Tuesday 30 April 2019

"Because Brexit" headline of the day

From today's Evening Standard. Read the article - it has nothing to do with Brexit whatsoever, apart from an out of context sound bite at the end:

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (455)

KJP trotted out half a dozen traditional KLNs on #454, including:

In the long term, over 2 or 3 generations, LVT could be introduced... Overall it could be equal but what for those individuals who had recently purchased properties and the banks that lent them money?

He claims it will be a problem for recent purchasers with large mortgages. Why? They will be the people who save the most tax in future, as the homes which recent purchasers bought are relatively small multiples of their income.

Pension funds have shares in financial institutions not just rich people.

Counter-argument: "Pension funds have shares in productive businesses, which will benefit enormously from a shift to LVT."

What do 'rich people' have to do with this? High earners will pay less tax; people who own valuable land will pay more tax. This is not about rich v poor or young v old.

The special pleading for banks is (I assume) based on the assumption that selling prices will fall. Seeing as selling prices are ultimately dictated by younger people's disposable incomes, it is quite possible that under a 50/50 tax shift, selling prices would go up (whether that is desirable or not is a separate issue). So it's a flawed argument based on a flawed assumption.

Fairness and the productive sector? There are no taxes on turnover...

Value Added Tax, a tax on net turnover or gross profits, take your pick.

... Taxes on wages, yes; PAYE and NI; profits, corporation tax and consumption, VAT.

But it does seem to shift the goalposts. In the past you paid income tax and bought your house; now no income tax so you have to pay LVT to cover the shortfall. Retired, not much income, tough.

Let's imagine we'd always had LVT. In the past, people would have paid LVT and bought their house. Why is different to having paid income tax and bought their house?. Those who now have to pay LVT are not necessarily better or worse off than if it had been introduced "2 or 3 generations ago" and they'd always had to pay LVT.

Either way, all mainstream LVT-ers agree that pensioners would be able to roll up and defer their LVT bills, so it's not their problem, it's their heirs' problem.

Note also the sneaky diagonal comparison:

KJP highlights:
a) recent purchasers (younger, higher earnings, lower value housing) and
b) pensioners (older, lower earnings, higher value housing) and claims they will both be worse off under LVT.

They are diametric opposites!

Recent purchasers will be massively better off; pensioners will break even (roll up and defer) and their heirs might be worse off (if they were basing their life plans on a juicy inheritance) or better off (if they are working and earning, and their parents' homes aren't worth that much anyway).

I misread this Met Police advert on the Tube

Monday 29 April 2019

Cheap food

I was listening to Radio 4 today and there was an article on cheap food, which mentioned, inter alia, that the government has a policy of keeping food cheap, to the detriment of farmers in particular and others in general.

This is something my mother had been wont to bring up now and again since my childhood and for some time I wondered why.

However, my wondering ceased when I heard on Radio 4 a few months ago that 100 years ago, on average, 20% of the expenditure of the poor went on rent and 50% on food. Now it's the other way around. A similar point is made in this article.

So basically, farmers are kept poor and subsidised, we eat rubbish food and animals are reared in inhumane conditions so that landlords can grow rich, but, of course, it's never put like that.

"Creativity peaks in your 20s and 50s"

From the BBC:

If you've ever wondered why your mind is a hotspot for new ideas in your 20s, it could be that you're experiencing the first of two creative peaks.

New research from Ohio State University found that our mid-20s is when our brains first become fertile ground for innovation.

The study looked at previous winners of the Nobel Prize in economics. It found that those who did their most groundbreaking work in their 20s tended to be "conceptual" innovators. So basically they had a light bulb moment and acted upon it.

But don't panic if you've gone past your mid-20s without a flicker of an idea - some of us won't hit our inspirational stride until our mid-50s.

The headline might as well say: "having kids at home stifles your creativity", which I suspect explains most of it. As lovely as kids are, you have to always go for the safe and steady options while they are in your care. Give me two more years and I will once again be the creative powerhouse I once was (if I ever was, which is debatable).

Wow, how did that get past the censors?

At the end of an article at the BBC, which merrily jumbles up organic matter and carbon dioxide under the catch-all heading 'carbon', which in nature only exists as coal, charcoal, graphite or diamonds...

Brexit could give the UK greater flexibility on how to spend public money on farming - enabling much more leeway to reward farmers for capturing carbon in the earth.

Sunday 28 April 2019

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (454)

Submitted by Me, from the comments at bondeconomics.com, it's a three-parter, somehow the Homeys don't notice the inherent contradictions:

Not a fan of land tax.

Courtesy of adding an extension on my house, I will face a greater tax bill than my neighbour, who has a lot that is probably the same size as mine.

That's an argument against 'property tax' and an argument for LVT.

Meanwhile, some dimwit ripped down the house a few doors over, and put up a monstrosity that has probably 40% more square footage than my house, but on a smaller lot.
Taxing land alone would reverse the tax burden than what happens under property taxes (the monster house faces the largest property tax, but the smallest land tax). This would be so unfair that Canadian voters would obliterate anyone foolish enough to propose such a policy.

That's now an argument for 'property tax' and against LVT. Can he make up his mind?

