Monday 10 December 2012

Lord Sugar and The Donald set about it

Well, the twitter war between Donald Trump and Lord Sugar that kicked off over Trump's intervention in UK wind farm policy (of all things) is still way out of hand at the time of writing....

It may be unedifying, but it is hilarious, as "The Donald" remains as impervious as ever to the state of his image as his famous hair "style" suggests. You need a pretty thick hide to be able sport that type of barnet in public.

Many folks still refuse to believe that this spat is for real, but be assured that it is indeed for real, and neither one wants to back down.

One twitter follower was good enough to send a link to this image of Donald Trump and a statically charged balloon.

 Meantime Lord Sugar is giving no quarter and the war of tweets continues...

However, Lord S may be overlooking the reality that the US is far more forgiving of business failure than the UK. The fact that Trump had failures some time ago is not the end of his world, or following. The fact that he appears to be dripping in money today is all that matters.

The suggestion of settling this feud like gentlemen using a duel with an Apprentice Challenge, and $1m charity stake, seems like a nice way out.

Monday 13 August 2012

A triumph of organisation; how did that happen?

What a thoroughly nice way to spend ~£10,000,000,000

One of the better legacies of London 2012 is the very obvious fact that the Great British Olympic Experience has been a stark contradiction of many of the features of British life that have charted our national decline in the past 50 years.
It's all over for another 4 years.

Firstly our lottery/celeb "get rich quick" ethos: with the exception of the opening and closing ceremonies, we barely saw or heard from a politician "on duty", and there was no easy political point scoring to be had from anything going on anyway. Once the medals started flowing, and the traffic stayed flowing, there was apparently no blame of any sort to apportion, and with no blame to hand out, most pygmy politicians are lost for a comment. Unless they happen to be French, of course.

Secondly, the games asserted that no one won anything by just getting lucky (other than the odd conniving aussie cyclist) or merely being famous; all the winners (including the famous ones) got there by relentless gruelling preparation. British success was founded on relentless selection, elitism, preparation and in most instances, sacrificial levels of family support. But for there to be winners, there must also be losers - the exact opposite of the dogmatic ideas of the past 50 years that have driven the disastrous British educational experiment. And so the race to try and spin attention away from that particularly inconvenient truth is well under way in the media of the social engineering classes. Does anyone dare say " Big Society", I wonder?

Darcey Bussell flies in on a rocket
powered phoenix; as you do...
GB won big in sitting-down events requiring huge preparation, complex technical support and costly facilities; a few of our ruffians beat-up a few of their ruffians; but it is again apparent that we need not bother in the mostly skill-free events that are selected from the global gene pool, unless we import the right genes.

The best show bit was when Freddie Mercury was briefly but very effectively resurrected - which reminded us what a lot of padding nonsense we had also been forced to watch - in much the same way that an indulgent feast of succulent rare fillet steak and chips is nutritionally engineered to seem somehow healthier with a couple of token veg, so the entertainment was socially engineered to be less purely an indulgence of Britain's rock and pop excellence, and more spiritually nutritious with a side portion of yoof cabbage rap and multicultural bangla broccoli.

Never forget that the opening and closing ceremonies were carrying the embers of the torch of the New Labour vision that steered the event design from 2005-2010 to embody a very New Labour vision of a random, confused, classless and mostly aimless multicultural Britain. Remember the Millennium Dome?

But you had better like this - or else be declared negative, beastly and reactionary. Possibly  even worse. People have already been arrested for not smiling sufficiently.

Saturday 11 August 2012

London 2012: the race to claim the credit

The heats for the final event - claiming the glory - are well under way.

After all those well documented and embarrassing problems with ticketing at every level of the process, we (note, not "they") can scarcely believe our (not "their") luck eh? Even the diabolical summer weather relented and cooperated by reverting to a very typical English August of mostly pleasant with occasional downpours; so conditions for the performers have been benign. And even the G4S cock-up has been turned into a completely random triumph by showcasing the British military giving a gold medal PR performance.

The most relieved man in London
So now the papers are bristling with pictures of the suave Seb Coe, effectively concealing the massive relief he must be feeling having spent 7 years (and a gazillion quid) setting himself (and GB itself) for the biggest high jump of British and International public life since the second world war.

Even if the closing ceremony turns out to be a full-on fiasco (it seems to have all the component parts)  he cleared the bar with ease - but also - it must be noted - with almost limitless finance when  the government was forced to accept that with the eyes of the world on the UK, we could not afford to cock it up.

Lord Coe must now be eternally grateful to Francois Hollande, the French president, who very kindly handed him the absolutely copper bottomed proof that this was indeed a game being played by TeamGB for the highest possible international stakes.
Francois Hollande, French president
posing a picture he might regret

Were he not already French, he would have earned the right to be an honorary Frenchman. But since he is,   President Hollande deserves the légion de déshonneur for his typically waspish and gallic remarks about the British rolling out the carpet for French success - and implying the British would have to rely on the opportunity to associate/hide itself within the EU in order to mask British embarrassment after day one, with its absence of any GB medal.

Apart from the relentless GB "medalling", overall organisation has been immaculate and officials effective and almost invisible. There seem to have been almost no false starts (not surprising in view of draconian the new rules) and very few disputes thanks to clear cut and unambiguous appeals procedures.

