Sasha?

Really?

In real terms, Americans are now paying as much or more for gas today as they were during the worst days of the oil-supply crunch after the Iranian revolution.

Not entirely convinced you know. 1979 you had gas rationing I think. Thus Americans were paying huge amounts in lost time as they queued for gas. That doesn\’t happen now so I think it could be said that while sticker prices, adjusted for inflation, are about the same, real costs are not.

Feminism and Sex

I was entirely prepared to believe this idea, that feminists are in fact better in bed. Then I started reading:

Feminists are happier in love and better in bed. I\’m extrapolating a wee bit optimistically, but it\’s cheering to come across a study about the f-word that doesn\’t conclude 99% of respondents think the women\’s movement was about unshaved armpits. What the Rutgers researchers actually found was that, in a survey of college students and older adults, all in heterosexual relationships, men paired with feminist partners reported greater relationship stability and sexual satisfaction.

OK.

This will doubtless do little to dispel the popular myth that the majority of feminists are man-hating lesbians

No you silly cow. Studying people, all of whom are in heterosexual relationships, tells you entirely bugger all about anyone who is lesbian, man-hating or not.

I stopped reading at that point.

 

Women and Sport

Excuse me?

The prime minister will also attack the "critical lack of investment and profile" at the elite end of women\’s sport, with no professionally paid women in team sport in the UK.

What damn business is that of yours? To have professional sports means that you have fans who are willing to pay to watch it. Either on TV or in person. That the public in general do not wish to pay to see women playing team games (well, certain forms of tag team "wrestling" find a ready paying market but that\’s not quite what is meant, I\’m sure) is not a market failure that needs to be corrected by the taxpayer.

It found that 80% of women are doing too little exercise to benefit their health. Government guidelines say five 30-minute sessions of moderate activity a week are needed to produce health benefits, with sports bodies charged with achieving three of the five.

Quite why sports bodies should be charged with this I know not. If five 30-minute sessions is what is required that can easily be achieved by banning vacuum cleaners and washing machines. Brooms and mangles were good enough for great grandmother so they should be good enough for today\’s women.

Or, of course, we might conclude that freeing women from back breaking domestic labour was a good thing and that if they\’re not doing the necessary exercise to make up for that then so damn what? Their choice.

Olympic Costs

The most pessimistic estimates of the final bill for the London 2012 Olympics were vindicated yesterday when the most senior civil servant involved on the project admitted that the entire £2.7bn contingency fund for the project would probably be spent.

Err, no.

The admission means the final cost is likely to be at least £9.3bn, more than double the figure given in London\’s bid book, a disparity which the Labour MP Don Touhig described as "the most catastrophic piece of financial mismanagement in the history of the world".

Again, no.

What we have here is that the most absurdly optimistic estimates have been shown to be the grossly untrue guff of lying bastards. Politicians, at the risk of repeating myself. The current numbers, £ 9 billion or so, are at least potentially somewhere in sight of reality. Realistic estimates are in fact more like Wat Tyler\’s. £20 billion and counting by the time it\’s all finished. Pessimistic estimates would of course have to be north of that figure.

Sorry folks, but this ain\’t over by a long chalk. If you want pessimism, think of Wat\’s point, that this is the largest peacetime construction project ever attempted in hte UK. And think how, say, Connecting for Health, the largest IT project ever attempted, looks like coming in at £30-£40 billion or so.

Do I hear any advance on, say 0.5% of GDP in order to host an outdoor steroids party?

The Boy Foreign Secretary

Bold stuff:

He will suggest that by 2030 all cars purchased in the EU should have zero carbon emissions.

What an excellent suggestion. The response to which is "How"?

What technology are we to use? Electric? Hydrogen? Fuel cells? Chip fat?

In another bold move, he will suggest that by 2030 "we should consider extending the single market beyond our immediate neighbours, and to the Middle East and north Africa". This extended free trade area would not be an alternative to EU membership, but complementary.

I\’ve got a bold idea for you as well. Why don\’t we just declare free trade tomorrow? You know, with the globe? As we know, the gains from trade come from the imports we buy, not from the exports we make. So why are we waiting until 2030 to avail ourselves of this opportunity to make us richer? What is to be gained by waiting 23 years?

Errm, Very Libertarian Boris.

So London will ban plastic bags will it?

Yet when I saw that London councils had unanimously decided, with cross-party approval, to do away with the plastic bags given out free in the capital\’s shops and supermarkets, I am afraid that my heart sang.

