the corner office

a blog, by Colin Pretorius

Disgusting

Heading home tonight on my bike, and ahead of me in the bike lane is a pretty young thing on her trendy bike, and she flicks her left hand, flick, flick, white blob still sticking to a finger, flick again and a big ball of chewing gum splats down onto the road.

I'm normally a placid kinda dude, and a bit of a chicken, so I surprised even myself when, as I then passed her, I turned to her and said 'that was disgusting.'

Now, I'm not sure what response I was expecting. But I know I definitely wasn't expecting to hear a cheerful American accent saying 'oh I know... but I was really battling to breathe?'

{2010.06.29 - 15:29} : Comments (0)

Retirement

Bit of a blow-up today about the retirement age increasing. Being forced to retire if you're still capable and willing is unfair, but forcing people to work longer, is a far more complex issue. Of course it sucks, but 65 was presumably a fairly arbitrary number anyway - just ask Greeks whose retirement age is lower or Germans whose retirement age is higher. Ask women who get to retire earlier in many countries despite having higher life expectancies and not traditionally doing jobs which entail heavy labour.

So many people are rightfully aggrieved at having to work a year longer in their specific types of careers, but you'd be hard pressed to argue that 65 was that much better for all of them, in the first place. (Thus manifests the suboptimality of the State.)

It goes back to a little rule I've learned in life: people are always disproportionately unhappier about having something taken way, relative to the happiness they got from it, than if they'd never had it in the first place.

{2010.06.24 - 18:16} : Comments (0)

Berlin

Economist and blogger Tyler Cowen on Berlin:

Berlin is evidence that most tourists don't actually care so much about history, culture, and museums, as it is not for most people a major tourist destination, despite having world-class offerings in each of those areas. Mostly tourists like large, visually spectacular sites, or family activities, combined with the feeling that they are taking in culture or seeing something important.

Now if I said something like that...

Another observation:

There are, however, a fair number of Russian tourists who enjoy the nostalgic feeling they get walking through the eastern part of the city and visiting communist monuments and sites.

{2010.06.23 - 18:44} : Comments (0)

Budget

Oh well, on the upside, George Osborne didn't decree that our firstborn children be sold into slavery to pay down the deficit. I'm very fond of Leo and I'd have been quite upset if that'd happened.

Beyond that, it was mainly just theatre, I think.

{2010.06.22 - 16:02} : Comments (0)

BP III

The BBC's Robert Peston's sentence-per-paragraph-because-the-public-is-too-stupid-for-anything-more blog has a point for once. Tony Hayward probably went to the yacht race this weekend because he knows he's screwed, and there's a point where you decide that giving up on something like a yacht race just for the sake of appearances simply isn't worth it.

Not that I'm a yachting enthusiast myself, really, but I can imagine it's quite fun.

{2010.06.20 - 18:02} : Comments (0)

Cool for about 5 seconds

Uruguay may have dented our hopes of world domination, but we ain't getting angry, we're getting even. When there's no longer a football match on this planet that isn't played out to vuvuzela theme music, we will have had our Revenge.

You can play your part in starting the revolution, here: Browse the web as if you were at the world cup (via).

{2010.06.18 - 18:18} : Comments (0)

Milestone. 140 of them.

This week was a milestone on the bicycling front. I cycled all the way into work and all the way back, all 4 in-the-office days this week. This was quite a big deal for me because a few short weeks ago it was pretty much unthinkable. 140-odd miles (and quite a few calories) later, and it's done.

Gravity and biomechanics waged a slow war of attrition on my muscles and some of my what you might call 'pressure points'. Yet I persevered. London was not to let me off that lightly though, and my triumphant, if somewhat ooh-ooh-ow-ow-punctuated ride home this evening was undertaken as the heavens dumped a load of ice-cold rain upon my phearsome symmetry.

