31 December 2008

Scraping the bottom of the barrel

Oh Tommy, that it should have come to this. Down on Celebrity Big Brother with the fading pop stars and the topless models.

The Telegraph says that Ulrika is getting £175,000; I don't suppose that you will be getting as much. But no doubt every penny will be needed for the impending court case.

Reasons to be cheerful

Look on the bright side - holiday makers in euroland no longer face complicated sums when trying to work out how much they are paying for their gluhwein. Just replace the euro sign with a pound sign and there you are. That will be close enough ...

30 December 2008

28 December 2008

Kicking a man when he's down

I am not usually to be found in a position of cheerleader for Fred the Shred but this seems excessively harsh on the part of Will Hutton in The Observer:
Could there be a greater corporate disaster in British history than the humbling of the Royal Bank of Scotland? Without £20bn of taxpayer support, the bank, with assets of £1.7 trillion, more than Britain's GDP, would now be bankrupt. Its mutation from bank to de facto giant hedge fund, cheerleader for casino capitalism with a portfolio of £500bn in derivatives and £100bn of takeovers in its wake, perfectly sums up our times.
The financial wreckage it has induced explains why the wider economy is in such trouble. There were many other asinine banks, but RBS was leader of the pack. News that it had lent the hedge funds of the now disgraced American fraudster Bernie Madoff £400m with insufficient due diligence was symptomatic of the failure of every aspect of RBS's corporate strategy.
Sir Fred Goodwin, the now deposed CEO, and his team should be asked hard questions by both shareholders and the police. So should the outgoing management at sister Scottish bank HBOS, whose incompetence rivals Goodwin's. The former RBS chief has rightly been dubbed the world's worst banker by Slate magazine's Daniel Gross.
Blaming RBS for failure to perform due diligence on Madoff's ponzi scheme is perhaps unfair, as RBS inherited involvement with Madoff when it acquired ABN Amro (see here). It is the latter which failed to undertake the due diligence test.

(You may nevertheless wish to blame Sir Fred for the (arguably much greater) sin of proceeding - at the top of the market - with the acquisition of ABN Amro. But that is a different argument.)

23 December 2008

Quote of the day

Pesto from last night's Panorama on the banking crisis:
"We've got into this mess because we had too little saving, too few people saving enough. And now we're punishing those savers by cutting interest rates.
There is a lot of unfairness in a way about the measures that are being taken to get us out of this mess. A lot of people who behaved more prudently are being penalised to bail out the feckless."

The programme is worth a look if you missed it. You can catch it here.

19 December 2008

Pirates of the Gulf of Aden

It's going to make a great movie. The Times reports:
The pirates abandoned their attempt to take the ship when a multilateral force, including a warship and two helicopters, arrived after the crew locked themselves in their cabins and radioed for help.
"Seven of the nine pirates landed on our ship, all with weapons," Peng Weiyuan, the captain of Zhenhua 4, said in a telephone interview with China Central Television.
"Our crew, who had been well trained and prepared, used water cannon, self-made incendiary bombs, beer bottles and anything else that could be used to battle with them. Thirty minutes later, the pirates gestured to us for a ceasefire.
"Then the helicopter from the joint fleet came to help us."

Johnny Depp, Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington, I suggest.

17 December 2008

The watchdog that didn't bite ...

... nor even bark a little. The BBC reports:
The SEC chairman said he was "gravely concerned by the apparent multiple failures" of SEC staff to look into claims about Mr Madoff.
Mr Cox said: "Credible and specific allegations regarding Mr Madoff's financial wrongdoing, going back to at least 1999, were repeatedly brought to the attention of SEC staff, but were never recommended to the commission for action."

Quote of the day

Isn't it amazing how the noble Lord Mandelson can put forward (in the same paragraph) two utterly irreconcilable propositions?

'We will fulfil our manifesto commitment to,

“a publicly owned Royal Mail fully restored to good health, providing customers with an excellent service and its employees with rewarding employment”.

Bringing in a partner through a minority stake in the Royal Mail’s postal business will help us to deliver that goal.'

