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)

20 November, 2007

Mental health

Mental Health

(Courtesy of the contributors to the MDU online casefile)

Most mental health patients are voluntary. Mental health legislation concerns patients refusing to enter hospital or take medication as their doctor requires. It allows the doctor to override a patient’s refusal and force medication upon him.

A patient cannot be detained under this legislation and forced to take medicine, however irrational the decision is, if the *only* reason for detention is to force treatment. Eg: a woman who is 39 weeks pregnant who has been advised that she must have a caesarian or she and the baby will die can legally refuse all treatment. If a doctor does treat, he may be charged with assault, battery and trespass to the person.

Exemptions under 1983 legislation

It is essential that people should not be detained under the legislation solely on account of their misuse of drugs or alcohol, committing disorderly acts, sexual behaviour, sexual identity, or for cultural, religious or political beliefs. These exclusions are important protections. Examples abound of discrimination, prejudice and ignorance by clinicians; with 44 per cent more black people sectioned than white there are clearly problems.

What options does the state have for mentally ill people who may pose a threat to themselves or others?

Sectioning (Compulsory detention for the purpose of treatment)

Under 1983 legislation a person can only be confined for medication against their will if their condition satisfies the criterion of medical 'treatability' it is alleged that this is often interpreted to mean 'cure' leading to dangerous people being released into the community. the government wishes to change this to if ‘appropriate treatment’ is available to them the lords believes that this is a dangerous catch-all

Although the average compulsory stay in hospital is three-and-a-half months, some patients have been detained for decades, and there are mistakes and abuses;

Released Under Supervision (Community Treatment Orders, CTOs)

Under the 1983 Act, patients are only discharged under supervision if there is ‘substantial risk of serious harm to the health or safety of the patient or the safety of other persons, or of the patient being seriously exploited’.

Negative Consequences of Sectioning (PB)

Detention for any patient often has significant ill-effects. Once detained, patients can lose their job and their accommodation, and employers prefer to take on staff who have served time for criminal acts than to employ people who have been sectioned. The insecurity that this brings is not conducive to recovery — added reason for detention to be used only when really necessary

Fear of sectioning is also a massive disincentive to seek treatment: Fear of compulsory treatment is so severe that it keeps many patients away from mental health services; by the time they do access them they are often more seriously ill and potentially more dangerous to themselves and to others. Early intervention works, and is demonstrated unambiguously by the evidence base; the Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Committee Report Vol. 3 confirms this.

Compulsion also alters the theraputic relationship between clinition and patient - the evidence shows that it is the effectiveness of this relationship, not compulsion, that is the key to improving recovery for patients with mental health problems.

Some notes on circumcision 2

THW Ban Male Circumcision:

(See part one for a more general discussion)

  1. Background
    1. Currently performed on about 70% of US boys
    2. 16,000 operations in UK each year (ie: small number)
    3. FGM is banned in the UK
    4. It is a religious obligation for Jews and Muslims
  2. Problem:
    1. Mutilating the sexual organs of small children- who cannot consent- permanently for no medical reason
    2. 92% in UK performed without anaesthetic
    3. babies are dying because of procedure: Amitai Moshe in the UK, 2 boys last year in NYC
    4. permanent operation
    5. reduction of sexual pleasure

i. Adults who have had to be circumcised for medical reasons report large loss of sexual function after operation. Obviously, those done at birth have no point of comparison

  1. Solution
    1. Ban MGM on children
    2. Why only children? Because we allow adults to do all sorts of silly things like plastic surgery, extreme piercing etc etc
    3. Why MGM? Because FGM already banned
    4. FGM banned in 2003 under FGM Act 2003

i. Bans the act unless genuinely necessary for physical or mental health (eg: infection or during labour). If there is FGM, it must then be performed by e registered medical practioner.

ii. For the purposes of mental health, it is irrelevant whether she, or any other person, believes it is necessary as a matter of culture, religion, custom or ritual

iii. Offence to aid, abet, counsels or procure a girl to mutilate herself

iv. Offence to aid, abet, counsel or procure a UK or non-UK person overseas to mutilate

