30 December, 2007


Sam and Adam took a 2nd in the last round so they're now on a mere +5.


The non-tab geeky worlds post

Well, the dorms are lovely and the campus makes Koc look bad (Koc being lovely but this being something else!). It is an officially dry campus, but a decent amount of free alcohol is being provided.

The two main issues are food (improving) and timings.

Day one was massively behind. Having been at breakfast at about 7:30-08:00, they ran the tab nearly two hours behind schedule.

Today has run more on time (in the end, less than an hour off) but there was a lot of waiting around. One of the benefits of being on a capmus should be the ability to go back to the dorm for a couple of hours or go on the internet. The problem is that they tell a time and so people go and are then left to wait for ages. This morning was less their fault, they were waiting for teams to arrive.

To be honest, when it comes to late teams I have only a limited amount of sympathy. When it comes to late teams on a campus, I have none. If you say you'll run at 9:30, you do a campuswide announcement at 9:15 over the PA system that you will run in 15 minutes and if people aren't there, it's their problem.

Their tone today suggests tomorrow will be much stricter.

Food at lunch for the first two days was sparse and inedible. Luckily, the cafes etc are stupidly cehap so not really a problem. Today it was apparently much better. Dinner tonight was wonderful, for the first time they served Thai food rather than western food and it's a much better idea. Thai food tastes nice, tends to suit a range of tastes and frankly, they should be good at it!

In terms of alcohol, there is a lot of beer (they're sponsored by singha!) and, more importantly in my view, non-beer alternatives. Ok, they're E-number alco-pops, but they taste fine :). Swiftly spreading rumours of a dry break night were categorically scotched this afternoon, though rumours that they are going to run out of bottle water are increasing.

The 7/11 down the road is fulfilling the role played by the alcohol hut down the hill at Koc. Long may it last!

A more fun rumour is that the final prize isn't just supported/sponsored by the King, but may be presented by him. I'll be at the airport by then, unfortunately so will have to find out like everyone else!

Ok, off to sleep now as tomorrow looks to be hard work and then Worlds Council the next day. Joy of joys.


Results R1-6

For reference: ULU is JLM and Paddy, Middle A is Fred and Ali, Middle B is Myself and James and Inner are Nye and Rob.

Sam and Adam (Cam A) were on 15 at the end of round 5 (ie: straight firsts), I don't know the result for round six yet.

Day 1 was rubbish for Middle B as we had two really rubbish calls. In the first room James was extending, feedback was 'good new points, new examples and nwe analysis but you didn't adequately flag it as an extension, therefore you came 3rd'. Some what annoying, but at least the judge was competant on the rest of the feedback.

In round 2 we also took the third in a decision so horrendous we complained to the CAs and were given competant judges for round 3 (1st).

Round 1 motion was THW allow the use of torture. We were second op.
Round 2 motion was THBT Taiwan should declare independance now. We were first prop.
Round 3 motion was TTHW not allow local government pay for the relocation of homeless people. We were first op.

R3 went slightly crazy as 1p were from Korea and talking about homeless as in 'mass migration with people with handcarts' whereas the rest of us were talking about the man with his dog outside the railway station. Oh well!

Day 2 has gone a lot better, but we're just not had any 'lucky' calls. We took a 1st and two seconds but on each of the seconds missed out by only one speaker mark. Little frustrating! The judging hasn't been crazy though, just unlucky.

motions for today have been

R4: THW allow defendants to have government lawyers only (2nd Prop, took the 2nd but we'd been put in a bit of a corner by 1p)
R5: THW only provide EU aid to countries which persued environmentally friendly policies (Second prop, came first)
R6: THW put more restrictions on foreign political donations than domestics ones (defined as in the US). We were first op and took a second.

In terms of other teams:
ULU are on a solid 15
Middle A (I believe) are on 13
Middle B are on 12
Inner Temple are now, unfortunately, out of the break having just taken a 4th and a 3rd in the last two rounds.

It's speculated that straights (18) may not be enough to break. I'm more inclined to the 'top 4-5 on 18 will berak' view. If Sam and Adam continue to meteor up, this'll be more likely.

We're idly speculating the chance of Sam and Adam get 27 but then not getting through the octos. Ahem. :)

This is a terribly geeky post, information about the tournament as a whole will be posted next.


28 December, 2007


Well, just arrived in Thailand yesterday after a fairly long, but good, flight. I do recommend Swiss for future travel!

It's fairly hot here (35C) but not horrific and all the dorms (more like hotels!) have AC. The campus is beautiful- even makes Koc look normal.

All the adjudication briefing stuff seems normal.

We're definitely not debating Indian nukes, drugs in sport of circumcism as they were all used in the judges briefing.

More to follow.

17 December, 2007

Anorexia: Not caused by thin models

Scientists investigating anorexia and other similar eating disorders have said that they may not be caused or triggered by pictures of thin models or an aspiration to look that way, but rather by an inherited tendency in the brain to respond to pleasure and reward in a particular way.


16 December, 2007

Birmingham IV

This weekend was the Birmingham IV. The MDU sent 4 teams and 3 judges (who were wonderful for responding to an emergency call for judges!). The tab has not yet been released so I don't know how everyone did exactly, will update when I have more information!

