Friday, 30 April 2010

Australia Bans Lawful Sales of Cigarettes

Australia is to phase out lawful retailing of cigarettes from 2015, starting with a ban on corporate logos on packaging in 2012.

"The new branding for cigarettes will be the most hardline regime in the world and cigarette companies will hate it," the prime minister, Kevin Rudd, is quoted as saying in the Guardian:
""Introducing plain packaging just takes away the ability of a consumer to identify our brand from another brand and that's of value to us," an Imperial Tobacco Australia spokeswoman, Cathie Keogh, told ABC radio, adding that the company planned to take legal action."
A leading expert in non-brand retailing, who declined to be named, welcomed the move. "We've been working with government agencies for many years now on ways to improve the distribution and marketing of non-branded products, and this is a great endorsement of our efforts," he said, during a brief exchange of gunfire with a colleague.

The value of shares in private security firms also received a boost, as A$215bn was added to the value of the sector in same day trading on the Australian Stock Exchange.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Social Currency: Think PayWells, Not PayWalls

David identifies the implications of the social media in terms of 'data gathering', 'knowledge sharing and collaboration', 'content distribution' and, importantly, 'social currency' as a means to generate or extract value from the social dynamic.

The social media is certainly a daunting phenomenon to monetise - especially for businesses with decades and fortunes invested in proprietary 'walled gardens', like newspapers, struggling to get their offline activity to pay for the digital presence, and vice versa. The overall structure of their merged online/offline business model seems dictated by the dynamics of sharing that David Armano also discusses. However, while it's clear there is value being exchanged and costs saved in terms of shared content, hosting and other services, where is the cold hard cash to contribute to the rest of the overhead and profit? There isn't much ad revenue left on the table after the ad networks have had their fill, and the few 'paypoints' where people will actually make retail payments has remained very limited. Previous attempts at 'paywalls' by newspapers were unsuccessful, and there's little reason to think trying them again will prove any different. Only niche providers with deep, vertical content - specialist publications - seem able to make the subscription model work, by being intrinsic to their readers' day jobs.

Given the speed at which the social media phenomenon is growing, and the finite resources and revenues available, more and more businesses will need to cluster around the existing 'paypoints' and those businesses - the new intermediaries - that already have a place at the well. Businesses that erect paywalls which interfere with, rather than facilitate, our day-to-day activities, will lose out to those who can telescope their transactions and payments into existing transactions in a way that is seamless to the consumer.

Big media - like all online businesses - need to think about 'paywells' not 'paywalls'.

Photo from Ontario Ministry of Health:'Know Your Well - Basic Well Types' ;-)

Innovation Doesn't 'Kill' Anything

As someone who's been involved at one bleeding edge or other of retail innovation for over a decade, I flinch when anyone mentions the words 'critical mass'.

Innovation is hard, because it always means change for someone. And change is a difficult process - more so for most of the population than the comparative minority of innovators and early adopters who preach it. So, while it's vital that there are evangelists for change who are passionate and completely biased in their view of the benefits of the new and the disadvantages of the old, it's also important to temper their message when addressing the wider world. After all, new products don't need to 'kill' old ones, they need to co-exist.

Tempering the discussion of innovation is more easily said than done. Once upon a time, change was only whispered at the top of organisations or society, and you or me would get fired or killed for daring to speak its name. The joyous challenge presented by the social media is that discussions about change are open to everyone.

For instance, I've been directly involved in e-payments for over a decade, and various people have called for 'the death' of cash or cheques at one point or another. Some still do. But, while this resonates with the faithful innovators and early adopters, it is neither helpful to most people's acceptance of innovative financial services nor to the process of getting those services released. Ironically, it's a tactic of the sceptic or the laggard to seize upon the 'death' of something held dear as the reason not to embrace change, often relying on 'hard data' from the current process against merely honest estimates of the benefit to implementing the new one. And that can be enough to eliminate many an innovative project from crowded boardroom agendas.

