All posts by John Band

What makes me angriest? Quebec.

There are many things in life that rile me. But in terms of ‘obvious, absurd, insane unfairness that’s tolerated for absolutely no sensible reason at all’, Quebec is top.

In most countries that have real languages and joke languages that are indulged, the joke language that’s indulged is the language of the people the land was stolen from, and it’s a pathetic token attempt to make amends. Which is fair play.

And even in those places, the joke language isn’t actually required to be taught as a second national language outside those communities. All signs, ad campaigns and media don’t need to be shown in the real language and the joke language nationwide.

But the white people who stole Quebec couldn’t even be arsed to learn English – and Britain in the 1770s was so lame (and, in fairness, distracted) that we didn’t compel our inherited Frog-speaking subjects to learn our language, give up their disgraceful religion, and generally follow the wise example of our settlers elsewhere in Canada. Together, these poor decisions have created one of the worst pathetic cultures of fake victimhood ever to have existed.

So in the rest of Canada, French is an official second language that must be indulged and written in for product labelling and all official purposes. But in Quebec, English isn’t a second language for signing and official purposes; it’s forbidden for any of that kind of thing. This fact highlights the fact that Quebecers aren’t just stroppy, they’re total bastards.

The only reason the rest of Canada puts up with Quebec is to annoy the USA. Actually, that’s an excellent evolutionary example of ‘high cost signals': “yes, we’re willing to put up with a province full of the most dislikeable Frenchmen ever, on the grounds that you’re even worse than them”.

Oh, and Leonard Cohen’s a Jew who sings in English, so totally doesn’t count.

‘Anti-Europe’ is an accurate term for UKIPpers

There are two possible meanings that the phrase ‘anti-Europe’ can carry.

One is the Fox News interpretation, under which Europe is full of gay, garlic-eating communists, and therefore should be bombed, or at least avoided. The other is the opposition to European political integration, or to the view of Europe as a political rather than solely a geographic entity.

If someone’s from Europe and/or voluntarily in Europe [*] – which includes almost everyone with any interest at all in the debate on European political integration – to describe that person as ‘anti-Europe’ in its first meaning would make no sense at all, unless they were actually an insane self-loather (Melanie Phillips is not a counterexample here).

Hence, people opposed to European political integration who complaining about the use of ‘anti-European’ to describe them are silly. Nobody’s claiming that you hate yourself, football, the Parthenon, black pudding, the English language and motorways. You do, however, hate the concept of Europe as a political entity. And that’s why you’re being described as ‘anti-Europe’.

There is some truth in the complaint, in that there’s a genuine conceptual difference between ‘anti-Europe’ and ‘anti-EU’. While most anti-EU types are also anti-Europe, there are a few people who favour European political integration but also believe that the EU is so hopelessly corrupt and useless that it should be abolished and we should start again. But they’re the only ones to whom that distinction applies, there really aren’t very many of them, and they’re not the people who join UKIP…

[*] a reminder to UKIPpers: the UK is, geographically, in Europe.

Shorter US public response to Deepwater Horizon

“Dear Big Oil. Yes, we know this sort of thing is inherent to oil extraction, and we do still want cheap oil extracted – but please can you do it in places where instead of oiling up a few American pelicans and ruining American banjo-playing yokels’ weekends by making them kill land animals instead of sea animals for fun, it instead kills large numbers of foreigners? Nigerian, Iraqi, Timorese, Uzbek, Scottish, whatever, as long as we don’t have to think about the consequences of our actions. Thanks, The US Public”

Semi-relatedly, I hadn’t realised that Tony Hayward was a drilling engineer by background, rather than a generalist suit. That’ll be why BP has been focusing on containing the spill, rather than running a super-slick PR campaign, then.

On third-columnists, deliberate or otherwise

I’m a Keynesian who believes in fiscal expansion in tough times, and I’m a market-favouring leftie who believes in progressive taxation (whilst trying to minimise disincentives to work at all levels).

However, I’m embarrassed by Richard Murphy of TaxResearch.org.uk, and the way in which the press tend to print his daft views as a serious example of Keynesianism economics and left-wing thinking.

