Sunday, 18 April 2021

More vaccine fun.

From the BBC:

Hungary has already bought and distributed considerable quantities of Sputnik V. France and Germany, among many others, are at least prepared to consider it, if and when the European Medicines Agency gives its approval. Hungary has used its right as an independent member state* to grant emergency authorisation.

Veteran French diplomat Pierre Vimont, who's now a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe, says it's perfectly rational for member states to think about buying Sputnik. "Even when you're facing an adversary," he told the BBC, "you have to think of your own interests."

Mr Vimont, as you'd expect of a man who's held some of his country's most important diplomatic postings, suggests that the European Union's attitude should be one of cautious pragmatism. That means acknowledging the excellence of Russian science but waiting for EMA authorisation as well.

He makes the point that countries using the jab on the basis of their own approval could face political difficulties with their own voters if things go wrong.

I always assumed this to be the case. If the pol's want to push through something unpopular (or risky), they get the EU to mandate it and then the pol's concerned can deny responsibility and point the finger at the EU. "We were only obeying orders".

* I'm not sure what "independent Member State" means in this context.

Thursday, 15 April 2021

M&S are being a bit pathetic, if you ask me.

From the BBC:

Marks & Spencer has begun legal action against Aldi, arguing the supermarket's Cuthbert the Caterpillar cake infringes its Colin the Caterpillar trademark. M&S argues that their similarity leads consumers to believe they are of the same standard and "rides on the coat-tails" of M&S's reputation.

It lodged an intellectual property claim with the High Court this week. M&S wants Aldi to remove the product from sale and agree not to sell anything similar in the future. The retailer has three trademarks relating to Colin, which it believes means Colin has acquired and retains an enhanced distinctive character and reputation.

The product was launched around 30 years ago. Colin's appearance has been substantially unchanged since around 2004, except for adaptations for events such as Halloween and Christmas, and related products such as Connie the Caterpillar.

A spokesman said: "Because we know the M&S brand is special to our customers and they expect only the very best from us, love and care goes into every M&S product on our shelves.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Climatologists are Flat Earthers

Agreed facts:

1. If Earth had no atmosphere, then the average surface temperature would be about 255K (actually it would be higher because no atmosphere = no clouds = lower albedo = less sunlight reflected = more sunlight absorbed = warmer, but let's gloss over that bit). The turquoise is the surface, the sky appears black (like on our Moon): 2. Elevation or altitude would make no difference, the tops of mountains would be the same temperature as 'sea level' (like on our Moon):

3. We have an atmosphere, and because of the gravito-thermal effect, it is not 255K all the way up. It about 33 degrees warmer than that at sea level and 33 degrees cooler than that at the tropopause (the boundary between troposphere, warmed from below, and the stratosphere, warmed from above). The tropopause is on average about 11 km up, the altitude at which long distance airliners fly. Which is why mountain peaks more than half way up (Everest) are cooler than 255K at the top.

The Alarmists insist that the extra 33K at sea level is purely due to 'greenhouse gases' (some of them insist that the gravito-thermal effect can only exist if there are 'greenhouse gases' in the atmosphere), they are Flat Earthers and ignore everything to the right of the dotted line:

4. If Earth's surface were a lot more mountainous, covered in mountain peaks a lot higher than Everest which reached the tropopause, the overall average surface temperature would be about 255K, exactly the figure we would calculate from sunlight alone.

We would teach kids about the gravito-thermal effect to explain why mountain peaks are cold and valleys are warm, and the world would be a better place. Alarmists simply refuse to address this simple debunkation:
5. Of course, this does not explain small, shorter term fluctuations in temperatures, as we have seen over the past half-century*, but you can't just assume that a bit of CO2 = 33 degrees extra surface temperature and extrapolate from there. The Alarmists miserably fail to even try to explain how CO2 can cause warming at sea level but cooling on mountain peaks, even though mountain peaks get more sunshine than the surface, and although there is less CO2 above mountain peaks, there is still some.