The rule is that LVT is set according to site premium assuming optimum permitted use. In any area, some plots will be over-developed and some will be under-developed; we don't need individual and specific valuations of each plot or each building; they get averaged out in each area and each plot is taxed as if it were put to the average or typical use.

So maybe Brian's neighbour owns an under-developed plot; the dimwit lives on an over-developed plot and Brian has hit the optimum - so Brian will be paying the right amount of LVT.

Even if final LVT assessments are a bit arbitrary, so what? The aim is not primarily to achieve 'fairness' between land owners, which would happen anyway. (Even if certain individual assessments are too high/low, then today's landowner's loss/gain is tomorrow's land owners corresponding gain/loss.)

The aim is to achieve 'fairness' between land owners and the productive sector. Any LVT, however arbitrary the valuations, is always going to be 'fairer' than smashing the real economy with massive taxes on turnover, wages, profits and consumption to pay for the public services which create and maintain land values in the first place.

Since there are almost no transactions for land alone in developed areas, there is literally no way to get a legitimate value on land; any valuation is purely guesswork pulled out of some "expert's" nether regions.

That's easy; LVT assessments are based on rental values; we compare like with like to arrive at the site premium, average it all out a bit, job done.

Furthermore, funding a basic income with a land tax shows a huge lack of understanding of Functional Finance. A basic income is extremely inflationary, which is why it is a bad idea relative to a Job Guarantee. Taxing land (or property) is hitting the people who have the lowest propensity to consume out of income -- which is a terrible way to control inflation.

i) He's confusing the taxation side with the spending side. It's a traditional KLN.

ii) A basic income is not inflationary, and certainly not any more than any item of government spending - such as Job Guarantee - is inflationary.

iii) There is no inflation in the real economy, people get better at doing stuff, and over time everything gets cheaper. The only inflation that matters - and which really damages the economy - is land price inflation.

iv) He finishes off by chucking LVT and property tax in the same pot, and overlooks the basic point that landowners are consuming; they're just consuming out of taxes on other people's income. Which makes it the worst kind of consumption.

Saturday 27 April 2019


A factory fresh MR2 Roadster headlight v one that's about twenty years old and has covered 80,000 miles:

Friday 26 April 2019

Conspiracy Theory Of The Week

From The Guardian:

It is a dastardly trap, designed to lock freedom-loving Britain into the European Union’s protectionist customs union: that is the argument against the so-called backstop, cited by hardline Brexit advocates as the main reason why they have thrice voted down Theresa May’s deal with the European Union.

But as the dust settles after months of chaos in Westminster, suspicions are growing on the other side of the Channel that the backstop could in fact be the very opposite: a brilliant deception device constructed by crack UK negotiators, which would allow a more reckless British prime minister to undermine the EU’s green and social standards while still keeping access to the European single market.

Private school bullshit

From The Daily Mail (as The Times is behind paywall):

Private schools save the taxpayer billions of pounds every year, their head teachers claimed yesterday.

The schools not only provide a huge financial benefit to the Exchequer but also wider benefits to society, according to analysis from the Independent Schools Council.

The report found that private school fees have doubled over the last 15 years, with the latest annual rise hitting more than 3 per cent.

Fees go up at compound 7% year because they are largely rent, they charge according to what parents are [daft enough to be willing] to pay*. The fees have nothing to do with real costs, if parents' net disposable income goes up by £x,000, then fees go up by £x,000.

But heads said the savings from taking pupils out of the state education system as well as the added benefits of community facilities, jobs created and tax contributions added up to a £20billion boon for the taxpayer, The Times reported.

£20 billion? That's bollocks. There are 615,000 children at private school, the average cost of/amount spent on one child at a state school place is about £6,000 a year, 615,000 x £6,000 = £3.7 billion a year.


This was made up of £3.5 billion saved by freeing up state school places...


... £4.1 billion in tax paid by the schools and their suppliers

How is that relevant? If people weren't doing work for private schools they'd be doing something else, possibly much more useful to the economy, and still paying the same amount of tax.

... and a further £13.7 billion in the value of the work supported by the schools across the economy.

A completely made up figure, in other words.

I wonder why they opened themselves to ridicule like this, had their headline figure been £5 billion a year, that still sounds like a lot of money to Joe Public (although it isn't, in national accounts terms) and I wouldn't have questioned it.

* I am happy to report that my 18 year-old's grammar school has taken the last term's fees, ever, and I have cancelled the direct debit. That's £150,000 I'll never see again. Two more years of my 16 year-old's school gouging me and I'm done with this bullshit, which was all Mrs W's idea, as you can imagine.
UPDATE re Bayard's comment: "I do know that now they charge what the market will bear so that they can offer bursaries to pupils from a less wealthy background, which they didn't do in my day. If you wanted money off then, you had to win a scholarship. However, I don't suppose all private schools do this."

I'm not sure what the difference between a 'bursary' and 'scholarship' is, but I was clever/lucky enough to get a free place at what was (and possibly still is) a very good grammar school Up North in the late 1970s. It was blindingly obvious to me even at the tender age of ten or eleven that this was not an act of charity or benevolence on their part, they needed ten per cent or so of smart kids from poorer families to bump up their grade averages; thus making the school more marketable to wealthy parents.

