Thursday, 28 August 2014

I am getting fed up with this...

Some months ago I was done for speeding by a mobile camera van.

Fair enough I was over the 'speed limit' (which in my sad old Kim's Game way I try very hard to stick to). Did the speed awareness course and suffered some hours of sophistry and learned a couple of useful things and went on my way. Thing is, I know for a fact that the piece of road I was done on has actually got safer over the years.

I know this because I surveyed it for safety and alignment, 'traffic management', traffic flows, turning movements (the van was near a left/right staggered junction on a rural dual carriageway) and all the rest of it in the mid eighties when the road was the main A12 into Ipswich and parts North. At that time it was OK-ish at 70. Now it's 50. I was caught at 57. And because it has been bypassed, all the hazards - especially the turning movements and traffic volumes - are a fraction of what they were. So it's bollocks that the speed camera was for 'safety measures. (It was hidden as well of course).

Since then I have intensified my Kim's Game. Why not? It relieves the boredom.

Today I was dodging gently along back to the office travelling from Darsham via Yoxford and Sibton back to my office in Ipswich via the pretty way.  I was trundling through one of the villages at about 30 and the character of the road changed to more rural and I was just thinking to myself  'hang on what's the bloody speed limit here?' (having not been recently aware of any repeater signs) when there, hidden in the verge in an obscure way was another camera van. I have no idea if I was over the limit or not, I think my speedo was about 35, but we shall see.

The point is though that I am pretty sure that the 30 mph repeater signs were all obscured by foliage.  OK.  So I can go back and spend another day surveying and photographing it all, but what's the bloody point?  I certainly cannot afford that time and if I do and prove the case I still won't get my costs and then I will be well out of pocket.

I have a view that they 'authorities' do the things that they can do most easily.  It's easy nowadays to process speeding tickets.  It's easy to process parking tickets.  The authorities can then say 'we've caught X tens of thousands of speeding people' as if that proves anything.

Meanwhile, in Rotherham...

Economic myths: the fungibility of funding.

Everyone who has not just returned from holiday in the Takla Makan desert must be aware of the Ice-bucket Challenge. As a fund raiser, it's been a brilliant success, but it is not without its critics. Scott Gilmore doesn't think much of it, but his piece is a classic example of the fungible funding error. Put simply it goes like this, "If they didn't spend all that money on X, we could have more money spent on Y". It is particularly prevalant in criticism of Government spending policy.

In this case, Mr Gilmore makes the erroneous assumption that the money given to the ALS charity was already earmarked and ring-fenced for donation to charity, when in reality it was neither of these things and the vast majority appears to have been given by people who would not normally consider giving to charity, and, even if they did, it appears to be additional giving, not taken out of an existing pot marked "For Charity".

In most cases it's usually a newspaper like the Daily Mail saying that x no of nurses could have been employed for the money flushed down the drain in the latest government cock-up, conveniently overlooking the simple fact that, if the Treasury wanted to spend more money on employing nurses, it would already have done so. In fact, so ingrained has this error become, that NHS nurses are now the basic unit of government spending by which everything else is measured, which Mark has pointed out before. The irony is that NHS nurses only make up about two or three per cent of total government spending, but just as schools'n'hospitals are always pushed to the front when cuts to public spending are being mooted, nurses similarly have pole position as alternative expenditure when waste is being discussed.

"Apple to release iWatch"

From The Evening Standard:

Apple is to release a pioneering smartwatch when it unveils the new iPhone 6 next month, according to reports...

The watch, which is rumoured to have a 2.5in screen, is expected to use Apple's latest iOS 8 operating system and will be wearable in the style of a normal wrist watch. It is believed the watch will feature the company's HomeKit function, meaning users could be able to control lights and open and close garage doors at the touch of a screen in their house...

The gadget is also expected to be compatible with Apple's Health app, allowing users to monitor their worsening levels of fitness, brought on by the very fact that its wearers are too f---ing lazy to even get out of their armchairs when they want to turn the lights on or off.


"My big brother punches me in the arm ten times a second...

... it really Hertz."

Damned if they do, damned if they don't.

From the BBC:

The UK is "deeply elitist" according to an analysis of the backgrounds of more than 4,000 business, political, media and public sector leaders. Small elites, educated at independent schools and Oxbridge, still dominate top roles, suggests the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission study...

