Thursday, 28 June 2012

Chancellor's letter of apology to Bob Diamond of Barclays

Thanks to my contacts at the new News International business "Phonetaps'R'Us", I was exclusively sent a copy of a letter sent to the Chief Executive of Barclays Bank, Bob Diamond, from the Chancellor yesterday.

"Dear Bob

Trusting you and yours are well.

Listen mate. Sorry the Financially Stupid Asses wrote to your bank yesterday to demand £290million as a fine. It's nothing personal, and just because your bank head office people are a bunch of dishonest, thieving bastards, I thought there was no reason to carry on that way and fine you.

I made this clear to the FSA yesterday as soon as I heard the news. I told them that the taxpayer would have been more than happy to bail you out.

And also. Look mate. Sorry you've had to give up your bonus this year. It must have come as quite a shock, and was a wonderful thing for you to volunteer to do. I only hope you've put something by from the £17million you received last year. No doubt the bank paying your £5.7million tax bill should help to ease the burden and not bite too much into your lottery win, er, I mean, salary package from last year.

Hopefully you will be able to manage this year on your £1.3million salary and the half a million quid's worth of perks you receive. If you can't manage, just give us the nod and we'll bail you out.

Look, if you really are struggling, get the chauffeur to take you and Mrs Diamond to Aldi or Lidl for part of the weekly shop. I think your car shouldn't need more than two regular parking spaces, and you'll save a fortune (6 different vegs are on offer at 39p each this week, so do hurry).

Take care now, and don't fret

Your good friend
The Chancellor"

Monday, 25 June 2012

Press and general freedom - we are so lucky

I wonder do people realise how lucky we are with our freedom? I mean, providing it's legal and honest, we can almost say what we like about anyone and anything - within the boundaries of decency of course.

We can pillory our Deputy Prime Minister - in fact for some people it's their only hobby. The nationalists can remark that they don't want HM the Queen. We have positively distasteful people like Nick Griffin and his nasty nutters allowed the freedom to seek election and speak freely. We even allow useless and moronic reality television stars and Tamara Ecclestone a platform to become "slebrih-ees", where they contribute absolutely nothing to the fabric or wellbeing of society.

I read that the wonderful Talibanimals in remote Afghan regions now inflict 70 lashes for beards not long enough, wearing a collar 15 lashes, smoking 30 lashes or the best of all, failure to keep trousers above the ankles, 20 lashes.

I can't quite get my head around their barbaric mindset where, in essence, they really are in need of urgent medical treatment. They are nothing if out of their tiny, narrow little minds. In fact, wild animals wouldn't behave the way they do!

Although not likely to inflict the cane, the North Koreans are almost as bad for different reasons. In comparison with the Talibanimals, they at least maintain a sense of human dignity and propriety in the way they oppress their masses. And there is an element of envy on the part of most of us in the West that the North Korean population have never heard of Leona Lewis, One Direction or Rhianna, or that Michael Jackson is dead.

And the Chinese. They are in the 22nd Century when it comes to technology, but only beginning to creep into the 19th Century on other matters. Their censorship, for example, of the internet, defies belief, and it's simply pure greed on the part of Google and others that these cash behemoths go along with that censorship.

So when the Leveson inquiry, constantly on our screens, takes the media to task for hacking mobile phones, we should be relieved.

Having your mobile phone hacked seems to be the norm for the Chinese and North Korean, and woe betide you if you have any pictures on your mobile in Talibanimal land. That's a temporary detention and a thorough beating.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Are Camelot dim, dysfunctional, liars or just plain greedy?

There can be no denying that UK lottery operators Camelot are on to a good thing. Especially the overpaid management.

They have been reaping the benefits of the franchise for years now - a franchise that in essence, has been licenced by the government to print money.