So I got the 'free' (and very good education, no complaints there, apart from Mr Illingworth the maths teacher and Mr Dorian the English teacher who were unalloyed cunts, but even they couldn't drag me down from an A at O-level) and the school could bump up their fees a bit; both parties win! I fulfilled my side of the bargain by getting very good O-level results, much better than the average for my year, and then my idiot parents fucked both sides over by taking me out of school at 15 3/4.

Thursday 25 April 2019

Tokenistic tinkering at the margins

From the BBC:

"Outdated" age-specific benefits for older people should be replaced with support for the young to "deliver a fairer society", say peers...

The peers also propose changes to benefits for older people, including:

* Removing the triple lock for pensions, which raises the basic state pension by the rate of average earnings increases, inflation or 2.5% - whichever is higher
* Phasing out free TV licences based on age (currently free for over-75s) and ensuring the government decides on whether to give free licences based on household income
* Limiting free bus passes for the over-65s and winter fuel payments until five years after retirement age

As daft as the free TV licence, bus passes and winter fuel payment (fka "Christmas Bonus") are, the nominal cost of these things is minimal in national accounts terms and the real cost to those not receiving them is nigh on zero.

The triple lock is a gimmick, but it seems sensible to index the state pensions to wages, and I doubt that state pensions would be much lower had they just been indexed to wages without a "triple lock".

They have deliberately missed the point.

There's no particular conflict between 'young' and 'old' on the spending side, the real battle is between landowners (landlords or homeowners) and tax-payers (businesses, workers and consumers) on the taxation side.

And at present, the landowners are winning, as they have been doing since 1066. Funding public services - which create and sustain land values in the first place - with service charges on land (Land Value Tax) instead of with taxes on output and wages (VAT and NIC) will go a long way to sorting all this out, no need for sticking plasters on sticking plasters.

As long as ALL pensioners get the same goodies, regardless of how much land (by value) they own, there's not really a problem.

Wednesday 24 April 2019

Solar System Temperatures - Not

A nice bit of sleight of hand by NASA Science:

This graphic shows the average temperatures of various destinations in our solar system. (Planets not to scale):

In general, the surface temperatures decreases with increasing distance from the sun.

Venus is an exception because its dense atmosphere acts as a greenhouse and heats the surface to above the melting point of lead, about 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius).

Mercury rotates slowly and has a thin atmosphere, and consequently, the night-side temperature can be more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the day-side temperature shown on the diagram. It can be as cold as -290 degrees Fahrenheit (-179 degrees Celsius) on Mercury at night.

The temperature they show on the graphic for Mercury is the day-side peak temperature, the average is 'only' 167C.

Their explanation why Venus is the exception is completely wrong, which they admit in the footnote:

Temperatures for the gas and ice giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) are taken from a level in the atmosphere equal in pressure to sea level on Earth.

The average temperature given for Earth is also at sea-level pressure, so there are two outliers. There is practically no atmosphere on Mercury (it could be correspondingly hotter if it had one), and Venus' surface has atmospheric pressure 90 times that of earth.

And what is the average temperature of Venus' atmosphere fairly high up, where pressure is equal to sea level pressure on Earth..?

About 65-70C of course, which is exactly what you'd expect if you extrapolate from the others.

They also don't make it explicit that the composition of the atmospheres of all these planets are wildly different, which means that it is pretty irrelevant which gases are in them, CO2 (like Venus), N (like Earth), O2, H2O vapour, whatever.

Tuesday 23 April 2019

Atmospheric pressure and temperature, Earth v Venus

Radical Rodent linked to this article comparing Earth's and Venus' atmospheres in the comments to this post.

The upshot is, all you need to know to work out the temperature at any altitude above any planet* is two things:
a) its distance from the nearest star ('the Sun' in the context of our Solar System), and
b) the atmospheric pressure at that altitude.
c) you do not need to adjust for, or even know, the 'albedo' of the planet, the composition of the atmosphere or anything else.

This fairly recent article by completely different authors compares all planets in the Solar System which have a proper atmosphere and comes to the same conclusion. Our physics teacher mentioned this theory in passing when I did O-Level physics way back when, and I have seen it mentioned every now and then since, so I assumed it was just an accepted scientific theory (or 'consensus' in NewSpeak). I'm not aware it's ever been seriously challenged in itself, but it would appear that it has been simply written out of history.

But Earth (atmosphere = 0.04% carbon dioxide) is of particular relevance because we live on it, and Venus is a useful comparison because its atmosphere = almost 100% carbon dioxide, which we are told causes 'a runaway greenhouse effect', plus the data is going to be most reliable, having been actually measured from up close, so let's focus on those two.

The results in the first article seemed suspiciously accurate, so I used other sources for the temperature v pressure gradients for Earth and Venus from here and here, made the 'divide by 1.176' adjustment for Venus (to compensate for the fact it is closer to the Sun) and knocked up a chart in Excel.

The tried and tested theory seems to stack up to me:

* Forgive the clunky wording, but Earth is clearly a (solid) planet with an atmosphere; while the gas giants are atmospheres without an actual planet.

The People's Vote - why don't they just do it?

UKIP were, by and large, always a single issue party; leave the EU or at least have another referendum on the topic.

For many years, there was no referendum on leaving the EU on offer, so people settled for the next best thing, i.e. voting UKIP in the otherwise meaningless MEP elections every five years. The message finally sank in and David Cameron's UK government held a referendum in 2016.

