Archive for the ‘Philosophical’ Category.

Young love

As we know from that bit of the media which isn’t still raking over the Andrew Mitchell non-story and the waste of time which was the Liberal Democrat party conference, a 15-year-old girl has eloped to France with her maths teacher.

Cue much wailing as well as pleas for her to come home and him to give himself up.

As she is under 16 the word ‘paedophile’ as well as various slang terms have been used online, if not by the media. It is, of course, the wrong word to use as she is, in terms of sexual development anyway, mature. If the teacher really does prefer partners in this stage of life then the term is ‘ephebophile’.

A teenage girl being attracted to an older male is not a story. As a general rule they tend to prefer older boys and men simply because the boys of their own age are usually behind them on the maturity curve.

Given then that developing teenage girls in the UK (and the developed world) tend to spend a significant part of their lives in schools and that schools will likely have at any one time several young-ish male teachers, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that sometimes the object of a girl’s affections will be her teacher.

Most of the time it will remain just a crush, one that the teacher may well be unaware of, and will go nowhere. There are times though when it will go further and I’d be surprised if there is a secondary or upper school in the land in which a relationship between a pupil and a teacher hasn’t taken place at some point.

I can think of one definite example from my days in the sixth-form* attached to my secondary school and there were persistent rumours about one of our humanities teachers*** involving a number of female pupils. In neither case, to the best of my knowledge, was any action taken against the teachers concerned.

Some will rail about the age of consent and how, because the law has imposed a legal age of 16, sexual congress with anyone under this age is an issue whilst waiting until the day of their 16th birthday isn’t. What they forget is that they themselves were young once and that the idea of the law telling you on which day you were able to make the beast of two backs with your partner may well have been as meaningless to you as the laws about when you could drink and/or smoke. Or perhaps, depending on personal preference, even the laws surrounding narcotics today.

Indeed the Telegraph has reported that the French police aren’t actively looking for her because the age of consent on the other side of the Channel is 15 and thus there is no crime taking place.

(Across Europe the age of consent is generally between 14 and 17 years of age, with the outliers being Spain at 13 and Turkey at 18.)

The sin in such circumstances is not that girls involved are 14 or 15 but that the teachers, who are In loco parentis, breached the trust placed in them by the families of the pupils and their employer.

By involving himself so comprehensively with Megan Stammers, Jeremy Forrest has destroyed whatever life he might otherwise have hoped to build in the UK. Assuming he does come back to these shores he can look forward to a criminal record, an entry on the sex offenders register, potentially some gaol time and the inability to ever work or act as a volunteer in any position which requires a CRB check to be performed. And, I would suspect, speedy divorce from his jilted wife.

Megan, who is unlikely to be an entirely innocent party, will likely get away scot-free.

* We were both going through 6th form together and he was one of our maths teachers. Barely out of university himself, he was no more than 8 years older than us and the relationship between the two of them ran for a couple of years or so. The first that the rest of the students knew about it was when we were in pub celebrating the end of our lower-sixth** and they spent a reasonable part of the night tonsil tickling. We certainly didn’t tell anyone about it and they kept it discrete (he didn’t show up on the 18th birthday party circuit for example). She showed up at my 18th wearing an engagement ring whilst only 17 herself at the time (she was the only person in the year younger than me IIRC) and my mum pestered me for sometime to say who it was. I eventually told her after my younger brother left the school 3 years later.

** Obviously none of us were 18 but we were all drinking and no-one was asked for ID.

*** The closest I got to the truth was over a beer with a mutual friend some years later when I found out tha he’d got married. Jokingly asked if it was to one of his former pupils, my friend smiled and said no.

Right to die

Tony Nicklinson, the man who lost his legal battle on assisted suicide, died yesterday from pneumonia having refused medication to treat it and, since the court ruling, food.

It was not, I assume, an easy death but I hope he is now at peace and that his family will be able to move on with their lives.

I cannot imagine what he has been though since his stroke but the subject of ‘right-to-die’ has however come up in dinner table discussions with the family over the years and, as someone who is vaguely more intelligent and manoeuvrable than the average fence post, I not sure which is the lesser of the evils. Not that choosing between

  1. Mentally alert but physically incapable (e.g. Nicklinson), or
  2. Mentally incapable but physically able (e.g. Alzheimer/dementia), or
  3. Neither mentally or physically alert (e.g. a persistent vegetative state)

is much of a choice mind.

My view on the matter, since my teens, has been that, with regards to the second and third options, I would not wish to exist* like so and if I were unfortunate enough to end up in such a situation then someone (family/close friends) should pull the plug/slip something into my food and drink in order to resolve the matter sooner rather than later.

