One day a lemming will fly

I do wonder how different the world would be today if Bernie Sanders had become President instead of Donald Trump. It would certainly be a lot better for millions of poor American voters who, instead of voting for higher taxes on the wealthy and more wealth distribution, voted for the complete opposite. Strangely though, if given the opportunity again today, most of them would vote the same way as they did in 2016.

Stuff like this gives economists a headache. It’s much easier to base economic models on the idea that people behave in ways that make them better off, as opposed to looking for ways to shoot themselves in the foot.

Although tricky, it’s important for us to accept that people do behave like this and it’s also important to think about what we can do about it. So, since I have your ear, I’ll give it a go.

Deep down, Bernie knew he wouldn’t win. Of course he believed his policies would benefit more voters than the policies of Donald or Hillary but still, he knew he wouldn’t win. The USA is very right-wing country and there are a huge number of well-funded, well-organised lobby groups that exist to keep it that way. In the context of American politics, Bernie’s policies were extreme and he would have known that convincing a sufficient number of voters of such a radical change in direction would likely be impossible.

So was it a waste of time? Absolutely not. Bernie ended up doing extremely well in the circumstances and while he failed to win the nomination, he did achieve something else – he made it a little bit easier for the next Bernie. His achievement was to chip away marginally at the status quo. The next Bernie won’t win either but next time around, the same policies will be a little more mainstream. One Bernie alone won’t bring policies of equality to the United States. You need a lot of them. The first few will fail, perhaps the first many will fail. Eventually one will succeed.

The problem, of course, isn’t in finding people who agree with the policies – they weren’t really that extreme. The problem is finding people who have the guts to be the first ones over the cliff, knowing that their chances of being the first successful Bernie are slim at best.

Anyway, the Brexit mess is still rolling down the hill, like a giant snowball of poop, and a lot of people have been asking me if I am in favour of a People’s Vote. It’s essentially a second referendum in which the voters, this time around, would have the added benefit of knowing the actual alternative they could vote for.

To be honest, I struggle to have enthusiasm for it.

What should be abundantly clear to everyone by this point, is that there is no good alternative to EU membership. The possible outcomes if we leave the EU are a shitty deal that leaves everyone worse off, or no deal at all, which leaves everyone even worse off than that.

Given those options or a People’s Vote, then yes, I’d rather have the vote. Let’s roll the dice again – it can’t be any worse. We would, however, get a few months of Boris, Gove, Rees-Mogg, The Daily Mail, The Sun and the rest of them, in full bullshit propaganda mode. Add into that a fallacy of the human brain – people are very bad at admitting when they were wrong – and we will end up having another uninformed vote.

It’s not inconceivable to think that such a campaign could result in people voting for no deal at all and us ending up worse off than if, after the first vote, we’d just called, “Stick”.

What’s my alternative suggestion? Thank you for asking – it’s very simple but we will need some help from our politicians.

Our politicians have to have the guts to stand up and say something like this:

We have taken on board the result of the referendum. We have spent two years working on it, trying to find out how we could make this work for the country.

The result is, that it doesn’t. Deal or no deal, there is no way to enact departure from the EU without causing significant hurt to the economy and citizens of the country.

We looked at it – for two years, we really did look very hard at it. But it’s a bad idea and we’re not doing it.

One MP doing this alone won’t make a difference – we’re going to need a bunch of them. If they take this position in sufficient numbers then we have an opportunity to avoid an utterly unnecessary catastrophe.

The problem, of course, isn’t in finding people who agree with remaining – the majority of MPs were in favour of that to begin with.

The problem is finding politicians who have the guts to be the first ones over the cliff.




Come back, David Cameron, all is forgiven!

Ok, ok. Maybe not all is forgiven. For example, it would be hard to forgive austerity, which just pushed the cost of the financial crisis onto the poor, while delaying economic recovery by several years. Yeah, fair enough, it would be hard to forgive that.

Also, it is pretty hard to forgive causing Brexit in order to win a general election…

Ok, screw it. None of it is forgiven but come back anyway, if the alternative is the chaos that is the current government.

Yesterday, the news was that David Davis was heading off to Europe to tell the EU negotiators that if they didn’t give the UK a very beneficial, bespoke trade agreement, we would all be plunged into another 2008-style financial crisis!

(I’m sure he achieved a very small erection when he told us all how tough he was going to be.)

I, however was unimpressed. (Not by his erection, I was indifferent to that. I mean I was unimpressed with his decision to use a financial crisis argument.)

The problem I have with a financial crisis argument, is that he said exactly the opposite during the referendum campaign. Voters were continually reassured by David and his fellow leave campaigners that talk of recession was a simple case of scaremongering by the remain campaign. It was Project Fear and nothing more.

So.. umm.. the fear mongers were right after all? Or is David just making things up as he goes along? Or does he just have no idea what he’s doing?

I’ll leave you to decide, but (SPOILERS) don’t assume those are mutually exclusive.

Throughout the entire process David has publicly displayed how out of his depth he is. In fact, every time he has anything to say about the Brexit negotiations, I can’t feel angry, I just feel embarrassed for him.