What I do know:

Manchester BM (Dan B and Chellsie) did excellently in breaking to the semis.
Manchester FP (Kenny and Ciaran) managed to get into the top room for round three.

The motions were:
Round 1: THW ban music which glorifies violence
Round 2: THW co-operate with Hamas
Round 3: THW nationalise Northern Rock
Round 4: THW halt expansion of the EU
Round 5: THBT parents who have had a child taken into care should be stopped from having any more children
Semi: THW support the police's right to strike (in the UK)
Final: THBT juries should have to give reasons for their verdicts

The IV was won by Galway (second op) after a two hour adjudication. Apparently, on the first call virtually all the judges had different calls on 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th so they instantly knew it was going to take a while!

The final was held in the Barber institute which is an art gallery on the Birmingham campus. I've got to say, I'm a fan of having finals in nice places, I think it marks them out which is nice. The 'three course meal' was less good this year. Last year they'd hired a big room on the university and got caterers in. This year it was in a local student bar where everyone had to eat in two sittings. Hmmm. Perhaps they'll return to staff house next year.

More to follow when the tab is out.

13 December, 2007

Urbanisation in the 21st Century and its future impact

Recently, the percentage of the world's population living in cities just passed the 50% mark.

How does this impact on our lives and is the increasing proportion of people living in cities likely to be positive or negative in the future?

I'd offer my own answer, but freakonomics blog has already asked several thinkers on this point and they've given a vast array of opinions. Some think negative of the trend, I'm more inclined to sympathise with the most positive point of view put forward by Glaeser.

12 December, 2007

Wednesday research

I am glad that Ben Morrow is starting Wednesday research sessions and look forward to seeing the results of them.

With his permission, I hope to post the findings on this blog....

Religion as a moral compass

Firstly, sorry about the lack of posts. No excuse except not finding anything especially interesting to comment on.

Last Thursday's debate was on religion, more specifically, TTH condemns parents who enforce their religion on their children.

Given the teaching speech at the beginning of the evening, I'm not surprised that the 'religion is good as it provides a moral compass' argument came up.

When I had initially sat down with Dan and planned that point, the point was as superficial as 'the ten commandments are generally a pretty good way to live ones life'. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the merit in the argument is not the superficial one, but the deeper one.

All societies condemn murder, theft, adultary etc. whether they are Christian, Hindu, Animist or Atheist. They might quibble over what the words mean, but the core thought is there. Religion, in my mind, doesn't impact on these big morals particularly. Where it does have more value in the moral sphere is on deeper issues. Concepts like forgiveness or retaliation are given a particular slant by religions. For example, Christianity is pretty explicit on the issue of turning the other cheek whereas Islam allows ideas of justice being a form of personal retribution to influence shari'a law. Equally, the idea of judgement for religious mis-deeds. Modern interpretations of Christianity (which I think are the better ones) would generally condemn societal punishment for religious transgressions, instead, allowing God to be the arbiter. To use Islam, again, the punishment is explicitly allowed and encouraged.

The role of religion as a moral compass, therefore, is more vital when looking at subtle issues such as forgiveness than looking at 'easy' issues such as 'thou shallt not kill'.

07 December, 2007

£1 train tickets London <--> Manchester

You can go London<-->Manchester for £1 by train by booking here.

You can book up to about 2 months in advance. The £1 tickets tend to go earlier. If you book the week before, tickets will be about £3-£9. £9 seems to be the highest price.

These tickets are only available on the London/Manchester route.

Feedback form

Thursday Feedback Form

  1. On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is ‘rubbish, would rather have watched paint dry’, 5 is ‘average/it made no difference really’ and 10 is ‘it changed my life’ how would you rank:
    1. The ‘teaching’ at the beginning of each Thursday ______
    2. The handouts/other written resources ________
    3. The motions each Thursday ________
    4. The judging each Thursday ________
    5. Thursdays as a whole _______
    6. Comments about the above

  1. How much do you understand from training? 1-10 where 1 is ‘it’s unintelligible’ and 10 is ‘it’s crystal clear’. _________
  2. Concerning the information given both orally and in the handout on Thursday is there: Too much information, the right amount of information or far too little information? (Please underline the one which applies)
  3. What are the things you have enjoy most on Thursdays?

  1. What are the things you have enjoy least on Thursdays?

  1. On a scale of 1-10, are Thursdays fun? 1= dreadfully dull, 10= funner than a fox in fishnets on a Friday? __________
  2. Do you have any suggestions for next term? Things you would like to see more of/less of, areas of knowledge not yet covered/not covered in sufficient detail, aspects of the rule of debating that you are confused about….

  1. How adequate has the information about IVs been?
    1. Have you been easily able to find which IVs are on? (y/n)________
    2. Have you been easily able to say you are interested? (y/n) ________
    3. Has there been adequate information about IVs? (y/n) ________
    4. In your opinion, has team selection been done fairly? (y/n) ________

i. If not, how could this be improved?

Any other comments?

  1. (Optional): How long have you been debating? __________

04 December, 2007

IV interest next semester

January and February IVs are now available on the website.

In order to avoid disappointment, please make sure you are aware of the relevant closing dates.

