Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ten Ways Israel Is Treated Differently

Following up on my earlier post on Why Are Jews So Successful, Jeremy Jacobs of Corporate Presenter fame points me to this article in the Jerusalem Post.

i) Israel is the only UN member state whose very right to exist is under constant challenge

ii) Israel is the only UN member state that’s been publicly targeted for annihilation by another UN member state

iii) Israel is the only nation whose capital city, Jerusalem, is not recognized by other nations

iv) The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), focuses on all the world’s refugee populations, save one

v) Israel is the only country that has won all its major wars for survival and self-defense, yet it’s confronted by defeated adversaries who insist on dictating the terms of peace

vi) Israel is the only country that has been censured by name – not once, but nine times – since the new UN Human Rights Council was established in June 2006

vii) Israel is the only country that, in violation of the spirit of the UN Charter, isn’t a full member of one of the five regional blocs

viii) Israel is the only country that’s the daily target of three UN bodies established solely to advance the Palestinian cause and to bash Israel

ix) Israel is the only country that is the target of a boycott by the British-based National Union of Journalists

x) Israel is the only country where some associated with its majority population, i.e., Jews, openly call, for political or religious reasons, to dismantle the state

Is it cos they is Jewish?

And isn't it the Left's job to stand up for the underdog?

Can you spot Israel on this map of the Middle East?


Species Inflation; The Latest Green Con

The Economist alerts its readers to the latest Greenie wheez.

They reveal that over the past 20 years we have witnessed a massive reclassification of animals from sub-species to distinct species, particularly in the area of "charismatic megafuana" (cuddly animals to you and me).

There are two reason for this switch;

i) The idea of a species becoming extinct is easy to grasp and makes newspaper headlines. The wiping out of a sub-species may only make page 45 of the National Geographic.

ii) Upgrading subspecies to species increases the number of rare species, thereby augmenting the biodiversity of a piece of habitat and thus its claim for protection.


Two examples nicely demonstrate species inflation;

1. According to their DNA, polar bears are merely white, brown bears (think Knut). Not good news for those who rely on the Endangered Species Act.

2. The Bahamas used to protect their local raccoons, but switched to eradicating them when they discovered that genetically they were no different from the common Northern raccoon.

In the long term, as every economist worth his salt knows, inflation of a currency brings devaluation. Or as Keynes put it,

"There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency"


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Why are Jews So Successful?

Forty years ago next week, one of the shortest but most significant of the many 20th Century wars was fought out.

Between June 5th and June 10th 1967, Israel launched a pre-emptive attack on Egypt's airforce fearing an imminent invasion by Egypt. Jordan then attacked western Jerusalem and Netanya. At the war's end, Israel had gained control of eastern Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsular, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. The effects of this war have now influenced events across the entire planet and continue to dominate the headlines forty years on.

The world's 13 million Jews comprise just 0.25% of the population (of six billion) but 25% of the 660 Nobel prizes awarded from 1901-1990. Jewish people, in effect, punch above their weight by a factor of 100.

Whether it's the Arts, Science, Media, Innovation, Finance or Politics, and despite centuries of persecution in all corners of the globe, they are just so successful.



Is Tinky Winky Gay?

The spokesperson for children's rights in Poland, Ewa Sowinska, has ordered officials to investigate whether TV show, Teletubbies, promotes a homosexual lifestyle, singling out Tinky Winky, the purple character with a triangular aerial on his head.

Tinky Winky's crime?

"I noticed he was carrying a woman's handbag."

Tinky Winky is my son's favourite character. And mine.

Source; BBC.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ayaan Hirsi Ali's in Town

One of the bravest women in the world is in town this week.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Muslim, who fled to The Netherlands, became a Dutch citizen, renounced her religion, and then was disgracefully expelled from the country before settling in the US, has been under 24-hour guard since the murder of film-maker Theo van Gogh in November 2004 in Amsterdam.

Van Gogh's film Submission, which examined the oppression of Muslim women, was written by Hirsi Ali. His killer, Mohammed Bouyeri, left a five-page death threat addressed to her, pinned to the filmmaker's chest.

Nada Roude, of the NSW Islamic Council, criticise Hirsi Ali's comments on the prophet Mohammed and declared free speech a 'no-go zone' when Islam is concerned, saying

"Prophets are not just like you and me, they have special status - you're supposed to show respect. There have to be boundaries in how far you go in respecting other's beliefs."

No Ms. Roude. It's called free speech.

Hirsi Ali has written that under Dutch law, Mohammed's marriage to six-year-old A'ishah and his subsequent consummation of the marriage when she was nine would make him a paedophile.

She has two public functions at the Sydney Writers Festival: a discussion on Saturday and the festival's closing address on Sunday. Both are sell-outs.

You may not like what she says, but go and support her right to say it.

Update; Andrew Bolt and Prodos have more on Ayaan.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Votes Needed!

I have polled a measly 7 votes to date in the 'Australia's best libertarian solo blogger' poll over at the ALS.

I need some help!!

Poll here.

Email me for fat brown envelopes stuffed full of cash.


Friday, May 25, 2007

What Price Fame?

This attractive girl is Emma Cornell. She is a 24 year-old fitness instructor currently appearing in Big Brother. Last week her father died of cancer. Channel Ten still hasn't told her. Emma's boyfriend, Tim Stanton, told the media that

"Her dad didn't want her to be upset or to feel like she had to leave the house to come to his funeral."

Feel like she should leave the house? What just to bury her father?

"She might be upset when she comes out and finds out what has happened, but I think she'll understand,"

She might be upset? What just because her dad died? Honestly, girls these days.

Emma's brother has just issued a statement saying,

"Emma was aware of the possibility that our Dad's impending death may occur whilst she was in the Big Brother production. Our Dad had been ill for a considerable amount of time and wasn’t taken from us suddenly; the family did have time to prepare themselves. We reassured Emma that, in the event that this did happen, grieving our dad’s death when she was released from Big Brother would be no less meaningful or significant than when he actually passed away.

I personally spent the last week of dad's life by his side and one thing he was absolutely certain about was the fact that he didn't want his death to impose either negatively or positively on Emma's Big Brother experience.

He made us promise him that no-one would notify Emma of his death. He was adamant and clear in expressing this request."

It's difficult to know which aspect of this sad story is the saddest

- the fact that a girl is prepared to leave her dying father's side just to appear on reality TV.
- the fact that the family would choose not to interrupt her 15 mins of fame for her father's funeral
- the fact that Channel Ten have not overruled the family
- the fact that Channel Ten think it makes great telly

The price of our 15 minutes of fame has just gone up. Is ordinary life so dull?


It Is Economic Madness Not To Steal

I will be back in the Mother Country in June. Flights for four will cost a bomb but all is apparently not lost.

Financial times not being quite as good as they once were in the PG household, i intend to catch a break from the government's latest crime-busting scheme, whereby it is no longer compulsory to actually purchase goods from retailers.

Apparently, stealing their goods now not only avoids the need for an annoying criminal record (provided i pay the fine within three weeks) but will also avoid any requirement for time-wasting court appearances.

But that's not all.

So long as my ill-gotten gains amount to less than $400, i will only be liable for an on-the-spot fine of $160! And if i convince a minor to pilfer the loot for me, that fine reduces to a mere $80.

As the locals here might say, 'How Good is That'?!

That's a profit of $320 for each bout of looting (minus a small payment to the minor in quesition). You have to admit the economics and risk/reward trade-off are compelling.

