Thursday, November 22, 2007

The savaging continues

Attacks on the incompetence of the Government are coming in from all sides. Even from ComputerWorldUK:
Jonathan Armstrong,partner at international law firm Eversheds, warned: "The breach is likely to give birth to a number of phishing scams. Even if the data on the CDs does not get into the hands of fraudsters it is likely that even now a large email campaign is being planned to prey on the British public.

"We have been involved with a number of major multinational breaches and have spoken with clients after the event to help others learn from their experience," said Armstrong.

"In many cases the consequences of the data breach are worse than first anticipated."

Fred Piper, a professor at Royal Holloway University of London, said it was extraordinary that the data loss occurred.

"It shouldn't happen. It beggars belief as to who authorised this, and whether they had authority to send the data or just did it," he said.


Bob Ayers, associate fellow at Chatham House's International Security Programme, said any inquiry needed to get to the bottom of how this happened.

"But you have to ask: what kind of data protection regime is there in place in which highly sensitive information is stuffed in an envelope and given to guy on a motorbike to courier across London? What kind of protection regime treats such vitally important information in such cavalier fashion?"


"We are getting a lot of head-patting from the government reassuring us that they are in charge and are trying to figure out what happened. We are being told not to panic and not to change our bank accounts," he said. "I would want to know how this happened. I'm not talking about the mechanics, but how did we get to the position that such critically sensitive information is being treated like a package of fish and chips and moved around London?

"Until we understand the answer, there can be no assurance that this is not going to happen again and again and again."

FBI fraud expert, Frank Abignale said:

"It was not just a mistake. I truly believe that someone paid for information to be stolen. It's what happens all the time, that someone acted in collusion with somebody else to steal this data," said Abagnale, author of Catch me if you can and a fraud expert who has worked extensively for the FBI over the past 32 years.

Governments, corporations and local authorities do a "horrible job of protecting data" said Abagnale.

"Don't send sensitive records by courier or through the mail. It's just common sense, and good business practice that someone should not have done that. The UK government needs to do a much better job of protecting the information of it citizens," he said.

"The government would not ship gold bullion via an unsecured courier or method and in today's environment, one needs to understand that sensitive personal data is worth just as much as gold bullion."

He added: "This is what scares me about the concept of UK ID card. Taking all of this information, including biometrics information, and putting into one place is dangerous. It is allowing one weak link in the chain, for instance, a criminal to approach someone to steal information," said Abagnale.


If the data was stolen, then it is likely the thief would sit on this information for a number of years before harvesting identities, said Abagnale.

"Because the records are for younger people, many may not have a credit record yet. Once they reach adulthood, they could find their identity has been sold before they've even started on life."

HMRC's data loss highlights the difference between data breach notification laws in the US and the UK, said Abagnale. The UK government waited more than 10 days to notify parliament and the public of the breach. But n the US, under current laws, the government would have had to notify everyone affected immediately.

And Nick Robinson of the BBC says about the exchange of emails between the National Audit Office and HMRC:
The key thing we learn comes not from the detail but the tone of all the exchanges. They demonstrate little concern from either the NAO or HMRC about data protection. The NAO wants, it would appear, simply to reduce the size of the files it is sent. The HMRC is worried about the cost of filtering information in order to send the smaller files the NAO request. What about our privacy and our rights? No mention is made of them.
And now the good news:
New measures to increase government data sharing are included in bills announced in the Queen’s Speech.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The gift which lasts-incompetence

With over 10,000 comments on the BBC Have your Say page, the Beeb is catching on about the scale of the data-loss scandal.
Now they're actually quoting some experts:
Children whose personal data has gone missing could be at risk of identity fraud for many years, credit reference agency Experian has warned...
Compliance director Helen Lord said this could have a "catastrophic effect" on their ability to buy or rent a home or obtain a loan or credit card.
According to a director of RSA security:
What also made the data attractive to fraudsters, said Mr Moloney, was that much of the data in it, such as names of children and birth dates, cannot be changed and will be valuable if it reaches criminals in the next week or the next year.

No doubt we'll be told again that there's no evidence that the data's fallen into the wrong hands. It's equally clear that the Chancellor's career hangs by a thread. The PM will cut that thread if he thinks it will help him at all.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A cataclysmic error

Today we heard Alistair Darling admit that
"Two computer discs holding the personal details of all families in the UK with a child under 16 have gone missing... with name, address, date of birth, National Insurance number and, where relevant, bank details of 25 million people."

For this, HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, the amalgam of the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise) are to blame, and the chairman, Paul Gray, rightly resigned.

Thereafter, we had the usual covering of portions of anatomy with Darling blaming all and sundry at HMRC and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Jane Kennedy , stating on BBC's PM that it had no relevance to ID cards because the computer systems "would be more modern and single purpose unlike the HMRC's" completely ignoring the fact that the fault was entirely people-driven and unrelated to HMRC's computer system [Listen Again, Radio 4, PM Tuesday 20 November, about 28.20 mins in].

The chancellor defended the government's plans to introduce ID cards. He said that "without the protection of the scheme, information was more vulnerable than it should be."
He announced the usual investigation and plans to stop "this ever happening again".

The shadow chancellor told Darling to "get a grip" and described the incident as "catastrophic".

And they all missed the damn point. Again.

If this data is out there, in some criminal's hands, it's the most valuable data set ever lost in this country.

This is exactly the sort of personal data that enables criminals to claim successfully that they've forgotten "their" password. So that's seven and a half million bank accounts at risk. There's a bad start.

What is far worse is the opportunity for 25 million cases of "identity theft". 25,000,000 fraudulent ID cards. 25,000,000 fake passport applications.

This data isn't going to go away and no-one can change it [25 million applications for a change of name by deed-poll, anyone? Anyone know how to change your date of birth?].
This is a one-off irreversible loss of security for 25 million citizens.
If this data is in the hands of criminals, it's going to be on sale on various websites for the next forty years.

This is not a cock-up. It's not even an administrative catastrophe.

What this is is a cataclysmic failure by the state in its highest priority: the job of protecting its citizens.
Let no-one blame just the civil servants who boobed-they shouldn't have been in a position where this could happen. Let no-one blame just the chancellor-he's just one member of the cabinet which is collectively responsible for the largest loss of civil liberties and privacy we've seen outside the second world war.
This farce, this farrago, this most obscene of gross derelictions of duty should be a cause for wholesale sackings in the civil service and the dismissal of the government. It should be the cause of mass demonstrations outside Parliament. Oh sorry! Of course, that's illegal now.

Of course it won't be a cause of anything much. We'll all go along with it. We'll moan and wring our hands and think bitter thoughts for a few hours or days at the most and then we'll forget it.

