Thursday, February 24, 2005


Burglars v Judge Dredd

The Tories say they want more rights for householders to protect themselves against burglars (see Otto’s post below).The current law says that a householder can use reasonable force against a burglar.

Presumably they want the right to use 'unreasonable force'; torturing kids to death over an extended period, maybe. Read here (first and last are especially recommended) about what has to happen for householders to actually be prosecuted for actions carried out against intruders.

It is also quite explicitly clear that 'reasonable force' can involve the death of the intruder. Here is the Government’s very sensible advice.

Note the section “What if the intruder dies”.

One point that deserves to be made is that the tone of this is substantially different from the advice it replaced, which, however, still seems to be available from the Home Office website. See the section “The Law on Self Defence”.

This advice was indeed worrisome: “if the criminal complains that you have used unreasonable force, the police must investigate”. (Yes, maybe.. but how long does this investiagation need to take?)

Incredibly: “What ‘reasonable force’ is will depend on the circumstances of each case, and is something that only the courts can decide… Generally, the courts use common sense and take account of what it is like to be faced with a violent or possibly violent criminal.”

This implies that the question of ‘reasonableness’ is a lottery, and that sometimes the courts do not use common sense. So the advice needed to be changed. And it was changed.

Read the BBC article here.

Nevertheless, talk radio morons still demand the "right to kill" intruders. What on earth does this mean? It can only mean taking on a Judge Dredd-style role of jury and executioner. Some householders will exercise this 'right', others forgo it. For how long after the incident is the 'right' enforceable? What standard of proof is required?

When you talk to your neighbour about your holiday plans, but then cancel them, and your car breaks down, so you take it to the garage, and your neighbour hears a noise in your house & knows you're not there, because the car's not in the drive, so he uses his key & lets himself in to investigate, is the right-to-kill instinct exactly what both sides need?

The Tories proposed a Private Members Bill to change the law. Here is Patrick Mercer explaining it:

"My Private Member's Bill will abolish the present statute's requirement that a home owner act with "reasonable force" when tackling an intruder. It will replace it with the requirement that the home owner's use of force be "not grossly disproportionate" to the circumstances in which he finds himself. Although it came top of the ballot for Parliamentary time, my Bill will almost certainly fail unless the Prime Minister explicitly supports it.

"There has already been media comment to the effect that my Bill will not provide the clarity in the law that home owners and others so desperately need: that "not grossly disproportionate" is no better than "reasonable force" as a definition of what you are allowed to do.

"Let me settle that issue now. The term "not grossly disproportionate" will allow home owners a much greater degree of latitude in tackling burglars. They will be able to do whatever they think is necessary to defend themselves when confronted by an intruder. What they will not be entitled to do is chase a burglar down the street and plunge a knife into his back once he is off their property. My Bill is not a licence to commit murder – it is not an English version of the Oklahoma law that indemnifies home-owners from prosecution no matter what they do to an intruder.

"Under my Bill, the farmer Tony Martin would still have broken the law – for he shot Fred Barras, one of the two burglars who entered his house, in the back as he was running away. Martin's use of force was grossly disproportionate. If he had injured or even killed Barras in a struggle to repel him and his partner-in-crime while they were in his home, then Martin's actions would – under my Bill – have been perfectly legal."

How many supporters of increased rights for householders realise that Tony Martin’s case would be unaffected by the proposed Tory change in the law? Perhaps their poster (check out this comedy version) should read “Are you thinking what we’re thinking? The current state of the law is broadly adequate and has been correctly applied in high profile cases”.

The difference between 'grossly disproportionate' and 'unreasonable', as Mercer himself admits, cannot be large enough to justify the allegation that the law as it stands favours the burglar. He does, however, seem to have a stronger point regarding the decision of the CPS to prosecute. He is correct that innocent people should not have prosecutions 'hanging over' them merely on the grounds that the supposed offence is serious.

The idea of the CPS being more accountable looks fair.

HOWEVER; Why should this apply only to 'householders who have defended themselves against burglars'? Why not Britain's care-home managers, falsely accused of sex crimes? What about our top black footballers, falsely accused of rape?

Noone who has not committed a crime should be charged with one. However, "Conservatives demand increased rights for paedophiles & rapists" perhaps doesn't have quite the same ring to it.


"The law should protect me, not burglars!"

This, as you might have noticed, is one of the Tories' campaign slogans. I root out perverse interpretations and syntactic ambiguity both for a living and for my personal gratification. So, you can imagine how pleasant it was to notice that I'd parsed the slogan thus:

"The law should protect me, not burglars!"

Otto Beat Dis

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Does This Make Me A Neo-Con?