Supposedly it is only first-time offenders that are able to avoid court, but in practice repeat shop-lifters are now exempt. It is what we traders would call an arbitrage (a riskless trade).

Clearly my fellow countrymen are not slow in 'doing the math' too.

In 2004, 2,072 were on-the-spot fines issued for shop thefts of under £200.
In 2005, that figure increased to 21,997
And in the first six months of 2006, 16,807 were handed out.

Oh, and for those of you questioning the morality of my plan, i advise you to keep up with the times. In today's post-modern world, morals are all relative, didn't you hear? You may harbour some quaint Judeao-Christian notions that stealing is wrong, but i don't. You may view my plan as a immoral means of transferring wealth from the productive sector to the undeserving, but i view it merely as switching wealth from the evils of tyrannical capitalism to the deserving poor.

After all, it's no less than what Robin Hood did, all those years ago. And he's still revered as a hero.


47% of UK Voters Work for the State

An impressive 47% of the UK electorate are now entirely dependent on the State for a living.

Which office-seeking political party would, in their right minds, now favour trimming the size of the State when nearly half the population depends on it?

It really is no wonder that David Cameron, leader of the Opposition Conservative Party, has ruled out cutting public spending. It's a guaranteed election loser.

The State has three divisions;

i) Direct Employees - 6.83 million or 16% of the electorate.

The UK State (30% of all employees in Northern Ireland, 24% in Scotland, 23% in Wales and 20% in England) employs vastly more people than the European average (15%) or the US (14%). Since 1998, the public sector has added 680,000 jobs to the payroll to stand at 5.8 million.

ii) Welfare Dependents - 5.33 million or 12.4% of the electorate

Incapacity claimants - 3.01 million
Lone Parent claimants - 776,000
Unemployed - 904,000
Carer claimants - 371,000
Bereaved claimants - 119,000
Income related claimants - 161,000

iii) Pensioners - 12 million, 66% of which only claim the State pension. ie 18% of the electorate are entirely dependent on the State for their pension.

A grand total of 20 million voters or 47% of the electorate entirely dependent on the state for a living

Figures are from the Dept for Work and Pension data.
Electoral register is 43 million voters

nb - i have only included those pensioners who are solely reliant on the State for survival. If one includes all pensioners, the % of the population reliant on the State increases to 55%.

Update; fleeced in the comments opens a can of worms by reminding us of John Stuat Mill's words,

"As required by first principles, that the receipt of parish relief should be a peremptory disqualification for the franchise."


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Legal Advice Required

A month ago, i received a parking penalty notice from Ryde Council for $77.

My crime? I had parked my car the wrong way around in the car park at our local council swimming pool.

Not that i was parked in a place likely to obstruct traffic, or impede traffic flow, or invading another's private property, but i was simply the wrong way around in a deserted car park. I parked nose to kerb. This was banned. Only rear to kerb was allowed.

I called up the council and disputed the fine on the basis that i) its an excessive amount of money for such a trivial offence and ii) i have never heard of anything so ridiculous in all my life.

They denied my claim and insist on getting their $77.

I can pay but won't pay because this is just government theft. It's not even well disguised theft.

They tell me that i can see them in court.

Is this wise? Or should i back down and pay?

Legal opinions welcomed


Amnesty International Loses the Plot

Amnesty International has lumped John Howard alongside Robert Mugabe and Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir in a report which says they are short-sighted fear-mongers dividing the world.

They accuse Mr Howard of portraying asylum-seekers as a threat to national security, they criticise Australia's role in the war on terror and its treatment of female victims of violence.

Amnesty secretary-general Irene Khan says the fear generated by leaders such as Mr Howard "thrives on myopic and cowardly leadership."

The Howard government, according to Irene, also apparently has an "appalling'' domestic human rights record over its treatment of asylum seekers and indigenous people. Ms Khan said she was pleased confessed terrorism supporter David Hicks was back in Australia, but he never received a fair trial in Guantanamo Bay.

In a display of blatant political partisanship, Ms Khan finished her tirade by urging Australian voters to think about giving others a "fair go'' at this year's election.

Just how much further can the international standing of this once wonderful organisation fall.

And no, i don't mean the Howard government!

Update; Amnesty's dirty little abortion secret is revealed over at DogFightAtBankstown


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Should We Discriminate Against Lardies?

Would you employee this woman as your child's nanny?

A close friend of ours is in the market for a nanny for her one year-old son so she can return to the workforce. She was particularly impressed by one CV and invited her around for an interview. My wife called her that night to see how the interview went. "No way". she replied "She was massively overweight."

My first reaction to this blatant lardist viewpoint was one of shock and distaste. One shouldn't discriminate against potential employees on account of their weight, i thought. But on further reflection, i have come to the conclusion that she had every right to make this call, and that her decision is perfectly justifiable.

A commonly held libertarian viewpoint is that employers should be free to discriminate against any employee - for instance on the grounds of their skin colour, their hair colour - basically any reason they like. The thinking is that if an employer gets a reputation as a racist, people will show their distaste by boycotting his products and he will go out of business.

However, i have never subscribed to this viewpoint. Not only do i think it is unworkable in practice, but i have a fundamental problem with employers discriminating on the basis of characteristics which one is born with and cannot change, for example skin or hair colour, height, sexual orientation and sex.

However, weight, unlike say, height, is something one can change. Yes - i know a very small percentage of the population have 'glandular issues' which mean they can't lose weight, but this is only a very small proportion.

And those that want to lose weight but can't, demonstrate a lack of will power and low self-motivation. Hardly the stuff of a promising employee.

Likewise, some people are not at all bothered by their overweightness and are proud of it. Some employers might find this lack of vanity, and even a slightly rebellious nature ('i refuse to conform to the government mandated health and size requirements') a particularly appealing characteristic in an employee. Net - it should be up to the employer to determine whether a lardy employee is what they are looking for.

Over at Stumbling and Mumbling, they discuss a recent report showing that lardies really do suffer discrimination in the workplace. I am not at all surprised. Maybe the prospect of reduced job opportunities wil provide lardies who wish to lose weight with the incentive they need.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Government bans the 'A'-word

So the UK government has banned the A-word. Whilst i am delighted to see the back of the 'N' word and would dearly love to see the 'C' word go the same way, it is with dismay that i witness the passing of the 'Accident'.

Spiked Online reports that the word ‘accident’ is to be banned from the new edition of Britain’s Highway Code, which is published by the UK Department of Transport. Instead the words ‘collision’, ‘crash’ or ‘incident’ will be used to describe events that once were known as accidents.

Spiked says that

"The banning of the A-word is a consequence of a broader cultural outlook which insists that nothing happens accidentally these days and that there is always someone to blame. The Orwellian manipulation of language by the Department of Transport is only the latest phase in a culture war against the word ‘accident’. For some time, safety experts and health promotion activists have campaigned against the very idea of an accident. Public health officials will often argue that the injuries people suffer are usually avoidable and thus it is irresponsible to say they were simply caused in an ‘accident’."

In June 2001, the prestigious British Medical Journal signed up to the crusade, explaining in an editorial why it had decided to ban the word accident from its pages. ‘Since most injuries and precipitating events are predictable and preventable’, the word accident should not be used to refer to ‘injuries or the events that produce them’.

We seem unable to accept the fact that bad things just happen. Instead we desperately try to discover a reason behind every incident. We explore our illnesses and injuries to discover their hidden meaning. The notion that someone we love may simply have been in the wrong place at the wrong time is antithetical to today’s need to endow every misadventure with purpose.

