Friday, 12 February 2010

Rubbish science and the third hand smoke scam

Yes, as you thought, it's all complete rubbish; comprehensively debunked over at Velvet Glove, Iron Fist;

The thirdhand smoke scam

"An extended version of my article about the thirdhand smoke study is on the Free Society website today. Quick summary: they used 14 times as much nitrous acid and 15 times as much nicotine as would be found in a normal home to produce a few nanograms of a substance that isn't a carcinogen. Apart from that, great study."

The Eweida Cross case

Full judgement of the Appeal Court is HERE.

'Eweida cross case could fuel divisive cultural and racial rhetoric' declares the Times in a self-fulfilling headline, and no doubt the 'Mail' will run with this one tomorrow. The BA check-in clerk banned from wearing a crucifix with her uniform is set to be portrayed as a martyr for anti-Christian discrimination. Yet the facts don't quite support this.

Firstly, she's still employed by BA and the case, undertaken by 'Liberty', was a claim for compensation for her previous experience. Secondly, since February 2007, BA has permitted staff to wear a faith or charity symbol with their uniform. Thirdly, there has never been a requirement for Christians to display the cross as part of the faith; it was purely a personal desire on Eweida's part to do so. The court's impatience with the improbable arguments advanced by Eweida's 'Liberty' counsel, Ms Karon (sic) Monaghan QC, are apparent in Sedley LJ's comments.

If a soldier, for example, wanted to modify his uniform by the addition of a religious symbol, one not prescribed by his faith, we would have little patience with him. Being a soldier, and therefore inventive, he would doubtless have found a legitimate means of achieving the same end; a finger ring with a crucifix, or even a tattoo of a crucifix on some visible part of his body. But of course a soldier, like a policeman, always displays the crucifix on his uniform anyway. Even Sikh, Moslem and Jewish soldiers and policemen.

Rather than seek compensation, Eweida may do better to lobby the Palace for the grant of 'By Appointment' status to British Airways; there on all the company's stationery would be the Royal Arms, surmounted by the Crown, surmounted by the Cross of Christ.

A compelling reason for a blue-water Navy

News that Argentina has blocked an oil supply ship headed for the Falklands usefully reminds us of the extent of both our exclusive economic areas around the Falklands, South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands and our claim on the continental shelf. These oil-rich strata have the potential to dwarf North Sea deposits - see the comparative illustration in Desire's Prospectus.

And what's more, the EU has no share in any of it. And neither, ahem, have the Scots.

The first rig is due to go into commercial production this month, with more to follow - solely in the Falklands EEA.

These areas will need committed and visible protection for at least the next half-century, which means a blue-water Navy with the means to project power across the region. With royalties of 9%, if production reaches 1m barrels a day (about a sixth of the North Sea Oil peak) at a price of around $75/barrel this will earn the UK some $2.46bn a year - around 6% of the defence budget. At peak North Sea production levels, royalties would be nearly $15bn a year, plus Corporation tax at 26%, plus energy security ...

La Baronne Ashton n'ecoute pas

A splendid speech in French from Dan Hannan, of which Nanny Ashton will understand not a single word;


Brown's shameless gerrymandering

If you've got 80p in Gateshead, you've got the same spending power as someone in London who's got £1. Why, then, should we have a national minimum wage?

Brown's proposals to raise the NMW to £6 an hour across the country benefits those in Wales and the NE and NW, Labour's traditional strongholds, but does little to help businesses in those regions. If £6/hr were a fair rate in London, the government's own figures suggest that £4.80/hr is the right rate for the NW.

Indeed, the research was commissioned by Brown himself - when he argued that national pay grades in the NHS and public services were inappropriate, that a £40k salary goes a lot further in Gateshead than Guildford, and pledged to introduce regional differentials that recognised differences in the cost of living.