He isn’t an economist, he’s a man who knows a great deal about the specifics of UK tax accounting, and has lots of other views that aren’t really based on much sensible – and are only paid any attention to due to the spurious argument-from-authority that his tax accountant background gives him.

It’s the equivalent of someone dealing with the (serious, real) debate on pharmaceutical companies pushing too many overpriced lifestyle drugs based on cherry-picked trials that don’t reflect real clinical benefits over generics or non-pharmaceutical responses, by interviewing a loony quack like Gillian McKeith.

What I’ve been up to, week ending 2010-06-13

  • A bit of #ebz? Yes, a bit of #ebz. It'll be sunny tomorrow, perhaps I'll leave the house. http://fallenlondon.com/c/103864 #
  • Hehe. This is possibly the most excellent thing Gordon Brown ever did: http://bit.ly/cwBq6P #
  • I can't quite believe a) how expensive Camper shoes are, b) thatI bought some anyway. They're bloody nice though. #
  • Enjoyed sun. Won trivia. Missed @chrissiem. Was mostly a good day. Yay! #ebz http://fallenlondon.com/c/106110 #
  • Shorter NYT: "we all know US courts are crooked and vindictive towards foreigners, so best BP sells up to Exxon now" – http://nyti.ms/aXAduj #
  • Tasmania Coal Clusterfuck RT @mattwhatsit: Disaster name: last hols destination + hated fuel + favourite verb. Mine is Spanish Gas Wank. #
  • Just got emails from my UK and AU banks. UK bank excited about 2.8% savings rate; AU bank just reminding me about 5% savings rate. AU WIN. #
  • Spoiler: chap from Gorky's, not AFX or dead Manic: RT @Martin_Carr New Richard James video – http://bit.ly/9czKr8 #
  • Damn, this is a good article: http://bit.ly/an80UV #
  • Surely this breaches the ECHR? http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/europe/10269055.stm #poland #noncebashing #
  • This piece is good, putting some carbon myths into perspective (especially plastic bags and seafreight food miles): http://bit.ly/dd5QUi #
  • Good piece from oil veteran Tim Newman on future of #BPhttp://bit.ly/ae7iH4 – he may be wrong about PetroChina, tho' (see my comment) #
  • Angry Paul Krugman Is All Like, "Yeah, Whatever, THAT'S Cool" – The Awl http://bit.ly/aIStAQ #
  • For readers of @sontek's popular-but-wrong tweet – $1bn is total Limewire settlement. BP's costs from oil spill are forecast at c.$20-30bn #
  • Surprised to discover that Charlie Brooker's a poly drop-out – always assumed he was redbrick. Good work on landing Ms Huq, anyway… #
  • Time article on #Bhopal that fails to mention Union Carbide India was 49% owned by Indian gov't: http://bit.ly/akXre4 #hmmm (via#@tianran) #
  • (I'm not suggesting the US company escapes all responsibility – just, that fact is quite important in explaining India govt's behaviour…) #
  • Govt will still ignore advice, but a step up RT @gimpyblog Scientific advisors now allowed to disagree with Government http://bit.ly/cjZGdj #
  • Australia narrowly beats USA in much coveted 'least stupid applicants for UK nationality' stakes: http://bit.ly/dvOk0l #
  • Just got 100% on the online practice Australia citizenship test. Shame that's not the only qualification, really… ;-) #
  • Aus citizen test -> RT @hungbunny Question 1: You like sport, mate? A. Yeah. B. Fuck, yeah. C. Let's watch sport and crack open a tinnie. #
  • Coalition metric policy in 'fucking moronic' shock, assuming by 'shock' you mean 'predictable right-wing stupidity': http://bit.ly/cT2Tm0 #
  • #ebz Twitter seems to be down, so Christ know whether this'll work http://fallenlondon.com/c/108041 #
  • Apparently, Christ both knew and punished me with a typo. #
  • I'm not totally sold on this, but I like it nonetheless: http://don-paskini.blogspot.com/2010/06/i-agree-with-diane.html #
  • To Westfield, to buy lightbulbs and a sandwich #myglamorouslifeasafreelancer #
  • Haha, aces! RT @enderFP: Now BP has done it! They've killed FailWhale! http://yfrog.com/5oys1g (via @beaugiles) #kitchyinjokes #
  • Fine trollery with a serious point behind it – "My once-in-a-generation cut? The armed forces. All of them": http://bit.ly/bo9beL #
  • From the comments: 'replace all regular troops with special forces & assassinate any leader who tries to invade' – http://bit.ly/dqzcTh #
  • Yes, it's yet another salvo in the US government's efforts to steal UK pensions over nothing: http://bit.ly/bZ0PSj #supportBP #
  • If you're having trouble understanding what's going on in Thailand (redshirts, yellowshirts), this is a good summary: http://bit.ly/d2AmxD #
  • Bloody Boris again – just when you've started hating him for his actual London policies, he does something awesome: http://ind.pn/c4IzRV #
