Dr Robert Spink

No, not bonking.

Our report (An affair, an e-mail – and another Tory MP bites the dust, News, March 13) may have been understood as suggesting some impropriety in Dr Spink’s private life. No such suggestion was intended. We are happy to clarify this matter and apologise to him.

Crewe and Nantwich

Polly points us towards this obscene piece of political posturing today:

Ed Balls shows up to name a gleaming new school IT unit after Gwynneth Dunwoody.


Naming something after a statesman (ie, a dead politician) yes, but this, in the middle of a by-election?

The rest of Polly\’s piece is her noting that the rest of the population now sees Labour as some of us have done for a decade and more.

Raj Patel

Sorry, but how does this work?

They observe that "petrol tanks and stomachs were competing well before biofuels were proposed to tackle climate change," since transportation and industrial agriculture are both premised on cheap fossil fuel. One way to tackle the competition for a scarce resource is to change transport policy – a shift towards walking and cycling would reduce both the demand for fossil fuel, and secondarily mean that there were fewer overweight people, thus driving down the need for food. All well and good.

They estimate that a population of a billion people at a healthy body mass index would use a total of 10.5 MJ through the daily business of eating and living.

And then they throw in this grenade. It\’s worth quoting at length to see the damage that gets done subsequently.

"An obese population of 1 billion people with a stable mean BMI of 29.0 kg/m2 would require an average 7 MJ of food energy per person per day to maintain basal metabolic rate, and 5.4 MJ per person per day for activities of daily living (calculations available from the authors). Compared with the normal weight population, the obese population consumes 18% more food energy."

It\’s a straightforward comparison between a billion not-quite-overweight people and a billion obese people.

If those obese people become not-obese by exercising more then their food consumptions doesn\’t go down. Indeed, dependent upon how much exercise they do, their weight could come down while their food consumption goes up.

If they got slimmer not by exercise, but by eating less while using more fossil fuels for transport (instead of walking and cycling) then food demand might go down.

In fact, there\’s been one researcher who claims that using your car to go to the shop is "more efficient" than walking, as the calories you need for the walk take more emissions to create than the petrol gives off.

So I\’m a little confused here. My understanding is that farming plus the inefficiencies of human conversion of food into energy mean that exercising, that walking and cycling, will increase food demand, not reduce it. If that\’s correct, then what are these people talking about?


In economic terms, Tim Harford argues in his book The Logic of Life that divorce is "a rational response to changed incentives" (women\’s ability to earn money outside the home) and both less marriage and less divorce are simply the result.

That\’s not quite how economic incentives work. If divorce is a rational response to changed incentives, such as that women are no longer financially reliant upon the man, then we would expect to see more divorce.

Yes, the same incentives will lead to fewer marriages in the first place and thus logically to fewer divorces. However, that\’s rather counting the wrong thing: it\’s the rate of divorce amongst those already married which is the important thing, for those not married cannot of course divorce.

So while we might indeed see fewer divorces (or less divorce, to carry on yesterday\’s grammar Nazi argument) in fact, amongst the relevant population we\’ll be seeing more.


Much as it pains me to say so, on one issue at least El Gordo deserves praise:

To give Gordon Brown credit where credit\’s due, his instinctive hostility to the euro has paid dividends. Had we been party to the ECB\’s interest rates, our credit bubble would have been larger and we would now be in an even more parlous state.

To paraphrase, if we\’d joined we\’d be even more fucked than we are now.

Doesn\’t Work, Sorry.

Senator Barack Obama has made clear that there was one target in the White House race he considered off limits to Republicans, declaring: "Lay off my wife."

Your wife became a valid target the first time she made a speech or a campaign appearance in your favour. Private or public, it\’s a one time decision.

The Database State

Really not sure about this at all:

The Home Office will create a database to store the details of every phone call made, every email sent and every web page visited by British citizens in the previous year under plans currently under discussion, it has emerged.

It does rather depend upon what it is that they\’re going to put in the database. Who you called or what you said in the call? Who you emailed or the contents of it?

The former is really just access to the logs of the communications provider, isn\’t it?

The latter is obviously a great deal more serious. So, which is it do you think?

So, Erm, Mary,

Plenty of sex in the speeches. Roman political oratory was full of sex – and especially the idea that your opponent was keen on being buggered. Adultery was (sort of) OK, so was buggering. But not what we classicists coyly call “being the passive partner”.

What term do you classicists use when you\’re not being coy?

Richard Murphy on Tax, Tesco and The Guardian

He makes four points:

1) "The Guardian made a mistake on a highly technical issue."

Confusing some tens of millions of stamp duty with a billion of corporation tax is a "highly technical issue" now instead of a godawful mistake by financial illiterates.

2) He\’s still using his own "tax gap methodology".

"Tescos has not paid the tax expected of it at the rates set by parliament, using various methods of calculation."

This is insane. All of the methods in use are put into the law by Parliament itself: we are, after all, talking about tax planning and tax avoidance, not tax evasion. Simply comparing the headline rate with tax paid, without taking account of the exemptions, allowances, depreciation rates and so on deliberately and specifically put into law by Parliament is, as I say, insane.

3) "Tax planning and tax avoidance are both normal and legal."

Excellent, glad we\’ve got that sorted then. So can we stop whining about it please?

4) "But most of all this says we need much more research into this issue and that funding for this work is urgently needed"

My word, can you hear a retired accountant calling for money to be spent upon a retired accountant?


