Azara Blog: October 2010 archive complete

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Date published: 2010/10/30

Surprise, pushy parents are pushy for a reason (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Parents who push their children to work hard at school have a bigger impact on their child's academic success than their teachers, research suggests.

The effort a parent puts into ensuring their child buckles down to schoolwork has a greater impact than that put in by the child or the school, it says.

It is unbelievable that the UK government wastes money paying for this kind of trivial and unimportant research. Even if the researchers have quantified this effect, it is totally irrelevant. The government should stop funding this kind of pseudo-scientific research and instead put the money into proper scientific (and engineering) research.

Scots allegedly want to keep British Summer Time (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Scots are narrowly in favour of the UK switching to British Summer Time all year round, a survey has suggested.

About 3,000 people took part in the internet survey by energy firm Npower, as the UK prepares to move the clocks back one hour this weekend.

Keeping the clocks one hour ahead of GMT would provide more daylight in the evenings, when most people are active.

In the study 53% of respondents were in favour of the idea, while 35% were against and 12% undecided.
Richard Cotton, head of sales for Npower hometeam, said: "Our research found that the greatest annoyances about the clocks going back for people in Scotland are leaving the house while it's still dark (43%), having to have the central heating on (47%), and feeling a general lack of enthusiasm for the day (40%)."

It is unfortunate that the media perpetually give free publicity to companies and organisation pedalling these surveys. It is particularly unfortunate that the BBC does so. Not only are most surveys that are publicised not scientific (so the sampling is not random) but likely the questions are suspect so the answers are meaningless. The remarks by Cotton indicate that this survey is a bad one. So one of the advantages of the clocks going back is that there is more light in the morning (which of course is offset by the disadvantage that there is less light in the afternoon/evening). But Cotton remarkably claims the opposite, so that 43% of Scots are allegedly annoyed about the clocks going back because it (falsely) means "leaving the home while it's still dark". The other two things that Cotton mention also have nothing to do with the clocks going back. Indeed, all three things have more to do with winter in general than with the clocks. Perhaps the government should just make everyone happy and ban winter. Whatever, the BBC should not have given free and uncritical publicity to Npower.

The world's ruling elite want to stop the world (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The World Bank has launched a global partnership aimed at helping countries include the costs of destroying nature into their national accounts.
The bank's president Robert Zoellick said environmental destruction happens partly because governments do not account for the value of nature.

The partnership was launched at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting in Nagoya, Japan.

"We know that human well-being depends on ecosystems and biodiversity," said Mr Zoellick.

"We also know they're degrading at an alarming rate.

"One of the causes is our failure to properly value ecosystems and all they do for us - and the solution therefore lies in taking full account of our ecosystem services when countries make policies."

Norway's Environment Minister Erik Solheim said re-valuing nature in this way would force business practices to change.

"We need to move from a situation where the benefits of ecosystem services are privatised whereas the coasts are socialised," he said.

"The full costs of negative impacts on ecosystems must be covered by those who receive a benefit from destroying it."

The new project aims to pick up conclusions of a recent UN-backed project on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Teeb), and help governments turn them into policy.

Teeb's headline conclusion was that degradation of the natural world is costing the global economy $2-5 trillion (£1.3-3.2bn) per year.

The most significant remark is the one by Solheim: "The full costs of negative impacts on ecosystems must be covered by those who receive a benefit from destroying it." It would be interesting to know if Solheim, or anyone else, could come up with any example of any development anywhere in the world that would be deemed to be a case where this happened. For example, under this proposal, no government should be allowed to subsidise any service for anyone. If you subsidise a service, then you are in effect externalising the costs of the service onto the rest of society. In particular, those who benefit from the service then have more money to spend elsewhere, and that money, directly or indirectly, equates to energy use, and that in turn, directly or indirectly, equates to environmental impact (or "destruction", as the zealots would have it). The logical conclusion is that there should be no government welfare, no free education (primary, secondary or tertiary), no free health service, etc. Well, needless to say, the Solheims of the world do not want to stop those activities. They just want to stop activities they happen not to like. If any kind of statutory regime is created for this, then in the UK, for example, this could easily mean that pretty much all infrastructure projects are not allowed, because some NIMBY or so-called environmentalist or other will always be able to easily point out that the people benefitting from the project are not fully paying for any alleged environmental impact.