It found that those who had attended fee-paying schools included 71% of senior judges, 62% of senior armed forces officers, 55% of permanent secretaries (the most senior civil servants) and 53% of senior diplomats...

Figures for top people who went to Oxford and Cambridge paint a similar picture. Some 75% of senior judges, 59% of the Cabinet, 57% of permanent secretaries, 50% of diplomats, 47% of newspaper columnists, 38% of the House of Lords, 33% of the shadow cabinet and 24% of MPs hold Oxbridge degrees.


Yes, the top level of the public sector is a bunch of self-serving, self-selected, inbred, clueless twats, we knew this.

But I think that Oxford and Cambridge are between a rock and a hard place here.

Oxford says that 56.8% of its intake is from state schools; for Cambridge it's 63.3%. So they're still skewed towards private school pupils, but it's not out of all proportion.

Now, those top two universities want to get the cleverest students, with a reasonable smattering of children of supremely wealthy parents to make large donations. Fair enough. And if those top two universities have the cleverest students, whether from state school or private school, we would expect their alumni to be at the top of many professions.

So ultimately their dilemma is this: if we take the most able state school pupils in preference to some private school also-rans, then we are doing out bit for equality and social mobility. But if we do that, then even more of our alumni will get into the top jobs and we end up being slammed for being elitist again.

And quite possibly, the equality campaigners are confusing cause and effect.

It's not so much that the self-selected people get to the top because they went to Oxford or Cambridge; they probably got into Oxford or Cambridge for the same reason that they get top civil service jobs. The same applies to those who went to private school.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Benefit cap fun

1. From The Telegraph, June 2012:

The Prime Minister was expected to unveil plans to set benefit payments on a regional basis during a speech in Kent today.

He was due to say: "We are looking at whether public sector pay should be more responsive to local pay rates and that is something we should look at for benefits too."

However, the remarks were cut from the final version of his speech setting out plans to overhaul the “out-of-control” benefits system.


I don't know why he cut that bit, but I do remember that The Daily Mirror and other left wing sources were up in arms about this at the time. Having regional benefit levels is a terrible idea of course, but it's one of those dumb ideas which keeps coming back to haunt us.
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2. The Tories actually did something sensible (not realising what they were doing, I assume) and introduced a cap on the total amount of benefits which any household can claim of £500 a week. Clearly, no household gets anywhere near £500 in non-housing related benefits; the only households nominally receiving more than that were those living in expensive areas claiming Housing Benefit (the worst benefit of all, as it actually goes to private landlords and pushes up rents and prices for the working population). Cue much squealing from Labour MPs with seats in London.

So the benefit cap reduces the north-south differential in the amount of welfare payments households which can get; it is the opposite of regional rates for welfare payments; and it is primarily a cap on Housing Benefit. Win win win!
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3. The Tory government having otherwise made a complete mess of welfare reform, the Labour opposition continued the journey round the clock of stupidity.

From the BBC, June 2013:

This was the week Labour looked to show it could be trusted to control the welfare bill, with speeches by both Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.

But one aspect of what Ed Balls called "iron discipline" has already run into trouble within the party. The shadow chancellor floated the idea of regional caps on benefits. He suggested the Low Pay Commission could advise on where to set the cap in different parts of the country.

The result could see the current £26,000 benefit cap maintained or raised in London and the South East, but lowered in areas like the North East, Yorkshire, the North West and South West. The argument is that housing costs vary widely across the country, and it would make sense to differentiate.

But the idea has gone down like a lead balloon amongst Labour MPs in the North East.


Northern Labour MPs opposed this for exactly the same reason they had opposed the Tory suggestion of a year earlier; they were saying the right thing for the wrong reasons, but never mind.
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4. Now Labour has re-suggested the original shit idea of differential regional welfare caps, but instead of opposition coming from northern Labour MPs, it's coming from southern Tory MPs:

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has floated the idea of setting "regional" rates for maximum welfare payments to dilute the strict cap introduced by the coalition.

He has suggested the current £26,000 annual limit on a household's benefit claims could be raised in areas with high rental costs such as London. But new analysis released by the Tories showed that the figure could rise to £54,000 a year in wealthier London boroughs like Kensington and Chelsea...

Tory Culture Secretary Sajid Javid said: "Labour still stand for dependency and benefits as a lifestyle choice. We will do everything we can to prevent Labour turning the clock back."


