Thursday, August 30, 2007

Beaten at last

Baroness Thatcher comes second, but only just.

David Cameron on Newsnight

I thought he was rather good. I note that Scoopism is pretty well dead in British politics, suggesting Michael Gove isn't making much headway. His answer to the question on exporting democracy, however, would have been better if he'd just said at one point that there really isn't much the UK PM can do about many situations in far away countries, and 'do no harm' is a good starting point.

On marriage, he would have perhaps been better to talk about external costs and benefits, and suggested that IDS's marriage bribe could be seen as aligning the social benefits with the private benefits. Then the criticism from Stephanie Flanders would have been as sensible (which is not to say it is not) as criticism of tax on petrol.

When he mentioned the pensions system, I would have asked him whether he would simply reinstate the dividend tax credit if it was that simple.

Friday, August 24, 2007

113 Days of Lies and Smears

So shouts the today's Daily Mail, before republishing all 14 allegations about the McCanns in some detail.


Yes, I am a genius

My Citibank dollar account statement came through the post this morning, and it tells me that my 100 investment, made on the 25th July, has turned into [drum roll] ...


Yes, $2.5022 [whoops - I mean $2.0522, $2.50 really would be a cause for celebration] dollars for each of my pounds. So I am sitting on at least a 2.5% gain, and when the pound collapses to parity as George Osborne takes over I'll have doubled my money!


Nick Cohen's 100,000 a year couple only average in K&C

Yes, Nick's Cohen 'less fortunate' couple with their 100,000 household income really are less fortunate in the Royal Borough.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

12yr old boy accused of throwing a sausage

... in court, makes amusing copy though obviously the detail is rather more complex. But it was this that caught my eye from his mother:

"It had quite a bit of an effect on him. He couldn't sleep. He takes sleeping tablets anyway - but they didn't work."

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

War deaths

I'm reading Adam Tooze's excellent book on the Nazi war economy (in short - it wasn't much of one) and it has a staggering chart that reminds you just how deadly the battle on the Eastern Front was.

The worst month for the German armed forces was August 1944, when 280,000 soldiers died. The previous month 175,000 died. Thus in July - August 1944 more German soldiers died than British soldiers did in the entire conflict, and our deaths were horrendously high.

In total between June 1941 and May 1944, more than 60,000 German soldiers died each month, and that doesn't include Summer 1944, which as noted above was the most deadly period (although January 1943, after Stalingrad, was the second most deadly month). This means on average every two-three days more German soldiers died than Allied casualties in the Iraq war.

Of course Soviet Union casualties were even worse, if at different time periods.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Some updates on the exam/blonde girls

A reader asks what the rules are about your extra points - namely, if you have enough, can you have a whole new A-level, or does it have to be a better grade in an existing one? She asks because she would always have liked to be able to speak Spanish, and as she has 10 points to add she could have an A-grade in the langauge, which is a pretty good standard. I feel the rules need to be clarified. In the first instance I believe the extra points have to go to giving you a better grade in the subjects you have already sat, that after all is the rationale behind them. Only then, when you have all A-grades, can you begin to entertain the idea of another A-level, and I think then it has to be related to one you already have - so if you have French, you can have Spanish, but not if you have Physics.

On the education theme, there is I fear a growing crisis in the education of blonde girls. This year there has been a noticeable lack of them getting a large number of A-levels. The Daily Mail here and The Times show that their academic achievements are not totally a thing of the past, but the Telegraph has a 12 page picture special with just the one. The glory days are gone.


Tories' big plan

Drum roll...yes it's to scrap inheritance tax. The way they portray it is fabulous:

"In London and the south particularly, but also in areas of the north, because of rising house prices there are hundreds of thousands of couples who are going to suddenly be hit with this inheritance tax when their parents die," he said.

"It's not paid by the wealthy. It's paid by those of course who inherit."

Those poor couples - can you imagine waiting desperately for your parents to die, and then suddenly finding that you don't get 500,000, but instead you get 420,000. How does one cope? I suppose the point is those couples who just creep into the threshold, and so would have got 350,000, but instead get, 330,000. The inequity!

The second statement from the Tories is a complete non sequitur. But the main reason its a bad idea is this: the Tories claim the problem, so to speak, is because of rising house prices. That is, indeed, the reason why the numbers paying inheritance tax will rise from their current miniscule base. Yet if anything can be described as unearned wealth, it is that. Furthermore if any increase in wealth is government-caused, it is that. So the Tories are planning on cutting the already-low taxes on inheritances of couples of unearned government-caused wealth, rather than (all things have an opportunity cost) cutting taxes on productive behaviour. It makes no sense.

