Sunday 31 January 2021

Fun with climate models

I spent most of this weekend calculating solar elevations at different latitudes and different times of the day, which involved a lot of messing about with sines, cosines and tangents (and a lot of simplifications and sensible assumptions, which you have to test back and forth until you get plausible results).

The reason for this was to look into a theory expounded by climate contrarian Joseph Postma. His theory is that Alarmists wilfully understate incoming solar energy by assuming that the earth is flat and sunlight arrives smoothly over each 24-hour period at an average rate, instead of it all arriving in the day time. So I needed to have a spreadsheet that worked out incoming sunlight and outgoing radiation for every minute throughout a 24-hour period, for which I need to know solar elevation. It turns out that while the Alarmist approach is deeply flawed and misleading, the answer you get from averaging is not wildly different than if you do it properly.

Postma should know that, but he has lots of other very useful insights. So much so that Skeptical Science has a whole page dedicated to slagging him off.

After I finally got the spreadsheet to work, I did a proper 'daily radiation budget' for somewhere at latitude 45N close to sea level (which happens to be Bordeaux, France). 45N or 45S is a good place to start because at that altitude you know that solar insolation is precisely the average for the whole planet. After more tweaks, I got daily high, low and average temperatures to match up perfectly for the month of September, which is the month of the autumn solstice. Arguably, this overstates temperatures because it's still warm from the summer; but the model also overstates temperatures because I ignored the +/- 23 degree wobble of the earth, and the two effects seem to cancel each other out.

I did one tab for ground level and the boundary layer (the lowest 500m of atmosphere, where the temperature is similar to ground level) and the next tab for ground level plus the column of troposphere above it (10 km up), both as adjusted for the gravito-thermal effect. They reconcile nicely with each other.

The main lesson here is that you have to make endless assumptions for albedo and emissivity and so on (starting with traditional assumptions and tweaking) and you can only get the starting temperature by trial and error - if you set it too high, you get too much outgoing radiation, which indicates cooling as incoming solar radiation is fixed (and vice versa). If you change albedo or emissivity by one percent, you get an additional degree of warming or cooling.

You can firm up on these tweaks and assumptions, I suppose, but in doing so, you would have to make more tweaks and assumptions to resolve the uncertainty; and more tweaks and assumptions to resolve those... until you end up with a house of cards ready to collapse at the slightest peturbation.

Saturday 30 January 2021

Heads we're doomed. Tails we're doomed.

Last Tuesday I looked at the Alarmist claim that water vapour/cloud feedback is positive (not neutral or slightly negative, which is what everybody else observes or at least assumes).

Here's a nice book-end to that from

As atmospheric scientists, we found in a recent study that thawing permafrost contains lots of microscopic ice-nucleating particles. These particles make it easier for water droplets to freeze; and if the ones in permafrost get airborne, they could affect Arctic clouds...

Without these particles, a water droplet can supercool to about negative 36 F before freezing. When ice-nucleating particles are in a cloud, water droplets freeze more easily. This can cause the cloud to rain or snow and disappear earlier, and reflect less sunlight.

To sum up:

- The first article says slight warming = more clouds = more warming.

- The second article says slight warming = fewer clouds = more warming. Of the two theories, this seems slightly more plausible if their assumptions about these particles getting 'airborne' is correct.

The Alarmists are really hedging their bets here. Can't these people talk to each other and just agree a party line. Maybe the two theories neatly cancel each other out, and it's not an issue? You can find similar sets of equal-and-opposite claims when looking at Killer Arguments Against LVT or UBI, which I find equally infuriating.

Killer arguments against LVT, Not (488)

From the LVT group on Facebook, (H/T to John David Kromkowski)

There are 2 farms next to each other. Same size. Farm A is a bit more fertile. So we can I think agree that Farm A has higher lvt. Farmer B figures out that by planting different things and how he tills he can increase the fertility. 20 later, Farm B has greater fertility than Farm A. Farm B now get a higher LVT levied than Farm A. Farmer B says hold on a second, that increased land value is due to my labor and ingenuity, why should I have to pay more LVT?

My answer to that would be, is that, just because it's land it doesn't mean that all the rent that a landlord could get from it is land rent and therefore taxable under LVT. This is the same fallacy as those who think that LVT would only apply to agricultural land, because land in built-up areas isn't commonly referred to as "land".

The value of the rent that is obtainable from agricultural land because of its ability to grow crops or graze animals is the same as the value of the rent that is obtainable from urban land because it has a house on it. It's not the value of the unimproved land.

Friday 29 January 2021

Friday afternoon gear change

This is textbook stuff. Kygo 'remixed' a 1980s Tina Turner hit, adding little to the original (which itself was irritating enough). There's a pause and a tedious drum break after 2 mins 45 seconds, then it's up a cheeky semi-tone for the rest of the song.

