Archive for December, 2008

Come doused in mud soaked in bleach as I want you to be

December 10, 2008

Its been rattling around in head now for years, but I recently come to the conclusion that Kurt Cobain was imitating Jesus, who would have typically welcomed anyone regardless of their physical state and offered the same sentiment of tolerance.


Apparently the Nirvana lyrics were taken from a Seattle drug campaign that encouraged heroin users to soak their used needles in bleach to reduce the risk of spreading Aids. The original campaign slogan was “If doused in mud, soak in bleach.”



How Long Will The Recession Last?

December 3, 2008

(And why this doesn’t matter for President-Elect Obama)


The best place to start when answering this question is the past. Once we can see what’s happened before, we can begin to assess what might happen next.


The following statistics come from the US National Bureau of Economic Research.


America’s Business Cycle Dates. Duration in Months


Peak                Trough           Peak to          Trough           Trough            Peak

                                                Trough           to Peak           to Trough       to Peak


Feb 1945         Oct 1945         8                      80                    88                    93

Nov 1948        Oct 1949         11                    37                    48                    45

Jul 1953           May 1954       10                    45                    55                    56

Aug 1957        April 1958       8                     39                    47                    49

April 1960       Feb 1961        10                    24                    34                    32

Dec 1969         Nov 1970       11                   106                  117                  116

Nov 1973        Mar 1975        16                    36                    52                    47

Jan 1980          Jul 1980           6                     58                    64                    74

Jul 1981           Nov 1982       16                    12                    28                    18

Jul 1990           Mar 1991        8                     92                   100                  108

Mar 2001         Nov 2001        8                    120                  128                  128


The Peaks are the point at which America’s economy is at its strongest and the Troughs are when its at its weakest, within the cycle.


As you can see quite clearly, America, like most countries, spends much more time growing (Trough to Peak) than shrinking (Peak to Trough). However, those periods of expansion and contraction vary considerably from business cycle to business cycle.


Americas ten year expansion from March 1991 to March 2001 was the longest for at least 150 years – the length of time the National Bureau has data for.


So, to answer the original question, how long is this recession likely to last? The maximum length of a Peak to Trough in the last 60 years has been 16 months. If we hope that this recession is no worse than that, and there seems to be no evidence that specific factors are going to cause an abnormally long recession (indeed with globalisation, the World’s economy is more diversified than ever and so should be more robust), and given that the National Bureau have decided that the Peak of the Cycle was December 2007, then the Trough should be around March 2009.


Although the US economy will start growing from that point, people probably won’t start feeling the benefit for around another year as the slack (that has developed in the recession) gets taken out of the economy. This slack is measured in unemployed people and companies producing less than their capacity.


Whatever does happen, it won’t matter for Obama – the recession can be blamed on President Bush and by the time his re-election comes around in 4 years the economy will be growing again, probably strongly, making him a shoe-in. The only thing that could stop this happening is if he manages to become generally unpopular in the meantime for unforeseen policy mistakes.

Rare Sky Tonight As Planets Conjoin

December 1, 2008

Look out to the southwest at sunset tonight and with favourable skies,
you will see a rare and beautiful sight as Venus, Jupiter and the
slender crescent Moon form a conjunction with all three bodies in
close proximity.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) used this conjunction as an
ominous portent in his epic poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”.

The three bodies are easily the brightest objects in the sky. Look
closely and you may even see ‘earthshine’ (first recognised by
Leonardo-da-Vinci) where the full normally dark globe of the moon can
be seen together with the crescent.

As if on cue and not to be outdone, the International Space station
will also make an appearance. It will cross our skies in the UK just
after dark and if you have never seen it before, it may surprise you
as it easily rivals the brightness of Venus and Jupiter.

The ISS will track in a line crossing Cardiff, Bristol and London.
First appearing from low in the sky due west, it will pass directly
overhead and then exit due east. You will see the ISS from a wide area
several hundred miles from this track, but it will appear
progressively lower in the southern sky. (Say 25 degrees above the
horizon from Inverness)

From London, tt should be first visible at 1717 hrs, directly overhead
at 1720 and disappear from view at around 1721. Timing given is exact
GMT, if you are in Bristol bring these times forward by 30 – 45

If you do see it, keep in mind it will pass closest at an altitude of
around 200 miles at a speed of 17,500 mph (about 5 miles per second)
but will seem no faster than an airoplane.


Stopped by the Police for Drink Driving Without Good Reason

December 1, 2008

I heard a story the other day from a friend’s father – let’s call him Peter. He was driving in his very ordinary Volvo estate to a friend’s dinner party in South West England when he was stopped by a policeman. The policeman claimed that he had stopped him because he had recognised the car as belonging to a friend of his. After a brief chat, the policeman asked whether Peter had been drinking and proceeded to breathalyse him. As the police can only stop a motorist when they reasonably believe that the driver has committed some kind of transgression, this would seem remarkably like a made up excuse.


The police might argue that they don’t need anyone’s support as they are charged by the State to carry out their duties, and no one is going to take that anyway from them, but it strikes me that if the police lose their integrity in order to boost their performance figures, they themselves will lose the support of the public. In effect, this will mean less respect from the public, less public help to solve crime and less support from Parliament when they want things, like more powers or larger pay increases – less Members of Parliament are going to support the police if they become unpopular.


Lets hope that this was a case of one off opportunism by a rogue policeman, but please let me know if you have any similar stories.