THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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April 2007

Armed bloggers, Guardianistas and stat porn

Screen_shotBy the standards of the big boys this is nothing but more than 1,000 hits in a day (790 unique visitors) is a first for me. If you want to boost your traffic, it seems you should write in support of the right to bear arms. My quite mild piece on the subject has led to the two biggest days in this blog's history, with the bulk of the visitors (to whom I bid a hearty welcome) coming from The Corner at National Review and Conservative Grapevine.

How embarrassing then, that I have had to post a factual correction to the piece in its comments thread. Not one correction in fact, but two - complete with apology. Isn't that just my luck? I make errors and everyone comes to read them. Some of the comments out there were quite entertaining:

"... a blog, by some pillock who thinks just because he mentions Tom Paine that gives him some sort of gravitas."

"Yawn.  Utter bullshit from an utter tool."

"...the looney internet blog ramblings of some disaffected 50-year-old fart..."

"If the nitwit actually read the report he'd find that the other loony blog assertions are equally worthless garbage. I suspect that he prefers unreality, however..."

All these just from The Talk at the Guardian Unlimited site. I have been called worse, and I have a long way to go before I compete with Polly Toynbee in attracting abuse. In fairness to the comrades concerned, these comments did cause me to reread a Home Office report I had cited. That's where I found footnotes which revealed the errors I had made. As I said, it's all about community, not the individual blog.

Operation Ore flawed by fraud

Link: Operation Ore flawed by fraud | Technology | Guardian Unlimited Technology.

ImagesAll credit to Duncan Campbell of PCPro magazine  and my least favourite newspaper, the Guardian, for this story.

Why has Guardian Unlimited only run it as a small piece on the technology pages though? For that matter, why is this major scandal not splashed across national front pages in the way that Operation Ore itself was?

Thirty-nine men have killed themselves in Britain alone, because of being accused of paedophilia during Operation Ore. Now it seems they were victims, not criminals. The child pornography site in question was one of many being used by organised crime, including the Gambino family, to steal money from 54,348 credit cards the details of which their associates had ripped off.

As Duncan Campbell says:

Operation Ore has become a byword for our police's investigation into the murkiest of online worlds - but hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the cases show that the police were misled and confused by criminals whose computer expertise was years ahead of theirs.

Many of us found it fishy that so many as 7,272 Brits would have been subscribers to a single child pornography site. Extrapolate that random sample and it would suggest that in Britain Paedophiles R Us.

Did no-one in the Crown Prosecution Service question that? All this has only come to light because someone who served as an expert witness for some defendants thought to examine the activity logs of the websites in question:

The log recorded when credit cards were signed up and charged - and, critically, whether the person putting in the card details then went on to visit the porn site they had paid for... Not only did thousands of the supposed porn buyers not go to get their porn; many of the sites had been set up purely for fraud. His checks were evidential tests that the UK police seem to have forgotten to take.

US police ran those checks and only prosecuted those who went on to download porn.  Sophisticated Brits who despise hick Americans might like to chew on that, as well as asking why no British journalists asked questions about it at the time. Had they picked up on the different approach taken in America, they would have had a splendid opportunity to show their journalistic mettle at the police's triumphalist press conferences.

I suspect that paedophilia and child abuse are rarer than the authorities would have us believe. They tend to exaggerate any evil that makes the gullible eager for State protection. Paedophilia witch-hunts are a wonderfully emotive tool for manipulating the masses. Judged by their actions, rather than their words, our government's main political objective seems to be constant expansion of State power. Stories like this are grist to the mill.

All the death, pain, misery and family break-ups caused by this affair should lie heavily on the consciences of the police and prosecutors involved. When dealing with the minions of the State, that's the only punishment for which we can hope. Some of the destroyed families will sue, but the taxpayers will pick up the bill for damages.  Heads should roll, but that's not this government's style. So massively incompetent is its whole apparatus, that no guillotine could cope.

