December 25, 2014

Repost – “Fairytale of New York”

Filed under: Media,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03


“Fairytale of New York,” The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl

This song came into being after Elvis Costello bet The Pogues’ lead singer Shane MacGowan that he couldn’t write a decent Christmas duet. The outcome: a call-and-response between a bickering couple that’s just as sweet as it is salty.

October 28, 2014

Facebook‘s UK tax picture

Filed under: Britain,Business,Economics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:17

Tim Worstall explains why it’s not a scandal that Facebook doesn’t pay more taxes in the UK:

In fact, it’s actually rather a good idea that Facebook isn’t paying UK corporation tax. For the standard economic finding (also known as optimal taxation theory) is that we shouldn’t be taxing corporations at all. Thus, as a matter of public policy we should be abolishing this tax: and also perhaps applauding those companies that take it upon themselves to do what the politicians seem not to have the courage to do, make sure that corporations aren’t paying tax.

That isn’t how most of the press sees it, of course


That’s an extremely bad piece of reporting actually, for of course Facebook UK did not have advertising revenue of £371 million last year: Facebook Ireland had advertising revenue of that amount from customers in the UK that year. And that’s something rather different: that revenue will be taxed under whatever system Ireland has in place to tax it. And this is the way that the European Union system of corporate taxation is supposed to work. Any company, based in any one of the 28 member countries, can sell entirely without hindrance into all other 27 countries. And the profits from their doing so will be taxed wherever the brass plate announcing the HQ of that company is within the EU. This really is how it was deliberately designed, how it was deliberately set up: it is public policy that it should be this way.

We could also note a few more things here. The UK company itself made a loss and that loss was because they made substantial grants of restricted stock units to the employees. And under the UK system those RSU grants are taxed as income, in full, at the moment of their being granted. Which will mean, given those average wages, at 45% or so. And we should all be able to realise that a 45% tax rate is rather higher than the 24% corporation tax rate. The total tax rate on the series of transactions is thus very much higher than if Facebook has kept its employees as paupers and just kept the profits for themselves. Further, those complaining about the tax bill tend to be those from the left side of the political aisle: which is also where we find those who insist that workers should be earning the full amount of their value to the company which is what seems to be happening here.

August 11, 2014

Ordinary British life before August 1914

Filed under: Britain,History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:35

The Telegraph has an interesting series of short articles drawn from their 1914 archive, showing ordinary life in Britain before the start of World War One. This isn’t the upper-crust’s way of life we tend to see in TV and movie presentations of the immediate pre-war era:

A month before the outbreak of war Henley Regatta opened in “brilliant fashion”, The Daily Telegraph reported, with record crowds and “perfect” weather. It presents an image of Edwardian Britain as we fondly imagine it to have been, before the sudden cloudburst of August 1914.

Of course, the reality was far different for the 99 per cent of people who did not own land, collect rents or vacation at Biarritz and Marienbad. Most Edwardians worked in dark, noisy factories, cut hay in fields, toiled down dirty and dangerous mines; had bones bent by rickets and lungs racked by tuberculosis. Life expectancy then was 49 years for a man and 53 years for a woman, compared with 79 and 82 years today. They lived in back to back tenements or jerry-built terraces, wore cloth caps or bonnets (rather than boaters, bowlers and toppers) and they had never taken a holiday — beyond a day trip to Brighton or Blackpool — in their entire lives.

The country was a seething mass of social tension and violent confrontations. It was a land torn and dislocated by the struggle of increasingly militant suffragettes; strikes in mills, mines and on the railways; the constitutional battle between Lords and Commons; and the threat of civil war in Ireland.

Readers of the Telegraph — as a glance at the archives will reveal — were far better informed about the true state of their nation and the world than our sugary sentimental view allows us. In a dramatic scoop, the paper had published an exclusive interview with Kaiser Wilhelm II in October 1908 in which the Kaiser had expressed alarmingly frank — and hostile — views about his mother’s native land (the Kaiser’s mama, Empress Victoria, was Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter). In this interview the Kaiser accused “you English” of being “mad, mad, mad as March hares” for fearing that the construction of Germany’s High Seas Fleet was aimed at challenging the Royal Navy’s command of the world’s oceans. Implausibly, he claimed that Germany’s real target was the rising sun of Japan.

