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".