Showing posts from August, 2006

Always ask for the whole story

Like many people, I was quite shocked when I heard that a football player had, as it was reported, been cautioned by police for making the sign of the cross at a Rangers v Celtic match. The sign of the cross is made by both catholics and protestants. I'm Church of England myself and this weekend my wife commented on the fact that I made the sign of the cross without even thinking of it when we passed the site of Friday's fatal car accident on the A595 and I sent up a short prayer for the victims. So if the situation had been that someone made the sign of the cross in prayer with no other context, and had then been cautioned on the basis that showing reverence to God is itself provocative, that would be disgraceful. Some of the initial reports of the incident certainly read as if that is what happened. However, I am very grateful to my old University contemporary and friend Iain Dale. He wrote a blog piece expressing concern at the caution, but to his credit Iain also put in a l

Digital TV Public Meeting: 21 September 2006

Residents of Whitehaven and surrounding villages should have received a letter this month about the Digital switchover. In Autumn 2007 Whitehaven will become the first town in the UK to experience the change to a different system of TV broadcasting. Some residents of the area already have arials, televisions etc which are fully compatible with the new digital system. Others will not. If residents with older systems do not take appropriate action before Autumn next year their TV will stop working come the switchover. Details of the digital switch can be found online >here There is also a public meeting, chaired by Jedi Jamie, in Whitehaven Civic Hall, at 6.30pm on Thursday 21st September. I would strongly encourage any Whitehaven resident who is interested in television, or who has friends or relatives who depend on their TV, to come along and find out more about what is going on.

Another A595 tragedy

On Friday, for the second time in a few weeks, there was a fatal accident on the A595 near my home. It seems that every week we hear of yet more death on Cumbria's roads. The butcher's bill so far this year is 41 human lives. Because there is such a lot of nonsense applied in the name of health and safety, and because some politicians and officials are too quick to take every opportunity to bash the motorist, you have to be very careful how you discuss road safety. It is far too easy to sound like a car-hating killjoy. And anyone who is himself or herself a driver who says anything meaningful about road safety takes a huge risk of appearing to be a hypocrite. Show me any regular driver who claims that they have never driven too fast or made a potentially dangerous mistake when behind the wheel of a car, and I'll show you a liar. But I think that all of us who drive regularly on Cumbria's roads, particularly those like the A595 on which death or serious injury are a depr

The death of trust - and how to rebuild it.

A letter in the News and Star by a Dr K Davis, headlined “Terrorist scare was bogus” suggested that the recent airport security alarm and associated police raids were not based on a real threat, and inferred that this had been manufactured by the government for political purposes. The letter appears to have been written before any charges had been brought and before it was announced that bomb-making equipment had been found: it predicted that no evidence would materialise and all those arrested would be released without charge. The fact that Dr Davis could write such a the letter, and get it printed (It appeared on August 19) demonstrates how far Tony Blair’s government has damaged trust in politics in this country – not because the letter was right, but because it demonstrated that sane people can take seriously the possibility that the government and police would organise a large number of raids, arrest twenty people, and disrupt the travel arrangements of many thousands, on the basi

The government must act now for next year's A Levels

Any comment about A levels should start by congratulating all those students who have just had their A level results on their hard work. Regardless of what one thinks about the system, getting through the exams does take a lot of effort, and getting an A grade does not happen without both ability and hard work. Any comments we make about the system should not be presented in a way which belittles what this year's students have done to earn the grades they have just been awarded. They deserve to be allowed to feel proud of their achievements. Nevertheless, failure by the government to act now so that improvements to the system can be made in good time for next year would be to betray next year's students, betray universities, and betray employers. There is a lot of debate about whether the increasing rates of passes and of high grades represents an improvement of performance or a drop in the difficulty of the exam, but that isn't actually the most important issue. The key po

Is the Health and Safety culture "Malevolent" ?

This morning on a TV newspaper review Kate Adie, who knows something about working in dangerous places, referred to a press story that Health and Safety rules were interfering in the humanitarian effort in Lebanon. She suggested that when it starts interfering in the ability to help people in need the "Health and Safety Culture" can become "Malevolent". As Kate Adie admitted, that was a strong word to use. There have been a lot of newspaper stories about or extreme applications Health and Safety legislation, but we have to balance this against the fact that where the laws work as they are supposed to and save lives in the process this is much less likely to be newsworthy. Nonetheless there are quite clearly some instances where the rules have been inappropriately applied. An extreme example was the legal action brought by the Health and Safety executive against the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, after two officers pursued a fleeing criminal onto a roof and

Elective Dictatorship moves a stage nearer ...

The charge of threatening democracy in Britain is made too often by opponents of the party in power when they don't like what the government is doing. Certainly it has been made very frequently against Tony Blair. But as with the story of the boy who cried wolf, one of the main reasons we should be careful not to make the charge too frequently is the risk that people will not listen when it is true. I hope that justifiable concerns about what today's arrest of suspected terrorists and extreme measures against an apparent threat of mass aircraft bombings does not completely divert attention from the measures the government has just put forward about defence lawyers. The government has slipped out in August, when Blair himself and half the country is on holiday, the proposal that judges should be able to sack defence lawyers. Doubtless they hope that people will not realise how serious this is, and that anyone who speaks up against it will be assumed to be interested in defending

Book Review - How to Win Every Argument

"How to win every argument - the use and abuse of logic" by Madsen Pirie This is an updated version of a classic guide to logical thinking and how to spot mistaken arguments. We've all been in the situation where some smart-alec produces an argument, often as a joke, which everyone knows must be wrong but where nobody can quite see the mistake. More seriously, I suspect most of us have seen debates where one side appears to have much more evidence to support their case, until someone comes along who presents the other side of the argument so much better that everyone is convinced - at least until after the superior speaker has won the vote/verdict/board or council decision, by which time it is too late. Madsen Pirie's book is a masterly and very entertaining guide to the different tricks which people can use to make their argument sound much stronger than it really is, how to spot them, and what the holes in their logic are. He lists the logical fallacies which, by ac

Book Review – “The Rise of Political Lying” by Peter Oborne

I know from experience that there are still honest politicians around in both the Conservative and Labour parties. There may even be some honest Liberal Democrats. But this book is depressingly successful at showing how many others have set out to deceive the voters and why respect for politics is at an all-time low. Oborne appears to have gone to considerable length to make only charges which he can substantiate - doubtless he would have been sued otherwise. His book starts with an instance where a politician told the truth and was represented as lying because of it. In 1994 William Waldegrave was asked whether it might ever be acceptable for a minister to say something untrue to the House of Commons, and he replied that in "exceptional circumstances" it might be. This was immediately portrayed as an example of tory sleaze, and various future Labour ministers who would have had to resign if they themselves were held to the standards they demanded, used Waldegrave's state

"Whitehall's last colonies" and "The fur-lined mousetrap"

“Whitehall’s last colonies” is the title of a report on the regions which was written by Professor Nick Bosanquet and two colleagues and published on Monday by the think tank “Reform.” It studies the difference in regional economic performance between, on the one hand, London and the surrounding areas, and on the other, what the report calls “challenged” regions such as the North East and North West of England. In London and the South East, economic activity, population, the number of new businesses and average income are rising. In Scotland, the North East, North West, and Northern Ireland, population is actually falling while economic activity, business starts, and income growth are all lagging behind. Bosanquet and his co-authors argue that regional differences are becoming more accentuated and that “certain regions are, in effect, becoming client areas dependent on state employment and state funding.” They believe there is a serious danger of a vicious circle in which outlying area