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Sleepless in Fulham: Rambling and gambling by David Young
Friday, 5 October 2007
So how do you want to help Burma?
Topic: Politics

I've seen a few people indicating support for the Burmese people in their struggle against an oppressive regime. If you're one of them I want to know what level of military action you'd support.

Who should be killed?

Friday, 10 August 2007
Not ready for sub-prime time.
Topic: Politics

Well I eventually figured out what the youtube link I posted below was about. If you listen long enough to Jim Cramer's rant, he says that 14 million people took out mortgages in the USA in the last three years. Half of them took advantage of so-called 'teaser' rates - introductory low interest periods for the first two or three years. Many of these borrowers were poor credit risks and many didn't understand that the low mortgage payments offered were only temporary. They could be forced to sell their homes when the bills go up.

I can understand his horror at the thought of seven million people being made homeless, but in a lot of cases the only way to have prevented this would be for them never to have had the house in the first place. I can't share his horror at the thought of investment bankers losing their jobs. As far as I'm concerned, the problems at the US investment banks are entirely of their own making. And it would be wrong for prudent people who didn't overstretch themselves to be made to bail out those who were reckless.

The fascinating thing for me is that while the US has had the same credit splurge that the UK has had, house prices have started falling, particularly in Florida. That's because, as one eminent UK economist* put it: 'In Britain we buy and sell houses, but in the US they also build them.' A friend of mine likes to send me spreadsheets showing me the average 'inventory' of US housebuilding firms. 'Inventory' in this case means the number of unsold houses on their books, divided by the average monthly sales rate. The last time he showed me the numbers, the inventory period was over eight months! Typical UK builders have no 'inventory' at all in the part of the UK where I live! He keeps asking me why I don't try to live in the US. Young Americans who have lived within their means and have saved responsibly will soon be rewarded by having a large amount of housing options to chose from. This contrast with the UK could hardly be more stark. One reader of this site recently wrote to tell me:

I thank God that I was not born three or four years later and shudder to think what it must be like to leave college today with £30,000 of debts and no prospect of ever affording a bedsit in Hackney for your trouble.  

All of this brings me back to my last piece about land use in Britain. I've had some sensible replies like the one above and some idiotic ones too, like this:

I guess you didn't hear about the flooding in the news? Spare land has important uses other than housing and farming. Flood plains

This is a pure red herring put up by people who have their own homes and who don't want more housing competing with theirs in the market. Of course I'm aware of the flooding. But if you offer someone with no home the choice of continuing to have no home or to have a home that floods for a month once every twenty years, I know what he'll take. In any case, it is not hard to get around the issue. You put a garage on the ground floor and the living quarters one storey higher. Next!

Yes, the UK can import all the food it needs. That assumes that it has the money to afford to do so in the future. It also assumes the cost of transporting globalised food doesn't go through the roof with the record oil prices. Every country in the world wants to be western. That also means importing food so that they can develop their farmland. What happens when every country wishes to import rather than grow food?

The tragedy of the underdeveloped countries is that there are barriers to them selling their food in Europe and the US. As a result they can't earn enough by farming and many of their people chose to flee to Europe as economic migrants.  The protection of the European farmer is one reason for the huge movement of people into Europe. If we bought food from overseas then we could release our land for new homes and the poorer countries wouldn't be so poor. The revenues they earn from their food exports would be used to buy our manufactured goods. It's win-win, except for European farmers who fear change. For everyone else it would be a massive gain.

This same person then described me as 'still as selfish as ever'. Incredible! Apparently it's selfish of me to want there to be more homes and more trade with the developing-world with which they could drag themselves out of poverty and give our high-tech export industries a new market! Written no doubt by someone who's got their own piece of middle England (or I suspect southern Ireland) who doesn't want anything changing now that he's on his feet.  Who's really selfish?

* Probably Roger Bootle, but it might have been Tim Congdon or Patrick Minford.

_ DY at 2:50 PM BST
Updated: Friday, 10 August 2007 3:00 PM BST
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Thursday, 2 August 2007
Let's build.
Topic: Politics

I went to Guernsey this weekend to stay with a friend. On the way there the Aurigny ATR72 flew at an altitude of around 15,000 feet on a path from Gatwick to Poole before crossing the channel. It was the ideal vantage point to see the landscape of West Sussex and Hampshire.

There is almost nothing there.

