A very strong book recommendation

What with the 100th anniversary of World War I and Remembrance Day coming up, a suggestion for a truly excellent book.

Mud, Blood and Poppycock.

Written by a career Gurkha Rifles officer turned historian it’s quite unlike most of what you might have read on WWI. The British Army didn’t have a high casualty rate: losses were actually slightly lower than in other mass conscript European land wars. It’s just that Britain had never had a mass conscript army in any of those wars. The Normandy casualty rate was rather higher in 1944 actually.

The Somme wasn’t a error, it was vital given what was happening at Verdun. Third Ypres/Passchendale was also not an error, equally vital given the French Army mutinies. And absolutely contrary to what just about everyone says about the generals they very rarely made the same mistake twice and by 1918 had actually worked out how to do that combined arms thing of infantry, artillery, tanks and air power. That very thing that the Nazis used so effectively in round two.

It’s also only five quid at the moment which is a bargain for a book this good. Strongly recommended.

I don’t, by the way, insist that he gets everything absolutely right. But I, for one, found his explanations of troop rotation fascinating: most especially his comparison between what the British Army did and what everyone else did. I first read it years ago and gave it another go while traveling over the weekend. It’s stood up very well.

There’s a solution to this problem

Now the owners have submitted a planning application to install 200 solar panels on the island.

The application says that panels will be installed on a former tennis court and surrounded by a hedge that shields them from sight. But residents who live a few hundred yards away on the mainland contend that when they look out to sea they will be dazzled by reflected sun.
In papers submitted to South Hams district council, Deborah Clark and Tony Orchard, the owners, say their electricity costs have spiralled by 40 per cent in recent years. The 25-room Art Deco hotel, which opened in 1929, relies on an electricity supply from the mainland as well as expensive oil and bottled gas.
Mr Porter, who sold the island in 2001, said: “We are horrified that this application has been lodged. We spent 16 years doing everything we could to restore it to its former beauty. Now this green island sleeping in the sun is going to be scarred by this horrible shiny thing. It will visible from miles away. It is going to glint in the sun and spoil the whole thing.”

Four objections have been received to date by the council, including one from Hubert Ashton of Folly Hill, which overlooks the island. He said: “This would be a monstrous carbuncle on an old friend. It would be ruinous for the beauty of the island.”

All of this is fine. We get it. You value the island as it is, the current owners wish to reduce their electricity bills. The solution therefore is for you gentlemen, Mssrs. Porter and Ashton, to put your hands in your own pockets and pay the extra costs of keeping the island the way that you value it.

Otherwise you can fuck off.

Catholic social teaching against neoliberalism

So, a reader here pointed me to this pamphlet. And I was going to read it all and comment in detail upon it. And then I got to this:

Modern economics is a complicated package, and there are numerous differing schools of
thought. One school maintains that nothing much went amiss at the level of mainstream
economic theory: it just needed to be better applied. Other voices claim that economics
as a science is broken and discredited, and that it needs fundamental reform. One such
voice is that of Will Hutton, economic and political commentator, who has declared that

the dominant intellectual ideology of the last 20 years, free market
fundamentalism, and the way it was applied in the financial markets, the efficient
market hypothesis, was the biggest intellectual mistake this generation has ever
witnessed, arguably the world has ever witnessed.2

Anyone who is going to quote Will Hutton, other than in derision, isn’t likely to have the right end of the stick. So I’m afraid that I only got half way down page one.

Lehman’s downfall was also part of a previous chain reaction, a key element of which
was the issuing of property mortgages on a massive scale to people who could ill afford
them – so-called “sub-prime” mortgages. They were more risky, but financiers attempted
to reduce the risk by spreading it more widely. Ultimately, however, that merely increased
the pool of people who would lose money when the mortgages proved unsustainable.

Err, no. The problem was that the banks themselves were holding portions of those CDOs, and the banks were holding them on leverage, as is always going to be true in a system of fractional reserve banking. So the problem wasn’t with sub-prime, nor mortgages, nor syndication, but with who was actually holding those notes. If it had been insurance and pension funds holding them there would have been no crash at all.

Sorry, this paper isn’t diagnosing the problem correctly therefore it’s obviously not going to get to the right conclusions.

