Tuesday, September 30, 2008

In praise of “Punch and Judy” politics

I caught part of the boy Dave being interviewed on Today this morning and was taken by the number of times he was accused of "playing party politics", sometimes referred to as being Punch and Judy politics. The implication is that somehow it is wrong in these difficult times to "play politics" and that the opposition should be supporting the Government in its efforts to sort out the problems.

That opinion is at best misguided and at worst down right dangerous. This implies that there is only one solution and the Government knows what it is. Well, there isn't one solution and even if there is it will be fraught with risks and dangers that we need to know about. Politicians of all parties cosying up to each other in the proverbial smoke filled room to agree whatever deal suits them is no way to work out how to deal with the mess we are in.

What we need is more Punch and Judy politics. We need the opposition to be ripping the heart out of Government plans and exposing the weaknesses and flaws, we need them point to the failures of Government and exposing weak ministers and their teams. There should be nowhere for incompetent ministers to hide. For all his arrogance this is exactly what Paxman does, and does well, and he was about the only effective opposition for about 5 years.

By doing this opposition will then be able to build their own case for their solutions, if indeed there is one. But if there isn't one we at least know that and go in to whatever solution is proposed for this mess with our eyes open.

And if the general public don't like it - tough. There is far too much at stake for simple niceties.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Official charged over lost secrets

There is always a storm whenever data is lost and then all goes quiet as the issue is kicked in to the long grass of inquiries and internal reports. The suspicion is that these are just a cover up so that nobody is held to account.

It is therefore good to see that someone is being charged for a fairly serious loss of terror related data:

The Cabinet Office official who left top secret documents on a train in June is to be charged under the Official Secrets Act, the BBC has learned.

The individual was on secondment from the Ministry of Defence when he left two highly classified documents on a train to Waterloo
What really surprised me though was this response:

BBC defence correspondent Frank Gardner said the move came as a surprise to many in Whitehall.
Really? Someone subject to the Official Secrets Act (OSA) losses secret data and those in Whitehall are surprised. This must go to the heart of the attitude of the Civil Service to their duties and responsibilities. They seem to think that if us plebs make a mistake, lets say forgetting to declare all our income for tax purposes as a genuine oversight, then it OK for the full might of the state to come tumbling down on our heads. They also think its OK to send heavies round to a Director's house without warning to distress goods even when it was there mistake that got the tax bill wrong.

Yet they break the law and they are surprised! Why am I not surprised?

Lets be clear about this, people who work in sensitive areas are made fully aware of what the OSA entails. When I worked in some sensitive areas whilst in the Army the OSA was read out to us every 3 months, and it was made very clear that their would be no excuse for breaching it and the full force of the law would be applied if we did. Furthermore, I had to sign the OSA every year and also confirm in writing that I fully understood what I was signing and the consequences for breaching the Act.

If you don't want to be covered by the OSA all you have to do is say no and they will find you another posting.

So I have no sympathy for this person, they knew what their responsibilities were and by losing those documents broke the law. I hope they are punished severly, if found guilty, as a warning to others that we will not accept such lax behaviour with the security of the state.

And just in case you think those documents weren't important or that AQ isn't really a threat, that's not the point. The documents were covered under the OSA and should have been treated as such.

Let us not forget that these were "five eyes" secret ie information only to be shared between USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and ourselves. If the other countries lose confidence in our ability to keep this information secure then the source of a great deal of our intelligence could dry up.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Appropriate responses to new anti smoking pictures

As someone who gave up smoking nearly 25 years ago I find the way the health industry and this Government attack smokers as absolutely appalling, and the ban on smoking in pubs was particularly nasty. I also think smokers are pretty stupid, but that's their choice.

I don't mind the government paying for research and telling us what is and isn't healthy, but that's where it should end. This latest round of hectoring is both insulting to smokers and none smokers and a complete waste of money.

The UK will next week become the first European country to introduce graphic images on cigarette packets to warn about the dangers of smoking.

The 15 different images will include pictures of a diseased lung and heart surgery being performed.

Its not as if these ever more garish tricks work, indeed I'll bet they make some smokers determined to continue out of spite. If they did work articles like this on the BBC would be littered with references to studies which showed success and we would be blinded by statistics. But all we get is a wishy-washy comment:
Canada became the first nation to use images in 2001 with surveys one year on showing a third of quitters had been motivated by the images.
Get that, they started this in 2001 in Canada and 12 months later 1/3 of quitters were "motivated" by the pictures. No reference to how many would have quit anyway and no mention of any follow up studies. That's 6 years of doing this and not one single number to show that it works, forgive my cynicism but I'll bet that not one study showed any benefit.

So I was heartened to see these responses from 2 bloggers who smoke.

From Raedwald we get a link to these wonderful cigarette box covers:
My addition would be "Smoking pisses off health fascists".

