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And Danny Dorling gets it good and hard

There is not much of an argument in this book against a greater reliance on additional building and thus cheaper house prices.  Dorling refers to “slum landlords and cowboy builders” and complains that not all housing for low-income groups will be of high enough quality.  But that’s more of a general complaint about the nature of poverty than a problem with the way the housing market works.  He then retreats to the claim that the mobilization of space and empty bedrooms around the country, combined with refurbishing, will solve the problem.  On any given night, he argues, most bedrooms in the country are not being slept in.

But how to redistribute this unjust largesse of sheets and pillows?  It is not as if a bureaucratic authority can scour the country for the empty bedrooms of the elderly and hand over keys to struggling young families.  Dorling repeats the incantation that housing inequality is immoral, but without much of a recipe for turning spare rooms into cheaper housing.  Refurbishment, as the author suggests, is all to the good.  But why isn’t more of that happening already?  Either regulatory forces are holding back redevelopment (a suggestion Dorling is reluctant to entertain), or landlords are waiting because it is not yet clear which kinds of investments will be best on a piece of land.  In that latter case, the law would be unwise to force the matter too quickly and, more generally, legal control could well discourage entrepreneurs from refurbishing at all.

As Tyler Cowen writes in the concluding section of the review: “You can’t write a good book which attempts to repeal the laws of economics, especially when it focuses on an economic topic.”

It’s amazing how often Dorling trips over his own ignorance of economics really.

Laurie Penny outs herself as an agent provocateur

Finally, the difficult truth is being admitted:

This week, sexist and racist trolls have borrowed the tactics of the CIA and Scotland Yard and sent in agents provocateurs to spread disharmony among online activists. Using stock photos and the stolen information of real activists, users of sites such as 4chan started hashtags including #Endfathersday and #whitescantberaped that are deliberately designed to provoke sections of the social justice left into internal arguments.

Most of these trolls have posed as women of colour, whom they call “black bitches”. Other users have falsified racist tweets from prominent feminists and leftists, and created sock-puppet accounts to make sure the fake tweets are seen and condemned. Users including Shafiqah Hudson picked up on the scam, and identified at least 200 such accounts. Someone has gone to considerable effort to pull off a swindle intended to exploit the “weaknesses” of a movement that, despite a tendency to turn on itself, is growing in strength.

In the past five years, Twitter and other social media platforms have become key sites of cultural activism. From feminism to anti-racism and transgender rights, people have used microblogging sites to make their experiences visible, share stories of injustice, organise collectively and educate themselves. Hashtags such as #solidarityisforwhitewomen, created by Mikki Kendall, and #yesallwomen, created by user @gildedspine, have been enormously effective at making sure sexism and racism, including within the left, can no longer be ignored – at least, not if you spend as much time online as the authors of this piece do.

And so Laurie Penny outs herself as one such provocateur. Obviously: no one of her privileged position and background, let alone education, could ever actually have believed any of the things she’s been saying these past few years.

Her job is, I think, akin to that of the late Tony Benn. No one who inherited one great publishing fortune and married into another could possibly have believed what Benn spouted. The job of the Second Viscount Stansgate was, therefore, to make sure that if anything even mildly socially democratic looked like gaining public support to then move the discussion into some obviously insane socialist direction which then turned everyone off the milder action. So was the grand position of inherited wealth and fourth generation MPs assured.

I’m sure there are others out there too. And I take Ms. Penny to be one in her generation.

Glad she’s finally come out as they say. The pretense was looking threadbare, not to say ridiculous, already.

Some people just don’t get it, do they?

Guardian commenter:

I’m old enough to remember Sid. I’m also old enough to wonder why anyone with half a brain would argue that the private sector is more efficient than the public sector.

From the article itself:

If Sid had been a Thames employee, chances are he would long ago have been laid off: its headcount has fallen by two-thirds.

Doing the same work with one third of the labour is being more efficient, isn’t it?

