Jack Weatherill Tribute.

Iain Dale\’s got a copy of the tribute to Jack Weatherill and it\’s this line that strikes a chord for me:

Jack told his closest friends that if he was to be remembered it was that his word was his bond.

A couple of decades ago Bernard Levin wrote a column in which he asked, how would you like to be remembered? As the young officer buried in some corner of the Raj whose headstone read "He always kept his word"? Or would you prefer "He always acted from the best intentions"?

Levin came down firmly on the side of the former.

Then some time after that but before Levin\’s death there was an interview with Weatherill in The Observer (I think it was) in which he used that very same story of the headstone. I clipped it out and sent it off to Levin via The Times along with some note about how at least one person shared his views. Got a nice note back as well.

No, nothing important, just one of those little memories that pop up, that I associate with both Weatherill and that phrase.

Another Environmental Report


The speed at which mankind has used the Earth’s resources over the past 20 years has put “humanity’s very survival” at risk, a study involving 1,400 scientists has concluded.

No, that isn\’t what is beiong said. Rather, that the use of environmental services is greater than capacity. We are not talking about "resources" such as fuels, ores, metals. We are talking about the ability of the environment to supply us with services….like clean water, like recycle CO2.

It\’s a very important distinction and one that I\’m suprised The Times does not make.

Polly\’s a Bit Confused Today I Think.

Talking about abortion:

Mammaries are the favourite target of all religions, not mammon.

?? What do tits have to do with it? Ovaries, gonads, uteri, perhaps, but mammaries?

As to the larger debate going on over abortion I think she doth protest too much. Much too much. For we can see what\’s going to happen here, as in fact happened last time the issue was debated. There will be screaming and ranting about how a woman\’s right to an abortion is under threat, whatever final agreement there is will be regarded a a betrayal of such rights: and abortion will become easier.

What happened last time is that the limit was dropped from 28 weeks to 24. Or so everyone tells us. The bit that is left out is that at the same time the limit for foetal abnormality or danger to the health of the mother was dropped altogether. As there were almost no abortions in the 24-28 week time period for "social" reasons, what in fact happened was not that the limit was lowered: it was raised, up to the point of birth.

So too this time. There might be a lowering of the limit: but it will be a limit on "social" abortions, not on all such. So in effect we\’ll still have the system where there is no time limit on abortions at all.

And as a price for this we\’ll end up without the requirement that two doctors sign off on an abortion. That is, we\’ll move from the current system to one of abortion on demand…and this will be , is being, portrayed as a restriction on a woman\’s right to have one.

My own view is well known to regular readers: I\’m agin\’ abortion except in cases of immediate danger to the life of the mother….making it an act of self defense if you wish. But leave that aside for a moment please, let\’s not let this descend into a screaming match over the rights and or wrongs of abortion itself.

Instead, look at the political dynamics here. The screaming is that there will be further restrictions placed upon a woman\’s right or ability to get an abortion. The actual outcome will be, as we all know, that abortion will become more easily available. Because it will become on demand.

Stupid Filter

It works you know. Tried it out, as recommended here.

However, a couple of unknown geniuses have come up with a shield for tender minds. They are building Stupidfilter, an application of spam-fighting algorithms to the problem of stupidity. The heart of modern spam technology is Bayesian filtering. This uses statistical analysis to pick out spam by its resemblance to other known spam and its dissimilarity to real mail. All you need is a sufficiently large corpus of email to start with, and a human to sort through it the first time. Once a Bayesian filter has been trained, it will go on learning all by itself, requiring only the occasional adjustment by a human operator.

I\’ve added it to my browser now.

The solution we\’re creating is simple: an open-source filter software that can detect rampant stupidity in written English. This will be accomplished with weighted Bayesian analysis and some rules-based processing, similar to spam detection engines. The primary challenge inherent in our task is that stupidity is not a binary distinction, but rather a matter of degree. To this end, we\’re collecting a ranked corpus of stupid text, gleaned from user comments on public websites and ranked on a five-point scale.

It works too. I can no longer access The Guardian.


Gaaah! When this sort of wibble turns up in The Telegraph then we know we\’re doomed:

So, where do we go from here? In the end, surely it is the job of the government and supermarkets, not the Soil Association, to work out what an acceptable level of food packaging is.

