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Friday, June 16, 2006


This article by the NotTory MSP Brian Monteith contains a long statement of why he believes the Borders Railway is going to be a white elephant & also goes on to support nuclear power, putting the important point that new reactors can be put on the current sites already used by Hunterson & Torness.

I don't know enough on this to say whether he is right that
Many MSPs believe the railway will never happen, that it made more sense to vote it through and leave it to ministers to take the decision to halt the scheme when they see the real cost rather than be honest but unpopular before next year's elections. How naive. This railway is the Liberal Democrat's Holy Grail and the very reason for their existence in the Borders.........

I can assure you, the railway's costs will go seriously over estimate. Borders Council, whose project it is, will ask for more finance and the coalition government will oblige meeting, say, 80 per cent of the costs. Local taxpayers will be asked to meet the rest - still a lot of money

Clearly ALL of the other MSPs believe that it won't, or conceivably are willing to pretend. However what really got me was the following sentence
I asked to speak against the Bill, the only person to do so, but as I was not called the arguments went unheard
Being allowed to speak, even alone, is what Parliament (from the French - Parler = to talk) is supposed to be about. Give the SLD their due each time I spoke alone against a conference motion (on the smoking ban, motion against 3rd world free trade, motion for political correctness inspectors in Scottish industry) I was given the proper chance to speak. Speaker George Reid, who I would normally say has done a decent job, should be ashamed of this. No matter how many parties are approving this behind closed doors it is his job to see that opposition views are heard.

Whether Mr Monteith will turn out to be wrong & all the other MSPs right, or vice versa, will be determined by events.


A letter in the Herald today. Interestingly enough I first submitted this letter just over a week ago & it was not used so I slightly redrafted it adding the reference to previous Herald writers & it has been used. I must admit when sending it in I had not expected it to be used, even though this is the 2nd time a letter of mine has been used by the Herald 2nd time round.

The 3rd of Robert Heinlein's rules of writing was to resubmit stories but I had expected that the same would not apply to newspaper letters, being rather more time dependent. (The first 2 rules are (1) to actually write rather than just think about it & (2) to submit your writing to a publisher)

* Fraser Crawford, John Elliott and Gordon McNeill (June 15) and Alastair Orr (June 14) are all concerned, in different ways, about the Tories being prepared to do a deal with Labour after the next election. The SNP have nobody to blame for this but themselves. They have made it a constitutional point that they will not enter a coalition with Tories which leaves them no option.
To form a majority government at the next election will probably take three large parties; to form a minority government will take two. In many ways, with their Irish style pro-growth policies, the SNP would be a good fit with the left-moving Tories but so long as the SNP take this attitude Labour and the SLD have one more coalition option than the SNP and Tories. Thus the odds are, by the SNP's attitude, that they will keep a discredited Labour in power
The Tories might offer to support an SNP grouping in confidence votes until their next conference when the membership could decide whether the SNP would change their rules and stay in government, or not. On the other hand David Cameron's 18-month policy review will, if the Scottish Tories don't produce their own policies, leave them going into an election unable to say what they stand for – facing an electoral meltdown.
It would be a bad thing for Scotland if Labour were kept in power not by their own abilities but by the kamikaze tactics of the opposition.
Neil Craig, 27 Woodlands Drive, Glasgow.

While this letter is critical of the Tories over not having Scottish policies & moreso of the SNP over having a self-destructive attitude towards coalition I hope it will be taken in the spirit of constructive criticism.- now is the time to be thinking of options for government next year not merely hoping that something will turn up. While, in one way it would be pretty tough for the Tories not to rule out putting the SNP into power without a quid pro quo it would show them as moderate & working on the national interest & make the SNP look ideologically driven & intransigent to refuse.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


The Laffer curve is the diagram that it used to say that if you cut business taxes you will actually increase revenue. This from Jerry Pournelle is the best short explanation of it I have seen & deserves coverage in the UK
I first learned of it during his lecture to the Food Service Industry (Speakers included me, Laffer, Galbraith, Lionel Tiger, and a whole bunch of people you've heard of) back in the 80's.

