31 January 2012

Nos moutons

Oh well, if we absolutely must discuss yesterday's EU Summit ...  Helpfully, The Guardian has a summary of the main conclusions:
25 countries endorsed the fiscal pact. They agreed to enshrine balanced budget legislation into their national law, with annual structural deficits capped at 0.5% of GDP. Transgressors face penalties of 0.1% of GDP, with fines being added to Europe's bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). The UK and the Czech Republic declined to sign.
The new Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance (SCG) will come into force once it has been passed by the parliaments of at least 12 countries that use the euro.
• Euro area leaders confirmed that they will reassess whether the ESM, and its forerunner the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), have sufficient resource. They still plan to bring the ESM into force in July 2012.
EU leaders agreed to a new drive to stimulate growth and create employment across the region, particularly for young people. Unused development funds will be used to create jobs. They also vowed to help small and medium enterprises to get access to credit, and to use the Single Market as a key driver for Europe's economic growth.
• Leaders also opposed the suggestion that a 'commissioner' should be installed in Greece to ovesee its budget decisions. French president Nicolas Sarkozy warned that this would be undemocratic, as "the recovery process in Greece can only be enacted by the Greeks themselves."
All a bit vague.  As usual, the details will be sorted out (or not) later.  No real sign of addressing the competitiveness issue.  Nor of what will happen when the troika report that Greece has only made limited progress towards the required austerity regime.

The only other point concerns Dave Cameron's acquiescence to the use of ECJ being used to assess which euro member states have been naughty boys when it comes to the observance of the new treaty.  Which rather invalidates the point of last month's veto.

This is going to drag on and on and on ...

Another fine mess

So what, exactly, is the coalition government's current position on bonuses in the public or quasi-public sector?  Or even, come to that, in the private sector?  The problem is not going to disappear.  As The Guardian reports:
... the government needs to decide how to treat pay and bonuses at nationalised and semi-nationalised companies that wish to recruit executives from the private sector. In RBS's case, there will be a row every January until the bank is sold – indeed, there will be more argy-bargy within weeks when executives below board level are handed their winnings. Doing nothing, while praying that Ed Miliband doesn't table a Commons motion, is not a policy.


29 January 2012

Dear Diary

Stephen Hester writes:
I wish I’d never taken the bloody job in the first place.  If I’d known that saving the biggest bank in the country would make me public enemy no 1, you wouldn’t have seen me for dust.

Bad enough that the maximum bonus to which I am entitled this year should be limited to a paltry couple of million, but Cameron had to play to the gallery and limit it to less than 50% of last year’s. So I’m to get £968,000 - huh, I don’t get out of bed for that kind of money.

And, now, that bastard Hampton has announced that he’ll give up his own bonus.  I do all the work and my snivelling coward of a chairman decides to pander to the Daily Mail, thus making me look even more like a money-grubbing bloated capitalist.

I tell you, it’s more than a banker can bear.  Well stuff them all.  I’ll give them another three months and then quietly resign.  They can search for some other patsy (if they can find one) to take the reins.  And I’ll sell all my RBS shares, because inevitably it’s destined for the knacker’s yard.


Just a thought ...

... from Victoria Coren in The Observer (here):
... the New Testament, if read as an economic tract, is innately rather socialist. It's all sharey-sharey. Jesus wanted everyone to get a bit of bread and fish. He was all about the divvying up and the helping one's neighbour. So, if Christianity is going to make itself heard on tax-and-spend policies, it has got to lean towards spreading the spoils around.
There's not much the bishops can do about that. Their hands are tied. The gospels say what they say. If their lordships wanted to support the idea that handing out bread and fish is bad for people because it demotivates them from doing their own baking and fishing, they'd really have to leave the pulpit and get a job on a tabloid.
And while the Stephen Hesters of this world, already paid 1.2 million loaves a year of arguably public bread, are being given fish factories as bonuses, the church can hardly join in with a move to reduce herring portions for the hungry. It would look ridiculous.


27 January 2012

A fair question?

Well it has the endorsement of UK Ministers and the London media.

Hat tip to Caley Merc.

The good, the bad and the ugly

How the rich folk live, as reported in The Independent.

