The Great Blogging Divide

Is it just me?

Or are there very few leftie blogs commenting upon the data screw up?

It could of course be my own bias, that I\’m not noting people who are commenting upon it. Or it could be that it\’s the anti-Statist glee of the right that makes them comment more noticably.

But scrolling through my RSS this morning, there doesn\’t seem to be all that much from the left commenting.

Update. Well, there\’s this by Unity.

Rather overtaken by events in that it wasn\’t some junior idiot breaching protocols. It was a junior following protocols and having his actions signed off by more senior management. That is, it was the protocols at fault.

Mr. Clewley Speaks Out!

Somebody needs to tell the complete and utter fucking lobotomised morons that somehow came to be running this country that sheer breathtakingly reckless incompetence is only funny if it\’s done in a charming black and white film, nobody actually gets hurt and, and it\’s by people who are only pretending to be that stupid. And I don\’t care if Brown and Darling\’s methadone scrips were in the same package as the lost CDs

Great Climate Change News!

I admit that I sometimes come across as someone who simply says do nothing about climate change. However, the reality is a little more nuanced than that. Doing the things which clearly and obviously make the world better should clearly and obviously be done. It\’s in hte definitions of "better" that we usually find the problems. However, here\’s a clear example of something which does indeed make it better.

After a three-year effort and untold quantities of water, Chinese firefighters have extinguished a fire that had been burning underground in a coalmine for more than 50 years.

The blaze had consumed as much as 12.5 million tonnes of coal as it raged unchecked beneath the surface and spewed out more than 70,000 tonnes of toxic gases annually since the 1950s.

Firefighters finally beat the fire by boring into the coal seam and flooding it with water and slurry. They then capped the mine shafts to starve the flames of oxygen. As well as staving off further environmental damage, they have saved more than 651 million tonnes of coal, which will be mined to fuel the Chinese economic and industrial juggernaut.

We can argue about whether the coal being used to fuel the economy is a good idea or not but for it to be burning, spewing out CO2 without fueling the economy is clearly wasteful. Very much so in fact:

Thousands of underground coalmine fires are believed to cover an area of 720sq km (280sq miles) in China. They consume as much as 20 million tonnes of high-quality coal and another 200 million tonnes of coal storage each year.

Damage to the environment is as troubling as the economic losses. Scientists believe that the underground fires may produce as much carbon dioxide as about 1 per cent of the total burnt as fossil fuels, although estimates vary.

Some scientists say that the fires could release as much as 360 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — as much as all the cars and light lorries in the United States.

Now let\’s believe those figures for a moment. Let\’s also assume that we\’re trying to design some form of carbon tax or cap and trade system to reuce Co2 emissions. We\’ve got one source here, underground coal fires in China (often a natural process in fact) which is 1% of total fossil fuel emissions. That makes it, I think, something like 0.2 to 0.25 % of all emissions. Clearly, such a large source, we\’d like to bring it into our scheme.

Umm, but how?

There\’s no one we can tax for allowing it to happen. There\’s no one we can tax for failing to stop it happening. There\’s no one we can insist gets a permit for allowing it to happen. And if we allow people to issue permits for having stopped it then what\’s to say that someone won\’t start another to be able to issue more permits?



But that has been the story of post-colonial Africa and, although this week\’s obituaries will largely dismiss Smith as a colonial caricature, a novelty politician from another age, if you were to go to Harare today and ask ordinary black Zimbabweans who they would rather have as their leader – Smith or Mugabe – the answer would be almost unanimous. And it would not be Mugabe.

Who could argue with that?

50 Day Detention

Here\’s another cart where the wheels appear to be coming off: The Director of Public Prosecutions.

Sir Ken said: \’\’We are satisfied with the position as its stands at the moment."

He pointed out that charges could be brought against suspects on the grounds of \’\’reasonable suspicion" of involvement in a terrorist act.

If such a benchmark could not be achieved after almost one month of questioning and inquiry, a court was unlikely to allow the period of detention to continue.

Once a suspect was held for more than 14 days, a High Court judge must be persuaded to let the detention continue. This becomes increasingly difficult the longer he is held without charge.

So longer is no necessary. Can we now return the conversation to where i ought to be, making that period shorter?


Yet More Data!

So it wasn\’t in fact some junior civil servant solely to blame:

As the scandal over the loss of 25 million personal records escalated, the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, was accused of misleading parliament by saying a "junior official" at HM Revenue and Customs was to blame for the loss of the data, whereas email evidence shows he was told two senior managers had authorised the procedure.

And the bank account information should never have been sent either:

It has since emerged that the National Audit Office, which had asked for the CDs, had specifically requested that bank details and other sensitive data be removed from them when it asked for other copies of the Child Benefit database in March, but a senior manager refused to do so on cost grounds.

This really is turning out to be a fest, a feast even, for connoisseurs of bureacratic incompetence.