H/T to Marian L. Tupy for the link.

March 17, 2014

Shane McGowan – amazingly still not dead

Filed under: Britain,Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:46

In City Journal, Matthew Hennessey reports the unbelievable news that Shane McGowan is still alive:

They say God takes care of fools and drunks. If so, he’s been working overtime the last few decades taking care of Shane MacGowan. As the frontman and principal songwriter of the Irish rock band the Pogues, MacGowan is as famous for his lyrics and whiskey-timbered voice as for his unlikely longevity, despite a Homeric appetite for intoxicating substances, especially, but not limited to, alcohol. Though he cuts a shambolic figure, MacGowan is still upright at 56, a feat many view as a minor miracle. His rheumy eyes and distinctive throat-clearing cackle suggest not genius, necessarily, but late-stage dipsomania; there is nary a tooth left in his head. God or something like God must be taking care of MacGowan. He’s not been doing the job himself.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, reports of MacGowan’s impending demise were so frequent that English author Tim Bradford felt compelled to write a book called Is Shane MacGowan Still Alive? No one, not even MacGowan, takes talk of his mortality seriously anymore. “For the last 35 years I’ve supposed to have been dead in six months,” he has said. “But when all these bastards say you’re going to be dead in six months it tends to give you an incentive not to be. . . . Let’s face it, I’ve got a charmed life. I’m a lucky bastard, know what I mean?”

Whether luck, God, or some combination of the two is responsible for MacGowan’s Promethean tolerance for self-abuse, he has nonetheless been deservedly celebrated for the vivid originality of his songwriting, for which he has often been called Ireland’s greatest living poet. Indeed, his best writing evokes the poetry of William Blake, whose claim that “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom” has served as a road-map for MacGowan’s public career. “If you’re asking whether drink and drugs have worked for me,” he told an interviewer in 1994, “I’ve got to say they have. I’m one with William Blake on this one. Drink and drugs and all that shit, it’s a short cut to the subconscious.”

Fans and critics could be forgiven for thinking that MacGowan’s subconscious is a place of darkness, an insane asylum, a prison cell, or a congress of libertine Irish nationalists and saucy fair maidens groping their way toward alcoholic oblivion like Earth-bound fallen angels. But it is also a religious bouillabaisse of Celtic paganism, Catholic mysticism, and “drunken Zen.”

A perfect description: “Listening to the Pogues is like getting a punk-rock telegram from Brendan Behan.”

December 22, 2013

Fairytale of New York

Filed under: Media,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01


“Fairytale of New York,” The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl

This song came into being after Elvis Costello bet The Pogues’ lead singer Shane MacGowan that he couldn’t write a decent Christmas duet. The outcome: a call-and-response between a bickering couple that’s just as sweet as it is salty.

October 9, 2013

England performs poorly in literacy and numeracy survey

Filed under: Britain,Cancon,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:50

In the Guardian, Randeep Ramesh reports on a recent OECD ranking of literacy and numeracy which shows England in a poor light:

England is the only country in the developed world where the generation approaching retirement is more literate and numerate than the youngest adults, according to the first skills survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In a stark assessment of the success and failure of the 720-million-strong adult workforce across the wealthier economies, the economic thinktank warns that in England, adults aged 55 to 65 perform better than 16- to 24-year-olds at foundation levels of literacy and numeracy. The survey did not include people from Scotland or Wales.

The OECD study also finds that a quarter of adults in England have the maths skills of a 10-year-old. About 8.5 million adults, 24.1% of the population, have such basic levels of numeracy that they can manage only one-step tasks in arithmetic, sorting numbers or reading graphs. This is worse than the average in the developed world, where an average of 19% of people were found to have a similarly poor skill base.

