Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Plastic Baggage

Dr Eamonn Butler puts in a good word for the much traduced plastic bag:

Plastic bags use 40% less energy and generate 80% less solid waste than paper ones. Plastic bags are a quarter of the thickness they were when we started using them in the mid-1970s. They use hardly any oil, and recycling a kilo of plastic takes just 10% of the energy used to recycle a kilo of paper. Paper bags produce 50 times more water pollution. Recycling paper uses bleaches and other nasty industrial chemicals, remember.

And yet the humble, useful plastic bag is on the way out because politicians, for the best of intentions but the worst of reasons, are intimidating supermarkets into scrapping them. Now: which is the real rubbish?

Even better news is that a sixteen year old scientist has found a way of reducing the time it takes for plastic to decompose from thousands of years to - three months.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Who needs a Bible?

Announcing: The Logic of Life: Uncovering the New Economics of Everything by Tim Harford.

Harford's The Undercover Economist showed how ordinary economics explained everyday curiosities, such as the outrageous price of a cup of coffee and the traffic jam on the way to the supermarket. His new book shows how the new economics of rational choice theory explains much, much more. Drug addicts and teenage muggers are rational. Suburban sprawl and inner city decay are rational. Endless meetings at the office and the injustices of working life? Rational. Economics explains why your boss is overpaid, and whether we should build more prisons, even whether to have sex, take drugs, and be honest. Racy stuff.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Singer Solution to World Poverty

Peter Singer is a controversial philosopher. An article about him in The New York Times reveals that he gives one-fifth of his income to famine-relief agencies. "From when I first saw pictures in newspapers of people starving, from when people asked you to donate some of your pocket money for collections at school," he mused, "I always thought, 'Why that much — why not more?"'

Is it possible to quantify our charitable burden? In the following essay, Singer offers some unconventional thoughts about the ordinary American's obligations to the world's poor and suggests that even his own one-fifth standard may not be enough. It's a longish piece, but stay with it if you want to be deeply provoked.

In the Brazilian film "Central Station," Dora is a retired schoolteacher who makes ends meet by sitting at the station writing letters for illiterate people. Suddenly she has an opportunity to pocket $1,000. All she has to do is persuade a homeless 9-year-old boy to follow her to an address she has been given. (She is told he will be adopted by wealthy foreigners.) She delivers the boy, gets the money, spends some of it on a television set and settles down to enjoy her new acquisition. Her neighbor spoils the fun, however, by telling her that the boy was too old to be adopted — he will be killed and his organs sold for transplantation. Perhaps Dora knew this all along, but after her neighbor's plain speaking, she spends a troubled night. In the morning Dora resolves to take the boy back.

Suppose Dora had told her neighbor that it is a tough world, other people have nice new TV's too, and if selling the kid is the only way she can get one, well, he was only a street kid. She would then have become, in the eyes of the audience, a monster. She redeems herself only by being prepared to bear considerable risks to save the boy.

At the end of the movie, in cinemas in the affluent nations of the world, people who would have been quick to condemn Dora if she had not rescued the boy go home to places far more comfortable than her apartment. In fact, the average family in the United States spends almost one-third of its income on things that are no more necessary to them than Dora's new TV was to her. Going out to nice restaurants, buying new clothes because the old ones are no longer stylish, vacationing at beach resorts — so much of our income is spent on things not essential to the preservation of our lives and health. Donated to one of a number of charitable agencies, that money could mean the difference between life and death for children in need.

All of which raises a question: In the end, what is the ethical distinction between a Brazilian who sells a homeless child to organ peddlers and an American who already has a TV and upgrades to a better one — knowing that the money could be donated to an organization that would use it to save the lives of kids in need?

