(Guest Post) Letter from America

Synchronicity can be a wonderful thing. Yesterday I mentioned the meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society that took place on January 10th 1930. The importance of this event was that it prompted Lemaître to write to Eddington pointing out that he had already (in 1927) worked out a solution of Einstein’s equations describing an expanding space-time; eventually this led to the widespread acceptance of the idea that Hubble‘s observational measurements of redshifts and distances of extragalactic nebulae were evidence that the Universe was expanding. 

Meanwhile, triggered by a recent article in Physics World, I have been having an entertaining electronic exchange with Bob Kirshner concerning a much more recent development about the expanding universe, namely that its expansion is accelerating. Since he’s one of the top experts on this, I thought “What better time  to have my first ever guest post?” and asked Bob if he would like to write something about that. He accepted the invitation, and here is his piece. 

 -0-

Twenty-first century astrophysicists (like Telescoper) are the wrong people to ask to cast your horoscope or maximize your feng-shui.  But even people who spend time in warm, well-lighted buildings staring at computer screens notice the changing seasons.  (This refers to conditions before the recent budget exercise.)  

For me, the pivot of the year comes right after the solstice, while the Christmas wrapping paper is still in the trash can.  Our house in Maine has a window facing south of east.  When the winter sun rises as far south as it ever does, a clear morning lets a blast of light come in one side, straight down the hallway and out the bathroom window. Househenge!  What does it mean? 

It means it is time for the American Astronomical Society’s big meeting.  This rotates its location from Washington DC, this year’s site, to other more-or-less tolerable climates.  Our tribe can mark the passage of the seasons and of the decades by this rhythm.  Never mind all that highfalutin’ stuff about the earth going around the Sun.  Remember that AAS in Austin? What year was that? 

In January of 1998, the cycle of the seasons and of available convention centers of suitable size put the AAS in Washington.  It was an exciting time for me, because we were hot on the trail of the accelerating universe.  We had some great new data from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), a paper in the press, and Peter Garnavich, my postdoc, was going to give a talk and be part of a press briefing.  This was a big deal and we prepared carefully.  

Adam Riess, who had been my graduate student, was then a Miller Fellow at Berkeley doing the calibration and analysis on our data.  Adam’s notebooks were beginning to show troubling hints of cosmic acceleration.  I thought it would go away. Brian Schmidt, who had also been my student, was then in Australia,  calling the shots on this project.  He didn’t want to get out on a  limb over unpublished hints.  The idea of a cosmological constant was already making him sick to his stomach.  We agreed that in January of 1998, Peter got to say that the supernova data showed the universe was not decelerating very much and would expand forever.  That’s it.  Nothing about acceleration. 

Saul Perlmutter’s Supernova Cosmology Project also prepared a careful press release that reported a low density and predicted eternal cosmic expansion.  A report the next day in the New York Times was pretty tame, except for Ruth Daly speculating on the possibility of a low-density universe coming out of inflation models. Saul was quoted as saying, “I never underestimate the power of a theorist to come up with a new model.”  I have gathered up all the clippings I could find about who said what in Washington. (We used to call them “clippings”.) 

While a few reporters sniffed out the hints of cosmic acceleration in the raw data, in January 1998 nobody was claiming this was a solid result.  The paper from our team with the title Observational Evidence from Supernovae for an Accelerating Universe and a Cosmological Constant didn’t get submitted until March 13, 1998.  The comparable paper from the SCP was submitted September 8, 1998.  These are fine dates in the history of cosmology, but they are not in January.  It’s not for me to say when savants like the Telescoper were convinced we live in an accelerating universe, but I am pretty sure it wasn’t in January 1998.

In January 2009, the sun was once again shining right through our house.  It illuminated the American Physical Society newsletter kept in the upstairs bathroom. One of the features is This Month in Physics History.  If you want to find out about Bubble Chamber progress in January 1955, this is the place. Flipping through the January 2009 issue I was gobsmacked (American slang for “blown away”) to learn we were supposed to celebrate the anniversary of the discovery of cosmic acceleration.  Say what?  In January?  Because of the press releases that said the universe was not going to turn around? 

Being a dutiful type, a Fellow of the APS, and the oldest of the High-Z Team, I thought it was my job to help improve the accuracy of this journal. I wrote them a cheerful (on the third draft) letter explaining that this wasn’t precisely right, and, if they liked real publications as evidence for scientific progress, they might want to wait until March.  A volley of letters ensued, but not at internet speed.  The editor of APS News decided he had had enough education and closed the discussion in July.  The letters column moved on to less controversial matters concerning science and religion and nuclear reactors. 

The rising point of the sun came north, and then marched south again.    Just after the solstice, a beam of light flashed right though our   happy home. 2010!  Google alerts flashed the news.  More brouhahah about the discovery of cosmic acceleration.   Now in Physics World. I am depicted as a surly bull terrier in a crimson tenured chair, clinging desperately to self-aggrandizing notions that actual  publications in real journals are a way to see the order of events.  The philosopher, Robert P. Crease, who wrote this meditation, says he loves priority disputes.  He is making a serious point, that “Eureka!” is not exactly at one moment when you have an international collaboration, improving data sets, and the powerful tools of Bayesian inference at your command. 

But, even in the world of preprint servers, press releases, and blogs without restraint (I am talking about other blogs!), a higher standard of evidence is demanded for a real paper in a real journal.   A page in a notebook, an email, a group meeting, a comment after a colloquium or even an abstract in the AAS Bulletin (whipped up an hour before the deadline and months before the actual talk) is not quite what we mean by “having a result”.  I’m not saying that referees are always helpful, but they make the author anticipate a skeptical reader, so you really want to present a well-crafted  case.

If that’s not so, I would like to have my lifetime’s page charges refunded forthwith: that’s 250 papers x 10 pages/paper/ x $100/ApJ page = $250 000. Send the  check to my office.

So, Telescoper, how is your house aligned?  And why do the Brits put the drains on the outside when you live in such a cold climate?

65 Responses to “(Guest Post) Letter from America”

  1. telescoper Says:

    Bob,

    To answer your question, my house faces roughly south-south-east. No chance of the sun shining out of my back passage then.

    My house is also terraced, which means it is joined to those either side in the hope that will stop it falling down. Like the vast majority of British houses, it is made of bricks and mortar rather than the timber frame style that typifies American houses. It was built in 1902 and, like most modest dwellings of the time, did not originally have an inside lavatory. In fact, I still have a small brick outbuilding at the end of the garden that was used for this purpose, now used for storage. When the house was modified to have a bathroom fitted the drains were put on the outside, as the original construction had left no alternative.

    I realise this makes Britain sound like a stone age country, but the house I was brought up in didn’t have an inside toilet either, and that was in the late 60s/early 70s!

    Peter

  2. Frank Garrison Says:

    Bob,
    When the rising sun shines through the house as you demonstrate in the photo does it change the feng-shui? It seems like it would clear all the bad spirits out for at least another year.

  3. “When the house was modified to have a bathroom fitted the drains were put on the outside, as the original construction had left no alternative.”

    Quite like the way living things have strange constructions, like the photosensitive cells on the “wrong” side of the retina, two tarsals in the big toe but three in the little one, the inability to breath during swallowing (or, in reptiles, even during chewing) etc.

