Saturday, 29 August 2015

Psychology experiments are failing the replication test – for good reason

John Ioannidis in The Guardian

‘The replication failure rate of psychology seems to be in the same ballpark as those rates in observational epidemiology, cancer drug targets and preclinical research, and animal experiments.’ Photograph: Sebastian Kaulitzki/Alamy

Science is the best thing that has happened to humankind because its results can be questioned, retested, and demonstrated to be wrong. Science is not about proving at all cost some preconceived dogma. Conversely religious devotees, politicians, soccer fans, and pseudo-science quacks won’t allow their doctrines, promises, football clubs or bizarre claims to be proven illogical, exaggerated, second-rate or just absurd.

Despite this clear superiority of the scientific method, we researchers are still fallible humans. This week, an impressive collaboration of 270 investigators working for five years published in Science the results of their efforts to replicate 100 important results that had been previously published in three top psychology journals. The replicators worked closely with the original authors to make the repeat experiments close replicas of the originals. The results were bleak: 64% of the experiments could not be replicated.
We often feel uneasy about having our results probed for possible debunking. We don’t always exactly celebrate when we are proven wrong. For example, retracting published papers can take many years and many editors, lawyers, and whistleblowers – and most debunked published papers are never retracted. Moreover, with fierce competition for limited research funds and with millions of researchers struggling to make a living (publish, get grants, get promoted), we are under immense pressure to make “significant”, “innovative” discoveries. Many scientific fields are thus being flooded with claimed discoveries that nobody ever retests. Retesting (called replication) is discouraged. In most fields, no funding is given for what is pooh-poohed as me-too efforts. We are forced to hasten from one “significant” paper to the next without ever reassessing our previously claimed successes.

Multiple lines of evidence suggest this is a recipe for disaster, leading to a scientific literature littered with long chains of irreproducible results. Irreproducibility is rarely an issue of fraud. Simply having millions of hardworking scientists searching fervently and creatively in billions of analyses for something statistically significant can lead to very high rates of false-positives (red-herring claims about things that don’t exist) or inflated results.

This is more likely to happen in fields that chase subtle, complex phenomena, in those that have more noise in measurement, and where there is more room for subjective choices to be introduced in designing and running experiments and crunching the data. Ten years ago I tried to model these factors. These models predicted that in most scientific fields and settings the majority of published research, findings may be false. They also anticipated that the false rates could vary greatly (from almost 0% to almost 100%), depending on the features of a scientific discipline and how scientists run their work.

Probably the failure rate in the Science data would have been higher for work published in journals of lesser quality. There are tens of thousands of journals in the scientific-publishing market, and most will publish almost anything submitted to them. The failure rate may also be higher for studies that are so complex that none of the collaborating replicators offered to attempt a replication. This group accounted for one-third of the studies published in the three top journals. So the replication failure rate for psychology at large may be 80% or more overall.

This performance is even worse than I would have predicted. In 2012 my anticipation of a 53% replication failure rate for psychology at large was published. Compared with other empirical studies, the failure rate of psychology seems to be in the same ballpark as replication failure rates in observational epidemiology, cancer drug targets and preclinical research, and animal experiments.

However, I think it is important to focus on the positive side. The Science paper shows that large-scale replication efforts of high quality are doable even in fields like psychology where there was no strong replication culture until recently. Hopefully this successful, highly informative paradigm will help improve research practices in this field. Many other scientific fields without strong replication cultures may also be prompted now to embrace replications and reproducible research practices. Thus these seemingly disappointing results offer a great opportunity to strengthen scientific investigation. I look forward to celebrate one day when my claim that most published research findings are false is thoroughly refuted across most, if not all, scientific fields.

Why happy couples cheat?

Why happy couples cheat? Esther Perel

Why we love, why we cheat? Helen Fisher

Friday, 28 August 2015

The Elite Opt-out - 'Government officials should send their children to government schools'

Manish Sabharwal in The Indian Express

Earlier this month, the Allahabad High Court gave the state chief secretary till the next academic session to require anybody drawing a government salary to send their children to only government schools. The order also specified that the promotions and increments of violators should be deferred, and required that any fees paid to private schools by government servants be deducted from their salary and paid into the state treasury. The judge felt this extreme step was the only way to improve government schools. Is this judgment absurd or wonderful common sense?

This judgment pulls me in two different directions because of who I am (son of government servants who sent me to a private school) and what I do (our company hires only 5 per cent of the children who come to us for a job because their schools let them down). Who I am believes this judgment is absurdity. What I do believes it is wonderful common sense. Why this divergence?

The first reaction is because this judgment violates the fundamental rights of all children of government employees by limiting where they can go to school based on their parents’ profession. I know my professional progress is a child of my private school education; I would not be where I am if I had been forced into a government school in Uttar Pradesh (where my parents are from) or in Jammu and Kashmir (where my parents worked). It’s also unfair to hold every present government servant accountable for the actions and outcomes of a small number of past and present education department bureaucrats. It hardly seems fair that the judgment should not be applied to past politicians who have grossly distorted government school-teacher recruiting, compensation and performance management, or past judges whose judgments have distorted the governance of educational institutions. The problem with holding the current government-employee cohort accountable for school outcomes is the long shadow cast by education policy decisions, where toxic effects show up only after a decade.

But my second reaction is rooted in a recognition of human nature. Wouldn’t Employee’s State Insurance hospitals improve if we forced government servants to use them and abolished their exclusive Central Government Health Scheme? Wouldn’t EPFO reform have happened years ago if every government servant was forced to deal with the organisation for their pensions? Wouldn’t ministers standing in line for security and boarding at airports have forced security forces to reduce lines by junking the meaningless stamping, and checking of stamping, of hand baggage tags and boarding cards? Wouldn’t there have been more urgency for power reforms if distribution companies were prohibited from creating VIP areas where power is uninterrupted? Wouldn’t we have better urban planning, housing and public transport if government servants were not given houses and cars and all their benefits were monetised instead?

Given India’s poor service-delivery outcomes; it’s certainly a tantalising possibility to subject government servants to the consequences of their actions. This judgment is obviously the product of an interesting mind — Justice Sudhir Agarwal — but it is also a child of broader trends in society and merely reflects the rising aspirations and expectations of millions of Indians. India’s poor and youth are no longer willing to be held hostage to poor government provision. They recognise that “elite opt-out” accelerates the decline of the public system because powerful and loud voices don’t care. My parents retired to Kanpur, where the fastest growing industries are private bottled water, private security, private generators, private healthcare and private schools; the poor in UP are buying what should be public goods because their rights as consumers are greater than their rights as citizens. India is reaching the point where government sins of commission (what it does wrong) are not as toxic as government sins of omission (what it does not do). Alexander Hamilton wrote that the courts are the weakest of the three branches of government because they control neither sword nor purse. India’s courts cannot sustainably fix public service-delivery. Government schools can only be fixed by politicians obsessed with execution, not inputs.

The execution problem goes beyond schools. The Indian state has been designed for less complexity, scale and accountability than it faces. Going forward, the state must do fewer things, but do them well. It must retreat where the market works but act muscularly where the market fails. It must separate its role as policymaker, regulator and service-provider in all areas. It must create the hope of rising and fear of failing for the permanent generalist civil service and supplement them with specialist lateral entry. Fixing government schools is crucial to economic democracy; I work for a company that has hired somebody every five minutes for the last five years, but only hired five per cent of job applicants. You can’t teach kids in one year of vocational training at the exit gate of K-12 education what they should have learnt in the 12 years of school. An unskilled or unemployed Indian is not a free Indian. So — with all the hypocrisy of somebody whose turn for a government school education under this judgment is past — I hope the wonderful common sense that this judgment represents is upheld.

