Category Archives: Writings

One Year On…

It’s been one year since my 2 Jan 2016 resolution to get a website online in 2016. Then on Jan 3 resolved to one post every day.

Now….. 369 posts later (there must be some duplication)  .. Done
It’s used up all my odd bits of text, reviews and images hanging around to get there. Including reviews of every episode of Lexx.

So this years resolutions……
No post per day (I’m turning off the calendar) but to review books, music,  movies and significant events in 2017 as they come.

Also… STOP buying short story collections. They have infested by Calibre Library by the thousands. Had a good clean out over the holiday.

And IGNORE book reviews and awards. Most of the books read due to some recommendation I have not completed.




6 Unpopular Policies

The Planet Money re-broadcast this episode on 27 October 2016.

This show presented the common-sense, no-nonsense Planet Money economic plan — backed by economists of all stripes, but probably toxic to any candidate that might endorse it.

The proposals:

One: Eliminate the mortgage tax deduction, which lets homeowners deduct the interest they pay on their mortgages. Gone. After all, big houses get bigger tax breaks, driving up prices for everyone. Why distort the housing market and subsidize people buying expensive houses?

Two: End the tax deduction companies get for providing health-care to employees. Neither employees nor employers pay taxes on workplace health insurance benefits. That encourages fancier insurance coverage, driving up usage and, therefore, health costs overall. Eliminating the deduction will drive up costs for people with workplace healthcare, but makes the health-care market fairer.

Three: Eliminate the corporate income tax. Completely. If companies reinvest the money into their businesses, that’s good. Don’t tax companies in an effort to tax rich people.

Four: Eliminate all income and payroll taxes. All of them. For everyone. Taxes discourage whatever you’re taxing, but we like income, so why tax it? Payroll taxes discourage creating jobs. Not such a good idea. Instead, impose a consumption tax, designed to be progressive to protect lower-income households.

Five: Tax carbon emissions. Yes, that means higher gasoline prices. It’s a kind of consumption tax, and can be structured to make sure it doesn’t disproportionately harm lower-income Americans. More, it’s taxing something that’s bad, which gives people an incentive to stop polluting.

Six: Legalize marijuana. Stop spending so much trying to put pot users and dealers in jail — it costs a lot of money to catch them, prosecute them, and then put them up in jail. Criminalizing drugs also drives drug prices up, making gang leaders rich.

There you have it, six major proposals that have broad agreement, at least among economists. Though we should note that there were some pretty significant quibbles about just how to implement the income-tax and carbon-tax proposals.

The economists

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and widely published blog “You could probably describe me as left of center. It’d be fair.”

Russ Roberts, George Mason University economics professor. “In the grand spectrum of economic policy, I’m a pretty hard core free market guy. I’m probably called a libertarian.”

Katherine Baicker, professor of health economics at Harvard University’s Department of Health Policy and Management. We simply called her a centrist on the show.

Luigi Zingales, professor of entrepreneurship and finance and the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. “What I like to say is that I’m pro-market, but not necessarily pro-business.”

Robert Frank, professor of management and economics at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. “I’m a registered Democrat. I think of myself as a radical pragmatist.”

Note: This post was updated to make clear that the income tax would be replaced with a consumption tax. That’s in the original show, but was inadvertently omitted from the summary above. Sorry for the confusion!

Tobacco & Taxes

Smoking Can Help the Economy

I heard about this study in a podcast some years ago. A quick search reveals the following:

Philip Morris – Little Report Says Cigarette Smokers’ Frequent Early Deaths Offset Federal Medical Costs, Study Finds
By GORDON FAIRCLOUGH Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal (July 16, 2001)

Philip Morris Cos. officials in the Czech Republic have been distributing an economic analysis concluding that cigarette consumption isn’t a drag on the country’s budget, in part because smokers’ early deaths help offset medical expenses.

The report, commissioned by the cigarette maker and produced by consulting firm Arthur D. Little International, totes up smoking’s “positive effects” on national finances, including revenue from excise and other taxes on cigarettes and “health-care cost savings due to early mortality.”

The premature demise of smokers saved the Czech government between 943 million koruna and 1.19 billion koruna (between $23.8 million and $30.1 million or between 20.3 million euros and 25.7 million euros) on health care, pensions and housing for the elderly in 1999, according to the report.

