Saturday, August 04, 2007

The future's not ours to see

One of my pet themes is the importance of culture in economics.

Free trade is very good for those countries with high levels of education, technical skills, infrastructure etc. All these things being relative of course. You also need an government that doesn't hinder, entrepreneurial ethic among some and a work ethic among many. Britain in Victorian times had all of these and so was naturally keen on free trade.

Now we don't have the education system (with the implication for future technical skills), the government or the work ethic. Having a free market won't solve at least two out of three of those. After all, if it was possible to simply move into new areas easily, they'd have been able to make cars that people wanted to buy. Cars are as hi-tech an item as any these days, so if we can't make those what's suddenly going to make us turn out memory sticks or holographic videos ?

Conversely, with the right culture, technology and education, you can be successful with some pretty unfree markets. Japan 1960-1985 was protectionist and institutionally corrupt, but raised its game over that period from cheap plastic toys to the best cars, cameras and electronics in the world.

At Brussles Journal, Marc Huybrechts gets the crystal ball out :

It is often argued that authoritarian/totalitarian regimes inevitably breed high levels of favoritism and unaccountability, and therefore prove to be inferior economically and militarily in the long run. It is also claimed (or, rather, hoped) that authoritarian capitalist regimes will tend to democratize after passing a certain threshold of development. In a recent article in the July/August issue of the magazine Foreign Affairs, entitled The Return of Authoritarian Great Powers, the Israeli academic Azar Gat examined these and other claims. He notes that higher levels of social discipline can offset the inefficiencies of favoritism and of unaccountability, and that a transition to democracy by today’s authoritarian capitalist powers is not inevitable. Indeed, some of the differences between now and much of the past century are striking. For instance, the previous totalitarian capitalist great powers, Germany and Japan, were crushed in war and threatened by soviet power, and subsequently lent themselves to major restructuring and democratization. Also, many smaller countries that chose capitalism (and to some extent also ‘democracy’) over communism, did so in part because of the absence of a serious rival economic and political model and also because of Western liberal hegemony on the world stage. Today’s geopolitical situation is quite different. China and Russia represent a return of economically successful authoritarian capitalist powers, but they are much larger (and thus potentially much stronger) than the defeated authoritarian capitalist great powers of the previous century. The risk is real that a powerful authoritarian capitalist order is emerging in the world that “allies political elites, industrialists and the military” (writes Gat). Such an order is likely to be ‘nationalistic’ in a negative sense, i.e. in the sense that it will not favor liberal democracy and individual freedom.

I see exactly what he means. Those who wittered on about the US 'military/industrial complex may not have seen nothing yet. And that doesn't necessarily mean their economies will fail. We have pretty free markets, a ruined culture and education system, and our economy seems to me to be running on empty. As Elliott and Atkinson put it :

Hardly noticed in last Thursday's excitement was the release of the latest set of trade figures from the Office for National Statistics. These showed that in March, the UK imported £7bn more goods than it exported - more than 6% of GDP. This figure alone gives the lie to the notion that Britain under Labour has cracked the age-old problem of inflation, since a trade deficit is merely disguised inflation, evidence of excess demand that can only be met through imports.

It's not difficult to see why the UK is running a trade level of this size: consumption has been rising fast while manufacturing output has flat-lined. Unlike Germany, Japan, Sweden - or even the US, which has a huge trade deficit itself - Britain is no longer an industrial nation. Is this worrying? Well, it scares the life out of me, but not it seems the government. The fantasy here is that we can cope with living beyond our means at a national level through the profits generated by the City and by building up Britain's "knowledge economy". A £7bn trade deficit suggests we have some way to go; hardly surprising since the fastest growing job in the 1990s was hairdressing and the UK now has as big a slice of its population working as servants as it did in 1860.

Sorry about the pessimism. It was Ecclesiastes at Mass again tonight.

Bestwood Update

I wrote about Bestwood in Nottinghamshire last year :

According to Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service in August 2004 - way before the Stirland convictions - "there have been over 200 arson attacks in the last 12 months alone in just three streets in Bestwood – Raymede Drive, Leybourne Drive and Andover Road".