But it doesn't have to be that way. I can readily see why cash (or cheques) are still a vital payment option. All payment methods should co-exist, and if people naturally refrain from taking up new ones, or gradually abandon one form or another until it becomes untenable, so be it. Releasing another useful option - with the sole benefit of increasing choice - can be enough to see another method abandoned, which can then be gracefully retired. Like the humble cheque, perhaps, in the face of the myriad alternatives. But as can be seen from the reports on that announcement, merely discussing the 'abolition' awakens deep resistance, and provides the sceptics and the laggards with a platform from which they can make change harder than it needs to be.

Photo from

Stumped By Social Media Slang?

I saw #HowYouBallin trending on Twitter this morning and thought WTF.

Well, if you're occasionally (always?) stumped when it comes to abbreviations, acronyms and slang in the txts, tweets, hashtags and status updates that comprise the social media, try InternetSlang or WhatTheTrend.

"People with improper grammar are asking how can you be rich if you still do things that the average person would do."
InternetSlang explains that "Ballin" means "Playing basketball or Living the good life".

All clear now?

Photo from Travelinlibrarian.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Fasten Seatbelt Sign Is Now On

Minutes ago, I was cruising at 35,000 feet in the blogosphere in a plane already overloaded with unemployment at its highest since 1994 (with public cuts to come), record public borrowing and a record budget deficit, when three big jolts had me reaching for the seatbelt - and a fourth, the sick bag.

The first jolt turned out to be this set of charts from a recent presentation to a Financial Services Club meeting by Adrian Coles, Director-General of the Building Societies Association. It shows why UK banks will struggle to lend much until after 2012 - and probably can't tolerate too much more mortgage delinquency. The rest, via FT Alphaville and ZeroHedge, signal the severe turbulence arising from the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis -

"Hey you, sir, in the back. Please return to your seat and fasten your seatbelt. The Fasten Seatbelt sign is now on."

When Top-Down Meets Bottom-Up

Gordon Brown's exchanges with a woman from Rochdale today are emblematic of both the decline in faith in our institutions and the root cause.

While speaking with Ms Duffy, the Prime Minister focused entirely on making his own political points rather than listening to her issues, rationally expressed, including a parting compliment on local education. And his annoyed, off-camera reaction to her persistent attempts to get a word in edgewise was to mistakenly dismiss both her and her genuine concerns as "bigoted".

Ms Duffy's personal reaction to the Prime Minister's comment was "disgusted" and "upset". "They have no idea how we're living in this country," she said.

Already, the vicious cycle of public reaction has begun, taking the government, politics and politicians with it.

Photo from

Will The Social Media Save Old Media?

Interesting talk by Alan Rusbridger of the Guardian last night, hosted by Olswang as part of it's +Technology initiative. At last it seems the Web 2.0 sunlight is beginning to penetrate the gloom of the traditional media board rooms. They accept the unthinkable is now reality, as Clay Shirky would put it.

Whether it's all too late for newspaper publishers has occupied many conferences in the past year, the latest being the American Society of News Editors’ annual convention, where Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, seemed to promise a way to enable them to make money but was thin on the detail.

Alan's view of the Guardian's future rests on journalists' expertise in finding, aggregating, editing and opining on current affairs. The mistake newspapers have made to date is to presume they have a monopoly on the 'news' (now a freely available commodity) and must only deal in their own proprietary material rather than being a lens on all the relevant material in the world. Successfully lighting up Twitter with, say, the Trafigura affair (something that Private Eye missed an earlier opportunity to do), is only a glimpse of a brave new world. The Guardian now casts its net more widely for content, beyond its journalists, staff critics and commentators, and tries to foster discussion amongst the experts on topics of the day. Apparently it even offers the opportunity for regular thoughtful commentators on its stories and blog posts to 'graduate' to being paid to write stories.

Alan's thoughts echo those of a post by Ryan Sholin, Director of News Innovation at Publish2 on why newspapers should link to the rest of the social media (my edits):
"1. Bring your readers the best links related to your story, and they will thank you by coming back to your news site, which is no longer a dead end but a point of connection where they can find other interesting streams.

