Thursday, September 29, 2005

Middle-class taxes now!

There's a good profile of David Cameron, North Kensington resident, in the Guardian today. He goes down to the West Country and Thurlestone, to talk about urban deprivation (yes, odd) with the local MP, Anthony Steen, who is 'completely mad' according to "Cameronites". So the scene is set for laughs of our favourite kind, and it doesn't disappoint. The article tells us:

He talks glowingly about the regeneration of inner-city Birmingham. "Flat-rate tax!" shouts a portly gentleman at the back, apropos of not very much.

This short exchange encapsulates almost all thinking on "flat-rate taxes", ie not much at all. It has become, if not quite a religion, a kind of comfort blanket for Tories to shout when things are going bad. We're lucky they're not in power, or they would be proclaiming it the solution to the chaos in Iraq (as it is we have the Decent-Left like Aaro and the Republican Party to do that). Of course it's pretty well established now that, as logic demands, if you tax the rich less, and the poor less, then it's the middle-class who get stung, and so, as Bob Dole once said, a flat-tax is really a middle-class tax, and the portly gentleman from Devon should be careful for what he wishes.

When does the cricket season start?*

In the Guardian today:

"Roman Abramovich has sold his last substantial business interest in Russia, a stake in the oil firm Sibneft, to the Kremlin for £7.4bn in cash"

* November 12th with Pakistan v England.

Terrorists attack Labour conference

Good god.

He was heckled as he spoke and two men, one an 82-year-old, were ejected. Police used the Terrorism Act to stop the elderly delegate from returning.

Update: Robert Shrimsley makes the point that he should think himself lucky the Metropolitan Police weren't involved.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

My tax protest

The council-tax rebel we discussed a few posts below says she is going to withhold the same amount from next year's payments. This is outrageous - all it means is higher bills for the law-abiding majority.

In protest I am going to withhold my share of the extra £60 (£53.71 in 2005, so it'll be more next year) that she is refusing to pay and so the rest of us have to pay. Taxpayers or council taxpayers, depends on who pays her share. Let's say it's council tax payers. The tax raises about £19bn, of which my share is about £1500, or about 1/12,500 thousandth [edit - I had myself down as Bill Gates earlier]. Therefore I will be witholding one-thousandth of half a pence next year, maybe a whole pence if that silly vicar is still at it too.

Say it ain't so!

More people know what dogging is than blogging, according to a survey which suggests that Brits are not as tech-savvy as might be expected.

The survey found 7 out of 10 people don't know what a blog is. What would Totten say?

“Like I said, Christopher,” I told him. “You can’t afford to be unplugged from the blogosphere."

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

In today's Telegraph

Sir - So Gordon Brown wishes to create a home-owning, share-owning democracy (News, September 26). Perhaps he would care to reduce the penal rate of inheritance tax. There seems no point in owning houses or shares if 40 per cent of the value goes back to the Treasury.

Owen Smith, Brockenhurst, Hants

Forget for a moment the debatable point whether Gordon Brown meant he wants to encourage share-ownership amongst those who have assets over the inheritance threshold, I don't understand the logic. Most people are buying shares, and houses, not to give to their descendants, when they are dead, but to live in and to provide a pension when they are no longer working.

I wonder whether Mr Smith is a pensioner? If so this has not been the best week for our older generation. They refuse to pay taxes when they are alive, and they refuse to pay them when they are dead.

Scientific studies

Via Dave Weeden I see this potty article by Anthony Daniels, in which he accuses the Guardian of racism for printing too many photos of blacks. I think it is partly a piss-take, for regardless of whether that is a good test, his facts are based on one edition, the September 19th one, in which he claims (sadly yesterday was the day the Guardian stopped its free trial of the online paper, so I can't check):

There was only one photograph of an Indian, and that was in a commercial advertisement, over the content of which The Guardian, presumably, had little or no control. By contrast, there were 26 photographs of blacks. Surely this was a discrepancy that could not have arisen by chance, and is proof positive of a systematic bias amounting to racism. After all, there are more people of South Asian descent in Britain than of African and West Indian descent, and yet Indians were the subjects of fewer than 4 per cent of all the photographs of ethnic minorities to appear in the newspaper

Now, I have no idea whether Daniels counted all the sections, and Monday is typically a large newspaper with a large sports section, and whether he included only British citizens, which his text implies, but a similar study today of the main paper and British citizens yields:

27 whites to 0 non-whites

Adding the sport section makes it:

44 whites to 1 non-white (Jermain Defoe)

Daniels conclusion, remember from no more research than I did, was:

By contrast, blacks are regarded in the pages of The Guardian much as conservationists regard endangered species, in need of special protection. They therefore represent a goldmine for the coalition

Monday, September 26, 2005

Move over Tony!

