Saturday, February 07, 2009

So Soon ...

Can it be Six Nations time already ? And can it really be four years since our Murrayfield trip ?

And more to the point, can it only be this time last year that Wales went in at half-time against England hanging onto the ropes at 16-6 after a first-half battering, with Boks coach Jake White predicting the opening of the floodgates in the second half, before ten disastrous, error-strewn minutes saw England hand the game over ?

Not that I'm sanguine about today's game - you just can't tell with the Scots, capable of anything on the day and with a pretty good recent record against Wales at Murrayfield.

We're not going this year - because next weekend we're off to what will hopefully be the best Scottish skiing for twenty years or more. Snow is coming down by the ton over the Highlands - even Glenshee, the most extensive Scottish area but with (I think) the worst snow record, is plastered with the stuff. I've just checked the sites - Cairngorm's had another two feet at car park level, while snowploughs are still clearing the roads to the Lecht. At this rate we'll be looking to hire cross-country skis.

Trouble with Scotland is that since climate change kicked in, you can have good skiing one week and it can be melting the next - especially on the lower slopes like the Lecht and Glenshee, or the westerly areas, Glencoe (my favourite) and Nevis, where south-westerlies can bring rain. Only Cairngorm is high enough to keep its snow - and there the trouble is often high winds. But surely this lot can't all have gone by next week - especially given the forecasts.

Nonetheless it's been terrific value over the years - although most of the landlords have now realised that they can raise the house prices by a good 30% over half term. Seven or eight years back they still hadn't cottoned on - I used to budget £200 for a house, £200 for ski hire, £200 for lift passes - not bad for six people. It's a fair bit more now - not least because our children are a lot older.

Let's just hope we can find somewhere decent to eat !

Friday, February 06, 2009

Hmmm ...



Thursday, February 05, 2009

OK, What's Wrong With This Scenario ?

The Icelandic krone has stabilised against sterling - in fact it's appreciated by 20% in the last two months as the pound falls against just about every currency except Zimbabwe's.

Unlike the useless Bank of England, the Icelandic central bank has maintained interest rates - at 18%.

Laban's UK cash, squirreled away in the good years to provide against a rainy day, is earning no interest and being eaten away by an inflation rate which IMHO is way above the "official" 2% - and likely to rise more as the pound's decline makes imports (i.e. pretty much everything we buy) more expensive. Remember, on the inflation rate, these were the people who took out of the inflation figures the most expensive single purchase most of us will ever make. I simply don't trust them any more.

Why can't I open a krone-denominated account and take advantage of these cracking interest rates ? There must be a catch somewhere, but what is it - apart from exposure to adverse currency movements (which is IMHO more likely if you hold sterling, as it approaches basket-case status) ?

I'm Flattered ...

Peston, today, quoting Adair Turner on Jan 21 :

There's a double argument why ├╝ber-bankers should not be paid even a farthing of performance-related remuneration - and this argument can be extrapolated from no less august a source than the recent magisterial speech by Adair Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority.

It's that almost every senior banker trousered bonuses over the previous few years on the basis of profits that turn out to be a chimera, an illusion, unreal.

The point - which is implicit in Turner's analysis - is that banks' wholesale banking and treasury operations booked as profit both capital gain and income from assets that have subsequently turned out to be poisonous.

Much of this capital gain never crystallised, it was not converted into cash. Yet bonuses - in the form of hard cash and shares - were paid out on the basis of this nebulous capital gain.

Laban, January 19 :

"Given that most of the banks would be bust without taxpayer guarantees I don't know why they don't just wind them up in a controlled manner, transferring assets and liabilities to the state, before beginning the process of building a case against their boards, freezing their assets and attempting to claw back their bonuses, property and pension funds - on the basis of the effectively fraudulent accounts, based on flawed asset evaluations, which have showed such huge profits over the last ten years."

While the solutions proffered by Robert Peston and Adair Turner ("give the banks lots of taxpayer money") differ in some key respects from mine ("nationalise without compensation and arrest the executives"), I'm chuffed that we seem to agree on what the problem was - and that I said it first !

