Alcohol-related stupidity

Alcohol is famous for its ability to cause stupidity. As with most other drugs, this property doesn’t solely apply to chronic abusers – it also applies to policymakers and opinion writers, even the sober ones. Drugs and alcohol are second only to immigration as a leading cause of utterly stupid articles.

Now, I’ve written plenty on this blog in the past about how nannyist fools lie about the levels of drink-related violence and disease, and adopt completely the wrong policies for cutting alcohol consumption even if it were a good idea to do so.

So, in the interests of balance, today I’m looking at a piece from Harry’s Place that opposes a minimum price for alcohol. Now, there’s nothing wrong with opposing a minimum price for alcohol, mostly because it’s an attempt to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. But the piece in question manages to seize upon all the stupidest grounds for doing so that it possibly could.

Its starting point is that alcohol is price-inelastic:

Certain products – the classic example being alcohol – do not respond in the typical way to price changes in the market. A price increase does not lead to a significant drop in demand. People simply grin and bear the price increase.

There’s only one small problem: this is bollocks. According to actual evidence (Table 7), the price elasticity for alcohol is around -1; in other words, a 1% rise in price leads to a 1% fall in consumption. While the various studies vary in terms of total magnitude, all show that price elasticity is significant. A rise in the price of alcohol does, empirically, lead to a cut in alcohol consumption.

Impressively, the article goes on to get worse:

Far from reducing alchol-related social ills, arguably, it may even have the opposite effect. It will make social drinking at pubs even more expensive relative to wholesale drinking. People will end up drinking more at home, quaffing back the artificially inflated (but still cheaper) supermarket booze in the environment most likely to encourage them to destroy their livers, beat up their spouses and neglect their children, and to cause accidents at work even more than before.

The problem here is that alcohol minimum pricing proposals that have been made for the UK by even vaguely serious organisations have been talking about a minimum price to the consumer.

Let’s assume the minimum price at retail is set at 50p a unit. If I’m a manufacturer of gin, I don’t have to worry whether Tesco are paying me 50p a unit when they buy a truckload of gin from me to sell in their shops, and I don’t have to worry whether Mitchells & Butlers are paying me 50p a unit when they buy a truckload of gin from me to sell in their pubs. Rather, it’s Tesco’s responsibility not to sell you a bottle of gin for less than GBP14, and it’s M&B’s responsibility not to sell you a shot of gin for less than 50p.

Now, at the moment you can buy a bottle of gin for way under GBP14 in any supermarket, but you certainly can’t get a shot of gin for under 50p in any pub. The same would apply to beer as well: a 50p/unit minimum price would ban pubs from charging less than GBP1.25 for a pint of Kronenbourg, which none of them currently do, while banning supermarkets from charging less than GBP1 for a tin of Kronenbourg, which all of them currently do.

In other words, there’d be a significant impact on supermarket prices, but no impact on pub prices. So there’d be a significant decline in home consumption, but no decline in pub consumption. Which, if you believe that there’s a binge drinking problem with evil effects that are made worse by drinking at home (not, of course, that any evidence is produced for this one either), would be a good outcome.

Rather depressingly, Tim cites the HP piece as an example of lefties understanding economics. Which I suppose is true, in that it’s using the cargo-cult sense of economics that glibertoonians often base their arguments on – relying solely on half-remembered theory from the sixth form, missing obvious theoretical points out (whether because they’re inconvenient or because you’re slapdash, who can say?), not testing your theory against empirical data because you can’t be bothered, not doing sums because they’re hard, and coming up with clownish bullshit that even a GCSE economics teacher would grade as “F minus, see me”. In that sense, it’s absolutely spot on.

Not dead

Good news #1: I’m not dead; good news #2: the blog’s not dead. Rather, I’ve taken a month or so off thanks to a combination of bad things, good things and neutral things.

Bad things: major unpleasantness from commenters I respect around some of the things I’d written about Julian Assange; the realisation that some of the things I’d written about Assange – not necessarily the same ones – were not things I was wholly proud of having written; and (non-Assange-relatedly) a fairly horrible break-up in real life, which was entirely my fault and not something that’s sympathy-warranting, but which made me cut down on my online presence generally.

Good things: an awesome and amazing month being an utter tourist all over Australia [*] after some of my favourite people took time off to trek 15,000km across the world and visit; the emergence of a proper summer; the presence of paid work that needed doing.

Neutral things: the death of my router and a mild eBay failure which mean it took a fortnight to sort out a replacement.

Anyway. I’m now back for the duration, not least because my Masters degree in Digital Communication & Culture starts next month. I’m looking forward to such activities as explaining in detailed academicese why this article is an absolute load of arse, for example. Oh, and obvious digital communication joke.