It's easy to think that the whole of the south of England is overbuilt. But it's a myth. There is a huge amount of empty space. I have a running argument with my mother about the need for more house-building and it always ends with her telling me something like - 'You can't concrete over the whole country. It has to be able to grow its own food.' She recently suggested that I spend a week on a farm to help me understand whatever it is that I am missing.

I certainly am missing something. Her son is renting (and sharing) at the age of 38 and has been overweight since his late twenties. Obesity is soaring, children are getting adult-onset diabetes. Yet she worries about the strategic need to maintain national food self-sufficiency. It finally dropped on me last month that her earliest memories are of the Second World War and the post-war rationing. It must make a deep impression and I wonder whether it's influenced the way policy-makers of her generation have thought about land-usage ever since.

I don't worry about that so much, as I don't think future wars are going to be like WW2. Either we get nuked or we'll face some sort of insurgency/civil war driven by fanatics, like in Iraq and Sri Lanka. I don't see the country being surrounded by U-boats and denied supplies of food from the Commonwealth. In any case it's also possible for the UK to have a greater population density and still have agriculture. The Netherlands has a far greater population density than the UK and it exports food to us!

All of which brings me to this piece in the Times -  

We’ve got lots of countryside. Let’s get building.

which demolishes the overbuilding myth and suggests changes to the way homes are designed.

ps - on the return journey the plane crossed the channel on a different flightpath, reaching the mainland at Brighton. Once that's out of view there's nothing to see until you land at Gatwick.

_ DY at 2:56 AM BST
Updated: Thursday, 2 August 2007 5:31 PM BST
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Sunday, 17 June 2007
Should we ignore the Middle East in order to help it?
Topic: Politics

Prospect magazine had an interesting article about the Middle East in its May edition. 'The Middle of Nowhere' argues that 'despite its oil, this backward region is less relevant than ever, and it would be better for everyone if the rest of the world learned to ignore it.'

That's actually two statements rolled into one. The latter one is the important one. It's an interesting thesis and for many an appealing one. Just learn to ignore AIPAC, Tikkun, the ISM, etc and the problem should get better by itself! I don't doubt that the region would benefit if Iran stopped interfering, but it's less clear to me whether it would benefit from a more laissez-faire attitude in the West.

The article makes some intersting observations about the Middle East and I recommend that everyone read it. But I think it's misleading to point out that the region has "only about five per cent of the world's population". What matters most is what percentage of the world's young people it has and how fertile they are. Middle Eastern nations are mostly very young in comparison with the rest of the world, apart from Africa. And they have larger families. On current trends, Yemen's population will overtake that of Russia within a few decades.

But of more concern to me is the second statement - that the conflict would benefit if the rest of the world took less notice. The reason it bothers me is that there already is a violent conflict that the world takes little notice of and the lack of external interest doesn't appear to make peace more likely. It's a conflict that doesn't involve oil or Islam.

I'm talking about Sri Lanka, where a Tamil minority wishes to break away from the Sinhalese majority to form its own state to be called 'Eelam'. Since 1983, the Sri Lankan civil war has claimed 68,000 lives. The Tamils pioneered the use of suicide bombing, years before the Palestinians adopted it. Yet the civil war there gets a fraction of the attention from the world's media and politicians that is given to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Why?

I must confess I have a personal axe to grind here. I'm getting fed up of reading books and articles about terrorism that don't make reference to the Sri Lankan Civil War. I read the whole of Nathan Sharansky's otherwise excellent 'The Case for Democracy' waiting for him to make the comparison. It never came. I keep waiting for a critic of Israel to make a comparison of Israel's handling of public security with Sri Lanka's. Surely if an unflattering comparison could be made, I would have heard it by now? I've skim-read a lot, though not all, of Norman Finkelstein's 'Beyond Chutzpah' and I've not yet seen any such comparison, though I have seen an unflattering comparison made with the British handling of the threat from the IRA. If Sri Lanka has a better human rights record then say so. Either it doesn't, in which case Israel isn't so bad, or it does, but nobody wants to say so, because 68,000 people have died!