Our litigious culture has helped to foster a climate where adverse experiences are readily blamed on other people’s negligence. Guys, sometimes shit just, well, happens.

As author Frank Furedi remarks in a separate article,

"There is a foolproof way of preventing all skiing injuries - ban people from taking to the slopes in the first place. Cyclists' injuries can be prevented by forbidding people from riding bikes. Recently I talked to a group of teachers who had decided to ban children from playing with skipping ropes - because since children sometimes fall while skipping, surely the best way to prevent accidental falls was to prevent the game."

Last year an email did the global rounds entitled, 'The Death of Common Sense'. The email concludes with this,

'Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement. Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust: his wife, Discretion: his daughter, Responsibility: and his son, Reason. He is survived by three stepbrothers: I know my Rights, Someone Else is to Blame, and I'm a Victim.'

If you too are frustrated by the rise and rise of the nanny state and the rise and rise of the 'Rights' Industry, you may be interested in this new political party in Australia.


Those Smart Vegetarians

Intelligent children are more likely to become vegetarians later in life, according to a recent study reported in the British Medical Journal.

A Southampton University team found those who were vegetarian by 30 had recorded five IQ points more on average at the age of 10 (105 versus 100).

Liz O'Neill, of The Vegetarian Society, is pretty sure about this study,

"We've always known that vegetarianism is an intelligent, compassionate choice benefiting animals, people and the environment."

However, the study's own researchers aren't quite so unequivocal, stating that the findings may relate more to a "higher occupational social class".

Vegetarians were more likely to be female, to be of higher occupational social class and to have higher academic or vocational qualifications than non-vegetarians, though interestingly not likely to be better-off financially.

Just proves to me that lentil-eaters are more likely to be female and middle class.


Monday, May 21, 2007

You Can and You Must Measure Teachers

To anyone who has worked in private enterprise, the idea of paying staff according to their ability is, well, common sense. To pay an employee more because of their length of service or because they have a PhD would provoke an outcry amongst staff. The idea of a meritocracy is not only fair and just, but one that is accepted by all workers. Yet in the teaching profession, a meritocracy is still an alien and feared concept. A new study by economist Dr. Andrew Leigh, linking teacher performance with student results, may go some way to ending this inequitable situation.

The study examined the literacy and numeracy test results of more than 90,000 students with more than 10,000 teachers in Years 3, 5 and 7 between 2001 and 2004, tracking the same group as it advanced through the school system. It found that classes taught by the best teachers scored twice as high as those taught by substandard teachers. The top 10% of teachers were able to achieve in six months what the bottom 10% of teachers took more than a year to do.

Interestingly, the study found that additional qualifications, such as a masters degrees, have little effect on results. The study found that demographic differences between teachers account for less than 1% of the variation in their student scores, suggesting other factors such as a teacher's IQ or classroom skills are much more important.

"It's been something of a mantra that all teachers do about the same but this shows there are big differences between teachers. Currently, the factors we take into account are just experience and extra qualifications such as masters degrees. This suggests that's not rewarding the big differences in the profession." according to Dr. Leigh.

Education Minister, Julie Bishop said the findings questioned Labor's policy on linking teachers' pay to gaining higher qualifications, given it found teachers with higher professional qualifications, including masters, were no more effective in raising their students' scores.

Pat Byrne, the federal president of the AEU, which rejects the idea of linking teachers' pay to their performance, said yesterday she did not always agree with Dr Leigh's methodology or conclusions and wanted to see the research before commenting.

Whenever this subject is discussed, teachers are quick to retort that it is impossible to measure teacher performance. However Dr Leigh was confident that anyone in a school would know which teachers would score among the best in his study.

"The principal knows; other teachers know; the parents know; there's a huge degree of consensus about this. Teacher quality matters. A poorer teacher makes a big difference to your kid; poorer teaching can drag kids down."

Indeed. It is absurd and nothing short of scandalous that teachers claim there is no way of determining which teachers are good and which are failing their students.

What is the incentive for good quality, young teachers to go that extra mile if their reward is to be passed over for promotion yet again by a mediocre colleague just because he or she has been at the school longer.

Update; The NSW State Minister for Education, John Della Bosca, has said he is open to a system of merit pay not based on student results.

The president of the NSW Secondary Principals Council, Jim McAlpine, said the council's plan would be "based on merit rather than performance" (what? this is nonsense-speak).
He described performance pay as "a very narrow performance measure"

How sad that they are prepared to prioritise teachers' pay over childrens' education.


Are You Smart Enough to Become an Aussie?

Would you pass the Australian Citizenship Test?

Some sample questions. They are actually multiple choice questions, but that would be too easy for PG readers. You need to score 60% to become an Aussie.

1. Which colours are represented on the Australian flag?
2. Indigenous people have lived in Australia for
3. What is Australia's national flower
4. Australia's political system is called a...
5. What is the capital of Australia
6. Which animals are on the Australian Coat of Arms?
7. Where did the first European settlers to Australia come from?
8. Who is Australia's head of state?
9. Who was the first Prime Minister of Australia?
10. What song is Australia's national anthem?
11. What do you call the elected head of a state government?
12. Which federal political party or parties are in power?
13. What does Anzac Day commemorate?
14. In what year did the first European settlers arrive?
15. How many states are there in Australia?
16. What is Australia's biggest river system?


Friday, May 18, 2007


Well, i've been here a year now, and keen to pass my Citizenship exam next year, have been studying hard the local dialect.

A is for

Aboriginal, Blackfella
Person who's life has been destroyed by the well-intentioned but guilt-ridden handouts of the local Anglo population.

Only ever used in conjunction with the words 'legend', 'myth', 'digger', 'fair go', or 'spirit'.
Has replaced Australia Day (see below) as the National Day due to queasiness on the part of local white population.

Ashes, The
An urn that is kept in England despite last being won by England in the 19th Century

Australia Day
The landing of the first Fleet at Sydney Cove on 26th Jan 1788.
No longer Australia's National Day as has since been renamed 'Invasion Day'.


Only sold in sizes larger than most kitchens.
Primal regression back to the days when man killed what he ate by cave fires whilst drinking his own urine. Electricity has replaced wood but VB is still drunk.

Big Smoke
City. Usually with air of the quality of the Swiss mountains

Tin used for boiling water over a campfire. Only ever used in Waltzing Matilda

Fly the size of your hand that refuses to leave your face, especially your eyes

The white working class. Similar to 'chav' in England or 'redneck' in the US. Strangely is used pejoratively in left-wing circles and affectionately in the company of right-wingers.

Iconic Australian beach populated entirely by Brits

Bush, the
Mythical place that Australians talk abut incessantly but never visit.


Mate. Never used, except by English people trying to empathise with the locals


Dangerous, animal
Will kill you without a moment's hesitation or provocation.

Manure that sticks to a sheep's arse.
Likeable drongo.

Dead Set
Correct. As in 'Dead set, mate, it's true"
I think closely related to Fair Dinkum (see below)

Mythical hero who served in Gallipoi. Only insult a digger if you have extensive private medical insurance

Dinkum, Fair
Haven't nailed this one yet. Think it means 'exactly' or 'definitely'. As in 'Fair dinkum it's hot mate'. Useage rises in proportion to number of VBs drunk.

Aboriginal concept for the places where the creation spirits lie dormant in the ground. Has become popular with whitefella atheists.


Fair Go
Local religion. Only word more commonly used by politicians more than 'I'.

Not football. Weird game played by wiry thugs.


