Oct 302009

They really can’t help themselves. Every goddamn thing this government proves even further that they’re not only unfit for office, some of them are unfit to live.

Alan Johnson has sacked Prof. David Nutt, head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

This advisory body is supposed to provide the government with the scientific data it needs to inform its drugs policy. So why has Prof. Nutt been sacked? He hasn’t been providing data that matches what the Home Office wants its policy to be.

Earlier this week Prof Nutt used a lecture at King’s College, London, to attack what he called the “artificial” separation of alcohol and tobacco from illegal drugs.

The professor said smoking cannabis and taking THC free CBD tinctures created only a “relatively small risk” of psychotic illness, and claimed those who advocated moving ecstasy into Class B had “won the intellectual argument”.

This didn’t jive with Alan Johnson’s policy-based evidence making*:

In a letter, the home secretary wrote: “I cannot have public confusion between scientific advice and policy and have therefore lost confidence in your ability to advise me as Chair of the ACMD.

“I would therefore ask you to step down from the Council with immediate effect.”

Prof. David Nutt: This is reality, minister. Let me show you it.
Alan Johnson: No! That’s not how I want reality to be! [throws toys out of pram]


*H/T the Heresiarch, where I read this term first. It’s great.

Mar 302009

It is an oft-cited fact that, in the United States, one is completely free to say whatever one pleases with two exceptions: one may be prosecuted for shouting ‘Fire!’ in an enclosed space – if there is no fire and if damage to person or property results; one may be prosecuted for stating one’s intent to harm the President – but only if credible evidence is uncovered that suggests one’s intent was in earnest (otherwise, those wish-fulfilling fantasists who made that documentary about the assassination of George W. Bush would have been thrown in prison for the duration of his presidency).

My understanding of freedom of speech in Britain is a bit different. Lacking a codified Constitution like the United States’, this whole freedom-of-expression thing has long been a part of tradition, common law, and more recently, human rights legislation. But the caveats on it seem to come thicker and faster than those in the US. For example, one is not permitted to advocate the abolition of the monarchy in print.

(Or so I’m told. I never would have known this had, several years ago, I not encountered a leaflet taped to a bus stop that did exactly that; a nearby genuine British person shook his head sorrowfully and opined that it really ought to be taken down before it got somebody into trouble.)

One is also not permitted any speech which is an incitement to violence. Nor, it seems, any speech which is an incitement to hatred. I quote this article in full because, although it is from The Sun, it is clear, concise, and fascinating:

A BID to halt legislation banning gay jokes which stir up hatred was defeated yesterday.

MPs from all parties tried to include a defence of “free speech” into the Bill which makes it a criminal offence to incite hatred over sexual orientation.

But their attempt was defeated in a Commons vote by 328 to 174.

Campaigners had said the Bill would limit freedom of expression. Some comedians even claimed it could lead to them being prosecuted.

Critics of the Government’s move included Blackadder star Rowan Atkinson, who said it could stifle creativity for writers and comedians.

But ministers said if the “free speech” amendment was accepted it could provide a loophole for people wishing to incite hatred.

Now, a ban on speech that incites violence is possibly understandable, though I don’t agree with it. But there is a material difference between violence – initiation of force against another’s bodily integrity – and hatred, which is an emotion or state of mind. I grant that hatred may lead to violence; I grant that there are certainly crimes motivated by hatred. But to outlaw speech that incites hatred is equivalent to outlawing speech that incites boredom, or frustration, or joy – these are states of mind, and those who hold them can never be proven guilty of doing so, for how does one prove the possession of an emotion or state of mind except through the actions that betray it? And the action of initiating force against another person’s bodily integrity is already illegal.

It was already a crime to incite violence, regardless of whether the speaker participated in the violence himself; now it is a crime to incite an emotion, regardless of whether the speaker holds it himself. These laws make the speaker, regardless of intent or participation, responsible for the feelings and actions of others.

And, giving the situation some thought, I begin to realise that there is no better way, really, to force the citizenry to change, if not its views, then at least its expression of them. In the glory days, when we were free to say what we thought as long as we did not act on it, we relied on social ostracism to eradicate the airing of distasteful views. Social ostracism is a powerful tool, but not, it seems, powerful enough, for there were still some eccentrics wandering round spouting bigotry in contravention of all behavioural norms. Caring nothing for the opinions of society, therefore, they must be made to fear legal sanction for their unpleasantness instead. And this has been done very cleverly indeed. If the law were made against expression one’s own hatred, well, there would be martyrs to it everywhere, for to take on oneself the penalty of an unjust law has in it something of nobility, however repugnant the views for which one is willing to accept punishment. But because the law censures you for what others do, it is much more sinister, and much more nebulous, and much more difficult to stand against bravely.