The case of Slyvia Hardy, 73, who has been jailed for refusing to pay her council tax reminds me of an episode of that iconic 1980s sitcom, Ever Decreasing Circles, when Martin (Richard Briers) refused to pay a fine (I think for trespass in an attempt to reopen a public footpath, but the memory is hazy) and instead took the option of jail. Naturally it was left to hairdresser Paul Ryman (Peter Egan) to point out to him that in fact going to jail was not an alternative to paying the fine, merely an additional punishment. I think Paul then, after possibly visiting Martin's wife depending on your interpretation of their relationship, did his usual trick of having an "old school friend" who pulled some strings.

Anyway I'm digressing rather. I'm not in favour of sending old women to jail, even when they are (on record) as being willing to go for the publicity. Surely a fine would have sufficed, allowing her to make her point and then pay up? I am in favour of her paying her taxes, I should add.

If the jail sentence, as it must be, is designed to set an example, I think it's unnecessary, with non-payment unlikely to become a major issue. One of the websites supporting her says rather pathetically:

In a local by-election in 2004 Sylvia finished last in the race between four candidates in the Exeter ward of St David's and Pennsylvania.

The only clear winner I can see is that it'll give the Conservative party a new hero(ine); and if there's going to be a martyr of the right-wing to take the conference standing ovations it's better it be nice old woman who don't like paying tax to unrepentant child-killing farmers.

The Financial Times on Iraq

They're not very happy, to put it mildly. Where did the $10/bbl oil go?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Tories discuss each other

John Bercow on David Cameron:

He added that Mr Cameron's combination of "Eton, hunting, shooting and lunch at Whites" made him the wrong man for the job.

John Bercow on David Davis:

"If we just go on mouthing the same old mantras [about Europe] fear is that effectively what we will be doing is administering a lethal injection...We will be sleepwalking to a fourth successive slaughter and deservedly so."

David Cameron on Ken Clarke:

"If we go down a path where we say that the European issue somehow doesn't matter any more and we're not going to engage in that, I think instead of political suicide, that's national suicide."


I recently started using Skype, the internet-based telephone system. It's pretty good, and you can start using it for less than £10 if you buy a cheap handset from Ebay. To be able to dial non-Skype users you need to pay 10 euros to get credit, and to be able to receive calls from non-Skype users you need to pay 10 euros every six months to get a number.

The sound quality is very high; however I did find it often failed to connect or connected poorly when using it with a PC over a wireless network. I don't really know if this was the reason, as the capacity of the wireless network is presumably large enough to handle the calls, but certainly when I've used it plugged in it's been near 100% reliable.

The main question I think is really whether it will be cheaper for you. Skype-2-Skype calls are free, and particularly if you call a certain person a lot overseas then it would make sense for you both to be on Skype. Otherwise the calls aren't that cheap compared to other phone providers, particularly local off-peak ones, which are what I tend to make.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The intellectual future of the Tory party?

George Osborne told the BBC ...Oil prices were "not the only reason" for the lower growth forecasts.."His [Brown's] own mismanagement of public finances is widely recognised as an important factor too.

Osborne is widely held, admittedly mainly because there is little competition, to be the intellectual future of the Tory party. It would be interesting to know what basis he has for this statement, and whether he believes the American administration's worse control of public finances has made a larger negative difference in the US.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Build more houses!

Good Martin Wolf article in the FT arguing that Britain has some of the most rigid and least market-oriented markets in the EU... in land. The consquences are as the textbooks would suggest: that house prices are both very expensive and volatile, and British housing is generally small and poor.

