Thursday, 28 February 2019

Trump and Li'l Kim show how it's done.

From the BBC:

A summit between Donald Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ended without agreement after the US refused North Korean demands for sanctions relief, the US president has said.

Yup, both sides make demands unacceptable to the other, that's it, call the whole thing off, no hard feelings and better luck next time.

Trump and Li'l Kim have thereby achieved more in two-and-a-half days than the EU and Theresa May have achieved in two-and-a-half years of grinding pettiness, without all the associated loss of goodwill.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Global Cooling vs Global Warming

As anybody interested in history knows, periods of global cooling, even by a degree on average, lead to food shortages, spread of disease and 'social unrest'. There's no recorded instance of global warming leading to anything bad - those have been times of recovery, expansion and discovery. The people in Doggerland just waded ashore and did the same thing somewhere else.

As anybody interested in pre-history knows, for the last million years or so, planet earth has been in Ice Ages most of the time, interspersed with brief inter-glacial warm periods in approx. 100,000 year cycles. If the pattern persists, we'd assume that temperatures today are as high as they will get (give or take a degree) and will start gradually going down again. We might get a mini ice-age in the next century or a proper Ice Age in the next millennium, who knows what and when. Both will be bloody awful.

Hey ho, say the contrarians, it's global cooling we should be worrying about, not global warming.

The Warmenists blow hot and cold on this, pun intended, and haven't quite worked out which is the scarier scare story:

According to The Guardian:

Roughly every two years we’re treated to headlines repeating the myth that Earth is headed for an imminent “mini ice age.” It happened in 2013, 2015, and again just recently at the tail end of 2017.

Pots, kettles.

The most important takeaway point is that the scientific research is clear – were one to occur, a grand solar minimum would temporarily reduce global temperatures by less than 0.3°C, while humans are already causing 0.2°C warming per decade. So the sun could only offset at most 15 years’ worth of human-caused global warming, and once its quiet phase ended, the sun would then help accelerate global warming once again.

Which is what you expect the Guardian to trot out, fair enough.

Slightly more radically, according to thoughtco.com:

Some scientists believe that an increase in global temperature, as we are now experiencing, could be a sign of an impending ice age and could actually increase the amount of ice on the earth's surface.

The cold, dry air above the Arctic and Antarctica carries little moisture and drops little snow on the regions. An increase in global temperature could increase the amount of moisture in the air and increase the amount of snowfall. After years of more snowfall than melting, the polar regions could accumulate more ice. An accumulation of ice would lead to a lowering of the level of the oceans and there would be further, unanticipated changes in the global climate system as well.


Yup, global warming causes global cooling. So if we actually do enter a mini ice-age, the Warmenists won't accept that it was caused by volcanic eruptions, lack of sun spots, planetary alignments, the shape of the earth's orbit etc, the usual explanations, oh no... That's a win-win argument, and a scarier scare story IMHO.
---------------------------------------------------------
As ever, I wish the Warmenists would agree between themselves what their story is, rather than pushing mutually exclusive arguments. They are just as bad as Home-Owner-Ists.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Inevitably...

From the BBC:

Labour has said it is prepared to back another EU referendum to prevent a "damaging Tory Brexit".

Jeremy Corbyn has told Labour MPs the party will move to back another vote if their own proposed Brexit deal is rejected on Wednesday.

Labour's Emily Thornberry said if the parliamentary process ended with a choice of no deal or the PM's deal, the public should decide.

Theresa May is under growing pressure to delay the 29 March Brexit date.

Labour are not yet making clear what their proposed referendum would be on.

When asked to clarify this, a spokesman for the leader's office said: "We've just said we'd back a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit."

City AM has lucid moment - shock.

City AM is normally a cheerleader for rent seekers everywhere, so today's editorial (second page of pdf) on Persimmon being "stripped of its right to participate in Help To Buy" is a remarkable turnaround:

However, the case of Fairburn was always uncomfortable - an executive compensation scheme imposed without a sensible cap, the folly of which was exposed when housebuilders' shares soared thank to a government policy that doped up the sector in a flawed bid to fix an affordability crisis. 

The aftermath appears even worse - a mega-rich boss whose company is accused of profiting from unfair leaseholds and shoddy workmanship. This is more like corporate cronyism than capitalism, and proponents of free, fair markets should call it out.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

"Green House Gas Effect Experiment - Climate Change and Modeling"

There are several such videos on YouTube, I like this one best because they give the fullest explanation of their methods etc.

In summary, the bottle with 100% CO2 ended up 2C warmer than the bottle with normal air under a very bright light (giving off at least twice as much radiation as the sun does, from the point of view of the bottles).

Given the, I hope, undisputed logarithmic effect of increasing CO2 concentrations, I don't see how the increase from "pre-industrial levels" to current levels, from 0.03% TO 0.04%, could possibly have had any measurable effect.

But hey...

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Yokohama ECOS Blue Earth ES31 175/65 R14 82S tyres for sale

Update 25 May, now sold. For £20.
----------------
Yokohama ECOS Blue Earth ES31 175/65 R14 82S tyres.
Full matching set, vgc, 6mm tread.
Suit MX5 mk1/mk2.
£50 ONO.

Leave a comment or email me gmwadsworth@gmail.com

Friday, 22 February 2019

Nobody move or commuters in the Home Counties get hurt!

Spotted by TBH in The Guardian:

Rail passengers commuting into London could have services disrupted by freight trains if a no-deal Brexit causes logjams at the Channel tunnel, it has emerged.

Go-Ahead, the company behind the rail operator Southeastern, said it was working with the government to try to ensure commuters were not affected...

No, Gove! Just no!

From the BBC:

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has promised that the government will apply tariffs to food imports in the event of a no-deal Brexit, to provide "specific and robust protections" for farmers.

His remarks come as the government is poised to release details of tariffs (taxes on imports) that would apply to thousands of products coming in from around the world, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

Many supporters of Brexit argue that tariffs on food and other items should be scrapped in order to lower prices for consumers.


The logic is perverse:

But farmers fear that cheap imports and lower standards would destroy many parts of British agriculture.

"Your concerns have absolutely been heard," Mr Gove told a conference of the National Farmers' Union (NFU). "It will not be the case that we will have zero-rate tariffs on food products. There will be protections for sensitive sections of agriculture and food production." He added that an announcement on a no-deal tariff schedule "should be made later this week".

"If you obliterate the tariff wall… we would be massively undermined by food produced to standards that would be illegal to produce to in this country," NFU president Minette Batters told the BBC. "It would decimate British agriculture - it is quite honestly as simple as that."


Let's follow the logic as far as we can.

1. The UK has a fairly similar climate to other European countries and the same standards, so there is a level playing field [sic] for things like potatoes, wheat, beef, milk etc. So that's no argument for UK tariffs on food from other EU Member States, i.e. no change to current situation.

