Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

TapYour tipple – revised

29 Nov 2012 19:03 by Rick

Since I wrote the original article on alcohol tax and prices nearly two years ago things have moved on a bit. The big idea now is that the minimum over the counter price, after tax and everything, should be 45p per unit of alcohol. To save you reading the original article again, a unit is calculated as 1% in 1 litre of liquid. So using these figures this is the revised table.

3.5% beer—pint—Minimum over the counter price 90p
Flandres 2.6% gnats—250ml bottle—Minimum price 29p
Special Brew 9% fighting juice—500ml can ==> Minimum price £2.03p
A nice 14.5% Rioja—75cl bottle—Minimum price £4.89
Budget 30% vodka—70cl bottle—Minimum price £9.45
Bacardi 151 death wish—litre—Minimum price £33.98

I haven’t had a chance to check current supermarket prices yet, but it will make a significant difference wiping out cheap wine. I will update later.

TapWhat is a media download?

20 Feb 2012 12:46 by Rick

When buying a CD you actually buy two things; the plastic media and an implicit licence to play it. The plastic is a thing—a property, the licence is not. You cannot copy the content or play it for an audience; that is not part of the licence. This has been relaxed a little to allow the making of backup copies and alternative media for cars & MP3 players etc. but these copies do not contain the implied licence. If you sell the CD, the licence transfers with it. You can also give it away or bequeath it.

Unfortunately (!) there is no written copy of these licence terms anywhere, it is even worse than the shrink-wrapped licence terms on software. But, it is really no different to the situation that has always existed with books but few people thought of copying those – at least not in their entirety.

For this reason I have been careful to retain the physical media for all of my ripped digital (and analogue) music. These are the licences to own/play. If you sell or give away the original CD you should also destroy any ripped, duplicated or backup copy. You must not sell or give away any duplicates as these do not contain the implicit licence.

How about legitimate downloaded media—you don’t own it, it is a license to listen—a license isn’t property, therefore you can’t sell it. There is no physical media to which to attach the licence. I think the license is effectively for life—your life—so you can’t sell it, give it away or bequeath it. For this reason, even disregarding the production & distribution costs, downloads should be cheaper than physical media as they have a lower long term value. This may all be written into the iTunes and whatever terms and conditions, but I doubt it.

The public perception problem is that the button used to obtain the music is marked “Buy” not “Rent” or “Licence” which blurs the understanding.

If it is not “property” then you can’t steal it. You can be an unlicensed USER of a service, but you can’t STEAL it, you are not depriving someone of anything tangible.

There has been some discussion of this recently. Which Magazine raised the issue of a looming problem. What is going to happen to all of the digital media people have bought when they die? Children brought up on their parents music collection will suddenly find that is no longer available to them as it would have been when they had the physical media. There are issues of trying to transfer or merge accounts; something that the media companies either refuse or cannot do.

Matt Gemmell has an interesting article on his view of why piracy is rampant (beware strong language; so bad in fact, that I wish I didn’t have to link to it) and he has a good point but blurs the ethics somewhat. I agree that almost everyone wants to be honest, but the tipping point is not price. If something is just expensive then we go without. The thing that tips us over the edge is being ripped off. For example being made to pay over and over again for the same thing just because the distribution format has changed; just like we used to copy our records to cassette to play them in the car. Or, as in the example above, being made to pay again because the original owner has died. Curious Rat comments on this and mostly misses the point. First piracy is not theft, you need to understand the difference, but also he twists the arguments back in ways that the original author never intended (nor said). I don’t think Matt would object to you pirating his iPhone app if the DRM gets in the way—so long as you have paid for it in the first place.

Some related points…

When they talk about Intellectual Property (IP) Rights, that really refers to the full rights which includes copying, marketing and distribution.

Re-digi have tried creating a market for “used ” iTunes—by ensuring that all copies from the seller were deleted. I think they are just creating a honey-pot for lawyers.

An interesting point is that “used” copies are indistinguishable from “new” ones which is what worries the retailers; why buy a new one if you can’t tell the difference.