The report also calculates the costs of smoking, such as the expense of caring for sick smokers and people made ill by second-hand smoke as well as income taxes lost when smokers die. Weighing the costs and benefits, the report concludes that in 1999 the government had a net gain of 5.82 billion koruna ($147.1 million) from smoking.

Philip Morris said it received the Little report late last year and handed it out recently after complaints from Czech officials that the tobacco industry was saddling the country with huge health-care expenses. “This is an economic-impact study, no more, no less,” said Robert Kaplan, a spokesman for Philip Morris’s international tobacco unit in Rye Brook, N.Y. “We’re not trying to suggest that there would be a benefit to society from the diseases related to smoking.”

Philip Morris manufactures about 80% of the cigarettes smoked in the Czech Republic. The New York company, which owns a 77.5% stake in a formerly state-owned Czech tobacco enterprise, sells its flagship Marlboro smokes as well as local brands.

Measuring the net costs of smoking to societies and governments long has been controversial and difficult. Studies measuring the lifetime health-care costs of smokers, who die sooner but have higher annual medical expenses, have reached conflicting conclusions. Some find that, over their lives, smokers have similar costs to nonsmokers. Others have found that smokers’ health-care costs are higher.

Gauging the real level of such costs is very difficult, and hard-to-quantify expenses aren’t captured in many estimates. Smokers, for example, recover more slowly and are more likely to have complications after surgery for unrelated problems, increasing the cost of caring for them.

Tobacco-control experts attacked the Czech report. “Is there any other company that would boast about making money for the public treasury by killing its customers? I can’t think of one,” said Kenneth Warner, an economist at the University of Michigan’s school of public health. Dr. Warner said the study appeared to be seriously flawed because, among other things, it fails to consider what the economic impact would be if smokers stopped buying cigarettes and spent their money on other goods instead.

Eva Kralikova, a physician and epidemiologist at Charles University in Prague, said the report also “very much underestimated” the costs of medical care for people suffering from smoking-related diseases. Dr. Kralikova said lung cancer and other illnesses caused by tobacco use account for about 20% of all deaths in the Czech Republic, killing about 23,000 people a year. And she said the number of illnesses and deaths is expected to mount, as is the expense of medical treatment, as smokers age.

The Masterson Inheritance

Here is something unique. A long form improvised comedy series.
Described as “an improvised historical saga of a family at war with itself.”

It’s notable for its well known improvisors:
Josie Lawrence
Paul Merton
Caroline Quentin

Also along for the ride is
Phelim McDermott,
Lee Simpson
Jim Sweeney

Get it if you can, half the fun is in the missteps and stuff-ups.

Cabin Pressure

Cabin Pressure is another excellent BBC Comedy series.

Written by and starring John Finnemore it follows the exploits of the oddball crew of the single aeroplane owned by “MJN Air” as they are chartered to take all manner of items, people or animals across the world.

Also starring
Stephanie Cole
Roger Allam
Benedict Cumberbatch

There are four series and it’s consistently well written and funny.

Get it from Audible.


James Preston

This is a brief biography of a distant ancestor.



James Preston

Born 1720/21
Died March 1807

We know nothing of James early life. He did serve in the merchant service.

On 22nd August 1749 he married Mary Selkeld at St Benett Church Paul’s Wharf London. On 14th August 1750 he was aboard RMS Royal Ann and wrote on 25th September to the Lords of the Admiralty seeking Preferment (he was probably an ordinary seaman at this time). he was discharged from HMS Antelope 23rd December 1757. In 1758 James was applying for his commission in the Royal Navy. In support he produced a certificate from, the master of the merchant ship wherein he served. Also journals left by himself whilst midshipman on Swan, Colchester and Antelope with Certificates from Captains Gregory, Russell, Gardiner and Savmarez as to his diligence. He passed the examinations on 9th August 1758 and was commissioned Lieutenant on 25th October.

Early 1759 he was aboard the Trident, one of the Blue Squadron under Rear Admiral Chas Holmes, sailing from Spithead on 14th of February on the way to wrest Canada from the French. In the Bay of Biscay they encountered a great storm and the Trident suffered severe damage having to put into Lisbon for repairs. These took from 10th March to 10th April and while there the crew suffered badly from fever.

