State Funding of Parties

Lord McAlpine:

As for state funding of political parties, however you frame this the effect will be like pouring petrol in a living room fireplace where the fire is burning merrily. For in politics, the more money that parties have, the more money those parties will need.

That Uranium Seizure

You what?

Tests proved the powder-like substance to be 98.6 per cent uranium 235, a highly fissile isotope, indicating that it was highly processed and intended for use in a bomb.

That\’s a bit of a surprise. I wasn\’t aware that anyone ever processed material up to that isotopic purity. I would guess (and it is very much a guess) that this didn\’t in fact come from a bomb plant at all. 80% HEU is more normal for that. I would think this came from a scientific institute instead, from people actually studying the isotope.

As fo this bit:

Smugglers arrested in Slovakia this week had enough weapons-grade uranium on them to make a "dirty" bomb.

The half-kilo of material taken in raids near the Ukrainian border on Tuesday was a processed form of uranium used in nuclear weapons.

"It was enriched enough to be used in various ways for terrorist attacks," said Michal Kopcik, the vice-head of Slovak police.

Well, yes, but you don\’t actually need enriched uranium to make a dirty bomb. You don\’t need uranium at all in fact, plenty of other more easily available radioactive isotopes would do. But take a few pounds of regular uranium, not even the metal, just yellowcake, blow it up with gunpowder and you\’ll create all of the panic and concern that any other dirty bomb would create. Because that is of course what a dirty bomb would do: create panic, not in fact be directly life threatening other than the explosion itself.

Humans and Harems

News that a close relative of Homo Sapiens had harems, rather like the modern gorilla:

An ancient human relative may have had a love life much like the modern gorilla, with single dominant males keeping “harems” of females, research has suggested.

A study of 35 fossilised specimens of Paranthropus robustus – a hominin that lived between 1.5 million and 2 million years ago – has revealed large differences between male and female growth that shed light on its probable mating habits. Paranthropus males continued growing for much longer than do modern human beings, well into adulthood, and eventually reached sizes that made them very much larger than females, according to the analysis led by British and Italian scientists. Most would still have been growing long after their female contemporaries had started to breed.

Such disparities in size between males and females, known as sexual dimorphism, is usually associated throughout the animal kingdom with mating structures in which a single dominant male secures access to plenty of females, while smaller, subordinate males have few opportunities to breed. The gorilla has just such a sex life, with males growing for many years before they develop into fully mature “silverbacks” that start to dominate and acquire a troop of females.

But, er, no, this is not an excuse for you all to go out and get a harem (which, in our long lived species, also means a multiplicity of mothers in law, a somewhat unfortunate side effect).

Paranthropus robustus was not a direct ancestor of modern Man but lay on a separate branch of the human family tree that is now extinct.

Evolutionary dead end, you see?

Polly Today

It\’s rather unsporting to have ago at her today really. She does get one thing right:

Because without public trust, no one believes a word politicians say.

Quite. Her solution is that Labour should campaign for PR and state funding for political parties (she really does have a tin ear for the public if she thinks that is going to fly with the Great Unwashed) and we should do everything "for the children".

Not really the foundations of a great political comeback if you ask me.

Most Interesting Ms. Klein

As far as I can work through the logic of Naomi Klein\’s piece it is this.

The markets are investing more in security companies than in climate change abatement. This is terrible and shows how the markets have to be regulated by government.

That last, of couse, being the conclusion of any Naomi Klein piece.

The bit she seems to have forgotten is that, well, governments are hired by us precisely to provide us with security. Defence, a criminal justice system, these are the very foundations of the argument for the existence of the State at all. The beginning of the justification for them in fact.

So if we have the markets investing in these very areas we\’re obviously seeing evidence of government failure: people are voting with their money with every dollar to show that government is failing at its most basic task. This doesn\’t strike me as being a supporting argument fo government to be attempting to do other things really.

This is also very cute:

By far the biggest market is the fortressing of Europe and North America – Halliburton\’s contract to build detention centres for an unspecified immigration influx, Boeing\’s "virtual" border fence, biometric ID cards.

