Monday, 27 December 2010

Why we should be happy Nick Griffin won

The problem with politics is that it suffers from a 'team sport' mentality. Followers of one party or ideology tend to cheer any misfortune of those that oppose them, regardless of the cost. This was definitely the case during the recent legal trial of the BNP which ended in a totally just way. The acquittal of the BNP (Nick Griffin) in the Courts of Justice this week was good for everyone who believes in democracy, regardless of what they think of the BNP.

There are minor and major points for this. The first minor point - I say 'minor' in the grand scheme of things - is that Griffin was obviously innocent. The BNP had been ordered to change their constitution (wrongly in my opinion) and had done so. Any ethnic race of person is now allowed to join the BNP. How the EHRC could claim that Griffin's following of court orders was "contempt of court" is beyond belief, and the EHRC case was never really made clear.

Second minor point: the case was clearly persecution.  Indeed, it's only since the BNP had two MEPs elected that these charges began to crop up. Cases against Griffin and the BNP have been thrown out of court over the last few years while MPs fiddling expenses, others abusing their position and those implicated in the Iraq war lies have walked away scot free.

And now we come to the major point, so please let me explain how crucial this is. Britain is arguably the oldest democracy in The World. It is also one of the most stable. No other major country has gone for so long without a coup, civil war or mutiny. Undoubtedly one of the reasons for this is the balance of our constitution. The three main elements - legislative (parliament) executive (Monarchy/Cabinet) and Judiciary (Courts) function so well because of their independence. As soon as one starts interfering with the other, you have problems, yet for each branch to become truly independent of each other often takes time. This is why less mature democracies such as Thailand, many African states and even some Eastern European states have endless political upheaval, often resulting in deaths, torture and persecution. Usually this stems from government interference with the legal system and other abuses of power.

This allegedly happened in Thailand, with Thaksin Shinwatra's political party being completely disbanded by the courts. Its reincarnation was then dissolved for the almighty offence of allowing its leader to appear on a TV cooking show while being employed as Prime Minister. It happened in Zinbabawae when Muagbe's opponents were repeatedly beaten, threatened and imprisoned. Of course it happened in Burma, too. Even in Italy, Belusconi's critics were often tailed and intimidated going round their daily duties.

The list of examples goes on and on. They all have one thing in common - they represent to some degree a corrupt, unhealthy and unsafe democracy which nobody in their right mind would choose over our own, despite its many imperfections.

What has this got to do with the BNP case? Everything. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is a government body bearing the common and tired disguise of a "quango" status. It is run, funded and selected by the government, without any public involvement whatsoever. So when the EHRC takes legal action to close down a party, it is essentially the government using your own money to eliminate its opposition.

It may be harsh to draw comparisons between British democracy and those countries just mentioned, but it's only thanks to the Courts of Justice that we can see the difference in the BNP case.

Let's be clear - I am not a BNP supporter. It doesn't make one iota of difference if you love or loathe the BNP. If Nick Griffin had been imprisoned in last fortnight's court hearing - there would be two victors. The first would be the government, because they would've eliminated a growing political threat in a sly, undemocratic and underhand way. The second victor would be the hate-filled, fanatical and violently vicious fringe bunch of so called "anti-fascists' who would have danced with great delight on the grave of the strongest, healthiest and - for all its faults - one of the best and most just constitutions in the world.

Monday, 6 December 2010

The case for boycotting the World Cup

Qatar's World Cup record (
This thesis statement is only going to be relevant to you, the reader, if you believe as I do that the World Cup bids for 2018 and 2022 were dishonest, corrupt and just plain bad.

Not all people believe that. I've spoken to some folk who are pleased to see Qatar hosting the greatest of tournaments in 2022. Fine, if you support the nation of well under two million people with no current facilities, a totally inappropriate climate, no democracy and that has never, ever qualified for the tournament by merit or otherwise then I'm happy for you. My feelings about the process have already been stated, and that is why I believe that England and other well-known football nations should boycott at least one World Cup.

The aim of the boycott would be to discredit FIFA, register our disgust at the blatant corruption and megalomania going on within the group and most importantly pressure them to reform. We should make clear that we are not disputing the decisions already made as that would make us look sore losers, rather we have to press for reform so that the same farce cannot repeat itself in future.

More specifically, we must call for voting to be public, not secret. We should push for a disclosure of interests including any payments or lobbying interests of FIFA committee members in a similar way to the system used by western parliaments. We could also push for a public written summary of the final vote by each committee member, or some similar token of public interest. A statement of values and aims by FIFA in selecting candidate nations is essential, too. There has been one too many nations with human rights abuse, corruption and total lack of democracy involved in World Cup hosting lately and the pathetic argument from FIFA that gifting the tournament to them helps makes things better does not stand up the the tiniest amount of scrutiny.

Why would a boycott work? Well consider that FIFA has been compared to a global government in several circles this year. After all, they have income and power well above many nations. But while governments must gain legitimacy by appeasing voters or beating them into submission (Burma, Zimbabwe, etc.), FIFA gains its power by the football prestige of its members. If the countries mistreated in the voting such as Spain, Portugal, Japan, England, Belgium and Holland and even Australia and the US withdrew from the World Cup, that would strike a humongous blow to the tournament's prestige, popularity and profits. In other words, FIFA would lose out on everything they care for.

It's going to be hard. As a success-starved nation where football is the closest we have to a modern religion, it's going to be painful to watch a tournament and not have our lads to cheer. We'll get over it though, just like in USA '90 when we had to pretend we cared about the Irish side. Of course, we'll lose out financially too. Other nations will suffer a similar stress but it will be "short term pain for long term gain".

Perhaps the great Gary Lineker said it best: "People keep telling me we have to play the game differently, that we are too straight for our own good. I don't think that is the case. We just do things the right way. But if that is what has cost us the World Cup, then forget it - maybe it's not worth having."

Let's make it worth having again.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Some thoughts on extremist "art"

On hearing about the new shock film: 'A Serbian Film" - which I must state I have not seen but relied on several reviews and reports -  I shared my thoughts on Facebook thus:

The problem I have with rubbish like this is that it so often works as a substitute for talent. A rubbish film or album this controversial will attract controversy, people watch/listen because of curiosity, therefore the makers get money and that motivates the next bunch of talentless tossers to do something even worse. I always hold Roy Chubby Brown up as one such example of controversay trumping talent.

The real answer to such nonsense is to ignore it and shrug our shoulders at people trying to get our attention by being obscene, but for some reason the human race struggles to do that.

This is, of course, not to suggest that every offensive figure lacks talent. Eddy Murphy is a great comedian and Marilyn Manson are a good band. 

I've just read the "reception" section on wikipedia for this film. I think one reviewer made a good point and one that I forgot to mention - rubbish artists, actors and producers who make obscene rubbish always turn it into a) a battle against censorship or b) some pseudo-allegorical nonsense about politics, society or human psyche
It looks like the producers of this movie may have done both.
When told a piece of art has undertones, we try to find them, but it's often a case of 'The Emperors New Clothes'.
Necrophilia is not an allegory for the Sebian independence movement or a cry for freedom of speech. It's just bloody sick.

To be fair, imdb does have some intelligently written reviews defending the film.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Lest we forget

Image credit:

I normally don't look at UAF sites as they are worthless, hateful trash but just out of curiosity I looked today to see if they mentioned this. Surprise, surprise, no poppy or sign of respect, no mention of this incident and raving about their secretary having charges against him dropped as it would affect "the right to protest". The biggest threat to the "right to protest" is those fascist, violent, hate filled UAF scum.

Aplogies for the lack of articulation but I felt so angry after reading this.

Lest we forget, and may they rest in peace.

Monday, 20 September 2010

A letter I had published

So, Dr Ajong Chumsai na Ayudhya warns us in a conference that Bangkok will be under water in seven years, and it's all due to human activities and, apparently, the displacement of the earth's crust.