The other good post comes from the always entertaining Leg-Iron:

We know the risks. The mountain climber knows the risks. The paraglider knows the risks. Those who ride experimental jet packs know the risks. The guy who walks to the North Pole knows the risks. The folk who sail single-handed around the world know the risks.

We do it because we like it and are prepared to take the risk. Okay? It's our lives and we'll decide how to end them, not some Righteous Baroness and not some arrogant sod who thinks he/she/it knows best. Now go out there and get a real job.Go and read it all, its very good.

Anyway, to any smoker passing through you have my support in any action you may wish to take against the health fascists. I'm sure a few spare lamp posts could be found when we've finished with the politicians.

Suicide shouldn't be the punishment for bankers

The City was in shock last night after the apparent suicide of a millionaire financier haunted by the pressures of dealing with the credit crunch.

Kirk Stephenson, who was married with an eight-year-old son, died in the path of a 100mph express train at Taplow railway station, Berkshire.

I felt for a few weeks that we need to see a few bankers facing public penury so that the rest of us can at least see that someone has paid for not only burning or pension funds but also for relying on our money to bail them out.

I say this not through some sense of schadenfreude, but more as a release for public frustration so that we can all then move on. Lets face it, the sight of bankers walking round in £1000 suits while we bail them out of the deep hole their greed has got our financial institutes in to. I know that no laws have been broken (or at least that we know of) but the sight of Ley and Ebbers getting their public comeuppance made us all feel a bit better - well it made me feel better.

However I wouldn't want to think that this desire would lead to anyone committing suicide; money just isn't that important.

PS I don't normally read the Mail, it was lying around at the half way house when I passed through during my golf round this morning and this story was on the front page.

PPS My heart goes out to his son, who must wondering what on earth he has done to deserve this.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Politicians should stay out of sport

Yes, I know, they should stay out of our lives, period. But this is a subject that really winds me up.

Free-to-air TV sport reconsidered

The list of sporting events reserved for free-to-air television is to be reviewed, Culture Secretary Andy Burnham has said.

He told a Royal Television Society conference in London it was time to look at whether the right events were protected to serve the public interest.
The real question isn't that the right events are protected its why should any be protected. Its just rent seeking by the free to air channels who want the best bits without paying true market value or want us to pay for them on top of the BBC poll tax.
"It is because I believe in television's social role - its power to include and involve - that I continue to believe resolutely in the principle of a protected list of sporting events set by the government," he said.
What social role? The only one I can think of its part or the government's "loren orda" campaign to keep the prols off the street and maybe there wont be as many many muggings.

So why bring this up now? Well, there are 2 sports that seem to have got the BBC in particular wound up, test matches and England football.

In the case of the test matches Sky bid and won the rights. As part of the deal they have to allow highlights on free to air and we get about 45mins. However Jonathon Agnew has been (mis)using his position to slag off Sky and complain about live cricket not being on BBC. Forgetting that Sky gives us full uninterrupted play, something the BBC refuses to do, all of England's away games, 2 hours of replay and coverage of the domestic game.

But the killer is that that next year we have the Austrialians here for the Ashes tests. These are propbably the most attractive matches in cricket and its likely that next year there will be a real stink with the Govt getting it the neck because we can't all watch it "for free". Just think of that, politicians being unpopular? And we know what they do to avert that don't we? Yes, they dip in to our pockets as readers Burning Our Money will testify.

What people forget is that the BBC didn't even bid for the rights
The England and Wales Cricket board has attacked the BBC for failing to make any formal bid in the latest TV rights negotiations, after BSkyB retained all England home Test matches as part of a £300m deal that keeps live games off free-to-air TV until at least 2013.
So who will pay the ECB £300m to give the cricket to the BBC? yes, you and me. And then will everyone be happy for all BBC2's daytime schdule to be given over to test cricket 8 hours a day? I doubt it.

As to the football, this has blown up because not even the highlights of the Croatia Vs England match were on free to air TV. This wouldn't normally matter because England have been so poor that only masochists have bothered to watch, but on this occaision England somehow managed to win and there was a real storm.

So what can you do about this Andy? Maybe you missed the bit about this match being in Croatia and therefore it is up to Croatia's FA to sell their right to who the hell they like? Or maybe you have all become so arrogant you think you can steal the property rights of foreign companies as well as those of this this country?

Because that's what the list really means, by deciding which sports cannot sell their TV rights for what they are worth on the open market you are stealing them and giving them to someone who doesn't deserve them.

PS yes I am a sports fan and would love them all to be on free to air, I just don't think you, dear reader, should pay for my pleasures.

Prepare for more global warming hot air from from the celebocracy

One of the put downs of climate skeptics is that they aren't qualified to comment, the fact that most are seriously qualified passes people by. Yet it is OK for those who aren't qualified to comment in favour of climate alarmism, indeed they are encouraged, and it looks like we are just about to have a fresh round of hot air from the celebocracy.

