Thursday, August 16, 2012

Allez !

As the rioting season commences across the channel, what better time to visit La Belle France?

So we're off to the land of T.T. Omeyer. Blogging will be light unless a Fon hotspot pops up.

Nice Circus - Shame About The Bread

"The heroes of declining nations are always the same—the athlete, the singer or the actor" - Glubb Pasha.

When I saw the Olympic Park Orbit on the telly I thought it was an ugly and depressing piece of work which indeed encapsulated modern Britain - foreign-owned, non-functional, but lauded by our artistic elite as the best thing since sliced cow.

But it's not until you walk into the Olympic Park and see it close to, towering above the stadium, that you can appreciate just how very ugly and non-functional it actually is. It's hideous.

A pity, as with a bit of tweaking it could have made by far the greatest helter-skelter in the world, a ride on which would be well worth fifteen quid.

At night it's illuminated in rising and falling intensities of red, which gives the impression of a giant tungsten lamp filament being heated by an electrical current. Again, had they actually chosen to do that, passing thousands of amps through different parts of the structure until sections glowed red-hot, now here, now there, it would still have been useless, but you'd have had to admire the technology that kept it upright (a large steel structure heated to red heat would usually IMHO collapse as the metal loses strength), and be in awe at the power required.

My jaundiced views on the Olympics have not changed - an outrageous waste of money (£27 million for the opening ceremony alone* was in real terms nearly twice the entire cost of the 1948 Olympics)and a Labour vanity project. But at least they wasted the money in style.The atmosphere was great and the thousands of soldiers and police all over the place meant that you didn't have to worry taking the kids home on the tube at 11.30 pm.

Now it's "tea-break over, back on your heads" - to a world of static wages and sticky inflation.  

Today’s Tories/Lib Dems are basically following Blair/Brown/Darling’s Labour strategy:

slightly reduced state spending (Tories slightly more than Labour, but we’re talking maybe one or two percent here)

money printing (aka "monetisation"),  which via inflation lowers living standards at a time of static wages

lowest-ever interest rates to reduce the real value of savings

mass immigration to keep wages flat - Labour wanted immigration to rub the Right's noses in diversity, Tories like the way it keeps wages down, the rich individuals who fund both parties like the way it keeps wages down

banks to be bailed out by indebting the taxpayer for generations to come.

reduced state spending AND reduced terms and conditions via outsourcing/privatisation deals involving their friends and party donors

But the poor proles need to be constantly reminded that one party is good and one evil, although the actual policies are near-identical. It would never do for people to realise that there’s not a fag-paper’s breadth between them, which is why you'll still read about "Tory scum" and "the most right-wing government in our history" in the Guardian.

What we’re seeing is reproletarianisation.

Before WW2, most working people could look forward to a lifetime spent in rented accommodation and a small pension until death within a few years of retirement (I think in 1945 male average death age was 68, so 3 years of retirement).

After WW2, many of the post-war boomers will have bought their own homes, and the middle-classes will have retired at 60 on two thirds of final salary, index-linked.

But pretty soon their children will leave uni with maybe £60,000 plus of debts (9K fees, 11K board and subsistence for 3 years), live in rented accommodation all their lives and if employed retire at 70-plus on a small pension.

They’ll have returned to the life pattern of their grandparents and great-grandparents. It was a nice circus while it lasted - pity about the bread.

* a ceremony whose presentation, if not whose message, would have won the approval of the late Leni Riefenstahl.

HMRC's Most Wanted

I posted a few years ago (and more on the same theme here) :

We're importing people from a fair few countries where corruption is endemic without any attempt at integration. We're simultaneously beating ourselves up that, say, 39% of the population of Trumpton are from minority x, yet only 2% of the local magistrates are. I don't know what magic the soil of the UK possesses, but our rulers are apparently convinced that the moment you set foot on it all the 'bad' practices of the old country fall off you, leaving only the good bits - you know, the ones that enrich us.

Absent such magical soil, I'd expect that as more magistrates/tax officials/police whatever are appointed from (unintegrated) minority x, so levels of corruption/violence/whatever will depart from those we've experienced in the last 150 years, and move closer to those in country x.

The Telegraph have published HMRC's Most Wanted - the chaps - and they are nearly all chaps - with the biggest unpaid tax bills who've not gone to jail (though note the absence of Vodafone, Google etc) :

Hussain Asad Chohan, 44, believed to be in Dubai. He was convicted at Birmingham Crown Court in his absence and sentenced to 11 years for his part in fraud worth around £200 million, which included importing 2.25 tonnes of tobacco worth £750,000 in duty. Chohan has also been served with a £33 million confiscation order.

Nasser Ahmed, 40, believed to be in Pakistan or Dubai, was convicted at Bristol Crown Court in 2005 for his role in VAT fraud worth around £156 million. He fled before verdicts were given, and was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison in his absence.

Zafar Baidar Chisthi, 33, thought to be in Pakistan, was found guilty at Kingston Crown Court for his part in VAT fraud worth around £150 million. He was sentenced to 11 years for conspiracy to defraud the public purse and one year for perverting the course of justice.