  • Today's installment of "wow, Tories really are just evil for fun": http://bit.ly/ceA2Nl (via @jamiepotter) #
  • Via @sunnysingh_sw6, we need a 'Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher' style tag for Michael Gove & free school meals. 'Michael Gove, utter scum'? #
  • Great line from Diane Abbott: ‘Trident is a huge amount of money to spend defending us from the Tory press’ http://bit.ly/alpmx0 #
  • Good piece from Tim Newman on how the #BP response shows the US gov't behaving more like Russia: http://www.desertsun.co.uk/blog/?p=621 #
  • Disappointingly, this is not a #britpop cash-in computer game: http://games.teamxbox.com/xbox-360/2245/Blur/ #blur #notthatblur #
  • Obama bashes "British Petroleum". That's not BP plc's name. The only reason to say that is to stir up anti-British feeling (@mudlarklives) #
  • It'd be like a UK politician criticising HSBC plc by calling it "The Hong Kong And Shanghai Bank". #
  • Top story from #7News – Selma Hayek got scared by a snake. Yay keeping the populace informed. #
  • RT @infobunny: b/f has bought a suitcase that is so big I could fit in it. Oh. #
  • RT @mudlarklives BP should've stayed as BP Amoco: then we'd have "British Petroleum American Oil Co" and a big circle of finger-pointing. #
  • Just in case anyone's feeling happy, Peter Singer and David Benatar review life. Their verdict: 1*, wld not recommend: http://bit.ly/dxs5YB #
  • #ebz fix. Oh yes. Suffering from the whole 'sun' / 'work' dilemma, and picking the worst option… http://fallenlondon.com/c/110499 #
  • RT @mjturner1975 not keen on arguments 'it hurts your pension'. If one is to oppose US attacks on BP I'd rather look at impact on real GDP. #
  • Got a letter telling me to register to vote. I declined, as am filthy foreigner. Curious to see what would've happened if I'd said OK, tho'. #
  • I've never seen quite so many black guys doing the Time Warp. It's like Heaven all over again #thegaybarnotthemythicalafterlife #wc10 #
  • That was an amazing jump #wc10 #
  • It's weird – having previously only watched South Africans in London or playing rugby and cricket, I'd assumed they were white #wc10 #
  • Fucking go RSA! #
  • This isn't even funny, it's just aces: http://www.richardherring.com/warmingup/warmingup.php?id=2779 #
  • Hungover. Bleh. Football matches at midnight, friends in different time zones, & 2-litre boxes of red wine don't make for a good next day. #
  • #ebz Everything's alive there, or so the story goes. Coal burns with a long low moan, steel is forged … http://fallenlondon.com/c/112296 #
  • …and I tweeted today's EBZ update unedited, deliberately, because it was awesome and disturbing. #
  • Obvious England-USA soccer joke: "YOU'RE NOT SWIMMING, YOU'RE NOT SWIMMING, YOU'RE NOT SWIMMING ANYMORE" #
  • I think it's *entirely* possible to hold down both a job and an #ebz habit… http://fallenlondon.com/c/113612 #
  • Yes, I like this one > RT @tianran Whimsical but timely piece on the well worn theme: Is Pakistan like Israel? http://bit.ly/dgJMZg #
  • Aces! RT @Stefing Venn diagram of the day: http://thedailywh.at/post/687392543/venn-diagram-of-the-day-mathematical-reddit #
  • If #SVN were in any other group, I'd be hoping to see them through on 'plucky underdog' grounds. However, I'm not. #worldcup #
  • I do, however, hope that #SVN beats #ALG #worldcup #
  • I just managed to accidentally poke myself in the eye with a sock. This is perhaps my greatest unco WIN ever… #
  • RT @Glinner Lovely to see the British press rallying round a goal-keeper who must be feeling very nervous at the moment. #worldcup #
  • Agree w/@herring1967 that #alg and #svn both playing *way* worse than #eng or #usa yesterday – if we can't beat them, we deserve sent home. #
  • Clear-cut unAustralian RT @ChrissieM Is it wrong that I wouldn't be completely displeased if #GER beats #AUS tonight?@superopinion #
  • So with 1 game down for all, #svn leads group C, #usa/#eng 2=, #alg 4th. If this were to continue, I'd be amused, as long as #eng gets 2nd #
  • "In its first World Cup outing since gaining independence, Serbia" – hmm, that's one way to put it… #
  • RT @tomscott The Red Arrows give the Queen a very special birthday surprise: http://tomscott.com/queen/ (via @ianvisits) #
  • RT @chickyog Thatcher/Palin summit in full – Thatcher: 'Where am I? Who am I? Who are you?' Palin: 'Where am I? Who am I? Who are you?' #
  • Fuck me, Hewitt just beat Federer. #notfootball #nobodycares #
  • Yes, likewise: RT @anattendantlord "watching" football indoors while "working". well, not doing too well at either, to be honest #
  • Effective pension fund ownership as % of total company value for the FTSE100: http://bit.ly/9zNGYv #interestingifyoulikethatsortofthing #

