Euro MPs

There does seem to be something of a disconnect here, doesn\’t there?

But the parliament said yesterday that it saw no need for an investigation.

"As the internal auditor\’s report has not revealed any individual cases of fraud, he has not recommended referring his findings to the EU anti-fraud agency OLAF," it said in a statement.

EU and Parliament officials have tried to play down the internal audit of parliamentary assistance allowances as a dull and complicated "systems analysis".

In some countries the reaction to the point "MEPs are fiddling the expenses" will be, of course they are, they are politicians. In others it will be a little angrier, in some it will be outrage. Something of a pity that the Parliament seems to be run by those with the first attitude.

More Northern Crock Nonsense


A tiny charity based in a modest Newcastle semi, which is supposed to be the beneficiary of a £45 billion offshore fund set up by Northern Rock, has not received a penny from the bank, and may never do so.

Around half the assets of the state-owned bank are owned by Granite, a Jersey-based organisation which gets tax breaks because it is set up as a charitable trust.

It names Down\’s Syndrome North East (DSNE) as its beneficiary. However, until recently, the small charity was unaware of Granite\’s existence and, while the off-shore trust made billions through its links to Northern Rock, DSNE, which is run by parent volunteers from their homes, raised just £76,000 in 2006.

Yes, OK, so if when Granite is wound up there is a profit in there, ten the DSNE will get it. If there\’s a loss they won\’t get hit with it. In the interim, while we wait to find out,. it makes no damn difference to them. So?

You know, I have a feeling that this whole thing is based upon the sayings of this man. The last couple of days of very dodgy reporting across all of the papers about Granite, what it means, the risks to taxpayers (none) and so on.

Something of a pity that the whole country is dancing to the tune of a man who appears to have his head firmly inserted fundamentally.


Thousands of lives a year could be saved by a small rise in alcohol prices, doctors\’ leaders said yesterday as they put more pressure on Gordon Brown to tackle Britain\’s binge-drinking "epidemic".

More than a quarter of all drink-related deaths could be prevented by a 10 per cent rise in taxes on beer, wine and spirits, the British Medical Association (BMA) claimed.

You know, that really would be rather surprising.

Sir Charles George, the chairman of the BMA science and education board, said a 10 per cent rise would prevent 29 per cent of alcohol-related deaths in men and 27 per cent in women.

Are we to assume there that a 10% rise in tax (say, a 6 or 7 % rise in final price) will cut consumption by some 28%? That would make alcohol demand amazingly responsive to changes in price. An extremely elastic response.

Does anyone actually know what the elasticity of demand of alcohol is? Have there been any economic studies on this? Or is the BMA talking out of its arse?

Update: Looking here:

For example, a price elasticity of alcohol demand of -0.5 means that a 1-percent increase in price would reduce alcohol consumption by 0.5 percent (or a 10-percent increase in price would reduce consumption by 5 percent). An extensive review of the economic literature on alcohol demand concluded that based on studies using aggregate data (i.e., data that report the amount of alcohol consumed by large groups of people), the price elasticities of demand for beer, wine, and distilled spirits are -0.3, -1.0, and -1.5, respectively

So a 10% rise in price would reduce consumption of beer by 3%, wine by 10% and spirits by 15%. Is that enough to reduce the medical impact by 28%?

Or here, more specifically the elasticity of demand amongst young people:

The finding that drinking by young adults can be considered an addictive behavior has important implications for the effects of price on alcohol consumption. For example, when Grossman and colleagues (1998) used models that ignored the addictive aspects of alcohol consumption to analyze their data, they estimated an average price elasticity of alcohol demand of -0.29.

That is, a 10% rise in prices will reduce consumption in the age group by 2.9%….you don\’t think the BMA has got a little confused do you? Multiplied the effect by 10? Or forgotten to tell us that it\’s a 100% rise in tax that will reduce the effects by 28%?

Or Table 2.1 here. A meta-study of the research.

