Friday, September 28, 2007

The feeling's mutual: part 3

The global markets remain in turmoil and Alan Greenspan, former head of the US federal reserve, is OK with it. The reason: only rich people invested in these murky markets.
No matter that these murky markets were built on exploiting the poorest in society. As long as the already wealthy were putting their own money in, then it must obviously follow that everything's kosher. My arse it is. The rich get richer on the back of the poor, but that's fine as long as the wheels of economics keep turning. No matter that the entire principle of the sub-prime market was selling loans that the borrower had little to no chance of paying long-term. As long as the rich say it's OK, everyone's OK.
At least we know now.

New experiences

It's not often you get to experience a completely new thing once you're of an age, but yesterday I did.
I saw York City win a televised match.
Bloody marvellous.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Colin McRae

Something else that happened while I was away was the tragic death of 1995 World Rally champion Colin McRae in a helicopter crash. Even more tragic was that his young son was killed alongside him.
McRae is known to millions - possibly billions - through the successful computer game franchise, but to remember him only for that would be misguided. The man was a great driver. Suffice to say that were it not for him, Subaru would not enjoy the global sales success they enjoy now.

The below clip just about sums him up. The car is never out of control and is always set up not just for the corner he's attacking, but also the one after. Until it goes a bit wrong as he chases that tiny bit extra that turns nearly men into champions. And even then he almost drags a distinctly second-hand motor to within a whisker of a win. It's his career in a microcosm.



Thanks for the memories Colin.

5 things... that Iran doesn't have as well as gays

Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Crazy name, crazy guy. He told Columbia University that there are no homosexuals in Iran. It's pretty difficult to imagine he's right, given there are over 70 million people in the country.
Here are five things he could also have claimed Iran does not have.

5. Children
4. Women
3. Men
2. Insects
1. Bonkers presidents

The Catholic church want to kill Africans

That's the only conclusion I can draw from Archbishop Francisco Chimoio's latest bizarre rant. The trouble really comes from the fact that, having been prominent in brokering an end to the civil war in Mozambique 15 years ago, Chimoio is still a highly regarded figure.
One in six people in the country are HIV+. There are around 500 new cases every day. And the story is much the same across the continent. Crackpot theories like this, the South African health minister recommending garlic and beetroot as a cure, Jacob Zuma saying that he showered after sex so was therefore OK and the Gambian president's amazing green herbal potion are all undermining the efforts of experts in the field attempting to stem the tide. I struggle to understand why people would not only not help their fellow man, but go out of their way to cause more harm.

CBS part 2

Another new motivational poster up today. Apparently, "11 out of 15 of the top US banks can't be wrong".
I disagree. The US economy is on the brink of recession. The dollar is at it's weakest point in living memory and the sub-prime mortgage crisis threatens to bring down not just the USA, but the world economy.
So I put it to you that all US banks can indeed be wrong and wrong on a grand scale.

Refreshing

Possibly not something Villa fans wanted to hear, but for everyone else, Curtis Davies' admission that he wasn't very good last night comes as something of a surprise. Not for him blaming the turf, his boots, the lights or any other of a whole range of potential excuses for being beaten by a lower-division side.
So well done Curtis for calling it as you see it. You won't go far in punditry when your career's done, but well done anyway

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

CBS

I'm not sure if it's an official term, but CBS is the abbreviation I and some of my fellow drones have used for a number of years to define Corporate Bullshit.
Today, we have a new example. Hoisted in our office are a number of pictures with some thoroughly inspiring (no, really) messages about how great the company is. It's one small step from singing the company song every morning. I'm so motivated it's untrue.

Open can of worms

When Russia claimed land beneath the North Pole as their own, there was an understandable global concern. The claim was that the land is an extension of the above-sea-level land mass and therefore Russian 'soil'.
Naturally, this is all about gas, oil and mineral rights. As resources dwindle and population grows, there'll be ever-increasing competition. Moreover, as polar ice melts and ever more turbulent whether threatens to permanently flood some of the densest populous regions - think Bangladesh, for instance - the level of competition ramps up. And as we've already had dire warnings regarding the politics of mass migration from flooded areas, you can add another factor of n to that when it comes to supplying everyone with fuel.