Meanwhile Saunders, the commanding Admiral of the expedition was unable to land at Louisberg because of the ice and went South to Halifax (NovaScotia). 19th May the fleet and transports were entering the St Lawrence estuary. By 8th June an advance party of four ships and three transports were at the Traverse just below the Ile d’Orleans. The fleet finally passed the T’raverse and were anchored in Quebec basin by 27th June. Batteries were erected on Point Levi to bombard Quebec. Wolfe setup camps and landed troops on the North bank, East of well defended french positions. These proved impregnable from that direction. Soon the 31st July an attack from the river was prepared. James was in charge of four flat bottomed boats for troop transport and two similar with canon mounted as floating batteries. The plan did not work. There was an undetected boulder bank out from the shore which initially grounded the boats, These were freed and a channel was found the first to land were grenadiers who, instead of waiting for the full force to land and against orders rushed the enemy with great loss of men and officers. The whole force then withdrew, the boats that were stuck fast were stripped and burnt. Wolfe was depressed! Meanwhile Quebec town was being pounded to rubble. The lower town was totally destroyed and the upper suffered much damage.

Wolfe was getting desperate it was September and before winter came the fleet had to be away. He decided the final attack would be made West of Quebec and to this end he marched most of the troops West past Point Levi after dark on 12th September. James was in charge of flat bottomed boats landing the troops about one mile up stream from Quebec. After midnight the boats came silently downstream passing several French pickets and successfully landed the first troops who had to scramble up the cliff hanging onto bushes and stumps. The boats then went back and across the over to ferry the other soldiers over – in all 3,600 were landed. Once the troops were ashore James was in command of landing the cannon and the sailors had to man handle this armament up to the level ground. The action was successful and won Quebec, but both General Wolfe and General Montcalm, the Fench commander were killed along with 1,200 French and 58 British soldiers.

After Quebec, Admiral Saunders sailed to England before the winter, leaving troops in Quebec to winter over-unenviable duty. We do not know if the Trident with James retuned with the fleet – I would suspect it did.

In 1760 The Trident was once more on the St Lawrence and James was in charge of taking troops ashore for the assault on Montreal which capitulated on 8th September 1760 (we have a
testimonial from Lieutenant General I ‘ Murray certifying as to James distinguished service in the Navy during these campaigns, signed and dated 10th July 1776).

After the French surrender James escorted the transports evacuating the French troops and saw them safe to Eastward of point Champlain. He was then ordered to go and rescue the Governor of Canada whose ship was aground in mid river above Montreal. He managed to get the ship off and delivered the Governor to Commodore Swanton who commanded at Quebec.

On 25th October Trident was anchored off the Ile d’Orleans, probably on her way down river. Evidence of what James did after the Canadian campaign is sketchy. On 10th January 1761 he was appointed 2nd Lieutenant of the Trident and on 10th July 1776 2nd Lieutenant of the Hector. In 1780 he submitted to the Admiralty details of a method of using warships as fire-ships. Their Lordships did not consider this either proper or usable. In 1781 he was once again promoting an improved (he hoped!) weapon. This was a new style of gun carriage. After exhaustive tests by the Naval Board of ordinance this was rejected (1781).

James was residing in London; on 3rd October 1782 he was living at 30 East Street, Red Lion Square.

On the 4th March 1790, 10 articles, including chairs, a table, trunks, a carpet, window curtains and a sea chest were brought to London from Portsmouth on James account – is this the end of his Naval voyaging?

On 1st July he sailed from a wharf at Billingsgate in the Friendship master John Stephenson, destination Huddersfield.

10th July 1790 he sailed from Hull and came to anchor in the Ouse – no other information. Mary Preston died, childless, on 5th July 1792 aged 71 years. She was buried in the church at Doncaster.

In 1793 and 1794 he begat two sons George Augustus and James. Their mother was Ann Robinson of Wooldale.

James in 1796 wrote from Wooldale to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, petitioning for retirement and a pension. He stated he was suffering from a bilious disorder, fever, diabetes and dimness of eyesight such that he could only distinguish one man from another by voice.

On 22nd of July 1799 George Augustus and James junior were baptized at Wooldale Church before divers witnesses as the sons of Ann Robinson by James Preston.