Other Things To Look Forward To: why the fatuous idiocy of the NSW Liberal Party doesn’t matter as much as you might think; something about beer; something about Tim Worstall’s book. Be excited.

[*] May contain elements of lie. “All over NSW and Tas”. “All over Australia” would be more like a 5-year break…

There’s still no (update: a case, but a weird one) against Julian Assange

I woke up this morning ready to issue an apology, on reading the headline that a UK court had remanded Julian Assange in custody on rape charges.

I assumed that the Swedish prosecutors had actually produced some evidence (to be clear, victim testimony would absolutely count as evidence) that he’d either had sex with someone without her consent, or that he’d continued to have sex with someone after her consent was withdrawn. Because, y’know, when you’re dealing with responsible adults, that’s what rape is.

What the Swedish prosecutors have actually dug up is:

1) “using his body weight to hold Miss A down in a sexual manner” (note: outside of the imaginary world the Swedish prosecutor lives in, this doesn’t actually mean anything).

UPDATE: Crikey’s Guy Rundle, the only journalist who’s actually managed to report coherently on this case (and who was in court yesterday), says:

The first [count] is one of rape — that Assange used his body weight to lie on her, pushed her legs open and forced sex.

In light of this clarification, I’ve rewritten the conclusion to this post to avoid being misleading or unfair.

2) “sexually molesting” Miss A by having sex with her without a condom when it was her “express wish” one should be used (note: there is no suggestion here that Miss A told him to stop).

3) “deliberately molesting” Miss A on 18 August “in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity”. UPDATE: Rundle clarifies that this relates to pressing his erection into her back when they were sharing a bed. If you think that should be illegal, then I’ve got a one-way ticket to Afghanistan and a Taliban membership card, just for you.

4) having sex with a second woman, Miss W, without a condom while she was asleep (note: the context is that they’d had sex earlier that night and he’d stayed over in her bed. Again, there is no suggestion that Miss W told him to stop – rather, she woke up, understandably, and consented to sex)

UPDATE: To clarify on 4, it is completely unclear from anyone’s statements whether Miss W was awake or not at the time of penetration, but it is clear from both sides’ statements that once she was awake, the sex was consensual. If Assange penetrated Miss W before she woke up, and Miss W had then not consented on waking up, Assange could possibly be considered guilty of rape even if he had stopped immediately on being told to stop. But that isn’t the claim being made: rather, the claim is that Miss W did consent on waking up, whether that was before or after penetration – and then objected afterwards on the grounds that Assange hadn’t been wearing a condom.

[everything below has been updated]

Now, the events that were disclosed in the media (both by the prosecution and by Assange’s lawyers) prior to the trial solely concerned charges 2-4. When I published my original piece, it was substantially correct on the facts as disclosed (which was the ground being argued on). As far as those charges, which have been discussed and documented elsewhere go, he is a cad, but not a rapist, and wouldn’t be prosecuted for them anywhere other than Sweden

The first charge, introduced yesterday having never previously been mentioned, is different. Unless the prosecution is simply making it up, which is possible given the farcical nature of the rest of their case to date but not probable, we need to assume that Miss A has testified that Assange raped her (under the definition of rape held in English law). This also means that – unless Assange’s lawyers can somehow demonstrate pre-trial that Miss A’s testimony is so compromised that there is no realistic prospect of conviction – Assange should face a trial to determine whether or not these claims are true.

None of this farce does anything to dispel the massive stench of politics-over-justice and rampant incompetence that surrounds the Wikileaks case. But now that Rundle has clarified the first charge, it seems that the English judge was correct not to drop the charges against Assange (I’m not convinced the remand in custody is justified).

The American race narrative is unique and irrelevant

In Anglophone countries, we tend to view race through a US prism.

The recent Teacupgate saga that black (meaning black, not BME) students are underrepresented at Oxbridge is a good example.

In the UK, and every other majority-white country except the US, black people are just another immigrant group – they’re people who’ve mostly come to the relevant country in the last 50 years, alongside people of all other ethnic groups who’ve done the same as international migration has taken place. They represent about 2% of the UK’s 10% ethnic minority population.

In the US, 13% of the population are African-American, and the vast majority are the descendants of people brought over forcibly, 150 years ago or more, to work as slaves.

So what? Well, “choosing to come over recently to avoid poverty or torture” is a choice. An excellent choice that people should be allowed, but a choice. And a choice that took place within living family memory.

“Being the descendants of people you don’t know and whose history you don’t know who were brought over in chains” is rather different. It’s much closer morally – and, as the data says, in terms of levels of deprivation and lack of civic engagement – to being part of an indigenous community.

