Category Archives: Finance

Three things I cut out of my blogs: Apple computers, racism and bankers

Cutting edge blogging?

Occasionally, there are little bits that I do not include in my blogs which I think are interesting but which just don’t fit that particular blog. Here are three of them:

APPLE COMPUTERS AND THE NUMBER 42

I mentioned to a friend that I had once interviewed Douglas Adams, who wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, in which the answer to everything is 42.

“Oh,” she said, “I have a friend who is a big fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide. He works for Apple computers in California. He has to alter things and, whenever he comes to some situation where he is not certain of the amount to alter it by then, if it’s vaguely sensible, he puts in the number 42. Obviously, if it should be nearer to five billion, then he doesn’t. But, if it’s a change that might have a numerical value between 1 and 100 then, if he’s not sure, he just puts in 42.”

“Does it usually work?” I asked.

“It does,” my friend told me.

THE BBC AND POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD

When I was talking to violinist Bobby Valentino recently about his surreally low payments for the worldwide hit song Young at Heart, he told me:

“A few years ago, when I was with Los Pistoleros, I was at a festival up at Newcastle for the Tall Ships Race and the BBC were hosting the website for the festival and we said we were the best honky tonk band in the land and they censored the word ‘honky’. They put five asterisks instead of the word honky. They said it was racist.”

I asked Bobby: “Did the word ‘honky’ as in ‘honky tonk’ ever have a racist meaning?”

“No,” he said, “The poor white folks in the Southern states of America were called honkies because they went to honky tonks. Honky tonk is the origin of the word ‘honky’ but a honky tonk is basically a working men’s club down South. It wasn’t a formal club, just a bar.

“There are loads of songs with the words ‘honky tonk’ in them. The BBC play the Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Women without any problem, but they thought the phrase the best honky tonk band in the land was racist!”

COMEDY CLUB OWNER NOEL FAULKNER ON BANKERS

When I recently chatted to London Comedy Cafe owner Noel Faulkner about the state of British comedy, we started by talking about Las Vegas.

“The one time I went to Vegas,” I told him, “I decided not to gamble at all, but I went into this massive room with rows and rows of one-armed bandits and a blind Chinese woman was led in to play on the machines. I would have thought the whole point of one-armed bandits is that they’re visual: you see the images on the wheels rotate and you see them either line up or not line up. This woman was blind. I suppose she heard the sound and that was the atmosphere she got from it. But it was bizarre. A blind woman pulling the handle on a one-armed bandit in Vegas.”

“Las Vegas to me,” said Noel, “is all these machines and they’re saying Yeah, just put yer money in here. It’s Amusement! Certainly it’s fucking amusing. To the casino owners. But the banks are a bigger racket than Vegas. At least when you go to Vegas, you know you’re being fucked. Vegas is for the damned.

“You go to Vegas; you get fucked.

“You open a bank account, you don’t expect to get fucked, but you really get it up the ass.

“At least in Vegas you get to pull a handle a few times. When you get involved with the banks, you get to pull your own dick, that’s all, because you feel like a wanker after they’ve fucked with you.

“All these Boris bicycles around London,” Noel said, “are sponsored by Barclays and they have the name painted on them but, instead of RCLAY, I want to go round painting STARD on them.”

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Computers, Finance, gambling, Music

Comedy scriptwriter unmasks capitalist economics as no better than voodoo

(This was also published on the Indian news website WeSpeakNews)

Mark Kelly turns his back on the police state (and the dog)

With Greece and Spain still teetering on the brink of financial collapse, the NatWest Bank’s computers refusing to transfer money to anyone for two days this week and comedian Jimmy Carr getting attacked by the Prime Minister for tax-dodging, it seemed like a good time to talk money with comedy scriptwriter Mark Kelly, not a man known to dislike Marxist-Leninism.

“It’s perfectly reasonable for economists not to know what to do,” Mark said to me in a cheap cafe in Soho (I was paying), “because Economics is not a science in the first place.

“If you have a problem with an aeroplane, then aerodynamics IS a science. There’s a cause and effect as to why a plane isn’t working and you can fix it. You can’t do that with Economics because there’s no verifiable cause and effect. Economics is essentially no different from voodoo. It’s all based on belief. Things only exist because you believe they do.”

“Well,” I said, “I was always crap at Economics at school. They forced me to do Economics for ‘A’ Level because they said I had to ‘do a science’ and I was even more crap at Chemistry and Physics. I was useless at factual subjects because I could never remember abstract facts like Sodium Chloride = NaCl and Methyl Chloride = CH3Cl but I was good at conceptual subjects like British Constitution where you could discuss things. I was good at waffle.”

