taxpayer to foot entire Galileo Bill

The European Union’s satellite-navigation system, Galileo, will have to be built with public funds if it is going to be built at all, the European Commission announced.

So clearly, from this pronouncement, any one with any business sense realises it’s a bit of a white elephant before it even gets off the ground - and are reluctant o throw their own perfectly good money away on it.

Still that sort of consideration never put a politician off wasting tax payer’s money to their own glory. Some £2.7 billion they estimate – yes pull the other one and then multiply it by 12, if the London Olympics are anything to go by.

Now the question immediately arises - Why on earth ;-) would you want to go to the trouble and truly enormous expense, of building you own satellite navigation system, when there is a perfectly serviceable one up there already?

Even if you built it you would then have to try to wean the users of the existing system (who have coughed up cash for their sat-nav equipment) away from it just to get anyone to use it at all.

Is it dog in the manger-ism? Or they fear it will become unavailable. I know the European elite are not fond of the US but I hope they are not actually planning to go to war with them.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

You really can’t tell the difference...

At the risk of sounding like an advert…

“You really can’t tell the difference between Nu-Lab FascistLite ™ and Cameron’s, New Improved Soft and Gentle, Caring Conservatism – Kinder to Hoodies, kinder to your planet too.“.

Today the Conservative Party officially ditched academic selection, accusing grammar schools of entrenching social advantage.

Just when it’s finally dawning, that girls and boys do better academically in separate classes and children cope better with lessons specifically tailored to their abilities, the conservatives take a giant leap - backwards.

The shadow education secretary David Willetts, told grammar school supporters in the party that they cannot harp back to the past, saying: "We must break free from the belief that academic selection is any longer the way to transform the life chances of bright, poor kids,"

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Democracy in Action - Voting

I note the ‘heats’ for the Eurovision Song Contest were on Thursday evening (10th May). There was the usual spread of stuff on offer - of varying quality.

When they announced the vote results though, as far as I could tell, regardless of the merit of the offerings, apart from Turkey, only eastern European efforts actually made it through to the final - and some that did I felt were embarrassingly ghastly.

It often seems that in the past the Nordic countries voted for each other, according to the great sage Wogan. Now it could be the Eastern Europeans are taking a leaf out of their books.

What is the betting the main contest goes in a similar direction? We shall see this evening.

In any event the results seem to be based on approval of the states involved rather than having any relation to any merit of the songs.

All in fun, you may say and that’s as may be., but by accident, or intent, it looks as if the vote may be being consistently ‘tactically’ distorted.

The underlying theme, that goes largely unnoticed, is that this is a problem with virtually all voting systems.

I am not sure if the Eurovision system of national votes could be regarded as a Borda Count system, but internally within the UK it looks more like an Approval Voting system. The overall effect being a combination. It would be interesting to know what methods the other nations use.
I wonder if it might be better to switch to a Condorcet system. Any thoughts on the subject of voting anyone?


Eurovision is over for another year, the taste of ashes in our mouths ;-)

“Flying the flag” is a descendant (and inheritor) of “making your mind up” and by all rights should have done well. Done well, that is, until the admission and proliferation of Eastern European States – oh and Tony B upset everyone in western Europe.

What we recognise as the 'Euro' sound has changed. It was a sort of lowest common denominator of the old Europe’s musical tastes, the sort of thing that does well in the clubs of the med.

Eastern Europe however has added a new (Early 8os) element - Anthemic Power Rock, plus fireworks and black leather gear, a sort of love child of Aerosmith and Europe (the group)

I know there is much dark talk of block voting - and there may well be an element of that – but next year!

Next year Tony and his inheritance of continental disapproval may have faded from French and German minds.

Next year, if we can cobble together a group of long haired, reasonably slim aging hard rockers capable of lasting through such an energetic number and carrying off black leather and studs. Accompanied by some leather (if scantily) clad young, operatically voiced women. A sort of a cross between belly dancers and biker chicks.

Next year, if we can craft an anthemic European power ballad that can stir the eastern European sole.

If we can lay our hands on enough fireworks...

Then maybe we will be able, once again, hold our heads high in the halls of Europe – and - who knows, apart from funding a huge chunk of the cost of the contest, possibly even have to go to the additional expense and bother of hosting it too! What more could you ask?

