30/11/2010

A Wikileak too far

Overall I think Wikileaks is a good thing. The more that those in positions of power and authority believe that any abuse will be exposed the better for all of us.

From what we have seen of the latest releases so far most of it is just a bit embarrassing and generally confirmed what most people suspected. That there isn't peace and goodwill throughout the Middle East brotherhood, for example, and some countries want Iran's nuclear sites bombed is no great surprise. What some US Ambassador to nowhere thinks of Prince Andrew is amusing tittle tattle but no real threat in the great scheme of things.

However, the disclosure of talks between China and the US over what to do about North Korea doesn't fall in to those categories and is dangerous. China is a country that is more sensitive to criticism than most. That doesn't mean that we should censure them for human rights and other abuses, for not allowing democracy and liberty and its many other misdemeanors. However, when we can get them to work with us on tricky foreign policies, such as trying to bring peace and stability to one of the world's most dangerous regions we should be sensitive to their position.

As a friend of North Korea, China was in a special position to help bring about relatively peaceful change. Even if North Korea believed privately that China was willing to work with the US and cede them to South Korean control now it is public it is likely to be even more resistant and and remain capriciously dangerous.

Wikileaks should remember that just because it can, it doesn't mean it should.

14/11/2010

Water-boarding and the bombing of Coventry

George W's recent discussion on the legality and effectiveness of nature of the intelligence gained from water-boarding got me thinking int. It is always assumed elligence gained from torture is used to stop some imminent attack, the ticking time bomb scenario. But  if we are to gain intelligence that way is that the best use of it?

I may have heard something in the background but I have always taken an interest in WW2 intelligence, especially Ultra, the breaking of German radio codes. One of the hardest decisions of the war was whether or not to alert the emergency services in Coventry that they were being target for a blitz. In the end Churchill didn't and lives were lost but the secret of Ultra was protected and others were saved and battles and the eventually war were won. Would it have been different if the emergency services had been alerted and the Germans realised their codes had been cracked? More than likely, but we'll never know.

That was a tough decision for the wider good so what about water-boarding and the war on terror, would any of our current politicians have moral the strength to make a similar decision? Finding out about imminent terror plots is important but of greater importance must be the need to find and capture the top leaders in AQ? That may mean letting an attack happen so that intelligence sources can be protected and used in the wider war.

And if our politicians do make that decision, what of the general population? In WW2 there was a feeling that we were in it together and there was a wider sacrifice to be made. Any politician making that sort of decision now must have in the back of their mind our litigious culture and desire to blame anyone, but especially the Government, every time there is a tragedy.

For the avoidance of doubt I am against torture and water-boarding is torture. Bush may have been legally right but that doesn't make it morally right. How many new recruits have been signed up my AQ in the past week or so and mitigated any so called good from the intelligence learned at the time?

04/11/2010

Labour's stealth tax from the grave

Image from

Looks like we are going to need a few silver stakes if we are ever going to stop Labour bleeding us dry. From my local council website:
The spectre of an unannounced stealth tax, which could have an alarming effect on town and parish councils, has been spotted by councillors in North Dorset.
In April 2008 the then Labour Government agreed to increase the National Non Domestic Rates – otherwise known as Business Rates – on civic cemeteries. The increase, which could be as much as five-fold, is only now coming into force and could see a cost increase for some councils from a few hundred pounds to several thousand pounds, depending on the size of the cemetery
So either my local council have been negligent in not spotting thus until now or, more likely,this was another deliberate ruse by Labour to increase taxes without admitting it.

But this really is a bizarre tax application:

Quite clearly a cemetery has no real value in business terms and is never going to be developed in a commercial sense so Councillors queried why it should be subject to tax of any description.
It is estimated that there are some 800 cemeteries in south west England alone which could fall foul to this huge increase in cost.
Cemeteries run by churches and other places of worship are exempt from Business Rates but those run by local authorities are obliged to pay.
 Quite bizarre. Either burying people should be taxed or it shouldn't, but it must be consistent.

03/11/2010

On this day....

.... in 1941 - U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Grew warned that the Japanese may be planning a sudden attack on the US.

The attack on Pearl Harbour took place on December 7th, the rest as they say is history but maybe not as we were taught at school:

For decades, conventional wisdom held that Japan attacked without any official warning of a break in relations only because of accidents and bumbling that delayed the delivery of a document to Washington hinting at war. In 1999, however, Takeo Iguchi, a professor of law and international relations at the International Christian University in Tokyo, discovered documents that pointed to a vigorous debate inside the government over how, indeed whether, to notify Washington of Japan's intention to break off negotiations and start a war, including a December 7 entry in the war diary saying, "our deceptive diplomacy is steadily proceeding toward success." Of this, Iguchi said, "The diary shows that the army and navy did not want to give any proper declaration of war, or indeed prior notice even of the termination of negotiations ... [a]nd they clearly prevailed."[50]

We forget what evil bastards the Japanese were, partly because their depravity took place on the other side of the world, and the US still defends Japan so that it doesn't need to raise its won armed forces.