    As the American tourist in Europe said, nice castle, but why did you build it so close to the airport. 🙂

  4. While I can understand Bob wanting to set the record straight with respect to the public perception of “who discovered the accelerated expansion of the universe”, and agree that Saul’s team might get more of the limelight in the public eye (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?), I don’t think anyone who works in the field, or even not but follows it closely, underestimates the accomplishment of Bob’s team.

    I agree that submission of a refereed-journal paper is probably the best indicator of priority. But is this the correct answer to a wrong question? If the paper is about finding a solution to an equation, or making an interesting observation, then a) there is little point in publishing a paper which confirms the result and b) it’s too easy to jump on the bandwagon or even just state that one had done the same thing earlier but submitted later (yes, some sad souls do stoop this low). I’ve had my share of sleepless nights to get a (simple) result out in time and secure priority. But in the case of very complicated theoretical or numerical work (such as simulations of galaxy formation) or complex and involved observatiosn such as the supernova cosmology stuff, everyone knows that not only is there more than one group doing the work, but it is absolutely essential that more than one group do the work, since no-one will believe the results until they are confirmed. Not only that, but such a confirmation is worth more if the two groups work more or less in parallel, as opposed to results being confirmed by work started only after publication of the results.

    Thus, in this case, I think “equal credit” is the way to go, and the question of priority is of secondary importance (not that one shouldn’t set the record straight, though).

    A more technical point: Is it fair to say that the subtraction argument doesn’t count? After all, within the framework of standard cosmology, if we know the value of the sum of Omega and lambda (i.e. the curvature) and we know the value of Omega, then we can a) calculate the value of lambda and b) use the equations to see if the values imply expansion. I don’t see how using the m-z relation is a “more direct” measure of acceleration. After all, the acceleration wasn’t measured directly by measuring the velocity now and then measuring it later and see if it has increased (not that this could even be done in practice)—much less was lambda measured “directly”—but rather was deduced from the observations. There is nothing wrong with this, but is it really any different, qualitatively, than the “subtraction argument”? (I WOULD say it is different if some of the input is not based on observations, say if one assumes the universe must be flat “because of inflation”. However, there was a time when the CMB could determine the curvature well but not so much the other parameters, and low-Omega evidence has been around for decades, as our honourable blog host knows very well. I don’t see how using the “subtraction argument” here is qualitatively worse than using the m-z relation or whatever.)

    I remember once at a conference that scientist A reported a determination of Omega and scientist B asked if it had been measured “directly”, by which B meant using the m-z relation, or number counts, or some other classical test. A replied that no, it was done buy tallying up the masses of galaxies and thus calculating Omega (assuming a good value for the Hubble constant). Is one method better than the other? (IIRC A was Geller and B was Rindler, but I am not 100% sure; it was long ago.)

  5. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip,

    Some reptiles, specifically snakes, can breathe while swallowing. Indeed they have to, because it can take them hours to consume their prey whole. They are able to project their breathing tube forward of their prey.

    Anton

  6. Thanks for the correction Anton, though the exception proves the rule.

  7. telescoper Says:

    I’m chuckling because the comments have already covered such diverse topics as British plumbing and snake respiration, as well as cosmology. Don’t you love the blogosphere?

  8. “I realise this makes Britain sound like a stone age country, but the house I was brought up in didn’t have an inside toilet either, and that was in the late 60s/early 70s!”

    When I was working at Jodrell Bank, I was expected a visit from a colleague from Germany, who was working in Italy. He had never been to England. I told him to just think of it as being like Italy but without the good food and the good weather. After he arrived, he said my description was spot on.

  9. “I’m chuckling because the comments have already covered such diverse topics as British plumbing and snake respiration, as well as cosmology. Don’t you love the blogosphere?”

    Reminds me of the good old days on usenet. 🙂 Actually, though I probably spend more time on blogs these days, I think I contribute more to usenet, since the interface is so much more user-friendly (from my point of view).

    Imagine you are automatically informed about new blogs, can choose to subscribe to them or not, and at each session you see all new posts in all your subscribed blogs, with all comments properly threaded. You can then contribute to all of them, with exactly the same interface. Much more efficient.

    OK, no embedded images or Youtube clips, but one can of course include URLs to take folks somewhere else.

    Also, most usenet posters know not to top-post, but that wisdom hasn’t yet reached most of the blogosphere.

    To get back to physics via British plumbing: Why do power cords in the UK have fuses? The answer involves the wiring of houses during the copper shortage after WWII (maybe around the same time those external drains were installed).

  10. Anton Garrett Says:

    Why do Brits put the plumbing on the outside where it is liable to freeze? I can think of two possible reasons:

    1. The Industrial Revolution started here so we made all the mistakes first, and this is a feature of older and/or cheaper houses.

    2. If something freezes and bursts then it is better to have easy access to it in order to replace it than to have to remove bricks and mortar to get at it.

    I’m open to further suggestions. And how about a discussion contrasting the design of toilet basins and flushes in Britain, North America, Germany and France?

    Anton

  11. telescoper Says:

    Anton,

    The thing that most visitors to the UK from abroad seem to find strangest is the fact that we tend to have separate taps (fawcets?) for hot and cold water rather than mixers. It’s always seemed quite sensible to me, since the hot and cold water systems are separate, but for some reason people from elsewhere think it’s funny.

    Of course Poland is where the real experts in plumbing all seem to come from….

    Peter

  12. Anton Garrett Says:

    PS My comment #2 was about drainpipes. With domestic water supply plumbing on the inside then you have to drain the system when you go away in winter (although people seldom did, historically) which is a hassle, or risk returning to a flooded house. Auto-controlled central heating came much later.
    Anton

    • telescoper Says:

      Anton,

      Many older houses, especially in cheaper areas, were built before proper sewerage systems were put in place. Typically these would have had outside toilets with a septic tank, rather than a system flushing into a main sewer. They would have had no central heating or hot water supply. Baths would sometimes be taken in a tin bath with water heated on a stove or fire, but many poor people used public baths and wash-houses.

      Public bath-houses came into vogue in cities during the Victorian era because industrialisation and pollution had made it dangerous for working people to wash where they had done previously, in the river. The “Northumberland Baths” in my home town Newcastle, a fine civic building in the city centre designed by John Dobson and now used as a swimming pool, actually began life as a public bath house. The rise of Newcastle as a port was accompanied by development of the river banks into quays which made it impossible to bathe.

      Peter

  13. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter: noted, thanks. The Romans knew a thing or two about communal bath-houses. Their dry treatment for sewage was not such a bad idea either – Anton

  14. telescoper Says:

    Anton,

    I think civic authorities also liked the idea of public baths as a way of keeping people off the streets and out of pubs!

    Another thing worth noting is that, although the public baths were quite popular, they weren’t exactly cheap. A basic bath in the Northumberland Baths would cost you sixpence (in old money) at a time when the cost of a loaf of bread was around a farthing or a halfpenny, a full meal might cost tuppence or threepence, and the average daily wage for working people was just a couple of shillings. Having a bath wasn’t something you could afford to do very often if you were working class.

    Peter

  15. Anton Garrett Says:

    Yes, the working class had it rough. It is worth bearing in mind when you see country bumpkins in Jane Austen adaptations that these people *preferred* to quit the land for the factories; life on the land was harsher still. But there was reasonable security of job and food on the land, whereas there was none in the factories. A factory could go bust in weeks if someone in another town invented a better process; also you could be arbitrarily sacked.
    Anton

  16. “I think civic authorities also liked the idea of public baths as a way of keeping people off the streets and out of pubs!”

    Actually, I spend more time in public baths than on the streets or in pubs and actually prefer it that way!