The BBC curse has been almost 100% effective. All their poster performers with the exception of Jesccia Ennis have succumbed to the pressures. I do hope that the BBC - technically almost perfect, editorially as flawed as ever - is not allowed to assume too much of the credit for these games. The traditional BBC fixation with bigging up or mostly failed athletes and swimmers has been as embarrassing as ever, but fortunately, the rest of the world probably doesn't know it as they have wisely been using their own commentary teams.

David Rudisha earns his money
The BBC studio interview and roundup sessions with the  exuberant Gabby Logan have been on the money. It's always going to be easier to do a good job of reporting uplifting a parade of triumphs than a litany of depressing disasters.

There have been a couple of track world records for the tiresome BBC athletics commentators to get infeasibly excited about. David Rudisha's majestic 800m final was worth the price of admission, and helped deflect attention from the host nation's own modest performances. But then there was that  uncomfortable win in the women's 1500m by a Turkish athlete who had just served a 2 year ban for drug abuse. A handy reminder that there are always going to be some events where we might as well not bother competing until lifetime drug bans are enforced.

Most GB success (notable exception of track cycling) has emerged from events that the BBC has not "pre-heated". And can you imagine the horror at the BBC when a bloke wielding a shotgun could no longer be safely ignored?

At the time of wring, Tom Daley - who has looked like a haunted man right up to the point he qualified for the 30m platform diving final - might just save the BBC from a deeper enquiry about the obviously unhelpful pressure it has piled on its chosen ones, if he can pull off a win in one of the last events.
Cheer up - it's almost over!

Overall, with two days left, GB has enjoyed its best 2 weeks of mood uplift in its best year in a long time. The Royals played their parts impeccably throughout, although maybe Brenda herself might have been expected to put in an appearance (no need to parachute in, ma'am) at the equestrian events. There were mercifully few politicians on show, and when the Mayor did appear, he managed to raise a smile in his own inimical style of high-wire act.

Can we translate this mood of national unity and euphoria - based on ruthless selection, pure elitism, painful family sacrifices and the determined pursuit of excellence - into economic success? Sadly, a glance at the usual parades of self-serving pygmies in government and opposition in every corner of this nation, suggests the political challenges are going to require a complete rethink of who and how we train and select our so-called political leaders.

Sunday 5 August 2012

An Olympic lesson to learn

The gold medal for irony goes to David Cameron as he tries to exhort the UK's wheezing,  education - sorry, "social engineering" - system to provide better facilities for the gamut of Olympic sports. Surely to God he knows as well as anyone that tipping yet more money into the present system is tantamount to pouring it down an already well fed drain.

Ben Ainslie does it again
The denied reality is that the vast majority of the successes of the London Olympics will have been delivered by products of an educational system - and family support networks - that our witless politicians have done their best to strangle, starve and dissuade for the past 50 years.

Ben Ainslie is a product of a very traditional independent day/bording school  - Truro School - motto "To be, rather than to seem to be" the very type of school that was first in front Labour's ideology-inspired firing squad as the (very privately educated) Shirley Williams put party dogma before best interest. (And to this day, the scatty old bat who never did a real job of work in her massively privileged and most misguided evil-doing life, still defiantly declares that comprehensive education was her finest achievement!)

However, the real story for these Olympians is that they come from a family that is committed sufficiently to be willing to pay £3k5 a term (day) and not just ignore the state so-called "free" education, but to make the statement so stark that it dare not speak its name - that state education is hugely inferior. All Olympians - almost without fail - will credit family support with a large element of their success.

A brief moment on the hypocrisy of politicians, which continues largely unabated: the fact that virtually all members of the last labour government's cabinet sent their kids to private schools is well documented. Labour peer Lord Sugar may famously not have gone to public school - but his kids and grandchildren all went/ are going to fee-paying schools; and he's nobody's fool where wasting money is concerned.

When taken to task on the matter, those Labour acolytes  that are willing to coyly try and defend their decisions, tend to do so on the basis that their family's interests come first.

So then Dave, please do not blow this opportunity to strike back and make the connection between success and committed families; and then take that idea the extra mile and apply it to a root and branch reform of the education system, where a far deeper family engagement with their kids' futures is more important then yet more taxpayer money thrown at the task.

Friday 13 July 2012

Olympian cock-ups: the gold medalists

We should have taken heed long ago and been warned by the defiant nature of the aggressive LOCOS defence of the appalling £400k logo, when so many obviously better (and free) designs were offered.

£400k's worth? We think not.
Here was an organisation that was absolutely convinced of its own immutable good judgement and sense and eager to brush off all criticism by hiding behind what must be one of the "ultimate deadlines" in world events - a deadline which left little scope for debate or discussion.

So there was none at virtually every step of the way. Sir Keith Mills (he of Nectar fame) has a fearsome "get it done" reputation, and Lord Coe's political instincts have imbued him with sufficient brass neck to brazen out just about any crisis of confidence. And the remit of the Olympics "at all costs" also leads LOCOS to imply that anyone daring to criticise anything they were up to was being unpatriotic and obstructive.

Anyone questioning LOCOS has been given short shrift, and so the first public fiasco - the ticketing challenge - was swept away in a  tide of "there was no other practical alternative". Oh yes there was.