Of course, there are several differences between the two situations that could support different moral judgments about them. For one thing, to be able to consign a child to death when he is standing right in front of you takes a chilling kind of heartlessness; it is much easier to ignore an appeal for money to help children you will never meet. Yet for a utilitarian philosopher like myself — that is, one who judges whether acts are right or wrong by their consequences — if the upshot of the American's failure to donate the money is that one more kid dies on the streets of a Brazilian city, then it is, in some sense, just as bad as selling the kid to the organ peddlers. But one doesn't need to embrace my utilitarian ethic to see that, at the very least, there is a troubling incongruity in being so quick to condemn Dora for taking the child to the organ peddlers while, at the same time, not regarding the American consumer's behavior as raising a serious moral issue.

In his 1996 book, "Living High and Letting Die," the New York University philosopher Peter Unger presented an ingenious series of imaginary examples designed to probe our intuitions about whether it is wrong to live well without giving substantial amounts of money to help people who are hungry, malnourished or dying from easily treatable illnesses like diarrhea. Here's my paraphrase of one of these examples:

Bob is close to retirement. He has invested most of his savings in a very rare and valuable old car, a Bugatti, which he has not been able to insure. The Bugatti is his pride and joy. In addition to the pleasure he gets from driving and caring for his car, Bob knows that its rising market value means that he will always be able to sell it and live comfortably after retirement. One day when Bob is out for a drive, he parks the Bugatti near the end of a railway siding and goes for a walk up the track. As he does so, he sees that a runaway train, with no one aboard, is running down the railway track. Looking farther down the track, he sees the small figure of a child very likely to be killed by the runaway train. He can't stop the train and the child is too far away to warn of the danger, but he can throw a switch that will divert the train down the siding where his Bugatti is parked. Then nobody will be killed -- but the train will destroy his Bugatti. Thinking of his joy in owning the car and the financial security it represents, Bob decides not to throw the switch. The child is killed. For many years to come, Bob enjoys owning his Bugatti and the financial security it represents.

You shouldn't take that cruise, redecorate the house or get that pricey new suit. After all, a $1,000 suit could save five children's lives.

Bob's conduct, most of us will immediately respond, was gravely wrong. Unger agrees. But then he reminds us that we, too, have opportunities to save the lives of children. We can give to organizations like Unicef or Oxfam America. How much would we have to give one of these organizations to have a high probability of saving the life of a child threatened by easily preventable diseases? (I do not believe that children are more worth saving than adults, but since no one can argue that children have brought their poverty on themselves, focusing on them simplifies the issues.) Unger called up some experts and used the information they provided to offer some plausible estimates that include the cost of raising money, administrative expenses and the cost of delivering aid where it is most needed. By his calculation, $200 in donations would help a sickly 2-year-old transform into a healthy 6-year-old — offering safe passage through childhood's most dangerous years. To show how practical philosophical argument can be, Unger even tells his readers that they can easily donate funds by using their credit card and calling one of these toll-free numbers: (800) 367-5437 for Unicef; (800) 693-2687 for Oxfam America.

Now you, too, have the information you need to save a child's life. How should you judge yourself if you don't do it? Think again about Bob and his Bugatti. Unlike Dora, Bob did not have to look into the eyes of the child he was sacrificing for his own material comfort. The child was a complete stranger to him and too far away to relate to in an intimate, personal way. Unlike Dora, too, he did not mislead the child or initiate the chain of events imperiling him. In all these respects, Bob's situation resembles that of people able but unwilling to donate to overseas aid and differs from Dora's situation.

If you still think that it was very wrong of Bob not to throw the switch that would have diverted the train and saved the child's life, then it is hard to see how you could deny that it is also very wrong not to send money to one of the organizations listed above. Unless, that is, there is some morally important difference between the two situations that I have overlooked.

Is it the practical uncertainties about whether aid will really reach the people who need it? Nobody who knows the world of overseas aid can doubt that such uncertainties exist. But Unger's figure of $200 to save a child's life was reached after he had made conservative assumptions about the proportion of the money donated that will actually reach its target.