2. The UK does not have a similar climate to much warmer countries outside the EU, where you can grow bananas, olives, oranges. Quite possibly these countries have lower standards, but there aren't UK banana, olive or orange farmers to be protected, so there is no reason to "protect" them by imposing tariffs on bananas.

3. "But chlorinated chickens!!" shouts the crowd. That's a different topic, if these are proveably unhealthy, the UK government should just ban the import thereof.

The relentless logic of the fraudster

From Nautilus:

What Dark Matter Needs Are New Kinds of Experiments

After 30 years and no results, it’s time to support more entrepreneurial physicists.


The "hunt for dark matter" might seem to be a harmless prank when compared to "climate science", but it's still a scam, and those taking part must know it.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

"Young people living in vans, tiny homes and containers"

From the BBC, following the journalistic guideline "Don't mention land or access to land! It's only about the physical building!":

Case One

Harriet Baggley, 24, her partner, Tom Offen, 25, and their son, Ruben, two, live in a van fitted with a log-burning stove, insulation and a makeshift kitchenette.

The 2008 Volkswagen Transporter 4, nicknamed "Iggy", has been their home since they left rented accommodation in April last year. They move their home-on-wheels to different spots every few days, spending two to three nights a week at a relative's more conventional home while helping them with child care.


They appear to be doing it the hard way, and I hope it works out for them.

Case Two

For Aubrey Fry, 37, and his wife, Clare, 34, life in a repurposed 40ft shipping container was only meant to be short term.

Three years later and the steel box is still home, sweet home. The pair moved to Hay-on-Wye, where Aubrey's family own a farm, after growing frustrated with London property prices. They wanted to keep their costs low, while building their new home and business premises on the land, and Aubrey had an itch to try something different.


Yes, the couple have access to free land. On her parents' farm.

Aubrey would also appear to be stupidest man in the UK:

"I've always wanted to develop a shipping container and make it into a home," Aubrey said. "There are millions of them all over the world, they get used once and then get taken out of action; and I think they are a good space to live in."

Correct, he actually said "they get used once"

Case Three

Tom, who lives in Porthleven, Cornwall, is hoping to build his [tiny home aka caravan], mount it on a trailer and then move it between his friends' smallholdings.

So he's an intermediate case between the Baggleys and the Frys. What will happen when his friends get tired of him, or some officious planner tell him that he's not allowed to live on a smallholding semi-permanently?

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Nobody move or your children get hurt!

From the BBC:

Children's safety could be put at risk if the UK leaves the EU without proper plans for child protection, the UK's four children's commissioners warn.

Child abuse, exploitation, abduction and how family law matters are dealt with if a child has one parent from the EU, are all "immediate issues".

In a letter to Stephen Barclay, the minister for exiting the EU, the commissioners ask for reassurance...

The commissioners highlight their fears over co-operation on child protection and law enforcement after Brexit, saying that prevention of child abuse and exploitation often involves international collaboration.

Honda Closure

This is something of a follow-up of my previous post about car making but I thought I'd specifically cover Honda.

It's personally sad for me because I worked at the Honda factory last year. Wore the overalls like everyone else. They're a really good bunch of people and they care about what they do and constantly aim to improve quality. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend a Civic or a Type-R based on what I saw.

How much can I share? I never know, but I tend to avoid sharing anything that also isn't out in the public.

First of all, is Brexit a factor? Honda say no. There's people saying Honda are just being polite, but Honda were very much talking about there being an impact of leaving the customs union. If Brexit was the killer factor, why wouldn't they say it? If even no deal would have seriously affected them I think they would have made that threat.

As I said in the other piece, there's a lot of forces affecting car making around the world. But, none of those affected this. There's 3 things that I think are working on this.

  • Japan-EU trade agreement. The explicit reason Japanese car makers set up car factories in Swindon, Sunderland and Derbyshire in the first place was because of tariffs. Make your cars in the UK, you take 10% off. That makes them competitive with the Renaults and Fiats. Tariffs on cars are being phased out and will be something like 5% in 2021 and fall to zero over the next few years.
  • Decline in "car" sales. Overall, car sales are flat. but "car" sales are falling as people are preferring SUVs. The Honda factory in Swindon makes the Civic and Type-R, which are cars, rather than SUVs. Swindon cut 900 jobs 6 years ago because of this.
  • Honda plan to be 2/3rds electric by 2025. This means huge factory investment. You can't just start making electric cars on an existing line. Diesel and petrol cars are on separate lines. Electric needs another line, or maybe they ditch diesel for electric. To fit that needs a factory closure to do the installation, lots of new equipment, retraining and so forth.
Put all that together, and someone figured that there were few advantages making in Swindon rather than Japan. The tariff saving is disappearing, so few financial savings and lots of downsides in investment and having one factory allows them to use the same workforce across multiple lines based on the shift from petrol to electric.

I'd also like to add that in typical media fashion, this is painted as a catastrophe for Swindon. Because all media know is giant factories. I'm not saying it's good, or even not that big a problem, but the factory is 3500 jobs in a town of 105000 jobs, and maybe another 3500 in local supply chain. Swindon has a couple of companies of a similar size: Nationwide and WH Smith. But most of it is SMEs you've never heard of in fields like software, machinery and healthcare. 

Anodyne Waffle And Meaningless Platitudes Of The Week

The "statement" on the official website of the SevenEight Dwarves is a masterpiece in waffle, it just goes on and on an on until you lose the will to live:

Our values

We believe:

* Ours is a great country of which people are rightly proud, where the first duty of government must be to defend its people and do whatever it takes to safeguard Britain’s national security.

* Britain works best as a diverse, mixed social market economy, in which well-regulated private enterprise can reward aspiration and drive economic progress and where government has the responsibility to ensure the sound stewardship of taxpayer’s money and a stable, fair and balanced economy.

* A strong economy means we can invest in our public services. We believe the collective provision of public services and the NHS can be delivered through government action, improving health and educational life chances, protecting the public, safeguarding the vulnerable, ensuring dignity at every stage of life and placing individuals at the heart of decision-making.

* The people of this country have the ability to create fairer, more prosperous communities for present and future generations. We believe that this creativity is best realised in a society which fosters individual freedom and supports all families.

* The barriers of poverty, prejudice and discrimination facing individuals should be removed and advancement occur on the basis of merit, with inequalities reduced through the extension of opportunity, giving individuals the skills and means to open new doors and fulfil their ambitions.


* Etcetera etcetera etcetera.

Their official colour seems to be grey, but the whole thing is just... beige, with taupe highlights.

The only thing of mild interest is (are?) the boxes next to each statement which you can tick to say "I agree". There aren't any for "I disagree".