Financial markets are not free – they're one of the last bastions of socialism

Larry Elliot in The Guardian

You can’t buck the market, Margaret Thatcher once said, but the world’s policymakers have been giving it their best shot. Photograph: PA/PA

You can’t buck the market, so said Margaret Thatcher back in the late 1980s. Maybe you can’t, but the world’s policymakers are giving it their best shot.

Let’s just consider the context. During August there was a big sell-off in shares amid concerns that the Chinese economy was in trouble. The declines, however, followed a long bull market in which prices were supported by the quantitative easing programmes pursued by central banks rather than by underlying economic strength. A true believer in free markets would have seen the recent sell-off as both inevitable and healthy.

But financial markets are by no means free. They are, on the contrary, one of the last bastions of socialism left on earth. Everything possible is done to boost asset prices and when overstimulation leads to bubbles bursting it is all hands to the pump to prevent them from falling too far.

So, in the last couple of days we have seen the chief economist of the European Central Bank musing openly about the possibility of additional QE. We have had the president of the New York Federal Reserve dropping the biggest possible hint that an interest rate rise will be delayed. And we have had the authorities in Beijing buying up shares on the Shanghai stock market.

And guess what? It has worked. Shares have been going up around the world because investors have been given guarantees that they will be protected from the consequences of their own folly. Despite the upward revision to US growth figures, all that Wall Street needs to do to prevent a Fed rate rise is to have another flash crash between now and mid-September. The Fed will then back off. If things get really bad, it will need to consider a fourth dose of QE. Yes, really.

George Saravelos, of Deutsche Bank, says there is a reason western central banks, starting with the ECB and the Bank of Japan, might need to again resort to the electronic printing presses: China’s use of its foreign exchange reserves to defend the external value of the yuan.

Effectively, China has been selling a chunk of its holdings of foreign bonds, such as US Treasuries. QE involves buying bonds, so what the People’s Bank of China has been doing is QE in reverse or, as Saravelos puts it, quantitative tightening or QT.

Ostensibly, QT has always been part of the plan. When central banks embarked on their asset-buying programmes, the intention was that they would be sold back to the markets when things had returned to normal. The problem is that things have never returned to normal and, judging by recent events, never will.

Zero interest rates were supposed to be temporary. They are now the norm. QE was an unconventional measure for use in an emergency only. It is here to stay, albeit subject to the law of diminishing returns.

Clearly then, you can buck the market. Corrections can be delayed and halted, even reversed, by determined policy action. But, as the history of bubbles from Dutch tulips to subprime mortgages has shown, only for a while. In the long run, Mrs T was right.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Herath's cold summer at Staffs

Scott Oliver in Cricinfo

The United Nations is yet to release the definitive figures on this matter, but there cannot be many countries with a higher per capita average of hours spent smiling each day than Sri Lanka. At the risk of ethnic stereotyping, they are a happy bunch. Not Rangana Herath, though, at least not when he's bowling. At least not when I was fielding to his bowling.

If you were to manufacture a range of international-cricketer teddy bears, Herath Mudiyanselage Rangana Keerthi Bandara Herath would surely be the biggest seller. But don't let those cartoonishly cute and pudgy contours fool you. Herath's on-field manner is that of a prickly, pernickety upcountry bureaucrat, who, for his own barely acknowledged pleasure, is going to keep you occupied for hours doing something of little consequence. Just business, see.

This air of sternness frequently escalated into a full-fledged scowl during his sole, truncated North Staffordshire and South Cheshire League campaign for Moddershall in 2009, when a combination of lacerating Atlantic winds, green pitches and abysmal close catching left him with the unflattering statistics of 112-27-333-14 from eight league outings. That's an average of 23.79. To put that into context, his current Test bowling average in his homeland stands at24.86.

As with his eventual emergence from the shadow of Muttiah Muralitharan to be Sri Lanka's strike spinner, Ranga had fairly big boots to fill. He had been signed to replace South Africa's Imran Tahir - 80 wickets at 11 in our title-winning campaign the previous summer - and if you were to ask the club's ultras which of the two would go on to become the world's second-ranked Test bowler, it would have been a no-brainer: Tahir went through sides like a cheap samosa, Herath like porridge.

But then, the logic behind the signing was a little counter-intuitively tilted towards batting prowess. Rigorous online scorecard perusal duly threw up a recent 88 not out for Sri Lanka A in a 50-over game in Benoni against South Africa A, coming in at 94 for 6 and seeing them past the victory target a further 200 runs ahead. Box ticked, although subsequent first-hand evidence revealed a biffer with three main shots in his repertoire: pull, sweep, slog (and hybrid forms of those strokes). The posh side was only really used for leading edges.

Said research also disclosed that he had a carrom ball, a fact gleefully divulged to the local media, as was a list of Herath's high-profile victims, all incorporated into an artfully casual observation-cum-de facto press release designed to tweak the fret glands of the league's batsmen: "Anyone who's got Trescothick, Chanderpaul, Ponting, Kallis, Inzamam and Steve Waugh out has to be able to bowl a bit, so the club's delighted with the signing, particularly if the long-range forecasts for a hot, dry summer are correct."

Neither the weather nor the performance forecasts proved accurate, sadly, although clearly he could "bowl a bit". That said, we didn't want Herath to bowl so well that he would be picked up by a county (as Tahir had been the previous July by Hampshire, where he was retained for 2009) or picked by his country, for whom he had played the most recent of his then 14 Teststhe previous December, taking 1 for 115 against Bangladesh, which was, I suppose, both a good and bad omen.

Herath took 2 for 92 on debut, followed by 2 for 71. He bagged his solitary five-for the following week in a low-scoring win on a sticky dog, and just five more scalps over the next four weeks. His only game on a dustbowl turned out to be his final game, in which the wiles of former England batsman Kim Barnett, aged 48, (dropped second ball by yours truly) held him at bay, although Barnett did adjudge Herath the third best spinner he'd faced, after Warne and Muralitharan.

Where the plumbers, plasterers, policemen and pot-washers of North Staffs had succeeded against Herath, the Pakistani batsmen of 2009 failed miserably © AFP

While I remained confident he'd eventually come good should the summer ever arrive, we had expected a whole lot more. Alas, it was a tale of moist pitches and missed chances. The tracks were just too green and greasy, rendering his carrom ball the proverbial ashtray on a motorbike. Indeed, his subtle variations were so subtle, it seemed that they no longer really counted as variations. Rather, the batsmen didn't perceive them as variations, which was problematic since the whole point was to get them to see things that weren't there as though they were.

Yes, the returns were meagre and the supporters increasingly restless, yet we refrained from resorting to that occasional club cricket expedient of "accidentally" trapping his fingers in the door. And a good thing too, for in the dregs of a damp June Herath received a phone call from the Sri Lankan selectors: Murali had a shoulder injury, and he was needed.

