Friday, March 30, 2007

World War II in colour

I've seen the TV progammres, but I wasn't aware of this excellent website, with hundreds of colour photographs of German, British, American, Soviet and Japanese forces in action (and some domestic ones too).

This of Himmler and Heydrich in SS black is pretty sinister, as, I thought, just this one of Himmler. I've always wondered - was that silly haircut common at that time, or was it just him? Goering looks as ridiculous as usual, while Otto Skorzeny, Hitler's oddjob man (jobs like taking on most the Italian army singlehandedly, that sort of thing), just looks hard (though apparently that scar is from fencing). Oh, and the world's first jet bomber.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Iran

There's been lots of criticism of the British government for not taking a harder line with the Iranians over the captured Royal Navy crew, even up to the point where some have argued we should be bombing Iranian ports in response. That Gerard Baker - yes, that's right, Gerard Baker - disagrees should give them some reason to rethink. He compares it with the Falklands, and says there is no comparison.

The international indicident that seems more relevant in my mind is the one that happened in 2001 when a US spy plane was forced to land in China. There the US government seems to have taken a pretty similar line to that which the British government is taking now.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Falklands War

The Falklands War is 25 years old, which makes it about as long ago as Suez was at the time of the Falklands. Should it have been fought? Obviously - the principle of self-determination, and that you don't invade other countries was upheld with 'only' about 1,000 lives lost, of which 255 were British. But hang on, that's with the benefit of hindsight. As some supporters of the Iraq war have argued, whether the decision to go to war is right or wrong needs to be justified using the facts at the time. This is surely a more tricky question. I don't know if the official history shed more light on this, but the two books I have read (Max Hastings and Sandy Woodwards) both stressed (although more in the Hasting's book) how different the result could have been if a few more Argentinian missiles had exploded on British ships. If the British had lost in the South Atlantic the repercussions would have been terrible, and the decision to go to war presumably now seen as finally folly of Mrs Thatcher's terrible three years in office.

Of course we didn't lose, and that in itself suggests the odds were better than evens. But what odds would have tipped the balance?

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Peter Hitchens on David Cameron

Did you watch it? The two main things I got from it was that Peter Hitchens is very droll, and Michael Gove is going to go much further. Other than that, I didn't really understand Hitchens' argument. Sometimes he appeared to be arguing that Cameron actually believes all the things Hitchens' believes in, but was pretending not to in order to get power, and that was a bad thing, and at others that Cameron had jettisoned all of those views and there was nothing but the 'centre ground'.

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The Things Daily Mail Sports Journalists Say!

Matt Lawton, Daily Mail, Aug 16 2006:

SVEN Goran Eriksson's greatest achievement during his tenure at Soho Square was convincing his employers that coaching the England team was, in fact, akin to rocket science. All very secretive, all very complicated and all very, very confusing...Thankfully, Steve McClaren takes a more simplistic, more intelligent view to the job, and those who should benefit most are the players he has selected for this evening's not-so-friendly game against Greece...At times Eriksson was a nightmare as he played Steven Gerrard as a second striker or Jamie Carragher as a holding midfielder...McClaren said: 'We have to learn from our failure and from our mistakes, and we have to try to get the shackles off and release the players from the fear they've been playing with. We have to win football matches. We have to create a Team England, and we have to develop different systems. 4-5-1, 3-5-2, I can see us using that at some point because we need to be flexible.' As long as the players are familiar with the roles they are given and McClaren keeps it simple, there should not be a problem.

Matt Lawton, Daily Mail, March 26, 2007

Steve Simply Hasn't A Clue

An Englad team fast slipping out of contenton in this European Championship qualifying campaign are being led by a coach quite clearly out of his depth. Steve McClaren will not be sacked after his side delivered another desperately poor performance on Saturday night. But he probably should be...No sudden dmonance of part-time opposition (Andorra) will convince us that these players are responding to mCClaren with anything other than apathy...If anything England have sunk even deeper since McClaren took over...this game against a distinctly ordinary team was one Eriksson woul dhave won with a less than inspiring but effective display.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sunday Telegraph letters...

...sadly did not feature my letter, which I repeat below.

