Friday, January 28, 2005

Off to New York

I'm off to New York. I'll leave with this observation -- I was sent a Gillette M3 power razor through the post. It's like a normal Gillette Mach 3 razor, but has a battery that is meant to make the hairs stand on end.

And I have to say it is fantastic. Just the best thing in the world. And it's not even that expensive now Boots have reduced the price to under £7.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Whoops!

The Conservatives have got rather over-excited over the IFS's analysis of the government's finances.

Michael Howard:
"Mr Blair should admit that he will have to put up taxes to pay for his spending plans. The only question is which taxes?

Oliver Letwin:
"There is now a simple question, which we will repeat and repeat until it is answered: "Mr Blair, which taxes are you going to raise? Will it be National Insurance Contributions again, or Income Tax, or VAT on food, or Capital Gains Tax on homes?"


There is a problem here, which both Howard and Letwin appear not to have noticed.

The Conservatives taxation and spending plans are based on the Government's taxation and spending plans.

If there is, as the IFS says, an £11bn shortfall, then that is going to impact on the Conservatives. Bye bye the £8bn tax cut.

What it really means is that both Howard and Letwin do not believe they will be in government after the next election.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

In defence of the Prince of Wales

This blog has not the Prince of Wales' greatest fan. Indeed it woud be fair to say that overall we think the sooner he heads off to being a Gentleman Farmer, and gives up his hopes of interfering with our daily lives, the better.

Nothing I'm about to say has changed that view. Indeed it has only strenghened it. Nevertheless I am going to praise him. Yes, His Royal Highness makes very good sausages*.

How many Republics could you say that about? God save The King.

* Naturally I somewhat balked about funding the Royal Purse more than I already do. But when it comes to dinner or principles, there is usually only one choice.

National Review idiocy

The magazine that appears to have no quality control. I have not been following the debate over privatizing social-security in the US, am not familiar with the terms of reference, etc. But even I could tell the National Review is making this up

Doing this may have toned down that big, bad $10.4 trillion number by setting it against a big, good $295.5 trillion number. But this is misleading, too, in its own way. If payrolls are $295.5 trillion and the deficit is $10.4 trillion, that means Social Security’s anticipated payments to the infinite-horizon must, by definition, be $305.9 trillion — which is a really big, bad number. But we didn’t hear any panels or committees or FactCheck.org demanding that number be shown. No, the public must only be shown good numbers.


In case you didn't spot it, if payrolls are $295.5 trillion, and the deficit (in social security) is $10.4 trillion, then that means the anticipated payments are $10.4 trillion plus the average % tax on $295.5 trillion. This number is around 14% of that National Review's number (it is 15% of the $295.5). So was it a deliberate mistake, or just stupidty? Bizarrely the author, called Donald Luskin, claims to run an investment fund.

It will be a landslide after all

A few posts below I said the election was likely to be closer than people thought. Now I fear I may be wrong.

William Hague on the forthcoming election, 25th January 2004

"very close indeed".


William Hague three days before the forthcoming election, 29th May 2001

"We are not going to lose"

Result of that election

Labour majority of 167. Hague resigns.

Monday, January 24, 2005

North Korea

There's an interesting book review in the New York Review of Books on North Korea. As the author notes given its certain destruction the regime would have to be stark raving mad to declare war on South Korea. Alas, it is, so the possibility can't be ruled out...

Opinion polls in 2004

I've charted all the opinion polls from 2004, courtesy of Anthony Wells' site. Also Anthony's blog has moved to here.

Looking at the charts there is quite a bit of variation. Generally Labour have recovered from about June and the Conservatives have lost ground, with the Lib Dems losing out in the second half of the year. But not all pollsters follow this pattern, YouGov have Labour flat with the Lib Dems gaining. Certainly I think it would be odd to say the General Election is a foregone conclusion.

War on Iraq continues to lose popularity

The Sunday Times reports:

SUPPORT for the war in Iraq has fallen to its lowest level so far, a Sunday Times poll has found. Only 35% of people think America and Britain were right to invade and 56% believe they were wrong, write David Smith and Richard
Woods


As you might expect Anthony Wells covers the rest of poll here

Sunday, January 23, 2005

French food

Went to the Vive La France exhibition at Olympia this afternoon. It's not something I would normally have gone to but we won tickets in a competition.