Saturday, 14 April 2007
Compulsory reading for those who want to understand teen violence.
Topic: Politics

The spate of murders of teenagers by teenagers in Britain has rightly made the news and drawn the attention of commentators to the problem. Alas, I fear that many of them are missing the point. The National Union of Teachers says that black fathers must do more. Tony Blair says something equally inane. Do any of them know what they are talking about? I can't claim any inside knowledge of the life of the underpriviliged black teenager, but I think I know where to start looking for a clue as to the nature of the problem. For that I must thank Juliette White for introducing me to Paul Graham.

I've cited Graham before in reference to his excellent 'Inequality and Risk' essay (see the Essential Reading list on the left hand panel). Today I recommend that anyone who has a sincere desire to get inside the mind of teenage delinquency read another titled 'Why Nerds are Unpopular'. I wish I had been able to read it when I started school.

Extract 1:

Teenage kids used to have a more active role in society. In pre-industrial times, they were all apprentices of one sort or another, whether in shops or on farms or even on warships. They weren't left to create their own societies. They were junior members of adult societies. Teenagers seem to have respected adults more then, because the adults were the visible experts in the skills they were trying to learn. Now most kids have little idea what their parents do in their distant offices, and see no connection (indeed, there is precious little) between schoolwork and the work they'll do as adults.

And if teenagers respected adults more, adults also had more use for teenagers. After a couple years' training, an apprentice could be a real help. Even the newest apprentice could be made to carry messages or sweep the workshop. Now adults have no immediate use for teenagers. They would be in the way in an office. So they drop them off at school on their way to work, much as they might drop the dog off at a kennel if they were going away for the weekend.

What happened? We're up against a hard one here. The cause of this problem is the same as the cause of so many present ills: specialization. As jobs become more specialized, we have to train longer for them. Kids in pre-industrial times started working at about 14 at the latest; kids on farms, where most people lived, began far earlier. Now kids who go to college don't start working full-time till 21 or 22. With some degrees, like MDs and PhDs, you may not finish your training till 30. Teenagers now are useless, except as cheap labor in industries like fast food, which evolved to exploit precisely this fact. In almost any other kind of work, they'd be a net loss. But they're also too young to be left unsupervised. Someone has to watch over them, and the most efficient way to do this is to collect them together in one place. Then a few adults can watch all of them.

If you stop there, what you're describing is literally a prison, albeit a part-time one. The problem is, many schools practically do stop there. The stated purpose of schools is to educate the kids. But there is no external pressure to do this well. And so most schools do such a bad job of teaching that the kids don't really take it seriously-- not even the smart kids. Much of the time we were all, students and teachers both, just going through the motions.

Extract 2:

In almost any group of people you'll find hierarchy. When groups of adults form in the real world, it's generally for some common purpose, and the leaders end up being those who are best at it. The problem with most schools is, they have no purpose. But hierarchy there must be. And so the kids make one out of nothing. We have a phrase to describe what happens when rankings have to be created without any meaningful criteria. We say that the situation degenerates into a popularity contest. And that's exactly what happens in most American schools.

Instead of depending on some real test, one's rank depends mostly on one's ability to increase one's rank. It's like the court of Louis XIV. There is no external opponent, so the kids become one another's opponents. When there is some real external test of skill, it isn't painful to be at the bottom of the hierarchy. A rookie on a football team doesn't resent the skill of the veteran; he hopes to be like him one day and is happy to have the chance to learn from him. The veteran may in turn feel a sense of noblesse oblige. And most importantly, their status depends on how well they do against opponents, not on whether they can push the other down.

Court hierarchies are another thing entirely. This type of society debases anyone who enters it. There is neither admiration at the bottom, nor noblesse oblige at the top. It's kill or be killed. This is the sort of society that gets created in American secondary schools. And it happens because these schools have no real purpose beyond keeping the kids all in one place for a certain number of hours each day. What I didn't realize at the time, and in fact didn't realize till very recently, is that the twin horrors of school life, the cruelty and the boredom, both have the same cause.


Graham is talking about suburban American schools and the persecution of the nerds (who realise that there is more to life than mere popularity) and the rest (who don't). But his words have a vital relevance to the violence on the streets of London. Young men are killing each other over arguments about who's got the best postcode. Parks that lie between two estates become battlegrounds for turf wars where absolutely nothing except 'respect' and 'reputation' is at stake. The problem may be mainly manifesting itself among the black teenagers of South London, but it could just as easily occur in places where everyone is white. The vital ingredient of this recipe is the chasm between what young people are doing and what is of relevance in the real world. As long as our education system promotes only academic learning and neglects vocational education, kids will rebel. It's very hard for a 14-year old to see the value in learning about the square on the hypotenuse, the marriages of Henry VIII or the causes of the First World War when his core concern is how he's going to get a career and with it the respect that comes from achieving something.

