August 2011

Poncey Foreign Muck

Yesterday I cooked something that rocked my world so much, I thought I\’d share it on my blog and who knows, it may become a occasional feature. Since it\’s aimed a blokes or the kitchen-impaired (like me) the kind of food I\’ll do will be quite simple and much more aimed at taste than looks.

Because I was hungry, I used the following:

1 cabbage, sliced into strips
2 small tubs of cubed bacon (available in the \”cold meats\” section of most supermarkets – Tesco and Sainsbury\’s do two small tubs in a blister pack). Scrag ends from the slicing machine at the deli or market are better.
1 onion, finely sliced
Bit of rich cheddar, grated
A pinch of coarse ground black pepper

You don\’t need oil or butter because the bacon produces prodigious amounts of fat.

Warm a pan to a low heat (I turn the gas down as low as I can) and pour in the bacon. It should start to sizzle and release the fat. As soon as there is \”enough\” oil in the pan, add the onion.

Stir occasionally until the bacon just starts to show odd bits of browning.

It\’s very important NOT to let the bacon cook too far before you start adding other ingredients, or it will become very crunchy. But if you\’ve the bigger offcuts, cook more than small cubes.

Add in the cabbage and move everything around so that the cabbage is in contact with the pan. It\’s a bit fiddly, but worth it.

Make sure that the white surfaces of the cabbage all get a bit of golden brown on them.

When the cabbage looks mostly golden,  add the cheddar to the pan. Crank the heat right up and stir for about a minute. as soon as the cheese starts to show signs of melting, take the pan off the heat (and turn the stove off!) and throw the whole shebang into a colander to drain off the fat.

Pour it straight out of the colander onto a plate, sprinkle with a pinch of pepper and tuck in. Not very pretty, but it tasted fucking epic!

Pah, I spit on Obo\’s fancy foreign muck! Cabbage\’n\’bacon, can\’t beat it.


Update: Guys, in the comments, please do go read Obo\’s original. It\’ll all make much more sense that way.

Glory be, Eoin Clarke gets one right!

Difficult to believe I know but:

The graph above shows the percentage increase in the number of NEETs by region from Q2 2010 to Q2 2011. The North East of England experienced a 21% increase while the North West suffered a 28% increase. The East of England also suffered a 21% increase in NEETs. We should draw breath there. These figures in themselves require sober reflection about the state of our economy. The abolition of EMA and the tripling of tuition fees are to these young men and women hammer blows to their life chances.
But the key finding of this research is that the South East of England and the South West of England have escaped a significant rise in their NEET problem. Of course, this is to be cheered. But why the regional disparity? Should we be concerned when one part of the UK excels while another languishes? At the very least one would hope that common agreement could be secured that the NE, NW and East of England require specially tragetted assistance to combat this problem.
So, what should we do about this?
The first thing of course is to recast the argument. What we have here is proof that the price of labour is roughly market clearing in the SE and SW and well above that market clearing price in the NE, NW and E. More specifically, the price of 16-24 year old labour.
This is similar to our optimal currency area problem: call it the optimal wage area problem. So, just as with our optimal currency are solution, that is, don\’t let your currency areas become too large so that they do in fact become a problem, we can see a solution to our optimal wage area problem. Don\’t let the wage area become too large.
And we do have too large a wage area. We have national wages for must public sector workers, we have a national minimum wage. Yet we have evidence that wages are above market clearing such in some areas and at or about them in others.
The solution therefore is not to have national wages nor national minimum wages. Shrink the size of the wage areas and vary the wages to suit local conditions.
Or, in short, abolish national pay bargaining and the national minimum wage.

More evidence that California is entirely screwed

Under AB 889, household “employers” (aka “parents”) who hire a babysitter on a Friday night will be legally obligated to pay at least minimum wage to any sitter over the age of 18 (unless it is a family member), provide a substitute caregiver every two hours to cover rest and meal breaks, in addition to workers\’ compensation coverage, overtime pay, and a meticulously calculated timecard/paycheck.

Failure to abide by any of these provisions may result in a legal cause of action against the employer (\”parents\”) including cumulative penalties, attorneys\’ fees, legal costs and expenses associated with hiring expert witnesses, an unprecedented measure of legal recourse provided no other class of workers – from agricultural laborers to garment manufacturers.\”

PJ O\’Rourke once asked when were we done? When were we finished with making laws, when had we reached the point at which we\’d done it all?