Where the plumbers, plasterers, policemen and pot-washers of North Staffs had succeeded, the Pakistani batsmen failed miserably. Just hours after stepping off the plane, Herath would bag his first Test Man-of-the-Match award, in Galle, adding a decisive second-innings spell of 11.3-5-15-4 to a couple of useful cameos with the bat as Sri Lanka won by just 50 runs. In thenext game, another victory, he pocketed a maiden Test five-for as Pakistan ceded nine wickets for 35, and he followed it up with another five-for in the third game. So much for our two-wickets-per-game pro! Perhaps, ultimately, it was just a warm-weather thing - you know, needing to have feeling in his fingers, neshness such as that.

Anyway, the Moddershall hardcore may have groused at the comparison with Tahir, yet watching Herath dismiss Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma in Kumar Sangakkara's farewell series, perhaps they would have understood, belatedly, how in that busy, shuffling approach and snappy, narrow pivot; in the chest-on delivery imparting all the revs (and the curve, the drop) from the shoulder; in the clever use of the crease (something Tahir, less guileful, more heavy artillery, didn't do) and round-arm variation that either undercut or would spin sharply; and in the lesser-spotted carrom ball, there were the makings of a useful operator. It's a shame, I guess, that he kept his best performances for the Test arena.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

China's economic woes extend far beyond its stock market

Michael Boskin in The Guardian

The Chinese government’s heavy handed efforts to contain recent stock market volatility – the latest move prohibits short-selling and sales by major shareholders– have seriously damaged its credibility. But China’s policy failures should come as no surprise. Policymakers there are far from the first to mismanage financial markets, currencies, and trade. Many European governments, for example, suffered humiliating losses defending currencies that were misaligned in the early 1990s.

Still, China’s economy remains a source of significant uncertainty. Indeed, although the performance of China’s stock market and that of its real economy has not been closely correlated, a major slowdown is under way. That is a serious concern, occupying finance ministries, central banks, trading desks, and importers and exporters worldwide.

China’s government believed it could engineer a soft landing in the transition from torrid double-digit economic growth, fuelled by exports and investments, to steady and balanced growth underpinned by domestic consumption, especially of services. And, in fact, it enacted some sensible policies and reforms.

But rapid growth obscured many problems. For example, officials, seeking to secure promotions by achieving short-term economic targets, misallocated resources; basic industries such as steel and cement built up vast excess capacity; and bad loans accumulated on the balance sheets of banks and local governments.

Nowhere are the problems with this approach more apparent than in the attempt to plan urbanisation, which entailed the construction of large new cities – complete with modern infrastructure and plentiful housing – that have yet to be occupied.

In a sense, these ghost cities resemble the Russian empire’s Potemkin villages, built to create an impressive illusion for the passing Czarina; but China’s ghost cities are real and were presumably meant to do more than flatter the country’s leaders.

Now that economic growth is flagging – official statistics put the annual rate at 7%, but most observers believe the real number is closer to 5% (or even lower) – China’s governance problems are becoming impossible to ignore. Although China’s growth rate still exceeds that of all but a few economies today, the scale of the slowdown has been wrenching, with short-run dynamics similar to a swing in the U S or Germany from 2% GDP growth to a 3% contraction.

A China beset by serious economic problems is likely to experience considerable social and political instability. As the slowdown threatens to impede job creation, undermining the prospects of the millions of people moving to China’s cities each year in search of a more prosperous life, the Communist party will struggle to maintain the legitimacy of its political monopoly. (More broadly, the weight of China’s problems, together with Russia’s collapse and Venezuela’s 60% inflation, has strained the belief of some that state capitalism trumps market economies.

FacebookTwitterPinterest Pedestrians in Hong Kong walk past an electronic board displaying the benchmark Hang Seng index. Photograph: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

Given China’s systemic importance to the global economy, instability there could pose major risks far beyond its borders. China is the largest foreign holder of US treasury securities, a major trade partner for the US, Europe, Latin America, and Australia, and a key facilitator of intra-Asian trade, owing partly to the scale of its processing trade.

The world has a lot at stake in China, and China’s authorities have a lot on their plate. The government must cope with the short-term effects of the slowdown while continuing to implement reforms aimed at smoothing the economy’s shift to a new growth model and expanding the role of markets. Foreign firms are seeking access to China’s rapidly growing middle class, which the McKinsey Global Institute estimates exceeds 200 million. But that implies a stable business environment, including more transparency in government approvals, and looser capital controls.

With these goals in mind, China’s government recently engineered a modest currency devaluation – about 3% so far. That is probably too small to alter the country’s trade balance with Europe or the US significantly. But it signals a shift toward a more market-oriented exchange rate. The risk on the minds of investors, managers, and government officials is that currency markets – or government-managed currencies buffeted by market forces – often develop too much momentum and overshoot fundamental values.

As China’s government uses monetary policy to try to calm markets, micro-level reforms must continue. China must deploy new technologies across industries, while improving workers’ education, training and health. Moreover, China needs to accelerate its efforts to increase domestic consumption, which, as a share of GDP, is far below that of other countries.

FacebookTwitterPinterest A bank clerk counts Chinese banknotes in Huaibei, Anhui province. The government recently engineered a modest currency devaluation. Photograph: AP

That means reducing the unprecedentedly high savings rate, a large share of which accrues to state-owned enterprises. If private firms and households are to replace government-led investment as the economy’s main drivers of growth, the state must reduce its stake in major enterprises and allow more profits to be paid directly to shareholders, while providing more of the profits from its remaining shares to citizens.

The shift away from excessive state control should also include replacing price subsidies and grants to favoured industries with targeted support for low-income workers and greater investment in human capital. In addition, China must reduce administrative discretion, introducing sensible, predictable regulation to address natural monopolies and externalities.

Back at the macro level, China needs to reallocate responsibilities and resources among the various levels of government, in order to capitalize on their comparative advantage in providing services and raising revenue. And the country must gradually reduce its total debt load, which currently exceeds 250% of GDP.

Fortunately, in facing the difficult adjustment challenges that lie ahead, China’s $3.6tn (£2.3tn) in foreign-currency reserves can serve as a buffer against unavoidable losses. But China must also avoid reverting to greater state control of the economy, a possibility glimpsed in the authorities’ ham-fisted response to the correction in equity prices. That approach needs to be abandoned before it does any more damage to China’s quest for long-term stability and prosperity.

13 Netflix tricks you need to know

Chris Bell in The Telegraph

1. Watch stuff from the US

First it was thicker hamburgers, then cheaper cars. And now Americans get a superior Netflix service too - with our transatlantic cousins getting newer TV shows and a far broader range of movies. You can circumvent these regional restrictions on the UK service, however, by using a network service like Media Hint. It only works on computers – but for around £2.50 a month (or £25 a year) it will allow you to access Netflix in other countries too. An alternative free option which does the same thing is the Hola unblocker browser plugin, which works with Chrome, Firefox or the Android OS (although some reports suggest it is secretly selling users' bandwidth to hackers). Either way, be warned: accessing Netflix in other countries is a violation of your user agreement, so attempt at your own risk.

If you want to access US Netflix via your Xbox, PlayStation, Apple TV or iPad, then it’s fractionally fiddlier- in that you’ll need to manually change your DNS settings to fool your system into believing you are based elsewhere. On an Apple TV, for example, go into your Settings, go to General, then Network. Select your Network Name, then select Configure DNS, and Manual. From there, enter a new DNS code – these are subject to change, but Netflix Fixer posts regular updates about valid codes, as does Droidkit. If these free ones fail to work, or you don't like the sound of it, then try a paid-for service such as Unblock Us, which does the same for $4.99 (£3.20) a month (there’s also a free trial). But again, be aware you’re violating your service agreement.

