29 February 2012

Ljubljana blues


As we are playing against them this evening (no, as far as I can see, it's not on telly), I thought that football fans might want to know:
Slovenia's economy shrank by 2.8% on a year-on-year basis in the last three months of 2011, data just released showed.  That follows a 0.5% contraction in the previous quarter, making Slovenia one of several eurozone countries in recession.
Shame.  Nice place, Slovenia.  I once spent a happy long weekend in Ljubljana ...

  

29 February

Hey, you work an extra day, you get paid for it, yeah?

Not if it's a leap year ...

 

Ach, it's only money

Look, it may sound crazy (though not as crazy as Rebekah's horse), but it's not that complicated.  The Guardian explains:
The European Central Bank will on Wednesday step up its campaign to stabilise the euro, forestall a new credit crunch and shore up troubled banks by flooding the markets with hundreds of billions' worth of easy money for the second time in two months.
The offer of three-year loans to banks at the cheap interest rate of 1% represents a boon for the banking sector in the troubled eurozone periphery, and is broadly seen as a masterstroke by ECB president Mario Draghi of Italy (pictured), who launched the policy in December in one of his first moves as president.
Analysts speculate that the take-up of what amounts to a eurozone policy of quantitative easing could reach €1tn (£850bn) when the funds are made available, the expectation is that the borrowing will roughly equal the first round of lending in December when more than 500 EU banks netted €489bn.
So the ECB lends vast amounts to the banks at a paltry interest rate who then proceed to buy up the sovereign debt of peripheral countries, yielding a much better rate of interest.  So everyone's happy: the banks make a tidy profit, the peripheral countries sell off their debt more cheaply than would otherwise be the case and the ECB is lauded for bringing aboout financial stability.  It's just like magic.

There's a flaw there somewhere, however; I just haven't spotted it yet ... 

28 February 2012

Zero credibility

The Independent provides us with an improbable tale:

Warnings that police were investigating fraud allegations involving Emma Harrison's company were not passed to David Cameron before he appointed her as his "families tsar", Downing Street said yesterday.

It sought to distance the Prime Minister from the controversy as it stressed he was unaware of the inquiry into the alleged misuse of public money at her firm, A4e. The Department of Work and Pensions is understood to have been told by the company about the investigation in November.
But it appeared not to have relayed that information to Number 10. A month later, Mr Cameron appointed her an adviser on helping problem families get off benefits and into work. She was unpaid in her post, but A4e won further Government contracts worth £400,000.
Did Cameron not consult DWP before appointing Ms Harrison?  If not, why not?  If so, why did DWP not tell him about the fraud allegations?  Is the government that dysfunctional?

27 February 2012

Graph of the day

From The New Statesman (here):


And it will get worse before it gets better ...

Grace under pressure

Beer, the curse of the political classes:

Naivety

The Telegraph is wondering if the game is worth the candle:
In my view, the greatest threat to the euro is that Greece will make a success of default and devaluation. Something like it has happened several times before, notably with Argentina in 2002, when it defaulted and devalued. The country went from an appalling financial crisis to growing by 11pc in the space of 18 months.
Suppose that once the new drachma has fallen by 30pc to 50pc, Greece begins to show signs of growth. How would it then be possible to persuade the electorate of Spain, Portugal, Italy, and even Ireland, that there is no alternative to years of misery? It is all very well building firewalls to stop financial contagion, but how do you build firewalls around the voters? 
Firewalls round the voters?  Silly question.  You impose technocratic administrations on those countries which fail to perceive the benefits of austerity and then you send in the Brussels bureaucrats to run their economies.  Who cares about the voters?  Ask the Greeks ...

26 February 2012

Quote of the day

Katharine Whitehorn (a lady whom I revere for her Cooking in a Bedsitter) in The Observer (here):
I love it when academics turn their erudite brains to everyday subjects. My favourite is the study by Tania Sanchez, whose institute spent years of research on perfume to discover what scent most drives men wild: "We discovered," she said, "it is bacon."