Spot on here

It’s amazing how often you refer to “bien-pensants“, I say. “Yes,” he replies with a naughty-school-boy grin. “I use it too often. It’s longer than ‘cunt’, but how do you describe them otherwise?

Rod Liddle.

What if it really is a bug that makes us fat?

Coughs, sneezes and a runny nose are not the worst a bad cold can do to you – it might also make you fat.

Scientists believe a virus behind the common cold could have fuelled the obesity epidemic that has swept the developed world. The culprit? A contagious bug called adenovirus 36.

Experts told the European Congress on Obesity in Sofia that eating and exercise habits haven’t changed enough to explain why people worldwide started piling on weight at around the same time.

There’s some who insist that heart attacks are caused by a similar virus. Or at least some of them.

And of course if it is all a virus then all that blather about sugar, animal fat and the rest is bollocks, isn’t it?

Markets, don’tcha just hate ’em?

The British screenwriter of last year’s Nelson Mandela biopic has complained that Oscar voters ignored his film because “12 Years a Slave sucked up all the guilt about black people”.

William Nicholson said he was devastated by the critical and commercial disappointment of Nelson Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, which starred Idris Elba as the South African leader.

Nicholson, 66, has been Oscar-nominated twice before, for Gladiator and Shadowlands, and said he had been certain that the Mandela biopic would be similarly successful.

How dare someone release a movie that competes with my work of art!

Some state spending is great but not all of it is

Looking back to the most successful period in British economic history, which was the mixed economy era of 1948-1979 in which the economy grew by an average of 4.5% of GDP per year and over the 32 year period the national debt was reduced from 237% of GDP to only 43%, this period of extraordinary levels of economic growth and debt reduction coincided with vast levels of state investment in infrastructure, social housing, power stations, NHS facilities, the motorway network and countless state operated enterprises. The UK has never again seen economic growth and debt repayment on this scale, ever since Thatcher initiated the neoliberal revolution in 1979 and started slashing government investment and selling off profitable state run enterprises.

Yep, great times. And government expenditure as a percentage of GDP was well under 40% from 1947 through to the late 1960s.

Today it’s 44%.

Looks like there’s another £60 to £100 billion to cut yet then, eh?

Nothing like talking your own book, is there?

As someone who draws heavily on the work of African-American scholars to inform my own teaching and research, I can only look with envy at what has been achieved in the US and wonder why, after all this time, there are still no equivalent Black Studies degree programmes and academic departments here in the UK.

In the past, universities did not feel there was a demand, need or interest in the subject but this is no longer the case. Britain’s black population is approaching 3 million and its increasing significance nationally and internationally in politics, religion, economics, science and the arts more than justifies the need for an academic discipline dedicated to researching and teaching the black experience, to UK society and the wider world.

On 15 May, a group of black scholars will meet to set up a British Black Studies Association, which will call for Black Studies degree programmes to be established. There has been a growing sense of frustration and anger among black British academics over how our communities have been treated by the British university system.

Yes, yes, the author is indeed a lecturer in these sorts of subjects and one who would rather expect to gain a chair if Black Studies were incorporated into the curriculum.

Why do you feel the need to question his objectivity on this subject?

Seumas Milne really is a national socialist, isn’t he?

No, a socialist who is a nationalist, not a National Socialist.

What began with wholesale privatisation became an international corporate free-fire zone, in which huge swaths of Britain’s industrial economy were bought or closed down. International investment by British-owned firms has long been disproportionate, but the scale of the reverse takeover has been unparalleled: in the decade before the crash, foreign ownership rose from 25% to half of national output. No other major advanced economy has allowed such a shopping spree.

Johnny Foreigner sending his capital into Britain. Shouldn’t be allowed, should it?

That’s why this deal isn’t just bad for Britain, it’s bad for the US. In both countries, as the economist Mariana Mazzucato has shown in The Entrepreneurial State, it has been governments that funded the research and development into most groundbreaking new drugs, which the private sector then developed, jacking up the profits through monopoly pricing and preferential taxation.

