All posts by John B

Jumping in slightly late

On the grounds of ‘what goes around comes around’ [*], as well as on the general grounds of free speech, let me join the chorus of people supporting slightly demented Decent Left blog Harry’s Place in the libel suit that Hamas UK brought for calling them antisemitic.

Normally, calling somebody antisemitic is a pretty horrible libel and one of the few uses of the libel law that I’d suggest was justified; however, in the case of an organisation whose manifesto states that “the Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews…The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him“, it’s pretty much a fair cop…

[*] a long time ago, far away; if you don’t know, you don’t need to know.

Word cloud

From these fine people, here is a word map of this site. It’s kind-of cool – excerpt here:

Banditry wordle

“People”, “knife”, “crime”, “statistics”, “public” and “law” seem to be pretty high up.

Since the main point of this blog is to use stats and logic to highlight when general commentary on a major issue is wrong, I guess the main lesson is that commentators at present are more outrageously wrong about knife crime than finance or transport.

Which, given the appallingly low quality of finance and transport coverage, is a bit disturbing.


On why society is basically doomed

Sunny has a good piece on Commentisfree on the knife panic – worth a read. Apparently the original version linked to this post here, but the Guardian subs took it out – bad Guardian subs.

Unfortunately, the comments indicate why we’re never going to get anywhere with the criminal justice system, other than locking up more people for being black and scary with no discernible benefit to anyone – the complete and utter cognitive dissonance of the public on the issue.

This is a shining example:

On the issue of violent crime per se, the statement that Sunny made that ‘overall violent crime has decreased by 41% since a peak in 1995′ is not believable.

Sunny, never understimate ‘common sense’. People have a fairly good idea of what is going on around them ….

Nonsesne. Common sense is the most overrated tool in the box and the cause of most stupid actions; and people have absolutely fuck all idea of what is going on around them. If you trust some random members of the public over the wider body of academic research on any issue, then you’re almost certainly wrong and definitely an idiot.

Unfortunately, most people on most issues trust random members of the public over the wider body of academic research, because most people aren’t very bright. Never mind that the conclusions it leads them to are entirely wrong; at least it saves them having to think…

Well worth the license fee

Mark Easton at the BBC has a superb piece that’s saved me the effort of doing my normal thing (dammit!) – he’s looked at the actual statistics and discovered that knife crime is up slightly in some ropey bits of London, and not at all elsewhere.

A very sensible point that Mr Easton makes, as also made coherently and provocatively by Dave Osler at Liberal Conspiracy, is that the massive and deranged overhyping of the non-event that is knife crime is only going to encourage kids to carry knives, because they’ll be a) worried that they’ll get knived and b) keen to stick it to the patronising idiots who think that knife-carrying is The Worst Thing Ever.

Unsurprisingly, David Cameron’s take on the whole issue is to demand that anyone found carrying a knife should be jailed with no exceptions. I’m sure that the picnic-goers and sausage-cutters of the world will be reassured by that one…

(and yes, Mr Cameron suggests the police should ‘use discretion’ in deciding who to prosecute. This is not the way the law works, and not the way the law should work – if something is a crime, then everyone who does it should be prosecuted; if it is not, then no-one who does it should be prosecuted. The police’s job is to enforce the law, not to decide when to enforce it and when to ignore it.)

Meanwhile, in a sane parallel universe somewhere, the only worry people have about crime is why we waste so much time and so many lives on sending people to jail, when [pointed hyperbole] crime is completely trivial and not-worth-bothering-with [/pointed hyperbole]. Unfortunately, on this earth people don’t understand statistics but do understand emotivised tabloid nonsense… roll on the teleporter.

Update: Ajay’s comment at S&M makes sense; and these statistics are telling.

Another house price post

Via Tim, Raedwald has a silly piece suggesting that the 30% collapse in new-build flat prices, rather than being the outcome of a speculation bubble, came because developers were required to build 30% social housing as part of the development.

However, this doesn’t fit the facts, or what we know about economics.

If the new-build flats sold for 30% more than existing Victorian and Edwardian properties nearby, that’s because buyers believed the new flats were worth 30% more than existing Victorian and Edwardian properties nearby – otherwise, prices would have converged.

In fact, the most likely reason the new build flats listed for 30% more than existing properties is that builders across the board granted a discount of just over 30% for buying off-plan. Which also means that any fall in real new-build flat prices should be measured from 30% below list price, not from list price.

But we all know you can’t get something from nothing – so how were the ‘affordable’ flats funded? Well, the marginal cost of building them compared to building the same development without a social housing element, which is low (e.g. adding an extra storey to the block), is covered by the money that’s actually paid by the social housing body to the builder.

So who’s paid for the difference between the cost of building and the theoretical value of an HA flat? As long as you assume that the purpose of the planning laws is to protect local residents from overpopulation, the answer is other local residents: in the space where the developer would otherwise have been given permission to build 20 full-price flats, he’s received permission to build 20 full-price flats and 8 affordable ones.

An open letter to people who bought houses in the last two years

I’ve been living in rented accommodation for the last two years despite being able to afford a house/flat, because it was incredibly obvious that house prices were going to peak, interest rates rise, and the economy slow down.

The fact that you did buy a house means that either you felt financially secure enough that even if all the above happened, you’d still be able to pay the bills (I know some people who’ve gone down this route; good luck to them), or that you thought buying a house was a supercool one-way ticket to infinite money at the expense of, erm, someone else.

If you’re in the first group, good luck to you. If you’re in the second group, then I’ve got to admit that I don’t find your financial travails spectacularly moving.

Relatedly, please can clueless muppeteers stop whining that “ooh, inflation is actually really high”? The CPI and RPI, both of which are still below 5%, are weighted by people’s actual spending on the actual goods included, so the fact that chips cost 15% more than they did is not evidence in favour of your proposition. Here is the actual breakdown of price changes by category (PDF). Read, digest, then put up or shut up.

Also, read this. It is true.

You know you’re flying too often when…

The redhead girl from the BA safety video really is cute, isn’t she? Shame she’s clearly still very much in love with the vaguely-Barack-Obama-lookalike father of her adorable kid. Ah well…

– me, various points, the last 18 months.

Even more tragically, for those of you who don’t fly BA, the video is a cartoon.