  

Bad Dobbin

Mmm, horses.  Dangerous things.  Nevertheless, The Observer seems to approve of them:
Now the psychological benefits of working with horses are being recognised by growing numbers of therapists who work with autistic children, young people with behavioural problems, adults with depression or celebrities with addictions.
"The horse is the perfect mirror, they are very emotional beings; we're only starting to realise how intelligent they are," said therapy counsellor Gabrielle Gardner, of Shine For Life, watching the horse dance around his pen at a farm in Blackstone, a village a few miles north of Brighton.
Didn't do Lorraine Kelly any good, did it?

   

25 February 2012

Pots and kettles

I seldom dip into the world of international diplomacy but I was intrigued by this analysis in The Telegraph:
Speaking after a Friends of Syria conference, held in Tunisia, Mrs Clinton said that Russia and China must join international condemnation of President Assad's regime. "It's quite distressing to see two permanent members of the Security Council using their veto while people are being murdered – women, children, brave young men – houses are being destroyed," she said.
"It is just despicable and I ask whose side are they on? They are clearly not on the side of the Syrian people." 
Now, if you take Mrs Clinton's statement and substitute "Palestinian" for "Syrian", you may find that it is a rather different permanent member of the Security Council which has, over the years and not infrequently, been using its veto.

 

Gender and sex

A French lady (am I allowed to say that?) writing in The Guardian:
The freedom of women in France is very much a matter of words, and I think it is intimately related to language. As with many Latin languages, the masculine form trumps everything when it comes to grammatical agreement of adjectives and so forth. We say Un Fran├žais et trente millions de Fran├žaises sont contents; those 30 million French women have to be contents in the masculine form as dictated by their one male companion, rather than contentes as they would be without him.
A lot of men tell us that we are fighting the wrong battle, that we should fight first for wage equality, or against the glass ceiling. But words matter. Let's imagine unmarried men having to tick the box Mon Damoiseau, the medieval equivalent of Ma Demoiselle. The boys soon stopped allowing people to call them bird, with its insinuation of virginity. Whereas I, at the age of 43, still get called "Mademoiselle", literally "my little hen". Charmant, non?
I would normally place myself with those who consider that there are more important things in life.  But Madame puts her case most elegantly.



23 February 2012

We're all in this together

Comment is superfluous.  The Independent reports:

Taxpayer-backed Royal Bank of Scotland remained at the heart of the row over bankers' pay today as it unveiled total losses of £2 billion for 2011 at the same time as paying £785 million in bonuses to its staff.

RBS, which is 82% state-owned after receiving a £45.5 billion bailout at the height of the financial crisis, said the bonus pool included £390 million for its 17,000 investment bankers. 

  

The wicked witch



Just cos she paid herself over £8 million last year and cos she owns a £5 million neo-Gothic mansion in the country and a £3 million mews property in town, does not mean that she's a bad person.  Admittedly, she made her pennies out of exploiting helping the unemployed, and her company has been repeatedly investigated for irregularities in implementing contracts from the Department of Work and Pensions.  And, OK, the police are involved in investigating fraud on the part of some of her employees.

But Cameron appointed her as his back to work tsar.  So everything must be all right, yes ...


  

The nasty party

Truth will out.  They pretend to be nice, but then the wind blows up their skirt and you see the cloven hoof.  And there is that disgusting whiff of sulphur.

The Independent reports:
Controversial plans to make it easier for companies to "hire and fire" workers may be revived by George Osborne in next month's Budget.
It won't actually do anything to improve the UK's economy, but it will keep the Tory backbenchers happy.

Graph of the day



Don't expect petrol prices to come down soon.  And worry about whether inflation will continue to fall.  And watch the Chancellor's strategy (such as it is) go up in smoke.


  

Music of the week

This guy's not bad as a singer, but he should probably stick to the day job:

Good news for feminists?