    “The thing that most visitors to the UK from abroad seem to find strangest is the fact that we tend to have separate taps (fawcets?) for hot and cold water rather than mixers. It’s always seemed quite sensible to me, since the hot and cold water systems are separate, but for some reason people from elsewhere think it’s funny.”

    The separate taps are a real pain. I’m glad that at least in the shower there is one showerhead and not two. 🙂

    The two-taps style is the worst. Slightly better are two separate handles but a common spout. Better, and standard in Germany, is a common spout and a dual-purpose handle which changes the temperature when moving horizontally and the pressure when moving vertically. Ideally the bearings are such that one can easily change the temperature without changing the pressure or vice versa. This allows all changes to be made quickly and easily. The best system has a common spout and two knobs: one for temperature and one for pressure. Thus one can adjust one, or the other (when does one ever need to adjust both at the same time) with no danger of crosstalk. I’m happy to report that I have the fourth style in the shower in the new (to me—it’s about 30 years old) terraced house I moved into a few months ago and the third style everywhere else. There are no external drains and all wiring is hidden in the walls—not only electrical (mains) but also television, ethernet, telephone etc.

    “I’m open to further suggestions. And how about a discussion contrasting the design of toilet basins and flushes in Britain, North America, Germany and France?”

    Such a discussion can be found here: http://ideas.4brad.com/german-ideas with some comments by yours truly.
    Reading it, I’m reminded that there is no visible toilet tank in my new house. Special points for spotting someone we all know in my comments in the above-mentioned thread.

  17. Britain: I seem to recall seeing more black toilet seats there, especially in places outside of private homes.

    North America: What a waste of water; the bowls are much too big.

    Germany: The “stage” is unique, but useful if your GP wants you to bring in a stool sample collected at home. It also means much less water is used.

    France: Bidets are nice, though of course they exist outside of France as well and are not uncommon in private houses in Germany. I did notice one in a private house in Birmingham, and the host was quite quick to point out that it was “for hands and feet”. Really?

    For more variation, one needs to travel to southern Europe. 😐

    And for real experiences, visit Japan:
    http://styledlife.excite.co.uk/news/2341/Magical-Water-Princess–Japanese-toilet-gadget

    Also, read this in its entirety:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilets_in_Japan

    General question: What is the purpose of the gap in public toilet seats and why does it exist only for seats on public toilets, not those in private houses?

    What is the purpose of the liftable ring seat in the first place? Presenting a bigger target for those men who don’t sit down all the time isn’t really an argument, since they tend to miss even the bigger target. Yes, it is easier to clean if it can be lifted up, but if it doesn’t exist it doesn’t need to be cleaned at all. Why not just make something of the same shape and hence same comfort but all in one piece?

  18. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip,

    I failed to find a mutual friend in your post at that URL, but I’d lilke to comment on your statement there that “it’s not such a big deal, since in Germany (and probably in most countries in Europe) everyone has to carry a photo-ID at all times and the police can always ask you to identify yourself. Strange that this causes such a big problem in other countries. I recently saw a map of the world with different colours with regard to how much government surveillance there is. The US was at the top of the list, Germany somewhere in the middle. (There is a lot of vocal opposition to increasing surveillance, but this is basically a loud minority; most folks don’t have a problem with it.)”

    1. I do not believe that there is more government surveillance in the USA than in states such as North Korea. With globalisation of knowledge all dictators now know how to set up a network of clandestine informers whose very existence causes people to self-censor. You have presumably seen “Das Leben der Anderen”; what went on in the DDR is mild compared to North Korea today, whereas in the USA plenty of people openly and virulently criticise their politicians and nothing happens to them. The map you are quoting is obviously propaganda.

    2. In England we believe that the State exists to serve the people, not vice-versa. That is why we have a problem with the police asking us to justify ourselves on the street when we are behaving peaceably. We accepted that this freedom from officiousness had to be lost for security reasons during World War 2, but that was a temporary measure (although Whitehall did not like returning this freedom back to the British people, which took an inordinate length of time). The present Labour government has vastly increased State surveillance but thankfully it is hated for that. We have not been brainwashed.

    Anton

  19. Maybe the mutual acquaintance will own up, assuming he reads these comments and those in the URL I referenced.

    I didn’t say I agreed with the map. Also, it’s possible to be surveyed and not repressed. Opponents of surveillance often point out examples where one leads to the other, but this is not necessarily the case. Also, such a map depends heavily on what “surveillance” is: Making everyone’s election-campaign contributions public? Making everyone’s tax returns public? Posting mug shots of customers of prostitutes on the web? Monitoring the contents of telecommunication? Monitoring telecommunication connections? Requiring GPs to register infectious diseases with a central government authority? Requiring ID cards? Also, there can be repression with no surveillance. Things which in one country would be unconstitutional are part of the constitution elsewhere, often voted for by a large majority in both cases. Different strokes for different folks.

    Obviously, one should object to the police abusing their powers. However, it is possible to kill someone and then behave peaceably. (Think of Radovan Karadžić, who lived incognito in Belgrade for years although he was a wanted war criminal.) Perhaps a witness saw the killing, knew the name of the killer and notified the police, providing a description. The police see the guy on the street, or at least someone who fits the description, behaving peaceably. It would be absurd to put his right to not have an ID above the safety of the general population.

    It’s easy to find otherwise intelligent people who think that the government is severely restricting their freedom by not allowing them to enter an airplane armed with handguns, arguing if more passengers were armed, terrorists would have a harder time.

  20. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip,

    It doesn’t seem to me that the caveats you are now putting up are relevant to any point you were making when you quoted that map.

    If police in England recognise somebody they think is a murderer then they have grounds for detaining them even if they are sitting quietly at a cafe. The Karadzic scenario you quote could not happen here even though we do not, thankfully, have ID cards. (Moreover do you think Karadzic would not have had a forged ID card if necessary?)

    “It’s easy to find otherwise intelligent people who think that the government is severely restricting their freedom by not allowing them to enter an airplane armed with handguns, arguing if more passengers were armed, terrorists would have a harder time.” I don’t know any such people – do you? The deeper point is: Does the State exist to serve the people, or vice-versa? In England we believe the former, whereas the EU and the traditions out of which it has been forged seem to believe the latter, which is one reason why I do not wish to be in the EU.

    Anton

  21. So the police in England DO have the right to detain folks behaving peaceably. And why do so many people have a problem with that, if the police are looking for a murderer? Of course, all people object to undue force on the part of the police, but a) that doesn’t seem to be what you are objecting to and b) such abusers will abuse people whether they have an ID card or not.

    Yes, Karadzic might have had a forged ID card, but that is one more reason for not just ID cards but ID cards with biometric information which is difficult to forge. Fingerprints, for example. The purpose of an ID card is to prove that you are who you say you are. A fingerprint is thus not qualitatively any different than a photo on an ID card, but it is unique to a single person, whereas photos can be manipulated, influenced by lighting etc to make one look like someone else.

    The idea that the EU, or most people in the EU, or most states in the EU have the idea that people should serve the state and not vice versa is, to be frank, at the same level of rhetoric of folks in the US who compare Obama to Hitler. (Many of these also criticise Obama’s “socialism” (which is less than what even many conservative parties in Europe espouse); in many cases the Hitler connection stems from the “socialism” in “national socialism” and they really think that Hitler was a left-wing extremist. After all, Hitler was bad, and commies are bad, so Hitler must have been a commie.) Yes, there are differences concerning what the function of the state should be, how big it should be, what role it should play in society etc, but in all of these contexts the principle is that the state is there to serve the people; claiming the opposite is absurd.

