July 2008

Quite Right

Our Stevie:

Forgive me, Ms Gadian, but you\’re missing the point. You\’re not being discriminated against. You\’re being weeded out. It\’s quite deliberate. If you can\’t read or write sufficiently well to pass a multiple-choice test, you shouldn\’t be a doctor.

Sense on Drugs.

Good man here, talking good sense.

The contemporary reality that certain drugs can only be purchased from unregulated, untaxed and uncontrolled criminals is the result of policy choices. By treating the debate on alternatives to maintaining organised crime\’s monopoly as a no-go area, this report helps entrench the view that the basic tenets of prohibition cannot be challenged. In doing so it actually helps perpetuate the policy whose failure it describes so eloquently.

Well, quite.

Neil McKeganay

Neil McKeganay is the Professor of Drug Misuse Research at the University of Glasgow. Fortunately he\’s not the possessor of Adam Smith\’s old chair in logic.

For here is his argument:

We used to count the number of addicts in the hundreds; we now count them in the hundreds of thousands. The UK Drug Policy Commission\’s report published yesterday – Tackling Drug Markets and Distribution Networks – contains an alarming body blow of further statistics.

Britain has a problem which is now thought to be worth in excess of £5.3 billion a year, and which the Government is spending about £1.5 billion a year trying to tackle.

As much as 60 per cent of crime may be connected to the illegal drugs trade; and the sex trade in our cities, and increasingly in our rural areas, has the women\’s dependency on illegal drugs at its heart.

All true of course. It\’s his logic that is faulty, not his facts.

Yes, policy must focus on treatments that enable addicts to become drug free, but also on hard-hitting prevention with robust enforcement.

Policing the problem means tackling street-level drug dealing directly. It must also mean tougher action against those who profit from the trade. We need to ensure that our police are protecting our communities. This will not be done through intermittent, high-profile campaigns, but sustained action.

That is, we must step up the War on Drugs. One more point:

The UK drug problem is barely 40 years old.

It\’s, umm, round and about 40 years ago that we started to treat addiction as a criminal problem rather than a medical one (yes, up to the late 60s, early 70s, heroin addicts could get their heroin from doctors).

So, umm, what our Professor is suggesting is that in order to combat the problem of drugs we must press on even further down the course of action which caused the problem of drugs in the first place.

Thank buggery he doesn\’t teach logic, eh? A pity he teaches anything at all though.

That Windfall Tax

You know there\’re those screaming for a windfall tax on the huge profits of the energy companies? Tony Woodley was one calling for it I think….Polly another.


Centrica will today announce a near 30pc fall in profits as the surge in wholesale gas prices sent earnings at British Gas tumbling.

Despite pushing up prices to households earlier this year, its British Gas division, which supplies almost 16m of homes and companies across the UK, fell into the red several months ago as gas prices continued to rise. It made profits of just £166m in the first half of the year, compared with £533m in the same period in 2007.

The loss more than outweighs the profit improvement at Centrica\’s upstream business, Centrica Energy, which operates gas fields and produces electricity from its power stations.

For the group as a whole, the company is expected to post operating profits of £880m, against £1.22bn last year.

What huge profits?

The same is going to be true of the distribution and retail arms of all of the energy companies, no?

Update: Remarkably, some sense from Larry Elliott:

All things considered, then, making the energy companies foot the bill for the pain they are causing to voters could seem mightily tempting to Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling.

Yet, things are not quite as clear-cut as they might seem at first glance. British Gas points out that it already pays a 75% tax rate on its gas production and pays a higher rate than any other FTSE 100 company.

It also makes the perfectly valid point that ministers want energy companies to invest billions of pounds in renewables and in a new generation of nuclear power stations, and that clobbering the industry with a windfall tax might not be the best way to achieve that objective.

Those Guardian Results

Well, quite:

Grant Thornton senior tax partner Mike Warburton said: "Guardian Media Group has enjoyed a tax holiday courtesy of some very helpful rules introduced by their friend Gordon Brown. They are taking full advantage of the relief legally available to them, which all businesses should do. That\’s fine, but don\’t knock people who do exactly the same."

Our favourite retired tax accountat (who, I believe, is funded by the Ford Foundation) has more:

The low charge is on the exceptional part sale of the Auto Trader group. No complicated planning was needed to produce a low tax charge: the government allows for tax to be deferred in this case if funds are reinvested. The Guardian did reinvest the funds. That’s not artificial, offshore, or complex. Indeed, it is tax compliant: the company is doing what the government wants, and for which it provides a relief.

Both statements are, as far as I can tell, entirely true. It\’s just that, when calculating the tax gap in the report "The Missing Billions", our favourite retired tax accountant did not make similar adjustments. Companies using reliefs provided by the government (and thus, one would assume, doing, as above, what the government wants) were castigated for paying a lower than headline rate of tax.

Seems there\’s something of a difference between goose and gander around here, no?

Excellent! II

The Arts Council has "lost respect" from most of the bodies it helps fund as a result of a botched attempt to "shake-up" England\’s cultural institutions, an official report has found.

Wonderful, now we can abolish it, yes?

That\’s what, half a billion that we don\’t have to tax the dustmen to pay for the pleasures of the Dukes?


