parenting

So, it's parenting that's responsible for last year's riots. Speaking in that capacity, there's a pretty good chance I'd have been proud of a kid of mine who took part in the 1981 riots. Last year's riots, not so much. But then I don't really know. Maybe the political aspect of 1981 seems good to me now because I'm missing my youth, and maybe the greed and  violence shown last year seems that way as a function of my middle age. Such is the condition of being a parent.

Having said that, after seeing the justice on offer after last year's riots there is absolutely no way I'd give my kid up to the cops if I knew he was involved last year, provided his involvement was limited to potential property crime. You have a responsibility to make your kids face justice, but also a responsibility to protect them from revenge. It is, in fact, the same responsibility.

green jerboa

Preparations for the fourth test were proceeding — named “Gerboise verte” or “Green jerboa” — when four French generals, unhappy about steps toward Algerian independence, launched a coup against the government of Charles De Gaulle. French scientists, the story goes, rushed the detonation of the device before the Revolt of the Generals acquired a working nuclear weapon. The putsch, of course, eventually failed.

It didn't quite work out like that. But read the whole thing.I like the detail that the bomb – the 'physics package' was transported to the site of the test in one of the scientists 2CV in case the official column got ambushed.

worse than a blunder

I’ve said before here that Crumpsall, where I live, has a relatively low rate of unemployment for Manchester but the highest rate of underemployment in the city: lots of families with two part time jobs or one low paid full time and one part time. I mentioned this in connection to the payday loan storefronts that have proliferated locally since 2010 and the sense they gave of a neighbourhood circling the plughole.

One thing that hasn’t been much mentioned in budget coverage are the cuts in working family tax credits announced in 2010 but due to take effect this April. It’s these in particular which are really going to get the drain gurgling round here, especially since the raising of the tax threshold will dump more people into an income level where far more money will be taken from them because they’ve gone over the trigger limit. Being a cynic, I wonder if that wonderful measure was done partly in the expectation that this would happen. Well, the local Peacock’s clothing store shut down a few weeks back, so there’s another storefront available for our lovable local vulture lenders.

 It’s different from living in Hulme: that was a neighbourhood that had already hit bottom, and there was a kind of resilience, even the occasional bout of optimism, available from knowing things couldn’t actually get any worse. We’ve gone to the dogs. And here they are: the dogs. Nice doggie. Woof. Of course those were the days when it was believed that jobs were created through the concentration of capital in the organisation of the firm or through state agency. In the absence of those things, you got the dole. These days, it’s fashionable to believe that jobs are created by goading the jobless into spectacular acts of willpower and performative humility: so I guess the folk down in M15 are being shovelled wholesale into the maw of A4E these days.

But it’s something else living in a working neighbourhood, which in normal times flails along with its collective head just above the water, being gradually and through the systematic application of government policy suffering a kind of collective punishment; and the organic commerce which had evolved to serve it beginning to go down with it. The top end of Cheetham Hill Road was always low-margin.  Shops would come and go, but there always seemed to be somebody else ready to have a try. These days it’s looking more than a bit gap toothed.  It’s an odd feeling watching financial repression happen around you; like living in the middle of a crime in progress.

pulling a Johann, Foxconn edition

So US public radio put out a documentary in January featuring an imaginative fellow called John Daisey, who produced a hard hitting report on conditions at the Foxconn plants that make various Apple devices, among other things (for the record, the group of employees in Wuhan who threatened mass suicide recently were making Xbox 360s). Anyway, it turned out to be the most popular episode ever, went viral, inspired all sorts of activism, all that good stuff. But:

Daisey's interpreter Cathy also disputes two of the most dramatic moments in Daisey's story: that he met underage workers at Foxconn, and that a man with a mangled hand was injured at Foxconn making iPads (and that Daisey's iPad was the first one he ever saw in operation). Daisey says in his monologue:

He's never actually seen one on, this thing that took his hand. I turn it on, unlock the screen, and pass it to him. He takes it. The icons flare into view, and he strokes the screen with his ruined hand, and the icons slide back and forth. And he says something to Cathy, and Cathy says, "he says it's a kind of magic."

Cathy Lee tells Schmitz that nothing of the sort occurred.

This chap never appeared on film. Maybe it was because he thought the camera would steal his soul. I don’t think you need any more than an absolutely rudimentary awareness of China to find that incredible. By rudimentary, I mean knowing that it makes a huge proportion of the world’s gadgets or that it has massive levels of internet and mobile device penetration and is generally device crazy. Or that a culture in the throes of mass industrialization might in fact be quite materially aware. Above all, would you assume it was a credible assertion that someone on a production line would think their finished product was ‘a kind of magic’ if that production line was in Europe or the US?

The sad thing is that it’s probably this kind of mysticism that helped drive the appeal of the programme: people pretty much like us in most material particulars wanting to earn a decent living’ doesn’t seem to excite much in the way of solidarity. ‘Hands off the munchkins': that’s the way to go.

