29 June 2013

For the birds

One of the many pleasures of living in the south of Spain is watching the birdies.  Moments ago, I opened my window and spent a happy five minutes watching the swifts circling and swooping around the swimming pool.

And it is not just the swifts.  As evening falls, I hear the owls tu-whitting in the trees.  While on my way to the bar for my lunchtime beverage, I am invariably greeted by a pair of cheeky sparrows - which never fails to lift the heart.  (Whatever happened to the Edinburgh sparrows?)  And even the ubiquitous pigeons seem sleeker and more attractive than their Scottish counterparts.

And once in a while, way up in the skies, I spot a majestic predator.  One of these days, I will dig out a reference book to identify them ...


Quote of the day

The media are growing ever fonder of Laura Robson, the next great hope of British tennis:
On court, though, she is still a loping, rather teenager-ish specimen, some way short of the kind of gymnastically bouncy natural mover who can gambol and twist and turn without a thought. Robson has worked hard at this but in the flesh there is still a rather jarring contrast between the basic speed of her upper and lower body movements. The legs still seek the ground a little awkwardly, like somebody feeling for a light switch in the dark, but above this her hands are prodigiously fast. At times it can look a bit like a spliced piece of film, the bottom half revolving on 33rpm, the top on 45.

The less said about that last simile the better ...

27 June 2013

The Slasher strikes

Last week, someone criticised my antipathy to Jeffrey George Osborne,  This extract from The Guardian offers an explanation:
He proposed changes to social security motivated less by the need to save money than by the urge to show how tough this government could be. From now on, jobseekers will have to sign on every week. Those who can't speak English will have to learn or lose their benefits. Most striking of all, the newly laid off will not be able to claim benefit straight away but have to wait seven days. That may not sound like much, but for those who have just lost a job that paid little, it could be impossible.
No wonder the BBC's Robert Peston called it a Wonga budget: there will be plenty who will survive that first week by taking out a loan at usurious rates.
Such punitive action will have next to no impact on the deficit. It's all about the politics. Osborne has drawn a line and invited Labour to stand on the other side of it. 
It may be clever but it is also mean-spirited.  It comes from a politician without the faintest notion of what it is like to become unemployed and without the faintest inclination to find out.

24 June 2013

What larks!

There's got to be a great movie.  After hanging out the washing of the NSA and GCHQ, he confounds the Americans by sneaking out of Hong Kong, (perhaps) making his way to Moscow.  Then, he bamboozles a planeload of journalists into getting a plane to Havana, a plane without any booze and without himself.  The guy is a genius.  Clearly way beyond the capacity of the CIA.


21 June 2013


When the martians come for us, the MoD will regret it:
The Ministry of Defence closed its UFO desk in 2009 because it served “no defence purpose” and was taking staff away from “more valuable defence-related activities”.
Besides, Trident serves no defence purpose, but they seem intent on hanging on to that ...

Am I bovvered?

City AM reports:
STOCKS and many other financial assets plunged yesterday as investors reacted to the US Federal Reserve’s threat to cut back on its stimulus programme, while worries over China added to market jitters.
The FTSE endured its sharpest daily drop since September 2011 as it lost nearly three per cent, eliminating another chunk of this year’s gains and returning to a level – 6,159.51 – last seen in January
History shows that stocks and shares go up and down and vice versa.  Today we are in a down phase; tomorrow, who knows?

What else would I have done with my investments?  At least, share dividends offer four or five times greater returns than bank account interest.

Besides, if you enjoy the capital gains in the good times, there is no point in squealing when the market turns down.  This is a form of gambling; nobody beats the casino all the time.