Except of course when Labour needs to buy votes.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The three ages of South Africa

There are three ages of South Africa that exist in my mind, the first of which was lived mostly before I was born. The first is of the post-war country, with the South African Division home fresh from a string of gallant battles in North Africa and Italy, South African Air Force Spitfires throwing the roar of supercharged Merlin engines across Table Bay, and the notes of 'Sunset' drifting across the bay at Simon's Town from the quarterdecks of taut-awninged warships. This was British South Africa; neat, well-ordered, a land of clipped lawns and social niceties.

Next comes Afrikaans South Africa, the land of Tom Sharpe's 'Riotous Assembly' and 'Indecent Exposure', of Sharpeville, of apartheid and Alan Paton. Not a nice place.

Then there is post-Mandela South Africa. A period of slow decline into tribalism and barbarism. Only one author has really captured the farce of decline; Nicholas Monserrat, in 'The tribe that lost its head' and 'Richer than all his tribe', written with real affection and a terrible sadness, both long out of print but recommended reading if you find copies.

There is little that is readable coming out of Africa now.

Greece must be the catalyst to reform the banks

I've long held that a government's - the taxpayer's - liability towards banks should extend only to underwriting domestic retail and commercial business, leaving the whole buccaneer banking business to survive or fail on its own merits, paying whatever bonuses it wishes, but without the hope of a penny of tax bailout. Brown first missed his chance to split the banks in 2008; another chance has arisen, but I don't believe 'bottler' Brown will take it.

There's a whip-round going on to bail out the feckless Greeks, but Greece's fellow eurozone nations are unwilling to put up all the cash themselves. The EU can force the UK to contribute under existing EU legislation - and we pay 20% of the EU bill, so our contribution could be substantial.

Brown's position is that either the eurozone countries should pay - or the G20 nations. And the reason is the banks. You see, our gormless buccaneer banks have lent £250bn to the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) and if Greece goes bust, they will default on the debt, and the banks will come running to Gordon for more tax money to save them. And other G20 nations such as the Swissies are just as badly exposed.

Enough is enough. No more money for the banks; no more money to prop up the euro. It's time to split the banks, let the overexposed buccaneers fail and save the retail parts. Let them go. It's also time to let the French and Germans either crap or get off the pot - let Greece go or pay its debts. But not a penny more in my name.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Has Osborne driven Localism from the Tory agenda?

Some explanation of the stop-go, on-off appearance of Localism in Cameron's speeches, a sort of now you see it, now you don't policy, is given today by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian;

The Tory party's most distinctive message had once been Cameron's desire to shift power from big government to localities. It gave welcome ideological substance to his rhetoric. The British people are not, like the American right, wholly averse to government and welfare. But in poll after poll, they dislike "big central government". They prefer what is local, communal, neighbourly. As they have shown in Scotland and Wales, they want local control over the raising and spending of taxes.

Cameron's rejection of this programme under Osborne's influence has deprived him of his one distinctive and positive thrust. It was Tory and Tea Party at the same time. Though Cameron still talks local he refuses to free council taxes to take some of the pressure of central cuts, and even talks of freezing them. His decentralisation proposals are cosmetic and democratically empty.
Osborne has never struck me as having much of an intellect, still less as being bold enough to embrace change. Visionless, weak politicians instinctively like the big central State, and Osborne seems to be no exception.

If Cameron wants to gain in the polls, it's time he distanced himself from the yapping of his boyhood puppy.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Independent's cartoonist too near the mark?

Dave Brown's cartoon for the Independent this morning may be a little too near the mark; there are many in the country whose anger at the political class doesn't exclude the sanction of lynching corrupt politicians. Perhaps not something to joke about?

The route to entrepreneurship

BOM comments with usual intelligence on a presentation to Policy Exchange by Paul Romer on the idea of Charter Cities, and suggests we might explore the option for our terminally ill Northern metropolitan relicts.

It was Heseltine who tried to prove the worth of the Urban Development Corporation during the last Conservative government; an area independent of normal local government planning controls. The success rate was mixed, primarily because the freedoms simply didn't go far enough. For an example of real success, we need to go much further back in history.