I observed over three years ago that a room full of young people aged between 17-20, half of whom were black, with little or no academic ambition was happy to sit in total silence when someone spoke to them about something that they thought would give them a career, money and respect. I said it then and I'm more convinced of it now. Making school more relevant is the key to reducing the violence and delinquency.

_ DY at 1:57 PM BST
Updated: Sunday, 15 April 2007 11:57 AM BST
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Thursday, 15 February 2007
Climate change revisited.
Topic: Politics

My thanks to Frode Gjesdal for bringing my attention to this piece in the Times concerning 'global warming'. It's by a former editor of the New Scientist

The key quotes:

"while the media usually find mavericks at least entertaining, in this case they often imagine that anyone who doubts the hypothesis of man-made global warming must be in the pay of the oil companies. As a result, some key discoveries in climate research go almost unreported. Enthusiasm for the global-warming scare also ensures that heatwaves make headlines, while contrary symptoms, such as this winter’s billion-dollar loss of Californian crops to unusual frost, are relegated to the business pages. The early arrival of migrant birds in spring provides colourful evidence for a recent warming of the northern lands. But did anyone tell you that in east Antarctica the Adélie penguins and Cape petrels are turning up at their spring nesting sites around nine days later than they did 50 years ago? While sea-ice has diminished in the Arctic since 1978, it has grown by 8% in the Southern Ocean...

 ... The best measurements of global air temperatures come from American weather satellites, and they show wobbles but no overall change since 1999. That levelling off is just what is expected by the chief rival hypothesis, which says that the sun drives climate changes more emphatically than greenhouse gases do."

Perhaps some readers are aware that there are contrary views to the orthodox story of global warming that Al Gore and others serve up. To them I can only apologise for repeating what they already know. But I get the impression that a lot of people accept the theory of man-made global warming as being proved beyond dispute and think I'm a "Flat-Earth" believer for thinking otherwise.

The Czech prime minister, Vaclav Klaus, is a firm sceptic and plans to write a book about it. He regards environmentalism as "the incarnation of leftism and a fashionable metaphysical worldview". 

Monday, 5 February 2007
Sceptical about 'climate change'.
Topic: Politics

Here's an open letter to the Canadian prime minister that appeared in the National Post newspaper last year: 


"Observational evidence does not support today's computer climate models, so there is little reason to trust model predictions of the future. Yet this is precisely what the United Nations did in creating and promoting Kyoto and still does in the alarmist forecasts on which Canada's climate policies are based. Even if the climate models were realistic, the environmental impact of Canada delaying implementation of Kyoto or other greenhouse-gas reduction schemes, pending completion of consultations, would be insignificant."

"...significant advances have been made since the protocol was created, many of which are taking us away from a concern about increasing greenhouse gases. If, back in the mid-1990s, we knew what we know today about climate, Kyoto would almost certainly not exist, because we would have concluded it was not necessary."

 "'Climate change is real' is a meaningless phrase used repeatedly by activists to convince the public that a climate catastrophe is looming and humanity is the cause. Neither of these fears is justified. Global climate changes all the time due to natural causes and the human impact still remains impossible to distinguish from this natural "noise." The new Canadian government's commitment to reducing air, land and water pollution is commendable, but allocating funds to "stopping climate change" would be irrational. We need to continue intensive research into the real causes of climate change and help our most vulnerable citizens adapt to whatever nature throws at us next."


It's signed by sixty scientists from relevant fields. Of course there will be others who believe that there is human responsibility behind the 'climate change'. I'm with the sceptics. The sun is over a million times larger than the Earth and I can't help thinking that small changes in its activity have far greater consequences than anything that man does. I suppose I'm biased because the global warming story reminds me of that nonsense I was taught in R.E. at school about a great flood being sent down to punish man for his transgressions. It makes people feel important to think that they are the cause of what goes wrong around them. Accepting that things change for reasons over which you have no control is harder. Far better to con yourself into thinking you can change them.

In any case, I'm pleased that this winter has been so mild. Most years we are told stories about old people dying from cold conditions, even when given extra money to handle heating payments. I've not read any stories like that this year. It ought to be a cause for celebration, but fear sells newspapers so it's forgotten.