When the results within age groups are compared across participating countries, older adults in England score higher in literacy and numeracy than the average among their peers, while younger adults show some of the lowest scores for their age group.

As with any sort of survey of this kind, it helps to know how they went about assessing skills in various countries and how similar countries rank:

Literacy for people aged 16-24

6 Australia
15 Canada
17 Ireland
19 England/N Ireland
20 United States

Literacy for all adults

5 Australia
10 Canada
14 England/N Ireland
16 United States
19 Ireland

Numeracy for people aged 16-24

14 Australia
16 Canada
18 Northern Ireland
20 Ireland
24 United States

Numeracy for all adults

13 Australia
14 Canada
16 England/N Ireland
19 Ireland
20 United States

If there’s reason for English authorities to be concerned with their middle-of-the-Anglosphere ranking, there’s even more reason for American educators to take note.

H/T to Tyler Cowen for the link.

July 6, 2013

Ireland’s oil and gas bonanza for the oil companies

Filed under: Europe,Government,Law — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:49

Ireland is thought to have substantial offshore reserves of oil and natural gas that are likely to be profitable with current technology, but due to a legislative change dating back to the 1980s, the Irish government may not get much benefit:

In a now legendary all-night sitting on September 29th, 2008 the Irish government agreed to guarantee all bank debts. O’Toole calls this the “most disastrous decision that was ever made by an Irish government”. At least two generations of taxpayers will pay off these debts. O’Toole makes an excellent job of charting the Irish path to disaster in his book Ship of Fools, in which he calls the accounts of Anglo Irish Bank the “most inventive work of Irish fiction since Ulysses”.

The oil off the Irish coast could be the way out of this misery. The oil could be the hope. If the former energy minister Ray Burke hadn’t rewritten the relevant laws as though the oil industry itself held the pen. And if Bertie Ahern hadn’t made an already bad deal for the Irish people even worse.

Burke was energy minister in 1987, when it was decided to change the provisions for oil and grass drilling licence allocation. Until then the state owned 50 per cent of all oil and gas found in Irish waters. In addition, companies had to pay royalties of between 8 and 16 per cent as well as 50 per cent tax. (1, see notes below)

The new rule gave companies 100 per cent of their find and abolished licence fees. In 1992 Bertie Ahern, then finance minister and later prime minister from 1998 to 2008, cut the tax for oil companies to 25 per cent — a provision that remains to this day. (2)

[. . .]

The reason this political inheritance is causing such animated discussion now is because of huge oil and gas reserves believed to surround the island. The company Providence estimates the volume of oil it discovered in the Barryroe field, south of Cork, at over 1.7 billion barrels, of which at least 270 million can be pumped. Further test drillings in Irish waters have been similarly promising.

At the moment a barrel of oil costs, depending on grade, between $90 and $100, meaning there could be oil worth many billions of euro in the Irish sea bed. (3) Even the oil companies concede that Ireland is surrounded by massive riches. But the Irish will probably gain none of this thanks to men like Ray Burke and Bertie Ahern.

June 24, 2013

Irish bank bailouts based on lies and deception

Filed under: Europe,Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:39

In the (Irish) Independent, Paul Williams explains what the bankers did to force the Irish government to bail them out:

TAPE RECORDINGS from inside doomed Anglo Irish Bank reveal for the first time how the bank’s top executives lied to the Government about the true extent of losses at the institution.

The astonishing tapes show senior manager John Bowe, who had been involved in negotiations with the Central Bank, laughing and joking as he tells another senior manager, Peter Fitzgerald, how Anglo was luring the State into giving it billions of euro.

Mr Fitzgerald had not been involved in the negotiations with the Central Bank and has confirmed he was unaware of any strategy or intention to mislead the authorities. Mr Bowe, in a statement last night, categorically denied that he had misled the Central Bank.

The audio recordings are from the bank’s own internal telephone system and date from the heart of the financial crisis that brought the State to its knees in September 2008.

