31 August 2012

People are nice

It has been a long day.   Too many hours on my feet.  I use a stick nowadays, mostly for reassurance as I am no longer as steady on my pins as I used to be.  But, this evening, the ankles were not at all happy.

The bus was crowded; my heart sank.  Then a nice young man stood up and offered me his seat.  This has happened twice before, but I have previously declined.  (Foolish pride - it's hard to give up the illusion of being an alpha male.)  This time, I accepted gratefully.

And thus, another boundary is crossed.  Getting old is no fun.


Shameless ...

... and passing strange.

30 August 2012

They never learn

Carrying on as before.  It's a hard life, being a banker:
Barclays today named retail boss Antony Jenkins as its new chief executive, handing an insider the task of helping to repair the damage caused by a rate-rigging scandal.
Barclays said Jenkins would receive an annual salary of £1.1m, plus up to £2.75m in annual incentive awards plus long-term incentive awards of up to 400 per cent of salary.
That should enable him to keep body and soul together (assuming of course that bankers have souls).

24 August 2012

Quote of the day

From The Economist blogs (here):

Folk are choosing to pay off their mortgages for the same reason they are holding off spending. They see darker days ahead and stagnating wages now, and are using the opportunity to pay off their debts. It is a similar story with banks. Having amassed vast debts before the bust, they are reducing their exposure to debt now. Hence the decline in lending. Lending to non-financial companies has fallen nearly 5% on last year; it fell nearly 5% the year before that.
For the British government this is maddening. People are still heaping up savings; banks still don’t want to lend more to businesses. We still hear that giant gurgling noise as demand drains away. All ministers’ plans—to goad banks to lend more, to reinflate the economy, to boost confidence—have all failed and failed utterly. Hence their desperation. What to do? Nationalise RBS? Force lending? Try something more radical?
I am reminded of what a former chancellor, Denis Healey, said about pay policies in that other bleak period in British economic history, the 1970s. Replace his first four words with “nationalise RBS” and you hear the voice of desperate Cabinet ministers.
Adopting a pay policy is rather like jumping out of a second floor window: no one in his senses would do it unless the stairs were on fire.
Be aware that the stairs are still on fire.


The sympathetic fallacy

Does God smile on the Republicans?  Obviously not:
Organisers of the Republican Party convention are nervously watching Tropical Storm Isaac, which will move northeast through the Caribbean today on a track that could take it to the host city of Tampa right on cue for Monday's kick-off of the proceedings. Forecasters said Isaac had all the signs of strengthening into a hurricane as early as today. The convention site is a hockey arena in Tampa and officials say they will consider postponement or even relocation if they have to. A full evacuation of the area would create chaos and leave best-laid plans to burnish Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan in tatters.
Consider it a punishment for bringing religion into politics.

It's the same the whole world over ...

You may think that it is passing strange that this country is run for the benefit of the rich:
The Bank of England's money-printing programme, intended to revive economic growth, has delivered a massive boost to the wealth of the most prosperous 10 per cent of households in Britain while delivering relatively scant returns for the poorest, a new analysis from the Bank indicated yesterday.
But, for me, I accept that it's the natural order of things.  After all, some people continue to vote for the Tories.  Inexplicable ...

What planet are they on?

I don't know why The Guardian is making such a fuss.  It seems perfectly clear (well more or less) to me:

For all the bold claims made at the outset, the bonfire of the quangos struggles to do anything but smoulder. Still, the war on red tape continues apace. And what's not to love about the new, streamlined arrangements for the health service. Away from the public gaze, Voldemort Lansley has been doing what he does best: dashing hopes and drowning kittens. NHS head honcho Sir David Nicholson, addressing the troops, unveils the new framework. Watch out for a slew of new bodies including an NHS Commissioning Board, aka NHS CB, the NHS Trust Development Authority, aka NHS TDA, Health Education England or HEE, the Local Education and Training Boards – close friends call them LETBs – and then there is Public Health England (PHE). To think that once there were just strategic health authorities and primary care trusts. This is leaner, clearer and in all ways better, isn't it?
Certainly it has the benefit of clarity. Under the new arrangements, Sir David says: "The NHS Transition Executive forum has agreed that NHS CB and NHS TDA regional directors should take on management responsibility for the teams managing both 2012/13 operational delivery and planning for 2013/14. Meanwhile NHS CB people appointed to future regional and local leadership roles in NHS CB should take on management responsibilities for the teams managing both 2012/13 operational delivery and planning for 2013/14." There are exciting plans for NHS TDA people too "in respect of the FT Pipeline and provision system", but none of this will impact upon the Clinical Commissioning Groups as they prepare "for their new roles" in Voldemort's great scheme of things. Thank God: an end to all that bureaucracy.

