Thursday, 31 December 2009

2010 predictions

Everything will continue to be fairly shit for the foreseeable future.

Last Post of the Decade by JP?

No. Not the last post of the decade. Seeing as the Gregorian Calendar started with the year 1 AD, the end of the 1st decade was the year 10 AD. Yes, fools, this also means the start of the current millenium was January 1st 2001. So let's just call this the last post of the year 2009.

What a year though, eh? MPs expenses surely tops the list in terms of politics, but what other stories did we have the delight of reading this year? In entertainment, Michael Jackson died. In literature we had our first female Poet Laureate. In international affairs we saw the Gaza Conflict and the inauguration of Obamarama. In science, that damn proton accelerator got back on track. In sport, Murray lost again. In blogging there was another list of top political bloggers that I didn't reach! And finally in personal affairs, my elder brother got engaged today.

I can't help but get all sentimental about this year, and wonder if next year will be as good... Will we have more strikes? Will the economy get on the road to recovery? Will the incoming Conservative government get off their pseudo-New Labour arses and do something useful? Will Obnoxio stop using the word "cunt"?

But what about the next 100 years? The next 1000? Will we find life on other planets? Will we communicate with them? How powerful will computers be? Will Europe be one country? Will China be the new America? What will happen to the human race?

These are big questions. I often dread the answers. For 100 years ago we didn't know what do with an atom, or really know what the damned thing was. Now we have the power to recreate the big bang. 100 years ago it would have taken weeks to get from New York to London. Now it takes a few hours. What will we be able to do in 1000 years? Can anyone answer that?

I have my own ambitions for 2010. Take up photography, lay off the coffee and write a novel are on the list. However I have ambitions beyond my control. I want laws repealed, such as the Anti-Terrorism Act. I want a Bill of Rights. I want a leader in the sense that Thatcher was. I want the right to take pictures of policemen goddammit. I want people to lay the hell off Israel. I want Boatang and D to admit that they are social democrats.

What do you want?  World peace? An end to terrorism? Or for someone to tell you whether 2010 will be pronounced "twenty-ten" or "two-thousand-ten"?

Anyway, think of this as you get rat-arsed tonight. And tomorrow. And most nights of the year.

Happy new year to all.


Lunar quandary

Here's a photo of the Moon, which I took a few minutes ago, when it stood more or less due east from where I was standing. As you can see, it's not quite a full moon yet, and the bottom right hand corner is still in darkness, i.e. not lit by the Sun. What baffles me is that the Sun is somewhere behind, beneath and to the left of me (having set in the west) - so why is the bottom right hand corner still dark and not the top right hand corner? NB, the dark bit is not due to cloud cover, just ignore that.
Answers on a postcard.

UPDATE: As Stringersbeer points out in the comments,
it was a partial lunar eclipse. D'oh!

Status Quo gear change

To celebrate their inclusion in the New Year's honours list, I dug out and listened to Status Quo's greatest hits today, which, given their reputation is pretty much the last place I'd have expected to hear a gear change, but nope, they just couldn't resist, could they?

It's here, a slightly inept semi-tone up at 1 minute 44 seconds (shortly before the fade):

The War on Spider Plants: Year Two

The spider plants managed to make a full recovery after being nearly wiped out by the snows of last February, but the freezing conditions and snow of the last couple of weeks have put paid all to that:

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

David Tennant

Know-it-all's just can't resist digging

More tax hilarity over at John Redwood's:



I think you are confusing cashflow and profit. The point is that VAT will never affect the level of retained profit or loss in your business. VAT is not a part of your P/L, and never belongs to your business. Your customers are paying the VAT which you then have to pass on...

Mark Wadsworth:


1. I am the world’s second best accountant and know perfectly well the difference between cashflow and profit, in the long run they are the same thing anyway.

2. But I also know the difference between the legal and economic incidence of a tax …

3. VAT is only not part of your P&L because accounting standards say so. Let’s take a simple example and you are a one-man limited company with very low costs and are making VAT-able to end-consumers. For every extra £1 you earn from a customer, you have to hand over 15p in VAT within three months and then out of the remaining 85p hand over 19p within nine months.

4. Business Rates is part of the rent, the Tories experimented with BR-free zones in the 1980s and all that happened was that landlords put up the rent. It did not stimulate or encourage business activity in the slightest.

5. Therefore your two statements
“If you can’t pay the VAT you aren’t making a profit in the first place and frankly shouldn’t be in business” and “Business Rates are equally as insidious as Corp Tax as you feel you get nothing for it and pay it regardless of your P/L” are not only incorrect but self-contradictory…

6. A business gets a heck of a lot for its total rent (rent plus BR), it gets the base, access to public transport, employees, customers etc etc. So the real truth of the matter is that a business that can’t afford the total rent (which by definition other businesses would be happy to pay to trade from that location) shouldn’t be in business.

7. Conversely, if and when we get out of the EU and VAT is phased out, businesses that might otherwise not have been profitable will become profitable, prices go down, more employment etc etc. Hurray!

Animal Special Forces: The Great Escape

FormerTory alerts me to this BBC report:

A herd of pigs that escaped on to a motorway in Essex after the lorry carrying them crashed have been rounded up and taken to an abattoir... Both carriageways were closed for about 10 hours while 78 pigs were rounded up and transferred to other lorries. The RSPCA said four seriously injured pigs had to be put down at the scene...

Know-it-all twats over at John Redwood's

JR did a very sensible article saying that it'd be a good idea if the government removed some of the barriers to setting up and growing small businesses. I commented thusly:

John, I’d broadly agree, especially on the de-regulation point, but you are wrong on which taxes to reduce.

The biggest barrier to entry is VAT, because a new business probably won’t be making much profit anyway, so wouldn’t pay much corporation tax – but it does have to hand over 15% of its turnover as VAT (yes I know that if it is supplying to VAT-registered businesses it flows through, but not if it is supplying to exempt businesses or the general public), even if it is not making profits, i.e. the new start-up has to pay the VAT out of its own funds that it should be investing in the business.

The same applies to Employer’s NIC (and yes I know that in economic terms, a lot of the tax is passed on to the employee as a cut in salary). Taking on your first employee is a total administrative nightmare and then you have to pay for the privilege as well (which is why the cunning cove runs his small business as a partnership!).

Corporation tax ain’t so bad – no business ever went out of business because it was profitable and hence had to pay corporation tax. And don’t forget that total corporation tax in the UK is only half as much as VAT collected, even though half of businesses are VAT-exempt or zero-rate, i.e. VAT registered businesses pay four times as much in VAT as they do in corporation tax.

And while in principle I am totally against capital gains tax as well, that is a long way down the line, it might be ten or twenty years before today’s new start up is sold on to a competitor etc. Many people set up a business without any particular intention to sell it.

Of course, two twats took the opportunity to show how decades of brainwashing had affected them:

JimF: I disagree. Corporation Tax hits just when you start getting into profit and need to re-invest to grow the business. It is a barrier to growth.

If you can’t pay the VAT you aren’t making a profit in the first place and frankly shouldn’t be in business.

Business Rates are equally as insidious as Corp Tax as you feel you get nothing for it and pay it regardless of your P/L.

alan jutson: Jim, Agree with you.

Being Vat registered actually gives you a positive cash flow as the Vat you charge is more than the VAT you pay, until you have to pay Inland revenue the difference every 3 months. Being Vat exempt (below threshold turnover) gives negative cash flow, as you have to pay VAT before you can invoice customer for work completed.

Mark Wadsworth: Wow! That is the most amazing non-logic I have ever seen.

Are you really trying to say that if a business has to hand over £400,000 VAT, that is all fine and dandy, and even better if it drives you out of business, but if it has to hand over £100,000 that is “a barrier to growth”???

As to the cash flow argument, that is even dafter – I might as well point out that corporation tax is “cash flow positive” because small businesses do not have to pay it until nine months after the year end!!