200 arson attacks in a year ? In three streets ? No one apprehended ? What the hell is going on on that estate ?

All is now made plain :

Bestwood Estate in Nottingham was ruled by Colin Gunn - a man who was feared by some and revered by others. His Bestwood Army policed the streets - and murdered and tortured for revenge and respect, residents said. He was Mr Big - some would say the Godfather - but he is now in jail serving time for murder and corruption.

The Bestwood riots were Gunn's supporters - many of whom left messages (mow mostly deleted) on the Policeman's blog. Presumably the fires were a control/punishment tool.

The strange thing is that I keep hearing how tough punishments for criminals will "only make them worse". Doesn't seem to apply to Bestwood.

In Nottingham-itself, Bestwood, according to figures, is the city's burglary "hot spot" - making the careworn square mile which is home to 3,300 people Europe's break-in capital. Certainly, the statistics tell a depressing story.

In April, out of 688 burglaries reported in the city, 141 were in Bestwood and neighbouring Sherwood. However, only eight of these crimes have been solved - a pathetic detection rate. In the same month, there were 84 burglaries reported in the same area - a year-on-year increase of 67 per cent.

So if 360-degree CCTV cameras can't prevent Bestwood being the European burglary capital, what on earth will ? The answer is a shocking indictment of law and order in this country and a deep embarrassment for the police. For many householders in the area say that the greatest deterrent to the casual burglar used to be the presence on the estate of one of Britain's most ruthless crime families ... a major police effort in the past 18 months has seen two of the main figures in the organisation - both of whom lived in Bestwood - jailed for murder and drugs offences.

And while justice may have been done, the shocking truth is that burglary statistics in Bestwood have gone through the roof since the two were put away - whereas they had been falling. Locals say it was the absence of the police that enabled the family to take control of the estate, after the uniformed presence was reduced from regular bobbies on the beat to the occasional patrol car.

The trouble is that the State has surrendered its function as 'the nutter of last resort' - the organisation that you really don't want to cross. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Note well. The Gunns had bent policemen trawling the national police computers - on one occasion Gunn's missus got beaten up because a spelling error in a name gave him the idea she had a prostitution conviction.

They had bent BT guys who found the ex-directory phone number of the Stirlands, an innocent couple who were murdered bacause of their son's crime (btw, one of the functions of a decent criminal justice system is to prevent vendettas, by general acceptance that punishments are just. If Michael O'Brien had been hanged would the Gunns have wanted his parents dead too ? Unlikely).

ID cards, anyone ?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Who's Matthew Syed ?

And does he always write as much nagombi as this ?

The prototypical argument for black athletic superiority can be found in Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We Are Afraid to Talk about it by Jon Entine. Entine’s central assertion is that it is not blacks as a whole that are good at sprinting but rather a subset who can trace their origins to western African coastal states. Indeed, he makes the point that “no white, Asian or East African runner has broken 10 seconds in the 100m” (my italics).

Yes. Nowt to argue with there. That's why Premiership clubs are signing players from Nigeria or Ivory Coast, why there are so many great black American athletes. People from that neck of the woods seem to have a slight edge in acceleration and pace over a shortish distance, and such small differences are magnified at the margins - in this case, the top end of sport.

East Africans, it turns out, have a rather different skill set: distance running. As has been well documented, Kenyans from well-defined areas in the Rift Valley are strikingly successful at running 3,000m and above. Up until 1993 the Kalenjin tribe won 317 medals and the neighbouring Gussi people won 78. These figures amounted respectively to 63 per cent and 15 per cent of the 506 medals won by Kenyan athletes in major competitions.

Yes, again. Oh, my Keino and Bikila long ago !

Let us assume that these results have genetic causes. Is Entine entitled to conclude that blacks are naturally better athletes ? Well, no. All he is entitled to say is that East Africans are naturally better at distance running and West Africans are naturally better at sprinting and that whites are probably somewhere in the middle at both disciplines. So why make the further claim that “blacks” are naturally better at sprinting and distance running ?

