Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Super Vox vs the ignorant

Personally, I think we - as in the majority of people - get the politicians we deserve; trite, smarmy, superficial, ignorant, vacuous, grasping, bigoted, lazy, vain, power obsessed arse biscuit mediocrities for the most part. I'd even go so far as to say that's a reasonable enough reflection of the electorate. For me the point is all the stuff needed to challenge all the kinda shit being used to justify the current mass fucking of the general public is readily available, it's just for the most part people don't bother their arses to get it, opting instead to be spoon-fed, when they can be bothered to eat even more, self-serving, prejudiced pap via the mainstream, mass media.

I've discussed this with a fabulous person about how its dead easy to find good analysis and good questions about lots of important stuff. We disagree. For me though an important example of what's already out there though is the fantastic Vox site, which on a daily basis publishes new, relatively easy* to read articles by economists about economic shit that matters at a time when its fair to say "it's the economy stupid".

To be fair Vox does need to be approached selectively, however doing so ain't particularly challenging. Like skimming thru it it's clear a lot of articles can be categorised as quick as you like.

First off there’s the weird such as “Overweight adolescents and risky sexual behaviour”, by Susan L. Averett, Hope Corman and Nancy E. Reichman, which used “econometric techniques” to show fat birds are more likely to take it up the bahookie (or possibly more likely to admit to doing so, something their methodology doesn’t appear to take into account).

Then there is the stupid like “Awareness of poverty over three centuries”, by Martin Ravallion, which in a manner reminiscent of Fogel and Engerman and Time on the Cross confuses being able to count with having something to say (the author identifies 2 “poverty enlightenments” in the late C18th and then in the 1960s based on the number of times the word “poverty” appears in google books, I shit you not, a “methodology” that ignores tiddly stuff like the Liberal social reforms of the 1900s, the great muthafuckin depression between the wars and the creation of the British welfare state in 1945. Alternatively of course the author has simply failed to spot an American bias in his sources).

And finally there is the “ooh look at me I can do pointlessly fancy sums and graphs” of which there are too many to mention. As a fer instance you could click here.

But, scrolling pass utter dreck like the above, dear god you stumble across some gems. Of course before paying to much attention to them its worth doing a quick sanity check, which essentially involves seeing if the author is at a good university or some other fancy dancy institution. If not fuck ‘em, he’ll get ignored by his peers anyway regardless of the quality of his research because he’s not - lets be honest its pretty much all “he” - in the right conference and journal circles. Or even easier just click on “editor’s choice”.

Anyhoo, aside from bods like Uri Dadush and Bennett Stancil asking fuck off important questions like "Is the euro rescue succeeding?", the latest article I think is brilliant is an historical account of the IMF’s failure to spot the current financial crisis by Biagio Bossone called "At the shrink’s bed: The IMF, the global crisis and the Independent Evaluation Office report".

For me this is a fantastic summary of how terribly important and intelligent people got it utterly fucking wrong. It details the intellectual assumptions that blinded them to what was happening, the vested interests and outside influences that discouraged them from stating what they actually thought (e.g. “they felt their careers would be in jeopardy if their views did not conform to those of the authorities”) and makes some sensible suggestions as to how to make things better, give or take the final pithy comment “Will those who caused the IMF to fail now help it to change?” (Duh, yes! Well at least yes they'll be there making changes its the whether or not these will make a difference that matters).

Great stuff and a model of succinct well thought out analysis all the accountants and management consultants being paid with our tax payer fivers to investigate shit could do well to learn from. Two quick points though. One, I reckon it’d be a piece of piss to turn this article into an account of what happened at all the British banks that failed (and the FSA) in about 10 minutes. And two, yer man writes a great article but I think it needs one more really important thing, which is this – could the cunts that fucked everything up for millions of people please start getting named, shamed and being forced to pay a real price for having done so? Following on from that what kind of pussies does it make us if they don’t?

* Running a Vox article thru a readibility test gives a Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease of 60.8 with a score of 60-80 (the higher the easier) being easy for a 12-15 year olds to understand.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Building a better moron making machine

For the most part any contact I’ve had with marketing people has always left me thinking they’re a bunch of useless shifters. I can think of one very impressive exception, except he was an academic whereas the standard PLC lot I encounter have been fucking clueless sods who know fuck all other than how to do pretty presentations based on them commissioning other people to do their job (and even then I’ve come across a few fuck ups where they didn’t ask the right questions).