No, not the results here:

Babies conceived through IVF are much more likely to die at birth than those conceived naturally, the results of a new study show.

The death of babies is never to be considered excellent.

No, rather, we\’ve got a perfect example of two things: the state of science reporting and the much better state of science.

For there we\’ve got our headline, that IVF babies are more likely to die than those conceived naturally. Which isn\’t in fact what the article itself says at all.

Rather, the study looked at births conceived naturally, then those conceived naturally to women who also had one via IVF and then to those as a result of IVF from the same women.

Yes, IVF risks were higher than the first group: but much much lower than those in the third.

So, the result is that IVF, amongst those women who have had both that and conceived naturally, is much less risky than natural.

Her results also show that among women who conceived with fertility treatment but also had another child naturally, the spontaneously conceived baby was three times more likely to die than its IVF sibling.

"The adverse outcomes of assisted fertilisation that we noted compared with those in the general population could therefore be attributable to the factors leading to infertility, rather than to factors related to the reproductive technology," Dr Romundstad said.

So, zero points to the headline writer for getting the wrong end of the stick and many plus points to the researchers themselves for doing what all too few do. Looking at correlation and causation in a mature manner. Looking at babies conceived by IVF alone is never going to tell us all that much, for those created that way will of course be to people who already have problems with conception in some manner. ( We might also note that the 30% rise in risk isn\’t in fact all that large as the absolute risks are pretty low: 6 in a thousand is it? But the three times increase is indeed large.)

Spiralling off into pure speculation (as I am wont to do and as usual, on the basis of very little fact) what might explain that huge gap between natural and IVF in the same women? Well, umm, might it be the men? Some subset of IVF births are with donated eggs. Some subset are with the woman\’s own eggs but donated sperm and another with the couple\’s own of both.

OK, perhaps not the men in fact, but those natural conceptions will obviously be with the couple\’s own gametes….while a substantial portion of the IVF births will be with one or another (or both) sets donated. So the higher risk amongst the naturals comes from the very point that (some) IVF is designed to overcome. Gametes that just aren\’t up to scratch.

That Internet Watchdog

Via Iain, this.

Internet users will be protected from abusive bloggers and malicious Facebook postings under proposals to set up an independent internet watchdog, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.

The body, made up of industry representatives, would be responsible for drawing up guidelines that social networking sites, the blogosphere, website owners and search engines would be expected to follow.

The recommendation is one of several that the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee is expected to make tomorrow (Thurs) in its long-awaited report on harmful content on the internet and in video games.

Gosh, that\’s interesting, don\’t you think? Looks at how they define the industry…..blogs are apparently one of the four components.

Anyone want to take the other side of a bet that one quarter of those being paid (for of course, expenses and a per diem will obviously be paid) will be bloggers?

No, I didn\’t think so.

So they can bugger off then can\’t they?

For this is self-regulation….which means that some of the selves being regulated need to be doing the regulation, no?

How Convenient.

The Liberal Democrats\’ biggest donor, who was due to face a multimillion-pound fraud trial within weeks, is on the run.

Michael Brown, 42, who gave the Liberal Democrats £2.4million in 2005, was on bail and expected to face trial in September, charged with 18 offences relating to money laundering, theft, perverting the course of justice and other fraud-related offences.

Hmm. Now, there\’s still this matter of whether his donations to the Lib Dems were in fact legal. If they weren\’t, then they\’d have to forfeit them to the Treasury, bankrupting the party.

The Electoral Commission has put its investigation into whether they were or were not legal on ice until the outcome of this criminal case. All of which is really rather fascinating, for if he doesn\’t turn up for trial then that decision could be one ice for ever.

So, anyone else suspect the Rinka solution?

An argument against free trade

OK, so, yes, NAFTA isn\’t in fact free trade, it\’s simply freer trade than what went before. Still, this is a pretty odd argument to use about it:

In agriculture, until the recent price spikes, cheap US corn flooded Mexican markets,

Consumers eat cheaper and are thus richer. And this is bad?

Umm, no.

Last year, Tesco sold £107.2 million of books. We may think of it as a grocer, but in reality it\’s a behemoth, carrying the nation on its vast back like the turtles in Terry Pratchett\’s Discworld.

One turtle, four elephants.

My Word

We can expect the Guardian to be all over this, can\’t we? Outraged squeals from Larry Elliott, Will Hutton and yes, our own beloved Polly? No?

Look what\’s happening! A charity sells out of a productive UK business and then parks the money. No, they don\’t invest again in UK jobs, they\’re not supporting our economy, nor hard working union types. They\’re parking the money in a private investment fund. Really….private equity, hedge funds possibly. Abroad too.

No, really, they will say something about this, won\’t they? About the duty of those who benefit from the UK\’s infrastructure, about those shielded from UK taxation, about their duty to invest properly in the UK.


Weird on the Intertubes

For the last hour and a half or so all sorts of sites (including this one, the site for the hosts, the Speccie, Bishop Hill, various US sites as well) have been coming up as 503, or can\’t find, various types of "nope, you can\’t go there sonny".

Other sites (the newspapers say) have been coming up just fine.

What\’s the likely cause of this? My internet supplier having problems with its servers somewhere?