Old Scientology News

This is ‘old news’ in 2 senses. (Sense 1) It’s old news because it’s from the the Times of 6 August 2009. (Sense 2) And it’s also really old news because it’s “formerly secret news” from 3 decades ago. The gist of it is:

L Ron Hubbard was a fraud….. No, really. (It is also rumoured the Pope is Catholic. There may be secret files on this.)

The Times filed a Freedom of Information request to access the National Archive files on Scientology. The Department of Health yielded the information on diplomats’ efforts to find out if Hubbard was really a PhD.

(Quick pause to wonder how confusing the government filing system must have been if this item ended up in the Dept of Health.)

Britain’s secret mission to expose Scientology leader as ‘fraud’
The founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, was exposed as a fraud 30 years ago by British diplomats who were investigating his qualifications.
The science-fiction writer, who invented a religion now followed by celebrities such as Tom Cruise, awarded himself a PhD from a sham “diploma mill” college that he had acquired, the diplomats found. …..

Bit of a damp squib. Given the relatively enticing headline, I was hoping for something more shocking than L Ron’s postgraduate qualifications being imaginary. I suppose at that point maybe the claim that

“…L. Ron Hubbard was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by Sequoia University on February 10, 1953, in recognition of his outstanding work in the fields of Dianetics and Scientology and that the said degree was recorded with the Department of Education of the State of California,” John McMaster stated.

might have passed for academic support for the idea of the sciencey- sounding Dianetics actually being a science. It’s still hard to imagine a world in which any reasonable person would accept that, even if it turned out to be supported by a PHd or a full professorship or an NVQ Level 1 in Customer Service.

Links to the Times Scientology Archive don’t work today, but this Times link did:

Simpsons producers ‘have a cow’ as Bart lends his voice to Scientologists
Bart Simpson used to be an underachiever and proud of it. These days, it seems, he’s an Operating Thetan VII in the Church of Scientology and proud of that, too.
At least, that is what Scientologists were led to believe this week when they received an automated telephone message featuring the voice of Bart inviting them to the Scientology Flag World Tour, an event being held in Hollywood tomorrow.

Blimey, those Scientologists are real celeb-magnets. Even the voice of a cartoon character – whose defining characteristics are mischievousness and stupidity – is grist to their celeb mill.

Although, it turns out that, in the real world, Bart’s voice belongs to a woman who is an Operating Thetan VII “and therefore an individual who can operate independently of her body” (The Times). Hmm, sorry, did I say “in the real world”?

Well, it seems her body can operate independently of her mind anyway, because

Ms Cartwright, who earns an estimated $400,000 (£280,000) per episode, was recently awarded Scientology’s Patron Laureate Award after reportedly donating $10 million to the organisation

As it happens, I have a Nobel prize from Oak University, awarded for my sterling work in Camillanology. I have produced a rigorous science-filled training plan that will allow dedicated students to gain the mystical power to talk out of their bottoms. And I love cartoons.

Don’t pay out another dollar please, Ms Cartwright until you have checked out the secret system that I was taught by hyper-intelligent entities from the planet Zeta,

Banks continue to control us

Untouched by their reckless behaviour (and blatant lack of any real knowledge of the mystical “market forces”) the true leaders of the Western World continue to flex their muscles and show that the interests of ordinary people are, on the whole, irrelevant. They remain blind to contradiction in demanding huge public subsidies, then refusing any form of public control. They continue to assert, in the face of obvious evidence to the contrary, that “they know best” over the current financial crisis. They ignore the problem of begging money with one hand, and paying out huge bonuses to their own staff. They know they are so important that whatever they do we, the public, will continue to bow to their demands. It beggars belief how most banks haven’t been declared International Terrorist Organisations – they demand money and threaten global meltdown if we don’t comply, they have a non-democratic influence in governmental policy and are happy to crush small businesses; the only thing missing is they aren’t (on the whole) Islamic.

Anyway, enough of that rant. You could easily be excused for thinking that giving a bank your money (often paying for the privileged) would mean it stayed your money and the bank just looked after it (although they would use it to make more money for themselves). You would be excused for thinking that you should be able to get access to your money.  You would, however, be wrong.

