April 2008

Michel Houellebecq

Mother speaks out:

“What are these novels where nothing ever happens?” she says.

“This individual, who alas! came out of my tummy, is a liar, an impostor, a parasite and especially, especially, a little upstart ready to do anything for fortune and fame,” Mrs Ceccaldi, 83, writes in L\’Innocente, an autobiography. The onslaught on the petit con (little git) is the revenge of a woman who has been scorned and disparaged by her son in public comments and writings.

Mother\’s Day must be interesting.


A controversial plan to increase pay rates for prisoners while ministers are being deluged by the row over the 10p tax rate abolition was scrapped yesterday on the direct orders of Gordon Brown.

The Prime Minister intervened to overrule the Prison Service Management Board after learning that it had given the go-ahead to increasing the minimum pay rate for an employed offender from £4 a week to £5.50.

Why bloody bother to have a dog if you\’re going to bark yourself?

Sir Simon on Drugs

Bloody right:

The moral and practical case for controlling a market that has defied suppression for a third of a century is overwhelming. Drugs such as cannabis, cocaine and heroin must somehow be distributed within the ambit of legal and medical regulation, as they were to an extent before 1971 and are slowly being elsewhere. Finding a means of doing this, given the scale of the illicit market, is a mighty challenge; but only cowardice places it beyond the capacity of Britain\’s politicians. All they can do is bleat out their pathetic "messages". Next week\’s will be one of abject surrender.

Anne Perkins

Yes, I know it\’s a loan phrase into English from some Johnny Foreigner lingo:

Any handouts came from a spirit of noblesse oblige, a kind of enlightened paternalism, rather than from any sense of obligation or entitlement.

But reallly….what in hell does she think the noblesse bit means if not a sense of obligation?

Lord Laidlaw

I hear he\’\’s doing much better now:

The fact that Laidlaw, a generous philanthropist, has recently recovered from prostrate cancer and a heart attack only makes his sexual zeal all the more admirable.

Knocked him flat that illness did, good to see he\’s recovering.

Yes We Can!

I, like many others, have wondered whether we could just get shot of this whole Olympics thing.

In 1970 Denver was awarded the 1976 Winter Olympics. By 1972 the estimated costs had trebled (a smaller increase than we have already seen for 2012).

As the US is a democracy, the people of Denver were allowed to vote on whether to continue with the Games. A 60 per cent majority voted against Denver \’s taxpayers footing the bill and so the Winter Games were handed back to the IOC and held in Innsbruck instead – as Innsbruck had hosted the 1964 Winter Games, they already had much of the necessary infrastructure in place.

Yes! We Can!

Unfortunately in Britain we are unlikely to be given any such choice. The conclusion is clear, though not a single politician has dared state the obvious – all work on the 2012 Olympics should be halted, the organizations managing the Games disbanded and the Games handed back to the IOC, because it is now clear that a mixture of incompetence, arrogance and greed from those bringing us the Games mean that the UK cannot stage the Games at a justifiable cost.

So, who can I vote for to get that to happen?

Friends of Boris

Which brings us to Boris Johnson. It is perhaps a kindness to some of you, who remember his genial outings on this page over many years, to advise that those of a sensitive disposition, who harbour affection for the Conservative candidate, might do better to switch off now.

Mr Johnson is not a politician. He is an act. The same stricture could fairly be applied to Mr Livingstone. Mr Johnson\’s act is, though, more finely wrought.

He is serving a very useful purpose for his party. It was decided, presumably by one of the advertising men who now control the Conservatives, that the only way to beat an act was with another, even better one. They certainly went to the right man.

I want to dismiss a prejudice about Mr Johnson, and I do so as one who has known him for the past 20 years. It is that he is a buffoon. He isn\’t.

The act is calculated and it has required serious application and timing of the sort of which only a clever man is capable. For some of us the joke has worn not thin, but out. Yet many less cynical than I am find it appealing. It conceals two things: a blinding lack of attention to detail, and (though this might seem to sit ill with the first point) a ruthless ambition.

Mr Johnson is the most ambitious person I have ever met. That ought to be a commendation for high office, since ambitious people normally understand they will go further only by doing their present job well. Mr Johnson\’s scattergun approach to life will not allow this.

In his superb biography of him, my colleague Andrew Gimson outlines the practice that has allowed Mr Johnson to get so far in life: he has used his charm, to which only a few more seasoned hands are immune, to enlist at every stage what Mr Gimson calls "stooges" to help him advance.

There were stooges when Mr Johnson was en route to be president of the Oxford Union. He has had stooges all through journalism, who did significant parts of his various jobs for him, usually with little thanks or reward. And now there are stooges in politics.

That\’s from Simon Heffer. That is, prety much Boris\’ boss at The Telegraph. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Well Done Jeff

Jeff Randall discovers the principal/agent problem in banking.

But here\’s the rub: Hoare & Co is no ordinary bank. It is wholly owned by Hoare family members and is financed entirely by them on an unlimited liability basis. They are on the hook for every penny, which helps to explain the bank\’s statement: "We have a highly conservative attitude to risk."

Amusing side note. The Hoare website:

You may not link any other website to this website without obtaining the prior written consent of C. Hoare & Co.



A Conservative MP claimed yesterday that thousands of under-age children, including his own daughter, were giving false information in order to sign up to social networking sites.

Shocker, isn\’t it? Next they\’ll be telling us that kids try to buy tabs and booze.

One possible response to the claim is, so, Mr. Whittingdale, why did you teach your daugjter that it is acceptable to lie?



Highly Progressive

Is Sir Salman:

"It\’s strange, given that I\’ve been married four times, but I actually don\’t think marriage is necessary," Sir Salman told the writer Kathy Lette in an interview for Elle magazine. "Girls like it, especially if they\’ve never been married before – it\’s the dress. Girls want a wedding, they don\’t want a marriage. If only you could have weddings without marriages."

I\’m Still Not Convinced

By this talk of falling house prices in general.

Perhaps that\’s too strong: I can\’t see that any of the various indexes give us an accurate picture.

UK house prices are now falling year-on-year for the first time in more than a decade, the Nationwide Building Society warned today.

We\’ve all seen the stories that those purpose built buy to let developments have crashed in price by 30-50% in certain towns. Here\’s the full press release. As you can see there\’s no mention of the mix of housing that is used to calculate the measure.

There\’s a general sense that in recent years the flats market has been greatly overbuilt, while the house market hasn\’t been. So, the question is, how much of that average decline is actually made up of a large decline in hte value of those new flats and a small fall, or possibly even still a rise, in single occupancy houses?

Of course, I don\’t know, but I\’m wondering whether anybody else does either?


A New Element

You know, this makes so much damn sense it\’s amazing that no one thought of doing this before.

If we think (as many do) that the actinides and  above become stable near or around element 120, then instead of sweating buckets trying to make them, why not go and look and see if there are traces of those stable elements out there?

Et Voila!

We find them.

Simple ideas, eh?