However, I can't quite make up my mind whether the management of the Lotto are dim, dysfunctional, liars or just plain greedy, although the cynic in me answers the question when I consider the chief Executive of Camelot was complaining last year that the annual bonus on her not inconsiderable 7-figure salary had been reduced (conveniently forgetting her 18 year sojourn to date at Camelot has produced a pension we mere mortals can only dream about. How about the poor soldiers, CEO Dianne Thompson, who come back from the far-east minus a leg and have to legally fight for compensation that doesn't even touch what you earn less than a month? And they don't receive CBE's for their troubles either!).

Irrespective of the glitzy marketing spend, the stupid advertisements for scratchcards, the big hoo-ha about rollovers (the lottery only rolls over so regularly because the odds of winning are so abysmal - 1 in 13,983,816 for the main lotto 6-number draw and a 1 in 56.7 chance of winning 3 numbers, or a £10; 1 in 116,531,800 of winning the Euro Lotto, with a 1 in 22 chance of winning the lowest draw or a £2.20/£2.90 prize [meaning you have a better chance of picking the winning horse from a 22-horse race - with a bigger prize than the £2.20/2.90 on offer from Camelot!]), people will always have a couple of quid for a lottery ticket as an impulse purchase. Multiply that by several million purchases  for each day of the major lottery draws (and of course the intermediate extras and scratchcards), and we are talking huge bucks per week.

All for precious little effort on Camelot's part - apart form coming up with new ways of parting the public from their cash.

No, where I wonder about the dim, dysfunctional, liars or just plain greedy aspect refers to our local newsagent in suburban Leeds. He has been awaiting a decision from Camelot on a lottery terminal for over 4 years (the previous owner had a terminal), constantly being put off by them. Their regular excuse is not enough machines to go around, despite there being 14 new shops I can think of in Leeds that have received terminals in the past year.

They also said that his location, about a half mile from another terminal, didn't justify obtaining one.

Now, one of the suburban business-destroying Tesco Metro's opened up on the same parade (ok, separated by a minor t-junction, but we are talking rural suburbs here) some 100m from the existing Lotto newsagent. The Tesco opened with a Lotto terminal! Despite Camelot telling the newsagent half-a-mile away that he was too near.

So half a mile is too near, yet 100 metres isn't?

I wrote to Camelot and they stonewalled me with the usual "we check our potential terminal installations in relation to existing ones to ensure  blah blah blah." And "they don't favour any business over another".

Oh yes?

That's not what the two local and struggling shopkeepers think in relation to Tesco!

Camelot didn't answer my question, because obviously they couldn't. And as I said, I'm at a loss as to whether they are dim, dysfunctional, liars or just plain greedy. Perhaps they could answer!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

No wonder they can't believe it's not butter!

A LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) survey has provided what is possibly the most depressing news of the year, aside from any imminent release of an album by Simon Cowell's "Little Fix (sic)" X-Factory (sic) winners.

The headline is that 2% of 16-23 year-olds surveyed thought that butter comes from chickens, while a further 24% actually hadn't a clue. 10% didn't know that milk came from cows, while 15 thought it came from pigs. 23% were unaware that eggs come from chickens, while a further 12% think they come from wheat, maize or oats.

Now, while all the respondents no doubt know that a Blackberry comes from the Carphone Warehouse, this crass ignorance defies belief, and is unbelievably embarrassing. One would think that in this day and age, regardless of one's level of education, the origins of milk and eggs would be universally known.

It's not surprising though.

Standards of English and comprehension continue to slip, while companies like Edexel continue to operate as totally dysfunctional parasites, sponging off taxpayers' money providing a less than sub-standard service. And the saddest part is that the government with its ridiculous outsourcing policies - outsourcing taxpayers' money to the reprehensively incapable - lets them away with it as their Chief Executives continue their upward spiral into the Sunday Times Top 500 Rich List on the back of absolutely inferior quality and service. With, no doubt, an Honour from Her Majesty thrown in.

