Friday, November 30, 2007

Are we safer?

Hurrah! one feels like saying. The "Natwest Three" apparently were guilty. They have admitted as such, and have received what one must say is a remarkably lenient sentence of 37 months.

But what's this? Apparently it's not obviously they were guilty. The American justice system - the best in the world, I thought - cannot deliver justice. It ensures guilty verdicts by the use of plea bargains.

Well maybe. I don't recall many articles in the FT about it being so useless before, but that doesn't mean it's not. But I'm not sure I understand Martin Wolf's solution (he's not prepared to say we should never extradite people):

"At the least, the US must be asked to make a prima facie case. The conclusion is that simple."

Well of course. But this surely isn't the point? The concern is that the US system makes pleading guilty for a lesser sentence a better option than risking a guilty verdict in a trial. Wolf, however, doesn't believe the "Nat West Three" shouldn't be on trial, as far as I can work out. So the verdict of a UK judge would make no difference as far as the merits of the case go, it could only be on whether the US judicial system was fair or not fair. Which is surely a political decision.

Update: For all us lovers of liberty and those who worry about the mechanics of the extradition Treaty this seems even worse.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Henry 'Scoop' Jackson Society turns a profit*

Hurrah! They have filed their first year's accounts with the Charity** Commission. I'm not entirely sure they had to, as their income is less than £10,000 per year. But here goes - for calendar year 2006:

Gross Income - £4,082
Gross Expenditure - £1,806

Happiness. "Scoop" would be a little embarassed, I would imagine, given it wouldn't buy a set of tyres on a shiny 747, but he's been dead quite a while.

* Or a surplus, if that's what charities do.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Melanie Phillips takes to the offensive

To the People of Australia, she thunders:

Whatever now happens, the fact that he ran on a platform of pulling troops out of Iraq and endorsing the ludicrous scam of man-made global warming are enough in themselves to tell the jihadis that Australia has now lost its (one-man) nerve. Australia just made itself (and the rest of us) a whole lot less safe.

That isn't the loopiest thing she says today, however. That surely must be this piece, in which she declares:

Whatever actually happens at Annapolis, what is blindingly obvious right now is the extent of America’s betrayal of the Jewish people and, in the process, of its own supposed core doctrine post 9/11...Annapolis is America’s Munich — and Israel is the new Czechoslovakia

It is hard to know where to begin.

Update: Andrew in the comments points out that in the Daily Mail (mine were in Spectator - links added now) she is wibbling on about creationism and all that. It is indeed strange that she is so keen on that (and on the Measles vaccination scare long after it was sensible) and yet talks about rationality, much like she goes on about conspiracy theorists and yet believes such huge ones herself, such as the Bush Administration one above. By the way, Melanie, as Nick points out here it wasn't Blair's religious views that looked nutterish, it was his nutterish behaviour (presuming the account is accurate, which given its in the Daily Mail, her own paper, I assume it must be).


Saturday, November 24, 2007

The people of Australia have let Melahie Phillips down

Another light goes off.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Compensation after football sackings

Steve McClaren has been sacked, but will get £2m as a payout. This is not uncommon in football, although it seems rather silly.

I presume it is something to do with labour laws on unfair dismissal. Is the point something like you can only be sacked for gross misconduct, and given one goal more or less last night would have meant England qualified, that can't be shown?

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Average buyer looks at house for 17 mins

Says this survey, and it certainly reflects my own experience - in fact perhaps that's a bit high. If the current owners are in their house, as they were in my case, you feel a little embarassed at your intrusion.

I've noted before that this does not explain why you are prepared to spend so much money on it without looking again, and for example, this is less time than you would spend, say, on a pair of jeans. One explanation I came up with is because it is seen as an investment, rather than an act of consumption. This can't quite be right for two reasons. One, because people usually spend quite a bit of time researching investments, and second, because rental houses are more purely a consumption good and those are similarly given only a short research time.

