This Saturday sees the climax of the Grand National, the highlight of the horse racing calendar. Many millions will watch the event worldwide on TV, and many millions of pounds will change hands in betting. The sport is hugely popular, yet there are increasing calls from the animal welfare lobby that it should be banned because, they argue, it is cruel to horses. Aside from whipping the horses and making them go through a gruelling challenge, if previous years are anything to go by, then it is likely that at least two horses will die as a result of the competition.
So how should we balance the interests of the horses with the human craving for excitement? Should perhaps the jumps be lowered or abolished altogether, the course shortened, and racers made to go slower? Does the lavish way in which successful race horses are treated offset the tragedy of those that fall?
Or is all this ethical balancing act the wrong way to approach the issue? Instead should we focus purely on what is good for people, and ignore the supposed interests of horses? But if so, could these arguments be used to justify any form of cruelty or sadism towards animals, and therefore the arguments must be morally scanty?
These issues are discussed in my contribution to the topic published here. You can respond either by emailing a letter to the website, or by leaving a comment below by clicking the relevant link (nb. I do not generally censor any comments). Nagging is permitted.
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It seems there's a new danger to blogging - the spectre of the Press Complaints Commission. Until very recently this body had no power to uphold complaints against bloggers. But in the first case of its kind, Rod Liddle, former editor of Radio 4’s Today programme, has been censured by the PCC.
His sin was to say that most crime in London is committed by Afro-Caribbeans. Whilst probably untrue (but we can't know for sure now), the censuring move can only imply this whole discussion is now deemed to be "off-limits". The PCC said that whilst Liddle provided some evidence to back up his claim, it wasn't enough to justify it. But this suggests that every claim a blogger makes must be backed up to the extent it is unquestionable. This would have a serious dampening effect on all controversial arguments - people simply won't raise them - and it will have a chilling effect on free speech. The danger now is that editors may take the cowardly option of not publishing articles that raise serious discussion (as Liddle's did) in case the PCC finds that the writer was insufficient in his quoting of empirical evidence.
Blogs should be free from the prying eyes of the state and the PCC which is a kind of semi-state body. The PC PCC only encourages self-censorship when really it should be in the blogosphere that all opinions can be aired, even those which might fall foul of certain regulations if they appeared in the print media. Hands off our internet! Self-censorship makes you blind!
Bloggers of the web unite! You have nothing to lose but your high speed broadband.
Yesterday I attended the Battle for Politics, a pre-election public summit organised by the Institute of Ideas. The venue was packed full of interesting and awesome people who grilled a wide range of speakers. Dangerous ideas such as Green Party Peter Tatchell’s plan that a fairer Britain would be one where all the bankers are locked up were criticised vehemently (the recession was not caused by excessive risk-taking).
One thing that emerged from this set of kick-ass debates was a kind of pledge-card, a list of demands that voters should make of their prospective parliamentary candidates. If a potential MP supports say 15 of the demands, then they are worthy of consideration for your vote. If they do not, then don’t vote for them. I think this is a good step towards re-enfranchising the electorate. It will make the contest a bit more meaningful than the current cynical battle of personalities and the concomitant view amongst the electorate that we will vote for whoever is vaguely perceived as the ‘lesser evil’.
The pledges are listed below, and I urge all you voters out there to use the list to sort out who is worthy of your support.
21 PLEDGES FOR PROGRESS 2010
Policy ideas that would make candidates worth voting for; positions that voters should argue and campaign for.
1. Repeal hate speech legislation, in the interests of free speech, with no ifs, no buts.
2. Repeal the UK's libel laws, in the interests of free speech, no ifs, no buts.
3. Stop bureaucratic CRB checks and vetting of adults who come into contact with children and vulnerable adults, in the interests of free association between generations and countering the climate of mistrust.
4. Repeal any equality legislation that interferes with the freedom of private organisations like churches and political parties to act on their beliefs, in the interests of free association.
5. Revoke unnecessary and nonsensical health and safety rules and guidelines in the interests of countering today's risk-averse, safety-first climate of fear.
6. Allow pubs and clubs the option of permitting smoking, and get rid of the new 'no drinking zones', in the interests of countering the over-regulation of public spaces.
7. Scrap the 'database state', including the ContactPoint database which holds information about every child in the country and the DNA database which includes details of criminal suspects without convictions, in the interests of civil liberties, the privacy of families and the principle that we are innocent until proven guilty.
8. Limit the police's power to detain people without charge to 24 hours rather than 28 days, in the interests of civil liberties and due process.