And this professional inferiority continues beyond schooling.  When the graduates, irrespective of whether they know the origins of milk or eggs, are faced with the appalling advertisements placed by recruitment consultants, operating on behalf of the totally dysfunctional HR industry, it doesn’t get any better. Yes, the recruitment consultants are all working for “leading” or “global” players, all with incalculable turnover, yet offering barely less than a parsimonious remunerations. However, the quality of the diction and grammar is barely on the lighter side of dreadful.

Confusion reigns between “it’s” and “its”. Their “client” seem to be totally confused as to whether it should be a possessive singular client or a possessive plural client, often appearing as “my client are”. And spelling is often atrocious, despite it being easier than ever to automatically spell check a document.

People appear to be too busy-busy to get the basics right.

It’s no wonder the kids don’t know where milk or eggs come from. And no, you can't buy them  from the Carphone Warehouse.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Democracy. We really don't know how lucky we are!

We give out about the government. We lampoon the Prime Minister. We lampoon the Chancellor. We openly express our opinions of the establishment on and off line. We have Private Eye. We even have Rod Liddle.

Yet, it's a totally different story in other parts of the world.

Manal al-Sharif, lives in the wonderful 'democracy' that is Saudi Arabia. Where women are right up there in the pecking order. After men, camels, goats, iPhones and shopping malls. This brave lady had the temerity to defy the draconian rules of that country that forbids females to drive.

Now, while the disabled spaces at Saudi branches of Sainsbury's may consequently be free of 4x4 Riyadh tractors as a result, all parking spaces are the strict preserve of Saudi males. Who dress in House of Fraser bed linen and wear pound shop tea-towels on their heads.

Manal has been forced to cancel a trip to the United States to receive an award for her activism because, wait for it, of multiple death threats! For driving a car. For being a woman. For championing human rights.

What type of people are these that issue death threats to a woman because she champions a basic human right that should not even have to be questioned? All they do is show themselves up as the inhumane, barbaric, chauvinists they really are. Just one of the many reasons I wish they didn't have all that oil. Then they could genuinely inhabit the 15th Century as they seem to want to.

Then there's China. Fascinating country. Well and truly in the 21st Century as far as technology is concerned. But a little behind in the times as far as democracy is concerned - if you can describe positively Feudal as a little behind.

They are now tightening further the grip and restrictions they impose on the internet. The want internet service providers to comply with such things as real-name registrations, and apply full censorship of online discussion forums and microblogs.

The question asked by the real world, is, what exactly have the Chinese authorities got to hide, or are embarrassed of?

We already know that if it's made in the West, it's copied in China. We already know about the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, where according to official Chinese agencies, it was really all about testing the resilience of the human body to tanks. We know that Tenzin Gyatso, or, as he is better known, His Excellency the Dalia Lama and his wonderful people are persecuted beyond belief, even to death by the Chinese authorities. We even know that the iPhone is assembled there by hand for next to nothing, yet is sold in the West for the equivalent of £400.

But why? We all know the Chinese authorities are a bunch of half-baked Communists, with an average age of 93, who didn't invent sweet and sour chicken and who go for short walks on a very long wall. A wall that can be seen from space.

If we here in the UK call the Right Hon. Nick Clegg a plonker, everyone laughs (except poor Nick, and anyway, he seems a right proper bloke who, in the eyes of the public, just happens to hold the Government's official fall-guy job, following, as he does, the extremely hard act that was m'Lud Prescott).

On the other hand, if Chu Wang Soo (95 Acacia Street, Tianjin - first turn on the left after Kentucky Flied [!] Chicken) was to call Wu Bangguo (Congress Chairman) an illiterate, rural, Yangtze-wading, cheap, beer-swilling peasant, he'd have his hands, legs, and possibly his head chopped off and served to the piranhas.

So really, we just don't appreciate how lucky we are here in the UK.
Providing, of course, we don't publicly accuse some feckless, useless, overpaid footballer of sleeping with some stick-thin misery of a model who isn't his wife.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Will you be my friend? Come on ISP's. Get tough!