2. If all you provide your readers is flat content that doesn’t take them anywhere else on the Web, or back up statements with direct sources, or provide resources for those who want to explore a topic beyond what you’ve been able to provide with original reporting, you’re just shoveling text into another bucket, labeled “Web.” Your news site shouldn’t feel like an endpoint in the conversation. It should feel like the beginning.

3. Because it’s the best way to connect directly with the online community. If you mention a person or organization, link to them. Bonus points if you dig deep enough into the local online community to link to relevant content created by them. Sometimes they link back.

4. The days of your news organization existing as a monopolistic source of local information are over, and your readers know it. They browse local, national, international, and topical news and commentary in more places than you call “news.” But you’re the person in town who knows everyone who knows everyone. You’ve got the sources. Bring what they know to your readers as directly as possible: Link to them. David Cohn of Spot.Us offered up the now-classic Jeff Jarvis line: “Do what you do best, and link to the rest.”

5. By opening a two-way channel to let your readers tell you what you should link to next, you’ll cut down on the time you spend looking for that next thing... you’ll make it easier for sources who know the answers to your questions to find you, and you won’t spend as much time trying to find them."
All these thoughts resonate especially with me in my role as a member of the Society for Computers and Law media board. For nearly a decade I've witnessed firsthand the SCL's growing pains from magazine-only publisher, to web site publisher, to the operator of modest groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, to blogger, to budding member of the Twittersphere. Even now, the debate continues about how the Society should best participate in the social media in ways that will add value to the modest annual subscription, e.g. by supporting members' research activities, and running insightful events that also help meet lawyers' Continuing Professional Development requirements.

One thing seems assured: the social media, not newspapers, have shaped the future of journalism.

Photo from KPAO

Friday, 23 April 2010

Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway

As a lawyer, maybe I ought not to see risk as a positive force, but I do. If I did not, I would never have ridden a bicycle, horse or motorcycle, played rugby, scuba-dived, rowed, sailed, skied, driven vehicles, flown, or become involved with start-ups. Of course, I might never have fallen off, over, into, under or onto anything either. But the risk of falling - of failure - is actually what has made all these things FUN.

I'm actually not being facetious. Sir David Latham expressed his concern about overreaction to risk in the context of the furore over the 'early' release of prisoners, in light of the Venables case:
"I'm concerned that the society we're presently living in, is becoming too risk averse. That means that society is perhaps unrealistic about the level of risk it should be prepared to accept."
Boris Johnson made a similar point in his recent article on the plague of ski helmets:
"...there is something strange here, a mutation in the Zeitgeist. I reckon the helmet mania is more than just a question of fashion or a re-assessment of the medical risks of skiing. It’s a sign of the psychological state of the Western bourgeoisie in the grip of an economic crisis. They have seen what happened to the risk-taking bankers; they have seen how the sky fell in on the insouciant system of free-market capitalism; and so they literally cover their heads as an expression of the safety-first mentality that has seized us all."
Global concern about risk in the financial markets goes back along way. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision was created in 1974. Yet even after all those years of careful work, and several Basel Accords, the Committee has been unable to prevent numerous banking meltdowns and ultimately the Credit Crunch. This is why placing further constraints on the financial markets is unlikely to work, and why I advocate simplifying them and opening them up to everyone instead. People may look upon that as a might leap of faith, but I've witnessed firsthand the way Zopa, the person-to-person lending marketplace launched in 2005, has grown nice and steadily throughout a period when the 'traditional institutions' were the ones exploding with bad debt.

Even today, we're being hectored by mainstream media interests to avoid choosing a coalition government in the UK. To hell with them all, I say. Feel the fear and do it anyway. It'll be FUN.


Thursday, 22 April 2010

Tactical Voting: Hung Parliament?