A few hours ago I thought that Bush's European visit was nothing more than a chance to try business-class threats and lies for a change. I can't say that that impression has left me entirely, but, there I was with
Channel 4 News on, dashing off a post to that effect, when he utters the following words:
"Israel must freeze settlement activity, help Palestinians build a thriving economy, and ensure that a new Palestinian state is truly viable, with contiguous territory on the West Bank. A state of scattered territories will not work."

I used to be pretty proud of the cynicism I've been packing these past few years, but I now realise that my shits was weak. What? How? By what mechanism have these words travelled from so many ignored, fragmented sources—the mouths of all Palestinians, everywhere, the pages of Chomksy and Finkelstein, the bitter reminiscences of former Foreign Office officials, fractious debates on campus, the letters page of The Guardian, the online chat of young people willing to put on high-visibility jackets and face death at the hands of an Israeli conscript—all the way into the brain of a Bush speechwriter? Do they come from Tony Blair???? I'm quite startled, and will be even more so if they turn out to mean something. Does this amount to a recognition that Oslo was always intended to mean a Palestinian state along the lines that Bush describes? Will he say sorry for supporting settlements for decades in the face of overwhelming international opposition?

Just how out of the loop am I? Have I been playing too much Gypsy jazz and, like, missed something here? May I propose a wait-and-see approach?

Otto Swing Beat

Friday, February 18, 2005


Animals Will Still Die.

What harm does the hunting ban address?

From today, hunting animals with dogs will be illegal for the English, for the first time since William the Conqueror.

After the pubs close tonight, whilst the queues of the nation’s kebab shops gently vomit and fight, when the last fish-wrapper lies in the pavement and the burger bars are shuttered, we’ll be resting safely in our beds knowing that noone is killing animals for pleasure. If, that is, we are one of the 339 MPs who voted to outlaw hunting with dogs.

Keith Feiling, writing in 1950, said of the previous ban, “No part of Norman government was more hateful”. I’m a New Labour man at heart, but I’ve had serious problems with this Government: Dishonesty about the war in Iraq and the kow-towing to religious fundamentalists, for example. But the hunting ban, for its fabulous stupidity and hypocrisy, is indeed the most hateful.

Stupidity, as surely not all of the 339 can have realised that the processes which produce their Sunday roast involve the death of animals. Hypocrisy, as I understand that not all of them are vegans. Although the MPs put down their pasties and bacon butties long enough to vote for it, I don’t know how the courts are going to read the legislation with all the bacon fat stuck to the pages from the lard-stained figures of its drafters.

You have to actually be a vegan to vote for the ban without hypocrisy. Overwhelmingly, chickens, pigs and dairy cows live all of their lives in pain and misery, before being slaughtered in terror. The hunted fox lives a natural life and is then killed. Also, fox-hunting does not have the harmful externalities of animal husbandry: deforestation for grazing and farting herds are major contributors to global climate change.

It is sometimes suggested that there is something immoral about taking pleasure in killing. Does an MP not sometimes take pleasure in a lamb-chop? Even if he only ate goats raised on uncultivable hillsides and sung to sleep by a chorus of nymphs, the MP would have to ask himself, of each portion, whether it was for pleasure or necessity. Then he might ask himself whether any other thoughts and feelings have been criminalized.

In a sense, it’s hard to argue against the ban, as no real arguments have been given for it. What harm is it supposed to address? Animal rights? But we can still kill foxes, and rats too. A fox will not now be able to apply for compensation on the grounds that its rights have been infringed by a human any more than a rabbit will be able to assert its rights against a fox.

I was once, inexplicably, the target of write-in campaign by the Shellfish Liberation Front (or some such organisation). These people deserve much more respect than the anti-hunt brigade. At least they see some of the corollaries of ‘animal rights’, although I doubt they would assert the rights of a crab against an otter.

I’m a city-boy, and not fox-hunter. I don’t know why fox-hunting would interest anyone and find the idea unpleasant. However, I have very much the same attitude to Richard Whiteley’s activities. But I don’t think viewers of countdown should be arrested for being entertained by his dreadful puns.

Last week, I ventured into the countryside and stopped at a village church. There had been a break-in, and there were bits of an 800-year-old stain-glass window scattered over the graveyard. A man arrived who told me he was returning once again to wait for the police. They’d failed to make their appointment in the morning and there wasn’t much chance of them coming now, judging by the experience of the previous six break-ins.

Who wants even five minutes of police time that could have been spent catching those burglars wasted on trying to ascertain whether someone with dogs is hunting? As to the problem of policing the ban, William I had a solutioon: everyone who owned a dog had to cut three claws from its front feet. I commend this approach to the Government.

