A bad case of crabs

What would be your instinctive reaction upon encountering a 15lb crab measuring 15 inches across? You would consider the future of humankind and immediately deploy a large sledgehammer on the beast's carapace, surely?

Not Weymouth Sea Life Aquarium, who happily fly these monsters halfway around the world to show them off to the British public:

Rob Hicks, head marine biologist for Sea Life, said: "They are such impressive creatures we thought that it was worth the cost and effort of flying them half-way round the world to so they can flourish in an aquarium display."
Hmm, "flourish". That sounds to me very much like "grow even larger". What's wrong with you, man? Haven't you seen the movies?

Readers of a nervous disposition are advised not to view the Daily Mail article on the crab where the perspective makes the crustacean seem over a metre across. You're going to need a bucket of melted butter to tackle that.


SAMs and the Olympics

The MoD is considering siting surface-to-air missiles on top of flats in Tower Hamlets as part of Olympics protection measures. As one might imagine, this has gone down like a lead balloon with the residents:

But estate resident Brian Whelan said firing the missiles "would shower debris across the east end of London".
The journalist said: "At first I thought it was a hoax. I can't see what purpose high-velocity missiles could serve over a crowded area like Tower Hamlets.
Must... restrain... self...

I assume these would be Starstreak LML mounts; these are pretty small missiles (though pack enough of a wallop to take down even the largest plane). Presumably the scenario envisaged is to nail small-to-medium sized suicide planes before they impact the Olympics stadium. Frankly, given the urban density around Tower Hamlets and the Olympics site, if we get as far as having a plane like this within Starstreak range then things have gone pretty pear-shaped already, and it's only a matter of managing where the flaming debris is going to land.

For this reason, I propose moving all major events to the environs of Windsor, so that we can shoot down any offending planes and crash them safely into Slough. At worst this would cause several million pounds worth of urban improvements.


Prudishness in the Grauniad?

I would not have been at all surprised to read this in the Telegraph, but even the Guardian thinks that Abercrombie and Fitch produces too much sexual advertising and is lowering the tone of Savile Row. Reassuringly it finds a racial angle to the whole thing:

It appointed a diversity and inclusion officer to increase the number of non-white employees in its stores, from 10% in 2004 to 53% in 2011, but there have been two recent lawsuits filed by women who alleged they were discriminated against for wearing a hijab.
although in my experience at least half of the employees are hyper-skinny Chinese or half-Asian girls, coupled with extremely well-dressed and well-coordinated young men, who if not actually batting for the other side are certainly fraternising with the enemy; I feel the Grauniad is on rather shaky ground. If you were accusing A+F of being ageist, sizeist, or anti-minger, I'd say you have a slam dunk.

Oppressed customer Andy Pike, however, is spot on:

"It's a loathsome experience," says Andy Pike, 47, a risk analyst for a bank, who leaves with a present for his niece. "It's so contrived, it's overpriced. It was so dark I couldn't tell what colour something was." And the music is so loud! He nods. "That makes us sound really old doesn't it? I'm not the target customer."
Andy, my friend, you should seek out your local Hollister store and spend fifteen minutes there; given the choice, you would dive back into A+F and welcome it.

For the reason why this article was commissioned, look at the opening:

This week a protest was staged to stop it opening a second store – this time selling the Abercrombie childrenswear brand – on the Row itself.
"This is one street in a city full of chain stores and it's not the right place for Abercrombie & Fitch," says Gustav Temple, editor of The Chap magazine ("a journal for the modern gentleman"), who organised the protest.
Ah, the old "they lower the tone" argument. Just buy them out, chaps. If you're not willing to pony up the cash for that then suck it up and stop whining to the newspapers; you can't expect the taxpayer to do it for you. Whiny old farts.


To the stock of mendacious gits we add Will Hutton

Writing in Comment is Free, Mr. Hutton argues that the double-dip recession is all George Osborne's fault, and that if only the government were to spend more freely we wouldn't have this problem.

