Friday, 14 January 2022

"Midget Gems change name after academic's campaign"

From the BBC:

Marks & Spencer has changed the name of its Midget Gems sweets to avoid misleading geology students after a campaign by a Liverpool academic.

Dr Erin Pritchard, a lecturer in geology at Liverpool Hope University, argued the word "gem" was highly misleading as the sweets are clearly not a precious or semi-precious stone, especially when cut and polished or engraved.

M&S has now rebranded the popular treats as Midget Jellies. A spokeswoman said the store was "committed to being a scientifically accurate retailer".

Monday, 10 January 2022

Daily Mail on the topic of "They own land, give them money!"

Janet Street-Porter in The Daily Mail, is on good form:

The largest landowner in Scotland is a Danish billionaire who is busy returning his holdings in the remote Highlands to wilderness areas where you can rent beautifully restored crofters cottages and lodges for luxury breaks.

Other huge rewilding fans are the Goldsmith millionaires, Ben and Zac, pals of Carrie Johnson, who is the PR for millionaire Damian Aspinall's Foundation in Kent.

Aspinall owns Howletts Zoo (he prefers the term 'nature park') where the public can pay £20 to gawp at gorillas and cheetahs who are being reared to eventually return to Africa. Ben Goldsmith is a rewilding-mad financier who owns 300 acres in the West Country, and wants to return his estate to a 'species-rich scrubby wood', planning to introduce polecats and glow worms...

Ben holds a non-executive role as an advisor at Defra, giving him a good chance to bend the ear of government with his rewilding crusade. To be fair he hasn't taken a salary – then again he doesn't need to. Older brother Zac, a charming man but a failed Tory MP, now sits in the House of Lords as Baron Goldsmith of Richmond Park, personally appointed by Boris, holding the environment brief.

Zac and Ben are old pals of the Prime Minister- they all attended Eton. Last autumn the Prime Minister borrowed the Goldsmith's family house in Spain for a short holiday.

But inevitably, she lapses into Home-Owner-Ism:

... shouldn't the government do more to protect farmland and forestry by refusing to allow unrestricted housing development on rural sites? Instead, every small town in England is becoming surrounded by building sites churning out identikit estates of noddyland housing on land which once produced food.

"Every small town"? "surrounded"? Really? As to "Noddlyland", most people live in fairly non-descript housing (my house is fugly, if truth be told), I don't see why that's a problem. And they get far more benefit from their home than they would have done growing a bit of fruit and veg on the plot. I'm still waiting for the first Nimby activist to buy and demolish housing and sell the land back to a farmer.

But hey, she's got the general idea.

Sunday, 9 January 2022

"Don't look up"

I had no intention of watching this film until I noticed that the Alarmists assume that this film is a parable about politicians and the media ignoring the 'Climate Crisis'.

Having misunderstood* the whole premise, The Guardian gave it two stars, describing it as a "shrill, desperately unfunny climate change satire"**.

Duly heartened, I watched it yesterday and I must say, it is gruesome and splendid. It's basically Dr Strangelove, except with a giant meteor instead of a nuclear war.

* It's quite possible that they are right and the film is supposed to be a parable for the 'Climate Crisis'. If so, the film is an epic fail on its own terms, but succeeds nonetheless because you can watch it ironically.

** For more top-drawer Guardian hand-wringing, read this article.

Friday, 7 January 2022

Wolf news

From the BBC:

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a number of species disappeared from the Swiss Alps: the brown bear, the lynx and the wolf. The high mountain environment, so often regarded as pure and untouched, had been ravaged by one particular predator - humans.

Now all three species are back. The bears and the wolves returned naturally*, the lynx has been successfully reintroduced. But the dream of people and animals living harmoniously side by side has turned, for some alpine farming communities, into a bit of a nightmare.

No shit, Sherlock. Our ancestors had good reasons for wiping out wolves, it wasn't just a whim...

Just this month a sheep farmer close to the Swiss capital Bern woke to find seven of his 35 sheep dead, their throats ripped out by a wolf that had apparently jumped over the electric fence designed to protect the flock.

And inevitably...

Farmers are increasingly impatient. Last year they called a referendum demanding the law be changed to make it easier to hunt and kill problematic wolves. Swiss voters, most of whom live in cities, said no.

The French on the other hand seem to be taking a more robust approach. From The Daily Mail:

A zoo in southern France has been closed down temporarily by local authorities after a pack of wolves escaped from their enclosure and roamed around the site during visiting hours.

