He needed a trilby and leather coat but there was something of ’Allo ’Allo!’s Herr Flick to the mandarin giving evidence at the Public Accounts Committee one recent afternoon. The PAC is parliament’s prime scrutineer of state spending. Civil servants have it dinned into their skulls to regard it with caution, if not respect. Yet this Herr Flick, with his little sticky-up fringe, his minimalist spectacles, his subtle pouts and sly smiles, conducted himself as a superior mortal.
The shambling remnants of Britain’s social and moral conservative movement are marching to Stalingrad, singing as they go. They will not be coming back, but they don’t realise that yet.David Cameron has cleverly provoked them into this suicide mission, by claiming to be a keen supporter of homosexual marriage. And so, with all the self-control of bluebottles massing round a dead cat, or squirrels besieging a bird-feeder, the Moral Minority have rushed to campaign against him.
Neuroscience wants to be the answer to everything. It isn’tThere are many reasons for believing the brain is the seat of consciousness. Damage to the brain disrupts our mental processes; specific parts of the brain seem connected to specific mental capacities; and the nervous system, to which we owe movement, perception, sensation and bodily awareness, is a tangled mass of pathways, all of which end in the brain.
The other day my five-year-old Labrador was diagnosed with acute cannabis intoxication. I had been taking Olga for a walk on Hackney Downs when she disappeared behind an abandoned railway. I imagined she had found some fox shit and was rolling in it delightedly. Bad pooch! On the way home she began to stumble and fall over; half an hour later she was virtually unconscious. With Olga disoriented and whimpering in the car we drove to a vet in Canonbury.
The journalist Michael Kinsley defines ‘gaffe’ as that which occurs when a politician accidentally tells the truth. Reacting to the latest bad news coming out of Afghanistan — an American soldier in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province went on a rampage, killing 16 civilians in cold blood — the presidential candidate Newt Gingrich committed a gaffe of the first order. Appearing on Fox News, the former House Speaker had this to say:
Look at the things that are going on around the region and then ask yourself, ‘Is this, in fact, a harder, deeper problem that is not going to be susceptible to military force, at least not military force in the scale we are prepared to do?’
President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron may have insisted this week that there would be ‘no rush to the exit’, but even they must see that the woes besetting Nato in Afghanistan have piled up.
The last hours of the Titanic were a perfect tragedy. No wonder we’re still obsessedWhat with the centenary coming up next month, it was hard to imagine anything that could make the Titanic loom larger in the popular consciousness. But that was before Julian Fellowes’s new series, to be broadcast this month. It’s the lot: period detail, a snobbish countess, class resentment and a darkish-blue iceberg.
The outcome of last week’s Monetary Policy Committee meeting came as no surprise, but if you’re trying to live off income generated from capital, it was still bloody irritating. Once again, base rate was left at 0.5 per cent, its lowest level since records began in 1694. Once again, it was decided that quantitative easing must continue. So annuity rates will remain at record lows; deposit rates will remain below a level worth anything after inflation and tax; the squeeze on pensioner living standards will continue; and savers will feel forced to move into riskier markets to preserve the purchasing power of their cash.
The prudent among us can’t expect much reward from the BudgetThree years ago, when the Bank of England embarked on its first £200 billion round of quantitative easing (QE), most of us — including some Bank officials — hadn’t a clue how this relatively untried policy would work. There were dire predictions from monetarist critics that ‘printing money’, as it was colloquially called, could only result in Zimbabwe-style inflation.
When pessimism prevails, it’s probably time to buyIf one thing puzzles private investors more than anything else, it is the extraordinary capacity of the stock market to move in ways that appear to follow no discernible logic. ‘Profits Up, Shares Tumble’, or even ‘World War Declared, Stocks Rise’: such headlines understandably confuse the uninitiated. But in reality there’s nothing strange about this pattern of behaviour, and understanding it explains why being a contrarian — going against the thrust of expert professional opinion — is so often the key to the greatest investment success.