Mark quite rightly ignored this (and I added in those chemical system details when I was writing this blog). I was waffling.

“I think,” Mark said, “that the best essay on economics – but I would think this – is one by Lenin on fictitious capital. The idea of capitalist economies creating fictitious capital. Money breeds money. The history of capitalist economics is primarily the history of debt and debt itself can ultimately only be collected by force.

“So America has a phenomenal level of debt, but no-one has the nerve to call in America’s debt because, if you do, they’re suddenly going to find that you’ve got a very oppressive regime and it has to be overthrown. America can’t be ‘called’ on its debt, despite the fact it has an enormous debt… but other countries can.

“If you have a big enough debt, one of the ways of dealing with it is to get rid of the person you owe the debt to… in other words War. Bourgeois economists would never include War as an economic strategy; but it is.”

“So,” I said, “Greece should basically declare war on Germany and France?”

“It’s their best bet,” Mark replied. “No, seriously, what they should do is build an enormous horse, push it over the border and then, at night, the horse opens and all the Greek Communists come out and fiddle with the other bank’s computers.”

“Computers are the soft underbelly,” I said, “The NatWest computers have been in chaos the last two days and transactions were not being processed. A friend of mine who has been involved in banking computers said it sounded to him as if someone had tried to hack into the main computer system or its twin – because they presumably have a back-up system somewhere in some un-marked building.”

“Well, as for computers…” said Mark, “with the very very sophisticated credit default swaps, the parcelling-up of debt and stuff… basically people like Goldman Sachs have been employing for 20 years or so – well, really since Reagan became US President – they’ve been employing enormously highly-rated mathematicians and some of the formulae they come up with in credit default swaps and so on are so sophisticated that there are literally only a handful of people who understand the formulae.

“So banks have been operating on the basis of formulae which they’re quite happy to admit they themselves don’t understand. It’s ultimately no different from voodoo. You’re just taking the word of other people and everyone has a vested interest in taking everyone else’s word and that, itself, is the essence of a bubble. So you have a housing bubble or you go back to the 18th century and you have the South Sea Bubble and the Tulip Bubble in the 17th century.”

“The Tulip Bubble?” I asked.

Mark quite rightly ignored me.

“People,” he continued, “talk about The Market now as if The Market were a human being. What would The Market say? How would The Market react? As if The Market were a rational person with an identity, whereas it’s not. It’s composed of an enormous number of irrational, deeply avaricious fuckwits all racing around saying Buy! Sell! Buy! Sell! 

“The choice is between a rational, planned economy – which is what Lenin was after – and… and… the irony is that capitalist economics is actually anarchy in the worst sense of the word: it’s utterly chaotic.”

“Well, yes,” I said. “Pure capitalism without any restraints is pure anarchy because the strongest person wins.”

“It’s not a science at all,” Mark said, “It’s no different to voodoo. The basic problem isn’t how to fix the system. The problem is the system itself.”

Then we carried on talking about comedy clubs.

It seemed the best thing to do.

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Filed under Comedy, Economics, Finance, Politics

American comedian Lewis Schaffer gets unexpected $10 billion windfall

Lewis Schaffer smiles broadly after receiving the $10 billion

British-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer had a smile on his face last night, after he was given $10 billion.

I was there when the paperwork was handed over at the Source Below club in London’s Soho.

The money was given to him by two grateful ladies who had seen his twice-weekly Free Until Famous show. The ladies were from Zimbabwe. So was the $10 billion note they gave him at the end of his show.

Lewis Schaffer told me: “John… It’s not going to change me one little bit. Zimbabwe is a great country and I love the picture of the balancing rocks. I feel very humble.”

A close-up of the note is below.

The paperwork for Lewis Schaffer’s $10 billion windfall

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Filed under Comedy, Economics, Finance, Zimbabwe

Charlie Chuck, comic and cook + Janey Godley, comic and football manager

Charlie Chuck in Leicester last night

Yesterday, I drove up with a friend to see the first of Charlie Chuck’s two shows at the Leicester Comedy Festival. The Looking Glass venue was a bit like the Black Hole of Calcutta with laughs. The venue was filled to the brim.

Charlie Chuck is one of those comedians with a fan base that just goes on and on. I think it is because his first TV fame with James Whale and Reeves & Mortimer was among impoverished students who have grown up and now have the money to go out and see him live on stage.

Before he set off for the show, he cooked us one of his speciality spaghetti Bologneses. After the show, my friend and I scoured late night shops for a doughnut, a cream bun and a sliceable cake to share with him. Eventually, we got a cake and doughnuts filled with custard. Close enough.

