Monday, February 20, 2012

I selflessly give another blog (The Slog) a plug and wonder whether in years to come GlaxoSmithKline will be in the hamburger flipping business

Added April 4, 2014.

I notice that this blog post has had several visits over the past few weeks, and I thought it might be best to add this preface. Although I shall leave the post below unedited, I should point out that my opinion of The Slog, the guy who writes it - John Ward, a retired advertising executive - and what he has to say was severely revised several months after I came across the blog.

I admit, rather ruefully, that I was taken in by The Slog’s ramblings for a while. Superficially, with all his talk of ‘my contacts’ in Frankfurt, Washington, Berlin and I don’t know where else, he seemed well-informed and in the know and gave the impression of doing a great deal of ‘research’. It was only when his apparently copper-bottomed predictions of the demise of the euro and other matters failed to come true time after time that I began to wonder whether he was tin rather than lead.

I began to wonder even more whether John Ward was the real deal when I found myself falling foul of him. It became apparent (and still will if you want to try) that anyone daring to disagree with his prognoses, querying his thinking, criticising him even slightly or even choosing not to share his very high opinion of himself, would have his or her comments removed and be banned from the blog (in the sense that future comments were always removed). I know this because after it happened to me, I was emailed by several others whose comments were also regularly removed.

I must stress that my comments were not in the slightest abusive - it was just that it was obvious to anyone reading them that I refused to share Ward’s ineffably high opinion of himself and his abilities as a sage and increasingly could not take him at all seriously.

Having said all that, you must make up your own minds. Perhaps it is me who is a post short of a blog. Perhaps it isn’t. Decide for yourselves.

There are conspiracy theorists and there are cock-up theorists and I usually pretend to belong to the second group. Actually, that is not quite fair as it implies that I am, after all, a conspiracy theorist. So I’ll try again: there are conspiracy theorists who believe humankind is the result of genetic engineering by spacemen who also built the pyramids, erected Stonehenge and were generally responsible for kick-starting the world as we know it. Then there are conspiracy theorists for whom the cynical saying ‘don’t believe anything until it is officially denied’ could be a motto. I suspect I belong to the second bunch.

We never really know the ins and outs of any affair until years later when it is safe for those who really knew what was going on to go public and for those who did awfully naughty things at the time to decry their admissions, confessions and revelations as just so much bloody nonsense. In other words, only when it doesn’t matter any more do we learn the salient facts and by then it is called ‘history’. There are one or two bloggers around who do keep their ear to the ground and like to go public on what they hear long before anyone else. The trouble is that what they say is always immensely deniable and is, naturally, always denied. I’ve come across on such blog which is written by a retired adman called John Ward who blogs under the name The Slog. You can find his blog here.

I came across it following up links about the latest wheeler-dealing going on to save the world - no, sorry, that’s global warming - to save the euro and, by all accounts the EU. The Slog claims to have reliable information that a Greek default is a done thing and that after the close of business on Friday, March 23, Greece will be declared bankrupt. He suggests - no, he insists - that all the various meetings about haircuts and bailouts and Troikas and the rest is just so much hooey used to stall everything until that announcement on March 23. Naturally, the parties involved - which don’t involve Greece - want to protect the banking system and make sure their plans are watertight to protect themselves from the worst of the fallout. This, says Mr Ward, is why every single time a deal seemed within grasp for the Greeks and their creditors to agree on the size of how much the creditors would lose, various bods would stick their oar in to scupper the talks. ‘The Greeks need to put in place more austerity measures’ was one recent ploy.

Anyway, whether or not it is all true, whether or not is is all complete bollocks, it is a good read which, I’ll repeat, you can find here. And, yes, The Slog is a conspiracy theorist, but has the saving grace of not involving spacemen in any of the theories he puts forward and to my knowledge has never yet claimed to have been abducted by aliens.

NB As I write this, EU finance minsters are still meeting in Brussels - it is now 23.40 on February 20 - to decide whether they can trust the Greeks with €130bn of bailout moolah. They will be unable to reach a decision and will want ‘further reassurances’ or some such in order to ensure that Greece does go bankrupt. So if by the time you read this tomorrow an agreement has been reached, you will know The Slog is bollocks. If, on the other hand, there is a delay - well, was there something in it?