From Watts Up With That we get this news of a bunch of "celebs" I haven't heard of:

Yesterday (September 25), a crew of scientists, artists, engineers, and journalists boarded a science research vessel in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland bound for Disko Bay. Soon, they’ll travel across the front of the Jakobshavn Glacier, “one of Greenland’s largest glaciers moving at a faster rate than ever before, losing 20 million tons of ice every day,” according to the description from expedition organizers Cape Farewell.

The point of the trip, in addition to scientific research, is “to inspire the creative team to respond to climate change both in the Arctic and on their return.”

...

I admit I am not hip. I have never heard of these artists. But it appears this trip includes a veritable who’s who of today’s influential artists.
  • Luke Bullen, an English drummer and percussionist. Bullen joined the band Addict in 1995 and later formed the band Zanderman with Addict’s lead singer Mark Aston.
  • David Noble, a youth leader, consultant, researcher, writer, speaker, activist and “something of a rogue” with a crazy vision of an entire generation of young people contributing all they can in the collective response to the global climate crisis.
  • Tracey Rowledge, an artist who works with the traditional materials and techniques of bookbinding and gilding, making books and wall pieces that explore the line between spontaneity and the deliberately crafted.
  • Julian Stair, a potter, academic and writer.
  • Graham Hill, a self-described serial entrepreneur, do-gooder and designer, who started TreeHugger.com in 2004.
  • Nicole Krauss, the author of the international bestseller, The History of Love, which won France’s Prix du Meilleur Livre √Čtranger and Amazon’s #1 Book of the Year, and was short-listed for the Orange, M√©dicis, and Femina prizes.
  • Marcus Brigstocke, a stand-up comic, writer, presenter and actor, who hosts The Late Edition, a live topical TV show on BBC 4.

OK, I have heard of Marcus Brigstocke and I find him as funny as sitting in a traffic jam on the M25 of a Friday afternoon. The rest strike me as the usual list of celebs who the hard of thinking in the MSM are prepared to fawn over and lap up every word of crap that is spoken.

I think the technical term for these celebs is "opinion formers" and as such they can be used in the propaganda war to brainwash those who haven't got the time or inclination to get out and look at what is really happening.

So, do you think these celebs will be well informed and have read all the arguments or will just go with the crap they are fed? No, I don't either and its a pity because if they read the Greenie Watch news letter they might learn a thing or two about what real scientists are saying:
Another skeptic: Dr. Martin Hertzberg, a retired Navy meteorologist with a PhD in physical chemistry A letter to USA Today from Dr. Hertzberg [ruthhertzberg@msn.com]: As a scientist and life-long liberal Democrat, I find the constant regurgitation of the anecdotal, fear mongering clap-trap about human-caused global warming (the Levi, Borgerson article of 9/24/08) to be a disservice to science, to your readers, and to the quality of the political dialogue leading up to the election. The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence shows that the Gore-IPCC theory that human activity is causing global warming is false. For details see my article, "The Lynching of Carbon Dioxide", in the "guest authors" section of www.carbon-sense.com . The difference between a scientist and propagandist is clear. If a scientist has a theory, he searches diligently for data that might contradict it so that he can test it further or refine it. The propagandist carefully selects only the data that agrees with his theory and dutifully ignores any that contradicts it. The global warming alarmists don't even bother with data! All they have are half-baked computer models that are totally out of touch with reality and have already been proven to be false.
If they went to CO2 Science they would see a video entitled Shrinking Glaciers and Presidential Politics presented by Dr Craig Idso. In they would learn that the trend in glacier melt has remained constant isnce about 1860 and there is no eveidence it has anything to do with CO2, manmad or otherwise. Furthermore, this is from published research in the Journal of Geo-Physical Research ie grown up science.



OK, this research only looks at four glaciers, but it should make these celebs think that maybe, just maybe, there are other explanations than MMGW?

If that isn't enough how about this one from Greenie Watch:

Another Dissenter: 'Man-made global warming is 'junk' science' - declares analytical chemist? As an analytical chemist who works in spectroscopy and atmospheric sensing, I am troubled by the lack of common sense regarding carbon dioxide emissions. Our greatest greenhouse gas is water. Atmospheric spectroscopy reveals why water has a 95 percent and CO2 a 3.6 percent contribution to the "greenhouse effect." Carbon dioxide emissions worldwide each year total 3.2 billion tons. That equals about 0.0168 percent of the atmosphere's CO2 concentration of about 19 trillion tons. This results in a 0.00064 percent increase in the absorption of the sun's radiation. This is an insignificantly small number. The yearly increase is many orders of magnitude smaller than the standard deviation errors for CO2 concentration measurement. "Scientific" computer simulations predict global warming based on increased greenhouse gas emissions over time. However, without water's contribution taken into account they omit the largest greenhouse gas from their equations. How can such egregious calculation errors be so blatantly ignored? This is why man-made global warming is "junk" science. Source

Still not convinced that there is another argument out there that means we should be careful about we are fed by climate alarmists? Well here's one last topic, for now, to think about.