2. Kill the buffering – via the secret menu

Is Walter White pixellating before your very eyes? Is Frank Underwood buffering continuously? Netflix is supposed to automatically calibrate your streaming depending on your connection – but you can bypass that via a secret settings menu. On a computer, just click on any video while pressing Shift+Alt (Shift+Option+Click on a Mac), and under “Stream Manager” you can manually adjust the bandwidth usage. There is also an option to adjust how the audio and video synchronises, just in case the dialogue and actors’ mouth movements have parted company.

List: the 85 best movies on Netflix UK

3. Kill the buffering – via an even more secret menu

If you’re on a Smart TV, Blu-ray Player, or game console, you’ll need to reset your Netflix application. But oddly, this requires a code similar to the old Konami Code of videogaming lore. Launch Netflix, and on your controller or remote, press the following: Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, Up, Up, Up, Up. This brings up a secret debug menu of your general information (plus, if you're on Xbox, technical information such as AV stats, a frame rate counter, a log and so on). Tweak the settings from here, or take the option to deactivate then relaunch the app – allowing you to change the settings and eliminate the buffering.

4. Check your resolutions

Knowing how to stream movies in HD only matters if you're actually getting HD. So check what you’re actually watching by going to Your Account page. Select Playback Settings, and under Data Usage, select High. Then click Save. But be warned: High Definition munches through data – so make sure it doesn’t devour your allowance.

5. Choose your viewing time carefully

According to Digital Trends, one factor influences video quality above all others: the time of day - whether that time falls under typical peak hours when everyone else is watching and clogging the system. “Getting HD (720p) at 9 in the evening, for example, was next to impossible,” they reported, “let alone 1080p Super HD.” Bingeing on Mad Men at 4am, therefore, will see better results – but then, you knew that already.

6. Avoid spoilers and other irritants

Netflix pet hates: everyone has them. But now, chances are, they’ll be sorted out by Flixplus – a worthwhile Chrome browser extension created by the Lifehacker website team specifically to root out all the annoying Netlfix features. Among the 18 tweaks it offers, Flixplus can hide potential spoiler images and text snippets, remove duplicate recommendations, disable that irritating Facebook integration prompt and even show IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes ratings. And it has just been updated to cope with the new Netflix menu system. Get it here.

7. Stream better by setting up a VPN

This trick originated in the US – where some broadband providers have been accused of “choking off” data at peak times, so the video quality of services like Netlfix plummets. But Virtual Private Networks may yet prove useful in the UK as video streaming gets more popular. In short, by connecting via a remote network, they allow you to circumnavigate any gateway your ISP (Internet Service Provider) may have imposed – ensuring connections speeds that are, in some cases, 10x faster than normal. But it does require some technical expertise – a step-by-step guide can be found here.

8. Make the subtitles legible

Oh, Netflix minions: for all the work you put in to adding accurate subtitles, you then dash it all by making the typeface too small, or the text colour too light, for you to read easily. Changing the default yellow sans-serif font is easy, however - go to Your Account then, under Your Profile, select Subtitle Appearance. In the pop-up box, change and preview until you're satisfied.

9. Use Keystroke Shortcuts

Streaming from your laptop or computer? Let your fingers do the navigating for precise, easy control. Hit Spacebar or Enter keys to pause/play. ‘PgDn’ also pauses, while ‘PgUp’ plays. F enables full-screen viewing, while Esc takes you out of it. Hold Shift and the Left Arrow to rewind, while Shift and the Right Arrow fast-forwards. Up and Down Arrows change volume, while M toggles for mute.

10. Access the Apple TV “bonus” features

If you’re watching via Apple’s little black hockey puck of delight, then try hitting the Up arrow twice on its remote while viewing – it brings up a banner with a thumbnail image, description, and rating. Pressing down is more useful though: it brings up a progress bar, notched with chapters. And if you hit the left or right arrow you can leap forward or back 2–6 minutes depending on the length of the title.

11. Watch Netflix with friends - anywhere

Desperate to share your theory on why Claire Underwood is the real brutal epicentre of House Of Cards? Try Rabbit, a group chat service which, unlike similar services like Google Hangouts, allows you to launch a window where you and your other “guests” can watch and discuss Netflix together. Or, indeed, anything you’re watching through a browser – YouTube, Hulu, badger webcams and so on. It also means only one of you needs a Netflix account, although the legality of doing this is what lawyers might describe as “murky”.
Credit: The Netflix app Rabbit

12. Access Netflix’s internal catalogue

While your viewing habits – and more specifically, the ratings you give programmes – teach the Netflix algorithms what to suggest on your listings, sometimes you’re just in the mood for… a Critically-acclaimed Understated French Drama. We all do. Instead of painstakingly searching out such a creature, however, Netflix have helpfully, but secretly, created a vast number of category IDs that you simply type into the search bar instead. These enable quick access to broad groups like Cult TV Shows (74652) or esoteric listings like Visually-striking Martial Arts Movies (3196). Luckily, you can find updated ID lists here and here. Those French dramas, by the way, are under 3949.

13. Improve your viewing choices

Paralysed by the sheer choice on offer? Netflix’s built-in star rating offers a rough guide as to the quality of the movie/show – but when you really need the wisdom of a larger crowd, try the Chrome extension Netflix Enhancer. The recently-revised tool allows you to see a film's Rotten Tomatoes score as well as its IMDb rating – not to mention access to other IMDb content as well as any trailers. Still indecisive? Try Netflix Roulette. Put in an actor, a genre, or another determining factor, and hey - who knows what you’ll end up watching.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Why is China's stock market falling and how might it affect the global economy?

Katie Allen in The Guardian

What has happened in China?

China’s stock market has fallen sharply over recent weeks despite measures by officials in Beijing aimed at calming investors’ jitters and shoring up global confidence in the country’s slowing economy.

Shares in China had soared 150% in the 12 months to mid-June as individual investors piled into the rising market, often borrowing heavily to do so. But chiming with warnings that shares were overvalued and the signs of an economic slowdown, the momentum came to a shuddering halt when shares hit a seven-year peak.

Following another plunge on what was dubbed “Black Monday”, China’s stock markets have now given up all their gains for the year.

China’s shock move to devalue its currency, the yuan, this month only served to intensify worries about the world’s second-largest economy.

Shares around the world followed China’s stock markets lower. About £74bn was wiped off the value of the FTSE 100 and on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average slumped by a record of more than 1,000 points at one stage.

Commodities such as crude oil and copper have also tumbled to multi-year lows as investors take fright over signs of waning demand in the world’s leading consumer of raw materials.

The currencies of emerging Asian economies have weakened as investors drop those assets seen as riskier to hold. But investments perceived as safe havens in times of trouble, such as gold and some government bonds, are in demand.

Is this a repeat of the 2008 global financial crisis?

Some of the falls on stock markets are certainly reminiscent of the swings seen around the time of the collapse of the US bank Lehman Brothers. The FTSEurofirst 300, a pan-European share index, suffered its biggest one-day drop since late 2008, losing 5.4%. For Shanghai’s composite index, Monday’s 8.5% slump was the biggest since February 2007.

But some economists say the parallels stop there. They see limited risk to China’s real economy from the stock market turmoil and little to be worried about beyond China.