The solution is to free it up and build more houses. Will this cover our green and pleasant land in urban sprawl? Almost certainly not, only 8% of land in the UK is urban, and in the S.East only 17%. The proportion under agricultural use, 78%, is the highest in the EU15. Do we need the farms? Seems unlikely, given their contribution to GDP is less than 2%. Can't we use Brownfield sites? Not enough of them, and most people want to live somewhere better.

So the last argument is it will reduce house prices, and high house prices are what much of the population are, almost literally, banking on. Luckily Wolf has a plan to get more houses and avoid disaster - we have to wait two weeks.

Chucking money around

It's in the Times, so take it with a pinch of salt, but this tale of Republican federal spending largesse is amusing.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Telegraph wobbling on Iraq

Today's Telegraph opinion pages are pretty negative about Iraq, with Boris Johnson saying its a shambles which was based on a lie (much like Simon Jenkins), a cartoon saying Blair and Bush are the real prisoners, and letters attacking government policy.

And Johann Hari, formerly of Harry's Place, has basically gone to the dark side.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Mick, don't do it!

First page of today's Guardian 'Society' section has a feature called 'What else can I do', in which people are given advice on alternative careers.

"Mick, 33, earns £300,000 a year as a senior trading standards officer with a local authority. He is looking to move on"

Mick! Don't move on. You won't do better. Ok, look at the options:

1. Move to small local authority as principal trading standards officer. A minimum of £35,000.
2. Sideways to another local authority with specialisation.
3. Specialist recruitmnet agency, annual income would 'soar' to £50,000
4. Food Standards Agency, who would match his current salary.
5. Consumer Direct, the Civil Service body, who would pay between £30,000 and £35,000.

Exactly. Mick should stay where he is with the highest paying local authority trading standards job in the world.

Artificial intelligence means wingnut Republican!

Regular readers, if there are any left, will remember a year ago I asked Alice, the winner of the Turing Prize some pertinent questions about the world.

This year's winner is George. He seems a bit slower than Alice, and I've outed him as a classic gun-totin', Guardian-hating, Republican. This does not bode well, not content with clearing up most of the votes of humans they've clearly made a big impression on the computer artificial intelligence market.

Can I ask you some pertinent questions?
Good n you.
Ok. Will the ginger crooner's masterpiece be enough to persuade Miss Moss to get me more readers?
Fair enough.
Who will be the next Conservative leader?
I need a cup of tea.
Er, Ken Clarke or David Davis?
Err, you're a few months too late.
Answer the question!
What question?
Let's move on.
Did I hurt your feelings?
Yes. What do you think of the new Guardian?
I think they should die.
Where do you live?
Which State?
New Mexico?
No, I'm a Republican.
Are you friends with Charlton Heston?

The first blog advertising campaign

In recent days its become apparent that I only have one reader, Richard, and as welcome as he is, it isn't enough. This blog needs more readers, just as more readers need this blog. With that in mind I am currently in negotiations with Kate Moss, who has some spare time on her hands, to front an advertising campaign, with the slogans, "A better way for 30-somethings to spend their leisure time"; "Don't snort it, snort at it", and "When you've read it for a few days, you'll be reduced to the hard stuff too" (I'm not sure about the last one). The only dealbreaker is whether the fee, a copy of Simply Red's Stars album, will be enough.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


Desperately trying to tidy up, I found an old "Economist: World in 1994" publication. Aside from excitement over the forthcoming Apple Newton, it has a table showing the world's "most competitive" economies, from IMD, who still do the most quoted of these indices.

This is the relationship between their measure of "competitiveness" and their GDP growth in the following 10 years, ie there is no relationship (removing Ireland makes little difference). The UK is the red dot, at 100 on the competitiveness index.

Essentially these measures are backward-looking. Japan was top in 1994, at 150, with America, then Germany. But backward-looking measures aren't particularly useful as anyone can tell which economies have been more successful over the past decade.

War? Which war? Nothing to do with me...

Oona King, now Tim Collins (the soldier one). What next? An anti-war speech from the Prime Minister.