The first part of his thesis is reasonably defendable, but sadly obvious - of course what is happening is down to George Osborne, he's the Chancellor and has been since May 2010, so after 2 years we can reasonably attribute at least a significant part of Britain's economic performance to his decisions and actions. Fair enough.

Except... except we can't look at what's happening now and say "this is bad, therefore George is at fault". We must look at the alternatives given Osborne's starting position - he didn't exactly inherit an economy overflowing with roses, despite what Hutton claims:

Britain has a very strong public balance sheet. The stock of our national debt, accumulated over decades, is modest compared with other countries and our own past. The rate of interest is the lowest since the 1890s. The debt is exceptionally long term and does not need to be refinanced with any sense of panic. Total debt service costs have been higher for only a few decades over the past 200 years.
True enough, Will. And yet, why is this true? Look at Government bond spreads. The UK is at 2.15%, just off the USA's benchmark at 1.99%. Spend like France and you're at 3% - that's your interest payments just gone up 40%. Spend like Italy or Spain, and you're well over 5.5%. The reason that the markets buy our debt at low yields is precisely because the Government is trying to close the deficit. If we turned the spending taps on, or Ed Miliband looked like he was getting back into power, you'd very quickly see a rise in what we pay. And issue debt we must, because we are still running a primary deficit.

Luckily, Will Hutton can help us out of this mess by stimulating growth:

At bottom Cameron, like Osborne, has a primitive view of what makes capitalism tick. He does not understand the complexity of the inter-relationships between business, business risk, innovation and the state.
I see, Will - and you do understand this complexity? Perhaps Osborne only understands that it is indeed complex, but I'd love to see you make a coherent stab at explaining these inter-relationships in any way that holds up under scrutiny.
He buys wholeheartedly the mantra that what mainly obstructs business is red tape, public sector debt and labour market regulation.
Sounds about right to me. You can argue about whether their obstruction is worth while given the risk mitigation and social improvements that red tape, a high minimum wage and 6% of total 2011 national spending going on debt servicing costs brings, but you have to at least concede that such obstruction takes place.

Ah, Will. You whine about the bad, without any concrete proposals as to what to do to make it better other than "spend more money, I'm smart enough to figure out where". After all, you did such sterling work at The Work Foundation. For a Principal at at Oxford College, you seem to have rather woeful debating skills by leaving such large holes in your arguments that even I can drive through them.

The printer won't scan...

...it's out of ink.

James Lileks (if you're not a regular reader of his Bleats, what's wrong with you?) produces a fantastic Bleat on the subject of his Kodak printer's mutinous refusal to scan:

The only reason the scanner wouldn’t work was because the people who designed it, under orders from management, entered some code that bricked the machine unless you bought more ink.
We all know this. We all know that printers are cheap things designed to sell ink. What surprises me is why printer companies willingly and intentionally make devices they know will make people hate their brands. It’s suicidal.
Read the whole thing.

If we are ever truly going to get to the paperless home or paperless office, I fear much of the progress will be directly attributable to this kind of bloody-minded petty penny-grabbing short-term blind stupidity of the printer companies. When they finally go bankrupt and sink into the mud it will be under the weight of millions of customers dancing on their graves.


Bloody foreigners not keen on bloody foreigners

The first choice of 18% of French voters for President is Marine Le Pen, since Sarko just isn't right wing enough for them. The BBC's take on this is:

France election: Sarkozy seeks key far-right votes
Because, of course, Hollande would quite happy to concede those 18% of voters to Sarko, on top of Sarko's 27% of first choice voters... and it's not like Hollande is going to be shy of seeking the 11% votes of Melenchon who is, by any criteria, pretty far left. Perhaps the headline
France election: Hollande seeks key far-left votes
doesn't fit the narrative...


Talk about bearding the lion...

Alicia Castro, the new Argentine Ambassador to the UK, decides to open her posting by writing an article in the Telegraph declaring that she's fully in favour of jaw-jaw rather than war-war:

My extensive experience, first in the trade union movement, then in parliament and as a diplomat has made me a strong advocate of dialogue and positive negotiations.
and then begins her argument:
The sovereignty dispute between Argentina and the UK is 179 years old. It dates from the time that Great Britain – in much the same way it invaded Buenos Aires in 1806 and 1807 without success – invaded and took the Malvinas Islands by force in 1833.
Oh dear, Alicia. You were doing so well up until then.