But, despite that the marketing notion of premium pricing seems reasonably applicable to what’s now happening to higher education. The news stories about Oxford and Cambridge setting out to charge students top whack shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone and makes perfect financial sense. To give a practical example top notch companies only go to certain universities when they’re doing the milk rounds, like if you’re studying at the University of say Upper Birmingham Polytechnic you ain’t gonna find a McKinsey’s stall at your next recruitment fair. Hence, going to Oxbridge gives you access to the better paid parts of the labour market, that and it looks good on the CV.

Plus, demand for an Oxbridge education is highly inelastic; there will always be more school kids wanting to study at Oxbridge than there will be places, so much like British gas, trains, etc., they can essentially charge whatever the regulator will let them. Similarly, the second tier of British universities like Birmingham etc., will also charge full or very close to full whack citing shite about how they need the money to recruit top notch academics in what is a globally competitive labour market ya de yah de yah etc., whereas the fucking reality is not charging 9 grand is a huge, ego crushing public admission by a university that it just isn’t up to snuff old bean.

I don’t get it though. Like Oxbridge already has far more cash (endowments) than any other university so presumably doesn’t need it as much. It can also already apply more stringent academic admission criteria so realistically this seems to be about status and fiver grabbing in a way that will only make elite education more elitist, but on primarily economic grounds (charging all this cash for a university education will also fuck the notion of good graduates going into the public sector into a cocked hat – become a teacher? Fuck that, I’ve £27,000 in fees plus student loans to pay off thank you very much).

So nah, for me when it comes to understanding government higher education policy 2 things stand out. One is the incredibly snide and totally under reported utter fucking ConDem bitch move of simply removing all government funding for the arts and social sciences in a way that will make them even more elitist preserves than they already are i.e. in 10 years time the only people writing British history will be the right honourable Jim De’La Cunt, the 15th Viscount of Upper Godlaming, some pensioner who confuses original research with making really big lists or some mental wanking his or her political shoulder chip off across 100,000 turgid words.

The other draws on this lovely quote from a Policy Exchange report, it being a seemingly influential Tory think tank:

“Some of the senior university figures we spoke to speculated that private education companies would not be willing to enter the university sector while the cap on top-up fees is set so low. However, a senior figure in one private education company countered that: “The £3,000 fee cap would not put us off, because there are a lot of inefficiencies in universities. If we charge a £3,000 fee and draw down £3,000 of funding we could make a profit by getting rid of inefficiencies. I feel confident that we could make a ten per cent return.”

So there you are then. All these shite companies are likely to set up mickey mouse universities offering mickey mouse degrees where the only selling point is they cost under 9 grand.

One funny thing about all this is that labour costs in British higher education are already something of a dirty secret; in a sector even more labour intensive than nursing homes the last time I looked a significant minority of said labour was casual and/or traipsing about between institutions on short-term contracts for fuck all money. As a result outside the Oxbridge much of the current cabinet attended, even at good universities students already go years before coming into personal contract with a tenured academic as opposed to a PhD student who didn't realise their studentship entailed spending all their time being paid fuck all to host a dozen student a time tutorials for which they do all the relevant marking. Now this is a resource mickey mouse institutions simply won’t have* and given what an undergraduate degree is going to cost who the fuck would be stupid enough to do a PHD anywhere let alone some Mickey Mouse private sector effort other than the aforementioned mad old gits, political nutters and trustafarians?

When these new private sector providers start selling piece of shit joint honours degrees in shelf-stacking and media studies via youtube, the clear victims will be the former polys they'll undercut on price (unless some US universities set up campuses here of course, which would put the wind up some old academic duffers lovely). This is a tragedy because individual departments within some of the former polys are actually top notch or at least better than a lot of their peers at established i.e. Russell Group universities. Like Bournemouth according to this does better computer science and IT degrees than Durham, except the same league table bods rate Durham 17 and Bournemouth 38 overall.

But, because these stand out departments aren't in places able to charge top whack, I'm guessing they'll get cut back regardless whereas shit to average departments at top whack charging ones will be more likely to get away scot free by coasting on their University's overall score and reputation (a view based on personal, if a bit old, experience). Hence I reckon the overall quality and experience of education in Britain will fall as it becomes much more expensive; students will be paying more and getting less.

As for the ConDems or any future government for that matter, that kind of reality will be drowned out by some shite rhetoric about introducing choice and competition into the sector as if getting a degree was a fucking egg and spoon race. Plus, competition and student choice isn't just inappropriate its already proven to be fucking destructive bollocks given the grade inflation that's seen the 2:1 completely replacing the 2:2. Or as a Professor at a consistently top 10 UK institution once told me when it comes to final exams students on 58 or 59 get bumped up cos its better to give them a 2:1 than get sued and besides their employer can sort them out (I shit you not).