Does Mr Entine actually argue this ? He says that 'black athletes dominate sport' - very different from saying that all blacks can run - and something that happens to be true in America and fast becoming true in the UK - look at the enormous over-representation (and equally enormous under-representation for Asians) of black strikers in the Premiership. Mr Syed seems to be afraid of anyone saying that there are any differences between anyone at all. Lighten up, old chap.

UPDATE - Who's Mr Syed ? A failed Labour candidate for one thing - and a top table-tennis player.

Funny. He doesn't look Chinese.

BBC Then And Now ...

Nick Ross in Thursday's Times remembers his early BBC days in Belfast :

Before that, he had been on The World Tonight, where he reported in some detail on army brutality in Northern Ireland. He was summoned by the managing director of radio. "I thought I was going to be congratulated and I got the most terrible dressing-down: I was unpatriotic. I was putting soldiers at risk."

They were right, whoever his bosses were. I disapprove of brutality by police or soldiers against unarmed or disarmed people. But although you can't count the bodies, there's no doubt that, say, the reporting of Abu Ghraib has had negative consquences for the US military. The only way the snaps should have been published was if the top brass was aware but took no action.

"Anyway, I don’t think things are worse. I just think there are different pressures now." Ratings, he means. "Oh, you’d put that story out without a thought now. There’s no way that the MD of television or the Director-General would pull it. They’d say ‘great story’."

Another brilliant BBC programme - if you can get it

Blimey - two great R4 programmes in a couple of weeks.

I missed the first part, and haven't had time to listen to it online yet, but parts two and three of the four-part The Crime of Our Lives - which covers crime and criminal justice in the UK from the dark days of the 1950s to our present nirvana - have been enthralling stuff. If you want to know how we got where we are it's a must-listen.

Unfortunately the BBC's 'Listen Again' feature seems to be having some technical issues - as a result of which parts 1 and 2 are no longer available online. I do hope they fix this - it would be a crime not to have this available. If amyone's got an mp3 of Parts 1 or 2 please let me know, although I hope the BBC will restore the online versions.

Part 2 covered the real disaster years of the sixties and early 70s - the Roy Jenkins era, the abandonment of preventative beat policing for reactive squad car patrolling, what happened to the Probation and Prison services (for which see here). A great deal of the history will be familiar to readers of Peter Hitchens 'A Brief History of Crime'. Remarkably, all shades of opinion were represented - for example, ex-probation officer David Fraser, a fierce critic of the changes, talked about the Probation Service.

You can't take underlying BBC bias out completely - an armed robber talked about how the long sentences handed out to the train robbers made criminals more prepared to kill, as the sentences wouldn't be any different, without anyone pointing out that such an attitude was only made possible by the abolition of the death penalty around the same time - but still a great programme.

Part 3 (RealAudio till next week) was even more revealing to a born-again rightie like me - after all, it's received wisdom that Roy Jenkins civilised society led directly to today's shambles. What was an eye-opener was the revelation of the utter uselessness of a succession of Tory Home secretaries during the Thatcher years. You can see why the culture wars were lost during the Eighties - these people literally didn't have a clue. We hear of Tory Home secretaries pleading with the judiciary to send less people to jail, not to charge young first-time offenders - did you know that youth crime (as reflected by the stats and presumably by a new reluctance to charge) actually went down between the 70s and the mid-eighties ? - while continuing to throw red-meat soundbites to the poor bloody infantry at Conference. And as for the new street cultures springing up - well listen to a Home Secretary (Hurd ? I'll have to listen again) describing sitting in a Belgravia apartment, hearing the police sirens go past on their way to Broadwater Farm or Brixton and asking 'who are these people' ?

I'm looking forward to part four, which I predict will include a reference to the Broken Windows theory of crime, and should feature strongly the arrival on horseback of the white knight, the first post-war Home Secretary to reduce crime - the Blessed Michael Howard.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Blessed Is He ...