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Sorry about this

I really want to steal the bust of Aneurin Bevan, the inventor of the NHS and all-round excellent Welshman, that’s currently installed in the the House of Commons.

Partly that’s because I think it’d make an excellent decoration for my house.

But it’s also partly because I could lift it high in the air and sing at the top of my voice, “HEAD OF BEVAN, HEAD OF BEVAN…”

Why do browser cookies expire?

So, if I log into Gmail, Twitter, eBay, or my own blog on a computer, and opt to have my user information saved, then obviously I’ll want to log in using that information whenever I use those sites, for as long as I use the site and the computer is my computer.

If it stops being my computer at any point, even if I don’t reformat the hard disk, I’ll obviously delete all browser personal information.

So why on earth do Twitter and Gmail set their cookies to expire after a fortnight, and eBay in 24 hours? What possible use could there be in not just setting them to last forever?

It’s not a huge thing, obviously, as my browser still stores the passwords – but even causing me very, very mild annoyance seems bizarre when there is no benefit at all to me or the supplier from the mild annoyance caused…

When Good Contrarianism Goes Bad

So, I come up with a contrarian view on the BP issue that I don’t 100% hold, but which is a genuine aspect of the story and which has been completely neglected in any of the coverage I’ve seen. I mention it on Twitter, I spend a couple of days thinking about it, and then I write it up for a blog post.

…and then, the same bloody day, the sillier ends of the UK press have the same idea, although with far less research and more pointless nationalistic ranting. Had I known they were going to do that, I wouldn’t have bothered – there’s a difference between contrarianism where you float a viewpoint that nobody’s promoting, and Clarksonism where you float a viewpoint that lots of people are promoting and pretend that you’re being oh so brave and daring for doing so. The latter is no fun at all, and even the perception of the latter is a bit embarrassing.

Anyway.

There are elements of Obama’s public references to BP that can only be explained by Brit-bashing. The underlying problem in the US oil industry is regulatory failure, and if the US oil industry were to operate under the same regulatory framework that the UK oil industry adopted after Piper Alpha, then the disaster wouldn’t have happened. And the best way to deal with safety in general is the aviation industry’s one of heavy, preemptive regulation, with accident inquiries that avoid blame and stick to making recommendations that are enforced, rather than doing nothing until there’s a disaster and then throwing around massive amounts of blame and infinite lawsuits [*].