I wish I had been there to ask the good doctor two questions following his presentation. Firstly: Where is the evidence for these chilling, apocalyptic claims? I've seen plenty of data confirming natural disasters are, if anything, currently occurring at slightly below average frequency, and absolutely no evidence that polar bears will be extinct in six years. In fact, their numbers are currently holding up very well indeed. As for sea levels rising by six metres, even the IPCC climate-change panel has said nothing so ridiculous.

My second question would then be: Are you under some financial incentive to produce and follow up on these chilling warnings? We all know that taxpayers are more likely to part with their earnings when buttered up with a few scary stories beforehand.

In any case, I'm willing, quite literally, to bet my Bangkok house that the doctor is totally wrong and that Krung Thep will still be here and above water in 70 years, never mind seven.



Thursday, 22 July 2010

Climate Change - still no evidence it's humans

It was an event so remarkable that it was almost lost on some people. Dr Phil Jones - the professor at the centre of the East Anglia CRU "Climategate" scandal - was allowed to approve which papers were used in evidence during some of the "independent" investigations into the scandal. It's a bizarre decision that seems equivalent to a robber approving which stolen items can be used as evidence in court. Then again, perhaps it's not all that surprising since one of the "independent" investigative bodies had the logo and email address of East Anglia University on their own logo.

But really, who cares? Who will notice? For most people, Climategate is old news. The casual current affairs observer read that some scientists got in trouble, they may have been lying about global warming but then a whole bunch of people checked and said they were fine. As for those already involved in such a fiercely polarised debate, well, they were never going to budge anyway. Sure enough, order was quickly restored as the whitewashing investigations did their job, the media went crawling back to every scientist who assured us climate change is real and the sceptics became the pantomime villains once again. Certainty was restored.

The only problem is, nobody seems to know: what we are supposed to be certain of? Next time you hear someone preaching about climate change, how serious it is and how we need to take action yesterday, ask them a few questions. Start with something easy such as: "What exactly are we certain is happening?". Most of them will mention Earth is getting warmer, the halfway smart ones will remember to mention something about co2 or anthropogenic activity.

Now ask a very slightly more informed questioned that cannot be answered with bluster, something like: "When was the last year that temperatures actually peaked?"(Answer: 1995) , follow that with a few more moderate queries like: "How much of the temperature rise is due to carbon dioxide?" (Nobody knows) "What is the hottest time period on record?" (Answer: The Medieval Warm Period)  and so on. Before long they'll admit they don't know. You might even get called a 'denier' or some other insult for good measure. The reality is that most of us don't really know a great deal behind the science of climate change, but some of us like to pretend we do. In truth, we do as all generations have done and look to our finest minds to guide us in the esoteric ways of science. Therein lies the problem.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are the multimillion dollar taxpayer-funded unit of scientific specialists who are responsible for researching, predicting and advising the rest of the world about global warming. With a huge amount of lobbying influence and a whole wealth of corporate interests flying around, we can surely be forgiven for expecting the unit to provide us with accurate, understandable and specific data about what's happening and what's going to happen. The reality is the exact opposite.

Predictions, warnings and forecasts from the IPCC ever since its inception in 1990 have been vague, wrong and contradictory to the point of resembling a tabloid astrologer's column. We've been warned over and over again of temperature increases that have not happened. We've been told the warming would first appear at the poles. Hot weather spells are due to global warming but snowfall is also a sign of the same thing. There will be more floods or hurricanes.  Certain animals will become extinct, others will multiply by the horde. The extra co2 - required for respiration in plant life - will encroach the rainforest. It will create droughts, but extra rainfall is also a symptom. The surreal list goes on and on. Can we really blame the laymen for being unclear when this is what they are fed on?

The list of doomsday events such as extra natural disasters, melting poles and "unprecedented" (one of the IPCC's favourite and most overused words) heat are not random. They are designed to create fear, for fear is what keeps the taxpayers happy to part with their money for the nice scientists who will protect them.

But if you've lost any sleep about any of these nightmare-like events we've been warned about, go and get some shuteye right now. There is absolutely zero evidence that hurricanes, volcanoes or any other disaster has increased in frequency. In fact, they seem to have declined very slightly.  The decline of the Arctic ice has received (ahem) extended interest from the media and the IPCC, both of whom neglect to mention that decline has been in trend since the end of the last Little Ice Age and is not accelerating. Meanwhile, the Antarctic ice is doing great. Funny, we don't hear about that.

As for "unprecedented" temperatures and the warnings from the likes of Al Gore that several of the last fifteen years have been the hottest on record, well it's just plain false. That's the reason alarmists hate to hear about the Medieval Warm Period.

Of course, none of this proves that AGW is false or a flawed theory, but it must surely prove to any sane person that even our supposed finest minds really don't know what is happening, to what extent it's happening or what will happen in the future. So why is there so much talk of a "consensus"? Could the multi-million dollar business interests of the IPCC have anything to do with it? Don't mistake this as a conspiracy theory. The only "conspiracy" you need to accept here is that powerful people will lie to get themselves rich. WMDs anyone? How about some MPs expenses on the side?

There's more reason to be sceptical. Huge parts of the AGW theory fall flat on their face. The theory clearly states that warming will appear in the troposphere, it isn't. It says that co2 will drive climate, in history the opposite has happened on a large scale. It states the sea levels should rise exponentially, they aren't. There's any number of examples where things simply aren't happening as they should be if the basic theory of increased radiative forcing generated by increased co2 emissions was straightforward and steadfast.

Perhaps the biggest slice of misinformation in this whole debate is the term used to describe scientists who oppose the mainstream opinion, the so-called 'deniers' - a term deliberately chosen for its disgusting undertones - is used to smear knowledgeable, qualified and good-natured people who dare to dissent. Very few scientists I have read from have denied the climate is changing, climate is always changing. What they dispute is the extent to which co2 plays a role in that change.

The theory of heat transference in the atmosphere is well established, but as we've seen, climate is a new and uncertain science with an incredible number of factors to consider; solar output, natural feedbacks, cloud feedback, continental shifts, astrophysics and more. A number of well-qualified scientists question if the increased co2 emissions will have any effect whatsoever. Many more believe that there will be an effect, but it will be far gentler than the IPCC suggest, and the trillions of dollars we will spend trying to cut temperatures by a minuscule percentage may be far better spent on reducing real pollution, researching cleaner energy, building hospitals or any other number of good causes. A layman 'denier' like me is inclined to agree.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The problem with the EDL

I do not pretend to be knowledgeable or even well informed about the English Defence League. The group were formed after I left the UK and the main source of detail I receive is from Facebook groups or minor newspaper articles.

However, even with such a trickle of knowledge, I had a hunch from very early on that there is more ton this group than meets the eye.

The EDL are clearly a defeatist party who will never gain mainstream acceptance. There is nothing new about this of course. Both sides of the political spectrum have small groups who want to live out some form of fantasy (think neo-Nazis or neo-Bolsheviks) and take pride on being outsiders, destined to be political losers forever. What seems to make the EDL different is the speed with which they have formed and become organised and the amount of attention they are receiving. The group are already organising marches around the nation, receiving lots of hits on their website and everyone involved in politics has an opinion on them. Compare this to the controversial BNP or even the National Front. Both groups took years to gain enough support to yield attention or concern.

Part of the reason for the EDL's appeal lies in the simplicity of their message. They're not a 'ballot box' political party, so they don't need to even pretend they have policies. Their focus is simple: march in support of the flag and against Islam. They do not have a racial agenda (though many on the left dispute this) and no political aspirations. If you're English, you're one of them. Or so they claim.

With immigration such a huge political issue at the moment and the government (new or old) appearing so weak in dealing with the failure of multiculturalism, the EDL's simple message reaches out to many disenchanted working class Brits who feel so betrayed by politicians and sick of political correctness. They are searching for a voice and they believe the EDL gives it to them.