However it is the first option which is the most difficult to decide upon a course of action for as the mind is still able even if the body is not. Being alert to everything going on around you whilst being utterly incapable of doing even the smallest of things without external help certainly doesn’t sound like much of a life but yet someone like Stephen Hawking has managed to fashion something for himself despite knowing that he would become progressively more incapacitated.

Ultimately however the choice should rest with the patient, not with their family, not with the legal profession and certainly not with the medical staff treating the patient. The latter groups though should be free to act upon the wishes of the patient without suffering any legal consequences as a result.

* I won’t say live as there is no quality of life in such circumstances.

Jubilee thoughts

The long weekend is over, the party done with and the bunting can go back in the box until the Platinum Jubilee/King Charles III’s coronation – whichever is earlier.

Whilst I didn’t personally do anything to celebrate – painting walls and ceilings doesn’t count – and chose to avoid watching any of it on the tellybox with the exception of the concert, I’m well aware that plenty of people had a good time at parties. Others watched the flotilla from the banks of the Thames in typical British Bank holiday weather and yet more filled The Mall to watch the concert on Monday evening. It seems that those who did something had a good time and I’m not going to rain on their parades.

Generally though the whole thing passed me by – mostly through lack of interest rather than because of any particularly strong feelings on the matter.

From the outside, the Monarchy seems to be a gilded cage – and thus not something I would envy those born into it or those who choose to marry into it. I imagine that it can be a thankless job at times, especially when you are attacked in the media by politicians, comedians and various lobbying groups who know that you are unable to publicly retaliate.

With the current Monarch it is easy though to forget that when she was born she was but the eldest child of the second in line to the throne – easily displaced by a younger brother should her parents have had one or any issue from her uncle, the then heir. If her uncle hadn’t abdicated it is probable that she would have spent her life as a minor royal, with much the same status as her sister’s children have today.

As for the so-called cost, this doesn’t bother me as the ‘public’ money to fund the family (with the exception of the heir to the throne and their family) comes from the Crown Estates* which is a property portfolio owned by the Crown but whose revenue is surrendered to the Treasury. In return an annual grant known as the Civil List is paid. This will change come 2013 when the Civil List is replaced by the Sovereign Grant, the size of which is initially set at 15% of the profits made by the Crown Estate. This is expected to be about £34m in the first year, estimating the size of the Estate at approximately £227m. I make that a profit to the government of almost £200m.

Say though that the Monarchy in this country does come to an end. How would we fulfil the role of Head of State instead?

If we are to stick to the tried and tested model as used in many other countries then this means a President. But which type? Do we take the American** model where the elected Head of Government is also the Head of State or the Irish** model where the elected Head of State is a constitutional figurehead?

Say we take the first approach. Do we elect someone above the Prime Minister or do we simply make the PM the Head of State? For the former a constitutional upheaval to split out the executive from the legislature would appear to be needed. With regard to the latter, it must be remembered that we do not elect a Head of Government but rather the leader of the largest party is invited to try and form a government. If this isn’t possible, others may also be asked and if a government falls or a PM resigns an election is not always necessary. The hullabaloo in some quarters which surrounded the appointment of Brown as PM showed that this has either been forgotten or that it will not be tolerated any more. Imagine then if that happened for a Head of State, not just a Head of Government? Add to this the thought of (depending on your political allegiances) President Thatcher, President Blair, President Brown or President Cameron… ***

What then about the second approach? The political class would no doubt try to fill the position with their own people but given the general disgust with which they are held in this country the turnout would undoubtably be small. The other option would be a non-political figure but with the way the British public is at present I’d suspect we’d end up with either David Beckham or a dancing dog…

With all of that in mind, am I a Republican or a Monarchist? Given the choice I think I’ll stick with the latter. That doesn’t mean that I think that the Monarchy is the greatest thing since sliced bread but rather that the current alternatives – as I see them – are likely to be worse.

* With a further income from the Duchy of Lancaster. The heir and their family are supported via the Duchy of Cornwall.

** Obviously there are other examples of both.

*** Note, I’m not an constitutional lawyer and am approaching this purely from what little understanding I do have. Feel free to shoot me down.

Smaller Government?

There is a rumour going around, apparently first articulated in the media by Harriet Harperson in a column for the Standard, that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) might be shut after the end of the Olympics.

It probably isn’t true but on the off chance that it is, I for one would welcome it as but a small step on the road to smaller government.

Being a minimalist libertarian, I obviously don’t think that this goes far enough.