And needless to say, the rich people of the world, like Zoellick and Solheim and all the other people attending the Nagoya meeting, are the main culprits when it comes to environmental impact ("destruction").

Date published: 2010/10/26

Elephants are "ecological engineers" (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Areas heavily damaged by elephants are home to more species of amphibians and reptiles than areas where the beasts are excluded, a study has suggested.

US scientists recorded 18 species in high damage areas but just eight species in unaffected habitats.

Elephants are described as "ecological engineers" because they create and maintain ecosystems by physically changing habitats.
"What this study point towards is that although things may not look particularly pretty to a human eye does not necessarily mean that it is detrimental to all the life that is there."

All species are pretty much "ecological engineers" because all species "change habitats". Indeed, humans themselves are "ecological engineers". And in spite of the constant whining from so-called environmentalists and so-called conservationists, human activity does allow some other species to benefit, e.g. rodents. But the BBC would never run a story about humans in the same way that they ran this story about elephants, because BBC journalists believe that humans are evil whereas elephants are wonderful. Indeed, hardly a day goes by when the BBC does not run a story about "destructive" human practises, at the behest of some so-called environmental or conservation organisation or other.

Cameron has no clue about economics (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

David Cameron has promised a "forensic, relentless approach" to ensuring the UK's future economic growth.

The government would offer help to ensure new companies can prosper, the prime minister told the CBI conference.
The government argues that, while 490,000 public sector positions are forecast to close as public spending is cut, new jobs will be created by the private sector.
The prime minister said the UK had sometimes been "complacent about our competitive advantages", whereas the coalition wanted a change in attitude.

He told business leaders a "forensic, relentless focus on growth is what you will get from the government".

Unveiling what he said was the UK's "first-ever national infrastructure plan", Mr Cameron said countries such as China had been investing massively in new roads and rail links while the UK had "stood still".

"Even in this very constrained time, we will invest over £30bn in transport projects over the next four years," the prime minister said, adding that he wanted government action to help "unlock" £200bn in total public and private sector investment in transport, energy, telecommunications and other critical sectors.

CBI director general Richard Lambert said Mr Cameron showed an understanding "that only business will create growth".

Cameron was speaking to the CBI so was bound to say things the CBI wanted to hear. But most of it is ridiculous. First of all, the government has no plausible reason why the private sector will magically pony up 500k jobs, especially given that the government has massively reduced demand by sacking 500k people.

And while China might be "investing massively in new roads and rail links" it is trivially obvious that not only has the UK not done this but under Cameron the UK will continue not to do this. Indeed, most new road projects (e.g. the A14 upgrade) have been stopped. And 30 billion pounds is peanuts, and what is not being spent on maintenance and the odd road project, will mostly be wasted on glamorous rail projects, for example Crossrail. Basically, Cameron is taking the piss on the transport front. And the rest of his blurb is not much better.

And Lambert is just being plainly ridiculous to claim that "only business will create growth". There are many examples, including university science research, where it is government that is (indirectly) creating growth. The CBI just represents big business, it does not represent reality.

The government might have a uniform state pension (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The government is planning a "very radical" overhaul of the state pension, Business Secretary Vince Cable says.

He did not confirm newspaper reports that it could rise from about £97 a week for a single person to £140.

But Mr Cable said the proposals, such as replacing means-tested pension credits with a flat-rate payment, would ensure a "decent" retirement.

Critics said it sounded "too good to be true" and unaffordable, despite savings in administration costs.

At the moment, pensions are topped up to £132 a week for the poorest, through the means-tested pensions credit.

But Lib Dem pensions minister Steve Webb, who has come up with the proposals, wants to scrap the existing system and replace it with a flat rate of £140 a week for everyone.

The changes would particularly benefit those who have paid less into National Insurance. Some women who currently fail to qualify for the full basic state pension because they have stopped working to raise children and therefore lack enough NI contributions.

The reform would be paid for, in part, by savings in administration costs when means testing is scrapped.

This is about the first sensible idea put forward by the LibCon government. On the other hand, it's not obvious it will ever come to fruition, and could just be a PR exercise to blunt some of the coverage about government cuts. And it is not totally trivial to implement, since presumably it would have to be based somehow on residency. Anyway, if it ever happens, then it's yet another reason why NI should be scrapped (and replaced with income tax increases).