And so we shut our mouths and keep our opinions to ourselves, not because we dislike the idea of going to prison for our own actions, but because we fear the prospect of going to prison for the actions of others.

How is this justice? How is this freedom? How is it possible that, in a civilised society, we are answerable at law for the opinions and behaviours of individuals not ourselves, over whom we have no provable influence and certainly no control? Each of us has, if not legally, at least morally a responsibility to avoid sins of omission; if I witness a mugging, I have a duty, it can be argued, to try to stop it, or to assist the victim. But if a mugging happens out of my sight and hearing and knowledge, I cannot be held accountable for omitting to help. On the other hand, it seems that if the mugger overheard me on the Tube telling a joke about homosexuals, or saying wistfully that Jews deserve to be robbed, I am as responsible for that crime as the mugger himself, if he can finger me as the one who incited his behaviour. Even if he doesn’t mug his victim, but merely spits and calls the victim an unkind name, I am made a criminal, even if the action that damns me happened out of my sight and hearing and knowledge.

Who knows what our stray remarks may lead others to do? And while most of us recognise the justice of being imprisoned for our own behaviour, very few of us see it in being punished for someone else’s. Therefore we remain silent.

But ministers said if the “free speech” amendment was accepted it could provide a loophole for people wishing to incite hatred.

Free speech is a loophole in the minds of our ministers. Rather than being a right which the government must not infringe, it is a loose end to be sewn up. We are only free to speak that which is not prohibited at the whim of each successive Parliament. We are made criminals not only by what others do, but by what others might do. This government has achieved what enemies of freedom have advocated for decades: each man is truly his brother’s keeper, and will pay the price for his brother’s folly.

Marriage hell

 indolence  Comments Off on Marriage hell
Mar 152009

His Grace today quotes Michael Gove, Shadow Secretary for Schools, Children, and Nuclear Units on the subject of marriage:

Marriage is a constraint, it is a restriction on freedom, a corset or corral in which passions which would otherwise run free are subject to disciplines, and personal satisfaction is subordinated to social expectations.

Fuck me if he doesn’t make it sound really unappealing. No wonder nobody’s doing it any more…

Mar 012009

An Act to make provision for and about the temporary and specific waiver of contract law, the acquisition and nationalisation of pension funds relating to Sir Fred Goodwin, the carrying out of deprivation, the use of executive power and the acquisition of the means by which Sir Fred Goodwin was to be compensated; to provide for Commissioners and a tribunal of public opinion with functions and jurisdiction in relation to those matters, to the seizure of any and all such funds and related funds as unwarranted remuneration of failure, incompetence, and general arrogance; and for connected purposes.

[2nd March 2009]

Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

Feb 232009

This article is on the front page of the print edition of the Times today, although not, oddly, on the website:

Plans to axe new laws that would increase costs for businesses, including enhanced maternity leave and tougher equality legislation, are threatening to blow open a Cabinet rift over how Labour should respond to the economic downturn, The Times has learnt.

The proposals, outlined in the Queen’s Speech just two months ago, and championed by Harriet Harman, the deputy Labour leader, are at risk after Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, and the Chancellor called for a moratorium on any measures that would add to the current financial pressure on businesses. Right-to-roam legislation and powers to allow councils to ban alcohol promotions are also under threat as the Government prepares to gut its legislative programme in the face of the recession.

This proposal is so eminently sensible that I have trouble believing that Mandelson himself is the originator, but lo! Somewhere along the line, he twigged that imposing extra costs on businesses during an economic slump was a fairly counterproductive move.

But my delight continues to grow:

Senior figures say many of the policies targeted are those promoted by Ms Harman, who has argued Labour should take a harder line on those to blame for the financial crisis and do more to protect its victims.

Snigger, snigger. Looks like Harman’s intention to become party leader when Brown finally cracks – as signalled, apparently, by a critical speech to her constituents and speculated upon heavily last week in the blogosphere – is being nipped in the bud. Ah, the Machiavellian machinations!

Sources close to Lord Mandelson defended the move to stop the new laws. saying that proposals to enhance maternity leave were almost certain to be scrapped, as were new measures to ensure that government contracts were awarded to firms with good records on equality.

Some regulations, such as a ban on cigarette displays in small shops, have already been delayed.

And so, at long last, Mandelson is doing his job and defending the interests of the business community (though not, admittedly, of the banking sector). It’s a positive step at the very least; even more preferable would be not a moratorium on such intrusive social engineering but a stop to it entirely – but any move critical of the government’s zeal for excessive legislation is better than no move at all.