One genuine difference between Bob and those who can afford to donate to overseas aid organizations but don't is that only Bob can save the child on the tracks, whereas there are hundreds of millions of people who can give $200 to overseas aid organizations. The problem is that most of them aren't doing it. Does this mean that it is all right for you not to do it?

Suppose that there were more owners of priceless vintage cars — Carol, Dave, Emma, Fred and so on, down to Ziggy — all in exactly the same situation as Bob, with their own siding and their own switch, all sacrificing the child in order to preserve their own cherished car. Would that make it all right for Bob to do the same? To answer this question affirmatively is to endorse follow-the-crowd ethics — the kind of ethics that led many Germans to look away when the Nazi atrocities were being committed. We do not excuse them because others were behaving no better.

We seem to lack a sound basis for drawing a clear moral line between Bob's situation and that of any reader of this article with $200 to spare who does not donate it to an overseas aid agency. These readers seem to be acting at least as badly as Bob was acting when he chose to let the runaway train hurtle toward the unsuspecting child. In the light of this conclusion, I trust that many readers will reach for the phone and donate that $200. Perhaps you should do it before reading further.

Now that you have distinguished yourself morally from people who put their vintage cars ahead of a child's life, how about treating yourself and your partner to dinner at your favorite restaurant? But wait. The money you will spend at the restaurant could also help save the lives of children overseas! True, you weren't planning to blow $200 tonight, but if you were to give up dining out just for one month, you would easily save that amount. And what is one month's dining out, compared to a child's life? There's the rub. Since there are a lot of desperately needy children in the world, there will always be another child whose life you could save for another $200. Are you therefore obliged to keep giving until you have nothing left? At what point can you stop?

Hypothetical examples can easily become farcical. Consider Bob. How far past losing the Bugatti should he go? Imagine that Bob had got his foot stuck in the track of the siding, and if he diverted the train, then before it rammed the car it would also amputate his big toe. Should he still throw the switch? What if it would amputate his foot? His entire leg?

As absurd as the Bugatti scenario gets when pushed to extremes, the point it raises is a serious one: only when the sacrifices become very significant indeed would most people be prepared to say that Bob does nothing wrong when he decides not to throw the switch. Of course, most people could be wrong; we can't decide moral issues by taking opinion polls. But consider for yourself the level of sacrifice that you would demand of Bob, and then think about how much money you would have to give away in order to make a sacrifice that is roughly equal to that. It's almost certainly much, much more than $200. For most middle-class Americans, it could easily be more like $200,000.

Isn't it counterproductive to ask people to do so much? Don't we run the risk that many will shrug their shoulders and say that morality, so conceived, is fine for saints but not for them? I accept that we are unlikely to see, in the near or even medium-term future, a world in which it is normal for wealthy Americans to give the bulk of their wealth to strangers. When it comes to praising or blaming people for what they do, we tend to use a standard that is relative to some conception of normal behavior. Comfortably off Americans who give, say, 10 percent of their income to overseas aid organizations are so far ahead of most of their equally comfortable fellow citizens that I wouldn't go out of my way to chastise them for not doing more. Nevertheless, they should be doing much more, and they are in no position to criticize Bob for failing to make the much greater sacrifice of his Bugatti.

At this point various objections may crop up. Someone may say: "If every citizen living in the affluent nations contributed his or her share I wouldn't have to make such a drastic sacrifice, because long before such levels were reached, the resources would have been there to save the lives of all those children dying from lack of food or medical care. So why should I give more than my fair share?" Another, related, objection is that the Government ought to increase its overseas aid allocations, since that would spread the burden more equitably across all taxpayers.

Yet the question of how much we ought to give is a matter to be decided in the real world — and that, sadly, is a world in which we know that most people do not, and in the immediate future will not, give substantial amounts to overseas aid agencies. We know, too, that at least in the next year, the United States Government is not going to meet even the very modest United Nations-recommended target of 0.7 percent of gross national product; at the moment it lags far below that, at 0.09 percent, not even half of Japan's 0.22 percent or a tenth of Denmark's 0.97 percent. Thus, we know that the money we can give beyond that theoretical "fair share" is still going to save lives that would otherwise be lost. While the idea that no one need do more than his or her fair share is a powerful one, should it prevail if we know that others are not doing their fair share and that children will die preventable deaths unless we do more than our fair share? That would be taking fairness too far.

Thus, this ground for limiting how much we ought to give also fails. In the world as it is now, I can see no escape from the conclusion that each one of us with wealth surplus to his or her essential needs should be giving most of it to help people suffering from poverty so dire as to be life-threatening. That's right: I'm saying that you shouldn't buy that new car, take that cruise, redecorate the house or get that pricey new suit. After all, a $1,000 suit could save five children's lives.

So how does my philosophy break down in dollars and cents? An American household with an income of $50,000 spends around $30,000 annually on necessities, according to the Conference Board, a nonprofit economic research organization. Therefore, for a household bringing in $50,000 a year, donations to help the world's poor should be as close as possible to $20,000. The $30,000 required for necessities holds for higher incomes as well. So a household making $100,000 could cut a yearly check for $70,000. Again, the formula is simple: whatever money you're spending on luxuries, not necessities, should be given away.

Now, evolutionary psychologists tell us that human nature just isn't sufficiently altruistic to make it plausible that many people will sacrifice so much for strangers. On the facts of human nature, they might be right, but they would be wrong to draw a moral conclusion from those facts. If it is the case that we ought to do things that, predictably, most of us won't do, then let's face that fact head-on. Then, if we value the life of a child more than going to fancy restaurants, the next time we dine out we will know that we could have done something better with our money. If that makes living a morally decent life extremely arduous, well, then that is the way things are. If we don't do it, then we should at least know that we are failing to live a morally decent life — not because it is good to wallow in guilt but because knowing where we should be going is the first step toward heading in that direction.

When Bob first grasped the dilemma that faced him as he stood by that railway switch, he must have thought how extraordinarily unlucky he was to be placed in a situation in which he must choose between the life of an innocent child and the sacrifice of most of his savings. But he was not unlucky at all. We are all in that situation.

Free Trade is Fairer

In spite of his bad press Gordon Brown is right about one thing.

"Coming down strongly against protectionism (at the Google Zeitgeist Conference) he argued once more for free trade:

"The two great protected industries of the moment are the two industries that are causing us the greatest problems today: the oil industry, with a cartel run by Opec; and the food industry, with high levels of subsidy.

"It is well known that one of Brown’s personal concerns is poverty. He is absolutely correct in highlighting the iniquity of protectionism, and that it is holding back the economic development of the world."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Welcome to The Gambia, the smiling coast of Africa, a news aggregator of the African press has a terrifying headline.

President plans to kill off every single homosexual

The stand-first elucidates:

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh says he will “cut off the head” of any homosexual caught in his country.

The story continues:

He said the Gambia was a country of believers, indicating that no sinful and immoral act as homosexual would be tolerated in the country.

He warned all homosexuals in the country to leave, noting that a legislation “stricter than those in Iran ” concerning the vice would be introduced soon.

According to pan-African LGBT organisation Behind The Mask, Gambia already has fairly draconian antigay laws.

Quoted in Pink News, the President Jammeh, who also claims he can cure AIDS with bananas, said:

“Any hotel, lodge or motel that lodges this kind of individuals will be closed down, because this act is unlawful. We are in a Muslim dominated country and I will not and shall never accept such individuals in this country.”

Saviour siblings

Andrew Brown has a few sharp and witty observations in response to a Telegraph comment by George Pitcher.

If little Leo (Blair) grows up to resent that he was the result of a contraceptive failure, he should get over himself. Isn’t the whole point of Christianity that god has a purpose for you even if it is invisible to the outside world, and to your parents? And, from a non-christian point of view, why should the world acknowledge any legitimacy to the teenager’s complaint “I didn’t ask to be born”? No one asked to be born and it’s absurd to think that your parents wanted you in particular. They took their chances at conception and hoped for the best. They may have got lucky. You and they may have collaborated to produce a decent human being. But no one could have foreseen which decent human being this would be at birth, still less at conception.

. . . How many Telegraph readers have had babies because they didn’t want their other one to be a lonely only child? How many have had babies because they wanted a boy, or a girl, and hadn’t had one yet? Isn’t it the duty of an aristocratic family to produce an heir? In all these cases and throughout human history, babies are born for the purposes of the family or the tribe to which they belong. In other contexts, Telegraph readers understand this very well. If some fifteen-year-old on benefits starts having babies just because she loves them, they see her as a threat to society. But sentimentality and cruelty have always gone hand in hand. Neither gives religion any credit. You would have thought, however, that an ordained priest like Pitcher would be familiar with the story of one baby who was born “for us men and for our salvation” with consequences generally agreed by Christians to have been wholly beneficial.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Nature or nurture

'Research shows' that parents of autistic children are twice as likely to have had psychiatric illness. The finding suggests to Ian Sample that autism and psychiatric problems may sometimes have a common cause and genetic link.

But surely this begs the question of whether psychiatric illness, and indeed autism itself, is an environmental disorder.

Grieving mother of two boys found dead in car says they did not deserve to die

A baffling headline in The Guardian.

The trouble with heroin - it's very moreish

I've blogged before about drug addiction and my own personal and family experience. I have come to agree with those doctors who have judged that addiction to illicit drugs like heroin is not stronger than that to legal drugs like cigarettes.

This message has not yet reached the public and has therefore not prevented the emergence of a huge therapeutic bureaucracy. Theodore Dalrymple, who has worked as a prison psychiatrist, analyses this therapeutic community in his new book Junk Medicine: Doctors, Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy, which is dedicated to the war against withdrawal symptoms. He thoroughly debunks the disease model of addiction claiming that we should be really talking about a moral and spiritual problem requiring changes in behaviour.

In it he makes the following, extremely telling, points:

  • Just as with smokers the vast majority of people who try heroin either never use it again, use it just a few times, or only use it intermittently.
  • Even among heroin users, the heroin addict is the exception.
  • Experiments have shown that withdrawal symptoms were eliminated with placebo injections of saline solution.
  • Histrionic addicts…who complain of horrible discomfort in the presence of doctors…to obtain narcotics but act normally both before the visit and after.
  • Patients who repeatedly receive large doses of narcotics for pain... rarely become addicted.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Breaking point

Sigmund Freud has been described as the "prose-poet of the heart's desire to break". I think he was a kind of artist who gave us a language in which to express our deepest griefs. For the most part we are not able to do this in anything like a direct way, by simply naming them. We need a vocabulary which expresses and yet conceals them at the same time. Freud supplied it, or at least one possible version of it.

In the Old Testament there is a teaching that God loves a heart that is broken, indeed that brokenness is the only sure way to approach God.

Freud must have been well acquainted with it.

Thoughts on Travel

Maverick Philosopher has some wisdom from Albert Jay Nock:

Wherever we are, we see the world through the same pair of eyeballs, and filter its deliverances through the same set of conceptions, preconceptions, anxieties, aversions, and what-not. If I travel to Naples, thinking to get away from myself, what I find when I wake up there is “...the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from.” (Ibid.) Shift your spatial horizon as you will, you may not effect any change in your mental horizon. If you can’t find enlightenment in Buffalo, where the water is potable and mosquitoes are rare, what makes you think you will find it in Benares where mosquitoes are ubiquitous and the water will give you dysentery?

I once had a conversation with a young Austrian at the train station in Salzburg, Austria. He told me he was headed for Istanbul “to make holiness.” But could he not have made holiness in Salzburg? Could he not have found a Pauline ‘closet’ somewhere in that beautiful city wherein to shut himself away from the world and pray to his Father in secret?

Stay home. Cultivate your garden in peace and quiet. Sink your roots into the soil of solitude. But travel a little so to appreciate the foregoing.

Here for a season

Human life is not to be judged by its longevity alone but by the quality of its brief encounters.
Irene Lancaster


One of our visiting children who have what are called learning disabilities was getting upset about the weather. It was cloudy and damp. This isn't called Greater Manchester for nothing. Pointing to the sky, she cried, "The clouds! They're working!"

Friday, May 16, 2008

John and Ted

I met John in prison. I was chaplain, he an inmate. I had kept publicly on the right side of the law. He had been caught briefly on the wrong one.

John's sixteen year old daughter had fallen in with a bad lot. Her boyfriend who was a bit older and should have known a bit better, had introduced her to a new circle of friends. One of the things they did together was inject heroin. In a vulnerable state he had 'taken advantage' of her and she was pregnant.

John, a man with no history of or known capacity for personal violence, had reacted like any father might. He hit the boyfriend - hard, with the nearest object to hand - an empty beer bottle. It caused the young man severe though short-term injury. Most people, including the prison officers who came to know John, thought his outburst perfectly excusable. They made life inside for him as easy as possible, even supplying him with an internet connection so that he could continue to manage his successful business of waste-disposal from his prison cell.

John was a Roman Catholic. He spoke to Father David, the RC chaplain. Two things worried him. He feared the incident had exposed a tendency to violence in his nature which contradicted his previous self-awareness. Secondly, he was not able to feel sorry for what he'd done. Father David quoted St Paul writing that our lower nature is often in conflict with our higher or spiritual nature. John found no consolation in this.

When John told me I tried to reassure him. He was plainly not a man given casually to violence. As for feeling sorry, it seemed to me that his concern about this was ample evidence of the kind of moral sense he feared he might have lost. If he couldn't feel sorry for the injury he had visited upon the miscreant, he did at least regret not feeling sorry, and could offer this to God in confession of his sins.

As you will appreciate John was more troubled by matters of moral motivation than the average inmate. He was a decent man, and a good Catholic. But there was one area where his conscience acquired what you might call a little elasticity. In his impending interview with the parole board, which could lead to his early release, his contrition would be as impressive as it was false; anything to get him out of that hell-hole and back to the family he missed so much. Honesty before God in prayer mattered deeply to him; honesty to civil servants less.

Truth-telling in prison can get you into a lot of trouble - and keep you there.

Ask Ted. Ted was a 'lifer'. He had strangled his wife in a drunken rage. That was fifteen years ago, and he too was due to appear before the parole board. If he behaved well and convinced them that he was no longer 'angry with women' he might be moved to another, more open, prison, a prelude to his eventual release. One member of the board was, as he put, right snotty to him - made him feel like a piece of shit. It happened to be a woman. He didn't like being treated like that, and he said so. If he could have held his tongue, shown less spirit, been more humble, seemed more sorry, he might have made it. But he couldn't. So he had to stay inside, for the offence of emotional honesty.

Spreadsheeting bad behaviour - which column?

Sue at Dicombobula is always worth reading.

The Australian Federal government is trying to address teenage binge drinking by proposing a tax hike for premixed alcoholic beverages like vodka and orange and bourbon and coke (two personal favourites in my teenage years, when I had the dosh).

The government believes that making these drinks more expensive will stop teenagers getting together and getting shitfaced. I wonder, do any of them really believe this, even a smidge? I know we are all economically rationalised to death and feel constrained onto spreadsheet columns, but does anyone at all involved with the government, including the toilet cleaners, really think that is anything but some sort of lip service? Surely not. And surely they don't think we're that stupid. And surely this is why listening to the blatherings of the world is so damn tiresome. It's enough to make you want to go and get shitfaced :)

This kind of thing really pisses me off. What a waste of time it all is. It's talking about issues without talking about issues. So much fluff, full of soundbytes and infuriatingly signifying nothing.

