I\’m not sure about this

British households are having their "pockets picked" by foreign energy firms to subsidise customers in their own countries, the Government’s new consumer champion has said.

I\’ve no doubt that they would like to (any firm would like to pick the pockets of its customers) but I\’m not sure that I can see the mechanism by which they can.

Britain’s energy bills have risen more quickly than on the Continent, where governments have manipulated markets to protect customers.

OK, but I still can\’t see how this affects us.

Mr Mayo said households were suffering because foreign companies — often owned by the state — faced no competition at home.

"Closed and protectionist European energy markets end up picking the pockets of consumers in this country," he said.

I\’ve no doubt that both those things are true as well….that some companies have no or little competition at home and that rigidities in the markets do cost our own consumers dear.

But it\’s that first bit that I\’ve got the problem with. Just how are these companies charging us more to subsidise their home consumers? In the UK they are in a competitive market so they cannot just charge what they wish.

So how does this mysterious process work, anyone know?


Ritchie Babbie!

Everyone\’s favourite retired accountant tells us about Dell, their taxation and the notes to their accounts concerning it. He asks the important question.

5) If the company you were investing in reported lower taxes because of the mix of jurisdictions in which income was generated, but you knew that its home state rate would eventually have to be paid if you as a stockholder were to catch sight of that income as a dividend what would you think of its intention to make payment to you as an investor?

Not a lot actually. Dell doesn\’t pay a dividend.

Spoling Changes

Given that English often spells identical sounds in several ways, it is little wonder that English-speaking adults always come near the bottom in international studies on literacy, he says.

The ee-sound, for example can be spelt as in: seem, team, convene, sardine, protein, fiend, people, he, key, ski, debris and quay. Yet there are no rules for deciding when to use which, so why not just spell the ee-sound simply as “ee”? To ease the switch from current spelling to a more phonetic system, the Spelling Society advocates a period of transition in which traditional and new forms are used together.

One reason why we don\’t do this could be that team and teem, while pronounced the same way and, in this new method, spelt the same way, actually mean rather different things.

Yes, Inglish Spolling is difficult, weird even, but it does allow us to be precise in our meanings.

Guardian Corrections

Our obituary of Alekandr Solzhenitsyn (page 30, August 5), said that after the mid-1960s his works were never republished while the Soviet regime remained in power. In fact in the perestroika period several were republished, including The Gulag Archipelago.

Actually, the publication of Gulag in the perestroika years was the first (non-samizdat) publication in the Soviet Union.

Do they run a corrections to the corrections page page?

At Least They Know Their Place

Isn\’t there something delighfully feudal about this?

I remember sitting in a campaign meeting during the Newbury bypass protests and marvelling at the weirdness of our coalition. In the front row sat the local squirearchy: brigadiers in tweeds and enormous moustaches, titled women in twin sets and headscarves. In the middle were local burghers of all shapes and sizes. At the back sat the scuzziest collection of grunge-skunks I have ever laid eyes on.

The old order seems to re-establish itself in the most unexpected places.

That Klein Thesis

Yes, I know that Naomi wrote a book on how the evil marketeers and neocons (a bizarre conjoining in itself) use crisis to advance the right wing agenda.

It\’s just that while many pay lip service to the book, no one actually believes the main thesis.

Capitalist crisis usually spells opportunity for progressives – their moment to point out errors and suggest remedies.

Sex Advice

I do wonder sometimes. Here\’s a piece on sex and childbirth.

OK, the set up is that the woman has gone off sex a bit after having the child. Nothing unusual there at all. The bloke\’s a bit miffed by this, nothing unusual there at all either.

The advice? Get him to care for the baby a bit.


Look, \’e\’s not miffed because there\’s now three of them, he\’s miffed because he\’s not getting any. Why not tell her to lie back and think of England occasionally to keep him happy?

After all, we all do things in a relationship that we\’re not all that keen on, just to keep the relationship going, don\’t we? I\’ve been clothes shopping for example…..