People are asking about how they might vote 'for' a hung Parliament. Well Tactical Voting suggests the constituencies between which voters could swap their votes to help produce that result, and where you might go to discuss and arrange it. The 'Voting Buddies' group on Facebook is one example. Alternatively, you could go to Hang 'em to see if you're able to vote for a candidate they suggest.
Or you could vote for a minority party that has a shot of winning your seat, or whichever of the major parties the polls suggest will take second place.

Toby Young points to scepticism about the impact of tactical voting. But it will be interesting to see whether the Facebook, Twitter and the other social media help voters unleash its potential this time around.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Hung Parliament - More Pressure?

Many people would like to have rolled out the tumbrils for the UK Parliament in the past year, but a 'hung' Parliament is of course something quite different. And 38 Degrees is rightly running a poll to see if people want to hear more about the pro's instead of being heckled by The Sun and other mainstream media about the con's. I've said that I do.

Esentially, a hung parliament exists where no political party has a majority of seats. So either several parties agree a coalition and form a majority government, or a single party must form a minority government and horse-trade with the others on key issues. If neither works on critical issues, like budget approval, there would need to be another election.

The BBC has tried to explain it, but gets mired in speculation about numbers. A short Wikipedia entry has just been created. It links to the BBC explanation and a Q&A by the Institute for Government, an apparently politically neutral think-tank, which is also concerned about the unduly negative portrayal of hung parliaments in the media:
This has been reported quite negatively and has generated predictions that unstable and ineffective government would be the result.

However, as argued in 'Making Minority Government Work' by the Institute for Government and Constitution Unit, this need not be the case. Indeed, minority or coalition government can even have advantages, though ministers, the opposition, the civil service and the media would all have to adapt their behaviour to make it work.
This sounds promising. Basically, all politicians would have to behave much more reasonably and responsibly to try and forge consensus, and the media would have to refrain from senselessly branding the process as unstable and chaotic. After all, the democratic process should be messy rather than engineered from the top down in a nice orderly fashion. A dynamic, open system which encourages broad engagement by all stakeholders cannot realistically appear neat and linear.

I suspect that the biggest driver of the negative airplay - particularly at The Sun - is that Gordon Brown would remain PM, and would be the first to be invited to try and form a government. Given his record for clinging desperately to power to date, one does wonder whether we'd ever be rid of him.

However, while the fear and loathing of Swinegate has exposed Parliament to more public scrutiny and produced a little more accountability, it seems we have a long way to go in educating the politicians that citizens come first. And a hung Parliament seems a great way of keeping the pressure on.

Friday, 16 April 2010

The Elephant In The Room Makes It A Grim But Simple Choice

The electoral "elephant in the room" is exactly how the next UK government will eliminate the country's £90bn structural deficit - the core part of the £167bn in overall public borrowing we can't pay off in the usual ebb and flow of the public finances.

Everyone is rightly speculating about the likely mix of higher taxes, spending cuts and the role economic growth will play if each political party were elected. But the detail will change and is ultimately a distraction for election purposes. The short answer lies in the basic party philosophies.

In essence, Labour believes the public sector is the economy, and the private sector - including individual taxpayers - is there to support the public sector economy for the common good. That's why they keep saying that tax cuts (i.e. lower public income) and reduced public spending would 'take money out of the economy'. Therefore, Labour's primary goal is to suck an extra £90bn out of the private sector into the public sector in the coming years, over and above 'normal' levels of taxation. Job done. Curing public sector waste and inefficiency are secondary, and not even necessarily 'nice to have', particularly for the unions who've contributed substantial sums to the Labour party.

By contrast, the Tories/LibDems believe the economy comprises both the public and private sectors. Which is why they keep saying that avoiding a rise in National Insurance will boost economic growth by leaving money with individual people who'll spend it to greater effect - more quickly and on local goods and services - than wasteful government departments who spend vast sums on overhead but ultimately produce nothing. So, while the Tories/LibDems would also need to hike taxes to some extent, they would primarily focus on reducing public sector waste and inefficiency to minimise the amount of money that has to be diverted from productive private sector activity into the public sector. Where those two parties differ is that the Lib Dems want the public sector to do much more than the Tories do, which is why the Lib Dems are always coming up with random additional taxes to pay for it all.

