‘Cyber Bullying’ : My Arse

Cyberspace, The Final Frontier (Of Hyperbole)

If you’ve switched on the TV news today, or opened a newspaper at any point, you will no have heard that “cyber bullying” is on the increase, and that it even happens in primary schools!

The reason that this is in the news, as it turns out, is because today marks the start of national anti bullying week. No, I didn’t either, but there you go. I doubt a week manages to go by without being hijacked to some cause that most people have never heard of and are unlikely to remember, and that’s this week’s.

In this case, the celebrants are the Anti Bullying Alliance (no, again, me neither) who describe themselves thusly

Founded in 2002 by NSPCC and National Children’s Bureau, the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) brings together over 60 organisations into one network. We look to develop a consensus around how to stop and prevent bullying. We aim to influence policy.

Ah, I see. A full list of those over 60 members can be perused here, it is left as an exercise for the reader to decide which of them are fake charities and pointless quangos spending your hard deaned tax money on lobbying the government to do what they were going to anyway.

To mark the start of this auspicious week, the ABA have made a press release with some numbers in it.

I have no particular axe to grind with the ABA, but when I hear this much hysteria pouring out of my media holes it generally makes me wonder if someone is pushing some kind of sinister-ish agenda. In this case it’s not particularly to hard to find, because it’s plastered all over the Telegraph

Sara Payne, mother of Sarah, the eight-year old who was murdered in 2000 by the paedophile Roy Whiting, urged parents to snoop on their children’s internet use to protect them from paedophiles and cyber-bullies.

Ah yes, to make the internets safe for children, that’s the one.

So the next time we see these particular numbers, they will most likely be being used as a cudgel to pound through some legislative agenda, or worse, some kind of pseudo legislative agenda such as the kind of “independently monitored voluntary code of practice” recommended by the Byron Review. Folk familiar with the telecomms industry will know that what “independently monitored voluntary code of practice” means is that a man from the home office comes around and says, in effect, you will follow this code of practice voluntarily, if you refuse, or if we independently monitor you failing to comply with it, we will pass some legislation that you really won’t like.

Numbers Game

It behoves us then, to understand that these numbers are the meaningless result of a survey sample that is unrepresentative, self selecting and biased. This much is evident from the little published data that exists. The whole survey does not appear to be available, so I stand open to correction when it becomes so, but I won’t be holding my breath.

Having said that, this wouldn’t be such a problem if all the ABA wanted to do was get some publicity for the eminently sensible common sense advice to parents that they have tagged to their press release. The problem will arise later when they start be used as part of that stated aim “to influence policy”, when it will be claimed that this is a ‘study’ or ‘research’ when it qualifies as neither. Watch this space.

The above being said, it would be wrong of me to engage further with the numbers, so I won’t.

Kids These Days

I’m not sure why the focus on ‘cyber’ bullying, personally. If you take the sentence “Primary school children are becoming victims of cyberbullying” and remove the ‘cyber’ and the ‘becoming’, we get “Primary school children are victims of bullying”. Well. Duh! Suddenly all the hysteria has leaked out. Children have been ‘bullying’ each other since one single celled organism turned to another single celled organism and shouted “Look everyone, Johnny folds his proteins to the LEFT!”

I’m sure it’s not very nice if someone sets up a facebook hate page especially for you, but is it any worse than someone taking a 3/4 Inch permanent marker and writing “Craig is a bender, IDST!” in the toilets where everyone can see it, or spray painting “Parr fucks budgies” on a railway bridge, or chalking “Kirsty is a slag!” on the rearmost panel of the blackboard so it shows when the teacher rolls it around ?

I note from looking at the ABA’s various publications that two of these now have their own special categories one is ‘homophobic’ bullying and one is ‘sexual bullying’, there seems to be no category for bestiaphobic bullying, though. Surely a fertile area for the ABA to tackle next.

