Thursday, November 30, 2006

Climate Change

The IPPR Event today featured Rt. Hon. Charles Clarke MP and Lord Anthony Giddens, alongside the New Economics Foundation. Much discussion revolved around the recent 'Stern report' - a report on the environment by an economist. This point was emphasised further by both Clarke and Giddens: that green issues can hopefully be rescued from the Greens - who they deem too often anti-progress and dogmatic.

Clarke was in favour of green taxes, but only as part of a new 'social contract'. This is the idea that citizens must take up their full responsibilities, but on the basis of certain promises from the State. For example the State might improve public transport, but then expect people to give up their cars. Or it might ring-fence revenue from green taxes to fund green projects. I think this is a useful concept here.

I still feel though that all three speakers might be missing the point. All started with the premise that the Stern report shows conclusively that climate change is happening; that something must be done and that it will make a difference. Whether true or not (I'm yet to read it), the point is that the general public is not convinced. Can you blame them? Scientists assured us bird-flu would wipe us all out a couple of years ago. Before that, BSE was not transmittable to humans. And then it was. Occasionally they say asteroids are about to hit.

Maybe we've only avoided each of those by a whisker and in no small part thanks to the scientists. But the public perception is that they were just wrong. Until that changes, Clarke and Giddens may be arranging deckchairs on the titantic?

The Stern Report

Info and audio from IPPR here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Protecting religion

"A document ... was said to have been prepared by the Met's assistant commissioner, Tarique Ghaffur, who has previously advocated banning flag burning. The proposal also admitted that that a new law outlawing religious hatred, which was passed in February but has yet to be implemented, may prove useless.

"Virtually all activity by protesters could constitute insulting or abusive language, behavior or banners towards particular religions, but would fall outside the remit of inciting religious hatred," it said."

Read the law, Mr. Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police! It is there not there to prevent incitement of hatred towards religion in general or toward a specific religion (though many hoped it would). It is there solely to protect the individual from attacks on the basis of their religion. Quite rightly (and thanks to the House of Lords).

So the law on religious hatred is not 'useless': it is doing exactly what it set out to do - and all it should aim to do.

When offense becomes an offence

One of my friends bought me a book: 'Freedom of Expression is No Offence'. I thought "Why is that even a debate? There's no law against saying things other people find offensive, surely?".

It appears I was optimistic. Things took a step in the wrong direction in the last couple of days, with the police approaching the Attorney General for the right to ban offensive remarks during protests.

Banning the statement of opinions that might cause offence?? And enabling the Police to decide when something is sufficiently offensive??

While I have the utmost respect for the police, I am certain they are not the people to defend civil liberties, protect democracy or defend other freedoms. That's the job of the politicians, on behalf of the citizens. The Police have become increasingly powerful in an - I'm ashamed to say - Labour administration. Remember the idea of a 90-day detention rule?

Back to causing offense. Understand: I'm not in favour of 'Kill those who insult Islam' placards. But that's not wrong because it causes offense: it's wrong because it incites violence, that being a criminal offence.

Let's leave aside causing unintentional offense. I reserve the right to cause intentional offense to anybody I deem deserves it. If somebody says to me "The moon is made of cheese", I should say to them "The moon is a rock.". Perhaps they are offended by my lack of respect for their view. I don't care. They are wrong and I am right.

By the same token, I must allow someone to say to me "You are homosexual. So I hate you". I'll argue against the opinion of course; but I'll disagree with what they say while defending to death their right to say it. (What I could not permit is for their opinion to influence whether they employed me or saved me from a fire or protected me from violence).

It's a constant surprise to me how the lessons learnt over centuries are so consistently ignored by those in power.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A good innings?

If you know me you might guess that this, despite the Ashes beginning tonight, is not a post about cricket (because I don't like it*) - but about death. How long can one reasonably expect to be around?

I think most people at 7 years old, at 16 or even at 26 blithely assume that they'll at least make it to 65. The state charges you for a pension, so most people must get there, right?

Around 25% don't. That's a big number, huh? Specifically: on mortality rates in 1980, the chance of a newborn boy e.g. me getting to 65 were 74%. The good news is that the figure has now risen to 84%. Women fare better overall, living 4-5 years longer than guys. Interestingly, the gender-gap is narrowing.

But still. I have a 1 in 7 chance of not getting to 65.

I was playing roulette the other day. I thought I'd be safe, betting on red mostly. Ah.. green zero might come up once in a while. Maybe I'd see it once that night? Four times it came up. Once when I'd bet half my cash on red. The odds on zero are 1 in 37.

At least life expectancy for men has increased by 4 years in just the last 20. That's pretty stunning?

A final thought. You ever have those days where you want to sell everything you own and put it all on red?

Watch a guy from London try it.

Stats taken from the Office of National Statistics. Roulette info from Wikipedia.

(*I love it)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Fair trade MDMA?

The latest police anti-drugs initiative points out to middle-class users that the supply of their additives is unavoidably linked to death and brutality back in the places they come from. The argument is that these organic banana-purchasing, fair trade coffee-drinking people are then hypocrites for taking these tarnished substances up their noses at the weekend. Kirsty Wark asked of Pete Doherty if he'd ever considered the human harm his drug-taking supports. (He hadn't.)

But let's analyse the argument.

If consumers in the market had the choice to buy their Class As from ethical suppliers, I should think they would. The reason they don't have that choice is because they are highly illegal. And whose fault is that? It's the government(s) and the police themselves. The argument of the police is self-defeating.

I suspect that the sourcing of coffee, tobacco and even legal drugs causes similar pain in their origin countries. Does the NHS have an ethical drugs-sourcing policy; should one refuse the opium from the nurse until she finds an accredited supplier?

There are many good arguments against the use of illegal drugs. This isn't one of them.

(A related story on NHS inethical sourcing of surgical equipment is here.)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Secrets of Television Production #214

From Martha Kearney:
"Tonight I am presenting both halves of Newsnight. That should prevent the technical problem I encountered the other week.

Kirsty was down the Review end and I was rounding up the papers. At the end I was supposed to make a quick getaway so the director can get a certain kind of wide shot. But the floor manager forgot to warn me so I was still attached to the desk with the microphone cable. She came running over and shouted to take cover on the floor. So there I lay while Kirsty read her introduction, praying that I was not appearing on national television, flat out on the studio floor."


An Athenian City-state for the world?

There's a startling piece of analysis on BBC today titled "Web 'fuelling crisis in politics'". Startlingly accurate, I mean - and it's not often one gets that..

Since arriving in London it's amazed me the number of clever, well-informed and hard-working people working in politics. I was kinda hoping to arrive and blow all the cobwebs away with my brilliance - but I've been humbled by the sharp wits and honesty of spirit already here! However, that is not the broader perception.

I've only realised it by attending the wonderful IPPR events, the LSE and others such as GALHA, where I've met MPs like George Galloway or Jack McConnell (First Minister of Scotland), intellectuals like Christopher Higgens and Richard Dawkins, policy advisers and journalists. If I'd have stayed in either the online bubble or even the Manchester one - I'm not sure I'd have made the step towards the understanding that - actually - politics is not full of self-serving, stupid or uncaring snobs that secretly hire rent-boys.

Mr. Taylor is perceptive in identifying that perhaps the Internet will lead to wider and deeper popular involvement in the decisions for our country. I wonder.. can the Internet make an Athenian City-state of the whole world?

He's right to point out that this means citizens 'growing up'. If the 'end of deference' is the 'right', the 'responsibility' must be to provide constructive criticism and ideas - not childish hissyfits of the kind promoted by popular media.

While citizens grow beyond their infantile habits, the government - and politics in general - must do more to demonstrate it's true colours; to show everyone what I've learnt only via physical attendance of its mechanics.

At the end of the article, there's something of an explanation for the clarity of thought: he's ex-head of IPPR! Damn them and their bright ideas.

(I hope the criticism of blogs as negative and unconstructive don't apply to this post!)

Here's a further post on the City-state idea that's worth a quick read.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Press Complaints Commission

Today's LSE lecture was from Sir Christopher Meyer. He's the top man at the Press Complaints Commission and was there to discuss censorship and regulation, specifically about the press. The British press is 'self-regulating' and Sir Christopher made a solid defence of this. It was clear that Ofcom wouldn't want to take on its role - but less clear if this was the right strategic decision. The overall point appeared to be that it isn't broke, so it doesn't need fixing. I'm happy to accept that for the moment. The PCC seems to do a solid job?

Monday, November 06, 2006


Is it complete coincidence that the Iraqi ex-dictator has finally sentenced at the precise moment the Republicans need a final push in the current US Elections?

Or have I just become cynical??

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Fidel Castro, by George Galloway

Galloway launched his new biography of Fidel Castro today at an event hosted by the flagship Foyles branch on Charing Cross Road. First talking of his admiration for what he sees as a highly intelligent and courageous man, Galloway praised the Cuban revolution and its resilience against the American embargo.

After the talk about the book and some interesting personal insights into Castro's personality and achievements, there was a lively Q&A session with the 50-odd audience. I grabbed the book and had it signed while talking to Mr. George about the Cuba Solidarity Campaign of which I'm a member.