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (452)

I've not done one of these for a while, mainly because there aren't any but the Homeys haven't even bothered rehashing old ones.

From here, two years ago:

Chris: The average income is £27k a year, a yearly increase in tax of £2,591 to a household with one working parent would represent almost a 10% increase in income tax.

Any Government that attempts this will make the poll tax riots look like minor in comparison and even more so when their manifesto states that no one earning under £80k a year will pay more tax – it would be a blatant lie.


Most people are only vaguely aware of how much income tax and NIC they are paying; very few are aware of how much NIC their employer is paying (average £2,000 per employee p.a.) or how much domestic tariffs (VAT) cost them (average £4,000 per household p.a.). People only care about Council Tax because they know how much it is (average £1,000 per household p.a.).

Administratively, the best way of collecting LVT is through people's PAYE codes, i.e. deduct directly from wages or private pension, get it over with, it's a straight swap - LVT instead of income tax/NIC.

People care most about their net pay, so if the LVT deducted is less than the reduction in income tax/NIC, and no visible Council Tax bill, people will be fine with it.

We can divide UK households into four categories
- working owner-occupiers (about 40% of all households)
- working private tenants (about 20% of all households)
- pensioner owner-occupiers (about 20% of all households)
- people in social housing (about 20% of all households, a mix of working, not working and pensioners)

Let's boil it down to five households (two in category 1 and one in each of the others) and assume income tax/NIC is reduced by £5 and £5 is collected in LVT instead.

The three working households in category 1 and 2 are currently paying one-third of the income tax/NIC each = £1.67. Thereafter, the LVT on each home is £1.

1. The two households in the first category will each save £1.67 and pay £1 LVT instead; their net pay goes up by 67p.

2. The household in the second category will save £1.67; their net pay goes up by £1.67.

3. The pensioner household is now paying £1 more tax; if they can't afford it, they can roll up the unpaid tax and whoever inherits the home can pay it.

4. For people in social housing it is difficult to say who pays more or less; on the whole it will average out to not much either way.

5. Landlords will be paying a shed load more in tax, but it's a tiny minority of people.

I find it unlikely that pensioners, their greedy heirs and landlords are going to start riots, so it's not a problem. Usual rioters are the young unemployed and students, who are tenants, least affected by the shift to LVT and more likely to find a job.

Chris also overlooks that the Poll Tax Riots happened because Thatcher wanted to get rid of a progressive tax (Domestic Rates) and impose a regressive one (Community Charge).

By reverse logic, they won't be any riots if a government did the opposite, and replaced regressive taxes (especially NIC, Council Tax, VAT) with a progressive one (LVT).

So his argument is about as fucking stupid as Richard Nixon saying "Students rioted when LBJ and I ramped up the Vietnam War. Therefore we can expect them to riot again if I throw in the towel and withdraw troops from Vietnam."

Chiaroscuro: The Light and the Dark

I may have misread the news yesterday. But, as I understand it, Tom 'Fat Boy Slim' Watson is deeply upset that Lucrezia Borgia has left the Labour Party. Lucrezia, a long time supporter of dead, Renaissance characters, among other mental health issues within the Labour Party, said last night: she could no longer put up with 'racist, Spanish and Italian Banker insults', during a tearful speech to key socialist leaders in the City of London. Many, otherwise mostly ignored, gilded historians, have come out in support for her on Twitter and Facebook.

Watson too, applying his Humpty Dumpty logic of putting things back together again that he has just broken, says, late tonight, that he will arrange a meeting between himself, Lucrezia and Jeremy Corbyn over a 'jolly nice glass of red wine' to 'sort things out' once and for all.

Updated today:

As you can see from this CCTV image, the meeting did not go very well. A visibly startled Corbyn on the right of the photo, seems to have been completely surprised by the old Lucrezia' 'ring finger' trick. We showed this picture to a leading Labour MP, and trusted , BBC source, who chanted a mantra growing louder and louder within the PLP, ' Get in there Tom - Machiavelli 1 Marx 0' and ' No Gold, No Swiss'.



Monday, 18 February 2019

Greenhouse gas levels through the roof, and..?

What can't speak can't lie.

CO2 level nearly double its average for last 800,000 years; CH4 level nearly quadruple. Those are the two main ''greenhouse gases" which could be attributed to human activity.

Click on pictures to see source:





Given that the levels of CO2 and CH4 have gone through the roof, can somebody please explain to me why global temperatures are pretty much in the middle of the range they've been in for the past few thousand years..?

Daily Express on top form


Fun With Numbers - energy efficient vacuum cleaners

Over at Physiocrat's blog.

He reckoned that the EU vacuum cleaner regulations would reduce total electricity usage in the EU by 1/100,000. He updated the post for my calculations saying it would be about 1/500.

Neither of claims to be accurate within +/- 50% or so, but clearly, at least one of us is wrong by a few orders of magnitude!!

Comments here disabled, leave comments under his post.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Fun With Numbers - divisibility tests

I got a bit lost on YouTube, via Chinese Remainder Theorem and Modular Functions, I ended up with divisibility tests.

Telling by eye whether a number divides by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 or 10 is pretty straight forward, non-prime numbers like 12 or 15 are also easy enough, you just usually have to do more than one tests; if it divides by 3 and by 4, then it must divide by 12 and so on.

There is a neat way of checking whether a long number divides by a prime number, short of actually doing long division. I have no idea what practical purpose this serves, it's just a bit of Fun With Numbers.

You just have to remember the "magic numbers" in this table of all prime numbers:

1,-0......11,-1.....21 n/a.....31,-3
3,+1.....13,+4....23,+7..... 33 n/a
7,-2......17,-5.....27 n/a.....37,-11
9,+1.....19,+2....29,+3..... 39 n/a

See caveats/footnotes!

If you can remember the first column, the "magic number" for the prime numbers go up/down by -1 or +1 for numbers ending in 1 or 9, and by +3 or -3 for numbers ending in 3 or 7. So you can reconstruct the whole table just with those two rules. It goes on forever AFAIAA, so the "magic number" for 73 would be +21. There's no such thing as -0 of course, that's just to help you remember the pattern.

What do we do with the "magic number"?

If you have to work out whether a large number divides by a particular prime, you proceed as follows:

1. Multiply the last digit by the "magic number" for that particular prime and add that to the remaining digits (i.e. subtract it if the "magic number" is negative, or add it if both the "magic number" and the last digit are negative).

2. Do the over and over again until either:
a) you get to zero; a number that divides by the prime you are testing for; or a circular calculation where the answer remains constant (pass); or
b) you end up with a number that clearly doesn't divide by the prime you are testing for; or the calculations start flipping between positive and negative numbers without settling down (fail).

