21 June 2011

What About Me? What About Truck?

A North East politician, Guy Opperman, wrote on his blog recently about the Humshaugh Village Shop.
The blogpost explains about the shop, how it is run and encourages people to vote for it in a national lottery competition.

I wrote a comment on this post but unfortunately it has not been published so I will try and remember what I said and reproduce my comments below.

I asked whether or not the politician would encourage the people of Humshaugh to introduce a Truck system to the shop. This would mean that more people could contribute to the shop, not only those who could afford to volunteer. I gave a link to G W Hilton's book about the Truck System and pointed out that Ken Clarke was the person who repealed the Truck Acts (Wages Act 1986) which would make it possible to use a Truck system.

Since the comment wasn't published, I haven't had a response. But the question is interesting. Would the minimum wage legislation prevent people being paid in truck (see section 1 and section 44) and if not, would it be moral to pay people in vouchers rather than money? What if the vouchers were redeemable at places other than the shop, such as the pub? All very interesting questions that will not get answered; not only silence from the MP but from the people of Humshaugh; as long as they have volunteers to subsidise the endeavour, there isn't an issue.
Update 29th November 2011.
The issue discussed above came to mind again when I read a report in the Guardian headed, MPs may be breaking law in offering work to unpaid interns. The question arises, is Humshaugh shop breaking the law if it is run by volunteers? Looking closely at the legislation, s44 National Minimum Wages Act 1998 volunteers are only allowed to volunteer if they do not take any "monetary payments of any description," or any "benefits in kind of any description". In other words, no truck.

20 June 2011

Measure of freedom of expression

According to John Allen Paulos in Once upon a number,
"...freedom of expression should not be measured by how likely the average person is to be silenced, but by how likely someone with something to say is."

Here is a link to ss132 - 138 Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 which was designed specifically to stop the chap above demonstrating.

Pathetic isn't it?


Well, here's what happened when the law was applied, Haw, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Anor [2005] EWHC 2061.

Another example of someone being punished for articulately expressing his opinion can be found at Case C-274/99 P, Bernard Connolly v Commission of the European Communities. I know it sounds childish but I think it was the book cover that did it for him.

18 June 2011

Protected Persons

Why isn't everyone an Internationally Protected Person?
"(5)In this section—

“act” includes omission;

“a protected person” means, in relation to an alleged offence, any of the following, namely—

(a) a person who at the time of the alleged offence is a Head of State, a member of a body which performs the functions of Head of State under the constitution of the State, a Head of Government or a Minister for Foreign Affairs and is outside the territory of the State in which he holds office;

(b) a person who at the time of the alleged offence is a representative or an offical of a State or an offical or agent of an international organisation of an intergovernmental character, is entitled under international law to special protection from attack on his person, freedom or dignity and does not fall within the preceding paragraph;

(c) a person who at the time of the alleged offence is a member of the family of another person mentioned in either of the preceding paragraphs and—

(i) if the other person is mentioned in paragraph (a) above, is accompanying him,

(ii) if the other person is mentioned in paragraph (b) above, is a member of his household;

“relevant premises” means premises at which a protected person resides or is staying or which a protected person uses for the purpose of carrying out his functions as such a person; and

“vehicle” includes any means of conveyance;and if in any proceedings a question arises as to whether a person is or was a protected person, a certificate issued by or under the authority of the Secretary of State and stating any fact relating to the question shall be conclusive evidence of that fact."

ps Bearing in mind that a protected person is, "a Minister for Foreign Affairs and is outside the territory of the State in which he holds office;" recall that Moussa Koussa was the Minister of Foreign Affairs from March 2009 ...

17 June 2011

This Land Is Your Land

A point that doesn't seem to be discussed when schools change from maintained status to academy status is, what happens to the land?

Section 13 of the Academies Act 2010 bounces us to Schedule 1 of the same Act which gives us lots of legalese. The local government lawyer website explains,
"What are the implications for local authorities regarding Academy land transfer?

The Guidance sets out that where land is publically funded, the land will usually transfer to the Academy Trust by way of a 125-year lease from the local authority, as on existing Academy set ups. Whilst this will be the principal means of transfer, the DfE’s website does suggest that other means of transfer may be applicable but only in “special circumstances in individual cases”.


anticipate more points later ... keep an eye on the Guardian Data blog.

15 June 2011

Blink and you miss it

The other day Ed Miliband delivered a speech, Responsibility in 21st Century Britain, which drew attention to people who were drawing unemployment benefits whom Miliband suspected could work.
"While out campaigning during the local elections, not for the first time, I met someone who had been on incapacity benefit for a decade.

He hadn’t been able to work since he was injured doing his job.

It was a real injury, and he was obviously a good man who cared for his children.