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The Tyranny of the Majority : This is your democracy on drugs

Writing about the ongoing car crash that the Home Office has initiated by sacking Professor David Nutt, Gurning offspring of Andrew Marr and a euro-skeptic sock puppet Dan Hannan MEP wails

I just heard a BBC presenter remark that drugs policy should be taken out of the hands of politicians and left to a panel of experts, rather as interest rates were left to the Bank of England. …

If drugs policy, why not also tax policy? Or education policy? Or European policy? …

For what it’s worth, I agree with Prof David Nutt, the adviser sacked after criticising the Government’s decision to categorise cannabis as a Class B Drug. If anything I’d go further. He’s plainly right, this Nutt, when he says that the government’s attitude to cannabis is counter-productive, ill-informed and vote-grabbing. But that is what governments do: they grab votes. And, for all its faults, no one has come up with a better system than democracy. The BBC/Nutt option – contracting out important decisions to “experts” – has been the justification for every dictatorship in history, from Bonaparte’s onward.

And he’s not far wrong. He is wrong though. Most dictatorships are based on revealed truths of some kind. The interpreted will of some deity, the ramblings of some deranged political philosopher, or simply the psychotic narcissism of some monomaniac.

I can’t think of any dictatorship in history (and do please correct me if I’m wrong) that outsourced it’s decisions to a rational process founded on the scientific method, for instance.

There is a name for such a form of government : Technocracy. Wikipedia‘s definition of technocracy will suffice for illustrative purposes.

Technocracy is a form of government in which engineers, scientists, and other technical experts are in control of decision making in their respective fields.

If I were to sketch my perfect totalitarian state structure, you can be sure that Technocracy (and technocrats) would play a large part in it. We might get to that later. For whatever merits it may have, Technocracy is, of course, a form of tyranny like all other dictatorial structures.

If Prof Nutt feels strongly about the subject – and, as I say, he has every right to – then the correct procedure is to stand for election and see if he can convince his fellow countrymen.

That’s not democratic enough for Hannan though, who to his enormous credit – given that he’s a politician – goes further

Better yet, let’s decide issues of this sort by referendum. I realise that, as a libertarian, I might well lose. But I’d rather live in a democracy than a quangocracy – even when, as must occasionally happen by the law of averages, the quangocrats happen to be right.

There’s a problem. Can you tell what it is yet ? Yup, that’s it. We have a referendum, popular opinion wins, the popular opinion doesn’t suit everyone. Oh shit! Democracy Fail! because democracy, especially as practised by referendum, is the tyranny of the majority.

If we assume that the MORI poll conducted by the ACMD (discussed here) is indeed representative, pubic opinion is that Cannabis should remain a class ‘C’ drug under the Misuse Of Drugs Act. Assuming also that that was the question posed by the referendum.

That, though, still leaves us with something of a problem. I mean, yeah, great, we had a bit of democracy theatre, everyone had their say, fine. But the result still isn’t a drug policy based on a rational analysis of relative harm.

Have we really lost confidence in our ability to govern ourselves through the ballot box?

Govern ourselves Dan. So often when we visit the ballot box we are not, in fact, seeking to govern ourselves but to govern others. Nutt’s MORI figures suggest that the majority favour at least some criminal sanctions for possession of cannabis. We are forced to conclude then, that these folks are not themselves likely to be in possession of cannabis. These sanctions will not apply to them.

It would be a desirable feature of a democracy if we were able to inoculate it to some degree against undesirable things like stupidity, ignorance or the vicissitudes of the howling mob. Since we can’t actually do away with stupidity, ignorance or the vicissitudes of the howling mob, the only way we can minimise their impact on democracy is to use democracy to make less decisions.

And the way to do that without re-introducing the tyranny is to empower the individual to make as many of the decisions as possible that affect their own life.

So no, Dan, I don’t want to be governed by David Nutt, but I also don’t want to be micromanaged by a poorly informed but democratically constituted amorphous mass of other people.

