Monday, September 29, 2008

Stay in jail

May you live in interesting times
---Ancient Chinese curse

Queue a history class in Greater Tomorrow Secondary School, Benin City, Nigeria, date 29 September 2108. The teacher is discussing with the students about the factors that led to the global economic crash of the early 21st century. One word keeps cropping up in his monologue, greed.

A few hours ago the US House of Reps did what this blogger considers to be the wise thing and refused to pass a bill supporting a $700 billion get-out-of-jail card for the financial institutions which are facing ruin. Within a few minutes of the results of that vote, Wall Street shares tumbled almost 700 points, which would be the biggest one day loss ever if that happens, a stock market crash if I ever saw one.

Earlier in the day the British FTSE took a severe battering as Bradford & Bingley, one of the UK's largest mortgage lenders was nationalised by the government. The FTSE in total lost a value almost of the equivalent of £64 billion in one day!

I don't have much more to say at the moment as this story is still developing, but it is all too easy to fall for the 'cheap' (and arrogant) blackmail posed by some bankers in saying that if the markets are allowed to crash that we would all suffer. If that is the case, then so be it. It was convenient for them to party when the cash was flowing and life was good. Back then they demanded governments not interfere with them but on the contrary let 'market forces' determine the course of the economy. Now that things are rough they are suddenly demanding that government steps in to bail them out. Rubbish!

Personally I support the House of Reps decision for the simplest of reasons. The $700 billion get out of jail card would have just been a stay of execution. If UK shares could loose £64 billion (approximately $128 billion) in one day, then how far can a 'mere' $700 billion really go? A depression is around the corner, and my gut feeling is that there is scarcely anything that can be done about it.

Recommended reading: Lessons for Nigeria

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Star of David

The broad masses of a population are more amenable to the appeal of rhetoric than to any other force.
---Adolf Hitler

In the last few weeks plane loads of Nigerians (and other non-EU nationals) have arrived here to begin their education programmes at the UK's much vaunted universities. This is a journey that I took two years ago. Like I did, many of those people intend to return to their countries of origin as soon as their programmes are over. Like me, many will end up staying in the UK when they realise that they stand a better chance of i) improving themselves here; and ii) contributing more to their countries from here. I clearly remember the day my mindset changed about running back home as soon as my programme finished...

In the case of a lot of the Nigerians who have arrived here, two things have necessitated their movement, first the lack of opportunities in Nigeria, then the apparently sad mentality possessed by employers back home which automatically gives the plum jobs to people coming back from foreign institutions of higher education, especially people returning from either the United Kingdom or the United States. A few days ago Jeremy linked to an article about Nigeria's 'brain gain'. Personally, and having spoken at length with a lot of my contemporaries who have been attending the various career fairs organised by Nigerian firms in these parts, my opinion (sad as it may be) is that the vast majority of the people moving back home are not moving back for the altruistic reason of national development. Rather they are moving back simply because back home they would attain a level of 'comfort' that they can never attain in the West. It is all about the cheddar, but then that is a discussion for another day...

For those of us who have chosen to remain stuck here for the time being (I would be suicidal if I'm still stuck here in another decade), it is becoming even clearer that we are either not wanted, or are in the firing line for any lunatic who happens to occupy public office.

Eighty years ago in Germany the country was hit by a major depression, one that made the depression in the United States look like a holiday. Part of the causes of this depression were the murderous penalties imposed by the 'victorious' allies at the end of the Great War. In Germany of the time, saving for the future was an exercise in stupidity as the price of bread for example topped a million marks in an show of inflation never before or never since seen. People needed someone to turn to, and only one person appeared to make sense of all the rubbish that was happening. He said, "Blame the Jews, blame the foreign powers, blame everyone else but us," and the people listened. In 1933 the man swept to power, and by the time he was bundled out by a combined effort of world powers twelve years later, close to 60 million souls had been shuffled screaming and kicking off the mortal coil.

