Saturday, October 18


Vic & I know someone who has lost her savings, 'cause they were in Iceland. Bummer. She's a British subject, and, for whatever it's worth, I'd be very surprised if she weren't a Labour supporter. (Not a Labour voter, of course, this being Northern Ireland, the only place in the world where you cannot join the British Labour Party. Let's not get me started on that, though, eh?)

And this is, quite fundamentally, the problem with the Government's approach of propping up the banks. Banks don't vote.

As I said the other day, it is entirely reasonable for a government to guarantee ordinary people's savings. But which ordinary people? Well, their own subjects, of course; the ones who vote for them. British banks have investors from all over the world. By nationalising and propping up our banks, the Government are using British taxpayers' money to protect the investments of Americans, Japanese, French, Kazakhs, and thousands of others who have never lived in Britain and never will. Meanwhile, if you're a British taxpayer and voter but you put your money in a bank whose headquarters aren't in London, well, says Gordon Brown as he washes his hands, that's tough shit on you then, isn't it?

Pros and cons.

I first suspected that the extent of the financial crisis was being somewhat exaggerated when lots of people who really ought to know what they're talking about started saying that it was as bad as the Great Depression. Really. Let me know when thousands of people adopt itinerant lifestyles, wandering on foot from town to town, doing any old work for cash in hand, sleeping in barns. Then it'll be as bad as the Thirties. I'll not hold my breath.

The problem here is that so many people simply can't see beyond numbers. They look at a percentage drop in average share prices or a decrease in banking revenue and compare it to figures from the Thirties and conclude that they're just as bad. What they forget is that numbers represent something. Looking at the numbers alone while ignoring what they represent is the fast track to idiocy.

Over the years, one of the things that has become one of my core beliefs — one of those things that I feel it is of the utmost importantance to understand and accept — is that decisions come with both good and bad consequences. You make the decision, you take the good, and you accept the bad, ideally without whinging. Not many people do this.

With that in mind, what's really pissed me off over the last few weeks has been seeing banking executives on the news explaining how a massive nationalisation program is really the best thing for the future of Capitalism. What we banks really need, they explain, is to have the Government take charge of our decisions. But just imagine if Brown's Wonderful Plan had been announced two years ago. Would we have seen bankers queuing up to give him medals, crying "Thank the gods! Finally we have a leader who understands what banking is all about."? Can't see it somehow. After the overblown comparisons with the Thirties, that was the second big clue that lies were being told. (I just can't figure out why the reporters interviewing them never called them on it. If you won't leap at an easy chance to accuse an important person of bullshitting on live TV, why did you get into journalism in the first place? Surely that's one of the job's perks.)

Bankers simply do not believe that banks are better nationalised than privately run. They do not believe that banking is made better by having massive state bureaucracies get involved in their policy-making. The only reason they're claiming that right now is that it's a chance for some easy money. Keep exaggerating the threat (the end of the entire world's economic system? Please) and the Government will take money off of taxpayers and give it to you.

Being a private firm comes with pros and cons; so does being nationalised. Weigh them up and make a decision. And live with it. You want to sting the taxpayer whenever you run into a spot of bother? Fine. Take the easy money, then, you bastards. But, in a few years, when the markets are looking perky again and you start pining for privatisation, I for one do not want to hear your whinging.

Thursday, October 9

The stupidest prize ever.

I'd never heard of Adnan Oktar before today. He's obviously heard of James Randi, though, as he's offering a prize of a quite staggering 4.4 trillion pounds "to anyone who produces a single intermediate-form fossil demonstrating evolution."

But this is nonsense. Thousands of such fossils have already been found, including fossils of creatures more human than chimpanzees and more chimp-like than humans. But no doubt Oktar is defining the word "intermediate" on his own terms, to mean something quite different to what it says in the dictionary. In other words, what he'll give you the money for is a fossil that changes his mind. And he'll never change his mind, because he has faith.

Besides, I don't get it. If you're religious, what, exactly, is wrong with the "God put the dinosaur bones in the ground to test our faith" explanation? That's the whole point of faith: it doesn't depend on evidence. And the whole point of an omnipotent being who created the universe is that, if they exist, their existence explains everything — even things that might appear to be proof of their non-existence. When that's what you believe in, regardless of whether you understand the fossil record, why challenge it? Really, what's the point?

