Friday, 17 September 2010

Porto

Diogenes got it. Looking at granites this morning, then a port tasting, then home. I heartily recommend Mal Cozinharo if you're a Fado fan ....





Thursday, 16 September 2010

Where am I?

Exact location please, country's too easy.

Last night I had a late dinner in the humid September warmth, the outside tables of a dockside restaurant perched precariously on the granite as the harbour lights twinkled on the water below. A cabbage and potato soup followed by a large dish of tripe sounds far less appetising than it actually was, but the green vinho went down a treat - at 10% a definite quaffing wine, and one I'm now determined to drink gallons of. Finding the Fado bar late at night in a completely strange place down a rickety alleyway along which ordinary people were living their lives in the ten foot space that separated them felt like wandering through someone's front room, but they were friendly enough, smiles and nods as I walked through their conversations. From midnight things got lively, or mournful rather, but in a very alive way.

This morning was a time to rehydrate and spend an hour or so drinking coffee at a table on the edge of the main square, dominated by a 19th century equestrian statue, eating savoury brioche breakfast pastries and watching a little municipal scene enacted that could have taken place anywhere in the world. The safety seatbelt people had rigged up a small car on a large spit-type machine in the main square. An ambitious young woman made a speech that was too long. Then the Mayor made a short speech and his suited staff from the Town Hall clapped him. A few locals leaned on the barriers round about, smoking and making quiet comments. The Mayor was then strapped into the car, which then turned three spins in one direction and two in the other before the assistants sprung to release the rotated dignitary. He stood on the little platform and made a little gesture of spread hands and a crook of the neck that said 'It was nothing, I'm fine'. Everyone broke into polite applause.

For lunch I had a little French girl smothered in a beer sauce. With another bottle of green wine - a different one, only 9% but distinctly p├ętillant. Then the cathedral. More granite. I suppose when you live on a steep slope made out of granite you don't look any further for the stuff to pave the streets and build with; the 14th century remnants are massive blocks minimally worked, but as the centuries passed skills evolved to shape exquisite Gothic and baroque decoration from it.

Tonight it's an earlier night, having found the internet shop just opposite the hotel. Around me are half a dozen Africans from this country's former colonies no doubt diligently typing out their daily hundred 419 emails, but I'm in charitable mood.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

It's the economy. And confidence. And banks.

QE will only work up to a point, we're told; the point at which actors in the markets continue to have confidence in it. Once that confidence is lost, you can pour billions into expanding M with little or no effect.

And without consumer confidence, investment may outstrip demand and lead to overcapacity. Goods and services need buyers, and reasonable credit and money transfer arrangements oil the wheels of commerce. But now the IMF is fearful that a growing wealth gap within all Western economies is driving down confidence and consumer demand. We're told the last time the wealth gap was so large was in 1928 - 1929.

Now I've mentioned on here before the global derivatives total of some $500 trillion created by the banks and described it as 'worthless'. In fact, as one of the few well-informed rather than well-opinionated fellow bloggers has pointed out, it's only partially worthless.

Latest estimates suggest that UK banks are holding only about $10 trillion of worthless derivatives. A modest total, just four times the UK's entire annual GDP. And they didn't accumulate those worthless derivatives by running current accounts and administering direct debits for gas bills; the $10 trillion is the result of their buccaneer banking activities.

Now there are two ways of getting rid of this problem. They can wait until inflation erodes away the value of the liability, or write it off. But at the same time, they need to maintain share value and investment in the banks. That their retail banking activities are tied up in the same firm that holds the $10 trillion of shite, and it's unthinkable that anyone would let the retail banking sector fail, helps keep confidence and investment. This is why there are petulant screams of outrage from everyone in the financial sector every time anyone suggests splitting retail banking from the dirty stuff.

But the problem is, the public as a whole, as opposed to the narrow world of the stock market, doesn't have confidence in the banks. And doesn't see why they should carry the liability of the $10 trillion of shite that has funded billions in bonuses for the sector each year.

The collective wisdom is that bankers are the villains, and that view is unlikely to change.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Bulbwatch



As part of an occasional series, just a reminder that retail sale of frosted incandescent lamps is now banned and clear incandescents follow from this month. However,

TLC Direct are offering 100w frosted BC at £5.05 inc VAT for 10,
BLT Direct are offering 100w frosted BC at £5.36 inc VAT for 10.

Both have plenty of stock. No connection with either.

Who funds the pensions of the Anti-smoking Stasi?

You really couldn't make it up.

That little Stasi army of local government smoking cessation workers and prodnoses inspecting licenced premises for traces of tobacco, watching for half an inch of fag ash to drop on the pavement or catch a truck driver having a roll-up in his cab are all going to retire on pensions funded by .... tobacco companies.

A survey of council pension funds by the Standard found over half had substantial investments in Imperial Tobacco, BAT and Altria. The reason is simple; “Tobacco funds are recession-proof, fast cash producers and a godsend for local authorities with a pension deficit to fill. So long as you don't have a conscience about the environmental or medical impact, tobacco is a very good investment, yielding six or seven per cent compared to one, two or three per cent in a deposit account.”

