Saturday, 28 January 2012

RBS: Hester's Bonus

Any road up so though but. This bloke Stephen Hester has been awarded a bonus of £963K of shares in the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) on top of his £1.2 million salary.  So this bonus is only worth something to him if and when he sells the shares. Should he ever claim welfare benefits, they will be counted as an asset nonetheless so his claim would not succeed, £16,000 being the upper limit for means-tested benefits (there's a sliding scale of deductions for savings between £6,000 and £16,000). 
What is not clear, however, is what Hester has done to earn a bonus whether in cash or shares. He's closed some branches; he's selling some to Santander; he's cut staff numbers and reorganised things here and there. But that's just part of his normal everyday job anyway. Surely a bonus should be related to having done something extra, above and beyond what you're being paid £1.2 million in salary to do in any case? *
I suppose now that he has the shares he has an incentive to increase their value or at least maintain it rather than allow the price to fall. So, in a sense, he has an incentive not to screw up - but he till gets his £1.2 million and he never had the £963K in cash anyway so it wouldn't be much of a loss when all's said and done. Hester still has his house in Holland Park, London; his 350 acre estate in Oxfordshire; and a chalet in Verbier, Switzerland so what's £963K?
Meanwhile, of course, we are told that if bankers don't get a bonus they will go elsewhere and deploy their inestimable talents to someone else's benefit. Fair enough, goodbye and good luck! There are 2.8 million unemployed in the UK - I wouldn't mind betting that at least one of them will have some idea how to close branches, reduce staff numbers and sell off assets and who will do the job for half what Heston is getting.
* Since Hester has been in charge, RBS has lost £3.6 billion in 2009 and £1.13 billion in 2010. Meanwhile his total 'remuneration package' has been £35.54m since joining the bank in 2008. That year, when the then Labour government bailed out RBS, Mr Hester was awarded £4.99m in restricted shares, forgoing pay and bonuses. In 2009, his package was worth £6.9m. In 2010, his total package rose to £8.16m. Last year, the total was £8.08m, including a long-term incentive plan (LTIP) worth £4.8m, bonus £1.66m and salary and pension contributions. For 2012, the total figure is £7.38m – including LTIP worth £4.8m, his bonus of £963,000 and £420,000 pension contributions and £1.2m salary. No doubt he'll get a Knighthood as well at some point.
Addendum: Hester has been persuaded by the malodour surrounding this episode to waive his £963K shares bonus. It seems this is more to do with the distraction it is causing for him and his pals than to an acceptance that he hasn't actually done anything very much to deserve the bonus. He will still receive the rest of his 'remuneration package' for the year, £6.42 million.

Margaret Thatcher

Thursday, 26 January 2012

I Saw The Light

Another reminder of the existence of Todd Rundgren, here performing with his pal Daryl Hall. Looks like they might be in Hawaii...

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Mick Jagger Walks Out

The NME reports that Mick Jagger has withdrawn from a tea party to which he was invited by David Cameron in Davos, Switzerland. Sir Jagger has belatedly realised that Cameron was using him to give himself some 'hip' credibility on the pretext that Jagger would be helping to promote Great Britain. Ole Jumpin' Jack Flash says he has always maintained an apolitical stance publicly and steered well clear of party politics which is true enough but you'd have thought he would have smelled a rat beforehand on receiving an invitation to a tea party from the likes of Cameron. I can't imagine anyone in their right mind wanting to be tainted by such association. But Sir Flash has always been a great one for mixing with those in high places and no doubt his ego felt good to be asked to be part of the gathering of the overblown plutocrats and self-appointed global business elite at the World Economic Forum where this shindig is taking place. Coincidentally, The Stones will be celbrating their 50th Anniversary this year.
Our picture shows Keith Richards' reaction to the news.