Redknapp said: "I have a big problem, I can't write, so I don't keep anything. I'm the most disorganised person, I am ashamed to say, in the world, I can't work a computer, I don't know what an email is, I have never sent a fax and I've never sent a text message."
I'm disorganised, completely and utterly disorganised, but I'm not into fiddling tax. I pay a fortune to my accountant to look after me. He writes the cheques for me and my wife. He pays my bills and that's where I am."
And here:
Mr Rothschild and Lord Mandelson were whisked in a private jet to the Siberian town of Abakan, where Mr Deripaska owns a chalet and smelting plant. Peter Munk, a Canadian gold magnate, and Sebastian Taylor, a friend of Mr Rothschild, also joined the group.
Taking the stand earlier this week, Mr Rothschild said his friends were taken to a traditional sauna, where they were whipped with birch leaves before plunging themselves into icy water.
"It is the best way in the world to beat jet lag and everything else," he said. "It was incredibly enjoyable. Everyone woke up the next day feeling revitalised and excited about the day."
And here:
The state-backed Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) will hand its chief executive, Stephen Hester, an annual bonus of £963,000, it revealed last night.
RBS, which has been under huge pressure from the government to curb awards, said its decision was designed to “recognise tangible achievement in the business and protect the interest of our shareholders, including of course the UK taxpayer”.
It is handing Hester a bonus of 3.6m shares, or 60% of his maximum entitlement, on top of his £1.2m salary.
What a dull boring life I lead ...

26 January 2012

The yo-yo of 11 Downing Street

Yesterday, I suggested (rather frivolously) that, in the light of the contraction in gdp, the Chancellor might look out Plan B.  And, lo, my prayers have been answered.  The Independent reports:
George Osborne is considering tax cuts for low and middle earners in his March Budget in an attempt to kick-start growth after figures showed that the economy is contracting.
The Chancellor will consider speeding up the Coalition's plan to raise the personal tax allowance to £10,000 a year by 2015. The move would help families in the "squeezed middle" and enable them to spend more – in the hope this would get the economy moving again.
The reports remain a bit vague about how these tax cuts should be paid for, but let's not kick a gift horse in the teeth.

25 January 2012

Graph of the day

From The Spectator (here):
Depressing, isn't it?  Now where did I put that Plan B?

Looking after the pennies

So the outstanding debt of the UK Government has reached the sum of £1 trillion.  That's £1,000,000,000,000, I think.  Seems a lot.

But The New Statesman has a handy graph to put it in perspective:

Expressed as a percentage of gdp, the debt may be higher than in the last 40 years, but lies well below the position during the period from the Great War to the 1960s when, if you remember, we never had it so good.

24 January 2012

Music of the week

A song about dirt:

We're all in this together (part 37)

So, at the top end, the fatcats are facing a strict cap on their outrageous salaries, regardless of how many children they have.  The coalition government are determined to deal firmly with the problem of excessive remuneration, even if it means that the bloated capitalists have to move house to a cheaper mansion out in the suburbs.  And if their spoiled kids have to move to a cheaper school, then so be it.  It’s a something for something society.

Meanwhile, at the bottom end, recipients of housing benefit and child benefit will simply be encouraged to desist from claiming the absolute maximum possible.  The government will insist that the Department of Work and Pensions publishes benefit rates, so that there is full transparency.  The government justifies such a relatively ineffective response by pointing out that the future economy of the country depends upon the legions of the unemployed and the low paid and it does not want to upset them.

Or have I got this the wrong way round?  


23 January 2012

Something to cheer you up

 Oh dear, oh dear.  The Independent reports:
Subsidence caused by work on Parliament's underground car park and the construction of new Tube tunnels have led to cracks appearing in walls around the Houses of Commons and Lords, with Big Ben's bell tower leaning 18in at its peak.
There are even fears the building could sink into the Thames.
A metaphor for our times ...

Quote of the day

By Mitt Romney, the cipher in a suit, as reported in The Independent :
"I have emotion and passion. I'm going to show the passion that I have when it comes naturally," he told Fox News.
If you need to say you've got it, you probably don't.

20 January 2012

Quote of the day

Voldemort Lansley as reported in The Independent:
Mr Lansley told the BBC the legislation was essential in order to give nurses and doctors clinical leadership. He said: "[The RCN] used to be a professional association that was working with us on professional issues and will carry on doing that, but now the trade union aspect of the Royal College of Nursing has come to the fore, they want to have a go at the Government... about things like pay and pensions." He added: "It's a purely political operation."
Mr Lansley claimed the RCN and RCM supported the principles of the Bill. "What they are actually unhappy about is pay, pensions and jobs.
Surely a breach of etiquette: mere politicians are not usually permitted to attack nurses and midwives.  (Voldemort should remember that they are not train drivers or civil servants.)


