Tuesday, May 30

Ambush.

The Web can catch one by surprise at times. I innocently amble over to Blognor Regis and find my long-dead grandad staring out at me. Well, staring off to one side. Still, quite surprising.



At the helm.

Many people seem to be under the impression that nations have big control rooms, a bit like ships, and that someone has to be at the controls, carefully piloting the country and making sure it doesn't crash into an iceberg or another country or an unfavourable trade agreement. We see this a lot with the popular criticism of Bush that he's taken more holidays than any other president. This factoid is calculated by counting every minute not spent in the White House as holiday time. Apparently, it is impossible to perform any presidential duties anywhere else, presumably because the Oval Office is where the USA's only steering wheel is located.

And now we're seeing it with John bloody Prescott. Having an extra-marital affair and thereby proving that he is completely untrustworthy wasn't enough to do his career any significant damage, but it appears that playing croquet is. Yes, MPs are calling for his resignation because he played a game of croquet while in charge of the country. For this demand to make any sense whatsoever, the following exchange needs to be at least conceivable:

"John, John! The French have declared war on the UK! They've stated that they're willing to use the nuclear option, John! They've given us five minutes to surrender!"

"Can't tha see I'm playing croquet? Boogger off!"


Politicians believe that politics is important, just as carpenters believe that decent hand-made wooden furniture is important. They don't understand — they refuse to accept — that the public can get by without them, even for twenty minutes. Prescott was in charge, but he wasn't watching the road! Who was steering? Help, help! We're out of control! The UK's going to crash! Aaaaaaaaaaarrrgh!

Anyone else notice the effects during this croquet match? The way crime got worse, the economy slumped slightly, and British industry shed six hundred jobs during John's fateful half-hour on the lawn? No?

Sack Prescott, please. But not over this puerile tripe.


Update:

Mark Holland has spotted rather a nice historical allusion.



Blogging about blogging.

Yeah, yeah: it's the worst thing ever. So I'll keep this brief. If you're not a blogger yourself, I guarantee to you that this is dead boring and you shouldn't waste your time reading it.

I'm updating the sidebar. It used to contain everyone who links to me. I'm updating it to include only blogs that I can actually be bothered reading. Call me callous if you will, but there you go. If you've been removed from it, that doesn't mean I think your blog's shite or even merely second-rate; just that I don't often read it. And I don't read many blogs, 'cause, frankly, I'm just not that interested and have a lot of other things to do, like gardening and cleaning up after dogs with upset stomachs.

If you link to me and are outraged by my breaking of the informal bloggers' code of mutual linkage, feel free to delete me from your sidebar — that's fair enough. But please don't get offended, 'cause, really, nothing offensive has occurred.

Er, that's all. Cheers.



Thursday, May 25

Spam, spam, spam, spam.

Just got this email from one "Cleveland Casey":

Greetings Joseph!.!


I love that punctuation.

at first I should tell you about my appear ...


Yes, I'm dying to know about your appear.

... so I got E-mail from one DATING AGENCY but really that was VERY STRANGE for me because I closed all my accounts at DATING SITES, because I don't like people who are interested just in non SERIOUS RELATIONS, I have much FRIENDS from that sites but really I did not find someone special for me....
But I got your E-mail address and thought "MAYBE THAT IS MY DESTINY" to find someone special?


Let me just make sure I've got this straight. You closed your account with this dating agency, but they decided to set you up with me anyway, for free, because we're both so special and they didn't want to mess with destiny?

Yeah, actually, I can believe that.

Really there was written that you wish to know me.


Yes, there certainly was.

So I don't know where you did get MY E-MAIL ADDRESS but I hope that is NOT JUST MISTAKE.


Oo, a spam double bluff. That's right: it was me who got hold of your address. And you have no idea why you're hearing from me, a total stranger, out of the blue like this. Mmm.

I hope to hear from you soon....
If you decide to answer me I promise to SEND YOU big LETTER and MY BEST PHOTOS !!! I'd like to learn more about you. PLEASE, WRITE ME some lines about your personality, your hobbies, your way of life.
I'm really interested to know!


Why don't you just read my blog?

As for me, I'm an easy-going and open-hearted person. I take life as it comes and have optimistic views.


Clearly very optimistic.

It doesn't mean that nothing makes me sad, but I consider all the difficulties in my life to be useful for me.

I'm very communicative and like to spend time in a good company. I enjoy outdoors activities and sport. What about you? Do you go in for sports?