Not content with charging customers £1.75 for cash withdrawals (except those customers well off enough to be able to get to the increasingly rare free cash machines [ATM], if they can find a working one), the banks are now unveiling measures to make it harder for you to use your cash/credit card. All in the name of security though… so that makes it ok…

A few years ago we heard how Chip and PIN was being brought in to prevent card fraud. Gone were the days in which your signature was enough to prove who you were, now all it took was a 4 digit PIN. This seemed like madness, and in fact creates the current situation where my wife can use my card without anyone noticing she is not a Mr, but the banks were adamant it would prevent fraud. They added to this the demand for every Cardholder Not Present (CNP) transaction to use the 3 digit verification number (CVV) on the back of the card (ironically where the pointless signature strip lives). It was claimed that this would reduce CNP fraud and the two measures would reduce fraud to such an extent that their costs would be negligible.

Except, it never worked out like that.

People buy things over the internet, and give out their CVV with alarming ease – every time you do an online transaction you are asked for it – so after a while it becomes impossible to use this as verification. You would like to think the people you are carrying out an online purchase from are PCI-DSS accredited, but do you check? Do you read through their audits to make sure your holy grail of card number and CVV are safe? Do you assume the credit card companies are doing that? The padlock icon is just to tell you that the data link between you and the shop is secure, it says nothing about the long term storage of your data. I have even seen companies that email out a receipt with the card number in full and the CVV code used – all in a plain text email… Far from secure.

Anyway, it seems that despite these new measures the banks are still suffering almost as much fraud as before (which begs the question…)  and have now unveiled new measures. Basically they will look at your transactions and if the bank thinks you are doing something unusual they will block your card. Its crucial to note here, that this happens if the bank thinks you are doing something odd. They will monitor your activity and then make a decision as to if your behaviour falls within their idea of what is normal. The BBC report on this is interesting:

A leading bank is introducing new technology that will mean every credit card transaction is scrutinised for fraud.
HSBC is introducing the programme, which will affect 10 million card accounts and millions of transactions.

Hmm. You have to wonder what other data the HSBC will be able to mine from this, but we will leave the big brother rant for another day.

The banking industry has warned that more legitimate transactions will be queried or cancelled as a result.

So, what they are basically saying is that because the banks are losing money, ordinary people will be inconvenienced even more than normal. Imagine the scene, you are on holiday in a foreign country (several time zones away), you go for a meal and pay with your card. Only to have your card rejected. What do you do? The banks don’t care. You have to do the running to get everything sorted and cant even claim back any costs incurred from the banks mistake. Outrageous. The standard banking advice is to tell your bank when you are going on holiday but this is crap. It rarely works. From the same BBC page:

When Sally Wiber went on holiday to Borneo, she followed industry advice and told her bank where she was going.
But her credit and debit cards were blocked when she tried to use them on her first day.
“I spent much of the first day trying to deal with my bank and getting internet access, and then had a rather frustrating phone call trying to make sure that I could use my cards for the rest of my holiday,” she said.

Wonderful eh? I can support this from personal experience. My employment has me travelling around Europe a lot. My bank know this. I have told them about my travel and they know my job. However, in France last year, despite my bank being told in writing about my travel, my card was blocked on the second day. I used it on the first day to withdraw cash and make purchases, but on the second day it was decided my activity was unusual. Apparently, as I was on a family holiday, I had been committing the heinous crime of buying presents… I had told the bank I was going on a family holiday. The first days purchases (to a greater value) were fine, but the second day triggered something. The biggest problem I faced here was being stuck, in France, with no phone and no bank account and no money. How do you resolve that?

Does the banking industry care? Again from the BBC:

But Mark Bowerman of the card issuers’ trade body APACS said it was something consumers would have to accept.

That is a “no” then. He continues:

“If we as customers expect banks to do something about this we have to expect that from time to time we’ll be in a shop and the transaction will be queried or card declined. These systems are designed to stop cards being used fraudulently, so if that’s the price we have to pay I think people should be prepared to pay that price,” he said.

Crikey, doesn’t that sound like the war on terror? It actually reads that because the banks want to put a stop to card fraud people have to pay the price. I love the glib way he says that from time to time we’ll have a transaction declined. Like it doesn’t mean anything. Like it doesn’t mean embarrassment and possible legal problems for you when it happens. Try paying for a meal, having your card declined and then explaining that’s just the price you have to pay. Please let me know how far it gets you.