Mazzucato again, eh? And everyone keeps forgetting that it’s the trials that cost the money, not the research.

Not only that, but the case for publicly-owned stakes in strategic sectors such as pharmaceuticals – kept afloat by state funding and the NHS – is made much stronger by the dismal record of the tax-gaming, subsidy-gobbling private empires that control them. It would even give the public a return on its investment.

And there’s the socialism.

What both Milne and Mazzucato are too dim to understand is that we initiate government in the first place in order to gain those public goods. So, government then subsidises those public goods which is why we have it in the first place. We end up getting those public goods, that research in the universities. Excellent, government is working. That is our return on our investment: that we get the public goods that we have government to get for us.

Trying to also take some public stake would be double dipping. And the really great joy of Mazzucato’s argument is that she uses DARPA as her proof that there should be such stakes and returns on investments. And one of the reasons that DARPA works as well as it does is that it doesn’t take stakes in return for research contracts. It quite deliberately avoids doing so on the grounds that it would only complicate matters and make the subsidy to research far too complicated. Because, you know, they’re subsidising blue skies research and who the fuck knows what’s going to come out of it or what it’s value is? So, use taxpayers’ money to produce the public goods and the public gets the public goods. Excellent.

Madeleine Bunting has just rediscovered prayer

At this point I will come clean. I am one of a group of people working with three universities (Oxford, Exeter and Bangor) to support the all-party group. What interests us – academics, journalists, mindfulness teachers – is the potential for public policy. What role could mindfulness play in schools, in the NHS or in the criminal justice system?

But let’s start with definitions, which are notoriously difficult with this phenomenon. What exactly is mindfulness? Because it has precious little to do with the pretty women sitting on beaches with their eyes closed who are usually used to illustrate articles on the subject. The only way to explain is to suggest you try. Right now. Close your eyes and bring your attention into your body, to the sensation of your feet on the ground; the movements of your breath, the expansion of your rib cage. Stay with these tiny physical sensations. Patiently. Without getting cross with yourself for getting distracted. Try it for two minutes.

Unfamiliar? It is, because our minds spin with thought, and we are absent to much of our physical experience. But bringing the attention back to the most basic and essential part of living – the breath – we can slowly bring an awareness of the obsessive thought patterns and the instant reactions which on reflection we so often realise were unhelpful or even destructive.

That’s what this is: prayer. Exactly the purpose of, say, saying the rosary. To concentrate the mind on the self.

Why not just call it what it is and go off and talk to some of eh experts in it? You know, the contemplative orders?

Bit rich isn’t it?

Breakthroughs in IVF could ‘threaten our humanity’ by prompting parents to demand designer babies, Robert Winston has warned.

The fertility pioneer said that he feared a time when the rich could alter the appearance and ability of children by tinkering with their genes.

When you’re the man who more or less invented a way for the infertile rich to have children at all.

And yes, it is only the rich who can have this treatment: no one’s opening fertility clinics in Somalia now, are they?

Ah yes, capitalism is to blame

Other studies have shown that toddlers feel happier giving treats than receiving them, says Music. “Then we have evidence that adolescents asked to do a good deed once a day become less depressed. We’ve evolved to be helpful and to do things without reward. Rewards don’t make anyone happy and something very fundamental is lost when we reward for certain behaviours. We all know it, but we’ve lost sight of it as we’re suckered into the consumer ethos, the deep insistence that we need that iPhone or that new kitchen to be happy – and we fall for it again and again. Those very powerful drivers of post-industrial capitalism and mass media are brilliant at triggering those needs and, after all, you can’t sell wellbeing.”

Two year olds are the most selfcentred beings on the planet. The idea that their natural altruism is converted by capitalism is something that only a child psychiatrist could believe.

Not someone who had, you know, ever actually met a human child.

Blimey, this is a bit desperate isn’t it?

