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How is This Possible?

A really rather wonderful scientific result:

Bar staff have seen huge health benefits from the ban on smoking in public places, a study by the Tobacco Control Collaborating Centre in Warwick – funded by Cancer Research UK – has found. Researchers tested the air quality in 40 pubs, bars and restaurants across the country and measured the level of cotinine – the metabolic byproduct of nicotine – in the blood of those who worked there.

Quite amazing how you can measure the effect of smoking in public places by measuring something on private property really, isn\’t it?

Rape Conviction Rates

I\’m reasonably certain that Daphna Baram didn\’t mean this to be taken this way but:

There is no indication of more judicial mistakes in rape convictions than in any other field of crime.

So, the low conviction rate is not a result of judicial mistakes, it\’s simply part and parcel of the nature of the crime and the difficulty of proving it. So can we have an end to the talk of the way in which the low conviction rates show that it\’s a uniquely badly dealth with crime?

The Myth of Mars and Venus

I love this. Deborah Cameron sets out to show that men and women are not as different as many claim. Things like the use of language, empathic versus systemizing behaviour etc. She even quotes Simon Baron Cohen:

The difference between the two lists reflects what Baron-Cohen takes to be the "essential difference" between male and female brains. The female-brain jobs make use of a capacity for empathy and communication, whereas the male ones exploit the ability to analyse complex systems. Baron-Cohen is careful to talk about -"people with the female/male brain" rather than "men and women". He stresses that there are men with female brains, women with male brains, and individuals of both sexes with "balanced" brains. He refers to the major brain types as "male" and "female", however, because the tendency is for males to have male brains and females to have female brains. And at many points it becomes clear that in spite of his caveats about not confusing gender with brain sex, he himself is doing exactly that.

Baron Cohen is very clear in his academic papers that he\’s talking about brain type, not XY or XX. Anyway, what amuses me is that having accused him of confusing gender with brain sex she then goes on to talk about the averages of men and women: that is, not making the distinction between brain type and gender.

Who Trains These People?

Who is actually training journalists about the subjects they write upon? Anyone?

He is expected to make an audacious raid into Labour\’s natural territory by promising a clampdown on so-called "non-doms" – non-domiciled workers who live in the UK but are not registered to pay tax…

That\’s not what a non-dom is. We make two distinctions in UK tax law, between residents and those who are domiciled. Roughly speaking where you are resident is a year by year thing, domicile is a life-long thing (although it is possible to change it). I\’m reasonably sure that we\’ve got this distinction (which I\’m not sure that anyone else really has, at least not in quite the same form) because until the last decade or so it brought more tax money in that it lost. Because you could run off to Monaco or wherever and lose your residency, meaning that you didn\’t pay income tax in the UK, but your domicile was much more difficult to shake off and that left (I think I\’ve got this right) your estate still to be taxed by the UK.

Still, that quote isn\’t what non-doms are. Non-doms are registered to pay tax. They pay income tax on their UK earnings, just like everyone else. However, they do not pay income tax on their non-UK earnings. That\’s the difference: if you\’re UK domiciled you pay income tax on worldwide earnings. If non-dom, only on UK.

Perhaps this system needs to be changed, perhaps not, I don\’t think it really matters all that much either way. But reporting on it and not understanding what it is is really pretty sad.

AN Wilson and VS Naipaul

A very negative review of VS Naipaul here by AN Wilson.

Fans of Naughtie got a double delight last week when, just before the eight o\’clock news, he was interviewing Sir Vidia Naipaul. Since being awarded the Nobel Prize, Naipaul seems to have slipped from being a great writer who is occasionally idiotic into being an old bore who does not know when he is making a fool of himself.

Writing and reading are very different arts, and relationships between writers themselves are always fraught. Envy distorts his discussion of his fellow-Caribbean Nobel laureate, Derek Walcott. "I had looked at a few of the later poems. They did not stir me."

He does not so much as name Omeros or Tiepolo Hound, two of the most remarkable works of literature in our time. Any dispassionate reader can see that Naipaul is incapable of reading a great poet because his own ego is getting in the way.