The rise of the Charter Borough during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in England created unprecedented wealth and paved the way for the establishment of a new English middle class under the Tudors. Typically, a group of merchants would petition the crown for Charter status; that in return for a direct annual payment to the crown, they would be free of feudal lordship and dues. They had rights to be tried in their own courts, to levy charges and taxes within their burghs, to govern themselves and to trade freely. The guilds and the burgesses, not the knights and their overlords, ruled.

Today, the key features of a Charter Borough would be freedom from regulatory laws. Most Criminal and Civil law could continue unchanged, but tax and duty laws, minimum wage laws, employment laws, planning and licensing laws and all the panoply of State regulation would be suspended in favour of a Civic Code devised by the Burgesses themselves with the democratic consent of the people. The Charter Borough would agree to an annual payment to central government and that would be it. Levying taxes and funding administative costs, including the Borough's own police and tax officers, would be up to the individual boroughs.

But, as BOM points out, most of our regulatory law now comes not from Westminster but from Brussels, and we're not trusted or allowed to make our own decisions on such things any more.

Such radical measures are not fantasy; given boldness, and ridding ourselves of the Leviathan of the EU, we could create unprecendented wealth and competitiveness in areas that now offer only a stunted and desperate life on Welfare and an early death to many of our fellow citizens.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Four years for Dizaei

As disgraced top Metropolitan cop Ali Dizaei starts the first night of a four year prison sentence tonight in a protected 'rule 47' cell away from other criminals but locked up with paedophiles and criminal deviants perhaps he will reflect that nemesis so often follows hubris. They will still mix gobs of snot and mucus with his food in the kitchens, and urinate in his tea, and Dizaei will no doubt be counting the days before he is transferred to a nice country open prison alongside the hedge fund traders and bent judges.

He has betrayed a special trust twice over; one, his oath to serve the Law, and second the role model he should have offered to junior officers from ethnic minorities.

One guilty man remains free today; Ian Blair. For it was Blair who promoted so many unsuitable officers above their abilities for the sake of the ideology of his political masters. If there were any real justice, Blair would be sharing Dizaei's snot-laced stew tonight.

Big snouts and deep troughs for London Council bosses

The Standard reveals today how London councils have boosted the pay of top officials whilst council revenues plummet and services are cut. Last financial year, 2008/09, 498 council bosses took a wedge of over £100k, an increase of 21% over the previous year. The demands of the recession were obviously onerous; Islington increased the number of £100k+ bosses from 9 to 23 (150% increase), Greenwich from 11 to 24 (118% increase), Westminster 17 to 30 (76%) and Tower Hamlets 15 to 26 (73%)

The ten highest paid London council bosses all earn over £220k.

Binmen and road-gritters, meanwhile, will get a pay increase of 0%.

I've blogged before on the increasing spread of 'differentials' in the public sector; the difference between the wage of the median admin grade and the top official grade used to be a factor of around 6x; since New Labour came to power, this has doubled to around 12x. Now, in a Boccaccio-like Danse Macabre, the snouts are having a final orgy of troughing in advance of cuts to come, and one thing you can bet your hat on - it won't be these fat piggies who go, but the binmen and road-gritters who actually provide our public services.

Harpex off the bottom

In the first significant upward movement since 2008, the Harpex looks like it's no longer bumping along the bottom; there's a long way to go, though, before we even get back to the volumes of October 2009. If the UK's recovery is led by consumer expenditure rather than employment, as seems might be the case, and the housing market is bubbling away (more moves mean more new household goods, furniture and paint), this is going to put pressure on the CPI. What's the betting that rather than raise interest rates, increasing the consumption tax (VAT) to dampen demand will be the favoured policy measure of both parties?

The February / March retail figures should give us a good clue.

Sikhs and knives

Does anyone seriously imagine that Sikhs are allowed to fly whilst wearing their ceremonial daggers? If wearing it 'at all times' were so fundamental to their religion, one would never see a Sikh in an aircraft. The rule is flexible enough, it seems, to allow removal of the object for reasons of public well-being.

For Sikhs to protest that Sikh boys are not being allowed to take their knives to school, and that this violates their religion, ignores the fact that teenage boys of whatever faith are testosterone-charged little lumps of gelignite in company, and knives present the same public well-being argument as they do in aircraft.

