22 March 2005


Hard to bear

Wales have a famous Grand Slam in the bag and with the World Cup-holders in a distant fourth place there is nothing for an Englishman to do but to try to remain philosophical.
The pain was not eased when my Welsh-born son rang all the way from Canada to have a crow; proving that this sort of behaviour is cultural, not genetic.
Can you imagine me claiming bragging rights just because England had won a back-to-back Grand Slam and World Cup?
Still, I was able to point out to him that England had won the Calcutta Cup - something that Wales has never achieved.
Last summer, my son, who works in the construction industry, told me that because of huge demand from China the price of steel in Canada had gone through the roof.
He advised me to buy shares in Corus but, with one thing and another, I never got round to it.
Corus shares have almost doubled since then.
Ah! parents never listen to their children.
Anyway, when he rang on Sunday, I was able to return the favour.
"Get your money into red ink futures," I told him, "because the way the Western Mail is going world supplies must be close to exhaustion."
Now, I wouldn't like any of this to be taken as sour grapes.
Wales played some fantastic rugby and fully deserved their success, if only because their policy of all-out attack brought the romance back into the game.
However, I do take some consolation from the fact that, if the future mirrors the past, I will be 92 before I have to go through all this again.

Twisted logic

With a General Election almost upon us, now is the time to polish up our rhetoric detectors.
Rhetoric is a subject that interested the ancient Greeks who saw it as an essential tool for marshalling arguments in order to persuade others of the rightness of your case.
Unfortunately, over the years it became the province of snake-oil salesmen and politicians so that by the the late 17th century the philosopher John Locke was describing it as:"... that powerful instrument of error and deceit."
And so it remains.
There is a view that rhetoric and logic are in opposition, but that is not the case.
Logic tests the validity of arguments - not the truth of the conclusions.
So it is perfectly logical, but patently untrue, to say:

All four legged animals are dogs.
This animal has four legs.
Therefore, this animal is a dog.

Rhetoric comes into the equation when considering the truth and falsehood of the original premises.
Clearly, it would take a rhetoritician of outstanding abilities to persuade us that all four legged animals are dogs because we could quickly shoot him down by pointing to a sheep or an elephant.
However, rhetorical tricksters are usually more subtle than that.
For instance, during a discussion on abortion in last Friday's Any Questions the the pro-choice Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee said that no women ever takes the decision to have an abortion lightly.
She then went on to construct the perfectly reasonable argument that, as women take abortion extremely seriously, and they are the ones who knew most about the situation, they should have the right to choose.
This is, of course, nonsense because, given that there are getting on for 200,000 abortions each year in the UK, alone, Ms Toynbee cannot possibly know how all women view the subject.
And, if the initial premise is false, the whole argument falls on its backside.

Better late...

Last Wednesday afternoon, I received an email from the editor of the Western Telegraph regarding the article in my previous day's scribblings about non-publication of my letters to her newspaper correcting the highly misleading statements put about by leading members of the county council's Cabinet in respect of the Council tax for the forthcoming financial year (see Duff gen) .
She wrote: "After careful checking I find I have no record of your letter being received by this office."
As I didn't make up the story, I forwarded copies of the two emails I had sent to the Telegraph, dated 14 and 18 February, together with the message that, as I had had no indication from my ISP that the emails had not been delivered, I just assumed that they had.
A few days later, having received no further communication on the subject, I again emailed the editor asking if the issue of my disappearing emails had been sorted.
Back came the reply: "The short answer is no." together with the request that I should send all further emails direct to her personal email address.
Well, we all know how difficult it is to get reliable staff these days!
The good news is that the editor promises that my letter of 18 February will now be published in this week's edition.
Better late than never, I suppose.

Talking to the wall

The other day I found myself in conversation with one of the Independent Political (sic) Group's leading thinkers.
As you can imagine our exchange of views was not entirely amicable.
.In the end, the issue boiled down to who had said what, and when, at a particular council meeting.
I relied on my own recollection of events and a report in the Mercury that backed it up.
In response, he simply asserted that I was wrong.
Finally, he resorted to that well-worn cliche: "I'm entitled to my opinion."
This is one of the most pernicious phrases in the language because it denies the existence of objective truth.
If what is meant by this is that people are free to believe whatever they want, however bizarre, then it is certainly true, because there is nothing to stop you going around proclaiming that the earth is flat and the moon is made of green cheese.
However, not everybody is entitled to have their opinions taken seriously and, if you put out a prospectus; designed to persuade people to invest in your Lunar Green Cheese Mining company, you can expect the authorities to start taking an interest.
I think the reason for this confusion is the failure to distinguish between opinions and opinions about facts.
Whether the current Welsh rugby team is better than the team that won the Grand Slam in 1978 is essentially a matter of opinion because, ultimately, there is no way of resolving the question one way or the other.
However, the identity of the player who played fly half in the 1978 team is a matter of fact and anyone who is of the opinion that it was someone other than Phil Bennett is simply wrong.
They may, of course, persist in their opinion despite all the contrary evidence from contemporary newspaper reports and the match programme and you will conclude that this is someone with whom it is not possible to have a rational discussion.