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

A Robust Constitution?

Some time ago a post on by Perry de Havilland entitled What now, England? prompted a discussion on what would constitute an ideal or, “wish list”, British constitution.

Having taken into account many comments and with acknowledgements to Mandrill, Tim C, Mark E, Jim, Freeman, Nick G, RC Dean, Paul Marks Pietr, Cat, Sunfish, Nicholas Gray and the US constitution, here is a distillation/consensus of the comments.

It is still a work in progress, so feel free to offer any sensible comments, or suggestions, including the order of importance of the clauses. It is really a means to make one consider exactly what one considers the ideal role of government and the citizen, what rights they both need and the duties they owe.


1. The powers not delegated to the State by the Constitution are reserved to the people. The State shall make no law amending this except by the will of the people expressed in a full referendum .

2. The state shall enter into no treaty, or agreement with any individual, group or state, that in any way abrogates or diminishes the sole sovereignty, or power, of the people of the United Kingdom, save with the full agreement of the people as expressed in a full referendum.
Any such agreement must be subject to a full referendum to reaffirm , or revoke any such treaty, or agreement. At any time on a Petition signed by over 25% of the eligible citizens, or in any case within 14 years of the agreement.

3. The State shall make no law concerning the establishment, elevation or imposition of any religion, or prohibiting the free peaceable exercise of religion. No person or persons shall have the right to impose any religion on any person by means of force or threat.

4. The State shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, including the written word, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

5. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated. No warrants shall be issued, except on probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and precisely specifying the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The State shall have a duty and the power to enforce this by appropriate legislation.

6. All persons born, or naturalized, in the United Kingdom, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United Kingdom.
The State shall make no law, or enforce any law, which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the State. Nor shall it deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within it’s jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

7. Neither slavery, nor any form of involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United Kingdom, or any place subject to it’s jurisdiction.
The State shall have a duty and the power to enforce this by appropriate legislation.

8. The right of citizens who are over 21 to vote shall not be denied, or abridged by the Government or by any Local authority on account of race, creed, colour or sex. This right shall not be denied, or abridged, by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.
The State shall have a duty and the power to enforce this by appropriate legislation.

9. The State shall make no law interfering with the right of any individual, groups, or companies, to freely associate, or make agreements and contracts together, excepting where said are contrary to, or bound by the constitution of the United Kingdom.

10 The State shall make no law in separation or isolation or special case . in other words, parliament shall be of the people, not of itself.

11.The State make no law which infringes on the rights of all citizens to bare arms in personal and collective defence of the constitution and against enemies both internal and external. Towards this end any honest citizen of voting age and sound mind has a right to take training, obtain a licence of competence to bare arms and subsequently to bare arms. Citizens shall have a right to form and join licensed militia.
The State shall have a duty and the power to enforce this by appropriate legislation.

12. The citizen has an absolute right to protect their life family and property, also lives and property for which they may be responsible, against unlawful attack. The citizen may use reasonable force, up to and including deadly force, if necessary, in order to exercise that right.
This right shall only be bound by the constitution of the United Kingdom. The State, or any other governing authority, shall enact no law, and enforce no law, which shall abridge, abrogate, or diminish that right.

13. The citizen shall have a right to pursue health, wealth, happiness, associate and conduct their lives however they choose, provided it is within the constitution and is not to more than minimal detriment of others and does not harm the general good. The State shall have a duty to ensure this and shell enact no law, allow no law, and enforce no law, which shall abridge, abrogate, or diminish that right.

14. The constitution recognises that from time to time for certain needs the State may need to raise Taxes. Taxation should be limited as much as possible and at no time, except temporarily, for no more than three calendar years, in a state of dire emergency, or war, should total taxation exceed 21% of Gross Domestic Product. Total individual and total Company taxation should not exceed 14% of income in any three year period and in the case of individuals be restricted to those over voting age. Any new tax, or increase in taxation, shall be subject to ratification by a full referendum.
The State shall not incur debt, or increase borrowing, beyond it’s ability to pay within it’s existing tax structure and income without a full referendum.
In furtherance of clause 9 - The state shall make no tax nor impose any unreasonable hindrances on the sale and transport of goods and services.