the corner office

a blog, by Colin Pretorius

Moved

We've moved house, and joined that politically-favoured group of people known as "home-owners." Here's hoping it stays that way (the politically-favoured bit, I mean. The rest is a given). This is the first time we've been in debt since we moved to the UK, and I have to admit I find it pretty daunting.

It's been a chaotic month. Our offer was accepted at the start of an extended visit by my in-laws, and after what I gather was a ridiculously quick completion, we got the keys to our new house the day after they left. The speedy sale was helped by the fact that the sale was almost done with someone else, who got spooked by Brexit and pulled out at the last minute. Pretty much all the lawyers needed to do was change the names in the documents and invoices, I guess. So for us, Brexit has had its upsides.

Somebody had koff been a bit slow in organising the switch-over of our broadband, so we went for a couple of weeks without it. Now we're online again, and the already-slow unpacking process will probably grind to a halt.

I joke, slightly. The kitchen is mostly done. And the other half of the kitchen boxes, not yet unpacked and stacked menacingly on the kitchen floor, would probably would have been unpacked if we had any idea where to squeeze stuff in. And tonight, I made a start on the books. I got the first of our bookshelves properly in place, and started unpacking the first of the 65 boxes of books we carted over.

I got through 4 of them. Gotta start somewhere.

{2016.10.14 21:55} : Comments (0)

The Quietway

I recently discovered London's first Quietway. Some dude I was cycling behind suddenly turned left into Deptford, and being curious about whether he was taking a shortcut I didn't know about, I figured I'd follow him (for a block or two, if he kept heading in the right direction; it's not like I'm a stalker or anything).

There was soon a big "Quietway 1" sign, and then another, and another, and I ended up following him the whole way into London. At a non-threatening distance, of course.

I'd heard nothing about the Quietways, and it turns it they're rather new. QW1 - the one I followed - is the only one, with more (apparently) to follow. The idea is that the routes follow backstreets, parks, dedicated lanes and the like. QW1 works its way through some council estates in Deptford, before going through a park, then following an elevated path past the Millwall FC stadium, then more council estates and finally back roads towards Waterloo.

My verdict: cool, but with its own dangers. There's plenty of "wheeee" factor given the paths, sharp turns and bends, but some of those would be far less appealing in the rain, or icy mid-winter.

Also, while it's a great way to get into or out of London without battling with traffic, and is just the thing for a leisurely ride, the route ends up being a little more perilous at commuter speeds. Because the route is so quiet, and goes down residential back roads, with more than a few blind turns, not only are cyclists likely to become complacent as they whizz along, but pedestrians and children are more likely to step out in front of you. I've had a couple of near misses already.

That, and once closer to London, the route crosses main roads, which means a lot of long waits at traffic lights.

Having said that, I've found myself taking the route a good few times now, for the novelty if nothing else. Now, if only there were a Quietway that allowed me to bypass Bromley Hill.

{2016.08.30 23:06} : Comments (0)

Reading

I've not read any fiction for some time. But at the beginning of the month I went on a work jolly, and on the plane I needed something to read, and one of the only books available on Google Play on my tablet was The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.

And so I read it, for the first time in nearly 30 years. And I really enjoyed it. It's a thoroughly immoral book, which would be better termed The Three Gigolos, given that everything pretty much boils down to the musketeers selling their favours to rich old ladies for money. But it's a great read.

That got me hitched on Alexandre Dumas. The Count of Monte Cristo followed. Great book. Best revenge tale ever. What a bad-ass.

I decided that I'd keep reading Alexandre Dumas books. The sequel to the Three Musketeers is Twenty Years After. Google has not yet run their OCR magic on their version of the book, so their copy is just the original pages; not so easy on my ageing eyes. I went looking for alternatives.

This has added a whole new dilemma to my life. To wit, the fact that these books were translated, and the translation can make a difference to the book. For example, this is one of the first paragraphs from the Project Gutenberg version, which appears to be from a 1910 translation, and is also the version you find for free on the Kindle:

It was, alas! the ghost of former greatness. France enfeebled, the authority of her sovereign contemned, her nobles returning to their former turbulence and insolence, her enemies within her frontiers--all proved the great Richelieu no longer in existence.

