Monthly Archives: August 2013

Dear Lord Ashdown, Ref Syria

Madkentdragon's Blog

United Kingdom

30th August 2013

Dear Lord Ashdown,

Re Syria and Chemical Warfare

I was not impressed with your appearance on the BBC News Channel this morning, please put a stop to your testosterone inflamed opinion and listen to what the majority of the British Public are saying.

We all acknowledge that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, but who used them?

Was it the Syrian government or was it the Taliban? Until the United Nations issue their report, we are dealing with speculation and spurious rumours.

You talk about established International Law, but fail to remember that this country, as a partner with the United States broke this law due to our interference in Iraq – and this was done on spurious information and rumours; well – once bitten, twice shy.

Also, you want to go in to this country – fair enough no British boots on…

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Should leaders lead or follow public opinion?

Working on into old age

None of us can claim to be experts on any subject (although many do). However, I do claim that I know enough about working on into old age to be able to make a few comments from experience. After all, I have yet properly to retire at 75 although I do take things rather more gently than I did when I was younger.

This all started when Dr Alf posted a blog.  It is called “Older, healthier and working: Britons say no to retirement.”  Here is an extract:

There are still lots of taboos and sensitivities about older people but it’s necessary to face up to the economic and social realities.
The percentage of the older “indigenous population” in many countries will grow alarmingly over coming decades. Apart from shifting the older people overseas, like Germany for example, the only way that the balance of younger people will be preserved will be with continued large scale immigration.
Because of UK Government policy under the previous Labour Government, many retiring peoples’ pension pots are much smaller than envisioned. More widely, Western governments have struggled with the political complexities of adjusting pension policies to reflect the changing domographics.
So older people, will typically have smaller savings and pensions, so they are faced with real decisions:
  • Turn to their family?
  • Turn to the state?
  • Turn to themselves?
Of course, as the article describes, there are many older people who will be delighted to continue working, given the chance, but this fails to address the vast majority. Surely, the vast majority will be not have the skills, competence, stamina, and health to continue working?
Let me turn this around to an open question:
How should Government policy change to give older people a greater chance of working in their later years, addressing issues of skills, competence, stamina and health?

The first thing to say is that “older people” is too vague.  People (of all ages) vary enormously from the very willing and fully able to those who would rather not (thank you very much) and those who would love to but just can’t. Thus we have two variable to consider – and every “older person” sits in a place which may not be unique but is pretty much their own.

So how can a government deal with this degree of variation? Well, it can’t. I hope you agree with that statement – especially those of you who already know that I have serious doubts about government being able properly to deal with anything very much. However, it can remove a few of the obstacles and maybe add in a few incentives. Here are the few things that I would suggest could be done.

  • Remove NI contributions (employee and employer) on all employees over retirement age
  • Double the tax threshold for people who are over retirement age and who work for twelve or more hours per week but continue to include their state pensions into their taxable income.
  • ensure that employers have the right to lay off all those over retirement age without giving any reason but with a minimum of either four week’s notice or a payment equal to the amount earned in the previous four week period.

Before raising your hands in horror, think of the advantages. This will encourage employers to take on old people and encourage old people to work, if only part time. Isn’t that the object of the exercise?

It does nothing for those who are over retirement age but self-employed (as I am) but then, we don’t need to be encouraged. We just get on with it.

Digital copyrights

This morning I read an interesting post by my friend Miljenko Williams called My wife’s no copyright infringer – but if this was digital, a crime would’ve been committed in which he talks about a subject that should probably worry me but I refuse to let it.

I put it that way because a lot of my work is in the public domain and I should be very worried that people are stealing it. Actually I took the basic decision some time ago that if they did – they did. It was not going to cost me anything although I accept that I might have earned more than I have had I been more careful. I could, for example, have put a watermark on all the photographs and videos on the blogs and web sites – but that is tiime consuming and a bore and then you have to have a system of selling them without the watermarks – and that, of course, assumes that someone wants to buy them.

Some of my video work is rather more commercial but this is sent to Newsflare who handle it for me and their watermark appears unless the clips are sold. Meanwhile, if I am commissioned to take photographs I get paid for what I supply. The rest? Well, I like to feel that they bring a bit of pleasure to a few.

Sadly this attitude is unusual and I can understand why that is so. It’s quite hard enough to make a living as a freelance without people stealing your output. However, some of the methods now in place to crack down on the sharing of music, videos and images etc. has become draconian and is probably catching the innocent and the minnows. None of which is to suggest I have the answers. I am, of course, grateful that most of our income continues to come from normally published works (both printed and as ebooks) which probably means I can afford to be a bit careless when there are others who can’t.

A link between lead and violent behaviour?

Browsing through the blogosphere can offer some interesting insights into all sorts of situations. One of my pet fascinations (probably to the extent of it being extremely unhealthy) is causation. So much legislation is passed which is based on an assumption of causation that may or may not be right. Often this assumption is based on statistics and that can be very misleading. There are many reasons for this.