But the problem is that a greatly simplified message will - for the most part - attract fairly simple people. It's no coincidence that the biggest reaction to the recent "Police are telling people in pubs they cannot wear England Shirts" hoax that did the rounds online and in the UK media came from EDL supporters. They took no time to consider the authenticity of the message or check any sources. They read it, so it must be true.

This is not a description of all EDL members and I'm sure many of them are more intelligent, qualified and wise than myself, but I think the majority of members fit my description.

EDL marches paint a similar picture. So many shaved heads, hooded tops and angry faces play perfectly into the hands of their objectors or despicable groups like the UAF who seek any excuse to silence groups whom they dislike. There have been claims and accusations of widespread violence and anti-semitism on display at EDL marches. It should go without saying that if these claims are true, this is despicable. The problem is that however vehemently EDL staff deny these charges, people will always disbelieve them for the reasons mentioned above. They can't win.

With so much negative publicity and no apparent benefits from their existence, the obvious question is: Who is running the EDL? And to what purpose?

Sections of the left would claim the group is either a front-group or a militant section of the BNP or NF,  often citing a few examples of far-right personnel who have joined the group. I think that's rubbish. The BNP have worked a long time to distance themselves from the 'football hooligan' image and have nothing to gain from  setting up a group that achieves little more than a bunch of bad publicity. BNP Chairman Nick Griffin has also publicly criticised the group ins strong terms.

I think two far stronger possibilities exist. First - the EDL is run by a political party or person in a position of wealth or power on the left. This is not a conspiracy theory, it's simply a matter of realpolitik. The notions of patriotism, anti-Islam and groups like the BNP have been on the rise in recent years. Far-left groups have attempted to silence them and waves of politically correct politicians have attempted to stereotype them. For a long time it worked. But slowly society is waking up to the fact that opposing Islam is not racialist and patriotism is not inherently evil.

What better way to smash the growth of such sentiment than creating guilt by association? If you're against immigration or militant Islam you're just like those stupid hooligans marching and screaming in the street. In other words, you're a Fascist. And Fascists worked with Hitler.

The second possibility is that the EDL are a group designed to further split the right wing vote. After the BNP won a seat on the London Assembly, the government set about using new legislation to try and bankrupt the party, to whoops of delight from the "anti fascist" far-left. That failed. The idea of a party similar to the BNP in its message but at loggerheads with each other seems a perfect way to split votes and weaken the enemy. Again, if this sounds like conspiracy talk to you, ask yourself: what do you call it when a government grants itself new powers to bankrupt an opposing political party?

The other possibility is that the EDL is run by a coalition of far-right groups with the aim of creating fear and anxiety in certain areas for the purpose of enjoying violence and aggression. This is possible, but the level of funding, organisation and support seems to be out of their league.

Whatever the truth of the EDL, I want their well-meaning members - of which I'm sure we have many - to consider this: there is a good chance that the EDL is actually doing harm to every cause you stand for. 

Leftists love nothing more than kidding themselves that nationalists of any type are stupid, gullible and inarticulate. It helps them to kid themselves they are smart. The government (any of the big three parties) love to portray opponents of immigration as uneducated, violent people, and the small proportion of Muslims who are militant love to portray EDL marches as 'Islamophobic' and 'hateful'

Yes, the growth of Islam in the UK is a massive concern. Yes, immigration (but not immigrants themselves) probably is a threat to our identity and way of life. Yes, political correctness is a cancer. And yes, the government have almost certainly encouraged all these things at the expense of the ethnic English.  None of these facts justify support of the EDL. On the contrary, the reality of the problem is the reason why we should avoid such groups. A deeply complex problem should not be solved with a very simple yell of anger (at least, not without something else to go with it).

The real solution is this: study the problem, consider workable, genuine solutions to the problems. Decide which UK political party best suits your principles. UKIP and the English Democrats are both respected political parties with sensible policies to tackle immigration and protect traditional cultures.
Read bit more, learn about the inner workings of the political system, perhaps even become a candidate for your party. In short: tackle the enemy from within. It makes you so much harder to deal with.
One place to start wuld be the book "Saving England" by Vernon Coleman. Th ebook is short, easy to read and contains some good ideas.

EDL supporters, I repeat: if you care for any of the causes your group professes to support, my advice is to vent your passion in a very different way. The real defence of England does not lie with the EDL.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

On lazy thinking and errors of logic

Did you know that all Muslims are willing suicide bombers? Or that all brown eyed people are bank robbers? Bet you weren't aware that eating food guarantees death within one hundred and fifty years?

The above statements are all of course, ridiculously untrue or in the case of the final question, deceptive in its composition. You probably caught on immediately to all three fallacies because they are purposely outrageous. Yet, sadly, many equally ridiculous errors of logic exist in both British and Thai society and spread every day.

To use a topical example, the activities of the red shirt protesters in Thailand - whom I do not support - have met with a whole number of sweepingly ignorant remarks and media reporting in recent weeks. With the attempted assassination last night of General Sah Deang ("red commander" , someone whom I dislike and disagree with) a whole wave of ignorant remarks has spread throughout Thai Facebook groups.

Let's take a look at a typical quote doing the rounds:

"They [the red shirts] deserve it. They caused so many problems. They've used bombs themselves, they've caused great inconvenience to most people and they want to destroy the Emerald Buddha"

The prejudices and false understanding of the red shirt movement has already been dealt with by myself here: let's now take a look at some of the logical fallacies going on here.

The first, easiest to spot and yet most common error we see here is the fallacy of biased sampling in the idea that "the red shirts used bombs". This is a reference to sporadic grenade attacks on one Skytrain station and government building in Bangkok. In both cases, a maximum of two people carried out the attack and there is absolutely zero evidence suggesting red shirts did it.

But let's suppose red shirts were responsible for the attacks. The number of red shirt protesters could be estimated at, say, fifteen thousand people. So even if we imagine the four attackers were red shirts, that would account for a grand total of 0.0265 of the group. I imagine that's a similar or even smaller ratio than that of suicide bomber Muslims, criminal homosexuals or blue eyed rapists, but imagine the outcry if we tried to push any of those statements into popular thought.

So why do people think in such an erroneous way? In part, it is simply lazy thinking and received wisdom, but popular media must also take a large part of the blame. The more an incident - especially a violent or scary incident - is reported, the greater precedence it takes in our minds. Often that precedence is out of proportion with all risk. For example, during the bird flu scare, lots of Thais avoided eating chicken after about three farmers tragically died of the illness. I doubt many of those people avoided travelling by motorbike despite the three hundred or more equally tragic road deaths that month.

But other fallacies exist. The statement ( "they've caused so much disruption" ) also contains the old 'two wrongs make a right' argument that is so prevalent in Thailand these days. This argument is popular because it is basically an excuse to release the bad side that we all have inside us, that side that enjoys revenge and suffering on people with dislike. In short it says: "These people have done something to upset me, so it's OK for me to enjoy watching them suffer."

I fall for it as much as anyone else. The problem with this argument of course is that as well as losing its user any kind of moral high ground, it can work backwards. Pretty much any religious, ethnic or political group in any country can claim to have been wronged by any other at some point in time. Does that allow us to sit back and smirk when some form of revenge takes place? If we use the TWMAR argument, where does it ever stop?

The final sentence: "they wanted to destroy the Emerald Buddha" contains several errors in one short sentence. In fact, this was a total government fabrication reported widely in the media (which again demonstrates the power of the media to control our thinking). Why was this nonsense made up? The first reason is known as: "poisoning the wells".

"Poisoning the wells" is not the same as an ad-hominem attack (which this sentence also contains) because the idea of 'poisoning the well' is not only to discredit the target, but to ensure that any claim or intention stated by the target in future is considered false. In our example case, this works because the Emerald Buddha is a revered building in Thailand and any attack on it would imply terrorism and a hatred of the nation.

