Friday 28 August 2009

Michael Martin gets his peerage

Hat tip to Conservative Home for this one, which hat tips in turn Nigel Fletcher.

Michael Martin's elevation to the peerage was slipped out in the London Gazette this morning.

Perhaps that'll give somebody the impetus to get on and reform the place properly.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

CCTV - wrong method, wrong purpose?

I'm no great fan of CCTV. But neither am I a great fan of sloppy reporting or sloppy debate. We are told that CCTV cameras are an expensive waste of time because they don't help solve crime - except in one case per thousand cameras.

There are two things wrong with this analysis, if I can call it that. The first is that the evidence reported suggests it's not the cameras themselves that are failing, but the way they're being used. If the cameras don't take pictures, as is reported, and if they're being examined by untrained people (though I suppose we should be grateful it's being done here, and not outsourced to somewhere like the Philippines or Iowa), it's not surprising that things slip through.

And secondly, solving crime is not the only purpose of CCTV (I assume). Part of the purpose must be the prevention of crime. I have not found anywhere in the current reporting any evidence of whether areas with CCTV suffer less crime. In fact I don't know of any statistical evidence about this, so if anyone can point me to some I would be grateful. The only evidence I know of personally is a chat with a town centre car park caretaker one day a few months after cameras were installed in his car park. He said that prior to installation he used to have to sweep up glass from car headlights daily. Since their installation that had ceased to be part of his job because people didn't vandalise car headlights any more. So, has crime in CCTVed areas gone down, or do we have a particularly insouciant class of criminal in this country that continues to commit crime despite the probability of getting themselves recorded doing it?

Monday 24 August 2009

On climate camps and policing

This is great. (Hat tip Chickyog)

The best bit is why they don't trust the police: "because every time we hold a protest, the police turn up and start hitting people".

Thursday 20 August 2009

Prison, compassion and civilisation

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, was freed from jail today. The BBC reports the words of Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill:

"Mr al-Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives, let alone their dying days. No compassion was shown by him to them.

"But that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in his final days.

"Our justice system demands that judgement be imposed, but compassion be available. For these reasons and these reasons alone, it is my decision that Mr Mr Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 for the Lockerbie bombing, now terminally ill with prostate cancer, be released on compassionate grounds and be allowed to return to Libya to die."

I believe he got that decision completely right. The grounds for it are the same as the grounds for the release of Ronnie Biggs, which I believe was also completely right. The background to the reasoning is different in the two cases, but is founded on the same principle.

In my view the consistency of the government's treatment of Ronnie Biggs goes back to the point at which he started moves to get back to this country in order to receive treatment on the NHS. There were people at that time saying he should not be allowed it, he should rot, etc, etc. But the decision to allow him back and to give him treatment was a supreme example of the British way of doing things. Ronnie Biggs was, and unfortunately still is, idolised by some because he beat the system. Newspaper pictures of him sipping champagne and pretending to a lifestyle that he rarely actually attained fed this delusive stance. When he returned to this country, he received his right, as a citizen of the UK - any citizen, whatever their moral or legal status - to treatment on the NHS. And in doing so we demonstrated that the system was then and always had been immeasurably better than that failed criminal and morally bankrupt person.

To my mind the same logic applied when it became apparent that he was terminally ill. (I am assuming that he actually is and hasn't been able to pull a Saunders.) There are rules that apply, and prisoners who are terminally ill are released from prison provided certain criteria are met. Biggs met these criteria so he was released, and I'm very glad that Jack Straw accepted the recommendation to release him and didn't try to do a Daily Mail. I am not glad for Biggs; as far as I am concerned he is contemptible. But I am glad because Jack Straw demonstrated again that the system that we have in this country is one to be proud of.

There is an argument that, because Biggs counts as a sort of celebrity prisoner, perhaps some political criteria should apply and he should perhaps be treated differently. It is a respectable argument but, without going into details, not one which, to my mind, applies in this case.

Now to al-Megrahi. (I will work on the basis that he is guilty, though I accept that there are arguments that he might not be.) The same two issues apply. Is he being treated according to the normal criteria? And are there arguments for saying that the normal criteria should not apply because of the nature of the case?

As far as I can see, he is being treated according to the normal criteria. These dictate that in his current state of health, he should be freed. Being free, he is then free to travel wherever he wishes. British law, quite properly, does not detain free people within these shores.

Should he be treated differently? Two reasons might apply. The first is that his crime was so heinous that he must be singled out from other criminals. The second is that political considerations might dictate that, in the fight against terrorism, it is legitimate and practical to apply different rules.