I couldn't be bothered to explain that Business Rates are the least bad tax we have and why.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Tuesday afternoon gear change

Occasional commenter Andrew K implied that 70's popsters Racey were incapable of doing a gear change back in November. He has since done some more research and rediscovered "Some girls" which has nice, tidy full-tone gear changes at 2 mins 54 seconds and at 3 mins 15 seconds - in a song which is only 3 mins 20 seconds long!

Enjoy. Or not, as the case may be:

Big scary number of the day

From The Metro:

Getting rid of Christmas rubbish could cost local councils £78 million, research has suggested.

The Local Government Association said authorities in England and Wales expected to deal with three million tonnes of waste over the festive period. Up to two-thirds of this could end up in landfill, which costs councils £40 per tonne in tax to the Government. The LGA urged householders to recycle as much as possible and compost fruit and vegetable waste...

Wow! That works out at £3 per household. Can't say that I'm too bothered about that.

As ever, Landfill Tax is one of the most insane taxes there is, but it only raises about £1 billion per year, i.e. 60p per household per week, and as local councils receive the bulk of their funding from national taxes dished out by Whitehall, that's all just part of the money-go-round anyway - if they got rid of Landfill Tax, then all that would happen is that Whitehall would cut grants to local councils by £1 billion per year. Landfill Tax is not an actual 'cost', it's just bureaucracy and hassle. The real 'cost' of Landfill Tax (if anybody could work it out) is the additional cost to local councils of recycling stuff that isn't actually worth recycling.

Monday, 28 December 2009

There's a fakecharity for everything ...

Man Widdicombe mentioned The Child Growth Foundation in passing here. Now, if that name doesn't scream "fakecharity!" then I don't know what does, so I did the usual, cut and paste the charity number into here and click view accounts.

On closer inspection, it appears to be a negative fakecharity, i.e. an industry lobbying front. Ignoring the ten per cent of income that comes from donations and royalty income (what?), the bulk of their income is grant income from the following three companies:

1. Novo, which has two main subsidiaries, one is "a healthcare company and a world leader in diabetes care" and the other is "the world leader in bio-innovation... [their] natural solutions enhance and promote everything from removing trans-fats in food, to advancing biofuels to power the world tomorrow."

2. Merck Serono, which is part of Merck, the pharamceuticals and chemicals giant.

3. Ipsen, another specialist pharmaceuticals company.

And where does all the money go?

In a fit of honesty, Note 15 to the accounts admits that the wives of the honorary chairman, deputy chairman and treasurer received £52,000 in salaries in the year (nice work if you can get it), but the bulk of their income is spent on grants to a whole raft of UK (state) universities and NHS hospitals as listed in Note 3.

The final note in the accounts is also well worth a read, but I won't spoil it for you. In the light of that, why on earth The Daily Mirror would imagine the chairman's views to be of the slightest relevance to anything whatsoever is a mystery to me. As Man W points out, The self-same chairman also pipes up on behalf of the National Obesity Form, which is yet another drugs industry lobbying front, of course.

No shit, Sherlock.

From the BBC:

Persistent absence from school is five times higher in England's poorest areas than in the richest, government figures show. Some 50,000 children in the poorest neighbourhoods are absent one day a week on average, according to an analysis by the Conservatives... The worst local authority was Manchester, with 6.7% persistent absentees. The best mainstream authority was Rutland, on 2.1%.

OK, the Tories have waded into the debate: are they going to tackle causes or symptoms?

Shadow children's secretary Michael Gove said... "We need to focus on these areas, giving extra money to schools that take children from the most deprived backgrounds, so that we can give these children the opportunities which others take for granted. This is yet another block on social mobility from a government which has failed to help the poorest in society."

Symptoms it is, then! And it's nice to see the government hit back with a good old-fashioned lie, or an irrelevance at best:

Schools minister Vernon Coaker said overall levels of absence were at their lowest ever. "If you look at some of the most challenging areas, the needs there are extremely complex. That's why schools are working with other children's services, working with families, in order to try to ensure that we get children where we want them, that is in school."

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Conspiracy theory of the weekend

From New World Order Report:

A Michigan man [Mr Haskell] who was aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 says he witnessed Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab trying to board the plane in Amsterdam without a passport...

While Mutallab was poorly dressed, his friend was dressed in an expensive suit, Haskell said. He says the suited man asked ticket agents whether Mutallab could board without a passport. “The guy said, 'He's from Sudan and we do this all the time.'”

Mutallab is Nigerian. Haskell believes the man may have been trying to garner sympathy for Mutallab's lack of documents by portraying him as a Sudanese refugee. The ticket agent referred Mutallab and his companion to her manager down the hall, and Haskell didn't see Mutallab again until after he allegedly tried to detonate an explosive on the plane..

Fun Online Poll & Doctor Who

Ninety-seven per cent of those who took part in last week's poll heaved a sigh of relief at that final Copenhagen agreement and thought "It could have been worse, at least they didn't sign us up to global government". The other 3% also heaved a sigh of relief and thought "... at least they vaguely agreed to the principle of reductions in carbon emissions."

So everybody's happy, I guess.

James Higham is currently doing a poll on who your favourite James Bond is/was, but what I'd be really interested to know is who people's favourite Doctor Who is/was/will be. I never used to like the series, but it picked up a bit when they revived it and Christopher Eccleston took over. I found him incredibly dull, but Billy Piper was always lovely and the effects were a lot better than they used to be. David Tennant really made it worth watching*, I think he was brilliant. Of course he's been doing it far too long so somebody else has to take over, those are the rules, but that Matt Smith has a lot to live up to.

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

* The other explanation might be that the plots have got a lot better since David Tennant was in the rôle. I doubt whether they have, but somebody else would have to answer that one way or another.

UPDATE: The Big Yin shares my enthusiasm for David Tennant/Russell T Davis.

The origins of the game Monopoly

People sometimes wonder why a game of Monopoly turns one player into a gloating buffoon and the rest into frustrated bankrupts. The joke is, the original point of the game was not winning or skill or enjoyment - it was to illustrate that our whole economic system is designed to turn a small minority into gloating buffoons and the rest into frustrated bankrupts.

This summary, shown on BBC recently, explains how this all came about.

(I did see the programme, but sort of forgot about it again, so thanks to Dave W and Robin S for reminders).

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Alvin & The Chipmunks 2: The Squeakquel

Took the kids to see this today, it was marginally funnier than part 1. Here's one of the key scenes:

Hurray for the BBC!

They have written a short article based entirely on this YouTube video:

They couldn't even be bothered to watch this video which does cast doubts on the first one, to say the least:

Politically correct films

There was one on yesterday evening on ITV4.

It was about a vertically challenged white guy who teams up with an autistic boy, an overweight Afro-American and a skinny single women to defeat the might of the American National Security Agency.

Friday, 25 December 2009

A JP Non-Discriminatory Message

May I wish you all a mentally-optimistic Winter Festival...
... and a happy new counting cycle!


Thursday, 24 December 2009

I blame the parents

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

They really are starting to bring the fight to us ...

From the BBC:

A bullock was shot dead after it escaped from an abattoir and rampaged along streets in Birmingham.

The animal was seen in Balsall Heath, leading to roads being closed while police tried to deal with the situation. Firearms officers were called out as a vet decided it was too dangerous to tranquilise the animal because its behaviour was unpredictable. Roads reopened shortly after the bull was killed on Wednesday morning...

Emailed in by Pavlov's Cat.

"Angry people in local newspapers"

I've submitted a cracking story/photo to, let's see if it turns up. But it's well worth a visit even if they don't.

They said it, not me...

The Centre for Economic & Business Research published a report on Monday, stating that "public sector procurement [accounts] for at least fifteen per cent of total demand [for business services]", which seems about right to me.