This is from an 1846 translation from a bloke named William Barrow

And, truly, it was in effect only the shade of that great man. France enfeebled, the enemy within the frontiers--everything, in short, declared that Richelieu himself was no longer there.

And yet another version, translated by some equally forgotten fellow named William Robson in 1856, which is one of the freebies from Google books:

Alas! It was but too truly only the shade of the great man. France sunk to a state of weakness, the authority of the King unrecognized, the nobles again powerful and turbulent, the enemy once more within the frontiers,--everything denoted that Richelieu was no more.

The final version reads best to me, and that's the version I'm going with. But I could do without these sorts of problems. What if I'd not discovered this version, and settled for one of the others? What if my versions of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo aren't the best, and I could've enjoyed my past month's reading even more?

{2016.07.31 22:16} : Comments (0)

One Month

One month since the vote. It's been quite a ride.

After double dealings and high intrigue and back-stabbing and front-stabbing, the Tories very quickly sorted themselves out, slapped a blue rosette on Theresa May's coffin lid, and hey presto, a new government with the country's second female prime minister.

As for Labour. Well... bordering on the surreal, it makes for good TV, if nothing else. It baffles me that middle class lefties still root for Corbyn, despite it being so clear to everyone except said lefties that Corbyn can shoulder a fair portion of blame for us now leaving the EU, and that this is an outcome with which he and cronies like McDonnell are perfectly happy. But I said I didn't want to get caught up in Brexit talk, so no more from me on that front.

Still, it would be nice for the government to have an opposition other than the Tory backbenches, some day.

{2016.07.23 09:55} : Comments (0)

Overheard in London

A gruff-voiced building contractor type on his phone, outside a pub yesterday:

My issue ain't about reducing costs, it's about havin' them.

{2016.07.19 11:42} : Comments (0)

Leave

And that's that. I voted Remain, and I'm disappointed that we're leaving. As I mentioned before, I was a philosophical Leave and a practical Remain. There were good arguments for Brexit and for Remain - but in the end two things won it for me. The first was freedom of movement, and second, no matter how many eloquent arguments there were for Leave, I couldn't bring myself to side with the Farages of this world.

At least now it's over. I've removed my pro/con posts for Brexit. I never got to say all I wanted to say or convey as much balance as I wanted, and this whole thing has ended up being ugly enough. I'd rather not be part of it.

I don't think this is the end of the world, and I think there will be silver linings. Democracy sucks sometimes, but I still think it's better than the alternative. Life goes on.

{2016.06.25 10:57} : Comments (0)

Tower Bridge

Enough of the EU for a bit. A ride into work this week was held up by one of those cool things that you never expect to happen, but they do, and they remind you that you live in London and how lucky you are to do so.

I briefly tried a new cycle route into work (too much of a detour, though the East-West cycle superhighway thingy in London is awesome), which took me over Tower Bridge instead of London Bridge. As I turned onto the bridge, the barriers came down, and traffic came to a standstill.

Next thing, up went the bridge, and we were treated to the sight of a rather strained-looking tugboat and cruise ship making their way through the bridge, down the Thames. I hadn't realised that cruise ships come up the river, but turns out they do.

Plenty of cyclists and pedestrians on the bridge were taking pictures and filming it, and then when the ship came past the people on the ship started waving and cheering, and people on the bridge waved and cheered back. It was all rather nice.

Just about every person on the cabin balconies was wearing a white gown.

And then the bridge came down again, and some sirens started sounding, and a distorted voice on the tannoy said something along the lines of 'don't move until the lights are green', although cyclists and motorcyclists, now bunched up in front across both lanes (on both sides), were squeezing through as the gates started opening, and there was lots of shouting and cussing as people realised that Braveheart-style head-on collisions were in the making, and people hustled and squeezed back into the right lanes, and then things returned back to normal, and I got to work 15 minutes late.