Cameron was no doubt buoyed by the effectiveness of massive government-funded Project Fear campaigns in two previous referenda (on shifting towards PR and Scottish independence) and made the reasonable assumption that this trick would work a third time and get him ('Them') the result he ('They') wanted. 'They' pushed it far beyond the point of credibility and got 17 million fuck offs instead.

A small but vocal minority of Remain voters (and the vast corporatist interests which support them) is not happy with this outcome, so they want to re-run the referendum. Fair enough, they are just adopting the same tactic as UKIP/UKIP voters used to do, it's all part of the fun.

They also accuse Leave campaigners of running scared of a second referendum which might be true to some extent, now that the UK government has quite deliberately messed up Brexit and made it appear nigh impossible.

But are the hard-core Brexiteers really scared of a second referendum? At least they've had the nerve to treat the MEP elections as a quasi-second referendum by setting up the single-issue Brexit Party (they genuinely have no policies whatsoever, see their website) and are fielding candidates.

The hard-core Remainers have missed the deadlines now, so we'll never find out, but if they were really sure that there was majority support for Remain, why didn't they just set up the single-issue Remain Party and field candidates against the Brexit Party? That looks like a fair fight to me and the outcome would have been most interesting.

Monday 22 April 2019

The Brooklyn 99 Twelve Islanders problem.

The problem is:

1. There are eleven islanders who all weight exactly the same and one who is either heavier or lighter than those eleven.
2. You have a see-saw with accurately marked seats that you can use as weighing scales.
3. You have to find out which islander is a different weight, and whether he/she is heavier or lighter than the others.
4. Can you always solve it in a maximum of three comparisons?

After four or five hours of trial and error, I have found that the answer is "yes" and come up with an easy to follow mechanical system (no doubt one of dozens). Pdf below (click to enlarge).

Worked example
You start by numbering the islanders 1 to 12.
Let's assume 6 is heavier, but you don't know that yet.
Test 1 is always 1,2,3,4 on one side of the see-saw against 5,6,7,8 on the other.
Result 1 is 5,6,7,8 are heavier, so go to the second table.
Test 2 is 1,2,5,6 against 3,7,9,10.
Result 2 is 1,2,5,6 are heavier.
Test 3 is 3,5 against 7,9.
Result 3 is both sides weight the same
Answer is then read off in the bottom row of the second table, "6 H"

If anybody spots a mistake, please leave a comment :-(

Wednesday 17 April 2019

Truncated Y-Axis Of The Week

From Watts Up With That:

The greenhouse gasses keep the Earth 30° C warmer than it would otherwise be without them in the atmosphere, so instead of the average surface temperature being -15° C, it is 15° C. Carbon dioxide contributes 10% of the effect so that is 3° C. The pre-industrial level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 280 ppm. 

So roughly, if the heating effect was a linear relationship, each 100 ppm contributes 1° C. With the atmospheric concentration rising by 2 ppm annually, it would go up by 100 ppm every 50 years and we would all fry as per the IPCC predictions.

But the relationship isn’t linear, it is logarithmic. In 2006, Willis Eschenbach posted this graph on Climate Audit showing the logarithmic heating effect of carbon dioxide relative to atmospheric concentration:

As you can sees the, y-axis goes from 230 to 270, that's key to this.
We can assume that W/m2 are related to temperatures. As a guide, from Wiki: When 1361 W/m2 is arriving above the atmosphere (when the sun is at the zenith in a cloudless sky), direct sun is about 1050 W/m2, and global radiation on a horizontal surface at ground level is about 1120 W/m2.
From Skeptical Science:

After publishing my experiences talking to science 'dismissives' (or 'skeptics', or whatever you'd like to call them) and then participating in the excellent Denial101x course, I was invited to join the volunteer team at SkepticalScience last year.

Good start, a few ad hominems (refreshingly absent from the first article) to strengthen your case. Einstein famously opened his Theory of General Relativity with "Sit on this and swivel, Newton, you wig-wearing English prick!" Back to the article:

But before all that, one of the dismissives drew my attention to a climate science paradox... Scientists agree that the greenhouse effect is approximately logarithmic — which means that as we add more CO2 to the atmosphere, the effect of extra CO2 decreases.

In the last million years, CO2 levels have cycled between about 180 and 280 ppm during cycles about 100,000 years long. Because this happened in the steep part of the curve, a change of only 100 ppm (together with the Milankovich cycles) was enough to move the world in and out of the ice ages. Even though humans have increased the CO2 concentration by 130 ppm already, this extra 130 ppm has a smaller effect than the 100 ppm that was added naturally before.

But let's zoom in on the part that we actually care about: the modern era:

After zooming in, the logarithm doesn't make such a big difference: it's not far from a straight line. 560ppm will probably take us well beyond the Paris target of 1.5°C, so the 280-560 range is key; we would be unwise to let our civilization go beyond 560.
Sure, looked at close up, any part of any curve looks like a straight-ish line. But look at the y-axis, it goes from 0 to 4.5. The W/m2 increase (resulting from a CO2 increase from 280 to and 560 ppm) of just under 4 agrees to the first chart, which shows an increase from 257 to 261. But the y-axis is a tad misleading, to say the least.