Does this count?

Hope to hear from you soon, please use solaris14@HotPOP.com to answer me ! I wit your letter with large impatience .


How large?

Please do it for me .


 Katya


Katya, why do you use an email account under the name of Cleveland Casey? "Hi, I'm Katya, but you can call me Cleveland." Or possibly vice versa. Weird.

Yeah, like I, Mr Squander, can criticise.

I particularly like the last line.

Thu, 25 May 2006 21:24:42 -0100
bimetallism angling

 



Contracts.

Tim Worstall writes about those recent landmark divorce settlements:

But the thing is, pre-nups have no validity in English law ... they’re a statement of intent, a pretty piece of paper, but not actually a contract that can be enforced.

....

The reason this all happens is that in English law marriage is a contract that over rides all others. You can’t exclude things from its effects.


Marriage is more binding than other contracts? Really? In English law, you can duck out of your marriage because you're bored or someone's given you a better offer or you're feeling depressed or you think it's holding back your career or you just don't feel like it any more. Try that with your credit card.

Here's a simple experiment. Sign a contract with a firm, agreeing to go and work in Taiwan. Then tell them you can't because your wife doesn't want to move house and you made this promise to stay with her forever. Reckon you won't have to pay the costs of backing out of the contract with the firm? Reckon your marriage vows make it null and void? Good luck with that.

Marriage has to be one of the weakest contracts around. Which I think is a great shame. These two new rulings are excellent, but not once does that article in The Times even mention why. Here are some of the pertinent details:

FUND manager Alan Miller "didn't particularly want to be married, but the wife would not cohabit with him unless they were wed", the Court of Appeal was told by his QC last year.


So he made the marriage vows, in front of witnesses, without meaning them. What a bastard.

The marriage came to an end in April 2003 when Mr Miller "left to pursue his relationship with another woman", and a battle in the divorce courts ensued.


So he broke the marriage vows in a pretty fundamental way. What a bastard.

A friend of mine suggested the other day that marriage should simply be covered by standard contract law, and he's got a point. What Alan Miller has done here is fraud, pure and simple. There's a bit of variation between different phrasings of the vows, but, one way or another, he agreed to love, honour, and cherish Melissa, forsaking all others, until one or both of them was dead. Why should any reasonable person, having had such vows made to them, not be able to expect that they are now in a permanent marriage? I cannot imagine a lawyer anywhere coming up with a more cunningly simple anti-weasel clause than "for better, for worse". Really, what isn't covered by that? Fall in love with someone else? Worse. Discover you're gay? Worse. If you don't want to be bound by the vows, don't make them.

What gets me is that he actually used his intent to commit fraud as a defense. Look at that: he told the court that he hadn't really wanted to get married — in other words, that he was lying when he made the vows. Apparently, in his mind, that makes it OK to break them. Again, try that with your credit card.

According to The Times, to Tim Worstall, and to pretty much every other pundit out there, this ruling will damage marriage. How? A man who made a mockery of the institution by deliberately and premeditatedly destroying his own marriage has been punished. In other news, punishing shoplifters damages the retail trade.

And also according to pretty much every pundit out there, the best advice now is to avoid marriage. It seems to have occurred to no-one that the real lesson to be learnt here is to avoid cheating.

Once upon a time, not that long ago, being unmarried past a certain age was socially suspicious. If you were a businessman, you had to have a wife. If you were a woman, you had to have a husband. If you were homosexual, you got sent to prison. In those days, lots of people had to get married who didn't want to. But things have changed. It is now socially acceptable to be not only single but openly promiscuous for your entire life. No-one has to get married any more. Which means that every single person who makes those vows is doing so freely and voluntarily.

Which means that, if they break them, they deserve eveything bad they get.



Monday, May 22

Bloody football fans.

We now have an airport named after a wife-beater. Thanks for that, you fucking imbeciles.



Sunday, May 21

There's more to literacy than knowing how to spell.

Yes, the same title used for two posts in a row. Sue me.

Thing is, no sooner do I use the title on a mere urinal instruction than I see this, the Seattle School Board's race relations policy. Laban's concentrating on the political side of it, but forget about that. What bothers me is the language. I mean, just pick any sentence:

Third, a culturally competent helping professional is one who is in the process of actively developing and practicing appropriate, relevant, and sensitive intervention strategies and skills in working with his or her culturally different student.


