Wednesday, January 30

Ah, national stereotypes.

More on that rogue tradeur:

FRIENDS of rogue trader Jerome Kerviel last night blamed his $7 billion losses on unbearable levels of stress brought on by a punishing 30 hour week.

Kerviel was known to start work as early as nine in the morning and still be at his desk at five or even five-thirty, often with just an hour and a half for lunch.

One colleague said: "He was, how you say, une workaholique. I have a family and a mistress so I would leave the office at around 2pm at the latest, if I wasn't on strike."

....

As the losses mounted, Kerviel tried to conceal his bad trades by covering them with an intense red wine sauce.

 

Good question.

The great Megan McArdle:

Peace in Israel/Palestine. And a pony! Why does every American president with a grim-looking prognosis for their legacy try to salvage everything at the 11th hour by swashbuckling into Jerusalem with no political capital to spend and praying for a miraculous resolution of the least tractable conflict of the last 50 years?

 

Money at work.

Given this fiasco

Fearful of the effects of air pollution on their performance, Olympic athletes are taking extreme measures to prepare for this summer's Games in Beijing.

Delegations from dozens of nations are setting up training bases in nearby countries and planning to fly into China at the last minute to minimize exposure to what they say is a hostile environment.

....

Situated in a basin where smoke from factories and construction and dust from desert storms gather and shroud the city for days, Beijing has struggled to control air pollution for several years.

....

Recent measurements show that on some days the amount of smoke and dust particles in the air exceeds by three to 12 times the maximum deemed safe by the World Health Organization.

....

"The magnitude of the pollution in Beijing is not something we know how to deal with. It's a foreign environment. It's like feeding an athlete poison," said David Martin, a respiratory expert who is helping train U.S. marathoners.

....

In November, [Frank Filiberto, a physician for the U.S. boxing team] accompanied 11 boxers to the Chinese capital for a competition. On their first morning there, Filiberto said, the men returned from their daily 20-minute training run complaining of burning eyes, coughing, congestion and breathing difficulties. Only six of the 11 boxers ended up feeling well enough to compete.

"In my opinion boxers are probably the finest athletes in the world," Filiberto said. "But they didn't think they could make it three rounds in Beijing." Filiberto and the coaches were so alarmed that they ordered the boxers to jog only in hotel hallways thereafter.

....

Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, a Boulder, Colo., bicyclist who competed in the 2004 Olympics in Athens and is a contender for a spot on this year's U.S. mountain biking team, said that when he arrived in the Chinese capital, the sky was a crystal-clear blue and he thought that concerns about pollution had been overblown. But on the day he was to race, he said, the smog was so thick "you could barely see a few city blocks" from his hotel window.

About 20 minutes into the race, Horgan-Kobelski started having trouble breathing.

"I struggled with it for a while," he said in a phone interview. "You're breathing as hard as you can but you feel like your muscles don't want to work. You're filling your lungs but you don't know what's going in there."

About halfway through the roughly 30-mile race, Horgan-Kobelski said, "my body sort of shut down." He pulled over and vomited.

It wasn't until he got to the athletes' lounge that he learned that he wasn't unique. Only eight of 47 contestants in the men's race finished; the others, including the Chinese riders, also suffered from breathing problems and dropped out.

....

Haile Gebreselassie, who has won two gold medals in the 10,000 meters and holds the world record in the marathon, may not run in the Olympic marathon. In an interview with the Associated Press, the runner's manager, Jos Hermens, said: "What he says is: 'Great if I win, but if it means the end of my career, then I really don't feel like it.'"


Given that, what criteria, exactly, do the International Olympic Committee consider when they spend years travelling the world to decide which cities should host the Olympics? Think of all the fuss over the London bid — not just the successful 2012 bid, but the numerous unsuccessful ones in previous years. Think of the amounts of money involved. Make even just a rough guess at how much gets spent on entertaining, showing off to, and generally pampering the IOC. Their decisions cost billions.

Yet we now discover that at no point do they take into account the question of whether a venue is suitable for athletes.

Tuesday, January 22

This is why we need the UN.

Thanks as ever to Rob for drawing my attention to the funniest unintentionally funny thing I've seen in quite some time. Yes, 2008 is the United Nations International Year of the Potato.

The site's fantastic: there's a potato calendar and a potato quiz (you know, for kids!) and loads of fascinating facts and a video of a potato harvest in action and... well, let's be fair, it actually is a pretty good site. I'm far too much of a fan of pointless trivia to plausibly claim that sites like this are crap. It's better than the (sadly no longer with us) Pylon of the Month site, and I loved that.

But what gets me is the efficiency. You might think there'd be a trade association of potato farmers and greengrocers and such, and they could have a marketing budget, and they could hire someone to bung a site like this together. In fact, it's clear from the UN's potato calendar that such organisations do exist and do do things. But someone decided that it would be quicker and easier to lobby the politicians of God knows how many different countries to in turn lobby the UN to give an entire UN-sponsored year over to the potato. How many other things were in the running to have 2008 as their special year? Centipedes? Socks? Mint Imperials? And how many meetings did lots of highly-paid UN delegates go to to discuss the candidates until the potato finally won? Just what absurdly colossal sum of money was spent on promoting this tuber?

And for what? Are we really facing an international lack-of-potato-awareness crisis?

I can't be the first to think this.

A student called Laura McLaughlin is claiming to be pregnant with Pete Doherty's baby. But

A spokesman for Doherty said: "Pete says he doesn't know who this girl is."


This is Pete Doherty. Most days, he doesn't know who anyone is. Himself included.