However, life is what happens while you're making plans. Labour's immediate problem is that the private sector is already stretched thin, conserving cash to repay private debt and rebuild savings in light of concern for the future. That's why they talk about delaying plans for the National Insurance hike (and no doubt other increases) until the economy's had a chance to recover, while the Tories/LibDems talk about reducing public sector waste and inefficiency now, to avoid the need for Labour's planned NI increase and minimise future tax rises.

So it's a straight choice, but a grim one. Higher taxes in the coming years and little change in the public sector under Labour. Public sector reform with a bit more cash in your pocket under the Tories, and somewhere in between under the Lib Dems.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

SME's Shun Bank Finance Offerings

Interesting report today that "less than half SMEs have taken action [to address cashflow pressures] with 11pc hiring an in-house credit controller, 9pc using invoice discounting and 8pc factoring". There are over 4.7 million SMEs in the UK (see demographics below).

According to the Telegraph:
"Peter Ibbetson, chairman of NatWest and RBS small business operations, is concerned that so few SMEs are using banking services to alleviate the problem but small business organisations believe companies are reluctant to incur extra charges after their bank borrowing experiences."
In other words, it appears SMEs would rather leave debt on their books, taking any loss and resulting income tax deduction, than become hog-tied by a bank at rates of about 36%APR in consumer finance terms - at least that's the rate we estimated Zopa lenders would have to beat to offer attractive trade finance. That's because you should factor in (excuse the pun) the charges on any additional accounts you're required to hold as part of the finance deal, the holding cost of any deposit held as a guarantee, as well as fees and the interest rate on any overdraft, loans, letters of credit and/or factoring. SME owners are also increasingly required to take a commercial credit card, which doesn't benefit from protection from all the old dirty tricks that are gradually being weeded out under consumer banking and finance regulation.

Yet more evidence the time is ripe for an alternative source of SME trade finance?

The most recent UK government statistics (published Oct '09) show that, at the start of 2008, there were 4.8 million UK private sector enterprises of which 99.3 per cent had 0 to 49 employees. Only 27,000 (0.6 per cent) had 50 to 249 employees and 6,000 (0.1 per cent) employed 250 people or more.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Apple To Kill The Book? Define "Book"

What is a "book"?

The question was inspired by Technollama's indignant response to some gadget freakery about the iPad killing the humble book and how George Orwell would have written 'apps' if he were alive today.

"Book" is an increasingly elastic concept. We have hardbacks, paperbacks, e-books, talking books, and so on. So a dictionary definition such as "A set of written, printed, or blank pages fastened along one side and encased between protective covers" is way too narrow.

A book is of course more than a physical item. No definition should ignore the content and the diverse forms in which that content may be consumed. In this sense, the definition of "book" should be no different than that of a 'television'.

Top of head, it might be more apt to define "book" as, say, "a coherent collection of thoughts recorded in text and graphical form by the creator(s), and edited, packaged and published by an independent person." That would allow you to distinguish, say, an academic paper, which I don't believe is (or should be!) edited by a person independent of the creator. Maybe that's wrong - I'm no academic.

Interestingly, 'film' and 'television show' are increasingly harder to differentiate from 'book' in these terms.

I agree with Technollama that it's lazy, ridiculous and futile to speculate whether Orwell would have forsaken books for 'apps' the second he clapped eyes on an iPad. He's dead. At any rate, the lack of reference to a living author in this vein is telling.

Of course there must be successful living authors who've previously only found expression in "pages fastened along one side and encased between protective covers" who are discovering a new dimension to their musings via the latest technology. Cory Doctorow is one example, although he seems to use technology for publishing, marketing and distributing his books in 'traditional' form rather than the act of creation itself. But I have trouble believing Mr Doctorow will cease producing "books" because of the iPad. I'd ask him, but the proof will be whether he does or not - as an old English teacher used to say, "never trust the author, trust the tale" ;-)

When it comes to new technology, it's more interesting - indeed fascinating - to consider how the expression of the same thoughts varies according to the medium. In other words, how each new medium alters expression.

