29 August, 2008

Virgin trains and retro albums

To be fair, the weekday Manchester <--> London service is normally very good - it takes about 2 hrs 15 mins and you can get some stupidly cheap tickets too.

The weekend is normally much worse with the same journey taking 3hrs 30 mins upwards. Quite often, the journey is via Birmingham - something I can never quite make sense of.

during engineering works, the routes, understandably, take longer still.

The Law Firm (I can't remember what I said I was going to call them) sent me an e-mail about induction today and have booked me into a hotel in London as I'm there for two nights (which was nice, I would have assumed I would have had to book hotels myself :)).

Unfortunately, my parents are up this weekend and I now need to catch the train to London on Sunday evening (so will be bustling them out of the door at 6pm... They don't know this yet.) to be at Law Firm's offices on the Monday morning.

How can it be considered a good idea to send a train between the first and second cities of Britain where a: you can't buy a single ticket for the whole journey, but instead have to buy two tickets - one for each part - and send it via Doncaster. This means, I think, that I can't buy a normal return ticket.

Life is really too short. No wonder people drive.

Oh, the retro album in the title? I'd forgotten how much I love the Stereophonics Performance and Cocktails. Sheer awesomeness.

27 August, 2008

Money, money, money

Hmmmm.... and this table is why being a solicitor may not be such a bad idea.

(Yes, I know, it's London wages and regional ones are between 1/3 and 1/2 lower - but nevertheless..!)

26 August, 2008

Teaching evolution in schools

This is a really interesting article about how one biology teacher is teaching evolution in US schools and the type of difficulties he is encountering whilst doing so.

I especially like the conversation he has with a student about the purpose - and limits - of science:

Teacher (Mr Campbell):“Can anybody think of a question science can’t answer?”

A student: “Is there a God?”

“Good,” said Mr. Campbell, an Anglican who attends church most Sundays. “Can’t test it. Can’t prove it, can’t disprove it. It’s not a question for science.”

Bryce (a student who reads the Bible as literally true) raised his hand.

“But there is scientific proof that there is a God,” he said. “Over in Turkey there’s a piece of wood from Noah’s ark that came out of a glacier.”

Mr. Campbell chose his words carefully.

“If I could prove, tomorrow, that that chunk of wood is not from the ark, is not even 500 years old and not even from the right kind of tree — would that damage your religious faith at all?”

Bryce thought for a moment.

“No,” he said.

The room was unusually quiet.

“Faith is not based on science,” Mr. Campbell said. “And science is not based on faith. I don’t expect you to ‘believe’ the scientific explanation of evolution that we’re going to talk about over the next few weeks.”

25 August, 2008

Foreign aid

I especially like the (self-confessed cynical) quote at the beginning of this article on foreign aid:

Foreign aid is where we tax the poor of rich countries to fund the rich of poor ones.

That aside, it is a really interesting article on where our foreign aid money goes (most of it doesn't even leave the UK).

Well worth a read.

21 August, 2008

When is a law not a law?

Written by Rhydian Morgan. Wonderful writing, very thought provoking.


Q: When is a law not a law?

It sounds like the opening for a bad pun, but is in fact a genuine question, and not just a legal one. It is a firmly established principle, perhaps the most basic one, of the rule of law, that all are equal under it, and none, including the law-maker, may be set above it. The idea that those in charge are, as individuals, subject to the same laws as the rest is one that has been examined and affirmed consistently in philosophy and jurisprudence, and is stated by Thomas Paine thusly: "For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other." [Common Sense, 1776 (pamphlet)]. The Magna Carta is the first, and perhaps prime example of the rule of law in England, forcing King John to submit to the law, and succeeding in setting limits on feudal fees and duties. Later, the theoretical foundations for this principle were laid down in Rutherford’s Lex, Rex (1644),
and later in Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws (1748). Modern theories of the rule of law, particularly when articulated in common law jurisdictions include: a clear separation of powers, ideas of legal certainty and legitimate expectation (required for any set of laws to be regarded properly as a legal system), and importantly, the equality of all before the law.