A total of nine wolves escaped from their enclosure last weekend at Trois Vallées Zoo in Montredon-Labessonnie, roughly 60 miles east of Toulouse. Four wolves were shot dead due to 'dangerous behaviour', before the five remaining animals were anaesthetised and returned to their enclosures by local officials who were called to the scene.

* The article says that wolves came up from Italy. Wiki says it has been strictly protected in Italy since the 1970s, so this is on them. The bears seem to have come from the east, via Austria.

Thursday, 6 January 2022

"Maureen Lipman attacks casting of Helen Mirren as former Israeli PM Golda Meir"

From The Guardian:

Maureen Lipman has criticised the casting of Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in a forthcoming film about the former Israeli prime minister, saying that the character’s ugliness is “integral”.

She added: “I’m sure [Mirren] will be marvellous, but it would be like Gal Gadot or Natalie Portman being cast as Angela Merkel. You just couldn’t even go there.”

They own land! Give them money!

From the BBC:

Farmers and landowners in England could be paid to turn large areas of land into nature reserves, or to restore floodplains, under new government agriculture subsidies.

When the UK was part of the EU, farmers were given grants based on how much land they farmed. Following Brexit, the government has pledged to pay based on how farmers care for the environment.

But environmental groups say the new plans lack detail and may not deliver. In what the government describes as "radical plans", landowners and farmers will be allowed to bid for funding to turn vast areas of land - between 500 and 5,000 hectares - over to wildlife restoration, carbon sequestration, or flood prevention projects.

The underlying insanity is that the government is in charge and decides what people can or cannot do. There is no need to pay people to obey the law, that's how it works. If they want to have more woodlands, discourage farming within XX yards of a waterway, particularly steep slopes or flood plains or wherever the environmental benefits outweigh the value of food which can be grown, they can just pass a law saying "Thou shalt not...".

I don't think that policing this is particularly difficult. They can fly helicopters over it and take pictures. If anything looks suspect, go and have a look on the ground.

The most insane idea is having a cut-off of 500 hectares (1,200 acres), which is considerably larger than the average UK farm, i.e. only the top fraction of a per cent of UK landowners can qualify. As far as rewilding goes, every acre counts. Wildlife in the UK is hefted and each animal's 'territory' is usually quite small. They're not like elephants or buffaloes which travel hundreds of miles depending on the season.

The Daily Mash says it best:

"Environment secretary George Eustice said: “The agricultural role of the British government is to funnel money to landowners, and I promise you that will not change.”

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (491)

Kester Pembroke emailed in the following, by a clueless wanker called Neil:

Or alternatively we can recover planning gain from developers and impose peppercorn leases on all land given planning permission. Then those leases are held by the local council and they create sufficient for all builders in the area to build as they see fit. We keep going until houses start to depreciate. If insufficient builders come forward we build council housing. It's bizarre to believe that planning gain should continue and the entire country taxed instead.

The bit about 'peppercorn leases' is just waffle. Once the developers - who are always seen as The Bad Guys, as evidenced by endless cinema films - have sold the homes they build, who pays it? And the notion that granting lots of planning permission would lead to house prices is falling is nonsense - when prices start falling, developers stop developing.

The bit about "the entire country being taxed instead" is mathematical bollocks. You own one home? Pay tax on one home. You are a land banker with a hundred thousand sites with planning? You pay on a hundred thousand homes. That's like saying ordinary motorists shouldn't pay Fuel Duty because they don't use as much as large transport companies.

Agreed on Council Housing - but the rent you pay on a council house is a combination of real costs (maintenance, insurance etc) and location rent. If you pay location rent to the government, that IS Land Value Tax.

Particularly one based upon subjective value and that has never worked - as every version of rates and council tax shows.

Business Rates were introduced over four centuries ago and are still going strong. Sure, the valuations are done in a sloppy manner and are a bit hit and miss, but it's still the closest we have to LVT.

... yet council Tax is still on 1991 values, which shows that reality doesn't coincide with the fantasy. The previous two rating systems suffered from the same issue.

The council tax on any home bears so little relation to its 1991 value as to be meaningless. In practice, an annual council tax bill can be anywhere between 0.1% and 100% of a home's current site premium/location rent (Mayfair vs Blaenau Gwent, or wherever the cheapest houses are). Council Tax is made up numbers. So what? The only reason we have this stupid system is because of Home-Owner-Ist resistance to a sensible valuation system, which was the same under Domestic Rates.

So this is akin to a spoiled child smashing a new toy with a hammer and then complaining that is doesn't work. Northern Ireland shows that it is not too difficult to update valuations. They assessed market values in 2005 and the Domestic Rates is about 0.7% of each home's 2005 value.

When taxing, it's not about it being 'about right'.