Cycling in a rain jacket is partly pointless though. It's waterproof so the rain doesn't get in, but since air doesn't get through either, all you do is trade getting soaked from the rain for getting soaked from your own sweat. Maybe some people prefer this, you never know where the rain's been. At least you're bright and yellow and and visible and you look Prepared, so people in cars don't think you're just some poor bedraggled schmuck who got caught in the rain. You look like you Mean To Be There, and that's what matters. Can't show the car drivers any sign of weakness.

Getting up the stairs is a bit painful tonight, though.

{2010.06.18 - 16:49} : Comments (0)

The Times

A few months ago the Times announced it would start charging for content, and I see today they've flipped the switch.

On the plus side (thus far) it seems old archive articles are still accessible.

On the minus side, the subscription page you get presented with offers to sign you up for a "free June preview" but nowhere on the page can I see an indication of what the subscription fees will be like after that, nor does there seem to be any obvious link saying 'what you'll pay after June'. That to me is uncool - doing a bit of email harvesting so when the paywall finally goes up, they've got lots of people to spam. Just on principle, that's a reason for not signing up.

Even if that wasn't the case, I'd still not sign up. Yes, I'm stingy, but the world of news media has changed. In the old days you bought your newspaper and read the hell out of it because that's what you had. Value for money meant getting content for your buck.

In the online world it's different. I have a bunch of news sites bookmarked. I open BBC news every day. The Times used to be my second destination, that changed after the pay-for-access announcement. I also load up the Telegraph, and often the Guardian, and occasionally other 'second tier' (to me) news sites as well. I skim the headlines and dig into things that look interesting. I read popular blogs and follow links into news sites across the planet. And then I move on to doing other stuff.

I know I'm not alone in doing this, and the pay-for-access model is contra to this way of digesting news. For that reason I suspect that the new Times site is doomed to failure. If they're losing money and feel they have no choice, I'm sorry for them - creative destruction is a bummer sometimes. If they make a success of it, good luck to them, but I don't think I'm alone in thinking that their content, while good, isn't so far ahead of the competition that it's worth paying to read it.

{2010.06.16 - 16:40} : Comments (6)

Infernal din

Oh dear. World Cup 2010: South Africa ponders vuvuzela ban:

The constant sound of the high-pitched horn-like instrument has so far drowned out much of the atmosphere-generating singing usually associated with games.

...

France captain Patrice Evra has already blamed the noise generated by the vuvuzelas, which has been likened to the drone of thousands of bees, for his side's poor showing in their opening group game against Uruguay, which finished goalless.

He said: "We can't sleep at night because of the vuvuzelas. People start playing them from 6am.

"We can't hear one another out on the pitch because of them."

No prizes for guessing where I am on the likey-the-vuvuzela's-dulcet-tones spectrum.

{2010.06.13 - 14:41} : Comments (2)

BP II

I enjoy Tory peer Norman Tebbit's blog. There's much I disagree with but I do enjoy people who tell it like they see it, and his regular responses to commenters (friends and foes) are a unique and polite touch.

His comments about Obama's 'British Petroleum' 'ass-kicking' histrionics have made a few waves:

At least on the other side of the Atlantic the conduct of President Obama over the great oil spill is explicable, even if despicable. The whole might of American wealth and technology is displayed as utterly unable to deal with the disastrous spill – so what more natural than a crude, bigoted, xenophobic display of partisan political presidential petulance against a multinational company?

It is time that our American friends were reminded that they sang a different tune when the American company Union Carbide killed many thousands of Indians at Bhopal. Not to mention when the American company Occidental killed 167 people on a North Sea oil rig in 1988.

The point repeatedly being made is that BP in terms of shareholding and directors is as American as it is British, and its name hasn't been 'British Petrol' for a decade. Further, there's plenty of American corporate and regulatory guilt to go around, from approved environmental impact declarations that spoke about 'walruses' (because of a copy-and-paste from Arctic drilling plans) to the role of contracters including old American-as-Apple-Pie favourites like Halliburton.

Tebbit followed up more recently with an interesting perspective on BP:

I do not envy David Cameron the task not only of protecting British interests but also of helping President Obama protect those of the United States. That demands that their exchanges exclude both ass kicking and licking in favour of frank talking.

