Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Covid in the light of cancer

April 14, 2021

Here is a heart-warming interview and preview of what should be a fine exit-from-Covid exhibition at London’s Royal Academy next month. Let us hope that Tracey Emin sticks to her promise to spend the next 30 years doing lots more painting.

Twenty-two years old

March 1, 2013

Bradley Manning was 22 years old when he was arrested. Today he entered his plea in military court after almost three years in US military detention. His long statement was read with composure and, at face value, reflects a person who stands by the logic of what he did.

Manning’s story is well-reported in The Guardian (and this is tangentially important). This 20-minute video is a useful introduction if you are not in a mood to read, but the idea that he was mad rather than rebellious does not stand up for me.

It remains for the USG to prove that Manning endangered national security. In the court of public opinion, I do not think this will be possible.



One way to think about what Manning did, and the significance of it, is to watch this documentary about the US dirty war in Iraq. (It builds on a celebrated New York Times magazine cover story from 2005.)

Elections in Disneyland

February 18, 2013

Only a week now and the kids are asking: ‘Who’s gonna win, daddy?’ How do I know, when the people running are larger than life itself.


Mickey Mouse. The original cartoon character. He’ll make you laugh. He’ll make you cry. And if you are under 20, he may well offer you cash for a quick one. Mickey has posted a late surge in the polls as many Italians conclude that no one will ever be funnier.

Ital election Mickey face

Ital election berlusconi face



















Mini Mouse. Billed as a new kind of mouse, Mini turned out to be much like Mickey — all talk, talk, talk — but not nearly as funny. Mini speaks English, but who cares except the foreigners who pay Disneyland’s bills? May have to move to Brussels.

Ital election mini

Ital election monti



















Goofy. Definitely funny. Appears daily in the piazza encouraging citizens to shout ‘Fuck Off’ at no one in particular. Indubitably a new kind of political animal. However a lack of facial grooming and tendency to piss on public monuments leaves the average Italian concerned he undermines the national image for form over substance in all things.

Ital election goofy

Ital election grillo red beret
















Donald Duck. What’s the problem with Disneyland? If only everyone listened to Donald, Disneyland would run fine. Donald is a well-meaning, somewhat gruff old time favourite, yet somehow never quite as funny as Mickey.

Ital election donald duck

Ital election bersani


















Projected outcome: Coalition of family favourites. Loads of laughs for everyone except Italians.

Ital election that's all folks

Thought food

January 31, 2013

Here is a rather powerful piece of writing – particularly the historical analysis in the first half — encouraged by The Guardian’s George Monbiot having turned 50.

It connects up to this article about Nick Clegg who, I think, fails to recognise that if the Liberal Democrat party cannot be more principled than the Labour party, then there really is no reason whatsoever for its existence.


Completely separately

Have I entered a parallel universe, or did I just give a speech to a large conference in the US at which these were the newspapers people were reading?


A perfect 10

November 28, 2012


















There have been a few of these cock-ups in recent years. But this latest one takes the biscuit.

The People’s Daily, mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, has reprinted a story from The Onion claiming that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been voted ‘sexiest man alive’.

The Associated Press explains here. Or read the same in the Washington Post. The original Onion article is here. Sadly The People’s Daily has now taken its story down.

Fit for a King

October 21, 2009

Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, finally comes out and tells it (more or less) like it is. Bless him. In a speech to businessmen in Edinburgh, Mr King observes that the Anglo-Saxon financial system has so far been bailed out, to the tune of trillions of dollars, with no fundamental change in the way the banking system operates. Huge bonuses will again be paid to bankers this year-end, despite the fact their earnings depend on a limitless supply of almost free taxpayer money. We give them free money, they make a profit: clever stuff.

Mr King suggests this is unfair, paraphrasing Churchill: ‘never in the field of financial endeavour has so much money been owed by so few to so many,’ he says. The solution turns out to be the same one that people like the governor figured out 80 years ago, in the wake of the Great Crash. The retail and investment functions of banking need to be separated, so that speculative activity by investment bankers faces a serious prospect of punishment by bankruptcy when things go wrong. When every kind of financial function is merged under one roof, this does not happen. In the latest crash: ‘Banks and their creditors knew that if they were sufficiently important to the economy or the rest of the financial system, and things went wrong, the government would always stand behind them,’ says Mr King. ‘And they were right.’

Of course Mr King does not mention America’s Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which split banking functions in order to ring-fence speculative activities. That would be tantamount to admitting that banking regulators have not learned anything for the best part of a century. But his logic is exactly that of Glass-Steagall when he describes banking functions that are necessary to the community and those which are simply a matter of private speculation: ‘The banking system provides two crucial services to the rest of the economy: providing companies and households a ready means by which they can make payments for goods and services and intermediating flows of savings to finance investment,’ says Mr King (he could have put the second point more clearly by saying that banks, uniquely, provide working capital to industry). ‘Those are the utility aspects of banking where we all have a common interest in ensuring continuity of service,’ he goes on. ‘And for this reason they are quite different in nature from some of the riskier financial activities that banks undertake, such as proprietary trading.’

Mr King’s reflections on the financial crisis are about as candid and thoughtful as anyone connected with government in the UK or the US has managed in the past year. He is quickly supported by a forceful opinion piece from Martin Wolf in the Financial Times. Sadly, however, it is highly unlikely that there will be a new Glass-Steagall Act on either side of the Atlantic. The senior economic advisers to the Anglo-Saxon governments, whether Fat Larry Summers or Alastair ‘Hello’ Darling, are far too spineless and mired in the mathematical drivel of ‘modern’ economic theory. There will be an incremental regulatory ‘solution’ to the financial system’s instability, involving new rules relating to capital adequacy. This has been tried for decades, and does not work because banks’ prudential requirements for capital vary over the economic cycle and cannot be reduced to a workable regulatory formula. Still, there will be lots of new jobs for regulators until the next financial crisis.

A simple, radical solution, as Mr King recognises, is what is actually needed. It should not be embarrassing to admit that what people figured out in the 1930s is better than what their successors thought in the 1990s (when Glass-Steagall was finally repealed under Bill ‘Mind-On-Other-Things’ Clinton).

 Moreover, there is one new thing that governments could do to stop the cycle of ever more severe financial crises that has afflicted the world since the end of the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system in 1971. There is not a hope in hell that this change will be discussed, let alone happen, but it is worth mentioning. The change is simple: end the absurd tax treatment of corporate debt, whereby interest on debt is deductible as a business expense before taxes are paid. This is not the case with equity, where dividends have to be paid after tax. The contrasting, and logically indefensible treatment of debt and equity in contemporary tax systems first encourages companies (including banks) to load up on debt, and second discourages the creation of more employee-owned firms. It is one of those things that is so dumb, so fundamentally wrong, that it is not even discussed.