I'd love to say that I trawled the piece for the worst sentence, but, really, no; I just picked that at random. Here's another:

The professional actively challenges their assumptions; they monitor their functioning via consultations, supervision, or continuing education.


Don't know about you, but I monitor my functioning regularly, ever since that visit to the doctor.

Tsk. This from an organisation responsible for teaching kids how to write. Parents: leave Seattle now.

Actually, I know I said to forget the political side, but I just can't restrain myself from pointing out that

The culturally competent professional does not profess color blindness


neatly rules out Martin Luther King. Which was it, I wonder? Was he uncultural, incompetent or amateurish?



Saturday, May 20

There's more to literacy than knowing how to spell.

On a day visit to Glasgow. Ate at Il Pavone. Best scampi in the world. Fucking fantastic. Couldn't live here again, but I do love this city.

Anyway.

On each urinal in the ferry crossing the Arsh Sea is the following sign:

To operate the flush system press button then release


At first glance, it's this ridiculous operating of the flush system that catches my eye. Does your toilet have a flush system? Do you operate it? But then I realise that, pointlessly sci-fi though that may be, it's "then release" that's the really stupid bit. Perhaps, before they installed these signs, people didn't.



Friday, May 19

Time flies.

Did you see the BBC's excellent series Life On Mars? If not, then this won't mean much to you. Sorry about that.

Anyway, here's the thing. Detective Sam Tyler went back in time further than Marty McFly did in Back To The Future.

This makes me feel quite alarmingly old.



Thursday, May 18

Too good not to mention.

Bored though I may be of criticising the idiots in charge, this one's just got to be shouted from the rooftops:

The Home Office faced fresh controversy last night after ministers were accused of accidentally repealing the law which makes it an offence to have a forged passport.

In an extraordinary development, it was claimed that Labour's Identity Cards Act had repealed the existing laws before the new laws to replace them come into force.

One court case involving two men who were caught with forged passports has already had to be adjourned.


Absolute bloody genius. Of a sort.



Tuesday, May 16

Origins.

Here we have a round-up of piss-takes of Dan Brown, all making the same point: since "da Vinci" means "from Vinci", referring to Leonardo da Vinci as "da Vinci" is like calling Jesus "of Nazareth".

I've not read The Da Vinci Code, and reserve judgment on something that millions of people think is brilliant and millions think is crap — how am I to know which camp I'd fall into? But, even if the book is crap, this particular criticism of it seems to me pretty stupid.

Place names are one of the many origins of surnames. How about people called York or Derbyshire? How about the long-established British tradition of referring to noblemen by the place of which they are a lord — calling the Duke of Wessex, for instance, "Wessex", or Robin Hood "Loxley"? Come to think of it, how about Leonardo di Caprio? Can we refer to him as "di Caprio", or is that stupid because "di" means "from"? No-one takes the piss when we call Robert de Niro "Mr de Niro".

Now, yes, there is a difference between di Caprio and de Niro, who got their names because of where their ancestors came from, and Leonardo, who actually came from Vinci. But that's where surnames come from. You meet a guy called Cooper, his ancestors actually made barrels. At some point, one of his ancestors stopped making barrels but kept the name. That doesn't make the name wrong. The reason these mere descriptions turn into names is that they get used for hundreds of years. Leonardo's "da Vinci" has been used for hundreds of years. In English, at least, it now has the status of a name.

Here's the smell test. If "da Vinci" really does just mean "from Vinci" and isn't a name, then we should be able to call Leonardo "Leonardo from Vinci" without any eyebrows being raised. We can't.

Oh, and "The Leonardo Code" is a crap title.


Update:

How stupid is it to call John McEnroe "McEnroe" when his father's name isn't Enroe?


Another update:

Referring to Leonardo da Vinci as "da Vinci" is not like calling Jesus "of Nazareth". It's like calling Jesus "ha-Natzrati". Except that even that would be wrong, because Jesus was actually known as "ha-Notzri", meaning "the Nazarene". Early non-Jewish Christians wrongly supposed that a Nazarene was someone from Nazareth, and the mistake has stuck. So, in their attempt to take the piss out of Dan Brown's supposed ignorance, everyone who's made the "of Nazareth" joke has displayed rather more of it than he has.



Quandaries for morons.