Julian Jessop, the chief global economist at the consultancy Capital Economics, said: “The current panic is essentially ‘made in China’. The recent data from other major economies, including the US, eurozone and Japan, has generally been good ... Aside from the bad news from China, there is very little to support fears of a major global downturn.”

But others are less sanguine. They point out that China’s slowdown is just one of many factors worrying investors alongside lingering political problems in the eurozone, signs of weaker global growth and vast sums flowing out of fragile emerging markets such as Brazil. Furthermore, policymakers apparently have few tools left to help.
Should I be worried?

George Osborne, the UK chancellor, suggests not and believes China’s stock market woes will not have much impact on European economies.

But there are plenty of other voices saying this could get a lot worse. 

Larry Summers, the former US Treasury secretary, has suggested that the US Federal Reserve may be forced to ease monetary policy, rather than hiking interest rates in the next few months as had been expected.
— Lawrence H. Summers (@LHSummers)August 24, 2015

As in August 1997, 1998, 2007 and 2008 we could be in the early stage of a very serious situation.
— Lawrence H. Summers (@LHSummers)August 24, 2015

It is far from clear that the next Fed move will be a tightening.

Furthermore, experts say policymakers do not have many tools available to shore up the global economy this time around.

Interest rates are already at record lows and central banks have spent years printing electronic cash in quantitative easing (QE) programmes, cheap money that many blame for the latest market troubles.

Stephen King, the HSBC economist, warned back in May: “The world economy is sailing across the ocean without any lifeboats to use in case of emergency.”

Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s former spin doctor, spelled out his advice for an impending crash on Twitter.
— Damian McBride (@DPMcBride)August 24, 2015

Advice on the looming crash, No.1: get hard cash in a safe place now; don't assume banks & cashpoints will be open, or bank cards will work.
— Damian McBride (@DPMcBride)August 24, 2015

Crash advice No.2: do you have enough bottled water, tinned goods & other essentials at home to live a month indoors? If not, get shopping.
— Damian McBride (@DPMcBride)August 24, 2015

Crash advice No.3: agree a rally point with your loved ones in case transport and communication gets cut off; somewhere you can all head to.

Another tweet posted later on Monday:
— Damian McBride (@DPMcBride)August 24, 2015

Today is just the stock market catching up with the terror over defaults that's been gripping the bond market for months.

What if I have money tied up in stocks?

Individuals with money invested in shares should not worry too much for now, financial market experts have said.

Nick Dixon, an investment director at the asset management company Aegon UK, said: “If pension savers don’t need to access their fund for many years, they needn’t be alarmed by short term volatility.

“Stock markets are in for a bumpy ride over the coming weeks, but if savers can stomach the ups and downs, equities are likely to provide superior returns over the medium and long term.”
What does it mean for interest rates?

There had been widespread expectation that the US Federal Reserve would start the gradual process of hiking interest rates as soon as next month. Signs of a potential hard landing for China could well stay the central bank’s hand.

The same goes for the UK, where the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, recently hinted that a rate hike could happen around the turn of the year.

In China, meanwhile, the country’s central bank is widely expected to ease monetary policy further to shore up growth and confidence.

What will this mean for inflation?

A silver lining economists highlight for those countries that rely on imports of oil and other commodities is that this global sell-off will keep prices low. Oil has more than halved from a peak of $115 per barrel last summer to a Brent crude price of less than $44 per barrel now. At least some of that will be passed on to drivers in lower fuel prices.

Philippe Waechter, the global chief economist at Natixis Asset Management, said: “On the upside, the fall in the oil price will be positive news for European economies as consumer purchasing power will be increased.”

What happens next?

Officials in Beijing are under pressure to step in with more measures to restore stability to China’s stock markets. The trouble they face is that every action is also perceived as a further sign of quite how worried they are about the slide in shares and the wider economy.

Bill O’Neill, the head of the UK investment office at UBS Wealth Management, said: “There will be some form of additional stimulus over the next few days and weeks.

“That is likely to be combined with supportive words from developed economy central bankers aimed at offering reassurance that accommodative policies will remain in place regardless of when interest rates start to rise.”

From Thursday, investors will be looking to the US and a symposium of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for signs of how this new bout of market volatility may influence their interest rate decisions.

10 funniest jokes of the Edinburgh fringe

Source: The Guardian

1. Darren Walsh: I just deleted all the German names off my phone. It’s Hans free.
2. Stewart Francis: Kim Kardashian is saddled with a huge arse … but enough about Kanye West.
3. Adam Hess: Surely every car is a people carrier?
4. Masai Graham: What’s the difference between a hippo and a Zippo? One is really heavy, the other is a little lighter.
5. Dave Green: If I could take just one thing to a desert island, I probably wouldn’t go.
6. Mark Nelson: Jesus fed 5,000 people with two fishes and a loaf of bread. That’s not a miracle. That’s tapas.
7. Tom Parry: Red sky at night: shepherd’s delight. Blue sky at night: day.
8. Alun Cochrane: The first time I met my wife, I knew she was a keeper. She was wearing massive gloves.
9. Simon Munnery: Clowns divorce: custardy battle.
10. Grace the Child: They’re always telling me to live my dreams. But I don’t want to be naked in an exam I haven’t revised for.
Honourable Mentions
Jenny Collier: I never lie on my CV, because it creases it.
Ian Smith: If you don’t know what introspection is, you need to take a long, hard look at yourself.
Tom Ward: I usually meet my girlfriend at 12:59 because I like that one-to-one time.
Gyles Brandreth: Whenever I get to Edinburgh, I’m reminded of the definition of a gentleman. It’s someone who knows how to play the bagpipes, but doesn’t.
Ally Houston: Let me tell you a little about myself. It’s a reflexive pronoun that means “me”.
James Acaster: Earlier this year I saw The Theory of Everything – loved it. Should’ve been called Look Who’s Hawking, that’s my only criticism.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Is the game up for China’s much emulated growth model?

Jayati Ghosh in The Guardian

Illustration by Robert G Fresson

Whatever happened to emerging markets? Brics, Mints, whatever global investors call them: For a while it appeared as if countries such as Brazil, India and Turkey had secure and buoyant futures, regardless of the travails of advanced economies. There was much trumpeting of their advantages, such as the demographic bulges producing young populations. Few asked about the nature of the growth, or whether it could last. The euphoria spread, leading to large private-capital inflows that pushed up asset prices in these countries.

That already seems a long time ago, as investor opinion has done yet another volte face. Investors who were slow to read the tea leaves during the boom times have now taken fright. In just 13 months, capital outflows from these countries have crossed $1tn. Stock markets have tanked across countries as distant and diverse as Malaysia, India, South Africa and Brazil; currencies have depreciated; and bond issues are slowing down, with fewer takers.

For a change, this is not being driven by policy in the developed world. Unlike the “taper tantrum” unleashed in mid-2013 by Ben Bernanke, the then US Federal Reserve chairman – when he simply announced the possibility of reducing the massive liquidity stimulus that was being provided in the US – the current skittishness in emerging markets is the fallout of what is happening in China. This is hugely important, not just because of China’s major role in global trade, but because it signifies the end of a particular growth strategy that many other countries were trying to emulate.

The recent travails of China’s economy are well known by now: falling real estate prices put paid to the construction boom, and the subsequent bursting of the stock market bubble was hamfistedly controlled through official measures. But these current difficulties are the outcome of earlier economic strategies that were widely celebrated, when the going was good.