On 1st of August 1801 James at last was granted retirement from the Navy. The Naval Board allowed only thirty officers at a time to draw a Naval Pension. James had had to wait till one died! At retirement he was granted the rank of Commander and allowed Six Shillings a day during his natural life.

He had his will drawn up and signed it on 4th September 1805 and on 8th October 1805 the two sons of James Preston were registered in the Register of Holmfirth Chapel.
James died on 2 March 1807 aged 86 years.
He is buried in the Holmfirth Chapel.

Americans !!!

Top 10 Things everyone finds annoying about Americans

  1. Too much violence, not enough nudity on television.
  2. A Kiwi is a New Zealander, not a fruit.
    The ‘Kiwi Fruit’ is called a Zespri.
  3. Threw out the British over 100 years ago, but kept
    their system of weights and measurements.
  4. Herbs is pronounced without an ‘H’.
  5. Even the vice president doesn’t understand the
    political system.
  6. Since arriving late for the last world war, too keen
    to start the next one.
  7. Elections take a year.
  8. The ‘World Series’ doesn’t include the rest of the
    world, it should be called the ‘Americas Cup’
  9. You haven’t won the ‘Americas Cup’ since 1995,
    it should be called the ‘Rich Dude’s Sailing Cup’
  10. They drive on the wrong side of the road.

Calman On

Susan Calman is a Scottish comedian, I have heard her mainly on the weekly ‘The New Quiz‘ from the BBC.

It turns out she also did a comedy series titled “Keep Calman Carry On for the BBC. In it she ‘interviews’ fellow comedians about various subjects…

Episode 1
She goes walking with Muriel Gray (who I have never heard of) up a ‘hill’ in Scotland. I’m sure it is just a hill, not a mountain as she describes it.

Episode 2
Andy Zaltzman takes her to cricket. Andy is best known as half of the Bugle team with John Oliver. The only problem Susan has is getting Andy to shut up.

Episode 3
John Finnemore takes Susan on a spontaneous holiday. This is the best episode as John is a very talkative and cheerful person, who leads Susan on a fun day out.

Episode 4
Susan visits an art gallery with Phil Jupitus (who I know from Stephen Fry’s IQ program). Phil doesn’t say much, he appears to be a shy fellow when not in front of the camera.



Tech News

From 2006

Mr Brian Harcourt of Mayfield, South Canterbury has just
invented a remarkable new computer product. This as yet unnamed
device consists of two small directional microphones and a
microchip. The microphones are attached to each side of the
monitor, and the chip is mounted inside the computer.

The microphones pick up any noises made by the computer operator and relay these to the microprocessor. After processing, a suitable
response is computed and played through the computer’s speaker.
Results were interesting to say the least, try whistling and the
computer will respond with a counter-melody. Shout obscenities
and it replies with “You could be arrested for saying that in
public. The software knows 600,000 words if the English language
(including the naughty ones). Some responses include “Shouldn’t
you read the instructions first ?”, “How would I know that, I’m
just a dumb machine” and “If you did that to your child they
would lock you up for eternity (which is a sod of a long time).
In fact it is possible to have a limited conversation with your
computer (but you probably know that already). Experiments at a
local secondary school have been generally successful. “This is
great” a teacher claims, “with this device I don’t have to answer
a lot of stupid questions all the time, the computer does it for
me. The problem is that some students will believe the computers
more than the teachers”. after some thought she added “I suppose
that we always talked to the computers, it’s just that they now
answer back”.

After several weeks of trials the project has been
abandoned because of complaints from the teachers union. They
think it could put them out of a job. Mr Harcourt has refused to
give up. He has taken his invention to England where he plans to
put his idea to Clive Sinclair.

(c) 28/2/2006


At 60

Written for a relative who was having a 60th birthday in 2006.

10 Things good about turning 60

  1. Making the ‘6’ look like a ‘5″
  2. Getting more respect from your children
  3. Still being the youngest of your siblings
  4. Still NOT a grandfather
  5. Any slowing down can be attributed to ‘getting ready for retirement’
  6. Getting less respect from your children
  7. Friends now show you to the softer seats
  8. You now have an excuse for bad behavior
  9. A greater proportion of the ladies now look younger and sexier