Thursday, 28 January 2010

Pointless Graph of the Day: Mk II

Today's graph is looking at Alcohol related deaths in England. Similar to yesterday, I'm looking at how these rates vary compared to voting patterns in the 2009 Euro Elections (where we showed that Labour voters are more likely to let their teenagers smoke).

As with yesterday, Red is Labour vote share, Blue represents the Tory vote share. Simple, right?

As with yesterday, we've got another pretty obvious conclusion.

It looks like Labour voters are more likely to be drinking themselves to death. Conservative voters are less likely to feel the need to drink so excessively.

Caveat: Yes, I know the stats behind those conclusions are shaky as hell. Hence the title - "Pointless Graph". However, just because it's somewhat simplistic, doesn't mean that there's a grain of truth in it. Yes, there's mostly likely another factor that makes people both drink themselves to death AND vote Labour. It's probably Thatcher, or something.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Pointless Graph of the Day

Whilst the rest of the blogosphere is spellbound by the fact that tweetminster may not have done their sums correctly, I've been doing serious poltical research.

There's a new report out, looking (amongst other things) the rates of smoking amongst teenagers (11-15 year olds). As usual I decided to get into the details. Luckily these statistics are provide by a Government Office Region, which is exactly how the European Elections are counted.

I've produced a graph with two lines. The Red line shows how the Labour share of the vote changes by region. The Blue line shows the same for the Tory share of the vote. Note how generally the Tory vote was higher than Labour in all regions except the North-East.
The R-squared for each line isn't great (0.25 for Labour, 0.5 for Conservative) but enough to suggest that there's a certain correlation between these two factors. As Labour's share of the vote increases, so does the percentage of teenagers smoking. The opposite is true for the Tories, as their share of vote increases, the percentage of teenagers smoking falls.
Can we conclude that people who vote Labour are more likely to allow their children to smoke? Or is it the case that people who smoke (so, their children are as well) are more likely to vote Labour? Or, seeing as the Tory line is a better fit, is it that right-wing voters more likely to stop their kids from smoking?
Pointless, but fun.

Do men really earn more than women?

Everyone's favorite minister has today announced another Government sponsored report looking at Inequality (details here).

Shockingly, the report finds that women earn less than men. Luckily the Government is now forced to provide as much data as possible to back up their claims, so I was able to delve into that data and see if I could replicate some of their graphs.

As I'm not a complete idiot, I understand the necessity of only comparing like to like. So for this piece of analysis I'm only going to look at Full Time workers. There might be a gender disbalance for the ratio of part to full time workers, so I'm not going to bother correcting for that and rather than ignoring it, I'm excluding part-timers. Also (mainly because I'm lazy), I'm going to investigate Median earnings, as this is usually considered the best measure (it excludes the extremely high and the extremely low earners automatically).

Right. Headline figures:
Median Weekly Earnings for Men: £494
Median Weekly Earnings for Women: £386

Gender Pay Gap: Men earn 28% more than Women.

That's pretty clear , lets have a look at how that varies by age:

As we can see, even at 16-19 Women are earning less than Men. The gap widens all the way up to the 50s then slightly falls. At every age group the Median woman is earning less money every week than the Median man.

Then I had a look at how Hourly Wages compare:

Here the picture is subtly different. Whilst there's still a big pay gap between the ages of 35 - 59, at younger and older ages it's almost entirely vanished. In fact, the Median 25-29 year old woman has a higher hourly wage than the median man! It appears the massive pay gap we saw earlier has mostly vanished.

Of course, the obvious reason for that is that the hours worked by Men and Women are different (although both are working full time). So I worked out the inferred hours worked per week by our median man and woman (Are they a couple?).

Wow! At every single age group, men are working for longer hours than women. This increases as both get older. The median man (across all age groups) is working 4.5 hours a week longer than the median woman. A 65-69 year old median man is working over 5 hours a week longer than his female counterpart.

This is actually quite fun news, because it gives us something we can control for. We can increase the weekly earnings for women by assuming that they're all suddenly going to become 'hardworking' and work the same hours as the median men are doing. This gives us the following graph:

Our "Hardworking" woman are now much more in alignment with the male earnings. There is still a big gap, starting from around 30. Coincidentally, this is almost the average age a woman has her first baby.

What are the headline figures now?
Median Weekly Earnings for Men: £494 (the same as before)
Median Weekly Earnings for Women: £431 (higher due to more hours worked)
Gender Pay Gap: Men earn 14.5% more than Women.