The best bit is this:

Whilst there is almost certainly a proportion of government expenditure on external advisors that could be cut without any noticeable impact on public services, ministers should think carefully before wielding this particular axe (1). Not only can external expertise play a crucial role in helping government become more efficient and effective (2), many important projects could not be achieved without the support of the business services sector (3). Cutting these budgets is an easy option compared with cutting public sector jobs, but unfortunately whoever forms the next government will quickly discover that significant cost savings can only be made by cutting the public payroll (4).

1) OK, I've thought carefully and decided to get rid of it.

2) The government ought to concentrate on "core functions" (things which free markets would not provide and which 'add value'). In economic terms, these are always "efficient" as the value exceeds the cost. If the cost exceeds the value, they shouldn't be doing it (e.g. ID cards, subsidies to favoured industries, green energy tomfoolery, the War On Drugs, endless regulations of everything, smoking ban etc etc), however "effective" they may claim to be in these endeavours.

3) According to their figures, over half a million people in the supposedly private business services sector depend on the government for their jobs. Remember that not only are the employees are paid decent salaries, but that their employers usually charge the end-customer about four or five times their salary, so the end-cost to the taxpayer is equivalent to at least two million extra public sector employees.

4) I've been saying that for years as well. The way forward is zero-based budgeting - tell the two million people paid by the taxpayer who are doing useful stuff (teachers, nurses, doctors*, coppers, prison officers etc) that their jobs are safe and then work on the assumption that the other six million are entirely superfluous.

* As a separate issue, state provision of education or health ought to be scrapped and the money dished out as vouchers to be spent with the provider of your choosing, there's nothing like having to keep paying customers happy to ensure value for money.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Justine Greening

Contradictions within contradictions within contradictions ...

If you goad Home-Owner-Ists for long enough (a few seconds usually suffices), they will advance two arguments against taxes on land values or liberalising planning regulations (which have the aim of keeping house prices low and stable and enabling other taxes to be reduced):

1. "I worked hard and did without to be able to pay off my mortgage. The younger generation just wants something for nothing, they waste it all on flat-screen TVs. They should do like the older generation did and learn the value of thrift."

2. "I worked hard and did without to be able to pay off my mortgage. My house is my pension fund in retirement and something I can pass on to my children."

Some parts of that we can discard immediately:

a) Today's flat-screen TV is today what things like washing machines, electric cookers, black and white TVs and so on were a few decades ago, and expressed as a multiple of a week's wages, probably a lot cheaper.

b) It's the older generations (i.e. most home-owners) that want something for nothing - they desperately oppose new development because that would erode the unearned, windfall, tax-free paper capital gains they have made on their houses.

c) Very old home-owners bought their houses at a time when we were routinely allowing three or four hundred thousand new homes to be built each year; at a time when we did have property taxes (like Schedule A taxation or Domestic Rates) and as a result of which, houses were relatively cheap. That's all the priced-out generation are asking for, really, to go back to the mythical good old days.

d) Your house can't simultaneously be your pension (which you spend) and your children's inheritance (which they spend). It's one or the other, but let's go with the latter for the purposes of this argument.

But the real contradiction is this: do Home-Owner-Ists genuinely want their children to vastly overpay for a house today, in the hope of inheriting part of the value of a vastly overpriced house in a few decades?

Remember always that the family, as a unit, is not benefitting from the paper capital gain that the parents are sitting on, but suffers from the fact that the adult children will be debt-slaves for most of their working lives. The latter 'cost' must vastly outweigh the perceived 'benefit'. In a world of Big Fat Lies, to claim that Home-Owner-Ism is in any way designed to benefit future generations is one of the biggest and fattest lies of all.

Elfin Safety Fun

From The Daily Mail:

As natives of the Arctic Circle, reindeer are pretty used to trotting about in wintry weather. So you might not have thought a market town in the East Midlands would pose much of a problem for them. But health and safety officers had other ideas after 12 were booked to entertain shoppers in Market Harborough. They banned the animals from parading round the town square after ruling it was too dangerous --because it might snow.

Officials put up posters saying: 'There is a risk of slips and falls to attendees at the event, when the conditions get worse.'... A Harborough Council spokesman said: 'Obviously, the reindeer would have loved the snow. But sadly we decided to cancel because of the possible danger to people, including young children.'

Fun with numbers

This article makes me feel a bit sorry for Australian kangaroos, but there's a good bit right at the end:

Animal rights campaigners believe Australia's kangaroos are on the brink of extinction. They dispute government figures that estimate there are about 25 million of these furry pouched creatures spread across the continent.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Vote for us. We hate you.

Every now and then I force myself to read a bit of NIMBY hysteria to remind myself what an uphill struggle I have, for example this vile outpouring in Saturday's Telegraph.

It's difficult deciding which of the commenters is the most misanthropic, but I'd guess this one:

The role of Government should be to stop such people wrecking the lives of others (1). And don't give me rubbish that it doesn't. More people crowded into an area (2) increases pollution (3), social tension (4), traffic (5), demand for services (6).

The upshot is that such development makes it easier to for the government to foist its social engineering disease (7) and reckless immigration (8) on everyone. Stifle supply of homes and you help the fight against population growth (9).

People who sell off their gardens are worse than the bankers involved in the credit crunch (10). I've met a lot of them - arrogant thoughtless types who trample over everyone (11).

OK, *deep breath*...

1. The NIMBYs are wrecking the lives of others - including the lives of their own children - by forcing them to pay twice as much for a house as it costs to build.

2. Houses don't make an area more crowded, people do. So what would happen if the number of houses in every village, town and city increased by ten per cent? People would just spread out a bit. If anything it would be less crowded, seeing as of how ninety per cent of the UK population is crammed on to about five per cent of the surface area.

3. Nope. If people were allowed to choose where to live, the chances are, they'd choose somewhere closer to where they work or their children's schools. Journey times would be shorter, pollution would go down.

4. Nope. If people didn't have to fight and scrimp and save to buy a measly little house, we'd be all the happier for it. People wouldn't have to worry about immigrants driving up the price of houses (I'm not even sure whether they do, but let's just assume they do). Social tension would go down.

5. See 3.

6. Houses don't create demand for services, people do. And who provides services? Er ... people. So even if liberalising planning laws led to more people living in a geographically defined area (which is not a necessarily the case, see 2), there'd also be more teachers, more coppers, more nurses etc living in that area. For example, London is ten per cent of the UK population and ten per cent of the schools and ten per cent of the hospitals.

7. The NIMBYs have their own special brand of social engineering, it's called "keeping the next generation within a few pence of bankruptcy".

8. WTF does that have to do with anything? These people would be NIMBYs even if there were a complete freeze on immigration.

9. So, when the government does it, it's "social engineering" (subtext: boo!) but then the NIMBYs quite coldly and deliberately say that the next generation shouldn't be troubling itself with getting married, buying a house (God forbid a new one!), starting a family; what they should be doing is vastly overpaying for the privilege of living in a one-bedroom flat so that they can devote their lives to servicing the needs of the established home-owner, that's not "social engineering" is it? These NIMBYs, the same people who wail about the "pensions timebomb"? Who is going to pay your pension, pray tell?

10. What sort of a comparative is that? These NIMBYs ought to be bloody grateful for the bankers who played a large part in driving up property prices to their current ridiculous level, but no, there's no concept of loyalty or gratitude or fairness on Planet Nimby.

11. Yeah right, and the NIMBYs are the sensitive, caring types who will always put their own interests last? NIMBYs don't even want their own children or grandchildren to be able to afford a house, let alone somebody else's.

And ... *exhale again*.

Badly chosen metaphor of the day

From The Evening Standard:

Gordon Brown: I will keep alive the flame of Copenhagen

What a colossal and utter twat. Copenhagen was all about extinguishing as many flames as possible, in a very literal sense.

