August 2008

Susan Hill

Who is this Susan Hill character?

The novelist Susan Hill wrote passionately about this in a recent blog. "A recession," she writes, "will sort out the kids who have been brought up to think you not only have to have a new pair of trainers, you have to have the designer brand costing £200, and next month their upgrade."

She goes on to say: "We will be made to learn all over again that not only do we not need 5,000 models of mobile phone with bells and whistles, we do not need 5,000 brands of shampoo, toothpaste, washing powder, dog food. This is where the real waste of the world\’s resources starts to bite."

On the trainers, sure, recessions tend to reduce conspicuous (even Veblenesque) consumption.

But what\’s this about 5,000 types of toothpaste? In terms of the use of the Earth\’s resources it really doesn\’t matter whether 60 million people all use one brand of toothpaste or whether 5,000 brands are used by 120,000 people each.

So what\’s she on about?

Black Dog

Lifting stories again without attribution.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage is all The Guardian\’s Polly Toynbee despises: a Right-wing, chauvinistic Little Englander.

So she\’ll choke on her muesli to discover this year\’s UKIP rally in Bournemouth is sponsored by the British Humanist Association of which she\’s president. Dog is relishing the Polly and Nigel seaside love-in.

Vindico spotted it first of course.

Also worth getting the description of Nigel correct. Not "Little Englander" but "Great Briton". Rather more classically liberal than right-wing and it\’s odd to see someone with a German wife described as chauvinistic.

But at least they spelt his name right, yes?

A bit weird

So house prices are going down, hundreds of thousands sit around unsold.

Moreover, with housing supply a continuing issue, we can scarcely afford to let the house building industry, already severely in debt and landed with thousands of unsold houses for which there are no sign of buyers, sink into bankruptcy. Without a functioning building industry, there is little chance of the three million new homes we so desperately need being delivered. Getting first-time buyers back into the market and making use of the glut of unsold stock are sensible aims.

OK, and the solution is?

But these measures, welcome as they are, will not be enough alone to revive the battered housing market, let alone the faltering UK economy. Brown must also act where he has the most leverage, namely the delivery of new affordable housing. Ministers have already set aside £8bn to be spent over the next three years on building more than 100,000 social homes. This funding must be frontloaded and used in a way that gets the market moving: start building the social homes, and plenty of them, now.

The answer to a glut of supply is to increase supply?


Shameful Argument

Alasdair Palmer rather comes up with a shameful argument in his attempt to castigate the Law Lords over their rejection of the government\’s restrictions upon "sham marriages".

Firstly, he seems to have caught the "planning" bug.

About the only thing everyone agrees is that deciding the optimum level of immigration is a crucial element of public policy, and one which, in a democracy, needs to be decided by the British people.

His argument is that by planning immigration you can plan the number of people in the country and that this is an obviously desirable thing to do. Which opens all sorts of horrible cans of worms. For of course, to control population in this manner you also need to control emigration. Exit visas anyone?

Further, the number of children an immigrant has is clearly vital to such planning. The best determinant, on average, of such fertility is the female lifetime fertility of the country of origin. But this also weighs much more heavily upon women than it does men.

So such planning requires that different criteria apply to men and women from the same country and to women from countries with different fertility levels. Allowing in, (just to make up numbers) 100 Somali women, where the fertility rate is say 7 children per lifetime (I insist that these are made up numbers!) has the same effect as allowing in 700 Russian men where the fertility rate is about 1.13 or something.

It\’s in the second and third generations that immigrant fertility patterns converge with that of the indigenes.

Plan that dickhead!

Further, do we really think that this is something that can or should be planned through the democratic method?

Secondly, there are really only four areas of immigration. Economic immigration from outside the EU, familial such, asylum seekers and EU immigration. The last two vastly outweigh the first two. in impact, both short and long term. We\’ve also already signed away any rights to restrict or control those by said "democratic method".

Unless we leave the EU and certain UN treaties we cannot control them in any manner whatsoever and they are the two main drivers of our immigration.

Now I agree that I\’m in favour of human beings being able to live wherever they want but I\’m not sure how this can be combined with a welfare state: but that viewpoint doesn\’t change any of the above. Nor does it change the following argument.

At least, almost everyone agrees. One group certainly does not: our senior judges. They believe they should have the final word on this critical matter.

Four weeks ago, the Law Lords ruled that an important part of the Government\’s attempt to control immigration was an illegal violation of human rights.

Yes, quite right. The Law Lords that is.

Whether you think the original decision was a good idea or not we\’ve signed up to a number of international treaties (both UN and EU I think) which enshrine the right to marry as a human right, as a civil liberty.

The role of the law in the civil liberties field is not to protect malefactors from righteous punishment or the banning of their activities. It is, in fact, to protect us from the effects of that democratic method. From that tyranny of the majority. If marriage, whether you met 5 minutes ago, speak the same language or not, are doing it for the visa or for a decent shag (although there are some generations of experience to tell us that the hopes of that last can be forlorn), is indeed one of those civil liberties then that\’s what the judges should be protecting.

Just as they should be protecting your right to a fair trial, whether the crime you\’re accused of is rape, complex financial fraud or beating up a granny.