While Lord Mandelson has risen in my estimation this day, however, proof remains that many Labour MPs are still absolute tits (emphasis mine):

Jon Cruddas, an influential left-wing Labour MP, warned last night that the Government was split over how to deal with the downturn. He said: “If the most progressive of our policies are the first to go under the hatchet, that will cause deep unease across the party. Genuflecting to the free market got us into this mess and the solution is not more of the same. There is now a deepening ideological divide about what to do next.”

I wonder if Jon Cruddas MP ghost-writes for Polly Toynbee…

Feb 122009

Evidently, in the opinion of Harry Reid (D), Senate Majority Leader, paying taxes in the US is voluntary, whereby ‘voluntary’ means ‘your employer doesn’t withhold the full amount owed.’ Because you can cheat on your taxes, says he, the American taxation system must be described as voluntary. He contrasts this with ‘many European countries’ where the full amount owed is withheld by employers. Because in ‘many European countries’ people do not file their own income tax returns, those systems must be described as forced taxation.

The interviewer really sticks it to him at 2.20. And what, may I ask, is this word ‘phrase-ology?’


Feb 112009

Just happened across an amusing fantasy in the Daily Mash, my favourite part of which is this:

But last night chancellor Alistair Darling was like: “Hang on a minute, how come it’s always us?…What does IMF stand for anyway? International Mother Fuckers?”…

An IMF spokesman said: “Do you really want to know why? Fine. Your banks were the entire basis of your economy and now they’re shite. Your currency is used bogroll, you don’t make anything of any value, you’re governed by clueless arseholes and 99% of your population is up to its tits in debt. That’s why.”

Mr Darling added: “Yeah, fair enough.”

I recalled suddenly that last night I had a dream about loss of supply, complete with a vision of Brown and Darling standing open-mouthed at the dispatch-box, staring at one another in horror until one of them says, ‘Automatic dissolution? That can’t be right! How come nobody told us…?’

But never mind; we must square our shoulders bracingly against the winds of ill fortune. Worse things happen at sea. And all is not lost: my father has just sent me an email that says, in its entirety, ‘I read this morning that the pound increased in value against the dollar; that should help you some.’

[bella goes away to ponder whether weak dollar at all related to this]

Feb 092009

Via Tim Worstall (yes, again), I find this piece in the Telegraph, in which the General Teaching Council for England indicates that it would very much appreciate it if all private school-teachers acquired an official teaching qualification as teachers in the state sector are required to do.

Such a qualification can be obtained on a one-year post-graduate teaching course, a one-year qualification-cum-experience course, or a degree in education.

Tim rightly takes issue with the box-ticking, hoop-jumping nature of this sort of requirement, labelling it ‘part of the spread of the hateful credentialism of our times.’

My own criticism is related to something else entirely, and not in any way influenced by the fact that I myself am an unqualified private-school teacher. According to the UK immigration website, teaching is a shortage occupation. Which means – I think I’m right in saying this – that there aren’t enough teachers.

So the solution to the teaching-shortage problem is to make it even more difficult for people to become or remain teachers. Riiiiiiiiight.

Feb 032009

Going over some visa paperwork this morning on the UK Border Agency website (the loading of which sucked up my computer’s entire capacity to do anything for four minutes), I found myself slogging through stupid shit and remembered, with considerable fury, this fucking abomination from a couple of months ago.*

Jacqui Smith, Home Secretary and total whore, announced in November that all foreign nationals wishing to live and work in the United Kingdom must acquire an ID card containing, among other things, their fingerprints and facial-scan data. This includes foreign nationals already living and working in the UK, who will need to apply for their ID cards when they seek to renew their visas.

She had this to say about it:

Foreign nationals living, working and studying here legally want to be able to prove that easily. We want to prevent those here illegally from benefiting from the privileges of Britain.

Erm… I do not care about being ‘able to prove’ my legality ‘easily.’ As far as I’m concerned, the reason I apply for (and pay through the nose for) my visa and work permit is to put the onus on the government: it is their job to prove I am here illegally. Unless there is some reasonable cause to believe otherwise, the assumption should be that I am a law-abiding member of the public whose presence in the UK is perfectly legal.

Businesses, other employers and colleges want to be confident that those they are employing or taking onto courses are who they say they are, and have the right to work or study in our country.

I am certain this is true, but the reason businesses, employers and colleges want to be confident of this fact is so that the government does not investigate and/or fine them for paying/admitting ‘illegals’ to work/learn.