The choice of the world's most reviled ticketing organisation to mind the reputation of the London Games was taken behind Locos' closed doors like so many other deadlined decisions of this event. The general response when questioned was that Tricketmaster is a large organisation and a safe pair of hands, so it was simply not possible to challenge that decision - or consider the alternative of working with a small local East London operation that lead the word in advanced ticketing technology. And thus the chance to develop a world beating London/British business that could be a shoo in for subsequent games and events like World Cups, was lost.

The current farago around security with G4S - another "safe pair of hands" choice that was beyond question or criticism - is simply astonishing. Anyone with any modicum of common sense would have guessed that G4S would try and recruit low cost staff from around the Olympic site - and following last summer's riots, it is not unfair to suggest that East London would not be a sensible recruiting ground.  

As it happens, the idea that security could now be in the hands of British armed forces is not unwelcome. And there is word that the Military will actually relish the opportunity to be involved and to display its versatility beyond posting its traditional statues around Wimbledon Court..

Maybe a long term idea would be to hand all of G4S public sector remits to the Army to fulfil using soon-to-be redundant personnel - but in a private new business established from the ground up to be "fit for purpose"..?

Friday 29 June 2012

Before you buy a Sony Vaio, read this...

(July 10th update posted at the end)

Excuse me if I stretch this blog brief to include a rant about poor experience with Sony support. Sony is a media company after all, and you can plug a mouse into this thing.

I needed a laptop update Dec 2010 (to escape from Vista...) and I looked around for a high end solution wit an i7  CPU W7-64 with 8G RAM and Windows Professional. It was surprising how few vendors offered this combo, but it was available from Laptops Direct in Huddersfield (who I have used previously for a Compaq with no bad marks),

I was a bit nervous of Sony because I had bought one of the very first stylish Vaios about 10 years ago, and the day after the warranty expired, so did the laptop when all the screws holding it together dropped out! (I kid you not).
I long suspected Vaio might have been a triumph of form over function when compared to the more industrial lines of a Thinkpad, but a brand like Sony seems to deserve the benefit of the doubt, and the VPCF12S1EB (where do they get these names from?) ticked the boxes.
Tom's Hardware  waxes positively lyrical "Designer Shimpei Hirano is Z Series’ lead architect.  It was Hirano’s poetic vision which brought forth the ideal translated into English as blend cylinder."  Eh? It seems that objectivity may have deserted the once-trustworthy Tom's Hardware site, and its soul been sacrificed on the altar of Mammon.
BUT all any laptop owner really ought to ask about is "how effective is the support system when it stops working?" No other question comes closer to establishing the single most important aspect of laptop ownership, but no reviews ever seem to test drive the manufacturers' support ecosystem.
In Sony's case, the answer is that it is not good. As usual, here is a product whose marketing is puffed with the image of a colossal global operation that spans the world, but is feebly supported in the UK with a Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm support line. (But if you want to buy, then Sony are eager to hear from you Monday to Friday 9am - 7pm, Saturday 9am - 6pm) 
There is a maze of support links posted on their website that cover just about every conceivable eventually, other than "it doesn't work". Indeed many journeys end in this dead end:-

 ... there is no visible form of user login for this page, suggesting this site is used internally by Sony telephone support as part of their prime references  And even when you do get through, it can be pretty arcane:
  • VAIO Platform Update - 1.1.0
  • What does it fix? 
  • This update fixes the issue that sqlite3.7.8 is uninstalled after uninstallation of Giga Pocket Digital or Media Gallery.
Sony, like so many others, seems intent upon having a passionate relationship with their customers that goes way beyond simply providing products that work. The Vaio includes a number of Sony-specific bits and pieces that add to the confusion for those who just want a fast Windows notebook PC.
The channel that flogs these things has no scope to develop any sort of customer relationship, and they know full well that they are only as good as their ratings in current price comparison sites. Which is a soulless way to earn a crust, the consequence of what is laughingly referred to as "progress".
And so Laptops Direct has no role in any aspect of after sales support, which is passed straight onto Sony as rapidly and politely as possible. I can't blame them - the range and permutations of models is impossibly far too complex for anyone but Sony to manage.
My problem was not subtle. I had spent a few hours tidying up the contents of the disk and copying over important files, ready to go away for a week (I only rarely use the thing anyway) and was about to perform an Acronis image backup on the tidied-up system, when it refused to boot. The Airport pick-up was 2 hours away, and I grabbed a spare HP notebook instead, and just about had enough of the right files from a backup.

I am 99% confident I had not done anything daft like delete crucial system files - and it was very quickly obvious that the Vaio was not going to work - sticking just after it started to boot into Windows with symptoms that look and feel like a busted disk drive. Without any visibility of the boot sequence (like in the good old days) it's not possible to guess what is going on. But since I had 24 months Sony warranty, I wasn't going to try he usual creative stuff but simply pass the problem to Sony. Or so I thought. I called Laptops Direct who gave me the Sony support number.

"Press 1 if you want to be driven mad..."

