Not Saussure

March 31, 2007

More on the War on Drugs

Filed under: Law, Politics, UK — notsaussure @ 7:10 pm

The Guardian reports that

The former head of the prison service has warned that up to 100,000 people could be in jail by the end of the decade unless drastic and immediate action is taken by the government.The prediction from Martin Narey came as the prison population in England and Wales reached an all-time high yesterday of more than 80,300, with only four spare places left in emergency police cells anywhere in the country.

This leads Tim Worstall to note that

the Prime Minister has told us there are 100,000 habitual criminals who are responsible for the bulk of the crime. Now all we have to do is make sure that it’s the right 100,000 occupying the prison cells and we’ll have solved the problem, eh?

In fact, the PM said these 100,000 criminals were responsible for half, rather than the bulk of, all crime, so we presumably still need an awful lot more prison places, but anyway… I think the PM is being wildly over-optimistic and that, if we continue on the present course, we’ll need considerably more than 100,000 people banged up. I’ll explain why. (more…)

March 30, 2007

SOCA — War on drugs a failed approach

Filed under: UK — notsaussure @ 8:20 pm

Seems that the government may have failed to discuss their thinking on further prosecuting the War on Drugs, as outlined earlier in the week in Security, crime and justice, with Sir Stephen Lander, the chairman of SOCA. The Indy apparently heard him remark — I can’t find a reference for the speech anywhere, so I’ll have to take their word for it — that the

UK’s drugs strategy is “making no difference” and needs a radical new approach.Sir Stephen Lander, the chairman of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (Soca) – described as Britain’s answer to the FBI – admitted that when it comes to the fight against drugs “we are not winning so we must try something else as well”.

The former head of MI5 said that the traditional law enforcement approach to drugs – seizure and imprisonment – has failed to reduce the availability of illegal substances, such as cocaine and heroin, in this country.

Speaking on the first anniversary of the agency, which has a £450m budget, he said: “The criminal law as the only means of defence [against drugs] is a flawed approach. It must be – we are not winning so we must try something else. Our analysis is that the criminal law is a necessary part of the tool kit, but not a sufficient one. We have to be ambitious about making a difference.”

I hope this means he’s thinking on the same lines as the Royal Society; that is, concentrate on reducing the harm drugs do rather than stopping people taking them, and treat drug misuse as a question of public health and welfare rather than simply as one for the criminal law.

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Give him a map

Filed under: Iran, UK, Wingnuts — notsaussure @ 12:36 pm

Simon Heffer is fulminating in The Telegraph about the British sailors and marines detained by the Iranians. He ringingly declares

There is no doubt the 15 were in international waters when captured,

On the contrary; the one thing on which everyone’s agreed is that they weren’t in international waters, for the simple reason there aren’t any around there. Either, as the Iranians claim, they were 0.5 km inside Iranian waters or, as everyone else seems to think, they were 1.7 nautical miles in Iraqi waters.

No where else they could have been, unless, which I very much doubt, he means that Craig Murray is correct in arguing that it doesn’t really matter what their physical position was since the legal status of those waters is disputed between the two countries, no maritime border being agreed.

Mr Murray quotes,

that well known far left source Stars and Stripes magazine, October 24 2006.’Bumping into the Iranians can’t be helped in the northern Persian Gulf, where the lines between Iraqi and Iranian territorial water are blurred, officials said.

“No maritime border has been agreed upon by the two countries,” Lockwood said.’

That is Royal Australian Navy Commodore Peter Lockwood. He is the Commander of the Combined Task Force in the Northern Persian Gulf.

I might even know something about it myself, having been Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 1989 to 1992, and having been personally responsible in the Embargo Surveillance Centre for getting individual real time clearance for the Royal Navy to board specific vessels in these waters.

He goes on to say that

It is essential now for both sides to back down. No solution is possible if either side continues to insist that the other is completely in the wrong and they are completely in the right. And the first step towards finding a peaceful way out, is to acknowledge the self-evident truth that maritime boundaries are disputed and problematic in this area.Both sides can therefore accept that the other acted in good faith with regard to their view of where the boundary was. They can also accept that boats move about and all the coordinates given by either party were also in good faith. The captives should be immediately released and, to international acclamation, Iran and Iraq, which now are good neighbours, should appoint a joint panel of judges to arbitrate a maritime boundary and settle this boundary dispute.

That is the way out. For the British to insist on their little red border line, or the Iranians on their GPS coordinates, plainly indicates a greater desire to score propaganda points in the run up to a war in which a lot of people will die, than to resolve the dispute and free the captives. The international community needs to put heavy pressure on both Britain and Iran to stop this mad confrontation.

