June 30, 2008

Grade inflation? Fuck off

The examination system in the UK is good for one thing, and that is not producing rigorous exams of a consistent level. It is good for showing that privatisation is not a cure-all. Most of the time privatisation is a very good thing. The new private entities have to compete with each other for their customers, rather than from an existence scrounging off state hand outs, and so will compete hard to give their customers exactly what they want. The important thing in a privatisation is to make sure that you get the correct customers for the privatised entities to compete for. In the case of exam system they got it wrong.

The exam boards want as many schools as possible to use their services, that is how they make their money. The schools want their pupils to get good exam results, this looks good on the league tables and is good for performance related pay. Therefore the schools naturally select which exam board that is likely to produce the results that they, the schools, want. The exam boards are therefore competing with each other as to who can produce the exams which are easiest to get good marks in.

However it is only the schools which want exams which it is easy for as many people to get as good marks as possible. Everybody else wants exams which can be used to show how much has been learned in various subjects, and exams that can be used to compare individuals to see who is better. Not very PC refusing all prizes and showing up differences, but then reality isn't PC. So you end up with examples like this:

One pupil, who wrote "f*** off" on an examination paper, was given two points for spelling it correctly, and conveying a meaning.

It was marked by Peter Buckroyd, a chief examiner for the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) examination board.

He told The Times newspaper: "It would be wicked to give it zero, because it does show some very basic skills we are looking for - like conveying some meaning and some spelling.

To change this you need to change the incentives. Instead of a system which is controlled by the schools, who will therefore use it to make themselves look good, you need a system controlled by everybody else that has to take the results of what the schools produce, so the incentive is to actually test what has been learned in the schools to find out how easy it will then be to teach the former pupils whatever it is they need to learn next.

Maybe if universities and employers started to differentiate between the different exam boards that would do something, but I doubt that it would be enough. After all it would only very indirectly affect the exam boards income stream, their main thing would still be to get as many schools as possible who's incentive would still be to get exams as easy as possible despite whatever reputation the board in question had. With the vast majority of schools paid for through taxation any questions that the parents might have about them using a known dodgy exam board would be ignored. The schools are going to get paid whether the parents send them their or not, and given their government sanctioned monopoly status in most areas the parents wouldn't have any choice to go elsewhere anyway even if that mattered.

This is assuming that there would be noticeable differences between suppliers anyway. This part is a competitive market after all. The product is identical, a GCSE is a GCSE. The cost is not money, since most schools are tax funded it is not their money anyway they could just demand more if need be, the cost for the consumers (the schools) is measured in how much work they have to do teaching. They only way that the exam boards can differentiate themselves is to lower this cost as much as possible by making them easier and easier. They will all therefore be driven to make things simple by the same amount and so converge on the optimum, low, value.

A better solution would be to kill this monopoly system entirely. Force schools to compete for pupils and let all of the competing qualifications compete to see which the employers and universities decide best fulfils their needs, which are not the same as the schools. Maybe it will be the same exams but with standards more rigorously enforced, perhaps the IB, or maybe it will be the exam system that some of the universities have been experimenting with, it could even be something completely new.

Whatever it is, it will be those that make judgement based on the results that will be most important, rather than the schools. Should any of these start the same slide as the current GCSEs and A-Levels the universities will not accept them and parents, who want the best start for their children, will move; choking off the school's, and therefore the exam board's, revenue stream.

June 26, 2008

some thoughts on a possible future

Under first past the post everything tends to crystalise around two parties, with the rest squeezed out to the margins. You end up with two dominant political powers that each cover large swaths of political territory, there may be a few barbarians mounting raids from the wilderness beyond their borders but basically it is only the other major power that the main players have to worry about.

Under First Past the Post the political territory in the centre is vital, all the parties try to get as far across it and into each others territory as possible while not being cut off from their lumbering baggage trains.

In 1992 Tony Blair mounted a daring expedition from Labour's heartlands to capture as much enemy territory as he could. Confronted by a worn out and divided enemy his raid was as successful as it was audacious. He managed to capture vast swaths of formerly Tory territory sweeping all before him like an all conquering Caesar.

I like Caesar Blair was eventually stabbed in the back by those that he had once thought his closest allies, but unlike Caesar the band that he was leading was not safe in their own territory at the time. They where still deep in the enemies native territory and desperately trying to find ways to hold their position.