For all the fact that a lot of people would not want to listen to what that man said, he did say a lot of truths such as the one I quoted at the beginning of this piece. I would recommend that the more adventurous amongst you read his one and only piece of literature. Mein Kampf is a very interesting book however way you look at it. It is all too easy for political correctness to demand that we consign that piece of literature to the dustbin of history, but I have unashamedly read it, and the link I provided above is there for the bold amongst you to do the same. I do not however recommend that you believe what the man had to say especially in the second volume. One of the first things he did was to begin to target Jews in Germany. They were identified by a 'Star of David' armband which they were all forced to wear. It made targeting them extremely easy for any would be killers on the prowl, and the Nazi regime encouraged such would be killers. Profiling people is not a new thing...

Throughout history, leaders have conveniently used the scapegoat of the foreigner to explain away their failings. The Russian Tsars did it, Napoleon did it, American leaders were fond of doing it (1891 comes to mind), Nigerians have done it (within our little ethnic enclaves, and then who can forget the Ghana-must-go fiasco?), and now the Brits are toeing the same line.

A few days ago, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith unveiled an ID card that would be made compulsory for all foreign workers in the UK (people like myself) from November. Kinda like the visas on our passports are not enough you see...

There is an argument that the British government is targeting those of us who are 'strangers in their country' first as part of a grand scheme to eventually get everyone living on the island to carry a card. That may well be the case, but given this government's track record on loosing important details, I am extremely uncomfortable with this hare brained idea. We all know that it would stop at foreigners as lawsuits will prevent the scheme from going any further.

Points that must be noted:
-It wont stop illegal working: Anyone who is supposed to have such a card but doesn't can just pretend to be on of the 99.9% of the population that is not required to have the card yet.
-What is the point of the fingerprint?
-Lastly but most importantly -- there is no "problem". Various candidates for the problem to which the new ID cards are supposed to solve have been proposed and they have all been found wanting; first it was terrorism -- but it was pointed out that all known serious terrorist attacks in the UK were carried out by terrorists using their real names, and, that at no point in the lead up to any attack were they required to identify themselves. Spain requires people to carry ID cards, yet the Madrid bombings still happened; next it was illegal immigration -- but some 350 million EU citizens have the right to work in the UK already, and the much vilified asylum seekers are attempting to immigrate legally. Besides, nobody is going to check the documents of their Russian nanny or Moroccan cleaner... ; then it was "identity theft" -- but if the banks give money/credit to unverified strangers it is their problem.

Again we have to note that:
The UK has perhaps the most duplicitous set of politicians in Europe. These guys will say one thing one day, a different thing the next day and yet a third thing the following day. The top politicians have few boundaries and will make and pass laws not on the merits of the law but for reasons like "to get more votes" or "to project an image of being a strong Prime-Minister". This is how, for example, the 30 days detention without trial law was extended to 45 days (the PM needed to look strong and shore up votes).

Small powers are constantly abused around here. City councils using anti-terrorist laws to spy on people suspected of letting their dogs foul the pavement, people are forced to pay on the spot fines for "dirtying the street" when their little child let a piece of cake fall to the pavement, Health and Safety rules used to stop perfectly legit gatherings 'cause "there is a danger that people might hurt themselves", traffic cameras and paid parking are set-up all over the place purely (often openly admitted) for the purposed of making money from the fines. I've talked about this one before...

For crying out loud, these guys can't even keep the details of the military safe, and they expect me to hand over all my personal details to them, and pay for the privilege of doing so!

Let it not surprise anyone when the following happens: those of us labelled as asylum seekers would be forced to get new ID cards, then Labour would be kicked out of office, then the new government would suspend the scheme (we would already have the cards), then someone would someday use such cards to profile us. Who knows, if the world's economy continues to go from bad to worse because of the gross stupidity of these fellows, one day y'all would see an image of Chxta standing behind the barbed wire of a concentration camp in Salisbury...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bristol

I guess I owe Jeremy an apology for dissing Hull sometime back. Since I've been trapped in Bristol I've come to realise that the nature of my job means that I don't actually get time to get to know the town, so it is just a small aspect I see.

