Is David Drumm Innocent?

Anglo Irish Bank in New York
Anglo Irish Bank in New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

David Drumm, former Chief Executive of Anglo Irish Bank, still protests that there was no deliberate misleading of the government. In this interesting interview with Irish Central he claims the bank was not trying to hook the State into open-ended support, despite what the tapes may have suggested. And by suggested I mean “said aloud”. What’s surprising is that he actually does come across as innocent.

And by innocent I mean “having the intellectual capacities of a child”.

He claims that all Anglo ever wanted from the government during the market storm that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers was a single little shot of €7 billion to keep it liquid – I quote – “assuming the financial markets crisis returned to normal at some point in the near future”.

We do all know of course that this storm was the financial markets returning to normal. The period before that, when banks like his made billions simply by driving up the price of houses and pouring massive piles of credit onto anyone who stood still long enough, that was the abnormality. The cash equivalent of a screaming drunken spree with an open bottle of whiskey in each hand is the normality he is referring to here.

Anglo, he’s saying, just needed a few billion to tide it over until things became unsustainable again. He cannot of course have been stupid enough to believe that was in any way realistic; it was just the line of bullshit that they had to take in a desperate bid to survive. What surprises me is that he’s stupid enough to think we’re stupid enough to think he really believed it.

 

A Little Lamb

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I have eaten the heart of a lamb.

Yeah, sorry vegetarian readers. That even freaks me out a little. Of all the offal parts, it seems weirdest to eat the one that beats. But it just struck me as I was shopping today that I have never eaten a heart. Knowingly, anyway. It seemed like an odd moral lapse. I believe that if I am going to consume animals, leaving bits is just disrespectful. “I’mma kill you and eat you all up! Except your hideous face.”

And you know what? Its innocent little heart was delicious. It tasted a bit like kidney, just a tiny bit like liver, but better than either. I cut off most of the tough white fatty bits, chopped it up and ate it with some fava beans and a nice… Sorry, with another stir fry.

Other ingredients, in approximate order of being added to the wok, were cucumber, leek, scallions, sugarsnap peas, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, aubergine (egg plant), and broccoli. It was wonderful, a deeply satisfying fry. So nice to get a really excellent aubergine – this one was like a purple balloon full of helium foam – but all the veg was good.

With the exception of the broccoli though, none of what I bought this time was organic. This is because what the supermarket had wasn’t local. I mean, even in the sense that European is local. Seriously, the organic avocados were from Brazil, the apples New Zealand! Clearly as a meat-eater I am by no means the keenest of  environmentalists, but I cannot understand people thinking they’re being all natural and Earth-friendly while selecting food that comes with air miles.

Perhaps to counterbalance all the manly meat-eating, I also planted some flowers today. Petunias – surely the campest of all the bedding plants. A lovely rich blue-purple in colour. I’m not sure what possessed me. As far as I recall it’s the first time I’ve ever done gardening without being asked – unless you include houseplants. Maybe it was just for a complete change. I’d spent the previous forty-eight hours working on an article about “Big Data”, a fashionable concept from the world of business and technology. I guess I needed a bit of nature after that.

I’ll go into more detail some other time, but in brief: Companies these days accumulate huge amounts of data – almost because it’s cheaper now to store the stuff than to sort through it and decide what’s worth keeping. “Big Data” is the assumption that this can be mined for surprising and valuable insights into how the organisation could be improved. It’s not an unreasonable one I think, but possibly people get a little carried away with the potential. William Gibson retweeted someone today who put the sceptical view rather nicely:

Big Data, n.: the belief that any sufficiently large pile of shit contains a pony with probability approaching 1

Do the vast amounts of data created and accumulated in the course of business really contain priceless knowledge? Well, I guess you don’t know until you look.

There's Yer Feckin' Start Button

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Terrible fuss was made when Windows 8 introduced a whole new interface designed around touch, completely lacking the familiar and comforting Start Menu. Now instead of mousing through a list to find an app you were supposed to tap or click on its big bright “tile” on the new home screen.

This is an attractive interface, and as well designed for touch as anything from Apple or Google. The little problem is, the vast – indeed, vasty vast – majority of users do not have a touchscreen. They are still using mice, touchpads, and similar pointing devices. Because while touchscreens are cute and all, most people use Windows PCs for work things like typing reports or articles, or entering numbers on spreadsheets – things you need a keyboard for. And in those situations, a touchscreen is at best a frivolity. It’s actually inefficient because, at least compared to a touchpad, it requires you to move your pointing hand further from the keys.