UPDATE (Feb21 at 9.58am sitting at my desk just dying for another cup of tea): It’s only fair that I should this morning add a rider to the above in view of the news that the Eurozone finance ministers ‘have reached a deal’ with Greece on what Athens should do to get the next bag of used fivers to pay off its debts. The Slog is utterly sceptical and is confident this is just the latest scene in a long-running farce which will culminate in the announcement on Friday, March 23. Me, I know rather less financial jargon than he seems to, so I’ll just admit that I’m sceptical, too. That’s because too many of these ‘last-minute’ solutions (although, strictly, this isn’t ‘a solution’) began to unravel within hours of being reached. It remains to be seen what will happen.

I should point out that Mr Wards’ conspiracy theory is rather supported by one detail of the handover deal: that Greece’s austerity measures will reduce its debts to 121pc of is GDP by tomorrow lunchtime or whenever they are supposed to do so. Until now it was, I think, 124pc. And – a detail which eluded my hawk-like eye last week – the ECB’s boss Mario Draghi announced that when it came to creditors getting their debts, those bonds held by the ECB would get preference over those held by private investors. But things aren’t too bleak for those nasty capitalist scum who masquerade under the oh-so-innocent description of ‘private investors’: they have previously insured themselves against losses so they won’t be quite as out of pocket as might seem apparent and aren’t too concerned about Draghi muscling his ECB to the front of the queue.

What is so utterly farcical about the whole business is that, even if the meeting was gen, even if whoever is going to stump up €130bn to hand over to the Greeks – and I can only admit that I’m very confused on that matter - where does the money come from? Is it from the taxpayers of the rest of the Eurozone countries? The there is the very pertinent point that as the ECB and a great many French and German banks hold Greek bonds, this bailout will simply be used – must simply be used – to pay off some of the debt they hold. So, in effect, all the ezone finance ministers are doing is paying off their own.

Then there’s the complete unknown: with one in five young people without a job and with enough time on his and her hands to do nothing but cause trouble; what with pensions being slashed; what with the mainstream centre parties’

ratings plummeting in the polls and the popularity of the parties of both the left and right extremes rising ever faster, all this talk of a bailout is just so much piss in the wind if there is real trouble there. Remember, the Greeks are due to hold a general election in seven weeks, so after that all bets might well be off, however much backslapping the ezone finance ministers indulge in (pictured above. Aren’t they a lovely bunch).

Oh, and how anyone in Greece is expected to react with equanimity to the demand by the EU that a gang of North European technocrats should be permanently based in Athens to give their consent or otherwise for every item of proposed government spending is beyond me. But there you have it: the wacky, wacky, wacky world of the EU. But still no aliens, UFOs and spacemen. It's all very puzzling.

. . .

Well, there we have it: science advances in leaps and bounds and is, apparently, on the brink of creating meat in the laboratory. Haul out the bunting and crack open the bubbly! Could the news be any better. Dutch scientists - despite their cuddly we-don’t-mind-if- you-smoke-dope liberal image, the Lowlanders have as potent a Frankenstein tendency as the rest of us poor saps - have used stem cells to create a ‘strip of muscle’ several centimetres long, one centimetre wide and on millimetre deep. This, they assure us, is the future and in the future the meat we eat will be grown in labs rather than in fields. The strip they produced cost around £200,000 to produce but ‘costs will come down’ production is commercially viable.

What, you are entitled to ask, is the point? Well, they claim that the point is to ‘save the environment’ because conventional meat production does it no favours. Well, I must say that that’s a new one on me. I have read claims, with which I am inclined to agree, that if the land we use to grow foodstock for cattle which we then eat were used to grow food for humans, it would be used more efficiently. It’s a veggie argument, but not necessarily the worse for that, and does rather forget that land which cannot be used to grow crops for humans can still be used to rear some cattle and sheep. But I was unaware of the suggestion that farming animals actually damages the environment.

Actually, I rather suspect that ‘saving the environment’ and finding new ways to feed mankind is rather less of a motive for these Dutch scientists than to justify the funding they get to keep their labs in operation. I would be happier if they put their intellects and energy to better use ensuring that several million more people had access to clean water. And if and when ‘lab-grown meat’ us available to feed us, you can bet your bottom dollar that those who might benefit most from this additional source of food will be the least likely to benefit. The fat West is inclined to think of itself and its own needs first, last and exclusively.

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