Why? Because we don't expect any better from our politicians. We expect neither honesty nor competence, merely a bit of a show and the occasional simulation of contrition.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Rough Justice

So, Sir Ian Blair had another close shave as the Jury finds the Met guilty but Cressida Dick innocent in the De Menezes shooting case. The Met mounted a defence of the most cynical variety, continuing their character assassination of de Menezes which started on the day of his shooting just before they shot him: he ran when challenged, he vaulted the barrier, he came towards the police. This was followed by photo-shopping his picture to make him look more like the suspected terrorist, saying that he had taken cocaine (implying he was still under its influence, when he wasn't) and pointing out that his visa had expired (presumably a capital offense).

A sorry picture of incompetence, dishonesty and lack of principle emerges and you hope that the public sees through it. Then, if you read the Have Your Say feature on the BBC website, it is quite clear that mud sticks. Half of the commenters are mouthing these half-truths and lies as defense of our glorious police.

The truth is simpler. Individual police are usually brave and most are doing their best in difficult circumstances, but their organisation is deeply flawed at the deepest (and highest) levels. The fast track graduates with little on the street experience and heightened political sensitivities who run our police forces shouldn't be trusted with organising a milk-round let alone armed police and counter-terrorism.
For a BBC timetable of the whole glorious cock-up go here.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

An ever sillier union

So, Malcolm Rifkind thinks that we ought to have an English Grand Committee.

...Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman told the BBC the government would not support plans that threatened the UK and that what people really wanted was more "regional accountability".

She added: "I think this is a very, very dangerous line of argument that the Conservatives are pushing.

Well, she would, wouldn't she. Labour only retains power thanks to the Scots and the Welsh and without the whole of parliament deciding on taxation they won't get the subventions from the English to continue their mass bribery of the other nations of the UK. Simple electoral calculation tells us that with an English Grand committee, the NuLabour hacks would be hamstrung. No surprise then that they resist with this sort of language?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The European Union is disgusting and depraved

There is nothing new in this statement. For anybody who cares to exert even a small amount of effort to check a few things, it's obvious. What you should be wondering is how all the politicians are recruited into this glorious, free-wheeling, continent-spanning scam. The answer can only be the power of the `inner circle'. It's a bit like one of those conspiracy/freemason/illuminati thingies.
`Now listen Gordon. It's very simple. All you have to do, Gordon, is walk backwards around a pentagram, chanting `respect the red lines, respect the red lines' and smiling for the cameras and you will become a member of the innermost Jean Monnet club. You will mingle, nay, you will hob-nob with the political stars of the Project. You will speak words of power unto the peons of Europe. No more geek boy, Gordon. No more Mr Referendum. No more waiting for power. It will be yours. And we'll teach you the secret signal. You know, the complicated one with the feet.
Go on. You know you want to. Do it. Sign now.[cue insane laughter, the sound of thousands of marching boots and crowds screaming "Gor-don, Gor-don, Gor-don"].'

Well, Brown's day has arrived. The geek from the manse did us proud.

To quote Richard North:
But what do you do when your politicians tell you bare-faced, brazen lies and, against all the evidence, keep repeating then and repeating them and repeating them? How long can we continue calling them liars, before we ourselves get sick of the sound of our own voices?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

How galling!

Somehow, when one tries a silly pop quiz like this one, one doesn't expect such a goody-goody result.

Hat tip: Done With Mirrors

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The state is your dietician, not your friend

Individuals can no longer be held responsible for obesity and government must act to stop Britain "sleepwalking" into a crisis, a report has concluded.

The largest ever UK study into obesity, backed by government and compiled by 250 experts, said excess weight was now the norm in our "obesogenic" society.

Dramatic and comprehensive action was required to stop the majority of us becoming obese by 2050, they said.

Clovis looked at his watch: 6.32. That meant only another 28 minutes on the treadmill and then he could eat his Primaroloburger. After that it was 25 minutes handwashing the bedclothes and then a sprightly walk to work at NISA (the National Institute for the Suppression of Alcohol). He ran a little faster as he thought about the bonus he’d get from reporting his neighbours. He was almost certain he’d seen the husband sipping a sherry last night. Well, fairly certain. Anyway, if he was wrong it didn’t matter much. The man would only get a mandatory extra eight hours on the treadmill.

He laughed as he thought about the fusses over green issues there’d been before NuLab sorted it all out. God, but Millibland was a genius. Who else would have thought to solve both the obesity crisis and the CO2 targets crisis by getting everyone to generate their own (and the nation’s) electricity.

And he’d never felt so fit. The left knee was a bit dodgy, though. Best not to mention that to the doc at the annual fitness review. Everyone remembered Smithy. Fit as a fiddle one day, then gone the next. Failed his appraisal.

There’d been a good turnout for the secular service afterwards. Several people, including the Assistant Reserve Secretary for Exercise, had said nice things. How thin Smith was. How he never touched a drop of alcohol. How he’d never been a drain on the State until his last few minutes.

The policy came in after the last election. Such a good slogan. `Six weeks to save the NHS’. So clever. Peter Sandalman’s idea. Of course he’d had to go later. High health risk. What did they call it? An insufficiently risk-averse lifestyle choice.

Clovis remembered the sound of the shots from the doctor’s office and shivered. Always two. There’d been some talk recently of stopping it. He was against it. There were limits, after all. Pol Pot may have been a great moderniser and a real `fresh-slate’ man, but using the rifle butt to save on ammunition was going a bit far for a liberal democracy like the EU(UK region).

Not that Clovis was against progress. He was all for it. He remembered when things had been different. Obese people on every street corner. Washing machines. Dishwashers. Waste. People driving everywhere. Foreign holidays. Aircraft. Pate. Claret. Stilton. Disgusting really. All that indulgence. All that fun. Bad for you, though. And Mr Brown really didn’t like fun. He liked saving money though. All that money freed up from the pension funds. Massive reductions in the cost of the NHS. Lucky they had such a prudent president for life. With the worldwide depression after Kyoto 2 and the obliteration of Israel, they’d needed some savings.

Anyway, enough running. Perhaps he’d skip the burger. He was sick of the taste of soya and he thought he’d seen a rather lethargic rat in the garden. If he got a move on, a barbecue might be on the cards. And if the rat was sick, well, as he always said, `you only die once’.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Why do I still listen to the BBC?

It's the absence of ads.

There are interesting paradigms for free-to-air media, but they mostly involve advertisements. I can't take the audio ones. It must be inadequate filters in my ears. I'm fine at whiting out the visual noise but someone gabbling about the latest must-have silver-plated electronic dog-hair clippers drives me insane.

Of course the BBC is not immune. Despite the enormous income it gets from a captive audience, it still has awful trails and puffs. Then it spends a significant amount of time threatening people with dire consequences for not buying a television licence. Generally however, the quantity of such ghastliness is smaller than commercial media.

However, in contrast to many of the commercial media, it increasingly does an appalling job. We (the audience) actually find it quite easy to disentangle positive bias (of the `this man is not called Adolf, but he does look rather like Hitler and, although he's not frothing at the mouth now we'll light him so that he looks like he is' style). What we can't deal with is the `missing data' bias. If the Beeb chooses not to report something, we have to work to find it. That's difficult both because it entails extra work and because you have to look for what isn't there.