The Gender Pay Gap has halved. Just by correcting for a single metric (hours worked) I've singlehandedly done more to enhance women's pay than the last 12 years of New Labour.

This still leaves us with about a 14.5% difference though. Can we explain why this would be? I'm certain that in the vast majority of industries Gender makes no difference to pay. I earn the same as my female colleagues at the same level and it's very hard for a company to do otherwise. Clearly there is another factor at play.

I actually mentioned what I believe it is above. Babies. The average woman has about two children, starting on average at 29.

I've built a very crude model. It assumes a man and a woman both start work on the same day and earn the same. Both get 5% pay rises each year until they retire. The man takes no Leave of Absences, so works flat out from 20 to 60, then retires (hopefully to a nice civil service pension). The woman does exactly the same, with one exception. She doesn't get a pay-rise for three years as she's taking maternity leave (knocking a minimum of six months out of each year) and takes time to get back up to speed in her old job.

Over his lifetime the man earns £1.3m. The woman earns: £1.1m.

The difference is 14%, almost exactly that actually found in the survey above (If you assume two years of no pay rises, then the difference is 10%).

Clearly most, if not all, of the current Gender Pay divide is actually down to women choosing to delay their careers and take materinity leave! If the government was serious about reducing the divide, then they should mandate equal paternity leave (as they do in some Scandinavian countries).

The one thing these figures show is that once you correct for women choosing to have babies and choosing to work shorter hourse, men and women earn almost exactly the same. Why then do we need further measures to ensure 'equality'?

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Artificial Recovery?

Lots of people today have blogged that the 'growth' we're now seeing in the economy is in fact only caused by the £378Bn or so of additional spending that has been forced into the economy (QE and Deficit spending). No doubt they're right but I'm looking at the factor that is artificially keeping large parts of the economy afloat.

The graph above shows both RPI (a measure of inflation which includes things like mortgages and oil) and the Bank of England Base Interest Rate. As you can see, over the past few years they've tracked each other pretty closely.

Actually, Interest rates have tracked Inflation rates as the BoE Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) tries to keep Inflation within various bounds, but basically it's pretty clear that they're connected.

As you can see, inflation fell massively recently. As a result, so did interest rates.

However, inflation is now back up again (RPI was at 2.6% in December, the February figure is an estimate assuming that growth rate continues). When RPI was last around 2.6% (back in late 2005) the BoE Base Rate was around 4.5%. Now, it's 0.5%.

Of course, the MPC wants to keep interest rates low, as this ensures that the banks are able to build healthy profits.

Sorry, you thought it was to ensure that people weren't suddenly priced out of their homes? That might be true if the retail banks were passing on the unprecedentedly low interest rates to their consumers, but the typical mortgage is somewhat higher. Nationwide, one of the "nice" mortgage providers out there is quoting 5.74% fixed for only two years for a piddling £200,000 mortgage with an 83% LTV. That's over 11 times the current BoE base-rate.

By holding the 'cost' for banks to borrow money artificially low, the banks can make some seriously healthy product margins. As borrowing is generally cheap, consumer and corporate spending should increase and the economy should head back to growth.

It actually appears to have nearly worked as well. Technically the economy is back in growth by 0.4% (annualised). The problem is that inflation is running at 2.6%, meaning despite this, we're actually in the hole by over 2%.

Inflation is likely to continue to rise. Not least because in January we'll have the 2.1% increase due to VAT rising. Oil prices are hardly stable and with the US (and in fact every country aside from us) getting back on their feet, we'll no doubt see another rise.

Sooner or later the BoE is going to have to raise the Interest Rate. Will that cripple the economy? Probably. It'll certainly fuck the housing market over.

It looks good for Labour. They get to leave office with the country in 'growth' thanks to their artificial boosts and then watch the economy fall into another hole just as the Tories get in.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Has Labour been worth it?

The figures are out for December's public Debt. Once again we have a record!

Labour borrowed a mere £15.7 Billion in December. Just to give you a sense of scale around that, it's still over £500,000,000 a day and just under £6,000 a second.

Sure, once again I'm spouting figures that don't mean anything to anyone. Well, the average British male lasts 7.6 minutes during sex. So, assuming you have "average" sex (though I'm sure it's very satisfying for you) this country gets a further £2.7 Million pounds in debt. That's enough to buy your partner 8 large and perfect diamonds (like this one). That might even be more impressive than 7.6 minutes in the sack with you.