I appreciate it is nearly always done by "autobots", or whatever the internet nuisances name their little pieces of software, but I notice that the moment you connect to Skype, the social networks, the infuriating MSN Messenger or even the odd five minutes you might while away on one of the free amusement (such as poker) sites, you're hounded by people.

These people are total strangers who want you "to connect with them", "be their poker pal", "have a conversation" or something similar. Total strangers who hound you the second you log on.

Now I know without even accepting these unsolicited spam calls, that were you to agree, you'd be more than likely immediately directed to a Canadian Viagra site, some PPI ambulance-chasing 'para-site' or to one of the less salubrious teenage ninja porn sites. And that, of course, answers the main question as to "What's in it for them?".

However, it doesn't quite answer the question as to why they bother. Yes, if they spam 1 million people, they only need a click-through rate of a minute percentage of one per cent to make money, but I would really love to know why they bother?

More to them point, I cannot understand why the ISP's (internet service providers) aren't more proactive in preventing these spammers. With modern technology and the level of expertise at their disposal, surely it is a simply matter of halting them?

Take Hotmail, the free email account from Microsoft that has been around since 1996 (in Microsoft's hands since 1997). I've had an account since it started, and many of the spam emailers ("Dear Beneficiary", "My friend in Christ" ad nauseam) are also celebrating 15 years of seeking names, addresses, bank account numbers, mothers' maiden names and pin numbers.

The content of these spam emails hasn't changed much over the years. The same old lottery wins from lotteries that you haven't entered and that don't exist. Sons of the Nigerian oil ambassador (he must have thousands of the little blighters) wanting you to put $25million through your account (they always pick such unrealistic sums). Inland Revenue refunds. And the cruel and distasteful former soldiers from Desert Storm or Helmand Province who have found millions of dollars in a sack in the desert that they want to smuggle back to the States (via your account - strange how they can find a bank to deposit the money into in the middle of nowhere!).

It would be so easy for the ISP's to totally block theses spam emails before they even got off the starting blocks! The giveaway is in the wording! Not only the wording, but any email phishing for information by asking name and bank accounts could so easily be blocked. As could any email coming from an obfuscated email address. Although if anyone is dense enough to reply to an email from one email account where when you press the reply button it goes to a different account, and a third "My personal email address" is then contained within the body of the email, they deserve what's coming to them!).

So come on ISP's. Get your fingers out and help eradicate this blight on the internet.

And name registrants! You too could also do with getting your fingers out and banning these para-sites.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Shortlist Magazine - you what?

ShortList magazine is very much like the average X-Factor finalist. Fashionable, lacking in style and absolutely no substance.

I'm not saying that it's not a pleasant read, but like most media, you pick your favourite bits. It takes me somewhere in the region of ten minutes (absolute maximum). That's why I tend to stuff it in my bag for a later read in the domestic library, you know, the one with the loo-roll holder.

Now what really never ceases to amaze me are the advertisements and product plugs within it. I do find it rather amusing that a magazine that is given away for free (more about that in a moment) plugs headphones at £1,750 a pop, hiking boots at £212, a men's shaver at £220, a bomber jacket at £1,350, a diver's watch at £1,232 and a Denim shirt at £430.

So, as I said, the magazine is given away for free. In several large cities. Although Hull, as tenth largest city in the UK, doesn't know what a ShortList magazine (or a Metro newspaper) is, never having seen either.

Now research experts will tell you that something given away for free has far less value than something you pay for. Apart, of course, from the plastic toy you buy in yellow arch and clown land and then throw away the free burger and French fries.

Now those who take the magazine tend to be divided into four distinct categories:
  1. The sympathy voter who doesn't want to upset the nice young lady or gentleman standing outside the station who thrusts a copy into your face, especially if the nice young distribution man is from Latvia and his father is a member of the Mafia
  2. Those who love pretty pictures without too many confusing words getting in the way, who give up by page 5 anyway and throw the magazine into the nearest doorway (they don't do rubbish bins)
  3. Scroungers who like getting something for nothing
  4. Genuine fans and readers
Now the premium crap that is being plugged within the magazine (oops, sorry, "desirable, cutting -edge, fashionable etc etc etc", i.e. costs "£x", real value "£x÷20+") is very much aimed at the upwardly mobile business executive, who is upwardly mobile in town. One who will quite happily part with £1,350 for a bomber jacket so he can lean against someone's carelessly discarded chewing gum on the bus. Or will listen to Coldplay though his £1,750 headphones on the bus. NOT.