All this is a long wind-up to this from Biased BBC (and Newswatch):

Newswatch spent fourteen weeks prior to the European Council meeting in June monitoring Radio 4's Today programme for balance in their coverage of the run up to the EU reform treaty ...involving minute analysis of over 240 hours of material.

... it turns out that Today's coverage of the EU Reform Treaty was far from comprehensive, and that what coverage there was was biased, unimaginative and plain sloppy.

Some highlights from the Newswatch summary:

  • This was a period of major EU activity, But coverage of EU affairs on the Today programme slumped to a record low of 2.7% of available airtime for most of the 14 weeks, despite high profile promises by BBC news management in the wake of the Wilson report that EU-related output would be boosted, and claims by the Director General that it has been;
  • On June 23, the day that agreement was reached, Today devoted four times more airtime to the Glastonbury Rock Festival than to coverage of the eurosceptic case against the revised working arrangements. Coverage of the eurosceptic case amounted to only seven interviews (22 minutes and 40 seconds of airtime) over the entire 14 weeks;
  • UKIP, a main conduit of views about withdrawal and further growth of EU powers, was not asked any questions at all during the survey about the revised working arrangements. Remarks by UKIP spokesmen in four appearances by the party occupied only around five minutes out of 238 hours of programming. On the sole occasion when there was a debate about UKIP concerns – relating to whether the EU brought benefits to the UK - the UKIP spokesman was treated unfairly;
  • BBC correspondents, in their reporting of the moves towards the new treaty, regularly articulated the negative sentiment within the EU about Britain’s reservations, but very rarely explained or even mentioned eurosceptic concerns. On some occasions, BBC Europe correspondent Jonny Dymond, the biggest contributor to Today’s coverage of the revised treaty document, appeared to push the EU perspective on events disproportionately, to the point of bias;
  • The case for a referendum on the new working arrangements – which, according to polls was supported by 80% of the UK electorate - was handled sparsely, unfairly and ineptly. There were only two dedicated interviews on the topic. In each, there were elements that contravened BBC editorial guidelines. James Naughtie treated Ruth Lea, the guest who put the case for a referendum, more toughly than Professor Jo Shaw, who argued against one being held.
  • Coverage of EU affairs in general
  • in the 14 weeks of the survey was mainly outside peak programme listening hours, with evidence that negative EU stories were regularly placed in the 6am-7am slot.

It's a sad comedown for a once great institution that this sort of rubbish goes on. Having said that, it's been going on for some time. You might read Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald to get an idea.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Cat kills at least nine in Nigeria

I read this online and wondered what was going on.
At least nine Christians were killed, churches set on fire and businesses and homes destroyed in the Tundun Wada area of Kano State, Nigeria, over the weekend. The violence was committed by Muslim youths and followed unspecified allegations that Christians had blasphemed the prophet Mohammed.
No mainstream reporting, no explanation of what constituted the blasphemy, no context.
Then I found this at Isaac Schrodinger:

Offensive Cat Leads to Death

News from last week:

Over nine people have been reported killed while churches and houses owned by Christians have allegedly been burnt down. Shops belonging to Igbo traders were reportedly set on fire while three pastors have been arrested and kept in custody.


He said an internet cartoon emanating from a 20-year-old Muslim boy from Bangladesh had apparently sparked off the crisis.

Salifu said, "Information available to me is that almost all the churches within that local government area have been razed down and shops belonging to Christians have been razed down and in houses where they dwelled in, we have been told that they have been ejected and their property brought out and burnt.

3rd World View via Gateway Pundit:

Still somewhat cryptic. What, after all, has a cat to do with it?

Next we have to go to Mahmud's Weblog and the light begins to dawn:
I can't reproduce the cartoon -- after all, it is banned. But here's the exchange it depicts. A tall man in a cap asks a young boy holding a cat, "What is your name?" The kid says, "Babu." The man says, "You're supposed to say Mohammed before a name." And he asks the boy again, "What is your father's name?" The boy says, "Mohammed Abbu." Then pointing at the cat, the man asks, "What's that in your hands?" You can guess the rest.
It is a cartoon drawn by a young (Muslim) cartoonist in Bangladesh. But what's the business with every name having to begin Mohammed?
Enlightenment is available in one of the comments:
we should recall how the most south Asian Muslim name bears Mohammad as first name. During British rule in Indian subcontinent, Muslim and Hindu cultured mixed together and Muslims were taking Hindu names. That’s why scholars at time suggested keeping “Mohammad” as first name. So, it was purely religious matter to distinguish from Hindu. You won’t find this trend in Middle East countries.

Now the why question. Why does this stir up the Muslims in Northern Nigeria?
Here's The 3rd World View's take on it:
Good question. Because quarters like Hizbut Tahrir tries to keep this issue alive with protests in London apparently to amplify their demands like estabishing Sharia rule and Khilafat.
The brief article goes on to give a link to this in Ummah News Links:
The question is: how could a cartoon, allegedly offensive to Muslims, drawn in a far-off land―that too, by a Muslim―anger Muslims of Nigeria to such an extent that they go on killing any non-Muslim come within their reach? A similar savagery by Muslims took place in India in 1921 CE. When the Ottoman caliphate was facing the prospect of collapse, the Muslims of India, then under British rule, started the Khilafat Andolon (Caliphate Movement). Its aim was not only to protect the integrity of the Ottoman caliphate, but also to integrate India into that caliphate, after ousting the British rulers. And unsurprisingly, our Mahatma Gandhi happily joined this movement.

However, as the Ottoman caliphate faced a definite collapse, it hurt and angered Indian Muslims so much that the Mopla Muslims of Malabar (Kerala) vented their anger upon their Hindu neighbors. They went on a barbaric spree of killing, rapes and pillage leading to thousands of deaths and rapes of the Hindus. This episode became known as the Mopla rebellion.

The 3rd World View describes this commentary as `a bit harsh against Muslims' but predicts more such `because of these opportunists who are destroying the image of Islam.'

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Scots away!

Well, maybe not. We haven't heard much about this in England recently but, according to the SNP's leader, the referendum on independence for Scotland was to be in 2010. Now things seem to be changing:

The white paper sets out what the SNP sees as the three main realistic choices for Scots.

These are:

  • The present devolved set-up;
  • Redesigning devolution by extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament in specific areas;
  • Or full independence.

The white paper also includes the draft wording of the ballot paper for a referendum.

This asks voters whether they agree or disagree "that the Scottish government should negotiate a settlement with the Government of a United Kingdom so that Scotland becomes an independent state".

However, Mr Salmond said he was relaxed about the possibility of a multi-option referendum, even though he admitted that "might not" be his preference.

Then again, the subtext in this Independent article is that it's all a power play:

Scottish independence was put back on the agenda yesterday by Alex Salmond, the First Minister for Scotland, in a White Paper paving the way for a referendum on the break-up of the Union.

Opposition parties accused Mr Salmond of using the White Paper for " nationalist propaganda", while the SNP leader himself claimed the " tectonic plates" were moving in Scotland and said he wanted a referendum for voters by 2010 on the Union.