But anyway, on a serious note, this means that Public Debt has now risen to an all time high (shockingly) to £870 Billion. I thought I'd have a quick look at how public debt has risen over the last 13 years. Afterall, it's possible that those Evil Tories saddled this poor, sweet, innocent Labour Government with so much debt that they're still struggling to get the whole situation under control. Well, the graph below show how debt has varied since 1997 and makes quite interesting reading.

As we can see, initially Debt actually fell. This trend continued right up until 2001, when the then Chancellor, a Mr Brown (anyone know what happened to him?) decided that instead of following the Tory spending plans from the previous government, he would slightly increase spending on important things, like Laptops for Labour Voters (OK, OK, that bribe might have come a little bit later).

As soon as he abandoned sensible economic policies, the Debt began to rise, slowly at first, then picking up pace in recent years (the Bank Bailout). In 2010 we're expecting to have £1,015,000,000,000 of debt. That's only £658,000,000,000 more than when Labour came into power.

A few weeks ago I looked at what we could buy with the additional £500,000,000,000 of debt that Labour was building up over the next few years. 3,125 Boeing Jumbo Jets, 5 Apollo Programmes from scratch. That sort of thing.

But already over the last few years they've been in power, they've squandered more than that! Whilst my party piece is sizing massive numbers like these in simple easy to understand metrics I'm running out of things that I can think of that are expensive enough to give any sense of scale to the size of Labour's Debt!

OK, just for old times sake: A few years back the Queen Mary 2 was launched, one of the largest and most luxurious cruise liners ever built. She's capable of carrying over 3,000 passengers at a time. With Labour's current, not future debt, we could buy over 1,400 of these magnificent vessels. That's not a typo, that's really one thousand, four hundred QM2s. Those ships could carry simultaneously nearly 43 million passengers. Assuming we can train enough crew for all those ships, we'd be able to have the whole 60 million UK population heading out on a simultaneous cruise!

I'm not saying that buying enough hyper-luxury cruise ships (minimum of £9k for a round-the-world trip) would be a good use of all that money. I merely ask if we've had value for money fr this sheer spending. Is the NHS so much better? Are our schools producing better trained students? Do we have world-beating public transport?

I don't believe we have any of those. I know we have over 8 million "economically inactive" people (another record figure for Labour). I know that compared to other countries our education system is getting worse. I know that Labour have wasted billions on pointless and failed IT projects.

Over the last 13 years Labour has borrowed a amount. Because of their mis-management we've got nothing to show for this other than a population addicted to benefits and an ever-mounting interest bill.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

My take on the DaveyC Poster

Come on Labour!

Constantly referring to "Airbrushing" (policies, photographs, yadda yadda yadda).

The Tories might be evil. They might want to enslave the poor. But at least they're not fucking stupid.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Joke of the Day: New Security Levels

The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent terrorist threats and have raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved."Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies all but ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to a "Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was in 1588 whenthreatened by the Spanish Armada.

The Scots raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get theBastards" They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide". The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France 's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability. It's not only the French who are on a heightened level of alert.

Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout loudly and excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."

The Germans also increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbor" and "Lose".

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual, and the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Americans meanwhile and as usual are carrying out pre-emptive strikes, on all of their allies, just in case.

And in the southern hemisphere...

New Zealand has also raised its security levels - from "baaa" to"BAAAA!".
Due to continuing defense cutbacks (the air force being a squadron of spotty teenagers flying paper aeroplanes and the navy some toy boats inthe Prime Minister's bath), New Zealand only has one more level of escalation, which is "I hope Australia will come and rescue us".

Australia , meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No worries" to "She'll be right, mate". Three more escalation levels remain:"Crikey!', "I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend" and"The barbie is canceled". So far no situation has ever warranted use of the final escalation level.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Pointless School League Tables

The school league tables have been released today and as usual make for some interesting reading. I note with interest that my school is performing considerably better than it was in my day, though I hope that's not entirely down to my departure.

Still, these are the official government statistics, so will probably be manipulated in such a way to cover up the real positions (or more likely, the real failings of the state sector).

Let's have a look at the methodology.

The rules are detailed here and here, but I'll summarise the interesting bits:


  • Schools are ranked by the percentage of pupils gaining at least five A* to C grades, including the key subjects of English and mathematics, which is the Government’s preferred measure of achievement.
  • In the event of a tiebreak, schools are ranked by the average GCSE points score per student. For the purpose of the table, a student with an A* gains 58 points, A = 52, B = 46, C = 40, D = 34, E = 28, F = 22, G = 16.