The BBC continues:

Spending large amounts of money or using your card frequently can trigger the alarm at the user’s bank, and with so much fraud taking place abroad, the same goes for using a card outside the UK.

So, basically, using your card can trigger alarms. This happened to me a few weeks ago when I was buying a new suit. I used a credit card that gives me loyalty points, and as I pay it off in full each month I was well within my credit. I spent a while buying an expensive new suit in the January sales, with a shop assistant fawning over me. When it came to pay, I hand my card over (knowing I had a credit limit more than £2000 over the cost of the suit and coat) only for it to be rejected. Shame is an understatement. Queue of people behind me and a shop assistant now convinced I am a petty thief. All because I tried to spend £300 in one transaction, rather than lots of £50 transactions.

There is a solution, and one which may shoot the credit card companies in the foot, but one I am heading towards more and more. Give up with the card. Credit cards are different, as it enables you to spend money you dont have, but you can live without your bank card. This is the travel advice from ABTA on the BBC, to try and get round the problem of having your card blocked at random:

Take a range of payment methods. Take cash for immediate expenses, take two cards, preferably from different banks and take travellers’ cheques as well for extra security if it goes disastrously wrong.

Why go to all this trouble. The only reason you would take the cards is to spend your money abroad. If you take cards with cash and traveller’s cheques as “backup” you are mad. The card is a back up for the other two, but now you cant trust it. If you have a backup you cant rely on, it is worthless, so don’t take the cards. Go abroad with a bit of cash and traveller’s cheques. You don’t need anything else.

Equally, given the disastrous savings rates, you could probably live your day to day life cash only. Wouldn’t that be weird?

Just to show how effective the banks previous anti-fraud measures have been:

Card fraud is rising – up 14% in the first half of 2008 – and fraud abroad now accounts for 40% of all card crime.

Not very effective then. What is the future for these new checks? Will they learn enough to allow people to go on holiday? Will they work?

What we have seen with chip and pin – it was successful for 18 months, two years – the fraudsters have worked a way round it, so we are now looking at more sophisticated means.

So then, in 18 months we will be encumbered with a system causing us problems, making sure we cant rely on our cards (defeating the purpose of them) and it wont be stopping fraud.


In the kingdom of the blind

(This is my attempt to play one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind. And rant. About money.)

The BBC’s Have Your Say invited people to comment on whether they are “worried” about the collapse of sterling to approximately the level of the Euro.

Most people – including me – understand absolutely nothing about international exchange rates beyond whether it will cost more to go on holiday. So, you could predict that most commenters would be complaining about not being able to spend as much in their fortnight in Spain. With the odd exporter or hotelier seeing it as good for their business. Fair enough.

Harder to understand are those commenters who see the collapse in the value of the pound as the fault of the UK Labour government (which they also persist in seeing as being committed to socialism, in the face of the evidence of years of NewLabour devotion to the demands of big business. )

Ignore the fact that even Bush’s government has gone further towards nationalisation than has the UK government, making at least some demands in return for the injection of billions into the banking system. Our government can’t even make the generously-supported banks respond to the interest rate cuts that were made just so that they’d pass them on and lend money.

Can people really not see that the near collapse of the western economies is:
(a) the result of the workings of capitalism, pure and simple. Capitalist economies must have boom and bust. It’s inherent in the system. How did we delude ourselves that a few years of relative prosperity in the system somehow meant the end of history?
(b ) global. We’ve been going through decades of globalisation. No one government can shape the global economy. If any one country can have a real impact, it would have to be the US. The UK is just a bit player.

Free movement of capital, freedom of currency markets, and so on. All that Chicago School economic bullshit that convinced global governments that allowing the rich to keep on getting immeasurably richer was necessarily good for everyone.

My inherent cynicism about the economic system was shown to be actually childishly naive by the Madoff story. The BBC finally gave it a billing today, under the headline “Banks hit worldwide by US fraud” (showing that the UK is just as bad as the US when it comes to ignoring any news that doesn’t involve its own nationals. It’s news, now, only because British banks have been seen to have been ripped off as well.)