But Mr Salmond may already be close to achieving a compromise, which will see more power devolved from Westminster.

I'm more inclined to believe this. Salmond is well aware that the majority of the Scots aren't behind him on independence. Moreover I think he knows they enjoy being the tail that wags the dog as far as British politics are concerned. Why seek independence when you can have the best of both worlds?

Global Incident Map

Here's a link to a realtime (updated every eight minutes) map of `Terrorism Events and Other Suspicious Activity'.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the Dutch Government

It seems that the Dutch government, and in particular former deputy PM Gerrit Zalm and current PM Jan Peter Balkenende, really know how to keep their promises:
Hirsi Ali was persuaded to run for Parliament, and to become the world's most visible and imperiled spokeswoman for the rights of Muslim women, on the understanding that she would be provided security for as long as she needed it. Gerrit Zalm, in his capacity as both the deputy prime minister and the minister of finance, promised her such security without qualification. Most shamefully, Jan Peter Balkenende, the Dutch prime minister, has recommended that Hirsi Ali simply quit the Netherlands, while refusing to grant her even a week's protection outside the country during which she might raise funds to hire security of her own. Is this a craven attempt to placate Muslim fanatics? A warning to other Dutch dissidents not to stir up trouble by speaking too frankly about Islam? Or just pure thoughtlessness?
Some other points of view have been aired (this is Dymphna at Gates of Vienna):
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a formidable woman, but she isn’t perfect. Her mistakes have been costly to herself and others. I do not think any government has an obligation to provide security for her — this protection would not be necessary if she had not, of her own free will, made that mediocre movie. Actions have consequences, and this one is hers.

Though I don’t agree with her socialist political philosophy and I find her militant atheism without nuance, I would be willing to donate money to a private fund designated for her protection. However, it is not a government’s job to protect its citizens from their own folly. If any such fund is started, I’ll be glad to publicize it and to make a donation.

Personally, I don't agree. Perhaps, if she was allowed to bear arms, I might.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Climate Change and the IPCC

Here's how modern intergovernmental politics is done. Lie.

Kevin Trenberth, coordinating lead author of IPCC 4th Assessment Report, WG1 Chapter 3, says:

In fact there are no predictions by IPCC at all… they do not consider many things like the recovery of the ozone layer, for instance, or observed trends in forcing agents…
none of the climate states in the models correspond even remotely to the current observed climate. In particular, the state of the oceans, sea ice, and soil moisture has no relationship to the observed state at any recent time in any of the IPCC models.
I postulate that regional climate change is impossible to deal with properly unless the models are initialized.
Therefore the problem of overcoming this shortcoming, and facing up to initializing climate models means not only obtaining sufficient reliable observations of all aspects of the climate system, but also overcoming model biases. So this is a major challenge.

My suspicion, as a statistician, is that they merely sought for doomsday scenarios even though the most loopy computer models couldn't get them there from current conditions. Then they fixed the initial conditions so that those outcomes were attainable.
Oh look, that's exactly what he says:
The IPCC instead proffers “what if” projections of future climate that correspond to certain emissions scenarios. There are a number of assumptions that go into these emissions scenarios. They are intended to cover a range of possible self consistent “story lines” that then provide decision makers with information about which paths might be more desirable. But they do not consider many things like the recovery of the ozone layer, for instance, or observed trends in forcing agents. There is no estimate, even probabilistically, as to the likelihood of any emissions scenario and no best guess.
Even if there were, the projections are based on model results that provide differences of the future climate relative to that today. None of the models used by IPCC are initialized to the observed state and none of the climate states in the models correspond even remotely to the current observed climate.

Why are we taking this stuff seriously, never mind skewing whole economies on the basis of it?

Vicar machine-gunned gently

I'm not surprised that Richard Dawkins' campaign of malevolence and dishonesty is bearing this sort of fruit:
National Churchwatch, which provides personal safety advice, says vicars are attacked more often than professions such as GPs and probation officers.

Why do I suspect that, yet again, no one on the `atheism is bright' side of the argument will pause to check their constatntly reiterated statements about religion being the source of violence? It's not about truth, it's about bullying.
Of course it could be that some of the vicars are a little unworldly:
One vicar, from Willesden, north-west London, said his vicarage had been machine-gunned - but still did not believe he had experienced violence.

Presumably it would require a small thermonuclear device to constitute `violence'.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

If men are from Mars, I must be from Uranus

I have been much distracted over the past few days by things like the start of the academic year and students not knowing whether to call me "Professor Clovis", "Mr Sangrail" or "hi, i'm your tutee and I need you to sign this cheque" (I don't know how I know that these ones don't use capital letters but I just do). First lectures have been perpetrated, timetables torn up, vice chancellors abused (in absentia) and secretaries canonised.

Somewhere, in a galaxy far, far away, politics has been happening.

I know this because this afternoon, Gordon apparently "bottled it".

What he has bottled is not quite clear. Coming to the matter rather late in the day, my conclusions are weak. I observe that, since he's a son of the manse, he won't have included alcohol. As a father, he may have used fruit. I'm sure that prudence dictated that it should be bottled. Tinning or otherwise preserving it, whatever it is, is clearly right out. Unfortunately, this doesn't pin it down much (if one can pin down something which has been bottled). I'm guessing a home-made chutney, but only time will tell. Perhaps we could call it Brown sauce?

In other recent news, Brown is, we are told, considered a "feartie" by those north of the border. Some of them also confirm that he is bottling it.

Having been educated entirely in England I'm not quite clear what this `feartie' word means. Some sort of relative of the kelpie, perhaps? A strait-laced water sprite with a hint of pooka? Someone on the wrong side of the West Lothian question? I don't know. It's all Dutch to me.

I've also learnt that, in a massive split with tradition (and one which, I am sure, will confirm him as the arch-moderniser) David Cameron has said `let the people decide'. This unashamed descent into crass populism is a real departure for Cameron. Heretofore he's been known as `one of us' and `pretty dry', and it's obvious that this approach is unlikely to win much approval from the electorate. Most sensible politicians will obviously distance themselves from this radical position. After all, it would never have worked with Europe, and I'm guessing he'll be eating his words in the near future.

Anyway, I've clearly missed a lot and need to do some serious catching up.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Who's suffering from a brain-eating amoeba?

This is a very sad and somewhat weird story:

What was bothering Aaron was an amoeba, a microscopic organism called Naegleria fowleri that attacks the body through the nasal cavity, quickly eating its way to the brain. The doctors said he probably picked it up a week before while swimming in the balmy shallows of Lake Havasu.

Such attacks are extremely rare, though some health officials have put their communities on high alert, telling people to stay away from warm, standing water.

...According to the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], Naegleria infected 23 people from 1995 to 2004. This year health officials say they've noticed a spike in cases, with six Naegleria-related cases so far — all of them fatal.