Possible to argue that California is past that point I think?

Supporter owned football clubs

Hey, go for it folks.

But those who wanted football to carry on here acted admirably quickly, and launched the new Chester FC as a \”phoenix club\”. Crucially, it\’s a mutual: owned by its supporters, who can pay a minimum of £5 a season to become active shareholders. And it is not alone: the night I watched them play, their opponents in the Evo-Stik League premier division were the fan-owned FC United Of Manchester, founded in protest against the debt-laden misrule of the Glazer family. There is also AFC Wimbledon – whose fans took similar umbrage at their old club\’s move to Milton Keynes and are now back in the Football League – and, among others, Brentford, Exeter City, Cambridge City, and good old Runcorn Linnets.

If that\’s the way you want to organise things then you go and organise things that way. Isn\’t the freedom and liberty to do your own thing a glorious possession?

As soon as it becomes law, they want government and local authorities to aggressively use the provisions of the localism bill to identify football clubs as assets of community value, thus opening the way for mutualised local ownership. More generally, they\’re pushing for a sports law that will recognise that clubs amount to much more than privately owned businesses, and toughen the regulation on who can own them.

No, fuck off. The freedom and liberty for you to do your own thing necessarily means that others have the limilar liberty and freedom to do their own thing. You don\’t get to use the law to confiscate the property of others.

There\’s homelessness and homelessness

In the 120-page study, co-authored by academics at the University of York and Heriot-Watt University, Crisis highlights figures released over the summer that show councils have reported 44,160 people accepted as homeless and placed in social housing, an increase of 10% on the previous year and the first increase in almost a decade.

Last year another 189,000 people were also placed in temporary accommodation – such as small hotels and B&Bs – to prevent them from becoming homeless, an increase of 14% on the previous year.

There\’s two directly contradictory ways of reading these numbers.

1) My word, homelessness is a really serious problem, we\’d better spend lots more money on it.

2) My word, aren\’t we doing well in dealing with homelessness?

Here\’s what most would think of as true homelessness:

In London, rough sleeping, the most visible form of homelessness, rose by 8% last year. Strikingly, more than half of the capital\’s 3,600 rough sleepers are now not British citizens: most are migrants from eastern Europe who cannot find work and, unable to get benefits or return home, are left to fend for themselves on the streets.

That\’s not, by the way, the number sleeping rough on any one night. That\’s the annual total:

3975 people slept rough at some point in London during 2010/11, an increase of 8 per cent on the previous year\’s total of 3673 and of more than a thousand since 2005/06.

Note that I\’m using the numbers that Crisis themselves report, as with the original news piece.

So, we\’ve some 225,000 people who were at risk of becoming what we would all agree is truly homeless over the year and all of those bar some few thousand (half of whom are not citizens and thus not eligible for help) are helped by the system to avoid this true homelessness.

Yes, I\’m sure we could make this system better but perhaps the first point to be made is how well the system is in fact dealing with matters. A 1% failure rate is truly miraculous for anything government run after all.

And as anyone who has ever even looked into those rough sleeping numbers knows, absent booze, drugs and mental illness there would be hardly any of that at all.

The charity says that the government needs to reverse cuts to housing benefit and invest urgently in new housing.

No, this does not follow. What does follow is that if swathes of the population cannot afford housing then the government should be trying to make housing cheaper. Making housing cheaper does not necessarily mean spending more money on housing: it implies making housing cheaper.

Which is simple enough to do, the government could just stop doing some of the things that it is already doing. Like liberalise the planning system. The right to build on a specific plot of land is the most expensive part of a house in the south after all. Reduce that cost and you\’ll reduce the cost of housing.

Lenin on Libya

It\’s quite remarkable how our Mr. Seymour manages to parrot the original Lenin:

An explanation for this can be found in the weaknesses of the revolt itself. The upsurge beginning on 17 February hinged on an alliance between middle class human rights activists and the working classes in eastern cities such as Benghazi. Rather than wilting under repression, the rebellion spread to new towns and cities. Elements of the regime, seeing the writing on the wall, began to defect. Military leaders, politicians and sections of business and academia sided with the rebels.

But the trouble was that the movement was almost emerging from nowhere. Unlike in Egypt, where a decade of activism and labour insurgency had cultivated networks of activists and trade unionists capable of outfoxing the dictatorship, Libya was not permitted a minimal space for civil society opposition. As a result, there was no institutional structure able to express this movement, no independent trade union movement, and certainly little in the way of an organised left.

