World’s longest lasting tyre fire

Approximately 7 million tires resting in situ at a storage facility in Rhinehart, northern Virginia, caught fire in October of 1983. At the fire’s maximum extent, a black plume of smoke rose 3,000 feet into the air and spread downwind for up to 50 miles – significant air pollution was recorded in three neighboring states. Tire fires are slow to start but notoriously difficult to extinguish; the Rhinehart Tire Fire burned for nine months! Nearby water sources were polluted with lead and arsenic compounds, and in October 1984 the dump was designated a Mid-Atlantic Superfund Site by the EPA. Cleanup efforts were effectively ended in 2002 and the file would finally be deleted in August of 2005.

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George Osborne, The Age of Austerity and Children

Osborne, the chancellor, caused alarm and anger when he talked about the unfairness of a “shift-worker” leaving for work early in the morning who looks up and sees “the closed blinds of their next door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits”.1

George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer 2010-16, introduced a policy of austerity. This was intended stop benefit claimants living without making any effort to get work.2 He described benefit claimants as ‘shirkers’. (The elderly were protected as they’re an important demographic for Conservative Party electoral success.) Amazingly, child benefits were included in the austerity programme even though children couldn’t possibly be described as ‘shirkers’ in Osborne’s caricature.

Child Benefit 2010-16

Weekly child benefit increased from £20.30 for the eldest child in 2010 to £20.70 in 2016. This 2% increase occurred whilst inflation rose by 17.67%. Child benefit should have increased to £23.58 to keep pace. Osborne reduced annual child benefit by £165.36 by stealth. Second and subsequent children had benefits increased by 2.2% from £13.40 to £13.70 per week. Therefore, a family with two children lost £288.48 per year through Osborne’s use of inflation.3

Children were punished for being born into poor families. Osborne made the lottery of birth catastrophic and set them up for failure throughout their lives.FSM [free school meals]-eligible pupils were 23% less likely to be in sustained employment aged 27 when compared to their peers who were not eligible for FSM”.4 In 2016 there were 1.9 million children living in out-of-work households..5 1.9 million children is the magnitude of Osborne’s policy on child benefits.

Educational Under-achievement and Poverty

The tragedy of Osborne’s austerity programme was that it deliberately exacerbated the poverty of families. The additional poverty which Osborne’s policy decisions created will cascade down the decades like an economic albatross.

Under-achieving children are less productive workers as it isn’t easy to skill-up people without decent competence in English and Mathematics. These subjects are a key indicator for training assumptions. “In 2019, 26.5% (144,000) of pupils in state-funded schools at the end of key stage 4 were disadvantaged. Of these pupils, just a quarter achieved English and Maths at grades 9-5, compared to half of non-disadvantaged pupils.”6 Osborne halved the numbers of disadvantaged achieving the Gold Standard of Grade 5+ in the foundation subjects for all subsequent study.

Disadvantaged Children and Health

Obesity isn’t a lifestyle choice.7 By systematically reducing the capacity of impoverished people to fund a healthy diet, their children suffer avoidable health problems. Obesity isn’t caused by poverty but is intimately correlated with it.8 Impoverished people don’t have to eat highly processed foods which are saturated in sugar, salt and carbohydrates but they do. And they do for excellent practical reasons. Those foods are cheap and fill you up.

British obesity impacts on about 25% adults and 20% of children aged 10-11.8 There are many diseases associated with obesity and exacerbating poverty means there will be increasing numbers of very ill people in the decades following Osborne’s policy decisions.

Conclusion

George Osborne was an adroit politician who gained enormous political credit with a glib fiscal policy: reducing the benefit burden. He had no understanding of the implications of his policy despite a huge amount of research.9 He caused deep and long-lasting damage to hundreds of thousands of people which will continue for decades. Osborne’s ignorance wasn’t unique. Child benefit should be recognised as an investment rather than a burden thereby making it politically attractive.

Notes

1 Conservative conference: Osborne’s speech risks ‘collateral damage’, says Tory – Disability News Service

2 2010 to 2015 government policy: welfare reform – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

3 Rates and tables « How much can your client get? « Guidance « Child Benefit (revenuebenefits.org.uk)

4 Obviously this is a very deterministic statement. Nonetheless if we dial forward to when impoverished children enter school and receive free school meals this is a key indicator of poor achievement. Outcomes for pupils eligible for free school meals and identified with special educational needs (publishing.service.gov.uk) p3

5 Children in out-of-work benefit households: 31 May 2016 (publishing.service.gov.uk) p1 (graph)

6 Tackling the disadvantage gap during the Covid-19 crisis | Children’s Commissioner for England (childrenscommissioner.gov.uk) See also Covid-19: impact on child poverty and on young people’s education, health and wellbeing – House of Lords Library (parliament.uk)

7 Disadvantaged children and obesity (bjfm.co.uk)

8 Healthy diet (who.int) This is quick summary of the constituents of a healthy diet. For the social determinants of obesity see Social determinants of obesity – Wikipedia

9 Marcus Rashford and the Free School Meals Debate | Odeboyz’s Blog (oedeboyz.com) See also the subsequent parliamentary debate Selected Quotes: The Free School Meals Debate 21st October 2020 | Odeboyz’s Blog (oedeboyz.com)

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Budgie Humour

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An Italian love affair

Seamus offered a beautiful senorita a drink and charmed her with Irish stories and songs. He went back to her room and they had a passionate affair. One night, she told him she was pregnant.

Seamus gave her a large sum of money and sent her back to Italy to have the child. He said if she stayed in Italy to raise the child, he’d provide child support until it turned 18.

To keep it discrete, he told her to send a postcard, and write ‘Spaghetti’ on the back. He’d then make the payments. About 9 months later, he came home to his confused wife who said, ‘You’ve got a strange card today.’

He read the card turned white, and fainted. It read:

Spaghetti, Spaghetti, Spaghetti. One with meatballs, two without send extra sauce.

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Black Lives Matter: Segregation in Education

This is George W. McLaurin in 1948 being segregated from the rest of his University class. He was the first African-American to attend the University of Oklahoma. He became a Professor and because of his courage he enabled minority groups to attend University.  

 

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Jay Rayner reviews an Italian restaurant in London

“The nearest thing to a mellow dish is the cappellacci di zuca, the pasta stuffed with a sweet squash puree and sprinkled with an amaretti crumb so it becomes a plateful hinged between savoury and dessert. Then there are the silky, buttered-yellow folds of fazzoletti with a powerful duck ragu with duck fat and crisp duck skin. It’s the love child resulting from a raucous night of unbridled shagging between a prim Roman pasta dish and a blousy cassoulet from Toulouse.”

Restaurant is Manteca 49-51 Curtain Road, EC2A 3PT

Observer Magazine 9th Jan 2022

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Book Review: John Crace ~ A Farewell To Calm: The new normal survival guide (2021)

John Crace is the Guardian newspapers parliamentary sketch writer and satirist. He’s very witty and this book is a collection of his articles which cover the pandemic and, especially, Boris Johnson. It’s fair to say that Crace despises Johnson. As Michael ‘Cocaine’ Gove said in 2016, Johnson isn’t fit to be prime minister. Nonetheless he is. At this moment (mid-January 2022) Johnson is engulfed in what could be a terminal crisis. A crisis entirely of his own making.

Johnson is a walking, talking moral hazard. He literally behaves recklessly and emerges unscathed. This ability has carried him through numerous scandals. He also portrays himself as an extremely intelligent man who has ‘vision’. Crace absolutely disagrees with this portrayal and finds that Johnson is actually rather dim and unable to make a decision.

If you’re a Johnson fan this book definitely isn’t for you. Those that dislike him will find huge amounts of fuel contained in Crace’s critique.

Try this: 3rd June 2020

All his life Boris Johnson has been told that he is the Special One. A person for whom all the rules are there to be broken. He is a man who has consistently managed to fail upwards. Sacked from one job for lying or incompetence, he has always effortlessly moved on to a better one. Friends, family and children have only ever been collateral damage in a ruthless pursuit of an entitled ambition. P86

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Herd Immunity

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Climate Emergency: A Temporary Quick Fix

During the 1970s the Saudis led the OPEC group of nations as they massively increased oil prices in retaliation for European and American support for the Israelis. The USA responded by introducing a speed limit of 55 mph to reduce dependency on imported oil. This was ineffective.1 The reduction achieved was 2%, which can be achieved by maintaining optimum tyre pressure.2 The British government is currently (2021) interfering with the car market by subsidising electric vehicles to incentivise car purchase decisions. They think this will make a useful contribution in the reduction of greenhouse gases. The price mechanism’s brutal simplicity is more effective.

The Price Mechanism

Chris Rock satirised gun use in the USA.3 He said gun related killings would end immediately if bullets cost $5,000. As there are 37,000 gun-related deaths annually, this seems attractive.4 It isn’t. Many Americans worship the 2nd Amendment, notwithstanding the predictable annual slaughter. Gun ownership fans would rightly believe that $5,000 bullets are gun control by stealth. The consequence could be a quasi-civil war as they’re passionate about their ‘right to bear arms’.

Saving the entire world appears to be of a different order of importance to gun-related deaths in the USA. It isn’t. British people worship their entitled lifestyle. The short-termism of British public opinion can’t be over-estimated. Damaging the right to car ownership and affordable petrol would be political suicide.

Britain’s climate emergency response needs a quick, temporary solution before substantive change begins. Increasing the cost of petrol to £105 a litre would create a stampede for viable substitutes. The obvious and immediate inflationary pressures are reducible with targeted uses of the tax system.6 Removing non-essential vehicles from British roads recognizes that they are, cumulatively, destructive of the climate. Non-essential motoring is toxic. Ending it is a clear benefit.

A price shock of this magnitude demands accelerated innovation on a scale usually associated with war (see Addendum One).7 Short car journeys, such as shopping trips, school runs and casual trips would disappear. They’d be replaced by car-sharing,8 alongside a big increase in substitutes like walking, cycling, motor-cycles, public transport and working from home.9

Increasing the cost of petrol to £10 a litre wouldn’t be disastrous (see Addendum Two). There’d be losers and they’d scream, but if the climate emergency is as catastrophic as claimed it’s a small price to pay.

Conclusion

Chris Rock is a genius and his stand-up is wonderful. He provides profound insights into dealing with intractable challenges. Intractable challenges can only be met with decisive action. No solution has a, ‘everything is different, but nothing changes’ outcome. Politicians avoid disturbing the status quo and as Greta Thunberg accurately says the result is, Blah, Blah, Blah.10 The climate emergency is a challenge which requires urgent action because there’s no solution which is win-win. A quick fix using petrol costs provides a route to a different mindset and a platform for more decisive action. The immortal phrase, ‘No pain, no gain’ sums up the necessity of a short sharp shock to drive the transformation to a sustainable environment.

Addendum One: innovation

  • The miniturisation of batteries to reduce the weight of them and increase range to approximately 700 miles.
  • Convert petrol stations into dual purpose petrol/electric facilities with super-chargers as standard so that a full charge could be achieved in five minutes.

Addendum Two: Car Ownership over time

Notes

1 National Maximum Speed Law – Wikipedia see also Ford Focus Petrol Engines: A Guide To Fuel Consumption (tch.co.uk) For geeks try this Optimal Car Average Speed For Minimum Fuel Consumption – My Engineering World The figures suggest a 16.76% reduction in fuel use when restricting cruising speeds to the range 34-50 mph. Fuel consumption in urban settings is poor and can only be reduced by not using cars at all. The 16.67% saving assumes a cruising speed of 75 mph which is illegal in Britain (though not unheard of). For Britain see • Average speed on motorways in the UK, 2014 | Statista

2 How Does Tyre Pressure Influence Your Fuel Economy? | Tyrepower

3 Chris Rock – Gun Control – YouTube Assassins This is about 5 minutes long and very amusing

4 gun related deaths in USA – Bing About 13,000 of which are suicides.

5 A US gallon that would cost about $50. British fuel duty has been frozen for 12 years to ‘protect’ the motorist Autumn Budget 2021: fuel duty to remain frozen – Which? News Inflation 2010-21 is 15.68%. Egalitarians would probably complain that the rich could continue to use their cars as they could afford the new prices. Once electric vehicles became normalised they make the switch like everyone else.

6 The Changes to Red Diesel Usage After the Latest Budget | Speedy Fuels

7 Wartime Germany was very innovative and developed techniques for dealing with the blockade they especially protected the diet of their soldiers WWII: German Rations and Feeding the Troops of the Third Reich (warfarehistorynetwork.com)

8 Where are our car sharing lanes? – BlaBlaCar

9 Tube and London bus users down after working-from-home guidance resumes | Evening Standard

10 ‘Blah, blah, blah’: Greta Thunberg lambasts leaders over climate crisis | Climate crisis | The Guardian

 

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For he that hath….

And they had a wonderful pandemic

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