Labour is now under Blair's rather less able former adjutant have found themselves, un-supplied, surrounded, and cut off from their reserves. Their mercenary allies have deserted, taking most of the Labour treasury with them and the re-envigorated adversary is massing against them. Their enemy under a young Arminius has been rallying the tribes so that now from horizon to horizon is nothing but a sea of howling, blue painted, faces. The 2010 election could well prove to be Labour's Teutoburg Forest.

A tale of overreach, with hubris leading to nemesis. Labour are going to be pushed back into their own political heartland for a decade to regroup and then the cycle will repeat itself. Or maybe not.

Sitting on the strategically vital the centre of the political battlefield is a ragged band, the shattered remnants of the once proud political empire of the Liberal Party. The fact that they have managed to retain this important, if small, patch of territory when Labour swept across their former dominion is one of the reasons that they weren't swept away to become another of the minor political tribes on the fringes of the current two great power blocs. Though it has been a close run thing at times.

Labour is polling worse than at any point since scientific polling began. The only time that they have ever polled this badly before was during the 1982 general election, an election where the Liberals came very close to knocking them into third place in terms of votes cast. Today their is only 5% between them, and the Liberal's position always improves as election time grows closer and people remember that they exist. Labour have no such luxury, they cannot count on any swing to the government since that has not happened for a very long time. The polls are bad, but worse is the fact that the pollsters always overstate the support for Labour. Worse Labour have 2 more years under Gordon Brown, and a coming recession to deal. That 5% could easily shrink to nothing.

As I mentioned earlier under a First Past the Post voting system there is only space for two major parties, the rest get squeezed out. This is the reason why the Lib-Dems always include those bar charts with their literature that claim they are either in first or second place, but never third. If people believe that they can win they will vote for them, but if they don't then these votes get placed elsewhere for tactical reasons. Should the Lib-Dems ever start out polling labour then this effect will suddenly go nation wide and it will be Labour, not the Lib-Dems having to deal with the third party squeeze as people vote tactically.

Labour's natural home, unlike the Lib-Dems with their roots in the old Liberal Party, is not in the centre. It is on the 'Left' and that is where they will retreat to just as the Tories retreated back to their home territory under Hague to try and consolidate their core vote, but the Tories never had to worry about any other force coming in and positioning themselves between that last redoubt and the stratigically vital centre ground. Labour does. If they lose to badly in 2010 they could find their path back into the political centre blocked by a resurgent Liberal Democrat Party, and from that point on, unless the Liberal Democrats make a massive mistake, they are going to get squeezed further and further 'left' until they are nothing more than a powerful union lobby group fighting it out with the other fringe tribes.

There is a possibility, abet a small one, that 2010 could see the rebirth of Liberalism in the UK and the final eclipse of socialism in this country. Gordon Brown would gain a place in the history books, that like all politicians he craves, but unfortunately as the man that lead a once powerful political force into the wilderness.


The Labour presence in Henley just got so decimated that they are not only amongst the tribes on the fringes of the political landscape, they are behind the Barbarians.

June 25, 2008

Churchill Asserts A Unified Europe Can Bar Tyranny

A long and hilarious argument has sprung up between Dirty European Socialist and the rest of the world on the Devil's blog. DES does not seem to understand that misspelling everything while calling everybody 'NAZI peado creeps' is not a good way of making people take your points seriously. Not that he/she/it has many. Anyway as part of the argument Dirty points to three articles to try and show that Winston Churchill was in actual fact all in favour of the EU. The first one was behind the New York Times pay wall so in the interests of discussion I'm going to transcribe the text here.


Churchill Asserts A Unified Europe Can Bar Tyranny

Gets Ovation from 30,000 in Strasbourg as He Expresses Confidence in the Future


Time Limit on Agenda Items Removed to Let German Admission Be Raised

The text of Mr. Churchill's address is printed on Page 3.

By Lansing Warren, Special to the New York Times.

Strasbourge, France, Aug 12 - Speaking in French here on a balcony above the Place Kleber tonight, Winston Churchill drew an ovation from a crowd of 30,000 when he said it was possible to organize Western Europe to resist the threat of tyranny.
Mr. Churchill, who is here participating in the first sessions of the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe, was addressing a meeting organized by the European movement, which he helped found.

"It is not against any race or nation that we range ourselves," he said. "It is against tyranny in all its forms ancient and modern, new or old, that we stand upright and unflinching. Tyranny is always the same, whatever slogans it offers, whatever name it calls itself, whatever liveries it wears."