Private equity fun

These so-called 'private equity' investors have spent the last decade gleefully borrowing ever more money from the banks at ever lower interest rates to constantly buy and sell the same underlying businesses for ever higher prices.

Sooner or later these private equity firms become hopelessly overleveraged, the music stops, and the banks have to start unpicking it all again, via what are basically debt-for-equity-swaps, for example:
a) Terra Firma (owners of EMI) asked Citibank to convert £1 billion of bank loans to equity.
b) HIT Entertainment (owners of Thomas The Tank Engine etc) have asked their lenders to buy a large chunk of their assets.

What HIT Entertainment are asking their lenders to do is pretty much the same as the bank foreclosing on a mortgage and repossessing a house, which is yet another kind of debt-for-equity-swap.

What riles me is the fact that politicians are too dumb to realise that what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The banks are hopelessly overleveraged (i.e. far too little share capital and reserves; far too much bond finance) and they too can be fixed by debt-for-equity swaps (i.e. bondholders convert part of their loans to shares). There is little need for taxpayer-funded bailouts (above and beyond the £50,000 deposit guarantee).

This is not some pie-in-the-sky idea, as it worked perfectly well for a medium tier US bank called CIT-Group, and, after a fashion, much the same was achieved in the UK by splitting Northern Rock into a 'good bank' and a 'bad bank' (which is effectively owned by the bondholders in the original Northern Rock).

Ah well.

Conspiracy Theory Of The Week

Did it not strike anybody else as rather strange that after the attack, Berlusconi was bundled straight into his car (invisible to the cameras), but he then emerged again a few seconds later covered in blood?

Greater minds than mine have applied themselves to this inconsistency and come up with this.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Fun Online Infidelity & Copenhagen

1. Today I have had my long-held view confirmed that Xmas shopping is as tediously dull as shopping generally.

2. An alarming sixteen per cent of respondents in last week's Fun Online Poll admitted to having had an affair with Tiger Woods, with a further sixty-four per cent choosing "I'm not sure. It might have been Lewis Hamilton or Barack Obama". Congrats to the twenty-one per cent who hadn't.

3. There seems to have been a collective sigh of relief that the UN nonsense in Copenhagen fizzled out without anything in particular being agreed. Anybody who knows anything about negotiating would know, e.g. from the endless WTO talks, that it it more or less impossible for 192 separate parties to come to any agreement whatsoever in any measurable space of time. I just wonder on which side of the argument takes greater solace from this.

So this week's Fun Online Poll is as follows:

That final Copenhagen agreement could have been worse ...
... at least they didn't sign us up to Global Government.
... at least they vaguely agreed to the principle of reductions in carbon emissions.

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

More cow attack hilarity...

From the BBC:

Sex And The City star Sarah Jessica Parker* has revealed a cow kicked her during filming of her latest movie...

Lest ye think she is dissing on of the other actresses from the SATC franchise, nope, this was a real-life cow.

Submitted by Ross.

* This tends to support another tentative theory of mine, that celeb's who look like horses are most likely to be attacked. I wonder what sort of odds the bookies are giving on Sophie Ellis Bextor being chased up a tree by a dog and subsequently rescued by the fire brigade?

Yippee! Two quangoes for the price of, er, two...

See my comment over at James Higham's.

Friday, 18 December 2009

A JP Christmas Special: The Birth of Dave - Saviour of Mankind

I posted this on my own blog, however I'll do it here to spread the message to all that the Messiah is amongst us!

One day, about 2,000 hours ago, an angel named YouGov-brielle appeared to a young woman named Tory. YouGov-brielle told Tory she would have a son, Dave, who would be the Son of God, and who would win Tory and her party of friends great riches and power. Tory was confused and worried about this sudden news, but she had faith in God and said, "I am the Lord's servant; let it be as you say." She damn well had to say this, Ann Widdecombe was standing right next to her, staring with a face like a withering pineapple.

Tory and her husband-to-be, Hague, lived in a town called Westminster. But they had to travel to the City of London to register on the ID-Card register ordered by the evil emperor, Caesar Gordustus.

When Hague and Tory got to the City, there was no place for them to stay because the inn was already full of stockbrokers who's wives had kicked them out. They ended up spending the night in a bus shelter, a place where the oiks resided. There were fresh heroin needles on the floor that they used to manipulate the public's opinion on drugs.

That night, Dave was born. There was no crib, so they laid baby Dave in a manger, a feeding trough for animals. This trough was a replica of the one previously filled with the money of the taxpayer. The trough made a nice bed for Dave.

That night, some reporters were in the pubs near the City, keeping watch over their flocks of sheepish assistants. An angel appeared to them and gave them the good news that a Saviour, the Messiah, had been born. The angel told the reporters they could find Dave lying in a manger. Suddenly a whole group of angels appeared saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on every land on earth (except Afghanistan and Iraq) peace and goodwill toward men (and women - in fact, put them on some kind of short-list just to be extra equal)!"

The shepherds hurried into the City and found Dave in the manger, just as the angel had told them. After they had seen Dave, they spread the news, and everyone who heard was in awe. They would come to power once again!

Some time later, wise men, or 'voters', from other counties saw a star in the sky that signaled the birth of a new king. They came to Greater London, the region around Westminster and the City of London, to worship Dave, the new king.

A man named Boriso was the king of Greater London. He called the wise men voters to a meeting and told them to find the new king so he could go and worship him, too.

The wise men continued on to the City and followed the star until it was directly above the house where Dave was, just as the pencil would soon be directly above the Conservative box on the ballot paper, thought Tory. They found Tory and Dave (two different people, by the way) in the house and knelt down to worship Him. They brought Dave gifts of money, votes, and false hope, some of the finest things in London. Money was burned to make a sweet smell, like the smell of deceit.

After visiting Dave, the wise men had a dream that warned them not to go back to King Boriso, so they took a different route home.

Boriso lied when he told the wise men he wanted to worship Dave. He was afraid this new "king" would replace him as king of London. He did not understand that Dave would grow up to be king of God's spiritual United Kingdom, not king of London.

What Boriso really wanted was to find Dave and kill Him! Boriso was furious when he realised the wise voters had not come back to tell him where to find Dave. He sent his soldiers to the City to kill all the children under two years old, thinking Dave would certainly be one of the ones killed. However, being soldiers of Boriso, they got lost along the way and ended up in a brothel prentending that they were not eyeing up the female workers. "What ho good chaps", remarked Boriso on the issue, "what a boffo idea!"

But God had told Hague in a dream to flee to t'North. Hague took Tory and Dave to live in t'North where they would be safe from Boriso, who, let's face it, would probably be crushed by a manual worker should he venture any further north of Oxford. Hague, Tory and Dave stayed in t'North unsuccessfully developing a voter base until Boriso had died (well, retreated to a corner mumbling incoherent rabble), and then they returned to Westminster.

But no one lived happily ever after.

Festive Gearchange (4)

I'm not sure if this is technically a Xmas hit, but there's lots of snow and glaciers and stuff.

I present: S Club 7's "Never had a dream come true", gear change at 3 minutes 8 seconds, rather ironically exactly where she shouts "No no no no!" marring an otherwise nigh perfect pop song.

Pamela Anderson

From The Evening Standard:

Pamela has family roots in Finland and considered moving there for a while. 'I'd open up a stripclub called Lapland,' she says.

@ Adam Collyer

Adam Collyer left a comment here as follows:

OK. I'll try again. Why is your idea [that BA issues new shares to its pension funds to settle the pension fund deficit] better than BA doing a £4 billion rights issue to meet its pension deficit?

That is another option that is well worth considering, of course, if BA's shareholders are up for it, a variant of which I have recommended myself on more than one occasion. However that wasn't the point of the original post, the point was to highlight that BA and its pension funds, taken together, are in fact a worker-owned "investment trust with an expensive hobby of running an airline" (as Lola put it).

