THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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February 2010

The Love Police at work, again.

David Cameron thinks we need to set minimum educational standards for our teachers. Perhaps he should look at those for our police (and para-police)? This would be funny, if it were not so sad. Where are the robust English yeomen to tell these floundering, blundering uniformed buffoons where to get off? The desperate look whenever they are asked for legal justification for their actions says it all. There is too much law in Britain if even the professionals can't have it at their fingertips.

h/t Old Holborn

An inconvenient challenge

I am an arts and (though I shudder to associate Law with such "disciplines" as Sociology) social sciences man. My interests are literature, theatre and history. I love technology, but all I know about serious science is Professor Karl Popper's* explanation of the scientific method as the postulation of hypotheses followed by the performance of rigorous experiments to falsify them, resulting in provisional "truths".

One of the first bloggers I followed was A.W. Montford, known to me until recently only as Bishop Hill. Of late he has found a new audience on the topic of climate change. I have just finished his book The Hockey Stick Illusion. I feared it would be hard going but I was wrong. Despite some necessary (and thank goodness elegant) explanations of abstruse complexities, it is a page-turner. I commend it to you.

In reading it, I have acquired a new hero - a rare event at my time of life. Steve McIntyre has something in common with one of my other heroes, John Harrison. Both were derided by the closed ranks of the scientific establishment, largely on the basis of a snobbish reaction against an unqualified** "outsider." Harrison's inventions made the modern world possible. McIntyre's work (done for intellectual curiosity and at his own expense) may yet save it.

A prize-winning mathematician as a young man in Canada, McIntyre's family circumstances dictated a remunerative practical life as a mining engineer, rather than in academia. In retirement, he became interested in climate science, his gut instincts telling him that there was something wrong with a leaflet sent to every home in Canada in 2002 to promote the Kyoto Protocol. His reading led him to the work of Professor Michael E. Mann. Mann's paper, published in Nature on 23rd April 1998, strongly influenced the IPCC's and the world's politicians' view that anthropogenic global warming (AGW, or colloquially "climate change") was a potentially apocalyptic threat. A graph from that paper, showing the Earth's temperature as steady for centuries, with a sudden up-tick post-industrialisation, became the most influential image in selling AGW theory to the world. It (in its various forms over the years) is known as "the Hockey Stick" and its scientific supporters, clustered around Mann, are known as "the Hockey Team."

Many of you will have seen the graph behind Al Gore as he presented An Inconvenient Truth. You will certainly have seen it somewhere. It's burned onto our collective consciousness and it's in our childrens' school books. It's also based on flawed science and is pretty much discredited. Yet it continues to influence policy across the world, to the possible detriment of human civilisation.

Professor Mann is a poor scientist and a weak man, but not a bad person. He's sincere, as are the vast majority of proponents of the AGW hypothesis. He foresees catastrophic peril to humanity and is frustrated by those who doubt it and therefore impede (as he sees it) the necessary solutions. I am sure he was sincere in writing the original paper and in all his subsequent (sometimes dishonest) defences of it. I even believe, sadly, that he has been sincere in trashing his "opponents" and seeking to prevent their work from being published in the journals.

I imagine he feels such means are justified by a noble end. Sadly, that is how almost all corruption begins. One way to know you are going wrong in life is to catch yourself spinning data to serve your heartfelt objectives. His enemies point out that the paper and particularly the Hockey Stick propelled him from being a 33 year old unknown who had just completed his doctorate, to being one of the most influential scientists on Earth. He has certainly benefitted from it, but few men are evil enough to condemn billions to poverty for personal gain or glory. There are some such, no doubt, but I don't believe he is among them. It seems sadly clear however that for whatever (probably noble) reason, he has betrayed his calling as a man of science.