{2016.06.19 22:30} : Comments (0)

QOTD: EU Edition

"Among my people, the argumentative, the stylised practices of the Oxford Union and any and all other debaters are held in special contempt. Such practitioners are but perfumed musketeers to our honest brawling."

More

{2016.06.19 00:44} : Comments (0)

The Referendum is Looming

I was looking at the front page of my blog and two things struck me. The first is that I'm using the f-word quite a lot. One of these days my eldest will discover my blog and start reading it and then I'm in big trouble.

The second thing is that I write too much about politics. I could resolve to write less about politics but the EU referendum is upon us, soon, and I had all sorts of things I wanted to write and haven't, and I'd be disapointed if I didn't get at least some of it onto the blog, because it's the kind of thing that's all historical-like and it'll be interesting to revisit one day when the UK is an impoverished non-free backwater island that the world forgot or an impoverished non-free province of the EUSSR, or whatever.

So anyway. Just over 3 weeks to go. This means 3 more weeks of Ronwen having to put up with me yelling at the TV.

The best way to describe the referendum is that there are good reasons to leave, and good reasons to remain. There are also a great many rubbish reasons to leave, and a great many rubbish reasons to remain. Most of what passes for Brexit discussion at the moment is firmly in the rubbish camp, on both sides. Neither side are acquitting themselves well. They're all full of sh** and they all make me angry.

I'm still on the fence.

{2016.05.30 12:57} : Comments (0)

New Mayor II

I had a few more things I'd wanted to write about the mayoral election. Then my blog software broke and I got caught up with other stuff and didn't have time to fix it. So this is a couple of weeks behind the times. But anyway.

First thing was the excitement about Khan being the first Muslim (and non-white) Mayor of London. I didn't get it (even modulo the 'caring about skin colour shouldn't matter except when it allows you look more progressive' types). Then I realised why. I come from a country that's had a black president for 20 years. Not a big deal to your average South African but I can understand why it is in the UK. It's a good thing.

Leading to the second point. He hit the ground running on the inclusiveness front, and he deserves credit for doing so. If that marks his time in office then he'll have earned a lot of respect, even if his policies are rubbish.

Leading then to the third point. What will Mayor Khan mean for London? Looking at his election policies, there was lots of stuff about price freezing and controls. Doesn't bode well, but typical middle class property owners will probably do just fine. We'll have to wait and see.

{2016.05.16 22:23} : Comments (0)

New Mayor

Full marks to me, plus a bonus ho ho ho, given what happened in Scotland.

Khan's mayoral win was pretty much a given, based on the polls. Now we get to see what he actually does. I've not paid much attention to the candidates' policies, and based on the headlines, this hasn't been much of a 'policies' election, as much as a tribes and personalities election.

Which is an area where Goldsmith fell flat. By all accounts he's been a nice enough bloke as an MP but in the campaign he seemed to display the personality and enthusiasm of, well, something rather inanimate and unenthusiastic. Like a lamp post, or a Rich Tea Biscuit (emphasis on Rich). An aimless billionaire. A Bruce Wayne character without the superhero bits. The main arguments in his favour seemed to be that his policies probably wouldn't have been insane and that per his published tax returns, he bungs over half a million quid to HMRC every year. That gets lots of London lefties cross and resentful, but it's a real contribution to society; a lot of money that the rest of us don't have to pay instead.

But at the same time, if someone's that loaded it's reasonable to ask them why they want the job in the first place, and you'd have thought that campaign strategists would've anticipated the question and made sure ole Zac had a good cover story and could pull off a passably impassioned motivation for wanting to be mayor, as opposed to, say, sitting around in his mansion in a silk gown, being idly rich. (If I had the option I know which I'd choose).

Yet if Zac wasn't hungry, then Sadiq sure was, and if Zac lacked a good story, Sadiq had no such problem. Sadiq KhansonofaPakistanibusdriver (as he seemed to be most commonly described), had heaps of working class cred and of-the-people-ness, and the prospect of Sadiq KhanfirstMuslimmayorofLondonEVAR meant that lots of people wanted him to become mayor just because it would show how right-on and progressive London was, irrespective of his policies. Or character or judgement.