From the early 1990s China adopted an export-led strategy that delivered continuously increasing shares of the world market, fed by relatively low wages and very high rates of investment, enabling massive increases in infrastructure. It led to big increases in inequality and even bigger environmental problems, but the strategy seemed to work – until 2008-09, when exports were hit by the global financial crisis.

Yet even then, China, India and other large emerging markets continued to grow. The talk at the time was that they were already “decoupled” from the west. In reality, China (and much of developing Asia) had simply shifted to a different engine of growth without abandoning the focus on exports. The Chinese authorities could have generated more domestic demand by stimulating consumption through rising wage shares of national income, but this would have threatened their export-driven model. Instead they put their faith in even more accumulation to keep growth rates buoyant.

So the “recovery package” in China essentially encouraged more investment, which was already nearly half of GDP. Provincial governments and public sector enterprises were encouraged to borrow heavily and invest in infrastructure, construction and more production capacity. To utilise the excess capacity, a real estate and construction boom was instigated, fed by lending from public sector banks as well as “shadow banking” activities winked at by regulators. Total debt in China increased fourfold between 2007 and 2014, and the debt-GDP ratio nearly doubled to more than over 280%.

We now know that these debt-driven bubbles end in tears. The property boom began to subside in early 2014, and real estate prices have been stagnant or falling ever since. Chinese investors then shifted to the stock market, which began to sizzle – once again actively encouraged by the Chinese government. The crash that followed has been contained only because the government pulled out all the stops to prevent further falls.

All this comes in the midst of an overall slowdown in China’s economy. Exports fell by around 8% in the year to July. Manufacturing output is falling, and jobs are being shed. Construction activity has almost halted, especially in the proliferating “ghost towns” dotted around the country. Stimulus measures such as interest rate cuts don’t seem to be working. So the recent devaluation of the yuan– which has been dressed up as a “market-friendly” measure – is clearly intended to help revive the economy.

But it will not really help. Demand from the advanced countries – still the driver of Chinese exports and indirectly of exports of other developing countries – will stay sluggish. Meanwhile, China’s slowdown infects other emerging markets across the world as its imports fall even faster than its exports and its currency moves translate into capital outflows in other countries.

The pain is felt by commodity producers and intermediate manufacturers from Brazil to Nigeria and Thailand, with the worst impacts in Asia, where China was the hub of an export-oriented production network. Many of these economies are experiencing collapses of their own property and financial asset bubbles, with negative effects on domestic demand. The febrile behaviour of global finance is making things worse.

This is not the end of the emerging markets, but is – or should be – the end of this growth model. Relying only on exports or debt-driven bubbles to deliver rapid growth cannot work for long. And when the game is finally up, there can be severe political fallout. For developing countries to truly “emerge”, a more inclusive strategy is essential.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Once, firms cherished their workers. Now they are seen as disposable

Will Hutton in The Guardian

July 1909: a street in Bournville village near Birmingham, a new town founded by chocolate manufacturer and social reformer George Cadbury. Photograph: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

More than 100 years ago, the Cadbury family built a model town, Bournville, for their workers, away from the overcrowded tenements of central Birmingham. Cadbury’s vast chocolate factory was at the centre of thousands of purpose-built villas, a village green, schools, churches and civic halls.

The message was clear. Cadbury cherished and invested in their workers, expecting commitment and loyalty back, which they got. Sir Adrian Cadbury, now in his 80s, still proudly shows visitors how his Quaker forefathers felt a genuine sense of responsibility to their workers. His family believed in capitalism for a purpose – innovation and human betterment.

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, would regard the Cadbury family as crazed. His relationship with his workforce is entirely transactional: they are to give their heart and soul to Amazon, undertaking to follow Amazon’s “leadership principles”, set on a laminated card given to every employee, and can expect to be summarily sacked if they don’t make the grade. These injunctions are aimed at not only Amazon’s fork-lift truck drivers and packagers but also at its executive workforce.

At first glance, the principles seem unexceptional, exhorting “ Amazonians” to be obsessed with customers, drive for the best and think big. In practice, they mean workers have to be available to Amazon virtually every waking hour, as a devastating article claimed in last week’s New York Times. The workers should attack each other’s ideas in the name of “creative challenge” and buy into the paranoid culture Bezos believes is essential to business success, with their hourly performance fed into computers for Big Brother Bezos to monitor.

Working at Amazon has become synonymous with stress, conflict and tears – or, if you swim rather than sink, a chance to flourish. It is, as one former executive described it, “purposeful Darwinism”: if the majority of the workforce can flourish in such a culture, you have a successful company. Bezos would claim in his defence that he has founded the US’s most valuable retailer that ships two billion items a year. Cadbury ended up being taken over. Better his approach to capitalism than defunct Quakers, except now everyone is expendable. This is the route to success. Or is it?

The nature of firms is changing. The capitalist world of the so-called golden age between 1945 and the first oil crisis in 1974 was defined by Cadbury-type companies. Even if they didn’t build estates in which their workers could live, big companies offered paid holidays, guaranteed pensions related to your final salary, sickness benefit and recognised trade unions. Above all, they offered the chance of a career and personal progression.

This was the domain of the corporation man commuting to a steady job in a steady office in a steady company with their blue-collar counterparts no less secure in a steady factor. It delivered though. If western economies could again grow consistently at 3% or 4%, underpinned by matching growth in productivity, there would be delight all round.

The companies were much more exciting than they looked. They were purposeful – repositories of skills and knowledge, seeking out new markets, applying new technologies with an appetite for growth. In Britain, great companies such as ICI, Glaxo, EMI, Unilever, Thorn, British Aircraft Corporation, Marconi along with Cadbury were centres of growth and innovation.

A critical doctrine at the time was they were held back by trade unions and soft economic policy that encouraged inflation. The proof that inflation was so damaging is scant and beyond the print, coal, rail and motor industries, British trade unions were pretty weak and pliant. What instead held these companies back was the evaporation of the guaranteed markets of empire. Second, a short-term, gentlemanly, disengaged financial system was unable to mobilise resource behind these companies and their greater purpose as imperial markets shrank. That wasn’t widely understood then – and certainly not now. Instead, the economic problem was defined as pampered, unionised workers, a view further entrenched by an avalanche of free-market economics from the US. Worker privileges and rights must cease.

So to the firm of today. The new model firm no longer has workers who are members of the organisation in a relationship of mutual respect and shared mission with committed, long-term owners; rather, the new ownerless corporation with its tourist shareholders employs contractors who have to pay for benefits themselves and can be hired and fired at will.
They are throwaway people, middle-class workers at risk as much as their working-class peers. Unions are not welcome; pension benefits are scaled back; sickness, paternity and maternity benefits are pitched at the regulatory minimum. Last week, the Citizens Advice Bureau said it estimated that 460,000 people nationwide had been defined by employers as self-employed (and thus entitled to no company benefits), even though they worked regularly for one employer, often in office roles. It is the same approach that has delivered 1.4 million zero-hours contracts. All this allegedly is to serve growth. Except over the last 20 years, growth, productivity and innovation in both Britain and America have collapsed. These new firms whose only purpose is short-term profit with contractualised workforces turn out to be poor creators of long-term value. The exceptions, paradoxically, are the great hi-tech companies such as Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook.