The black knight

I willingly admit that the whole concept of knighthood is a nonsensical anachronism in the 21st century.  And I would certainly not defend the role of highly paid bankers in contibuting to the 2008 financial crash.

Nevertheless there is something deeply unsavoury about Cameron's rush to condemn Sir Fred Goodwin by asking the Forfeiture Committee to strip him of his knighthood.  This Governmet has been in office for 18 months; why at this point suddenly make a song and dance about Sir Fred?  Jumping on a passing populist bandwagon?  Toadying to The Daily Mail?  I refuse to believe that Cameron has succumbed to a fit of morality.

Heigh ho.  I suppose that, if awarding a knighthood (all that flummery with swords) is daft, taking one away is equally daft.  Now what other villains can we defenestrate?  Branson, anyone?

19 January 2012

Music of the week

For all the Alisons I ever knew:

Plastic underwear

Sounds uncomfortable?  But apparently it is the latest fashion in ski-wear.  The Independent reports:
The deeply competitive world of downhill skiing is being rocked by a heated dispute about plastic underwear and whether wearing such garments on the slopes gives racers an unfair aerodynamic advantage over their rivals.
The row erupted last week when the Slovenian skier Tina Maze finished second at a major Austrian event only to be accused afterwards of wearing banned plastic undergarments which might have given her an edge over her competitors.
I wonder how you iron it?

And, no, I'm sorry but I couldn't find a picture ...

18 January 2012

It's a non-starter

The Guardian reports:
The idea of a new international airport for London has taken a first step towards reality with news that the government plans to hold a formal consultation on proposals for a Thames estuary hub.
According to reports, David Cameron will announce a consultation by March – when the transport secretary, Justine Greening, will publish the government's broader aviation strategy.
Don't they know about the birds?  Millions of them?  To get caught in aero-engines?

Keep away from London during the Olympics

The Independent seems to be getting worked up about the perils of the Olympics.  First, on Monday they published this story:
Preparations are being made to deal with a possible epidemic of infectious disease during the London Olympics, with officials concerned at the prospect of an outbreak of unusual illnesses.
The Health Protection Agency has set up a monitoring system of hospital admissions and concerns raised with GPs, to alert doctors to the first signs of mass contagion. With athletes and spectators set to descend on Britain from across the world this summer, a huge public health campaign is also being launched to help prevent this occurring.
On the same day, there was another scare:
Olympic athletes could suffer impaired performance times and become ill as a result of London's unacceptably high levels of air pollution, leading respiratory scientists are warning.
Fears are growing that during the Games, beginning in July, athletes, who take in much more air than a sedentary person, will take in high levels of pollutants such as particulates, nitrogen dioxide and ozone, and could suffer pulmonary irritation, chest pain and decreased lung capacity.
And this morning, we read of yet another problem:
It is the issue that has nagged at the minds of the organisers of London 2012 from the very beginning: can they get people to the Games on time? And home again, while at the same time not condemning the inhabitants of the capital to two weeks of traffic jams and increasing frustration with the greatest sporting show on earth?
Locog – the London organising committee – may have its worst fears realised with a report today warning that the opening weekend of the Games could see a combination of circumstances leading to the capital's being caught in the "perfect traffic storm". The city will also have to cope with increased congestion of over 30 per cent throughout the Games, meaning journeys that will take up to a third longer.
All in all, it doesn't sound promising ...

16 January 2012

Well, that didn't take long

The Guardian reports:
British tennis's big day in Melbourne turned into a nightmare as Laura Robson, Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong followed Jamie Ward and Heather Watson in losing on the opening day of the Australian Open.

Tom Harris' downfall

Apparently, Tom Harris MP has been sacked as a Scottish Labour Party media adviser because of this:

Seems a bit harsh?

Update:  I meant the sacking was a bit harsh, not the video clip.