Discusses Dangers Ahead

Mr. Churchill's French, though tinged at times by a British accent, was very good. After speaking of a long religious, dynastic and nationalistic wars that Europe had experienced, he asked:

"Are we to sink, after all our victories and sufferings, into final chaos through ideological wars thrust upon us by barbarous and wicked oligarchies whose fifth-column agents are infiltrating into many lands?"

"I feel sure," he answered to his own question, "that we have it in our power, if it is also our will, to come through the perils which still confront us. * * * In all this we are moving with the support of the mighty republic across the Atlantic and of the powerful self-governing states and members of the British Empire and Commonwealth of Nations."
In conclusion Mr. Churchill stated:

"Our dangers are great, but so is our strength, and there is no reason why we should not achieve the aim and design of united Europe, whose moral conceptions will win the respect and gratitude of mankind and whose physical strength will be such that none will dare molest her tranquil sway."

Mr. Churchill spoke from a flag-draped window above the square.

Other speakers at the rally were Paul Reynaud, war Premier of France; Hendrik Brugmans, Netherlands statesman; Stefano Jacini, Italian Senator just selected one of the vice presidents of the Council of Europe; Ole Kraft of Denmark, another vice president, and Paul-Henri Spaak of Belgium, permanent president of the Consultative Assembly.

All spoke with fervor in the belief that if the Council of Europe obtained wide popular support it might lead the Western countries to salvation. All felt that Strasbourg was the predestined centre from which a European union could be made to spring. They called for help and for popular faith in their endeavors.

M. Reynaud mad a plea or practical examination of Europe's problems, saying there must first be a decision on her type of future economy and then a political accord.

Lord Layton, British Liberal publisher, who was chosen yesterday as one of the vice presidents, stressed this need. He said the European Marshall Plan Council was in difficulties because there was no political accord.

"Political consolidation," he said, "must precede real integration unless each is quite certain that those with whom he is associated will be on his side in time of trouble. There must be a political basis for this organization."

Assembly Agenda Remains Open.

At today's session of the Consultative Assembly Mr. Churchill won another victory when he obtained removal of the limit imposed on introducing new items to the agenda.

He thus kept open the possibility of asking for admission of Germany to the Council of Europe provided that Sunday's election and the beginnings of the new German State appear to be propitious. Mr Churchill told the Assembly that he was undecided whether this should be done and asked for "reasonable latitude before we are compelled to put any proposals on paper."
"There is a question of Germany, a grave matter," he said, "and obviously the life of united Europe depends upon our association in some for or other with Germany."

He added that it would not be wise for the Assembly to take a decision while the German elections were going on and for this reason he pressed for an extension of the three-day limit placed upon requests for new items on the Assembly's agenda.
A Compromise was engineered by M. Spaak who obtained from the Rules Committee of the Assembly the mission of negotiating with the Foreign Ministers Committee.

Although the Ministers will leave here Sunday for their capitals, they have agreed to receive from M. Spaak any new proposals from the Assembly and deliver their replies within five days. Mr. Churchill will therefore have time to deliberate before he asks for the admission of Western Germany.

Some observers thought Mr. Churchill's remarks might influence the German election.

Addressing the meeting in the Place Kleber, M. Reynaud gave the French answer to Mr Churchill's proposal when he said France was ready to cooperate with Germany, but that in the view of all that had happened in the past she would wish to have decided proof that Germany would be sincere before she was invited.

The Assembly today received thirteen suggestions for the agenda from its members in addition to three submitted to it by Ministers. Some of these overlap and a small committee was appointed to re-draft them in a more compact form so that the Assembly could decide in successive vots tomorrow what items would receive the necessary two-thirds vote to obtain submission to the Ministers Committee. The Ministers by a two-thirds vote in their turn have the right to accept or reject these proposals.

The chief items are one for a study of changes in Europe's political structure to pave the way for unity and another is the proposed accord for a human rights agreement that Ministers rejected.
Mr. Churchill today sharply insisted hat, although he thought that military topics should be barred from the Assembly, he saw no reason why all the other matters should not be discussed, and he was particularly severe in his criticism of the two-thirds rule.

M. Spaak adroitly steered the Assembly towards agreement today, with the prospect that the Ministers will have the Assembly's proposals complete by tomorrow night and will thus be able to disband on Sunday, leaving the Assembly to a three-week session.

