Wednesday 30 September 2020

Seriously, can anybody explain this?

From the BBC:

Employed or self-employed people who test positive for the virus are required to isolate for 10 days, so those eligible for the extra money will get £130. But members of the household of someone who has tested positive, who must self-isolate for 14 days, will be entitled to up to £182, assuming they also qualify for the payment.

As regards the £13 a day, we should be paying (or at least offering) that to everybody as a Citizen's Income anyway.

Sunday 27 September 2020

Well, yes and no.

From The Guardian:

It’s not true that Sweden offers an escape from the public health catastrophe.

Whether you count the March-April death spike as a 'public health catastrophe' or not is up to you, but whatever you call it, Sweden seems to be out of the woods and back to normal, with an average of about 3 covid-19 related deaths per day since the end of July, that's not even a bad 'flu season. What's done is done.

I only wish it did. But, and this is when conservative commentators, politicians and conspiracy theorists look away, Sweden offers an escape from the social catastrophe now engulfing us.

And why do we have a 'social catastrophe'? In the short term, it is because of the lock down, that's clearly an economic catastrophe, which has led to a social catastrophe.

You never hear the Telegraph or the Mail say that we need Swedish levels of sickness benefit to ensure that carriers stay at home and quarantine. Or Swedish levels of housing benefit to ensure that they aren’t evicted from those same homes.

The knights of the suburbs do not insist that the hundreds of thousands who will be thrown on the dole in the coming months need Swedish levels of unemployment benefit and an interventionist Scandinavian state to retrain them.

That's circular logic. If Sweden had done full lock down, they simply wouldn't have been able to afford their high levels of unemployment benefit and retraining programmes. They can only maintain this because so few people lost their jobs. The UK did full lock down, lost hundreds of billions in economic output, with related loss of tax revenues, put a million people out of work and wasted tens of billions in Furlough Scheme payments and other welfare payments. Conversely, if the UK had done a much softer Swedish style lock down, very few people would have lost their livelihood, so there would be little need for retraining programmes, and we could have afforded a more generous welfare system (like a UBI).
It's also a diagonal comparison. It's the Guardian's job to slag off anything vaguely right-wing, fair enough, but what the nominally Conservative government is doing is pretty much the opposite of what the right-wing press are calling for. And the article doesn't bother addressing the actual topic in hand, whether Sweden was right to do a very soft lock down.

It's not a left-vs-right thing either, I commend Prof. Sunetra Gupta's article in The Evening Standard. She always looked at this from a scientific stand-point and said that lock downs were pointless back in April or May:

Professor Sunetra Gupta, who has been a leading critic of the cost of lockdown, says she welcomes the return of schools as children “if anything... would benefit from being exposed to this and other seasonal coronaviruses”.

Gupta, who is a professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford, told The Londoner that alongside huge social and educational benefits, the “evidence is mounting that early exposure to these various coronaviruses is what enables people to survive them”.

She rejected being bracketed with libertarian lockdown sceptics, saying her opposition came from the left. “I personally think that only thinking along the lines of eliminating coronavirus, without giving heed to the consequences on the disadvantaged young and globally, is a dereliction of our duties as global citizens”.
Finally, there's this:

By not locking down in the spring, Sweden had a more protracted outbreak with far more deaths per capita than its neighbours. Admittedly, its death rate was not as bad as Britain’s. But then no European country had a death rate as bad as Britain’s because no other European country put the village idiot in charge.

Yes, we have the village idiots in charge, but the UK does not have the worst death rate. We are third-worst behind Belgium and Spain and only slightly worse than Italy or Sweden (ignoring micro-states).

"Police call for witnesses regarding second walker killed by cows"

Spotted by James Higham, Julia M and Tim Almond in The Guardian:

A second fatality caused by cows has been made public by police, meaning there have been two such deaths within a fortnight in the north of England. Malcolm Flynn, 72, from Carlisle, died after being charged by cows, police said on Friday.

Police asked for witnesses after Flynn was fatally injured in what they said was a tragic incident while he was walking on land near Thirlwall Castle and Gisland, Northumberland, at around 11.45am on Friday 11 September. Police said he died at the location, which is on the Pennine Way.

No mention of dogs in that article, or in the BBC's version.

Friday 25 September 2020

Stupid people who think they've said something clever

I idly watched a few minutes of Jeremy Vine this morning, they were discussing covid-19.

There was a very sensible lady called Beverley Turner who was recommending a Swedish style approach.

Iain Dale, the man who manages to be wrong on nearly everything, started bleating that Sweden has a much lower population density, 25 people per sq km, against 270 in the UK, as if that were relevant to anything.

Beverley gave an exasperated look, but wasn't given the chance to slap this down. The point being, this statistic is completely irrelevant to anything.

Firstly, the populated areas of Sweden are just as densely populated as the populated parts of the UK. The uninhabited parts are irrelevant. Most of Scotland is nigh empty - they all live in towns and villages as well - so their infection rates are the same as England's.

Secondly, what matters, as far as infection rates are concerned, is how many people you come into close contact with every day i.e. how many elderly in a care home and how many non-residents (workers or visting relatives) go in and out; how many children are in a class at school and how many teachers take each class; how many people there are in each workplace; how many people you sit near in the pub or on public transport; how many people live in each home.

