That Rod Liddle article

A disgrace, that's what it is.

I've read the Rod Liddle article, and it's a disgrace. No, not that he commented on an ongoing court case. He defended that foundational (but sadly now, outdated) principle of English law, that you can't be tried twice for the same crime.

So, what is a disgrace in my view?

Well, it's a disgrace that a judge would suppress such a mild and general discussion.

It's a disgrace that the Spectator hadn't the backbone to tell the court that it was over-reaching.

And it will be a disgrace that no-one in public life will defend Liddle.


Bayes Theorem Banned?

Quick post: judge bans Bayes Theorem from evidence according to the Guardian.

Bayes Theorem is a vitally important part of maths/stats, and in particular, very important for reasoning about evidence. The classic teaching example is of a test for a rare disease. If the disease affects 1/100,000 and the false positive rate is 1/10,000, and the test is 100% reliable otherwise, the probability is that a positive outcome is a false positive is 90%+. I frequently shudder at the maths/economics illiteracy in the UK. This isn't making that any better.

Amazingly, we're not even allowed to know the name of the judge or the name of the appelant.


Today's Question

Can anyone tell me that the political class genuinely feel that the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece (especially) and Spain) can be saved an retained within the Euro area?

I know that the phrase "headless chicken" is over-used, but the course of action with the Euro area does bring to mind a certain lack any sensible thought. And that leaves Osbourne's decision to assist with the bailouts to one side.

Blogroll Update

Time to update the blogroll. Three additions today:

Autonomous Mind, because the blog consistently hits the high notes. Insight, consistency, more "pointedness" than possibly any other writer I can think of... If I were in media, I'd hire the genius behind it before anyone I can think of.

Raedwald. Hmm. I wish it was because he's as English as the White Cliffs, the Norfolk broads, the Cotswolds, or the Yorkshire moors. Because when I have my "O tempore, O mores" moments, I think that England has lost it's spine, and could never build a Tube system, or a British Museum today, and then think, well, probably ten clones of Raedwald could. Plenty of spine there. But it isn't. It's for this perspective on the crimes of Labour. He, at least, dares to call it treason.

Finally, Witterings from Witney, because he's combining great blogging with a personal voice. He's probably the blogger I'd most like to share a beer with.


Measuring the Speed of Light ... In Granite?

This morning, I read in the Telegraph that neutrinos appear to have travelled faster than the speed of light.

I don't tend to opine on matters scientific, so take the following with a hefty pinch of salt, but...

Some background: light travels at different speeds through different substances. The classic "186,000 miles a second" is the speed through a vacuum. But the speed of light through air and glass and water and diamond are all different: the difference between air and glass is why prisms and spectacles work; the difference between air and water is why an oar appears to bend at the surface of the water; the difference in speed between space and air is why the daylight sky is blue.

The experiment in question involves sending neutrinos 750 miles 732km or so between source and detector. Since the neutrinos travel in a straight line, that requires passage through the earth. So what this experiment appears to do (to me) is merely prove that the "speed of light" through rock differs from our initial expectation.

I could, of course, be wrong. Or worse, I could be unoriginal, but I'll back relativity over previous estimates of the speed of light through rock.

Update 2011-09-25: Corrected the distance involved.


Humpty Pritchard Redefines Referendum

'When I use a word', said Humpty Dumpty
in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just
what I choose it to mean - neither more
nor less'.

Controlling what words mean is a very powerful tool.

There are rumblings within the Tory Party. A new group of MPs claiming to be Euro-sceptic has formed headed by one of David Cameron's closest political allies, George Eustace.

Richard North and Autonomous Mind quickly pointed out that the group muddied the waters around the term "Eurosceptic", and helpfully offered the more accurate label "Europlastic".

Now, Mark Pritchard is spreading more confusion. The problem for MPs is that anyone with a properly formed opinion on the EU knows that the people are owed an in-out referendum. Pritchard tries to turn the thrust of this by suggesting two referenda on Europe. The first (which is far more likely to occur) is about enquiring politely of the people of Britain whether they'd like political union, or rather a trading block. As a question, it's something of a no-op. Almost no campaigning would occur, since the result is a foregone conclusion.

He's trying to ensure that there is wriggle room when the word referendum is used by redefining a commonly understood term. It's a childish trick, copying Humpty Dumpty, straight out of Alice in Wonderland.