I'm still trying to work out if these people are serious (if offbeat) Christians or whether it's all a cunning marketing device.

"My husband and I went away for our 10th anniversary and for the first time we decided to visit a high street sex shop to liven things up a bit," she said. "But we were really shocked at the price of things in there and the things on offer which seemed to focus on pornography and bondage, which is not what we see as fitting within a Christian marriage. A few days later, Stan came to me and said, 'Let's set up a Christian sex site'.

"At first I thought he was mad, but then God changed my opinion and I thought it was a great idea."

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Little Lamb, Who Kicked Thee Over A Cliff ?

Some wee scumbag from County Durham, that's who.

The boys had entered the field and began chasing a flock of sheep, including lambs. As the cruel game escalated, the boys started striking the animals with sticks and corralling them closer to the edge of the quarry. In the culmination of the incident, Mr Thomas told the court how one of the boys managed to catch a trapped lamb, and kicked it off the edge of the cliff.

Mr Thomas then passed a photograph of the dead lamb to the 12-year-old boy, who started to cry.

That sort of thing can happen to the best of people, mind you. I was drinking cider down at the old malthouse with Gable Oak last winter, and he told me this sad story.

Another Day ...

Another Home Office initiative overturned by the courts.

The government has been acting unlawfully by keeping prisoners in jail longer than necessary, judges say. The Appeal Court ruling came in a case brought by a sex offender who had been handed an indeterminate jail sentence. Under the sentence offenders are given a minimum tariff, but must prove they are no longer a danger to the public before they can be released. David Walker argued he cannot be considered for release because his jail does not offer a parole course. The Court of Appeal ruled there "was a general and systemic legal failure".

Jon Silverman illustrates the traditional BBC bias.

The High Court judgement will have come as no surprise to ministers. They were put on notice by the chairman of the parole board, Sir Duncan Nichol, six months ago that increased use of the indeterminate public protection sentence (IPP) by judges was having serious implications for prison management. He revealed that official projections showed that, if unchecked, the number of IPP prisoners at any one time would reach 12,500 within five years, far outstripping the "lifer" population of jails in England and Wales.

Either Jon Silverman is talking nonsense, or the High Court are breaking the law, surely. Since when have the number of prisoners banged up under a given law affected whether an individual can be released ?

"given the sheer number of IPP prisoners - the latest government figure, given in May 2007, was 2,547 - it is impossible at present for every inmate to complete a course before their tariff expires."

I see. These are serious offenders, considered likely to reoffend - and there are a lot more of them than the CJS thought, and the people aren't there to deal with them (obviously in my ideal world they wouldn't need so many staff. How many do you need to turn a key ?). Now where have I heard that before ?

Known sex offenders are living unchecked in the community because there are too many of them to be monitored regularly, according to research commissioned by the Home Office. The rapidly growing number of people registered as violent criminals or sex attackers is threatening to overwhelm the police, probation officers and social workers who have to keep them under supervision.

The number of people on the sex offenders register in 2005-06 was 29,973, a 4 per cent increase on the figure for the previous year. In the same year there were 14,317 violent offenders who were supposed to be subject to regular supervision, a rise of 13 per cent on the 12 months before. Another 3,363 offenders were deemed to require supervision after sentencing or after release from prison.

The number of offenders required to register is certain to increase, with ministers widening the scope of the sex offenders register to include more sexually motivated crimes.

Like this evil pervert.

A man who pinched a Channel 4 News presenter's bottom during a live broadcast is being sought by police. Sue Turton was speaking to the camera from Oxford's flood-hit Osney Island when the man was seen on film walking past her. She said she found the incident "quite humiliating" but continued reporting. She does not wish to pursue the matter.

The Guardian, stern foe of sexual harassment, thoughtfully provides a link to Youtube footage.

It is understood the force wanted to press for a tougher penalty and was "not particularly happy" about giving the man a fixed-penalty notice but that Turton's refusal to press charges limited their action.

