Friday, 25 January 2008

government pickpockets

I'm a big fan of Fagan Inspection, a proven and effective method software defect prevention. Note the spelling: Michael Fagan has never been unkind to Oliver Twist, unlike old Fagin. (He is also a real person, even if he does look like Max Headroom). One of the techniques an inspection leader may employ is to have a "novice" on the team: someone unfamiliar with the product domain who will ask obvious questions and may thus uncover unwarranted assumptions.

Let me now take on the role of the novice in the domain of economics. In recent months we have learned that the "sub-prime" mortgage crisis arose because banks had been lending too much money to high-risk borrowers; many borrowers defaulted on repayments, causing enormous losses in the finance industry and a tightening of credit. Stock markets around the world have reacted with steep falls.

To stop this cascade of trouble, the Federal Reserve has decreed a sharp cut in the interest rate. In other words, they've loosened the constraints on credit. The root cause of the problem was easy money... so the US government's remedy is easy money. This seems like a mediaeval quack deciding to bleed a patient who is suffering from the symptoms of anaemia.

We Brits, meanwhile, will soon be forced to lend billions of pounds to a bank.

Fagin would have been impressed.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Comedy differences

My TV diet for the past few weeks has been restricted to test cricket (the Sri Lanka series wasn't at all funny for England supporters) and two American sitcoms: Frasier and 3rd Rock From the Sun. I also watch reruns of the British comedy Coupling when I remember.

The big difference between American and British sitcoms is that the American ones are optimistic while the English ones are melancholy.

American comedies poke fun at the foibles of successful people. The eponymous Frasier Crane and his brother Niles, for all their absurd affections, are cultured professionals who pursue happiness and to a large extent achieve it. The aliens of 3rd Rock usually get their own way on earth despite their inadvertently outrageous manners. Though I didn't particularly care for Friends, they were hardly inadequates. According to Wikipedia, some people think Seinfeld is nihilistic, but I find it just cheerfully callous, and I love the inexorable logic of the way each episode develops a trivial event into an absurd crisis.

Most of the funniest British comedies, though, are about failures. The manager in the British version of The Office is so ghastly, and his victims so helpless, that I couldn't bear to watch more than a few episodes when it first came out. Victor Meldrew of One Foot In the Grave is an embittered old man whose character flaws lead him into hilarious predicaments with depressing resolutions. All the characters in Only Fools and Horses are small-time conmen whose scams generally go wrong. Count Arthur Strong could be regarded as senile (I have to say I thought he was just eccentric and absent-minded when I wrote this post; senile isn't so funny).

Monday, 14 January 2008

Coming out 1

I like French pop music.

There. I said it. I have now lost all credibility in Britain. My friends will disown me. My relatives will publish statements denying any connection. My old piano teacher, dead these many years, will turn in her grave. My colleagues will sidle away from me at meetings. Josh Dickson of Mancini will have to pretend he's never met me. And the French still won't like me.

Friday, 11 January 2008

No man, it's an island

During the Christmas break Paddy bet me £10 that Vancouver was not an island. He meant the city of Vancouver. So did I, but since the city of Vancouver is in fact on the British Columbian mainland, I'm going to claim that I meant Vancouver Island.
One reason for being sure that the city of Vancouver was on an island was Paddy's assertion to the contrary. I am speaking of the man who once asked me if Turkey had a border with France. (For the geopgraphically challenged: No, it doesn't; it doesn't even have a border with Germany, despite the large number of Turks in German industrial towns and the even larger number of Germans in Turkish holiday resorts.)