Terorists under the bed

Reds under the bed was used to poke fun at those who went over the top when when worrying about the communist threat during the cold war. At the time I suppose we could have all been wiped off the map very easily so there may have been some justification for worrying.

Now it is terrorists that provide the justification for more money and more encroachment in to civil liberties and it has reached local councils, complete with all the attendant hyperbole. From the Dorset Echo:

CALLS have been made for security to be stepped up on Olympic sites on Portland.
Portland Town Council members Jenny Collinge and Sylvia Bradley are among those with concerns.
Coun Bradley, chairman of the council’s 2012 sub-committee, said: “I think they definitely need to tighten up security. It is a big issue. 
Well yes, I'm sure that security will be an issue, but it is 18 months off. I'm sure the security services are well aware of the risk. So what's this about?

“Our marine police are good but a lot of funding and emphasis has gone towards the security in London.
“There should be as much emphasis down here where it is much more open and probably easier to get to the Olympic site than in London.
“The Government needs to look at protecting Weymouth and Portland and Dorset as much as London.”
There's a good reason for that,  90% of the Olympics taking place in London, all the VVIPs will be in London and London is such an iconic target. Furthermore London is accessible from all points of the compass and is a seething mass of c.8m people.

Whereas Portland is on the end of a spit and surrounded by sea, so we can see anything approaching from miles away. And whilst Doeset is a beautiful place, hey that's why we moved back here, its is hardly world famous other than for a load of fossils, and I don't mean elderly councillors.

Coun Collinge has been calling for the authorities to increase security and consider closing roads next to the homes on Officers Field to limit the chance of explosives being thrown into or car bombs being driven next to the site. 
 When they start yes, but now?

She called for security to be ‘pepped up’ in time for the events.
“The police are going to have to go from house to house and check that he’s not put something under them for a later date.
“They need to check that he’s not scattered something that’s going to lie dormant for 18 months. I’m not saying he is a terrorist but he could be. It’s possible.” 
Oh my God, they're everywhere these terrorists. Look love, if they have the technology to plant a bomb with an 18 month timer do you really think they are going to waste it on a sailing event in Dorset? I don't thinks so.

Clive Chamberlain, chairman of the Dorset Police Federation, believes the case highlights the need for more money to be invested in the preparation of the games. He has been calling for more funding for Dorset Police to aid security. 
That didn't take long, more money for Dorset. Don't get me wrong, if there's money on offer I would like Dorset to get some, but I'd prefer tax cuts instead.

Do they really think the security services are going to discuss tactics and risks with councillors 18 months out? Yes, we need civilian oversight of the security services, but that has to be tempered with the need for secrecy and town councillors, with all the best will in the world, are not going to be let in on those secrets.

These councillors should be more worried about the current traffic chaos in the area, that's doing more harm than any terrorist threat.

If the reds under the beds scares are starting now its going to be unbearable by the time the Olympics start. Perhaps they weren't such a good idea.

When they great and good tell us the experts support them its time to get skeptical

Listening to the radio this lunchtime after PMQs a Labour MP informed us that all the economists agree that Labour's approach to the financial disaster they had a hand in creating was the right way. Just to remind you that approach is to continue spending money like its going out of fashion and for the Bank of England to print more money in the form of Quantitative Easing.

I became a skeptic 
a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual
after the EU* referendum in 1975. I had been beguiled in to voting Yes by all the great and the good and I don't need to go in to how that turned out for the purposes of this post. Suffice to say  that what all the fools said would happen turned out to be true, in spades.

So when I heard said MP I was reminded of this letter:

30 October 2010
Mr. James Fallows
National Correspondent, The Atlantic

Dear Mr. Fallows:

This afternoon on National Public Radio you proclaimed that “there is essentially no disagreement whatsoever” among economists that more stimulus spending is necessary today

You are misinformed.

Last year, hundreds of economists signed a petition, circulated by the Cato Institute, whose key clause reads “it is a triumph of hope over experience to believe that more government spending will help the U.S. today.”  Among the economists who signed this petition in opposition to ‘stimulus’ spending are three Nobel laureates in economics (Edward Prescott, Vernon Smith, and my colleague James Buchanan).  Others signers include Chicago’s Eugene Fama and Sam Peltzman, Harvard’s Jeffrey Miron, Texas A&M’s Thomas Saving, Cornell’s Rick Geddes and Dean Lillard, University of Virginia’s Lee Coppock and Kenneth Elzinga, Duke’s Michael Munger and Edward Tower, University of Rochester’s Mark Bils and Ronald Schmidt, Rutger’s Michael Bordo and Leo Troy, University of Southern California’s John Matsusaka and Kevin Murphy, and one of the world’s preeminent scholars of money and banking, Carnegie-Mellon’s Allan Meltzer.
Perhaps these economists and the many others who’ve signed this petition (including myself) – and who continue to speak out against what we believe to be the folly of ‘stimulus’ – are mistaken.  But for you to announce publicly that there is “no disagreement whatsoever” among economists that more stimulus spending is desirable is so wildly inaccurate that it borders on being irresponsible.