20 June 2013

Oh dear

From The Guardian (here):
It wasn't the being called Jeffrey three times by Barack Obama during a meeting of the G8 that would have hurt George Osborne the most, though that would have been mortifying enough. It was the apology. Or rather, the lack of it. Was the president of the US in any way bothered about forgetting the name of the chancellor, a man who is supposed to be, superficially at least, one of the G8's key weapons in fixing the global economy? Far from it. What he said was: "I'm sorry, man. I must have confused you with my favourite R&B singer."
To be fair, it could have been worse. Obama could have called him Ozzy. As, indeed, some of us already do. He could also have called him Gideon, which would have had the virtue of being the name Osborne was given at birth. But Jeffrey was more than bad enough – because of what it implied, more than for what it said. What it implied was that Osborne is a total nonentity on the political stage to Obama; a man whose presence is as forgettable as his name, even when the world's press is gathered for a G8 summit.

19 June 2013

It's a mystery

Did Mr Cameron forget to wear his jacket?  Or had he spilled a cup of coffee over it?  Or is that it slung casually over his chair?

Whatever, it is surely poor form for the host to so distinguish himself from his guests.


18 June 2013

It's all a filthy plot ...

You might have thought that there was a problem with tax avoidance.  But, according to The Telegraph, it is nothing more than a ruse to attack the Tories.  Mr Brogan displays his paranoia:
George Osborne was on familiarly confident form on Today dealing with the lefty nonsense about tax avoidance. His line about Britain 'putting its house in order' by leaning on its dependencies and publishing a register of beneficial ownership was his way of getting ahead of the coalition of anti-City types that Labour has craftily encouraged  as a useful third-party front against the Tories. From UK Uncut to various charities sailing a viking long-boat at the G8 summit with 'stop tax avoidance' on its sail, the pro-business case is under siege from an intelligently engineered populist campaign that hides a straightforward political aim – to cripple the Tories – behind what at first glance looks like an eminently reasonable argument about 'fair tax'.
Amazon, Google, Starbucks and the rest of the endless list?  Tax havens?  It's all made up to attack the Tories.  Nothing to see here.  Just haud yer wheesht and move along there.

17 June 2013

Wishing and hoping

We can all have dreams.  The FT reports:
George Osborne is to give his strongest signal yet that he wants to move Lloyds Banking Group back into private ownership by the 2015 general election, albeit not at a price that would leave taxpayers out of pocket.
I want a date with Scarlett Johanssen, albeit not if she insists that I wear a tie and take her somewhere expensive.

Neither possibilty seems remotely achievable.


Historical economics

Larry Elliott in The Guardian has clearly been reading the novels of Hilary Mantel.  In a rather stretched analogy, he confuses the replacement of the Governor of the Bank of England with the politics of the Tudor era:
In recent months, King has become something of a Cardinal Wolsey figure: the elder statesman upon whom the young prince relied but who has fallen out of favour after years of devotion to the state. Wolsey failed to get Henry VIII his divorce from Catherine of Aragon; King has failed to get Osborne his economic recovery.
Carney is the Thomas Cromwell to King's Wolsey, and like Cromwell will be a force to be reckoned with. The Bank has seen its powers greatly enhanced as a result of the financial crisis, and is now responsible for financial stability as well as monetary policy. One of the new governor's first tasks will be to decide, after discussions with his colleagues on the monetary policy committee, whether the Bank wishes to give forward guidance about the likely path of interest rates.
I regret to say that I do not readily identify Slasher Osborne with the dashing and cultured young Henry VIII,  What I really want to know, however, is who gets to play the role of Ann Boleyn ...

13 June 2013

Dropping the pilot

Does George Osborne know what he is doing?  The Independent reports:
The multibillion privatisation of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) will be announced by George Osborne next week, following the forced departure of the bank's chief executive Stephen Hester yesterday evening.
Mr Hester will leave the bank later this year, clearing the way for his successor to oversee a "British Gas style" public sell-off.
The Chancellor is expected to announce further details of the privatisation in a speech next week. Treasury sources suggested he would not announce a timetable for the sale but it is likely to take place before the next general election and will aimed at the general public.

Aye, well.  At last night's close, RBS shares were listed at a price of 325.6 pence, a long way short of the 500 pence needed to ensure that the government's sell-off does not incur a heavy loss.  And sacking the chief executive is unlikely to improve the share price.

Update:  Within half an hour of the market opening, the price of RBS shares has dropped below 300 pence.