I wouldn't disagree that the system could be refomed, in fact I would make it explicitly a tax on the recipients, and thus make it essentially avoidable if it was spread around enough people.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

George Soros, meet Matt T

Can it only be three weeks ago that I announced a foray into the currency markets, betting against the pound at $2.03? Yes, and now I see it's at $1.97, which excluding costs, I make a huge 3% profit! That's, exluding costs, 3!


How Clever Am I? 2007 edition

"6 As, really? Your 18yr old? How amazing. I would have never thought it"
"Yes, you only got 2 Bs and a C yourself, didn't you?"
"Well remembered, I feel such a failure"

We've all had this type of conversation with either a youngster or their parents, and although unable to deny the facts, felt that something wasn't quite right.

The problem is inflation. Most people understand price inflation, e.g., no-one would let this conversation stand:

"400m a year, really? Your 18yr hold - A hedge fund? How amazing, I would never have thought it"
"Yes, you only started on 8,400, did't you?"
"Well remembered, I feel such a failure"

Because obviously 8,400 in 1987 is worth much more today. About 25,000, or something like that. The same goes for exam results. They were HARDER in our day, just as policeman were younger*.

But how do we quantify that? Now in its 3rd year, the "How Clever Am I?" ready-reckoner has won international acclaim from leading journalists, and offers an easy way to tell people just how clever you were, and how unclever their little brat is. In other words, it provides a real level of exam results, to allow historical comparisons to be made fairly. The methodology is simple - it assumes there has been no improvement in standards and thus all of the increase in grades is due to pure inflation**. If you believe there has been some increase in standards you will need to lower the multiplication factor, but if you believe standards have dropped you will need to increase it.

First, calculate your A-level points using the old-fashioned method of 10 for an A, 8 for a B, 6 for a C etc. So for example 2 Bs and a C would be 22 points. Then multiply that by the multiplication factor, which is the number next to the year in which you took your A-levels. There are two examples given below. If you have done A-level mathematics in the last five years then I suggest you use a calculator.

It can also be used in reverse. 6 A-grades? That's 60 points, which back in 1994 would only have been 44 points, or 4 As and a D.

Coming next: A ready-reckoner to calculate how many blonde girls would have been jumping up and down to celebrate their results in YOUR day. This one has a much higher multiplication factor.

* As Christopher Howse said after last week's Lord Lucan story, "you know you are getting old when Lord Lucan is getting younger".
** I tend to believe that better teaching for specfic exams is behind most of the rise in results, but I'm in a minority. Conversely, even if you do believe that all of the gain has been due to higher standards, then the multiplication factor can still be seen as telling you what position in 'class', so to speak, you would have got if you were doing your exams now.

Update: I am in negotiations with Britain's leading 500 companies to allow the "HCAI" adjusted A-Level points score to go on one's CV.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

US Treasuries

Over here, rather inconclusively, I've been arguing whether the US would be able to renege on its public debt (US Treasuries) held by China in the event of a war between the two countries. I'm not sure how practical it is, as in whether the Treasury knows which bonds are held by China (although it must know where to send the coupon payments) and of course what the impact would be on the reputation of Treasuries as a safe asset.

There must have been something similar, if one a much smaller scale (gold was stil the reserve asset of choice) during World War II, but I can't find anything on the internet about it. I've just bought a book about the Nazi economy in WWII so maybe that will mention it.

You can get too bogged down in financialmarketism here, and forget the basic problem, which is the US Treasury would be paying large amounts of money (if it's 5% p.a on $500bn that's $2bn a month) to a country it was fighting a war against. I can't see how that would be allowed to happen.

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Would an economic downturn hurt or help Labour?

Some of the more wishful thinking Conservatives have been suggesting that with global financial markets having another of their periodic bouts of nervousness, an economic downturn could be what finishes off Labour and brings the Conservatives back to office.

I think this could be 100% wrong. It certainly won't be the case, I belive, if any economic downturn can be convincingly said to have been caused by external factors (even if those external factors are particularly hard on the UK). I don't even think it will be the case if the rest of the world/OECD carries on as normal and we are hit by a bad patch.

The reason is partly that people think Gordon Brown did an OK job as chancellor, and that view is not going to change now, so any downturn could see a preference for what is tried and tested. The other reason is, of course, George Osborne. I don't see any embattled home owner, trying to pay 8% mortgage rates with unemployment creeping up, thinking "I wish that George Osborne was in charge".

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Separated at birth?

Flicking through today's Daily Mail, as one does at lunchtime, I thought - 'Gosh, Tim Worstall's got a column', but in fact it was Christopher Booker. The resemblance is uncanny, although of course in reality one spends his days writing meaningless rubbish clogging up the world's media, and the other has a successful blog.

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When you get to the top (nearly but unquestionably) there's nowhere else to go but down

James Rogers, who famously two years ago declared that Britain was 'unquestionably the world's second strongest power' seems to have been a little unnerved by recent developments, and is demanding more EU military co-operation.