Sacred ground in Turkey. Site of humiliating defeat of Australian army. Brits blamed of course (see Tall Poppy Syndrome below).

Greer, Germaine.
Loathed wrinkly expat. Australia's least popular citizen. Now living in England, where she is on course for the 'Double'.


Any animal that won't kill you

'Harmless' spider. Grows to dinner plate size and prefers to live in your living room.


Imagination, or lack thereof in animal taxonomy
For example, a black snake with a red belly is called the red-bellied black snake. A brown looking snake is the brown snake. A black coloured spider with a red dot on its back is the redback spider. A jellyfish with a blue bottle on its back is the bluebottle. You get the picture.

Irwin, Steve


Jackaroo and Jillaroo
Young male and female ranch hands. About 0.00000000000004% of the population.


Pre-School. Now almost entirely funded by Federal government. Available from birth and available 24 hours a day for those parents not wanting to raise offspring.

Track in Papa New Guinea.
Most Australians live under the delusion that Japan's efforts in WWII ended here. Now walked by balding, middle managers on Corporate Teambonding Sessions.

Exotic-named and iconic bird but is actually a drab-looking kingfisher. Makes excrutiatingly annoying noise.


Disgusting sponge cake covered in coconut.

Badly behaved young person

Name of every boy under ten years of age.


Swagman's backpack.

Men of Middle Eastern Appearance

The middleman between Aboriginal welfare and destitution.


See Bogan.


Packers, the
The Australian Royal Family

Beer. Aptly named.

Fruit Machine. Only played by people with no money.

Used to be an affectionate term for an Englishman. Now banned, it has since become offensive.


National airline. Clever addition of kangaroo on the tail, enables company to be able to charge high prices and restrict competition all in the name of patriotism. Clever marketing department.


Disgusting meat patty. Needs lashings of tomato sauce to disguise taste.

Rugby League
Violent game played by men with tattoos

Rugby Union
Violent game played by men without tattoos


Schoolie's Week
One week of the year when the nation's future politicians, lawyers, bankers and wealth-generators descend on Surfer's Paradise to drink themselves into a coma, shag anything that moves and trash a place that is almost impossible to trash.

Smoke break. Now banned by federal govt everywhere and punishable by jail sentence.


Tall Poppy
Successful person. Everyone aspires to be one, but noone will admit to being one. Peverse sense of guilt still associated with success even though every parent will bankrupt themselves to ensure their children's success.

Tasmania. Haven't been there yet but hear they all look alike.

Ski resort. Prices start at $5,000 a week for the pleasure of skiing on grass and rock. Cheaper to fly to New Zealand to actually ski on snow.

Wealthiest suburb in Australia. Full of 4-wheel driving, latte-sipping greens with children at private school.

As in 'gone troppo'. Gone mad, done a runner, usually as a result of the heat, lack of water and man-eating spiders.

Heads or Tails. Pernicious gambling game now banned by all States. Legal for one day of the year - Anzac Day.


Pick up truck. Only available with tinted windows, souped-up engines and go-fast stripes. 'There's rednecks, and there's Ute drivers" i was told by an informed local.


Inedible yeast extract.

Venomous, animal
Likely to be in the World Top Ten most poisonous animals. Probably contains enough toxin to stop a herd of bull elephants.


Undrinkable beer from Queensland


Fisking Richard Garside

Crime is one of those issues that i have resigned myself to. I hardly ever post on the subject here, partly because it is so depressing but also because crime is generally not an endemic problem.

However, sometimes you stumble across something that is so self-serving, so morally bankrupt, so inane and so wrong, that you just can't let it go by.

Steve at the Pub Philosopher reports on a recent study by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, an offshoot of Kings College, London, that advocates raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18 and abolishing prison sentences for all children under the age of 18.

Now i have been around long enough to have heard some utter drivel, but this really takes the biscuit. I can only assume that its authors are fortunate enough to live in a nice middle class enclave in London and not on some crime-ridden housing estate. As Steve reminds us, 40% of street robberies are carried out by children under 16. The stupidity and breathtaking irresponsibility of this proposal is highlighted by this graph from Strange Stuff.

In fact, i have done some digging on the CCJS's Director, one Richard Garside. Here are some of his finer moments,

Dickie on the causes of crime

A paper in Dec 06 by Garside concluded that crime is caused by...wait for it....

'poverty and inequality and male violence on women'.

His very practical remedy to reduce crime is to address inequality.

Dickie on 7/7

Talking in a radio interview in Aug 05

"We [must not] throw out the important gains that have been made in terms of the kind of multicultural society we have because of what's seen to be short-term political gains in terms of fighting a so-called "war on terror", which frankly I suspect is going to be a relatively short-lived phenomenon."
Another spot-on prediction, Dickie. Always beware a man who uses the phrase the "so-called war on terror".

Dickie on Hate Crimes

In fact the British Crime Survey, which bases its result on interviews with members of the public, estimates the number of racially motivated incidents to be more like 200,000 every year.

"There is underpinning that a profound amount of racism which pervades all levels of society. This isn't just white working class yobbos beating up young boys. This is actually a problem which affects society as a whole."

No Dickie - it's not just white on black violence, is it. But why let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Dickie on Crime and Women

Dickie in this paper proposes abolishing prison for women.

Sexist? Idiotic? Guaranteed to generate publicity?
Dickie's True Agenda

Garside says that the time is right for his organisation to raise its profile. Aaaah. Now the fog is clearing. He's an egotistical self-serving publicity seeker. Penny drops.

“We see our role as helping to provide the basis upon which an informed debate about crime, crime-related harm and criminal justice can take place. We are not a campaigning organisation.”

Course not Dickie.

1995/6; Campaigns officer, Campaign Against Arms Trade

1996/8; Press officer, Survival International

1998/03; Senior press officer, National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders

2003/06; Director, Crime and Society Foundation, 2003-06;

2006; Director, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies 2006

No evidence of a real job there then.

Dickie writes shit. Dickie knows he writes shit. But Dickie knows that a controversial headline -catching title like 'no prisons for children' will give him media airtime. There will always be people like Dickie around. And there's a lot worse crimes than merely loving the sight of your name in print. But why oh why has King's College London, put its name to this crock of shit?

If you'd like to share your thoughts on crime with Dickie, you can contact him on 020 7848 1679; Or on his mobile - 07989 474 610.


Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a concept that corporations have an obligation to consider the interests of customers, employees, shareholders, communities and the environment in all aspects of their operations.

The UK now has a Minister for CSR, Margaret Hodge. She had this to say on her appointment,

'I look forward to working with UK business to ensure that environmental protection and community cohesion are seen as an integral part of delivering sustainable economic growth and business prosperity.’

Maggie - what in God's name has 'delivering business prosperity' got to do with the government?

My old employer, JPMorgan, takes its CSR seriously. It has the following networks for employees,

Access Ability: for employees with disabilities.
Adelante: to promote the development of Latino/Hispanic employees.
AsPIRE (Asians and Pacific Islanders Reaching for Excellence)
Women’s Network: for all women
Investment Bank Junior Women in Banking: for young women
Investment Bank Women’s Committee: not clear how it differs from above
Investment Bank Women Who Trade: for female traders.
Native American Tribes Instilling Opportunities and Network Support
Parents Networking Group
PRIDE: to support workplace fairness for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender employees.
South Asian Society: to maximize the impact of South Asians in JPMorgan.
ujima: for employees of African descent (ujima is Swahili for 'collective work and responsibility')
Women of Color Connections: though they don't say what colors
Women's Network: another one!
Working Families Network

It seems that if you are a childless white male, you're on your own, pal.