Invest in Aluminium?

Here\’s the pitch. Energy prices are way up, the bulk of the cost of aluminium is energy in production, so shouldn\’t aluminium rise in price?

We were all rocked by the news that British Gas had imposed a whopping 35 per cent increase on energy bills – and its rivals will undoubtedly follow suit in the coming weeks. This is a huge blow to households already wilting under higher mortgage costs, higher food costs and higher petrol prices. An aluminium exchange traded fund, which tracks an aluminium index, could be a route to profiting from the sky-high energy costs.

The manufacture of aluminium uses immense amounts of energy: it takes 15,000kWh to make a tonne of aluminium, compared with 67kWh for lead. Again, supply is constrained yet the metal is used by the automobile industry and in consumer durables, mobile phones, LCD televisions, MP3 players, cans and foil. Again, experts argue that the growth of China will fuel the demand, which they reckon will outstrip that for any other metal.

Well, mebbe. Except the aluminium companies know the energy cost of Al of course. So the plants are deliberately put in places where there\’s lots of cheap energy. Indeed, lots of energy that cannot be used in other ways. Like hydro projects in the wilds of Quebec, or Iceland for example.

Sure, there\’s some effect (it\’s been known in times of high energy prices on the West Coast for Al companies to turn off their pots and make more money selling the electricity they buy on long term fixed price contracts from hydro plants than bothering to use it to make Al) but a great deal of the industry relies upon power that can\’t be used any other way. Deliberately so. Indeed, many dams have been built specifically to feed Al plants….rather than build the dam and then set up hundreds of miles of high voltage cable to export the leccie (with all the associated transmission losses) it\’s cheaper by far to import the alumina and export the Al and the electricity embedded into it.

This doesn\’t mean that Al won\’t rise in price….just that it\’s not a bet that I would take on this basis.


Yes, We Knew This

Putting up a small wind turbine on the roof of a suburban home may be a waste of time, according to a new report.

It may not generate enough renewable energy even to make up for the carbon emissions produced when it was made.

They\’re a fashion statement, nothing more, and one that is counter-productiove.

Our Glorious Education System!

Many undergraduates misspell basic words such as "their", "speech" or even "Wednesday" in essays, it is claimed.

First year students are the worst offenders, despite already spending at least 13 years in the education system.

Pretty good result for that £90 grand odd spent on the little darlings over the years, innit?

My, the intense joys of the government provision of services.

Olympic Glory

George asks us for favourite moments in Olympic history.

I offer you John Stephen Akwhari.

Not long after the start of the marathon at the Mexico Olympics, Akhwari fell down and was badly injured, because he was not used to the climate of Central America. The other runners passed him one after another, and his chance of winning a medal became extremely slim. However, he didn\’t quit, and insisted on finishing the race.

When Akhwari limped into the stadium on bloody and bandaged legs an hour after the winner of the race had left, there were only a few spectators remaining in the stands. They were shocked to see Akhwari wincing with pain at every step toward the finish line, and they felt grateful to witness such a touching moment.

When asked why he didn\’t retire from the race, Akhwari\’s answer is calm and simple.

Film Director Bud Greenspan asked him, “Why did you keep going?” He said, “You don’t understand. My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start a race, they sent me to finish it."


Truly, a sportsman and a mensch.

Do they still make them like that or has the mould been broken?


1. Men do not like tits because they buy Zoo. Men buy Zoo because they like tits.

We can demonstrate this by means of a simple thought experiment. Zoo was launched in 2004. Hands up if you ever thought about tits before then. Yes, one hand will do.


Those Passport Chips

Bravo to The Times for this piece of research:

New microchipped passports designed to be foolproof against identity theft can be cloned and manipulated in minutes and accepted as genuine by the computer software recommended for use at international airports.

Tests for The Times exposed security flaws in the microchips introduced to protect against terrorism and organised crime. The flaws also undermine claims that 3,000 blank passports stolen last week were worthless because they could not be forged.


