Now This is a Proper Valentie\’s Day Gift

The LTLP is at work. I secretly take the day off and let myself into her shared flat.

The apartment is pleasant, but basic. There is a cooker and a fridge, but few other appliances – certainly nothing that would elevate ‘student lodgings’ to ‘a home’. One of her flatmates has lent me her room for the purposes of gift-concealment; I sneak into here and drag out a small second-hand freezer which I have bought with all the money I have in the world. Panting, I lug it through the doorway and plug it in beside her bed.

I take the bashed-up old car down to Sainsbury’s on Green Lanes. The blizzard drives horizontally against the windscreen; when I reach the car-park the snow is so thick that the parking spaces are completely obscured and I just abandon the car where I can.

I walk in to the supermarket, get out my near-limit credit card and buy every tub of Haagen-Dazs in the shop.

Defining Torture

OK, so in a comment, Bruce points us to this. An entirely rational discussion: words mean what we commonly accept them to mean. Thus whether waterboarding is torture or not depends upon what we all think the words torture and waterboarding mean.

So in order to decide whether waterboarding is torture or not we need to define our words.

I would posit (and whether this is true or not depends rather on how many agree with this) that torture is the infliction of physical pain in order to elicit information.

No, that\’s not a complete desciption: torture can also describe the infliction of physical pain purely for the pleasure of the torturter, psychological torture is another meaning. But I would put forward the meaning that anything which is the infliction of physical pain in order to elicit information is indeed torture.

Does waterboarding inflict physical pain? Yes. Is it used to elicit information? Yes.

Thus waterboarding is torture.

Oh Dear Polly, Oh Dear

She\’s really not got this markets thing, has she?

A story headlined "Homeowners looking to sell" said "Non-dom foreigners living in the UK are preparing to sell their homes", quoting Knight Frank estate agency saying it "could lead to an exodus". But further on, another agent, Chesterton, reports "a record few months" in Knightsbridge.

Umm, if there are a few months of record purchases, this really rather has to mean that there are a few months of record sales. A rise in the number of people selling their homes is in fact entirely consistent with a rise in the number of people, umm, selling their homes so as to leave the country.

A press release from Greek shipowners threatening to depart was printed without a hint of verification.

We\’ve actually had an historical verification: the shipping industry moved from New York to London decades ago because, umm, the Americans changed their tax treatment of the industry and those who own it.

Those looking to the FT for sober evaluation of financial fact would do well to bear in mind the last two disreputable weeks of specious and polemical reporting, which has been overtly Tory propaganda.

As opposed to The Guardian which is what?

None of this solves the £25bn in tax avoidance identified by tax expert Richard Murphy this month in Missing Billions.

Now you\’re really losing it Polly: Our Richard? Tax Expert?

Labour gains a small sum from this, but it has angered the City without heartening any of the 90% basic rate taxpayers,

Jesu C….the 90% of the taxpayers who are basic rate payers not people who are paying a 90% basic rate of tax (although in Polly\’s dreams of course…) but even that\’s wrong.

Using figures buried in an HM Revenue & Customs document, the accountancy firm UHY Hacker Young has calculated that the number of higher-rate taxpayers has risen by 20 per cent since 2002-03, to 3.7 million. At the same time, the number of basic-rate taxpayers has increased by more than 5 per cent, to 23 million.

But much, much more importantly, "Labour" hasn\’t gained a small sum from this. The Treasury has. I know Polly\’s certain that "L\’etat c\’est moi" but that\’s really taking it too far.



Mhmm, Hmmm

Alexander Chancellor:

Unfortunately, it is not only his skin that is thick. Asked by CNN whether he believed that the situation in Iraq was now improving, he replied that he could not answer because this was "almost a university PhD question".

Then, remembering finally what he was in America for, he said, "Now I realise that what keeps us all going is international commerce, it\’s global trade. In some cases, politics keep a lot of people thinking, but what actually makes the world go round is the commerce that goes on." His dismissal of politics as inconsequential in the midst of the most gripping presidential election campaign in years might also have seemed insulting to the US if uttered by anyone else, but Prince Andrew\’s grasp of such matters is clearly so tenuous that it could only have aroused pity.