Great Depression

Everybody knows that it was protectionism which turned the Great Crash of 1929 into the Great Depression of the 1930s. All three main parties follow this line - how depressing it was to hear Cameron attacking Brown at PMQs yesterday by accusing him of encouraging (self-evidently bad) protectionism with his 'British Jobs For British Workers' speech.

Not so, according to BBC economics correspondent, promoter of bastardy (and daughter of a great man), Stephanie Flanders.

The depression certainly did see a collapse in global trade and capital flows, and a descent into protectionist tariffs and laws. But a fair reading of the evidence suggests these were more the result of the global downturn than the cause.

According to Peter Temin, a distinguished economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, exports were 7% of American GDP in 1929. They fell by 1.5 percentage points in the next two years.

Given the fall in world demand in those years, not all of that fall can be attributed to other countries' retaliation against the US tariffs. And even if it were - overall, GNP over the same period fell by 15%.

So, on any reasonable assumptions, Temin says "the fall in export demand can only be a small part of the story." And, as he points out, even that loss in foreign demand from the tariff would have been partly offset by the fact that the tariff diverted demand from foreign to home-made goods.

His conclusion? "Any net contractionary effect of the tariff was small."

This shouldn't come as a surprise. Even the greatest fans of free trade would admit that the benefits of lower tariffs - or costs of higher ones - are fairly small beer when compared to the kind of collapse in incomes and employment we saw during the depression.

To repeat, I'm not endorsing protectionism, or a policy of "national self-sufficiency" (though intriguingly for his modern admirers, that's what Keynes supported in 1933).

The Keynes piece is fascinating - well worth a read.

Laban's reading a lot of economics blogs at the moment, City Unslicker, Alphaville, Peston. Laban thinks it'll get worse before it gets better - but then he thinks that about everything else !

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Race Card - Increasingly Creased and Dog-Eared

When I heard Mandelson accusing John Humphrys (audio, BBC player) - of all people - of stoking 'xenophobia', my first thought was 'he's running out of debating options - he's desperate'. You expect an accusation of racism to be the first response of, say, a Liberal blogger who's losing an argument - but an old pro like that - you expect something more ... er ... nuanced ?

Martin Kelly's
thinking something similar :

You know the end of the game is in sight when one of the major players feels they have to play what they believe to be their trump.
Peter Mandelson is a past master of the politics of xenophilia; his warning against 'the politics of xenophobia' taking hold in the spontaneous direct action now being taken by British workers is his bunker moment. He has nothing left to fall back on, no more aces to play, other than to repeat his government's casual slanders of his fellow British citizens.

A Few Chunks Of Rock Salt In The Curate's Lane

A hint of fear as Labour minister Stephen Timms gets religion :

Mr Timms referred to the problems in the world economy, the conflict in the Middle East and more immediate problems such as last weekend’s stabbing of Stephen Lewis when leaving a church hall party in his own constituency in East London.

Mr Timms said: “It would be easy to lapse in the face of challenges of that magnitude into cynicism or even despair – to conclude that nothing can be done by politicians effectively to resolve these enormous challenges.

“But it is the calling of politicians to figure out how to tackle them, to identify solutions and to work to implement them.”

He said the religious groups of Britain were crucial to this process and singled out the Muslim community for particular praise. “Muslims in Britain have helped faith gain a new voice and a new confidence,” he said.
Thyere's no doubt about the new voice and new confidence. What I'm not sure about is from whence cometh this voice's strength. Is it the cohesion which put so many hundreds of thousands on the streets, to denounce wars in Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza, that has earned the respect of New Labour ? Or is it a series of riots, four suicide bombings and a large number of wannabes ? What think you ? What are our rulers more likely to take notice of ?

"How many divisions has the Pope ?" Stalin famously asked. Our rulers take a view on the likely number of Christian suicide bombers and act accordingly :

A Christian nurse from Weston-super-Mare has been suspended for offering to pray for a patient's recovery. Community nurse Caroline Petrie, 45, says she asked an elderly woman patient during a home visit if she wanted her to say a prayer for her.