So however the US government treats black people isn’t relevant to how European governments should relate to black people, in the slightest. Black people in Europe are equivalent to South Asian and East Asian people in the US – a minority with specific cultural needs, but not a group to whom a special obligation are owed.

In Australia, New Zealand and Canada, there are directly analogous groups: the Aborigines in Australia, the First Nations in Canada, and the Maori in New Zealand. Of those, the Maori are the most relevant, as they account for a similar percentage of the population of New Zealand as African-Americans account for the population of the US.

In the UK, the closest parallel are people of Pakistani origin working in northern ex-textile towns – although they weren’t sent over by force, whole villages were offered migration in a “everyone else is going, so you’d better” deal in the 1950s and 1960s to serve the textiles industry as cheap labour. And, oddly enough, the obstacles those groups face are similar to those faced by African-Americans.

But that’s got sod-all to do with being black – indeed, if you called the average Bolton Pakistani black, they’d be distinctly cross. It’s to do with being a minority group that’s been transplanted en masse, rather than through voluntary “I’m going to leave everything and head elsewhere” choice, to another place.

So can we please drop the pseudo-American discourse under which ‘black’ is a unique and specific cultural difference worth making something of?

The reason black Caribbean British people have a shitty time of it is because they’re in the same boat as white working class British people. Which is a shitty boat, but the stats suggest that the white working class and black Caribbean immigrants live in the same places, do the same things, and have an equally rubbish time of things.

Meanwhile, other immigrants – excepting the descendants of Pakistani and Bangladeshi mill-workers, but including black African immigrants – view themselves as middle-class and get treated that way.

Soccer, with added self-loathing versus racism

OK, so as an Englishman following the World Cup bidding whilst living in and loving Australia, the last 20 minutes have been kinda sad.

My pre-draw, pre-looking-up-facts take on things would be “it’s most likely that Russia and Qatar will win, because the draw is decided by crooked bastards from the third world appointed by crooked Mr Blatter”. I still half stand by that: they did, and on one side, it was. On the other side, I was a bit hasty.

England is going to have hosted an even bigger event six years beforehand and will have the infrastructure in place. Meanwhile, as well as being massively incompetent at everything and almost as crime-ridden as South Africa, Russia is notoriously one of the most corrupt countries in the world, is desperate for international validation, and has enormous mineral wealth.

But I think England can hold its head up high. Russia is, in any sane sense, a worse candidate to hold the World Cup than England, and only won due to the fact that it’s run by lying, cheating bastards who don’t care in the slightest that we all know they are.

Qatar’s victory isn’t quite so simple. While Qatar is a mineral-wealth country, it’s not very corrupt. Indeed, according to the rankings above, it’s no more corrupt than the UK or Japan.

However, unlike Australia and the US, Qatar seriously devoted itself to the World Cup bid. Instead of bribing corrupt officials, it cultivated diplomatic relations with their countries (bribery is evil when it involves individuals, but when a poor nation’s Treasury is enriched by a kind foreign country, giving them your vote in a soccer election isn’t a terrible thing). And it showed that it could build infrastructure, which (let’s be honest – hell, this is the main reason I was hoping we’d win) Australia isn’t great at without an external push of some sort.

So yeah. The Russia World Cup is going to be a terrifying and inept event, which they never should have won. The Qatar World Cup is going to be a boringly competent event, which would have been more fun if it would’ve been in Australia.

And despite stereotypes of Arabs, Qatar won primarily on merit. Unlike the fucking Russians.

I’m so young and you’re so old; this my darling I’ve been told

When I was 15, I was a deeply unattractive specimen. I featured most of my current drawbacks – the arrogance, the lack of height, the fact that without serious gym work, my body tends towards the Tony Hancock look more than the Daniel Craig look – but without the positives that have come with age, wisdom, wealth and Internet celebrity.

[yes, quite.]

But I was also friends at school with a fair number of young gentlemen who weren’t relying on “maybe at sixth form, liking the Smiths will impress some girls” for their romantic lives. Rather, they had Pretty Girlfriends, and recounted their Mostly Made Up Tales Of Sexual Awesomeness for the delectation of us lesser beings.

And in either case – whether it was one of the boys of my caste, or one of the boys of the “has actually put his finger in a girl’s parts” caste – if we’d scored with a reasonably attractive lady in her 30s, that would have been a SUPERDOUBLETURBOMEGAWIN. Kudos would have been given, right up until the end of time.

So I find cases like this one deeply curious. OK, 15-year-old boys are actually pretty revolting specimens; 15-year-old girls only score with them on the grounds that they’re mildly preferable to creepy paedos, and everyone grown-up is embarrassed by the fact that they were once one, or that they scored with one on the grounds above. So a 30something lady fancying 15-year-old boys is a bit weird.