Those photographs

The establishment is tying itself in knots.  The Guardian reports:

Newspaper editors are understood to have been asked informally by royal aides not to run the pictures at lunchtime on Wednesday. Later in the day a strongly worded letter from Harbottle & Lewis was circulated via the Press Complaints Commission, along with a covering note from the regulator saying it was happy to pass on St James's Palace's view that publication would be in breach of clause three of the PCC's editors' code of practice. The clause says "it is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent".
The letter from Harbottle & Lewis warns editors that publication outside the UK is no justification for publication in Britain.
"The only possible reason for publication of the photographs is one of prurience and nothing more," said the letter from the law firm.
"No matter of public interest as those words are understood in English law is raised by these photographs. The fact that they have appeared in another jurisdiction is meaningless."

Aye well.  Suppose, just for the moment, that it had been David Cameron playing strip billiards and displaying his crown jewels in Vegas.  Would it have been in the public interest for us to know about it?  Too damn right, it would; we are entitled to know about the personal morality of those who seek to influence our lives and who take decisions on our behalf.  Is Harry different?  Third in line to the throne, a political personality - he may not have chosen to be in the front line, but there he is, enjoying all the advantages.


22 August 2012

The do nothing chancellor

After the latest reverse in the government finances, there are growing signs that - if Osborne recognises his economic plans (such as they are) are failing - he really has very little idea of how to rectify matters.  The Guardian reports on the headless chickens:
The government is to unveil a series of measures to promote jobs and growth as ministers move to show they have a credible economic strategy after a slump in corporate tax receipts led to higher than expected borrowing last month.
Amid growing fears among senior figures in both coalition parties that George Osborne is running out of time to meet his pledge to stabilise the public finances, Whitehall sources spoke of a co-ordinated growth push across the government in September. There will be a particular focus on liberalising planning laws, guaranteeing more housebuilding and boosting infrastructure projects.
In a sign of the government's radical thinking, ministers are drawing up plans to reform the Highways Agency so it can borrow money to pay for a "horizon shift" in spending on roads to boost the economy and reduce congestion and delays.
All very well but it needed to have been done eighteen months ago.  As it is, liberalising planning laws will by definition require new legislation, as will borrowing powers for the Highways Agency, so any effect on the ground will have to wait until 2014 at the earliest.  Infrastructure projects also require time for preparation.  As for housebuilding, private housebuilders are in no rush to commit themselves in the present financial climate, while the public sector knows the financial folly of building new houses only to have to sell them to tenants at a massive discount. 


21 August 2012


This has the potential for a row.  The Telegraph reports:
The Whitehall committee responsible for awarding honours to sports people is allowed to make only one medal winner a knight or dame this year. But as many as four mandarins could be knighted.
More than 20 officials will also become CBEs – the next most highly ranked honour – compared with four sports stars, according to the rules.
There is growing controversy over the quota system, which appears to favour civil servants over the country’s Olympic athletes.
Just imagine: umpteen anonymous mandarins are laden with superior gongs (not forgetting half a dozen knighthoods for backbench Tory MPs), while Jessica, Bradley and Mo are fobbed off with MBEs.

With a bit of luck, it might bring down the whole corrupt system ...

19 August 2012

Such vulgarity

It is utterly pointless of politicians to complain about the BBC's alleged political bias.  The Independent reports:

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith's department has made a formal complaint to the BBC claiming its coverage of the Government is biased, it has emerged.
The former Tory leader launched a scathing attack on the corporation and singled out the broadcaster's economics editor Stephanie Flanders for the harshest criticism, accusing her of "peeing all over British industry".

Does Mr Smith really believe that attacking the wonderful Ms Flanders in such derogatory terms will endear him to the great British public?

Poor show.



Jabba the Hut:

Eric Pickles, Communities Secretary:


18 August 2012

Remedial maths

It seems, to adapt a phrase, that the Education Department has been "highly selective" about releasing statistics:

Education officials admitted the tally of school playing field sell-offs has increased again - just hours after being forced into an embarrassing apology for issuing misleading figures.
Last night the Government said it had approved a total of 31 school pitches, 10 more than the Department for Education previously admitted to signing off and one more than the figures that sparked yesterday's statement of apology.