The alchemy of their success is they combine innovative technology, produce at continental scale, invest heavily and commit to a great purpose, usually because of the powerful personal commitment of the founder. Bezos may have constructed a Darwinian work environment but it is all “to be the Earth’s most customer-centric company”. He has invested hugely to achieve that end, but his workplaces, by contrast, seem terrible.

But even Bezos does not want to be depicted as an employer with no moral centre: he urged his employees to read the offending article and refer examples of bad practice to his human resources department.

Ultimately, long-term value creation can’t be done by treating your workforces as cattle. It’s the great debate about today’s capitalism. It would be a triumph if it was taken more seriously in Britain.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

What happens when an Ashley Madison-shaped bomb goes off in your marriage?

Helen Croydon in The Telegraph

As Loraine, 43, put her three-year-old daughter to bed in their home in Windsor she received a text from her husband. Instead of his usual “almost home” cheery tone, what she opened ripped her world apart. It was an explicit message clearly intended for someone else – another woman. “It pains me to recall the words but suffice to say it was obvious they had either had sex, or were about to.” She says. “I went into shock. I felt sick. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t think straight. I had so many questions for him.”
She confronted him and he claimed it was harmless flirtation with someone he’d met on an evening out with friends. But weeks later when Loraine logged on to the family computer, she found a page open at an email account under an alias name. The inbox was full of messages from women and notifications from a dating site which, like Ashley Madison, appeared to be aimed at married people seeking affairs.
“What followed was the worst few weeks of my life,” says Lorraine. “It sucked every ounce of self-confidence out of me. I started to blame and question myself. I wondered if I’d been giving too much attention to my daughter and neglected him. He admitted he had a problem, akin to an addiction. I did my best to understand it. I wanted things to be right. I wanted to whitewash it, press reset. I even stepped up efforts in our relationship – that’s how much I wanted it to work. I was super strong and thought ‘we’ll get through this – some good will come from it’. But inside I was devastated.”
Lorraine’s earth shattering discovery happened three years ago and a year later brought about the end of her marriage.

More than a million Britons fear their work and home lives could be wrecked after their details were leaked online by hackers who published the entire database of the Ashley Madison adultery websiteMore than a million Britons fear their work and home lives could be wrecked after their details were leaked online by hackers who published the entire database of the Ashley Madison adultery website
How many couples around the world face similar ordeals this week as they deal with the fallout from the Ashley Madison hacking scandal? An anonymous group calling itself The Impact Team went through with its threat to publish personal details of its 37 million worldwide subscribers. It first dumped the data on the dark web, but it didn’t take long for the information to drip-feed on to the mainstream internet. Several sites sprung up allowing worried spouses to check whether their other halves were straying by entering their email address. One internet user who claimed to have created a searchable database reportedly saw their website crash within minutes of going live.
More than 100 UK government email addresses was among those leaked, as well as more than 20 BBC ones, but it was unclear how many were genuine users of the site. Michelle Thomson, one of the SNP’s newly-elected Westminster MPs, was along those who said someone had stolen her email address and used it without her knowledge.
Within days, relationship counseling service Relate was receiving calls from people who had discovered partners’ details among the data and had their infidelity confirmed to them. Family law firms also report they have been contacted by suspicious spouses since the leak.
Many have taken to the internet forum to express their shock and seek advice. It makes for moving reading: “I had been hoping against hope that my husband would not show up on the list but it seems that he is….This nightmare never seems to end,” says one. Others share tips on how to access the data: “I’d be HAPPY to pay someone to mine the data, package it up and send it to me. Surely this service will be offered shortly, right?”
The group behind the attack apparently have a gripe not only with the morals of a website offering an illicit playroom to married people, but with Ashley Madison’s practice of charging its subscribers to delete information. “Too bad for those men, they’re cheating dirtbags and deserve no such discretion. Too bad for ALM (the company behind Ashley Madison), you promised secrecy but didn’t deliver,” the hackers wrote last month.

Founder of the site, Noel Biderman, said: 'The reason we’ve been so successful is because monogamy is counter to our DNA'Founder of the site, Noel Biderman, said: 'The reason we’ve been so successful is because monogamy is counter to our DNA'
But public exposure could prove an irresponsible means of justice. Susan Quilliam, a relationship psychologist and author of The New Joy of Sex, says discovering a partner’s infidelity can cause more devastation to the innocent party than the guilty one. “When you lose a relationship and you weren’t expecting to lose it, there is betrayal, shock, horror, bereavement, denial, depression. It impacts on family, friends, relatives. In a way it’s worse than a bereavement. With a bereavement you lose the future with them. When you discover casual infidelity you lose the past too.”
And what of the danger to those whose details have been leaked in punitive regimes? Data monitoring group CybelAngel says there are 1,200 email addresses with a Saudi Arabian suffix, where adultery is punishable by death. Also included are names on Ashley Madison’s gay encounters site, many from countries where homosexuality is illegal. Blackmailers have reportedly been trawling through the database in an attempt to extort users.
The Canadian company behind Ashley Madison, Avid Life Media, has long defended its business principle, claiming humans have cheated for centuries and they are merely enabling people to meet their sexual needs free from emotional complications. The founder of the site, Noel Biderman, told me in an interview in April this year: “The reason we’ve been so successful is because monogamy is counter to our DNA…What we’ve done is created a platform where likeminded individuals can be more honest and open about their intentions than they could be on [other sites].”
There may well be plenty of anthropological arguments to support the “monogamy is unnatural” thesis, but there are plenty more in favour of a little self-control.
As Quilliam points out, too much of a good thing can lead to problems: “Men and women have always had urges for short-term sexual encounters but in previous years we didn’t have the opportunity. Now it’s available. It’s online. Because it’s so easy there is a danger of getting addicted to the high. There is a dopamine rush with every message and every encounter. We try to curb smoking by making it not readily available, banning it indoors etc. Perhaps we should be thinking about what we can access online.”
When Lorraine discovered her husband’s secret dating life, she created a fake profile to try and understand why her husband would want to betray her. “The only way to forgive was to try to understand it,” she explains. What she discovered angered her: “If you don’t log on for a while you get reminders, or incentives like a month’s free membership. They even give tips on how not to get caught. On bank statements the name of the transaction is disguised – they’ve got it all sorted. It’s actively encouraging deceit. Obviously if someone wants to cheat they will cheat, but these sites accelerate a behaviour pattern. It’s like giving a drugs to drug addicts and then putting them all together to encourage each other.”