Secret garden


It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this column to learn that Pembrokeshire County Council is not entering wholeheartedly into the spirit of the recently introduced Freedom of Information Act (FoI).
As I reported last week, when I asked for the records of Cllr Brian Hall's manful attempts to bring an inward investor to the county, I was told none had been kept..
Though this is an admission of administrative incompetence, it is the best possible defence against a request for disclosure because, if no information exists, there is no point in applying to the Information Commissioner for its release.
Another trick is to hide behind the provisions of the Data Protection Act, which forbids the disclosure of personal information.
This is the wheeze used to conceal the name of the officer in the Social Services Department who sent the infamous email referred to in the Ombudsman's report on the the Stephanie Lawrence affair.
You may remember that, on 9 July 2003, following an investigation by an independent expert, who had come down firmly on Mrs Lawrence's side, the Ombudsman wrote to the council urging them to reach a settlement with her.
It seems that officers in Social Services discussed this matter and decided to offer her an ex gratia payment.
However, somebody appears to have had second thoughts and on 23 July an internal email was sent questioning the strategic wisdom of such a move.
"Shouldn't the suggestion come from her so we can pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat so to speak. We seem to be offering the 'rabbit' a little too easily here for my liking which leaves little room for manoeuvre."
I obtained a copy of this email under the FoI but, unfortunately, the name of the sender and the recipient have been blacked out.
Whoever it was decided to play hard ball with Mrs Lawrence not only demonstrated a poorly developed understanding of ethical principles, but their strategic vision wasn't all that brilliant either because, when no settlement could be agreed, the Ombudsman stepped in and produced one of the most savagely critical reports that I have ever read (see Ombudsman).
It seems to me that the identity of this emailer and his/her position in the hierarchy is of the highest importance.
If it was just some relatively junior officer then it can be put down to a misjudgement, but, if, as I suspect, it was someone from near the top of the food chain, it shines a not very flattering light on the prevailing culture in the department.
It is not as if the department is always so keen to protect personal information.
You will recall that, about a year ago, there was a huge outcry when someone provided the then Leader, Maurice Hughes, with the sickness record of a member of staff who had dared to criticise the department which he then used to attack that member of staff in a public council meeting.
Double standards?
No standards at all, if you ask me.
Cllr Michael Williams tells me he is having trouble getting the council to disgorge the list of clients and completed projects that accompanied Dr Michael Ryan's application for the post of economic development consultant.
His interest in this subject comes from Dr Ryan's threat to sue him over an email he [Cllr Williams] sent to the council's head of economic development, Kefin Wakefield.
Cllr Williams thought the email was confidential but it found its way into the inbox of Dr Ryan's line manager Dai "Spin" Thomas who forwarded it to Dr Ryan together with the advice that it was libellous.
The council claims that if it divulges the information, Dr Ryan will sue for breach of confidence.
What is strange about this is that if you visit the website of Dr Ryan's company ORA International Ltd (www.oriain.com) and click "portfolio" you will find a list of 40 cities, worldwide , where Dr Ryan claims his company's involvement in "successfully completed major projects" (see major projects).
At the bottom of the page it states: "Comprehensive list of Clients and Projects available upon request."
So, how he can claim the list is confidential is a mystery.
There are certain inconsistencies about Dr Ryan's company website which those of us with an interest in these things would like to see ironed out. .
Firstly, it used to boast a "successfully completed major project" in Pembrokeshire but, after a couple of nosey locals emailed the good doctor seeking details of its whereabouts, the website disappeared for "reconstruction" and, when the rebuilt version was posted back on the Web, Pembrokeshire was, for whatever reason, absent from the list.
And secondly, after downloading ORA's profit and loss accounts from the Irish Companies Records website, Old Grumpy wonders if ever so much effort has been expended for so little reward.
Especially as the managing director is being paid £450 a day, plus expenses, to put Pembrokeshire's economic house in order.
See also Rent relief

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