Thursday 28 January 2021

Greatest motivational speech of all time

I watched the "Black Friday" episode of Superstore* on Netflix yesterday.

The staff all succumb to food poisoning and near the end of episode, half of them have already gone home sick. The survivors decamp to the break room leaving the shoppers to fight it out. The most cynical employee (Garrett) suggests - half in jest - that they just shut up shop early and go home. The normally conscientious manager (Glenn) is off his head on anti-depressants and agrees (to everybody's surprise); his bossy assistant manager (Dina) has a minor nervous breakdown and calls the "time of death" for the shop, adding "Let's just watch it all burn".

Garrett is strangely moved by Dina's reaction and launches into the greatest motivational speech ever. I'm typing this from memory, I can't be bothered to transcribe, but here's the gist:

"Wait, I was just joking. I never thought I'd feel sorry for Dina, but there's a first for everything. Now, I don't like working here. But it's my job. I will always cut corners and 'phone it in'. But nobody will ever say that Garrett did less than the bare minimum needed to not get fired. Come on, let's get back out there!"

And they do of course, classic double-swinging door shot etc. Sums me up to a tee. I watched that segment three times with tears in my eyes. (The swinging door shot has been lampooned so many times, it's difficult to imagine it ever having been meant seriously).

* It's basically Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but set in a supermarket/department store.

Tuesday 26 January 2021

Because 2 + 2 = 5

I'm done with making fun of Skeptical Science, it's shooting fish in a barrel, so I dipped my toe into  Science of Doom again. That blog has scientific pretensions, which makes it  harder to spot the contradictions. But they put hard numbers on things, which makes it easier to nail down the sleight of hand once you've spotted it (which took me a couple of days this time):

Globally and annually averaged, clouds cool the planet by around 18W/m² – that’s large compared with the radiative effect of doubling CO2, a value of 3.7W/m². The net effect is made up of two larger opposite effects:
* cooling from reflecting sunlight (albedo effect) of about 46W/m²
* warming from the radiative effect of about 28W/m² – clouds absorb terrestrial radiation and reemit from near the top of the cloud where it is colder, this is like the “greenhouse” effect.

They are obsessed with 'radiation', It is merely one form of energy, which like most forms of energy, can turn into other forms of energy in an instant. Start with chemical energy in your body. You convert it to electrical energy when you throw a ball into the air. Then watch the kinetic energy of the ball turn seamlessly into potential energy and back again. Let the ball fall to the ground and you get a bit of sound and thermal energy. There is not a fixed amount of 'radiation' in the atmosphere that has to be accounted for; there is a fixed amount of total energy, a lot of which is not thermal energy or radiation.

What we care about is not 'radiation' in itself, we care about thermal energy i.e. temperature i.e. 'global warming'. In plain English, a net reduction of 18 W/m2 incoming radiation means that surface temperatures are about 3 degrees cooler then they would be if there were no clouds. Three degrees seems to be on the low side (because 46 W/m2 is on the low side, a back of theh envelope calculation says about twice as much), but let's accept it for now.

See footnotes for further musings on this fascinating topic.

By magic, they can disaggregate the 18 W/m2 (3 degrees) of cooling into minus 46 W/m2 (8 degrees) of cooling (clouds reflecting sunlight back into space and casting shadows) and plus 28 W/m2 (5 degrees) of warming due to the 'top of atmosphere' effect. While the net 18 W/m2 is probably about right, I don't see how it is possible to disaggregate without making dozens of assumptions and guesses, seeing as both things happen simultaneously and have the same cause.

Example - you leave the fridge door open. You can independently measure the normal kitchen temperature; the temperature of the radiator behind the fridge; and the temperature in front of the fridge. If behind is warmer and in front is cooler, you know that the fridge must be on (or was  turned off shortly before), if they are the same, it must be off. You know that the warming and cooling effects should (nearly) cancel out; you know the fridge's wattage and efficiency; so you can get a good estimate of each effect and a sense-check in both directions. With atmospheric water vapour/warming, you can only measure the temperature of the whole atmosphere. That one measurement gives you no clues as to what the warming and cooling effects of clouds are. If you just take one temperature measurement in our kitchen, nowhere near the fridge, you can't even work out whether the fridge is on or off.

But hey.

I explained the 'top of atmosphere' effect at point 2 here. What it boils down to is that the effective emitting altitude (in this case the upper surface of clouds) is (or would be) pushed up by about 1.5 km. That is a heck of a lot, surely airline pilots would have noticed if clouds are higher than they used to be?

The 'top of atmosphere' is an intellectually and mathematically pleasing theory, but complete nonsense nonetheless. If clouds are higher, then of course they are emitting less radiation. Not just because they are cooler (being higher up), but because the radiation energy which they would otherwise emit has been converted to potential energy (the clouds are higher). Potential energy is not thermal energy and there is no warming as a result.