Ah, no, this isn\’t libertarian at all. Doing as the local gauleiters insist you do is no more libertarian than insisting that you do as the national ones do. The libertarian solutions would run along the lines of offering a choice: perhaps you pay a deposit for your bag? Perhaps you are offered a choice of plastic or paper? The decision is thus left to the individual, with, if there really are external costs ot that choice, the imposition of a tax or fee to cover that externality.

Of course the British retailers are protesting, because they are worried that the great British shopper will be inconvenienced.

They fear that if we are all issued with nothing but paper bags, or if we bring our own bags to the shop, then we will waddle out without buying that extra packet of custard creams, with disastrous effects on their profit margins.

All I can say is that people who make this dire prediction cannot possibly have been to an American supermarket. The Americans use paper bags for their groceries.

They are far less practical than our plastic bags. They leak, they tear, they have no handles; and yet if you study the American supermarket shopper from behind, it is clear that these paper bags are no inhibition on their consumption of groceries.

One thing that you really should note. Such paper bags, in the American style, only work if you are shopping by car, in the American style. They are simply not compatible with any form of walking shopping. And are we, I wonder, actually desirous of encouraging more shopping by car?

Sitemetering

Sometime in the next couple of hours this blog will go through the 2.5 million visitors mark. That\’s including those who visited the old blog of course, but not those who visit it now after the divorce into Tabloid and Broadsheet editions.

That number is since April 2004, so roughly three and a half years. Not much when placed against some of the major blogs but a satisfying number all the same. Something of an ego boost to find there are that many people (or, as might be more accurate, a small band of eccentrics who visit often) who appreciate the sound of my howling at the wilderness.

I have to admit that this is all really rather done more for my pleasure than yours, a way of amplifying my complaints about the world rather than boring whoever I happen to sit next to while drinking, but thank you all for listening as and when you do.

 

Fortress Britain

Hmm.

Train passengers face routine airline-style bag checks and body searches as part of a new counter-terror crackdown announced by Gordon Brown.

So, er, has anyone done the cost benefit analysis?

This could include screening luggage at major stations like London King\’s Cross or Manchester Piccadilly using mobile checking devices that can be moved around the country.

And this will achieve what? Imagine that there are terrorists, primed and ready to bomb. So we set up the screening systems and start screening people coming into a particular station. Our bombers are therefore not going to use that station on that day, are they? The only way we could keep them off the railways is to screen all stations all the time: and no one at all things that that is going to be anywhere near cost effective. Remember that this would, from the evidence of the only bombing actually on trains in memory, that this would also have to include each and every London Underground station. And, err, every bus stop.

I can\’t see the value of this at all, other than in the sense of something being seen to be done, however wasteful and futile that something is.

Glasgow Airport is cited: what, we stop cars arriving at the airport now?

It is currently unclear who will bear the costs of any security improvements.

That\’s easy. The general public in huge delays. Time equals money, you know?

TCFKAGAN

Hmm. I\’m not quite sure what to think of this.

I really don\’t know whether a supporter owned club, entirely transparent and actually run by the supporters (as opposed to simply owned, like, I think, Barcelona is) is a good idea or not.

There\’s more here as well.

But as I\’m asked about economics (as is Chris Dillow if he\’s got the time) I\’ll stick with that part:

In longer words, It’s as near to pure communism or socialism as you’re going to get in football, and while a community owning the club is, in principle, seems attractive, there’s all sorts of areas that are heading for trouble on this.

I don\’t actually think that this will be the problem, if problem there is. There\’s nothing I can see wrong with either communism or socialism as long as it is voluntary. If people decide that they are willing to put up their own money and then own an asset in common, well, good luck to them. No skin off either my or your nose.

Further, we\’ve seen over the centuries that exactly these sorts of common ownership schemes can work very well. Building Socieities were all mututal (and some still are) as were many insurance companies.

Now whether or not this is going to work with a football club I have no idea (as I have no idea how a football club works anyway) but don\’t let the "socialism" bugbear lead you to condemn it. We should save the condemnation of socialism, or communism, for when people try to enforce it upon us, not when people decide to try it out for themselves.

After all, as above, there are times and industries where it works very well**: and isn\’t the structure of the family best described as a form of paternalistic* socialism?

* Not meant to mean the patriarchal part of paternalism though. Perhaps "parental" would be better.

** And of course this is one of the joys of liberal capitalism. That people can go off and make these experiments and then report back on whether they do work or not.

Burka Blue

Burka Blue, Afghanistan\’s first all girl band.

Via.

My brother\’s been working out there for a few years now, head cheffing for the forces. Not heard any stories from him about dating the local girls, perhaps this helps to explain why?