AGW proponents denounce sceptics as conspiracy theorists; ridiculing the straw man idea that so many distinguished scientists could be induced to conspire for political ends. I have never believed in such a conspiracy. I simply believe in the human weaknesses I see every day, not least in myself. Chief among these is pride. Exalt a man for a piece of work that proves flawed and his ego-involvement will lead him astray if he is anything less than a saint. He will defend it and call in every favour from his friends to do likewise. John Harrison's enemies were sincere too. Yes, their motives were mixed. They wanted the huge prize he had so clearly earned. They wanted to maintain their respected status against the rising fame of an interloper. But they were no cartoon villains and neither are the Hockey Team. Sadly, you don't need to be Dr. Evil to hold back the advance of civilisation. You just need to be misguided and proud.

That Mann is a scientific Salieri does not make McIntyre Mozart. He has exposed Mann's methodological errors, but he has never purported to attempt an alternative analysis. He has no more disproved AGW theory than Mann has "proved" it. The Bish's excellent book merely shows that the members of the Hockey Team are (as are we all) weak humans trapped in a mesh of pride. We should not allow our distaste for their perversion of science to divert us from seeking truth. That truth will take dangerously longer to establish provisionally because of their (and their supporting politicians') unscientific interference with honest attempts to test it.

* A nice moment of my life was Professor Popper's [grand-daughter][see correction in comments] (a friend of Ms Paine the Elder) spotting his books in my home and exclaiming that she had never seen copies before. But that's a story for another post.

** McIntyre, as a cursory glance at his Wikipedia biography will confirm, is far from the uneducated autodidact that Harrison was (and neither would he claim Harrison's status as a world-changing genius) but my point still stands.

You know when you've been Gordo'ed

Gordon Brown accused of throwing a tangerine - Telegraph.

Dreamstime_13070115  Miliband-banana

I guess it makes a change from throwing his Orange. I wonder if the colleague he shouted at for handing him the tangerine (presumably on the basis that he should have known not to give him a projectile) was the same one who handed Milliband his trademark banana? What is it with Labour and fruit anyway? Let's not forget that our troubled relationship with Ballista Brown began with a Granita Siciliana. I wonder what flavour? Bananas, tangerines or assorted fruits?

Please forgive the light-hearted tone. As every likely outcome of this election is a disaster for Britain, I have decided to try to enjoy the campaign. It might be our last good laugh for a while, given the state of the economy. Besides, as one of the first openly to speculate about Mr. Brown's mental health, I am just happy to see my defence of justification strengthen hour by hour.

A work of fiction

Dreamstime_9220488Once upon a time many years ago, young Gemima worked for a British logistics company. Some employees working overseas found themselves stranded by circumstances beyond their control. They were driving a convoy of trucks carrying crates of foodstuffs but were stuck in a remote and barren spot. They were neither able to reach their destination nor retreat and had no shelter but the cabs of their trucks. After a while, their own food ran out. The company's senior driver authorised them to break open the cargo and eat some of the food. However he also took the opportunity to steal valuable crates for himself for future sale.

The drivers were told they would be charged for the food they consumed but realised they would also end up paying for the stolen goods. They were understandably indignant and sent a message home. In response, the company sent Gemima to sort the matter out. After meeting them and hearing their story she met privately with the thief over lunch. After a long, jovial and well-lubricated meal she emerged staggering under the weight of bags of stolen goods. She told the drivers they were in the wrong to make such accusations against the foremen and would have to pay, whereupon they threw her and her ill-gotten gains into a nearby lake.


[Author's note: if this reminds any readers of any similar events they may have witnessed in real life, can they please email me (making the customary adjustments) at Tom dot Paine at Mac dot com]

Prescott at Bay

Iain Dale's Diary: How to Cope With a Bullying Prescott.

Mr Dale needs no links from a blogging minnow such as me, but it's quicker than a hat tip. Mary Ann Sieghart's column delighted me more than I can say, because (in response to an ill-judged breach of "off the record" trust by Prescott) she finally got to give her account of telling him what he must know in his heart;

That was when he finally lost it. "So what you're saying is I'm too thick to be Deputy Prime Minister?" he yelled at me. His two apparatchiks stiffened. "Well yes, I guess I am," I said in a small voice.

Do read the whole thing and chortle at her refutation of his characteristic defence that he had not had her "fine education" and that she was "just a snob."

What a loser. And what losers we all are to have made him rich. At least we can feel better that the buffoon has been told the truth to his face.