TapAn’ damn’d Excise-men in a bussle

18 Jan 2011 17:48 by Rick

All the talk this morning is about the cost of alcohol and I wondered how the tax is calculated—it is complicated. The quote in the title is to reflect that it is close to Burns Night and we are not able to get to the dinner 🙁

The general principle is that the tax (excise duty) on beer and spirits is based on the alcohol content—which makes sense. The duty on all other drinks is charged at various different flat rates—which doesn’t. The reasons are largely political. Here is a simplified table with the current rates…

Beer 17.32p/Ltr/%Alc
Still cider 1.2%–7.5% 33.46p/Ltr
Still cider 7.5%–8.5% 54.04p/Ltr
Sparkling cider 1.2%–5.5% 33.46p/Ltr
Wine & alcopops 1.2%–4% 69.32p/Ltr
Wine & alcopops 4%–5.5% 95.33p/Ltr
Still wine & alcopops 5.5%–15% 225.00p/Ltr
Sparkling wine, cider & alcopops 5.5%–8.5% 217.83p/Ltr
Sparkling Wine & alcopops 8.5%–15% 288.20p/Ltr
Wine & alcopops 15%–22% 299.97p/Ltr
Wine & alcopops >22%, spirits, all spirit based alcopops 23.80p/Ltr/%Alc

This duty is charged at source to the manufacturer. On top of this VAT, currently 20%, is charged on the retail sale price.

So lets do some examples (the minimum price assumes that it costs nothing to manufacture & ship and the end customer pays all the tax).

3.5% beer—duty 34.5p per pint—Minimum over the counter price 42p
Flandres 2.6% gnats—duty 11p per 250ml bottle—Minimum price 14p
Special Brew 9% fighting juice—duty 78p per 500ml can ==> Minimum price 94p
A nice 14.5% Rioja—duty £1.69 per 75cl bottle—Minimum price £2.03
Budget 30% vodka—duty £5 per 70cl bottle—Minimum price £6.00
Bacardi 151 death wish—duty £17.97 per litre—Minimum price £21.56

The news today was that there should be a minimum retail price for beer set at 21p per unit of alcohol (1% in 1 litre) and spirits at 28p per unit. With the same examples as above we get

3.5% beer—pint—Minimum over the counter price 42p
Flandres 2.6% gnats—250ml bottle—Minimum price 14p (costs 28p in Sainsbury’s)
Special Brew 9% fighting juice—500ml can ==> Minimum price 95p (£1.57 in Sainsbury’s)
A nice 14.5% Rioja—75cl bottle—Minimum price £2.28 (assuming the beer rate)
Budget 30% vodka—70cl bottle—Minimum price £5.88
Bacardi 151 death wish—litre—Minimum price £21.14

i.e. identical for beer and close for spirits. When there was a big fuss about this last summer I did see basic lager on sale for less than 50p per litre. 3% lager would now be at least 63p.

TapThe Battle of Gloucester Cathedral

14 Dec 2010 14:46 by Rick

The Spectator reports

Annabel Hayter, chairwoman of Gloucester Cathedral Flower Guild, received an email saying that she and her 60 fellow flower arrangers would have to undergo a CRB check. CRB stands for Criminal Records Bureau, and a CRB check is a time-consuming, sometimes expensive, pretty much always pointless vetting procedure that you must go through if you work with children or ‘vulnerable adults’. Everybody else had been checked: the ‘welcomers’ at the cathedral door; the cathedral guides; the whole of the cathedral office (though they rarely left their room). The flower guild was all that remained.

The cathedral authorities expected no resistance. Though the increasing demand for ever tighter safety regulation has become one of the biggest blights on Britain today, we are all strangely supine: frightened not to comply. Not so Annabel Hayter. ‘I am not going to do it,’ she said. And her act of rebellion sparked a mini-revolution among the other cathedral flower ladies. In total she received 30 letters from guild members who judged vetting to be either an invasion of privacy (which it certainly is) insecure (the CRB has a frightening tendency to return the wrong results) or unnecessary (they are the least likely paedophiles in the country). Several threatened to resign if forced to undergo it.

Follow the rest of the story for other examples of the CRB cancer. Thanks to Schneier on Security for the pointer.