Since being cast into the Sony support chain, at no time have I spoken to a native English speaker or anyone with a name that could be described as remotely native to the British isles, which I (reluctantly) accept is par for the course days. But if I am going to pay good English money for a product then it would be nice that at last some of the money found its way into the English economy other than the £10 the shipping company probably earns.
I tried calling the support number which asks users to enter their lengthy product serial number as part of the first attempt to make annoying punters like me go away. I was told my unit was out of warranty, and that I would have to call a premium support line at 35p a minute (not actually stated anywhere I could see). Hear all about it 
However, I eventually got through to a real person (somewhere..?) on a normal charge number, using a trick I am not going to share here. The lad was was very eager and very polite, and I was asked to repeat the same diagnostic process about 5 times where the result has been the same every time - just after starting to load Windows, the hard drive access light stays on, and momentary blips off every 2 seconds. 
And then an inquisition began into my extended warranty. Thank goodness I kept all the purchase evidence because I had foolishly not opened all the guff at the outset and noticed that I was asked to separately register the 2nd year warranty within a year of purchase. So I prepared for a battle on the basis that if they really were going to refute the warranty, I wanted the money back or would have the Trading Standards pester them (does TS has a branch in Mumbai yet?) 
After a week of sending scans of documents, Sony relented and accepted that I had a valid warranty; and then I eventually got a call from a patient bloke called Mohamed Badr, who told me that Sony really wanted me to spend £47 for a "recovery DVD" to confirm that it is not a software problem.
£47 for a DVD that can cost no more than $1? Ripoff! So I asked what if the DVD proved that it was the hard disk problem, would I be refunded? No of course not, don't be silly. So I said in that case, I would send it back for fixing anyway. Then I was threatened that if I didn't pay the £47 - and then returned it for fixing under the extended warranty, I may be penalised >£50 if they deem the problem is not in fact hardware, but some sort of software malaise that I have inflicted on it.
Mohammed was clearly constrained by Sony process and procedure, and could see that I was not a happy bunny, but was not able to bend the rules. I pointed out the potential PR consequence to Sony for pissing off a user for the sake of a $1 DVD, but "computer said no"So given the massive amount of effort that Sony puts into tracking its vast ranges of products and customers, this seems like a bad call. Within seconds of my registering the product on the Sony Europe site, I was being pestered by junk mail trying to sell me music I don't want. If only Sony switched this marketing technology and talent into support, the improved reputation that should result might be even more effective than sending junk mail and complex marketing propositions to punters who really mostly want working kit.
If support was available 24x7x365, Sony could achieve a much better rapport with users, and they could always try and end any (positive) encounter with a gentle sales pitch, based on having gleaned the punters proclivities in the course of the chat. And yes, Sony, you might then have to employ people with human qualities and some real talent to make it work - rather than the polite but lobotomised automata that read company policy off a screen in front of them.
Meanwhile I had been checking the wisdom of crowds on Facebook in case I was being harsh:-

the view from he FaceBook gang was pretty consistent.
Stay tuned...

Further thrilling instalments will be posted when I have them. And if you have read this far you don't need me to summarise how frustrated and annoyed I am by this experience, and how unlikely it is that I will ever buy or recommend a Sony product to anyone every again.

But you never know, they may redeem themselves ?

But whatever happens from here, if Apple wanted to set out to undermine its competition and Windows laptops in general, it could not have done any better than invented the Vaio series.  Judging by comments from colleagues and friends, if you are going to persist with Windows, then get a laptop from Lenovo (Thinkpad) or HP. All those with Vaio experience seem to be reluctant to recommend one.

UK: In guarantee contact telephone number - 0870 240 2408 (4p minute)
UK: Out of guarantee contact telephone number - 0905 031 0006 (35p/min plus network charges)


UPDATE July 3rd

We tried a W7 recovery disc from another laptop, but the Vaio HD still sat there flashing to itself showing no signs of interest. So I emailed and asked for the RMA process to commence:- 

From: William Poel
Sent: 29 June 2012 17:31
To: ''
Subject: RE: 6816415 vaio [Case ID #: 552024]


Ok - I have tried other recovery options and the disk continues to give the same results: permanently lit flashing off momentarily every 3 seconds.

What is the return-for-repair procedure? We have all the original packaging.

William Poel

From: []
Sent: 28 June 2012 16:42
Subject: RE: 6816415 vaio [Case ID #: 552024]

Dear Mr Poel

Thank you for contacting Sony.

This is a confirmation that your email content has been uploaded to the case; also the person in charge of your case has been notified.
Should you have any further questions or queries, please feel free to reply to this email or contact us on the numbers below:

Yours sincerely
Mohamed Badr
SONY Support
UK: In guarantee contact telephone number - 0870 240 2408
UK: Out of guarantee contact telephone number - 0905 031 0006 (35p/min plus network charges)
Ireland: In guarantee contact telephone number - 01 407 30 40
Ireland: out of guarantee contact telephone - 1530 501 002 (33 cent/min plus network charges)

...but heard nothing 4 days later, so I called again and discovered that Sony's UK Vaio support call centre is in Cairo! (UK time +2 hours, so they could easily do an extended evening support slot) And still fixated on me paying £47 for the $1 recovery DVD. 
I found that the penalty charge if they declare the hardware is OK and it's "only" their Windows config that's busted, will be £60-65 v £47 for the $1 recovery DVD. So for the sake of £20 I asked for them to sort it out.

Sadly, their internal system was down, and they could not produce an RMA, but would call me back later.