Five years ago, some dead clever scientists called Blumwald and Zhang came up with my favourite bit of genetic engineering ever: tomatoes that remove salt from soil:

A new genetically-modified tomato plant could convert barren, salt-laden soils into lush productive farmland. The plant takes up salt from the soil but stows it in its leaves, leaving the tomatoes non-salty.

....

Not only can the tomato plant tolerate salt, but also it also remediates the soil by wicking salt into the plant. "A farmer can clean the soil and grow a crop and make a profit, all at the same time," says Blumwald.


The reason I like this so much is that I have a deep love of anything that makes stupid people look even more stupid. Not only is this utter genius, not only can it turn currently unusable land back into lush meadows, but it presents an awkward dilemma for half the anti-GM crowd. Not the posh, chattering-class, "I want everything in my centrally-heated, electrically-lit house to be completely natural" half — why would they give a damn about some soil in South America? — but the environmentalist half. One of their big bugbears has for years been the permanent destruction of once-fertile land through dodgy farming methods, deforestation, and the like. Now along comes a brilliant solution, something that, if they didn't know where it came from, they would hail as one of the greatest gifts Mother Nature has bestowed on mankind. Except that, because it's actually a gift that mankind has bestowed on Mother Nature, they oppose it. Genetically modified plants have been undergoing constant testing since 1981 and not one iota of evidence has been found that the process renders them in any way harmful. Salination of land, on the other hand, is proven to be harmful to every single life-form on that land. You'd think it'd be an easy choice. Even if genetic modification were slightly dodgy, picking the lesser of the two evils should still be an easy choice. Apparently not.

Remember: the EU puts pressure on Third-World producers never to use GM crops, and closes its markets to any that do. Europe is full of lush, fertile, arable land and has no problem producing so much food that the EU throw rather a lot of it away. Many parts of the developing world have crap salinated soil that helps to keep them poor and hungry. Sometimes they have famines. The EU will fight tooth and nail to stop those parts of the world using this, the only solution ever discovered to salinated soil other than giving up on farming and building skyscrapers on it instead. Shame on them.

Anyway, here's an even better one:

In this particular [genetic] modification, [Arabidopsis Thaliana (thale cress)] is genetically sensitized to the nitrogen-dioxide (NO2) that leaches from buried explosives. The plants that grow on or near a land mine would flush a warning red rather than their usual cool green. The seeds could be sown from a plane, and could show within six weeks whether the land is covered in mines. Genius.


The scientifically ignorant-but-opinionated chattering classes may not give a damn about Third-World soil, buy they do care about landmines — which were one of Saint Diana's pet projects, after all. What to do, what to do? Let children's legs get blown off for no reason or sow completely harmless seeds? It's a tough one, all right.



Wednesday, May 10

Complexity and incompetence.

Tim Worstall has linked to this interesting piece by Jonathan Freedland. Interesting not because the thinking in it is particularly advanced or anything, but because it's highly unusual to see a condemnation of statism appearing in The Guardian. If this sort of thinking starts to spread, there just might be a sprinkling of hope for us yet.

That is not because Labour ministers were useless or that a different group of people would have done the job fine. It is rather a structural problem with the British state. Its machinery was designed for a 20th-century world that no longer exists. Today's citizens are used to fast, efficient, wireless services that give them a high degree of personal choice; the lumbering bureaucracy of the state cannot catch up. Nor will aping the private sector, pretending government can be run like Domino's Pizza or DHL, work - because health, education and public safety are not like garlic bread or packages. They are much more complex to deliver.


There, in that one paragraph, we see both the clear realisation of exactly what's wrong, along with a deluded failure to grasp what's wrong. Fascinating.

Yes, the problem is the incompetence of the state. But no, it's not a new problem, and it has nothing to do with people being used to the speediness and flexibility of twenty-first-century technology. When the lumbering bureaucracy of the state caused Russians to starve in their millions back in the Twentieth Century, they weren't less pissed off about dying than they would have been had they owned laptops. And no, that same lumbering bureaucracy that makes a total arse-up of the simple tasks is not the best tool for providing the most complex services we have.

Providing education and public safety is not even all that complex — unless you try to have one centralised organisation provide the same education and public safety to every person in the country. Educating one child just takes a handful of teachers and a pile of books. It's educating a million at once in exactly the same way without ever seeing any of them that's so bloody difficult.