Common sense tells us that water vapour and clouds must dampen temperature swings, they are largely self-cancelling. The Alarmists insist that more CO2 = higher temperature = more water vapour and clouds; water vapour in turn is a 'greenhouse gas' so this pushes up temperatures even more in a vicious circle. This is clearly nonsense, if water vapour caused more water vapour, the oceans would have boiled dry very quickly (or more likely, never formed in the first place).

The Alarmists get round this (read the article) by saying, aha, the 46 W/m2 (8 degrees) of cooling (clouds reflecting sunlight back out to space) is fixed and unaffected by how much water vapour and clouds there are (not plausible), but the 28 W/m2 (5 degrees) of warming will increase with increasing water vapour and cloud altitudes. So above a certain level of moisture; the warming effect exceeds the cooling effect. Which is of course not borne out in real life or plausible.
The article also get a good kicking in the comments, well worth a visit and a read.

1. Just as noticeable/measurable is that day-night swings are much lower where/when it's cloudy/moist than where/when it's clear and dry. Then there is the thorny issue of distinguishing between 'reflection' and 're-radiation':

a. Clouds don't just absorb and re-emit radiation, it also just bounces off. Clouds physically reflect (i.e. like a mirror) sunlight back up by day (i.e. 46 W/m2) and reflect radiation from the earth back down (particularly noticeable by night, and the latent heat released by condensation adds to this - how do you even disaggregate these effects?). For reflection, this must mean a net cooling.

b. Then there is the lesser effect of re-radiation - clouds are warmed from above by the sun (after deducting the amount reflected) and from below by the ground (after deducting the amount reflected). They radiate equally in both directions (we assume). If the radiation absorbed by clouds from above is more than the radiation absorbed by clouds from below (seems likely), then the half of the total radiation absorbed which is re-emitted back down (28 W/m2) will be less than the radiation which would have hit the surface in the absence of clouds = cooling of surface (duh). If the reverse is true (unlikely but possible), then this is indeed a net warming of the surface. I just don't see how you can disaggregate these separate effects.

2. The 'official' figure is an extra 3.7 W/m2 radiation if CO2 doubles - somebody made up this number decades ago and it is now Alarmist Gospel. This - even if were true, which it isn't - equates to about 0.7 degree of warming at the surface (and cooling higher up). Sorry, still not scared.

Originally captioned something like - "so that's it for the master race then?"

 I am having a major elctric spring clean today, and I found this:-

This amuses me on so many levels.  And before anyone goes on about me being 'anti- German', I'm not.  I've been there and I like the German people.

Sunday 24 January 2021

This looks like good news to me - the article contradicts the headline. And itself.

From the BBC:

Lockdown looks to be having an impact on infection levels with the number of new cases starting to fall. But there are only tentative signs this has filtered through to a slowing of new admissions to hospital.

They illustrate this with a chart which seems to show that the lockdowns (starting late March and early December 2020) had no impact on hospitalisations whatsoever (although we will never know). Cases had fallen to a low level by July and even though the lockdown was then significantly loosened, they stayed that low until October.

They started falling a week before the December lockdown and started going up again after it started and continued going up until today (nearly two months). So at first glance, the chart looks like a seasonal illness like 'flu. Lots of cases when it's cold and very few when it's nice weather (which it was for most of last year).

Over the past week more than two million people have received their first dose [of the vaccine]. That puts the government on track for achieving its aim of offering a vaccine to everyone over 70, the extremely clinically vulnerable and frontline health and care workers.

The UK government and the NHS are doing really well with the vaccinations. I am impressed and 'proud to be British' for once. If they can keep this up, the 15 million most vulnerable will have had their second jab by the end of March. Daily vaccination data is here.

Even if the supply is good, there will still be lots of vulnerable people. Nearly 90% of Covid deaths have been in the groups due to get the jab by mid-February.

There's a lot that can still go wrong between now and the end of March, but this is a contradiction and the whole thing is starting to look rather positive. Out of (say) 1,000 daily deaths, 100 were people under 70 who won't even have had their first jab by then, so that's still 100 deaths a day in those groups. 900 deaths were the most vulnerable, if they are now 95% protected, that gets deaths in those groups to about 45 a day.

So total daily deaths will be down by six-sevenths (give or take a large margin of error) by April, at which stage the various effects will kick in:
- more natural immunity (huge numbers of people have had it. Those were presumably the more vulnerable - whether for health reasons or lifestyle reasons makes no difference - who are now immune for the time being);
- more people being vaccinated every day;
- nicer weather;
Their combined effects will mean that daily deaths are down to the dozens and declining. By next autumn/winter, it will all be over. Hopefully.