I might be more sheepish and understanding if I had the slightest concern that this problem was down to something I did. But this fancy £1400  laptop sits on a desk for 99.99% of its life doing nothing. I had simply copied some files onto the hard drive, and was about to create a new Acronis image backup when it stopped booting.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, the biggest worry here must be that if you use a Vaio for a serious business, the endless inquisitions and amount of time it takes to get it fixed, is considerable. HP PR and marketing must be chuckling to itself - doubtless it has a google alerts set for "disgruntled Vaio customer".

UPDATE July 10th

The pick-up from UPS on July 5th was very efficient - they took the bare Vaio minus battery and all ancillary bits to a Teleplan depot less than 30 miles from here (!) and packed it into a specially designed minimalist cardboard transit box. It came back today (10th) with a note saying that the HD has been replaced.
Well goodness gracious me. There is a surprise. Who would have guessed etc.
It started as hoped, and I went through the basic Windows setup procedures. 
But the disk replaced was the same exactly as the original setup, and thus an ancient Windows 64 Home Premium. I dug out the upgrade code for the Professional edition, and thus commenced the first 83 update downloads and installs.

After that completed (about 3 hours) I enquired of Windows update if it had finished? Had it buggery! It had barely begun....

About 11 full restarts later ... as I write this, I have to ask why Sony did not use an already updated drive for the fix. Windows 7 SP1 had not even been pre-installed, so it was always going to take almost a day to put back together, whether or not I had a backup DVD. The only thing that would save me would be a full image update (which I am preparing using Acronis).

The heat being blown from this device is also considerable, and I suspect that any green disc technology that might have been available in the 2 years since this was designed has not been used, and the replacement disk is still the same type that previously got hot and failed

Now the next morning, I find another vast list of another 325MBytes of updates ready...

Sony, for Heaven's Sake, do something about this nonsense. It's cost me a whole day of sitting and fiddling. And it ain't over yet!
And it's cost your reputation heaven knows how much as the prejudices of my Facebook chums who think I am mad for having bought it in the first place, are being fully vindicated - and so are not just "prejudices" but informed opinions based on shared experience..

UPDATE July 11th

Like the VAST Sony  produce range, the Website is probably too big to be manageable as a single entity, and when I went to look for a contact, the page at includes a customer survey form...

However, the "Tell us"  link to post the comment is not actually connected (chrome)... so you can tell Sony exactly what you think of them to your heart's content, and they will never find out. It's probably all for the best.

When the windows update finally stopped offering new updates to install (well over 2GB i reckon) - Sony Vaio update appeared:

Oh FFS, this is way beyond any sort of reasonable imposition on a customer. I want Sony's head of PR and MD to go through what a customer experiences and tell me with a straight face that he believes it is a reasonable experience.
During a brief respite in this process of endless updates, I decided I might as well create the official rescue DVD that was t subject of disagreement above. Actually 3 DVDs as it happens, that took about 90 mins to produce. There was no option to write whatever it was to a memory stick, and so the process of rebuilding from these DVDs is likely to be long-winded and gruesomely haphazard should it ever be necessary. 
But I then installed Acronis image backup - and backed the whole thing up onto a USB drive (the very process I was in the middle of doing when the replaced drive first died)  which took 28 minutes, and then created a bootable USB stick recovery device in 5 minutes.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Greek Tragedy (contd)

What a complete cock up. 

A poster seen in Greece recently pulls no punches
Greece could have been let go painlessly a couple of years ago when it was obviously not going to work. But the Euromaniacs were not keen to admit to the likes of a feisty Nigel Farage that they had made a huge blunder, and so they blundered on.

Now the German Chancellor is so desperate to avoid the embarrassment that she will probably try and find ways to pay off the problem.

This will lead to inflation; the German economy will slow down as no one can afford to buy anything from them; there will be massive lay-offs that will cost a fortune because of the vast social security costs; the German people will be pissed off, they will resent all the migrant workers and a bloke called Hitler will appear from nowhere to tell the masses what they want to hear, which is that political unity is the only way German will ever get it's money back ,and prevent their feckless European debtors from doing it all again.

Spanish bond yields are  above 7%; this is unsustainable in the present global economy where Germans (currently) pays nothing!  But giving money to banks is futile as we have seen in the past 5 years, since they somehow manage to conjure it away into balance sheets and bonuses without it ever being used to recharge an economy.

The alternative is the one you may have read here already: give the money straight to the people to spend and invest with safeguards to ensure it is not simply frittered away. No politician has ever spent a Euro more thoughtfully, carefully wisely and democratically than the person that earned it in the first place.

Is Nigel Farage the only bloke in Brussels worth listening to..?

Monday 14 May 2012

30 years of failure to undo: part two.

It is already apparent that the steely determination of dogmatic and myopic Europhiles to try and make the Euro defy the laws or economics and gravity, has and will continue to inflict more misery on more Europeans than anything since World War 2. There appears to have been  no "plan B" with the Eu high command, just a scramble in the afflicted nations to prepare themselves to revert to national currencies.
Is this any less contentious as symbols go, than
 the one from an earlier attempt at European "unity"..?
It seems equally apparent that language unity was/is probably more important as a first step than fiscal unity. The US learnt that back in the 18th century - and the current economic powerhouses of Asia have no trouble grasping the concept. But pause for a moment to consider who actually benefits from heterogeneous politics in pursuit of the amortisation of all money, markets, attitudes?