Let's test if 169,682 divides by 37:
16,968 - (11 x 2) = 16,946
1,694 - (11 x 6) = 1,628
162 - (11 x 8) = 74
If it's not obvious to you that 74 = 37 x 2, then keep going...
7 - (11 x 4) = -37
-37 clearly divides by 37, that's a pass.
Interestingly, if you keep going...
-3 - (11 x -7) = 74
A nice circular calculation that will flip back and forth forever, or until you notice it's a pass, whichever is sooner.

Let's test if 169,680 divides by 37 (it clearly doesn't):
16,968 - (11 x 0) = 16,968
1,696 - (11 x 8) = 1,608
160 - (11 - 8) = 72
Clearly a fail, but let's keep going...
7 - (11 x 2) = -15
-1 - (11 x -15) = 164
16 - (11 x 4) = -28
-2 - (11 x -8) = 86
At this stage you are flipping from positive to negative numbers without settling down, so we can declare this a fail.
--------------------------------------
Caveats/footnotes

a) 21, 27, 33 and 39 are not prime numbers. The entries would be 21,-2; 27, -8; 33,+10; and 39,+4. But I put n/a because the test does not necessarily work for non-prime numbers. The "magic numbers" for both 13 and 39 are/would be +4, and not all numbers that divide by 13 also divide by 39, obviously.

b) I've completed the table for the easiest to remember/smallest "magic numbers". This is a modular function, so for 7, you can use -2 or +5; for 11 you can use -1 or +10 etc.

Test:
Does 121 divide by 11?
12 - (1 x 1) = 11 (pass)
or
12 + (10 x 1) = 22 (pass).

This is also an example of a circular calculation where the answer is itself, if you overlook that 22 divides by 11, then here's the clue - apply the calculation to 22, you get 22:
2 + (10 x 2) = 22 (pass)

Saturday, 16 February 2019

"Is This What Quantum Mechanics Looks Like?"

When physics teachers try to explain rudimentary quantum mechanics, such as the two-slit experiment, they say you can visualise it as particles for some purposes but as waves for others.

Apparently, there's a splendid way of helping you visualise that actually it's both - with a simple practical experiment:

Friday, 15 February 2019

We don't need *a* withdrawal agreement

The whole notion of having a single, all-encompassing EU Withdrawal Agreement was a nonsense from the start, even assuming a lot of goodwill and willingness to compromise on both sides. It's Remainer propaganda to make it all seem more complicated than it really is (for the experts concerned).

The sensible thing to do is work on a case-by-case basis and have lots of little agreements, just as international relations are governed in the real world.

The starting position is leave everything running exactly as it is, making a few tweaks where necessary. Take EHIC cards, for example, that is an agreement between members of EU, EEA and Switzerland, we just change that to read "members of EU, EEA, Switzerland and the UK", and so on.

To give a few examples;

1. The airports, airlines, aviation authorities do their arrangements, which is lots of supra-national stuff, not really an EU thing.

2. The police and justice departments are responsible for extradition and deportation agreements, co-operation and information sharing. We can chuck the European Arrest Warrant in the shredder and revert to normal extradition rules.

3. Home Office agrees with corresponding department in each other country (or groups thereof) what the rules on emigration, immigration and right to reside are.

I have no idea how long this list would be (very long), but that doesn't matter, the people affected by cross-border and supra-national agreements know who they are and can get in touch with their counter-parties in other countries. Once they dig down, they'll find that most of this was never an EU-competence and so is barely affected by Brexit.

They can all work in parallel at the same time, they are the experts in their own area and know what needs to be done.

The NHS/BMA knows about mutual recognition of qualifications of doctors and nurses, but they have no idea about world-wide rules on car safety standards, that doesn't matter. NHS/BMA do their bit, and the car manufacturers and transport ministries do their bit.

There is no need for politicians - who have no expertise in anything - to get involved, except in their capacity as minister responsible for a particular department.

Here endeth.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Per aspera ad astra

"Work hard, and you'll be able to afford a Vauxhall"

See also:

"Keep your friends close, but keep your keys, mobile phone and wallet closer"

Daily Mail on top form

Scroll right to the end of the article for the money shot, i.e. the original headline:

Police probe mystery deaths of two men after their bodies were found inside £270,000 home

"Elementary, my dear: Predicting Brexit in the style of Sherlock Holmes"

Graeme Leach in City AM.

Basically, everybody's as confused as everybody else and nobody has a plan.

Jobs

Capitalism destroys jobs. 

It's the welfare state and socialism that create unemployment. 

Discuss

Monday, 11 February 2019

"Enter the first, fourth and fifth characters of your unique word"

Sometime when you login somewhere, you are asked to enter certain characters from your unique word, which is surprisingly difficult and often takes two or three attempts.

Some clever internet chaps have realised that this is waste of everybody's time and have set it up so that you have to enter the appropriate characters in the boxes and skip the asterisks. This makes it a lot easier because you can visualise your unique word as you type the characters in. Well done them!

* *□□*

A shining example of what the UK government *should* have been doing for the last two-and-a-half years...

From Sky News:

The government has signed a trade deal with Switzerland, heralded as the most significant such agreement in the run-up to Brexit.

The deal, known as a trade continuity agreement, will guarantee future trading terms between the two countries once the UK has left the EU.

It was signed, in the Swiss city of Bern, by International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and the Swiss federal councillor Guy Parmelin...


Top trolling by the Swiss - the UK couldn't be bothered to send anybody important, so the Swiss probably just drew lots in the canteen.

The agreement is designed to remove the threat of additional tariffs in trade between the two countries and to also to lift the possibility of additional duties on "the vast majority of goods".

The government says that "trading on these preferential terms", as opposed to sticking to the terms of the World Trade Organisation, "will deliver significant savings and help to safeguard British jobs".


But excellent stuff nonetheless, we just need a hundred more of these.
------------------------------------
And a shining example of what they shouldn't be doing:

Counting the cost

...we can look back at the whole period since the referendum and compare the level of GDP in the latest data to the OBR’s March 2016 pre-referendum forecast (which assumed the UK would remain in the EU).

Building on economists’ expectation for 2018 Q4 to the ONS data suggests the economy is 1.1 per cent smaller than that pre-referendum forecast. In annual GDP terms that’s worth around £23 billion, or about £800 per annum for every household in the UK.


Because OBR/Treasury forecasts have always been so reliable.

IIRC, GDP growth is down since 2016 in most European countries including Germany. Which is presumably also because of Brexit.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Killer Arguments Against Citizen's Income, Not (20)

The Killer Argument is that if you replace means-tested and conditional welfare payments with an unconditional and non-means tested one, "people won't bother working".