They are also (deliberately?) confusing units. Fag packet* says 3.7 additional W/m2 = temperature increase (if CO2 levels doubled from pre-industrial levels) no more than 1C.

* Average earth surface temperature 288K ÷ 1,120 W/m2 (when sun directly overhead in a cloudless sky) x 3.7 W/m2 = 0.95K or 0.95C.

If we go by the first, more optimistic chart, the increase would be barely measurable, but let's give the warmenists the benefit of the doubt.

Tuesday 16 April 2019

Nobody move or the hen harrier gets hurt!

From the BBC:

Environmentalists fear Northern Ireland could be left behind when it comes to protecting important species and habitats after Brexit.

Much of the current protection is based on EU law, backed up by the threat of fines from a European court. But after Brexit, that oversight will be lost....

Slieve Beagh is a huge area of upland blanket bog straddling counties Monaghan, Tyrone and Fermanagh.

An important EU protected habitat in its own right, it is also a stronghold for the hen harrier, a scarce bird of prey. At present, it is covered by an EU-funded conservation project.

Ecologist Rory Sheehan helps manage it. He said there was great commitment to the area and its wildlife and, with EU directives transposed into domestic legislation on both sides of the border, he is confident protection that will not be diluted.

But he is concerned about funding and whether colleagues in Northern Ireland will continue to be able to draw down EU Peace money in future.

Monday 15 April 2019

Nobody move or your clothes will strangle you!

From The Guardian:

Dangerous cars, electrical goods and toys could flood into the UK after Brexit unless the government urgently reforms the current “failing” safety enforcement system, a consumer group warned on Monday.

Which? says the public will be vulnerable to delays in spotting and dealing with unsafe products unless continued access to the European Safety Gate system is negotiated. Its new analysis shows the scheme, under which 31 European countries alert each other to products with serious safety problems, issued 34% more notifications in 2018 than a decade ago.

In recent months, alerts have included a toxic children’s putty that could damage youngsters’ reproductive systems, and clothing which posed a strangulation risk. Recall notices have also appeared for fire-risk HP laptop batteries, explosive Honda airbags and a flammable children’s Star Wars Stormtrooper outfit.

Yes, one of the things which European countries seem to do very well is product safety/consumer protection. It's a combination of government regulations/inspections and importers doing their own testing, in which a bit of cross-border information sharing is very helpful.

But I'm not aware that Norwegians, Swiss, Icelanders and Liechtensteiners are all dying in bizarre accidents. There are only 28 27 EU Member States so I assume that they are on the list of 31 countries which have signed up to the European Safety Gate system:

Every day the European Commission receives alerts from national authorities in the EU/EEA concerning dangerous products found on their markets. These alerts are sent through the rapid alert system for dangerous non-food products - "Safety Gate". They include information about the type of products found, the risks posed and the measures taken at national level to prevent or restrict their marketing. Weekly reports of the alerts are available below.

Aha, as I thought, it's not restricted to EU Member States, although it is a (weak) argument for remaining in the EEA, which would necessitate rejoining EFTA, which is a good idea anyway.

The Overton Window

From BBC, seven months ago:

Labour says it would scrap laws allowing private landlords to evict tenants without giving a reason. The law, in force since 1988, is thought to be the biggest cause of homelessness.

Labour's shadow housing minister John Healey announced the policy at the party's conference in Liverpool. Mr Healey also unveiled plans for a £20m fund to set up "renters' unions" to support tenants in disputes with landlords.

So-called "no-fault" evictions - when landlords throw people out of their home without saying why - have been growing in recent years.

From the BBC, today:

Private landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants at short notice without good reason under new government plans.

The change is intended to protect renters from "unethical" landlords and give them more long-term security...

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire said that evidence showed so-called Section 21 evictions were one of the biggest causes of family homelessness.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the changes would offer more "stability" to the growing number of families renting and mean people would not be afraid to make a complaint "because they may be concerned through a no-fault eviction that they may be thrown out".

Sunday 14 April 2019

Missing beats round

I only noticed this today (forty years later), but the intro to "Rock and roll" by Led Zeppelin is weird. The drum intro is clearly a few bars of 1-2-3-4, but the others start playing the riff just before the third beat (not exactly on the third beat, which I would have understand) and they continue, perfectly in time as if that were the most normal thing in the world:

Saturday 13 April 2019

"Who plays Diana in The Crown?" is not the interesting question

From The Radio Times:

Rising star Emma Corrin is set to play lady Diana Spencer – the future Princess of Wales – in Netflix’s The Crown.

The actor will not appear on screen until season four of the royal drama – season three is expected to be released later in 2019 – but her casting is a major step forward for the young British star.

The series has managed to cover Royal history from the 1950s to the 1990s in about four years, at this rate, they will be as far as Harry/Meghan in two or three years' time.

So the interesting question is, which actress will play Meghan Markle, who is herself an actress with a real life job of playing a Royal? If they manage to persuade Meghan to play herself, then the real and a parallel universe will overlap. If not, we'll have an actress playing an actress playing a Royal, which is also pretty self-referential.

Either way, I expect that Meghan will have strong opinions on who gets to play her part. This'll be fun.

Friday 12 April 2019

No, that's the opposite of what they should be doing...