The Y chromosome, which carries the traits of maleness, may be on the way out.  The Guardian reports:
"In the end, males are uncertain little creatures and the way they are made is very different in mammals, birds, insects and worms," said Steve Jones, author of the book Y: The Descent of Man and professor of genetics at University College London.
"In the long term we are all dead, and that is certainly going to be true for the Y chromosome, which is rather an arriviste on the evolutionary scene. It may take a long time, but I am pretty confident that the Y machine will, one day, be replaced by something else. Quite what that will be, you will have to ask me in a hundred million years."
Not exactly comforting.   But this "uncertain little creature" is far from down-hearted; after all, a world of females would not necessarily be a Bad Thing.  I think ...

22 February 2012

Quote of the day

From the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, a Mr Charlie Bean (here):
"Someone with a £100,000 pension pot, who could have expected that to yield an annual pension of a little under £7,000 three years ago, would now get just under £6,000. That is a rather substantial income loss. But it is only part of the story," he said.
"Those pension funds will typically have been invested in a mix of bonds and equities. The rise in asset prices as a result of QE also raises the value of the pension pot, providing an offset to the fall in annuity rates."
He added that pensioners should not expect to be immune to the downturn. While savers have been hit by record low interest rates, working households have been squeezed by a 7.5pc fall in real incomes, compared with where they would have otherwise been, as well as rising unemployment.
"Real household income declined a total of 2.5pc in the two years after output troughed, whereas in normal conditions it might have been expected to rise about 5pc in that time," Mr Bean said.
He added: "Savers have every right to feel aggrieved at losing out; after all, they did nothing to cause the financial crisis. But neither did most of those in work, who have seen a substantial squeeze in their real incomes. And unemployment, particularly among the young, has risen. There have been few winners over the past few years." 
Well I can think of a few winners, notably those damn bankers who despite having caused the problem did very nicely on their bonuses.

But Mr Bean should reflect on his attitude.  Reductions in income, whether of pensioners or workers, are not an academic exercise in distributing the pain.  They cause real misery for many people.  Not that Mr Bean would understand ...

 

21 February 2012

Where's the celebration?

Don't they believe in this, ahem, wonderful euro agreement?  The UK, French and German stock markets are all down this morning, while the euro-dollar exchange rate is more or less unchanged from yesterday.

Or have they learned the hard way that euro deals are apt to disintegrate after a day or two?

  

20 February 2012

Rubbing their noses in it

Yes, it's the big day for Greece when the Eurozone finance ministers will (probably) agree to the bailout.  But don't get too excited; it will only be a provisional agreement, in that the Dutch, Finnish and German parliaments have to endorse the arrangements over the next week or two, before it can be put into effect.

What will be interesting will be the attempts of Brussels (and Frankfurt) to maintain control of the situation in Greece.  The escrow account deal seems certain to be adopted, thus ensuring that there will be no hanky-panky once the funds have been transferred.  There are also likely to be demands for a permanent Troika presence in Athens whose purpose will be to keep the Greek government's nose to the grindstone.

Thus the EU will have established its first colony ...

19 February 2012

The snake in the tunnel

Ms Pagano in The Independent thinks that there may be a plan B in the offing:
... the markets are convinced that the politicians are working out a managed default that would allow Greece to devalue but stay within the euro, a new "soft" euro band; for those with long memories, not unlike the old exchange rate mechanism. This would allow Greece to devalue by up to 25 per cent and continue using the euro note, but a Greek one stamped with its insignia, thus keeping pride intact too.
It's impossible to know whether such a plan is being hatched, but the markets are usually pretty good at smelling these things out; if it happens, August is the most likely month. No one is going to admit to a Plan B as it would have to be conducted in secrecy with the other eurozone central banks over a weekend, and announced first thing on a Monday to avoid a flight of capital out of the country. The Greek banks would have to be recapitalised, a floor would have to be put under corporate and household debt. Such an arrangement has the benefit of allowing Portugal and Spain to opt out too into a more flexible band, should they need to. And hey presto, you then have a northern "hard" euro area of Germany, Austria, Finland, Netherlands – maybe France and Italy – and trading can start competitively. 
Sensible idea.  But far too sensible for the muddle-headed bureaucrats in Brussels and Frankfurt?

  

18 February 2012

It comes to us all

The sense that all the body parts are not quite working as they should.  The recognition that there are some pastimes - jogging, dancing, standing at the bar - which are no longer tenable.  The occasional feeling that a quiet night in is infinitely preferable to a wild night out.  The understanding that there are limits to the skills of the medical profession.

