Broad Oak: your emotional support animal

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Win a bottle of wine!

 
The above image is a snapshot of the Windows Media Player graphic accompaniment to the sound track of a BBC radio programme. A bottle of Somerfield red wine goes to the first person to guess the programme.
 
UPDATE (2 Aug 2013):
 
Nobody guessed, yet surely Media Player is a sound fingerprint! The answer is Count Arthur Strong, appearing on Mark Radcliffe's Radio 2 late-night programme in 2005.
 
All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Coppola: Gold backing would destroy the US dollar

In a new article for Pieria, Frances Coppola argues that fixed currency systems can't cope with rapid change in the balance of international trade. Reverting to the gold standard would force the US to balance its books, but this would slam on the brakes so hard that a depression would ensue and foreign countries would have to find an alternative to the US dollar.

As matters stand, says Martin Armstrong, "The dollar is setting up to be the ONLY viable currency."

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dark Snow


Back in February I did a piece  on World Voices about ice melt in Greenland, and linked to a blog by environmental scientist Jason Box. His theory is that the melting is accelerated by particle pollution from burning forests and fossil fuels - a fine layer of this soot settles on the ice and increases absorption of solar radiation.

Since then, the Guardian newspaper has picked up on the story (12 June 2013), and now he's featured in the current (31 July) edition of Rolling Stone magazine (subscription required), in an article by Bill McKibben entitled "The Ice Maverick".

The theory is comprehensible and plausible, whatever the debate about global warming generally. Professor Box is seeking crowdfunding for his research - please see the Dark Snow website here.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Pencil and paper climate model

This post from Steve McIntyre is worth a look if you haven’t seen it. It’s a comparison of a simple pencil and paper climate temperature model published in 1938 with modern computer models.

Entertaining - but not so much when we recall how energy policies have been distorted by climate model projections.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fighting the Government for savers and against inflation (5)

In which token action is grudgingly promised:

MP to me, 14 July:

I accept that there are issues about access from time to time. I will write to the minister about this. The table office are very picky about how questions are put to ministers and normally edit them.

Would you please give me a reference to the comments from 1975?

Me to MP, same day:


Mr. Neubert

Does the Minister accept that the opportunity to invest in inflation-proof schemes is an act of belated social justice to millions of people who have seen their savings irreversibly damaged during the recent rapid rise in the rate of inflation? Will he make recompense to many of them by easing up on his vindictive attacks on the principle of savings embodied in the capital transfer tax and the wealth tax?

§Mr. Barnett

The hon. Gentleman has put his supplementary question at the wrong time, because National Savings are rising very well at present. I am sure he will be delighted to hear that. As to what he called "belated social justice", I am sure he will pay due attention to the fact that the scheme was introduced by a Labour Government and not by a Conservative Government.

Mr. Nott

Is the Chief Secretary confident that a further extension of index-linked schemes—which are welcome to savers—will not cause a diversion of funds away from deposits with building societies, leading to a rise in the mortgage interest rate?

§Mr. Barnett

We are, indeed, aware of those problems. That is precisely why we introduced the scheme in this limited way.

Hansard record of House of Lords debate, 4 November 1975:
http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1975/nov/04/national-savings-schemes

Lord LEE of NEWTON

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that while the index-linked schemes are extremely good value for money, it would be a good idea—as inflation has been rather rampant—to increase the maximum amount that can be invested in them?

§Lord JACQUES

My Lords, the Government have two conflicting obligations. One is an obligation to the taxpayer to buy goods and services as economically as possible, and secondly there are certain social obligations. The Government believe that by the action they have taken they have got the right balance.

MP to me, 22 July:

I will ask [my researcher] to put these points to the minister with the suggestion that a small number of index linked bonds should be made available with a limit as to how much any one person can hold.

My comments:

"... small number... limit..." - I don't understand the implicit attitude. Mr Hemming has no Treasury or economic brief in this Coalition; why so reluctant to protect savers against theft by inflation?

Also, no reply from the Telegraph journalist or either of the Treasury ministers, whom I Tweeted in Part 4.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Bee deaths linked to pesticides - new study


"Pesticide exposure and pathogens may interact to have strong negative effects on managed honey bee colonies... We collected pollen from bee hives in seven major crops to determine 1) what types of pesticides bees are exposed to when rented for pollination of various crops and 2) how field-relevant pesticide blends affect bees’ susceptibility to the gut parasite Nosema ceranae."

Read all about it here.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Strictly Confidential



After inedible rubber chicken skewers at the Brasshouse, we went to the matinee of Craig Revel-Horwood's "Strictly Confidential" at Birmingham's Symphony Hall. Led by the ebullient Lisa Riley, it gave us all permission to enjoy ourselves, a very underrated mission.

The over-bright wood panelling that usually reminds patrons of its existence throughout performances was black-curtained round the stage to set it for a properly theatrical experience. Lisa and the cast gave it plenty of welly, fighting the architecture and the natural reserve of us Midlanders. When played to a full house at night and in a traditional theatre it'll be a storm; as it was we loved it anyway.

Outrageous attack on soldiers' pensions

A soldier will miss out on almost £175,000 after his job was axed by defence bosses just 72 hours before he qualified for a full service pension.

