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Saturday, 16 January 2010

Pearson is right on Burqas

In anthropological terms, our facial recognition of each other is at the heart of our social structure. We don't sniff each others' urine marks, or listen for each others' calls. Our ability to recognise facial features in crowded public places, to stop and greet, to recognise and to acknowledge, is at the very fundament of social cohesion and social structure. So important is this, and so anthropologically ingrained, that even when we know there is no cogent threat, talking to someone with black sunglasses or a mirrored visor brings out involuntary threat reactions, and we must overcome urges driving us to fight or flee.

Most importantly, as a society and culture, both men and women are full members of our society and this right is indivisible. Even women such as nuns, whose uniform signals unambiguously that they are sexually unavailable, leave their faces exposed to signal that at the same time they are fellow members of the tribe.

Pearson's proposals in the Times are sensible. He is proposing to outlaw covering the face in all public buildings and places, and the right of owners and operators of private buildings to insist on uncovered faces. Motorbike helmets with visors, hoodies with scarves wound around the face, Niqabs, burkas and and all other non-transparent disguises would have to be removed before the wearer entered a post office, government or council office, NHS surgery or hospital, school, railway station, bus, tube, MP's or councillor's surgery. Airport and port operators, pub landlords, restaurant proprietors, retailers, supermarkets would have the right to refuse to serve, and to remove from the premises, anyone so covered.

Libertarians may regard as anathema a law that regulates how people look or dress, but I would suggest that in this they are mistaken; an exposed face, clear from brow to chin and from ear to ear, is so fundamental to the way in which we as the cultural subset of a species interact that flouting it is to defile us as if pissing in public were a 'faith matter'.

The Niqab and Burqa are not articles of Moslem faith, but in many cases a provocation, a deliberate attempt to defile our society. They disguise the signs of beatings and violence and offer an insult to all women. They promote not only terrorism but fraud and crime. They threaten us on our own streets and public places.

Pearson is right. They must go.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Price elasticity of alcohol

There's a useful paper HERE that sets out some of the drivers behind the government's proposals for alcohol minimum pricing; in particular, it sets out the government's assumption that the price elasticity of alcohol overall is -1.0, i.e. every percentage increase in cost will result in the same percentage decrease in consumption.

Other research suggests price elasticities for alcohol are very different, with a much wider and complex spread of responses. The government assumption is too convenient.

However, even assuming that -1.0 is right, what price increase would be needed to reduce alcohol consumption back to 1960 levels? In 1960, we drank about 6l of alcohol each. Now it;s about 11l. So to secure a 46% reduction in consumption, price would need to almost double.

A minimum pricing policy that led to an overall increase of only 5% or 10% would have virtually no effect at all on consumption, particularly for drinks that have a real PE of -0.7 to -1.0, which includes virtually all the alcopops and white spirits consumed by young binge drinkers.

More on this to follow.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Denham's Class War

The new struggle is no longer about race, says John Denham, but class.

Now what the heck does he mean by class? Let's look at social class, or socio-economic class as it used to be termed. For years we used the old ABC1C2DE classification, with doctors, vicars and barristers in class A, surveyors, engineers and senior managers in B and so on. Many media and marketing organisations and pollsters stick to the old format - because the ONS has replaced it with something else. There are now eight classes, seven of them essentially occupational and the eighth equivalent to the old 'E' - unemployed, retired etc.

I've listed out the new ONS occupational classifications in a .pdf in class order at . I can't make head nor tail of the ONS' reasoning for many of these classifications; a police inspector is ranked higher than a doctor, and footballers and pole dancers ranked higher than Warrant Officers in the armed forces. Both Chiropodists and authors are the new class B, whilst both dispensing opticians and call centre operatives are in the new class C1. No wonder the major commercial organisations haven't taken it up and continue to use the old, sensible ABC1 hierarchy.

But the point is, as useless and misleading as the new government social class framework is, it's the official framework - and Denham's social policy success or failure will be measured against it.

So here's a tip for the government. Sewing machinists are social class D, whilst pole dancers are now social class B. Offer an incentive bonus for every sewing machinist who trains as a table dancer; overnight you can claim that social mobility isn't dead, and that you're winning the class war.

Blair makes money on house shock

Blair's record in the property market has not been a happy one. Buying at the top of the market and selling at the bottom is not, in accepted wisdom, the way to make profits. Perhaps he learned his economics from Gordon. However - shock - it seems his Connaught Square home is amongst those in London that have risen in value by 51% since February 2009, surpassing the peak values of 2007.

The Standard reported last night on the new London bubble in the 'bonus belt', and I think bubble is exactly the right description. If Blair had an ounce of nous he would sell now, as quickly as possible. Don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Who'd defend a banker?

Simon Jenkins is in fine polemical mode in the Guardian this morning against the forthcoming round of bankers' bonuses;
There will be a tidal wave of rage. Over the next two weeks the executives of the leading British and American banks will announce that some £50bn is to be taken from accumulated profit and handed over, not to shareholders or taxpayers, but to themselves. It will be the most outrageous contempt of ­democratic authority in modern times.
Yes, well. They'll get theirs. And when the mob come for them with burning brands and lengths of hempen rope, there will be few enough who will care to defend them. I certainly shalln't.