03 December, 2007

Free Beer

We've had 4 cans of Carlsberg and a bottle of Kroenenberg in the house for a few months now. Neither of us are beer drinkers. First person to reply to this post using the comment thing-y below who will be at debating this Thursday gets them.

Much Love,


Aussie and NZ debating knowledge

Ok, so when New Zealanders and Australians are expected to know about schools in Northern Ireland for debates, I'm not surprised that they have significantly more knowledge than we all do!

Glad Victoria won though, saw them at Oxford and Cambridge and they were good speakers and lovely people :)

02 December, 2007

Lancaster IV 2007 Speaker Tab

Rank Speaker name Team Name Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Total
1= Rachel Francis Durham A 78 77 81 78 314
1= Stephanie Shepherd Newcastle Untoward Events 76 76 77 85 314
3= Tom Jackson Nottingham Men in Tights 80 74 81 77 312
3= James Torrance Nottingham Men in Tights 78 74 82 78 312
5 Luke Wells Durham B 75 78 76 82 311
6= Tabitha Willmer Durham B 77 77 77 79 310
6= Antonia Henbest Newcastle Untoward Events 76 74 78 82 310
8 Fletch Williams Durham A 79 74 76 79 308
9 Tom Silverton Manchester TM 72 77 77 81 307
10= Sherraz Qureshi SOAS A 76 77 73 79 305
10= James Gillespie Durham C 75 73 77 80 305
12= Chris Woods Boring York A 77 78 72 75 302
12= Phil Alexander Durham C 76 73 77 76 302
14 Sam Dobin Cambridge 76 74 77 73 300
15 Ashleigh Lamming Cambridge 78 79 73 69 299
16= Usama Rehman Manchester RU 74 71 79 74 298
16= Klairi Liis Manchester DK 74 72 77 75 298
18= Jordan Anderson SOAS A 71 74 74 77 296
18= Rachel Crook Warwick His and Hers 76 70 72 78 296
20 Kyalo Burt-Fulcher Warwick His and Hers 77 74 68 76 295
21= Ruby Newton Manchester RU 76 71 78 69 294
21= Rajim Chowdury Sheffield A 75 74 73 72 294
21= Viv Swing C 73 74 72 75 294
21= Tim Lees Nottingham Shottingham 78 71 76 69 294
25 Michael Joslin Manchester TM 66 75 75 76 292
26 Andy Hunter Boring York A 74 74 69 73 290
27 Sam Morrow Manchester BS 70 75 72 72 289
28= Sam Eccleston Manchester SR 75 65 76 72 288
28= Deborah Joseph Manchester DK 72 69 71 76 288
30= Rob Bentall Manchester SR 75 67 75 70 287
30= Ben Morrow Manchester BS 75 73 69 70 287
32 Anthony Wieczorek Durham D 74 67 73 72 286
33= Jessica Moore Warwick Tips the Velvet 72 70 72 70 284
33= Dom Swing A 66 76 69 73 284
33= Luke Swing C 65 73 72 74 284
33= Ciaran Prendeville Manchester SC 69 75 65 75 284
33= Weijie soh Boring York C 73 71 70 70 284
33= Patrick Keating Boring York C 71 72 71 70 284
39 Maya Kessler Nottingham Shottingham 75 68 71 69 283
40= Laura Knightly Sheffield A 68 71 72 69 280
40= Gayan Samarasinghe Monsters Inc. 69 73 68 70 280
40= Sissy Wamaitha Manchester SC 69 73 65 73 280
43= Michael Dallaway Newcastle Rainbow 73 68 69 69 279
43= Aris Catsambas Boring York B 69 70 69 71 279
43= Caroline Howard Warwick Tips the Velvet 75 65 65 74 279
43= Ruthie Jacobs Manchester MR 72 69 70 68 279
47 Belinda Carr Newcastle Skittles 72 66 69 70 277
48= Maria Swing B 66 74 69 67 276
48= Oliver Lewis Newcastle Rainbow 74 69 65 68 276
48= Robert Haynes Strathclyde 69 69 67 71 276
48= Venita Nordon Boring York B 67 69 69 71 276
52 Alex Cavell SOAS charasmatic un troopers 72 72 66 65 275
53= Stephen Jamieson Newcastle Skittles 70 65 69 70 274
53= Ben Swing A 67 72 63 72 274
53= Marc Dunwell Manchester MR 71 67 69 67 274
56= Charlotte Swing B 66 73 69 65 273
56= Sophie Burt Durham E 72 69 66 66 273
58= Simon Smith Warwick His and His 74 67 62 69 272
58= Anneka Sirs Durham E 72 66 70 64 272
60 Richard Mead Warwick His and His 73 67 61 70 271
61= Maddie Fry SOAS charasmatic un troopers 66 74 64 66 270
61= Rob Harris Strathclyde 67 67 66 70 270
63 Will Day Durham D 67 64 63 72 266
64 Adam Raysor Monsters Inc. 68 61 67 67 263