A Levels:

  • Institutions are ranked by the average points score per student. A student gaining an A grade scores 270 points, B = 240, C = 210, D = 180, E = 150.

The first rule there is clearly bloody useless for differentiating either good or bad schools. Sure, you can assume that a school with >95% of pupils getting 5 "good" GCSE passes is quite good, this doesn't give you any of the detail you need when selecting a school for your children. It is completely useless at showing you which school managed to get their children to 5 Cs and which pushed the children harder, until they all got 10 A*s.

Worse still, having this as the Official Government Measure of school success (at this level) means that state schools are severely hampered in their attempts to actually push excellent children to perform as well as they can. If you're an over-worked teacher, with highly limited time to pay attention to the 35 children in your class, are you going to spend your time helping the bright kids move from a B to an A*, or the thick children from a D to a C. Only the latter actually 'counts' as being worth-while in this Government's eyes.

This might explain why for A Levels, schools are graded on average points per pupil. One thing that confuses me as well, is why these point systems seem so different to that which I remember from my youth. As I recall, the old system gave you 10 points for an A and 2 points for an E (at A Level). This looks a lot different.

With the current rules for GCSE, a child who is able to get 2 Es has more points than one who only gets a single A. A D and and E outweigh an A*. The rules are similar for A Level, where again two Es outweigh a single A. A Child who gets 4 Cs is "worth" more to the government than one with 3 As. Under the old system, a child would have to gain 6 C grades to be in excess of another with 3 As. I for one would prefer my child to have 3 As at A Level than 4 Cs. I think most people would agree with that. Most people would , apart from the government.

The effect of this rule is similar to the 5 A*- C ranking. Once again teachers and schools are being pushed by the government into making teaching decisions that are less good for their charges. I have no doubt whatsoever that most teachers and schools do the best they can with the limited time and resources but there will always be cases where they know that it's "best" to persuade an average child to go for more exams, and get lower grades rather than specialise in one less exam and leave school with shining qualifications.

I'm ignoring the usual level of government meddling, such as removing IGCSEs from the rankings. Personally, if the schools that are universally acknowledged as the best in the country stopped taking my "official" exams in preference of another, more rigorous qualification, I wouldn't dismiss them as "fatuous". I would be much more inclined to learn why they dismiss the National Curriculum and what steps they suggest should be taken.

The thing that amazes me is that despite every effort made to boost the "performance" of under-performing children and schools the state sector still can't match the private sector on performance. I count only getting three state schools in the top 50 at A Level (all Grammars by the way) as a pretty miserable failure for the sector. I have no doubt that with rankings that were actually fair, the situation would appear even more dire.

Maybe if the tables were fair, and as a result the government rewarded excellent teaching rather than merely getting the most beneficial set of results the quality of the results from the state sector would improve. Maybe if teachers were able to teach in such a manner that ensured the best results for their pupils, rather than being pulled down to an "acceptable" performance across the board, then the rankings would rise.

As these tables stand the government is demonstrating once again why it has failed the country and excels only in promoting mediocrity.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Met Office Incompetence

I actually started this post a few days ago, after shivering continuously on my walk into work. I was reminded of the Met Office's prediction of a mild winter and the fact that at the start of this cold period the weather forecast seemed to be far too warm compared to what I was actually feeling.

I've actually started using American weather forecasts for my daily life, as they appear to match my observations much more closely than the Official BBC / Met Office forecasts. I've actually been wondering why this is the case.

I swung by the Met Office website a few days back (Damn, I really should have taken a screen-shot!) and the News section was full of stories of "Climate Change". Not the snow. Not the inclement weather. But instead they were focusing on how much warmer it is.

I also had a look at their predictions for 2007, 2008,2009 ,2010. Each predicting, if not the hottest year of all time, then unusually hot weather. Think back over the past few years and tell me if you thought the weather was unusually warm. I doubt you'll find many people agreeing with these predictions.

I had a look at how they get to those predictions. One of the details is "Each January the Met Office, in conjunction with the University of East Anglia, issues a forecast of the global surface temperature for the coming year." Well, call me a Cow Sucker and Spin me on a Stick, but aren't the temperature predictions from the CRU pretty much rubbished now? Using models that force warming trends from flat data might explain why you always end up predicting that it is just going to get warmer and warmer.

This actually got me to thinking (rare, I know). Is it possible that the Met Office doesn't just have warming on the brain, but actually in their short-term computer models (For short-term I mean 3-6 months, as opposed to 50-200 years for climate models)? Are they so obsessed with the "Warming Earth" that they are predicting milder Winters and hotter Summers despite all evidence to the contrary.

