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"Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice" - Adam Smith

New Christmas presents

Written by Dr Madsen Pirie | Wednesday 26 December 2007

While Dr Eamonn Butler has been giving his take on the traditional presents for the twelve days of Christmas, Wired magazine and website has been looking at less traditional things. Alexis Madrigal has produced a list of the top ten new organisms of 2007. That's right, the best among organisms that didn't exist in 2006. Interestingly, only the 5 gold rings of the twelve days of Christmas list are inert. The rest, ranging from lords a-leaping to that partridge in its pear tree, are living organisms, though many of them these days are rather less useful than the new ones given Wired's accolade.

Wired picks out the Ashera GD hypoallergenic cat, modified so even those allergic to cats are relaxed in its company. This little kitty is not cheap at $27,000, but the price will come down and pretty soon we'll be able to choose the hypoallergenic option in our regular moggies.

The E­coli modified to make butanol fuel are not very efficient, but it could be a first step, and they were made by students at Atlanta U. While the students were turning bugs into fuel, a U of Central Florida team modified lettuce to produce insulin, and a Penn State team created GM mushrooms that can mass-produce vaccines.

Less cuddly than the hypoallergenic cat, though no less useful, is the South Korean cat modified to glow in the dark under UV light. The fluorescence can act as a marker to show that other modifications have worked. Doctors at Temple U also achieved glowing results with a yeast which glows green in the presence of DNT, found in TNT. This could lead to low-cost and rapid bio-sensors for dangerous materials.

The two that I liked best were the Oak Ridge trees we already reported on, the ones modified to absorb super quantities of CO2, and the Clostridium bacteria modified by Netherlands scientists to carry cancer-fighting proteins to oxygen-starved parts of cancer tumours, giving us a "seek and destroy" capability.

What's encouraging is that these are simply the best of a huge list. New organisms to serve our purposes and solve our problems are being created on a daily basis, no doubt to the chagrin of antediluvian NGOs. Next year should be better still, so have yourselves a happy and even more modified New Year.

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On the second day of Christmas...

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Wednesday 26 December 2007

My true love sent to me: two turtle doves. In the original it seems that the turtle doves represent the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

Pigeon fanciers are outraged after HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) left pigeon racing out of the official list of sports, and they are asking the Queen, who is patron of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association (RPRA), to get this ruling reversed. Why so many ruffled feathers about something apparently so trivial?

Well, it's all about money. Premises used for 'sports' are exempt from the rates, a local-authority tax. Under MHRC proposals to introduce rates on sports clubs and village halls, groups can formally apply for dispensation from HMRC for 80% relief and then to their local authority for a 20% reduction. So pigeon fanciers now face paying rates on their sheds, though officially recognized sports such as yoga, arm-wrestling and trampolining are still exempt.

Doesn't it all speak volumes about just how silly and bird-brained all these tax rules are?

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Joke of the day

Written by Jokesmith | Wednesday 26 December 2007

Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?

Because it was dead. 

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America and the WTO

Written by Tim Worstall | Wednesday 26 December 2007

Dani Rodrik asks an interesting question about the World Trade Organisation. Why does the US actually (eventually, grumbling as it does so) do as the organisation insists it must, while refusing to join or obey other such international ones?

I would love it
if somebody would come up with a sensible story as to why the U.S. has
ceded so much power in trade, while zealously guarding its sovereignty
and right to unilateral action in every other domain.

And the answer is I think quite simple. 
The comments allude to several points, like the usefulness of using the WTO to face down internal protectionist pressures, but the most basic one is that the WTO is not in fact a giving up of sovereignty. It's a purely contractual relationship. Upon joining the WTO you agree to a certain course of action: we'll do this and this on trade for example. Everything that you will have to do in the future is spelt out: and those duties cannot be changed without your express agreement, for each and every country has veto power. What this means is that, having joined, a country is not sucked into a further widening of the agreement, the imposition of further duties and responsibilities, without the express agreement of that country.

Compare and contrast this with the European Union, the use of Qualified Majority Voting, the lack of such vetoes in many areas and thus the ever widening remit of the organisation and the imposition of policies that were not agreed at the outset and cannot be refused now.