Sincerely,

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030


OK, its about the US, but the same holds true for the UK.

I'm not an economist so won't go in to the arguments, but when someone from the ruling elite claims that all the experts support them its time to look for the doubters and listen to their arguments very carefully.

*Yes I know it wasn't the EU  but those damned fools who warned us where it was going to end up

02/11/2010

Prisoners' voting rights and wrongs

Labour's promise of rights to everyone has caused a bit of a stir now its been taken up by people we love to hate, prisoners. That Labour didn't have the balls to take pass the legislation heaped on them by the European Court of Human Rights (Note not EU) just adds to the list of cowardice they showed whilst in office.

I can't get worked up about the subject either way. I suppose I should because there has to be some sort of libertarian principle in there but in the great scheme of things it isn't glaringly obvious. The only one that comes to mind is that Parliament, not some foreign judges, should be supreme. But as we signed up to the convention we can't complain. Anyway, the judges have said we can legislate, we just have to be specific.

So what is there to worry about? Its not like that suddenly we will have all our MPs elected by a bunch of thieves* and murderers. The prison population is about 85k, lets ignore remand prisoners for now as I can't be bothered looking. We have 646 MPs so assuming that prisoners will vote in their home constituency, as opposed to where the prison is located, that's about 130 prisoners per constituency. Its hardly going to be a convincing majority for a prospective MP.

Even if we use that law beloved of consultants, the 80:20 law, and assume that 80% of prisoners come from 20% of constituencies, that's 730 prisoner in some constituencies. Analysing the results of the last election 33 MPs had a majority of less that 730 so that result could be influence I supposed. So applying our 80:20 rule only 6 results could be influenced by prisoners voting en bloc.

And lets face it, with so few prisoners they are unlikely to get defeated by an opponent promising to set all paedos and murderers free. Even if they do, its hardly enough for HM to call their leader to kiss hands and form a government.

And what of they argument for? They only one I've heard is that its part of their rehabilitation and will make them feel part of society. Now I'm all for rehabilitation and I don't think we do enough. In that sense I fall in to the Daily Mail do gooder category. But all I can say to that argument is don't be so fucking stupid. Voting is important but given that nearly half the population don't bother why should prisoners, by definition hardly the sort of people who value society, suddenly see being able to vote as something that will make them give up a life of crime? Because if it did then losing the vote would be enough of a disincentive not to commit the crime in the first place.

So all in all a waste of news time, but I supposed it kept those who like baiting the Daily Mail Tendency amused.

*The thought of a bunch of thieves going to prison to ask for the votes of a bunch of thieves does appeal to my sense of the absurd, so maybe we should give them the vote just for a laugh.

Meanwhile, back on planet Keynes.....



And I'll bet you'd get the same response here, except very few people would know he was from Hawaii!


H/T Greg Mankiw

Corruption is that disease that keeps poor countries poor

This week's Economist (£) has an article about n campaign that reminded me how much I hate corruption and those who excuse it as being something to be excused because of local customs, especially when it comes to aid money:
CONGRESSMEN working late into the summer nights to overhaul America’s system of financial regulation were surprised when Bono started lobbying them. Yet the rocker-cum-campaigner helped to insert a far-reaching change into the legislation they were drafting. It has nothing directly to do with America’s financial mess, but it will push forward the fight against corruption in the developing world, a cause which has made some much-needed progress recently.
The bipartisan amendment to the Dodd-Frank act requires every oil, gas and mining firm listed on an American stock exchange to disclose in detail all the payments it makes to governments. It is the biggest success yet for the “publish what you pay” campaign, a global coalition of anti-corruption groups. It aims to reduce corruption by increasing transparency. The idea is that politicians and officials will think twice about filling their pockets with money from foreign firms if the public knows of the existence of such payments.
I have come across low level corruption first hand in a number of places and it is insidious. The first was in the far east when the taxi I was in was stopped by the local police. The policeman snarled at me sat in the back and then gave the driver a hard time. Following the incident it transpired through broken English that this is a regular occurrence and left the driver with very little of the days takings. His hours would be very  long and hard that day and all he could do was hope he didn't suffer another shakedown.

Its an old saying that fish rots from the head down and corruption at these low levels is a symptom of a rotten state where politicians and those with real power abuse it, to the detriment of all. So I welcome this move to put pressure on industry not to pay bribes because everyone loses, except those receiving the bribes. The company loses by having to pay them, although they receive adequate compensation, their competitors lose out but more importantly the people of the country lose out not just through the rotten fish, but because they pay more for goods that may not be the highest quality available.

