Thursday, June 30, 2005

Is it a bird?

Keyhole was pretty cool, but Google have added a rather fine 3-d building mode to it in Google Earth, which lets you zoom around American (only) cities pretending to be Superman. This shot of midtown Manhattan doesn't quite do it justice.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Naval madness

The anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, and the Daily Telegraph, has sent the paper into a spin.

First the SPY column comes up with the ludicrous headline, 'US Navy's ties with England go back to Nelson's day' with the only evidence for this that their new political chief takes inspiration from it.

Then John 'air power will never defeat anyone' Keegan gets his knickers in a complete twist about the Royal Navy, deciding that the nation's imports rely on it, and we're in peril at its current strength. He also argues that the carrier programme is too expensive, so therefore we need to spend more money on the Royal Navy.

Keegan's concern is probably based on the ingnorance of his own journalists, who declare on p.4 that "In 1977 when the Queen last reviewed the fleet, more than 100 warships were in service, but the Royal Navy has now dropped to almoast a quarter of that strength". This is nonsense.

Away from the Navy the Telegraph also tells us in its 150th anniversary editorial that from the paper's first editorial, which declared the paper to be 'bound to the fetters of no party', they would not alter a word today. On the front page they give us the latest musings of David Cameron.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The War on Terror...

has now been going for the United States one month longer than World War II. With Condi Rice saying the war in Iraq (thanks to the Administration a central battleground of said war) will be a 'generational' thing there could be many more years to go.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Conservative councillors

Did anyone see this ambulance-chasing (literally) chap on Newsnight last night? Essentially every night (or possibly every Fri/Sat, I'm not sure) he goes around London's West End (mainly Soho and Leicester Square) filming 'anti-social behaviour' such as drunkenness, vomiting, stabbings, urination, public sex etc.

All laudable, except he's been doing it for years, goes home, watches all the videos, logs down what is happening and neatly files them. So in fact it's rather freaky. The Newsnight report was ridiculously soft on him, asking only once the obvious question that it seemed rather like voyeurism, and not following it up when he avoided the question. The Police seemed thoroughly pissed off with him, as I suspect were many of the people he was ostensibly trying to save.

So I was wondering, do the laws on Data Protection apply to invidiuals such as this man, or just to companies?

The things Daily Telegraph readers say!

The whole gamut off Monarchist twaddle is out in the Daily Telegraph. First the completely irrelevant:

Dear Sir,

I wonder what the cost of the helicopter was when Prince Andrew quite voluntarily placed himself in peril and helped to supply the British forces in the Falklands,

Yours

Wallace Dubabney, Surrey


Then the 'don't scare the horses' approach:

Sir,

Isolating the £380,000 cost of a charter flight by Prince Charles is potentially imisleading and inflammatory....I am quite sure that the Royal Family are subject to intrusive levels of scrutiny over their spending and I am also sure that he resultant 61p cost per person across this country represents fantastic value for money. Please let us not cause alarm where it unnecessary, or further undermine a valued national institution.

Yours

Iain Saker, Dorset

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Citizen's Pension

Jackie Ashley notes that the current state pension system provides most woman with a much smaller retirement income than men, with 92% of men receiving the full state pension and only 14% of women. The reason why is essentially that woman tend to leave the workforce for while to have and raise children, thus over their lifetimes pay less national insurance contributions. Also, though this is not directly relevant in the accounting, woman live longer and so a given amount of contributions goes less far.

Now I'm sure many will point out that if women make less contibutions they deserve a smaller pension. Maybe. However such a policy is only going to make having children a less attractive proposition and down the road exacerbate the pensions 'crisis'. Already Britain's population is forecast to rise to just 64m by 2050, compared with 75m for France (and if the Right had their way and stopped immigration it would probably decline to about 59m).

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Tax funded comedy

The main, and possibly only, argument in favour of the Royal Family is of course that they provide us, their subjects, with endless amusement. This comes at a price, £36m if you believe their figures, and probably about £75m if you don't. Nevertheless many subjects would say £100,000 a day is worth it for the comedy.

Yet contrast the Royals with the aborted name change of the Department of Trade and Industry. This too had only one thing in its favour, in that it was funny. But this only cost £30,000 for a day's humour. The government's efficiency drive needs to note these things.

Trains and transport

The suggestion that trains should have a 'congestion charge' to try to price people out of using them at peak time is somewhat strange, given I though that was already the case. Anyway the claim is that demand is going to grown so quickly in the next ten years the system will struggle to cope.