I always find it helpful to look at the 'big picture' before worrying about solutions (sometimes there simply aren't any, and it's best to let the trade and assets go into new ownership and start again).

I agree with Naomi Klein for a change

Over at CiF: Better to have no deal at Copenhagen than one that spells catastrophe.

I'd have said "I hope there's no deal at all because any deal spells catastrophe" but hey.

Glaciers, schmaciers

It appears that Himalayan Glaciers are rapidly replacing polar bears as the Warmenists' poster boys (objects?). For example, Richard North points out that not only does Mr Pachauri have a personal financial interest in the carbon permits scheme, he also has a personal financial interest in us stumping up for more research into said glaciers*

The Warmenist line appears to be that if the glaciers melt a) it will cause terrible flooding and b) once they are gone, the rivers they fed will dry up.

OK, I'm no expert in glaciers, but the way I understand it is this:
1. Rain or snow lands on glaciers high up the mountains.
2. Glaciers slide down the mountains and melt a bit.
3. The same rainwater or melted snow pours into the river, and is used for drinking water, irrigation etc.

In warmer countries, the model seems to be:
1. Rain or snow falls up in the mountains or hills.
2. Streams flow down into rivers.
3. The rivers carry the same rainwater or melted snow, which are used for drinking water, irrigation etc.

So the fact it is bloody freezing up in the Himalayas etc slows down the time it takes for water to get from top to bottom, but the quantity of water flowing down the river into the sea must, ultimately, be much the same as the quantity of water falling as snow or rain up in the mountains or hills.

Or have I missed something?

* In fact, Mr Pachauri seems to be to Richard North what Richard Murphy is to Tim Worstall, but that's another topic.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Life copies satire, only it turns out it wasn't satire.

VIZ covered the police in their series "People who helo us..." in issue 187 earlier this year. I had assumed that this scenario was satirical, or at least exaggerated (click to enlarge):
It turns out that it wasn't. Shows what sort of sheltered life I lead, I suppose:

Worker-owned co-operatives

Many of the recent articles about the British Airways - whether about the Iberia merger, the proposed strike or the ensuing court case or - mention the BA pension funds deficit of £3.7 billion.

Relatively few articles mention the pension fund assets, which appear to be about £12 billion. Most of this is invested in shares in other plc's, and some will be invested in UK government bonds - which is a neat trick of the UK government to create a captive market for its bonds: "If you want the pension fund tax breaks, you have to invest x% in UK government bonds" - but I digress.

In round figures (they are to some extent plucked out of the air by actuaries and stock markets), the pension funds have assets of £12 billion and liabilities of £16 billion, net deficit £4 billion, which BA 'owes' them.

If we add BA's pension fund deficit of £4 billion to its current market capitalisation of £2 billion that gives BA an enterprise value of £6 billion. (To digress yet again, a large part of that enterprise value consists of the landing slots it was given for free and for which it should be paying a fair market price to avoid there being barriers to entry).

If we consider BA and its pension funds to be one economic unit, we end up with total assets of £18 billion and total liabilities to pension scheme members, i.e. employees, of £16 billion. If we didn't have these silly rules brought in after the Robert Maxwell shenanigans, BA could simply issue two new shares to its pension funds for every share in issue to settle the pension fund deficit.

That would probably focus the minds of the trade unions and employees on the fact that the BA economic unit is in fact a worker-owned investment fund with a majority stake in an airline - call it a co-operative if you will. They'd accept, in the short term, that people have to be laid off - but their redundancy pay is, to a large extent, being paid by the continuing employees, not some mythical group of shareholders, who are always seen as fair game for being plundered.

Non-dom of the week

Free markets in everything ...

From the BBC:

Israel is to become the first country to give donor card carriers a legal right to priority treatment if they should require an organ transplant. The law has been changed to try to boost donation rates, as there is a shortage for organs for donation.

Seems fair enough to me.

Critics say patients should be treated on the basis of clinical need.

Well, they would say that, wouldn't they?

There was a similar moral dilemma posed on my law degree: should racist organ donors be allowed to stipulate that their organs may only be given to somebody of the same race? It struck me, yes of course they should. If you're a white guy at number ten on the list and a black donor insists that only other blacks may have his or her organs, then as long as they give it to a black person above you on the list, that still moves you up the list, doesn't it? And if the organs go to somebody below you on the list, well, what have you lost? Nothing, AFAICS, and the black person below you has gained enormously.

What's not to like?

The cows are learning fast. Now they're posting lookouts...

Via JuliaM, this rather worrying episode from The Telegraph.

Makes a change from cows...

From The Telegraph:

A troop of performing monkeys instructed in the martial art of taekwondo has taken revenge on their trainer.

Lo Wung, 42, taught the monkeys so they could entertain crowds outside a shopping centre in Nshi, in eastern China's Hubei province. But the money-spinning primates turned the tables on their trainer when he slipped during a show, with one quick-thinking monkey flooring him with a kick to the head...

This is fast approaching Parody Singularity. I look forward to the headline "Bear escapes from cage after keepers train him as a locksmith".

Emailed in by FormerTory.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

One for JuliaM

From The Metro:

A judge told Munir Hussain he was wrong to take the law into his own hands by attacking Walid Salem, as he jailed him for two-and-a-half years. Salem – who has 54 previous convictions – escaped jail with a two-year supervision order...

UPDATE: Here is the Harry thread which JuliaM mentions in the comments.

Song For Silvio

Take That!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Guess where I was this evening ...

More New Maths: plus 14,000 minus 14,000 = negative 14,000

As any Home-Owner-Ist will confirm, once a house has been repossessed by the bank, it has to be demolished. All very sad.

"Climate change causes 36,700 deaths in the UK"

The problem is, it's the wrong kind of climate change. Those were the additional deaths caused by the "lethal cold snap ... between last December and March 2009".

Rejoice! Home-Owner-ists now have fakecharities on their side!

The BBC follow their usual template here:

Mortgage lenders 'too fast to repossess' homes

Lenders have failed to exhaust all possible ways of keeping people in their homes in a third of repossession cases, a report by charities has said. Mortgage providers are expected to use repossession only as a last resort under legal rules. But judges did not always step in to ensure the protocol was followed, said Advice UK, Citizens Advice and Shelter. The charities did point out that some support packages for struggling homeowners were having an effect...

The government has said it will provide extra funding for debt advice agencies and help desks at 80 courts...

"I welcome the report from Citizens Advice and Shelter. The people who work in these agencies are, in many respects, the unsung heroes of our campaign to help people avoid repossession," said Housing Minister John Healey...


1. Advice UK is a fakecharity. Note 3 on page 17 of their 2008 accounts doesn't make it clear who pays them their £1 million income, but half of it is grants (see Note 4), mostly from the usual suspects; London Councils, The Money Advice Trust (see below for more), The Big Lottery Fund and City Bridge Trust (sole trustee: The City Of London Corporation).In 2007 they also reveived over £250,000 from the Department of Trade and Industry, The Home Office and Lloyds TSB.

2. Citizen's Advice is a fakecharity. It received £39 million is from the government or other public bodies (Note 3a and 3b, page 34 to their 2008 accounts). Note 3c lists 'other grants, with another £500,000 from The Big Lottery Fund and The Money Advice Trust, whose Business Plan 2009 states "the Government allotted £5.85m over three years in its Pre Budget Report to expand capacity at National Debtline and Business Debtline and we are working hard to deliver this expansion."

3. Shelter are a sort-of-fakecharity. They get £24 million in individual or corporate donations (Note 2, page 25 to their 2008 accounts) and £12 million grants from the government for Housing Services (Note 4).