The final error I will point out here is the appeal to authority. In the case the authority is the DSI (Department of Special Investigation) who made the claim of the attempted attack on the Emerald Buddha by red shirts. The fallacy goes like this - the DSI are specialists on crime, the DSI make a statement about the red shirts planning crime, so the statement must be true.

OK let me indulge in one more observation. I don't know the name for this error, but it is clear: "Red shirts and yellow shirts are as bad as each other". In short, because they are both political, they are both brightly coloured and both protest. Ergo, they are equally evil. This error of thinking is so obvious when laid out that I surely don't need to explain the poor logic. Yet, we hear such comments every day.

Here's a few other random examples of errors in logic or judgment. In some cases I have given examples and explanations.

1) The appeal to force.

If you don't agree with me, something scary will happen.
"If we don't use ID cards in the UK, then we won't catch terrorists."

2) Euphemisms

In my personal experience, when right wing groups are involved in any kind of conflict, it is "imperialism" "right wing violence" etc. When leftists do it its is "direct action" , "protests" "conflicts with authority" etc.

This works because usage of certain vocabulary can greatly alter our judgment of a situation.

3) Argument to false authority

Do not confuse this with the "argument to authority" which concerns someone who actually has some specialised knowledge on the topic. The false authority does not, though may pretend otherwise.

The head of the IPCC says anthropogenic global warming is real so many people believe it to be so. But this man is a train engineer, why do we allow him to make such a decision for us?

4) Lying or false sources

"The Loch Ness monster is real. It says so on the webssite I read." (that I created myself).

"It's real, I read it on wikipedia."

5) Appeal to personal charm.

"Ahisit and Obama are both young, smart looking and good speakers. Therefore, they are the best people to run their respective countries."

6) Distraction or changing the subject.

Student A: "Did you steal that money from my desk?"

Student B: "You're just saying that because you failed your exam last week!"

7) Appeal by anecdote

A favourite of British politicians and used by all three candidates in the Prime Ministerial debates. Personal anecdotes are effective because they put a personal and often lucid slant on things that can make the argument seem more powerful than it really is.

"A lot of British people are very happy about the ID cards. Last week I met a lovely, sweet elderly lady living in a small cottage who told me she wanted an ID card because....."

In the example above, the little sweet old lady can make us forget that the vast majority of people believe ID cards are wrong.

8) Argument from selective or limited experience

"Most Thai women dress like bar girls. I spent a week on Nana Plaza and that was all I saw" (selective or biased experience)

"Polish people love tennis. I met two Poles last week who bought tickets for Wimbledon" (Limited experience)

9) Weasel wording

10) To be nominated by anyone who cares to do so!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Reflections on elections

So as the back-room bargaining continues, we can begin to reflect on the election of 2010. So much commentary has - and will continue to be -  poured onto the topic that I'd rather sum up my own views with a few bullet points:

1) One year ago David Cameron was the golden boy of UK politics. He was the next Tony Blair, leading the Conservatives to ridiculous leads in every opinion poll in every media channel. That the Conservatives failed to win a clear majority last week is an utter and abysmal failure on behalf of Cameron and his party. No matter how they dress it up, there is no other conclusion that can be made.

2) I worry about people in this country. How can we continue to vote for the two 'big' parties when it's so clear that they have no ideology,  no differences and in any case wield no real control over our laws?. What is the point in getting so excited about electing a government that has very little power left in the days of the EU?

3) Just weeks ago, Clegg and Cameron were slinging mud at each other in a desperate bid to finish first in the polls. Two weeks later, they are talking about running the country together. It's all about money and power.

4) Logically, the Lib Dems and Labour should have far more in common than the Tories and Lib Dems. The fact that the latter pair still want to work together should be all the wake up call Conservative voters need.

5) Is it time for proportional representation? UKIP polled over 900,000 votes yet none of those voters will be represented in parliament. The Green Party got around 200,000 votes and have an MP.

I still desperately hope Clegg will make a deal with Labour and that deal will involve a referendum on PR. (A referendum on our sovereignty is out of the question, I gather) I have zero faith in Labour and little in the Lib Dems but if the Tories get what they deserve - a fifth term as opposition - that fallout could finally finish them and allow a real party to take their place.

Whatever happens next, we face tough times with an inexperienced and unstable parliament at the helm. I wish them luck.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Trouble in Thailand - the complete idiot's guide

Thailand has been in the international spotlight yet again over the last few weeks as the latest round of political violence reached a head. The latest conflict is simply part of a cycle that threatens to continue for some years yet, until certain other events will either quash it, or take it to a whole new level.

Each time the violence is shown on international TV, well-meaning people ask me and my fellow expats: "Are you OK?" or "What exactly is going on over there?". The problem with the second question is that people, understandably, assume that ex-pats out here comprehend what's really happening and can explain it. Sadly this is a faulty assumption. Many expats are as ignorant and blinkered about the situation as anyone else.

Often, expats give the breakdown like this: "Red shirts want Thaksin back. They worship him and come down from the north to Bangkok to protest for a couple of hundred baht (about five dollars) per day." This typical statement has several obvious undertones - all red shirts are poor, weak minded and uneducated puppets.  The yellow shirts meanwhile, "hate Thaksin and want to keep him out." This is true in itself, but still lacks great detail.

For those who wanted a little more insight, I will now try to summarise the political situation in Thailand as concisely as possible.

Thaksin Shinwatra came to power in 2001. In his election campaign, he promised to pay attention to the poorer people of Thailand from the northern regions. He pledged village funds, discounted consumer goods and agricultural loans.

Thaksin and his party ("Thai Rak Thai" or "Thais love Thais") won the election by a landslide, partly due to his dynamic campaign and partly due to the weak performance of the preceding Democrat government during the Asian Financial Crisis.

Upon taking office, it was revealed/alleged by the National Counter Corruption Commission that the brand new PM had concealed millions of baht in assets by transferring them to relatives and house workers. Thaksin described it as 'an honest mistake'.

In the build up to his trial, tremendous pressure was placed on the NCCC and Constitutional Court judges. Thaksin would walk to the courts in celebrity style and make grand speeches decrying the courts and implying they were out of touch and undemocratic. He won his case. Years later, one of the judges admitted he had "been placed under tremendous pressure and threats".

Over the next few years Thaksin introduced many schemes such as the 20 baht health care scheme, village banking scheme and the war on drugs. The latter was opened by a remarkable speech but ended in thousands of suspicious deaths, often involving shootouts between police and unproven suspects.

Other problems occurred. Thaksin and his party had such a strong grip on parliament that no real opposition could be mounted. Various laws sailed through the house that involved massive conflicts of interest. Thaksin formed, then dissolved, then formed, then dissolved again a telecommunications watchdog while promoting his very own phone company across the country. He fired the advertisers who had won the contract for the Bangkok Sky Train development project and gave the contract to his own son, he used his position as PM to gain contracts for his own company abroad. Most worryingly, the senate and the Election Commission appeared to offer very little scrutiny of the house. Many senators had the same surnames as members of Thaksin's party.

Media freedom also became a concern. One newspaper that became critical of him found themselves subject to an AMLO investigation.

But none of this was wholly different to previous governments, except in its scope and chokehold on power. Meanwhile, the TRT party took the unique step of actually keeping some pre-election promises. The health-care scheme, the village funding, the loans to farmers were all delivered.

As this happened, some high raking people including the head privy councilor and a former business colleague began to launch vocal attacks on Thaksin, who responded in kind. The ex-colleague formed a group known as the PAD, who later became known simply as the "yellow shirts" and began a public war of words and lawsuits with the PM, followed by street protests.

Initially their protests were peaceful. The PAD were formed mainly from Bangkok people who were more aware of Thaksin's corruption and less beneficial from his policies, that were aimed at the poorer people in the north. The regular Bangkok protests made Thaksin a PM in exile. Eventually, it opened the door for the coup.