But I was convinced that there were other jobs he could do."
But what about people who aren't unemployed who get benefits? What about the rich who get benefits? For example, we all know that farmers get benefits but how much?

Here are the Annual Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) Payements - 2010.

But following the link takes us to
"A recent judgement of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) invalidated part of the EU legislation that requires Member States to publish the data of beneficiaries of CAP funds (see judgement in full at link below).


The ECJ judgement concluded that the requirement to publish data for individual beneficiaries (natural persons) exceeded the limits imposed by the principle of proportionality. In the light of this judgement the Commission requested all Member States to suspend publication of data on individual beneficiaries (natural persons) and has now come forward with an amending regulation that implements the ECJ’s judgement, pending a longer-term review of the legislation.

The UK is now working towards the publication of details of CAP subsidy payments made to incorporated bodies, trusts and partnerships for financial years 2009 and 2010 to comply with the revised regulation.

The UK will be pressing the Commission to bring forward new legislation that will ensure the achievement of greater transparency and openness in the use of EU funds. The UK has consistently supported the provision of data relating to payments under the CAP."

The figures for previous years can be found here, 2003 - 2004 and here 2004 - 2005 but there are gaps, eg, 2005 - 2006, 2006 - 2007, 2007 - 2008, 2008 - 2009. However, it may be possible to extrapolate from these figures to fill in the gaps.

As to the statement on the webpage, why does the UK need to press 'the Commission to bring forward new legislation' surely it has sufficient Sovereignty to do this on its own? (We aren't talking about fishing rights). I will report back here if the situation changes.

I wonder what Ed Miliband makes of this situation?

12 June 2011

Chummy Condescension

Yesterday I attended the penultimate of this year's Hexham Debates, "In Defence of Politics" by Chris Mullin.

To a much busier than usual (extra seats were required for the 120 - 130 people present) hall, Mr Mullin gave a thirty minute presentation (partly read) followed by just under an hour of fielding questions. He began by explaining that after he'd thought of the title of his speech he found that someone else had already used it in 1962, In Defence of Politics (Continuum Impacts), Prof Bernard Crick.

Nevertheless he didn't ditch the title: instead, he explained to us that in the West 'we haven't had it so good'. He compared the success of democracy in this country to elsewhere in the world, where democracy enabled us to get access to the fruits of scientific progress such as electricity and running water. He argued that disillusion with politics was an excuse for laziness, both intellectual and physical; he went on to say that the sort of people who don't clear up after their dogs or put their bins out on the proper day were usually the same people who were disillusioned with politics. He explained that apathy (another excuse for disillusion) was a consequence of the short attention span of the TV/point-and-click generation. This speech was delivered with humour and was warmly received; he peppered his talk with the chummy condescension of Daily Mail readers (it used to be Sun readers once) and invited the audience to participate in the condescension.

He explained to us that what galvanised his interest in politics was the Vietnam War and thought that today's big issue that would galvanize many would be environmentalism, of which he spoke at great length. He told us of the rise of consumerism in ChIndia and bemoaned that they weren't avoiding the mistakes that we made. He gave a couple of factoids: China has 90,000 road deaths per year; they have had the largest traffic jam ever in the history of the world - sixty miles and ten days to clear.

He went on to discuss the rise of a new class of working poor: the outsourced. He discussed how two people can have the same job, working side by side with one another but have very different employment conditions. He said that this was reverting back to the 1950s and before when people would turn up at the dock gates hoping to get work, or at the mine gates for the same reason. He told us all to expect a retraction of our standard of living.

Then came an hour of questions of which there were many. 'Why hasn't there been an attack on the excesses of the City of London?' There had been.
'In his diary he was critical of Blair for bombing civilians, what was his stance on intervensionism?' He was pro intervensionism but it depended upon the particular case.
'What did he think of the education system' It had vastly improved for poorer people over the years of labour rule based on the exam grades.
'What about compulsory voting' Difficulty with the mechanics but would go along with an incentive system [what poll tax?]
'What did he think of Rowan Williams' article in the New Statesman'? He hadn't read it but from what he'd heard he thought it was a good thing.
'What do you think of single issue campaigns and campaigners'? Useful, particularly with regard to the Birmingham six but ultimately, it is the politicians who make decisions.
'Should we rely on referenda more'? No. They were a cop out for cowardly politicians and conferred more power on people who determine what we see, hear and read in order to make a decision. [Interesting answer]
'What does he think of the suggestion that there may be a summer of discontent amongst public sector workers'? Whoever had been returned to power would have needed to make drastic cuts. It is very irresponsible of people to suggest that if only Labour had been returned to power everything would be 'normal'. He also spoke about early retirement (50 - 55 years old) in the public sector (school teachers, civil servants, health professionals) being a massive drain on the economy.
'He was asked about the conflict between public opinion and personal conscience' but didn't come up with an answer worthy of either the question or reporting.
'How many marks out of ten should the country get for dealing with poverty and inequality'? He said the fortunes of the poor had improved immeasurably.