Sergeant Michael Anderson, 35, was within three days of claiming a lifetime pension deal worth £261,278 for 18 years’ service.

He will now have to wait until he is 60 before receiving a package worth less than £90,000.

The case has fuelled suspicions that the Army, which is shedding 20,000 personnel in a cost-cutting exercise, is targeting those within touching distance of generous lifetime payments.


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2377260/Army-axes-hero-days-short-pension-Sergeant-wait-hes-60-collecting-package-worth-90-000.html#ixzz2a2XTxzfH

Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

By contrast...

There are separate arrangements for the pensions for the three great offices of state - the Prime Minister, Speaker of the House of Commons and Lord Chancellor. Under current legislation, they are entitled to a pension of half their final office-holder’s salary on leaving office, regardless of length of service.

House of Commons Standard Note SN 04586: "Pensions of Ministers and senior office holders" - last updated 27 March 2013

www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN04586.pdf

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy.

Quote of the... day?

".. allow me to remind you of Sibley's Law. Giving capital to a bank (said that worldly banker, Nicholas Sibley) is like giving a gallon of beer to a drunk. You know what will become of it, but you can't know which wall he will choose."

- Christopher Fildes, Spectator magazine, 15 December 2007

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The s-word

Click Green has a piece on the increased use of sustainable energy in the US. An increased use of natural gas is also mentioned, but the word shale is nowhere to be seen.

The s-word appears to be unwelcome in certain circles.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Microalgae prove ideal for green facades | Arup | A global firm of consulting engineers, designers, planners and project managers

Microalgae prove ideal for green facades | Arup | A global firm of consulting engineers, designers, planners and project managers

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment.Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

This new humanistic religion

If there be a saving way, at all, it is obviously this: Substitute health and happiness for wealth as a world-ideal; and translate that new ideal into action by education from babyhood up.

To do this, states must reorganise the spirit of education — in other words, must introduce religion; not the old formal creeds, but the humanistic religion of service for the common weal, the religion of a social honour which puts the health and happiness of all first and the wealth of self second. The only comfort in the situation is the curious fact that, underneath all else, the sociability inculcated in modern nations by quick communications and incessant intercourse is already tending toward the formation of this new humanistic religion.

The real and supreme importance of the League of Nations consists in its power of giving such a mood the first chance it has ever had in international affairs. For it must freely be confessed that, without this chance in international affairs, there is no hope that the mood will be adopted and fostered nationally.
John Galsworthy – Castles in Spain (1927)

In Galsworthy’s day many intelligent middle class people thought like this in spite and because of the Great War. They were not afraid to express their faith in a kind of universal secular bonhomie overseen by the benign gaze of the League of Nations.

How times have changed. The optimism of secular idealism has faded, its language tangled in caveats. Politically, secular optimism has become furtive, technical and rather weird.

Yet one Galsworthy phrase seems prescient to me, especially in the light of mass air travel and the internet: the sociability inculcated in modern nations by quick communications and incessant intercourse. Global sociability – maybe that’s our route to a more pragmatic optimism.

If so, then the stumbling block becomes obvious. Our political class has no wish to be sociable with the electorate because they don’t yet see us as their moral and intellectual equals, let alone their superiors.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Market timing

Conventionally, we are told that market timing is impossible and that you'll miss short,sharp gains by staying out, etc.

But the market is no longer conventional. The swings have become much greater, there's all sorts of jiggery pokery behind the scenes (how is co-location legal?) and debt is a sword of Damocles over the whole system.

Rob Arnott at PIMCO (htp: Wall Street Ranter) recently contrasted US equities with emerging markets stocks, thus:


Reversion to the long-term US mean would involve a 29% drop  in value - and usually there's a significant overshoot. Let's not forget that the market has halved twice since the year 2000, and the recoveries seem to be down to monetary life support rather than healthy fundamental economic growth.

There's a San Andreas Fault running under this financial edifice. And the US market and economy are so large that a fall there would surely shake the foundations in other parts of the world.

Doubtless there are some traders who will make, are making, fortunes on short-term speculation, but the odds against outsiders managing to do it make the game one not to join.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Does Monsanto engage in cyber warfare against its critics?

An article by Marianne Falck, Hans Leyendecker and Sylvia Miebrich published in Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung on 13th July 2013 asks the question. Translation here:

http://sustainablepulse.com/2013/07/13/the-sinister-monsanto-group-agent-orange-to-genetically-modified-corn/#.UeMjl9LVB8F

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Arguing The Toss On Climate Change

Following hard on his purposeful assault on Michael Fallon two weeks ago, the redoubtable Andrew Neil had a go at Ed Davey this time around, and only peripherally on energy policy per se. His main thrust was an outright challenge to a simplified version of what one might call the warmist-scientific consensus. Of course, Neil is the better debater in every dimension than Davey - a Jesuitical novice could have mounted a better defence without raising his voice above a conversational level - but it's just a low-grade spectator sport with carefully-briefed sophistry on both sides. Taken at face value, there are rarely any knock-down points scored in such encounters, and I can't imagine many viewers changing their minds.