Some of the world’s biggest banks have revealed they are victims of an alleged fraud which has lost $50bn (£33bn).

$50 billion dollars. A fair proportion of the amounts that taxpayers have stumped up to prop up the banking system. That’s a good few dollars for every person on planet earth, including the millions who never see a yankee dollar’s worth of cash from one week to the next.

The head of the Nasdaq. LOL seems inadequate, but I’m saying it anyway. That’s the head of the Nasdaq. Whole economies rose and fell on the whims of the Nasdaq.

US prosecutors say Mr Madoff, a former head of the Nasdaq stock market, masterminded a fraud of massive proportions through his hedge fund and investment advisory business.
Mr Madoff is alleged to have used money from new investors to pay off existing investors in the fund. (from the BBC)

Isn’t that called a “long-firm” con, in the criminal world?

Who would imagine that national Serious Fraud Offices and Securities and Exchange regulators and the heads of international banks wouldn’t spot one of the oldest scams in the Book of Old Scams? They really should have read more crime novels and “true-life” gangster confessions. Because reading balance sheets doesn’t seem to have been their strongest suit.

I love this casual aside in the BBC report. (That’s “love” in the sense of “grudgingly admire the bare-faced cheek while being incredibly grateful that I’m too poor and profligate to have any money to invest”)

Among the potential losers is Spain’s largest bank, Santander, which owns the UK High Street banks Abbey, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley.
The bank had a direct exposure of 17m euros ($23m; £15m), but clients of its Optimal fund management unit have another 2.3bn euros invested in the firm run by Bernard Madoff.

So the bank lost 17 million euros to the scam. Small change by the standards of current losses. On the other hand, the customers who trusted the bank’s investment nous lost 2.3 billion euros. (2.3 billion euros: savings, pension funds, jobs, services, yada yada yada.)

Inside or outside the casino, it looks as if “the bank never loses.” Well, not its own money, anyway.

;-) (TM)

I plan to trademark the question mark (?), plus the charming upside Spanish question mark (¿) and the German ß letter. In fact, I might as well trademark any letter with an umlaut, (Ü) or a cedilla (ç) And I might as well claim the trademark ™ and copyright © symbols, while I’m at it.

I may be forced to sue the world’s dictionaries and keyboard manufacturers, if they won’t just start paying on their own accord. Don’t worry, normal people. Of course, I’ll let you use my letters for your own humble non-commercial purposes. I’m only going to claim against the thieving bastards who use my letters for gain without paying me my well-earned compensation.

A Russian businessman has trademarked emoticons. (In the UK, the media usually call rich Russian businessmen “oligarchs” for some reason, as if non-Russian billionaires don’t wield any power. The BBC calls him a businessman so I reckon he’s probably just moderately wealthy)

For instance, 😉 is now one of his.

I want to highlight that this is only directed at corporations, companies that are trying to make a profit without the permission of the trademark holder,” Mr Teterin said in comments on the Russian TV channel, NTV.
“Legal use will be possible after buying an annual licence from us,” he was quoted by the newspaper Kommersant as saying.
“It won’t cost that much – tens of thousands of dollars,” added the businessman, who is president of Superfone, a company that sells advertising on mobile phones.
But he said he does not plan on tracking down individual users of the emoticon.
He also said since other similar emoticons – 🙂 or 😉 or 🙂 – resemble the one he has trademarked, use of those symbols could also fall under his ownership. (from the BBC)

It’s not April 1. Next explanation is a publicity stunt. It’s worked then. (Although it’s hard to think why Russians would be motivated to buy mobile phone adverts on the basis that the company owner has a sharp eye for a scam.)

On reflection, trademarking expressive-punctuation is the standard 21st century business model in a reductio ad absurdum guise.

It doesn’t involve any messy production. (I guess that makes it count as eco-friendly and carbon-neutral.) It doesn’t incur any costs for materials or machinery. It doesn’t really employ any people so it cuts labour costs to the bone. (I don’t think lawyers count as people.) It certainly wouldn’t involve rewarding the creative thinkers who originally started using punctuation marks to express moods in text shorthand. It couldn’t generate any income except through trickery. It’s an entirely imaginary product, made out of screen pixels and worthless in itself.