Beyond the immediate obvious reactions when reading this, two things struck me. First was the knee-jerk reference to Global Warming:

"This is definitely something we need to track," said Michael Beach, a specialist in recreational water-born illnesses for the CDC.

"This is a heat-loving amoeba. As water temperatures go up, it does better," Beach said. "In future decades, as temperatures rise, we'd expect to see more cases."

Incidentally, what kind of weirdo acquires a recreational water-born illness? "Why did you get hepatitis?" "Oh! I was bored and it seemed like something to do."

The second was rather more cheering. Contrast the sense and reasonableness of this comment:

Texas health officials also have issued news releases about the dangers of amoeba attacks and to be cautious around water. People "seem to think that everything can be made safe, including any river, any creek, but that's just not the case," said Doug McBride, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

with the sort of `something must be done, the state will buy everyone a full-size cocoon, a gas-mask and a sherbet lemon'-type statements we now get regularly from British politicians.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Abandon all hope

I fear that Richard North at EU Referendum is right when he says:
As election fever intensifies over the weekend, however – with a torrent of coverage expected in the Sundays, an air of gloom descends on the Tories in the certain expectation of two things: an early election, and a complete wipe out. We would like to think that the Tory support for a referendum could make the difference and salvage Cameron's declining fortunes, but life ain't like that. The Boy has completely blown it, as we always knew he would.

But, not only will a Tory defeat mean the end of Cameron, it will also mean the end of any hopes we ever had of a referendum. Not even Lady Thatcher can change that dismal prognosis – it will be the end of hope.

I don't know about anybody else, but the dismal end of hopes that sanity might prevail makes me feel despairing. In particular I feel that a moment of triumph for Antonio Gramsci is upon us:

To few ... is Antonio Gramsci a familiar name. That is to be regretted because the work of the late Italian Marxist sheds much light on our time. It was he who first alerted fellow revolutionaries to the possibility that they would be able to complete the seizure of political power only after having achieved "cultural hegemony," or control of society's intellectual life by cultural means alone. His was an incremental, rather than an apocalyptic, revolution-the kind, that is, that we have been witnessing in the United States, and the Western world generally, since the 1960s. With this in mind, we ought not to treat the contemporary "culture war" lightly; the fate of what remains of civilized life may well be decided by its outcome.

Few Leftists now adhere strictly to the original tenets of Marxism, or even to those of Marxist Revisionism, but, what is every bit as dangerous, they, like Gramsci, often succumb to a temptation that appears to be irresistible to those who dream utopian dreams: the passion for negation that often shades into nihilism. Utopianism and nihilism may seem to be antithetical, but they are not; both derive from the same source-undying hatred of the world as it is.

Brown, whatever his religious background, is a true child of Gramsci. No other intellectual heredity is possible for a man who says that

"We've moved our schools from being below average to being above average. We've now got to make them world class."

when this sort of thing goes on:

The Schools Secretary Ed Balls is writing to all head teachers setting out priorities for the new school year.

Mr Balls says he wants to tackle the "devastating impact" of absenteeism and poor discipline.

and this:
A-level maths standards have dropped to the point where B-grade students score little better in a basic university test than they would if they were randomly guessing, according to a new study.

The study, which monitored the performance of first-year electronics students at York University in maths tests over the past 15 years, also shows that if today's A-grade students had sat the test 15 years ago, they would have come bottom of the class. The researchers said their findings were replicated in York's physics department.

The findings come just a week after A-level results showing overall pass rates of 96 per cent and record numbers gaining A-grades. They will lend weight to claims that A-levels are no longer the academic "gold standard".

and this:
12m workers have the reading age of children

Up to 16 million adults - nearly half the workforce - are holding down jobs despite having the reading and writing skills expected of children leaving primary school. MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee claim that a major government scheme costing billions of pounds has done little to improve the quality of adult literacy and numeracy teaching.

These all say to me that Brown is talking through his hat. Again.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I don't lay any claim to special knowledge or understanding, but here's a link to a summary of several people who do.

The big question is Tienanmen Square or the Berlin Wall?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Getting Brown to details

Margaret Thatcher is supposed to have had a two stage plan to liberate the UK from excessive bureaucracy. It went:
1) take all power away from corrupt and short-sighted local ward bosses and local civil servants and give it to central government;
2) give it back to the people and truly representative local institutions.
Many conservatives and libertarians say that stage 1 happened but stage 2 did not.

Perhaps that was where the rot started. Maybe that was when national politicians spotted that the British public was so gullible, so naive, and above all, so lacking in perspective that they (the national politicians) can get massive credit for saving Tiddles the kitten from being drowned by forming an action plan to do away with water-butts.

Whether or not that is true, am I the only one to be mortified by this:

In his interview with The Sunday Times, Brown ... announced new measures to improve the health service, including:

— Introducing a programme of “deep cleaning” of hospital wards, in which all beds, doors, fixtures and fittings are scrubbed and steam-cleaned with high-strength disinfectant at least every 18 months.

— All cervical screening test results will be issued within 14 days, benefiting 4m women every year. At present, more than half of patients wait six weeks or more for their results.

— Extending the age range of women eligible for routine breast cancer screening to 47 to 73. The current age range is 50 to 70, meaning an extra 200,000 women a year will be routinely screened.

— Extending the upper age limit for routine screening for bowel cancer from age 70 to age 75 by the end of 2009. As a result, about 1m men and women will be added to the screening programme.

— Delivering the 2005 manifesto commitment to ensure an appointment with a specialist within two weeks of referral for all patients with breast problems.

Is this really the level of detail a Prime Minister should be concerned with? Does this not show how moribund is the political process? Doesn't it also demonstrate why the NHS is totally screwed?

Critics, however, are likely to claim that Brown still lacks a “big idea” to distinguish himself from his predecessor.

You're telling me!

I have a few action points for Mr Brown. I offer them in all humility. I feel confident that one or more of them will address the BIG IDEA issue.

  • create a Ministry for Paper
  • appoint a weights and measures czar
  • institute a weekly national shoe inspection. Don't just check the uppers, either. Who knows what may lurk on the nation's soles.
  • create a Task Force for the Delivery of Waste Collection
  • make compulsory the monthly cleaning of mouse-balls on all publicly owned PCs.
  • require daily multiplication tests for the over-seventies
  • permute the words of the title of the Task Force
  • nationalise Polly Toynbee
  • invite Margaret Thatcher to tea. Oh sorry! You've done that.
  • make everyone stay at school until they're clever
  • introduce capital punishment for losing national sports' teams
  • privatise Tony Benn
  • institute weekly lessons in schools on `How to remove your money from a failing bank'
  • outsource tea-drinking to Mumbai
  • avoid the row about the upper house by populating it entirely with contestants from Big Brother (apart from Jade, of course)

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Prime Minister - Gordon click

My brother-in-law always used to refer to Rabbi Lionel Blue as `Rabbi Lionel click' since, whenever he came on the radio to give his Thought for the Day, said brother-in-law would turn it off.