Thus far, and I am sorry to keep reminding you, the West has rushed through (and largely wasted) the abundant resources that new exploration and drilling technology made accessible - but the average citizen/subject is now facing tougher times than since at least 1950. Yet the people of Greece and now France are only just starting to question the judgement of those driving the Brussels and Berlin gravy trains, and suggesting that perhaps largely the same people and systems that got us where we are today, should not still be calling the shots.  

The de facto unifying world language is of course English. Apparently, more people now speak English in China than in England. Meanwhile the BBC is still obsessed with spending money it does not deserve to have on Welsh and Gaelic language support for TV and radio.
The mismanagement of society's interface to minority and special interest groups has been enshrined in inaccurately named "human rights" legislation, which, like so much else at core of the sinister social engineering agendas of the political and educational establishments, has been hi-jacked and abused by a string of dubious minority interest manipulators that seriously inconvenience and impede the majority.

All attempts to question this state of affairs are batted away by the controlling elites of global politics and media with accusations of varying degrees of the oppression of minority rights - including strident accusations ranging from racism to fascism that are designed to drive most normal people right out of the argument before it can gain a foothold. Yet the international hypocrisy agenda is still one of the West delivering democracy (ie the will of the majority) to the Middle East and other countries where Google, Amazon, Cisco, HP, IBM, eBay, McDonalds etc. would like to be able to do tax-avoiding business on their terms.

If at first you don't succeed...

The past 30 years have seen breathtaking technical advances in all forms of communication technologies, but these have delivered almost nothing to most European citizens other than a financial crisis to rival the 30s, and variety of political and social problems that when summed up mean you cannot now take a bottle of water on a plane, and old ladies of 70 have to take their shoes off in order that politically correct security procedures are followed.

The dark side of "progress" is that personal liberties and freedoms are an illusion. Any number of American megacorporations have been allowed (encouraged, even) to learn more about you than your family does. In fact, they probably know about as much about you as the Gestapo did in 1930s Germany.

And this is progress?

Wednesday 9 May 2012

30 years of failure to undo: part one.

As the people of Europe shuffle through the wreckage of the Great Bust of 2007, compounded by the fairyland economics of the Euro, has anyone yet properly worked out what went wrong, and apportioned the blame. After all, the costs of trying fix it are very real and being paid, so what are we paying for? Where has the "missing" five trillion dollars gone? Who managed to trouser it all?

...or do they?
As QI might have it, the reality is that even now, "Nobody Knows".

Just as money can be created from nothing by "quantitative easing", so it seems the opposite applies.

One generally plausible theory is that the money was initially "created" in the form of mortgages on over-valued property that were handed out to blue collar voters by order of Bill Clinton - without any realistic hope of ever paying them off.

Here's an explanation from Investopedia:

If John Doe buys a house and takes out a $400,000 mortgage loan with a 5% interest rate through Bank A, the bank now holds an asset - a mortgage-backed security. Bank A is now entitled to sell the asset to another party (Bank B). Bank B, now the owner of an income-producing asset, is entitled to the 5% mortgage interest paid by John. As long as house prices go up and John continues to pay his mortgage, the asset is a good one.

If, however, John defaults on his mortgage, the owner of the mortgage (whether Bank A or Bank B) will no longer receive the payments to which it is entitled. Normally, the house would then be sold, but if the house price has declined in value, only a portion of the money can be regained. As a result, the securities based on this mortgage become unsellable, as no other party would pay for an asset that is guaranteed to lose money.

So the short answer to the question to "what happened?" is that mortgaged property values in the US fell by $5 trillion. Meaning that those who got paid the originally inflated values for land and buildings are the net beneficiaries. Caveat emptor applies, so there has been no effort to track back to the source and ask for it back.

Since large chunks of the risk exposure had been laid off to gullible banks around the world, attracted by the unsustainable rates of interests on offer, the default problems were spread far and wide outside the US.

Cash: remember what that looked like back in the day?
This point to note here is that interest on capital is money that is created by the sort of fiscal magic that bankers have loved over the ages: there is no product or service involved. It just magically "becomes due".  No wonder bankers love the idea of being left alone to get on with "fractional reserve" banking where banks are able to lend using "money" that they don't actually have in the vaults: and so interest is payable to them on "assets" that doesn't actually exist.

Arguably all forms of "rent" simply conjure cash from thin air in this manner, but rent is more traditionally paid against the "loan" of very tangible asset owned by another. In the case of a mortgage, the tangible asset is taken over by the lender as security/collateral.  So a mortgage amounts to paying rent on money rather than bricks and mortar. Rental is simpler and more versatile as it is easier to change lease agreements than any process involving transferring freeholds.

Taxes and "duties" are taken by governments in the form of extant cash assets and any default will result in your assets being seized and turned into cash at auction. But "distress sales" are far from optimal for the distressed - generally realising no more than 10p in the £.

And all that collected tax cash is then paid in various way to shore up failed banks, and thus save the businesses of bankers whose bad judgement and propensity to take absurd risks and pay themselves huge salaries, started it all.

Got it?

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Realistic rewards for top execs?

Mark Thompson and assistant
The general mood of the nation continues to change, and question many of the conventional beliefs that arose over the past 15 years as the government somehow managed to change the way common sense was replaced by process and procedures. For some reasons that no one seems to be able to rationalise, this period saw barely talented types like Mark Thompson get the gig as DG of the BBC on a near as dammit £1m salary.