Strangely, with all the talk of militarisation and invasion, she only refers tangentially to the war in 1982. Why might that be?

Commentator John DeVries has a solution for Ms. Castro:

Rest assured, as long as Britain remains in the Falklands, the islanders will never attack Argentina or flood it with mutton.
Such is our respect for your country we don't even want payment for this service. We're going to drill for the oil which is in the area, sell it and pay for everything ourselves.
Appoint that man to the post of UK Ambassador to Argentina.

Vote Energetic Ken

I had to check that we hadn't gone back in time a couple of weeks - Ken Livingstone wants your vote because he will set up City Hall as an energy provider:

The former mayor signalled he was prepared to fight companies if they tried to block his vision of running an energy co-operative within the Greater London Authority to cut household energy bills by an average of £130 a year.
Because one of the first things City Hall looks for in its recruitment is expertise in the energy markets. Right? It's obvious there must be hundreds of pounds per consumer just lying around for the taking.

How is he going to achieve this feat?

Livingstone is confident he can offer cheaper energy to Londoners by exploiting a Transport for London contract which allows it to buy energy at "half the price" of a domestic consumer.
Umm. There are what, 6 million people in Greater London? Assume 2 million households, and that Ken supplies 20% of them. Average minimum energy consumption at 0.5kW in the summer (fridge, computer, TV). That's 200MW, or about 30% of the output of Medway gas-fired power station. And Ken thinks he can get that amount of energy at half price? Good luck.

Commentator jonbryce makes a point that has perhaps been overlooked:

So he buys this energy and gets it delivered to a London Underground substation. How does he plan to get it from there to peoples' homes? That costs money to transport it over the local grid network.
It does raise some questions about exactly what that TfL contract says; I find it entirely conceivable that the delivery endpoints are specified for exactly this reason. Surely Ken can't be making promises that he could never actually keep?


Weisbrot is a mendacious weasel

I've been enjoying Mark Weisbrot's piece in the Guardian about how Argentina's renationalisation of YPF is perfectly sensible and valid. It's a treasure trove of mutually contradicting statements. For instance:

When the government defaulted on its debt at the end of 2001 and then devalued its currency a few weeks later, it was all doom-mongering in the media. The devaluation would cause inflation to spin out of control, the country would face balance of payments crises from not being able to borrow, the economy would spiral downward into deeper recession.
A favourable balance of trade has been very important to Argentina since its default in 2001. Because the government is mostly shut out of borrowing from international financial markets, it needs to be careful about having enough foreign exchange to avoid a balance of payments crisis.
Oh look! it seems that defaulting on debt does have significant long-term economic consequences after all. Who'd have thought? Apparently not Weisbrot.

He has no doubt about the underlying problem:

There are sound reasons for this move [the renationalisation], and the government will most likely be proved right once again. Repsol, the Spanish oil company that currently owns 57% of Argentina's YPF, hasn't produced enough to keep up with Argentina's rapidly growing economy.
According to Weisbrot, Repsol clearly is refusing to make as much money as it otherwise could. This is interesting, because if true then its shareholders should be trying to fire its management. His solution is to get the government involved in the oil+gas prospecting and producing business. What could possibly go wrong?

Commentator peacefulmilitant picks up Weisbrot on one of his comments:

"Mexico nationalised its oil in 1938, and, like a number of Opec countries, doesn't even allow foreign investment in oil."
Because Mexico's oil production has skyrocketed from 2004 to 2011, right? In fact in light of the standards set by the state owned Mexican oil company (Pemex) the output of YPF looks positively fantastic.

But to answer Mark's central question:

So why the outrage against Argentina's decision to take – through a forced purchase – a controlling interest in what for most of the enterprise's history was the national oil company?
Well, there's that word 'was', Mark. According to Wikipedia: "YPF was privatized in 1993 and bought by the Spanish firm Repsol". So the Argentine government sold YPF to Repsol, which made it (according to most property laws) Repsol's possession, no longer Argentina's. There's a word for taking what's not yours, Mark; do you know what it is? Repsol's shares fell by 9% on the news of the renationalisation, which implies (given a current market cap of 20bn Euro) it lost 2bn Euro of value on the renationalisation.