Immigration officers and police officers want to be able to easily verify identity and detect abuse. We all want to see our borders more secure and human trafficking, organised immigration crime, illegal working and benefit fraud tackled.

What kind of ‘abuse,’ exactly, would this be? Never mind the fact that most of the humans trafficked into the UK or committing benefit ‘fraud’ are from within the EU. The EU, of course, does not count as ‘foreign’ because one of the purposes of the EU is to ensure the free movement of labour. Can we please, please also acknowledge that, for instance, the 7/7 bombers were ‘”ordinary British citizens“‘, and the common excuse for these ID cards (the safety of the public and prevention of terrorism) is a complete prevarication?

The remark about benefit fraud particularly amazes me. If this government is so stupid, ineffectual, and incompetent that it cannot keep track of who is who and what benefits they should be getting, perhaps the solution is not ID cards but instead (a) to throw out the present government, or (b) dispense with the benefits system.

Along with the new points system starting this week, ID cards for foreign nationals will bring real changes to how we control migration by locking foreign nationals to one identity – using fingerprints and facial images.

Fingerprints and facial images, eh? And this data is going to be oh-so-secure, isn’t it, o Mighty and Wise government who lost the personal and bank details of 25 million (yes, million) people on a carelessly-posted disk, lost 17,000 asylum-seekers’ data, lost the details of 3 million learner drivers on a hard drive left in the USA, and left a wodge of Foreign Office briefings on the seat of a fucking train? Even those shits at the Guardian are unimpressed.

Within three years everyone coming here from outside Europe for more than six months will be given a card showing they have the right to be here and work or study.

I’ve already got a bloody document that shows I have the right to be here and work! Why must I be issued with another one?

The National Identity Scheme will deliver a secure and simple proof of ID for all those legally entitled to live and work in the UK – and the majority of people say they welcome identity cards and the benefits they will bring.

Is this for fucking real? The majority of people what? Where is the survey in which over 50% of people claim to welcome these ID cards? Who are these lunatics? They certainly aren’t the poor foreign nationals who will be forced to carry them around.

Let us also keep in mind the salient fact that foreign nationals, the first people in Britain for whom this identity ‘scheme’ will be mandatory, are in fact the only people living in the bloody country who are not allowed to vote. Coincidence? Je pense que non.

That is why I will be inviting those who want the chance to get one of the first UK identity cards to pre-register their interest.

Yes, let us see how many takers you get on this one.

I am confident the small group of volunteers chosen for these first cards will quickly realise, like I already do, that identity cards are secure, convenient and here to help protect us all.

This final paragraph is particularly galling. A small group of ‘volunteers?’ Presumably these are the lunatics who will be ‘pre-registering their interest.’ And yet the selection of the word ‘chosen’ suggests either (a) these may not necessarily be volunteers, or (b) this is the government’s pathetic attempt to make it sound as if the pool of ‘volunteers’ will be so big that they’ll be stymied by their surfeit of options.

Either way, I am fucking floored by the characterisation of the ID cards as ‘secure, convenient and here to help protect us all.’ How is giving all ten of my fingerprints ‘convenient’? Surely I will have to take myself to a special face-scanning station to get my face scanned; it’s not as if there will be booths for it in Tesco (as there are for passport photos). And there is no question of ID cards being free, surely? Will I have to pay another £90 for it on top of the £800 I already pay for my visa and work permit?

‘Secure,’ hmph. Vide supra.

‘Helping to protect us all’ is another good one. From what – benefit fraud?

The assumptions being made in this ‘article’ are astounding. First, that I as a foreigner am happy to surrender my privacy, and to pay for the privilege of doing so, to protect the British public. Not being able to vote, I have been given no choice in this matter whatsoever. And the British public I’m surrendering my privacy to protect are, if Ms Smith is to be believed, in favour of this scheme, which will save us from the scourge of ‘illegal working and benefit fraud.’

Second, let us not forget that I already possess two documents that prove I am living and working here legally: my visa and my work permit. These documents do not, of course, contain biometric data. They also do not need to be carried on my person at all times. How long will it be, I wonder, before it is announced that ID cards must be carried always and produced upon demand? And of course, the demand will require reasonable cause, but here in the UK, where the police can (or so I’m told) ‘demand’ your DNA when they question you, even if you have done nothing wrong, or lock you up for, what is it now, 28 days? without charge, how ‘reasonable’ is the demand to see my ID card going to have to be?

I object to being scanned, printed, and tagged like a piece of fucking livestock.

*It really ruined my afternoon, all right?