But points of interest still arise.
  • The days when the Beeb's policy was for active suppression of climate-change skepticism are, it seems, over. (Davey was more than just called upon to defend his position: Neil made it clear that in his view, Davey had failed to do so.) That's not a trivial development. 
  • Davey's principal fall-back arguments were (1) a Pascal's wager: even given uncertainty, it's still appropriate to insure against the downside of possible climate change (2) "a lot of our policies are 'no-regrets' policies" - we should be doing them anyway. 
Lots of people relish the fight over forecasts of temperatures - hockey-sticks at dawn - but I don't find that fruitful at all (go to Bishop Hill if you want to vent steam, though as one contributor says there, it can become a "back-slapping echo-chamber"). Better by far is a practical approach, where knock-down points can truly be scored. (1) and (2) above are perfect cases in point. Because it's trivial to demonstrate that current UK / EU policies don't represent any type of insurance policy against climate change: they don't even reduce CO2 emissions, thereby failing against even the most basic of their own criteria.

(The only thing that might represent insurance is adaptation and, as we know, UK expenditure on flood defences is pitiful.)

As for 'no regrets' policies, Minister, You Are Having a Laugh. Only self-financing, unsubsidised energy conservation measures and small-scale biomass / waste incineration could conceivably fall in this category: everything else is a massive gamble on rising gas prices - a huge speculative long. With our money.

At best, the other steps being taken might contribute to a bit of security of supply, and to Keynsian job-creation. But there would be cheaper and more effective ways of doing both. Nope, it isn't remotely difficult to paint the 'regret' scenarios.


This post first appeared on the Capitalists@Work blog


All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

PRISM follow-up: I was right

Last month I said about PRISM, "the FS is denying that GCHQ is breaking the law without denying that we have all our telecommunications spied on, thus confirming that the law here already permits what the Americans are doing."

Now it's official:


It has been alleged that GCHQ circumvented UK law by using the NSA’s PRISM programme to access the content of private communications. From the evidence we have seen, we have concluded that this is unfounded.
 
We have reviewed the reports that GCHQ produced on the basis of intelligence sought from the US, and we are satisfied that they conformed with GCHQ’s statutory duties. The legal authority for this is contained in the Intelligence Services Act 1994.

Further, in each case where GCHQ sought information from the US, a warrant for interception, signed by a Minister, was already in place, in accordance with the legal safeguards contained in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Game of Drones

Hooray for Americans!

The farming and ranching town of Deer Trail, Colorado, is considering paying bounties to anyone who shoots down a drone.

Next month, trustees of the town of 600 that lies on the high plains, 55 miles east of Denver, will debate an ordinance that would allow residents to buy a $25 hunting licence to shoot down "unmanned aerial vehicles".

The measure was crafted by resident Phillip Steel, a 48-year-old army veteran with a master's degree in business administration, who acknowledges the whimsical nature of his proposal. But the expansion of drones for commercial and government use was alarming, he said.

"We don't want to become a surveillance society," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

- http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/18/colorado-town-ponders-drone-bounty


All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Diligent

When we want something done in daily life, from a haircut to a new house to a holiday, we prefer to deal with diligent people. Not so much diligent institutions, but diligent people.

The person who cuts our hair, the people who build our new house or those whose personal diligence makes a memorable success of our holiday – these are the people we want to deal with aren't they?

Diligent institutions? Possibly, but institutions are not what we prefer to deal with when things go wrong. We prefer people, yet so often institutions usurp the diligence of their people and substitute processes. We want diligent people – they want processes. Processes which are supposed iron out the vagaries of personal diligence, because people sometimes screw up.

So do institutions of course, but when they screw up their people can’t always draw on their own diligence to put things right. Most would like to I suspect, but can’t. It’s the rules, the tick boxes. Sometimes diligence seems to have been extracted from them by the corporate machine and thrown away.

I’m reminded here of an issue I once had with my father’s gas bill. He paid by direct debit but suddenly received a bill for over £5000 and naturally I was keen to sort it out for him. On day one I got nowhere with corporate robots at the gas supplier, but overnight it snowed heavily and many people couldn’t get into work.

So I phoned the gas supplier again the following morning and spoke to a very pleasant lady who knew immediately that there had been a problem when my father changed supplier. She sorted it all out in no time. In fact it turned out that the supplier owed my father a refund because his direct debit was set too high.

I’d realised that anyone diligent enough to make it into work through the snow would be a better bet for sorting out my father's absurd bill and so it proved. I made a particular point of thanking her and she was pleased to have helped. Of course she was – being diligent.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Fighting the Government for savers and against inflation (4)

We have new, again not wholly satisfactory, replies from the Treasury:

 
MP's covering letter (dated 10 July 2013):
 
"Please see enclosed the response from the treasury regards the two Parliamentary Questions which you requested be put to the Treasury.
 
"I trust that the answers are of interest."
 
My comments:
 
1. One of my questions has been materially altered and this has destroyed a vital point, namely, the moral case for protecting the value of savers' deposits - an argument that was clearly accepted when Index-Linked Savings Certificates were introduced in 1975.
 
2. The answers are certainly "of interest" (I have to hope that the MP is being ironic) as both fail to resolve one or more substantive issues in the questions as originally proposed.
 