Source: here


Is there not some kind of law against torturing fish? The Scotsman reports:
SCIENTISTS are to test whether sharks enjoy listening to Christmas pop songs, it was revealed yesterday.
They will also find out whether the fish prefer Slade's Merry Christmas Everyone to Cliff Richard's Mistletoe and Wine.The songs and other festive hits will be played to the sharks and rays at Loch Lomond Sea Life Centre in Balloch, Dunbartonshire.
The tests were devised after US research showed fish could recognise melody. Chris Brown, senior marine biologist at the Loch Lomond aquarium, said seasonal chartbusters would be piped through walkthrough underwater tunnels where they can be heard by dozens of nurse sharks, black-tip reef sharks, and ray species.

16 December 2008


I know I'm a bit on the late side but today I finally got round to doing my Christmas cards. I was less than impressed by the Christmas stamps. I'm not that fussed about the lack of a religious motif but it would have been pleasant to see something traditional - trees or snow or reindeer, perhaps even Santa. Two middle-aged men dressed as women does not really appeal:

13 December 2008


No, I do not approve. How dare they take the work of the master and prostitute it in such a way. The Times reports:
And the X Factor winner is . . . Leonard Cohen. The mordant songwriter is set for a £1 million windfall after his classic song Hallelujah was chosen as the debut single by tonight’s winner.
The biblical epic, composed in 1984, has survived more than a hundred interpretations from artists including Bob Dylan, k. d. lang and Rufus Wainwright.
The ITV1 show’s three finalists have each recorded their own version of the song, which is expected to become the Christmas No 1, selling one million CDs and downloads.
Here is a version from The Man himself:

12 December 2008


If you have the time (and if you missed it on Channel 4), you might want to have a look at Professor Niall Ferguson's The Ascent of Money. You can catch it here.

OK, it is guilty of over-simplification and I confess that it veers a bit too far to the right for my political taste, but nevertheless it is so seldom that we see intelligent television that it is to be welcomed.

A special kind of hypocrisy?

Is this what was meant by an ethical foreign policy?
A plane deporting 49 rejected asylum seekers was forced to return to Britain when it was refused permission to land in Kurdistan.
Two passengers on the charter flight from Stansted had been removed before take-off after wounding themselves in their seats, the Guardian has learned.
The drama comes after reports that a 19-year-old deported to Kurdistan on November 27 killed himself soon after landing.

Or this:
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has warned the cabinet of a possible mass influx of Zimbabweans to the UK amid the country's cholera outbreak.
She said some people were obtaining fake passports from neighbouring countries where, unlike Zimbabwe, citizens do not need UK entry visas.

Or this:
Britain is refusing to take part in a proposed European armed intervention in eastern Congo despite a growing clamour for an EU force to help avoid a bigger humanitarian disaster.
At a summit of European leaders in Brussels last night, foreign ministers from the 27 countries discussed proposals to dispatch a force of up to 1,500 to North Kivu in eastern Congo.

But never mind. Our world-saving Prime Minister is still permitted to offer this kind of self-serving crap:
"Freedom, if it means anything, means the supremacy of human rights everywhere and we must not waver in our support for those across the world whose human rights are threatened or denied," Brown said in his speech.
Addressing the oppressed, including the "women and girls of Kivu", the prime minister said: "The world will not abandon you. We must not, and will not, turn our backs and walk away."

Pass me the sick-bag.

Quote of the day

Gordon Brown on the EU summit (here):
"Europe has agreed unanimously and in a united way to take coordinated action that is substantial. That means that Europe and America will be working together to create jobs and growth."

Except that
However, it is understood that individual countries will be able to opt out of measures, such as specific tax cuts, that they don't agree with.

Not quite so united then? And, if opt-outs are permitted, is unanimous agreement worth anything at all?

Christmas presents for the taxpayer

Not only do we, the taxpayers, own banks but we may shortly find ourselves manufacturing motor vehicles.

Where will it all end?

05 December 2008

Crime and police

It seems to have become something of a habit that, at the conclusion of a criminal trial, the senior policeman involved delivers to the waiting world his thoughts on the case, such as this. I cannot identify when this practice began but I rather wish it would cease.

Incidentally, does "pure evil" add anything to our understanding of the case? Other than revealing the medieval cast of police thought?