In which Tom almost becomes an anarchist

Colin Ward obituary | Society | The Guardian.

I love Guardian obituaries. Usually, they are fascinating accounts of the reassuringly wasted lives of leftist eccentrics. I derive great pleasure from noting the damage deceased Guardian-reading busybodies entirely failed to do in the course of their pointless lives of bickering and writing pamphlets read by no-one. This one caught my eye though, at first for the wrong reasons. I laughed at the idea of an anarchist working for the Town & Country Planning Association. When I read a little more about him, I realised the laugh was on me.

Apparently, famous anarchist Piotr Kropotkin (what was he doing in the Home Counties?) said of the empty and overgrown landscape of Surrey and Sussex after the Industrial Revolution; every direction I see abandoned cottages and orchards going to ruin, a whole population has disappeared...
In his book Cotters & Squatters, Colin Ward observed;
Precisely a century after this account was written, the fields were empty again. Fifty years of subsidies had made the owners of arable land millionaires through mechanised cultivation and, with a crisis of over-production; the European Community was rewarding them for growing no crops on part of their land. However, opportunities for the homeless poor were fewer than ever in history. The grown-up children of local families can’t get on the housing ladder.
His suggested solutions included community land where people could build their own homes;
...and they should be allowed to do it a bit at a time, starting in a simple way and improving the structure as they go along. The idea that a house should be completed in one go before you can get planning permission and a mortgage is ridiculous.

He was quite right of course. State-enforced housing standards are a 3D equivalent of the minimum wage; at the bottom of the social heap, they spare you the indignity of poor housing by first denying you housing (and then throwing you into "social" housing as a solution to your problem). How did such a good bloke make it past the Guardian's editors, even in death?

I could not agree more with his idea that politics is about "strengthening co-operative relations" (by providing legal frameworks for co-operation, not orders from above) though I am not sure if it could ever really be described as "supporting human ingenuity". In my experience politics only ever develops human ingenuity by functioning as a kind of gym. Some of the most ingenious entrepreneurs I have met developed their skills in the black markets of the former Eastern Bloc, for example. Colin Ward, however (as must have slipped the obituary editor's notice) is no Honecker nostalgist;

Can there be social organisation without authority, without government? The anarchists claim that there can be, and they also claim that it is desirable that there should be. They claim that [my emphasis] at the basis of our social problems is the principle of government. It is, after all, governments which prepare for war and wage war, even though you are obliged to fight in them and pay for them; the bombs you are worried about are not the bombs which cartoonists attribute to the anarchists, but the bombs which governments have perfected, at your expense. 

Allelujah, brother! Don't praise the lords!! Before this blog starts flying the black flag however, let's read a little further;

It is ... governments which make and enforce the laws which enable the 'haves' to retain control over social assets rather than share them with the 'have-nots'. It is, after all, the principle of authority which ensures that people will work for someone else for the greater part of their lives, not because they enjoy it or have any control over their work, but because they see it as their only means of livelihood.

Hmm. There it is. The "Property is theft" sign on the gate at Anarchism's boundaries. Not to mention the give-away use of the word "social" to mean "ours, not yours, though you earned it". Still he clearly raised some interesting questions;

Why do people consent to be governed? It isn't only fear: what have millions of people to fear from a small group of politicians? It is because they subscribe to the same values as their governors. Rulers and ruled alike believe in the principle of authority, of hierarchy, of power.

This is a good, if faintly depressing, answer to the question so often posed in the libertarian blogosphere; "Why do we put up with it?" The principle of authority is one we learned at our mother's and (if we were lucky) our father's knee. Ward's obituary led me to this more encouraging passage (by which Old Holborn is currently trying to live);

'The State’ said the German anarchist Gustav Landauer, ‘is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.

Whatever the overall merits of his ideas, Colin Ward lived outside the grim, grey Guardian norms of thought and for this he must be praised. RIP.

Who could doubt Lord Mandelson's word?

BBC News - Mandelson denies Brown 'bullying' claims.