Lancaster IV 2007 Team Tab

Rank Team Name Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Total team Points Total Speaker Points
1 Newcastle Untoward Events 2 3 2 3 10 624
2 Durham A 3 3 3 1 10 622
3 Durham B 3 3 2 2 10 621
4 SOAS A 1 3 2 3 9 601
5 Manchester DK 3 1 3 2 9 586
6 Nottingham Men in Tights 3 2 3 0 8 624
7 Manchester TM 0 3 2 3 8 599
8 Manchester BS 2 3 0 3 8 576
9 Durham C 2 2 1 2 7 607
10 Manchester RU 2 1 3 1 7 592
11 Warwick His and Hers 3 1 0 3 7 591
12 Nottingham Shottingham 2 0 3 2 7 577
13 Warwick Tips the Velvet 1 1 2 3 7 563
14 Cambridge 3 2 1 0 6 599
15 Boring York A 1 3 1 1 6 592
16 Swing C 2 2 0 2 6 578
17 Manchester SR 3 0 1 2 6 575
18 Boring York C 2 1 3 0 6 568
19 Manchester SC 0 3 0 3 6 564
20 Manchester MR 2 0 2 1 5 553
21 Durham D 1 0 1 3 5 552
22 Newcastle Skittles 1 0 3 1 5 551
23 Durham E 1 2 2 0 5 545
24 Swing A 0 2 0 2 4 558
25= Newcastle Rainbow 3 0 1 0 4 555
25= Boring York B 0 2 1 1 4 555
27 Swing B 0 1 3 0 4 549
28 Strathclyde 0 1 2 1 4 546
29 Sheffield A 1 2 0 0 3 574
30 Monsters Inc. 1 1 0 1 3 543
31 Warwick His and His 0 0 0 2 2 543
32 SOAS charasmatic un troopers 0 0 1 0 1 545

Lancaster IV 2007

Lancaster, this weekend, was fun - though with the MDU dominating the judging panel, any issues of judge clashes had to simply be ignored! Apparently, a couple of universities were disgruntled that they were being judged by Manchester judges so often. Had they complained directly to me, I would have explained in a non-sweet manner that if they have a problem with judging, the solution is to fix it next year and bring their own judges!

The motions were:

R1: THW issue indeterminate sentences to repeat offenders of petty crime.
R2: (The paraphrased version), THW send fat kids to fat camp
R3: THBT the West should withdraw all military funding to Pakistan unless Pakistan holds free, fair and constitutional elections
R4: (Analysis debate) THBT Britain's former colonies in Africa would be better off today had they remained under British rule.
Final: THBT all imports into the EU should be fair trade (TM).

There were info slides for rounds 1, 3 and 4.

Manchester teams did well, overall. Unfortunately, MDU teams didn't manage to break, but one team missed out only on speaker points and at least three others were in break rooms.

30 November, 2007

The true meaning of "Jesus Saves"


What is a legitimate institution?

The agenda for the Worlds Council is now out.

One of the issues being discussed is what counts as a legitimate debating organisation.

In the past, there have been issues with the Inns of Court and ULU (University of London Union), but these would seem to have largely been resolved.

There are now two main issues which are under discussion:
1. When there is a single university where there are two -or more- established debating societies, are those societies allowed to compete separately, or must they compete jointly in the context of Worlds (and the n-1 rule)
2. Where there is a single debating society but it covers more than one academic institution, should people from two of the member institutions be allowed to debate together or should they be forced to separate.

An example of the first type is the Irish universities where a great many (all?) have more than one debating society attached. Their argument as to why this isn't a problem for them is 'that it's already been discussed and we're not talking about it again'. However, the University of Dhaka and one European University (I can't remember which one - one of the Baltic ones, I believe) also have a similar system (one university, multi-unions) and whether they are allowed to compete is being discussed.

As for the second type (one union, multi-unis), the MDU is an example of this type as is Berlin and Helskinki. Other Unions which do it, but where it hasn't been a problem as it hasn't affected Worlds teams, include Oxford (where Oxford Brookes students can join) and Cambridge (Where E Anglia students can join). The reason for banning the second type is that it may encourage composite teams "Oxbridge A" for example. My view is that it won't. European Unions has been competing like this for ages without there being a problem.

The constant wrangling over what constitutes a legitimate team is ruining worlds. My rule on it would be 'real and genuine connection'. If a person wishes to compete for an institution and it looks like it may be a bit messy, they have to show a real and genuine connection to that institution. For instance, that they train with that institution every week and have competed with them in the previous term. The 'competed in the previous term' would be a particularly easy one to prove if the issue of attendance on a weekly/training basis was more difficult as all you need to do is look at the tabs.

I obviously have slightly less interest in the first problem, but I find it ironic that the people leading the charge against "one uni, many unions" institutions are often the Irish themselves. In my opinion, if there is a problem with this type of union, one should look at all unions which operate in this manner. To simply say 'oh, but we signed the piece of paper before they were a university' is a cop out. Either there is an inherent problem with all institutions of this type, or they should be allowed to compete. If the problem is n-1 judges, say that the institutions can compete separately but would be considered jointly when it came to n-1 if there were any problems over a lack of judges in the judging pool.

Teddy bears and Sudan


If it is an offence to name a bear Mohammed, an issue on which the sharia jury is still out, then who is more culpable?

The adult, non-Muslim or the Muslim children.