I've been trapped in Bristol longer than anticipated because all IT and telecomms in the UK depends directly or indirectly on a behemoth called BT, and they know it. Now there is this rather large shopping mall being built in the Bristol City centre called Cabot Circus, (what is with the British and shopping malls?) and being a shopping complex, it means that a lot of retailers (including some of my employer's clients) are moving in. With the nature of the retail business around these parts, IT and communications are essential as every transaction has to be reported back to head office in real time so that one penny won't get lost (sorry shopgirls, no one trusts you). What has delayed me is this: the internet through which all such communications is piped through mostly comes on via ADSL, which means telephone, which in turn means BT.

The BT engineers were on site before me, and whilst they installed the phone lines which were ordered, they didn't terminate them, and they mixed up all the lines, so the line which is meant for redcare (fire and other emergencies) has now been swapped with my communications line. If it were in Naija a man would have climbed up, untwisted the damned thing and terminated the one he wants to use. No such luck here, we have to wait for the animals to come and undo their rubbish, and they are taking their time...

Ceasefires

Can someone explain to MEND that ceasefires are declared when you actually want peace, not when military action is getting a little too hot. This would be the fourth time in three years that MEND is unilaterally declaring a ceasefire. Isn't it funny that they always 'listen to the elders' just when the army is gaining the upper hand?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Living on credit

About Christmas two years ago the headlines shrieked about a £50 million Christmas bonus that was given to a single employee in the firm Goldman Sachs. That year, the average bonus for employees of that firm was a whooping £325 000, which at my current salary represents over 12 years of hard labour!

As far as I know, bonuses are not taxed, so in one mad month of 2006 those geezers took home an amount that unless there is a shocking change in conditions would take me 15 years (I factored in what the tax man happily removes from my meagre pay each month). I really feel like a pauper. Again, we must understand that these hefty payouts were not actually the product of one mad month, neither are those sorts of payouts the fiefdom of Goldman Sachs. This whole trend began a very long time ago, and now the chickens are coming home to roost in a very big way...

On Monday one of the world's largest investment banks, the Lehman Brothers collapsed after 150 years in business. On Tuesday the world's largest insurance company (or what used to be the world's largest), the American International Group was given a lifeline by the American Federal Reserve. Whether that lifeline would actually buck the trend remains to be seen, but I for one am not counting on it. Same Tuesday, Merrill Lynch, another very large bank was bought over by the Bank of America. Yesterday we heard that the UK's largest mortgage lender, Halifax Bank of Scotland was about to be bought over by Lloyd's TSB. That directly affects me since I bank with Halifax.

The list of dead and/or dying banks reads like a who is who in global finance, and it came to the public attention during the Northern 'Wreck' saga last year. There is a fancy name for all that is happening, the credit crunch, and one of its effects is that unemployment is going to spiral out of control in all parts of the world!

Western economies are built on what used to be a very solid financial base. Back in the day everyone conducted their transactions with gold, which was decidedly inconvenient. That remained the state of affairs until the Americans (bless them) introduced paper money in the mid 19th century. Then after the Great Depression which followed the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the government of Franklin Roosevelt made the possession of gold illegal in the United States. Americans were made to exchange their gold for paper money and over time the value of gold came to be marked up against the US dollar. The process was completed almost 40 years later by the administration of Richard Nixon. Fast forward a few years, and electronic 'money' came into existence, an event which opened mega lines of credit to all and sundry. Prior to that, the checks were extremely thorough when people applied for credit. Things like collateral almost seem to have passed away from the dictionary...

From my limited understanding of things (I don't have a credit card), the credit system works like this: a customer wants to make a purchase, he uses his credit card to buy what he wants. He isn't paying for the goods (or services) at that point in time, it is actually the bank (through the credit card company) that is paying for it, and over the course of a specified period they collect repayment with a bit of interest of course which could vary depending on interest rates. The whole system is complicated, and money mathematics tends to do my head in, so I won't try to understand it further. What I know for certain is that some things are plain common sense, and the system which is crashing down all around us is one in which common sense had taken flight a long time ago.

When the credit system became popular in the West in the aftermath of World War II, a lot of people (still sensible) used credit only for capital goods or services, things which would yield something in return later on. Now we have had generations who have never known what deprivation means, and so have gotten used to consuming just for the sake of it. For example, what is the need of buying the latest iPod nano for £399 when the one you bought a year ago is still in perfect working condition? The point I am trying to make here is that it isn't only the bankers who got greedy that are to blame for the current scenario, but the consumers as well. The banking system (and its watchdogs) share a large proportion of the blame because little things such as due diligence took flight and that is what led to the collapse of the American mortgage market in the first place. Then there are the governments...