And great fun it was too. Basically it was lots of stands with French wine & food and lots of free samples. As a sales ploy it worked on me -- I bought one bottle of Chablis, one bottle of rather interesting red wine from Languedoc, two dried sausages (wild boar and smoked venison), a cassoulet, two types of cheese and some mackarel pate.

Jeremy, Save the Pound

If, like myself, you read the Sunday Telegraph as your only Sunday newspaper, you learn to steel yourself for outbreaks of obnoxiousness. But even I wasn't ready for this.

We know what this it. We've seen it before. And we know the decent majority of British people find it repugnant, for little William Hague tried it, and in the process destroyed his reputation forever.

Update: And what is the point of putting it in the Sunday Telegraph? How many readers of that newspaper a) aren't going to vote Tory and b) would vote Tory if they had a tougher immigration policy? Seven?

Update II: Some explanation for the move comes from The Times, which says that Michael Howard's personal election strategy advisor, Lynton Crosby, has told him he cannot win the next election, and his best hope is to secure his base and pick up 20-30 more seats. Crosby denies the story, but I suppose he would.

Supermarkets

A couple of week's ago I mentioned how much I dislike Tesco's colour scheme. This made me sound a bit like Tyler Brule, whose remarkable 'Fast Lane' Weekend FT column* once ranked airports by their flooring (Stockholm, with mahogany, was best).

Nevertheless I stand by my comments. There are only two countries that do hypermarkets well -- that's France, which should do as it was Carrefour that invented the concept - and the United States.

With that in mind, and conscious it's perhaps not literally a hypermarket, for my birthday (I know you're thinking -- how long can I stretch it out? Trust me -- longer than you think) I'm off to New York to go to Target's Brooklyn store (and perhap a few other things). I'm not off 'til Thursday, so there might be some posts before.

* Remarkable, and pretty enjoyable. A couple of weeks after it began a reader wrote a letter asking whether it was a spoof. It wasn't, and I think it's grown and grown. The ranking airpots by their floor colouring is pretty illustrative. As is the fact that he only buys his underwear from a particular Swiss department store.

Ron Atkinson

In Number 10 bar, a very good but sadly not-much-visited bar on Golborne Road, W10, they have the daily papers, and as you always do when they're free, I picked up the tabloids. The Daily Mirror had a Ron Atkinson story.

Atkinson followed the story with this "joke": "I can't understand why there
is such a population problem in China as they have the best contraception going
- Chinese women are the ugliest in the world."

I read a blog somewhere recently where the writer - who I normally admire -- said Ron was 'not a racist'. He is. If you watched that dreadful ITV programme where he charged around the planet being 'not racist' in that way only 'racists' can you'd be pretty sure of that.


Friday, January 21, 2005

Chalabi to be arrested

It's hard to work out why -- whether it is for the Jordanian bank scandal, or for the 'maligning the defence ministry'

Don't have to be a sozzled ex-leftist Brit in America to think this sounds odd.

Tory spending plans

The Economist also looks at the Tories' spending plans. It notes that in 2007/2008, so probably around the start of the third year of the a Conservative government, Labour expects to bring in 40.2% of GDP in taxation, whilst the Conservatives will take in 39.9%.

This compares to the current level of 37.5%. *


* Eagle-eyed readers** note that both parties claim that they will not raise taxes after the election yet this suggests they are. I think the solution is that both claim they will not raise taxes over and above the government's plans for 2007/2008.
** Eagle-eyed readers who have little else to do on a Friday evening.

Socially responsible corporations

The Economist argues that 'Corporate Social Responsibility', and advocates of it, have based it on a 'dangerously faulty' view of the capitalist system. This is, 'the premise that unadorned capitalism fails to serve the public interest' and thus firms need to thnk of other 'stakeholders', in order to pay their debts to society.