The idea seemed to be that if your organisation has a vast budget, then your salary should also be vast. Should the BBC boss be paid roughly 5x what the PM gets? Of course not, it's pure bonkers.  But the culture of overpaying is self-propelling - but those "remuneration committees" that amount to mini cartels of fat cats that kid themselves they are worth it, are going to find the cream has turned sour at last.

Shareholders are revolting at last, and bosses of companies that take the piss from their shareholders by getting paid huge salaries when the company value goes down, are not likely to be left alone for much longer.

Sir Michael Darrington 
Some old fashioned private investors (ie persons who themselves not being paid dubious silly money to run an investment fund, and are thus part of this rude rewards culture) who have have had enough are starting to organise, and they might as well simply vote down every salary of over £500k without further thought, and get those who feel they can justify themselves to perform a song and dance for the benefit of the shareholders at the AGM.

Sir Michael Darrington is the epitome of an old-style company leader who earned his keep the progressive but hard way over 25 years - he was not parachuted in on a fat salary by a VC to strip and flip. He has plenty of awkward questions to ask, but the opening line of questioning to adopt is really, really simple. Make these cats meow for their supper: "Please explain to us all why and how this job is twice as import as that of the Prime Minister..."

The notion that by not paying "the market rate" an organisation would be unable to attract the right candidates is risible. Maybe if London bankers had been paid 10% of what they got in the past 15 years, the rest of us might not now be paying off the national debt for the next thousand years, thanks to Labour's panic bale-outs of 2007.

Sunday 6 May 2012

Le vote dindes pour Noël

Of course, as good Europeans, you don't need me to tell you that the headline means "Turkeys vote for Christmas".

Yesterday's man, and yesterday's
man for the day after tomorrow
Once again, let's remember that there are no cuts in most of Europe's wildly out of control public spending yet - the runaway train continues to career along the EU budget track, spewing cash and largesse for the faithful in all directions.

But just the anticipation of cuts and their effect that this has had of private industry has been paralysing. Especially in the UK where the woefully over-hyped and under-performing financial sector has wielded far too much power and influence for the past 30 years, banks are not lending money; they pay savers no interest, and they charge borrowers usury.

Terms like "Omnishambles" and the rather less decorous "Clusterf*ck" abound.

The French never have shown much discernible concern for anyone but themselves, so the prospect of the French telling the Germans that they are not going to play their austerity game is fascinating. The stockpile of Deutchmarks that the German central bank has been quietly printing and accumulating since last November is about to see the light of day.

Saturday 5 May 2012

UK defence news

In light of the fact that HMS Ocean, the Royal Navy's largest ship is now on Thames pleasure boat duty, news leaks about the new-look - fully sponsored - RAF.

Master and/or Commander?

A quizzical Cameron ponder what Boris has got that he hasn't
Maybe a tad closer than he would have liked, but a victory is still a victory. And all the more impressive in the face of the national trend to punish the posh boys.

The opportunity to raise Labour's hopes only to finally dash them might have added an extra piquancy to the process; but it's actually quite worrying that such an objectionable old dinosaur without an ounce of charm or competence like Ken, could have come so close.

The bloke with all the worries for now is David Cameron, as the electors of London have suggested that there really is an opportunity to step away from relentless tedious tribal politics when there is a big personality able to punt a simple agenda.

As Boris is not planning on standing for a 3rd term (although never say never) , it's already time to consider how to parlay this "non-aligned" opportunity and put up a candidate for the next Mayor elections. 4 years is not such a long time.

Surely a prime contender has to be Tim Campbell MBE..?

Come along Lord Sugar, the sooner Tim sets out a positive and progressive stall as Boris' apprentice, the better - and his pre-Apprentice career as a manager at London Transport means that fate is already beckoning.

As a potentially non-tribally-aligned candidate, Tim has an opportunity to work very creatively with Boris' administration and keep the crucial role of mayor constructively "of the people" and apolitical.

Friday 4 May 2012

Boris and London buck the trend

So then, the people of London dutifully followed the stern advice of one of Clapton's most famous lordly sons, and duly fired Ken; again.

It was a closer run thing than Boris would have liked, but he nevertheless pulled it off, and now Cameron and his coterie of woefully witless advisers who have steered the national Conservative Party onto the rocks of a sobering national defeat has a much bigger problem to address.

Boris proved that a free thinking conservative toff with a big enough personality to override personal peccadilloes ranging from riding his bike the wrong way in a one way system to other more "traditional peripatetic bike-related misdemeanours" - who makes no apologies for his roots and instincts - can carry an electorate as diverse as London.

Ken Livingstone Limited, VAT free
Boris also proved that the electorate is not tribally incapable of supporting a Conservative (or conservative?)  -  although it must be said that Livingstone's demeanour and personal baggage load is his worst enemy. Whoever in the Labour Party believed in the monkey and rosette theory, and thought it was a good idea to allow him to stand as candidate, must surely be ready for the high jump. In his speech, Ken admitted he has probably never had a proper job, instead, he has spent the past 41 years raising the red flag over council offices, being confrontationally controversial and fancying newts. That's about it.