What's the matter?  Can't they count?

Do they mean us?

Now we know what up-and-coming Tory MPs think of us.  The Independent reports:

The British are among the world's idlest workers, according to five up-and-coming Tory MPs.  The MPs – Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss, all from the 2010 intake of new MPs – want British people to work harder and relax less.
"The state has made Britons idle," they argue. "Our culture of instant gratification ignores the years of persistence that lie behind real success. Too many people in Britain prefer a lie-in to hard work."
You  might have thought about people in greenhouses.  With their extensive holidays, their subsidised lifestyle and their isolation in the Westminster bubble, I would have expected MPs to be a little more careful about gratuitous generalisations.  And you will note the absence of any hard statistical evidence.

17 August 2012

Music of the week

The read across

I don't usually feel any sympathy for diplomats but, this morning, UK officials based in South America, the Middle East and certain parts of Asia must be feeling nervous.  Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the stand-off between the UK and Ecuador governments over access to the latter's London embassy, the actions of the UK Government will be perceived in certain quarters as flouting the Vienna Conventions.  How can we expect others to respect the inviolacy of foreign embassies and diplomats when we appear to making threats ourselves?

So the next time that some humanitarian dissident seeks asylum in a British embassy in Iran, the Yemen, Argentina or Venezuela, what do you suppose will happen?


16 August 2012

No bounty hunters wanted?

Poor old HMRC.  They have not quite got it right:

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs has taken a leaf out of the FBI's book, publishing the details of Britain's "most wanted" tax fugitives.
Tax inspectors hope that by naming and shaming the 20 men and women believed to be guilty of the biggest smuggling or tax fraud scams they can track them down. Together the 20 have allegedly cost the taxpayer £765m and may face lengthy jail sentences if they ever see the inside of a court. 

The problem?  Where's the details of the reward?


Red for a reason

It's the Royal Mail's own fault:
A wave of vigilante postbox painting is sweeping the nation, it seems. After Royal Mail promised to paint a postbox gold in the home town of all Great Britain's Olympic gold-medal winners, overlooked locals have taken matters into their own hands.
A postbox in Doddington, near Lincoln, the home of Team GB's bronze-medal-winning hockey player Georgie Twigg, was painted bronze, only for Royal Mail to paint it red again. A bronze box has appeared in Lowestoft, the home of bronze-winning boxer Anthony Ogogo.
It would never have occurred to anyone to paint a postbox if Royal Mail had not started it.  There will inevitably follow a row about Royal Mail's failure to paint the postboxes of gold medallists at the Paralympics.


On the side of the angels

Another reason to put your trust in President Obama.  The Washington Post reports:
Across Iowa over the past three days, Obama talked about wind power and drought relief and middle-class taxes. But what he really seemed excited about was beer. He bought a round of beers at the fair. He told coffee shop patrons about one of the latest features at the White House: a home brewery. He spoke longingly of the beer he planned to quaff on the bus at the end of the day.
By way of contrast, Mitt Romney is teetotal.

Enough said.

15 August 2012

Hey, he means well

So Bill Gates wants to re-invent the loo.  Well good for him.

If Microsoft is a guide, there may of course be disadvantages:
1. It will be vastly over-complicated.
2.  It will come with inadequate documentation.
3.  It will be unable to resist viruses.
4.  It will be plagued with bugs.
5.  It will need a major upgrade every second year.
6.  When it stops working, you will need to switch it off, cross your fingers (or your legs) and then turn it on again.

A bloated capitalist writes ...

Remember those shares I bought last Thursday at 222 pence each?  This afternoon I sold them at 237.5 pence each.  After allowing for fees and stamp duty, the net return on my outlay amounted to 4.675%.  No big deal, but a better return than I would get from leaving the cash in a bank account.

Of course, I could have delayed the sale in the hope that the value of the shares would increase further.  After all they were over 300 pence earlier this year - which I knew before I bought them.  (You don't think that I buy shares entirely on a whim?)  But let us not be greedy.

OK, so I did all right this time.  But it doesn’t happen like that every time.  And even when I win, I somehow feel that it’s slightly immoral.  On the other hand, some people have a flutter on the gee-gees, others go to bingo; I get my minor kicks from playing the market.