Now don't think that this is something that America needs to address because they are all red in tooth capitalists who don't give a stuff about the workers. From my experience US companies have tried to avoid having to pay bribes and have probably lost out to countries and companies with much lower standards.  Indeed the tale I tell above occurred when I was doing some work for a US multinational on a contract bid they eventually lost to a European company.

It is only recently that that  paragon of economic virtue, Germany, has made it illegal for its companies to pay bribes to foreign officials:
The Gesetz zur Bekämpfung der Korruption (KorrBekG – Anti-Corruption Act), enacted in 1997, was the last measure to improve Germany's anti-corruption criminal law that was solely initiated by German political actors. Since then all amendments originated in international legal instruments. Implementing only the minimum requirements of these international provisions has led to inconsistencies within the criminal law dealing with active and passive bribery. Further anti-corruption conventions signed by the German government require additional modifications. This opportunity should be used as a starting point for a thorough reform of Germany's anti-corruption criminal law.
But that hasn't stopped its companies continuing to bribe overseas officials. If a US or UK company had been as corrupt as Siemens:
Ever since the scandal broke in late 2006 the company has been confronted with mounting evidence that officials, perhaps under the blind eye or with the covert connivance of senior managers, used bribes across the globe to win lucrative contracts. It has identified so far €1.3bn (£1bn) in slush funds and put the cost of cleaning out its Augean stables at €1.8bn.
 or Daimler:
But a report released on Tuesday by the United States Department of Justice said German automaker Daimler engaged in a "longstanding practice of paying bribes" to foreign officials in order to win government contracts between 1998 and 2008.
there would have been all hell to pay in the left wing media, and quite rightly, but neither of these cases reached the MSM in any great way. Maybe Germany's economic export miracle is built on putting its competition out of business through corruption?

But that isn't what really gets me going, we can expect that from evil capitalist companies who aren't correctly governed. No, what really winds me up and has me spitting is when I hear that Government aid, either directly or indirectly through NGOs and charities is given to corrupt countries, knowing full well that most it will disappear into some private Swiss bank account.

Even worse, they pass this off as cultural and that it isn't for us to be judgemental. Well, yes it is, its our hard money that is knowingly being given to these corrupt thieves, and that, in my mind makes those doing the giving corrupt thieves as well.

But they try to make it sound as if we should be grateful for giving the money because we have somehow become rich at the expense of those poor countries. No, we became rich because we booted out corrupt rulers and insisted on the rule of law for all. We enforce property rights and freedom, within reason, to go about our daily business without fear of petty corruption sanctioned by even more corruption at the top.

So by all means lets have campaigns to make capitalists tell us where their money is going, but that needs to be supported by a campaign to make Governments and NGOs stop paying bribes as well. Yes, I know they will scream that we are hurting the poor, but we've been sing this argument for years and barely a dent has been made into poverty in most poor countries. So to that argument I say, the poor will suffer in the short term, but that is a small price to pay.



30/10/2010

Understanding Harman's rodent taunt

Harriet Harman has caused a bit of a stir by calling LibDem MP, and Treasury Secretary a "ginger rodent". But that isn't the key phrase in the speech, even tough it is childish beyond belief. No, to understand why Labour are spitting blood at the LibDem's we need to look at this phrase:

In her speech, Ms Harman said many people who voted Lib Dem in May "believed that they were a progressive anti-Tory party".
To Labour its not about politics or economics or anything else, its about being anti Tory that drives the Labour Party.

I had been vaguely aware that something wasn't quite right with Labour for a few years until I heard a Labour blogger on the much lamented House of Comments podcast say that to understand Labour you had to understand that the Labour Party is just  a coalition of anti Tories, and that's when it all became clear. Just think back to all the Labour rhetoric you have heard, they never discuss real policies other than being in the framewaork of being anti Tory.


And as the phrase above shows the LibDem crime in Labour's eyes isn't anything to do with politics, its all about working with the Tories. The term progressive is nothing to do with with economics or taxation, its code for anti Tory.

What a way to run a political party, no ideology, just hatred. That's why they always fail, because they just won't accept that sometimes spending ever increasing amounts of money because the Tories say we should cut back a bit isn't the way to run a country.

Which is why I will never vote Labour as long as I have a hole in backside.

