Saturday, July 7, 2012

So let me get this straight: Bob Diamond has discovered the God particle, but he’s a shit, so Newton was right all along? No? OK, how about this: the banks and those lovely people at Cern are costing us all an arm and a leg, but - sorry I’m lost. Completely. And for all those who like to eBay, a few home truths and how to try to ensure you get what you want without paying through the nose. (No secrets, just common sense)

My Economist arrived this morning, on time for a change, and this evening - just about 45 minutes ago, in fact - I sat myself outside in the fresh air (it’s finally stopped raining) with the magazine, two cigars and a glass of ice and white port (which I can highly recommend - far more macho and far classier than mere sherry, although that, too, is very pleasant with a cube or five of ice).

As usual, I start by reading what those dear fellows at the Economist like to call their ‘leaders’. First off was one about the Libor scandal (and its first cousin the Eurobor - bloody euro freaks never miss a trick, do they), Barclays and Bob Diamond. The thrust of the piece was that this is just the tip of the iceberg and if the Libor baffles you, be prepared to be even more baffled

God’s particle (apparently)
over the coming months and years. What with Fanny Mae, Fanny Mac, sweet Fanny Adams,  Northern Rock going tits up, the demise of Lehman Brothers, RBS almost but for the financial genius - or should that be stupidity - of Gordon Brown and, I suppose, various European banks being bailed out, it would seem that the writing is on the wall for our banks. But of course it isn’t.

There will be a lot of outrage, some exceptionally incisive and quite often witty soundbites, various inquiries, perhaps even a Royal Commission or two before it is back to business as usual. The only change will be, to use a saying quite prevalent in the media, same shit, new broom. Why? Because governments worldwide need those with money more than those with money need governments.

Then it was onto the next leader, one all about the ‘discovery’ of something called the Higgs Bosun. This discovery, the dear Economist informed us, was a ‘triumphant elucidation of the laws of physics’. They now know, we were told, that the Higgs Bosun exists, because all those clever chaps at the Large Hadron Collider in Cern, Switzerland, finally came across ‘deviation’ in ‘particle behaviour’ they weren’t expecting.

OK, I am playing a little dumb here and in broad - very broad - outline I do know what the Economist is getting at, but I am finding it a tad difficult, if not to say a tad impossible to get even a little bit excited. The Higgs Bosun ‘discovery’, apparently, is so stupendous because it confirms the ‘Standard Model’ of reality. Without the Higgs (as we in the know like to call it to distinguish our more superior intellects from those who refer to it as the Higgs Bosun) that Standard Model would fall apart. With it - well...

What bothers me is this: first there were the Greeks who referred to the ‘atom’ as such because it was the ‘smallest possible’ and crucially ‘indivisible’ particle. So far, so good until physicists quite soon went on to divide that ‘indivisible’ particle into electrons and protons. Meanwhile, Newton (who everyone now thinks was gay, but not only is that another entry, but one which isn’t, thank goodness, even interesting) did all his stuff (which I shall quickly gloss over, mainly because I don’t really know that much about it). Then there was Albert Einstein (of whose work I do know a little more) but even though he demonstrated that there is a lot more to it all than Newton realised, he was merely skirting around the problem of what is what. That’s where the Standard Model, various bosuns, quarks and suchlike come in and where I and I should think you, too, bow out. But you see where I’m going to: Einstein trumped Newton, Newton trumped the Greeks and now the Standard Model trumps Einstein.

Being, in my more pompous moments, an empiricist - as opposed to all those whacky, mainly French, Descartian rationalist - I can’t help feeling ineffably cynical. It won’t be in my lifetime, but at some point in the future various bods and bodesses, all of them far, far cleverer than I could even dream of being, will snort in derision: those Standard Modellers, eh, what a joke! And they thought they had cracked it! Well, listen to this!

What has this to do with the bankers, wankers, hankers, chancers and and deadbeats upon whose greed we all rely to keep our democracies afloat? Well for one thing this: both they and the marvellous folk at Cern are costing you, me and Mrs Trellis in North Wales a shedload of money. And then some.

However, please console yourselves when next your pension can no longer buy you warmth and food: it’s all for the best, both what those wonderful Cern people and those marvellous bankers are doing. You might not realise it but, well, if you do actually accept that Christ was divine, Allah is merciful, God was an elephant and the only way to be happy is to want absolutely nothing at all, my advice is simple: believe. As they say, ignorance is bliss.

