Friday, May 30, 2003

Posting elsewhere

I have piece on Salam Pax over at Samizdata. No time for anything else today. (I didn't really have time for that, either).

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Tesco may have better logistics, but Sainsbury's have better beer.

I'm just having a bottle of Sainsbury's Blonde Ale, a Belgian style Blond Ale brewed from Lincolnshire barley and Kentish hops in the same microbrewery in Greenwich where they brew their Bavarian style wheat beer. Slightly less blonde and slightly less alcoholic than something like Hoegaarden, but very good indeed - rather better than the wheat beer in my opinion - and my compliments to Lord Sainsbury.
More on British Sunday trading laws.

Following up what I was saying about these a few weeks ago, supermarket chain Tesco have just opened a new mini-supermarket a couple of blocks from where I live. This has all the departments you expect in a larger supermarket (fresh fruit and meat, groceries, prepared meals, liquor, even an on premises bakery) but has a floor area of almost exactly 280 square metres. This is the maximum size that a British store can have and be allowed to open all day on Sunday. (The store is open 6am to midnight, seven days a week). Clearly, the supermarket chains are now quite adept at cramming everything they want to offer into a shop this size. It will be interesting to see just how much business the new store does after 4pm Sundays, because every other (larger) supermarket nearby closes at that hour. This may be a large amount of the rationale for the new store.

This is an interesting example of how things such as shopping hour regulation can affect building design, but it is all very silly.

Update: The other factor that is crucial in getting a supermarket business to work on a very small floorplate is the quality of your logistics. If you have a large selection of goods in such a shop, then you are going to only be able to carry a small number of each item at any one time, and you are going to have to restock much more frequently than is the case if you are running a larger shop. Also, you are going to have be be able to keep track of just what is selling how fast and what needs to be restocked when. This is only possible with modern computerised inventory systems. Tesco are the leader in the supermarket business precisely because their logistics systems are the best in the UK, and it is interesting to see this example of additional flexibility in store design that they have due to this.

Further Update: After five days, the new Tesco store looks a success. Every time I go in it appears to be doing a roaring trade, despite the fact that there is a larger Tesco probably 15 minutes walk in one direction, and a Sainsbury's 15 minutes walk in the other. This is London for you. Lots of people do not own cars. Twice I have seen a large delivery truck parked outside, and this evening a staff member was wandering around restocking various shelves, so I seem to have been right about the logistics issues. The store's first Sunday is in two days, and I will drop in at about 6pm to see what business is like then.

What does this prove? Well, for one thing, Tesco is very well run. If I had figured this out ten years ago and bought shares, I would have made a lot of money. As it is, this fact is now well and truly priced in.

Even Further Update: (Sunday June 1). Yes, the shop did appear to be doing a roaring trade this evening. It's (small) carpark was packed, too, suggesting that customers had come from further afield than during the week. There you have it. The Sunday trading laws have not prevented Tesco from selling people groceries on a Sunday, but have merely made it less convenient and more expensive for Tesco's customers. (This little Tesco store uses the standard way that supermarket chains make their little urban stores more expensive while pretending not too - which is they have the same "normal" prices as their larger stores, but no weekly discounts at all. (Indeed, few discounts of any kind, although I did get a perfectly decent pizza marked down due to being close to its "Best By" date, which made a perfectly pleasant dinner).

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

The Statute of Westminster again

Steven Den Beste has some observations on the role of the British King or Queen in Canada and Australia. Most of the things he says are right, however there are one or two issues outstanding, so here goes.

I believe that de jure the British Parliament actually did some power over Canada before the Canadians actually wrote and ratified a constitution about 30 years ago. Until that point, the actual charter for government in Canada was a grant of power from the British Parliament called the "British North America Act". But de facto the British Parliament had none and I don't recall hearing of any attempt by the British Parliament to try to exercise any such influence in the latter half of the 20th Century. (Not that it would have done them any good to try.)

As one of Den Beste's Canadian readers points out at the bottom of the post, the British Parliament's de jure power was removed in 1931, when the British parliament passed a law called the Statute of Westminster. In this act, the British parliament specifically gave up the right to legislate for "the dominions" of the British empire (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, Newfoundland, and Ireland (which was not yet a republic)), unless the parliaments of these countries specifically asked for it.

The "specifically asked for it" clause was necessary because in some instances the dominions did not have the full legal structure of independent nations. In particular, Canada's constitution was the British North America Act, which could only be amended by another act of Westminster. Therefore, if the Canadians ever wanted to change it, the British had to be involved. This "involvement" would contain no actual influence over the legislation, but would just consisted of passing whatever bill they were asked to pass. Australia did not have this particular problem, because our constitution contained a provision for amendment via referendum, and we could therefore sort out any legal difficulties without involving the British.

However, it is still more complicated than this. In Australia, the Statute of Westminster was viewed with some ambivalence, as Australia believed that if it became fully independent the British might be less willing to defend Australia in a war with Japan. For this reason, the Statute of Westminster was written in such a way that it did not apply to Australia until Australia passed another act of its own parliament officially adopting the statute. This did not happen until 1942, when Britain had failed to successfully protect Australia from Japan and Australia wanted to be absolutely certain that its troops were only subject to Australian law.

Plus, the Statute of Westminster only applied to the federal government in Australia (although in Canada it applied to all levels of government) . In theory, even after its adoption the British parliament could legislate to overrule Australian state law, but not federal law. This was not cleaned up until the Australia Act of 1986, which was an act passed by the British parliament on the request of the federal and state parliaments in Australia, the purpose of which was to remove all the little colonial anachronisms from Australian law and ensure that it would not be necessary for teh British parliament to legislate for Australia (even on request) again.