Err, biometric ID cards are being forced upon us by government, not private sector companies.

Environmental Justice Foundation

Steve Trent, executive director of this organisation, insists that the use of child labour in growing cotton is such an abuse that we must all refuse to buy cotton grown in such a manner. There should be a labelling system allowing us to identify such as well.

By purchasing cotton clothing that fails to carry a guarantee of no-child-labour, we are part of the problem, and our demand for cheap clothing is among the strongest forces driving it.

Companies have a responsibility to know how the products that reap profits for them are being made. Consumers, equally, should know where the product they are buying and wearing comes from, so they can make more informed choices. We need to consider that if a product cost pennies, someone down the line is paying for it – through forced or child labour, pesticide poisoning or other physical abuse.

Companies can no longer shirk responsibility, or hide behind excuses like the "opacity" of the supply chain. It is entirely possible to track the origin of cotton. If actors in the supply chain do not know about the abuses at the earliest stages of the production of the goods they profit from, it is because they don\’t want to find out.

As consumers, our purchasing power can be worth more than our voting. Labels identifying where our clothing was made aren\’t enough: manufacturers and retailers need to develop a labelling system that identifies the source of the crop – given that cotton, from seed to shirt, passes through many hands – and guarantees the absence of child labour (or other abuses) from all stages of the supply chain.

Stirring stuff and I\’m sure it will turn the heads of the ill informed. I do find it remarkable that someone would write about the global cotton industry without mentioning the greatest imbalance in it, the entirely insane (and, according to the WTO, illegal) American subsidies. But that aside, he seemsnot to have grasped the most basic point about trade and child labour.  I give you the rather left wing Paul Krugman to explain it:

Even when political action doesn\’t backfire, when the movement gets what it wants, the effects are often startlingly malign. For example, could anything be worse than having children work in sweatshops? Alas, yes. In 1993, child workers in Bangladesh were found to be producing clothing for Wal-Mart, and Senator Tom Harkin proposed legislation banning imports from countries employing underage workers. The direct result was that Bangladeshi textile factories stopped employing children. But did the children go back to school? Did they return to happy homes? Not according to Oxfam, which found that the displaced child workers ended up in even worse jobs, or on the streets � and that a significant number were forced into prostitution.

Third-world countries desperately need their export industries � they cannot retreat to an imaginary rural Arcadia. They can\’t have those export industries unless they are allowed to sell goods produced under conditions that Westerners find appalling, by workers who receive very low wages. And that\’s a fact the anti- globalization activists refuse to accept.

Well done Mr. Trent. You\’re campaigning to make the poor even poorer. We\’re proud of you. Really.


A Penny a Pound

Sigh. Well meaning liberal do gooder type screams at business for being complete bastards and oppressing the workers. Not, as you might have noted, all that unusual an occurence in this day and age. Via Mark Thoma:

The migrant farm workers who harvest tomatoes in South Florida have one of the nation’s most backbreaking jobs. For 10 to 12 hours a day, they pick tomatoes by hand, earning a piece-rate of about 45 cents for every 32-pound bucket. During a typical day each migrant picks, carries and unloads two tons of tomatoes. For their efforts, this holiday season many of them are about to get a 40 percent pay cut.

See, the capitalist scum!

Telling Burger King to pay an extra penny for tomatoes and provide a decent wage to migrant workers would hardly bankrupt the company. Indeed, it would cost Burger King only $250,000 a year. At Goldman Sachs, that sort of money shouldn’t be too hard to find. In 2006, the bonuses of the top 12 Goldman Sachs executives exceeded $200 million — more than twice as much money as all of the roughly 10,000 tomato pickers in southern Florida earned that year. Now Mr. Blankfein should find a way to share some of his company’s good fortune with the workers at the bottom of the food chain.

Oppressing the workers, don\’t you agree?

Well, yes, in fact I do agree that there is oppression here. For what is the actual situation here? Some activist groups have successfully organised (we do believe in freedom of association, don\’t we?) to raise the prices paid by the companies that consume tomatoes. That money then raises the wages of those the activists thought were previously underpaid. Hurrah! trebles all round! The consuming companies are free to join in or not, according to their own evaluations of the pressure exerted upon them by their final consumers. Again, Hurrah! The consumer is King!