If he can afford £1,350 for a bomber jacket or £1,750 for headphones, the likelihood is that he will have driven to work in his upwardly mobile motor, parked in his upwardly mobile reserved space, and might only see ShortList if he pops out of the office at lunchtime and passes a distributor!

What I'm saying is, that London apart, the advertising certainly doesn't appear to target the readers in the provinces. Ok, in fairness, they seem to have copies dropped off at newsagents in the suburbs of cities they serve. But I can only imagine a Yorkshireman paying £430 for a Denim shirt!

So, yes, I just find the whole thing fascinating! And even more so the fact that as a glossy magazine (in a matt sort of way, you will understand), it can be given away free.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Locog by name, low-cog by nature!

A few stories seemed to have grabbed some media headline attention in connection with the Olympics.

The first is that some people are getting quite lathered about having to pay £7 a pint for beer during the Olympics. Well, a simple, three-word piece of advice is, don't buy any. Just let the vendors from  rip-off Britain plc not sell any, and let them stew in their over-expensive liquid for many weeks after the event. Then maybe they'll think twice using their brains instead of their corporate bank accounts  for a change. You, the consumer, have only yourselves to blame if you pay that sort of money.

Just, for a change (which you'll not get much out of a tenner for a pint of beer), vote with your feet.

Although if you do vote with your feet, make sure the logos on your nasty trainers made by some poor, half-blind child in the Far East for $2, you know, the ones you bought at £80 last week, is the correct one. Locog ankle cameras have been installed at all the Olympic venues to check you are wearing only the tat from those shoe providers sponsoring the Olympics.

Then there's those nice bank-connected people from Visa, another of the 'official' sponsors, who has decided in its infinite wisdom, and with the blessing of the idiotic Locog behemoths, requested, in typical democratic fashion, that the 27 existing cash machines in and around the Olympic venues should be switched off and replaced with eight machines they (Visa) will supply.

The director of the UK Payments Council, a Ron Delnevo (no doubt on such a huge salary, or, as is often the case, an executive director of Visa himself) who presumably doesn't give a curse about the general public, doesn't appear to care one way or the other when he says that machines at ExCel (a true supporter of rip-off Britain regardless of the Olympics, where you need a mortgage and not just a Visa card to be able to buy a sandwich and a bottle of water), Earls Court, Wembley, Old Trafford, Coventry Stadium and St James's Park will all be switched off during the games.

This flies in the face of the hard-pressed and continually ripped-off consumer, paticularly those who have just obtained a pay-as-you-go Mastercard to try and avoid RyanAir's ASA-ignoring dishonesty. Mr "Customer Care" Delnevo has said that "visitors will have to use Visa cards or cash, as no other cards will be acceptable at any of the Olympic venues".

This is as embarrassing as it is a disgusting state of affairs, and I think Mr Delnevo should be forced to resign straight away. He is a disgrace and a true proponent of restrictive practices, but than again, it must be so difficult to go through life as a banker non knowing what it was like to have a father. And with the remainder who might have a father, it was only because their mothers ran off before they were born.

This is really great for the tourist, who has already been completely ripped-off should he have arranged his venue and hotel tickets through another of the official partners Thomas Cook, with their astounding retail-mark up on quite standard tickets for the event.

It seems despite their attitude for milking the consumer for as much money as they think they can get away with (it would appear that phoning a hotel to book a room is far more expensive now that it would be were their no Olympics in London, although a man with a beard and glasses from one of the BBC consumer programmes confirms it as being correct when BT say are one of the very few companies whose charges prior, during and after he Olympics remain unchanged), their debt of £1.39 billion means the £20 million sponsorship they've parted with might have been a mistake. Oh dear, such a shame. I have complete sympathy for their staff, but nothing but contempt for the suits and shareholders, who I sincerely hope have to register with DWP the moment the games are over.