But be warned, it’s a rigged market.  All those pension fund managers, investment banks and hedge funds are playing with millions and are much more able to move the market than me with my relatively paltry investments (even when their chums in the City are not tipping them off on “sure things”).  Then you have the short-sellers, who “borrow” shares (at a cost naturally) and sell them in the hope (or the certain knowledge) that the price of those shares will fall, so that they can buy them back at a reduced price (and then return them to the original owners), reaping more than satisfactory profits by the process.  Nevertheless, you don’t always lose out to the bigger players.

These are my basic rules to gambling.  (1) Never bet more than you can afford; you need to be able to walk away with a smile even if you have lost it all.  (2) Don’t get greedy; people like you and me will never make a fortune - be content with a win, however small.


Cameron on holiday:

Black office shoes?  check.
New jeans?  check.
Shirtsleeves unrolled all the way down? check.

Uncomfortable - you should be.

14 August 2012


Steve Bell in The Guardian is in good form this morning - here and here.


Olympic gold is the result of communal effort?

I have already expressed my abhorrence of those who wish to hang their political and economic prejudices on an Olympics hook. And now big Gordon is doing the same thing:
Former prime minister Gordon Brown has invoked Britain's Olympic medal success – based, he said, on "pooling and sharing" of national resources and expertise – as an argument against Scottish independence.
Speaking out at the Edinburgh international book festival, Brown said that the Union had made possible a raft of shared British institutions, including the National Health Service, the BBC and the armed forces – and had created a Britain that was much more fair and equal than it would otherwise be.
"One thing I take from the Olympics, a point that Sir Chris Hoy has already made for me – when we pool and share resources for the common good the benefit is far greater than would have occurred if we'd just added up the sum of the parts. So the National Health Service is common insurance policy … the BBC, shared across the United Kingdom. The armed forces, so you don't have a Scottish, a Welsh and an English army.
Aye well.  He's right of course.  But the argument must stand or fall on its own merits, rather than by spurious analogy with Olympic medal-winning.

13 August 2012

It will soon be just a memory ...

To hell in a handcart

Now that the Olympics are over, it's back to auld claes and porridge.  The two week interregnum seems to have done little for the world economy.  The Guardian sums up the position:
So, this is a world in which the Bank of England has bought a third of UK gilts, a world in which the Federal Reserve has pumped trillions of dollars into the US economy for fear the money supply will collapse, a world in which the ECB props up European banks so they can buy government bonds nobody else will touch, and a world in which China can keep its growth model functioning only through manipulation of the exchange rate and unproductive investment. Apparently, this is the "new normal". There doesn't, to be frank, seem much normal about it.


11 August 2012

Video of the week

An arresting if rather violent study of anomie (or revenge):

Quote of the day

Life ain't fair, according to The Guardian (here):
That not everyone is born into equal circumstances is something even the most idealistic of us has probably come to terms with as an immutable aspect of the human condition. That those inequalities of opportunity are then not just accepted but further encouraged and entrenched by government after government and policy after policy stinks. And the reek will be worse this year than ever, as free schools and assorted other ideas farted from the ever-noxious bumhole that is Michael Gove pollute the atmosphere and fog the once-shining vision of an egalitarian, comprehensive education system so thoroughly that it is hard to perceive even its outline any more.

09 August 2012

Confessions of an unjustified sinner

OK, I admit it.  Buoyed up by the success of the GB Olympic cycle team and expecting a rush on the purchase of bicycles throughout the UK, and notwithstanding my calvinistic background and despite the birling sound as my departed mother spins around in her grave, I have bought some shares in Halfords.  They cost me about 222 pence each this morning.  By this evening, they had reached the dizzy heights of 224.6 pence per share.  But they'll need to be knocking on 240 pence in order for me to cover the commission and stamp duty as well as my expected 5% turn.  We'll see.

I'll let you know how I get on.

For the record, the price of shares can go down as well as up.  And given my track record, do not follow my example ...