Ian Jack in The Guardian identifies one aspect of the problem:
Men tend to come to pills quite late in life. For our first 50 or 60 years, what has a chemist's shop meant to us? Toothpaste, shampoo, Calpol when the kids were small (or even, in our own impossibly distant youth, an attractive drawer marked "Liquorice"). Certainly, we've been aware of another kind of man in the queue – a shakier-looking or more breathless-sounding man, perhaps leaning on a stick or sitting on a chair opposite the pharmacy counter where an assistant in a white coat is about to deliver him a bulky paper bag with words such as: "Here you are, Mr Mackenzie, that'll last you 'til next month." But what were such men to us, who wanted only Euthymol? Then suddenly one day we are … not that other kind of man, not exactly, not yet, but certainly more aware that becoming that other kind of man isn't so impossible.
A bulky paper bag with a prescription form attached awaits us. The pills have begun. To women, a regime of pills may be no big deal in a life that may have been governed since the age of 16 by the contraceptive pill; and women, to risk a generalisation, are less alarmist about medicine. But to many men, pills are a sign of vulnerability – sometimes the first sign. Cholesterol, hypertension, type-two diabetes: our 50-year-old selves were hardly aware of the prospect of them. And now 10 and more years later they come marching towards us with their little warning banners about heart attacks, a risk to be moderated by an unending commitment to pills.
Och well.  Onwards and upwards.  As long as I have my books and music, a fag and a glass of beer, life is still sweet.

  

16 February 2012

Quote of the day


Yes, it's our porridge-slurping Prime Minister:
"When the referendum on independence is over, I am open to looking at how the devolved settlement can be improved further.  And yes, that means considering what further powers could be devolved."
I think that we will need an elaboration of that promise before it is convincing.

Mervyn and the runaway train

Just occasionally, the newspapers offer a glimpse of explanation.  Is quantitative easing a Good Thing?  The Independent provides a metaphor:
The train is hurtling down a track towards five recklessly drunk people who are about to be killed. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can delay it by enough for the drunks to move away by dropping a heavy weight in front of it. As it happens, there is a very trusting, very fat man next to you. Your only way to avert disaster is to push him over the bridge and on to the track, killing him to save five. Do you proceed?
Philosophers and others with too much time on their hands have been mulling this sort of thing for ages.
Sir Mervyn's runaway train is that even if QE does save the five on the track, the fat man – pensioners, savers – are being brutally mowed down.
Annuity rates are tragic. Savings returns are not much better.
QE is a transfer of wealth from the prudent to the drunk. But if Sir Mervyn hadn't put it in place, everyone might have suffered.
The point is that there are no "good" policies when it comes to the economy, merely ones that are the least bad available.
Well OK as far as it goes.  But what if you're the prudent fat man, relying on annuities or savings to keep you afloat?

Conversation of the week

Is this unduly cynical?  Probably not.
Osborne: I welcome Moody's assessment of the economy. It is a ringing endorsement for the government and shows we are right to continue to make cuts and put people out of work.
Cameron: Are you sure?
Osborne: Absolutely, Cams.
Cameron: Then how come you said the same thing about our handling of the economy when Standard & Poor's took us off negative watch two years ago?
Osborne: Because Hilto tells me to say every piece of bad news is a ringing endorsement.
Cameron: He says that to me, too.
Osborne: Don't blame me. I'm just a fairly dim public schoolboy who has never had a proper job, whom you made chancellor because we were both in the Bullers. I don't know any more about running the economy than you do.
Aye, and it's becoming obvious ...