FIRST QUESTION
 
My version:
 
"Is the [Minister/PM] aware that National Savings Index-Linked Savings Certificates were introduced in 1975 as a form of social justice to savers affected by inflation, as is made clear by exchanges in this House on 10 July 1975, and will he now instruct NS&I to make them permanently available again without further delay?"
 
Version as put to Minister:
 
"To ask Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he will instruct National Savings and Investments to make National Savings index-linked savings certificates permanently available to savers with immediate effect."
 
Treasury written answer, from Mr Sajid Javid MP (08 July 2013):
 
"National Savings and Investments (NS&I) purpose is to provide cost-effective debt financing to the Government by issuing and selling retail savings and investment products to the public.
 
"In meeting this objective NS&I follow a policy balancing the interests of their customers, the taxpayer and the stability of the wider financial services market. In line with this remit NS&I do not anticipate new sales of Index-Linked Savings Certificates this year."
 
My comments:
 
It is particularly disappointing that the reference to proceedings in Parliament was excised, because they show that the Government and the Opposition accepted the MORAL case for protecting the value of savers' money. I had thought the editing was done by the MP, but he seems to be suggesting that it was done by the officials who handle the questions submitted.
 
I have Tweeted Mr Javid:
 
 
 
"NS&I Index-linked Savings Certificates are also known as Inflation-Beating Savings and are designed to give savers a guaranteed tax-free rate of return, higher than the rate of inflation measured by the Retail Prices Index (RPI), if held for the full certificate term.

"The certificates were launched in 1975 and were initially available exclusively to pensioners as a way of protecting their savings against high inflation. In 1981 the exclusivity of the certificates was dropped and they were made available to all savers."

And from Part 1 of this series on my blog, an extract from my email to my MP (03.03.2013):

May I also draw your attention to two passages in Hansard from 1975 that make it perfectly clear that Government recognises the moral obligation to protect the value of savers' money?
 
Does the Minister accept that the opportunity to invest in inflation-proof schemes is an act of belated social justice to millions of people who have seen their savings irreversibly damaged during the recent rapid rise in the rate of inflation? Will he make recompense to many of them by easing up on his vindictive attacks on the principle of savings embodied in the capital transfer tax and the wealth tax?
 
 
The hon. Gentleman has put his supplementary question at the wrong time, because National Savings are rising very well at present. I am sure he will be delighted to hear that. As to what he called "belated social justice", I am sure he will pay due attention to the fact that the scheme was introduced by a Labour Government and not by a Conservative Government.
 
 
Is the Chief Secretary confident that a further extension of index-linked schemes—which are welcome to savers—will not cause a diversion of funds away from deposits with building societies, leading to a rise in the mortgage interest rate?
 
 
We are, indeed, aware of those problems. That is precisely why we introduced the scheme in this limited way.
 
 
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that while the index-linked schemes are extremely good value for money, it would be a good idea—as inflation has been rather rampant—to increase the maximum amount that can be invested in them?
 
 
My Lords, the Government have two conflicting obligations. One is an obligation to the taxpayer to buy goods and services as economically as possible, and secondly there are certain social obligations. The Government believe that by the action they have taken they have got the right balance.
 
SECOND QUESTION
 
My version:
 
"Will the [Minister/PM] give a guarantee on behalf of the British Government that savings covered by the terms and limits of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme will be fully protected against ad hoc restrictions of access, bank bail-ins and other forms of expropriation or forced conversion?"

Version as put to Minister:

"To ask Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether savings covered by the terms and limits of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme are protected against (a) ad hoc restrictions of access, (b) bank bail-ins and (c) other forms of expropriation or forced conversion."

Treasury written answer, from Mr Greg Clark MP (09 July 2013):

"The Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) provides protection for deposits up to £85,000 per depositor, per authorised institution."

My comments:

I have tweeted Mr Clark:



We have seen that savers in Cypriot banks originally faced partial loss of even their insured deposits. Now the proposal is to convert some of account amounts above 100k Euro into bank shares, and some of the rest is to be lost or frozen or ineligible to receive interest.

But it doesn't stop at Cyprus. A Russian journalist, Valentin Katasonov, sees this as a global trend towards "Open Bank Reconciliation", and there is now Europe-wide agreement on making not only bondholders but depositors pay the cost, as Bruno Waterfield reported in the Telegraph.

Here in the UK, the Bank of England has set up a "Special Resolution Unit" for failing banks; the SRU Director Andrew Gracie gave a speech to the British Bankers' Association (pdf) in September 2012, outlining what might happen and how it would be carried out and the media coverage appropriately managed. Among the public announcements he envisages (pp. 4-5) are:

"any insured depositors would be fully protected - as is always the case; and [...] the final extent of creditor write-downs, and rates of conversion to equity."

Now, an ideas speech to bankers is not a binding commitment or a statement of official policy. If push comes to shove, can we be absolutely sure that some of our "insured" money won't be frozen, or compulsorily swapped for shares in a bank of established dubious quality? This is why we need very specific assurances - or to get our money out.

If that last sounds alarmist, note the rumour on John Ward's blog, that JP Morgan is now sending people into Portugal to help big investors get their cash out of the country ahead of a bank bail-in there. And Barclays is among several banks recently downgraded by S&P.