Proper revolutions cannot happen without the vanguard of the proletariat being in charge: for this read Mr. Seymour and his friends.

We\’ve just had a revolution without the vanguard of the proletariat being in charge so therefore this must not be a proper revolution. Presumably we therefore need another one in which Mr. Seymour and his friends lead from the front.

However, this is very good news indeed:

Lurking behind this is racism. Libya is an African nation – however, the term \”Africans\” is used in Libya to reference the country\’s black minority.

So it isn\’t just us capitalist imperialists of pinkish hue who are racists then. Glad we\’ve got that settled.

The quality of teachers is rising

We seem to actually be hiring experts:

Benedict Garrett, a sex education teacher who used the stage name Johnny Anglais, faces being struck off the teaching register after his way of life came to light while he was working at Beal High School in Ilford, Essex.

He faced allegations at a disciplinary hearing of the General Teaching Council in Birmingham yesterday that he appeared in a trailer for the pornography channel Television X and “performed as a stripper in public place”.

Of course, the teaching profession itself, now that they\’ve found out that they\’ve got someone who actually knows how to do, want to fire him.

It\’s perhaps not politic to say so, but do we think that the quality of sex education would rise if we deliberately and specifically hired ex-prostitutes to provide it? After all, the explosion of sex worker memoirs over the past few years does seem to be telling us that even when sex is supposedly what is being demanded and sold, sex is actually a pretty trivial part of what is being bought and sold.

A useful lesson, no?

A bit of a shocker

Bloke we know here, Howard, we no longer know here.


Got bitten by a tick, died of tick disease.


One of the rickettsiae I assume.


That thin thin barrier between here and gone. Wake on Thursday, funeral Fri.


Ex-jailbird, not the brightest on the block our Howard. Kim his inamorata loved him and I liked him.


Shitty shitty fuck fuck.


Late Summer Funtime: Ragging on Ritchie

So, there\’s copious amounts of material for you to choose from on this blog, under the \”ragging on ritchie\” section.

Which are your favourite pieces?

Obviously, there\’s the Ritchie using the tax structures he himself condems as abuse. But other than that, your favourites in the comments please.

The usual twattery at Left Foot Forward

People in Scotland and Wales will want to know why their chances of accessing a life extending cancer drug are so much lower than their neighbours in England.

You have noted that Wales and Scotland do not charge rich bastards for their prescriptions? Whereas English rich bastards do have to pay for their prescriptions, thus increasing the funds available to pay for cancer drugs?

No, you haven\’t noted this? The idea that resources are limited, that there are opportunity costs to spending money in one manner, those costs being that you can\’t then spend the dosh again on something else nice?

No, apparently you haven\’t. How sad.

Certainly not letting you have control of the public coffers then matey.

Eoin Clarke\’s statistics

Once again our expert in Irish feminist history has managed to, well, I\’m not quite sure how he got it wrong here but wrong he got it:

More than 40,000 people sleep on our streets every night.

Hmm. When people actually go out and count it it seems that they come up with quite different numbers.

The Government\’s official figures for June 2010, based on snapshot street counts, show that 1,768 people were sleeping rough on any given night in England [5] with the vast majority being in London. Outside London, the largest concentrations of rough sleepers in England are found in Cornwall, 65; Herefordshire, 42; Bradford, 23; Maidstone, 27 and Peterborough and Exeter, both 21.

Only out by a factor of 20.

Just how tough is it to get a Ph.D. these days?

The Tyranny of Democracy

I come across the above phrase and others like it increasingly often these days. It is widely used in right wing libertarian commentary and increasingly openly as far as I can see and hear amongst Tories.

What it means is that democracy is at fault in imposing the wish of the majority who vote for parties who propose progressive taxation meaning that those with above average incomes pay more tax as a proprtion of their income than do those of lesser means. Since these people think all taxation is theft and say so often they consider this taxation to be tyranny.

Their solution is a simple one. They want the abolition of democracy and its replacement by rule by the market – represented by rule by wealth, of course.

Err, no, that\’s not what is meant by the tyranny of democracy.

Just to be trivial, by the definition Ritchie (for who else could it be?) gives there a flat tax with a £1 tax free allowance would qualify as progressive taxation. For the average tax rate will rise asymptotically to whatever that flat rate is as incomes rise.