At this moment, furious as I am, I could wish there was a Hell. I would like to reserve a particularly uncomfortable spot there for the sneering police officers mentioned in this particular story;

Tens or hundreds of thousands of people fell victim, including some who later became targets of Operation Ore. One was 'John', a top city banker. In 1998 and 1999, his family credit card was repeatedly charged by Gambino internet organisations, and its details then shared with other fraudsters: in June 1999, his card was charged twice more to make payments to one of Landslide's top-earning webmasters - who was also a child porn merchant.

Seven years later, 'John' was targeted in Operation Ore: in May 2006, he stood aghast as police entered his home and trawled through his family's intimate possessions. He says that police officers "sneered" when he and his lawyers told them about credit card fraud. "They said they had never heard of it happening," he told me. Only after a two-day High Court case last September did the police agree that he was above suspicion, and apologised to him.

An apology. Well that's fine then.

H/T The Yorkshire Ranter, via Tim Worstall.

The Operation Ore Exposed site is here.

What can we hope to achieve? (Part III of "€œWhat'€™s the point of blogging?")

Lexingtonminuteman_small It is impolite to talk about politics in Britain. Socially-approved opportunities to do so are few. Usually they involve small-scale discussions with like-minded people, which tend to reinforce rather than change opinions. Even our one-way "discussion" with our daily newspaper is usually within our political comfort zone.

Even if you find yourself in our greatest debating chamber, you will be disappointed. The outcome is usually a foregone conclusion. Ministers pay the merest lip-service to our Parliament, which has fallen under the control of the Executive, via the Government Whips. It is a parody of its former self.

Policy is now made in small, shifting party cliques. Once adopted, each party's parliamentary troops are marshalled to support it. If ordinary party members disapprove, their remedy is to vote with their feet. So many have already done so that the political parties have lost their fear of it. Taxpayer funding will remove the final shred of dependence on grass roots support.

What fertile ground for error. If a wrong idea takes root the chances of grubbing it up in such circumstances are low - until it is too late. Political progress in Britain therefore mainly consists of detecting, from the catastrophic consequences of their policies, the idiocies of long-retired politicians.

Politeness also allows extremism to breed unchallenged. Last Summer, an "anti-war" campaigner yelling on the streets of my home town in England was utterly shocked when I challenged her views. In British terms, she was culturally, if not politically, in the right. I should have murmured "thank you" when she gave me her vile leaflet. She therefore lives, as do many extremists, in a bubble of similarly wrong-headed people. They reinforce each other's ideas daily, yet it's impolite (or homophobic, racist or Islamophobic if they belong to the relevant protected groups) for anyone else to challenge them. Jeremy Paxman's partner's Stalinist aunt has remained in her own such "bubble" for the whole of her long life.

Can political blogging change this situation? It can certainly provide an additional context for debate. Given the social restrictions on talking politics in Britain, that's no bad thing. Blogging is an excellent medium for dissidents. We can find each other across the internet, linking to each other and creating a shifting virtual political party of our own. Following the links from any of our sites will lead you to a whole range of political opinions rarely now to be found in the traditional media.


My stats package shows where my most recent readers are. Here's this morning's map, zoomed in on Britain. What are the chances of getting those people together to talk politics? I can see that some come here from similar sites. Some of them run their own sites, some of which I read. My little band of readers is statistically insignificant, but to get a real idea of the size of this network, we would need to overlay similar maps for all the blogs visited, and commented on, by all of these people and all of the different people visiting each of those blogs.

Blogs provide a 24/7 public meeting where we can discuss different points of view and challenge them. We can equip each other with arguments from different perspectives (often very different) which allow us to take the struggle into the "real world". If you are the only libertarian in the village, everyone will rapidly have heard everything you have to say on the subject. Equipped with arguments from other libertarians on the Web, you may avoid becoming the pub bore and win a few converts.

Screen_shot_3No single one of us can move the mountain of European Statism, but the overlapping spheres of influence  of even a few hundred like-minded bloggers may have an effect. Our Statist opponents are too busy fearing and condemning the phenomenon to learn how to use it. So we have a brief opportunity for our invisible networks of advocacy and support to have more effect than the off-putting street harangues, pompous pronouncements or condescending editorials that the Left considers to be "political action."                