The Economist's distate for this is not hard to predict. It says that for selfish reasons all companies will anyway think of other stakeholders, such as long-term relationships with employees, suppliers and customers. Why? Because it makes good business sense, and as all transactions are voluntary, it ensures everyone benefits. Workers only work because they are paid, suppliers only supply because they are paid, etc.

In conclusion, Cs should leave the SRs to governments, and get on with maximising profits for shareholders.

It's a view I'm broadly in agreement with. But there appears to be a fault in The Economist's logic. For if firm do not need to think of CSR because their transactions, which must be designed to maximise profits, already perform a social good, then the same surely holds of firms' decisions to 'pay elaborate obseciance to the principles of CSR'. Why are they doing it? Presumably because it makes good business sense. No-one is making them do it, after all.

It could be said that this argument implies corporations can never make mistakes, and no-one, not even The Economist, can point out the error of their ways. But this appears to be The Economist's argument with respect to corporation's treatment of employeees, its customers, its suppliers.

Conspiracy Theorist madness

Melanie Phillips is turning into the Queen of the conspiracy theory. A few week's ago she told us that Britain is a Muslim-run state in which non-Muslims have inferior status. Now she says that Saddam Hussein is running the insurgency in Iraq from his American-guarded prison cell.

But am I alone in my astonishment that -- assuming, of course, that this account is true -- Saddam is still pulling the strings of Iraqi violence? And if this is so, and he is still an all-too active player in Iraq, might this not explain why his Ba'athist subordinates have never divulged where the bodies -- or rather, weapons of mass destruction -- are buried?


Wednesday, January 19, 2005

IT'S MY BIG DAY

Yes, it's my birthday. Please leave congratulations in the comments or by email, and presents you can send to my home address.

The bad news is it's my 30th.

Tories will scrap Tuition Fees

A few posts down you'll see a debate of sorts where a Conservative blogger says that not a single Tory MP believes the party actually will scrap tuition fees. Although I have been sceptical about this, I was surprised that Tory MPs were, particularly given Michael Howard has signed a document saying he will do it in the first month of a Conservative government. To clarify I asked the Education Spokesman Tim Collins. Massively to his credit his assistant replied within four hours.

This is what he had to say:

The next Conservative Government will scrap student fees within a month of taking office. This emphatic commitment can be found in our Timetable for Action at www.conservatives.com




Another revelation

After last week's shocking news that the Royal Family harbour Right-wing political views, we now have the revelation that the British Army has thuggish and violent elements.

It's hard to know how to cope with the shock, particularly if you remember that British troops, like their American counterparts, are trained to be like this.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Government spending -- value for money

One overlooked implication of the Conservatives' government spending review is that they only found £35bn of savings. Given government spending will be well over £500bn that means only about 7% is considered inefficient, even by the Conservative Party, and even with an extensive politically-motivated search for inefficiency.

This compares very well to most private companies, I would have thought, and puts paid to the myth that government spending is massively inefficient.

Another thing is they seem to be promising the tax cut only in the 2007/08 fiscal year, not the 2006/2007 one. I don't know why.

More Monarchy

A letter in today's Independent:

Sir,

I've never heard a Republican argue that elected leaders are any less fallible than members of the Royal Family, The simple point, which seems to elude the Rev Geoffrey Thompson (letters, 17th January) is that we can remove elected leaders when they screw up.

The most respectable argument I have heard for the Monarchy is it is irrelevant...

Gus Park
London, W12

All trust gone

One of the problems the Conservatives have had since 1992 has been a complete lack of trust among the electorate. Most opinion polls show Michael Howard has failed to make any headway.

It's not surprising however when Peter Cuthbertson, probably the country's most fervent Tory, can assert than not a single one of the 165 or so MPs believe the party will keep one of their most well-known policy commitments.

[Robert Jackson] must be about the only sitting Tory MP I hadn't heard of (and indeed the only one who thinks we will scrap tuition/top up fees)


When party loyalists and MPs can't believe the leadership, why will the country?

Monday, January 17, 2005

Conservative Budget

Today's Conservative budget is competent, if a little dull.