First and foremost is the creation of the statistic which will usually involve the selection of the group to be analysed (people in the case of a poll but it can be almost anything such as soil samples). Unless the group choice is both neutral and comprehensive, the statistics will be inaccurate.

Then comes the interpretation of the statistics. Clearly I am in the area of crime in this blog so the obvious example is to look at the statistics that indicate that crime rates are dropping. These can be interpreted in two ways: crime rates really are dropping – thanks to the perception that the police are useless less crime is reported. In my view the truth is probably a bit of both but that opinion is pretty worthless (how could I really know?).

Lastly there is the determination of the cause based on these statistics. If crime really is dropping, the next stage should be to try to find out why. However, in the frantic world of politics where people are trying to combine two activities that are mutually exclusive (doing what is right for the nation plus remaining electable) the reaction is simple: if it ain’t broke don’t mend it. Actually not a bad reaction since “mending” always carries “unexpected consequences” but that is another subject.

If you think, however, that the cause is poor policing you will up the police anti by employing more and giving them greater powers. This could well prove a disaster if you have misread the causation: it could create an even greater divide between the people and the police but do nothing toward reducing crime.

So it was with the greatest pleasure that I stumbled on a post by Reality Swipe canned “The Rise and Fall of a Violent Society“. In short it demonstrates (and I feel conclusively) that when youngsters ingest – from the atmosphere or from painted objects, etc. – lead there is a fundamental change in the way in which the brain develops that means they will be more likely to become violent in later years. Read it for yourself if you want to be convinced and be grateful that we now live in a world where lead is no longer used so widely (especially in motor fuels – which resulted in high lead levels in the atmosphere –  and in paints). Thus we do not need to take further action in this case but it clearly shows the need to find causation before acting to correct a problem.

Obviously removing one cause of violence will not remove all violence so now we need to look at what else needs attention. Since I was complaining about statistics and now I am accepting that statistics enabled us to uncover this causation I should add that these statistics come from the right group and are comprehensive. The one crime that is bound to be reported to the police is murder (unless carried out so discretely that murder is not suspected in which case it is hardly an example of a violent crime) so we may accept the reductions in the murder rate as an accurate figure. Likewise the drop in the level of lead in the environment is not disputed although more needs to be done to lower it further.

Let me finish with a quote from Reality Swipe’s blog. “Like most good science, this has fallen on deaf ears. There is minimal political push around the world for this to be addressed. Most politicians, like good old Rudy Giuliani, are happy claiming that their policies are the reason for this drop in crime . . .”

Are the members of the Traditional Britain Group fascists?

Funny thing – life. I had no intention of writing a blog today but find my blood boiling. It seems that Jacob Rees-Mogg MP was unwise enough (some might be tempted to say “stupid enough”) to be the guest speaker at the annual dinner of a vile group that calls itself the Traditional Britain Group. Before I go any further, let me say that I do not believe for one half second that Mr Rees-Mogg holds any of the beliefs that this group holds nor that he fully understood what they were about when he accepted the invitation.

Anyway, it also just so happens that the book I am reading at the moment is called Winter of the World by Ken Follett. This deals with the period running up to the second world war including, of course, the destruction of the German Social Democratic Party by the Nazis in the 1930’s. Deals with it brilliantly, horribly, graphically and accurately. If you have time, do try to read it. It is part two of a trilogy. The first, Fall of Giants takes us through the Great War and should, I feel, be compulsory reading for every prospective parliamentary candidate – that way we might, just might, avoid some of the mistakes we made in the past.

Back to the Traditional Britain Group. Look at their “About Us” page on their website.  This is headed – innocently enough – Traditional Conservatives Radical Thinking. Hmmm.

Here are their aims (they call them “standpoints”). My thoughts in italics. You may care to add yours in the comment box below.

(1) We believe in Britain and the British people, their heritage and customs. Of course you do – these exist. By the same token I believe in buttercups amd butter. Neither assertion means a thing.

(2) We believe in a sovereign self-governing Britain and withdrawal from the EU. A viewpoint shared by many from all shades of the political spectrum. Full marks for this one.

(3) We reject all forms of foreign interference in our government. This is an irrational belief. We cannot avoid foreign interference if we accept foreign investment or deal (whether as buyers or sellers) in an international market. For this to mean anything they should carefully define “foreign interference”.

(4) We ask for an understanding and consciousness by all our people of their nation’s greatness, achievements, and glory. Good – but also their relative size in global terms (quite small), their failures and the fact that many shameful acts have been carried out in the name of Great Britain. That is not to be unpatriotic – it is true of every nation that has ever been and will remain true of every nation to come.

(5) We believe that the heterosexual family is the primary social unit. Subtext: we hate gays. Well, sorry, but I don’t. Some very good friends are gays and, while we on the subject, many societies have been very succesful with other types of primary social units.

(6) We believe in authority. See comment under (1) – but I have a nasty feeling that this means “our authority” rather than “your authority”..

(7) We believe in the spiritual values of life and of the respect that is owing to man. Not sure what they mean by “spiritual values” but if a someone wants to be respected he or, of course, she must earn it.