    I’m not sure where you live, but if in the UK then, of course, you are in the EU. If so, are you considering leaving, or is the EU still better than the alternatives?

  22. telescoper Says:

    There’s a big difference between detaining someone as a result of evidence that they have committed, or are about to commit, a crime and the police having the right to demand identification from any individual for no particular reason. The proposed UK ID card scheme is likely to be scrapped for financial reasons anyway, although I’d prefer it was scrapped because it’s abhorrent.

    Britain is indeed part of the EU but if the British population ever gets a chance to vote on the matter there would probably be a strong majority in favour of leaving.

  23. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip,

    I live in Shropshire, an English county adjacent to the Welsh border about 2/3 of the way ‘up’ (ie, north) along that line. It’s not near universities but you are welcome to some (warm) English beer here if you are passing through.

    There is no realtime protection here from a policeman saying “You look like John Smith, wanted for murder of Alan Jones, you must come with me to the police station”. But if you don’t look like John Smith then the policeman would be seriously disciplined because he has to give a reason which can subsequently be tested. The police know that and they have to act with restraint. Where they don’t have to give a reason for detaining you, there will be abuses. Remember – the police answer to the State. They serve the public only to the extent that the State serves the public. The State always claims to serve the public, of course, but the extent to which that is empty rhetoric is alarming.

    The carrying of ID cards which must be shown on demand is a good practical demonstration of the relation between State and individual in any land. After World War 2 it took an inordinate length of time to get rid of ID cards here, during which time people grew resentful of low-rank pompous officials demanding to see ID of people they often knew personally for minor business. Don’t tell me that such abuses have historically been confined to postwar England.

    The doctrine of political liberty was, to a large extent, developed in England in the century following the Civil War and restoration of the monarchy. During that period Voltaire famously commented on how free the English were when he was in exile here from France. A generation later many people were shocked when Burke, who was in favour of freedom, turned against the French Revolution – because he saw that “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” was empty rhetoric in the hands of the leaders of that revolution. (Margaret Thatcher reminding the French President of that fact at the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution was her finest hour.) Since that time we have had domestic peace in England except when invaded once by the Scots, and we have had ID cards only when we were fighting wars against countries with no remotely comparable track record of domestic peace, and which regard ID cards as the norm.

    Please note that I am *not* saying England was or is perfect. We had tensions in the first half of the 19th century, but they were resolved peacefully whereas most of continental Europe had bloody revolution.

    “I’m not sure where you live, but if in the UK then, of course, you are in the EU. If so, are you considering leaving, or is the EU still better than the alternatives?” For Britain EU was never better than the alternatives, and NB we did not join the EU, we joined the EEC which has since morphed into something far more ambitious and totalitarian. I think you know that I cannot, unfortunately, declare myself out of the EU; but if the present trend of the EU treating the results of various referenda about its treaties with contempt continues then we shall hopefully elect a political party with the guts to pull us out.

    As for Socialism (National or otherwise): its origins in the 19th century show it to have exactly the same ends as communism, merely different means to them (ie, universal suffrage and a permanent working-class majority, rather than violent revolution). Only in the 1990s did the British Labour party ditch “clause 4” about the government nationalising the means of production, which is straight out of the communist manifesto. It has however achieved much the same thing by taxing us till the pips squeak. High tax empowers politicians and disempowers the people, because you lose the option of what to do with your money and they gain it.

    Anton

  24. “There’s a big difference between detaining someone as a result of evidence that they have committed, or are about to commit, a crime and the police having the right to demand identification from any individual for no particular reason.”

    Of course. I would classify “for no particular reason” as abuse. Suppose I ring the police and say Joe Smith has murdered my daughter and give them a description of what he looks like and where he is likely to be. The police then check people who fit the description. If someone has an ID which shows that he is not Joe Smith, then he is allowed to go about his businesss. Thus, the ID protects the innocent. Without an ID, the police would have the options a) detain all the suspects until their identities can be determined by some means other than an ID card or b) not detain any of them or c) detain just those they want to detain for some personal reason. All of these seem worse, to me.

    Any policeman who asks a person for an ID “for no particular reason” is obviously abusing his power as a policeman. In such a case, however, he is likely to abuse it in other ways. NOT having an ID never protected anyone from abuse of power by the police.

    “Britain is indeed part of the EU but if the British population ever gets a chance to vote on the matter there would probably be a strong majority in favour of leaving.”

    I don’t doubt that at all. That would be the case in several other countries as well, perhaps even in Germany. The same goes for the single currency. However, Germany was not allowed to vote on such issues, primarily because other countries feared that the people would not vote for the single currency, or EU membership, or whatever. As Thatcher said, we can’t risk Germany going its own way again. As a result, Germany has been pressured into joining many things which would never have been voted for in a plebiscite. That’s not really a deficiency of German democracy, though, but rather extortion on the part of other countries. Until recently, Germany wasn’t even a sovereign nation and thus didn’t have a say in many matters and/or could be easily pressured.

  25. “There is no realtime protection here from a policeman saying “You look like John Smith, wanted for murder of Alan Jones, you must come with me to the police station”.”

    There is with an ID card. I pull it out, show it to the policeman, and it says I am not John Smith. Assuming the police can believe what is on the ID card (if that’s not the case, then there is little point in having them), then I don’t even have to come to the police station. Thus, as an innocent person, I have an advantage with an ID card. As a guilty person, I have an advantage if there are no ID cards, because it takes longer to identify the criminal among all the suspects.

    “we have had ID cards only when we were fighting wars against countries with no remotely comparable track record of domestic peace, and which regard ID cards as the norm.” True, but the implied correlation is bogus. Most people who die have been married, but it would be silly to say that one causes the other.

    I could bring the (perhaps equally invalid) counter-example that in Scandinavia, where not only ID cards are the norm, but where everyone has a “personal number” which is used for everything from taxes to pensions to exam marks to ski passes to car registration and where every person’s earnings, tax and savings are visible on the web for all to see, it has been a very long time since any of these countries started a war, and Denmark and Norway were only involved in war only because they were invaded (whereas Sweden managed to remain neutral). Yes, the details are more complicated, but they are also much more complicated than “ID cards = dictatorship” and “no ID cards = maximal personal freedom”. Note that the Scandinavian countries generally rank quite high on various lists, be they from UNESCO or Reporters without Borders or Amnesty International, on a variety of topics from lack of corruption to quality of education, but also with regard to personal freedom and functioning democracy. And, yes, funding for blue-skies research is rather high.

  26. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip,

    You wrote: “The same goes for the single currency. However, Germany was not allowed to vote on such issues, primarily because other countries feared that the people would not vote for the single currency, or EU membership, or whatever.”

    Can you give the detail of this please? Usually when a people is denied a referendum it is because their *own* leaders fear the result – democracy being so precious that it must be rationed…

    Anton

  27. “For Britain EU was never better than the alternatives, and NB we did not join the EU, we joined the EEC which has since morphed into something far more ambitious and totalitarian.”

    Yes, but with the UK going along for the ride. The UK could have pulled out.

    “I think you know that I cannot, unfortunately, declare myself out of the EU”

    Unless, presumably, you get rid of your UK citizenship. (There are countries which, as a matter of principle, do not allow this, but I don’t think the UK is one of them.)