It's rather difficult to understand, let alone make intelligent coments on. But I've looked at the proposals, and as far as I understand them they are:

* Labour found £22bn of savings, which they indend to spend on front-line services. The Conservatives have found another £13bn, making £35bn (note the Conservative savings may not include the same ones as Labour's).

* With this £35bn the Conservatives are going to plough back into spending £23bn, so overall they will spend £12bn less than Labour (in 2006/2007). With this £12bn of savings they will pay off £8bn of debt and reduce taxes by £4bn.

So overall the Conservatives will be spending £12bn less, but the politically clever bit is they found £13bn of extra efficiency savings, so they'll be spending £13bn more good spending than Labour, so overall they'll be spending £1bn more than Labour.

The interesting question is why they decided to reduce government borrowing by £8bn, and thus only reduce taxes by £4bn, rather than making £12bn of tax cuts. £12bn of tax cuts sounds substantial, and indeed could be spun as £500 for every hard-working family* in Britain. £4bn, obviously, can't. Labour could hardly call it irresponsible given the borrowing levels would have been the same for both parties. Howard did say a few week's ago that he thought governments shouldn't borrow at all, but when he was a minister the government borrowed far more (in % of gdp terms) than they are now, so it can't really be a major issue with him.

*Incidentally Howard said today: "every single penny politicians spend comes out of the pockets of hard working families", which is rather strange, as it doesn't.


Sunday, January 16, 2005

Prince Harry III

There's a remarkable profile of Prince Harry in the Sunday Times which has to be read to be believed.

After reading it you have to wonder why so many otherwise intelligent people believe of all the people in the world, he is the second best choice to be our leader, to have the final say on the laws that are passed in this country etc.

The whole shambles also reflects badly on Eton. The Sunday Times has an explanation of sorts.

As one Eton contemporary said last week: “Any pupil at Eton gets fed up with having PC liberal values shoved at them every day


Is it political correctness gone mad that has made Harry the way he is?

Update: Via Michael in the comments (kind of) I find this in the Independent

"So it might all have been so much worse: if the boys had got what they wanted when they went into the shop, Prince William might have been photographed trying to look like a black man in primitive clothing, while Harry would have been posing in the death's-head uniform of the Waffen SS. Now that would have made the party swing."

It scarely bears thinking about. According to the BBC Michael Howard is to go on the offensive again tomorrow. This could be just what is needed to restore his poll ratings. As the country wakes up to what it is in for in 20 or 30 years' time, there is an unmistakeable whiff of Republicanism in the air.

Tories in trouble

The remarkable resignation of Robert Jackson MP, a former minister in Mrs Thatcher's government, piles on the agony for Michael Howard. Jackson's withering resignation letter attacks the Tories on four counts -- their 'dangerous' views on Europe, their 'incoherent' public services' policy, 'wobbling' on Iraq and perhaps most damaging, that they 'deserved better leadership'.

Adding to the party's woe a News of the World poll of marginal constituencies (on rather a small sample) suggests they could lose seats at the next election.

Can anything be done? Clearly it is too late to get a new leader, and in any case it is not clear who would be better. Howard has his faults -- his opportunism, his lack of tactical awareness, his unpopularity with the public. But in the absence of Ken Clarke riding to the rescue the Tories have few other options. John Redwood is widely despised, David Davis is too right-wing, Oliver Letwin is gaffe-prone. There is William Hague, an able and clever man, but who as leader was probably the worst Tory since World War II.

On policies, I think Jackson is guilty of the incoherence he alleges of the Tory party. Take Iraq. The war is highly unpopular, and Tony Blair's conduct throughout has been abysmal. The Sunday Telegraph, probably the British press's most pro-war newspaper, today reports that the country is on the verge of civil war. Many of the problems were foreseen, and warned to the PM in advance, so the Tories would have a strong case in attacking not the policy but the implementation. It would also win back some Lib Dem voters. The Americans would not like it, but Michael Howard has already been banned from the White House so what else can they do?

Has anything changed?