From The Evening Standard:

BT is facing demands from councils and police to disable the free calls function on its new “smart” telephone boxes amid claims they facilitate drug dealing and anti-social behaviour...

One drug gang is thought to have made £1.28 million worth of sales from a panel in Whitechapel. After the call facility was switched off, there was a “significant decrease in anti-social behaviour” in the streets around the phones, a council spokesman said.

Assuming that catching drug suppliers and their customers is a worthy aim (it isn't, but the law is the law), that's the opposite of what the authorities should be doing. This is an ideal opportunity for a bit of easy data mining and a fishing expedition!

Firstly, don't flag up that you know something which the other side doesn't appear to know that you know.

Sift out which 'phone numbers are rung most often and which of those result in clandestine handover meetings.

Maybe some customers are so dumb as to withdraw cash from nearby cash machines. So you know exactly who they are, with corroborative photos from the banks' CCTV, or maybe clear up a debit card theft.

Follow callers on CCTV or for real - nowadays, it is perfectly normal to see people standing or walking around wearing an ear-piece, staring at and talking to a mobile 'phone. They can use that to see CCTV footage while keeping in contact with base - now you know where they live and/or where they meet.

Clearly, you don't want to nick customers or suppliers a few minutes after they've put in their order from the public 'phone, that would give the game away, so spend a few weeks or months getting plenty of CCTV footage and incriminating photos, compiling your list of 'phone numbers, names, addresses, when the deliveries seem to come in etc.

Finally, you do a dawn raid in random nearby areas at random intervals and present the Court with some nice fat folders full of evidence.

(If you just turn off the 'phones, suppliers and customers will find some other way of getting touch, making the police's job all the trickier.)

Job done.

Until the next generation of drug suppliers steps up to the plate, rinse and repeat until they legalise,  regulate and tax the supply of the stuff.

"Unregistered schools given council funding"

The BBC at its PC best.

You can guess pretty well what this is about just from the headline, but you have to slog two-thirds of the way through the article before they come out and actually say it.

There were a couple of tantalising clues along the way. They've removed the reference to the school which taught "English and Arabic" as that would have been too obvious, just leaving this to keep you going...

... inspectors said that many children were still being taught in this "murky world", with the biggest number in London and the West Midlands.

A bit like the Daily Mail articles where they don't mention the house price until the very end.

Thursday 11 April 2019

Yes, but who will stand up for the thieves and adulterers?

There has - quite rightly - been an uproar about Brunei's threat/promise to punish homosexual acts by stoning people to death. Anybody who thinks this is justifiable clearly has a very, very sick mind, because being gay or lesbian is in fact perfectly natural.

It's not 'normal' in the sense that a huge majority aren't gay, but it is still a natural part of the human condition, like being left-handed is perfectly natural. That's not 'normal' either but perfectly natural. Some people just are.

But... they intend/hope to stone adulterers to death as well. Personally, I think adultery is despicable behaviour, but it's certainly not a 'crime' that requires a state-sanctioned punishment. Maybe some readers are swingers, or think that adultery is not so serious; and maybe other readers take a dimmer view than I do, those are minor differences of opinion.

Same goes for 'thieves'. Typical Western penalties - social shaming; fines; community service or prison in serious cases (such as burglary) - seem reasonable to me. To want to chop somebody's actual hand off requires an equally sick mind as wanting to stone people to death for non-crimes like being gay or cheating on your spouse.

But unfortunately thieves and adulterers don't have their own lobby, for obvious reasons.

Wednesday 10 April 2019

More Brexit LOLZ

From The Electoral Commission website:

European Parliamentary elections (Great Britain)

We have published our guidance for the European Parliamentary elections scheduled to take place on 23 May 2019.
The elections will take place in other EU Member States between Thursday 23 and Sunday 26 May 2019.
This page contains our guidance and resources on how to comply with the rules in Great Britain.
An overview document gives instructions on how to use this guidance and who does what at these elections. Read the Overview (PDF)
We have produced a timetable with all of the relevant deadlines. View the election timetable (DOC).
If you are a candidate or agent in Northern Ireland please see Guidance for candidates and agents at European Parliamentary elections in Northern Ireland.

Tuesday 9 April 2019

Nobody move or the exam timetable gets hurt!

Going round the silliness clock with the TES:

Pupils might have to sit their GCSEs and A-levels on later dates or at alternative sites in the “nightmare” scenario of a no-deal Brexit causing significant traffic disruption, Tes can reveal.

Exam board sources have told Tes that in the most extreme scenario of a large number of candidates not being able to sit a paper, “drastic” action could be taken to postpone the sitting across the entire country.

"May to meet Merkel and Macron for talks"

... is the shortened version of the headline to this article on the BBC's front page.

Which scans like the first line of (something like) a limerick:

May to meet Merkel and Macron for talks,
All on a cold April day.
The plan is well scripted - when one of them walks,
She will ask for a further delay.

Sunday 7 April 2019

Seems like good value to me.

From the BBC:

In their "summary for policymakers", the scientists stated that: "All pathways that limit global warming to 1.5C with limited or no overshoot project the use of [Carbon Dioxide Removal] ...over the 21st century."

Around the world, a number of companies are racing to develop the technology that can draw down carbon. Swiss company Climeworks is already capturing CO2 and using it to boost vegetable production.

