Saturday, 19 December 2009

In the bleak midwinter ...

This is the weather to warm up to some guitar chords as thick and hot as chocolate fondue from guitar god Bert Jansch

A situation of the Jews own making

Back in 1976, when the Race Relations Act was being drafted, both British Jews and Sikhs fought hard to be included in British Law as 'races' rather than faiths. They were successful in establishing that they were a distinct ethnic group with a long shared history and a cultural tradition of their own, and successful in establishing their protection under the Race Relations Act as distinct human races. Moslems, Hindus and Christians could claim no such protection against discrimination, of course.

Fast Forward to 2009. Boy M, from a practising Jewish family, was denied admission to the Jewish Free School for not being Jewish. Or Jewish enough, rather. Because of the past Jewish lobbying to be included in the 1976 Act, the courts had no option but to find that this was racial discrimination, rather than faith discrimination. Now British Jews are crying 'foul', and Charles Moore in the Telegraph is claiming that ' The court is effectively saying that a religion's way of defining its own membership, practised over 3,500 years, is illegal.'

No, Charles. Not a religion's way of defining its membership, but a race's way of defining its membership - and that race was adamant that it was a race and not a religion. You can't have it both ways.

The only way out as far as I can see is for the Jews to abdicate their claim to be a race, and to have our laws amended to recognise Jewishness as just another faith.

This is a situation of the Jews own making - nobody is imposing anything them that they haven't lobbied hard for themselves. The solution is now also in their hands.

The true cost of a new boiler

As soon as the details are announced in the new year, I shall be amongst the first in the queue to take advantage of Brown's £400 subsidy for a new central heating boiler. I even know the exact make and model that will be fitted.

Have I been convinced by the AGW 'evidence'? have I developed a planetary conscience? Do I need to save £125 a year in gas bills? Well, actually, no to all of these.

My existing boiler was old when I bought this place back in 1995; it is distinctly late '80s, badged as an 'RS turbo' after the Ford Escorts of the time. Every year I have it serviced by the same bloke, and from time to time something breaks. Parts became unavailable through the service networks some years ago, and for the past few years I've been collecting spares through eBay. Two years ago the overheat stat broke, and we just pulled it out and discarded it until I find a new one on eBay for my serviceman to fit, but so far no luck. I just have to warn guests that after the heating's been running for a few hours, the hot water will emerge from the tap at about 90deg. Fine for me.

So I'm one of those who would have been replacing their boilers anyway who will take advantage of Gordon's boiler scrappage scheme. And here's the nub. So will most other beneficiaries of the scheme.

It was Edmunds.com that developed the methodology for evaluating scrappage schemes. You calculate how many additional units have been sold overall during the scheme, and divide the total scheme cost by this figure to get the true tax cost per additional unit sold. For the US cash for clunkers scheme, the figure is about $24,000 per car. Likewise, I expect the incremental sales of new boilers to be marginal - all the rest would have been bought anyway. And if the ratio is the same as for cash for clunkers, each additional low-energy boiler will cost the UK taxpayer something like £4,800.

Friday, 18 December 2009

What's a Christmas tree worth on Christmas Eve?

This is a favourite old economics poser; how much is a Christmas tree worth on Christmas Eve? The answer depends on whether you're a tree retailer desperate to get rid of the last of your stock which will become worthless the day after, or the last-minute buyer of a must-have seasonal accessory.

Disappointing November retail sales - at a time when retailers were expecting punters to bring expenditure forward in advance of the return of the old VAT rate - will lead, I think, to disappointing Christmas sales, despite the attempts of the retailers to talk the market up over the past week or so.

And the Harpex is still bumping along a new low. With gilt prices set to become the issue as soon as the current round of QE ends, and soaring financing costs to maintain the price, and no sign of a retail stimulus, things look gloomy indeed. Consumer confidence will only start to return once Brown and his corrupt cabal are out of office; every day he clings to power costs our economy, and ourselves, dear.

Sion Simon MP - another bent bastard

Simon's attempted theft of tax monies has been foiled thanks to the Telegraph's zealous monitoring of the lies and deceptions that MPs call their expenses claims. Just another bent bastard of an MP stuffing his mouth with taxpayer's gold, you say; what else do you expect?

What I don't expect and won't stand for is another single whinging bleat from any of those odious scum at Legg's measured and reasonable claims on our behalf on their fat purses and wallets.