But is it really any business of business to be socially responsible? Whatever happened to simply maximising profit for shareholders in a competitive market place, whilst breaking no laws? Is not the standard of living enjoyed by peoples in the West due to little else than the selfish pursuit of profit? Obviously not it would seem.

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."

Adam Smith is clearly yesterday's man.

What proponents of CSR are in effect saying is that unadorned capitalism fails to serve the public interest. What these well-intentioned folk must remember is who is paying for this generosity. It is all well and good for a CEO to proclaim his support for the environment, but who pays? It won't be him but his shareholders.

There is a lot to be said for leaving CSR to governments. They, at least are responsible to voters. If a well-meaning CEO really wants to make the world a better place, he can do no better than concentrating his efforts on maximising the company's profits.

File under Corporate Welfare


Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Iraq Civil War and What To Do Next

A new report by policy think-tank, Chatham House, confirms what most already knew.


  • Iraq has fractured into regional power bases. The 'government' is just one of many players
  • There is not one 'civil war' raging but many.
  • Each of Iraq's major neighbouring state, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran has differing reasons for wishing to see the conflict continue.
  • Al Qaeda has now established a very significant power base in Baghdad and Kirkuk.
  • Any political solution now needs to engage with organisations possessing popular legitimacy and needs to be Iraqi-led not US-led.
  • The key issues to resolve are the Petroleum Law and Federalism


Wikipedia defines a civil war as

"a violent conflict within a country fought by organized groups that aim to take power at the center or in a region, or to change government policies". To qualify as a civil war, at least 1,000 people must have been killed in total, with at least 100 from each side. Other social scientists consider this casualty number rather low and prefer for instance a definition of an average of 1,000 people killed per year."

Under anyone's definition, Iraq is in the midst of a vicious Civil War.

Is the Surge working?

During March and April, the number of bombings remained constant and 1,500 civilians were killed in April alone. Although the number of civilian deaths has decreased in Baghdad, the overall Iraqi fatality rate has increased and the conflict has become more widespread. In addition, the number of fatalities amongst US troops has increased with 104 deaths in April alone. Net - things are certainly no better.

Who's Fighting Who?

  • Shias against Sunnis in Baghdad
  • Kurds and non-Kurds (now inspired by AQ) in Kirkuk
  • Sunnis against the US in the Centre and the North
  • Sadrists against the US in the Centre and South
  • AQ Sunni versus non-AQ Sunni in Anbar, Nineva and Diyala
  • Sadrist Shias against Badr Shias in Najaf and Basra
  • Rampant criminality across the entire country

What To Do

1. Bring a meaningful Sunni presence (though not AQ) back into the process.

2. Recognise the importance of Muqtada al-Sadr's popular movement.

3. Recognise Kurdish demands for autonomy under a federal structure.

The Regional Players and their Agendas

1. Iran - the most influential foreign power in Iraq. Views Iraq as a legitimate way of fighting the US and of draining US popular support for any future attakcs on Iran. Needs conflict to continue.

2. Saudi Arabia - terrified by the emergence of a Shia Crescent and the emergence of a Kurdish State. If the US withdew, Saudi is unlikely to stand by and watch.

3. Turkey - Needs to prevent the establishment of a separate Kurdish state centred around Kirkuk and its oil resources.

I don't pretend to know what the correct course of action is. But what i do know is that those who advocate withdrawl of our troops and to leave Iraq to a full blown bloody civil war without any Plan B, are no better than Rumsfeld and his neocon mates who took Iraq into the hell-zone in the first place. The surge is yet to work but at least it's a plan. It may yet work. The Chatham House recommendations may not be the answer, after all engaging with terrorists is political suicide, but at least they have thought through the issues and have come up with ideas. Good for them.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ron versus Rudy

In the GOP debate.

For us libertarians, this is almost unwatchable.


Mugabe's Destruction of Zimbabwe

I posted yesterday that though John Howards' decision not to allow the Australian cricket team to tour Zimbabwe is highly commendable, a far more efficient way of improving the plight of the impoverished Zimbabwean population is to assassinate Mugabe.

To see the extent of the destruction Mugabe has reaped on his fellow citizens, follow this link and press 'play'. It's a stunning visualisation of the horrors of his legacy.

Keep an eye on the plummeting blue dot, which is the Zimbabwean life expectancy (from 62 in 1985 to just 37 in 2002).

via fleeced.


Christian Aid; Idiots

Once again, Christian Aid completely misses the point.

The effects of climate change could make at least one billion people homeless between now and 2050, says the charity Christian Aid. The group expects climate change to deepen an already worsening global migration crisis, the most urgent threat facing poor people in the developing world. In a report, by John Davison, the charity says it fears the wave of migrations will generate new conflicts in areas of the world where resources are most scarce.
Countries most at risk are Sudan, Colombia, Uganda, Burma, Sri Lanka, Mali

The charity points out that most of those on the move will have to remain in their own countries as internally displaced people with no rights under international law and no voice - in many cases their lives will be in danger.

Christian Aid is calling for "a stronger, braver response" by the international community if the worst effects of the crisis are to be averted.

John, you complete moron, the global migration crisis is not caused by SUV drivers, but by

i) people desperately trying to flee corrupt and despotic governments

ii) a population explosion in the developing world

You may as well blame global warming for the sinking of the Titanic.

John, if you want an example of a 'stronger, braver voice', then look here. If only African governments would follow Howard's brave lead.

Is it any wonder that organisations like Christian Aid are completely irrelevant?


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Australian I Would Most Like To Meet

The more i hear from Noel Pearson, the more i believe that he is one of Australia's most important and radical men.

'The vortex of substance abuse and passive welfare has distorted our system of reciprocal obligation into a culture of humbugging, bludging and one-sided obligation, chiefly on the part of responsible elders to irresponsible drinkers.'

Read the rest of his editorial about the Hope Vale agreement in The Australian here.


Assassinating Despots Works

Interesting discussion at Stumbling and Mumbling on the effectiveness of assassinating leaders.

This study by Ben Olken concludes that

  • successful assassinations of autocrats produce sustained moves toward democracy
  • failed assassination attempts can prolong tyrannical regimes
  • successful assassinations do not lead to change in democracies
  • the frequency of assassination for world leaders is one every two years or a 0.3% probability each year
  • successful assassinations tend to intensify mid-level conflicts but hasten the end of high-intensity conflicts.

Conclusion - rather than ban the Australian cricket team from touring Zimbabwe, John Howard should hire a hitman to take out Mugabe.

Machiavelli wrote on this in The Prince for those wishing to read further on this subject.

Also - how important do you have to be for your violent death to be an assassination rather than just murder?


Monday, May 14, 2007

Annual Socialism Bash

Exciting news!

Yup, it's the annual Socialism bash in Chicago on June 14th.

However, if you can't get to Chicago this June, then the PG bulletin has an exclusive offer to all our readers. Don't sit through hours of tedious speeches full of hysterical beardies. Just read my previews of the speeches to find out what will be discussed. This year's exciting topics for debate include,

Won’t violence beget more violence?
A new brilliant theory from Professor A. Peaser, on how bullies are best stopped by hugging them.

Hot Climate, Cold Cash: Making a Killing from Global Warming
Led by 15,657 government-funded scientists reliant on producing anthropogenic Climate Change findings.