The Banker, the Daily Mail reader, and the Benefit Recipient

A correspondent in the Letters Page of today's Independent quotes the following joke to sum up current Government policy:
An investment banker, a Daily Mail reader and a benefit recipient are sitting round a plate with 12 biscuits on it. The banker takes 11 biscuits, then turns to the Daily Mail reader and says: “Watch out – that scrounger is after your biscuit.”
You could replace the words 'Daily Mail reader' with the name David Cameron or any of his jumped-up Tory half-wit colleagues, all of whom seem to be similarly deliberately ignorant and unable or unwilling to see where the problem actually lies. As the letter writer points out, they should be asking where the eleven biscuits went.

The Beach Boys Soulful Old Man Sunshine

I discovered this rare Beach Boys song via The Guardian's blog about 'old music'. It was recorded in 1969 but didn't surface until 1998 as an album track on the soundtrack for the 'Endless Harmony' documentary. You can tell why it wasn't released at the time as it shows all the signs of the backing track having been recorded by session musicians in a different place and different time from when the vocals were recorded. Plus there are a couple of fluffs, and the mix ain't right. If only they'd gone back to it and recorded a polished up version! Lead vocals are by Carl Wilson and show why it might be better for the remaining Beach Boys not to be planning a 50th Anniversary album and tour. It won't sound anywhere near as good or vibrant.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Return of the Son of Entanglification Runs Amok

Maxwell's Demons have been up to their old tricks again. I'm sure there were only two things plugged in last night.

Grimshaw v. Earth

Yer man Atkinson Grimshaw is good but sometimes the Earth does its thing and some lucky chap with a camera is there to record it. Picture taken in Yosemite in the Autumn via the Los Angeles Times, where there's zillions more snaps of nature's wondrousness. If it weren't for all those flipping Americans it would be perfect.
Let's hope they don't discover oil.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Tom Braggins Band: Live at the Spice of Life

Last Saturday evening saw The Tom Braggins Band topping the bill at The Spice of Life pub/music venue in Soho, featuring our Phil on the drums and making it sound right. Mr Braggins on guitar and vocal and the inestimable Chris Eldred on keyboards.  Here's a picture of them setting up (taken by Phil hence he's not in the photo). A full house and they went down a storm!
The album Simple Things (produced, engineered and made possible by Phil) is available at iTunes for  £6.99. A solo acoustic album by Mr Braggins is in the pipeline. Also on Spotify, Facebook, MySpace, and so forth.
Mr Eldred is also a member of The National Youth Jazz Orchestra and is available for weddings, bar mitzvahs etc. He too can be found on MySpace.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Politics: New Words

The Coalition Government has been 'in power' for 21 months now and in that time we have learned some new words to describe what they are up to. Here's half a dozen:
  • Mispledge - Anything Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, might have said prior to a minute ago.
  • Undeforestationageness - The somewhat embarrassing state in which Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, found herself having belatedly realised what a chump she was to propose selling off publicly owned forests and woodlands without first checking whether anyone else thought it was a good idea.
  • Futtock - The shape of the imprint left in the sofa after Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has been sitting on it.
  • Gove - A 'Big Idea' that some pranny or other (usually Michael Gove), mysteriously elevated beyond his level of competence, comes up with and to which everyone responds with disbelief, speechlessness and a frown before then setting out in some detail why it is a load of old cobblers and inviting the proposer to 'Shut up you twit'.
  • Vacuosity - A statement of policy, spouted forth from David Cameron, in which he says that something or other is a problem and he is going to do something about it but he doesn't say what exactly that might be, nor does anything subsequently materialise.
  • Dysastatistificated - The misleading use and manipulation of statistics in order to substantiate a prejudged position. Particularly popular with immigration Ministers, employment Ministers and other bigots.
Further contributions welcome.