For all these people, having to use an interface designed for touch is a small irritation but a constant one – and we all know how infuriating constant small irritations can be. In response, some PC vendors introduced their own solutions: third-party apps that imitate the old Start Menu. Samsung took a different turn, and equipped some of their Windows 8 laptops with an extension that looks remarkably like the Dock from the Mac OS X desktop. This has led me to formulate the theory that Samsung actually like Apple’s legal team personally, and look forward to meeting them.

Eventually though Microsoft responded to the outcry and yielded with good grace, restoring the Start Button to its pride of place in the free update called Windows 8.1.

Did they buggery.

They said they restored it. But if you’ve downloaded the 8.1 preview (or more likely, watched the demo video), you’ll see that all they’ve really done is placed a button on the taskbar of the Windows Desktop – a button that opens not the Start Menu, but that same old shiny tiled home screen. It is an improvement in that you can find your applications in the place that your hand has spent the last fifteen-odd years going to and so don’t have to change direction every. bloody. time (the “proper” shortcut is at the right-hand edge of the screen), but it’s still a touch-oriented interface on a mouse-oriented device.

Similarly, it won’t let you boot straight to a desktop like all previous versions of Windows. Even if you only ever want to use applications on the desktop, you have to get there through that damn screen of tiles. Every time.

A tip: If you move the Desktop tile to the top left position it becomes the default option, and so can be selected without any mouse movement at all by hitting the “Enter” key. Similarly you can put the Windows Media Center tile here – if you have it – to make Windows 8 more usable with a remote control. Or perhaps I should say, less unusable.

Why does Microsoft not allow these as options – even turned off by default? The reason is they want to ‘encourage’ software vendors to develop for the touch interface – by taking away any other option. In its visionary ruthlessness it’s a very Apple-like move, certainly a bold one. Probably, once the new religion catches on, they will allow flexibility and convenience again. But right now it’s just another little thing that makes me want to spend less time as a Windows user and more as a Linux one.

By the way, this is the first Windows version with a point-release name since Windows NT 3.51, way back in 1995. Though it should be pointed out that Windows 8.1 is known internally as NT 6.3. As the NT series started not at 1 but at 3.1, we deduct that to find that Windows 8.1 is really NT 5 – which was Windows 2000.

OK now I’m confused.

Michael The Huck A Bee

A Huckabee supporter's bumper sticker.
Mike’s interests include prayer, gardening, mystical visions, what you do in private, and running for President. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mike Huckabee is sending me email. Why, I don’t know. I could not care less what the man thinks. Calls himself a “Conservative Christian”, which apparently means that he was enjoying the Bible right up until Jesus came along and spoilt it. Mike wants me to know that a bunch of people in robes are not more important than God. This isn’t an anti-Islamic thing, he’s referring to the US Supreme Court and their judgement that some laws against Gay marriage were unconstitutional. He argues that they must be wrong because his God doesn’t agree with Gay marriage. This shows that he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care for the constitution of the United States. Both, I suspect.

So I’m not an American voter. Was this sent to me by mistake? I get mail intended for other Richard Chapmans (Richards Chapmen?) all the time. I’m not sure; American conservative Christianity is not just a mixture of politics and religion. It’s also a business. Witness the fact that a while after this, along came another mail from Huckabee. Only this one began “Please find a special message from our paid sponsor”. Mike Huckabee’s political spam has breaks for commercials.

(Incidentally – “paid sponsor”?)

It was headed “Sopranos Star Ignored 4 Signs of Imminent Heart Attack, Doctor Says”, and was designed to terrify you into some dubious heart-health scheme by quite literally cashing in on the recent death of James Gandolfini. Classy. Interesting to note though, Outlook’s filters decided Huckabee’s advert wasn’t spam – but that his politics was. I think I see where they’re coming from.

My favourite bit:

Dr. Crandall says that if you ever suffer a heart attack outside of a hospital, you only have a 7 percent chance of survival!

That also means in 93 percent of the cases such an episode is fatal!

No comment of mine could add to that in any way.

Yes, all organised religions from Scientology on down are commercial entities. But the US religious right, seeing as it does no real distinction between Christianity and Capitalism, is among the least embarrassed to blatantly seek “customers”. These don’t necessarily have to be American voters as long as they can raise the funds and spread the programme. Witness “our” Youth Defence, in many ways a bridgehead into Ireland for American Conservative Christianity. (And one to which an outflanked Catholic Church has still to find an effective response.) So there’s every possibility that this mail reached me intentionally. Pointlessly, but intentionally.

