Ben Goldacre Would Like This One

From a US judgement:

For the Q-Ray Ionized Bracelet, by contrast, all statements about how the product works—Q-Rays, ionization, enhancing the flow of bio-energy, and the like—are blather. Defendants might as well have said: “Beneficent creatures from the 17th Dimension use this bracelet as a beacon to locate people who need pain relief, and whisk them off to their homeworld every night to provide help in ways unknown to our science.”

$100 Oil?

Well, not quite so fast there buster:

On Wednesday, Richard Arens decided to celebrate the new year by having a bit of fun. He\’s a "local" who trades for his own account on the floor of the Nymex, and he bought exactly one crude oil contract at exactly $100 per barrel, a level roughly 50 cents higher than the prevailing price, for an immediate mark-to-market loss of something over $500. Here\’s the FT\’s Javier Blas:

Stephen Schork, a former Nymex floor trader and editor of the oil-market Schork Report, commented: "A local trader just spent about $600 in a trading loss to buy the right to tell his grandchildren he was the one who did it. Probably he is framing right now the print reflecting the trade."

The result of this New Year\’s prank?…

It is, of course, the most absolutely fabulous prank. Damn I wish I\’d thought of that.

Sorry?

Our Richard:

As if to follow up the publication of Oliver James’ new book ‘Selfish Capitalism’ (about which I wrote here), the FT has reported that:

More than half a million young Britons are officially too sick to work and claiming incapacity benefits, a higher tally than the number claiming unemployment benefit. The figure, which includes more than 300,000 young people claiming for “mental and behavioural disorders”, shows continuing high levels of worklessness among the young, in spite of 10 years of steady economic growth and a concerted attempt to move people off welfare and into work. It suggests that, far from the problem receding as former industrial workers reach pensionable age, the nation may be incubating a whole new generation of claimants.

That’s the price we pay for a sick society where we choose to leave some behind, and tell them that this is their fault by continually reinforcing their sense of failure by forcing advertising upon them that says that material consumption is the cure for all ills.

It isn’t.

But making the VAT charged on advertising irrecoverable would be a first step to redressing this issue.

You what? Advertising causes people to go on incapacity benefits?

It\’s not, perhaps, a function of the fact that incapacity benefits are higher than unemployment pay?

Antonio Nunes

Tee hee:

Portuguese smokers have been confined to the pavements since January 1, when new legislation banned smoking in many pubs and public places; so they were outraged to see a photograph of the man who had sponsored the legislation lighting up a cigar in a casino in the early hours of New Year’s Day.

António Nunes, the head of the Portuguese Food Standards Agency, who is charged with enforcing the new regulations, said that he had not realised they also applied to casinos.

They\’ve actually been very sensible here. If a bar wants to allow smoking they may: but they must have decent ventilation, proper extraction fans. Our local installed one a few days back, the man from the Ministry came around on New Year\’s Eve to sign off on it. They also have a sign in the window stating that they allow smoking, so those who do not wish to experience passive smoking know that they should look elsewhere.

Excellent in fact: the people have a choice.

Umm, You What?

Most odd:

In the essay, I argued that what is to be expected of a Conservative party, as a non-Conservative sees it, is a politics of national self-repair; the protection of a free society from itself; leadership; something more than the threadbare value system of the market; the setting of limits to corporate and financial-sector licence; the reinforcement of the ethic of citizen duty (not responsibility); crying a halt to the dismantling of public institutions; and a squaring-up to the advance of Islam.

So you\’re not a conservative, but you want to define what the conservative party should be about? And when that party, of whch you are not a member and do not support, doesn\’t act in the manner you think it ought to, you then say that party has failed you?

Aren\’t you supposed to be arguing for the policies you want in a party you do support? Or supporting a party that avows the policies you want?

Polly on the NHS

Take the productive ward scheme. The ward manager, a nurse, has reorganised everything so that colleagues spend 40% more time nursing – no longer interrupted on average 115 times a shift, with less form-filling and no more hunting for supplies.

Having a matron who is in charge of the ward. What an amazing innovation, eh? I wonder who thought of it?

The rest of it is simply how much better the NHS is than it was. Which is of course true. But nowhere does she get the point that the NHS is not as good as it could be: as evidenced by the fact that every other European nation of similar wealth has a better system because none of them use the insane centralisation of the NHS.

Told You So

This really isn\’t a surprise. People like David Pimental have been saying it for at least a decade.

Using biofuels made from corn, sugar cane and soy could have a greater environmental impact than burning fossil fuels, according to experts. Although the fuels themselves emit fewer greenhouse gases, they all have higher costs in terms of biodiversity loss and destruction of farmland.

The problems of climate change and the rising cost of oil have led to a race to develop environmentally-friendly biofuels, such as palm oil or ethanol derived from corn and sugar cane. The EU has proposed that 10% of all fuel used in transport should come from biofuels by 2020 and the emerging global market is expected to be worth billions of dollars a year.