Of course, these predictions would be useless if you couldn't prove that they were right afterall.

Surprisingly, an alleged Met Office worker has explained how they calculate seasonal temperatures (quoted here and from here, though it's a little tricky to find in those comments)

I'll quote it, just to save you from opening a new tab:
“This will be the warmest winter in living memory, the data has already been recorded. For your information, we take the highest 15 readings between November and March and then produce an average. As November was a very seasonally warm month, then all the data will come from those readings. And not to reveal too much , the data does show that the average over those 15 readings will make it a very warm reading. You cannot accept that a weeks snow will affect the outcome.”

I'm astounded! I'm flabbergasted! There are so many holes in this "method" that I hardly know where to start. A quick run through and no doubt readers will be able to provide a few more:

  1. November? Winter runs from the 21st December! Picking dates in November will probably mean you over-estimate by some measure
  2. 15 readings to represent some 90 days? Discarding over 80% of your dataset is hardly good science.
  3. Highest readings?!? So we're now not only discarding almost all the data, but we're discarding the data that doesn't agree with our orthodoxy. This is sheer madness.
  4. Being able to just use one month of data? Ignoring the points about small sample sizes and November not actually being IN winter, but you can't take your entire sample from one month. I wouldn't be surprised if under this method every Winter was represented by samples from November or March (Afterall, one or other is likely to be warm).
  5. Weeks snow?! Even the bloody Guardian suggests that it's the coldest winter for 30 years.

Like I said, I'm sure there are more flaws with this method. But it demonstrates what more and more people are starting to suspect.

The Met Office is so addicted to the "Climate Change" orthodoxy that it is unable to produce usable predictions of future weather. I've got no problem with them producing whatever models they want to, as long as they can still do their bloody job, telling me what the weather is going to be!

Monday, 4 January 2010

Why are the Tories protecting the NHS?

OK, let me lay my stall out here. I like the NHS. I think it was a fabulous concept and generally is staffed by exception people doing their best to provide a fantastic service.

However, I'm not blind to its faults or the faults that have been forced onto it in recent times. Dave has today announced (again) that the Tories will protect all NHS spending.

Maybe the Tories just don't have a bloody clue about how much the NHS budget has increased recently. Have a look at the graph below, showing how the budget has increased (I nicked it from Civitas and added a figure for 2009 from the NHS site and a figure for 2010 from government projections).

During the decade from 1998/99 to 2008/09 the NHS budget grew to over two and half time its initial value. In real terms that's more than a doubling! Can anyone seriously say that we've got value for money for this massive increase? Have waiting times genuinely fallen by half? Are people living twice as long?

The problem here is that Labour have just dumped a vast chunk of cash into the NHS and expected results. They've introduced a myriad of managers to monitor what's happening with the new money and define meaningless metrics to demonstrate "Value for Money". Well, what happens if you give someone a pile of money and tell them to spend it, or they won't get it again next year, is that they will spend it on whatever they can. Not necessarily what's needed, or what's the best value but whatever they can spunk the cash away on.

I find it impossible to believe that the NHS is as efficient this year as they were with half the budget ten years ago. Protecting the budget is pointless, the Tories should be protecting the important services.

Is it be possible to cut the NHS budget by 25% and maintain 95% of the services? Can that £25Bn be better spent elsewhere?

The Tories should be talking to all their smart Management Consultancy friends about where cuts need to be made. The can then present a fully costed view of their proposals (We cut 10% here, 25% here, saving £XBn, of which £YBn is fed into ABC, etc etc etc). This sort of proper planning is seriously overdue in Government Spending and would actually bring a sensible picture of what effects cuts (or investment) will have. In my blog I've shown pretty much every figure that the Government has quoted in terms of what else it will buy. If we know that a 25% cut in the NHS leads to the loss of two hospitals in oversubscribed areas, but enables us to open 120 schools in deprived areas then we'll actually be able to have a debate over which is better for the country.

Of course, at the moment, the Tories are too busy playing politics to actually lead the country. Pity.

£34Bn is less than £174Bn

Was in the canteen for lunch earlier when a colleague remarked

"The Tories have a £34Bn blackhole? Well, that's got to be better than the £170Bn hole that Labour have got us into"

Apologies for the lack of recent updates. I've been on holiday and am finding it somewhat tricky to be angry. I'll try and find something I'm properly angry about to blog about soon!