The Laffer Curve starts with the obvious: at zero tax rate you get zero revenue. At 100% tax rate you get some revenue but not much, and less productivity since a great deal of effort goes into measures to avoid (not evade but that too) the tax. I recall a Swedish friend who had a tax rate of 104% in his bracket: if he could spend money deductively he made money so he attended overseas conferences.

So: maximum revenue comes at tax rates somewhere between zero and 100%. The exact point depends on a number of factors, and can be empirically determine: it seems to be well under 50%. The lower rates have several effects: people work harder if they get to keep more than half of what they earn; at lower rates more goes into investments intended to raise production rather than into tax avoidance; and more jobs are created, there's more production and thus more revenue to tax.

Reagan's sustained economic boom was one demonstration of that, but Kennedy had paved the way with his tax cuts and resulting economic growth. The "Reagan Deficit" didn't come from lower revenue: revenue went higher and higher during his term. The deficit came from great expenditures, not merely the Reagan defense buildup that bankrupted the USSR and brought down the evil empire, but the far greater entitlements expenditures. Reagan's balanced budget submissions were notoriously "Dead on Arrival" (the Democratic House Majority Leader's term) and the deficits grew, but not because of a lack of revenue.

Determining the optimum taxation point is a bit tricky, but there's a lot of data, and nearly all of it indicates that "soak the rich" taxes produce lower revenue.

If you fine people for speeding they tend to drive slower, or buy radar detectors. If you fine people for making money they tend to make less, hire lawyers and accountants to protect it, or move somewhere else. Fining people for making money is not a great way to raise revenue, just as subsidizing people for not working is not a great way to get them out finding jobs.

I would only add that if a tax rate of well under 50% produces the optimum revenue a rate of roughly half that would be likely to produce a somewhat reduced revenue but a substantially higher GNP growth rate.

UPDATE - post on jerry's site:

Subject: Laffer Curve


You probably already know this, but your readers may find it useful. Regarding the Laffer Curver, Jude Wanniski (Former editor of the Wall Street Journal) wrote an excellent book about the topic: "The Way the World Works".

IIRC, the optimum tax rate is around 15 %. By the time you get to 25% you are on the downward side of the curve, and productivity begins to be negatively effected dramatically.

Rick Shepherd

"Indeed. Wanniski's book is very much worth reading" (Jerry said)


The Times has a piece on why ireland's economy is growing. Guess what - they think it is corporation tax too.
the key passage refers to tax. O’Reilly’s view is that the main reason for the Irish economic “miracle” has been the low level of corporate tax in Ireland. He is working to persuade the UK Government to reduce the rate of corporation tax in Northern Ireland to that of the south; that is, from the UK’s 30 per cent to the Republic’s 12.5 per cent. He comments that the Irish miracle is not “because the pubs are great, the golf is great and the climate is, well . . . the fact is, its tax.”

This is, indeed, one of the political truths that politicians ignore at their peril. O’Reilly’s “the fact is, its tax,” is just as valid as Bill Clinton’s “it’s the economy, stupid”. Of course, from the British point of view, there can be no question of cutting the Northern Ireland rate of corporation tax without cutting the UK level. If 12.5 per cent is good for the Republic — and it is — then indeed it would also be good for Northern Ireland. If it would be good for Northern Ireland it would be equally good for England, Wales and Scotland. Not only good, but essential.

Most politicians have little understanding of tax. They think it is easier to tax business because global businesses do not have votes. They do not realise that Ireland has found that lower tax rates produce higher yields. The result is that Conservative tax policies are inadequate, Liberal Democrat policies are self-defeating, and Labour’s are complex and perverse.
Obviously, a 30 per cent tax rate is less attractive to international business than 12.5 per cent. London has therefore become less attractive than Dublin. Like water running downhill, companies will move from London to Dublin, or to other low-tax countries.

There are numerous alternative locations, and it is impossible to prevent this drift abroad.

Also the major cause of wetness is the presence of water.


I would just like to say how much I appreciate Miss Felicity Kendall's appearance in Rosemary & Thyme (a very silly TV show about 2 middle class British lady jobbing gardners who solve murders). British readers, of a certain age, will know who i am talking about since in the mid 70s she starred in a programme called The Good Life in which she managed to be extremely sexy, funny & sexy not neccessarily in that order.