    “but if the present trend of the EU treating the results of various referenda about its treaties with contempt continues then we shall hopefully elect a political party with the guts to pull us out.”

    An interesting point is what else is on the agendas of such parties.

    “As for Socialism (National or otherwise): its origins in the 19th century show it to have exactly the same ends as communism, merely different means to them (ie, universal suffrage and a permanent working-class majority, rather than violent revolution).”

    I don’t see what’s wrong with universal suffrage, and I don’t see what is wrong with a permanent working-class majority in parliament, as long as there is a permanent working-class majority in the population (which of course depends on one’s definition of “working class”).

    “High tax empowers politicians and disempowers the people, because you lose the option of what to do with your money and they gain”

    I think it is possible to hold a different view without being in support of dictatorship.

  28. “You wrote: “The same goes for the single currency. However, Germany was not allowed to vote on such issues, primarily because other countries feared that the people would not vote for the single currency, or EU membership, or whatever.”

    Can you give the detail of this please?”

    Not without doing some research. During the German reunification, the common currency was of course well on the way to being implemented, and it was clear that the fact that Germany couldn’t hold a referendum on this was one of the stipulations of the 4 WWII victors who had a say in the matter.

    Although I think he was quite bad on internal politics, I have to admit that Helmut Kohl was quite successful in the hard task of convincing all who were sceptical to go along with unification, despite the differences between those opposed.

  29. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip,

    In response to my comment,

    “There is no realtime protection here from a policeman saying “You look like John Smith, wanted for murder of Alan Jones, you must come with me to the police station”.”

    you wrote

    “There is with an ID card. I pull it out, show it to the policeman, and it says I am not John Smith.”

    True, but I could also show my driving licence or any other piece of photo ID. it should be up to ME, not the State, whether I carry photo ID and if not then run the small risk of being pulled in for being misidentified as a murderer. I also wrote,

    “we have had ID cards only when we were fighting wars against countries with no remotely comparable track record of domestic peace, and which regard ID cards as the norm.”

    to which you responded,

    “True, but the implied correlation is bogus.”

    Can you prove that?

    Anton

  30. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip,

    Suppose the leaders of Germany had told France, Britain, USA and Russia that Germany was going to hold a referendum on the single currency whether they liked it or not. What do you think they would have done? Their choice was ultimately to start a war against Germany or put up with it, and war would of course have been have been inconceivable. In other words, Germany’s leaders were free to hold a referendum on the single currency. That they didn’t do so shows that they didn’t want one because they feared the result. In other words, they were not representing faithfully the views of their populace. Bad. (It goes on here too.) You can’t blame foreigners for that decision.

    BTW the main anti-EU party here is called UK Independence Party and it is not extremist, racist etc. You don’t have to be BNP to be anti-EU.

    Anton

    PS High tax also enervates a people – why bother to work hard if government takes so much of your reward?

  31. Anton Garrett Says:

    On more important matters: perhaps Britain does not have mixer taps because these make it more likely that people will drink at least some water from the hot source, which has been seen as unsuitable for drinking – more likely to be polluted with traces of metal from the hot water storage tank, and bugs.

    • telescoper Says:

      Anton,

      That’s always the explanation I was given about taps. Generally the cold tap produces your drinking water, so you don’t want it mixed with water that isn’t likely to be so clean. On mainlaind Europe people perhaps consider domestic cold water to be unsuitable for drinking from the tap and so this issue doesn’t arise.

      I don’t in any case see why it is a problem to mix hot and cold water in the sink before washing and/or shaving.

      Peter

  32. “driving licence or any other piece of photo ID”: If the driving license is as secure (i.e. can’t easily be faked) as an ID card, then it essentially IS an ID card, though putting those at a disadvantage (or perhaps advantage, depending on point of view) who don’t have one. If it is not as secure, then it doesn’t serve its purpose as an ID.

    ““True, but the implied correlation is bogus.”

    Can you prove that?”

    I think that, in a scientific sense, burden of proof must be on those who claim a causal link. The fact that I gave some counterexamples actually casts considerable doubt on a monocausal theory anyway. Correlations are easy to find (a lower stork population is correlated with a declining birth rate; global warming is anticorrelated with the number of traditional (e.g. eye patch and wooden leg) pirates etc) while proving causation requires some sort of theory which makes falsifiable predictions etc.

  33. “Suppose the leaders of Germany had told France, Britain, USA and Russia that Germany was going to hold a referendum on the single currency whether they liked it or not. What do you think they would have done?”

    They would have said “no” to unification. It didn’t have to be a war. If these countries failed to recognise a unified Germany, then the goal of unification as a recognised sovereign country would not have been possible.

    “High tax also enervates a people – why bother to work hard if government takes so much of your reward?” Obviously, different people have different views on this. One should “agree to disagree” without claiming that people who prefer high taxes (in their own, democratic country) are somehow deluded. Denmark, for example, regularly ends up on the top of two lists: tax rate and happiness. Why is that? Note that Denmark actually has a conservative government, and has had for many years. The answer is that people get something in return for their taxes, and this system is better than paying, say, no tax and everyone paying his own way, because things can be organised more efficiently, people who are disadvantaged through no fault of their own can be helped etc. Obviously, no-one wants to pay taxes (high or not) if the money is not used wisely, but that’s a different issue, especially in countries where any government so doing could be easily voted out of office.

  34. “That’s always the explanation I was given about taps. Generally the cold tap produces your drinking water, so you don’t want it mixed with water that isn’t likely to be so clean. On mainlaind Europe people perhaps consider domestic cold water to be unsuitable for drinking from the tap and so this issue doesn’t arise.”

    Actually, I think that places where cold water from the tap is unsuitable for drinking probably don’t have mixer taps either. Yes, sometimes, depending on how it is heated, hot water is not so suitable for drinking, but that is generally not a problem these days. (Some people prefer to drink bottled water because of the taste, or the fizziness, or because they think it is healthier. The last point is usually invalid, since people with a normal diet won’t be deficient in any of the minerals in the water, and in fact the regulations for tap water are often more stringent than are those for bottled water.

    “I don’t in any case see why it is a problem to mix hot and cold water in the sink before washing and/or shaving.”

    You have to admit that it is a problem with two showerheads, though. 🙂 When one needs a large quantity of water, such as when bathing a baby, then there isn’t much difference. However, when just a bit is needed, such as when washing one’s hands, one can get the correct temperature from the mixer tap. Mixing it in the basin requires more water, and then one needs to rinse the hands afterwards. A mixer tap really is more convenient.

    I mentioned the 4 stages above (2 separate taps, 2 taps with a common spout, mixer tap, and one spout with two knobs (temperature and pressure). There is a further possible improvement, in principle possible at all stages but in practice only seen in 3 and 4: have the knobs in a different place than the spout. This is the case in my bath, for example, where the spout is at the foot end and the mixer tap handle is near the head end, and also in the shower, where the pressure and temperature knobs are in the middle of the wall and the hose to the shower head emerges from the end of the same wall (and can be mounted on an adjacent wall).

  35. Another point: IIRC, everywhere I’ve been except England (and possibly Scotland), if there are two taps, then the one on the left is ALWAYS hot. In England, I definitely have experienced the opposite situation, though vice-versa also exists, I believe.

    Which is more common in England?

  36. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip,

    In paraphrase, I pointed to an observed correlation, whereas you asserted that there was no underlying causation. The burden of proof is on you.