Wednesday, October 8

Playing the game.

A lesson in cluelessness:

[Joseph Biden] expressed alarm that the McCain campaign might be encouraging speculation among their supporters that Obama is himself a questionable character

Oh, the horror.

Thursday, October 2

Leadership and belief.

There's a nice post here from Tim Newman about how baffled he is that believing in Creationism attracts so much more opprobrium than believing in any other stupid, ignorant, nutty, ridiculosity.

Sarah Palin believes in creationism, and she might one day be president. Yet the incumbent president, and our own glorious leaders, believe in trade tariffs. Putting all the evidence together on a table, which belief is more irrational? And which belief causes more harm?

Sarah Palin chooses to defy scientific findings, close her ears, and believe the earth was created 6,000 years ago. Most of the world’s leaders choose to defy an awful lot of scientific findings, close their ears, and believe the earth is heating up uncontrollably, and we the public must stump up billions in taxes to do something about it. Which is the more irrational? And which is most likely to cause me, you, and everyone else serious harm?

This prompted me to look up this old piece by John Derbyshire and — lo and behold — I find that he need do little more than change the word "Bush" to "Palin" and he could republish it tomorrow as is, topical as ever.

My ideal nursing-home attendant, auto mechanic, or president would be a cheerful, capable, well-motivated person who was thoroughly au courant with the theory of evolution — and indeed with all the most recent advances in astronomy, biochemistry, cosmology, dendrochronology, endochrinology, fluviology, geomorphology, hydrodynamics, ichthyology, jurisprudence, kinesiology, limnology, microbiology, neuropathology, ophthalmology, psychometrics, quantum chromodynamics, rocket science, seismology, trichology, urology, virology, wiretapping, xenodocheionology, yachting, and zoology.

Life, however, often consists of making a choice between unsatisfactory alternatives. Invited to choose between having my kids educated, my car fixed, or my elderly relatives cared for by (a) people of character, spirit, and dedication who believe in pseudoscience, or (b) unionized, time-serving drudges who believe in real science, which would I choose? Invited to choose between a president who is (a) a patriotic family man of character and ability who believes the universe was created on a Friday afternoon in 4,004 B.C. with all biological species instantly represented, or (b) an amoral hedonist and philanderer who “loathes the military” but who believes in the evolution of species via natural selection across hundreds of millions of years, which would I choose? Are you kidding?

I'm sure I've said this before, but at least Creationists, as a rule, have some understanding of evolution — and they disagree with it. In my experience, most of those who agree with it haven't got the faintest clue how it works and will give laughably bad explanations if asked to explain, for instance, why peacocks have such elaborate tails or why there's a gap in the fossil record. The gleeful derision towards Creationists by those who are every bit as ignorant, if not more so, but who are confident that The Truth they believe in has been certified by experts, always strikes me as a rather good illustration of the essential repulsiveness of mobs.

There's more to being right than believing something that happens to be true.

Wednesday, October 1

Who should suffer.

I work in the investment banking sector at the moment. It was horribly busy the week after Lehman's went down, but WaMu and Monday's crash seem not to have had the same effect. Funny old world.

Anyway, here's what I think.

Ordinary everyday members of the public have better things to do with their time than to snort the FT every day, subscribe to Bloomberg, and move their savings between banks every couple of weeks depending on market conditions. Insisting that they do so would simply lead to the collapse of the economy as no-one would ever have the time to do anything else. So it is right and proper that the government should use taxpayers' money to guarantee savers' deposits when a bank goes under.

Investment bankers, on the other hand... well, it's their job, isn't it? They are supposed to trawl through every bit of financial information they can get their hands on and assess profit, liability, and risk from one minute to the next. It's what they do. And, when they completely and utterly screw it up, it is not the taxpayers' job to bail them out, any more than it's our job to guarantee jobs for journalists who can't write or builders whose work keeps falling over or gardeners who kill everything they touch.

Bradford & Bingley were going under for a reason: they were crap. Our idiot leaders, by nationalising them, are keeping that crap alive and kicking so that its influence can continue to poison the rest of the system. Great. Only, given the track record of nationalisation, they won't just be preserving the crap: they'll make it crappier.

Bought a British car lately?