Friday, 21 December 2012

A good egg

Clarissa Dixon Wright, celebrity chef and the remaining half of the Two Fat Ladies, has had a nasty experience: she got lost in Leicester.

Normally when you get lost in the middle of a city it's easy to get found again. You just ask the first person to chance by for directions and in all likelihood they will not be lost and will be able and willing to provide useful information.

Ah, but this was Leicester - a muslim heartland. Poor Clarissa appealed for help from passing men in dresses but it seems muslim men do not talk to Englishwomen.

Clarissa: "It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life."

So Clarissa got no help. She could have tried talking to some muslim women but they are required to heel their husbands so if the man is not going to stop to talk the wife cannot.

Later Clarissa wrote about her experience in a book and upset the local bigwigs.

This blog has the following advice for Miss Dixon Wright: avoid Luton as well!

Taliban kills UN aid workers in Pakistan

The Taliban have shot and killed eight United Nations aid workers in northern Pakistan this week. A number of others have been injured. These mainly female workers were part of a UN immunisation programme - giving children shots against polio.

Poliomyelitis (to give it its full name) has been entirely eradicated from the West and only remains in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. It attacks the nervous system and can be fatal. Those who recover are often left with lifelong disability.

However, according to the Taliban, vaccination is un-Islamic!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Census 2011 - Religion

Some data from last year's census is now available online. Here is the religion information, for England and Wales only, contrasted with 2001.

Religion           2001         2011    %Change
--------           ----         ----    -------
Christian    37,046,500    33,243,743   -10.26%
Muslim        1,546,626     2,706,066   +74.97%
Hindu           552,421       816,633   +47.83%
Other           480,033       240,530   -49.89%
Sikh            329,358       423,158   +28.48%
Jewish          259,927       263,346    +1.32%
Buddhist        144,452       247,743   +71.51%

As you would expect Christianity is falling away and the Asian religions are taking over. The big winner is Islam gaining more than a million members in the decade.

Some of the others are big percentage winners, but they started from a small base.

Evolution versus Creation

Just for a change let us sort out the big Evolution vs Creation thing once and for all! To put things in perspective, here is a recap of life on Earth...
Years ago           Life on Earth
-------------       -----------------
4,500,000,000       Planet created, molten, no life
4,400,000,000       Still too hot, no life
4,300,000,000       Crust forming, too hot, no life
4,200,000,000       No life
4,100,000,000       No life
4,000,000,000       No life
3,900,000,000       Primitive microbes appear
3,800,000,000       Microbes
3,700,000,000       Microbes
3,600,000,000       Microbes
3,500,000,000       Microbes
3,400,000,000       Microbes
3,300,000,000       Microbes
3,200,000,000       Microbes
3,100,000,000       Microbes
3,000,000,000       Microbes
2,900,000,000       Microbes
2,800,000,000       Microbes
2,700,000,000       Microbes
2,600,000,000       Microbes
2,500,000,000       Microbes
2,400,000,000       Microbes
2,300,000,000       Microbes
2,200,000,000       Microbes
2,100,000,000       Microbes
2,000,000,000       Microbes
1,900,000,000       Microbes
1,800,000,000       Microbes
1,700,000,000       Microbes
1,600,000,000       Microbes
1,500,000,000       Microbes
1,400,000,000       Microbes
1,300,000,000       Microbes
1,200,000,000       Microbes
1,100,000,000       Microbes
1,000,000,000       Microbes
  900,000,000       Microbes
  800,000,000       Microbes
  700,000,000       Microbes
  600,000,000       Microbes
  500,000,000       Six kingdoms of life; 10 divisions
                    of plants; 35 phyla of animals;
                    male and female plants; male and
                    female animals; animals with legs,
                    wings, eyes.
  400,000,000       Nothing much new, some extinctions
  300,000,000       Same
  200,000,000       Same
  100,000,000       Same
      Present       Same

OK, so there has been a lot of speciation after 500 million years ago but no new kingdoms or phyla of life (the big divisions) just alterations to what was already there.The big surprise at (more precisely) 530 million years ago is called the Cambrian Explosion. It took not more than 5 to 10 million years to happen - and may have occurred in a much shorter period of time.