That is clearly nonsense, assuming it is set at a sensible level - about £75 (with housing benefit and council tax reductions on top) a week, or something like £120+ a week if housing subsidies are scrapped. There are very few people happy to live off £6,000 a year, most people want and earn much more than that.

The conditionality (aka pointless persecution to keep the Daily Mailexpressgraph readers onside), might, in marginal cases push people into work. The means testing does precisely the opposite - there's not much point working for a low wage if you lose 75p for every gross £1 you are paid. And we know that the UK welfare system is so clunky and horrible that people on benefits are discouraged from taking a short term or insecure job because it's so difficult going back on benefits again when it ends.

The nay-sayers have of course had a field day with the results of a small-scale experiment in Finland:

Beginning in 2017, some 2,000 recipients of unemployment benefits were given a monthly stipend of €560, tax-free and without any conditions, as part of an experiment in simplifying welfare and lowering unemployment.

A preliminary report published on Friday by the Finnish welfare administration Kela shows that the experiment’s effect on unemployment or self-employment was almost nonexistent.


Which the BBC gleefully reports thusly: Giving jobless people in Finland a basic income for two years did not lead them to find work, researchers said.

Well, so what?

The real lesson here is that recipients were not discouraged from looking for work, which rebuts the actual Killer Argument.

So even if that is not an argument in favour of a Citizen's Income, it's certainly not an argument against it and the other findings certainly are in favour:

However [?], the recipients of the stipend reported feeling happier and less stressed than the control group, made up of those who received traditional unemployment and welfare benefits.

Which is a clear win, less expensive bureaucracy and faff and people are happier.

That 'happiness' would be much greater if everybody got it, rich, poor or middling alike. I'm not aware that rich people begrudge other people's free at point of use state education or NHS treatment, because most rich people use the NHS and send their kids to state schools, and even if they don't, they know they could. So it all adds to that vague but important concept, 'social cohesion'.

UK Exports

In a recent post, I mentioned how I think most people think of manufacturing in a rather old way: oily blokes of little education bashing at pieces of metal in production lines, or women sitting in banks of sewing machines. But that most manufacturing is smaller scale, more specialised.

I think another thing like this is what people think our exports look like. Let's just take food. We have countless stories in the press of the effect of Brexit on our food industry: lamb farmers, beef farmers, cheese producers. And on the flip side, the benefits of Brexit for fishing. Not many stories about the Scotch Whisky industry, though, are there? What's the effect of Brexit on Scotch Whisky?

You'd think this would be worth reporting on, because Scotch Whisky is a larger export market than fish, meat and dairy combined. We exported £5.6bn of Scotch Whisky last year, compared to around £1.9bn of fish, £1.8bn of beef and £1.8bn of dairy and eggs (total £5.5bn).

See, I think at one time these things mattered. Raw exports were a big deal. We probably didn't export much in the 70s but bits of machinery and raw food. You didn't have ARM exporting chip designs or Chris Tarrant exporting game show formats to India. Most Indians didn't have TVs.

But there's where the growth is. Partly because microchips are higher value goods, but also because economic growth is faster outside the EU and goods like meat and cheese are more expensive to export far. They're large and often perishable. And what's growing is the less perishable stuff with more value added and/or branding.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Patents, taxation thereof.

Income from patents is "rent" because it can only arise as a result of government protection, so it seems fair enough to me if a government wants to collect a bit of extra tax from patents. The amounts involved are a tiny fraction of land rents, so I'm not overly bothered, but the principle stands.

The nay-sayers claim that people will just register their patents off-shore, which under current rules can produce a tax saving (because the rules are stupid). But this is similar to the claim that foreigners wouldn't pay LVT on land and buildings they own in the UK or that UK landowners would evade the LVT by registering the land in the name of an off-shore company, which is clearly drivel on the facts.

The same applies to patents. The source of the income is not the patent itself, it is the income from selling the patented products. So the best way of taxing patent income is for the UK government to levy an extra tax on the sale of patented products in the UK, the same as it collects fuel duty from fuel sold in the UK, or booze and fags duty from booze and fags in the UK. It does not matter where the booze or fags were made, or who owns the factory which makes them. The tax is the same.

(Admittedly, tobacco duty in the UK is so stupidly high that smuggling is worthwhile, and they might be past the top of the Laffer Curve, but the principle stands, and most people love bashing smokers, so politically, it is seen as A Good Thing).

Current rules on patent income are stupid, because they go downstream and try to tax the income received by the patent holder. Wrong, it is best to tax that income at source i.e. the actual sales of patented products to end users.
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I envisage something like this, taking cars as an example...

Somebody, car manufacturer or inventor, in the UK or abroad, patents some car components and wants the UK government to give legal protection against competitors embedding similar components in cars which they sell in the UK.

He notifies the UK government that car model such-and-such includes patented components and pays the tax on the selling price of the new such-and-such models he sells in the UK.

It's up to the car manufacturer (or indeed the car manufacturer and inventor together) to decide whether they are willing to pay for that protection or not; or indeed use non-patented components on UK models.
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It doesn't matter who discovered the idea; or where the patent is registered; or who has registered it; or who manufactures the products; or where they are manufactured. All we tax is patented products sold in the UK. You can invent any permutation you like, the rule is the same...

a) UK inventor gets patent royalties from a manufacturer abroad? He does not pay the tax.

b) UK manufacturer pays royalties to patent owner abroad? No tax on that, only tax on the patented products which the manufacturer sells in the UK.

c) UK inventor registers patent off-shore and is paid the royalties there? So what? Why would he even bother? The royalty payments themselves are not taxed in the UK anyway, see example a).

d) Foreign manufacturer sells patented products in the UK? The tax is on the total value of UK sales.

e) UK manufacturer makes patented products and exports most of them? The tax is only due on UK sales. Exports are not liable to UK patent tax.

And so on.
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Is it a perfect system? No of course not. But we know that fuel, booze and fags duty "work" on an administrative level. The same general rules apply here.

Is it far more coherent than the current system? Certainly: it's like a very focussed VAT, with much lower dead weight costs.

How high do we set the rates? Depends on the product. Items with low production costs and high margins (medicines, software) get a high rate (50%?) and items with high production costs and low margins (cars, consumer electronics) get a low rate (5%?).

There's a Laffer Curve to this, and we pitch the rates at something lower than revenue-maximising rate.

How much would the tax raise? No idea, but either we get more money, or we get more competition/innovation. Win-win!
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It doesn't matter what other countries do.

PR China does not care about copying and patent infringement, so were PR China to demand such a tax, people would laugh in their faces and tick the box saying "While this product is patent protected in the rest of the world, we know that you will turn a blind eye if Chinese manufacturers copy it, the protection you offer is worthless so we won't bother paying it on sales in PR China, thank you very much."

