Crazy Britain

So, you’re an experienced fireman, called out to help someone who’s in trouble in a freezing river and you dive in and drag her out, saving her life. A cause for congratulation perhaps? Nope, apparently the fireman is facing an investigation and possible punishment for breaching health and safety regulations. (Hat tip: UK Liberty).

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Britain’s surreal "junk food" advertising ban

[Hat Tip: Tim Worstall]

Last year, the government decided to introduce new rules to ban the advertising of “junk food” to children. This of course requires the government to decide what is and is not junk food, and apparently this has now been done. The Telegraph provides examples of what can and cannot be advertised to children:

Marmite, Flora Lite, half-fat cheddar cheese, Dairylea triangles, bran flakes, camembert, sugar-coated puffed wheat, instant hot oat cereal, Jaffa cakes, reduced calorie mayonnaise, multi-grain hoop cereal, half-fat creme fraiche, takeaway chicken nuggets, potato waffles, Greek yoghurt (sheep), ham, sausages, bacon rashers, low-fat spreads, peanuts, cashew nuts, pistachio nuts, peanut butter, raisins, sultanas, currants, low-fat potato crisps, olive oil, butter, pizza, hamburgers, tomato ketchup, chocolate, brown sauce, cola, lemonade

Here’s what can be advertised to children:

Plain fromage frais, fish fingers, lasagne ready meals, currant buns, malt loaf, frozen roast potatoes, chicken curry with rice ready meal, frozen oven chips, sliced white bread, cottage cheese, supermarket frozen chicken nuggets, milk, brazil nuts, canned strawberries in
syrup, diet cola, chocolate-flavoured milk.

Apparently, the regulations are based on how much fat, sugar or salt there is in 100g of the product and take no account of likely portion sizes. Take Marmite as an example. In a 4g serving (which would be about typical for spreading on toast) you’d only get 0.5g of salt (Recommended Daily Allowance[RDA]: 6g).

The trouble is that in 100g of Marmite you’ll get 11g of salt, well over the RDA, hence the “junk food” status. However, no one in their right mind would ever eat that much Marmite in one serving (half of one of the new squeezy containers, or 80% of one of the traditional small glass jars), let alone do so on a regular basis!

Furthermore, the following companies (though not necessarily the products they sell) can be advertised to their brands to children:

McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, Cadbury’s, Kellogg’s

I.e. the main pushers of junk food are allowed to carry on advertising their restaurants to kids, whilst individual products can be advertised (or not) on a ridiculous basis that equates eating 100g of Marmite with eating 100g of pizza when Marmite simply is not eaten in such large portions, and pizza is often eaten in bigger portions.

What utter nonsense.

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Does Michael Howard really believe Iran’s president is democratically elected?

This story on the BBC caused me to do a double take when I first saw it:

Quizzed on Iran in the Commons, Mr Blair said the world’s security lay in spreading “freedom and democracy”.

But Mr Howard later said he was talking “gibberish” given that Iran’s president had been “democratically elected”.

The West fears Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons after it broke seals on a research facility.

‘Tough issue’

“To go on and on about democracy, has he forgotten that the president of Iran, the cause of all this trouble, was actually democratically elected?,” Mr Howard told BBC Two’s Daily Politics. (emphasis added)

What planet is the Tory party’s former leader on?

In Iran, the Supreme Leader’s authority overrides all other authorities. It is the same country that has a Guardian Council to vet candidates, whether for presidential or parliamentary elections, which barred 2,530 out of 8,157 candidates in recent parliamentary elections. In the Presidential elections, 1000 candidates entered, but only 8 were allowed to run. The Guardian Council can veto laws that are un Islamic and anti Constitutional. It is appointed by the Supreme Leader (6 members) and the head of the judiciary (6 members). The head of the judiciary is also appointed by the Supreme Leader. And Howard thinks this makes Ahmadinejad a democratically elected leader?!

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Home Office stupidity.

I have often been critical of the policies coming out of the Home Office over recent years, but some news reports this week have made me seriously wonder about their intelligence and sanity.

Firstly, The Independent carried an article based on an interview with Sir Stephen Lander who will head up the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which the government will set up under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, once it’s made it onto the statute books. In this interview, Lander apparently claims that the Home Office is planning to estimate the impact of different types of crime based on the amount of column inches each category gets in the media:

The priorities that are adopted by Britain’s elite crime fighting force will be partly based upon the number of column inches newspapers give to different types of organised criminality, Sir Stephen disclosed.

Researchers at the Home Office have looked at about 30 newspapers, divided equally among broadsheet and compact newspapers, the tabloids, and the regional press, over the past five years. They have calculated which organised crime issues are the most pressing by measuring the column inches and number of stories devoted to each subject. Organised immigration crime came first, followed by drugs.

Sir Stephen explained: “The brainboxes in the Home Office have been putting together a sort of harm model.

“The model basically articulates the harm that is caused to the UK under a number of headings – the rewards taken and made by the criminal; the social and economical harm to the UK; the institutional harm – corruption for example and illegal immigration – and tries to put a cost [on them].

“It also brings into play judgements about the degree of public concern and they have a proxy for this, which is the amount of column inches in the press. Which is not quite right, but is probably as good as you will get. It is pretty rough and ready but it is asking the right questions. It is asking not, what is the incidence of something, but what is its impact.

I hope the Independent has got this wrong. Otherwise it displays sheer stupidity on the part of the Home Office. Using media coverage as a proxy for the impact/concern about crime is quite simply nuts. There are several reasons why one cannot rely on this:

  • The media tend to concentrate on the sensational and rare crimes, hyping them up and giving them far more coverage than far more frequent and mundane crimes.
  • The Home Office will itself influence how much coverage different types of crime get, via their press releases, policy/legislative proposals. As eloquently puts it:

    What about the “climate of fear” hype and spin feedback loop ? The Home Office and Labour party spin doctors leak, brief, spin, send out press releases to target those 30 newspapers, which are then used by another part of the Home Office as the input to their “harm model” !