Well, I got THAT Wrong...

I've been obsessing about a potential collapse in the Met police, while talking to Dr North from EU Referendum. He's been talking about the solution lying in the citizenry, and I had interpreted this as thinking on a much longer timescale; years, perhaps, rather than the hours and days ahead that I was thinking about.

Suddenly, realisation dawns. The citizenry ARE the solution, and the timescale IS hours and days. Whether we observe sikhs in Southall, bengalis in Bethnal Green, or englishmen in Enfield or Eltham, men are standing up for their pubs and local shops. And doing a far better job than the "professionals".

It isn't clear that this will be effective vs a 4am attack, of course, but it appears to me that the police had a 0% success rate in stopping riots in a timely manner while preventing looting, so it is progress. Not everyone will view it that way.

If someone wants to make political hay out of this affair, one way would be to allow the police to "deputise" groups of people. The police unions may oppose the idea, attacking their privileged position and removing their best counter-argument to budget cuts as it does, but it would be myopic of them. The people of this country will stand and will fight for what Arthur Daley would have called his "manor". The police can adapt to provide an NCO cadre for this tide of old/new behaviour, or ask the tide to stop.

The obvious place for this suggestion to come from is ACPO, but they are so indoctrinated with NuLabour nostrums as to make this impossible. In the light of the failure of the senior police leadership, it would be prescient of the Police Federation to show that it was more than an insular trade union.

It would be rather whimsical if the EDL could pull off the coup of getting sikhs to share a stage when asking for deputisation.

Update: 20:27 2011-08-10
What I meant to say, I guess, is that for "local" areas, these riot-loot incidents are over. Local people will defend their locality, in the same way that air passengers will defend "their" plane post 9-11. In the same way that air hijacking has become a vanishingly rare event, the type of riot-storm seen this week will soon be something of the past, provided the government doesn't attack citizen militia too harshly.


The Temporary New Normal

Living in London, I'm taking an active interest in the riots.

No-one I've read yet seems to have grasped that this is the new normal. We had a stable situation at a certain level of criminal activity. The criminals have suddenly understood that with a level of organisation, they have capabilities completely beyond the police to handle. It doesn't help that they may well have better comms than the police. Situations like the student protests and the Bristol riots showed categorically that the policing system bequeathed to the new government simply cannot handle almost any disorder. That is allied to an officer cadre with little to no public disorder experience other than kettling football fans.

The situation will require dramatic increases in police capability. Maybe martial law, maybe citizen militia, maybe doubling the size of the Met, but certainly new equipment like water cannons. Currently, the Metropolitan police are failing to handle the situation despite drawing on almost all the free policing resources in the South-East. Those resources will be increasingly spent as effective forces as exhaustion hits them. If the riots continue to next Monday (as I anticipate), the police resources will simply deteriorate.

But what has happened in London can happen in ANY significant city in the UK. Unarmed police with nothing more than a stick and shield are not effective against mobile and diffuse mobs. No doubt people will talk about "things returning to normal". Fools.

This IS the New Normal until police resources are significantly increased. And the level of re-organisation required is going to take months and years to put into place.


Political Tectonics and Consensus

My mental model of earthquakes involves the buildup of forces between tectonic plates. One plate moves in direction A. Another plate moves in direction B. Along the contact area between them, friction means that no movement is possible. Forces build until friction is overcome, at which point dramatic and violent movement occurs.

This is what I think of when I read a fine post at Autonomous Mind.

Where security experts are stating this week that there is a rise of the ‘far right’ in Europe, perhaps they do not realise we might be looking at nothing more than the an increasingly extreme form of rejection of socialist political control and the creeping internationalism that sees the political class seeking to transform European nations while doing everything possible to avoid asking the electorates for their permission to do so.

(It's long, but read the whole thing...)

To sum up, Breivik may be a symptom of electoral systems which don't represent certain points of view.

Here's a little test on political diversity. How do you vote to express:

  • Dissent on the failure of the EU to pass its accounts?
  • Dissent on the Barnett formula in the UK?
  • Dissent on the issue of Carbon taxing in the UK?
  • Dissent on the energy bill levies to support uncompetitive renewable generation?
  • Dissent on the fiction of "cuts" in the UK budget?
  • Dissent on the ring-fencing of the International Development budget in the UK?
  • Dissent on the additional contribution to the IMF (which exceeded the total of the "cuts")?
  • Dissent on the issue of super-injunctions?
  • Dissent on the failure of the political class to deliver a referendum on the Lisbon treaty despite manifesto commitments?
  • Dissent on the wisdom of bailing out insolvent banks?
  • Dissent on the wisdom of current immigration policies?
I choose the word "dissent" following Richard North's perceptive post which points out that the more informed people are, the more they disagree with the political consensus.