The Argentine prince from over the water

Marina takes up the cause (although with Marina it's sometimes hard to tell) of Carlos:
In what moral universe could Carlos Tevez possibly be seen as an unlikely hero? The answer, needless to say, is this one. Within the football force field that envelops this septic isle, I find myself experiencing wildly misplaced admiration for the prodigal Manchester City striker, who this week returned from Argentina.
Tevez has spent the past three months in what is described as "self-imposed exile", which makes him sound a bit like a Shakespearean duke, as opposed to someone who got in a bate about warming up for a Champions League match. The Argentinian is estimated to have lost himself a staggering £9.3m in wages and fines over some warped point of non-principle, and against football's current backdrop, this stubborn two fingers to the cash takes on a sort of Bizarro-world heroism.
Whenever I watched him playing football on the telly, it always seemed to me that he gave 100% commitment to whichever side he was playing for, not something which could be said of all the football stars plying their trade in Manchester.

Songs of love and loss

RIP, then, Dory Previn.  I still have the Mythical Kings and Iguanas LP somewhere on my shelves.  Some great songs.  Two of the best can be found here.

15 February 2012

Obsession

Rangers in administration from Gizmo on Vimeo.

h/t to Norman

Quote of the day

The Daily Mash explains all:
DAVID Cameron is to launch a series of initiatives that will make being paralytic much safer and more convenient.
The prime minister wants Britain to stop worrying about alcohol poisoning and nasty head injuries and go out and get as drunk as it possibly can.
Mr Cameron will announce a series of 'drunk-safe' measures today including:
  • US style 'drunk tanks' where people can sleep it off in safety rather than adopting the foetal position in the middle of a busy road.
  • More police in A&E units to stop the utterly hammered from beating the hell out of each other.
  • And 'booze buses' manned by paramedics that will scour the streets looking for drunk people and then give them hot tea and a Pot Noodle.
Yeah, I could live with that ...

Political eloquence?

So is it "a reality check", as the Chancellor would have us believe, or is it "a wake-up call", as Labour asserts?  Does either mean anything, other than someone somewhere was A. imagining things or B. sleeping? 

Perhaps it is just an example of how politicians lazily leap towards the nearest cliche.

 

14 February 2012

And here's another one



Larry the cat at No 10.  So what makes him worthy of a photocall?  Has he caught any mice?  Nah, it's just another example of No 10's predilection for empty headlines.

(Hey, I'm in a bad mood this morning.)


  

Action this day

Trouble is, Cameron is always vowing action.  Today it's on whiplash insurance claims; yesterday it was on race relations in football.

But nothing ever happens.  Grab a headline or two, and then move on.

Greek tragedy

The Independent editorial gets it slightly wrong:
As things currently stand, Greece will receive the €130bn it needs to stave off a disorderly default and it will be able to write off €100bn of privately held debt. But the agreement has to be finalised by EU finance ministers in Brussels tomorrow; only then will the money be released.
Well no, actually.  There remain some significant details to be cleared up.  The Greek leaders need to give believable assurances that the agreement will be implemented; a missing 325 million euros of cuts need to be identified; and the German Bundestag (don't ask why) has to agree the arrangements on 27 February.  None of these is a given.

Oh, and the final humiliation, the funds will be paid into a special escrow account so that the troika can ensure that it is not misused.

On and on and on.  While Athens goes up in flames ...

13 February 2012

Music of the week

What?  You thought I'd forgotten?


Carla in bronze



Well no, I don't really see the lady as a poor Italian feather-plucker.


   

Stop digging

It's a classic!  The Independent reports:
Privately, Mr Cameron is deeply frustrated by the divisions within his party over the [health] reforms. At a recent meeting at No 10, he is said to have thumped a desk, saying: "We've not shed blood on these proposals not to go through with them."
Mr Cameron has to learn (obviously the hard way).  He is like a punter betting on a horse that keeps on losing; regardless of experience, because he has lost so much on the poor nag, he continues to invest in it in the foolish belief that it will come right in the end.  Perhaps it will, but it seems unlikely; better to cut his losses.

The use of diagrams




No, I do not understand what The Guardian is seeking to demonstrate - but it certainly makes for a pretty picture.

