Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Those City bonuses.

Fund managers control vast pension funds and other investment funds, and much of the money is entrusted to them because the government uses a combination of financial incentives and coercion to get people to put their savings in such funds rather than to manage it themselves.

Fund managers have a poor record; it is rare for managed funds to perform as well as a random selection of quoted shares, yet the managers, with a captive market secured for them by the state, still award themselves large salaries for achieving nothing. Just possibly managers may reduce the volatility of their funds, so a lower expected yield may be partly compensated for by lower risk; I'm not sure about that.

The voting rights of shares in funds are exercised by fund managers, not by the people whose savings are being managed, and they use those voting rights to put on the boards of companies people like themselves - reckless people with hazy visions of marble entrance halls in ever grander offices. Those people then award themselves the huge 'bonuses' that cause such annoyance.

Monday, 29 September 2008


As I stroll around Leicester's recently extended shopping centre, idly contemplating the empty space where the shiny decorative discs were recently removed for safety after one of them fell off, I wonder at the number of large shops devoted to selling clothing. Some people must devote a great deal of time and money to planning and executing changes in their appearance.

I feel some sympathy for the Chinese habit of a few decades ago of all wearing boiler suits, though I personally prefer just a little variety and lots for pockets. I wouldn't mind different people dressing differently if only they wouldn't make so much fuss about it and, having settled on a style they like, would stick to it.

Quite a few years ago I decided to simplify my choice of clothes by always replacing worn out clothes - and of course I always wear clothes until they wear out- by new ones as much like the old as possible. Fashion is unnecessary, and so, I sometimes feel, are the fashionable.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Microsoft Internet Explorer !!!

Although I don't browse with that tiresome piece of software, I do need to use it to test material destined for the web, and I've noticed a particular idiocy - it blocks javascript in pages held on the local machine. It doesn't completely block it, but it does print an inconspicuous message at the top of the window warning that there is dangerous material in that page you've just created on your own machine, and requiring you to click acceptance of full responsibility for the consequences before it can run.

In the case of pages on the web, one can easily alter security settings to allow such material, but one can't alter settings for local files. The MIE help file says that as there is little risk from such files, there's no need to have high security, so when they nonetheless set it high, there's no way of changing it.

I try very hard not to gnash my teeth, fearing the consequent dentist's bill.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Is Harriett Harman turning into a pigeon?

A couple of weeks ago, enjoying the later Summer sunshine while sitting Kew gardens, I found myself idly watching the pigeons, and was struck by the odd way their heads jerk backwards and forwards as they walk. They look as if they are pecking in anticipation, just in case something edible should materialise in front to them.

A few days ago I saw a televised clip of an interview with Harriett Harman, and noted a very similar pecking motion; her nose shot forward with each point she made. I wonder if the psychologists have a name for the condition ?

Sunday, 21 September 2008

The Financial Crisis

I know I should resist the temptation to comment on something where it's most unlikely I'll have anything to say that hasn't been said by many others, but I'm commenting nonetheless.

Much discussion overlooks the root of the crisis, by concentrating on the mechanism by which it developed.

People talk of financial instruments so complicated that hardly anyone could understand them, and people selling banks shares short, and the need to regulate someone or other to stop it happening again. I wonder whom should be regulated and how ? The present British Government changed the regulatory system for financial institutions when it came into office in 1997. Had it wished it could have made further changes at almost any time in the last eleven years. What does it now wish it had done differently ?

The problem is bad debt and certain bad debts in particular. Although many institutions owe each other great sums of money, at the root of the problem are mortgages that exceed the market value of the property on which they are secured. If there is to be more regulation, the obvious move would be to set a maximum proportion of the purchase price of a building that can be met by a mortgage. - 85% perhaps ? I haven't heard anyone suggest that, yet without reckless lending to house buyers, the whole process could not have started.

It would indeed have helped if banks had abstained from buying securities they didn't understand, but it might be hard to draft, and even harder to enforce, regulations imposing an obligation to understand anything.

Particularly silly is the widespread criticism of short selling. At most that affected share prices, yet it was not the falling share price that made Lehman's insolvent; quite the opposite. It was a suspicion that the company might be insolvent that depressed the share price. In so far as short sellers accelerated the price fall, they were not creating a problem, but drawing attention to a problem that already existed before they started trading.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Half Cooked Vegetables.

During the last decade or so there has grown up a fashion to serve vegetables half cooked. The perversity of this is most obvious in the case of the carrot.

Raw carrots are delicious, crunchy, sweet and juicy.

A carrot thoroughly cooked is soft and yielding to fork and tooth, and mingles happily with the gravy.