    The point is whether it is compulsory to carry State-recognised ID, not whether this comprises a driving license or a formal ID card. Here, thankfully, it is not compulsory, and that makes Britain less of a police State than places where it is compulsory. Although our government is doing its totalitarian best to play catch-up.

    The Four Powers could have grumbled all they wanted, but what counts is whether the German people recognise German reunification (eg by freely crossing the old boundary both ways) – not whether the Russian, American, British and French people recognise it. To teach his courtiers a lesson in reality, King Cnut once declared that he would not recognise the sea coming in, but it came in anyway just as he knew it would.

    The verdict of history is not yet in on hi-tax social democracies: they have existed for less than one lifetime and already secular Europe looks to be in terminal demographic decline, with its successors in view among us. Don’t blame them (you know who I mean); we are committing cultural suicide, and the resulting vacuum would always be filled by somebody.

    Anton

  37. Observation: England was at war with countries with ID cards.
    Theory: countries with ID cards are belligerent.
    Prediction: countries with which England wasn’t at war with ID cards are also belligerent.
    Observation: There are many countries with ID cards which are not belligerent (modern-day Germany, which recently has been criticised for being too pacifistic by many), Scandinavia.
    Conclusion: Prediction falsified, correlation is not due to causation.
    Q.E.D.

    Note that there was a time when the Scandinavian countries were somewhat belligerent. Note also that the Vikings didn’t carry ID cards. 🙂

    Equating “mandatory ID cards” with “police state” is stretching the rhetorical envelope somewhat. Note that in the US, Obama is being criticised as a communist due to his desire to implement a health-care reform which would lead to something much less communal than the NHS.
    It is one thing to disagree, another to criticise and yet still another to claim that the opponent supports something he doesn’t.

    What is the correlation between social democracy and declining birth rates? The birth rate in Germany is lower than in Scandinavia, whereas the latter have (much) more social-democratic influence (even to the point that this is espoused by other parties).

    How many children do you have? 🙂 For the record, I have two, additionally spent a large portion of my life raising a stepdaughter, and if no more come in the future then only because a chemotherapy has left me infertile (though this might be circumvented thanks to cryogenics).
    (I’m sure a few seconds of searching the web would allow me to find a claim that chemotherapy is a communist secret weapon.)

  38. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip,

    Re Hypothesis testing: give it time. The notion of ID cards is rather new and history takes quite a long time to deliver a verdict.

    You wrote: “Equating “mandatory ID cards” with “police state” is stretching the rhetorical envelope somewhat. Note that in the US, Obama is being criticised as a communist due to his desire to implement a health-care reform.” Compulsory carrying of ID cards is a VERY big step toward a police state, because at that point the police can hassle you in public for no reason. And that has nothing to do with Obama.

    “What is the correlation between social democracy and declining birth rates?” Strong. If you ask for *causative* steps, that would be tougher, but I reckon they are there if a few sociologists not blinded by their own ideology chose to look. Social democracy might well be strongER in Scandinavia than Germany, but it is very strong in both compared to a century ago. Think on historical timescales.

    I have never been married and I have no children. But I can do more good by converting a dozen people to my own viewpoint of what has gone wrong in EUtopia than by having three or four children.

    Anton

  39. “Compulsory carrying of ID cards is a VERY big step toward a police state, because at that point the police can hassle you in public for no reason.”

    Non-sequitur.

    Is, say, mandatory liability insurance a step towards a police state? If not, why the difference?

    Surely there is no country where the police can legally hassle someone for no reason. If they want to do so illegally, I doubt that not having an ID card will stop them.

    [Birth rate] Even if there is a strong correlation, rather than one causing the other, there is more likely a common cause. However, social democracy has been around about as long as ID cards, so I think history needs more time for a verdict either for both or for neither.

    The old adage “practice what you preach” comes to mind. I’ve always found it rather strange that the more vocal opponents of a declining birth rate often have few or no children themselves. The obvious example is the Catholic church, but there are many others. I’m not saying that convincing others can’t more than make up for one’s own lack of, err, effort, but most people react sceptically when someone suggests others do something which he himself does not.

    During most of human history, most women had many children, but then again most died quite young. Two surviving and having children in turn was probably the norm. There was a time a hundred or so years ago when conditions improved so that many more children survived, but contraception wasn’t widespread. This lead to the rather large families among all social classes of that era, something which existed for just a couple of generations in all of human history. Where there is no social infrastructure, people tend to have more children in the hope that this will make it more likely that some of them will take care of them in their old age, or even beggars where the larger the family, the more money they can collect, even so much that it offsets the cost of more children. Where this isn’t a concern, this pressure to have many children goes away, and the usual consequence is that on average each woman has 2 children (and essentially all survive into adulthood). (One needs about 2.1 for a stable population, since some people can’t have children for various reasons.) Recently, this number has dropped somewhat lower, but the main reason for that is lack of job security, the difficult of finding a flat large enough to accommodate more children etc. Where these concerns have been addressed, the birthrate tends to rise.

  40. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip,

    There is absolutely no reason why I should have to justify my existence to a lackey of the State if we make eye contact in a public place. He should have to justify himself to me, in fact, because my taxes pay his wages.

    You can’t win. If I’d had lots of children then I’d have the Greens on my case moaning about overpopulation and social irresponsibility. I am unmarried because I haven’t met any woman I wanted to marry who wanted to marry me, and I have no children because I believe that children should be brought up having the security of parents who’ve made a commitment to each other. This has nothing to do with my views on demography, of course.

    Anton

  41. “There is absolutely no reason why I should have to justify my existence to a lackey of the State if we make eye contact in a public place. He should have to justify himself to me, in fact, because my taxes pay his wages.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I just don’t see why being required to have an ID card has any bearing on this. If he cannot legally ask me to justify my existence for no reason, then presumably not having an ID card will not prevent him from doing so. If we restrict the discussion to what he can legally do, then if he has reason to suspect me—or someone who looks like me, or otherwise matches a description—then the consensus seems to be that this doesn’t fall under the “for no reason” banner and in fact the consequences are worse where no ID cards are required (come to the police station until this is sorted out) than where they are (OK, thanks, you’re not the person we’re looking for).

  42. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip,

    In what proportion of countries where the carrying of State-recognised ID is mandatory are there NOT laws allowing the police to demand ID at random? The two are generally part of the totalitarian package by which the individual is seen as subservient to the State rather than a component of it.

    If I want to carry my driving license when on foot, to show to policemen who think I look like an identikit murderer, than I am free to do so. If I prefer not to carry it and take the risk, that too is up to me. But to be told that I MUST carry EU-recognised ID in Britain (as I suspect is coming in the next decade) would make me wonder why we bothered to go to war.

    Anton

  43. I haven’t checked the laws of all countries which have mandatory ID cards. However, I have lived most of my life in such countries and have never been asked to show an ID at random. Any potential danger is thus probably exaggerated. Another question is whether one sees it as a danger. Personally, I wouldn’t have any objection to it, as long as it wasn’t so often as to be a pain and wasn’t being used just to annoy me. But I think it would be a good idea that the police cannot request it “at random” or “for no particular reason”. Whether that’s what the laws specify, I don’t know. However, English law has a long tradition of “common sense” and this might exist somewhere outside of England as well. 🙂

    I think there is a serious error in your logic. Yes, a totalitarian state would probably have both ID cards and the possibility to ask them to be displayed at random or for no particular reason. But not all states which require ID cards are totalitarian states, unless you tautologically define a totalitarian state as one which requires ID cards.