Doesn’t this sound like most of what passes for the “commanding heights of the economy” now? It’s as if “modes of production” and “relations of production” have been rendered meaningless and irrelevant, as if whole economies can detach themselves from reality for ever. As if economic bubbles can never burst…..


Wealth Buys My Happiness

I am somewhat short of time and this is a topic that really needs some in-depth commentary to do it justice. While I fully intend to return to this over the next few days, please think of this as a mini-meme: If you read this post please have a think about blogging your opinions on the articles below. If you dont want to, that’s OK, as I said, I will address the fact that I pretty much disagree with every one of these… 🙂

Background: In light of the Credit Crisis and the environmental disaster we are bringing in on ourselves, New Scientist has put together a “Growth Issue” in which a variety of people argue we need a new social model in which economic growth is not the goal and we all adopt a fun-filled, relaxed, minimal work life.

First off the editorial: Always annoying but this sets the tone: Read it first then move on to the main feature.

The weirdest of the feature has to be the “Life in a land without growth” article. It is a hypothetical report from 2020 detailing how great life is now we have done away with economic growth. The report has a great start:

IT’S 2020, and we are a decade into a huge experiment in which we are trying to convert our country to a sustainable or “steady-state” economy. We have two guiding principles: we don’t use natural resources faster than they can be replenished by the planet, and we don’t deposit wastes faster than they can be absorbed.

but then goes massively down hill with:

In our society, scientists set the rules. They work out what levels of consumption and emission are sustainable – and if they’re not sure they work out a cautious estimate.

Hmm. Didn’t Lisa Simpson try this for Springfield? I am more than a little worried about the idea of a culture where “scientists set the rules.” From that point on, I began to disagree with most of the report and decided, if that was our society, I’d be a terrorist.

The next utopia-article that annoyed me was the “Nothing to fear from curbing growth” one. To be fair to Kate Soper, it is better written than the hypothetical report but she hits on a theme which gets my back up on a gigantic scale: The idea that the more money you have, the less happy you are.

This is monumental nonsense. As far as I can tell it was a tool used to keep the working poor in their place by convincing them that aspiring to great-wealth would be bad for them. It manifests itself in our obsession with the failings of the rich and famous – every time some one wealthy checks into rehab, or complains about being depressed etc., the nonsense about money not making you happy is dragged out. Interestingly, this is something asserted more often by well off people than poor people, which makes you wonder about their motives.

Kate Soper shows how there is a mistaken transposition of survey data to draw this conclusion:

For example, rates of occupational ill-health and depression have been shown to be linked to the number of hours we work, and once a certain level of income is reached further wealth does not correlate with increased happiness.

Hours worked does not equal wealth and we have an odd conflation here.

Working 20 hours a day does not make you happy. I can testify in the court of Odin that, having done a 36 hour shift I was not even close to being happy at the end of it. I would be much, much, happier if I didn’t have to work.

That part of her claim I agree with. Working long hours is depressing.

Working long hours, however is not the same as being wealthy. In fact it is often the inverse. Poor people have to work all the hours Zeus sends to make ends meet. This makes them depressed. They are depressed because they are poor.

There is a middle ground, but it is a middle ground I will never have sympathy for. Some people are at the very low end of being well-off and, as a result, have to work insane hours. These are not actually rich people though – recent examples are the merchant bankers in the city of London, working 18 hours day to get million pound a year bonuses. Sadly, their lifestyle demands those bonuses and therefore demands those hours. If they are living in the centre of London, where a toilet costs a million pounds to rent, they best work as hard as the cleaner (who admittedly lives in a cardboard box under tower bridge). They are “wealthy” but not happy. However, they are an odd group and far from representative.

Then we get the genuinely wealthy. I suspect Bill Gates is a pretty happy person and enjoys his life. I think it would be foolish to say he was less happy than someone who was working 12 hour shifts stacking shelves in the supermarket, followed by a six hour shift waiting tables to try and keep a roof over their families head.

Going back to the article, it jumps from working long hours = depressing to saying that beyond a certain level of wealth the increase in happiness is not proportional. This left me with a huge so what.