The issues may soon turn out to be far more than merely theoretical.

UPDATE

The following email exchange with the MP today may be of interest.

Me: Thank you for your letter and enclosures of 10 July. I assume that your concluding remark about the answers being "of interest" is tinged with irony. I have Tweeted the Treasury ministers concerned to get more relevant, more specific replies.

He: What they are basically saying is that they don't want to issue any more index linked debt at the moment. They are also saying the 85K is safe.

Me: I understand that. Please don't think that you're the only grammar-school-educated boy in South Birmingham. I also have a degree in English from Oxford.

My point - and it would have been clearer if you hadn't edited out one of the most important parts - is that it is not only my view that they are morally obliged to offer index-linked securities, but the view of the Government that introduced them in 1975, and also that of the Opposition at that time.

As to "safety", this too needs clarification. Argentinian depositors' money was safe during the 2001 corralito, but it wasn't accessible.

I am on Day 398 of this enquiry via yourself and think it might be better if we pursued the case in parallel from now on.

FURTHER UPDATE

Let's see if the Press can help. Andrew Oxlade at the Telegraph called for a return of "Thatcher bonds" back in April, now I've Tweeted him:


___________________________________

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Sceptical journey

When apocalyptic climate science appeared on the public stage, I initially took a fairly neutral view of it. As a professional environmental scientist I assumed that the science would at least be fairly rigorous even if the apocalyptic predictions might be exaggerated by journalists.

Hints that all was not well appeared on my radar via two letters in Chemistry In Britain which in 2004 became Chemistry World, the member's magazine of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Letter 1 was from a professor of physical chemistry. He accused climate scientists of misusing the Stefan-Boltzmannconstant. He went on to claim that there was also no credible physical theory of how CO2 might control the thermal properties of the whole atmosphere. I won’t go into the details, but what surprised me about the professor’s letter was how easy it was to check that he appeared to have a good point – at least as far as I could see.

However, more extensive reading allayed my suspicions somewhat. Climate scientists had built mathematical models of how CO2 might indeed exert control over the thermal characteristics of the atmosphere. However...

Letter 2 was from a qualified scientist who asserted that criticisms of mainstream climate science should not be published as the science was 95% likely to be correct and of apocalyptic importance. This, so the letter asserted, was sufficient reason to suppress sceptical voices.

I’m relying on memory here because at that time I didn’t know I’d begun an interesting scientific journey. However, I well remember being quite shocked by letter 2. Not good whatever one might think of climate science, especially in a magazine for professional scientists.

These two letters were published quite a few years ago and it took most of the intervening years for me to conclude that there is indeed a serious problem with mainstream climate science. I’m not advocating one-sided scepticism here by the way – this is merely an outline of my personal journey of discovery.

Eventually I resigned from the Royal Society of Chemistry. In my resignation letter I mentioned obvious but ignored hints of malpractice in climate science, but didn’t make a big deal of it.

Why not? Well by then I’d retired and become thoroughly bored with the pusillanimous way institutions are led by the nose when it comes to matters of official policy. I’d done more than enough background reading to know there was certainly a major scandal behind apocalyptic climate predictions.

Once I had learned to be sceptical about the apocalyptic message, where did I place the blame? It’s a complex issue, but some climate scientists journalists, politicians, activists and self-serving businesses must all take the credit for jumping on a bandwagon and downplaying major uncertainties in our knowledge of how and why the climate changes.

Do your own research, be guided by behaviour, find people you trust and be guided by their manner and their scepticism. As always, the important clues are to be found in human behaviour - that was my climate lesson.

As scientists or non-scientists we have to build our own web of trusted opinion and reliable information. During the peace and quiet of a snowy winter evening perhaps? Before the lights go out?

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Political party funding: "A plague o' both your houses!"

I reprint this Peter Hitchens piece from the latest MoS because it stands as a monument to why we shouldn't give our allegiance to either of the two largest political parties. He reproduces it on his blog here and expands on it here.

I think it is time for the Tories to stop being so hoity-toity about the trade union grip on Labour. The Tory Party has a whopping great skeleton its cupboard which I am now going to pull out and wave about.

I promised to keep quiet about it nearly 30 years ago, and I’m still not naming my source. But Mr Cameron’s self-righteous attack on Labour has persuaded me that it’s time to come clean.

The Tory manifesto in 1983 pledged to do something about one of the worst scandals in British politics, the ‘political levy’ by which the unions take money from their members to put into their political funds. These funds are then used to buy influence in the Labour Party.

If you belong to most British unions, you pay into this unless you opt out. Many don’t even know they’re contributing. Others are afraid of drawing attention to themselves by opting out. As a result, millions of people give money to Labour without wanting to, via union political funds. And so they maintain the union stranglehold on British politics.

It needn’t be so. Margaret Thatcher’s 1983 manifesto promised to end this disgrace. If the unions wouldn’t sort it out, it said, ‘The Government will be prepared to introduce measures to guarantee the free and effective right of choice.’

She won with a huge majority. It was a mandate. So what happened? The then general secretary of the Labour Party, the late Jim Mortimer, approached the Tories through a special back-channel. Word was sent to the late Margaret Thatcher that she would be unwise to act on this pledge.