Copywriters, screenwriters and playwrights experience this for a living, of course. Dean Johns could explain that dynamic far better than me. But anyone with broadband and a bit of self-confidence can use, say, Xtranormal to turn a blog post into an animated clip and experience the edits required to convert perfectly idiomatic written words into idiomatic speech. It's perhaps tougher to distil a written paper into a compelling visual presentation (i.e. one that doesn't involve reading the paper and clicking slides). Saul Klein seems good at this, and the presentations at GikII (exploring the legal interaction between popular culture, speculative fiction, and new technology) are a sight to behold. Neither process is equal to the challenge of turning a novel into a feature film. Some scenes or concepts in the text are simply not practicable, convincing or satisfying in a visual medium - even with all the resources of Hollywood theoretically at one's disposal. But each process reveals that an original work provides only rough guidance as to how its meaning should be conveyed in a new medium. For that reason, the expression of a thought in one medium is no substitute for the expression of that thought in another. And it should follow that no medium is a substitute for another, or will "kill" it.

The replacement of vinyl records and casette tapes with CDs is really the evolution of one type of medium, rather than a whole new medium replacing others.

So what difference, if any, will the iPad make (even if one could glorify it as a medium in itself)?

That remains to be scene (I couldn't resist). However, the potential for added distribution alone, if not new modes of expression altogether, makes it worthwhile for 'traditional' authors to follow such steps in the evolution of technology and how people - their customers - react.

Living authors, that is. George Orwell can rest in peace.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Inverting The Institutional Narrative

Fascinating to see big charities accuse big business leaders of putting their own interests first in objecting to Labour's planned increase in National Insurance. The charities insist that their own constituents - older people, lone parents and environmental groups - are all capable of great influence on the electoral outcome and we should be focusing the debate on them.

Either way, it's ironic that NIC changes - which will affect all taxpaying individuals - are being subverted by institutions seeking to draw the electoral battle lines around their own 'vested interests', rather than the needs of individual voters.

Another example centres on the rise of Google as a force in the consumer advertising market. Newscorp claims that Google is getting a 'free ride' on Newscorp's content. Local newspapers also claim to be victims. And Europe's big Telcos recently leapt onto the bandwagon, claiming that Google is getting a 'free ride' on their networks. I guess TV and other device manufacturers and electricity companies will be the next to climb aboard.

The problem with such narratives is they ignore the 'elephant in the room' - that individuals are ultimately responsible for each wave of service provider overtaking the last. You decide what to pay and to whom, and whether to pay at all. The real complaint for Newscorp, big telecos and the like, is an internal one. They've lost sight of their role in solving consumers' problems in favour of solving their own. They have ceased to be - and ceased to be rewarded as - facilitators. Unless they can regain their role as facilitators of people's actual and desired activities, they will die the lingering death of the spurned institution.

The institutional narrative dominates in our society, yet research shows faith in our institutions has plunged over the past few decades, and we have turned to direct action and single issue campaigns as an alternative to formal politics. A Eurobarometer poll also found that only "50% of EU citizens trust their local and regional authorities, a level slightly higher than for the European Union (47%). This level of trust in the local and regional authorities is considerably higher than the level of trust in national governments or parliaments (34%)."

So, while it is dominant, the institutional narrative is also misleading. To properly understand our motives at the ballot box or in favouring the rise of email over posted letters, or internet shopping over some high street retailers, or Google over Newscorp, and where that may lead, the narratives of history and current affairs - and of the future - need to be told from the bottom up, not the top down.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Hunting The Digital Economy Act

Well the Digital Economy Bill may be an Act, but the shooting ain't over yet.

