January 2008

Hurrah, Hurrah!

Excellent news:

I finally received my new stick and crutches, thank you to everyone who donated, it’s nice to be able to walk down the street without all the clacking sounds I used to get with every step and the whistling of the wind through the adjuster holes. Having them also improves my posture, which helps with the pain.

There has also been another side effect of the generosity and of making that order, it has helped me take a huge step forward in coming to terms with everything surrounding my disability and depression. Instead of trying to ignore everything, and trying to keep on going in the same way as I did before the accident, I’m now, finally, looking for all the things that will make life easier for myself.

Lastly, I’ve seen my doctor today, she is really impressed by my improvements with depression, there is still a way to go yet, but for once I feel there is a lightening of the load, and there will be more on that in my next entry.

That\’s you lot that did that you know. Dropping money into his paypal account. Back rubs, secret masonic handshakes and lashings of ginger beer all round.

It gets better:

Right now I would like to say a huge thank you to the staff of The Royal British Legion based in Kendal, and to all the charities such as the Royal Artillery Charitable Fund and the Army Benevolent fund  who have helped them find the money to give me a new kitchen adapted to my needs.

I had the phone call, just before I went to the doctors, to say that they would be starting work on Monday morning. The mix of emotions is incredible, mainly nerves and excitement, plus looking forward to the benefits of worktops at the right height so that making a sandwich isn’t crippling and doing the washing up doesn’t cause me to have to sit down for an hour.


Marcottism of the Day

She’s responsible, and she’s taking measures to fix her problem, but the article also subtly drives home the point that there’s something deeply fucked up about our usury laws that we allow something like a 30% interest rate to even exist. (The article reminded me to pay off a balance sitting on my credit card, however. Paying even a nickel in interest to these sharks crosses a deeply held moral boundary.)

That Amanda gets to borrow at 0% as long as she only does it for 6 weeks is a reason that people who borrow longer than 6 weeks pay higher interest rates seems not to occur to her.

Surplus Diacriticals

A chorus of jeers greeted the extra-vagant launch of Astérix

That\’s actually rather apt: extravagant we all know, but extra vagant suggests an excess of vagueness, which is I think what the critics were really trying to say.

E Numbers Hysteria

You really do have to hand it to our MPs and Lords: knowing arses from elbows is clearly an advanced manouvre for them.

All artificial colourings in food and soft drinks should be banned, a parliamentary committee urged yesterday in a report on the effect of diet on the brain.

The associate parliamentary food and health forum – a grouping of parliamentarians and outside experts such as nutritionists, doctors and the food industry – says at the end of a year-long inquiry that the Food Standards Agency should be taking a tougher line on E-numbers and additives, which some studies suggest may over-stimulate children\’s brains and make them hyperactive.

Now, it might be true that some of these chemicals are not quite what we want to feed into a growing brain. I would put the onus on parents to make this decision, but I\’m aware that there are those who might disagree. But that isn\’t my point here, rather, it\’s the insanity of their actual proposal.

For E numbers are not in fact some creation of the devil\’s spawn. It\’s simply a labelling system. There are certain things which are put into food and so that everyone knows what they can and cannot use when and where a single labelling system was drawn up for all in the EU. Not even I am against clarity through such cooperation (I might whine about the use of criminal law etc, but having information presented clearly is just fine by me).

Some E numbers do describe things made in the lab: others do not.

E140 Chlorophylls, Chlorophyllins:

Green colour occurs naturally in the cells of all plants and responsible for photosynthesis. A fairly unstable dye, which tends to fade easily (see E141). Not easy to obtain in a pure form and commercially available chloroyphyll usually contains other plant material impurities. The usual sources are nettles, spinach and grass with the chloroyphyll being extracted using acetone, ethanol, light petroleum, methylethylketone and diachloromethane. Lutein, E161b, may be extracted at the same time. Can be used for dyeing waxes and oils, used in medicines and cosmetics eg in chewing gum, fats and oils, ice cream, soaps, soups, sweets and, obviously, green vegetables. Has no maximum recommended daily intake and is not subject to any prohibitions.

We\’re going to ban the use of chlorophyll in food now, are we? Bye bye to all green vegetables then.

E160a Alpha-carotene, Beta-carotene, Gamma-carotene

Orange or yellow plant pigments, found mainly in carrots, green leafed vegetables and tomatoes, which the human body converts into \’Vitamin A\’ in the liver. Fades on exposure to light. Can be commercially manufactured in the laboratory but beta-carotene, with some alpha-carotene and gamma-carotene present, is normally extracted from carrots and other yellow or orange fruits and vegetables with hexane. Used in butter and soft margarines, coffee sponge cakes, milk products and soft drinks.

This is to go too? This is what is the stupidity: they\’ve confused the labelling system, the E numbers, with things that might do harm. But E numbers are simply a labelling scheme, nothing else. A blanket ban on the use of things with E numbers is insane.

E101 & E101a Riboflavin

Riboflavin is yellow or orange-yellow in colour and in addition to being used as a food colouring it is also used to fortify some foods. It can be found in such foods as baby foods, breakfast cereals, sauces, processed cheese, fruit drinks and vitamin-enriched milk products as well as being widely used in vitamin supplements. Also known as vitamin B2 occurs naturally in milk, cheese, leafy green vegetables, liver and yeast but exposure to light will destroy the Riboflavin in these natural sources. In processed foods it is very likely to be Genetically Modified as it can be produced synthetically using genetically modified Bacillus subtilis, altered to both increase the bacteria production of riboflavin and to introduce an antibiotic (ampicillin) resistance marker. It is an easily absorbed, water-soluble micronutrient with a key role in maintaining human health. Like the other B vitamins, it supports energy production by aiding in the metabolising of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Vitamin B2 is also required for red blood cell formation and respiration, antibody production, and for regulating human growth and reproduction. It is essential for healthy skin, nails, hair growth and general good health, including regulating thyroid activity. Any excess is excreted in the urine but as the human body does not store Riboflavin it is thought deficiency is common. Riboflavin also helps in the prevention or treatment of many types of eye disorders, including some cases of cataracts. It may assist bloodshot, itching or burning eyes and abnormal sensitivity to light.