A summary of the own price elasticity, qp η , information — reported in absolute value
form — is presented in Table 2.1. Estimates are reported for 18 countries, and there are 46 beer
own-price elasticity estimates, bb η , 54 wine own price elasticity estimates, ww η , and 50 spirits
own-price elasticity estimates, ss η . The bb η estimates ranged from highly inelastic (0.09) to
elastic (1.20), with a mean bb η of 0.38. For the ww η the range of estimated values was slightly
greater; (0.05) to (1.80), ww η = 0.77. While the ss η estimates showed the greatest variation,
ranging from; (0.10) to (2.00), ss η = 0.70. The ww η estimate and the ss η estimate appear quite
similar, and statistical tests — details of which are given in Appendix II — indicate the ww η and
the ss η are not statistically different. Using the same approach, it is possible to conclude the
bb η is statistically different to both the ww η and the ss η .
Frequency distributions for the bb η , the ww η , and the ss η are presented in Figures 2.1,
2.2, and 2.3 and the plots clearly show the majority of estimates to be less than one. In
particular, 93 percent of the bb η estimates, 69 percent of the ww η estimates, and 80 percent of
the ss η estimates are less than one. Based on this result, it might seem reasonable to generalise
and conclude: The demand for all alcoholic beverages is inelastic, and beer is the most
inelastic beverage category.

If the price elasticity of alcohol is less than one, ie inelastic, then the BMA results are higly improbable (ie, what I really mean to say is that they\’re speaking out of their arses). A 10% rise in taxation, a 6 or 7 % rise in total price, will lead to a less than 6 or 7% drop in consumption, meaning that, well, at least I think it means that, there\’s no way that there can be a 28% drop in the medical effects of it.




What\’s Wrong With American Newspapers

This John McCain thing, he and the lobbyist. Read this in The New Republic if you\’d like to know what\’s wrong with the American newspaper industry.

Layer upon layer of bureaucracy, months of dithering about whether to publish a story or not.

At the end of it, after all of this carefulness, we still don\’t know either whether he boffed the bird or even whether the reporters think he boffed the bird.

C\’mon guys, get with the program. A little more news and a little less navel gazing please?

I thought this was superb:

She had spent just six months at the Times and recorded only four bylines before accepting an offer to return to her former employer as an editor overseeing the Post\’s accountability coverage of money and politics.

Writing four pieces in 6 months is the workload? Shit, sign me up for that!

Makes me think that there is money to be made in the US newspaper industry. Hack the number of hacks back to something more reasonable, where those employed to deploy words do so, ooooh, now let\’s not be too harsh, say every other day? Better than having someone employed , the justification for said employment being their ability to make words on the screen, putting said words on the screen once every 6 weeks, no?

Emigration Logic


One thing will be mentioned more than any other: that unchecked immigration over the past decade is creating a country many Britons no longer feel comfortable in.

I don\’t like living where it is 10% foreigners so I\’ll go and live where it\’s 95 % foreigners.

Not really compelling logic, is it?





Gordon Brown was last night accused of losing control of Northern Rock after it emerged that the bank\’s best mortgages have been sold on to a little-known offshore company based in the Channel Islands.

Under an agreement entered into by the previous Rock board, control over more than £47 billion of the bank\’s prime mortgages was passed to Granite, a separate offshore company backed by City investors.

The Granite securitisation has been public knowledge for months and common knowledge in the City all along.

MEP Expenses


"We want reform but we cannot make this report available to the public if we want people to vote in the European elections next year," said a source close to the decision.

Only Euro-MPs on the parliament\’s budget control committee are allowed to see the report.

To do so, they must apply to enter a "secret room", protected by biometric locks and security guards. They may not take notes and must sign a confidentiality agreement.

Last night, after an emergency meeting of senior officials including Mr Rømer and Mr Pöttering, triggered by The Daily Telegraph\’s investigation, a spokesman for the parliament denied a cover-up.

"The document is not secret. It is confidential," he said. "It can be read by Euro-MPs on the budget control committee, in the secret room but not generally. That is not the same as a secret document nobody can read."

Let me translate that first sentence for you. We cannot allow this report to be available to the public if we want people to vote for us in the European elections next year.

UKIP. you know it makes sense.

What a Surprise!

Britain\’s biggest supermarket is urging the Government o introduce new laws to ban the sale of cut-price alcohol amid growing concern over the level of drink-fuelled crime and disorder.

Bollocks. Alcohol is used as a loss-leader. Stop people from competing on the price of alcohol and supermarket profits will go up: and consumerbenefits go down. This is a markedly pro-capitalist and anti-consumer measure.

Lordy, Lordy

Via, we get this, which leads to this.


