A refusal often offends

David Allen Green’s recent post on Common Carriage reminds me of an anecdote related to me when I was working in a pub.

Although in principle a publican can refuse to serve someone, there is an obligation to provide a good reason for doing so. It is also illegal to serve someone who is drunk. This leads to a quandary for the person behind the bar, because the classic symptoms of drunkenness, unsteady gait and slurred speech, may also be caused by a disability or illness. Falsely accusing someone of public drunkenness could well be defamatory.

Because their livelihoods depend on it, publicans make it their business to apprise themselves of the laws that affect them. The subject of the story certainly was aware enough to come up with an ingenious solution.

A pub landlord was working behind the bar when a middle-aged man staggered into the pub and, slurring his words, ordered a drink.

“I’m sorry sir, I’m afraid I’m unable to serve you.” said the landlord.

“Why not?” asked the man

“You’re underage.”


This BS just got real

I’m concerned for the Big Society. On paper it looked so good. By increasing the ranks of the unemployed, you create an army of people with lots of time on their hands, who can then volunteer to provide the public services you just cut. It’s hard to believe that it is going wrong, especially as the first part of the plan has been so successful, but going wrong, apparently, it is.

It is clear that the BS needs a big win: some high profile success to demonstrate that it is not the deluded fantasy of a deranged government. So, in the spirit of the Big Society, I am offering this blog as a “think tank” to “crowd-source” ideas.

One of the problems with the BS is that the services that we are expecting to be provided by volunteers are not the ones that anyone wants to do. By aligning Big Society services with people’s aspirations, we can unleash the potential of this great society of ours. To get things moving, here are a few ideas.

1. Ministerial Security

Currently millions of pounds are spent protecting government ministers from terrorism, etc. What few realise is that there is already a volunteer organisation dedicated to protecting the country from such threats. Calling itself the English Defence League, it is pledged to combat extremism. Having seen these civic minded folk round my home in Stoke, I can attest that they appear to have both plenty of spare time and an appropriately fearsome aspect. I cannot imagine any organisation to whom I would rather entrust David Cameron’s safety.

2. Economic Policy Advice

The government pays Civil Servants and outside advisors huge sums for this. Meanwhile on the Guardian’s Comment is Free such services are provided by a huge untapped resource of unpaid commenters. It is difficult to gauge their qualifications, but they certainly seem jolly confident. And it’s not as if the professionals have set the bar that high.

3. Disposal of Evidence

The government currently pays to destroy the drugs, weapons and counterfeit goods seized as criminal evidence. I understand that there are “blokes down the pub” in all major conurbations, who would be happy to “take them off our hands, gratis and for nothing” on a “no questions asked” basis. A Big Society win win.

4. Tax Collection

Working as unpaid bailiffs, my team of BS irregulars are ready to collect goods in lieu of payment from Vodafone, Arcadia Group, et al and redistribute them to more worthy recipients, unencumbered by the dead hand of government.

As our Prime Minister has so perceptively said, “we are all in this together”. The Big Society is, in a very real sense, all of us. So it’s over to you. Comment below, or tag your contribution #BSIdeas on Twitter.

The Principle of the Ulterior Motive

Deep down, everyone needs to be right. So, when Michael Moore was justifiably criticised for dismissing the serious allegations against Julian Assange as “hooey”, his sense of amour-propre must have taken quite a battering.

When you are caught out in this way, the smart thing to do is to hold up your hands, admit you were wrong and go hide under your duvet for a couple of months and hope people forget. There will be a temptation to provide a secondary justification, typically an incongruous combination of l’esprit d’escalier and goalpost-shifting. This temptation must be resisted; it only compounds the original error.

Michael Moore has given in to this temptation and what an exquisite example of this ignoble genre it is. To précis his argument: Sweden has a large number of reported rapes, of which only a tiny proportion are prosecuted; therefore prosecuting Assange’s case is politically motivated and unjustifiable. He sustains this while admitting:

“I don’t pretend to know what happened between Mr. Assange and the two women complainants…I strongly believe every accusation of sexual assault must be investigated vigorously.”

This argument is reminiscent of those skewered in Cornford’s Microcosmographia Academica. Moore appears to have added a new entry to below the Principle of the Wedge (you should not act justly now for fear of raising expectations that you may act still more justly in the future) and the Principle of the Dangerous Precedent (you should not now do an admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case).

So I give you:

The Principle of the Ulterior Motive is that you should not act justly now, having failed to act justly in the past, for fear doing right be seen as an exception and motivated by the interests of something other than justice.