A couple of experts hit the nail on the head at the end of the article:

UK chief medical adviser Prof Chris Whitty has spoken about "de-risking" Covid. His point is that we will reach a situation at which the level of death and illness caused by Covid is at a level society can "tolerate" - just as we tolerate 7,000 to 20,000 people dying from flu every year.

It appears that 'flu deaths were unusually low last year. Those who would have died of 'flu died of Covid-19 instead. Callous but true.

Sociologist Prof Robert Dingwall, who advises the government on the science of human behaviour, believes that point will be reached sooner rather than later. "I think we will see a pretty rapid lifting of restrictions in the spring and summer. There are some sections of the science community that want to pursue an elimination strategy - but once you start seeing fatality levels down at the level of flu I think the public will accept that."

Yup. People can get used to anything except constant change.

Friday 22 January 2021

Things with a certain poetry

 ITV4 Daytime sponsor - Trusted Trader

Playing - 'Minder'.

Thursday 21 January 2021

Home-schooling and the digital divide

From the BBC:

Parents say they feel "deserted" having to home school during lockdown with a lack of access to computers... Bristol mother Edwina Ogu said home schooling four children with no computer during the first lockdown had been a "nightmare". The Department for Education (Dfe) has pledged to provide one million devices for schools and colleges.

Agreed. If your kids are over (say) seven years old, have a bedroom and a laptop or PC each, home-schooling is manageable. But plenty of people are not in this happy position. Halfway decent laptops or PCs cost £500 and up; internet is patchy in some areas; not all kids have their own bedroom etc.

There's actually a cheap and simple solution to this.  You can get a new TV with Freeview and internet capability for under £150. There are plenty of channels broadcasting complete crap during the day who can be taken off air until 3 in the afternoon.

For kids up to age 14, all you need is one channel for each school year broadcasting a standard curriculum from 9 until 3 with an hour for lunch. All the kids in the UK can watch whichever channel is broadcasting for their year. The TV teacher sets the homework - kids take, email or post their homework back to their actual school once a week and it gets dished out to be marked by their actual teachers.

I accept that different schools use different textbooks, but run with it. School teachers just have to keep tabs on what was covered in their subjects that day and be ready to field questions from their pupils, online, by phone or in person.

It gets a bit more complicated for age 15 to 16 when kids are doing GSCEs. But I'm sure that 99% of GSCEs are in less than twenty different subjects. If I understand the rules correctly, there will be relatively few subject clashes and it might only need another dozen channels (i.e. half a dozen per year x two years of GSCEs).

Switching channels is no more difficult (conceputally) than switching classrooms. So after maths (which appears to be compulsory, not that you'd notice) which everybody watches on the main channel, the history pupils switch to the channel which is showing the history lesson; the geography kids pupils switch to the channel which is showing the geography lesson etc. After that, they all switch back to compulsory English Language (not that you'd notice that either) on the main channel.

Inevitably, there will still be timetable clashes for pupils doing unusual combinations (what's new) but as long as there are a couple of free periods each week and kids have halfway decent internet, they can use the 'catch up' function for that. If they don't have halfway decent internet, they'll just have to choose a workable combination of subjects.

Wednesday 20 January 2021

"The Kitchen Triangle"

The fridge-hob-sink triangle is - supposedly - a key consideration when deciding a kitchen layout. Here are some examples from Wonderful Kitchens. I assume they are Australian, hence "stright" instead of "straight":

Two things occurred to me recently:

1. Whichever layout you choose, there will be a lot of traipsing back and forth and people getting in each others' way. If you have the space and can afford it, a far better layout is to have two sinks. A small one between fridge and hob for washing vegetables and filling pans (only needs a cold feed) and a large one for washing dishes - preferably double-bowl so that you can wash in soapy water and rinse in clean water.

2. Work tops are usually 60cm deep, which is far too narrow. Inevitably, you have stuff along the back (kettle, toaster, blender, spices, utensils etc). These take up nearly half the depth, leaving you only with a narrow strip along the front for preparing food. If you go to 75cm or 80 cm depth, you double the effective working space.

The length of the work top is limited by how big the room is, but the depth isn't (unless it's an unusually narrow room). If the room is small, it's tempting to go L-shape to increase useable work surface - but actually the first thing you should consider is increasing it by having a deeper work top just along the longest wall. Also, my wife hates corner cupboards and would rather have a straight run, I agree with her on this.

Applying 1 and 2, we end up with this:

I assume that you have a fridge/freezer under the work top (or a larder fridge and a freezer if there's space). There's space for your kettle/toaster above/behind the fridge/freezer; for spices, cooking oil and utensils behind the hob; and for washing up liquid and scourers etc behind the double sink. The microwave goes on an eyeline shelf above the fridge/freezer or small sink, obviously, otherwise you waste too much work surface.

