Saturday, December 30, 2006

Happy New Year Saddam

So, the US and UK governments have another murder on their hands, to go along with all the others. I'm not saying that Saddam Hussein was a nice man. I wouldn't have invited him to my new-years eve party, or anything. However, I believe that you can judge a country by how it treats it's prisoners, and ex-dictators are no exception.

State sponsored execution is the worst kind of murder, because it is carried out in cold blood, on a totally helpless enemy. Anyone who approves of it should watch Krzysztof Kieslowski's film A Short Film About Killing, which puts the point better than I can.

Some people will say that it was the Iraqi's who executed him, not Bush or Blair but as Riverbend says:

"...make no mistake about it, this trial and verdict and execution are 100% American. Some of the actors were Iraqi enough, but the production, direction and montage was pure Hollywood..."

Here in the UK, we don't have the death penalty, but that hasn't stopped bloggers, christians, and the media over here metaphorically rubbing their hands with glee at the fact that once again we've managed to outsource our executions to somewhere that does. I haven't provided a link to the christian, because it was my mum.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

The Tragedy of Cod Fishing

Cod fishing in the North Sea is an emerging example of the tragedy of the commons. It's been brought into sharp focus by the decision of the European Ministers to slightly decrease the fishing quotas. This is against a background of cod stocks and catches decreasing year-on-year since the 1970's. The ICES, who monitor this, have been advising a moratorium on cod fishing since 1992.

In the summer of 1975 I spent a month in Newfoundland, in the city of St Johns, which at that time was a thriving fishing port, catching its share of 300,000 tonnes of cod caught off the East coast. St Johns isn't a big place, and most people were involved in the fishing industry. They were thriving on it though.

However, even then the catch had fallen from its peak of 800,000 tonnes in 1963. 1975 was also around the time they were introducing draggers (or trawlers), and this technology kept the levels up around 250,000 through the 1980's. In 1986, scientists recommended the catch be halved, due to dwindling stocks, and the Canadian government responded with a small reduction in the quota. See any similarities here?

By 1992 it was all over. There were simply no fish. The Canadian government responded by banning cod fishing, but it was too little, too late. A 1994 survey found only 1700 tonnes of biomass. 20 years later, and there's no real change. The cod have not returned.

The story is told here, by greenpeace, and there's a discussion of it as a tragedy of the commons here. Or in video here, if you like. It's a big deal to Newfies.

Fishing is interesting, because it's the last truly hunter-gatherer occupation that we have. All our other food production industries are a variation of farming. Even with highly mechanised fishing boats it's still hunting. History shows us that hunting on land can't support a large population, maybe 1% of that supported by farming, and hunting at sea isn't much different.

Using history as a guide, I predict that the sea will be given over to commercial fish farming, with a few nature reserves where people can fish for sport, and sell their high priced catches to discerning consumers.

A recent report in Science predicts the demise of commercial sea fishing worldwide by 2050. Its a classic tragedy of the commons, and we should all tuck in to our wild fish and chips, because soon there won't be any more. We'll have to make do with the farmed stuff. It's not so bad, although less romantic.

Mind you, Jared Diamond thinks that giving up hunting was the "Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race", and I can see why.

UPDATE: Here's an amusing site which confirms my views about the viability of cod farming, done by people who obviously have too much time on their hands.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Unforeseen Consequences

Unless you've been living on Mars, or at least outside the UK, for the last couple of weeks, it will not have escaped your notice that someone has been murdering prostitutes in the the Ipswich area. With a blog titled "Sex and Death", I could hardly fail to comment on this, albeit a bit late.

Matthew Parris has written an excellent article about it here, in which he lays the blame fairly and squarely at the current laws on prostitution.

The important point to take from this is that whenever governments make a law prohibiting something, there will be unforeseen, and often undesirable, side-effects. By making brothels and advertising illegal, they force women to work on the streets, and by making drugs illegal they push up the price and force addicts to commit crimes to feed their artificially expensive habits. That's what the International Collective of Prostitutes think, and they should know.

In this case, the murdered women would not have had to hang around on street corners, making themselves easy targets for a maniac, if the law had been different. It's a pity the lawmakers aren't able to see this.

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