I do wonder if Argentina has shot itself in the foot somewhat here. In the (currently rather unlikely) event that it were to acquire the Falklands (or, as they are known in America, the "Maldives"), what firms would be willing to do the oil prospecting and production in the Falklands waters if this means an economic partnership with Argentina?

Update: How interesting, I'd missed this tidbit. The Economist has ceased publishing official Argentina inflation figures:

The Economist magazine has ceased publishing price statistics provided by Argentina's national statistical agency INDEC, on the grounds that these official figures are subject to political manipulation and lack credibility.
The exclusion reflects widely-held concern both inside and outside Argentina that INDEC's figures understate dramatically the real rate of inflation. For instance, while INDEC's current figure for inflation is 9.7%, independent observers put the true figure at between 24-30%.
Mark Weisbrot, any comment?


Ken Livingstone in principled stand shocker

Ken arguing that Bin Laden should not have been shot:

"I was appalled to see Osama bin Laden in his pyjamas shot dead in front of his kid," Mr Livingstone said. "The best way to demonstrate the values of a western democracy is you put Osama bin Laden on trial, you challenge what he says. My parents’ generation gave the best years of their lives to establish these values. We should never erode them.”

Now, the more cynical among you may think that this is a naked attempt to appeal to the Muslim voters in London ahead of the mayoral elections. Honestly, I'm not so sure. For starters, I can't believe that any significant fraction of Osama bin Laden sympathisers are going to vote Boris, unless they want to demonstrate a hitherto-unknown sense of humour. So Ken has their votes in the bag already. All this statement is going to do for Ken's electoral prospects is turn away potential voters who don't like Boris, could just about stomach Ken as a Labour candidate, but really don't feel that bin Laden deserved anything better than cranial ventilation via a 5.56mm round or two.

Given that, I can only deduce that Ken believes this to be true and isn't afraid to say so. You have to admire the man for his idealism. Contrast to Boris, who in his book of collected columns "Have I Got Views for You" notes that if bin Laden had got accidentally-on-purpose whacked in a cave in Tora Bora by a member of the UK armed forces that most of the UK population would conclude "it couldn't happen to a nicer guy". But, honestly, I think the latter view should prevail in a spirit of brutal pragmatism.


Katy Perry made my day

Not a phrase I ever expected to write, but it comes from Katy's new video Part of Me where she runs away from a no-good cheating boyfriend to join the USMC. Entertaining enough if you like that kind of thing, though not something I'd normally blog (except to nitpick that I'm sure her Gunnery Sergeant Major would make her cut her hair a lot shorter than in the video).

Except... it seems that Katy has really got Naomi Wolf's goat:

The whole videography of the scenes at Camp Pendleton – in which Perry crawls through an imaginary minefield, trains underwater, learns she can do the impossible, etc – is straight out of Leni Riefenstahl: the same angled, heroizing upward shots, the same fetishization of physical power, of gleaming armaments, and of the rigor and mechanism of human beings cohering into living militarized units.
I'm not sure Leni would have focused on the mud quite so much. That log carrying, being shouted at, bayonetting, buddy carrying, range shooting, getting wet and sandy lying in the surf and standing neck-deep in water in body armour looks rather uncomfortable and unglamorous to me, and the armaments all looked pretty camo'd; any gleam would draw the attention of snipers for half a mile around. I guess Naomi wouldn't recognise glamour if it bit her on the arse.

My "rant" was portrayed on Fox News as anti-Marine, "military-hating" and unpatriotic. A backlash seeded itself across military websites, and I got plenty of hate mail, ranging from epithets like "commie", to, randomly enough in this context, "lezzie".
Unusually, I'd say Fox News pretty much nailed it. I'm sure the mail abuse was unnecessary, but really Naomi what did you expect?

