Yes, I think this is Exactly Right

Alan Coren\’s writing in a nutshell:

Coren senior, a humorous writer from an early age, was a distorted prism. Shine a fact, the more trivial the better, at one side and out of the other would come a refracted rainbow of lateral thinking that would take wing on an updraught of preposterous imagination.

Those \”Safe\” Drinking Limits

This won\’t surprise those with my level of cynicism:

Guidelines on safe alcohol consumption limits that have shaped health policy in Britain for 20 years were “plucked out of the air” as an “intelligent guess”.

The Times reveals today that the recommended weekly drinking limits of 21 units of alcohol for men and 14 for women, first introduced in 1987 and still in use today, had no firm scientific basis whatsoever.

An "intelligent guess by a committee" apparently. Some truth about booze:

One found that men drinking between 21 and 30 units of alcohol a week had the lowest mortality rate in Britain. Another concluded that a man would have to drink 63 units a week, or a bottle of wine a day, to face the same risk of death as a teetotaller.

Yes, of course alcohol can be dangerous. Depending upon how the rugby goes, tonight\’s consumption could even be so. But isn\’t it lovely the way we\’ve been lied to over what is a dangerous level of consumption?

Sam Leith on Drugs

There\’s echoes here, phrases that I seem to have used in the past:

At the same time, there are strong moral arguments for their legalisation. Our whole social and economic set-up is based on the idea of the right to private property, and at the very base of that – at the very plughole of our legal system and the fountainhead of our freedoms, in the form of habeas corpus – is the ownership of your own body, and the right to do with it as you damn well choose.

But then of course it\’s not echoes of me, it\’s what anyone who was even aware of Mill would say about the subject. The argument that if we alone legalised drugs we\’d become the crack-den of Europe has merit though, something I hadn\’t thought about.

One very large problem about this though is that we\’re signed up to a UN treaty that insists we cannot legalise drugs.

Alan Coren RIP

Very sad to hear of his death. Almost certainly the finest comic writer of the generation.

For me the best stuff was the essays he did at Punch, while he was editor there. This is a book of the best of them.

From that book, this is the one that I remember the most. (You might have to fiddle about to see it. Put "Moses" into the see inside bit and it starts on page 28. Fiddle about and you can read the whole of it.)

He aready has his monument I would say.



How Nice of you Gordon

Stirring stuff, eh?

Gordon Brown has launched a desperate attempt to halt the campaign for an EU referendum with a high-risk pledge to block any further extension of Europe’s power for at least a decade.

The only slight problem is, having signed away the British veto on so many matters, they can extend their powers whatever you say. So that pledge is a little late, isn\’t it?

Country Music Lyrics

Ben Mcintyre looks at country music lyrics. Some very good ones of course, but I\’m not sure if he recognises where some of them come from:

on domestic harmony: “Get your biscuits in the oven, and your buns in the bed”;

That\’s Kinky Freidman, of the Texas Jewboys fame (he ran for Governor just recently) and author of the immortal, "They Ain\’t Making Jews Like Jesus No More".

You done stomped on my heart and mashed that sucker flat.
You just sorta, stomped on my aorta.

I think that\’s Lewis Grissom, sports writer for the Atlanta Journal Constitution for many years (and columnist). Certainly, he used a version of that as the title of a book of his: after his heart transplant actually.

But he\’s right in the major point: country lyrics are indeed "No pop musical genre is so adept at self-parody, or so skilled at wordplay and irony."


Water Trading

I have no doubt that this will have various greenies up in arms:

Global shortages of water could lead to the precious liquid being exchanged in a similar way to permission schemes used by countries for carbon dioxide, the head of one of the world’s leading exchanges said yesterday.

Craig Donohue, chief executive of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), said that water could become a commodity as droughts and demand place huge pressures on river systems and water tables.

Trading water as a commodity would, it is argued, put financial pressure on users to keep consumption down, in the same way that carbon emission trading schemes penalise the biggest polluters.

You can hear it now, can\’t you? Water is a right, it shouldn\’t be commodified….and what about the Children!

A pity that none of them will actually look at the details: it\’s a form of insurance. Farmers (and we are talking about farmers, they use most of the world\’s fresh water) can buy insurance from speculators that there won\’t be enough water to grow their crops. That\’s how it will work: no one is actually suggesting a physical trading scheme, where water is taken from British Columbia to Australia, say.

