Monday, September 29, 2008
Then I remembered: it's because we don't need to cover up for a lack of anything actually happening at our conferences.
It's been a long time coming, but on a subject as urgent as this, any conversion is welcome. One might think this means that the Tories have accepted that endless expansion in air travel capacity is not, as so many in the party have argued, simply "necessary" (on the contrary, it has to stop). But don't be so sure about that. Instead, they are justifying the decision with a two pronged approach:
Firstly, to present a high-speed rail link as in some way an alternative to it. This is, as BAA have pointed out (amongst other squeals of pain from the usual "money must come before planet" brigade), a false choice:
"The total number of flights to Manchester and Leeds/Bradford is only 13,356 or less than 3% of Heathrow's total flights. Even if every flight from Manchester and Leeds/Bradford were replaced by a new high-speed rail line then Heathrow would still be operating at 97% of capacity."Of course, I don't agree with the conclusion that BAA draw from this (that we still need more air capacity). Rather, I would say that the point to take away from this is that green politicians are, sooner or later, going to have to get away from the soft lie that all our current travel can be replaced with a greener alternative that is in no way less convenient. Quite simply, eventually some brave soul is going to have to tell Britain's (and the rest of the world's) flyers that it's no good, they just can't feel entitled to go jetting off round the world as often as they like. Cameron sailed close to this with his suggestion last year of a "green air-miles allowance" of one short-haul flight a year per person before punitive taxes kicked in. That, like much of the environmental stuff Cameron's early rebranding exercise floated, seems to have been dropped six months later.
Secondly, the chatter about a possible Boris Island continues, putting completely to rest the idea that this might actually be a good policy shift from a climate change point of view. On the contrary, if both of these prongs went ahead, they would probably see a greater expansion in greenhouse gas emissions than would be the case with a third runway at Heathrow and no high speed rail link. Of course, even the latter is not desriable.
So, once again, it is left to the Lib Dems to make the green case, since the Labour government have already leapt in on the side of the airport and airline operators, with this choice quote from Ruth Kelly (still here, Ruth?):
"These proposals are politically opportunistic, economically illiterate and hugely damaging to Britain's national interests. The Tories are posing a false choice - we need both more capacity in Britain's airports and on our main rail lines."Apparently, unchecked growth in greenhouse emissions from the aviation sector are "in Britain's national interest". Well it would explain a lot.
Turning to the internet to find out, this was confirmed: Osborne has promised a council tax freeze. Except he doesn't have the ability to enforce it. All he's doing is offering councils money from central government worth up to a 2.5% increase in council tax in their area (as I understand it). So, instead of raising the money locally, they are being encouraged to increase the centralisation of their funding stream (nicely localist, George). I wonder if any other strings will be attached to the money?And would the money be withdrawn if a council stepped over the 2.5% threshold, or would it effectively just be a bit of extra money for councils. (That might explain Osborne's projection of 100% take-up for his scheme.)
The real test on this is whether the Tory government would reverse the Labour trend of demanding that local councils provide certain services or fund certain projects, without providing them with sufficient money to pay for them, thus forcing them to take the political hit for raising the taxes necessary to fund them, while central government basks in the glory of simply having mandated the fruits of said spending. If not, then all that this will mean is an escalation in huffing and puffing by the national Tory party, whilst local councils put up council tax because they have to.
Of course, a genuinely localist party who genuinely wanted to do something about council tax might... oh, never mind.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
This is pretty extraordinary. In 2004, North Carolina voted solidly for Bush, with a +12.4% margin. A quick look at this summary of state-by-state polling data tells an interesting story: not one 2004 Kerry state is currently leaning McCain-wards, but 5 2004 Bush states are now looking as if they could well go to Obama.
Barack Obama has a two-point advantage over John McCain in the traditionally Republican state of North Carolina.
The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in the Tar Heel State shows Obama attracting 49% of the vote while McCain earns 47%. A week ago, McCain held a three-point edge. This is the first time in eight Rasmussen Reports polls that Obama has held any kind of a lead in North Carolina, though the candidates were tied once as well.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
1. nothing interesting to say that hasn't already been said about conference season
2. blogger being inaccessible to me for large amounts of time
The latter is especially irritating, since it means I can't read blogspot blogs either. Anyone got any ideas why this is?