Naomi, I can wholeheartedly recommend that you view the trailer for Act of Valor or better yet rent the film itself when it comes out. If that doesn't make your head explode, I don't know what would.

[If you liked the Katy Perry video, you'll love mixed martial arts practitioner Tim Kennedy's spoof.]

A short prediction

If I were Greg Smith's publisher, I would have taken note that Goldman Sachs will be publishing their Q1 results on Tuesday 17th April and be making my publicity plans accordingly. I'd say that if Greg wants to maximise the sales of his book, he should be targetting this week for release.

If GS follow JP Morgan's rebound in business then the usual suspects will be bleating loudly about bankers' profits at the expense of the 99%. If instead they follow Citigroup's fall in profits then there's going to be a considerable amount of schadenfreude and "could this be the end?" speculation. Both of these are a great environment into which to release the book.


Every man for himself?

An analysis of 18 major maritime incidents reveals that only 17.8 percent of the women survived versus 34.5 percent of the men. Does that mean that chivalry is dead? The Daily Mail certainly seems to think so.

It's not quite that simple, though gender is certainly playing a role:

Savage affirmed that given the Lusitania was under water in just 17 minutes, a stark contrast with the two-and-a-half hours it took to floor the Titanic, that passengers instinct won out as they raced for the lifeboats.
Those that managed to swim to them were rescued, increasing the chances of men surviving as many women were responsible for their children.
That's part of the discrepancy: if you are responsible for one or more small people, you're going to be much slower to get to the lifeboats

Indeed, getting to a lifeboat is going to be the dominant discriminator of survival in nearly any maritime disaster. Except for the tropical seas, being immersed in sea water for half an hour or so without an immersion suit is going to ensure that hypothermia nails you. Being able to climb from the water onto debris will depend on upper body strength, where men are at a distinct advantage.

I would be very interested to see results like these grouped in ranges of sea temperature; I would expect that you'd see a sharp up-tick in female survival rates as immersion became more survivable and swimming survivors were able to swim to and climb aboard life rafts or debris. It would also be interesting to see cases where very few lifeboats were present - the greater percentage of body fat in the average woman vs average man should keep them alive longer in the water, although I wonder if it would make much difference given that help probably wouldn't arrive within half an hour in many incidents.

As an example of a modern sinking without lifeboats in a cold sea, the Herald of Free Enterprise capsize at Zeebrugge makes for interesting analysis. It capsized 90 seconds after leaving harbour, making swimming a feasible escape strategy (if thrown into the water - half the ship was still above water after the 90 degree capsize). 150 of the 450 passengers and 38 of the 80 crew died; I have not been able to find a gender or age breakdown of these numbers, and it would be very interesting to find one.

It's notable that in this accident no lifeboats were deployed - only lifejackets were used. Collections of lifejackets bobbing to the surface formed impromptu liferafts. Most fatalities were people trapped in the ship and either drowned or killed by hypothermia in 3 degree C water. The accident investigation notes that the difficulties in climbing out of submerging parts of the ship were significant, since climbing ability is again generally greater in men than women, and greater in younger people than older.

The gritty details of the incident are covered in the Department of Transport report (4.5Mb PDF).


To have and to hold, to love and to stab

Even Jesus himself would surely be impressed at the "turn the other cheek" actions of Gregory Todd, who proposed to the woman who sank a kitchen knife deep into his back:

Outside the courtroom, Mr Todd said he accepted the judge had to send Baillie to prison and praised him for his leniency.
He said he was not allowed to go down into the cells at Hull Crown Court to show her the ring.
But he said his barrister took it to Baillie and he was relieved to be told that it fitted her.

How sweet... Perhaps it was mostly an accident?

The jury was told how Mr Todd suffered serious injuries, including damage to his colon, a kidney and his pancreas, after Baillie plunged a kitchen knife into his back, probably while he was asleep on a bed.
Oh, perhaps not.

I'd like to wish Gregory and Tiffany every happiness together (once Tiffany is freed from her 3 year sentence for GBH with intent). What could possibly go wrong?


