Two exciting data points

September 18, 2007 5 comments

#1: I’m the top hit on Google Hong Kong for “senior accounting partner glamorous life”. Hurrah! (note: I’m not a senior accounting partner, despite my glamorous life).

#2: a right-wing nutcase (with the amusing trait of pretending not to be right-wing, which is easier to do if you oppose extra-judicial punishment beatings) is trying to smear me as the world’s most evil, objectively-pro-thug person in the comments to the last post. Even though the last post was about iPods. Ahh, it’s like summer 2005 all over again – do feel free to pile in.

Categories: Uncategorized

160? We like

September 5, 2007 14 comments

Ignore the pointless new wi-fi iPhone-with-no-phone device (although it’ll serve as a good badge of ‘who is a tosser’).

The truly excellent news is that a 160gb iPod is soon to be available. I reckon that’ll last me at least another year of music…

Unrelatedly, I’ve got another Sharpener piece up about the Tube strike – specifically how Bob Crow isn’t even protecting the interests of his members (never mind the rest of us…)

Categories: Technology

New social dilemmas of our time #232

September 3, 2007 3 comments

What do you do when someone who you think, but aren’t sure, was the older brother of your classmate at primary school (who you haven’t seen in 15 years) gets horribly murdered in a gangland shooting?

Asking on Friends Reunited seems rather inappropriate – indeed, given the utter lack of relevance to my actual life, the morally most appropriate action would be to forget about the whole thing – but it’s hard to rein in one’s curiosity when mixed up in something so horrendous, even if it’s in an entirely vicarious and tenuous way.

Suggestions from the gallery are most welcome…

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Having a favourite aircraft manufacturer is a bit sad…

September 1, 2007 Leave a comment

…nonetheless, I’m delighted to hear that Boeing’s oh-so-clever, oh-so-globalised, not-like-those-silly-Europeans approach to developing the 787 has run into trouble. Hopefully the damn thing will never fly…

Categories: Transport

In which the ‘exciting content’ meter hits a new low

August 29, 2007 5 comments

Accounting isn’t a topic of wide general interest. Nonetheless, accounting professor Prem Sikka’s CIF piece on the International Accounting Standards Board is one of the more bizarre and surreal things that I’ve ever read.

The point of International Accounting Standards is to ensure comparability of accounts of companies that report their financial results in different geographies – so that you can be sure a company reporting €500,000 of profit before tax in Spain has actually generated the same returns as a company reporting the same figure in France.

The IASB’s role is to set these standards. Broadly, it does so by taking national Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) from across the world and to try and come up with acceptable ways of making them compatible.

Now, national GAAP is generally determined by a local industry body – in the UK, the accounting standards board. These are made up of accountants, unsurprisingly, and are usually funded by a levy on companies. This has broadly worked (yes, there’s been the occasional corporate disaster – but in nearly all cases, the company in question has deliberately broken the accounting rules in a way that audits have failed to detect, rather than publishing accounts that follow them).

You might, therefore, not be especially surprised to hear that IASB is run on a similar basis: trustees drawn from the Great and the Good of the global accounting profession (senior partners, academics, businesspeople with accounting backgrounds) appoint a board drawn from the Pretty Great And Good But Not Quite So Important of the global accounting profession.

You might, however, be slightly suprised to hear that Dr Sikka believes this is a terrible thing:

the IASB is not accountable to democratically-elected parliaments. Its members are not elected by stakeholders or any representative organisations. Neither is their suitability scrutinised by parliamentary committees.

Yes, what we really need in order to ensure the international comparability of financial statements is for every standard to be approved by a committee of MPs (nearly all of whom don’t have a financial background) in every single country of the world. That would be workable.

However, what really upsets Dr Sikka is that not only do investors want to see consistency between accounts across different countries in the developed world, they also feel that this ought to encompass the developing world. Some people even go as far as to suggest that imposing consistent accounting standards might reduce the incidence of corruption in the developing world, what with ‘bribes paid’ not being a recognised income statement entry under IAS and all…

This is part of new colonialism and ideological domination. Such imposition makes developing countries dependent on the west and prevents them from developing appropriate local institutional structures.

The only spin I can put on ‘appropriate local institutional structures’ that makes any sense whatsoever here is ‘allowing dodgy practices’. Seriously – I can’t think of a single way in which a developing economy would lose by adopting IAS compared with local standards, aside from short-term costs of transition. And nor does Dr Sikka cite one [*].

There are reasons why, and ways in which, it would be good to impose corporate social responsibility standards internationally. But that has absolutely nothing to do with the imposition of financial statements, any more than the technical standards behind DVDs impact on film criticism…

[*] some commenters mention ‘transfer pricing’ – e.g. manufacturing goods in a high-tax country and selling them at an artificially low price (generating an artificially low local profit) to a subsidiary in the low-tax country where you retail them. But IAS says you shouldn’t do that, and in any case tax accounts are separate from financial accounts – they are subject to tax agency rules, not accounting standards.

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The system isn’t the problem

August 23, 2007 3 comments

From the BBC website’s article on this year’s A-level results (yes, I know – we’re always first with the news here):

Twin sisters Tania and Mahua Bhaduri from West Malling, Kent, both got five grade As. But unlike her sister, Tania has not got a university place.