Zimbabwe: a revolution that lost its way
From breadbasket of Africa to basket case in just ten years. The power of socalism in action.

Crime and Punishment: Will there always be prisons?
Hopefully, yes. Otherwise, we're fucked.

The gathering threat against Iran
[Ed] Shurely shome mishtake. Probably a typo. Should read 'by Iran'.

Marxist economics made easy
Cancelled - due to lack of speakers

The History of the Russian revolution
Fucked up dudes with laughable goatee beards, overthrow corrupt Tsars with big, bushy beards, leading to even more corrupt regimes with frightening moustaches.

Did Lenin lead to Stalin?
Also time permitting, 'Do Bears shit in the woods?'

Capitalism and slavery
An hour on those evil capitalists. Unlike the Arab slave traders who were simply honest folk trying to eke out a living.

Israel, the Palestinians and the US war on terror
It's all the former's fault and nothing to do with the latter.

May Day: Haymarket and the fight for the eight hour day
Because it's worked so well for France.

Why did 60s radicals turn to Maoism?
Because they're ill-informed tossers.

Why do socialists look to the working class?
They don't. They hate the working class.

What is liberalism?
Cancelled due to lack of clue.

Could Hitler have been stopped?
He was. But not by Socialists.

Israel: a colonial-settler state
An hour on those evil Joooos

The Myth of Humanitarian intervention, from colonial times to Darfur
Who cares about a couple of million Darfurians. Think of the savings to the planet if they are simply left to be slaughtered.

What is the role of students in working-class struggle?
Guest speaker, Student Grant, on how to patronise and loathe the working class simultaneously.

Where is the world economy headed?
Do we really need more prosperity and employment? The case against capitalism.

Is there such a thing as human nature?
Yes. But you won't find much of it this weekend in Chicago.

Are we running out of oil?

War, What is it good for? Music and the struggle against war
By guest speaker, Holly Johnson, lead singer of 80s one-hit wonders, Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

The new scramble for Africa
Guest speakers - the Communist leadership of China

Which way forward for the antiwar movement?
Self-mutilation, as always.

Is the reign of neocons over?
Controversially, the speaker will argue, yes.

via Tim Blair


Gordon Brown Could Have Abolished Income Taxes

In reviewing Blair's legacy, whilst praising his overall performance on the economy, i scored his government a 'D' on tax and spending. On further study, and using the methodology adopted by the ALS, i would revise this to an 'F'.

The increase in government spending since Labour came to power is truly breathtaking. In particular, nearly all this increase occurred after Labour's second electoral victory in 2001. Up until that point, they were the very model of a tight-fisted government. But in 2001, the spending tsunami was fully unleashed.

In fiscal year 1996/7, the government spent 392 billion quid (adjusted for inflation and in 2006 money). In fiscal year 2006/07 it spent 552 billion - an increase in real terms of 160 billion.

Adjusting for population growth (4% under Labour from 57.5 million to 60 million), this increase reduces to 138 billion quid.

In fiscal year 2006/07, the government collected 141 billion in personal income taxes.

In effect, had Gordon Brown simply held government spending constant (adjusted for inflation and population growth), personal income taxes could have been entirely abolished.

Hold that thought.

There is no reason to suppose that this is impossible. Govt spending should only rise during recessions. During the good times, companies make more money, pay more tax, hire more workers, who then need less State support and so on and so on. During the Labour administration, the UK economy has experienced its longest period of sustained economic growth for more than 150 years. There is simply no need for spending to have risen to such stratospheric proportions.

This could go down as the most profligate administration of all time.

Source; HM Treasury Data on Public Sector Finances,

In particular, see worksheets A4 (GDP Deflator), B5 (Real Public Expenditure), C2 (Tax-take), C4 (breakdown of Govt Receipts) and D1 (Net Debt)


Friday, May 11, 2007

Blair's Legacy

So Tony Blair will stand down on June 27th. He stated simply that "I did what I thought was right for our country"

David Cameron replied that "I think a lot of people will look back on the last 10 years of dashed hopes and big disappointments, of so much promised so little delivered."

That he is a giant on the world political stage is a given. But how will history judge him?

The Good

i) The Economy

TB has presided over ten years of continuous growth and leaves Britain the 5th most prosperous nation (as measured by GDP per capita). This is his greatest achievement. Sceptics will retort that ll he did was not tinker with the market-led reforms initiated by Thatcher and continued by Major, but credit must be given to him for resisting the time-honoured Labour tradition of closing down free markets with ever crippling legislation.

ii) Northen Ireland

Is now at peace. Bombs are a thing of the past. Has he appeased terrorists to secure this outcome? Possibly. But nobody can deny theat the outcome is infinitely preferable to what went before.

iii) Kosovo

Clinton hesitated but Blair urged action not dithering. He must take credit for ending the genocide in Bosnia.

Jury Out

i) Devolution to Wales and Scotland

It's what they wanted and he delivered. However, a consequence may have been to set in motion the complete break-up of the United Kingdom.

ii) Immigration

Blair's open borders policy (immigration has increased from 340,000 a year in '97 to 600,000 in '06) has undoubtedly contributed to the strength of the economy by providing the UK with an army of willing and cheap labour. It has been a boon to business. However, fissures are now opening up and rising crime and a discontented Muslim population are dominating headlines and fuelling the rise of fascist parties.

In addition Blair's decision to sign the Human Rights Act of 1998 has led to the appalling position Britain now finds itself in, whereby convicted foreign terrorists are now no longer able to be deported back to their country of origin.

iii) War on Terror

TB was the star of the show post 9/11. "We are all Americans now" was his finest soundbite and he courageously argued the moral case for backing the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. However all this moral authority was junked by his misleading the British population of the severity of the threat posed by Saddam, by his weapons of mass destruction and of his links to Al-Qaeda. One can't pin the blame on Blair for the disastrously handled US post-invasion plan in Iraq but he must be remembered for lying to his voters about why we were sending our troops to fight.

The Ugly

i) Education

When TB came to power, he announced three priorities, "education, education, education". Given the emphasis he himself placed on education, it is herer that we must judge his record most closely.

According to the government, his education policies have been an outstanding success. The GCSE pass rate has increased and increasing numbers of students are attending University. However, not everyone believes these figures. The schools regulator, Ofsted, recently pronounced that more than half of Britain's secondary schools are failing to provide children with a good standard of education.

Jeffrey Robinson, a senior examiner in GCSE Maths, claimed that the exams had been dumbed down by such a degree that an 'A' grade is now equivalent to a 'C' grade of ten years earlier.

But most damning of all was a recent study by the London School of Economics claiming that following ten years of a Labour government, social mobility is actually decreasing. Children born in 1970 are more likely to have ended up poor than children born in 1958. Britain was shown to have the worst record for social mobility amongst the eight advanced nations studied.

It is education then that TB has scored his biggest failure.

ii) Taxation
In 1996, the tax burden was equivalent to 43% of GDP and the national debt stood at 38% of GDP. By 2006, these measures had risen to 46% and 40% respectively despite falling unemployment and general prosperity. These figures do not include the fraudulent off-balance sheet accounting of the massive PFIs. In short, taxes have risen substantially under TB.

iii) Crime

"Tough on crime. Tough on the causes of crime" A classic TB soundbite. But was he tough?

By the end of 2006, Britain's prison population had risen from 45,800 in 1992 to 80,000. Britain now has the highest rate of incarceration of any Western European country. Sounds pretty tough to me but has it reduced crime?