If she did, Mortimer warned, she might well destroy Labour and so – unintentionally - ensure that the Tories were beaten at the next election by the SDP-Liberal Alliance.

He added that if by any chance Labour survived, and came back to power, it would take a terrible revenge. It would pass laws to stop the Tories raising funds from business.

The ‘Iron Lady’ buckled and collapsed. For the sake of party advantage and short-term gain, the plan was dropped. A few feeble ballots were held instead, which hardly anyone noticed.

So Margaret Thatcher and her Tories actually saved the Labour Party from richly deserved oblivion. The disastrous 1997-2010 Blair-Brown government is their direct fault.

They also made sure that the unions would keep their thumb on the national windpipe for another 25 years and maybe much longer.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Special Ed

This week one of my wife's relations asked me questions for an assignment for her Teaching Assistant course. Perhaps some of my answers may lift the lid a bit on the world of special education. All observations and opinions are, of course, my own and not official.

1-Do you have any experience working with special needs children?

Yes. [Looked After Children two years... For a year or so I also taught at a project to reintegrate 15-year-olds youngsters who had been out of education for some time... some supply teaching at special schools for physically disabled children...autistic children at an ASD special school for a couple of months... From 2006 on at primary age Pupil Referral Units... now I am the Targeted Intervention Lead Teacher and assist staff with assessments of various kinds.]

2-Do you feel that children with disabilities should be integrated into mainstream schools or segregated into special schools? Why?

Some yes, some no. Integration can be good for the pupil, because it helps prevent institutionalisation and low expectations; it can also be good for the mainstream children to learn to mix with, cope with and help children who are different from them. But there are some children with emotional or behavioural difficulties (EBD), or who are on the Autistic Spectrum (ASD), who don’t mix well with mainstream children or cope well with a large group. Perhaps physical disability is easier for “ordinary” children to see and understand.

3- What effect do the SEN children have on the mainstream pupils?

I don’t get to see this much in our context. Mostly, we cater for children who have been excluded from mainstream. And it depends on what kind of SEN it is – emotionally upset and attention-demanding children can seriously subvert the work of a class, which is why they tend to get excluded.  Autistic children can get very stressed by noise, changes of location etc. In a mainstream school it takes a very skilful and energetic teacher to manage children of different kinds in one class and still make adequate academic progress overall, and the workload and stress on the teacher can be considerable.

There is also the question of how different SEN types react to each other. EBD and ASD children don’t understand each other; EBDs wonder why ASDs “don’t stick up for themselves” and also why they butt in, pass annoying comments or tell teacher about misbehaviour, whereas ASDs wonder why EBDs aren’t following rules, and don’t understand why they get hit for telling the truth. EBDs enjoy being a bit out of control; ASDs try to control everything (e.g. I know a little girl who made a coloured time chart for when each of her friends was supposed to spend time with her).

3-In your experience of education (personal +professional) how have attitudes +policies changed towards special education?

Many primary schools are now much more aware of the need to use strategies to manage behaviour, and are on the lookout for special needs. But the skill level is patchy – there are still schools that let a child’s problems continue for years and then throw them out as SATS looms up. Secondary schools are, I understand,  generally well behind primary schools in adapting to the behavioural variety of their intake.

Screening and funding arrangements for special needs are currently changing, and some suspect that there is a save-money agenda behind some of the changes. Our PRUs feel that there are not enough special school places and the system is creaking; it doesn’t help that we now have so many broken and abusive or inadequate families that yield children with enduring emotional problems.

4- Do you have a teaching assistant to support you in your daily routines? What do you feel are the benefits  and disadvantages of this?

Yes, we all have at least one full-time TA in every class in our PRUs. It’s essential for managing the children’s behaviour, and for professional protection against false accusations (we sometimes have to handle children physically, for their own and others’ safety). And there is so much paperwork.

A number of TAs are agency staff and need to be shown how to do things our way; this means more time in training and supervision. It’s a hard job and not everyone stays with us.

5 – Within your setting how do you ensure that the planning and day-to-day routines are flexible to accommodate individual children needs?

Activities are planned to meet the range of abilities, so there is differentiation in task and outcome. We also look at learning styles (visual/audio/kinaesthetic), do regular assessments of behavioural risk, have individual Behaviour Management Plans, Individual Education Plans (IEPs), CRISP analysis (Criteria for Special Provision) and do social developmental and attitude testing using the Boxall Profile or PASS (Pupil Attitudes to Self and School). Staff have to be flexible because individuals can still “kick off” and the work of the class may have to be suspended while issues are resolved.

6- Do your children have a voice in your setting? Please give examples.

Yes. For example, many are involved in the Common Assessment Framework and some are Looked After; both processes allow the child to express opinions. And we have a School Council that meets several times a term – they enjoy the sense of responsibility. When they have seriously misbehaved they do a Put It Right sheet that asks them to reflect on what they did, why, what the result was and what they should do next time. In their exercise books they can indicate how well they think they understood their lesson.

7- In your opinion does statementing lead to a more inclusive practice? Please explain.