It’s like confidently telling the press that you’ll easily beat Garry Kasparov at chess, then sitting down to play and calling the knight a horsey and asking which ones the prawns are.

He has history of course. In July 2016, shortly after the referendum result, David wrote this:

So be under no doubt: we can do deals with our trading partners, and we can do them quickly. I would expect the new Prime Minister on September 9th to immediately trigger a large round of global trade deals with all our most favoured trade partners. I would expect that the negotiation phase of most of them to be concluded within between 12 and 24 months.

So within two years, before the negotiation with the EU is likely to be complete, and  before anything we can negotiate a free trade area massively larger than the EU. Trade deals with the US and China alone will give us a trade area almost twice the size of the EU, and of course we will also be seeking deals with Hong Kong, Canada, Australia, India, Japan, the UAE, Indonesia – and many others.

With eight months of the 24 to go, we have negotiated no new trade deals, we have none in any advanced stage of negotiations and we have none in progress.

Should we be shocked? No. Our situation won’t come as any surprise to anyone who knows anything about international trade agreements. They are horrendously complicated but what’s more striking is that anyone who knows anything about international trade agreements knows that you shouldn’t try to do them as quickly as possible. Yes, we could do a quick deal with the USA – it would simply be a case of agreeing to all of their terms… and then we’d quickly have a (terrible and one-sided) trade deal with the USA!

The only time quick trade deals happen is when one side gets steamrollered by the other and you have to worry about this happening to us, when the government has so much face to save by getting some quick ones in.

Add in to that, the team we are trusting to do it. When you go to the USA and ask for a trade deal, they fill the room with whiz-kid Harvard folk, who’ve spent their lives studying international trade agreements. We send Liam Fox (a former GP with no experience of international trade agreements) and David Davis (still working out which one the prawn is.)

With this team in place, things look pretty stark. The only way we can now realistically avoid disaster in international trade negotiations is if we don’t try to do any.

It’s hard to feel confident that we are in the safest hands for that time that Brexit actually happens, but just as worrying is the fact that it’s already screwing us up in other ways. The entire government, it seems, is focused solely on Brexit and although they don’t seem to realise it, there is still a country to run. The cost of Brexit isn’t simply the crappy trade deals we might have from April 2019. Some of the cost is already here, in the form of the complete lack of government that is happening right now. From the government’s non-response to Grenfell, to the crisis that is happening in our NHS, domestic issues are simply, it seems, not a priority in comparison with Brexit.

Today, in an unprecedented move, 68 senior A&E doctors wrote to the government to tell them that people were dying in hospital corridors because they had no beds and no staff to treat them.

This situation, caused by the government, is simply horrendous and it is far from what we should expect in a rich, developed country, such as the UK. We absolutely have the wealth and ability to properly fund the NHS but because of the government’s idealism, distraction and incompetence, it doesn’t happen.

And then people die in hospital corridors.

If Jeremy Hunt or Theresa May had any semblance of a conscience, they would read that letter and resign immediately.

I’d ask David Davis to do so as well but he is probably still too busy working out which one the prawn is.

We live in bad times.


Before the devil knows you’re dead

“May you be in heaven a full half-hour before the devil knows you’re dead.”

Well, that went better than I thought it would. Never in my lifetime have the cards been stacked so firmly in the incumbent party’s favour and yet somehow the most remarkable reversal happened.

A couple of months ago, everything was going Theresa’s way. The Lib Dems were nowhere and the Labour Party seemed to be more interested in arguing amongst themselves and undermining their leader than they were about actually opposing anything.

In such circumstances, with the opinion polls pointing to the biggest Tory majority since the war, the temptation was too great. Before the election, Theresa’s majority wasn’t huge but it was easily enough to get her through the next three years without a problem. But why accept that when you could smash the opposition out of the park for the next five?


The media are referring to it as a failed gamble but a couple of month’s back, when the election was called, it was nothing of the kind. It was, what Americans would call, a slam-dunk. Or at least it should have been, but Theresa failed to take one small point into account – she is diabolically incompetent.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that she is far and away the worst Prime Minister in my lifetime. Dave had awful policies but at least he knew how to make them sound good to a lot of people. Maggie did some truly horrific things, especially to the poor, but at least she had the guts to fight her corner rather than ducking debates.

By announcing a snap election, Theresa had the chance to catch the opposition on the hop but what transpired seemed more like she’d caught herself on the hop. A car crash manifesto of ill-conceived, uncosted, focus-group bullshit policies was released and no one liked it.

In contrast, Labour released the most ambitious and progressive manifesto of our generation. It was as brilliant as it was unexpected and if that weren’t enough,  it was costed too.

While Theresa tried to side-step criticism of her manifesto U-Turns, (Nothing has changed!), Jeremy knew every line of his manifesto and stood firmly behind it. (You like my manifesto? Put it to the testo.*)

While Theresa avoided debates and attended only media events that had been carefully choreographed by her spin team, Jeremy did the complete opposite – he seemed happy to stand behind his policies in front of the media and happy to debate them with the public.