Health, though... yes, health is pretty damn complex. But does that really mean that private companies simply can't provide it? Can they really not manage anything trickier than pizza? Well, you're reading this right now thanks to private companies. Hundreds of different companies somehow coordinated their activities to produce all the hardware and software that I've used to create this blog and you're using to access it. Chances are that the screen your computer's using is made by yet another firm out of components made by yet others, and then there are the private telecoms networks that enable me to write this in Northern Ireland, save the data somewhere in the US, and publish it internationally, with a delay of mere seconds between those three processes. I can even blog from my phone if I like, seamlessly coordinating the services of yet more firms. And how about food? Think for a minute about what's involved in bringing a nice meal to your table in a restaurant. Even just the pepper and salt: one grows in trees, the other needs to be extracted from seawater or mined. Yet, somehow, private farmers, private hauliers, private chefs, private waiters, private importers, private curers and smokers, and private fishermen manage to pull it off, millions of times a day. Does anyone really think that all this would work better if it were run by the state?

In the US, health provision is handled by private firms. For pretty much every potentially fatal disease, they have a higher survival rate than we have in the UK. Sure, there's an argument to be had about the ethics of their funding mechanisms, but that's a separate issue. If it is true that health is so complex that only the state can manage it, how comes having the state manage it causes so many more people to die?



Insomnia and stupidity.

Terrible insomnia last night. At about five-thirty this morning, I got sick and tired of tossing and turning and trying in vain to get to sleep and got up. At which point I woke up and realised that at some point I had stopped trying to get to sleep and had instead started sleeping while dreaming that I still couldn't.

This was nearly as annoying as the time I woke myself up by accidentally pouring a glass of water over my own head.



Magna what?

So here's a thing:

A 39-year-old man has been sentenced to life for raping a young mother following a unique court case in which the jury heard evidence that he had been acquitted of rape five times before.


That's right: acquitted. This isn't one of those new cases where a defendant's previous convictions are brought before the jury (and how long do we think it'll be before that change in the law causes the police to stop bothering with all that tiresome investigation nonsense and just arrest whoever's got the best rap sheet and worst alibi?). No, this is a whole new kettle of fascism: the fact that this man had been repeatedly found not guilty was used as evidence of his guilt. How secure does that make you feel?

For some reason I can't fathom, Laban Tall thinks that this is good news. Presumably it's because the guy's obviously guilty. So why bother with a legal system at all, then? Loads of people are obviously guilty. Let's just shoot them.

Oh, well. At least, these days, if you're the victim of a miscarriage of justice, it's really no big deal. This man was sentenced to life. That's "life" as in:

Judge Leonard Gerber ... told Edwards he should serve seven years before parole is considered ....


By my reckoning, that means I've been alive for more than four lifetimes already. Result.


Update:

I admit I'm surprised. People who I thought were quite keen on civil liberties are fighting tooth and nail in favour of this conviction. In particular, Stephen West is insisting that this case is simply a straight application of the similar facts rule established by Makin in 1894, and is therefore completely unremarkable.

So, in case any more people are tempted to stomp down this ever-so-tempting road to tyranny, I suppose I'd best link to this potted history of the erosion of the principles of the similar facts rule:

... in the last century, and particularly in the latter part of that century, the law on similar fact evidence was subjected to a series of changes. As a result the safeguards which once protected innocent defendants against the introduction of prejudicial evidence were progressively weakened. In one particular respect they disappeared almost completely. It was this development in the law, which took place in 1991, which made it for the first time relatively easy to obtain convictions on the basis of multiple uncorroborated allegations, all of which might be false.

The spectacular growth in police trawling operations which took place in the last decade of the twentieth century was a direct result of these legal changes.


See?

The modern similar fact principle was formulated in the case of Makin v. Attorney General for New South Wales,1894 (AC 57, 65). In this case Lord Herschell reaffirmed the presumption that similar fact evidence would not normally be admitted. He went on to outline the exceptional circumstances in which this exclusionary principle could be overridden. Evidence of similar facts could not be admitted merely because it seemed relevant to the count on the indictment, but only if it was both relevant and probative.


If evidence has led to a not-guilty verdict, it is clearly not probative. In fact, it has been proven in court to be non-probative. Or, at the very least, not probative enough.

In Makin (1894) the two defendants, a husband and wife, were accused of murdering a baby they had fostered. In their trial, evidence was offered of a number of other murders they had apparently committed. The admissibility of the similar fact evidence in this case turned on the improbability of there being any innocent explanation for the presence of the bodies of twelve other fostered infants buried in the gardens of premises previously occupied by the defendants.