Joke of the day

From The Independent (here):
Mr Salmond told the BBC's Politics Scotland programme: "Sterling is not owned by George Osborne. Our position is, let's use sterling until we're able to take a decision on the euro."
UK ministers say Mr Salmond's position is flawed because interest rates would continue to be set by the Bank of England. They say that could leave a breakaway Scotland with less power than now because the Bank would no longer have to take account of economic conditions north of the border when setting interest rates. 
So Ministers believe that the Bank of England takes account of economic conditions in Scotland when setting interest rates.  Ha, ha, ha ...

The Scottish play

It may be somewhat disrespectful of Scottish politicians but Steve Bell's latest is pure dead brilliant.

14 January 2012

The Greek tragedy

It gets worse.  Yesterday, the discussions on the haircut were suspended (or collapsed, if you prefer).  The Independent reports:
... the fate of ordinary Greek citizens also resides in the unsentimental clutches of private sector financiers. Germany, the biggest single contributor to the EU/IMF Greek bailout, began pushing hard last year for something called "private sector involvement" in the bailout. This meant that the holders of Greek bonds would write down the value of their investments. Germany did not like the idea of pumping ever more money into Greece merely so that the country could pay out those funds to private bondholders. In October, a 50 per cent bondholder "haircut" was announced. Eurozone leaders agreed the deal with the Institute of International Finance (IIF), the lobbying group of the global banking industry.But the IIF only really speaks for the large banks of the continent. A number of small hedge funds have also bought up cheap Greek bonds and are refusing to take a haircut on their investment. So now there is a stand off. 
It is easy to blame the hedge funds, but they have to look after their own investors.  And, as they have insured the Greek bonds they have purchased, a voluntary haircut would invalidate that insurance.  You might as well blame others, as The Guardian did in this piece earlier in the week:
Before last summer, eurozone policy-makers swore blind that they would never countenance Greece failing to pay all of its debts in full. After finally accepting that that was impossible, they then asked if bankers would be good enough to knock 21% off the country's loans, rising over time to 40% and then 50%, or even a little more. Meanwhile, economists at the IMF estimate that Greece should actually have 75% wiped off its debt burden – and market prices indicate that figure should really be over 90%. But economic reality has been no match for the stranglehold bankers have on European politicians – who, by the way, swore last month that no other country would fail to pay its loans in full.
But regardless of where the fault lies, I cannot see any happy outcome.

Worse things happen at sea?

Every little helps.  The Independent reports:

A senior Tesco executive sold more than £200,000 of shares in the supermarket a week before its first profit warning in 20 years wiped nearly £5bn off its market value.
Noel "Bob" Robbins, the grocer's chief UK operating officer, offloaded 50,000 shares at 404.5p each on 4 January and pocketed £202,255. By selling them 10 days ago, he made nearly £44,000 more than he would have done had he sold them yesterday, after the profits warning led to a further fall in Tesco's stock.
Tesco said Mr Robbins, a long-serving employee, had done nothing wrong because he sold the shares outside a period restricted by rules governing trading in shares, and he was not in possession of any "price-sensitive information" at the time.
You may find it difficult to believe that the chief UK operating officer had no knowledge of a disappointing festive season for the retailer and would therefore have been unable to predict the contents of the profits warning this week and the likely impact on the share price.   But, if Tesco says that it's alright, we must trust them, must we not?

13 January 2012

What's a shareholder to make of it?

Confusingly, both of these comments on Tesco's travails are from The Independent:

... as one of the country's best-known retailers often says privately: pre-tax profit is the only figure that really matters.
It is here that Philip Clarke, Tesco's under-pressure boss, will again be top dog, with full-year profits up to about £3.6bn.
The world's third-biggest retailer is looking a bit pasty after a sickly Christmas in the UK, but by this bottom-line health check, its muscles are still far bigger than anyone else's and, judging by its comments yesterday, is up for the fight ahead.
And here:
It's not just that yesterday's sales update (don't call it a profit warning, plead the spinners) was bad.
It's that several wheels seem in danger of coming off at once. The Big Price Drop didn't work.
Other offers, Double Points, Discount Brands, seem unnecessarily fiddly, and consumers have noticed. If the UK profits fall, Mr Clarke doesn't have the money to invest in getting America right. So he scraps the US adventure. Shareholder confidence plummets and Asda takes advantage. Tesco flounders. It could happen.
Or perhaps not?