Let’s face it, he was never going to be one of those polished politicians, trained in the dark arts of hand gestures and how to avoid answering questions. He didn’t even take David Cameron’s advice of how to dress like a posh person. What he did do was the only thing he knew – being himself and actually caring about the people whose lives would be affected by his policies. In spite of the daily character assassinations by The Sun and The Daily Mail… it worked.

The parliamentary Labour Party will now surely get behind him and build on the fantastic platform he has made. Things look good.

In contrast, Theresa is now dead man walking. She took her party from stable majority to hung parliament with a completely unnecessary election. She told them she’d win a landslide but ended up costing a lot of them their jobs. Her speech yesterday was the most perfect example of denial. She didn’t even acknowledge that the result was a bit disappointing, let alone the reality that it was catastrophic.

And now we get to watch her running around, courting the anti-gay, anti-abortion DUP, with full knowledge that it will reverse much of the huge effort that has gone into stabilising Northern Ireland. It’s shameful how desperate she is to stay in power.

Today she fired her two closest advisers and as more rats leave the sinking ship, The Sun and The Daily Mail have abandoned her – even some cabinet members are telling her to go.

But don’t worry, Theresa – it’s much worse than you think. Do what you need to do but please realise – the electorate will never take you seriously again. You are done.

Enjoy your half hour – the clock is ticking.


*Ok, Jeremy didn’t say that. I might have accidentally quoted Sultans of Ping F.C.


No more Tories

No more food banks,

No more climate change denial,

No more austerity,

No more tax cuts for the 1%,

No more benefit cuts for the poor,

No more cuts to our NHS,

No more wage stagnation,

No more cuts to state education,

No more cuts to our local services,

No more cuts to our police numbers,

No more taking away free school lunches from the poorest kids,

No more blaming everything on immigrants,

No more treating Scotland like a naughty child,

No more pricing poor people out of a university education,

No more economic stagnation,

No more pretending Brexit is a good thing,

No more “£350m more a week for the NHS” lies painted on buses,

No more hand-holding with Donald Trump,

No more saying “Strong and stable”, while you act weak and imbalanced,

No more pandering to The Daily Mail,

No more pandering to Rupert Murdoch,

No more politics funded by the rich for the rich,

No more fake news,

No more grammar schools,

No more bedroom tax,

No more demonising people on benefits,

No more Boris Johnson,

No more Jeremy Hunt,

No more Philip Hammond,

No more Amber Rudd,

No more Elizabeth Truss,

No more Iain Ducan Smith,

No more Theresa May,

No more Tories.









How the left was lost

Mrs Rabbit’s question

This morning, Mrs Rabbit asked me how rich someone would need to be in order for them to logically vote Tory. Her thinking was that something didn’t add up. Wouldn’t only a small proportion of people actually be better off with Tory policies?

I wasn’t able to give an immediate answer to this because, firstly, I was about to go onto a conference call with the Swedes and secondly, it’s pretty complicated to determine where the line between better or worse off with the Tories would be drawn. For a start, we need to decide that the alternative is. The alternative might be to vote for Labour, Lib Dems, SNP or someone else. Also there are lots of factors to consider. It isn’t simply about each party’s policy on income tax. There are wealth taxes, consumption taxes, inheritance tax and lots of other things such as how much a party might spend on public services and how much those services benefit people of different levels of wealth.

As an example, we know that since 2010 the Tories have been wilfully underfunding the NHS to such an extent that it is now in a very big mess. This has a big negative impact on those people who can’t afford private health care and a small positive impact on those who can (because of lower taxes). Those who can afford private education for their children are similarly positively affected by the wilful underfunding of our schools and those who can afford to buy any book they want are positively affected by the closures of our libraries.

Whilst benefit cuts have predominantly hurt the poorest in our society, it does seem that you would have to get to a fairly high level of wealth before you were positively impacted by a broken NHS or state education system.

That much seems fairly obvious but strangely, when voters are given the option of voting to increase taxes on the wealthier part of society in exchange for additional funding of their public services, they don’t seem to respond in anything like the numbers one might expect. In a world that’s lurching further and further to the right, Mrs Rabbit has asked a pretty important question. So what exactly is going on?

Rich donors

This is Michael Farmer.


Michael Farmer runs a hedge fund, has a personal fortune of £150m and has donated over £6.5m to the Tories.

Why he supports the Tories isn’t too important. If I were to guess, I’d say that Michael is one of the people who isn’t affected by the the underfunding of the NHS or state schools and is more concerned with which party will offer him the lowest taxes and the least amount of regulation on his hedge fund.

Now you might well argue that someone with £150m in the bank could afford to have a slightly more altruistic outlook and you might be right but like it or not, the Tories are going to be better for him personally than any alternative. Simple enough.

However, while we all get to vote for the party of our choosing, very few of us have the luxury of being able to give the party of our choosing £6.5m and therein lies a big problem. A rich person has the opportunity to influence proceedings far more than a non-rich person. Further still, the Tories can’t win with only the votes of the people who they will make better off and they need to convince an awful lot of other people (who they will make worse off) to vote for them too.