11 June 2013

From Westminster with love

Simon Hoggart explains how wee Willie Hague keeps our spies from misbehaving,  Of course, this may not be an entirely accurate representation.
There was a faint moan from the bed. Bond tensed in the darkness and reached inside his jacket. He pulled out a copy of the Intelligence Services Act (1994).
"'Jemms, please come to bed!' It was Ayala Frappe, until the previous day personal secretary to the evil billionaire Jabez Stumblebum, whose plans to take over the world had almost reached fruition. She knew more about Stumblebum's movements than he did himself. A word from her could save the planet.
"'Chust a moment, schweetheart,' said Bond, still played by Sean Connery. 'Before we make schweet mushic, I need to refer to my line managers, who will pass the matter to the foreign secretary, home secretary, or other secretary of state for authorisation, though their decision could be overruled by an independent review, plus the interception commissioner, as well as coming under scrutiny from the Commons intelligence committee. It could take a few weeks.'
"Ayala gazed at him, furiously. But at that moment the phone rang. 'Hey, James, old buddy!' cried a familiar voice. It was the FBI's Felix Leiter. 'Lissen, I got news! Stumblebum's yacht just moored in the marina. He's there for the taking, my friend, like a big fat old raccoon up a pine tree!'
"'Lishen, Felix, am I right in thinking that Shtumblebum is a British chitizen?'
"'I guess so!'
"'Well, then it would be entirely wrong for me to receive intelligence from you, a US national, that was not obtained within the strict parameters of UK statutes …'
"'Aw, Jesus wept, James!'"


10 June 2013

09 June 2013

A fine distinction

Lynton Crosby, aka the wizard of Oz, is coming under pressure over his twin roles as a commercial lobbyist and as an adviser to the Prime Minister.  The Observer explains the background but I urge you to admire the sophistry inherent in the Conservative Party's defence of the position:
A Conservative party representative said: "The position is very clear. Lynton Crosby gives political advice to the prime minister and the Conservative party. He does not lobby the government, or advise on government policy.
Yeah, yeah, as clear as mud.

07 June 2013

Gummy wonder

I'm confused.  Bearing in mind that rugby players habitually wear gum-shields, I wonder how they manage to bite each other (assuming of course that the allegation were proved).

Do they take the time at the bottom of a ruck to remove the gum-shield before committing the dastardly deed?  Seems unlikely.  Or perhaps they just gnaw gummily on whatever portion of their opponent's anatomy is nearest to hand (or mouth, as it were), in which case the prospect of serious damage seems minimal.

A minor mystery ...

05 June 2013

Quote of the day

From Albert Edwards of Société Générale (here):
"Young people today haven't got a chance of buying a house at a reasonable price, even with rock bottom interest rates. The Nationwide Building Society data shows that the average first-time buyer in London is paying over 50% of their take home pay in mortgage repayments – and that is when interest rates are close to zero."
"Why are houses too expensive in the UK? Too much debt. So what is George Osborne's solution for first-time buyers unable to afford housing? Why, arrange for a government-guaranteed scheme to burden our young people with even more debt! Why don't we call this policy by the name it really is, namely the indentured servitude of our young people.
"I believe it truly is a moronic policy that stands head and shoulders above most of the stupid economic policies I have seen implemented during my 30 years in this business."

01 June 2013

Another Tory MP bites the dust

So it goes.  The Guardian reports:
The Conservative party was left reeling by sleaze allegations after an MP resigned from the parliamentary party for allegedly failing to declare thousands of pounds paid by a fake lobbying firm in a damaging journalistic sting.
Patrick Mercer, MP for Newark, stepped down from the party's whip after accepting £4,000 from undercover reporters posing as lobbyists. He failed to declare £2,000 of the money within parliamentary rules, it is understood.
What amazes is how little moolah it takes.  The Independent has more:
“I do not charge a great deal of money for these things,” he was reported as saying during a meeting. “I would normally come out at £500 per half day. So £1,000 a day.”
It's not exactly a significant mess of pottage.  But for such meagre returns, he was prepared to jeopardise his political career.  Inexplicable.