    1. Widen the FGM act to cover all GM.
  1. Outcome
    1. Stop this irreversible procedure
    2. Better sex J
    3. Allows for genuine consent and choice on adulthood
    4. Ensures parity between religions. FGM is inherent to some African religions and is banned yet MGM is still legal.
  2. Op arguments
    1. Argument: Reduce risk of AIDS/HIV spreading


i. Survey inconclusive

ii. But even if it is right, it only reduces by small amount

iii. Removing girl children’s ovaries would mean 100% guarantee they wouldn’t get ovarian cancer, but we don’t do it because it is disproportionate

iv. Best way is still contraception and safe sex!

v. If you are told that circumcision reduces this risk to you, less likely to have safe sex.

vi. The WHO report which looked at link still said that it should be men who were in at risk ages should be offered the procedure. In our model, that’s not a problem. It if the mutilation of children that we object to.

vii. WHO report looked at areas of Africa where MGM was common v areas where it wasn’t. Given areas where common most likely Muslim, different attitudes to personal hygiene and sex would influence study quite heavily.

viii. Removal of the clitoral hood on girls has the same impact but we rightly reject that.

    1. Argument: Hygiene


i. In modern society, it’s a myth. People now wash every day and we are a cleaner society in general.

ii. NHS doesn’t offer MGM (except of genuine medical need) because not seen as beneficial

    1. Argument: Religion


i. Says African religions are worth less than Abrahamic religions. In cultures where FGM is practiced, it is often on the basis of religious belief. We label this a barbaric and separable part of the religion. Where it is MGM it’s seen as a non-separable.

ii. FGM/human sacrifice

iii. Praying, attending mass, lighting candles all non-permanent. We ban aspects of religion when there is a harm caused.

Some notes on circumcision 1


(Some notes on circumcision 2 contains a full first prop including rebuttal of obvious op points)

NOTE: if in favour of banning FGM, use phrase Female Genital Mutilation. If pro- keeping, use phrase 'female circumcision'.


Many different levels ranging from symbolic cuts to full clitorectomy and sewing.

tribe name (Kenya) tend to be symbolic

Nuba (Sudan) full operation

Aim is to ensure purity of women. Blood on marriage night means she was a virgin, important for the inheritance of land. De-sexualisation means adultery less likely.

Whether a woman is sewn back up after childbirth depends on culture.


Female only custom, the women who perform the operation have had it done themselves

Important symbol of adulthood

If a girl is not circumcised, she cannot get married. If she doesn't marry, she starves and is ostracised.

Driving it underground has lead to the operation becoming more dangerous as less experienced people perform it. In Kenya, girls performed it on each other when adults were threatened with prosecution.

In many cultures the practice is inexorably tied up with religious beliefs (in tribes visited by Michael Palin while filming 'Sahara' FGM featured prominently in the tribes creation myth)


Painful, dangerous at time

If sewn, makes sex incredibly painful, childbirth even worse

Suppression of female sexuality

Child cannot consent, irreversible


Religious obligation for Jewish and Muslim males.

Tends to be performed on very young boys (Jewish men are circumcised at 10 days old). Male, adult circumcision is much rarer.

More than 70% of boys in the USA are circumcised. This is the highest proportion outside the Middle East. In the UK it is 16,000 boys a year.


1.Prevention of STDs (BBC)

International experts have backed the use of male circumcision in the prevention of HIV. The World Health Organization and UNAIDS said circumcision should be added to current interventions to reduce the spread of HIV. Three African trials have shown that circumcision halved the rate of HIV infection in heterosexual men. The recommendations largely apply to countries where rates of heterosexual transmission is high.

Specific cells in the foreskin may be potential targets for HIV infection and also the skin under the foreskin becomes less sensitive and is less likely to bleed reducing risk of infection following circumcision.

2. Religious freedom arguments.

3. Parental choice over upbringing of their children arguments.


Child cannot consent, irreversible procedure.