9. Declare an amnesty for all illegal immigrants presently in the UK, whether asylum seekers or economic migrants, in the interests of recognising the positive aspirations of those who seek to improve their lives by moving countries.
10. Open the borders, revoking all immigration controls, in the interests of the free movement of citizens.
11. Get rid of police Tsars and unelected 'experts' from government decision-making in the interests of parliamentary sovereignty and democratic accountability.
12. Abolish the monarchy and the House of Lords in the interests of a fully elected legislature and executive.
13. Hold a referendum on the EU constitution and any subsequent treaties, in the interests of a national democratic mandate.
Re ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
14. Direct state expenditure into infrastructural projects such as power grids and telecommunications, increased facilities for road, rail and air travel, in the interests of productive economic growth.
15. Build new nuclear power stations across the country in the interests of ensuring we have more than sufficient energy to power a new round of economic growth.
16. Reduce the onerous regulation of new scientific and technological developments such as GM technology and biomedicine in the interests of increasing R&D and encouraging innovation.
Re PUBLIC SERVICES
17. Stop excessive centralisation and bureaucratic control of public services, enabling professionals to make judgements in the interests of those using the services rather than artificial targets.
18. Scrap the 'impact statement' demands on university research in the interests of valuing knowledge for its own sake and academic freedom from policy outcomes.
19. Support the arts financially, for their own sake, in the interests of liberating them from ever more prescriptive and politicised instrumental demands.
20. Direct state funding of health to biomedical research into cures, the latest drugs and equipment, rather than punitive campaigns to change individual behaviour, in the interests of public health and good cheer.
21. Direct state funding of schools into providing universal access to the highest standard of education in academic subjects, rather than politicised cross curricular themes like sustainability or citizenship, in the interests of passing on real knowledge to our children.
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Paul B Smith is right to identify the concept of capitalist decline as a breakdown in the functioning of the law of value and the fact that the ‘free market’ becomes a contradiction in terms (Letters, January 14).
The state has assumed the role of a life-support machine for capitalism, pumping into the banks huge sums of money to prevent the thing from completely dying, whilst wages are cut (primarily by cutting hours) and pension funds raided.
The latest phase in the breakdown of the system is surely encapsulated in the weird phenomenon known as ‘green economics’, which Barack Obama and Gordon Brown are eager to promote. Under green economics, production that is held to disturb nature is fined, whilst the decline of manufacturing gets rewarded. Subsequently, there is a ‘carbon market’ that was worth $64 billion in 2007.
Carbon dioxide, as a waste product, has no use, yet it is exchanged as if it had value. The price of carbon can only be determined by bureaucratically invented targets regarding how much carbon needs to be purged from production (in Britain, 60% by 2050). The carbon market, by penalising actual producers, allows for a transfer of funds from the productive economies of the east to stagnant economies like Britain’s. In turn, some of this money gets paid to underdeveloped regions in order that they do not develop (the trees must be left standing).
The green economic bubble that is being created here depends on brainwashing the world with environmentalist ideology. Thus the Copenhagen summit was billed as a success, not because it achieved anything concrete regarding global warming, but because it encouraged everyone to think green. Commodity fetishism has been tweaked to imply we should fetishise green products and sneer at ungreen products. Green products are notoriously more expensive - I recently saw a notebook made from recycled elephant shit retailing for £5, 10 times the price of an ungreen notebook.
For paying the extra money, you are supposed to get a warm green glow inside. People who buy the green products are labelled ‘ethical shoppers’ and they look down on everyone else. Thus green economics provides the elite with a sense that they are special in an age where old-fashioned ideas of racial supremacy are no longer acceptable.
The green bubble, like all bubbles, will pop one day. But there is an urgent need for a critique of green economics, so that we can understand what is going on when that happens.
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Yesterday Home Secretary Alan Johnson announced plans to ban all-you-can-drink and speed-drinking promotions in pubs. It seems the days of the happy hour which many of us enjoyed in our youth will not exist for the next generation. But are these plans a good idea, and are they supported by an analysis of the evidence about binge drinking?
Should there be a minimum charge of 50p per unit of alcohol?
What would be achieved by this charge?
How much is it safe to drink?
Would minimum pricing reduce the amount we drink?
Would minimum pricing reduce the number of deaths from alcoholism?
Should health be our main consideration or are there other principles such as liberty that should inform the discussion?
These issues are dealt with in an article I've had published here. I argue forcefully that minimum pricing and the whole crackdown on "alcohol abuse" is based on dubious evidence and is seriously misguided. It will not help genuine problem drinkers and it will mess up life for the rest of us. Enjoy responsibly!