Tuesday, 31 July 2012

gosh, hi, i'm glad you're still coming here

Cleverly I saved up a small raft of gruelling but important but mind-light tasks which might be completed during the Olympics. I over-weighted the raft. And the things do really need to be done.

Anyway, just in case you haven't kept up to speed with the Bo Xilai story, do, do, do get up to speed. It's super.

When I was little, it seemed like every house I went into contained a copy of White Mischief. Partly this was because it was a very successful book. Partly it was because I am from a Southern African family. I couldn't see the appeal of a true story about the lives of people in the 1940s, which was forever ago so presumably they were boring. Of course, as we all know, Old Dead Earls are now the main thing I am interested in. As it happens, White Mischief is quite a strong indirect source for my new novel. Here are some moments:

"We talked continually," Allen went on. " My two sisters in Australia, by coincidence, had been to school with two of the wives of the Rajah of Kooch Bahar."


June's drink in fact was brandy and soda, and she drank it all day, as she chain-smoked. Carberry drank too, but never after dinner. The couple used terrible language to each other and they had violent rows, but Carberry adored his wife, and admired her tenacity. She had many affairs and Carberry usually didn't mind. Once when June went off with Derek Fisher on a trip to Meru while Carberry was away, he came back unexpectedly. When he discovered his wife gone, he took off again and caught up with the couple driving avross Cole's plains. He had loaded the plane with medium sized rocks, with which he bombarded their car from the air.

I didn't hunt for plums, really. It's all like this.

(By the way, since day one of the Olympics, commentators have been using the words "amazing" and "unbelievable" to describe the Chinese swimmers. I just mention it. It's nerve-wracking, though.)

Friday, 20 July 2012


I've got behind again:

1. Planet Money did a lovely podcast the other day explaining a set of policies which economists across the political spectrum would all endorse, and also why politicians can't even propose them. (People who can afford houses tend to vote and they don't like to be told they can't have the tax breaks that let them buy bigger houses, even if these tax breaks happen to be regressive.) It's riveting, and Planet Money are planning to try in the coming weeks to work out a way a politician might conceivably sell these policies. (One key problem, it seemed to me, is that to rationalise the system you kind of need to change everything at once, and that would be practical nightmare.)

2. For some reason had never heard of Rentadick, a Cold War sex comedy originally written by Chapman and Cleese, and then rewritten by John Fortune and John Wells. It's more reasonable that I'd never heard of Penny Gold, which looks better, and features young Penelope Keith, Una Stubbs and John Rhys-Davies ('Rugger Player #2').*

3. This article about the NY Knicks' crazy decision to Jeremy Lin sign for Houston is a classic piece of writing about how disfunctional organisations are run.

4. And this one, about an American footballer called Joe Delaney, is old but it is a great antidote to all your endless suspicions, endlessly confirmed, about your heroes having feet of clay.

* Rentadick also featured Penelope Keith. She was rejected from Central School of Speech and Drama because she is 5'10" and that's too tall for an actress.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

we are the best

No one could possibly ever call me a reductive man but there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who understand the game "What is the best?"; and those who do not. It is impossible to explain it to those who don't get it, however hard you try.

Suffice to say, if you know that red is the best colour, the lion is the best animal, the eagle is the best bird and that a Rolls Royce is the best car (if you are English), irrespective of your personal preferences, then you understand the game. My friend Holly does, and after a recent discussion which does not concern you (why are you so nosy?) she gave me the above Pyramid of Best, which I took a very bad photograph of.

You can have your Mona Lisa.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

don't cry for me, scotland

Jenny Diski wrote that she didn't like Murray's crying in the LRB blog this week:

I never did mind Murray being dour, or rather, reticent, as if his affect was any of my business, anyway. I hated the satisfaction of the commentators, all of them everywhere, who breathed great sighs of relief as the tears came and the voice choked. I’ve enjoyed the awkwardness of people having to support someone who appeared not to care whether he was liked or not. Watching the on-screen crying jag was like seeing someone who has known that a well is poisoned, but finally given up and drunk from it, because everyone else in the village does.