Yup, the only reason a white woman might have married a black African was because of the Commies.

And Barack? Damn, he knew a known Commie!

Jebus people. please calm down. There\’s good things about his candidature (he\’s not Hillary) and bad things (he\’s a feel good liberal selling vapourware) but please, can we at least stay within the bounds of rationality in discussing him?

Good grief, soon we\’ll get to the point that I, who has indeed shared a bed with someone not of the same skin pigmentation, who has known and met all sorts of Commies (including, Gasp! North Koreans!) should be thought of not as the Classical Liberal I am, but as a Commie plant.

The Manchurian Timmeh perhaps.

Waitron Unit of the Year Award

Via, this:


There isn\’t a waiter alive who hasn\’t wanted to do that to one customer or another.

Yes, it\’s terribly naughty, tsk, tsk, but if there really were a Waitron Unit of the Year Award, one where the electoral college were composed only of those with at least five years\’ experience beneath the tray (people, like, say, me), then that would be the runaway winner for 2008 and it\’s not even the end of February yet.

Why Learn Maths?

Brian Micklethwait asks:

But what about the kind of maths that really is maths, as opposed to mere arithmetic, with lots of complicated sorts of squiggles? What about infinite series, irrational numbers, non-Euclidian geometry, that kind of thing? I, sort of, vaguely, know that such things have all manner of practical and technological applications. But what are they? What practical use is the kind of maths you do at university? I hit my maths ceiling with a loud bump at school, half way through doing A levels and just when all the truly mathematical stuff got seriously started, and I never learned much even about what the practical uses of it all were, let alone how to do it.

I also get that maths has huge aesthetic appeal, and that it is worth studying and experiencing for the pure fun and the pure beauty of it all, just like the symphonies of Beethoven or the plays of Euripides.

But what are its real world applications? Please note that I am not asking how to teach maths, although I cannot of course stop people who want to comment about that doing so, and although I am interested in that also. No, here, I am specifically asking: why learn maths?


I would split the subject into two. For past a certain level, it most certainly is two entirely different disciplines. The first is pure maths. For those who like it (most definitely a subset of the population) it\’s glorious, beautiful, engaging, even thrilling. It\’s also a description of the universe as it ought to be. Any connection between results and the real world is entirely coincidental: pure mathematicians are the original "yes, that\’s all very well in practice, but is it true in theory?" people. Once you climb into the higher realms (well past A levels) the value is like that of poetry. That\’s not to say that more practically useful things don\’t come from it, of course they do, but it\’s not done for its practicality nor will anyone attempting to do it for its practicality do very well at it. 

Statistics rather reverses this. Looking at it in one way it\’s rather like, yes, well, this is all very well in theory but is it true in practice? We go out and gather real world information and then examine it to see what it tells us. While we might think that x happens because of y, we actually want to find out whether that is true. Or does y happen because of x? Or do they both happen because of a? Or are they simply correlated rather than caused by any of them? And many statistical tests are designed to work out how important our result is.

There\’s two things that statistics are extremely useful for. The first is to teach you how to gamble: that\’s the root of the whole subject anyway. Seriously, it really started with people trying to work out how to win at cards and dice. Things like the Fibonacci series, which explains things as varied as the placing of petals on a flower and possibly the curling of a wave, also explain the liklihood of throwing a 4, 5 or any other number with a pair of dice. From that we derive ! and so on.

But the second thing it\’s extremely useful for is politics. The standard intro by some pantywaist who wants to steal your liberty, livelihood and freedoms is "research has shown that….". Statistics enables you to evaluate whether research actually has shown (the death rate from Ebola is 80% so yes, clamping down on movements and civil liberties during an outbreak can be justified) or not shown ("the part time pay gap for women is 40%", no, it isn\’t, that\’s comparing the wages per hour of part time women against full time men. Comparing part time women against part time men gives us 11%.) the point that the speaker is trying to make.

Which of the two you are good at, which you prefer doing, largely depends upon your mindset at the beginning. I\’m not very good at either, but I do struggle to understand the statistics side as well as I can for defending those liberties, livelihoods and freedoms from those who would steal them on spurious grounds seems to me rather important.

Damning Statistic

An island rich in raw materials and with no shortage of trading partners despite a 45- year-old US embargo now produces less than half as much food as in 1959…

The triumphs of socialist agriculture, eh?