Remember that famous "Hockey Stick graph that kicked off all the MMGW paranoia in 1988? You know the one that Gore used in An Incovenient Truth? This one from Wiki is close enough:



Well, there are lots of arguments over it but they get quite heavy. So just have a look at this post from Climate Skeptic who, as always, is a thought provoking read. He takes a lot of complicated science and puts it in to a form that still requires some hard thinking but doesn't require a PhD in Statistical analysis to understand.

Anyway, this recent post should get you thinking about Mann's Hockey Stick theory and the way alarmists, including Al Gore, have misled us:

The one area where I thought he made an explicit factual mistake in his presentation was in evaluating Hansen's forecast to Congress in 1988. He argued that one shouldn't judge Hansen by his "A" scenario (which is WAY off) because Hansen said at the time that this was based on unrealistically high assumptions. But in Hansen's appendix, he says that the A scenario is based on 1.5% a year future growth in CO2 output. In fact, the world has grown CO2 output by 1.75 % a year in the last 20 (source), so in fact the A scenario is, if anything, low.



If you are still with me after this long post do you think that our celebs will have looked at these other arguments and will give what they see a lot of thought before inflicting their opinions on us? No I don't either. I expect them to generate more hot air and CO2 than I use in a year, and all of it will be crap.

PS I know that by using pejorative term to describe those who believe in MMGW to the point where it is a religion I have shown myself to be a skeptic, which I don't deny. The reason I'm a skeptic is that about 18 months ago I had an idea for a small business based on man made CO2 being the main cause of climate change. When I started looking round for supporting evidence I realised that I had been fed a line by our political overlords and the MSM and there was more to this than they were admitting.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Be afraid, very afraid

Gordon Brown is to hold talks with President Bush at the White House about the global financial crisis.
God knows what else these 2 will screw up next but converting all your investments to cash and locking up your daughters and first born sons might be a good idea.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

1st anniversary invite for a beer

On Nov 3rd it will be one year since I found the world of blogging and started writing the odd post myself. During that time I have learned so much that I must feel like a blind person who's sight was suddenly restored.

More of that nearer the time but in celebration I would like to invite anyone who has passed by or whose blogs is in the blogroll to join me for a short stroll and then I will buy you a beer. I appreciate that most people are London based so I though we could go for a stroll round central London, starting at, say, Trafalgar Square and going round Parliament and back before finding a decent pub.

Unfortunately I can't do the 3rd or 4th as I am busy so it have to be the Wednesday 5th, which is means if we are really luck we might even meet some fellow bloggers like Old Holborn or Trixy. It could be quite a party.

I will be wearing a badge with TGS on it so please introduce yourself to claim your beer.

Will they have to wear a star as well?

Am I the only one to find this ID cards for foreigners a very worrying development?

The first identity cards from the government's controversial national scheme have been unveiled.

The biometric card will be issued from November, initially to non-EU students and marriage visa holders.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the cards would allow people to "easily and securely prove their identity".

The only benefit I can see is that someone will hack in to them and then it will be another nail in the coffin of a national scheme.

I don't suppose there's any chance that Dave will announce right now that the first thing they will do is repeal all ID card laws and regulations and cancel all contracts without compensation? That would stop ID cards in their tracks.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Banking mess best quote so far

From this weeks' Economist:

The Fed is nationalising banks faster than you can say Hugo Chavez

Friday, September 19, 2008

A quick catch up.

As I set out below I have been a bit distracted but I have been shouting fruitlessly at the useless politicians and commentators on the TV and radio. I have also been commenting on some of my favourite blogs - reading is much easier than writing when you are pushed for time and I find reading blogs the quickest way to build up a deeper understanding of some of the issues. Anyway, here's some thoughts from the past week or so:

Credit crunch and financial meltdown

I have been breathless by the way the financial situation has unraveled over the past week or so. Whilst I would like to see some of the greedy end of the banking sector get their comeuppance I also see the need to try to engineer an orderly unwind of the bad debts. That is not to say that those who got us in to this position shouldn't be paying through their own bankruptcy.

What has been really been pissing me off over the past few days is the way that politicians have developed even "slopier" shoulders, supported by their cheerleaders in the BBC and seem to be escaping much of the blame. The latest scape goat is short selling and the BBC, especially Radio's 4 and 5, are going out of their way to play to the hard of thinking by blaming short selling. Not one of them seems to understand what short selling is about which means that they can easily (yes I know it can be abused, but that is risky)

Whilst it is good to blame bankers I really don't understand how Gordon Brown has escaped with so little personal criticism for the financial meltdown. As the nation gorged itself at the buffet of cheap credit over the past 10 years or so he basked in the glory of of his ignorant sycophants in the BBC and Guardian who recycled Labour's spin that Gordon was the greatest chancellor ever. During this period we watched house prices soar and people and the country run up huge debts.