Why do we continually put up with these rip-offs? Yes, I know there's an element of sheepishness, where the people running the rip-offs know that the stupid British consumer WILL just roll over, put up, shut up and pull their wallets out.

But it really is time we stopped.

We shouldn't support these 'thieves', because that is all they are, ok officialy-sanctioned thieves. Let them stuff their sponsorships where the sun rarely shines. We have already seen totally idiotic cases of 'brand infringement'. For example a kebab shop that has been in the "Olympic area" of London for years has had to change its name (Olympic Kebabs) or close down.

Now why couldn't some philanthropic solicitor or barrister divert some of their outlandish hourly fees and help the kebab shop owner take the Olympics and Locog to court for breaking the copyright on his shop name? He was there first, and just because he might be infringing on some official backhander, er I mean supplier set to make a fortune, it shouldn't have to be at Mr Kebab's expense!

Is Olympic Air (they use 6 rings as their logo) being banned from airports in proximity to the Olympic cash cows?

The Olympics being held in London have marked one time that I'm embarrassed to be British.

Don't undervalue yourself

I never cease to be amazed.

I occasionally peruse (that's "look through" to you, madam) the freelance work job sites, the ones where you can identify a job you think could fill a few spare hours and a few spare holes in what the banks have left behind of your finance.

Several have sprung up over the years, but they all share one thing in common.

Those looking for professional writers seems to be totally clueless in terms of offering a reasonable budget for the job.

I can understand a company in the far east expecting a professional/qualified writer for 80p an hour, because they can otherwise, worst case scenario, find someone locally at 40p an hour who's (sic) English is'nt (sic) quite up to scratch.

However, the number of local, UK businesses and other enterprises, who post jobs for writers at rates  under the minimum wage (and on top of that, a further commission from that below-minimum-wage rate usually has to be paid to the hosting site if you accept the job as a freelance) is staggering.

I noticed last week that a gentleman from Cheshunt, claiming the usual twaddle that they wanted a native English speaker with excellent grammar, because "they were leaders in the field" - [a tractor pulling a plough - that's a leader in a field (see my blog on "leaders")], set the following extra criteria for their potential job bidder:- 10 x 1,000 word articles, must be original; subjects given but research needed; Copyscape checked to ensure originality; copyright handed over; up to two free re-writes to be allowed for each article; preference for a degree-educated writer. And there was a two-day deadline for completion.

So not too demanding, eh!

And the budget?

Well, bearing in mind that when it's warm, and solicitors can actually manage to take their hands out of their clients' pockets for a wee while, they will charge upwards of £300 an hour just for phone calls, photocopying and travel time, as do the likes of the parasitic insolvency con-sultants who line their pockets handsomely first, well before the clients of the poor souls who go out of business (especially remembering back to the collapse Farepak, the Christmas Hamper Company. Oh, and Woolies as well, the liquidators shafted everyone on that one as well, didn't they?).

Yet Mr precise-job of Cheshunt, was offering, wait for it. £5 an hour. For a professional writer, Potentially two days work for £80, less the commission to the freelance web site (£72). So £36 a day for a professional, degree-educated writer!

And Mr precise-job of Cheshunt was deadly serious! I posted, as a clarification, in genuinely pleasant and pointy-out, inoffensive FYI language (I keep my offensive language solely for the dysfunctional HR industry), the official minimum wage details as copied and posted from the YouGov site;  I also added the recommended freelance writer rates from the link on the NUJ site.

His response. Rather than a "thank you for pointing this out", was a curt "well don't bid for the job then".

With slavery having been eradicated, I had no intention of bidding. So much for his self-congratulatory sentiments as a "leader in his field".

Yes, a leader of slave-driving, scroungers.