He should be in the Celebrity Big Brother house. He can cook, he can hit annoying twats with his plank of wood and he could nurture ducks in the jacuzzi.

By the time I got home to Borehamwood, it was almost 4.00 am – just enough time to sleep, get up and listen to Janey Godley on Al Murray’s BBC Radio 5 Live show 7 Day Sunday where he introduced her as a “stand-up comedy actress and Groucho Club barfly”. Hardly a barfly, as she does not drink. They talked, among other things, about who should be the new England football manager.

Not mentioned on the programme was that, back in November 2009, when Scotland was looking for a manager and the press were semi-seriously touting Sean Connery for the post, Janey phoned up the Scottish Football Association and applied for the job

According to her blog at the time, she told them that she scored over Sean Connery “because I actually live in Scotland”. But her main qualifications, she argued to Scottish FA boss Gordon Smith, were that “I can order men about, I can actually play football and I am great at strategy – What’s not to like?”

“Do you have a valid coaching licence?” Gordon Smith asked her.

“No, but I do know ’Hologram’ Tam and he is the world’s best forger and he can get me one,” she told him.

The much-admired ‘Hologram’ Tam (I have a T-shirt) used to produce Janey’s Edinburgh Fringe posters before he was caught red-handed in his small Glasgow printshop which reportedly “had the ability to churn out £1 billion a year in fake cash”

Sadly, Janey’s football managing ambitions were dashed to much the same extent as ‘Hologram’ Tam’s hopes of grabbing as much money as the UK’s top bankers.

Ironically, Tam got a six year prison sentence for making money; but top bankers now get bonuses for losing money; and, with ‘quantitive easing’, the Bank of England is now in the business of printing funny money.

The Scottish FA accepted Janey’s application but foolishly never called her for interview.

I feel it was their loss.

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Filed under Comedy, Crime, Finance, Football

The most obscene tax in Britain (and Europe)

It’s time to do the quarterly VAT return.

I know this is hardly an original thought but…

Fuck me slowly with a sweet potato while floating in a tub of battery acid…

Is VAT not just the most appallingly obscene tax ever thought up by any Euro-wanker in the entire history of Euro-wanking?

It’s a tax on behalf of the rich and against the poor.

All big companies and sensible people with loads of money are registered for VAT and ultimately don’t pay it. People on lower incomes and people struggling to make ends meet – single parents, the unemployed, the disabled, the retired, pensioners – are forced to pay it.

What sort of tax is that?

It’s a tax which very large companies do not pay and which the unemployed do pay. It’s a tax which specifically targets those least able to pay it.

For those registered, VAT is a tax where the money just goes round in a circle and the government does not benefit at the end of the process; it just keeps loads of bureaucrats in pointless work.

In a simplified but basically true break-down…

Company A adds 20% VAT on top of the price they really want to charge and then bills Company B 120% of what they need to charge.

Company A then pays the 20% VAT money it receives to the Taxman (minus loads of expenses) and Company B then claims back from the Taxman the whole 20% of the 120% they paid.

In effect, Company A collects 20% VAT and hands it to the Taxman (minus expenses – so they give less than the full 20% to the Taxman)… the Taxman then hands back to Company B the full 20% VAT which Company B shelled-out. So:

– Company B has lost some money for a short time but ultimately pays nothing.

– Company A has passed on less than full 20% to the Taxman, who has then paid the full 20% to Company B

– So Company B has, ultimately paid nothing and the Taxman has paid out more than he received.

At this level of companies, millionaires and other people who can afford accountants, the whole thing goes round in a circle and creates jobs but not tax revenue. Am I missing something?

There are points in the system where Company A and the Taxman are holding onto money and earning interest on the money from bank accounts – well, Company A is. But that’s the basic system. The money goes round in a circle if you already have a lot of money.

At petrol stations, for example, companies and rich entrepreneurs and businessmen, in effect, do not pay any VAT at all – they claim it all back. But the less well-off who own cars have to pay the full extra 20% which they can’t avoid.

It’s a tax which specifically targets the less well-off which discriminates in favour of the better-off.

It’s obscene.

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Filed under Finance, Politics

The distortion of the UK tax system by socialist ideology

For a few months, when I was much younger, I read the Sunday Telegraph.

I stopped after reading an article on the UK income tax system. I could see no logical flaw in the newspaper’s argument, but it made me morally uncomfortable.

The article argued that a tiered system of income tax in which higher earners pay a higher percentage of their income in tax is illogical, unfair and both economically and morally indefensible.