All it wold have taken would have been a quick call to the regulators to get the banks to back off excessive mortgage lending and maybe a change of the BoE's remit on inflation. But no, the economic miracle had to be kept going until Gordon reached his true destiny and was installed in Number 10.

Latest Opinion Polls - Tory 52%, Labour 24%.

Maybe the BBC and Guardian haven't noticed and maybe its for the wrong reasons, but the "people" seem to have and its wonderful. If you really want to gloat enter those pole figures in here and look at all the blue on the map.

The down side is the Tories seem hell bent on imitating Labour's policies, especially on the EU but I suppose they can't be worse. Still, as I commented on Leg Iron's blog :

Why should the Tories do anything when they have picked up 52% by letting ereyone see what a mess Labour have made? By staying quiet they can't be accused of playing Punch and Judy politics in this time of "crises"

And lets not forget that old truism - Governments lose GEs, oppositions don't win them.

TGS
Wegulation

The EU continues its control freakery by proposing controls of blogs - all in our own best interests of course:
As weblogs represent an important new contribution to media pluralism, there is a need to clarify their status, and to create legal safeguards for use in the event of lawsuits as well as to establish a right to reply, says a recent own initiative report drafted by Estonian Socialist Marianne Mikko. Own initiative reports are drafted by individual MEPs and are not proposals for EU laws. The report was later adopted by Parliament's Culture Committee.
This has, quite understandably and rightly , set the blogosphere alight with indignation. As far as I am concerned people do have the right of reply, its called comments, and we are subject to libel laws. I predict that if this idiocy goes ahead we will find a technology solution, so it will be pointless regulation - oh what am I thinking about its the EU!

As Longrider notes, even the Tories are getting in on the act:
Another politician, this time a Tory, pontificates on the need for yet more regulation:

Cyberspace does not lend itself well to censorship. But while policing every strand of the world wide web would be impossible, that does not mean it cannot be better regulated.

Better regulated. Now there’s a joke. By whom? How? And, ultimately, why?

Longrider provides some of the best, and least swaery, commentry on this issue and I strongly recommend searching his site on this subject. As he says in the post mentioned above:
There is something about the political mindset that when presented with a “problem” sees regulation as the solution. There is no need for regulation of the Internet. It is up to users to exercise their own common sense. Okay, not as common as is commonly supposed, but then the grand socialist experiment of the past four decades is partially to blame for that. That, however, is not my problem. Half-arsed politicians poking about trying to impose regulation whether “voluntary” or not is my problem.
Quite

Environmentalists feed people to dragons

I did a double take when I saw this one from The Statistician in my RSS reader and thought it was another of his spoof posts to make a point, but it isn't!
Komodo dragons have been eating a lot of people in Indonesia lately and the locals blame environmentalists, as reported by Yaroslav Trofimov at the Wall Street Journal (a subscription is required; or borrow or buy today’s paper).

Apparently, in Indonesia, people used to hunt deer and leave portions of successful hunts to the komodo dragons. They also used to tie up goats as sacrifices. All of this pleased the dragons, which left the humans alone.

Then entered the Environmentalists from the Nature Conservancy, who sought and were awarded a ban on deer hunting. They also had dogs declared an “alien species”, thus outlawing them. Naturally, being sympathetic souls, they also got a ban on goat offerings. The reason they did all this, according to Widodo Ramono, the policy director of the environmentalist organization, was because he feared the komodo was becoming “domesticated.”

I have to get some work done now so despite having many more topics to rant about so I'll leave you to find out about the dragon's, probably with the same disbelief that I had. These people really are the pits.

It's Ryder Cup this weekend so I'll probably be glued to the TV, luckily TGW has a couple of concerts so houshold harmony will not be disturbed.

Blogging light

I've been a bit distracted lately and not been blogging very much. This isn't because I haven't had much to say but because I've been busy redesigning The Great Wiseone's (TGW) web site. I'm not a web designer and only taught myself how to write and publish a web site a couple of years ago. However since then I have been looking to improve my knowledge and skill.

The first web site was extremely basic using Front Page. Since then I have added hand coding of HTLM and CSS to my knowledge base and done a couple of minor upgrades but I'm still not happy with the sizing and also the gallery selection method. I recently purchased Dreaweaver CS3 for this latest update and it is that which is taking my time. I am almost there with the basic design and need to get TGW to agree the colours and basic design and then sign it off. After that will be the slog of building all the "gallaries".

The real reason I got Dreamweaver is that I have set myself another project which also requires me to learn PHP and MySQL as these are the languages used on the main web site I will be extending. I will doing this once TGW's new design has been published and I expect this to take most of the winter.