June 22, 2008

NHS spending

When talking about the bloated wealth consuming sector there is one argument that always comes up. It is that you cannot possibly reduce the massive amounts spent on the various public 'services' because that would mean that you would be throwing out doctors/nurses/teachers etc. and nobody would stand for that unless they spend their days on horseback hunting fairies before returning to their palace to dine on roast baby. There is, in that world view, absolutely nobody else employed in the public sector except the sainted front line staff. The reality is slightly different.

between 1997 and 2007, the number of NHS managers increased by 64 per cent, as against increases of 43 per cent for doctors and 25 per cent for nurses.

To me that looks like there is room for a cut there which will have no effect on the front line what so ever. The number of managers by 64%, at least.

June 21, 2008

Chatham House on the (dead) Lisbon Treaty

A good article on the contempt for democracy shown by the EU in still pursuing the Lisbon Treaty despite the only people allowed a referendum on it (because there was no way they could not due to the Irish constitution) voting 'No', and how this could be increasing the contempt for the EU in all of its member states. It concludes that:

In the end, the most intelligent response to the Irish 'no' vote is the same as the honourable response. The death of the Treaty must be acknowledged. But more than this, it should provide the occasion for a thoroughgoing reassessment of how and why Europe got into this mess. At all costs, this must not be a re-run of the 'period of reflection' that was announced following the rejection of the constitution by the French and the Dutch when, having 'reflected', the EU decided to ignore it.

Which is exactly what will happen.

June 17, 2008

Petition time

Another worthy petition for the government to ignore, this one by Dr Richard North and Neil O'Brien asking the government to show a little respect for democracy and stop the ratification process of the EU Constituition Lisbon Treaty because of the Irish rejection. They won't, of course, but that is no reason not to ask them too.

Sign it here: http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/Abandon-Lisbon/

June 15, 2008

Magna Carta remembered

Today is the anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215. Most of the rights that it contained had been repealed by the 19th century, such as "No one shall be taken or imprisoned on account of the appeal of a woman concerning the death of another than her husband." However there were a few still extant, and those that had managed to last this long were the most important ones, the ones that laid the foundations of our liberty. Such as the government itself being subject to the law. The government having to govern with the consent of the governed (though only those that counted, the aristocracy, in the case of the original document). That people had the right to defend themselves and their property and what has come to be known as Habeas Corpus, mainly from the following clauses.

38. No bailiff, on his own simple assertion, shall henceforth any one to his law, without producing faithful witnesses in evidence.

39. No freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or disseized, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way harmed--nor will we go upon or send upon him--save by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

40. To none will we sell, to none deny or delay, right or justice.

Habeas Corpus was enshrined in its own act of parliament in 1679, which meant that people could net be detained without charge for more than 24 hours. With the exception of during extreme circumstances when internment has been used: such as the World Wars. During the IRA Border Campaign of 1956 to 1951 (when they where treated as political prisoners) by Basil Brooke of the Ulster Unionist Party. Or when Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Brian Faulkner of the Ulster Unionist Party, instigated internment in Northern Ireland as the IRAs campaign began to approach a full scale revolt. Or in 2001 when Tony Blair of the Labour party decided to intern 14 foreign nationals suspected of links to various Islamist terrorist groups that could not be deported. They where shifted to permeant house arrest without trial three years later, and are still being held.

You can still only be held for 24 hours on non-terrorist related matters, but if you have been arrested on something related to terrorism (which covers a lot) then you can be held for longer. First this was extended to 2 days, with the possibility of the Home Secretary authorising a further 5 days, a state of affairs rightly described as draconian by the drafters but one that remained in place until 2000. Since then it has just grown and grown.

Here is a graph of how the number of day that you can be held without charge for terrorist offenses has changed since Oswald Mosley was released in 1943 (yes, 1943 two years before the end of the war) including the latest proposed extension to 42 days.

June 13, 2008

The irish killed the treaty, but it will still be back

So the Irish have killed off the resurrected EU Constitution, I hope somebody remembered to stick a stake in its heart this time. Unfortunately I think not. Undoubtedly the ratification process will continue, with the EU slowly limping along towards its goal of ever closer union and eating the brains of anybody that gets into its clutches like a zombie from Dawn of the Dead.