It is quite possible that Swedes come into close contact with fewer people each day (if it were even possible to calculate it, which you can't) and have smaller households than we do , but it's not going to be wildly different. Which is why Sweden's rate of covid-19 deaths per million population is similar to the UK's (581 against 616).

Thursday 24 September 2020

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (485)

One of the main KLN's is that "Landlords will pass on the tax to their tenants, so tenants will be worse off".

I've done this one many times before, you have to explain about elasticity of supply and demand and most people don't, or won't, accept this logic (based as it is on observation), so that's a waste of time and energy.

The shorter rebuttal is, "OK, if the government increases income tax or NIC rates, can all employees just ask their employer for a pay rise to compensate? Can the self-employed just put their prices up?"

Clearly, there will be isolated instances where this happens, but most will just have to accept lower net incomes.

We've seen what happens when powerful trade unions in the 1970s pushed through above-market pay rises. It worked short term, but after a few years, the factories just closed down. If landlords try the same, they will end up with a load of vacant homes, so they will have to drop rents again to get tenants back in (or else they will have LVT bills with no income to pay them), thus rent levels will fall back to where they were before.

The fall-back rebuttal is, "So what? The LVT increases would go hand in hand with NIC and VAT reductions, so even if landlords 'passed on' every penny of the LVT, working tenants would end up a lot better off, just the same as working owner-occupiers."

Wednesday 23 September 2020

"Richmond School teacher Dave Clark killed by cows"

Spotted by James Higham and Julia M at the BBC:

A spokesperson for North Yorkshire Police said the force had been called to a report of a man in his 50s being injured by cows in a field north of Richmond.

He was treated by paramedics, but sadly he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Very sparse on detail. There's no mention of a dog or young calves, but that doesn't mean they weren't there, and we aren't told how many cows* were seen attacking him, or indeed why he was in the field.

* Please, no jokes involving 'five'.

Update - AK Haart in the comments points out that he was walking his dogs. Thought so.

Monday 21 September 2020

Is there really a dramatic rise in Covid-19 cases?

There's a handy 'dashboard' at

The chart for 'Cases' shows an apparently dramatic increase, from about 800 new cases per day in July to nearly 4,000 now (late September).

To interpret this properly, you have to also look at the chart for 'Testing'. The number of tests carried out has increased from about 100,000 to over 200,000. So the percentage of positive tests has increased from 0.8% to 1.8%. I am perfectly aware that there are a lot of false positives, so let's round that 1.8% down to 1% for sake of argument.

These tests have two quite distinct purposes:

1. Back in March/April, they would only do tests on people who were displaying symptoms, who had been admitted as patients, or who had good reason to assume they might have contracted it. About half of tests came back positive. That was important to know, so that they knew how to treat patients or who should self-isolate.

2. Nowadays, lots of people are being tested, whether they have any symptoms or not. As far as I can see, the people being tested are a fairly random cross section of the general population. So the relevance of these tests is telling us what percentage of the general population have contracted the virus. We know that the tests throw up a lot of false positives, but that doesn't matter if you are interested in the general trend rather than trying to pin down an exact but entirely unascertainable number. And that trend appears to be going ever so slightly upwards.

But what do we really care about here? We care about large numbers of preventable deaths and the NHS being "swamped". Neither of those things are happening, daily deaths have been in the 10 to 20 range for three months; daily admissions to the NHS are just over one hundred; and the total number of patients in hospitals is just over 1,000 (none of the Nightingale hospitals were ever used AFAIAA). The NHS has over one million staff, just quite how many does it take to look after one covid-19 patient?

If 1% of the general population has covid-19 at any point in time, that means 700,000 people have it. Of those, only 100 will be hospitalised and 10 or 20 will die every day. Assuming the illness comes and goes in two weeks (and you're either recovered or dead), that's a death rate of about 0.3%, which is so close to zero as to be meaningless.

Assuming two weeks to be a fair guess, that means about 50,000 new infections per day in the UK. Multiply that by nine months and that means about one-fifth of us have had it (and most won't even have realised). I'm not sure what the cut-off point for 'herd immunity' is, but it's only a matter of time, isn't it, vaccine or not?

Sunday 20 September 2020

They own land, give them money.


The government will provide a voucher worth up to £5,000 or £10,000 to help cover the cost of making energy efficient improvements to your home. Improvements could include insulating your home to reduce your energy use or installing low-carbon heating to lower the amount of carbon dioxide your home produces...

The government will provide a voucher that covers two-thirds of the cost of qualifying energy efficiency or low carbon heating improvements to your home. The maximum value of the voucher is £5,000. If you are on a low income and receive certain benefits, you can receive a voucher covering all of the cost of the improvements. The maximum value of the voucher is £10,000. A full list of qualifying benefits are available on the Simple Energy Advice website.

Any takers?

Published by Bristol University Press

Beer and Racism
How Beer Became White, Why It Matters, and the Movements to Change It

Only £18.39 in paperback.

Saturday 19 September 2020

Covid-19 deaths per million population (Europe)

Stat's from Worldometers, chart created using

Make of it what you will. There seems to be a gradient between north-east (we can put Sweden to one side, they only did the mildest of lock downs) and south-west (reasons?).

What baffles me is the range - 7 deaths per million in Slovakia up to 857 deaths per million in Belgium? I accept that some countries fared better than others, but a ratio of hundred-to-one? Are these numbers even credible?