Last night I was reminded of my youth, who is fully grown by now, by her appearance in R&T where she was going around in jeans & T-shirts & taking her clothes off for bed in the room she shares with her co-star (actually nothing disgraceful - 2 beds, filmed in silhouette & she wears clothes in bed but the director had clearly thought about it). It inspired me to check & it appears she was born in September 1946. By God it gives you hope.

This has been a public silliness announcement.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Firefighters tackled a blaze at a historic building under renovation in Glasgow's west end yesterday.
More than 60 firefighters attended the former Maclay student halls of residence in the conservation area of Park Gate, overlooking Kelvingrove Park.
The roof of the five-storey townhouse caught fire shortly after midday. Workers inside the building were evacuated when the alarm was raised, along with residents in nearby Park Quadrant.
As the fire grew, the roof was engulfed by flames and destroyed, causing damage estimated to be in the region of hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Smoke could be seen for miles around the city as Strathclyde Fire and Rescue directed water cannons at the ornate Georgian tenement, once a hall of residences for Glasgow University which was being converted into three townhouses.
Crowds of people in the park and office workers gathered to watch the firefighters bring the fire under control.
Lorna McMillan, a 30-year-old support worker who witnessed the fire, said: "I spotted the flames from my flat so I ran round to have a look.
"It is a shame because it is such a beautiful building with a stunning facade. But we should just be thankful that no-one was hurt."
I have put this from the Herald in full because it will go on subscription tomorrow. Yesterday just after midday I noticed (smelled) smoke blowing down the street& being a nosey type, & having a little free time, decided to follow it.

The fire was on the roof of the block. You could see a small flame on the roof of the section where the scaffolding was & a bystander said it was been started by somebody repairing the roof which seemed likely. There was also some smoke coming from the under the tiles in the adjoining section. There were also 3 fire tenders, one with an extendable ladder & a lot of firemen & polis. On the other hand there was no great air of activity.

Indeed it wasn't until about 1 o'clock, after I had been there for about 20 minutes & the fire for at least 40 that the ladder & hoses went into action. By this time the adjoining section of roof was so thoroughly on fire that much of the roof was gone. After a few minutes they seemed to have the fire well under control & I had to go back to work.

I was quite surprised that, during the afternoon, billows of smoke kept going up the road past my window. After work I went to see again & found that the entire building was burned out & that it had spred to destroy the roof of the adjoining building. In fact there were still flames visible through the ground floor windos of the main building. Remember that when 40 minutes after the blaze started it had still been visibly confined to the roof area.

I am not an expert on the emergency services & I do recognise that saving life is the first priority but I really do not see why that building was not saved.

On a more tragic note in May 2004 the Stockline plastics factory blew up a few hundred yards in the other direction (busy neighbourhood) & again on seeing it I was surprised how slowly the work of searching for people know to be buried was going. ( bodies were recovered over the next few days & it was known that several of them were alive after the explosion because they called for help on their mobile phones. The search went slowly because the authorities were unwilling to risk killing people if the debris moved. Would more people have survived if the authorities had been willing to take a few more risks to save lives?

I don't know for sure but I do know it is a question that does not get asked & it should be.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


You will have seen a fair bit of coverage on the BBC etc of the Israeli's killing of a Palestinian family on a beach. This is the alternate story.
Jerusalem—–June 11…….An Israel Defense Forces intelligence officer has confirmed that the explosion that killed eight Palestinians on Friday, was caused by a stockpile of Hamas explosives.

“Shortly after we stopped defensive firing at Hamas rocket launch pads which were deployed behind Palestinian human shields, members of Hamas scrambled to fire more rockets at our positions,” said Col. M. “We have eyes on every meter of Gaza, from the sky, from the ground and from the sea. One of their rocket tripods collapsed inadvertently setting off an explosion of a stockpile of Qassam rockets. The Palestinians killed their own children. And this was not the first time.”

Hamas terrorists fired rockets and mortar bombs from a crowded Gaza beach at southern Israel. Some of the rockets fell near the Israel city of Ashkelon. Some 17 rockets were fired between Saturday and Sunday morning. A man at a school in the Israel town of Sderot was wounded, Israel officials said.

While I do not assume that just because the Israeli government say something it must be true this story does ring more true the alternative - that Israel either deliberately or through incompetence shelled them.