   

12 February 2012

The fine messes accumulate



Oh dear.  The Independent reports on the Health and Social Care Bill:
Almost two years in the making, the once eye-catching plan to take the axe to the NHS's bloated bureaucracy and hand power to family doctors has become a metaphor for Mr Cameron's worst failings as Prime Minister – lack of attention to detail, a hands-off management style, misplaced loyalty to old friends and a deep-rooted belief that shouting at the Despatch Box will silence one's critics.
One exasperated government strategist resorted to quoting Malcolm Tucker, the foul-mouthed spin doctor from The Thick of It, to sum up how bad things have become: "It is a fucking omnishambles." 
Tut tut.  How infra dig ...

At least it does not apply to Scotland.

The Black-Scholes equation

No, it's nothing to do with football.  But The Observer expects us to read and understand this kind of stuff on a Sunday morning:
The idea behind many financial models goes back to Louis Bachelier in 1900, who suggested that fluctuations of the stock market can be modelled by a random process known as Brownian motion. At each instant, the price of a stock either increases or decreases, and the model assumes fixed probabilities for these events. They may be equally likely, or one may be more probable than the other. It's like someone standing on a street and repeatedly tossing a coin to decide whether to move a small step forwards or backwards, so they zigzag back and forth erratically. Their position corresponds to the price of the stock, moving up or down at random. The most important statistical features of Brownian motion are its mean and its standard deviation. The mean is the short-term average price, which typically drifts in a specific direction, up or down depending on where the market thinks the stock is going. The standard deviation can be thought of as the average amount by which the price differs from the mean, calculated using a standard statistical formula. For stock prices this is called volatility, and it measures how erratically the price fluctuates. On a graph of price against time, volatility corresponds to how jagged the zigzag movements look.
Black-Scholes implements Bachelier's vision. It does not give the value of the option (the price at which it should be sold or bought) directly. It is what mathematicians call a partial differential equation, expressing the rate of change of the price in terms of the rates at which various other quantities are changing. Fortunately, the equation can be solved to provide a specific formula for the value of a put option, with a similar formula for call options.
It's quite put me off my bacon and eggs.

 

11 February 2012

Rugger

Oh yes, the BBC and the Six Nations.  All those questions.  Will Dallaglio manage to complete a statement, any statement, without a redundant "y'know"?  (Definitely not.)  Will John Inverdale again be wearing more lipstick than Gabby?  (Probably.)  Will Brian Moore keep his temper?  (Probably not.)

More sympathy; or less?

Yes, it's another group of over-privileged individuals feeling sorry for themselves.  The Independent reports:

The House of Lords is a sedate place where little disturbs the calm, but there are two major issues currently endangering their lordships' blood pressures.

One is the overcrowding caused by David Cameron's determination to stuff the upper house with political placemen and women. The other is their car park.
Driving to this otherwise desirable London club has become increasingly frustrating, not just because more peers means extra traffic, but because of the security.
Their lordships complain that those who drive in have to execute a large loop to get through security, while those arriving by taxi have too far to walk from the drop off point. 
Aye, it's a tough life being a peer of the realm ...

10 February 2012

Getting off the pot

When is a deal not a deal?  A. when it involves the Greeks; and B. when it involves EU politicians.  The Independent reports:

Greece yesterday unveiled a political deal over budget cuts that should unlock a €130bn (£109m) aid package and enable Athens to avoid a potentially catastrophic default next month. After a week of fraught negotiations between the three parties that make up Lucas Papademos' coalition government, the Prime Minister's office yesterday confirmed that agreement on €3.3bn of new spending cuts had been secured.

But there is still some way to go before the deal is finalised, as the chairman of the meeting of eurozone finance ministers said Greece has to identify an extra €325m in savings for 2012 in order to trigger the bailout.
Jean-Claude Juncker said the Greek parliament will also have to pass the full package of cuts and reforms on Sunday and party leaders have to make clear that they will back the measures after elections, due in April.
Come on guys, it's make your mind up time.  Kick the can down the road, one more time ...

Sympathy for the devil

Don't you feel sorry for the bankers and their miserable little bonuses?  The Independent reports:

"Banker and bonus bashing" by leaders of all three main political parties is undermining British business and harming the nation's image abroad, senior Labour figures have warned.