Using his own software, a publicly available programming code, a £40 card reader and two £10 RFID chips, Mr van Beek took less than an hour to clone and manipulate two passport chips to a level at which they were ready to be planted inside fake or stolen paper passports.

A baby boy’s passport chip was altered to contain an image of Osama bin Laden, and the passport of a 36-year-old woman was changed to feature a picture of Hiba Darghmeh, a Palestinian suicide bomber who killed three people in 2003. The unlikely identities were chosen so that there could be no suggestion that either Mr van Beek or The Times was faking viable travel documents.

No, they won\’t take the lesson from this and apply it to ID cards, of course they won\’t.

John Pilger

Rather shows his attitude towards Israel in this one phrase:

There is only one rampant nuclear power in the Middle East and that is Israel.

I agree that Israel is the only nuclear power between the Med and Pakistan: but "rampant" seems a little over the top really.

I also find it really rather amusing that while he\’s such a fan of international law he failes to mention an interesting point. Iran has signed the IPT, meaning that if it is developing a bomb (and I personally have no doubt that it is trying to, there is no other reason to pursue highly enriched uranium other than that) then they are in breach of their treaty committments. Israel has not, so, however much one might not like the fact that it has nuclear weapons, it has every legal right to have them.

Vince Cable

And Northern Rock:

Taxpayers have every reason to be angry: with the private-sector managers and directors who behaved appallingly and have never been brought to book; the company auditors who passed last year\’s accounts without spotting the big holes in the company books; the regulators (the FSA) who also gave the Northern Rock a clean bill of health; and the government, which was at best naive and at worst dishonest when it claimed to have secured the government\’s loans. I could also add to the charge list the rest of the mortgage lenders – some of whom were almost as reckless as Northern Rock and who are now trying to persuade the government to provide loan guarantees or stamp duty relief to revive their battered businesses.

I agree that my memory isn\’t quite what it was. But shouldn\’t the taxpayers also be angry at one Vince Cable, one Vince Cable who was so highly vocal about the way in which the Northern Rock problem could only be solved by nationalisation?

Or is my memory failing me?

Feb 18:

It has taken the government more than three months to get where it ought to be to safeguard the taxpayers\’ interest in Northern Rock. Public ownership is preferable to a bad private sale which leaves the risks and liabilities with the government and the profits with the private bidder.

It was clear from the outset that there was no practical alternative to public ownership once the government had committed £50 billion in loans and guarantees. I am tempted to say that I told you so; but the issue is too important for that. I will simply say that if Goldman Sachs present the Chancellor with a large invoice for financial advice he should reply that the best advice he had was available free of charge from the Liberal Democrats.

Jan 15:

My own preferred option, though I do not advocate it for any ideological reason, is to take the bank into public ownership with a view to selling it when financial markets permit a satisfactory sale. It would of course be necessary to install professional managers. It is premature to say whether the bank has a good long-term future; the answer depends on a close examination of the loan book. Nationalisation keeps open a wide range of options. Since the taxpayer has taken all the risks involved in rescuing the bank, we should also participate in any gain from any disposal.

Hmm…these online archives are wonderful things, are they not?

My, My, Just Lookee Here

It would appear that the Euro area was not in fact an optimal currency area.

The root cause of the bubble was the extremely lax monetary policy imported by Spain after it joined Europe\’s monetary union. Interest rates were slashed on EMU entry, and then fell to 2pc until late 2005 – far below Spain\’s inflation rate.

But of course the politicians went ahead for political reasons.

The report said construction investment made up 18pc of GDP last year, much of it funded by foreign investors. The concern is that a "sudden reversal of capital inflows" could leave the economy unable to finance its current account deficit, now 10pc of GDP – the world\’s second biggest after the US in absolute terms. The corporate sector has debts equal to 130pc of GDP. This too requires foreign funding.


Spanish house sales fell 34pc in May from a year earlier, and mortgages were down 40pc.

Could it be that the old saw is correct? You can ignore economics but economics ain\’t gonna ignore you?