Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Lingering Death of Common Sense

No Smoking
If only I had the artistic talent to replace
Uncle Sam with a moronic health minister
It's three days into the smoking ban already and in terms of the target which is its raison d'être, its impact seems to be limited at least as far as I am concerned. The same people are smoking, just outside in clumps round the doors and I've never thought having large numbers of people out on the street with glasses of alcohol is an especially brilliant idea. Everywhere looks like one pub that's renowned for being the Village's only underage drinking age hotspot, where sundry junior pikeys linger in scowling groups just far enough from the pub door to give plausible deniability over where they sourced their lurid coloured bottles of assorted alcopops, while they abuse passer-bys.

Never mind, I'm sure this practise will soon be banned too - this is what the current muppets occupying the corridors of power see as 'joined up government'. If one policy has unforeseen, if entirely foreseeable, consequences then just introduce further illiberal legislation rather than looking at the faults in the original policy.

I think it has cut down a little on the amount I smoke while I am in the pub but, just as when various places I've worked went no-smoking, the law of conservation of nicotine intake seems to remain unchallenged. In the absence of any other change, and given the fact that I seem to get through exactly the same number of cigarettes in any given 24 hour period, it can only mean I'm smoking more at home. The idea that this would happen was ridiculed by various ministers and I must admit I had my doubts, but albeit on a very small scale there does seem to be some evidence that the legislation may have a very significant downside. At least I see drinking primarily as a social exercise and so I haven't gone, and probably will never go so far to start drinking at home, the one missing vice that stops me becoming a fully-fledged alcoholic; I'm not convinced that there will not be people who won't be so lucky.

The only thing I've found utterly ridiculous though is the plastering of the compulsory 'No Smoking' signs on almost every shop door in the Village. There are a few that still do not sport one, but I'm sure before long some council jobsworth will be pouncing on them, bringing a little joy to their sad and meaningless little lives.

It made me stop to think when I last saw someone smoking inside a business establishment other than somewhere serving food and drink, or offices with a smoking room. It was a real struggle. I couldn't think of a single instance since I've lived in the south of England, but if I really, really strain, I can just about remember one old fashioned DIY shop back in Leeds where a few tradesmen would light up while chatting with the manager. The shop was not just as big as a church, it actually was a converted former chapel with a ceiling so high and a volume of air so large nobody really noticed anyway.

It's not just forcing churches to display the signs that is pointless visual vandalism, it's equally stupid for any business where there never was a culture of smoking within its four walls and for decades now that has been almost every establishment. It's just another little symptom of the dumbed-down Britain that seems to be the goal of every NuLab initiative, though given that that they seem intent on producing a generation of dumbed-down Britons, presumably because they will be grateful for the actions of their (relatively) more intelligent masters, there may be at least the merit of consistency in their actions.

Update, Just before Posting: I was listening to the rerun of Blogger TV on 18DS as I finished this off and heard someone, I think the ever enthusiastic Caroline Hunt, laying into the same moronic attitudes in reference to a missal from his Grace the Archbishop Cranmer. Go and watch it in the archive, or see the original post here

Update, Thursday: Zorba and his performing black bear have arrived at the Mother Ship and are distinctly displeased at having to smoke outside.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The EU Finally Delivers

It looks like the Commission have finally given up on trying to 'make the positive case for Europe', and resorted to the oldest trick in the book. As a piece of tax payer funded advertising it's not as bad as some, but I do wonder about what the message on Europe is meant to be. 'We f*** up everything we touch, but at least don't have hang ups about f***ing on screen like the Americans do' comes to mind, but I think they are aiming for the old, vote Europe and you will get laid line.

It will probably play well in some of the more 'traditional' parts of the continent, but it hardly raises an eyebrow here and in other parts of Europe it will probably be played amongst the Tellytubbies trailers without outrage; I say Vive le Differance, now there is a concept that the commission hates.

The bigger question for me suddenly though, is why on a keyboard I have to use '***' so often to write a words that I use in speech at least once an hour especiallyeven in front of valued clients; perhaps I am repressed after all.

Anyway, enjoy...

The real hat-tip belongs to a blogger I can't really mention because there are links that would compromise my attempts at anonymity, so I will have to attribute it to The Croydonian who was credited by the author, and whose blog I also enjoy reading but somehow missed this offering on.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

New Cabinet, New Dangers

How does the new cabinet score?
Looking at my statistics page I discover that by far and away my most popular post was my statistical look at just how libertarian, or anti-libertarian the instincts of our Members of Parliament, outscoring its nearest rival by almost ten to one. The data used was based on voting records from web sites and the Public Whip. Obviously there have been a few changes of late so I thought it was worth a quick update. All provisos and health warnings from the earlier posting, as well as those from the suppliers of the excellent source data, apply equally to this.