When rulers have sought to position themselves above the laws they have set, the results have often been dramatic, violent and bloody. The illegitimate actions of rulers may be the cause of most revolutions around the world, whether refusing to suffer alongside their populations the strictures of circumstance, and imposing privations to which they themselves are not subject, or violating more directly the people’s stated rights, and thereby the rule of law. The French and Russian revolutions are clear examples of this, and other popular revolts too numerous to list here (I do not intend to analyse the myriad causes of such revolts, merely to suggest that the common factor in all is a perception by the people that those in power were acting illegitimately in their perceived oppression of the people). Even the assassination of Julius Caesar was legitimised by the (perhaps false) idea that Caesar was seeking to extend his power illegitimately. It seems incompatible with the notion of justice that heads of state be allowed to commit extra-judicial murder, for example, or to plunder state resources for private benefit. [It is here accepted that there is a clear difference between state mandated action, and the actions of private individuals who are also officers of the state. A President, for example, may order an execution (where such is permitted by the legislature of that state) and maintain the rule of law, whilst the person who holds that office may not choose to shoot someone he believes to be worthy of execution, if the rule of law is to be maintained.]

Is there an argument against this position [that the lawmakers are themselves subject to the laws they set]? There is an argument that belief in a natural justice, or ‘natural law’, does not in fact determine what law is, but what it should be. Legal positivism argues that all that laws require in order to be law properly so called is to be passed according the rules set in a given society for the enactment of legislation. All concerns about the just nature of otherwise of a law are then conveniently pushed to one side, as all that matters is the legality of authority, as opposed to the morality of that authority. But it is rare to find a legal positivist who will argue against the principle that all individuals are, or should be, treated equally under the law, whatever the perceived justice or otherwise of those laws. For Aristotle and Plato, the rule of law included the obligation to obey positive law (that is, law passed according to the rules) and the idea of formal checks and balances on rulers and magistrates [the contrast between the ‘rule of men’ and the ‘rule of law’ may be found in Plato’s Statesmen and Laws, and again in Aristotle’s Politics]. This position had not changed when Dicey wrote his treatise, Law of the Constitution (1959), equality before the law or the equal subjection of all classes to the ordinary law of the land administered by the ordinary courts being identified as the second element of the rule of law. As he states, “... every official, from the Prime Minister down to a constable or a collector of taxes, is under the same responsibility for every act done without legal justification as any other citizen.”

It is also a generally accepted maxim of natural justice that lex injusta non est lex [‘unjust law is no law at all’] [Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologicae, c. 13th C, after St. Augustine]. That is to say, on a moral level, that laws which violate a sense of natural justice, such as those permitting some to act against the law, or the founding principles thereof, are not laws properly so called. We may call them ‘bad’ law, unjust law, or refuse to give them the title of law at all. On this, the analysis provided by modern jurists on the ‘laws’ of the Third Reich is particularly instructive. Unwilling to accord the system the legitimacy of law properly so called, great work was done exposing the illegitimacy of laws that so fundamentally violate the concept of natural justice, an objective standard by which all law and society may be judged. We continue to apply this objective standard today, as intervention in countries where we might seek to promote democracy is often couched in rhetoric that links that aim inextricably to the establishment of the rule of law.

Thus it would appear axiomatic that good governance, whether democratic or not, includes the rule of law being adopted and maintained. Criticisms of Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe, as well as the actions of several governments around the world (Burma, several former Soviet satellite states that remained under dictatorships, such as Turkmenistan) centred on this failing. If then the rule of law is so important, and one cannot have the rule of law when lawmakers seek to set themselves above the law, why do we let them get away with it?

I am not talking here of a lack of action against Zimbabwe (although that is in itself shameful); I am talking about Presidents and Prime Ministers of what are apparently democracies. During his two terms as President of France, Jacques Chirac relied on a constitutional bar to investigation and prosecution for the President for all crimes short of treason to prevent the enquiries of a juge d’instruction into alleged corruption and other scandals which may have taken place whilst he Mayor of Paris (from 1977 to 1995). [It is interesting to note that, whilst M. Chirac used his office to prevent investigation into allegations of earlier misconduct or impropriety, he needed have no such worries about any illegality that may have been committed whilst in the Palais d’Elysée; according to constitutional expert Guy Carcassonne, speaking to Le Monde, Chirac could be held to account for actions taken while he was Mayor of Paris, but not while he was France's President.]

