Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Remember Libya?

This short and interesting piece tells us that Qaddafi was (relatively speaking) a good guy, at least in the fact that his forces were careful not to use indiscriminate violence against rebels and did not carry out reprisals against civilians. The old regime seems preferable to the new order. Another point worth making is this:

"In 2003, Qaddafi had voluntarily halted his nuclear and chemical weapons programs and surrendered his arsenals to the United States. His reward, eight years later, was a U.S.-led regime change that culminated in his violent death. That experience has greatly complicated the task of persuading other states to halt or reverse their nuclear programs. ... [A] well-connected Iranian, Abbas Abdi, observed: “When Qaddafi was faced with an uprising, all Western leaders dropped him like a brick. Judging from that, our leaders assess that compromise is not helpful.”"
 It is not a lesson lost on the likes of North Korea.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Three things that are hard to believe

Each in its own way.

1. iPad magic.

2. "Here in America,” Obama stated, “Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding."

3. Henry Moore thought Ben Nicholson was "absolutely wizard at ping pong" (go to page 114 here). They both invented games but Nicholson's, Tablehazard, sounds a bit better.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Some interesting but not too cheery links

I suppose the theme of these links is 'depressing features of the modern world'. Even my cartoon link is sad. For cheerful stories, look elsewhere today.

1. How Islamic is Islamic State? Very. (The clue's in the name, perhaps.) This is a proper look at the doctrine of Islamic State, and it turns out to be pretty orthodox, which implications both good and bad for unbelievers. In general, you should regard people as sincere rather than cynical in their utterances, e.g. Saddam Hussein. Perhaps surprisingly, the piece about ISIS seems to feature the most likeable people from this batch of links.

2. Burning people to death is pretty common, says Glenn Greenwald.

3. Twitter is mad and it can make you mad too. This is an awful story about people on the receiving end of twitterstorms (or whatever the word is). It converts the trivial into tragedy in ways Thomas Hardy never imagined and William Trevor would not suggest.

4. So many things have gone wrong in getting to where we are at the end of this story that I hesitate to venture any views at all. I would only say this: although it is about a woman who at one point sends an email that includes the words "Your kindness, integrity, desire to make the world a better place and willingness/confidence to make it happen is severely unique and an incredible thing to witness" and a man (the recipient of that email, no less) who at one point spends $30,000 on a chair to use during a television watching party, do not let those facts put you off.

5. Finally, "Putin believes that Germany is now a posthistorical nation in the sense that it is unwilling to fight. ... German politicians and newspaper intellectuals prattle on about NATO, Putin believes, but when the chips are down, they would rather yield a thousand Donbasses than fight a single campaign. ... The United States, meanwhile, is from this Russian perspective strategically clueless and largely out of the game. President Obama is amusing himself with various pursuits and his incoherent and crisis-ridden Middle East mix of policies gives him no time to think hard about Europe; Congress lacks the cohesion and the constitutional means to force an alternative on him." Read more in a similar vein here.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Good advice doesn't come cheap

This is an extraordinary case. The story goes a bit like this. Imagine you (you're called Celtic) own some mines in Wales. Once you have finished with the mines, you are under an obligation to put the sites back into a good condition because that's one of the obligations of owing a mine. That's going to cost hundreds of millions of pounds you don't have. You are going bust. So you go to some solicitors. They come up with the idea of selling the mines to some British Virgin Islands companies with no assets (that you and your solicitors can set up), but allowing Celtic to carry on working the mines. The BVI companies (called Oak) would have to pay the remedial costs in theory - but who could enforce that in practice? Anyway, you wouldn't have to pay the costs and so you become very rich.

Sounds like a cracking idea, doesn't it? But, you worry, isn't it a bit, you know, illegal? Well, let's ask a QC for advice. "So, Stephen Davies QC was asked to advise on the scheme. He provided two written advices. The first, dated 24 June 2010, concluded that, whilst the freehold titles in the sites could be transferred to Oak, apart from the restoration requirements under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, Celtic would remain liable under the leases to fulfil all of its covenants including those relating to restoration of the sites. He therefore advised that the underlying objective of the scheme was unachievable." Oh no! It's a cunning plan but it's not going to work.

Hang on a minute. Did you say two written advices? Tell me about the other one. "However, Mr Davies was asked almost immediately to reconsider the issue and in his second opinion of 30 August 2010, in which he did not refer to his earlier advice, he concluded that, following the transfer of the freeholds to Oak, Celtic would not be left with any substantial restoration obligations. His fee for that second advice was £250,000."

While we're on the subject of money, "There was evidence that [the directors of Celtic] were rewarded by covert seven-figure payments for the introduction of Oak to Celtic, through another company that they wholly owned; and [the solicitors] were also rewarded by somewhat smaller – but nevertheless substantial, six-figure – payments through subsidiaries of Oak."

If you've jumped to any conclusions at this stage then you might well have jumped to the wrong ones. The link above takes you to the judgment in which the Serious Fraud Office was criticised for how it brought a case against the directors, solicitors and barrister involved, and was ordered to pay their legal costs. As a little bit of a spoiler alert, you might want to know that that second advice was right. Sometimes at least, you get what you pay for.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Paddington Bear and immigration law

If you want a primer on immigration law in the context of bears from Darkest Peru, then this is the thing for you. For example:

"Paddington’s mastery of the English language weighs in his favour. His lack of apparent financial independence and his unlawful immigration status weigh against him, and his private and family life would be given reduced weight because it was established at a time when his status was precarious (see section 19 of the Immigration Act 2014). Judges will recognise that family life can, exceptionally, extend to informal adoptions and that private life amounts to more than a mere period of residence, but I would nevertheless assess Paddington’s prospects of success before an immigration judge as virtually zero."

Thursday, 12 February 2015

"The Inimitable Jeeves is deeply political, at least after you read it a hundred times"

This man has read The Inimitable Jeeves and Hamlet more than a hundred times each. He has some interesting things to say about them. "One may continue to believe in the breeding of the English aristocracy after reading Marx. Not after reading about the Drones club," he writes. Also: "Hamlet himself is hilarious; every second line is a joke. He’s more or less a standup comedian who has taken the death of his dad as the theme of a four-hour set."

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Friday, 6 February 2015

The quotative like

So I was, like, you have to read this about the quotative like and not just about the quotative like but also about the aspectual or habitual be, and then I was like I hadn't thought - until I saw this - that it was like linguists be like "I'm not, like, prescriptive but, like, you're all going to die if you don't like the quotative like".

Thursday, 5 February 2015

"The most recent English authority on pranks at work ..."

This is one of those hard cases which fortunately seem to have made good law.

"A horrific incident occurred on 11th June 2009 at the defendants' bodywork repair shop in Graveley, Cambridgeshire when a friend and co-employee of Mr Paul Graham used a cigarette lighter in the vicinity of Mr Graham, whose overalls had been sprinkled with a highly inflammable thinning agent called "Gunwash". As a result the overalls went up in flames; the fire started around Mr Graham's midriff, moved quickly up to his shoulders and caused Mr Graham very considerable injury. ...  The judge recorded the defendants' assertion that the incident was "horseplay" but that, the judge said, was a "gross underestimate" of Mr Wilkinson's actions which were better described as "a serious assault on his then friend". The judge categorised Mr Wilkinson's actions as deliberate and "clearly reckless" about the risks he created." So: is the employer liable?

The answer is of course no. To get there, however, the Court of Appeal referred to some other unfortunate cases of employee relations. Look out for:

- the care home employee who interrupted a drunken domestic to cycle to the care home and launch an unprovoked attack (employer not liable)

- the worker in a factory who "threw" his colleague "12 feet across the factory floor onto a table" (employer liable)

- "an employee, who supervised the defendant's health and safety policy, pulled Ms Wilson's ponytail making a ribald remark while he did so. This was little more than a prank but Ms Wilson sustained some injury. The Inner House held that the supervisor's actions were not connected with his employment; in pulling Ms Wilson's ponytail he was not doing anything in relation to his health and safety duties. The acts of the supervisor were a mere frolic for which the employee was not vicariously liable." (That's health and safety for you.)

- someone who pushed a wash basin against a Ms Aldred in order to startle her. "She turned round quickly to see what was going on and injured her back in the process" (employer not liable)

- and the awful case of Mr Romasov. "Mr Romasov was killed by a fellow employee (Mr McCulloch) in a Sainsbury's supermarket in Aberdeen; this fellow employee had, two days earlier, told Mr Romasov that he did not like immigrants and that he should go back to his own country. On the night of the killing there had been an argument when the co-employee objected to Mr Romasov sharing his table and a further argument in the toilets. Later the co-employee picked up a kitchen knife from the kitchenware section of the supermarket and stabbed Mr Romasov in one of the aisles." (employer not liable)

There have been quite a few temptations to let a hard case make bad law here, but the Courts seem to have resisted it.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Seven interesting links

1. Big data tells us that are just 6 or 7 plots in literature.

"That little ambiguity, Jockers explained, is because the data collecting and sorting technique “involves picking at random from 50,000.”

“There's six about 90 percent of the time,” Jockers said. “Ten percent of the time, the computer says there's a seventh [plot shape].”

2. Meet the bail bond queen. Alongside entertaining material about criminals and so on, there is an interesting sub-plot (computer to confirm) about the positive side of the bail bond industry.

"Esquenazi’s good fortune is not lost on her, and she has a policy of hiring former clients whenever possible. Bail bonding, at least as Esquenazi conceives it, is also a privatized re-entry industry. It’s one of the few careers where a job applicant’s brushes with the law can prove an asset.

Take Samuel “Pa” Lapooles, whose unsmiling face, sometimes comically photoshopped on top of a Santa Claus outfit, adorns every Empire office. Lapooles met Esquenazi in 1995 when he was charged with felony assault of his daughter’s boyfriend. He worked at Empire until he died in 2008. His daughter, Ivy, is now Esquenazi’s right hand. Anton and JoJo, two of Esquenazi’s bodyguards, were also once her clients. At her office on a recent afternoon, a teenager with the word “SOLDIER” tattooed on his neck in Gothic script was making photocopies and fetching coffee.

“She gives people an opportunity,” said Ivy. “It’s up to you if you take it or not.”

3. Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.) talking about China as a diplomatic actor. Interesting comparisons with the rise of the US.

4. "Britain has prized the ideal of economically mixed neighbourhoods since the 19th century. Poverty and disadvantage are intensified when poor people cluster, runs the argument; conversely, the rich are unfairly helped when they are surrounded by other rich people. Social mixing ought to help the poor." But the evidence suggests that "Poor boys in the poorest neighbourhoods were the least likely to run into trouble. For rich kids, the opposite is true: those living in poor areas are more likely to misbehave." And as for education? "Children entitled to free school meals—a proxy for poverty—do best in schools containing very few other poor children ... [but] poor children also fare unusually well in schools where there are a huge number of other poor children. ... Thus in Tower Hamlets, a deprived east London borough, 60% of poor pupils got five good GCSEs (the exams taken at 16) in 2013; the national average was 38%. Worst served are pupils who fall in between, attending schools where they are insufficiently numerous to merit attention but too many to succeed alone." The Economist has this fascinating story complete with graphs here

5. Why worry about deflation?, asks John Kay. "In 1913, unlike now, a pound or a dollar would have bought the same goods as a century earlier. The longest semi-official price series we have reports a 140 fold rise in prices in the UK since 1750 — but even then all the increase up to 1938 is accounted for by inflation during the Napoleonic and first world wars. Indeed, while the price level roughly doubled during both these episodes, it fell slightly over the rest of the period."

6. Next, a piece about lifts and skyscrapers that is most interesting because of what it says about the skyscraper in Caracas that doesn't have a lift. "McGuirk describes life in the tower as “urban alpinism”: a constant struggle against gravity and the tedium of the endless stairwell. Despite this extreme inconvenience, the residents have developed their own strategies to cope. Using the ramp of an adjacent carpark building, goods can be driven a quarter of the way up on motorcycles. And small bodega convenience stores have appeared every two floors or so, selling essentials such as tinned food, pasta and toilet paper. McGuirk writes: “Only the invention of the elevator made skyscrapers possible, and so a skyscraper without one is, theoretically speaking, a useless typology.” And yet, the hybrid vertical village of the Torre David illustrates an alternative, “an urban laboratory for how cities might work differently”." It sounds like the premise for a rather depressing science fiction story: a world where people have lost the ability to maintain lifts and spend their lives on the high-up storeys of decaying skyscrapers, growing up, old and dying without ever setting foot on the ground.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Perhaps the best political advert

Is this one from 'Bibi' Netanyahu. The idea is that he turns up at the babysitter/Bibisitter one evening. It is nicely judged and even funny (watch it to the end).

It struck me that it's a great way to remind people that a conservative politician is a serious grown-up while simultaneously showing him to be a human being. If Cameron has the lightness of touch to pull it off (I doubt it - but I wouldn't have had Netanyahu down for it either) then he should do something similar, perhaps with Cameron having to undertake some equivalently normal but important task. Here's the script:

Cameron: It's either me or Ed.
Normal people: But Ed will forget, like he did with the deficit.
Cameron: Or it could be Nick?
Normal people: No, he'll say he'll do it, but he won't, like with student fees.
Cameron: Or Nigel?
All three: (laugh)

Monday, 2 February 2015

"Threats to another child’s safety would not be tolerated – whether magical or not"

The headline of the original piece (from where the quotation in my title comes) is "Parent: Fourth-grader suspended after using magic from 'The Hobbit'", but that's a bit of an exaggeration - the boy did not in fact use magic, he just said that he had brought in the one true ring and could use it to make another boy disappear.

Some more details can be found here: "“I assure you my son lacks the magical powers necessary to threaten his friend’s existence,” the boy's father later wrote in an email. "If he did, I'm sure he'd bring him right back.""

The boy is obviously a troublemaker even without using magic:

"Two of the disciplinary actions this year were in-school suspensions for referring to a classmate as black and bringing his favorite book to school: "The Big Book of Knowledge."

“He loves that book. They were studying the solar system and he took it to school. He thought his teacher would be impressed,” Steward said.

But the teacher learned the popular children’s encyclopedia had a section on pregnancy, depicting a pregnant woman in an illustration, he explained.