You need not head back in time to Arthur Mee's Enclyclopedia to find that kind of thing. Instead turn to the News of the World

"Guy's mother Vanda [Pelly] would not discuss the content of her son's speech....It certainly wasn't disrespectful to dress as the Queen. No more than it would be disrespectful for a white man to dress as a black man. I myself went as a penguin. And you could argue that it was a good thing Harry wore that costume. After all it highlighted the whole debate about Auschwitz—and that's a positive thing, surely?"

Much that is obnoxious about the Upper Class is in this statement. The belief that an example worth repeating of not being disrespectful is for white men to black-up. The suggestion that dressing up as a Nazi is good, because it leads to a debate about Auschwitz... one can only wonder what 'debate' the woman means.

Truly astonishing.

A world of wonder

Very pleased yesterday to pick up 8 of the 10 volumes of Arthur Mee's classic The Children's Enclyclopaedia for just £6.

For those unaware of it TCE dates from the inter-war period (though it was still produced into the 1960s and indeed my version is from 1946) and is a wonderful example of the best and worst things about British Empire visionaries. Mee fills the pages with challenging and interesting stories from around the world, puzzles, questions and even poetry and French lessons.

It also, as Wikipedia notes, is written with a very Empire certainty of view, with "religious views, eugenics, and blatant sexism and occasional offhand racism.", though "Offsetting this was a moderate and liberal standpoint in many areas."

I'll bring some good examples of both those as I read them. For now I'll note it starts with a colour insert of the Peoples of the World in national costume. Tiny and at the back of a lonq snaking queue are the Pgymies, then the Hottentots, before arriving at the front with the French and Americans.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Shouldn't Sir Mark Thatcher become Mark Thatcher?

Given Sir Mark Thatcher has now pleaded guilty, shouldn't his Baronetcy be revoked? It was only given by John Major in an attempt to shut Mrs Thatcher up, and it appears there is no problem with doing so, although primary legislation would be required.

Some may see this as overkill, but given the stain on Britain's reputation from Thatcher's activities, and the damage it must be doing by association to the reputation of the Monarchy already reeling from the Nazi scandal, it seems necessary to restore some decency.


Prince Harry II

The story appears not to be going away. Nick points out that Harry may be in further trouble as Charles is going to 'educate him'. Worse perhaps, the Duchess of York has waded into battle on Harry's side.

My own view remains that of yesterday. The issue here is not really Harry, but the Monarchy. Defenders of that institution need to explain why they think that if an accident happens to Prince William, Harry is the best choice in the country to be our unelected ruler for life, why no laws can be passed without his say so or using his prerogative, etc etc.

Update: The BBC reports, "Israel's foreign minister Silvan Shalom said the prince was wrong to wear the costume and had a lot to learn.". Has a foreign leader ever criticised a member of the Royal Family before, let alone one this senior?

UpdateII: I must also congratulate Michael Howard on the strong line he has taken on this. One of Howard's most impressive qualities since he became leader has been his willingness to stand up for the rights of the majority of decent Britons even when it has put him at odds with traditionally Conservative-friendly people or institutions. We saw it with his refusal to be cowed by George Bush over the Iraq war, despite the heavy sanction of banning him from the White House, and now we see it with the farce that is our Royal Family. What a coup it would be for him if he could get banned from Buckingham Palce too.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Telegraph editorial

There's a nice example of what I suppose is called a leading question in the Telegraph's editorial.

It says:

Who would deny the right of the American government to have detained the September 11th bombers if they had been caught on September 10th on the merest hint that they were up to no good


Well who indeed? But remove 'September 11th bombers' and replace 'American citizens', and it becomes rather less clear-cut. Remove the benefit of hindsight too, and the whole thing collapses.

Royal Family in right-wing view shocker

For Gary

Next to their exclusive that Prince Harry dressed as a Nazi the Sun has a nice article showing us that the other Royal Family members had a good war.


We learn that the Queen Mum, (Gawd bless her! May she live to be 100!) kept the nation’s spirits up by "refusing to leave London", the Queen "drove Army vehicles", Prince Philip was "involved in many successful missions with the Royal Navy", while Harry’s great-uncle Lord Mountbatten (Good old Dicky) "captained a destroyer and became the Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia".