So you end up with a nice production line - take food out of fridge/freezer; wash/prepare; put in pans; cook; put used pans next to washing up sink; wash, rinse and put on draining board. Two people can easily work side by side with a minimum of getting in each others' way.

Monday 18 January 2021

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (487)

As we come up to the big part 500 anniversary episode, here is an article which TBH spotted in The Daily Mail.

It is an absolute classic of the Home-Owner-Ist genre and highly recommended reading. See how many lies, contradictions, self-delusions and diagonal comparisons you can spot.

It would take me days to debunk them all, but this diagonal comparison is worth a mention:

Older people who bought houses years ago, and who are living on a small income, could struggle to pay their tax bill and be forced to sell a cherished family home.

And not every owner-occupier in the South has benefited from huge windfall gains. Young people with huge mortgages on recently purchased tiny flats in the capital would be hammered too, with a chilling effect on their aspirations.

Poor Widows in Mansions (low income, massive unearned gain, no mortgage) and recent purchasers (high income, no unearned gain yet, large mortgage) are at absolute opposite ends of the spectrum! If one deserves sympathy, then the other doesn't. Even if you ignore the extremes, how does that translate to sympathy for the vast majority in the middle (medium income, modest unearned gain, small/cheap mortgage)??

As it happens, these problems melt away on closer inspection:

1. Fairer Share said that clearly there would be a 'defer and pay on death' option for the former.

2. For the latter in a "tiny flat in the capital" which cost them (say) £500,000, this tax would be like a small % increase in mortgage interest rates. Instead of paying 0.2% Council Tax each year (£1,000), they'd be paying 0.48% Proportional Property Tax each year (£2,400), which is only £117 a month more (hardly 'hammered') and no worse than a 0.28% increase in mortgage rates, which purchasers should have budgeted for. The government can ease the strain by just dropping interest rates, although the chances are that interest rates have fallen by 0.28% since they took on a mortgage, so they are no worse off than they originally expected.

If they are in a "tiny flat" then no doubt they 'aspire' to 'move up the property ladder' some time in the next ten years, at which stage they will save at least £15,000 SDLT (we don't need to worry about whether SDLT is borne by buyer or seller - when you trade up you are both). So when they achieve their 'aspiration', they will get all their money back and it will make 'moving up the property ladder' a lot cheaper and easier.

Sunday 17 January 2021

Excellent work by Fairer Share

From The Sun:

RISHI Sunak is facing calls to scrap council tax and stamp duty. Households would pay a single property levy under the plan backed by nearly 100,000 people.

The change would benefit residents in the Chancellor’s Richmond, North Yorks, constituency by £650 a year, research by WPI Economics found. Charity Fairer Share, which came up with the plan, said one in four adults regularly borrowed to pay council tax...

The article is light on detail even though the suggestion is very simple. Unsually for The Sun, it is not totally negative. Inevitably, most of the comments are. For more details go to Fairer Share. Which is a community interest company and not a charity AFAIAA.

Saturday 16 January 2021

Poor Widows In Mansions, part the manieth.

From The Daily Mail:

[UK Finance Minister] Rishi Sunak rejected a proposal for an emergency wealth tax to recover the staggering £280billion the Government has spent so far on the coronavirus pandemic. The Chancellor was presented with plans for a one-off levy on those with assets of more than £500,000, or £1 million for a couple, including their family home and pension(1).

But Mr Sunak has told allies that he has ruled out the suggestion because he believes it would be 'un-Conservative' and go against the party's aspirational values(2). However, he is still considering proposals to raise tens of billions from the better-off by sharply hiking capital gains tax.(3)

The Wealth Tax Commission(4) last month proposed a 5 per cent levy on housing, pension, business, equity and savings wealth that it forecast would raise £260billion. The tax would apply to every UK resident with assets of £500,000 or more and would include homes excluding mortgage debt.

About one in six adults – 8.2million people – would be liable, but the tax would largely fall on older generations who have paid off more of their mortgages and built up larger pension pots. Almost 40 per would be aged over 65, while just 6 per cent would be between 35 and 44 years old. The Commission recommended households pay the levy at a rate of 1 per cent a year for five years.

It estimated up to 10 per cent of those affected would be 'asset-rich, cash poor' and not have the ready money to pay for it. For those people, it suggested smaller payments for a longer period. (5)

1) Hooray for taxes on land and buildings, especially if they replace existing stupid taxes on land and buildings, such as Council Tax, SDLT and Inheritance Tax. Taxing pension funds is stupid because they are heavily subsidised. It it far better to simply reduce or phase out the subsidies. Taxing the value of 'business, equity... wealth' is even more stupid. If you want more tax from businesses, just reduce corporate subsidies, and if still necessary, hike the corporation tax rate. Taxing cash savings is even stupider; a proper tax on land and buildings (i.e. LVT) ignores mortgage debt and is levied on the gross rental value of the plot. So as a quid pro quo, cash savings shouldn't be taxed either, or it's heads-we-win, tails-you-lose.