The facts are clear enough. Under the leadership of Lord Browne, BP not only contracted out the management of those nasty dirty jobs like drilling for oil and refining it, it progressively got rid of anyone who knew any thing about such old-fashioned activities. The New, Modern, Green, Progressive, BP made excellent profits, but failed to heed the failures in parts of its business for which it was still responsible but had discarded the skills to manage.

The Americans have even more right to be angry about that than the investors who stand to lose a great deal of money. Most of it is, of course, not theirs, but that of pensioners whose funds they manage. That is bound to cost BP shareholders dear.

{2010.06.13 - 04:27} : Comments (0)

World Cup

Well, Bafana Bafana scored the first goal of the World Cup, and they did pretty good. People weren't expecting great things of them but they did 'emselves proud.

It's strange seeing back home through the eyes of British TV. There was a Channel 4 thing earlier this week where the reporter was talking about Yeoville, and he said something along the lines of '20 years ago this neighbourhood was white and posh and now it's vibrant and blah blah', or something like that, and I thought dude, I lived there for a stretch in the 90s, and it wasn't anything near posh and it wasn't exclusively 'white' either. But for a while it was a vibrant and really cool place to live, and if you think it's that awesome now why don't you flog your flat in Putney and find yourself a nice little pozzie a few blocks up from Rockey Street with a toilet that hasn't flushed since the turn of the century, a crack dealer for a neighbour on one side and 15 impoverished and brutalised illegal immigrants squished into the flat on the other side, and let's see how much you like it in 6 months' time.

You don't want the world's overriding impression to be that of a crime-ridden dump, and yet I think it would be wrong, an injustice if people came away from the World Cup thinking or believing the pretence that everything was hunky dory or going to be made OK because a few football games were held in the country.

Also, I must admit to not quite getting the dung beetle. What was that about?

{2010.06.11 - 17:14} : Comments (0)

Middle-aged white dudes

In another universe Harriet Harman's insistence that there be a woman in the Labour leadership contest would be regarded as outright sexism. I guess the thinking is that if there isn't a woman in the running, it can only be because society is patriarchal and sexist. Maybe she has a point, but I'm not convinced that reverse sexism (or racism or any ism) is somehow nobler, or that it helps the cause its proponents are trying to further. In fact, I think that often, the opposite is true.

Anyhoo. Diane Abbott's name may have come up, but what sane strategist would want her as the Labour leader? The party's corrupt and discredited and swinging so hard to the left that necks are cricking, and Diane Abbott is the politician who sent her son to private school and then said:

"Private schools prop up the class system in society.

"It is inconsistent, to put it mildly, for someone who believes in a fairer and more egalitarian society to send their child to a fee-paying school."

But, she added: "I had to choose between my reputation as a politician and my son."

Which is to say, she's a hypocrite, and as much as some people respect her for being honest, she would be nothing but a liability for the Labour party.

(PS. given the school thing, Harriet Harman is also a hypocrite for nominating Abbott. Yet I notice in the article above that Harriet Harman's kid got shipped off to an Orpington grammar school as well, making her an extra strength hypocrite. Given what they preach, how do these people stay elected?)

{2010.06.08 - 16:14} : Comments (0)

Black belt in running away

Quoth the BBC, in a story getting high profile coverage by all the papers:

Three unarmed officers saw Derrick Bird during his shooting rampage but were unable to stop him, police say.

Hint of... something, there? I'm not sure why this is as newsworthy as the prominent headlines suggest. Unarmed coppers had gun pointed at them and since none of them knew Kung Fu and how to throw ninja stars further and faster than shotgun pellets can travel, allowed a heinous killer to get away.

Unarmed cops are constrained in what they can do, which as I've always understood it is how a cop-wary British society likes it. I don't think that's a bad thing, just that if you don't want to give 'em guns, stop bitching when they're ineffective against really dangerous people.