Thaksin responded by dissolving parliament and calling an election, but all major parties announced a boycott. When the elections were done, just one single MP who was not from Thai Rak Thai was elected. The situation was described by His Majesty the King as "a mess" and he urged the courts to solve the problem. From that moment on, the courts - particularly the Constitutional Court - made several strong,  key verdicts that had a huge effect on the nation.

The coup of 2003 was lead by general Sondhi, one of many officers who had been spurned by Thaksin in military promotions. The junta set up a special panel to investigate alleged corruption by Thaksin and his family and a new government, with a  former general as PM, took over the parliament.

The government was, by all accounts, dismal. Their greatest failure was any effort to dispel Thaksin's popularity with the north-eastern people. As the election loomed, a controversial charge was filed against the Thai Rak Thai Party that involved retroactive application of law. The court found the party guilty of vote buying and dissolved the party, banning all executives from politics for ten years.

The response from the TRT party was to use its second string of members as a new executive, and to form a new party. The junta set a date for new elections and introduced a new constitution. The new document was given a lukewarm reception and passed through referendum, though it was rejected in northern provinces.

The new election was billed as the Democrat Party - popular in Bangkok and the south - against the new incarnation of Thaksin's party. The latter won. Samak Suntarajev was the new PM and Thaksin returned to Thai shores, vowing to clear his name.

Perhaps he became overconfident. The courts found his wife guilty of abuse of power and laid new charges against Thaksin. He and his wife jumped bail and left the country again. Shortly after, the second incantation of his part was yet again dissolved by the courts. The banning of executives tipped the balance of parliament and allowed Democrat Aphisit Vejajiva as PM. All this took place while the PAD yellow shirts hit the streets with protests more violent and intimidating than ever before, including the seizure of the airport.

Aphisit worked hard to win favour but those who supported the ousted TRT party formed the 'red shirt' group and began their own protests. During the song kran festivals of 2009, the red shirts were spurned on by calls to 'bring down the elite' and rioted in Bangkok. One big target of their anger was Privy Councilor Prem Timsoland, who had served as chief of the privy council for many years and is considered to be very close to His Majesty The King.

The Aphisit government managed to dispel the protests and the courts began a case against Thaksin to seize assets of his frozen in Thai accounts. The verdict was reached about three months ago and some fifty billion baht of assets were taken from the ex-PM. Soon after, the red shirt groups promised the 'biggest rally ever' which lead to the events of the last few weeks.

There is another, crucial - perhaps the most crucial - aspect to all this that I cannot discuss. Two editions of 'The Economist' were banned from Thailand last year as was a book by Paul Handley for discussing the same sensitive topics. A google search for "Thailand's succession" may provide further research detail in this area.

How this saga will end is both difficult to assess for the reason mentioned above and also depressing to consider, with no end to the polarisation in sight and those in political power seeking only to exploit the situation for their own gain. What is clear however, is that some of the stereotypes and simplifications applied by Thai and foreigners alike to the situation are at best, lazy and, at worse, stupid.

It is true  red shirted protesters mostly come from low income areas with lower standards of education. The Oxford University educated Aphisit Vejajiva of the Democrat Party has had over a year to win the hearts and minds of those in the north, and has failed to do so. Many of them want Thaksin back not because they worship him, but because for all his many faults, he actually had some benefit to people who live on sums of cash that many foreigners could never manage to live off, let alone support an entire family. Far from being foolish puppets of propaganda, most red shirts know exactly where their bread is buttered and are fighting for what is best for them, at least in the short term.

Moreover, the reds have a justified complaint. A government elected by a popular democratic vote has been overturned not once, but twice, in highly disputed circumstances. Meanwhile, the ruling Democrat Party were not even charged with a accepting an illegal donation until the same protesters stormed the Election Commission and demanded it happen.

Likewise, the yellow shirt PAD protesters had a full manifesto for change that went well beyond lynching Thaksin. Sadly, that detail was lost in the chaos of the violent actions taken by the group, who went on to form their own political party.

This is the briefest summary possible. Far more people, events and history have gone into making this saga. If you want to learn more, a few of these books may help:

Thaksin - the Business of Politics in Thailand - Pasuk and Baker
The Thaksinization of Thailand - Duncan McCargo

A Coup for the Rich? - Giles Ungpakorn

A political History of Thailand

The King Never Smiles - Paul Handley

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The real party list

With the election coming up and with the importance of not voting Conservative the overriding factor for people like myself. What are the other options available?

Here's a quick summary of parties that I think are worth the time of day.

Good points: Good policies - Nuclear energy, EU referendum, five year freeze on immigration, etc. Are a party most people know about. Already have one MP and several MEPs.

Weak points: Widely believed to have had a few dodgy transactions within the party and new leader  Lord Pearson made several expenses  claims that, while not illegal, certainly appeared greedy and unnecessary

English Democrats:
Good points: A well known, well designed party. The mayor of Doncaster, Peter Davies is an English Democrat and a living legend.

Weak points: Not a unionist party. Manifesto is somewhat vague.

Popular Alliance:
Good points: The best, most detailed, researched and effective policies you will find in any party, period.

Weak points: We just don't have enough members to make a real impact.

Jury Team:
Good points: Nice website, well designed policies.

Weak points: Policies while good, are brief. The idea and system within the party may confuse some people.

Christian Party:
Good points: A good, well spoken and articulate leader.  Excellent policies. Because of the Christian angle, the party actually tries to keep its promises.

Weak points: Being a Christian party obviously limits its appeal.

Traditional Democrats:
Good points: The party website clearly explains the benefit and relevance of conservative policies to a modern Britain.

Weak points: Given that I had to trawl through the Election Commission's party list to find these guys, they don't seem to be very good at promoting themselves.

Other parties worth a look: Veritas, Impact Party, Common Sense Party, Imperial Party.

Remember, the real battle this year is true conservatives against the Conservative Party. It's far more important not to vote for the wrong party as it is to vote for the party that's right for you.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Sports and homphobia

 Who you calling a wimp?

An article in my local paper caught my eye this weekend. Apparently a prominent rugby player named Gareth Thomas announced he was gay and a few months later, returned to the sport. Well done that man.

I've never understood some of my colleagues' objections to homosexuality. They (those against) can usually be divided into two types - religious and/or moral objectors and those with personal fears. The former profess to base their objections upon instruction from The Bible and refuse to believe people are born gay. In fact, I usually find arguments from this crowd boil down to dogma - The Bible is against homosexuality, so to accept that people are naturally gay is to accept that The Bible's divine instruction (i.e. God) is deliberately disobeyed by, well, God himself.  In other words, it's a clear paradox and Christians and other religious groups must avoid it or face some awkward truths.

The second group often produce quotes such as: "It's just not normal for people to do that" or "These people have some disease" etc. Often these are the same people who have tattoos, take alcohol and nicotine into their bodies and a s a result suffer from colds or other illnesses. Nothing unnatural or ill about them, then! (And of course, homosexuality is not any kind of disease).

My favourite line from homophobics when they talk about gay men is  is: "Just don't let him try to do anything with me" because this warning normally comes from the ugliest, sweatiest person you can imagine.

As a heterosexual person (I mention this to be clear I am not biased), my attitude is that homosexuals do not create more crime, do not put any extra strain on the tax payer and are not any less productive or honest members of society than the next Joe Public, so why give them any trouble?  It may be true that certain illnesses or prescribed medications are attributed to the gay community at slightly higher rates, but this surely fades in comparison to the number of 'breeders' (as gay people playfully call us) who claim every single penny of child benefit that they can.

So with that in mind, let me be clear when I say one thing: I do not like gay pride festivals and marches, and other forms of 'advertising' a person's sexuality. My reasons for this are twofold: firstly, I find that usually, when a person feels a desperate need to tell us about certain aspects of their own private life, it's down to insecurity. The more we make a song and dance (literally, in the case of Gay Pride marches) about such things, the more we blow up that bubble of insecurity. It's emotional quicksand - the more I say 'look at me! I'm gay!" the more people think I must be different, the more different I feel, the more I need to shout about it, etc.