To me, both are as culpable as each other. We would rightly be shocked if the Sudanese government took action against the children as we feel they are too young to know better. But if the teacher did have doubts over the name, I can see how they would be overridden by the fact that it was Muslims themselves who were suggesting the name. If she had had concerns, maybe she thought 'oh, they can't have been valid as these children are saying that it's ok'.

But oh well, let's throw out any ideas of carefully considering the issue and, if any action needed to be taken, making it proportionate. There are hundreds of thousands of people dying in Darfur and the south still isn't great, better have a scapegoat to deflect attention instead....

... and it seems Sudanese bloggers agree

Government censorship

I'm not sure what is most worrying. The government's inclination to censorship where it may cause them embarrassment, or that they thought they would get away with it.

Some people tell me that the reason that governments should have a fair deal of control over their citizens is because many of those citizens are too stupid to work things out for themselves (might have paraphrased that a bit). How does attempting censor on one area in a country with a fair, free and inquisitive press make government inherently intelligent?


28 November, 2007

"Not Proven" verdicts

In Scots law, juries can return 'guilty', 'not guilty' or 'not proven' verdicts.

Mahnus Linklater suggests that this system be exported to England and Wales, especially in rape cases.

He claims that in cases where we now know or have a strong suspicion that a miscarriage of justice has occurred in imprisoning an innocent man, that these cases could have been avoided if NP was available to juries.

I disagree. In order to say a person is guilty, the prosecution must prove beyond all reasonable doubt (90% or more sure) that the accused did the crime he is being charged with. Juries, to pronounce a man guilty, must be virtually certain of his guilt. I suspect 'NP' is not this very, very high standard, but somewhat lower. What Linklater is suggesting is that even though juries in these cases were convinced beyond all reasonable doubt, they would still have gone for the easier to prove 'NP' option. Seems a little illogical.

In the case of rape, however, the situation is reversed. Only a very small number of reported rapes result in conviction. Most of the time it comes down to 'he said, she said' and juries are often not convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that the man is guilty. Linklater suggests that a verdict of 'not proven' would be better than the 'not guilty' verdict currently being pronounced which not only says the man didn't do it (fine), but also suggests what the woman has said incourt was a lie. Now, I agree with that fluffy reason to bring it in- to say 'this woman is not necessarily a liar, it is simply that there was insufficient evidence'- but I don't think it outweighs the stigma attached to the defendant. He has been accused of rape- a very serious crime in the eyes of all but the worst mysogenists- in an English court, he can say 'look, I was proved not guilty. No one can say I did it'. In an not proven verdict, he must continue to carry the stigma of the accusation but will never be able to disprove it (autre fois applies to NP verdicts as it does to any other verdict). Hardly fair on the defendant.

27 November, 2007

Mr Splashy Pants

Please, do vote for the one, true candidate Mr Splashy Pants.

(I can't help but feel the results epitomise the internet...)

Compulsary Vaccination?

I can't help but think that parents who refuse to vaccinate their children should be criminalised in some way. It seems Megan McArdle agrees.

There are obviously some legitimate cases for exemption where the child would basically die because of the vaccine. Fair enough. But vaccination schemes rely on the concept of herd immunity - basically, eliminating common areas where the virus would live and breed, such as schools.

When a parent refuses to vaccinate their child for spurious reasons such as the MMR-Autism assertion, it not only puts the life of their child at risk, it endangers the life of the child who can't be vaccinated. If that isn't enough of a reason, when an older person gets a 'childhood disease' such as measles, it often effects them far worse. Vaccines wear off over a person's lifetime so the Yummy Mummy who refuses may be responsible for the infection of her child, her child's best friend and her child's grandparent.

I do like the idea of an auction (see link above). Grant immunity from prosecution to a: parents who can prove a true medical reason (backed by 2 GPs) of why their child is at risk from the vaccine and b: to 0.01% of the population who are willing to pay. If a person really believes that MMR leads to autism, make them put their money where their mouth is. If they genuinely believe it to be the case, and therefore would suffer a great deal of stress were the vaccine to be obligatory, they can pay to remove that distress. If their are feigning distress because it's fashionable to worry in Daily Mail fashion about these things, my bet is that they wouldn't pay.

I wish these people could be forced to take responsibility for their actions. In reality, they are no better than the Nigerian imams who told their congregations to stop letting their children be vaccinated against polio because it was a wicked plot by the West. Polio had almost been eliminated from the world until this happened. The imams insisted the polio vaccine be tested. It was tested in Malaysia and found to be effective and safe. The imams claimed Malaysia wasn't Muslim enough (!) so the vaccine was then tested in Saudi Arabia. Again, it was proved to work and be safe. The imams then accepted that it was safe and advised their congregations of that fact. The damage was done, however, and many parents are still refusing to vaccinate their children. Polio is once again spreading through the world.

"Causing death by negligent or reckless misstatement". Coming to a debate near you....

26 November, 2007

Should debating societies invite nasty people to speak?

I'll develop this over the day as I really should be doing work!

But background, first, before opinions, later.

The Oxford Union has invited David Irving and Nick Griffin to speak on a motion about free speech.

David Irving writes books which deny the holocaust. He has been imprisoned in Austria under their holocaust denial laws. He lost a libel action, in the UK, which he brought against penguin books where they claimed he denied the holocaust and he disputed it.