Hardly a Surprise

Really, not a surprise at all:

A reckoning may be looming, however. Research suggests that the demands made by A-list actors have turned the movie business into a loss-making industry at the precise moment that it has mislaid its audience at the box office.

A report, Do Movies Make Money?, predicts that the 132 films distributed by the six leading Hollywood studios in 2006 will make a pretax loss of $1.9 billion (£920 million).

The findings by Global Media Intelligence (GMI), an offshoot of Screen Digest, a London-based research company, are based on evidence that revenue growth has stalled after a “golden age” between 2000 and 2004, while costs have ballooned. GMI believes that several of the biggest box office hits of 2006 made an overall loss or failed to return significant profits to their investors. These include Mission: Impossible III, Superman Returns, Dreamgirls and Miami Vice.

Falling DVD sales, increasingly ambitious marketing campaigns and demand for ever more spectacular special effects have all played supporting roles. The leading culprit, however, is the spiralling costs of “gross participation” deals, which can account for up to $100 million on a single film.

Roger Smith, the author of the report and an industry veteran of more than 30 years, said that deals offering top actors, directors and producers a share of the gross revenue from a film have risen steadily in recent years. They are not included in budgets and are paid on top of the star’s official salary. GMI estimates that they cost Hollywood at least $3 billion last year.

Money flows to the rare commodity. Whether it\’s football players who have that extra 1% of talent, bankers with that extra whatever or the film star who can green light a movie. There\’s really nothing surprising about it at all.

Plant Food

An interesting little aside:

The fact that leaves are turning brown later each autumn is caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and not global warming, British scientists have discovered.

Over the past 30 years autumnal senescence, the process of plant ageing by which leaves discolour then fall, has been delayed in Europe by between 1.3 and 1.8 days a decade. Trees have also been growing leaves earlier. During this time atmospheric CO2 has risen by 13.5 per cent.

See? CO2 really is plant food.

 

 

Bend Over

And get ready for it.

Wates and Kier, two of the biggest construction companies in the country, have decided not to bid for any of the contracts. Meanwhile, the Olympic stadium and the aquatic centre have attracted just one bid each.

The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) had expected thousands of companies to show interest in contracts. But the construction industry is thriving and the biggest companies are concerned about the risks to their reputations and the bureaucracy involved. They have been put off by prominent troubled projects such as the Wembley and Cardiff stadiums, which were built well over budget at the contractors’ expense.

….

Tough employment conditions built into contracts — including direct labour, local labour and stringent health and safety regulations — are also forcing up prices.

The ODA will release figures today showing that all but 23 of the 1,715 workers now on site are being paid the London Living Wage or more, and 50 per cent of workers live in the capital, with one in five from local boroughs.

Yup, it\’s going to cost even more than they\’ve already admitted.

Now This Really Does Take The Biscuit!

First, there\’s the standard engineer\’s fallacy:

Before asking how many engineers we need, we should first ask: "What will they be doing?"

We should not even be asking how many engineers we need. We should ask "do we have a functioning market for engineers? Do people respond to the incentives within that market?" If the answer to both is "Yes" then we have the number of engineers that we need.

But much more fun that that:

Chris Wise, the engineering director behind London\’s Millennium bridge

We\’re now taking advice on engineering from th bloke behind the Millennium Bridge? The one that ignored the basics of harmonics? Even after the Tacoma Narrows bridge, the film of which is shown in about the first 15 minutes of any engineering course?

was professor of creative design at Imperial College until 2005

Those who can do, those who can\’t teach, eh?

You Can Ignore Economics

But economics won\’t ignore you:

But of milk, eggs, sugar and cooking oil there was no sign. Where were they? The question yesterday prompted a puzzled look from the manager. "There isn\’t any. Everybody knows that. Pasta is probably the next to go," he shrugged.

Welcome to Venezuela, a booming economy with a difference. Food shortages are plaguing the country at the same time that oil revenues are driving a spending splurge on imported luxury goods, prompting criticism of President Hugo Chávez\’s socialist policies.

Milk has all but vanished from shops. Distraught mothers ask how they are supposed to feed their infants. Many cafes and restaurants serve only black coffee.

Families say eggs and sugar are also a memory. "The last time I had them was September," said Marisol Perez, 51, a housewife in Petare, a sprawling barrio in eastern Caracas.

When supplies do arrive long queues form instantly. Purchases are rationed and hands are stamped to prevent cheating. The sight of a milk truck reportedly prompted a near-riot last week.

This isn\’t actually a surprise. When you set the price of an item below its cost of production then people won\’t produce the good.