He went on to talk about failed states being a big problem which we faced which brought us to the end of the presentation. Whereupon he went to sign his book to those who wanted to buy it (the local bookshop had set up a stall at the back of the hall).

An interesting presentation - well done to the organisers of the Hexham debates - Mullin came across as one of the labour party's intellectuals (think Giles Radice etc), smug in some respects, self effacing in others (during his introduction the chairman described as a feat keeping his seat for 23 years; Mullin said during the talk that if he'd lost his seat it would have been a feat, explaining that having a safe seat gave him greater lattitude than over politicians). I've missed out some of the questions but I hope that this gives a fair reflection of what went on. It gave me some food for thought.
As an after thought, here's a link to Chris Mullin's bookssome of which were on sale after the event.

09 June 2011

#SmilesC Answer 8

  • #SmilesC whose degradation is used to prepare this compound? CC(=O)C1CCC2C1(C)CCC3C4(C)CCC(=O)C=C4CCC23
The compound is called progesterone with wikipedia explaining,
"Progesterone ... (pregn-4-ene-3,20-dione) is a C-21 steroid hormone involved in the female menstrual cycle, pregnancy (supports gestation) and embryogenesis of humans and other species. Progesterone belongs to a class of hormones called progestogens, and is the major naturally occurring human progestogen."
The degradation is called the Marker degradation, a method of getting into steroid chemistry from a relatively cheap starting material. It's an impressive piece of chemistry, as are the subsequent transformations to other steroids.
But the real reason for posting the questions was to bring up the name of Russel Marker. There are many stories about Russel Marker, here's the begining of one,
"Russell Marker hated wasting time. Upon qualifying for a doctoral degree in chemistry as a twenty-three-year-old student at the University of Maryland in 1925, all that stood between him and his degree were several required physical chemistry courses. But Marker didn't want to take physical chemistry, as he already had a master's degree in the subject. The university refused to modify its graduation requirements and Marker's own advisor threatened him with the dead end career of "urine analyst" if he didn't complete his coursework. Marker refused and left the university without his degree, an independent scientist in search of a job."
Follow the link to find out what happened next.

07 June 2011

Fingerprints of Stupidity

The forensic analysis of fingerprint evidence continues to be under attack from the judiciary. This time in Smith, R. v [2011] EWCA Crim 1296 with the appeal court saying,
"(7) General issues relating to fingerprint evidence
In the light of the issue in relation to [the fingerprint examiners] qualifications and the way in which the evidence was adduced at trial, we consider it important that we should identify some of the features which have become apparent to us. None have been material to the decision we have in fact reached in this case as to the safety of the conviction, but as they are important to the way in which fingerprint evidence is adduced where the print is not clear; we set them out :

i) Most forensic science services have for some time been provided by organisations wholly independent of police forces. There are also a number of private providers of forensic science services. In contradistinction, fingerprint experts are organised in Fingerprint Bureaux which fall within the organisational structure of each police force. This may be a distinction that is justified; it may be possible for independence to be assured by strict standards of control on quality and by accountability.

ii) There is no opportunity for a person outside a police Fingerprint Bureau to become fully qualified as a fingerprint expert by training in England and Wales or for having that person's competence recognised by the police forces.

iii) Police forces do not recognise the qualifications or competence of those who have obtained these overseas. It is for a judge to decide whether a person is a competent expert, not the police. Because of the course the trial took, the judge did not have to rule on whether Ms Tweedy, who obtained qualifications overseas, was a competent expert.

iv) It is essential for the proper administration of justice that there are independent persons expert in fingerprint examination; almost all who do this are retired from police Fingerprint Bureaux. The position is in marked contrast to other forensic science disciplines. There may be good reason for this distinction; for example the fingerprint bureau of other forces may be able to provide expert evidence for the defence.

v) No competent forensic scientist in other areas of forensic science these days would conduct an examination without keeping detailed notes of his examination and the reasons for his conclusions. That universal practice of other forensic scientists was not followed by the Nottinghamshire Fingerprint Bureau. There may be reasons for this, but they were not explained to us.

vi) As neither the original examiner nor those who confirmed his examination made any notes of their reasons and did not identify the points of comparison contemporaneously on a chart, it was not possible to see whether their reasoning was the same. We were told that this was not done because those who made the subsequent identification should make that identification without knowing the views of those who had previously examined the print. Although we accept that identification by two other persons who do not know the conclusions of the original examiner or the other examiner form an important safeguard, we do not understand that reasoning. There would be nothing to prevent the earlier examiners sealing their conclusions until the completion of all the examinations. We do not know whether there is any other justification for examiners not making detailed contemporaneous notes that can be the subject of transparent examination in court where the identification of the mark is in issue.