Michael’s £6.5m doesn’t get spent convincing other people like Michael Farmer to vote Tory – there aren’t enough of them to matter. That £6.5m goes straight towards the campaign to, (if I may use a metaphor), convince non-Michael Farmers to keep buying big guns, aiming them at their own foot and pulling the trigger. And then when those people say, “Ow, my foot really hurts now!”, telling them that it is due to (metaphor over) immigrants.

The art of fibbing

If you think about politics in a basic left/right context, there isn’t any reason that one side should make stuff up more than the other. The right believes in a smaller public sector, leaving more things to market forces and a smaller redistribution of wealth. The left believes in a larger public sector, leaving fewer things to market forces and a larger redistribution of wealth. There is no reason here that one side should lie about things any more than the other but that’s absolutely not what we see today.

Whether it is Donald Trump saying that Muslims in New Jersey were cheering as the towers collapsed on September 11th, or Boris Johnson putting the £350 million per week figure on the side of his Brexit Battle Bus, the right is far happier to make stuff up now than they have ever been and what’s more worrying is how effective it is.

You want another example? Six months ago, Donald Trump convinced millions of Americans to vote to lose their health insurance. Something is seriously amiss here.

The issues we are asked to vote on are wide-ranging and complex. We are asked to understand economics, healthcare, education, foreign policy, the environment etc, we are asked to form an opinion on how each party’s policies will deliver in each area and then make an informed choice. That’s a remarkably difficult thing to do.

A political party could try to help voters make an informed choice but it is clearly easier and more effective to go with a simplistic, lies-based narrative that appeals to a lot of people who aren’t able to check. For the Tories, Trump and others on the extreme right, it isn’t just easier, it is absolutely necessary for them to get elected. Remember, only a small proportion of the population will benefit from their policies so helping the rest of the electorate to make an informed decision would be an act of extreme self-harm.

The fact that the small proportion who benefits can provide political funding beyond the wildest dreams of those who don’t, perpetuates the problem. The parties who benefit the richest donors get re-elected, the distribution of wealth goes further in the wrong direction and the cycle continues.

I’m not done though. It gets worse.

The media

You’ve got your funding and you’ve got your fibs. To really get your message out there though, you need some friends in the press and, conveniently, owning and marketing a national newspaper is expensive. It’s not surprising that a lot of newspaper owners fall firmly into the small section of society that benefits with the election of a right-wing government. I wrote a blogpost a while back where I looked at the daily circulation of left-wing and right-wing newspapers in the UK: 7m right-wing papers sold every day to 1.5m left-wing papers and the list is dominated by The Sun and The Daily Mail.

These days though, owning the media isn’t enough for the right. These days, chillingly, the right goes after any media outlet who attempts to do anything other than toe the line. Trump wages war on the New York Times and the Tories wage war on the BBC. Neither of those organisations is anything like as partisan as some of the uncriticised publications that support the right-wing cause. The Tories don’t criticise The Daily Mail and Trump doesn’t criticise Breitbart. Lies good, facts… BAD!


I’m no particular fan of Jeremy Corbyn or Tim Farron and I wasn’t a particular fan of Hilary Clinton either. What I do know is that they are much better than the alternative of what I’m describing here.

Am I paranoid? If you think so, here’s another one: Why is it that climate-change denial is almost exclusively a right-wing thing? After all, there’s no reason for it to be. There’s no reason that preferring lower taxes at the expense of smaller public services should mean that you don’t believe releasing carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere causes the planet to warm up.

This correlation could of course be coincidence but could it possibly be that oil companies fund political parties? Or that rich donors or newspaper owners fear they would be asked to pay more in tax if we were to move to renewable energy? Tough one.

Before I end, let me make something clear. I am not trying to demonise all rich people and I don’t have a problem with a society in which someone can become rich. Those are the things I am often accused of by lazy people when I talk about raising taxes but that’s not what this is about.

We live in a society where we don’t look after the poor or vulnerable properly. We live in a society where we don’t fund healthcare or education properly. We live in a society where there is enough money to tackle all of these things and you know what? There’d still be enough money for us to have some rich people too.

My point is simply that there is no sign of this happening, and the reason for this is pretty simple too:

The problem isn’t that people can become rich. The problem is that the rich get to make the rules.








The hypocritic oath

I wonder if this is something that modern politicians are having to swear before they take office.

Theresa May tells us that the Scottish people aren’t allowed an independence referendum because the terms of the UK leaving The European Union are not yet known.

Hold on a minute.

The UK just had a referendum on leaving the European Union when the terms of leaving the European Union were unknown. That was ok, right? No, it was more that ok, it was “The will of the people”. Lib Dems are asking for a second referendum, once the terms are known, so that the public can vote based on knowing what the alternative to staying in actually is. Theresa doesn’t seem in favour.

I’m confused. When it suits you, the terms of leaving are important and when it doesn’t they are not?

All this does is reinforce my fear that the Conseravtive Party is now simply the political wing of the Daily Mail. They read whatever is in that paper today and… that’s the policy! Sure, it buys them a lot of votes from people who don’t realise that the Daily Mail is Satan’s own soiled toilet paper, but it isn’t really the way that democracy is supposed to work.

This stuff is scary. This is Trump style politics – and worse still, we have no coherent opposition to call them out on it.