Finally, there was and in some cases still is one other form of colonial legal connection between Australia, New Zealand, Canada etc and Britain, which has to do with law courts. For many years, the highest court of appeals in dominion legal cases was a British court (the Privy Council of the House of Lords, in London). Appeals to this court were abolished from Canada in 1949, from South Africa in 1950, from Australia for federal cases in 1975 and state cases in 1986. In New Zealand, however, the right still exists, as it does from a number of other former British colonies too small to have a permanent supreme court of their own.

Update: Ken Parish points out that the Privy council is not technically part of the House of Lords. (This is in fact implied in the name - the Privy Council was originally a private council of advisors to the king, separate from parliament). The court I was talking about is the "Judicial Committee of the Privy council", which is a different court to the "Judicial Committee of the House of Lords", which is the highest court of appeal for British domestic matters. The two courts have mostly the same members, however.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

I'm just a reptile

Although the number of visitors to this site has been fairly stable for the last couple of months, I continue to move steadily up the Blogosphere Ecosystem. At the moment I am a Slithering Reptile, and I come in at number 679. Someday I hope to be an Adorable Little Rodent.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Everest Panorama.

James Russell points to this stunning 360 degree panorama of Mt Everest (Quicktime required).

I have seen that view. Not from the top of Everest, but from a few kilometres away, and a couple of kilometres lower in altitude. From my best vantage point, it was not possible to see as far into some of the valleys as is possible from Everest, and there were still a few peaks above and level where I was.

But the basic effect was the same. There were mountains all the way to the horizon in all directions, and from altitude of over six kilometres, the horizon is a long way off. The clouds were below me rather than above me, and the immensity and beauty of it all was simply overwhelming. There are so many peaks that some of them barely have names, while still being tall enough that they would be world famous if they were on any other continent.

I do also like the climber's observation that he was having extraordinarily vivid dreams about olives. I didn't have dreams about olives, precisely, but high altitude does do something to your drams. Whatever you dream about, you dream about it vividly. I don't know why that is.

Update: I initially messed up the link to the panorama. This is now fixed.
Eurovision wrap up

As everyone who cares knows by now, the Turks won, and the British entrant came last and managed the rare achievement of scoring Null points. (There has been speculation as to whether this had anything to do with Britain's position on the war. I think maybe partly, but not entirely. After all, Israel scored some points. As far as cultural domination is concerned, it's interesting to see how the amount of French in the event has declined. Even a decade ago it was pretty much completely bilingual. These days it is only the French themselves holding out).

Adam (whose links are bloggered) has mind blowingly detailed and funny coverage. He was watching Eurovision in Australia. In Australia the contest does not go out live, which would be from 5am to 8am on Sunday morning, and SBS television instead runs it on Sunday evening. Traditionally, they have just played the British coverage with the delightful Terry Wogan commentary, but for some reason in recent years they have felt the need to Australianise it. Two years ago they cut the program up and tried to put some local colour (Latvian-Australian drag queens and the like) between the songs. They received a lot of complaints, and last year went back to the traditional broadcast. This year, however, they felt the need to send one of their own "personalities" to Latvia to do his own commentary, which is why Adam keeps referring to the "SBS bogan", an expression that is probably not translateable out of Australian English, but I suspect my non-Australian readers do get the drift. There is a reason why Mr Wogan's commentary should be left on the broadcast, which is the same reason that the BBC has been getting him to do it for 30 years (or something). He is really good at it.

Anywway, back to the contest, and in particular the great Austrian.

Incidentally right after the contest we tried to inform ourselves on his (Alf Poier's) homepage and got a "server overloaded" message. I think the world has found a new hero.

Personally I did something that was a Eurovision first for me. I picked up the phone and voted for him. Alf is cool.

Next year I need to attend an actual Eurovision party with lots of alcohol.

Update: Although the Greeks and Cyproits did give one another maximum points, as usual, both countries gave a substantial number of points to the Turkish entrant. Does this indicate some kind of a thawing, or did they just like the Turkish dancers? Most of the Baltic states gave a few points to the Russians, too, although there did seem to be a certain amount of anti-Russian sentiment amongst the live audience in Latvia. Watching the Eurovision voting and figuring out when and how it is influenced by several thousand years of history, is always interesting, at least.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

We live in interesting times

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs has travel alerts of some kind on 129 countries, which is nearly two thirds of the countries of the world. (Given that these include China, India, The United States and Indonesia, which are the four most populous countries in the world, it must be well over two thirds of the world in population terms). This is a record. Some of this is due to terrorism, some due to SARS, and some due to the individual features of the individual countries. Some of these strike me as a bit harsh on countries that are actually pretty safe. ("One of the highest rates of traffic deaths for a developed country" for South Korea. "Street Crime" for Estonia. "SARS risk" for Italy). Others strike me as perhaps understated. ("Risk of Terrorism" covers everything from places that I think are fairly safe to places that I really wouldn't visit at the moment).

The basic point is that we live in an unhappy time. Sadly, this is very true.

I have said before that someday I would like to drive from Rome through the former Yugoslavia, through Greece, through Turkey, through Lebanon, Israel and Palestine to Egypt. (This would be a "modern civilization trip, in which I could see many of the important sights of the last 2500 years. A trip to Iraq would be an "ancient civilization" trip). With all the things on the way, that would be a wonderful experience. It isn't going to be possible to do this with a reasonably level of risk for a long time, however.

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