LRB has an article on cricket (written after the 4th test) which makes some interesting points; as to how valid they are will require someone more knowledgeable about cricket than me to say. The one about the lack of non-white players struck me as interesting, but no more, but a friend of mine who doesn't read the LRB and I would say was a left-wing Conservative, made the same point to me today, which made me think there was something odd about it, particularly given the team's recent past.

I would certainly disagree with Runcimann about Sky having control of test matches. A test match takes up about 6 hours a day solid play for five days, something which just can't be shown on general-purpose channels very well. The BBC's commitment to cricket was always dodgy, I remember highlights being shown past 1am, and even now it can't, despite the plethora of channels, find anything other (except on occasion) better than AM to put the cricket, a channel my car radio certainly can't get. The idea that some kid comes off the football pitch, turns on their four channel TV and sees test cricket and will become the next Sir Freddie, is silly. What cricket needs is money, and Sky offered multiples more than the rest.

ps and there was some fool today in The Guardian, or possibly the FT, saying that he loved test cricket, it was his life, blah, blah, but he would never watch it on TV whilst it was Murdoch's shilling, etc etc. Bet he does really.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

World GDP in 1500

(Source: A Maddison)

Friday, September 16, 2005

Is New Orleans richer than inner London?

The usual suspects have been out in force over this article in the Sunday Business, which notes that

"If New Orleans were to be in Britain, it would be by far its richest city as ranked by disposable income after tax and benefits. The average income in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina was the equivalent of £19,980 (E29,570, $36,763) in 2003 - far higher than in inner London, Britain's richest area, where average incomes are £16,430."

Now it is well known that the US is, and has been for about 100 years, substantially richer than Britain on the measure of GDP per head. There are various arguments that this is misleading, insofar as it is a measure of average living standards, which I wont go into here. Furthermore clearly using a disposable income measure fails to account for the greater non-benefit tax-funded provisions in Britain which muddy this measure.

However inner London households, a lower disposable income than in New Orleans. Can it be true? No, basically. The US figures are done using 'Household Income', the British on a 'per capita' basis (though at the household level). This has the effect of almost doubling the US data.

Most of the rest of the article makes the same error.

Laughing stocks

Prince William, 23, to become President of the Football Assocation. What a perfect, if ludicrous, example of that organisation's stuffed-shirt irrelevance.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Getting throught to an operator

Via the useful Lifehacker I see this useful list for getting to speak to an operator when calling a helpdesk or other company without having to listen to the prompts. Does anyone know if there is an English version?

Where did it all go wrong?

Sir Freddie Flintoff is shaping up nicely in the best traditions of English sporting prowess (it's a link to the Daily Mirror, so won't last 'til tomorrow). It makes you proud to be British that he was the only player who managed to attend the 8:30am champagne breakfast because he was still up drinking.

In other news, The Things Daily Mail Readers Say, "a woman with one breast is no use to a man".

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

An end of an era...does not mean the start of a new one

The great John Band quits his blog site, bad news for British blogging, and probably a sign of the rut it is currently in. Of concern is that he advised his readers, who presumably include the loons and bigots who ruined his blogging too often, to come here.

All I can say is we have a new comments policy. Unless you leave your real name, or a nickname by which you are well known, or a real email address, your comment will be deleted. If you are a loon it will be deleted too.

Monday, September 12, 2005

If Freddie Flintoff is really the cricketing Roy Race...

...he'd now demand an immediate declaration, then a strong bowling performance with an attacking field and we should get a brilliant victory to make it 3-1.

Oona King interview the Guardian. She blames (among other things) anti-semitism for her election defeat, and says that her views on Iraq have changed due to the New Orleans' disaster.

The Guardian Angels

No not Polly Tonybee and Madeleine Bunting, but those 1980s throwbacks that were meant to be bring security and safety to the underground. It appears they are still going, but down to 12 members.

I must have made about 3,000 tube journeys over the last ten years and have never seen one of them. Has anyone, and if so where do they hang out?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The launch of the new-look Guardian

can be followed in minute detail on their blog. Fascinating stuff.

Update: And here it is. I think there's too much white space between the headline and the story, and the 'W' drop cap on the right is absurdly large.

Update II:: Actually in the flesh the white space doesn't seem so bad, and actually I think the whole package look rather good. The quality of the colour photographs, particularly in the sports section, is magnificent. On the other hand the new size, whilst nicer than a tabloid, doesn't seem particularly easier to handle than a broadsheet, given there are four separate sections.

