MP\’s Pay

There is a simple solution to this particular part of the problem:

Last night, Labour sources disclosed that one of the problems in getting MPs to show restraint is the high number who plan to retire at the end of this Parliament.

This is a problem because pensions are linked to their last salary.

Adopt the American system. Pay increases are indeed voted upon by the chamber to which they apply: but they only come into force after the next election.

Turkeys and Christmas

Well, this is a surprise, isn\’t it?

Arts Council England (Ace) was plunged into a crisis when 500 of the country\’s top actors passed an unprecedented vote of no confidence in the organisation over cuts it is making in grants to almost 200 theatres and music companies.

The supplicants for your and my money are hardly going to cheer when the swill trough is removed now, are they?

Mr Hewitt was told by Sam West, Alison Steadman and Caroline Quentin that hitting regional and London fringe theatres would have a damaging knock-on effect that would lead to the whole of British theatre being "starved " of plays, directors and actors.

Snigger. Cue Dr. Strangelove and the mines gap. One thing the UK is never going to have a shortage of is luvvies.

Let\’s get this straight shall we? There shouldn\’t be any taxpayer subsidy for the arts. You like it, you love it, great, get out there and do it. If you\’re not good enough to draw a large enough paying crowd to make money out of it then you\’re going to have to do it for free.  There\’s really no reason to tax the dustman and the nurse for this indoor relief for that part of the population that likes to show off.


AE Bullion

American Elements has launched something called AE Bullion. This post should be considered as a warning not to actually buy any of their products.

Los Angeles based American Elements announced today the launch of AE Bullion™. The new product group will mint certified high purity coins and bars from approximately sixty advanced, rare and less common metals for short and long term physical investment. Metals include rhodium, tellurium, indium, hafnium, scandium and the 14 rare earth elements; all metals which have experienced dramatic world price increases in 2007.

Coins and bars will be minted from assayed materials produced by American Elements\’ AE Metals™ high purity refining group. Coins will be available to hedge funds, currency reserves and exchange traded funds (ETFs) in order to establish tradable securities and to allow for exposure and controlled risk to commodity and industrial demand fluctuations. Also, private investors, collectors and hobbyists can now take direct physical title and possession to these metals with risk exposure equivalent to movements in the world spot price.

Portfolios of different elemental metal coins and bars may also be structured allowing for strategic risk allocation and indexing across a basket of metals. American Elements will offer bonded short and long term warehouse inventory services for AE Bullion™ coins to investors, funds and collectors who do not wish to take physical custody of the metal or lack secure storage or warehouse capabilities.

This is a terrible idea, seriously awful, from the investors point of view. The first and most important point is that these metals don\’t have liquid markets. Taking scandium for example: as regular readers will know I make my day job living dealing in the material. But in over a decade I\’ve never actually sold the metal itself to anyone. The oxide, yes, the oxide when made into a aluminium master alloy, yes, but not the metal. I would be astonished if the global market in 2007 was more than 1 kg of the metal in total. The same goes fo many of the rare earth metals (some do indeed have markets, others, ytterbium etc, not. I once had a piece of lutetium and the only thing I could manage to do with it was sell it to someone who prepared elements for collectors.). Further, even where there are markets fo them, no one ever buys them piecemeal. Long term supplpier contracts are the order of the day. Hafnium as coins and bars also strikes me as rather silly: a typical Hf metal purchase would be 500 kg to 5,000 kg. Piddling about with an ounce or two in a coin simply won\’t happen.

Rhodium is something that might be worth speculating in but there\’s already a mechanism to do that. Open an account at Johnson Matthey and get on with it.

This has overtones (and no, I\’m not making an accusation here of it being the same) of a program that went on a decade ago, with indium and germanium. An investment boiler house was selling these "vital electronic metals in short supply" by the ounce to impressionable retail investors in the US. They were paying $ hundreds an ounce to take physical possession of material worth, at that time, $10s per ounce. Usual hard core telephone sales techniques.

Prices did indeed rise but not enough to cover the marketing mark up: and anyway, with these metals it\’s an industrial market. Buyers are the big electronics companies and they pick up a tonne or two at a time.

The basic point is that these metals are really not for the private investor as there are no liquid markets. And even when there are, they\’re not in the sort of quantities that a private investor would be dealing in. With the exception of rhodium (where, as noted, there is already a mechanism) this just isn\’t a sensible place to go speculating.

Disclaimer: yes, I do deal, or have done, in several of these metals. Yes, I would benefit if a private market was created to speculate in them. Yes, I still think it\’s an extremely bad idea that you shouldn\’t go anywhere near.

There was in fact a scandium metals futures market in Moscow in the early-mid 1990s. It collapsed after about 50 trades as there was no terminal market. This idea will face very much the same problems.



That Cuban Health System

In the news about Philip Agee\’s death:

"He had several operations for perforated ulcers and didn\’t survive all the surgery," Dwyer wrote, adding that Agee was cremated Tuesday and that friends planned a memorial ceremony for him Sunday…

Ulcers? But ulcers are, as we know, caused by bacterial infections, to be treated with antibiotics. There\’s even been a Nobel awarded (to an Australian called, of all things, Barry) for it.

Has that much vaunted Cuban health care system (never mind the poverty, the lack of freedom, the oppression, they\’ve got universal health care you know!) not caught up with this yet?