Their father, Dr Bim Bhaduri, said his daughter Tania… had been rejected from universities including Oxford, Bristol and Sheffield.
But Mahua, who studied almost the same A-levels as her sister at state foundation school Tonbridge Grammar for Girls – but took geography instead of psychology, has earned a place at Imperial College, London.

Dr Bhaduri added: “The system really is a lottery, they can’t differentiate between bright and brighter and this is a problem.

No: this is a sign of the system working admirably. One of your daughters took a subject which is not especially popular or fashionable at a university where it is not a specialist subject (to be honest, I was surprised to discover Imperial even offered geography); the other applied for a subject which is highly fashionable at prestigious institutions where the course is particularly respected.

(and Sheffield, which probably rejected her for also applying to Oxford and Bristol…)

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Booze and weddings

August 15, 2007 Leave a comment

I’ve got a new piece on the Sharpener, which I appear to have annexed (if anyone, especially Sharpener contributors, fancies contributing to the Sharpener, then by all means go ahead).

It’s about the latest bizarre Youth Gone Feral moral panic, and how we really shouldn’t worry about That Sort Of Thing. Also, if anyone tries to ban me from drinking wine in Regent’s Park, I’ll set them on fire. Not that there’s been all that much wine-drinking opportunity in Regent’s Park this summer, of course.

My main alternative recreational pursuit this summer has been going to weddings. I’m becoming convinced that most of my friends have decided to get married this summer purely to spite me, since it’s the first summer since 2001 that I’ve spent single. The obvious rejoinder is that I should look for prospective partners at said weddings – the problem there is that nearly everyone I’ve encountered there seems to be either married, engaged, over 60 or under 14. And not interested. Oh well, two more to go, only one of which is going to actually have my ex attending it.

That’s your lot; I’m off to drink wine outside the Tube station until feral youths shank me or Peter Fahy arrests me, whichever happens second…

Categories: Uncategorized

NHS food ‘OK, considering’

August 13, 2007 Leave a comment

From the Observer:

Of 377 National Health Service and private hospitals surveyed in England, 173 – 46 per cent – were found to have poor cleanliness in their kitchens, or canteens or cafes used by staff, patients and visitors. Nine of the 377 were private hospitals, of which six were found to have at least one area of concern.

So, 46% of NHS hospitals had food cleanliness problems, while 67% of private hospitals had the same problems? That’s +1 for the NHS, I reckon (not quite sure why Wat thinks otherwise.)

More importantly, the whole story is massively overblown. Only eight of the 377 hospitals inspected were found by health inspectors to have sufficiently serious problems to go onto a six-month inspection schedule – i.e. had real problems that might get them closed down if not addressed, rather than ticking the wrong boxes to meet vaguely nannyish rules. That’s a hell of a lot better than you’d get if you inspected 377 randomly selected food establishments…

Possibly I think about bad 80s pop too much

July 30, 2007 1 comment

From a piece on feminist attitudes to pornography:

Also, we always tend to worry about blue-collar dudes knocking one off over Zoo in factory toilets. What about the way people like Sade might be taught in lecture theatres, for instance?

To my shame, my first thoughts on reading this paragraph were: 1) how the hell is 1980s soul singer Sade pornographic? 2) why the hell is 1980s soul singer Sade being taught in lecture theatres?

A recommendation to people writing about the notorious French pervert in future: say ‘de Sade’, or horrible Smooth Operator-ish connotations may arise in your readers minds. After all, would you call France’s leading fascist ‘Pen’, or the Netherlands’ maddest painter ‘Gogh’?

Categories: Uncategorized

How journalism works (part n of n^x)

July 3, 2007 3 comments

Do you remember the Terrible Story of Lawless British Youth from last year, of the Evil Callous Teens who squished bowling alley technician Ferdinand Dela Cruz to death by chucking a ball at the machine he was working on, triggering the mechanism?

Some months later following an inquest, it turns out that the poor bloke actually forgot to unplug the machine before climbing inside, and that the mechanism was triggered by his weight.

I say “following an inquest”; what really I mean is “following ten seconds’ thought, or one phone call if ten seconds’ thought is beyond you”. Having worked on projects in bowling alleys (it’s a glamorous life in retail and leisure consulting – oh yeah!), it’s obvious that the “kids lob ball at worker” story was rubbish.

For a start, there are moveable bars across the lane at all bowling alleys that sweep up balls, protect the machinery from errant balls – and protect workers from errant balls. If you ever see an out-of-commission bowling machine, it’ll have the bar across it.

Another point is that the machines at bowling alleys, as Mr Dela Cruz tragically found out, are weight-sensitive. And people weigh more than bowling balls. So unplugging them before any maintenance is carried out is pretty essential.

Finally, let’s assume it were possible to adjust some of the machinery while it was switched on without treading (or even risking treading on) the weight-sensitive parts. Considering the publicly accessible nature of bowling alleys, the risk of some accidental/illicit ball-throwing is so obvious that the procedure would be banned under health and safety rules anyway.

I know this – and so does anyone else with the slightest idea of the way bowling alleys work. Which means that the Sunday Mirror, the Manchester Evening News, the Evening Standard and Sky News all failed to phone anyone with the slightest idea of how bowling alleys worked before filing the story.

Good work, fine gentlemen of the press.

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