In R v Smith, 1915, (11 Cr App R, 229), the ‘brides in the bath’ case, the defendant was accused of one murder but evidence was offered of two more. The admission of this evidence followed similarly from the improbability that three different women with whom he had gone through a form of marriage, and who had made financial arrangements from which he would benefit, had all drowned in the bath by accident shortly afterwards.


Note that "improbability". We've just finished letting rather a lot of women out of jail who had been falsely imprisoned for killing their children on those same grounds of improbability. The thing is, improbable things do happen, regularly.

That being said, the similar facts rule, as it orginally stood, was OK. There were safeguards. So what brought it to its current state?

... from the beginning of the twentieth century onwards there was growing pressure on the judiciary to lower the threshold for the admission of such evidence in order to obtain convictions in sexual cases. This pressure was particularly strong in relation to cases involving allegations of homosexuality.


That's right: our lords and masters needed to lower the standards of evidence in order to lock up more gay men. Still think civil liberties aren't an issue here?

To me, there's a huge and obvious difference between a solid fact such as a dead body and an allegation: one can be faked, the other can't. I was beginning to think I was going mad, trying to explain this to Stephen and others who insist that there is no legal difference between physical evidence and oral evidence. So it's relieving to see that the legal establishment agree with me on this one:

In the case of R v Sims, (1946, 31 Cr App R 158) the Court considered an appeal which turned on whether allegations of buggery made by three different men against the accused could be admitted within the same trial in support of one another.

In the judgment drafted by Denning J, the Court ruled that the principle applied to strikingly similar facts in such cases as Makin and Smith should be extended and applied to similar allegations. The judgment failed to present any sound rationale for changing the law in this manner.

....

In the case of DPP v Boardman (1975), which concerned allegations made by three adolescent boys against their male teacher, the House of Lords lent its own authority to the judgment in Sims, while rejecting its view of homosexuality. At the same time that it did this, however, it drew attention to the grave dangers which might follow from this change in the law. Lord Cross pointed out that that there was a marked difference between cases which involved allegations and the cases (such as Makin and Smith) which involved counts of murder and undisputed evidence of previous deaths. In the original cases there was, said Lord Cross, ‘no question of any witness for the prosecution telling lies’.


Exactly.

In Boardman their Lordships in effect accepted the highly dangerous precedent created by Denning J, but did so only after insisting on two vital safeguards against the injustices it might lead to.

However, in two crucial House of Lords judgments, delivered in 1991 and 1995, the two safeguards which had been put in place by Boardman were both removed.

....

In 1995, in R v H, ... Lord Mackay ... made explicit what had already been implicit in his earlier judgment and held that, in ruling on the admissibility of a series of similar allegations, the judge should generally assume that the allegations in question were true.


Got that? The judge should assume allegations to be true. Fuck presumption of innocence, eh?

And that's what's led to the case at hand. Assuming allegations to be true is bad enough as it is, but the law has now been extended yet again to assume allegations to be true even after they've been proven false in court. This makes any not-guilty verdict essentially meaningless.

So, someone makes an allegation against you. You go to court and get found not guilty, which, in the eyes of the law, means that the allegation has been proven to be false. Yet that allegation can still be used against you in court and will, despite having been proven false in court, be assumed by the judge to be true.

As was almost inevitable, the newly created weakness in the law was almost immediately seized on by police forces in order to successfully push through a number of highly dangerous prosecutions which could never have been brought prior to the decision in P.

... The similar fact principle, once zealously guarded by the Defence as an essential means of keeping prejudicial evidence out, is now the favoured device of the Prosecution, valued as an almost ever-open conduit for letting prejudicial evidence in.


That was written in February 2002. Things have got worse since:

the Home Affairs Committee's recommendations run directly counter to those in the Government's White Paper Justice for All (2002), which proposes lowering the threshhold for the admission of similar fact evidence still further.

Not surprisingly the Government rejected the recommendations.


So there you go. This was not a case of a straight, uncontroversial application of a century-old established legal principle. The principle has changed considerably. And every change has been made in order to make it easier for the Government to lock people up.

Happy days.



Chemical reactions.

The wonderful Phoebe has just had her hair cut, a process which involves not only visual beautifying but also dog cologne. It's not a perfume you or I might choose to wear (well, I wouldn't; I suppose I can't speak for all of you; there are some crazy people out there, and I suspect a lot of them read this blog), but it smells pretty good on a dog. It's a sort of slightly doggy air-freshener furniture-polish sort of a smell.