Carbon Engineering says that its direct air capture (DAC) process is now able to capture the gas for under $100 a tonne.

Putting all cynicism to one side* and taking all of this at face value, let's go with it and look at motoring (we could do the same for electricity generation, but the numbers are more difficult to track down and so subject to far larger margins of error).

In round numbers...

$100 per tonne = £77 per tonne = 7.7p per kg.

One litre of petrol or diesel = about 2.5 kg of CO2.

2.5 kg x 7.7p/kg = 20p.

Pump price per litre = £1.20, of which about £0.80 is VAT and Fuel Duty.

Taxes on fuel are an excellent kind of tax, don't get me wrong, but only about one-quarter of taxes on motoring (in the wider sense) are spent on the direct costs of motoring (roads, traffic police, emergency services etc) and three-quarters is 'social surplus' which rightfully belongs to the whole community to spend as it will.

If the whole community decides that one-third of the social surplus should be spent on 'fighting climate change', then we're all sorted. If they would rather spend it on something else, that's their decision and not the motorists' problem.

* I don't believe a word of any of it, but I like quoting people's numbers back at them.

Saturday 6 April 2019

My updated dream crap-but-loveable car list

I keep a list on a post-it, which is getting increasingly grubby. I've crossed out some from my initial list and added a couple:

1. and 2. I've already got an automatic Mazda MX5 NB (98-05) and a Toyota MR2 mkIII (1998 - 2007). Best cars ever, frankly.

If money and parking space were no object, which happily they are, here are cars 3 to 7 on my dream crap-but-lovable car list:

3. MG MGF (2000-02 facelift version), a VVC if I'm allowed to be fussy, not the Trophy version with the silly spoiler.

4. MG TF (2002-05). Maybe a 160?

3/4. What I don't like about the MG TF is the front grille, which is just slots cut into the bonnet and looks 'French' somehow. The short-lived MG TF LE500 (2007-08) was an MG TF, but it had a proper MGB/MGF-style front grille. So I could merge 3 and 4 and just buy an LE500.

5. Honda Prelude fifth gen (1997-2001), pref. the Japanese Si/SiR version. I'd rather have a first gen /facelift version (ca 1982) but you can't find a decent manual one for love or money any more.

6. Honda CRX Del Sol (1992-98), with the manual targa roof. I see one of these parked on my road occasionally, they are dinky but quite cool.

7. A Peugeot 406 coupé (1997-2004). I saw one of these recently for the first time in years and they really are beautiful to look at.

I think seven's enough. Mainly manual RWD two-seaters, with a couple of automatics, FWDs and four seaters for 'balance'.

Friday 5 April 2019

There was no mention of this in the IPCC report

From the BBC:

What's really significant, though, is that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was very similar [in the Pliocene] to what it is today - at around 400 CO2 molecules for every million molecules of air...

Temperatures may currently be lower than in the Pliocene, but that's only because there is a lag in the system, he says. "If you put your oven on at home and set it to 200C, the temperature doesn't get to that level immediately; it takes a bit of time," [Prof Martin Siegert from the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London] told reporters.

"And it's the same with Earth's climate. If you ratchet up the level of CO2 at 400 parts per million (ppm), it won't suddenly get to an equilibrium overnight. It will take maybe 300 years or something. So, the question to us is: what is the equilibrium state; what is Earth's climate going to look like with 400ppm, all things being settled?"

The IPCC report explained that increasing CO2 levels from 0.03% to 0.04% would increase temperatures, because ever so slightly more infra-red will be reflected back to the earth's surface. Well of course temperatures will increase, the question is, by how much? A tiny fraction of a degree or as many as two? They left that open.

However much the increase is, how quickly would we expect this to happen? It is warmer at night when it's cloudy than when the sky is clear, if the cloud cover blows away, you notice the temperature drop within minutes.

So if, hypothetically, C02 levels were to jump from 0.04% to to 0.05% overnight and this actually increased temperatures, you might not expect any related increase in temperatures to happen within minutes or hours, but perhaps within days, or months or even a whole year.

"Three centuries" is taking the piss.

It's Opposites Day!

From a blatantly biased article at the BBC:

Leo Varadkar restated his commitment to an open border in Ireland with free movement of people and frictionless trade, with no tariffs and no checks.

Sounds excellent, but wait...

He added: "We don't want Ireland to become a back door to the single market in the event of a hard Brexit."

Isn't that more or less the opposite of the first statement? Or at least, near the other end of a continuum between 'free trade' and 'hard border'? Or what? The more you try and read it in context, the more ambiguous it becomes. Is it OK for the I/NI border to be a 'back door' if there is a 'soft' Brexit, in which case, how 'soft'?

Thursday 4 April 2019

Reader's Letter Of The Day

From today's City AM (my emphasis):

Re: Deadlocked MPs reject soft Brexit as Tory MP quits party in protest

It is a sad comment on the state of our politics when 261 MPs are prepare to vote for a proposal which is a legal impossibility.

I refer to the crazy plan promoted by Nick Boles MP, under which we would join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and therefore be required to remove all customs duties on goods from other EFTA states, while continuing to allow the EU to determine what customs duties we would apply, including on imports from other EFTA states.