OK, bad review, nothing unusual….but I don\’t think we should expect anything else from this reviewer on this writer. I\’ve forgotten (if I ever understood them) the details but there\’s been a decades long spat between the two anyway. This is just the latest installment and it\’s a bit like academic arguments. They\’re so vicious because there\’s nothing really at stake.

Interesting Number


The European Central Bank found that if public spending were as efficient as that of the US, or Japan, the Government could spend 16 per cent less, while still producing the same level of public services.

The ECB isn\’t known as one of those anti-statist organisations now so this isn\’t a railing against the level of spending at all, just its efficiency. 16% is something like £ 80 billion. That\’s the entire VAT take, or the entire National Insurance take. All that money collected, all that deadweight cost to the economy, simply because the people who rule us are inefficient at what they do.

We could, for example, abolish both fuel duty and corporation tax if only they were in fact competent. Not perfectly competent even, just as much so as the Americans (not, to be honest, a very high standard being demanded either).

World Cup Quarter Finals


England Australia: Oz to win I think?

Scotland Argentina. The Pumas.

France New Zealand: the Kiwis.

Fiji South Africa: the Boks.

Unless England do something remarkable (or Chris Patterson dials in a direct line from God) then it\’s going to be all Southern Hemisphere semis. Might not be what we want but it probably does reflect the relative strengths, don\’t you think?

Zimbabwe Land Grabs

You can really rather sum up the entirety of the Zimbabwe disaster in this one paragraph:

But Gen Mujaji insists that he will stay on the farm regardless of the law. "I will only leave Karori if the minister of lands orders me. He is senior to the courts," he told The Daily Telegraph.

When the politicians are above the law disaster will inevitably follow. It\’s one of the scary things about both the UK and the EU at present. Ministers seem to think their decisions are more important than the law and the Commission is happily doing things it has no legal power to do. Of course, neither will lead to the complete impoverishment of us the citizenry, but it\’s the top of the same slippery slope.



Google Note

In my playing around with blogs I\’ve just found something interesting out about the Google algorithm.

The old technique of google bombing, using anchor text and a link to boost results for a certain word or phrase no longer seems to work. Indeed, it seems to work in reverse. I won\’t trouble you with what the phrase was but a post I had was at number 41 in the Google rankings for a specific phrase. In the spirit of enquiry for which I am known (read, desperate for cash) off I went to boost that by employing the above technique.

The thing is, using it now actually degrades your results, not boosts them.

Interesting, no?


Markets, Markets…

They can lay low the best laid plans of mice and men:

THE GOVERNMENT has paid out a record £450,000 for an end-of-terrace house in one of the Victorian streets being bulldozed across northern England to make way for modern housing developments.


Under the government’s so-called Pathfinder scheme – championed by former deputy prime minister John Prescott – it was proposed up to 200,000 Victorian homes in the Midlands and northern England would be bulldozed and replaced with modern housing developments.

When the Pathfinder projects were first conceived, terraced homes could be bought in the north of England for as little as £12,000, but Yvette Cooper, the housing minister, has been caught out by rising property prices.

So in the years that the planners have been bumbling along the market has solved the problem all by itself. What were formerly places not worth renovating are indeed now worth renovating: at a vastly lower price than the costs of demolition and new build.

In the face of such changed facts, do the planners do a Keynes and change their minds? No, certainly not, they\’ve not that intellecual honesty. They carry on, pissing the taxpayers\’ money away with ever greater abandon.

Aren\’t we lucky to be ruled by such towering intellectual giants?

Will Hutton on Football

Yes, he\’s as confused on this subject as he is on all the others.

Instead of the profits being spread to the roots of the game and the communities in which the clubs are embedded, the Premier League has become the vehicle for financial engineering that makes private equity look honourable. In essence, clubs are being bought at astronomic prices, then the revenue they generate is used to pay back the debt their new owners incurred. The winners are the selling shareholders, the loser is football.

So the winners are the selling shareholders. That\’s the Brits who currently own the clubs, eh? You\’d think that a bunch of Brits doing well from hte way they hav developed an industry over some decades would be regarded as a good thing but no, in Hutton World, this is a bad thing.