What I want is to have the opportunity to examine the evidence and make an informed choice for myself.

This is your government on drugs

Jacqui And Alan Go Nutts

Well, there I was thinking about chucking up some waffle about the use of things like science and cost benefit analysis and suchlike as the basis for decision making in my ongoing sketch of a utopian future democracy, and suddenly the Stalinist dog fuckers that we managed to elect twice hand me a fantastic example in the form of the sacking of Professor David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson’s letter to Prof. Nutt leaves us in little doubt about the reasons behind his removal from post. It also demonstrates a level of ignorance that would be frankly stunning if it wasn’t simply what we have come to expect. In it, Johnson says

I have concerns regarding your recent comments that have received such media attention. It is important that I can be confident that advice from the ACMD will be about matters of evidence. Your recent comments have gone beyond such evidence.

Those ‘comments’ presumably being that alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous than cannabis, and that the government – in the form of former Home Sec. Jacqui ‘the smug fascist’ Smith – simply ignored scientific evidence when they re-reclassified cannabis in January 2009.

Johnson’s characterisation of these as mere comments is, to put it extremely charitably, disingenuous.

On Tuesday 14 July 2009, Nutt delivered the The Eve Saville memorial lecture for the The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, held in Great Hall, Kings College, London.

The subject of his lecture was a briefing paper titled ‘Estimating drug harms : a risky business ?’, the text of which can be downloaded from here. It’s a fascinating read, and I thoroughly recommend it.

It is indeed sharply critical of the government, and of policy makers in general. As well it might be given the revolving cluster fuck that passes for drug policy. Nutt relates the difficulty he has trying to get people to engage with the idea of measuring risks and harm associated with prohibited recreational substances relative to other activities and substances.

This is an example of a conversation that I’ve had many times with many people, some of them politicians:

MP: ‘You can’t compare harms from a legal activity with an illegal one.’

Professor Nutt: ‘Why not?’

MP: ‘Because one’s illegal.’

Professor Nutt: ‘Why is it illegal?’

MP: ‘Because it’s harmful.’

Professor Nutt: ‘Don’t we need to compare harms to determine if it should be illegal?’

MP: ‘You can’t compare harms from a legal activity with an illegal one.’

repeats …

This of course exposes the hypocrisy at the core of drugs policy, debate about which Nutt characterises – not without justification – as

isolated and arbitrary, more akin to a ‘religious’ discussion

Quite. But the comments that really boil the government’s piss are of course the statements regarding the relative harm caused by consumption of various substances, and in particular, since it directly contradicts the government’s ‘message’, the harm and risks associated with cannabis use.

Johnson expressed his concern that advice from the ACMD be “about matters of evidence” and clearly he feels this oversteps the mark. Nutt’s remarks about cannabis, however, are based on a a 2008 ACMD report “Cannabis: Classification and Public Health”, which itself drew on earlier work by Nutt and his academic colleagues ‘Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse’ which was published in the Lancet in March 2007. (PDF available from here if you don’t wish to register).

So it’s difficult, almost impossible, in fact, to imagine how Johnson could be concerned that these remarks aren’t “matters of evidence”. Clearly then, the Home Sec is defenestrating the poor prof because his rational, scientific approach conflicts with the approach the government wishes to take. Johnson is eager to leave us in no doubt that this is the case

I cannot have public confusion between scientific advice and policy and have therefore lost confidence in your ability to advise me as Chair of the ACMD

Comfortably Decoupled From Reality

This is bad. This is in fact very, very bad indeed. Because it means that the government of the United Kingdom is happy to operate as though it were living in some fucked up fantasy land of imaginings (not unlike someone who is ripped off their tits on drugs, in fact) rather than actually dealing with reality as it is. Did I mention that this is bad ?