The flying spaghetti monster

...makes it to the pages of the Telegraph.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Plans to blockade the M4

More stunningly selfish and repugnant behaviour. God knows what the consequences are, or what the odious Mike Greene means by this is only the start of things to come. Let's hope the government deals with it by raising fuel taxes and arresting Greene, and the Tory party remembers that its voters like to be able to use their motorways, and will come and out condemn this rampant lawlessness with a bit more vigour than last time.

Update: It appears supporting the fuel blockade could be illegal!

Flat taxes hit the middle classes

That flat taxes aren't as good as their advocates claim is easily understood from the fact that almost all plans for such taxes are combined with huge, revenue-destroying tax cuts, ranging from £50bn to even £100bn, to make them palatable.

The Economist, who only a few months ago wrote a laudatory article about flat taxes that was similarly dishonest (what they argued was the main theoretical benefit did not exist in the practical case they made), has to its credit asked a tax accountant to run the figures for a revenue-neutral flat tax.

Basically you could have a £10k allowance and a rate of 30%. What this means is those who earn less than about 18k a year pay less tax, those who earn more than 50k a year less tax, and those who earn 18k to 50k pay more, those 35-40k a lot more.

So basically it's a non-starter for the Conservative party. Tax reform, in which our most loyal supporters pay more*. Good one, David.

* There are loads of other issues. This merely replaces income tax, it says nothing about tax-credits, means-tested benefits, and national insurance. Those would remain in place, so marginal rates (I would dispute they are anywhere near as important as the Right claim, but let's fight at their end of the bar) would be unchanged, or even higher. Finally, as Oliver Kamm said, it is not having more than one rate which makes tax complex. Even Prince Charles, if he paid income tax properly, could do it.

The Upper Class

[A]mong the guests at the wedding of the Duchess of Cornwall's son Tom Parker Sara Buys...[will be] glamour model Jordan, model Jodie Kidd, Coronation Street actress Samia Ghadie and GMTV presenter Kate Garraway.

Lowering the tone will the Prince of Wales, one of Britain's most stupid men, and his two sons, who have been so instilled with the essence of public service they planned to attend a fancy dress party based around a particularly unpleasant time in British history dressed as an African savage, and an SS Officer.

What kind of country is it where for the rest of my lifetime we will be ruled by people whom even their supporters will defend against charges they are foul individuals with merely the claim they are just too unintelligent to know better?

Honours system

Why is this deeply silly person a Dame? Isn't she embarassed that the July attacks came as a surprise? Doesn't that tell her something about herself? Why didn't the BBC title its story "Head of MI5 tries to expand her influence and power"?

Friday, September 09, 2005


I always found Glasgow one of the world's best drinking towns. It appears in 1956, according to Fodor's, things were a wee bit different:

The licensing regulations in Glasgow are not merely idiotic, they are designed with the anachronistic intention of reducing drinking to a barbarian level. You may be unfortunate to encounter this puratanical attitude even in a first-class restaurant, when last drinks must be ordered by 2:30 p.m and cleared from the table by 3pm. There is nothing anyone can do about this, apparently it is the law, and the law in Glasgow is not merely an ass, it is a boor also. Coffee-houses are a feature of Glasgow's social life, survivals of an era when presumably they made good coffee.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Liam Fox's candidature for Tory leader was NOT a joke

He really is standing. You can only ask, "Why?". Not as popular as Clarke, not as competent as David, not even as young and dynamic as Malcom Rifkind.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Ashes

Betfair (and most other bookmakers are doing something similar) are currently offering these odds on the 5th Test

Australia win - 2.64
England win - 4.2
Draw - 2.54

In other words if you put £10 on England to win, and they do, you'll get £42 back, which is £32 profit.

This seems to imply that the chance of Australia winning is twice that of England. One can see an argument that Australia are more likely to win than England - McGrath is back, Jones is out, Australia need to win to retain the Ashes, (perhaps most importantly) England only need a draw, all three England victories have been close. But still, England have outplayed them in the last three tests (once with McGrath, though admittedly an out of form one).