Anyway, I am going to try and get back on board with the whole blogging business now, with an overhaul of all the crap down the right hand side of the page. Wish me luck...
Friday, September 19, 2008
What Eatwell does well, apart from display his own understanding of the situation, is help those of us who aren't experts with a bit of all important context:
Read the rest here.
Thirty years ago most loans, to businesses and to individuals, were made by banks, or specialist institutions such as building societies. The deregulatory fervour of the 1980s changed that. Credit markets became "disintermediated" - instead of banks acting as intermediaries between savers and borrowers, the markets took over. Borrowing is now packaged into securities that are sliced and sold through a myriad of financial intermediaries. Investment banks, such as Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs, are (or were) at the centre of this process, taking on massive amounts of debt relative to their capital base (that is, becoming highly leveraged) in order to deal profitably in the complex web of markets. Guiding their operations are their risk models, which measure the riskiness of their operations against patterns of past market behaviour. The firms claimed they could manage risky markets, and the regulators swallowed that claim. Faith in transparency, disclosure, and risk management by firms is at the heart of the financial regulation today.
Yet at the same time it is generally accepted that a core purpose of financial regulation is to mitigate systemic risks, like a global credit crunch. Such risks are externalities; their cost to the economy as a whole is greater than the cost to a firm whose actions are creating the risk. But if regulators focus on risks that are recognised by firms already, and neglect systemic risk, why do we need regulation at all, other than to enforce best practice? Firms will manage risks well enough, using systems that are inevitably, and properly, market sensitive.
The flaw is that in the face of systemic market failures the market is inefficient. Risk is mispriced, with consequences that are all too evident today.So what can be done to tackle "systemic" risks?
Thursday, September 11, 2008
It's true that Bourne doesn't seem to have a lot to say about what a modern Dorian Gray might be, but I can't agree with the critics who say that the doppelganger is a poor substitute for a portrait. How on earth would an onstage portrait be an effective part of a ballet? Anyway, in some ways the concept hasn't been completely discarded, with both the art works on the wall in Gray's appartment, and the billboard featuring Gray which makes two contrasting appearances during the show, carrying on the idea of art mirroring Gray's moral decline in life. The doppelganger is a bit rubbish not because it's a bad idea, but because it's not very well executed: the doppelganger doesn't especially display the decline that one might expect, either in appearance or expressed (noticeably, at any rate) in the choreography.
Other detractors, including some of the friends with whom I saw the show (admittedly more musically literate than me), have taken issue with the music, which is quite stylised and electronic. Personally, I quite liked it; it's not like I'd want to buy a CD of it, but it suits the production and sits well alongside the choreography, without drawing too much attention to itself most of the time.
So ultimately, not Bourne's best work by any means, but probably not deserving of the backlash which it received in some quarters.
(of course, if I marked the show on the same scale as the Fringe stuff I've been reviewing, it would be 5/5, but there seems little point in doing that)
A stand-up duo is not an especially conventional way to do comedy, but in this case it works pretty well; the two bounce off each other with a comfortable chemistry, developing a snappy stop-start rythmn to their exchanges that emphasizes not so much embarrasment as a slight awkwardness. The two don't so much have a stand-up show as a series of bits, joined together with little bouts of banter. Sometimes the show feels a bit desperate to keep up a constant barrage of new, different stuff, roving between a pastiche play in three parts, two audience members being invited onto stage to win a (live, onstage) date with Kristen Schaal, and some video-based silliness in a wood with fluffy animals. It would be easy to accuse the show of being "of the ADD generation", or somesuch, but actually, everything naturally seems to flow into the next thing, and the restlessness struck me as springing not from a lack of ability to sustain ideas, but from the urge to be unpredictable. It certainly succeeds there: the show is relentlessly funny, containing for me some of the biggest laughs of the Fringe. Best bit? The "live onstage sex act". You don't get to say that very often.
It was pretty telling that I think I was the youngest person in the audience by a good twenty or thirty years, a couple of days into the run of the show. Clearly there was little buzz about the show attracting anything other than an audience of loyal followers. Nonetheless, I can think of worse ways to spend an hour; occasionally, James is genuinely hilarious, but the overall effect is of a slightly half-arsed attempt, the main intention of which is to sell his new book. Which is all very well at the book festival, but not really if you are listing yourself in the Fringe guide as a comedy show. The show seemed self-indulgent, because I find it hard to believe that someone as intelligent as James couldn't have written a better, sharper stand-up show if he really wanted to.