Cretins, simply cretins.

E150 Caramel


Can we hang them all?

(Looking at the actual report, they took evidence on tartrazine alone and then decided that all artificial colourings should be banned. Swing bastards, swing.)

Bansturbation Again

Patio heaters could be banned by the European Union over fears that they are contributing to global warming.

Euro-MPs will today vote on energy efficiency proposals to phase out the sale of the popular gas-burning appliances which are increasingly found outside bars, cafés and restaurants since the indoor smoking ban.

Fiona Hall, a Liberal Democrat MEP, has led the calls for the ban, which is expected to be endorsed by the parliament in Brussels.

"Patio heaters are scandalous because they are burning fossil fuels in the open sky, so producing vast quantities of CO2 with very little heat benefit," she said.

Whether there is a benefit or not isn\’t actually for Ms. Hall to determine. That\’s for the consumer to work out. As long as the damage done by CO2 emissions, the externality, has been included in the prices paid via taxation, it\’s entirely up to the individual as to whether they use such a heater or not.

I\’ve no idea what the tax on natural gas is but I\’d be amazed if it\’s less than the $80 per tonne CO2 that would cover that externality.

Can we leave yet?


Last night it emerged that a friend of Henry\’s, Michel Pratte, is also on his payroll. The 23-year-old Canadian, a regular companion of Henry\’s at London nightclubs, is said to be paid £11,500.08 as a research assistant, while studying at the London School of Economics.

And which nightclubs might those be?

Kidnapping Babies

A reminder of why we actually have a legal system, judges and all:

The High Court judge said that “on the face of it” social services acted unlawfully in taking the baby away from the 18-year-old mother without obtaining a court order.

Mr Justice Mumby said that the officials involved in the Nottinghamshire case “should have known better”.

The child, who cannot be identified, was born healthy at around 2am yesterday and taken from his mother without her consent at 4am.

Local social services had shown hospital staff a “birth plan” detailing how the mother, who suffers from mental health problems, was not to be allowed contact with the child without supervision.

However Mr Justice Mumby said that no baby can be removed “as the result of a decision taken by officials in some room”.

The judge ordered that the baby be immediately returned to his mother, who can only be referred to as "G".

Yes, even officials, doing it  "for the children", must obey the law.


Bad Economic Paper of the Day

Over time, increases in hours of work per capita have created the intuitively plausible notion that there is less time available to pursue social interactions. The specific question addressed in this paper is the effect of hours of work on social interaction. This is a difficult empirical question since omitted factors could increase both hours of work and social interaction. The approach taken in this paper utilizes an exogenous decline in hours of work in France due to a new employment law. The results clearly show that the employment law reduced hours of work but there is no evidence that the extra hours went to increased social interactions. Although hours of work are not an important determinant of social interaction, human capital is found to be important. The effect of human capital, as measured by education and age, is positive for membership groups but negative for visiting relatives and friends. Also, contrary to expectations, there are no important differences in the determinants of social interaction by gender, marital status or parent status. Finally, a comparison between France and the US show that the response to human capital and other variables are much the same in both nations.

Via Tyler (who else?).

As the full paper is gated no, I\’ve not read it, but that summary shows something of a glaring problem.

They\’re failing to make the distinction between paid work in the market economy and unpaid work in the domestic or household one.

For example, increases in the hours of work per capita over time: this is true only of work in the paid or market economy for women. Over the timescale of decades market economy work for men has fallen and domestic work for both sexes has. Net result is fewer working hours in total and more leisure time for both sexes.

Now, whether the French exogenous shock of the 35 hour work week meant more hours of domestic work is another matter: but to be failing to make the distinction between the two forms of work makes moot any of the papers conclusions.*


*On the assumption, of course, that the full paper doesn\’t discuss and account for this.

Update: I\’ve been kindly sent the paper (Thanks Edward!) and no, they don\’t make the appropriate distinction.

The increase in female labor force participation has increased hours of work per capita which may have had an affect on social interaction.

Working hours per capita in the paid economy have risen for women. Total working hours for both men and women have fallen. As above, not making that distinction means the paper doesn\’t mean all that much.

Quite Jenni

But perhaps more important than either of these is the series of poor decisions which stem from the government\’s lack of managerial ability and its consequent blind faith in the two false gods of IT and management consultancy. A Labour government has chosen to pour unprecedented billions on the private companies providing both, and much of that money is simply being squandered.

The thing you\’re missing though is that it isn\’t "this crowd" that is at fault, nor would that crowd be any better. Such prodigious pissing away of the wealth of the nation is inherent in any system which tries to run something as complex as a country of 65 million people from the centre.

Sure, there are various things that can be done at the margin but the only way to actually solve the problem is for government to do fewer things.*


* Yes, I\’ve nicked the idea from here.

The Guardian\’s City Editor

Last year, the staff were probably very happy indeed. Every spring, they receive a bonus, dependent on how well the business has fared,

Isn\’t it excellent the way that The City shares the profits with the workers? Not all of the surplus extracted from the workers goes to the capitalist bastards who own the firm.

In 2007, the company announced profits of £319m and £155m was set aside for staff bonuses.

Ooops, sorry, my bad. This is John Lewis we\’re talking about.

Clearly, terribly different from The City.