Thursday, 25 January 2007
Lost for words.
Topic: Politics

Has this every happened to you? You're having dinner or at a party and the subject of George W. Bush comes up and you decide to stand up for him and ... huh ... oh did I lose you there? Oh well, maybe it's just me then. Well anyway, I announce that I think Bush is a good president and that I'm happy to defend his overall record and before ten seconds has elapsed someone says it. Someone always says it. I've heard this at least three times in the last year, probably more and believe me, I don't get into this conversation all that often so it might be 100 per cent reliable. But I know someone will always say:

"How can you respect a man who says 'The problem with the French is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur'?"

I wait a couple of seconds to see whether there's an ironic smirk coming. But it never does. They sit there stony faced and I realise that they really believe it. They really, really think that this happened. I'm not suggesting that the only criticism of Bush one can make is that he doesn't know French (though he can speak Spanish - can you?) but this is often the first line of argument that his oh-so-smart detractors chose to make. I tell them that it's a joke - possibly one that he made, but more likely one that was made about him. It almost certainly never ever happened. They won't accept it.

I finally decided to refer to Snopes last week and check out its authenticity. Snopes is a great site for debunking or verifying urban legends. In the section on quotes I find this: 

which informs us that the story started in Britain in 2002 and the original source was Shirley Williams. Snopes says it's false, but unfortunately the source for the denial is one Alastair Campbell. The people behind Snopes probably don't know about Campbell's reputation in the UK, so it's a shame they don't supply a second source for the denial. Nevertheless, now that he's no longer working for the prime minister, it would be interesting to hear him deny it again. His son plays poker at the Vic so if he ever comes in to see how junior is getting on in the £100 hold'em game, maybe I'll get my chance.

Talking of the Vic, I know that some readers are put off playing there because it's so full of Greeks. They fear that the Greeks are unfriendly to non-Greeks. I can honestly say that it's totally untrue. In fact I have it on good authority that they don't even have a word for Xenophobia.

Thursday, 4 January 2007
Asking Iraq
Topic: Politics
I've been meaning to write a long piece about Iraq for a few weeks now, but a nasty cold and the Christmas holiday have put this on the back burner. At the end of it I was going to link to an opinion poll taken in Iraq back in September, which I really should have brought up at the time. It now occurs to me that it's worth a posting in its own right. I'm surprised how much gets written about Iraq without any reference to the polls taken there. I'm sure many people aren't even aware that polls are taken there at all. Here is one -

There are many findings. Of note is that when asked the question:

'Thinking about any hardships you might have suffered since the US-Britain invasion, do you personally think that ousting Saddam Hussein was worth it or not?'

Sixty-one per cent said 'Yes', that it was worth it. Obviously very few of these people have read the Guardian and thus have not had the benefit of Polly Toynbee's wisdom on the matter. They may have been forced to rely on their own first hand experience instead.

The poll shows that Iraqis want US forces to withdraw within a year to two years, but only a minority (37 per cent) want the withdrawal to take place within six months. There is support for attacks on US troops, but the main reason for this is not because of what the US army has done in the war, but because of a widespread view that the US is building permanent bases in the country (77 per cent believe this) and that it would not remove its forces if asked to by the Iraqi government (78 per cent believe this). Support for attacks on US troops drops by half when those who support them are asked whether they would still support them if the US made a firm commitment to go when requested to by the Iraqi government.

There is growing confidence in the ability of the Iraqi security forces. There is majority support for US forces training Iraqi security forces, though most feel that they aren't doing well enough at it. The poll shows strong disapproval of Al Qaeda and bin Laden, which rather dismisses the idea that the occupation is creating new Al Qaeda terrorists.

There's plenty to read. Check it out.

_ DY at 3:32 PM GMT
Updated: Thursday, 4 January 2007 3:56 PM GMT
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Thursday, 12 October 2006
Minimise casualties or minimise regret?
Topic: Politics

If you know anything about the 'basic strategy' of blackjack, you'll find it painful to watch people play the game in a UK casino. Unlike the US, most people here know nothing whatsoever about the correct tactics and therefore lose at a much faster rate than they should. Watch any table where the same people have been in action for a long time and you'll notice a semi-circle of miserable faces. They're barely even gambling. Most are just giving their money away.