Much of it must be residual belief that Australia are the better team. This has been a feature of the odds all series. In the second test, even as they were battling to avoid the follow-on they were still favourites.

England fans however will be relieved to know that I will not be placing a bet, as that is a surefire way of assuring an Australian victory.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Bush to investigate what went wrong; sending Cheney in

At last we might have a chance of finding out once and for all what went wrong with the governmental response to the disaster in New Orleans. President Bush is personally to investigate. Critics may see here a major conflict of interest, and cynically claim that the President is unlikely to find any fault with his own performance.

I beg to differ. Interviewers often ask job candidates to list their three main weaknesses for the job, the idea being that no-one is as well placed to know the candidate's faults as the candidate themselves, and also because it gives a good idea of whether the candidate is aware of their limitations and have a strategy to deal with them.

Thus hopefully President Bush will conclude that he is incompetent, has hired incompetents, didn't really care about the fate of the inhabitants left in New Orleans and will resign. Or perhaps more likely he will note that "sometimes I just try to hard, I can be too hard on others who aren't as competent as myself, and I'm a big picture guy, who very occasionally misses the details. But I make sure I have someone detail-oriented on my team, like Dick". Well at least it can't be as bad as Steve "just blame the blacks" Sailer [Warning: Dodgy American racist site].

Talking of Dick, he's off to the region; an act of kindness and generosity by Bush which will reverberate through the State and history.

Memo to the BBC and former cricketers

There is no comparision between England winning the Ashes and England winning the 1966 world cup.

The most important factor in this is that only two teams compete for the Ashes, whereas 16 teams competed for the 1966 World Cup. Related to this is that England won the Ashes as recently as 1986/1987, and held it until 1989. In fact they have won it nearly 50 times in history, whereas they have won the World Cup only once.

I don't even know if it is the most 'eagerly awaited' sports contest since then. That's an awfully big claim to make, and I think reflects Silly Season hangovers.

Apologies for lack of posts

I've spent the last day waiting for my 3.4ghz computer to open the Microsoft Excel 'Circular Function' help box. Now I've unfortunately just tried to use a feature that isn't installed, so I'll probably not be posting much until February 2006.

Monday, September 05, 2005


This BBC story seems to suggest that if the Tory leadership rule changes are rejected, the party could find itself without Michael Howard and without a new leader.

Does this mean Deputy Leader Michael Ancram would be leader?

Petrol taxes

Having recently purchased a car that does less than 30mpg I have become rather more aware of petrol prices than I was when I had one that you could have run on Brlycream. Anyway I still can't get too excited about the RAC's suggestion that the Treasury vary the petrol tax inversely to the world price of crude, in order to ensure more stability in the UK pump price.

The major problem with this is that it essentially means the sales price of petrol is invariant to the price of oil, which for the oil producing countries and companies is a huge incentive to see the price of oil go even higher as there will be no demand penalty to pay.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

But is he a member?

Charles Moore tells us that the Tory party's system for choosing a leader is like that of Zimbabwe's, except it is more democratic. He really does.

What the article doesn't tell us is if he is a member of the party? Perhaps those bloggers who insist on newspapers printing full disclosure of their columinists political views could start a campaign?

Thursday, September 01, 2005


A really wonderful article by Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne on the merits of evolution over creationism (or natural selection...). It's everything a essay should be - informed, educative, well targeted and fair in its criticism but aware of the limitations of his own argument (which naturally are nothing that ID has come up with). Via, Peter (Cuthie on the right).

New-Look Guardian

Harry Potter is to launch the new-look Guardian a week Monday, the Guardian itself reports.

I actually, sad to say, find this quite exciting. Not because I often buy the paper, cyling to work and its excellent website have put paid to that, but because I have always been quite interested in newspaper design, and in Britain at least there's not been a lot to shout about at the national level since the Guardian's radical relaunch back in 1988, and the introduction of colour with TODAY, probably about the same time.

Obviously we have had the slow demise of the broadsheet, but neither the Independent nor especially the Times did a very good job of turning tabloid. The Guardian appears to have put a lot of thought and effort into it and so should look good.

Weekend fun

Is playing Stick Cricket. Via Harry.