* The most likely explanation, if this is indeed man-made, is ozone depletion caused by CFC gases. This is of serious concern. As it happens, this is also what might be causing cooling in the stratosphere. But I am well-versed in Alarmist pseudo-explanations - their take is that more CO2 in the stratosphere causes that cooling because it is at lower density and thus magically radiates more away from Earth than back towards it.

I suppose you could adapt this twisted-logic to explain the lower temperatures on mountain peaks and up where airliners fly, if you were capable of Double- and TrebleThink. The logical collorary of that would be that it would be warmer on mountain peaks if there were no CO2 in the atmosphere, or something completely mental.

Sunday, 11 April 2021

Calculating the marginal corporation tax rate in your head using 'rectangles'

This post is not really about tax, I'm just using it as an example of how to use 'rectangles' to simplify and solve maths problems, so is of general application.
From the BBC:

Mr Sunak... said a new small profits rate would maintain the 19% rate for firms with profits of £50,000 or less, meaning that about 70% of companies - 1.4 million businesses - would be "completely unaffected" by the tax rise. And there will be a taper above £50,000, so that only businesses with profits of £250,000 or greater will be taxed at the full 25% rate - about 10% of firms.

Assuming this works the same as the old way (when the lower and upper limits were £300,000 and £1.5 million), you can work out the marginal tax rate on profits between £50,000 and £250,000 as follows:
£50,000 x 19% = £9,500
£250,000 x 25% = £62,500
£62,500 - £9,500 = £53,000
£250,000 - £50,000 = £200,000
£53,000 ÷ £200,000 = 26.5%

Which is a bit tedious.

This morning I tried using 'rectangles' in my head instead. This turns out to be much easier and quicker - there are more steps but the first six require no calculations at all and only take a couple of seconds:

1. The green rectangle is the tax you pay on exactly £50,000 of taxable profits.
2. The yellow rectangle plus the red rectangle is the total additional tax you pay on exactly £250,000 of taxable profits.
3. But they don't officially make you pay the 'red' tax; they make you pay the 'orange' tax in addition to the 'yellow' tax on profits between £50,000 and £250,000.
4. The red and orange rectangles must have the same area.
5. The red rectangle is 6% high and £50,000 wide.
6. The orange rectangle is X% high and £200,000 wide.
7. The orange rectangle is four times as wide, so it's only one quarter as high.
8. X = 6% red height x 1/4 = 1.5%.
9. Total height of yellow plus orange rectangle = 25% + 1.5% = 26.5%.

This is so painfully obvious to me now, why didn't I think of this decades ago, when the marginal rate changed every few years? The relevance of this may seem pretty arcane, but when you have groups of companies, it comes in handy when deciding how to minimise the total tax payable when there's a decision to be made, like surrendering losses or restricting the capital allowance claim this year in exchange for a larger WDA claim in the next year etc.

Friday, 9 April 2021

Seems plausible

The BBC's headline is: Covid: UK vaccine rollout 'breaking link' between infections and death.

Seems plausible to me. I took the stat's on new daily cases and new daily deaths from, overlapped them and shifted deaths back by about two weeks to get the best match. The brown line for 'deaths' is clearly dropping much faster than the blue line for 'cases':
The alternative explanation is that all the really susceptible people have already succumbed, anybody who's survived this far is resistant or immune.

Obviously, neither case numbers nor death numbers are accurate in absolute terms, but as long as the stat's are compiled consistently, the trend is reliable.

Interestingly, assuming the stat's to be reliable, the death rate appears to be about 2.5% (much higher than often assumed) i.e. if there are 1,000 new cases today, there will be 25 new deaths today in two weeks (or whatever the lag is between diagnosis and death).

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Why would Bob Dylan misquote his own lyrics?