Date published: 2010/10/04

The Tories completely lose the plot over child benefit (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Ministers have defended plans to cut child benefits to higher earners amid criticism they represent an "attack" on already hard-pressed families.

From 2013, benefits will be removed from any family where one parent earns more than about £44,000 a year.
As recently as a year ago, Mr Osborne said he would preserve child benefit - for decades paid to millions of families irrespective of their income - as it was "valued by millions" of families.

But he said he he could no longer defend paying out £1bn a year to better-off families and the one-off cut "made sense" given the scale of debt and welfare spending he had inherited.
While critics said they accepted it was right that better-off families should be targeted, there was anger about apparent anomalies in the proposals.

Households where two parents each earning slightly less than £44,000 - adding up to a combined family income of over £80,000 - will keep the benefit while households where just one parent earns over £44,000 will lose it.
Ministers said the alternative was to introduce a complex and expensive system of means testing for all household incomes which would undermine the whole system.

But the respected Instititute for Fiscal Studies also expressed doubts about the proposals.

"Some may think unfair because child benefit is withdrawn where an individual in a couple is a higher-rate taxpayer, regardless of the joint income of the couple," it said.

It also said the changes could "seriously distort" financial incentives for some families as they would lose all their benefit if they earned slightly more money.

This is the kind of idiotic proposal that one would have expected Gordon Brown to come up with, ostensibly "fair" but in fact deeply unfair and ill thought out, as all the commentators have pointed out. How can the Tories accept that a family that earns 85k gets a tax break but a family that earns 45k does not. It is madness.

One can just imagine the scenario where some poor soul is earning just under the higher income tax threshold, desperately telling their boss that no, they do not want a pay rise because it would actually leave them worse off. The Tories have spent some time complaining that people on benefits have too high a marginal rate of tax so have no incentive to work, but somehow are happy for the same stupidity to occur somewhere else in the tax system.

And it is ridiculous to believe that they could not have proposed something more sane. Brutal step functions in tax regimes are always iniquitous and here someone might not even know they are going to to over the magic threshold until the end of the year, in which case in theory they have to pay back the entire child benefit. Instead they could have proposed that it be tapered. Everyone who is a higher rate taxpayer has to fill in a tax form, so it would be easy enough.

And the Tories have not explained what will happen to couples who are not married because presumably there is no way they can easily try and force this tax increase on them. The Tories claimed that they wanted to eliminate the "marriage penalty" for people on benefit but here they are introducing a whacking great marriage penalty. Not that it will discourage anyone much from marrying, just like giving tax breaks to married people does not encourage anyone much to marry. Funnily enough, marriage is about more than tax breaks, but somehow conservatives the world over think otherwise.

Both George Osborne, and the Tory stooges lined up to parrot his talking points, claimed that it was "unfair" that poorer families subsidise better off families. But of course the reverse is true. Better off families subsidise poorer families, and the only question is how large that subsidy should be. It is a bit ridiculous that the Tories have failed to understand this trivially obvious basic fiscal fact. They might as well work for the Guardian or the Labour Party, given their complete lack of economic sense.

A far more sensible approach would have been to eliminate child benefit completely and increase benefits for all poor people, in compensation.

The Tories are allegedly plugging ahead with high-speed rail (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The government will back plans for high-speed rail links to Manchester and Leeds, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has said.

The planned new 250mph rail route between London and Birmingham aims to cut the journey time to 49 minutes.

North of Birmingham, ministers prefer plans for two lines - one to Manchester and one via the East Midlands and South Yorkshire.
They say the new rail routes would reduce journeys from London to Leeds to 80 minutes - down from 140 minutes at present and from London to Manchester to 80 minutes from 128.
Mr Hammond said the scheme - estimated to cost £33bn - would "make rail the mode of choice for most inter-city journeys within the UK" and would change "the economic and social geography of Britain, connecting our great population centres and our international gateways together".

He said it would help rebalance economies that the government believed had become too dependent on the public sector - by encouraging business investment in regions which have been considered too far away from London.
Friends of the Earth spokesman Tony Bosworth said the government must ensure any new rail network led to an overall cut in carbon emissions from transport.