I was reminded of this this morning when listening to the Today programme on Radio 4. The key ten past eight slot was devoted to an interview of our blessed leader by the equally blessed John Humphrys, whose first question was, as I recall: `What are you going to tell the Labour Party in your conference speech?'

I cannot faithfully reproduce the Prime Minster's reply since I turned it off after not very long. You can go and check on Listen Again at the BBC website if you like, but what I remember is a long list of feel-good points with absolutely no description of how they were to be achieved or who would do the achieving:

Brown said:
"Improved health care;
better services;
safer streets;
less gun crime;
improved education;
jam today;
life in the fast lane;
apple pie;
social justice;
us and them;
money, money, money;
soak the rich"

or something like that- as I explained, I'm a little hazy.

This seems to represent a new low in politics-when a politician admits to planning to tell his colleagues a list of sound bites and nothing else. It's understood (bouffe, c'est normale, as my French colleagues would say) that politicians will treat the general public like this. In addition, one suspects that Brown treats his family in the same way ("breakfast, cornflakes, jam and toast, delivery, kiss, briefcase, official car, duty, bye" seems to cover much of it), but surely not his colleagues?

The infantilisation of the British public is a long-running project. How nice it is to hear that the Labour party are not being left out.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Is the Pope a Catholic?

Here's a link to a link/quotation but never mind. If you follow the link you get not only this and more:
The pope has generated a bit of controversy.

First, he permitted congregations to go back to the old custom of praying in Latin. (More about that later.) Then he announced that only the Catholic Church qualifies as a real church. Protestants, as far as the pope is concerned, simply don’t make the grade!

And with that, over 40 years of ecumenical dialogue go down the tubes. Protestant leaders are offended. The churches whose founders long ago broke away from the Catholic Church feel they are considered less-than-Christian by an institution they previously rejected as “too Christian.”

No doubt, in short order, a multitude of Jewish leaders will express their own concerns over the pontiff’s lack of tolerance for those whose beliefs are different from his own. After all, a spirit of cooperation fostered by the Second Vatican Council back in 1965 has allowed people of diverse faiths to share their beliefs in mutual respect. Why, we’ve even witnessed the intriguing phenomenon of cardinals, in full “uniform,” visiting rabbinical students to observe the study of Talmud. How, many are asking, could the pope jeopardize this d├ętente with his bigoted condemnation of non-Catholics?

I have one thing to say to the pope: “Hear! Hear!” What do his critics want from the man? He’s got a religion to run!...

but also this:
Interesting... It never occurred to me that as a Protestant, I count as gentile and worship Baal, as long as there's a Catholic next to me that "does God"...

It's got to be worth it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Umbrella blog

My small number of regular readers may have noticed substantial changes.
The most important is that I've joined Umbrella Blog. To quote Richard North:
It aims to provide easily accessible reference to a "family" of blogs, allowing the reader to see at a glance what has been posted, and to give enough information about each post to enable readers to decide whether they want to read more.

That way, Umbrella Blog is a convenient time-saver and a quick source of information, removing the need to trawl through a large number of blogs yet enabling readers to pick up information they might otherwise have missed.

As the "family" of bloggers expands, we aim through them to cover a wide range of subjects, providing a complementary overview of the issues of the day, with analysis and insights that the MSM rarely offers.

For a fuller explanation go here.

I hope readers will approve.

Peregrines, pesticide and plasmodium

What is it about modern man, that human deaths overseas are less important than Nature at home?

We're talking the use of DDT to kill malaria-carrying mosquitos here. You may think DDT is not used any more- I did. Like most people, you may have believed that the 1972 US ban was a worldwide prohibition, whereas
DDT has not been banned for public health use in most areas of the world where malaria is endemic.
the fact that DDT is not formally banned in developing nations does not necessarily mean that those nations have the option to use it. Developing nations are typically heavily dependent on aid from agencies that made the aid contingent upon non-usage of DDT. The British Medical Journal of March 11, 2000, reports that the use of DDT in Mozambique "was stopped several decades ago, because 80% of the country's health budget came from donor funds, and donors refused to allow the use of DDT." Many African nations have been dissuaded from to using DDT in part because the European Union has said that their agricultural exports may not be accepted if spraying was "widespread."
`What has this to do with me or you?', you cry.

Well, not very much, if I'm being honest, but a little. I shall explain.

I have a young colleague, let us call him Tom. He has a very interesting career trajectory. He trained as a vet-qualified even. Then he became interested in statistics , so did a Master's degree and then a PhD in stats. We were talking the other day, initially about the latest Foot and Mouth outbreak, but somehow the topic turned to malaria and DDT. I had recently read that
Robert Gwadz of the National Institutes of Health said in 2007 that "The ban on DDT may have killed 20 million children."
and was expressing my shock and dismay at this figure when he said, rather sharply, `they'll spray it everywhere and kill the peregrines again!" When I taxed him as to what he meant, he expressed very strongly the opinion that peregrine numbers had boomed since DDT was banned
and he did not wish to see its return. Taking a deep breath, I asked him whether the peregrines were more important than 20 million children and he hedged a little, weakly implying that I wasn't describing the choice that actually confronted us. Another colleague bitingly suggested that perhaps peregrines offered more tourist appeal than children so this was obviously the right choice for developing countries and still Tom did not relent. For him, peregrines at home were more important than dead children overseas.

It's hard to know where to begin in analysing this story. One could pick on the willful ignorance:
this species can be found everywhere on Earth, making it one of the world's most common falcons
yet DDT would only be used in South America and Africa and is now used only inside houses to
prevent malaria so is unlikely to poison peregrines (or any other bird) significantly; one could pick on the choice of peregrines over people; or one could pick on the subtext: that there are enough people anyway or perhaps, too many.

For me, it seems to be an example of the unspoken and unspeakable position of a significant proportion of the new left-wing intelligentsia: whatever we say, people `over there' are not important - unless they're `trophy classes' like the Palestinians - whereas animal rights and the environment matter deeply. There are too many people in the world. I want me and mine to live so why don't all but a few of the people a long way away just conveniently fail to survive.

You'll probably think I'm being much to harsh, but have you been listening recently? Underneath the surface (and particularly amongst a proportion of the under thirties), this is the message: dolphins and peregrines have a right to live but children do not.

Friday, September 21, 2007


I keep on saying to people that a hundred years ago it was excusable to advocate communism and many other things but that the last century was the greatest experimental laboratory the world has ever known and at the end of it there's absolutely no excuse for much of the nonsense which is still advocated.

It occurs to me that another instance of this is the argument about `gun control'.
Here's a quote from the article by Richard Munday:
" Virginia Tech reinforced the lesson that gun controls are obeyed only by the law-abiding. New York has “banned” pistols since 1911, and its fellow murder capitals, Washington DC and Chicago, have similar bans. One can draw a map of the US, showing the inverse relationship of the strictness of its gun laws, and levels of violence: all the way down to Vermont, with no gun laws at all, and the lowest level of armed violence (one thirteenth that of Britain)."