Most of the primary schools that buy into our additional services work hard to spot and help children with difficulties. The SENCo in such schools will usually be pretty good at doing CRISPs, IEPs, IBPs (for behaviour), Pupil Provision Plans etc. Young teachers also seem to be fairly well briefed on managing behaviour and special educational needs – far (far) better than the teacher training I received in the 70s.

A Statement of Special Needs has legal teeth and is reviewed at least annually. It defines the child’s needs and how they are to be addressed. You can end up with a formidable list as SENAR (Special Education Needs and Review) takes in reports from all and sundry and in effect turns all of it into action points. You then have a recommendation as to placement – which is decided by SENAR in association with the parents/carers: mainstream with funded support, special school, or a “resource base” (a school with some mainstream classes but also a special unit where the child may spend much of the time).

We do see placements fail in secondary, especially in Year 7, as many children can’t cope with the transition, so our [PRUs are] now doing more to hold onto and support children across the KS2/KS3 divide, and in KS4 the youngsters are being steered into projects like the XXXX Project, rather than into secondary schools that can’t or won’t effectively cater for their needs. Not everyone is made for mainstream school.

8- You said you work with inter-agency and CAF. Can you tell me a bit more on how this supports the inclusion of the child?

Think of the child’s difficulties as symptoms and their family and its circumstances as the causes. The CAF process can reveal what’s really going on at home, and help to get agencies to work more urgently to solve problems (e.g. re inadequate housing). Education and social work have a significant interface, and if you don’t deal with the whole child you’ll only get partial success.

But it also becomes clear that in some cases, even the parent/carer isn’t as committed to the child’s needs as they should be. Ultimately this can lead to a social services referral for neglect or abuse – but at least that is also a kind of progress in solving the child’s problems.

We are now generally doing fCAFs (Family CAFs) rather than individual child CAFs, because more often than not there are other children in the same family with problems, or the adults have their own difficulties, or the family as a whole has a problem (e.g. housing).

The government has latched onto CAF as a tool for tackling “problem families”, which means that in some cases the agenda can be at least partly driven from above rather than by the clients. CAF was set up as a voluntary system and the official “mission creep” could undermine the consensual nature of the process.

9- How does funding affect inclusion for your setting?

We get additional funds, but I’m not an expert in this. However, we are not a special school and so don’t get the level of resources they do.

10 – Do you find there is any policies or provision that restricts you doing your job?

Our children have significant social and emotional difficulties. The demands of the National Curriculum can be a burdensome distraction in these circumstances, because until the emotional needs are met the learning can’t proceed. It’s quite a juggling act. I’m wondering whether provision like ours shouldn’t have its own specialised curriculum.

We also tend to be used as a prolonged, cheaper alternative to special school provision. The original concept for our PRU was that children would only be with us for a few weeks, while we did assessments and organised reintegration; instead, we have had a number of children who have been with us for 1 – 3 years. Partly that’s down to a shortage of special school places and partly to difficulties in getting readmittance to mainstream. There is also the question of how long it takes to conduct a Special Needs Assessment – typically at least 6 months; and unless it starts early in the Autumn Term you’re unlikely to complete in time to secure a place in special school for the following September.

11- I know from experience that some families are hard to reach, how does your setting encourage parent partnerships?

CAF is helpful. We also had Family Support Workers that liaised between us and the home, but this ended in April when we reorganised. We used to have a nominated Integrated Family Support Team member, but again this has faded back and now we are just referred to the local IFST for such support as they may be able to provide. Our plan is to develop some of our TAs to offer some support for parents and carers; and they are currently being trained by me to take over CAFs, which until recently I’ve run myself.

12 –If you were developing a 5 year plan, what would you like to change or develop in your setting?

a. Radically shake up Special Needs Assessment, to be more like a Formula 1 pit-stop – get the professionals to see the children and write their reports within a few weeks at most. Ideally a Statement should be finished in 4 – 6 weeks, in my opinion. Also, these assessments should be made at the child’s home or mainstream school – not wait till a permanent exclusion.

b. Following from (a), as soon as a Statement is finished, the child is entitled and should begin receiving it in full immediately and with full funding, not languish in a PRU like someone whose plane has been cancelled.

c. Work with primary schools to create Transfer Panels as in secondary schools, who have taken on pupil-swapping and made it a success.

d. More training and support for staff in mainstream schools, to help identify and support children with additional needs.

e. Rethink the curriculum and provide more standardised resources and courses of work. Teachers are spending too much time on the paper side of things and in dread of OFSTED, when their energies should be going into the children.

If we did all the above we would hardly see any children arrive in our PRU. This would be a good thing, as putting children with behavioural difficulties together in one place is like the cross-infection of a doctor’s waiting room.
 
All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy.

The e-University


An extract from a letter sent today to Lord Krebs:

[...]

It would now seem theoretically technically feasible to offer some courses to students in other parts of the country and the world, by electronic means. Potentially, the work of the College could reach larger numbers and also those who might not, for one reason or another (perhaps financial), be able to come to Oxford in person.

Lectures could be transmitted live or recorded for re-broadcast, as the National Theatre now does for dramatic performances (see http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/). The communication could be two-way, with questions and comments submitted by Internet, email and Twitter (like the BBC’s Question Time, for example). Similarly, presentations by teachers at other universities could be made available to Oxford colleagues and students.