Previously, a nation had rights over an area 200 nautical miles from it's coast. Obviously there are instances where these 200 mile limits overlap and that's where diplomacy comes in, but we'll put that to one side now. In an effort to keep Russia sweet, the UN upped that to 350 nautical miles provided the state in question can show the land is in some way attached to the mainland in the way Russia did. The USA, Denmark (through Greenland) and Canada are all following Russia's lead in attempting to claim parts of the previously unownable Arctic.
Slightly more worryingly is the position of Britain and France. The French territory of New Caledonia in the South Pacific borders dozens of small island nations. France seem keen to push their boundaries as far as possible and throw their weight around in order to get it. Nations like Vanuatu do not seem to have a chance.
Britain has three areas under discussion. Ascension lies 1,000 miles from the African coast. The tiny island of Rockall - basically a bit of granite in the North Atlantic - will cause consternation between Britain, Ireland and Iceland, as the new limits on what can be claimed extends well into existing claimed waters. And then there's the Falklands. Remember them? A pointless pair of rocks 300 miles off Argentina. Home to a few farmers and a lot of penguins. Well it's set to become a major battle-ground again. One hopes not the extent of 1982. While Ireland may be willing to compromise regarding Rockall, it's difficult to see Argentina giving up regarding the Falklands. While the hateful junta of the 80s is no longer in power - probably the major benefit of the war - the 1995 agreement to share oil found in adjacent waters was scrapped at Argentina's behest.
The UN have set a worrying precedent in appeasing Russia. The can is open. How far the worms spread is yet to be seen.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The feeling's mutual: slight return

Banks welcome changes to system, says the BBC. Alistair Darling has announced plans to protect the first £100,000 of savers' money in the event of a collapse of Northern Rock stylings. No wonder the banks are pleased. Now they can continue being irresponsible with other people's money in the knowledge that there'll be little outcry from the proles who lodge their savings with them. Trebles all round.

Something happening in France

Apparently there's some kick and clappery occurring in France this month. In homage to the boredom, you can buy the t-shirt visible here. Click on the image to be taken to the shop.
There'll be others when I get round to it as well.

Face it, it's a silly game. Moreover, it stands for everything bad. There was a great piece in the Independent recently, outlining the iniquities of the game. I'd link to it, but the Independent website isn't playing ball. (edit: oh wait. It is now) Essentially, it was a precis of Mike Rylance's excellent 'The Forbidden Game'. And that's just the game in France - nothing about the banning of people from various premises for having the temerity to try a different sport. France, though, was and remains a very good microcosm of the game at large.


It's not just rugby union that's raising my ire. More empty seats in stadia. Ticket prices higher than ever. The gap in wages between the people on the field and those wishing to pay their way in to watch grows ever larger. Football will eat itself.

The feeling's mutual

Seems that while I was away the ongoing global financial crisis finally landed in Britain. Northern Rock. So what happened?
From a purely British perspective, Northern Rock were no longer able to borrow money from elsewhere to keep their commitments up. Panic ensues - a very British type of panic, that is, which involves a lot of orderly queuing - and every man and his dog tries to withdraw their savings at the same time. Obviously this would only exacerbate the situation as the bank would need to borrow more in order to pay people their own money. Naturally, Northern Rock chiefs plead with customers to leave their money where it is, but nobody wants to be among the last few punters who are left high and dry.
Not that Northern Rock are the only ones in trouble. Alliance and Leicester and Bradford and Bingley have also been bailed out by the Bank of England in order to keep themselves. The three troubled institutions have something in common. All are former mutuals who went chasing easy money by converting to plc status and dumping the building society ethos and becoming a bank. People are idiots and can't see the long term view when some hard cash is waved in front of them, which is what happens when a mutual converts to a bank. Essentially, if you have an account with a mutual, that's your share in the company. Float on the stock exchange and those holdings are converted to shares which you sell at your whim to make a wee bit of cash. Whoopee. If folk go chasing short term gain to the detriment of future security, then more fool them. They've fallen for the capitalism con and if you live by the sword, then you die by it too.