Despite a full prison population, conviction rates for violent crime under Labour have dropped to below 10%. Reported rape cases have doubled since 1997 whilst conviction rates have halved to a disgraceful 5.5%. Serious woundings have risen by 50%, but their conviction rates have fallen from 14.8% to just 9.7%. Only burglaries have fallen under Labour - and by just 0.5%

John Reid recently described his Home Office as "not fit for purpose". He was right. Under Labour the number of people leaving the UK has increased from 250,000 per year to 350,000. Rising crime is a major factor.

Crime has been an abject failure.

iv) Pensions

Provisions for retirement were a non-issue in 1997. However Gordon Brown's $10 billion a year raid on pension funds has decimated the industry. Despite the switch from defined-benefit schemes to defined-contribution pensions in most of the private sector, the government continues to award its workers (now 25% of the population) highly lucrative defined-benefit pensions and a lower retirement age. This is the principle reason for the 100% increase in Council Tax in real terms since Labour came to power.

v) Subordination of the UK's sovereignty to the EU

The media scratches its head as to why voter turnout is so low at General Elections, but when up to 80% of UK national legislation now comes from Brussels, it is hardly surprising. Under Labour, British politicians have lost a huge amount of legislative power and democracy has been weakened as laws now emanate principally from the unelected EU.

vi) The NHS

The world's second largest employer and now a monstrous, insatiable consumer of taxes. No need for figures here. The destruction caused by targets, managerialism and reforms too timid is complete. Even Blair himself admitted that if he had his time again, he would have been bolder with healthcare reform.

vii) Peerages for Cash

Cronyism and a return to the dreaded days of Major's corrupt Tories. But in my view, not the most serious of TB's shortcomings.


Friday Funny


Zero Income Tax

Over at the ALS, Terje has run some number on the prolific nature of government spending during the ten years since John Howard came to power.

His conclusion is that if Howard had just kept government spending in line with that of Keating's Labour government, then income taxes could be entirely abolished.

Think about that for a while.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Turner Prize Shorlist

The Turner Art Prize Shortlist of four has been announced. I can barely contain myself.

The Turner Prize is awarded to a British artist under the age of fifty for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the twelve months up to May 2007.

Here are the nominees;

i) Mark Wallinger - State Britain

'Mark has wittily recreated Brian Haw's Parliament Square protest in an installation at Tate Britain. The 40 metre long reconstruction of the flags and banners the government seized from anti war protester Brian Haw’s camp outside the Houses of Parliament speaks out not only against the war but against this appalling government. The destruction of the original protest materials by the police represented a blatant suppression of free speech and yet was allowed to happen with barely a peep of protest. By re-creating Haw’s camp in an art gallery Wallinger has made it live forever.'

Brilliant. Looks like a bunch of student demo banners to me but hey what do i know about art. Though if it is an 'exact recreation of Brian Haw's camp', then shouldn't Brian be nominated rather than this plagiarist?

ii) Zarina Bhimji - This Unhinged Her

Her work engages with emotions such as grief, pleasure, love and betrayal using non-narrative photography and film making...

This one reminds me of a piece of artwork my daughter proudly produced last week at Kindergarten. I searched desperately for a single redeeming feature, but no... It's a football net.

iii) Nathan Coley - There Will Be No Miracles Here

Judges said Coley's 'There Will Be No Miracles Here' referenced the ongoing conflict between religious and state authorities.
Dude, it's a cage with some words. Nope, sorry Nathan, but it looks a photoshop make up. File this one under the Artist's Law of Bravery,
'Criticism of a religion is inversely proportional to the probability of its proponents killing you multiplied by their density'

iv) Mike Nelson - Double Coop Displacement

Telegraph art critic, Richard Dorment, had this to say of Mike's seminal work,

Simply made out of a timber frame and chicken wire, it takes the form of a cube within a cube in tribute to Bruce Nauman's Double Steel Cage. But look out. The work is a trap. Inside Nelson's second cube are a series of small triangular spaces connected by a series of almost invisible "doors", the existence of which we discover only by pushing at the wire walls. What we thought was a simple and easily navigable space suddenly becomes fiendishly complex. As we try to make our way though it, we become trapped in an endless series of cul-de-sacs, unable to find the hidden doors that will either lead us ever deeper into the space, or else to an exit. Along the route there are references to past works by Nelson - piles of driftwood laid out as though for a bonfire, and some plaster pods that look to me like bait for a mousetrap.
And so on and so on ad nause-fucking-um. Holy fuck. It's a giant bee hive in a cage. Brilliant!


Mens' Rights

This website deserves some further exploration.
In particular, i like (1), (4), (7), (8)


The Battle of the Hayeks

Happy Birthday Freddy!

But is Friedrich Hayek hotter than his namesake, Salma Hayek?

So, you're an intellectual who appreciates the subjectivist economic theory and classical liberal political theory of Friedrich Hayek. And you're also a moviegoer who appreciates the exotic allure of Mexican screen goddess Salma Hayek. But who would win, if they went head to head?

I Age
Salma; 34 years old, alive for all of them
Freddy; 101 years old, dead for the last eight
Winner; Salma

II Awards & Honors
Salma; Nominee, Best Kiss (for "Desperado"), MTV Movie Awards, 1996
Freddy; Nobel laureate in economic science, 1974, US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991.
Winner; Freddy

III Entertainment Value
Salma; "Desperado"; "From Dusk til Dawn"
Freddy; Monetary Theory and the Trade Cycle; Prices and Production
Winner; Salma

IV Number of Works
Salma; 23 movies, and a Mexican soap opera
Freddy; 25 books, and 130 articles
Winner; Friedrich

V Legacy Work
Salma; Ugly Betty
Freddy; The Road To Serfdom
Winner; Salma

VI Appearance
Salma; Named by People Magazine as one of world's 50 most beautiful people, 1996
Freddy; Large schnoz and a funny mustache
Winner; Salma

VII Philosophical Depth
Salma; "I keep waiting to meet a man who has more balls than I do."
Freddy; "The mind cannot foresee its own advance."
Winner; Freddy

4-3 to Salma

Yes - this post is a gratuitous and thinly disguised attempt to get a picture of the utterly lovely Salma Hayek on my blog.


The War on Parents

As many as 90% of children under two years old are regular watchers of television, DVDs and videos, reports The Age.

Well, that only proves to me that 10% of parents are liars or fanatics.

Study author, Frederick Zimmerman, of the University of Washington, on the brilliance of his study,

"We don't know from the study whether it is good or bad. What we know is that it is big."

Brilliant Prof. Got any more insights?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age 2 should not watch any TV.

And will they paying for the counselling services and valium for stressed parents?

Have these 'academics' had children? Do they know how utterly shattering it is to bring up a toddler? Is an hour a day of Baby Mozart or The Wiggles really going to lead to them becoming serial killers?

The mad Prof continues,

"Parents are getting the message loud and clear from marketers of TV and videos that this is good for their kids. That it will help their brain development ... None of this stuff has ever been proven."

But nor has it been disproven? What a prize twat.

File under 'War on Parents'


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Free To Learn

When Tony Blair came to power in 1997, he boldly (and rightly) announced three priorities,

"education, education, education".