Students could be authorized to remotely access the University’s subscriptions to online publications (Times archive, JSTOR etc). (Certain subjects might lend themselves more easily to this approach in the first instance – mathematics, perhaps – as in some other fields access to texts may be more difficult, until such time as everything has been scanned online.)

Reading lists, assignments and much reading and source material could be stored in the Cloud; coursework submitted by Web; teachers and graduate students could offer teaching, comment and support by email, Skype etc.

The potential inherent in the technology could be a Gutenberg revolution in higher education – an “Invisible College” for millions of advanced learners. It would be a far more radical step than the extramural studies currently available; it would be the virtual, interactive presence of far larger numbers of students and researchers than could be physically accommodated in any University, yet learning and being nurtured intellectually in the way that Oxford has fostered for centuries.

Perhaps a start might be made by raising funds for a few e-scholarships for poor but talented individuals in developing countries, such as India and China?

[...]

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Saturday, July 06, 2013

France: John Ward on DIY, "Deliverance" and dog days


We’ve reached that time down here where the very ground beneath you pulsates with heat. Being alone here this year, I’ve taken now and then to dropping into the local Bar Portuguese for a beer. It’s full of swarthy latins – as always cheerful – discussing what they now see as an unavoidable disaster for their homeland. I can walk in and – with my hair and eyes – easily be mistaken for a German. There is an awkwardness, until they realise I’m British – and then everything changes: I am bought obscure Portuguese liquor, and given the sort of welcome usually reserved for Eusebio forty years ago, or Ronaldo today. I mention my passion for Manchester United, and more rounds are bought.

The main problem this consumption could pose is how I get home again. But luckily, there is a short-cut back to the house: I can use it to weave unsteadily back there legally on foot…unless under French law you can be found drunk in charge of yourself. I’d imagine you can’t be.

When it gets this hot and water is in short supply, more make do and mend comes into play. I collect all my bottled water packs and chop off the top and bottom. The main residue is then wrapped around new tree stems, and thus protects them from the attentions of deer…who are buggers for rubbing up against the bark and nibbling at it. If they nibble all the way round, then the young sapling dies in short order.

The top bit of the plastic bottle can be inverted to create a simple channel by the side of herbs and vegetables, and so massively reduce wastage of the water being applied to keep them going. The chopped-off bottom I fill with any stale beer knocking about. Snails are born beerheads and can’t resist it. They get legless, and then drown. Not that they have legs anyway. It’s a figure of speech.

At the top eastern end of the property is the real (as opposed to metaphorical) Slogger’s Roost. There I recycled a couple of pallets from the roof renovation two years ago, using them to create raised beds of flat-leaf parsley the rabbits can’t reach. I’ve also been gradually planting lavender, a rose, and a few shrubs up there. These represent a hopeful attempt to give some fragrance to an area whose main advantage is that first, it’s a long way from the house and offers me peace in which to write; and second, it is sheltered from the wind that can bite in mid-Spring and late Autumn here.

The main point of my little respite is that I achieved an aim in making it: to do so without spending one centime. Everything that went into its creation was recycled and reformed in a new role. But just before midday today, I noticed my least likeable farming neighbours using a crane-grab and chainsaw to slash back the high hedge behind the Roost. To one side of the site I’ve constructed a permanent windbreak out of old tongue and groove we ripped out when renovating the upper floor. In their enthusiasm, the chain saw artists looked about to massacre one of my better creations.

This farming family is, to say the least of it, a bit odd. None of the locals here like them. They have that beaky-nosed, eyes close together appearance of the sinister hillbillies in Deliverance, and there’s a very good reason for this: they’re the product of incest. Try not to be shocked: it’s more common in remote rural areas than you’d imagine. Their mum killed herself five years ago; I remember being horrified when I asked the Mayor why, and he replied with a shrug meant to be self-explanatory, “She drank”.

It’s amazing how often our species thinks that an observation of a symptom is somehow a diagnosis. It didn’t seem to occur to the Mayor that maybe she drank because of depression, or guilt about the incestual sex, or both. But either way, it was with some trepidation that I legged it up to Slogger’s Roost to see if her sons knew of my tongue and groove genius. Yes, they did was the answer…and then five minutes later they demolished the right-hand end of it.

It didn’t take long to fix, so I shouldn’t make a drama out of it. But deepest darkest France consists of far more than the starry-eyed bollocks you see on A Place in the Sun.

Tonight, the Andy Murray syndrome was at work again. The Wimbledon authorities closed the Centre Court roof – after to a lot of Polish whine. It was a fearsome struggle afterwards, but Murray came through in the end. Here by contrast, it is now cooling a little. The fire of late afternoon has dimmed to a mid-evening kissing the skin rather than burning it. The sun makes love to you here in a hundred different ways throughout the day. I’m always grateful for its variety…as every appreciative lover should be.

I may well have to pay in a future life for the good fortune of having a place like this. But as I have grave doubts about reincarnation, I’m not about to get upset about that. I did work very hard to get the house; but then, I know lots of equally talented folks who worked even harder, and didn’t. Humility in such matters is never a bad thing.

By John Ward. Republished by kind permission of the author.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy.