Friday, 30 December 2011

Smell smoke, get lung cancer!

The best addition to my blogroll this year was surely Christopher Snowdon's Velvet Glove, Iron Fist.

In his latest post he exposes the shameful tactics of Professor Peters, chairman of ASH Australia, and the complacency of the Australian media in the face of some truly absurd claims:
Professor Peters told Mr Lavac, 65, and his wife to reduce their exposure. After living in their flat for 18 months in 2005-06, they moved. In March, 2008, Mr Lavac felt unwell. A CT scan detected a shadow at the top of his right lung, and a biopsy confirmed cancer...

Mr Lavac, who had never smoked, lost a third of his right lung. His surgeon and Professor Peters told him that, on the balance of probabilities, the lesion had been caused by passive smoking.

Yes folks. We live in a world in which professors of medicine tell people that they have developed lung disorders because they lived in a flat for 18 months above people who smoked. This is the state of hypochondria and intellectual retardation we have reached in the last days of 2011.
One day, when sanity is restored, we will look back on such stories and laugh. For now, other emotions dominate.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The denormalisation of tobacco continues

BBC News reports:

The government is reminding supermarket retailers in England to remove tobacco displays within the next 100 days.

The Department of Health said the ban, which will come into force on 6 April, would protect young people who were often the target of tobacco promotion.

Smaller shops do not have to change their displays until 2015.

They've been talking about this sort of thing for a long time, but it had somehow escaped my notice that it was actually going ahead. It seems this was a New Labour nanny state initiative that the Coalition predictably failed to kill:

From 6 April 2012, customers in England will still be able to buy cigarettes in the normal way, but the ban - which was announced in 2008 - will mean cigarettes will have to be kept under the counter.

The chief medical officer for England, Prof Dame Sally Davies, said: ''Ending tobacco displays in shops will protect young people from unsolicited promotions, helping them to resist the temptation to start smoking.

"It will also help and support adults who are trying to quit.''

I'd wager that very few 'young people' start smoking spontaneously in response to 'unsolicited promotions' in supermarkets or corner shops. Almost all of them will be offered a cigarette by a friend, and they will initially smoke whichever brands their friends smoke.

As for adults, it's not the government's business to tell them how to live.

In immediate practical terms, there aren't any benefits to this move, only inconvenience and expense for shopkeepers and customers. The real goal is to further denormalise smoking.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Thoughcrime in Britain


Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.


England captain John Terry will face a criminal charge of using racist language towards footballer Anton Ferdinand during a Premier League game.

Mr Terry is alleged to have used racist language towards the 26-year-old Queens Park Rangers player during Chelsea's 1-0 defeat at Loftus Road on 23 October.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said Mr Terry was accused of a racially aggravated public order offence.

What did he say that was so offensive, so disruptive to 'public order'?

The BBC won't say. You have to turn to The Guardian for the grown-up version:
Video footage circulated on the internet of an incident towards the end of QPR's 1-0 victory in which it has been suggested Terry calls the home defender a "fucking black cunt" as he retreats into his own half of the pitch.
Was the charge brought because the victim of Terry's terrible abuse saw no choice but to involve the police? It seems not:
The decision to charge Mr Terry was taken after police received a complaint from a member of the public.
Ah yes. No doubt a white middle-class Guardianista, offended on someone else's behalf.

Crackberrys for factory workers?

BBC News reports:

Volkswagen has agreed to stop its Blackberry servers sending emails to some of its employees when they are off-shift.

The carmaker confirmed it made the move earlier this year following complaints that staff's work and home lives were becoming blurred.

The restriction covers employees in Germany working under trade union negotiated contracts.

This move sounds like it might be sensible, and at least it wasn't imposed by the government, but I was surprised by the trade union connection.

Do VW factory workers receive emails, and Blackberrys to read them on?

Or are German office workers unionised?

I suppose a company the size of VW will have a large standing bureaucracy, and bureaucrats are naturally inclined towards unionisation, but it still surprised me.

Whatever the reason behind it, trade union involvement in any matter should be considered sinister. Behind any agreement with unions lies the threat of strike, implicit or explicit. And because it is illegal to sack striking workers, free contracts are distorted in favour of unionised labour.

The demise of the dollar

BBC News reports:

China and Japan have unveiled plans to promote direct exchange of their currencies in a bid to cut costs for companies and boost bilateral trade.

The deal will allow firms to convert the Chinese and Japanese currencies directly into each other.

Currently businesses in both countries need to buy US dollars before converting them into the desired currency, adding extra costs.

It's surprising that it's taken them this long.

The dollar-centric monetary order that has prevailed since WWII is collapsing, and good riddance.

The prosperity of billions of people will depend on what replaces it.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

What's half a trillion between friends?

Daniel Hannan writes:
I'm not sure people have grasped the magnitude of what has just happened. The European Central Bank firehosed €489,190,000,000 at the eurozone banking system. Five-hundred-and-twenty-three banks snatched greedily at the cheap cash.
the ECB is hoping that banks will buy government debt with it – as, indeed, they are more or less obliged to do under the Basel III rules. So eurozone governments are borrowing money to lend to private banks to lend to, er, eurozone governments.
It's a collosal sum, especially for an ostensibly conservative central bank.

Detlev Schlichter has more:

The pathetic state of the global financial system was again on display this week. Stocks around the world go up when a major central bank pumps money into the financial system. They go down when the flow of money slows and when the intoxicating influence of the latest money injection wears off. Can anybody really take this seriously?

On Tuesday, the prospect of another gigantic cash infusion from the ECB’s printing press into Europe’s banking sector, which is in large part terminally ill but institutionally protected from dying, was enough to trigger the established Pavlovian reflexes among portfolio managers and traders.

None of this has anything to do with capitalism properly understood.

Thoughtcrime in France

I haven't been following the news very closely lately, but it sounds like the French have decided to outlaw some more Bad Thoughts. Daniel Hannan has said all I'd want to say on the matter:
I am not competent to pronounce definitively about 1915. Where I do feel competent is in condemning the French decision that, from now on, even to question one side of the argument is a criminal offence. In any free society, the right to say what you believe surely trumps the right not to be offended. This, though, is not even one of those ludicrous ‘hate crime’ issues. What is being proscribed here is intellectual enquiry.

Turkey is right to react as it has. French lawmakers would never dream of legislating to restrict a free discussion of, say, Stalin’s deportations, or the Belgian atrocities in the Congo – or, indeed, France’s own abuses in the Algerian war. Turks are being picked on because French politicians believe that there are votes in Turcophobia, just as Nicolas Sarkozy calculates that there are votes in Anglophobia.

Gabb: Free Yourself from the Lefty Ghetto

I just caught up with Sean Gabb's recent letter to The Guardian. It's worth reproducing in full:
Lefties, as a rule, only read other lefties. This seems to be the case with George Monbiot. His attack on libertarianism (This bastardised libertarianism makes 'freedom' an instrument of oppression, 19 December) is the usual mix of unwillingness and inability to understand anything outside the intellectual ghettoes of the left.

He claims to have asked: "Do you accept that some people's freedoms intrude upon other people's freedoms?" – as if that were some knock-down refutation never made before. Of course we do. Our difference with him isn't that we are against courts and the other modes of dispute resolution. What we deny is that social peace requires an enlarged and omnicompetent state run by his friends.

He claims we "pretend … that only the state intrudes on our liberties. [We] ignore … the role of banks, corporations and the rich in making us less free." Not quite. We do believe that the state is the foremost violator of our right to life, liberty and property. But we also observe that banks are licensed and regulated creatures of the state, and that big business in general is only big because of state-granted privileges like limited liability, infrastructure subsidies, and tax and regulatory systems that cartellise costs and flatten competition from outside the magic circle. There is a difference between believing in free markets and supporting actually existing capitalism.