Another explatation is surely that a lot of research (on area, size, etc) has gone in beforehand, and when you're there, there is not much really you can once you've had a look at it. I'm sure those more experienced than I check for damp, sunlight, etc, but that still can't take very long.

Slightly related to this is William Buiter's argument that housing is not net wealth, as an increase in house prices makes us richer, but it also increases our future costs (unless we can get out of being housing consumers by moving abroad or something similar), and hence the net effect is zero. Martin Wolf in the comments notes that obviously the housing stock is net wealth, as if it was demolished we would be a lot poorer, and so what Buiter means is an increase in house prices is not an increase in net wealth. I'd modify this slightly - an increase in house prices not reflected by an increase in quality of housing is not net wealth. I imagine a lot of the renovations done in the last 10 years have not added much to a houses value, and in some cases might have detracted, but there must be a small positive impact.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Phone Norris McWhirter

Originally uploaded by mjtphotos
My first experience of these Mumbai taxis - essentially old fiat cars and not really large enough for me - might have set a world record. The driver told me at the end of the 1km journey that it was 200 rupee, which seemed a bit expensive, but as it's £2.50 I thought it would be OK. I only had a 500 rupee note, however, and would you believe it he had no change. So it cost 500 rupees (about £6).

Next morning I met someone I knew in the hotel who mentioned that I might have overpaid a bit. I got in a similar cab for the same journey and we paid the correct price, which is 25 rupee.

Hong Kong's liberation

Originally uploaded by mjtphotos
I suppose it's not so surprising in an Indian magazine, but I didn't realise people spoke of the 1997 Hong Kong handover as its 'liberation'.

I'm back

Taj Mahal hotel
Originally uploaded by mjtphotos
India trip went well. Virgin Atlantic Upper Class was very comfortable - I can see how the super-rich don't mind travelling thousands of miles for a weekend - as was the Taj Mahal hotel (pictured).

Saturday, November 17, 2007


The Independent has one of its front-pages today on the dollar. Pretty superficial stuff, and I'm not sure whether I agree with the usually good Hamish McRae's argument that one reason for dollar weakness is declining US share of global GDP, which seems to me to be more a function of dollar weakness rather than its cause.

My own currency speculation, now up to something near $2,000, has obviously a negative return so far. It's going to get worse, probably, as McRae points out - even if the dollar is undervalued it can get more undervalued. I wouldn't say I was worried particularly as I've always valued the saving part of investment more than the return - an investment with a 10% negative return is still worth 90% more than if the money had been used for consumption.

Anyway I'm off to India to check out the rather more laggardly rising star of the economic world. Back Wednesday.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

If we'd had a laptop the War would have been over in 1944

Colossus loses the race involving the one thing it is good at. To a German, and a laptop. I wouldn't like to play Grand Theft Auto on it.

Tremendous achievement to get one up and code-breaking though. It's just a shame that's our entry ino the World Supercomputer League.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Boyzone had split up before today!!!

Good god. This is big news. Until today apparently Boyzone had split up, and in fact were no longer a band. From today they have reformed and are now so. For those of us who will never forget the 14 no.1 singles, Coast to Coast, an' all that, this is a momentous day.

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A new record on Bloglines

I'm sure you all use Bloglines or some other RSS type thingy which tells you when there are new blog posts.

Today, a record. Tim Worstall, the blogger, pornographer and spammer, has apparently updated his spam site (the original one - the proper one has now moved to 134 times. I think this is misleading, as the earliest one was about the US change from Daylight Saving Time. But it remains my Bloglines record.

Stumbling and Mumbling chap has two posts which won't leave Bloglines, however many times I read them. Confusing.


How the Guardian welcomed Hitler

or underestimated him, at least. Ian Kershaw looks through the archives.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Leaf crisis being resolved

Hurrah, Brent Council have come and bagged up all the leaves in the street. We can start to move our cars again.


Marko Attilia Hoare and Ayaan Hirsi Ali

On his new blog, Marko Hoare says of Ayaan Hirsi Ali:

There is nothing ’extreme’ about Hirsi Ali’s position; she does not argue that Islam should be banned, nor that its followers be persecuted. She simply sees it as a problem, and wants to free Muslim women from the abuse inflicted upon them in the name of Islam.