When taxing, the most important thing is taxing in the fairest possible way that is least damaging to the economy. Without a government or government spending, most homes would be nigh worthless. So you pay for what you get. The government would be just a mutually-owned, for-profit service provider and every citizen gets an equal share of the dividends (mainly in kind, with an element in cash).

There has to be a system that is rigorous and seen to be fair. And that is why property taxes always fail. The value of them is subjective.

Of course Domestic Rates or LVT or 'progressive property tax' or Council Tax or whatever you want to call it can be applied in a "rigourous and fair" manner, he's just doing the spoiled child again. The rental value of 99% of homes is not subjective in the slightest. It's a simple question - how much could you rent it out for? Then knock off a bit for the bricks and mortar element, round it down for luck, stick similar homes in Bands and average it all out. There's your answer.

Sure, 1% of homes are so quirky or odd that it's difficult to establish the exact market value, but the market value itself is not 'subjective'. I don't know exactly how much rain fell in my back garden yesterday, so I'd have to interpolate and guess. But "how much rain fell in your back garden" is not 'subjective', it's 'objective' and the fact we will never know the precise answer does not make it 'subjective'. 'Subjective' is questions like "Were Led Zeppelin better than Little Mix?", on which everybody has their own equally valid and irrelevant opinion.

As long as you are paying the same amount as similar homes in your area, and people in bigger homes/nicer areas are paying more and people in smaller homes/grottier areas are paying less, what's the problem?

Whereas wage taxes are always absolutely objective and unarguable. Ultimately unless things change hands rental values and property prices are a matter of opinion. That can never be a stable basis for taxation.

Property taxes are a VERY stable basis for taxation, the money is just collected (preferably by direct deduction from wages or welfare/pension payments) without the need for tens of millions of annual tax returns, quarterly VAT returns, monthly or weekly payroll calculations etc. That's a massive headache and cost with a huge amount of fraud and error.

Just because you think that some economic variable - like wages or turnover - are 'objective' does not automatically make them good subjects for taxation. You are paying for the privilege of working or running a business, providing goods and services etc (which are Good Things - if you tax them, you get less Good Things) for absolutely nothing directly in return (apart from a few contributory benefits, which are an insane idea anyway. They are the opposite of means-tested benefits, which are just as insane.)

Why not get rid of that and ask people to pay some percentage of the value of what the government provides them? Not forcible payments towards the cost (that way lies Poll Tax) but voluntary payments for the value, just like in any free market transaction? Think you're being overcharged? Move somewhere cheaper. Nobody's forced to shop at Waitrose. It's voluntary because they can shop at Aldi or Lidl instead.

Tuesday, 4 January 2022

"Jeremy Clarkson suffers 'smashed testicles' after cow attack"

From Bang Showbiz:

"I think this was the lowest point in my farming career to date. Being attacked by a cow while on my knees, in the mud, in a storm, with smashed testicles. And all so I can make beef for a restaurant that I probably won’t be allowed to open. I was very miserable."

Cow attacks usually just involve a careless dog walker, or occasionally an unlucky farm worker. It's nice to see a celebrity joining in the fun every now and then.

The toughest winter ever.

The Observer, 31 October 2015: Record numbers of patients will be stuck on trolleys in corridors or the back of ambulances this winter as hospitals run out of beds because of soaring demand and limited funding, the country’s leading A and E doctor has warned.

The Guardian, 21 December 2016: Record numbers of patients are leaving A&E units without being treated, new figures reveal, sparking fears that the NHS is on the brink of a winter crisis and cannot cope with soaring demand.

The Health Foundation, December 2017 - February 2018: The winter of 2017/18 was challenging for the NHS. There were several factors at play, including severe winter weather, increased flu and increased norovirus outbreaks compared to recent, previous years.

The Guardian, 8 December 2018: NHS trusts are expanding A and Es, paying for patients to be cared for in nursing homes and looking after more people at home to help them cope with the impending winter crisis, which experts have warned will be the toughest ever.

The Independent, 11 December 2019: Hospitals across the country are at “breaking point” as a winter surge threatens to overwhelm the NHS

Daily Express, 30 June 2020: Winter crisis: Jeremy Hunt warns NHS hospitals to be in a 'weaker position' later in 2020

iNews, 28 October 2021: Staff morale is plummeting across the NHS according to doctors who are bracing themselves for what they believe could be the worst winter the health service has ever faced.

For more fun along these lines, I recommend an article in Moneyweek, 21 December 2005. They point out that under new Labour, the NHS budget had been doubled...

Petition: Tony Blair to have his "Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter" rescinded

Over at

Only takes a few seconds to sign, fun for all the family.