Yet the London property market was driven to a significant extent by those bonuses, trickling down to boost the value of even my own modest abode. Londoners who look forward to their homes regaining their 2007 bubble values shouldn't really protest overmuch about the bankers.

Penda's Treasure

Of course no reputable academic has been crass enough to label the magnificent Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold as such, but the prevalence of war accoutrements and battle spoils over brooches and hair grips, and the twisted Christian cross, fit the last of the great Saxon pagan warrior-kings like a glove. Research and dating will reveal more. And where is the coin? The hoard is largely stuff prised from weapons and armour to make a high-value transportable load, but the intact swords and scabbards from which it came would have been more valuable still, so the form of the hoard suggests loot being carried away rather than part of a royal treasury. So many questions. It is right that not only should the hoard be kept together, but that it should be accessible to us all as part of our shared heritage.

Back in 1974, Alan Clarke directed a seminal 'Play for Today' written by David Rudkin under the title 'Penda's Fen', and the BFI summarises the plot thusly;
"Central to Rudkin's drama is the timelessness of the countryside and its place in the construction of 'Englishness'. At the beginning of the play, Stephen has a solid if somewhat conservative sense of nationality defined through his Christianity, his belief in the sanctity of marriage, faith in the military, distrust of socialism and a love of the music of Elgar. His encounters, coupled with the discovery that his father's beliefs are far from orthodox and his realisation that England has a religion much older than Christianity, compel Stephen to re-evaluate not only his own values, but also his notion of what it means to be English."
I remember watching it as a lad. There's a single short clip available on Youtube of some interest to inverts, but I confess I didn't recall the auto-eroticism to any great extent; as far as I can remember, the conflict was between dark pagan forces and the salvation of Christianity (manifested through Elgar and the Regiment, of course) . It did nothing to alter my own distrust of Socialism.

Poor old Penda was no doubt dismayed by both his daughters, who not only converted to Christianity but retained their virginity throughout marriage. And his infant grandson Rumwold, who preached ceaselessly for his three days of life before expiring in an odour of sanctity.

Anglo-Saxon names are a source of joy to me. In J.I.M. Stewart's Oxford Quintet the dying J.B. Timbermill, modelled on J.R.R. Tolkein, lies paralysed in his North Oxford attic grasping for the most valued of his Anglo-Saxon artefacts, a scramaseax attributed to an Anglian king, descendent of Raedwald. "At the end he just kept repeating 'Anna' " reported the nurse; "was that his wife?"

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

University scaremongering

The Guardian article from the Russell Group claims that "It has taken more than 800 years to create one of the world's greatest education systems and it looks like it will take just six months to bring it to its knees."

What utter poppycock.

The Universities have withstood the Black Death, the Reformation, civil war, the first and second Enlightenments, two world wars and globalisation - challenges far greater than a few piffling cuts in media studies at the ex-polytechnic of Leighton Buzzard. The Russell Group should ensure instead that resources are taken from the mediocre institutions and departments and directed at those that merit tax support.

Blair's absurd 50% commitment should be scrapped, and all the third-rate HFE institutions with it. Let's trash the dross, and return to academic excellence.

Is Campbell ready to lie to Chilcot?

I think it fair to say that Campbell's evidence to the two previous Iraq inquiries has not shed a great deal of light on the truth. His role, in particular, in the fabrication of the spurious WMD dossier, and his role in the death of Dr Kelly remain largely undiscovered territory. The question is whether his culpability is of a degree that would also compel him to lie to the Chilcot Inquiry when he gives evidence later today.

We are promised that Sir Roderic Lyne (BBC .mp3 profile, 13mts) is likely to be the toughest questioner that Campbell will face, and I suppose we must wait until this evening's news bulletins to find out.

There is genuine doubt in particular in the manner of Dr Kelly's death, with expert opinions emerging suggesting it's increasingly likely not to have been suicide. Blair, Campbell and the government of the day may not have commissioned Kelly's death directly, but I've got a gut feeling they know who did. In the murky world of politics these days in which the main parties are financed not by their members but by foreign governments and oligarchs, it is too easy for a complicit State or individual to secure a cover-up from both Conservative and Labour leaders.

These are deep waters in which the public interest, indeed the national interest, are unlikely to be well served by the political class.

Monday, 11 January 2010

What the astrologers say

My favourite accurate astrological prediction was that given by Hitler's astrologer in the dark winter of '44/45; he predicted that by May 1945 Germany's misfortune would have been reversed and the future of the country after that was positive. Of course Hitler heard the words but completely misunderstood their meaning, and mistakenly drew hope from the forecast right up until the end.

Now I don't pay much more attention to the predictions of astrologers than to anyone else's predictions, but amongst the more 'serious' astrologers there appears to be a consensus that funny things will be happening to the planets in 2010.