The singing isn't the best you've ever heard, but it's pretty good, and they all blend together well, and the soloists are all good and sing songs that suit them. It's musically pretty competent, but it could go a little bit further to provide some fireworks in the arrangement and the vocals occasionally. But ultimately, it's almost pointless to try to evaluate the show like that, because it is so infectiously fun that it's pretty much impossible to come away having had anything other than a good time.
Nevertheless, there is no denying that Stephen K Amos is a very good stand-up, assured and funny. The show this year may have been treading water (come on, "Find the Funny"? What kind of a title is that? It tells you no more about the content of the show than the fact that it's listed in the Comedy section of the Fringe brochure), but you never feel like you've wasted your money. So... yeah.
Perhaps we weren't, but then there's nothing that kills the mood more than a comic drawing attention to this fact and then not really going anywhere with the observation. The sooner Gordillo learns to stop doing this to himself, the sooner he will find himself able to win over those audiences he finds initially disappointing. Anyway, this is not the most gut-bustingly funny material you've ever seen, and it's all the better for that. Gordillo is not in it just to make people laugh, that much is clear from this set, and that's not a bad thing.
As for the actual content of the show, it needs a bit of a reworking. I suspect that, as Gordillo's dad made his way more and more to the centre-stage position he occupied in the show by the time I saw it, the introduction of the central idea of the show (that political extremists divide the world into an "us" and "them", and then project their own suspected failings onto the "them") had shifted itself towards the status of something like a "final thought". It would have been better to find a way to place it closer to the start, I suspect, to give the show a bit more focus and structure.
Also, the common argument-with-someone-who-isn't-there-to-defend-themselves trope which much of the stuff about Gordillo's dad fell into comes to feel a bit unfair on his dad when it runs right through the show rather than being a ten minute bit of a show about something wider, despite all of Gordillo's attempts to be fair by slipping in a few things he feels his dad would probably say by way of response to him. Ultimately, he is still diagnosing the psychological failings of someone who isn't there to answer back, and in making the show quite so much about his father personally rather than as an example of a broader point, he made this a bit uncomfortable.
Nevertheless, not entirely without laughter, and with a commendable determination to look a little deeper than your average stand-up
I was encouraged to see this show by the MD of our show, who absolutely loved it and had, by the time I saw it with him, been four or five times. It had quite a lot to live up to when I saw it, then, and it nevertheless impressed me. This is, in the least patronising way possible, exactly the kind of show that the Fringe is for. Small cast, limited budget, hour-long format, and perfectly formed and brilliantly performed. All too often shows come to Edinburgh whose success is in making you want to see a bigger and better production of the same material; nobody could say that about Departure Lounge.
The performances are perfectly pitched, all of the cast are professionals and can sing beautifully (a relief in the world of Edinburgh Fringe musicals, I can tell you), but really the genius of this show lies in the writing. Dougal Irvine's score and libretto are exactly right for the show and for the hour-long format, the plot perfectly paced, the dialogue for the most part very believable, and the music a cut above your average musical theatre tunes without showing off. The writing uses songs economically and to great effect, each song having a clear purpose in the narrative (usually at least two purposes, actually).
Whilst I was in Edinburgh, I saw a couple of reviewers fall into that age old trap of assuming that depicting something was the same thing as advocating it, sniffily dismissing the show as "not as ironic as it thinks it is" and so on. All I can say on that account is that these people are hopeless and shouldn't be allowed to review shows; Departure Lounge goes out of its way to make clear in one or two satirical songs that there is a rather unpleasant side to the kind of Brits Abroad that it shows, so I can only assume that you have to be the most joyless lefty around to grudge the show its use of these ingredients - the kind of people who give "political correctness" a bad name.
If I had one problem with the show, it is the slightly clumsy way in which the central metaphor of the show is shoe-horned into the dialogue in the middle of the show, the most thoughtful of the lads just dropping it into conversation, accompanied by a little "I've just had a funny thought" marker. The show doesn't need this, the final song contains enough for people to pick this aspect of the show up unaided, I would say.
Still, marvellous stuff, the best musical I saw in Edinburgh.