Now, maybe I've misunderstood this, but isn't one of the justifications of Home-Owner-Ism that "People should learn to be financially independent and not rely on the government to house them."? If the whole legal system regarding repo's has to be torn up and re-written, and tens of millions of taxpayer's money thrown at just the legal side (let alone the mortgage subsidies on loans up to £200,000 x "standard interest rate of 6.08%"*), then how is that teaching people to stand on their own two feet? Or is this all just a refusal to accept that Home-Owner-Ism** is just a gigantic pyramid scheme?

* Sure, I don't want people to be homeless, but for that sort of money, it'd work out considerably cheaper to build more social housing for them.

** As distinct from 'home-ownership' in the narrow sense, which all-in-all is probably A Good Thing.

"Man killed by flying kangaroo"

Here's one I appear to have overlooked - from The Metro 17 October 2009:

A man is dead after a large kangaroo crashed through his car windscreen in Australia, police said Tuesday. The 4 foot-plus kangaroo was struck by a four-wheel-drive on the road, and catapaulted into the path of the victim's oncoming car, police said of the incident near Manjimup town in Western Australian outback.

A police statement said: 'The animal went through the windscreen of the sedan and into the back seat causing the driver to lose control and crash the vehicle'

Police spokeswoman Ros Weatherall said the kangaroo hit the 50-year-old driver as it flew through the car, causing him serious head injuries. He was airlifted to a Perth hospital, but died on Monday, police said. 'It was very unfortunate,' Weatherall understated.

Animal attacks - they just never get boaring...

From The Metro:

Police in Darmstadt, south of Frankfurt, say they received an emergency call at nearly 3 a.m. on Sunday from a man who said he and three companions had fled into the container after being surprised by a group of boars during a nighttime walk in the woods. He said they didn't dare to emerge.

A police statement Monday says that a patrol found the four shivering in the metal container and escorted them from the scene. The boars already had disappeared.

Monday, 14 December 2009

The Javelin Train

From The Evening Standard:

Commuters told today how the launch of the 140mph Javelin train has improved their lives through vastly reduced journey times. Full services of the High Speed 1 link between London and Kent came into operation this morning, bringing large parts of the county within an hour's travel of the capital.

Passengers on the 5.13am train from Ashford, which arrived at St Pancras in 37 minutes instead of the usual 83 — said the higher ticket prices were worth it... A peak-time Ashford-London return will be £48.70, compared with £40.60, while London-Folkestone will be £52.50 rather than £44.40.

OK, that's an extra £8 per day, but people who commute from Ashford to London are probably in the higher paid bracket, so they probably value their own time at (say) £20 an hour (more work or more leisure, according to taste). If they can save an hour and a half a day at a personal cost/value of £8, they end up £22 a day better off. Times that by two hundred days a year is £4,400, year in, year out (or double that for couples).

But who's the real winner from all this, as if you had to ask...

"The value of homes near a station on the network is set to rise by a combined total of £1.6 billion, says a report by economic consultants Volterra. Estate agents said east Kent is now becoming as desirable as key commuter areas such as Guildford and Winchester..."

An article in the FT said that some houses would increased in value by £30,000, which is seven year's worth of the £4,400 annual saving mentioned above. So, somebody who's now looking to buy (or rent) there to take advantage of the new service is in fact paying somebody else a large sum of money in order to be able to work longer hours or have more leisure time.

The New Maths: Two minus one equals zero

It's little surprise that our state-education is churning out innumerates when our Children's Secretary (i.e. Education Minister) Ed Balls comes out with rubbish like this:

... Children's Secretary Ed Balls warned many parents would be left disappointed by the Tory promises [to allow parents to set up their own schools and get government funding] as they would struggle to find funding for the reforms without making swingeing cuts elsewhere in the education budget. He said: "The Tories need to come clean with parents about what their plans really mean. Michael Gove can only pay for his Swedish schools experiment by cutting billions from the budgets of existing schools and slashing our school rebuilding programme."

Assuming the new schools are funded by some sort of voucher-scheme, however heavily disguised, then for a fixed education budget, you could easily engineer an increase in funding per pupil who remains in a state school by setting the value of the vouchers at less than the cost of a place in a state-school.

The Evening Standard does irony

From today's Evening Standard:

Boris Johnson today urged the world to stop having so many babies to protect the planet. The London Mayor also called on the City to join the green crusade and restore its battered reputation.

Father-of four Mr Johnson said: "There is no doubt that humanity faces a risk of environmental catastrophe We are replicating too fast, hurtling towards nine billion souls on the planet like bacteria multiplying on a Petri dish..."

Just to summarise ...

The responses to my previous post suggest that this week's climate change myth "the oceans are becoming 30% more acidic" is even flakier than I suspected:

1. View From The Solent points out that the typical pH of ocean water is around 8.5, or anywhere between 7.5 and 8.5, according to e.g. this, so if anything it is mildly alkaline. Worst case, the oceans are becoming less alkaline rather than more acidic. Remember that pure water is completely neutral and has a pH of 7.

2. VFTS and Neil Craig linked this and this, which showed that increased CO2 concentrations do not necessarily harm the ability of creatures to build shells (and might even be helpful).

3. Anti-Citizen-One pointed out that they can't have it both ways. Either the oceans are warming, and will give off CO2 (warm water can hold less CO2); or they are cooling and absorbing more CO2. But I suppose Warmenists will use this to argue that we are all going to die either way.

4. Neil Craig then rounded off by pointing out that acid rain hadn't been a paticular disaster either, adding that "I was astonised to find that since it was about the only eco-scare story which had seemed reasonable."

5. Knirrir gets a blogging bonus point for being the only one who could be bothered to insert a proper hyper-link, namely to this, although I fail to see the relevance.

Thanks for input.

Good news, bad news.

From the BBC:

Good news: "Up to one half of the carbon dioxide (CO2) released by burning fossil fuels over the past 200 years has been absorbed by the world's oceans."

Bad news: An increase in molecules containing carbon in the oceans "limits organisms' access to carbonate ions". As a result of which, we are all going to die a slow and painful death. Or something.

PS, I thought "acid rain" went out of fashion years ago, are they now dusting the idea down and rebranding it? Given how little damage "acid rain" did back then, and the fact that it will be diluted a thousand or a million-fold if it falls in the oceans, one does wonder quite how desperate they are.

PPS, the much vaunted statistic that the oceans are 30% more acidic than [some random date in the past] is fairly meaningless unless you know a) what the optimum pH of the oceans is; b) what it is now, in absolute terms, and c) what they expect it to be in future, in absolute terms. If, for example, pH drops from 6.99 to 6.987, that [probably] 30% more acidic but no great shakes, really.

Those long December evenings ...

As we all well know, the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year is usually a couple of days before Xmas, so you'd expect the sun to rise later and set earlier every day until the solstice; and then to start rising earlier and setting later every day thereafter.

That turns out to be not quite true. According to this fine article, the earliest sunset is much earlier - around 13 December, and the latest sunrise is much later - 6 January. It's just that until the winter solstice, you are losing more in the morning than you gain in the evening; and thereafter you are losing less in the morning that you are gaining in the evening.

We live and learn. I'm sure that'll come in handy in a pub quiz one day.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

"I got you what you want for Xmas"

My brother-in-law did this:

Fun Online Polls: privately collected taxes & Tiger Woods

I am pleased to see that on a low-ish turnout (86 votes), 80% of people who took part in last week's Fun Online Poll agreed with the statement "All money that changes hands purely because of existing laws (as distinct from free exchange) counts as 'tax'."

I gave examples of such privately collected taxes last week, the basic idea being that all 'rent-seekers' (such as Messrs Osterhaus and Pachauri, who are on the swine-flu and climate-change bandwagons respectively) are trying to funnel money into their own pockets. Whether that goes via the state (i.e. our taxes pay for the NHS, which then pays for immunisations and Tamiflu) or direct from one private business to another (selling carbon permits which your business obtained for free) is neither here nor there.