In the Origin of Species Charles Darwin said this was a show-stopper for "evolution" unless some pre-Cambrian fossils could be found so that the diversity did not come out of nowhere. That was 150 years ago and so far no such fossils have been found, despite a lot of microbial fossils having been found.

Evolution or Creation? You decide!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Autumn statement, 2012

George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, has just delivered his autumn statement to the House of Commons. In it he revealed that he will fail to reduce our national debt during this parliament as promised but will hand over a few early Christmas presents to mollify us.

Let us start by looking at his growth forecasts....
                
                    Today          Budget in April
    2012/13         -0.1%           +2.0%
    2013/14         +1.2%           +2.7%
    2014/15         +2.0%           +3.0%
    2015/16         +2.3%           +3.0%
    2016/17         +2.7%           N/F
    2017/18         +2.8%           N/F

It is pretty clear that there has been a massive downgrading of expectation at HM Treasury. By now we were supposed to be in the foothills of a steep growth mountain, but instead we are still mired in the valley of recession.

So we might expect borrowing to be shooting up well. But these numbers are a little perplexing...
                
                    Today         Budget in April
    2012/13         £108 bn       £120 bn
    2013/14         £99  bn       £98  bn
    2014/15         £88  bn       £75  bn
    2015/16         £73  bn       £52  bn
    2016/17         £49  bn       £21  bn
    2017/18         £31  bn       N/F

He is claiming that borrowing in the year will actually be £12bn less than he predicted nine months ago back in April. That is weird. Most economists are scratching their heads wondering how that is going to happen. He has factored in a little boost of £3.5bn he is going to get by selling off the 4G radio spectrum to the mobile phone companies - to be sold by an auction which has not yet happened! - so chicken counting going on here, but it's not clear why the borrowing will be so significantly below expectation. Doubtless this will become clear in the next few hours or days. However after this year and next it seems borrowing will exceed forecast (who would have guessed that?!)

The previous plan for the deficit to hit zero in 2017/18 has been jettisoned. There is now no forecast for when we will start making inroads into our one trillion-pound-plus national debt.

The bad news disposed off, Osborne went on to deliver the good: he is going to fund the construction of 100 new schools, an extension to the Northern Line in London, ultra-fast broadband in ten cities and 120,000 new houses.

Also good news for tax payers: benefit increases will be capped below inflation at 1% and government departments will also have cuts to their budgets. The only exception will be HMRC which will be expected to claw extra taxes from people who have stashed money abroad. He thinks Swiss bank accounts should be good for £5bn over the next 6 years. He intents to enact some general "anti-abuse" measures. Since no-one has ever passed a law stopping people from exploiting tax loop holes before, this will be impressive. We have to hope there are no loopholes in the anti-abuse measure itself.

The income tax basic allowance is to rise more than expected, to £9,440 in April 2013. The ISA contribution allowance will increase to £11,020. Corporation tax is to fall to 21% from April 2014 (not much use to Amazon or Starbucks!) It was due to fall to 22%. And then with a bit of a fanfare Osborne announced that the 3p per litre fuel tax rise due for January is cancelled; much cheering from government benches.

The mooted mansion tax was kicked into the long grass - cue grimace from Nick Clegg. However there will probably be some changes to how property owned by companies is taxed in the small print of the statement (the Treasury already leaked this.)

And that was pretty much it. Ed Balls got up to respond for the opposition but fluffed his lines, got confused between debt and deficit and generally failed to make any impact. His one good line was, "the chancellor promised he would not waver - he's not wavering, he's drowning!" Other than that he was repetitive and slightly off-topic since he had obviously written his 'response' before hearing the statement itself. Milliband fed him lines from behind but he did not use them.

In summary, we have a disappointing economic situation but nothing we were not braced for. We have a mysterious undershoot in the borrowing numbers, which of course are still only an estimate. We will have to wait for next year's budget to see the out-turn. On the plus side we have various minor tax cuts. (These days it seems cancelling a planned tax rise counts as a tax cut, at least if you judge by the cheering.)