Dear Sir,

Nigel Farndale writes (ST, 18th March 2007) that he 'fantasises' about a housing crash so he can afford a larger property. He also tells us that he bought a house in Clapham in 1996, and sold it in 2006. According to the Nationwide's House Price Index the average house in London tripled in price over this period. Thus Farndale's capital gain would have been hundreds of thousands of pounds [MJT - I put this in to account for the uncertainty, and I think it gives the impression it was 200-300k, whereas I really think it was more like 500k].

He now wants house prices to collapse, despite being aware of the misery that would cause millions, so he can repeat the process again. The man's sense of entitlement is astonishing.

Yours

Matthew Turner


They did print this letter, however, from Mr Goodman:

Sir - Last year, a student I know was earning 15,000 on his placement year. This is a handsome salary for a placement that he was delighted to get. However, if the present proposal had been in force, he would have paid double the tax.

If students are fortunate enough to get a placement, they will find that Mr Brown is hitting them hard. All this on top of tuition fees, top-up fees and living expenses.

Terry Godman, London SE25


"Double the tax"? This is not true. One of those handy PAYE calculators tells me that this 'student I know' would pay income tax of 1,934 and National Insurance of 1,095. Under the 2008/2009 tax year, ignoring the changes in allowances, he would pay 215 more on the 10% band (as it is now a 20% band) and 25% less on the remainder (15k - tax free allowance - 2150 10% band) which is 156. So his tax burden will rise by 59, an increase of about 3% on the income tax bill, and about 2% on the total tax bill (including NI). This is not "double the tax".

Diane Rawson appears to have a better case:

Sir - I am a 63-year-old woman with a combined state and private pension of just over 7,000 per year. Imagine my horror to discover that my tax bill is to double overnight and that I am to pay an extra 250 per year out of my modest income.

It is scandalous that I am to be penalised so that Mr Brown can be applauded for the 2p reduction in basic rate of income tax. We are obviously considered not to matter in this Chancellor's eyes.


Diane Rawson, Bundys Way, Staines.

In other words she basically only earns income to put her in the 10p bracket, and as that is doubling, her tax doubles. But I'm a little confused - she is a pensioner. And thus her tax free allowance is much higher than normal, and is to rise sharply. The IFS calculator suggests she is nearly 200 a week better off under the new proposals.

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The Shame of the Left, part XIVIII

Next week's Evening Standard column brought to you this week.

What kind of moral sewer has relatavism got our left-wing academics into when they can describe the execution of Saddam Hussein as "one of the worst days of my life.I was just so upset, even on the verge of tears". And did you know Kate Winslet can't get a parking space at 9am outside Fresh & Wild in Islington? And why didn't Gordon Brown's budget do more for the hard pressed couple on 100,000 a year?

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Pubs

The Guardian has an article on how big business is wrecking our local pubs, and in particularly the rather celebrated case of Harveys and Lewes. I'm a little sceptical of the arguments put forward - there is at least a good a case in my mind that big business has resuced many of our 'local' pubs from seediness and squalor, though things might be different outside London.

What is interesting in this case, however, is that Greene King, of which I have long been a very contented shareholder (though not at the moment, I found to my surprise yesterday) is the villian. Greene King has expanded rapidly over the last 8 years or so, and is admittedly now well on the way to being a huge international brewer. But not that long ago it was, to all extents, a small regional brewer, and it seems rather odd to hear 'Bury St Edmunds', that lovely market town in Suffolk, spoken of so disparagingly.

Update: A somewhat different story in the Economist about the decline in pubs in London's old-fashioned posh areas.

What is more, residents are increasingly fussy about having even the tidiest pub as a neighbour. The Australian, typically, had been barred from allowing drinking outside for some years. Late licences, after 11pm, are also almost unknown in smart residential areas. Residents squelched a bid by a local historical group, the Chelsea Society, to speak up for The Australian.

David Le Lay, the society's chairman, wonders how raffish village charms will survive without a certain tolerance from residents. If we don't watch out, we'll all be living in a very prim and proper area. A survey by his society found that in the late 1950s there were 54 pubs in the old borough of Chelsea. In 1980 there were 44 and by 2005 the total was only 26; three more have closed since then, though some may re-open. With pubs shutting up shop, some streets are empty and echoing at night; and one of the rare places where people from different walks of life congregate socially is in shorter supply.