An excellent result all round in fact.

But who is the creature in this particular woodpile? Why is it all falling apart?

Now the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange has threatened a fine of $100,000 for any grower who accepts an extra penny per pound for migrant wages. …

Umm, who are they? Who is this group that has the power to fine people for honouring a contract freely entered into?

Florida Tomatoes.

Note under their logo "Federal Marketing Order no. 966". Whassat?

Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937


The federal Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937, an offspring of New Deal legislation, gives the secretary of agriculture considerable authority to regulate the nation\’s fruits and vegetables market through so-called market orders.

It\’s a monopoly enforced by the full power of the Federal Government. Guns, tanks, bullets and all.

So what we actually have is the result of the New Deal, of Franklin Delano Roosevelt\’s vision of the liberal utopia, giving the assembled growers the monopoly power to fine any one of their number who might actually sign up, voluntarily, to a contract which improved the incomes of their workers. One which their customers, at least some of them, seem quite happy to sign.

And according to Mr. Eric Schlosser, logician extraordinaire, this is in fact the fault of Goldman Sachs.

It\’s an interesting universe, the liberal one, isn\’t it?

The Low Carbon Kid Again

It really would help if those telling us all what we should be doing about climate change actually knew what the fuck they were talking about before they did so.

Today\’s example is "The Low Carbon Kid".

The U.K. Government’s 2007 Nuclear Power Consultation accepts estimates that, across its whole life-cycle, nuclear power emits between 7 and 22 g/kWh, but empirical analysis of the energy intensity and carbon emissions at each stage of the nuclear cycle produces much higher figures.

This is shown (for instance) in the Integrated Sustainability Analysis (ISA) by The University of Sydney, which concludes that the greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity of nuclear power varies within the range 10- 130≈60 g/kWh.


Now note that the numbers the government are using are (just about) within the range given. The very high estimates (over about 80g) come from some highly dubious studies about likely future ore concentrations…and some decades down the pike at that. But OK, let\’s take the Low Carbon Kid\’s statement as being true. Nuclear, over the cycle, emits CO2 (which we all knew anyway) and it averages 60 g /kWh. Which, according to him, means we can\’t use it.

Umm, what are the emissions from solar? Solar PV: 100 to 280, average 190. So we can\’t use that. Hydro? 4 to 236, average 120. So we can\’t use that either.

Even if we take the very much higher figures for nuclear that he provides…\’s still better than hydro or solar.

Kid, want to come back to this when you\’ve caught up on your background reading?

D2 on Milton Friedman

They\’re always hacks, Brad. Always. Yes even Milton Friedman. The more independent-minded ones will occasionally come up with a liberalish or fair-minded idea or two, but this is purely for display, not for ever doing anything about if to do so would run the risk of a higher rate of capital gains tax. The ideological core of Chicago-style libertarianism has two planks.

1. Vote Republican.
2. That\’s it.


In Oliver Cromwell\’s eloquent words, "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken" about the course you and President Bush urge us to adopt to fight drugs. The path you propose of more police, more jails, use of the military in foreign countries, harsh penalties for drug users, and a whole panoply of repressive measures can only make a bad situation worse. The drug war cannot be won by those tactics without undermining the human liberty and individual freedom that you and I cherish.

You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are a scourge that is devastating our society. You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are tearing asunder our social fabric, ruining the lives of many young people, and imposing heavy costs on some of the most disadvantaged among us. You are not mistaken in believing that the majority of the public share your concerns. In short, you are not mistaken in the end you seek to achieve.

Your mistake is failing to recognize that the very measures you favor are a major source of the evils you deplore. Of course the problem is demand, but it is not only demand, it is demand that must operate through repressed and illegal channels. Illegality creates obscene profits that finance the murderous tactics of the drug lords; illegality leads to the corruption of law enforcement officials; illegality monopolizes the efforts of honest law forces so that they are starved for resources to fight the simpler crimes of robbery, theft and assault.