We live in bad times.



Executive summary

The Moon is a dick and we should get rid of it.

Why we should get rid of The Moon


The most obvious effect of The Moon on The Earth are the tides. Tides are a consequence of  how The Moon’s gravity affects our planet. Gravity is a force that attracts objects towards each other and its strength is dependent on the objects’ mass and the distance between the objects. The closer they are, the stronger the force of attraction.

The force of gravity follows an “inverse square law”, which means that it drops off rapidly with distance. Double the distance, the force of gravity is reduced to a quarter. At 10 times the distance, the force of gravity is reduced by a factor of 100.

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 18.39.31

This means, because we’re close to The Moon, that whichever side of The Earth is facing it experiences a noticeably stronger gravitational effect than the far side. This causes the sea to rise up at the side nearest to The Moon. It also pulls on The Earth more than it does the sea on the far side, so we have two high tides per day.

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 18.58.25.png

(This isn’t to scale – that would be a fairly catastrophic high tide if it were.)

Tides are rubbish and we should do without them. It’s annoying when you go to the beach and it’s high tide and there’s nowhere to sit. It’s also annoying if the sea is too far away. Get rid of The Moon and you have a happy medium and every beach is just right. Have you ever spent time and effort, erecting the perfect sand castle, only to have it destroyed by The Moon? Destroy The Moon and our sand castles live on forever.

The Moon is making days longer

The presence of The Moon is actually slowing The Earth’s rotation. This is because the bit of the Earth that is closest to the Moon, be it land or sea, bulges up due to The Moon’s gravity. The bulge goes back down slowly such that the bulge is always a little bit past where The Moon is. The Moon’s gravity pulls back on the bulge, slows The Earth’s rotation and makes days longer. Do you think when days are 30 hours long, we’ll still have an eight hour working day and be allowed six more hours in bed? Of course not:

The Moon’s plan is to increase the length of your working day.

Incidentally, if you have ever wondered why the same side of The Moon always faces The Earth, it is for the same reason. With our superior gravity we have already done this to The Moon to such an extent that we stopped its rotation altogether. Ha!

The Moon ruins the beauty of the night sky

When The Moon isn’t around, the night sky looks like this:

When The Moon is around, the night sky looks like this:

The Moon is arrogant

The Moon considers itself on a par with The Sun (no, not the newspaper – it is on a par with that). The Sun spends its time quietly fusing hydrogen together to make helium, which gives out heat and light. This makes our planet just the right temperature for life, allows plants to photosynthesise and, in short, allows all of the life on our planet to exist. In comparison, The Moon destroys sandcastles.

Further still, there are at least 176 moons in our solar system alone and an unimaginably huge number in the universe as a whole. As far as we know, NONE of these other moons have had the arrogance to call themselves “The Moon”. The Sun, despite all the great stuff it does, has never been arrogant enough to call itself, “The Star”. Donald Trump is the most arrogant human, but even he has never had the audacity to rename himself, “The Homo Sapien”.

The Moon is the most arrogant object in the known universe.


In addition to these arguments, we should also destroy The Moon because it would be a bit of a laugh.

How do we destroy The Moon?

I’ve had a look into this and it’s actually harder than you might think and the problem, again, is gravity.

Suppose we were to blow up the moon with enough energy to scatter out all the bits a few miles. Gravity would cause the expanding fragments to slow, then stop, then start coming back together and then stick together to make the moon again. This eventuality must be avoided at all costs, as it would be a significant blow to our morale.

So when we destroy the moon (and I think we’re all now in agreement that it’s a when, not an if) we need to supply sufficient energy for the fragments to overcome the force of gravity and never collapse back into The Moon again.

The energy we need to supply is called the gravitational binding energy and we can calculate it using the equation:

U = 3GM² / 5R

Where G is the gravitational constant (6.67 × 10-11 m3 kg-1 s-2), M is the mass of the moon (7.35 × 1022kg) and R is the radius of the moon (1,737,000m)

Plugging this into our equation tells us that we need 1.25 × 1029 Joules of energy to blow up the moon and stop it coming back together again. Great, now we know – what are our options?


According to Wikipedia, 1000kg of TNT releases 4.2 billion Joules of energy. Nice.

That means we just need… gimme a sec…

30 billion trillion kg of TNT.

I’ll be honest, that sounds like a little more than I was hoping for. The maximum payload of a space shuttle was 25,000kg. So we need about 1.2 quintillion space shuttle missions to deliver the TNT to the moon. If we do one mission a day, we should be able to destroy The Moon in about 3.3 quadrillion years. That’s far too long for me – TNT is rubbish and we’re going to need something bigger.


Back to Wikipedia – the most powerful nuke ever detonated was the Tsar Bomba, which the Soviets detonated in a test in 1961. The resulting mushroom cloud was over seven times the height of Mount Everest (show offs).

The Tsar Bomba released the equivalent energy of 57 million tons of TNT. This means we only need… gimme a sec…

526 billion Tsar Bombas

That’s better but there is quite a big catch in that the Tsar Bomba weighed 27,000kg, which is over our max space shuttle payload. Let’s suppose that increasing the max payload of a shuttle from 25,000kg to 27,000kg is achievable. At one mission per day we are still looking at 1.4 billion years to blow up the moon. Better but still far too long – we’re going to need something bigger.