I am almost tempted to prepare a paper for this conference

Call for papers for a Research Workshop


City University, London, 25th / 26th June 2015

The 2015 research workshop co-organised by the Association for Accountancy & Business Affairs, City University, and the Tax Justice Network, will explore the notion of national ‘competitiveness’. This opens up possibilities for papers on a wide variety of themes, including tax wars (tax ‘competition’), the dynamics of ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ politics, regulatory degradation, regulatory arbitrage, policy responses to ‘competitiveness’ pressures, and the impact of ‘competitiveness’ policies on home countries and third party countries.

Other related themes are likely to emerge as the workshop programme develops.

Offers of papers are especially welcome and early submission of an abstract of no longer than 300 words is encouraged. All submissions will be considered by the organising committee.

This workshop will bring together researchers, academics, journalists, policy staff of civil society organisations, consultants and professionals, elected politicians and/or their researchers, and government or international organisation officials.

The purpose of the workshop is to facilitate research through open-minded debate and discussion, and to generate ideas and proposals to inform and shape the political initiatives and campaigns already under way.

There will be a small charge for attendance at the Workshop. Participants are usually expected to finance their own travel although applications from students and others with limited means for bursary support will be considered.

More information about this workshop is available from: John Christensen, Tax Justice Network, john@taxjustice.net

competitiveness, race-to-the-bottom, regulatory arbitrage, Research Workshop, tax wars

My paper would, of course, state that tax competition is a wonderful thing. For it a) lowers the tax burden and b) moves us away from the harmful taxation of capital and corporations, to a lesser extent labour, and toward the taxation of the least mobile factors of production, land and resource rents.

Slightly concerned about the idea that I’d have to pay to present it: but it would perhaps be worth it for the joy of annoying them all so.

Thing is, I cannot see their definition of open minded debate and discussion including someone who so obviously has an, err, different answer to their main question. After all, I’ve already been disinvited to one such conference because some of the delegates, those looking for open discussion, objected too vehemently to what they thought I might say.

Pity that.

Ritchie pitches to Margaret Hodge for another job

You should read this with the sound of Yosser at the back of your mind:

And in that spirit, and having looked at the fiasco that is this year’s Tax Gap report from HMRC, isn’t it obvious that we really do need an Office for Tax Responsibility in the UK?

The first thing I would say is that if we were to have such an Office it would have to be independent of the Treasury. An endowment fund sufficient to let it operate for ten years would allow for this.

A Board, made up of senior civil servants, but not connected to the Treasury, and a single representative from each party in the Commons with more than 30 seats might ensure sound governance.

The Office should report to the PAC. That is where the accountability should lie, I think, well away from the Treasury.

The primary task would be to monitor the tax gap. Ex-HMRC staff could be engaged on this, but no revolving door would be allowed.

Others might also be engaged. These could include private sector specialists and academics. But again, a revolving door straight back into large companies may not be allowed.

And the budget must allow for research to be commissioned on this issue from a variety of sources: one viewpoint would clearly not be enough.

G’arn Mags, Gissae Job!

Well, at least we know where Howard Reed’s coming from then

The third plank of policy should be aimed at rebalancing the economy in the medium term …(…)… and a decisive shift away from the industrial feudalism of the plc and private equity dominated neoliberal economy towards a social economy which foregrounds worker-managers, cooperatives, social enterprises and crowdfunding.

That’s from the barking mad quadrant of the available economic policy space then.

This is going to be interesting

Greens overtake Lib Dems in the polls: Surge in support takes party into fourth place with eight per cent

Party’s support put at a record 8 per cent in Ashcroft National Poll
It means Nick Clegg’s party has slipped into fifth place on 7 per cent

8% isn’t really enough to make a great difference if it’s widely spread support. Ukip’s similar sorta level of support at the last GE might have cost Cameron 15 or 20 seats some say. And the LibDems will definitely have more seats that the Greens after the next GE, even if they have a lower national vote.

But if we get even vaguely close to having four way seats or a four way election then predicting the final result is going to be almost impossible. And fascinating……

This woman is a cretin: discuss

Return of the pauper’s funeral
In austerity Britain life for many is a struggle – and now, so is death: a combination of dwindling state support and soaring funeral costs is leaving hard-pressed families dependent on the council to bury their loved ones

Somebody, somewhere,
needs to explain how the local council is not actually the state supporting those without enough money to bury loved ones.

I dunno about you but I’m pretty sure they are part of the state. They get to pass laws (OK, only by-laws but still), levy taxes and spend tax money. This is, erm, the state, isn’t it?