Nick Griffin is the head of the British National Party. A party which is gaining increasing support in elections and which proposes inter alia a complete halt to immigration to the UK and repatriation for immigrants who are already here. (BNP 2007 manifesto here)

Inviting these people to speak has meant that the OU is all over the news with the debate focusses on, not only freedom of speech generally, but whether university debating unions should provide a platform for the views of people many find abhorrent.

Many universities, such as Manchester, have a 'no platform' policy. If the MDU wished to invite Irving and Griffin, it would be kicked out of the union.

Ironically, the union does not have a problem with the MDU allowing Hizb ut Tahrir (HT) to speak on 1st December. (HT's official website here)

I have to say that I'm somewhat torn on these issues. I do not think the BNP etc should be banned by law. However, I think that probably the relationship between the state and a nasty person is a different one than between a non-state organisation and a nasty person.

I think there is a problem that in giving these types of people a forum, especially this type, it legitimises their point of view. No one invites the people who are campaigning for trolls under London bridges to come and speak on that issue (though on the background issue is another matter) because we all recognise that trolls and bridges is simply not a legitimate point of view on the grounds that it's silly. So, if we're willing to self censor for the silly, why not for the nasty?

Well, one point I find very valid in the context of the BNP is that by not letting them speak, we lend credence to their claim that they are being victimised by a liberal elite. As a student union is probably the epitomy of 'liberal elite', inviting them to speak undermines this claim.

I also understand many of the points made here.

I have something of a problem in unions saying that they will ban people such as Irving and Griffin from speaking, but not ban HT. If you are going to ban one set of people because they are nasty, you should surely ban others. I take it as given that Manchester Union does not agree with the stance of HT on, say, Israel and Jewish people. I would love for someone to justify what the difference is.

Both the BNP and HT are extremist groups. Both are gaining in democratic legitimacy- HT through it's position in the 'Respect' party. Both say very nasty things about other groups.

Why the different stance?

At least in my mind I am consistent. I would not invite either of them to speak, I would not ban others from inviting either of them to speak, I am uncertain what to do when they request that they be allowed to speak. On the basis of my uncertainty, I probably now (changing my mind from a couple of months ago) say that they should be allowed to speak, but they should have to agree to abide by certain restrictions. If they are unwilling to abide by such restrictions, they should not be allowed to speak.

More later....

UPDATE 1: A balanced view here raises an interesting sub-question: What right do the protesters have to try and stop a free organisation of people exercising its right to free association?

IV interest next semester

Thank you all for being wonderful at expressing interest online this last semester!

In order for things to be a little less disorganised from my end next semester, I have drawn up a list of IVs in Jan and Feb and their closing dates.

You will be able to express interest from 1st December for any of these.

There will be a box asking if you would be willing to self fund to any of the IVs.

Some people have got confused over whether IVs are funded etc. If you have an interest, fill out the form regardless of what I have told you. That way, you are less likely to suffer disappointment should I have forgotten about any oral representations made to you!

Closing dates are 10pm on the stated day.

Name: Trinity IV (Ireland)
Date: 24th-26th Jan
Closing Date: 3rd Jan

Name: Warwick IV
Date: 26th-27th Jan
Closing Date: 3rd Jan

Name: Exeter
Date: 1st Feb
Closing date: 10th January

Name: Inner Temple
Date: 1-3rd Feb
Closing Date: 10th January

Name: Bremen
Date:1st-3rd Feb
Closing date: ****3rd January**** (international, so allows for flight booking)

Name: Strathclyde
Date: 2nd Feb
Closing date: 10th Jan

Date: 3rd Feb
Closing date: 10th Jan

Name: Cardiff
Date: 8th Feb
Closing date: 17th Jan

Name: Middle Temple (London)
Date: 9th Feb
Closing date: 17th Jan

Name: Leeds
Date: 15th-16th Feb
Closing Date: 24th Jan

Name: GUU Ancients (Glasgow)
Date: 15th-16th
Closing date: 24th Jan

Name: UCL
Date: 16th Feb
Closing date: 24th Jan

Name: LSE Open
Date: 22-24th Feb
Closing date: 31st Jan


24 November, 2007

Better, longer

Five reasons why the world is actually getting better.

In no particular order: Less death, less war, longer life, less poverty and your plane won't crash.

23 November, 2007


The Court of Appeal has just ruled that a woman (aged 20) who became pregnant after a one night stand and who wishes to give the baby away without telling either her parents or the man who is the father, has the right to do so. According to Lady Justice Arden, the father's right were not being violated because he did not have any rights in this situation.

I don't know what to think about this. On one hand, F4J (for once) have a point: it does send a negative message about the role of the father in society.

But the problem is that the burden of pregnancy, birth and immediately after is solely the woman's. No matter how fantastic a man is, he is biologically incapable of sharing any portion of that burden.

I feel that the decision of what happens to a child before birth, and immediately after it, must lie in the hands of the mother, otherwise we end up forcing women to continue with pregnancies they do not want for the benefit of the father where the mother bears the burden. I cannot this that right.

This ruling is grossly unfair to fathers, but in my view it is the lesser of two evils. When the alternative is forcing women to go through pregnancy and childbirth or even an unwilling/coerced abortion, that is far worse. The biological rights of the mother have to stand over the asserted social rights of the father.