In between those two desirable states is an intermediate one of minimum utility, when the carrot is still hard, but no longer either crunchy or juicy, and it is at that point that it is fashionable to serve it.

I gather that health is given as the reason for this gastronomic barbarism; I just don't believe it.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Minimum Longevity Requirement

I quite like that phrase. It was used by a friend to congratulate me on my seventieth birthday, which is today.

Yet I have reservations about anniversaries, especially after reading a remarkably lucid book about relativity, described on the appropriate page of my website. From a relativistic point of view it is impossible to disentangle space and time in any way that accords with the experiences of all observers, so it is hard even to define an anniversary on a cosmic scale, and even from the blinkered point of view of an earth bound human anniversaries are rather odd.

We say 'this is the very same day on which I was born, Krakatoa irrupted/..' but there isn't much the same about the two days except that we say they are the same because we give today the same date label as the earlier day. The earth will be roughly, but not precisely at the same stage of it's orbit, but the moon will probably be in quite a different phase, and anywhere but the earth the similarity between the two days would seem most tenuous.

There's something to be said for commemorating happy or striking events from time to time, and, it helps to have a simple rule saying when we do that, especially when a lot of people are likely to be involved. An anniversary does that very well, but there is no need to insist on hitting precisely the same date every time.

I shall be celebrating my satisfaction of the MLR three times, and the first of the celebrations will indeed take place this evening, but that is mainly because I don't like cooking on Mondays when the meat and fish market is closed, and so welcome an excuse to eat out.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

The Innocent

A few days ago the BBC news included a clip of President Bush speaking at a ceremony in honour of those killed when terrorists crashed passenger planes into the World Trade centre and the Pentagon.

The President referred to the victims as 'innocent men, women and children'

The word 'innocent' set me wondering what other sorts of victims there might be. Could there be a guilty victim ? In what circumstances would people deserve to be killed like that ?

Of course the terrorists themselves were killed and they were guilty, but I did not think that that was the President's point. I had the impression that he considered the crime particularly offensive because the chosen victims were innocent, suggesting that more discriminating terrorists might have chosen their victims better.

Did he mean that the terrorists would have done better to to target the President himself and members of his government?

That thought led to another. IRA terrorism in Britain received financial support from Irish Americans, and some people wanted in Britain for terrorist offences were able to shelter in the USA because it proved impossible to extradite them from there. Americans are not all innocent of complicity in terrorism, nor are all members of the American Government and Congress.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

The intrusive 'do'

Many years ago an acquaintance whose native language was Portuguese remarked on the strange English circumlocutions involving various parts of the verb to do.

Until then I'd taken it for granted that one should say things like 'Do you play Go?', but ever since my attention was drawn to the waste of words, I wanted to ask 'Play you Go?', restrained only by the wish not to seem to be trying to draw attention to myself.

The short form of questions seems to survive only in the case of 'have' . 'Have you the time' just about passes, though 'Know you the time?' would appear odd.

Recently 'do' has intruded even further, in the strange locution 'I don't do X' where 'X' is not anything that could be 'done' . For instance an unusually honest user of the idiom might say ' I don't do thoughtful' to mean 'I don't think'.

Politicians often express themselves thus. Perhaps they are so obsessed with doing things, or being seen to do something, that they want to use the vocabulary of action even to refer to inaction.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

The right time, at last

One of my earliest posts lamented the use of American time, or to be more precise one of the several American times. Today, while browsing through the various settings options, I've found a way of changing that. Beware though; it is not immediately obvious how the various time zones are ordered. They are not ordered alphabetically, but according to the magnitude of their deviations from GMT, so you down the list until you get to the zero deviations, and then choose London.

I shan't be quite sure I've got it right until I've posted this, so here goes (an odd form of words that will have to be considered later)

Friday, 5 September 2008

Collecting mail from the Post Office

Yesterday the postman called with something that needed to be signed for. I was changing clothes before going our, so I was wearing only a pair of underpants. By the time I was sufficiently dressed to answer the door he was gone.

Today I tried to collect the item, only to be told it was not yet available, and one should allow at least 48 hours after the attempted delivery before calling for anything. There was a long queue of people, many of them eventually receiving the same bad news. Last time I had to collect anything one got it later the same day.

I gather there is now some procedure involving postmen leaving undelivered items in 'grey boxes by the roadside' and vans later driving out to collect the boxes.

I long for the ending of the Post Office monopoly. I suspect it was originally introduced to give the government a chance to snoop on people's communications, but these days there are much more sophisticated ways for the authorities to do that.