Yet the staff member was following procedures laid down in March by senior HMRC managers when a similar request for data was made by the National Audit Office.

!!! The procedures were to send it, unencrypted, through the post! Why were the bank accounts included?

In a briefing paper sent to the Chancellor by Sir John Bourn, comptroller and auditor general, Mr Darling was told that a "senior business manager" sent an email to the NAO, which was copied to an HMRC Assistant Director, saying the information would not be "desensitised" because "it would require an extra payment to the data services provider EDS".


An almost identical breach of security involving CDs happened in September 2005, when the names, addresses, dates of birth and bank details of UBS customers were lost in the post after being posted by HMRC.

At the time, HMRC admitted that it was "not sure it is the best way to receive information" but that it was "urgently reviewing procedures to make sure this type of incident does not happen again".

Urgently reviewing? Two years is urgent?

In July this year Mr Thomas warned that data protection breaches in Government departments were "frankly horrifying".

Turning to the latest breach, he said: "It is a shocking case. I am at a loss to find out what happened in this situation.

"This goes beyond legal compliance. Any aggregated system for collecting information must be proof against criminals, it must be proof against idiots, it must be proof against those who don\’t follow the ordinary rules of procedure."

It would appear that you can in fact make a computer system idiot proof, but not bureaucrat proof.

One lesson to be drawn from this: as they cannot in fact do the simple things correctly why on earth does anyone task them with doing the complex things?

Dear, Dear, Darling

Piss ups and breweries come to mind somehow:

A series of high street banks denied asking the Chancellor to hold off before telling Parliament of the lost child benefit records.

Mr Darling insisted again yesterday that the banks had asked for more time before the announcement to get ready for inquiries from thousands of customers.

That followed his statement to MPs on Monday, in which he claimed that the banks were "adamant" that they wanted "as much time as possible".

The British Banking Association said: "The BBA did not ask for any more time. As soon as we were made aware of the security breach, banks put in place security measures to secure customer accounts.

"None of our members asked for any extra time. Clearly, everyone involved would have liked as much time as possible but banks unanimously agreed to go ahead without delay."

Now given that Darling made that statement about time being asked for to the Commons, and it now appears not to be the unvarnished truth, does that mean he\’s lied to the House and thus must go? There\’s also this:

It also emerged that the banks and Government officials have fallen out over who will compensate any defrauded customers.

The Treasury wants the banks to pay. The banks are happy to do this as long as there are guarantees that they will be refunded.

That they haven\’t, even when it was their own error, made such a guarantee is amazing.

Richard Murphy Explained!

Look, I think the man has had the odd thing sensible to say, Well, I had:

But the reality is that those who want radical social change that will destroy the concept of walfare(welfare, sic) want to exploit this as an opprtunity to destroy society as we know it.

And I oppose the far Right perception of society. There’s a simple reason. It’s evil. And these comments seem to promote that evil.

"It\’s evil"

So I won\’t talk about it.

Still think of yourself as a liberal?


Richie Babbie!

And for all the newspaper furore about the possible loss of some basic pretty data on 25 million people by HM Revenue & Customs I note that,,,

Not many phone about this,

So therefore, it isn\’t important. Yes?

So, how many phone in to R. Murphy\’s line about tax evasion?

Goose and gander.

Those Missing Records

Richard Murphy says there\’s nothing to worry about:

All that’s happened is some fairly low grade data has been mislaid.

Given the man\’s ability to be entirely and completely wrong on all issues, major and minor, from whether the sun rises in the east to whether kittens are cute, this is the moment when I start panicking.

The disaster is that we are not spending enough on good public services.

At £500 billion and rising? See what I mean?

Panic! Panic!

Update. Richard Murphy\’s comment upon myself:

Rim Worstall fell off the edge of reason long ago, so I’ll ignore him.

He also calls me a Tory which is a damn libel!


Stephen Fry on Climate Change

Via, I see this. Stephen Fry. I agree with his basic argument actually, the Type A, B and C, also the similarity with Pascal\’s Wager in part. However, there\’s one part left out, quite an important part.

But if A is wrong and actually there is no threat, then acting as if there was will have what consequences? It will have saved fuel bills all over the world, reduced noxious emissions which, even if one doesn’t believe in global warming, are unpleasant pollutants in anyone’s reckoning, and slowed down the day when we find that the fossil fuels have run out. Action would have given us more time to find alternatives. To be fair, it will also have slowed down world growth and inconvenienced all of us in our personal lives and if A Types do turn to have been wrong they may well owe the world an apology and it’ll be red faces (and a brake in the inexorable rise in world economic growth and fuel mineral use) all round.

But surely that’s a small price to pay for backing a losing horse when the stakes are the planet itself?

The thing is, what\’s at stake if climate change is not in fact true (not actually my own belief) and we go ahead and slow down world growth is not a certain amount of personal inconvenience.