TapNothing Ventured

28 Sep 2010 09:39 by Rick

The Bristol Merchant Venturers are now very similar to provincial branches of Lions or Rotary Club but perhaps on a slightly grander scale. But in their foundation they were an early example of the modern venture capitalists. Where the merchants invested in new trade routes and new world plantations, their modern counterparts invest in genome sequences and social networks. Their names are often spoken in the same breath as hedge fund managers and futures traders (now collectively called “Bankers”) and not mentioned in polite company but they can on occasion, almost seem to be charities. They put money into causes that would probably founder without them, of long term benefit to the country and even mankind—in everything it seems except intent. Their objective is, if the venture is successful, to take a very healthy profit just like their forebears. Many ventures will fail, the visionary inventors swept aside like the lost ships to the new world, but the occasional star apparently justifies the trail of debris and, of course, every one turns a blind eye to the slave gallies.

So when an initiative such as the prisoner rehabilitation scheme comes up it is very much a venture capitalist scheme. They cannot take a profit unless they reduce the re-offending rate of their “customers’ by a significant amount. I would hope there are some restrictions on how they select the clients, because the risk is that they are competing with the genuine charities such as this one founded in Bristol—both in drawing off funding and cherry picking the good candidates for reform.

The way venture capital takes its profit is not usually long term investment, they can’t wait that long. Once a company looks to become successful the usual course is to float it on the stock market if it is very good and has become a known name or, for smaller ventures, sell it to a bigger company who needs the technology or expertise. I can’t see that being possible for the prisoner scheme except perhaps to sell it back to the government when funds or the politics are more amenable.

Another reason that a successful fledgling company might be bought is to put it out of business, to squash the competition. Playing devil’s advocate, the rehabilitation scheme could be attractive to Crime Inc. as it would be drying up their recruitment field.

TapBimbo the Budgie

28 May 2010 12:11 by Rick

Well we can all rejoice I hope, now that the ID cards and National Register and Biometric Passports will all be scrapped. What is sad is that all the money wasted on it cannot be recovered and there is very little that can be saved from the wreckage. I hope that the contractors that took on the work won’t be compensated as they knew in advance that, if the government changed, the job would be cancelled. That is the risk that they took.

David Blunkett’s version of what was to be implemented is very different to what he proposed back when he was home secretary and for him to say (Radio 4 this morning) that the information he provided to get his now useless ID card was no more than we would have needed for a passport can only be credited to the continual public opposition to the whole idea. There was no doubt that once it got established, more and more would have been demanded and other existing government databases would have been cross-referenced.

In case you are wondering and didn’t hear the interview, Bimbo was David Blunkett’s first pet as a child. It came up in conversation because he said it was the only piece of information that he provided that wasn’t needed for a passport application and that if anyone could find a use for it then good luck to them (or words to that effect). Well I can. As most people will realise, banks and other institutions are always asking us for a password which they can use to authenticate you and a secret question and answer is quite a common method to do this. Information like this is not as secret as we think it is. Even if the answer to the question is not known, the set of possible answers is quite small, though admittedly, Bimbo is not in the first dozen that I would try. I have seen questions like “What is your favourite colour?” Now how many possible answers are there to that? This is *VERY* low security and not worth the name.

The reason I could use the information is that people reuse passwords for multiple applications. Presumably he will no longer use that one now, but had I discovered it previously on some account that was compromised then there was a good chance he had used it elsewhere so was worth a try. That is why when some low impact login system is cracked and the passwords leaked, it is so much more dangerous than it seems. There is a good chance that many people will use the same credentials for other much more important systems and it is worth the effort of the criminals to try them out. If you think your email password is not critical, remember that if you click the “I’ve forgotten my password” button on any site, it is your email address that they send the new one to.

[Corrected: I accidentally wrote John Prescott instead of David Blunkett—shows how similar all these politicians are]

TapGood Morning Prime Minister

12 May 2010 08:11 by Rick

I for one welcome our new two-headed overlords.

TapLet’s Look at some Numbers

11 May 2010 13:12 by Rick

Politics again, I’m afraid.

The news reports are saying that all this bargaining for deals has caught them on the hop and they weren’t expecting it. Rubbish—we have been expecting a hung parliament for weeks, at least since the mysterious Clegg surge, and it was very likely before that as the swing needed by the Conservatives for an absolute majority was unrealistically high.