The problem is that while right-wingers lambast this type of rent-seeking, they have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to the rent-seeking that they indulge in themselves, primarily via the land market. A majority of commenters on this post thought it was an outrage to expect those land-owners who stand to benefit enormously from the construction of Crossrail to make some sort of modest financial contribution to its construction costs, even if the decision to do so were taken democratically.

With that in mind, it puzzles me that so many people voted as they did. Ah well.
In a more light-hearted vein, and inspired by Rantin' Rab, this week's Fun Online Poll asks "Have you had an affair with Tiger Woods?"

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

I've learned something new today.

Man Widdicombe explained to me how to take screen shots using a Mac. You press shift and 'apple' (or 'command', it's the key with the little symbol that looks like a square with a circle at each corner) and 4, and you then highlight the area you want to include. The resulting png ends up in a folder called 'Desktop', so sort that in date order to find the newest and Bob's your uncle.

Just to show I can do it, here's what his 'blog looks like:

United Nations fun

I get the impression that both of these stories are a little exaggerated, but where there's smoke there's fire...

First story emailed by Bayard:

The man with the nickname “Dr Flu”, Professor Albert Osterhaus, of the Erasmus University in Rotterdam Holland has been named by Dutch media researchers as the person at the center of the worldwide Swine Flu H1N1 Influenza A 2009 pandemic hysteria.

Not only is Osterhaus the connecting person in an international network that has been described as the Pharma Mafia, he is THE key advisor to WHO on influenza and is intimately positioned to personally profit from the billions of euros in vaccines allegedly aimed at H1N1...

Second story via UKIP:

A story emerging out of Britain suggests "follow the money" may explain the enthusiasm of the United Nations to pursue caps on carbon emissions, despite doubts surfacing in the scientific community about the validity of the underlying global warming hypothesis.

A Mumbai-based Indian multinational conglomerate with business ties to Rajendra K. Pachauri, the chairman since 2002 of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, stands to make several hundred million dollars in European Union carbon credits simply by closing a steel production facility in Britain with the loss of 1,700 jobs...

Friday, 11 December 2009

Shabbat, shalom.

From The Times:

Britain was today embroiled in an international row after Israel accused the Government of encouraging a boycott of foods from its settlements in the West Bank.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has issued voluntary guidance to UK supermarkets stating labels should differentiate between "Israeli settlement produce" and "Palestinian produce". Foods are currently labelled "Produce of the West Bank".

Israeli officials fear Britain’s move signals a shift towards a wider boycott of Israeli goods...

I can't honestly say I buy much fruit (my five-a-day consist of four-and-a-half pints of lager and half-an-ounce of Old Holborn), but if I did, I'd always go for "Israeli settlement produce". The concept of "voluntary guidance" deserves a special mention.

The Graun's headline completely misses the point: "UK issues new guidance on labelling of food from illegal West Bank settlements".

There's no such thing as 'an illegal settlement'. Land law, and hence land ownership is a completely artificial concept. What it boils down to in practice is that whoever has the bigger army owns the land. The question that concerns me is "Who pays for the army?" It's only where the tenant is forced to pay rent as well as paying for the army that things get out of kilter (which is the last thousand years of UK history boiled down to one sentence).

Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

From the FT:

Festive Gearchange (3)

Perry Como's "Silver Bells" really pushes the envelope. The entire first half of the song is just two bars A/two bars D/two bars E/two bars A again (with the odd extra two bars of A thrown in for good measure). At 1 minute 21 seconds they shift it up a semi-tone, and entire second half is two bars A#/two bars D#/2 bars F/two bars A# again. Repeat to fade. Genius.

Fun with numbers

From The BBC:

EU leaders have agreed to pay 7.2bn euros (£6.5bn; $10.6bn) over the next three years to help developing nations adapt to climate change. Announcing the deal, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said all 27 EU member nations would contribute and that the EU was doing its "fair share"...

How many people live in "developing nations"? Let's round it up to 2 billion, shall we, seeing as nations which had hitherto seen themselves as 'developed' might suddenly change their minds. So that's about £1.08 each, per year for three years (€1.20, $1.77). It might just stretch to a couple of litres* of petrol each, I suppose. Or maybe a bundle of firewood?

* Like gallons, but smaller.

My rather terse email reply (seeing as Knirrir asked)

To this.

"I did offer at the time to pay towards D's school fees. F is not in education and that is the end of that, as far as I am concerned."

Sir Liam Donaldson on top form

From The Grauniad:

The first flu pandemic of the 21st century is less lethal than experts feared, killing only 26 out of every 100,000 people who became ill, a study by the chief medical officer reveals today... a third of deaths have been among healthy people who would not have been eligible for vaccination under the present strategy...

Good stuff, you might think, panic over, we might as well not bother with the billions to be spent on the vaccine - given those sort of numbers it would be nigh impossible to prove that the vaccine actually led to a statistically significant reduction in the number of deaths.


Sir Liam Donaldson and colleagues say in their paper published online that vaccination may have to be extended to a wider population than at present.

Babelfish/Ex-wife Fun

If you can't read German very well, you might like to cut and paste this missive from my ex-wife (she disappeared with our two kids fifteen years ago) into Babelfish:

[UPDATE: Text removed on legal advice (see comments by WOAR and Dearieme). PS, I'm not and never will be a politician, I'm an economist. Preceding and subsequent posts remain.]

She obviously doesn't read my 'blog! I shall post my rather terse email reply later today, if my readers demand it.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

All your children are belong to us!

They don't just brainwash kids with all this Warmenism stuff and Mary Secole Week, they start drumming NIMBYism into them at an early age as well, it would appear.

For today's geography home-work, The Lad had to colour in a map showing that nearly all of the UK is "quite crowded" or "very crowded". What a load of bollocks. Eighty or ninety per cent of the population live in urban areas which covers rather less than ten per cent of the surface area. Not only do people choose to live there because there are better job opportunities, amenities etc, they don't have much choice in the matter either, as The Hallowed Greenbelt prevents them from spreading out a bit. Outside the areas coloured red ("Very crowded", according to the map), the rest is pretty empty, as far as I have been able to observe by looking out of the windows of trains, 'planes and automobiles.

Click to enlarge:


Banned left a comment here:

As a former north Londoner I would have been far more interested in a cross-rail north-south link if only to avoid the wastelands of Croydon. Your point that "once the stations are built they'll have no problem selling off a bit of land for housing or commercial uses" is of interest, greater London grew in the way that it did precisely because speculative railway/tube builders (many of whom went bust just like .com) built the railways that they did and speculative builders followed to produce the outer London suburbs for the workers of central London.

Leaving aside the north/south London snobbery, this illustrates that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing". When the private railway companies built new railways, what usually happened was that they went bust. The rest is as Banned describes it, but he misses out the bit that says "those who owned land surrounding the new stations made massive windfall gains by selling off land to speculative builders".

One company noticed that land values in the areas surrounding the new stations rocketed (from thousands to millions of pounds per acre, in today's money), and that the capital gain on the land was more than enough to finance the entire capital cost of the railway and stations. So the company that built the Metropolitan line first bought up a lot of farmland stretching away from London, borrowed money, built the railway and sold off the land again, making a handsome profit overall.

That to me looks like a good "capitalist" model. Somebody does the numbers, makes the investment, takes the risks and (hopefully) makes a profit, with a corresponding gain to society as a whole (the operation helped London grow and prosper).

I might conclude that the cross-rail link is a Socialist venture, doomed to failure and/or permanent subsidy.

Why "socialist"? Are railways and transport infrastructure inherently "socialist"? Methinks not. Is it "socialist" to expect a property owner to pay for his own roof repairs or home-extension or to pay towards the street lighting or flood defences in his area? I'd think not (although hardcore Home-Owner-Ists may disagree).

Ergo, how can it be "socialist" to try and match up risk-and-reward, costs-and-benefits by expecting those people who are likely to benefit disproportionately from Crossrail (without otherwise bearing any risk - they lose little if it goes wrong) to decide whether the project goes ahead and ask them to contribute a small fraction of the resulting increase in their property values if they want it to?