Sex discrimination disappears in a free market

Classic liberals, who are now generally called Libertarians because the term liberal has been hijacked and abused, have argued that discrimination would disappear in a free market and that any legislation would have unintended consequences:
In a capitalist society, Friedman argues, it costs money to discriminate, and it is very difficult, given the impersonal nature of market transactions. However, the government should not make fair employment practices laws (eventually embodied in the Civil Rights Act of 1964), as these inhibit the freedom to employ someone based on whatever qualifications the employer wishes to use. For the same reason, right-to-work laws should be abolished.
I was reminded of this section and the outcry it causes when reading an article about sex discrimination in South Korea where multi-nationals are profiting from sexism (£):

Working women in South Korea earn 63% of what men do. Not all of this is the result of discrimination, but some must be. South Korean women face social pressure to quit when they have children, making it hard to stay on the career fast track. Many large companies have no women at all in senior jobs. 
So far, so bad. However South Korea doesn't discriminate in education so women are as well, if not better, educated as men. Furthermore, it has one of the lowest birth rates in the world so women have more time on their hand anhd taking fewer gaps. And look what happens in a free market when some resource is underutilized:
Jordan Siegel of Harvard Business School reports that foreign multinationals are recruiting large numbers of educated Korean women. In South Korea, lifting the proportion of a firm’s managers who are female by ten percentage points raises its return on assets by one percentage point, Mr Siegel estimates.
South Korea is the ideal environment for gender arbitrage. The workplace may be sexist, but the education system is extremely meritocratic. Lots of brainy female graduates enter the job market each year. In time their careers are eclipsed by those of men of no greater ability. This makes them poachable. Goldman Sachs, an American investment bank, has more women than men in its office in Seoul.
OK, maybe equality hasn't moved fast enough for some but it does show that free markets in and of themselves aren't discriminatory and can be part of the solution. Furthermore, it highlights what many have been arguing for a long time, we don't have a gender pay gap, we have a motherhood career penalty.

I really don't see how this could work

Cricket, my favfourite particiapnt and spectator sport has been mired in contrvery recently because of allegations of match fixing and spot betting fixes. Most of it has revolved around the recent tour by Pakistan.

Some of those allegations make some sense in that they are practical, a bowler can arrange to bowl a no ball in a specific over on a specific ball and it will be given, unless the umpire is having a really bad day. The bowler doesn't need anyone else to collude in the scam and therefore its easier to pull off.

Fixing a whole match is more difficult and requires a number of players to be involved, possibly from both sides. I therefore find these claims more unlikely, but not impossible.

But this latest allegation leaves me me wondering how on earth it could work:
Mr Westfield is alleged to have dishonestly agreed to bowl against Durham on 5 September 2009 in such a way as to let a certain number of runs be scored.
 How does he do that? He can't collude with a batsman because he doesn't know which batsman will be at the crease, let alone facing him? He then needs the help of more than a few fielders. He can't control a batsman getting a nick and being out on the last ball when a run is needed, nor can he control for a ball like that swings like mad and ends up going for a few extras.


Maybe Mr Westfield did try to rig an over, but I fail to see how it could be proved or how anyone could reliably make money on it.

The point of this post? None really other than to share a few random thoughts on cricket corruption allegati.ons

Throwaway lines that speak volumes

I have been catching up on the Economist's last Technology Quarterly and was very interested in an article on  how  software is being used to analyse social networks and interactions. Mobile operators are using it to identify "influencers" by their calling patterns to give them incentives not leave a network even though they aren't themselves big spenders because they do generate a lot of revenue.

Without getting too techie and straight to the point, the same software is being used in counter terrorism and this raised the following throwaway line:

Attacks tend to increase, for example, as more money from Islamic charities flows into Lebanon.  Attacks decrease during election years, particularly as more Hizbullah members run for office and campaign energetically.
Which got me thinking, why isn't information like this more widely publicised rather than left to demonstrate how useful some software program can be? I know there is an argument that it will inflame anti Islamic sentiment, but there is a more important discussion to be had. Clearly some Muslims, and presumably non Muslims, are giving money to these charities which is then being used for violent purposes, which is not really what we expect of charities.

This begs the following questions:

1. Do the people know that they are giving money that is being used to further the aims of terrorists? If so, then they are hardly adherents of the religion of peace, are they? Further if they do know what they are doing, are they culpable and should they be arrested for aiding and abetting terrorism or funding terrorism?

2. If they don't know then they should be told so that they can make an informed decision, presumably to either stop funding terrorism or to knowingly fund it and face the consequences.

By also keeping this information out of the public debate as much possible it is playing in to the hands of those very anti Islamists that they are trying not to inflame.

This discussion went on for years around NorAid,, it was well known that they were a front for the IRA but a blind eye was turned. It wasn't until 9/11 that America woke up to the real impact of terrorism and that it wasn't some folk heroes in a far away land fighting some old wars, but real people getting killed and maimed and their funding stopped immediately.

Lets hope we don't need another 9/11 for those deluded fools to either stop or be forced to stop giving to terrorists of any persuasion.