Government price controls on staple foods are so low that producers cannot make a profit, they say, and farms and businesses hesitate to invest in crops or machinery, or stockpile inventories, for fear of expropriations.

"We\’ve warned about this from the beginning – all of these price controls in the long run end up producing shortages," Ismael Perez, of the industry group Conindustria, told Reuters.

You can even fight economics but economics will win.

English Football

Errm, excuse me?

The Premier League is in discussions with Downing Street over ways in which it can increase the number of home-grown players appearing regularly for England\’s leading clubs.

Why is anyone talking to a Scot about this? Further, will the same rules appply to the Scottish Leagues? The Welsh (in so far as they have one)? NI? Well then, bugger off.

Discussions have begun with senior advisers to the prime minister and James Purnell, the culture secretary, to try to develop a consensual "British solution" to the apparent decline in the number of British and Irish players in the nation\’s top sides.

Err, look, that really does give the ball game away, doesn\’t it? The Premiership is England\’s football competition. If it is to be bent to creating a national team, it would be logical for it to be bent to the creation of an English one, correct? So they can bugger off again.

But vastly more important than this is the point that football clubs are in fact private businesses. Within the strictures of general immigration law (you know, EU workers can work anywhere etc.) Government has no damn business telling a private company who it may or may not employ (assuming that we\’re talking about consentinig adults, of course).

So they can bugger off a third time.

Watch Out For Your Wallets!

Now who would have guessed it?

Potential bidders for Northern Rock are pressing the government to waive a £2bn* interest bill on the stricken bank\’s outstanding £20bn loan. Their representations to the Treasury mark the opening skirmish of what could prove to be a politically damaging battle for control of the bank.

Bidders are arguing for more lenient lending conditions to Northern Rock in return for safeguarding valuable jobs in the north-east of England. One bidder has already highlighted the benefits of its bid for the job prospects of the bank\’s 5,500 workers in Newcastle and Sunderland.

Note that currently Northern Rock isn\’t actually paying interest on  that loan, although it is accumulating. So what hte bidders are asking is that the accumulated bill not be called in. Nice work if you can get it, certainly, and I certainly would blame anyone for trying it on. However, I would hope that the Government tells them to bugger off.

Either Northern Rock has a value while accruing that interest or it doesn\’t. If it does then someone will buy it. If it doesn\’t then no one will and it should be gradually shut down. By writing off the interest the Govt (or Bank, or Treasury, to taste) is simply moving money to the current shareholders, increasing the value of NR to their benefit.

As it\’s the shareholders who should be losing money in this affair this isn\’t in fact what we ought to be doing.

But pressure is likely to fall on the chancellor Alistair Darling, who is well aware that Labour has a majority of seats in the north- east and needs to protect them ahead of a general election. Accusations that the government, far from losing money on lending to Northern Rock, was guilty of profiteering are unlikely to play well with MPs in affected constituencies.

Unions in the region, already agitated at delays in the bidding process, could also exert pressure on the government to relax lending rules to allow a bid to go through.

But if the interest is foregone, it\’ll be for that reason. Politics. For, as we know, politicians do things that benefit politicians, not things that benefit you and me.

* One question though. How does borrowing £20 billion for three months at 7% give you a £2 billion interest bill? £350 million, surely?

Climate Change and Cod

Now yes, OK, co are indeed sensitive to water temperature, most especially at spawning time.

The prospect of cod returning to levels where it is can once again be the staple of fish and chips looks gloomier than ever in the wake of a study of the impact of climate change.

The world\’s cod fisheries are disappearing fast, with a global catch that declined from 3.1 million tons in 1970 to 950,000 in 2000. If such a trend continued, the world\’s cod stocks would disappear in 15 years, by some estimates.

Today a study suggests that it is going to be hard for stocks of the fish to recover quickly. As the favourable areas for the fish move north as a result of warming, then the species could be in trouble.

So yes, I would expect climate change to have an effect on the cod populations.

However, that\’s as nothing compared to the idiocies of our current fisheries policies. It\’s rather a mote and beam problem: we still run fisheries as a hunter gatherer industry, still insist that the Commons problem remains unsolved. For example, I\’ve seen figures which insist that we throw back, dead, into the ocean, more cod from the North Sea than we land, as a result of the Common Fisheries Policy. The first thing we have to do is solvethat, in the way that Norway, Iceland and the Faroes have done, by making the right to the fish an asset, one owned by the fishermen.

Only after we\’ve dealt with that major part of the problem should we start to worry about what more minor effect climate change might have.