Hunting down the villains of the Parliamentary 'wash-up' will be a bloody, complex and expensive business. A process Lord Clement-Jones eloquently alluded to at the end of his damning speech on the DEB: "I hope that we have made the views of these Benches clear and that never again will such a complicated Bill be dealt with in this way at the fag end of a Parliament."

Here's a big offender, who was set loose late in the piece (italics are mine):
"18(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about the granting by a court of a blocking injunction in respect of a location on the internet which the court is satisfied has been, is being or is likely to be used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright.

(2) “Blocking injunction” means an injunction that requires a service provider to prevent its service being used to gain access to the location."
There's immense potential for evil in the exercise of this disproportionate, unnecessary and overly broad power. Establishing its true scope and guarding against unintended consequences is an impossible task. Numerous activities may "infringe copyright" (see sections 16-27 of the CPDA, for a start). It is unclear whether only the rights holder could  seek a blocking injunction. And what qualifies as a 'location on the internet' is anyone's guess.  Could one of your competitors spot any random technical infringement and try to shut down your web site? Your customer extranet? Your presence in  search results, price comparison tables etc etc? You would need deep pockets to insist that all this be clarified in the face of a threatened injunction.

Ten sub-sections try to avert the need for these regulations, but the villain is already loose in  the political underworld. Given the standard of our politicians, it's easy to imagine a Secretary of State being "satisfied that the use of the internet for activities that infringe copyright is having "a serious adverse effect" on businesses or consumers, that making the regulations is a "proportionate" way to address that effect, and that making the regulations would not prejudice national security or the prevention or detection of crime. Then the minister can do his worst, explain his reasons, wait for the 60 days of ranting to expire and press on with issuing the regulations.

No, this villain is loose - as are others - and they're coming after the little guys. It's the sort of challenge that attracts super heroes. If Hit Girl isn't available, I guess it'll have to be ORG.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

All Washed-Up, Ready To Go

The despicably secretive, double-dealing frenzy of the UK Parliamentary 'wash-up' is an especially disgraceful and cretinous process in the hands of the current shameful, scandal-ridden crew. That they went ahead and wallowed in it shows they've learned absolutely nothing about how to rescue their institution from the desperately low esteem in which it is held. As they huddled in their dirty little corners to snuffle out a deal, few spared a thought for the millions of individuals who put them there or the mandate they were granted. Parliamentary reforms were ditched as they cosied up to the copyright moguls and helped themselves to the tools of leak suppression.

We can only hope that this insidious wash-up process and the tawdry deals it produced will adorn the funeral pyre of this miserable, tragic saga in global political history.
"Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation . . . In the name of God, go".

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Kool Aid!! More Kool Aid!!!

The UK election battle is raging. From the plains of Helmand Province to the door of Number 10, where Gordo clings to power like a crazed gibbon hugging a tree. He'll have to be carried out of there, gibbering and drooling in a locked cage, if Dave and that other guy are going to get him out at all.

It's hot and dangerous work. New Labour goons roam the surrounding streets in ugly bands, some desperate to get their hands on  private loot  to fill the empty public coffers, others offering themselves for hire like cheap mercenaries. While deep down in the bunker, amidst the clamour and roar of media briefings, timeshare-style cold-calling, billboard banter and sound-bite skirmishes, staffers scream "Kool Aid!! We need more Kool Aid"!!! Dreading that without opiate, they and the masses will stop believing.

It would be time to flee, if the unions hadn't seized control of the roads, railways and the airways. So we're stuck in the battle zone, cowering behind any solid object we can find, rags stuffed in our ears against the hideous din. Only the insane and the very brave will risk the lethal dash to the polling booth.

On May 7, we'll know how those numbers stack up.

Not Travelling Light? That's Your Problem.

With its plans to redefine the expression 'travelling light' with coin-operated toilets on its flights and higher baggage charges during the peak holiday season, Ryanair's finally done it. Not content with the vicious spiral after its "idiot blogger" incident, and the piss-taking after the last time it suggested charging for Nature's call, the airline has crossed the line from facilitator to institution - from service provider that exists to solve it's customers' problems (how to cut the cost of air travel) to one that is primarily motivated to solve it's own (how to increase profitability).