My ideal, for starters, would be the closure of every national governmental department with the exception of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The rest can all be devolved down to nothing higher than county or city level. Once their powers have been pushed down that far then the local populations can decide what they want to keep, what to scrap and what can be done independently of government (much of it I believe). This should encourage trade and healthy competition between the regions to the benefit of all.

Why though spare the FCO and the MoD? Because so long as the concept of the Nation State still exists, they have a role which I’m not sure can be dealt with at a lower level*. I’d like to see the end of the Nation State – and thus the elimination of the need to have the FCO and the MoD – but until such time as this happens I’ll put up with them. The income for this rump of national government can be paid by the counties/cities on a fixed amount per head basis with the Prime Minister/Foreign Secretary directly elected with mandate to do no more than protect our interests internationally**. If s/he wished to change this, it must be put to a vote – as must their annual budget before any money is handed over.

The only other possible exception – i.e. I’m undecided about it – is some form of trans-county/city crime agency but its powers would have to be limited least we end up with an FBI/Homeland type agency.

Updated: to add the acronyms at first use and another footnote.

* No doubt there will be an anarcho-capitalist (Obo?) along to tell me I’m wrong about this. :)

** And not launching wars of aggression, obviously.

A drink free university?

University. A place to study and – in many, many cases – a place where you find yourself drinking until your liver begs for mercy. Of course, you don’t have to but many do and probably every campus in the country has a subsidised bar or three which will sells gallons of cheap, nasty lager as well as plenty of other alcoholic products on a nightly basis. And if you fancy something which isn’t watered down then there are no doubt plenty of licensed establishments close by.

At the university I attended there were, as I remember, a total of two places on campus which sold booze (both within the union building) and no shortage of places which didn’t – including much of the union. Assuming that this is not an uncommon arrangement, I am somewhat befuddled therefore as to why the vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University*, one Prof. Malcolm Gillies, is

…considering banning the sale of alcohol from some parts of the campus because a “high percentage” of students consider drinking “immoral”

Unless London Met is different from what I experienced, the vast majority of the campus – including the refectories – will not be used for the selling of alcohol. Indeed I’m almost certain that it is possible to do everything a student might wish to do, with the possible exception of consuming alcohol, without setting foot in that small percentage of floorspace where the sale of alcohol is permitted.

So, who are these students that the good professor claims to be speaking for? The clue it seems is in the make-up of the student body: one fifth are Muslim and most of that 20% are women.

Oh, and as he admits himself he is

…not a great fan of alcohol on campus.

Therefore I see two possibilities here

  1. the professor is using the Muslims as an excuse to enact up his prohibitionist tendencies, or
  2. the Muslims have found a willing ally in promoting their wishes.

and in the crazy world of prohibition and cultural appeasement in which we live, either option is possible and Alaa Alsamarrai, the vice-president of student affairs for the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), was quick to jump on the passing bandwagon:

“We want our universities and unions to be inclusive – where students from all walks of life can come together and share experiences.

“Alcohol is a barrier to many Muslim students participating in freshers events and often in society activities – so we’re in support of moves to have some alcohol-free zones and events.

“Though if a student wants to drink in their lifestyle, we of course don’t want to ban that.”

How nice of him to include that last line…

Yes, students drink but unless you are joining those groups which specifically include the consumption of alcohol (wine, beer etc societies) then I don’t think anyone will care if you aren’t a drinker – even the Athletic Union will more than likely tolerate a teetotaller in their midst if you are any good.

Understandably the idea didn’t go down well with the University’s Student’s Union, with their president calling for him to apologise:

Claire Locke said Malcolm Gillies had “offended” Muslim students by generalising about their beliefs. There had been no calls from students to create alcohol-free areas on the London Met campus, she said.

Ms Locke argued that London Met’s Muslim students were “respectful of other people’s cultures”. Muslim students’ union officers were currently fighting for a new student bar to be opened at the university’s City campus, she added.

Ms Locke said it was not true that Muslim students did not drink, and that in the previous academic year three out of the four Muslim students’ union officers had drunk alcohol. “He should retract the comments and apologise to the students he has offended,” she said.

The unrepentant vice-chancellor then apparently chose to widen his net of those who might agree with his stance:

…some students, particularly Muslim women, would feel uncomfortable attending university events in a pub, for example, and that the concerns he raised could apply to other groups such as American Protestants or Buddhists.

It seems that in his desire to be a good little prohibitionist, the professor isn’t adverse to using minority groups as cover.

From a personal perspective, having worked along side a few Muslims, met one or two others socially (in a pub) and currently having one as a lodger, none of them have cared that I’m a consumer of alcohol – or, indeed, bacon.