Blogs may also be able to disrupt the damaging interplay of news editors and politicians. Editors seek to prove their power to readers, listeners or viewers by making politicians dance to their tune. The politicians in turn use the editors to manipulate voters. Voters - or those from that minority that has not yet lost interest - are mere spectators. It's all very cosy. This may be why the traditional media overreacts to the blogging phenomenon; far more so than the politicians. It's hard to understand why someone like Michael White, secure in his respected, highly-paid, position would deign to notice someone like Guido; let alone appear on television with him, fermenting in disdain.

White and his colleagues mistakenly look at blogs as individual publications. This leads them to fear only the big boys like Guido. Yet he actually provides a service for journalists and politicians. Political insiders use his blog to exchange coded messages and snipe at each other in ways that would be damaging elsewhere. They get to play dirty politics; Guido gets any opprobrium.

Smaller political blogs may, paradoxically, prove to be more important agents of political change.  Only, however, if each blogger sees himself not as a one-man rival to the Guardian, but as part of an ideas network. Satisfying though it is to build readership on one's own blog, it is not vital to the overall success of the political project. We should therefore look beyond our own blogs and try to see ourselves as helping to bring a political case to a wider audience; including people who never actually read our own words. It's the reach of the network that matters, not that of any given blog.

March_24_2003_164The first blogs were simply lists of links the blogger wanted to share. It may not suit our vanity to accept it, but if my reasoning is correct, the links in our posts and sidebars are more valuable than our own text. The links create the network. The links send the readers off in various directions where - over time - they may find reasons to change their world view. "Road to Damascus" political conversions are rare. Usually it takes time; lots of time.

So, if there is a point to blogging, it  is not to provide an electronic soap box at a virtual Hyde Park Corner. A better aim is to be a distinctive voice in a community; to use a network of readers, commenters and linking fellow-bloggers as a political medium. That's also, by the way, much more fun.

Like the Irish monks of the Dark ages in their towers, each protecting a small selection of classical knowledge, a network of bloggers to which I am proud to belong is keeping the ideas of classical liberalism alive in the British Isles. After the Dark Age of 20th Century Statism, let's hope the  political Renaissance comes soon.

Don't be smug about V-Tech killings

Link: BBC NEWS | World | Americas | US university killer was S Korean.

GunBritain's anti-American media were all over the sad story of the V-Tech killings. They tore gleefully into America's "gun culture" and its people in general. Let's get this straight. This horror didn't happen because the killer was American. It didn't happen because he was ethnically Korean. It happened because the poor young man was mad.

"Ah, but he had such easy access to guns." Yes, he did. Unfortunately, since the university authorities had made the campus "gun-free," his victims did not. There was no-one there to return fire. Most of the victims would be alive today if the university had not banned guns.

Some Britons seem to enjoy it when something like this happens in America, but Britain has no moral standing to judge America harshly.  Violent crime is declining in America and rising in Britain. The risk of being violently attacked in England & Wales is already higher than in America and rising. In Scotland, the situation is worse. Many killed or injured with knives or other weapons in Britain, would be alive and unharmed if their assailants had feared they might have a gun.

The main disadvantage of widespread gun ownership in America is that suicide is easier. 58% of America's gun deaths are self-inflicted, which is one reason you have to be careful when gun control advocates choose to compare "gun deaths" rather than homicides. Only 38% of America's "gun deaths" are homicides and some of those are justifiable (e.g. self-defence).

Britain's only statistical advantage in the field of crime is that our homicide rate is lower. America counts all reported offences. We remove homicides from the statistics if all suspects are acquitted (although the victim remains dead). We might not show the V-Tech killings in our statistics at all, if they were found to have been committed by a mentally-disturbed person (see Home Office Statistical Bulletin 02/07). America's statistics more accurately reflect the total number of victims.

It's hard to say what the statistical difference would be if comparable figures were available, but it seems reasonable to suspect that some of Britain's advantage would be lost.

