Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Celebrities for paedophilia

Public opinion rarely shows much sympathy for paedophiles. In fact, the depth of hatred and hostility that they receive seems to me somewhat excessive. So I suppose that I should find it refreshing to see a number of celebrities calling for Roman Polanski’s release.

However, I don’t. I believe in the rule of law. And that means that if someone is convicted of a serious crime, and they flee from justice before sentencing, then it is right and proper and they are brought to justice.

The key facts in the case are these:
1) Polanski pleaded guilty to the crime he was convicted of, and there seems to be no question that he was guilty.
2) When Polanski did the deed, he was, or should have been, aware that what he did was against the law, and that those found guilty of such activity could expect a custodial sentence.
3) The crime in question was not a minor matter - unlike many things that are criminalised in modern society. Even in a libertarian society, what Polanski did would be regarded as a serious crime.

And the fact that the woman he assaulted wants him to be released is irrelevant. Should two child molesters be treated differently because one victim is vindictive and the other is not?

Reading the words of the petition makes one wonder what planet these celebrities live on.
“His arrest follows an American arrest warrant dating from 1978 against the filmmaker, in a case of morals."
So the sexual assault of a 13 year-old girl by a middle aged man is merely “a case of morals”?
“Film-makers in France, in Europe, in the United States and around the world are dismayed by this decision. It seems inadmissible to them that an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, is used by the police to apprehend him.”
So international cultural events are sacrosanct?
“Roman Polanski is a French citizen, a renown and international artist now facing extradition.”
So the fact that the French gave citizenship to a fugitive from justice means that he should not have been arrested? Or is it the fact that he was famous? Or is it the fact that he was an artist? Or is it (as it seems to be) all three?

I must be a little intellectually challenged, because I just cannot understand this.

But what I find even more difficult to understand is how all these celebrities have the gall to put their name to a petition that basically says that child molesting is actually a fairly minor matter. And why isn’t the rest of the film industry working hard to distance itself from these perverse people?

The most obvious conclusion that one can draw is that those who work in the film industry, must, as a group, rank even lower than politicians.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

What are the police for? What is the law for?

What is the law for, if not to protect people from being harmed by other people? And what are the police for, if not for apprehending those who harm others?

Those are the obvious questions that arise from the Pilkington case. The Police Federation has apparently "accused the Government of destroying public confidence in the police by introducing 'gimmicks' and endless paperwork which have left too few officers on the beat to respond to every call. "

And indeed the Government (this one in particular, though previous ones are not innocent) must bear much of the blame. But surely it isn't just gimmicks and endless paperwork that the government is responsible for. What about the fact that the government has created over 3,600 new criminal offences since 1997? That must create extra work for the police?

And it is hardly surprising that the police don't have the resources to cope with thuggish behaviour, when they have to spend their time interviewing opposition MPs, bishops, street evangelists, and the BBC Director General.

There is something seriously wrong with policing in Britain, and the reason for that is that there is something seriously wrong with the current approach to law in Britain. We have too many laws. A key principle of libertarianism is the rule of law, and that includes the notion that "there should be as few laws as possible, and that those that do exist should be simple, clear and predictable in their application." We need fewer laws, not more - so that the police can concentrate their resources on the things that are important - and give families like the Pilkingtons the protection that they need.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Alcohol related deaths in Scotland: a league table

The newspaper web sites have all covered the story about the high rate of alcohol related deaths in Scotland, but none gave a link to the full statistics (which are found on the Scottish Parliament site), let alone republishing them.

This site goes one better, and publishes them by parliamentary constituency as a league table. (OK, not exactly a table, since I don't know HTML!)

