England 14, France 9

I agree, obviously, that all of creation should celebrate this, that plants should spurt with growth, that the very heavens should reflect that God is indeed there and that all is right with his creation.

Might I ask a small favour though? (And I do not believe that I am the only one who will be doing so this morning….)

Could we just change the volume and pitch controls on that very creation?

The sun is that tad too bright and the birdsong just a little too loud this morning. Yes, yes, Hosannas are all very well, justified, but can they not be sung quietly?


Now Here\’s an Interesting Argument

OK, so we want to talk about inequality and possible responses to it. Sure, OK:

I might add that serious egalitarian-oriented health care reform — if indeed it succeeded — would significantly lower the case for greater progressivity of taxation.

Aha! So, if we\’re really interested in equality of outcome (which is what at least part of the argument about redistributive or progressive taxation is about) and we move 10% of the economy into an egalitarian form (bear with me, 10% is roughly right for that part of the economy in the UK which is the health sector) then we have to worry less about the equality of the other 90%. If we move another 5 or 10% (whatever it is for education, say) into such a state funded egalitarian form then we need to worry less about the inequity in what remains.

In fact, as we move anything from a grossly inegalitarian distribution into a more egalitarian one, we need to worry less about the inequitable distribution of those parts of life which are left distributed so.

So, over the past couple of hundred of years, we have seen a huge decrease in the inequality of many things. Of caloric intake, of height, of protein intake, of leisure time, of length of life, of the survival of children, of housing, of clothing, literacy, numeracy: in fact, in just about everything that is actually important to a human life well lived.

We may well have Victorian levels of inequality in income distribution (we don\’t, but people like to say so) or of wealth (ditto) but we absolutely and most certainly do not have such inequalities in all of the things which actually matter.

Which really rather leads me to the conclusion that we shouldn\’t worry about income inequality as much as we do. Because it\’s simply a trivial vestige of the much greater inequalities of the past.

Investment? Pah!

Grr, Grr. This really does annoy me, the pabulum we are feed about "investment" in the arts:

Government investment in the arts is to be boosted over the next three years, with the announcement yesterday of an extra £50 millon for Arts Council England by 2011. The funding body’s grant will rise from £417 million this year to £467 million in 2010-11.

It\’s not bloody investment, it\’s current spending. Furthermore, it\’s not sensible current spending. It\’s the bribe that the Statists pay to the luvvies and artsy types to keep such opinion formers onside, keep them supporting the State that feeds them.

This though is even more wankeriffic:

Simon Thurley, its chief executive, said: “What they seem to have said is that the Government’s priority is museums and the Arts Council.

“Yet we know that heritage is virtually the nation’s favourite hobby. Many more people visit heritage sites than museums and galleries or football matches, yet it’s starved of funds.”

If you get more people than visit football matches, why not try charging these people for what they obviously want to see? Like, err, football matches do?

The argument that you get lots of punters isn\’t an argument in favour of more subsidy: it\’s an argument in favour of less, moron!

Darian Leader

Gosh, what a surprise!

It looks like good news. In an era where psychological problems are increasingly explained in terms of biological deficits, the government has announced that it will spend £170m by 2010 on talking therapies for depression and anxiety. The scheme should pay for itself as better mental health will mean fewer sick days and benefits – £170m isn\’t much compared with an annual £12bn cost to the economy. But will it really help?

The answer, sadly, is negative. Talking therapy means not psychotherapy, but cognitive behavioural therapies (CBTs). These aim at the removal of symptoms and the return to work of sufferers, who will have learned to identify and manage patterns of undesirable behaviour. However, clinicians know that patients are likely to be back on a waiting list within a year to 18 months. Their underlying problems will not have been resolved, resulting in new symptoms or the return of old ones.

More money is to be spent on mental health problems. Does this toiler in the fields of mental health welcome this? No, of course not. It\’s being spent on the wrong kind of mental health treatments. That is, the sort that he does not do, that he will not profit from.

Yes, really, someone at the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research thinks that the mental health budget should be spent on Freudian Analysis. Shocker, eh?