Click to enlarge:

Friday 18 September 2020

"Driver 'on his first day' rips roof off double decker school bus"

From The Daily Mail:

A driver on 'his first day,' ripped the roof off a double-decker school bus by smashing into a railway bridge - despite pupils' warning shouts, in a crash that has left three children in hospital with serious injuries and 13 more needing treatment.

Around 70 pupils were on board the Stagecoach bus, heading towards Henry Beaufort School, in Winchester, when its roof collided with a bridge just after 8am...

I enjoy a 'bus hits bridge' story as much as the next man, but not when people are seriously hurt. 'Car hits house' stories are inherently not funny.

I really don't get it. All you need is the low tech solution of setting up a gantry before the entrance to the bridge or tunnel (or car park etc) and dangling chains from it so that the ends dangle slightly lower than the maximum height of the bridge or tunnel. The high vehicle hits those first and hopefully the driver gets the message, passengers can scream in good time etc.

There are other more sophisticated warning systems, as explained in this article, but the dangling chains seem to be cheapest and best.

The new Blogger template is absolutely awful

Google are usually ones to get things right, like Google Maps and Streetview. Nobody 'wanted' this before it existed, but by now, everybody is used to it and it is bloody handy.

Originally, there were two modes for creating new posts. In 'HTML' mode you entered plain text and inserted your own html tags for formatting; in the other, you could highlight and format text in much the same way as you use Word. I preferred HTML mode because Compose generated a load of superfluous 'div' tags which buggered up the line spacing; you had to use HTML mode to get rid of them all again. But each to their own.

This time, in the face of zero demand from anybody, they've made HTML mode uneccessarily complicated. For no reason whatsoever, it now shows line numbers on the left, and you have to type in a line break tag at the end of each line and for every blank line.

Which is a pain in the arse:

Nothing else is as accessible as it used to be either. Detailed stats are now four or five clicks away which used to be two or three, and filtering your post list by labels is much more faff. And it puts "div" tags before and after images, so you have to go back in and delete them if you don't want to end up with weird closer line spacing on all text below the image.

Tuesday 15 September 2020

Quarantine madness

At my daughter's school, one of the pupils in Year 8 had Covid-19 symptoms or tested positive (not sure). As a result, the whole of Year 8 has to stay at home for two weeks. I assume that this also applies to all teachers who gave a lesson with that pupil in it (she wasn't sure).

I don't know whether the school is under some legal obligation to do this, or whether they are overreacting to cover their arses, but this is surely madness?

There are one hundred pupils in each Year plus two dozen teachers. Mass Covid-19 testing indicates that about 2% of people test positive. So if they actually tested everybody in a whole Year and all the teachers regularly, the probability that at least one tests positive is over 90% (1 minus 0.98^124).

On that basis, most pupils and most teachers will be in quarantine most of the time (there is no test yet to see whether people have had it and are immune AFAIAA), so they might as well continue doing online lessons and everybody stays at home.

Monday 14 September 2020

There's one interesting bit in these otherwise fairly meaningless stat's

From The Daily Mail:

* More tenants ditch city living in favour of living in commuter towns and villages
* Between May and August 2020, 34% of tenants wanted at least one more room
* Upsizing costs more with tenants who do so paying £149 more per month
* LonRes survey also found that space and gardens are in demand among buyers

So 34% of tenants rented a slightly larger home after they moved against 25% in the previous quarter? That's not surprising as more people are working from home now, so they need more space at home, and what they save on season tickets or commute costs they can spend on renting somewhere larger.

Plus, in the grander scheme of things, the stock of rented housing and the number of households renting is fairly stable. For every tenant trading up, there's probably one trading down. As Frank points out in the comments, on closer inspection, it might be trickier than this but we don't have that level of detail.

Tenants living in the South East of England are paying the most and have been the most likely to trade up, with 47 per cent of those moving post-lockdown adding at least one bedroom in their move. On average they are spending an additional £266 per month.

Yes, rents and prices in London are high to reflect the fact that wages are higher there, rents in the rest of the South East were slightly lower - people lived there but commuted into London, so the rents were depressed by commuting costs (Von Thünen's law of rent). Also, London was great for socialising, meetings, concerts and so on, but that has all fallen by the wayside now. Tenants' total rent-plus-commuting costs has probably gone down a bit, on average (assuming two adults commuting).

So far, so blah. Here's the interesting bit:

Renters remaining in the capital are benefiting from renters leaving in their droves for commuter towns and villages. It means, the average London-based tenant looking for more space spent £86 per month less, despite gaining at least one extra bedroom.

We'd expect that to happen, but it's nice to have confirmation of how big the fall is. £86 less for one extra room looks like about one-third less in space-adjusted terms, although HomeLet's August index says that London rents are only down by 2.1% year-on-year. Which I suppose is another interesting bit, how can two sources differ so wildly?

Sunday 13 September 2020

Fun Science Experiment

We are told that water vapour is a greenhouse gas for the same reasons as CO2, i.e. it can absorb and re-emit infra red radiation. We can't arbitrarily vary CO2 levels, but absolute humidity can be anything between zero and thirty-thousand mg/l (cold, dry days v warm, humid days). So the amount by which temperatures fall after dusk should be inversely proportional to absolute humidity (i.e. the insulating 'greenhouse effect' should be proportional to absolute humidity).
So we could produce strong evidence to support or contradict the MMGW theory quite easily and relatively cheaply, as follows:

Set up measuring devices, which record the following variables:
- temperature at dusk,
- temperature six hours later (or slightly shorter than the shortest night at that latitude),
- absolute humidity (milligrams H20 vapour per litre of air),
- cloudiness, and
- windspeed.