04 December 2008

The buck does not stop here

How to hang out to dry a member of your staff (from here):
"At 7am on Thursday, police called upon the Serjeant-at-Arms and explained the background to the case, and disclosed to the Serjeant the identity of the Member. The Serjeant-at-Arms called me, told me the Member's name and said that a search might take place of his offices in the House. I was not told that the police did not have a warrant. I have been told that the police did not explain, as they are required to do, that the Serjeant was not obliged to consent, or that a warrant could have been insisted upon. I regret that a consent form was then signed by the Serjeant-at-Arms, without consulting the Clerk of the House."


03 December 2008

Has it come to this?

Oh dear. The Scotsman apparently feels that there is a need to explain what a milkman was:
THE milkman – a man who delivers bottles or cartons of milk directly to the door – is a phenomenon dying out in modern Britain. Milkmen have served communities for more than 100 years, delivering morning milk by cart or, more recently, electric float. Traditionally, the milkman would also supply other dairy products, such as cream, cheese, yoghurt, butter and eggs, and sometimes soft drinks, too. Originally, milk needed to be delivered to houses daily, since poor refrigeration meant it would quickly go off. The rise in the use of home refrigerators was the first issue to hit milkmen, and then the coming of supermarkets cut the need for milk to be delivered daily.

As a lad, I used to deliver milk, carrying the bottles up stairs and collecting the tokens. In winter, the milk would freeze and, in summer, the birds would peck holes in the milk bottle tops. And the cream in the milk would rise to the top of the bottle, a minor bonus for whoever got to pour it on their corn flakes. All gone, nowadays.

01 December 2008

She's not Helen Mirren

Aye well, don't look at me:
Britney Spears hasn't given up on love. The former Mrs. Kevin Federline says she'd like another walk down the aisle.
"In five years I would like to be married and have a father figure for my kids, someone who is a provider and can be really stable," Spears says in the new issue of Glamour magazine.

I'm sorted - I've learned to iron my shirts just so; and I doubt if the lass could make mince'n'tatties to suit my standards. So, sorry, girl, you're just too young ...

Away in the clouds

Typical - they put out a press release to tell us that Nicola performed the draw for the next round of the Scottish Cup. But do they tell us who's playing whom? Not a ...

But you can get the details here.

Daytime telly

I have watched four press conferences this afternoon (all on the telly, of course).

The first (here) featured Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children and whatever. I confess that I have not been following Mr Balls' career as closely as I might have, but I had assumed that as a close confidante of the Prime Minister and a Labour Party rising star he would display a command and a confidence justified by his position. Instead, he seemed barely capable of reading his statement, stumbling over his words. Worse, it was desperately prosaic stuff. No sense that he understood the seriousness of the case of Baby P or the emotions to which it has given rise. And no sense that he was firmly committed to improving the way in which future cases are dealt with. Perhaps I am being unfair, but the man is a bureaucratic robot.

Next up, President-Elect Obama. Smooth, polished, cultured. Senator Clinton - ditto. The kind of people you would want to be in charge in a crisis. (Here)

Then the lawyer for the poor sodding civil servant who leaked the material to Mr Green. Articulate, in command, some questions he refuses to answer, clearly knows what he is doing (here).

Finally, the car crash: three Haringey councillors and the council chief executive. These are not people you would trust with the running of an inner city local authority, never mind the welfare of children. I know that it's not their fault - local government has been so stripped of its authority over the past thirty years that they no longer attract the kind of councillors they need, while the senior staff have become automatons. But even so, the chief exec is getting paid good money and one might expect better than what we got.

I will put up links when and if they become available.

The constitutional proprieties

When the entire British commentariat is fulminating over the iniquities of the police, the Home Office and the House of Commons authorities, it takes courage to express a contrary opinion. So even if this guy has got it wrong (and I'm not sure he has), well done to the professor. From yesterday's Observer here:
Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at Oxford University where one of his undergraduates was David Cameron, dismissed claims from Labour backbenchers who said the Metropolitan Police had breached parliamentary privilege by raiding Green's office in the House of Commons.
Bogdanor said that parliamentary privilege extended only to what an MP said in the Commons and that the Yard had a responsibility to arrest individuals over allegations of illegality regardless of whether they were an MP or not.
'MPs are subject to criminal law as much as the rest of us,' he said. 'Their parliamentary privilege only extends to speeches in the chamber, not their offices.
'If an MP were accused of theft and keeping stolen goods in his office at the House of Commons, should he be exempt from a police investigation?'