The Real Meaning of Socialism

Yup, here it is:

I also don\’t accept your claim that £7 for a chicken is out of most peoples price range. £7 for a whole fucking bird – that\’s what it should cost. This is a creature that has to be raised, slaughted, plucked and packaged. It only seems expensive because capitalist intsensive farming has reduced animals to mere commodities that are cheap enough to eat everyday.

Expensive chickens. That\’s the real meaning of socialism.

Levitt on Prostitution

There are those who wish to make prostitution illegal in the UK. John has views. Steven Levitt has new empirical information.

Surprising to an outsider are the fluidity with which these women move in and out of prostitution and other work, their willingness to absorb enormous risk for a small pecuniary reward, and the blurred lines between good and evil, where police extort sex and pimps pay efficiency wages.

Where prostitution is illegal (as it is in Chicago) pimps enable prostitutes to make more money. Is that what Harriett actually wants? More pimps?

Jesus, Lighten Up Guys

It\’s only blogging fer cryin out loud!

Michael Arrington, who founded the popular TechCrunch blog, said he did not know to what extent stress had to do with Mr. Malik’s attack, “but the stress is crushing in what we do.”

“I was a corporate lawyer and an entrepreneur, and I know about working all the time. But now, you’re always worried a big story is breaking in your e-mail, and if you wait an hour, you’ll miss it. Every morning when I wake up, the panic hits and I have to see my e-mail as soon as possible.”

British Honorifics or, How To Address Politicians.

Hundreds of Iraqi interpreters employed by the British Armed Forces in Iraq are being rejected after applying to live in Britain for their own safety.

Out of 700 who have now applied through the Ministry of Defence for the special settlement scheme announced by the Government last year, 300 have been rejected already, the MoD said yesterday.

Only 170 have been told they are eligible, and the rest are being processed. Successful applicants will be allowed to bring their closest dependants, including grandparents, if the Home Office accepts them as refugees.

An additional 180 Iraqis have applied through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office because they worked at the British Embassy in Baghdad or at other diplomatic missions. Of these, 38 have been turned down either for the settlement deal or for the alternative financial assistance package, The Times has learnt.

Defence sources said applicants were failing to meet the Government\’s strict eligibility conditions under which ex-Iraqi employees are required to prove 12 months of continuous employment with the British forces.

This system designed by The Honourable I\’d like a 10% pay rise and The Right Honourable no you can\’t see my expenses claims.

Forgive my visions of the mobbing peasantry descending upon them, pitchforks waving and brands alight.

This is the Point!

The campaigns against factory-reared chickens by celebrity chefs such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver are helping to put poultry producers out of business, farmers’ leaders claimed yesterday.

Whether you agree with the campaign or not is one thing. But the point of the campaign is to put such poultry farms out of business. So the complaint is that the campaign is actually being successful, no?

Err, Larry?

You sure?

Traditionally, incomes policies held for a year or two and then fell apart. We all know what happened in 1978-79. This time, public sector workers will ask why they should be forced to carry the can for an economic downturn that resulted from the greed and stupidity of highly paid financiers, none of whom will be forced to take a pay cut.

Financiers won\’t be forced to take a pay cut? When banks are laying off swathes of their staff? When bonuses  won\’t be paid at all, let alone at their previous high rates? Or does a 50%, even 100% cut in income not mean a pay cut in your world?

Cath Elliott

Not getting the point here:

We rightly condemn female genital mutilation (FGM) when it\’s forced on women and girls in the name of culture and tradition, yet we\’re quick to embrace it when it\’s sold to us packaged in the language of choice.

It\’s that magic word, choice. I might think it\’s absurd, you might think it\’s absurd, that some women go through plastic surgery on their genitalia. But if it is their choice this is of course vastly different from something forcewd upon other women.

For that\’s actually what the whole game is about, expanding the choices and liberties available. There\’s nothing in that which says that we have to approve of the choices people then make from the menu on offer, nothihng which allows us to stop them from making choices we disapprove of.

Well, not in a free society, at least, but then there are those who don\’t think that such freedom to do as they disapprove of should exist.

Darling, Darling….

Chancellor Alistair Darling\’s bid to portray himself as a consumers\’ champion over soaring energy bills has back-fired spectacularly, with power companies revealing that higher Treasury taxes account for almost 50pc of last weeks\’ rise in household energy bills.

One of the arts of politics is to make sure that when you start grandstanding no one can cut you off at the knees quite this quickly. The lawyer trying to run our economy doesn\’t seem to have quite grasped this yet.

I\’ll Drink to That! *

According to the study, moderate drinking combined with exercise is the best combination to prevent life-threatening conditions – even better than total abstention.

The survey of more than 11,000 people over 20 years showed that drinking and exercising – though not together – were particularly effective against fatal heart disease, reducing the risk by up to 50 per cent compared with those who were inactive and teetotal.

When widened to risk from all deaths the reduction was up to a third, the survey claimed.

While heavier drinking when combined with exercise dulled the health-giving effects it was still only found to be as bad as exercising and not drinking.

Once again we find that the guidelines on drinking are complete and total tosh. As we all now know, you need to get to 65 units a week before the risks are the same as beeing teetotal. However, I\’m not going to hold my breath waiting for the prodnoses who issue such advice to actually change their message to one that accords with reality. They won\’t do so, for reality isn\’t the game, it\’s stopping people from doing things they don\’t like which is.

* Well, what else did you think I\’d use as a headline?