Loss of sensitivity.

Note: Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. It bans the act of FGM in the UK (FGM is defined widely). It bans aiding, abetting, assisting or counseling a girl to mutilate her own genitalia. It makes it an offense to assist a non-UK person to mutilate overseas a girl's genitalia. There is an exception for where it is necessary for the mental or physical wellbeing of the girl. Examples include during labour. It explicitly rules out ritual or custom as being any excuse at all. If the offense is committed outside of the UK, the Act allows the FGM to be treated as if it happened in England or Wales or NI for the purpose of prosecution.

Note 2: in some countries, notably KSA, the muttawa are using it as a punishment for 'moral' crimes (including prostitution, lesbianism and soliciting with non-Mahram men (mahram= husbands, fathers, brothers etc). In the clinics in KSA where it is performed, it is normal to use a local anesthetic during the procedure. This is not allowed when it is for punishment. Anecdotal evidence suggests an increasing number of adult women in KSA are having the procedure performed despite it neither being a traditional KSA or Islamic custom. It is not sure how many of these are forced operations. The world is a lovely place sometimes.

So true

Milton Friedman described 4 classes of spending
1. You spend money on yourself. You care about price, but also about value.
2. You spend money on a present for someone else. You care about price, but not so much about value.
3. You spend money on yourself, from an expense account. You really care a lot about value, but not so much about price.
4. You spend government money on someone else. You don't care about value, and don't care about price either.

Moral: If you get "market failure" with type 1 spending, you can only fail more spectacularly with type 2,3 or 4 spending.

Government screw ups

One of the more boring reasons why I don't like a DNA database is I don't trust the government not to screw it up. Geeklawyer seems to agree as does Charon.

Actually, this is a small aspect of a wider question that I have. One of the reasons I am suspicious of government intervention is that I don't trust the government to act in a better manner than any other group of people. I trust governments to run a country in the best way possible as much as I would trust a company (GB PLC?), the woman's institute or a bunch of debaters. I have heard many times words to the effect that 'multi-national/big companies can't be trusted as all they want to do is make a profit'. Assuming companies are solely profit motivated in the short run (which I don't), I still wonder why a company- whose stated aim is to get money from people- is less trustworthy than a bunch of people who self-selected themselves to run a country (no ego or power issues there!). All groups of people are, on average, equally prone to mistakes, selfishness and short-sightedness.

The irony is that governments would, certainly in the SR, appear to be less accountable than companies. We choose a government once every five years from a very small selection of people. We interact with companies every day of the week and can virtually always choose an alternative if we don't like the behaviour of one. Whatever your views on the war on Iraq, a huge number of people protested against it and nothing happened. At a similar time, Mars announced that Mars Bars would not be vegetarian. Within a week it had reversed this as people wrote and complained.

THW invade/assassinate/sanction...

I think it was Durham who ran the motion "TTHW invade [insert name of oppressive regime here]".

That probably sums up how common motions are that require you to invade somewhere (or, to a lesser extent, 'sanction', 'assassinate' or 'support regime change').

So, how does a first proposition team go about invading somewhere in debate world?

1. You firstly need to decide, if it is not specified, who is the invader and who is the invadee. It'll usually be the USA or the UN. Both have positives and negatives. If you want to invade somewhere quickly and with the element of surprise, unilateral action is probably best. If you want your invasion to have legitimacy, go through the UN. THW invade Iran is, IMHO, best done as the US. THW intervene in Darfur would be better as the UN. The reason is that in Darfur there are already AU peacekeepers on the ground, all the UN needs to do to legally intervene is declared that what is happening there at the moment amounts to genocide. In the case of Iran, however, there is not currently a UN mechanism to support such an invasion and it is very likely that one or more of the P5 would veto such a measure.

2. You much discuss why alternatives to war aren't going to work or haven't worked in the past. War should be a last resort. Sanctions etc should always be tried first. However, there is little wrong in the first prop team standing up and saying 'Ladies and Gentlemen, we support regime change in Iran. We will, obviously, initially try sanctions to change the regime, but as we think that they are unlikely to work as they have not done so in the past and will entrench support for the regime as it defies the 'great Satans', we're going to skip straight to the war part..."