The penultimate verse of Isis on the LP version (as MetroLyrics confirms) are clearly audible as follows:

She said "Where ya been?", I said "No place special"
She said "You look different", I said "Well, I guess"
She said "You been gone", I said "That's only natural"
She said "You gonna stay?", I said "If you want me to, yes"

I Binged this a couple of days ago because I wanted to pin down some lyrics that are mumbled (what I thought was "the borderline" is actually "dividing line", not that it makes any difference) and was surprised to see that Bob Dylan's official site gives the penultimate verse as:

She said “Where ya been?”, I said “No place special”
She said “You look different”, I said “Well, not quite”
She said “You been gone”, I said “That’s only natural”
She said “You gonna stay?”, I said “Yeah, I jes' might”

This might be some bizarre copyright wrangle, where Bob Dylan doesn't have to hand over a share of the royalties if he publishes his own version of a song which he co-wrote, but FFS.

Monday, 5 April 2021

I wonder whether they've censored "Nineteen Eighty-Four" yet?

From Part One, Chapter 7, as printed in 1976:

Of the three, it was Rutherford whose appearance had most impressed Winston... He was a monstrous man, with a mane of greasy hair, his face pouched and seamed with thick negroid lips.

If anybody has a more recent print, I'd love to know what happened to that sentence.

UPDATE: Lucy (in the comments) confirms that the sentence in book she bought in Canada in 2012 is as follows: "Of the three, it was Rutherford whose appearance had most impressed Winston... He was a monstrous man, with a mane of greasy gray hair, his face pouched and seamed, with protuberant lips."
A couple of other things struck me on re-reading it recently:


There are endless articles like this trying to explain or justify why Orwell didn't make the second slogan "SLAVERY IS FREEDOM", which would fit in with the logic of the other two. I'm not convinced. I don't think it was a 'mistake' as it was clearly deliberate, but I still think it was a misjudgement on his part. Unless he wanted to troll his own readers.
Part One, Chapter 1, on a visit to the cinema:

A woman down in the prole part of the house suddenly started kicking up a fuss and shouting they didn't oughter of showed it not in from of kids...

I'm in two minds about this. Was Winston highlighting the proles' incapacity to distinguish between 'have' and 'of', or was Orwell highlighting that under IngSoc, not even Party workers like Winston have a basic grasp of grammar any more?

Either way, he called that one right. I have colleagues - whom you'd expect to be reasonably intelligent or well-educated - who think that 'of' is an acceptable alternative spelling of 'have'. I usually send the terse one-word reply "Have" (making sure to hit 'reply' and not 'reply all').

Saturday, 3 April 2021

"Dozens of MPs criticise 'divisive' Covid passports"

I must admit, I am heartily indifferent to the whole furore. On the one hand, they won't achieve much, on the other hand, it's a free world and you can't stop people doing stuff.

Demanding a Covid passport as proof of a jab or test to access jobs or services is "dangerous, discriminatory and counterproductive", opponents say.

Baroness Chakrabarti warned the passports risked creating a "checkpoint Britain" as more than 70 MPs railed against their use in England. Labour's Jeremy Corbyn and senior Tory Iain Duncan Smith are among a broad coalition who pledged their opposition.

1. Every country can make up its own rules on who's allowed in, quarantine requirements and so on. Like certain countries demanding you had a Yellow Fever vaccination prior to travel. If the UK wants to do the same as other countries, is that such a bad thing? Possibly, I don't know. But we have to accept that the world is the way it is, in which case it makes sense to have a standardised, internationally accepted 'passport' (in whatever form).

2. But the cat is out of the bag and some people will have them. I never had an objection to individual employers, cinemas or restaurants banning smoking on their premises. Their gaff, their rules, I can always go somewhere else. I still object strongly to the government-imposed general smoking ban, but I guess that ship has sailed. By the same token, if individual private employers or businesses think it is in their interests to demand to see a Covid passport (and I don't see why it would be, but hey), who's to stop them?

3. The whole idea is slightly ludicrous, because...

a) it will be several months until ever adult (i.e. the under-50s) have had the opportunity to receive both jabs (plus two week wait after the second jab for luck), and which pub is going to turn away all the under-50s until this autumn (or whenever)? Which employer is going to put a blanket ban on employees under-50 coming to work, or recruiting them in the first place?

b) what about children? I'm not aware that there are any plans to vaccinate all children as well. Even if they do them once they've finished vaccinating all adults, that won't be over until a year from now. So Mum and Dad can go into the restaurant or cinema and the kids have to stay outside?

c) and there are enough adults who simply can't be vaccinated (pregnant women, people with certain conditions or allergies).

