Baby on board: Game of Thrones

So, according to the folks who give us the news, the greatest baby in the history of mankind … no … in the HISTORY OF THE GALAXY … no … IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE … (is there anything bigger than the universe?) … has been born in London.

Yeah, Will and Kate Mountbatten (also known a Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) have become full-time diaper changers. (yawn…)

Anyway what it means in the cosmic scheme of things is that a bunch of people who were in line for the British throne have been moved back a square. (Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.)

Here’s what matters (from the Washington Post):

baby in line

Baby just pissed off 12 other people.

Welcome to the world!

Oh, and remember, Professor Snape tweeted his reaction months ago. Click here to see it.

A look at the expanding Underground

Well, I am a sucker for maps of subway systems.

Here’s the London Underground (click to actually see the station names), which is expanding service by taking over the privatized Greater Anglia franchise out of Liverpool Street to north east London and Hertfordshire.



Right, means nothing to you.

Look, all you need to know is that the Red Line to Oxford Circus is for shopping, and the Cockfoster (Really? Isn’t that pornographic) train goes to Picadilly Circus and Leiscester Square (though I preferred getting off at Charing Cross station and walking the extra block or two).

And if you’re on a train south of River Thames, don’t bother getting off at London Bridge. The thing you think is London Bridge is really called Tower Bridge.

This is London Bridge:


I used to walk over it every day to get from the commuter train station to work on Fleet Street.

This is Tower Bridge:


That’s the tourist attraction.


Something I have in common with Mitt Romney

We both think the Brits are going to screw up the Olympics. Fortunately for me, I’m not running for president and going on a global tour to show the world what a great guy I am.

Mitt Romney struggled Friday to stem political fallout at home after insulting Britain’s handling of the London Games. The stumble at least briefly pitted the Republican presidential candidate against America’s strongest ally while limiting his ability to capitalize on more troubling U.S. economic news.

At the same time, President Barack Obama used his office to try to take advantage of the Republican’s missteps abroad, praising Britain for its Olympics preparations one day and sending money to Israel the next – just as Romney prepared to visit that nation.

The confluence of events – just as the world focused on London’s opening ceremonies – confounded Republicans and tickled Democrats. People in both parties wondered aloud how the former Massachusetts governor could have complicated the opening leg of a three-nation tour carefully crafted to highlight his diplomatic strengths and personal Olympic experience.

“You have to shake your head,” GOP strategist Karl Rove said Friday on Fox News.

Here’s London Mayor Boris Johnson, a conservative, giving Romney a hard time:

And here’s British PM David Cameron, a conservative, pissing on Romney’s Olympics:

Just to make sure you caught it:

“Of course, it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”

There’s a buzz going around, where people are saying Romney really wants to lose the election, and Fox News wants him to lose as well. By losing, Romney gets to be the GOP guy to go to in the future, gets all kinds of business deals and still gets to spew out weird messages without having anyone in the “lame stream media” point out that what just came out of his mouth contradicts what came out of his mouth an hour ago. (Horses are my passion. I’m not going to watch my horse in the Olympics.)

And Fox gets to have Obama around for a whipping boy for four more years, a true ratings grabber, instead of having to tow the Romney line, a real snooze.

That’s all a little too 11-dimensional Machiavellian chess for me.

We’ll have to see whom he chooses as his running mate to determine how much he really wants to lose.

The London Olympics: What could go wrong?

Cropped transparent version of Image:Olympic f...

Olympic flag. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes, I just can’t get enough of British incompetence. I’ve complained about it constantly since I moved back to the states. And with the Olympic Games coming up in a few days, it’s time to dwell on how royally the U.K. is going to screw them up.

For example, if you’ve ever driven in London, you know it’s one overwhelming nightmare. How can the Brits make it worse?

Blaring their horns, the cabbies took their case to Parliament Square, creating gridlock in the heart of the capital. with the jam swiftly spreading to Millbank and Whitehall.

London’s iconic black cabs are being excluded from the 30 miles of games lanes, which have been reserved for Olympic competitors, officials and sponsors.

