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The Sharpener http://sharpener.johnband.org Trying to make a point Fri, 30 Jan 2015 05:36:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 This blog is defunct, but the archives will live http://sharpener.johnband.org/2012/03/this-blog-is-defunct-but-the-archives-will-live/ http://sharpener.johnband.org/2012/03/this-blog-is-defunct-but-the-archives-will-live/#comments Tue, 06 Mar 2012 05:55:17 +0000 http://sharpener.johnband.org/2012/03/ Read More

All the content here is a mirror of content hosted at erstwhile group blog The Sharpener, before evil domain name spammers nicked the domain name (this may also reflect a degree of ‘forgetting to renew’ on my part).

It’s based directly on a database backup from 2008, so assorted hacking (in the ‘good’ sense of the term) had to be done to retrieve it. Certain things are still missing, including categories, reflecting changes in how WordPress operates now compared to when the database was done.

The formatting is, as you can see, basic-bordering-on-rubbish. I’ll add a list of posts by author at some point, and may fix the categories thing. Otherwise, this is as it’ll stay – primarily so Sharpeners have an archive of their own pieces.

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Sky in ‘still not falling’ shock http://sharpener.johnband.org/2008/01/sky-in-still-not-falling-shock/ http://sharpener.johnband.org/2008/01/sky-in-still-not-falling-shock/#comments Thu, 24 Jan 2008 17:35:55 +0000 http://www.thesharpener.net/2008/01/24/sky-in-still-not-falling-shock/ Read More

The latest crime figures are out [PDF]: they show a fall in recorded crime, and flat crime according to the British Crime Survey [*].

This isn’t surprising – it just highlights that the rest of the country is actually doing the same ‘crime probably down a bit and certainly not up‘ thing as London, and that crime is far lower than it was at the beginning of the decade (there’s a handy historical comparison on page 6 for the BCS figures).

Interestingly, recorded “serious violence against the person” fell by 9%. Now, while I’m aware that people only bother reporting nicked wallets and broken car windows if they need the insurance money, I’m sceptical that GBH and attempted murder are similarly hushed up – they’re the kind of Serious Crimes that the police are targeted on actually solving, rather than ignoring. So unless there’s a major reporting change I’ve missed, this sounds like potentially excellent news.

Also, ‘gun crime’ is up, but gun murder is down. As with drug possession, it seems likely that the higher incidence of ‘gun crime’ is due to a greater police effort at clamping down on people with illicit guns [and yes, I accept it’s possible that gun crime has really risen, but that our feral teens are so dim and crack-addled that they can’t shoot straight enough to kill anyone].

And finally, something which proves my blethering about crime figures and irrational fears is unequivocally right (hurrah!)

As has been the case since 2003/04, most people believe that crime in their local area is flat or falling: this year, 59% of people thought this was the case. But most people simultaneously believe that crime nationwide is rising: only 35% think it is flat or falling.

Regular readers will not be surprised to hear the explanation: the diet of nonsensical, hysterical lies about rocketing crime and lawless yoof that the media and politicians (and bloggers even more so, but luckily nobody listens to us) serves up is so prevalent that people ignore their own experience.

Instead of thinking “hmm, nobody shot, stabbed, robbed and crucified me or anyone I know last year – hooray for low crime”, they think “Look at all this awful stuff reported in the paper [**], and at what those nice chaps Mr Paddick and Mr Johnson are saying – I’m lucky to live in one of the few areas that isn’t riddled with low-lifes and ne’er-do-wells, but everywhere else must be totally going to hell”.

Conclusion: just think how much happier we’d all be if the doomsayers were to, broadly speaking, shut the hell up…

[*] despite its name, the British Crime Survey only covers England and Wales. If you’re Scottish, the sky may well be falling in and you may well be about to be chopped up and made into haggis, for all I know or care. I don’t know why they haven’t renamed the BCS to the English Crime Survey, which would have the double advantage of being more accurate and annoying the Welsh.

[**] as part of a new “no cheap points” initiative, I haven’t mentioned the Daily Mail here.

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Not quite what the papers say http://sharpener.johnband.org/2008/01/not-quite-what-the-papers-say/ http://sharpener.johnband.org/2008/01/not-quite-what-the-papers-say/#comments Fri, 18 Jan 2008 11:56:38 +0000 http://www.thesharpener.net/2008/01/18/not-quite-what-the-papers-say/ Read More

Did you know that crime in London fell by 6% last year? Weird, considering the hysterical paranoia in broadsheet papers and tabloid blogs alike.