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March 29, 2007

Interpreting the results

Filed under: junk science — notsaussure @ 7:29 pm

Apparently,

Millions of Britons could be in the wrong job, according to a survey which determines whether workers’ personalities match their careers.

The study of more than 2,300 adults, in which they were asked to select one of four shapes and eight colours which they felt described themselves, revealed that three-quarters were in jobs that did not suit their characters.

It found that 40 per cent of bankers and accountants described themselves as “warm” and “people-oriented”, and a similar number of secretaries thought they had leadership skills.

The personality test, conducted by private healthcare provider Bupa, also discovered that only 6 per cent of those in creative jobs saw themselves as “expressive and eccentric” while only one in ten politicians and civil servants chose shapes and colours which suggested they had people skills and logical personality traits.

To be accurate, unless the Telegraph report has missed something out, the test never asks you to describe yourself in terms like ‘warm’ or ‘expressive’; as the report says, it asks you choose colours and shapes and then to answer questions about your likes, dislikes and so forth.

An alternative interpretation of the data, of course, to the one that we’re all in the wrong job is that the test results are meaningless.

The test is at www.bupaworld.com. I thought I was a purple triangle, but the results mean that apparently I’m really a pink square. I think I’ll survive the shock.

There’s a way to test it, though; apparently I could have great fun with a squiggle (colour immaterial). I’m not making this up, I swear. So, if there are any unattached squiggles of the female persuasion who’re looking for some fun with a middle-aged square pink widower reading this….

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Oh dear, oh dear…

Filed under: Uncategorized — notsaussure @ 2:33 pm

Courtesy of Justin at Chicken Yoghurt. One can quite see why Paul Staines wishes to remain anonymous.

UPDATE: Transcript at Guido Fawkes 2.0 This links to two interesting pieces by the BBC’s Nick Robinson, whom Mr Staines falsely claimed in the Newsnight discussion — he’s now apologised and retracted it — was the source for Staines’ claims about a second email system at 10 Downing Street. Mr Robinson’s response to some of the comments to his second article is worth a look.

UPDATE 2:   Guido Fawkes 2.0 has prepared a NSFW version of how things might have turned out better for Mr Staines had he been able to involve his regular readers, or ‘co-conspirators’ as they apparently prefer to think of themselves, in the discussion.   I’ve been having great fun trying to work out who they’re supposed to be; I think I know who the one on the right is modelled on.

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Blair’s legacy: Security, crime and drugs policy

Filed under: Law, Politics, UK — notsaussure @ 12:56 pm

One aspect of the government paper, Security, crime and justice, that’s rightly received attention is the proposed shift in emphasis to focussing on prolific offenders and to try to devise strategies suitable for the individual offender in the hope of keeping him out of trouble in future. Unfortunately, there’s one reasonably simple reform that they’ve missed completely.

As is well known, drugs are responsible for a very great number of crimes, notably theft (especially shoplifting), domestic burglaries and robbery (particularly street robberies and attacks on small shops and off-licences). The addicts need their drugs, drugs cost money and this frequently the only way to raise it.

The report recognises this; it says,

2.24 Despite successes in drug and alcohol treatment, the consumption of drugs and alcohol has remained relatively steady over the past decade. Drug treatment programmes, for example, may need to ‘grip’ more individuals over the longer term in order to manage the most prolifically criminal drug users

which reads to me almost like an admission of failure; the programmes have been successful insofar as things haven’t got noticeably worse.

Unfortunately, though I suppose understandably given the timing of the two documents, the report doesn’t consider any of the far-reaching proposals contained in the Royal Society for Arts’ recent report on Illegal Drugs, Communities and Public Policy, published earlier this month. Nor, somewhat less explicably, does it anywhere allude to the National Drugs Strategy (or, if it does, I missed it), nor to the fact that the strategy is to be reviewed in 2008 (which is why the RSA produced their report when they did — to get their ideas discussed before the review is conducted). This is unfortunate, because the RSA have many useful observations and criticisms of the way the present drugs treatment and testing programme works at present.

At the moment, courts can order drugs testing and treatment programmes as an alternative to prison, either as a sentence in their own right or combined with an unpaid work requirement. Compliance is enforced, insofar as it can be, by bringing people who won’t cooperate back to court and re-sentencing them — usually to prison — or by making the programme part of a suspended sentence order, so a breach automatically triggers the prison sentence. The RSA, who want drugs to be seen more as a social and public health problem than a specifically criminal one, while applauding the idea of getting addicts into treatment, criticise (Chapter 12) the way the system means that addicts who’re referred to treatment programmes by the courts divert resources (sometimes inappropriately) from people who’re seeking treatment of their own volition and who may, in consequence, well be more likely to benefit than is someone who’s there under compulsion.