What is disgraceful is that the BBC, ITN & press haven't reported this side of the story.

Not to do so is clearly dishonest & biased, even racist, reporting. There is no suggestion here that Hamas did this deliberately, as the Bosnian Nazis certainly deliberately shelled Sarajevo but surely this is only a matter of time if they can be certain the western media can be relied on to lie on their behalf.

Monday, June 12, 2006


From the Sunday Times
In an apocalyptic vision of security dangers, Rear Admiral Chris Parry said future migrations would be comparable to the Goths and Vandals while north African "barbary" pirates could be attacking yachts and beaches in the Mediterranean within 10 years......
Parry, head of the development, concepts and doctrine centre at the Ministry of Defence, is charged with identifying the greatest challenges that will frame national security policy in the future......
Parry pointed to the mass migration which disaster in the Third World could unleash. "The diaspora issue is one of my biggest current concerns," he said. "Globalisation makes assimilation seem redundant and old-fashioned . . .
the process] acts as a sort of reverse colonisation, where groups of people are self-contained, going back and forth between their countries, exploiting sophisticated networks and using instant communication on phones and the internet.....
Parry, 52, an Oxford graduate who was mentioned in dispatches in the Falklands war, is not claiming all the threats will come to fruition. He is warning, however, of what is likely to happen if dangers are not addressed by politicians.

Parry — who used the slogan "old dog, new tricks" when he commanded the assault ship HMS Fearless — foresees wholesale moves by the armed forces to robots, drones, nanotechnology, lasers, microwave weapons, space-based systems and even "customised" nuclear and neutron bombs.

Lord Boyce, the former chief of the defence staff, welcomed Parry’s analysis. "Bringing it together in this way shows we have some very serious challenges ahead," he said. "The real problem is getting them taken seriously at the top of the government."

if this had come from a politician he would have been denounced as a secret BNP supporter but this is clearly something that some very serious people with our defence at heart have been thinking about. I am impressed with the remark about assimilation being prevented by cheap travel & the net since I had never thought of this technological effect & yet it is obviously right.


From the Times an article on a Chinese AWACS aircraft crashing. Not normally a big story but 35 of China's top electronic warfare experts were killed & the article makes clear that the Chinese suspect it may have been western sabotage & that they may be right.
The first clues were given by two Chinese-controlled newspapers in Hong Kong, TA king paw and when wee Po. On Monday they printed articles disclosing that the plane was a Chinese version of the formidable Airborne Warning and Control System (Awacs) aircraft flown by the United States to manage air, sea and land battles.

They indicated that it was a Russian Ilyushin four-engined cargo jet, rebuilt to house a conspicuous array of radars and codenamed KJ-2000. The doomed flight, they implied, had been a test mission.

The disaster robbed China of 35 its best electronic warfare technicians, according to sources in Hong Kong. There were also five crew members on board.

With memories fresh in Beijing of a Boeing 767 bought for the use of former president Jiang Zemin and found to be riddled with eavesdropping devices, there were bound to be suspicions of sabotage.

The Communist party showed how seriously it took the crash by entrusting the inquiry to Guo Boxiong, vice-chairman of the party’s central military commission, who handles sensitive security matters. .....

Both America and Taiwan spend undisclosed billions trying to penetrate the wall of secrecy that surrounds China’s military build-up, which was criticised once again last week by Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary.

Spies from Taiwan are known to have scored remarkable successes. In one recent case reported by The Washington Post, they placed in their president’s hands the proceedings of a secret standing committee meeting on Taiwan policy within days of its taking place.
But the crown jewels of electronic warfare are made in America, which means that China’s hunger for secrets can be exploited by its foes. Late in the cold war, the CIA supplied faulty computer items to the Soviets, which resulted in death and destruction. So suspicions of treachery in Beijing are bound to be reinforced by the tale of intrigue and deception that unfolded upon examination of what led to the fatal end of the KJ-2000.
Warfare by computer hacking has been an area where the Chinese have been putting quite an effort. They may not, yet, be able to challenge the US in aircraft carriers or guns but they have no shortage of talented programmers. A few years ago there was a major power outage in Taiwan because of a "computer glitch" suspected of being hacking. For this reason I am not going to be morally righteous if it turns out (or much more likely is never actually proven to be) sabotage someone licenced to kill. On the other hand should we be righteous if something happens here.