Intellectually, I had to agree with the Telegraph‘s logic. The argument went like this…

In a capitalist system – or in the mixed capitalist system which we have – people are, by and large, paid their worth to the company and industry in which they work and to the country’s economy in general. The ultimate goal is always to maximise profits to the company and to the shareholders. So, with competition from other companies for the better executives and workers, a fair salary is reached for each working person by the workings of the market.

It is morally correct that people who earn more should pay more to the community in taxes. But that ideal and morally correct situation is reached by a flat rate tax on earnings not by a tiered system.

Someone who pays 20% of a £100,000 salary pays far more to the community than someone who pays 20% of a £25,000 salary. They pay according to their wealth. As their salary increases, their tax payments increase. They are taxed according to their ability to pay at the same flat rate. And, of course, it is right that people who earn a low salary beneath a certain amount should pay no tax.

The tiered system we currently have in which people on a high salary may have to pay 40% of their salary while people who earn a lower salary may have to pay only 20% of their salary is not moral, is not fair, it distorts the market forces which create ‘fair’ wages and it is punitive on the more successful workers who should be not discouraged but encouraged.

The fact that some higher earning people may be able to ‘cheat’ the system with clever accountants is not relevant. Distortions like that are inevitable in any system and are the fault of the government’s incompetent bureaucracy – they should prevent those frauds. It does not affect the principle that a flat rate tax system is fair to all taxpayers and the fact that a tiered tax system is fundamentally unfair – a political decision not a moral or economic decision.

If there is a tiered tax system, it distorts the market forces which decide salaries because, if people are losing money for reasons of political tax ideology not for genuine economic reasons, their salaries will have to increase to take account of the loss. Thus you get distorted salary scales.

A tiered tax system makes no economic sense and is morally unfair. It’s object is to blindly redistribute wealth on ideological grounds.

I could not and still can’t disagree with the cold logic of this argument. Yes, someone who earns more should pay more. But why should they pay a higher percentage of what they earn? Taxing higher earners a higher percentage is blind knee-jerk socialist ideology not economics.

I felt morally uncomfortable with the fact I could not fault the logic in the article and stopped reading the Sunday Telegraph because I felt somehow my moral values were being undermined and skewed by cold logic.

This quandary in my erstwhile youth was brought back to me yesterday when I read a report in The Scotsman that RBS, which the taxpayer had to bail out with millions and of which the government owns 83%, was about to pay 100 members of its staff £1 million each in bonuses.

The chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, of course, has been awarded a pay-and-bonuses package worth £7.7 million for 2010. So his 300 underlings getting bonuses of £1 million are merely getting the left-over scraps.

These awards were made at the time RBS was making a £1 billion loss.

Coincidentally yesterday, I also caught up with a small piece in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph about Tony Blair’s Sports Foundation – a charity – which, in its first financial period, made £348,233 of which it spent £33,929 on charitable activities and £37,621 on its staff.

So I am in two minds about high earners and extreme right wing politicians like Tony Blair.

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Weird stuff involving a rat, Mr Methane, Iggy Pop and Charlie Chuck

So what is going on at St Pancras station in London?

In my blog yesterday I mentioned weird stuff happening at St Pancras – including a woman talking to a stuffed meerkat.

Today I was at St Pancras again and, blow me down, when I arrived and got off the train there was a group of five men dressed like OTT Chicago gangsters out of Guys and Dolls with striped suits, black shirts, white ties and wide-brimmed hats and one of ‘em had a stuffed rat sitting on his hat. At least I think it was stuffed. Again, no-one but me was giving them a second glance.

Then Mr Methane, the world’s only professional performing farter, phoned me from his theatre dressing room in Crawley. He said he was sitting at a traditional theatrical make-up mirror with light bulbs all round the edges. Very glitzy; very showbiz, you might think. But they were energy-saving bulbs. He said it looked a bit odd. Not really traditional showbiz at all.

I suppose this will spread because of the recession and European legislation.

Then I got a phone call from comedian Charlie Chuck and, almost as a throwaway, he mentioned something so odd I had to ask him to repeat it.

As the late Malcolm Hardee used to say, there is a thin dividing line between genius and madness and like most people I think the long-running SwiftCover car insurance TV ads may have crossed that border in the wrong direction because they are fronted by ‘wild man of rock’ Iggy Pop. It’s a bit like seeing Keith Richards fronting an ad for Tesco.

Even more odd is that, apparently, Charlie Chuck was also in the running to front the SwiftCover ads before Iggy Pop got the gig. I am still trying to get my head round what the already distinctly odd ads might have looked like with Mr Chuck.

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Filed under Comedy, Finance, Strange phenomena, Television, Theatre