Dubbed “Zil lanes” by critics, they come into force on Wednesday next week. Drivers who transgress face a £130 fine.

The restrictions will ban drivers from the lanes, making journey times across the capital longer and dearer for passengers.

OK. A fair start. What else can they do?

The opening of a special ‘Olympic Lane’ was meant to help athletes and VIPs make the 45-minute journey from Heathrow Airport to Stratford in effortless ease.

Try telling that to US hurdler Kerron Clement, who tweeted his frustration yesterday morning after he was left stranded in traffic for four hours when his bus driver got lost en route to the Olympic Village.

Let’s not overreact. After all, it was only one lost bus driver driving the American team around for four hours.

Things weren’t much better for a busload of Australian athletes and officials after they were taken on a three-hour ‘Monopoly tour’ of London.

The driver had turned up two hours late, before taking three hours to travel from Heathrow to the Olympic village in East London.

After ackowledging he was lost he admitted the East London Games village had not been entered into the GPS navigation system, the Sydney Morning Herald reported….

‘He just said it was his first day in that bus and they hadn’t told them how the GPSs worked and that he didn’t know how to use it and apparently the Olympic Village hadn’t been loaded into the GPS.”

I’ve taken the Tube (subway/metro/whatever) from Heathrow to East London. Takes about an hour and a half. And I think the Tube is usually incompetent. This is pretty bad.

Well, thank goodness they’re at least forming special bus lanes for the Olympics, right?

The introduction of the first VIP lanes for Olympics officials and athletes caused confusion on Britain’s roads yesterday.

Drivers faced long tailbacks on approach roads to London as many struggled to understand if they could use the freshly painted lanes or not.

They could. No one told them.

At least they’ve got security for the games under control. They’ve known they’ve had the games for four years.

Having been forced to apologise for failing to recruit enough Olympics security staff G4S’s boss was left red-faced again today after he admitted he had no idea if those who are working could speak English.

Asked whether all the security guards the company had recruited could speak fluent English, chief executive Nick Buckles said it was a ‘difficult question to answer’.

He added: ‘I am pretty sure that they can, but I can’t say categorically as I sit here today.’

Later asked the same question by Sky Mr Buckles said: ‘As part of the SIA (Security Industry Authority) training and as part of the SIA certification you have to be able to speak English. That’s the standard for the UK security industry.’

The G4S supremo’s latest revelation follows his apology for failing to provide enough security for the games – causing the army to be drafted in to plug the hole.

Wait a minute, the company hired to provide guards for the games didn’t hire enough? We’ll that means the government doesn’t have to pay it, right?

He made clear that he believed his firm was still entitled to its fee for managing the security arrangements for the Games. G4S holds a £284  million contract to provide security staff for the Games, which includes a £57 million “management fee”. Challenged to waive that fee, Mr Buckles insisted it should still be paid.

“We’ve managed the contract and we’ve had management on the ground for two years,” he said. “We still expect to deliver a significant number of staff.” Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the committee, told Mr Buckles his stance on the fee was “astonishing”.

At least Americans are providing some help with security:

The US government wants to send 1000 security agents to protect American Olympic athletes in London. Apparently, ‘my’ government thinks the Brits are no good at transportation security.

The British media is full of the usual outrage over this latest instance of Yankee arrogance. Apparently, Londoners are haunted by the spectre of jackbooted thugs with stars-and-stripes armbands, crashing in doors and beating up little old ladies from Pakistan.

What could make this even more amazing?

Officers who will be patrolling the Games’ rowing events at Eton, Berks., were amazed when told by senior officers told them they must not be seen with snacks such as Walker’s crisps or Ginsters pasties.

Thames Valley Police insisted that before going to the Olympic events officers, including Royal Protection guards, must empty their snacks into a clear polythene bag.

The top-level instruction, based on guidelines from the Games’ London organisers, was designed to protect advertising by the official sponsors including Coca Cola, Cadbury’s and McDonalds.