If I am X happy with £100million, does it matter that I am only (X*2)-Y happy with £200million? Not to me. I am more happy, and that is enough. The rest of her article continues the conflation of work and wealth so I will leave it for now.

Now, as a final point, and going back to the title, I will again assert it is largely incorrect to say that money doesn’t buy happiness. For the screaming pedant it is correct because happiness is an emotion and unless the very existence of lots of (positive) numbers on your bank balance makes you happy the money isn’t doing that bit.

However, what money gives you is the ability to become happy. If you are wealthy enough to not have to go to work, you can spend quality time with your family; you can spend more time doing hobbies; you can learn new things; you can read new books; you can travel the world. There are more things that I want to do than I will ever have time to do so it is a constant battle with the clock. Money buys that wonderful thing called time. The problem is we have to give up time to work so the key for most people is finding the best balance between lots of work, and lots of time.

Being slightly scientifically oriented, I am open to having my mind changed on this topic – but I suspect any arguments will just go back and forth on issues of pedantry. What I propose instead is a simple experiment.

If you feel, like so many others, that money does not make you happy then send me £50,000. With this we can see if having less money makes you happy and if having more money makes me happy.

As this is a fixed amount and may well be below the threshold that Kate Soper was referring to there is a second experiment: I will make a note of my current happiness using any criteria you choose. Then I am given £1million and my happiness is re-assessed. Next this is increased to £10million (with another assessment) and finally a sum of £20million and a final assessment. From this we can see if the increasing sums of money show a corresponding increase in happiness.

Does that sound like a good idea? I am more than willing to take part in the experiment at a moments notice.

On the other hand, if you aren’t willing to give me all your money, don’t claim being rich doesn’t make you happy.

Footnote: I used “you” and “your” a lot, these are just generic terms. I didn’t mean you unless you are Bill Gates [or similar] and fancy the experiment. Do you?

Where angels fear to tread..

So, here I am, rushing in like a fool… (and interspersing my rant with palinisms, thus inspiring complete confidence in the down-home wisdom of anything I say)

I can understand pretty well nothing about the “credit crunch.” Except that we seem to have got worse and worse at naming things. The “Great Depression” has a certain grandeur. The “credit crunch” sounds like a crappy breakfast cereal.

* hey joe*

And naming things seems to be the crucial component of this crisis. When “money” is the cause of the whole fiasco, it must be so much a matter of what people believe. Money is paper backed up by promises. If you don’t trust the promises, what value does the paper have? As far as I can see, once money is divorced from production there is nothing to back it up.

If a steelworks goes bankrupt, it has assets: plant, materials, the skills of its workforce. Someone else can buy its carcass and make steel. If a bank goes bankrupt, all it has is the ghost of bits and bytes on a computer system. You surely couldn’t treat the financial skills of its money-making experts as a saleable commodity, on the present showing.


Is it possible that enough people have £50,000 in savings to make it worth the UK government’s electoral while to guarantee £50,000 rather than £33,000?

How the fuck could anyone “save” £50k? The “savings” word conjures up an image of respectable austerity. Making do and mending. People buying supermarket own-brand tins of beans, rather than the costlier branded version. Darning sweaters rather than throwing them out at the first hint of a hole. Do me a favour, guv. (Affects cockney accent.)

This sort of stuff might save you £50 a year at most. So that’s a thousand years of savings then. Let’s be insanely generous in the estimate. Imagine our conceptual saver is dining on bread and dripping (I’m not sure what that is, but it sounds economical) and saving £500 a year. That still means it would take a hundred years to save £50k

I can think of a few circumstances in which a reasonably well paid person might have £50k (such as having sold their house and keeping hold of the money until they can buy another.) However, people in that situation can’t account for any notable fraction of the population.

So let’s do away with any idea that the £50k limit represents “savings” rather than bank deposits. The newspapers are full of the horrific possibility that people with more savings (maybe about 3% of the bank customer population) might take their money to another EC country, unless the government guarantees it all. In fact, all EC countries seem to be facing this horrific possibility and are randomly guaranteeing or not guaranteeing all deposits, depending on the time of day.

*you betcha*

Hmm. Isn’t that the nature of global capitalism? This free movement of money, yada, yada, that we’ve been getting told (for decades) is the solution to all social evils. The money supply must be freed from constraints. The markets bring prosperity through some miraculous trickle-down effect. Any constraints upon the money markets would destroy free trade, and so on.