So, to take on example, the EU dictates that we must impose a 13 per cent tariff on Norwegian smoked salmon and continuation of that tariff would obviously be incompatible with the zero tariffs which operate within EFTA.

The legal impossibility of this 'compromise' scheme was pointed out by a Norwegian politicans in a UK national newspaper as far back as December [2018] saying: 'It is not an option for the UK to stay indie the customs union... if you are part of the EFTA platform.'

But Mr Boles chose to ignore that, and now his suggestion has rightly been rejected.

Dr D R Cooper, Maidenhead

I emailed Denis Cooper to say well done, he said he didn't think rejoining EFTA was a good idea anyway, so we disagree on that, but hey - I always thought there was something fishy about Boles' plan.

Fun with numbers

From The Guardian: On 27 March, MPs voted against 'Motion B: no deal in the absence of a withdrawal agreement' by 400 to 160.

Also from The Guardian: The Cooper bill [ruling out 'no deal'] has passed its third reading with a majority of only one vote, 313 to 312

So there must be a significant number of MPs who voted against 'No Deal' but also voted against 'No no deal'. The mind boggles. Maybe there are some who just vote against every proposal by force of habit?

Daily Mail on top form

Headline in The Daily Mail:

Concorde captain who flew the Queen and Princess Diana is found dead with dementia-suffering wife in 'murder-suicide' at their £800,000 farmhouse in Kate Middleton's home village

House prices and tenuous Royal Family connections, doubleplusgood!

Wednesday 3 April 2019

Short list

Today's short list:

People who have written (or co-written) and performed two completely different songs with the same title.

I'm only aware of two examples:

Mick Jagger - "Think" (side 2, track 7 of Aftermath) and "Think" (track 9 of Wandering Spirit).

More famously, George Michael - "Freedom" with Wham! and "Freedom" (aka "Freedom 90") as a solo artist.

Any more?

Tuesday 2 April 2019

Damp/dry drive dilemma

It rained for a few hours today, and there's a dry patch where I normally park a car. But there's been no car there for at least two days.


"James Corden says 'irritating' actors are shut out of romantic roles"

From the BBC:

James Corden has criticised the exclusion of "irritating" people in films and on TV, saying they "never really fall in love... never have sex".

Speaking on David Tennant's podcast, the TV host added that "certainly no-one ever finds you likeable" on screen if you are full of yourself. He added that those actors are, at best, cast as the "bad" and annoying friend of someone who is likeable...

Corden starred in The History Boys on stage and screen. "And now I was in this play, which was the play to see [The History Boys]. And I was in this play with seven other boys who were at a similar age and a similar place in our careers. And pretty much every day, three or four of these boys would come in with this massive film script under their arm."

He was offered "the hottest script" along with two other History Boys actors, he explained.

"They both got sent the script [for the lead roles] and I got sent just two pages to play a double glazing salesman at the start of this film. I really felt like people were going, 'We think you're quite good. It's just because nobody wants to identify or empathise with you.'"

Lenny Henry agreed, saying that his lack of a sense of humour or anything interesting to say meant he had struggled to make it as a comedian.

Monday 1 April 2019

"Can Northampton's 'dying' High Street be saved?"

Finally, a measured article on the topic from the BBC, mentioning all the actual reasons why some High Streets are 'dying'.

The number of boarded up shop fronts in towns the length and breadth of England is symbolic of the country's growing High Street crisis. 

Perhaps nowhere quite encapsulates this as much as Northampton, which in the past five years has lost three major department stores with the future of a fourth uncertain.

Marks and Spencer, like many others, was lured away to the £140m Rushden Lakes retail park, which opened 15 miles east of Northampton in 2017...

Now, the future of the nearby Debenhams branch is uncertain. It has agreed a £200m refinancing lifeline with lenders but said it would continue with plans to cut the number of its stores...

In January 2008 the internet accounted for 5p in every £1 of retail sales. By August 2018, it was 18p in every pound...

Northampton is not only competing with online retailers and Rushden Lakes, but larger towns nearby with a greater selection of shops. Milton Keynes, for example, is a 15-minute train journey away and has a Marks and Spencer, House of Fraser and a John Lewis...

"Big towns and cities can attract the crowds and be a destination for a day out, while smaller centres [offer] convenience," says Kardi Somerfield, senior marketing lecturer at the University of Northampton. "So mid-range towns are particularly and disproportionately affected by store closures..."

Perhaps the answer lies in St Giles Street, which runs adjacent to Abington Street. It features a range of small, independent businesses from barbers to restaurants and - despite a handful of empty units - feels altogether more prosperous.

Lisa Witham, 29, runs the Dreams Coffee Lounge with her sister, Nina Neophitou, 25. She says the key to the street's success is simple. "There's a lot of lovely independent shops all offering different experiences for customers, rather than the generic High Street shops. The experience for the customer is important. Offer something a bit different that online and out-of-town retailers can't."

"There needs to be more support from the council and landlords, making sure we get the right businesses in," says Lisa. "There needs to be variety with the retail, with leisure options such as bowling or maybe an arcade. We have students nearby but they need an incentive to come into town. But the more empty units there are, the more difficult it is to attract new businesses. It's easy to get into a downward spiral."

The icing on the cake is that they don't try and blame it on Business Rates!