Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Ties That Bind (Pubs).

An overlooked story of 2014, overlooked by me at least, is the decision by MPs to partially untie pub landlords from the pub companies. This will allow landlords to buy beer at the market rate and to have their rents assessed independently. It seems like a good idea but there are more fundamental problems for the pub industry, namely:
  • The smoking ban- it won't be reversed and it hasn't been bad for all pubs but for the spit & sawdust type backstreet boozer it remains a problem.
  • The pubcos overinvestment in property. When property prices were shooting up from the 1990s to the 2008 crash it didn't matter too much whether pubs were profitable because the value of the properties was rising fast enough to ensure that on paper the pub companies were loaded. After the crash they realised the flaw in that plan.
  • The quality of people becoming landlords is not great, mostly because hardly anyone who understands what's involved would want to to do it. It's almost impossible to make money as a tenant so only fools rush in to take them over. Also going to the pub a lot does not mean you are well suited to running one.
  • The quality of people running pubcos isn't great- the firms aren't rapacious capitalist exploiters, but edifices that are teetering on the brink of collapse who can't afford to take long term decisions without having serious cash flow problems today.
  • Tax on beer, even during the midst of the great recession the tax on beer has reason inexorably.
Until all that is sorted out then it will remain a very risky business to get involved in.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Communism Pretty Much Sucks

A couple of statistics about Germany:

Among more than 600 members of management and supervisory boards at Germany’s 30 largest companies, fewer than a dozen lived in the German Democratic Republic when the Berlin Wall fell on Nov. 9, 1989. Many of them are politicians or labor union officials, not executives.
That is 2% of the nation's executives from an area that makes up around 20% of the population.
The rapid productivity gains eastern workers made after reunification have stalled: they are still only 76% as productive as western ones. That is partly because the east German economy is concentrated in less productive industries, like construction and agriculture. But even in others, like finance, eastern workers have made smaller productivity gains than westerners.
Unless there were major regional economic  differences between the east and west of Germany before World War 2, and as far as I'm aware the east wasn't considered notably poorer, it illustrates just how much an atrocious political idea can deplete the human capital of a country. That the legacy of communism is still so pronounced more than 25 years after it collapsed is a pretty damning indictment of the system.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Who Believes This Crap?

Perhaps we should get Sabrina Rubin Erdely to investigate these claims:

Detectives are investigating three alleged murders as part of an inquiry into historical child abuse, the Met Police has said.
Officers made a public appeal for information relating to Dolphin Square estate in Pimlico, south-west London.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse said no confirmed identities or bodies of victims had been found.

I will actually astonished if this doesn't turn out to be another baseless scare story like the satanic abuse mania in the 1980s or the campus rape obsession that's sweeping across the USA at the moment.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Quote Of The Day

In the comments under an article about Russia's economic collapse, one commentator writes:

Stuck for a present for the Nashi in your life? Why not not him one of these stylish new Russian wallets?

Bahrain Folly

Britain's new military base being built in Bahrain seems like a complete waste of money. We are unlikely that we will be intervening in the Middle East on our own, without the USA, any time in the medium term future so it is fairly pointless. I suppose if we get more in arms sales to Bahrain than it costs to set up the base it may be worth it, but when people talk about the base being "symbolic" it's probably a euphemism for waste of money.

In our last two wars east of Suez, Iraq and Afghanistan, the British Army was overstretched and achieved little, as this review* from the LRB puts it:

The September 2004 draft of Fry’s plan for the switch from Iraq to Afghanistan featured a graph showing British troop numbers in Basra smoothly falling away as numbers in Helmand gradually rose. There was a cross on the chart where the two lines met. This would have been fine if Basra had stayed quiet, but as the time approached when the first troops were due to land in Helmand, it became more and more evident that the British had failed to bring anything resembling order and justice to southern Iraq. Even before the Helmand operation started, it was obvious Britain needed more troops in both theatres. But it didn’t have enough even for one.

By 2005 British forces were well on the way to ceding Basra and the surrounding area to armed Shia groups; they would end up hunkered down and isolated behind the ramparts of their main base at the city’s airport. ‘To rectify the situation in Basra, the British would have to send more troops,’ Fairweather writes. ‘And yet their pivot to Afghanistan required them to do the exact opposite and withdraw. Rather than confront this gaping hole in their strategy, the British opted to carry on regardless.’

The beginning of Britain’s deployment in Helmand coincided with the belated realisation by British high command that their American patrons considered them to have been beaten in Iraq. Their much vaunted light-touch counter-insurgency skills had failed and the US was going to have to bail them out.
Since then the armed forces have undergone further cuts, so  pretending that we are a significant independent player in Middle East doesn't seem like a good way to use scarce resources, especially if the status that goes with it tempts our illustrious and wise leaders into further missions in the region that are testing our capacity. Either fund the military well or cut back what it is expected to do.

* Via iSteve.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Will Get Fooled Again

There was a big Rolling Stone article about a woman who was horrifically gang raped by a student fraternity as part of an initiation ritual. There appears to be one small problem with the article- it is complete horseshit.It wouldn't be so bad if it was the first time the press had fallen for obviously bogus claims about being gang raped by "privileged" white male college students but it isn't, as anyone who can remember the Duke Lacrosse case a few years ago can say.

If the boy who cried wolf lived today he would never run out of dupes willing to believe his lies.

Fake victimhood appears to be particularly common among left wing activists on college campuses though certainly not exclusively - there have been conservative activists who've faked attacks by violent mobs of Obama supporters as well as a Jewish activist who was the victim of a phony neo-nazi assault. This site documents almost 200 hate crime hoaxes in the USA alone.

Fake criminal attacks are only one aspect of bogus victimhood. As long time readers will know, misery memoirs are wildly popular, WH Smiths used to have a whole section devoted to "Tragic Life Stories". Quite a lot of these turned out to be fraudulent as well- there's a hilarious and brutal takedown of one of the most successful misery memoirs "A Million Little Pieces" by James Frey, here. The reviewer, John Dolan, was calling "bullshit" years before it was actually exposed as a fake.

There have always been schemers and liars and that will never change, what feeds them is other people swallowing their claims wholesale. The college fakers do it because there is a large pool of people who want to believe that white, male college students are running amok and getting away with murder, the misery memoirs abound because the appetite for such melodramatic nonsense  exceeds what reality has left us with.