Which gets us to the controversial part of the campaign. We've had the Guardian in a froth for weeks now complaining about Goldsmith's 'divisive' and 'dog whistle' campaign. It may well be so - and some senior London Tories are happy get in on the blamestorming now that the election is lost. Yet that accepts a 'narrative' which might not be entirely true. Nor should it let Khan off the hook if it were. As someone pointed out last week, see whence the cries of 'Islamophobia' came. Call me cynical, but you can be forgiven for thinking that unlike Zac's campaign strategists, Sadiq's camp and allies at the Grauniad saw the difficult questions coming and knew exactly what their response would be.

And difficult questions there were, aplenty. 'Moderate Muslim' Khan was on Press TV and referred to moderate Muslims as 'Uncle Toms'. Zac's racist and says horrible things wails the Guardian, but not Khan, he's gr8 (and the son of a bus driver).

(and this being IRANIAN Press TV, mind you, mouthpiece of a fundamentalist regime which hangs homosexuals and unbelievers from cranes. Oh, and the channel where one Jez Corbyn found a loving home, thus bringing us the delightful footage of Jez nodding along and saying 'good point' when someone phoned in and referred to the BBC as 'Zionist liars'. Not that there's any problem with anti-Semitism in Corbyn's Labour, lest we forget. But I digress.)

This 'association' business (as with Jez), is the real thrust of the arguments against Khan. Khan does have a long and rich history of defending or sharing platforms with extremists, a list so long that I suspect that half the problem was that the list was too long. Peoples' eyes start to glaze over. So many names and photographs cropping up with Khan alongside nutjob A (who says wife-beating is OK) to nutjob B (who's not a terrorist, 'orrible Americans picking on him, until oh shucks, turns out he actually did fund Al-Qaeda and pleaded guilty), to nutjob C who says all Jews must die, to nutjobs D and E and F and so on, so that by the time you got to nutjobs X, Y or Z (was Z another wife-beater or the one who cheered terrorist attacks in London, or was it both? So hard to keep up).

And if everybody else was pointing these things out, then the Guardian was - surprise suprise - spectacularly disinterested. They had their line 'Islamophobia' and the likes of little Owen Jones were going to stick with it, no matter what. Not deny or disprove, because they couldn't, nor try to explain away or justify, because that would've been an argument they could only lose, but instead just shout Tories! Islamophobes! louder and louder and let tribalism take care of the rest.

Does any of this mean Khan's an extremist, though? No. He's made lots of 'progressive' noises too - including voting for same-sex marriage, and in fairness, some of his old chums might be less than impressed with him about that. Instead, what the 'Uncle Tom' remarks and extremist links suggested (at least to me) is that Khan (a) might not be a man with the soundest of judgement, and (b) would say and do just about anything and schmooze just about anyone to win votes.

So when the Guardian's Hugh Muir says:

Goldsmith began the campaign with the reputation of a principled political iconoclast. He ends it as the hustler for whom principles appear optional.

all I can say is that's a bit bloody rich given who the Guardian were rooting for.

If Zac's campaign had focused on Khan's scruples, as opposed to suggesting that he shared the views of the rancid people he's been cozy with for so long, then perhaps he'd have done better.

Or not. Khan had huge swathes of the London vote tied up no matter what. It took someone like Boris to win over a Labour-leaning city like London, and bored billionaire Zac was probably never going to be more than a long shot.

Maybe next time around the Tories should see if Ruth Davidson's up for secondment.

{2016.05.07 07:06} : Comments (0)

London Elections

My predictions:

  1. Sadiq Khan will be mayor (not so controversial)

  2. Labour won't do as badly in local elections as predicted (I think Labour's troubles are juiced up by the media, even with everything that's been going on).

Finally, I wouldn't predict it, but it'd be a laugh if the Tories become the official opposition in Scotland.

Let's see how I do.

{2016.05.05 22:40} : Comments (0)

No problem

There's no anti-Semitism problem in Labour, says Jeremy Corbyn. And you know, Jeremy's gone on the record a few times now, saying that he condemns anti-Semitism (and all forms of racism).