This hasn't stopped me reading blogs in my lunchtime and often when I am sat with TGW watching TV later in the evenings and a summary of some thoughts will follow.

Shortest political suicide not in history?

The piece of paper on which Brown scribbled "No election" last year?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Military Humour





Zimbabwe: A recipe for disaster?

I hope I'm wrong but this part of the settlement doesn't give me a feeling that peace will be long lived and when it breaks down it will be very bloody:

The MDC is seeking to gain control of the police force through winning the home affairs ministry, and of the economy through the finance ministry. The party is offering Mr Mugabe control of the defence ministry.
If the relationship betweeen the two does break down, and given recent history, the fact that they will have what will in effect be their own state backed militias will lead to the bloodiest of civil wars.

RIP Richard Wright

The end of an era of great music.

Wouldn't it be nice to know the reasons why Labour MP's are starting to rebel?

Perhaps whenever the are mentioned we could have their majorities at the last election in brackets. That we could tell if they are really driven by principles or another motive.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Last night at the Proms and Britsh freedom

Last night at the Proms is on while I catch up on my reading and it reminded me of a novel I read a long time ago.

The plot was along the lines of Germany won WW2 following a succesful invasion of UK. After about 25 years the german occupiers were lulled in to beleiveing that the Brits were good model citizens and that they should allow the proms to start again. The last night then became the catalyst for the resistance movement to grow and eventually lead to the overthrow of the occupiers.

I can't watch the proms now without seeing them as a being the definition of Britishness.

Why politicians can't complain about our intrusions into their lives

It may be about USA life, but this from Cafe Hayek crosses the pond very nicely:

Karma

Don Boudreaux

Here's a letter that I sent today to the Wall Street Journal:

David Perel offers good reasons why today "Everything About Politicians Is Fair Game" (September 11, 2008).

But Mr. Perel overlooks what is surely the fundamental reason: tit-for-tat. Because everything about private citizens has become fair game for politicians - everything from our retirement planning to what we ingest and even to the sizes of our toilet tanks - it is not surprising that citizens eagerly pry into the intimate lives of politicians.

Those who raise busy-bodyness into a chief motive-force of public policy can hardly complain when their officious Frankenstein monster turns on them.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

How many airlines and holiday companies...

... have to go bust before it finally sinks in to people's thick skulls that paying cash or with debit cards is asking for trouble?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Blunkett has a point, at last

I never thought I would find myself in agreement with David Blunkett, but he has made some good points in his latest speech to the Counsel and Care charity in London. I accept I haven't read the whole speech so I may be missing some of the nuances, but here goes anyway.

Older people should be prepared to work after they reach retirement age for as long as they are physically able to, former cabinet minister David Blunkett said today.

Blunkett said that as the number of older Britons continues to rise, it was wrong to assume that the government should have "prime responsibility" for elderly care.

As a socialist he confuses Government with tax payer, but we'll ignore that one.

For years Maggie banged on about this problem but it was ignored. When the welfare state started there was over 10 workers to every pensioner ** and it is fast approaching 2:1 and will be 3:2 by 2040 according to some estimates. This is clearly unsustainable and its a pity that Blunkett had his head in the sand when he was in office.

The main problem is that we have a pay as you go scheme which a large part of the population doesn't appear to understand and think their NI contributions are paid in to some kind of fund they can draw down. Furthermore we are living longer and starting our working lives later, and with the debt of funding university courses. This means that people aren't being given the opportunity, let alone the will, to save enough for a long retirement.

So something has to give, but he misses the point. Only those who haven't saved enough during their lifetime should be prepared to carry on working until they meet incapacity or the grave. Or turning that round you have a choice - don't save and keep enjoying yourself with expensive cars and holidays but be prepared to keep working until you die or save now, relax later; its your choice.

But this implies a grown up conversation between the Government and the Governed and we don't have any major politicians prepared to have that discussion, what with the Tories trying to outdo Labour in the socialism stakes. And as we know, socialists don't trust the proles anyway.
"In our endeavour to protect people's inheritance, have we not made enough of, and are we not clear enough about, the release of equity from the enormous home ownership that exists in Britain and the divide of those with and without assets which this trend has accelerated?" he said.
Harsh as it seems it is not the job of the tax payer to protect Middle England's inheritance. If you have capital in your old age then you should be obliged to use it for your own care or continue working. Yes I know its harsh, some people get to live a long time and use up all their savings (so their children miss out on free money), others die yong and leave their savings to their family, life isn't fair; but its a damn site fairer than a 3rd party protecting the inheritance of those whose parents have money but don't want to pay for their care.

Again, this needs another grown up conversation and a few truth's spelled out, but I suppose that won't win elections so again probably won't happen.