And Yes Ladies, He's Single

StirFry1

I don’t often cook properly, so when I do I… Well, I get inordinately pleased with myself.

I’m house-sitting at the moment, which means I have some time on my hands and a decent kitchen at my disposal. Normally I can never be bothered to cook for one and, like old photographs, only bring out the culinary skills when I have guests. But if I’m going to be here for a week or more I need to get into good habits. I don’t want to wind up eating out of tins. At least not directly.

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A lot of vegetables in the fridge that were not going to look appetising for much longer. (That cucumber in fact needed CPR.) So stir fry! I used to be notorious for these, but nowadays don’t even possess a wok. There’s one here though.

Ingredients: Carrots, cucumber, scallions, broad beans from the local organic farm, and Unnamed Fish. I’m not clear what it is because I bought a special-offer lot of mixed frozen fishes. Probably plaice.

Herbs: None, and certainly no spices. Just soy sauce and olive oil in the cooking.

Directions: Chop up, make hot and slap about.

Results: Nice.

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“Nice.” Jesus. I’m never going to make it as a food critic, am I?

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Smoking Tape

AngloSo the “Anglo Tapes” – internal phone recordings made during the last days of Anglo Irish Bank. Do they constitute a smoking gun?

Hoo boy, you betcha. A smoking gun, covered with bloody fingerprints, with a note taped to the barrel saying “For doing the murder with”.

This is the stuff.

I have to admit I was a little dismissive when I first heard of this, much as I couldn’t quite believe all the fuss over the PRISM revelations. (“You mean you believed US intelligence forces didn’t spy on whoever the hell they liked?”) We all knew that Anglo had ripped off the nation. Had, as the Indo bluntly put it, “cost Ireland our sovereignty“. But we also knew it was done with nods and winks and complicity, screened off by tendrils of loyalty and friendship. These people don’t leave evidence.

But that really seems to be what we’ve got here. The tapes record senior – very senior – management explaining a strategy of lying about the severity of the bank’s situation. They knew that if they revealed the full picture, government would see little alternative except to let the bank fold. They cynically calculated that if the State was tricked into giving a few billion of support at first, it would be forced to follow up with more and more in a frantic effort to save its investment. Which is precisely what happened.

They cheated the State in order to try to save their wealth and positions, cheated it of billions and billions. And when I say the State of course, I mean you and I. People who pay tax, people who rely on the State to support and protect them. Everyone in the country, in other words. We were all robbed by this, quite deliberately.

We shouldn’t oversimplify. This doesn’t let the other lenders and speculators off the hook for stoking the property boom, exonerate the politicians in Fianna Fáil (and elements of the media) who were complicit in the bubble, or mean that the euro was not grossly mismanaged. Anglo’s rooking of the public was certainly not the only cause of Ireland’s economic demise. But these men tricked the country into taking on billions and billions in debt. Billions that could have gone to creating jobs or equipping hospitals.

And there are tape recordings of them saying how they did it.

One does not want to prejudice any possible legal proceedings, so to be circumspect… Wait, what was that? Sorry, I thought I heard something. Probably thunder. Though it sounded even more like a long corridor of cell doors clanging shut.

Reading At Night By Invisible Light

English: Collection of various fluorescent min...
Collection of various fluorescent minerals – click through to see up close (worth it)

Among the more pointless things I’ve done recently is install a blacklight CFL in my bedside lamp. This is to encourage me to take up reading books again. Do you follow? It’s a simple idea really. I’ve grown so used in the last decade or so to reading from screens that paper seems a bit weird now. But turn on a UV lamp and what happens to a book? It glows. Like a screen!

Bleaching agents in the paper must make it fluoresce. Not all the fibres seem to have it equally though, and the page takes on an oddly speckled, grainy look. It is bright enough to read by though, just about.

All right to be honest this isn’t really why I got the bulb. I bought it because I’d never seen a blacklight CFL before, it wasn’t expensive, and I thought it was too interesting not to buy. In action it seems more violet than invisible, but white things around the room glow in an eerie way. The shirts I have hanging look particularly fierce, and the pale neon emanating from my map of Europe hints at the trippy possibilities. This all gives the room an… interesting look – somewhere between clinical laboratory and tatty ghost train.