The Earth

How could The Earth possibly destroy The Moon? Yeah, it’s gravity again. If we were able to halt The Moon’s orbit it would plummet to Earth, and before it hit, it would move steeply up that gravity curve we mentioned before, such that the near side experienced a much stronger gravitational pull compared with its far side. At about 18,000km out, The Moon would be ripped apart by The Earth’s gravity! Go The Earth!

The problem here is how to stop the orbit, in order to make it fall down (I’ll neglect the problem that we have a destroyed Moon plummeting towards us at catastrophic speed). The kinetic energy of the moon can be calculated as:

E = GMm/2R

Where G is the gravitational constant, R, is the radius of the moon’s orbit around the earth (384,400,000m,) M is the mass of The Earth (5.972 × 1024 kg) and m is the mass of the moon (7.34767309 × 1022). (Do note that in the equation, the big M is given to the mass of the Earth and the little m is the mass of the moon. How do you like them apples, The Moon?)

So the kinetic energy of the moon is  4.8 × 1028J and we just need to apply as much energy in the opposite direction to The Moon’s motion in order for us to stop it in its tracks and let it plummet to Earth. Get the Tsar Bombas ready, we just need….

200 billion Tsar Bombas

We are getting closer but we’re still a long way off. We’re going to need something bigger.

The Sun

While the Tsar Bomba sounds scary, The Sun is on another scale. Through nuclear fusion, The Sun gives out a whopping 3.8 × 1026 Joules of energy every second. If we could direct all of that at The Moon we would reach our goal of 1.25 × 1029 Joules in less than six minutes! The Sun is a badass.

Now, we can’t easily focus all of The Sun’s energy on The Moon but we can do something that helps out a bit. You know that if you take a magnifying glass and focus The Sun’s rays on a small point, you can properly burn it? Imagine that on a bigger scale, that’s what we’re going to do – a giant lens in space.

The Moon is going to spend half of its time behind The Earth and we definitely do not want to be hitting The Earth with our giant sunbeam. So let’s say that we have a window of 14 days to do this. If we were to put a very big lens at around the orbit of Mercury and point it at The Moon, how big would it need to be to do the deed in 14 days?

The orbit of Mercury is, at its closest, 47 million km from The Sun. The surface area of a sphere is 4πr2, so the surface area of a sphere at this distance from The Sun is 2.8× 1022 m2. That means that we’re getting 13,700 J per m2 every second, or 1.2 billion Joules per day per m2. In order to shoot 1.25 × 1029 J at The Moon in 14 days, our lens needs to have a diameter of…

1.5 million km

… or approximately 121 times the size of The Earth.

Oh dear. What are we going to need to build that?

A “can do” attitude? …Most likely.

Glass? …Definitely.

But I think I might need to admit defeat here. I really thought that, given the circumstances, The Sun would be a little more help than this.

The Sun is a dick. Maybe we should get rid of it.


The Gathering Storm

There is a storm coming… like nothing you have ever seen… and not a one of you is prepared for it.

Curtis, Take Shelter

During the six years that George Osborne was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he often used the metaphor of “fixing the roof” to describe his economic policy. Even as late at June 27th this year, in his last major speech in office, he again made reference to the roof:

I said we had to fix the roof so that we were prepared for whatever the future held. Thank goodness we did.

As a result, our economy is about as strong as it could be to confront the challenge our country now faces.

George Osborne

Ah well, that’s good! The roof is fixed, right? Hoorah!

Wrong, but don’t worry – it’s much worse than you think.

George didn’t talk a lot of sense while he was Chancellor, so it shouldn’t come as a massive surprise he finished on a low note. During his six years, George didn’t so much “fix” the roof as he did “patch it up with tissue paper and spit and then go on a big marketing campaign to inform everyone about how good the roof was.”

He frequently compared the economy with a family living beyond their means. Cutting spending, we were told, was responsible and spending money was not. It was though, an entirely false comparison. If a parent in a family earned £20,000 a year they could cut their weekly shopping bill, their Sky TV subscription, their dining out, they could buy cheaper holidays etc. and they would still earn £20,000.

The wider economy doesn’t work like that because, in the economy, my spending is your income and your spending is my income. When the government cut spending, they directly impoverished their citizens, avoided a proper recovery and left the economy in a far worse state than it would have otherwise been. Many economists spent the Osborne years calling for a fiscal stimulus to get the economy back on track but he ignored them – after all politicians don’t like listening to experts.

Worse still, George’s cuts weren’t targeted on those who could afford it. They weren’t even spread around equally. George’s cuts were directly targeted at the poorest in our society. The rich didn’t have to worry about the cuts to the NHS or education – they could afford private alternatives. The rich didn’t have to worry about cuts to social housing, legal aid, libraries or public transport. Austerity has hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest and you know what? All of this, and the promised irradiation of the deficit hasn’t happened. Interest rates are still at the zero lower bound and our economy is still weak.