The Tory press are criticising the LibDems (and being very insulting about it) for first trying for a Con alliance and, when that looked unlikely, going to Labour. That is what they said they would do before the vote—first try to seek an alliance with the party with the most votes. Get over it; this is real politics. However flawed, the people have elected those they want to represent them and it is up to those representatives to govern and that means forming a government. How they achieve that, we have entrusted to them.

Now that Brown has announced his resignation there is talk of yet another (Labour) Prime Minister without a mandate. That is rubbish too. Prime Ministers in this country do not have a direct mandate. They would need to be directly elected, presidential style to have that; we have Tony Blair to blame for giving people that impression. Again, we leave it up to our directly elected representatives, once they have formed a government, to select people for the jobs that need to be done and that includes Prime Minister.

Looking at a possible coalition, let’s look at some numbers. There are 650 seats so technically 326 are needed for a majority. The Conservatives won 306 and we can allow them one more for the vacant but safe Tory seat. They can usually count on the support of the Unionists (DUP 8 ) which gives them a working total of 315. Labour won 258 and can usually count on the SDLP (3) making 261. The Liberal Democrats won 57 and both the Green party (1) and the Alliance party (1) are likely to support them on most issues making 59.

A Liberal/Labour alliance adds up to 320. Of the remainder, Sinn Fein (5) don’t take up their seats, so that means a majority of only 322 is actually needed. Both sides are a few short leaving them at the mercy of the two nationalist parties, Plaid Cymru (3) and SNP (6) and an independent. It is just possible that the Conservatives could pull off a coup and form an alliance with these but which ever side does it, it will be at the expense of some concessions for their national interests and neither looks good for the economy or a stable government.

Digressing a little, lets look at what it would have been in a true proportional representation system. This is not realistic because firstly, no system will allocate the seats strictly according to the votes cast as I have done here but also because, if you change the voting system, people will vote differently; but lets do it any way. The results would have been Conservative 235, Labour 189, LibDem 150, UKIP 20, BNP 12, SNP 11, Green 7, Sinn Fein 4, DUP 4, Plaid Cymru 4, SDLP 3, Ulster Con/Unionist 2, Alliance 1 and eight others.

I am not going to say how I did it (remember these are only my personal opinions) but I think that would give natural (if strained) groupings supporting a Conservative government of 275 and a Labour one, 193 with 158 supporting the Liberal Democrats. That would definitely form a stable left leaning alliance but I can see why the Conservatives would not be keen on voting reform—they would be unlikely to ever form a government again!

P.S. Don’t be frightened by those extremist parties that would suddenly get seats, that is real politics too, and it is highly unlikely that they would get so many votes once the system was in place and people could vote for the policies they really want with an expectation that they will actually be heard.

TapThe People have Spoken

7 May 2010 07:58 by Rick

Did anyone hear what they said?

It is clear to me what they said and it is exactly the same as they have said since I was first able to vote back in the 70s—the electoral system in this country is broken. Just look at the figures. At the time of writing (08:45) the results are CON 36%, LAB 29%, LIB 23%, other 12% and the prediction is not a lot different. That says we don’t want a block-busting majority. We are fortunate that for the first time for ages, the seat count says something similar, though in very different proportions. So let’s listen to the people and do something about it.

TapTime to think of political things

14 Apr 2010 19:02 by Rick

of cabbages and kings.

I have always felt that I align mostly with the Left. That seems the appropriate place to be as a Christian, just like the Methodist founders of the socialist movement. Just that, somehow, the Left doesn’t seem to align with me. Giles Frazer summed it up very well in his Church Times column last week.

When I decided that I had to be at least a little politically active, I just couldn’t bring myself to join the Labour Party. In practice there is no party that anyone can fully believe in all of the policies—that would be an interesting challenge question to the candidates. But we are stuck with a party system and, perhaps if we ever get some sort of decent proportional voting system we will be able to say that “I like 50% of the policies of A, 25% of B and 25% of C” or similar. There seems to be no other way. So slightly active I am, but I won’t canvas because. if challenged on the doorstep over a particular policy, I can’t be sure that I would agree with what the manifesto says.

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