3. So, you've decided you 'this house' is, you've picked a victim and you've run through why there aren't alternatives. Unfortunately, it's not enough just to say that the country you wish to invade 'isn't nice'. Most wars have to follow, more or less, along the lines of just war theory. Traditional just war can be summed up in two statements: Jus ad bellum and jus in bello. Jus ad bellum is that you have a just cause for going to war. Jus in bello is that once the war has started, you act in an ethical way. In the modern world, one should also consider whether the invader is a just authority.

4. Jus ad bellum: "To invade Iran is just as Iran aspires to hold nuclear weapons. Not only is this in contravention of the NPT which it signed freely and of its own accord and has benefited from, by creating nuclear weapons it destabilises an already fragile region. Furthermore, Iran represses women, homosexuals and religious minorities. Iran is also sponsoring terrorism both in Iraq and in Israel." etc etc etc

Other things which constitute jus ad bellum include your country being attacked, an ally being attacked, a different country being invaded (eg: Kuwait) and genocide.

5. Jus ad bello: You can't just nuke Iran. The nature of JWT is that taking a human life is always terrible. What JWT says, however, is that sometimes this terrible act is the lesser of two evils. When one wages war, therefore, you must try to avoid killing anybody as far as it is possible but you must try especially hard to avoid killing civilians.

Every action that you take must have a direct aim of winning the war. Bombing a hospital because the dictator is storing his weapons in there may be just. Bombing the hospital just to kill the people inside will not be just. What is also crucial is proportionality. Bombing the hospital to get rid of the missiles stored there is probably proportionate. Bombing the hospital to get the machetes stored there probably isn't.

6. So, you've chosen where to invade, have just cause and intend to act in a proportionate and ethical manner. You also have to consider the impact of your war internally in the long run (we assume the short run is pretty bad), externally in the short run and externally in the long run. By externally, I mean the impact the war would have on other neighbouring countries or countries which are connected in some other way to the invaded country.

Assassinations to follow later.

Sanctions are boring, don't use them unless the motion explicitly tells you to.

19 November, 2007

$80,000 a year to stop smoking?

Aparently the true 'cost' of a pack of cigarettes is US$222. Accordingly, it'd be cheaper to pay a person $80,000 to stop smoking.

More on the Freakonomics Blog

Why is religion different from, say, a political party?

An argument frequently comes up in debates which can be boiled down to "Why should religion be treated differently to a political party?". I think it's easy to make that point, but I think articulating the op argument is much harder to make. I frequently attempt it, I'm not sure how successful I am, but here goes!

1. In politics, people decide what they believe and then find the party which matches their view most closely. The holding of certain fundamental tenets, for example, a belief that equality should generally take precedence over liberty, would probably make someone more likely to vote for Labour. However, holding that fundamental tenet, voting for that party and joining that party does not mean that the party requires its member to hold any more of its views (for example, the person may disagree about tuition fees).

Religion is different. I would argue most people decide what their basic belief is (say, that they believe there is only one God and that the teachings of Jesus make sense too) and then join a church on that basis, in this case, Christianity. On the basis of this basic belief AND their membership/self identification with a church, they are then required, as part of their continuing membership of the church, to hold other beliefs (the Bible being the word of God, a belief in the Trinity etc). Their failure to hold these further beliefs would exclude them from true membership of that church.

Therefore, politics is where a person internally holds feelings and then expresses those beliefs through the party. Religion is where a person holds internal feelings and then that person's church requires them to hold further beliefs on that basis.

2. Whilst accepting that people do change their religious beliefs, I would say that when a person does this it is not a voluntary act. The outwards manifestation of their beliefs is voluntary, but what they believe in their heart is not. I can no more choose to be an atheist than an atheist can choose to be a Christian. Religions are outwards manifestations of internal belief, a belief which cannot be chosen. Religious belief may change (for example, a massive upset in a person's life may lead to them saying 'God would not let this happen, therefore there can be no God') but again, that is not a choice to change, the change is imposed from an altering of the internal beliefs of the person which lie outside the remit of their ability to consciously change.

