Saturday, January 31

Why on earth is the UK taking in ships which have been rejected by India as well?

This is bizarre. India rejected this French ship because it has asbestos. And now it is going to come to the UK? I quote:

Decommissioned in 1997, it has been moored in Brest since 2006 when the then French President Jacques Chirac recalled her from India after an outcry by politicians and environmentalists, concerned for the health of Indian workers who would strip the vessel.

An estimated 700 tons of material contaminated by the original asbestos used in her construction still remain in the ship, which was named after the First World War statesman Georges Clemenceau but is now known as Hull Q790.

The 878ft long aircraft carrier Clemenceau is scheduled to leave the French port of Brest during the first week in February and make her final voyage under tow to a dock in Teesside, where she will be pulled apart.

The 27,000 ton hulk is laden with asbestos and other toxic chemicals and environmentalists in France and the UK are opposed to bringing her here.

The ship is destined for Able UK, the company which previously brought four other 'ghost ships' from the American National Defence Reserve Fleet to the UK for dismantling.

All the vessels will now be broken up together, along with some smaller British ships, at the company's yard in Graythorp, Teesside, near Hartlepool.

Famous Saying That Come From Britain

Interesting or what? Thanks, Peter :)

EATING HUMBLE PIE: Servants ate "umble pie" which was made from deer waste while their Master and his guests had the better cuts of meat.

TURN THE TABLES: Tables only had one finished side. The other side, less expensive to make, was more rough. When the family was alone, they ate on the rough side to keep the good side nice for company. When company came, the whole top lifted off and was turned to its good side.

RULE OF THUMB: An old English law declared that a man could not beat his wife with a stick any larger than the diameter of his thumb.

SLEEP TIGHT: The bed frames were strung with ropes on which straw mattresses were placed. After some time the ropes would loosen and one of the young men would pull them tight.

TIE THE KNOT: Tying the knot of the ropes in the marriage bed.

HONEYMOON: It was the accepted practise in Babylonia 4,000 years ago that for a month after the wedding, the bride's father would supply his son-in-law with all the mead he could drink. Mead is a honey beer, and because their calendar was lunar based, this period was called the "honey month" or what we know today as the "honeymoon".

THE CLINK: The name of a prison which was on Clink Street in the Southwark area of London.

SON OF A GUN: After sailors had crossed the Atlantic to the West Indies, they would take the native women on board the ship and have their way with them in between the cannons. Some of the women the sailors left behind would have boys, who were called sons between the guns.

DONE TO A TURN: Meat was roasted until cooked on an upright spit which had to be turned by hand.

BEAT AROUND THE BUSH: Game birds were scared out of their hiding places under bushes and then killed.

CUT THROUGH THE RED TAPE: Solicitors kept their clients papers in a file folder tied with red ribbon to prevent the papers from falling out. Of course, when they wanted to get at the papers, they would have to cut through the red tape.

MINDING YOUR Ps & Qs: Ale was served at local taverns out of a "tankard" ... you were charged by the angle of your elbow ... half-way up... you drank a pint, all the way up... you drank a quart. Since the Quart cost so much more than the Pint, you were warned to "Mind your Ps & Qs"

GETTING TANKED: When you drank too much out of the above "tankard" you were said to be "tanked" ... if you got so "tanked" that you passed out, there was a chance that somebody might think you had actually died. Since back then they didn't have experience with taking pulses, they often buried people alive who were actually in a drunken stupor or otherwise comatose.

WET YOUR WHISTLE: Many years ago in England, pub frequenters had a whistle baked into the rim or handle of their ceramic cups. When they needed a refill, they used to blow the whistle to get some service.

SAVED BY THE BELL: When our ancestors realised that they were burying a great deal of people before their time had actually come, they came up with a solution. They tied a string onto the "dead" person's hand, buried them, and tied the other end of the string to a bell and then tied it to nearby tree branch. If the person revived enough to ring the bell, their survivors would rush out and dig them up. Hence... "saved by the bell"

CHEW THE FAT: A host would offer his guests a piece of bacon, which was stored above the fireplace in the parlour, so they could chew the fat during their visit.