Conversation of the week

As reported in The Guardian:

Cameron: If you Scots want to have a referendum, you'll have it when I say so.
Scotland: Screw you, pal. We'll have it when we want.
Every political commentator: I say! We're heading for the gravest constitutional crisis since, er ... since the last one.
Everyone else: We really couldn't care less if Scotland gets its independence ...
Cameron: I tend to agree ... It might make it a little harder to get out on to the grouse moor, but as there's only one Tory MP north of the border, it will be easier to stay in power.
Scotland: So why are you getting so worked up about it?
Cameron: Because it takes everyone's mind off the fact that the economy is still flat-lining and we don't really have a clue what to do about it.

Georgie boy wags his tail

A not so helpful intervention.  The Guardian reports:
George Osborne made his first public intervention in the debate on Scottish independence when he told the Scottish people that they might end up adopting the euro.
The SNP has said in the past that it would see euro membership as a long-term aspiration for an independent Scotland, though this would have to be approved in a referendum. All new member states are obliged to give an undertaking that they will join the euro when they meet the Maastricht criteria. 
But would Scotland be a new member state?  There is no real precedent for this situation.  Arguably, the dissolution of the UK would divide a member state into two new entities but, as both these entities had formed part of an existing member state, there should be no provision necessary for new membership as such.  (I accept that there would need to be treaty adjustments but that would not necessarily ential the admission process.)

Furthermore, what would be the position of the England plus rump?  If Scotland had to apply formally for EU membership status, would not England have to do likewise?  Thus the potential requirement to join the euro might apply to both Scotland and England.

Finally, this is not going to happen in the near future.  The referendum is likely to take place in 2014 and, if independence was chosen, there would be a lot of subsequent negotiation to hammer out the details. Who knows what the relative positions of the euro and the pound sterling would be after 2015?

11 January 2012

Compare and contrast

1.  Hamish Macdonell on the Spectator website (here):

What some in the UK Government seem to have forgotten is that, because this is such an important issue for the Scottish Nationalists, they have analysed and prepared for every twist and turn of the debate. In what is now a game of political chess, Mr Salmond has correctly forecast his opponent’s moves before they have even decided what they are going to do.
What appears likely to happen now is this: Mr Salmond will pass his referendum bill through the Scottish Parliament and he will challenge the UK Government to take it to the court. If it does go to court, he will then accuse the UK Government of subverting the democratic will of the Scottish people and, as far as many Scots are concerned, he will have a point.
The UK Government has approached this late, it has approached it half-heartedly, and it is now being outplayed at every stage.
2.   Alan Cochrane on the Telegraph website (here):

The braggadocio was still there — he doesn’t leave home without it — but there was no doubt that Alex Salmond blinked first yesterday in his referendum stand-off with David Cameron and the Coalition government over breaking up Britain.
Twenty-four hours after being reported missing and leaving all of his defence in the capable hands of Nicola Sturgeon, his deputy, Wee Eck returned to the fray yesterday and, although there is still a long way to go, there were clear indications that he is beginning to cave in to Westminster’s demands.
He announced what he had thus far refused to do — that he wants to hold his referendum in autumn 2014, nearly three years from now.
He said he would not be dictated to by London but he also detected a change in tone from Westminster. In which case, he added: “We won’t have too many fights.”Just to show what a good democrat he is, he announced his preference for autumn 2014 — St Andrew’s Day on Nov 30, perhaps — not to Holyrood, not to his party’s activists — but to Sky News, in a desperate publicity stunt to ensure that he was not upstaged by events at Westminster. He had also convened a Scottish cabinet meeting, which his aides insisted was “scheduled” and coincidental with the pressure being put on him by David Cameron to come clean about the referendum. 
Does the answer lie somewhere in between?  I doubt it ...


Music of the week

A new track from Leonard:

The euro-minuet

Frau Merkel has been a busy girl this week.  Sarko on Monday, Christine Lagarde yesterday and Mario Monti today.  Meanwhile Christine (who should perhaps lay off the fake tan for a bit) is today in Paris for a meeting with Sarko.

And where is Cameron in all these bi-laterals?  Should he not be keeping an eye on what they're up to?  But then if you burn your boats with a veto, you don't get invited to the party ...

OMG I'm becoming bourgeois*

On-line grocery shopping.  Yes, you get really exciting posts at this blog.

Anyway, I thought I should let you know that Waitrose are now doing deliveries of groceries in the Edinburgh area.  What’s more, if you spend £50 plus, the delivery is free.  Rather better than Sainsbury where you need to spend £100 to get free delivery (and only on Tuesdays to Thursdays).  On the other hand, Sainsbury has a one hour window for delivery, whereas the others occupy two hours.