You could have published an attack on libertarianism that didn't border on misrepresentation. Or perhaps not. That would have meant exposing your readers to genuine libertarian positions. And that might, in a few cases, have opened the gates of their intellectual ghetto.

The UK's 950% debt-to-GDP

An interesting perspective from Tyler Durden at ZeroHedge (H/T Andy Duncan):
While certainly humorous, entertaining and very, very childish, the recent war of words between France and Britain has the potential to become the worst thing to ever happen to Europe. Actually, make that the world and modern civilization. Why? Because while we sympathize with England, and are stunned by the immature petulant response from France and its head banker Christian Noyer to the threat of an imminent S&P downgrade of its overblown AAA rating, the truth is that France is actually 100% correct in telling the world to shift its attention from France and to Britain. So why is this bad. Because as the chart below shows, if there is anything the global financial system needs, is for the rating agencies, bond vigilantes, and lastly, general public itself, to realize that the UK's consolidated debt (non-financial, financial, government and household) to GDP is... just under 1000%. That's right: the UK debt, when one adds to its more tenable sovereign debt tranche all the other debt carried on UK books (and thus making the transfer of private debt to the public balance sheet impossible), is nearly ten times greater than the country's GDP
The figure apparently comes from Morgan Stanley Research:

Our official public debt is understated, and I'm not sure what assumptions go into the figures above, but even the BBC's Robert Peston [1] recently declared that the UK's debts are the biggest in the world:
At the beginning of 2010, I highlighted a fascinating analysis by the consultants McKinsey called Debt and Deleveraging, which showed quite how indebted the economies of the developed west had become.

McKinsey said that the UK had by 2008 become the most indebted of all the big, rich economies, more indebted even than debt-engulfed Japan.

It has now become widely recognised that perhaps the greatest economic policy failure in the UK, US and eurozone during the 16 boom years before the crash of 2008 was the explosion of borrowing by banks, households, businesses and governments - or, to use the jargon, the unprecedented and massive leveraging up of entire economies
Peston highlights the findings of a more recent McKinsey report:
According to the consulting firm, by the end of March this year, the aggregate indebtedness of the UK - that's the sum of household debts, company debts, government debts and bank debts - had risen to 492% of GDP, or almost five times the value of everything we produce in a single year.

That compares with 481% at the end of 2008.

So the UK's total indebtedness has increased, and is still the biggest relative to GDP of any of the big economies. That said, Japanese indebtedness is pretty much the same size - at the end of 2010, as opposed to the end of March 2011, Mckinsey says Japan's debts were also 492% of GDP.
Whether you believe the McKinsey figures, or the Morgan Stanley ones, things are looking very bad for the UK.

Durden concludes:
To call that "game over" is an insult to game overs everywhere. So here's the bottom line: France should quietly and happily accept a downgrade, because the worst that could happen would be a few big French banks collapsing, and that's it. If, on the other hand, the UK becomes the center of attention (recall this is the same UK that allows unlimited rehypothecation of worthless assets, and the same UK that unleashed the juggernaut known as AIG-FP's Joe Cassano - after all there is a reason why the UK has 600% its GDP in financial liabilities - financial innovation always goes there where it is least regulated), then this island, which far more so than the US is the true center of the global banking ponzi scheme, will suddenly find itself at the mercy of the market. At that point the only question is whether the vigilantes will dare to take down the UK, as said take down will result in an implosion in the very fabric of modern finance, much more so than what even a full collapse of France could ever achieve, or if due to the certain Mutual Assured Destruction that would follow a coordinated UK onslaught, the market will simply very quietly proceed to ignore the elephant in the room.

I couldn't say whether Durden is right about the UK's supreme position in the "global banking ponzi scheme" (it seems more likely that the Americans pull the strings), but the global monetary and banking system certainly is rotten, and our financial services sector is disproportionately large.

Our best bet is to embrace default. Our politicians may push us to hyperinflation instead.