Certainly at home I haven’t stopped eating bacon, drinking booze and wearing clothing considered decent by Western standards but probably positively shocking by Pakistani standards. Yes, it might be my gaffe, my rules but, because I have a small modicum of common sense and can sometimes demonstrate a tolerance for the foibles of others, I’m not going to ask him to join me for a drink and some pork scratchings. Indeed he is free to leave anytime he wants*** but has, as yet, chosen not to.

Thus once again I come to the conclusion that if the Prof Gillies’ and Alaa Alsamarrai’s of this world just left well alone we’d all manage to rub along quite happily and the world would be a better place for it.

* If one can call something which was formed in 2002 from the merger of two former polytechnics a University.**

** Yes, I’m probably being snobbish here. :)

*** Like with any lodger, there are times I’d be quite happy for him to up sticks and leave but his religion is not the problem.

On taking offence

The FA Cup quarter final match between Tottenham and Bolton on Saturday afternoon was abandoned after the Bolton player Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch towards the end of the first half. He was taken to hospital and is (at the time of writing) said to be in a critically ill-condition.

This is obviously deeply upsetting for his family, friends and teammates – as well as something which no doubt shocked those present at the game and those watching it on the TV.

Inevitably however there have been some jokes and comments about this and, thanks to the speed of communications these days, many people have now heard or read a variety of them.

Black humour and distasteful jokes about distressing, upsetting and tragic events are nothing new. I heard a whole bunch of ones after the Hillsborough disaster – of which I remember one or two – and equally my parents can probably recall some about the Aberfan disaster. No doubt there were some about the September 11th attacks as well as plenty of other events where calamity has struck.

Indeed, some of the worst purveyors of black humour are those who deal with death far more often than the rest of us, e.g. police, medical staff and funeral directors. It is, in many cases, a defence mechanism – a way of coping with the situation.

That didn’t however stop the Twitter rent-a-mob entering high gear in pursuit of those who had the temerity to crack or share the jokes in question. In one or two cases the irony of this was palpable as they had, only a few days ago, been complaining about the gaoling of the blogger Olly Crowell who will next month (assuming it doesn’t get postponed once again) be facing trial under the Malicious Communications Act for his use of foul language in respect of a number of Bexley councillors.

Whilst the jokes about Muamba where undoubtably distasteful, people seem to have forgotten that there is no law which says you cannot be offended. If you don’t like something then change the channel, turn twitter off until the storm has passed (they usually only last a few hours) and go and do something else.

Don’t though throw your toys out of the pram and start hounding users simply because they have written something which you dislike. There are plenty of profession offence seekers out there without scores of amateurs needing to join in.

On Abortion

Go back a week and I can safely say that I hadn’t given the subject much thought beyond a perfunctory “her body, her choice”. As someone who won’t be having children, planned or otherwise, it was, for me, a issue of little importance. A week on and I still consider it unimportant but I have, as a result of circumstance, had to think about it.

What set the ball rolling was finding myself drawn into a conversation about what the libertarian position on the matter should be last Tuesday evening after the conclusion of February’s TFA’s Free Spirits talk.

In hindsight I shouldn’t have gotten involved as I didn’t realise how passionately the two individuals believed in their position and consequently I had my head handed to me. Not much of a shock frankly given my aforementioned disinterest in the subject and my general lack of debating skills.

Their contention was that life begins at the moment of conception and thus abortion violates the ‘do no harm’ principle. How much the fact that one of them is, as I found out afterwards, a Catholic contributes to his position or vice-versa I don’t know but life beginning at conception is, as I understand matters, a general tenet of that faith? No doubt if I am wrong on this someone (Demi?) will correct me.

I’m not going to attempt to argue against that view in this post simply because even I realise that it is a ‘how many angels can dance on the head of a pin’ discussion and so far no one has come up with an answer that a majority are happy with.

All I will do is note that the abortions in the UK are not legal after 24 weeks and point out that those children born before that point are usually not viable whilst those few who do survive spend a lot of time in hospital and are likely to have heath problems for the rest of their (possibly short) lives.

I didn’t however think too much more of the matter until Wednesday morning when the Telegraph led with the story that some doctors would agree to terminate a foetus on the basis of gender – a reason which is not allowable under UK law.

Once what passes for my brain cell had taken the time to digest this news, my general thought process was something along the lines of “we allow abortions on the basis of inconvenience, disability, health or because it wasn’t planned so what makes gender selection different?”

Yes, to us in the developed world it seems distasteful to relieve oneself of a pregnancy simply because of the gender of the unborn child but it seems more humane than the apparent murder of millions of young female children simply of the basis of gender – a practise which still happens in parts of countries such as India and China.