Reasoning.

I was always puzzled over why the failed Tube bombers pled non guilty. They were willing to blow themselves to bloody smithereens but years in a British jail was a sacrifice too far? Can't say they're using the same reasoning as I would.

And now this one. John Hogan tried to kill himself in the act for which he's on trial, he's tried to kill himself numerous times since, but he's pleading not guilty so that he won't have to spend the rest of his life in a Greek jail. Just how bad are Greek jails?

I am reminded of Jerry Seinfeld's line about people who attempt suicide once but then don't try again. "Why not? It's not like your life's got any better. In fact, now it's even worse, because there's one more thing you suck at." John Hogan must really suck at this. Shame he couldn't have passed this inability on to his son.

It's hard to think of a more appropriate time to use the phrase "It's a fair cop" than when you're found lying in a bloody heap on the ground with your victims all of a second after you've arrived there, but Hogan wants the psychological upside of claiming contrition without the practical downside that comes from admitting guilt.

And as for his claim that he didn't plan to kill his children... I assume that he means he didn't plan it a long time in advance with flow charts and detailed diagrams, but, really, when he grabbed them and jumped off the fourth floor, what was his plan? To annoy them?

Sunday, January 20

Anecdotal evidence.

Windows Vista doesn't seem to be getting an awful lot of good press — various firms, such as Lenovo, offering free upgrades from Vista to XP is hardly the best PR. My own experience of Vista is that... well, I'd take the free upgrade.

My best friend Alun has a Vista laptop. A few months ago, its DVD drive stopped working when he plugged his Sony phone into it. I had to repair it by editing the registry. To be fair, this is really Sony's fault — and they've got form, of course — but Microsoft's latest flagship operating system shouldn't be quite that unstable.

More recently, Alun, quite out of the blue, got some on-screen message saying that Vista was repairing vital files and that his personal files and settings would be unaffected. And then the laptop reverted to factory settings. He's lost a lot of stuff, including family photos.

Now, yeah, he should have backed up. But the fact that not backing up was his mistake doesn't change the fact that his need to back up was created by Microsoft's shoddy yet expensive operating system.

Generosity.

A quick recap for those non-British readers who might not know who Lesley Ash is. Lesley Ash was a popular British television actress, who became rather famous during the Nineties for starring in the decade's biggest sit-com, Men Behaving Badly. Which was crap, but it was huge. Then, despite already being widely considered to be very good-looking and not having any difficulty getting work, she went and got lip-inflation surgery, which went wrong and left her looking very stupid. Shortly afterwards, she was rushed to hospital after having a nasty accident while having sex with her husband. (God only knows why she let that detail out. There are some things guaranteed to make you a laughing stock.) She went into hospital with a couple of broken ribs and a punctured lung, and then, what with the N"HS" being what it is, came out with MSSA, which left her crippled and destroyed her career. She will never work as an actress again — and probably not as anything else either — because she was treated in an NHS hospital.

So it seems reasonable to me that she's just settled out of court for five million quid.

Now, I know that comments on a website are never truly representative of the population at large, but still, the comments on The Times report are interesting. Interestingly awful, that is. A disgusting glimpse into the minds of today's defenders of the NHS. That whole idealistic "best healthcare possible for all regardless of circumstances" thing has clearly gone way out of fashion, to be replaced with "take what you're given and don't you dare complain and what the hell's a rich person doing in our hospitals anyway?"

Most of the complaints are a nice study in vindictiveness and spite, but, for sheer small-minded idiocy, I especially like this one, from one Marie Oakes of Bolton:

her hospital admission was required due to the 'activities' of herself and her husband. These were in my opinion self inflicted, considering she states that she consented in these activities. Therefore she should actually be paying the NHS for her treatment instead of making yet another spectacle of herself.


I love the way "activities" is in quotes. 'Cause, you know, sex is dead naughty so can only be mentioned obliquely. And Oh! My! God! She consented! To sex! With her actual husband! Disgusting. And because she consented, she should have to pay the NHS for her treatment for injuries sustained as an indirect result. Just as the victims of car crashes shoud have to pay if they consented to travel by car.

Interesting.

I must go see Juno (or wait for it on DVD, anyway. I'm a parent now. When am I going to go to the cinema?). Because the brilliantly named Diablo Cody, who wrote it, appears to be quite brilliant:

“If a woman takes her top off and makes out with a guy for a porno, it’s porno. If she does the same thing for Roman Polanski... bad example, ha ha ha... for Paul Verhoeven, it’s completely legit, she’s done a film,” she says. “I don’t understand how me giving a guy a lap dance for 20 bucks is any different from an actress in a film playing a stripper giving another actor a lap dance for $200,000.”

 

Saturday, January 19

A good read.

There's this new blog, ProWomanProLife, which is rather brilliant. The site is written by a bunch of anti-abortion feminists who believe that abortion should be stopped without banning it. But what makes it so good is simply the quality of their writing. Like this, for instance:

Social and human capital are what enable individuals and groups to thrive. When communities can’t generate this capital for whatever reason, governments step in, and their solutions are usually ham-handed, expensive, and inefficient. Fiscal conservatism, small governments and shrinking budgets are only viable when most people are functional, stable, and autonomous, and there has yet to be a more effective way to develop such people than in a family.


And this:

Perhaps I am weird. But this endless victimizing really bothers me. So it’s tough for a woman to become president of the United States? I hope so! It ought to be tough for anybody.

 

Coining.

There is a special place in Hell reserved for whoever came up with the word "safetergent".