Teenagers get drunk because it feels really good to be pissed. Because they are full of angst and don't know who the hell they are and are suffering under the weight of living in a world where nothing gets discussed in ways that really make any kind of goddamned difference at all and because no one would listen if they said that Uncle Harry was doing bad stuff to them when no one was looking, or that they felt like losers because they didn't know what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives and therefore which VCE stream to set themselves onto at 15 years of age. Or that they felt like they would never ever belong and it didn't seem like there was all that much to belong to anyway and hey, how bad does that make you feel when we are the lucky ones and the rest of the world is being flung about by tempestuous weather?

Teenagers get pissed because it is so nice to quell your fears and shame - and that is surely the absolute crux of it, for mine. Or at least, that was always the reason why I got drunk. To get me out of myself. To have a blast. To tell my friends I loved them (love ya mate, I'll luv ya forever, mate. Now excuse me while I go over here and vomit). To give me a bit of Dutch courage to talk to that boy and maybe get a pash (or more). Fear and shame pursue every single person down through the days and to not address that is to not address anything in the end.

But then, what column would that fit into on the spreadsheet? And is that the responsibility of the government anyway?

Taxing alcopops will make teenagers resort to drinking beer, or they will buy wine and mix their own orange juice in it. Or whatever. Or maybe - heaven forbid - they will buy Blackberry Nip or Brandivino and mix it with Coke. However far your dosh spreads. 'Cause it's not about the taste so much as it's about the high and about the quell. And I really just don't know how that one can be regulated. 'Cause you can stuff it down and keep on going, but so far I have really only found one Place where fear and shame have been nailed. And it's got nothing to do with regulation and everything to do with Love.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A scientist speaks out

Roy W. Spencer is a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. His book, Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Leads to Bad Science, Pandering Politicians and Misguided Policies that Hurt the Poor, will be published this month.

Who to believe?

Surprising to find the (Eddie) Stobart Group so upbeat.

Stobart Group shrugged off fears of a UK recession yesterday and boasted that it was seeing record trading despite rising fuel costs.

. . . confident of strong profit growth over the next year despite the uncertain economic outlook.

Our business last week was the busiest week in the history of Eddie Stobart," he said (Andrew Tinkler, the chief executive). "I haven't seen any signs [of a UK recession] and neither have our customers, who are hitting their targets. Even the building [industry customers] are still hitting their forecasts. The sub-prime market really damaged the banks but [other] businesses are carrying on as normal.

Yet on the same day the Financial Times headlines "Mounting signs of economic slowdown."

Whatever are the humble poor to believe?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Miscarriages and misreporting

This from Harry's Place.

And our sanctimonious media elite wonder why politicians ’spin’?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Susan Hill on Boris

I think he will do well so long as he is true to himself. They had to gag him to get him in but now he is in, I hope the gag comes off, that he continues to be his own man, and that above all he does not become Cameron`s puppet. Because Cameron is a man to be wary of, and a man not to trust if ever I saw one. He is just the sort of smooth, slippery, bland, bend-whichever-way-it-takes politician we should dread. And any man whose wife is boss of a shop that flogs fuchsia pink suede bibles at £150 a pop and handbags named after her daughter for £1,000, should be viewed with the gravest suspicion. The wives say it all and they do count for a lot, like it or not.

Sarah is the best reason I can think of for giving Gordon another chance.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


I've just heard another discussion on the Today programme about whether politicians will ever stop being devious. I do get sick of this self-righteous moaning. The answer is obvious. Politicians will give up telling lies when the rest of us do. They're only human after all.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

A touch of class

Overweight, barely comprehensible, infamous womanizer; it could be John Prescott - or Boris Johnson. One thing's for sure. Boris will never be as unpopular as Prezza who was never forgiven for being plainly working-class.