It\’s the continued absolute poverty of billions upon billions of human beings. It\’s the continuation of parents seeing a quarter or a fifth of their children dying before their 5 th birthday, the continuation of under-, mal- and insufficient nutrition, something that blights the lives of and stunts the mental and physical development of hundreds of millions. It\’s the continuation of the peasant lifestyle for for some 2 billion across the world.

We don\’t know any way for these people to either be lifted or lift themselves up out of poverty other than economic growth (the option of sharing what we already have, even if possible, which it isn\’t, would leave us each with £4,000 a year. That\’s the NHS, the education system and perhaps £10 a week, maybe £20, to pay for food, clothes, housing and everything else).

So it isn\’t in fact Pascal\’s Wager at all.

If climate change is true (my belief) we do not have a simple solution. We are still balancing the (I would hope shared) aim of aiding those impoverished billions up out of absolute poverty (depending upon how you define it, less than $1 or $2 a day) with reducing the emissions effects of doing so.

If climate change is not true (not my belief) then we will, by slowing the growth of the world economy, condemn said poor to a perpetuation, perhaps an elongation is better, of that poverty.

So, depending upon the moral value you put on Gaia or poor human beings, we could in fact turn the entire Pascal\’s Wager thing around. If you are worried about absolute poverty and convinced of the moral righteousness of trying to end it, then the thing is to do nothing about climate change, whether it is true or not.

That, of couse, is something of a debating trick. My own view is grow the economy as fast as we can and also mitigate as much as we can without damaging that first order priority.

Worth noting that in the SRES, the economic models that underly the IPCC and thus the entirety of climate change science, the most desirable one of the potential outcomes is in fact the one with the maximal economic growth over the next century. For a given value of "desirable" of course.


What\’s the problem here?

China’s surplus with the US has grown by just 18pc. The high-level EU team — the first currency mission of its kind — will include Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the European Central Bank. The implicit threat is that China could face protectionist measures if it persists with a mercantilist policy of holding down the currency to gain export share.

Mercantilism harms those stupid enough to practice it. We, the consumers (for of course the economy should be run for the benefit of us, the consumers) here in Europe benefit from the Chinese error. So why are our rulers flying off to try and make us poorer?

Another way of putting it. A high euro to yuan exchange rate means that we get more Chinese goods for each unit of European goods that we export. That is, we have to expend less effort to make the exports with which we buy our imports. This makes us richer.

Why would we want to stop that happening?

Helena Wolinska

Interesting don\’t you think?

Helena Wolinska, 88, a former Polish prosecutor who has lived in England since 1972, is accused of fabricating evidence against Gen Emil Fieldorf, a member of the Polish resistance during the Second World War.

Mrs Wolinska, well known in the cosy academic circles of north Oxford, is said in her former guise as a Soviet magistrate to have masterminded his wrongful arrest and execution in 1953.

Since the overthrow of the communist regime, Gen Fieldorf has been posthumously pardoned and the authorities are chasing those responsible for the alleged miscarriage of justice.

Do we hound those who supported the leftist or Stalinist dictatorships to their graves as we do the fascist ones? Or don\’t we?

Fisheries Again

These people are insane.

"Why did we introduce discards in the first place? The reason that we did that is that we knew that stocks were going down.

"We have seen a recovery in cod in the North Sea in particular. That is good news and that\’s why we will pushing the commissioner in December for an increase."

He added: "We are confident we have a position that is backed up by science – that\’s the crucial thing."

But environmentalists say increasing the quotas is exactly the wrong thing to do.

Oliver Knowles, a Greenpeace campaigner, said: "We think it would be madness to increase the cod quotas to try to remedy this problem.

"The solution to over-fishing lies in a much more wholesale review of the fishing industry.

"If stocks of cod in the North Sea are returning then it is at its very earliest stage and one way to destroy that recovery is to send the fishing fleet back."

UK vessels landed 614,000 tonnes of sea fish, including shellfish, in 2006, worth £610m, a 13 per cent reduction in quantity on 2005 but seven per cent up in value.

The number of young cod in the North Sea has risen for a second year in a row, but the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas has called for a 50-per-cent cut on 2006 catch levels to sustain it.

Euan Dunn, fisheries expert with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: "The idea of calling for an increase in catches to reduce discards is so counter-productive.

"Massive efforts now have to be made to help the fragile 2005 year class survive to breed and fuel real recovery in the cod stock.

"The EU ministers\’ focus now needs to be totally on how to prevent these discardable fish being caught in the first place, rather than giving the industry a licence to catch more. Responsible fishermen know this, but you can\’t wake a man who\’s pretending to be asleep."

All of them, entirely crazed.

Fisheries are not the most complex of problems. They\’re a simple application of the Commons Problem. One which is, as we know, solved by apportioning property rights. Are they, in the face of this problem, suggesting the apportioning of property rights? No, they\’re not, ergo they are crazed loons, all of them, the Commissioner, the Government, Greenpeace and the fishermen themselves.