In a nutshell, I like most of her piece, but I also think she's wrong in quite a deep way - I don't think he gave up and cried because the public demands emotional sportsmen, I think he was upset and he cried. People can take it how they choose, just like they can take him looking petulant how they choose.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

the high-bouncing lover in the gold hat

Ok, housekeeping:

1. The above is from a Russian edition of The Hobbit. Isn't it smashing? There are more.

2. Probably you already read Letters of Note every day. If you missed the editorial comments on The Great Gatsby, they're here and brilliant. I love the worries over title:

The only other titles that seem to fit it are Trimalchio and On the Road to West Egg. I had two others Gold-hatted Gatsby and The High-bouncing Lover but they seemed too light. *

3. (Via Marbury) This article about how a 100m year-old coastline marks the line of agricultural land which was tended by slave labour and still votes democrat is extremely good. And what kind of a world is it when Marbury is pointing me at 'Deep Sea News'?

4. I watched Your Sister's Sister last night. I have just read six reviews, all front-line ones. Not a single one of them said that it was an extremely unusual and recognisable portrayal of the sibling relationship (in fact, none of the reviews mentioned that it's about the sibling relationship as much as it's about anything). It's not perfect, but I really enjoyed it. Maybe the reviewers are all only children?

* Abandoned titles for The Dazzle include Battles With Sea Monsters, Fish and Superfish and Tunny Fever.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

you will have noticed...

... that within a couple of hours of yesterday's posting, there were announcements re possible fraud investigations. You presume that the government read what I said and was spooked into action; me, I'm not so sure. Be that as it may, here is my follow-up:

My main worry yesterday was that the bankers are too rich and will try to make the case too complicated for them to be properly prosecuted. Alexander Fox, head of litigation at the law firm Manches, said on the BBC that, "There's a quite constrained public purse in the UK. Jury trials for criminal prosecutions are costly and lengthy. And often jurors are completely lost as to what are the nuances of the crime."

Well, it would make me feel a bit sick if the only reason we can't prosecute the bankers for a crime, if that is what has happened, however complicatedly (and I bet it is nothing like as complicated as they pretend - most of them are pretty bright but not very bright), is that we can't afford to pay the lawyers.

My solutions to this problem are:

1. As per yesterday - go after two of them you can get evidence on, get them in a room, offer them a deal to shop their friends. I bet they will.

2. Involve the Americans. I don't like it, but if they will pay lawyers enough to prosecute, then there it is. I am happy to see the bankers extradited. If the cases are very, very long and complicated, and they will have to do them in the USA, that would be funny.

3. I am less than satisfied with the thought of civil suits, if this is a crime.

Monday, 2 July 2012

weasel's dilemma

Is there any way the bank-rate-fixing thing is not a crime? It seems that it has to be fraud, right? If you lie and collude in such a way as to make a fortune, someone must be paying that fortune, so you must be defrauding them? If this is not the case, please tell me.

Anyway. Let's assume it is. There is this big fine, but I think the people responsible should go to court and get criminal records. This isn't vindictiveness or having a Show Trial mentality - it's simply thinking that this is an appropriate punishment for the crime, and one which will, in the circles the bankers move in, have a serious deterrent effect. (Or so the various bankers I happen to know lead me to believe.)

Let's assume that there are dozens of colluding bankers. Seems a reasonable assumption given the scale of effort needed to fix this rate. Here is a solution which feels to me as if it would work, but may sound adorably naive.

Problem: the bankers are really rich and highly-motivated to avoid punishment. They can afford massively bigger legal teams than we can.

Possible solution: they are pretty weaselly. Speaking as a top police consultant, I would find some individuals where there is a clear wrongdoing paper-trail. I would sit them down and explain the situation. I would say that I want them to sing like canaries, and in return they won't have to serve time. Do you reckon they'll be brave and all honour-among-thieves? I don't.

Then, when the names are named, I would tell all the names that they can get lesser sentences for admitting the crime. What I want, at as little cost as possible, is a load of guilty fraudsters to be found publicly guilty and get criminal records. Go to jail maybe, for a salutary couple of months and to give the canaries a reason for singing, but I don't really care. I am not vindictive. But I am angry.

What is the hole in this. People who think this kind of solution is adorably naive are in charge of not prosecuting. And the people who make this decision are overwhelmingly friends of or related to bankers. It's not a conspiracy or cabal. It's more insidious than that - it's just hard to think your mates are doing something criminal as part of their job because all their colleagues are also doing it. But that doesn't mean they are not criminals.)

1. Bankers love game theory. That is just one reason I like the thought of this scenario.
2. I am moving my account out of Barclays. It's a tiny thing but I suddenly realised that it is what I should do. I suppose I have to go to the Co-Operative Bank? It's easy to be disapproving and never do anything about it because they're all as bad as each other, but what if there are some who aren't?