In fairness, the show has put out a detailed, almost grovelling retraction, which identifies failures in fact checking as the main cause of the problem. I'd say it was more a matter of assumption checking.

i never noticed them before they became infrastructure

“As you wonder (sic) between locations murmuring to your coworker about how your connection sucks and you can’t download/stream/tweet/instagram/check-in, you’ll notice strategically positioned individuals wearing “Homeless Hotspot” T-shirts. These are homeless individuals in the Case Management program at Front Steps Shelter. They’re carrying MiFi [short-range mobile wireless hotspots] devices…We’re believers that providing a digital service will earn these individuals more money than a print commodity,” wrote Saneel Radia, BBH Labs director of innovation.

The BBH is Bartle Bogle Hegarty, by the way: actually, Bartle Bogle Hegarty ‘Labs’. This ‘Lab’ employs people who can’t spell ‘wander’ to dream up the idea of using the homeless as human plug ins, paid a suggested eight dollars an hour pro-rata. I can just see some semi -autist saying ‘I only used 13 and a half minutes’ and calculating the exact sum owed. ‘I can’t give you any more. That would violate the terms of service’.

Aside from the specific humiliations involved in this for both transactors, it does point to a huge structural economic dysfunction: Chronic homelessness. Semi-illiterates employed in ‘Labs’ producing reams of bullshit. The second feeding off the first.

Perhaps relatedly, sandwich men still thrive, if that’s the term. These days they’re known as human directionals.

Portugal Gradually Shuffles Its Way Up Towards The Front Of The Debt Queue

Well, a weekend during which Greece seems to have been finally able to pass muster on its bond deal, while Mario Draghi has given the official “all clear” on the debt crisis seems to be as good a moment as any to have a look at where the country which many investors consider likely to be the next to enter the restructuring process is up to.

Speaking after last week’s meeting of the  ECB’s governing council Mr Draghi said  the recent three-year long-term refinancing operation (LTROs) had been an “unquestionable success” and had “removed tail risk from the environment” For the uninitiated “tail riskis defined by Wikipedia as ”the risk of an asset or portfolio of assets moving more than 3 standard deviations from its current price in a probability density function.Such risk is often under-estimated using normal statistical methods for calculating the probability of changes in the price of financial assets”. Continue reading

Leveson tangent

Politics drifts back into the frame. It was always suggestive that Andy Coulson was appointed head of communications for the Tories two years after he ran an effective spoiler on the George Osborne cocaine use allegations, despite losing his job in the interim period because of the original Royal hacking affair back in 2006.

Now we have the issue revisited in the light of Bob Quick's revelations this week, and the news that Muclaire, at Coulson's request, was regularly hacking the phones of senior editors at Mirror Group, to whom Natalie Rowe originally took her story. 

How much did they know about how their Mr Fixit (Coulson) fixed things? If the Leveson inquiry is supposed to clean up the press and its relation to politicians, then our two most senior ministers should answer these questions under oath.

Sounds good to me.

Homeric Similes And Spanish Debt

Nihil sapientiae odiosius acumine nimio (Nothing is more hateful to wisdom than excessive cleverness)
Petrarch, “De Remediis utriusque Fortunae”

Like Leo Messi charging his way through a packed Real Madrid defence, twisting now this way, now that, never stopping without being stopped, so did the Spanish sovereign debt surge forward, breaking directly into the red zone near the penalty box, provoking confusion and consternation amongst horrified EU officials and regulators forced to look on as it blindly sought to touch down somewhere well beyond the authorised 100% finishing line.

Spain’s deficit has been much in the news in recent days. Both the target for this year and actual details of last year’s outcome have been the source of much comment, scrutiny, and consternation, but the deficit itself will not form the primary subject matter of this post. What we will be concerned with here is debt, sovereign debt, and the current trajectory of the Spanish variant. In a recent article in the Financial Times Victor Mallet draws attention to the situation and shows how an excessive emphasis on deficits may sometimes mislead people into missing the bigger picture, since at the end of the day deficits are only interesting as they add to debt, and in the long run what matters – as we have seen in the Greek case – is whether or not the debt itself is sustainable.
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Econolinks: EU trade, Spanish wages, Icelandic debt

Catching up after being off around Europe. Here’s a links post.

You may recall that the EU fiscal pact included at least some warm words about the idea of limiting excessive trade surpluses (as well as deficits) within the eurozone. This is progress, but of course the devil is in the detail. The European Commission’s demonologists were called in to work out the detail. Jean Quatremer reports:

Ainsi, la balance des comptes courants est censée être comprise entre – 4% et + 6% du PIB au cours des trois dernières années. Et, miracle, celle de l’Allemagne est de + 5,9 % !

I.e. the reference range is defined as a three-year moving average of the current account balance between -4% and +6% of GDP. Why is it not symmetrical around zero? Not that there’s a specific argument that it should be, but it’s telling…because Germany’s CA surplus is exactly +5.9% of GDP. Trebles all round.

For the first time on record, the share of Spanish GDP accounted for by profits exceeded that accounted for by wages.

Iceland’s cramdown of mortgages exceeding 110% LTV is considered beneficial, at least by Bloomberg and by Lars Christensen of Danske Bank.