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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Neil's LiveJournal:

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Thursday, October 31st, 2013
4:07 pm
Rich and Poor
A month ago I incautiously criticised Labour's claim that £60k/yr doesn't make you rich, and was roundly criticised.

At root the problem is that rich and poor are relative terms, but we keep trying to make absolute statements about them because they seem important touch points for what we actually do. With this in mind I'm attempting some more absolute categories. Warning: there are more than two.

1. Poverty
The UN defines absolute poverty as living on less than $1/day (local purchasing power equivalent) and relative poverty as living on less than $2/day. At one level I'm prepared to accept that the UN know a lot more about poverty than I do, at another level I think the point of the word poverty is that, at this level of wealth, you are going to die shortly. While I reckon I have a fair chance of surviving summer in the UK on $3/day, I'm pretty sure the first winter would see me off, so I'm not entirely happy with the numbers. The issue may be that the UN is assuming I'm sleeping in the sort of mud hut that is available at very reasonable prices in the kind of places where death by poverty is a widespread issue.

There was a lively discussion a while ago about whether it was possible to live on £53.10/wk1. Several journalists attempted and I think the conclusion was: yes you can, so long as someone else is paying your rent. Which seems like quite a big 'so long as'2.

Using the rent I last paid in a houseshare it looks like £5k/year/person is about the amount of money I would need to be confident of making it to next year without dying of something stupid. This is definitely less than £60k.

3. Well Off
When you're not in poverty you're well off right? So why is this category numbered 3?

2. Uncertainty
You have enough to not actually die of being poor, but not enough that it isn't a concern. The whole thing about this category is that it's about how you feel and how wise you are with what you buy, not actually about how much money you have. It's perfectly possible to have an iPhone, and to starve to death. You've obviously done something stupid, but then humans do. People on £5k can be outside this category, and people on £1m in it. Famously a lot of lottery winners go bankrupt shortly afterwards.

It's quite hard to know what do to about this group, and I suspect that much of the policy wrangling that takes place is really about this group. These people feel poor, and feel aggrieved when you try to take away some of their money, but all the people who can't afford iPhones3 feel put out when you tax them to give money to the people who are tapping away on theirs.

I'm sure there are people on £60k who feel precarious, and this is the group Labour's statement makes sense for.

4. Magnate
Not only do you have enough to live on, but you have enough money that your wealth is a source of power. In a democracy anyone can wield power by voting, or by standing, or by campaigning, but if you have enough money you can, in addition to all these things, hire lobbyists, set up think tanks, start companies, create technologies, publish newspapers, etc.

I think it's fair to say that £60k doesn't buy you this kind of power. Labour might have been using that as their definition of rich, but there's no connection between 'not rich enough to be powerful' and 'we shouldn't tax these people more' so if that was their position then they're not just wrong, they're incoherent.

1Job Seekers Allowance, not a random number plucked from the air.
2On the other hand the person I was reading had managed to pay for broadband in her £53.10, which is the kind of item the UN leave out when checking for poverty.
3I'm not jealous you understand. Okay, I'm not very jealous. Look, can we move on?
Sunday, May 12th, 2013
8:24 pm
Leaving the EU
Several senior conservatives have recently said they'd like Britain to leave the EU. At least one economist has written that it's impossible to assess the costs or benefits because we don't know what the post EU relationship would look like. This may be revealing my ignorance, but to me it looks like the options are:

  1. Leave the EU completely. This definitely means higher import/export taxes to EU countries, and probably means higher export taxes to the rest of the world (at the moment we negotiate with the rest of the EU, and together have enough clout to take on even the US). I don't know of any theory of economics in which doing this in a developed country, isn't pretty bad economically.
  2. Stay in the single market al a Norway. If we're in the single market, we still have to obey all the crazy EU legislation - this is to make the market level, but because we're not actually in the EU we no longer have any say over the crazy legislation. On the plus side we don't have to pay any money towards CAP, but as a proportion of our economy this isn't very much. Almost certainly the EU passes legislation which dismantles the City of London within two years (is this a plus or a minus? Either way it is a lot of our economy). Basically this option is just like now, except worse.
  3. Don't leave the EU. I'm going to say that this option feels better than the others ...