Nick Clegg has a bit of a problem, too. Brian Paddick - who is such a complete and emblematic personification of committed modern liberal politics that he can't help being his own pastiche, was thrashed into an irrelevant fourth place by the delightfully daffy and irrelevant Green candidate. Brian thanked his Norwegian husband for his support, and couldn't stop himself make a valedictory swipe in the process . I don't think there is a lot to add, other than that he can now carry on enjoying a substantial police retirement pension, in obscurity and peace.

Another fine Eton Mess you got us in to

Luckiest bloke alive - handed votes on a plate
Well, even before this result, the Coalition couldn't get local councils to behave after 13 intoxicating years of free-spending Labour wastage and jobs for the boys and girls, that has created a nation of "client councils" staffed by over-paid administrations who have largely ignored efforts to implement what the elected government wanted done, as they ploughed on with their own spending, snooping, spying and social engineering agendas.

Clearly Cameron lost the plot very early on with his volte face on the Euro referendum and specious LD inspired distractions like Lords reform, PR and and foreign aid plans; even worse is the revelation that George Osborne is actually a clumsy politician with absolutely no "common touch", so feel free to Vote Monster Raving Loony by all means. But please do not give any encouragement to 100% proven disasters like Balls, Cooper, Harman and Millibrain and thereby suggest that the UK electorate simply does not deserve to be saved from its own crass stupidity. Remember, the cuts have barely begun, and government spending and waste is still waaay out of control. The inertial mass of Gordon Brown's legacy financial catastrophe has not even begun to come under control. 

That anyone could have forgotten just why we are presently economically destitute and imagine that voting for the halfwits that presided over the triple whammy of fairy money, client state and unregulated banking crisis for 13 years suggests that "the people" really are not fit to be allowed to vote.

A preferable Eton Mess
Wake up Dave. Replace your present circle of pals and politically naive "advisers" with people that have got a clue, and if you cannot do that, accept you will lose the next election and step aside now to allow the sort of leader the "real" party wants. This means one that will tell the now irrelevant LibDems to go home to backbench obscurity, and then replace (most of) them  by conservative ministers while the economy is rescued - and all irrelevance such as House or Lords reform, cash for EU failure  and aid to India is tossed in the bin. 

Here's another thought. If the 70 or so marginalised old-school Conservative MPs looked at the Boris factor and decided to set up shop with their own party to face down the "Eton Mess", they would outnumber the LidDems and be entitled to demand considerable representation in a "new coalition" of 3 parties. After all, the only real "conclusion" of the last general election was that the people did not want Labour again. And after just 2 years Cameron helped them forget! Maybe there are some honest Labour MPs who are ashamed of the way dinosaur trade unions put Ed Milliband in his job to guard their interests, who are also sufficiently independently minded to join a new coalition of common sense?

Wednesday 2 May 2012

A one man political tribe

Boris Johnson is doing something quite special in London - he's managed to stage a come back for the traditional Tory Patrician politician - and subtly reminded us that the pragmatic "right" (if we must assign labels) always manages to seem more versatile and human - avuncular, even - than the narrowly dogmatic and tiresomely tribal left. The resilience of Boris against the national Tory trend must also be putting the wind up Cameron and Osborne.

It does no harm that Boris is not perceived as part of any sort of "act" other than his eponymous one-man brand. I'll bet many Londoners don't know or care which political party he (notionally) belongs to. The fact that he probably doesn't "need" the salary or a clique of courtiers, but Livingstone does, is a further encouragement.

Boris is a once in a generation politician that only needs his first name on a ballot paper. All else is superfluous. He gets all the glory and all the blame - and thanks to his rakish charm, he is able to chase away detractors and problems with an affable ease that must have Cameron and Osborne in tears at times like these.

He is, in effect, his very own tribe. All the more so if you include his lookalike and manner-alike father, Stanley. Indeed, all the rest of Johnsons only manage to enhance the Boris brand.

Lock up your rodents!
Boris' top "trick" is as old as the human race.

He has managed to parlay his manifest human frailties into both a stage act and reminder that he is human like the rest of (most) of us. When set alongside a newt-fancier so sinister that he might have come straight off the set of "V" (remember that?) Ken is having to rely on the Old Labour "Monkey with a rosette factor" to drum up support from the lost tribe.

Boris surely cannot believe his luck - and whatever the boy thinks of being so thoroughly upstaged by Mr Whiff-Waff" himself, Cameron must be able to raise a smile that the ridiculous Harriet Harman is being forced to pretend she regards Livingstone is a great choice of Labour candidate.

"Listen up sonny Jim, there'll be no sweeties for you
if you call me "daddy" again..."
This blog kicked off by praising Lord Sugar for his honesty and ability to look beyond the moronic consistency of a morally bankrupt "party line"  that allowed a piece of work like Livingstone to have another go at one of the most crucial appointments in the land.

If you want to strike a blow for the possibility of some more (relatively) apolitical politics and a really big personality who brought passion and a smile back to a dour administration - as well as annoying so many of the terminally politically correct and sanctimonious - then Vote Boris!

And if your tribal roots start twitching, remember that you won't be giving David Cameron and the hapless Gideon much comfort either. They know very well that Brand Boris can't wait for a chance to take a stab at their job. And as Jeremy Clarkson would say, "who wants to see that?"

In fact, if your inclinations are for a Labour government, then you will probably want to keep Boris busily employed as London Mayor...