2) 'Un-Conservative' just means 'won't go down well with voters'. The Conservatives are the political party with no principles whatsoever apart from staying in power as long as possible. The same applies to 'aspirational values', which is meaningless. With a full on-LVT and lower taxes on earnings and business output (which are real taxes on 'aspirational values'), people would still 'aspire' to earn more and buy a nicer house (or a nicer car or nicer holidays, or more savings, whatever, that's the whole point of earning more). And those who earn more would end up in the nicer houses and pay the LVT voluntarily.

3) This is pure tokenism. Capital Gains Tax in the UK raises about £7 billion a year, about 1% of all tax receipts (from memory - it's fairly small numbers). CGT was never intended to raise much revenue, it is basically an anti-avoidance measure to deter people from reclassifying heavily taxed earnings or profits as 'capital gains' (which were not taxed at all until 1965). The revenue-maximising CGT rate appears to be about 15% and we are already past that point on the Laffer Curve. So it is nigh impossible to raise significant extra money from CGT.

4) Wealth Tax Commission is an initiative of think-tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies. They are well-respected and influential but nothing official. Their numbers and estimates are almost certainly correct.

5) Also known as 'the roll-up and pay on later sale or death option', just to knock that KLN on the head.

Friday 15 January 2021

Not comparing like with like

From the BBC:

Every year they stop an estimated two to three million deaths, preventing more than 20 life-threatening diseases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Childhood illnesses that were common less than a generation ago are increasingly rare. And smallpox - which killed hundreds of millions of people - has been completely eradicated.

But these successes have taken decades to achieve - and many of us are now expecting effective coronavirus vaccines to have similar results in a radically shorter time frame.

Of course it took decades, because vaccinations against diptheria, whooping cough and measles were just given to young children on reaching a certain age, and it took a few decades before mass immunity against each of these was achieved.

If the UK government and/or NHS get things sorted out and manages to vaccinate [nearly] the whole population within a year, then surely we'll achieve in a year what used to take decades?

Thursday 14 January 2021

Clouding the issue. And mud in your eye.

Here's an excellent article by Thayer Watkins explaining that clouds have a huge impact on temperatures and weather, many orders of magnitude greater than that of 'greenhouse gases'.

There is no point me summarising, but here's are the highlights:

The effect of clouds depends upon their type and the time of day. The more interesting and important type is the low thick clouds. At night the reflection [of sunlight] effect is zero so the greenhouse effect and reflection of thermal radiation dominate and the low thick clouds have a warming effect. One can easily see that the reflection of thermal radiation is far more important than the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect could at most return 50 percent of the outgoing radiation back to the Earth.

Reflection from the underside of clouds probably returns 90 percent of the radiation. The two effects are not in competition. Clouds could return 90 percent from reflection and half of the unreflected 10 percent. Thus it is easy to see why there is such a difference in temperature between a clear night and a cloudy night in the winter. Since the greenhouse effect from the atmospheric gases would be the same on a clear and a cloudy night one could say that the effect from greenhouse gases is negligible compared to the effect of low thick clouds.

This ties in with my observation that there is no 'missing' or 'blocked' outgoing IR from the Earth's surface. If you extrapolate this to Venus, which is completely blanketed in thick cloud, it goes to explaining why the surface is so hot.
A lot of stories about melting permafrost have been popping up in the random articles that my mobile 'phone suggests. Here's a typical example:

The etymology of the term “permafrost” comes from the English language, meaning permanent frost. It is a layer that underlies the “active” layer of the soil where life develops and that stays frozen all year round, even in summer. It is made up of different amounts of inorganic material (rocks and sand), mixed with organic compounds and water. Frozen water appears in very variable quantities and is a key element in the consistency and durability of the layer over time. Generally, permafrost has a geological age of more than 15,000 years.
Other articles say "centuries" or "thousands of years". Do these people not read their own articles to do a sense check? Clearly, all the dead plants in the permafrost must have grown there at a time when it was well above freezing. Fifteen thousand years ago was still in the last Ice Age, so the chances are it all grew (and died) since the last Ice Age ended on July 19, about 11,000 years ago.

Therefore, as warm as it might be nowadays, there have been much warmer times since the last Ice Age ended.

Tuesday 12 January 2021

"We don't have a public health crisis, we have a public healthcare crisis..."

Said Sobers in the comments here:

... The current alleged 'second wave' is nothing of the sort, its just the NHS being incapable to coping with winter demand as is ever the case. Deaths are the only true statistic we can rely on in these reality bending days - even the NHS and PHE etc can't fudge how many dead people there are. And the number of funerals tells us we are currently experiencing an entirely within normal parameters winter. The 'second wave' is a figment of the failings of the PCR test, in fact its exacerbating the problem by causing thousands of NHS staff to be 'off sick' when there's nothing wrong with them.