    Note that while the UK doesn’t have ID cards, personal freedom is in some respects more restricted than in some countries which have ID cards. Thus, the absence of ID cards doesn’t guarantee more personal freedom.

    Lenin said “‘Electricity plus Soviets equals Socialism.” However, I assume you consider it possible for a country to have electricity and yet not have Socialism or Soviets.

    If you really think that the main goal of WWII (which I presume you are referring to) was to keep ID cards out of Britain, then I think you need to read up on your history.

    Let me ask again: Are you considering leaving the UK, or will you do so if mandatory ID cards are instituted? If so, where will you go (presumably lack of ID cards would be a requirement)?

  44. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip,

    I am not considering leaving Britain. Even if there were somewhere better for me, that is the coward’s way out. I intend to stay here and work for my point of view. I expect to be punished for it in a decade or so – perhaps by people who think it is right that I should carry an ID card at all times, if I am caught in public without one. Would you support my punishment if I broke such a law?

    Electricity was not invented in Soviet Union; innovation generally came from capitalist countries. You presumably had the good fortune to be brought up in the Bundesrepublik rather than the DDR? Take a good look at the EU’s unaccountable constitutional setup, its ruthlessness and deviousness in ramming its program through regardless of referendum results in varous European countries, then extrapolate by a decade or so, and ask yourself whether EUtopia is heading toward the DDR or the BRD.

    You wrote: “If you really think that the main goal of WWII (which I presume you are referring to) was to keep ID cards out of Britain, then I think you need to read up on your history.” Actually I stand by that statement. Here is a quote from CS Lewis (it is an aside in a book of Christian apologetics):

    “It is easy to think that the Church has a lot of different objects—education, building, missions, holding services. Just as it is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects—military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is there fore. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, econhomics etc are simply a waste of time…”

    Hear, hear!

    Anton

  45. “I intend to stay here and work for my point of view.” A good choice.

    “Would you support my punishment if I broke such a law?” I think the question is whether one agrees that, if a law exists, it should be followed and, if not, that this needs to be punished (otherwise the law has no effect). I think that this needs to be the case, even if one disagrees with an individual law. In that case, one should work to change it, but one must accept that one cannot convince all of the people all of the time. Democracy might not be perfect, but it is better than the alternatives. Part of democracy is accepting the opinion of the majority, even if one disagrees with it. The alternative is dictatorship or anarchy. Having said that, I have never heard of anyone who was accused of not having an ID per se; only as a consequence of being arrested for something else (say, causing a motoring accident due to drunk driving) and getting additional punishment for having no ID when the latter turned out to be the case.

    “Electricity was not invented in Soviet Union”. True, but that’s not the point of the quote. The point was that Lenin gave an example where A + B = C, but (whether one agrees with this or not) most people would say that A alone is possible, i.e. does not imply B or C. So, A could be ID cards, B could be the requirement to show them on demand and C could be a totalitarian state. A alone is possible, just like it is possible to have electricity without communism, despite the fact that they also exist in combination.

    “You presumably had the good fortune to be brought up in the Bundesrepublik rather than the DDR?” Actually, I was born in Alabama and grew up in Texas and used to be a fire-and-brimstone Baptist. I came to Germany when I was 18, the original plan being to live here for a year to learn German then return, but I so much preferred it to the States that, to make a long story short, I stayed. I know have (only) German citizenship.

    “Take a good look at the EU’s unaccountable constitutional setup,” This is, in my opinion, a major weakness of the EU. (For the record: had there been a chance to vote on whether or not Germany should join the EU, or the single currency, I might very well have voted against it.) (The EU is not directly relevant to this discussion, since there are non-EU countries with ID cards, big government etc (e.g. Norway).)

    “its ruthlessness and deviousness in ramming its program through regardless of referendum results in varous European countries,”

    I think the default should be that an elected parliament decides, but sometimes the majority of the population thinks differently on a major issue and thus a referendum is a good idea. I would require five things, though: 1) it must be binding, 2) it could be negated only by another referendum, 3) all outcomes must have been declared constitutional before the referendum (perhaps one needs X signatures to require a court to decide whether all outcomes are constitutional and, if they are, an additional Y signatures to make the referendum appear on the ballot), 4) it needs to be a yes/no question and 5) it can be initiated only by collecting signatures, not by Parliament or the government. A referendum on a constitution doesn’t meet 4) so personally I don’t think this should have been a question for a referendum at all. It’s not primarily a yes/no question. (Sure, all questions have details, and most questions can be answered yes or no; the point is the distinction between questions which are primarily yes/no (join the EU, leave NATO, join the single currency) or primarily concerned with details (what sort of tax system do we want). Most people who voted on the referendum hadn’t read the proposed constitution, but rather used the referendum for other purposes. To some extent this is a reaction to the lack of possibilities for influence elsewhere. However, note that in those cases where the referendum rejected the proposed constitution, the countries could have just stuck to their guns. Rather, they used the result to get something they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. Since the population then voted again, and accepted, then one can conclude that these advantages were deemed to be worth it by the majority. In other words, the EU couldn’t have done anything had the affected countries said “no, that’s it”.

    “then extrapolate by a decade or so, and ask yourself whether EUtopia is heading toward the DDR or the BRD.” I would say neither.

  46. “The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is there fore. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, econhomics etc are simply a waste of time…”

    I couldn’t agree more. I interpret it as a case FOR the State, though.

    By the way, at the suggestion of a friend (from Germany but who now lives in England) who lent me the book, I read Lewis’s OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET and the other two books of the Space Trilogy. Reasonably well written, but good s.f. it was not. (Perhaps it wasn’t intended as such, though.)

  47. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip,

    Behind my question, about whether you think I should be punished if I was asked for ID and didn’t have it on me when the law required me to, was this. In England a traditional way for the people to signal to government a law they disagree with is for juries to refuse to convict people who are blatantly guilty under that law. Juries often retire to decide their verdict with the admonishment of the judge ringing in their ears, “Remember, members of the jury, if you think the defendant is guilty then you MUST convict” and thankfully they often ignore this statement. If I were on a jury about a case of simply ID-non-carrying then I would certainly behave like this. How about you?

    I like your five rules of referendum. As for the EU votes in various European countries in the last few years, the EU totalitaricrats have played the game of optional stopping: keep demanding a referendum in a particular country, applying a mix of carrot and the stick between each one, until that country gives the answer the EU wants. Then stop. So a sixth rule is needed: no repeat of the issue for several years.

    I’m not sure that CS Lewis’ Space Trilogy should be classified as SF, but like you I didn’t think very much of it. He was a literary critic by profession and in my view was at his best in “The Allegory of Love” (the book which made his academic reputation, about courtly love and the troubadour tradition), “The Discarded Image” (about the mediaeval worldview and its outworkings in literature), “The Four Loves” (about the four classical Greek words all, unfortunately, translated as ‘love’ in English), and some of his apologetics, such as “The Abolition of Man” and “Mere Christianity”. I intend to read his critique of Milton too, but it would help if I read “Paradise Lost” first…

    Anton

  48. “In England a traditional way for the people to signal to government a law they disagree with is for juries to refuse to convict people who are blatantly guilty under that law.”

    Sounds rather inefficient to me. Normally, when people disagree with a law, this is reflected in which MPs are elected and the law correspondingly changed or abolished in Parliament. Might be difficult for a two-party system, though. Of course, in the cases where there is a big disagreement between the people and the parliament (which in practice could only be resolved in a parliamentary fashion if, for each party in parliament, another was founded which differed in its programme only in respect to the one law in question; not very practical), the logical solution is a referendum.