I am sure the PM can afford his own legal advice, but let me break a professional habit and offer some for free. If the allegations published in today's Observer are untrue, as both he and Lord Mandelson have now said, he has a clear cause of action. There is no doubt that to accuse a man falsely of the kind of behaviour in Mr Rawnsley's account is to lower his reputation in the eyes of right thinking members of the public. Indeed a right-thinking person would consider such behaviour bonkers. It is therefore libellous.

Such accusations against a man in one of the highest offices of State; a man due soon to face an electorate that could be influenced by such falsehoods are particularly blameworthy. If Mr Rawnsley and the Observer are indeed lying to "flam up" the newspaper and sell the book, then I am sure the judge would seriously consider an award of punitive damages. In my opinion, no defence of "fair comment on a matter of public interest" would be available to the dastardly (by the Prime Minister's account) author, in the context of what he has described as "malicious fabrications."

I am normally cautious when it comes to such matters. The man who trained me always gave a warning speech to clients about setting sail on the stormy seas of litigation, advising them that - however sturdy their craft might seem - a safe harbour can never be guaranteed. However, if the Prime Minister's account is true then he is a man much injured and his ship is ironclad. I really think he should sue and donate his winnings to charity. Perhaps he might donate them to the Treasury his government has so comprehensively emptied?

Of course, if he wishes to clear the matter up quietly, as behoves a man of the gentle temperament he claims, perhaps he could just ask Sir Gus O'Donnell to deny he ever told the Prime Minister to curb his temper? That should sort it out. Sir Gus is an independent and honourable servant of Her Majesty. No political lickspittle he. His word, surely, can set this scandalous matter to rest?

King had a dream, but blacks now face a nightmare

American Thinker: King had a dream, but blacks now face a nightmare

The linked article is sad and touching. When will the minority groups in British society come to the same realisation? Their hopes and dreams have been ruthlessly exploited by the Left in exactly the same way - and with the same outcome. The racism industry is never going to declare victory, because that would be to make its hordes of parasites redundant. It is going to go on and on redefining itself. Racism is just too valuable a meal ticket (and an electoral dog whistle) ever to give it up. This, no matter how much it saps self-confidence, self-belief and self-reliance by giving certain groups (as capable of success as anyone else) a reason to fail - or at least a reason to stop trying.

At each election liberals say that blacks need protection from conservatives, but there are no conservatives anywhere near us. The only thing that all of the people who set the policies that affect us have in common is that they are all liberal. Our cities have been under liberal control for decades and they are also where the black economic and social indicators are the worst; and the mainstream civil rights movement, that claims to represent us, never questions whether or not liberalism is partially to blame.

Don't get me wrong. There were and are racists. They are stupid people, focussed on a trivial irrelevance. I can only pity people who have nothing more to be proud of than their ethnic origin. They should take up macramé or something; at least a well-crafted bedspread would be their own achievement. I first learned to pity them growing up among Welsh Nationalists; people focussed on a difference so trivial as to be laughable. People who admit they are defined only by their sense of cymreictod; a sense I once had, but abandoned when I realised I was expected to hate people I loved.

Such fools are not worth a second thought; to take them seriously is to make something of them they could never make themselves. Just look at the clowns in the BNP. What sane person can do more than laugh? To the extent such people can ever pose a threat (and we must of course be vigilant not to place them in positions of power) it is one to be triumphantly and contemptuously transcended. The way forward for "ethnic minorities" is the same way forward as for anyone else; self-reliance, family, friendship, kindness, education and effort.

No "liberal" or leftist can admit that, because it would be to expose themselves as the exploitative parasites they are.

A riddle

A young man graduates from an Oxbridge college. Left-wing in outlook, he advises all his fellow-graduates that they should become teachers in state schools in order to "put something back into society" by way of compensation for their "privileged backgrounds." The young man himself comes from a family that owns a castle North of the Border and an elegant house in London. At his 21st birthday party, his parents supplied pheasant from the family estate. He is not going to become a teacher to "put something back." He is going into journalism, but will not be working his way up from any local rag. He begins work later this year for a national newspaper.

Which newspaper? Go on, guess.