Here we are, six years after the Tories got into power, and that well-marketed roof isn’t looking particularly robust. That roof is in fact, in far worse shape than it was before the last financial crisis and if I were a weatherman right now, I would not be forecasting sunshine.

This week the Bank of England cut the base rate from 0.5% to 0.25% and announced further quantitive easing. It is far from enough. Cutting interest rates makes saving less attractive and borrowing and spending more attractive. That’s why rate cuts are used to boost the economy. At the end of 2007, on the eve of the financial crisis, the base rate was 5.5%. When we needed to boost the economy we had some room to manoeuvre. It’s a luxury that we no longer have.

The cut this week from 0.5% to 0.25% made big news but to put it into perspective, in response to the financial crisis, we cut rates by 5%. We no longer have that wriggle room because we are up against the zero lower bound. Yes, we could make rates negative but that just makes hoarding cash in your mattress the more attractive option. That doesn’t help.

If we had had a proper fiscal stimulus and the economy had properly recovered from the financial crisis we would by now have interest rates within normal levels and ready to respond to negative shocks. But we didn’t and we don’t.

If I were being generous, I might call all of this incompetence. I hope that’s all it is, but I fear something far worse has happened. Since coming to government, the Tories have pursued policies that they knew would put the poor and vulnerable at risk. And they did this simply because the alternative was asking the rich to pay more tax. It’s clear that our economy has suffered overall but the vast majority of the pain has been weighted towards our poorest.

One of these days, and probably sooner than you think, we are going to see the true price of austerity.

And when it happens, I don’t think it is going to be pretty.






Playing with fire

If this isn’t a mess, it will certainly do until the mess gets here. An unnecessary, self-inflicted catastrophe on a truly astonishing scale. How did we allow things to get this far?

My initial thoughts when the results were announced was that I live in a country made up mostly of racists and half-wits but after some time to reflect I realise of course it isn’t as simple as that. Though the truth is hardly a lesser cause for despair.

From the start, I knew this was a terrible subject to put to a referendum. There is little benefit in asking a huge number of people to vote about something when a majority of them will have no chance of making an informed decision. But that is exactly what we did.

It is inconceivable that the result we saw would have happened if the voters had been making informed decisions. While the EU is far from perfect, the benefits of membership clearly outweigh any benefit we might get from leaving, but they are clear only if you understand the true consequences of what you are voting for.

In January 2010,when David Cameron was campaigning to be Prime Minister, he said that net immigration would be capped to limit it to tens of thousands. Otherwise, he told us, public services would be overwhelmed. This was when David started the fire. The fact that immigrants were actually boosting both the economy and public services was surely known to David, so why did he campaign on this point?

David is one of the world’s foremost pioneers in the creating and spreading of what I named the “Phantom Problem“. That is, you tell people there is a problem (knowing that most won’t check), scare them about it and then tell them how you are going to solve it.

David knew that immigration was a prime candidate for a phantom problem and he knew that he would be able to sound tougher about it than the incumbent Labour Party on whose watch immigration had increased.

After becoming PM, David could probably have forgotten about the small fire that he had started and it would surely have burnt itself out but it had served him well so far, so he continued to throw more sticks on it. This from a Cameron speech in 2011…

…for too long, immigration has been too high.

Between 1997 and 2009, 2.2 million more people came to live in this country than left to live abroad.

That’s the largest influx of people Britain as ever had…

…and it has placed real pressures on communities up and down the country.

Not just pressures on schools, housing and healthcare – though those have been serious…

…but social pressures too.

Because real communities aren’t just collections of public service users living in the same space.

Real communities are bound by common experiences…

…forged by friendship and conversation…

…knitted together by all the rituals of the neighbourhood, from the school run to the chat down the pub.

And these bonds can take time.

So real integration takes time.

That’s why, when there have been significant numbers of new people arriving in neighbourhoods…

…perhaps not able to speak the same language as those living there…

…on occasions not really wanting or even willing to integrate…

…that has created a kind of discomfort and disjointedness in some neighbourhoods.

This has been the experience for many people in our country – and I believe it is untruthful and unfair not to speak about it and address it.

Of course, all the while, immigrants were continuing to play a major part in propping up the economy that had been severely weakened, initially by the financial crisis and subsequently by David’s policy of austerity. David found that by stoking the fire he was able to successfully divert attention away from the true reason that the economy was performing so badly.

But then along came UKIP.

David’s plan had been to start a small fire and then show a lot of bravado about how he was taking tough decisions to tackle it. UKIP turned up to the fire David had started with a can of petrol. Unable to douse the flames, David decided to kick the problem into the long grass by announcing an in/out referendum on the EU. He positioned it by saying that the EU was broken in its current form but he would negotiate a much better deal for us to vote on. All David really cared about was winning the 2015 general election and with this he had bought himself a clear ride to victory.

When David returned to the fire after the election the problem he had single-handledly created was not in a good way and so off he went to Europe in search of some fire engines. Shortly afterwards he came back sporting a miniature water pistol, a moist handkerchief and a can-do attitude. Worse still, while he had been focusing on the 2015 election, UKIP, the right-wing press and his most ambitious Tory colleagues had spent their time loading their planes with napalm. 