The second reason is more straightforward - I don't care what a stranger's sexual preference is, I just believe it's wrong to throw it around in public. I don't want to see woman on woman, woman on man or man on man action in broad daylight when anyone - including children - can be passing by.
That's not a conservative or outdated attitude and if anyone thinks it is, it's probably a sign of how evilly 'liberal' our society has become: if you object to people making out wherever and whenever they want, you must have something wrong with you.

That's not to say gays or anyone else can't get wild. I've been to gays clubs and had a great time just as I do at any other club. It's indoors, everyone inside is an adult.

The reason then that I applaud Gareth's announcement despite my usual attitude to sexual self-aggrandisement is that the world of sports is still loaded with prejudice and idiocy towards homosexuality.

My most vivid memory of this attitude is a football match between Southampton and Arsenal several years back. Back then, there was a widespread rumour that a certain Southampton player was gay, and halfway through the second half the entire section of visiting Arsenal fans began to chant :"(Player) is a homosexual" non-stop for about twenty minutes. Even as a kid at the time, I remember being struck by how callous and cruel fans must be to behave like that. It's one thing to banter, insult and try to distract a player on the opposition, but this was just plain vindictive.

 Thomas' announcement was not aimed at championing himself, indeed he called for more sportsmen to 'come out' to help wash away tides of idiots. I support him in this action, the more players that come forward, the harder it is for idiots to bully them. But it must be incredibly difficult for any gay sports stars considering going public. In these early days, coming out of the closet could be damaging to their career, as well as an incredible mental strain.

But come out they must, for this is the only way to tackle the problem. The government, as usual, is going about things completely the wrong way by attempting to impose yet more mind control. This year it officially becomes illegal to make homophobic chants at football matches. All this shows us is that the people in power have no answer to the problem, no way to reach out to people and no hope of achieving their goal.

Think back to my experience at the Southampton Vs Arsenal game. If that happened now, would the police really wade in and arrest a few hundred people? Would it solve anything? Would it make the victimised player feel better? Would it keep the rest of the crowd safe? The answer to all these questions is surely obvious. The way to eradicate homophobia in sports and society, less so.
Photo credit:

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

and there's more!

Following on from my comments yesterday concerning government agencies being used as political weapons, it seems the Equality Commission has let the power go to its head:

Most police forces in England and Wales still unfairly target black and Asian people in their use of stop and search powers, the equality watchdog has said.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission said it could not rule out legal action against some forces.

Source:  This BBC article

The report also voices concerns that ethnic minorities are "over represented in the criminal justice system."  In other words , there are too many of them in jail. I agree, I say we let all the black and Asian robbers out of jail right now.

Notice that nowhere during the report is the actual rate of crime per ethnic group discussed. If, and I say if, the rates of crime matched the amount of stop and searches, wouldn't that be justified?

It's a moot point in modern Britain. What has happened to us?

Monday, 15 March 2010


The BNP has been fined after the court determined its constitution was still "racist". The court was ruling on legislation introduced by the government and the BNP had been charged by the Equality Commission which is, of course, a branch of the government.
Does nobody else see the problem here? The only reason there has been less outcry is because of fear that any objection would be spun as support for the BNP.

The Labour government has told us that we are terrorists until proven otherwise (ID Cards) , we are patriotic by sending our troops to war without the proper equipment (Afghanistan) and that we are idiots (WMDs in Iraq).

They couldn't be much worse, but I fear David Cameron could prove me wrong if he gets into power. I pray he doesn't. The gap is closing.


The Popular Alliance got its first mention in 'Private Eye' magazine a few issues back. As part of the 'Alliance for Democracy' that includes Popular Alliance, UK First, English Democrats and the Christian Party. The group received coverage for a large donor who has also contributed huge amounts to the Tories. Hopefully this member of the Christian Party has, ahem, seen the light!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Capital punishment: the debate continues

Phil Dickens, over at his blog has typed out another one of his eloquent articles. This time it's a theoretical look at the death penalty. In particular, Phil responds to some points I made in my recent article on capital punishment. Phil writes heavily on the theory and frequently refers to works of authority in his writing, so a full reply would take a lengthy and committed response. Therefore, in the interests of light reading, I'll restrict myself to a few direct responses.

To follow the debate in full, please read my article, then Phil's article then the following reply. It may take a few moments but you will receive a balanced and credible argument both for and against the death penalty.

In one paragraph, Phil states (ignore the punctuation errors caused by my text editor):
We are, in condemning the perpetrator of a 'capital' crime, making a moral judgment. We are declaring the act committed, whether murder, rape, or some other action, to be wrong. For that moral judgment to hold up, it must apply in every similar situation. As Noam Chomsky states, 'one of the, maybe the most, elementary of moral principles is that of universality, that is, If something?s right for me, it's right for you; if it's wrong for you, it's wrong for me. Any moral code that is even worth looking at has that at its core somehow.' Thus, if the taking of human life in an offensive act is wrong, then it is always wrong. It is wrong if it is committed by a mugger with a knife, by a policeman with a gun, or by a doctor with a needle.

This is, in essence, a simple statement of moral absolutism. Whilst it may sound sweet, it is neither practical or true. To suggest a murder is an equally condemnable crime in any circumstances is to ignore human nature. Do we really believe that a man who shoots a burglar who has just told him he will rape his wife is equal in his sin to a man who gets drunk, walks up to someone in the street and kicks them to death? Do we really believe that soldier at war who takes a shot at, say, Kim Jong Il is equally murderous as a child killer?

Society always has and always will take circumstances into account when considering crimes. Indeed, Phil appears to acknowledge his own paradox in his next paragraph:

"I have used the word ?offensive? as a qualifier because this reflects my own judgment. I am not a moral absolutist and as such can envision situations where taking a life may be necessary or even right. For example, acting in self-defence, it may be necessary to take the life of an aggressor who would otherwise take yours. Or ending somebody?s life may be an act of mercy and the only alternative to endless agony and physical or mental decline."

Unfortunately for Phil, this appears to weaken his own argument. Phil goes on to state:

"There are those who will argue that judicial execution is an act of defence, as it prevents the person against whom it is enacted from harming anybody ever again. However, this is a non-sequitur."

Actually it is not a non-sequitur at all. A non-sequitur is an argument where the premise is not logical to the conclusion or vice versa. Neither is the case here, though in fairness to Phil he probably means that the argument is not honest, rather than not logical.

Returning to the article:

"The death penalty is not enacted to defend against potential future offences, but as a punishment for an offence already committed. It is a retributive act, and so cannot be classed as defensive. If an individual, taken by a moment of madness, killed someone upon discovering their guilt in the death of a loved one, we may be able to justify or explain it as a crime of passion. However, unless this revelation came in the midst of a direct and immediate threat (to put it crudely, ?I killed your daughter and now I?ll kill you?), the killing is not a defensive one."

Phil has a very valid point here. We can't honestly argue that vengeance for society takes precedence over prevention of repeat crimes when the death penalty is invoked. However, this does not change the fact that the statistics show beyound reasonable doubt that murders are committed by criminals who have been released from prison after a serious offence. Therefore, capital punishment does help to keep society safer and prevent murder. That's a solid fact. Let's also remember that while judicial process should be as free from emotion a possible, one side effect of capital punishment is that it brings some level of comfort and closure to relatives and loved ones of any victims.

Phil again, this time discussing the issue of the death penalty being barbaric:

 "The decision-making process he [the anti-politician] is advocating is not barbaric at all, but unique to more developed societies. However, it should be pointed out that people do not think execution barbaric because of how people reach the decision to carry it out. The argument for it being barbaric is that it is an act of vengeance masking itself as justice, often based on a sentiment (?an eye for an eye?) that originated in the dark ages."