I also can’t get my head round why Lord Browne was asked to provide the ammunition to justify all this given his approach to business management can be measured in lies and lives lost due to cost cutting, like by most definitions that would mark anyone out as a life long ignorant, vicious, nasty wee cunt to be spat on as opposed to being made a profound influence upon Great Britain's cultural heritage.

* On reflection this is probably incorrect in the short to medium term. A lot of people unable to get jobs at existing universities (see that word "unable" i.e. not quite good enough) will most likely dovetail a tutorial here with a mass marking of some degree farms exams there. But, the supply and quality of bods going to academia will diminish in due course give or take the students now hiding out in academia to avoid current labour market conditions.

AS a March 14th P.S. And I've just realised the guy interfering with the car in the pic looks disturbingly like Mr Tumble. Eeeeeeeoowww.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The fairytale moobs

Once upon a time in a land not very far away there lived a terribly important man. This man was so very, terribly important he became a CEO of a big, big organisation where lots and lots of people worked. And because he was in charge of such a big organisation he got to sit on top of a very, tall pyramid called an organisational hierarchy. Rather than stone or even hay, this was made up of all the levels and lattices and lines you see in pretty organogram pictures. And because the terribly important man sat on top of the pyramid all the little people beavering away like ants beneath him could look up and see that the sun did indeed shine from his arse (the terribly ambitious people who liked climbing pyramids were especially grateful for this because it meant they could see what they were trying to kiss).

Now, because the terribly important man was so terribly important he developed a special management style all of his own that made sure all the things he thought were terribly important got done yesterday, or else. So besides his reputation for having a tremendous eye for detail, the terribly important man was known to frequently harangue people who lived near the top of the pyramid in funny one-to-one sessions. On other occasions, when he was sitting round a table with lots of people drinking tea and coffee and looking at pretty pictures called PowerPoint presentations all about economic profit forecasts, he would ask one special person lots and lots and lots and lots of questions to the point where everyone else in the room would think silly things like “phew, I’m glad I’m not the special person today” and “will the special person still be sitting here next week eating biccies and earning golden pennies?”.

Soon the terribly important man’s reputation spread far and wide, so wide in fact that lots of oopy little people called journalists and media types came from far away lands to say hello and drink tea with him. Often, on these occasions, the oopy people brought magic picture boxes that they used to take pictures of the terribly important man. And so it was that one day some people who also lived in the pyramid looked at these pictures and saw that because of the pretty shirts the terribly important man chose to wear, when a magic picture box flash went “FLASH” you could sometimes see the terribly important man’s nipples in the magic pictures it made.

Now because this is very obviously a fairy tale and not in the least bit true, I’ve no idea what the terribly important man’s nipples looked like. Perhaps they were hairy or perhaps they were bald. Maybe they were pert, erect, proud and perky, I simply don’t know. What I do know, for the purposes of this completely fictional story, is that whenever pictures were taken of the terribly important man, there was always a good chance that anyone looking at the picture would see his man-teets or what some naughty people call moobs. What a to do!

Now though our story becomes very, terribly sad. Because of the terribly important man’s special, magical management style, the people living in the pyramid who’d noticed what magic picture box flashes did were uncertain about saying anything to anyone in case they found themselves carried away by the HR fairies to a place called the Broo where there were no golden pennies or coffee or tea or even biccies for that matter (although I understand they do now have lots and lots of pretty PowerPoint presentations with a growing emphasis on 3rd sector re-employment training courses and human capital initiatives). So instead they chose to keept quiet and all the oopy journalists were left to take more and more magic picture box pictures and all the people who looked at them could still see the terribly important man’s tits. The end.

P.S. I do hope this pretty little story makes it into an edition of Bloomberg, the FT, Fortune etc., and finds a nice, cosy little snuggle bed besides the usual PR riddled fairy tale wank fests fawning over some individual member of the super-rich uber class who helped fuck the UK economy into a cocked hat.