    To answer your question: Apart from the fact that I don’t consider the “let’s not convict him even though he is guilty” tactic very well advised, in any case that is only an option to people who disagree with the law. I think it is clear that I think ID cards are a good idea (at least in democratic countries) and even if not I think that one should uphold even the laws one disagrees with, since the alternatives are anarchy or dictatorship. What about the reverse case: the accused is innocent, but the jury want to convict him. Also possible?

    “I like your five rules of referendum.”

    The referendum on the EU constitution actually violates two of them: it is not yes/no, and it was not proposed by an initiative of the electorate. As for a no-repeat rule, that’s not needed if Parliament itself can’t propose referenda, but rather only the people themselves, through gathering signatures. In the case of the EU constitution, though, presumably people who changed their vote from no to yes were convinced that it was worth it, i.e. the “gifts” offered were much better than the alternative (continue to say no and reject the gifts).

  49. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip,

    Your faith in the political process is touching. Trial by jury is better than an inquisitorial system where the separation between judiciary and executive exists more on paper than in practice.

    Do you believe in capital punishment? If not, would you as a juror argue with other jurors to convict a man whom you thought was guilty if the law had mandatory capital punishment for what he did?

    Anton

  50. I don’t object to trial by jury, I think it’s a good idea, but I think that the jury should follow the laws, as should everyone else.

    It’s not so much a question of believe as that I think the disadvantages outweigh any putative advantages with respect to capital punishment. I don’t see myself living in a country which has capital punishment, much less serving on a jury there (which would probably require citizenship in that country). So, the question is moot.

    However, in general, I think it is counterproductive to argue for what one believes to be false to correct some other problem in the system. If that is OK, then I can just pay less tax if I don’t agree with how it is being used. In other words, one could use this argument to justify anything.

  51. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip,

    Most people haven’t had a practical choice of what jurisdiction to live under; you have been privileged. You were brought up in a country which had the death penalty and you might be living there still had circumstances been only slightly different, eg meeting your wife before the age at which you left. You didn’t move for the specific purpose of quitting a capital punishment regime. And you surely understand the notion of a hypothetical question; so, once again: If (as I presume), you do not believe in capital punishment, would you as a juror argue with other jurors to convict a man whom you thought was guilty if the law had mandatory capital punishment for what he did?

    Anton

  52. Isn’t it the case in practice that such people would not be allowed to serve on a jury? I think that at least in some countries potential jurors have to swear that they would agree to all possible verdicts provided that they are convinced based on the evidence.

    I think on balance that I would (have to). If we allow people’s own conscience to trump the laws, then we allow anything. Consider the following scenario: an obviously innocent (doesn’t match the description, alibi etc) black man is accused of raping a white woman in the American South and is convicted by an all-white jury. Should that be OK because these jurors really believe that it’s OK?

    There are situations, of course, where it is the better option to disobey laws, but then one has to accept that it might bring down society. That is OK if bringing down society is a better option (and is a realistic consequence of the disobedience). The classic case is a dictator who has little popular support, but remains in power through terror. So, even though it was against the law, had I lived at the time and had the chance, I probably would have involved myself, say, in a plot to kill Hitler. The assumption has to be that the results, after an initial period of chaos, perhaps, will nevertheless justify the action. It also assumes that such an action would actually lead to some sort of popular revolt etc.

    To get back to the US, most of the population supports the death penalty, so there is no chance of a popular revolt leading to its abolition as a result of jurors who lie in order to avoid an execution (assuming that such people could serve on a jury in the first place, which I doubt). The proper course of action, if one disagrees for a law, is to vote accordingly and try to convince other voters.

    What if the shoe is on the other foot and I am accused and convicted by a jury despite the evidence because someone lied and said he was convinced of my guilt when in fact he was not, and could not have been, based on objective criteria?

    What one shouldn’t do is not obey a law because of one’s conscience, then when accused demand to be treated fairly, have one’s rights respected etc. One can’t have it both ways. Either be a law-abiding citizen and work for change through democratic means, or not and be prepared to accept the consequences. One should also be realistic, not like Che planning to instigate a popular revolt in South America with an army of 30 or so (not 30 thousand, just 30) soldiers, even if one is convinced that one is right.

  53. “You didn’t move for the specific purpose of quitting a capital punishment regime.” Not only, but also. There were many factors. I realise that I had a chance which most people don’t. Nevertheless, it wasn’t always easy.

  54. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip,

    I am grateful to you for answering my question. We draw lines in different places. If a judge thinks a jury has got it wrong then he has *some* discretion in the sentencing, although of course he cannot say that that is why he is going easy.

    “If we allow people’s own conscience to trump the laws, then we allow anything.” I don’t agree – conscience is not arbitrary. If it were then we would not even have the concept of the conscience. Of course you can train your conscience to be noisier or quieter by the way you live and the choices you make, but it exists in all persons. Also it doesn’t matter whether you think the conscience reflects the image of God or natural selection involving sociobiological mechanisms – it points in the same direction for all people.

    Anton

    • telescoper Says:

      Anton,

      I’m no legal expert, but my understanding is that in England & Wales the verdict of a jury is binding in a criminal court. So if the judge directs the jury to return a particular verdict and they refuse to comply, it is the jury’s decision that holds sway. In other jurisdictions, however, including the USA, the judge has the power to set aside a jury verdict.

      Peter

  55. The point is that anyone can say “I am acting so and so because that is what my conscience tells me to do” and no one can objectively attack this position, except by saying that individual conscience isn’t the ultimate arbitrator. I’m sure suicide bombers believe that they are following their conscience. Thus, in practice conscience is arbitrary, unless we have a “thought police” who make sure that people have the “correct” conscience. 😐

    Even if all people have a conscience, I’m sure it isn’t the same in all people.

  56. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter: If a judge told a jury I was on to return a particular verdict then I would probably comply. I’m talking about a slightly different scenario, where the judge merely says, “Remember, members of the jury, if you think the defendant is guilty then you MUST convict”. My attitude is that he *has* to say that. I would not go against it lightly, but I am a human being not a machine for reasoning.

    Phillip: I stated where and why conscience might differ in different people, yet is not arbitrary. I repeat that if conscience were totally arbitrary then we would not even have a word for the concept.

    Anton

    • telescoper Says:

      I’ve just remembered the famous example of the Clive Ponting trial. The jury in that case was directed to find him guilty as the defence case of whistle-blowing had no legal basis. The jury acquitted him.

  57. Anton Garrett Says:

    What about Ricky Ponting?

    I must say that I’m looking forward to the Pakistan vs Australia Test at Lords this coming summer (Pakistan are playing their home fixtures in England for security reasons.) It will be a lot more relaxing than watching England.

  58. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter,

    According to Wikipedia, Clive Ponting’s defence was that his disclosure of Ministry of Defence documents to an MP (Tam Dalyell) was protected by parliamentary privilege. His acquittal came despite the judge’s direction to the jury that “the public interest is what the government of the day says it is” – a statement which shows how nominal is the independence of the judiciary from the executive. (Ironically, I think the case for torpedoing the General Belgrano was strong even where that battlecruiser was located and was pointed.)

    Anton

  59. Anton Garrett Says:

    PS A man of no convictions…

Leave a Reply to Phillip Helbig Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: