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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Age before booty

There's hardly any aspect of coalition government policy at the moment that isn't creating the conditions for the next wave of mass protest, violence in the streets and civil disobedience. The reason for this, as I read in this month's Prospect, is that health and pension commitments to the baby boomer generation are currently running at 355 per cent of GDP. Basically, we were going to go bankrupt anyway, but the crunch brought it forward a decade.

Thanks to the enormous loss of tax revenues caused by the recession—the cost of all the bank bailouts were a drop in the ocean by comparison—the spending commitments made by governments all over the world have become unsustainable.

[From How to save capitalism – Prospect Magazine « Prospect Magazine]

The boomers have, essentially, been looting national resources and, if anything, the extent of their bare-faced intergenerational theft will increase, because the old tend to vote more than the young. Thus, despite all rational advice to the contrary, the electorate will continue to vote itself completely unaffordable entitlements. Now that the boomers have decided that they don't even have to retire any more, it can surely only be a matter of time before there are "age riots" on par with the race riots of the 1960s. days). But where will they break out? Where will the first roaming gangs of jobless twenty-somethings begin to vent their anger on the aged? I wonder if it might be at the BBC, where they thought that middle-aged Jonathan Ross appealed to the yoof market. Al least he's gone, but now that Dame Joan Bakewell cannot be forced to retire, the next generation of cultural commentators are out in the cold, and it's only a matter of time before they realise that the entire national cultural booty is being denied them and turn nasty.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Local journalism

The local newspaper reports on the visit of some children from the Ukraine as part of a programme that goes back to the famous Chernobyl incident. The newspaper reports that "thousands" of children in the area develop bone cancer, leukemia and thyroid cancer every year. So I thought to myself "that sounds terrible, why isn't more being done to help these people", after all, if thousands of children are developing these terrible cancers a quarter of a century after the event, that should be on the front page, not BP and a bit of an oil leak. Nevertheless, I also had a terrible suspicion that the figure simply can't be true. Thousands? So I thought I'd try and find some figures. I went off to the UN and began to rummage around.

By 2002 [16 years after the disaster], more than 4,000 thyroid cancer cases had been diagnosed in this group, and it is most likely that a large fraction of these thyroid cancers is attributable to radioiodine intake.

[From UNSCEAR assessments of the Chernobyl accident]

That's far from "thousands" every year, but still terrible.

In a letter published yesterday in Nature, a British science journal, Dr. Vasily S. Kazakov of the Belarus Ministry of Health in Minsk and his colleagues say that the thyroid cancer rates in the regions most heavily irradiated began to soar in 1990. In Gomel, the most contaminated region studied, there used to be just one or two cases of thyroid children a year. But Kazakov and his colleagues found that there were 38 cases in 1991. In six regions of Belarus and the city of Minsk, the investigators found 131 cases of thyroid cancer in young children, some of whom were still in the womb when the Chernobyl accident occurred.

[From 9/92 "Nature" magazine: Thyroid Cancer 7.5 yrs after Chernobyl soaring]

So in the most heavily contaminated area, there were an additional hundred cases of thyroid cancer (for comparison, about 2,000 people per annum get thyroid cancer in the UK) in the years immediately after the event. What about the other cancers mentioned. The British Journal of Cancer (1996) 73, 1006-1012, reports on leukemia.

There was a slight increase in the incidence of childhood leukaemia in Europe during this period,but the overall geographical pattern of change bears no relation to estimated exposure to radiation resulting from the accident. We conclude that at this stage of follow-up any changes in incidence consequent upon the Chernobyl accident remain undetectable against the usual background rates. Our results are consistent with current estimates of the leukaemogenic risk of radiation exposure, which, outside the immediate vicinity of the accident, was small.

What do the UN say? Do they agree? Well, yes they do.

there is no clearly demonstrated increase in the incidence of solid cancers or leukaemia due to radiation in the most affected populations. Neither is there any proof of other non-malignant disorders that are related to ionizing radiation.

[From UNSCEAR assessments of the Chernobyl accident]

So with the exception of thyroid cancer in people who were babies and lived closed to the event, no-one appears to be getting cancer because of Chernobyl. Not what I was expecting to find. By far the most interesting result of my trawl around, though, was this:

There were widespread psychological reactions to the accident, which were due to fear of the radiation, not to the actual radiation doses.

There is a tendency to attribute increases in the rates of all cancers over time to the Chernobyl accident, but it should be noted that increases were also observed before the accident in the affected areas. Moreover, a general increase in mortality has been reported in recent years in most areas of the former Soviet Union, and this must be taken into account when interpreting the results of Chernobyl-related studies.

[From UNSCEAR assessments of the Chernobyl accident]

Those kids still deserve our help, but it's important to have the proper perspective. Generally speaking, I think the UN's assessment holds true for nuclear power in the UK as much as in Russia. The problem is the fear of nuclear power, not nuclear power itself (especially since as far as I am aware, all research seems to show that our bodies are far more tolerant of low-level ionising radiation than we thought back it the early days).

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, August 09, 2010

Scandinavian model

This was probably the most unbelievable story in the newspaper today, and that was up against some pretty stiff competition let me tell you.

Traffic wardens in Denmark’s capital have refused to tell parking offenders what rules they broke. Following numerous complaints from motorists the Danish Broadcasting Corporation requested and received a 110 page document spelling out how traffic wardens should behave and how and when they should issue tickets. But key sections of the guidance, including the pages concerning the rules setting out the circumstances for issuing tickets, had been blanked out by the Copenhagen parking authority. Traffic wardens claimed that if drivers became aware of the information they would lose respect for traffic law and probably try to work around the rules.

[From Danish drivers stumped by secret rules - Telegraph]

This fantastic. The verb Kafkaesque is the only one that can be applied in these circumstances. So much for the notion of the Scandinavian model. I mentioned this story to someone today and he told me it sounded the same as dealing with the congestion charging people, so we shouldn't feel superior.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, August 07, 2010


I was flicking round the movie channels the other day and I started watching Live! with Eva Mendes. It was quite fun: it's a mockumentary about new network TV show in America where people play Russian Roulette live on TV. It was all horribly plausible. What I thought was particularly funny is that at the start of the movie people are pitching terrible TV show ideas to network executives and at least one of them -- a makeover show with women having boob jobs that are filmed -- I have already seen on TV here. In modern Britain, nothing is beyond satire.

But I don't think the probabilities were worked out right. Each of the five winners got a million dollars while the loser got dead, obviously. But surely it takes more guts (or insanity) to pull the trigger as the game goes on. The first person to get picked has a 5 in 6 chance of surviving, whereas if you are the fifth player, it's 50-50. So the players should get more as the game goes on. Also, I don't quite see how it could really work as show: after all, if the first person to go shoots themselves in the head then the rest of the hour slot is going to be as boring as Big Brother. I do think Davina McCall "the cackling high priestess of shit television" would be a good choice for it though.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, August 02, 2010


The news that Manchester United shorts are to be banned in parts of Malaysia because they lead people down a path to sin...

Muslims have been told by religious leaders in Malaysia to stop wearing the famous Manchester United red jersey because of the "devil" emblem on their team crest... United and the rest of the Premier League clubs are massively popular in the Muslim-majority country, but conservative religious scholars said the jersey is forbidden in Islam... .

[From Muslims in Malaysia ban 'devilish' Manchester United shirts | inside World Soccer]

...once again demonstrates the wisdom of the Archbishop of Canterbury in recognising the inevitability of Sharia Law in the UK.

When the question was put to him that: "the application of sharia in certain circumstances - if we want to achieve this cohesion and take seriously peoples' religion - seems unavoidable?", he indicated his assent.

[From The Archbishop of Canterbury - 'Sharia law' - What did the Archbishop actually say?]

Not only as a Manchester City fan -- although possibly not for much longer, because of my growing revulsion at the money-driven perversion of the Premier League -- but also as a football fan, the sight of people wandering about in Manchester United shirts is nauseating. Roy Keane may well be a sociopathic nutter (by his own admission) but he was surely on the ball (yuk yuk) when he was ranting on about the "prawn sandwich" brigade.

But at home they have a few drinks and probably the prawn sandwiches, and they don't realise what's going on out on the pitch. I don't think some of the people who come to Old Trafford can spell 'football', never mind understand it

[From 10 classic Roy Keane rants | Football |]

As noted, it isn't only Manchester United shirts that have fallen foul of the Mufts of Johar and Perak. They've also banned the shirts of teams including Brazil, Portugal, Barcelona, Serbia and Norway, all of which carry images of the cross on their team emblems. I think the Archbishop should pop in for a chat about cohesion and taking people's religion seriously.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]