Pricing, both rail and road, obviously has a part to play. So do more othet demand solutions solutions such as reducing the need for travel (what happened to teleworking? It's mind-numbling boring I suppose). However ultimately the issue is a question of capacity (capcity at the right time, which is the daytime, when most people want to go to work/shop/etc, if you insist). So capacity will have to be increased, i.e new railway lines, new roads etc.

There will be a lot of Nimbyish complaining. But it should be resisted. There is huge amounts of countryside around London, much of it pointless farmland, much of the rest plain ugly (I grew up nr Cambridge which is slightly biasing this, but most of the rest is hardly the Dordogne), and almost all of it totally underused.

London cyclists

...are probably some of the least pleasant people in Britain. I say this as cyclist each morning, so I have first-hand knowledge of their inability to obey any of the laws of the road or pavement.

Partly this is the fault of the London authorities, who cyclist provision is useless. They also seem to have very little wish to make it better. There is a hardly used pavement that must be 10-15 feet wide which goes alongside the seriously busy Harrow Road, and which would be perfect for a cycle lane. I suggested it to Westminister Council.

Two months later I had this reply:

I am responding to your e-mail, dated 18 August, that outlined your request that consideration be made to develop a dedicated cycle route in the Harrow Road area.

First and foremost, can I appologise for the lengthy delay for this response and any innconvenience caused.

Although there is considerable merit in your suggested proposal, it is stressed that the City Council's strategy for new cycle routes wholey centres on the Mayor of London's London Cycle Network (LCN) and its variations. To this end, the City Council's cycle schemes manager, Nigel Butterworth, and his consultants are charged only to work on existing proposals that are part of the LCN. Effectively this means that the City Council is unable to comit to other proposed schemes, for the forseeable future.

The only exceptions to the above policy on new cycle routes that are not part of the LCN are where there is a road safety concern that involves cyclists or where there is opportunity to make use of third party funding avenues when larger scale development takes place.

I am sorry that this reply cannot be more positive to your needs
.

I contacted the LCC, but a year later have had no reply.

Yes, I am famous.

Genius from the Observer in getting a man more self-important than the Gallagher bros to interview Noel Gallagher. Sample:

DW: You talk about your brother with more fondness than I imagined. I have only met him once and that was in the toilets at the NME awards. He came up to me talking in riddles. I couldn't work out whether he was being nice to me or horrible. At the end of it I was quite scared. Did he say anything to you?


To which Noel Gallagher presumably replied, "No he probably had no idea who you were". Anyway to be fair the interview is ok, and the album actually is quite good too.

Conservatives join the debate

Michael Portillo, who probably made one of the three most embarassing political speeches of the 1990s on the subject of Britain's defence, where he declared that we would deal with our European allies by threatening them with the SAS, has come out in favour of scrapping Trident.

This is important. Many on the Labour benches believe this system should go, and if Tories are now moving that way this is good news too. The argument against is simple: it's expensive, and it doesn't achieve enough to justify the cost. It's hard to justify morally.

I'll leave the moral arguments to one side (basically its use could only be to mass-murder civilians). That it's expensive is in no doubt. So what does it achieve? I would argue that there are two distinct scenarios under which it might be used, a) when the Americans are also threatening to use their weapons, and b) when the Americans are not doing the same. In (a) it's pointless. In (b) it's pointless, as the Americans wouldn't let us use ours (I was persuaded last time I made this point that we could probably technically use it in the face of American opposition (and on losing their monopoly of using nuclear force there would be no indifference from the Americans I believe), but I don't believe we could politically or militarily use it.

There was perhaps one caveat to this - which was if the nation was at risk of invasion. But no-one can come up with a plausible example of this nowadays, except perhaps the loonier stretches of the Right who still believe in the possibility of a French invasion.

So scrapping it will save money and allow us to build more conventional weapons. I would personally not bother, but certainly our armed forces are over-stretched and it's commonly argued that they couldn't fight another war like the Falkands (though such arguments, usually made by Naval people trying to get a budget increase, should be taken with caution).

Update: Oliver Kamm takes the opposite view [thanks James].

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Statistics

Sir Roy Meadow is facing a GMC tribunial accused of giving flawed evidence in the trial of Sally Clark, accused of murdering her two babies. Meadow claimed there was only a 1-73 million chance of this happening, which is true enough of any random mother with two children, (in fact it's not as the events are not independent, but even if it were) but is misleading in the case of one that is in the dock with two dead children (where the chance of their having died in multiple cot deaths was 1/73m/(1/73m + probabilty of other explanations)). Stephen Watkins made these points well in an editorial essay in the BMJ.

A similar point on probablity was made by Mervyn King in a BoE lecture, where he noted that

the interpretation of ex post outcomes depends critically on understanding the ex ante process which generated those outturns.”