June 06, 2008

Taking Liberties

The Longrider is currently pointing to a very good article by John Major about how we are loosing are Civil Liberties in the name of security, security from a threat that is mostly hyperbole. He should know about real terrorist threats, he was Prime Minister when the IRA mortared Downing St. whilst he and his cabinet was in there. His predecessor was almost killed when the IRA destroyed the hotel she and most of her colleagues where in for the annual party conference. The conservatives are always painted as the ne plus ultra of evil, yet when you actually look at their record they are amateurs compared to the current government. Labour have been remorseless in taking liberties in the name of security, but what security have we really got for this? Nothing, just security theatre.

Stupid security theatre has reached the point were wearing a t-shirt depicting a cartoon character and you will be stopped from boarding your aeroplane, or a computer that isn't big and ugly, but carrying live ammunition onto a plane is just fine. Pure security theatre, just like the way that Labour wants to yet again increase the amount of time that people can be held without charge. This time it is to 42 days, as part of a show of strength to shore up Gordon Brown's precarious position, from their last increase of 28 days, which was an increase that they also created from 14 days, which itself increased the 7 day limit (also a product of the Labour administration). Every increase in the amount of time people can be detained without charge has been the product of a Labour administration.

When Labour came to power in 1997 the maximum time people could be held without charge was 2 days, with the possibility of the home secretary authorising an extra 5 days. Today it is 28 days, with the possibility of an extra 30 days authorised by any minister deciding that it is a national emergency. Or alternatively today you could also be placed under house arrest forever without the chance of ever challenging the evidence against you. Though as a slight compensation for having your life, and that of your family, ruined you would get major street cred for being in the same position as Nelson Mandela or Aung San Suu Kyi. Giving its enemies the same status as these iconic freedom fighters wouldn't have been the effect that Labour was after, but then house arrest itself was only rushed in as a compromise after Labour imposed internment for the first time ever on the mainland during peacetime and this was found to be against our obligations under the ECHR.

So how much special legislation was passed after Prime Minister Thatcher was nearly killed by the IRA in 1984? None; but all it takes is the most ridiculous and impossible movie plot threat to get Labour throwing more legislation onto the statute books.

The conservatives did limit the right to silence when they where in power. However Labour have not reversed, they made it even worse. The Conservatives let juries in a trial (not that Labour likes people coming before a jury when they can just be locked up anyway) take inferences from a persons silence. Labour made it a crime not to go to the police and actively inform should you believe that any of Labour's extremely broad anti-terrorist legislation be about to be infringed.

The conservatives banned knifes. Labour banned guns. Neither ban made the slightest difference to the kind of criminals that would actually use them, but both did erode of the right to self defense.

The right to silence is one of the ways that people are protected from incriminating themselves. I the United States it is a Constitutionally protected right, it is not protected under the British Constitution but neither was it anything that the Conservatives sought to damage. Labour on the other hand did with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act which makes it a criminal offense not to hand over encryption keys if they are demanded by the police, and it is up to you prove your innocence. Under the RIP Act you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent.

Not that Labour likes its minions having to prove peoples guilt before punishing them. You can get much better statistics with a lower, or reversed, burden of proof. The RIP Act which reverses the burden of proof. Then there are ASBOs which allow gossip to be admitted as evidence. The Proceeds of Crime Act where not only does the state seek to extract unlimited fines on the balance of probability from people that it cannot prove have commiteed any crime, it makes sure that they cannot properly defend themselves by not letting them pay for a defense and not allowing them legal aid. Or the people that have had all of their assets confiscated based on mere accusation

The conservatives did infringe the freedom of association by outlawing a group, the INLA (this was the full extent of the Conservative response to the INLA assassination of the Conservative shadow minister, and personal friend of Thatcher, Airey Neave). On the other hand Labour have outlawed 46 organisations bringing the total up to 62. Thanks to the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998 it is now also enough for a police officer to simply state that a person is part of a proscribed organisation rather than them having to admit to it.

Labour have been better than the Conservatives in the area of human rights for gay people; equalising the age of consent, giving recognition of the long term relationships of gays and lesbians have though civil partnerships, and getting rid of Section 28.

Personally I'm gay and grew up in the late 80s to early 90s. Section 28 didn't make the slightest bit of difference to me at all. Do you know anybody that was ever prosecuted under it? I don't, and I would not expect anybody else to either. This is because there was only one single prosecution ever brought by a christianist group against Glasgow City Council, and that case failed. Section 28 was symbolic but in practical terms it was not a big deal.

