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Tuesday 27 September 2011

Reduce Gas and electricity bills

It always amazes me how much people bleat and fail to do anything about their condition. At a time when the vast majority of householders are under financial pressure, mostly through no fault of their own, they are not prepared to make small adjustment to improve their lot.
Gas and electricity prices seem to increase with a relentlessness that makes Gadaffi's regime defending tactics almost equivalent to white flag waving.
The reasons for the increases are usually well-crafted, if difficult to actually believe. The reduction in value of the Pound against the Dollar, or against the Euro (this argument has also been used in the opposing direction); the increased cost of being 'green'; the substantial investments in 'infrastructure' (this one has been used for decades so presumably they haven't a clue of what to do); the astronomical salaries paid to some senior 'executives' (alright, that one has not been put forward yet).
Anyway, the only way for the individual customer to do something about his charges in the short term is to switch to the lowest cost supplier. There is absolutely no difference in the gas or electricity consumed, just the price changes. The way to reduce costs in the medium term is to switch to the lowest tariff supplier at every available opportunity, thereby putting pressure on all the suppliers to reduce costs if they want to retain customers.
All this to say that if you want to help yourself (and you have a UK address) then, take a look at this: Reduce my utility bills NOW.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Sunday 18 September 2011

What's $300 Million between friends?

Remember the $2 Billion lost by a 'rogue trader' at UBS. Well on the same day that the boss of the bank, Oswald Gruebel, said he would not resign over the 'incident', the bank also increased the estimated loss to $2.3 Billion.

So you think it's only 15%...which of course it is... and if the bank is so incompetent in the first place then, useless plus 15% does not really make much difference. However, the extra $300 Million is nearly the same amount as the current United Nations appeal to help six million (we're talking people now, not dollars) Pakistanis who have been affected by devastating flooding in their country. This is for aid over the next six months, not the next night out.

Thursday 15 September 2011

Lesson learned - you bet not!

After the last financial crisis (apparently in the dim and distant past of 2008-09), there were a few obvious lessons for banks. These included banks not lending on a highly speculative basis and then ‘bundling’ a series of these highly uncollaterised loans into instruments that were sold on as good solid investments. It also included banks themselves having internal controls to check what was going on.


There was also widespread condemnation for the exorbitant bonuses being paid, especially in the investment divisions of banks.


UBS, a so-called ‘Swiss’ bank (although the ‘S’ stands for Swiss, the largest shareholder is actually the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation) announced last month that they wanted to reduce the payroll by 3,500 staff, in order to save $2.53 Billion annually. Seemed like a good idea.


Today we learn that UBS has been stung for $2 Million by a ‘rogue trader’.


Incredible that UBS even knows how much they have lost; if they’re that smart, they could have avoided the problem in the first place.


What odds on board-level resignations?

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Reading a newspaper can seriously damage your health.

Today's Daily Telegraph is replete with stories (some of them extremely obvious) of gloom, confusion, and worse, any solution being nigh on impossible.

We are greeted by a story that 'compulsive materialism' is destroying family life. This was backed up by an earlier report by UNICEF, in 2007, ranking Britain and twenty other 'developed' (whatever that might mean) countries. Brace yourself for the results... child welfare 21st (or if you prefer, last), self-esteem 21st, teenage pregnancies 20th, educational standards 18th.

The latest UNICEF report suggests that an obsession with buying goods (a bit of an unfortunate use of the word) for our children, rather than spending time with them, is one of the underlying causes of the riots that gripped London and other major English cities recently. The logic applied beggars belief. If the rioters came from families where they were already being spoiled with an abundance of designer labels then, why plunder more? If, on the other hand, the looters came from financially disadvantaged families, where expensive goods were not the norm, then why steal them, as they would rather spend time with their parents than have tangible trophies?

This same UNICEF report suggests that the government should ban advertising aimed at children under the age of 12 and encourage parents to work shorter hours. Seems an excellent idea, but this is in diametrical opposition to the government's intention of getting those same people to work more years to cover the costs of pensions.