Gender selection aside however, abortion is not a new practice, with recorded instances dating back over 2,500 years. Even during the period in the US and UK when the practise was illegal, getting a termination was still possible assuming you knew where to look.

According to WHO figures almost half of all abortions taking place in the world, some 20 million, are in countries where it is illegal or unsafe to do so, resulting in no shortage of deaths and infertility. That is not to say that such outcomes are not possible in places where it is legal and/or safe but the numbers are tiny by comparison.

Thus I come down on the side of rationality. Regardless of the reasons involved, termination of unwanted pregnancies will happen whether it is legal or not. Therefore it makes sense for the practice to be as safe as possible for those who choose to undergo it – for whatever reason – and this is not something which can be achieved by making it illegal.

Reflecting on Risk

In the last 8 days professional motor sport has seen the deaths of Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli. I have no doubt that there will be investigations into both crashes to see what, if anything, could be done better in terms of improving safety for the drivers and riders just as the death of Ayrton Senna led to a lot of changes in F1.

This does not however distract from the fact that motor racing is, and will always be, a sport with a high degree of risk. This should not however mean that it should be stopped or banned in any way as some of the more idiotic members of humanity are no doubt suggesting.

Risk is a part of life, as is judging whether or not the risk is an acceptable one. Some times you judge wrong and some times, no matter what you so, external factors will render your judgement irrelevant. The price for making a mistake will vary, but death is not often the card that fate deals. Regardless of outcome however all any of us can do is continue to make the calls as we see fit.

Remember those who have died but don’t stop doing something just because of an accident. That way lies madness.

The Cost of Vaccination

On Monday David Cameron pledged another £814m ($1,335m) that we supposedly don’t have to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) over the next 4 years. This brings, according to the figures in their press release, the UKs contribution up to $2,449m once money already contributed is added in.

The other big (min $200m) contributors (in descending order) are:

US$m Who
1,341 Bill and Melinda Gates Charitable Foundation
819 Norway
511 France
506 Italy
450* US
264 Australia
225 Canada
209 Netherlands
209 Sweden

* With another $90m subject to congressional approval.

Yup, that’s right. The UK is contributing, all told, over 33% of the monies pledged and a sum which is greater than the next two donors put together.

Feel free at this point to repeatedly bash your head against the nearest solid object as you marvel in the astonishing profligacy of the UKs elected politicians when it comes to other people’s money.

But is this really all about the money? Is not preventing deaths from diseases which no longer plague what we refer to as the Developed World a good thing? You’d have to be a cold hatred, callous individual to think otherwise, surely?

I won’t try to be that person but I will attempt some crystal-ball gazing.

Let’s work on the premise that preventing the deaths of a projected 3.9m people from diseases such as yellow fever, meningitis, various strains of hepatitis, rubella, typhoid and others over the next 5 years is a good thing and look then to a future where all these people are walking around.

Some obvious items spring to mind:

  1. Food
  2. Resources
  3. Environment

These are all things that, if certain groups are to be believed, are already in crisis due to the current population count. I’m not one of those but I’m not foolish enough to say that adding these extra people, plus whatever offspring they produce, to the system isn’t potentially going to result problems in countries where they already struggle by on subsistence level farming.

Are we also therefore going to subject them to enforced industrialisation, accelerating them through a process which started in the UK at approximately the turn of the 18th Century with agriculture as we moved away from subsistence farming and consequentially were able to develop new industries? That countries in the third world need industrialisation in order to thrive is indisputable but what right have we to force it up on them? And if we don’t are we going to be spending yet more money in the years ahead to provide food aid to all these people we have saved and their descendants?

Those who are ashamed of our colonial past argue that aid is a way to relieve guilt, bloody money as it were, to apologise for leaving them trapped in a world that is technically and socially well beyond where they might otherwise have been. But does continued aid, however it comes, not reduce these countries to the status of welfare dependents, encouraging them to rely on ‘free’ money from overseas instead of standing on their own two feet and moving forwards?

As always there are no easy or glib answers but once again I am left to wonder if anyone is actually even considering the questions.

Thought for the Day

penny_dreadful said, in response to the last post:

If I see the phrase ‘pro-cuts march’ one more time…

Which finally made me realise what it was that had been getting my goat about some of the media and other coverage of the Rally Against Debt. It was described as a ‘pro-government’ rally. But we weren’t.

Why not?

Lets consider the positions of the two campaigns:

  • Uk Uncut wants spending on services to increase.
  • RAD wants spending to decrease so that we might begin to start reducing our National Debt.

Government spending is (as those who haven’t been blinded by the lies know) going up. Yes, spending on some services is coming down but total government spending will be higher in 2015 than it was in 2010.

On that basis, which campaign is ‘pro-government’?