I do however know somebody that was prosecuted under Labour's child porn laws for being given an erotic photo by an 18 year old of himself, because that 18 year old looked like they were 18. That is somebody over the age of consent gave an erotic photo to somebody else who is over the age of consent and because they looked like they where over the age of consent by only a couple of years that is classified a child porn. The stupidity of this law means that while two young adults can do whatever they like together in bed if they what to take some happy snaps of the event they could wind up in jail. My acquaintance didn't, but is now thinking of emigrating to France since it still fucked his life up.

These laws are about to get even worse if Labour gets its way, which given their majority they probably will, as they intend to extend these laws to drawings and CGI as well as images that actually involved real people. So an image of a young adult that looks only a couple of years over the age of consent, even if it is a pure fantasy based on nothing more than the artists thoughts with all the realism of a Tom of Finland(NSFW) sketch (but without the talent), becomes illegal. They claim that this is in case the drawings or CGI was somehow based on real people at some point in its creation, even though this is already covered in the 2008 legislation so the only thing that is going to get banned are pure fantasy images. Labour intends to literally criminalise thought.

Like Section 28 these bits of stupid gesture legislation are just to show the mouth breathing authoritarian elements of their core vote that they are repressed prudes as well. However unlike Section 28 these laws will actually be used and will cause actual harm. Both to the people that get caught up as victims of Labour's gesture, and anybody that gets hurt by people that could have simply worked out their frustrations with porn because porn is a substitute for, not a compliment to, sexual violence.

The conservatives never imposed ID Cards and the National Identity Register, or any of the other databases that make up the database state and track us from cradle to grave. Labour did.

The Conservatives never colluded to have people tortured. labour did.

It was economics that hit Mrs Thatcher's g-spot. Imagine perhaps a single boney finger slowly circling a cracked and shriveled nipple while she watched the old industries finally exposed to the economic winds of change. She freed the economy from the shackles of the state and the results where so obviously better that Labour had to abandon the idea of the state controlling industry in order to become electable.

They might have had the chance of economic control taken away but that did not change the Labour parties need for control so they reacted by trying to worm their way into peoples lives in other ways. Image perhaps a set of fingers, with nails gnawed to the quick, reaching around the rolling layers of overhanging gut to fondle at a small stub of a penis while he channel surfs the CCTV cameras.

Where the conservatives good for freedom? Yes overall, because the massive return of economic freedom that they brought. Where they good for Civil Liberties? No, they did limit many of them. Where the Conservatives worse than Labour? No, not even close.

An interesting argument against the Welfare State by Chris Dillow

This suggests money might buy happiness because of what it represents - that we have worked hard and saved hard - rather than because of what it buys.

So if you want to increase happiness you should not be handing people money. You should not be setting up the marginal tax rates to make work unattractive, you should be doing everything to get a job because even if the cash result is the same the dignity of work would lead to a greater net happiness.

liberty and security

It can be argued that security and liberty is a trade off, you can only get better security at the expense of liberty. That at one extreme when society is in a state of chaos you have perfect liberty, but no security, and at the other in a police state you have perfect security, but no liberty.

Personally I think that this isn't necessarily always the case. There are two reason for this.

1. The government is incompetent. If you ask them to do anything then they will do it in such a way that does not necessarily work, so long as it favours the internal empire building of the bureaucrats that run it.

2. Good security, as apposed to the security theatre that the government seems to prefer, is invisible. It protects you, but otherwise gets out of your way to let you do whatever it is you want to do (so long as this does not harm others).

Here are a few suggestions that could increase security without doing too much damage to liberty.

1. Let people know that they do have the right to self defense, that if they are attacked and have to defend themselves the the law will be on their side, so that more people are willing to try and defend themselves. This is good for liberty because self defense is a fundamental right, and it is good for security because it tilts the risk/reward balance of an assault meaning that there would be less of them.

2. Replace CCTV with uniformed police patrols. CCTV cameras cannot chase and catch a criminal, their quality often isn't even good enough to be used at a trial when somebody else have done the leg work. Police on the other hand can chase and catch thugs, and their evidence is always useful in court. So if there is a chance that there is a policeman just around the corner then there is a much higher risk for any would be assailant. If there is a CCTV camera around the corner then there is no risk what so ever, since it cannot get up and walk around that corner to see you. So uniformed police would be better for security, but they would also be better for liberty by reducing the database state and the way that peoples movements can be catalogued and tracked.