P.P.S. A fabulous person has just pointed out given the terribly important man's fantastic attention to detail (and it really was legendary), mebbe he knew his tits were on show anyway and kinda liked it. Eeeowwwwww.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Strategy, structure and big 'ol titt!es

As Alan Johnson proved politicians are rarely the best when it comes to economics, but they do try and talk a good game. Hence, Nick Clegg’s speech outlining how government is “determined to foster a new model of economic growth, and a new economy”. Key to this and every piece of shit politician’s speech is their use of the word “billion”*, a number that in our national lottery age represents more than most ordinary punters could ever imagine having.

Politicians know this so deliberately use “billion” to convey the seriousness and/or importance of things e.g. a debt measured in billions is a big and serious debt – cue stern faces all round. Similarly, a government initiative costing a billion – cue open hand gestures, gentle taps on lectern then a statement pronounced in a slightly higher pitched voice – means the government is serious about something. Except, when it comes to establishing a “new model of economic growth” a billion is fuck all so by implication the point of Clegg's speech - to present the notion that the current government's economic policy is about more than spending cuts - was a bag of shite.

To illustrate why here’s an concrete example of what a billion and some change will actually get you - in 2009 this company owned 42 UK hotels and conference venues in the UK as well as a chain of gyms. Am guessing the bulk of this was financed, ignoring the equity, with the £1.4bn mentioned in the article. So on a rule of thumb basis £1.4bn will buy you 42 hotels and conference venues plus some gyms.

Now back to Nick Clegg – “The Government is also committed to the creation of a Green Investment Bank, with funds of at least £1 billion, to enhance the necessary investment in low-carbon growth”. There’s lovely, except that’s not even enough to buy 42 hotels and conference venues let alone some gyms. Green economic revolution? You're 'avin a turkish mate.

But, s’ok cos Nick also said “We have announced an investment of more than £200m over the next four years in a network of technology and innovation centres, modelled on the German “Fraunhofer Institutes”. Really? So will these also do things like establish the deep infrastructure of skills, contacts, knowledge, reputation, training etc., that actually underpins the competitive advantage German’s mittelstand of mid-tech engineering and manufacturing companies have and we don’t due to the structural decline of manufacturing in Britain? I don’t fucking think so. Howzabout instead of yet another mickey mouse be seen to be doing something scheme we add the £200m to the Green Bank’s £1bn, then see if we can negotiate to buy 42 hotels and conference centres instead (but without the gyms)?

Oh, but hang on reading to the fag end of the speech it turns out we’re also establishing a “£1.4 billion Regional Growth Fund”. At fucking last, finally the government is so serious about something its establishing a fund big enough to buy 42 hotels and conference centres AND some gyms. Now we know they mean business (or is this regional growth fund made up of money taken from other initiatives?),

Back to the bullet points in Clegg’s speech though cos they sound lovely, except they're actually fucking pants.

He said: "Weaning ourselves off debt-financed growth, and onto investment-led prosperity" – Cool, except debt is used to finance investment, you can’t have either or like fer instance am guessing the Green Investment Bank will gear up each of its investment with debt as a matter of course.

He also said: "Investing in the ‘hard’ infrastructure that underpins growth, such as transport" – Cool 2x, except that’s just tarting up the fact the only fucking infrastructure spending left is on roads as opposed to additional, mad mental wasteful shit like schools. ut, he did get to say "hard", oo-er missus etc.,

Then he said: "Cultivating the ‘soft‘ infrastructure made up of knowledge, skills and education that businesses need" – Cool 3x, except how the fuck do you reconcile that with the changes to university funding? Simple. You don’t cos you can’t.

Finally, he said: "Balancing regions and sectors, instead of putting all our economic eggs in one basket" – Cool 4x except as the local authority spending review in England and Wales made clear and as public sector spending cuts will exacerbate over the next 3 years at least, those regions more reliant on the public sector are humped, which will create ever greater regional imbalances when it comes to things like unemployment, wage levels, health, quality of life and so on (but, it will also fuck scousers so not all bad)

And it turns out “Tim Stone, chairman and founder of KPMG's Global Infrastructure and Projects Group” is advising government on its national infrastructure plan, which is like turkeys asking Bernard Matthews (god rest his soul) for diet tips. Nah, all a pile of fucking shite really.

As for the alternative, the “promise” shite Labour is coming out with is almost too depressing for words. First they ripped off the US Democrats with the squeezed middle and now they’re ripping them off with that shit an’all, What a useless bunch of spod-led cocks too wank to even come up with their own empty fucking rhetoric. Instead, all we’re left with is a dismal reality where things like this, as a fabulous person I know pointed out to me are happening.

* This point originates in some comedy thing Nigel Planer did years back I think called the "Actor's Studio with Nicholas Craig"