He said: "A fast and efficient electric high-speed rail system could help reduce domestic flights and car journeys, but it will only be a low-carbon travel alternative if it is powered by renewable energy."

The fact that the government has to massively fund this says already that it is uneconomic. And once again, for some bizarre reason, train passengers are successfully externalising the cost of their journeys onto the rest of society, which is a classic definition of an unsustainable practise. But high-speed rail sounds sexy, so the government falls into the trap of throwing billions of pounds of public money at it.

The government, along with the FoE spokesperson, do not even understand that this could well increase carbon emissions, rather than decrease them. It might reduce domestic flights and car journeys, but it will also create a whole new category of London commuters, who previously would have lived closer to London but now will be able to live way in the north of England. This is not a victory for the environment, it is a victory for London commuters to take over more of the country. If the London commuters paid for the privilege, then so be it, but they have not and are not and will not.

Date published: 2010/10/03

Another lame carbon emissions film (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Environmental campaigners 10:10 have withdrawn a film showing a teacher graphically exploding two of her students who refuse to reduce their carbon emissions, after complaints.

In a statement, the group apologised to anyone offended.

The film aimed to "bring this critical issue back into the headlines whilst making people laugh", the group said.

Starring Gillian Anderson it was scripted by Richard Curtis, whose films include Four Weddings and a Funeral.

It was directed by a leading commercials director.
Lizzie Gillett, Global Campaign Director for 10:10, told the BBC: "As you can see from various comments and social media sites some people thought it was funny and a good tool to get people talking about climate change but others strongly disliked the mini-movie. We decided to take it off our website to avoid upsetting people."

Well 10:10 succeeded in getting lots of free publicity, which was no doubt their main goal. But 10:10 completely miss the point about carbon emissions. It is Gillian Anderson and Richard Curtis and the rest of the rich people of the world, including the 10:10 gang, who are the biggest part of the problem, not the ordinary people whom this film is allegedly aimed at. If they are serious about the environment they can do two things: make themselves poor and have no children. Unfortunately it is the ordinary people they are trying to make poorer, and they have nothing to say about population, probably because they are busy breeding just like nearly everyone else.

M4 bus lane allegedly going to be scrapped (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The controversial M4 bus lane is to be scrapped at the end of the year.

All motorists will again be able to use the 3.5-mile (5.6km) lane, which operates on the London-bound carriageway from near Heathrow Airport.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed the move, saying the bus lane was "not effective".

It will be suspended from 24 December for 18 months when the lane comes back into use for the Olympics, after which it will be scrapped for good.

The motorway's third lane between junctions three and two - which carries about 7% of London-bound traffic - is reser

ved for buses, licensed black taxis and motorcycles. Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, Mr Hammond argued that the bus lane was symbolic of Labour's ''war on the motorist''.

He said: "Well it was a piece of folly wasn't it?

"Introduced 10 years ago, predicted not to be effective and in fact that's been the experience of most people.

"They sit sweltering in traffic queues watching an empty lane by the side of them with just the occasional vehicle going down it."

The bus lane was introduced by then Transport Secretary John Prescott in 1999.

It became known by some as the "Blair lane" after the former prime minister used it to avoid heavy traffic.

Mr Prescott responded to Mr Hammond's comments in his blog, saying: "Studies by the independent Transport Research Laboratory proved the M4 bus lane succeeded in reducing traffic jams.
The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) said it was disappointed with the move.

Bob Oddy, general secretary of the LTDA, said: "Thousands of cab journeys are made from Heathrow every day and the vast majority of those come into London.

"This means we won't be able to use that lane and it will be a great inconvenience to us and to our customers who, if they get caught in traffic, will end up paying more money."

The main problem with the "bus" lane was that it was seriously under-utilised and so a waste of resources. But the second problem was that it was not so much a "bus" lane as a lane for rich people to get about more quickly. So not just Blair, but taxi passengers, who for some reason are put in the same category of privileged road users as bus passengers, up and down the country. Indeed the LTDA takes the prize for silly commentary. It might be a "great inconvenience" for their customers, but no more than anyone else stuck in the traffic, and needless to say the drivers themselves will hardly suffer since the longer the journey takes, the more money they will make.

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