29/10/2010

I'll bet the pamapered Premier Leagu players wouldn't do this

IT is now common knowledge that the players of Weymouth Football Club offered to pay travelling expenses to the loyal supporters who travelled to Hednesford after their 9-0 defeat.
What an incredible gesture – how many other players or teams would offer to do that? 
Wayne would earn probably enough to do that between leaving the dressing room and having his first spit on the pitch.


Now I remember why I have lost interst in prenier league football. (Until Leeds get back there ;-) )

Cuts galore, but we are still paying for council union reps

I am all for the right of free association and for people to set up whatever organisations they want to represent them in the work place, including trade unions. I'll go further and say that I think that by and large trade unions are good thing. However, we should never forget that no matter what they say it is their one and only duty to represent their members interests, everything else is a minor consideration.

With that in mind I decided to find out if my councils, Dorset County Council and North Dorset District Council, were supporting trade unions in any way and issued a FoI request seeking various pieces of information, most notably about staff paid purely to work as union reps. The district council responded immediately that they weren't. The County Council took the full 28 days and I can see why. The gist of the answer is:
The County Council’s Facilities Agreements with the recognised Trades Unions for respective staff groups include provision for payment of salaries to a number of lay officials of recognised Trades Unions seconded to work on Trades Unions’ duties.  The facilities agreement specifies the terms of these arrangements which in summary provide for paid release to support collective bargaining between the recognised TUs and the County Council, plus member representation. 
So we are paying people to represent the staff to negotiate with us. And how many people?
The following posts are funded for secondments to work on trade union duties for Unison, GMB and Unite.  There are 4.61 FTE posts included in this arrangement ...
Nearly 5 full time employees just to carry out union duties. And how much?
.... at a total annual cost of some £151,922 per annum.
I'll bet that doesn't cover employers NI and other costs. 

We have just been told that the County Council has to find savings of £22m over 3 years, no small amount. If we assume that the £150k doesn't include employer NI and other employment costs we can estimate that in 3 years these union Council employees will have cost us around £500k or around 2% of the savings needed. Every little helps.

But there's more. They also give:
A sum of £80,600 per annum is paid to the Dorset Teachers Council representing the six teaching trade unions to cover the expenses of lay officials and also the release replacement costs of representatives within individual schools who deal from time to time with individual problems/issues on behalf of trade union members
But that doesn't count apparently, because it's a direct grant from the Government money tree.

Let's see what our local MP and County Councillor have to say about it, not much I suspect but I've written to get their opinions.

So, next time you see a union rep banging on about how their members are going to suffer, just remember that you may be directly paying their salaries, not the subscriptions of their members.
And let's not forget that Labour gave unions £11m for "modernisation", who just happen to fund the Labour Party:
Unite has given Labour £10.78m in cash donations and a further £287,023 in benefits such as the use of premises and printing since it was formed in 2007, through a merger of the Transport & General Workers Union and Amicus.
They can do that because we are paying for what should be the role of the trade unions.



06/10/2010

Official advice: Ignore professionals

There's nothing like alcohol and tobacco to get the righteous going, especially when it concerns the children. The latest report on drinking whilst pregnant seems to have brought them all out:
Drinking one or two units of alcohol a week during pregnancy does not raise the risk of developmental problems in the child, a study has suggested.

..

A study of more than 11,000 five-year-olds published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found no evidence of harm.
Lets be clear, peer reviewed research, as we know from the AGW crowd is the be all and end all when it comes to research*, has found that pregnant women can drink one or two units a week without harming their children. But there's more:
The same result appeared, with no extra risk of behavioural and emotional issues compared with children whose mothers had abstained during pregnancy.

In fact, the children born to light drinkers appeared slightly less likely to suffer behavioural problems, and scored higher on cognitive tests, compared with women who stopped during pregnancy.
Hmm, could it be that having a drink relaxes the mum-to-be rather than being stressed out worrying that if a single molecule of alcohol passes her lips her child will turn out to be a two headed monster that terrorises the local playgroup?

Excellent news, don't you think? As the lead researcher says:
She said that women could make "better decisions" with this information.
Ah, but we are forgetting that the state' prodnosees know better than those professionals:
However, a spokesman for the Department of Health said that its advice would remain unchanged to avoid confusion among pregnant women.
Isn't that rather playing to the stereotype of pregnant women being too emotionally disturbed to make rational judgements? I thought we'd done away with that by making employers keep pregnant women on because the official line is that pregnancy makes no difference to a woman's abilities to think rationally. If they are saying it does then shouldn't we be worrying about all those women doing safety critical jobs?
"After assessing the available evidence, we cannot say with confidence that drinking during pregnancy is safe and will not harm your baby.
But we've just had a load of research saying its OK? If you have evidence to the contrary lets see it:
"Therefore, as a precautionary measure, our advice to pregnant women and women trying to conceive is to avoid alcohol."
Ahhhh, the great naysayer of all time that allows politicians and civil servants to avoid decision, the precautionary principle:
The precautionary principle states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.
So you have to prove a negative to allow women to have a couple of units of alcohol a week, in which case why bother with this research in the first place? Unless of course they wanted it to prove their own prejudices? Because we know that the righteous are having a sustained attack on alcohol now that they think they've won their war on smokers:
This advice was backed by Chri Soreek, the chief executive of alcohol awareness charit Drinkawarre.