Pay up. Shut up. Piss off.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Rough justice

Looking at Newm's post on 'Give us Justice or we will take it', I was almost motivated to utter a supportive harrumph until I read this piece in last night's Standard;
A woman begs for mercy in Guatemala City after being doused with petrol. She was part of an armed gang that tried to rob bus passengers, who caught, beat and stripped her before setting her alight. Police put out the flames and arrested her. Her three companions escaped.


Munir Hussein may have used reasonable force to apprehend his robber. But after having done so, rather than hand the robber over to police custody, he beat him with a cricket bat until it broke. In jailing Hussein for 30 months, Judge Reddihough said 'If persons were permitted to … inflict their own instant and violent punishment on an apprehended offender rather than letting justice take its course, then the rule of law and our system of criminal justice, which are the hallmarks of a civilised society, would collapse.'

And I have to say, looking at the photo of the woman about to be ignited by the mob in Guatemala above, I'm more inclined to agree with the Judge on this one.

Liam Donaldson's obsessive compulsion

There is something a bit mentalist about Donaldson's obsession with stopping other people drinking alcohol; I remember years ago there used to be a nutter who hung about outside the old 'Mirror' in Fetter Lane who took the same attitude to protein. And yes, it is a personal obsession - not just a man trying to prove he's doing his job diligently in advance of being made redundant. As the BBC reports;
He said that he would be able to "shout louder" about his suggestion for a 50p minimum price for alcohol - rejected by Prime Minister Gordon Brown - after he steps down next year.
Perhaps Donaldson could kit himself out with the Protein Man's sandwich boards and position himself outside the Murdoch works in Wapping. Or perhaps take up residence in a scrappy tent opposite Parliament. Or perhaps he could do us all a favour and throw himself under the hooves of the Queen's horse at Aintree.

You see, I'll bet that 20m middle class parents know better how to raise their children than some wild-eyed mentalist who's been given a government job by mistake. In the US the beer is so weak that it resembles nothing more than the 'small beer' that, until a couple of centuries ago, everyone in England from infants to crones used to drink instead of water, and US youngsters aren't even allowed to drink that until they're 21. It's impossible to binge drink in the US; human organs explode in a fizzy welter of weak beer long before intoxication sets in. So the septics must be incredibly healthy and long-lived, no?

No. The Economist recently illustrated an article that showed that although the US spends 16% of GDP on health compared with the UK's 7%, our respective life expectancies at 65 are almost exactly the same. And they don't drink. One could almost hypothesise that our superior level of alcohol intake confers health benefits worth 9% of GDP.

The one consolation with cranks like Donaldson is that they can quickly take up novel obsessions; perhaps convincing the French that eating cheese is bad, or advocating the health benefits of the German habit of walking about naked once you reach forty years of age. Perhaps all of these together; a shrill, naked little man prancing about opposite Parliament waving a 'No cheese, No wine' placard. That will get you taken seriously, Liam.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

'V' for, er, something

'V' may mean Vendetta to popular UK bloggers, but to the opposition in Iran, denied a free vote and freedom to print or publish, with draconian controls over free speech, I suspect it means something between freedom and victory, much like the 'V's that appeared overnight on walls all over occupied France. Anyhow, rather cleverly they've taken to over-printing all the banknotes that pass through their hands with a big green 'V'. The Iranian central bank is reported to be trying to take these out of circulation as soon as they appear, with little success.

Could be useful viral advertising for minority parties here in the UK, I'm thinking ....

Alcohol causes TWO types of drunkeness?

The wonderfully-named Lady Stern is calling for more men to be jailed for rape by withdrawing the defence of intoxication (or rather, I presume, the defence that being intoxicated the defendent lacked the required mens rea - I had thought this defence was removed by the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, but no doubt Lady Stern knows what she's talking about).

Stern is quoted as saying "Being drunk is voluntary and people who become drunk are responsible for their actions."

But only, of course, if they are men. For Lady Stern, women who become drunk are not responsible for their actions - they are victims.

Go figure.

What price a capon for Christmas?

With apologies for the lack of deep posts - not due to me having started the seasonal relaxation early, but rather to a hangerload of work to ensure we hit the ground running on 4th January after the construction industry break - all turkey-eaters can look away now.

In years past, our old neighbour Jessie displayed a green and sustainable AGW countermeasure years ahead of her time by castrating cockerels. Without their gonads, they would not burn off energy constantly hankering for female company or strutting around eachother, and grew tame and sleek and fat as footballs. A Sussex White capon for Christmas provided the substance as it were that a shoebox of a goose lacked. A capon was always the Christmas feast years before the first foreign turkey entered our shores. Until recently, when castrating cocks was made illegal.