I don't think this is sustainable given her stated comments. She said in an interview with Reason, these kind of things (my italics):

Hirsi Ali: Only if Islam is defeated. Because right now, the political side of Islam, the power-hungry expansionist side of Islam, has become superior to the Sufis and the Ismailis and the peace-seeking Muslims.

Reason: Don’t you mean defeating radical Islam?

Hirsi Ali: No. Islam, period. Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace.

Reason: We have to crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot? In concrete terms, what does that mean, “defeat Islam”?

Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in many ways. For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself; at present, there are native Westerners converting to Islam, and they’
re the most fanatical sometimes. There is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop that. You stop the symbol burning and the effigy burning, and you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say, “This is a warning. We won’t accept this anymore.” There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.

Reason: Militarily?

Hirsi Ali: In all forms, and if you don’t do that, then you have to live with the consequence of being crushed.


Reason: Here in the United States, you’d advocate the abolition of—

Hirsi Ali: All Muslim schools. Close them down

"At war with", "crush", "close down schools", not allowing "westerners to convert to Islam". This is an "extreme" position by anyone standards, surely?

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Sunday, November 11, 2007


Remarkable free program in a website here. It takes any photograph or line art drawing and turns it into a scalable vector graphic. Good for logos and things, but most fun on a photo.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Leaves crisis

Why are there so many in London, collecting in great piles? I don't remember this from previous Autumns. Is there a 'leaf collector' strike going on?


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sunday papers

The Army doesn't think much of Britain's Iraq war policy and planning

Immigration is everywhere. This is Nick Cohen's image of modern Britain:

The old English rich complain that they can't compete against the new men from Russia and India. Crime isn't as bad as you would guess from the papers - but our police force is second-rate and the reassuring bonds of community have broken down in suburbs where 50 different languages are spoken. The middle class, which was once delighted to have cheap Polish plumbers, now thinks that foreigners will be competing for its jobs. The working class - white, black and brown - has never liked that, and is as suspicious as ever of new immigrants.

Andrew Green says that its not EU immigration but extra-EU immigration that matters. He also says that half of London's new babies have a foreign parent, which I don't think is quite right - it's a 'foreign born' parent.

And finally, "The Ten Wackiest Scientific Experiments of All Time", certainly are wacky, many are plain nasty. Amusing article though.


Saturday, November 03, 2007

Getting richer

With the current exchange rate the IMF puts UK per capita GDP at $47,281, compared with that of the United States, $45,593. In dollars UK GDp has risen at a similar speed to China's since 2004.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Tim Congdon

Not seen him for a long time, and he was on Newsnight. I didn't really understand his argument, he seemed to be saying that the Government must keep Northern Rock going until a private buyer moved in. Very confusing, but he was certainly more interventionist than Vince Cable. But I guess that's the current Tory position [Whoops - Tim Congdon is a UKIP supporter] - I still have no idea if David Cameron thinks our population is too high, low or about right.

Update: Watching it again, it is still strange. He seemed to be deliberately misunderstanding Vince Cable's point about new loans being offered at 120% of the value of the house, with an average figure on its old loans.

Nick Cohen was very Anti-American

I can't pretend to understand the nuances of this post by Oliver on 'the attitudes Nick Cohen finds outrageous', but I think he he must mean the most famous of all Nick Cohen essays: "Why it is right to Be anti-American"

Most of us would not share Nick Cohen's outrage in this matter, or for example his Cohen's conspiratorial ramblings about the Iraq war being due to our being in hock to the Americans from WWII. I think the best attitude when faced with this kind of nasty stuff is to ignore it most of the time, but loudly publicise it from time to time.


Currency speculation again

As the pound nears $2.09 you are probably hoping for an update on my currency speculating, all of which has been unprofitable so far. My only advice is to buy more dollars - they're getting even cheaper.