These points may seem valid at a first read but consider further. Is a trial by jury really an 'eye for an eye'? Juries are there to consider prosecution and defence. They will ponder the circumstances of the crime, any defence pleas such as insanity or retardation (a common defence plea in Texas, and no that is not a bad joke, it's true) and anything else presented at the trial. The jury will then consider if the criminal has committed murder in legal terms. It is not simply a case of 'you killed someone so we can kill you'. It is a slow, drawn out and painstaking process, the exact opposite of the anger fueled response Phil is suggesting we invoke.

Phil frequently returns to the idea that the death penalty argument is weakened by the fact that it could never protect against 'crimes of passion', such as the man who grabs his knife and stabs the man he's just caught in bed with his wife. But crimes of passion, by their very definition, are never going to represent the majority of serious crimes.  Such events are random by nature. In any case, in cases where there is provocation and/or little intent of a serious crime, surely most juries would not argue for the death sentence?

The final point Phil tackles is the one most difficult for both pro and anti-capital punishment sides. It's the issue of deterrent, or lack thereof.

I already made my case for the statistical evidence about a deterrent in my article but Phil concludes:

"The reason it is so hard to find a correlation between the use of the death penalty as a punishment and the murder rate is because there isn?t one."

Actually the true reason for the difficulty in establishing evidence of a deterrent is more complicated. The first reason is the use of a logical fallacy: negative proof.

Negative proof is a simple concept yet it is so often overlooked by my students and by left wingers in general. It works like this: I cannot show you that Santa Claus does not exist. Sure, I can show you the overwhelming argument that it would be impossible for him to exist, but I can't actually find any solid way to show that he is definitely not real. Likewise, I can't prove to you that stars in the night sky are not made of cheese, I can show you all the evidence that they are made of gas, but I cannot specifically disprove the cheese theory.

These silly examples make a valid point: we cannot prove something could of happened but didn't. How could we do so? A door to door survey asking "Have you ever decided not to commit a serious crime because you were scared of the punishment?"? Perhaps we could hold a walk in centre for people to tell us: "I was planning to rob a Bank and shoot someone but I changed my mind when I thought about the electric chair"? There simply is no way to monitor and record a potential criminal's change of mind.

The second problem with establishing a deterrent in capital punishment is the sheer number of variables in the equation. Imagine that we have a scientific experiment where doctors feed apples to monkeys every day to see if it helps them grow. It would be fairly easy to do this, provided we had a control group and no other variables. At the end of the test, doctors could compare growth charts for the two groups. With a big enough sample group, it would be easy to see the results and suggest if there is any evidence that apples spurt growth (though of course there would need to be lots of repeat tests).

But imagine if the doctors did not simply have the apple group and the non-apple group, but instead had hundreds of different groups with hundreds of variables. Some groups ate ten things a day, some groups ate just apples but then went outside to exercise, the next group ate apples and did no exercise. The next group ate green apples and the next group after that ate green and red apples...and so on.

The point here is, of course, that it would then become very hard for scientists to see what, if anything, affected the growth of all the different monkey groups in the experiment. There would be too many factors that could have influenced the monkey's growth patterns.

In our society today, trying to establish the efficacy of the death penalty as a deterrent would be almost as difficult as the task of the doctors in our second example. The variables at play in our society include population, changes in culture and media, changes in demographics, wealth, diet (yes, diet affects behaviour in many ways) and so many others.

So what can we hope to establish, well aside from the limited but crucial statistical evidence we can examine as per my first article? Well, we must must rely on common sense. Would you consider robbing a bank if you knew the worst possible consequence was a day in jail? Now would you still rob that bank if you knew the worst possible penalty was the electric chair? Not a hard decision is it? You weigh up the potential benefits against the possible consequences. This is human nature and despite Phil's argument that it is not realistic, it is. Many serious crimes such as assassinations, kidnapping and bank robberies require planing and forethought. They must include consideration of the potential outcomes and obstructions, or they would never be carried out.

Science supports us here, too. Behaviorism is a field of psychology that studies how behaviour of a species can be altered and conditioned. Numerous studies have shown that human behaviour can be modified by a consideration of the punishment involved for committing an act.

The risk of a wrongful conviction in capital punishment is a real concern. However, such evidence is almost non-existent in modern cases. Phil rightly mentions a case in Australia involving possibly invalid DNA evidence for some crimes. However, the chances of such evidence being faulty and a jury making a wrong decision and the court trial going the wrong way remain minuscule. There is no more sense in denying the death penalty because of this risk than there is of stopping everyone from driving because of the danger of a driving accident. We must be extremely vigilant and maintain the integrity and transparency of our judicial system and justice should follow its path.

Before I stop, I must finally point out that Phil is quite right to stress that arguments from emotion are not good arguments, but it is also true that some level of emotion nd empathy make us human, and help us to decide what is right. While it may be bad practise to let anger decide the punishment of a convicted ad guilty thug who kicks an old lady to death, I don't believe it is wrong to let us imagine her terror and sense of helplessness she must have felt in her last moments when we consider if the punishment should be thirty years in prison, or execution.

So thank you to Phil for another intriguing and well written article. The argument over the death penalty is likely to rumble on for a long time. I only hope that it is restored in the UK and saves lives in the process.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Cleric uses police to censor a blogger

This article is from pubphilosopher


I've been jolted out of my recent lethargy by this story. It appears that an Anglican vicar complained to the police about an article written by blogger Seismic Shock, which the vicar claimed had associated him with terrorist organisations . The police then paid a visit to the blogger and to his university, demanding access to his computer files and strongly suggesting that he should delete his blog.
The vicar, Stephen Sizer, apparently left this comment on a Christian blog that had linked to Seismic Shock:
Dear Vee,
You must take a little more care who you brand as anti-semitic otherwise you too will be receiving a caution from the police as the young former student of Leeds did recently. One more reference to me and you will be reported.
A number of bloggers have picked up this story and many are asking how the hell the police came to be involved in this. Surely an allegation of libel is a civil dispute not a matter for the police.
However, as regular readers of this blog will know, over the past few years the government has passed a number of laws which effectively give religious fanatics more rights and protection than the rest of us. They only have to utter the phrase 'religious hate speech', or something similar, and the police are obliged to follow the complaint up. Seismic Shock isn't the first person to have a visit from the cops after writing an article criticising a religious viewpoint, and he will not be the last.
Seismic Shock has been the victim of censorship by intimidation. Worse still, this was done using the taxpayer-funded forces of the state rather than the civil law. Regardless of where you stand on the Zionist vs Anti-Zionist conflict, or the various Jewish-Christian-Muslim arguments, this is a vicious attack on free speech.
If you have a blog, please publicise this story as many others have this weekend.
If you would like to email Stephen Sizer and tell him what you think, his address is here.

Friday, 8 January 2010

In support of the Death Penalty

If you - or someone you loved - were murdered, what would you expect to happen to the murderer?

Your initial response to this question probably reveals your opinion on one of the most controversial laws used in the USA and here in the UK until about thirty years ago.

My opinion is this: some crimes are so heinous that the only suitable punishment is death. Child killers, serial rapists and cold-blooded murderers will never be able to settle back into society (though the Labour government seems willing to take the risk). So what should happen to them? Opponents of the death penalty would probably say they should spend life in prison - though extreme leftists probably believe a week of rehab should do the trick - but think about this: prison, as horrible as it may be will still bring moments of laughter, moments of happiness and moments of great comfort. The killer has all these left to enjoy. The victim has none of these moments left, and his family may have fewer than the offender. Does that seem right?

What do you believe? It's a topic that I have ended up debating heavily recently and in doing so I've come across many of the typical left wing arguments against the death penalty. I want to take this opportunity to show how I (and you could) respond.