Licence applications

Good news: Wonders will never cease. You can now renew your road tax online.
Bad news: It seems to believe I am driving around uninsured and so won't let me.

Off to Post Office to stand behind some old dear wittering on about the weather for hours.

£30 and rising!

Yes, I've reached £30 on my YouGov account. I thought that might get me a cheque, but it appears £50 is the amount. So on present trends I should get there in Oct 2006.

[The poll was about the EU incidentally with the code RMW, whoever that might be. Royal Marines Weekly? Has Portillo been commissioning new polls? Actually I forget, Portillo is now an eminently sensible man when it comes to military strategy.

What is it about blogs that start with USS?

John B links to one of the intellectual storm-troopers of the Anglo-American Right cutting through the thicket of liberal lies to expose what kind of people the Left Really Are. Or possible a far-right religious grouping. But does it matter?

Friday, June 17, 2005

"Save our manufacturing"

...cries the Telegraph, in an editorial seemingly proving that old joke that when your neighbour loses their job its a downturn, when you lose your job its a recession and when a journalist loses their job its a slump.

Between them, the Asian giants [India & China] create about a million jobs every year and a factory worker in China earns only about £100 a month, compared with an average monthly salary in this country of about £2,000. And they are not only moving into manufacturing - they are increasingly competing in services, too. We journalists, for instance, might well be concerned that the news agency Reuters is relying more and more on reporters based in Bombay to cover world events.


Nevertheless we have little to fear if India and China, combined population about 2,400 million, can only create one million jobs between them each year. In fact at least until 2002 China was losing more manufacturing jobs than the 17 largest economies (ex China) put together.

Manufacturing employment in the 17 largest economies other than China fell a little more than 7%, from 96 million in 1995 to 89 million in 2002. In contrast, China's fell a whopping 15% in the period, from 98 million in 1995 to 83 million in 2002

US government lies to British government

It appears the US government did use a "firebomb" weapon despite telling the British government that it didn't. No doubt David Aaranovitch will pop up in Sunday's Observer to tell us that in his heart he doesn't think this was a lie, but that's how it looks at the moment.

£600bn!

The Times reports:

But Dutch and Swedish leaders backed the Prime Minister’s call for the £600 billion budget to be reduced, and Mr Blair received a surprise incentive to stall in negotiations when the conservative politician expected to be Germany’s next leader told France to cut back its agricultural subsidies.


It's true that the budget negotiations are for a seven year period, but it would have been more honest to note this in the text before quoting the figure, as the annual EU budget is less than a £100bn.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Pensions again

Max Hastings raises the interesting point that the pensions 'crisis' may not be so hard to solve after all, given the easiest way to solve it is to stick it to the young, who don't tend to think much about it and thus will not get to upset (though Hastings himself rejects this point).

I think it's a reasonable idea. The simplest way to do this would be to double the State pension and pay for it by huge amounts of government debt. This is now therefore this site's official position on solving the pensions 'crisis'. My concern is at the tender age of 30 I might still count as the 'young' in this situation. So I also advocate delaying the implementation of this policy for 25 years.

Two more simple ways of dealing with the 'crisis', an increased birth-rate or mass immigration of young people from abroad both seem unpopular with those who bleat on most about the pensions 'crisis', which is strange.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Athletics records

Almost exctly a year ago I did my one and only post on athletics, and indeed world records, so it seems a good time to note the world 100m record has been broken by Asafa Powell, with the time of 9.77 seconds.

Here's the evolution of the record in the last 20 years and since the war (this is electronic timing only which makes it jump around more than it should as most meetings were electronic timing until relatively recently).


Thatcher intervenes in Tory election contest

Last night at a Conservative dinner Mrs Thatcher made her first intervention into what is the fifth leadership campaign since she stepped down in 1990. Reports are sketchy but it appears she basically urged them to hurry up with choosing a new leader, widely seen as support for David Davis (though it appears Davis has so many supporters already campaigning for him that anything is spun as such).

If she is supporting David Davis, it's worth looking at her record in these matters.

1990 - Thatcher supported: Major. Winner: Major. Record: Terrible
1995 - Thatcher supported: Not known. Winner: Major. Record: Terrible
1997 - Thatcher supported: Hague. Winner: Hague. Record: Worse than Major's.
2001 - Thatcher supported: IDS. Winner: IDS. Record: Worse than Hague's.
2004 - Thatcher supported: Not known. Winner (and only candidate): Howard. Record: Better than Major, Hague or IDS's, but still terrible.

Of course it's not because Mrs Thatcher supports the candidate they have won and then been terrible and useless. Both her support, their victories and their uselesness are related to the same thing - they have come from the right-wing of the Tory party.