Feel free to point out the gaping hole in my knowledge which means intelligent people are actually considering leaving.
Saturday, February 2nd, 2013
1:57 pm
Why Gay Marriage Doesn't Matter
Ever since a Tory prime minister told his conference he was going to change the definition of marriage to cover same sex couples, and was applauded, I have assumed the writing was on the wall for a conventional understanding of marriage. This week will see a free vote on the subject, and since the only party opposed doesn't have any MPs (UKIP) it seems highly likely to pass. And at one level this won't make any difference.

People have correctly pointed out that there are slight legal differences between marriage and civil partnerships, most notably infidelity as a ground for divorce, but in consultation the gay community asked for gay marriage to work exactly the same way as civil partnerships, so this vote isn't going to change anything from a legal point of view.

The institution of marriage, and it's definition as between a man and a woman, were not created by the British government, and are not subject to the British government's whims. While parliament could pass a law setting the value of π to 3 the nature of circles would be unaffected. All that will change is British English will become a little more confused.

In the excellent appendices to the awful 1984 George Orwell explored the concept of double speak. The idea is that humans largely think in speech, if you can change their language so that they can't express an idea then they won't be able to think it either, disobedience will become impossible. The totalitarian regime of 1984 is working to remove the idea of good and evil to take away a ground for opposing the state.

If gay marriage doesn't matter why are people violently for and against it? I don't know, so I'm going to speculate wildly. Recent attempts to voice an opinion against the morality of homosexual relationships without being accused of bigotry, or arrested, have often drawn the distinction between sex inside and outside of marriage, rather than heterosexual and homosexual. For example the couple sued for refusing to offer a gay couple a double bed in their bed and breakfast. Legally that defence didn’t work anyway, so gay marriage still doesn’t change anything; but if we can just take away all the words people use to disapprove of homosexuality, then they’ll have to stop.

"Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.” - Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Saturday, December 1st, 2012
1:07 am
Leveson Enquiry
A 2,000 page document. A topic of national importance. Am I the only one hoping Ilanin writes a summary?
Wednesday, November 14th, 2012
9:42 pm
Police Commissioners
I'd just like everyone to know that when I fail to vote for a police commissioner tomorrow it isn't a dereliction of my democratic duty, it's a rejection of the notion of PCCs in general and of the set standing in my county in particular, not one of whom has any actual policing experience.
Sunday, November 11th, 2012
11:21 pm
Remberance
Emma: Dad's Poppy!
Me: Yes, it's remembrance day today.
Emma, solemnly: Remember Brave Soldiers.
Sunday, August 26th, 2012
1:24 pm
Two Lies
"Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone's lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense." - Rick Warren responding to claims that his social engagement with Muslims meant he was compromising the gospel.

For years I've wondered why people who disapprove of homosexuality are called homophobic, when there didn't seem to be any actual fear going around. Now I know.

Current Mood: relaxed
Wednesday, August 8th, 2012
9:10 pm
Liberty, Equality, and a lack of integrity
Do the Liberal Democrats have a bit of an integrity problem?

I know a number of people were angry with them for going into coalition when they could have just cackled evilly while the country slipped into a debt spiral, but the issue that seemed to really rally opinion against them was breaking the pledge to vote against higher tuition fees. I have a certain amount of sympathy for them, waking up the morning after the frantic coalition negotiations and realising they'd promised to abstain in order to let higher fees through, and flailing around trying to work out what to do about it. But fundamentally it's a matter of integrity - you pledged to vote against, you broke your pledge.

That same heady night they promised to back boundary changes in exchange for a referendum on AV. Again I have a certain amount of sympathy for responding to Lord's reform being blocked, but fundamentally it's a matter of integrity - they got the referendum, but they're breaking their promise.