In a shameful modern echo of this position, Silvio Berlusconi’s government in Italy succeeded this July in passing through the lower chamber a law granting the President, leaders of the upper and lower chambers and Prime Minister [incumbent: S. Berlusconi], the four highest offices of the state, immunity from investigation whilst in office. This is particularly important for Signor Berlusconi, as he was previously under investigation for financial irregularities in a case in which David Mills, husband of the then UK Secretary of State Tessa Jowell, was also questioned. (Ms Jowell and Mr Mills underwent a separation when news of his alleged involvement in the scandal broke in the UK, presumably so that the Labour Government might avoid any taint by association – difficult, given Tony Blair’s acceptance of free holiday accommodation from Signor Berlusconi whilst he [Blair] was Prime Minister.) [Signor Berlusconi had earlier introduced a bill, passed by the Senate on 18th June, freezing for a year all trials started before June 2002 and carrying a maximum possible sentence upon conviction of fewer than ten years’ imprisonment. Conveniently, that included his own, but may also have stopped up to 100,000 criminal trials for offences including manslaughter, theft, kidnapping, grievous bodily harm, extortion, fraud and corruption (source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/2152711/Silvio-Berlusconi-suspends-his-own-trial.html).]

This latest law has yet to be passed by the Italian Senate (the upper chamber), although it is likely to do so easily, as Berlusconi enjoys strong support there. It also faces challenge in the Italian courts, and they are due to pronounce on its legality shortly following its (expected) passage through the Senate, and it should be noted that in common with the French law, it does not grant full immunity from investigation or prosecution but only whilst office is held. Thus, it is possible that Signor Berlusconi will face prosecution at the end of his term; possible, although unlikely, as the chances of a proper investigation into financial affairs when those allegedly involved may have had five further years in which to cover any tracks are seriously diminished (see numerous Serious Fraud Office cases, including the collapse of the prosecution of the directors of BCCI, for the difficulties in investigating financial trails years after the event).

But as mentioned above, the question is not merely one of legality, but of politics and philosophy. It is entirely possible that the Italian courts will rule, much as the French courts did, that the due process for the passing of the law has been observed, and therefore it is ‘good’ law, in a positivist sense. Whether it is properly passed or not is irrelevant. The question is: what should we expect of those who govern us? Second, what are we prepared to accept from our lawmakers? These questions are posed not just for the Italian people, but for us all, as Italy’s actions may have ramifications far wider than that peninsula. How can we condemn other regimes when we have failed to put our own house in order, or to apply the same condemnation to our friends and neighbours? We cheapen both our rhetoric and our moral position by allowing those who make our laws to grant themselves immunity from investigation or prosecution when they break those laws.

In recent speech in the U.S. Senate in opposition to the FISA Bill, Senator Dodd (Democrat, Conneticut) spoke these words:

“There is only one issue here. Only one: the law issue. Does the president serve the law, or does the law serve the president? Each insult to our Constitution comes from the same source; each springs from the same mindset; and if we attack this contempt for the law at any point, we will wound it at all points.

That is why I’m here today: Retroactive immunity is on the table today; but also at issue is the entire ideology that justifies it, the same ideology that defends torture and executive lawlessness. Immunity is a disgrace in itself, but it is far worse in what it represents. It tells us that some believe in the courts only so long as their verdict goes their way. That some only believe in the rule of law, so long as exceptions are made at their desire. It puts secrecy above sunshine and fiat above law.”

[Full text of this speech, including video can be found at http://dodd.senate.gov/index.php?q=node/4476, the Senator’s home page, and I am indebted to Chris Jones for posting this link on his page.]

The FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), enacted 1978, was originally introduced following President Nixon’s use of illegal surveillance of political opponents and their supporters as revealed during the Watergate scandal, and has been amended substantially, in particular by the 2001 U.S. Patriot Act, 2006 Terrorist Surveillance Act, and the Protect America Act of 2007. [I will make no comment on the use of terms such as ‘Protect America Act’, or indeed ‘Patriot Act’, by the Bush administration. Readers are invited to draw their own conclusions about what such nomenclature does in attempting to divert criticism of the provisions of the Acts in question.] The current bill grants retrospective immunity to telecommunications companies involved in the illegal wiretapping of domestic citizens provided they can show documentation which shows the act received prior authorisation from the White House. To quote the Senate Intelligence report:

“Beginning soon after September 11, 2001, the Executive branch provided written requests or directives to U.S. electronic communication service providers to obtain their assistance with communications intelligence activities that had been authorized by the President.

… The letters were provided to electronic communication service providers at regular intervals. All of the letters stated that the activities had been authorized by the President. All of the letters also stated that the activities had been determined to be lawful by the Attorney General, except for one letter that covered a period of less than sixty days. That letter, which like all the others stated that the activities had been authorized by the President, stated that the activities had been determined to be lawful by the Counsel to the President.

Under the legislation before us, the district court would simply decide whether or not the telecommunication companies received documentation stating that the President authorized the program and that there had been some sort of determination that it was legal.”

Thus we see that even in the most vocal and vociferous critic of rogue regimes, of undemocratic government, and of failure to implement the rule of law, a fundamental principle of that rule, that all be treated equally under the law, is easily pushed to one side. The FISA Bill and the so-called ‘Alfano law’ (after the Italian Minister of Justice) are merely the most striking and recent manifestations of this contempt for the rule of law in modern Western democracies; presidential pardons in numerous countries are permitted, overturning safe convictions and preventing prosecutions. Why then do we allow this?

Signor Berlusconi claims the law is necessary to prevent his being hounded by a biased and politically motivated judiciary; Jacques Chirac used much the same argument. Berlusconi also claims as legitimacy the argument that all states have such laws. Apart from being a demonstrably false assertion, even if it were true, it would not in itself provide a philosophical justification for the existence of such laws. George Bush’s administration uses the rhetoric of ‘extraordinary measures being required in extraordinary times’, the idea that, during a time of conflict, special powers must be granted in order to ‘get the job done’, a favourite phrase of despotic regimes everywhere. It might very well be true that, in times of war, certain rights may be temporarily suspended (such as the right of freedom of movement, even to the level of internment), but the fact of the matter is that neither M. Chirac nor Signor Berlusconi can rely on that. The FISA Bill concerns the illegal surveillance of U.S citizens, not noticeably part of the ‘axis of evil’. It seems clear, therefore, that each of these bills, and any bill which seeks to grant immunity to holders of high office, is a self-serving permission to act outside the law with impunity, and therefore an unjustified assault on the rule of law, one that should not be tolerated in any democratic society. If anyone can provide a justification for immunity laws, I should like to hear it. Until I do, I will continue to speak against such laws, and would urge others to the same.

19 August, 2008


I find it most worrying that many of the applicants I'm speaking to at the moment have their birthdays in 1990.

Shouldn't they still be playing with barbies? How are they possibly old enough to drink, let alone come to university!

This is probably the first time in my life I've felt old. It's upsetting.

18 August, 2008

Awkwardly, true


Politics, religion and incentive structures

This is a really interesting post on the role of religion in politics. Not in the theocracy sense, but in the incentive structure sense. To quote a key part:
Indeed, though I myself am pro-choice and mostly irreligious, it seems more likely to me that the main effect of faith is to spur people to embrace causes that are personally and socially inconvenient. Slaveowners didn't need religion to motivate them to defend slavery; they had a powerful financial interest in doing so. Similarly, the pro-choice movement, at least in my experience, gets most of its activist energy from reproductive-aged women who have a strong interest in being able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
Well worth a read.


I think these two article from the Economist give the best analysis of the situation, that I've read.

This one focuses more on the regional consequence

This one on the internal consequences.

I find the latter more interesting, with a far more balanced and non-poarised view than anything else I'v read so far.