Alcohol-related deaths in Scotland (2008-09) by parliamentary constituency expressed as a percentage of the UK average.
  1. Glasgow Shettleston - 574
  2. Glasgow Maryhill - 420
  3. Greenock and Inverclyde - 371
  4. Dundee East - 347
  5. Glasgow Springburn - 333
  6. Glasgow Baillieston - 331
  7. Dumbarton - 307
  8. Glasgow Cathcart - 292
  9. Glasgow Govan - 289
  10. Paisley South - 288
  11. Dundee West - 285
  12. Hamilton North and Bellshill - 285
  13. Glasgow Pollock - 249
  14. Hamilton South - 248
  15. Glasgow Rutherglen - 238
  16. Paisley North - 233
  17. Cunninghame South - 231
  18. Edinburgh Central - 226
  19. Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross - 223
  20. Glasgow Kelvin - 221
  21. Coatbridge and Chryston - 218
  22. Edinburgh North and Leith - 216
  23. Motherwell and Wishaw - 216
  24. Airdrie and Shotts - 213
  25. Western Isles - 208
  26. Clydebank and Milngavie - 206
  27. Kirkcaldy - 205
  28. Cumbernauld and Kilsyth - 204
  29. Stirling - 200
  30. Ross, Skye and Inverness West - 199
  31. Edinburgh East and Musselburgh - 198
  32. Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber - 198
  33. West Renfrewshire - 197
  34. Moray - 195
  35. Cunninghame North - 191
  36. Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley - 190
  37. Kilmarnock and Loudoun - 187
  38. Argyll and Bute - 180
  39. Ayr - 175
  40. Orkney Islands - 171
  41. Strathkelvin and Bearsden - 165
  42. Dunfermline East - 164
  43. Banff and Buchan - 163
  44. Aberdeen Central - 161
  45. East Kilbride - 160
  46. Livingston - 156
  47. Ochil - 154
  48. Perth - 152
  49. Midlothian - 148
  50. Central Fife - 145
  51. Clydesdale - 144
  52. North Tayside - 144
  53. Linlithgow - 140
  54. Falkirk East - 132
  55. Aberdeen South - 126
  56. East Lothian - 125
  57. Galloway and Upper Nithsdale - 124
  58. Shetland Islands - 124
  59. Angus - 119
  60. Falkirk West - 119
  61. Dunfermline West - 118
  62. Dumfries - 115
  63. Glasgow Anniesland - 105
  64. Gordon - 103
  65. Eastwood - 99
  66. Edinburgh Pentlands - 85
  67. Edinburgh West - 77
  68. North East Fife - 77
  69. Roxburgh and Berwickshire - 77
  70. Edinburgh South - 75
  71. Aberdeen North - 71
  72. West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine - 39
  73. Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale - 30

The great salt ban

The other day I was chatting with a friend who has recently got a job as a cook in a small primary school. I asked her how it was going. She told me about making macaroni cheese following the ‘official’ recipe, and told me that it was pretty tasteless. It turned out that in the official recipe, no salt was added to the cheese sauce. Indeed, adding salt was not allowed.

I expressed surprise, and she then told me that she was not allowed to add salt when boiling potatoes or rice. My eyes grew rounder as my astonishment grew. I asked if there was salt on the table, and was told that there wasn’t. I, in my innocence, thought that everyone added salt when boiling potatoes or rice - and that omitting the salt was a major error. I don’t like my food salty, but potatoes or rice without salt really is pretty tasteless. I had always assumed that the quality of food in British schools was improving. It seems that I was sadly mistaken.

Yes - the country is in the grip of a great salt panic. Yet salt is actually a necessary part of the human diet. And further more, not all scientists are convinced that high sodium levels are linked to high blood pressure and heart disease. And the amount of sodium that would be added to the diet by putting salt in the water when boiling rice or potatoes is fairly small. And yet the war on salt continues unabated - and not just in terms of propaganda, but also in terms of legislation.

Politicians are now so determined to micro-manage all aspects of life, that they even ban school cooks from adding salt when they boil rice and potatoes.

Good grief.

Post Script: See this good article in The Times, which includes the following quote: "Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George’s Hospital in London, . . . believes the current pressure to restrict salt in the diet as much as possible is unnecessary and potentially risky. "

Friday, 11 September 2009

We knew it was coming, didn't we?

So, plans for the government's new anti-paedophile database have been announced by the Home Office. And it means . . . wait for it . . . a huge database. Another one. Thousands of ordinary citizens will be on it. All school governors will be required to be on it, even if they have no contact at all with children. Belt and braces, you know. And if you are not on it, and you ought to be, you face a fine of up to £5,000 and a criminal record. Yes, it's yet another new criminal offence created by New Labour. (So far, there are over 3,600 of them.)

At least the main opposition parties are making unenthusiastic noises.

