Friday, February 27, 2009

The Tiger and the Fox

In a certain wood, where dwelt many jackals and foxes, a tiger came and took up his abode. And what did he do? This is what he used to do. Every day he would kill a jackal or two.
So the jackals and foxes gathered together, and said, "If he goes on this way he will destroy us all, so, as we are now assembled here, let us agree that each will take his turn to be devoured."
And so they did. Every day they used to give to the tiger the one whose turn it was. One day it was a fox's turn.
At first he hid himself, but then he thought, "Now I have to go, for I am hemmed in on both sides. I'll go, but I'll try by some trick to keep my breath in me."
So on he went, shivering as he went, till he came to the tiger's presence.
"Ah!" says the tiger, "You fox, why have you been so long?"
"Sire," said the fox, "another tiger has come to live in your country."
"Where is that tiger?" said the tiger.
"Come with me," said the fox, "and I will show him to you."
So the fox went in front and the tiger went behind, and they went on till they came to a well.
They came and stood at the mouth of the well, and then the fox said, "Oh, my lord tiger! That other tiger has just come home after feeding on a jackal, and he is now sitting inside this well."
Then the tiger said, "What kind of tiger can he be to come to my country! Either I must stay here alone, or he can stay alone, but we cannot live together."
Then he went up to the well and looked in, and saw a tiger sitting there. But really it was only his own reflection. With that he leapt into the well, and there was drowned and perished.
Then the fox went back to his home, jumping for joy as he went. He called out to his brethren, "Come here, foxes and jackals!"
They came up at his call, and were very angry, and said, "You fox, it was your turn to be eaten by the tiger! Why have you come back? Now the tiger will be in a rage and will come and kill two or three jackals and two or three foxes."
But the fox answered them, "Don't you be afraid. I have killed that tiger."
They all said, "You are a fox, and he is a tiger. How then could you kill him?"
He said, "Come, and I'll show him to you."
They set out in great fear after the fox, and trembling with fright, they came and stoood at the mouth of the well.
The fox gave a shout and said, "Come and see how I have slain the tiger and cast him into this well." They peeped in, and said that it was the truth, and that the tiger was lying dead in the well. And they all rejoiced exceedingly.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nude sales

"Nude sales" is the Italian term for a boom area in the property market over there: elderly Italians are selling their homes at a discount on the condition that they can live there until they die. In this way, pensioners can increase their income and stay in their home. The older the seller, the closer the property is priced to the prevailing market value enabling buyers to profit from premature deaths.
The French have a similar system and also a cautionary tale. In 1965 a French lawyer called Andre-Francois Raffray was 47 when he bought 90 year old Jeanne Calment's apartment, expecting to move in within a few years. However, she lived on to the age of 122, dying in 1997, by which time Raffray had been dead for two years.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Force majeure

Emotions are running high in this recession. A subsidiary of the main electricity company in Malaysia, Tenaga Nasional Bhd, was having a meeting last week with one of the Malaysian independent power producers (IPPs) to agree the purchase price of the power which Tenaga was going to buy. Present at the negotiation table were 14 people, including Tenaga officers, representatives from the IPP and the Tenaga subsidiary, as well as lawyers and an official from the Malaysian Energy, Water and Communications Ministry. Negotiations were tough, and one of the Ministry officials told the IPP representatives not to twist their arms. The team leader of the IPP's team replied, "arm twisting is nothing", then took out his pistol and brandished it in front of them.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Joke of the day

A man had dinner with his three best friends and said, "I have some very bad news: I have just heard that I only have two months to live and I want to ask you a favour." He handed them each an envelope containing £10,000. "Could you throw these envelopes into my grave in case I need the money for the resurrection?" The friends agreed and at the funeral two months later threw the envelopes as requested.
Six months later, the three friends reconvened. One of them, a social worker, said, "I am afraid I have a confession to make. £10,000 seemed such a lot of money to throw away so I took out £2000 and gave it to a local children's charity and only threw in £8000."
"I too must confess," said another who was a vicar. "My church desperately needed £4000 for repairs so I only threw in £6000."
The third friend, a lawyer, was appalled and berated the others for cheating their late friend. "My envelope contained a cheque for the full amount," he said.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Zimbabwean numbers