Anglo itself was within days of complete meltdown — and in the years ahead would eat up €30bn of taxpayer money. Mr Bowe speaks about how the State had been asked for €7bn to bail out Anglo — but Anglo’s negotiators knew all along this was not enough to save the bank.

The plan was that once the State began the flow of money, it would be unable to stop.

May 25, 2013

Ireland’s corporate tax rate

Filed under: Business,Economics,Europe — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:01

At the Adam Smith Institute, Tim Worstall explains why Ireland has — and should continue to have — a low rate of corporate tax:

Companies don’t pay corporation tax: it’s some combination of the shareholders and the workers who do. This is not a point in argument: the only argument is about what the portions are, not the fact that the burden falls upon these two groups. We also know what it is that influences which group: it’s how large the economy is in relation to the world economy and how open it is to capital movement. The smaller and more mobile, the more the workers get it in the neck.

The mechanism is simple enough. It’s pretty much straight from Adam Smith in fact. There’s an average rate of return to capital: a jurisdiction that taxes that return to capital will have a return lower than that global average. So, some domestic capital will flow out seeking the higher foreign returns, some foreign capital will not flow in for the lower domestic ones. There’s thus less capital employed in the economy. Adding capital to labour is what drives up the productivity of labour: the average wages in a country are determined by the average productivity in that economy. So, tax companies, get less capital employed, wages are lower than they otherwise would be. The workers are bearing part of the burden.

As I say, the smaller the economy and the more open it is then the more of that burden is upon the workers. And in a wonderful result back in 1980 Joe Stiglitz showed that the burden upon the workers can actually be more than 100%. That is, the workers lose more in wages than the government gets in tax.

Ireland’s a small economy, 3.5 million people or so and as it’s in the EU has about as close to perfect capital mobility as it is possible to get. Thus it ought to have a lower corporation tax rate than larger economies. And it does, so that’s just fine then. Attempts to push it up (as various EU types are currently muttering) would simply lower wages in that country.

March 26, 2013

Irish municipal workers fear for their jobs after fixing a pothole … without getting Health & Safety approval first

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Europe,Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 15:05

There are some stories which are just too silly for words:

THREE county council workers have been suspended from duty for attempting to fill in a pothole outside Carrigaline.

There has been outrage at the suspensions, which were imposed by the local authority after a health and safety inspector came across the workers carrying out unscheduled repairs to a road.

The outdoor crew were suspended on full pay pending an inquiry, and are now fearing for their jobs.
Council workers must pre-plan road works, fill in reports detailing the repairs to be carried out, and use the appropriate signage to alert the public.

It’s understood workers were on their way back to a council depot in Carrigaline when they spotted a large pothole on the road surface.

They decided to stop their vehicle to repair the pothole, even though it was not on their official list of jobs. They had earlier been carrying out scheduled repairs on the Carrigaline to Crosshaven road.

A health and safety inspector came across the workers carrying out the unofficial repairs and reported them to the local authority for a breach of health and safety guidelines.

March 17, 2013

Debunking St. Patrick

Filed under: Europe,History,Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:02

In Slate, David Plotz separates the myth from what is known about the real St. Patrick:

Today we raise a glass of warm green beer to a fine fellow, the Irishman who didn’t rid the land of snakes, didn’t compare the Trinity to the shamrock, and wasn’t even Irish. St. Patrick, who died 1,507, 1,539, or 1,540 years ago today — depending on which unreliable source you want to believe — has been adorned with centuries of Irish blarney. Innumerable folk tales recount how he faced down kings, negotiated with God, tricked and slaughtered Ireland’s reptiles.

The facts about St. Patrick are few. Most derive from the two documents he probably wrote, the autobiographical Confession and the indignant Letter to a slave-taking marauder named Coroticus. Patrick was born in Britain, probably in Wales, around 385 A.D. His father was a Roman official. When Patrick was 16, seafaring raiders captured him, carried him to Ireland, and sold him into slavery. The Christian Patrick spent six lonely years herding sheep and, according to him, praying 100 times a day. In a dream, God told him to escape. He returned home, where he had another vision in which the Irish people begged him to return and minister to them: “We ask thee, boy, come and walk among us once more,” he recalls in the Confession. He studied for the priesthood in France, then made his way back to Ireland.

He spent his last 30 years there, baptizing pagans, ordaining priests, and founding churches and monasteries. His persuasive powers must have been astounding: Ireland fully converted to Christianity within 200 years and was the only country in Europe to Christianize peacefully. Patrick’s Christian conversion ended slavery, human sacrifice, and most intertribal warfare in Ireland. (He did not banish the snakes: Ireland never had any. Scholars now consider snakes a metaphor for the serpent of paganism. Nor did he invent the Shamrock Trinity. That was an 18th-century fabrication.)

March 16, 2013

The Cyprus “rescue” includes nasty haircut for savings held in consumer banks

Filed under: Economics,Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:23

The BBC reports on the way Cypriot bank accounts are being levied as part of the “rescue”:

Cyprus may be one of the eurozone’s tiniest economies — its third smallest — but for the next 48 hours or so, it may be the single currency area’s most important.

The point is that there could be serious repercussions for other financially over-stretched economies, such as Spain’s and Italy’s, from the nature of Cyprus’s 10bn-euro (£8.7bn) bailout — which includes, for the first time in any eurozone rescue, losses imposed directly on depositors in banks.

These losses, running to almost 6bn euros, stem from an emergency levy of 9.9% on bank deposits over 100,000 euros (£86,600) and 6.75% below that.

The levy serves as a caution to lenders to banks that they should take care where they place their funds and avoid banks which overstretch themselves — as Cypriot banks did.

But precisely the same arguments — for what is known as a “bail-in” by private-sector creditors — were put by liberal-market purists at the peak of the banking crises in Ireland and Spain.

In the end, eurozone governments were terrified that if lenders to Spanish and Irish banks were punished, there would be a devastating domino effect of withdrawals of funds from banks in other weaker economies — a domino effect that would jeopardise the survival of the eurozone.

So, reckless lenders to Spanish and Irish banks were not punished.

There’s a strong possibility that savers in other European countries with weakened banking systems to draw the correct conclusion quickly … and start pulling their money out of the banking system. And also expect the EU to react with draconian currency restrictions. It’s a potential banking sauve qui peut.

January 3, 2013

Irish newspapers want to be paid when you link to them

Filed under: Business,Europe,Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:20

Ireland is an odd place, if this little brainstorm from their newspaper industry is any indication:

This is not a joke.

I have started with that clarification, because as you read this you will find yourself asking “Is this some kind of a joke?” I thought I would be helpful and put the answer right up at the start, so you can refer back to it as often as you require.

This year the Irish newspaper industry asserted, first tentatively and then without any equivocation, that links -just bare links like this one- belonged to them. They said that they had the right to be paid to be linked to. They said they had the right to set the rates for those links, as they had set rates in the past for other forms of licensing of their intellectual property. And then they started a campaign to lobby for unauthorised linking to be outlawed.

These assertions were not merely academic positions. The Newspaper Industry (all these newspapers) had its agent write out demanding money. They wrote to Women’s Aid, (amongst others) who became our clients when they received letters, emails and phone calls asserting that they needed to buy a licence because they had linked to articles in newspapers carrying positive stories about their fundraising efforts.

These are the prices for linking they were supplied with:

1 – 5 €300.00
6 – 10 €500.00
11 – 15 €700.00
16 – 25 €950.00
26 – 50 €1,350.00
50 + Negotiable

They were quite clear in their demands. They told Women’s Aid “a licence is required to link directly to an online article even without uploading any of the content directly onto your own website.”

The rational response here is to honour their request … by pretending they’ve dropped off the internet altogether and never linking to any of the Irish newspaper websites.