Polly on Poverty

Tee hee, very good Polly.

It was a piece of breathtaking cheek and bare-faced larceny when David Cameron pledged to "Make British poverty history" this week, stealing Gordon Brown\’s slogan and Labour\’s policy stronghold. Cameron snatched the starting day of a month of action on child poverty, run by the End Child Poverty campaign, an umbrella group of 90 children\’s charities originally assembled by Gordon Brown himself, as a counterweight against other spending demands.

Most amusing. Getting all het up about one pol stealing the policies of another….when said pol hadd just stolen several the other way around, you know, the non-doms thing and so on. Most amusing: but what\’s really wonderful is that you\’re complaining about Cameron stating that he\’s going to do what you want. Is ending poverty something that is only a valid goal when pushed by Labour? How tribal of you!

Ofsted spelled out the stark social, economic and racial divide that determines how well children do at school: low-income children are half as likely to get five good GCSEs as the well-heeled.

Gosh, I wonder, could that be something to do with the structure of the school system? Does your beloved Sweden do this better? (They do not, for those interested, spend more money.) And if they do, what is the Swedish system…..why, it\’s a voucher system!

If nothing is done it will be lethally worse by 2050, and not just among the poor. Some sensible and easy things can be done – no more advertising of rubbish food to children on TV or anywhere else,

Will that be like the current ban on TV shows? The one where the bureaucrats were so incredibly good at deciding what was good and what was rubbish that Marmite may no longer be advertised to children? Because they based their salt numbers on 100 g servings? Instead of the 3-4 g that Marmite might be served in? We\’re going to work at that level of efficiency, are we?

What is needed now is nothing less than a national culture change, embracing every aspect of life. Step back and look which nations have the fewest obesity problems. You guessed it, it\’s the Nordic countries, where social divisions are narrower.

Excellent! We\’re going to be more like the Nordics! Vouchers! No inheritance tax! No national minimum wage! No National health service! Be more like Sweden!

Both these reports and the shocking Unicef revelations on UK children suggest another way.

You remember that UNICEF report? The one that was comprehensively trashed when it came out? But, see, this is how they work: it\’s now an accepted part of the Canon, a reference point. Used as a throw away line, no one now remembers all of the qualifications that need to be added to the conclusions of the report. That, of course, is why it was written. Not to provide a dispassioned analysis, but to provide ammunition after those caveats are forgotten.

With children as the focus, universal children\’s services would need to be good enough to be appreciated by rich and poor alike. That means the best childcare and nurseries, better subsidised for all, with breakfast clubs and extended afternoon schools that really do match the activities of middle-class children.

And there\’s the real aim. All children to be placed in State podding hutches, there to be propagandised into the social democratic way. For you to raise your own, as you wish, would be doubleplusungood now, wouldn\’t it?

Something I don\’t Understand About the Federasts

Seriously, this isn\’t just a snide aside, I really don\’t understand the logic here:

This desire to move forward is partly driven by an acute awareness of the constantly changing position of Europe in the world. During the time we have be mulling over internal organisational matters, China has leapfrogged to become larger economically than a number of the bigger EU Member States. India, Brazil and others are moving fast up the inside lane.

As newly developing economies continue to grow, Europe\’s share of global economic activity will shrink. At the same time, global organisations are increasingly important in addressing the big issues – whether the WTO for trade or the UN International Panel on Climate Change.

Faced with this emerging 21st century world order, European countries have come to realise that their joint interests are best defended by being able to speak as one, with a strong united voice. Their collective weight means that they will still be able to remain very much in the game.

All of the international organisations (WTO, UN etc) work on the basis of one country one vote. So if we all get together we get one vote instead of 27. How does this increase our influence?



Oleg Gordievsky

He gets the CMG and then says:

Mr Gordievsky has been a British citizen for many years now.

"I\’m more British now than Russian," he said. "Of course, I don\’t have the subtlety and politeness which is typical of Britain."

I\’d say he\’s picked it all up perfectly there.

Recycling Chip Oil

These guys are quite right, recycling chip oil into biodiesel is a great idea. The economics and the environmental effects are absolutely nothing to do with the larger scale growing plants to make fuel: entirely different, as they\’re taking an extant waste stream and turning it into something useful.