Indeed, they argue, the present system frequently creates perverse incentives for addicts seeking treatment to break the law and get themselves caught, since if they can persuade the courts to sentence them to a drugs treatment and testing order (something of a gamble, admittedly) this’ll get them into treatment far faster than would a voluntary referral from their GP.

The RSA’s proposals are far more wide reaching than simply extending access to treatment, of course; they argue persuasively (not that I needed much persuading) that treatment should have harm reduction reduction rather than simple abstinence as its goal; as they say (p 165),

Sometimes substitution treatment acts as a stepping stone towards full abstinence. For example, some people may be on substitution treatment for several years, during which time they are able to reorganise and redirect their lives to the point where they are able to achieve abstinence. For other people, substitution treatment may be an integral part of their achieving abstinence at the outset Substitute prescribing for heroin may be done, for example, on a reducing basis, with doses of methadone growing gradually smaller until the user experiences no withdrawal symptoms and is technically drug-free.Where abstinence is not a readily attainable clinical outcome, the key is to provide treatment that minimises harm. The failure to achieve abstinence does not immediately imply that treatment has been ineffective. The failure to minimise harm invariably does.

But what, though, of the offenders who cannot be dealt with other than by prison, whether it’s because they’ve failed to comply with a Drugs Treatment order or because the gravity or frequency of their offending makes custody inevitatble? The Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 makes a three year minimum sentence mandatory for a third or subsequent conviction for dwelling house burglaries, and this applies, of course, to many drug addicts, for whom serial burglary is the main way of funding their habits.

The problem here is, in general, that everyone seems to agree prison provides an excellent opportunity to deal with someone’s addiction, but that the opportunity is taken up only sporadically because of — as always — money. As the RSA report says (pp 185-6),

Concentrating a significant proportion of the country’s most problematic drug users in a few heavily supervised locations would seem to offer a good opportunity to intervene, to reduce health harms, to reduce drug-related crime and to prepare one particular group of prisoners for release and reintegration into the community. However, the Prison Reform Trust reported early in 2006 that no more than 10 per cent of prisoners with drug problems are likely to be in intensive rehabilitation in any one year. Treatment in prison bears little relation to need but depends more on what happens to be available. Prison doctors are not uniformly trained to deal with drug misuse, and there is a heavy reliance on a few charismatic individuals to drive treatment programmes

The Government report says,

2.77 The Government will also incentivise NOMS to coordinate better the resources spent on resettling offenders on release from prison, and to target better – in the short term – the provision of high-quality and cost-effective drug detox treatment and employment and training opportunities. In the longer term, and as resources allow, the Government will look to increase the availability of such programmes, given that 75,000 prisoners each year are going into prison as drug addicts, of whom around only 50,000 benefit from clinical services (maintenance and/or detox), and only 30 per cent of prisoners receive employment, training or education arranged on release.

That is, only 10% receive intensive help and one third receive no help whatsoever.

The RSA continue (pp 186-7),

Plans have been drawn up for improving drugs treatment in prison, which since April 2006 has been the responsibility of the NHS rather than the prison service. While this makes prison treatment liable to quality control by the National Treatment Agency, it has also left it vulnerable to NHS budget cuts. At the end of 2005 the government pledged to provide almost £70 million over two years for an ‘Integrated Drug Treatment System’ in prisons that would bring together medical care and counselling to produce treatment that was comparable with services in the community and that would link up more closely with them. The integrated treatment would include more methadone prescribing and better care planning to meet individual needs. However, in November 2006 the Department of Health admitted that the budget for 2006/7 had been cut to £12 million, with no decision forthcoming on funding for 2007/8. At present only 17 prisons are due to benefit from the new programme, less than one in eight of all prisons in England and Wales.

This is particularly on my mind at the moment because of a chap who appeared in court last week. He’s about 30, been on drugs since he was a teenager, and is in and out of prison for burglary with depressing regularity. He’s apparently quite motivated to come off drugs; he always volunteers for the de-tox and drugs treatment programmes when he’s in prison and complies with them pretty well. The trouble is that, for all his good intentions, he’s back on heroin and breaking into people’s houses again within weeks of being released.

Drug addiction, like alcohol dependency, isn’t just a physical craving; it’s a way — a pretty catastrophic way, but a way, nevertheless — of coping with your problems. This chap’s life is a complete mess, and one can quite see that, when he comes out of prison and no longer has the structure, support and encouragement — such as it is — stay off drugs that they’ve been able to provide him while in prison (where it’s very easy to get illegal drugs if you want to), getting out of it for a few hours must be very tempting, particularly since that’s what all his mates do, anyway.