Overall, however, I stand with my opinion that when a nuclear country invades its poor, weak neighbour against the wishes of that neighbour without Jus ad Bello, there's only one way that this'll play on the world stage.

If you're grown up enough to be playing with nukes, you should be grown up enough to stop acting like a petulant child who throws a tantrum because the world is no longer in the 'good old days'. Whilst both parties have some blame in this matter, Russia as the 'world power' and a long established state surely had far more responsibility. Georgia was silly for letting herself get sucked in but Russia really shouldn't have provoked it all in the first place.

Paralegal position

Got the paralegal position I applied for a while ago.

Am very happy indeed!

15 August, 2008

Beauty and the Game Theory Geek

One of my less admissible vices is a minor addiction to the TV show 'Beauty and the Geek'

Ahem. I'll wait a moment to allow you to catch your breath and exclaim something on the lines of 'oh, I'd never have though it of her!'.

Interestingly, one of the freakonomics guest posters has analysed the game theory of selecting couples for elimination.

From my point of view, I'd choose two strong couples as 2 of the three scenarios leads to a strong couple disliking you so it's almost inevitable anway. By choosing two strong couples, you definitely eliminate one, thus improving your odds.

What would you do?

Desperate Housewives and Bike Thieves

So, this poor woman is sent to prison for stealing to feed her children, but the guy who is found guilty of stealing a bike and has thirty odd other convictions for theft behind him, gets an £80 fine.

The putative element of her sentence should be mandatory contraception and the rest of the sentence should be rehab and help.

The law is an ass.

14 August, 2008

Law school league tables (BVC, LPC and GDL)

QEDlaw is fantastic news as it is wishing to publish the full results of various law schools and course providers.

To quote from them directly:

The information will show

  1. The total number of the students enrolled on each of the university’s full time GDL, LPC and/or BVC in the academic years 1997/8 and 2007/8
  2. The number awarded a ‘pass’ at the first attempt in 1998 and 2008
  3. The number awarded a ‘distinction’ at the first attempt in 1998 and 2008
  4. The number awarded a ‘commendation’ at the first attempt in 1998 and 2008
  5. The number failing / failing to complete the course at the first attempt in 1998 and 2008.
I looked for this information when I applied, but I could not find it.

Given that I feel that when making potentially expensive, yet risky, decisions a person should have as much information as possible, this is a very welcome idea.

On A-level grades and Illiteracy

I was surprised (given its usual political leanings) to find this piece on A-level reform in the Telegraph. Nevertheless, IMHO, it's well written and considered and points out that the real problem in education sin't 27% of candidates getting A grades (that's only a problem for admissions tutors) but the scandal that children are still leaving school unable to read because of Marie Antoinette "let them read Beowulf" approach.

Success and the role of government

I very much like this quote:

The people cannot look to legislation generally for success. Industry, thrift, character, are not conferred by act or resolve. Government cannot relieve from toil. It can provide no substitute for the rewards of service. It can, of course, care for the defective and recognize distinguished merit. The normal must care for themselves. Self-government means self-support
Calvin Coolidge (US president 1923-1929)

(taken from freakonomics)

13 August, 2008

Alcohol. rape and compensation

This article on the woman who's initial criminal injury compensation for rape was reduced by 35% because she had been drinking is excellent in my view.

I especially like the analogy that she draws between the drunk victim of a rape and a little old lady in the context of vulnerability.

11 August, 2008

The Merciful, the Compassionate

Thank God - or Allah - that the Iranians are finally seeing sense and remembering one of the names for God is 'the Merciful' as they have now stopped stoning people.


Coase Theorem and Class Allocation

I love the attitude of NYU to allocating classes - hold a lottery.

It allows the students who got classes that they didn't want to trade them for other favours, usually, but not always, money.

My comment in reply to the killjoy anonymous who posted first should be up at some point.

10 August, 2008

Background to S. Ossetia

Here's a little bit of interesting analysis on the background to the S. Ossetia situation

09 August, 2008

Dead bloggers

The Orwell Trust have decided to publish Orwell's diary entries online, one day at a time.

I think it's a wonderful idea - despite my loathing of suspense normally - and I hope other trusts do it for their relevant historical figures.