It seems to me that Sir Humphrey's definitions of political "bravery" and "courage", suggested first as farce, today have implication of tragedy. On almost all significant issues today, a consensus seems to reign. A consensus is not a good thing in politics, except on non-political issues. The tragic element comes from the fact that often, the political class either do not have the ability to fix a problem (see: immigration), or the courage to grasp a nettle (see Barnett or EU treaties). Where consensus reigns, the political system cannot tap the buildup of forces between the political "tectonic plates" of opposing ideas. I find it significant that Breivik was a lapsed party member of a mainstream political party. He gave the system a chance.

Anywhere there is a political "consensus" where opinion polls show a significant minority opinion, the political system is failing. Forces are potentially building. Mr. Breivik (if interpreted as other than a lunatic) shows the potential consequences. The term "political earthquake" is used more than it should, but the Oslo tragedy is truly a political earthquake.


Drawing Parallels to Breivik

According to Wikipedia, the perpetrator of the Oslo atrocities was involved in mainstream politics within the Norwegian Progress Party, letting his membership lapse in 2007 (presumably at the age of 28.) So this was a man who started out within the political mainstream, and rejected that approach.

Undoubtedly, there will be calls for "lessons to be learned", and stupid new laws to be passed, or new databases to be compiled. If these calls are genuine, what is the appropriate action they should recommend? Two approaches make a little sense: to profile blog commenters, or to profile ex-party members. The second approach makes more sense. The population is far easier to identify, they are clearly a more motivated group, and have made a clear statement by leaving a circle of friends.

So honest authoritarians will be calling for "someone" to profile ex-members of political parties. Ex-councillors who let their memberships lapse are especially suspect.


Beware the Cover-Up

It's a truism that in political scandals, the damage comes from the cover-up rather than the initial incident.

  • See Watergate. E. Howard Hunt and friends break into a hotel suite. How did that lead to the resignation of a president? It was the cover-up.
  • See l'Affaire du NotW. While the fact that Millie Dowler's voicemail was screwed around with, and that a cast of thousands had their voicemail intercepted is to be regretted, to be condemned, and extremely damaging, it is the first shoddy inquiry that actually has brought the paper down.
Now, an interesting and potentially trivial incident has brought blogger attention to Conservative Home. National treasure, Richard North was alerted by the foolish Henry Smith MP to the fact that Smith had voted in both lobbies (both for and against) on the IMF bailout vote. Smith "carefully" tried to correct North for listing him as voting for the measure.

Dr. North, in turn, pointed out that Conservative Home were listing Smith as a rebel in an article posted Tuesday July 12th. Conservative Home don't appear to have noticed, and funnily enough, any comments correcting the original impression haven't managed to get through moderation in the course of a day. Dr. North points out that Autonomous Mind and Witterings from Witney are also "monitoring the situation.

For both Mr. Smith and Conhome, it is axiomatic that playing with a straight bat would be better. There is far too much pressure on an MP to bow down before the whips. Had Smith done so, the matter would now be essentially over. Attempting to mislead, however, will be noted. I should imagine that UKIP will certainly be running a high-profile candidate against him in the next election.

For Conhome, the matter is even more serious. They could have acted as a lightning rod here for the tamer eu-sceptics, and emerged with an enhanced reputation. Instead, they have provided clear evidence that they are not an open forum, and censor rather dramatic information from their comments.



That Crystal Ball

The NotW scandal, as discussed below, has "reached out and touched" (usage: as a sniper "reaches out and touches" an enemy officer) pretty much the full spectrum of British institutions. And whenever a series of institutions are damaged, politicians get the urge to "do something". That "do something" is rarely to jail all those associated with the problem.

No, they prefer to impose a new law on the innocent rather than enforce the old law on the guilty.

Back in 2003, in a discussion in Westminster Hall, I suggested that power relations between the press, politicians and the blogosphere could either evolve into acceptance, or would change dramatically following a crisis (similar to the explosion of discontent during the fuel protests of 2000). I remember it because it was one of the few worthwhile contributions I've made in public :(.