GETTING THE SHORT END OF THE STICK: Candles were expensive to make, so often reeds were dipped in tallow and burned instead. When visitors came, it was the custom for guests to make their exit by the time the lights went out. Therefore, if your host didn't want you to stay very long, he would give you a "short stick."

GIVING SOMEONE THE COLD SHOULDER: When a guests would over stay their welcome as house guests, the hosts would (instead of feeding them good, warm meals) give their too-long staying guests the worst part of the animal, not warmed, but the COLD SHOULDER.

FROG IN YOUR THROAT: Medieval physicians believed that the secretions of a frog could cure a cough if they were coated on the throat of the patient. The frog was placed in the mouth of the sufferer and remained there until the physician decided that the treatment was complete.

Now this is courageous, kudos to this mom


I am always impressed by people who rise above their physical limitations, these people show what is meant by the nobility of the human spirit. Her child will be proud to know that her mom did everything that she could despite the physical limitations. Good for you.

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Excitement and Audit do not go together…

I noticed this job opportunity on a local rag. It was for an Assistant IT Auditor. The word auditor sends me into a deep comatose state but for some yet to be understood reason, my life is full of these chaps. I am sure there is a good reason for it, but that reason escapes me now. But that wasn't what I wanted to point out in this blog. The first line of the advertisement states:

An exciting position has arisen within our Business Internal Audit division in Abbey.

Exciting? Hmmmmm. Not very sure of this, I am afraid…

Thursday, January 29

University Education and the limits to funding

University Education is not a right, tertiary education is a responsibility of the individual, first and foremost. The fact that the state gives funding is the exception down human history. Take a look at Cambridge University, which is celebrating its 800th year of formation. This is a university which has produced more Nobel prize winners than any other university in the world. Check out the history per se. By and large, the university has been founded and funded by private citizens who are doing their philanthropic duty. But Cambridge and Oxford, here in the UK, are now the exception rather than the rule.

For some reason, it is now accepted that governments should totally fund tertiary education, tuition fees should be abolished and it should be a free ride. Not at all. That is not the case. Sure, you can get project and research funding from the Government to study societal topics and such, but to expect a fully open purse? Not at all.

Specially when the economy turns down, then public funding has to be squeezed as well. So when the Leader of British Opposition says that student numbers will drop, then it simply makes sense. After all, Tony Blair's target of 50% of all students in full time tertiary education simply is not backed by facts and figures. There is no reason to believe that that figure is right for a society. Why not 40% or why not 70%?

Take another issue, the drop out rate. Professor Ebdon, who complained about the fact that Cameron was forcing students not to take up education presides over a University whose drop out rate is higher than the benchmark of 12.4%. Curiously, not a word on that, so I would have guessed that the good professor would have spent more time on getting more of his students through the University rather than asking for more people to be shoved into the system.

Furthermore, this idea of social engineering being pushed by the current government is dangerous. More you try to push more people into university education, without any attempt to handle the basic issues, means that more people drop off. At some places, the drop off rate is a gobsmacking 40%. Lack of job opportunities, lack of good teachers, concentration on foreign students, lack of funding all means that universities have to shrink to provide good quality education to a smaller group of students rather than provide mediocre or poor quality education to a vast unwashed herd of students who will either drop off or graduate with degrees which are frankly useless. I quote:

.....graduates in arts and humanities subjects, such as history, art, French or English literature, had among the lowest earnings.

Or see this graphic from the Economist

Numbers are a bit old, but I dont believe it has changed that much, or even if they have changed, the downturn would have impacted the earnings significantly now. Those gender differences are startling, no? but they are not part of this blogpost so will pick that up sometime later.