Ideally you'd do measurements at many different locations, the more readings you have the better. And ideally, you'd have three sets of measuring devices at each location - one at the bottom of a tall structure like a TV mast, one half-way up and one at the top, and average the three readings for each variable.

At the end of (say) one year, you:
- filter out the 'cloudy' nights. We know that clouds warm things up at night, but clouds are not water vapour (gas), they are water droplets (liquid) or ice (solid) and clouds have a quite different and much stronger effect than water vapour. Maybe you can measure 'cloudiness' by using a telescope to see what percentage of stars are clearly visible, in which case you filter out measurements for nights where fewer than (say) 95% of stars were visible for at least 95% of the time?
- filter out the 'windy' nights, because the air blowing in might be warmer or colder than the air at that location at dusk, so they could be entirely random results.
Having done your readings and filtered out cloudy and windy nights, you plot the fall in temperature over the six hours after dusk against humidity on that night.

1. IF the MMGW theory is correct, and the relationship is logarithmic (everybody assumes this), for every doubling in mg/l the fall in temperature will be "X" smaller* (i.e the insulating effect = X per doubling), indicated by the downward arrow. You would get a chart that looks like this with a fairly steep gradient and strong correlation:

2. IF the MMGW theory is incorrect, the gradient will be very flat and there will only a weak correlation.

NB - One mg/l is approx. equal to one part per million by volume. We can adjust this to the true value for ease of comparison with CO2 levels, which are expressed in ppm.

* I have not shown the scale on the x-axis because I have no idea what the gradient will be - that is what the experiment is supposed to find out. I do not know whether the insulating effect "X" will be 0.1C, or 1C, or 10C for every doubling in absolute humidity. I believe that H20 is considered to be a far stronger 'greenhouse gas' than CO2 as it can absorb and re-emit infra red at far more wavelengths, I think about ten times as many, but don't quote me on that. Clever scientists can work backwards from the findings to establish what sort of insulating effect (aka 'greenhouse effect') there would be if CO2 levels double from 'pre-industrial levels' of 300 ppm to 600 ppm.
Personally, I expect that the result will be within the margin of error of the calculations, but I'm open-minded about all this. You don't do experiments to 'prove' or 'disprove' things, you do the measurements and then interpret them as honestly as possible.
The bonus here is that you can do a similar plot of fall in temperature vs cloudiness, with clear nights on the left and cloudy nights on the right. I expect that this will show a very strong correlation and a steep gradient. But I'm open minded on this as well. Then do a double regression analysis, where the insulating effect is some multiple of 'cloudiness' plus some multiple of mg/l. This will tell you how much stronger the insulating effects of clouds is compared to the insulating effect of water vapour. And so on.

Saturday 12 September 2020

Clouding the issue

From Skeptical Science:

When skeptics use this argument [that water vapour is the strongest greenhouse gas], they are trying to imply that an increase in CO2 isn't a major problem. If CO2 isn't as powerful as water vapor, which there's already a lot of, adding a little more CO2 couldn't be that bad, right? What this argument misses is the fact that water vapor creates what scientists call a 'positive feedback loop' in the atmosphere — making any temperature changes larger than they would be otherwise.

How does this work? The amount of water vapor in the atmosphere exists in direct relation to the temperature. If you increase the temperature, more water evaporates and becomes vapor, and vice versa. So when something else causes a temperature increase (such as extra CO2 from fossil fuels), more water evaporates. Then, since water vapor is a greenhouse gas, this additional water vapor causes the temperature to go up even further—a positive feedback.

How much does water vapor amplify CO2 warming? Studies show that water vapor feedback roughly doubles the amount of warming caused by CO2. So if there is a 1°C change caused by CO2, the water vapor will cause the temperature to go up another 1°C. When other feedback loops are included, the total warming from a potential 1°C change caused by CO2 is, in reality, as much as 3°C.

From The Conversation:

Global warming is expected to cause changes in the amount of cloud cover, and the height and thickness of these clouds in the future, shifting the balance between the parasol and blanket effects of clouds. The knock-on effect this will have on temperature is known as cloud feedback. Climate change projections cannot ignore cloud feedback, as even relatively small changes in cloud properties can have significant implications for global temperature....

While we do know that clouds will likely amplify global warming, there is still a great deal of uncertainty about how strong this effect will be. Here climate models are of little help, as they can only simulate the bulk properties of the atmosphere over scales of tens of kilometres and several hours. Tiny cloud droplets form and evaporate in minutes. Models miss these small-scale details, but they’re needed for accurate predictions.

Do you notice that they are flipping back and forth between 'water vapour' (a gas) and condensed water droplets/ice droplets (clouds)? And throwing in CO2 as well, obvs.

Let's see if we can disentangle these and compare like with like...

It is not disputed that clouds have a noticeable and measurable effect on the weather/climate:
a) they cool the surface (and the air below them) by day by reflecting sunlight back up, and
b) they keep the surface (and the air below them) warmer at night up by reflecting infra red back down again.

