Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Constitution Suspended

Suspending parliament from sitting in order to force through business which it might otherwise prevent is a highly dangerous course. It appears that the government may be about to do so, asking the Queen to prorogue the sitting until later in the year. In this way Brexit can be forced through despite the House of Commons having voted that a deal with the EU must precede such a step.

This may or may not be constitutional - it forces the Queen to make a political decision and by long standing convention the monarch does not do so - but there is a very serious precedent. From 1629 to 1640 Charles I ruled without summoning a parliament. His futile war of religion against Scotland created a crisis that was resolved only by his recalling, and then ceding significant powers to, a parliament that viewed him with the deepest suspicion. His attempt to seize five MPs and a Lord by armed force in early 1642 convinced many that only force could restrain him. Within months the nation was so divided that a civil war - which everyone at the time deplored and feared - broke out and at its conclusion, nearly twenty years later, Charles had been executed, his son had shifted England away from the path toward absolute monarchy and a recognisable form of constitutional government emerged.

I don't think Boris Johnson knows much about modern British history - I believe he is more into the classics - and this ignorance may prove fatal. Fatal to his political ambitions, I hasten to add, before GCHQ decodes this as some sort of threat and sends round the heavy squad to kick in my front door at 3am tomorrow. The government rules by consent of parliament - that is the core message from the bloodshed of the 17th century. It summons and dismisses parliament at its peril.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Who is telling Porkies?

The title of this piece simply wrote itself. Once more our Prime Minister (and my MP) Boris ("Just make something up") Johnson has been caught out lying. Trying to explain how wonderful things will be once we leave the EU and are able to do whatever Trump says make deals with the Americans, he claimed that our economic salvation would be found when Melton Mowbray Pork Pies were freely available in the USA, as they are, he claimed, already in Thailand and Iceland due to the vast demand in those far-off countries for a taste of good old Leicestershire.

Almost at once people who actually know about these things, viz the estimable manufacturers of said comestibles, denied that they are munching the addictive crusty goodies on the beaches of Phuket and whilst roaming the glaciers of Eyjafjallaj√∂kul. "Oh yes they are" rejoined a spokesman for the hapless Prime Minister "The Department of Trade told us so".  "Oh no they're not" said the manufacturers "They used to but not any more."

We must, I fear, leave the topic here. Perhaps there was a time when the pork pie, redolent of a decent dab of bright yellow mustard and perhaps garnished with a little green salad, was to be found in the saddlebags of every doughty British explorer. After all, in extremity, with the Gatling jammed and the men reeling back, out of ammo and surrounded on all sides by spear-jabbing natives, what better than to issue two pies per man and, as one, hurl them at the enemy? But those days are long gone [if indeed they ever existed: Ed]. Will Johnson preside over the turning of the tide? Will the sausage roll, lardy cake and Yorkshire pudding triumph at last over the burger, pizza and pitta wrap? Can OK Sauce and Branston Pickle be far behind? These are exciting times, my friends, and perhaps at the end the whole world will be eating better.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Khan: I Want China Shock

The news that Mongolian President Genghis Khan has offered to buy China was circulating amongst the water-sellers near the Dung Gate in Karakorum last night writes our special correspondent who is wearing one of those hoods that conceals your face. According to rumour, Khan was dining with a few clan chiefs when he got a glazed look in his eyes, stood up and proclaimed "You know, China is lot bigger and richer than Mongolia and it's got a hell of a lot more women. Let's buy it." Since nobody was inclined to disagree (and the presence of scimitar-brandishing guards was entirely coincidental) the policy was instantly adopted.

Khan's spokesman is then believed to have saddled up the Presidential camel and ridden south to begin negotiations with Chinese Emperor Bing. It is unclear how the talks went, but the arrival back in Karakorum of the advisor's hands, followed some hours later by his feet and eventually most of the rest of him, appeared to signal that the Chinese wished to decline the offer. President Khan heard the news with his usual equanimity and judgement before declaring thoughtfully "If those bastards won't sell then I'm cancelling the state visit. See how they like them apples".  After some hemming and hawing and clearing of throats, his advisors pointed out that no state visit to China was planned. Khan reportedly suggested that a visit be scheduled at once and demanded to see the Chinese ambassador. Informed that the ambassador was on leave in Beijing for health reasons and had been ever since his first meeting with Khan some two years earlier,  Khan announced that it was time to make them an offer they couldn't refuse.

Speculation is now rife that the "offer" may comprise one or more elements of the following:
  • A straight swap of China's vast Sinkiang province for the bit of swamp just outside the East Karakorum sewer outfall.
  • Bing to have use of a surplus stately pleasure dome in exchange for five boxes of fortune cookies a month.
  • Chinese to share secrets of silk manufacture in exchange for Mongolian expertise in tying enemies to camels and whipping them over cliffs.
  • A joint expedition to conquer Japan. Chinese fears based on previous nautical disasters were dismissed by Khan saying "Once they get a whiff of my Divine Wind they'll be running".
  • A joint expedition to conquer the Mughal Empire, Muscovy, Aragon, the Serene Republic of Venice and the Duchy of Cornwall under the slogan "Kill all Foreign Devils" "Uniting the World in Peace and Friendship" 
When informed about these developments, Emperor Bing is said to have smiled inscrutably.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Lose the Lot the Trading Way

I frequently review and criticise advertisements for their subtle, or blatant, attempts to seduce us into buying something, whether by selective manipulation of the facts, use of utterly irrelevant images or sound bites or by playing on our emotions to create a false connection with a brand. How refreshing  - and yet rather chilling, for reasons I will explore below - to see one that appears to be direct and honest.

