Thursday, December 21, 2006

Immaculate conception

There's news today that at Chester zoo, Flora the Komodo dragon has laid 11 eggs, in spite of having no mate. The eggs have been tested at Liverpool University where scientists discovered that the genetic make-up of the embryos exactly matches the mother ie they were created by parthenogenesis. It was known that other species of lizards could procreate in this manner but this is the first example of parthenogenesis by a Komodo dragon. They say that when they hatch, all the babies will be male and that they will at some later stage impregnate their mother. This seems strange to my mind. Why should they all be male, particularly considering that only the females are able to perform parthenogenesis? If the mother dies suddenly, what hope is there for the 11 to continue the species? It's lucky that there are other zoos/the wild where they can be taken in an emergency...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

American conservatism

A friend of mine from San Francisco has been up for membership of The Francisca Club, a women's club founded in the late nineteenth century, where her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were all members. The interview consisted of lunch with the Committee, whose average age is around 65. My friend is currently living in London and she was discussing her life here with them and mentioned that she lives with her boyfriend. One of the Committee then asked,"Do you want to get married?" "Yes!" my friend replied. She was bowled over by the comment which followed:"Does your boyfriend's family have a problem that you've been divorced?"

Monday, December 18, 2006

No room at the Cathedral

The Dean informed us on Sunday that due to new Health & Safety regulations, for the first time ever, numbers will be restricted inside the Cathedral over Christmas. Numbers will be limited to 1250 seats and 750 standing. The Midnight Service on Christmas Eve will be broadcast outside the Cathedral and Holy Communion will also be given outside to those "excess numbers" who can stand the midnight chill. I'm preparing some hot water bottles...

Friday, December 15, 2006

North Sea oil

Matthew Lynn has written a very good article in this week's The Business about how GB is the only person this year to lose revenue from oil. In his 05 pre-Budget report, he doubled the supplementary charge on oil companies operating in the North Sea to 20%, reckoning that it would give him another £1.4bn p.a. to spend. He was warned at the time by Michael Webb, CEO of the UK Offshore Operators Association that this would result in companies cutting back on production. This was correct. Tax revenues from North Sea oil were £3bn less than the Treasury forecast. It pays the highest tax rate of any sector in the UK economy: 50% on new developments and 75% on old ones. Rigs, kit and workers are in short supply globally so the oil companies are not prepared to work in an unprofitable area of the world. So much for the SNP's plan to scoop up all the oil revenues. Or perhaps its cunning plan is to offer the oil companies substantial tax cuts to renew production?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Hope for skills

I learned today that we have a skills minister called Phil Hope. According to his political biography, the MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire includes tennis, juggling, computing and gardening as his hobbies so perhaps that's why he got the job. He thinks that prisons should do more to develop "soft skills" amongst their inmates, such as "punctuality and team work". Choking on my coffee as I read this, The Italian Job sprang to mind. What's happened to old fashioned prison values? If the Govt is sincere about bringing back prison labour, why doesn't it start with using some of them to man rural post offices?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Education, education, etc...

I spent my lunch hour listening to Boris Johnson despair about the education system. He rattled off various depressing statistics: 8m adults cannot read or write, 40% of pupils leave primary school unable to read or write, 43% of pupils taking A Level Maths get a grade A compared with 7% in 1965 due to dumbing down rather than an incredible improvement in mathematical skills. He partially blames the dreadful performance of primary schools on the fact that the ratio of female to male teachers has risen to 13:1. He thinks that boys need a male role model, particularly if they come from single parent (ie just a mother) families and that if this is lacking, discipline deteriorates and less is learned by everybody in the class. One is no longer allowed to mention the word "failure" in the education sector. "Failure" has been renamed "deferred success". He also made the point that the policy of "bringing back failure to the classroom" in order to improve standards was one supported by people in a group but not supported by people as individuals who are very anxious for their own children to get "good" grades, whatever the true meaning of "good".

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


My boss is trying to get me to buy some white truffles from Alba, each weighing 70-80g, from the estate of one of his friends. He suggested I put together a syndicate to buy at least 500g for a price of E500 for 100g. Dreaming of lavish gratings of truffle on my scrambled eggs, I was tempted but decided to compare prices on the internet. I found a site offering 10g of white Alba truffles for £20 and asked my boss if his friend could match the price. His response was that the website was run by Serbians. The obvious question was, "What is the difference between an Italian truffle and a Serbian one?" The answer came back, fast and furious, "The same as between an Italian mushroom and a Serbian one: no taste at all!!!"

Monday, December 11, 2006

Expensive shortcuts

A friend of a friend is a City consultant and member of the HAC. He has been called up to Iraq, his City salary being paid for the next 6 months by the MoD and his job waiting for him on his return. How desperate the Army has been forced to become...

Friday, December 08, 2006

Back to Old Labour

In his pre-budget report, GB announced that in addition to inheritance tax of 40%, there will be a new tax of up to 70% on self-invested personal pensions. Yes, we're going back to 60s socialism under GB and this is only the beginning. The Labour Govt is quite happy for people to lose their life savings (remember Equitable), perhaps because it doesn't want any goods to be passed on to the next generation. It's also very happy for young people to start their lives up to their ears in debt. It purports to encourage home ownership but the reason for this is not entirely clear, particularly if one allows for the possibility that house prices may fall. Maybe when he's PM, GB will take this to its logical conclusion: all property should be owned by the state. After all, he's very happy for 40% of the workforce to be employed by the state.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Treasury gets it wrong...again

Gordon Brown's pre-budget report is enough to make one weep. Not only was the Treasury forced to admit that its inflation predictions were completely wrong but also they had over-estimated North Sea oil revenues by a staggering £3bn. At a stroke, the structural budget deficit forecast plunged to 2.6% of GDP for 06/7. The UK lags behind the US and many other European countries in terms of per capita productivity. Why? Because the Labour Govt has placed so much emphasis on the public sector. Now that inflation is running at 3.6% and public sector unions want wage rises above that, this disastrous policy is hurting all taxpayers. One can only hope that GB will call an election as soon as he becomes Leader and that he'll lose. However, he does not appear to be a gambling man.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Corporate murder

I was relieved to hear David Cameron extolling the virtues of privatisation, the free market economy and minimal interference from the state at the Conservative City Circle drinks party last night. I hadn't realised that his father was the fourth generation of his family to have worked at Panmure Gordon. I was talking at Theresa Villiers who said she was on a running whip and may have to dash back at any moment to the HoC to vote on corporate murder. "Is that something like Farepak?" I quipped. My attempt at humour was lost on her. The reply came, "No, it's when, for example, a railway company runs over an employee..."