Oddly it doesn't mention some others of the illustrious family. For example, Prince Harry's great-great-uncle, King Edward VIII, later the Duke of Windsor, was well-known for his Nazi sympathies. Aside from meeting the Fuhrer in the late 1930s, he spent most of the rest of his life in exile in Paris ranting to whomever would listen that if only the Jews had listened, and left, war could have been averted.

Anyway, let's not be too harsh on Harry. Blessed with his mother's looks and his father's brain, or possibly his mother's looks and his mother's brain, or possibly even his mother and father's brains, and James Hewitt's looks, he probably knew no better. It's not as if it's completely beyond the pale -- people go to fancy-dress parties dressed as nazis all the time. Not admittedly public figures, or ones with the theme 'native and colonials', but there you go*.

What is serious however is that if his only slightly-less-intelligence-challenged brother falls under a bus, then this man will one day be our ruler, and we his subjects. What a system**.

* Incidentally I remember a similar theme for Prince William's 21st or something. They just can't let it go can they?
** And before someone says well 'would you prefer Mrs Thatcher as President, or Iain Duncan Smith', the answer is 'Yes, and yes again. Obviously'.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Ipods

Having rather late in the day bought an Ipod I have three observations.

First, if like me you put your entire music collection on it (or what you can find of it) then, at least in my case, it brings home the sheer dross of the much of the music you've purchased in your lifetime. Worse because of the automatic song listing software (so it lists song/album/year etc) you can see when you bought most of the music. In my case its a terrible excess of poor mid-1990s Britpop.

Second, on a happier note, setting it to random does bring up some songs or albums that you probably haven't listened to for years. For example, I'm not sure I've listened to Paul Weller's 'Stanley Road' since I bought it in 1995, and -- embarassing though it is to admit it -- it's rather good (the Gallagher monstrosity of 'I walk on Gilder Splinters' not withstanding).

Or is it because I am nearly 30? Oh god I've turned into my dad...

Update: The leitmotif of this site appears to be my inability to count points. The third point is simply that it's not loud enough. This might be a headphone issue. Or perhaps I'm going deaf? Oh god I've turned into...

Briberty & Iraqi election

The Iraq election took a turn for the weird yesterday when campaign staff for the interim PM, Allawi, handed journalists $100 in an envelope, the equivalent of two week's pay.

The bribes were laughed off as tradtional 'hospitality':

"We have no excuse in your culture but I'm from a tribal background, and in ours, it is just hospitality," said Adnan Janabi, campaign manager for the Iraq List coalition which Mr Allawi leads.



Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Is it time to lock up all the Upper Class?

There's an amusing story in the Independent today about Michael Hammond, a decorator's son from Sussex, who pretended to be a polo-playing millionaire, friend of Princes William and Harry, and a fixture on the London season.

He's in trouble because he on dozens of occasions also impersonated police officers, e.g. for the first time it was in Windsor Castle where he pretended to be Superintendent Simon Morgan (a real Police Officer). He said he was accompanying famous friends of Prince Harry who wished to avoid being seen. He was waved through. Another time he pretended to be a top surgeon in need of an escort convoy to save a dying child. The Police -- and this beggars belief -- drove him on the wrong side of the road & stopped London traffic to get him to where he wanted to go.

The Crown Prosecution Service noted that, "his deceptions have deprived the people of London fo the services of many police officers for lengthy periods of time when Londoners were under the threat of terrorist attacks".

Fair enough. But surely the more serious lesson of this (and many other events, such as the Windsor-Castle break in and the House of Commons fox-hunting one) is that if you were an Al Qaeda terrorist the simplest way to strike at the heart of British government is to pretend to be a member of the Upper-middle or Upper-Class. For immediately the Police appear to lose all control, ignore questions of identification and basically give the assailant carte blance to do whatever they want.

You can imagine how it goes.

House of Commons Security Guard: You can't go in there, it's for Members only.
Upper-class twit: But my father, and his father before him. 1200 years. Unbroken lineage. Beagles. Formerly German surname. 72 virgins. The lot.
HoC SG: Ah yes. Right you are. 72 virgins?
UCT: Drinking club at Oxford. Rival to the Bullingdon.
HoC SG: Of course Sir. Be our guest. Go and murder the Cabinet.

