The nice thing about this mathematical controversy is that everyone can understand it.

Τ (tau) equals Π times two. The circumference of a circle is 2Πr where r is radius of that circle, so it also equals Τr. Another way to express this is Πd where d is the diameter, or alternatively Τd/2 . These formulae are ratios.

Here’s what they’re arguing about. A circle is a real thing. The ratios mentioned above express, perhaps, something about the fundamental nature of reality. Putting the number ‘2’ in any of them is a bodge to get the result right. It would be better to have a formula that didn’t have a number in it. Two versions of such a formula are available: Πd and Τr.

This raises the question, which is the more fundamental measurement of a circle, the radius or the diameter? If a circle is defined as the set of points a common distance from a given point, the centre, then the fundamental properties of a circle are the position of the centre and the radius. If you take an abstract circle with no set position but just its size, the only property is the radius.

That’s what the Taoists are arguing: the radius is the measurement that should be used and so children should be taught to multiply it by Τ, instead of using Π.

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From this week’s Normblog profile of Emma Lee Potter (these lines are consecutive, I haven’t altered the sequence):

Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own? > Definitely not.

What do you consider the most important personal quality? > Generosity of spirit.

What personal fault do you most dislike? > Meanness – in every sense.


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This is an interesting interview with Thomas Pogge (via Norm Geras). He is concerned about global inequality and, while I don’t instinctively agree with his (redistributive) remedies, reading the piece made me aware how much room for agreement there can be across apparent political divides if an instinctive rejection of the other’s view can be suppressed.

Take this, for example:

… dictatorial regimes often manage to keep themselves in power because they are recognized by foreigners as representing the state and its people, and therefore as entitled to sell the country’s natural resources and to borrow money in its people’s name. These privileges conferred by foreigners keep autocrats in power despite the fact that they were not elected and do not rule in the interest of the population.

Or this:

If we offer a prize, so to speak, to anyone who manages to bring a country under his physical control – namely, that they can then sell the country’s resources and borrow in its name – then it’s not surprising that generals or guerrilla movements will want to compete for this prize. But that the prize is there is really not the fault of the insiders. It is the fault of the dominant states and of the system of international law they maintain. They create this disturbing fact that, if only you manage to bring a national territory under your physical control, then you will be recognized worldwide as its legitimate government: entitled to sell its people’s natural resources, to borrow and sign treaties in their name, and entitled also to import the weapons you need to keep yourself in power.

It goes much further than this, as the Arab Spring demonstrated. A policy of maintaining regional ‘stability’ led to large grants of money being made in ‘aid’ to tyrannical regimes. The scare quotes are because I don’t think the Middle East has been particularly stable and I don’t think aid is a very good word for the giving of financial support to tyrants.

And further:

… the massive corruption common in so many developing countries would be quite impossible if Western countries did not provide convenient opportunities to ship ill-gotten funds out of the country. It wouldn’t make much sense for a ruler to store in his basement large quantities of stolen cash in his own country’s currency. A corrupt ruler wants to be able to keep this money safe and to be able to spend it. And for this, he needs to convert it into a Western currency and store it in a bank abroad, where it can also earn investment returns and be bequeathed to his heirs. Global Financial Integrity estimates that less-developed countries have lost at least $342 billion per annum in this way during the 2000 to 2008 period.

The (right) libertarian-inclined writer P J O’Rourke commented that when politicians regulate commerce, the first things that get bought and sold are the politicians. Pogge puts it like this:

Our Supreme Court has even lifted this practice of buying legislation to the level of a constitutional principle by repeatedly protecting corporate spending for and against political candidates, as well as promises and threats of such spending to bribe and blackmail such candidates, by appeal to the free-speech clause of the First Amendment. I think that many citizens understand how our system works, or rather, fails to work, for structural reasons. But who has the capacity and the incentives to bring change? The banks and other corporations love the system because it allows them to buy legislation that serves their own interests even at the expense of the vast majority of citizens. Incumbent politicians love the system because it allows them to raise millions of dollars toward defending their seats. And the politicians, of course, get to appoint the judges who decide whether our constitutional protection of free speech also protects a bank’s purchase of legislation.

There isn’t much room between those two positions. But then Pogge goes on:

… the lack of a realistic political reform path leads to apathy and the kind of mindless frustration that manifests itself in the Tea Party-style hatred of any and all government.

I haven’t studied the Tea Party movement in any detail but from what I’ve seen it is far from mindless. What it is, rather, is unsophisticated, blue collar, not always very well-informed, and sometimes inarticulate. But Pogge falls into the trap, I think, of regarding them, instinctively, as enemies because he imagines them in the trenches on the far side of No Man’s Land. In fact, to some extent – not all – they are his natural allies.

It’s a very long interview and I’ve made this point well enough, I hope, not to need to give further examples. What strikes me above all is that if, instead of fighting on the grounds of principles – egalitarianism, religious conservatism, libertarianism and so on – where we disagree, people tried to find common ground in what they can agree are serious problems and then examine reality to agree what pragmatic steps might alleviate these problems, then we’d be able to advance liberalism far more effectively. Today, there is no effective, organised Liberal movement. Liberal values are scattered across the political landscape and, because they are scattered, they have few means of effective expression. Between the gaps, the illiberal, the corrupt and the self-serving can advance and profit.