David’s sudden switch, a few months ago, to fighting the fire rather than fanning it was far too little, far too late. Having spent five years telling the electorate that immigration was too high and that immigrants were benefit tourists who were the reason for a stretched NHS, he had made a fire bigger than he could put out.

In hindsight you might wonder how he could have been so arrogant to assume he would be able to control the fire but you must appreciate that phantom problems had been the entire backbone of David’s political success. Labour spending caused the global financial crisis (phantom problem) therefore we need austerity. People on benefits are lazy scroungers (phantom problem) therefore we need to cut benefits. Phantom problems had worked so well for David, he could never have conceived that one of them could ultimately lead to his downfall.

And all the time that David talked up those phantom problems, he told us not to listen to the voices of the economists who were trying to tell the public what was really going on. 

Logic, facts and evidence were lost in the Brexit debate because the voices of the people trying to responsibly inform the public were drowned out by those who were not. The political environment that David created since coming to power has been mislead the public, tell them to listen to the right-wing press and tell them to ignore experts and that was the political environment in which the EU referendum took place.

In such a scenario, how can we possibly expect the public to make an informed decision?

So what happens next? I don’t think anyone knows, there doesn’t seem to be any plan whatsoever. Scotland will surely push for independence again and well they should. After the EU referendum result I feel nothing but guilt that I asked them to stay last time. Even if they do go, the rest of us have a very uncertain time ahead and all we really know is that we will be worse off than we would have been otherwise.

Economics aside, we have sent a very sad message out about our country. A message that the UK is not an inclusive country, a message that we have reverted back to the that horrible attitude of many on the right, that there is something inherently special and superior about British people and “British values”, whatever those are.

The 51.9% are not all stupid racists. The vast majority are good people who have been misled because David created a political environment in which logic, facts and common sense are no longer relevant. When you watch the interviews with people on the news who voted leave and hear the reasons they did it, it is easy to tell yourself that they are either racist or stupid. In most cases they will be neither. These are good people who have more often than not been victims of Cameron’s austerity experiment and who have been let down badly by our politicians and our media.

And while this whole sorry episode in our history should finish when David threw himself on the fire he created the metaphor breaks down heavily there. David is a multimillionaire who will never experience one drop of the pain that he has created for the country he professes to love.

But, David, I do have a message for you because from all of this mess you have created there is something you can still learn:

Divisive rhetoric, no matter how much it helps the short-term ambitions of an individual, can have a truly devastating effect on society. George Osborne should have told you this earlier – after all, he has a degree in history. And despite your vast wealth, like Tony before you, your terrible legacy will haunt you forever. Whenever and wherever you pop up you will be forced to defend the indefensible, we won’t buy it and you will be remembered solely for creating this calamity.

That, David is your legacy.

And now it is time for you to go off and enjoy it. You pudding-faced, society-dividing, poverty-fuelling, hate-mongering piece of toss.

Here endeth the lesson.





Crazy Brexiters

It seems that in yesterday’s post, I failed to mention the main argument of the brexiters for why we should ignore the overwhelming economic evidence and vote Leave instead.

It seems to go like this (please correct me if I am wrong):

There are examples in history of an economist, or more than one economist, being wrong on something. Therefore we should ignore all economists now when they say that leaving the EU would be bad for the UK economy.

I’m not altogether sure this works as an economic argument, or indeed an argument of any kind. I think also, I have been quite generous to the brexiters with that summary. They aren’t actually asking you to ignore economists on the economic argument, they are actually asking you to look closely at the view of economists and then go out and vote for precisely the opposite of what they say.

Are economists alway right? Of course not and they often disagree with one another. Economic consensus on the scale that we see on brexit is actually fairly rare. This is in part because of the lack of any cohesive economic argument for brexit – there basically isn’t one, but also it’s a much simpler task we are asking economists to model here than we often give them. We aren’t asking economists to give an exact number on the size of the economy in five or 10 years time, just asking how it would be if we stayed in the EU relative to leaving. The majority of the variables and unknowns that you would need to get to a precise number cancel out when you are only comparing one aspect, (even if it is in this case a big one).

Of course, the argument from the brexiters against economists doesn’t stop there. Today Michael Gove, helpfully informed the public, that the economists’ motives are actually akin to those of Nazi sympathisers. 

I’ll tell you something – they really aren’t at all. I’m pretty sure the IMF, the OECD, NIESR, the LSE, the Bank of England etc are not heavily staffed by that kind of person and given how stupid a thing it was to say, we should perhaps leave it there.

Even if we do though, we are still looking at an economic argument with economists on one side and Michael Gove and Boris Johnson on the other. Like I say, the economic community’s economic forecasts aren’t always right, but I doubt they are less accurate than those of Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker.


Look familiar?

I did say yesterday that I thought the whole referendum was a massive waste of time and while it is, it won’t for one second stop me taking the time out of my day to go to the polling station and voting to stay in. I did like Ben Goldacre’s conclusion on the same subject:

Just vote remain. It’s boring, there’s nothing awesome about it, but sometimes you have to take a break from useful productive work to stop idiots breaking things.