Friday, 23 February 2018

Satire copies satire

VIZ, September 2014, spoof advert for an 'off-road' vehicle with the slogan "Primary school halfway up a fucking mountain? No problem."

Newsthump, February 2018, spoof article titled "Range Rover launch new 4×4 for people whose local Waitrose is halfway up a mountain".

I find this paragraph strangely hypnotic

From The Sun:

The other fatalities, five men and two women, were Panneerselvam Annamalai, Rishi Ranjeev Kumar, Vivek Baskaran, Lavanyalakshmi Seetharaman, Karthikeyan Pugalur Ramasubramanian, Subramaniyan Arachelvan and Tamilmani Arachelvan.

The world would be a better place if we'd never had to read it, obviously.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

That was the Cow of the Week that was.

From The Daily Mail:

A runaway cow that avoided captivity for weeks died Thursday after it was caught and put on a truck to be taken to a farm, a local official said.

The red Limousin beef cow fled Jan. 23 as it was to be transported to a slaughterhouse. It gained celebrity status as it defended its life and freedom, tricking searchers, swimming from island to island and roaming a lake-filled region near Nysa, in southwestern Poland.

Bartosz Bukala, a spokesman for Nysa authorities, told The Associated Press that the cow had been captured but died while being transported to a local governor's farm where it was to be kept.

Local internet portal said a team of five, including a veterinarian, moved early Thursday to capture the animal, valued at some 5,000 zlotys ($1,500,) near the village of Siestrzechowice. It took a few hours and three shots of sedatives before it was put on a truck, but the animal died there, apparently from stress, the report said.

Might as well have left her there, in other words.

"Queen of the South keeper crisis after goalie hurt by cow"

Spotted by Paul F at the BBC:

A Scottish Championship club is facing a selection headache after its reserve goalkeeper* was hit by a runaway cow. First choice goalkeeper Alan Martin is out with a thigh injury with Jack Leighfield standing in.

Queen of the South's Sam Henderson, 19, hurt his shoulder in the incident on his father's farm. Henderson was on the bench for last weekend's draw with Morton and was expected to do the same against Dunfermline on Saturday. However, the accident has meant he is facing a race to be fit.

* I think that young Sam was the reserve reserve goalkeeper. The actual reserve goalkeeper is Jack Leighfield (who happily has not been injured, by a cow or otherwise), but hey. So what the club now needs is a reserve reserve reserve goalkeeper to tide them over.

"Migration figures: Highest number of EU nationals leaving UK in a decade"

... screams the BBC:

The number of EU citizens leaving the UK is at its highest level for a decade, figures from the Office for National Statistics show. It estimates that 130,000 EU nationals emigrated in the year to September, the highest number since 2008.

Oh dear, so our European brothers and sisters are voting with their feet like the Remainers threatened they would and the Leavers hoped/promised they would? I suppose some of the wilder forecasts made by either side prior to the Referendum will actually happen, if only by coincidence.

I wonder who'll do our nursing and harvest our vegetables instead...

Meanwhile, 220,000 EU nationals came to live in the UK - 47,000 fewer than the previous year. Net EU migration - the difference between arrivals and departures - was 90,000, the lowest for five years.

OK, nothing to worry about then. This is all as fatuous as Nixon's comment that "The rate of increase of inflation is going down."

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Cow of the week

Cow escapes on way to slaughterhouse, smashes through metal fence, breaks arm of man trying to catch her then swims to safety on island in lake

H/t James Higham

Friday, 16 February 2018

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (435)

From the BBC:

A plan to raise council tax on second homes in the Yorkshire Dales could affect 3.4 million householders across the UK, it has been claimed...

According to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority there are about 1,500 second homes in the Dales - more than 10% of the housing stock.

It argues second homes "deny a home to a permanent resident and push up prices" and increasing tax would "help attract and retain families to live and work in the area"...

If the government agrees, there would be a charge of £8,500 a year on a Band D property...

North Yorkshire County Councillor John Blackie said: "Put simply, firms will pack up and the local young families running them will move away and find their livelihoods where work is available for their skills. It happened in 2001 when foot and mouth blighted the Upper Dales."

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Corporate governance, short-termism and shameless greed neo-liberalism... and Carillion.

They do the hard work so that I don't have to!

At Flip Chart Fairy Tales, a good summary of 'what went wrong' at Carillion*, seguing into a general discussion about how to diagnose short-termism and whether its ill-effects are even measurable.

At Stumbling & Mumbling, a riposte:

We have some more empirical evidence here. Let’s say that stock markets were too short-termist. In such a world, we’d expect them to under-price growth stocks and pay too much for stocks that pay high dividends. 

Generally speaking, though, the opposite has been the case. For most of the last 30 years, high-yielding shares in the FTSE 350 have out-performed lower-yielding ones: the main exception came between 2003 (when tech stocks were under-priced) and 2010**. And the FTSE Aim index – which contains many “growth” stocks” has horribly under-performed the All-share index since its inception in the mid-90s. 

This tells us that stock markets have generally paid too much for growth and too little for dividends. They have been too long-termist, not too short-termist.

Of course, managers can be as irrational as the rest of us. But it’s possible to be too long-termist as well as too short-termist. The biggest problem with corporate governance – as highlighted by Carillion - is not that bosses are too short-termist, but that they have too much power to plunder firms for their own private gain.