Let us hope we see more sanity in 2012 than 2011.

[1] Peston sometimes highlights the right issues, but he's far too corrupted by Keynesian thinking. That same BBC article includes the following gem: "To be clear, if governments had not continued to spend, our recession might well have become something much worse, a 1930s-style depression."

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Friday's EU summit headlines

Some headlines from Friday ...

Le Monde: "La Grande-Bretagne plus insulaire que jamais"
Der Spiegel: Auf Wiedersehen, England!

CNN: "Eurozone leaders reach deal without Britain"

The New York Times: "Treaty to Save Euro Takes Shape, but Britain Sits Out"

And closer to home ...

The Times: "Britain alone in the new Europe"

The Independent: "UK isolated as PM blocks treaty"

The Guardian: "UK isolation grows as other reconsider treaty"
The Telegraph: "EU treaty: Britain on its own as Cameron vetoes fiscal changes"
And of course the trusty BBC: UK alone as EU agrees fiscal deal

The mainstream media would have you believe we're as ronery as Kim Jong-il. The truth is we're not nearly lonely enough.

I hope this is the beginning of the end of our involvement with the EU. Time will tell.

Friday's quote of the day goes to Terry Smith, CEO of City broking firm Tullets (as reported by Guido, and highlighted by James Delingpole):
The UK is as isolated as somebody who refused to join the Titanic just before it sailed

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Olympic overspend

BBC News reports

The 2012 Olympic Games could overshoot its £9.3bn budget unless "rigorous action" is taken to curb costs, the Whitehall spending watchdog has warned.

The National Audit Office said a doubling in estimated security costs meant there was a "real risk" more taxpayer funding would be needed.

You have to read further down to find the true horror:

How 2012 budget has changed

  • 2003: Consultants Arup put total cost of building and staging the Games at £1.796bn
  • 2003: Tessa Jowell launches bid in May telling MPs it will cost £2.375bn - including a 50% contingency
  • 2005: Bid succeeds in July with "prudent" estimate of preparing for games of £2.4bn
  • 2007: Total budget, including a £2.75bn contingency, reaches £9.325bn
  • 2010: In May the new government cuts the budget to £9.298bn and the contingency falls to £1.27bn
  • 2011: In December the NAO says after the government's "assessed risks" are met £36m is left in contingency money
David Craig dedicates a chapter to the London Olympics in his 2008 book, Squandered. He concludes:
Why hold the Olympics in London or anywhere else? The Olympics started in Greece. In 2004, Athens did quite a creditable job with their Games, which they are still paying for. If the Olympics were only held in Athens in the future, the Greeks would find some use for all the expensive facilities they have already built and many tens of billions of pounds could be saved.
Makes sense to me.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Clegg: treaty change does not require referendum

From this morning's Andrew Marr Show ...

Angela Merkel is right, isn't she, when she says that there has to be fiscal union if the Eurozone is going to hold together? ... Which in turn will mean a treaty change.


It would also trigger a referendum in this country about our relationship with Europe, so my next question is: Could the coalition survive a referendum on our relationship with Europe?


Well I don't think there needs to be a referendum for the simple reason that the change …


(over) The Prime Minister's promised one. If there is a treaty change, he's promised a referendum.


No, the referendum will only take place if there is an additional surrender of sovereignty from us to the European Union, to Brussels.


(over) I thought any substantial treaty change will trigger a referendum. That's what David Cameron said.


(over) No, no, no. Let me be very clear. The test, which we've legislated on, is if we, the United Kingdom, give up more sovereignty in a big way to the European Union …
The truth, of course, is that any moves to eurozone integration would fundamentally alter the nature of the European Union. As Lord Tebbit noted recently, "the eurozone group can always outvote the remaining member states".