November 23, 2012

Google the latest whipping boy in Australia over taxation

Filed under: Business,Europe,Government,Law — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:53

Even if you scrupulously obey the multiple jurisdictional laws to legally minimize the amount of tax you pay, politicians can’t resist the opportunity to pillory you for not paying your “fair share”:

The Minister’s explanation of Google’s tax affairs is as follows:

    “While the day-to-day dealings of Australian firms advertising on Google might be with Google Australia, under the fine print of contracts Australian firms sign with Google, they are actually buying their advertising from an Irish subsidiary of Google.

    It is then argued that the source of this income — and therefore the taxing rights under our tax treaty — would be with Ireland rather than Australia. Despite Ireland’s relatively low company tax rate of 12.5 per cent, we have just started to build the sandwich.

    The next step is to route a royalty payment from the Irish operating subsidiary of Google to a Dutch subsidiary of Google, which is then paid back to a second Irish holding company subsidiary of Google that is controlled in Bermuda, which has no corporate tax.

    The first Irish subsidiary receives a tax deduction for the royalty payment to the Dutch subsidiary, substantially reducing the income subject to the 12.5 per cent Irish company tax rate.

    Under Dutch law, and because EU member countries do not charge withholding taxes on transfers within the EU, the transfers to and from the Netherlands are essentially tax free.

    And under Irish tax law, the second Irish resident subsidiary is not taxed on the royalty payment because it is controlled by managers elsewhere.

    The profits from the sale of advertising to an Australian firm then sit in a tax-free jurisdiction — possibly indefinitely.”

Tax lawyers — especially those who work on multinational levels — don’t create these situations out of whole cloth: it’s the politicians and revenue ministries that set up and maintain the tax rules. Corporations are legally required to pay taxes (as are individuals), but corporations are also legally required to conduct themselves in ways that maximize the profits for their shareholders. Finding ways to legally pay tax at a lower rate is a requirement. That companies like Apple and Google are big enough to take advantage of the “loopholes” deliberately created by the tax authorities is not a reason to bash Apple or Google. They can only take advantage of “loopholes” because this or that government tried to rig the system in a particular way. Changing or threatening to change the rules retrospectively is a really good way to indicate to foreign business that you really don’t want them operating in your territory.

Update: Snigger.

March 17, 2012

Happy (Biologist’s) St. Patrick’s Day

Filed under: Humour,Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:08

I’m resurrecting this nerdy drinking song from last year… As many of you perceptive viewers noticed there were a couple alcohol-induced scientific errors in my last version of this song (gold star, perceptive viewers!) — so I thought this St. Patrick’s day would be a perfect time to correct them.

In the year of our lord eighteen hundred and eleven
On March the seventeenth day
I will raise up a beer and I’ll raise up a cheer
For Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Here’s to brewers yeast, that humblest of all beasts
Producing carbon gas reducing acetaldehyde
But my friends that isn’t all — it makes ethyl alcohol
That is what the yeast excretes and that’s what we imbibe

Anaerobic isolation
Alcoholic fermentation
NADH oxidation
Give me a beer


My intestinal wall absorbs that ethanol
And soon it passes through my blood-brain barrier
There’s a girl in the next seat who I didn’t think that sweet
But after a few drinks I want to marry her
I guess it’s not surprising, my dopamine is rising
And my glutamate receptors are all shot
I’d surely be bemoaning all the extra serotonin
But my judgment is impaired and my confidence is not

Allosteric modulation
No Long Term Potentiation
Hastens my inebriation
Give me a beer


When ethanol is in me, some shows up in my kidneys
And inhibits vasopressin by degrees
A decrease in aquaporins hinders water re-absorption
And pretty soon I really have to pee
Well my liver breaks it down so my body can rebound
By my store of glycogen is soon depleted
And tomorrow when I’m sober I will also be hungover
Cause I flushed electrolytes that my nerves and muscles needed

Diuretic activation
Urination urination
Urination dehydration
Give me a beer

H/T to Chris Myrick for the link.

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