So we now have a choice of four sources of on-line groceries: in addition to those mentioned above, there are Tesco and Asda.  It is of course a matter of personal choice which to choose.  I tend to play the field.  Asda is best for round sliced sausage, Tesco has a better selection of beers,  I strongly favour Waitrose’s tinned chopped tomatoes (and their gourmet pork sausages), while Sainsbury’s burgers are rather more than OK.

Up to you …

* Some of you may have already guessed 

Vires and all that

Just a thought.

If the Scottish Government lacks the legal authority "to legislate, and authorise spending arrangements, for" an independence referendum, as asserted by the Westminster government, then presumably the Scottish Government also lacks the legal authority to spend money on issuing a consultation paper on the matter, which it nevertheless did on 25 February 2010 (see here).

But I do not recall anyone in Westminster objecting on vires grounds to the Scottish Government's actions in relation to that consultation paper.

10 January 2012

Quote of the day

From the UK Government's consultation paper (here):
Following the Scottish Parliament elections in May last year, the Scottish Government has made clear its intention to hold a referendum on independence. To do so it is necessary for the Scottish Parliament to have the legal power to legislate, and authorise spending arrangements, for such a referendum. It is the view of the UK Government that the Scottish Parliament does not have that legal power.
Aye well, we'll see ...

Choo-choos are go

So HS2, the high speed railway between London and Birmingham, is to go ahead after all.  I'm not clear why it is regarded as high speed.   After all, it is not expected to come into service until 2026.  It is unlikely to reach Scotland within my lifetime.

By way of comparison, the French equivalent, the TGV, was authorised by the French Government in 1976 amd the first trains were running between Paris and Lyon in 1981.

09 January 2012

Blundering about

Does the Prime Minister know what he's doing?  The Independent reports:
David Cameron is to take the high-risk gamble of offering to hold a referendum on Scottish independence next year. He aims to call Alex Salmond's bluff by challenging him to stage a vote on Scotland's place in the UK within 18 months. 
The Prime Minister will publish legal advice that concludes the SNP administration in Edinburgh can hold a binding referendum only with the British Government's permission. He will say he is prepared to give his backing to a vote only as long as it is held by the summer of 2013.
Under Mr Cameron's move, the Government atWestminster would insert a "sunset clause" into the Scotland Bill, which is before the House of Lords, allowing the Scottish Government to hold the referendum in the next 18 months. But SNP sources said Mr Salmond was not prepared to enter in deals on a referendum and would veto Mr Cameron's "sunset clause" if Westminster tried to impose it on Scotland.
Even if (and it is a very big if, given the doldrums in which it currently finds itself) the Scotland Bill were to emerge from the legislative process in the form intended by Cameron, there is nothing to prevent Salmond ignoring it and proceeding with a so-called advisory referendum at a time of his own choosing.  Furthermore, by seeking to impose a London diktat on the Scottish political process, Cameron is more likely to hasten the outcome that he seeks to avoid.


08 January 2012

Internet football

There is something essentially ridiculous about watching the Man City/Man U football match on a Russian website.  But the English language feeds had broken down (much like Man C), so I opted for Russian commentators.  (At no great loss in comprehension, despite my extremely limited Russian.)

Am I doing something illegal?  Dunno.  But if you want to watch French rugby, English (or Scottish) football, tennis, American football or Australian cricket, a website combining the words "livetv" and "ru" seems fairly reliable.

Oh, Man U won 3-2.

07 January 2012

Quote of the day

By Lucy in The Guardian (here):
I have at last pinpointed why the sight of David Cameron is becoming more unsettling. (The hateful sound, of course, has always been easy to explain – there are the words, of course, and then the way they spill fruitily forth from his wet-lipped mouth like rotting, weeping plums.)
It's because he's getting fatter. Not massively, not obscenely so – just gently, calmly and inexorably. His lips say we're all in this together, but his face says, "I'm lying. Fatly." And by their BMIs shall ye truly know them. While Obama gets leaner and tauter by the day, suggesting a man stretched on the rack of his country's woes, Cameron inflates.
Childish, I know, but satisfyingly appropriate ...