For the Liberal Democrats, Christ Huhne commented, “The creation of the world’s biggest checking system is a disproportionate response to the problem it is trying to solve.”

For the Conservatives, Chris Grayling said “We all understand the need for proper protection of our children but this new regime has the potential to be a real disaster for activities involving young people in the UK. We are going to drive away volunteers, we'll see clubs and activities close down and we'll end up with more bored young people on our streets.”

But notice this. Neither Mr Huhne nor Mr Grayling said anything about repeal. Not a hint, let alone a promise. Even though their parties knew this was coming, and have had time to think through it, they are content with a little hand-wringing and criticism of the government.

And so the march toward the database state continues.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The shocking gender pay gap

Do hurry over immediately to Entering the Whirlpool, and read what Mr. Newton has to say.

And note, in particular, his conclusion. The government’s policy can be simply stated as: “We will enact even more intrusive and authoritarian measures to attempt to reach this goal.”

The goal, of course, is complete equality of outcome - which in this case means that the average female will earn as much as the average male in every workplace, and in every profession.

Equality of opportunity under the law is no longer good enough. The government believes that we must have equality of outcome. Equality of outcome, however, can only be achieved, as Mr. Newton points out, through intrusive and authoritarian measures on the part of the state. This is simply social engineering, and the end of this road is totalitarianism.

For what it is worth, my own position as a libertarian is that the
government should not enact any directly discriminatory legislation. (Perhaps some legislation may, indirectly, result in discrimination, and such legislation may need to be reconsidered. After all, we libertarians believe that the less legislation we have, the better.) The government should also ensure that there is no discrimination in employment practices for jobs in the state sector. However, it is not the place of the government to force anti-discrimination legislation on other employers. Should an organisation desire to employ only women - or only men, or only Jews, on only people with blond hair and blue eyes - then that is none of the government’s business.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Weedkillers and the nanny tendency

I am not, I must confess, particularly practical. Something to do with having paws, I imagine. Which probably explains the trouble I had with the Weedol ‘gun’ I bought at the garden centre yesterday. (Note the inverted commas. This is not a firearm!)

The instructions said “Press down firmly on top of trigger head
immediately behind yellow nozzle to depress safety tab. At the same time, twist nozzle to spray position (1/4 turn either way).”

Those of you who are reading this probably understand exactly what that means. But I was mystified, and in my efforts to use the gun, I managed to get very little weedkiller onto the weeds, but rather a lot all over my paws. And I growled at the geniuses that felt obliged to invent a new type of gun, when the old type worked well. No doubt they thought that it was too easy to get this dangerous substance out of the old type of gun, and that it needed to be changed to protect us.

However, my hard stares yesterday were not just directed toward the manufacturers of Weedol. They also fell upon the EU. For when I was in the garden centre, looking at weedkillers, I saw a notice saying that it would no longer be legal to sell Sodium chlorate after September 30th, 2009. (Which annoyed me, because I had been wanting to buy some.) I did a little research, and discovered that the decision, in fact, was taken by the EU last year, but I had missed the announcement. However, I had suspected that something was up, because I had not seen any for sale for some months.

The reasons, are found here and here, but are essentially as follows (and I quote, to give you a flavour of the prose style):
The information available is insufficient to satisfy the requirements set out in Annex II and Annex III Directive 91/414/EEC in particular with regard to
  • unacceptable exposure to operators
  • the need for further data to establish an AOEL
  • the need for further data to assess the leaching of a relevant metabolite to groundwater.
So Sodium chlorate products are not expected to satisfy Council Directive 91/414/EEC, and hence Sodium chlorate will not be included in Annex I to the said directive, which means that it cannot be sold or used in the EU.

Yes, Sodium chlorate is toxic if ingested - like thousands of other substances. It does tend to leach out of soil, and into groundwater. But these things have been common knowledge for generations, and Sodium chlorate has been used for generations, and I have never heard that there has been a public health problem with it.

So why is it being banned now? It’s pretty obvious. Politicians and officials didn’t get around to banning it before because they didn’t have the time. But now they are finding time. And they will increasingly find time. Time to ban other things that we have taken for granted for years.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Entitled to nothing?

