20 February 2017

Reality in Trumpland (what's he smoking?)

Its very easy to poke fun at Donald Trump. He presents a huge target and his regular and outlandish claims and statements of 'fact' give a new meaning to the term 'fake news'. But poking fun a Trump disguises the very real threat he represents to us all.

After the financial chaos of 2007/8 governments both here and in America brought in regulations to restrict the ability of banks to indulge in 'casino banking'. Banks had to split their operations so that their 'riskier behaviours' were undertaken with their own money rather than yours and mine. At the same time, banks were required to hold larger capital reserves so that, should the worst come to the worst, they could call on their own reserves rather than coming running to the taxpayer. All well and good but now Trump wants to get rid of these restrictions because, in his view, they are bad for business, confirmation if such was needed that Trump likes to play with other people's money, rather than his own.

Now, I have felt for some time that the financial sector needs a real overhaul to promote modest rather than excessive rates of growth. At the same time, banks, and bankers themselves, should be made directly responsible for their actions. This might mean that irresponsible actions might result in bankers loosing their houses rather than savers loosing their savings.

But the financial establishment is a pretty resilient beast and, thus far, has shown itself capable of resisting meaningful regulation. In Trump (as with Thatcher and Reagan before him) the financial institutions have a great supporter and they can probably look forward to a reduction in regulation and a bonanza in bonuses. And this might finally bring about the collapse of free market, unregulated capitalism, which, in turn, might offer the opportunity for the restructuring that the institutions have so successfully resisted for so long.

So Trump might, by accident, represent an opportunity albeit a painful one. (Read about Charles Eisenstein's thoughts on the subject here.)

13 February 2017

Battery drills - strengths and weaknesses

Its unusual for me to post about DiY, in fact I think that this is something of a first but, because I'm doing a bit of drilling and sanding, my attention turned to battery drills and how they have improved over the years.

I bought my first battery drill from Lidl back around 2003/4 and, although it was a relatively cheap model, it was a bit of a revelation. Firstly, I was no longer tethered to a mains supply as I had been for  decades before so, less tripping over wires and running out of length on the extension lead. Secondly, the drill had a keyless chuck so no more loosing the chuck-key. Then, thirdly, there was the clutch on the chuck which meant no more over-driving screws, now I could set the clutch to stop driving when the screw was firmly in place. All in all, battery drills were a revelation and I wouldn't be without one now, they make life easier and more productive.

More recently, when both of my Lidl drills clapped out (battery failure on both after about 10 years) I decided to invest in a slightly more upmarket drill. The features are much the same but now battery drills are fitted with LiPo batteries meaning they are much lighter and recharge quicker. Not only that but they seem rather more powerful than the old drills and it is quite easy to drive a screw straight in without any pilot hole. And therein lies the problem. Because these new drill/battery combos can drive screws that are quite beefy, the temptation is to do just that, no pilot hole, no countersink, just fit the screw on the driver tip and bang it in which doesn't result in the most pleasing of finishes where the screw head crushes its way into the wood, or ply in my case.

So, now I'm looking into the subject of countersink bits and that is a whole new world of joy because countersink bits have come a long way since I bought the old Stanley profile countersinks back in the 1960s. What I have found is that there are countersink bits designed not to 'chatter' (which provides a hole like a 50p piece) and not to marr the surface (when fitted with a depth guide).

All in all, power tools and drills have come a long way but, as ever, there are downsides and the biggest that I have seen is that current battery drills encourage speed (not a bad thing) but can also encourage sloppiness (not so good).

So, I'm off to invest in a decent countersink drill bit which, I hope, will make my battery drill all the more effective.

7 February 2017

Housing market 'broken' - Conservatives wake up from coma

So now the Conservatives are turning their back on Margaret Thatcher's signature policy of making everyone in Britain a home owner (code for shackled with debt). Why, I wonder has this happened now when its been pretty obvious to most people that the housing market has been broken for years. Well, I suspect the answer is pretty simple. Its most probably been driven by the sons and daughters of Conservative MPs calling up their parents and asking for some financial help because a sweet little one bed box in Ilford is going to cost £2M!  Gosh, Ilford is a dump, how can a one bed cost that much? The answer is, of course, quite simple. Saint Margaret pushed everyone into home ownership (supported by her immoral 'right to buy' gerrymandering) and made sure that lending was as easy and unrealistic as possible. So we end up with a seriously overheated property market where everyone, excepting Russian Oligarchs, are being priced out of the market.

And now the Conservatives have awoken from their coma, realised that the housing market is completely bonkers (driven by the London/Westminster/City bubbles) and now 'renting' is back.

How long before that sweet little one bed box in Ilford is renting for £2,500 a month?

5 February 2017

Same shit, different day.............

Anyone who knows me will not be surprised by my dislike of the Trumpster. Its difficult to explain or quantify my dislike because, like millions of other people, I have never met the man but I just don't like the way he carries himself.  His approach to the world is that he himself is wonderful and the best man for the job, whatever that job may be. Yes, he is wealthy but there is the lingering suspicion that his wealth is more a function of his being a snake-oil salesman than it is a function of his being a stellar business person. (See Trump University.)