It is frankly embarrassing that Britain should be represented in any capacity by such a halfwit, and it is inconceivable that Prince Andrew would have been chosen as a trade ambassador for this country had he not been a member of the royal family.

If you\’re going to call someone a halfwit, it helps if you make sure that what they\’re saying is in fact half-witted.

Trade and commerce are indeed vastly more important that which politician sits atop the greasy pole. Vastly so.

Good Lord!

Umm, I\’m desperately trying to remember if there has ever been anything at all, any subject, where I agree wholly and unconditionally with Tony Benn (even to the extent that I won\’t make the 2nd Vicount gag again). But here it is:

This is the text of a letter sent by Tony Benn to every Westminster MP.

Dear Member of Parliament,

I am writing to ask you to make it possible for me – and every elector in Britain – to vote on the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum. For the Lisbon Treaty transfers important powers which belong to us, to others in Europe we do not elect, cannot remove, and who therefore do not have to listen to us in the way that MPs listen to their constituents.

Britain must work closely with its European neighbours, but if this cooperation is to succeed, the arrangements must be democratically approved by all the people of Europe.

There is a case for a fully federal Europe. But surely those who take that view should, as democrats, want to win a majority for it in a referendum. That is why this decision must be made by the British people as a whole, because it will affect us all irrevocably and the Lisbon Treaty can never be amended or repealed by any future government that we elect.

Moreover, if three-line whips are imposed, telling any MPs how they must vote, it could not then even be argued that parliament had decided the matter freely. For all these reasons I hope you yourself will feel able to vote for a referendum, thus safeguarding the rights of your electors.

Tony Benn


Rather Hopeful

Somehow I doubt it:

President George Bush cited the London July 7 bombings in an interview broadcast last night to justify his support for waterboarding, an interrogation technique widely regarded as torture.

In an interview with the BBC he said information obtained from alleged terrorists helped save lives, and the families of the July 7 victims would understand that. Bush said waterboarding, which simulates drowning, was not torture and is threatening to veto a congressional bill that would ban it.

Perhaps someone would like to ask said families? I have a feeling that the reposnse would be along the lines of, yes, it\’s torture and no, we don\’t use it. Because, you see, we don\’t torture people, because we are civilised, we\’re not terrorists.

But then I\’m projecting my views onto others, just as Shrub is. Be interesting to know who was right though.

Glorious News!

Supermarkets that use their size to force down prices will be penalised under a plan to encourage competition and choice for consumers. The Competition Commission is today expected to recommend changes to discourage chains from developing local monopolies and forcing smaller stores out of business.

Isn\’t that fabulous? You will be forced to pay higher prices so that the local capitalists can continue to gouge you.

We seem to have imported the policies of Pierre Poujade, the man who gave Jean-Marie le Pen his political start. Our local socialists do seem to be getting a little national on us, don\’t they?

Torygraph Headline

Yes, I know, Iain Dale doesn\’t write his own headlines:

For all our sakes, Boris Johnson must win

Someone\’s going a little over the top there aren\’t they? Sure, it would be nice if Boris won, but it\’s hardly a matter of any great import: life will go on, babies will be born, some will shuffle off this mortal coil and the influence of either of them on the bit that comes in between will be highly marginal.

I mean, come on, this is politics: not anything important.

Judge on Drugs

Something doesn\’t sound quite right here:

A judge condemned politicians for downgrading cannabis yesterday as he jailed an "inspirational" teenager whose addiction to the drug turned him into a heroin dealer.

Judge Michael Murphy told Sheffield Crown Court that it was "a nonsense" to claim the drug was not addictive.

"You have to be in court for five minutes to realise what a nonsense that is," he said. "People are often addicted to it. It\’s an awful drug and it\’s the gateway to other drugs.