One of Britain’s top doctors has warned that children’s health is being damaged because academies and free schools are allowed to opt out of serving healthy lunches to their pupils.

Two million children at such schools are now at risk of exposure to unhealthy foods as a result of the coalition government’s divisive and “irresponsible” policy, which is undermining the fight against childhood obesity, Professor Terence Stephenson told the Observer.

Stephenson, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC) – the professional body for the UK’s 250,000 working doctors – launched a sharply worded attack on government inaction over Britons’ dangerously expanding waistlines. He also accused academies and free schools – which need not comply with the same nutrient-based standards for pupils’ lunches as grant-maintained schools – of setting young people a bad example.

“It’s damaging children’s health,” he said. “Allowing children in academies and free schools to be exposed to unhealthy choices, unhealthy foods and unhealthy diets when there’s still huge concern in this country about obesity in children is definitely a backward step. Too many schools have been allowed to withdraw from this excellent, evidence-based system,” said Stephenson, a leading paediatrician.

Seriously?

Once people have tasted power they really don’t like giving it up, do they?

Is there nothing so trivial

That some idiot won’t try to ban it?

“We need to look at why doorknobs are not suitable for disabled people,” Alan Norton, chief executive of Assist UK, an organisation that provides products and equipment to people with disablities, told The Independent.

“When you look at people with arthritis or those who have little movement of their hands, a lever is easier as you push down on it. However, automatic doors would be the better solution. I agree that we should ban doorknobs in the UK.”

Ban doorknobs? As opposed to, I dunno, setting up an organisation to aid those with arthritis or little movement of their hands to retrofit their homes. We could call it, say, Assist UK and appoint someone called Alan Norton to run it. I’m sure, in this infinite universe of universes, that there’s one where that does happen.

As I’m sure that there’s this one, where a certain Alan Norton obviously isn’t getting laid enough. Such pent up sexual frustration is the only explanation I can think of to explain the idea of banning sodding doorknobs. What next? Banning doorbells because they’re no use to the deaf?

Hmm

William Wordsworth, the 19th century romantic poet, would be “having a series of fits” about the scale of development for the countryside being allowed by “philistine” Whitehall officials, the former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion has said.

That’s the author of the following lines:

Wisdom and Spirit of the universe!
Thou Soul, that art the Eternity of thought!
And giv’st to forms and images a breath
And everlasting motion! not in vain,
By day or star-light, thus from my first dawn
Of childhood didst thou intertwine for me
The passions that build up our human soul;
Not with the mean and vulgar works of Man;
But with high objects, with enduring things,
With life and nature; purifying thus
The elements of feeling and of thought,
And sanctifying by such discipline
Both pain and fear,—until we recognise
A grandeur in the beatings of the heart.
He’d be angry that people get a place to live in, would he?
Diddums.

Ignorant stupidity from Oxfam again

Yes, yes, it’s a lovely statistic but it’s a completely moronic one to be using:

says Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring. “At a time when the five richest families in the UK have the same wealth as the bottom 20% of the population it is unacceptable that the poorest are paying such a heavy price.”

For the bottom 20% of the population has no wealth at all. As I’ve said before, if you’ve got a tenner and no debts then you’re richer than the bottom 20% of the country all put together. This is because it is possible to have negative net wealth: to have debts higher than your assets.

You know, like someone leaving uni with some student debt?

And this is just fatuous:

The Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest food bank network, revealed that more than 900,000 people received food parcels in 2013-14, a 163% increase on the previous year. Its figures understated the likely level of people going hungry, it said.

What? You give people food and that means that they’re now going hungry? Perhaps we should ban food parcels in order to reduce hunger then? Back here in reality we take the number of food parcels being handed out as being an indication of how much huger has been decreased.

Boo hoo, eh?

Kate Winslet, the Oscar-winning actress, has admitted she missed out on her teenage years because of her career, as she argues modern children grow up “so fast”.

How many millions did she have by the time she was 18?