Revealingly, Ryanair explains both initiatives as it's own attempt to change customers' behaviour, rather than adapt to suit their needs. It explains the baggage charge as 'urging' people to travel light, and it's spokesman is reported to have blatantly justified its pay-for-a-leak strategy as enabling it to pack more people onto each flight:
'By charging for the toilets we are hoping to change passenger behaviour so that they use the bathroom before or after the flight. That will enable us to remove two out of three of the toilets and make way for at least six extra seats.'
Not much comfort in either explanation - especially for those travelling with kids. Maybe they won't?

Bon voyage, Ryanair. It doesn't matter how profitable you say you are. You're doomed to a lingering death.

STOP PRESS: And in breaking news, Ryanair declares its refusal to comply with regulations requiring payment of passengers' expenses incurred while being re-routed during the recent flying restrictions.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Green or Greed Investment Bank?

I wonder whose problem(s) would be solved by the public sector 'green investment bank' being touted by both the Tories and Labour. 

I mean, do you believe the British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association is a staunch advocate of completely open and transparent financial markets? Or do you think it could be helpful to have a captive investor on which to off-load one's less than spectacular speculative green investments as a last resort?

Perhaps more importantly, would the creation of a public sector green investment bank allow or encourage individuals to buy-in to alternative energy projects, financing them in the process?

The current "problems" in the financial services markets - excessive fees and bonuses, lack of transparency, poorly understood products, the credit and pension crises - are the result of the sort of institutional tinkering epitomised by the proposed 'green investment bank'. We funnel investment opportunities and funding into a zone in which relatively few firms are permitted to operate. The results are increasingly complex products, less transparency, increasingly concentrated risk and less competition.

This situation won't change until the clear objective of the regulatory regime becomes the delivery of simple, low cost financial products that are accessible to us all. Rather than vainly trying to educate an aging population to become more and more financially literate, we need to vastly simplify the process for the average individual to invest/save in a fully diversified way.

Surely the successful investment firms of the future will be the ones who race each other to demystify and simplify the funding/investment experience, rather than those who enter into cosy, self-serving institutional arrangements like this one.

Everything Is Very Personal

While it's important to be able to rise above the noise, I wonder how many senior decision makers and policy makers have lost touch with the fact that everything is incredibly personal for each of us. Especially things we tend to regard as utilities or commodities - water, groceries, garbage, money, airports, train schedules, road repairs.


Think about it when you next run the tap to make coffee, or you take from your own kitchen cupboard a jar of something you bought at a supermarket from a row of apparently identical jars, or when you hear the binman collecting rubbish from your own bins, or you log-in to your online bank account, or you join the queue at airport security, or you sprint to catch a train that is later delayed or when you sit in a traffic jam beside an abandoned trench that mysteriously appeared in the road a week ago.

All these personal experiences are shaped by someone else, but they're yours.

In every person's reality, there is no 'bell curve', no 'average', no 'normal'. Sure, these are useful fudges we make to move things along. But how many people hold these fudges as their dominant perspective, rather than the idea that everything is very personal?

How much of a difference would it make if your dominant perspective in every business meeting was personal? None? Okay, do you think that would make a difference to politics? Banking? What would that difference look like?

Now do you think it would make a difference to what you do?

Just a thought.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Billboard Banter Beggars Belief

While amusing, the political poster saga must be very poor value for money - not a great message for anyone interested in fiscal responsibility.

Each expensive billboard is ripped off and subverted online in front of more eyeballs than will see the original, for free, within seconds, by people with entrenched voting positions. So both 'sides' must see 'their' billboard as tired and out of date, swinging voters would remain unconvinced and the 3 million who've not registered to vote must instantly be reminded why.
"A Conservative spokesman said that their alternative version of the poster would be going up on the same 11 digital poster sites being used by Labour - 10 in London and one in Manchester."
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