Yes, I know that reported crime figures are seldom accurate, which is why people who claim things like “Rape offences have increased ELEVENFOLD” are being dishonest (this is because women now feel more able to report acquaintance rape to the police and know that they’ll at least be listened to, even if the rapist is still unlikely to be convicted). So let’s look at the murder rate – even the most jaded sceptics believe that murder figures are a fair reflection of the truth…

Plus, we know that London is full of Terrible Murders, and you can barely go out in the street without being shanked or shot by a feral youth. It must be true – Boris says so (to be fair, he’s better acquainted than most of us with lairy dangerous thugs). Mass immigration under ZaNu Labour has destabilised society, filling London with people who’re just more genetically suited to being violent demented thugs (note: horrible BNP loony).

So it’s a bit weird that last year had the lowest murder rate in London since 1998, that murder has been falling in London for the last four years, and that this trend shows no sign of stopping. Almost as if the tabloids and pub bores were talking absolute nonsense, in fact…

Everything you know is wrong

Why bother writing about this false perception? Well, because it matters. If The Man On The Clapham Omnibus thinks he’s likely to be murdered as said omnibus passes through Kennington, that will affect his behaviour, his lifestyle patterns and his voting patters. It’d be unfortunate if ‘white flight’ became a reality despite the fact that there’s nothing really to flee from.

Indeed, there’s doubly nothing for most of us to flee from.

This point is difficult to address without being called a callous bastard by people on the left and the right, but it’s really really important and entirely true: nearly all of the serious violent crime [*] that happens in London happens to people who choose to move in criminal circles. Gangs seldom shoot or knife people just for fun – they shoot or knife people who’re in rival gangs, or who’ve nicked their money, or who’re trying to sell drugs on their turf.

Yes, obviously this is a bad thing and we should hunt them down and lock them up and address the root causes, and all of that. Operation Trident is great, and we should give the Met more money to spend on tackling gang and gun culture.

Anyway, the countryside keeps Miss Marple busy

All that said, if you are someone in London who is not a gang member and is not planning to join a gang any time soon, then the effective serious crime rate you face is closer to a retired colonel in Stow-on-the-Wold than to London’s total serious crimes divided by its total population.

And that’s seriously important to people’s decisionmaking. If I faced the same risk of being a target of violent crime as a gang member, then I’d get the hell out of London, possibly stopping for half an hour to pack my stuff.

However, since I know that my chances of being a victim of anything more serious than getting my wallet pinched or getting thumped by [**] a pissed-up idiot are roughly up there with my chances of winning the lottery, being shot in the head by the police and then brought back from the dead by Elvis, I’m happy to live in a not-especially-wealthy part of East London.

On the plus side, at least the paranoicals who’re too scared to live there are keeping my rent down.

[*] not “all”, so posting emotive accounts of some chap being pushed under a train by a loony or set on fire for asking someone to put out a cigarette doesn’t help your case here.

[**] or “whilst being”, possibly more accurately.

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http://sharpener.johnband.org/2008/01/704/ http://sharpener.johnband.org/2008/01/704/#comments Fri, 11 Jan 2008 16:13:37 +0000 http://www.thesharpener.net/2008/01/11/704/ A matter of great national importance

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Tax and Attacks on the Sick http://sharpener.johnband.org/2008/01/tax-and-attacks-on-the-sick/ http://sharpener.johnband.org/2008/01/tax-and-attacks-on-the-sick/#comments Thu, 10 Jan 2008 16:31:07 +0000 http://www.thesharpener.net/2008/01/10/tax-and-attacks-on-the-sick/ Read More

To be on Incapacity Benefit you have to have been deemed unfit for work by your GP. Then, after several months on Income Support, you move on to Incapacity Benefit.

In case anyone needs reminding, your GP is a qualified doctor with your full medical history in front of them. Hard to think of anyone better placed to make that sort of decision. But there is one man who, without any medical training or performing any examinations, knows better than all the GPs combined.

Tory leader David Cameron said too many people were able to work, but did not.

He has plans for a radical shake-up that, er, just does what’s already being done. For most medical conditions covered by Incapacity Benefit, you must periodically fill in a form detailing the state of your condition and get a signed statement from your GP that you have been examined and are still unfit for work.

Under the Conservative plans, to be announced in full on Tuesday, all existing and new Incapacity Benefit (IB) claimants would have to attend an “in-depth assessment” to evaluate their needs and capabilities and decide if they are able to work.