No it isn\’t you mad bint. It\’s your job to work out what an acceptable level of packaging is on the things that you buy! What is acceptable to you. Get that? You\’re the consumer, you make the choice!

The same applies to the "eco-footprint" of what we eat, and ensuring that farmers (in all countries) get a fair deal. That\’s not something that I, as a consumer, can easily influence when standing in front of the shelves.

Of course it bloody is something you can influence. Look, does this have to be described in Janet and John terms for you? Everyone in this game except you is trying to make money out of it. You are spending your money in order to maximise your utility. All those other people make money by pandering to whatever you think will maximise your utility. If you want less packaging? They\’ll provide it. You want local? They\’ll get it for you. You want organic? Ditto.

Look, why in fuck do you think that the shelves are groaning under the weight of organic products? Because you and millions like you buy them….the farmers, the supermarkets, make money out of providing what you\’re willing to flash the cash on. You are the only person they\’re trying to influence, it\’s your money they\’re tring to get ahold of and thus, you are the person in this whole system who actually has the influence.

I\’ll agree though that supermarkets do still sell products that don\’t meet your standards….that\’s because there\’s an awful lot of people who don\’t share your standards. Most of your fellow Britons could not give two hoots for your wibbles about food miles, eco-footprints and excess packaging. What you\’re actually saying here is that everyone should do as you say, not as they would wish. And that, my dear, is as useful a definition of food fascism as we\’re going to get.

Could you please bugger off to the Indy or the Groan, where you belong?



Jack Straw on Rights and Responsibilities.

Hmm. Looks like they\’re actually serious about this:

Yesterday, we announced plans for a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities which will build on the Human Rights Act (HRA), with a clearer description of our responsibilities.

Err, whose responsibilities is that my dear Lord Chancellor? Do you mean your responsibilities to us? Or, as I suspect, our responsibilities to you? The latteris, I\’m afraid, bollocks.

You see, a Bill of Rights is not about what we must do for you, it\’s about what you, the Government, the State, may not do to us, the citizenry. As the history of the 20th century shows us, the greatest danger to the pursuit of happiness, to life and liberty, is the State. As indeed it was before that, which is why ou forefathers spend so much time and effort it limiting the things it could do to those who constitute it.

So can we please get this very straight, right now? We owe you no duties. You are our servants, hired for a limited time to do what must be done collectively and with the power of compulsion that only the State has. The obvious temptations of the joy of exercising that power of compulsion mean that what you may do to us is limited by a Bill of Rights. Stick with that and we\’ll be fine. But it is you that owes us the duty, not us you.

Gordon Brown on Liberty

So we\’re going to get lots more liberty from El Gordo. Aren\’t we lucky little boys and girls?

Gordon Brown has set out to jettison Labour\’s reputation for authoritarianism with a pledge to "open a new chapter" on civil liberty in Britain.

A new chapter? How delightful! What is it that we\’ll get?

New rights of protest. This will mean watering down laws – introduced just four years ago – that ban any unauthorised protest within one kilometre of the Palace of Westminster.

Is that a new right? Isn\’t it, rather, simply the resumption of an old one? One that was taken away four short years ago?

New rights of access to public information by extending the Freedom of Information Act to companies carrying out public functions, such as private prisons.

How lovely: now, who wants to bet that at the same time as FoI is extended, it\’s also tightened? To make it more difficult to find out things but from a larger group of people?

Entrenched freedoms of the press to carry out investigative journalism.

Sorry? We already have freedom of the press don\’t we? Freedom of speech, of association? But there\’s another matter here. By "entrenching" the freedom of one group to do something then you\’re marking them off, making them someone special. That\’s something that traditionally we don\’t do: we don\’t say that as a "registered journalist" (for there must be some method of divining who is "Press" and who is not if there are to be privileges) you have legal rights greater or different than anyone else. I\’ll guarantee you that whatever freedoms are entrenched will not extend to bloggers: it\’ll be only those on the register. And of course, by controlling those who are on the register there is thus control over the system.

New rights against invasion of property after it emerged there are 250 laws allowing state agents to enter a home.