Update: The case can be found here. (You may have to use your ATHENS username and password to access it).

Citation for those who cannot access Bailii: C (A Child) v XYZ County Council & Anor [2007] EWCA Civ 1206

Biggest change in a millenia?

This has nothing to do with debating. Sorry and all, I just find it a little exciting!

Amazon.com has just brought out a new digital reader called the Kindle. Despite it costing US$400 (£200) it’s already sold out. It doesn’t save people money on books (they’re still £5 a go), so what’s so exciting?

Well, for me it would be the ability to carry around a library whilst on the move. The Kindle is very light and is a reasonable size (ie: not too large but not too small either). When I go away- even if just for a weekend- I carry around several kilos of books. For a longer trip, it would be fantastic!

I also like the fact that it uses a wireless internet connection (not wifi, more like the one in your phone) so you can download books from amazon.com where-ever you are.

The downside, as far as I’m concerned, is that it doesn’t read PDFs, it charges for blogs and newspapers (usually free, over the normal internet) and, more importantly, it’s not available in the UK. Of, and the £200 price tag, obviously.

I’m going to have a dilemma when it something similar is available over here in a budget I can afford. For me, books are just about reading, they’re about ownership too. That’s why I will download books online now but still find myself buying them in the shop too.

What I would love to see in the future, when these readers become more common, is for paper-books to come with a code or similar which lets you then have access to an electronic copy.

It’ll also be useful when boring law books are available too!

I wonder if the demise of the hardback book this week combined with the Kindle means we’re going to see a big shift in the nature of books, perhaps the biggest in the last millennia (since books moved from scrolls to sheets of paper bound in a cover). Or maybe I’m just over hyping it all.

A (very, very brief) guide to English law…

Criminal cases

Where a person is accused of a crime, they are not taken to court by their victim but by the Crown on behalf of society. Thus, if Smith is accused of raping Jones, the court case would be R v Smith (the ‘R’ stands for Rex or Regina and when spoken is “Crown”). The reason for this is that the crimes that are being tried are so bad that they offend the whole of society and society is therefore taking action against them.

The ‘leviathan’ of the state interferes in people’s rights to do what they want (like theft) in order to protect the majority. As everyone, even criminals, benefit when there is less crime in society, when a person commits a crime they are breaking an unwritten contract between them and the state and as such the state has the right to punish them accordingly.


Juries are the arbiter of facts in English criminal law. Juries do not award sentences for crimes, they merely rule whether a person, on the basis of the facts put to the jury, is guilty or not guilty.

A jury consists of 12 people drawn randomly from society (now, this also includes lawyers and judges). A jury sits for ten working days. In England, Barristers are not permitted to routinely ‘strike’ members of the jury before the trial unless there is an exceptional reason (such as the juror already knowing the defendant well).

Pros of keeping trial by jury

  1. Fundamental to our concept of justice as a society
  2. Shows society’s disapproval of the action as the defendant is being judged by his peers
  3. More representative than magistrates and judges (who tend to be white, male and middle-class)

Problems with trial by jury

  1. Juries are more likely to return a ‘not guilty’ verdict than judges/magistrates are
  2. Defendants are abusing the system. Of the 70% who elect for a jury trial (over a trial in the magistrates), 90% plead guilty before the end of the trial.
  3. Juries are unable to understand complex matters such as the issues which appear fraud trials.

Innocence and Guilt

A person is completely innocent until proven guilty. A person in prison awaiting trial or a person who has been arrested and has not yet been charged is not at all guilty at that point.

If a person has been taken to court and charged with a crime, if he is found ‘not guilty’ then that is an absolute ‘not guilty’, he is as innocent of the crime as he would be if he had never been charged in the first place.

In criminal cases, the burden lies on the prosecution to prove to the jury or judge that the defendant is guilty beyond all reasonable doubt (90%+).


Damages are awarded in civil law, especially tort law. Tort law is basically ‘compensation’ law. If you were in a car accident, tripped over a paving stone, given bad advice by a doctor or given unsafe equipment at work, you could sue the person who committed the bad act for negligence (a subcategory of tort). The purpose of damages in English law is to put the claimant back in the position they would have been in had the tort never been committed. English law (generally) does not have ‘punitive damages’ where the aim is to punish the wrongdoer. In the USA, punitive damages are often awarded (eg: Erin Brockovich).

Tort law is a form of civil law. The cases are therefore brought between one individual and another, not by the Crown. With the exception of libel, juries do not sit on civil cases in England. In the USA, many civil cases are still in front of juries.

22 November, 2007

How to assassinate someone...

A 'count-by-numbers' guide to assassinating foreign leaders...

1.Who are you and who are you assassinating?

2 .How are you going to assassinate them? Black ops/covert or go in with the US flag on your back and a CNN helicopter in the sky above you?

3. Why is one method better than the other in this situation? (are you merely trying to remove a malicious influence without starting a war (in which case, black ops) or are you trying to send a message to dictators everywhere (Stars and Stripes and CNN)?

4. Why do we need to assassinate the person in question?
4a: Why are they a bad person?
4b: Why are they worse than all the other bad people?
4c: Do they hold a special place in te destruction of their country or would someone easily replace them?Is it because there is a 'cult of the leader' (eg: Kim Jong Il
4d: Why will the country not descend into chaos with their death?