06 January 2012

Fine art appreciation

It's a bum rap.  The Independent reports:

A 36-year-old woman was accused of causing $10,000 worth of damage to a painting valued at between $30m and $40m by punching it, scratching it, and sliding her bare buttocks against it while urinating.
The oil painting, Clyfford Still's 1957-J no 2, was on show at the recently opened museum dedicated to the artist in Denver, Colorado.


Losing it

Well there I go.  According to a study in the BMJ, my cognitive abilities may have begun their decline fifteen years earlier than anticipated.  It would be alarming if I still had the sense to understand it.  But then that's probably down to my ever-increasing stupidity.

John Crace in The Guardian has the right attitude:

Getting old is a scary enough business – every illness I get is more likely to be fatal – but what really keeps me awake, with both laughter and terror, is leaving the country in the hands of the young.
Cameron, Osborne, Clegg and Miliband: all are men who have done next to nothing, and appear to understand next to nothing. Their total experience outside Westminster is zero. These are the people we are trusting to get us out of the worst depression since the 1930s.
If they do, it will be down to luck and nothing else.
But if you think it's bad now, imagine how it's going to be in a year's time. Cameron was 45 last birthday so, according to the BMJ, his reasoning will be getting worse and worse. Think about it. While you still can.

05 January 2012

Music of the week

OK, so I'm an old romantic:

The rewards of failure

The fatcat bosses can't lose.  It's heads they win, tails they win.  The Independent reports on a blatant case:
The former chief executive of Thomas Cook received £1.17 million from the company after he resigned, despite the group's deteriorating performance under his watch.
The holiday giant's annual report revealed Manny Fontenla-Novoa received the payout on top of the £1.19 million earned in his last year of employment until he resigned in August following a string of profit warnings.
The £1.17 million payment consisted of salary, pension allowance and benefits, and was owed to Mr Fontenla-Novoa in accordance to his contract terms.
After Mr Fontenla-Novoa resigned, Thomas Cook fell on even harder times, culminating in a cry for help to its lenders and a decision to axe some 200 shops and cut hundreds of jobs as it moves to save the business.
I rather doubt if the poor sods working in the shops were remunerated as lavishly ... 

04 January 2012

The triumph of hope over common sense

Will the First Minister adopt the lycra?  The Scotsman reports:
Alex Salmond is being challenged to get on his bike to raise the profile of cycling.
Labour Central Scotland MSP Mark Griffin, has offered to join the First Minister on a bike ride around Edinburgh in the hope that it will encourage people to cycle to work.
Fat Eck on a bike?  Ridiculous ...

Could be worse?

Hey, the UK's financial position is not so bad.  The Independent looks at the state of play in a different way:

The world's sovereign bond markets face a monumental test in 2012 as the largest economies attempt to roll over a combined total of $7.6 trillion (£4.9 trillion) in debt.
Data compiled by Bloomberg show the full extent of the financing needs of the largest nations over the next 12 months. The largest borrower will be Japan, which needs to roll over $3 trillion. The United States must raise $2.8 trillion. Next in line is the troubled Italian government, which is looking to raise $428bn. The twin supporting pillars of the eurozone, France and Germany, must borrow $367bn and $285bn. The UK government needs to roll over $165bn in 2012. The emerging markets of China, Brazil and India have to raise $121bn, $169bn and $57bn.
Apparently, the UK's borrowings are over a longer term, meaning they do not have to be re-financed as quickly.  Not necessarily a cause for rejoicing but, as the pilot said when crossing the Himalayas, not every cloud has a solid lining ...

01 January 2012

Science or something?

Let us start the New Year as we mean to continue.  In ignorance.  The Independent explains the Higgs Boson Particle:

Professor Peter Higgs of Edinburgh University first postulated the subatomic particle that now bears his name in the 1960s. He theorised that all matter has a mass because it interacts with a force field that pervades the universe – an interaction mediated by the boson. The greater the interaction between an object and this field, the greater the mass of that object.
Nearly 20 years ago, then-science minister William Waldegrave offered a prize to anyone who could explain the boson in simple terms. The winner drew an analogy with a cocktail-room full of political-party workers who stand uniformly distributed, chatting to one another in a relaxed manner. Into the party walks a former prime minister who, as she moves from one side of the room to another, attracts a small knot of people. This is what the Higgs boson does to matter: the greater the mass of an object, the greater the knot of people and the slower it moves through the "cocktail drinkers" of the Higgs field.
Get it?  No, me neither ...