There's a common mistake that most of them make. It comes in situations where they are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils, or in this case, between two plays, both of which are negative equity. An illustration would be the common situation where you have a 15 facing a dealer's upcard 10. It's essential that you hit here. Although the probability is that you'll bust, you'll win more often than you will if you stand and hope that the dealer busts. So why do so many people stand? I think it's because their main concern is to minimise regret. In their reasoning, if they take the card and bust they have brought the loss on themselves, while if they stand and the dealer beats them, it was just an unlucky turn of the cards. Standing pat, while failing to minimise the loss, does succeed in minimising regret.

I didn't think I suffered from any variant of this flaw until I recently read about a couple of moral dilemmas, both of which involve making decisions about whether to kill one person in order to save the lives of others. In situation one, you're standing next to a railway track and you see a runaway train about to collide with five people on the track. If you do nothing they will all die. Near you is a lever that will divert the train to another track. The five will live, but there is a man on the other track who will be killed. Do you pull the lever? My answer is yes. The second situation involves the same out of control train, except that this time you are standing on a footbridge next to a very fat man. You realise that you could push him onto the track in front of the train and it would save the five on the track, but kill him. Do you push him over? Strangely, my answer is different. Even though I can see logically that it's the same question posed twice, my emotions override the logic. Pushing the man over feels like murder, yet pulling the lever doesn't.

I'm interested to know how this affects people's attitude's to war - in particular why the war against Iraq has provoked massive outcry around the world, yet the failure to intervene in the 1994 Rwandan genocide (when 800,000 people were killed) got nothing like the condemnation, even though it killed more people. Or why far more people hate George Bush for the Iraq War than hate Madelaine Albright, who claimed that the death of 500,000 Iraqis due to sanctions was a 'price worth paying'.

This week all eyes are on North Korea. What will our leaders do, faced with a choice of minimising casualties or minimising regret?

_ DY at 3:48 AM BST
Updated: Thursday, 12 October 2006 3:54 AM BST
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Monday, 9 October 2006
Mark Steyn replies.
Topic: Politics

Mark Steyn is doing a live question and answer session to promote his new book, America Alone. Despite being a Steyn junkie I've not read it yet, but I know that demographics play a key part and asked a question about family formation. He responded within half an hourL

The whole Q and A is here: 

But in case that link is broken before you read it, I'll quote our correspondence:

QUESTION: Do you think the birth rate of indigenous Britons would increase if there were more new property being built in England? I'm in my late 30s living in London and like a lot of my friends I missed out on the great house price boom of the 90s onwards. Many of us live like adolescents because the one thing that's worth saving up for isn't available -so what's the point? Almost none of us have children.

In my case, I can't see how I could ever afford to own a home unless their prices fell by about 60 per cent. A three bedroom house, which I would want in order to have a two-child family (needed to keep the population stable) is hopelessly out of reach.

Will there ever be the politcal will to build more in the South-East, where I live? I'm encouraged that the Tories have at last seen what the Green Belt has done to people like me, but will they permit enough building to make family formation affordable or will the votes of the older generation who don't want new houses spoiling the view from their windows win out?

I feel like Britain is turning into a big retirement home.

David Young


MARK: That's a very interesting point. When I was in Australia, I said that I thought one of the biggest threats to their relatively healthy birth rates was the fact that Aussie cities are among the most expensive housing markets in the world. Obviously London and most of southern England fall into that category, too. Conversely, one of the reasons why America has the healthiest fertility rates in the western world is that it's the country in which it's easiest to get a four-bedroom house with a big yard in a nice neighborhood. Nobody wants to raise three kids in a small apartment. I happen to think that also explains the difference between the US and Canadian birth rates. Canada is, paradoxically, more urban than America, mainly because 99% of it's too bloody cold so the population huddles in cities strung along the border. Londoners earning what by most standards are huge salaries claim not to be able to "afford" children, in part because they've paid half-a-million quid for a bedsit in Hackney. It's not the money, it's that they're paying family-estate-sized money for a bachelor pad. 

Sunday, 8 October 2006
Oil is fungible!
Topic: Politics

A few weeks ago, I used the word 'fungible' to describe money. In case some of you don't know what it means, I quote a definition -

(esp. of goods) being of such nature or kind as to be freely exchangeable or replaceable, in whole or in part, for another of like nature or kind.