Perhaps the ban will not last as long as the Norman dynasty. The Conservatives have said that they will overturn the ban on their first day in office. My attitude to the Tories has historically been similar to that of Nye Bevan, but now I support their election, if only for one day.


Influenza v Daytime TV

Sell your junk and move to Spain.

I’ve had flu for a week. As well as being an opportunity to feel really sick and useless, it also provided me with a chance to catch up on daytime TV. Which was more rubbish?

Auctions and junk sales are on all the time, every day. Not 'programs about antiques'. People selling broken toys and fake Royal Doulton in the rain under the supervision of ‘experts’: “Tracy Island – always a popular seller”. “The cuddly toys should sell for £3, if you wash them”.

Any member of the public on daytime TV who isn’t selling [or buying] junk is being shown nice bits of Spain or France (‘southov’) with the intention of making it worse by their presence. Spain is the British equivalent of Florida. And Michael Howard is worried about foreigners being a burden on the British health service? [Note: this reference to Michael Howard has been checked by the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard and has been rated as only mildly anti-Semitic. Therefore, it can be printed here. Although, if you talk about it when your drunk after a party, you may be in trouble. The connection between Florida and seafood is plain for all to see. You can’t pretend you don’t know what Judaic law says about shellfish].

Other thoughts on daytime TV:

(1) Steve Davis is on it. He talks much too much about ‘cuing’ and ‘confidence’ (No! Snooker is about potting balls. There’s nothing else to say.) and much too little about incredibly daft 70s prog-rockers Magma, his first love. What does it say about the world when a man spends all his time fabricating psychobabble about why snooker-players are or are not potting balls when he could be celebrating the great god Ptah? Has Steve forgotten the words of Christian Vander?


Perhaps we can raise subscriptions for the purchase of a machine to recite phrases such as “I think Ebdon is cuing as well as I’ve ever seen him” and “Hendry is the best break-builder in the game”; leaving ‘the Nugget’ free to dedicate himself to the worship of Ptah. Gibbering lightly in a made-up language. In a cave in Essex.

(2) The activities of Whitely continue, without any obvious impediment. Is there nothing that can be done?

(3) Final thought on daytime TV: Why does that Richard Madeley bloke sit around all day with his gran?


What Comes After Tragedy and Farce?

The NME and various skinny white boys are on TV talking about how fantastic and "relevant" New Order, Morrissey, Shaun Ryder, The Cure, Ozzy Ozbourne, The Clash, Pixies and The Beatles are, and how they "quite literally changed" music. And, I learn from a friend at work, The Wonder Stuff, PWEI and Ned's Atomic Dustbin have all done come-back gigs this year.

No, there's simply nothing to say about any of this. Just nod and walk away.


Thursday, February 17, 2005


King and Church Mob Throw Things

Dan Norris, Labour MP for Wansdyke--and, perhaps, a Blur song--was subjected to a hail of eggs, manure and verbal abuse by constituents today. According to his website, Norris has "written and lectured extensively on the prevention and reduction of violence". Displaying the mad skills for which he is rightly famed, Dan delivered an acute, unflinching diagnosis of his ordeal: "This was drink, I'm afraid, talking." Lovely use of commas.


Tuesday, February 08, 2005


Celebrity Obsessed? Us?

Sky News lists its subsections as, "UK; World; Jackson".

Meanwhile, 800,000 people are owned as slaves in Niger. Oh well.

Monday, February 07, 2005


"Why I hate Aaronovitch" (Pt. IV, Annexe B)

He is the only ostensibly political columnist who is paid to write about what he's seen on TV or at the cinema. Yeah, okay, I write about what happens to be on TV while I'm sat here, but it's not my job. Why the fuck doesn't he call the game off and write for Heat or something?



Look at you--bored again

Evidently I'm the only person to think that TRESamme's slogan, "look at you--professional, affordable", is the sort of thing that a prostitute is more likely to hear than two pretty girls entering a hair salon.


Sunday, February 06, 2005


Geneva, December 2003? Saudi plan, March 2002?

If these places and dates mean nothing to you, then it's a fair bet that the phrase "first signs of peace for years" or some equivalant, sprinkled liberally over reports of Condoleeza Rice's Israeli photo shoot, does not jar. They happen to be the latest, most high-profile incarnations of a particular type of settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians--Israeli withdrawal, some form of Palestinian sovereignty, genuinely international mediation--that has scarcely changed in essentials since the mid 70s. Except that, because the US and Israel have opposed this settlement, it has always failed and the fact that anyone ever proposed it is lost to history. If you can spare a few minutes rummaging through the memory hole of leftwing and Arab media websites, I'm sure you'll find plenty more. Indeed, I should like you to do so right now, then come back and tell me exactly how the death blow to each of these schemes was administered.


Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Graphology will live on!