And, as noted, the idiot politicians (the US Congress is in fact worse than the EU here, if such a thing can be believed) are insisting that such biofuels, which are worse for the environment than fossil fuels, must be used in order to protect us from the environmental effects of fossil fuels.

If you think that the politicians are going to protect us from climate change then you\’ve obviously not been paying attention.

There\’s a Simple Way To Do This

Grr:

Parents could be required to provide their children with high-speed internet access under plans being drawn up by ministers in partnership with some of the country\’s leading IT firms.

Jim Knight, the schools minister, said he is in talks with companies such as Microsoft, BT, Sky, Virgin and RM to help close the widening achievement gap between pupils from the richest and poorest families. More than one million children have no access to a computer at home.

Let\’s start from the premise that this actually is a good idea. OK, what\’s the best way of getting universal access to the web for all schoolchildren?

In an interview with the Guardian, Knight signalled that the government was putting pressure on IT firms to bring down the cost of equipment if internet connections are in effect made compulsory for nearly six million children.

Erm, no, that\’s probably not it.

I\’m rather out of date but I think you can get access for £10 a month or so? Great, add £2.50 to the child credit for every first child (we already have different amounts for first and further children, don\’t we?) and tell parents that they\’ve got to have said net access. Problem solved.

The only problem with this is that while it might be cheaper, more sensible and more efficient, it doesn\’t allow ministers to look good while sticking it to the capitalists: it also makes clear, because it has to be paid for from taxation, what the real cost is. Can\’t have that now, can we? People actually knowing what the cost of something is?

Really?

You sure?

Andrey Illarionov, a market reformer and Putin\’s economic advisor until his resignation two years ago, alleged that the Russian government\’s £75 billion Stabilisation Fund, created in 2004 to cushion the budget from a fall in oil prices, was being exploited by members of the ruling elite for their personal benefit.

He gave no details of how this allegedly occurred.

"The Stabilisation Fund, in the form in which it was created in which monies were accumulated, has ceased to exist. It has died. This is now a fund for increasing the personal wealth of specific individuals," he claimed in a radio interview.

Now that is a surprise!  Politicians get to control $ hundreds of billions and some lines their pockets?

Slap me down with a wet kipper.

Sigh.

A town\’s Olympic-style flame is to be replaced by a lightbulb because of the enormous gas bills and the carbon emissions it gives off.

The 15ft high Eternal Flame was a gift to Bournemouth, Dorset, from its local churches to mark the Millennium.

Burning continuously, it provided a focus for the town square – at a cost of £8,000 a year. Church officials also realised its emissions were harming the environment.

Nothing\’s too good for heroes, eh?

We\’re Killing Ourselves!

Look out for more restrictions on who can have NHS treatment: you\’ll need to have your ID card marked with the portions of fruit and vegetables you\’ve consumed each day before long.

Almost 70,000 deaths could be avoided every year if Britons followed healthy eating guidelines, a wide-ranging government report says.

However, it\’s a little difficult to take the figures on offer seriously.

The nation\’s poor diet costs the economy £10 billion, of which £7.7 billion comprises NHS treatment that could be avoided if people cut down on fatty and salty foods and ate more fresh fruit and vegetables.

There\’s a basic point about the NHS. Because it covers us all, for our lifetimes, it\’s rather difficult for us to cost it money by dying early.

Those who die prematurely would have lived for almost 10 years longer if they adhered to dietary advice, the report says.

Hmmm. Now, NHS spending per capita (from memory here, so hope I\’ve got it right) is some £1,800 a year. Pop your clogs 10 years early and the NHS thus saves £18,000 on you. And if you don\’t die of your unhealthy lifestyle, you\’re going to die of something else, something which may cost more or less than what you have got.

So while we can indeed say that the costs of treating those with these diet related diseases is £7.7 billion, when we do we\’re not actually being all that honest. For the amount saved by those 70,000 having 10 years of NHS treatment is £12 billion or so (please note, these are very rough numbers indeed, used only for comparison).

…the report says that if everybody ate healthily the economy would be £20 billion better off due to the reduced health care costs and extra years of productive life.

That\’s also a terribly suspect figure. We\’re told that it\’s 10 years of life being given up on average. The average lifespan is into the late 70s for men, early 80s for women. Whether we assume that this is before that extra 10 years or after it, those extra 10 years are all past the pensionable age. People at this time of life are not known as contributors to the economy (please note that this has nothing to do with the fact that rising lifespans are a great idea, we\’re talking solely about the financial calculations here), in fact, they\’re known as something of a drain on it. 70,000 people with another decade of the State pension is actually a cost of some £35 billion rather than a contribution to the productive side of the economy.

But don\’t worry, government policy is going to be determined by what\’s in that report, not what is actually true. Aren\’t we lucky?