I suspect that we may be approaching such a moment of crisis. Where the police, politicians, and journalists face a crisis, the blogosphere stands relatively untainted. Under the "impose law on the innocent" principle above, they may well be the only party with clean hands. And truly, people like Richard North, Andrew Montford, and Guido Fawkes (or to a lesser extent Phil Hendron and David Allen Green) form a more effective political opposition than any but a handful of MPs, and/or a more effective fourth estate than any group of journalists.

So I fully expect that whatever changes in the press laws emerge when the NotW dust settles, there will be a hook aimed at taming and de-clawing the blogosphere.

Who ISN'T affected?

I return briefly to muse about the NotW scandal in the UK.

I would first suggest that this scandal is slightly ironic: most informed commentary thought that financial bankruptcy rather than moral bankruptcy was the greater threat to the newspaper industry. And it is moral bankruptcy of an industry rather than a paper. Let's list them:

  • The Independent. Major commentator Johann Hari caught plagiarising. Suspicions of using sockpuppets, vandalisim of Wikipedia, possible paedophile fiction link.
  • The Guardian. Orchestrating a witch-hunt on tax avoidance while owned by a tax-avoidance offshore trust.
  • Times. Caught using social engineering techniques to get access to bank details of Gordon Brown and Michael Ashcroft.
  • NotW. How long have you got?
  1. Tampering with evidence in a murder enquiry.
  2. Harassing the bereaved from 9/11 and 7/7.
  3. Bribing the police
  4. Extremely close association with politicians multiple prime ministers.
Particularly the NotW scandal is eye-opening. Brooks was a member of the inner circle of both Blair and Cameron. The police are implicated, with payments known to made. While no names from the police have emerged, men with "commisioner" in their title have wound up on the News International payroll. As time goes on, the police element may assume greater prominence.

In particular, a certain John Yates was responsible for both the earlier investigation into the NotW, and into allegations of corruption (specifically, selling of lordships) under Tony Blair. He may well be the canary in the coalmine. If Yates survives, one might well give up on the institutions of civil society in the UK.


Spending Time in the Cooler

One random thought that occured to me recently was related to prison management.

Wny not maintain them at say 10C? Punishment blocks at 7C. Good behaviour blocks at 12C.

We may not be able to afford sentence lengths that act as a genuine deterrent, but there is no need to make prison any more comfortable than necessary.

Of course, this would probably be opposed as "cruel and unusual punishment" by the usual suspects.


Someone Lost: News at Eleven

A minor tragedy in Cardiff, where Wales win over Ireland. The winning points came from a questionable try. In the post-match interview, the Ireland coach, Declan Kidney shows a lot of class by saying that it was what golf calls "the rub of the green."

I hope I'm not the only Irishman who wishes Wales and the officials well. Rugby has a fine tradition of accepting the decision of the referee. The referee made the best decision he could. Let's leave complaining about refs for soccer. Now, I need to carry this sentiment back to watching Arsenal, where I don't always practice what I preach above.


Memewatch: CamMoron

At the Telegraph, commenter Catweazle catches my eye below this piece by Ed West.

The meme? "CamMoron" (I may have given it away in the title.)

I spotted the Sir Michael White meme at Guido's fairly early too. Let's see if I can maintain my batting average.


My Inner Grumpy Old Man

I have to say that I'm impressed by the Con-Dems. I didn't honestly think that any government would make me think fondly of Gordon Brown. And yet...

Outrage du jour is the delivery of redundancy notices to troops in a combat theatre. This is not a good idea. There is a phenomenon where soccer players talk about "confidence" and "form", and "being unsettled", especially when transfer rumours are floating around. When such words are wielded, they usually refer to crass errors on the football pitches. Often, games are lost because of them.

Is it really so hard to imagine that adding worries about redundancy in a terrible economy to the stress of combat will lead to mistakes, misjudgements, mishaps, and possibly missing limbs? And that is aside from the horrible challenge it creates for young officers in the field trying to maintain morale. And unlike football, truly this is a "matter of life and death".

I can only speculate that someone in the MOD thought it wise to use a Fabian strategy in the face of cuts, rather like ACPO are when faced with police budget cuts. The idea that any minister had hand or influence in serving these notices doesn't really bear thinking about. I feel like a TV character, always railing against the world.