In terms of business acumen or success, Trump simply doesn't measure up to people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Warren Buffett or the many others who have built brands or empires. (Do a google search for 'successful businessmen in the world' for an extensive list.)

Trump seems far more at home when he is being bullying or boorish and his principle business tool seems to be his willingness to repeat 'the big lie' over and over again until people either can't hear anything else or die trying.

But setting aside the crass obsession with the size of his vote or crowd or hands or penis, the recent disclosure that he intends to overhaul (read 'get rid of') the Dodd-Frank legislation is the action that really scares me.  (See here and here and in a lot of other places.)

For those of you unfamiliar with Dodd-Frank, in very simple terms, they were regulations brought in  by the Obama administration after the financial crisis of 2007/8 in order to stabilise the financial markets and make sure that the financial institutions couldn't behave irresponsibly.

So, like Thatcher and reagan before him, Trump likes deregulation because, in his view, it encourages competition and entrepreneurship. He doesn't care about risk-taking because thats the juice and that's what floats his boat. Forget about the fact that, in terms of the financial markets, the risk-taking can be done with your money, and mine, and forget about the fact that deregulation means a lack of accountability.  Say hello to casino banking.

And don't think that what Trump does won't affect you, it will. If London wants to maintain its position as a major financial centre, the government here is going to have to compete with Trump's vision of a deregulated market so we are going to be in a race to the bottom. We will have to match Trump's stupidity with stupidity of our own and you can bet your pension that there will be another crisis, just like the last one. And, just like the last one, it will be you and me who will pay for it whilst Trump and his chums walk away, or stagger away, with everyone else's savings (if they have any).

Welcome to the poorhouse.

24 January 2017

'Post truth' and 'alternative facts'

Its not the first time that he's made the claim but Trump is reported to have stated, in front of a group of senior Republicans and Democrats, that he let the popular vote because of 3 to 5 million illegal votes. This claim is entirely in character in that the facts don't matter to Trump, what matters is what he believes or, more accurately, what he needs to believe to support his view of himself.

Trump's language is peppered with superlatives where what he is going to do will be 'a beautiful thing' or 'a wonderful success'. He uses the same terms in relation to the people he chooses to work with where they are always 'wonderful people'. It seems that he cannot bear being associated with anything that isn't 'the best' or 'wonderful' or 'excellent' and by the same token, he cannot bear being associated with anything where he doesn't come first. So, Hilary didn't win the popular vote because of the illegal votes and his inaugural crowd was the biggest in history irrespective of any evidence to the contrary.

And, on the subject of the inaugural crowd, relating the various crowd photos to Google Maps image of the National Mall, gives another indication of the relationship between Trump's crowd and the crowd that attended Obama's inauguration in 2009. But this probably qualifies as an 'alternative fact'.

22 January 2017

Size matters

The Inauguration of Trump has been and gone and the subject that Team Trump seem most concerned about is the size of the crowd at Trump's inauguration. Sean Spicer, Trump's Press Rottweiler, gave something of a bravura performance in telling the press in general that they were not telling the truth about the inaugural crowd and it was, in fact, the largest in history.

There doesn't seem to be any 'head count' information but there are photographs and, in my view, these contradict Team Trump. But the important point here is not the comparative size of the crowd but the fact that this seems to be of such great significance. The photographs below have been widely published but I have overlaid the 'Trump Crowd' on top of the 'Obama Crowd' and to a similar scale. This gives a better indication of the difference in size of the two crowds and Team Trump should be thankful that this overlay hasn't been published more widely. (Obama's Inauguration 2009 is on the left.)

Its also most worrying when you consider that Team Trump may be equally willing magnify other things like, for example, the threat posed by Muslims or the threat posed by a free press.

11 January 2017

So this is 2017

As we march into the new year, I'm looking forward to Trump's inauguration with a mixture of fascination and fear. The rational part of my brain tells me that Trump just cannot be as bad as I imagine him to be. At the same time, the fearful part descends into some sort of morbid contemplation of Trump as a Hitlerian character from my nightmares. Only time will tell which of these will be the reality and probably it will be neither so I suspect that I will continue to be fascinated as the reality is revealed.

But one vignette is worthy or note and that was the confirmation hearings relating to Trump's nominee for Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions. I only watched 10 minutes of the broadcast and the questioning that I saw seemed to focus on Sen. Sessions relationship with various white supremacist organisations. The conduct of the questioning was quite surreal in that Sen. Sessions' response to the questions was, in simplistic terms, that he received so many awards from so many organisations that he simply couldn't keep track of them and the fact that he received the awards didn't mean that he either knew the organisation in question or agreed with its sentiments.

What I found most strange was that members of the committee then indulged in a bit of 'Good Ole Boy' back slapping about how they all have the same problem with awards and not a day or a minute goes by when they don't get another one.

In closing, I did read a comment attributed to Sen. Sessions, a long time opponent of relaxation of marijuana regulations. Sen. Sessions is reported to have said that he "didn't have a problem with the Klu Klux Klan until he found out that they smoked pot". Roll on the 22nd January.