Darsim Abdullah, 42, believed to be in Iraq, was convicted at Guildford Crown Court for being part of a money laundering gang that processed £1 million to £4 million per month. Eleven other members of the gang were convicted or pleaded guilty, but he ran away before sentencing.

Leigang Liang, 38, believed to be in the UK, was convicted at Lewes Crown Court for illegally importing tobacco from China. He was sentenced in his absence to seven years. The estimated cost to the taxpayer of the scam was £2.6 million.

Olutayo Owolabi, 40, believed to be in the UK, was convicted in January 2010 for 27 charges linked to tax credits and money laundering, and sentenced in his absence to nine months in jail. The estimated cost to the taxpayer was £1 million.

Wayne Joseph Hardy, 49, now believed to be in South Africa, was convicted at Ipswich Crown Court for manufacturing tobacco products and not paying duty. He was given three-year sentence in October 2011. The estimated cost to the taxpayer was £1.9 million.

Adam Umerji - aka Shafiq Patel, 34, thought to be in Dubai, was jailed at Liverpool Crown Court for 12 years for VAT fraud and money laundering. The cost to the taxpayer was around £64 million.

Gordon Arthur, 60, believed to be in the United States, suspected of illegally importing cigarettes and alcohol and failing to pay around £15 million in duty. He fled in 2000 and a warrant was issued for his arrest at Maidstone Crown Court in 2002.

Emma Elizabeth Tazey, 38, also believed to be in the United States, is wanted in connection with the same allegations.

John Nugent, 53, thought to be in the United States, was accused of putting in fraudulent claims for duty and VAT worth more than £22 million. A warrant for his arrest was issued at Manchester Crown Court.

Malcolm McGregor McGowan, 60, believed to be in Spain, was found guilty at Sheffield Crown Court in December 2011 of illegally importing cigarettes worth around £16 million into the UK, and was sentenced to four years.

Timur Mehmet, 39, believed to be in Cyprus, is wanted over a £25 million VAT fraud. He was found guilty in absence and sentenced to eight years at Northampton Crown Court.

Vladimir Jeriomin, 34, thought to be in Russia or Lithuania, was part of a gang that made false claims for tax repayments. The estimated cost to the taxpayer was £4.8 million. A warrant was issued for his arrest at Liverpool Crown Court.

Cesare Selvini, 52, thought to be in Switzerland, is wanted for smuggling platinum bars worth around £600,000. A warrant was issued for his arrest at Dover Magistrates' Court in 2005.

Dimitri Gaskov, 27, thought to be in Estonia, allegedly smuggled three million cigarettes into the UK using desktop computers. He fled before trial and an arrest warrant was issued at Ipswich Crown Court.

Mohamed Sami Kaak, 45, thought to be in Tunisia, is wanted for smuggling millions of cigarettes into the UK between March 2005 and September 2006 and evading around £822,000 in duty. He was convicted in his absence at Isleworth Crown Court and jailed for four years.

Rory Martin McGann, 43, believed to be in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland, is wanted for alleged VAT fraud worth more than £902,000. He was arrested in November 2008 but later fled.

Yehuda Cohen, 35, thought to be in Israel, is wanted over VAT fraud worth around £800,000. He was arrested at Heathrow Airport in March 2011 but later fled while on bail.

Sahil Jain, 30, believed to be in the UK, was arrested over alleged VAT fraud worth around £328,000 but failed to appear at the Old Bailey and a warrant was issued for his arrest on June 8. 

It takes an awful lot of minimum-wage cleaners and retail staff to compensate for these guys - in fact, given that a minimum wage earner in London or with a family will be taking more in housing and other benefits than they're paying in tax, no number will compensate. It'll take an awful lot of deputy managers and management accountants, put it that way.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Helen Gurley Brown 1922-2012

It was at the helm of Cosmopolitan, which she transformed from being an often straitlaced publication aimed at suburban housewives into one that built a global readership based on Brown and her colleagues' idealised image of the sexually liberated, career-focused "Cosmo girl".

New York City's Mayor Michael Bloomberg called her "a pioneer who reshaped not only the entire media industry but the the nation's culture. She was a role model for the millions of women whose private thoughts, wonders and dreams she addressed so brilliantly in print."

Helen Gurley Brown died childless.

UPDATE - Amazingly bitchy/revelatory obit in the Telegraph :

"Helen Gurley Brown never wanted children on the ground that they would be "horrible little competitors" for the admiration of others. "

""My message is, there is no let-up, ever." Her editors were given strict injunctions that there should be "no glums, no dour feminist anger and no motherhood". "

For Helen Gurley Brown, it was not possible to be too thin: "Skinny is sacred; anybody plunking down a plate of fried zucchini would be trying to poison me." Growing old she regarded as "the most disgusting thing in the world" - something it was every woman's duty to fight, almost literally to the death.

After losing her virginity aged 20, she remained sexually active, but resolved never to get hitched up with "a gas station attendant or somebody who boxed the groceries because he was sexy", setting her sights on higher things.

She worked a 12-hour day and boasted that she had never taken a day off "except for cosmetic surgery".