You might imagine this to have been another piece of EU lunacy, but not so; it was a peculiarly British piece of lunacy, inspired by the 'fish are people, too' folk who didn't object to hatching eggs to grow into meat but insisted it did so with a full complement of testicles.

So throughout Europe as our cousins feast on roast capon, the British table is restricted to the products of Bernard Matthews' vast Norfolk sheds. Or not. Those nice people at French Click (no interest, just a satisfied customer) will deliver you a fresh 3kg capon this week but at a price - about £40. Old Jessie would have been horrified.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Christmas means Krampuli and Perchten

The Austrian part of my ancestry comes from a spot in Carinthia just north of the point where Austria borders Italy and Slovenia; good skiing in winter, rich hill pastures in summer. Like good mountain Celts, they have dwelt there for ever in thick timber farmhouses perched around the valleys, still using Haflinger horses on slopes too steep for tractors to work. And like good mountain Celts, they've never quite abandoned their pre-Christian mid winter rituals.

So alongside Coca-Cola's Santa Claus we grew up with the Krampuli and the Perchten. These were St Nicholas' assistants, the inquisitors of Christmas. They had fearful animal faces, all horns and fangs, and matted fur and were hung around with chains. In the darkest nights of midwinter, they would visit each isolated farmhouse around the valley, no bolted door or barricade an obstacle, to bring gift or punishment to us children. If we'd been good, a small silver coin and a bundle of birch twigs would be left - the birch twigs a reminder of punishment. If we'd been really bad, the Krampuli would slit our bellies open, remove our stomach and guts and stuff the cavity with straw and stones. Clearly the pagan message was acceptable enough to the Church for the tradition to be allowed to survive, and even now in that remote valley, just as Sidcup man dons Santa outfit and beard, one of my relatives will be dusting off his mask and chains to do the rounds of the valley after dark to scare the shit out of everyone under 30.



Merry Christmas, all.

Iran's bomb

Whilst Ken Macdonald excoriates his former boss in the Times with phrases such as 'mislead and cajole the British people', 'Mr Blair’s fundamental flaw was his sycophancy towards power', 'a narcissist’s defence and self-belief is no answer to misjudgment' and 'a Prime Minister lost in self-aggrandisement', elsewhere in the paper is hard evidence that Iran is acquiring components only usable in a nuclear device.

Iraq's chaos for the past six years has allowed Iran to abandon wasteful expenditure on tank divisions and motorised infantry corps and concentrate its resources on building nuclear missiles with which to attack Israel; a fruitcake theocracy waiting for the occultation and the arrival of the Mahdi in an apocalyptic conclusion will not regard MAD as a deterrent stand-off but as a necessary precondition. There can be little doubt that Iran's weapon programme is a real and imminent danger to Israel.

That Israel will be forced into a strike against Iran seems inevitable. That this strike will be backed by the UN seems remote. The fall-out from Blair's crying wolf over Iraq's WMDs is that the UK won't stick its neck out again in the absence of a UN decision - and this perhaps is the sole good thing to come from all Blair's omissions, distortions and misrepresentations. Israel will have to go it alone, with US backing in some form or other.

I'm no great friend of Israel's, but defend absolutely the right of the legal State of Israel - the bit within the pre-1967 borders, that is - to exist. It is paradoxical that Blair's scramble to prove himself as America's bitch in 2003 now deprives Israel of the chance of British support at perhaps the most critical stage in its history.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Blair wriggling

Faced with the poisonous drip of damning evidence against the credibility of Blair's WMD claims to the Chilcot enquiry, he has launched a pre-emptive strike to steal the thunder of Chilcot's inevitable findings. "Yes of course the WMD thing was a sham" Blair almost says "but we needed a reason to do the right thing".

This false candour, I suspect, will work with more than a few people. The reality of course is that Blair is lying again; the leopard can't change his spots. His contention that he would have 'deployed different arguments' to remove Saddam had anyone been able to prove he made-up the WMDs at the time is specious.

In the absence of WMDs military action would have been unlawful. The Attorney General would have had to say so. The CGS would have refused to deploy. Blair's back benchers would have deserted him during a crucial vote and the UK would not have gone to war. The US, unencumbered by the recognition of international law, would have acted alone.

In other words, the outcome Blair wanted - the removal of Saddam - would have happened anyway without his having to lie about WMDs, and without the UK's involvement. To this extent Blair does indeed have blood on his hands - blood shed, it now seems certain, not for the UK but for the benefit of the USA, Blair's adopted home, and at his mendacious connivance.

If Chilcot makes only one thing clear, it should be this.