I’m not so sure about the language here

But the basic point being made is true:

Korwin-Mikke, whose party has two remaining MEPs and received 7.5% support in Poland during May’s European parliamentary elections, is one of the most outspoken figures within the far-right groupings of parliament.

In July, he declared in English that the minimum wage should be “destroyed” and said that “four million niggers” lost their jobs in the US as a result of President John F Kennedy signing a bill on the minimum wage in 1961. He went on to claim that 20 million young Europeans were being treated as “negroes” as a result of the minimum wage. He refused to apologise and was fined 10 days of allowances for his comments.

The minimum wage
did put a lot of what we now call people of colour out of work. That being one of the reasons why it found support from certain unions: that it would stop the low wage competition from those who were being discriminated against because of their race. This is all found in the work of people like Gary Becker of course. And it’s most certainly true that there are young people today in Europe who are unemployed because there is a minimum wage. Even our own Low Pay Commission, the people who actually set the minimum wage, tell us that this is so.

What the man said is true even if the words he used to say it are needlessly provocative. On the subject of the use of the word nigger: I’m not normally swayed by political correctness over the use of language but am entirely happy with this idea that that’s simply not a polite word to use these days. Even so, the hysteria over it does go a great deal too far: people insisting that it should be removed from Huck Finn for example. Where the whole point of the passage is that Huck knows, knows absolutely because this is what he’s been taught, that if he helps that nigger escaped slave then his soul is damned to Hell for all eternity. And he helps that nigger escaped slave. This is, when properly considered, an entiorely positive use of the word even if we currently declare it to be not a polite word to use.

Another way of making the criticism is that the choice of words means people have something else to complain about rather than the essence of what was being said. That essence being true and worth getting across without giving people that other thing to complain about.

This is a lovely one for Ritchie: CHAPS

The Bank of England did not admit the shutdown had taken place for more than five hours after the system had been due to open, and was later forced to extend opening hours by four hours to 8pm to clear the backlog of 143,000 payments.

More than 10 hours after first admitting to the problem with the clearing house automated payment system (Chaps) the Bank of England eventually apologised “for any problems caused by the delays to the settlement system”.

While Chaps was down, there were fears that homebuyers and sellers around the country would be left unable to complete purchases on time and that big businesses, which also use the system, would fail to make payments. Only weeks ago the Bank said it had a new contingency plan for the collapse of the payments system. The Bank of England will subject the system to additional monitoring when it reopens at 6am on Tuesday.

The point
being that Ritchie has been telling us that the State should design all of the banking systems and just lease that software etc to the banks themselves. Because, you know, obviously the State will do a better job.

This will surprise all who know Russia

The aircraft hit a snowplough as it took off shortly after midnight and crashed – killing all on board – as it attempted to return for an emergency landing. The snowplough driver also died. Russian investigators have since discovered that the driver was “in a state of alcoholic intoxication” at the time of the crash.

I’ve been known to like a drink myself and even, whisper it, to reach certain states of inebriation. But for widespread examples of out and out drunkenness I’ve simply never seen anything at all like Russia. And yes, I have been in the centre of British provincial towns at closing time. That’s the kindergarden league by comparison.

What a wonderful world

Not that there are people who are blind in it, rather, that they’ve worked out how to play darts while being blind. And no, not in any special place, nor with any aid other than a piece of string and the dart board in the local pub:

A group of visually-impaired friends have launched Britain’s first darts team for the blind – and admit they’re already causing damage.

Pals Richard Pryor, 68, Rachael Beresford, 39, Carol Pirret, 53, and Sharon Waters, 46, have taken to the oche under the name ‘The Optimists’.

They guide their darts with a piece of string attached to the bullseye which helps them feel where the board is.

When a player heads to the oche they grab the chord with their spare hand and throw with the other.

The team have been practising but admit some wayward darts have already caused damage to the inside of their local pub, The Dolphin Inn in Grampound, Cornwall.

They have their first match coming up and father-of-two Richard Pryor says after weeks of practice his team are hitting the board about two out of every three throws.

Mr Pryor, a former social worker, said: “The landlord mentioned that the Rotary Club had organised for pubs to take part in a fast darts competition.

“He asked if we wanted to put in a blind darts team. After three pints I am up for anything and we said ‘yes’.

“No one has been injured yet, although there has been quite a bit of damage to the door and around the board.

Yes, I know, there’s blind soccer, blind golfers and all the rest. But I’m sorry, for no particular reason at all I just like this story.