Alistair Darling, the former chancellor, and Lord Mandelson, the former business secretary, have joined an industry-led backlash against the attacks on executives in line for big bonuses by David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg. Political pressure forced Stephen Hester, the RBS chief executive, and directors at Network Rail to surrender their bonuses and saw Fred Goodwin, the former RBS boss, stripped of his knighthood. One senior business figure said: "Mr Cameron should show leadership and stand up for business rather than follow the baying mob, even if it makes him unpopular."
In a sign that Downing Street may soften its line, it declined to urge restraint at Barclays Bank, which is today due to announce its bonuses, including one for its chief executive, Bob Diamond, who may be entitled to a multi-million-pound payment.
I beg to disagree.  Banker bashing is entirely justified and immensely satisfying.  These masters of the universe messed up big-time and caused enormous damage to everyone except themselves.  I refer you to Mr Dylan:
Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul.

  

08 February 2012

CD of the year; hell, of the decade ...

I got no future
I know my days are few
The present's not that pleasant
Just a lot of things to do
I thought the past would last me
But the darkness got that too
Yeah, the new Leonard CD* arrived this morning.  Great, terrific, magic, what can I say?


*  We oldies remained thirled to CDs.  I believe that downloading from the interweb is the current fashion, but I never learned how.

06 February 2012

Literary snobbery

The Guardian chooses to have a go at us Kindle readers:
Most new Kindle owners buy an avalanche of classics in their initial excitement. All of Trollope for £1.99! All of Dickens for £3! But are they actually read?
...

The reading public in private is lazy and smutty. E-readers hide the material. Erotica sells well. My own downmarket literary fetish is male-oriented historical fiction (histfic). Swords and sails stuff. I'm happier reading it on an e-reader, and keeping shelf space for books that proclaim my cleverness.
Publishers say that there is little real change going on, just substitution: those who buy genre books start buying digitally instead. I'm not so sure it is wise to underestimate the boundless idiocy of the unobserved reading public.
Though the writer's argument is undermined by her earlier comments (in the same article):
Amazon, the dominant player, is secretive with its numbers. As the company revealed its mixed results for 2011 last week, all its UK division would say was that ebook sales over the past three months were up five-fold on the equivalent period last year. No actual data.
Amazon has started supplying data to Nielsen BookData in the US for the Wall Street Journal's bestseller lists, but the information is limited. UK publishers know their own genre titles do best as Amazon tells them this privately; across the industry there is nothing to go on.
But why allow the absence of hard data to invalidate literary prejudice?

Oh, and for the record my Kindle includes Dickens, Conan Doyle, Zola and Dumas; all of which have been read.  (Even if I am at present working my way through Martin's Song of Ice and Fire ...)

05 February 2012

It's only the weather

Looking out my window this morning, I saw no snow or ice, merely a touch of frost. The cars and the buses rolled along unhindered.  Nevertheless, according to the newspaper headlines, I was deceived:
The Telegraph:

Severe snow and ice bring Britain to a standstill

 The Independent:

Travel warnings as snow blankets UK

The Observer:

Big chill set to last several days as Britain is reduced to a go-slow

The Mail on Sunday:

Snow-go Britain! UK hit by up to six inches leaving hundreds stuck on M40 (and Heathrow cancelled flights BEFORE flakes even fell)

Ah, now I see; it's just the usual southron English winter panic.
 

04 February 2012

Just another thought

Mr Peter Oborne in The Telegraph is known for occasionally putting forward seemingly crackpot ideas, but this seems worth pursuing:
... by the Chancellor’s own logic, RBS is a prime candidate to be broken up.
More encouragingly still, most of its businesses are fundamentally sound, and the original Royal Bank of Scotland still exists. It was granted a charter by George I as long ago as 1727 and is one of the very rare British banks with the authority to issue its own bank notes. It is screaming out to be split off from its ruined parent organisation, recapitalised and sold to the public.
The same applies to Natwest. This is a first-class clearing bank acquired by the RBS group in a stock-market coup 10 years ago. Its reputation has been damaged thanks to its association with this humiliated group and it, too, urgently needs to be given back its independence. Exactly the same argument applies to the smaller banks that still belong to Mr Goodwin’s doomed business empire – The Ulster Bank, Child & Co, Adam & Company as well as Coutts, long standing bankers to the royal family.
These banks have well-known brand names and are part of a fine historical legacy that can only be fully restored by removal from the RBS state-owned morass. Finally, the same surely applies to RBS’s well-regarded insurance subsidiaries, Direct Line and Churchill. Indeed, it is impossible to understand what benefit these businesses gain from being run by the former Credit Suisse investment banker Stephen Hester, whatever the size of his bonus.
Why not?  Where is the logic of retaining them under the baleful domination of RBS?  And it would encourage competition.