That little (and all forms of racism). Jez has slipped it into every denunciation of anti-Semitism I've heard him make. I don't know why he feels he has to, like he can't focus on hatred of Jews without throwing in other types of hatred too, but that's what he does. (I have some theories, but they're less than charitable, so let's leave them aside).

The important point is this: Labour is opposed to anti-Semitism (and all forms of racism). And there's no anti-Semitism problem in Labour. In fact, Labour is and always will be staunchly against anti-Semitism (and all forms of racism).

Which is why there's no problem with anti-Semitism in Labour.

Except...

Set aside the Labour councillors and activists who've been suspended for indulging in a bit of Jew-hating, making jokes online about big noses etc. Nooo, Jeremy Corbyn says, no anti-Semitism problem in Labour.

Set aside the fact that the only time these people are dealt with is when the 'orrible right wing media/bloggers point out what they've been saying. Because presumably, these people spout their bilge into social media vacuums where nobody else in Labour pays any attention to them. But nooo, says Jez, no problem here.

Set aside the fact that after Jez came into power, people who were turfed from the party historically for saying or doing batshit crazy things, suddenly got re-admitted. And then, only got re-suspended when the 'orrible right wing media pointed out the kind of Jew-hating they were still indulging in. Nooo, sez Jez, no problem in Labour.

Nor the fact that some of these people who've been suspended or re-suspended have gotten suspension letters say 'we'll reconsider in 2 years time'. Slap on the wrist for your indiscretions, but the fuss will eventually blow over and you can come back. But nooo, says Jez. No problem.

So after setting all of that aside, you have the spectacle of Naz Shah, a Labour MP, someone elected to the highest political chamber of the country, getting nailed for saying not-nice stuff about Jews and Zionists. Someone who presumably got screened, interviewed and who-knows-what-elsed before being short-listed as a candidate. Nope, nooo, no anti-Semitism problem, says Jez.

And then when she's in trouble, the best she can come up with in her inevitable apologies are beauties like "I said it before I was an MP" (that'll be a fun standard to apply to other parties in future, right? Right? RIGHT?), and my personal favourite "I disagree with what I said" (is she pleading insanity or just hoping people won't bother listening to what she says as long as the lips are moving)?

No anti-Semitism problem, maintains Jez, and eventually, eventually, instead of firing her nasty ass, he 'mutually agrees' with her that maybe her time in Labour is up (for a bit at least; any bets on where she'll be in a few years' time?). But the important thing to remember, folks, is that there's no anti-Semitism problem, really. It was all before she was an MP, and besides, she doesn't really agree with herself. Let's move on, please.

But no. Then Rupa Huq, yet another Labour MP, stands up to defend Naz. Just some silly sharing on Facebook, nothing serious, not as if she's been typing up Mein Kampf (only the 'the Jews are rallying', just an affectionate quip if you think about it, really), and anyway, it was before etc etc and she disagrees with herself now etc etc. A second MP who might've been in line for some disciplining? No need, 'cause there's no problem. Jez says so. None. Leave me alone, no problem dammit.

But no. Rupa's safe, as it turns out, because our attention is diverted as along comes the piece de-bloody-resistance. Ken Livingstone, mate and ally of Jez for decades, the FORMER LABOUR MAYOR OF FUCKING LONDON, appointed to defense reviews and who knows what in Jez's New Old Labour, crops up on telly and radio and suggests, inter alia, that Hitler was a Zionist, that anti-Semitism isn't racism, blah blah blah 'they don't teach that in Israeli schools', and so on.

And then yes, eventually this senior Labour figure who was once LABOUR'S MAYOR OF FUCKING LONDON, of all people, got suspended too.

But still, no problem, according to Jez. What problem? Minor wobble, dealt with. Noooo problem, none.

But wait. Did I say that Ken Livingstone was the piece de resistance of this sorry tale? No, Dear Reader. Sorry, not exactly. But we're getting there. We have to roll back the clock a few hours, and watch the spectacle of John Mann, another Labour MP, haranguing Ken for being a racist and Nazi apologist while the cameras were rolling. All over Youtube, immortalised, along with Ken trying to hide in a disabled loo.