On the same day that we have the UNICEF report, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) also puts the boot in. When it comes to teenagers becoming NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) Britain is right up there with the worst of them, ranking 9th out of 32... unfortunately, the higher the place means the higher the likelihood of being a NEET.

The Daily Telegraph continues the Armageddon-like 'news' with another OECD report pointing out that Britain is the third most expensive place in the world to go to university, being beaten into the bronze medal position by the United States and Korea (presumably South but, you can't be too sure of anything these days). But, fear not, that Gold medal position will not escape for long as the data refers to 2008-2009 and Britain is allowing a tripling of university fees; other countries haven't got a hope in this contest.

If you are not depressed yet, here's today's clincher from the Daily Telegraph: there is 'a pandemic of drug-resistant tuberculosis spreading across Europe at an alarming rate, medical experts have warned'. This is under the headline 'London is the Tuberculosis capital of Europe'.

All these stories bring back vivid memories of two characters. One is John Laurie who played Private Frazer, the dour Scotsman and local undertaker, in the television comedy 'Dad's Army'; uttering his catchphrase of 'we're doomed, we're doomed'. The other is of a jubilant Tony Blair at his 1997 election victory party and the blaring (sorry, couldn't resist that one) music of 'Things can only get better'. Both made me laugh, albeit for different reasons. One was an extremely amusing work of fiction; wish they both had been.

Frankly, I think we've all lost the plot.

Sunday 11 September 2011

Throwing a tantrum... let the punishment fit the crime.

Three similar offences in different countries with very different punishments but maybe lessons to be learned.


The first, in December, 2008, Muntadar al-Zaidi, an Iraqi television journalist, hurled his shoe, closely followed by the second of the pair at US President George Bush. Both missiles missed their target but al-Zaidi was floored by security guards and arrested. This event took place during a news conference in Iraq, in conditions where one would have hoped there was a high level of security, which was clearly lacking.


The second took place in London in July, 2011, when Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corporation was giving evidence to a parliamentary enquiry into alleged phone hacking. Jonathan May-Bowles (aka Jonnie Marbles) pushed a paper plate covered with foam into the face of Mr Murdoch, the empty plate subsequently being thrown back at May-Bowles by Mr Murdoch's wife. The punishment for the first incident was six weeks in jail (with only half to be served), as well as £15 victim surcharge and £250 costs; the second incident of the paper plate being thrown back resulted in no charges being brought.


The third similar event took place a few days ago at the University Dufour in Geneva, Oskar Freysinger; a prominent Swiss right-wing politician had a plateful of cream thrown at his face. This event took place at a book signing following a debate on the place of Islam in Switzerland, in front of a packed auditorium. The young offender was escorted to the door by a security guard and told to go home. End of story.


Whilst in no way wishing to condone gratuitous violence or lack of respect, these three episodes teach us a lot about how we encourage incivility by promoting the instigators.


The shoe hurling incident was against a backdrop of a country in violent conflict, where loss of life through hostility was a daily occurrence; the incident received worldwide coverage, the perpetrator became a popular hero. The plateful of foam incident also received plenty of media coverage, especially in the United Kingdom. This was against a backdrop of so-called indignation at a phone hacking scandal that has already closed the News of the World, which was the English language newspaper with the largest circulation in the world. It also shows the double standards in the UK, as no legal action was taken as a result of the plate being thrown back at the architect of the first missile. It has also given ample publicity to a budding comedian who was unknown before the event. However, the Swiss cream pie which successfully reached its target has received very little coverage and the name of the launcher is unknown.


So, does the punishment fit the crime? Absolutely not, the sentences imposed are inversely proportional to the actual events. The lessons one might learn are that the punishment seems to reflect the level of embarrassment of those meant to protect (perhaps it is they who should be punished for failing their duties), and that cutting off the oxygen of publicity reduces, at very least, the on-going publicity given to an event.


Perhaps, even more importantly, given the relative peacefulness of the three countries where these events took place, the expectation of punishment is not a deterrent.


Article first published as Throwing a Tantrum: Let the Punishment Fit the Crime on Technorati.

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