Weirdly the effect is that, because they aren't getting a reform to make the Lord's more democratic, they're blocking plans to make everyone's vote count equally. I'm sure there have been more cynical moves in history. I can't actually think of any off hand though.

I suppose they did campaign for AV under the slogan of fairer votes; maybe they think the No vote is a mandate to make sure voting in Britain is as unfair as possible.
Sunday, July 8th, 2012
8:30 am
French Democracy
What's going on with the French? Are they just really bad at democracy?
Thursday, April 19th, 2012
8:04 am
Budgets
How should we judge government budgets? For example the 50p tax rate was due to drop to 40% this April, Osborne changed that to drop to 45%. Should we think of that as
a) an increase of 5%, in that it's 5% more than it would have been had he done nothing
b) a decrease of 5%, in that next tax year they'll pay 5% less than they did this year?

I guess (b) is the most important in terms of figuring out where our own finances will be next year, but I'm not so sure it's the best for understanding the objectives and priorities of the government.
Sunday, March 4th, 2012
10:35 pm
Literary Critism
My Grandpa was a Halifax gunner in World War II who was shot down and spent some time as a Prisoner of War. I've been typing up his memoirs, which I thought had been written around 1990, however in them he refers to Oflag Luft 7 as the camp where Wooden Horse (the 1950 film) is set. Since The Great Escape (1963) is set in the same place, and, being by far the bigger film, is surely the one one would reference to help people place the camp, I figured he must have written the memoir between 1950 and 1963. I was very proud of literary detective skills.

1995 it turns out, from speaking to Mum and Granny. I hope the professionals are better at this game than me, because I swear I've seen a lot more tenuous theories about the dating of works where the author's wife isn't alive to supply the correct answer.
Tuesday, November 1st, 2011
12:01 am
There are really two views one can take to the Poor spend more on VAT story currently running on the BBC.
  1. ONS let the work experience boy do the statistics that day.

  2. The ONS did find actual evidence backing the 'VAT regressive' claim, but the BBC unaccountably failed to mention any of it.

Do feel free to vote in the comments.
Thursday, August 11th, 2011
10:56 pm
Riots
Let's get this straight: the police did a damn good job.

The riots have been beaten, no one is complaining about police brutality, and over a thousand rioters are already under arrest. They even found time this morning to raid dozens of looters houses. I'm imagining there are quite a few police officers who aren't getting a lot of sleep.

I'm therefore deeply confused why Cameron should be critising them.

"Initially the police treated the situation too much as a public order issue - rather than essentially one of crime."1

Initially it was a public order issue ... is it not enough that the police have shown courage, restraint and justice, they also have to be psychic? Apparently our politicians aren't going to say it so let me - Thank you.

1In fairness to the Prime Minister from the video of parliament he was a lot more sympathetic than the BBC article implies; in fairness to the police praise rather than sympathy is what was called for.
Thursday, June 30th, 2011
7:45 pm
Pension Strikes
It seems important what level of public support there is for the pension strikes taking place today. The BBC suggests asking 10 people you know. I'm not sure there are that many people reading, but here goes. In the absence of a poll can I persuade you to comment:

a. I am broadly sympathetic and supportive to the pension strikes
b. I am broadly unsympathetic and oppose to the pension strikes
c. I was on strike today

And then in a different form
1. The government is right, public sector pensions are unaffordable.
2. The government is wrong, we should lay off a significant minority of public sector workers so we can continue to afford these pensions.
3. The government is wrong, we should substantially raise taxes so that we can continue to afford these pensions.
4. The government is wrong, the country should hold higher debts for longer, and pay more interest.
5. Better pensions in 20 years time will mystically drive growth in a way I shall explain in my comment.
Wednesday, June 8th, 2011
11:03 pm
Facebook facial recognition.

And they said I was just being paranoid.
Wednesday, June 1st, 2011
10:12 pm
Should the referendum have been about PR?