'Despite the morally questionable tagline, 'Life is short, have an affair,' Ashley Madison’s popularity is undeniable''Despite the morally questionable tagline, 'Life is short, have an affair,' Ashley Madison’s popularity is undeniable'
Despite the morally questionable tagline, “Life is short, have an affair,” Ashley Madison’s popularity is undeniable. It claims thirty-seven million members in 50 countries worldwide, including 1.2 million in UK and reports a growth in membership of 20% since March this year (although a growing number of supposed members whose details have been leaked online insist they had never even heard of it). And it is just one of a growing number of so-called cheating dating sites.
Nor is it just men who may be feeling nervous this week. Ashley Madison recently told the Telegraph it has more female members than men, although it refuses to disclose how many are active. A source close to the FBI investigation into the leak has, morever, told this newspaper that many of the female profiles on the site appear to have been created by a relatively small number of individuals. Men pay to send and receive messages. Women do not, and it has been claimed that fake profiles are created to reel in husbands.
There are plenty who support the actions of the hackers. Denise Knowles a counselor at Relate, says: “When something like this comes into the public arena people take time and take stock to look at their relationship. When a secret like this is discovered, it can open up the possibility of talking about things and it can give the opportunity for good to come out of it.”
But for Lorraine, no amount of talking could fix her relationship. Discovery of her husband’s sordid secret spelled the end. “I absolutely did not want to divorce him but it was always the elephant in the room,” she says. “I’m still heartbroken and I can’t explain to my daughter why we separated. If I hadn’t found what I did, we’d have made it.”
What may have been intended by the hackers as a self-righteous pop at philanderers around the world is fast escalating into something with far graver consequences. The data even included extracts from profiles, quoting cringeworthy descriptions of sexual fantasies. It was perhaps an attempt at ridicule, expected to be greeted by nothing more than sniggers. The reality is that the biggest cost is not to the adulterers being exposed, but the families affected.

Death of buy-to-let: landlords wake up to Osborne's 150pc tax

Richard Dyson in The Telegraph

Hundreds of thousands of landlords and their accountants are digesting the impact of George Osborne’s shock tax change unveiled in the summer Budget on July 8.

The tax increase, on which there was no consultation, will be phased in from 2017 and fully implemented by 2020.

The change was unexpected, and the new regime is highly complex, so investors and their tax advisers are only now fully grasping its effects. Many investors remain unaware of the change, or underestimate its severity.

All higher-rate taxpayers who own buy‑to‑let properties on which there is a large mortgage will pay substantially more tax. Some current basic-rate taxpayers will also be hit, because the change will push them into the higher-rate tax bracket.

Those who are worst affected will see:

● the actual tax they pay on their investment rising twofold or more;

● the tax rate payable rising above 100pc, meaning that more than all of their profit is paid in tax;

● a degree of tax that pushes them into loss, making their investment financially unviable and forcing them to increase rents sharply – or sell.

Scroll down for a worked explanation of the changes.

What is also becoming clear is that worst hit will be those modest, middle-class savers who have prudently chosen to invest in buy‑to‑let, often alongside pensions and Isas, as a means to supplement their income.

The mechanism of Mr Osborne’s tax attack is the removal of landlords’ ability to deduct the cost of their mortgage interest from their rental income when they calculate a profit on which to pay tax.

So very wealthy landlords who do not need mortgages are untouched.

• Comment: This Alice in Wonderland tax sets a new benchmark in financial absurdity

In effect, the Chancellor wants to tax landlords on their turnover rather than their profit, meaning that tax will be payable on nonexistent income. This explains why tax rates will, for some, exceed 100pc: landlords will have to pay all of their profit in tax, and then pay more tax still.

As landlords absorb news of this shock tax attack, many have turned to online forums to vent their dismay. Some are writing to their MPs and directly to Mr Osborne.

More than 14,000 have signed an online petition calling for the tax to be withdrawn.

Other buy-to-let investors, though, remain unaware of the tax bombshell poised to wreak havoc on their finances. Accountants, mortgage lenders, brokers and other professionals are themselves still working through the ramifications.

Tina Riches, tax partner at accountancy and investment firm Smith & Williamson, said: “We are contacting all of our clients who have mortgaged property which they let, and we want to speak one-to-one with those worst affected. It is going to have a significant impact.”

Smith & Williamson has calculated that any higher-rate taxpayer landlord whose mortgage interest is 75pc or more of their rental income, net of other expenses, will see all of their returns wiped out by 2020.

So mortgage costs above 75pc of rental income will mean the buy‑to‑let investments become loss-making.

For additional-rate (45pc) taxpayers, the threshold at which their investment returns are wiped out by the tax is when mortgage costs reach 68pc of rental income.

The investors worst affected are therefore likely to be those who have bought recently with large mortgages. Low-yielding properties, such as those in London and other parts of the South East, where rents are comparatively low relative to property prices, will also be exposed. That is because rental income is likely to be lower relative to investors’ mortgage costs.

“It will be very difficult for middle-income borrowers to get into buy‑to‑let in future,” Ms Riches said. “It won’t end overnight, but existing investors will sell and far fewer will buy. Buy‑to‑let may well waste away.

“The wider worry is that the Government can make such radical changes without any consultation. What other areas will come under attack?”

Connie Cheuk owns 5 Properties - Photographed at her home in Littlehampton. Photo: Philip Hollis

Read how Connie Cheuk (pictured above), a landlord with five properties, will see her tax bill rise by almost 40pc. She is even contemplating giving up her 18-year career as a teacher as a means of reducing the tax impact

Britain’s big mortgage banks are reluctant to comment and appear to want to downplay the impact, perhaps to reassure their shareholders. But a senior executive at a top-five buy‑to‑let lender admitted privately to Telegraph Money: “For a group of customers there is a challenge, a potential for their cashflow to turn negative. They will be loss-making. Overall, this move makes it substantially harder for investors to generate a net income from buy‑to‑let.”

Of the many landlords to contact us, several are considering selling. This would enable them to pay off mortgages and limit the tax damage. Others will evict tenants and refurbish properties so they can be re-let for more.

One landlord described how a property currently let to a single mother of four, who is on benefits, will “not wash its face” once the tax starts to bite. If he converted the property into two units he could increase the current rent to cover the tax. The council would have to rehouse the family, he said, “and there is already an acute shortage of housing in that area”.

Another landlord described a £110,000 property, on which there is a £68,000 mortgage, let to an elderly couple at “about two thirds of the going market rent”. It generates an annual £1,100 profit, which would fall to £370 after the tax change.

“The property needs a new boiler, which would wipe out profits for years,” the landlord said. “My options are to increase rent significantly, which the tenants can’t afford, or evict them and sell up, or convert the property into smaller units.

“The Chancellor doesn’t grasp the misery he’ll cause – or doesn’t care.”

When George Osborne announced the change, he implied that the extra tax would hit only higher-earning landlords.

It’s true that every mortgaged landlord who pays 40pc or 45pc tax will indeed pay much more under his proposals.

But some basic-rate taxpayers will also pay more tax – because the change will push them into the higher-rate bracket.

In fact, contrary to Mr Osborne’s suggestion, the only buy-to-let investors who will not be hit are the very wealthy who buy property in cash and who don’t need a mortgage.

At the heart of the change is landlords’ future inability to deduct the cost of their mortgage interest from their rental income.

In other words, tax will be applied to the rent received – rather than what is left of the rent after the mortgage interest has been paid.

Here is a worked example assuming you, the landlord, pay 40pc tax.


Your buy-to-let earns £20,000 a year and the interest-only mortgage costs £13,000 a year. Tax is due on the difference or profit. So you pay tax on £7,000, meaning £2,800 for HMRC and £4,200 for you.


Tax is now due on your full rental income of £20,000, less a tax credit equivalent to basic-rate tax on the interest. So you pay 40pc tax on £20,000 (ie £8,000), less the 20pc credit (20pc of £13,000 = £2,600), meaning £5,400 for HMRC and £1,600 for you. Your tax bill has therefore gone up by 93pc.

Now, say Bank Rate – and in turn your mortgage rate – rises by a small fraction, lifting your mortgage cost to £15,000, while your rent remains at £20,000.

You will have to pay £5,000 tax in this scenario, so you make no profit at all.