Worthwhile, of course: but the simplest measure would just be to insist that outside the emergency services everyone else must hav a warrant. Let the magistrates decide.

Mr Brown said he would not compromise the security of the nation and there would be tougher counter-terrorism laws before Christmas.

Aaaaah…there it is. The other shoe. We get back some fraction of what has been stolen from us at the same time as more is taken.

We\’re rednecks, rednecks
And we don\’t know our ass from a hole in the ground
We\’re rednecks, we\’re rednecks
And we\’re keeping the niggers down

Now your northern nigger\’s a Negro
You see he\’s got his dignity
Down here we\’re too ignorant to realize
That the North has set the nigger free

Yes he\’s free to be put in a cage
In Harlem in New York City
And he\’s free to be put in a cage on the South-Side of Chicago
And the West-Side
And he\’s free to be put in a cage in Hough in Cleveland
And he\’s free to be put in a cage in East St. Louis
And he\’s free to be put in a cage in Fillmore in San Francisco
And he\’s free to be put in a cage in Roxbury in Boston
They\’re gatherin\’ \’em up from miles around
Keepin\’ the niggers down

We\’re free to be tried twice for the same crime, we\’re free to be tried without a jury, we\’re free to be incarcerated without trial, we\’re free to be subjected to house arrest without trial, we\’re free to have a barcode stamped on our forehead, we\’re free of the right to silence, we\’re free to be jailed for a t-shirt saying "Bollocks to Blair", we\’re free to be watched by 4.5 million cameras, we\’re free to have our money, our homes, taken without being convicted of an offense, we\’re free to have to prove our innocence instead of having our guilt proved, we\’re free to be extradited without evidence….

They\’re gatherin\’ \’em up from miles around
Keepin\’ the British down

Fuck \’em. Hang them all.



St Crispin\’s Day

Why not, something to cheer us up instead of enraged contemplation of curs, knaves and scoundrels that rule over us.

Take it away, Willy:

What\’s he that wishes so
My cousin Westmoreland, No, my fair cousin
If we are mark\’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God\’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God\’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man\’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call\’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam\’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say \’To-morrow is Saint Crispian.\’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say \’These wounds I had on Crispian\’s day.\’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he\’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb\’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne\’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne\’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs\’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin\’s day.

I shall, of course, be raising a glass this evening for today is indeed the anniversary of Agincourt:

However, the French suffered a catastrophic defeat, not just in terms of the sheer numbers killed, but because of the number of high-ranking nobles lost.

Couldn\’t have happened to a nicer bunch of people, eh?

Choice Editing

Ooooh, lovely, here\’s the latest idea from the man who brought us food miles. "Choice Editing".

But the professor who, almost two decades ago, first coined the term "food miles" says that it is folly to present the notion that consumers hold all the cards, and instead argues for much more "choice-editing" by the major retailers. Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London and a prominent figure in Britain\’s food industry, questions why the consumer should be the one left in the supermarket aisle to agonise over complex issues such as animal welfare, carbon footprints, workers\’ rights and excessive packaging, often without any meaningful data on the label to inform their decision-making. Instead, he wants the retailers to take more responsibility by making most of these decisions on our behalf before the produce even reaches the shelves. Ideally, our only choice would be between "good" products, as opposed to worrying that we might be making a "bad" choice.

Translation: you\’re all too stupid to make the choices that I think you should so therefore you shouldn\’t be allowed to make the choice.

But if choice-editing is to be adopted, can we trust the editors? This is the shadow that looms over the whole concept. Lang says that this is where our elected representatives must be much bolder. "Yes, there has to be far more involvement and regulation by those in power."

And of course we can\’t trust business either, so politicians must make the choices for you. This is fascism, pure and simple: you will be allowed to have only what we, the powerful, think you should have.

Tell me, do they actually make a rotisserie large enough to stick a professor of food policy into? Fo the public\’s amusement, to be basted live outside Tesco\’s?

Protectionism, Protectionism!

Oh, how lovely. The Soil Association once again acts as the trade union for British organic farmers. It does so by insisting that farmers in other countries face higher costs:

Food air-freighted to Britain from developing countries will only bear an organic label in future if it can be shown that it was produced to fair trade standards as well as high environmental standards, the Soil Association said yesterday.