What next, the Ton Ton Macoute insisting on taking their machetes into Tesco?

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Campbell's emotional insincerity

Campbell's little drama-queen episode on Marr fails to convince me. It was overdone. A man of Campbell's experience and position is capable of dealing with the toughest of questions without flinching or pausing; he's also superlatively gifted at telling lies with sincerity, acting righteously when dissembling and resorting to ad-hominem attacks on his questioner when things get sticky.

So either Labour are pursuing a 'be authentic, be emotional' script for media interviews, or Campbell was genuinely and suddenly weighed with the realisation of a thousand tons of suffocating guilt right in the middle of an interview ...

Rendering unto Caesar

Conscience has a right to freedom. For centuries, as churches attempted to force on men Christ's work with the methods of Herod, the rights of those whose consciences rejected such teaching were often lost on the rack and in the faggot pyres. Post Enlightenment, we recognise the rights of individual conscience of all those who choose not to take the teaching of Christ, but we're now in danger of imperilling the consciences of those that do.

A valid act of faith is a choice interior to man; we can sign a contract, join a firing-squad, pronounce an oath of allegiance all without any interior consent, but unwilling belief is an impossibility. Our bodies may serve Caesar, but our souls are God's.

No Christian need be under any obligation to heed the assumptions behind Harman's Equalities Bill in so far as these violate the sanctity of individual conscience and faith; being true to one's conscience is one of the greatest duties we owe to our interior selves, and this is not a realm where Caesar has any authority.

Brown's AV gamble to save Labour

Despite the narrowing of Cameron's poll lead in recent weeks, Labour still faces nemesis in the South of England, a step in a trend which threatens to leave it as a rump party in the NE and NW. Past Labour voters will either not turn out at all (and it's questionable whether the election as a whole will achieve even a dismal 50% turn out or not, such is the public disillusionment with politicians) or vote Lib Dem or BNP. And it's that choice that's driving Brown's adoption of the AV system.

In an analysis for the ST, Thrasher and Rallings from Plymouth Poly University estimated that 40% of those voting either Labour or Conservative would pick Lib Dem as their second choice. However, they estimate that Lib Dems picking Labour as second choice would outnumber those picking Conservatives by two to one. Labour candidates are therefore most likely to hoover up second preference votes, boosting their performance above results that would have been achieved under FPTP.

It's clear that Brown is far more concerned with distorting elections in Labour's favour than with the probity of the electoral system; our constituency boundaries support electoral quotas that would disgrace a banana republic, the electoral register is out by an estimated 7m voters (fraudulent registrations and mistakes - estimate by Michael Pinto-Duschinsky) and voting fraud in ethnic areas is rife - all factors that because they favour Labour, Brown has left well alone. He really is nothing but a chiselling little crook, who would rob the English people of a fair electoral system.

The Lib Dems, who would be the natural party of Localism were it not for their commitment to the most corrosive anti-localist full PR voting system, have also done nothing to push for the correction of these grievous anomalies in our electoral system.

Parliament is rotten, the parties are corrupt and our electoral system has been suborned. The first step for any politician serious about returning probity to UK democracy must be to tackle the electoral system itself - in three basic steps;
  1. A one-off re-basing of the electoral roll in January 2011 to coincide with the census, with proof of identity and nationality required for every person registered. Ending the right of Commonwealth citizens to vote in UK general elections would also assist in reducing illegal overstayers and false students.
  2. The rapid re-drawing by 2015 of constituency boundaries to achieve a universal electoral quota of +/- 5% of the average in each constituency, with the possible exception of the Isle of Wight and the remotest Scots islands.
  3. A return to the strictest tests for proxy voting that may include a declaration by a magistrate or GP, to eliminate widespread proxy voting fraud and personation.
I've also thought about compulsory voting, but am content to leave this on hold for as long as we achieve over a 50% turn out for general elections.

Cameron has indicated he will tackle number 2, but that's not enough. Not nearly enough.