Anyway, distilling down a few forecasts (links at the end for anyone who can be arsed), they reckon 2010 will bring;
  • Global depression equivalent to the Great Depression
  • A worldwide revolt / revolution led by young people during a Summer of Discontent
  • War or crisis involving the US, Iran and Israel in March / April
  • Lots of floods and severe weather events
  • More revolution; 1966 all over again, but more violent
"My vision of one of the possible outcomes of the ‘clash of the Titans’ is this: Our freedoms are gradually and perniciously being eroded away at the moment and, with Pluto having just moved into Capricorn in January 2008, governmental control may well become more extreme. Uranus, particularly when it moves into Aries in 2010, will no longer be able to tolerate its freedoms being curtailed and will revolt in a possibly very sudden and violent way."
So there you are. Uranus will revolt. Must have been the kebab. Let's see how accurate they were next January (if I'm still around).

Soooo Tony

The real top 'brands' in the world never advertise. They don't have to. Only mass-market brands are advertised. The real top 'brands' in the world never have logos, or initials, or distinctive patterns or colours; never have anything on them that identifies them to others; only brands seeking a mass-market identify themselves in this way.

In fact, the true top 'brands' aren't brands at all.

The world's most exclusive perfumes, hand luggage, clothing, watches and whiskies sell themselves even in a recession whilst virtually unknown to every Cosmo-reading Bluewater / Westway consumer. Some don't even have a single shop, even on Jermyn Street or South Molton Street, like the world's finest luggage makers, who also make those red leather covered ministerial dispatch boxes.

But for those that believe that Vuitton, Hermes, Chanel, Tag Heuer, Burberry, Courvoisier and Chivas Regal are exclusive rather than over-rated mass-market products, there's always Britain's most over-rated mass-market PR man; our Tony.

Blair has just signed up to promote LVMH; no doubt it will not be long before Cherry makes a public appearance covered in initialled tat. How perfectly vulgar.

What price scientists?

Somewhere in a lab in Switzerland is a team of successful scientists. They're the ones making the rare Vitamin X127 and Neuskinamine that go into women's face cream with the promise of reversing the signs of ageing. Women's face cream is one of the scientific successes of the century; an emulsion of sheep's wool grease, over 60% water, with tiny traces of perfume and the magic ingredients, the stuff sells for more per ounce than Beluga Caviar. Does it work? It doesn't matter. What matters is that enough women hope it will work. I suspect the wholesale price of a litre of Lanolin emulsion is about a quid.

The scientists who don't work for the cosmetics industry all seem to work for the Climate Change industry these days. Or the Government. Actually, the two are pretty synonymous. So after having stockpiled 60,000 redundant body-bags to deal with the dead from the Swine Flu pandemic, dealing with the estimated 40,000 additional dead from the cold snap Global Warming Episode shouldn't be a problem, then.

Occasionally a few will break ranks, as with yesterday's piece in the Mail. Apparently the cold snap isn't a sign of global warming at all, but part of a regular 30-year cycle of hot and cold spells. Our last cold period was from the '40s to the '70s, they say, and we're just starting another one. They also say that between 50% and 95% of global warming evidence can be explained by this hot-cold cycle. It's probably coincidental that this winter we're just coming out of a Sun Spot minimum, as we were in 1947, another crisp Winter.

The same pseudo-science, having succeeded in hoodwinking millions that 'passive smoking' was a cause of death (C'mon - no one ever, not one person, ever, has died from 'passive smoking') is now turning to alcohol. Stalin tamed the entire body of Soviet psychiatrists to diagnose criticism of Socialism as a mental illness; the left have now similarly tamed scientists to condemn alcohol in any quantity as harmful.

So I suggest when next you hear a 'scientific' pronouncement on a news bulletin, you treat it with the same credence you accord the following advert for miracle face-cream.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

'Bottler' Brown not only bonkers but oafish - shock

Rasputin's killers fed him enough cyanide to kill five people, shot him in the back, came back and shot him again three times, clubbed, blinded and castrated him, and it was only as he was crawling away from such inhospitality that they chained him in a carpet and threw him in the freezing river Neva. Where he tried to swim for it. His official cause of death was drowning.

After Peter Watt's 'revelations' in the Mail today that Brown is not only bonkers but oafish (and surely we all knew this already) you may be forgiven for wondering, as Prince Yusupov must have done, at what else was needed to kill him; Brown may be a bottler, but he's as tenacious of his political life as ever Rasputin was. Not only won't Brown die, but he's insisting he's the best person to lead Labour for the next five years.

Because of the gross imbalance in electoral quotas between Labour and Tory seats, Cameron needs a 10% margin to gain a bare majority, and this is what the polls are calling this week. Never mind that, as suggested here, the disgust of the nation with politics may see an election boycotted by more than half the nation's 45m voters. Such a result will appeal to Brown greatly; "See" he will say "I've mitigated the Party's loss, and I'm clearly the right man for the jobbie after all".