3. Take Habeas Corpus seriously. By reducing the amount of time between arrest and them getting their day in court mean that its deterrent effects do not get eaten away by people discounting future pain compared to present gain. This would be good for security because it shifts the risk reward balance and good for civil liberties because it reduces the state's ability to detain the innocent. I am not talking just about pre-charge detention either (though a return to the pre-1974 period of 1 day would be a good thing, returning to the pre-2000 2 days would welcome) but also sorting out the abomination of the remand system. The fact that somebody can spend so long on remand that even if they are found guilty they are immediately released is a sick joke. It means that guilty or innocent the state is going to punish you just the same amount, and that is simply wrong.

June 05, 2008

Knife Crime

Knife crime is making the news again and something must be done. It does not matter if that something stands a hope of actually working, the government just has to be seen to do something. The obvious solution to this most authoritarian of governments is more pointless bans, this time by saying that they are going to prosecute anybody found to be carrying a knife. It won't work but to show why have a look at these three knives. Carrying any of them in public today would be illegal but 50+ years ago, when the crime rate was considerably lower than it is today, they would all have been carried without anybody batting an eyelid.

This first is a simple pen knife, of the type that the modern swiss army knife and other multi-tools evolved out of. It has a blade, for the multitude of times when you need to cut things, a Marlin Spike, for unpicking knots and making splices, and a tin opener, the purpose of which is obvious. It was a very common tool with all sorts of uses and just about everybody would have one.

Now imagine a dozen teenage boys walking down the street towards you. They are all dressed the same, and they all have one of these:

The only danger you are in is of them trying to find a way of helping you so as to do their good deed for the day. This scary looking sheath knife is a 50 year old Boy Scout knife, everybody would have had a pen knife but only a smaller number would have had the privilege of owning one of these.

The final blade is this one.

It is rather hard to call this a mere knife since it is nearly two feet long. The teenage youth that carried it, who would have been possibly as young as fourteen, would have know exactly how to use it in a fight. They would have been ready and willing to attack and possibly kill if the need arouse. However unless you where an enemy of their King you where perfectly safe and would be unlikely to find a more disciplined, courteous and respectful young man; since this is a Midshipman's Dirk and would have been owned by an officer of the Royal Navy.

Something has changed in our society that has lead to the murders and assaults that we hear about so often, and it is not a sudden increase in the amount of potential weaponry about. If anything knifes are much less common than they used to be, it is just that it has become much more common to us they to try and hurt people. Part of the reason why can actually be seen in the design of the Midshipman's Dirk. This is a stabbing weapon, it has an edge but like many European swords it is designed to make its point with its point. Notice anything about the point? Here is a close up to give you a better idea.

The tip is rounded rather than coming to a sharp point, rather a strange feature for a stabbing weapon. The reason for this is the naval tradition that no knife has a pointed tip. The reason behind this tradition is because no seaman would carry one with a pointed tip since the risk should they accidentally stab somebody was simply too high. On board a crowded ship there is nowhere to hide and so an absolute certainty that they would be caught. When they where caught the punishment was harsh as well. This wouldn't simply be a flogging, itself potentially fatal, should their victim die the perpetrator would be tied to the body of the victim and then thrown overboard the now bloating body acting as a temporary life raft so that they would see their ship sailing away leaving them all alone in the vast expanse of ocean. The punishment was rightly feared to the point that they where willing to do almost anything, including reducing the utility of their tools, to avoid it.

Today things are a little different. If you assault somebody most likely you will not be caught. If you are caught, because you carried out your assault right in front of a police officer, you will have nothing more than a wrist slap. A far greater risk than in the past. It is also the commonly held view that if you defend yourself it will be you, who has just been assaulted, that will end up in serious trouble while your assailant walks away. So many victims are less likely to try and defend themselves, again reducing the risk for the assailant. As the risks decrease it will become less than the potential rewards of unprovoked violence for an increasing number of people, so you will get more.

With the state unwilling to fulfill its duty to protect its citizens the natural, and correct, response of the citizens is to try and defend themselves. This is why there has been an increase in the number of knifes taken into schools. They are not there as tools, as in the past, but as protection by those not cowed by the fear that they would have the law after them should they need to defend themselves. Trying to use the blunt instrument of the law against people carrying knifes will make no difference unless they tackle the root of the problem. Which is the growing feeling that if somebody actually uses a knife against you, rather than just carry it, or a bottle, or their boots, or their fists then the state will look the other way and try to ignore it because it is easier and safer to go after the generally peaceful such as motorists.