We can argue about whether we should redistribute more; I think not because we’ve done lots of that I don’t think it has worked either domestically or internationally. We can argue about whether we should be striving for greater domestic and international economic freedom, free markets, free trade – which I do think have worked in practice. But wouldn’t it be better to be arguing about those thing having solved the problems, identified above, about which there can be widespread liberal consensus?

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Guido’s latest post claims BoJo was a blagger:

 In the now famous taped conversation between him and Darius Guppy, just months before the latter would be busted in a £1.8 million insurance scam, Boris conspired to have a News of the Worldjournalist, Stuart Collier, beaten up on behalf of his old School chum. In the tape Boris says he’ll obtain Collier’s phone number and then get an address. As the UK has never published reverse directories how would Boris achieve this?

Well blagging of course. It had to be via the police or a British Telecom staffer. Most likely would be a copper, as it was standard practice on Fleet Street back then to take advantage of the fact that the Police National Computer did not record such inquiries unless an individual was flagged as a person of interest. BT on the other hand much tighter internal controls. Boris displayed both the knowledge and intent to blag, though there is no evidence that he actually supplied the requested information, despite saying he would.

I was responsible for that tape recording: I hired an ex-BT employee to tap Guppy’s phone. Incidentally, while the conflict between myself and Guppy was a dirty fight, I’m sorry Johnson has got caught up in it. Anyway, Guido is wrong. Johnson had worked for News International and told Guppy he would approach an ex-colleague who had Collier’s address. Clive Goodman made enquiries, he told me, and discovered Johnson made no such approach despite assuring Guppy he would. I think Johnson was stiffing Guppy deliberately and had no intention of helping, but that’s just my opinion.

In any event, Guido’s wrong about this.

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I don’t want to pile in gratuitously, like a chicken at a peckin’ party as McMurphy put it in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, but this is quite extraordinary.

A week or so ago, Johann Hari gave a speech in which he said this:

“The real test of free speech is not if you support it when everyone is saying you’re great, but if you support it when people are saying something painful and humiliating about you.”


I agree. But if that’s what Hari thinks, why did he threaten to sue David T of Harry’s Place for defamation?

This is what David had written:

Basically, I think that bloggers and tabloid journalists are entitled to be a little bombastic and to get things wrong: as long as they’re happy to correct their errors when they become clear

However, should you aspire to be a serious academic commentator or non-tabloid journalist, a reputation for making things up should spell career death.

In the light of recent revelations, that seems a very relevant and gentle piece of advice. But in response, Hari wrote to him as follows:

“Hi – I’m perplexed by your post, which I’ve been informed by the Indie lawyers is libellous. I don’t have a reputation for “making things up”…

There are also a range of libellous comments on the blog implying that I do make things up. I have to insist these libellous comments are taken down immediately or I’ll have to take legal action. …”

Note the implied threat that the Independent as an institution was backing him. One of the problems with libel law as it stands is the sheer cost of proving yourself right. If a vexatious plaintiff has deep pockets they can silence almost any independent voice. David took down the post.

There’s more to be said about the specifics of this case but I’ll leave that to others. I just want to comment that Hari’s recent speech was right but his threat of libel action was wrong. I’m actually feeling a bit sorry for him, on a human level. He must be going through hell and, since he has a history of depression, I hope he’s being looked after by those who care for him. But this was a sordid piece of hypocrisy.

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The News of the World yesterday became the subject of a second police inquiry after Scotland Yard announced that it was to investigate whether the newspaper made illegal payments to serving police officers.


None of the officers is said to be senior. All are below the rank of commander…

This sort of corruption wasn’t limited to the News of the World. I saw it at first hand in the early 1990s when I was a witness in the Darius Guppy case; for all Guppy’s whining and lying, he actually had cause for his complaints about police conduct. A private letter from the future Earl Spencer to him, which had been found during a search of his flat, was passed by the police to the press and it was subsequently printed.

Only a minority of police officers had relationships with journalists. This wasn’t for any noble reasons. Only detectives were likely to have access to enough newsworthy stories, so uniformed officers were rarely press sources. The various squads dedicated to serious crime were the most likely to be connected with journalists but it would have been a shambles if everyone on a squad had their own contacts, so someone around the rank of Inspector would have maintained the contact and shared out the proceeds with the rest of the squad.

I was introduced, as a prosecution witness, to the journalist contact of the police team who were investigating Guppy. This was before the trial. The introduction was made, in person, by one of the more senior team members. I have no doubt he was paid for making it.

The journalist did not work for News International, but one of the other tabloids. He now writes for that most worthy of newspapers, The Independent, and is a prominent anti-war voice there.

News International do need to be investigated for this. But so does every other newspaper publisher.

There are a fair number of pious broadsheet journalists who’ve done this sort of thing, routinely, in the past as they climbed up the ladder. Full disclosure would be interesting.

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