In this particular case, it is actually recursively bad. On receipt of the ACMD’s 2008 report on cannabis classification, Commissar Smith quoth

In reaching my decision, I have also taken into account the views of others, particularly those responsible for enforcing the law, and the public … I have given the council’s report careful consideration. Of its 21 recommendations, I accept all bar those relating to classification.

This is not true. Nutt quotes the results of a poll conducted by the government during the consultation carried out prior to the latest reclassification, which show a solid majority of respondents thought cannabis should have been left in classification C. Many of us would have left it at that, but Nutt and his colleagues didn’t like the poll question, so they conducted their own Mori poll for their report. Only 26% of respondents thought that cannabis should be class ‘B’. 18% thought it should be class C, 11% thought it should be legal. 11% were undecided. 32%, surprisingly, thought it should be class ‘A’. Bastards.

Reclassification to ‘A’, of course, wasn’t on the cards. Neither of those sets of numbers supports Smith’s statement about taking into account the views of the public. Nutt and co asked a second question about criminal penalties which is even more interesting and reveals public misunderstanding of the classification system in general. Again I encourage the reader to consume the paper in it’s entirety. It’s clear that no one at the home office did, because it turned out that the penalties a solid majority of respondents thought would be appropriate are in fact those associated with a classification of ‘C’, with ‘No Punishment’ coming in second.

So in overriding the views of the ACMD experts in favour of the views of the public, she had, in fact, not taken any notice of what those views actually were. Ouchies.

Whoa! Deja Vu!

Nutt points out that this is the first time in the history of the ACMD that the government has ignored it’s recommendations, heaping well deserved scorn on Gordon Brown for his risible “lethal skunk” outbursts. This may well be true, but it is by no means the first time that a government has received a report on cannabis use, disliked it, and binned it. In 1968 while James Callaghan was Home Sec, the Wootton report was submitted by the Advisory Committee On Drug Dependence.

We don’t even have to go beyond the covering letter before we find this

We think that the adverse effects which the consumption of cannabis in even small amounts may produce in some people should not be dismissed as in-significant. We have no doubt that the wider use of cannabis should not be encouraged. On the other hand, we think that the dangers of its use as commonly accepted in the past and the risk of progression to opiates have been overstated, and that the existing criminal sanctions intended to curb its use are unjustifiably severe.

Drugs policy is a particularly good (and topical) example of common sense and rational investigation being swatted aside in the pursuit of some ideological tenet or to win a few votes, but it is by no means the only one.

Earlier this month, “The most comprehensive enquiry into English primary education for 40 years” in the form of the Cambridge Primary Review was completed and submitted to the Department For Children, Schools and Families. Quoth the Graun

The Cambridge review, the biggest inquiry into primary education in 40 years, was published last week after a three-year process which produced 31 interim reports, 28 surveys and thousands of submissions.

The Cambridge review received support from every teaching union, agency and school support group

Quoth schools minister, Vernon Coaker (pdf), in response to the review’s findings that it would be beneficial to the nations children if formal education and testing started at age 6

The world has moved on since this review was started. If every child making progress and reaching their potential is what matters then Professor Alexander’s proposals are a backward step.

Heavy Heavy Deja Vu!

A May 2008 schools select committee report concluded

In addition, the data derived from the testing system do not necessarily provide an accurate or complete picture of the performance of schools and teachers, yet they are relied upon by the Government, the QCA and Ofsted to make important decisions affecting the education system in general and individual schools, teachers and pupils in particular.

Okay, that’s bad, so we should change it right ? Don’t hold your breath because

The Government has repeatedly refused to face up to accusations that an excessive testing regime has denied children a rounded education, according to one of the nation’s leading experts.

And indeed, if you have a quick peek around, you can find another select committee report from this year that draw similar conclusions.

Google Is Your Friend

Even the briefest, laziest research possible, googling a bit using “government ignored” as a search term reveals a depressing number of occasions where government ministers or officials have simply stuck their fingers in their ears when being advised by experts.