Ethnicity and voting in the UK

A very interesting analysis by Gideon Skinner at Ipsos Mori on ethnicity of voters as a predictor of voting intent. The basic facts laid out aren't terribly controversial - ethnic minorities tend to vote towards Labour - though I was surprised to read that they tend to be less likely to vote in the aggregate. I would have liked to see more discussion of how "British Asian" splits down - I can imagine voters of Indian and Chinese origin being very different to voters from Pakistan or Bangladesh.

Gideon makes his most telling point last:

As the last London Mayoral election showed, despite Labour's very strong performance among ethnic minority voters, it wasn't enough to win Livingstone the election, and to exaggerate the differences would underplay the extent to which they share many of their concerns with white voters, and are influenced by similar things. In fact, just like any other voter, taking them for granted would be the worst thing to do.

I'd go one step further, however. I would say that the biggest problem that any given minority group could have politically is when they are seen as being a "safe vote" for some candidate Mr. X. That candidate need not make many (if any) real political concessions to that group's desires, since at worst a fraction of them will merely withhold their vote. Only in the unusual circumstance of widespread disillusionment at Mr. X, coupled with a new party more radically targetted at that group's grievances, will be enough to impact Mr. X severely. George Galloway's recent election in Bradford West at Labour's expense is a case in point - a headline precisely because of the unusual result.

Worse, the opposition candidate Mrs. Y will be disinclined to spend much of her political capital wooing voters from the group, because of the perceived great effort required to detach any significant fraction of the group's voters from Mr. X. The great irony, then is that if you are a minority group and you want political representation, you need to be politically diverse, not unified. Diversity in all things!


Rosatom wants to build UK nuke plants

After RWE and E.ON backed out of building new UK nuclear plant, the future of UK nuclear power generation was looking pretty bleak.

Not to worry! The Russian state atomic energy agency Rosatom is looking to acquire a stake in Horizon which E.ON and RWE are selling, claiming that they are totally down with building the UK's next generation of reactors:

Sergey Novikov, Rosatom's Director of Communications, told The Daily Telegraph: "The British market is potentially attractive for Rosatom. Rosatom can give all guarantees that the construction of a NPP [nuclear power plant] in the UK will meet absolutely all international safety requirements and International Atomic Energy Agency standards."
Sergey, my old chum, I've no doubt that you believe this to be true. But, really, "safety engineering" and "Russia" are not two phrases that you would normally expect to occur in the same sentence. As an example, I offer you today's XKCD cartoon on the oceanic depths where its author Randall Munroe mentions in passing the Kola Borehole where the Russians drilled over 12km into the Earth's crust, essentially just to see what would happen. Munroe notes "Russians are awesome" which is true enough, but do you really want these engineers building nuclear plant anywhere near where you live? Note that I have the class not to mention a certain Ukraine-based reactor where they turned off all the safety features before running an overload test in 1986.

What could possibly go wrong? (And this is before considering the political aspects: where does a lot of UK gas currently come from?)


Not great news for working Germans

Germany has realised that it has a demographic problem and is actually trying to do something about it. You have to give Angela a certain amount of props for at least tackling the issue.

The approach is quite straight forward:

Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats have drafted proposals that, if law, would require all those over 25 to pay a proportion of their income to cushion Germany against a looming population crisis.
The German Chancellor's ruling party is seeking extra sources of revenue to pay for soaring pensions and bills for social care costs as Germany's "baby boomer" generation ages amid a decline in the birth rate.
I can see that this will at least make an impact on the forthcoming financial crisis, but I'm not sure it's going to be enough; actually, I am sure that it won't be anything like enough. The tax targeting is quite smart - don't tax the youngsters who are just starting work, and tax a proportion of income rather than a flat rate - but I can see the same problem occurring here as with anywhere else in Europe. Working schmucks will pay more and more money to fund the existing pensioners, in return for smaller and smaller benefits themselves as pensions are progressively trimmed.

At some point, even the traditionally stalwart working German is going to reach the limit of his or her tolerance of unfairness, and put a stop on the ratcheting tax increases. Angela is only postponing the time when Government will need to renege on the promises made to current and future pensioners. When that happens, the reverberations will make the current Greek riots look like afternoon tea at Claridge's.