The overall result will be that the prime motivations determining SOCA’s priorities will be overtly political and media driven. SOCA’s priorities thus be to tackle the crimes that make the headlines and which cause the (primarily Wesminster) politicians grief. This will also encourage some in the media to hype up crimes that they have personal bugbears about or to hype up crimes to fit their political agendas. We can look forward to the Sun, the Daily Mail and the News of the World having even more influence than now on the priorities the government sets on crime.

As for Mr Lander’s assertion that the proxy “isn’t quite right” but is “as good as you’ll get”, this is sheer hogwash. There are plenty of sources of evidence about the impact of different types of crime that will be more reliable, such as the recorded crime statistics, the British Crime Survey and other surveys of the public, the data used by insurance companies to determine their premiums (e.g. actuarial data — the collection and analysis of which could be commissioned by the govt for this sort of thing), surveys and analyses done by academics studying crime, etc.

The second story concerns prison policy. The Times reports that the government is going to require available prison space to be borne in mind before the passing of custodial sentences. This will be part of a drive to keep prison numbers down. Thus instead of simply sentencing the person according to the severity of the crime and the effectiveness of a custodial sentence to protect the public or rehabilitate the offender, the judge will now have to pass sentences with available prison space in mind. This factor should not be an issue when sentencing an individual for a crime they’ve committed. The government should predict and provide on the basis of their policies towards and data about crime levels, otherwise those who should go to prison may instead be given non-custodial sentences because the government hasn’t ensured enough provision. This will put the public in danger. It will also encourage the government to include custodial sentences in future legislation without increasing funding to match, since sentencing policy will simply change to accommodate any lack of resources.

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Insane political correctness: School told to drop its ‘offensive’ saint’s name

The Telegraph reports that a Church of England school has been told to drop its ‘offensive’ saint’s name by the Lib Dem controlled council of Islington, despite the fact that parents, teachers and governers all want the name to be retained.

Apparently this council thinks that having the word “Saint” in the name of the school would be offensive to other religions.

What next? Banning/renaming the TV program “The Saint” for the same reason?!

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Airline security and "discrimination"

Hot on the heels of the report of the 9/11 commission, today’s edition of the Scotsman reports incidents suggesting that terrorists may have been carrying out dry runs for new attacks on aircraft in the US:

At least two flights are thought to have been targeted so far by groups of Middle Eastern men who appear to be forming a plan of attack.

On one flight an air marshal reportedly broke into an onboard toilet to find that a mirror had been removed and that a Middle Eastern man was trying to break through a wall to the cockpit.

The print edition of the paper includes an in-depth article,reproduced from, where one passenger, Annie Jacobsen tells a worrying story about a flight she took from Detroit to Los Angeles. Her account about how a group of men who boarded the flight separately but once on board seemed to group together and also behaved very suspiciously is worrying in its implications that they may have performed a dry-run for a terrorist act or even have decided to carry one out only to abort it. Admittedly the authorities later told her they were a bunch of musicians hired for a particular purpose but the behaviour reported was both alarming and odd even if this is true.

Worrying as the possibility of terrorists performing dry-runs for future attacks is, there seemed to be worse in the story:

During the 9/11 hearings last April, 9/11 Commissioner John Lehman stated that “…it was the policy (before 9/11) and I believe remains the policy today to fine airlines if they have more than two young Arab males in secondary questioning because that’s discriminatory.”

So even if Northwest Airlines searched two of the men on board my Northwest flight, they couldn’t search the other 12 because they would have already filled a government-imposed quota.

ISTM this policy is quite insane, and in the post 9/11 world positively dangerous. The reason that 14 men were worrying Jacobsen, some other passengers, the flight crew and some unnamed air marshalls on board that flight was not that they were of middle eastern origin, with Syrian passports, but because they were behaving in a very suspicious and alarming manner.

If airlines can be fined for trying to question more than 2 people from a particular ethnic minority on any single flight, this seriously hampers the ability of the airlines and airports to make sure that terrorists do not board their flights and can not carry out attacks if they do get on board.

Look at it from the terrorists point of view — they’re hardly going to ensure that any team they send on board a flight is composed of no more than 2 people from any particular ethnic background. Indeed knowing about this law they could even exploit it by having a 2 people behave in a manner that causes them to be questioned as a distraction from the rest of the team going about its plan.

If a group of passengers are behaving in a suspicious manner the flight crew should be empowered to take action regardless of what ethnic group they might be or how many of them there are. This is not discriminatory against any particular ethnic or religious grouping, it is merely discriminatory against people who seem to be up to no good. And it’s also exactly the sort of powerflight crews and airport staff need to be able to help prevent terrorist attacks. We can’t afford such stupidity post 9/11.

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And the Tories think this man will be taken seriously…

We are here to serve – the syllable at the heart of our party and the heart of our jams. Lovely strawberry preserves to spread on toast. Mmmm! Mmmm!

Well, OK, I admit it, Mr Poll Tax Michael Howard did not say that. He did say something almost equally stupid however:

We are here to serve – the syllable at the heart of our name, and at the heart of our purpose.

Choose a different syllable and you’d get “We are here to con…”. This is the highlight of a speech full of meaningless waffle. What a great start. Blair must be quivering in his boots. Time will of course tell whether Dracula Howard can do the job, but he’ll need to do better than this or he may resemble Count Duckula more than Count Dracula.

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