In an article for the Mail on Sunday, Daniel Hannan wonders why we would pass up this golden opportunity to extricate ourselves from a declining regional trading block:
Is it, perhaps, that the Coalition is determined to avoid a referendum? Sources around the Prime Minister are briefing to this effect but I hope they are wrong: few things are as degrading as the sight of an administration that distrusts its own electorate.

Or maybe it is fear of being left out of a Franco-German plan. In truth, though, a regulated Continental bloc offers us huge opportunities. We would be the offshore haven, Hong Kong to their China.

This was the model that Winston Churchill proposed at the outset. In 1946, he called for a United States of Europe comprising France, Germany and their satellite countries.
The full text of that speech, given in Zurich on the 19th of September, is available from the Council of Europe.

Personally, I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea of an anti-democratic Franco-German union on our doorstep, but I don't think today's ordinary Frenchmen and Germans want war any more than ordinary British people do, and the EU doesn't afford any protection beyond what we already enjoy through NATO.

Equally, to the extent that it may be in our national interest to undermine continental moves to full political union, I'm not convinced that our politicians are committed to this goal, nor that the task is easier within in the EU.

We should get out, wish them well, and watch vigilantly.

Democratically elected Islamofascists

BBC News reports:

Latest results from the Egyptian elections indicate that Islamist parties are likely to have a strong majority in the new parliament.

The political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood and a more conservative Salafist Islamist party are leading, while secular liberals are behind.


the Salafists, who could take second place, have made no attempt to soften their uncompromising views. They want to ban alcohol, segregate men and women, impose full shariah law, and are openly contemptuous of democracy.

Democracy is not an end in itself. It is only a good thing to the extent that it protects individual freedoms.

We'll have to wait and see how Egyptians enjoy tyranny of the Islamist majority.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Heath: Media is failing public in many ways

Another excellent article from Allister Heath:

As the ComRes/Institute of Economic Affairs poll points out, the public has got completely the wrong idea about what will be happening to the national debt over the next few years. Because the coalition will be only gradually reducing the budget deficit, the national debt will continue to soar in cash terms and as a share of GDP. An extra £350bn or so will be added to the national debt before the next general election, if all goes according to plan. So far, so self-evident, you may think. Yet the public – primarily because of the way this story has been reported in print, online and in the broadcast media, together with Britain’s appallingly low level of financial literacy – has no idea whatsoever about this. It wrongly thinks that the coalition is planning to “repay our debt” – and fails to grasp the key conceptual difference between the annual deficit (or extra debt) and the outstanding total national debt (a stock which keeps on growing as long as there is a deficit).

The poll asked whether the coalition would be keeping the national debt the same over the next four years, increasing it by £350bn or cutting it by £350bn. Just nine per cent got it right – 21 per cent thought it would be staying the same and an astonishing 70 per cent thought the national debt would be cut by £350bn. This is an extraordinarily depressing finding and first and foremost a massive failure of journalism. It is also a failure of political communication and of education. Given such catastrophic levels of misunderstanding about what will be happening to the economy over the next few years, how can the public possibly come to a sensible decision about spending choices? It is a bitter blow for democracy and robs the UK of the ability to conduct a sensible, grown-up discussion about what should be done to tax and spend.

It is all the more tragic, seeing as we have a tax-funded broadcaster that claims to offer 'public value':

While commercial broadcasters aim to return value to their shareholders or owners, the BBC exists to create public value. In other words, it aims to serve its audiences not just as consumers, but as members of a wider society, with programmes and services which, while seeking to inform,

educate and entertain audiences, also serve wider public purposes. Public value is a measure of the BBC’s contribution to the quality of life in the UK.

The BBC creates public value in five main ways ...

And the very first of these?
Democratic value: the BBC supports civic life and national debate by providing trusted and impartial news and information that helps citizens make sense of the world and encourages them to engage with it.

Interest payments vs education

In his latest blog, Daniel Hannan highlights an important graph that looks like it comes from The Spectator Coffee House:

How can anyone, left or right, think that it's a good idea to spend an ever-increasing portion of tax revenue on interest payments?