Human Rights - The Struggle Continues

A mother serving life for murdering her baby son will sue prison bosses for refusing her a native American drum so she can talk to the dead. Chah Oh-Niyol Kai Whitewind says wardens at Low Newton prison, in Durham, are violating her human rights because they will not allow her to keep potions, spell books and a peace pipe in her cell.

The Birmingham mother-of-three was jailed for life in 2003 for suffocating her 12-week-old son, Bidziil, because he would not breast-feed.


"This prison, like many others, has an unwritten policy of pagan persecution. I have been refused and denied possession of religious items. I have faced hostility and disregard over my religious practices and festivals, and I have encountered bullying from inmates and staff due to my faith. I am not abusive to staff or inmates. So why should there be so many difficulties facing me ? Either some members of staff see me as a threat because of my perceived intelligence, or they see me as a threat because they do not understand the way I choose to live my life."

Or they see you as a baby-killing lunatic. Don't forget that option.

A Prison Service spokesman said: "There are certain religious artefacts pagan prisoners may be allowed in their cells, but each is subject to risk assessment. These artefacts include items such as a hoodless robe, a flexible twig and rune stones. These can only be used in their cell or during communal worship -they cannot be worn or used in any other areas of the prison."

Hmmm. Obviously not the only lunatic in the prison.

(Chah Oh-Niyol Kai Whitewind should ponder the fate of Nuit Ma Ahathoor Hecate Sappho Jezebel Lilith, daughter of the occultist Aleister Crowley. When Nuit died in infancy an acquaintance commented that she'd died of "acute nomenclature.")

Things Fall Apart ...

I think I've got blogging fatigue :

Gordon "Union Jack" Brown's 'Britishness' agenda, thanks to devolution, is turning out to only apply to England.

The Prime Minister's plan to raise the Union flag on public buildings every day will not apply to Scotland. As part of a new scheme to increase a sense of Britishness, Gordon Brown said he wanted the national flag flown year round on Government buildings, and eventually on police stations and hospitals across the UK.

How long can this go on before the whole thing falls apart ?

We saw last year that the teaching of "Britishness" only applies in England.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Judge Dorrian's At It Again

Given that she considers probation to be a suitable sentence for kicking a grandmother to death, Lady Leeona Dorrian's been remarkably punitive here.

He was punched in the face as he lay on the ground before the backpacker took a run and jumped full force on his head, the court heard. Virbickas checked on the condition of the soldier before stamping hard on his face up to 10 times, then kicking the unconscious man.

Levi Virbickas' victim spent seven weeks on hospital with brain bleeding and a fractured skull. He's been invalided out of the army.

Four years. He'll be out in two.

Really tough sentences - like five years - Lady Dorrian continues to reserve for the bad guys who drive drunk.

Leeona Dorrian, QC, told Fox: "A young life has not only been cut short, but your own destroyed by these actions. I recognise the remorse felt by you and the genuine sorrow and regret you have expressed, but there were serious aggravating factors involving both excessive speed and excessive alcohol and driving in the knowledge of your drinking."

The two guys were both drinking together, the deceased got into the car with the villain, and neither were wearing seatbelts. Call me out of touch, but I still think killing middle-aged women in a row over a parking space, or jumping on a man's head, are worse crimes. Ms Dorrian doesn't.

And if stamping on an unconscious man's face isn't a serious aggravating factor, what is ?

UPDATE - Levi Virbickas really is a tosser.

Lions of Mesopotamia

No matter how hawkish your views on Iraq might be, you'd have to admit that they've had a rough old time in the last three years. And you'd have to be a right curmudgeon not to be pleased at the news that they've beaten Saudi Arabia 1-0 to win the Asian Cup for the first time.

There's 5 minutes of final highlights here - and from that it looks to have been a richly deserved win (once the pop-up loaded, I had to click on 'play' half a dozen times before the connection kicked in). Younes looks a fine player, and there's a wonderful bit of skill by the no. 13 Karrar Jassim in the first half.

The victory was greeted with celebrations all over Iraq - the BBC have some rare footage of ecstatically happy Iraqis. Four killed by celebratory gunfire so far.