vii) The quality of the reports provided by the Nottinghamshire Fingerprint Bureau for the trial reflected standards that existed in other areas of forensic science some years ago and not the vastly improved standards expected in contemporary forensic science.

viii) The presentation of the evidence to the jury made no attempt to use modern methods of presentation. The presentation to this court was similar; a large amount of time was wasted because of this. It was incomprehensible to us why digital images were not provided to the jury; the refusal of NAFIS (to which we have referred in paragraph 43) to permit a digital image to be supplied to the court was a further example of the lack of a contemporary approach to the presentation of evidence. The presentation to the jury must be done in such a way that enables the jury to determine the disputed issues.

This is one of the very few cases where fingerprint evidence has been challenged at a trial since 1999 and, as far as we are aware, the first since then to come before this court on an appeal where this court has had to hear fresh evidence. It is not unsurprising that the points we have raised identify practices which differ so markedly in England and Wales from modern forensic science practice in other areas of forensic science.
There is plainly a need for the points that have arisen in this case to be the subject of wider examination. We have been told that an enquiry by the Rt Hon Sir Anthony Campbell into the case of HM Advocate v McKie known as the Scottish Fingerprint Enquiry has heard extensive evidence in relation to fingerprint evidence in Scotland. It is not for us to comment more than we have done at paragraph 61 in relation to the practices that have come to our attention in this appeal. In our view, however, there is a real need for the ACPO, the Forensic Science Regulator and the recently established Fingerprint Quality Standards Specialist Group to examine as expeditiously as possible the issues we have identified, to assess the position and to ensure that there are common quality standards enforced through a robust and accountable system."

Why has it got to this state? Shouldn't this have been done years and years ago?

In view of what you've just read, what is the probability that somone has committed a crime given that they've been convicted of the that crime?

06 June 2011

Where is the 7/7 Chemistry Discussion?

I posted this on twitter,

Does anyone else know why there aren't any discussions within the pages of Chemistry World, Nature Chemistry or similar regarding the chemistry surrounding the UK's 7/7 bombings? The silence is strange, surely there's some analysis from professional chemists somewhere?

02 June 2011

Insignificance, Knowledge and Truth

I remember when there was a furore about wikipedia, which now seems years and years ago, that went along the lines of ... but anyone can add to it, so it can't be an authoritative source, it can't be knowledge, can it?

This made me think of a play called Insignificance which I'd heard on the radio (rather than the link to the film). In the play, I particularly remember the following exchange:

The Actress: I only said I knew, because you said you knew.
The Professor: I lied. Knowledge isn't truth. It's just mindless agreement. You agree with me, I agree with someone else - we all have knowledge. We haven't come any closer to the truth. You can never understand anything by agreeing, by making definitions. Only by turning over the possibilities. That's called thinking. If I say I know, I stop thinking. As long as I keep thinking, I come to understand. That way, I might approach some truth.

I thought of this again when one of the conspiraloons posted a note mocking two 'Wonkers' who are promulgating a knowledge struggle. They are spending a great deal of time and trouble following a servileservice intellectual career trying to persuade all and sundry that 'conspiracy theorists' bears some pejorative meaning.

Incredible that they squander their talents and pages of national newspapers on such a pointless and pathetic pursuit of mindless agreement.

Bill is Dead

The last time I saw the Fall was in May last year in Wakefield - getting withdrawal symptoms.

Please excuse the self indulgence.

#SmilesC Answer 7

  • #SmilesC what is being prepared here? OCCSCCO>HCl.HCl>ClCCSCCCl
As can be seen from the diagram below, prepared by plugging the reaction into Daylight's Depict, the transformation is that of thiodigycol to mustard gas,
A depressing subject to choose for a #smilesC quiz. The compound was used in combat during world war I and more recently by Saddam Hussein. The latter subject is curious from the perspective of a chemist: someone called Frans Van Anraat was found guilty of supplying thiodiglycol to the Iraqi regime,
"Prosecutors accused Van Anraat of delivering more than 1,000 tonnes of thiodiglycol. It can be used to make mustard gas, which causes horrific burns to the lungs and eyes and is often fatal."
However, I always find it odd that the Iraqi regime would order thiodiglycol when it was on an International 'watch' list of chemical weapons precursors. If the Iraqis had the plant and equipment to convert thiodiglycol to mustard gas, why didn't they use this plant and equipment to prepare thiodiglycol from simpler, ie not on a watch list, precursors?