So yes, when you have financial constraints, you need to cut back and increase quality. Cambridge did not get to 800 years of age and of the highest quality by being mediocre, it was so because it was brilliant, kept itself small, enforced quality and did not rely on government funding. Lessons to be learnt, I guess.

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Sunday, January 25

California is becoming a Pakistan

I read on a hedge fund report which said that California is the Pakistan of USA. The idea being that it is becoming seriously economically mismanaged and is in danger of imploding. That comparison with a country is not that far fetched, whatever you say. You hear statement after statement that California, if an independent country, would be the 6th or 8th biggest country in the world in terms of economic metrics. Since then, I have been keeping a bit of an eye out on that state.

But this state is peculiarly badly governed. Its brand of democracy, the demographics of the state, the high reliance on income taxes, the way the political parties have carved up the state with the constituency units, all combine to make it a fascinatingly amazing place. Because of the fact that the boundaries of the electoral seats are carved out in such a way that they appeal to the extremist wings of the two political parties, the idea of appealing to the centre and doing bi-partisan work is strangely missing. Consequently, the parties are not willing to compromise. Add the "proposition" business and what you end up with is a stream of dollars which are tied ruthlessly to single spending streams. And let us not forget the public sector which is, simultaneously pathetic in terms of efficiency and horribly expensive.

So when faced with a huge economic slowdown, the republicans are refusing to let the governor raise taxes while the democrats are refusing to cut spending. And the credit crunch means that trying to raise money from the markets is nearly impossible because the markets fear the state will not be able to honour its rapidly rising debt. Result? Deadlock. Let me quote some results of this stupid set of circumstances:

California’s state controller said he won’t make $3.7 billion of payments due next month, cutting off income-tax refunds and money for welfare programs amid a record budget shortfall battering the most-populous U.S. state

And from here,

To conserve cash, Schwarzenegger has ordered state offices shut for two days a month and all workers to take two days of unpaid leave each month. The impasse forced a state panel on Dec. 18 to halt funding for $3.8 billion of construction on schools, roads and other public works, a decision officials said might cost tens of thousands of jobs.

And here:

The governor also said he and lawmakers should go without pay for every day they fail to enact a budget past its due date.

(Which might not be such a bad idea).

Schwarzenegger, a multimillionaire, has declined his $212,179 a year salary since he was elected. Lawmakers each make at least $116,208 a year plus $162 per day per diem; legislative leaders make more depending upon their position.

So the bunch of girly men and manly women have effectively driven the state to near fiscal disaster. Some say that people get the leaders they deserve, but surely this isnt the case here? Not sure what is the future of this problem nor the solution, but I can see muchas problemo's in this fiscal train crash of a state.

What do the resident Californians think?

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Hear Ye!, Hear Ye! Chocolate Prices going up

Can you imagine? the economy might be collapsing, the political situation in dire straits, the instability in the Middle East rising, threats of terrorism all over the place, banks folding, people being let go, but now comes the biggest threat of all. Chocolate is going to cost more now.

As the FT reports, wholesale cost of cocoa has gone up beyond £2000 per ton in almost 24 years. I quote:

Chocolate prices in the shops are likely to rise further, hitting cash-strapped consumers, after wholesale cocoa prices in London jumped last week above the key £2,000 a tonne level for the first time in almost 24 years.

Premium chocolate brands, which typically use more cocoa, are likely to be the worst affected as any further rise in prices is expected to exacerbate the shift by consumers to cheaper brands to save money. Confectionery companies such as Mars, Nestlé and Cadbury were tight-lipped about their pricing plans after the jump in wholesale cocoa prices. But Cadbury, which lifted its chocolate prices 5 per cent last year, has warned that if cocoa prices remain high, it will raise prices further again this year.

Better lay in a stock now, ladies, because life is going to get a whole load worse for us...

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There be dragons

Pretty fascinating stuff, no?