Saturday, 27 December 2008

Free to Choose

I've had a dreadful Christmas. All the in-laws descended on us, all demanding to be fed with food that it was assumed that I would cook. Midnight Mass carried on for ever so I didn't get to sleep until about 2am. Little Miss Patently woke us up with the announcement that her clock must be broken, because it still said it was only five to six in the morning. She did this at (you guessed it) 5:54 am, so I spent the day utterly exhausted from lack of sleep. My presents included a new pair of gloves, a new tie, a new pair of cufflinks, and a book by that renowned author, Richard Hammond. Then, round two the day after was to be the return trip to the in-laws, but their car wouldn't start. Positioned in a crucial blocking position on our steeply-sloping drive, pushing it was not an option (unless I fancied a visit to the orthopaedic surgeon).

Except that, in fact, I had a great Christmas. I do actually like cooking; although Christmas dinner for 12 is a somewhat stressful prospect, it gives you a moral high ground from which to demand help whenever you want. It also gives you a get-out-of-jail-free card for use at any time - "Sorry, got to go and chop the cranberries", plus your very own little retreat in which you have total power - "You're in the way, go and sit in the lounge". OK, I was tired, but Midnight Mass was beautiful and put me in the proper mood, and she was just excited - how many children aren't on Christmas morning? Richard Hammond actually writes quite wittily; he's not going to win the Booker prize, but it's good holiday reading all the same. And I do actually wear cufflinks and gloves and could do with a new pair of each. Oh, and the car problem was a useful chance to take charge and show my father-in-law (and Mrs P, for that matter) that I know what I'm doing in a "crisis" and can cope with this bloke stuff that all men are supposed to be born knowing.

Life genuinely is what you make it. Looking back, if I want to make the last few days seem depressing, then I can. Equally, if I want to make them seem good, I can do that too. The same material can be worked in either direction.

For the last few years, I think I have tended to look on things negatively. A general surfeit in the level of work and expectations placed on me, together with a distinct shortfall of sleep, seem to have made this the default. A little effort (and, admittedly, a little sleep) is all that is needed to look again at the same memories and see them in a positive light. And once you start to feel negative about things, you don't see the positive opportunities and things tend to get steadily worse. Equally, maintaining a positive outlook reinforces itself; winners do indeed make their own luck.

Which is why this is my New Year's Resolution:

Wishing you all a positive and lucky 2009.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008


Just a quick note to wish a happy Christmas to all those who actually take the time to read my ramblings. If I knew where you lived, I'd post you all a card and buy you a drink, but that isn't an option so this will have to suffice!

I haven't been posting much recently, as Patent Offices do go gaily about their business issuing letters in late August and September each year without realising what a 4 or 3 month deadline set on 25 August or September really means. So this time of year is actually quite busy for me - with the same workload but much less time to do it in, and (unlike summer holidays) no-one to pass the work to in my absence, things can get quite frantic.

Which is why this post is going out now. It's Christmas Eve, all my deadlines are ticked off, and my files are tucked away until the New Year. Work is no longer the main worry creasing my brow, and safe in the knowledge that none of my clients are working either, I can relax, potter about the office tidying all those little things that you never get round to, then sneak off home early knowing that the backlog is not building up for my return. This is when I start to feel genuinely Christmassy.

So, best wishes to you all. Enjoy the break!

Postscript: Tsk tsk ... why is it that the exact few days that I stop watching everyone's blogs, E-K posts that
he needs a Patent Attorney... ::[rollseyes]::

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

'Tis the Season to Show a Bit of Common Sense

Oh please. Our dearly beloved leaders have spent our money writing a leaflet on how not to hurt ourselves on the Christmas tree.

This is just beyond satire, it really is. And anyway, I don't have time to satirise it - I have work to do before I can bunk off to spend a few days impaling myself on branches, getting drunk and missing my chair, and burning myself on candles.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Shock News Just In!

Voters reject higher taxes.... Gosh.

Yes, Manchester has said no to extra road taxes. Which is not surprising, really; at a time of declining economic prospects, after millions of people signed the number ten petition against road tolls, there was an emphatic 'no' from Manchester's voters. A majority against the proposal was present in every single ward.

No doubt a new transport plan will be hatched so that the idea can be put before the voters again, and again if necessary, until they do as their politicians tell them. Such is democracy, of course.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Very good video from the No2ID campaign:

Highlights pefectly the problem with the ever increasing level of enforced intrusion into people's lives. The proposed database takes information that is the property of the individual and appropriates in under threat of criminal sanction. Information such as where I live is for me to control; I only tell people that I want to tell. There are (inevitably) limits on the control I can exert over this; but there is still a degree of control, and it is not right to confiscate that.

People may have 101 different reasons for wanting privacy. Whitehall does not always know best.