"Green subsidies have generated a strong demand for recycled oil in Germany," explains Kelley. "A mafia is developing. They\’re stealing some of my clients – including the caterers at a major London concert hall – then selling the oil abroad."

"That\’s used oil that I could recycle locally being shipped off in tankers to another country," adds Lasica.

As we talk, a steady stream of customers pull on to the Pure Fuels forecourt. Dan, an environmentalist and carpenter from Hertfordshire, arrives on his monthly pilgrimage to fill up his Audi. He loads his boot with plastic containers, taking 200 litres of fuel to share with his friends.

How local is local then?

Seumas on Health Care

Is it too much to ask for factual accuracy in a newspaper?

UnitedHealth is the largest healthcare corporation in the US, making billions of dollars a year out of cherry-picking patients and treatments, squeezing costs and restricting benefits to 70 million Americans forced to get by in the developed world\’s only fully privatised health system.

The US does not have a fully privatised health care system, nothing like. For one thing, "privatised" means that it was once a socially provided system which was then returned to the private sector. As the US system has never been fully socially provided, "private" might have done, but "privatised" is simply incorrect.

It\’s also entirely incorrect because the US system is not fully private either. With Medicare, Medicaid, the VA and so on something like 50% of the US system is in fact socially provided. In the UK, it\’s 90%. What we have here is a difference in emphasis, not the complete divide that Milne is suggesting.

Last month, UnitedHealth agreed with insurance regulators in 36 states to pay out $20m in fines for failures in processing claims and responding to patient complaints. That follows a string of other fines over delayed payments, Medicare fraud and "cheating patients out of money" in New York State.

It\’s a different way of doing it, for sure, but then that\’s the way the US does its regulating, through the courts. It might not be the best system ever but it contrasts quite nicely with how the NHS Trusts deal with their own failures, doesn\’t it? Wasn\’t that manager in line for a £250,000 pay off for presiding over the deaths by infection of 100 or so people before the mob started to bay?

a compelling indictment of the US health system – under which 18,000 Americans die a year because they are uninsured.

Interesting number I\’ve not seen before. Anyone know where it comes from?Worth contrasting that with the 100,000 Americans a year who die because they do get medical treatment though, isn\’t it? And how many does the NHS kill?

I agree with him that the current reforms don\’t look all that good, and that recent ones have not performed as advertised: but why is it necessary to make such statements clearly not grounded in reality to try and bolster the case?

Claiming the Antarctic

These people still don\’t have the first clue, do they?

Environmental groups yesterday condemned British plans to claim sovereignty over a vast tract of the seabed off the coast of Antarctica, with Greenpeace and WWF expressing dismay that the Foreign Office was contemplating possible oil, gas and mineral exploration in the region.


Look, if no one owns it then no one can stop people from prospecting for oil and gas there. Only if there is a legal structure, a system of property rights, can access be regulated. Those who want there to be no drilling should be welcoming the fact that a government that they can influence is asserting said property rights.

Have these people no understanding of the most basic facts about Commons? That without an ownership structure, you can\’t stop people from exploiting the resource?


Boris and Damson Jam

Boris Johnson has a lovely piece about how to make damson jam: and how the EU might make it illegal for you to do so then sell it.

You can sell it to raise money for the church roof. You can sell it at the side of the road, and if all else fails I can think of worse careers. And yet there is a cloud on the horizon, at present no bigger than a man\’s hand, and it is the forthcoming review of the EU\’s 2001 directive on jams, jellies, marmalades and sweetened chestnut purees.

We all know how these reviews become consultations, and how consultations become regulations; and there is a chance that someone in Brussels may decide to bring home-made jam within the scope of the regulations — and then what? We jam-makers would be obliged to state, on oath, the exact sugar content. We might be obliged to warn that jam is a potential cause of obesity, and heaven knows what else.

It is absurd that this innocent industry should have this threat lowering over it, and it is all because of the qualified majority voting — the veto-abolishing system that will be greatly extended by the new reform treaty.

Wekk, quite, we can indeed imagine such a thing happening. This directive is, after all, the one that defines carrots as fruit (that any legal system should do such an inane thing is simply proof that said legal system is a nonsense and should be abolished but that\’s another matter).

However, looking through it, I don\’t see that it currently has any let out for home made jam. It would thus appear that it is already illegal to sell the stuff without declaring its sugar content.