June 04, 2008

This form of privatisation won't work

Labour is planning to privatise the NHS. Iain Dale thinks that this is great as from a partisan point of view it is Labour burning one of their trump cards. They will no longer be able to try and create scary stories about the tories seeking to privatise the NHS and replace it with an American system since they already did. I think that this is crap, because it will not work.

There is nothing special about private sector managers. Simply replacing one set of managers with a different set will not make a bit of difference. The problem is not the management, the problem is the system. The system will still be the top down centralised unresponsive monster of old. It will continue to fail for exactly the same reasons it always has no matter who is in charge. The private sector is better than the public not because it has some magic managers pixie dust sprinkled over it but because it is a competitive market and the inefficiency gets weeded out in a darwinian process as the firms that do not give their customers what they want loose their customers and eventually go bankrupt. That is what keeps the private sector sharp, being made up of firms that are generally much smaller and closer to their customers with the constant fear of where the next pound is coming from. The NHS has none of that and therefore will never offer the responsiveness of a private sector company, because it does not need to, no matter who is in charge.

If they where finally serious about actually reforming the NHS rather than fiddling with the edges and spraying more money on it then they would be looking at the bits that actually work, the GP practices for example, and seeing how they could make the rest of it more like them. Rather than looking at the GP practices and seeing how they can be made more like the rest of the failing edifice with their Polly Clinics scheme.

The Slime Eel meets The Hagfish

Commissar Alan Johnson was inspecting one of the NHS's more important hospitals. Some people said they did not like the way that NHS hospitals smelt, but he like the smell of hospitals. They always smelt of fresh paint. This one was particually important, and he visited regularly, since it was a homepathic centre that offered holistic treatment to remove some the the worries and stresses that could be so troublesome to important people such as himself. He slipped into the floatation tank and tried to relax. It was good the way that the NHS was thime to offer these vital services to the important people free at the point of use.

From just outside the tank the Commissar could hear a voice. This annoyed him as he had specifically instructed that all of the ordinary patients be removed. That was one of the problems with the NHS, he thought, the system would work much better where the patients removed. It was something that he had been working to achieve for some time.

"Excuse me, Commissar. I think we need to talk." said the voice.

He wanted to tell the voice to go away but for some reason he could not seem to make his mouth move.

"I took the liberty of adding an actual chemical to that homeopathic remedy you just took, so as not to let anything interrupt our little chat. It has no anasthetic properties, so you will be fully awake and aware, but it will stop any voluntary muscle movement."

It was true. He was completely unable to move, trapped in the darkness with this stranger waiting outside. The complete black of the floatation tank no longer seemed quite so comforting. Denied any other stimulation his adrenaline sharpened senses consentrated entirely on the feeling of the water lapping gently against his naked body.

"What I would like to talk about is why the NHS is willing to pay for homepathic remedies and holistic centres like this one, but will deny treatment that actually works to people that need it."

He could feel the waters of him floatation tank swirling around him, almost as if there was something else in there with him.

"Personally I am all in favour of natural remedies for my problems."

A cold shiver went down him spine as something cold and slimy brushed against him leg, feeling perhaps like it had just stroked by the tail of some strange sea creature.

"I would like to introduce you to another of the wonders of nature, the Hagfish[1]. This remarkable creature has no backbone and is capable of producing vast quantities of slime at will. Much like a politician."

There it was again. This strange primitive fish was making its way up his inner thighs. He wanted to kick and scream, to call for security and get this strange man, and his equally strange pet, thrown out of him hospital and locked away. The anti-terrorism legislation would be able to keep him in jail for a month. Enough time for his own guards, and their rubber hose, to have a nice long chat.

"The hagfish's method of feeding is also rather interesting. It is not strong enough to rip a hole in the flesh for itself, so it enters through a natural opening, the anus for example, and then proceeds to slowly consume its prey from the inside out. It tears off the meat of whatever it is eating with a set of rasping tooth like structures made of keratin. It does not matter to the hagfish if its prey is alive or dead when this process begins, simply that it has a way of getting in."

A way in that the fish had just found. Panic clawed its way deep into his soul as he felt the Hagfish nuzzling its way between his buttocks, cold and slimy. He could feel its strong tail trashing against him as it forced its way past his defenseless arsehole. Had he been able to speak the entire hospital would have heard him scream.