Update II: Nick Cohen joins in on Lewes, saying that the Sustainable Communities Bill would mean the local council "will be able to compel Greene King to stock Harvey's Bitter". I've learnt that it's best not to take Nick Cohen's opinion as fact, and on the face of it this (obvously) or something like this doesn't seem to be explicitly mentioned in the Bill, which I'm reading here. I'll do some more research, but if anyone else knows. It would be a rather far-reaching law if true - it seems to me they could subsidise a pub if the area was lacking in them, but Lewes is certainly not, and I can't see how they can compel it, let alone 'merely' a provision of one type of ale, which surely is not a public service of enough importance to be covered by the act?

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Borders to leave UK?

I'll be disappointed if Borders does quit the UK. I don't go in bookshops anywhere near as much as I used to (Amazon and the local library, plus the internet of course) but I've always found Borders to be far better stocked, with a wider choice, than Waterstones.

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News values

I guess this post has a short shelf-life, but as of 21:53 on Thursday 22nd March 2007, the Daily Telegraph's website has as the paper's main headline:

Bremner delivers Brown's 'real' speech


i.e. that a not particularly funny TV mimic is doing what is almost certainly a not very funny show.

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The Shame of the Left

May I pre-empt Nick Cohen by noting that with the honourable exception of the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party, no-one on The (German) Left has denounced the decision of a German judge to not grant a women a quick divorce because violence was to be expect and allowed as noted in the Koran (English mini-translation here).

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Overheard on the Silverlink

Two bicycle couriers, drinking strong cider. I won't try to accurately portray the accents etc.

"I've squatted now for seven years - in loads of different places. But this one looks the best yet"
"Shall we go for it then"
"Yes"
"I'm only going though if we get that cleaner"
"Really"
"Yes, it's what - 5 or 7 an hour - and it'll only need three hours a week at most. I'll pay for it myself if necessary".

I'm not sure why I was under the impression that squats didn't have cleaners.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

How many Oxbridge Graduates are alive?

A strange question, but one to which I might need the answer for another post. An estimate will do, so the idea here is to start with the undergraduates it churns out each year, and work backwards assuming that more and more are dead, the longer ago they graduated. I am going to assume that none are alive over the age of 100, which is probably wrong, but it's not going to be the most important error here.

All the figures come from here, which is slightly out of date, but they don't seem to have changed much in the last few years so I'm reasonably relaxed about it.

In 2004 there were 3,300 newly graduated Oxonians, whereas in 1951 there was 1,704, 1961 2,271, 1971 2,610, 1981 2,990, 1991 3,139 and 2001 3,284. For 1941 and 1931 I'm going to make the heroic assumption that it was 1000 and 700 respectively. The war will have had an impact, but I'm going to ignore it.

Anyway extrapolating between these dates, I get a total of 179,000 Oxford graduates since 1928. Now we need to know how many are dead. I thought of doing a survey of those who respond to the Magdalen College record, but I decided it might not be represenative. So I took actuary tables for 1980 (the earliest I could find) and adjusted them downwards a bit to reflect less healthy societies (not too much, I guess Oxford graduates probably live longer than average).

We shouldn't pay too much attention to specific data, as it is going to be very inaccurate, but it tells me that there are 2 over the age of 100, and 380 of the 1945 crop. In total there are still 138,000 alive.

Phew! That's Oxford. Let's double it for Cambridge, as it's always been a sijmilar size. That makes 276,000. What about post-graduates? Are they Oxfbridge graduates? I suppose so. Many of course also were undergraduates, and the growth has been mostly in the last 30 years. So I would (again rather heroically) suggest they might amount to another 10-15%, making around 305-315,000.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Middle Class Whinge, no.3

Nigel Farndale tops even Nick Cohen's 100,000 is not enough to live on piece in today's Sunday Telegraph. He says:

The long expected crash in the housing market has begun... How I fantasise about reading that headline.