The gateway part is of course because it is illegal. Legal supply would make cannabis no more likely to turn people into heroin addicts than booze or fags do. Of coffee, for that matter.

Judge Murphy spoke out after hearing how Jerome Blake, 19, had been an inspirational community worker in Sheffield\’s deprived Burngreave area. But he began peddling heroin in order to feed his £20-a-day addiction to cannabis.

I\’m decades out of the market so I\’ve no idea how much inflation (or deflation) there\’s been, but can anyone actually smoke £20\’s worth of cannabis and still walk upright?

A Little More Evidence

This binge drinking thing, this heavy consumption of alcohol:

French doctors warned last month that the country was beginning to adopt the British taste for heavy drinking, with young people fast developing an appetite for the copious consumption of alcohol.

Brittany has always been ahead of that trend, long holding a reputation as the region with the heaviest drinkers.

Might there be something tribal to it? Celts and Anglo Saxons bein more prone to blotting out the horrors of the world with booze? Brittany is the most celtic part of France, after all….

Department of the Blindingly Obvious.

Britain is facing an infertility timebomb because the increasing use of IVF means that couples with inherited fertility problems are able to have children and pass the condition on to the next generation, scientists report today.

Well, duh!

Where the inability to have children is as a result of a genetic defect, if those genes get passed along…..

Although it also has to be pointed out that donor insemination, the largest part of the assisted conception industry, clearly doesn\’t suffer from the same problems.

Smoking in Pregnancy

Looks like it\’s not as bad as we are told:

The report uses data from the UK National Child Development Study, which provides details of mothers and their children between 1973 and 2000 — a total of 3,368 women and 6,860 children.

The information includes the mothers’ smoking habits, information about their families, and the birthweight and gestation period of the children.

Analysis of the data shows that smoking throughout pregnancy reduces birthweight by 5.6 per cent, and the gestation period by just over a day. But when the results are corrected for other factors, such as diet, lifestyle and alcohol, the effect of smoking on birthweight drops to 1.8 per cent and the reduction in gestation becomes insignificant.

A rule of thumb from many years ago: each cigarette smoked per day reduced, on average, the birth weight by 5 grammes. As a healthy baby is in the 2.5-3 kg range, 10 fags a day reduces birth weight by what, 2%?

Caroline Lucas

Talking about those numbers showing the CO2 emissions of shipping:

From a technical point of view, this means it is crucial that there be limits on the number of emission rights the shipping sector is permitted to buy from other industries – to prevent it simply carrying on with business as usual, on the back of progress made in other sectors.

She still doesn\’t get it, does she?

And, more generally, it does also ultimately mean looking at the amount and the manner in which we consume. Is it really the best use of fuel and emissions to ferry 13,000 containers of toys, food, clothes and televisions from China to Europe each month on the Emma Maersk and others like her, for example? These are issues to be explored in a hearing I will host for MEPs next month, and I look forward to seeing the same level of debate develop over shipping as we have at long last reached on aviation – hopefully, to be followed up rapidly with rather more effective action than has been generated there.

Aren\’t we lucky to have a Ph.D. in Elizabethan Literature discussing such economic matters for us?

The entire point of tradeable permits (or carbon taxes, if you prefer) is that we reduce emissions in whichever sector we can reduce them most cheaply, allowing us to go on with those emittive activities which we value more. And the determinantors of which activities we value more are we, the consumers. That\’s actually what the whole system is supposed to do: reduce emissions at the least cost to human happiness, that happiness determined by the people doing the happying.

So let us set up something of a straw man. We need to reduce emissions by 90%. Shipping currently is 4.5% of the total, aviation about the same. Call it 10% all in. OK, if we, in our actions as consumers, decide that we\’ll do away with al other emissions and keep the shippingand aviation, as those are the most valuable things to us,. that\’s just fine. Mission accomplished, eh?

Now of course, that is ridiculous, we wouldn\’t actually want to do that: but it is were the logic of permits leads: set the limit and then let the market work out for you which are the activities most valued and thus the ones which get to carry on.