The first local authority to employ staff to encourage the take-up of smoking and increase cigarette consumption will therefore help significantly to keep Council Tax low and boost the economy. You know it makes (economic) sense, and councils who continue to discourage smoking may actually be in breach of their fiduciary duties. I await the first Judicial Review with interest.

Some kids are just thick

When I was young, back in Suffolk, to be Educationally Sub Normal a kid had to be stuck on finger-painting at the age of eleven and have a tendency to wipe its nose with its foot. Otherwise, it was just 'slow'. Somewhere along the way, ESN became an unfashionable moniker and transmuted to 'special needs' at about the same time spastics became cerebral palsy sufferers, and overnight it seems that a vast additional cohort of ESN kids was created.

At the same time, never backwards in cruelty, kids themselves adopted 'special' as a term of intellectual derision. To be 'special' was shaming in a way that being 'slow' never was; there's no shame at being slow in Suffolk.

Then along came Labour with a performance target for 'Statementing', a made-up word to describe the production by the LEA of a Statement of Special Educational Needs for ESN and, er, 'slow' kids. Overnight, it became a mini-industry as bureaucrats raced to meet their Statementing targets.

Today 20% of the nation's school roll are classified as 'special', more than 700,000 kids. It's all, of course, an incredible waste of money. If a child is slow, no amount of additional attention will make it intellectually quick. We need slow people; we depend on them to do the tedious, repetitive and largely manual jobs as vital to the functioning of our society as brain surgeons. Accept it.

Monday, 13 September 2010

RIP Tom Bingham

Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

Judges held in high affection across the broadsheet reading public are rare as hen's teeth. Tom Bingham, like Tom Denning before him, was one. An independent judiciary is our last safeguard against government tyranny, and the strength and carry of Bingham's voice was far more important than whether you agreed or not with his individual judgements.

It's rare that a post gives me the opportunity of quoting one of Tom Denning's judgement openings, but here's one. Enjoy.
In summertime village cricket is the delight of everyone. Nearly every village has its own cricket field where the young men play and the old men watch. In the village of Lintz in County Durham they have their own ground, where they have played these last 70 years. They tend it well. The wicket area is well rolled and mown. The outfield is kept short. It has a good club house for the players and seats for the onlookers. The village team play there on Saturdays and Sundays. They belong to a league, competing with the neighbouring villages. On other evenings after work they practise while the light lasts. Yet now after these 70 years a judge of the High Court has ordered that they must not play there any more. He has issued an injunction to stop them. He has done it at the instance of a newcomer who is no lover of cricket.

Bankers far more foolish than Turkeys

Unlike Turkeys, Bankers quite look forward to Christmas. They both inhabit closed worlds where they are fattened by the efforts of others, cut off from natural daylight and the normal world, crammed together in their own society and heedless of the world outside. But unlike Turkeys, Bankers should realise, as the bonus season approaches, that crowing about the size of the City bonus pool - will it be £7bn? Will it get back to the old £8bn? - this year will be like laying their bloated necks on the butchers block.

We loathe and hate Bankers. Even Boris hates Bankers. These are the bastards that created $500 trillion of largely worthless derivatives that almost crashed the global economy. These are the bastards that are scamming and cheating every customer now to build funds to quietly write-off those worthless derivatives. These are the bastards who are choking the recovery by their greed.

And if the people, enraged by the level of this year's City bonuses, are unable to restrain themselves, there will be few who will blame them.

TUC would condemn your grandchildren to poverty

As the TUC conference starts today with calls for strikes to cripple the economy over 'spending cuts', let's just remind the Comrades why we're here in the first place.

We're here because a Labour government backed by the Trade Unions borrowed money so profligately and at such an alarming rate that the prospect of half of all taxes raised being used just to pay the interest loomed. We're here because Labour backed by the Trade Unions tried to bribe the electorate for votes by condemning their grandchildren to poverty, leaving future generations to beggar themselves paying off the debts. We're here because Labour backed by the Trade Unions crippled the nation's economy by substituting a Soviet-style command economy for the free market, by deluding themselves as Gordon Brown did that the public sector was the 'real' economy.

And the Comrades are proposing doing even more damage?

Here's how Trade Union Members can help themselves; your union adds anything from £5 to £10 a month to your subs in the form of a 'political levy'. You can opt out of this. HERE is Unison's Opt Out Form - but all the unions will have them. Opt out today. Better still, resign your union membership altogether and spend the saved subscription on a legal insurance policy - these days, a smart city lawyer on a CFA is ten times more useful in protecting employee's rights than a Comrade branch secretary.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

New life for State funding

Sir Christopher Kelly's Committee for Standards in Public Life has published its (mercifully brief) questions and issues paper on Party Political Finance with a rapid turnaround date of 29th October. I urge all of you with a position on State funding to respond.

So far, Conservatives are distinctly lukewarm on State funding. However, Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer today reports a coalition cabinet minister as predicting '25-5' after the effects of the October Spending Review are understood - the Tories poll rating falling to 25% and the LibDems collapsing to just 5%. If this happens, and the fall is reflected in a choking-off of donations and memberships, the Tories may well reconsider their position. Of course, one can't imagine Labour picking up the lost support - not if the coalition do their job right in correctly blaming Labour's fiscal malfeasance for the cuts - and the Comrades could well be stuck on 25% too, leaving the 'None of the Above' Party with a 45% share of popular support.