When I used it before, I was making the point that money received from one source has the same value as money received from another source, even though people often treat them differently.Today I'm reminded of it because I've stumbled on what I consider to be some well-meaning idiocy - a campaign designed to persuade Americans to purchase oil from countries that don't finance terror. I realise how seductive this notion is (though Canada is actually America's largest foreign supplier) because it's painful to think that you're funding jihad when you fill your tank.

But the idea is utterly flawed. Oil is fungible. If the US were to somehow buy all its foreign oil from sources like Nigeria and Brunei, that would merely remove from the market oil that other nations, like China for instance, could buy from them. And since the US would not be buying from terror-sponsors, China and others would switch to buying oil from terror sponsoring states. And everything's back to square one.

_ DY at 3:57 AM BST
Updated: Sunday, 8 October 2006 4:03 AM BST
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Tuesday, 3 October 2006
Bad news for Al Qaeda.
Topic: Politics

However bad you think things have gone for the coalition in Iraq, its setbacks and mistakes are as nothing to the catastrophic failure facing Al Qaeda's mission in the country. That well known right-wing Neo-Con cheerleading rag The Guardian reports:

'Iraqi tribes launch battle to drive al-Qaida out of troubled province.'

The province in question is Al Anbar, Iraq's largest, and a major part of the so-called Sunni Triangle where opposition to the American occupation was at its most fierce in the aftermath of the war. Its long and pourous borders with Saudi Arabia and Syria made it the entry point for jihadi from both countries. Now it seems they have worn out their welcome. Iraqis have seen up close what they have to offer and are overwhelmingly rejecting it. A recent opinion poll in Iraq shows that 94 per cent of Iraqis reject Al Qaeda, with majorities against it shown in all the ethnic groups: Shia, Sunni and Kurds.

I'm not suggesting that this is the end for them, merely the beginning of the end. Its hard to see their popularity or influence being restored. The government's task now is to stop the disgusting sectarian slaughter in Baghdad, where rival militia groups seek to expel those of the opposite side in order to increase their influence.

_ DY at 7:31 PM BST
Updated: Tuesday, 3 October 2006 8:42 PM BST
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Friday, 29 September 2006
History of the Middle East
Topic: Politics

The Egyptians, Assyrians, Hittites, Ottomans, Persians, Babylonians, Greeks, Jews, Romans, Byzantines, Caliphs, Crusaders, Saladin, the Mongols and the Europeans have all at some point controlled some or all of the area we call the Middle East.

This 90 second video shows the history of the Middle East from 3000 BC to the present day.

Fascinating viewing.

Saturday, 23 September 2006
The Peak Oil cult.
Topic: Politics

If you don't drive a car you may not have realised that petrol has dropped in price at the filling stations by several pence a litre in the last month. This follows similar falls in the price of crude oil

See Chart  

For me personally it's good news. I like to drive. I'm also pleased to learn that there's recently been a large find in the Gulf of Mexico that will increase US reserves by about 50 per cent. You'd think that everyone in the West would welcome this. But you'd be wrong, for there are some people who derive a perverse pleasure at the thought of oil running out. They account for some, though not all, of the so-called 'Peakniks' - believers in the theory of 'Peak Oil' - the idea that world oil production is peaking.

I can't see anything good in oil running out suddenly. Obviously there has to be a finite amount of oil in the world, as Earth has a finite size, but I've been hearing that oil's 30 years away from running out for about err ... 30 years now. So I'm inclined to scepticism about Peak Oil alarmism and indeed the claims of most environmentalists on most things. Their behaviour reminds me of religion more than science. They demonise their critics, deride the pursuit of material wealth and preach the imminence of misery unless their calls are heeded today.

Here is one Peak Oil believer whose faith is starting to melt away:

This hapless unfortunate has invested a great deal emotionally in the idea that the depletion of the Earth's resources will bring about a revolution. It's finally dawned on him that this won't happen and he's devastated. Read his paranoid rambling and see the environmentalist movement for what it is - a CULT. It's all there.

What's tragic is that there are things worth worrying about, but too many people worry about the wrong things. The changing demographic profile of Europe concerns me far more than anything that Al Gore has to say about glaciers. And it's not based on computer projections of the future; it's based on who's being born now and what they will grow up to believe in.

_ DY at 3:14 AM BST
Updated: Tuesday, 26 September 2006 12:59 PM BST
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