In economic terms, surrounding landowners "own" the railway. Is it "socialist" to expect the shareholders of a business to pay up some share capital? Is that a "subsidy" to the business? Methinks not. Again, the Home-Owner-Ists, who want banks to be re-capitalised by slashing interest rates on mortgages at the expense of savers; and who will take massive tax increases on employment sullenly on the chin but are up in arms about modest Council Tax hikes, might well disagree.

I tell you, Home-Owner-Ism is pretty much like Socialism in blue clothes.

Your kids are going to love these!

These Christmas crackers, handmade in Dorset, are environmentally friendly and the perfect accessory for any table this Christmas. The packaging also doubles up as a postage box so you can send them through the post as an alternative gift. Each cracker contains a packet of Seeds, a hat made from recycled paper, an environmental message about the planet and of course a bang!

£12.50 for six.

"North-south revolt over Crossrail levy"

Today's Evening Standard reports on a nice bit of bitching going on as to who should pay London's modest contribution towards the costs of building Crossrail, but let's assume that £3.5 billion is a known figure.

Remembering The Golden Rules, 1) User charges are better than taxes and 2) Ideally, there's no taxation without representation, here's how I think they should do it. There will be about 30 new stations/stops. (Actually 35, but some are very close together). The people who will benefit most are people who own land and buildings within (say) one mile of a new station. People who rent premises don't benefit much, as their rent goes up to soak it up. If we divide £3.5 billion by 30 stations, and divide that by 9.73 million square yards (the surface area within one circular mile), we get a nice round cost of £12 per square yard. Let's call that £1.20 per square yard in perpetuity to allow for interest and so on.

You then have a straightforward referendum, if you are happy to pay an extra £1.20 per square yard per year (about £300 on the Council Tax for an average-sized London terrace, rather less for a flat and so on, and the corresponding amount on Business Rates, depending on how big the plot size is) in exchange for having Crossrail, then vote "yes", else vote "no". End of.

This is just for illustration, it may be fairer to split this into bands of 0 to 0.5 miles away (who pay double); 0.5 to 1.0 miles away (who pay the normal rate) and 1.0 to 2.0 miles away (who pay half rates), in which case the charge per square yard would be about 80p; 40p and 20p respectively. This would equate to additional Council Tax of between £50 and £200 per annum, depending on how near you lived to a new station. I suppose we could put that as a third alternative.

No doubt somebody will point out that there are farms within these areas, and that a farmer can't afford to pay that much tax. Well, firstly they get a vote; and secondly, once the stations are built they'll have no problem selling off a bit of land for housing or commercial uses. They'd only have to sell off an acre or two to cover the tax on the rest.

What's not to like?

The warmest white Christmas ever, no doubt...

From The Metro:

Forecasters say the UK is about to be hit by severely cold temperatures which could last right up to Christmas. Temperatures in the Midlands are set to go as low as minus 3C tonight and things are going to remain cold for the next few days with widespread frost... Bookmakers William Hill is [sic] offering 6-1 for a white Christmas in London and 3-1 in Aberdeen.

Meanwhile, the harridans are trying to ban pink toys for girls, seriously.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

"Delinquent dolphin Moko causes terror in the surf"

As Julia M says, "Oh, oh! Now the animal shock troops have the beginning of a Navy! This won't end well..."

PBR: Extra 13.2% tax on bank bonuses!

50%? Nonsense. Don't believe what you read!

Assuming the 0.5% hike in Employer's NIC and the 50% top rate of income tax would have gone ahead anyway, the effective overall rate on a large bonus would have been 56.8% and it's now 70%.

The maths would have been: salary bonus of £100, plus Employer's NIC = £113.30, employee pays 50% income tax and 1% Employee's NIC so nets £49. £49 divided by £113.30 = 43.2%, so overall tax rate 56.8%.

The maths will now be: salary bonus £100, plus Employer's NIC £13.30 plus surcharge £50 = £163.30. The employee nets £49 as before. £49 divided by £163.30 = 30%, so overall tax rate 70%.

Which is still slightly less than the effective tax rate faced by people on Working Tax Credits, go figure.

This is not good...

Uganda debates death penalty for gays

I wonder whether the CiF crowd have already done their Victimhood Poker ... and realised that 'African' or 'Black' trumps 'gay', so somebody else must be to blame. See also Jamaica's homophobia is the fault of Brit slave-owners if you think I'm joking.

UPDATE: John B (in the comments) plays the winning VP hand - the blame for all this lies fairly and squarely with American Right-Wingers.

"Elephant Kills 11 People On Two-Week Rampage"

From Sky News:

Wildlife officials are frantically hunting for a wild elephant which they believe is responsible for the deaths of 11 people in Nepal.

An Indian elephant is thought to be responsible for the deaths [well, duh]. The animal has gone on the rampage across three districts in the south of the country for more than two weeks.

One victim, an 18-year-old male, was killed while attempting to worship the animal as the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesh...

Via Anti-Citizen One.

"Smoking ban cuts heart attacks"

The bansturbators hadn't run this story for a while, so they give it another outing today. To be fair, they appear have decided that the previous claims that heart attacks have fallen by over a tenth or up to a third since the smoking ban were laughable and are going in low this time:

Dr Jewell's annual report Preventing the Preventable pointed to statistics which showed the number of hospital admissions for heart attacks in 2007/2008 had fallen by 3.7% on the previous year, down from 4,324 to 4,164. He said although the decline could not be wholly attributed to the smoking ban, some studies suggested at least some of the reduction was due to the ban on smoking in public places, which was brought in in April 2007.

What is still laughable is the claim that "smoking still cost the NHS £127 for each person". Assuming a quarter of people smoke, that means the average smoker requires treatment costing £508 a year. Seeing as the average smoker pays far, far more than that in tobacco duty and extra VAT, that means that smokers are net contributors to the NHS budget.

I'm a bit disappointed that the BBC didn't follow their proper template - they normally get a smattering of rent-a-quotes from the usual suspects (ASH) and then right at the end, a government spokesman agrees that more must be done. This time, they put the quote from the government spokesman first, ASH aren't mentioned at all and the only sort-of-fakecharity, The British Lung Foundation is only mentioned in the last two sentences.

UPDATE: via Dick P in the commments, Velvet Glove Iron Fist points out that heart attacks actually rose during the period, surprise, surprise.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Everyone's a winner with Dave Cameron

From a delightfully garbled article in The Soaraway Sun:

DAVID Cameron yesterday denied he was out to clobber single mums by offering tax breaks to married couples. The Tory leader was heckled as he outlined his plans to supporters of lone parents' charity Gingerbread.

Angry mums accused him of discriminating against 4.5million kids. Mr Cameron vowed that a future Tory government would never ignore problems faced by single parents. But he insisted his party was not "neutral" on the issue and wants to encourage marriage by loading the tax system in favour of couples.

So with typical Nulabour gusto, he's going to "do more" for married couples and "do more" for single parents at the same time. Hooray! The irony in all this is that:

1. Even the Tories suggested tax-break will amount to about ten pounds a week, once you do the maths, nowhere near enough to combat the £200-per-week couple penalty embedded in the tax/benefits system. See e.g. Shannon Matthew's mum's former partner's sister's benefit fraud.

2. The real villains of the piece are single-mothers-on-welfare, and not single mothers in work, but as they don't pay income tax, they won't be affected by changes to the tax system; the largest single group who'd lose out will be single, working adults who don't have children, and cohabiting couples will lose twice as much.

But the best bit is this, perhaps somebody can explain it to me:

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman has branded his idea a "philanderer's charter", allowing men who walk out on their wives to benefit from pro-marriage tax reforms.

PS, Gingerbread is a fakecharity, of course.