5. Is their country likely to retaliate either against you or their neighbours?

6. Why don't we traditionally assassinate someone and why is this situation different enough from the norm to merit breaching this convention?

Hope it helps. Enjoy ridding the world of murderous dictators and remember, real world and debate world are a universe apart!

21 November, 2007

Free and the internet

Is it possible, given the status of the internet today as being a free resource, for this to change in the future and much more of the net to be charged for?

Well, ignoring that people 'cheat' with MP3s etc today, games such as Second Life suggest people are willing to pay for content sometimes.

If we assume that whilst artists (in the broad sense- novelists etc too) love their work but simply cannot afford to do it if they do not earning any form of living from it, would the model of Second Life be a way of persuading people to pay for content? I don't think so. In SL you are paying for an experience, with art (of all types) you pay for the ownership. Given that MP3s and online books are already undermining the idea of paying to own something online, I would argue that if the internet charges in the future, it'll be for experiences rather than ownership. 'Ownership' will have to continue to be funded by advertising (which seems to be the sole way the web is funded at the moment).

Maybe I'm just showing my ignorance on how the internet works, though!


Do we really need fathers?

Whilst fathers are a biological imperative, at least at the moment, are they really needed to be around socially? History suggests not. Here.

Of course, what is needed, on the basis of the article, is for someone to look at rich/middle class/poor single mother families and compare them.



(Courtesy of the contributors of the MDU online casefile)

1. The philosophy behind it

2. Free-riders and Harm Principle (AKA when Government involvement is a 'good thing')

Every individual has a unique utility function. Whilst there are many things which overlap (water, food, sex, shelter etc) even amongst those there will be difference as to prioritisation and beyond those there is a great deal of difference. Each individual is best placed to know and fulfill their own utility function. Whilst someone might love to be spanked whilst eating mushrooms, for other people it's not so fun. Humans will always act in a way whereby they gain some utility and will tend to be utility maximisers.

eg1: Mother Theresa was acting because she gained utility through helping people, wanted to go to heaven, and gained utility from people going 'aren't you a good person'.

eg2: The father who rushes into a burning building to save his son (and dies in the process) will have temporarily gained the utility of 'being good'. It also meant he didn't suffer a loss of utility by the death of his son.

Everybody has such a different function, it is impossible to lump people together in groups. The basis of the government of society must therefore be the individual. 'Society' or 'Government' is no more than the sum of its parts, it is still merely a collection of individuals. Because individuals can be both wise and stupid, government suffers from the same failings. There is therefore no rational reason why a government would be better at making decisions for person X than person X would be at making those decisions himself. (Exceptions apply to children and the mentally ill on the basis they are not rational. It is assumed rationality is gained through maturity and education).

Society is 'good' when the maximum possible number of people are happy and the minimum number of people are unhappy. If every individual acted solely in their own interests, assuming the majority of people can fulfill their functions without acting negatively on someone else, society's overall utility would be maximised. To quote Smith; "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest".
In short, therefore, the government is no better at deciding what makes us happy than we are. We tend to act as rational agents. The government's role should therefore be restricted to facilitating this. The government has a role in educating and looking after children (to make them into rational adults), increasing information in society to allow people to make free choices, stopping free riders and acting in the spirit of the harm principle.

Free riders: Everyone knows they should act to help the environment, but everyone relies on someone else to do it and intends to gain the benefit without bearing any of the cost. The same applies to defense spending. If the government didn't take charge of it, everyone would assume someone else would. Further, on an island like Britain (planes don't exist), people living on the coast may be more inclined to spend on defense, and people inland less. The people inland would be free-riding as they gain the same benefit but pay less of the cost.

These sort of "external" costs can only be evaluated and mitigated by governmental bodies. The environment is a perfect example:

Let's say Company X and Company Y both make competing widgets, of similar quality. They can make these widgets in an environmentally-sound method for £1 each, or using a production method that harms the environment but only costs 50p. If X decides, of their own dedication to environmental protection to use the former method, they protect the environment, but their product costs twice what Y's does. Consumers, not realising the full costs of the product, buy Y's product, because it's cheaper for the same quality.

Eventually, X goes bankrupt, Y prospers, and the environment gets ravaged. There is no incentive for Y to use the better method, because not doing so gives them a huge competitive advantage over X. In this case, the government should mandate that both companies must use the environmentally-better production method. This removes the financial incentive to pollute, and the full cost of the product is borne by the companies, and-in turn-the consumer.

Harm Principle: The removal of someone's liberty is seen as a very large harm as it lessens their chance to maximise their utility function. However, sometimes their actions have such negative effects on other people, they have to be stopped. Thus, a government has a duty to step in at this point as X(criminal) is harming Y's chance to maximise his own utility. Sometimes a harm is clear (murder, rape, bike theft), other times less clear (invasion of privacy).

Final Thought

Further reading:

J.S. Mill: On Liberty (C19th)

M. Friedman: Capitalism and Freedom (C20th)

J. Locke: Two Treatises on Government (C18th)

F. Hayak:
The Constitution of Liberty (C20th)