This is precisely what happens already. Under the present regime, having submitted the assessment form, if you are anything like close to possibly being fit for work you are called in for an examination by a different doctor, one who sees IB claimants all day long. These people have a dark and sour reputation. Ask anyone who works at Job Centres about clearly sick people being sent back on to Job Seekers Allowance. You only stay on IB if these particularly stringent specialist doctors agree.

People with permanent disabilities which make it impossible to work would continue to receive “unconditional” support, but those with non-permanent conditions would be subject to regular checks.

This, too, is what already happens. Those with a variable condition get a new assessment form a few months later, and the whole cycle starts again.

The Tories are promising that those who have the “potential” to be able to work would be referred to specialised welfare-to-work providers who would help them prepare them for jobs and would be paid by results.

Already, those on Incapacity Benefit – including those whose condition has been affirmed by the specialist doctors – are called in for interviews at Job Centres where dedicated advisers steer them towards returning to work. Many of these people are already paid by results under the Pathways To Work scheme.

Those deemed fit to work would be taken off IB and put onto Jobseekers’ Allowance. This would mean a £20-a-week cut in benefits and a requirement to seek work immediately.

Clear implication here that IB gives the claimant more money than Job Seekers Allowance. And, superficially, it does. There’s something missing from the bare numbers, though.

People on the Long-Term rate of Incapacity Benefit get £81.35 a week, and for those who were under 45 when they became unfit for work there’s an additional £17.10, making a total of £98.45 a week.

Sounds like a lot of money compared to Job Seekers Allowance of £59.15 a week, until you realise that this higher income seriously impacts on a range of other benefits. What is given with one hand is taken away with the other.

Because people on Incapacity Benefit have a higher income, they receive less Housing Benefit than those on JSA and so have to use some of their Benefit to pay their rent.

Not only does it take away from their Housing Benefit, but it means they have to pay a substantial part of all other medical costs such as dental treatment that JSA claimants get free. Also, they don’t qualify for any help with prescriptions.

Let me say it again, because it beggars belief; the long-term sick have to pay full prescription charges.

These are people who have serious ongoing medical conditions and in many cases need a range of medicines on a permanent basis.

They are also more likely to have mobility problems meaning more transport costs, to have special dietary requirements and to need extra heating. That, along with their prescriptions, is where their extra money goes. Their actual standard of living is indistinguishable from people on JSA, carefully calculated to be the bare minimum necessary to survive.

If you want a real scandal of Incapacity claimants, and a stick to beat the present government with, that’s surely the one. As opposed to planning nothing that’s not already happening, but letting Incapacity Benefit claimants know you’ve got them in your sights and scaring genuinely sick people who know how harsh those government doctors are and fear how much worse they’ll be once a Cameron government gives them a higher strike-off target.

So, the whole proposed Conservative policy promises nothing that doesn’t already happen, yet its message is clear. Even though the government estimates tax evasion costs the exchequer around five times as much as benefit fraud (and that’s before we offset that with the billions effectively recouped in unclaimed benefits), we don’t get anything like five times the focus on the tax evaders and avoiders.

Once again we are being told not to trust the idea that anyone on benefits really deserves them. They should be working and paying taxes rather than taking money for nothing.

This from the party that promises to all but abolish Inheritance Tax, the clearest case of money for nothing imaginable.

But of course tax avoidance and evasion concerns the rich, benefits concern the poor. Not paying tax because you’ve inherited a million quid and want to keep it all is fine, not paying tax because doctors say you can’t work to earn any tax makes you fair game.

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Stopped clocks and mullet-haired petrolheads http://sharpener.johnband.org/2008/01/stopped-clocks-and-mullet-headed-petrolheads/ http://sharpener.johnband.org/2008/01/stopped-clocks-and-mullet-headed-petrolheads/#comments Mon, 07 Jan 2008 20:53:04 +0000 http://www.thesharpener.net/2008/01/07/stopped-clocks-and-mullet-headed-petrolheads/ Read More

In the wake of the HMRC benefit disc loss furore, I repeatedly made an important point that most commentators overlooked: the information provided on those discs was completely useless to carry out any kind of serious fraud, theft or scam.

Jeremy Clarkson, to his credit, shared this view. Unlike me, he had the cojones to back this up by printing his bank account details and home address in a national newspaper. And indeed, his experiment proved that he and I were right, and that almost everyone else commenting on the affair is a hysterical paranoiac.

This isn’t quite the way in which Clarkson’s experiment has been reported in the media, which isn’t surprising given that the media isn’t generally very good at understanding, well, much really – the media is focusing on the fact that some merry prankster set up a direct debit payment to transfer £500 of Clarkson’s money to a charity.