Credit Default Swaps

The Greek 'Government' is currently negotiating with its creditors in the financial sector for a writ-off of part of its debts. The Eurozone (i.e. Germany and France) suggested this should be 50% but the creditors are trying to reduce this and the Greeks are trying to increase it, hence the delay. But agreement has to be reached before the cash bailout from the Eurozone can be released. So there's a bit of brinkmanship going on. If Greece doesn't get the cash bailout, then Greece will default on its loans and the creditors lose, but the creditors don't want to give up more than they have to. The deadline is the end of next week sometime. The idea is that Greece gives its creditors new bonds which are worth less than the existing ones, and the bailout money buys them back.
But an ironic twist in this little fandango is that much of the Greek debt has been bought up by so-called hedge funds at a discount and the hedge funds have taken out Credit Default Swaps (CDS) to cover themselves in case Greece does default. What the hedge funds are doing is insuring themselves against a loss, although a CDS isn't exactly insurance. The buyer has to pay for them (single premium or a series of payments) but the seller carries out no actuarial risk calculation and the payout is not related to actual losses but is for the amount initially negotiated. So if you are a hedge fund with a CDS against a debt owed by Greece you get your money back - and perhaps more - whatever happens. So they are negotiating to see how much more than the original debt they can screw out of the situation. 
Now comes the weird bit. What the seller of a CDS does is hedge his bets by buying a CDS (or several) against his prospective loss, from someone else. And that person does likewise so that we end up with a chain of CDS arrangements that payout if Greece defaults or pays back less than it owes. Moreover, anyone else can buy a CDS against the Greece debt even if they are not a creditor (i.e. they don't actually own the debt). I fail to see how this can be a good thing. Everybody is betting against themselves and each other until eventually one financial institution or another gets lumbered with the bill - and I wouldn't mind betting that it will be the European Central Bank or IMF which are ultimately funded by.... you and me. And that's (amongst other things) how the credit crunch happened. And Greece gets off scot free.
It's all a bit like something from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. As the Duchess said to Alice:
“... never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise." The financial sector is indeed 'being what it seems'.
But never mind. David Cameron assures us that he and his chums in the Conservative Party understand all this and so he's best placed to fix it.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Army Surplus

The public expenditure cuts mean that the armed forces are having to take their share of redundancies, and make the money stretch further. One result of this is that the Ministry of Defence has a lot of surplus kit - boots, trousers, tunics, belts and even a Lightning jet (although without its engines).
You can see what's on offer at the Disposal Services Authority website and there's a link to their main contractor The-Outdoor.
A fold-away shovel for £15; a desert ops waistcoat with zillions of pouches for grenades, pistols etc for £45 (pictured); and a rigid raiding craft (a boat) for £3,240; and many more.
Sadly for the would-be revolutionary, nut job or terrorist, no guns and ammo or weapons of mass destruction are included.


Phew. Students, political researchers and journalists in the UK and USA can breathe a sigh of relief today as their central resource Wikipedia comes back on line after a 24-hour shut down in protest at the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) currently being considered by the USA legislature. No doubt there were a number of crises in schools and colleges throughout the land as students found they couldn't do their homework. Let's hope teachers and tutors were understanding.
Now that Wikipedia is back you can find out what SOPA is all about and why Wikipedia, Google, Reddit, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Facebook and many more are against it. See also The Guardian for a two-minute explanatory video. But the fact that Rupert Murdoch got excited about it tells you all you need to know - he and his ilk want to control the internet and make loadsamoney from it - see a report at Forbes.
So any road up though but, this legislation seeks to stop so-called 'internet piracy' but the problem with it is that it is a tad draconian in its reach and in terms of penalties. Most importantly for a democracy, it goes against the concept of what Americans call 'due process' i.e. innocent until proved guilty etc. The legislation would allow a copyright holder to make an allegation and would require the internet provider to shut your website down without giving you a chance either to remove the content or to challenge the allegation. And offenders could get sent to prison for five years, which seems a bit harsh. Domain names would be erased, and innovation would be stifled. It's a badly written bit of legislation which won't in any case stop the determined pirates and the Senators and Congressmen need to think again and draft something a bit more sensible. There's worse crimes, and bigger problems, than breach of copyright that Government should be sorting out and it's not as if copyright holders don't already have legal remedies available to them.
Meanwhile, it's interesting how Murdoch and his ilk are all in favour of free markets until it means they might be losing out as a result. And as for the record companies and film corporations, you wouldn't meet a bigger bunch of shysters, thieves and double-crossers outside the banking industry.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Ahoy There!