Now, as the judge said when he sentenced him, the course of action that would be obvious to anyone but a criminal lawyer would be to sentence him to prison — someone who repeated burgles other people’s homes has to expect to go to prison, after all — but also direct that, when he’s released on licence half way through his sentence, he goes on a continuing rehab and testing programme to help build on all the good work they’ve done while he’s been inside for the last couple of years, in the hope this’ll help him begin to put his life back together rather than go back to his old ways.

Obvious to anyone but a criminal lawyer, because that sort of sentence just isn’t available. He’ll be released into the care of the Probation Service, who’ll doubtless do the best they can, but he’ll have to make his own arrangements — if he can make them — with his GP to get on a rehab programme, which will probably take some weeks to arrange. This is, apparently, supposed to happen; the RSA report says (pp 193-4),

the importance of these ‘wraparound’ services is fully recognized at the policy level and set out on paper. But in practice such services are not being delivered consistently, if at all. A joint NTA/Healthcare Commission Improvement Review in 2006 found that 32 per cent of Drug Action Teams were ‘fair’ in providing individual care plans and 48 per cent were ‘weak’, leaving only one in five DATs meeting this particular requirement adequately.

Meanwhile, this chap, and many others like him, will continue to be out of everyone’s hair for year or so — prison works to that extent — and then, despite considerable amounts of public money being spent and everyone’s best intentions, including his own — be back on drugs and burgling people’s houses to pay for them within weeks of release.

Seems to me that fixing this would be a far more sensible use of resources than sending police officers up in helicopters with infra-red cameras to look for cannabis farms or investing in facial recognition technology that doesn’t recognise people (and, even if it did, is of little practical use). Be less dramatic, though, so I suppose that counts against it.

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Olympic Petitions

Filed under: UK — notsaussure @ 9:31 am

Recently I submitted a petition to the Downing Street E-Petitions site:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to: ‘Organise a
referendum on whether to ask Paris if they’re prepared to take
the 2012 Olympics off our hands’

Since Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media
and Sport, dismissed criticism of the spiralling costs of the
2012 London Olympics as ‘Votes for Paris’, it might be
instructive to have a UK-wide referendum to see if we’re still
interested in funding the games or if, in fact, we really would
rather ‘vote for Paris’

It’s been rejected because, they say, it’s too similar to two existing ones: Olympic Shambles, which reads

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Hold a referendum on whether the country should spend 9.3 billion pounds on the 2012 olympics

and Sell the Olympics,

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Sell the 2012 Olympics to France.

(Surely the French aren’t stupid enough to pay good money for them at this point?).

Neither of these have a great many signatures at present, but perhaps we can alter that; I commend them to people’s attention

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March 28, 2007

The End of The World, an update

Filed under: Uncategorized — notsaussure @ 8:35 pm

“The number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million. And thus I saw the horses in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone.” Revelation 9:16-17

People who’ve enjoyed the Manga Apocalypse about which I’ve been raving, or, indeed, anyone who’s ever wondered what an army of 200,000,000 angel horsemen looks like when it arrives Al Anbar Province, Iraq and confronts the forces of the Godless, one-world United Nations (World President: William Jefferson Clinton, of course) might like to know that there’s an all-too-brief extract from Charge of the Lion-Horses, the next episode of Apocamon: The Final Judgement available. Looking on the bright side, because it’s so brief it loads far faster than do the previous instalments.

It includes a flash video of the arrival of the VI Angel Army in Iraq.

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Food for Thought (don’t try these at home)

Filed under: Blogroll, Food — notsaussure @ 8:12 pm

Feeling hungry? Looking to add to your culinary repertoire? Perhaps you had better not use the recipes and photographs to be found at The Gallery of Regrettable Food, an hilarious collection of truly horrid recipes, accompanied by even worse photographs, collected from cookbooks of the 40s, 50s and 60s. As J. Likleks, the anthologist, says,

They’re not really recipe books. They’re ads for food companies, with every recipe using the company’s products, often in unexpected ways. (Hot day? Kids love a frosty Bacon Milkshake!) There’s not a single edible dish in the entire collection. The pictures in the books are ghastly – the Italian dishes look like a surgeon got a sneezing fit during an operation, and the queasy casseroles look like something on which the janitor dumps sawdust. But you have to enjoy the spirit behind the books – cheerful postwar perfect housewifery is taught in every book. Sure, you’ll fall short of the ideal. But what’s an ideal for if not to show up your shortcomings?

Great stuff.
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Genetic engineering — the birth of a new machine

Filed under: Uncategorized — notsaussure @ 7:25 pm

Via the LiveJournal of Patrick Farley (the creator of Apocemon, the Manga version of the Book of Revelations), an astonishing CGI animation of the process whereby DNA wraps and replicates itself.

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