3. I think that there is a difference between people's external beliefs and the outwards manifestations of those beliefs. The law and society should never be concerned with the former. Instructing a person to genuinely change the former is as pointless as instructing them to spontaneously grow a new kidney- it simply cannot be done.

Requiring a person to change the external manifestations of their faith is something different. Where there is a clear harm (human sacrifice, for instance) then the state should clearly ban that manifestation. The issue is where the line is crossed. Most people would agree that even if FGM is an intringic aspect of some African-Tribal religions, the practice should be banned in the UK. But what about MGM? Surely the same arguments can apply?

4. What does concern me somewhat is the subconscious way in which religions are 'ranked' and treated differently. Regardless of your belief at the moment, it is more than likely that if you were brought up in Britain, there was a broad Christian ethos when religion was discussed. The nature of Christianity is, at the basic level, that faith is generally sufficient and that very few outward manifestations of faith are required. This is highly unusual when compared to other religions. Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Sikhism all hold that certain actions are also required. Unlike Christianity (where a person practices their religion by holding their faith), in these other religions, the required actions are often as inherent to the religion as faith is to Christianity. Because we often see other religions from a Christian perspective (regardless of whether a person actually hold Christian beliefs at this time), it can lead to a devaluing of the the actions that are required in other religions.

In other words, it is reasonably easy to 'banish' Christianity from the public sphere. 'Render unto Caesar' means Christianity itself does not explicitly require a position in the public sphere, only one in the private. Where a religion has a less separation between the spheres of public action and private devotion, it is much more difficult for such a banishment to take place.

5. I'm not sure how valid this example will be, I would like someone to explain if they think it is in-valid though. If we accept what I believe to be current scientific theories which are that a person is either born gay or not, whilst conveniently ignoring the idea that it is not a binary choice between gay and straight but more like a spectrum. A person who is born gay cannot become straight though sheer force of will any more than the opposite can occur. If a person is gay, a direct consequence of that 'internal status' will be that he likes to have sex with people of the same gender. It is possible for a person to be gay and never have gay sex, but the person in question probably wouldn't like that situation. Where am I going with this? Well, the analogy in my mind is that just as being gay is an internal state that cannot be chosen but having gay sex is an external choice, the situation of having faith is the same. In both situations, the believer and the gay person, the internal status/belief cannot be deliberately changed by external factors, the behaviour manifesting from the internal status/belief can be changed, stopped or encouraged.

Maybe it is possible to take the parallel further? If we say that gay sex is an intringic aspect of a gay person, so some basic religious practices are also so inherent. However, most people would say that going to gay clubs or being camp is an optional part of being gay. These are minor manifestations whereas the gay sex is a major manifestation. The parallel in Christianity would be that praying (formally or informally) is a major manifestation whereas fasting during Lent is a minor manifestation. Minor manifestations are made more likely by the person's internal status and banning them or restricting would upset the people involved but it wouldn't fundamentally undermine the person's identity. Banning gay sex or banning people from praying would undermine the fundamental identities of people belonging in these groups.

Part of me is concerned that the above example may be offensive. I can't work out how, but if it is do please tell me (unless it's just 'oh, it's offensive because gay people are bad and their being mentioned in the same place as religion' type feedback) as it'll probably explain why the parallel doesn't stand.

I can't help but feel the above is still rather confused. Maybe I'll try and edit it at some point.


African Union fact sheet

(This is, on the whole, a edited version of the old wikipedia page)


What is it?

The African Union (AU) is an organisation consisting of fifty-three African states. Established in 2001, the AU was formed as a successor to the amalgamated African Economic Community (AEC) and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Eventually, the AU aims to have a single currency and a single integrated defence force, as well as other institutions of state, including a cabinet for the AU Head of State. The purpose of the union is to help secure Africa's democracy, human rights, and a sustainable economy, especially by bringing an end to intra-African conflict and creating an effective common market.