Common sense and everyday observation tells us that overall, this is self-regulating and stable and areas with high relative humidity are cooler overall (with a smaller diurnal temperature range) than dry areas at the same latitude. Whatever warming effect water vapour has, it is completely reversed once it condenses to form clouds. (The latent heat of evaporation takes thermal energy from the surface and releases it higher up when water vapour condenses again, that cancels out.)

So the 'positive feedback of clouds' is nonsense, or else it would already have happened.
Water vapour

Water vapour (the gas) has very little warming effect (if it's even measurable). A clear night (with water vapour but no clouds) is much cooler than a cloudy night (where the water vapour has condensed).

And as with clouds, there can't be a positive feedback or else it would have already happened.

The Skeptical Science article confirms that water vapour is a far stronger 'greenhouse gas' than CO2. There's about ten times as much water vapour/water in the atmosphere as there is CO2, and water vapour absorbs and emits infra red at ten times as many more frequencies as CO2, so the fag packet calculation says the warming effect of water vapour is about a hundred times stronger than the warming effect of CO2 (admittedly with a huge margin of error).

But we have established that water vapour (the gas) has very little warming effect (if it's even measurable). And the warming effect of CO2 is only about one percent (with a huge margin of error) of the negligible warming effect of water vapour. In which case, the warming effect of CO2 is not even a rounding error.
Ho hum. Another epic fail by the Alarmists, they have neatly disproved their own point(s).

Daily Mail on top form

From The Daily Mail:

Gun dealer husband admits shooting dead his solicitor wife at their Grade-II listed farmhouse but DENIES murder because he has a 'mental health condition'

* Silke Hartshorne-Jones, 41, was shot at her £600,000 home in Barham, Suffolk
* Husband, Peter Hartshorne-Jones, 51, admitted manslaughter but NOT murder
* He claimed today at Ipswich Crown Court that he has a 'mental health condition'

Friday 11 September 2020

Deutsche Bundesländer - vereinfachte Landkarte

Habe ich seit Jahren machen wollen:

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (484)

Emailed in by Ben W, from Prospect Magazine:

The title is This practical fix shows why the chancellor should introduce a land value tax seems promising, but they clearly aren't that enthusiastic at all:

All recent proponents of a residential LVT have started from the premise that it would replace Council Tax... But to replace the overall £33bn of Council Tax due for England in 2020-21 would require an LVT rate of around 0.9 per cent. While land values vary widely as a percentage of property market values across the country, 66 per cent is a reasonable guide.

At 0.9 per cent this would imply LVT on the Kensington house of around £180,000 a year (and approximately £3,000 a year on the house in Solihull). And at Local Authority level, Kensington and Chelsea could expect their annual receipts to rise from £106m to £787m, whereas Birmingham’s would fall from £362m to £115m. Such dramatic shifts are clearly unacceptable.

A sensible LVT would of course be a national tax, where all revenues go into one national pot (like it used to be for Business Rates) and local councils just get per capita grants. A 'local' LVT to replace Council Tax would be pointless as nothing much would change. At a very local level, Council Tax more or less is the same as LVT.

A further problem is that Council Tax is payable by the occupiers of a property (who may be tenants), whereas LVT is charged only to the owners.

Whether you have LVT or Council Tax, it makes much more sense for the bills to be sent to the owner, for administrative simplicity and improved collection rates.

Two accompanying tax reforms would make sense: reduce Stamp Duty Land Tax on purchases of principal primary residences (PPRs) to a flat 1 per cent, which studies have shown would significantly free up the housing market, at a cost to the Exchequer of around £320m pa. By comparison, LVT at a uniform rate of 0.05 per cent across England would raise approximately £1.6bn pa, and with the higher rates advocated above, total LVT receipts would be much greater. Secondly, introduce Capital Gains Tax at around 10 per cent on all PPR disposals.

Aargh! SDLT and CGT are both taxes on transactions! They're not as damaging as VAT, because they are taxes on land transactions rather than creation of new assets or services, but bad taxes nonetheless. Reducing one bad tax and introducing an equally bad tax is stupid.

One of LVT's many advantages is that it encourages "right-sizing", single people trade down and families trade up. That's a lot more efficient than building new homes. Taking away 11% of the selling price of somebody's home if they decide to down size discourages it.

Verdict: Fail.

Thursday 10 September 2020

Imposing a 10pm curfew seems like a stupid idea to me

From The Metro:

Britain could be facing a nationwide curfew as part of efforts to avoid a second wave. People may be banned from going out after 10pm or 11pm to try and keep a lid on the recent surge in cases which has been attributed to younger people socialising.

Venues in Bolton will be required to close between 10pm and 5am to try and halt the transmission of coronavirus there, with a similar curfew also understood to be under consideration in Bradford.

The thinking behind this seems to be that Covid-19 infection rates are now highest among younger people who might have caught it while out in the evening. Quite why they think most of them were infected while socialising after 10pm, rather than doing something else at some other time of the day is unclear.

It's a stupid idea, because younger people are unlikely to become seriously ill and the disease appears to be becoming less virulent anyway. So it's a massive imposition for little return.

And if we are going to do "herd immunity", why not start with children and younger adults? It will go round schools and universities, pubs and clubs like wildfire, so they'll all be immune (for the time being) and then hopefully the oldies will be less likely to catch it later on (having kept their heads down for another six months).

Wednesday 9 September 2020

"A housing supply absorption rate equation"

From an excellent article here.