On Swine Flu

Advisers urged the Government to offer paracetamol to the public instead of Tamiflu, to stop the virus gaining resistance to the drug.

But the Department of Health advisers said ministers ignored their advice, even when it became clear the outbreak was mild.

They say the Government forged ahead with mass prescription, fearing the public would be angry if they were told that millions of Tamiflu doses were being held in storage.

On Clostridium difficile outbreaks

The Department of Health knew of a damning report into an outbreak of Clostridium difficile at a hospital trust in Kent more than five months ago and failed to act, it was claimed last night.

On medical training reforms

The government sidelined two top medical advisers to rush through the doomed online recruitment system for junior doctors, MPs were told last week.

It goes on and on and on. I can’t ever remember a government spokesdroid on the TV or radio saying “Well, we didn’t like the conclusions of the report, and we really don’t agree with recommendations, but hey, we’ll just have to suck it up and accept that we’re doing this wrong.”

Not once. Did I mention that this is bad ?

Recursively, Recursively Dense

It has been suggested that as far as the current shower are concerned much of the reason that the Home Sec. always is, or morphs into what Charlotte Gore delightfully labels “Authoritarian Super Cocks” is due to New Labour’s reliance on manipulative shitweasels like Phillip Gould, the so called ‘guru’ of the focus group.

An unsurprising irony then that they don’t listen to him when they don’t like what he tells them either. Witness this excerpt from a “sensational memo” from Gould to Gordon Brown from August 2008

We have to have a strategy of audacious advance. The best way of achieving this is to hold an early election after a short period of intense and compelling activity. A kind of “shock and awe strategy” blasting through the opposition and blasting us to the mid-40 per-cents.

Remind me, how did that go ?

Reform, huwah! What is it good for ?

Someone floated a question on twitter yesterday asking

Can someone please explain why electoral reform is the answer to an expenses scandal?

I felt sure then that I knew the answer (because then you can talk about an election without actually having to have one), but now I wonder if it might not be that at all.

I wonder if the Labour Party is promising us reform – even though the only reform we asked for was for most of them and much of the opposition to resign pending public lynching and prosecution; in that order – as a bribe.

It is traditional for governing parties facing uncertain prospects in the next general election to offer the electorate some kind of bribe in the form of lower taxes, more spending, or draconian and poorly thought through knee jerk legislation against the demon de jour.

For a party facing certain annihilation the impetus to offer something that might convince us must be even larger.

But Labour has nothing left. The coffers are empty. They can’t promise lower taxes or a higher spend because there isn’t any money. After twelve awful years in power, much of which they have spent creating 3,000 new offences, criminalising and demonising their way through their long list of bogeymen, there isn’t room left for any more draconian knee jerk legislation than we’ve already got. At least not of the popular kind. Continuing one upmanship in this area has led to the point where the kinds of legislation still on the wish list are those that would have ashamed the East German Stasi themselves. DNA retention, universal surveillance, mandatory ID papers, etc. Hardly vote winners.

And it does seem that, despite the fact that everyone except the hardest core of activists and trot mentalists now openly despises them, the PLP genuinely believe they still have a chance of turning it round if they can just find that one winning policy. It truly is cargo cult politics.

Perhaps delusions are infectious ?

You are guilty of child abuse until we say you aren’t

Bad news for parents who chose to educate their children at home instead of sending them in to the soul destroying wasteland cherishing arms of the state education system.

A review of home education in England is expected to recommend a national registration scheme for home educators.

Now whenever the Stalinist apparatchiks of the state start talking about building a database ‘register’ of anything you just know that it’s only going to be the tip of a very unpleasant iceberg.

And so it proves to be in this case.

It is also expected to say local authorities should have the right to visit any child taught at home.

Because ?

the government has also been concerned that home education could be a cover for abuse.

Despite the fact that

the review has not found any evidence that home education was being used specifically to conceal trafficked children, or forced marriages.