Click on this to see it larger

This one popped up on a website offering online word and puzzle games and has absolutely nothing to do with it. I'm rather baffled why the advertiser thought it worthwhile at all but, leaving that to one side, what we have here is someone offering gambling trading in - well, they don't bother to say what it is you will be trading, it probably doesn't matter much because if you are sort of the person whose eyes light up with pound dollar signs at the word "trade" and do an instant mental find-and-replace with the phrase "easy money" then no doubt this ad will suck you in.

I'm glad they regard themselves as a "broker with integrity". The strap-line "Sharks and Co, brokers who'll take you to the cleaners before you can grab a coffee" was probably rejected at an early planning session. But it is the little paragraph at the foot that compels our attention. Having used large letters to promote themselves as intermediaries for trading, they then inform us that 73.5% of "retail investors" (you and me, in plain talk) lose money this way.

Now, if you are someone like Boris "Don't bother me with statistics" Johnson you can blithely ignore this warning, assume that you yourself have no less than a million to one chances of losing and go ahead and put yours and the nation's shirts on a bet. [This piece of anti-Brexit rhetoric is brought to you entirely free as a bonus for reading this far: Ed] And, if you are anyone with a brain, you will surely look at this and think "Gosh, thanks for the warning, guys, my money stays where it is". What we seem to have here, ladies and gentlemen, is an anti-ad, an ad that actually begs its readers to stay away from the poison on offer, and therefore surely one of the most honest ads ever submitted.

Now for the chilling part. Admen do not deliberately waste money. They must have inserted this notice, not to put off potential customers but to draw them in. They are, I assume, complying with an industry regulation by putting up the warning of losses but they don't care that they are encouraging such losses. The ad runs anyway. Therefore, they must assume that plenty of readers are indeed brainless and reckless and furthermore that, even though the ad is encouraging people to lose money through making trades on things they clearly do not understand, this company is going to enable them to do it. It is exactly the same as a dealer in hard drugs saying (in large print) "Feel great and relaxed, sniff all your troubles away" and then in small print below "Drugs lead to dependency, addiction, despair and suicide". 

A cynic like myself, who despises all forms of commercial advertising, will ignore this sort of ad anyway. But how many will be tempted to click on the "Trade now" button so that they can "trade directly from advanced charts" (and that really is snake-oil)  and, get this, "analyse market trends". Yup, in a world where skilled professionals do nothing else but study and analyse markets, you, the ignorant amateur, can outfox them all and decide how to invest your savings just by looking at a few lines on a screen and maybe extrapolating them through cunning use of a pencil and ruler (note: drawing lines on a computer monitor with a pencil may damage the glass). And then you can join the three-quarters of investors who lose money (and how much do the winners actually make, you may ask, but don't ask me because I haven't a clue).

We shall not be studying 100 types of charts, with or without the tempting promise of overlays. We shall not be clicking on the button to trade now or at any time.

Would you like to invest in the Ramblings Financial Derivative? Charts with overlays are available  (once we can find that old pack of graph paper stuffed down the back of the desk and sharpen up a few coloured pencils). Send all the money you have to the usual address. Terms and conditions apply including the one that says we don't have to answer any enquiries or account to you for your money. Warning: You'll lose everything with this utterly useless investment but as you probably haven't bothered to read this far, we have no scruples about putting this warning at the bottom of the page.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Blindingly Obvious

We were in Sainsbury's in Ripon, my good lady wife and myself, stocking up with some essentials to make a light supper in our holiday cottage (having just enjoyed a full Sunday lunch) and whilst waiting to pay I casually cast my eyes over the magazines at the checkout. This is a very helpful way of staying abreast of the most important news stories of the day "My teenage sex hell", "Rick and Dolores - She wants him but he wants her sister", "My dear old grandmother the axe murderer" - you probably know the sort of thing. The beauty of it all is that there is no need to read the stories or to have the faintest idea who anyone is - it is all laid out in the screaming headlines and quite often you get two or three perfectly serviceable exclamation marks thrown in completely free.

I was, I confess, taken aback by the story on the top left of the cover of some piece of obvious junk called Closer. A picture of some bird in a bikini, cocking her head at the camera in the most approved Lady Diana style and sporting a pair of glaring red eyeballs of the kind that are normally only seen on vampires in the sort of video games that I play from time to time. The strap-line was riveting, so much so that I had to take a picture of it and here it is.

My eyeball tattoos could have blinded me. (by "Mum of three")
Well, I must say. Who knew? You go to some back street tattoo parlour, negotiate for a pair of crossed hearts and the slogan "Elvis - always in my heart", the hefty bloke with the shaky hands rolls his fag to the corner of his mouth, powers up his drill and says "Look up at the ceiling, my darling, and for heaven's sake don't blink". What on earth could go wrong?

I wonder if the same artist does brain transplants on the side, for mums of three who clearly have far more important things in their lives than keeping an eye (tattoed or not) on their offspring. I think she could do with one.