(With thanks to Torybear)

Invest in Firms Making White Coats

... because No:10 is going to need plenty.

Delusional. Utterly delusional. Take him away and put him with the fairies*.

Old Holborn has is spot on - Officially Dagenham (three stops past Barking)

*and no, I don't mean Mandy.


There is a terribly witty post at Tim Lambert's blog listing all the silly arguments that "global warming sceptics " use, together with refutations for some. The latter are quite interesting, and made me think for a while. It seems to me that, of the refutations I had time to read, they would be eminently believable to someone inclined to believe them, and open to nitpicking by those not inclined to believe them. Ho hum ... that does rather support the one argument that he doesn't provide a refutation for.

Sadly, I can't see any mention of the "discredited argument" that goes along the lines of "Errr, global temperatures have actually been dropping for the last ten years..?", which is a shame.

(Hat tip - Stuart Sharpe)

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Thoughts on DNA retention

Nerd for Justice criticised my reasoning in this post. My reply became a little lengthy, so I’ve made it into a post.

Comparing the series of events:

Kill someone, leave DNA, get arrested later, have DNA taken, get caught due to DNA match

Previous arrest for something else, have DNA taken, found innocent of crime, subsequently kill someone, leave DNA, database is searched & DNA is matched, get caught,

NfJ sees no difference. Of course, the former is what happened, and the latter is the sequence that the European Court struck down.

My view is that I have no problem with retaining DNA samples from crime scenes. I have no problem with taking DNA from arrestees. I have no problem with testing those samples to see if they match old DNA crime-scene samples, just as I have no problem with arrestees being interviewed on the subject of anything suspicious found in their pockets, for example.

Where I have a problem is with the retention of the DNA of those found to be innocent, or not found to be guilty. This seems to be a very serious intrusion. DNA mismatches do happen - vide the Omagh bombing trial. So those on the database are at risk of having, in effect, to prove their innocence at a future date.

Such a serious step could only be justified if it were absolutely necessary. I simply cannot see how it could be. If the assumption is that we need to retain their DNA because they are likely to commit offences in the future (a logic which will be offensive to many innocent arrestees), then surely it follows that they will be arrested again in the future for one of those offences. At which point, the DNA match can be made again and they can be matched with all their offences.

In short, either you think that one arrest doesn’t imply that people are likely to offend again, in which case there is no need to keep their DNA, or you think that they are likely to offend again, in which case there will be further opportunities to match their DNA and, again, there is no need to keep it.

I would only be wrong if there were no statistical connection between offences and arrests, i.e. that we cannot assume that a serial offender will be a serial arrestee. If that connection is absent, though, we may as well just give up and save all the money spent on police budgets.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Don't lie to me

I, and others, am very pleased to hear of the European verdict striking down our appalling practice of retaining the DNA of those not found guilty of any crime.

But this post is not about that. It is about the issue of lying in public life, or deliberately misleading people, which is of course exactly the same thing. We all know it is wrong - or at least we should do, as Hatfield Girl pointed out. But it seems to be done nevertheless. Wistfully, I recall a golden age when it seems that it was only done when the likelihood of being found out was very low indeed. Now, it seems to me that no-one cares whether discovery is likely. Lying is routine; there is no second thought.

The DNA verdict gave me a prime example. It was greeted, as I expected, with an outburst from a New Labour police apparatchik to the effect that the investigation of crime would be made more difficult, as shown by some of the stunning results obtained through DNA storage, such as the Sally Ann Bowman case.

Yes, let's look at Sally Ann Bowman. I happen to remember how this one was solved; I noticed it as the killer was revealed to have been working as a chef at a pub that I frequent - not a nice discovery. Here's a link to a report of the case, in the context of a previous call to bring Scotland's practice on DNA retention into line with the now-struck-down English practice - a call that cited the Bowman case in support. So presumably, Sally Ann Bowman's killer was caught because he had previously been arrested and his DNA matched a sample taken from the scene of crime?

Err, no. It wasn't. It was, literally, the opposite. He was arrested, his DNA was taken, and it was run through the system. At that point, it was found to match an old sample of DNA taken from the murder scene which had been retained since then. He was then investigated for the Bowman murder, and convicted.

So, the hypothesis that we need to keep the DNA of all arrestees in order to match them with future DNA samples is in now way supported by this case. Those that cite it are therefore either stupid or lying. Neither is an especially appealing characterisitic in those holding senior rank in the police or government.

And how long did it take me to spot this lie? About 15 seconds thought. Come on, Labour; surely you can do better than that?

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Wake up, Jacqui

I strongly recommend that you go and read the Politics News on page 19 of today’s Times.

The top half of the page is a report of what is, in effect, a rant by Jacqui Smith in which she accuses Cameron and Grieve of being unfit for high office as, in her opinion, they take the view that the leaking of Government material was not serious provided it did not affect national security.

The bottom half of the page is a report on what is going to appear in the Queen’s Speech. A report of the, as yet unannounced, Government material relating to its plans for the next legislative session.

A while ago, I posted that the PBR contents were, strangely, being reported before being announced to the Commons. Blue Eyes spotted that, too.

Tough on hypocrisy, tough on the causes of hypocrisy?

Truth is not enough

The news broke this morning that one in ten children may have been abused during their childhood. I’m sure that my immediate reaction was typical – utter shock that such a large number of children could be affected. My own children’s circles of friends are wider than that, so the problem would seem to be so serious that I would, statistically, know some affected children.

But, for once, Sarah Montague on the Today programme showed her mettle. While acknowledging the seriousness of some forms of abuse – sadly reflected in the higher rates for girls – she explored what the researchers meant by abuse, and what types and frequencies of experiences they had looked for in respondents to their survey. This revealed that a recollection of a single instance of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse during the respondent’s entire childhood qualified. Systematic or chronic abuse is therefore a subset of the headline figure – one that was sadly not quantified in the report.

I finished listening to the report still feeling shocked, and sympathetic to the (inevitable) call for more official action to remedy the abuse. Since then, I have been thinking further, though, and I have realised that I was in fact one of the one in ten. My mother was single when I was born; sadly my (married) father was unwilling or unable to leave his established family, although I am told that for a while (at least) he maintained contact with the infant me. In time my mother married another man, who became my adoptive father. He then fathered my two sisters, and (I am told, firmly) ordered my mother never to tell me the history. She did not have to; I always knew that I was different. There was something about his manner with me that was not the same for his daughters; something more critical, more negative. Was that emotional abuse? Maybe. Maybe not.

The incident that I recall was on a beach late on a summer evening, when (at his insistence) all present were playing beach bowls. Family activities were important to him; they presented an image of a happy family that he liked to see. I found it boring, as I did most of the games that he liked. I must have been very irritating; I was the fly in the ointment. I was the bit of the family that didn’t fit his plans. I was the bit that wanted to do my own thing. I was the piece of the jigsaw that didn’t fit anywhere and was ruining the pretty picture that he was trying to build.

Anyway, eventually I said something out of turn. I don’t remember what; I only remember that it was a joking piece of banter directed, I think, at my mother. Anyway, the next thing I knew, I was flat on the sand being kicked in the side, although not for long. It hurt, but nothing was broken and no lasting physical harm was caused.

So I qualify; I recall at least one incident of childhood physical abuse. An experience that pales into insignificance next to many other examples, but an experience of abuse nevertheless.

Do I wish that the authorities had waded in to protect me? To move me to a safe foster family? To prosecute him for the assault that it certainly was? To counsel and support me? No, I don’t. I was able to cope with it, and have done so. Maybe (25 years later) I am still more uncomfortable in social situations than might ideally be wished, but I am happy being me and would not want anything to have been different. I certainly would not have wanted to be taken away from my mother and sisters, nor do I think that lesser interventions would have helped. Quite the opposite, in fact.

In short, whilst the experience was not pleasant, and while I would not ever recommend that it be done deliberately, it did contribute toward my process of growing up. It pushed me towards the very independent outlook that I think I have. That outlook, together with the desire to prove the miserable git wrong, have driven me to the (comfortable) position that I now hold. So, in a way, it has been beneficial.

I think that there is real harm in the way that these surveys are publicised. They move the climate of opinion towards an activist, interventionist stance. Yet the data does not actually support this conclusion; by including so many lesser instances of abuse (such as mine) in with the genuinely terrible cases, they give a false impression. People assume that the terrible cases, the cases that generate publicity, form the whole of the one in ten. The search for these non-existent serious cases distracts resources away from the cases that deserve attention. Good parents become paranoid of the likely climate of suspicion they will meet at A&E should there ever be a genuine accident. The process slowly but surely gnaws away at opportunities for children as volunteers realise, one by one, that their selfless work puts them under suspicion - and withdraw from providing their help.

In the end, it is a question of honesty. It is not enough for your pronouncements to be merely true; the truth can easily be presented so as to mislead. My adoptive father never once lied to me, but he misled me into thinking (for many years) that he was my biological father - and it is this that is my main reason for hating him. And if ever there was a subject important enough to demand the highest level of honesty, then surely it is the welfare of our children.

Anyway, if you’ve read this far then thank you and sorry for rambling. If you haven’t, then don’t worry because there has been a benefit for me in the process of writing.

(In case you’re wondering, he’s dead now. Unable to face the embarrassment of visiting the doctor for a diagnosis of prostate cancer, he suffered in silence until the pain became so severe that he committed suicide – thereby causing immense upset to my mother and my sisters. Me? I am ashamed to say that I didn’t (and still don’t) care, and think that my mother has gone from strength to strength in the ten years since then.)