Here's some more:
" In Britain, however, the image of violent America remains unassailably entrenched. Never mind the findings of the International Crime Victims Survey (published by the Home Office in 2003), indicating that we now suffer three times the level of violent crime committed in the United States; never mind the doubling of handgun crime in Britain over the past decade, since we banned pistols outright and confiscated all the legal ones."

Do I really need to say any more? Do the liberal, intellectual types with whom I spend my days have a leg to stand on? No, but it won't stop them telling me how stupid and violent and fat Americans are.

Friday, September 14, 2007

"We hate America"

I don't know what to say about The Independent's front page this morning:

An assassination that blows apart Bush's hopes of pacifying Iraq

Last week: George Bush flew into Iraq to meet Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, leader of Anbar province.
This week: General David Petraeus told the US Congress how Anbar was a model for Iraq.
Yesterday: Abu Risha was assassinated by bombers in Anbar

but the gloating is impossible to ignore (as is the lack of judgment and perspective). Perhaps the paper should be renamed The Daily Schadenfreude.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Call me Pollyanna-ish but I'm feeling optimistic

Here's some reasons.
When Der Spiegel says
"Ramadi is an irritating contradiction of almost everything the world thinks it knows about Iraq -- it is proof that the US military is more successful than the world wants to believe. Ramadi demonstrates that large parts of Iraq -- not just Anbar Province, but also many other rural areas along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers -- are essentially pacified today. This is news the world doesn't hear: Ramadi, long a hotbed of unrest, a city that once formed the southwestern tip of the notorious "Sunni Triangle," is now telling a different story, a story of Americans who came here as liberators, became hated occupiers and are now the protectors of Iraqi reconstruction.";
when Barroso cocks-up again:
"With a new draft of the treaty due out tomorrow, it seems that there have been some 200 changes to the original draft, some of which involve serious additions to EU powers and some directly challenge Mr Brown's fabled "red lines".

Some of these issues relate to jurisdiction over foreign policy but Britain's "opt-in" over justice and home affairs is also being challenged, while other details – yet to emerge – may have profound popular impact.

On the back of this - with a maladroit sense of timing which could only come from an apparatchik totally divorced from the realities of politics – Barroso has announced that he is to carry out a fundamental review of the EU budget, including a "close look" at Britain's rebate.

"We will have a discussion on this with no taboos. I will talk to Mr Brown," says el presidente. "The two go together. It is not a coincidence that we are talking of a reform treaty and reform of the budget."

and pours petrol on the flames;

when the TUC votes for a referendum;

when the Belgian politicos overstep the mark amidst a country tearing itself apart;

and when the BBC starts to feel the pinch ;

you know that things could be a lot worse.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

This is where I came in

My last post, long ago, was about F&M and now here we are again.

The previous outbreak was, according to the HSE, the responsibility of the government lab. at Pirbright (FT report):

"Because Merial handles far larger quantities of foot-and-mouth virus for vaccine production than the IAH does for laboratory science, the investigators concluded that the escaped virus probably originated with the company. “But this in no way implies any culpability by Merial,” Mr Podger [the chief exec. of the HSE] told a press conference.

Indeed, the IAH was responsible for all the specific breaches in biosecurity identified in the HSE report."

Now here's the good old Beeb:
"But the Health and Safety Executive said it was not clear which of the two labs which share the site - Merial, a private pharmaceutical company, and the Institute of Animal Health (IAH) - were responsible."

Presumably, the Beeb plays it this way because it doesn't want to drop the line that it was all the fault of evil private industry. I had hoped to give a link to their initial surprise at the finding but I've lost it.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Foot and Mouth

Here's the latest from Warmwell:
Professor Hugh Pennington interviewed on BBC News 24 gives as his opinion that the source virus is identical to that in vaccine work being done at Pirbright and very possibly excaped from there. The latest statement by DEFRA :"The FMD strain found in Surrey is not one currently known to be recently found in animals. It is most similar to strains used in international diagnostic laboratories and in vaccine production, including at the Pirbright site shared by the Institute of Animal Health (IAH) and Merial Animal Health Ltd, a pharmaceutical company. The present indications are that this strain is a 01 BFS67 - like virus, isolated in the 1967 Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in Great Britain.
This strain is present at the IAH and was used in a batch manufactured in July 2007 by the Merial facility. On a precautionary basis Merial has agreed to voluntarily halt vaccine production.

You might also read this cheery article by a former president of the RCVS:
March; lambs leaping among the shining tussocks of young grass. But it was not so just five years ago.

In the name of veterinary disease control, we were about to embark on the greatest unnecessary slaughter of healthy animals in the history of our profession. It cost £10 - 12 billion and involved, to the European Parliament, the slaughter of 10 million animals.

Since fewer than 25 per cent of the pre-emptively culled premises were actually infected, and since the consequent mass killing probably impeded control, the money wasted was of the order of £1 - 2 billion: say £100 per household. That sort of money could have financed the MRC’s research expenditure throughout those five years.

EU constitution

Speaking as someone who has a real down on the EU, I thought this might be a helpful link:
Away from the foetid smugness of the self-referential "big hitters" in the so-called (British) political blogosphere, individual bloggers are beginning to stir on the EU referendum. And, as the political temperature increases, we expect that more and more bloggers will join in the fray.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

For Art's sake

For Art's Sake

And I walked beneath the grass
Into a cavern beside the sea.
And the sound was that of brass,
As I went upon one knee.

I cried out in tones of grief,
With a catch upon my breath
`I am come to seek relief,
For we are troubled near to death.'

And arose a mighty clamour
And a bearded face looked forth
Amid the clash of armour
(And the sound of one who snored).

`Had you come when William's knights
Landed on pebbled Pevensey's shore
And Harold's bold, sad wights
Charged wildly down once more;

Had you come when Europe's forces
Answered to the call of one small man,
When the hussars' brave, swift horses
Were the Grande Armee's van;

Had you come in 1940,
With a tyrant at your gate-
A madman shrill and haughty
Filled with dreams of blood and hate-

Then, then we might have helped you,
In your trouble and distress.
As it is, we who whelped you
Contemplate a sorry mess.

What is it, this your trouble?
It is not a few bad men.
Sad though the slaughter, double
Would not bring us back again.

We have seen in dreams unending
The many turning from their lives.
They pursue their hobbies: spending
And the deception of their wives.

We have heard in slumbers tortured
The screaming of their youth;
The abandonment of nurture;
The infanticide of truth.

We have heard your wise men braying
(In our sleep we see them cower)
It's not to God that they are praying
And all they ever want is power.

Alas, your journey's wasted,
And your efforts all for naught.
`Tis a bitter cup you've tasted,
But we'll leave you with a thought.

When means are fair, not outcomes fudged,
When all are responsible, even fools,
When effort's rewarded, ability judged,
When truth's supreme and justice rules:

Then, if you still want us, we will come
And beard your monsters in their den
And vanquish dark, like the heavenly sun.
But I somehow doubt you'll need us then.'