But. There's always a but. This whole thing isn't just the fault of carpetbaggers (people who set up accounts in soon-to-be-demutualised societies for profit). For the root cause, we must cast a gaze over the Atlantic. Ever heard of sub-prime loans? Neither had most of us outside the City until recently. Now, this is tricky, so I must consult elsewhere to precis the information. It stems from predatory lenders fishing for borrowers at the bottom of the market who can't really afford to borrow in the first place. This is a fundamental of the issue. Can you see a flaw? Big commissions, fat fees and tempting interest rates all cloud rational judgment. As long as borrowers owned their homes, they were fair game. The lenders then look to unload the risk to bigger banks or by selling the loans. Or - and this is where it descends into economic theory and paper-shuffling - you get the big institutions - Wall Street, the City - to package this up in an attractive looking bundle that investors will see only the returns and not the risks. One question could have brought the whole thing down - what if the borrowers at the bottom can't pay? And, inevitably, there came a point not long ago that the borrowers couldn't and the whole thing came tumbling down. And again, it's the people at the bottom that suffer. If you're suffering as a result of all this, you will no doubt be happy to see the commissions and bonuses being spent on massive yachts, flash motors etc etc while the bailiffs come round to turf you out of your house. There'll be no comeback on the conners. Only the connees.

Another example of the capitalist con is in the Channel Islands. Jersey has made itself quite a handy living attracting corporations there to take advantage of the zero corporation tax. However, this has left a hole in the protectorate's finances. Who could possibly have seen that coming? These corporations make billions, so who is it that the governors are seeking to sting in order to plug the gap? Anyone who wants to buy stuff. Levying a 3% goods and services tax (GST) on everything is the solution and, naturally, the peasants are revolting. That's still quite low compared to 17.5% VAT on the mainland, but wages are pegged in accordance to the cost of living and now the cost of living goes up without commensurate wage rises. The less able are being forced to cough up where the abundantly able pay nothing to the upkeep of Jersey because it would 'harm their competitive position'. Utter nonsense.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Je retour

A week in France. Marvellous. As I sit on the sofa and peer out of the window upon another grey, windy, rainy September morning in West Yorkshire, I wonder why I came back.
The first couple of days, we spent in a tiny place called St Pierre de Champs. It's in the middle of nowhere, which is handily placed in the Aude wine region. We stayed in an old chateau. With just four suites, it was never going to be too busy.

And so it proved. Fresh food, straight off the surrounding farms and fresh wines, straight off the local vineyards. Splendid stuff. There was a pool as well, which came in handy as temperatures soared.
We were there for two nights and it was a different bunch of fellow guests each night. Both nights, we were the only ones who spoke much English - any, really. This had a twofold benefit. We got some much needed practice with our French and when the Most Boring Frenchman Ever wouldn't shut up about bloody bull-fighting, we could surreptitiously take the piss.
We took a walk the 6km to Lagrasse - yes, I do walk places - which apparently features in some Dan Brown-type novel. We didn't know this, but put two-and-two together when the whole place was full of English tourists banging on about it. That said, it's easy to see why one would coo, as it's a lovely wee town and the abbey is quite stunning.

From St Pierre, it was off to Perpignan in order to catch the last game of the season. The hotel (Mondial, if you're interested) wasn't so nice. Exceptionally uncomfortable, truth be told. Perpignan is, however, home to the greatest hat shop in the world.

We flew into Carcassonne and were due to fly back from the same place, so we headed north, via a few Rugby League hotspots, for a day there before the stupidly early departure. And by eck it's stunning. The old city is another which has had films and books set there and, again, it's easy to see why.

Sadly, like that other walled city that's close to my heart - York, it's full of shops selling pointless touristy tat. On looking for a bar, we settled for a place by the station. It was all very pleasant, but was home to a toilet which resembled that one in Trainspotting. Be warned.
We stayed the night in the cheapest place we could find near the airport. It was basically a cube. We'd gone from the sublime to the utterly ridiculous in seven days.
And so back home to plan the next trip. I'm thinking Paris for a pre-season friendly at Stade Charlety, but another trip south will depend on the fixture list as I'd like to combine a Dragons game with an AS Carcassonne game in the French domestic league. I'd best get saving.

Of course, it wasn't just pleasure. There was some rugby involved as well.

Monday, September 10, 2007

How much quicker is possible?

Asafa Powell can run very fast. He's shaved three one-hundredths of a second off his own 100m world record with a time of 9.74 seconds. That's quite a leap in the context of the record. It gets me wondering though. How much faster is it actually possible to get? Is there an absolute limit to how quick a person can cover 100m and, if so, what is it? Are we close to it?
All these are questions to which I don't have answers, but would be very interested to find out. Whatever the answers, 9.74 seconds is seriously quick. I think my own personal best was about twice that.

Friday, September 07, 2007

When I'm in charge...

The following things would change in sporting stadia.

No drums.
No brass instruments (bugles and piccolo cornets excepted).
No sodding bells.
None of them bleedin' horns.
No Queen and definitely no Status bloody Quo music over the tannoy.

Just watching tonight's Leeds v Hull game and the band - THAT band you'll know the one - are making it a misery to watch, despite the action on the field. And they'll be boring the life out of everyone at the England v Israel football game tomorrow with their repertoire of two tunes.
What on earth possesses a person to take a frigging drum into a stadium? And the less said about that tit with the bell at Portsmouth...

Guest rant: 3

I like to think of myself as a healer. Well, at least a facilitator of healing. Well OK, this is just a place to sound off. And semi-regular contributor to this blog, The Big Fat Phony, has something to get off his chest. Take it away....

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I have the dubious pleasure of being a work colleague of a regular contributor to this blog (work it out - it's not rocket science!). In fact, we are the two disgruntled souls who feel it necessary to leave work at lunchtime and head for the nearest hostelry in a vain attempt to anaesthetise ourselves against the drudgery which will surely follow in our afternoon session at work.

It was not always thus. Sure, we used to avail ourselves of a couple of Holland's finest ales as a break from a morning of computer screens, credit cards and database errors. Talk used to be of football, rugby, norks, television, comedy, music - I'm sure you're getting the picture. Nowadays the happy, relaxed conversation is no more. Nowadays, we more often than not sit for an hour drinking and talking in what can only be described as an aggressive manner. When this is not the case, the air of resignation and depression hovering over our lunchtime haven must surely put fellow patrons off their particular brews (although if they're holding a pint of Carling in their mitt then quite frankly we're doing them a favour).

I get the impression that when it comes to how our view of work is influenced by our personalities, myself and Mr D are different creatures. Up to now I tend to have been the type of employee who will take pretty much any sort of shit as long as I get paid. Why this is I don't know - possibly I just don't have the cojones required to say no to a boss. Perhaps, deep down there somewhere, subconciously, I have a desire to climb the career ladder. Perhaps I have an inbuilt desire to please. I'm not sure but I have a suspiscion it's the first one.

I have made sacrifices for the company I'm currently working for. I was onsite four days after my wedding day, the honeymoon having lasted a mere two days due to the fact that I had to prepare to go on site. I did not follow the route that most decent men would when my pregnant wife rang me to tell me she had been admitted to hospital with pre-eclampsia. No, not for me hopping on a train to see my wife. I kept in touch by phone but stayed in that southern shithole whose only plus point is that it's not Luton.

I grumbled a bit, I mithered, I added to the aggression and depression in evidence in a certain L**ds public house Monday to Friday, 1200 'til 1315, but I never did anything about it. The straw which has broken the camels back came earlier this week.

22nd August saw the birth of my first child - a gorgeous little girl. She was born six weeks premature and was obviously kept in hospital and fed, initially through a tube, at regular intervals throughout the day. Being the good employee that I am I rang work on the day of my daughters birth, informing them of my news and speaking to my line manager with whom I agreed that I would come in to work the following Monday but would start early and finish early so that I could make my daughters evening feed as well as working from home one day a week up to the time of my paternity leave. Quite reasonable for both parties I thought. When I came back to work, I went to see my manager to arrange which day would be best for me to work from home. At this point my manager says that the deal is off because my daughter's condition is not "critical". This from a man who has one day off a week and comes in at around 1000 every day whilst insisting that all his team members are in work between 0900 and 1730 (plus all the extra hours we are expected to do for no reward or (in most cases) thanks). Taken aback slightly I said nothing, but after three or for days the mixture of betrayal, shock at his hypocricy and anger got to me and I emailed my manager asking for an official reason. His response was to make out that I was making a personal, political attack and that he would give me an official reply at a later date. I await my shafting and shall take it like a man.

The question that puzzles me is why am I so angry? Is it because I have been denied the opportunity to spend more time with my daughter? Is it because I believed in the existence of a system of "give and take" and only experienced take? These are all factors of course, but mainly I am angry with myself for trusting my manager to be a decent sort, occassionaly defending him in the pub, thinking that if I worked hard it would be noticed and appreciated. Remembering all the times (and there are many) that I have sacrificed my personal time, energy, effort and, on some occassions, cash to do my best in my job and then equating this to the laissez faire attitude of my superiors to my sacrifices, my hardwork and my personal wellbeing.

Work hard? Do your best? Fuck 'em!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Get ahead in politics

Fred Thompson has declared his intention to stand for election to the post of President of the United States of America.
Now, Mr Thompson has been in politics before as representative of the state of Tennessee in the Senate and he's about as Republican as one can get, which automatically makes me want him to fail. However, he stands a greater than average chance of winning should he win the Republican nomination. This is because large swathes of the American population have already seen him be President. Of course, this was on the small screen, but I have so little confidence in the voters of America to dissociate that from reality, that I can see many thinking 'well he was alright last time he was in charge' and ticking the box accordingly. Call me cynical if you must, but anyone observing American politics for a period of time could be forgiven for being so.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

How to survive car accidents

News coming in says that three people have been hurt when the car they were travelling collided with a water buffalo in south Cumbria. A nasty business, no doubt, but I have a proven method of dealing with such incidents. A 1988 VW Jetta.
Some years ago, I owned such a vehicle, very similar to the one pictured here. With a full four (count 'em) forward gears and a mighty 1.3 litre engine to lug nearly a ton and a half of steel around, speedster it was not. But it did a job - a very good one - and had a massive boot to.. err... boot.
My daily commute back then was from Driffield to Malton, over the Yorkshire Wolds and through some particularly pleasant countryside. Obviously this brings the motorist into close proximity to wildlife. Many are the animals that succumbed to the tank-like Jetta - pigeons, pheasants, rabbits etc.
It surpassed itself on encountering a deer. Just outside the village of Sledmere on the North/East Yorkshire border, a deer leaped out from right of shot, ran across the road into the field on the other side. 'Phew', I thought. 'That was a lucky escape'. And it was, as I was doing about 70mph at the time. I'd not gone more than 20 yards when another deer attempted the same manouevre. I had no time to react at all, although I'd slowed to somewhere between 60 and 65mph after the first deer. Wallop. I hit it side on, the front of the car taking the full impact.
Life, I find, goes into slow motion when things like this happen. The deer slowly passed down the passenger side of the car, clearly already dead from the impact. The car lurched this way and that and I was fortunate the road was quiet. I pulled up in a small clearing just up the way and sat for a minute or two, breathing rather heavily.
Eventually, having convinced myself I wasn't dead, I got out to inspect the damage. It must have done something nasty to the front of it. I mean - a deer. They're big buggers them. My expectation was for a scene of twisted metal, broken glass and plastic. And what did I see? Nothing. There was no outward sign of my brush with the deer. The front left indicator wasn't working though. On taking a screwdriver to the lens later, I discovered the bulb had been knocked loose. And that was it.
I'd passed a service bus back up the road before the deer incident and as the bus approached, the driver, having seen the deer carcass on the road, put two and two together, reached four and stopped to see if I was OK. "Yeah mate, fine", I said. "The bugger's broke me indicator though".
He got out and was similarly amazed at the lack of damage.
"You hit that deer back there? And that's it?" he said. "Well bugger me". I didn't and we went our separate ways.
I got to work and retold the incident. A colleague wondered if you need to report dead deer like you do dogs or swans, so I phoned the local police to find out. "I've just clobbered a deer with my car. Do I need to report it?"
"Hang on". Rustling of paper... "No you don't. But you can't pick your own roadkill up. You've not done that have you?"
"No I've not. But if I told someone where it was, they could - theoretically speaking - pick it up themselves?"
Rustling of paper.... More rustling. "Errr... yeah. I suppose."
"Oh right. Well, thanks for your help."
I didn't get anyone to go pick it up, but it's nice to know eh?

Advertising computer games

I know that adverts for computer games aren't aimed at me, but they still annoy me. You get all these whizzy graphics, all very impressive I'm sure, but in the bottom corner of the screen is the legend 'Not actual game footage'. So what was the point of that then? Would it not be better to show folk what the thing actually looks like? It's not like you're flogging them a lifestyle choice.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Dear Head and Shoulders

I don't know a bloke like Mickey. You can tell this is true by the way that this Mickey character hasn't been stabbed in the neck by now.
Also, merely putting on a pair of glasses does not an intellectual make. Shocking though this may be to you, there are some idiots who wear glasses. And some very intelligent people who don't. I swear it's true, however incredible it may sound.