The most important bit is this:

... radical town planning policy changes have been proposed around the world. By allowing higher-density housing [or the same density on larger areas], proponents of these policies expect that the rate of new housing supply will increase enormously, reducing housing prices...

When demand growth is high, you sell more. This makes sense. You sell into a boom and withhold sales during a bust. This is important because one argument for relaxing density restrictions is that new supply would occur at such a rapid rate that prices would fall. But falling prices reduce supply. There is hence a built-in ratchet effect in housing supply dynamics.

Nailed it!

Don't panic

Good article at the BBC explaining why recent rise in Covid-19 cases might not be as worrying as it first seems.

For once, they are not doom mongering. Although they don't mention that the daily deaths figure has been around 10 a day for the past month, that's less than one percent of all death. In April, there were 1,000 Covd-19 related deaths a day, which doubled the number of daily deaths. That was panic territory; ten a day isn't.

Tuesday 8 September 2020

Another major niggle with the idea that CO2 "traps heat" and/or "traps radiation"

In moments of doubt, I turn to Skeptical Science, who advance superficially convincing but actually implausible explanations that reinforce my working assumption that it is all hokum (and/or that the site is clever counter-propaganda funded by Big Oil).

Today I shall dismantle this:

This is how the Greenhouse Effect works. The Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and water vapour absorb most of the heat radiation leaving the Earth's surface. Then their concentration determines how much heat escapes from the top of the atmosphere to space. It is the change in what happens at the top of the atmosphere that matters, not what happens down here near the surface.

So how does changing the concentration of a Greenhouse gas change how much heat escapes from the upper atmosphere? As we climb higher in the atmosphere the air gets thinner. There is less of all gases, including the greenhouse gases. Eventually the air becomes thin enough that any heat radiated by the air can escape all the way to Space. How much heat escapes to space from this altitude then depends on how cold the air is at that height. The colder the air, the less heat it radiates.

So if we add more greenhouse gases the air needs to be thinner before heat radiation is able to escape to space. So this can only happen higher in the atmosphere. Where it is colder. So the amount of heat escaping is reduced. By adding greenhouse gases, we force the radiation to space to come from higher, colder air, reducing the flow of radiation to space. And there is still a lot of scope for more greenhouse gases to push 'the action' higher and higher, into colder and colder air, restricting the rate of radiation to space even further.

1. You literally can't trap "heat" and heat can't "escape". I assume they mean "thermal energy" (which is temperature x specific heat capacity). "Heat" means the flow thermal energy that is transferred from something warm to something cooler. There's no such thing as "heat radiation" either. I assume they mean "infra red radiation".

2. The atmosphere is a mixture of gases that do not chemically react with each other (or not very much - or else they would have done). Each gas has its own properties (molecular or atomic mass; specific heat capacity; whether they absorb and emit radiation and if so at what wavelengths etc), and the average of each of those properties can be taken to be that property of the whole atmosphere. It is quite different to e.g. sodium and chlorine, which have their own properties which are totally different to the properties of household salt.

3. The atmosphere above each m2 of surface has a mass of about 10,000 kg. Each kg has a specific heat capacity of about 1,000 J/kg/C. So the total specific heat capacity is about 10 million Joules per degree C or K for each m2. CO2 levels have increased from about 4 kg/m2 to about 6 kg/mw2 since 'pre-industrial times'. If those two extra kg CO2 have caused temperatures to rise by 1C, then each kg has somehow "trapped" 5 million Joules of thermal energy, permanently. That is a heck of a lot, the specific heat capacity of CO2 is about 800 Joules/kg/C, just to put it in perspective.

4. Radiation itself does not have a temperature, any more than it has colour, smell or taste. It's not thermal energy. A litre of diesel or petrol holds 35 million Joules of chemical energy, that doesn't mean that diesel or petrol is always very hot! There is no such thing as "hot" or "cool" radiation. It is just radiation, you measure it in Joules or Watts (= Joules/second), not in degrees C. And the amount of stuff radiating matters as well as the temperature of the stuff doing the emitting - a huge pile of firewood emits more infra red radiation that one burning match.

5. They assume, reasonably enough, that solar radiation coming in and radiation from the Earth going back out are roughly in balance. They then jump to the "water tank" aka "leaky bucket" analogy, and say if less is going out, then the atmosphere must warm up as a result.

Thought experiment - solar radiation coming in is fixed, but what if radiation is absorbed by plants or solar panels and converted to chemical or electrical energy? A good solar panel can absorb about one-quarter of the solar radiation that hits it each day. Those Joules end up in a battery (or are converted to potential energy if used to pump water uphill) and so can't be radiated to space. So outgoing radiation must be less than incoming. That doesn't make the atmosphere any warmer. (I'd love to know how much incoming radiation a plant can convert to chemical energy each day).

6. We are told time and again that the atmosphere is transparent to sunlight; that N2 and O2 are largely transparent to infra red radiation; and that CO2 absorbs and emits infra red radiation at certain wavelengths. All these things are largely true. But so what? If CO2 absorbs a photon's worth of infra red, it can do two things:

a) absorb it and warm up slightly. As CO2 is only 0.04% of the atmosphere, it makes naff all difference if it is marginally warmer.

b) it can emit it again and cool down again. The emitted photon has no effect on N2 or O2 and can't warm them up. It can only warm up other CO2 molecules, rinse and repeat. That's like sunlight being converted to electrical energy by a solar panel, it has left the system and has no effect on total thermal energy (except that 0.04% is slightly wamer).