Signs of desperation

It is always rather pathetic when political and financial supremos seek to hang their hats on a sporting peg.  For example, here is the Governor of the Bank of England:
"Unlike the Olympians who have thrilled us over the past fortnight, our economy has not yet reached full fitness. But it is slowly healing. Many of the conditions necessary for a recovery are in place, and the monetary policy committee [MPC] will continue to do all it can to bring about that recovery.
"As I have said many times, the recovery and rebalancing of our economy will be a long, slow process. It is to our Olympic team that we should look for inspiration. They have shown us the importance of total commitment when trying to achieve a goal that may lie some years ahead."
Vacuous nonsense.  To imply that lifting the economy out of its present stagnation is somehow dependent upon adopting the commitment of an Olympic athlete is meaningless.  Sir Mervyn may have little idea how to stimulate economic growth but I can assure him that personal physical effort is unlikely to play a significant role.  (Although it might be helpful if he and Slasher Osborne pulled their fingers out.)

08 August 2012

Music of the week

From Juliet Turner:

The innumerate chancellor

Huff Post states:
George Osborne has said he will focus "110%" on pulling the UK economy out of recession in the wake of a warning from the Bank of England that there would be zero growth in 2012.
Speaking on Wednesday afternoon the chancellor admitted that the forecast was "disappointing" but said the government now had the opportunity to "give its 110% attention and effort and energy" to create growth.
I suppose 100% is not really good enough.  Leaving aside his difficulties with basic arithmetic, does anyone really think that Slasher has even the remotest scooby-doo on how to create growth?


07 August 2012


Danny Alexander, Treasury Chief Secretary:

Beaker of the Muppets:

Quote of the day

More naughty bankers, this time at Standard Chartered.  According to The Guardian (here):
According to the report filed by the New York state department of financial services (NYSDFS), when warned by a US colleague about dealings with Iran, a Standard Chartered executive caustically replied: "You f---ing Americans. Who are you to tell us, the rest of the world, that we're not going to deal with Iranians."
Not the sort of thing you expect a banker to say ...


04 August 2012

I got it wrong

Well, well. well.  For an old curmudgeon who dismissed the Games as circenses for the masses, I have to admit I'm thoroughly enjoying them now the moment has arrived.

My favourites have been the rowing and the cycling.  And not just because of the success of the Brits.

Alas the BBC has let us down in the commentarial standards.  It is intolerable to have to put up with the simpering of Sue Barker, the illiterate screaming of Jonathan Pearce, the snarkiness of Gary Lineker, the know-it-all attitude of Brendan Foster.  Thank heavens for Clare Balding (the damehood can't come quickly enough), the sheer niceness of Jill Douglas and the common sense of Boardman.

But what really impresses is the charm of the athletes in the lesser sports.  Ms Grainger of the rowing, Sir Chris Hoy of the cycling and the two girls who set the ball rolling with the first gold medal, Ms Glover and Ms Stanning.   People you could actually like as well as admire.  (How dissimilar to professional footballers.)

An illustration of what I mean, here is this well-deserved encomium from The Independent (here):
What a gentleman Bradley Wiggins is, really. Not everyone noticed his exemplary behaviour on winning the Olympic time trial. He was informed that he had the best time, but made no response, even though by then, the subsequent riders could not match his time, indeed had already exceeded it. He only raised his hands in celebration when the last rider had crossed the line.
This beautiful behaviour was interpreted by the BBC commentator, however, as Mr Wiggins not knowing that he had won, or not being able to believe it, or something. Nothing of the sort. As with the moment in the Tour de France when he slowed down, refusing to take advantage when his rivals suffered punctures from scattered tin-tacks, Mr Wiggins was just behaving with great respect and decency.
No one these days wants to be considered a gentleman. It hasn't seemed like much of an advantage for decades. But to behave consistently well, like Mr Wiggins, and to do the right thing without being ordered to is the best lesson the Olympics can give us. We're not going to ride as fast as him, but we can all endeavour to raise our manners to the status of ethical principles.


03 August 2012

The kiss of death

It reminds me of all those failing football managers.  City AM reports:
GEORGE Osborne will remain as chancellor until the next general election in 2015, David Cameron insisted last night.
In a bid to quash speculation that Osborne would be moved in his September reshuffle, the Prime Minister insisted that the chancellor had his “full support”.
Things must be getting desperate when the Prime Minister is forced to express confidence in his Chancellor.  And it's not as if Cameron were renowned for his constancy ...


02 August 2012


Super Mario's not so super after today's announcement:

FTSE 100

euro in terms of $

The Games (part 23)

A cri de coeur, allegedly from the Prime Minister:
My PR team has been sending me out to all these events where they assure me we're going to get a medal, so that I can muscle in on the success, and then we keep on failing. Apparently Team GB are calling me Typhoid Dave and have begged me to stay away from the rowing and the cycling.