Finally we have the real clincher. It has finally dawned on him that the welfare state creates a moral hazard, and what's more the cost of that moral hazard is becoming unsustainable
"Why should someone who's not saved, who's not put money by, expect those who have to sustain them to do so not just in working life but in retirement as well."
A very good question and one some of us have been asking for years. Lets hope that this message sinks in and come the next GE we have politicians with the metaphorical balls to stand up and say what the real problem is - we pay ourselves too much, for doing too little for not long enough.

Ah, I here you say, but what about people can't even make ends meet, let alone save for retirement.

Yes, there a number of people for who have been dealt a bad hand and these are the ones we need to protect - maybe a partner has died and they have a young family, maybe they suffer a chronic illness or have disabilities or they have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune; these we should protect. But there are far too many people who think that they can go through life not caring about the decisions they make and expect the rest of us to pick up the pieces.

**I couldn't find the exact figure but in this paper the Minister of State for Pensions states "When the State Pension was introduced in 1948 the ratio of working age people to pensioners was 5–1." Given that women weren't generally working and that not every man of working age was employed - many were disabled from the war so I have just doubled the ratio. I reckon this is too low and seem to remember reading somewhere that the ration was nearer 12:1

Family Vs Nation

Although The Angry Economist is writing about the USA it is equally true here:

Barack Obama:

It is that promise that has always set this country apart, that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams, but still come together as one American family - to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well,

Barack, dear, there is no "one American family". You see, families are not run like nations, nor nations like families. In a family (usually; and on death, enforced by the courts), resources are pooled. What the husband earns, the woman earns half of, whether she is working herself, or whether she is a stay-at-home mom.

He goes on to describe family life and how in a family we all work together and compromise and then finishes with this:

I hope, Barack, that you can see that a family makes decisions successfully, that no nation can make. There are simply far too many people, far too many voices, far too many opinions. A nation is not a family, and no comparison should ever be made between the two.

But I'm just one individual, and I doubt that you are listening to me. It's inevitable, then, that I will not get what I want during this election, and that you will disappoint me. There is a solution, though, which could make me like you. STOP DOING THINGS FOR ME THAT I COULD DO MYSELF. Your job is to keep the peace. That's it. Everything else -- including the few things that the Constitution actually calls for you to do: post roads, minting coins, standardize weights and measures, regulate commerce with foreign nations, promoting the useful arts -- all these things I can arrange within the zone of peace that is is your job to create.

Stop doings things for me. Get out of my way. Let me do them myself. I'm not a child, I'm not your child, I'm not part of your family, I'm an adult, I can make my own decisions.

I can't think of anything further to add.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Stamp duty numbers don't add up

I was looking at the stamp duty numbers again after my hasty post earlier and they don't appear to add up:

Someone buying a home for £175,000 will save £1,750 under the scheme, which is likely to cost the Treasury £600m.
Lets assume that all houses in that stamp duty bracket save the full £1,750, so that means the treasury expects £600m/£175k=~350k transactions are covered by this change, which does seem a lot.

Then we are told:
The government estimates half of all property transactions will now be exempt from stamp duty - up from one third when the threshold was £125,000.
So this means our glorious central planners expect c.700k transactions in the next 12 months.

This doesn't seem to stack up with what those in the private sector think:
Based on Bank of England figures of 36,000 mortgage approvals in June, Wolsey Securities projected that the number of housing transactions will be 400,000 this year, compared with the worst years of the 1990s housing market crash, when transactions ran at approximately 1m a year at their lowest.
So our central planners are working on their new policy doubling the transaction rate. Hmm, I know where my money's going.

Why women need catalogues

No, its not for their clothes


Stamp duty damp squib

At last the the Govt has said what it will do rather than keep the headlines going about what it might do, and what damp squib it is:

Homebuyers will not have to pay stamp duty on properties costing £175,000 or less for the next 12 months.

The current £125,000 threshold will be raised as part of a package of measures aimed at boosting the housing market.

Someone buying a home for £175,000 will save £1,750 under the scheme, which is likely to cost the Treasury £600m.

Do these fuckwits really think that those who were looking at buying a £175k house were prevented for lack of £1,750? What planet are they on?

And then there's the unitended consequences:

On the good side houses prices at £176k to, say, £200k will now be put under pressure to drop their prices to £175k. Well that's good if you aren't a forced seller.

On the down side those who had priced the £125k limit will be tempted to push up their price by a few £k, affecting the first time buyer.

My guess is that this is going to get a real slating and I'm keen to hear a few beeb vox pop on my way home. It could even be counter productive for Labour once people realise it was just a sop.

Lunatics in cars

This morning on my daily commute down the M40 at 6am the conditions were atrocious with rain, spray and standing water making driving particularly hazardous. Now I'm no shrinking violet when it comes to speeding on motorways and have been known to get my foot down a bit - on one occasion on a clear summer Sunday morning, I made it from Stokenchurch to Berwick on Tweed at an average speed over 85mph.