In this example, it's not like car manufacturers will say, "We don't want to pay the 5% in the UK, so we'll only sell this model in countries with no patent tax", because the 5% tax on cars will have been set at much less than the extra profits they can make as a result of including the patented components in cars they sell in the UK.

Wealthy countries with a good legal system will be able to charge higher rates of tax than poor countries with a corrupt-ineffective-expensive-complicated legal system, so it motivates governments to make sure that their country is wealthy and their legal system is accessible, quick, low cost and effective, that way they can collect more patent tax. Reward for good behaviour!
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Same goes for franchise payments. Starbucks siphons money out of the UK by charging people (franchisees) for use of the name, logo, cup design etc. The branding is clearly being exploited in the UK, it's a UK activity/UK source of income, so that would be liable to normal UK corporation tax.

Friday, 8 February 2019

"Woman eaten alive by pigs after suffering seizure in pen"

From Sky News:

The 56-year-old woman had gone to feed the animals when she suffered an epileptic seizure, it is reported.

She fell down in the pen and was bitten by the pigs. Her husband is understood to have discovered her body...

Her husband is believed to have gone to bed early, as he was unwell, which is why she was not found quickly. She died of blood loss.


... the world's most gullible policemen?

Simon Jenkins on top form, sort of.

Via Carol W, Simon Jenkins in The Guardian:

Three of the most expensive homes in the world have been sold recently, and to one man. He is the American hedge-fund billionaire Ken Griffin. One will overlook Buckingham Palace at Hyde Park Corner and will cost £100m. Another is a new townhouse across the park at Carlton House Terrace, costing £95m. The third is a penthouse atop a “pencil block” at New York’s 220 Central Park South, costing $238m (£200m). All have been eulogised as “stunning”.

Something else is stunning, but is not reported [sic]. The property tax that Griffin will pay to New York on his £200m home will be at least an eye-watering $280,000 a year. But dry the starting tear. He can afford it. Instead, switch to London. Here the sum total of what Griffin will pay Westminster for his pieds-a-terre is just £2,842 – that is the council tax on two H-band properties.


While $280,000 seems like a lot of money (and it is), that's still barely 0.1% of the selling price of his Manhattan flat. £2,842 is simply not a lot of money, and only 0.003% of the selling price.

So far so good (or bad).

Sort of...

What Jenkins doesn't mention is that Mr Griffin must have paid about 15% SDLT when he bought his London house. New York has a 'Mansion Tax' of 1% payable by the buyer and a transfer tax of 1.4% payable by the seller (as far as I can see) i.e. a lot less.

So it will be a long while before the total taxes paid on the purchase and ownership of the Manhattan flat catch up with the SDLT Mr Griffin paid up-front on his London house.

What we don't know is whether Mr Griffin will end up paying the ATED charge on his London house, which would be a princely £232,350 a year.

Either way, the UK is actually clawing back a lot more of the location value than Jenkins' article suggests, it's just doing it in a really stupid way, by using a transaction tax (or ATED with arbitrary bands) instead of an annual Land Value Tax.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

No-one Move Or the Roaming Charges Get It

From the Guardian

The government has formally announced that UK nationals could face high roaming charges for using their mobile phones in the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit, after the news was quietly disclosed a day earlier.

Answering an urgent question from Labour in parliament on Thursday, the culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, said that if there was no deal there would be nothing the government could do to prevent companies from imposing roaming charges, though voluntary agreements had been sought.

The shadow culture secretary, Tom Watson, said the possible return of roaming charges, which were abolished in 2017 around the EU, showed that ministers had opted to “cave to the lobbying might of telecoms companies rather than listen to the voice of consumers who are set to lose out”.


I knew someone in the mid-2000s who travelled around Europe on business and switched to Skype. He told me that it had cut his phone bill from around £250/month to less than £50/month. He paid £5/day for hotel wifi and then called on Skype. We did a few calls about work.

And over time, wifi went from being something cafes could sell with your coffee to something that attracted people to buy coffee. It's easy to find somewhere with free wifi.

The effect of this is that the lucrative business of charging people for roaming calls and data was disappearing. At a certain point, a company was going to figure they might as well sacrifice it for competitive advantage, which is what Three did.

Then what happened is that the EU made this law for all companies, something the companies were all going to do soon anyway, and took the credit for it, even though it was mostly about technology.

Vodafone could re-introduce roaming charges, but I'll switch provider if they do, and even if all the companies did it, I have 2 cafes where I go on holiday with wifi.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Semi-detached houses... why?

Having grown up in a traditional 1950s 3-bed semi and lived in both terraced and detached houses as an adult, all I can ask is... why?

Terraced houses

Plus points
- lower construction costs and very efficient use of utility connections (which run along the street)
- fewer outside walls, so lower heating costs.
- back garden is a safe space. You can leave your kids to play and they can't wander out onto the street. Burglars can't wander in and pinch stuff.
- you don't need to lock your back/garden door, unless you live near the end of the row. I'm assuming a London-style arrangement where your back garden backs onto somebody else's back garden, not the strange Northern thing with a ginnel down the back.

Minus points
- you can't blast our your music and noisy neighbours on either side can make your life a misery.
- homes are narrower, so on-street parking is very limited* if you don't have a front garden/drive.
- UPDATE, Pensieve in the comments reminds us that if you want to do major garden works, you have to shlepp dirty stuff through the house.

Renovation/decoration is a break even, I like it when each one in a row of terraced houses looks slightly different  but original uniformity is quite OK.

Detached houses

Plus points
- you can blast out your music and noisy neighbours are less of an issue
- homes are wider, and more likely to have space for off-street parking in front (or even at the side).
- you can renovate/decorate as you like and it won't clash with next door. They are supposed to be individual.

Minus points
- higher construction costs and less efficient use of utility connections.
- four outside walls, so higher heating costs.
- back garden is not such a safe space, kids could wander onto the street (unless you have a lockable gate on each side). Those lockable gates aren't much use against a determined burglar.
- you have to lock the back/garden door.

So far so good, now, are semi-detached houses some sort of golden middle optimum..?

Semi-detached houses

Plus points
- lower construction and heating costs, and more efficient use of utility connections, than detached.
- good for on- or off-street parking on the whole.

Minus points
- higher construction and heating costs, and less efficient use of utility connections, than terraced.
- back garden is not a safe space. Kids can wander off and burglars can wander in.
- you have to lock your back/garden door.
- you can't blast your music loud and a noisy neighbour can make your life a misery.
- if one half has been 'renovated' and one not, it looks like crap.

The first plus point and first minus point cancel out, so all you are left with is a plus on the parking and the rest is all net negatives, worst of both worlds.