How nice to see that progressive taxation does indeed mean rising average tax rates, not rising marginal rates.

But on the larger point, no, he\’s clearly and obviously wrong. For the tyranny of democracy is a phrase used to describe when the wishes of that majority, as voted by them, impose upon the minority a breach of their human rights.

That is, that there\’s a tension between the will of the majority and freedom and liberty.

An obvious example is that we all pretty much assume that given the choice the majority would vote for a return of the death penalty. Yet we have laws against this being allowed (most notably, our signing up to the Council of Europe) for the reason that the imposition of the death penalty is regarded as a breach of human rights.

There\’s certainly a majority at times for quite vile behaviour towards those simply accused of crimes: mobs attacking suspected paedophiles for example. Or you\’d have easily found a majority in favour of 10 year sentences for rioting a few weeks back. And let\’s not forget that the majority have, in various historical times and places, quite happily agreed with the persecution of, variously, Jews, homosexuals, foreigners, Catholics/Protestants (even in the same place at different times for that pairing).

No, taxation is not on a par with the Holocaust: but it is still true that there is a tension between the expressed desires of the majority at times and the basic concepts of human rights, freedom and liberty.

And it is when the will of the majority is allowed to run roughshod over those rights, those freedoms and liberties, that we refer to it as the tyranny of the majority.

Has there ever been, in a precise and exact manner, such a tension over taxation in the UK? Between the will of the majority as expressed through electoral politics and the rights of individuals?

How about this one, when Roy Jenkins imposed a retrospective 130% tax on unearned or investment income.


Good taxes bad taxes

Yet more rich peeps say \”tax me, tax me!\”.

\”I would say to Merkel that the answer to sorting out Germany\’s financial problems, our public debt, is not to bring in cuts, which will disproportionately hit poorer people, but to tax the wealthy more,\” said Lehmkuhl. \”We are always hearing about savings packages, but never tax rises. Yet tax increases are a way out of this mess. That\’s where the money is: rich people.

\”Something needs to be done to stop the gap between rich and poor getting even bigger.\”

Under his group\’s plans, the new tax would only affect individuals with more than €500,000 in capital wealth. All money over that ceiling would initially be taxed at 5% for the first two years and thereafter at 1% or more.

Last week in France Nicolas Sarkozy proposed a similar idea: a temporary tax on the very rich. This would arrive in the form of an \”exceptional contribution\” of 3% on taxable earnings for those earning above €500,000. It will probably only last until 2013.

I\’ve rather revised my opinion of the French one: looks like a clever piece of public relations more than anything else. It raises the top French tax rate to 44% on incomes over £500,000 a year or so. Offer and have accepted a very small, even trivial, rise so as to head off a possibly larger one.

The German idea is insane though. Wealth taxes are a very bad idea: where does the money come from to make new equity investments if not from wealth? And are we really sure that making rich people liquidate 10% of their portfolio over the next two years is a good idea? The BMW owning family must sell 10% of their shareholding?

Oh, and do note who is pushing that German tax:

\”None of us are in Buffett\’s or Bettencourt\’s league,\” said the founder, Dieter Lehmkuhl, a retired doctor with assets of €1.5m (£1.3m). \”We\’re a broad church – teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs. Most of our wealth is inherited. But we have more money than we need.\”

The upper middle classes are insisting that those above them should pay a lot more tax.

Ho hum.

Ritchie\’s right! It is banking shrinking the economy!

However, not in quite the manner that he thinks.

The UK economy is currently 4pc smaller than its peak in March 2008 and 2.8pc smaller than in September 2008, when Lehman Brothers collapsed and Britain\’s banking industry began its long decline.

Of the 2.8pc fall, the contraction in banking activity has accounted for one percentage point, analysis of Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures shows.

The impact banks have had on the economy is completely disproportionate to the industry\’s size. Banks account for just 5.1pc of national output, but are to blame for around 35pc of the national decline even excluding the knock-on effect of tighter credit on businesses and households.

Ritchie tells us, repeatedly as you will know, that banking is too important a part of the UK economy. It must be shrunk.

It is shrinking.

And it\’s the very fact that banking is shrinking which is responsible for a goodly part of the contraction in the size of the economy.

Amusing of course that he now whines about getting what he desired.

The glories of public sector bureaucracy

A leadership training contract tender by Durham Constabulary required firms to fill out a 38 pre-qualification questionnaire that requested 163 different pieces of information before they would even be considered for the £90,000 contract.