And why? Are Farndale and his wife first-time buyers, trying desperately to get a foothold on the market. Er...no.

For the past six months we have been renting, I should explain, having sold our house in London.


Ok, perhaps he just bought it a few months before and so might as well be a first time buyer. Er...no.

The presenter, Evan Davis, played a clip from Panorama that was broadcast in 1986. "Leppoc Road, Clapham. A typical street of back-to-back Victorian terrace houses. Here prices have gone through the roof. Ten years ago this house was worth 14,000. Mercedes and Hugh have just bought it for 145,000..." I know what Mercedes and Hugh sold it for 10 years later because Mercedes and Hugh sold it to Mary and Nigel.


So Farndale bought the house in 1996. He sold it 'six months ago', which would be August 2006. The only house on that street sold in August was this one [if the link doesn't work go to www.nethouseprices.com and search for the street name above, and look at no.10) sold for 750,000.

How much did the house gain in those ten years? We don't know how much Farndale paid for it, but the Nationwide house price calculator for London as a whole suggests a house selling for 750,000 in Aug 07 would have cost around 250,000 in Q4 1996. In other words a house price gain of half a million pounds.

This calculation is not 100% accurate for a few reasons, mainly because that road in Clapham might show different patterns of price growth than London as a whole. In fact a house sold in 1986 in London for 145,000 would have been less than 200,000 by 1996, but Clapham probably started gaining earlier. Also any work on the property will have some (less important) impact. But I doubt the errors are major* - we are talking about a huge gain in the value of the house (basically because Farndale bought at exactly the right time).

So what is he saying? He bought a house in 1996, not long after house prices suffered a major slump, and has enjoyed a gain of 50,000 a year or so. He now has sold it, and wants house prices to collapse so he can repeat the process. This is worth a column in a national newspaper. The sense of entitlement is astonishing.

* There is also a small chance that there was another house sold in August which hasn't been included on nethouseprices.com, which would affect these calculations only in the absolute sense, not percentage wise.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

I'm back

from a short holiday. Have nothing much to say so I will give you a brief review of the books I read on that holiday. I got them out of the local library, so it's not necessarily representative of what I would have purchased.

The Battle for Spain: I couldn't get into this. I find the plethora of different grouplets confusing, and the events rather dull, and perhaps rather unimportant in the grand scheme of history.

The Cromwell Street Murders: The Detective's Story - This was about Fred and Rose West, written by the Police officer in charge of the investigation. It's not bad, though it perhaps assumed a little more information about the West's than I had. The ending is a bit disappointing - Fred kills himself, and so they have to get Rose. But she wouldn't confess, and the evidence was circumstantial only, if overwhelmingly so.

A Square of Sky: A Jewish Childhood in Wartime Poland
- Now this was good. Janina David was a 10-yr old child in Poland whose well-to-do family fled to Warsaw to escape the Nazis, and who then were imprisoned in the Warsaw ghetto. She was smuggled out just before the Nazis would have sent her to an extermination camp, and lived in a convent as a Catholic. This was safe for a while, but for the last years of the war she was moved between various convents, at one point one that was back in Warsaw. Both her parents were assumed killed. It's a fascinating story, and such stories never fail to amaze me how much children (and adults) suffered during the war, and yet remarkably managed to survive to be a well-adjusted adult. I was also interested to learn about the extent to which 'normal' life continued in the ghetto, and the extent to which a cultural and academic education was made for children (albeit a relatively wealthy family) despite the terrible conditions. Inspiring.

Warrior Race: A History of the British at War - Did what it said on the cover really. I partly chose this because, at 879 pages, it would last a long time. But it was reasonably interesting, particularly in the descriptions of wars before 1750, and he is good at finding anecdotes.