The only way to make this make sense is to somehow assume that CO2 can't emit infra red radiation (which they keep telling us it can), so it warms up and then this extra thermal energy is transferred to neighbouring N2 or O2 molecules by conduction. The CO2 molecule then absorbs another photon and transfers the resulting thermal energy to a neighbouring molecule etc, so it's a one-way street.

Or, we go back to the folksy and completely flawed explanation that more than half the infra red emitted by CO2 hits the ground and warms it up a bit more than sunlight alone would. The IPCC can't even make that add up, let alone make sense. Their infamous and much-quoted diagram shows that infra red "back radiation" from greenhouse gases is twice as much as incoming solar radiation. This is clearly nonsense on stilts. Again, it is true that the atmosphere appears to radiate more downwards to the surface than out to space, but the actual explanation for this is much simpler; the air is warmest at surface level because of the gravity-induced temperature gradient (aka "lapse rate"), so obviously the CO2 at surface level is emitting more radiation than the CO2 higher up - because it is warmer, duh. It is the temperature of all the molecules (N2, O2, Ar, CO2, whatever) at surface level which mainly warms the ground by conduction (the lowest level and the surface must be roughly the same temperature).

"Up to £3.5bn furlough claims fraudulent or paid in error - HMRC"

From the BBC:

Up to £3.5bn in Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme payments may have been claimed fraudulently or paid out in error, the government has said. HM Revenue and Custom told MPs on the Public Accounts Committee it estimates that 5-10% of furlough cash has been wrongly awarded.

Latest data shows the programme has cost the government £35.4bn so far. The scheme has paid 80% of the wages of workers placed on leave since March, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.

That's hardly surprising, as the whole thing was conceptually flawed from the very start:

1. People on furlough were allowed to go and work for another employer, so didn't really need it.

2. Many were under pressure from their employer to work unofficially and many did so, even though that was completely against the rules.

3. There were lots of arbitrary cut-off points, so people did a bit of back-dating and post-dating, accelerating or deferring bonuses to maximise what they could claim.

4. The self-employed nearly all fell through the cracks. There was an insane rule that the payments were based on the tax return submitted for 2018-19, for example.

5. A government has to make sure that everybody can at least afford the essentials*, so sure, introduce a Citizen's Income.

6. A Citizen's Income would not be enough to cover rent or mortgage payments. The excess of Furlough scheme payments over and above the Citizen's Income level (call it £80 a week per adult) mainly went to landlords and banks. In the circumstances, the burden would have been shared more fairly if the government had just given everybody who was laid off a rent and mortgage holiday, and of course a mortgage freeze for landlords whose tenants were entitled to the rent holiday.

7. For sure, there will always be fraud, but fraud rates for non-means tested benefits (Child Benefit and state pension) are barely measurable. If you claim the Citizen's Income but "don't need it" because you are still working (or have other income), that costs the government/taxpayer nothing because by claiming the CI you have to waive the tax- and NIC-free personal allowances so you pay back (in tax and NIC) as much as you get (in CI).

* Yes, it has to. Either out of common humanity; to keep the economy ticking over; and/or to stave off riots. Which justification you prefer depends on how cynical you are.

Sunday 6 September 2020

David Blaine's balloon stunt was a pale shadow of the originals

From the BBC:

"Ascension" saw Mr Blaine rise over 24,000 feet (7,600 metres) while holding on to a cluster of helium balloons. The 30-minute flight was live-streamed on YouTube.

So what? From Wiki:

On July 2, 1982, Walters attached 43 of the [weather] balloons to his lawn chair, filled them with helium, put on a parachute, and strapped himself into the chair in the backyard of a home at 1633 West 7th Street in San Pedro. He took his pellet gun, a CB radio, sandwiches, beer, and a camera. When his friends cut the cord that tied his lawn chair to his Jeep, Walters's lawn chair rose rapidly to a height of about 16,000 feet (4,900 m) and was spotted from two commercial airliners.

He slowly drifted over Long Beach and crossed the primary approach corridor of Long Beach Airport... 

After 45 minutes in the sky, Walters shot several balloons, taking care not to unbalance the load. He then accidentally dropped his pellet gun overboard. He descended slowly, until the balloons' dangling cables got caught in a power line at 432 East 45th Street in Long Beach. The power line broke, causing a 20-minute electricity blackout. He landed unharmed on the ground.

With an honourable mention to this chap, of course, who gets bonus points for not bothering with  a parachute and not dropping his pellet gun. This was a proper tribute to the original, but he went for distance rather than height. From The Express:

Kent Couch flew across the Oregon desert, touching down in a field in Cambridge, Idaho where he caused a stir in the tiny farming community. Mr Couch covered about 235 miles in nine hours after lifting off at dawn from his gas station riding in a green lawn chair rigged with an array of more than 150 giant party balloons.

The 48-year-old used a BB gun to shoot some of the balloons and lower himself to the ground.

Local plumber Mark Hetz said: "We go outside to look, and lo and behold, there he is. He’s flying by probably 100 to 200 feet off the ground. When he hit the ground he released all the little tiny balloons. People were racing down the road with cameras. They were all talking and laughing."

Friday 4 September 2020

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (483)

The Homeys claim that developers and builders would be "hit" with LVT and either go out of business or "pass on the tax" to purchasers.

