Do you remember your first kiss?

Do you remember your first kiss?
Do you remember your first kiss?

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

WTF was Charlene on about ?????

Current mood: mischievous
Category: Music

I've just been listening to Charlene's - I've Never Been To Me" played on the radio - for the younger ones among you, Charlene got to number one in June 1982 with this amusing little ballad.

However the lyrics were weird to say the least, and one particular line has always foxed me.

Halfway through the song Charlene sings

"I've been undressed by Kings
And I've seen some things
That a woman ain't s'posed to see"

Well, what kind of things would that be then? I've puzzled over this for many years - did she mean something like the internal workings of the combustion engine (hey - sexist, i can hear you all shouting) or did she mean something completely different, like the ugly backside of her man 1st thing in the morning....

Just what exactly are things that a woman ain't supposed to see?
I'd welcome your comments...all of you....

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Encyclopedias aren’t boring!!!

Current mood: animated
Category: Life

In 1969 my father arrived home from work and announced that we were to become the proud owners of the "Encyclopedia Brittanica", a compendium of encyclopedias issued monthly, building up into a complete set from A to Z over a period of (wait for it) ten, yes ten years! A total therefore of 120 volumes, starting with "A" – the indefinite article, and ending presumably, with some obscure word starting with "z". My brother and I loved these volumes of encyclopedias; they were colourful, packed with illustrations and full of useful information about such things as aardvarks, abacuses and Isaac Asimov.

As you can probably guess from the examples above, Dad never completed his marathon purchase. These books cost over 15/- each, therefore a complete set would have cost over £90.00, a considerable sum of money in those days. Mum became pregnant with my younger sister in 1970 causing all such encyclopedic purchases to be cancelled. Never mind, at least we had an encyclopedia going as far as "Bell, Alexander Graham (1847-1922)".

However, even at the tender age of ten, I could see problems with this method of supplying and storing information. During the period when the books were arriving every month, man (allegedly) landed on the moon. However the encyclopedias did not refer to this momentous fact, only going as far as "Apollo 10" which, of course was the precursor to the famous Apollo 11. Given that the vendors of Encyclopedia Britanica insisted that once you collected the set, this was the only compendium of encyclopedias you would ever need in your lifetime, it occurred to me that there were serious flaws in their argument.

Of course! It was "static" information – as new inventions occurred, they were not represented in the compendium. There would have been no mention of compact discs, mobile phones or even hand held calculators in these books, no matter how many times you read them.

In 1995 Microsoft introduced "Encarta", a brilliant new invention with the entire sum of all human knowledge, all on one CD. It was easily accessible, showed moving pictures and contained sound – a big step up from all previous encyclopedias. (or should that be encyclopediae?) It was also copyable, so as long as one of your mates bought a copy every year, you could always obtain a free update. However, it was still over £30 and was still out of date, as soon as it arrived on the shelves. Someone famous, somewhere would inadvertantly die just after the cd came out, making it out of date.

What's the solution? I love encyclopedias, I love having instant access to knowledge and information. Who designed The Millau Bridge? What year was Albert Einstein born? Who starred in "Love Story"? What is a Perfect Number (no it's not the same as a prime number).

The answer of course, lay in the internet. In 2001 Wikipedia was launched, a global, non profit making, online encyclopedia, written by the people for the people. And most importantly, it was FREE! It is the third most accessed website after social networking sites and ebay. Everything is there; if it is suitable for inclusion in an encyclopedia it is included on Wikipedia. It includes pictures and links to other websites that can further your knowledge if you need to know more. It is instantly accessible, just by typing into the search term box. The total sum of all human information is there, and it is updated all the time, every second of every day. The information you read is as up-to-date as any peer-reviewed information in the world. It truly is an amazing and wondrous resource. It was started by a group of academics led by Jimmy Wales and others and everyone is invited to contribute provided that their contributions are a) accurate and b) not controversial.