Much the same applies to Lloyds.  It might be difficult (but surely not impossible) to disentangle the decent bits of the Bank of Scotland, the Halifax and Scottish Widows from the Lloyds/TSB operation and put them back into the private sector.  But why keep them all together?

The government is in control of both these super-banks (or not so super banks); if Osborne would pull the finger out and get on with it, we could then look critically at the bits that were left and plot a way forward.

03 February 2012

Music of the week

La nostalgie de la boue:

Worth a try

But it can take a while.  The Independent  advises:
First, run a disk clean-up (Start>programs>accessories>system tools) which will remove temporary files and all sorts of other junk from your hard drive.
Secondly, disable any programmes you don't need that automatically start when your computer is switched on (start>programmes>startup).
Finally defrag your hard disk (start>programs>accessories>system tools>disk defragmenter). This will take several hours – you may want to leave it overnight – but it will speed up performance by more logically storing data on your hard drive.
If you are running a Mac make sure to clean up your dashboard as it eats up your machine's memory. Fire up the activity monitor (applications folder>utilities>activity monitor), if you see a lot of dashboard applications high up the list, consider disabling any that you don't absolutely need.

Bit of a comedown if it's no?

Since when did the Crown Prosecution Service make a televised production out of a decision whether or not to prosecute?  But The Guardian reports:
David Cameron has been making contingency plans for a limited cabinet reshuffle as the Crown Prosecution Service disclosed that it will announceon Friday whether it will charge the energy secretary, Chris Huhne, over allegations he avoided a speeding penalty.
Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, will give his decision on Huhne, and his former wife, Vicky Pryce, in a televised announcement at 10am.
I suppose that everyone must have a moment in the limelight?

   

02 February 2012

The foot in mouth man

Where do the republicans find them?  The Washington Post reports:
With his Florida victory in hand, Mitt Romney (R-1 percent) did a series of round-robin interviews with the television morning shows. But he skittered way off course during his interview on CNN. I kid you not, the man who looks like he fired your spouse, foreclosed on your house and shipped your kid’s job overseas told anchor Soledad O’Brien, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.”
This is the man whose linguistic dexterity had already baffled us:
... this former governor of Massachusetts, whose net worth hovers in the $250 million range and who is the son of a wealthy former car company chief, has the uncanny ability to muddle his message by repeatedly sticking his ample silver foot in his mouth. “I’m not concerned about the very poor” comes a week after Romney said, while standing in front of a foreclosed Florida home, “Now, the banks aren’t bad people.” And that came 15 days after he said, “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.”
Makes Sarah Palin look sensible ...
 

01 February 2012

We're not cooking with gas

All I wanted was a nice pot roast.  A chunk of beef, an onion, some swede and carrot, a few shallots, wine and beef stock.  What could go wrong?  But it's not that easy with a ceramic hob.  You can't set the gas at a peep.

But Delia said it would be alright in the oven.  Three hours at 140 degrees.  OK, but the casserole pot was too tall for the top oven, so it had to go in the bottom oven.  But the bottom oven is a fan oven.  So I went with three and a half hours at 130 degrees.

Jeez, life is a trial.  But it turned out OK.  Even so, I'll have heartburn all evening ...

Bait and switch

Convenient timing.  Shortly after his dithering over the Hester bonus, and simultaneously with the report to Parliament of his EU climbdown, Cameron gets to pose as a decisive banker critic by announcing the undubbing of poor old Fred Goodwin. 

Anyone else in line to lose an honour?  Probably not until Cameron gets into further trouble.