But hell. If we’re going to have any kind of harm-based justice system, which I’m assuming is roughly what a justice system should be (I know that the War On Some Drugs is a counterexample, but even that has a vague deterrent philosophy that “if people are thrown in jail for choosing what to do to their bodies, it’ll deter them from putting stuff in their bodies which turns them into mad granny-robbing loonies”), then how on earth does nicking someone just for having the insanely niche taste of “spotty boys who don’t really know what they’re doing” fit? They’re delighted; their mates are amused and jealous; and nobody else in their right mind gives a fuck.

In short – 15-year-old JB getting some action from a medium-attractive 30something Asian babe – hell yeah. On the other hand, if the woman in question would have gone to jail for the action she gave me, then I’d have been pretty distraught. At 15, everything feels like your own fault; indeed, the main thing you haven’t mastered at that age is “realising that the world is way beyond you, and that you don’t really matter all that much”.

So what we have here is the law taking something odd but harmless, and turning it into something which not only ruins the life of the woman concerned and her kids, but that will also shroud the boys involved in a cloud of depression and guilt forever.

And even Bystander, who isn’t usually an idiot, has fallen from the We Must Destroy The Children In Order To Protect Them bullshit on this one, and thinks that jailing the woman in question is fair play. All very odd. Given that your average 15-year-old boy would fuck the crack of dawn if it had hairs on it, a (bizarrely) willing older lady seems like a reasonable induction, all things considered.

Not from me, on Qantas and Rolls-Royce

From an occasional correspondent who knows about this sort of thing:

RR engines do not like oil in the wrong places because it may stop the air-cooled turbine blades being cooled
All RR “B” checks are supposed to include a look for oil in the wrong places
Qantas seem less good at finding it than Singapore Airlines or Lufthansa
There is a problem with wear on some A380 engine components which is why the need for checks was highlighted in August
Qantas are more likely to have a problem because they operate their A380’s with higher thrust ratings than SQ or LH
The Trent 900 is the first RR engine to introduce contra-rotation, where one of its three shafts runs in the opposite direction to the other two
That massively increases the entertainment value of, say, bits of one broken turbine meeting a turbine rotating in the opposite direction
Since Qantas engineers have now looked at all their T900 engines jointly with RR engineers they have found two more with oil where oil shouldn’t be
Which begs the question why they didn’t find it before…

His words, not mine. Although, much as I respect Ben Sandilands, this is the most convincing analysis I’ve read. Apart from the misuse of “begs the question”, which is unforgiveable.

It’s a Jolly Fun Bank Quiz

It being Sunday, or Monday, or one of those kind of days, and this being a Journal of Record [*], I thought I’d put out the kind of quiz that only my readers could answer.

What do the following UK-headquartered banks:
* HSBC
* Lloyds Banking Group
* Standard Chartered
* RBS

…have in common with no other UK-headquartered retail banks?

[*] I’m almost embarrassed to say that this blog is being archived by the British Library. I actually have no idea what the hell 25th century historians of the 21st century will do – well, I recognise half of my readers believe they’ll occasionally venture out of their caves and wonder why the outside world still makes their skin blister or similar. But right now, every humanities undergrad thesis candidate is delighted to find a neglected text to use for their work – in 2500, this crap will be (and, in terms of proportion of utter shite to “survives”, actually will be) available for an undergrad thesis. In which case, hello 2500 person, I hope they’ve genetically engineered girls to look like Natalie Portman, gizza shout if you’ve got a time machine, OK?

More fun with marginal tax rates

Here’s Felix Salmon Justin Fox standing in for Felix Salmon, on the economic impact of the socialist Truman government’s evil confiscatory tax policies:

During the Korean War, Congress enacted an excess profits tax meant to keep military contractors from, well, profiteering. In its infinite wisdom, Congress defined excess profits as anything above what a company had been making during the peacetime years 1946-1949.

Boeing was mostly a military contractor in those days (Lockheed and Douglas dominated the passenger-plane business), and had made hardly any money at all from 1946 to 1949. So pretty much any profits it earned during the Korean conflict were by definition excess, and its effective tax rate in 1951 was going to be 82%…

It being 1951, Boeing instead sucked it up and let the tax incentives inadvertently devised by Congress steer it toward a bold and fateful decision. CEO Bill Allen decided, and was able to persuade Boeing’s board, to plow all those profits and more into developing what became the 707, a company-defining and world-changing innovation.

(I’ve deleted some of his sarcastic commentary about how a government enacting a similar measure today would be described, so that mine sounds cleverer.)

The idle musings of John B