Turning Angel - A crime thriller, which I had to read when all my books ran out. I couldn't say it was the worst book I've ever read, for I have read Nick Cohen's What's Left. But it was close. Basically the plot was that in a Southern US town a 17yr old girl - blonde, pretty, off to Harvard, that sort of thing - gets brutally raped and murdered. The hero of the book, Pen Cage, who is a former District Attorney, and a school governor, learns that his best friend, a 41yr old physician, was having an affair with her (she had been his babysitter). But he didn't kill her. Anyway the rest of the book is Pen Case attempts to exonerate his friend (from the murder, not the affair). Whilst doing this his 17yr old babysitter - yes, you've guessed it - wants to have an affair with him. He manages to resist this, despite a lot of soul-searching and words like 'pert', and later, blah blah blah, finds out that actually it was a Croatian*, or Bosnian (as he seems at one point) - in fact one of the book's defining features is that any minority group is bad. So hooray, the physician gets off, and is released.

That's right, released. After a few initial concerns, the charge of sexual battery (she was under 18, he was her doctor) seems to get lost, and any moral outrage disappears under redirected moral outrage against Others. Much of the book was taken up with the fantasy that most 17yr old girls want to have a sexual relationship (explained in loving graphic detail) with middle-aged men, because boys their age are too immature.

* In fact rather ludicrously he just strangled her when she was already dying from the phsysican's wife knocking her onto some rocks. This is hushed up by Cage, the physician, their lawyers and the other 17yr old.

Fields of Glory, Paths of Gold: The History of European Football
- Not much to say about this, pretty standard history of European football.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

CO2 emissions

As the home of the industrial revolution, the UK essentially produced all of the world's CO2 emissions until other countries caugh up. But in what year did we stop being the world's biggest CO2 producer? 1888, when the US overtook us.

The CO2 emissions in those early days were relatively large (all these figures come from Oak Ridge laboratory). By 1800 the UK is thought to have been producing 0.027 bn tonnes of CO2, compared with today's total of about 0.56 bn tonnes, so 5% of today's total. Furthermore by 1900 US C02 output was higher than the UK's today, whereas the UK's on that date was 0.42 bn tonnes, only 25% less than today.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

In today's Sunday Telegraph...

A few things caught my attention whilst sat on the slowest bus of all time - the no.10 from Olympia (the Form design show) to the British Library (for the maps exhbition - the queue was too long so looked at the Magna Carter instead).

In an article on the parliamentary procedures for Lords reform, Theresa May is quoted as saying:

"At a time when Tony Blair and his advisers are being investigated for the 'cash for peerages' scandal, the Government had a chance to clean up the membership and appointments to the Lords. The [Straw] proposals show that they continue to prefer patronage to democracy. They are yet another wasted opportunity."


Preferring democracy to patronage, however, isn't always Mrs May's postion. The Telegraph continues:

She said that, if the Government's proposal did get through the Commons on Wednesday, a coalition of Tory and Labour peers would attempt to block it in the Lords.


Anti-semitism in Israel is a new one to me, and this Telegraph article doesn't really get to grips with how prevalent it is.

Finally, whinging couple of the day goes to the two in this story, who are living this nightmare:

For Vivien and Peter Hunter, Sunday once followed a familiar pattern. The only cooked breakfast of the week, a leisurely read of the papers, a stroll through nearby Victoria Park in east London to feed the ducks with their three young sons and then, if the doting grandparents were willing to babysit, a late-afternoon pub lunch deux. "I doubt we have managed a Sunday like that in four months now," Vivien sighs. "And unless something short of a miracle happens in the housing market, I reckon my next leisurely Sunday lunch with Peter will be, oh, sometime next century?"


Apparently they are finding it hard to buy a place for them and their three children in East London for...700,000. In their case presumably, as one is a local govenrnment official and the other a senior fire official, to afford 700,000 they have a lot of equity in their current house due to rising house prices.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Charles Moore?

Surely this article was written by someone other than Charles Moore, despite his name being on it?

I give as evidence:

Like the character in When Harry Met Sally, North Korea and Iran have looked at the nuclear powers and said: "I'll have what she's having."


When Harry Met Sally is a popular (at the time) film, which was released only 18 years ago in 1989. If this is Charles Moore, then surely it is the most recent cultural reference he has ever made?

Update: NO, IT ISN'T. I hadn't got to the end of the article. It ends with, and this is scarely believeable, a reference to Bridget Jones, who I think was invented in the early 1990s.

Vanguard, Valiant, Vengeance, Victorious. As Bridget Jones might put it, v. v. v. v. important.

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