Given the geopolitical changes under way, what seems crystal clear is that Britain's power and authority in the world is going to decline in the coming years, as an expansive China, a growing India, an increasingly wild and truculent Russia and a myriad of regional powers assert themselves on the world stage. And as the United States becomes more concerned with Asian politics and security, Europeans are likely to be left on their own

Have faith, James! Also please note despite appearances, this is his personal view and not that of the H'S'JS.

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How is the Maida Vale Manifesto doing?

Talking of blog campaigns, alert readers will recall that in April 2006 Stephen Pollard launched a competitor to the Euston Declaration, called the Maida Vale Manifesto.

The Manifesto was classic Pollard. Showing his natural modesty, he noted that it was probably most likely that only he would sign it, and the 'we' would have to become 'I'. But his real intentions were perhaps revealed by his allowing comments on the post, so people could sign, when he had stopped them on others.

The content of the Manifesto was extraordinary. Historians can, and surely will, debate which was more so - his UAT declaration of an 'enemy within' or his Maida Vale Manifesto claim that:

Theoretical arguments about what is or is not a proper left-wing position are now meaningless. The mainstream Left has demonstrated clearly which side of the battle to preserve Western civilisation and freedom it is on. The Left, in any recognisable form, is now the enemy.

The public response was wildy in excess of Pollard's stated hopes. As of this morning (August 7th) I count SIX definite signatories, and possibly another SEVEN if Spambots are to be counted, although their output was mostly question-marks, which could be seen as a neutral position. Tim Worstall, if he hadn't already signed with the question marks, also seemed neutral. Two contributors contributed despite having 'nothing useful to say', so I think they could be supporters too.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Melanie Phillips on Intelligent Design

She's not quite openly advocating it, but she is getting close. Melanie wants "Intelligent Design" to be taken seriously, and not to do so is the West "turning the clock back to a pre-modern age of obscurantism, dogma and secular witch-hunts".

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King William

The Mail goes for the Camilla angle, but surely more interesting is that 53% of the public believes Prince William should be King on the death of the Queen, and 40% Prince Charles. This has changed from 40% to 57% as recently as March.

I can't vouch for the poll being accurate. It was done by ICM, but presumably questioning about Camilla might have influenced the poll about who should be King.

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Two years since Unite Against Terror

It's just over two years since the internet campaign, "Unite Against Terror", was launched. The site seems pretty moribund now, although I think they have renewed the URL for another year.

On the face of it the campaign sounded a good idea. Britain had just experienced its worst terrorist outrage, killing 52 people from London and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the aims of the project were never clearly stated, and for reasons that are still unknown, some of the leading figures to sign the petition got the impression it was a campaign against "the left".

Nick Cohen called the left morons, failed to condemn the bombings, and added, "What we have witnessed is a sinister attempt by liberal opinion to deny legitimacy to the very liberals, feminists and socialists who have a right to expect support. The authentic Muslim has become the blood-crazed fanatic rather than the reformer. The authentic liberator has become the fascist rather than the democrat. This is a betrayal on an epic scale which casts doubt on whether it is now possible to have a decent left."

Stephen Pollard raved that the "The Guardianista fellow-travellers of terror, who stress its supposed causes, are the useful idiots of the Islamofascists" and in language that I can scarcely believe even two years on, declared that there was an 'enemy within', which "it is imperative that those of us who believe in democracy and liberty stand up and fight. Not just against the obvious enemy, but also against the enemy within - those who claim to be on the Left, but whose views have nothing in common with the decency for which the Left ought proudly to stand."

Peter Tatchell, bizarrely, declared that the left should not pretend to be upset by the bombs, and "We are witnessing one of the greatest betrayals by the left since so-called left-wingers backed the Hitler-Stalin pact and opposed the war against Nazi fascism. Today, the pseudo-left reveals its shameless hypocrisy and its wholesale abandonment of humanitarian values."

To quote the last is a little unfair of me, as Tatchell subsequently apologised for the language, proving, perhaps, that there can be a decent Decent left.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

How the Left lost it is way

I've unfortunately got to buy Nick Cohen's book for a second time and was seeing whether Amazon had discounted it, when I came across the cover for his new paperback.

How the Left lost it's way? Last time it was how LIBERALS lost their way, so at least some of the criticism seems to have rubbed off. But it's? Oliver Kamm will be livid.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

A red tomato

Originally uploaded by mjtphotos
Yes, the sun has done it! After weeks of misery and fear that it would be green tomato chutney from our tomato plants, the first sign of red.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Congratulations to N & D

I just wish to congratulate two friends of ours, N & D, who have just had a baby. It's not that itself which is so worthy I need to draw your attention to, but the fact that they have sent us a Thank You card for a present we gave them without pretending that the one-week old baby wrote it itself.

An unusual act these days, but one that needs commending.