(8) We believe in the obligation of labour and the rolling back of the welfare state. If what they are saying is that all have an obligation to their fellow men and that welfare should be limited to those who really need it, I would agree. Karl Marx put it rather better. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”.  Of course, it may mean something else entirely.

(9) We believe in virtue and the sacred nature of Christianity and our Established Church. Sorry, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Muslims, Buddhists – and so on and so forth. You are not part of this group’s belief system. Return to your roots (unless, of course, they happen to be in the UK).

(10)We believe that our country is best served by our indigenous customs & traditions, its time-honoured hereditary principle and our monarchy. Yes, Morris dancing, bear-baiting, witch burning and rotten boroughs. Actually, I do think our constitutional monarchy is fine but when I read this sort of thing from this sort of group even I tend to start wanting to embrace a president.

(11) We are in favour of localism and local communities. So am I.

(12) We support the small businessman and entrepeneur. Good, so they should.

(13) We support British industry & manufacturing. Excellent – we can take it, therefore, that everything they buy, eat, wear and drive around in come from the UK.  Should someone tell them that we have to import nearly all our oil, gas and electricity?

(14) We are opposed to internationalism and globalisation. At the risk of repeating myself: Should someone tell them that we have to import nearly all our oil, gas and electricity?

(15) We are opposed to communism, to socialism, to liberalism and to anarchism. This is rather fun. Anarchists oppose socialism. Communists oppose liberalism. This group opposes them all (but see 17 below).

(16) We are opposed to mass immigration and multiculturalism. Why are these connected? It can only be because they oppose the immigration of people who look or think differently. This overlooks the fact that all, even those in this group and the followers of Ed Milliband, share something like 99.8% of our genes.

(17) We are opposed to the Class War. Unless, of course, you are a communist, a socialist, a liberal or an anarchist in which case you are a part of the opposition which, to my ears, sounds a bit like a war.

(18) We are opposed to Political Correctness and support the repeal of all cultural-Marxist legislation, including race relations legislation. I go with abolishing political correctness, have no idea which acts on the statute book could be described as “cultural-Marxist” and I am dead against any racism whatsoever.

(19) We are against the purely materialist conception of life. Really? But everything so far suggests that the reverse is the case.

(20) We support the Great British Countryside and its conservation for future generations. I have lived in the “great British countryside” most of my life. In my experience people on the ground generally want to make as much money as they can out of the bit they own – and God help anyone else who spoils the view.

(21) We are against all the great heresies of our age, because we have yet to be convinced that there is any part of the world where the liberty to propagate such heresies has been the cause of anything good. Again we need a definition. What do they mean by heresy? Until I know I really cannot comment.


#EU40 and all that jazz

The following is an extract from a speech made by Woodrow Wyatt in the House of Commons. He is introducing a 10 minute bill to the House “that Her Majesty’s Government should apply to join the European Economic Community”. The date was 1961. I am indebted to euonym (otherwise known as Antonia Mochan) for mentioning this speech in her blog of January 22.

“Investment is pouring into the Common Market because it is the fastest expanding economy in the world. Two world wars and international barriers held Western Europe back. Now its energy and its technical skills are released. The hugeness of the market being created, with its capacity to contain immense competitive units within it, gives it the greatest potential growth the world has ever known, while we and the Government sit sluggishly staring at this economic phenomenon only 21 miles away from us. If we do not join it, and take a part in leading it, and profit from its benefits, we shall become a relatively poor and impotent country.”

That all sounded pretty reasonable then (when I was in my early twenties)  and, in the fullness of time, I was to be one of those who spent a great deal of time and energy on behalf of the “Yes” campaign during the run-up to the referendum held on 5 June 1975.

Now the picture is very different. Would Mr Wyatt have made that speech if, today, we had remained outside? Would he be looking at a vibrant economy in which we could be enjoying benefits?

My view, for what it is worth, is that the economic arguments surrounding membership are unknown. There are  as many “experts” telling us we would be better off withdrawing as there are telling us that we would suffer greatly if we followed that course of action. What I consider to be clearer is that the democratic deficit within the EU could well end up threatening the stability of the region. Another worry is that it seems the EU cannot be trusted properly to account for the millions it collects from member states. I realise that our contributions to the EU are only a very small percentage of our GDP but that begs the question.

There is only one certainty as far as I am concerned and that is that the people of this country have never given their consent to the undoubted loss of sovereign power that has followed our joining the EEC/EU and that this can be corrected only by a referendum. Most people will vote according to their gut feeling rather than listening to the facts. If you believe in democracy then you will be happy with that. If you are not then perhaps the time has come to determine whether or not our form of representative democracy suits the UK in the 21st century.

One final thought. Back in 1975, we really did believe that we were talking about trade and while we understood that this would have a political dimension (e.g. to create standards) there was no real recognition that joining the EEC would lead towards political unity. With hindsight that may look ridiculous but believe me, I was there. Some of my contemporaries may have twigged bit most of us didn’t.