Before the referendum I thought it was a good thing we were voting on AV and not PR. I assumed that anyone who preferred PR to FPtP1 would also prefer AV to FPtP since AV is expected to produce closer results to PR than FPtP.

Obviously we couldn't put all three on the ballot paper - which method would you use to pick the winner? FPtP? AV? Or would you have 60% of constituencies using Proportional Representation, 20% on FPtP and 20% using AV, but no way of allocating these to constituencies? But if AV beat FPtP you could explore whether people want to move further.

On this logic the referendum should only have been about PR if PR stood a better chance of winning than AV. Since AV clearly hasn't won hindsight says we should have had PR on the ballot instead. Of course if we'd done that hindsight might be telling us to put AV on. I think this shows that hindsight isn't all it's cracked up to be.

It is easy enough to find reasons for disliking PR when your favourite system is AV, for example under PR you don't have your own personal MP to ignore your letters2. Are there any reasons a PR convert would reject AV?

Monotonicity It would fill me with great joy if the country had rejected AV out of concerns that voting for your party could cause them to lose when voting against them would cause them to win; but as hardly anyone seemed to be aware of the problem it seems unlikely.

Plus, if you're going to reject AV on the mathematical grounds of non-monotonicity you're probably going to reject PR on the grounds that it isn't a voting system3.

Complexity Very few places voted for AV. Cambridge. Oxford. Bits of London. Edinburgh.
The strongest correlation with voting for AV was a university education.

It's possible that AV lost for being too complicated. It is more complicated than FPtP - O(n2) rather than O(n) - but then everything is more complex than FPtP. I wonder if it was here that the Yes Campaigners let themselves down. The No campaign did work hard to make AV sound complex - I saw one which took half a page and didn't even cover what happened if there was a tie - but at least they did try to explain it. The Yes campaign said 'Just number your preferences and don't worry too much about how the votes are counted'. That I suspect is what scared the uneducated the most.

So perhaps PR would have had a chance - it may not even qualify as a voting system, but it is a lot simpler than AV.

1First Past the Post: the system in which there is no post
Alternative Vote: The system in which you have many options, not just one alternative
Proportional Representation: The system in which you don't even have a representative.
And Leonard De Quirm gets accused of being bad at naming.

2This is deeply unfair. The one time I wrote to my MP I got a polite acknowledgement from his secretary and assumed that would the end of the matter. A day later I got a personal letter from the man himself. I think people worried that some 'safe seats' haven't changed hands for ages have missed the fact that some MPs are worth keeping even if the party they belong to has gone quite mad. And that parties tend to put their best MPs in the 'safe seats'.

3Mathematicians feel that a voting system ought to pick a winner. Otherwise you have to get out bargaining theory as well.

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011
11:05 pm
The thing we used to call Single Transferable Vote
Campaigning for both sides of May the 5th referendum has largely been nonsense. For example

  • AV will not cost hundreds of millions, and if it delivered better government that would be a relatively small price to pay anyway.

  • Voting systems have nothing to do with causing or preventing the expenses scandal - that was all about secrecy and investigative journalism.


Rather like the debate between creationists and evolutionists one feels the only reasonable response would be to gather the protagonists together and then nuke the site from orbit. Yes I am talking to you Chris Hume.

Is there anything intelligent to say?
Read more...Collapse )

But can we all admit that it's not obvious which is best? And that people who think differently to us could quite easily be intelligent and thoughtful? This means you Andrew Rilstone. And Chris Hume obviously.


Read more...Collapse )

Current Mood: annoyed
Sunday, October 17th, 2010
7:00 pm
They nerfed Void Rays :-(.
Sunday, October 10th, 2010
8:06 pm
Baby
Susie and I are now proud, if tired, parents to Emma Grace, an 8lb 3oz girl born yesterday evening at 9pm.
Saturday, August 7th, 2010
11:40 am
Starcraft II
Starcraft II has arrived! Is anyone else playing? Only my friends list is currently empty :-(.

Lonely Protoss player seeks friends to team up and compare achievements with. Apply to user name Passage.
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