With Britain facing a threat the greatest in our history, or whatever it is, it's pretty clear we can't take the risk that Al Qaeda terrorists might be lurking in the mansion blocks of Mayfair or Chelsea, or the stately homes of the Shires. The internment of Japanese-Americans has recently been rehabilitated as a policy and that can be our guide here. Buckingham Palace, with 570 empty rooms, will suffice as a camp.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Jerry Springer

Not much to say on this except to note that only 1.7m people watched it. Given the test card used to have some viewers, we can safely assumed less people than this watched it properly. The proportion of these who were under 16 cannot be known, but must have been small given the lateness of transmission, so we can say that the silly man from Christian Voice who said:

"The damage that must have done to impressionable young people is incalculable."

is right, but only literally so.


Private currencies

It has long been an article of faith of libertarians and other assorted folk that private currencies, as many countries enjoyed pre-20th century (and of course there are isolated examples today), would be more stable than government-issued currencies. The idea, which is not wholly without merit, naturally gained a lot of credence in the inflation-plagued 1970s and 1980s, before rather fading away as central banks got a grip on inflation in the 1990s. The emergence of electronic-money has led to a resurgence in the idea in the last few years, but not much as come of it.

An insight into whether or not advocates were right comes from this week's Economist, which reports that there are now 16 trillion air miles in existence, a figure which unsurprisingly is leading to inflation (by making you require more air miles to go a certain distance) and non-acceptability (fewer flights are now available). The Economist also covered it two years ago, when only 8 trillion were in circulation. See here.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

New Guardian

Interesting piece by John Lloyd (of 'What the Media is doing to our Politics' fame) in the FT on the Guardian's aim to become a new paper of record.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Failures

The ongoing disaster in Asia doesn't lend itself well to humour, but it's hard not to laugh at Catherine Bennett's article in today's Guardian, about the failure of our astrologer's to predict the event. It is claimed, without evidence, that a man in Scandinavia did predict it, but otherwise nothing. Many astrologers naturally have managed to see it in the stars after the event.



The case against Tesco...

in today's Guardian appears to be pretty much as you'd expect, i.e. it is suggested it indulges in predatory pricing (the example given is hard to argue against, though one doesn't know how representative it is).

The other argument however is against the hundreds of Tesco Express that have opened, mainly as a result of the Tesco's purchase of Cullens, Europa and Harts in London, and T&N's convenience stores elsewhere. The Express format, which is smaller than the Metro format, is blamed by many residents for clogging up their neighbourhood with lorries.

Now I'm not around much in the daytime, so I can't comment on this (though watching Tesco's lorries try to turn right into Portobello Road off Westbourne Grove is amusing). Nevertheless I also have a problem with Tesco Express, which is just how ugly an addition to the High Street they are.

Now Cullens, with its trying-to-look-posh green front, wasn't exactly pretty. But at least it wasn't a garish mixmash of reds and blues, a sort of permanent US election rally in your high street. Furthermore the typefaces used look silly. As in the following example (which isn't one of the worst) why is the 'e' of express larger? What's that red line doing under the p or e? It all looks a bit like the first DTP newsletters did -- oh look my Mac can do italics. Crazy.




UPDATE: Even more annoying is the Great Portland Street branch, which insists its customers queue in multiple queues behind individual tills, with signs saying this will be quicker. Sensibly the customer continually ignore this and form a single queue (such as in Post Offices). .

More pro-war left madness

Saddens me though it does to say it, no mainstream group has said as many silly things over the last 12 months than the self-styled 'pro-war left', and particular their representatives in the national media.

Clearly no-one will ever forget Stephen Pollard's urging the United States to invade Spain, an EU and Nato ally, merely because their PM didn't invite American troops to a holiday parade.

Now we have Melanie Phillips titling a post "Dhimmi* Britain" despite the post containing no evidence whatsoever to back up the title.

It's worthwhile repeating her claim. She believes Britain is a Muslim state, in which non-Muslims live as second-hand class citizens.