So, how confused am I? Don’t tell me that was made-up stuff? Who’d have thought it?

Irony upon irony. The IMF reckons the US economy (and hence, the rest of the world’s economy) is in much worse shape even than we’ve been told.

* big shout out to class 6b*

In its latest twice-yearly Global Financial Stability Review, the Washington-based institution dramatically raised its estimate of losses to the US banking system to around $1.4 trillion (£800bn), 45% up from the $945bn it estimated in April and reaffirmed just two months ago.(from the Guardian)

So the billions that Congress has finally agreed to hand over are not going to cover more than a little section of the losses? (The spare $billions that can be instantly conjured up from the vaults but just weren’t available to prop up failing real industries or to provide free healthcare system?)

As soon as banks are in trouble, nationalising them is acceptable. Once as they start to show any profit again, they’ll be handed right back, of course.

If there aren’t a few people with wealth beyond the proverbial dreams of avarice, the rest of us are in trouble, you see.

Well, no, I don’t really see. However, I can quite see how the losses of the mega rich have trickled down, so that minimum wage-earning taxpayers get a democratic share in those losses.

We were being told, only recently, that taxing the mega rich was a “bad thing” because, then, we wouldn’t benefit from their wealth-creating magic if they weren’t free to accumulate as much wealth as they wanted. How satisfying to find that they now believe in share and share alike.

*winks girlishly*

Food Advice

Giants Ring - just here to make the post look prettyThe UK of 2008 is an interesting, if odd, place to live. Today our esteemed Prime Minister has decided the way to reduce the cost of living is to tell people to stop wasting food.

Blimey. This is the person who used to be the chancelor of the exchequer…. Scary.

It is an interesting idea that people are simultaneously eating too much food and wasting too much food but both seem like a sneaky attempt by a weasle government to pass the blame for another one of societies problems on the general public. Now, I am borderline in support of blaming the population for everything, although this time I think the PM has got it wrong. (Well, he routinely gets it wrong which is why I am devastated to think I will welcome a conservative government).

This outburst is another one of Labours attempts to demonise and punish the poor and the working class. According to the BBC:

A government study says the UK wastes 4m tonnes of food every year, adding £420 to a family’s shopping bills. (…) The food policy study also says the average UK household throws away £8 of leftovers a week, yet spends 9% of its income on food.

Now the slight disparity in the numbers aside, this is an interesting set of figures to throw your hat on. If you are a poor, low income family then £420 a year will be very significant. I refuse for one second to believe that people on the median UK income or lower are actually wasting this much money per year.

Flipping it around, if you are above the median income this becomes a trivial sum of money. For someone on £30k per year (a shell lorry driver for instance), this represents about two days wages spread over the course of a year. Not really something that is going to make them sit up and take notice. I am not a “rich” person but today I applied for a job that pays one and a half times that sum of money per day. If I get the job, worrying that a few bits and pieces I have left over will amount to under six hours work per year is the last thing on my mind.

Hillsborough AntiqueNow, the second sentence is slightly more interesting. Interesting in that it uses two different types of figures. This implies that a family on £16,000 per year is spending £1440 a year on food. Out of this £27 per week, they are “wasting” £8 so, in reality are living on £19 per week for food. I refuse to accept that for a nanosecond. I would like to see you get your “five a day” for that paltry sum. On the flipside, the £30,000 a year family spend a massive £2700 a year on food, or £52 per week. They are significantly more efficient however, as they actually manage to eat £44 of food.

Are we, as a nation, to accept that the poor family who are basically struggling to eat still manage to throw away nearly 1/3rd of their food, however the indulgent rich are protecting the economy by eating it all. In all honesty, it confuses me a touch.

A second, and possibly more important line of thought is about why people throw food away. Sometimes it is food people have cooked and no longer want and I assume some of it will be the result of people chosing to not eat certain parts of the foodstuff (I will never eat a pigs brains for example…). However, looking at the list of biggest waste sources it seems the problem is throwing away food that has gone past its sell by date.

There is the usual call for people to stop going to supermarket, stop buying their goods in bulk (then allowing it to spoil) etc. This has a seductive ring of truth around it, however it doesn’t stand up to close examination.