PS I haven’t resorted to referring to the Higgs (see above, saddos) as ‘the God Particle’ because even for this blog that really would be a cliche too far. And the obvious crack is to try a joke or two about the ‘Li-bore’ and ‘Euro-bore’. But do you know, dear reader, it’s so fucking obvious that even this tart can’t be tempted to attempt it.

. . .

This is apropos nothing whatsoever, but I thought I might add my two ha’porth worth. I regularly buy stuff on the eBay (usually computer stuff I really don’t need, but read on anyway) and I am continually amazed that so many people don’t understand the two simple principles of bidding and buying on eBay. I’m not saying I always get what I want, but I can say that when I do get what I want, I never pay more than I want to.

First off, when to bid: leave your bid until the very last moment. It is foolish to alert others interested in the item you want that you, too, are interested.

All you will do by bidding early is push the price up even higher, possibly higher than you want to pay, as others try to discourage you and get the item for themselves. All you will do is - human psychology being what it is and all of us all too often being our worst enemy - carry on bidding for the item for no better reason than YOU want it and you’ll be buggered to be bested by some other, faceless, creature out there in cyberspace. Yes, you will get what you wanted, but you will pay far too much. I know this from experience. Believe it or not, I am just as stupid as you are, perhaps even more stupid, but at least I now know that and try to do something about it.

The problem with leaving your bidding until the last moment is, of course, that you can’t always be at a computer at the time the auction ends in order to put in your final - and, you hope, winning - bid. The answer is to use one of the several services available which will place your bid for you, at the last moment. I use ezsniper - you can find it here. Sign up to one of these - it costs almost nothing but is very much worth it.

The second, and most possibly more important principle, is to decide just how much you want to pay for a particular item. If others want, and are prepared, to pay more, so be it. Just decide for yourself how much that item is worth to you and don’t be suckered into paying more. So when you use one of the bidding services, as I use ezsniper, put in your top bid. I’ll repeat: if others are prepared to pay more, so be it.

Keep in mind that you did not want to pay more - it was not worth more to YOU - and if they outbid you, what the hell: they are paying - as far as YOU are concerned - over the odds. Never forget that the world is not going to end tomorrow (although for some poor saps it will, but you could bet your bottom dollar it won’t be you) and there will be other ‘opportunities’ along in due course. Remember: NEVER pay more for anything than you want to. Yes, sometimes you won’t get what you thought you wanted, but that’s the price you pay for peace of mind. In other word, that’s life.


. . .

I’m in the writing mood (several thousand glasses of white port, of course, have nothing to do with it) so I thought I might bring my most loyal readers up to speed on my holiday/travel arrangements. Non-loyal readers have my dispensation to bugger off and do something else.

Tonight is Saturday, and I am off tomorrow for my usual schlepp up the A303 to London to work my shifts which, apparently, justify the huge sum the Daily Mail pay me every week for sitting at one of its desks and doing as little as possible.

This week, however, I shall not work on the Wednesday but make my way to Gatwick airport to catch a flight to Bordeaux to visit my favourite aunt Ann (in fact a step-aunt) and attend a serious of Renaissance music concerts. These are being held out and about in Bordeaux (the area not the city) and I always enjoy them. Plus it is nice to have a week off, do even less than I do at work, pretend I am a man of the world and sleep a lot more. The great thing about being on holiday is that you can wake up, turn over and go back to sleep again. For some reason I can never go back to sleep when I am not on holiday. I lie awake (having woken at about 7am) telling myself that I don’t have to get up, but I can never drop off again as I can when I am on holiday.

Writing of holidays, my brother Mark and I are planning another joint two weeks away in some gite or other in France. As I know he never reads this, I can reveal (as in ‘reveal’) that of the many reasons I have for going away with him - he’s very good company and my favourite brother for two - I also like to get him away as otherwise he leads a very solitary life. At the beginning of last year, he suffered from a very bad bout of shingles and I decided that a holiday would do him good. So I was pleased that this year he has again agreed to come off with me for two weeks because I feel that two weeks away will do him good.

Why, some of you might be asking, don’t you go off on holiday with your family. Well, the short answer is that I would very much like to. The long answer - well, you’ll have to wait a while for that. We can’t always have what we want. In too many ways my wife and I life on different planets.

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