Well, yes and no.

The NHS always 'struggles' in winter. Presumably it has enough capacity for most months of the year, but not quite enough for winter.

Excess deaths are not particularly high (so far, touch wood) during the 'second wave' (which clearly exists, it's not just miscounting). But that is not the metric. If Covid-19 were completely incurable and people just dropped dead within a couple of hours, this would not place any particular strain on the NHS. That would be a health crisis, but not a healthcare crisis.

The issue is that Covid-19 is very curable in most cases, but treating it is very labour intensive. There are currently 32,000 people in hospital being treated for Covid-19, which is about one-fifth of the total number of beds in the NHS. Which is either 'not much' or 'a heck of a lot' depending on your point of view.

What interests me, as an economist and armchair general (most of whose Covid-19 related predictions have been wrong or unproven so far, lolz), is the cost-benefit analysis.

The lockdown appears to have lopped £500 billion off GDP this year. Marginal tax rates in the UK are about 50%, so the government UK has racked up an extra £250 billion of debt. These numbers are subject to large margin of error, but it's clearly huge amounts. That's money we'll never get back.

If we'd had a milder, saner and tolerable level of lockdown (applied consistently from the start, not with this constant chopping and changing and different rules for different areas - people can get used to anything except constant change), there would have been more infections, patients and deaths of course. The vulnerable and elderly can do the sensible thing and self-isolate; that doesn't mean that kids shouldn't go to school either - the kids will all catch it but nearly all those cases are asymptomatic or mild, and after that they have immunity (we believe).

How much extra money would the NHS have needed to be able to ramp up capacity to be able to treat the extra patients? You can't train up doctors and nurses overnight - but you can pay them more generous overtime; poach some from abroad; delegate more nursing task to less qualified people and medical students; take people off unnecessary tasks like smoking patrols or 'diversity and inclusion enablers' and put them on cleaning duty etc.

The normal NHS budget is £140 billion a year, we could have given them a temporary 50% increase, and it would still only have cost a fraction of the economic cost of the lockdown. We could have doubled it and still better than broken even.

Monday 11 January 2021

Those vaccination priority groups

There's some interesting discussion about this on

Broadly speaking, it makes sense to work backwards from the statistics on likelihood of death/serious illness and vaccinate people accordingly. So care home residents and their carers first; then frontline NHS staff and the over-80s; then over-70s and so on. NHS workers aren't particularly at risk, but a) they look after their own and b) they get vaccinated against and tested for all sorts of infectious diseases as a matter of ethos - it's not a good look to infect your own patients. Bus drivers (who were disproportionately affected) don't get a mention, poor sods.

The original discussion also pointed out that people in 'BAME groups' are more likely to die or become seriously ill than whites, so maybe they should get priority. It didn't actually mention the fact that men seem to be worse affected than women, but the same principle applies. Neither of these factors made it through to the final priority list, which is a bit of a slap in the face.

They should have done a proper points system. Age-based points with additional points for BAME people and men. So, for example, a 50-year old black or Indian guy; a 55-year old white guy (i.e. me); and a 60-year old white woman rank rank equally and get invited for their jabs at the same time.

This would be the sensible thing to do, with the bonus fun factor that we'd see a bizarre coalition of racists and feminists whining and moaning! And probably the SJW finding some angle to moan about (it's condescending to BAME groups; it suggests that they can't look after themselves properly?).

Friday 8 January 2021

This should be interesting..

According to's poll, up to almost a half of London's tenants are looking to move out of London altogether, which, together with the cut in earnings in large setors of the capital's economy, should mean that the chancellor's efforts to prop up rental values through the furlough scheme will come to nothing. House prices will surely follow.

The only question remaining is whether this will mean that the government will have been deemed to have committed the unforgiveable sin of letting house prices fall and be booted out at the next election.

Weekly deaths - England and Wales - that was the year that was

Data from the ONS.

See also @Dr_RohenKapur. Total deaths in 2020 were about the same as in the 1990s. Yearly deaths fell to a low in 2011, and since then they have crept up again (2020 deaths were about 5% higher than in the previous three years). Presumably due to Catastrophic Tory Underinvestment In The NHS or something.

Thursday 7 January 2021

"Netflix raises UK prices to cover cost of content"

The usual slightly weird reporting from the BBC:

Netflix is raising the cost of some of its UK subscriptions from next month, its customers have been told. The streaming service said the price rises reflected money spent on content.

Netflix is a superb service and their (few) original series are pretty good. I don't like all of them, but there a couple of good ones each year (and lots of people watch 'The Crown', sigh). The price they charge reflects purely 'what they can get away with' and has little to do with what they spend on original content. I'll pay to watch something if I like it, I couldn't care if it was done on a shoestring or it costs £ millions per episode. Clearly, for the bought-in content, the IP owner holds out for a large chunk of the income, so that's probably pretty low margin.