You can tell that people don't really value the space down the side of a semi-detached house that much - when people extend, they tend to extend sideways. Once everybody has done it, what you end up with is very messy terraced houses.
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What have I missed? Why did we do this to ourselves?
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* I accept that in inner-urban areas, off-street parking is an overall minus, cars are out of place and people should walk or take public transport. I'm talking about outer suburbs and rural areas.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Outbreak of common sense

From the BBC:

Lorries will be able to drive straight off ferries and Channel Tunnel trains without making customs declarations in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the government has announced. New guidance for importers and hauliers says firms would file a simplified form online in advance and pay duty later...

Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for Dover - home to the UK's busiest Channel port - described the plans as a "common sense move". He said he had long argued that "checks can be done away from the border - so traffic can keep flowing smoothly".


Seems fair enough, it's the Seldon Plan, if in doubt, do nothing and see how things work out, start with a blank slate and tweak things later in the light of events.
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I'm not sure why the Channel Tunnel (when did we stop calling it the Chunnel?) gets so much coverage. According to The Guardian

The new figures showed that Dover [i.e. Channel Tunnel, from the context] handles up to 17% of the UK’s entire trade in goods worth up to an estimated £122bn last year.

Yup, from British Ports:

In 2017 the sum of UK exports and imports of goods totalled £822bn. Not all of this will have passed through sea ports; there is of course the Channel Tunnel, Heathrow airport and the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. But around 70% of goods transported into and out of the UK go through a sea port.

There are approximately 50 of these and they have competed and become increasingly efficient over the years. Greater economies of scale have resulted in increased concentration in the industry. The latest data reveals that around 75% of dry cargo by value is handled by just seven ports, the largest being Southampton, Felixstowe and Dover [the sea port].


So if the French want to be arsey about it (and they do) and the Chunnel is effectively shut down, I'm sure Rotterdam will happy to take on the new business and ports like Felixstowe, London/Tilbury, Dover, Southampton etc will be able to pick up the slack.
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Huffington Post picks up the low/no tariff story and runs with it:

Ministers are secretly planning to unilaterally cut tariffs on all imports to zero in the event of a no-deal Brexit, in a move that could flood the market with cheap goods and “ruin” industry, HuffPost UK has learnt. Trade Secretary Liam Fox wants to use executive powers – reserved only for ministers – to make a last-minute change to the Trade Bill which would allow the government to dramatically slash tariffs on all foreign goods.

It has been described by manufacturing union the GMB as “the ultimate Brexit betrayal”. Fox revealed his strategy to industry leaders in behind-closed-doors meetings this week, blaming fears that inflation could see prices sky-rocket if Britain crashes out of the EU on March 29.

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Predictably enough, a few months ago, the self same Huffington Post trotted this out:

“Food prices alone have now been inflationary for more than a year and the BRC estimates that consumers could face up to a 29% increase in prices of products such as beef in the event of a ‘no-deal’,” she said.

A report commissioned by Barclays bank and published last week found food retailers and suppliers could lose £9.3 billion as a result of tariffs brought in after a “no-deal”.


NOW That's what I flip-flopping! It's Schrödinger's Tariffs!

Tariffs are simultaneously A Very Good Thing because they protect domestic producers and A Very Bad Thing because they push up prices for consumers. Low tariffs are A Very Good Thing if they are thanks to the EU but A Very Bad Thing if 'because of Brexit'. In this DoubleThink scenario, the EU is protecting domestic producers by imposing tariffs (glossing over the obvious fact that many of our low cost competitors are in the EU and face zero tariffs) but protecting consumers by not imposing tariffs on imports from elsewhere in the EU.
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How high are EU tariffs on non-EU goods anyway, the only ones the UK can impose (except booze and fags duty)?

From Statista, the UK collects about £3 billion a year in tariffs, it keeps a handling charge and hands most over to the EU. It can't be much more than that, The Sun couldn't find a higher figure so just multiplied it by five to get a good headline.

That's not a very big number when compared to the total value of UK imports from non-EU countries, which are about £300 billion a year (from Parliament.uk). So the average tariffs are about 1% overall i.e. not much. Retaining them or scrapping them is not going to make much difference to anything, it's within normal daily or weekly currency fluctuations.
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As to the customs formalities:

1. The UK knows how to deal with the half of imports which are not from the EU, it's hardly a learning curve to extend that to all imports (if that's what we want to do).

2. They can cut them down to the bare minimum by just making the UK importer sign for them. IKEA knows that on a certain ship there are twenty containers of their finest flat packed, they tell the port, the port nods them through. Clearly, there will be occasional spot checks, but any importer wishing to stay in business will make sure he doesn't get involved in anything dodgy or he will have his sign-off rights revoked and will be out of business within days.

3. If we really want UK importers to pay tariffs, they can include it on their next VAT return, which is how it works with VAT, levied at 20% on all imports. Under normal rules, a UK importer 'declares' the VAT on its imports but can 'reclaim' them as input VAT on the same return. So all that is needed is to restrict the import VAT reclaim accordingly.

UPDATE: Re Mombers' comment, perhaps this will ram the point home that the UK imposes a domestic tariff of TWENTY PER CENT on all final sales, against which the official import tariffs pale into insignificance. It's called VAT.

4. Policy Exchange have done a long but even handed summary of why this is all nothing to worry about - assuming the UK government doesn't do something really stupid, which we can't rule out - here.

Nobody move or the buses get hurt!

Spotted by @TheaDickinson in the Birmingham Mail:

An expert has sensationally claimed bus services may STOP after Brexit - amid fears over the recruitment of drivers.

Services across Birmingham and the Midlands could worryingly grind to a halt, the expert has claimed.

Warning Brits they face impending chaos after March 29, former Stourbridge MP Lynda Waltho suggested the UK could face an exodus of drivers...

Monday, 4 February 2019

Carbon Brief: Why the UK’s CO2 emissions have fallen 38% since 1990

Fascinating.

From Carbon Brief:

The most significant factors include a cleaner electricity mix based on gas and renewables instead of coal, as well as falling demand for energy across homes, businesses and industry...

* Emissions would have been twice as large today if underlying factors had not changed. Electricity-sector emissions would have been nearly four times higher.
* The largest driver has been a cleaner electricity mix based on gas and renewables instead of coal. This was responsible for 36% of the emissions reduction in 2017.
* The next largest driver is reduced fuel consumption by business and industry, responsible for about 31% of the emissions reduction in 2017.
* Reduced electricity use – mostly in the industrial and residential sectors – was responsible for 18% of the emissions reductions.
Changes in transport emissions from fewer miles driven per capita and more efficient vehicles accounted for around 7%...


Lest anybody jump to the conclusion that industry's falling CO2 emissions is because we manufacture less and import more, they've covered that as well:

* Domestic emissions reductions were largely offset by increased CO2 embodied in imported goods until the mid-2000s. However, reductions since around 2007 have not been offset by CO2 in imported goods.