The changes to which I refer are not, as it happens, anything to do with that slug in human form, Quentin Davies. His transfer from Conservative to Labour ranks has, of course, boosted the overall Conservative liberality rating slightly and damaged NuLab's, however only his suspect record on gay rights was much of a stand-out achievement in the sea of illiberality into which he has now immersed himself.

The more significant changes are those in the cabinet where Broon has done some rather radical restructuring. It is a remarkable achievement, but he has actually managed to outdo his predecessor's last cabinet's illiberality rating. The Public Whip data records the voting records of individual MPs on a given topic, including all related bills and amendments to them, data which then uses to rank them against an 'ideal' (or more often 'nightmare') scenario.

Aggregating up the scores for the issues that the TheyWorkForYou covers that have a relevance to a personal freedoms across the new cabinet shows a drop in their collective pro-liberty position to 27.3% from the outgoing cabinet's 30.7% liberality. The individual issue scores for the cabinet as a whole are as follows (outgoing Blair cabinet score in parentheses):

  • ID Cards - 4.9% (8.7%)

  • Fox Hunting - 15.9% (16.0%)

  • Smoking Ban - 25.1% (34.6%)

  • Gay Rights - 84.1% (85.9%)

  • Anti-Terror Legislation - 6.5% (8.6%)

In each case a high score indicates a pro-freedom position, a low one the opposite.

The previous article also mentioned a number of issues I had excluded as being more to do with openness to public (or even Parliamentary) scrutiny, which I felt were more to do with the mechanisms by which our freedoms ought to be preserved rather than those freedoms themselves. The figures here show overall an even greater drop, from 30.1% in favour of an open form of government to 21.8%, the breakdown, on the same basis as above is as follows:

  • Regulatory Reform Act - 16.7% (36.2%)

  • Weakening the FOI Act - 45.2% (47.9%)

  • Investigating the Iraq war - 3.5% (6.3%)

I do have my own issues with investigations into the Iraq war while our armed forces are still actively involved in an ongoing conflict, but as is clear from the figures above the majority of Broon's team's piss poor performance in this arena stems from the 2006 Regulatory Reform Act, which even its amended form is one of the most repulsive Acts of Parliament ever to reach the statute books.

Just to wrap up the remaining TheyWorkForYou data that is available, the strength of anti-Iraq war voting traits of the new cabinet has risen from 0.8% to 9.4%, records of being critical to Foundation Hospitals have risen from 1.9% to 5.2% and of student top-up fees from 1.9% to 5.2%. Support for a Trident replacement is still a rock-solid 100%.

Anyway, there you have it the nice freedom loving, live and let live spirit, the little of it that there was, of the Blairites has gone, and the even bigger nightmare has arrived. If I'm not careful I'm going to end up feeling like this junior member of the Tony Blair fan club. I doesn't surprise me, it is very much a cabinet in the image of Broon's own image, at least as I see it.

A big hat-tip to Iain Dale for the clip which I suspect will crop up on virtually every blog I read at some appropriate moment, and that I will still click the 'Play' button each time.

From the Bomb Shelter

Threat Level
And the point is?
Currently I'm sitting under the dining table, wishing it didn't have a glass top, having put parcel tape all over the windows.

This is all because, of course, the security services via the Home Office, have elevated the terrorism threat level from 'severe' to 'critical'.

I shall do my public duty by publicising the Home Office definitions of the various levels:
  • critical - an attack is expected imminently

  • severe - an attack is highly likely

  • substantial - an attack is a strong possibility

  • moderate - an attack is possible but not likely

  • low - an attack is unlikely

Ok, I'm actually out on the balcony enjoying some rather thin sunshine, getting on with life as always, and wondering what the real difference is between the top three levels in terms of what we should do in our day to day lives, or what we should be expecting our security services to be doing for us. I'm not trying to minimise the events of the last few days, but what the hell changed between the failed attacks in London, and the somewhat of a failure on yesterday?

Call me a cynic, but isn't it just something that Broon and new Home Secretary Jacqui Smith can pull out to make it sound as if they are doing something personally about the situation? I've got every faith that the security forces were doing all they could to avert events like those of the last few days, long before these latest attempted atrocities. I would not doubt for a minute that the inquiries that will follow them will be as exhaustive as humanly possible. I can't help thinking that behind the threat level indication and emergency meetings of COBRA is simply the need of the government to be seen to be 'doing something'. Quite what the value is of dragging in security resources to brief an ex-schoolteacher and an economics geek and receive their advice, just a few hours after an event like this is beyond me.

Of course there should be political oversight of what happens in events like these, but in the absence of an all-out attack it should be considered, strategic thinking that is the order of the day; the shorter term tactical response should be left to the experts. The politicians should offer support to the professionals and reassurance to the public. The only outcome from too much of a hands on involvement can be kneejerk legislation.