The headline in Michael Portillo’s article in this week’s Sunday Times was pretty blunt: Idle young should be entitled to nothing. What Mr. Portillo actually said in the text was rather more undogmatic: “perhaps, at least, we ought to assume that fit young people are not entitled to anything.”

It is curious that the New Testament’s language on the subject is much closer to the bluntness of the headline. To quote the apostle Paul: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (II Thessalonians 3:10)

We cannot know exactly why the apostle wrote these words, but it appears that there were some in the early Christian church in Thessalonica who were able to work, but were not doing so, and who apparently expected others to support them. In those days, no one would have envisaged such support from the state, so it seems that these people were looking to their fellow Christians. The book of Acts (4:32-35) tells us that the early Christians in Jerusalem shared their possessions - in other words the church basically acted like one big happy family - and it seems that something similar must have been going on among the Christians in Thessalonica, and that some people were taking advantage of this arrangement and letting the others support them.

The fact that Paul says that he gave them instructions not to feed the idle when he was with them, and now feels the necessity to repeat himself, indicates to me that the church seemed a little reluctant to crack down on the idle. But Paul clearly takes the view that expecting others to support you when you are unwilling to work is immoral - and should not be tolerated. And if it is intolerable for the church to support those within its fold who are unwilling to work, is it any more tolerable for tax-payers to support their workshy neighbours?

Idle young should be entitled to nothing?” That’s exactly what the apostolic teaching of Christianity was. I wonder how many Christians realised that when they read the Sunday Times headline.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Libertarianism and moral degeneration

In his article on welfare reform in the Sunday Times, Michael Portillo refers frequently to Charles Murray. He describes him as a ‘conservative polemicist’ - though Wikipedia describes Murray as a libertarian, and Murray seems happy with that, since one of his books is entitled What it Means to be a Libertarian: A personal interpretation.

One line from Portillo’s article jumped out at me. He writes that Murray “was pessimistic that a democratic society could take measures tough enough to halt our moral degeneration.” Moral degeneration, in other words, is a political issue, and one that concerns some libertarians. This will come as a surprise to those who confuse libertarianism and libertinism (see, e.g. this post by Cranmer), and who seem to believe that libertarianism is inextricably linked to moral degeneration.

But what is this moral degeneration that Messers Portillo and Murray are talking about? It’s basically the fact that a large number of people are happy to live off the efforts of others, and believe that they are entitled to do so. And that has long bothered me too. One of the main reasons why I parted company with the left back in the 1980s was my own feeling that the welfare state had created an unhealthy entitlement mentality. And for this reason, I came to the shocking conclusion that those who defend the welfare state, as it exists in modern Britain, do not have the moral high ground.

So is there a libertarian view on halting moral degeneration? Some would say that we cannot legislate morality, and hence policy making should take no account of moral degeneration. I think that is naive: government policy does affect the behaviour of citizens. Charles Murray clearly agrees, and apparently believes that living in a libertarian society will eliminate - or at least discourage - some forms of undesirable behaviour. And the way our fellow citizens behave is a matter of public interest.

I don’t believe that government should be in the business of social engineering. But I do believe that those who govern should be concerned about the character, attitudes, and behaviour that are found in society, and should try to think about the way that their policies will affect these things. Public policy is, of course, only one factor that affects the behaviour of people in a society. But it seems to me that if one wishes to encourage responsible behaviour, the best course of action is to let people have personal freedom, and keep state intervention in their lives to a minimum, so that they can see that they are responsible for their own actions.

For that reason, while I don’t pretend that libertarianism is a panacea, I suspect that a libertarian approach is probably at least as effective as any other political programme at halting moral degeneration.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

A Liberal Democrat talks sense

Last night I was chatting to our local Liberal Democrat councillor, and the discussion came around to the passing of legislation that hadn’t been properly thought through. He remarked that he had often thought that MPs should be given a generous salary, but that every time they passed the law, their pay would be docked by a few thousand pounds. The problem, as he pointed out, is that MPs tend to measure their productivity by the number of laws they pass. Sadly, a lot of voters take the same view - but here was a politically experienced man who could see that it was not so.

I would want to amend his suggestion slightly. Pay MPs a reasonable salary, dock their pay for every new law they pass, and give them a bonus for every law they repeal.

And for good measure, every time a new law is passed, one MP who voted for it should be chosen at random and taken out and shot.