The patient complained to the health trust about Mrs Petrie who follows the Baptist faith. She was suspended, without pay, on 17 December and will find out the outcome of her disciplinary meeting next week.

I digress. This report positively reeks of fear :

Twenty five per cent of the 430 population of Long Lartin top security jail in Worcestershire are now Muslim, according to an inspection report by Dame Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons.

Prisoners told Dame Anne during her inspection that offenders at the jail are converting to Islam because they want the protection of belonging to a big Muslim group. One inmate quoted in the report said:”Yes, there is a gang culture here which is becoming an issue. A lot of people are becoming Muslim just because it a bigger group."

Another inmate warned that all violence in the jail was gang related and that Long Lartin was in danger of turning into an American-style prison. He said: "If you are not in a gang, you’re in trouble. People are converting to Islam for protection.”

Not something you'd say about Christianity these days, is it ? There have been stories of gang culture in places like Belmarsh, Whitemoor and Frankland - wasn't someone killed in one of those jails ?

The number of Muslim prisoners in jails doubled in the eleven years to 2007 to reach 8,864 - 11 per cent of the total prison population. Muslim prisoners make up one third of the population of Whitemoor, 15 per cent of Full Sutton top security prison in Yorkshire and 20 per cent of Belmarsh jail.

In today’s report, Dame Anne said the jail’s security department was monitoriting the difficulties of gang activity, potential extremism and radicalisation of inmates in a balanced way. She said staff had been left to balance as best they could the need to engage with and ensure proper treatment for Muslim prisoners and the need to monitor and prevent radicalisation.

“There needs to be a national strategy to equip staff better to engage and support Muslim prisoners,” she said. There is no multi-faith room at the jail and this has resulted in Friday prayers being held in three separate locations.

A survey found that the proportion of prisoners who believed their faith was respected had fallen significantly and only 48 per cent of Muslim respondents said they were respected by staff, compared with a 67 per cent response from non Muslims.

Given the sensitivities surrounding Muslim prisoners, including the perceived risk of radicalisation, staff required training and advice on how to engage Muslim prisoners better,” the inspection report said.

Our rulers are afraid that unless they are nice to Muslim inmates, when they come out some will set off bombs. But be fair. They're afraid of the other prisoners, too.

A growing number of prisoners serving long sentences who have “nothing to lose” is a threat to the control and stability of the jail system, the prisons watchdog warns.

Dame Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, also said that there was a growing use of force to control the most pressurised jails in England and Wales. She highlighted a rise in the number of prison disturbances and increasingly fractious jails as warning signs of the strain being faced in the overcrowded prison system.

One in seven of the 82,000 prisoners in England and Wales is now serving an indefinite sentence for public protection or a life term, the inspector’s annual report reveals.

Dame Anne said that the disturbances in jails have been contained so far but she identified “real risks” of a loss of control in the future. She said that too many of the most volatile prisons, including top security jails holding an increasingly challenging mix of very serious offenders and those establishments holding young men, had not been judged safe in inspections.

Well, think about it. 900-odd homicides p.a. in England and Wales - even with some three-years-for-torturing-someone-to-death sentences you'll be adding maybe five hundred killers each year for ten years or so each, although they're also being released at the other end. Murder is still a crime with a relatively high clear-up rate. One in seven is about 12,000 bad boys of which maybe half will be killers and the other half rapists, failed killers and perhaps combinations of the two. Of course in the days of the death penalty you'd have a lower murder count and fewer murderers in the cells.

Dame Anne said that the prison system was having to cope with more prisoners serving longer sentences, more gang activities on the wings and concerns about drugs. “There have always been groups engaged in criminal endeavours both inside and outside prisons. There is some evidence of more organisation,” she said. She added: “The presence of drugs is also a key factor because that can create an economy in prison and create bullying.”
It was once pretty hard to get drugs into jail - in the days when you spoke to your beloved through a wire grille. Now you can sit her on your lap, put your tongue in her mouth and hand where you like - in a crowded visiting room with maybe half a dozen guards on high chairs watching over a room with forty or fifty people in it. I get the impression there's more stuff coming in via the staff, too. After all, a stoned jail is a quiescent jail - they hope. The balance of power in prisons has been shifting from jailer to inmate for forty years.