So yes. You can't make this stuff up, but here you go: along with Ken's suspension, John Mann got called in to Labour HQ for a bit of a dressing down. Think of the party, John, can't have you embarassing us like that. Especially when there's no anti-Semitism problem in the party, John. None. One can only presume that John Mann, having presented himself to The Boss for a bollocking, cut said Boss short after about 3 minutes of this and said something along the lines of 'go fuck yourself Jeremy' and Jeremy probably said 'fair do's, mate'. Maybe.

Now, Dear Reader, we're ready for that piece de resistance.

(Did I mention that Jez says that there's no problem with anti-Semitism in Labour?)

Here we go...

A Jez fan set up a change.org petition to have John Mann disciplined for 'bringing the party into disrepute'.

And as of tonight, over 12,000 people have signed it.

All of whom have watched the news and heard what Ken said, who're aware of what Labour members and councillors and even MPs have said and continue to say, and still felt that John Mann's little tirade is the thing to be outraged about, the thing that brings Labour into disrepute.

12,000 people.

There, Jeremy, is Labour's anti-Semitism problem.

{2016.04.29 21:59} : Comments (0)

The Panama Papers

I've been somewhat underwhelmed by the Panama Papers leaks. Maybe I've been ruined by my short stint in the tax world many years ago, but mainly because the posturing and Class War are all just BS.

Thoughts:

  • lots of dodgy stuff going on in lots of places. Those sorts of things were quite interesting. And dealing with dodgy stuff is not trivial (as anyone who's worked in a bank or the like and sat through hours of AML and sanctions training will tell you). But there was minimal focus on that, because everyone's obsessing about people doing completely-legal stuff in the UK.

  • the general anti-offshore rhetoric isn't enlightened, or informed, or even rational. It's just incoherent. Offshare bad, mmmkay? Ok, but before getting into the issue of tax competition, surely we have to recognise and discuss the inherent conflicts between source-based and residence-based tax systems? Errr.... bad mkay? But how do you deal with the fact that either system is going to have someone shouting 'tax-dodging bastards'? What happens if both countries claim jurisdiction? We're talking about a supposedly moral duty to pay tax - which is right and which is wrong? What about double taxation? Is it still immoral for the other side if taxation is taken care of by a double-tax treaty? What if not? BAAAAAD MKAAAAAAAAAY! OK. Any thoughts on whether it's fair that most governments these days seem to want to tax based on source and residence at the same time? Isn't that a bit like wanting your cake and eating it? BAD BAD BAAAAAAD MKAAAAY BAAAAAAD.

  • lefty politicians got very worked up about Dave's dad and the offshore unit trusts. Oh, the wailing and gnashing of teeth. One old geezer even got kicked out of parliament for calling Dave 'dodgy'. I learned what all the 'honourable member' stuff you always hear is about: debate in parliament has to be civil and motives aren't allowed to be impugned. Which isn't much fun and hardly true, but given that the UK's enjoyed a good few hundred years of stable parliamentary democracy, unlike lots of countries, then you could imagine that maybe it's not such a bad way of doing things and worth respecting.

  • anyway, the outraged MPs: lots of noise and pointing of fingers. Then people like Guido Fawkes did some digging (eg, eg) and it turns out that all those comfy MP and council pensions the likes of Corbyn and McDonnell and Skinner have amassed have a touch of 'offshore' taint too. Suddenly less noise.

  • as for Dave. Damned straight he's a hypocrite after all his carrying on about moral duties and Jimmy Carr etc etc, and it was nice to see him hoist by his own petard. But 'hoist' is an overstatement, perhaps just misplaced a little. The dude did nothing illegal, he declared and paid tax, and thirty grand in offshore investments is a far cry from the crazy heights to which Russian cellists can aspire, it seems.

  • the Guardian are the biggest hypocrites of the lot.

  • Tyler Cowen had a good post about the morality of the leaks themselves.

  • tax avoidance. Pretty much every year I'll end up saying the same thing: 21 September 2010

{2016.04.13 22:26} : Comments (0)

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