"The risk of executing an innocent person"

Clearly this is a risk, and no cvilised country could ever, ever apply a death sentence without a transparent and secure trial that proves guilt beyound realistic doubt. By "secure", I mean that there should be a unanimous jury verdict. Yes, we need jury trials and we need unanimity, not majority. We must have the right to appeal, the right to apply for clemency and a requirement for DNA evidence.

While some anti-death penalty campaigns have made much furore of some alleged wrongful executions in the US, investigations have proved that the true percentage of cases that could have been wrongful is less than one percent. Of course this is still too many. It is better for a hundred bad men to go free than one good man to be wrongfully executed. However with advances in forensic evidence and with transparency, he chance of a wrongful conviction going through to execution seems less than being struck by lightening.

There is also another very important point to consider: statistics show that there is a far, far greater chance that murderers or violet criminals who are released from prison will re-offend, sometimes within one year. Statistically, every two years someone is murdered by a released murderer. Therefore, those who argue that we must not risk taking the life of an innocent person must support the death penalty. It provides far greater protection to the innocent.
Opponents also occasionally cite the number of offenders in the US who have been released on clemency or otherwise. This is a non-sequitar argument. It is proof that the innocents are discovered and released.

"The Death Penalty is not a deterrent."

The accompaniment to this argument is nearly always the same set of statistics appearing to show that US states without the death sentence have lower murder rates than states with the sentence. This argument has several holes. Firstly, the stats do not show a lack of deterrent. The only correct way to measure a deterrent is to observe its effect in place and then remove the possible deterrent in the same location. It cannot be observed across different states because each state is different in terms of its law, its social make up, its wealth and many other factors. In particular, applications of manslaughter laws and potential plea bargains by district attorneys can vary greatly.

In Texas, the murder rate decreased greatly after the death penalty was reintroduced. In the UK, murder and serious crime has risen steeply after our own death penalty laws were abolished.

The idea that loss of life is not a deterrent seems contrary to common sense and human nature. Many studies in the psychological field of behaviorism have shown that knowledge of potential punishments can condition behaviour in humans. The bottom line however is this - if putting violent killers to death is not a deterrent, we have still removed some violent killers, if putting them to death is a deterrent, we have rid the world of some killers and avoided some more yet if the death penalty is not applied at all, we have failed to deter future killers and allowed other killers to live and quite possibly re-offend.

"It doesn't bring back the deceased/The criminal shouldn't be allowed to escape from the world so easily/They should be made to reflect on what they have done/ An eye for an eye is wrong"

In short: arguments from emotion.

It's natural that we all have strong feelings about such a powerful and emotive issue but none of the above arguments are rational. There is no sure way or even reason to believe that a violent criminal is likely to spend the rest of his or her days in remorse. I'm not a religious person but I understand The Bible is not in opposition to death sentencing and while it's true that nothing can repair the damage done to the families of crime victims, studies have shown that execution of the criminal can bring some level of comfort.

My challenge to anyone who believes that life sentencing is a greater punishment that a death sentence is to imagine how they would feel if they were in a room with an electric chair, knowing they were about to be strapped into it.

"The death penalty is racialist"

No law is racialist per se unless it specifies race within itself, only its application can be judged as racialist. Any country that is not civilised enough to apply laws evenly should not have the death penalty.I agree. I do not believe that UK laws are applied racialistly.

"It's inhumane/barbaric/primitive"

I don't agree. I believe that a judge should have an option for the death penalty in cases (with the requirements I mentioned earlier - jury, etc.) involving pre-meditated murder, child rape, kidnap and torture and certain cases of child abuse or adult rape. Those acts are inhumane and barbaric, not the punishment The idea that a group of twelve people should then reach a unanimous verdict that the crime is beyond doubt and so heinous as to warrant a death penalty that is then carried out a scheduled time and under strict conditions is not barbaric at all. "Barbaric" means "like a barbarian", a barbarian would never be able to comprehend such a course of action.

If anybody else has any other objections, I would be glad to discuss them. With violent crime in the UK on the increase and with people in some cities scared to go out on the streets at night, I believe that a reintroduction of the death penalty option could send a message to the criminal factions that we will not tolerate drug murders, gang kidnaps and torture, child abuse or murder (Baby P killers, Ian Huntley) or a release of cold blooded killers into society. We must send a clear message that we protect society nd the law abiding people, while dealing with violent criminals in a firm but transparent and just manner.


Further reading:

A peer reviewed paper showing the death penalty has saved up to sixty lives in Texas here.

Book Peter Hitchens: "A History of Crime". This book has now been released in an updated edition that excludes the chapter on hanging in favour of a chapter on ID cards. However, Hitchens summarises his argument here.'s pages on crime and punishment. Lots of useful information and arguments for both sides here.

Immanual Kant's argument in favour of the death penalty here.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Why is it so important NOT to vote Conservative?

This article is as trim as I could make it without missing any important bits. For people who like to get academic, I'll be posting a longer version with more context and citations, etc.)

Why is it so important not to vote Conservative?

The short answer is simple - the race for this year's election is not as one sided as the media would have you think. Here's quick example - The Sunday Telegraph recently featured an opinion poll and described the Tory vote as "hitting" forty percent. What it did not point out was that Tory support had declined since the previous poll, it had 'hit' forty percent on the way down.

In reality, despite the best efforts of Labour to self destruct and despite the massive jumping ship of the media to the Conservative camp, the opinion polls have started to narrow the gap, and that is not the way that the media and business executives want it to go. So the first thing we must understand is that the way you vote this time around could be even more important than ever before.

But isn't encouraging people not to vote really negative? Isn't it more democratic to ask people to vote for a certain party?

It's tempting to think that way, but it's important to understand right now that reducing the Conservative vote is about as powerful a blow as the people can strike. As we've established, the media have already jumped to the Tory camp. Newspapers like the Sun and Mirror are used to bossing elections. Numerous studies have shown that the media can be the deciding influence on election results in the UK. The other influence - and the more dangerous one because we can't see it - is the big money men who fund these parties and then lobby for their own selfish interests. The majority of these people have also jumped to the Tories.

In the past, these powerful forces have proved pivotal in deciding election outcomes. This year, with such a tight race, we have the chance to send them a powerful message that we the people decide elections and nobody else and that we are not sheep who do as we are told by them. After a year of disgraced bankers receiving millions in pay offs and journalists and MPs alike sinking to new lows, we now have the chance to send them one mighty wake up call.

Also remember that so many people vote through habit, family history or simply because one particular party seems 'in fashion' none of these are logical or good moral reasons to vote. By issuing a 'don't vote' message, we can encourage the public to use their vote more wisely and appreciate its true importance.

So who to vote for?

I'm tempted to tell you to vote for the party I support but that is not important right now. For historical reasons, the UK has always been a two party system (with the Lib Dems as an occasional side show) . However much we'd love to think otherwise, there are only two realistic choices for the general election. This brings me back to the earlier point - the most powerful effect you can have on this year's election is to shun one of the big two parties.

But the Conservatives are OK aren't they? Why shouldn't we choose them?

Please see this thread:

Why pick on the Conservatives? Why not Labour?
This is where my own selfish interests (we all have them) come in. As far as I'm concerned, Labour and Conservative are equally incompetent and immoral. The reason I'm picking on the Conservatives - and this is very important to understand and think about - is this: we have a chance to finish the Conservative Party and replace them with something better. If the Tories lose this one, it will be four defeats in a row, which is unprecedented in modern history. It Will also be the biggest shock that has ever hit the party, to lose an election they are so complacent about. The fallout from this is hard to predict, but there is every chance that a more honest, better run, true conservative party with principles and ideals can take its place.

But that's just my own self interest. For any voter - the "power to the people" points we've already made still stand true. For people with other ideologies, you still have something to gain. The Lib Dems have obvious opportunities,. The Greens, socialists and the rest on the left have the chance to remove the remnants of a rival ideology.

Please think about and ask any questions or make any comments. Thanks for reading.