4. Then add on the possibilities for fraud (anything electronic can be hacked) and mistakes (where a valid passport is not recognised) and the cost of employing bouncers outside your place of business.

5. The vaccines are, thankfully, voluntary. If Covid-19 were as dangerous as Ebola fever, there might be an argument for making them compulsory and imposing sanctions on those who don't comply, but Covid-19 just isn't serious enough. And voluntary must mean voluntary. So monopoly providers of certain services (mainly the government, in this context) should clearly not be allowed to discriminate again the non-vaccinated. But like I said, if a competing private business decides that it's in its own interests to demand to see a Covid passport, fair enough.

5. Overall result = a mountain of chaos that collapses under the weight of its own contradictions. The arguments FOR and the arguments AGAINST are both pretty feeble, if you ask me. Which you didn't, but I'm telling you anyway just to get it off my chest.

Minuscule's last stand

The Daily Mash still spells it the traditional way:

I spotted the alternative spelling "miniscule" in a BBC article today, but I can't track it down again.

While trying to find it, I realised to my horror that the BBC have been spelling it "miniscule" since 2003.

I personally am not bothered whether we spell it the traditional way, based on its word stem "minu..." ('minute' as in 'very small', not 'minute' as in 'sixty seconds') or phonetically as "miniscule" but can we please make up our minds?

Friday, 2 April 2021

Firm conclusions based on total guesswork

From The Guardian:

The climate crisis is already eating into the output of the world’s agricultural systems, with productivity much lower than it would have been if humans hadn’t rapidly heated the planet, new research has found.

Advances in technology, fertilizer use and global trade have allowed food production to keep pace with a booming global population since the 1960s, albeit with gross inequities that still leave millions of people suffering from malnutrition.

But rising temperatures in this time have acted as a handbrake to farming productivity of crops and livestock, according to the new research, published in Nature Climate Change. Productivity has actually slumped by 21% since 1961, compared to if the world hadn’t been subjected to human-induced heating.

And from itself:


Agricultural research has fostered productivity growth, but the historical influence of anthropogenic climate change (ACC) on that growth has not been quantified.

We develop a robust econometric model of weather effects on global agricultural total factor productivity (TFP) and combine this model with counterfactual climate scenarios to evaluate impacts of past climate trends on TFP. Our baseline model indicates that ACC has reduced global agricultural TFP by about 21% since 1961, a slowdown that is equivalent to losing the last 7 years of productivity growth.

The effect is substantially more severe (a reduction of ~26–34%) in warmer regions such as Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. We also find that global agriculture has grown more vulnerable to ongoing climate change.

Is there any part of this whatsoever that doesn't scream 'total guesswork'? You can't just add up inputs and assume a linear rise in outputs. Your factors are land, water and sunshine, seeds, labour, machinery, other capital and fertiliser, it's all trade-offs. How on earth do you ascribe one set of relative values? Machinery will be used if it is cheaper than using labour, so you use more tractors in high-wage countries and more labour in low wage countries.

Using 'enough' fertiliser will get you an optimum result; there is no point using more than that because the extra yield does not justify the extra cost. And the extra yield depends on how much you can sell your produce for. All plants require a minimum amount of land to grow, although you can enhance that by building greenhouses and polytunnels etc.

Billions of farmers worldwide have been making these calculations since farming was invented and they seem to have got it right most of the time. Somehow or other, food production has always kept pace with population growth (by definition) and there's no reason to assume that this won't continue for the foreseeable future.

There used to be famines all the time, but there haven't been many in the past couple of decades apart from those imposed by governments (North Korea) or warfare. Sure, there are droughts, floods and outbreaks of pests now and then, here and there, always have been and always will, but you don't read about hundreds of thousands or millions of people starving to death like you did for most of the 20th century.

So sorry, really not bothered.