Nothing appears to be different this time. Anthony Wells links to an interesting YouGov opinion poll which shows that David Davis is by far the preferred candidate of party members and supporters. Of those they most definitely wouldn't like to be leader, Ken Clarke, Tim Yeo and Oliver Letwin -- all widely perceived to be left of the party's centre - feature prominently. Interestingly John Redwood however tops the bill with 55% saying they definitely wouldn't want him to be leader. This is presumably a function of doubts about his election-wining ability, as witnessed by his low-profile in the last campaign, and concerns about tabloid reports of his complicated family life.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Jackson freed on all counts

No-one comes out of the trial well, but the verdict was surely the correct one. I wouldn't go as far as she does, particularly in her closing remarks on our changing perceptions of what constitutes acceptable behaviour, but -- wonders will never cease - Barbara Amiel made many sensible points in this article about the tragedy of the whole affair.

Social mobility fault of Teachers/Democrats

Ludicrous piece in The Economist's Lexington column that notes the increasing polarisation of American society into class divisions and the declining income mobility, and blames just three things, 1) the teaching profession for not liking 'competition', 2) the Democrats for being too close to the teaching profession, and 3) parents for keeping educational privilege in the family. Nevertheless as this is 'natural' you can't really find fault with this, so actually it's just the first two.

Road pricing

Having spent a fortune on French Autoroutes over the last two weeks the last thing I needed to read when getting back was the Economist urging road pricing on Britain. Nevetheless French autoroutes are very well maintained, and mostly empty, which does rather make one more inclined to the idea.

Of course The Economist (and government-ish) isn't proposing simple tolls. It wants pricing which is varied according to congestion, ie at busy times prices will rise and at quiet times it will fall. The London congestion charge already does this in a simple way -- early mornings and late at night it is free, and in the daytime it is not.

So on the face of it it seems a good idea. Allocating scarce resources by first-come, first-served queues is now only really advocated by Tory MPs and party members. Britain's roads are massively congested a peak times.

Nevertheless there are many reasons it probably isn't such a good idea. One, you know the introduction of the scheme will be a disaster. Already the schemes are getting ever more complicated with satellite monitoring and GPS etc, and the cost is bound to exceed estimates by about ten times. Two, presumably there are civil liberties concerns. Three, perhaps Boris Johnson was right on one thing. There are precious few things in British life where poor and rich meet on equal terms, and a traffic jam is one of them. Who hasn't been stuck in a tailback and found some pleasure that Jeremy Clarkson was fuming in a BMW M5 behind you?

Subtle hints that the writer might be a cock, no. 1 & 2

These are ony subtle hints; I think you need at least five to definitely be one.

No. 1

Anyone who refers to having 'dined' with X rather than 'had dinner with'. For example Simon Heffer in Sunday's Telegraph on his relationshp with David Davis. Or Matthew d'Ancona in the same newspaper on Francis Maude's relationship with David Davis.

No. 2

Anyone who believes seriously that Iain Duncan Smith is Cabinet material. See Matthew D'Ancona under the same link.

Manchester United

There's been a lot of consternation about Malcolm Glazer's now victorious bid for Manchester United, with much of it of the sort 'it shows football clubs shouldn't be quoted on the stock exchange'.

Well yes, it probably does. Then again however the alternative financing system preferred by football fans, and the only other suggested one on the table, that vast amounts of mineral rights all across Russia are given to a few men who then spend some of it on football clubs, is not particularly edifying either. Or particularly easily to replicate across all clubs.

Football financing has always been strange. I read on holiday Jimmy Greaves' rather good biography, "Greavsie" (would you have guessed it) and aside from the generally shocking way top clubs treated their players in those days, I was also struck at the mystery of where all the money went. In the 1950s attendance at First division matches was in the order of 20m to 30m a year. If you assume a gate price of say five shillings this is an income of about 5m to 6m a year, yet the players were on a maximum wage of something like a £1000 a year. Clubs didn't have the huge staffs they do now, so total wage bills were probably considerably less than £50,000 a year for the clubs, or no more than £1m for the whole dvision. Next-to-nothing was spent on the grounds, or foreign travel, or even transfer fees.

Update: The football industry is a classic example of the good government intervention can do. For years the industry had completely failed to use the vast sums of money available to it to improve the standards of the service it provided, safe in its captured market of local monopolies. Indeed it often took the opposite course. Fearful of losing its 'amateur' link it even rejected the idea of copyrighting its fixture list used by the pools for years, at one point even attempting (in 1936) to destroy the football pools industry. Staggering on in this fashion its stadia became increasingly decrepit and squalid until sadly it took the disaster of Hillsborough for the government to finally intervene and sort things out.