Now, Monty has a bit of a smell himself, as he has some sort of skin complaint and the worst breath on this planet. We've gotten used to it, but it still kind of hits us now and then, especially when he burps in our faces. It's a stale pungent yeasty doggy biscuity affair.

So we get back from work today and open the door to the kitchen (wherein the dogs are stored during the day), and the two smells had combined into an unmistakeable new smell. We both agreed: it was the smell of very old women. It was as if an old people's home had taken over our kitchen for a week.

So it turns out that, when human females reach the age of about eighty, they start to smell exactly like a combination of a dog with dodgy digestion and chronic dandruff and a dog wearing aftershave. Quite surprising, that.



Friday, May 5

Breaking the law in Kentucky.

Sorry there's been so little blogging of late. You can probably expect that to continue, to be honest. I've just got too damned tired of the British Government to bother mentioning how enormously crap they are any more. I mean, what would be the point? That enough complaining by enough people might see them replaced? With what? Oh, the Tories. Yeah, excuse me if I fail to caper excitedly at that prospect.

But here's a brief little tidbit from the glorious US, where things are far more interesting. A teacher has been fired for biting one of her pupils.

[Caroline] Kolb has pleaded not guilty to biting 14-year-old Garrick Hudson on the back during a classroom altercation at Stuart Middle School in January.

....

Garrick Hudsons mother, Cassandra Hicks, said the incident occurred Jan. 11 when her son disobeyed Kolbs order to spit out some candy. Kolb told him to stand in the hallway, but he returned to get his books, she said.


Those of us who went to school will recognise that "to get his books" as first-order bullshit. He came back in because he wasn't allowed to, in order to piss the teacher off and disrupt the class. Obviously.

That being said, his teacher's reaction may be just a tad disproportionate:

As Kolb and Garrick struggled over the books, he fell and hit his head and she "started biting him on his left upper shoulder."

Garrick was treated at Kosair Childrens Hospital for a bite wound, according to court records. He also had a small knot on his head.

According to Kolbs termination letter, two students said they saw her bite him, and several staff members said they later heard Kolb admit doing so.


So her not-guilty plea's probably not going to do too well. Especially with this addition:

"You denied biting the student, but admitted that you found fabric in your mouth during the incident," the letter stated.


Oh, I hope she tries that one in court.

Anyway, fun aside, here's the really important bit of the story:

In 2004 and 2005, administrators had warned Kolb to avoid being physically confrontational with students, according to her termination letter.


I may be sticking my neck out here, but I guess that she was warned to stop doing it because she'd been doing it. So a teacher who had had some sort of physical scuffle with pupils twice before was still allowed to work in the school, and was only fired after her third infraction, which led to the pupil needing hospital treatment. Fighting students twice was not considered sufficient reason to get rid of this teacher. Let's just compare that to the way teachers treat students, shall we?

Plucking an example entirely at random, we see that merely holding — not drinking — a test-tube containing just one ounce of beer gets you sent to a special school for six weeks, despite recent legislation specifically introduced to make teachers use their discretion in such cases. That was in Texas. In Kentucky, the state in which Caroline Kolb bit her pupil, writing second-rate short stories landed a pupil in court defending himself against terrorism charges. One of the stories contained the death of the narrator occurring days before the court appearance. You'd think that the defendant's non-death would be pretty good evidence that the story was fictional, but apparently not.

A few weeks ago, a rather hostile commenter to this blog complained that my saying "Break the American teachers' unions" marked me out as a nasty extreme-right-wing union-crushing fascist, or something. What I was writing about when I said that was the case of an American schoolboy expelled from school for writing his own initials in his own notebook, because his initials might possibly be similar to those of a phrase which might possibly have something to do with a couple of local gangs. Maybe.

What the Left are supposed to stand for above all else is equality. Imagine the response from teachers' unions if a teacher were sacked for drawing a picture of a gun, or for "drug use" because they were found in possession of lemon drops. Yet it is the teachers' unions who pushed so hard for zero-tolerance punishment regimes in schools in the first place. So compare and contrast. Student sketches a gun? Expelled. Student writes about violence? Arrested. Teacher fights a student? Nothing. And they do it again? Slap on the wrist and warned not to do it again. What's so fucking left-wing about that that criticising it makes me a Nazi?