And I notice that it actually makes the photochromic lenses of my glasses go dark, so it really does seem to put out a healthy (?) amount of ultraviolet light. Perhaps if I sleep with it on I’ll get a tan this summer.

Rabbit In The Garden

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Rabbit2

Few things more lovely than looking out a window and seeing a wild animal obliviously eating the garden. At first I thought it was a young hare, as that’s the lagomorph you get most often around my mother’s place. But somehow there’s an unmistakable cuteness about rabbits; they’re to hares as Spaniels are to Great Danes.

Pictures aren’t great I’m afraid. Pushing the poor Note’s camera well beyond its designed limits again. Obviously I was nowhere as close to this nervous wild animal as it looks. These were taken through double glazing from 10 metres away.

Wasp Macros

Some more photographs of our mystery bee-wasp, which I think will clinch its species. The puzzle only really begins there however.

Here from the back, it’s difficult to distinguish Hasdrubal from a honeybee. With her deep brown abdomen you can only just make out the wasp markings. Lookit her little stinger! You can hardly see that with the naked eye. Which is perhaps as well considering how much I had to handle her.

BeeWaspBack

Sorry about the soft focus incidentally, this was really pushing the Note’s 8Mpx camera to its limits. Though I have to admit it’s not technically impossible to take sharp close-up pictures with it, merely humanly difficult. Depth of field becomes negligible while shake is amplified.

From the front it’s a different story, there’s zero doubt that this is a wasp. The face is absolutely typical. As are the antennae and slender legs.

And, incidentally, the hair. In my mind wasps are as smooth as spray-painted steel, but this research has shown me that they’re really quite fuzzy. I guess it’s the (normal) black-and-yellow markings; nature’s alarm signal makes you oblivious to a wasp’s cuddlier aspects. Or at least keeps you too far away.

We also see where H.R. Giger got a lot of his inspiration. Brr.

BeeWaspFront

What species of wasp though? Thanks to Bruce Ruston of Blue Platypi Photography who sent a link to this great wasp ID chart, I’m almost certain that Hasdrubal is a common wasp. She has the distinctive “anchor” on her face. The only other variety that looks a lot like this is the red wasp, but its thorax markings are quite different – as we see in the shot below.

BeeWaspBack2

So Hasdrubal is almost certainly a common wasp – except she’s simply the wrong colour. The question then is whether this falls within the normal variation of the species, or if she’s some sort of freaky mutant.

That it’s possible to get tolerably sharp macro shots with this camera is demonstrated by this final one, in which I thought to ask Hasdrubal herself what sort of hymenoptera she is.

BeeWaspMacro

Bee-Coloured Wasp

Any entomologists in? I came across a curious thing. The rest of you, don’t scroll down if close-up pictures of stingy insects disturb you. Or indeed offend you – it is naked after all. And dead. I really wouldn’t look.

OK now the wusses are gone, what do you think is going on here? It’s a wasp, coloured like a bee. Definitely vespine in its shape and features, with the pronounced segmentation and aggressive I-am-nature’s-attack-helicopter angles. But instead of the usual biohazard yellow it has the warm goldie-browns of a honeybee.

Well, makes a change from all the cartoons you see of bees coloured like wasps.

I don’t have a camera for macro photographs, but got surprisingly good results with the phone. The problems were holding it steady and getting the background right. In the end I put it in a glass jug; this gave me something to rest the phone on and allowed me to shoot over different surfaces. As the phone compensates to keep an average brightness, the creature looks a lot brighter when shot against a dark background. (I could’ve tried different camera apps that allow you to meter light more precisely, but this was quicker.) In the first one here therefore it actually looks a lot more yellow than it really is, and so more like an ordinary wasp. But it brings out the detail well.

Hasrubal The Bee-Coloured Wasp

20130616_153643White backgrounds on the other hand make Hasdrubal – I call her Hasdrubal, for reasons which remain unclear to me – look virtually black. The woodgrain one to the right (taken without benefit of the jug) probably gives the best impression of how she appears to the naked eye. If anything, a little darker than a honeybee – but with similar golden hair.

Which is the odd thing. Whoever heard of a hairy wasp? Bees wear a fluffy bolero but wasps, so far as I’ve noted, are shiny-shaven. As you can see, particularly in the first pic, this one has no end of fuzz. I can find no species that fits the description. The European Hornet is a little hairy, but a lot more wasp-coloured. A mutant? Diseased? I have no idea.

I hope someone does.