Wednesday, July 31, 2013

This is England?

So ran the legend, without question mark, tattooed onto the large man's upper left arm, underneath the tattoo artist's representation of a Union flag, unfurled in a stiff breeze. A simple affectation of patriotism – albeit it one stolen from the title of a series of TV films, written and directed by Shane Meadows. In his work, Meadows depicts the changed fortunes of a group of working-class skinheads during the 1980s and the tattooed man certainly would have shared their origins. But it was his chosen depiction of patriotism that interested me. The word itself is loaded – 'last resort of the scoundrel', according to Dr Johnson - or, perhaps increasingly, the first resort of the right-wing politician, as evidenced by David Cameron's frequent references to speaking of behalf of the British people, or praying in aid nationalism to bolster support for his policies. The reality, as exemplified by our tattooed friend, is rather different, for here we have a government dominated by a public-school and Oxbridge educated cabal that is simply light years away from the common shared experience of those they govern, yet with the apparent need to use the sentiment driven language of unity and shared past to drip feed fear of the 'other' – be it foreigners, the poor, the jobless, to keep the majority onside and supportive of policies, such as privatisation or the loss of employment rights, that are inimical to their basic needs and instincts. Seeing the tattoo made me wonder how it is that we have become a nation bound together by fear: is this the only vision our leaders are able or willing to offer those they are otherwise so clearly alienated from? Juxtoposed with the tattoo, I have another image – this time on the T-shirt worn by a man (strange how both image bearers are male – mirroring the John Bull or Tommy Atkins of old, so beloved by those on the right...). This slogan was slightly longer and far more threatening:
'Welcome to Great Britain; fit in or f*** off'
Fear of being overwhelmed by the 'others', by 'them' – a lowest common denominator rendition of the common refrain of IDS, Cameron, Farage, and those despicable advertising vans trundling around parts of London. We are better, more generous, more accepting, more open than this: we need to demand better of our leaders, or they will squander the real legacy bequeathed to us by those past generations who welcomed the 'other' and the different to these shores and whose leaders did not seek to create division and hatred merely so that they could claim narrow electoral advantage.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Breakfast with a Bee

I like to have breakfast in the conservatory this weather. It's warm and peaceful - but not this morning. I was just getting into the coffee and cereal when I heard an angry buzzing. I looked up to see a bee repeatedly flying into one of the glass end-panels and the angry buzzing that accompanied its efforts showed that it obviously was not enjoying the experience. To escape, it had to fly down the panel and then out of the open patio door; instead, its instinctive reaction seemed to be to fly upwards, thereby trapping itself against the glass. My attention wandered for a moment and I though it had managed to work this out, but then the buzzing started again - muffled this time. The sound reduction was due to the bee trapping itself behind a roof blind. And this is where the yuck factor kicked-in To remove the bee, I had to get a stepladder from the garage and climb up to unclip the blind. This released around a dozen fly and other insect corpses, but not the bee. True to instinct, it then flew to the lower edge of the roof panel, where it repeated the head banging on glass futile escape method. Retrieving a large glass from the kitchen and a magazine, I then had to balance on the top of the stepladder and put the glass over the bee, who by now had convinced me that it was not the brightest of hive employees. Not realising this was intended as a life-saving manouver, the bee now became really angry, with the result that sliding the magazine under the glass, while in danger of overbalancing on the top of the ladder became an even riskier operation. Balancing the glass on the magazine, I descended the ladder and walked out into the garden and placed the glass on its side on the garden table and removed the magazine. True to form, the bee continued flying into the bottom of the glass for a few seconds, before turning and flying out of the other end. I then feared a repeat of the whole rescue when it flew back towards the patio door, only veering up and away at the last minute. I was feeling rather proud of my rescue - the bee had returned to the wild unharmed and intact. My wife then appeared, wanting to know what I was doing with the stepladder in the conservatory and why I'd covered the floor in dead flies... All together now

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Constructive Vultures? Buying into Co-operative Bank Debt

Aurelius Capital Management and Silver Point Capital - two US hedge funds with 'vulture' reputations (ie buying debt to demand stringent repayment terms from already endangered creditors) have bought bonds issued by the Britannia Building Society before it was taken over by the Co-operative Bank. The bonds rank higher than the subordinated bonds and preference shares sold to small investors, who are already faced with losses as part of the bank's 'bail-in' that is intended to raise £500 million towards the bank's recapitalisation. Vulture funds act only on their own narrow self-interest but Aurelius and Silver Point have - perhaps mischieviously - attempted to excuse their behaviour by claiming: 'We are not here to cause mischief. We want to sit down with the bank and work out a consensual solution.' A 'consensual solution' to a situation where they have no definable interest in the first place. Their actions will force the bank to pay an even higher price for the recapitalisation and cause even more loss and uncertainty to the small investors who now risk higher losses if Aurelius and Silver Point's demands destabilise the bank still further.