We\’ve Been Here Before


Drinking bottled water is almost morally indefensible, a government minister has suggested in a scathing attack on the industry.

Phil Woolas, the Environment Minister, said it was daft that six million litres of bottled water were drunk every day in Britain when safe tap water was universally and cheaply available. His comments echoed concerns among environmentalists, who believe that the packaging, transportation and disposal of bottled water products creates unnecessarily high carbon-dioxide emissions.

Even the Shadow Minister leaps aboard this bandwagon:

He received unexpected backing from Peter Ainsworth, the Shadow Environment Secretary, who agreed that the industry and consumers had big moral questions to answer.

“I don’t think Phil Woolas is wrong,” he said. “Huge amounts are imported from other countries — some now ludicrously from the Far East. This is an ecological nightmare and it doesn’t make economic sense either. It certainly raises questions about the basis on which we have constructed our economic lives. By any rational standard it’s crazy to be importing water from countries far away when there’s perfectly good water in our taps.

“It looks like the epiphany of any unsustainable human activity. I think as consumers we should consider the impact we have on the environment. If they think about it they might change their behaviour.”

So, umm, how big a problem is it?

"Well, I\’ve worked it out, very roughly, you know, just some mental arithmetic and it seems that banning bottled water would save 0.008% of the UK\’s emissions over a year."

Vitally important, don\’t you think? It\’s about the same as the emissions from lager.

How did we end up being ruled by fuckwits?

The Best Pizza in the World


The margherita at L\’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele\’s combines all the true characteristics of the ideal pizza: a slightly singed crust which rises the width of a finger from the plate, good oil, sweet tomato and cow\’s milk mozzarella – not buffalo mozzarella, which contains too much milk and makes the pizza soggy.

The dough is also prepared more than six hours before the pizza is put in the wood-fired oven, which gives it its elastic softness. This restaurant, which has been run by the Condurro family since 1870, is down a side street, simple and small. There are no reservations, so you join the queue and sit where there is space, sharing the marble tables with other diners, who are a mixture of the working class and high brow.

There\’s no wine, just beer, which costs €1.50, while the pizza costs €4. People in Naples eat pizza fast, so the wait\’s never too long. You get margherita, which is the true pizza, or marinara (tomato, oregano and garlic). That\’s it, and that\’s all you need. If I see 30 different pizzas on a restaurant menu, I get up and leave.

On an entirely unrelated note sold a few extra articles recently so have the workers in finishing off the garden. This involves, amongst other things, the building of a BBQ and, alongside it, a proper wood fired pizza oven. Wood fired bread ovens are common here in Portugal but a pizza oven is slightly different. Instead of clearing out the embers and allowing the oven to cool to 600 oC, for pizza you need a slightly different design (looks like an igloo, with what would be the entrance tunnel being where you bank up the fire) which operates at 800 oC or so.

I\’ve not had a real proper pizza since the last time I was in Naples, 30 odd years ago….but I might be able to have some this summer. Hoorah!

The Competition Commission on Supermarkets

Is here a problem with competition between the supermarket chains? Why, yes, there is.

And what is the cause of that problem?

The planning regime (in particular, PPS6 in England, SPP8 in Scotland, PPS5 in Northern Ireland and MIPPS 02/2005 in Wales), and the manner in which the planning regime is applied by Local Planning Authorities, acts as a barrier to entry or expansion in a significant number of local markets: (i) by limiting construction of new larger grocery stores on out-of-centre or edge-of-centre sites; and (ii) by imposing costs and risks on smaller retailers and entrants without pre-existing grocery retail operations in the UK that are not borne to the same extent by existing national-level grocery retailers. (c) The control of land in highly-concentrated local markets by incumbent retailers acts as a barrier to entry, by limiting entrants’ access to potential sites for new larger grocery stores.

c) is of course the result of the supermarkets gaming the current planning system. Elsewhere they note that the vast majority of the "landbank" sites are not being used to control access to the market. This is something that I\’ve been saying for some time now: given the time it takes to get planning permission it would be logical for the chains to have sites that they were in the process of developing. They identify 886 sites in the landbanks and almost all of these (all except 110) are indeed in the normal process of development.

Essentially, although they don\’t say this explicitly, if you want to have more competition in retailing, you\’ve got to actually allow more competition in retailing: the planning system has to allow competitors to open stores.

Against this background, our investigation has sought to establish whether UK grocery retailing is competitive, as that seems to us to offer the best guarantee that consumers will be able to exercise their own judgement as to what grocery retail offer they prefer. If consumer preferences change, retailers in a competitive market must alter their offering or lose customers, market share and profit. We prefer, therefore, to seek, so far as possible, to empower the consumer rather than to impose on the consumer our own judgement of what the grocery retailing offer should be.

Quite. You don\’t like what\’s on offer? Spend your money elsewhere. Nice to see good sense breaking out, eh?

Ah, I\’d missed this lot.

Andrew Simms, at the think tank New Economics Foundation and the author of Tescopoly, said: "Some of the Competition Commission’s proposals come straight out of Alice in Wonderland. They are so perverse that, instead of doing the job they were given, which was to break the stranglehold of the big four supermarkets over British shoppers and producers, they propose measures that will tighten their grip."

Cretin. The Competition Commission first found out that there was no such stranglehold. It\’s still a comptetive market. Second, they found that the limitation on competition was the ability of people to open stores and that, where this was not possible perhaps the planning system should be changed (they muse on this rather than baldly state it) to enable further competition.

Clive Davenport, at the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "The Competition Commission has consistently failed to be an effective regulator to the retail industry. Three time-consuming, costly and ultimately meaningless inquiries in just seven years tell their own story."

Moron. Three enquiries in seven years have found that there is no monopoly or oligopoly that is exploiting the consumer. Thus they are being an effective regulator.

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.