So on exactly no evidence, the state demands the right to enter your home because they need to make sure you aren’t abusing your children.

And just so you don’t make the mistake of thinking that really this is just about local authorities responsibility to ensure children are educated

The review is not expected to propose any minimum standards or set subjects.

As Peter Hitchens points out in here

I haven’t any evidence that any members of the House of Lords abuse their children, because there isn’t any. But on this logic, that state of affairs would presumably entitle the Department ‘For Children’ to probe their Lordships’ House for evidence of such abuse.

This is, simply, a hysterical witch hunt. Worse, it is the state’s apparatchiks treating our children as their property.

It’s prime instigator is unpeakable harpy and Children’s Minister, Delyth Morgan. She clearly has a bee in her bonnet abut the who child abuse thing, and believes that the state must have primacy over our children, and the rights of parents, in order to protect them.

She also obviously has a prurient obsession with the sexual habits of others, as she issued a further press release this week that contains this absolute gem

The full extent of sexual exploitation is hidden as it mostly takes place away from streets in private homes. It can take many forms from the seemingly ‘consensual’ relationship where sex is exchanged for attention/affection, accommodation or gifts to serious organised crime and child trafficking. What marks out exploitation is an imbalance of power within the relationship with the perpetrator holding some kind of power over the victim, increasing the dependence of the victim as the exploitative relationship develops.

That’s right. Your relationship may seem consensual, but even you can’t be sure until you let Delyth Morgan Sex Stasi into your house to check. Presumably they like to watch.

Excellent coverage of the whole issue of Authoritarian Statists and the NSPCC vs HE, liberty and democracy can be found at Bishop Hill Blog.

Earth Calling Labour : Just bugger off before you break something important

As the fat controller prepares to deliver his much trailed ideas about electoral reform, not that I can recall anyone asking him for any, I have simply this to say.

Go. Go now. Do not fiddle with anything before you go. We do not trust you. We do not trust the opposition. We want a general election. If we ever end up with a house that we feel that we can trust then let’s have this discussion, which we haven’t asked for, with them, then let’s have a referendum.

We do not want you to reform the electoral system, you will only corrupt it. We do not want you to reform the MPs expense system for the same reason. Simply publish the claims in full, that is all that is necessary. There is no need for an independent body to regulate MPs. MPs should be capable of regulating themselves. If they can not be trusted to do this, as you can not, then we need new MPs not a new system.

Please just bugger off now before you break something important that can’t easily be fixed. You have already destroyed your party, please don’t piss in the country’s chips on your way out.

Lords : Show us the evidence. Johnson : Mmm, poison!

Excellent news breaking on the beeb

Three terror suspects on control orders have unanimously won a major ruling over the use of secret evidence.

Nine Law Lords allowed the men’s appeals after they had argued they did not know what they were accused of.

Yes it turns out that you can’t possibly be considered to have had a fair trial if you aren’t presented with the charges or the evidence against you. Who’d have thought ?

The Law Lords have not quashed the men’s control orders, but instead ordered their cases to be heard again.

Only with the “evidence” this time. Good show.

Alan Johnson, immediately and enthusiastically gulping from the poisoned chalice gave the beeb a statement along the lines of

This is a very disappointing judgement, it is very important for the health of a free democratic society that the stasi security services be able to lock people up for years; then keep them under house arrest and convict them of unspecified crimes based on evidence that may not even exist. I would have thought that was obvious. We will of course be doing everything we can to reverse this terrible miscarriage of justice (i.e. that there is some). Mmm, lovely poison, can I have some more ?

There are only two types of evidence that are to secret to be heard in court, ‘intercept evidence‘ and heresay from ‘intelligence assets’. Neither of which would be allowed in a proper court of law in any case.

The government will fight this tooth and nail, through the Home Office and the Ministry of “Justice” *, and in the process Johnson will lose any credibility he might have had as labour Leader.

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