Penny under a taxi

Actor, Canadian and all-round nice guy Ryan Gosling has saved a young lady from being crushed to death under the wheels of a New York City taxi (the "Yellow Peril" for anyone daring to venture off the sidewalks, or indeed within a couple of feet of the kerb). Good man, Ryan!

Unfortunately, the lady concerned was none other than the Guardian's Laurie 'Red' Penny. Oh, Ryan. Of all the ladies in NYC you could have saved, you pick Laurie Penny?

[Lest anyone accuse me of wishing Laurie ill, I should point out that in any dispute between Laurie P and a taxi, my money is firmly on the Guardian journo. The taxi driver would have been lucky to escape with his life.]

Even Penny found the whole thing too much eventually:

EVERYBODY NEEDS TO CALM DOWN ABOUT RYAN GOSLING NOW. ... No seriously. My phone and email have been going crazy with media requests all night and all morning and it's getting silly now.


Network Rail fines

So Network Rail has been fined £4mm for negligence resulting in the Grayrigg crash.


Except, isn't Network Rail taxpayer-funded? So where's this money coming from? What employees or shareholder in Network Rail will receive a total of £4mm less this year as a result?

"Where failings are found those at fault will be held to account and the entire rail industry must continue to strive for improvements to ensure that public safety is never put at a similar risk again."
Mmm. "Held to account". I do not think those words mean what you think they mean.


Watching the Greg Smith story with interest

Friday's Reuters bulletin that Greg Smith from Goldman Sachs has landed a book deal confirms my earlier prediction about Smith's likely future. I should hope that by now he's got the first draft banged out and is working his way through the editorial process - time is money. My finger-in-the-air estimate is that they'll announce a release date and maybe serialise a chapter in the second half of April. Time is money.

For anyone who hasn't already read Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis, I strongly recommend doing so before Smith's new book is released. It will be instructive to compare Salomon Brothers in the 80's with Goldman Sachs in the Noughties. Smith and Lewis have a surprising amount in common - joining the firm more or less straight from university, belonging to a London branch of a USA-based bank, and eventually resigning rather than being fired or head-hunted away. Both GS and Salomon were going through turbulent times in the media when their employee left, and it's notable that Liar's Poker was acknowledged by many as being instrumental in the downfall of Salomon's CEO Gutfreund - Gutfreund himself confessed as much to Lewis when they eventually met, as Lewis notes in "The Big Short". One can only speculate as to whether Smith will be enjoying such a lunch with Lloyd Blankfein in 20 years time.

I remain sceptical that Smith can write as well as Lewis, whose books and articles I would rate rather highly. Still, let's see what the chap can come up with.


Railway engineering - a new challenge

I periodically give Network Rail (or whatever it's called this week) a hard time, and the proposed £30bn+ London-to-Birmingham rail link is economically daft, but today I have to concede that our transatlantic cousins have us beat.

For those of you not following West Coast USA news, the state of California has been planning a high-speed railway link from San Francisco to LA, a journey of 500+ miles. The link will eventually goes from San Francisco itself down to central LA, but the first stretch to be funded will run in the central valley from Modesto through Bakersfield down to Burbank on the coast.

Note that even this first stretch will be horrendously expensive (in the tens of billions of $ even on the current and therefore wildly optimistic plan) and will have no chance of any significant revenue because many of the central valley towns are bankrupt or near bankruptcy, and hence have very few rich business commuters willing to pay significant sums to be able to commute by rail.

Who's going to use this link even when it's complete? Even a 125mph rail link will take 4 hours to travel LA to SFO, best case, and that assumes it doesn't stop anywhere. You can fly the distance in an hour, which will cap the potential ticket prices, and travellers have a wider choice of airport destinations each end than the single railway station endpoints.

I also invite my readers to inspect the current 7-day map of earthquakes \ in the California-Nevada region, and consider the likely impact of a nearby 4+ magnitude quake (which occurs maybe once a month in the Bay Area) on a precisely engineered high-speed railway link.