How does that work? Well, there isn’t much security required in setting up direct debits to pay the kind of reputable organisations that accept direct debits (go to the ‘pay a bill’ section of your online bank account and it’ll give you a list of the type of people – EDF, Barclaycard, and so on…). However, there is also no benefit to a fraudster in doing so. “Ha ha, I’ll pay Dave Smith’s electricity bill out of Dave Smith’s very own bank account! What an evil mastermind I am…” [*]

What you can’t do with direct debits is to pay money to MR JOSEPH KWAME, SON OF THE LATE GENERAL KWAME OF LAGOS, NIGERIA. For that, you need to use a personal transfer or standing order – and to set those up, you need a lot more information than account-number-plus-address. Notably, despite millions of people having access to Clarkson’s account details, no money has been stolen in this way.

In short, Clarkson’s experiment suggests that if these CDs have fallen into nefarious hands, then the only thing the miscreant can do is randomly transfer cash from people they’re annoyed with to charities they support. Which isn’t particularly worrying, in the grand scheme of things. [**]

[*] OK, there is a technical loophole here – it’s just about possible that you-as-fraudster could pay your own utility bills from the victim’s account. However, this would be entirely stupid and pointless, since you’d be caught more or less immediately and go directly to jail. The fraud only works if you can get your hands on large amounts of hard cash and disappear before the victim notices.

[**] plus non-ID-fraud related issues like making names and addresses available for battered wives, protected witnesses, etc – I don’t think we’ve seen much disclosure on whether they were covered in the list or not, and if they were then that’s a much better argument for crucifying some people.

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http://sharpener.johnband.org/2007/12/701/ http://sharpener.johnband.org/2007/12/701/#comments Fri, 21 Dec 2007 12:43:29 +0000 http://www.thesharpener.net/2007/12/21/701/ An assessment of Labour’s performance on poverty measures. Better than the usual halfwitted rants…

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http://sharpener.johnband.org/2007/12/700/ http://sharpener.johnband.org/2007/12/700/#comments Wed, 19 Dec 2007 16:36:37 +0000 http://www.thesharpener.net/2007/12/19/700/ Birchill on Tesco: actually quite good

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Opposition to immigration is inherently immoral http://sharpener.johnband.org/2007/12/opposition-to-immigration-is-inherently-immoral/ http://sharpener.johnband.org/2007/12/opposition-to-immigration-is-inherently-immoral/#comments Wed, 19 Dec 2007 12:53:00 +0000 http://www.thesharpener.net/2007/12/19/opposition-to-immigration-is-inherently-immoral/ Read More

It appears The People, or at least that subset of The People that post on acrimonious talk boards and read tabloid newspapers, are getting annoyed by immigration.

This comment from this Commentisfree thread is a typical summary, directed at the kind of woolly liberals who think that offering a home to the poor and the persecuted might actually be a good thing:

You and others like you always take the moral high ground when it comes to defending the rights of illegal economic migrants, irrespective of their impact on the lives of ordinary working people, whom you know next to nothing about and I suspect care even less.

This rather misses the point that illegal economic migrants *are* ordinary working people.

It sounds glib, but it’s true: immigration massively increases the benefits flowing to people who are very very poor to start with, while possibly [the evidence that the native poor lose out at all is limited at best] having a small negative effect on people who are much much richer than them to start with.

So if I’m selecting my political preferences on a moral basis, why the hell should I care about the British working classes more than I care about the African starving classes? Why should Kev ‘n’ Tracy’s new widescreen TV take precedence over Abdullah having a roof over his head and enough to eat…?

Sure, if you’re a working class Labour voter, you might well be angry with the current government, because you voted Labour in the hope they’d buy you a new widescreen TV and not make you have to live next door to brown people. And that’s fine, just as it’s fine for rich Tory voters to be swayed by tax cuts. But don’t go pretending it’s a *moral* decision.

The only difficult question on immigration is – given that we live in a democracy where the voters are generally venal bastards – the extent to which policymakers should steer clear of doing the right thing, and the extent to which we should support them despite the fact that they are doing the wrong thing.

After all, it’s better for all concerned to have a Labour government that imposes too many restrictions on immigration than a BNP government that locks immigrants up in camps…

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http://sharpener.johnband.org/2007/12/698/ http://sharpener.johnband.org/2007/12/698/#comments Wed, 05 Dec 2007 11:25:30 +0000 http://www.thesharpener.net/2007/12/05/698/ Religion is not oppressed by secular society (and Christina Odone is a paranoid loon)

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