Sex Blogging

Rootling around the web for examples to put into this directory of sex blogs I find that this is certainly true:

All sex is bad sex in fiction; wise writers leave us at the bedroom door. AS Byatt once pouted, "I do sex very well because I don\’t do it at any great length" – and Bronte, Austen and Tolstoy all left us at the door. Now I admire Norman Mailer but I don\’t want to put my hand down his trousers: not in life, and not in fiction.

There\’s not much really good writing out there on the subject, certainly not in the way that political, or economic, or food, or sports blogging throws up some excellent pieces and writers.

Hymns and Whatnots

Damian Thompson * is very good today on the appalling quality of much new Catholic religious music.

Last month, Pope Benedict XVI gave Catholics everywhere the right to ask their priests to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass, in effect suppressed 40 years ago.

Liberal bishops were aghast. The "director of liturgy" for the diocese of Portsmouth, Paul Inwood, prepared a set of guidelines for parishes (since withdrawn following a storm of protest) that totally misrepresented the Pope\’s wishes by suggesting that most Catholics were not entitled to request the older form of Mass.

Also, Inwood insisted that priests coming into the diocese to say the old form of Mass would need child protection clearance. Eh? What a weird thing to say.

Anyway, I Googled Paul Inwood and discovered that he is not only a layman, but also a successful composer of trendy Masses.

I listened to the extracts on his website and, as Victor Lewis-Smith would say, sent for my Turkish slippers: this is music to make your toes curl. (One of the numbers is called Alleluia Ch-Ch, the "Ch-Ch" being a sort of noise you make with your mouth or a tambourine.)

The music of Inwood and other "contemporary" Catholic composers sounds like nothing else on earth.

This isn\’t a new thing though. Most of the decent hymns (with some exceptions for pre-Reformation stuff) in English come from the Anglican or Protestant churches: most especially the Methodist one. There certainly was (being very out of touch with Church matters I don\’t know whether there still is) a reluctance on the part of the Catholic church to use these hymns, and so we were all left with whatever scrag ends had been stitched together by the adherents of what is, after all, a minority religion over the past century and a bit since Catholic Emancipation. So not many people over not much time writing songs gave us not many good ones.

As I say, a something of a long standing problem.

* Looking at Thompson\’s photo I have a vague suspicion that I know where he went to school and who with. Me, Briffa and Jonathan Petre…and the drummer from Echo and the Bunnymen.


Marriage and Tax


In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Andy Burnham, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, says there is a “moral case” for promoting the traditional family through the tax system. “I think marriage is best for kids,” he says. “It’s not wrong that the tax system should recognise commitment and marriage.”

Well, yes it is actually. The tax system should be indifferent to whether people have made a promise to the Sky Pilot or not. What you\’re actually saying is that you\’ve noted that such tax breaks are popular. This is known as populism.

La Polla Again!


Holding down public sector pay rises to 2% for three years, only half next year\’s expected private sector increase, will increase inequality.

How so? As public sector pay is, on average, higher per hour than private, holding down public sector pay will reduce inequality, surely?

Private equity types laughed all the way to their merchant banks, having expected a much higher tax than 18%. They still pay less than their cleaners.

Again, hunh? The rich pay more tax than the poor. So she must mean they pay a lower rate: hmm……how many of these cleaners pay any CGT? So their rate is zero, is it not?

Al Gore and Climate Change

In defending Al Gore and his apocalyptic vision of climate change Mark Lynas makes the following statement:

Hence the need to move the debate from science and towards precaution. It is now very likely that global warming this century will present major challenges to the survival of human civilisation – and to our children\’s and grandchildren\’s lives. If we listen to the deniers, we are taking a very dangerous gamble – a bit like playing Russian roulette with five bullets and only one empty chamber. That\’s not a game I want to play with my kids.

But this is exactly the point at issue: global warming in this current century will not present major challenges to the survival of human civilisation. Thus, actions based on this premise are unwarranted.

If we are to believe the most extreme of the serious analyses (The Stern Review) then climate change will cost 20% of GDP in 2100. And that\’s throwing everything including the kitchen sink in there. And that\’s 20% off an economy that will be 3 times larger than it is now.

This isn\’t the end of civilisation, this is civilisation being not quite as good as it could be. Reactions to this situation should therefore be proportionate, not the emergency crash program which the end of civilisation might require.

Cement and CO2

I do wonder about The Guardian sometimes.