With the games being televised around the world, organising bigwigs have moved to stop any free advertising for firms which haven’t forked out millions in sponsorship money.

Back when I was in Europe, I was hoping I’d be in London for the games. Now I’m thinking the farther away I am from London, the better. I’ll watch the games on the Internet. It’s safer.

Do you really want to say (sing) that? Ring around the rosie

A simple childhood song:

Then someone tells me it’s about the black plague.


So, it looks like this either goes back to 14th or 17th century England. When the bubonic plague (also known as the black plague) hit, one of the symptoms was a rosy red rash in the shape of a ring on the skin, hence, the “ring around the rosie.”

Since no one knew anything about science, back then, folks thought that because things were smelling really badly with everyone dying and all, the way to avoid catching the plague was to carry around pleasant smelling items. Like posies. So, if you had a pocket full of posies, things were cool.

About a quarter of the population of England died of the plague in the 14th century. When it hit in 1348-1350, the death toll was about 1.5 million out of a population of four million. The later plague, around 1665, it killed 100,000 people, or about 20% of the population in London. In Europe overall, the plague of the 14th century and subsequent plagues through the 18th century killed about up to 60% of the population. Burial really wasn’t an option. So bodies were burned.

Ashes, ashes. We all fall down.

One of the “cures” of the black plague was the 1666 Great Fire of London, which killed most of the rats carrying the disease, but also wiped out the homes of 70,000 of the city’s 80,000 inhabitants. Seems kind of severe. When I worked in London, I used to pass the monument to the Great Fire daily, since I had to walk from the London Bridge train station to the office near St. Paul’s Cathedral. The monument, pictured above, is at the north end of London Bridge.

The plague has spread around the word, killing about 10 million people in India during the 19th and 20th centuries, and making an appearance in the western U.S. in the early 20th century and as late as 1995.

I’m sure this would make a pleasant bedtime story for all the kindergarteners singing this.

Stock market psychopaths and other supposed realities

Cover of "The Big Short: Inside the Dooms...

Cover via Amazon

There are plenty of bad things you can say about Wall Street (I know, I’ve said them), but sometimes, the anti-stockbroker armies go to far.

For example, this story ran in the German magazine Der Spiegel recently in an analysis of rogue traders who lose billions at banks:

According to a new study at the University of St. Gallen seen by SPIEGEL, one contributing factor may be that stockbrokers’ behavior is more reckless and manipulative than that of psychopaths. Researchers at the Swiss research university measured the readiness to cooperate and the egotism of 28 professional traders who took part in computer simulations and intelligence tests. The results, compared with the behavior of psychopaths, exceeded the expectations of the study’s co-authors, forensic expert Pascal Scherrer, and Thomas Noll, a lead administrator at the Pöschwies prison north of Zürich.

“Naturally one can’t characterize the traders as deranged,” Noll told SPIEGEL. “But for example, they behaved more egotistically and were more willing to take risks than a group of psychopaths who took the same test.”

Now, the study sounds interesting, and it would be nice to actually see the document and find out if the findings are being taken out of context since the guys being quoted don’t appear to be with the university, but with a prison in Zurich. But Der Spiegel doesn’t bother to link to the study, so we’re expected to take their word for it.

I can’t do that. Sociopathic behavior, maybe. Psychopath? I need more proof. Maybe this study does exist, and maybe it clearly documents the testing and the results. But if there’s no link to see this for ourselves, why should we believe it? Even if we really want to?

But it doesn’t end there. The BBC this week ran an interview with a “day trader” named Alessio Rastani, who had some candid comments on why stock brokers are looking forward to the collapse of global stock markets:

Now this, too, borders on the edge of psychopath, but stands firmly in the sociopath world. This guy seems to have his act together. Or does he? He’s not shown to be affiliated with any major brokerage house. In stockbroker land, these are the kinds of statements that are more likely to be said in the comfort of a trading floor with like minded sociopaths, but never on live television with millions of listeners. At the least, if this guy’s with a real financial institution, saying this would be a firing offense. So anyone watching this should, after the initial revulsion and self-satisfied feeling of being right about Wall Street all along should think, “Wait a minute. Is this guy real?”