That's right, it will, debunking or no. Not because there's any evidence that it tells you anything reliable, but because there'll always be enough people with such tepid imaginations that they long for some expert—the more self-styled and eccentric the better—to fill in the otherwise unbridgeable chasm between themselves and, say, Bill Gates or da Vinci.

Btw, I don't mean to strike too discordant a note with this post, but felt that my recently scandalous record required something more than a comment.

Otto Beat


New Labour: dodging the question on Creationism

Still in bed with the theocrats

Graphology (see previous post) is not really much of a problem. The story is an insight into how dumb tabloids are, and the crazy world of media 'experts'. ("Professor Giles, little Johnny has been trapped down the well under a dead cow for 3 days now. What will he be feeling?")

Creationism, however, is much more serious, and not just because it is the banner of Christian fundamentalism and its attendant evils. Rather, it is the reason for its prominence in the movement that is the deeper concern:

'Creationism' refers an array of more or less mutually contradictory grandiose lies. What they share is an incompatibility with any number of scientific disciples. (If the earth is 5,000 years old, then everything we think we know about stars is wrong. The light shouldn't have reached us yet. Genetics is all wrong too.) This is not an incidental problem with creationist theory, it is the raison d'etre. The result is a paranoid constituency whose instinct is to believe that everyone, except the demagogue, is lying to them.

So onto New Labour, and an exchange in the Lords yesterday:

Lord Taverne asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether the national curriculum will exclude the teaching of creationism in schools.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Filkin): My Lords, creationism is not part of the national curriculum for science. In the programme of study for 14 to 16 year-olds, pupils learn about evolution and how variation and selection may lead to evolution and extinction. They also consider different theories on the origin of the universe. In all aspects of the national curriculum, we encourage pupils to consider different ideas and beliefs and how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting evidence.
Lord Taverne: My Lords, as the Government are in favour of allowing choice between sense and nonsense, will they also allow children to be taught that the earth is flat, and that the sun goes round the earth? Since there is a crisis in maths teaching in schools, and some university chemistry departments are closing down, will the Government offer as an alternative the teaching of astrology and alchemy? It is extraordinary that a Government and a Prime Minister who say that they are in favour of science have allowed the introduction into our schools of the worst features of American fundamentalist, anti-science, pseudo-science nonsense. Is this not disgraceful?
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I apologise to the House for not having spoken clearly enough, because the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, could not have heard my response, in which it was explicitly clear that creationism is not part of the national curriculum..
He said: "it was explicitly clear that creationism is not part of the national curriculum for science": This does not answer the question, which was whether the National Curriculum would exclude creationism. He has not answered the question, or addressed the issue. Nor did he respond to the second question: "Is this not disgraceful?"
Is the accusation in the second question true (ie, that the Government have allowed creationism into our schools)?
Tony Blair was asked about creationism in schools in 2002:

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Is the Prime Minister happy—[Hon. Members: "Yes."] Is the Prime Minister happy to allow the teaching of creationism alongside Darwin's theory of evolution in state schools?
The Prime Minister: First, I am very happy. Secondly, I know that the hon. Lady is referring to a school in the north-east, and I think that certain reports about what it has been teaching are somewhat exaggerated. It would be very unfortunate if concerns about that issue were seen to remove the very strong incentive to ensure that we get as diverse a school system as we properly can. In the end, a more diverse school system will deliver better results for our children. If she looks at the school's results, I think she will find that they are very good.
Two points about this exchange:
Firstly, I have seen it reported that the PM said he was 'very happy' about creationism being taught alongside evolution. He didn't say that.
Secondly, 'certain reports' are definitely exaggerated. We hate them.
However, those two largely state-funded schools in the North East of England (there are soon to be three), to which the Prime Minister referred are run the Vardy Foundation. The head of this christian fundamentalist organisation is Peter Vardy. In a Today interview in 2003 he said:
"We do teach creationism alongside evolution.." and "..We are presenting evolution and creation alongside each other."
Was he exaggerating?


One Pseudo-Science Debunked..

The triangles of Death

Hopefully, graphology will not recover from this embarassment: Handwriting experts were invited to say what a sheet of notes, largely comprised of single words in boxes, said about the supposed author, Tony Blair. They said lots of things. Mostly bad. And resulted in some remarkably accurate observations. Except that Bill Gates had made the note.

This reminds me of the Daily Mirror publishing pages of script from the pen of Rosemary West, the serial killer. A learned graphologist explained that the loops above the 'd's were indicative of pschopathology. I guess it's a little harder when you don't already know everything you want to know about the subject.

I like the BBC's summary:

"The British Psychological Society ranks graphology alongside astrology - giving them both "zero validity" in determining someone's character. "

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