Take for example the two different shopping methods. I can use a supermarkets online shop to order my goods (pre-selected based on previous purchases) in about 20 minutes. Add in the delivery and this whole deal takes up about 40 minutes a week.

Compare that with going to the shops every day to buy fresh, small portioned, perishable goods. The journey alone to the nearest “corner shop” will take me 5 mins to drive (but is massively uneconomical with the fuel) or about 15 mins each way to walk. Add in 10 mins walking around the shop (and ignoring any impulse buying) and paying for my small loaf, banana and orange. All told, this would occupy around 40 minutes a day or over 3 hours a week (ignoring weekends). If I was on minimum wage, this would be the equivalent of £16 per week spent simply collecting the food. If I get the £600 a day job I want that is, in effect £225 a week…

It seems that £8 wasted is money well spent.

Gore, Nobel Prize and the BBC…

On the BBC editors’ blog, Craig Oliver discussed Al Gore’s Nobel prize, in the context of the BBC’s decision to lead Wednesday’s night’s news with a judge’s ruling that there were 9 errors of fact in “An inconvenient truth.”

Oliver says the Nobel prize is “controversial” as the award raises the question “What does climate change have to do with world peace?”

Well Craig, there’s this little thing called an ecosystem. All our lives depend on it. When it gets too damaged to support life, we are going to have to fight over the dwindling store of global life -supporting goodness.

I’m not a judge or a scientist, so I would have thought that 9 “errors” was about normal for a documentary. It’s a truism that, if you know about any topic, you will always find any media reports about that topic to be full of gaping holes.

I would have thought, in this context, that a more suitable topic for the BBC News to consider would be why would anyone spend the enormous sums required to take such a case to the High Court to stop schools showing a documentary? Hadn’t they thought of contacting the school or the local education committee, if they were that stressed about it?

How much did this little exercise cost “school governor Stewart Dimmock, from Dover, a father of two, who is a member of the New Party.”?

The judge awarded Mr Dimmock two-thirds of his estimated legal costs of more than £200,000, against the government.

Are there many parents/school governors out there who are so rich beyond the dreams of avarice that they will spend a sum that would take about 15 years to earn at a minimum wage rate on telling teachers what documentaries they can show in schools?

The New Party? Who are these legally minded philanthropists? Given the sums of money at their disposal, cosying up to them looks like almost as canny a financial move as a brief marriage to a former Beatle.

The bio-chip 666 of the Beast

I’ve been a proper hardcore atheist today, scouring the net for things not to believe.

And there really is a wealth of them. The problem is that this blog is so easily suckered into believing that spoof sites are real that it’s hard to credit that some of these exist. It’s quite tough to work out which rapture ready site is funnier than the next.

Well, with my back covered when this turns out to be an abstract joke and not just a scam, this site must be close to a winner. It’s called Bible Prophesy: Mark of the Beast. (I’ve put the URL despite my best intentions, just to prove this site exists.)

666: The Mark of the Beast

What is it? Many Christians believe the 666 mark will be a biochip implant to create the cashless society of Revelation 13.

Why is it so bad? All who take the mark will be damned by God to be cast into the Lake of Fire.

Why will those who take the mark be damned? I think it’s because God made Silver and Gold as honest weights and measures to be used as money! Money is NOT paper (which is a promise), not electronic credits, not chips, not a mark, nor a number!

The Use of Paper Money Violates All of the Ten Commandments

For more on the nature of gold and silver and why they are real money, please read my other site, silverstockreport.com

Without quoting any more of this,basically, it says the Book of Revelation predicts bio-chips that will be used to store ID details and serve as money. But, these are the Mark of the Beast and anyone who gets one won’t be a candidate for the rapture.

Phew, glad I haven’t got one then.

(In fact, it’s a probably a stroke of luck that my access to folding money is so limited, given how rapture-unready use of non-metallic currency seems to be according to this site …..)

Wait, a lightbulb moment! Anyone looking for a good defence for not getting the new national ID card can probably claim to be a follower of this belief system. Where do I sign up?

[tags]atheist, crackpot, gold, money, rapture, religion, revelation, silver, society, mark of the beast[/tags]