As to the first, I do not believe that a crime becomes more heinous simply because larger numbers are involved. Any murder is a terrible tragedy for the victim, for their family and for their friends. The fact that it has happened to 270 people instead of one does not make it materially different. On that basis it was quite right that al-Megrahi was treated according to the normal criteria.

The second issue is more complex. Many political issues may come into play. I take the view that any "political" element to the decision should be based on the classical practice of looking at what is in Britain's interests at this particular time and in these particular circumstances. Much will then depend on what one's view is of Britain's interests. One view weighs large for me. It is that, at this time it might be in Britain's interests to demonstrate to the world in general, to our own people, and to many in the Middle East, that we do things properly. Even when people blow planes out of the skies over our territory, we will not be pushed away from a path of consistent and civilised behaviour. We may change minds. Even if we don't, it was the right thing to do. I have no idea if political considerations came into play here, and if they did, I have no idea if this particular principle was among them. If it was, we have demonstrated again that our system is better than the criminals and others who seek to subvert it, and I am proud of that fact.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Pot and kettle?

The Financial Times takes a pot at political blogging today (hat tip Tim Montgomerie).

This is one of their introductory sentences: "Readers can, if they so wish, live within a bubble where they are presented only with streams of evidence that support their prejudices. This is a particular problem in political blogging, where the effects of this tendency are intensified by writers' habit of linking mainly to like-minded..."

I believe that I can improve the accuracy of this sentence with one change:

"Readers can, if they so wish, live within a bubble where they are presented only with streams of evidence that support their prejudices. This is a particular problem with newspapers, where the effects of this tendency are intensified by writers' habit of linking mainly to like-minded..."

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Violent crime, The Mail and Harriet Harman

The Mail says it's wrong to teach boys not to hit girls. Dressed up in the usual plicrecknessgummad verbiage and attacks on Harriet Harman. I think they mainly don't like it because it was her idea. The Enemies Of Reason has done a very good job of fisking the whole thing. But there's just one small feature I would like to comment on. Part of the Mail's argument against teaching boys not to hit girls is that girls hit boys too. Here's their quote (suitably illustrated) "Police figures reveal a massive rise in the number of women arrested for 'violence against the person' offences which more than doubled from 37,000 ten years ago to 88,000 last year." So the immediate question is what proportion of all violent crime is that. Well, the Mail, to do it credit, does give us a proportion. In the previous paragraph it says "A quarter of all violent assaults in England and Wales are carried out by women". So the fact that three quarters of assaults are carried out by men is not a reason for teaching them not to, apparently.

And of course statistics are always murky. I've had a quick check through the crime figures on the Home Office's Research Development Statistics site. The latest figures for overall violence against the person (visible here in an Excel file) are 81% carried out by men, 14% by women, and 5% by both. The domestic violence figures are close to the Mail's so that, I assume, is the one they're using. That is 74% by men, 24% by women, and 2% by both.

Either way a massive preponderance of the violence is by men not by women, and something needs to be done about that. A summary of the report which sparked this "Saving Lives. Reducing Harm. Protecting the Public." is available here - and the full report can be downloaded from that page - it's a 1MB pdf.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Sounds like the Chinese are just like us then

From the BBC: China 'trusts prostitutes more'.

The article is better reading than the vacuously incomplete headline. I particularly appreciate the placing of real estate developers near the bottom.

My overall reaction, though, is "Are we surprised by anything on this list?" Answer: "No".

Bletchley Park

I often wonder how I can celebrate being English, and indeed being British, without idiots like the BNP thinking I'm on their side. But it's no good keeping quiet just because *they* happen to be waving *my* flag. So I thought I might state from time to time things I'm proud of, without any implication of scorning other peoples and what they might be proud of.

Now here is something to to be very proud of. I've been to many, many stately places and national monuments, but few made me feel the way Bletchley Park did. British codebreaking and British computing genius played an inestimable part in winning the war against Nazism.

The Bombe, designed to test Enigma rotor settings.

Alan Turing's office. Looking into a very ordinary office with a sense of awe because I was in the presence of greatness.

Colossus. In the presence of more greatness - in two ways. Not just the awe inspiring original, but also the dedication of the amateurs who have spent more than six years recreating it.

View from the American Garden across the lake to the huts.

The sad state of some of the buildings today, which illustrates why Bletchley Park needs help with funds. These Paypal and Worldpay links enable you to donate to Bletchley Park online.

There's more on what you can do to help at Saving Bletchley Park.