Burglaries are twice as common in Britain as in America and 53% of them (because of improved household security) now take place when the homeowner is present. In America only 13% of burglaries take place while an occupant is home. American burglars do not have the benefit of a government guarantee that all properties are undefended. Would anyone in America have frightened my wife like these guys? I don't think so. They would have been afraid that she or some kindly neighbour  would have shot them. That fear would have neutralised all their advantages of youth, strength and disregard for reputation.

To carry a licensed gun in America, you must - in every State - have a clean criminal record. Am I naive enough to expect American criminals to obey America's gun control laws? No. The naive ones are those who expect British criminals to abide by Britain's. They simply don't. While, by definition, no law-abiding citizen in Britain is armed; one-third of young criminals own or have access to a gun. There may be as many as four million illegal firearms in Britain.

For most of my life, I shared the common British view that America's attitude to gun control was crazy. However, disarming the law-abiding has proved to be disastrous. The British State can't or won't protect us. We were stupid to let it disarm us.

Can we please just shut up about V-Tech? We have no leg to stand on.

Why I blog (part II of "What is the point of blogging?")

BiroOver two years, I have devoted many hours to expressing opinions here. Just over 70 people subscribe to my RSS feed and 30-50 “regulars” actually show up at the site each day. If the even smaller group who make comments are representative, they all have quite similar opinions to mine.

Naively, I set out to light a candle in the political darkness descending on my country. Even by that unambitious standard (and, please, I do not solicit more encouragement than has already been kindly offered) I have failed. My political impact, if any, is in the realms of quantum physics.

I enjoy writing for its own sake; drafting, re-drafting, taking pains to cram meaning into selected words. My only academic prize was for an English essay; the first law student at my university to take a prize regarded the English Department as its own. I write every day for work, crafting my business communications as best I can. and trying to promote good writing by my team, most of them working in a second language. However, there is little room for anything of me in such writing. 25 years of it has crippled my style, such as it was. Business people want concise information, fast. I have prostituted my prose to that, cheerfully enough. Here, however, I can write my way. However, if you add up all the words in all my posts, I could have written my long thought-about and probably-now-never-to-be-written novel. There are other ways to indulge a love of writing.

Political blogging is also a therapy. Devil’s Kitchen spoke recently on 18 Doughty Street of its cathartic effect. He did not set out to win an audience or be funny. He was just releasing his political rage. He claims, somewhat implausibly, to be surprised that a large readership finds his writing funny. I lack his humorous skills, but have enjoyed, in my own way, a similar catharsis. At the very least, my readers have relieved the pressure on my family and friends endlessly to discuss my political concerns. Yet no audience is required for such therapeutic writing. I could have kept a diary to vent my rage.

It seems incredible to me now, but I started this blog without having read any others. I went straight to Blogger (where I began) from a newspaper article. So the most important benefit of blogging was a surprise to me. The media like to portray us as geeks in garrets, but this is - above all - a social medium. It took me a while to realise that, in my lonely preaching, I was completely missing the point. To my family, business colleagues and friends, I must now add my blogging friends. I continue now, largely from solidarity with them. The price I pay for the pleasure of reading their blogs is to contribute my own h'aporth here and elsewhere.

So my reasons to continue now are mainly personal. Nonetheless, I still nurture some political hopes for British blogging. They are realistic hopes; not based on any big breakthrough for this or any similar blog. I shall explain further in the third and final part of this post.


Browne apologises for allowing sailors to sell stories | Special Reports | Guardian Unlimited Politics

Link: Browne apologises for allowing sailors to sell stories | Special Reports | Guardian Unlimited Politics.

250pxdes_browne_mpThis government is as arrogant as it is incompetent. Challenged by his Shadow to apologise, Defence Secretary Des Browne said:

"If he wants me to say sorry then I am more than happy to say sorry."

How very gracious. One might have hoped, given the damage Browne has done to the reputation of the services for which he is politically responsible, that he might have thought to apologise unprompted. One might hope that as he has told two different versions of the events surrounding this debacle, only one of which could be true, that he would feel the need to apologise for his untruth.

Like the Government itself, he still seems more focussed on political survival than political responsibility.