Putting fancy economics to one side for a moment, the most important point here is that actual developers/builders would pay a lot less in LVT than they currently do in land- or planning-related taxes!

Here's an overview of all the taxes which are currently triggered by development:
Landowner – sells land, foregoes agricultural land subsidies on the area sold and pays Capital Gains Tax or corporation tax on the unearned capital gain.
Developer – buys land and pays Stamp Duty Land Tax
Developer – pays planning fees, Community Infrastructure Levy, s106 contributions and incurs costs of planning obligations.
Developer – claims VAT refunds as new housing is zero-rated for VAT, a kind of subsidy.
Developer – sells some “affordable housing” units at a low profit margin to a Registered Provider such as a Housing Association. This can be seen as a tax of nearly 100% on that fraction of the potential development profit.
Developer - sells the rest to owner-occupiers and private investors for a profit. The developer’s profit has two elements – the unearned increase in the value of the land since it was first acquired and the earned element (return for risk and effort) - and the total profit is subject to normal corporation tax.
Owner-occupiers and private investors – pay Stamp Duty Land Tax when they buy the finished homes.

All these land- and planning-related charges fees and taxes could and should be scrapped and rolled into LVT as part of the initial shift. The average total bill (less VAT rebates) is tens of thousands of pounds per new home (depending on where in the country it is). Even if LVT became payable as soon as planning is granted, the average would be about £7,000 per home per year. It seems sensible to give developers/builders an exemption for the first year or two after planning is granted, so developers/builders might end paying nothing at all.

As to "passing on the tax", in the next breath the Homeys will also claim that LVT will see house prices plummet (if they haven't already claimed that in the previous breath), which is tacit admittance that LVT cannot be passed on. The developer does pass it on, of course, the burden is passed up the chain to the original landowner or landbanker

The KLNs are also equal and opposite to the KLN that farmers won't be able to afford to pay LVT and will be forced to sell all their fields to developers. So a complete and utter mess and an epic fail, as per usual.

"Covid-19 cases compared by continent" - all very mysterious

From the BBC:

The vertical scale is not adjusted for relative populations - Asia is about 60% of the world's population and Africa about 20%. So the number of cases per million is tiny compared to Europe, North America or South America, which are about 6% of world population each. Why?

So not only is there a huge differences in the number of cases per million population, the number of cases peaked in April in Europe; in April and again in August in North America; in August in Africa and South America; and is still climbing in Asia. Why?
You can sort of explain the two distinct peaks in the USA. You have to refer to; for (part of) the explanation. The graphs for 'urban' states like New York or New Jersey look similar to Europe - huge peak in April, now tailing off - and the graphs for 'rural' states like Nebraska or South Dakota peaked in August, having started from a very low base.

So the April peak was the 'urban' states and the August peak was the 'rural' states. The USA might as well be two separate countries (something that no presidential candidate seems to grasp). Bayard's theory was that population density is the main driver of how rapidly the disease spreads, but that doesn't apply to Asia at all. Why does this generalisation apply to the USA but not to Asia?
The other thing to note is the disease seems to be becoming rapidly less virulent, so the countries or continents which somehow managed to stave off and delay the first wave did exactly the right thing. In most European countries, there are about ten deaths per day now, as opposed to nearly a thousand per day back in April. Again, why? And why are we still supposed to be panicking? From

Thursday 3 September 2020

The BBC does investigative journalism

From the BBC:

The government has promised to push for an end to tariffs on UK-made ice cream vans during trade negotiations with the US, Australia and Japan...

The vans, many of whose owners also sell coffee, tea and frozen yogurt, are a familiar sight on UK roads.

During summer, they alert potential customers when they approach a park or suburban street by playing bursts of classic tunes, such as Greensleeves or Giovanni Capurro's O Sole Mio - known to many in the UK as the theme once used in Wall's Cornetto adverts...

[the UK] remains one of the world's leading exporters of the vehicles, which can sell for tens of thousands of pounds.

Wednesday 2 September 2020

Set the controls for the heart of the next crash!

Spotted by Lola at Money Age:

The ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ (BoMaD) will be a driving force behind the recovery of the UK’s housing market in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, according to new research from Legal & General and CEBR.

L&G revealed that almost one in four housing transactions (23%) will be backed by the BoMaD in 2020, with 24% of borrowers now more reliant on financial support from family and friends.

From The Telegraph, via MSN:

Average house prices rose by a little over £3,000 in August as the property market reversed losses made during the pandemic and hit a new all-time high.

The cost of a home in the UK hit £224,123 in August, a 2pc increase from the month before, according to the Nationwide building society. It also marks a rise of 3.7pc compared to August last year.

Tuesday 1 September 2020

It's not just cows

From the BBC:

A well-known South African conservationist has died after he was mauled by two white lions as he was taking them for a walk. The wife of West Mathewson, who followed in a car, tried to distract the lions but it was too late.

The lionesses have since been moved to another game lodge and are expected to be released into the wild at a later stage.

Also from the BBC:

A polar bear has killed a man in Norway's Arctic Spitsbergen island, local officials say. The attack occurred at a campsite near Longyearbyen, the main town of the island in the Svalbard archipelago.

The bear was then shot and found dead at the local airport.

The polar bear is shot and the lionesses are released into the wild? Seems a bit inconsistent.