Its standard monthly package will go up from £8.99 to £9.99 and its premium one will rise from £11.99 to £13.99, but its basic plan remains at £5.99*.

So still superb value, then?

However, comparison site Uswitch said the timing of the price rises was unfortunate with UK citizens living under new national lockdowns.

Supply and demand. The lucky majority who still have jobs are spending a heck of a lot less on other fripperies, so they have more to spend on streaming services, computer games etc. And if I get the sack and have to live on a tight budget, Netflix will be one of the last things I cut back on. So Netflix can bump up their prices a bit. So far, the business has not been particularly profitable, so good luck to them.

But Netflix faces tough competition from rivals, such as Disney+, which has also announced price rises of £2 per month up to £7.99 or £79.90 for a full year.

There's also good old fashioned terrestrial TV (yours for the price of a TV licence); Amazon Prime (about £6 a month, but which is shit); some cable/satellite TV channels (which seem to be very expensive); and there is loads of stuff on YouTube (free). So there's more 'tough competition' than you can shake a remote control at.

* I originally only subscribed to Netflix so that The Lass could watch 'Riverdale', which was all the rage in her class at school for a while, so basic package £5.99. Then the rest of the family got into it (including me) and found stuff they liked, so we're now on £9.99 for two screens. Even that's not always enough, and I sometimes have to pull rank and chuck out one of the kids.

Wednesday 6 January 2021

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (487)

KLN: "VAT works to deter landlordism. LVT doesn't."


Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute posted this as a reply on Twitter.

Tuesday 5 January 2021

VAT clusterf**k

From the BBC:

EU firms refuse UK deliveries over Brexit tax changes

Good start. The articles mentions a few small businesses who can't be bothered at the moment, due to the extra hassle. And it's not a "Brexit tax change", it's a "UK continues to use a tax system imposed on it by the EU decades ago".

In their infinite stupidity, the UK government is continuing with VAT (the worst tax of all) and is just mirroring the EU system. EU Member States have to charge VAT on imports into their country, wherever they are from. Businesses in a Member State can have one master-registration, but have to split up turnover by country and pay VAT at the appropriate rate on sales to non-business customers to each country (the so-called One Stop Shop); the UK is just reciprocating.

Bicycle part firm Dutch Bike Bits said from now on, it would ship to every country in the world except the UK. "We are forced by British policy to stop dealing with British customers," it said on its website.

So, not "forced"? They have made the commercial decision not to bother because of the extra hassle and expense, which of course won't affect large players who can cope with this. VAT is a barrier to entry and hurts small businesses more than large ones. EU corporatism at its best.

Campaigner Richard Allen, founder of Retailers Against VAT Abuse Schemes, told the BBC that the massive increase in international online shopping had led to VAT evasion on a huge scale.

He said the new HMRC rules were aimed at tackling that, but it was unclear how firms who failed to register for UK VAT would be dealt with. "Why should a phonograph spares manufacturer in Idaho bother to register for VAT in the UK and how are you going to make them do it?" he said. "And if they send the package anyway, what are you going to do?"

The system - as shit as it might be in principle - seems to work. I ordered some car parts from the USA last year*, price about £60 and I had to pay about £20 in import duty (i.e. VAT plus bits) before the Post Office would deliver it.

* Rather infuriatingly, I later found out that I could have bought them cheaper from the UK. Order in haste, repent at leisure.

Sunday 3 January 2021

One small step for womankind and one giant leap for mankind

From the BBC:

The 5% rate of VAT on sanitary products - referred to as the "tampon tax" - will be abolished in the UK from 1 January.

EU law required members to tax tampons and sanitary towels at 5%, treating period products as non-essential. Chancellor Rishi Sunak committed to scrapping the tax in his March Budget.

Campaigners welcomed the end to what they called a "sexist tax" with activist Laura Coryton saying it was "about ending a symptom of sexism".

I'm not really sure that VAT on tampons etc is 'sexist' (it's borne by the manufacturer and retailer, not the consumer). I'm not sure how you are supposed to distinguish 'essential' from 'non-essential' or even what relevance that distinction has (in VAT law, it is irrelevant), but who cares?

VAT is the worst tax we have, for a variety of reasons, so the more things they exempt the better.

Saturday 2 January 2021

Yeah! Go Israel!

From the BBC:

Israel has given vaccinations against coronavirus to more than one million people, the highest rate in the world, as global immunisation efforts step up.

Israel has a rate of 11.55 vaccination doses per 100 people, followed by Bahrain at 3.49 and the UK at 1.47, according to a global tracking website affiliated with Oxford University.