Who’s in it?

All African nations except Morocco (who withdrew itself) and Mauritius (after a coup d’etat)

How does it work and what does it do?


The AU is governed by the AU Assembly of Heads of State and the Pan-African Parliament, which are both assisted by the AU Commission which constitutes one of the secretariats of the Pan African Parliament.

The AU's first military intervention in a member state was the May 2003 deployment of a peacekeeping force of soldiers from South Africa, Ethiopia, and Mozambique to Burundi to oversee the implementation of the various agreements. AU troops are also deployed in Sudan for peacekeeping in the Darfur conflict. In 1994 the OAU wasn't aware of the situation of the country and only provided some humanitarian help to the conflict.

History of the African Union

The historical foundations of the African Union originated in the Union of African States. Critics argued that the OAU in particular did little to protect the rights and liberties of African citizens from their own political leaders, often dubbing it the "Dictators' Club".

The idea of creating the AU was revived in the mid-1990s as a result of the efforts of the African Unification Front. At Lomé in 2000, the Constitutive Act of the African Union was adopted, and at Lusaka in 2001, the plan for the implementation of the African Union was adopted.

The African Union was launched in Durban on July 9, 2002.

Its Constitutive Act declares that it shall "invite and encourage the full participation of the African diaspora as an important part of our Continent, in the building of the African Union". The African Union Government has defined the African diaspora as "[consisting] of people of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union".

Current issues

The AU faces many challenges, including health issues such as combating malaria and the AIDS/HIV epidemic; political issues such as confronting undemocratic regimes and mediating in the many civil wars; economic issues such as improving the standard of living of millions of impoverished, uneducated Africans; ecological issues such as dealing with recurring famines, desertification, and lack of ecological sustainability; as well as the legal issue of the still-unfinished decolonization of Western Sahara.


See: here


The HIV/AIDS epidemic has affected over 25% of the population of southern Africa, with South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, and Zimbabwe all expected to have a decrease in life expectancy by an average of 6.5 years. The effects on South Africa, which composes 30% of the AU's economy, threatens to significantly stunt GDP growth, and thus internal and external trade for the continent.


The political crisis in Zimbabwe has been debated both by the African Union and in particular by the Southern African Development Community. At African Union level, the situation in Zimbabwe has been a controversial focus of discussions in the Executive Council of the activity reports of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in which human rights abuses in Zimbabwe have been a leading subject since the early 2000s.

18 November, 2007

The Mace motion

The Mace has a pre-released motion each year. This year it is:

"This House would introduce punitive damages to civil law in England and Wales"

Whilst I like the motion, as I'm sure a lot of law students do, I'm not sure it's especially fair on non law students. Sure, this is mitigated to some degree by the fact that it's pre-released, but it requires a fair amount of knowledge about the English legal system that is the sort of knowledge which just accumulates gradually rather being something you specifically look up.

Because of the influence of America in films, TV and books, quite often people in the UK don't realise when UK and US law is different. A lot of the time it doesn't matter as the law is similar enough in both but damages in tort is a good example of where they are different.

In English law, exemplary damages are unusual. In American law, they are much more common. Just look at Erin Brockovich or many of the books by authors such as John Grisham. Under English law, damages are supposed to put the claimant back in the position they would have been in had the tort (the wrongful act being complained of) never happened. In American law, damages are awarded to cover this, but damages are awarded on top of this to punish the defendant for having been negligent in the first place (and so, one assumes, in order to deter others from acting in a similar way).

To my mind, this debate seems to create a sub-debate about class action law suits. Again, these are reasonably usual under US law whereas in the UK they are very rare. I must confess, I haven't spent overly long thinking about this motion in any detail but to me it would seem difficult (impossible?) to have one without the other. Class action lawsuits, on the basis of it being run at Cambridge 2006, is a debate in its own right.

I'm not going to the Mace but it'll be interesting to see how people deal with it.