A calculation made in November 2008 reckoned that hyperinflation was such in Zimbabwe that prices doubled every day. However, it hadn't reached the Hungarian record reached in July 1946 when prices doubled every 16 hours. The actual Zimbabwean inflation rate was estimated to be 89.7 sextillion per cent and the exchange rate to the US$ had soared to 12.6 trillion.. Large numbers are complicated by the fact that while everybody agrees that 1 million has 6 zeros after the one, some people believe that 1 billion is 1000 million whereas others think it is one million million and this throws out all subsequent large numbers. Anyway, 1 sextillion is 10 to the power of either 21 or 36, depending on which camp you fall in. Gideon Gono, governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, was mocked in November when he closed the stock exchange because traders had used fraudulent cheques totalling "60 hexillion" Zim dollars to buy shares. It was assumed he meant "sextillion" but unclear which definition of the word he was using. Anyway the stock exchange reopened yesterday and all listed shares have been redenominated in US$, thereby eliminating the problems of zeros at a stroke.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Unfortunate Iphis

I have been listening to Handel's Jephtha which is the Old Testament story from Judges with a different ending. In the OT story, Jephthah was asked by the elders of Gilead to help them in the war against the Ammonites, a request which he accepted on condition that they would make him their chief. He vowed to God that should he be victorious, he would sacrifice whatever was first to come out of his house to meet him on his return. He had a resounding victory but the first person to come out of his house was his only daughter, whom he sacrificed two months later. The OT does not mention her name but Handel calls her Iphis, in memory of Iphigenia, Agamemnon's daughter whom he sacrificed in return for a wind to blow his ships to Troy. In Handel's version, Iphis is not sacrificed: instead she sacrifices her opportunity to marry and leaves for a nunnery.
Ovid tells a story about another Iphis. She was born in Crete, the daughter of Telethusa and Ligdus. Ligdus had already threatened to kill the child if it wasn't a boy. Telethusa despaired but was visited in the middle of the night by the Egyptian goddess Isis who assured her that all would be well. Telethusa concealed her daughter's sex from her husband and raised her as a boy. However, Iphis fell in love with another girl, Ianthe, and prayed to Juno to allow her to marry her beloved. When nothing happened, her mother Telethusa brought her to the temple of Isis and prayed to the goddess to help her daughter. Isis responded by transforming Iphis into a man. The male Iphis married Ianthe and the two live happily ever after.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On a bender

Sir Gus O'Donnell, cabinet secretary, gives an interview to the FT today in which he defends recent allegations that top civil servants have been enjoying huge numbers of freebies at every social event going. "We need to get out there and be an open civil service that is in favour of networking and meeting people, and which doesn't hide itself away like monks in a cell. If that means Sir Brian Bender has to eat for his country at breakfast, lunch and dinner, mostly giving talks that business people have asked him to do, that is part of his job."
'Sir Brian Bender is the business department permanent secretary who had attended the most events' reports the FT. Well, with a name like that, what do you expect? Arise, Lord Bender!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Conspiracy theory of the day

Neither the British nor the French government will say on which day this month their nuclear submarines crashed into each other in the Atlantic. Is it because it was the same day that the American and Russian satellites crashed in space? Such is the essence of sci-fi: extra-terrestrial bodies interfering with radar/sonar on earth. Oh well, that's a thought to quell the recession into insignificance.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nonsense of the day

HBOS and Lloyds-TSB went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some assets and plenty of bad debts
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
Lloyds Bank looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely HBOS! O HBOS my love,
What a beautiful HBOS you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful HBOS you are!"

HBOS said to Lloyds Bank, "You elegant crank!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed in showers, for five thousand hours,
To the land where Gordon Brown reigns
And there in a wood the FSA stood
With a ring at the end of its drains.
Its drains
Its drains,
With a ring at the end of its drains.

"FSA are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?" Said FSA, "I will."
So they took it away and were married next day
By A.Darling who looked rather ill.
They dined on debts and outlandish bets,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They died by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They died by the light of the moon.

With apologies to Edward Lear

Friday, February 13, 2009

Another blow for minority shareholders

Barclays infuriated minority shareholders at the end of last year when they were not offered the deal with Middle Eastern investors whereby they would give it a cash injection in return for a gross annual yield of 14%. Now we have Rio giving Chinalco bonds yielding 9% in return for badly needed funds after its disastrous decision to buy Alcan at the top of the market, rather than offering a deeply discounted rights issue to all shareholders. Not only that, it is also selling Chinalco prize assets at prices which may well be too low. Minority shareholders are fuming again. Barclays shareholders had threatened to vote down the deal but in the end agreed to it. Let's see if Rio shareholders give in so easily.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Banking inquisition continued

Eric Daniels', CEO of Lloyds, testimony yesterday was interesting, particularly in light of the new information about FSA concerns regarding HBOS. Lloyds was encouraged by the government to take over HBOS in September as GB wanted to avoid another Northen Rock style bail-out. (Remember that Lloyds had wanted to buy Northern Rock in 2007 but its proposal was rejected by the Bank of England as Mervyn King was worried that such a deal would fly in the face of EU law. Such fears had been quashed by September 2008 when banks were folding in abundance and any deal which would save taxpayers from picking up the tab was felt to be very desirable, and certainly worth waiving laws for.) GB was under time pressure as any delay could see HBOS fold so Daniels said that Lloyds committed 5000 man hours of due diligence into the deal, compared with 15,000-20,000 hours which they would have spent in normal circumstances. He did not say whether he had been informed by the FSA of its previous concerns about regulation at HBOS. He did say that if Lloyds had not bought HBOS, it would not have needed to resort to government finance.
This raises a few questions. Was GB acting prudently to encourage this merger which in the end resulted in the government taking a 43% stake in Lloyds? Would taxpayers have lost less money if the government had given a short-term guarantee to HBOS to give Lloyds sufficient time to perform its due diligence? If Lloyds had taken over Northern Rock in 2007 , would it still have needed government finance in 2008? What advice, if any, did the FSA give Lloyds?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

R.I.P. James Crosby

So. Farewell then
Sir James Crosby,
Banker turned regulator.

Your old motto
"Greed is good"
Came back

And bit you.

Not so happy new year

The recession, or depression as GB reminds us, has been affecting Chinese New Year (year of the Ox aka castrated bull) celebrations. Traditional greetings such as "Caiyuan gungun", or "May prosperity come rolling to you", and "Xinxiang shicheng", "May you achieve all your desires" are out of favour as the former sounds exactly the same as the phrase meaning "laid off and discarded" while the latter sounds very like the Mandarin for "40% pay cut."

Friday, February 06, 2009

Question of the day

A friend was asked by his Russian colleague, "What is jolly wog?"

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Anything goes at 90

My father went to have his ears tested the other day. "I have some bad news," he told me. "I've got to get some earrings."

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Poem of the day

The day he moved out was terrible -
That evening she went through hell.
His absence wasn't a problem
But the corkscrew had gone as well.

Wendy Cope

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Up but not yet running

Apologies for the lack of blogs and many thanks for all your messages of goodwill. My colleagues assured me that I would be on a high after all the morphine during my operation but in fact it made me very sick. The hospital then sent me home with a bag of boxes and instructions to take up to 30 pills a day! These really laid me low and after three days I decided to go on a pill strike and felt much better. I rang the doctor who proceeded to scream at me and insist that I should at the very minimum take the antibiotics. Friends very kindly sent me flowers but the house began to look like a funeral parlour so when somebody else said they were going to post me a bunch I begged them not to! Today I am feeling a great deal better and would have gone to work, had it not been for the snow.