Today wasn't one of those times and with discretion being the better part of valour I found myself chugging along at 60ish in lane 1. What surprised me was the number of cars in lane 3 doing well in excess of 80mph, some I would put nearer 100mph, but it wasn't just the speed, they were obviously aware that conditions were bad because a large proportion had their rear fog lights on!

Anyone who has followed a car with its fog lights on in the rain will know how tiring it is and that it is more likely to lead to accidents than not having them on, so what were these morons up to?

If you are one of those people who do it can you please explain you logic in the comments section because until then I will treat you all as lunatics and morons who should be locked up.

What's the problem?

So we have yet another Government plan to distort the housing market in the hope that some miracle will occur and the laws of unintended consequences and market will be suspended and Gordon et al will be seen as some sort of miracle workers. Fat chance.

The government is to promise first-time buyers in England "free" loans of up to 30% of their home's value, in an effort to reinvigorate the housing market.

Households earning less than £60,000 will be offered loans free of charge for five years on new properties, co-funded by the state and developers.

This comes on top of speculation about suspending stamp duty and local authorities buying up repossessed homes. Better people than I can comment on the detail of how these measures will just add to the problem (see Mark Wadsworth on the house price crash as a good starting point). What I want to look at is the (lack of) thinking behind all these proposals.

Assuming that Government's trying to provide short term fixes for an economic problem is a good idea then wouldn't it be better to decide what the problem is in the first place? At least we might get a coherent strategy and here lies their problem, there are numerous problems which require different fixes:

1. Fist time buyers. We have been told for years that rising house prices are freezing out FTB's. This partly led to increases in lending of ever increasing multiples of salaries in what have become dodgy loans. To fix this problem we need lower prices, but..

2. Falling prices mean that a number of people who took out mortgages in the past couple of years will face negative equity. In itself this isn't a problem if the owner can repay the mortgage, the problem comes if unemployment rises or people need to move to new areas to change jobs.

3. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (Estate agents to you and me) had a spokesman on the radio yesterday claiming that the real problem was the lack of transactions and not the absolute price, well they would say that, wouldn't they? Their argument is the the churn in housing generates jobs in other sectors of the economy IE furniture, DIY. Leaving aside the self interest he did have a point in that a mobile workforce is good for the economy and for that to happen we need people to be able to move house relatively easily.

Although not necessarily part of the problem the Government is looking to fix in this round, banks and building societies are reported as being prepared to lend only 70% of a mortgage because they really don't know what the true value of a property is anymore, it certainly implies house prices should be lower.

So looking at points 1 & 3 would you say we need lower prices to get the housing market moving and to bring loans to value down? I would. It would also be helpful if people had more money in their pockets once they had a mortgage so they could spend in other parts of the economy.

Therefore, on this quick analysis, shouldn't any aid be aimed to helping those stuck in 2, but not be aimed at keeping prices artificially high? Indeed, anything that doesn't help to get the economy moving and that leads to rising unemployment is a disaster for those in negative equity. Harsh as it seems, an economy that is working is better for those in negative equity than one that has the illusion of wealth through artificially high prices.

We already have plenty of mechanisms to protect people, especially families, who go through the pain of repossession if it comes to that so it is hard to see what else Government should and could do.

It doesn't look good for politicians but the best option appears to be to let the market sort itself out and the sooner the better. Sadly this requires politicians to "butt out" so that won't happen. Prepare for a long drawn out rerun of the 70's and 80's.

Monday, September 01, 2008

On this day

in 1989, in Britain, the Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher began the controversial privatisation of the public water authorities.

The debate at the time was so banal; economic illiterate twats led the way with the "water's free" mantra. How I yearned for one of the ministers at the time to challenge one of the twats with a question asking them if they would get out of bed at 2am to fix a burst water main or maybe work in a factory producing pipes without wages. When I tried it on the pub bores it worked a treat and shut them up for quite a while.

Never have so many owed so much to so less

I go away for a week and when I return I find the silly season is still upon us. Tesco has finally given in to the the "fewer" Vs "less" pedants and decided to change the wording on its isles:

Tesco is to change the wording of signs on its fast-track checkouts to avoid any linguistic dispute.

The supermarket giant is to replace its current "10 items or less" notices with signs saying "Up to 10 items".

Tesco's move follows uncertainty over whether the current notices should use "fewer" instead of "less".

OK, I confess to being one of those who thinks it should be fewer and my teeth grate every time I hear "less" being used on news programmes, but that doesn't make me right.

One of the reasons the English language is the world's second language for non-English speakers is that it is a living language. We make every effort to understand what people are saying, even if it is grammatically correct, and debates like this just make us look stupid.

Longrider is a long post on the subject, covering off the etymology of the words, but the simple fact the meaning of words in the English has always changed, is changing and will continue to change. Lets get over it, life's too short.