If they, you know, sorta relaxed the criteria about who could bid they might be able to get the work for £45,000. Because as sure as eggs is eggs this sort of nonsense gets built into the prices that the public sector gets charged.

This RFU infighting

Anyone really know what this is all about?

Francis Baron, the former chief executive of the Rugby Football Union, has called for the governing body’s acting chief executive, Martyn Thomas, and the five elected board members criticised in the Blackett report to be charged with bringing the game into disrepute.

I\’ve seen occasional pieces but not one which explains what the basic problem is.

Is it the last lot snarling at the new? Handbags in the changeover in a bureaucracy?

An old management structure not up to the expansion of money and time and interest in the game?

A few timeserving committee men promoted above their competence levels?

Anyone actually know?

The latest nonsense about booze

Figures last year suggested that binge-drinking injuries cost the NHS more than £2.7?billion a year. They showed that almost a million people a year were taken to hospital after drinking – a rise of 47 per cent since 2004.

This isn\’t actually what the figures show at all:

The big (old) news is that there were more than a million alcohol-related hospital admissions last year in the UK despite (and this is rarely mentioned) alcohol consumption having been in decline for the last eight years, and despite (this is never mentioned) Britain having the third highest alcohol taxes in the world. This is a doubling in admissions in less than a decade. A truly remarkable phenomenon, if true.

In my naïvité, I always imagined that it was doctors and nurses who decided whether a hospital admission was alcohol-related, but then I read this post at the always informative Straight Statistics, which explains that hospital admissions data are divided up according to various assumptions. For example, it is assumed that 20% of all stomach cancer admissions are alcohol-related, half of epilepsy admissions are alcohol-related and a quarter of admissions for extreme cold are alcohol-related.

These assumptions are based on individual epidemiological studies which may or may not reflect the true risks. Whether true or not, if a man goes to hospital complaining of hypertension, he will make up a quarter of an alcohol-related admission, even if he is a teetotaler. If he goes to hospital 8 times, he will have added two alcohol-related admissions to the statistics—remember, these are admissions, not different individuals. The system is called \’alcohol-attributable fractions\’ and you can read all about it here should you wish.

It\’s a bit like those lovely models the Obama Administration uses to show how effective the stimulus has been. If we assume that spending money creates jobs then we can show that having spent money we\’ve created jobs.

If we assume that x fraction of hospital visits are from booze then we can show that x fraction of hospital visits are from booze.

In neither case is anyone actually counting the cases.

How excellent!

Home ownership in the UK will slump to its lowest level since the mid-1980s over the next decade, leading to an “unprecedented crisis” in the housing market, the National Housing Federation (NHF) has warned.

Now leave aside the fact that this report comes from the builders who are looking for handouts.

The actual result is quite probably desirable. It is possible for home ownership rates to be too high.

It\’s long been known that a level of home ownership which is \”too high\” (defining \”too high\” is a bit tougher) increases the general unemployment rate.

This is because jobs tend not to pop up just where people already live. So some people need to move to where the jobs are. It isn\’t the easiest thing in the world to sell up, buy again and move. It\’s certainly more difficult to do that than it is to move out of one rental and into another.

So, labour force mobility is constrained by having too high a level of house ownership. Constraints on labour mobility lead to higher unemployment rates. More of the population living in rentals should, ceteris paribus, lead to greater potential (at least) labour mobility and thus a lower unemployment rate.

At this point we get the inevitable comment that sure, so we should build more social housing, right? And in a pure world, perhaps. Except, moving within one local housing catchment area is pretty tough, certainly more difficult than buying and selling. Moving across such boundaries is near impossible: takes years at the very least.

So whatever problems social housing fixes this isn\’t one of them.

Not quite as bad as it looks

Douglas McWilliams, the chief executive of thinktank Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) and himself a Scot, said that Scotland lacks entrepreneurship, misspends money and suffers from too much government intervention.

The country’s slow growth means that in less than 20 years it will have the same living standards as Korea, Poland and Turkey, which are rapidly catching up with Scotland. The result is that the country will be “merely a third world tourist destination” by 2030, said Mr McWilliams.

He\’s not actually saying that Scotland is going to get poorer, rather, that other places are going to grow faster and thus catch up.

And a government heavy, reliant upon the English dole, system seems a good way of doing that.

Think of it this way: it\’ll be a reduction in global inequality. Makes it much more acceptable, doesn\’t it?