Last week, Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov took his stake in Arsenal closer to the 30 per cent that would trigger a full bid. Despite the club\’s robust talk of staying British, the eye-watering price he can afford to pay for the shares, to be financed by the club\’s own revenues post takeover, surely means it is only a matter of time before even this citadel falls.

But Will. If it\’s all being financed out of the club\’s own revenues then it doesn\’t have to be a billionaire that buys it, does it?

Chelsea and England captain John Terry\’s recent £135,000-a-week contract, a catch-up with the pay of Chelsea imports Michael Ballack and Andrei Shevchenko, is a classic example of the inflationary dynamic.

Indeed, this is absolutely a classic example. Of the way in which in talent based industries, all the money flows to those with the talent. They might only be 1% better than the other hundreds of thousands of soccer players in the country but that 1% means that they are in great demand. The same is true of merchant bankers, film stars, actors and so on. The owners (whether individuals or more widely spread shareholders in listed companies) get the short end of the stick here as that competition to hire that rare talent means that the workers\’ wages spiral ever upwards.

But then I thought that as a man of the left, Hutton was in favour of the workers getting the money, rather than the capitalist overlords?

What to do? Ten days ago, Michael Platini, incoming president of the Union of European Football Associations (Uefa) wrote to Gordon Brown arguing passionately that \’the values championed by football are a powerful source of social integration and civic education\’. Now the values are money. He wants pan-European action: wage caps on players; quotas for home-grown players; regulations on agents; financial checks on owners; revenue sharing between clubs; and redistribution of revenue into lower leagues. Platini even wants a reference to sport\’s special nature in the EU Reform Treaty.

Does Hutton want this? Salary caps for God\’s sake? That the workers should not get the full value of their contribution?

Football values must be reasserted and some limits have to be negotiated and it will have to be an initiative on a pan-European scale. The way things are, it cannot and will not include free-market, Eurosceptic, every- asset-can-bought-by-anyone England.

Apparently so. What a liberal man Will Hutton is, to be sure.


Not Sure They\’ve Quite Got This Public Service Bit Yet.

There\’s more on they way in which elfn\’safety rules mean that Plod is to walk past someone drowning:

Rules for West Country officers are set out in a policy document headed Health and safety – water safety, which states: "Devon and Cornwall Constabulary do not expect or require any member of staff to enter water in a rescue attempt of any person or animal under any circumstances.

"Life-saving equipment such as life-belt, throw line, throw bag or buoyancy aid may be used where such use is in accordance and compliance with dynamic risk assessment procedures… Physical contact with a struggling casualty should be avoided to prevent a rescuer becoming overwhelmed and pulled into the water and submerged.

"The task of rescuing members of the public, or animals, from water lies primarily with other emergency services that are equipped and trained to undertake such tasks."

All of which is bad enough but the truly astonishing comment is this:

A force spokesman said: "No organisation can expect staff to risk their lives. However, the force has reported many instances where staff have saved people."

Well actually, yes, an organisation can expect staff to risk their lives. The military actually exists to do so. The emergency services are not, as is obvious, the military, but they are half way there from a purely civilian organisation. Is no fireman ever to risk his life? Reduce the risks taken by having proper training and equipment, of course, but no risk at all?

All I can say is thank the Lord that the RNLI are a voluntary force. Otherwise the lifeboats would never put to sea in a storm.



Don\’t Do As I Do, Do As I Say.

Two quotes from CC Net:

European leaders are getting a bit impatient, not on our own behalf but on behalf of the planet. China, India and the other industrializing countries will not do anything unless the U.S. is moving.
    –Connie Hedegaard, Danish Environment Minister, Washington Post, 26 September 2007

Denmark\’s CO2 emissions rose 16.1 per cent in 2006 compared to the previous year on the back of strong economic growth and electricity exports from coal-fired power plants, according to statistics released today.
    –Point Carbon, 28 September 2007


Somewhat Geeky

Don\’t you think?

I write as a woman whose brother wears socks with the name of the day woven into the sole. Sometimes, he wears them on the wrong day, which I think is a sign of his renegade spirit.