As an example, it was announced on the news on Radio 2 at 8am this morning (20th January) that the famous American author, screenwriter and educator Erich Segal (he wrote Love Story among other things) had died the night before. By the time I had typed his name into Wikipedia, at 8.30 am this morning, it read


Segal died from a heart attack on January 17, 2010[2] and was buried in London. In a eulogy delivered at his funeral, his daughter Francesca said, "That he fought to breathe, fought to live, every second of the last 30 years of illness with such mind-blowing obduracy, is a testament to the core of who he was -- a blind obsessionality that saw him pursue his teaching, his writing, his running and my mother, with just the same tenacity. He was the most dogged man any of us will ever know."[3]

(Taken from 20th January 2010 © Wikipedia)

What more can I say – it is the absolute ultimate encyclopedia. Wikipedia is one reason why I sincerely believe that the internet is only the third great invention of mankind since the dawn of time, (the other two being control of fire, and the wheel). Wikipedia is the supreme example of how human knowledge can be pooled and shared by all and for all.

Currently reading:
Wikipedia: The Missing Manual

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Thatcher's Legacy - The Credit Crunch

Current mood: worried
Category: News and Politics

Let me explain my reasons for why I think Margaret Thatcher is behind the current economic problems that we find ourselves in. Don’t get me wrong – Thatcher did a lot of good things for the economy, she took on the trade unions and won, a victory that was wholly necessary to be able to move our economy forward. We had gone far too far in the opposite direction over the previous 10 years.

She also had the guts to face up to the IRA and allowed Bobby Sands to die of hunger strike in the Maze prison, a policy that I wholeheartedly

However she also introduced us to the new “Greed is good” philosophy, and famously once said “There is no such thing as society” when it is blatantly obvious that there is such a thing as society and its function governs our lives and well-being.

Thatcher believed that certain industries (especially banking) functioned better in a de-regulated environment. Prior to her
taking power, banks were strictly regulated in their ability to borrow and
create capital. By the time she departed in 1990, banks were practically unregulated and were allowed to borrow up to 10
times their liquidity ratio.

In addition, she opposed the general consensus of “mutuality”, a status that had created building societies and had prospered since the mid 1700’s. Mutuality meant that building societies functioned by offering decent saving rates to savers, and affordable mortgages
to borrowers, making a profit out of the difference between the two rates. There were strict regulations covering the amount that building societies could raise on the inter-bank markets, and their mutuality ensured that they were not chasing short-term profits to satisfy the stock market, as they were owned by their members (essentially the savers and borrowers) and any profits were returned to their members.

Thatcher passed legislation allowing these building societies to “demutualise” and offer themselves for sale on the stock market.
This was a fatal step and led ultimately to the collapse of Northern
Rock in 2007. Most building societies followed this route since it made the existing board directors extremely rich, and there was no short-term downside.
Unfortunately the long term downside was that these newly privatised building societies (Abbey National, Halifax, Alliance and Leicester,
Woolwich, etc) were now owned by institutional shareholders through stock market flotation and were now driven to consistently show short term profits. Those that stayed mutual (Nationwide, for example) were not in this boat and did not have to strive for continuous short term profits.

Those that did were subject to takeover (Woolwich, Cheltenham & Gloucester) and fought viciously between themselves to take a larger slice of the mortgage market. This led to a decline in the traditional
standards required of borrowers before they were prepared to grant loans. Whilst mutuals could and would only offer three times annual earnings as a maximum mortgage, “demutuals” would offer
seven or even eight times annual earnings in order to lend larger sums and generate larger profits. It also led to demutuals lending sometimes more than 100% of the house value, something that mutuals would never do, primarily because mutuals practised fiscal probity, and
had to raise capital from their savers.

The results? Well we see them all now – a massive increase in
house-prices, caused by the demutualised building societies extravagant lending policies, and the resulting credit crunch when it was discovered that many British building societies/banks had bought large slabs of sub-prime lending from US wholesale banks and did not have any capital assets in their balance sheets to be able to trade out of this mess.

This indeed is Thatcher’s legacy – her policy of unrestrained “greed is good” deregulation of the banking industry has led directly to the current crisis. If you are in any doubt, go and look up “derivatives” on wikipedia.

What’s needed now is nationalisation where necessary and a return to mutuality where such a route is possible. Banks should never again be able to trade without regulations.

Currently reading:
Britain under Thatcher (Seminar Studies in History Series)
By Anthony Seldon