It\’s All So Simple, Isn\’t it?

This is the kind of bold, nay, heroic, outside-the-box thinking that we need. Or at the least, will make me not want to talk about it anymore. I imagine earnest high school seniors everywhere will note a surprising similarity between their recent social studies essays, and this senatorial missive. It just highlights the fact even though an issue like energy involves a lot of science and statistical analysis, complex general equilibrium effects involving incentives, moral hazard, and adverse selection, the practical discussion of public policy is pretty simple. Everything is a matter of will, and partial equilibrium analysis. Reduce demand. Lower prices. More money to technologies that don\’t pollute, and use things generally considered waste, as inputs for pie in the sky solutions.

Maddy in Uganda

Everywhere people press forward to say thank you, their faces creasing with huge smiles, the women going down on their knees according to traditional custom, and explaining how their lives have been transformed.

Aw bless.

The warmth and joyousness of the Abia reception is exhilarating, but being cast as Lady Bountiful is uncomfortable.

At least there\’s some self-knowledge there.

Mary Amulo, for example. She is 31 but already has six children. She talks very softly – the Teso culture of this region of Uganda expects women to be subservient – but with huge pride.

Snigger. Maddy wouldn\’t put up with such a cultural explanation for women in the UK doing the cooking or the child rearing now, would she? These things must change with skin colour I suppose, what is and is not acceptable in such cultural matters.

But the question that keeps coming back is: where is the state investment in Katine? Why isn\’t Kampala finding the money to drill a borehole for this community? President Yoweri Museveni gets £70m a year in UK aid alone, so how come so little of it has found its way to Katine? Uganda was one of the first countries to get debt relief; it has been the western donors\’ favourite for nearly 20 years. It\’s true that most of Katine\’s children now go to school. Free education was a condition of debt relief. But it has created new problems with huge classes – 75 is normal – and no books or paper. Apart from education, little of the aid millions has trickled down to Katine.

The district governor, Stephen Ochola, is hugely frustrated. He has been promised money to repair the flood-damaged roads, but several months on he is still waiting. Both he and Katine\’s MP, Peter Omolu, say they see investment going to the south and west of the country, but not to Katine and its district of Soroti. They are outspoken in their criticism that the government favours areas that voted for Museveni in the last elections in 2006. Soroti is an opposition area: the president polled only 12% of the vote. In his inaugural speech Museveni thanked those who voted for him, but warned that those who had not would see that it had not been a wise decision.

My word, what a surprise, eh? The government to government aid gets either stolen or diverted for political reasons. The private sector aid, that more directly from people to people (like The Guardian\’s own Katine project) actually gets somewhere, actually alleviates poverty and helps people.

My, my, what a turn up for the books, eh? When will such an interesting lesson be applied to our own lives here in the UK do you think? That money fed through The State is used by those who run The State for their own purposes, not for ours?

Or do you think that might be a realisation too far for our Maddy?


Ms. Ashley:

Whatever you think of the New Labour years, it has been a decade of social liberalism, when racism, homophobia and anti-science voodoo became steadily less respectable.

We have hysteria about GM….anti-science voodoo has become steadily less acceptable? We have alternative medicine on the NHS? Deepak Chopra continues to make millions….children die because the anti-vaccination brigade have the bit between their teeth? Nuclear power is rejected because Greenpeace is opposed to the only thing that can provide low carbon base load? Charities insist that poor countries should keep their tariffs, thus keeping them poor?

We have the organic movement, the food miles one, reiki and crystal practitioners coming out of every orifice and you\’re trying to claim that anti-science voodoo is becoming less respectable?

Good Lord!

Mrs. Dromey is actually talking sense!

Miss Harman, who is also Leader of the House of Commons, was interviewed for Second Thoughts on the Family, which is published Monday by Civitas, the think-tank.

The book, which paraphrases her interview at her request, states: "Harman believes higher rates of separation are down to a positive: greater choice.

"Furthermore, she is keen to stress that in her view, no public policy can or should say that every couple whose relationship has broken down must stay together.

"For Harman, there is no \’ideal\’ parenting scenario. Longitudinal social research shows that having two parents produces the best outcomes, she says, but in her view the important thing for Government is to respect choices.

"For Harman, marriage has little relevance in public policy. Moreover, she thinks that marriage has probably got no more public policy bite in it than the Government saying that they would like everybody to be happy.

Most people, Harman believes, aspire to marriage, and want to stay together. She objects strongly, however, to the idea of any politician telling parents that they should stay together for the sake of the children."

It may well be true (it probably is true) that two parents are the best environment for children to grow up in, except when it isn\’t. But what that has to do with either government or the price of tea in China is harder to work out.

Government should indeed be respecting the choices that people make: we do after all, both hire them and pay for them. We should indeed be doing whatever it is that we damn well please as long as we are not interfering with or affecting the rights of others to do the same.

Sure, when we get to the details of policy this might be different, but at its core this is a simple statement of basic liberal (of the classical kind) values. You\’re free, an individual, and the Government\’s job is to protect you from others who would negate your rights and to stop you from doing the same in return.

We do of course have one teenise problem here: apparently this liberality only applies to familial structures. When, of course, it should apply right across the board. Drugs, education, ID cards, car seats, seatbelts….there are so many areas of life where such a similarly liberal attitude should, but does not, prevail.

"the important thing for Government is to respect choices."…..Quite. Now bugger off and do the things that only Government can do and therefore must and leave the rest of us alone would you?