I’m in two minds about the US administration’s behaviour at the moment, though.

As I mentioned in comments to the other post, I don’t understand their strategy here: the incident is fundamentally George Bush’s fault, in that his government deliberately cut regulation from its already poor start and also granted permits for unprecedentedly deep-sea drilling, which the current government has had no time to fix. Any UK or Australian PM worth their salt would be milking this fact for all it was worth, and saying “unlike our inept, industry-beholden, corrupt predecessor, we’re going to create a proper regulator to ensure this doesn’t happen again”.

But assuming that slating former presidents is off the menu in US political debate, and given that the public are baying for blood, I can see what they’re doing on self-preservation grounds. And if it ends up with BP paying the expected actual cost of $20-30bn for the cleanup, compensation, and fines for any specific violations that led up to the disaster, and not being charged crazy punitive damages, expropriated, kicked out of the country, or similar, then that’s a reasonable outcome.

Whether the fact that the markets seem to think a worse outcome is likely is because there’s a genuine political risk that Obama is going to go Putin-y on foreign investors, or whether it’s because markets are paranoid beasts at the best of times, remains to be seen. I’m not sure it’s a good thing that the US president is using the kind of rhetoric that makes markets believe he might – but I’m not sure he has much of a choice.

In short, let’s see what happens. If the end outcome is a reasonable settlement, coupled with massive increases in regulatory requirements, enforcement and spending in the US oil industry, then bring it on and three cheers for Mr Obama.

[*] relatedly, my attitude towards dead oil rig workers is very similar to my attitude toward dead volunteer soldiers: “that’s sad for you and your loved ones, but it’s also why you were paid so much more than someone with your skill-base could have earned in a job that didn’t have a substantially elevated risk of death”.

On helping Americans to steal your pension

Let’s assume that, like most UK workers, you have a pension fund with a substantial part of its investment in FTSE companies, usually weighted by value.

What should you care more about:

1) the fact that the US government is attempting to steal a sizeable proportion of your money?

2) some fucking cormorants?

Clue: if you picked 2, you’re an idiot.

So could British people perhaps stop ragging on BP, or pretending the Gulf of Mexico spill is some kind of serious environmental disaster that’ll actually harm people (rather than making beaches look untidy for a bit and topping some fish and birds)?

The spill will cost about $20-30bn to clear up, including compensation for those directly affected, which is a sum that BP should have no problem in paying, and which would be the fair price for them to pay.

The fact that BP’s share price is below levels reflecting that cost, and that BP bond yields have increased to junk levels partly reflects market panic – but also partly reflects genuine fears that the US will do something truly vindictive, using its demonisation of BP as an excuse to steal its (i.e. ‘your’) assets beyond the cost of cleaning the spill in some form of punitive damages.

And everyone who brings out the whole ‘ooh, BP is so evil and unsafe’ saw (it is not; it is as evil and unsafe as the rest of the oil industry, whose levels of evilness and unsafety are set by national governments in oily countries. BP’s safety culture in its US operations is no different from ExxonMobil’s, Shell’s or Chevron’s – it was just the unlucky one this time round) is enabling that demonisation campaign.

The oil industry should be reformed. It won’t get reformed, because we’re too dependent on cheap oil, and the occasional disaster is collectively viewed as a fair price to pay for the ability to pay under $3 a gallon for petrol. Especially when the disaster in question doesn’t happen to Americans: how many people are even aware of Shell’s operations in Nigeria?

But the US’s anti-BP crusade has nothing to do with any efforts to reform the industry – it’s an attempt to distract Americans from the fact that the disaster is primarily their own fault (and that nothing will be done about it in the long term because the American people won’t stand for expensive petrol), and to steal some foreign assets into the bargain.

So unless you’re a stars-and-stripes-waving redneck, don’t join the anti-BP campaign just because you think the world would be a nicer place if companies were nicer…

Update: Turbo-LOL.