Alcohol and tobacco cause many more deaths in users than do drugs. Decriminalization would not prevent us from treating drugs as we now treat alcohol and tobacco: prohibiting sales of drugs to minors, outlawing the advertising of drugs and similar measures. Such measures could be enforced, while outright prohibition cannot be. Moreover, if even a small fraction of the money we now spend on trying to enforce drug prohibition were devoted to treatment and rehabilitation, in an atmosphere of compassion not punishment, the reduction in drug usage and in the harm done to the users could be dramatic.

This plea comes from the bottom of my heart. Every friend of freedom, and I know you are one, must be as revolted as I am by the prospect of turning the United States into an armed camp, by the vision of jails filled with casual drug users and of an army of enforcers empowered to invade the liberty of citizens on slight evidence. A country in which shooting down unidentified planes "on suspicion" can be seriously considered as a drug-war tactic is not the kind of United States that either you or I want to hand on to future generations.

Some hack, eh?

Presented Without Comment


An intriguing headline and photo combo on today\’s Telegraph front page. "Hunt for the \’real donor\’" sits on top of a photo of David Abrahams and the former Israeli Ambassador Zvi Hefeitz, who was cleared of money laundering.

They make no allegations. If they ever get enough evidence to do so, the story would be huge. If not, I trust they have good lawyers.


The Times Christmas Charity

Looks like an excellent one to support:

TreeHouse, founded ten years ago to help children with severe autism, is a magnificent example of the determination of some parents to do more for those afflicted, and of how intensive and dedicated specialist therapy can bring extraordinary results, even for those thought to be untreatable. The school in North London has pioneered an Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) approach that yields substantial improvements in speech, social skills and in the children\’s ability to manage daily tasks. The therapy, however, is extremely costly. The ratio of teachers to children at TreeHouse is 1:1, and each class has five teachers and children. Though still in temporary premises, the school has 59 children, drawn from across London, and has plans for a purpose-built centre. TreeHouse, as a charity, relies on the voluntary sector and on the dedication of parents such as Nick Hornby, who today details the struggle to assist his son, Danny.

A couple of things though:

The need is obvious; 588,000 people in Britain have some form of autism, with boys four times more likely to develop the condition than girls.

I\’m pretty certain that that is the number of those upon the autism spectrum, not those with "classic" autism. Further:

Autism, it is feared, may be on the increase. Why this is so and whether genetic or environment factors play a part is largely unknown.

Well, actually, we do know quite a lot about the causes. Simon Baron Cohen (yes, cousin of Ali G) is the leading researcher in the UK, perhaps one of the leading ones worldwide. There\’s two things in play here he seems to think. One is that we have extended the definition, from that "classic" autism to the autism spectrum. I\’m not sure quite when that happened in the UK but in the US it was early 1980s, and this tracks very well with the rise in reported cases. the rise beginning in the early 1980s.

The second is that it is indeed linked (correlation so far, not quite causation yet) to genetic factors. It does seem to run in extended families. and one possible explanation for the reported rise (over and above the extention of the diagnosis) is the rise in assortative mating.

Now I don\’t claim that that is necessarily true, just that that is what a leading researcher is saying he thinks is true.

Oh, by the way, no, it has nothing whatsoever to do with either the MMR vaccine or mercury in vaccines.

Rape Conviction Rates

An interesting little point, one that I\’m sure most are not aware of:

The biggest is being propagated by politicians themselves. They repeat, ad infinitum, that the conviction rate for rape is scandalously low, at 5.7 per cent. They conclude from this that juries cannot be trusted. But 5.7 per cent is only the proportion of convictions secured out of the total allegations made, not the proportion of convictions secured out of the cases tried. The attrition rate in rape cases is high: only about 12 per cent of cases reach court. So in the courtroom, the true conviction rate is about 44 per cent, slightly higher than that for murder.

Whatever the problems are (if indeed there are any) it would appear that they\’re not in the courtroom. Thus, the solution, if any there should be, does not lie in changing the courtroom procedures.