The number of Muslim prisoners may be rising, but so is the number of Muslims :

The Muslim population in Britain has grown by more than 500,000 to 2.4 million in just four years, according to official research collated for The Times.

The population multiplied 10 times faster than the rest of society, the research by the Office for National Statistics reveals. In the same period the number of Christians in the country fell by more than 2 million.

Experts said that the increase was attributable to immigration, a higher birthrate and conversions to Islam during the period of 2004-2008, when the data was gathered. They said that it also suggested a growing willingness among believers to describe themselves as Muslims because the western reaction to war and terrorism had strengthened their sense of identity.

Muslim leaders have welcomed the growing population of their communities ...

There are more than 42.6 million Christians in Britain, according to the Office for National Statistics, whose figures were obtained through the quarterly Labour Force Survey of around 53,000 homes. But while the biggest Christian population is among over-70s bracket, for Muslims it is the under-4s ...

Ceri Peach, Professor of Social Geography at Manchester University, said that the rapid growth of the Muslim population posed challenges for society. “The groups with the strongest belief in the family and cohesion are those such as the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. They have got extremely strong family values but it goes together with the sort of honour society and other kinds of attributes which people object to,” he said. “So you are dealing with a pretty complex situation.”

Hmm. That's what I'd call the weak version of the theory. But he's right that Muslims have many admirable values which hold together and strengthen their society. The operative word being 'their'.

They're not destroying our society, though. We did that when we implemented the brave new vision of the Sixties, which has made modern Britain so different from the Britain of fifty years back. Islam is merely expanding into the moral vacuum left by the decline of Christianity, the cultural vacuum left by the decline of Britishness, and the demographic vacuum left by the Pill and feminism.

Here are the figures. Have a nice day.

The total number of Muslims in Great Britain:

2004: 1,870,000

2005: 2,017,000

2006: 2,142,000

2007: 2,327,000

2008: 2,422,000

Source: Labour Force Survey

Monday, February 02, 2009

Brother John Is Gone

A very nice John Martyn tribute by one Joe Taylor.

And Laban has uploaded Fly On Home (in lo-fi, naturlich) to Youtube.

"go and work in Europe, Mandelson tells strikers"

... thus far have the People's Party come.

It's the 'speaking from Davos' bit that gets me !

Sunday, February 01, 2009

"we still have relatively high levels of pregnancies going to birth"

Former Green Party chair Jonathon Porritt laments the shortage of dead babies.

Couples who have more than two children are being “irresponsible” by creating an unbearable burden on the environment, the government’s green adviser has warned.

Jonathon Porritt, who chairs the government’s Sustainable Development Commission, says curbing population growth through contraception and abortion must be at the heart of policies to fight global warming.

Hmmm. We currently top about 200,000 babies pa. Just ain't enough, apparently.

At this point the ST
The British population, now 61m, will pass 70m by 2028, the Office for National Statistics says. The fertility rate for women born outside Britain is estimated to be 2.5, compared with 1.7 for those born here. The global population of 6.7 billion is expected to rise to 9.2 billion by 2050.
I wonder where she got the stats for mothers born outside the UK ? Anyone been through the last couple of years ONS Population Trends stats , the ones that come out in December ? I confess I haven't read through them, just noted the headline figures on births to foreign-born mothers. The ONS have already estimated fertility by ethnicity - and the figures chime neatly with the list of boroughs with the highest fertility rates. I look forward to Mr Porritt telling the good people of Bradford, Darwen and Newham why they really ought to be aborting more babies. Like his ideal baby, he'll be lucky to get out alive.

Tangentially, Times sportswriter Simon Barnes wonderful and heartwarming piece on his Down syndrome son. The strange thing is that the same government who'll fine you for not having disabled access to your business or parish hall is happy to kill the disabled the moment they discover their existence :

At the hospital, when they discovered on the scan that Down’s syndrome was a possibility, they very kindly offered to kill him for us.

Correction - of course we don't top 600,000 babies a year - 600,000 is the approximate number of live births. We only top about 200,000.