When I heard that The World's Greatest Twit, Michael Gove, had proposed that the nation should give HM Queen a new royal yacht as a present for her golden jubilee, I thought at first that Gove had finally lost his marbles completely and would shortly be keel-hauled. But as the story has unfolded, we discover that it's not just Gove; there has been a lobbying campaign going on for several months. And now even David Cameron has come on board. Although Downing St has refuted any suggestions that it should be funded by the taxpayer there remains the notion floating around that it might be paid for by 'public subscription' or donations. (They probably mean the National Lottery Heritage Fund.)
You have to wonder what planet these people think they are on.
It is reported that Prince Charles and Princess Anne think it's a good idea. Well of course they do - free cruises for them and their families. But does El Queenie want a yacht for herself? She's 86, her old man is threatening to pop his clogs any moment and by the time the thing is built and operational both of them are likely to be totally decrepit if not feeding the fish in Davy Jones' Locker. But I suspect the idea is not to provide a like-for-like replacement for HM's old Royal Britannia, but merely to hijack the buzz around HM's Jubilee and apply it to an already existing project, and thus to raise funds - from wherever.
The scurvy knave behind the dastardly plan is Rear Admiral David Bawtree, the central figure promoting something called The University of the Oceans. The Big Idea dates back almost twenty years. Essentially, it is to build a sail training ship crewed variously by "about 2,000 (fee-paying) young people each year, from all walks of life, to enjoy the benefits of adventure training under sail whilst at the same time assisting with national and international events." The ship might also be used for research, and Admiral Bawtree figured ahaarr, why don't we bung in a couple of VIP suites and it can be a Royal Yacht as well! So the crafty devil enlisted the help of his local MP David Willetts who put the idea to the Cabinet, and Midshipman Gove has subsequently endorsed it. Whether or not Prince Charles, Princess Anne or HM Queenie quite realise they would be sloshing about in the aft quarters of a sailing ship crewed by apprentices, rather than relaxing in the luxury of a mini-ocean liner, is not clear.

Mysteriously Funny Gorilla

Here's a joke that made me laugh:
This guy takes a gorilla out golfing. At the first tee the gorilla says, “So what am I supposed to do?” The guy says, “You see that green area about 400 yards from here? You’re supposed to hit the ball onto that.” So the gorilla takes a club and whacks the ball and it soars up into the sky and drops down neatly on the green. The guy tees off and makes about 150 yards, so he hits an iron shot and then another iron shot and finally they arrive at the green. The gorilla says, “What do I do now?” The guy says, “Now you hit it into that cup.” The gorilla says, “Why didn’t you tell me that back there?”
This wouldn't be particularly funny if instead of a gorilla it had been another person, or even the Archbishop of Canterbury. It's funny because it's a gorilla. But why is it funny because it's a gorilla?

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Eric Clapton: Those Rich and Famous Blues Again

One's mental image of a tax dodger is generally that of some fat cat banker, executive, oligarch or exploiter of child labour. But, of course, they are not the only ones at it. Not surprisingly, anyone with  loadsamoney is up to these kind of tricks, not least guitar whizz Eric 'Slowhand' Clapton. He channels his loot through a company called Marshbrook, from which he pays himself a salary and, occasionally, a dividend. Marshbrook's revenue last year was £12 million but the company made an overall loss of £924,225 so I guess there'll be no UK Corporation Tax to pay. How did Marshbrook lose money? Well, through Marshbrook Eric owns a yacht which can be rented for £179,000 per week (it's quite flashy, with a crew of 13). But the yacht renting business hasn't been good recently so the yacht has been losing Eric's company a fair whack, and Marshbrook has had to pay taxes overseas of £482,000. Meanwhile, Marshbrook paid Eric a salary of £3.98 million so he's not about to start pawning his guitars yet; and he presumably has to pay UK income tax on that unless he's somehow got himself classified as not resident in the UK. Maybe he lives on the yacht while it's not being rented. No wonder concert ticket prices are so high these days.
Eric is not a complete crook, however. He did pay £10 million in tax arrears in 2004 - whilst paying himself £11 million salary. See This Is Money.