To a large extent this is Indian Bicycle Marketing, but in a bizarre sort of way, northern Labour MPs and southern Tory MPs have come to the right conclusion here, albeit from completely different starting points.

What is more puzzling is that UK politics is all about keeping rents and house prices as high as possible; this is the government party's main responsibility and its best chance of being re-elected, so why any large party would propose a cap on Housing Benefit is a mystery to me.
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UPDATE: Sobers in the comments nominates this family as one which got more than £500/week in non-housing benefits.

Nope.

Excluding Council Tax and Housing Benefit*, they got just under £500. And families with a disabled parent, an unemployed parent and six children at home are isolated extreme cases.

* Please note that this household lives in a "former council house", so that's £76 a week which Thatcher or Blair are costing the taxpayer.

"Cameron to support Tusk for Council president at EU summit"

From EurActiv:

British Prime Minister David Cameron is prepared to support Fleetwood Mac's double-platinum album as the next president of the European Council, according to the The Guardian.

By suggesting the 1979 double album to fellow EU leaders at the summit in Brussels on Saturday (30 August), Cameron hopes to influence the incoming European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, known as a fan of easy listening, with a candidate supporting a slightly more experimental musical agenda.

Tusk had previously asked EU heads to "Think about me" and "Save me a place" (side one), they countered by asking "What makes you think you're the one?" (side two). The LP then stated that that selection process was "Not that funny" (side two).

However, according to The Guardian, Tusk threatened to withdraw from the nominations, stating "That's enough for me", provoking Cameron to retort that Tusk would "Never make me cry" (side three).

Cameron and Tusk discussed its candidacy and the summit over phone on Monday (Guardian, 25 August). Cameron adopted a softer tone, greeting the critically acclaimed album with "Honey hi" and describing it as a "Beautiful child" (side three), although Tusk reportedly said that it would "Never forget" all of Cameron's earlier rhetoric (side four).

Cameron believes that Tusk, which cost $1 million to record, could balance Juncker's soft rock agenda. The British prime minister also believes that it would be good for one of his childhood favourite albums to take on the EU top job, The Guardian said.

Yes, that's the whole point.

From The Daily Mail:

We eat THREE times more at a barbecue than at a normal dinner… A survey found we consume as many as 1,800 calories at a barbecue, while a typical meal at home has 500 to 700 calories.

So they mean "three times as much", not "three times more", for a start.

Either way, isn't that a bit like saying "We drink more beer in the pub than in Bar Mitzvah class" or "We eat more cake at birthday and wedding parties than in police custody" or something?

And the story is a puff piece for AXA PPP Healthcare to give them an excuse to waffle on about healthy eating.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Fair play to ASH

The WHO has gone completely mental...

The World Health Organization says there should a ban on the use of e-cigarettes indoors and that sales to children should stop.

In a report the health body says there should be no claims that the devices can help people quit smoking - until there is evidence to support this.

WHO experts warn the products might pose a threat to adolescents and the foetuses of pregnant women.


Is it perturbing or reassuring that ASH, who have pumped out so much of this anti-nicotine garbage propaganda over the years, appear to be reining it in a bit..?

Hazel Cheeseman, at the charity Action on Smoking and Health, said there was no evidence of any harm to bystanders and warned regulation needed to be proportionate.

She added:

"Smoking kills 100,000 people in the UK alone. Smokers who switch to using electronic cigarettes in whole or in part are likely to substantially reduce their health risks.

"Although we cannot be sure that electronic cigarettes are completely safe, as the WHO acknowledges, they are considerably less harmful than smoking tobacco and research suggests that they are already helping smokers to quit."


Even the "100,000" figure is a step back from their previous exaggerations.
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UPDATE. "Unknown" left a link to NHS Smokefree: "Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable deaths in England, accounting for more than 80,000 deaths each year. One in two smokers will die from a smoking-related disease."

Well, call it half a million deaths a year, a fifth of people are smokers, so going by those figures about 50,000 people each year die somewhat earlier than they otherwise would have done as a result of having smoked. It's going a bit far to say that even 50,000 people are "killed" by smoking, let alone 100,000, but it's not as entirely plucked-out-of-the-air unreasonable as other claims which ASH have made.

FFS

I was delighted to see a van just drive past emblazoned with FFS Limited - Freight Forwarding Solutions.

When I'm bored one day, I think I'll incorporate similar companies for "Logistics Management For Any Organisation" and "Warehousing, Transport, Freight".