To repeat: ” “He asked if we wanted to put in a blind darts team. After three pints I am up for anything and we said ‘yes’. No one has been injured yet”

It what makes Britain Great.

Of course Ukip Calypso should be Number 1

The BBC is under pressure not to play a “calypso” record released by Ukip, which was today denounced as offensive by rival MPs.

Nigel Farage endorsed a song written and performed in a cod-Jamaican accent by Mike Read, the former Radio 1 DJ and Ukip supporter. He called for supporters to send it to number one in the singles charts.

Conservative MPs urged the BBC not to play the song, saying the lyrics, hailing the prospect of Nigel Farage in Downing Street, amounted to political advertising in the run-up to the Rochester and Strood by-election. Last night the song had reached 17 in the iTunes download charts.

The song laments “illegal immigrants in every town”, EU “bans” on bent bananas and Jean Claude Juncker, the president-elect of the European Commission. It says Labour and Conservative are “shaking in their boots” in the face of Ukip.

Come along
now, why not? As a country we’ve had My Ding A Ling, Mr Blobby, Clive Dunn, St Winnifried’s and the Sodding Brotherhood of Man as Number 1 singles. It’s impossible to argue that this is worse than all of those: and Lord Knows politics needs a bit of lightening up at present.

The Amazon download is here, iTunes here somewhere or other.

These people are mad

A student who was born female felt perfectly comfortable identifying as a man at Wellesley College — until people said he shouldn’t be class diversity officer because he is now a white male.

Timothy Boatwright was born a girl, and checked off the “female” box when applying to the Massachusetts all-women’s school, according to an article in the New York Times. But when he got there, he introduced himself as a “masculine-of-center genderqueer” person named “Timothy” (the name he picked for himself) and asked them to use male pronouns when referring to him.

And, by all accounts, Boatwright felt welcome on campus — until the day he announced that he wanted to run for the school’s office of multicultural affairs coordinator, whose job is to promote a “culture of diversity” on campus.

But some students thought that allowing Boatwright to have the position would just perpetuate patriarchy. They were so opposed, in fact, that when the other three candidates (all women of color) dropped out, they started an anonymous Facebook campaign encouraging people not to vote at all to keep him from winning the position.

“I thought he’d do a perfectly fine job, but it just felt inappropriate to have a white man there,” the student behind the so-called “Campaign to Abstain” said.

“It’s not just about that position either,” the student added. “Having men in elected leadership positions undermines the idea of this being a place where women are the leaders.”

Boatwright told the Times that his high-school friends knew he was transgender, but he identified himself as female on the application to Wellesley because he didn’t want his mom to know. Of course, Wellesley is also a female school, and “it seemed awkward to write an application essay for a women’s college on why you were not a woman,” he said.

Complete fucking nutters.

Questions in the Daily Mail that we can answer

Why is this coat just £89 in one catalogue but £115 in another?

The same coat is £115 from Freemans but just £89 from Kaleidoscope
The French Connection Abney dress, costs £85 on the brand’s website
It’s the same price at Very.co.uk
But if you buy the dress at K&Co or Littlewoods, it will cost you £108
A Joanna Hope sequin and lace maxi dress is £95 at Julipa.com
But it’s only £99 at Marisota.co.uk

Because we have a market economy.

Fiendishly difficult questions

Over at The Guardian and at least some of them aren’t in fact that difficult:

8. When asked why he robbed banks, he apocryphally said, “Because that’s where the money is.” Which US bank robber gives his name to a rule of focusing on areas with likely high returns, or ruling out obvious explanations first?

Well, some on now, everyone knows that’s Willy Sutton.

9. The Oscar-nominated documentary Waste Land by Lucy Walker is about the “pickers” or “catadores” who scavange Jardim Gramacho, an enormous dump in which city?

Rio de Janeiro
Mexico City

Rio, obviously. The other two are Spanish speaking/influenced, and Jardim is Jardin in Spanish. It’s Portuguese for Jardim to be Jardim. So, err, D’oH!

Some of the others though are pretty tough.

This restaurant might be a little too expensive

The corn-fed, dry-aged Nebraskan rib-eye, with a carbon footprint big enough to make a climate-change denier horny, is bloody marvellous: rich, deep, earthy, with that dense tang that comes with proper hanging. And at £100 a kilo it bloody well should be. At that price they should lead the damn animal into the restaurant and install it under the table so it can pleasure me while I eat.

Although it has to be said that the mental image of Jay Rayner being pleasured by a dead cow is one that hope I manage to forget soon.