The new ethical standards, which are similar to those that apply to Fairtrade products, will demand that organic food producers in developing countries contribute substantially to the social needs of communities and workers, and guarantee wages and good working conditions.

There\’s nothing wrong with having fair trade standards, just as there\’s nothing wrong with having organic ones. If they make the consumer happier, well, that\’s the point of the whole economy anyway, to increase the happiness of the consumer.

But combining the two is not OK, it\’s protectionism in favour of the British farmer and against the foreign. Oh how liberal they are, making sure that the poor cannot compete with the rich!

For, of course, one of the competetive advantages that such poor places have is that labour is cheaper: and when you\’re growing organic vegetables, for example, labour can be one of your major costs on inputs. So, insist that the farmers pay higher prices for that labour than the local market insists upon and thus reduce their ability to compete. And all in the name of helping the poor eh, by driving the employers bankrupt. Clever scheme, eh? My how they must be hugging themselves with glee over at the Soil Association! A wealthy peer, owner outright of hundreds of acres of prime British farmland,  worth millions, gets protected from some runty peasant trying to scrape a living. And he\’ll be praised for it!

Inequality Kills!

I have no doubt that we\’ll see Polly insisting that this latest report shows that we must redistribute incomes even more:

Middle-class professionals such as doctors and accountants are outliving builders and cleaners by as much as eight years, according to official figures.

People from all social classes are living longer, data from the Office for National Statistics showed yesterday, but variations in the age at which people are dying indicate Government measures to reduce the gap between rich and poor have failed.

See! See! The rich live longer!

The thing is, the researchers don\’t seem all that sure that it is income. Rather,. social status and the freedoms that provides:

But the nature of people\’s jobs also has an effect. If you have autonomy and control over what you do, you tend to be in better health.

Now if greater equalisation of incomes were to lead to greater autonomy, then perhaps (perhaps!) greater redistributive taxation would in fact help. But we can also make the opposite argument: more things provided by the State, more capturing of income, more one size fits all services,  would reduce autonomy…thus, reducing life spans. OK, that argument is a bit of a stretch but at the extreme it\’s valid.

But if it is, as is said, autonomy and control which leads to the longer life spans, then redistributive taxation isn\’t going to change that and thus the justification disappears.

The Bin Tax

So, some sense at least:

Gordon Brown has been forced to intervene to shelve controversial Government plans to levy "pay as you throw" bin taxes on millions of households across Britain.

Excellent. It would simply have led to an increase in fly tipping and thus a decrease in public health at the same time as increasing the total costs of the rubbish collection and disposal system. However, there\’s one further problem:

However, the decision to shelve the plan will infuriate local councils who face fines of up to £3 billion under EU laws if they fail to increase recycling.

How are these targets to be met and these fines to be avoided? I\’ve still not been able to find an argument in favour of these taxes in the first place. Other than "we must save resources" which is, as anyone who actually looks at the problem knows, drivel.

Can anyone tell me why they are being imposed? Anyone at all? Anyone point me to a justification of them? Don\’t get me wrong, a certain amount of recycling makes very good sense. Steel, copper and aluminium cans, for example, make straight economic sense all on their own. That\’s where we get the results from the WRAP report from: not, as many assume, a reduction in CO2 emissions from what we "will" recycle under the new schemes, but a counting of what we already acheive with what we already recycle. But because it makes sense to recycle some things does not mean it makes such to recycle all things. My consumption of a couple of thousand calories a day to keep body and soul together does not thus mean that my consuming twice or thrice that is a good idea now, does it?

There are things where, because of externalities, simple market pricing does not lead to the optimal calculation: for example, pricing in the methane from things rotting in landfills. But we\’ve solved that because now we collect said methane. We\’re also not running out of land for landfills, not in any way.

There are also things which cost more in emissions and in money to recycle than landfilling them would: these are things which make the environment worse if we do recycle them. Even WRAP tells us that green glass for roadfill is one of these.

So, other than the idea that the EU is a group of know nothing control freaks, why will we be fined if we continue to use the best, both economically and environmentally, method of waste disposal, landfill?

Seriously, is there anyone out there able to tell me why we have this lemming like rush to recycle? Willing to argue the point?