He said: "Despite these findings, it is important to remember that 'light drinking' can mean different things to different people.

"There is a risk that if pregnant women take this research as a green light to drink a small amount, they could become complacent, drink more than they think they are and inadvertently cause harm to their unborn child.

"Excessive drinking during pregnancy can carry serious consequence

Riiiight, because we've already established that pregnant women's brains turn to mush and they are incapable of thinking rationally. I wonder if Chris is going to feel the wrath of sisterhood for this one? I do hope so, there is nothing better than a cat fight amongst the righteous.




*It isn't, but we'll leave that aside for now.

05/10/2010

Child benefit

Child benefits has always been one of the few bribes benefits that neither the Tories or Labour could touch. Before discussing the proposed changes and the cack handed way in which they have been announced and applied, it is worth remembering why this benefit was paid on a universal basis in the first place.

Its not that long ago that men were  the only bread winners with women expected to stay at home and bring up the children. When I say not long ago, I mean in my lifetime. Working class men were paid their wages in cash  with a move to pay the middle classes directly in to a bank account.  It wasn't unusual for women to not know how much their husbands were paid and they would be given a "housekeeping allowance". When I lived in the pub I would regularly see men come in, open their wage packets, take out an amount for their wife and pocket the rest. Inflation meant nothing and any wage increases would be an excuse for a few extra beers.
 
So the idea of child benefit was to ensure that mothers got something to help them look after their children better, in the same way aid agencies in third world countries like to educate women, it directly benefits children. To this end the money was always paid directly to mothers, what they did with it was their own business and not their husband's, in theory. Middle class men could be just as selfish, if not more so, and their wives also received the benefit.

Given these circumstances it was always felt that means testing the benefit was demeaning to women and would be more costly than any money saved through means testing.  Means testing would have also meant delving in to the relationship - how mush does your husband give you? How much does he earn? etc. Any party or government proposing that sort of level of intrusion 30 years ago would have had riots on their hands and very short life expectancy*.

That is why it has become a sacred cow for both parties; Labour saw it as a way of helping a minority, women and children, and the Tories as a sop to the middle classes who are expected to pay for the welfare state.

Over time more women have started working in better paid jobs and child benefit has started to be paid in to joint bank accounts. So that is how we have arrived at professional women earning 6 figure salaries receiving child benefit irrespective of what their husbands earn and the Tories and a few bloggers have got in to such a mess over the announcements to make savings:


Prime Minister David Cameron is facing criticism over child benefit cuts after Labour claimed Conservative welfare reform plans were "unravelling".
Chancellor George Osborne said that from 2013 the benefit would be removed from families with at least one parent earning more than about £44,000 a year.
See what they did there, they applied the benefit to a couple, which is against the spirit of the benefit as I outlined above, and made themselves open to easy attack for their ignorance:
Ms Cooper responded: "The government's unfair attack on child benefit is now unravelling."
She added: "They have clearly been taken aback by the reaction of parents across the country.
"George Osborne and David Cameron obviously don't understand what it means for families on middle incomes to lose thousands of pounds a year."
Even Mrs Balls can go on the attack defending middle class parents without any sense of irony, FFS.

The question is: how have the Tories got themselves in to such a mess? As Dizzy says:

Look, the idea and principle of saying higher rate tax earners shouldn't really be getting a £20-or-so a week handout in child benefit is a good thing, but please, if you're going to do it at least execute the change with some sort of skill.

What you don't do is go on the telly and say that a couple earning £43,000 each, making their household earning £86,000 will still get the benefit, whilst a couple with only one working on £44,001 won't.
To answer my own question: that's what you get when you "modernise" and put the whipper snappers in charge of the asylum - great ideas, great energy just a lack of forethought.



If the Tories are going to be as ck handed as this when proposing and implementing cuts then they will get all they deserve at the next election.

*It says a lot about our new relationship with the state when these sorts of questions are seen as normal and even welcomed  and not dismissed as "none of your damned business".

23/09/2010

Technology and photography

During the past six months or so I have been spending a lot of time understanding photography. I now understand exposure (shutter speed), apertures and ISO speeds and the relationship between them. I have also spent time understanding depth of field and what is know as the hyper-focal distance. I have learned about filters and how they are used to create those amazing pictures of waterfalls and seascapes that look all blurred.