Ludwig van Saxhoven

And many more at Worth 1000

Spike Jones for President

There a few better ways to spend a morning when you've got a million things to do, you're miles behind on everything and you don't know where to start, than to watch videos of Spike Jones and His City Slickers.
If only he were alive today. I'd vote for him to be the next President in a flash - he could spot talent, organise, arrange, have original ideas and adapt to changing circumstances. And have a laugh. A funny guy rather than the current crop of nut jobs seeking the nomination!
Here's one to get you started:

David Bowie: Nobody's Perfect

The Thin White Twit in a Hat and Baggy Trousers.
A creative and original talent and a particular genius for re-inventing himself and rediscovering his muse. But occasionally he gets it wrong and he ends up looking completely silly.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Atkinson Grimshaw

You've probably never heard of Atkinson Grimshaw, the Victorian painter. Me neither until a couple of weeks ago when by chance I came upon a review of an exhibition of his work at the Guildhall Gallery in the City of London. He was a self-taught artist who specialised in paintings, mostly of landscapes, which feature sky and, in particular, moonlit sky. He had a very fine knack of capturing luminescence and reflections of light, and of detailed perspective. At the time he was working (1860 to 1893) he was not considered by the cognoscenti to be quite pukkah because he worked from photographs and, occasionally, painted on photographs. But he developed his own techniques and methods of working and he was prolific - at his peak he was producing an average of one painting per week. How he managed to do this and maintain quality is a mystery as he kept no journals or detailed records. Grimshaw did attempt portraits and so forth and although these were adequate, they are nowhere near as good as his moonlit skies or yellow dusks.
The exhibition was very well done, with over sixty paintings from various collections and they even provided a free guided tour. The Guildhall being part of the City of London Corporation reeks of money, and it contains a nice surprise; in the basement of the building are the remains of a Roman amphitheatre found when building commenced in 1988. So its full marks to the Guildhall. Sorry, but the exhibition closed today. Perhaps it will move elsewhere. Meanwhile here's one of Mr Grimshaw's finest.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Unlucky for some!

Working lunch for employees of Xorg Intergalactic today at the calorie-tastic Ed's Diner.
Fabmary indulging in a chilli cheese burger and our CEO devouring a Blues Burger, a huge burger with a huge slab of blue cheese in the middle.
A spiffing selection of revived 45s on the juke box. And our esteemed CEO is just finishing his third mug of coffee...
Now moving on to an exhibition to examine the merits of otherwise of world famous Victorian artisan Atkinson Grimshaw.
Dark rum and chocolate milkshake. Yumsville.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Och Aye The Noo or Not

It's not often that I agree with David Cameron but I think he has a point lurking within all his bluster about holding a referendum on Scottish independence. The Scottish National Party should, sooner rather than later, get round to telling us what they mean by independence and then have a vote on it. Do they mean to re-establish Scotland as a completely separate state? This would be a long and complicated process requiring redistribution of resources and debts from the UK, application by Scotland to join the UN, the EU, NATO, the European Court on Human Rights, the International Labour Organisation, and many more. There are probably zillions of treaties and so forth they'd have to renegotiate. The paperwork would be immense and require the employment of squadrons of Scottish civil servants and lawyers for years. And for what? To be free of the English yoke. A bit of an outmoded concept these days, given that we are all equally oppressed by the laughing jackals of the globalised neo-liberal capitalist financial system.
Of course, the SNP philosophy presumes that the English want to keep Scotland yoked to the UK. But I doubt whether most English people are bothered one way or the other. What they do know is that there are a lot of Scotsmen in England, none of whom are required to have passports, visas or work permits, and some of whom are more welcome than others. Most people like Kenny Dalgleish but most have mixed feelings about Alex Ferguson, for example. One is a 'canny Scot' and the other's a semi-literate gum-chewing big head from Scotland.
Any road up, no doubt Cameron and Salmond will keep up their blathering for months with bluff and counter-bluff. It's quite an effective distraction from actually getting on with running the country.