Already, sadly, it appears the Conservatives appear to be willing to talk again about extending the scope of antiterrorism legislation, including longer detention without trial. The unfortunate thing is that in circumstances like those we find ourselves in, that principle can go out of the window when the urge to be part of the 'doing something' brigade gets too strong. To my knowledge the case for increasing detention without trial has still yet to me made, at least in the concrete form of individuals coming to the end of their permitted detention without it being possible to either formulate charges or decide there are none to answer. Yes, there have been plenty stories of unsavoury characters who have been let out on to the streets, and whom the security services have lost track of, above and beyond those thousands released as a matter of government policy to avoid building new jails. These cases though were ones where some dinosaur of a judge probably had a gin and tonic too many at lunch time and came up with an excessively restricted view of how existing powers should be exercised and have no relevance to the concept of being able to lock up someone, without charge, for a longer period you would be sentenced to after being properly charged and convicted of some pretty serious crimes.

For this reason the threat levels listed above are still only really meaningful under a caption reading 'Threat to Civil Liberties'.

By the way, the graphic above is taken from a blog plug-in that I'm desperately hoping that none of the writers of the blogs that I like reading choose to install. If they do I'm going to hack my own version, I envisage the levels being:
  • critical - good day to bury bad news

  • severe - chance to look good on TV

  • substantial - chance to sound good on radio

  • moderate - stealth liberty erosion mode engaged

  • low - fingers crossed for another excuse

I will display my Home Office terrorism opportunity level indicator with pride.

A New Day at Midnight

Smoking Ban
Another day, another ban
It's just a few hours since the timid new world of NuLab came a step closer, with the introduction of the smoking ban.

I've smoked since I was twenty-one, a rather bizarre age for someone to take up the habit having survived the peer pressure of teenage years, especially for someone who was just completing three years of university where the genetics of cancer related oncogenes had been a popular topic.

In terms of real practical impact on my life it isn't actually a big deal. I never smoke indoors at home and so I'm pretty conditioned to going outside for a cigarette and even in pubs and bars I've always tried to be as considerate as possible about my habit. As it happens, I've actually quite enjoyed the post-ban smoking culture in Edinburgh when I've been working there, as I tended to find most of the best people outside with me practising our filthy habit under the climate change inducing patio heater. Even non-smokers often voted with their feet and joined us. The only slight personal irritant of the ban per se is that before the prospect of the ban came along I was thinking of giving kicking the habit a go, but right now the prospect of anyone wrongly attributing a successful attempt to nannying, illiberal legislation is enough to keep me lighting up.

It is, at the end of the day, the illiberal nature of the ban that does irk. A friend of mine who provides consultancy services to the told me that the new push for a ban by the BMA and their suppernanny friends came along just as several major pub chains were considering introducing a ban across all their premises. I've got a suspicion that this timing is not coincidental. Looking at the names he mentioned it is pretty clear that there would have been an effective marketplace of smoking pubs, non-smoking pubs and once with a mixture of areas, where people could choose the type of establishment they drank or worked in. Such a satisfactory arrangement would obviously have been an anathema to the totalitarian instincts of the current government, backed by those of a similar disposition in other parties, in areas like this, which I suspect was one of the factors in the unholy rush to implement the legislation while they could still argue that there was no effective choice.

Everything Ban
Coming soon, the BMA approved pub
On top the act's immediate intent, it also has given to succour to those who want to further restrict the scope within which we make decisions about our lives, from the brainless massed ranks of zombie officialdom to that past master finger wagging, the BMA again. The Thunder Dragon reports on local councils who are seeking to impose wholly unlawful bans on lighting up in public spaces, while up and down the country there have been stories of planning applications for outdoor provision for smokers at pubs being turned down or delayed. I said to a lot of people at the time, that having got its way on this one the BMA would be back on the case of boxing, a sport I don't really care about one way or the other, and the scrum in rugby union, one I care passionately about. It took almost a fortnight from the passage of the smoking ban through it's final Commons stages for the latter to come under attack from doctor's representatives again, just a few days for the former.

The risk averse, "if we don't like it ban it" society we seem hell bent on creating is going to be an increasingly sterile one. Already it is commonly acknowledged that children going through school have less rich experience, not only because of the drive to reach pointless political targets whose results are bastardised anyway, but also because a huge range of activities have been axed in face of the risk assessments required. Likewise out of school activities are curtailed as various child protection initiatives makes every adult volunteer feel like a suspected child abuser. Ludicrous compensation awards to people who often have been patently foolish have made certain activities or businesses effectively uninsurable. In the background sit the government ready as ever to bring the clunking fist of the law to bear, whenever mass tabloid hysteria has not done its work for it.

It's not the country I was born in but, with the focus of so many 'safety first' initiatives being the young, I suspect there will be few in succeeding generations who will ever realise this other more tolerant world ever existed, where people were prepared to weigh up risks and rewards for themselves and make their own judgements.