If we start deciding that civil liberties don\’t apply to all then they\’re not civil liberties, are they?

To ensure that marriages were genuine, the Immigration Act required that people whose only claim to legal residence was through their spouse should present themselves to the Home Office.

Officials would then decide whether or not to issue a "certificate of approval" for their marriage: no certificate of approval, no right to stay in Britain.

Mhmmmm. What a wonderful world. Rule by bureaucratic fiat, not rule by law.

Me, I\’ll take the law thank you.



Andrew Roberts

Writing about spies and Stalin\’s bomb program:

But the knowledge that the Soviets, relying on their Siberian uranium and plutonium deposits, could theoretically build an unlimited number of H (hydrogen) bombs and A (atomic) bombs, meant that such international brinkmanship would henceforth always herald the possibility of global Armageddon.

Now that is new information. Siberian plutonium deposits, eh? And there was I thinking that plutonium was a man made element, created in reactor piles by the use of Uranium in them.

That\’s certainly the way we Brits and the USians got their plutonium so the Soviets really were very lucky to have it just lying around, weren\’t they?

Understanding John McCain

Been reading some of the American political blogs about McCain and the Sarah Palin choice (OK, yes, I too have made the VPILF joke).

There\’s something that none of them seem to get at all. Go back and read Tom Wolfe\’s "The Right Stuff".

There\’s one group of people on this planet that even the most hot dog of fighter pilots will offer a (however grudging) passing admiration for. Naval aviators. Those who have done the scariest (see Tom Wolfe) thing that service offers. Your first night time carrier landing.

No, I\’m not saying that this makes McCain a good pick as President, nor Palin for VP. Nor a bad set either.

But if you\’re not understanding that very strange world of naval aviators, where to even attempt the training is to (and even more so to survive it) display, to everyone who knows about such things, that you really do have cojones, balls of high grade nickel cobalt not just the steel that mere jet jockeys must have,  then you\’re not going to understand McCain the man or McCain the politician.

Whether somebody apt at taking decisions on imperfect information, by hunch rather than cogitation, who apparently enjoyed proving that at risk of his life, is quite who you or I want as President is a different matter.

But I\’m jess\’ sayin\’ that Tom Wolfe described the type and I\’m surprised that more isn\’t made of it.



So Barack Obama can promise tax cuts by “the closure of corporate tax loopholes and tax havens.”

He’s right: he can.

No he can\’t.

He can close loopholes and tax havens (well, at least in theory he can) and thus raise the effective tax rates that corporations pay, thus leaving room to lower other taxes on other people. That he might be able to do.

But raising more money from one group and then less from another is not "tax cuts". That\’s a redistribution of the tax burden.


But my Dear Mr. E: why would anyone want to spin this entirely welcome news?

The more exposure to sensible political ideas that Polly and her ilk get the better, surely?

As in:

We will take 4.5 million people out of tax with a simple Flat Tax (with National Insurance) starting at £10,000.


…taking the lowest-paid out of tax altogether. That is the right move,…

See, it\’s working already!




Bugger the arties:

Who the hell cares? Art is not about ownership or geography. It is about values greater than time and space. I don\’t give a damn where a work of art is. I just care that it is. The Taj Mahal is in India (presumably) and the Mona Lisa in Paris, but I don\’t have to go and see them to enjoy the benefit of their cultural impact.

These two paintings are in no sense more artistically valid by being located in the National Gallery of Scotland than if they were sold to furnish the lobby walls of some hotel in Abu Dhabi. Indeed, I am personally more likely to bump into them there than where they are now.

It\’s not about the money: the Government could easily raise the cash by selling a big London hospital. It\’s about getting over the outdated habit of imperial rapine – the “Elginian fallacy”, if I may – that imparts meaning to the mere ownership of art.

If you want to see Diana & Actaeon, there was a perfectly good copy of it on the front page a couple of days ago. Just dig it out of the recycling bin and glue it to the fridge.

But I wouldn\’t bother – it\’s no more than a wan snapshot, caught leadenly on canvas as if by some teenage happy slapper with an iPhone, of what appears to be a poacher in very bad sandals coming upon an outdoor brothel for tubby-fanciers, and expressing his horror at the sight of a load of hefty girls with massive bums but no boobs at all – the nightmare combo.

Now there\’s a surprise

A leading General Motors executive has called for government loans of up to $50bn to help American car markers build more fuel-efficient cars.

They\’re going bust (rather in slow motion, to be sure, but they are) so they\’d like to pick he taxpayers\’ pockets.

How amazingly surprising.

No, let them go bust, let the legacy costs be wiped out and then the valuable assets will be plucked from the ruins and the US will get an efficient car manufacturing industry.

Erm, really?

Owner of an organic deli in London:

“We have customers who travel from Brighton and Oxford to shop here. There might be a few people who shop organically out of fashion, but a lot of our customers are what I call deep greens – deeply ecological people. Then there are light greens, who dip in and out, and foodies, who have become used to unprocessed food and are not going to change.”

Travelling 60 miles to pick up the salady bits is "deep green"?