There were no climate change protesters waiting to jeer as the chief executives and other senior figures of one of the world\’s biggest industries gathered on Wednesday. Yet they represented a business that produces more than 5% of mankind\’s carbon dioxide emissions. And they were in Brussels to discuss climate change.

The summit was not called by the aviation industry – that is comparatively clean in comparison. Nor was it made up of car makers, oil companies, shipping firms or any other business that has traditionally drawn the fire of green campaigners.

These chief executives deal in a more down-to-earth commodity: cement. It is the key ingredient in concrete, and one that is rapidly emerging as a major obstacle on the world\’s path to a low-carbon economy.

Anyone who has read anything at all of the IPCC studies will know that cement is a major source of CO2. And given the way chemistry works in this universe there\’s not going to be any non-emittive process either.

Anywy, tucked away is this assertion:

The booming Chinese economy has created such a demand for building materials that cement production there last year released 540,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide – just short of Britain\’s total output from all sources.

Sorry? We\’re producing half a million tonnes? Really, that should have leapt out at the journo and the subs. Anyone writing anything at all on this subject should have an eye for at least orders of magnitude. Per capita CO2 emissions are several tonnes per person in the rich countries….so half a million tonnes must be the emissions of less that half a million people, not of 60 million.

Here\’s the Defra figures. If you download one of the spreadsheets you\’ll see that they\’ve got the digits correct…there just aren\’t enough of them. The numbers are reported in thousands of tonnes, not in tonnes.

It\’s a simple enough mistake, but it\’s still not good enough. I don\’t mind people making mistakes (I do so often enough myself) but you should at least be numerate enough to spot when numbers are out by three orders of magnitude. It\’s called knowing your subject, isn\’t it?

Things I Didn\’t Know About Greece Before I Came Here

Back in Athens, every cabbie is an ex-sailor, and he makes sure you find out all about it.


There are a lot more blondes here than I expected. Strangely, it\’s one of those genetic oddities that only seems to affect the female of the species.

Looking down at Athens from the top of a hill (from St Giorgios) my first thought was that this is Los Angeles: specifically the San Fernando Valley. Swathes, mile upon mile, of indistinguishable suburbs, with mountains poking through. Bet it\’s got the same temperature inversion as well, creating and trapping the smog.

The Acropolis is really high. What in Western Europe would have been the location of the castle was here dedicated to the Temple. Says something, not sure what.

There is something truly stunning about a woman with the black, black hair here (those without the strange blondness above), the tanned, olive, skin and a pair of bright, bright, blue or green eyes peering out. A reminder of all those Vikings (ie Normans), Franks and the rest who ruled this place for a few hundred years (c.1200 to 1500).

Tony Benn on the Post Office

We are told the Post Office loses money – but so do the police, and if we are going to follow this neoliberal doctrine, what about establishing low-cost private police forces, to challenge the "police monopoly"? This is a big, big issue, and it is a test of our society as to whether we are to organise everything to make a profit, or see that needs are met.

If the Post Office is to be run on a competitive basis, it could charge pounds and not pennies to deliver in the Orkneys and Shetlands, and make those who depend on braille pay the huge charges that the heavy material would attract on a commercial basis.

Well, yes, quite.

Might be the first time I\’ve agreed with the Second Viscount Stansgate. Excellent ideas all: let\’s put them into practice, shall we?

Airport Blogging

Very strange the way these Portugees work. Most odd.

You see, they have this system whereby if you would like to smoke a cigarette while waiting for a plane, there\’s an area set aside for you to do so.

If you would prefer not to be surrounded by such noxious fumes, the rest of the airport is free of them.

Interesting idea, ain\’t it? Wonder if such choice, liberty and freedom might catch on elsewhere?

Praising Castro

There\’s a word for people like this:

Whatever one thinks of Fidel Castro, he is one of the few men who have known the glory to enter history and legend in their own lifetime. He is the last "superstar" of international politics. He belongs to the generation of mythical insurrectionists – Nelson Mandela, Ho Chi Minh, Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Che Guevara, Carlos Marighela, Camilo Torres, Mehdi Ben Barka – who after the second world war launched into political action with the hope of changing an unequal world. This was a generation that thought that communism promised a radiant future, and that injustice, racism and poverty could be eradicated in less than a decade.

Ah, yes, that\’s it. Idiots.