It's not surprising therefore that she also asserts;

But the fact is that there is relatively little genuine prejudice against Muslims
.

I have criticised others for using the term 'Out of touch Elite' for being meaningless. But perhaps, if such a concept has any meaning, we have found it here. Melanie Phillips, who lives in Hammersmith, believes she is a second-class citizen in a Muslim country. What can you say?

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

A better way to deal with evil dictators - the waggy finger

According to the latest Mori research Labour could be on to lose many marginal seats to the Tories, mainly because of a Liberal Democrat surge. It doesn't take a great deal of intelligence to work out why Labour are so in doldrums -- the war in Iraq.

Furthermore it seems possible that Tony Blair might have itchy feet, and join in another invasion sooner rather than later. He clearly must be stopped.

One difficult issue however for those who opposed Blair's foreign adventures (well at least it was a difficult issue before the sheer levels of cock-up Blair would achieve in Iraq unfolded) was 'what would you do to deal with mad dictators instead?'.

Well here's my plan. "A good talking to with the waggy finger is better than an invasion of 500,000 marines".

Was I right? There's only one way to find out - to give it a go. But I needed advice, an who better than Mrs Thatcher, who has much experience with dealing with dictators. In a wide-ranging discussion she said she prefers to use a combination of the Royal Navy and her handbag. We both agreed however that in my case both would invite ridicule. So she gave me her tentative backing. She suggested however that I practice first on a friendly mad dictator, and suggested she contact her son for some leads.



Not necessary I said. There is only one friendly mad dictator in the world, Colonel Gadaffi of Libya, and he's standing across the way from you.



A poacher turned gamekeeper in this field, he gave me some valuable insights into technique. As you can see he leads with the left, and keeps the finger wag below chest height. It confers an immediate advantage.

The big moment had arrived, Saddam himself. Forgetting the Colonel's wise advice, I launched a full height finger wag. Saddam countered with a typically Arab nonchalance, but I think he knew the best man had won.



Howard's manifesto

There is now information up on the Conservatives' website. His speech is here, the (rather similar) introduction to the manifesto is here.

As yet no manifesto, so it's hard to come to any judgement on what he has to say. Much of the detail is good. But nevertheless the initial reaction is to laugh at it. When politicans start to speak of 'forgotten majorities' you can pretty well be sure that they don't exist.

And indeed so it seems. Members of his 'forgotten majority' include unbelievably home-owners, who I believe have had the best 8 years in history, and -- pretty rarely for public policy - an 8 years that can be explained by this government's policy decision to give the Bank of England independence, which of course Michael Howard voted against.

How can the Tories cut taxes?

The Conservatives have promised in the coming weeks to explain how they will go about cutting taxes. Nevertheless I wonder whether they can promise or even suggest tax cuts without making a mockery of this part of Michael Howard's speech.

Britain cannot continue indefinitely to spend more than she is earning without higher taxes or higher interest rates - either of which will harm our economic prospects.

If we are to secure our future prosperity, government must once again start to live within its means.


If we assume by 'Britain' Howard means the British government, rather than Britain, then this seems an explicit commitment to reduce the budget deficit to zero. According to the OECD (second link down) in 2006 (the first year Howard will have a chance to influence things) the budget defict will be 3.2% of GDP. This is around £35bn.

Thus even before the Conservatives can consider tax cuts they need to cut spending by £35bn. It's going to be tricky.

Tim Yeo the workers' friend

While searching the Conservative's website for details on Michael Howard's latest initiative - his election manifesto (there is nothing, bizarrely, of which more later) - I found this most strange headline for a press release from Tim Yeo.

Tim Yeo: 52 days holiday not enough for Tube workers
23/12/2004



Monday, January 03, 2005

Global Warming

As the warm-up continues, the ice covering the poles will go on melting, and the extra water will cause a rise in the level of the oceans. Much of the world's low-lying land will be inundated. The Polar ice-cap is often more than a mile thick, and it covers millions of square miles. If the ice is melted completely it could raise the level of the sea by 150 feet. Much of Britain and Europe would be submerged.


The Living World of Science in Colour, Collins Pageant of Knowledge Series, 1962