I have spent time understanding the technicalities of DSLR design and lens design and why lenses can get so expensive - over £10k for some. I now understand how the camera's sensors work and their dynamic range and  why photographers should aim to "expose to the right". I can now interpret those histograms you see on DSLR screens and how they can be used to help get exposure right. I even know when to use manual focusing and how to use those little do things in auto focus to ensure that I focus on the right part of the subject.

I know the difference in file formats between JPEG and what is termed Camera Raw - raw files contain much more information. I even understand white balance and how to use it properly to get some good effects.


This is is all good technical stuff which interests me as an engineer and without the understanding you can't take a decent photograph.

Why am I telling you this? Because all this technology has made photography more accessible to the
amateure to the extent that more and more are having a go at becoming professionals. But there is one bit of technology that really has opened up the world of photography by reducing the cost of the biggest barrier to entry - the cost of lenses. As I said above you can easily pay over £10k for specialist lenses but even good everyday lenses will over £300.

Look at this photo:



When we had finished sorting the house we invited our next door neighbours for a drink and my wife had left the dining room light on and I noticed this scene over my neighbour's shoulder. I liked it so much I recreated the next evening.

Notice how the doors are bowed out? This is termed "barreling" and now you know its there its really annoying and can spoil a good photograph. Although thiswas taken with a standard lens it wasn't cheap with a new one costing around £400. To get a good lens that doesn't distort that much is going to cost well over £1,000. Imagine that cost increase for every lens you would need to buy to become a professional - 4 or five lenses at least, and you have a significant barrier to entry.

Now look at this photograph:

A nicely corrected photograph and all for the price  of a £200 software package, and this is only one benefit. It does all the post processing any photographer could ask for and has all the corrections for all the popular lenses.

Now a career photography really is accessible to all, although not me.

Of course the downside is that reducing the barrier to entry means that the many professional can't make a living and I was reminded of that in a blog comment when someone claimed two of their friends had had to give up the career.

I am well aware that all we have discussed is the technicalities here and just because a carpenter has the best tools available, it doesn't mean he can make a book case. There is a lot more to taking a good photograph than the technicalities and a bit of software, which is why I am going on a landscape photography course next week.

If you believe in the EU you beleive in the new extradtion treaty with all its "pettiness"

I'm a bit late on this and only got energised to blog when I catching up on some podcasts yesterday.
High-profile requests from the US have brought Britain's extradition laws into the news. But Britain actually sends more people for trial to Poland than anywhere else and the architect of the law, David Blunkett, admits there have been unintended consequences. 
 I want to leave aside the US extradition treaty and concentrate on the EU one, not because the US treaty is any better, but because the EU is more pernicious and won't be changed because it is about politics and not security.

In the program much is made of the petty extraditions to EU countries and this is given as an example:

Gregg, a Polish builder and decorator who now lives in Merseyside, wears a look of regret. He is being extradited from Britain to Poland to face charges, in what critics say is a flawed aspect of Britain's Extradition Act 2003.
Five years ago, on his way to a party in his home town in western Poland, Gregg shoplifted about £70 worth of Milka bars.
Gregg, who has since built a new life with his fiancee in the UK and runs his own business, had forgotten about the incident until last month, when British police in his adopted homeland came to arrest him and send him home.
Lets imagine that Gregg had been a scouser who now lived Manchester and had stolen those chocolate bars from Tesco. Would anyone have been making such a fuss about the case? I don't think so, so why all the fuss over it because he is going back to Poland to pay for his crime?

If you believe in the EU project then this is a good thing for it means that we have made one more positive step in the pursuit of ever closer union. The BBC should be celebrating this case with the proviso that the only thing wrong is that they had to go to court first and that he should have been transferred straight to Poland.

Me? Well I am an EU skeptic and would leve tomorrow, but that aside I don't want people to come here as a refuge from their crimes, no matter how petty they seem to us. However the full cost of the case should be paid by Poland, there should be a prima facia case and whatever the "crime" it should be illegal in this country as well.

New things I've leaned about Lib Dems after their conference

1. They don't like power and would prefer to be in opposition so they can live on wishful thinking

2. They aren't liberal they're socialist

3. Like Labour the only thing that binds them is being anti Tory


4. Vince Cable is twat


5. Simon Hughes is a slef deulsional egotist

Nope, nothing new just confirmation of what was already known.

Letters to the Dorset Echo


Sir,

I see from an article on the Dorset For Your Newsroom, Commuters take the Rush Hour Challenge, that Dorset NHS has an employee described as a “sustainability lead”. In these difficult financial time these are the sorts of posts that are a luxury we cannot afford. We need our NHS to be curing us of our ailments and not lecturing us or their staff on the latest green wash at our expense.

If we believe that we need to protect the planet for our children and grand children then we should start by not burdening them with our debts to pay for us to live high on the hog. Let those who occupy these roles go out and generate some wealth so that we can pay off our debts and then our children will be in a position to be able to afford to tackle whatever problems the future has to throw at us, manmade or not.

Yours,

Simon