The Daily Telegraph in London followed up and is reporting this:

In the interview Mr Rastani described himself as an independent trader. Elsewhere he claims he’s an “investment speaker”. Instead of operating from a plush office in Canary Wharf Mr Rastani works and lives with his partner Anita Eader in a £200,000 semi in Bexleyheath, south London. The house, complete with a mortgage from Royal Bank of Scotland, belongs to her not him.

He is a business owner, a 99pc shareholder in public speaking venture Santoro Projects. Its most recent accounts show cash in the bank of £985. After four years trading net assets are £10,048 – in the red.

Canary Wharf and “The City” are London’s two financial districts of London. Rastani doesn’t appear to work in either of them. Two hundred thousand pounds, which in the real world is seen as a lot of money, doesn’t get you anything more than a modest flat in London. And “broker” living in South London, is probably like a Charles Schwab specialist living in Hoboken, N.J. Not saying that’s poverty stricken, but it definitely isn’t where the movers and shakers live. So the guy really has no basis for speaking as a “Wall Street” or “City” or “Canary Wharf” insider. He doesn’t make money trading. He doesn’t move markets. As the Telegraph story says:

How a man who has never been authorised by the Financial Services Authority and has no discernible history working for a City institution ended up being interviewed by the BBC remains a mystery.

So far, we’re just getting examples of shoddy reporting based on lame background checks.

We already have enough reasons to condemn Wall Street practices and to demand action against banking institutions for getting us in the financial mess we’re already in. But even if we want to believe in the stories about psychopaths and guys who get off on market collapses because it means more money for them (and just to emphasize, people do get extremely rich when financial products collapse. Read Michael Lewis’s “The Big Short” on the meltdown in the subprime mortgage market), we need bulletproof documentation on these “accepted truths.”

Otherwise, it’s just another group of people making up crap. And we already have enough of that.

‘Slow-motion moral collapse’

David Cameron shows that when governments don’t want to pay for programs to serve people, the solution is to blame the people:

Britain must confront its “slow-motion moral collapse” Prime Minister David Cameron declared Monday, following four days of riots that left five people dead, thousands facing criminal charges and at least 200 million pounds ($326 million) in property losses.

Cameron said his coalition government would outline new policies designed to tackle a culture of laziness, irresponsibility and selfishness which he believes fueled Britain’s unrest. …

Cameron insisted that racial tensions, poverty and the government’s austerity program — much of which is yet to bite — were not the motivations for the riots across London and other major cities.

Criminality and a lack of personal responsibility were at the roots of the disorder, Cameron said, pledging that the government would intervene to help 120,000 of the country’s most troubled families before the 2015 national election.

This sounds like the solution will be to cut more social programs to put more money into tougher law enforcement. I doubt that means a stronger police presence to deal with the moral collapse of powerful people who happen to be the prime minister’s friends and who run newspapers that hack the phones of murdered children.

London calling

London is falling apart:

Police struggled to contain a third night of rioting and rampant looting that ricocheted from one neighborhood to another Monday after a community protest over a police shooting here exploded into Britain’s worst outbreak of social unrest in at least a decade.
In the span of 48 hours, the violence spread haphazardly across London, mostly through economically challenged, mixed-race areas that have sometimes been plagued by high unemployment and tensions with police.

Ever since the Cameron government went on its austerity kick, things have gotten worse in England. And the Conservatives actions in England are looked upon with admiration by the political elite in Washington. Why we should want to follow a path that only leads to ruin is beyond my comprehension.

Amy Winehouse, dead at 27

Her biggest hit was about refusing treatment for drug abuse. In a perverse way, the tabloids have been on a death watch for years. So did this come as a shock to anyone?

Amy Winehouse, the Grammy Award-winning pop singer-songwriter whose sultry and profane compositions reflected — and ultimately were overshadowed by — a turbulent personal life and struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction, was found dead July 23 at her apartment in London. She was 27.