I've not read (shamefully) the diary of Anne Frank, but that would seem ripe for posting in the same manner. If an entry was written on 13th August, it should be published on the same date, as far as possible.

Alan Clark would work quite well, too, I think.

Suggestions for other diaries?

Life update - very boring, really

Start new job tomorrow - somewhat apprehensive as they appear to have given it to me on the basis that they liked me rather than there actually being work to do. As a consequence, they don't know what the job description or hours are - and only have a rough idea of the pay!

Oh well, they assured me that it'll be at least 2 weeks of work which means I'll have enough to pay for my share of the rent this month.

Going to the theatre on Monday hopefully to see hayfever after a friend recommended it. Haven't been to theatre in aaaaaages - looking forward to it.

Just bought and costructed 2 new bookcases - meaning we now have 9 (and all full) in total in the house. Vive la livre!

Ok, enough personal updates, will try and blog of my interesting topics at some point (the Boy is using the computer to play games os I can't read the news....)

Oh, Ossetia most upsetting. I've thought it would be Abkhazia which caused the problem instead.

ps: hear about whether or not I got the paralegal job, tomorrow. V. nervous.

08 August, 2008

Parental leave and Tory policy

Well, it seems my policy on parental leave is now an official Tory policy.

I might have to stop spoiling my ballot at this rate and vote for them again now that they seem to have grown out of the 'foreign people are bad' phase that they went through...

07 August, 2008

Blog troubles

I seem to have some problems posting at the moment - is blogger doing this to anybody else?

Dawkins, evolution and God (round 328)

I absolutely agree with what Libby Purves says here.

It's well written and makes perfect sense to me. Further more, shows a much greater understanding of human nature than the #my way or the highway' set.

06 August, 2008

Playing the game

I've always found game theory a really interesting aspect of economics, possibly because behavioural economics appeals to me. Freakonomics has an interesting analysis of who the candidates should pick for their VP on the basis of game theory, here.

Mixed bag

Sorry about the lack of updates, my router broke and so I had to wait for a new one to be sent through.

Well, one of the non-legal jobs I applied to rejected me - but I was genuinely underqualified so not too upset - but have offered me temporary work starting Monday.

Waiting on hearing from the paralegal job (which seems like it would be very interesting given the type of work and client).

The Boy is quite pleased as it means I can pay my rent this month....

04 August, 2008

Bad news

Didn't get the pupillage in Preston.

Most upset.

02 August, 2008

Top 10 blogs competition

I'll be the first to admit this blog is, on occasion, a tad schizophrenic.

It's not quite sure whether it's a debating blog, a blawg or just about current affair commentary and tends to change depending what is interesting me at the time (note heavy debate coverage during Euros/heavy BVC coverage when a deadline is coming up).

However, I am honoured that 2 people have voted for me on Iain Dale's search for the top UK political bloggers.

And one of those people wasn't me!

Whilst I consider voting for myself the height of immodesty, I have no such qualms about asking any readers to do the same.

Just follow the link above and write your top 10 political blogs in a comment. If you don't read too many political blogs, you can always reference nought.point.zero (regular commentator Al's blog) and Iain Dale's diary itself. I'm sure geeklawyer and Charon could quite probably count given that they touch politcs and current affairs (sometimes!)

01 August, 2008


I want one of these cleaning robots so much!

ps: does anyone know how to get a video into a post if you don't upload it from you computer?

Muphry's Law

Muphry’s Law (no, not Murphy’s). Muphry’s law states that “if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written.”

Hartman’s Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation: “any article or statement about correct grammar, punctuation, or spelling is bound to contain at least one eror”.

“McKean’s Law” (after Verbatim editor Erin McKean):
Call it McKean’s Law: Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling, or typographical error.

“Skitt’s Law” (after alt.usage.english contributor “Skitt”):
Skitt’s Law, a corollary of Murphy’s Law, variously expressed as “any post correcting an error in another post will contain at least one error itself” or “the likelihood of an error in a post is directly proportional to the embarrassment it will cause the poster.”

Courtesy of posters from the Freakonomics blog