Last Words...

The Other President

It can't have escaped your notice that the Americans are due to have a Presidential election this November. Assuming no major misfortunes, assassinations or disasters Barack Obama will be the candidate for the Democrats and meanwhile various nut jobs are fighting it out for the nomination to be the Republican Party candidate. They all seem to be somewhat deficient for the role of Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful military force on Earth, and a tad clueless about how to repair their model of the free-market capitalist economy. But there you go - we've got Cameron, Clegg and Osborne.
It has been my view for some time now that, given the impact the American Government's actions can have on the UK (and elsewhere), we too should have a vote on who should be given the job. That's not going to happen, but meanwhile if you're bothered enough you can do this snappy little interactive quiz thingy at USA Today to discover to what extent your views on particular policy issues match those of the candidates. So whichever one of them does get elected you'll be able to say "Well, I would/would not have voted for him anyway so it's no wonder things are going so well/badly."
My results show that I am most closely aligned (73.4%) with the current incumbent, Barack Obama, which wasn't really a surprise. It was slightly alarming, however, to find that I agreed with Michelle Bachmann on one issue; but, fear not, I am not about to shoot, deport or otherwise disenfranchise all those gay Mexican non-believers and their tree-hugging blaspheming socialist friends and fellow-travellers. She is in favour of simplifying taxes, which I think would be a jolly good idea. But I suspect we differ somewhat on how, what and when.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Those Were The Days Part 27

Looking through old stuff for no particular reason, I came across this setlist from a gig we played in a village in Essex called 'Matching Tye'. I kid you not, the place exists and comes under the jurisdiction of Epping Forest District Council.
This event was self-promoted together with two other bands, the whole thing being coordinated by Charlie, whose idea it was. Tickets were sold in advance by word-of-mouth and sales went quite well - I never saw any money but at least I wasn't out of pocket. Most of the dosh went on hiring the hall and the PA, or so I'm told.
Unfortunately for us, however, on the day of the gig there was an almighty storm and the overhead cables that bring electricity to Matching Tye were blown down. These were repaired and power was restored just in time i.e. five minutes before the gig was due to start, so although we could set everything up we had no time to check anything out or to do sound-checks. The chappie working the PA was a complete stranger, and we were the first band to play. T'show must go on and so forth and we played with absolutely no idea of what we sounded like, and neither could I hear anyone else apart from the drums. And when I listened to the next two bands from out front, it was clear that the PA chap was clueless. Lead vocals were OK, and you could hear the hi-hat and the bass drum, but the rest was all over the place with stuff coming and going and some completely inaudible. Oy vay.


The Adoration of The Mayo

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Keats and Chapman in The Land of the Pharoahs

Whilst on a tour of the ancient and splendid sites and sights of Egypt, Keats & Chapman were befriended by a local guide who went out of his way make their visit as interesting and comfortable as possible. However, as time passed it appeared that the guide's mental state was not the full Egyptian shilling. He was obviously in the thrall of past experiences which constantly haunted him yet to which he would not admit. These phantom experiences gave him great grief. He had also made himself aware of Keats' work with the great psychoanalyst J G Stückebroitell and this seemed to be why he was being so helpful to the pair. His constant attentions began to grate on Chapman who thought the fellow should just accept past experiences and move on.
One day whilst on the river the friendly guide fell over the side of the boat and was floundering badly whilst screaming that he couldn't swim. Other guides on the boat insisted that he could and had been seeing conducting a rather elegant breaststroke the previous day. Keats, himself a non-swimmer, pleaded with Chapman, a gold medal lifesaver, to rescue the hapless guide.
Chapman slowly shook his head and gazing at the far horizon, stated quite flatly, "He's in denial".
Keats swallowed a date stone.

[With thanks to obee_1]