Capoeira Columnist (noun phrase)

I have a secret vice. I know it is unhealthy and is probably causing immeasurable harm to my sanity, but I cannot help it. I am addicted to reading comment pieces that are likely to enrage me.  I can’t get enough of the rush of bien-pensant outrage.

So sometimes I find myself in some fairly unsavoury places looking for my fix, which is how I encountered Stephen Glover’s article in Tuesday’s Daily Mail about the recent report by the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs published in The Lancet (registration required).

The committee was chaired by David Nutt, the advisor on drugs sacked by the last government. Glover believes that Nutt has an ulterior motive: the legalization of all drugs and that he hides his agenda beneath a facade of academic impartiality. Glover has no intention letting Nutt get away with this and he is here to take him down.

Picture the scene: in the blue corner is Stephen “Iron Glove” Glover, heavyweight columnist; in the red corner is “Dangerous” Dave Nutt, slippery academic. The bell rings. Watch as Glover corners the Prof and prepares to strike. His fist flies out and hits……air.

You are watching a Capoeira Columnist.

Ker-pow. “Iron Glove” launches an uppercut.

The point about drinking is that it can be, and usually is, done in moderation and need not involve a powerful and irresistible addiction.
Show me a moderate heroin addict.

How does Nutt dodge that?

The most harmful drugs to users were heroin (part score 34), crack cocaine (37), and metamfetamine (32)

Whoosh – the blow flies harmlessly short.

But Glover isn’t finished yet. He follows up with a swift left jab.

An illogical conclusion — that alcohol is more dangerous, though even their research does not prove that it is — is drawn from what I suspect is selective methodology.

The crowd gasps as….

Nothing. Which is not really surprising, as this is a published paper in a peer-reviewed journal. The design, the criteria, the weighting, all the information you could possibly want is available, assuming you can complete a two minute registration process. Glover can suspect all he likes, but it’s no substitute for reading the damn thing.

There’s still the killer right hook.

But the really interesting thing is that, having in their view established that alcohol is the most dangerous drug of all, they do not say it should be banned.

The hush descends. Surely this is the knockout blow.

Many of the harms of drugs are affected by their availability and legal status, which varies across countries, so our results are not necessarily applicable to countries with very different legal and cultural attitudes to drugs. Ideally, a model needs to distinguish between the harms resulting directly from drug use and those resulting from the control system for that drug.

Plunk… Glover swings wildly, spins around, loses his footing and falls gracelessly to the floor. That dastardly Nutt has ducked the blow by explicitly excluding it from the study.

So there Glover remains, swiping at shadows. And this is a pity, because drugs policy is a serious matter: literally one of life and death, a multi-billion pound question. Maybe Nutt is wrong, but the wonder of the scientific method is that it provides all the means to challenge him.

Unexamined prejudices, however, are not so amenable.

Trojan Kitten (noun phrase)

Motherhood: it’s a good thing, isn’t it? Who could object to it? Along with apple pie, it is axiomatically uncontroversial to be in favour of it. So, if you were invited to a demonstration in favour of motherhood or were asked in an opinion poll if it was uniquely valuable, you’d say yes, wouldn’t you? How could you not?

Anyways, you turn up at that motherhood rally and you discover that you are surrounded by people with banners saying “No to Gay adoption” and “God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve”. Congratulations, you’ve been suckered by a Trojan Kitten.

A Trojan Kitten is a proposition that, on the face of it, is completely reasonable and unobjectionable, but is used to smuggle something much more contentious within it. For the Intelligent Design movement, that fluffy little traitor is “Academic Freedom”, used by school boards infiltrated by religious extremists to push creationism. For the English Defence League, that perfidious juvenile feline is “demonstrating against Islamic Extremism”

This evening Nadine Dorries has managed to table an adjournment debate on abortion reform. This follows a Comres poll commissioned by the Christian Institute. Dorries’s campaign hinges on the right to “informed consent” on abortion. “Informed Consent”: who could object to that?


Due to a confluence of factors (or clusterf**k, as I prefer), I’ve recently been commuting over four hours a day. I’ve been wondering how to profitably spend this time and it has occurred to me that blogging might be a worthwhile use of it.

Of course, to paraphrase Clint Eastwood, you’ve got to ask yourself a question: “what do I write about?” (Well, don’t you punk?). I have recently come up with a peg that I plan to use to hang my bloggers hat upon. That peg is neologisms.

So, a couple of times a week, I’m going to coin a word or phrase and use it as an opportunity to muse upon an aspect of politics and culture. I hope you find it diverting.