Does this remind anybody of the Chinook helicopter from Northern Ireland that flew into a Scottish hill & killed 30 of Britain's top intelligence officers?

Sunday, June 11, 2006


On Sunday AM this morning one of the guests was Ming Campbell there to sell the LD's tax cutting proposals. Andrew Marr pointed out that the cost of the income tax cuts (£20 billion) were to come from increases in environmental taxes (£8 billion) & taxes on the very rich (£12 billion). After asking what would happen if Green taxes worked & people cut down on tholidaysdys by air, imported bananas etc being taxed, as we normally assume happens when prices go up & getting no real answer let it drop.

He then moved on to taxes on the rich whom he said was no more than 250,000 & Ming did not disagree. Since this will not include spice, children, dependent grannies etc we are probably talking about a million people all told so Andrew's figures of super rich are probably not to large. He then calculated that this would be £40-50,000 annually per person (actually £12 billion/250,000 = £48,000 so he was being generous). In reply Mingspecificallyificly that it would be possible to raise "£20 billion" from the rich this way, not 12. Now it was a Sunday morning & he wasn't reading from a brief but this is supposed to be a very serious matter - £20 billion is not a small amount & he should know, to his bones, what these figures are.

Marr didn't call him on this & once again it appears that Ming's reputation as a wise patrician elder statesman exists to a large extent because interviewers treat him as such & aren't impertinent enough to push on difficult questions.

Compare & contrast, for example, the way that Galloway was treated when he said, quite properly in my view, that Bliar personally is at least as much a legitimate target as our squaddies in Iraq with the unquestioning support for Ming's pompous rebuke that "violence is never justified" - this from the man who got up in Parliament to support bombing civilians to help our Nazi KLA friends commit genocide.


An entry from me on Somebody put up a remark about the the moral decline of the US.
"I fear that the passion, the drive, the sheer force of will to do great things has passed into history. Today we are focused more on making a quick buck and what Brittney Spears is doing with her kid than on Great Things. Are there truly momentous adventures left to us? And do we have the will - both personal and societal - to pursue them?"

While I agree that there is something to this all societies have said that the past was a Golden Age & replied
I'm not sure that that empires are built by people who have the will to do great things. They may be maintained by them. The British Empire was built up in the pre-Victorian era & most of the builders were a bunch of freebooters - not unlike the robber barons who built up American capitalism.
I was thinking about people like Clive of India & Raffles of Singapore or indeed Sir Francis Drake & Sir Harry Flashman. The Kiplings & respectable heroes of empire came later after it had been established. In the American case just look at the names of their most respectable families & they were virtually all started by 19thC thugs.

This, in turn brought up a response considerably more detailed, lyrical & better than mine.
Truly momentous adventures? Does anyone who has ever read your works need to ask, Jerry? Sure, there are great things left to do – and the will to do them is being hijacked by bean-counters and bureaucratic empire-builders.

I refer of course to the Great Leap Outwards. I don’t have any kids and never will, but I would like to think that one of my sister’s grandchildren or great-grandchildren will have a chance to walk the snows of Enceladus, or wrestle a drill on some nameless asteroid loaded with stuff more valuable than gold, or sail a boat on the lake in the first L5 colony, or…

Apart from being a good thing to do for reasons few reading this will dispute (I hope), I submit that this would also help to heal the ills of our society. A thought I have often seen stated: One of the chief causes of our society’s problems is the lack of a frontier; a lack of somewhere for our troublesome young men to risk getting themselves killed in, a lack of somewhere to think that you might actually be helping to build something worth building.

And one way the Great Black Yonder is better than earlier frontiers; there are no troublesome native inhabitants that anyone will have to kill, suppress or enslave in order to do it.

As for treasure, well, there is enough and to spare to make everyone currently living a trillionaire many times over. Not that this is the way things would turn out; instead, after a couple of hundred years, if we wished, there would be enough for a trillion people (at least!) to live in comfort.

Disband NASA, and let’s get started! We have wasted a generation already!

Ian Campbell

Hurrah!(said Jerry, to which I fully agree))

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