Greed feeds on greed, and that is what has led to the current recession which I can bet is going to turn into a full scale depression in due course.

My major fear to be honest is the geopolitical outlook, as it is economic crises that led to the rise of demagogues such as Adolf Hitler, and the current political climate is beginning to horribly resemble the kind of climate that existed in Europe between 1884 and 1914, and we all know where that ended up.

Sadly all that is talk for another time. I have to rush off before my lunch break is over.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sleep has died!!!

I shit you not when I say that my jaw is broken. And no, it didn't get broken in a bar fight over the Welsh spelling of Caerdydd. It got broken because it hit the floor at 70 miles per hour last night when I heard one of the geezers on SkySports News (I think it was Paul Merson) claim that no one on the Croat national team would be able to get into the English national team. What arrogance!!!

Just because of a 1-4 victory in a game which may ultimately prove meaningless as there's still more than enough time for things to change and the English press is already preening and spewing garbage. And later they would wonder why the rest of the world doesn't like them (at least in football matters I absolutely hate the English and wouldn't support them against Cameroon!)...

For the records, the victory in Zagreb wasn't as a result of English skill but as a result of one Italian's genius...

The truth of the matter is this: if England fail to win RSA2010 under Don Fabio Capello, it would only go a long way in proving what the rest of the world already knows, that their players are crappy at the very best. The man has won a title at every point he has ever coached in.

Recommended reading: Don Fabio: Benvenuto in Inghilterra.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Today's feature in Wikipedia


In my humble opinion, he is the greatest Nigerian writer. I could never quite grasp what Uncle Wole was talking about half the time...

I'm currently in Wales. Nice place, very picturesque...
I now understand why some English people call the Welsh people ‘sheep shaggers’. This place is extremely rural my God!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Google vs Microsoft: The war for world domination


Earlier this year Bill Gates stood down from his position in Microsoft. Like any other leader of men, he was hoping that his legacy would be secure. Windows Vista, Microsoft's flagship product and the result of more than six years of intensive work was meant to tighten the firm's grip on the computer desktop market while Windows Live was supposed to have begun making inroads into Google's share of the web.

Unfortunately Vista is bloated and slow, the result of which other operating systems such as Linux and OS X have begun to win over people who are willing to try out new stuff, whilst XP still remains the preferred option for people who aren't so keen to experiment. On the web front, Microsoft can only claim 5.6% of the online advertising market, a situation which can't be helped anytime in the near future unless they finally acquire Yahoo!, which they've been trying to do for a while.

Despite all this 'bad news' there is still a 'light at the end of the tunnel' for Microsoft because of the small fact that MS Office's dominance of the office software space is all but absolute. Other competitors most notably Open Office have simply failed to make a dent in MS Office's dominance of the office software space. Without the almost 50% share that MS Office brings to Microsoft's profit, the company would be nowhere on the map.

But if anything, the tech sector is intensely competitive, and a few days ago, Google made its most blatant play for a share of the office software space to date by releasing Google Chrome. At first glance it would seem silly to suggest that a web browser would have any effect on the business software space as its immediately obvious competitor from the MS stable is Internet Explorer, not Office, but if you really stress test Chrome you would come to the conclusion (as I have) that the software really is an operating system which has been optimised for Google's own web based office suite (Google Docs) which has been quietly winning a small portion of the market since 2005. To be honest, all Google apps run flawlessly on Chrome.

Think about it in this light: Microsoft Office runs perfectly on Microsoft Windows, K-Office runs perfectly on Linux systems running KDE, iWork runs perfectly on OS X, on the other hand, Open Office for example doesn't fit like a glove into any of these systems. Now, try Google Docs in the Chrome browser.

This software battle between these two behemoths is going to be interesting to watch especially as more and more people get online, and thus negate the need to have a stand-alone application suite such as Office. Maybe soon we would see Google launch the much talked about Google OS? Don't hold your breath though...