All good stuff, in other words.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Car Making

Car making is seen as a crown jewel of UK industry. I think because all consumers understand cars, and because they're reasonably expensive, it's easy to get footage of what they do, which people understand and they seem to employ lots of people.

So when a story appears about Jaguar Land Rover cutting 4500 jobs and moving them to Slovakia, there's a lot of people making a lot of noise about Brexit. Same with the story about Nissan not making the X-Trail.

I'm a leaver. But I'm not here to argue the effects of Brexit on UK car making. Because it's largely irrelevant. Assembly line car making (and I'm not including the likes of Aston Martin) is going to be gone from the UK in the fairly near future because assembly line car making will be gone from Western Europe in the fairly near future with production shifting eastwards.

Fiat and Toyota are of course making cars in these places because labour is cheaper. According to this, Czech Republic car workers make just over half the wages of UK car workers. And I'm going to guess Turkish car workers are making a little less than the Czechs. And is anyone doubting the quality of those cars? Are they any worse than any other Corolla?

What's keeping car production lines going in Britain is, I suspect that we already have the plants and not much else. In 1986, Nissan couldn't have put production in Eastern Europe because it was still communist. And even for some years after, they couldn't have done it because of things like transportation and infrastructure. But these countries now have everything in place and eventually, our manufacturers will follow.

At a larger level, I think people in the UK need to understand that production line manufacturing is either going or gone. UK manufacturing still matters, but it's manufacturing that's more specialised, small scale or customised like F1 cars or the company near me that hand-makes furniture. The part of manufacturing we will keep for some time is things like product design and engineering - Dysons get made in Malaysia but they get designed in Wiltshire.

Climate change LOLZ

From here:

Temperature Change and Carbon Dioxide Change

One of the most remarkable aspects of the paleoclimate record is the strong correspondence between temperature and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere observed during the glacial cycles of the past several hundred thousand years.




That chart's a few years old. In the meantime, CO2 is over 400 ppm. If the relationship had held as the warmenists predicted, then it would be about 10C warmer than it is, which it clearly isn't.

Their 'climate models' need a few more tweaks to explain that one away, don't they?

Saturday, 2 February 2019

The actual Good Friday Agreement says very little about cross-border trade

George Carty (on Twitter) trotted out a lazy misconception: "Surely the main problem is the Irish border (again) - IIRC we can't be in EFTA and also (as required by the GFA) in a customs union with the EU."

Fraggles points out in the comments: "The GFA does not state that NI must be in a customs union with the EU. It simply doesn't. Who keeps making this stuff up?"
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In such situations, I find it useful to write down what you know, and look up what you don't.
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1. Fraggles is quite correct. The full official text of the Belfast Agreement (as it was originally called) is available here. It's 35 pages long so I haven't read it all, but if you search for the word "border" it shows up ten times, but only as part of the catch-all expression "all-island and cross-border [matters]"; the word "trade" appears once as part of the expression "trade union".

Fact is, the GFA had very little to do with cross-border trade. Somebody who worked for the Northern Ireland Office (or Department or Ministry or whatever it was called at the time) under John Major (Tony Blair picked up the baton and finished off the process after he became PM) confirmed that the main aim was ending The Troubles, duh!

They did this quite simply by stuffing the mouths of the leaders of extremist movements/terrorist organisations on both sides with gold. The UK governments' own bullet points are:

* the creation of a democratically elected Assembly
* the creation of a North/South Ministerial Council
* the creation of a British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Governmental Conference


In other words, creating lots of lovely, well-paid public sector/political sinecures which were awarded to the likes of Gerry Adams and Rev. Ian Paisley etc. Every man has his price. In return, said trouble makers agreed to lay down their arms, and all in all, it has worked very well (at considerable cost to the UK taxpayer, but worth it IMHO).
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2. We know perfectly well that there was only a 'hard border' between NI and RoI because the NI police needed to minimise the amount of weapons being smuggled into NI and/or terrorists moving back and forth.

(Ever since Irish independence, the UK has always honoured freedom of Irish citizens to move to and from the UK (and vote in elections here), and there was never a reason to try and impede cross-border trade.)

The GFA enabled the border to be 'softened' to the point of irrelevance by buying off the terrorists/extremists. The only reason the UK would reimpose it is a resurgence of nationalist terrorism.

So people who say that if there's a No Deal Brexit we'll go back to the Bad Old Days of hour long queues at the NI-RoI border with armed guards and frequent inspections have completely lost the plot.
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3. If you search the full text for the word "EU", the most relevant paragraph is this:

The British Irish Council will exchange information, discuss, consult and use best endeavours to reach agreement on co-operation on matters of mutual interest within the competence of the relevant Administrations. Suitable issues for early discussion in the BIC could include transport links, agricultural issues, environmental issues, cultural issues, health issues, education issues and approaches to EU issues.

I think that Brexit falls squarely under their competence, so what is the British Irish Council doing about it? I haven't heard a peep from them. In fact, I'd never heard of them at all.
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4. More facts:

The population of NI voted by a reasonable majority to Remain in 2016.

The vote share of the two biggest Unionist (broadly, pro-Leave) parties in the 2017 General Election was 46%, against 40% for the two biggest Nationalist (broadly, pro-Remain) parties.

So a bit of an uncomfortable contradiction there!
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5. We know that borders are artificial, but a line has to be drawn somewhere and compromises made.

The UK is not a single political unit, there is a whole hodge-podge of territories which are 'British' for some purposes but not others (Isle of Man, Channel Islands - both use GBP and have same titular head of state - Gibraltar, Falkland Islands etc). Scotland is autonomous in some respects and has a fairly powerful Assembly (which they cheerfully refer to as the Scottish Government), Northern Ireland has a similar Assembly, which spends most of the time trying to get itself shut down again. And we manage just fine.

Similarly, there isn't actually a neat line round the Member States of the EU. There is a whole hodge-podge of territories which are in the EU for some purposes and not in the EU for other purposes, full list here. Gibraltar is on this list as well. And they manage just fine.

I'm thinking, surely it is not that difficult to think up some fudged arrangement whereby Northern Ireland falls into the categories of half-in, half-out of the UK and similarly half-in, half-out of the EU?

Where there's a will there's away. Problem is there is absolutely no will on EU side to do something sensible and Mrs T May is being held to ransom by the fairly extremist DUP.
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6. Cross-border trade is very important to the NI and RoI economies, making up about 5% of either side's GDP. I'm not sure if cross-border workers are included in that.

But NI or RoI trade with Great Britain (i.e. the rest of UK) is several times greater than trade between themselves.

Which stands to reason. Although the island of GB is a bit further away from RoI than NI is, the population of GB is thirty times the population of NI and fifteen times the population of RoI.