UPDATE: minor edits 2.50p.m. BST 31 July.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Now I understand why Callimachus at Done With Mirrors was so exercised about snark:
There's the snark - a horrific snake/shark incarnation that not only swims, but chases you up the beach when you try to flee the water. And the worst one? The tird - a slimy, burpy, warty toad crossed with a bird - which combines my two worst fears into one huge flying, pecking amphibious wretch. Hitchcock could've had a field day if he'd introduced a few of those to the set of The Birds.

Bless Auntie, and all who sail in her.

It seems that Mark Thomson (the BBC DG) is frantically rearranging deckchairs on the deck of HMS BBC:

He said the "very significant plan of action" would affect all BBC staff.

He's just come out with a guilty plea statement to the BBC Trust about defrauding misleading the public on Blue Peter and libeling misrepresenting the Queen. He asked for nineteen other offences to be taken into account `said further "serious editorial breaches" had been uncovered in a recent audit of the corporation'.

The story on the BBC website makes no mention of the Paddington Bear Brown press-officer incident.

UPDATE 5.29pm
The Beeb has produced a new lead on their website entitled: BBC to suspend phone competitions

The BBC is to suspend all competitions after an inquiry unearthed a fresh batch of faked phone-ins.

Serious editorial breaches were found in six shows, including Comic Relief. Director general Mark Thompson said the incidents were "totally unacceptable".

Mr Thompson has outlined a "zero tolerance" approach to any future lapses in editorial judgement.

He also ordered an independent inquiry into footage that wrongly implied the Queen walked out of a photo session.
They're still spinning though:
He has also called for a workshop involving other broadcasters to discuss issues surrounding editorial standards and training.
That translates as `it's everyone, not just us'.
The horrifying bit is that he then felt it necessary to say:

"There is no excuse for deception. I know the idea of deceiving the public would simply never occur to most people in the BBC.

"If you have a choice between deception and a programme going off air, let the programme go. It is far better to accept a production problem and make a clean breast to the public than to deceive," he added.

UPDATE 19:47 pm
OK, make that six more programmes.
We're talking about an admission of endemic lying.
How do they expect us to take their much-vaunted impartiality at face value now?

Monday, July 16, 2007

The blessings of a closed mind

These comments by Anthony Jay make me want to weep with a mixture of frustration and relief:

Jay says:

I think I am beginning to see the answer to a question that has puzzled me for the past 40 years. The question is simple - much simpler than the answer: what is behind the opinions and attitudes of what are called the chattering classes? ...Let's call it "media liberalism".

Frustration because this sort of thing goes on (and on and on and on) and relief that someone on the side of the (in modern UK terms) big battalions has actually owned up to this peculiar closed-minded attitude/world-view/social milieu.
We met over coffee, lunch, drinks and dinner to reinforce our views on the evils of apartheid, nuclear deterrence, capital punishment, the British Empire, big business, advertising, public relations, the Royal Family, the defense budget - it's a wonder we ever got home. We so rarely encountered any coherent opposing arguments that we took our group-think as the views of all right-thinking people.

Part of what frustrates me so deeply about this is that it's like some Fantasy novel. All you have to do to step outside this closed and airless setting is to take an unexpected quarter turn, a half-pace out of step, a dive when the others duck and you're somewhere (very) else. Somewhere where you can talk to a plumber, a policeman, a farmer , a dustman, a labourer, a factory worker, and see them as a human being with opinions and desires and standards and moral positions just like, or (how much more revealing and liberating, much more liberating than organic yoghurt or free-range meat or sun-dried tomatoes) not like yours.

I have a younger colleague who thinks like this. He's extremely intelligent, one of the deepest mathematicians I've ever met, but he can lay down the law from a left-leaning position like some philosopher king without ever, ever having met anybody (apart, perhaps, from me) who challenges his assumptions. In a fit of irritation at some particularly naive political pronouncement, I once asked him- `Jim, surely you must have talked to people like this? Didn't you have any vacation jobs as a student?' His answer simultaneously appalled and enlightened me. He explained that he'd only ever had one vacation job, and it was helping a statistician.

Now that's not his fault, really. However, he lives in the cocoon. Father an academic, mother a pillar of the (old) Labour party. No historical knowledge, no ability to see the enormous, ghastly, evil, vicious, vileness perpetrated by the Left-in-power in so many places for so much of the 20th century for what it was - a giant failed experiment. No context provided by those around him, no one asking him whether, as an avowed empiricist, he might do well to think twice about socialism as a practical means for achieving Man's happiness.

To conclude, I am delighted that Anthony Jay has seen a little bit of the light, but perhaps he could go back and shine some more on the staff of the BBC and The Independent, for a start, as they're some of his spiritual descendants who continue to perpetuate evil by suppressing knowledge of its history.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Tagged-but no ankle bracelet

I've been electronically tagged by Joshuapundit. No electronic bracelet, but I have to reveal eight things about myself (I would say random, but as a probabilist I can't use that word in the vernacular sense) then I have to tag eight others (there's the hard bit).
The rules (courtesy of Joshuapundit):
  1. I have to let you know who tagged me.
  2. I'll need to list 8 facts or habits about myself that you might not otherwise know.
  3. I have to tag another 8 people and leave comments on their sites letting them know that they've been tagged, so they can likewise make the requisite revelations.
  4. I have to reproduce these rules.

OK, the facts:
  1. I practise Tae Kwon Do (ITF version). I'm currently training for my second dan and it hurts.
  2. I'm not a citizen of the UK - although I am a long-term, resident Anglophile.
  3. I gave up smoking two years ago and that hurts, too.
  4. I like cooking, but have not the slightest interest in writing about it.
  5. I never liked team sports. But I'm perfectly happy for you to like them.
  6. Nevertheless, I love collaborating. I'd much rather write a paper with a colleague than the same one on my own.
  7. I find the world a very frightening place without the protection of tobacco (does that count, or is it merely a repetition of (3)?).
  8. I don't have a television, as I really didn't want my children to be enslaved by it.

Now for the others:
  1. The Dissident Frogman
  2. One Hand Clapping
  3. The Unoriginal Muse
  4. Dodgeblogium
  5. New Nationalist
  6. The Jawa Report
  7. Classical Values
  8. Spiced Sass
That was hard, and now I have to ask them all!

Here's a list of antecedents from the co-tagged Kobayashi Maru.

Don't be surprised that people don't care.

Joshuapundit is more on the ball than me. Here's a link to his post on the decision to drop Winston Churchill from the History curriculum:
Sir Winston Churchill has been dropped from a list of key historical figures recommended for teaching in English secondary schools.

Apparently, this is part of a radical `overhaul' of secondary school curriculum for 11- to 14-year-olds, supposedly to make it more `relevant' and `up to date'.

Sir Winston's grandson Nicholas Soames, a Conservative Member of Parliament, described the move as "madness."

"It is absurd. I expect he wasn't New Labour enough for them ... this is a Government that is very careless of British history and always has been...if you're surprised that people do not seem to care that much about the country in which they live, the reason is that they don't know much about it."