Warming to his own theme in his next post:

One feature of neoliberalism is that restraint in the pursuit of self-interest is now absent. Bosses lack Smith’s “impartial spectator” which tells them to hold back, and instead feel no compunction about jostling others. They are content to plunder customers, pensioners, sub-contractors, workers or future workers.

Among her many claims for expenses, Glynis Breakwell, Vice-Chancellor of Bath University, claimed £2 for biscuits. Many of us would not have done so, thinking it too petty-minded to bother. Neoliberals, however, not only are petty-minded but don’t mind being seen as such by others...

And there’s the rub: where they think they can get away with it. My story here is not just about morality. Perhaps there never was a golden era of benevolent paternalistic bosses. What’s happened since around the 1970s is that the restraints upon bosses – from law, social norms and trades unions – have diminished. The problem isn’t just greed, but power.

* On the topic of Carillion, a look at their 2016 accounts is an eye-opener.

Page 92 "consolidated statement of changes in equity" shows that opening net assets were £1,016 million, to which they add reported profit for the year of £129 million and deduct £83 million of dividends and a £440 million increase in the pension scheme shortfall (plus/minus various other bits and pieces) to arrive at closing net assets of £730 million.A massive fucking loss, in other words.

They were honest enough to disclose the pension scheme shortfall, but why on earth was this not treated as an expense in the year, meaning an overall loss before tax of about £311 million? In which case, cancel the dividends and directors' bonuses for a start, methinks.

Page 93 "Consolidated balance sheet" is even more damning.

Gross assets were inflated by £1,670 million of "intangible assets" which is completely made-up numbers, they are worth nothing, in which case the balance sheet would have been negative overall (deduct £1,670 fantasy assets from reported net assets of £730 million).

What are these "intangible assets"?

They are accounting alchemy which enable you to book future profits before they are even earned. When you get a nice juicy PFI contract, with annual costs of £1 million and guaranteed income of £2 million, running for 25 years, you have actually landed £25 million in easy profits. So you sell this contract to somebody else for the net present value, let's say £15 million.

I met a former colleague who works for one of these sharks, who do nothing but buy and sell PFI contracts without ever lifting a spade. Each year, the company which has bought the contract books £1 million actual cash profit and writes off £0.6 million, 1/25 of the £15 million paid in advance, net income £0.4 million.

To what extent Carillion were selling contracts to themselves by doing an Enron with shell companies I do not know, but the end result is the same. And then they would trot along to the willing bank and borrow (say) £10 million secured on the £15 million fantasy asset and use it to pay bonuses and dividends. Pension scheme didn't get a penny, or course.

If that seems a bit esoteric, it is no different to taking out a second mortgage to "release" increases in "equity" in your home. The value of the home is just the net present value of the rental income. You can either collect/enjoy a bit more rental income/value every year in future, or cash in today, borrow against it and spend it all in advance.

Car hits school

From the BBC:

A car crashed into the front entrance of a secondary school at the height of the morning run.

The black BMW was seen driving "at speed" around the car park of Fir Vale School in Sheffield at about 08:25 GMT before it hit the building.

Two men, aged 23 and 20, have been arrested on suspicion of dangerous driving and causing criminal damage.

Inevitably, they were driving a BMW.

"When people of the same trade meet together... the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public"

In the light of that Adam Smith misquote, let's cast a wry eye on this self-preening article in City AM:

There is no need for a “Hippocratic Oath” specifically in relation to tax, as McDonnell called for, since chartered accountants already ensure that taxpayers – individuals, companies, and others – pay the right amount of tax due under the law. In this way, we help reduce the tax gap by supporting good tax compliance.

Of course, it would be naive to hope anyone would take this purely on trust. Which is why, in addition to being subject to legal requirements, chartered accountants and members of other professional accountancy bodies are also required to follow a professional code of ethics...

But what is rarely mentioned is that almost a third of registered tax advisers are not members of any professional body. This means they are not required to follow any ethical or professional standards at all. If politicians truly wish to get tough and raise standards, ensuring that the high bar set by the chartered profession is applied across the board would be a good start.

Sub-text: raise barriers to entry by "regulating" everybody who isn't a Chartered Accountant, who nobly "self-regulate".

How effective is that "self-regulation"..? From The Daily Mail:

Britain’s big four accountancy firms have been savaged by MPs who have accused them of “feasting on the carcass” of collapsed construction giant Carillion and collecting more than £70 million in the process...

Veteran Labour MP Frank Field, head of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “The image of these companies feasting on what was soon to become a carcass will not be lost on decent citizens. The former directors of Carillion are, unlike their pensioners, suppliers and employees, alright.

“These figures show that, as ever, the Big Four are alright too. All of them did extensive – and expensive – work for Carillion. PwC managed to play all three sides – the company, pension schemes and the Government – to the tune of £21 million and are now being paid to preside over the carcass of the company as Special Managers.

“It was perhaps telling that, with their three fellow oligarchs conflicted, PwC were appointed to this lucrative position without any competition.”

According to information published by the committees, KPMG has banked £20.2 million in fees since 2008, PwC £21.1 million, Deloitte £12 million and EY £18.3 million.

So 'not very' and yet again, we are presented with evidence that they are actually thieving scum.