Then to be fair, I don't think most Britons would be bitching, and a cynical me just thinks that the papers are desperate to keep the killing-spree souffle as puffed up as possible.

{2010.06.07 - 16:40} : Comments (2)

The Purple Orse of Uffington

An obscure article about an obscure act of vandalism becomes even more obscure:

Vandals have targeted the ancient Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire by spraying part of it purple.

Officers from Thames Valley Police were called to the 3,000-year-old chalk monument at about 2200 BST on Thursday.

They found the head and eye of the horse had been sprayed with purple paint. A banner that read "fathers 4 justice stop the secret family courts" was recovered from the scene.

New Fathers 4 Justice and Real Fathers for Justice both denied responsibility.

Yes indeed, there's a "New Fathers 4 Justice" and a "Real Fathers for Justice". Reminds me of something...

{2010.06.04 - 18:39} : Comments (0)

Derrick Bird

The Derrick Bird killing spree is awful. A tragedy for the victims and their families. Can't help but think it's a FREAKIN' BONANZA for the BBC though. The other news channels are undoubtedly the same. They apply themselves to the duty of reporting with a little too much enthusiasm, it feels. The back-in-the-studio talking heads plough into the Big Issues and interrogate the Live On the Scene Types with what borders on perverse voyeurism, and outside the studio the sombreness doesn't quite mix with the 'ooh dear terrible tragedy but not every day the world cares about what's going on in Cumbria, this could be my big break...' demeanour of a horde of second-tier BBC reporters who hitherto had little except the occasional werewolf-savaged hiker and boring Local Interest segments to look forward to. In all, 24 hour news media represents little more than the most loathsome aspects of the fourth estate.

The other issue now is gun control. I don't have much of an opinion on gun control but I do have two thoughts given the anti-gun reaction that will inevitably follow:

  • it's tragic and I'm not making light of the loss, but given that it's happened 3 times in 25 years in the UK, would the amount of effort and cost to regulate guns even more tightly be worth it? Could more lives be saved if all that taxpayer money was spent elsewhere? Especially given the implications of tighter regulation for those who need and legitimately use guns, and who will never go on killing sprees?

  • would these sorts of rampages happen if a large portion of the population were armed? A counter-argument might be that a heavily-armed population would mean significantly more gun deaths than now. But if so, what proportion of those deaths would be innocent bystanders?

It's a really sad thing either way.

{2010.06.03 - 08:59} : Comments (0)

BP

The BP oil spill is a disaster and of course BP should be held liable for the damage it's caused, and those who've incurred losses or seen their livelihoods destroyed by the oil spill deserve to be fully compensated. And what's more, if people were criminally negligent then by all means throw the book at them and throw their sorry asses in jail.

At the same time, some perspective isn't a bad thing. Who is BP exactly? There's no such thing. There are just people: BP employees, and BP shareholders, and BP customers. And while employees and shareholders will take a knock, (and let's not forget that just about anyone who saves into a pension fund is probably a BP shareholder), a lot of the losses will also be recovered from customers. BP will try to push up prices to recover the losses (and only be held in check by competition, such as it is), and all oil companies will be incurring more costs (and therefore pushing up prices) to upgrade dodgy equipment and invest in recovery technology and deal with the inevitable increased regulation.

The simple truth is this: it would undoubtedly be quite feasible for oil companies to make their oil rigs much, much less likely to cause these sorts of spills. The only problem is, it would make petrol much, much more expensive. Now the proper free market view is that this is right and proper: destroying ecosystems and leaving entire regions economically devastated is a huge third party cost that should be included in the cost of petrol and if that makes petrol ridiculously expensive then tough bloody luck, and all the more incentive for people to find cheaper alternative fuels sooner.

Yet I have no doubt that if petrol prices did double or triple, governments would be stepping in pretty bloody quickly to keep the baying mobs happy. So when people say 'BP must pay', what most of them really mean is 'BP must pay, but not too much'.

{2010.06.01 - 17:07} : Comments (0)

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