Ten years on, what has been the result of the additional billions (a 5% increase in real terms per year since 2000) pumped into the UK's state schools? A Civitas study has a detailed analysis of the abject failure of this policy.

i) The schools regulator, Ofsted, announced that more than half of secondary schools in England are failing to provide children with a good standard of education. More than half. Think about it.

ii) The Qualifications and Literacy Authority (QCA) report in 1999 found that government claims of an increase in reading standards were "illusory" and concluded that reading standards had actually fallen.

iii) Whilst the percentage of pupils gaining 5 or more GCSEs at Grade A-C had risen from 46% in '97 to 55% in '05, Jeffrey Robinson, a senior examiner in GCSE Maths, claimed that the exams had been dumbed down by such a degree that an 'A' grade is now equivalent to a 'C' grade of ten years earlier.

iv) Even more damning has been the recent discovery that following ten years of a Labour government, social mobility is actually decreasing. A study by the LSE showed that children born in 1970 are more likely to have ended up poor than children born in 1958. Britain was shown to have the worst record for social mobility amongst the eight advanced nations studied.

But whether you believe the Civitas, Ofsted and LSE studies or not, the proof is in the pudding. Despite rampant private school fee inflation (in 2000 private fees represented 30% of annual earnings, they now account for 35% of earnings), pupil intake is still rising despite a smaller number of pupils attending schools. If state schools were doing such a grand job, as Tony and his numerous Education Ministers continually remind us, then why are parents bankrupting themselves to avoid attending the local "bog standard comp"?

I believe the Labour government's policy of pump-priming the state school sector was well-intentioned and worth trying. Improvements have been made and many state schools now offer a fine education. However, the conclusion, to all but the most blinkered, is that simply pouring money into education is a tried and tested failure. We owe it to the children of poor families to try something new.

It is time to look at other factors than money, in particular the way education is delivered. For this we need to revisit a 52 year old idea originated by one of the 20th Century's greatest minds.

In 1955, Milton Friedman foresaw that the problem lay with the monopoly status of the provision of state education. He urged a return to liberty through the introduction of school choice. He argued that it would be much better and more equitable if the government would

“give each child, through his parents, a specified sum to be used solely in paying for his general education.”

In the simplest of terms, it means letting every parent send their child to the school of their choice regardless of where they live or income. Parents choose schools based on their child’s needs, not their address.

Voucher programs, which are becoming more widespread in the US, allow parents to use all or part of the government funding set aside for their children’s education to send their children to the public or private school of their choice. In effect, this separates government financing of education from government operation of schools. Participating private schools are required to meet standards for safety, fiscal soundness and non-discrimination.

The need to attract students provides strong incentives to meet the expectations of parents and punish mistakes. It also rewards success and provides continual pressure for improvement. Non-government schools are in a stronger position to resist destructive experiments such as outcomes-based education, where students no longer fail and academic studies are a thing of the past.

For some inexplicable reason, "progressives" have denounced the idea as unworkable or worse, unethical. Well what is progressive about entrenching the status of the middle class? What is progressive about denying a child from a less privileged background a good education? What is progressive about the current state of affairs where only children of the very-wealthy can afford a good education?

So Does It Work?

Well, i am no idealist, and if studies had proved it didn't actually work in practice, then i would not be advocating trials to be carried out in the UK. However, wherever it has been tried, it has found to conclusively work. The Economist (sub only) reports the results of trials in three countries.

In Colombia, a program to broaden access to secondary schools, called PACES, was tried in the 1990s. The aim was to provide 125,000 poor children, selected by lottery (an essential control element), with vouchers worth 50% of the cost of a private school education. The results were astounding; the lucky recipients were 20% more likely to finish school and much more likely to take college entrance exams.

In Sweden, sweeping education reforms in 1992 allowed students to take their state funding to private schools. The result saw a breakneck expansion of the private sector, resulting in 10% of Swedish students now educated privately versus 1% previously.

In the US, seven studies have found significant gains in academic achievement from vouchers, and no study has ever found negative effects. The amount of money spent on the voucher or scholarship for each participant in a school choice program was less than what would have been spent on that student if he or she had remained in public schools. That means states saved money that was plowed back into their education budgets and spent on the students who remain in public schools.

In Milwaukee, a 1998 Harvard study found that after four years of participation, voucher students gained 11 points in Maths and six points in Reading compared to the control group. Another 1998 study by Cecilia Rouse of Princeton found that voucher students improved more than the control group by eight points in Maths over four years. And so on.

Commonly Heard Objections

i) Doesn’t school choice drain resources from public schools?
Absolutely not! No US state or city with school choice has seen its public school budgets go down. School choice programs do not drain money from public schools. Actually, they leave more money behind to educate fewer students.

Studies showed that school choice leads to better test scores for all students and higher graduation rates. They show that parents are more satisfied and involved with their child’s school, and that school choice saves taxpayers millions of dollars. And they show that public schools respond positively to competition.

ii) Doesn't school choice make public schools worse?
No. If all schools compete for students, public schools will not be able to take students for granted, as they do now; they will have to improve to prevent students from walking out the door. Not one empirical study has ever found that outcomes at U.S. public schools got worse when exposed to school choice, and numerous studies have found that they improve. While the average US public school spends about $10,000 per student, the average private school charges $5,000. That's the fundamental reason school choice saves money – private schools do a better job at about half the cost.

iii) Are private schools that participate in school choice programs held accountable?
Not only are private schools accountable for the job they do, they're much more accountable than public schools are. Private schools are primarily accountable to parents, who can pull their children out of a school that fails to serve them.That's a freedom that parents stuck in the public school monopoly don't have.

iv) Does the public really want school choice?
Yes. 62% agreed that "parents should have the option of sending their children to non-public schools, using vouchers provided by the federal government that would pay for some or all of the costs" (First Amendment Center 2003 & 2004).
Most importantly, it is parents from the least privileged backgrounds that want vouchers the most. 77% of African Americans and 64% of Hispanic Americans supported school vouchers allowing parents to move their children from under-performing schools to more successful schools (Sacred Heart University 2005).

v) Doesn't school choice really lead to less integrated schools?
Quite the opposite. Public schools in the US are heavily segregated. According to a Harvard University study, more than 70% of the nation's black students now attend predominately minority (public) schools. Public schools are so segregated primarily because of residential segregation. Attendance at public schools is determined by where people live, which guarantees that segregation in housing patterns will always be reproduced in public schools. Private schools, by contrast, can draw students from anywhere. In fact, because they offer a superior education and other attractions that parents want for their children but can't get at public schools, private schools typically draw from a much larger geographic area than public schools. That means private schools can mitigate the effects of residential segregation in a way public schools can't match

vi) Surely education is too important to leave in the hands of the private sector?
Well, food is pretty important too, but i don't hear any calls to nationalise Tesco. A fifth-form argument that should remain in the fifth-form Common Room.

vii) Aren't vouchers a right-wing Republican idea?
No. Democrat Senators have been leading propnents of the idea.
In 2004 Congress enacted school vouchers for Washington D.C. with the support of both Democratic city officials, including Mayor Anthony Williams, and national Democratic leaders like Diane Feinstein and Joe Lieberman.
In 2005, Ohio enacted a new voucher program sponsored by Democratic Rep. Dixie Allen, while Missouri debated a prominent school choice proposal supported by a number of top state Democrats.
In 2006, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D) signed a big expansion of the Milwaukee voucher program. Then Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) allowed the creation of a tax-credit scholarship program, signed two new voucher programs into law, and also doubled the size of the new scholarship program. In Iowa, a new tax-credit scholarship program gained overwhelming Democratic support. Finally, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) signed a $10 million expansion of his state's tax-credit scholarship program.

It is tragic that the Conservatives have dropped this idea as being too radical. It is time it was put firmly back on the agenda.