Stop the War March

My, my:

The Metropolitan Police told organisers of the Stop the War Coalition that no march would now be allowed “within one mile of Parliament” while MPs were in session.

The organisers, who are expecting thousands of people to turn up for the protest march from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square, said that this was a “totally different” interpretation of the regulations, and accused Gordon Brown of reneging on a pledge to liberalise the laws on demonstrations.

“One moment the Prime Minister is supporting the right of Burmese monks to demonstrate in Rangoon, and yet here in London we’re being stopped from marching on Parliament. It’s hypocrisy,” Lindsey German, convener of the Stop the War Coalition, said.

German, who is I think one of the raving Trots known as the Socialist Worker\’s Party, would find I disagree with just about everything he (or is it she?) says on just about any and every subject under the sun. However, I do think that he and his equally deluded chums should be allowed to have a day out in London. Even, to make known their misguided views. It\’s one of the things that would make us a free and liberal country, that people were not prevented from exercising their natural right to express themselves.

We really are ruled by scum, aren\’t we? And will any of them be alert enough to appreciate the irony?

Yusuf Islam

A tale from the past:

"A lot of Englishmen have this thing about English schoolgirls… He took me to Marks & Spencer, and we went into the section where they sold school uniforms. We started play-acting and XXXX told the saleslady, \’I have to buy this little girl a school uniform, she\’s the daughter of one of my friends, can you fit her please?\’ Here was this 21-year-old kid with this however-the-hell-old-I-looked young girl. I was supposed to be going into seventh or eighth grade, but must have looked about 11.
Groupie: Patti D\’Arbanville

Gambling Problems

So we\’re all revved up to worry about gambling addictions again then.

The money lost by British gamblers will exceed £10bn annually next year – a rise of 50% in nine years, and the biggest jump since the 1960s.

Looks terrible, doesn\’t it? Hmmm. Inflation (RPI) was 25% or so over that period. So that\’s some of the rise explained. Average earnings rose 45% over the period (OK, I\’m using 97 to 2006, because that\’s what the calculator allows, but it\’s illustrative) so in fact we could say that the rise is purely down to the fact that people have more money and that they are spending it. Doesn\’t actually look so bad now, does it? Gambling up 50%, incomes up 45%? As GDP has risen 59% in the period then we might actually say that gambling as a percentage of GDP has fallen, although I\’m not sure I\’d actually believe that.

Estimates produced for the Guardian by a leading government adviser show £650m a year is taken from punters by the terminals – a sum almost matching the conventional casino industry\’s entire takings.

Oooh, scary.

Leighton Vaughan Williams of Nottingham Business School said British punters lose £9.5bn a year across all gambling- a 36% rise on £7bn lost in 1999, the year online gambling emerged. Excluding the lottery – the "softest" form of gambling – the annual loss from hard gambling widened by 56% in eight years to £7bn.

So the lottery has losses of £2.5 billion. That is, the lottery is 3.8 times as bad as video roulette. So when do we ban that tax on stupidity then?

The Care of the State

Aren\’t we lucky to have such a wonderful and caring organisation looking after us:

However, it is just such a fate that befell Jean Gambell when at the age of 15, in 1937, she was falsely accused of stealing 2s 6d (12.5p) from the doctor\’s surgery where she worked as a cleaner.

She was sectioned under the 1890 Lunacy Act and even though the money was later found, she has been moved from mental institution to mental institution. More recently, she went into a care home and has been lost to her family, who thought she was dead.

The brothers spent much of their childhood in orphanages because their parents were so poor. They said that they had later discovered that their father had tried for years to get Jean freed after she was put in Cranage Hall mental hospital in Macclesfield for being "of feeble mind", but was unsuccessful because her records had been mislaid.

She spent years, lost in a maze of instutitons and care homes, trying to convince people in authority that she had a family. But nobody would believe her.

Macclesfield Social Services are now conducting an inquiry into Miss Gambell\’s incarceration.

An entire lifetime spent "lost" in mental institutions. No one will be held responsible of course. No one at all.