The general international policy of the US is not to join things organised upon the latter lines, but to do so when they are organised along the former. The lesson to be learned would therefore seem to be that if you want the US to join something, you need to make it something purely contractual, not something that does indeed impinge upon sovereignty by having an ever expanding remit without that veto power.

Something worth remembering as people struggle to create Kyoto II perhaps? 

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Quote of the day

Written by Wordsmith | Wednesday 26 December 2007

Charles Kennedy, former leader of the UK's Liberal Democrat Party, on hearing of the election of Nick Clegg as the new leader:

"The Knife has been passed on to the next generation."

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Blog Review 457

Written by Netsmith | Tuesday 25 December 2007

And a very Merry Christmas to all and a wave of the big fat capitalist cigar from the battlements of Netsmith Towers to you for the New Year!

Assuming that The Palace has mastered the technology the Queen's Speech should be on the Royal Channel on You Tube. 

A Christmas update to The Tale of Two Cities. 

And of course Mencken's Christmas tale

More up to date: Gordon Brown's letter to Santa

Hillary stars as Santa

There is, of course, more than one form of religious experience at this time of year. 

A rather different way one might help others in the coming year. The only person who will be upset is your barber.

And finally, what would the festive season be without some Polly kicking? Good will to all men and so on but really, there are limits. 

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A politically incorrect 'Merry Christmas' to you all!

Written by Anonymous | Tuesday 25 December 2007

santa_smokes.jpg

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Joke of the day

Written by Jokesmith | Tuesday 25 December 2007

A little boy got lost at the YMCA and found himself in the women's locker room. When he was spotted, the room burst into shrieks, with ladies grabbing towels and running for cover.
'What's the matter - haven't you ever seen a little boy before?'

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On the first day of Christmas...

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Tuesday 25 December 2007

My true love sent to me: a partridge in a pear tree. In the original song it seems that 'my true love' is God, that the partridge symbolizes Christ, and the pear tree represents the Cross. Well, maybe.

But in Britain, until this year, if you wanted to deal in game - not just partridges but pheasants, hares, grouse, moor game, woodcock, deer, or rabbits, you needed a licence from the local authority under section 18 of the 1831 Game Act (plus an excise licence from the Post Office under section 14 of the 1860 Game Licences Act). The 1831 legislation laid down strict rules on when game could be sold - an attempt to ensure that breeding cycles were not disrupted. Freezing and refrigeration of course make a nonsense out of this, but our politicians seem to have overlooked this for the last half century. That is how laws are made.

The requirement for a licence to shoot game has been scrapped, but shooting on Sundays and Christmas Day is still banned, thanks to a campaign by the League Against Cruel Sports. (I guess it's not so cruel to shoot things Monday-Saturday.) Critics also argued that Sunday shooting would disrupt people's lie-in, and could prove dangerous as people went for a Sunday stroll. Still, they told us that nobody wanted to shop on a Sunday too, and now (even though our rulers allow the shops to open only a few hours) Sunday is a hugely popular shopping day. We really should scrap all this regulation.

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Blog Review 456

Written by Netsmith | Monday 24 December 2007

One big question is what will happen to living standards with $500 a barrel oil? We're going to get there eventually, after all. Well, the answer appears to be not a lot .

Why is it that people complain that the US is doing nothing about curbing emissions when in fact they are curbing emissions better than those who have made more extravagant promises ?

Counter-intuitive but true : you reduce emissions more by moving from a 15 mpg to 18 mpg vehicle than you do from a 50 mpg to a 100 mpg one. The implication of this is that instead of trying to improve the emissions of the new cars sold, the effort would be better rewarded by subsidising the removal of old clunkers from the road.

Those ID cards might be an even worse idea than we already think. One American system costs $2,800 per card

Yes, exactly, we should be delighted when politicians debate such subjects : it'll stop them coming up with ideas like ID cards, at least. 

Imagine Ron Paul is in fact elected: what exactly could he do? Not a lot, actually .

And finally , who knows the difference between a Hackney Cab and a pedicab? Not Transport for London, that's for sure. 

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